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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Stopping Time - A Repost from 2008

My family is still dealing with the trauma that nearly took the lives of my sister and niece, and one of her little friends. Life is slowly returning to normal -- as normal as court hearings and police interviews and nightmares can be. It will be a long road, and I know any positive thoughts, prayers and good wishes will be appreciated.

Meantime, I've decided to post another old entry. In the spring of 2008, I wrote about my Treasure Box. Here's one of the pieces that came of that exercise. I hope you enjoy it.


Monday, May 19, 2008
Stopping Time

As I continue to sift through my treasure box, I hope to write about some of the things hidden there. The following is an example:


What is it about a stopped pocket watch, a wristwatch with a dead battery, or a grandfather clock in a dark hallway, covered in inch-thick dust?

I have an affinity for time-pieces, a room in my house where the walls are covered by bookshelves and clocks—pendulums swinging, soft ticking echoing off of the ceiling and sliding down the walls to the hardwood floor. I like that time is measured, meted out…that if I’m waiting for something to happen, there is a moment, when it will, and when the preceding moments are counted down, that split-second of realization will arrive. That thought helps me be a bit more patient, to hope knowing the moment isn’t always somewhere out there in the future…it must get closer, it must finally arrive. So, the whole working, ticking, functioning timepieces thing makes sense to me.

Then there are the broken watches, the dead battery timepieces in my treasure box. What do they represent? I think maybe they are mementos of history. Moments past, marking a lifetime, mine, or someone else’s, when something significant happened. Those moments when everything changed. Or when time was frozen, as by a photograph. I think a wristwatch that is forever stopped at 1:37 may be a reminder of the very moment when someone said “I love you”, or the devastating news was delivered to the one whose heart would be forever broken. There’s significance in these frozen hour and minute hands, even that second hand that is normally in perpetual motion, is beautiful stopped on that tiny second line between the nine and the ten on that tarnished silver wrist watch.

I am, I guess, a lover of minutes. All of them. They are the things that make up a life, a relationship, a memory. I guess the moments past are as important to me, as the ones yet to come…those seconds of “appointed time” that I am waiting to see come to pass. I am a child of time, and cannot imagine timelessness. I need these markers, to tell me where I’ve been, and where I’m going.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Branches On My Tree - Repost from 2007

This weekend has been traumatic for my family, and though everyone is fine, I'm exhausted. I'm doing the family thing, and will hopefully be back to writing later in the week. In the meantime, here's a post from two years ago. I hope you enjoy it, and hug your family members close, hold them a little longer. You never know.



Friday, October 19, 2007
Branches on My Tree

Some of you may remember in my list of 8 Random Topics about Me preliminary post, that I listed the fact that I am the oldest child of three.

Actually, I’m the oldest of five, if you count the two sisters my mother didn’t give birth to---the two siblings who didn’t share my childhood.

It’s a strange thing, to have sisters who didn’t grow up in my home but are still a piece of my family. I grew up with three parents who were always a part of my childhood. We never said “step-sister” or “half-brother”. So, instead of a mom, dad and step-dad, I had one mother and two fathers, and I was very happy in spite of the divorce that came when I was nine. It was hard on my sister and me. But we adapted. And we were loved.

It wasn’t long before my second dad came along and married my mom. Soon after my little brother, Derek was born. But before Derek, my other dad brought us a sister, Angela. She only came on weekends, but she was just the cutest thing, and the three of us had so much fun. After a while, she stopped coming. We really missed her. A few years after Derek was born, my first dad remarried and had a baby girl, Natasha – the cutest little baby I’d ever seen. I was a teenager, and I loved babysitting for this beautiful, dark haired child.

So, I am the oldest of five.

My brother Derek, who will be thirty, next year, talks with me often about the wonder he finds in our family tree---the people who came before us with dark, thick hair, or freckles, or high foreheads, and how he can see them in himself, his sisters, and our children. How his love for the woods and the water must be a genetic predisposition, passed from a great-great-great-grandfather who spent his life among the trees, listening to the voice of the wind in the branches.

Derek is eleven years younger than I am. When he was very small, he started calling me Bubba. It’s an unusual nickname, borrowed from a little friend of his who used it for her older brother. Though he’s been six-foot-something for nearly fifteen years, he’s always been my little brother, It’s odd, now, to look at him and see a man who’s not only “full-growed”, but whose face is painted by the life he’s lived.

Derek is a man who stands for something, no matter the cost. He believes in love even as his heart is healing. He can make you laugh in about three seconds, and sing a song that would cut right through your soul. He’s a loyal friend, and someone I’m better for knowing. And even now, when the phone rings, and I hear, “Hey, Bubba, I love you.” I’m the happiest big sister alive.

