Life’s Play

29 Dec 2013

12/27/13

Life’s Play

How do I know what role
Any other person is meant
To act in life’s play?
How can I judge someone’s
Actions, when I don’t know
The script they read from?
How can I say they are wrong
When I have no idea the cues
Which are being fed to them?

Life is a Shakespearian drama
With anguished soliloquies
That no one but God hears.
You only know the story line
Of your own private part
In an act with mysterious scenes.
I only see my lines. Have no idea
What response they’ll bring
From the other unseen actors.

It’s all a farce and a comedy,
A tragedy and passion play.
God the author of our words.
Only he has the complete play.
He rewrites the script and
Waits to see how we portray.
We have the free will to choose
The tone of our characters.
Responsible only for our life.

· · · ◊ ◊ ◊ · · ·

Coming Home

20 Dec 2013

12/6/13 and 12/20/13

Coming Home

I am a Baby Boomer, at the tail end of my life. I come from generations of men and women who were born, raised, and died in Fluvanna County. My roots go deep down into the soil and social fiber of this county.
My mother and I moved to Northern Virginia when I was eleven. She moved us for a job, and a better way of living than the hard scrabble existence we’d had for the six years since my father left us. The move changed my life: gave me experiences and perspectives I’d never have had if we had stayed in our Bybee home. (Bybee is one of many small rural settlements that have disappeared over the years as the USPS closed their post offices, and essentially killed the villages with that move.)
When I went off to college in 1968, my mother moved back to Fluvanna. She said she was going “home.” I couldn’t fathom why she wanted to return to a place that to my mind was still living in the 1930’s. I finished college. Backpacked through Europe. Married and moved to Colorado. Got my Master’s degree in Special Education. Moved to Maryland, and taught for twenty-six year in the same school system. Then my mother died. Suddenly, all I wanted to do was “go home.” Home to the place to which I swore I’d never return. Home to where my memories of my mother were so strong. Home to the roots that contained my great-grandparents, and my grandparents, and my mother.
I took an early retirement. My husband quit his job. We withdrew our daughter from her school in Maryland, and we moved south. Looking back, it seems a rash decision. My mother’s house needed major repairs. We took out a loan to renovate it. Neither my husband nor I had a job, and my retirement wasn’t enough to support a family. We endured some lean years until we found our footing in the new environment. Most of the adults I’d known as an eleven year old were seniors, or gone. The younger generation, my age or younger, had left the area or were people I no longer knew. After a few months I went back to work for the school system teaching Homebound students. Eventually I went back into the classroom fulltime. I think that my years of experience and the things I had learned teaching in inner city schools brought a new flavor to my students and my peers.
Even though the people I once knew are not here, and the county has had a population explosion with the creation of Lake Monticello, this is still home. I find myself on a back road, remembering picking huckleberries one hot summer day along those very road banks with my mother, aunt, and cousins. Or I drive down Hell’s Bend Road and remember my mother’s story of living in a hired man’s house with her mother, father, and siblings when she was a child. The complex weaving of that memory, from her memory to mine, envelops me until I can see that little girl, shabbily dressed, struggling through the snow to meet the school bus. I drive by what was once Carysbrook High School, now county offices, which my mother entered the year it opened, and eventually graduated from, the first in her family to gain a high school diploma. A county road rolls past the path to what was once my great-grandfather’s home. I can no longer see the house he built himself, and to which he brought his new bride one cold December day to start their life together. But I know it is there, standing deserted but still intact after over one hundred and twenty years.
Coming home means I immerse myself into the familial memories that inhabit much of this county to which I have returned. It means trips to the graveyard to greet my family members, to thank them for giving me life, and to ask them to walk with me and watch over me. Someday, coming home will mean I too am buried in that same graveyard, beside my mother, and close to my aunts and uncles, who are there, too. Coming home will mean I have finally, truly, reached home.

· · · ◊ ◊ ◊ · · ·

Bound

20 Dec 2013

9/13

Bound

Insight comes when we least expect it. Standing in a cemetery with the owner of my small community’s funeral home, looking at the grave stone of a couple who died 40 years ago, and the grave of their son-in-law who’s been there 20 years, planning the stone for his still living wife, I have an epiphany.

