Wednesday, April 1, 2015

An April List

I read once that everyone loves a list. This was asserted by a person getting ready to make a list.
I forget what sort of list she proceeded to share. I think I sort of did love it.

But lists are handy. With lists, none of your thoughts have to relate in any way to any of your other thoughts. But they may, if they happen to. And with lists you don't have to create context for any given thought. You can just spit the thought out and move on unencumbered.

So...!

1. I love this sunshine!!

2. I love this warmness!

3. I love all these things that are blooming! They are all blooming at once this year, everything that blooms in the spring is overlapping everything else that blooms in the spring. I can hardly stand it, it's so overwhelmingly wonderful.

4. We should all hire laundresses and housekeepers in April so we can spend the whole glorious time outside, digging in dirt, planting things, reading our Bibles, taking walks. talking with God, not thinking about laundry, watching birds build their nests, imagining which bird you would choose to be if you were a bird, imagining that there really are  fairies, imagining what the world would be like without sin and if you didn't have to try to be good but just were automatically cheerful and industrious and compassionate and thoughtful.... Things like that.

5. I hate when you are doing laundry and find a pair of dirty socks balled-up in the corner of the couch after you have washed everything.

6. I also hate when the last person who ironed does not fold the ironing board up and put it away. It is very hard for me to fit in the 5 and a half inches that remain in my laundry room when the ironing board is up. Just because there are natives in this wig-wam who can comfortably stand and iron in 5 and a half  inches of space does not mean that I can fit into that same amount of space to put the ironing board away. Plus, it just reminds me how small I am not.

7. I am losing weight! I love losing weight. I felt very happy about my progress... then I heard today of a man who lost 390 pounds in one year. That's over 1 lb a day. A whole pound a day! Plus some!

8. I will not try to sell you anything to help you lose weight. I hate trying to sell stuff.  I also hate when people try to sell me stuff.

9. The radio ad that says if you use their tooth whitener product all your friends will be talking about how great you look? Don't believe it. Do you and your friends ever stand around and discuss how great your friends teeth look? No? Well, they aren't standing around discussing how great you look either. Even if you look fantastic and your teeth are blazing. They don't really care how you look.

10. A possum died in the woods right in front of our house. I really wish the buzzard that tended it for a day or two had been taught by his mama to finish what he started.

11. We planted peas this year, the Chief and I. It's the first year in our entire married life that I have planted peas. The Chief does not like English peas, and most of my cooking joys are derived from how much he loves to eat what I make so I have not put up peas. But I love peas and I decided to plant two rows of peas, for my own enjoyment. He made the rows and helped me plant them and covered the rows for me with all good cheer. This cheer was pretty much eclipsed by his full-blown laughter when Dustin plowed right over them, not knowing they existed.

12. I love the Chief. I can't help it. But I really do not understand how he can not like peas.

13. I found, when I was walking, a little disk of grasses. I stopped and picked it up. It looked like the beginnings of a bird nest. I looked straight up, and in the crook of the dogwood above me was a darling little nest.

14. Last Sunday in church we sang,  "I will Sing of My Redeemer" and as soon as we started to sing, tears started running down my face. I didn't know why. Later I remembered that we sang that song at Mother's funeral. How can a person start crying before he remembers?   I wonder how many other reactions we have to things without knowing why we have them. Like peas. Maybe The Chief was forced to eat peas in April when all he wanted was to be outside digging in the dirt.

15. I have the best friends. I can get choked up just thinking about how God blessed me with the best friends.

16. The other evening the Chief went walking with me in the orchard because it was getting a little late and he didn't want me walking alone. The trees against the sunset sky were just so pretty my heart ached. We scared up a big rabbit and startled some deer, and talked about things. Then the moon rose. We saw our moon shadows. And I remembered how we used to go on moonlight hikes when the moon was full when I was a little girl, down the straight dirt road that ran in front of our little cinder block house. Mother went along, and my siblings, and other children and their moms. The whole world is enchanting in the moonlight.

17. The world is different now. I would not walk alone with my children down a public road at night.

18. The world is going to be even more different in the future.

19. No matter what happens no one can take our memories from us. Nor our God. Nor our hearts.

20. And no one can take heaven, either.

21. I like odd numbers, so I will stop on this number in case I don't make it to 23.

Monday, March 9, 2015

So, I Ordered This Coverlet...

The coverlet on our bed was shrinking. I loved it; it was beautiful, but every time I washed it it  shrank some more until it ventured only timidly over the sides and foot of the bed. Weighed on both the aesthetic and practicality scales it was found more and more wanting.

So for the last 6 months I have been keeping my eyes open for another coverlet that I liked and a week and a half ago, I found one and ordered it. It was white. I recently read a study which showed that people sleep better under white bedding. Our last coverlet was ecru, so we should be sleeping a shade better.

I ordered it Wednesday or Thursday. It would be shipped Tuesday. On Tuesday morning I stripped the mattress pad and sheets and pillowcases off our bed and washed them and dried them and ironed them and made up the bed, minus the diminutive old coverlet, in happy anticipation of my arriving new coverlet and pillow shams. You can't put a new coverlet on unwashed sheets.

It was all fresh and beautiful. And waiting.

But the package did not come. I went and double checked the order. OoooHH! It was suppose to SHIP on Tuesday. Not be delivered. It was suppose to be delivered on FRIDAY. Why it would take them from Thursday to Tuesday to ship it I do not know, but I'm sure they do, and I'm sure they had a very good reason!!

 Friday wasn't all that far away. I could wait.

Friday came. I don't usually wash my sheets more than once a week but you cannot put a fresh new coverlet and shams on slightly dirty sheets. I stripped the sheets off the bed again with undampened spirits. Washed them, ironed them, made up the bed once more, and kept my ear cocked for the delivery man.

Afternoon gave way to evening, and evening faded to night. And nobody came. I had checked the order before I took the sheets off the bed. It said "Order status: In transit, on time". I guess on time means different things to different people.

I really kinda like to get a bed looking pretty. I find a good deal of satisfaction in pressing the pillowcases, and perching them just so on top of smooth sheets. I like sliding between crisp sweet smelling sheets at night. But I didn't just LOVE it. I mean, not quite that much.

