Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Remembering Forward

In the backyard today the wind is whipping the vulnerable maple trees around, the pine trees are waving.  Feathery, dusty snow falls down on the grass it so desperately wants to cover.  But the gusts blow it back up, along with the oak leaves which fall so late.  This time the snow will not be the deep, rich blanket it longs to be.  It will be lace-like, thin, and will play in the wind.

I know snow.  It's nice that rhymes.

I was the same age as the boys are now, twelve, JB was a year older.  He and I had come upon some skis somehow, and...  Actually, we'd taken them from an old out-building way back off the road that was filled with old tack and rope and broken tools and mice and spiders and, oddly, skis.  

When we were littler we couldn't get into it, the shed, the padlock seemed so threatening.  Recently though, we'd come upon it again.  JB had grabbed the lock out of curiosity and the screws that held the latch for the lock gave up and the lock just swung out of the way.

I'd bet that no one had been in that shed in over thirty years, so I think we just felt like we were rescuing those old skis.  We took them home.  The bindings were leather and sort of slid on on a metal piece.  Like old-school roller skates, the ones with a key.  We oiled up the leather, got the pieces to slide again.  We figured we'd just use a couple of the countless sticks that leaned outside JB's garage.

This was in the fall.  We waited for the snow. 

It finally came in January.  It was a Saturday - I remember being bummed out because we didn't get a "snow day" - and JB called me early.  It had snowed the evening before and into the night, dry powdery snow like today's but more of it, maybe five inches.  He said today was the day.

It may be tiresome to hear yet again, but my childhood was so vastly different from our boys' it almost seems... historical, bordering on fictional.  I'll just say, well, perhaps we had more time on our hands than kids do today.  That's why JB and I had a plan.  We knew where we'd go, the trails and farm paths we'd take.  We'd done a childhood of day trips and camp-outs and such so we knew every bit of our surroundings.  We packed bread and peanut butter and honey, canteens of water, a couple of oranges and a bag of cookies and two thermoses full of hot chocolate, Swiss Miss, instant, with mini-marshmallows.

We put it all in our standard-issue canvas army knapsacks along with one wool olive drab blanket each.  We clumsily strapped the skis on over our layer of socks and winter boots, grabbed a couple of the smallest walking sticks we could find and headed out on those skis.

Our destination was, fortunately, a modest one.  A hay barn out beyond the soybean field that ran behind both our backyards, maybe a half mile away at best.  It, of course, hadn't yet occurred to us that we wouldn't be able to get through the stubble left on the field on the skis.

It was early when we left, eight-thirty or so.  The winter angle of the sun made it sparkle even more.  It was pretty. 

The first thing we had to do was negotiate a long hill in his backyard.  I tried to go fast but got scared and stuck my poles in the ground and slowed down, nearly losing my footing.  JB just sort of limped down the hill at the speed of a man on crutches.  We waddled our way through the snow, deeper than we were expecting, more walking than skiing.

We found the gap we always went through in the old fence and, well, that's when we realized we couldn't ski through it.  We agreed to take the paths we knew so well and headed off cross-country style.

We were both football players, JB was a big, stocky kind of guy and I was still rail thin in those days and pretty strong.  Neither of us, though, had the stamina that sort of exercise takes.  In no time we were huffing and puffing.  Hats came off and were stuffed in parka pockets, now unzipped, because we were getting so exerted.  It didn't take long to come to the conclusion that, well...

We really sucked at it.

Now, when your in you're early teens, the realization that you suck at something doesn't really come that hard.  Personally, I don't think it ever should.  The value of knowing yourself cannot be understated.  A keen awareness of one's weaknesses and, of course, strengths can be empowering, oddly.

We slowed down, took a break or two, teased each other and urged each other on.  It took us about forty-five minutes, maybe an hour, to get to Mr. Poff's barn.  

I'd noticed a change in the light I think, but, to be honest, when a guy is trying to ski, for the first time, on forty-year-old skis, with branches for poles, well, the focus tends to be down at the ground.  

The sky had darkened, full of those gray, almost charcoal edged clouds that only mid-winter breeds.  We reached the barn, slid the big two-by-four out of its rusted cradle on the doors and went on in.  Dry, dusty, dirt floor, hay was strewn about and... cold, very cold.  We closed the sliding barn door behind us and unfastened the skis with relief.  We leaned against a row of stable walls that separated the stalls when the barn was newer and we had some water and some cookies.

