Wednesday’s Nonfiction: An Intersection of Lives

The thing about moving house and home is that past, present and future vie for attention and, mostly, all at once. About the time it’s perceived as inevitable–papers signed, money given, changes of address completed, boxes being filled–the magnetic center of your life is yanking you back to the current abode and security. Then the past nabs you as you shuffle and muse over odds and ends. And presto! -you’re afloat in “what once was,” even dreaming of surprising segments. Then you try to imagine again the new square footage–the very shapes of rooms and placement of windows, even slant and foliage of the land– and how to grossly simply it all. And how to like it, come what may.

At least for me, all this is becoming apparent as I plot and plan with Marc. We are determined to be rational adults during the entire process; we have nearly failed a couple of times already. It has been 25 years here. It is what we know–and enjoy. It is the familiarity which tops the list, I suspect, though vast neighborhood gardens, logical grid of streets and rambunctious style of the city life–these all count so much. Yet circumstances plus a big chunk of family devotion have brought us to this moment. Our current small, well situated building will be sold sooner than later. And one daughter is having twins soon while another is having major surgery. Reasons enough to– having scouted the new domain–compare movers’ estimates.

We have fantasized about moving (once or twice nearly taken action) for…well, at least ten-fifteen years. That is a lot of looking along with balancing pros and cons. There always presented some reason the timing wasn’t right. The kids joked that we’d always talk of it but never vacate. 

This time, after months of intensive searching, one of the first places seen has become the one we’ll transform into a den in the wilderness. Sort of. I mean, it sits on a high ridge. The view is fir trees and a bit of valley. Welcome to the southwest frontier, as our son-in-law jokingly said. Not a joke, exactly, as my daily walk will preclude an easy, carefree romp. It will require a trudge to get onto hilly trails–even fetching mail, for that matter, will be a chance to exercise. I have this glowing picture in my mind, though: I am smiling, I am breathing in fresh piney air, arms pumping to generate momentum and blood flow so my brain is oxygenated and thrilled and then thigh muscles sneakily yell at me and lungs tighten– but I am happy, yes! I am moving with grace and enthusiasm as sweat makes a beeline down back and chest and my heart is kicking at my ribs. Yes, made it up another 75 feet! Good for me and all.

Speaking of which, the new place is at 500 feet which contrasts with the current sea level…from the valley to hilltops. It is weirdly–with all the nature about– a more suburban community. But we can still drive to Portland’s downtown in perhaps fifteen minutes if we luck out with traffic.

Truth is, this is one reason we chose the new place: a rich beauty of quietness, trees, views. And it is much closer to the daughters we will see often. The one blossoming with twins I will be with daily a long while as new mothering starts to fit her like a beloved, comfy garment. I am hoping my grandmotherly skills are still up to par–our youngest grandchild is now 13– but some things are embraced in faith, with best intentions grounded in love. We’ll learn by doing, all of  us.

For Marc, a drive to work or the airport will lengthen. We don’t speak of that much yet. It is what it is. He was the first to feel more strongly that the place should be our new one. He is worn out by an insomnia worsened by the cacophony of passersby, sirens, homeless rooting for bottles and cans in bins, bar visitors making known their delights and miseries as they careen down the street at 2 a.m. (Yes, it is a “good neighborhood” but it is the real city.) Whereas, I lay there contemplating what stories can come of all that, and watch the night sky that is wondrous even with its city-lit sheen. This is some of what we are leaving. And I concurred with Marc. We have lived in countryside a few times over the decades; this is out of city proper and offers another scene.

And though it has plenty of space for us (plus family meals, friends visits), it’s strangely lacking decent storage, so I must not be self-indulgent as I start sorting. We can rent storage–it seems so many do that these days–but why hang onto what is outmoded, unnecessary?

Back at my tasks, then, I find the past comprises a whole lot as I toss out ancient  reading or sunglasses; a hundred sweet birthday cards that just cannot be kept; many articles I should have read, then recycled already; silly scribblings of once-younger grandkids; a bunch of decades-old prom and recital pictures of our five; even yellowing report cards. I like to keep pictures torn from magazines and other colorful paper items… for collages that are sometimes made. My small drawings and paintings- keep or shred? How many pens and paper clips do we need? Old bill receipts? The piles grow. My massive wooden desk is like a magic object: the more I pull out, the more paper/office supplies/miscellaneous expand. And the past beckons me so that dreamy pauses become as frequent as decisive action.

When did I-we-live all this life, gather such stuff?  Know all these people (friends, family’s multi-generations, co-workers, acquaintances, also husbands)? I know I took things in hand but the events sure took me in hand, too. I stand up and utter: Gaaack!

How did the kids just…become themselves? Oh, well, it happened despite our interference and attentiveness. Was the child in the bold red gown, Cait grinning from the stairwell, minutely aware she was to be a chaplain helping the aged? How about my tiny preemie, so quiet her hands spoke for her as she built things, patiently created fresh realities… Naomi became a sculptor and an advocate for many. Aimee full of dancing passion and a spirit of justice, still a deep heart whose persistence is mighty. Alex, the one percolating twins, started out life with a rare disorder,  is courageous and ambitious, full of quirky energy. Joshua, the firebrand? A born athlete who thinks outside the box, has survived near-death more than once. Of course, these flawed but loving adult children–though not all nearby–are with me always. It is not the stuff they left for me to muse over and organize but their very existence that takes up much room within me. And I am not crowded by that.

The last time a big move was completed it was from a two-story four bedroom house. We dragged all with us, found places to keep it, hide it, lose it. (Will I locate those other socks? a lost earring? that poem?) Now, much will be let go. Material things can be weighty, a superfluous anchor for spirit and mind when both desire freedom. I am hoping someone else will utilize many books, clothes, tools, unloved furniture, those mugs that don’t excite me.

Loves, losses, hardships, revelations and such mundane moments, too –it all comes forth as I riffle through my old writings (and those family members wrote and shared), sort scads of old photos, eloquent letters and quick notes from my strong, thoughtful mother and tender sisters. Examining my father’s signature stamp for his correspondence and instrument invoices, I wonder why on earth I still have that useless thing. How do I rid myself of special Valentine’s Day cards that Annie, my artist sister-in-law, has created for years? Or the sheaf of postcards that Naomi and I sent back and forth, each inscribed with a sentence, poem, dream–a story that we made together with replies? The music mixes Alex made for us, some on which she was joyfully singing. The collection of bells that my mother started and gave me. My cello, asleep in its case.