Before Derek came along, there was always my little sister. Alissa is three years younger than I am, but I can’t remember a time when she wasn’t my playmate. We used to dump all of our toys out and scatter them about our tiny bedroom. Sitting in the empty toy box, we’d sail away on a ship to Africa, or drive a bus to school. We could make believe like no other kids we knew. Summer afternoons were spent at Mimi and Grandpa’s house playing outside with all the neighborhood kids. We’d put together a talent show and rehearse for hours. As twilight would fall, we’d drag the adults out onto the lawn and perform in the front porch spotlight. We were such a hit!

For my sister and me, things were always a competition. We argued over chores and the television. I remember throwing a peanut-butter sandwich at her in the heat of the moment, and a plastic dinner plate on another occasion. Somehow as we grew older, our friendship became more and more of a rivalry. I wasn’t thrilled when she joined the choir after me, or when she got a job at the Sonic where I worked. She didn’t like it when everyone called her my sister.

When I got married and started having kids, and Alissa soon did the same, we quickly realized how amazing it was to have each other as friends. My sister never met a stranger. She’s the kindest, most generous person I know. She’s an amazing mom and wife, and when her husband did a tour of duty in Afghanistan, I watched her hold everything together, manage the household, her job, and their finances, while sleeping alone every night in their bed, and praying every day he’d come home safely. Watching her through all of that, I knew---she was my hero.

Looking back, I still sometimes feel like the oldest child of three, and I often wonder what I missed out on with Angela and Natasha. As an adult, I’ve had the chance to get to know Natasha better. She’s a really beautiful and fun person. And though I don’t know Angela that well, I wish we’d all had the chance to share toy box adventures, and long conversations walking home from school together.

Childhood passes too quickly, and a kid can never have too many siblings to share it with.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

She Heard it on the Cash Cab

Sometimes a topic for a blog post comes on the morning news, or from a book I just read, a movie I just saw, or a conversation I had in the checkout line at Wal-Mart. I can’t count how many times though, that a subject has come to me via the ringing of the telephone.

Mama called this morning.

Mama is a thinker and a language lover. She loves to call me and report on the latest grammatically incorrect roadside sign, or some mispronunciation she just overheard in the truck stop restaurant. She wonders what cows say to each other, and how places come to be named Toad Suck, Arkansas, or Bucksnort, Tennessee. She’s an idea person, and I love her for giving me so much blog fodder over the years.

This morning she called me and said, “I knew you’d want to hear my important news. Y’all have thought… (Mama’s from Texas, and she has a license to use the word Y’all, it hangs on the wall in her laundry room.) “Y’all have thought I was crazy all these years, but I’m not. I have proof.”

You see, among the myriad of conversation topics Mama and I enjoy, one is her interesting, and sometimes peculiar way of looking at things. For instance, Mama subconsciously counts her steps when she’s working on some mindless project, like carrying in several bags of groceries or folding the laundry. Mama and Daddy travel a lot, and she says she catches herself lying in bed in the hotel rooms, counting the ceiling tiles; and when it comes to the volume on the radio in her van, or on the television, she likes to make sure it stops on a multiple of five, like thirty. “If thirty is too loud,” she says, “I will bump it down to twenty-nine, but I don’t like to.”

I remember sitting at Mama’s table over coffee recently, discussing the fact that she has always assigned gender to numbers. Mama sees numbers in male and female, and has since she was a very young child. You see, in Mama’s mind, even numbers are decidedly female, especially 2, 4 and 8. The number 6 is usually female, though she clarifies that 6 is rather tall and athletic, maybe a bit of a tomboy. Conversely, the odd numbers 5, 7 and 9 are male, Mama says. The number 3 she’s not certain about---perhaps he’s gay, or another one of those tomboy types. That covers the numerals 2 through 9, and as for the 0 and the 1, Mama says they are each genderless, though she’s not sure why.

So, I’m sitting at my computer this morning, browsing my blog roll, and wondering what to write about when Mama calls to prove to me that she’s not insane. “I was listening to the Cash Cab on the television this morning, and I heard it. The question was about the theory that numbers have gender. So I looked it up on the computer…” (That’s Mama’s way of saying she googled.) “…and it’s called the Pythagoras Theory.”

