Chillin’… page 212

Lac Simon, Duhamel, Qc, Canada

Day 331 – 02/09/2021

Took the day yesterday to chill… both figuratively and literally. Outside temps stayed frigid and it was snowy-ish all day, but toasty in here. We didn’t turn on TV until after 5pm and the peaceful quiet inside and out was curative. Had to process the Super Bowl game a little because I have such respect and a mama’s heart for Patrick Mahomes – the sad truth is that he showed up to play, as did the Bucs’ squad, but the Chiefs weren’t sure about the whole thing and Patrick, playing injured, tried to make up the difference. Hard to pull off two SB’s in a row, but damn, guys, you were there to try.

There was sweetness after dark last night to more than compensate – the Jayhawks beat OSU, in Allen Fieldhouse, and looked like a team while doing it. That’s fun right there, and we’ll take more of it – all their remaining games would be fine.

Note to future self: I’m fully aware of the complete inequities involved in the things we make important, but everything finally sifts down to life or death, joy or sorrow, love or its opposite, indifference. A ballgame, won or lost, can’t change the calamitous situations we face… but bread and circuses have always kept societies manageable and we willingly buy in for lack of a better plan.

Gonna be cold all week so I’ll just stay here and keep my little corner of the world cozy – that’ll be best for all concerned.

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Tots & pears… page 204

Moonset over The Oread – Kim Smith 01/29/2021

Day 322 – 01/31/2021

Here’s to another month in the can and the world moving on, which it seems to be doing. But in this country more evidence of scandal, grift, and greed comes to light every day. Thousands of ventilators have gone missing, likely sold to the highest bidder in a foreign market. Millions of vaccine doses, paid for by our tax dollars, are not there – maybe sold to finance some of DJT’s $900 million in personal loans coming due soon. President-elect Biden’s team wasn’t allowed access to the coronavirus records until the last minute, only to find that the disaster they dreaded is indeed fact, and America pays the price.

Ice holes. Farging bastidges. They let almost half a million of us die and now they’ve walked away to live their self-absorbed lives with impunity. And still people follow them, affirm them, and in DJT’s case, apparently worship him. If I had to unify with any of that I’d need a lobotomy first.

It’s a cold and windy Sunday morning, with good things to look forward to, and I’m here for it, starting with a ranch omelet, which I inhaled, along with fresh-cut pineapple – that’ll work. Kim’s catching the last few of the 24 Hours of Daytona… we’re chillin’/staying warm… writing, reading, drinking coffee, playing music. Life feels so right on so many levels I should be satisfied, but I’m as greedy as those billionaires who make things difficult for us – I want it all. Saying it out loud, I want what we’ve lost. Leaving that right there, Universe.

A woman named Jen posted this on Twitter… and then apologized that it sounded lame. Au contraire, sweet girl, you managed to nail me from the inside out in only a few more syllables than a haiku:

I’m like my aloe plant.

I don’t need much, but when I have what I need, I thrive.

I’m strong but a little bit fragile. 

I don’t look like much on the outside but what’s inside can soothe you. 

I’m thankful for the real people who feed us with love. As for the rest, may whatsoever gods there be judge them justly.

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Sunday morning comin’ down… page 198

Photo Credit: Kim Smith 01/24/2021

Day 315 – 01/24/2021

It’s wet out this morning but close to 40º so Kim suited up, made his trek from the city building to South Park and back, and didn’t see another soul the whole time he was out.

Chiefs and Buffalo Bills play tonight for the NFL Championship and there’s likely unlimited sportsing between now and then. The longer the isolation lasts, the more I look forward to the highlights, and another will be that luscious omelet in a bit…

COVID-19 has to be the most insidious thing to hit the planet in eons – it has a billion iterations and never seems to actually leave. This morning, after several symptom-free days, I’m back to gagging, coughing, and other shit, and wondering WTF. NOTE: My omelet went down just fine, I’m relieved to say – I’ll give that one up when I’m dead.