When the Chief came home he did some better investigating than I knew how to do and it said the package was in Hodgkins, Ill ...."Severe weather conditions have delayed delivery. / We’re working to deliver your package as soon as possible."
At least it was in the country. At least it was not we who were having severe weather. At least I had not cut up the old coverlet into rags.
We went to bed that night breathing in the springy freshness of clean, ironed sheets, "too blessed to be depressed."

Don't you adore cheesy platitudes?? They come in so handy when all else fails.

Over the weekend the package made it to Atlanta! At least it was in the state.
This morning I checked and it was in our town!! "Out for delivery". WOOT!

I cranked up the washing machine and jerked the sheets off the bed, thwumped the pillows out of their cases and stuffed it all in the washer with the rest of the white stuff.
My package was "out for delivery!!"
I called the Chief. "You will never believe what I'm doing!!" I said. "I'm washing sheets!" He laughed, but he didn't sound in the least bit disbelieving.

Then I set up the ironing board. Got my trusty Magic Sizing. Put water in the iron. plugged it in...and started ironing.

And this afternoon right after I got home from retrieving the natives from school, the dogs set up a howl. This could only mean one thing. My package had arrived! I opened it with great joy and went to start my iron again. One of the natives, who had just been eating Cheetos, helped unfold it. "Watch out" said another snack eating native, "you're getting cheesy stuff on the cover!"

"I washed my hands" he said limply, looking at the damage. And he spoke the truth. It was wet cheesy stuff. There was some on the sheets too.

I got a white cloth and scrubbed at it, trying to decided just how obsessive to be. Should I launder them before I even put them on the bed? They probably had factory germs after all.

But the orange stuff came off  with only a little effort, so I quit trying to decide, I just ironed it all and put it on the bed, like the sensible person I am.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

On Societies and Cultures Large and Small

NOTICE: The first half and the last half of this blog were written months apart. MONTHS.
You see, I wasn't done writing it when the Chief came home so he played me a game of Settlers of Catan in good faith. Slightly misplaced faith, alas.
But here it is, Chief of mine. Thank you for your contributions to our native micro-culture.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Chief said if I would write a blog this afternoon while he was gone he would play Settlers of Catan with me later. Shameless arm-twisting.

"I can't just do that." I said. "I have to have something to write about. I don't have anything to write about."

"I know you." he replied. "You can write about nothing."

This was suppose to encourage me, I think. 

Every time I write I am under the impression I am writing about something, but apparently it does not seem so from his perspective.

Since I really want to play Settlers of Catan when he gets home I am going to write this afternoon and whether I write about something or nothing, you can decide.

To me it is a rather fascinating something.

It is culture. Or society.

Society I guess, is responsible for the resulting culture. And it is blamed for all sorts of ills, crimes, sins, and unhealthy behavior patterns.
When somebody behaves poorly it is quite common for them or the people who love them to blame it on society or the prevailing culture.
Entire blocks of people are regularly given a nearly blanket behavioral pass because society has, after all, made them what they are and they are merely products of the culture in which they find themselves.

This is convenient. Society, after all, cannot defend herself, making her a very meek scapegoat, barely bleating as her throat is slit and she is sacrificed in stead of the actual perpetrator of evil.

But it does have the effect of making the individuals who make up society, no matter how virtuous or exemplary those individuals might be, feel vaguely guilty. Or resentful. Perhaps both, and without recourse for shedding that guilt, having after all, so small an influence on society at large as to render him virtually powerless to shape it into something other than what it is.

The reality of the matter is that we are all going to be responsible for our own actions when we eventually stand before God. We are going to own our actions then. We would do well to own them now.

Who we are is not, in reality, the result of our culture. It is our contribution to the culture.

Well, who we are might be a result of our culture. It will in fact be unless we make intentional choices to buck it. But we can do that. We as creatures of choice have the power, and the responsibility to examine both the influence of our culture on us and the influence we have on our culture.

But I have at times considered how little influence the average person has on the greater culture in which he lives. There are some people who have, from positions of influence or fame, significantly shaped a given society's culture. But most of us will live and die without causing a perceptible blip on the cultural radar of our given society.

But underneath the umbrella of greater society are lesser societies. Subcultures. These may be formed by a common faith or religion, country of origin, regional location.  We are all part of one or more.

 It is possible often to wield more influence there, depending on our position and disposition, but likely we still hold very limited sway.

But then there are micro-cultures. And that's what I really wanted to talk about all along.
Micro-cultures.
I LOVE to observe micro-cultures. Analyze their strengths and weaknesses. Appreciate their diversity. Their splendid palate of color! They come in such a delightful bouquet of varieties.

Work-places, college campuses, churches, Bible Schools, clubs...and tada! families.

What I really, really wanted to talk about all this time was families.

In these micro-environments we wield quite a bit of influence. Our conduct, attitudes, speech, character, personality and habits contribute significantly to these environments and help make them what they are. If we stir up dust the whole atmosphere is dusty. If  we sing, the whole atmosphere is splashed with music.

We've all heard the line "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."
There is a lot of truth to that. But it is not limited to mama. If papa's upset everyone else is on edge. If  the teenagers are sullen and bitter, there's a blanket over the whole house. If the toddler throws tantrums when he's crossed, nobody's happy either, especially not the toddler, though a lot of other people are probably pretending to be to keep the sun shining in his world at all times.

I have for many years enjoyed analyzing families that to me seem really neat. It's intriguing to me how vastly they may differ from one another. In one there may be incredible structure and precision. Their house is always neat. Their lawn is groomed. There are no empty cups and receipts and used tissues in their vehicles. But still there is a warmth and love.

Another may have more in common with a fireworks display, great colorful eruptions, punctuated with lots of noise. There are families where strains of music played on fine instruments waft through the rooms at any given time during the day. And families where each one is silently curled in his own corner, reading.

There are families whose best love is inviting others and socializing over food.
And families whose best love is to just be together.
There are families  who sit at the supper table and discuss all the community news they've gleaned throughout the day.
And families who would much prefer to debate the latest mental morsel on the table.

But there are always some things in common, in really neat families. Love, being one of them. An atmosphere of kindness and respect, and unselfishness. A love for God and a general attitude of appreciation. And a sense of humor.

In my own family I am only one factor. I only contribute one person's-worth. But unlike in the culture at large, where I may feel powerless to exact change, my contributions shapes my micro-culture significantly. So how am I shaping it?

