Posts Tagged ‘family’

Impulse Shopping

January 21, 2013

melva's

As careful and hesitant as I am, I am disabled by an impulsive streak that flashes its lightning at interesting times. My long-term goals, although still there, fade in the brightness of what’s in front of me. Sparkle captures my eye and sends me wanting. My husband usually grounds me. He listens quietly, then brings me back to the reality at hand. He ticks off the hazards, extols the cost, and after a day or two of processing his words, the careful me returns. I go back to thrift store shopping, gardening, recycling, and saving. I can count the times on one hand he’s let me run the extent of my dream without interference. Those have worked out for me.

Bruce and I didn’t take a vacation last year. With my dad’s illness and death, we’d spent most of my vacation time going back and forth to Chesapeake to check on him, then to make funeral arrangements, and finally to settle his estate. I had gone full force for five months without stopping for breath. I’d yet to have a good solid cry. I was worn out.

“Let’s go to Chincoteague this weekend, just the two of us,” Bruce said the last week in July. The boys will be alright at home. We can take the bicycles, beach chairs, a cooler full of cold ones, and sit on the beach, do nothing but relax in our favorite place.

A year ago we bought a lot on Chincoteague at Big Glade Creek; and made plans to build a house in ten years when we retire. The view is as close to perfection as we have found. Ten years seems a lifetime away, and we continue to visit our little island. Each trip, whether staying in a hotel, cottage, or campground costs us rental bucks. Zoning laws will not allow us camp on our lot. We bought the property knowing that up front. Even so, Bruce threatens to pitch a tent, but I don’t want to antagonize the neighbors.

We arrived on the island a little after daylight on Friday morning and parked at Big Glade Creek. We watched the egrets and geese catching their breakfast. The breeze cooled my skin as I sat cross-legged in front of Bruce on our floating dock. I leaned back against his chest and he rested his chin on my head. “I could sit here forever,” he said.

“Me too,” I echoed.

We checked into the hotel at 3:00, stored our gear and unhooked the bicycles. We rode toward Assateague and then onto the hike/bike beach. We stayed, watching the waves break, until just before sunset. We shared the beach with only six other people, but if we looked straight ahead, it was just the two of us.

Sunday came too soon. It always does. I hate to leave Chincoteague more than I hate paying the one hundred thirty-nine dollars a night hotel cost, but with a five hour drive ahead of us, and work for me on Monday, we pulled out at 11:00. We usually head straight down Maddox Blvd to the causeway over Chincoteague Bay toward the mainland, but there was a small line of traffic up ahead and Bruce veered left onto Pension, then right onto Ocean Blvd. which would take us to Main.

That’s when I saw it, a small white, aluminum-sided house with a brick chimney, on a neat manicured lot. It reminded me of my grandparent’s house. The one we live in now. The bay window was somewhat obscured by an overgrown rhododendron bush, one of my grandmother’s favorite shrubs. The ‘for sale’ sign held a box of leaflets describing the property. “Look at that house,” I said, pointing. “Pull over.”

Bruce parked at the curb and I grabbed one of the leaflets. The house was built in 1950, the same year my grandparent’s home was built. This one had two bedrooms, just like theirs. We walked around the outside and found hydrangeas and crepe myrtles in bloom, ours at home are blooming now. A shop and shed sat on the back of the lot. I peered into the window. Woodworking tools were anchored to the workbench. My grandfather was a carpenter.

“I want to see the inside of the house,” I said.

Bruce looked at me and raised an eyebrow. “If we do, we’ll get back late,” he said, looking at his watch.

I could not explain the connection I felt to this house, but it was there. “Let’s just call,” I said. “At this short notice, they might not even be able to show it. If they can’t, then I’ll take it as a sign and we’ll go home.”

Bruce handed me his cell phone and I dialed Debbie, the realtor who had helped us find our lot last year. She answered on the first ring. “I’ll call Ocean East Realty and get the key,” she said. “I’ll meet you at the property in fifteen minutes.”

Debbie opened the back door and we stepped into “Melva’s kitchen”. The carved wooden sign on the wall proclaimed it to be. My grandmother lived in her kitchen. I remember the tastes and aromas of biscuits baking, strawberry jam and apple pies.

