Sum-sum-summertime!

A nice thing happened last week – one of my sister’s besties shared two pieces from my old blog and it was a huge encouragement for at least two reasons:  1) It touches me that she saved them, since I only vaguely remember writing either one, and 2) It didn’t make me cringe to read them again from this vantage point.

Reposting one here:

Kim and I have been catching some advertising on TV that has us scratching our heads.  The ads are for a well-known outdoor-recreation merchandiser of colossal proportions, touting their store-sponsored summer camps.  The footage shows happy children and their parents sleeping in tents, toasting marshmallows, going fishing, and participating in other fun activities associated with the open-air experience – all of it taking place

INSIDE THE STORE!

I’m all for exposing kids to new experiences and the joys of outdoor living, but somehow the ads only succeed in making me feel sad.  I grew up camping with my family, so I know it doesn’t have to cost big bucks for the real thing unless you require everything to be first class.

First class we weren’t – more like a band of gypsies – but I wouldn’t trade those summer idylls for anything.  My dad was an irrigation farmer, making it difficult for him to get away during the over-heated summer months; however, where there’s a will, there’s a way.  Three or four times a year, between May and September, my parents, an aunt and uncle, and a raft of kids would load up and go to the lake for several days of sun, swimming, water-skiing, sleeping under the stars, and eating food cooked outdoors.  There was a little fishing here and there, too, and we were usually joined by other relatives and friends at various points during our stay.

My grandpa had stocked up on Army surplus items when the gettin’ was good (and cheap), so we had access to a big green army tent that was hot as blazes after a day in the sun but did a good job of sheltering us from the elements; kerosene lanterns; cots and smelly sleeping bags; portable cook-stoves; ammo boxes for storage; and most anything else a few days without the comforts of home might require.

After loading the station wagon with everything from soup to nuts, the first stop was the grocery store for all the real food – bags upon bags of it.  Then with everyone crammed into the vehicles we caravanned to the nearest large body of water, an hour and a half away, happy as clams, singing, laughing, and playing travel games, and with much “discussion” over who got the spot between Mother and Daddy in the front seat.

We kept a small ski boat and a big old (with the emphasis on old) ramshackle trailer house in a storage area at Cedar Bluff Lake, towing both down to the water upon arrival.  The boat would be launched, the trailer leveled insofar as was possible, the tent(s) set up, the charcoal grills placed on standby, and all things put in order for an extended stay.  We kids, of course, barely noticed that these things were happening.  We’d either worn our swimsuits on the drive up, or shucked into them the minute the wheels stopped rolling, and we were happily jumping off the dock, dunking each other, yelling, running around … and asking what we could have to eat.

Our mom and aunt seemed to do little besides cook the entire time, when they weren’t busy grabbing a streaking, flailing kid at every opportunity in order to slather him/her with sunscreen, but they were nevertheless visibly more relaxed and laid-back about life than at home.  Everyone who’s experienced it knows there’s something about food cooked and consumed outdoors that enhances its flavor many times over, and we feasted like royalty.  Pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage and fruit for breakfast, baloney sandwiches, chips and veggies for lunch, grilled hotdogs, hamburgers, steaks or chicken with all the extras in the evenings.  And a steady, day-long supply of cold soda and Black Cow bars, plus anything else we could manage to ferret out of its hiding spot.

The babies played in the sand.  The little kids banded together and pursued their own enterprises of hiking, exploring, sharing secrets, and defending each other from callous onslaughts by the medium-sized kids … who obviously dedicated their time to harassing the little kids.

The bigger kids’ hours were defined by transistor radios, water-skiing, sun-tanning, and keeping a close watch for interesting-looking members of the opposite sex.  The kicker was that our parents preferred going to the lake during the week rather than on weekends in order to avoid the crowds, so the pickings were slim.

Our dads spent their time trying to keep the boat motor running, hot-dogging on slalom skis as a reward for their efforts, and consuming quantities of cold beer.

And our moms, who were known to do a little sun-tanning themselves while catching up on their reading and talking, were no doubt simply thankful to survive it all one more time.

The time always passed far too quickly, and after three or four days of non-stop sun and water everything would be packed into the cars again for the trip home, each and every item either wet or coated with gritty sand, or both.

