Posts Tagged ‘Relationship’

Ride Like the Wind

March 20, 2013

thirsty

She sat on the kitchen floor, playing with her plastic horses. She saddled up a mustang and rode across the squares of green tile, through the Indian badlands, around train robbers, and cattle rustlers. She rode fast, bent low, stopping to rest in the forest of chair legs under the kitchen table.

“Most men wouldn’t be caught dead washing dishes,” her mother teased the man at the sink. He was tall, a dishtowel over his shoulder, a cigarette in his mouth.

He laughed. “Most men wouldn’t do a lot of things I do.”

Her mother giggled, kissing him. The man’s hands came out of the water and landed on her mother’s bottom.

“Now look what you’ve done,” her mother said, smiling.

He crushed the cigarette. “Let’s get you out of these wet clothes,” he said.

“Shhh,” her mother said, pointing.

The little girl jumped on her horse, dug in her heels, closed her eyes, and rode like the wind.

************************************

The Original Version:

Ride Like the Wind

She sat on the kitchen floor. A triangle of sunshine from the window spread across the linoleum making a paddock for her plastic horses. She lined them up side by side to feast on grain and hay. Her favorite was a brown mustang with a white mane and tale. She’d take him from the herd and ride across the squares of green tile, through the Indian badlands and around gangs of train robbers and cattle rustlers. She was brave and free, riding fast, bent low over her horse’s neck, the wind blowing her hair back from her face. They’d stop to rest only after reaching the forest of chair legs under the kitchen table. It was safe there. She had cover.

“I like watching you wash dishes,” her mother said to the man at the sink. The little girl peeked out from under the man’s shirt hanging on the back of the chair. He was tall, wearing his green work pants and a white undershirt. He had a dishtowel thrown over his shoulder, and a cigarette in his mouth. He was up to his elbows in soap bubbles. “Most men wouldn’t be caught dead washing dishes,” her mother teased.

The man laughed and talked around his cigarette. “Most men wouldn’t do a lot of things I do.”

Her mother giggled, stood on tip toe and kissed the man’s cheek. His hands came out of the water and landed on her bottom.

“Now look what you’ve done,” she fussed, twisting around to look behind her at the wet spots on her jeans. She wasn’t mad though, she was smiling.

The man pulled the cigarette from his mouth and crushed it out in the ashtray. “I think we need to get you out of those wet clothes,” he whispered.

Her mother shushed him and pointed at the child.

The little girl ducked behind the cover of the man’s shirt.

Her horse whinnied, ready to ride again. She jumped on his back, dug her heels into his flanks, closed her eyes, and rode like the wind.

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 Douglas McIlroy.

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

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).

Harder than Naming a Baby

March 17, 2012

My decal man finally worked me into his schedule. It’s only been five months since we received the title and registration to the boat in the mail. That’s when it became legal. That’s when we became real owners of the 1971 Larsen Shark.

We’d spent an entire summer attempting to prove ownership; and with the delivery of the envelope from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, we took our two inch thick folder filled with copies of old registration, previous owner’s address, bill of sale, New Jersey DMV forms, online change of ownership forms, certified returned letter to previous owner, official letter from the VDGIF and our temporary registration from Walmart, and put it in a drawer for safe keeping. We really wanted to burn all that paperwork and do a dance around the bonfire, but were just too afraid to chance it. We thought the official letter might be a dream. After all, the lead up had been a nightmare.

“I’ll never buy anything without a title again,” Bruce grumped as he held the new Virginia registration decal and boat number in his hand. “Who would have thought it would be such a pain in the ass to title a boat?”

“She’s all ours now though,” I said.

Earlier that month, with our temporary registration in hand, we put the boat into Assateague Bay for the first time. It was on that trip that we named her.  We toured the five marinas on Chincoteague and paid specific attention to boat monikers.  “Birthday Wishes”, “Reel Time”, “Triple R”, “Miss Daisy May”, “Island Time”, “Dream Baby”, “Crabber One.”

We sat in the truck, the boat resting on the trailer behind us, bright, refurbished and naked other than her New Jersey identification number. We threw out suggestions to each other. Bruce liked “A Fish Tale”, “Southern Comfort”, and “Crack of Dawn” (which I did not find funny). I punched his shoulder and made my own suggestions, “Dream Boat”, “Hook Line and Sinker”, “Irish Wake”, and I liked the ones named after women.

