the summer doldrums
full of silence and ennui
my bestie is borked
"How did it get so late so soon?" ~Dr. Seuss
23 Aug 2016 Leave a comment
the summer doldrums
full of silence and ennui
my bestie is borked
03 Aug 2016 Leave a comment
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:
So simple, really, and once again a little child leads us.
18 Jul 2016 Leave a comment
A marathon it’s been, the best kind – three books in quick succession, by three distinct authors, and connected by one unbroken muscular thread – The People, as they have always called themselves – and their existence from time primeval.
First in the “series,” entirely by happy chance, was MAUD’S LINE, written by Margaret Verble and published in 2015, the fictionalized story of a young Cherokee girl becoming a woman in 20th Century Oklahoma. Its contemporary portrayal of a time just past hooked itself into my imagination from – halleluiah, page one – and delivered me directly to book two.
Which – I assume you’re taking notes – was LAKOTA WOMAN, by Mary Crow Dog and Richard Erdoes, published in 1990, and not fictionalized at all. The author was active and instrumental in the Bureau of Land Management and American Indian Movements of the 1970s and 80s with Russell Means, Dennis Banks, so many others, and her gritty recounting of all the seemingly unrightable wrongs that have altered The People’s reality since the White Guys got here burned itself into my consciousness, not to put too fine a point on it.
So when both a friend and an esteemed nephew recommended Annie Proulx’s BARKSKINS within hours of each other it was clear that lil’ Ms. Serendipity had dropped in again and placed a shiny object in my path. Off the top, let me quickly address a few negative comments I’ve seen: that perhaps Ms. Proulx’s focus is…unevenly focused…that she hammers, that she commits “stylistic infelicities.” Yes, I caught all of that, recognized it, owned it and read on. The scope of the story is so expansive, so unexpectedly gripping, that the combined weight of all the odd little imperfections adds up to less than that of a feather – notable by virtue of existence, but in the end taking nothing from the whole.
Annie Proulx, author of THE SHIPPING NEWS, for which she won a Pulitzer in 1994; BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, for which she won the prize called “We’re turning your book into a movie;” along with at least a baker’s dozen more titles, has at 80 years of age turned out an epic about trees, of all things, that kept me absorbed from first page to last. Aside from her colossally amazing book, I love that she’s even older than I am, has been described as “sassy,” and knows how to write like a mutha.
Annie takes us from 1693, starting with the French in what became Canada, to 2013 in what is still Canada – with side trips to London, New Zealand, what we now know as the continental United States, and points everywhere around the globe, the entire saga stemming from one family line and diverging throughout multiple others, from the French, to The People, to the Dutch, et.al. And the wonder is that she makes us care about the majority of those characters, even though we sense they are soon to be swept from the stage to make room for succeeding generations, each one more fascinating than the last.
I like big books and I cannot lie, and at more than 700 pages BARKSKINS was too short. Annie Proulx knows how to put us at the scene of the tale with a lovely economy of language; how to scatter engaging and/or redeeming characters into all parts of the story, avoiding what could have become a tedious litany; how to illuminate dilemmas that we would downplay if left on our own. If that shedding of light is “hammering,” we’re clearly in need of a butt-load more of it – the denuding of nearly all this planet’s original forests is but one ongoing dilemma of many.
BARKSKINS indelibly lays out the sins of the past and their consequences for all humanity while also serving up reasons for hope, that essential tool of survival. Hang onto it, you future humans, and may it save your hide since most of your forebears have never carried, nor do they (we) carry, their (our) fair share of responsibility for what your present might look like.
As William T. Vollmann wrote in his New York Times book review:
“Now our own world is likewise fading, thanks to climate change. The root cause of our self-impoverishment is thoughtfully teased out in BARKSKINS, whose best line may well be this: ‘My life has ever been dedicated to the removal of the forest for the good of men.'” – June 17, 2016
12 Jul 2016 4 Comments
When I am old I shall wear purple and every damn color I want, probably all at once. I’ll be just like every other dried up old malcontent you’ve encountered, but different in ways known only to me, thus this brief Manifesto of Independence is for whoever ends up having to deal with me, most likely husband and then son, not that life ever follows a script.