Unlike on the drive up, there was no singing; there was barely a word spoken.  We were all sunburned within an inch of our lives, AGAIN, and God help the child who inadvertently touched a sibling on any part of his or her person.  We were well-acquainted with the misery of sun-burnt skin and we swore each time that it would never happen again, but nobody in our acquaintance yet knew how potentially deadly the condition was, so we were not nearly as careful as we should have been.  On the way home, the only reason anybody vied for the middle spot in the front seat was because that’s where the A/C blew the coldest.

It was rude, it was crude, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  We loved every minute of it, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat … if only to have all those people back with us for one more lazy summer.

Not every child will be lucky enough to experience the kind of summers we did, but I do hope they realize that there’s more to life than a pseudo camp-out in a retail store.

 

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How bad is your OCD?

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Over the years together Kimmers and I have gradually realized that we’re both assorted shades of OCD. His shows up, fortunately, as a desire for neat and clean so we’ve saved serious coin by declining to engage the services of a Professional Domestic Engineer since his Mom-&-U.S.Navy Training rendered him eminently qualified. He also prefers being alone in his kitchen while he works his magic according to nose and feel. It isn’t nice to interfere with the Zen, not to mention that it would be foolish, so staying out of the way and maintaining partial radio silence is no sacrifice on my part. I read yesterday that “he who feeds us is our personal god.” I’ll buy that, especially since Kim’s an entirely benevolent one and those are hard to find.

My OCDness is sort of what it looks like – oddness. Odd Cranial Disarray. That’s me up there with too many things taking up space in my brain, sorting priorities, trying to stockpile enough spoons for whatever’s ahead. When it all gets to be a little much I start asking myself what needs to go, either for a while or for good. This month it was my long-term addiction to Facebook, something that felt unbreakable until now. In a bold effort to rescue myself from the slough of despond over politics, which is to say daily life, I shut the door cold turkey on February 1 and the only thing I miss is comments from my real friends there. If I go back when March blows in it will be with a far less engaged mindset. No rush.

The most obvious clue that I’m at least a little OCD is that whatever toy grabs my interest and attention gets the “You’re my favorite thing in the world” treatment until the shiny wears off. Disclaimer: The preceding statement does not apply to people I love – distractions only.

First obsession I remember was learning embroidery from my grandma, making quilts with her, making my own clothes, and then in my little old lady days falling victim to the counted cross-stitch fever that took the civilized world by storm. It was fun, expensive, and I got good at it, but alas, in the end too much work for the eyes and neck muscles, so bye-bye trunkload of fabric, floss, and patterns, hope your next mistress isn’t so fickle.

Having grown too young at that point for needlework I got my first computer and the world was new again. It turned all that industrial-strength bookkeeping on the farm into a sweet walk in the pasture, and it was chock full of games, including an elaborate DOS setup that taxed all my brain cells even as it entertained. Then…years later, when I was even younger, social media burst onto the scene in all its primal glory and began its scorched-earth march to the sea, incinerating all in its path. And hasn’t it been a barrel of laughs, boys and girls? Still is, some days, and I’ll wander back soon, to touch base if nothing else.

I have fond memories of the adorbs farming app in the early days – I lived that silly game, fretted when my crops failed because I was, incredibly, away from the computer when they ripened, took pride in arranging everything just so. One day it dawned on me that I was exerting a godlike control unavailable to me as an actual farm wife and I quietly left it to the birds and bunnies. Then came Candy Crush, the game that ate my soul.

In my current iteration as an adolescent I’m bouncing from one fill-the-blocks app to another, working an endless selection of online jigsaw puzzles and crosswords, dabbling with Twitter, and still ending up with plenty of focused hours to write. Shocking how time-devouring Facebook alone is if you think you have to see every.single.thing that passes through your feed.

I started out to say something here but it got lost in the spaghetti, so let’s do this – if you have reason to think that you, too, may be eligible for the OCD Club, raise your hand, introduce yourself, and let’s have a meeting.

 

 

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The Right Stuff…

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The magic was always in the secrets and the rush and the crazy, trying to make each holiday season the best one ever, the gifts perfect, the food exactly according to tradition, all for that elusive (illusive) Old-Fashioned Christmas.

