The River

Ohio River near Golconda, Illinois 2008
Ohio River near Golconda, Illinois 2008

Tom Sawyer’s River full of history, commerce, and danger is my river too.  From a different time and place, the clay river mud pushes up through my naked toes and refuses to wash away without a good scrub.  Bright sun bakes water polished stones along the sandy bank while the lapping wake washes in the stink of rotting grass and fish and motor oil.  Impossibly enormous turkey buzzards circle the island sky in kettles of three and four and it crosses my mind that one might be able to carry away the tiny Chihuahua yapping up and down the shore. Summers floating along in a flat-bottomed boat blur together like a single memory, everything the same, but the nights stand out, singular.

The screen door drags along the lower track making a scratching sound as I step from the warm light of the kitchen into the shadows of the upper deck.  The river reflects only moonlight in a rippling puddle from the West.  I can hear the water gently strike the stony shore rhythmically again and again as cicadas whir in the hickory tree growing behind the cabin along the bluff.  I take a seat among them, the story telling has already begun.  He hands me a dripping can of beer from the ice chest beside his lawn chair without a pause in the tale.

The Mason jar of moonshine sits on the table beside the smoking citronella candle, blood-red pickled cherries float in the clear pink tinged fluid.  He reaches out with a hand that reveals a slight tremble and with swollen knobby knuckles opens the lid of the jar to pluck out a single “cherry bomb” with his fingers.  The slur of his words tells me this sample is one of many tonight.  He chews and swallows with a, “Mmmm,” and looks up through his unruly eyebrows with a smile.  Light from the candle glints in his eyes and reflects off the strands of silver in his beard.

“Boys, let me tell you this,” he calls out in a gravelly voice to the grandchildren sitting enthralled at his side, “there is nothing to fear in these here woods.” His face is serious and in the silence the boys stare back in rapt attention.  He chuckles deep in the back of his throat until it bubbles into a roar of laughter ending with a hacking cough from years of unfiltered cigarettes and inhaling smoke from a welder.

“Well, there was this one time though,” he starts when the coughing subsides.  “I’d been sittin’ in a deer stand all mornin’ and hadn’t seen a damn thing move all day…and on the way back to my truck I found a trail of blood and followed it to a big ol Burr Oak tree.  Up in that tree was the corpse of a pony, draped over a big thick limb and gutted from top to bottom just dripping blood all over the ground.  Boys, the idea of a mountain lion big enough to drag a damned pony up a tree about made me piss my pants right there.  But, you don’t have to worry about that none.  Now get yourselves to bed if you’re gonna check the trot-line with me in the mornin’.”

With that command, he lowers his beard to his chest and after a minute of silence begins to snore.

To hear a bird song

I’ve been watching a couple of Eastern Bluebirds in my yard since spring.  Against the backdrop of my neighbor’s barn, they’ve built their home inside a rustic gray bird house nailed against an ancient power pole.  I watched as they worked days and days on end bringing back scraps of bark and twigs and string.  I witnessed their war with a Mockingbird who insisted he was moving in too.  The smaller blue birds won through tenacity alone.  I waited patiently hoping to see evidence of a new family for the two.  The multitude of bugs they carried in through the perfectly sized hole in the front of their house was surely for feeding chicks.  I watched and waited content in the cool mornings to sit and listen to the Bluebirds and their hundred bird choir fill the morning with song.

My folks came for a visit late last spring and we sat on the porch as usual drinking our coffee and watching the Bluebirds.  I asked my dad how many birds he thought were singing at once and he replied, “Hundreds.”  My mom looked up from her phone and asked, “You can hear birds singing?”  My heart sank.  Hundreds of birds were filling the morning air with sound and my mom couldn’t hear a single one.  We had known for some time that Mom was struggling with her hearing.  There were misunderstandings and requests for repetition of phrases which she would repeat back incorrectly and we would rephrase thinking she didn’t understand.  But it was shocking to realize that she was missing something as significant to me as bird song.  She was living in a different world than me, one with no bird sounds and it made me sad.  She promised to look into a hearing aid as soon as she returned home.