IN CASE OF FUTURE FULL-ON FOSSILIZATION, BREAK GLASS TO READ:
I have no thought that anybody might need this vital information any time soon. But if you don’t write it down when it’s now, a day comes when you can’t say it anymore – you’re no longer your own advocate. And everybody needs one.
*Also Tracy Chapman. Keb Mo. Frank Sinatra’s “In The Wee Small Hours,” the album.
20 Jan 2015 Leave a comment
So tell me you’ve been finding every opportunity to dance since last week — it’s such a good habit to get into! By dance I mean sparks of any sort inside the person that is you. You give your heart permission to feel not just okay, but fabulous, even if it’s only a hit-and-run, and should it leak out your fingers and toes, by all means … make rhythm out of it.
It’s a bits & pieces Tuesday. Here’s a glorious bit that Mary Oliver wrote about her partner of forty years, Molly Malone Cook, that makes my heart dance. “The dance” is often The Blues …
“She was style, and she was an old loneliness that nothing could quite wipe away; she was vastly knowledgeable about people, about books, about the mind’s emotions and the heart’s. She lived sometimes in a black box of memories and unanswerable questions, and then would come out and frolic — be feisty, and bold.”
I love that so much.
And these two pieces made my brain boogie today …
Is it just me or is there a connection in all these jangly bits? Seriously, anything’s possible when your brain dances with your heart.
03 Nov 2014 2 Comments
Poor Monday gets a bad rap, the short end of the stick, it’s the redheaded stepchild of the week, g’head, throw your own bad cliché into the pot. Monday is my official day to uncensor myself and vent, so you’re lucky I have very little to bitch about in any direction. By this point I have only a smattering of self-censorship left, so if I were to toss my last remaining constraints a whole lotta people who thought they knew me would be bailing out of this clown car. But riddle me this, don’t we all tend to be colossal stacks of filters from womb to tomb? And if you, personally, have managed to shed a few layers along the way, does that not feel amazing?
Why does it take so agonizingly long for some of us to realize that we can’t love ourselves if we’re busy keeping everybody else happy? Why so long to know that our opinions, thought processes, and convictions are as legitimate as anybody else’s, and far saner than
many most? Why are we so … human? As you no doubt picked up on, BECAUSE YOU ROCK, those are rhetorical questions and you are in no way obligated to send me the answers.
So on this chilly November Sunday (yes indeed, overachievers do today’s homework yesterday) while I track a friend who’s running the NYC Marathon, I’m thinking about relationships. As a Social Introvert on the chart, my relationships center, in time spent, around people on Facebook and WordPress and the two forums overlap greatly. My core group of out-there-in-the-greater-world friends are almost all part of the Facebook zoo as well … so as Zucky might want us to say, “It gets complicated.”
I write about Facebook once in a while because it’s such a funny animal. Age and lifestyle differences notwithstanding, my experience with it seems to be basically the same as everyone else’s — we’re all looking for community, a spot to fit in, people to talk to and listen to, a place to say things so we can figure out what we really think, share funny stuff, and brag about pets, kids, grandkids, fairytale weddings, and vacations. However, there are some obvious differences attached to the experience: If you’re in it to troll, ridicule, hate on people, do harm to animals, men, women, children, or anything else that lives and breathes, including Mother Earth, or expose your (clearly amazing) body to the universe … then you and I occupy different worlds, thank god (except I’d take the body).
As with everything else, my personal Facebook and WordPress guidelines are simple:
1.) Since it’s my life/page/blog, I say/post/read/write/share whatever speaks to my spirit.
