Archive for the ‘Daily Writing’ Category

Mine, All Mine

February 14, 2015

We share a coffee cup. We never used to. At one time I drank my morning caffeine from the ceramic mug Bruce bought especially for me. I still have it. It’s white and decorated with pastel colored conversation hearts, those little valentine shaped candies that began speaking in text before texting came about,  “Luv U”, “4 ever”, “T-4-2”, “B Mine.”  He gave me that mug, not on Valentine’s Day, but for no reason at all. It sits far back in the dish cabinet now next to its mate.

His mug, the mate to mine, is also white, but with a larger handle to fit the width of Bruce’s hand when he holds it. The mug sports a blue oval with the Ford Motor Company logo across its middle. Bruce’s first truck, his first love, was a Ford.  The mug came from a box and contents he bought at a local auction sale. I still remember the grin on his face when he held it up, having just been named high bidder.

For years, the mugs sat side by side on the counter each morning waiting for the pot to brew. Two spoonfuls of sugar and a dash of cream waited in each. One teaspoon stirred both mugs. I would set the coffee maker the night before, and Bruce would bring me my own cup of coffee in bed the next morning to help wake me.

I can’t remember the exact date we graduated to the one cup, but I know where we found it. There’s a thrift store called the Green Olive Tree half a mile from our house. We visit there on occasion for treasure hunts. Both of us spotted the mug at the same time and reached for it, a piece of handmade pottery, signed on the bottom by its maker. The colors, graduations of blue, green, and brown, drizzled in rivulets down its side. The mug was taller and bigger around than each of ours, the handle, a nice wide rectangle.  Bruce weighed the pottery in his right hand, testing it. He held the handle, examined the lip for chips. Then, he offered it to me. I cradled the piece of art, running my left hand over the colors, feeling its perfect weight balanced in my hand. I pretended to drink from it.  We placed the prize, an original, in our basket and bought it for a dollar.

Not long after, Bruce brought the new mug to me one morning in bed. I took the cup, drank from it, and closed my eyes savoring that first taste of the day. When I opened my eyes he was looking at me smiling. “That’s my cup you know,” he said. “I saw it first.”

“No you didn’t,” I said. “I saw it first. It’s mine.”

“You can’t have it,” he said.

“Yes I can,” I said with force. “But I’ll share. Here, you can have a taste.” I handed the mug back to him for a sip.  He took the mug from me, drinking from it as he turned to leave the room. 

“Hey,” I called after him. “My coffee!” 

He laughed, then placed the mug on the dresser as he left the room.

I carried it with me to the bathroom, taking a drink before brushing my teeth. Bruce came in to shave, and I handed him the mug so I could go get dressed.

I was in the hallway, headed to the kitchen when Bruce handed me the newly filled mug. “Take care of my cup,” he said laughing before he kissed me goodbye. He tasted of coffee.

I stood on the porch watching him walk to the truck. As he opened the door, he turned and looked at me. I raised the mug in a toast to my husband and smiled. “Possession is nine-tenths of the law,” I said, looking from Bruce to the mug and back to Bruce again. “And that means, it’s mine,” I said, “all mine.” And I could hear his laughter over the truck’s motor as he drove away.

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Anna

November 26, 2013

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I was drawn to Anna’s room this morning because I missed her in the dining room at breakfast. She was always there before me. As I clocked in at the nursing home each morning, and walked through the big open room, no one would be there but Anna. She’d wave me over, and make me twirl in front of her old eyes so she could marvel at my outfit for the day. If she absolutely loved the entire ensamble, she’d clap her hands, and reach out to kiss me. Otherwise, she’d give me a compliment on the bit of pink in my scarf, or the buckle on my belt, or tell me the blue of my blouse matched my eyes.

She wasn’t there this morning. At ninety-six, she’s been like one of those proverbial cats with nine lives. She’s fought off every cold and pneumonia that came her way, and continued to smoke through it all. “When you’re my age, honey, and you’ve lost all your real loves, your twin sister, your husband, your friends, who cares if you die from lung cancer? There’s no one left to grieve for you, and I love me a cigarette.”