Frankie had drawn the plans for the new stone. Duly noting the dates to be put on it for the dead husband and the name for his living wife. We wander around, looking at other stones to compare sizes. I am annoyed that he needs to discuss other options with me. My mother’s friend, now 93, had told me she wanted a stone like her father and mother’s stone. What’s to discuss? Duplicate that stone with the new names and dates. But Frankie had his job to do, and part of it is to make sure the patron ordering the stone knows all the choices and is satisfied with the final decision. I don’t really care about the stone. I only volunteered to talk to him because my friends no longer travels and lives over 100 miles away, is legally blind and hard of hearing. I was just being the conduit for making sure the stone was there when she needed it.

At 63, I don’t expect to need a stone any time soon. But I am a planner. I jokingly told Frankie that I’d be down in the near future to order my own stone. As soon as my husband decided if he wanted to be buried beside me, or in New York with his mother’s family.

Frankie stopped and said he’d put up his own stone when his second wife died several months before. The tone changed. He said everyone had told him he shouldn’t put up a double stone. “You might get married again. And then where would you be?”

“That’s true,” he said. “I might. But I know I want to be there next to my wife, regardless.”

He looked at me, no longer the funeral director, but a man opening his soul to a friend. I was touched, honored, and uncomfortable, all at the same time. I muttered how sorry I was at his loss. And I was. Sorry that a good man had found his soul mate, and lost her at the very moment they both should have been leaving the rat race of the work world, and embarking on a journey of discovery and joy in the next phase of their lives. My recent retirement must have looked mockingly at him, because retirement for him would be lonely and empty without his wife beside him.

I was suddenly humbled. I realized the job I was doing, arranging a gravestone for my mother’s friend, was so much more then the physical legwork of planning and ordering it. It was completing the journey she had made with her partner. Giving her and the future generations, the assurance that her relationship was validated by bonding her and her husband together on a gravestone in the church yard forever. As Frankie had done with his wife and himself.

· · · ◊ ◊ ◊ · · ·

Morn Aborning

19 Dec 2013

12/19/13

Morn Aborning

A tiny sliver of light
Outlines the horizon.
Night slowly concedes the fight.
Slides off sulking to the West.

Sister Moon turns down her glow.
The stars shut off twinkling.
Soon their presence will not show.
All eyes hail approaching sun.

Feathery fingers, cloud dance.
Rose, purple, and magenta.
Ahead of King Sun they prance.
Heralding his arrival.

First a glimmer of his crown.
Then comes his full radiance.
Darkening shadows are put down.
Day is born and brings the light.

· · · ◊ ◊ ◊ · · ·

Life Is Good

12 Dec 2013

11/26/13

Life Is Good

A warm dog at my feet.
A purring kitty on my lap.
Snuggled under a comforter,
The night’s chill banished.
Warm meal in my belly.
Family chatter wraps
Itself around the room.
Dishes squeaky clean and stacked.
Nothing left in this day
That must be done.
Night draws nigh.
Bedtime beckons.
All is right in my house.

· · · ◊ ◊ ◊ · · ·

When I Die

12 Dec 2013

11/3/13
When I Die

When I die
Who will mourn?
Both mother and father
Have gone before.
Aunts and Uncles
Are already planted
In the ground
I will enter.
No children carry
My blood
To call to them.

Who will weep for me?
No one will sob
As I’m laid to rest.
No one will lay awake
At night.
No gnashing of teeth,
Or renting of clothes,
Or cutting of hair.
My picture will sit
On the sideboard
Ignored and dusty.

Who will remember me?
My husband will.
He’ll think of warm hugs,
And passionate kisses,
And laughter.
Then, one day,
He’ll remember he’s alive.
He’ll look up to see
A younger me,
And life goes on.
Picture tucked away.

Who will dream
My ideas?
My students will have forgotten
That they ever knew me.
They did not absorb
My essence,
No matter how I gave.
Most weren’t capable.
Those who were,
It was too long ago.
I’m a mere “remember that teacher?”

Where will my life be?
Echoes in my poems.
Snippets in a story.
Soul laid out in Journals.
Books with a guest appearance.
But who will search me out?
My obituary will not
Tell how I lived.
The little nuances, musings,
Weaknesses, quirks, strengths,
Will not show.