2.) I will never knowingly or purposely say/post/write/or share anything that would wound or humiliate someone.
3.) If you disagree with or are offended by anything I say/post/write/or share, then I encourage you to take full ownership of your newsfeed or reader and opt to keep scrolling on down the Facebook/WordPress Road. My brain flies in all directions at once and my tastes are ludicrously eclectic, so I’ll eventually get around to either pleasing or offending you and all the rest of my friends, possibly in a single post. Or you could talk with me and I promise to talk with you back, not AT you.
4.) If you’re family, going out as far as that extends … in-laws, outlaws, exes, cousins repeatedly removed … I will likely never unfriend you. However, if you’re rude I probably won’t choose to get into a discussion with you again either. Most of you in my gene pool are of the opposite political persuasion so I’m fully aware I can be a trial, but you’ve been pretty patient so far and it’s a matter of honor with me to be fair, to vet what I post, and to stay true to where I am on any given issue. You also know by now that I consider politics to be some of the most important stuff we can think and talk about since that’s what determines the kind of world we live in, so if you have to hide me, so be it, there are lots of other people here who share my passion.
5.) If you send me a friends request but never once say hey or talk to me or acknowledge that I’ve dropped in on you, my bullshit detector goes off and I start thinking about sending you to the cornfield.* So let me make this easy for you:
a.) Yes, I’m still married to that guy you probably didn’t trust, we celebrated ten years this past summer, and we’re still disgustingly stupid over each other.
b.) Yes, I’ve gained a few pounds, let my hair go silver, moved to a liberal outpost, and started living. And that’s okay.
c.) No, I don’t know why you’re here either, so we’ll probably be saying goodbye soon. I ain’t mad, bro, it just isn’t gonna work out between you and me. Really, it’s not me, it’s you, no hard feelings.
*Fellow introverts are exempt, of course. I know where you’re not coming from, and why.
To all who’ve been part of an adventure I’ve ended up living publicly on Facebook and WordPress, all the friends who were already in, have bought in, and/or hung in … thank you. You’re a big part of where life’s going — I have tremendous role models among you and find myself incorporating bits and pieces of your personalities, writing styles, mindsets, fashion revelations, food loves, humor, and more. I’m pretty sure Kim and I didn’t win Saturday night’s lottery, again … but how much could it matter in light of wealth like the above? Tomorrow the mid-terms will finally be over and we’ll know where we’re headed. And hey look! I still have genuine friends at this point, what a gift.
24 Oct 2014 8 Comments
“Mom, can we have a baby brother?”
What second-grader with two younger sisters seventeen months apart hasn’t asked that question? My dad, born a farmer, always a farmer, seeing nothing but estrogen in his future, might have thought about asking, too.
My mother was probably all for it, as long as she didn’t have to make it happen.
It happened. A brother was on the way! But things went cataclysmically wrong during his birth and he was delivered stillborn at full term. His name was Dennis Lee, and his funeral service in my grandparents’ farmhouse living room, his tiny white casket placed on a lamp table, was the first time I ever saw my dad cry. My mom was still in the hospital recovering from emergency C-section, so she couldn’t even be there. The room was a blur of tear-streaked faces, and my little sisters were in that circle somewhere, being held by neighbors. My grandparents’ grief-twisted faces seemed foreign to me. The only familiar face I could really see was my dad’s, and he was shaking with sobs. It was somehow a greater loss of innocence than the realization that the flawless little doll in white satin was my brother and he was dead.
The next year, when I was eight years old, Susan about four, and Rita somewhere south of three, it happened for real. A boy named Danny Lee arrived full term and in a hurry, bypassed a mandatory repeat C-section, came home from the hospital and instantly belonged to three older women — me, Susan, and Mother – but mostly me because Susan was little and Mother needed rest. Rita was not in a helpful mood, end of story. After our dad got our mom and the bundle settled in the living room, Susan and I jostled each other for a first peek into the bassinet. Wow, another perfect little face. Rita was across the room in the kitchen doorway with a comforting finger in her mouth, so Mother asked if she’d like to come see her new baby brother.