I went to her room where I found her small frail body nestled among blankets and pillows. The oxygen tubing ran from her nose to a whirring machine at her bedside. Her eyes were closed and she struggled with every shallow breath.

I pulled up a chair, and took her hand. I sat for a long time rubbing my thumb across the fragile vein-lined skin of her hand. I remembered our trip to the football game where her husband’s University of Virginia Cavaliers played her Virginia Tech Hokies. She stood and cheered and laughed about how her husband was frowning down on her antics from heaven. “He never was a good loser,” she’d said.

At times Anna searched for Virginia, her twin. When reminded that Virginia had passed away some years ago, Anna would say, “Oh hell, that’s right. Once you’re connected with someone from the start, it’s hard to let go.”

As I got up to leave Anna’s bedside, I leaned over and hugged her one last time. I whispered in her ear that it was alright to let go, that Virginia and that Cavalier husband of hers were waiting for her with their arms outstretched, all she had to do was let go. I kissed her forehead and told her I loved her.

Anna completed her journey on this earth today. Godspeed my friend

My New Friend

July 29, 2013

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My drier has developed an awful squeak. It’s happened before, and my husband can fix it, but it’s not a high priority on his list of repairs, so I hang my clothes outside. I’ve threatened to get my own tool box.

My clothespin bag hangs on a hook on the back porch. It’s convenient to the washer and to the steps leading out to the yard and the clothesline. Two weeks ago, I grabbed the clothespin bag and threw it into the basket of wet laundry. I noticed a small clump of dried mud as it fell from the inside of the bag onto my clean blouse. A mud dauber’s nest.

I threw my now dirty blouse back into the washer and stomped out the door to the clothesline, throwing the infamous clump of mud into the yard.

After hanging the rest of my clean clothes, I returned to the porch, hung my clothespin bag back on its hook and turned to work on the rest of the laundry. That’s when I noticed her, the mud dauber, a thin, black and yellow wasp-like insect. She flew back and forth across the front of the clothespin bag. She didn’t land on it, just passed in front of it over and over again. Oh no, I thought. She’s searching for her nest.

My conscience got the better of me. I hurried back out to the yard in search of the clump of dried mud I’d thrown. It took me the better part of fifteen minutes to find it. I picked it up and examined it for cracks. It was intact, including a small round hole near the bottom. I hoped no eggs had rolled out when my anger got the better of me.

I marched myself back to the clothespin bag where I examined the damage I’d caused. The nest had been attached fairly high up in the bag. I wondered what might happen if I propped the nest close to where it had been. Maybe the mud dauber would come back to it and repair my insult, re-attach her creation. Of course, I’d used some of the clothes pins for the wash, so I needed to build up the mound in order to put “operation rebuild” back into place. Meanwhile, Ms. Mud Dauber kept her vigil of hovering, turning every once in a while to look at me, accusingly.

“I need to find some more clothespins,” I explained. “Don’t worry, I think I have some in the attic.”

I ran to the stash and opened the new bag. Piling the pins as close to the original placement of the nest as I could, I gingerly placed the bottom of the mud nest into the clothespins and propped its top against the back fabric of the bag.

I turned to Ms. Dauber. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “I promise not to bother it again, if you’ll see to the repair and rebuilding.”

She landed on the opening to the bag and surveyed the damage. I could imagine her shaking her tiny head as I went back into the house, closing the backdoor behind me.

I check on Muddy often now. We’re on a first name basis. My family members smirk as they ask me how my new friend is doing. I frown at them. They don’t understand my connection with Muddy.

The two of us meet on the back porch at least once a day. She works hard daubing new little round patches on the covering of her legacy, and she listens as I tell her my frustrations about my own nest building. She thinks it’s a good idea for me to get my own set of tools. Women are capable.

I wave as Muddy slips through the crack around the storm door frame, heading to the yard for more mud, or to capture a spider to feed her babies. “That door needs fixing,” I say, as I watch Muddy’s slim body hover for a second in the sunshine.