My industry or sloth not only shapes my physical environment, it shapes the emotional environment as well. It also shapes the habits of my children.
If the house is a wreck at the end of the day, the influence of that is felt keenly by all of us in this micro-culture. But it is felt just as keenly if everything is clean, the beds are made, there are bouquets in the windowsills and candles lit on the tables.

I have noticed many times how much better I feel if I am dressed neatly and my hair is clean and combed. If I scuff around in my robe with uncombed hair, my productivity plunges, my attitude plunges, my self-image plunges.  It's a rock dropped in my micro-culture with ripples that never end. Because of this, I do not often venture to begin the day till I am dressed and combed. I also look in the mirror first thing and grin at the lady in the mirror. Something about it makes me laugh, and it awakens the happies inside of me. This puts me in a frame of mind to favorably impact my micro-culture.

And whether or not I sit and read my Bible and pray. That impacts it as well. There is no one more difficult to live with than a person who is not at peace with his God. And himself. You can't have the latter without the former. Or at least I have never found the way. People who are not at peace with God and themselves are generally selfish, critical, and moody....or they can be at a moment's notice.
I do not know why it is such a temptation to neglect my relationship with my God, when maintaining it is the best thing in the whole wide world. Every time. Not once have I ever invested in my relationship with God and come away thinking, "Well, that was time and energy blown." And in turn, my relationship or lack there-of with the Almighty effects my micro-culture hugely.

There are a thousand other ways I make a major impact on my micro-culture. Do I laugh, or do I find nothing funny? Am I the sort of person to make a point of not being amused if, say, my children's teacher plans "funny hair day" and I cringe to see them going out with one ponytail and one braid, because after all, the Bible says "all things should be done decently and in order?" We are all different. We find delight in different things. Can we delight in what someone else delights in? Or not? Our response shapes our culture. It makes it what it is.

A spirit of criticism and micro management paralyzes a micro-culture. It doesn't take a genius to spot flaws in people. We all have them. Flaws are everywhere. But a healthy culture flourishes in an atmosphere of grace. In a micro-culture we can bathe the atmosphere in grace. We have that privilege. We have the power to create a flourishing, lush micro-culture. Because even though the other tribesman in the wig-wam are lacking in grace, and are abundant in flaws, we have the prerogative to remember our own flaws and extend grace.

And grace begets grace.
Just like singing begets singing.
And love begets love.
And industry begets industry.
Laughter begets laughter.
Joy begets joy.
Kindness begets kindness.
Righteousness inspires righteousness.

In a micro-culture it does. And you may think that your impact on the world at large is negligible, and perhaps it is. Now. But if you will look back a generation or two, perhaps you will get a bit of a vision for the impact one micro-culture has on the present culture. Think how many micro-cultures your parents' or grandparents' micro-culture currently influences. Whether it was healthy or unhealthy, the influence of the micro-culture you were raised in is a powerful force in your life that will either work for you or against you all the days of your life. I know each of my siblings  have been significantly impacted by the culture our parents created for us. And in turn the grandchildren's sub-cultures have been as well. In the end, our influence, though seemingly small today has potential to one day pack a significant punch.

The truth is, society at large... our culture at large... is the reflection of  the micro-cultures within it.

And I maintain that the culture at large is, sadly, a reflection of a generation, or maybe two, of parents who lost sight of the value of tenderly tending their micro-cultures in exchange for other pursuits, and have turned the daily maintenance of their respective natives over to others who have no vested interest in the heart and soul and character of the little ones in their charge.

Because in the end the hand that rocks the cradle does indeed rule the world.
Or tomorrow's world, rather.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Handel's Elusive Messiah

I love The Messiah. The real One, and Handel's, both.

For years I have been wanting to hear it again somewhere, (Handel's, I mean) but every year for years on end, either we had scheduling conflicts, found out about it after the fact, couldn't afford the tickets....something.

One year...the last year I heard it, we saw it advertised in the Augusta Chronicle, and we, and various friends of ours descended upon the church who had posted the announcement. It turned out to be a small church with an awkward, dim, 70's sort of feel to it.
The greeters seemed a bit startled to see us show up. We wouldn't be able to see the performance, they said, because there wasn't enough room for them to be at the front of the church, so the singers, et al, would be in the balcony, behind and above us. And if we had coughs, would we please not go in? Because they were recording it and they did not want any coughs to appear on the recording.

Tyler had a cough. He sat down anyway and sucked his coughs up.

As valiant of an effort as they no doubt were putting forth, it wasn't quite what we had been anticipating.

That was the last time I heard it given, and I really wanted to hear it this year.
Really Really REEEEALLY.

My love of The Messiah goes back to my childhood. It got a sentimental boost when The Chief was entering my world and he happened to sit beside me at a Messiah performance one blessed Christmastime. That was the first he really noticed me, he told me once. I was already putty in his presence, but he was oblivious...

How did I get on this subject...

Let me see here...Ok. Yes...I really wanted to see the Messiah this year. I put out a plea on facebook for my friends to let me know if they heard anything about it being performed anywhere.

They rose to the challenge splendidly! I got messages tucked into my mailbox and replies to my post. One friend generously posted a whole list of places she had received from "a very reliable source".

Perfect!

I reviewed them and selected one that fit our nutty Christmas Season Schedule.
Then I told The Chief I was just going to immerse myself in the pleasure of anticipation.

And I did.

I also took the liberty to immerse myself in the pleasure of anticipating it on behalf of the natives, who did not appear to be properly anticipating it on their own behalf. Tyler, whose memory of hearing The Messiah was largely shapen in a darkish, retro-ish church where he defied the concerned greeters, said frankly, "I'd rather stay home. Can I stay home?"

"No." I told him. "You will love it!"

Todd said. "Will we have to dress in Sunday clothes? If we have to dress in Sunday clothes I do not want to go."

"Of course you do." I said. "But honey you will love it! I know you will!"

Our oldest son and his wife decided to go as well. He generously offered to call and see if you had to buy tickets ahead of time or if you just bought them at the door. He equally generously later turned that detail over to his wife. She generously actually did the job. The first time she tried calling the number posted with the announcement, no one answered. On a following day she tried again. The phone rang and rang and rang. Finally someone answered. She told them what she wondered. When and where could tickets to The Messiah be purchased?