When I am gone,
What will be left.
A hank of hair and a piece of bone.
Boxes of words.
“Stuff” uncountable.
Two daughters I loved.
Three grandchildren I adored.
Mother’s memory woven through.
Two ex-husbands, and lovers.
My Nick, who accepted,
And blessed me.

· · · ◊ ◊ ◊ · · ·

Guardian Angel

09 Dec 2013

12/3/13

She started crying the second she shut the car door. And she cried all the way home. When she opened the door to her apartment, the absolute emptiness and silence took her breath away. She dropped her bag by the door, and folded to the floor. And cried. She wondered why she even bothered. Why she got up every morning or went to bed at night. If it hadn’t been for her job, her students, there would have been no reason. The only time in her day she didn’t cry was at school. Her students needed her so she went. At some level she knew she needed them, too. They kept her from jumping off the cliff of life.
She didn’t know how long she sat there, but when she realized it was dark outside, she finally got up. In the kitchen she made a cup of tea, took a sip, then walked away from it into the bedroom. She showered, put on her PJs, and climbed into bed. Tears leaking from her eyes soon wet the pillow. Finally she exhaustedly fell asleep.
She woke suddenly, unsure of why. It was then she felt the bed give as someone sat down beside her. Every fiber of her being tensed. As much as she dreamed of death, it was never like this. Deep breath. She sat up suddenly to see no one there. She got out of bed, turned on the light, and went into the other room. No one. How had they escaped so quickly? May be she had dreamed it. Maybe I am really going crazy, she thought.
Disoriented, she went back to bed, and fell asleep again. Again she awoke as she felt the weight of a body easing down on the bed. This time she wasn’t so fear filled. She waited. And then a hand lightly touched her head in a caress, and the room filled with the scent of sweet wild roses, like she remembered smelling as a child. Peace settled over her.
“I don’t know who you are. But thank you,” she whispered.
In the nights that followed, she woke often to her unseen visitor coming to watch over her. She always whispered, “Thank you,” when she woke briefly.
And one night, when HE called, she told him to stop. “Don’t call me anymore. If you don’t want me – if you can’t give her up – don’t call me again.”
When he started to protest that he loved her, she cut him off. “I can’t do this anymore. I’m done, Harry. Good-bye.” And she hung up on him.
It was at this moment, for the first time in six months, that she felt she might be alright. She might just survive.

· · · ◊ ◊ ◊ · · ·

A Christmas Memory

06 Dec 2013

12/2/13

I don’t know how my mother made ends meet when I was a child. The $20.00 a month my Daddy sent her as child support didn’t go far. She worked in the community making a couple dollars here and there: scrubbing floors; sewing for ladies who didn’t know how; baking cakes and cookies for parties; raising and selling rabbit meat; waiting on bedridden seniors. We didn’t have much, but we had enough. I wore hand-me-down clothes from my older cousins. Mom canned anything she could get for the long winter when we might not be able to get out of the woods in which we lived because of the snow. Most importantly, we had each other.
Even with our own precarious situation, when the church asked for volunteers to pick the name of a needy family to help for the holidays, my mother stepped forward. That Christmas we adopted a family. The father was out of work, the mother not well, and children who wouldn’t get much from Santa that year. My mother explained to me how blessed we were with a roof over our heads, food on our table, and warmth around us in the cold of winter. She said it was our responsibility to share the blessings that God had given us with those who had less. I was excited to help prepare a Santa surprise for this needy family. Mom and I made a coconut cake and cookies. She made corn pudding and biscuits. She sewed rag dolls for the girls and stuffed animals for the boys, and I wrapped mints in tissues, tied with a red ribbon.
I’ll never forget the night we took Christmas to our adopted family. Mom knocked on the door. The father opened the door and Mom explained we were from the church and had brought some Christmas for them. The room we entered was bare and even with the woodstove, it felt cold and drafty. The children clung to their mother’s skirt, peering quizzingly out at us. Mom set the box she carried on the table, and removed the cake and cookies. She asked me to hand out the children’s gifts. Shyly they took the wrapped toys and the mints I had wrapped so carefully from me. Wonder filled their eyes, and tears filled their mother’s eyes.
We left then. Time for them to draw their family around the wonders of our small Santa surprise. The warmth of the small joy we had brought to them filled me all the way home that cold night. My mother had taught me, by actions not words, that blessings are meant to be shared. I also learned that there is always someone who needs blessings more than you do.