Most of the boats we saw were white. Three sported a red stripe and one was a light blue. None we saw were bright spring green, only ours. Built in 1971, our vessel was obviously made during the age of Aquarius. We had a hippie boat. We started brainstorming slang from the 60’s.  Words like cool, square, peace, man, far out, a gas, stoned, bummer, drag, flower child, funky, pad, right on, groovy.

“Yeah,” I said, “groovy.  I like that.”  I said it again, my mind conjuring visions of bell bottom jeans with hot pink embroidered daisies, a lime green peasant blouse, a peace sign.   How about Groovy Girl?”

“My Groovy Girl,” Bruce said. “Yep, that’s it. My Groovy Girl.”

I floated the name to my group of literary friends. The graphic artist of the bunch drew up some curvy letters and we were hooked. I ordered the marine grade vinyl decals the next day, and my boat name was ready for application by the end of the week.

The boat was in dry dock for winter, covered and stored in the garage. “There’s no hurry,” Bruce said. “We’ve got until spring to apply the decals.”

No amount of whining, cajoling or bribery worked. I’d have to wait until he was ready, or I could attempt the job myself. I’m a weenie. I waited.

I hadn’t thought of the decals since the week after I picked them up from the sign place. Bruce has been cleaning the garage because it’s been too rainy to work outside. “Where’s the boat name?” he asked me yesterday.

“Right here where they’ve been since September,” I said, pointing to the cardboard tube in the corner of the bedroom.

“Bring it down to the garage. Let’s see if we can get it on the boat,” he said.

We cut on the dotted lines, peeled the backing, lined up the letters, pressed, prayed, and peeled the wax covering off the decals.  When we finished, there was “My Groovy Girl”, no longer naked and un-named. She’s official now, and she’s ours. We have the paperwork to prove it.

“All we need is champagne to christen her,” Bruce said.

“Yeah,” I agreed. “That’s all we need; and I’m sure that will be another story.”

“Surprise”

March 8, 2012

The problem with giving my husband too much credit for a job well done is that he takes over my project. After I found this sad little kitchen cabinet on the porch of a local antique shop and Bruce talked the owner down a hundred dollars from the asking price, I guess he felt like his bartering skills gave him special privileges.

We stopped off at the hardware store on our way home with the cupboard to pick up some sandpaper blocks and a putty knife I wanted. I planned to scrape the curling peels of paint and sand down the finish to a “distressed” look. I saw the end result in my imagination. Sometimes I don’t have the words to describe what I want. It takes action to reveal my intention.

“You want to do what?” Bruce asked.

“I want to feather out the bare spots, elongate them, flatten the edges of the paint so they don’t look chipped.”

“Why don’t we just refinish it?” Bruce asked.

“I don’t think I want to do that,” I said. “Do you have any idea how many coats of paint are on this cupboard?”  From what I could see of the layers, there were at least four different colors and probably some varnish to boot. “It would take weeks to scrape all that paint off and you don’t even know what’s under all that mess. It could be some ugly-grained wood. Besides, if I don’t like the way it turns out, I can always slather it with a fresh coat of white paint.” 

Bruce and I have refinished our share of furniture. It’s hard work, scraping, sanding, applying chemicals that burn your hands and your nose, that ruin your favorite knock-around clothes.  I have a love for primitive pieces though, and we have rebuilt jelly cupboards, lingerie chests, dressers, wardrobes, and farm tables.  My favorites are the pine pieces we’ve refinished with their warm tiger stripe grain glowing a soft golden brown when rubbed with tung or linseed oil.  With this project, I didn’t feel up to the intensive labor involved in stripping it. Besides, this was the cabinet I fell in love with, not some undressed version in Bruce’s imagination.

He bent down and looked under one of the shelves. “Might be pine,” he said, plying me with possibility, but I was trying to stand firm in my conviction. I really liked the distressed look of the kitchen cabinet, and that weary façade enhanced the chicken wire covering the areas where there was once glass.

I ran my hand across the cupboard door. I turned the wooden spool knob. I wondered about the family who first owned this piece and how proud they must have been to have it standing in their kitchen. “Look at it,” I said. “It’s charming just like it is. All it needs is a little TLC, just some touch-ups, a little scraping and sanding, that’s all.”

“It needs a whole lot more than that,” Bruce mumbled under his breath. Louder, he argued, “I don’t think it would be so hard to strip it,” as he scraped at the peeling paint with his chisel, sending little chips flying toward me and raining down on my head. He wiped away the paint dust with his hand. “See,” he said, “not hard at all.”