We’re only a few days into a new administration and mindset, but it’s clear that the uncivil war between America’s two factions – democracy vs fascism – is far from over, light years from resolution. How will we choose to gather up the pieces and move on? How will we reconnect with people whose hearts we no longer trust? Rainy days and Mondays make me ask the hard questions.

Lots of work ahead…

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More work than we knew – I understand there are people who believe a cockamamie conspiracy theory that goes something like this:

Oh, Mama…

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We have to fix some things.

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This Pollyanna chick right here is struggling with the whole thing. I feel far safer than at any time in the past four years, but my happiness and gratefulness for new leadership are heavily tempered by the frightening ugliness I’ve seen coming from other humans. Hard truth: my job is to do what I can do.

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Wow, the weekend again… page 197

Photo Credit: Kim Smith 01/23/2021

Day 314 – 01/23/2021

We’re three days into the Biden administration, which was denied transition materials that would have allowed them to be fully up to speed on day one. But working in White House offices without desks, computers, paper clips, and other basics of government life, he and his team read the tea leaves and have already done more for America in those few hours than we saw in four years. People, however, never change, and some factions are already asking why he hasn’t fixed everything and turned the country into their version of utopia. At the same time, any mention of using $$$ to achieve that lofty goal is immediately shot down. “Money? OMG!! We can’t spend MONEY! Just look at this huge hole somebody dug in the budget while we weren’t looking, OMG!!!”

And just where, between 400,000 dead and “incites a coup,” do we place President Joe Biden’s Rolex watch? Dan Rather says, “One president burns some money on a watch. Another president burns down the country on his watch. Got it.” That would be the guy who once lived HERE but isn’t welcome to return to his former city, post-presidency.

Heart-of-Amera’s Poster Family

The couple who vacated their New York penthouse for the White House remained petty to the end, dismissing the staff before leaving the premises, thus temporarily stranding the new president and his family outside the doors when they arrived on foot up Pennsylvania Avenue. I’m sick of shitty human behavior and the people who support it. The shameless hypocrisy at every turn is truly a bridge too far, especially now that we have good-hearted, moral, decent people leading the nation again. We can kick the idiocy to the curb and get on with putting things back together, and that’s the only way it will happen.

Pretty sure it’s gonna stay ugly for some time here in what we once blithely referred to as the UNITED States. The fuck-your-feelings crowd from Hillary Clinton’s loss are all up in theirs and laying that whine on anyone who will listen, which doesn’t include me. As peaceful and liberated as I feel under Joe Biden’s first week in office, I’m hard-assed about the unhinged realm of *social media.* I have zero tolerance when I’m there… and I’m there less than I was. The rote, knee-jerk comments, repeated ad infinitum, have worn me to a nubbin and escapism can just come right on and carry me away. Breakfast was a perfect start, and Jayhawks are playing B-ball today. A win would be sweet, but I hardly care – they’re my boys and they improve my world by being in it.

I feel a great affinity for Pluto today, for purely self-centered reasons. Nobody’s rejected me… not in a long while… but like Pluto, we can all use a little TLC from time to time. And I feel somehow that Pluto is of the female persuasion, so…

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Kim’s filling the spa tub, so all is well. Hello, weekend, I intend to appreciate you and the fact that the sun’s shining, food is a taste & aroma balm again, and hope is streaking around the globe.

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“Well-intentioned suggestions”… page 186b

My friend Randy Mathews graciously said yes to my request to share a piece of his writing here. He says it all so well:

If you’re still a fervent supporter of our president after all that’s happened this week, you might be feeling a little heat right now. That’s understandable. But there are things you could do to help turn down the temperature. Here are a few well-intentioned suggestions:

1. Instead of promoting ridiculous assertions that there were radical leftist infiltrators from Antifa or BLM or the freaking Girl Scouts among that crowd who encouraged the violence and mayhem, try this instead: “Yes, those were loyal MAGA Trump supporters, and I don’t condone their actions.”