“Really?” she asks, then she flies off on her errand.

Dragon Lady

December 31, 2012

“Get out, go on now. You heard me. Leave.”

I’ve come into Betty’s room at the nursing home for my morning visit. She lays curled inward, knees to chin, arms, hands and fingers curled tight into a protective shield at her chest. She faces the wall.

“I came to check on you, to see if you need anything.”

Her voice comes out in a too sweet, sing-song imitation of my greeting, “I’ve come to check on you,” she mocks. “to see if you neeed anything. No, I don’t need anything. Just leave.”

It’s dark in the room with the curtains drawn. “At least let me open your drapes,” I say. “The sun’s shining outside. Maybe it’ll improve your mood.”

“Oh hell, do what you want to do, then get out,” she says, sighing loudly, frustrated with my need to help.

I sweep the fabric aside, and the sun streams into the room. “There, isn’t that more cheerful?”

“If you say so,” she harrumphs.

I smile, turn toward the door, and when I reach the threshold I call over my shoulder, “We’re ordering Chinese for lunch today.”

Her voice is almost inaudible. “From the Dragon Lady?”

“You’re the only Dragon Lady I know,” I say, laughing.

“Yeah, yeah, just shut up,” she throws back at me. “Order me some shrimp fried rice and an egg roll.”

“Extra soy sauce?”

“No, A1 Steak sauce,” she shoots back, turning her head to stick her tongue out at me.

I blow her a kiss from the doorway. “I’ll see you at noon,” I say. “Save me a seat.”

“Yeah, sure. You can take your place at the end of the line,” I hear her grump as I walk away.

O

Building

December 13, 2012

If it was up to me I’d cancel Christmas this year.  My dad died in May and it seems easier to just let the holiday pass without a glance.  I’m content to listen to silence rather than carols on the radio in the car on the way to work every morning. The beautiful Christmas cards I bought last January at seventy-five percent off are still in the box in the attic, and Grandma’s cookie recipes lay dormant in their file box.  December 25th is thirteen days away and the only shopping I’ve done is for my boys.  They gave me the list I asked for and I didn’t deviate from it, shopping online.  My children are older now, and they seem to understand my mood.

Christmas is less than two weeks away and my energy is funneled into the 1910 buggy shed attached to the house that originally belonged to my grandparents. We’ve gutted it and I’m building a room.  I’ve traded in my holiday sweaters for overalls and work gloves.  I sweep sawdust, prepare rough pine boards to be planed, hold the level, and read the rule. I’ve learned to show a hammer who’s boss, and I stand back to admire the recycled window that takes up almost an entire wall. I breathe in the scent of pine boards and feel the spirit of my grandpa around me. He was a carpenter.

On Christmas day, I’ll stop working in the backroom long enough  to prepare a Christmas meal of country ham, scalloped potatoes, green bean casserole, waldorf salad, and dinner rolls. Then, I’ll pull out Grandma’s rum cake recipe and prepare it just the way she did.  We’ll welcome our family, share a feast, open a few gifts, and enjoy a cup of egg nog and a piece of rum-soaked cake. We’ll miss my dad.

***

While I measured and helped cut boards tonight, my boys dragged the artificial Christmas tree down the attic stairs and rearranged the living room to make a space for it. They plugged in the lights and fluffed the branches, then decorated it with their individual glass ornaments, the ones I’ve ordered each year from a crafter who specializes in paper cuttings sandwiched between two round pieces of glass. The boys choose the highlight of their year for each of their ornaments. They keep these treasures in a box under their beds.  All the other ornaments are stored away in the recesses of the attic.

Ben and Ryan stuck their heads around the door to the backroom. I stood holding a beam in place as Bruce worked the hydraulic jack to raise the roof a few inches higher to level it.

“The tree’s kind of plain Mom,” Ryan said.

“Yeah, it could use some color,” Ben agreed.