Finger pop. “I can see him just fine thrum here.”
Pretty much took that as a no.
So for a while, Danny Lee was my baby, sort of. I got to warm bottles, feed him, rock him to sleep, don’ know nut’n ’bout no diapers, though. Made him laugh, teased him, made him cry. And then the next day he was out of grade school and I was getting married. Meanwhile, my lucky sisters got to grow up with him. Big-sister angst is a thing, people! I knew the baby, the toddler, the sometimes-annoying grade-schooler, and the beginnings of the awkward adolescent Danny Lee. My sisters lived with all that, and then got to spend far more quality time than I did with Danny the adult.
Danny Lee was a quiet boy. Danny the man was that way too, with subtly-increasing layers of gruff for protection. Today’s social scientists might label him a conflicted introvert. Tenderhearted, easily wounded, cursed with three idiot older sisters. Talented, gorgeous, funny. Not us, him. Clever and hysterical almost from the start. Cornball humor was his forte, but puns, riddles, and goofy magic were also part of his medicine bag. AND standing directly around the corner from whichever sister was on the stylish black wall phone with the two-inch cord … farting … and walking away.
Susan had her own unique relationship with Danny, in fact they ended up practically related to each other. Oh wait. No, no worries, this isn’t one of those “farm boy and cousin” stories, I hate that crap. Okay, put down the cheese log and give me your undivided because I’m only going to say this once. My brother married a girl whose brother was married to my sister. Not Rita, the other sister. So you can pretty much deduce which sister was a sister-in-law to her own brother.
Rita wins the Sisterhood of the Traveling Overalls, though, because she worked side by side with Danny on the family farm. They got to sweat, laugh, get muddy, cover for each other’s mistakes, hatch ideas and be farm-kids-who-aren’t-really-kids-anymore hilarious. That’s blue-ribbon stuff right there, I don’t care where your state fair is.
Danny had funny lingo for things — a ball-peen hammer was a ping-bong. He also had a little bug called bipolarism, which runs in our family like … well, what it really does is stroll through at a leisurely pace. Why run, everybody’s gonna be here anyway, unless, of course, maybe they aren’t. In this gene pool if you aren’t clinically depressed, manic, or on the way up or down, you won the lottery.
Danny didn’t draw the winning numbers. In hindsight, a phrase that rarely precedes good news, we can see that he was already living with depression as a little boy. Adolescence extracted its toll, and the illness reached full force in adulthood. Anyone who’s struggled with bipolarism or clinical depression, personally or with loved ones, knows that it’s cyclical — it comes and goes. So a percentage of the time Danny enjoyed life the way we all want to, conceivably feeling what we refer to as normal.
He went into full-time farming with our dad, met the love of his life, married her, and they made three beautiful babies. He became a bodybuilder on his own time, with his own weights, and turned himself into even more of a work of art than he already was. The discipline he applied to that goal was nothing short of astounding. But the illness would not leave him any lasting peace, and he finally had all he could stand of the pain. Depression is a vicious liar that convinces you you’re in the way, you’re hurting other people’s lives by your presence, and everyone would be happier and better off without you. The brother we’d waited and prayed and hoped for ended his life on a chilly October morning with a shotgun shell to the heart, splintering the beautiful body he’d spent so many hours and weeks and months sculpting and toning. He slipped away from us in the basement of the same house where our first brother’s funeral was held.
There was a brother hoped for and lost — an impossibly small casket. A brother hoped for and found — a tiny bassinet. And then lost far too soon — a ponderous casket that made finality real.