2. Rather than insisting Trump had nothing to do with the riots, and that he was trying his best to maintain order and civility, maybe listen to his rally speech one more time, watch the reaction of the crowd to what he said, and then follow them as they move, en masse, directly to the U.S. Capitol. Then ponder whether that constituted an obvious cause and effect – a clear call to action and an immediate response.

3. Instead of vehemently defending this awful man, how about conceding that he’s not especially truthful? He told the rally crowd to march up Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol, and said “I’ll be right there with you.” Of course he wasn’t right there with them. He sent them on their way, and then retired to the White House to watch the chaos he orchestrated play out on live TV.

He also lied yesterday, when he claimed he immediately deployed the National Guard to assist the besieged Capitol police. No, he didn’t. Everyone in the chain of command, and every person with direct knowledge of how things actually went down, has disputed that claim. The man is a pathological liar. Admitting that would go a long way.

4. Stop making excuses for the rioters. Stop calling them patriots and freedom fighters. Admit that what they did was dangerous, reckless and illegal. These people entered the U.S. Capitol illegally after forcing their way past uniformed police officers, damaged and destroyed federal property, threatened and assaulted officers who tried to stop them, desecrated the seat of our democracy by waving Confederate battle flags – a literal symbol of the most notorious attempt to overthrow the U.S. government in our nation’s history – ransacked offices, stole official correspondence and other documents, and even urinated on the carpet in a Congressman’s office. They were thugs, hoodlums and criminals. They were domestic terrorists. Conceding they weren’t there with good intentions would be a great start.

5. Reevaluate whether what happened on Wednesday was an isolated, spontaneous event or if it’s worth considering that it was actually the inevitable outcome of a president’s incendiary rhetoric. Then consider whether you are still so eager to throw your support behind someone like that. People died on Wednesday because your president incited an armed insurrection, a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol during a joint session of Congress. Your president, sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, is absolutely culpable here. In fact, he arguably bears the lion’s share of the responsibility for what happened. Maybe it’s time to admit that he’s not really worth your loyalty or your devotion.

Just give these suggestions some thought. Those of us who have spent months if not years decrying Trump’s never-ending incendiary language, blatant lies and hateful personal attacks have worried things could eventually reach a boiling point. Wednesday’s horrible events were shocking, but they should not have been a surprise. And while there is support for censure, impeachment, and even invoking the 25th Amendment, it’s probable he’ll still be president until his successor Joe Biden is sworn in. It’s a frightening possibility that there could be more violence between now and then. No one really knows what Trump or all his angry, devoted followers are truly capable of.

Now is the time to reflect on your allegiance to this man, and to give serious consideration to whether you have cast your lot with someone who is not deserving of your support. We who all along have seen him for what he truly is will be waiting for you. But make no mistake – we’re not interested in meeting in the middle. In this case, things are pretty black and white. You either see that or you don’t.

Randy Mathews – 01/08/2021

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New Year’s Eve… page 180

Day 291 – 12/31/2020

Better news yesterday, therefore it was a better day, cold but sunny. Little happened, and sometimes that’s the good news. Still waiting to hear on a COVID test (not mine), but it’s likely that a bullet has been dodged, and now we all find ourselves on the cusp of a whole new pack of challenges. I remember how we couldn’t wait for 2019 to end so there’s no such wild-eyed optimism on my part today – 2020 couldn’t have been dreamed up if we’d tried, and 2021 will no doubt leave a mark as well.

For starters, we’ll still have to suffer Jim Jordan and his buddies…

Do wrestling coaches not take history classes?

They’re all still out there and they’re neither leaving nor shutting up, so it’s up to me to wrap myself in a few protective layers to counterbalance what they’re putting out into the world – their lack of humanity is too toxic to allow inside. A good beginning would be to disown all the guilt in the universe that isn’t mine, and then ditch any guilt that IS mine, starting small and working my way through the heap.