The phone person seemed very vague, noncommittal, and generally clueless, but finally said it would probably be best just to buy them at the door.

Excellent! That's all we needed to know.

I called the Chief early today and reminded him when we would need to leave, so he could make sure to knock off work in time. We crammed homework and I fixed the fastest thing I could think of for supper.
And then we all got ready to go. The Chief and I wore coordinating clothes in festive hues.

Fun! Fun!

The church was on the far side of town, 45 minutes away, at least. We stopped at the ATM to get cash for the tickets. The Chief winced ever so slightly, but not enough to rob me of my joy.

Scott was coming as well, in his own car, with his wife and his backseat full of people who had come from 30 minutes even farther away than we.

But we got there before they did. And were one of the first ones apparently.

 The only ones, in fact.

The parking lot was empty. The church was dark. What had we gotten wrong? The place? The time? The date? Dustin pulled the facebook post up on his phone. All the numbers and date were as we had thought.

Scott and his carload pulled up beside us and we discussed the mystery with them a bit there in the dark vacant, parking lot.

"Maybe they built a new church somewhere." said the Chief, for lack of a better explanation.

Dustin looked up the address. "This is the right address." he said.

He pulled up the announcement in the "Events" section of the Augusta Chronicle on his phone.  "It says, 'First Baptist Church of Evans on the 17th of Dec. at 7:30."

Then after a pause he said, "Hey, this was from a 2010 edition of the newspaper."

2010!

The hilarious absurdity of it all hit me suddenly and I broke into wild laughter, and the tribe joined in.

Sooo...that was that.

"Well, what shall we do then?" we asked one another.

The Chief decided he wanted to go to Home Depot to look at some reciprocating saw, or something.
We girls decided we wanted to go to Hobby Lobby.

Home Depot was closest and we were shortly there.
The guys piled out. We girls sat in the parking lot and waited. And waited.

"We looked at other things, too." they explained helpfully when they returned.

On we went to Hobby Lobby. They decided to drop us off at Hobby Lobby and go on to Best Buy while we did our thing. After all, I had just told The Chief a few days previous that someday I wanted to go and spend all day in Hobby Lobby if I wanted, with a bunch of money. Waiting in the parking lot was clearly not in their best interest.

I did not have my purse. I did not have my phone. I had been planning to go to church, after all.

The Chief pulled up in front of the store, reached for his wallet, peeled off a few bills and handed them to me with the air of a man trying to salvage the night for his wife. We spilled out, and headed for the front door not at all unhappy with our substitute plans. The guys took off down the street.

At the front doors a lady stood facing arriving shoppers as if she had a message. In fact, she did have one, and she delivered it matter-of-factly. "We close in five minutes." she said.

We turned around and walked back out into the dark sidewalk. I looked at the disappearing vehicle. It was well beyond the range of even the most wildly gesturing, loudly screaming woman. Not that I would have done that.

"We could go to Bath and Body Works!" said Regan.

Great plan. My two girls and I headed down the sidewalk with only slightly dampened spirits. But Bath and Body Works was closing too. Who closes at 8PM the week before Christmas??

We turned and walked back up the sidewalk, as if one place on the sidewalk was better than another. It seemed preferable to standing still.

I considered our situation. I had no phone, and  I knew good and well The Chief intended to leave us there in sweet peace and pure HobLob shopping bliss for quite some time. He's just that kind of man.

"I'm going to borrow someone's phone." I said. I did not want to be stranded in the dark parking lot of a closed store, while the mighty Chief and his valiant sons sacrificially put in as much time as they could stand at Best Buy.

This was clearly a desperate move for an introvert such as I, but I could think of no other plan.

We could start out in search of Best Buy, I supposed. But I wasn't quite entirely sure where it was. And what if we got there and they had changed their minds and gone somewhere else? And then what if they returned in the meantime to a dark store and no one was around? No. I could not start traipsing over town with two girls in "Sunday clothes".

I had to borrow a phone.

Women were streaming out of the store. It was closed now, and they were being shooed out in droves. I approached the first one that emerged from the doors when we got there. Trying to look as harmless as possible, which wasn't really all that hard, I said, "Do you have a phone I could borrow?"

She was altogether gracious and accommodating, pretty much like every woman feels as she is walking out of Hobby Lobby.

"Honey...." I said, with the strange phone to my ear and the strange lady listening in. I don't know if he was at all surprised to hear that coming from a totally foreign phone number or not. If so, he hid it well. "Hobby Lobby closed at 8." I said, "So we're just out here on the sidewalk. Could you come get us?"

I thanked the kind lady and we betook ourselves to a bench positioned down the sidewalk a spell for people like us, and waited for The Chief and Sons.

Before long we saw them coming down the street. They pulled up. We piled in. I handed the Chief the roll of bills he had just handed me. "I'm sorry, Babe." he said. He did not look entirely devastated, but he seemed sufficiently sympathetic. "It's okay, really," I said. "Life is too short to spend it disappointed."

We headed for home.

And then, with a sudden burst of inspiration, The Chief decided to go to Krispy Kreme for doughnuts.
Can you think of a better way to salvage an evening? I can't, frankly.

He pulled in, and for one dreadful moment we thought they might be closed. But they weren't! They weren't!!!

He bought two dozen, piping hot, and we lit into them immediately. If you have never had one hot off the presses, you cannot know how ethereal it is. But you should. Really truly you should.

It can fix almost anything. And what one won't fix, two will. especially if you have them with a cup of freshly brewed coffee. Believe me.

You have heard this from a very reliable source.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Postscript: I have absolutely no doubt that my generous friend had no reason not to trust her source, and I furthermore have no doubt that her very reliable source fully believed their information was accurate and was doing their best to be helpful. We bear nothing but appreciation and goodwill in our hearts for their benevolence to usward. And if any of y'all hear of The Messiah being presented anywhere near our town in 2015, we would love if you would let us know! Thank you!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Singed Wings (a "Guest Entry")

The following account was written by my mother, Ruth Kurtz, at the time, for a college journal when she was in college, likely in the early '50's, though taking place in the 30's. A friend of mine alerted me to its existence recently. I had never seen it before. It is a true story, and I think it deserves a larger audience.