The Bluebirds showed up less and less as summer turned hot and dry.  Their baby birds never revealed themselves while I was on watch.  Dad had his hip replaced and Mom had her final surgery after fighting cancer for years and surviving.  Grandma turned 90 while the whole town showed up to celebrate and Mom got a hearing aid.

Mom and Dad came back for a visit over the fourth of July and the Bluebirds returned too.  We sat on the porch together again, though the morning breeze was much hotter, and watched as the Bluebirds repaired their nest.  In and out of that little hole they came and went and we pondered a second batch of chicks.

It’s amazing the things we take for granted.  To know I can sit on the same porch with my mom and have such an entirely different experience in the same moment.  My world full of song, her’s nearly silent.  Mom feels good.  She’s happy now, and she can hear the birds sing.

“Grant that we may not so much seek to be understood as to understand.”           ~ St. Francis of Assisi

That Guy

This guy is my dad.  I get to spend the 4th of July with him (and my mom, brother and sister-in-law too.)  He got a discount on his coffee at McDonald’s today because of what that hat represents.  He’s a veteran and there was a time when he caught flack for that.  It means a lot when someone acknowledges his service.  So, if you see this guy, shake his hand and say thanks.

Happy Independence Day!

Dances with Rain

The Weather Channel had a picture of a cloud and lightning with raindrops in the 7 o’clock slot last night.  We’ve been praying for rain all month and now it’s getting critical.  I read in the newspaper that our small town only has minute’s worth of water in the tower it uses to supply the fire hydrants here.  It’s dry and we’re approaching the fourth of July.  Common sense would indicate avoiding anything with a spark but odds are someone is going to do something stupid.

So, we’ve been praying for rain.  We’ve hung our hopes on that little icon of a thunderstorm.

After a hot sunny day with temperatures at somewhere near 105 degrees, the sky clouded over and then the wind picked up, a lot.  I went outside to check the sky because I’m one of those crazy people who goes outside when a storm is approaching.  I could smell it, ozone in the dry air.  I could feel the humidity rise around me.  The scorching wind was building and dust was puffing up from the dry grass as debris blasted across the yard.  I scrunched up my eyes to protect them then threw out my arms and turned full circle as I was joined by my son and his girlfriend.  “Can you believe it,” I asked.  “It really might rain.”  We were joyous, giddy really.  I grabbed their hands and we ran to the driveway and danced in a circle and then my husband and younger son joined us.  “You’re doing it wrong,” my older son said.  “This is how you do a rain dance!”  He slapped his knees and did a little jig and then slapped his shoulders in a crisscross and kicked out his heels.  We tried to copy his steps and ended up laughing and spinning around in the wind with our arms outstretched, palms open to the sky.  In the suddenly cool wind, I felt a single drop of rain hit my palm and evaporate.   It was there and then it wasn’t.  I prayed for rain and I received a single drop.

The purple sky soon lightened to gray; the wind died and the sunshine returned.  The ground was still as parched as before the storm and we all returned to whatever we were doing before the wind came.  I received a single drop of rain and the memory of a joyous random dance with my family.

http://www.weather.com/

Transformations: A response

Image

My friend Amy gave birth to her fifth child at the age of 41. This baby has brought so much joy.   I find myself thinking of the years of sacrifice it takes to get a newborn off to kindergarten.  I remember the demands of being fully responsible for keeping another human being alive for those years and I feel exhausted just thinking about it.  I love being a mother and would not trade the experience for anything but thinking about doing it again at my age makes me tired.  It won’t happen.  It’s not physically possible since my hysterectomy and that’s ok.

Amy’s friend Molly just had her first child.  She’s young and new to the experience bringing a fresh perspective.  I see myself in a new role as I read their blog Life in Tandem.  I am the soon-to-be empty nester, the crone to their maiden and mother.  I watch as all the children I’ve known since they were babies move into adulthood.  Skinny, squirrely boys sprout muscles and real facial hair.  Awkward, giggling, gangly girls suddenly curve into graceful knowing creatures.  It’s in the conversations too.  In a place where before a parent had to prompt a one word greeting or response, these changelings share their opinions in detailed and even eloquent ways.  They get the jokes.  They share.

I’m looking forward to my new role with these children of mine.  I am anxious to discover what world they are creating and learn how I fit in it.  Day by day I turn loose a little bit more.  Soon I’ll hand over the reins entirely and see where they take me.