His sweet little family was shattered. It almost killed our parents. There wasn’t anyone who knew him who wasn’t laid low, our legs cut out from under us. For me it was like having all my skin ripped off in one piece and still being required to stand on my feet raw and bleeding, because life doesn’t care, it keeps right on happening. Do I know that Susan and Rita felt the same way? Yes. Yes, I do. We’ve each dealt according to our own individual mechanisms, and come to terms with some of it. But there’s nothing like a suicide for providing your
therapist significant other with job security.
I won’t even go into the whole conversation about the whys and hows of depression and suicide. I wrote about it here https://playingfortimeblog.com/2014/08/24/challenges/ and I recommend that piece as a companion to this one if you’re looking for some feisty light on the subject.
This isn’t about explaining. It’s about the truth that three adoring sisters, a broken mom and dad, a loving wife and three little kids lost someone none of us could live without. Not and in any way be the same people we were, ever again.
This is longer than most things I write here, but it’s mostly for my sisters, and for me. And for Danny’s kids, Ryan, Jeff, and Kelsie, who were six, five, and eighteen months old when he died. He was 29 and it’s been 29 years this month. It isn’t possible that he would be 58 years old now, because he’ll always be the young Adonis I saw for the last time at a family picnic and didn’t know it was goodbye.
Danny’s funeral service has been an ongoing source of pain to his three sisters. The minister meant well, but he called Danny by our dad’s name throughout his sermon, making it all feel coldly impersonal and needlessly wounding. And his fundamentalist convictions wouldn’t allow him to say the word suicide or acknowledge that Christians with huge loving hearts are as vulnerable to depression and death as the rest of us, so it was a lot of empty words going nowhere.
On this anniversary of his death it feels imperative to try to put something of who our brother was into words, and now I find that I don’t have enough of them. He was a hero to his children and his sisters, the long-awaited son of his father, the joy of his mother’s life, the husband of his wife’s youth. He should have survived so many of us, and there will always be a vast hole where he’s supposed to be. Someone as goodhearted as he was needed to be here forever — those people are in critically short supply.
We love you, Danny, we always will. You were perfect, just the way you were. If any one of us could have known how much your heart was breaking, we would have rocked you in our arms and done whatever it took to keep you here. We know you know that … but we’ll always cry when fall comes and the leaves turn and everything reminds us of inexpressible loss.
14 Oct 2014 Leave a comment
Good morning! It’s Tuesday, and time to consider being thankful. Oddly enough, it’s no struggle to be severely grateful for this guy every day of the week. The dude loves me. Saved my life. Keeps me absurdly happy. If I told you more he’d have to kill you. I call him … Guido.
27 Sep 2014 1 Comment
Kim’s been working nine-hour days for the past two weeks, doing a one-man build for The Nervous Set at the Arts Center. This has pretty much been his baby from start to finish and he gets to use a butt-load of skills he’s proud of. He comes home every evening worn to a shred but in a good mood. I’m all chirpy for him, and now that Madison’s here the hours when he’s working on a project don’t feel as open-ended as they used to.
By yesterday, though, it’s clear that Maddie does not share my “I’m happy you’re happy” attitude. She is not happy. I regret to inform you that she is conducting herself like a tiny white douche canoe — snorting her way down the hall for potty break, straining at her leash, and barking at everything in her line of sight
including especially leaves and twigs. My stern attempts at discipline only egg her on to greater displays of rudeness.
Daddy walks in the door at 5pm and she’s all over him, an innocent pixie with light in her eyes. She covers his face and neck with kisses before I can get in line for mine, and as God is my witness she shoots me The Look — “Don’t even, Mommy dearest, he’s taken.”
I deliver the old classic “This child is causing me to come unhinged. It’s your turn ’til bedtime.” So he takes her out for Walkies & Potties and she’s angelic. No snorting, no straining, no barking. True story because I go with them — I HAVEN’T SEEN THE MAN ALL DAY! He finds the whole thing hysterical. Now they’re collaborating against me. Another woman has stolen my beloved’s heart and there isn’t jack-all I can do about it.