I suppose we talked, had a laugh or two, congratulated ourselves - that sort of thing.  It's funny that I use words so much now, but remember so few from my life's conversations.  I recall the more visceral, the more sensorial details.  I remember we were getting colder, that the cookies were those weird "windmill" ones.  I can see the packs on the floor, the skis and "poles" leaned up against one of the thick timbers that held the roof and loft above us.

I also heard something outside, it was the wind.  We opened the door and watched as it rearranged the snow, forming eddies and little drifts before blowing them down again.  The clouds above looked as if they were about to burst, and, after one last gust of wind that rattled the barn, they did.

All of the sudden, big fluffy flakes of snow started down.  It was so hard and steady, and the flakes so hefty, you could hear it.  It was the first time I'd ever the snow fall.  I can't describe it, a muffled click, maybe, or a million little tiny thuds, imperceptible alone, but, amplified by multitudes, you could hear them.

It was weird.

There was an awning, a roof really, over the doorway we stood in.  We could get out maybe ten feet or so before the snow came down on us.  The driveway was a little below ground level and sloped down towards the door, on either side of it was a knee-high cinder block wall that held the dirt from falling into it.  We could sit on the little wall, protected from the snow, and watch. 

We did what any country boys would do - figured we needed a fire.  

Do ya'll know what a "burn barrel" is?  Well, out where I grew up, a lot of folks didn't have garbage service, no trash collection.  For years JB's dad didn't.  It seems hard to believe now.  Anyway, the way you handled all the paper trash was to burn it in a burn barrel, a fifty-gallon drum, up on bricks, thumb-sized holes punched in it ringing the barrel about a foot from the bottom.  Inside it, above that line, was a grate, sometimes welded in, often though just shoved down in it and pushed up against the walls of the barrel.  It's the barrel hobos and apocalypse survivors huddle around in movies.  I still see them frequently out in the country.

Anyway, inside the doorway was one, four bricks stacked next to it.  JB grabbed those and I rolled the barrel out.  In no time we had it up on the bricks.  We had matches because, well, country boys, and JB found some newspaper somewhere inside and some extremely dry hay.  Meanwhile, I'd gone around to the side of the barn where I knew there was a big pile of brush and old fencing.  We were in.

Now, the thing about a burn barrel is that they are incredibly efficient.  If you know what your doing they're basically an incinerator.  They catch fast and we were toasty in minutes.  The wood from the pile, once extricated from the snow, was dry and the pinewood fencing popped in the wind.

JB went inside to make sandwiches and I stood there, hands out like a blessing to the fire, and considered the snow.  I thought of sled-rides and snowball fights; I thought of football games in the snow, of wet, cold feet; I thought of frozen ponds and cracked ice; I thought of snow forts and plywood ramps and muffled laughter and crazy screams.

I thought of more though, I remembered what was to come.  I could feel the cold snow and hot tears that stung two faces, kissing on a college green, in a storm that piled up on our shoulders.  I could hear the clomp-clomp of horses coming up First Avenue in New York City pulling, of all things, sleighs to give rides in Central Park and me talking the driver into a one.  I could feel myself skiing right down the middle of a country road.  I could see the unexpected snow on a mountain meadow in a September yet to come.

I thought of cold slogs through snowstorms and slippery streets with backpacks full of beer.  I see a hot tub and anatomically correct snow-angels in the snow next to it.  I see snowflakes on eyelashes. I taste the Canadian Club snow slushies.  I see hours of watching snow fall from window after window after window.  I sense the isolation, the long loneliness it will someday surely bring, and the sheer damn beauty it will always offer.  Yesterday's muffled laughing mixes with the crazy screaming yet to come.

All this at once - future, past, present - in concert.

I guess we all know it couldn't have really happened like that, one cannot all tenses be.  Unless, of course, that's exactly how we are...

JB came out and handed me a peanut butter, honey and hay sandwich.  He asked me what I was looking at.

"I dunno," I said.  'Everything', I remember thinking.  

(I won't dwell here, although I'd like to.  I also like to just stop here as well, give up trying to explain it all.  My emotions, my feelings, my memories, my loves and hates and desires... well, they often stand counter to linear time for me.  It's disconcerting.)  