Debbie stepped aside for us. “It belonged to a couple who lived here for sixty-two years,” she said. “Islanders. They built the house just after they were married. Melva’s husband passed away a couple years ago. Melva lived here by herself until June. She’s moved to the mainland to live with her daughter now. They had a hard time putting the house on the market. It’s been Melva’s life.”

As I looked around, I could see that. I could feel it.

Part 2: https://trainswhistle.wordpress.com/2013/01/27/melvas-place/

The Ferris Wheel (Memoir)

January 4, 2013

Friday Fictioneers’ (http://rochellewisofffields.wordpress.com/) is hosted every week by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. It’s a pretty awesome idea that goes like this: A weekly photograph is posted and the writer is challenged to create a 100-word story or poem inspired by the photo. Post your work on your blog and link it to the Friday Fictioneers’ post where comments and feedback are shared. Give it a shot! This week’s photograph is by Lora Mitchell.

ferris wheel

Here’s my attempt this week:

The Ferris Wheel (Memoir)

I sat wedged between Mama and Ray. My feet dangled.

We’d come to Virginia Beach, like a family. It was nighttime, and the carnival lights had pulled me in. “Can we ride?”

Three tickets later, we soared in a salty wind. City lights were our magic carpet.

The carriage stopped at the very top. Ray leaned forward, tipping us, rocking us.

I inhaled, looking up to him, eyes wide.

Ray’s hand tightened on my shoulder. “Don’t be scared; I’ve got you.”

Off to our right, there was a whistle, then a loud boom, and a million sparkles lit up the night.

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

A Plan and a Goal

December 23, 2011

When the top strand of twinkle lights went dark in the Christmas tree, I was ready to bag the whole decorating thing and call it a year. I’m usually more patient than that. I pull out every bulb and try a new one until the strand comes to light again. Not this year, I stomped out to the car and drove directly to the thrift store where I found a working strand of bulbs in the bottom of the 50% off Holiday bin. As I turned with the lights in my hand, I noticed a small cotton stocking striped in red and white. It was plain, hand-stitched with no glitter or tinsel, no name across the top, and half the size of my boys’ stockings. I picked it up and marveled at its simplicity. I pulled an extra quarter from my pocket, paid the cashier, and carried it home with the lights.

Ben arranged the strand at the top of the tree. It’s easier for him as tall as he is. Ryan plugged in the lights and all was right with the tree again. I held up my little flannel stocking to share with my boys. They looked at my prize, then at each other, and shrugged their shoulders. They gave me that look that says they don’t understand me, but love me anyway.  I tacked that sweet little sock up with Ben’s Santa soaring over rooftops and Ryan’s sectioned and sparkling snowman stockings.

This year gave us happiness and sadness alike. Ben graduated in May from Ferrum with a major in History and minor in Political Science. He applied to grad school at James Madison University in the school of Kinesiology and was admitted in August. He’s working on a Master’s in sports leadership and management. His first semester came off without a hitch, but with lots of reading and writing.  He’s found a truck he not only loves, but can ease his six foot six inch frame into. He’s also living back home with us.

Ryan adores having his big brother in the house again. They have their moments, like wrestling in the hallway where someone’s head and shoulders plowed through the drywall,  but they’ve got each other’s back and no one messes with the other.  Ryan’s a Junior at Western Albemarle and he has turned into our math whiz. We hold this trait in awe. It’s not genetic, but an anomaly. He scored an advanced pass on the Algebra II Standards of Learning tests, and we celebrated for weeks. He’s holding his own in other, less interesting subjects and shop, his sole ‘A’.  He mentions college occasionally. We encourage him to excel in school, but Ben seems to get the most effort from him.  It’s a good thing Ben is his brother/surrogate parent. Bruce and I would be lost and shaking our heads otherwise.  

We lost Grandma Patsy in June. The cancer treatments were just too much for her heart to take. She was able to attend Ben’s graduation though, and couldn’t have been prouder of him. We miss her, but we all know she is not suffering from the effects of cancer anymore. 