It gets harder the more I stop to consider it all. Only things, I tell myself, let the life that was lived just be at it’s ease.

And please may my family not have to plow through an abundance of unnecessary stuff when I am gone for good.

Ordinarily, I do not linger in the past–despite the fact that many of my narrative nonfiction pieces revisit the past somehow. It is material for writing within a set time frame; I delve into whatever waits to take its place on a blank screen. My daily life is greatly consumed with the moment, the present needs and experiences–as is true for most, I suspect. And as I get older, I don’t think more of the past, contrary to what an over-60 stereotype indicates. There is far much to yet discover and immerse myself in; such an abundance of moments to celebrate–and work out and share. I think rather little of the future, as well–just enough so I can plan for certain events. But not so much that I become riveted or stalled by what good or ill may or may not occur. It is worth little to me to try determining a life that has created its own wild, then improved trajectory. My decisions matter, yes, but only in part. The rest is up for grabs.

So this is the thing: like a confluence of divergent tributaries, all simply merges. It is powerful, this life making its way and taking me into and along with it. In the midst of more significant change, where past and present and future intersect, I continue to find a new balance as best I can and join the lively movement forward. It is tedious and exhilarating and maddening. But I’m up for it, an hour at a time. Thank goodness I can write about such domestic adventuring. I’ll keep you posted on interesting starts and stops along the trip. And show you my perspective of the terrain I come to know. Here is to uncharted territory and trying to live this life well!

Wednesday’s Words/Fiction: The Longest Day of August

Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

Mama Leah waited showing only the barest signs of distress for two years, expectations high and prayers fattened with gratitude. After all, she’d had everyone for twenty years, longer than many if shorter than some. Pops had gone his own way on it but then he would, he was the one who had caused it all. Or so part of the extended family determined. The others kept their opnions to themselves after the first go ’round. No one was as heated after two years passed by, though. And Pops was the type who sooner or later shrugged off all hard times as the way of things, the general luck of the working man. He didn’t mention it after the first year, when he told Mama Leah to take any other tears right out of that house, they’d had three other children in case she forgot. She made four rhubarb pies instead, then gave them away and that was that. For the moment. She could not believe he did what he did. It was a near-lethal puncture in their full lives.

But the second year of a certain date, the second actual anniversary of the event, she sat on the porch and studied the yard as if it was laid out just for the eye and soul to hunger over. Adorned with flowers every season, the expanse of rainbow hues caught everyone’s attention and gave succor to many who had all but given up on their plodding or ravaged days and nights. At least Mama Leah’s garden carried on like a dream, big and bountiful as she was, bursting with the glories of life. It gave them hope when all else felt paltry. And she shared vegetables from the kitchen garden, too; you could walk right over and snap a fat tomato or strapping pumpkin right off the vines and she’d wave at you next time you passed by. Though almost nobody did that much excepting Terry Harney. And he could be forgiven with crooked leg and lopsided face, all from jumping the train and missing.

So there Mama Leah was, leaning over the railing, head moving back and forth, making sure her plants had soaked up the daily feed of water. Then she sat on the railing, her girth settling about, her hand steadied against a corner pillar. The sun was high and it was blazes out. She had been at work all day in the yard, in the kitchen. Pops had come from the mill for lunch and lastly savored a berry crumble, then left her with just three words even if they were good ones: “sweet like you”.

“Sweetness gone sour today,” she said to herself and slapped the railing with her dish towel. Then she descended the stairs and sat under the oak and willow trees and contemplated what the date meant to her now.

She recalled shouting and heat so inflamed her head hurt and her thin shirt stuck to chest and back like another skin despite the overhead fans and a lush breeze. She recalled how Pops had stopped her from reaching out a third time to Jonas, not stopped with his hand but with that single look, the one that curdled her insides. She’d ignored him, just run after Jonas, feet stumbling, but he’d gotten into his truck and backed out with a skid, yelling as he slammed the gearshift into drive.

“I won’t be coming back with tail between my legs, no sir! I’m good and done with the lot of you!” He swiped at his mouth with back of hand but kept going. “Sorry Mama,” he called out, “done is done!”

“Jonas!” she yelled. Not once, not twice but until she made him stop and idle in that street. And he gave her a stare that was weighted with feeling, his eyes filling with tears. Or that’s how Mama Leah remembered it. It might have been the sunlight’s certain angle glinting off him, but she sure felt all those tears raging inside him despite the anger and bravery and, yes, maybe foolishness. Then he was gone, rocks splitting apart the saturated August air.

It was like a long slash across her spirit, seeing that country dirt and their misery and grief caught between his teeth, and that good head full of dangerous ideas. And in her mouth were trapped the words of love she had uttered every day of his life in one way or another and could not now dislodge as she fell into the well of grief. Oh, how things bled from her, sacred things, and she could not put them back inside, not the same.

Mama Leah sat heavily in one garden chair and lay her straw hat in the other, patting the frayed top one time. Emphasis was on saving the seat. She might sit there the rest of the afternoon. Just in case. Her dark hair lifted off her neck in a gust, a fine blessing.

It took patience to wait for reconciliation, much like waiting for the bone dry bed of the creek to fill with rain and gush forth higher water, a beautiful ripple of waves that carried sustenance, and little leaves, rocks and fine starry light your way again. She had the patience. And she had the heart for it.

******

It was that August day again of the twelfth year. Time had begun to spin its tales on Mama Leah. Her big frame was whittled down enough that folks still looked twice, not sure if it was her in there. And her face, if still lit with a ready warmth, was roughed up with furrows on her forehead and lines a little like seams sewn under newly revealed cheekbones. Her hair stayed bound up now, white strays sprouting curls about her temples. Her talk was still generous, just much quieter, as if trying to not actually whisper though it felt more natural.

Pops had gotten louder when he needed to speak. It likely was worsening hearing that made him bolder and harder. Some said he just had to make some kind of statement out of his presence since he’d been passed over for the foreman’s job. Oh hell, he’d said one day at Clary’s Cafe, no one wanted to boss around his friends, anyway, he’d ride his job out another ten years and retire and get lazy and fat. Which he would not, not Pops Riddle with his knife- thin torso, that still-muscled back and arms and relentless love of work.