DECEMBER 31, 2020 MISSION STATEMENT:

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Sunday sunshine… page 171

Day 280 – 12/20/2020

We weren’t far into the weekend before it started coming back to me how hard it is to ignore reality for more than a few minutes at a time. My major malfunction is that I’ve never found the off switches for my brain and heart, so they just go right on cookin’ and they convince me I’m at their mercy. Kim’s planning to play at Lyons Park in a while, so if the tears will stay put ’til then I can get it all cried out before he gets back and I won’t bring his day down too. The small wins count too.

The world is made up of contradictions… we hurt to feel better… tears are for happy and sad and everything between… we put our hearts in somebody else’s hands in the full knowledge that they could end us… the optimists among us wake up ready to wipe out the traces and start over every morning, only to see by evening that once again our best attitude has failed to have any effect on the world. It all accrues to a great loneliness for us humans… am I invisible, does anybody know I’m here, can anybody hear me? That yelp for companionship and understanding must be universal among feeling people – as solitary as some of us are, we weren’t meant to live in total isolation, even the scaled version we’re adapting to now. The suicides that have happened throughout this crisis should be counted as COVID deaths – they’re as much a result of the virus as any other victim. My heart hurts for the people who don’t know how to self-soothe, how to be their own advocate, how to say what they feel and ask for what they need, and have no one trustworthy to turn to for help. What, then, are they to do? The safety nets are almost nonexistent at this point, widely-spaced, and full of holes. Putting my faint whines down in words keeps me in touch with people whose lives are on the knife-edge and always have been, the people who are the front line of *expendable* when a pandemic hits, or a financial crisis, or a political crisis, or the gods forbid, everything at once. They’re without a prayer.

Always with the thinking, Diary, but you know the adage about the unexamined life… and also this bit of truth:

Jeez, what if I were responsible for more than just me through all this upheaval – pity the poor soul, young or old. This girl knew all about it, I’m sure…

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An important truth… page 145

Day 251 – 11/21/2020

To all the people who get it and have from the beginning… we’ve been here for each other and that matters. Written by my friend Philip Grecian

Y’know…we’ve all been locked down. 

We’ve washed our hands until they’ve cracked.  

We’ve washed our groceries, our mail, our door handles. 

Lots of us have lost our jobs, our incomes…we’ve had friends die and not been able to attend their funerals. 

Trips for groceries have become adventures in survival.  

There has been a good deal of despair.

*****

But one thing I’ve found is this:  I know you better.

I’ve held your hand through the Internet, and you’ve held mine.

We’ve kept each other buoyed up.

You were there at the very moment I’ve needed you…and I’d like to believe I’ve been there when you’ve needed me.

Even as we are farther away…I think we’ve come closer.

We have taken the time to realize how much we care about each other.

*****

Stay safe.

Please.

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Hope on a Sunday… page 122

Day 219 – 10/18/2020

The intrepid PickleBallers are in dire need of a safe place to play indoors, but SPL is open for limited fitness activities only. Our typical short fall is morphing into early winter for now and outdoor play is becoming no bueno. So Kim borrowed my headphones and went for a long walk while I was sleeping this morning, and now he’s playing electric guitar, I’m noodling as usual, and we’re both waiting for hunger to strike and then it’s omelet time. Our high temp today is expected to be 49º so the spa soak will be from HEA-vun!

Less rain this year so the leaves are not quite as vivid and they’re dropping fast. Fall is such a metaphor for what’s happening in the world, and a present reminder that hope carries us until spring… every time. Thinking of all that’s changed in eight months, that’s one thing that remains – hope – and I’m trying to wear it on my face these days. I started realizing a couple of years ago that I have little need for mirrors now – my hair’s a no-effort deal, I bother with zero makeup except on rare occasions, I’m well-acquainted with my face after all this time, so mirrors are slightly superfluous and I forget to look, which naturally follows when one is neither jarring nor arresting to look at.