Singed Wings

Since the time when my mother would arouse me for my 2 a.m. feeding, I have always been lured by a fascination for night life. Perhaps it is the bright lights--a sort of moth-to-candle type of attraction; perhaps it is the half-feeling of festivity in the air; perhaps it is merely the fact that humanity looks better by lamplight.

At any rate it was that appetite for night life that prompted an older and a younger sister and me to crawl into the car with my father one Saturday night. His destination was only a few hundred yards away, the corner garage, where he was going for gasoline, but that garage constituted the center of Park View's night life; so we loved to go there.

When one traveled by car from my home to this particular garage, there was hardly time to shift into high gear before he was there, but the rubber finger of darkness had erased enough of the familiar features of the place that its charm was in no way lessened.

On the particular Saturday night of which I speak we coasted into the magic pool of light that encircled the front of the building, and, as always, the odor of gasoline, new tires, and grease met us intoxicatingly. Entranced, we rolled down the windows and hung out our smudgy little faces. (Our mother never bathed us until the very last thing Saturday night because we always got dirty again unless we were taken directly from tub to bed.) We waited while my father got out.

Suddenly something was not as it should be. The car had moved! In fact, it was still moving. We did not realize that my father had parked, without pulling the brake, against the car ahead of us, and that car now, within its own rights, was leaving. All we knew was that with uncanny certainty we were moving forward.

My older sister was in the front seat, and she, with amazing foresight, promptly scrambled out, slamming the door behind her. My younger sister and I were in the back seat, and, with the departure of Mary, the burden of the enterprise rested on me. Edith was petrified with terror. To move from that moving death trap cumbered by her was an obvious impossibility. To leave without her would be murderous; so I stayed.

One thing that I had learned during the seven or eight years of my life served me in good stead at this moment. I knew how to drive a car. All you had to do was to keep from running into the other cars on the road and you were all right. That should not be hard. I leaned across the back of the front seat and seized the wheel.

My last glimpse of Mary showed her by the gasoline pumps holding her ears to shut out the inevitable crash with which runaway cars always terminate their short careers. Then with a hearselike lurch, our old Peerless swayed out into the road and was off.

I wanted to hold my ears too, but that would never do. There was an immense curve just ahead. Somehow we made it and continued on. I wondered for a second why I couldn't see the road. It was terrifically dark. The only time I was absolutely certain whether or not we were on the road at all was when another car shot by, with a superior flirt of its headlights.

After a time I remembered that people usually drove cars from the front seat; so I slowly wormed my way over the back into the place behind the wheel.

Edith was sniffling in the back seat. I wished she would stop it. I wanted to do the same thing, but we both couldn't; so I tried to act brave.

"What are we going to do?" she whimpered, between sniffs.


"Don't be afraid. They'll come after us." I lied. I knew they couldn't come after us. Whoever heard of a man catching a runaway car? I envisioned us driving to our grandmother's place. How surprised she would be to see us. It never occurred to me to wonder how we would ever cover those 200 miles to her home. We never had any trouble finding the way before. Why should we now?

"Nobody's coming yet," quavered Edith, kneeling on the seat, her face pressed against the back window. I looked around for one hopeful moment and turned back just in time to wrench the wheel and prevent us from clipping off a brick post and mowing down a length of hedge in front of someone's house. I guessed I'd better watch where I was going. We labored up out of the ditch and continued on to Grandmother's. I didn't dare take my eyes from the road, but I'm sure we were going a hot seven or eight miles an hour.

"I sorta believe someone's coming, " Edith remarked damply from the back seat. The next minute the door was jerked open and a man took the wheel from my willing hands. I noticed, as he turned the car around, that we had already gone almost half through Park View.

Some remark that the garageman made to me as we drove back put the notion into my head that what I had done wasn't the dumbest trick I had ever performed. Maybe my father would even think I was smart.

He and Mary were waiting when we got back, and as he talked a minute to the garageman, I thought I saw a flicker of pride in his eye. He crawled into the car and started for home while I waited smugly for him to say something.

He said, "Why didn't you pull the brake?"

Friday, September 5, 2014

Helpfully Yours

Last evening Todd emerged from the school with his backpack, lunchbox and an unwieldy expanse of poster-board.
"I've got to make a poster about my favorite tree." he said when we got home, looking for a place to put it.
"Today?" I said. "Is it due tomorrow?"
"I guess." he said, with an air of phlegmatic fatalism.
"Do you have other homework?" I asked.
"Yes." he said.
"Do you have a favorite tree?" I asked.
"Uhm....." he said.

This was code language for "no". It took me all of 2 seconds to decode it.

"We" would have to develop a love for a tree. Quickly.

A cursory scan of his instruction sheet indicated that this tree had to be a particular tree, not just a certain type of tree. We couldn't, say, decide weeping willows were his favorite tree. It would have to be a particular weeping willow.

"Dogwoods are nice." I said helpfully.
"Mmm..." He seemed uninspired. "What about maples?" he suggested.

We have two maples. They are basically saplings. The one we planted last year. It is still tied to a stick to keep it going in the way it should go. The other is in a pot waiting for some other trees to be felled to make room for it. It looks a little unhealthy probably because I let it get too dry this summer.

Neither one really has the characteristics of a "Favorite Tree."

"Maples...? I said dubiously. "Think about dogwoods, Todd." I encouraged. "They have such pretty flowers  in the Spring!" I said brightly. "And in the fall they turn nice and red."

He considered this.
I could see love growing in his eyes.

"I know which one!" he said suddenly, with a delightful burst of affection. "The one at the end of the lane! Come on!"

It's a quarter of a mile to the end of the lane. He had chosen roughly the farthest tree we own.

At least it wasn't a maple.
He burst out the door and headed up through the woods on Becky's pink bike.
"I don't want to get ticks." I called after him. "I'll take the lane."

We arrived at the end of the lane and surveyed his tree.

It was a nice tree.
It had lovely red berries on it already, but the leaves were still green. The leaves were kind of mottled, it seemed, the closer you got to them. I climbed up on the bank upon which it grew to select a few specimens. The red berries would be a nice touch on the poster. I was glad there were berries. Maples don't have berries. This was a good choice on his part. He watched me contentedly from astride his bike.

Something stung my foot. I looked down. I had stepped in fire ants. Ouch.

Ouchouchouch.