Their kids, Mallory, Ginny and Red, had one by one vacated the old family farmhouse–the first, Mallory, off to a two year college, then stayed in the city to their surprise but she did well for herself. A computer tech person, they said proudly. The other two migrated down the street, around a few corners in either direction. There were grandkids, one each, and the required (Mama Leah and Pops were relieved) spouses. They visited time to time and always for Sunday dinner and an hour to chat or watch a game or play games with the little ones. Ginny and Red scoped out Mama Leah with sideways glances, but gave no signal of worry. She had changed but, then, they all had, only natural. Pops saw it, too. He’d every now and then put an arm around her, give her a squeeze. She acted as if he wasn’t there at first, then glanced up at him with a mild smile, get busy again. Other than that they did okay, their kids thought, and then would ponder how that could even be.

That day they’d stood face to face in the front yard, well, passersby couldn’t help but hear much of it. Pops had told Jonas to “get out then, feed your own self, pay your own way picking a ratty old guitar in a dark corner, become regrettable.”

This came after he’d offered Jonas a good job at the mill and Jonas said he’d not stoop that low, not anymore, he’d quit his butcher store job, too, he couldn’t stand it another minute.

“I’m not gonna be chained to this worthless dump of a town, work the grind day in day out until I’m worn down to smallness, then nothing! I’m going out west, making an interesting life and I’ll be a singer for sure, never a factory rat, and not like you!”

Pops looked so terrible hard at his oldest that his eyes weren’t even his anymore, and spat on the ground. Stomped back onto the porch and turned a last time.

“You foolish, ungrateful boy, your mother and I have worked our skin off to raise this family up from the dirt, to give you more and better! Did you think a man labors hard for less than that? You want to just sing about it all? Go on. Don’t you ever throw your shadow on this house again.”

His face puffed up, beet red, he’d slammed the door behind him right after Mama Leah came around from the back, running after Jonas.

The younger children and folks stopped on the sidewalk had never heard Pops speak so eloquently, and Red and Ginny hadn’t ever seen Mama Leah lose control and holler out their brother’s name so the whole town could hear their business.

So after this, no one said his name in that house. No one dared say how they still missed him every day, big brother with his dreams, quick laugh and temper, the echoing silences that he’d once filled up with songs and jokes. His flannel shirts hung in a back closet, still sturdy and nubby to the touch, pants and miscellaneous in a box, a reprimand behind a locked door. But no one moved his leather boots from under the back stoop where they grew a thin mesh of greenish mildew, and filled with ants and spiders. They’d disintegrate before they’d ever show themselves in the dawning of day.

Mama Leah didn’t have to check a calendar as each summer drew to a close. It was an ordinary day to anyone else, but on August 24th it announced itself in her center as if ten cow bells were rung hard. The early hours of the world just vibrated. Morning sunlight passed through her skin, flashed inside her so everything felt ablaze.

She took herself from the laundry room at last and then to the weather-worn chair, removed her new sun hat and lay it on the second seat.

It had been so long, day melting into night over and over, one season turning to reveal the next, sun and moon and stars traipsing across the sky in a good rhythm. Never had she thought to be this old, fifty-two now. Leah had just been twelve, climbed the biggest maple in the side yard and boasted of her independence. She had been loud and clear. She had been possessed of youth’s unstoppable joy. But her mother fell ill, was better off and on while Leah somehow finished school, then went off to work.

And there was Pops. Horace it was then but he hated that name so when they finally got married–after he’d gotten a better job at the mill, after she’d worked front desk some years for the small real estate office, then got possession of the family house– only then she had begun to call him Pops like some others did, no good reason why though he was to become one. Her own father had gone back to Georgia relatives after her mother fell from the ladder. She had been picking apples from their own tree despite her tiredness, and so fell fast as lightning. Broke her neck. Leah had been picking some at the other tree and was struck helpless, terrorized by the scene. Her father didn’t leave until he’d chopped down that demon tree and blasted the giant stump out. With all that, she’d shrunk and paled with loss until one day she saw how she had to become all that was necessary just to be alive. And to be ready for hard things to happen. They would again, she was certain of that much.

Now it was twelve years to the day that words like bulls on the loose edged her first son way past the family circle. Beyond an embrace of its strength and affection. Maybe all Jonas could recall anymore were those added up hardships. The sloppy boots that had to be repaired over and over despite his sore feet and embarrassment, just no way to make enough money to get really good new ones. Their dinner table usually a jumble of cross talk or jabs of silence, their father at the far end who chewed on without comment as out from beneath heavy brows those eyes were sharp, questioning. And there was the dense emptiness lurking about Mill Street after he had sung karaoke, no one there to applaud but drunk buddies and those same few girls who flocked about and made him scared he’d end up captive.

That first son, Jonas, singing to her while he helped her with the back straining work in the gardens. Son of dreamy eyes, and a sudden reach of temper, a heart of a poet-warrior that found no war worth the effort. She got that much but how does a person grow up right without something true to fight for? He’d had to find it, get a firm hold on it.

Mama Leah had her children and her gardens and a marriage. But not all her children and so not all of her marriage. Only her gardens were ever faithful. These things wore on body and soul some days.

She let her hair down, let it gently scrape her neck, a bare hint of shoulders, swing under her top and between her shoulder blades until that skin recalled a hand of her husband’s, sweetness or desire. She shook the heavy weight of it, gathered it back in the clip. There was no good breeze, only the heat, only the heavens above like a giant blue eye. She watched the street, waved at walkers and cyclists who looked her way, murmured soothing greetings if they stopped. Told them to pick flowers or veggies if they liked. Bees buzzed about her head, deciding if they wanted to commune with their old friend until fast they zipped back to business of honey in blossoms. The afternoon slipped away; her eyes shut halfway. She could make out a thin glimpse of tree limbs, and it was restful to think of a world defined by such.

Yet Jonas wasn’t coming. Not this day, no. It took patience to wait for reconciliation, much like waiting for the bone dry bed of the creek to fill with rain and gush forth higher water, a beautiful ripple of waves that carried sustenance, and little leaves, rocks and fine starry light your way again. She had the patience. But she had less heart than she expected.