We stood there, JB and I, finishing our sandwiches.  I hope he got to sense his what's-to-come as I had.  We sipped our hot chocolate, the snow fell and piled up crazily, settling deep and thick and then the wind would gust and blow it back away and the burn barrel would flame up like bellows on a forge.  A couple of hours passed, the sky that backlit the clouds was losing its light.  

I guess maybe we should have been worried, we weren't really.  I remember feeling fresh and invigorated, hopeful somehow.  It didn't feel like the predicament it, well, was.  We knew we had to get going soon and we were letting the fire die down.  We were trying to decide if we should go home the way we came or try the farm path and then the driveway past Old Man Poff's, out to the main road, State Route 741.  

It was snowing and blowing, but through the noise of the storm, we heard a low rumbling that was getting louder.  We both stepped out a little farther and finally saw something green through the snow, John Deere green, in the form of a diesel 3020 with a front loader attached.  Mr. Poff was coming our way. 

This is the point in the story where you might suspect we were gonna get in a bit of trouble, but, again, it was different back then.  We didn't know this farmer very well, but, we'd returned a cow or two to him and, a few years back, we'd found his old blue tick hound a long ways from home and seemingly lost.  We walked him home and Mr. and Mrs. Poff were just so happy - I guess the old, dumb hound was presumed dead.  She gave us sugar cookies and RC colas and old man Poff turned his back and snortled into an old handkerchief and dabbed his eyes.

The point is, he knew we were good boys.  He parked and idled back the tractor and came under the awning.  He said he'd been out at his livestock barn and noticed the smoke from our fire and decided to see what we were doing.  Farmers are observant people and I'm sure he quickly figured out the whole scene, we'd pack up our things and the skis were leaning against the short wall, we were basically waiting for the fire to go out so we could head home.

We told him as much and he said that the storm was going to get stronger and we'd better be on our way.  He asked which way we were going home and we told him our options - back the way we came, which was a lot of uphill and deep snow, or out past his house on his lane then down the road.

He nodded and headed toward the tractor.  He gunned it and then lowered the front loader and rammed it into a drift and then negotiated the tractor and that pile of snow under the awning and dumped it directly on the burn barrel with a sizzle and a lot of steam.  He idled back again and shouted to us to get going, saying the best route might be by his house.

We take off in the John Deere tracks and it is fairly easy going at first, but there was a hill ahead and the wind and the snow and impending darkness are slowing us down.  

We hear him first, coming up behind us, and then he sounds an anemic horn.  The headlights are on and he is waving us out of the road.  We figure he just wants to pass us.  We crow walk off the tractor path and he passes us.  He waves and he gestures behind him with a thumb and that's when we see it.

He's dragging a thick hemp rope, tied up somewhere under his seat.  The rope is knotted four or five times.

"Grab on!" I remember hearing through the storm and tractor noise.

We shove our poles beneath the knapsacks and do grab on and he accelerates.  We are at a slight incline and the tractor labors a bit but we get going.  We negotiate the rope between us and we are evenly spaced behind the tractor.  He turns to check us out and that's when I notice something.  Mr. Poff is an older guy, a WWI vet if memory serves, probably born around the turn of the century.  Farming wizens men and so does smoking and battle and wind, but, when he turns to look at me I see a young man, twenty-something, with a happy wildness in his eyes, and I sense that that's the way he feels right now.

We get to a flat stretch that then begins to slope down by the barn behind his house.  He keeps looking back, I swear he's laughing, I know Joe and I are, and...  he keeps inching that throttle up and, soon, it feels like we are flying.  It was fucking fun, man.

Now we figure he'll drop us when he gets to the barn, but, he doesn't, he continues down his lane, which he'd plowed, and gives a little more diesel and just as we are about to get out to the main road, he slows a bit and lowers that front loader down and, like a tank, busts through the deep snow that the plows had pushed into his lane and takes a hard left.  This whips us around and we let go, sort of adjust ourselves, and follow him out onto 741.

He points on down the road, freshly plowed, and winks at us.  We try to thank him but he doesn't hear us over the engine and the wind, but I thought I heard him thank us.