I remembered a conversation I’d had with my dad years ago. He told me the story of when he was a little boy and my grandma didn’t have money enough to decorate the Christmas tree. She tied string to their Christmas cards and trimmed the tree with them. He said it was the prettiest Christmas tree he’d ever seen.

I shared the story with my boys. They turned and left the room.

I’ve done all the work I can do for the night. I’m ready to fall into bed. I dust off my jacket and walk back into the house. To my left is our Christmas tree adorned with the highlights of my boys lives and the Christmas cards we’ve received so far this year.

I have to agree with my dad. It is a beautiful tree.

 

O

‘Tis the Season

December 3, 2012

O

The thrift store seems more crowded than usual. I push the shopping cart toward house wares in the back. I need some vases for the nursing home. I can buy used ones for fifty-five cents. One of the local grocery stores has donated five cases of roses for our residents. It’s Christmas time and people want to do something nice for old people who don’t have family.

I turn down the children’s clothing aisle and five people have to move aside to let me by. Past that, shoppers line the perimeter of the space filled with larger items. An ugly chair upholstered in a black and brown patterned geometric fabric squats next to one of those wooden crate sofas, popular in the seventies. It has no cushions. A  pool table with a tear in its felt stands at a tilt, and a toddler’s red race car bed is missing its mattress. Three mismatched dining chairs, a kidney shape glass-topped coffee table, and a leaning brass floor lamp complete the sad ensemble.

A small bent man wearing white patent leather shoes, skinny jeans, a shiny silver belt, and a plaid button down dress shirt pulls the white tag off the naked sofa and turns toward the cashier, saying to himself, “I think I can find some cushions down the road.”

As I load the cart with glass bud vases, I hear three little girls vying for their mother’s attention with their questions:

“I like this one, can we get this one?”

“No Mommy, this one, it’s prettier.”

“I like the first one. It’s purple. I love purple. You love purple too Mommy, don’t you?”

“Quit arguing,” their mother says. “Or we won’t get any of them.”

The three little girls point out other things, asking if they can put this or that into the cart. If they can take things home to play with. “No.” Their mother says, her voice rising. “We’re not here to buy things for you.”

I find six green vases, three clear, one heart-shaped, and four white ones. I won’t pay over a dollar for any. The largest ones are ninety-five cents.  With the bottom of the cart covered, I turn toward the book shelves. I hit pay dirt finding two books on CD, James Patterson’s I Alex Cross, and Fanny Flagg’s Welcome to the World Baby Girl. They aren’t priced, so they cost only a dollar each.

Over in the holiday decorations, I can still hear the three little girls talking over top of one another, listing things they want for Christmas, asking their mother what she thinks Santa will bring.

The line to checkout stretches halfway down the aisle of women’s blouses.  The cashier calls for backup. A woman in a blue uniform comes from the ninety-five cent bin section, steps to the cash register opposite mine, and the line splits. When I reach my turn, I find myself across from the woman and her three little girls. They surround the cart as their mother places a box of purple Christmas ornaments, several pieces of clothing, a glass bowl, a basket, and some sort of game in a box on the counter.

“We can open it when we get home,” the smallest girl says to one of her sisters.

“God Dammit, I told you No three times already,” her mother yells. “It’s for your brother for Christmas.”

The little girls stop talking, all three look up to their mother. People around them stop talking. The store becomes still and quiet.

“That’ll be six twenty-four,” the cashier says.

The woman hands over the money, takes her bag, and the three little girls follow her out of the store.

The Backroom

November 29, 2012

O

My grandparents bought their house in 1957. It was small with one bedroom, one bath, a connected kitchen and dining area, and a living room. The dirt floor basement housed a wringer washing machine and galvanized wash tubs for rinsing clothes. A small enamel top table sat in front of the lone basement window for potting seeds in preparation for spring planting.  The house was a perfect size for a just retired carpenter/gardener and his wife.