Bruce and I discovered Chincoteague in February of last year and fell completely in love with the area, and a little more with each other in the process as well. The island off the eastern shore of Virginia is a quaint little town with people who are real, and scenery that  is beyond description.  We purchased a half acre lot on Big Glade Creek and visit every opportunity we have.

Bruce still mulches and does yard maintenance. I’m still caring for elders at the nursing home. Life is busy and often complicated. There are so many tasks in a day and not nearly enough time to complete them all. I find myself out of breath and struggling to keep up with all that needs to be done, but as Ryan told Santa when he was five years old and trying to reassure the jolly elf, “I have a plan and a goal.” My goal for 2012 is to simplify, find joy in every day, and in the little things around me.

I’m starting with one small striped cotton Christmas stocking.  I wish you the simple joys of life as well.

High Stepping

December 8, 2011

Her legs are not long, but when she was in her twenties they were as shapely as a pin-up girl’s. She has pictures to prove it. She’s lying on the beach, propped on elbows, one knee bent, white rimmed sunglasses cover her eyes, a wide, lipstick smile invites the camera in for a kiss. Bathing suits were one piece back then, and sex appeal was truth.

She was born in 1934 and Radio City Music Hall was built in 1932. They’ve both held up pretty well under the years.  Her physique is a bit more curvaceous than the Art Deco symmetrical lines of the theater, but both are stunning in their own right. They know how to shine. Both accessorize in crystal dangles, and drape themselves in gold silk.  The woman is small, standing one half inch over five feet tall. The theater is large, seating over six thousand, with a stage measuring sixty-six feet by one hundred forty-four feet. Its shape and style reflects that of the setting sun.  

Tickets to see the Rockettes are for the 11:30 matinee. She, the matriarch of the family now, has ridden all the way from Virginia, chauffeured through five states and multiple speed limits to the home of her niece, the one who procured the one hundred ten dollar orchestra seats for the show.

An alarm set for seven-thirty Saturday morning gives her and her progeny just the amount of time needed to awaken from their soft beds in a New Jersey suburb, don robes and slippers and sip coffee with cream over a toasted buttered bagel before having to bathe and dress for the event. Conversation is punctuated with soft laughter. She stops at one point, china cup in hand, and says, “It’s good to have my girls together again.”  The sun promises to be warmer than yesterday just because she’s visiting the city.  

She dresses in black wool slacks with matching flats for midtown walking. A soft gray cashmere pullover sweater is accented with a long knotted strand of vintage jet black glass beads. Their facets reflect light. Her short style of natural waves shines white atop her head.

Black has always been her favorite non-color. She remembers her brother’s funeral. He was buried in the family cemetery on a day hanging gray with clouds in 1944. It was war time and clothing was drab then, but even at age ten, she felt herself coming into her own. She sorted through her sister’s closet and found a simple A-line black wool dress. She wore it over a white cotton blouse with a peter pan collar. She found black tights to match the dress and slipped her feet into a pair of patent leather Mary Jane shoes. The eldest of her sisters admonished her to take special care of the strand of ivory  pearls she fastened around her little sister’s small neck that day. 

She pulls a tiny faded black and white photograph from her wallet to share. It was taken just before the funeral. She stands out amongst the members of her family, chin held high, gloved hands clasped together in front of her. The seriousness of her expression reflects the solemn occasion.  

She will not leave the house without lipstick.  She throws the charcoal gray wool cape over her shoulders, wraps the Blumen Tuch silk scarf from Germany around her neck, and pulls red gloves onto her hands. That and the lipstick are the only splashes of color she allows.

The seats are ten rows back from the stage. The lights lower and the curtain rises. Thirty sets of legs begin to kick in unison to the opening number. She reaches out to the niece sitting next to her, motioning her to lean in close. “As old as I am,” she says. “I can still kick up my heels.”

She is not to be doubted.  

The Price of a Weed Eater

June 11, 2011

Six o’clock in the morning is not early on Chincoteague. There’s so much to do.