Off he took triumphantly on his bike. I followed at my own pace, bearing dogwood specimens and stinging feet. Or foot.

"I have to draw a picture of it." he said, back in the livingroom. The blank piece of poster-board lay on our living room floor, dominating the diminutive space.

"Are you sure??" I said. His drawing skills are not notable.
"She SAID!" he said emphatically.
"I don't see it on the paper." I responded.
"Miss Karen SAID we have to draw a picture of it!"

"It says here you are to have PICTURES of all these things....not the real thing." I said uncertainly, reading over the list....leaves, twigs, cones, flowers. Oh well. We had actual twigs. They were going on there. They would add dimension.

I googled "dogwood". And clicked on "images for dogwood".

"Come here, Todd", I said. "Which pictures do you like? I pointed out some I thought would be nice.

He chose some pictures and we printed them off. Beautiful pictures. This was definitely the right tree for him to love. He had chosen well.

I loosely arranged the things we had so far on the poster-board.

I looked at his paper. "You are suppose to include the circumference of your tree," I said. "You'll have to measure it." Todd sagged. "I don't feel like going out to the end of the lane again." he moaned.

"Why don't you choose the dogwood at the edge of the yard?" said Becky, helpfully.

"Which one?" he asked dubiously.

"The one by the dog house!" she enthused. She liked this tree. She liked to climb it. He did too, actually.
Todd switched favorite trees and off they went with my sewing tape to measure it. 16 and a 1/2 inches.

I pondered whether it mattered that the twigs we had were no longer from his favorite tree.

Todd was reading his paper. "I'm suppose to do this all by myself." he observed.

"By yourself??" I asked. I took the paper and started reading..

"Your poster will be graded on these things", I read near the bottom  "....Neatness....Did you do it yourself without your parent's help?..."

Help. What is help exactly?
 I mean, really...

"Okay" I said. "You'll have to do it yourself." I backed away from the poster.

"There's a whole list of questions." I said. "Maybe you want to type the answers to them? Make sure you type the answers in complete sentences."

He knew nearly nothing about typing, but I figured typing would add some novelty to the project that might save him from despair as well as contribute to the "neatness" stipulation.

I retreated to my bedroom to sew.

Pretty much every time I started in on a seam and the sound of my sewing machine filled in the air, I could hear him calling "MOM!" beyond  the roar of it.

"Just wait till I get to the end of my seam!" I would holler back, pedal to the metal.

The end of my seam would come and I would rise from my sewing and go see what he wanted.

I only answered questions. Answering questions is not help. I didn't touch anything. Sometimes I did offer useful information. And then I went back to my bedroom and my sewing.

"You need an apostrophe there." I said, pointing to the apostrophe on the keyboard. But I did not push the apostrophe key.

"Is that a complete sentence? You want to write your information in complete sentences," I reminded. "'A tree' is not a complete sentence."

I did not, however, type the complete sentence.

Eventually it was his bedtime. He typed on. The questions were not all answered.
"You have just one more," I said. He was dragging ever so slightly.

He laboriously hunted and pecked.

And then he printed it off. Ctrl "P". He knew how to do that. I didn't even have to offer any useful information.

"How do you want to put it on your poster?" I asked.
He stretched a length of doublestick tape on the back of his first picture and positioned it on the poster.

"Is it straight?" I asked as unhelpfully as possible.
"Yep" he said recklessly, pulling out another length of tape.
"How are you going to attach the twigs? I asked. "Maybe you could staple them on?"

I held the twigs but he did the stapling. It was clearly a two-man job.

We stood back and surveyed the poster.
"Are you sure you had to draw a picture of the tree?" I asked presently.
"I don't know." he said limply. His eyes were starting to glaze over. "I should have done my other homework first..."

His other homework! "Just go to bed.". I said. "You can do it in the morning."

In the morning he did his other homework.

"If your teacher said you have to draw a picture of your tree you had better draw one." I said.

I decided he would probably have better results drawing from a photo rather than drawing from the tree itself. I found the camera, and an SD card. Then I ventured out in the morning sunlight and snapped a picture of his favorite tree, feeling very grateful that I didn't have to sojourn to the end of the lane to do so.

I loaded it onto the computer. "Here." I ordered "Get a piece of paper and a pencil and come copy it."

I left to comb Becky's hair. No helping. It was nearly time to leave.

When I met up with him again the tree was drawn and he was commencing to cut it out with a scissors.

"You drew that??" I said. It looked surprisingly like The Tree.
"I helped a little with the leaves." said Tyler.
"He was suppose to do it without help!" I wailed. It was time to go out the door.
"He never let go of the pencil." Tyler soothed.

Todd was plastering "his" picture to the poster.

"Do you want to straighten it up a little maybe?" I said hastily.
"Nope!" he said. "That's the way I want it." He looked at it proudly.
"Okay! Come on!"
We were almost late.

I herded the natives out the door.

Becky offered to carry his poster and held it before her as grandly as if she were bearing the King's train. It was deposited safely behind the back seat and off we went to pick up their cousins and then on to school

We were done, for better or for worse.
He was done, rather.

We pulled into their cousins' drive and loaded them up.
Do you have your poster, Chris?" asked Todd.
"No," said Chris, nonchalantly. "I left my poster in your vehicle."
Todd searched in the back and pulled out Chris' blank poster.

"It doesn't matter. Just put it back," said Chris, "It's not due till next Thursday."

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Girls' Day Out.

It's perfect writing weather. Sunday afternoon, and dark. Very dark. The rain is pounding on the roof and running in wide liquid rivers down the window panes. Thunder breaks now and then with commanding force.

The natives who are here are subdued. The ones who are not went abroad to play disc golf, they and the Chief and an assortment of natives from other settlements, or at least other wigwams. Where the settlements begin and end is a bit nebulous.
What they are actually doing, I do not know. I think it is safe to say they are not doing what they set out to do.

I think I will tell you about our Girls' Day Out. It has nothing whatsoever to do with anything I just wrote, it's just that it is perfect writing weather and I need a subject.

Regan and I had been planning one for a long time, a Girls' Day Out. Weeks, at least, and perhaps months. We had some things we wanted to do, she and I, and some things we needed to buy in town. The last several times we had gone shopping the littlest natives, in spite of being gung ho at the outset, were burnt out after roughly one store's-worth of shopping. This burn-out might have been accentuated, ultimately, by vehicular woes, I don't know, because we had had a few, frankly, ranging from blown tires to pegged temperature gauges, and....other things....