But the thought that follows from that is this: how much have my countenance and underlying substance been altered by the hours, days, weeks, and months here in my ivory tower? When we finally see our “boys” again, will I catch an “Omigod, Mom!” glint in their eyes before they check themselves? Have I gradually and imperceptibly melted and re-compacted into a zombie-like being who absorbs the hits, one by one, and keeps slogging forward? Or is that just how it feels from inside my head?

Rita stopped by yesterday for some fun catching up – she looks amazing despite her stress and exhaustion, and she’s getting on the downhill slope of things. Spring holds out hope for ALL of us! Odd to be thinking in those terms, maybe, since summer barely ended, but in the words of a favorite author:

“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.” – Barbara Kingsolver

Live right in it… the hope. While the wind blows, the rain spatters, the snow falls and whips around us… live right in the hope. By spring we’ll know what sort of nation we are and what we personally will do with that. By spring maybe we’ll start getting a handle on the current pandemic before the next one hits. Maybe spring will bring some room for healing… repairing and rebuilding some of the vital relationships… putting things back together in this society we’ve made. I hope so.

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Marking time… page 120

Day 217 – 10/15/2020

Without specific markers the hours turn into days and the days turn into each other, but yesterday had its share of markers: Kim pedaled to the courthouse before 8am to see if there was a line yet for early voting and picked up an Einstein Bros. bagel for me on the way back. We voted. We had a working lunch on Cielito’s patio with Kevin for our quarterly review. Kim played bluesy guitar most of the afternoon while I read. We watched the first episode of this season’s Amazing Race. Markers.

Today’s been considerably more rudderless, although I did get a confusing Medicare mixup resolved with the stellar help… again… of Kevin’s people. I made Velveeta Mac for lunch because once in a while you have to say yes to the cheese. I looked at the little stack of stuff on my desk and thought about sorting it, but didn’t.

Reposted something sarcastic on Facebook this morning and it occurred to me that one reason I limit my page membership is that I don’t want to asplain things. I have no energy for the comments. When I post something funny from Andy Borowitz NOT THE NEWS and get back a huffy “OMG that isn’t even TRUE!” it gives my day a kick in the shorts it doesn’t need. If you don’t get it, google it, I don’t want to have this discussion.

It’s undoubtedly because I’m getting what’s commonly referred to as old. Susan H. and I compared notes this morning about voting and how long we’ve been doing it. My first time voting was in 1968 – Nixon v Humphrey. As of yesterday I’ve voted for a U.S. presidential candidate a total of 14 times, none so fraught with intensity as this one. THERE’s a marker.

An arresting little “keeper”:

Interesting Times ‘R Us. I hope desperately to avoid the second curse, and I shudder to think what the third might entail in my case. I’m okay with *interesting.*

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Hello Friday already… page 116

Day 211 – 10/09/2020

Oh hey, Diary… you’re still here? You’re wondering about my day yesterday and how many tasks I checked off my list? Two-and-a-half, so get off my back, ‘k? The list is right here, meaning it isn’t over yet, jeez you are so annoying sometimes.

Today started out so mellow it’s hard to feel guilty about much of anything. Kim woke me up at 8:00 with the news that there was fresh coffee and a bagel waiting. Then he pedaled on down to PickleBall town and I’m still here, sitting in sunshine, sipping the good brew. Padding across the room just now for more coffee, the thought hit me full-blown – I like being me. It feels right. I couldn’t have truthfully said that until recent years, and I just haven’t recognized it that clearly until now – life is good, I’m happy, I feel like me and that’s a gift. Things happened very early in my life that pushed me into an adult world before I had any knowledge or skills for coping, and I spent decades catching up… trying to uncover the facts that other people seemed to understand instinctively about life.

It took the advent of Kim for me to latch onto who I am and not turn loose. When somebody smart, strong, and nurturing loves you as is, the doors and windows are flung open and life gets real. I’m glad I got to stick around for this part, I probably wouldn’t have totally believed anyone who told me it keeps getting better – I would have considered it a platitude.