******

Another, then another and more robust, thundering, glistening Augusts maximized and spread out their verdant beauties like a buffet until finally it was twenty years after that first day.

Front, side and back yards were stippled dark and light as sunshine played among trees, crowds of flowers, rounded bushes. Pops was holed up in his garage workshop repairing a three-legged wooden stool and tinkering. Mama Leah was upstairs resting after canning more peaches. He’d check on her soon, make sure she wasn’t having one of her spells. Red and Ginny had warned not to say that; she had heart trouble, not any passing “spells.” But Pops preferred thinking she’d lie down or get up any time she pleased. Nothing stopped her long. She’d had a bad time of it the last couple years but it was another year and she dealt with it, was strong, stronger than he was. Though he had no physical fault lines that he knew of–he didn’t stop to think about it, just a fool’s pastime to ponder such things. He–they–kept going. If there was something broke you patched it; it’d last a long while, maybe forever. Mama Leah knew. She repaired much, even people in her way. Pops was a tough one but soon he’d retire, then she’d have less to sweat each day, less to worry over alone.

Sheer whiteness with edges embroidered in serpentine vines swelled with air, went slack, billowed and deflated, and were sucked against the screen. She knew what day it was. She lay in her sun dress with arms outstretched, bare legs and feet splayed. At the windows maple and oak leaves shook, a soft, innocent sound. Mama Leah felt she must count blessings: heart beating one more day, healthy children and grandchildren (three now), food on the table and in pantry, her garden. A husband who came home every day, gave her a kiss on a cheek, loved her in his way.

Oddly, the gardens flourished better than last year, even the years before. It was as if the more she longed for her son, the more earth offered up its consolation. She sometimes wept over the flowers pulled close to her chest–she wept nowhere else–and they took those into their lives and gave her spectacular petals, sturdier stems, deeper roots. It showed her a future of more abundance and  some days it was unbearable, that span of beauty, but she would not stop, could not resist caring for all things that grew like magic from the simple toil of her hands.

The open door to the sleeping porch let in perfumed wafts of air. Late afternoon’s caramel light hovered, a canopy of delicacy near suspended over the bed. Her damp skin shivered, ears were attuned, her mind clear.

It was that time when the day answers your flesh with a sigh and you succumb to the pause. The spirit looks up and sees the veils between bitter and sweet, love and loss, and the essence of it all just fills you up. It is the moment you wait for even if you don’t realize it, that frisson of energy hissing in your veins, a tiny suspension in eternity.

She rolled to the edge of bed, got up, went to the screen door and pushed it open. There was a song drifting by. It came from the trees so Mama Leah stepped into the sleepy day, parted silvery hair from her face and surveyed treetops, then the yard and finally the grassy earth below her.

She remembered, and took one deep breath and released it. It took patience to wait for reconciliation, much like waiting for the bone dry bed of the creek to fill with rain and gush forth higher water, a beautiful ripple of waves that carried sustenance, and little leaves, rocks and fine starry light your way again. She knew this to be truth and she had the patience. But she found she had so little heart for it as the past year had rolled by; the organ had roiled and ached in her so long, it’d had to be finally cut into, and things rearranged, and then stitched back up.

She pulled up a chair and patted the empty one, anyway, and watched the street and its people, heard birds tell tales, then crickets faintly begin as the sun sank lower without complaint. She could have stayed til dinner but that she had to cook it. So she stretched out her legs, pointed naked toes, thought of pearly nail polish, how she sometimes missed the simplest silly things.

Then appeared a candy apple red car, just made its way into their driveway and parked nice and neat. Music turned up too loud, a door flung open, and the person who emerged strutted across the yard like a man who had found a miracle, arms opened wide to land and sky and house.

To his mother looking down in disbelief.

Mama Leah yelled, “You–thank God in Heaven!–came home, Jonas! You’re home again!”

“Yes, Mama! With my songs, Mama, you hear that music? My own songs!”

Mama Leah rushed downstairs and every step she screamed for Pops and he burst from the garage just as she exited the house. Before they knew it, they were all three thrown together, stunned. Humbled. And about to be freed.

 

Part 1: A Most Excellent Gift and Part 2: A Writer’s Resolve

LPark, Mt Tabor, Irv walks, gloves 182
Mt. Hood 12/ 2017, Cynthia Guenther Richardson

Part 1

It was all done in utter secret. I, who have taken some pleasure in being intuitive or at least canny and a reasonably good study of character–having long been a writer, a counselor and a very visual person–I was blind-sighted as surely as if I had no skills, at all. Or as if I did not even know my daughter or my husband. But I was caught up in a whirlwind of preparation for Christmas and shopping for others. When my eldest, Naomi, flew in with her friend, A., I wasn’t thinking of anything but being a welcoming hostess and a loving mother.

Christmas morning was defined by overlapping shifts of adult children and grandchildren coming to our home. We nibbled food, opened gifts, chattered away. There was an hour or two when all four of our kids (a fifth not present) plus two of the grandchildren (three absent) were gathered in the living room. I watched them open bright packages, enjoying the ebb and flow of unfolding events. Tired but content.

I was finally urged to open my gifts. I reached for one but Naomi insisted I start first with a smaller item from her. I noted it was the size of a padded envelope that had arrived days earlier as had all her mailed gifts to us, but I had no sense of it being anything unusual. So I was startled when inside were two gold elastic mitten clips, the type one attaches to a child’s coat sleeve  and then to a mitten or glove.

I burst out laughing as I examined the flashy things. Naomi likes good gags and this was just the clever, goofy thing for me. Turning to my spouse I wagged my finger.

“I see what you and Naomi are up to!–you told her I have lost a couple good gloves over the years! They’re a tad gaudy but I might even use them!”

Naomi was chortling over the good surprise. “Found them online–pretty fancy grown up clips, huh? They’ll look good with your jackets!”

“You sure better use those,” Marc said, “as you just lost your favorite glove again not long ago!”

Everyone agreed as I proceeded to the next gift.