On this December 24th, in the year (of our Lord?) 2016, the magic lies elsewhere. It’s in the big messy bed, the fog hanging outside our windows, the Salted Caramel Bailey’s swirling into the coffee mugs, the Kim Breakfast because Saturday, the spa tub filling.

Tomorrow, Christmas Day, Santa will bring the Zen all over again – Black Forest ham, scalloped potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts, lovely rolls, easy munchies. Vino, always. A Pentatonix Christmas, we love those sweet babies. And later, when we’re in our cups, Bad Santa. Saving Hudsucker Proxy for New Year’s, 2017 apropos.

The Real Christmas was always at my maternal grandparents’ house, where one long, very long, table was set up through the living and dining rooms, and pretty packages spilled far past the tree while Grandma and her daughters and daughters-in-law still frantically wrapped gifts in a spare bedroom, giving the door a kick once in a while to keep nosy grandkids away. My mom was one of nine offspring, who were themselves fairly prolific, so Christmas dinner could involve 40 people or more, with additional afternoon drop-ins.

The women cooked the enormous meal, the kids raised hell, and after dinner my good-looking uncles rolled up their sleeves, stored food, picked the turkey carcass clean for leftovers, and washed the dishes, no rugrats allowed in the kitchen. The uncles, former Marines, Korean War, could be intimidating when they put their foot down, and were no doubt laughing up their collective sleeves at us every year. Omigod, we were insufferable.

They’re gone, those people, and I can’t even find a photo this morning to honor the first Christmases of my heart. The pictures are here somewhere, in an album online or on a shelf, old Kodachrome color snaps – upwards of 60 or more of us crammed into one glorious photo with the tree barely showing in the back and wrapping paper still strewn. That’s how my heart remembers it.

I hope your Christmas, old-fashioned or otherwise, will be sweet. Tuck it into your heart…those memories belong to us forever.

 

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So just be real…

I read a story today, shared by a friend whose granddaughter dictated it to her daddy, and was struck by how on the mark this small girl is. You’ll see what I mean:

“We flew on an airplane to Albuquerque to see Ian and Jordan and Ashton and Uncle Doug and Aunt Jill. Will got diarrhea. 

Then we flew to Chicago to see Aunt Beth and Grandma and Uncle Billy and Josiah and his sister and the dad of the baby and those two with a jacket and glasses. Then we flew home. Grandma threw up.”

 

 

Her story illustrates important tenets of writing:

  1. Tell it like it is. If people want us to write kindly about them, they must learn to be behave well.
  2.  Engage your readers by telling them things they would not otherwise learn.
  3.  Illustrate with plenty of pink.

So simple, really, and once again a little child leads us.

 

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Whimsy…who doesn’t need some?

A psych-out when I start feeling weighed down by nonsense is to “brighten the corner where I are.” It’s the equivalent of Spring Cleaning without the lifting, bending, and sundry other exercise I like to refer to as work. My desk and I are good friends, so of course I ignore it and treat it like crap most of the time, but there always comes a day when the windows have to be flung open and the detritus swept away. Today is that day – AGAIN – in my world, and lucky you, I love to (over)share.

We start with our big honkin’ desktop because EYEBALL FEAST EVERY TIME WE SIT DOWN HERE. You can immediately see what a crucial first step this is, besides which everything from this point hinges on it. (Gah, I always hope my readers are note takers.) Nobody else’s desktop will suffice – it must speak to me, personally, in some way, and most tell me “You are freakin’ nuts, lady” which is when I know I’ve found THE ONE.

Today’s springboard, our dominant image:

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That’s merely the start, although admittedly an auspicious one. Now that we have an arresting vista in front of us at all times, we must upload that same image as our Facebook cover picture. Done. And, since we use a sweet add-on called Facebook Purity, we get to upload a background image for all of Facebook. Furthermore, since the name of today’s game is *cheer,* we’re using this one:

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Is that not an enjoyable little kick in the shorts over and over? When you spend a lot of time somewhere it’s powerful to make it yours.