But it does get better… life… in so many ways. The best gifts for me so far are time and quiet. My root anxiety keeps me living on the edge, so not feeling rushed… pushed… hurried… is the biggest luxury I can name beyond the gift of knowing I’m loved. And the sweet silence I get to immerse myself in here is the other half of the equation.

Progress Report: We sheltered on March 12th of this year and I’ve spent 99% of my time since then in basically these two big rooms. Kim’s been in and out a lot, wearing PPE from the beginning, but beyond barbershop haircuts, doctor visits, and time spent with Rita, I’ve mostly been right here. Kim brings food in, and we’ve eaten on a couple of outdoor patios, but not inside anywhere I can think of since March. And most places here still have limited indoor seating, if any. It’s all fine, no complaints here, my Diary friend – it is what it is. And maybe soon… we’ll know what it will be.

Photo Credits: Kim Smith

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The circle… page 115

Day 210 – 10/08/2020

Yesterday’s task with Rita was sorting a six-drawer dresser packed to the gills with old and newer family photos – not ours, but people we knew so not all mystery. This is my seventh household to help deconstruct, the previous six for family members, and the impact is always the same – when life ends, it’s over. Every tiniest object that meant something special… all the carefully laundered and folded favorites… the Post-Its, the bills that keep finding the mailbox, the personal rubble left behind in jacket pockets… nobody’s coming back to see to any of that. It’s over.

So if we’re very lucky, someone who knew us, loved us, cared what became of us, shows up to make things right and tie up the dangling participles.

We were halfway to the bottom of Drawer #4, talking about how good it was to hear from Susan the day before, when we both reached for the same photo… High School Homecoming Queen Susan! The basement chill zinged up to 11 and we celebrated a sweet Twilight Zone moment – just like that, the three of us were in the same room again. Life is weird and spooky and crazy and I like it a lot. It’s good to be reminded regularly that humans aren’t one-dimensional and neither is the world we live in. Since Susan’s move to Arizona almost two years ago we miss her every day and yesterday’s serendipity was a needed gift.

And just like that, life goes on. In Susan’s sweet face I see our nieces and great-nieces and the little great-great-niece we “met” last week… and Reese and Wagner genes going back as far as we want to explore. Life goes on… the circle keeps turning.

I nabbed Rita’s senior pic out of the same drawer and since I’m the equal-opportunity do-it-my-way Big Sister, I have to put it here for posterity, doubly proving that DNA-by-association has always been on my side. My sisters are my best friends… always were, really… and age doesn’t change any of that, thank the universe. 💙

So Diary… am I good or what? It’s actually Throwback Thursday, a masterstroke of timing, which bodes well for wrapping up the week on a high note. I see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 little jobs I could get done this morning and hardly move from my desk – ask me tomorrow how that went down. I’m still in Coffee & Think mode at almost 10am, so we’ll see…

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Not my circus, but what about all these monkeys?… page 104

Day 197 – 09/25/2020

Plans, they change. Hanging with Rita didn’t happen yesterday, but today worked out and even better. She scheduled pedi’s for this morning, and Kim met us for lunch in Cielito’s courtyard, which was all kinds o’ fun and therapeutic as always.

Some people read my mail, Rita reads my blog – same thing – so she knows how tied in knots I am. We don’t talk much about current events lately, what’s the point, but even if there wasn’t a gut-spilling blog for her to absorb, she’d know. When we couldn’t spend time together yesterday she texted me a shot of encouragement to disallow him-who-shall-not-be-named from taking up room in my head and stealing the joy out of my heart. And to remember that it’s my life and I can willfully choose to cut out the chatter. And that we already know how dire it is, so we have to live every day like it’s our final one – because it just could be. I think my work here is done: the last has become first, the baby sister has the words the big sister needs, and the world will obviously keep on turning.