Their cinderblock cottage butted up against a buggy shed that had been built in 1910. While the house roof sported asphalt shingles, the attached outbuilding boasted wide, rough hewn boards and beams, all covered in green painted tin. Grandpa could have parked the car there and cut an outside entrance into the living room, but Grandma had other plans. She talked him into a second bedroom.  They only needed one bedroom for themselves, but Grandma expected grandchildren to come visit.

I imagine her now, hands on hips, staring up into the rafters of that shed, saying, “Garth, I want an extra bedroom. You can make this into a cozy space. All you have to do is….”

And my Grandpa, carpenter’s pencil in hand, scratching measurements and drawing plans right there on the rough wood, filling in Grandma’s dream with his plans.

That was the room I stayed in when I was a little girl. It was referred to as  “the backroom”.  I fell asleep in a big, quilt-topped double bed to the sound of rain pattering on the tin above my head. A small pot-bellied woodstove popped and crackled next to the rocking chair where Grandma read me stories. That room smelled of lilac in summer and pine kindling in winter.

We bought the house in 1986, when my grandparents died.  Tonight, we gutted the backroom.  Between the termites and rot, we had to do something before it fell down around us.

I stand in that 1910 buggy shed looking up at the wide rough boards under the tin roof. I shiver in the cold. One wall is completely gone, three other walls and the roof complete a shell that was once my refuge. I stare at what’s left, and am surprised that I’m not sad. The primitive feel and color of the wood above me is warming. The possibility of new beginnings excites me.  I don’t want to cover those boards with tile or sheetrock or paneling.

“They’re all different kinds of wood,” Bruce points out. “White oak, red oak,  pine, and probably some walnut thrown in for good measure.”

“That’s OK,” I say. Looking up, marveling at the shades of brown, black, red and rust. I love it just the way it is. We’re not covering it up.”

“They’re rough and you know you’re going to lose a lot of heat through the roof,” he answers.

“I like the rough texture,” I counter. “It’s rustic, original. Besides, there used to be a woodstove here when I was little. Can’t we put one back?”

“I guess so,” Bruce says, “not too much trouble to run a pipe and patch around it.”

I help him hang plastic sheeting which will keep the wind and cold out when he pours the new cement floor. As I hand him the staple gun a small set of figures catches my eye on an old two by four.

“Did you write this?” I ask.

“No, not that set. I think your granddaddy must have put those figures there. Mine are on that board next to it.”

Sure enough there they are, two sets of numbers on boards side by side, two generations apart on a home that keeps evolving.

Derecho

July 12, 2012

“Get back in the house!” Bruce yells at Ryan from the driveway. If the wind wasn’t howling so loudly, Bruce’s voice would be much louder and more forceful. Ryan hears his dad though, turns, pulls hard on the front storm door and opens it against the straight strength of the Derecho. He squeezes his lanky, sixteen year old frame through the opening, then the door slams shut behind him. I’ve never heard or seen such wind. Even when we had the tornado touch down near us, the storm was over almost before it began. This wind won’t stop, won’t even slow.

“What does he think, I’m five years old?”

“He just wants to keep you safe.” I answer in a shaky voice from the darkened hallway. Our lights died within ten seconds of the storm, no warning, no time to scavenge for candles or flashlights.

Ryan moves the curtain aside at the door and peers out, watching as the lightning flashes a second’s worth of brightness. I can see the tall oak trees shaking and bending, whipped back and forth, shuddering. I find myself shuddering along with them. I reach out to Ryan and wrap my arms around his shoulders. He’s as tall as I am.

“He and Ben are out there running around in the damn wind, and he wants to keep Me safe?” the youngest of my boys pouts.

“Watch your language,” I say. “Your dad and Ben were out there already, working in the garage. They’re trying to secure whatever they can,” I explain.

“I know what they’re doing. I could be helping,” Ryan says, trying to pull away from me. My grasp tightens and he relents, sighing. I imagine his eyes rolling.  “You think I’m five too,” he grumbles.

