Monday, January 23, 2012

The Truth Will Out

Working on the Senior Citizen History Project (here) has necessitated sorting through hundreds of old family photographs to find just the right ones to illustrate each page of text. This is not a job for the faint of heart (or the short of time). Every photo elicits memories within memories. For instance:

This was taken shortly after I was brought home from the hospital. That's my three year old brother FP in the foreground, the one with his arm across his forehead in, "Jeez, do we have to keep her?" mode.

Not only had my mother been away for two weeks, she came home carrying a squalling, wet, no-fun-at-all baby sister. Poor FP. Things did not get better as I got older. I was a selfish, prying, demanding little kid, wanting whatever FP was playing with at the moment. "Give it to Nin-nin," was my battle cry.

"I'll give it to Nin-nin," my mother would say through gritted teeth, her hands itching to deposit me in a room by myself until I shaped up. (Apparently my Memere had no qualms about administering swift justice. When she caught me biting her precious FP's ear in order to wrest a toy from him, she chased me around her house with a leather clothes whip!)

When he was four, FP was offered a deal too good to pass up. The chicken feed man who supplied my father's chicken farm with sacks of grain offered to buy me for a dollar.

CF man: "That's a cute little sister you have there."

FP: "Nah." (No way was I cute!)

CF man: "She'd just about fit into one of these empty sacks, don't you think?"

FP: "Yeah." His eyes must have lit up at the thought.

This conversation was overheard by my father who, though a bit taken aback, stayed quiet to see what would develop.

CF man: "I'll give you a dollar for her."

FP: "Okay."

The chicken man reached in the back of his pickup truck for an empty burlap sack. Then he reached into his wallet for a dollar bill. FP must have had a change of heart as he took the bill. Perhaps he realized that I was about to be hauled off in a sack and that might not necessarily be a good thing. He began to cry. My mother came out to see what he was howling about.

"FPC!" she exclaimed, using all three of his names as my father explained. "You give that man his money back right now! You can't sell your sister!" At which point my brother forfeited the dollar and was marched into the house for a half hour in the punishment chair (another memory offshoot for another time).

That was the official version that was handed down with other family lore. My brother now claims he remembers another ending. He says the chicken feed man offered him $10 and the only reason he started to cry was because he thought for that amount of money he might have to go along to help take care of me.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Happy Little Snow Song

Snow is falling, falling down
beyond the windowpane.
The playful wind swirls flakes around
and drops them down again.
They cling, they drift, they fill the air,
like many feathered wings,
and when the earth is still like this
I hear the snowflakes sing.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Beginning at the Beginning

At the beginning...

Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream? Edgar Allen Poe

I have recently signed on at the local Senior Center to work with middle grade students on a history project - my history!

Sponsored by a health initiative and overseen by a youth program coordinator and a teacher from the local middle school, the project pairs a willing senior citizen with an inquisitive student. Together we will talk about the past, sort through hundreds of old photos and artifacts, ask and answer a myriad of questions and finally produce a written and pictorial scrapbook of the senior's life. All this in 9 weeks!

Last week we had an informational meeting and met the students through a lively interview process much like speed-dating. The students spent five or six minutes hopping from table to table, interviewing each participating senior. Finally they met in a huddle and then fanned out, grinning, each one choosing an adult they felt they'd enjoy working with. My young person is a very friendly, very lively 13 year old girl with long dark hair and a smile that flashes like sunshine on water.

We agreed that the best place to start was with the timeline that begins with my birth date and ends with the present day. I've done my part this week by sorting through the dozens of photo albums and endless photo storage boxes for pictures that represent the highlights of my life - babyhood, childhood playmates, first day of school, high school graduation, college days, marriage, children, etc. I will have to repeat the college days three times as I dutifully went off for a year immediately after high school, interrupted my studies to marry and raise a family, build a log cabin and homestead in northern Vermont, travel to Europe, and move house five times. I finally returned to school for a bachelor's degree in creative arts and then a masters degree in writing when in my fifties.

When I told my children about this project one of my daughter's queried, "Are you old enough to do that?"

That made me chuckle. The ad recruiting seniors specified 60+. That's me all right, though some days I feel more + than not. At any rate, I think it will be fun to look over my life in the company of a teenager. She is already aghast that I didn't have a TV in my house until I was older than she is now, that I spent most of my time alone and out of doors in the neighboring woods and fields ("With wild animals and bugs and everything?") and wouldn't care if I never went shopping again ("I've never met anyone who didn't like shopping!").

Tomorrow we will go through my first batch of photos. I will talk, she will take notes, and we'll walk the nostalgia path together, me with my head in the past and she with hers in the future. Where we meet in the present will become a special place for both of us. I'll fill you all in as we progress...

At 3 years old

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Waiting For the Magic to Hit

I know
If I wait long enough,
Sit quietly long enough,
Listen long enough,
Some small miracle
Will present itself.

Perhaps the sun will dance
In silver slippers on the water,
Or the wind will become visible,
Bullying the snow ahead of it.
I might see the silver flash
Of a hunting ermine,
Or hear the voice of an icicle
Weeping at its own demise.

I can breathe the world in
Through nose and eye and ear
Breathe it out again through the pen.
Silence and language meet
In the mind of a poet.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Counting Days, Counting Flowers

The woods at Barholomew's Cobble where Floyd and I often walked...
I read a wonderful story at this site about a decades-ago friendship between two young girls and a 40 year old man that asked the question - could that kind of friendship even be possible in today's world? The answer, of course, and sadly, is no. But it put me in mind of my own childhood and a wonderful man, single, in his forties, caretaker at several city-people-owned houses in our rural community who took the time to befriend and teach a solitary little girl about the wonder of the natural world and the power of words.