We find our poles again and shove off down that long hill I'd only ever been down on car and bike.  It is smooth and slick, like a toboggan run and the skis floated over it.  We swerve and laugh and then we decide to to get up as much speed as we can to get up as much of the hill as possible.  It is twilight now, the snow is still falling, the trees next to the road a bowed under the weight of it all.  It all seems so familiar and, yet, new...

Listen, I don't know what was in the wind that day so many winters ago.  Maybe it was the snow whipping around, maybe it was that odd sound or the crazy black clouds, maybe it was that the same ancient snow falling again was folding time and memory, confused in whiteness.

We found our way back home and split up on the road in front of our houses, I had a little farther to go.  It was then that I realized something, just hours ago as I'd stood outside that old hay barn remembering my own future, I'd seen myself skiing down a country lane.  I'd seen what I had just done and I knew that there was so much more to come, so much more to see, so much more to understand.

As I got to our garage and was taking those old skis off, I realized this as well... they'd probably been Old Man Poff's.  We'd purloined them from a shed on his property.  He was a sharp old dude and I figure it put it all together.  I think that is when I realized the timelessness of it all.  Maybe he'd been pulled by an old Model T when he was a boy, maybe he'd pulled his own children down the same lane he'd just led us down.  I realized that he'd knotted that rope just so like he'd done it before.  I recall being him for a moment, being boy, father, old man, all at once.  It was the same feeling I'd had looking out as the woods and fields filled with snow and I gazed both ahead and back simultaneously.

Over and over again in my life, I've felt it, this disjointed sense of time and memory, and I've grown to accept it and, maybe, understand it for a moment.  And, in that moment, known a certain peace, a feeling that our loves and losses and fears and tears and past and future are all, somehow, a part of the only time we only will ever really have... now.

A few months after this, in an English class, we read Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening."  I'd encountered it before, but, this time, well, it made a lot more sense.

I've kept you so long and I suspect you have your own "miles to go" so, godspeed, and thanks for stopping by.

(See what I did there?)

Here's an image of the tractor he pulled us with:

And, this is a picture of me that year.


Friday, December 8, 2017

The Cookie Lady

I just got back from running some errands at the grocery store.  I needed some things, regular stuff - eggs, some produce, stamps - and then I went to check out.  I usually wait for a cashier, I figure they don't pay me to self check, and I'm not really in a hurry.  Sometimes it is Jane, who always asks about the boys, or Dianna whose been there as long as I remember, or Pearl who always gives me a hard time about the fried chicken I get there now and again.  Today it was the very chatty, and opinionated Rose.

The woman ahead of me had a pretty full cart, lots of baking staples and cute green and red storage containers.  There was lots of decorating stuff, sprinkles and icing, flour, white and brown sugars, and, well, you get it.  I was thinking about how much fun it looked like she would have, maybe making cookies with her kids or something.

I was trying not to listen in on her conversation with Rose, but, sometimes people talk so loud, I think they want strangers to hear them.  Here's the thing, she wasn't a stranger to me.  I know who she is, the mother of a girl the boys go to school with.  I'd volunteered with her a few times in the library at the elementary school and I've seen her on the sidelines of a few soccer or baseball games, maybe a band concert, I'm not sure.

That being said, she is not the sort of person who remembers others, especially others that have nothing to offer her.

"I am soooo busy," she was saying, "I have to make a bunch of cookies for my son's church class that I teach and more for the Cub Scout den, I'm the den mother, you know.  Of course I need a bunch for the cookie exchange in my neighborhood and then more for the family.  And those I'm going to have to take to Florida where we Christmas."

(Is "Christmas" a verb, and, if so, do I capitalize it?)

"And of course, everyone likes different ones so I've got to make a bunch of different kinds.  And, I've got to get them all done by Saturday," she kept on.

Rose, who doesn't really have much of a filter, said, "Sometimes when I've got a lot to do, I use the cookies in rolls, or even the frozen ones."

Aghast, the cookie maker, said, "Oh, no, they simply must  be homemade.  I not going to bring cookies from frozen to a cookie exchange.  It's not as special."

Now, I heard that as a sort of slight to Rose, so I interjected, "They really can be quite good, the frozen ones.  I also like the peanut-butter chocolate chip ones in the tube, they..."

"Oh, no, I can't bring peanut butter ones, so many are allergic these days."

"... right."

Rose, who had been slighted, looked my way.  "You do a lot of cooking, Big Guy,"  she always calls me that, "What kind of cookies do you make?"