Once the man gets an idea into his head, it’s there. He doesn’t listen.  I tried again. “Do you see how the front of the cabinet looks?” I asked, pointing to the areas of worn paint with wood grain showing through. “That’s how I want the whole thing to look.”

“Let’s see what the wood looks like underneath,” Bruce pushed. “Here, I’ll turn it over and scrape a section that’s not so noticeable.”

“No, that’s alright. I’m going to work on scraping and sanding. You go ahead and work on that lawnmower carburetor over there.” Bruce shrugged his shoulders and turned to his workbench, picked up the carburetor, his screwdriver, and began working on the hunk of metal in his hand.

I took up my putty knife and began scraping the curls of paint. When all the loose paint was chipped off, I took the coarse sandpaper block and started the back and forth rubbing that softens the edges of chipped paint. The emerging hints of wood beneath shone gray under the paint. A fine white dust powdered the floor under my ministrations.

After three hours of sanding, the bottom of the cabinet was looking like I wanted it. I stood back, pushed my hair off my forehead with the back of my hand, rolled the tension out of my shoulders, and wiped my dusty hands down the front of my jeans. I turned to Bruce who was putting the carburetor back on the lawnmower. “What do you think?” I asked.

“Can’t see a whole lot of difference from here,” he said, getting up and walking over.  He reached out and ran his hand over the sanded areas. “Ok, I see what you’re doing. And you like the way this looks?” He asked with a frown.

“I think so, but I’m not finished yet.  I won’t really know until I get more of it done. I’m a little worried about the shelf here though,” I said, running my fingers over the work surface of the cabinet. It had suffered the most damage from years of being used as a cutting board or chopping block. “It has some places that are really gouged out.”

Bruce bent down and lifted his glasses to peer under them. “Look, the paint’s a lot thicker on this part. I don’t think it’s going to feather like you want it to,” he said, chipping at a small crater with the putty knife.

“We’ll see,” I said. “Anyway, I think I’m done with it for today. I have the funeral to go to in South Hill tomorrow. I’ll work on it again Monday.” My best friend Trisha’s mother had died and the service was three hours away.

I left for the funeral the next morning and didn’t think much about my little cabinet in the garage until I pulled back into the driveway late that evening. The light was on in the garage, and the door was open. I smelled the high-inducing fumes of lacquer thinner. I felt my stomach drop as the realization and dread filled me.  I took a deep breath and looked through the door.

There was my cabinet, turned on its side with my husband bent over it, covered in paint dust. He looked up at me and grinned with his excitement.  I stood there stunned, absolutely stunned. It was like coming home to a room whose walls had been a familiar white to find them painted purple. I couldn’t speak. All I could do was stare.

Bruce called out a hearty, “Surprise!”

Yep, I was surprised.

“ I’d have gotten more done, but I thought you were going to be gone longer,” he said.

“Oh,” I said with a weak smile. “You’ve been busy.”

“Worked on it all day long for you. What do you think?”

What could I tell him? That I wanted to cry? That I wanted to ask him what in the heck he thought he was doing? That I wished he’d stuck to repairing his lawnmowers and left my cabinet alone? That I wanted to turn back time and give his free day back to him again? That I hated what he’d done?

Half of the cabinet was down to its natural wood.  All the chicken wire had been pulled loose and was in a tangle on the garage floor, and Bruce had worked the whole day on the cabinet…for me. He was happy. He thought I’d be happy. “I’ve been thinking,” Bruce said.

From the looks of it, he’d been doing more than thinking. “Yeah?” I asked.

“Are you OK?” he asked, looking at me and frowning.

“I’m OK, just tired. It was a long trip and just such a sad day,” I said.

“Oh shoot, I didn’t think,” he said, straightening up and coming over to put an arm around me. “How was the funeral and your trip?”

“Lots of people there,” I said, hugging him and staring over his shoulder at my half naked cabinet. “She was loved. Trisha did alright. I didn’t stay for the meal afterward. I wanted to get home before dark, thought I might work on the cabinet a little before I went to bed.”

Bruce isn’t one for funerals or emotion. He doesn’t talk about his feelings or ask me about mine much. He does tangible things to show his love and support, like refinishing a piece of furniture.

“So, what I was thinking,” he went on after his brief assessment of my emotional state. “We could put glass back into the top where that god-awful chicken wire was, or do you remember the tin my Daddy put in the pie safe he made? He got a pattern from a book and punched the tin himself with a hammer and nail. We could do that.”

“I really hadn’t thought beyond sanding it,” I said.

“Well, let’s sleep on it,” Bruce offered. “We’ll figure it out tomorrow.”