She’s right. 💋

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Time, yeah… page 94

Day 185 – 09/13/2020

I fronted a smooth face to the world for a long time. But now, thanks to the power of genetics, when I look in the mirror I see all my grandmothers looking back at me, and like Nora Ephron I feel bad about my neck, so – SCREW mirrors. The never-ending decade formerly known as 2020 is aging me from the inside out in subtle but irrefutable ways, something I vowed wouldn’t happen. The joke’s on me… life and time run this show and both are brief and merciless.

One truth that’s emerging from the current chaos is that hope keeps us young and if it starts to fade to any quantifiable degree our remaining store of callow youth goes with it… and you can’t get that back. It’s the age-old story… the tree, the fruit, the serpent, the question, the opportunity… and the choice… to know. Once we see behind the curtain the world changes forever, but without truth nothing evolves upward, especially the difficult truths, the ones we try to avoid, so it all has to be faced. There are things I wish I didn’t know about my nation, my neighbors, and the world… but as all the best people are saying, “It is what it is.” Innocence has been deflowered and total adult knowledge and responsibility have landed on our doorstep. Dammit-cwap.

Perhaps I’ll achieve this venerated state of wisdom…

John said something yesterday that will stay with me. He was updating me on friends whose plans for future retirement are altogether lovely but currently almost beyond reach, and when I showed concern that time and circumstances might keep them from realizing their goals, he put it all into perspective with one profound thought… “Sometimes the planning and hoping is the payoff.” That’s so sweetly true. Once in a while when we’re hanging out on the balcony, talking about the price of cotton and how high the river might rise, Kim and I build sand castles out of ways to spend lottery money… the people we’d share with, the promises we’d keep, the possibilities that would suddenly be open to us just for having several million dollars at our disposal. Our plans are always doable and perfectly reasonable, but actually achieving them would be far more time-and-labor-intensive and less-perfect than the dreaming, we know that… so things are totally fine as they are.

We’re here for it, though, if it ever happens – we’d be just darling as bona fide millionaires.

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Remembering…

An edited nostalgia piece from 2013 …

During a nursery visit to replace trees and plants lost to the western Kansas drought and heat (we’ve since moved to the northeast corner of the state), the greenhouse owner snapped off a king-sized rose blossom and handed it to me.  As soon as I caught its scent, my grandma was there beside me and a whole era lined up for review. 

We grew up across a gravel driveway from my paternal grandparents on a farm in the middle of wheat fields and pastures.  There were cows and chickens and a big barn populated by sleepy cats, but the best part of the farm was Grandma and Grandpa’s garden.  It spanned acres, and included most of the veggies you could name — potatoes, carrots, onions, radishes, rhubarb, asparagus, sweet corn, peas, green beans, turnips (yucky), strawberries and tomatoes (both of which we were allowed to pluck warm from the vine, with a tap on the salt shaker Grandma kept tucked under the leaves); fruit trees including apple, cherry, and peach; and flowers.  Peonies, mock orange, baby’s breath, tulips, daisies, columbine, cosmos, daffodils, lilies, phlox, snapdragons, roses. Not a complete list.

All of this was surrounded by hedges that my grandpa kept trimmed — a tall one across the back, with openings into the orchard beyond, and shorter hedges along the front and sides with shaped entryways into the three main sections of the garden.  In a corner, close to the cattle pens, grew watermelon and cantaloupe.  And a quarter-mile away, next to an irrigation engine, was a colossal watermelon patch (which became infamous in its own right — a story for another day) that produced enough for all summer and into the fall, including a happy celebration for friends and neighbors in the yard.

Outside the confines of the hedges sat the two-story farmhouse my grandpa built, saturated with decades of living. Between the house and garden a hammock was stretched between two big cottonwoods, and a rope swing hung from a branch.  The clotheslines where we helped Grandma “hang out a nice wash,” as she invariably declared it to be, stretched across the grass.  