Next up is our Facebook blog page, which obviously has to coordinate with the overall theme we’re developing here, and this will do quite nicely as our cover photo:

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All of our Facebook pages share a background, which is working out swimmingly, as you can see. We are ON A ROLL, boys and girls. Add this same image as the header for our blog page, tweak the background, and violas!! Moving on…

What shall we do next? We have choices:

  1. Two Gmail accounts whose non-coordinating backgrounds are piteously crying “Pick me, pick me!”
  2. The big loud Twitter header, or is that just my monitor? But yeah, there’s that.
  3. And we have to go get a new Chrome Theme.

Oh, haha, I forgot, this is my page, I choose! We’re doing the Twitter header next and there’s an outstanding reason for that – IT’S GONNA BE IMAGE #1 UP THERE AGAIN! See how simple this is? See a pattern here? Give a shit?

So now we’ll tackle the whiny Gmail accounts. Okay, pay attention because this is where this stuff gets tricky.

WE’RE GOING TO USE TWO OF THE SAME BACKGROUNDS WE’VE ALREADY UPLOADED. If I didn’t crack myself up I’d have no fun whatsoever. And I did try to warn you up top via words like whimsy and psych – which is like a twin or something to psycho, right?

And here’s where you get in on the fun – you get to decide which two of the three backgrounds above you want to use for your mail! You know, when you redesign it all according to what speaks to you.

Okay, all we have to do is find a new Chrome Theme and we’re set – there are a million of ’em and it’s fun. This one’s perfect and I’m happy. Cheery, even. For all the reasons.

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Hope you are, too.

 

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The Tale of the Topless Dancer, the Baby Clown, and the Cross-Country Heist …

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In the end it was the rain that did it.  Her breath stopped short that morning as a thread unraveled somewhere in her chest and let go while water kept falling everywhere-all-the-time-non-stop, and she instinctively knew one more day of it would finish her.  That and the asshole she lived with.  Him more than the rain, because when things were new and intoxicating between them the rain had felt nurturing and cocoon-ish and hadn’t sent her mood into the toilet.  Zoe had to face it, The Asshole was the cause of her angst, and just like that she couldn’t wait one more second to get far, far away from him.

Bits and pieces of past escape plans, the ones every smart cookie stores for eventualities, hopped around in her head.  When the guy shopping for groceries who persuaded you into his bed on sight … or had it been the other way around … lets you know, none too subtly, that you’re replaceable … a girl has to start reviewing her options.  There weren’t many, she didn’t even have a car, but she was pretty sure she could recruit Teresa and Bobby Lee, whose jobs happened after dark, to help her with the scheme she was beginning to hatch.

Turned out things were currently loose-goosey for her day-tripper friends — they’d been hanging around for the next romp and picking up a U-Haul day-rental sounded like a nice little diversion.  So while The A-hole was away doing a job, she and Teresa and Bobby Lee — who was strung out enough to let the girls do most of the work, not that he was particularly chivalrous under primo conditions — loaded all her stuff — not a huge quantity — into the truck.  Zoe was possessed by a sense of urgency — go, go, get it done, get out of here — but it wasn’t easy keeping her friends on task, her brain was zinging like a sparkler, Teresa was wearing her usual 6-inch heels, and although Zoe had to admit her friend was as skilled at navigating her spikes on the ground as she was on the pole, all she wanted was to keep moving and be gone before he got home, leaving no trace of herself behind.  In the kitchen she made a snap decision not to leave him so much as a fucking knife and fork.  She was done.  Finished.  Tired of being played, tired of living at the frayed edge of the law, tired of people she didn’t know showing up at her house at all hours, sometimes sleeping there, drinking her beer like it was water, stinking up her bathroom, leaving everything for her to clean up.  And the guns — she was weary of all the firearms. The Big A, so recently thought of as The Desired Beloved, kept a .357 Magnum in the bedroom, handy but out of sight, and that had been preying on her thoughts more and more, not because she particularly feared finding herself on the business end of it, but because — HOLY GOD — she had a small son who was nothing if not curious.  Her SON!!  Her almost-four-year-old Jacob was at the circus with his second mom, her closest friend, and she had to figure out a way to pick him up on her way out of town!