To read Life in Tandem visit http://tandeminlife.blogspot.com/

Thank you for this food, Amen.

 

Why is it, the same day I sign up for Weight Watchers Online, again, everyone wants to talk about food?  Patti Digh, author of Life is a Verb talks about slowing down and actually enjoying a meal.  Life flies by to the speed of three meals a day while we multitask our way to senior citizenship.  Looking back, we don’t remember the yogurt cups devoured while checking email or the cups of coffee slugged back while rushing to carpool or the dinners served buffet style so everyone can eat according to his or her own schedule.  The meals that matter are the ones where we actually share a table with others.  A meal, served with company and laughter and no time limit, seems like such a luxury these days. 

When my husband’s grandmother turned 91, she asked her only two grandchildren and their spouses to take her to Las Vegas.  A world traveler, she had been there in the 1970’s and wanted to see how it had changed.  While we were there, Gram treated us all to a once in a lifetime meal.  My sister-in-law made reservations for a restaurant at Ceasar’s Palace named after it’s chef Bradley Ogden.  Based out of the San Francisco Bay area, Bradley Ogden was a ground breaker in “farm fresh, American” cuisine.

The five of us were seated at a private table in a room of our own and introduced to our personal maitre d’.  I don’t remember his name but his service was fabulous as he poetically guided us through a menu like none I’d ever seen.  Organic, farm fresh everything shipped in daily from all over America to make a meal for the four of us and little old Gram: bison steaks from Oregon, mini blue corn cakes from New Mexico, micro-green salads from California and hand selected wine to pair with each course. 

After we made our selections, our maitre d’ invited us to visit the kitchen and meet the chef…the Bradley Ogden.  So, off we traipsed into an unbelievable kitchen space.  Now, I’ve been in many commercial kitchens in my time.  My husband worked for Marriott hotels for many years as a building engineer so I’ve had my fair share of back-of-the-house tours.  The Bradley Ogden kitchen was like a surgical suite.  I’ve never seen a kitchen so well-lit, sparkling clean and organized.  Covered in stainless steel, every surface seemed to glow with divine light.  It was like a dream world.  Then we entered the walk-in cold pantry and were assaulted by color; stainless racks filled with rows and rows of brilliant produce, fresh from farms across the country.  Clear acrylic bins were stacked full of vegetables organized by color.  Sweet red peppers, next to orange carrots, followed by yellow squash and green asparagus, it looked like the set for a magazine cover shoot.

Back at our table, we were served our first course, poached Foie Gras (goose liver) with sea salt.  Our maitre d’ described this delicacy in such a romantic way that I just had to try it.  The buttery texture in contrast with the crunchy bitterness of the sea salt was an experience I will never forget.  When I got home, I looked up Foie Gras and found that I am politically opposed to it, but I’m sort of glad I didn’t know that at the time.  

The meal that ensued was a kaleidoscope of color and flavor set to a chorus of, “Mmmmm,” and “Aughhh” around the table.  We tasted from one another’s plates and laughed and listened to Gram tell stories of food adventures in Egypt.  In contrast, she shared memories of meals in a dirt floor farmhouse during the Depression in what is now urban Hammond, Indiana.

This was truly an experience of a lifetime.  For one night, we ate like royalty holding court with Gram, our queen.  The memory is like a dream, Gram’s last big adventure, a meal I’m glad we slowed down long enough to share.

To find out more about Bradley Ogden click here:  http://www.larkcreek.com/bolv.htm

A Blanket on the Ground

Get the Ball

Yesterday was beautiful though the day started aimlessly and a little bit sad.  Steve and Jessie showed up in the afternoon and we brought out Grandma’s green and white star quilt to sit on the sunlit grass in the front yard facing the road.  Motorcycles and convertible cars cruised past as we played with the dogs, tossing them bits of cheese and sending them racing after an orange tennis ball.   We ate ham and roasted asparagus and devilled eggs and had wine.  The boys wrestled in the fresh-cut grass and did cartwheels just like when they were little. The fresh air, filled with bird song, made us drowsy in the sun.  It was a perfect spring day.