We visited our lot yesterday when we got to the island. Weeds are growing thick and healthy on our little half acre, the tallest ones being those that you shoot as weapons when you’re a kid. You know the ones I mean.  They have a long stem with a projectile looking bloom on the end. You pull the weed, wrap the stem around the bloom and pull just behind the head, and Pow, you’ve put your brother’s eye out. Bruce calls them grasshopper weeds.  We have enough of those to supply both sides of an army of eight year olds.  A patch of wild daisies surround the fire hydrant next to the road (they can stay, but I have to fight my husband for their reprieve.) Poison Ivy is abundant and at its most potent, dressed in spring green with runners shooting through the grass ready to sneak up on you with their itch. Several marsh grasses grow tall between the water and tree line.

Bruce is excited. He likes a vacation, but would rather have work to do. Now, he has a project, but needs a weed eater.  Here’s an opportunity to buy another piece of equipment. We head off toward Rt. 13, turn left at T’s Corner and drive a few hundred yards to the Stihl dealer. Over three hundred dollars later, we leave the lawn and garden center with the needed equipment, extra string, safety glasses, screwdrivers, a wrench, and a two gallon plastic gas can.  The salesperson throws a brand new brown cap with Stihl embroidered in gold lettering across the front into the bag as we check out. That was nice of her.

Bruce is like a kid, wearing his new hat, tuning up his new toy, wacking the unruly grasses off the future home of our retirement. He adjusts the carburetor on the machine several times until the weed eater doesn’t “miss a lick,” and spends the next two hours in his element.

Ryan bates two crab traps with chicken bones from last night’s dinner, throws the metal wire cubes into the water off the dock, then won’t wait long enough to catch a crab before pulling the trap back out of the water to see if he’s caught one.

I sit in the folding baseball chair, reading a book, feeling the breeze, watching an occasional bird dive into the water of Big Glade Creek with a “splunk,” and laugh at the antics of two male humans, engrossed in their respective projects.

After consideration, the morning was worth the price of a weed eater.

A Swarm in May

May 21, 2011

Bruce’s cell phone rang. He usually looks at the display and sends the call to voicemail when we’re at the dinner table. Instead, he flipped the phone open and said, “What’s up?”  It could only be his mama. 

 His parents are seventy-seven and eighty-four. They are both active and fairly healthy for their age, but Bruce’s daddy had a heart attack ten years ago, triple bypass surgery soon after, and most recently, he’s had a pacemaker implant.  We used to worry when the phone rang in the middle of the night. Now, we hold our breath even if it rings during the day.

 He breathed out audibly. “I don’t even know if I have a decent box,” he said.  “OK, I’ll see what I can put together and I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

 “You want to go with me?” He asked.

 “Not really. I’ve got a lot to do,” I said, as I gathered up the dirty dishes.

 “You might want to bring your camera. My daddy’s found a swarm of honey bees. It could be interesting. The last time he was stung by a bee, he swelled up and had trouble breathing, remember?” Bruce said.

 The men in Bruce’s family are farmers and bee keepers.  They don’t do either for a living, but as hobbyists, they’re serious. Over the past few years, mites have invaded honeybee hives and populations have declined. When the last of Bruce’s parent’s bees died out, they didn’t replace them. We breathed a sigh of relief since his allergic reaction scared us.

 My worry set in. Swelling and closed airways don’t frighten my father-in-law away from honey.  I grabbed some Benedryl, and an epi-pen, along with my camera. We headed to the truck.

 Bruce’s parents live on a nine acre farm that sits at the foothill of Ragged Mountain.  Even in later retirement they continue to grow a big garden every summer, keep several head of beef cattle and work part time doing odd jobs for neighbors. Two weeks ago, Bruce’s daddy was cutting twelve foot pine logs and loading them onto a wagon without help.

 We pulled up, and parked. Bruce and his daddy went to work building a bee box from the scraps Bruce had collected and put on the back of the truck.  They sawed a board into fifteen inch lengths, replaced rotten pieces, tacked edges, and in twenty minutes had a hive box ready for the swarm.

 The bees had collected into a buzzing clot on one small low branch in the dogwood tree to the side of the garden. Bruce’s mama and I had scoped out the swarm to make sure it was still there while the box was being assembled. The branch still hung with their weight. Other honey bees flew back and forth like scouts, collecting and disseminating information to the mass.