When the tissue paper was opened to its hidden treasure, I took a sharp intake of breath. And was struck dumb. The room filled with questions as I stared, mouth open. I gingerly touched the items now in my lap as if they were precious things, then pressed the two velvety gloves to my chest and my face, the softness sweet against my cheeks. I looked at Naomi as she leaned toward me. sitting on the edge of her chair, her intent blue eyes sparkling.

“What…? How…?” I asked.

When I put them on a surge of joy mixed with disbelief rose up. “But it isn’t even possible, Naomi! My very own gloves! Where did you find my gloves? They don’t even make them, anymore–I went back to the shop at Canon Beach and we looked and looked online!”

“I researched until I did finally find them on Ebay! The very last pair anywhere, I think!”

Tears came in place of words as I jumped to my feet,  my eyes on hers, the eyes everyone says we share. We folded each other in our arms, hugged long and well and just cried. This daughter who holds her emotions deep within her, who doesn’t frivolously share them…she knew. She knew me better than I thought,  she knew how much such a simple kindness would mean.

I finally let go. “Thank you so much for taking the time and effort to find these for me. Just perfect.”

Sound a bit excessive? I do admit I’ve had an unusual attachment to these gloves for years. Sometimes we just feel what we feel about our stuff.  And many readers have already heard of their loss and retrieval. The first post on losing one glove then serendipitously finding it was posted in 2014, here: Case of the Velvety Glove .  The second was about losing one a last and final time and can be read here: The Magnitude of Small Things .

It may make more sense if you know I have Raynaud’s disease, causing reduced blood flow to extremities so that my hands, particularly, deeply ache and feel frozen a long while (then burn as they warm) if I even briefly hold something chilly–an ice cream carton, for example. This occurs in as warm a temperature as 55-60 degrees. (I blame this on repeatedly cold hands, even frostbite when figure skating as a kid and youth– without mittens… And later, years of smoking, sadly.) Having a pair of good yet not cumbersome gloves or mittens makes a vital difference since I am an outdoors enthusiast.

The pair I purchased on a beach trip as winter fell upon us a few years ago were just right for most circumstances where I live. I fell in love with for the combination of warmth plus beauty, their luxe practicality; they’re made of stretch velveteen with a layer of fuzzy insulation. I can wear them casually or  to dress up a bit. Nothing beats usefulness joined with attractiveness. Thus, I was quite unhappy when I lost the second glove the last time. I’ve tried other gloves and not been satisfied. My hands have gotten too cold this fall and winter. So my daughter finding the one pair I loved and used often meant a great deal to me.

Really, though, my anecdote is about love. I suddenly and fully felt her thoughtful, persevering love for me. The fact that she also made it fun is just like her. Here are some pictures to show them to you as well as those darned elastic gold clips–I use them, as you can see. Leaning over a bridge on a recent hike, of course, they dangle quite safely as they cannot jump out of pockets! (Please click on the photos for captions and bigger pictures.)

Na and Mom Christmas 2017 001
Naomi and me (fuzzy pic by hubby, ha)

 

Part 2

New–really, revisited– writing goals were to be the topic of my first 2018 post when the glove incident took top billing. I have been cogitating about plans since attending a good writing conference in Washington last October. And there are still some fledgling ideas from then, more ping-ponging about my brain and so much the better.

The old year has passed, another has begun and I find it is high time to get back to work on writing projects I’ve been putting off. There are always so-called good reasons–devotion to this blog three times per week, health and family needs, and at times a monstrous lack of confidence that can strike right in the middle of fevered or serene writing. The kind that creeps in like black mold, felt as a perverse cynicism fought off anyway I can–fervent prayer, research on topics that attract for an essay or story, long walks that shake the oppression right off–or even superficial distractions like my magazines.

However, I am more akin to a sturdy work horse whose blinders help accomplish the job: I stick to my tasks, look neither left nor right, keep moving and writing and thus experience the fulfillment wrought of labor’s comfort…though mixed with bumptious moments. And occasionally an outright exhaustion of hope. Then I rest, begin again.

I keep on since there isn’t much I can do but write. Sure, there are a variety of interests,  proclivities, abilities. But writing is the thing that most shapes and energizes my learning and living and being. Aren’t those microscopic letters hitching a ride on cells in my blood stream?…It started at least by fourth grade when a poem was published then read for a state educators’ conference. I found it surprising that what I loved to do might matter to anyone else. (It wasn’t music, the fine art choice of my family. ) Writing was story/ It was also a natural way to access thought and feeling–it was not a mere daydream, and not some mighty goal I had to achieve.

But there came a time I sporadically submitted stories, poems and essays. Finally, it was more regularly most years. I’ve received many expected and far more unexpected rejections; I’ve also been pleased when submissions have been printed in anthologies and journals or published online. I tried my hand at very minor journalism. It was a series on domestic violence for a college newspaper that impacted many (there was a lot of data; it was then also reflective of my own life). Short stories and essays have become surprisingly appreciated, while poetry has appeared more often under three–okay, four–last names depending on changing marital status. A young adult short story was published and I’ve written several others, another genre that interests me.

I worked on a first novel, completed it over a span of ten-plus years only to have a fine and renowned editor tell me it was “overly ambitious but you are a real writer”. I felt depressed, then a little happy and quite right, that criticism. I published an excerpt from it, however and it was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and have used chapters as springboards for stories I’ve posted here. For now I’ve put it away but it tends to return to me in other forms. (A mute widow who is a dancer–and keeps secrets about her drowned husband–meets a photojournalist, bereft after a mentor and friend disappeared in the Amazon.)

There are also two well developed but unfinished collections of interconnected stories and characters. My longer fiction has not been submitted since the first novel  gave rise to interest from two agents– who later bowed out.

You never know. Sending out writing is like launching a handmade paper boat with a small lit candle in it and watching to see if it capsizes or returns with candle snuffed out or gone overboard. Of if the little oat ends up reduced to ash. You make another and send it out as it is an adventure of sorts, in any case.

This is a shortened litany of efforts and projects and small successes laced with many rejections. I took a long break again; it has occurred many times over 60+ years, but not yet for forever. The last time I submitted was two years ago. The most recent pieces are in Spark: Anthology II–that was 2014. That is, I think. It’s been too long to recall clearly what went where without checking my files; there was another poem plus a photo published somewhere in the last 2-3 years. I hope that online journal is still going strong…must check. Might be another place to submit once more!