Floyd was an old friend. Together we'd walked many a woodland trail and winding road. It was Floyd who taught me in my childhood the names of the trees and plants that bordered the roadside and populated the forests. He taught me how to shoot a rifle one morning and make a strawberry shortcake that afternoon. He awakened in me an interest in poetry, for often while we walked he would recite from memory long verses by some of his favorite authors. We kept in touch even as I graduated from high school, went off to college, married, and traveled to far places. He was one of the first people I looked up when I returned to live in my childhood hometown.

Years passed but we still found time to walk together. Then one spring, Floyd fell ill. I visited him as he lay in a hospital bed, unable to move his legs at all. There would be no more walks for us, I realized. Floyd looked at me, stalwart and not a bit sorry for himself. "I have no feeling in my legs," he said. "I imagine I'll go from here to the graveyard but maybe you'll keep me company here for a while."

Always before, Floyd had been the giver, I the receiver. Over the next few weeks that changed. Now it was my turn to give. Every day I found an hour or two to spend at his bedside. I brought him bits of news from around town, read letters from his friends and articles from the newspaper. I even published one about our friendship. That made him smile. "Maybe you'll write another about our time now?" he asked. And each week he grew a little quieter, his breathing a little more labored.

I began to count the time he stayed there by the flowers that were in bloom. When he first entered the hospital, violets were just poking their shy heads from beneath dark green foliage. He couldn't have flowers in his room because he was asthmatic, but I could tell him what was blossoming. We marked the weeks by color - paper white hyacinths, sunny yellow daffodils, buttercups and purple swamp iris and apple blossoms that blushed pink and white.

As the flowers multiplied and thrived, Floyd seemed to shrink. The light in his eyes dimmed and his strength left him until he was unable to do more than lift his hands. I remembered how strong he'd been, how those hands had wielded axe and hammer and saw. I remembered their gentleness when he doctored small animals and children with bumps and scrapes. When the June roses began to bud, Floyd's conditioned worsened. I left word with the floor nurses to call me whenever he was awake and wanted company. Then I would pull my chair close to his bed and hold his hand, letting the companionship we'd established years ago enfold us.

By the last week of June, when daisies dotted the green meadows like summer snowflakes, Floyd was hooked to an oxygen tube. When I touched his hand, his eyes would flutter open and focus and a look of recognition would light his face. Then his eyes would close again. The room was filled with his raspy breathing. One day I brought a book of his favorite verses with me. We could no longer converse but the nurse assured me he could still hear me so I read on through the afternoon, telling the sagas he'd so often recited to me as we walked the sunlit woods. On the last day of June, the day the first orange lilies lifted their shining faces to the sun, Floyd took his last walk with me, a walk of the mind and heart.

That was twenty years ago. Today I am going on a hike/write with a local naturalist as we've done for several years. Floyd will walk with us unseen but not unheard. 

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Awake In the Night

The moon at midnight was a distant, radiant orb, dusting the landscape with silver sparkles. There is only a vague familiarity to the known world on such nights. I'd been asleep but the moonlight shining through my window woke me. The night sky was irresistible. I pulled on boots and a coat, tugged a hat over my head and stepped outside. The air was cold but not biting. The yard and woods spread out before me in the ghostly light. Not a sound broke the stillness, not a breath of wind moved a tree branch or the tall, dead grasses as meadow's edge. Everything was at once unrecognizable and eerily familiar. In one's imagination, almost anything could be creeping stealthily through the dark. In reality, most unidentifiable lumps are ordinary bushes.

As my eyes adjusted and I woke up a little more, the night became a magical place. Everything was painted with silver - the small drifts of leaves at the edge of the yard, the ropes of my swing, the roofline of the house next door. I walked on the moonpath, amazed that I could cast a shadow in the middle of the night. There were night noises in the woods, scurryings and chufflings and the distant bark of a dog. Only when the voices of a pack of hunting coyotes carried across the far meadow did I turn for home. I would have liked to see the moonlight trace runnels of liquid silver along their fur but I did not want them to see me.

Back in bed I snuggled under the down comforter, still seeing in my mind's eye the play of moonlight on the still pond waters and gaunt tree trunks. In the distance the coyotes yapped. I fell asleep, safe and warm in body while my dream self floated up to the stars and the sunlit moon.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Whining About the Weather

No snow yet...
After two months of mild weather following a surprise October blizzard, we're seeing temperatures in the single digits with even colder wind chills. The poor plants! No blanket of snow protects their frozen toes. I've heaped hay around the bases of the rose bushes but the forsythia bush, confused by the mild weather into blossoming again, has had its little yellow blossoms turned to tattered flags of ice.

Even the sky looks cold. This morning the horizon is pale yellow above the mountain and icy blue beyond that. Trees are silhouetted against the burgeoning light, their shivering branches clattering out an SOS in the bitter wind. Small birds fight for places at the seed feeder and woodpeckers have reduced the suet in its wire cage to a small raggedy lump.

The cold is not expected to last beyond Friday when once again temperatures will bounce into the high 30s and lower 40s. Not a snowflake is in sight for at least the next ten days. I much prefer winter to be winter, with deep, plant-protecting snow. I don't mind the cold when I can go out and play in it.

Playmate from last year.