Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Never, No More

I miss my friend, Lora. If she had been able to hold on for one more summer, weather just one more winter, she would have celebrated her 104th birthday this April. I would be making plans now to visit her (she liked to plan things ahead so she had something to look forward to). I’d bring a cupcake with a candle stuck in the frosting and a wrapped roll of toilet paper as a present—a joke gift we’d perpetuated since her 100th birthday when she declared that from then on she wanted only practical gifts.

I’d be packing my winter woolies, as April in the Northeast Kingdom follows its own calendar and there still would be traces of snow. Lora would be waiting at the door when I arrived, a huge smile creasing her face, her arms ready for a fierce hug. We’d begin talking the moment we set each other free and we would not stop until I left a week later.

The back deck would be frosted in the early mornings. Sunlight streaming over the mountains would turn the breath of the neighboring farm’s great workhorses to gold streamers as they pranced in the field. Smoke would be rising from chimneys in town, the first houses just visible across the silvered meadow grasses.

Lora and I would sit at the breakfast table eating oatmeal laced with maple syrup and strawberries put by from last year’s harvest, or eggs fried in butter, or doughnuts she’d made herself, and plan our day to the very last minute, then change those plans as we went along, depending on what struck our fancy. Often we’d set off for one place only to be distracted by something else—an unexpected tag sale, a sudden yen for something to eat, a quickened memory of some other place that would detour us from our original destination.

When we returned in the late afternoon, Lora would retire to her bedroom for a nap and I would take a walk, letting the fresh air soak into my very bones. I wouldn’t remember until I was there, walking the tree-studded hillsides or wandering the dirt roads, how much I missed Vermont and how glad I was to be back where towering spruce trees scratched the underbellies of the clouds and green hillsides rolled up the very flanks of the mountains.

This year there will be no Lora, no hugs, or all-encompassing conversations, no new adventures to savor on the long ride back home. I will pack my winter woolies all the same, and head north come spring. I will visit the places where I knew Lora best—the old farmhouse in Greensboro, the house overlooking the lake in Glover, the little condo in Newport, and the house in Barton where I last saw her. I will get lost on the back roads, laugh at remembered stories and bid farewell, finally, to the friend who used to live in the Northeast Kingdom but now resides only in my memory, and my heart.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On My Walk Today

The sun was shining, the temperature rose past freezing and on into the 40s, a breeze flickered among the oak leaves and pine needles, setting them dancing, and a chickadee sang its happy little two-note spring song. All thoughts of cottage cleaning fled. Here's what I saw on my walk today.

Oak leaves basking in the February sunshine...

Sunbathing trees...

Geese that stayed all winter on the ice-free pond...

and noontime shadows dancing along the fence.

Tomorrow and the next day will be rainy so the fridge will get cleaned. Meanwhile, I'm full of sunshine and dancing shadows and the call of wild geese.

Since You Asked...

My friend Judith, at her blog Touch2Touch, offered a challenge she herself accepted from one of her blogging friends. I've done memes from time to time and have enjoyed in turn learning tidbits about others I might not have suspected. Here are my answers to questions selected from the two sets she posted. 
1. What was your favorite pastime when you were young?
Reading. No matter that the weather spoiled outdoor plans or a playmate disappointed; a good book always saved the day.  
2. What do you do for play now?
I still read (when I'm not out of doors gardening or hiking about).
3. If you could make one change to your life, right now, and have it stick, what would it be?
I'd restore the keen eyesight I had as a child.
4. What is your most memorable meal?
Fish & Chips eaten while sitting on a bench overlooking the Avon River.
5. What do you miss most about being a kid?
My uncomplicated sense of time. The days spun out before me as unending.
6. If you could go back in time and tell yourself one thing, what would it be?
Don't put too much emphasis on what other people think of you. 

My mother grew up with the dictum, What will people think? guiding her every moment. That question has colored my life in not-so-pretty colors; I'm ready now to follow with   questions of my own: Who cares and why? Once those are answered, I can decide whether to let it matter or not.
7. You find a $50 bill but you have to spend it right now—what do you buy?
Food for the local food pantry.
8) What is your favorite movie adaptation of a book? Least favorite?
The Horse Whisperer was brought to life by Robert Redford. On the other hand, Gone With the Wind was far superior between book covers.
9) Where is your favorite place to write?
I have two. The first is in my tiny office space, sitting in front of my computer. The second is ensconced on the swing in my screened tent during the warm months. I type much faster than I write but when I'm out of doors I don't mind slowing down and writing by hand.
10) What was your favorite toy as a child?
I had a lap-sized chalkboard framed in wood. It's smooth gray surface held anything I cared to draw, and the swipe of a rag undid it all. I loved the impermanence of it; mistake or masterpiece suffered the same fate. Nowadays I have a Zen Board that works much the same way. Whatever I draw on it disappears in time. It's a life lesson I need to remember over and over.
11) What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
My children. They are marvelous people and though I can't claim that they are wonderful because of me, I can claim that they are here because of me. Having them was worth every bit of anxiety, pain, worry and frustration because loving (and being loved by) them outweighs every negative.
*Bonus* 12) What are the top five things on your bucket list?
1. Spend lots more time with my grandchildren
2. Learn to swim
3. Publish a book of poetry
4. Revisit Europe
5. Take classes in etymology, book binding, drawing, and any other subject that takes my fancy.