It’s okay, Maddie. Really. You’re a smart cookie.
27 May 2014 Leave a comment
We’ve recently changed up our exercise routine because Kim needs to rest his ankle and shoulder, so he’s off the racquetball court and I’m out of Aqua Zumba for now. Instead we’re swimming laps in the early mornings. Our spring/summer schedule filled up when we weren’t paying attention, so the earlier start every day has been a good thing, and Kim’s owies are starting to like the new regimen.
One of my last class sessions was something I’m glad I didn’t miss — you can’t prepare for serendipities, you just have to be lucky enough to notice all the little nudges that take you through your days in style.
Okay, I need to tell you that when John was just out of college and starting his first career, he got involved with an organization that provided a social life for developmentally-challenged young adults. His stories were funny and endearing, and it was clear right away that he had a gift for what he was doing. He eventually went on to exchange his design career for one as an oncology RN, and he’s not only really good at that, his tenderness for his first clients has stayed with me.
So there was a morning a while back when I’d almost skipped Zumba class … again. But hey, I showed up. I was in the water warming up when the door opened and a young guy with killer abs walked in, followed by several men of mostly indeterminate age and clearly working under challenges of various sorts. Nice Ab Guy asked if this was Zumba class and I said yes. He asked the instructor if it would be okay for them to work out with us and she said of course! So he helped the other guys tighten their waistband drawstrings, finessed ear and nose plugs, and coaxed them into the shallow end of the pool. They were none too sure about the whole thing, but their shy smiles were to die for. The eldest had scars over his back and arms that looked like severe burn damage and I prayed that some inferior human creature hadn’t hurt him on purpose.
The music cranked up, loud as always, and the new guys, with encouragement from a dozen or more mamas, got into it. Ab Man was born to dance, and obviously to help people who need him. The sweet guy with the burn scars was so sincere and earnest about trying to keep up with the moves, I had to put my face in the water to camo the tears. One young guy spent his time looking around, blowing bubbles, and making the water splash big. He may have had the best time of anyone. Every glance at one of us asked “Is this okay? Can I do this?” When class ended we all told them to be sure and come back, but that didn’t happen before I dropped out. I hope they remember their time with us as one of the really good days.
I’m lazy and whiny and it’s almost second nature for me to pick the easy way if there is one. Those guys’ lives are hard in ways I’ll never experience, but they keep going and they’re as stoic as anyone I’ve ever seen. I hope the people they encounter will be unfailingly kind to them and that even though they’ve been burned by life they’ll never lose those shy sweet smiles and their willingness to be and do and keep on giving. I have no right to even ask that … but there’s so much they can teach the rest of us and we need them.
22 May 2014 2 Comments
What a fun day so far. Kim and I swam laps at 7:30, came home for coffee and breakfast, soaked in the spa tub, and then on his suggestion we rode our bikes over to his barbershop on Mass St. and I got my hair cut. There are two long-time shops side by side, owned by one family, and they’re the real deal. The only change from the good ol’ days is that now there are women barbers alongside the men, one of whom welcomed me into her chair and gave me exactly the cut I wanted. I could have gotten it for only $6 plus tip since I’m of the senior persuasion, but it seemed cheap and cheeky to mention it, so I paid the going rate of $10. You cannot beat that, try as you might. Ten minutes in the chair, happy talk every second, and I’m on my way. Next to me a young dad was getting his head shaved for the summer, followed by his little clone doing the same. The two long-haired daughters giggled uncontrollably when I asked if they were having all their hair cut off as well. One said, “No! Girls don’t NEED haircuts!” Sadly, I am no longer a girl.
We went two doors down for raspberry lemonade smoothies before riding a few more blocks to the salon so Mama could get a pedi. With my shiny new watermelon toes we circled around to the optometrist’s office to schedule an appointment, then home. Everything is an explosion of green, and the flowers and bushes are going crazy.
And now we’re waiting for it to rain, hopefully soon.