Yep, tomorrow, I thought. We’ll have to figure this mess out tomorrow.

The Lure of Chicken Wire

February 29, 2012

Have you ever fallen in love with a piece of furniture? Out of the blue, just looked at it and said, “Oh my gosh, I have to have that dresser,” or “that’s the prettiest blanket chest I’ve ever laid eyes on,”  or “I can’t imagine sleeping under any other headboard but that one?”  Well it happened to me again on Saturday. I was driving past the Greenwood Country Store, and there it sat on the front porch, pretty as you please, a kitchen cabinet.  It called to me. I could hear it through the closed windows of the car, and as I got closer, I realized this was the exact same piece of furniture I had missed out on five years before.

It looked at me and said, “I need a home.”

And it did.  I felt just as sorry for that piece of furniture as I would a stray dog. It almost looked the same as it had five years before, but was now a bit worse for wear.  When I parked the car in front of the store, I was also in front of the cabinet. It was like a hoosier cabinet, but a poor man’s version. It stood about five feet tall, three feet wide, and two feet deep. The bottom half had closed doors with a wooden spool knob. The top was what grabbed my heart though. At one time, I think the cabinet doors had four panes of glass, but something must have happened to break them, because in their place, was chicken wire.

The last time I saw this piece of furniture was at the antique sale at the park in town. The cupboard had a three hundred fifty dollar price tag then, and I didn’t have the funds to buy it. Bruce said he wasn’t putting three hundred fifty dollars into anything that had chicken wire stapled to the front of it.

“Oh I’ve found you,” I said to the little cabinet, knowing this was a match that was meant to be. I got out of the car and stepped up beside the piece of furniture. I pushed on it to see how sturdy it was. It stood solidly, didn’t even groan under my weight.  I opened the cabinet doors to find four holes drilled into the back, and a shelf missing. There were layers and layers of peeling white paint on the outside and someone had painted the upper inside of the cabinet turquoise. Still, it made my heart happy to find it even in the shape it was in.

The bell jangled when I walked into the store.  “Come on in,” the owner said. “How are you today?”

“Doing fine,” I said. “How much you want for the white cabinet on the porch?”

“Two-fifty,” she said.

Well that was better than its original price of three-fifty, but with all the wear, the holes and peeling paint. I still didn’t like it two-fifty worth.  I called Bruce.

“What kind of shape is it in?” He asked.

I explained.

“Where are you gonna put it?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “But I really like it. Remember we saw it a few years ago? Beverly showed it to us at the antique show and I wanted it then.  I still want it.”

I could hear Bruce scrubbing his face with his hand, trying to remember something that he hadn’t liked to begin with, and not having luck.

“I know you remember the chicken wire,” I said, trying to make him remember.

“No, I don’t,” he mumbled, and then said something about wanting a Mercedes Benz himself, but not needing one.

“You ought to see it though,” I said. “At least come look at it.”

“The trailer’s hooked to the truck. I’m not going to drag all the lawn mowers up to Greenwood. Offer her one-fifty and see what she says.”

I walked around the store. I hate haggling. My mother’s an antique dealer and my husband wheels and deals all day long with equipment. I was not born with the haggle gene.  I looked at china plates, antique school desks, framed prints of horses and children, silver plated tea sets, and tin biscuit cutters. I wasn’t interested in any of those items. I was gathering courage.

“Would you take less for the cabinet?” I asked.

“How much less?” the owner asked, looking out the window at my little kitchen cabinet.

“One fifty?” I asked.  I know I flinched when I said it. That offer seemed like a slap in the face to me.

“I can’t take less than two hundred,” she said. “The couple next door bought it from me for three-fifty, used it as an entertainment center until they found something better. They’d like to at least get two hundred for it, no less.”

Now I knew why there were holes in the back, and it made me mad. Why do people want to ruin something perfectly wonderful?  “I’m just not sure I can afford two hundred, and they drilled holes in the back,” I complained, hoping she’d see my side. When she didn’t come around, I said, “Let me call my husband.”

I went back out to the car and called Bruce back. “Come and get me,” he said. “I’ll ride with you to take a look at it.”

As I drove home, I thought about someone happening upon the store and my cabinet, whisking it out from under me before I got back. I drove like a mad woman, taking all those crooked back roads like something big and bad was chasing me. I kept hearing that cabinet call my name.