Meanwhile, I’ve tiled over strengthening what works and learning more of what does not, slowly putting the demanding, sensitive ego aside and giving stricter attentions to word and line. I try to cut back on verbiage, even improve typos but it takes more work.

This is what a writer does, of course, and is not noteworthy except when you’re doing it yourself and sweating it out.

The point is, I’ve been writing quite awhile. And barring a period from age thirteen to perhaps twenty-one, my goal has not been to be a noted author as much as to be a worthy writer, one who stays true to herself and offers nourishment of many sorts. Just as I’ve been nourished by diverse writers whose works I’ve read over decades. I can only hope born of sincere desire that what I write has value beyond my personal passion for language and story. Nothing can stop the writing, but can I publish more? Can it be read and enjoyed more often? Do I care most about writing for its own sake? Can I also manage to care about and work on becoming more widely read?

Time ticks away. My mirror confirms this if the mind knows only this moment being lived. I have much more to access via imaginings or night dreaming or life’s small sparks, the inspirations discovered courtesy of places and people. There are ideas that barge right in, or create a steady beat of melodic words that stir in my innermost ear. A hunger seizes me as mysterious intentions of language erupt and flow. And then I am brimming once more.

I have to make room for these pressing wants and needs, just as I have made room in my life agenda for the joy of this blog three times a week. And so, to the point!

I’ve decided to post fiction or nonfiction on alternating Wednesdays and a poem or photography on each Friday. The mid-week post will be entitled “Wednesday’s Word” (fiction one week, nonfiction the next) and the Friday post will stay “Friday’s Passing Fancy” for poetry but the following week will be “Friday’s Quick Pick” for photography. I also plan to refresh graphics of the blog soon. It’s good to engage in positive transformation!

It is motivating to determine that just one more day can aid in researching markets, preparing pieces to submit, and exploring greater opportunities in literary communities/publishing worlds. Opening rejection letters and perhaps now and then an acceptance. Risk is good, I remind myself.

Not the first time I’ve reworked the format of Tales for Life, this likely won’t be the last. It is part of the fun of blogging, how much freedom we have here and control of the work we share. But I appreciate being spurred on with comments and “likes”.

I hope you will enjoy what’s yet to come here at Tales for Life. I’ll continue to peruse and absorb as many of your unique offerings as I can. Thank you for being part of the huge creative community at WordPress. May your 2018 be sublime of soul, heart, mind, and your health robust–or good enough to carry your forward as is, gratefully, my own.

Below: two of my photos from the first posts, Oregon shots shared in 2011.

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No Short Story Today; Life Just being Lived on Another Labor Day

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Photo by this writer, of flowers at our picnic table when all had been packed up and people had gone home.

I had thought I’d whip up a short story as usual for my Monday post but opted out. It is Labor Day in the U.S.A., traditionally a day when folks get together with family to share a grilled meal, relax, feel thankful for any decent employment, and grateful to enjoy the fruits of others’ labors that result in providing necessary services or material goods. And that many people can take a break from various labors, as well, during the traditional three day week-end. Marc, my husband, is engaged in the latter, reading books he usually has so little time to dive right into and enjoy.

It also signals summer’s last days, something about which I am not unhappy–it has been a too-hot and arduous summer for many in my family. And I am even longing for the autumn and winter rains. The crackling dryness begins to overtake body and mind, air is oddly tinged with smoke from wildfires–hundred-fifty hikers rescued from the Cascade Mountains over the week-end due to fires– and the skies barren of pretty clouds. It causes an eeriness as we check in to see the extreme fire weather warnings inform as not all that far way, communities are being evacuated. (We were in Cascade Locks and also some of these hiking areas a week ago; I noted extreme dryness in that post: https://talesforlife.blog/2017/08/30/young-or-older-we-are-carried-forward/)

I feel subdued, a hair and a half off, one of those days when a health issue presses upon me like a wet blanket, not “suffocating” but an aggravating nuisance. Enervating. Anyway, we saw most everyone yesterday at a picnic for a birthday. And our adult children–those in the area–are today in the midst of 1) a aiding a partner recovering from an emergency surgery 2) preparing for an important job interview and 3) busy with own family. Another one I chat with daily; she is on East coast time. And another has lately become a bit incommunicado. Family is complicated. Always loved no matter where we are, what we are up to, when we may meet again.

This vein of thought leads me to concerns of those in Houston, Texas and beyond who are dealing with ordinary life being wrenched from them. What a paramount misery it must be for many thousands, what they would give for a home to again languish within, a chance to grill a burger or veggie, to sit with friends and family and chat about nothing of import. My heart hurts for them. Simple routine work must seem a faraway dream: work now means finding shelter, safe food and water, tending to medical issues resultant of the hurricane with its winds, torrential rains and historic flooding. Let us not forget to offer healing prayers and offer money if we can spare a few dollars for organizations that directly aid the victims.

So all this gives me pause today, and if these words comprise not a diverting story or cheery essay, life gets so gritty and can bring me to a pensive state. It happens to us all.

Another thought is that this is typically the last day before school commences following summertime, whether small children and youth or young adults entering college. I saw various grandchildren yesterday at the picnic . They are very excited to resume work in school starting this week. Leisure time will again develop more value when they are caught in the throes of serious studies. Before they know it, they’ll be sweating away at a grown up job.

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Two beloved grandchildren, 11 and 15 (brother & sister). It was hot outside…don’t ask why fashion choices included cap plus hoodie plus camouflage pants- I can’t keep up. I know, the phones–but they played ball, too, and chatted. Hugs remain good, despite trends and ages.

So, Labor Day: I have been retired from counseling work for over four years now. But I recall demands of work and endless domestic needs, the deep relief of keeping some time protected, separated from employment though it might yet skirt edges of consciousness–even with beaded glass of iced tea in one hand, a glossy magazine in the other while basking in the sun.

I may still find myself waxing nostalgic about daily problem solving re: the quality of human life (with which I love to be engaged) and small victories (rather reassuring) and losses (which hurt but part and parcel of working with people in crisis). I held such passion for my job 45-55 hours/week. I still live a life stuffed with obligations and activities as well as the unpaid, tedious and enthralling labors of writing–and thinking of writing; reading copiously; more revising, ever more writing. Why, if no money is generously thrown into my bank account with promises of far-flung travel and public readings and… well, all those outrageous trappings? I simply cannot stop myself, it’s that much fun and fury. Each day, another writing adventure and i am panting, trying to keep up with all the ideas.