I feel my baby’s heart beating beneath my right hand and remember a time when he was pre-school age and easily corralled. When he was five, I could scope out most any situation and make the tallest tree in the yard off limits, lock the doors with deadbolts too high for little hands to reach, or secure the sharp knives in a special drawer. Now, the gate is harder to close, the tether looser, this sixteen year old wants to run free. I hold him back as best I can. His older brother and father are outside braving hurricane force winds, daring limbs not to crush them, shining lanterns and flashlights into the shaking trees. They hear the same strong two hundred year old oak crack, splinter and crash to the ground as I do.  I can’t see out the door. Their flashlights have disappeared, the lightning has stopped.

“I don’t see them anymore, Mom.”

“Me either, let’s go,” I say, pulling the front door open.

We step onto the porch, take off in a full run toward the steps to the driveway. Lightning flashes and the huge tree branches seem to grow straight out of the ground. Leaves and branches are everywhere and we fight our way through and around them. The wind is still blowing, pushing us backward, sending small pieces of wood stinging  into our faces and arms. My heart is racing. I hear its beat in my ears. The sound is louder than the roar of the derecho. I’ve heard people on the news say, “The wind sounds like a freight train.” This wind is louder than that.

Ryan is ahead of me, fighting through branches, yelling for his dad and brother. Another flash of lightning. I hear crashes in the woods. The ornamental grass across the driveway, waves like a giant cheerleader’s pom-pom.

“I said, get in the house,” Bruce yells from somewhere to our left.

“You’re alright,” I yell just as loudly, relieved but still worried. “Where’s Ben?”

“He’s right here with me. We’re coming. Run back to the house,” he growls, grabbing Ryan’s arm and turning him, pushing me afterwards. We run up the steps, all four of us trying to get to the safety of our cinderblock fortress. Ryan wrenches the storm door open, and holds it as the rest of us fall into the front hallway.  Ryan squeezes through and the wind slams the door shut behind him.

“Why would you leave the house when I told you to get inside,” Bruce yells at us from his bent position as he tries to catch his breath.

“We were worried that you were trapped under that damn tree,” I yell back.

“It almost got us,” Ben says from behind me. “Five seconds before, or five seconds after, we’d’ve been mashed flat.”

I take a deep breath and hug myself tight, trying to stop the shaking.

And the wind blows, and blows, and blows, with no reprieve for an hour and a half. We watch and listen to trees uproot and crash to the ground, feel the house shake from the force of impact, listen to the howl  and grimace at the pressure building in our ears. It eases, then builds again.

And as fast as the derecho came, it leaves. The air stills to a dead silence and the humidity rises. We step outside to witness the damage. The flashlight illuminates shadows and hulks all around us and unfamiliar. We walk the driveway, car to car, hoping, praying. Not one is flattened.  The tree that fell behind the garage, grazed the back wall with its very top branches. The yard and highway are a mess though, a massive cleanup that will take more than a week to complete, but nothing and no one is hurt.

Cars are lined up on the highway, just the other side of the driveway in front of the house. A huge white pine lays from guardrail to guardrail and beyond. People empty from cars to survey the damage and possibility of moving forward. Forward is not an option. Neither is backward. A heavy black power line, sparking on one end, lays across the road.

“Let’s go get the saws,” Bruce says to Ben. “We’ve got some clean up to do. May as well start now.  Don’t have enough beds to sleep all these folks.”

Ben turns and walks to the garage in search of his work gloves and McCullough chain saw.

Ryan and I turn and head toward the house.

“Where are you going Ryan?” Bruce asks.

“To bed I guess.”

“Oh no you don’t,” his father says. “We need your help. No time like the present to learn a trade. You might have a future as a lumberjack.”

Ryan turns back as the clouds lift from the face of a bright moon and I see a smile on my baby’s face.

Custard Pies and Family Reunions

July 5, 2012

Egg custard pie was my favorite. Mama stood in the kitchen, Grandma Payne’s recipe card propped at eye level in the window, the green glass mixing bowl in front of her, as she combined milk, eggs, sugar, nutmeg, and vanilla. She whisked the mixture and poured it into the unbaked pie shells resting on the oven racks. She slid the metal rack carefully into the oven and closed the door. As minutes ticked, the aroma of the baked custard filled the room. She only made them for special occasions, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and family reunions. She always baked two, and two were never enough. Not a piece was left after the first round of dessert.