 The two men came toward the tree with the box, a burlap sack, and a pair of clippers.  Bruce’s mama frowned.  “You don’t have your bonnet,” she said to his father.

 The bonnet is a hat with mesh attached. It covers the face and cinches under the collar at the neck.

 “I’m not using that. I don’t need it,” he said.

 Having been married to the man for sixty years, she didn’t argue, just shrugged.

 I’m brazen. “Are you sure? You know the last time you got stung, you had difficulty breathing.”

 He looked at me and smiled. “They won’t sting me,” he said.

 I lacked his confidence, standing there with an antidote in my pocket.  If he wasn’t going to listen, at least I’d be prepared.

 Three of us stood a good distance back from the tree.  Bruce’s Daddy walked right up to the branch of bees, held it in his hand close to the limb, and clipped it.  He was left holding the swarm at the end of a stick.  The buzzing mass started a mere two inches from his fingers.

 The bees didn’t fly off, they stuck tight, like they were glued onto the dogwood branch and to each other. The ones that were airborne continued coming to the place where the branch had been and others began surrounding my father-in-law, landing on his shirt, pants, shoes, hat and exposed skin. They lit, crawled on him, and flew again. He didn’t flinch.

  He bent down, holding the branch in front of the opening in the box, and lightly tapped the top of the bee box with his clippers.  He held the branch there for a full minute before he gently shook it, causing a layer of bees to drop onto the burlap at the front of the box. He continued to tap the top making a hollow, echoing sound. Every now and then, he’d shake off another layer of bees. They began crawling into the opening.

 “We’ve got to watch for the queen. She’s somewhere in the middle of the swarm,” he said.  “If she doesn’t go in, the rest won’t go either.  If she flies away, there goes the hive.”

 Bruce moved up closer to the box and watched as layer after layer of bees slid from branch to burlap and then crawled into the box opening.  “There she is,” he said pointing. 

 His daddy bent closer to the humming knot on the branch and pointed to the same bee, a little longer than the rest.  They both watched as she marched into the bee box.  Not long afterward, the rest of the bees disappeared after her.  Bruce’s daddy brushed the remaining bees from his shirt, pants and hat, and smiled.

 “Guess I’ll have to move the bed down here tonight so he can keep an eye on them,” my mother-in-law  said with a laugh, “and maybe the kitchen table. He’ll be down on this hill every extra minute.”

 He walked over to us, storing his clippers in a back pocket. Not a drop of sweat  moistened his brow. “Should be a good hive of bees,” he said. “My Daddy always told us, ‘A hive of bees in May is worth a load of hay.’  He was right you know. We’ve found some in June, but they’re more likely to take off on you and go somewhere else.”

 “How did you know those bees weren’t going to sting you?” I asked, fingering the epi-pen in my pocket.

 “Swarming bees don’t sting.  They’re tired, and more interested in staying close to their queen and finding a place to keep her safe than worrying about attacking someone.”

 “So you gave them a place to rest, and a home for their queen. What more could they ask?” I said.

 “Yep,” he said, turning and walking back up the hill to put his tools away.  “and maybe they’ll repay me with some honey later.”

It’s Not Easy Being Big

May 6, 2011

I heard Ben’s feet stomping onto the porch before he got to the front door. He turned the knob and threw his body against the door so hard it banged into the wall. I imagined the dent he left there. 

 I was washing dishes in the kitchen. “Hey, hey, that’s not how we come in the house,” I called from the kitchen . What’s up with you?”

 “I’m Big, and Dumb, and Clumsy,” my eight year old yelled.

 “Wait a minute,” I said, wiping my hands on the dish towel and walking to the hallway where he stood.  “Who said that?”

 “Nobody,” he replied, head down, his voice quieter now, the toe of his sneaker kicking the baseboard. “I just am.”

 I put my arm around his shoulders, and together we walked to the couch for one of our pep talks.  It became a ritual of ours through his elementary and middle school years.  

 At twelve, Ben was six feet tall, but he had been well above the hundredth percentile on his growth chart since birth. Everyone expected him to act his size.  He didn’t. Teachers, coaches, other children, and parents of other children called him out for not being more mature, smarter, stronger, faster. If anything he was a couple years behind his peer group developmentally.

