I love how, for the writer, writing can bring the past back to life. Today I rewrote the summer of 1971. Once again, I walked through dark green cornfields in Upstate New York, climbed the twisted boughs of apple trees, watched puffy white clouds lumber across a turgid sky, nudged by the heavy breath of mid summer. Fistfuls of juicy blackberries stained my fingers, dripped down my chin as I crammed the sweet, warm gems of the season into my mouth. Oh, to once again roam the sweet spot of childhood when summers stretch endlessly before you, ripe for adventure and offering a treasure trove of sensations: icy cold creeks to plunge dusty, bare feet into, where shiny darting minnows dare you to catch them in eager, cupped hands, the taste of ice-cold sweet watermelon slices and hot, buttery corn on the cob. Saturday morning cartoons shared with your little brother, the two of you tangled on the couch in a twist of spindly arms and legs, as you fought for your own space and argued half heartedly over Flipper or the Flintstones. Your Mom half listening and refereeing from her seat at the kitchen table, sipping coffee and working a crossword. Ah, close your eyes and come with me, we will escape the icy grip of winter and leave this middle age behind! Just take my hand, and hear the sound of the screen door as it slams behind us. Feel the grass as we kick off our Keds and run heedlessly through the back yard, into the fields and the thickets beyond. The sun is warm, the wind is light and the corn fields are whispering our names!
SO I SAID TO MYSELF…..
Growing up, I remember my Dad would periodically burst into song or little sayings from time to time. We kids could recite a litany of those little gems and sometimes still do, as adults. In fact if I were to turn to my brother or sister today and sing “Far across the blue water!” The other one would respond “Oh, Lordy, Lordy!” And we would be the only ones who knew what the heck that was. We thought it was endearing and funny, especially since Dad was by nature very serious, and reserved. It gave us a glimpse into a much more playful side of him. I think every kid craves these glimpses into the personalities of the adults that surround them. These are happy little memories.
One of the things he would say was “So I said to myself – Self!” And that was it. We never knew what he said to himself, but it was a funny thing to amuse ourselves with, the thought of Dad talking to himself…
I hadn’t really thought of this little story in years. Until yesterday while sitting at my computer, working (or trying to) and just not feeling it. There are so many distractions and uncertainties in that area of my life right now – not worth going into at the moment. (Suffice it to say if there is such a thing as a three quarter of the way life crisis, I just may be having one! )I was working at home and so, there were no other humans around. My little Quaker parrot was happily reciting everything he knows how to say, over and over. It went something like this:
“Aw, pretty bird, Finn! Good Morning (10 times) Peekaboo! Hey baby! Night night! ‘Mokey! (Smokey is the dog’s name and Finn doesn’t do the S sound) This went on for a good 10 minutes. For some reason this evoked the memories of the one liners Dad would drift by and say. Then I had an inspiration. Good thing nobody was home except the animals.
So, I said to myself – “Self! Remember who you are! Strong, smart, capable and with super powers that have pulled you through harder times than these! Get back to your therapy – your pen (keyboard) and write. You’re good at it, you have been doing it since you could hold a pencil. Stop lamenting what you cannot change, but LIVE EVERY DAY as fully as you can. Keep showing up at work and giving it all you’ve got, because in this life, it’s all about how you show up EVERY day that makes a difference. Got it? Good, now get back to work and make me proud!”
Thanks, self, I needed that!
Although I always thought it would be this way, I really never was prepared for you to die and leave me with the memories. You died a month before i got married. I remember it like a sucker punch to the gut. I knew you would die before me, what with the life you led. No matter how much you prepare for the inevitable you are never ready to tell you beloved children their father died. Here is what i remember. Our first date, he was so nervous, and he took me to the fanciest place in town, the Sheraton Tara, where they served a 5 course meal. I knew he didn’t have a car, so we went on the date he driving my Ford Fiesta, I remember him revving it up and saying “Come on Betsy!” He knew more than I did about the sherbet they served to clear our palate. He had a little triangle shaped scar, from ironing his shirt for our date, the iron touched his belly and he was burned, as he ironed his shirt. Nobody as far as I knew, had ever cared enough to iron their shirt for a date with me. I knew early on he had an alcohol problem. But I loved him anyway. He had the most beautiful blue eyes. And he was kind. When he found out he would be a father, he was stunned to think I would hesitate to share my life with him. He wanted to be a dad, he told me for the first time he loved me. Once before that he tried, but I didn’t get it. He picked me up for a date and gave me a red rose. His sister later told me that a red rose means love, he was trying to say he loved me. I didn’t know about those things, and really, I wonder, how many times in my life did I miss those little messages, those little signals and traditions of love? He loved the little river band and heart. He saw them perform together. He took me to see Crosby Stills and Nash. Because I loved the song the Southern Cross. It’s too bad everything went wrong, but we all tried so hard to save him. Anyway, this is about what I remember the little things that nobody else knows, that I can share with my kids who never really knew him.