Thanksgiving and Christmas were close together, but the family reunion was in June. Six months was a long time to wait for my pies, so when the time rolled around, I was excited. Mama spent the morning baking and my mouth watered until I didn’t think there could be any wet left in it. We loaded the car and headed to Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

Grandma had been cooking all day the day before and all that morning too. Her kitchen table was covered with bowls, platters, glass jars, dishes, and baskets. Potato salad, baked beans, a picnic shoulder ham, chocolate layer cake, deviled eggs, three kinds of homemade pickle, strawberry jam, buttery yeast rolls, cookies, and fried chicken waited for places in the picnic basket, coolers, and trunk of the car. After arranging, rearranging, stacking, and praying, the trunk finally shut, but the two custard pies were still in the backseat of the car. Mama and Grandpa always rode up front and argued over directions. Grandma and I rode together in the backseat, ignoring them and telling secrets.

“Oh no,” Mama said. “We forgot the pies. Where will be put them? There’s no room in the trunk. It’s slam full.”

“Let’s put them in the floorboard,” Grandma said. “There’s plenty of room for Margaret-Dawn and me if we scootch together a little bit.”

I slid over close to Grandma and she hugged me tight against her soft padding. She smiled down at me.

Mama carefully placed the plastic wrapped custard pies on the floorboard behind the driver’s seat. “Now you watch your feet,” she said to me. “Don’t be stepping in my pies.”

All went well on the drive over the mountain. Grandma and I counted cows, looked for John Deere tractors and whispered secrets about a package of chocolate chip cookies with my name on them packed into the corner of the picnic basket. We laughed at my silly joke about the chicken and the lollipop, and decided what we were going to fill our plates with when we got to the reunion.

Two and a half hours after we left Grandma and Grandpa’s, Mama pulled off the main highway onto the gravel road leading to the picnic shelter. I could see all my aunts, uncles, and cousins up ahead. While the women arranged dishes on the long tables, the men unloaded coolers of drinks and fired up the grill for hamburgers and hot dogs. My cousins were already having fun. Some pitched horseshoes, others unloaded fishing gear. Several flew kites.

The car rolled to a stop and I slid across the seat to jump out the door. I felt the mistake before I saw it, the soft squish under my foot.  In my excitement, I put my foot right in the middle of one of Mama’s custard pies. “Oh no,” I said looking down at the sneakered instigator.

“What’s wrong?” Mama asked, meeting my eyes in the rearview mirror.

I felt the heat rise into my face. “I stepped in the pie,” I whispered.

“You didn’t!” Mama yelled.

“Don’t you get on her,” Grandma admonished. “She was just excited. Besides, it’s my fault. I told you to put them on the floor. No harm done.” She frowned at my Mama, giving her the look my Mama often gave me.

“No harm?” Mama asked, her own face turning its own shade of red as she opened her door and turned to open mine. She flung it wide and stared at the ruined pie with the imprint of my shoe neatly cratered into it. “Look what you did,” she accused, as I started to cry.

Grandma patted my knee. “Don’t you cry. We have enough food to feed an army in this car. No one will ever know there were two pies. It’ll be our little secret,” Grandma said, winking at me.

Mama rolled her eyes and huffed her anger as she grabbed the remaining pie and turned to the trunk with her keys in her hand. Grandpa opened his door and headed to the back of the car to help her unload. Grandma sat still, waiting with me, handing me a tissue from her purse. “Don’t you feel bad,” she said. “Accidents happen to the best of us. I dropped a whole bowl of watermelon on the floor this morning. You just sit here with me for a few minutes and get yourself together. Let your Mama work off that steam she’s built up.”

I sniffled and stared at the stupid pie.

“You should have seen that mess I made,” Grandma said. “Watermelon from one end of the kitchen to the other. I wanted to cry too, almost did. Then I got to thinking.”