"I make Oatmeal Craisin, everyone really likes them," I said, I think we were both trying to stop the woman from going on more.  She made a quick sour face, no doubt oatmeal cookies were too pedestrian for her high standards.

"I like to do cookies I can decorate," indicating the sprinkles and such Rose was scanning.

"Craisins instead of raisins, that sounds good.  What's your secret for those?"  The woman was getting on her nerves, which Rose doesn't hide well.

"Well honestly, I just follow the recipe on the Quaker oats box and substitute the craisins.  I would say that it is really important to get everything out early and bring it to room temperature.  You know, the butter and the eggs, even the flour and sugar and the milk and...," I said.

"Oh, who has time for that?" baker lady interrupted me as she was fishing in her fancy purse for her card.

I leaned a little to get her eye and said quietly, "I do."

Rose smirked.  I smiled.

"Well, I've got to do so much today, I've still got to go to Target and, hopefully get some more presents bought and... Do you think the groceries will be okay for a while in the car?"

I said, "It's forty degrees out, they should be fine in the trunk."

"Well, I don't have a trunk, I drive a Yukon."

"Of course you do," Rose said under her breath.

And, with that she was off.  Off to her world of self-congratulatory, self-absorbed busyness.  No, 'goodbye' or 'thank you.'

I sort of felt sorry for her.  Rose, well, didn't.

"Well she's full of herself," she said.  "What're you gonna do with these pork chops?"

I remembered to thank her when I left.

Listen, I can't tell you how to do your holidays.  Some people like all the hustle and bustle of it, thrive on it even.  But, if you're complaining about all the cookies you have to make, or the shopping you must do, or the traveling you must do... well, maybe you're doing it wrong.

That all sounds a little preachy, doesn't it?  A little judgemental?  Well, then, I guess I'd better call it a day...

I went to Costco right after I went to the grocery store.  It was right at ten when they open.  I parked a ways back and watched as folks were getting out of their cars and vans.  I've never seen such hurried, harried looking people.  No smiles, no laughing, just grim determination.  I went towards the door but hung back.  The line for returns was forming, a huff of folks.  Everyone had carts and their little red cards ready to show the gatekeeper.

The whole mood was one of agitation and dread

I left.

As I walked back, against the angry grain, an old man with a cane was headed my way.  I moved aside to give him some room in the parking lot.  He asked me if the store was open.  I told him it just had.  He looked me up and down and asked where I was headed.  I told him it was just too crazy for me, I told him I panicked.

"Seems like you're the only sensible one here today," he said and patted me on the shoulder, "It'll be better next time.

Actually, this all happened yesterday.  I went again today, the mood was much happier... or, was it just me?


Wednesday, December 6, 2017


Nick did this one time.  All he said when I asked him why was "I felt like it."

Life's like that, ain't it?

He also made a cake for a dinner we made for a meeting at the church.

He's a good boy.

Zack is a deer boy as well.

That's all I got.


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Noni's Black Apron

I remember her hands, mostly.  Thin, once elegant I'm sure, the knuckles now arthritic.  Her hands were amazingly soft in contrast to the angles and sharpness time had twisted them into.

She wore black, always a dress.  On Sundays she wore a black lace widow's veil.

Her face was pinched and drawn, deep wrinkles on olive skin.  Twinkling, sharp green eyes shone out from her weathered face.

She lived down the hall in a three-family apartment I once rented in Astoria, New York.  Nineteen-hundred-and-eighty-eight.  Her family owned the house, she'd raised a family there, three boys, but, so many years later, she lived alone.  She was well into her eighth decade.

She went to Mass most mornings, seven, noon on Sundays.  Sometimes we'd pass each other on the sidewalk or steps in front of the house, me coming home from an evening's work and night's partying, she off to pray her black and silver rosary that hung around the high collar of her black dress.  She seem to not notice me.

We were unlikely friends.

The house shared a common entry on the side for the two upstairs apartments.  We'd pass each other, I'd try to say hello, but, short of a quiet sort of sighed greeting, she didn't say much when I first moved in.

Honestly, we would never say much, but...

One cool fall day, I came in from running errands and, as I was about to open my door, I noticed hers was open.  The hallway was full of a scent I was unfamiliar with, like licorice sticks but prettier, purfumey.  I couldn't figure it.