The rain took a smoke break, they wrapped up the load-out, and she got ready to say her goodbyes, but Bobby Lee had a different plan.  By now, the three of them had tacitly acknowledged that this was no day trip, and Bobby Lee, the proverbial good-hearted gangstah, who would find himself cooling it in prison not long after, was reluctant to let her set out cross-country without a companion.  So when Zoe pulled out of the driveway, sitting in the passenger seat was Teresa, decked out in her CFM spikes, little ankle socks, and one of the off-beat — some might say bizarre — outfits she loved so much.  The three extra thongs she carried in her battered model’s bag would have to suffice for the duration.  And of course other stilettos and their adorable sock friends — a girl goes nowhere without options.  The tops and little shorts and scarves and vests she favored for covering her lusciously-acceptable assets took up barely any room, and what self-respecting entertainer leaves home without her makeup?  Trip.ON!!

The day was getting away.  What if he came home, saw what she’d done, and started tracking her down? The girls navigated their way to the circus, located Jacob laughing with his friends Izzy and Marc, and whisked him away as unobtrusively as they could considering that he was having the time of his life.  Second Mom had taken the boys down to the floor for face-painting and not only was Jacob in clown-face, he’d won Best Clown Award for the amazing visage he’d given himself.  Irony of ironies it ended up as a full-page photo in the local paper, but not until after the little entourage was halfway across the country.

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It must have been a harrowingly hilarious trip from the coast to the heartland … the falling-apart former country girl, the miniature clown who declined to have his face washed in any service station restroom, and the drop-dead-hot topless dancer.  God only knows what Teresa thought up to keep Jacob entertained along the way, but she’d never been accused of lacking creativity.

They managed to get across the state border before the truck started breaking down and losing A/C.  Having no other choice, they pulled into the first U-Haul place they saw, where not only did the fine employees put them into a brand new truck, they transferred the load for them.  Meanwhile, Teresa nabbed the paperwork from the office and had a private moment with it in the ladies’, changing enough numbers to keep law enforcement off their tails until later.

Back on the road.  Drive, nap, grab junk food, drive, nap, grab junk food, straight through to the middle of the continent.  Zoe wished Teresa would get behind the wheel some of the time, but she trusted herself more so she kept her mouth shut.  Mile after mile over the next two days, through dark and light, her mind was occupied with the immediate past, the slightly-deranged present, and the murky future.  “How – really, time to be honest here – did you end up as a 21-year-old single mom living with a big-time coke dealer who finances his operation by stealing and chopping cars?  I mean, really.” Despite being more adventurous than most, she’d always seen herself as a good girl.  And despite rough patches with drugs and binge-drinking and heartbreak, resulting in some ill-timed decisions and close-call extrications, she still knew she was.  She just needed to get away from a bad situation and clear her head and she’d be fine.  She had to get clean, too, a process that was already underway since she and Teresa had fled with only so much.  Zoe knew she’d be crashing about the time they reached their destination.  This wasn’t going to be pretty … but when you need time and a fortress, you go home.

She didn’t call anybody, her reasoning emotion driven … what if her mom or dad sounded dismayed at the news that she was on her way back to the farm?  What if all they needed was that much warning to head to the mountains or somewhere?  What if they said, We can’t do this, you’re going to have to figure it out on your own.  She knew, worn down as she was, that anything less than love and acceptance at this point would break her, so she kept her foot jammed in the gas pedal and her eyes on the road.

Halfway through the third day out she turned in at the farm, her little clown asleep in a crumpled heap on the seat, his face paint smeary and faded, and the dancer scrunched up against the door, looking shaky and shop-worn.  And surprise, surprise, no mom and dad. Genuinely stunned that her instincts were right for once, and so exhausted her knees would barely keep her upright, Zoe decided to pull a Scarlet and think about it tomorrow.

Sure enough, show up on the morrow they did, visibly displeased to see a U-Haul truck in the yard and the shock of their daughter and grandson in the flesh, big as life and twice as natural, standing in front of them.  Oh WELL, Zoe thought, so much for acceptance and a fortress … time will have to be my friend.  Wonder how much slack they’ll cut me on that?