I looked up at her. “You did?” I asked.

“Yep, sure did. More for me, I decided. I cleaned that mess up, ate the pieces that stayed in the bowl ’til I had my fill and threw the rest away. No harm done. Just a little clean-up, that’s all.  Reach down there and hand me that pie,” she said.

I reached down and picked up the still plastic wrapped dessert and handed it to my Grandma. She held it in one hand as she fished around in her purse with the other. Finally, she pulled out a plastic spoon and smiled.

I looked at her, confused.

“Clean-up,” she said. “I always carry one of these for just such an occasion.”  She wiped the spoon with another of her tissues. She grinned at me. “Let’s unwrap this and have us some.”

“But it’s ruined,” I said.

“Tastes just as good with a footprint as without,” she said, unwrapping the pie and digging in for a bite. Then she handed me the spoon. “See how lucky we are,” she said. “A whole pie all to ourselves.”

I grabbed the spoon and dug in.

“You sure you didn’t plan this all along?” Grandma asked me, winking and wiping the corner of her mouth with her tissue.

To this day, custard pies are still my favorite.

Grandma Payne’s Custard Pie Recipe

3/4 cup sugar
pinch salt
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 tbl. flour
2 cups milk
nutmeg

Mix sugar, salt and flour well. Add eggs, milk and vanilla. Mix all well, pour into deep dish unbaked pie shell. Sprinkle nutmeg on top of pie. Bake for 10 minutes at 450 degrees, then turn down to 325 degrees. Bake until pie is done (knife comes out clean).

My Paula

June 21, 2012

In the midst of my grief over my father’s death, my elder friend Paula had the audacity to die on me too. She and I were instigators at best, bandits at worst. She recognized me when I walked down the hall of the nursing home and called out to me. “Hey sweetie, where you been?” I could have been gone a week or ten minutes, it didn’t matter. I was her long lost friend. I’d bend over her wheelchair; she’d place her hands on either side of my face and kiss me right on the mouth. We had no shame.

She was from New York City, a bohemian hippie who wore full-flowing gauze skirts, peasant tops, open toe sandals and no bra way before it was popular. She wore her hair long, sometimes pinned up and sometimes flowing around her shoulders. She colored it a whore red and put on lipstick to match.

“What’s on tap today?” I’d ask.

“Something stronger than beer I hope,” she’d answer.

Paula had the most beautiful lilting voice and sang so sweetly that those who happened to catch a note, stopped mid-stride and turned to her, waiting for the melody to continue.  She studied classical music at Juilliard when she was a girl and gave voice lessons for a fee when she graduated.

She was married five or six times. I asked her once why so many and she said, “Why would anyone stop at just one when there are so many to choose from?  I’d have lived with them all, but my mother insisted I marry. She was so old fashioned.” Each of her children was fathered by a different man. Her babies scattered over the world and sent her letters, cards and packages from exotic places.

She had the tiniest feet and danced wildly upon them, swinging her thin hips and tossing her head back and from side to side, smiling behind that curtain of red hair. Her snapping green eyes sparkled with mischief. She was game for any adventure and we took several.

One cold December we bundled in black velvet capes over satin dresses and attended a gala at the theater in town. It was an Opera. I’d never been to one, wasn’t sure I’d like it, but Paula assured me I’d fall in love. At ninety, in her three inch heels, tottering at my side, a purple chapeau affixed in a jaunty angle with a fancy rhinestone hat pin on her head, Paula sparkled. Her glitter and glow put everyone else to shame that night. I can still hear her toe tapping to the music, and feel her small fingers tightening around mine as she let the music take her into another world. She was right. I did fall in love that night, but not with the Opera. I fell in love with her.

I can only imagine that my red headed Paula came into this world on the notes of a song, because on Monday, she took her last breath to the music of Vivaldi, another red head with a passion for music.

 

Antonio Vivaldi: Opera”ARGIPPO” RV 697, Act 2 – Aria (Zanaida) “Io son rea dell’onor mio.”