I lingered in the hallway.  She saw me standing there and walked a little outside her door.  She shrugged a 'what' look my way.  I smiled and inhaled deeply.

"Ah!  The cookies.  Come, come."

They were little shortbread cookies, flavored with just a hint of anise.  To this day I hate licorice, but those cookies were so perfect.  She invited me into her kitchen and she showed me how she made them.  A pinkie-sized, flat oval, that she gave a little half twist before she put them on the tray.  Brushed with egg whites, they were golden, tender at the ends and crispy at the twist.

I'd visit her kitchen many more times from that afternoon on.  At first it was cookies and treats, but soon she was making lasagna and Alfredo.  I watched as she made noodles and gnocchi.

One day she was cutting some onions and she set the knife down and rubbed those tired hands.  I took up the knife and continued chopping them.  She was delighted when she saw I knew what she was doing.

I was working evenings in those days, long ten, twelve hours shifts, but only four a week.  I was home most afternoons and some nights.  She took to leaving her door open when she was cooking or baking, and sometimes she'd knock me up and ask, no, tell me to come help her.

It's imperative that you understand we had no way of communicating.  Her English was minimal and heavily accented, my Italian was non-existent.  We gestured and smiled and winked.  I remember cutting the roasted red peppers she'd scorched on the gas stove, covered to sweat, then peeled - a process I'd never seen before - too large for her liking.  She pushed me away with her hip and showed me how she wanted them.

She always had a bottle of limoncello and she'd offer me a bit every now and again, in a classic sherry glass.  She asked me to help her one time and the day was hot, I went to get a beer out of my apartment, when she saw it in my hand, she grabbed a little pony glass off her shelf and had be pour her a few ounces.  We'd repeat that little ritual dozens of times.

In the crazy, wild world of New York City, she offered me quiet and stillness.  She worked slow and carefully, so different from the frenetic kitchens I watched in the resturant where I worked. She showed me tradition.  She had me taste sauces and pastas, soups... and beans.  I had no idea about the diversity and difference in beans - giant cannellini, tiny pinto like beans, dried Limas and peas - so much a boy from the Midwest had never seen.  I came to treasure our time together and I hope she did as well.

She sent me once to the Salumeria just down the street - the one I was afraid to go in because the proprietor looked so rough and ill-tempered, the one with sausages and pepperonis hanging in the window - with a note in loopy, shaky Italian.  I opened the door to the dinging bell that markets had in those days to the scowl of the butcher behind the counter.  I timidly handed him the note.  I was suddenly his best friend.  His English was better than Noni's and he filled me in a bit, same sad story, children gone, busy, never visit.  She made food for church, socials, funerals, parties and such.  He seemed sweet on her, I know I was.  From that day on I was a regular in his shop.

I carried home to her a bag of sausages and meat and who knows what.  I watched as she turned it into meatballs, spicy, hot, delicious.  She baked them in the oven, flipping them half way through.  She called the sauce she made for them "arrabbiata" and it made my eyes water and she teased me about it.

That's what brought all this to mind today.  I made meatballs recently. 

When I form the balls I always coat both my palms with olive oil, just as Noni did.  I often remember her when I make Italian food.  I remember standing next to her, watching her form the meatballs, thinking of my Dad's hands forming hamburger patties, of my mother's hands peeling potatoes or carrots, of my sons' hands, stirring sauce, browning meat.

One of the last times I cooked with her, she caught me in the hall and showed me that her hands were stiff and she needed some help chopping some canned whole plum tomatoes, the only kind she used.  I was going out and had on a pair of jeans, cowboy boots and a white dress shirt.  I went into her kitchen and indicated I was afraid I'd get the shirt dirty.  She took of her black apron, trimmed in black lace, and put it over my head.  It hung on me like a cummerbund, I can't imagine how very silly I must of looked.

She offered me a glass of sherry, and kept giggling like a school girl, at me in that black lace apron.  I danced a little cowboy jig for her, I remember, and she laughed until she had to sit down.  I'll never forget how happy she was that evening.  I wish I could have kept that apron.

We were unlikely friends.

When I finally left that apartment and headed back to Ohio, she cried.

So did I.

It's nice to think of old friends.  I'm sure Noni is long gone.  I never knew her last name.  I never thanked her.  But I honor her often, I think of her often.