What about you?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Borrowing Posting Energy

There's a stunning poem posted at Talk At the Table, and a challenge to share your own table stories. I've been neglecting my blog; I've been buried in the past, resurrecting long-gone family members. I am sticking with the that theme and presenting a resurrected poem. There IS a table in it...

Message in the Bottle

Here is the table I set for dinner,
There is the glass you empty and fill.
There is the chair where I sit and I watch
As you knock your own to the floor.

There is the bottle that stands between us;
There is the hand that empties the glass.
There is the message that pours out like liquid.
Drowning the slam of the door.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Bringing the Past Up to Date

General James Longstreet
Family stories tell of an illustrious general who, during the Civil War, made a decision that was considered an enormous mistake that eventually cost the South their hopes for victory. He was exonerated years later, when time and investigation showed his "mistake" was really a sane and sensible course of action. Yesterday, after years of searching, of writing and asking and Googling, of reading hundreds upon hundreds of Ancestry.com entries, I discovered my relationship with this soldier. I am third cousin on my father's side, 5 times removed, from General James Longstreet who fought with General Lee at Gettysburgh.

There were clues all along, but not enough of them. There was "The General's" parade sword that we kids brandished at invisible enemies on rainy days. There was Charlie Longstreet's childhood silver fork and spoon that I called mine and wouldn't let anyone else use. There was the elegant silver serving tray with the Longstreet initials elegantly intertwined. There was a lock of "Grandpa Longstreet's" hair in a small, yellowing envelope (that turned out to be Charlie's, not the General's), there was a handwritten but incomplete genealogy in my mother's precise handwriting and a faded, crumpled obituary from a 1918 newspaper stating that Ella Longstreet Ebert, my father's grandmother, was a descendent of the family of General James Longstreet. Charlie was my stumbling block. The General's lineage is public property but finding his connection to Charlie was a mystery I was having trouble solving.

My great-grandmother Ella's obituary
For the past several years, I've filled out search forms, exchanged fruitless letters with the Mormon Family History Library in Utah, and checked out old newspapers on Fultonhistory.com. It was an unexpected message from a woman in Kansas whose grandmother was friends with my grandmother that put me on the right track. She helped me track down Charles' parents and from there the names began to fall into place. My great-grandmother Ella's father was cousin to the General; their grandfathers were brothers.

There are still several dozen of those little wiggling Ancestry.com leaves that indicate hints to investigate but the connection that has eluded me for so long is in writing now. I can salute the General across the years - pleased to claim kinship, Sir.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Everyday Worship

It’s the small things, isn’t it?
The delicate, embroidered daisies
on the sash-ends of her Sunday yellow dress,
the honest dirt under his fingernails,
the small pink whorl of a baby’s ear.

What of the worm tunneling the soil,
the flight of the barn swallow,
the draining green in autumn
that shows a leaf’s true color?

There should be reverence for the buttercup,
the flash of sunlight on the rippling pond,
the call of the whippoorwill in the pulsing dark.

Whether man made the Sunday gods
to blame or revere matters little,
for even without the whole living, breathing mass
of us to notice them, the little things
would fill the empty spaces.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

My Own Angel of Mercy

When I was a small child and fell ill with a cold, my mother would ensconce me in her big bed, pile the pillows behind me so I could breathe more easily and bring my meals to me there on a large tray. The tray was placed on a bed table painted a cheery green. It had cunning little folding legs and a raised edge to keep dishes from sliding off. The whole affair was placed over my lap which was spread first with a bath towel to catch spills. Always there was a poached egg and freshly squeezed orange juice for breakfast, a bowl of homemade chicken soup for lunch. As she went about her household chores, she would stop by my bed to rest a cool hand on my hot forehead. In the evening, she would spread Vicks VapoRub on a flannel cloth and place it on my chest. A bit of Vasoline was rubbed under my nose to ease the sting of too much blowing. I would be tucked back into my own freshly made bed and kissed goodnight. It was almost worth getting sick just to enjoy the fuss.

Now when I get sick I must take care of myself. I must make my own soup, freshen my own bed, squeeze my own orange juice. To this end, I keep a supply of chicken stock in the freezer made from boiling the carcass after a meal of roast chicken. I line-dry my sheets, even in winter, so when they are spread on the bed they smell of fresh air and sunshine. I keep my charming orange painted orange juice squeezer at hand; a quick slice with the knife, a quick press of the handle, and voila! freshly squeezed juice. The bed table is long gone but I still have the large tray Mama used when I was young.

Yesterday I hauled my sick self out of tangled bed sheets, warmed some broth, peeled and sliced carrots, put my coat and boots on for the trek to the garage freezer for the remaining garden peas, cooked some noodles and made my own soup. I cut and squeezed two fresh oranges, made toast from the last of the homemade bread, remade the bed with sweet smelling sheets, piled the pillows high, and climbed back under the covers. There was no one to fuss, no one to wait on me except me, but I swear, as I drifted off to sleep in a waft of Vicks VapoRub, that I felt a cool hand on my forehead and a feathery light kiss on my cheek.