There was a cement and brick milk house where our dad and grandpa filtered the milk from the cows, skimmed off the heavy cream, and left it all in glass jars to cool in troughs of ice-cold running water brought up by the windmill anchored next to the building.  A battered tin cup hung on a pipe next to the well so anyone who wanted to could pump a fresh drink of water. (There was no pandemic raging.)   

We (my sisters and brother and I, along with cousins and neighbor kids) spent long hours in that yard, held tea parties under the tall conifers set in the middle of the garden, and built more than one fort among the fruit trees and evergreens out back.  And on occasion, we worked.  

When I think of my grandparents – she born in 1889 and he five years earlier – he shows up in long-sleeved chambray shirt and faded Levis and she’s wearing a homemade housedress and apron, tied at the waist and pinned to the flowery cotton of her dress at the shoulders.  And she never went out, hoe in hand, without a handmade sunbonnet.  A real lady had creamy white skin, and although Grandma had been born with distinctly olive coloring, she tried.  Grandpa protected his head with a well-worn felt cowboy hat that he sweated through in nothing flat.

Thus they went forth every morning equipped for work, intent upon it, dedicated to it.  Those luscious fruits and vegetables out there in the hot sun were life, and life doesn’t wait.  They did their best to corral us, to slow our head-long summer romp through the garden, to foist sunbonnets upon us and thrust hoes and rakes into our grubby little hands.  I remember thinking I really should help out more, take more of an interest, learn something while I was at it.  But the fork in the big tree behind the milk house was calling my name, my book was still stashed there from the day before, and I was hot and tired and needed a drink of water from the well …. and I never quite found time to own responsibility and discipline in any discernible way.  

There was one time of year, however, when we all pitched in and did our part.  I’m ashamed to say, it had a lot to do with the fact that we got paid for our efforts, but, well ….

Every year in the days preceding Memorial Day, my grandparents would cut armfuls of tightly-budded peonies, wrap them in wet burlap, and store them in crocks of well water in the cool cement-lined root cellar.  The other flowers, too, found their way into crocks, awaiting that early-morning observance at cemeteries around the countryside.  Our job as grandchildren was to take old paring knives and snip daisy bouquets in counts of twenty-five, band them and put them in canning jars in the cellar.  It was a treat to go from the sunny garden to the damp coolness of the pit, and Grandma and Grandpa paid us a nickel a bouquet. We were suddenly rich, and Woolworth’s, McClellan’s, and Duckwall’s were a mere twelve miles away.

Despite our mercenary outlook, we managed to gain a sense of having contributed to something special.  The day before Memorial Day, which was known as Decoration Day in the 1950s, and very early the morning of, neighbors and strangers from surrounding areas started pulling into the drive to collect the big flower baskets and smaller arrangements they’d pre-ordered.  And many, knowing there were always unclaimed flowers, stopped by to see what they might pick up.  The air had a special freshness about it and people invariably seemed happy and intent on their mission.

I remember feeling proud of my grandma for her ability to grow and arrange flowers into spectacular gifts, and a connectedness to all those people coming to embrace her talents.  I started to feel tied to all the generations being honored on those Memorial weekends, and I still remember snippets of stories from the conversations I overheard.

After all the paying customers had retrieved their floral offerings, Grandma let us kids have the leftover daisy bundles to place on the graves of the nearly-forgotten babies from the 1800s in our small community cemetery a mile west of the farm.  It always felt like we’d done something amazing by honoring those brief little lives, and the yearly military ceremony conducted by aging war heroes in a sometimes haphazard and ill-fitting assortment of service garb lent added poignancy.

If my grandparents were here now they would be gratified to know how much I actually did learn through their example and the privilege of living in their shadow.  Things like hard work, respect for the living and the dead, a certain acceptance that no matter what happens life goes on … all of these have stood me in good stead over the years.

As with most farmers of that generation they never became wealthy in a monetary sense.  But the things they passed along to us are beyond price … and worth consciously appreciating as another Memorial Day arrives.

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