So. It doesn’t quite feel like I am being a bonafide laggard or, God forbid, a barely moving slug. We can always do more, of course.

My husband certainly enjoys each moment he can attend to without urgency or consequence. His work requires such attention on a daily basis so he should be at his absolute leisure (okay, he watered a few balcony plants, scrubbed the tub for me), absorbing all peace and quiet he can. For him, just not having to travel as much to “put out fires” in the aggressive world of manufacturing is a balm. So I’d consider this day a day spent well enough; he at the least deserves it. As do all others who toil so routinely.

In the end, each day is what it is; I am grateful to be able to live them as they come, not matter what the hours may require.  My life is decidedly not “picture perfect” today or any other. It all still matters–whether any of us is notably industrious or not.

I hope you folks out there are finding ways in which to enjoy time off work (if you celebrate Labor Day). Perhaps you also are taking stock of bounties and challenges. Stop and feel good about yourselves for doing what you do. And if you’re inclined toward a more pointed, factual post on Labor Day, you can find one from last year, here: US Labor Day=Time Out with a Day Off

The Case for a Little Madness

All photographs by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

 

“In the interest of my sanity, I must come to the conclusion that my household is in the grips of something I can no longer control. I surrender.”

“Yes, do.”

“Enough is enough.”

“Yes, well then, he should be banished,” Father said, trying to downplay his amusement. “But it was only a water gun fight. They dripped mostly outdoors. They’re just big kids, themselves, I’m afraid. Soon they’ll be grown ups entirely with daunting or boring careers and flocks of their own.”

I could hear her slam the sun room door–not too hard–in response and wondered what he would do next. Likely nothing but continue reading his book and magazines. Mother would fume a bit longer then get out the china for dessert.

She was Mrs. Judith Lightness, wife of Charles Lightness, esteemed judge. Chic, civilized manager of house and garden. Our mother. Her words had floated outdoors. Their timbre rumbled like the engine of a tugboat, smallish yet still mighty. We heard them from the porch table. We had drinks after dinner, as usual, enjoying the way the garden brought us a sweltering sweetness of florals. My brother, Teddy. said nothing; he knew she was slow to expand her views when it came to impulsive activities. It was as if she had only tolerance for order, proscribed behaviors, despite the fact that she had only a moderate talent for the first and reportedly deviated from the second when she was younger.

Paul sipped a brandy and licked his lips, eyes on the giant trees that surrounded the garden. He was used to ignoring mother’s distress.

“Is that a black walnut?” He pointed. “I’ve always wanted to gather the nuts and make ink from them. I read how that can be done. I’d enjoy writing a smart letter to Meredith in walnut ink.”

Teddy laughed and requested more information. My ear was inclined toward the french doors despite a tiny upsurge of pleasure at his comment.

“Pssst!”

I looked up. Lillian poked her head through her upstairs window. She had her ratty stuffed elephant in hand and waved it at me. Then she pointed down below and made a face meant for mother. I thought she would drop the creature on Teddy but he was ignoring her, his head bent toward Paul’s. She had a habit of making it dive when someone was passing, tossing it down the staircase as company arrived. Leaving it in a pathetic heap so when I left my room I stumbled. It–Hildy, she called it–seemed to do things for her, a daredevil by proxy. Lillian was seven and a half years old. When could I slip it into the trash without igniting her fury?

“Meredith? What do you think?”

I looked back at the boys. They smiled as if something marvelous would be happening if I just gave them the go-ahead so I nodded.

“The ink? Why not? Or did I miss something? Whatever you say.”

“Splendid!” Paul swallowed the last of his drink and stood. “It’s settled. Tomorrow we’ll get supplies and begin immediately.”

“Wait! What am I being recruited to do?”

“Too late,” Teddy said with shrug, palms turned up. “We have a plan and you will help.”

Well, that was the problem. My twin and our adopted cousin developed schemes and often I was a part of them without quite knowing how it occurred. A few times I had spearheaded them, but generally I was more cautious, nicknamed “Merry Mouse” by Paul long ago. But their plans were like rumbas clothed as minuettes, and every time Paul arrived the music played on and on. I sometimes felt like a whirling dervish within days of his yearly arrival. Mother would have said we were struck by lightning, only to survive for yet another strike.

He was an adopted cousin because he was, in fact, adopted by my Uncle Joseph Dane in Newport (as opposed to Uncle Joey in Charleston or Uncle Joseph III in St. Louis). Joseph Dane, or J.D., and my Aunt Genisse tried to organically summon children but things didn’t take. They found an adoption agency operating out of New York while on vacation. They eventually found Paul at age five and the rest is history.

Ours, as well, I must say. Teddy and I were two years younger so Paul took the lead. In another couple of years the gap started to close. He was a curiosity with his foster home tales, long gaunt face and wide dark eyes that appeared surprised or befuddled. Neither of which was the case. Paul knew more about a room and its occupants when he walked into it than those who studied it at length. But the expressions, along with his horsey good looks, served him well. We adored him. He came for up to a month each summer. The habit stuck, except for the year he was at Harvard year around.

He had done well. We all had. I studied anthropology, uncertain of what direction was needed. Mother said anything with marriage as a secondary descriptor might be best. But despite being a female of twenty-two in nineteen sixty-four and typecast as a mouse, I had a secret hunger for adventure.

Lillian was dangling Hildy by one ear from the window she’d opened in her room. Teddy and Paul stood up. As soon as Paul headed toward the garage he passed beneath her window and bombs away, Hildy smashed Paul’s coiffed black hair. Teddy grabbed it as it bounced off and tossed Hildy to me, whereupon we were engaged in a rousing game of catch that elicited shrieks of protest from Lillian.

Mother came to the dining room’s double doors at the other end of the house, popped her head out and called out in a calmer manner. But she still meant business.

“Please return Hildy to her owner before the neighbors call 911.”

Paul had Hildy in his hands when Lillian buzzed him with her balsam wood glider. He ran inside to harass her, which she required.