· · · ◊ ◊ ◊ · · ·

The Spelling Gods

04 Dec 2013

11/26/13
There is a joke at my house about my spelling abilities. For years I taught English, in one form or another, and yet I struggle with spelling. My husband calls me lovingly “his English teacher who can’t spell.” I always told my students about this weakness. “But, “I told them, “I know how to use a dictionary.”
When I was in high school, we wrote everything except major papers by hand, in cursive. I became a master of making “ie” combinations nebulous because I never mastered which letter came first. I lost many points from good papers because of words I could not spell. (This was long before the wondrousness of Spell Check!)
Now this inability to spell was an affront to my mother, who won medals in spelling when she was in school. She drilled me on my spelling list each week. But memorization of words for a test did me no good when it came time to spell a word in my writing. The only time I cheated on a test was in third grade. On a spelling test. I had a cheat sheet I secreted under my leg. I got caught, of course. Got a “0” on the test. My mother was told. The teacher assumed I hadn’t studied, and that was why I cheated. The lesson I learned was not that I had to study harder, but to do the best I could and let the chips fall where they may, and never cheat again. Spelling remained my nemesis.
I hated Spelling Bees. I hated those children who got so excited when the teacher announced we were going to have one. I begged to be the scorekeeper, the errand runner, the pencil-sharpener-shavings-emptier, the chalk board washer, a toilet scrubber with a tooth brush, anything but a speller. I tried praying that my word would be something simple that I had somehow incorporated into my everyday writing and therefore mastered the spell of. I counted myself a winner if I survived the first round of words. To be still standing at the end of everyone’s first turn felt like a victory worthy of applause from the whole class. If I made it, I stood proudly, telling myself the Spelling Gods liked me that day, and there was a possible chance I might taste success again. To see others seated while I stood proudly was gloating at its worst, I know. But it gave me a small flavor of superiority I seldom had with spelling.
As a teacher I finally learned some of the rules of spelling and the little tricks that can help with spelling. I even developed some tips of my own to pass on to my students. Maybe I didn’t learn as a child because the method being used to teach spelling at that time didn’t work on me, or maybe there is some short circuit in my brain between letters and sounds. I don’t know which one, but I put down my ideas on paper in words that don’t always conform to Webster’s Dictionary.
I made a game of my disability with my students. If they found a spelling error on a worksheet I prepared, they got five extra points. They had to show me the spelling error, and I’d write +5 on their paper. I made it a game between us. Sometimes when I put notes on the board I purposely misspelled something to see if they were paying attention. No points involved, just teaching them to be observant.
To add insult to injury, when I type my fingers seem to have a different spelling disability then my brain. I know how to spell the word “from”: preposition meaning “a place where a movement begins.” But every time I type that word, it comes out “form.” Every time! I call it dyslexia of the fingers. When I do Spell Check of a document, I have to visually look at all the “forms” to check if it should have been “from.” Since both are words, Spell Check won’t pick up the error. Thanks fingers! So, friends, if you see a spelling error in one of my writings, point it out to me. I’ll give you five extra points!

· · · ◊ ◊ ◊ · · ·

New Feet

04 Dec 2013

11/6/13

After five weeks of being housebound, I took my dog for her morning walk. The tinkle of Foxxi’s tags sounded like wind chimes beckoning me on. She trotted with her tail high in the air, pleased because her friend was walking with her again. The air was country crisp and clean. Along the road a tree threw its shadow in a dusting of sun yellow leaves. Walking on my new-baby feet, I could feel the firmness of the road under me, and the mountains that were rocks that had been kicked up by the vehicles that move back and forth on the road. The sun tickled beams through the bare trees. Leaves danced a breezy ballet, falling to the ground around me. And when my feet, unused to the weight of my body, became tired, I stumbled home like a drunken sailor.

· · · ◊ ◊ ◊ · · ·