More Than by Diane Barnes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When I was a kid I couldn’t get enough of reading. I’d hold a book under my desk in school, out of view of the ever vigilant nuns, and read it, take a flashlight under the covers when I was supposed to be sleeping. A good book would get into my head, make me think, daydream, wonder about it during my non reading hours. Then, I grew up and reading became more of a luxury, something I did on vacation, or something to help me fall asleep. It took a backseat to my busy life. But every once in a while, I find a book that really grabs me, and this is one of those books.
I loved it! This book made me stay up past my bedtime and read on my lunch hour. The main character, Peggy, is so relatable. She is SO real, and so human. I laughed, I cried and I truly felt for her as she came to terms with grief and loss, and that turning point that so many women have experienced, when our children leave the nest and we suddenly are left to focus on ourselves for maybe the first time in years, and we don’t always like what we see in the mirror, or in our hearts. Diane Barnes writes about real life, and doesn’t turn away from or sugar coat the hard parts about the struggle with middle age and weight issues. Every character rang true. I highly recommend! I hope there’s more in the future about our friend Peggy, and/or her friends!
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Six years ago I rescued a mini donkey named Angel. Which, by the way, is a misnomer if I ever knew one. (More on that later). My husband and I wanted a companion for my horse, Shiloh. Shiloh had been living with us for a year as an only horse, and he seemed just fine. But so many people had told us it was mean to keep Shiloh all alone and the guilt was too much and we succumbed to the pressure. (And besides, what animal lover doesn’t love a good reason to bring a new fur baby to the family?) Soon I found myself standing in a tiny grass paddock at a local rescue farm with a pissy little mini stallion named Jack, a goat, and a mini donkey named Angel. She stood apart, her back to everyone, under a scrubby tree, staring into space, looking slightly grumpy. I slowly approached her, and quietly stood next to her as she stared out into the distance, thinking her remote donkey thoughts. After a few minutes she gave me a side eye, as if grudgingly acknowledging my presence. I reached out and touched her neck and then reached up to scratch her giant ears.
The rescue lady spoke up quickly, “She doesn’t like her ears….” her voice stopped, as I scratched the inside of Angels beautiful ears, and she stood perfectly still, and even leaned on me a little to enjoy the feeling. “Wow,” said the lady.” She does not let any one touch her ears. Ever.”
Deep from the abyss of those liquid, black eyes I had fallen into, a soft voice, my voice, spoke. “When can I take her home?”
The adventure was just beginning.
And still we harvest.
Even as we yank the last plants from the cold ground;
They hold on to the dirt for dear life
Balls of dark earth clutched in their roots
Still bearing cayenne peppers
of green, cherry red, fireball orange.
I sit in the damp dirt, marveling at the colors.
Some have skins that shine like waxed diamonds,
Others are scarred and dulled with striations of brown,
hash marks left by a hard frost.
How I wish for the summer to stay, for the sun to leave her bronze kiss
on my weary shoulders. The fiery autumn trees can’t seduce me.
Summer is my true love.
I will keep these brilliant cayennes, even the scarred ones.
And make a pepper jelly for those unforgivingly cold winter days
I will spread it over my morning toast and stare out a frost laced window,
dreaming of those lazy days past, the taste of summer dancing on my tongue.
Under the threat of a hard frost, Farmer Jonny and I spent the last of today’s daylight after our day jobs bringing in what remained of our harvest. All of the remaining peppers – green, red and hots… jalapeño, habanero, cayenne, green and red bell. Thirty butternut squashes, my rosemary and some lavender. Several cantaloupes. They are oh so sweet this year! The old ears of corn we have left on the stalk to the coyotes… yes, coyotes love old, gone-by corn! Every year we learn something new from Mother Earth. She is a firm teacher, sometimes hard, but, eventually, forgiving.
It was a difficult work week for both of us, and I wasn’t feeling much like gardening in the waning pale sunlight, with a fall wind that smelled like the breath of winter buffeting our summer-spoiled bodies. In fact, I felt petulant as a child being ordered to do a chore by a strict parent. Only I was the parent. As the memes say, adulting is hard. But, as my beloved farmer and I trundled the squashes in a giant basket between us, up the hill and onto the back porch, the wind became exhilarating, the last of the workday’s ills fell away, and our true selves, partners, gardeners, lovers of this little slice of heaven on earth emerged, and together, we beat the killing frost before it could lay its skeleton hand on the fruits of our labor.