As it turned out, slack-cutting was in Zoe’s favor, but Teresa had to go.  One look at her exotic, tall, blonde, stacked loveliness, legs all the way to her ass, starting with the six-inch stilettos and those baby-doll socks that promised everything, and Zoe’s mom decreed that Teresa would be on the next flight out.  She was.  Zoe’s parents drove her to the airport the following morning, however much her dad may have inwardly wished for a week or so to get acquainted.  Back to the coast, end of story, thanks and all that.

At home again, Zoe and her dad off-loaded the truck into an outbuilding, and a couple of evenings later around the table, he said “Shouldn’t we be getting that truck turned in?”

“Um, no, Dad, it isn’t going back — that’s the rest of the story.”

So she filled it with gas from the farm tank, and with her mom and dad following she drove, drove, drove, drove, far out into the countryside, parked it where it would be discovered, and in the pitch dark carefully wiped it down, leaving it unlocked, keys in the ignition.  The whole time she was industriously removing DNA from the truck, her dad fretted and urged her to hurry.  He kept saying “I just know we’re gonna get caught.”

Her mom finally told him “Hush.  You’ve seen entirely too much TV.”  That and her enthusiasm over the night’s shenanigans almost moved Zoe to forgiveness for her initial coolness.  But no, not ready yet, and she had too many overwhelming things to figure out before she’d know who she was again … so she crawled into her parents’ back seat, nodded off on the way home, and lay on their couch in a fetal position for a couple of weeks while time took a vacation.

One morning she woke up to sunshine and her old self-mocking mantra popped into her head, “Good girls go to heaven.  Bad girls go everywhere.”  Well, hell, she thought … let’s get going.

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{Not exactly fiction — you can’t make this shit up.}

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This is getting ridiculous …

I can’t write, I might as well face it and move on.

It isn’t that I can’t write, I know how, but the words have all gone somewhere else.  Things come to me but I don’t make it to the end of the first sentence and the orphaned drafts are starting to rack up bandwidth.    I have pressure behind my eyes from needing to write something that doesn’t suck, but I sit here every day and do nothing but procrastinate.

Yes, I would like some brie with that whine, be right back …

Wrote that a week ago, walked away from it, looked through some old photos that same afternoon and wrote this.  On Facebook.  Just like that, shazott.  Learned something about myself that’s been knocking around in my head all week, and when it settles into a shape and forms sentences, I’ll share.

So from a week ago …

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Did you get the memo saying PLEASE, NO THROWBACK HUMPDAY PHOTOS??  Neither did I.

This one has layers. Start with where the truck is parked. The blue spruce snuggled up to the passenger side was brought from Colorado, by my grandparents, as a seedling back in ought-whenever because that was perfectly legal then. It grew to many, many feet tall and almost as many feet wide at the base until one day in a storm it simply came out of the ground and assumed a horizontal position, landing on and against the house but wreaking minimal havoc. (Back-story: My grandparents’ house is to the right, where we see part of a roof.)

Then there’s the truck, a fixture of my childhood. It was gray and pretty wonderful, and when my dad drove it to town with the first cutting of wheat to test for moisture content, the gray-dust-covered elevator guys motioned him to drive the front wheels onto the lift, because of course there were no hydraulics under the bed … and then they raised the front of the truck high enough for the wheat to pour out the open tailgate in the back. Which was pretty freaking high to a seven-year-old and he only let me stay in the cab with him once, but not because I cried. I’m pretty sure he decided Mother wouldn’t approve.

Which brings us to the watermelons. Big, dark green, full of luscious red fruit, and juice that ran down our chins and made everything stick to our hands. Every summer, a truckload like this and far more came from my grandpa’s big patch in the middle of a section, next to an irrigation engine. The melon patch was raided one night by a couple of carloads of high school kids — the four girls dropped the four guys off and drove around the section (a square mile), stopping to let their boyfriends stash gunny sacks full of melons in the car trunks. My dad, Grandpa, and a couple of the neighbors, alerted by the sudden rash of traffic in the middle of nowhere, ambushed them in mid-haul, blinded them with spotlights, and panic ensued. The girls drove off, the boys lost their shoes in a field covered in Texas Tacks, and the whole thing ended up in court. My grandpa didn’t mind a melon going missing once in a while, but he held a big feed for the whole township every year and it made him mad that these guys had stolen more than thirty of his prize watermelons and deliberately destroyed a goodly number of the rest just for the hell of it. But it infuriated him even more when he asked the ringleader’s name and the kid said “John Wagner.” That was my grandpa’s name and he thought he had a bona fide smart-ass  in front of him. True story, though, and Big Daddy was an attorney — with the same name. I understand it got fairly comical during the hearing but my grandpa never cracked a smile.  Fun and games. Told you. Layers.