 Not only was Ben hugely conspicuous in a room, he learned differently from his peers, and he suffered abuse in silence. He did not retaliate. He wasn’t a round peg, fitting neatly into a round, public school hole.  He was a high energy, inquisitive, hands-on learner, with no concept of personal space.  If he liked you, he loomed over you, and presented you with smothering bear hugs.  If he didn’t like you, he tried his best to stay away from you. From Kindergarten on, a kid named Justin, and a handful of other smaller children surrounded and threatened Ben daily. He hated those boys, and he hated school.

Ryan, Ben’s younger brother by six and a half years, found a pre-school book at a yard sale one year and wanted to buy it for his sibling. The cover sported a smiling Big Bird of Sesame Street fame. The title was: It’s Not Easy Being Big.

 “Ben would like this,” Ryan said. “He doesn’t like being big.”  With the taunts and bullying his brother endured, I knew what Ryan meant. No matter how we attempted to bolster our boy’s confidence, his self esteem suffered. He had one friend his own age, another social outcast; and we spent hours each night with homework just to keep Ben on grade level. Baseball, and being his little brother’s hero kept his head above water.

 Sam, Ben’s favorite baseball coach, instilled confidence in the boy’s abilities on the field.  No matter how many times Ben tripped and fell, struck out, or threw wild pitches, Sam put his arm around the boy and said,  “You just gotta grow into that big body of yours. Gotta have big feet to hold up that frame.   You wait, one day, you’re gonna catch up to that pitch and knock the cover off the ball.  Pretty soon,  you’re gonna find that strike zone with a killer curve ball.”  Ben believed him, and tried harder.

 One day, Sam suggested we visit Miller, a small private school with individual attention and a faculty that fostered individual learning styles and tolerance. Sam had just been hired as their new baseball coach.

 We visited, spent the day monitoring classes, ate a meal in the dining hall, and discovered the cost of tuition. We cringed.  Bruce and I would never be able to afford it. Of course Ben loved the idea of playing ball for Sam and his first visit to the school reminded him of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter book series. Ben believed in magic.

 At the end of the day, our boy had an appointment to meet alone with the headmaster.  Bruce and I stood on the lawn and watched him walk slowly, with rounded shoulders up the steps to the front doors. Students were sitting, standing, and lounging on the marble stairs.  Halfway up, Ben tripped and dropped his notebook, scattering papers. I held my breath.

 Not one student laughed. No one called him names. Two boys helped Ben back up onto his feet, and asked if he was alright. Several girls collected his notebook and papers, handing them to him.

 “I don’t care how much it costs,” I said. “If they accept him, he’s coming here.”

 They did, and although the schoolwork was rigorous, and he still struggled to pass classes, he received the extra help he needed to succeed in his studies. By his senior year, he was a more confident young man and had the privilege of pitching a complete game to win Miller its first State Baseball championship.   He also applied to a four year college and was accepted.

 At 6’6” he’s still a big boy.  His size fifteens aren’t quiet as he bounds onto the porch.  He bangs the front door against the wall as he pushes into the house with an armload of laundry.

 “Hey, watch that door,” I call from the kitchen.

 “Come give your best kid a squeeze,” he calls from the hall.

 I walk out wiping my hands on the dish towel.  He drops the laundry onto the floor and looms over me, bestowing one of those killer bear hugs of his. 

 “You ready for the news?” He asks.

 “I’m not sure,” I say, closing my eyes.

 “All A’s this semester. How’s that for a way to end my college career?”

 How’s that indeed.

Tornado Warning

April 24, 2011

 

My grandma said dark clouds hold wind.  Some of those clouds blew in from the west.

 Everything got real still. The air held its breath. Birds found a place to settle in trees, held fast, quieted. Crickets and frogs stopped singing and listened instead.

 The air shifted to cool and heavy. Wind picked up from the southwest, and the sky turned greenish–gray.   Eerie, that’s what I remember about the afternoon. It was eerily quiet just before the wind really picked up. 