Oddly, this is not the first time I written about meatballs.  Here is that piece.

I hope you've enjoyed meeting Noni, she lingers long in my memory.

The day I left one of her sons was there, the one who still managed the rentals and sometimes checked in on her.  My then girlfriend, a girl named Howell, was there to see me off.  It was the first time Noni had ever seen her.  She had an animated conversation with her son, lots of hushed voices and furtive glances my way.  Noni gave me one last hug, we both knew it was our last.  She looked at me, tear in eye, a slight smile and said something to her son.

"She wants you to know that all this time she thought you were gay.  She'd have never let you into her home if she'd thought you were straight."

We laughed, and our tears fell again.

See, there's always more.  

Peace, and, I'll see you next time.

Monday, December 4, 2017

A Sackful of Memories

I recently came across this bag of images, like, real old time photos, you know, the kind you had to have developed and wait for.  I was looking for a headshot for the post I did earlier this month, Forward Looking Back.  The bag was in a chest I've been trundling about for most of my adult life.

I'm afraid to look at them all.  Is that silly?  I guess maybe a little.  Honestly, I like looking back on my life... usually.  But, I know that these are from the eighties and nineties, maybe the early aughts and, well, I wasn't always happy in those days.  I was lonely and I thought life was not really going my way and, well, sometimes that can be hard to admit, hard to think about.

Also, these days, as a parent with all the activity and responsibility that entails, I wasn't ready for the onslaught of memory that looking through these photos might bring on.  I was afraid I'd cry or laugh or recoil or, actually, be physically overwhelmed by them all at once.

But, I know there is a lot in that bag, images I should see again, just, you know, not all at once.  Let's do this, I'll pull one out at random and I'll tell you about it.

Well... okay then.

I was right, this is gonna hurt a little.  That's me in the fall of 2002.  Marci and I went down to the Smokies and were tent camping.  We had a lovely site, right on a creek that ran through the campground.  It was a beautiful trip.

So, I guess the question is, why does it hurt?

I have to tell you, I had to stop working on this post.  I started it this afternoon and it is now well after dinner.  You see, I couldn't figure out why it hurt so much.  I mean, I look happy, fit, slim, pretty macho there with the water pouch strapped to my thigh.  The photo itself didn't bring up any of the negativity I was afraid it might.  The background is lovely, the creek, the fading fall colors.  I know I was having a good time.

I think I know.  I'm not sure I want to tell you, but, I will.  It's hard, especially as an older parent, to realize that your children will never see you in your prime.  They've always known me wrinkled and gray and heavy and, well, old.  I doubt they'll have many memories of me under fifty considering that they were six when I turned over that half century mark.

They'll never see that I was young once, vital and full of life and energy.  They'll never know that I wasn't just the life of the party, I was the party.  I was funny and happy, hopeful and bright-eyed (most of the time), carefree and careless.  Actually, I sometimes forget that as well which sort of doubles the hurt.

To them, I'm afraid I will always be old, done, tired, sore...

I really shouldn't admit to all this.  I should try to regain that attitude, I guess.  But, I am who I am, this is where I've arrived.  I know, truly, that old isn't the only way they see me.  They see me happy and funny and sort of vibrant, but, dammit, I wish they could have seen me shine.

I did once, you know.

I guess that's all for today.

Hopefully, next time a reach into the bag, I'll get something less, well... sad.

Peace, as always, and, hey, thanks.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Doves in the Kitchen

Yesterday I thought on hawks, today I'll speak of doves.

For as long as I can remember, my Mom put up Christmas cards on the cabinets in the kitchen.  There was an old box of cards she'd been sent over the years - she still has the box, and many lovely old cards - and, when Christmas season came around, she'd choose some to put up.  Delightfully, she had a family friend whose last name was Partridge who'd always send a pear tree themed card and Mom would put them all together on a pantry door or such.

When I started out living on my own, I decided to do the same thing.  For a number of years I simply put up what I got, as I think my mother did when she first started doing it, but over the years and with the influx of cards my lovely wife received I had more to choose from.  I like to group them by theme, if you will.  Some angels here, Santas over on the cereal cabinet doors, a group of beautiful cards from the Arizona artist DeGrazia my Mom always sends on the spice cabinet.