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A story for the new year …

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Μaybe old people were never children, like we claim with Mrs. Bentley, but, big or little, some of them were standing around at Appomattox the summer of 1865. They got Indian vision and can sight back further than you and me will ever sight ahead.”

“That sounds swell, Doug; what does it mean?”

Douglas went on writing. “It means you and me ain’t got half the chance to be far-travelers they have. If we’re lucky we’ll hit forty, forty-five, fifty. That’s just a jog around the block to them. It’s when you hit ninety, ninety-five, a hundred, that you’re far-traveling like heck.”

The flashlight went out.

They lay there in the moonlight.

“Tom,” whispered Douglas, “I got to travel all those ways. See what I can see. But most of all I got to visit Colonel Freeghleigh once, twice, three times a week. He’s better than all the other machines. He talks, you listen. And the more he talks he gets you to peering around and noticing things. He tells you you’re riding on a very special train, by gosh, and sure enough it’s true. He’s been down the track, and knows. And now here we come, you and me, along the same track, but further on, and so much looking and snuffling and handling things to do, you need old Colonel Freeleigh to shove and say look alive so you remember every second! Every darn thing there is to remember! So when kids come around when you’re real old, you can do for them what the colonel once did for you. That’s the way it is, Tom, I got to spend a lot of time visiting him and listening so I can go far-traveling with him as often as he can.”

Tom was silent a moment. Then he looked over at Douglas there in the dark.
“Far-traveling, you make that up?”

“Maybe yes and maybe no.”

“Far-traveling,” whispered Tom.

“Only one thing I’m sure of,” said Douglas, closing his eyes, “it sure sounds lonely.”

(Ray Bradbury, “Dandelion Wine”, 1946)

… grateful to my friend Angela Petraline for sharing

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A bunny tale …

Yesterday, for the first time in memory, Easter Sunday buried me under a huge pile of nostalgia.  You’d think Thanksgiving and Christmas would have considered that their sacred duty, but no, it was innocent pastel little Easter that ended up blindsiding me.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I’m the eldest sibling in my family.  Our brother is gone, our parents, too, all of our grandparents have passed away, a lot of aunts and uncles, a few cousins, and without warning yesterday a tsunami of loneliness sent me rolling end over end.  My sisters, although close in spirit, don’t live nearby, my son and Kim’s are long hours away in different directions, so it’s just me and Pa, which is ordinarily more than fine.  The Kimn8r himself is now an “orphan by default” — grandparents, parents, step-parents, sister all went off and left him via death.  His niece and nephew, cousins and aunties live far away.  So.  We manage, and we have a very good time at it.  Yesterday was just one of those days.

Oh, the growing-up years.  Depending upon the whims of the calendar, Easter morning sometimes dawned sunny and mild, but more often cloudy, gray and chilly.  Regardless, we four munchkins threw jackets and hats or goofy little headscarves over our jammies and ran across the driveway to our grandparents’ big yard where Grandma was waiting with our Easter baskets.  The hedges and trees and other hidey-holes yielded up an abundance of chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, candy eggs and assorted Easter-y gifts until our baskets were overflowing. Then a breakfast of waffles and bacon, followed by a mad scramble to get into our new dresses (made by our mom), white anklets and patent-leather shoes.  Our little brother was stuffed under protest into a pair of pants and a jacket, and the tie that always gave him a “church headache.”  As for the three of us girls, we could be found complaining bitterly about the way Mother did our hair — it looked “dumb,” too curly, too straight, too not right.  Caught up in the joys of motherhood, she continued the grooming ritual on the drive to church, straightening (or smacking) anything within arm’s reach and using Mom Spit to clean the ears of whoever was fortunate enough to grab the middle position, front seat.  When she managed to get dressed is a mystery for the ages, but at least our dad knew enough not to sit in the car and honk the horn the way one of our uncles did every Sunday.  I have to wonder if he would have lived to see another glorious Easter morn.