Tonight we’ll meet friends across the street at Pachamama’s to listen to jazz. On the patio if it’s dry, indoors if it’s raining. Clearly it needs to rain NOW rather than later.
Have a safe and happy Memorial Weekend! And may all the right parts be rain free. Speaking of “free,” there’s a reason …
08 Feb 2014 2 Comments
01 Feb 2014 Leave a comment
22 May 2013 11 Comments
A nostalgia piece from my original blog, in honor of Memorial Day …
During a recent nursery visit to replace trees and plants lost to our western Kansas drought and heat, the greenhouse owner snapped off a king-sized rose bloom and handed it to me. Magically, as soon as I caught its scent, my grandma was there beside me and an entire era presented itself for review.
We grew up across a gravel driveway from my paternal grandparents, on a sweet little farm in the middle of a great expanse 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 nearly anything organic 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 eat straight off the vine and warm from the sun, taking advantage of the salt shaker Grandma thoughtfully tucked under the leaves); fruit trees including apple, cherry, and peach — and every kind of flowering thing. Peonies, mock orange, baby’s breath, tulips, daisies, columbine, cosmos, daffodils, lilies, phlox, snapdragons … and roses. That list is by no means complete.
All of this was surrounded by hedges that my grandpa kept trimmed and orderly — 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. Back in a corner, close to the cattle pens, grew watermelons and cantaloupe, sweet and succulent. And a half-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 rollicking annual community watermelon feed.
Outside the confines of the hedges sat my grandparents’ imposing two-story farmhouse, filled with antiques and decades of living, surrounded by a cool green yard with a hammock stretched between two huge cottonwood trees and a rope swing hung from a sturdy branch. The clotheslines where we helped Grandma “hang out a nice wash,” as she invariably declared it to be, stretched across the lush 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 fresh running water brought up by the windmill anchored next to the building. A battered tin cup hung on a pipe so anyone needing a quick pick-me-up could pump a fresh drink of water any time. That water was life-giving to the farmer coming in off the tractor, the farm wife with an apron full of freshly-picked veggies, or the farm kid tired and sweaty from a hot game of hide-and-seek in the yard. We (my sisters and brother and I, along with cousins and neighbor kids) spent long hours in that yard and garden, held countless tea parties under the towering twin conifers set in the middle of the garden proper, and built more than one fort among the acres of fruit trees and evergreens out back. And on occasion, we worked.
When I think of my grandparents, he shows up in overalls 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 never managed to achieve that standard of beauty, having been born with distinctly olive coloring, she tried. Grandpa, too, protected his head with a well-worn felt cowboy hat that he sweated through in nothing flat.
Thus they went forth every day 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 ice cold 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 huge armloads of tightly-budded peonies, wrap them in wet burlap, and store them in crocks of well water in the cool and spacious cement-lined root cellar. 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 into jars in the cellar. It was always 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.
We somehow gained a sense of having contributed to something very special. The day before Memorial Day, which was known as Decoration Day then, 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 bundles they’d pre-ordered. And many, knowing there was always plenty, 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 felt firmly 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 from 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 and could somehow read my heart (which I always felt they could), 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 … these things have stood me in good stead over all the years since Grandma and Grandpa left us.
As with most farmers of that generation they never became wealthy. But the things they passed along to us are beyond price … and well worth consciously appreciating as another Memorial Day rolls around.
frightfully wondrous things happen here.
Working towards global equity and equality
Creative humour, satire and other bad ideas by Ross Murray, an author living in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada. Is it truth or fiction? Only his hairdresser knows for sure.
Stuff That Needs To Be Said
Welcome to the inner workings of my mind
Beautiful and Terrible Things
Best Friends for Sixty Years and Counting...
The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.
A Taurean suffering from cacoethes scribendi - an incurable itch to write.
Humor at the Speed of Life
Every other asshole shares their opinions, why shouldn’t I?