When we arrived back at the store, Bruce got out and stood in front of the cupboard.  He frowned and I just smiled big, so excited to find it again, to have the opportunity to actually own it, hoping my enthusiasm would rub off on my husband.  “You realize its been sitting out here in the weather for awhile don’t you?” He asked me. “The paint’s peeling. Who drilled holes in the back?  There’s a shelf missing.”

My little cabinet sagged under Bruce’s scrutiny and insults. Leave it to Bruce to point out everything about that beautiful piece of furniture that needed fixing.  I countered with every good point I could think of. “It’s a perfect small size for the house. It has good storage space. It’s quaint and original.”

“Original is the word alright. Whoever saw chicken wire on the front of a kitchen cabinet? The only thing chicken wire will keep out of a kitchen cabinet is chickens and they don’t roam around inside the house.”

“The chicken wire was what drew me to it in the first place,” I said. “It’s my favorite part of the piece. Don’t you remember it now?”

He didn’t.

We walked into the store and Bruce scanned the shelves, picking up old tools, looking for a brass belt buckle. He showed the owner a picture of the vintage candy machine he has in the garage. He wants to sell it and hoped she’d put it on consignment.  He stalled, not saying a thing about my cabinet, making me squirm.

Finally, he asked the owner about the piece of furniture. She repeated her story to him. “I can’t take less than two hundred. The couple is already losing money on it.”

“They didn’t do it any favors by drilling holes in the back, adding that turquoise paint or letting it sit outside for the paint to peel.  I can’t see putting more than one-fifty into it,” Bruce said, turning back to a cross cut saw on the shelf closest to me.

I had my checkbook with me. I had two hundred dollars. I was willing to write the check, hand it to her. The little white piece of furniture was out there on the front porch, begging. I inhaled, starting to say something, but Bruce shot a look at me.  I kept quiet, but the owner didn’t budge.

“You open tomorrow?” Bruce asked.

I had a funeral to go to the next day. I couldn’t come back the next day. Someone might buy it before the next day. What was my husband thinking?

“Twelve to five,” the owner said.

“We might be back,” Bruce said, taking my hand and leading me out the door.

My hang-dog look didn’t stop him. Bruce didn’t turn back, didn’t even look back, didn’t slow his stride. He walked out the door and past my cupboard. It whined behind me. I followed Bruce, planning to give him a piece of my mind once we were in the car. I’d stomp back into that store and buy my cabinet, support or no support from my husband.  We stepped off the porch, Bruce opened the car door for me, and I sat down heavily into the seat, crossing my arms over my chest. Before he could close the car door though, the owner came out with a cell phone pressed to her ear. She held up a hand, beckoning us to wait.

“They said they’ll take one seventy-five,” she said.

“Tell them we’ve got one-fifty,” Bruce said.

I held my breath, and so did the cabinet.

I beamed as we placed my little kitchen cabinet gently into the back of the Honda.  “Come on little cabinet, we’re going home where you belong,” I said, hearing the piece of furniture sigh contentedly as I closed the hatch.

We got in the car and left the store behind. “Thank you,” I said to Bruce, leaning over to give him a peck on the cheek.

“Chicken wire,” Bruce said with disdain as he shook his head.

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.  

Birthday Presence

November 14, 2011

 

Tonight I opened the hinged wooden box on my dresser and dropped a solid white glass marble and a 2003 copper penny into it. The two items found their own spots among the collection in the small pine container.  They joined a menagerie of keepsakes including a rusted gate hinge, a quartz rock, a hand-forged nail, a triplet of brown acorns attached at the stem, a brass button with an anchor embossed on it, a heart shaped rock,  and a small scrap of blue paper folded in fourths. I smiled at the contents.  If the house should catch fire, and my family and animals were safe outside, I’d grab this box second only to the photographs of my children.  

I’ve known Bruce for thirty-three of my fifty birthdays. As I sat in a hotel bed this morning, sipping the cup of coffee he brought me, I tried to think of the birthday presents he’s given me over the years.  I can’t remember a single wrapped gift placed in my hand or on a table in front of me. Bruce hasn’t even presented me with the proverbial vacuum cleaner that women complain about.  He’s not one for fancy trimmings, romantic gestures, or grand hoopla.  What he does, is proclaim a rousing “Happy Birthday,” and then, he gives up his whole day to me.

This year I wanted to go to Chincoteague, to spend the weekend of my birthday walking the grounds of the wildlife refuge, feeling that ever-present wind blow through my hair. I wanted to take as many photographs as the memory card could hold, and wander the island thrift stores in search of a good book to read. I didn’t want to cook. We packed the car and left early Friday morning. We didn’t come back until tonight.  