I like doing it and it's a nice way to get Holiday cheer into the kitchen.  But, this year the boys finished trimming the tree early - they wanted only balls on  it this year - and they were, well, in the way, as Marci and I tried to finish getting up the creche and the Swarovski crystal ornaments we've been collecting since our first year in this house, now home (I tell that story in this Christmas post from a few years ago called The Best Half.)

So, I put the bags, three full quart Ziplocs, onto the table and told them to pick out forty or so they liked and I'd hang them.  Truly, I was trying to distract them - a strategy I'd honed in their toddler years - but, something pretty cool happened.  They embraced it wholeheartedly. They discussed - calmly, I might add - each card.  Laughing at ones they hated, discussing why they liked the ones they did.  They even began to pile them into themes and such.

Now Zack is really into Christmas decorations, always asking when we'll put them up.  I think he really likes Thanksgiving because we always do the decorations the day after... he's not a Turkey fan, sad that.  He especially likes the cards in the kitchen.  Nick's a tree guy, he likes that it brightens up the living room on dark and cold winter nights.  But, what I didn't know was that they both knew that I worked on themes and such for the cabinets.

A good forty-five minutes later, well, they had a plan.

Santas as usual by the cereal, as usual.

A "naturey" theme by the serving bowls and platters.

A "Three Wisemen" them for the cup cabinet, the cupboard, I suppose you'd say.

Christmas trees for the plate cabinet.

There's these two above the stove, a grouping I particularly like.  One is a Madona and Child by an artist unaccredited (thanks Hallmark) paired with a "Mother Reading to Child" by artist unknown but in a sort of Toulouse Lautrec style.  I really like them both together, and, honestly, I'd have never thought to put them together.

They even remembered the DeGrazia's I always put on the spice doors, which was thoughtful.

And finally, a very pretty set on the chip and canned goods door.  "Doves and Peace and Blue," I think Zack said.

I gotta say, well, I expected puppies and kittens and cartoons and Santas.  I was wrong.  They worked hard, together, carefully and purposefully embracing and remembering the mood of this advent season.

Never underestimate the children.

Never think they aren't watching.

Always honor them.

It's important.


(It occurs to me that if you're eve around during the holidays, you'll know where everything is in the cupboards.)

Saturday, December 2, 2017

A Hawk in the Yard

This fall a hawk has come to the back yard.  I see him every day.  The hawk hunts for worms most of the time, listening like a robin does, perhaps even feeling the vibration in his feet and suddenly plunging his beak into the soil and pulling out a big fat one.  But sometimes that sleek black beak comes up with something larger, plumper, a mole or a vole, usually.

He swoops in and out so royally I've gotten to where I imagine a little fanfare for him.  He's probably, one, one-and-a-half feet tall and his wingspan must push four.  Hawks come in fast, quietly and elegantly.  He lands so softly and straightens up.  Hawks have excellent posture.

He just showed up, I swear.  He stood for a while and headed into the maple tree, Nick's maple tree, the one on the right.

Serious looking fellow, ain't he?

It's interesting to watch him back there.  He gets a lot of grief.  Smaller birds, jays and such, squawk and fly at him, trying to chase him away.  The squirrels chatter and fly around the tree near him, safe, I'd guess, protected by the limbs and branches from his wide wings.

I know the science of a lot of it.  Predators and prey, the circle of life.  There's aeronautics and lift.  Tangible things, talons and sound waves, entrails and blood.  Tufts of fur left behind will, some season soon, line nests and burrows.  It's nature, it's codified and explained.  For instance I assume this guy is a Cooper's hawk, Accipiter cooperii.  There are pages of information about them.

Here's the thing though, people have been watching hawks since before men could remember.  Sometimes I see them through those eyes.  I see a raptor soaring on the wind, I see it sweep down, I watch it labor away into the sky, prey dangling.  I marvel at its ease and comfort, the surety of it all.  I can understand wanting to be that hawk. 

I will wear a chest plate and stand up straight and proud, unafraid.

I will fashion a helmet for battle and it will look like a hawk's head.

I will wish for his wings, wish for his freedom, speed and courage.

I will want to be him.

We know so much, we've explained it all so well.  But, sometimes...

...sometimes, I am just a man, at the dawn of time, looking up at a soaring beast and sensing that I will someday fly.