We have old vehicles with hundreds of thousands of miles on them. They add dimension and interest and surprises to life.

But I digress. Anyone who knows anything about the joys of shopping, knows that shopping with someone who doesn't want to be shopping robs it of every joy...whether that person be a squalling baby, or a very patient grown-up. If they don't want to be there, you might as well go home. This is one of the Universal Truths of shopping.

But the littlest natives are pretty much ever-present, and how we were to dispense of them for a half a day or more was unclear, so we kept our eyes open and bode our time.

It came one day when Becky's school teacher called and asked if Becky would like to come help her do some prep work at school sorting tests and quizzes along with some other girls. Becky was, of course, thrilled.
"You can drop her off about 9:30 and pick her up about 2", her teacher said.

Perfect. That would be long enough to get in some great shopping! Just about right.

I sought out Regan and told her about the breakthrough in our search. "I'll see if Dad can take Todd to work with him." I said. I knew he would if he could.

"Do you know what you're doing Friday?" I asked The Chief that evening.
He didn't, but he as much as promised to take him, regardless. So we were good to go. The rest of our week was planned with shopping in view.

Friday dawned. It felt like vacation. It WAS vacation! A whole day shopping, just Regan and me, with no non-shoppers asking, #1,when we could go home, and #2, when we could eat, feigning utter exhaustion one minute and engaging in games of hide-and seek among the clothing displays the next, which of course would have to be stopped by the Wicked Squaw of the South and further impress upon them the rank miseries of shopping, and drive them back to asking questions #1 and #2.

I woke to a quiet house. Brewed my coffee and surveyed the day. It looked so tidy and nice. The school was in the opposite direction of the city we intended to patronize by 30 minutes. The wigwam lies between the two.
We would take Becky to the school, and then drop Todd off at the job-site which was, by an unusual stroke of happenstance, assuming happenstances come in strokes, just a mile or three beyond the school. And then we would head north, just Regan and I, and a clear day, and a shopping list. It would be blissful.

I was just about to wake the natives when the phone rang. It was my sister-in-law. "Would you be interested in some steak?" She asked. "Our freezer quit running and a bunch of the stuff is thawed. It's still good and cold but we need a place to put it. We have a bunch of steak in there. Would you be interested in grilling it for us in exchange for maybe half of it? It needs to be kept cold though. Would you have room in your fridge if I would bring it over after awhile?"

That sounded like a super deal, mostly. Except that it would eat into our shopping day.  I mentally tabulated the space in my refrigerator. Thanks to a collection of irregular occurrences I also had roughly six gallons of iced tea to keep cold, and fridge space was becoming a bit precious. I arranged to pick up the steak on the way to deliver the non-shopping natives to their respective destinations. We'd bring it back home and put it in the fridge. Somehow. It wouldn't eat into our day. Much.

So off we went. Just before we made it for the steak-stop, our vehicle quit running. I started it again, and off we went. We pulled in, and it stopped again. Oh well, we were here. We packed in a laundry basket of steaks. Good steaks. T-bones, rib-eyes, flank steaks, in abundant measure. Wow. How cool was this? We never eat steak.

And off we went to deliver Becky to school. The vehicle cut off again. Once. Twice. I looked at Regan. This seemed a bit iffy. I delivered Todd to the job site, and we wended our way hand-in-hand among the various work crews till we located the Chief.

"The Expedition keeps cutting off." I said. "Do you think we should take it or had we better take the Saturn?"

"I think you ought to take the Saturn." he said. It was not a big deal. We were taking the steak home anyway.

At home we miraculously found place for the laundry basket-worth of steaks among the many gallons of tea.
We then transferred our stuff from the Expedition to the Saturn.

We rolled down the windows. The Saturn has no air-conditioning.

The last time we had taken the Saturn to town, the natives and I, steam had rolled from under the hood, and we had sat in the blasting Georgia heat waiting for help to come in the form of the Chief. I was sure I had fried the motor, but I hadn't. Skippety-do-dah! It looked bone dry, but The Chief put water in it and we were good to go. The natives had been driving it ever since with no trouble.

We situated ourselves, Regan and I, a little later than we had planned, but it was okay. I started it up, pushed her into first gear. She had her issues, this little car, but she was fun to drive. I kinda liked the windows down anyway.

"I'm a little nervous." Regan said.

"I'm not," I said blithely. "It's been working fine."

We pulled out onto the road and headed down the road for the second time that morning, past familiar houses, through the pecan trees...

"One thing about your dad," I said. "he will drop whatever he is doing and come rescue us, if we need it. He's a good man. I'll take a good man over a rich man any day of the year." Not that they are mutually exclusive necessarily, but if you have to choose....

We caught the next road and we were on our way. It wasn't too hot. It was just nice.

"Can we go to Goodwill?" Regan asked. "O. wants me to see if the sequels to her books are there. She saw them the other day when she bought the ones she has but she didn't realize they were sequels."

Of course we could. We could do anything we wanted. It was Girls' Day Out. Also, I had some stuff in my trunk to donate to somebody. I would dispose of it here.
We searched with partial success for the books, met a couple friends, who were also shopping, and stopped and talked to them.

And then we were off again, to the other side of town, which was congested as usual with traffic, but more-so than sometimes because it was nearing lunch hour.  From traffic light to traffic light we waited through several revolutions because the intersections were clogged beyond remedy. I looked down at my temperature gauge, just in case. It was as far to the right as it could go.

"Oh no." I said, "it's running hot again. Here, turn on the heat." We turned on the heater full blast. I checked my rear view mirror to see if there was room in the through lane for me to be. There was. I merged into that traffic, which was at least moving, unlike the left turn lane, and we were off. "I have to find water!" I said, feeling a little desperate. Where was water?? Should I just keep moving or should I stop if I couldn't find any? I tried to call the Chief. No answer. I came to Washington Rd and took a right, keeping one eye out for water, and another eye out for red traffic lights that might impede our movement. Oh no. A red light. I dove into the nearest shopping center, traveled the perimeter of it and caught a side street. These were not my stomping grounds. I had no idea where I was going. Where was water? We scouted for gas stations, and spotted one up ahead, I pulled in and circled it. No water hose. No spigot that we could see. I barreled out on the road again flowing with traffic and blessing every green light with fervency.