Once there, we sat in a row, with Grandma in charge of keeping order through the judicious application of Juicy Fruit gum, pencils and church bulletins.  Our parents were in the choir shooting us the stink-eye if we whispered or giggled too much, while we sneakily pinched each other under cover of the pew in front of us.  Grandma gave it her best shot, in her Sunday dress and hat and sometimes wearing a pair of earrings lovingly shaped out of flour, salt and water paste and gifted to her that morning.  Grandpa went to church with us about once a year, at Christmas time.  He always said he wasn’t cut out for church because “When I work, I work hard.  When I go to church, I sit.  And when I sit, I fall asleep.”

Our parents would leave the choir loft and sit with us for the sermon, during which time Daddy invariably found it imperative to clip his nails.  That little task accomplished, his next aim was to free a piece of hard candy from its crackly cellophane wrapper.  His painstaking efforts to keep the whole process quiet only resulted in its taking f.o.r.e.v.e.r. … one tiny explosion at a time.  If I’d been the pastor I’d have marched down from the pulpit and thumped him on the head, but as a kid I hardly dared even think such thoughts.

Church blessedly over, we all piled back into the station wagon, our brother sighing loudly and claiming a window seat so he could stick his head out and breathe once again.  Of course, he always ripped his tie off on the way to the car.

We’d come back home to the aroma of the Sunday dinner Mother had somehow put in the oven that morning — another mystery of time and space — shuck out of our good clothes, and start sorting our Easter basket haul.  Little grubbers that we were, I’m sure we managed to stuff a goodly pre-lunch portion of it in our faces before getting caught.

The afternoon usually consisted of endless egg hunts of the boiled and dyed variety, culminating in the cracked and battered dregs getting thrown at whichever sister, brother or cousin veered into our line of sight.  It was all fun and games until somebody put an eye out, of course.

I’ve been contemplating what sort of cosmic convergence might have set off yesterday’s blue mood, but nothing momentous stands out.  Just a little too much, maybe.  A little too much perfect day, a little too much sunshine, too much quiet, too much capacity for remembering, too much of not seeing people I love for too long.

The earth is back on its axis now, though, and life goes on …

That traumatic Easter when I ceased to be an only child.

That traumatic Easter when I ceased to be
an only child.

The Munchkins

The Munchkins

Tell me a story …

Our big snowstorm seems to have arrived.  Sitting here watching it come down, blow around, stick to everything, run down the windows, I’m remembering the huge blizzard we had when I was about ten years old.  If I have this right, it snowed for at least three days without let-up and the wind howled the entire time.  The power went out, of course, so my dad got kerosene lanterns from my grandparents’ house … I still remember what they smelled like when they were all lit.  Living on a farm, we were usually pretty well prepared for whatever might come up, so I’m guessing there was plenty of food in the house.  Anyway, I don’t remember going hungry.  And we had propane heat, so the house stayed cozy.

I do recall playing lots of board games and card games … and we probably drove our parents crazy … four kids under ten years old cooped up in the house for days and nights on end.  When the snow finally stopped and the wind died down, we emerged to find our world transformed … drifts up to twenty feet high with deep valleys between.  I have no idea what my dad did about the livestock while the storm was raging, but they must have survived somehow.

It was several days before the county could get through with blades to clear some of the roads, and a few more before we could make it to school.  The storm happened in March, so we ended up with a fabulous vacation out of it.  We spent our time exploring the new snowscape, in awe over the fact that our neighbors could walk out their upstairs windows onto the drifts.  Our grandparents’ orchard was one enormous playground, with drifts up to the tops of the tall cedar trees and plenty of big hills to slide down.  Our parents definitely got a break from the craziness … except, of course, for all the snow boots and wet jackets and gloves and mittens and stocking caps and …

Sadly, the heavy snow broke most of the cedars and fruit trees, and the orchard was never the same.  As kids, of course, the cost extracted by a storm like that didn’t register with us until much later.  We just knew it was the most amazing thing that had ever happened in our lives to that point.

Blizzard PicMe with my two younger sisters atop the drifts in the orchard, with cedar tops peeking through.  Our little brother was in the house.

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