 I opened the front door and looked toward the Blue Ridge Mountains. Black clouds moved east, toward the house. Usually, clouds close in slowly, gradually inching east over the mountains and through the sky, covering the clear and filling the empty space.  They form a line and don’t cross the treetops until all of them are together in formation, a unified front. 

 This time, they rolled in faster and with a force.  It was like they were in a hurry to create battle and needed to sneak up on everyone.

 “Watch out for those dark clouds,” I heard my Grandma say. “Pay attention. If they start to reach for the ground with little fingers, get down low, cover your head,” she warned.

 I gathered the children.  Our basement is a hole under the house, more like a root cellar than a family room. The door faces our vegetable garden. There’s one tiny, dingy window that puts the yard at eye level. 

 The boys wrestled our scratching, meowing ball of fur and claws, and held him tight as we ran through the downpour.   We pushed the door open and entered the musty, damp, cold space.  A grave came to mind.  

 When my life is in turmoil, I dream of tornadoes. I can’t find my children or get to the basement in time. Just as my last fingertip grip is pulled away by the wind, I wake to a fast heartbeat in my ears.

I’d done everything right, gotten us all down low and the drum of my heart still beat loudly in my ears.  

 The boys jumped up and down, squealing with excitement, opening the door to peek out.

 “Close that door,” I yelled.

 The door slammed shut and the children used their sleeves to wipe the dirt off the window. We had our backs to the weather outside. The storm was swirling toward us from the west, and the basement faces east. With an increase in the wind, hail arrived. It hit the ground and bounced, nickel size pieces of ice falling from the sky, bright white in the green grass of spring. 

 “It looks like popcorn,” one of the boys said.

 The sky turned late-evening dark and I kept waiting for the sound of a freight train.  We didn’t hear it, but the rain fell in curtains across the yard.  We couldn’t see the clothesline.

 Then, as suddenly as it came, the clouds lifted and the sky lightened.  The boys ran out and began throwing pieces of hail at each other, ducking and laughing, splashing barefoot through the puddles in the yard.

 I took a deep breath, cradling the cat as I stepped out of the basement, and  lifted my eyes to the sky in search of a rainbow.

One Tiny Woman

April 10, 2011

It’s Spring now, but with temperatures dipping into the thirties and forties at night, it’s still cold enough to use the wood burning boiler furnace. The stove sits in the backyard, looking like a small shed. Once a day Bruce fills it with large pieces of oak and locust. The wood is stacked on a trailer pulled up close to make hefting easier. Not having to sweat splitting the lengths into smaller pieces makes them heavier to lift.

The Wren sits on the edge of the blue tarp covering the trailer. She stands her ground even as Bruce walks within two feet of her on the way to the furnace. She bobs up and down on stick legs, chirping her disdain at him. He ignores her and uncovers the day’s allotment of fuel.

Now she’s in distress, flitting from the trailer to the clothesline, to the garden fence post, all the time rattling off a litany of curses at my husband. He’s oblivious, and hard of hearing it seems.

I open the kitchen window and call out. “Can’t you hear her?”

“Hear who?” he questions, looking around for a neighbor or visitor.

“The Wren,” I exclaim, pointing at the little brown bird, having a conniption in the Lilac bush now.

“Where?” Bruce asks.

“Right behind you. She’s been trying to get your attention since you left the house and started that way.”

“I didn’t see her,” he says.

“Well, look around. I’ll bet she has her nest somewhere close.”

Bruce turns around to the bird and says, “Alright, alright, stop fussing. Give me a minute. I’ll see what your problem is.”

He closes the door of the stove having not put one stick in it. He walks over to the far corner of the garden and stands watching until the Wren flits back to the woodpile and ducks under the blue tarp.

I pull the window down and watch Bruce as he leaves the backyard only to return a few minutes later with a wheelbarrow full of wood. He makes a wide berth around the trailer and parks the wood by the stove. He makes three trips to fill it.

I walk out the door to feed the chickens, and Bruce turns to me shaking his head.

“That whole trailer full of wood,” he says, “and I can’t use a stick of it. Women, they sure do make life difficult.”

I can’t help but giggle.