When I was a little girl, I remember making wishes on my birthday candles. This year, fifty candles would cover the entire cake top. Even at my age, I still make birthday wishes.  When I think back on it, I’ve rarely wished for things, even when I was very young. What I mostly wished for was the presence of someone I loved, or the presence of someone who would love me.  

Saturday we woke early and rode over to our half acre lot. I pulled out the folding chair, and sat at the edge of Big Glade Creek, reading Out of Africa while Bruce ran the weed eater for the final time this year. Canada Geese honked overhead in their migration south, ripples stirred across the top of the water and the few leaves left on the trees rustled in the breeze. I smelled wood smoke in the cool air.  I didn’t hear Bruce come up behind me, but I felt his presence.  “Hold out your hand and close your eyes,” he said.

I did. When I opened my eyes again, there was a round white glass marble there.

“I think it’s a pearl,” he said laughing and bending to kiss my cheek.

“First real pearl I’ve ever gotten,” I said, admiring my gift.

“Must have come out of an oyster in this very creek,” he said. “I found it a few feet from here.”

I put it in the pocket of my jeans. Bruce went back to work on the broom sage, and I went back to reading.

That same evening, we walked the beach of Assateague, picking up and admiring shells. I was turning a conch over in my hand, watching the light play off  its pink iridescent wet underside, when Bruce bent down and picked up a shiny copper disk in the surf.  “Look,” he said, handing it to me, “pirate treasure.”

“2003,” I said, holding the penny up close to my bifocals. “Some of Jack Sparrow’s booty maybe, but not Black Beard’s.”

Bruce shrugged his shoulders. “Treasure’s treasure,” he said. “Doesn’t matter where it comes from.”

I put the penny in my pocket with the white marble. We walked on, continuing to search the shoreline, stopping to watch a boy skip shells off the waves, and another learn to fly a kite.

Tonight when I opened the treasure box on my dresser and dropped my two new gifts inside, I glanced at the other things housed there, each one special,  each one given to me by a man who doesn’t use pretty paper or ribbon to wrap his gifts to me. He wraps them in memories.

Searching

October 24, 2011

I’ve been meaning to drop by Mint Springs all week. It’s that time of year, my favorite. Bruce has heard me talking about it every night and I still haven’t found time to drive the five miles west of home to get there. My window of opportunity is closing,  next week will be too late.  

 This afternoon, Bruce sat at the kitchen table looking at the wooden box of golden delicious apples on the floor.  “What are your plans for the rest of the day?” He asked.

 I knew his plans. He wanted to make applesauce. That’s what he’s been talking about all week.

 “I want to go to Mint Springs,” I said, not following his gaze.

 “If we don’t do something with these apples, they’re going to rot.”

 “I know,” I said.  I’ve been avoiding them.  We had spent the better part of a cold evening in early October culling them from the orchard in Batesville. I was the one who insisted we go. Bruce had worked a full day mulching and was tired, but he followed me out to the car and made the ride to the apple orchard.  

The trees are planted on the side of a  terraced mountain, each row on its own rise. It was a gray, bitter day and I had forgotten my apple picking sack. I gathered the ends of my jacket together, forming a pocket. We gathered apples until I looked nine months pregnant with a bumpy baby.

 Bruce kept picking while I made the trek back to the car to unload my burden.  Halfway down the slope, I slipped, fell, and rolled to the ditch below. I lay there amongst my harvest, laughing and wondering why I bothered with all the hassle when buying a can of applesauce in the store is so much easier. That was three weeks ago, and the apples still waited.

 “What do you want to do?” he asked, bringing me back to present. He was also sighing because he knew his argument would be lost on me when I had something else on my mind.

“I really want to go to Mint Springs,” I said with more forcefulness.

 Bruce frowned in that way he does when he’s thoughtful, or scheming. “You know there’s that apple tree over there I haven’t checked yet,” he said, suddenly excited. “Get your camera, let’s go.” I gathered my equipment and headed to the car.

My idea of a trek to Mint Springs and Bruce’s is different. We follow the same path around the lake. I look for reflection in the water, color on the trees, texture, and symmetry, a feeling.  He searches for apples, firewood, and stocked trout.

I’m not complaining. I got my shots, just like I wanted. And Bruce, he collected enough apples to replace the ones we lost to my procrastination, and some firewood for the stove, but no trout.  He’s going back tomorrow with his own equipment, a fishing rod and tackle.  I’m staying home to make applesauce.