Where was water? I was killing this car. I knew I was. I killed the last one. And I was killing this one. The temperature gauge was dropping. Whew. But what did that mean? Where was The Chief? Why didn't he answer his phone? We were being blasted with intense heat. I barreled across a major highway and it soon became apparent we were heading deep into the land of neighborhoods and subdivisions. There were no convenience stores in sight. The speed limits were low.
I had no idea where I was.
"If we have to stop here I won't have any idea how to tell  Dad to find us!" I said. I chose a subdivision  entrance and we started winding deep and deeper into some unknown neighborhood."

"We don't want to be back here!" Regan protested.

"I know!" I said, "but I have to keep moving. It'll come out somewhere. It has too!"
It didn't really matter where; I was totally lost, regardless.

So far, I had been turning right when I turned at all, just because turning left generally meant waiting for lights and/or traffic to cooperate, but after we had explored the depths of that subdivision and once again found ourselves at the entrance we decided to try turning left because there were clearly no convenience stores to the right. Also, I thought, it would be really nice to be able to tell The Chief where we were when the time came that he answered his phone, and the car died. Or maybe it would be other way around.

The gauge continued to stay down some, but I had no faith in it. Heater still running full blast we caught the next road.

The phone rang. It was the Chief. He has talked to me before in this same situation. He always says the same thing. "Try to get to water and get water into it as quick as you can. Be careful not to burn yourself.  I think if you're careful you'll be okay, it's an overflow tank. Do you have a rag of some kind to put over the lid when you open it?" He says the same thing every time, but I have to hear him saying it again anyway.

"I can't find water anywhere!" I said barreling down the street. Which street, I didn't know.

There is only so much you can do for your wife on the phone. He knew, and I knew, he had done what he could. We had walked this road before. "Call me back if you need me." he said. I hung up.
I saw a road I recognized and took it. Familiar territory again! And there was a gas station! Hope! We swung in. Heat blasting. Windows down. Eyes peeled.

No water.

We pulled out again into the parking lot that fed into it. I took mental inventory of the places along this road. There were no more convenience stores anywhere near that did not lie beyond great blocks of traffic that had come to a stand-still. I knew this because we had come full circle. That will happen if all you do is take right turns.

The phone rang. They were done at the school a little earlier than they had planned. We could come pick Becky up. Regan and I looked at each other. There was NO WAY we could go pick Becky up. I called The Chief. "Don't worry about it, I'll go get her. She can be with me" he said. I hung up.

Should we take to the road again? It seemed futile.

"I'm stopping", I said to Regan "I might kill it, but we have no way of knowing where there will be water. As long as we're moving the gauge stays reasonably low, I'm going to pull across this parking lot here and buy some water at Walmart."

And so we did. I parked off at a distance, quite a ways from Walmart. I didn't want anyone to ask us if we needed help. I didn't want anyone to look at me. Trouble, in my opinion, is most easily handled in private. I can handle large doses of trouble as long as it's not public trouble. Private trouble is the way to go.

So I parked way out. And cut it off. Whew. We were here at least. Off the road, in a place I had been before. No more being blasted with manufactured heat on top of the regular Georgia heat.

"Do you want to go in for it?" I asked Regan. I was feeling a bit, well....tired. I wondered if I had ruined another vehicle.

"No." She said. "I'd rather stay with the car."

I started across the long parking lot. We weren't really parked in front of Walmart at all, it was a ways away. I called The Chief again, and told him what I was doing. "Do you think 2 gallons will be enough?" I asked.

"Yes," he said, "that should be enough."

I bought three gallons.

I felt a vague urgency to get back to the car and put water in it. I didn't know if at this point all hope was lost or not, but it seemed like it would be wise to get it in there. Who knew? Not me, for sure. But just in case....

The lady in front of me was slow. She was an old lady. She had with her a grown man. Her son, I presumed. He was mentally handicapped and was rifling through her bags while she was trying to pay, hunting something. She tried to get him to stop, but he was clearly a handful. She had had him all his life, I guessed. She loved him, no doubt. There was also no doubt that he would have been a tremendous responsibility for a woman her age.

My three gallons of water were getting a bit heavy, She and her son moved on. I made my purchase and headed for the door. In the doorway ahead of me another woman leaned on her cane and crept along. She was large. There was no polite way to pass. I slowed down, and adjusted my load.

"I have no troubles at all." I thought to myself, "compared to these women. I can walk without pain. My daughter sits, with sound mind, in the car, waiting for me to come back."

Once out of the store I headed across the parking lot. I had parked a long way out. Three gallons of water...I felt my arms lengthen a few inches. Private problems are best. I walked on.

There was Regan, waiting patiently. I opened the driver's door and pulled the hood release. It was probably already fried. But I would do what I could. I went around to the front, found the little latch, and propped the hood open with the thingie they make for that purpose.

I opened one gallon of water and perched it near me, then I carefully opened the lid to the over flow tank, and peered inside.

It was full.

It was full of water all the way to the fill line. I stared at it with my gallon of water in my hand.

I called the Chief. "It's not out of water. I said. The tank is full."

"Well, I don't know what's the matter with it." he said. "Maybe it's a fan that's not working. You'll probably be okay, if you  keep it moving. If you want, you can try to go on out to Kohl's as far as I'm concerned."

"I am not going to Kohl's." I said. I wanted food. I wanted drink. I wanted to go home.

Regan and I were of the same mind. We had had enough excitement for one day. We discussed our options, and decided in the name of Girl's Day Out redemption we would stop for a caramel frappe and Buffalo Chicken fingers at Burger King. It was a wild extravagance under normal circumstances. We shared a frappe, and savored our chicken fingers, absorbing the luxury of air conditioning and just being together.

And then we came home. With our three gallons of water, we came home. And walked into an empty house.
We had marked off this day on the calendar. We had nothing else planned. Regan took a book and curled up in the recliner.

I repaired to our bedroom with the book I have been reading "Swallows and Amazons."

Silence fell.

At length, I wandered back out to the living room. Regan looked up from her reading and rearranged herself.

"It's been a good day," she said.
"It sure has," I replied.