It never ended. At this point one might think so. We were adults by objective criteria but Paul continued to find ways to subvert that reality. Teddy and I followed him at a leisurely pace. Mother’s head disappeared. I yelled back in passing.

“We’re coming, mother. I’ll have a small Dutch apple slice.”

Upstairs, Lillian’s pallid face was scrunched into her persimmon expression. Paul had squirted her once more with his water gun and dampened her bed. Teddy intervened, whereupon Paul hugged her and she squeezed back.

After they left she patted the bed for me to sit down. “Are you all going to do anything good this summer?”

“You mean, with you or in general?”

She shrugged but I felt the longing in that action.

“We usually do, with and without you. Expect nothing less this year.”

“Cousin Paul will be here awhile? Remember? I’m going to New York tomorrow. I hate seeing the doctor. The pokes and stuff.” She thrust out her lower lip but didn’t sniffle.

“Yes, unless mother marches him out the door, he’ll be here when you return. We have to be ready to defend him tonight when she fusses.”

Lillian tossed wispy blond hair from her eyes. “It’s all in or all out!”

I grabbed her hand and we went down for pie. That heralding cry had come from Paul–either do something full-on or don’t bother joining in.

The next day parents and Lillian had already left for New York when I awakened. Another check up. Lillian had energy-sapping anemia that curtailed her activities. They had tried a new medicine; every three months she had tests and an exam.

**********

“What? Up way before noon? Did you have an attack of industriousness?” Teddy inquired of my presence.

Paul chortled and poured himself a cup of coffee. They were dressed in shorts, faded polo shirts and sneakers.

“How could I help myself? I have to see what you two are scheming.”

“Include yourself, Merry Mouse, in the undercover work. After breakfast meet us in the driveway. Tell no one you may see on the way.”

They left. I soon followed with my own cup of cream and sugar with strong coffee added to it. Breakfast could wait.

There was a small stack of lumber in front of the three car garage. Nearby sat four bags that looked heavy. A paint can and brushes waited in the shade. A large bench wrapped in plastic stood apart. They walked around the supplies as if they were as puzzled as I, then disappeared into the garage. It dawned on me what it might be when I found them searching through tools on the workbench and wall.

“I know you can hammer so grab one and come along,” Paul said and linked his arm through mine.

We worked well together. Over the years we had created forts, games and toys, sometimes poorly, other times with great success.

It took us longer than planned, nearly until dinnertime, and after showering off sweat and grime we re-convened for a meal.

“I hope it gets the right response,” Teddy said to me when Paul had left for a walk. “Otherwise it will have to be donated somewhere. We could have done better, I think.”

“How can it not? It turned out beautifully.”

“It’s reasonable to us but you know Mother might forbid it.”

“Please! Mother will have little to say when she sees how much fun it is.” I punched Teddy. “And don’t put it all on Paul. Anyway, Father will help. I hope.”

Paul suggested we go out for dinner to celebrate. When he uncharacteristically slipped his arm around my waist I thought he must be anxious. The night was balmy so we ate at an outdoor cafe, pleased in every way. Sloppy and a little rowdy, we walked arm in arm. It gave me pause to think how long we had been together, and scared me to think it might one day end.

When they returned our parents and sister were in improved spirits–the anemia seemed to be abating little by little. Her doctor was cautious but optimistic that Lillian would become more robust in time.

“But what’s going on in the back yard? Has someone constructed something? I saw several nails, which I narrowly missed and returned to the nail jar. Who to blame for that near-miss?”

That was Father. I thought we had placed our project far enough behind bushes and flowers groupings that it wouldn’t readily show, way in a back corner. There was no street view of the yard, so it was hidden from public probing–Mother would be relieved of that. Teddy and I stepped forward in concert. I made a sweeping gesture with my arm, pointing to porch and yard.

“I think we should go out and see the new addition to our yard.”

Mother made a clucking sound as she withheld questions. Paul led the way in the end but seemed slow-footed.

“Oh, you really did it! You made my wish come true!”

Lillian clapped her hands, then ran to the cheery orange sand box and nearly sat right down in it, floral dress be hanged, white shoes tossed onto the grass. But Paul hadn’t yet taken off the plastic from the bench or sand box in order to p[protect both. He did so, then suggested the parents sit down and relax. Lillian sat down with a sound plop. I had found a drapey coverlet to use as a canopy and Teddy and Paul had painted it. We had hung a string of colorful plastic flags on the bushes behind the bench.

“A sand box? Lillian, out of there at once. You have the wrong clothes on, in fact the whole thing is in unreservedly poor taste, the bugs, the mess, the possibilities of animals creeping into it and–”

“My darling Judith, hush for once! Let it be. They have done a very good thing here. A tiny play area right in our back yard. Her little friends will enjoy this, too.”

Mother turned to her husband, mouth agape, and then did as suggested. They watched their late-in-life child, their great surprise whom they adored piling up sand on her lap, digging with a toy spade and filling up plastic glasses and bucket we’d placed there, her toes seeking coolness below the surface.

“It was Paul’s idea,” Teddy started.

“Yes,” Lillian concurred, “he has the best ideas. Every time you guys do things, it’s good.”

Mother moaned. “Ridiculous, unnecessary things. My lovely yard…! Of course it has to be Paul. Why, dear nephew, must you always shake the boat? Visit every summer and give us such a time of it?”

He went to her side and took her hand. “It’s rock the boat, Auntie Judith, and it’s because I love you all so much,” he said, then kissed her cheek.

And that was that. Mother patted his arm and sat back. Lillian demanded I get Hildy and a few others to join her. Teddy brought out a tray of iced teas. Mother and father sat back on the attractive wood and wrought iron bench to watch Lillian play with Hildy and new sand tools.

Paul stretched his legs out and tapped my sandal with his shoe under the table. His eyes traced my face. “Well, gang, what next?”

“More fine madness, I expect,” Teddy answered. “Maybe we should build a swing set? Add another fountain? I saw a big one at the hardware yesterday.”

I was so pleased our Lillian could be given such simple fun; she had a challenging time of it. But I knew what Paul meant. I gazed at the summer sky as if nothing at all had occurred to me. But as a budding anthropologist I clearly had more real life research to do.