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.
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.
Chopping onions and peppers tonight and you came to mind.
Just last Monday I rode my horse to the end of the driveway and you drove past.
I waved furiously and our grins met in mutual recognition. I thought, “We will talk about this in a couple of Thursdays” where I expected to see you again at our knitting circle. You on my right, watching over my work, teaching me the elusive “Russian join”, picking up my lost stitches, our needles clicking as companionably as the conversation encircling us. But you left us and this world on Saturday.
I wonder if you liked chopping onions in front of the kitchen window as much as I do? Why does this thought even cross my mind?
Oh my talented knitting friend.
You will forever be the hole in the work, the dropped stitch never to be picked up again, a bright colored marker on the row where I will pause to remember.
It’s happening again. My mind feels like a maze, and I’m running from idea to idea, bouncing off the walls inside my head. I stare into space for hours, thinking about nothing. I check my social media accounts manically, in between games of Candy Crush Saga. “Bing, bing bing! Richochet Rabbit!” That is my brain. There are about a hundred tabs open on my iPad. One of them is my book. This creation that was trapped in my head for about 20 years, suddenly released from prison a year ago. It came out as memoir, then fiction took over. It was entirely out of my control. It flowed from brain to fingers then became 10,000 word group of essays. Each told a story. “You need a plot for this to be a book, with a beginning, a middle, and an end,” a wise writing friend told me. “But I’m a pantser” I said, “Writing by the seat of my pants, that’s a thing.” I had read this, which flooded me with relief at the time. I thought my career as a writer was done for. Not organized, no story line. Finished. And it was not over, however, one can only fly by the seat of ones pants for so long. I knew this, just needed to hear it. So, I went back to school, pushed through the online course I had enrolled in from the Success Publishing Academy. Shout out to Alexa Haddock Bigwarfe from Women in Publishing and founder of the WritePublishSell web page- I highly recommend it!) Back to learning the basics. From that, I learned how to brainstorm an outline, which every book must have eventually, if not in the beginning. Voila, the plot became clear. With that, a key chapter that I had stopped writing at one point as I did not know where it was going beyond into a dark woods, became a real turning point in the story. Woot! Yay me. I typed furiously. I could even picture the cover of the book, based on this chapter. I sketched it and shared with an artist friend of mine. I was firing on all cylinders! I still write some stuff with pen and paper, and I tend to take notes while I am typing . Anything that pops into my head randomly, goes in a small notebook. Then, bang, that proverbial brick wall stopped me completely. There I sat with 100 tabs open, and a pile of note paper covered with gibberish. Work got busy, the garden needed planting, I had a cocktail on the deck at sunset (unlike the stereotype, I cannot write after I drink alcohol.) On and on. So I searched online “How to conquer writer’s block” Hey it works. I once Googled “How to find a lost parrot” and it worked. But that is another story! I digress. One suggestion was “Write about writer’s block” And, it’s working, because, well, here I am, I just wrote this blog. So, cheers my writing friends! I am going to hop on over to the tab that is my book and get back on track now. I hope maybe this helps someone else refocus, hope this reaches you as you bounce from tab to tab, on the brink of despair! Do not give up! As my high school writing teacher wrote in my yearbook: “Keep Writing!” Thanks Mr. Merrigan!