Pythagoras said that even numbers were male and odd numbers were female. That’s not exactly the way Mama sees it, but if you’re assigning gender to numbers, like a sixth century CE Greek philosopher, that has to prove something, doesn’t it? Even more interesting, says Mama, is the idea that
The number 1 was godlike to Pythagoreans, and the number 0 did not exist – so neither is assigned gender, further confirmation that she has not lost her marbles.

I have to tell you, I’m relieved that Mama called, and not just because I needed a blog topic today. You see, last weekend my husband and three adult kids, and I were making a road trip. My oldest daughter Sarah was in the middle of the back seat, when she saw me adjusting the volume on the radio dial. I stopped on 45---because volume adjustment is governed by the unspoken “multiples of five” rule. Immediately Sarah called to me over my shoulder. “Um Mom, it has to stop on an even number!” Because I love my children, I sacrificed, and dropped the dial back down to 44, but I will tell you, it bothered me for a while. Before long, I kicked it to 50, and everyone was happy.

So, if Mama’s numeric gender assignments are the sort of thing that makes a Greek theorist like Pythagoras a genius, then I can assume that my peculiarities with numbers are just evidence of my own dizzying IQ.

In conclusion, neither Mama nor I is crazy.
She heard it on the Cash Cab!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Happy Birthday Julia Child!

If I’d known earlier, I might have baked one of the few cakes I make completely from scratch.

Seven sticks of butter…Julia, would be so proud!

You know, I’m not big on spending hours in the kitchen---playing with recipes and discovering new techniques---but I did go out with my girlfriends last night and see Julie & Julia. What a wonderful film! It was ‘based on two stories’. The first of course, is the wonderful love story between Julia and her husband Paul, and how Julia learned to cook. (Wow, what an understatement!) The second story is about a woman named---you guessed it---Julie Powell. She’s a writer, a blogger, and evidently, a very good cook as well. Though I’ve never tasted her cooking, I’ve seen her blog, just this morning, and she’s witty and clever, and real.

So, I watched this great story unfold on the screen last night, and there were many things that spoke to me. Julia was an awkward, larger-than-life woman, more than six feet tall, and millions of people loved her in her lifetime---still do, five years after her death. (She died August 12, 2004, just three days shy of her 92nd birthday.) Yet, what struck me most was the way her husband Paul loved her. There are letters he wrote to his twin brother; and from these letters, we see a man who adored Julia, laughed with her at her quirks, and encouraged her to do what she loved, though the task seemed daunting. The movie was so good, I’m borrowing the related books from my library, and probably ordering my own copies soon after.

I laughed so hard watching this film, especially when Paul wrote to his brother about Julia’s shocking exclamation about hot cannelloni she’d just plucked from boiling water. I won’t spoil it for you, but let me just say, the closing scene made me cry. If you love food, or writing, or both, you must see it. Upon exiting the theater, the girls and I headed to the Starbucks at Barnes & Noble and I bought a lemon baby bundt cake to bring home and share with my husband. I only ate a few bites, but it was delicious. It reminded me of my Mimi’s lemon pound cake.

We recently had a family reunion and to cover costs for food and such, we auctioned items we’d made or inherited from Mimi and Grandpa. When I was young, Mimi hand wrote a handful of her favorite recipes on index cards and gave them to me, and each of the granddaughters to follow. Therefore, in preparation for this reunion, I scanned those cards and created a digital scrapbook, with the recipe cards slipped under bits of digital-ribbon and old photos and the text of the recipes on facing pages. Scattered throughout the book are five, short pieces about my childhood memories of Mimi, one of which I wrote the day she died, and read at her funeral. Mimi passed away in April of 2008. The book is something I’m very proud of, and it was a big hit at the auction.

I’m thinking I want to dig out Mimi’s Lemon Pound Cake recipe, and adapt it for mini bundt cakes. That means a trip to Wal-Mart. I hope they carry the right pans. I’m inspired to set the world right for at least a few minutes, baking in my kitchen with Julia and Mimi. Then while the aroma of warm lemon cake fills the air, maybe I’ll read a bit from “My Life in France.”

Friday, August 14, 2009

Chasing Ghosts - A Short Story

The yellow lines unfurled before Jeanette’s Impala like miles of ribbon in a summer breeze, but there was no breeze today. Sweat trickled down her neck, and soaked into her collar. The hot air pressed in through her windows tasting of dust and leaving her eyes gritty, her throat dry. “Damned air conditioner.” She muttered as she scanned the roadside for a gas station, or restaurant---somewhere to get in out of the heat.

Ahead she saw a neon coffee cup. Bold, blue letters spelled out ‘cafĂ©’. As she pulled off the road, gravel crunched beneath her tires and she slipped the car into park. Turning the key, she leaned back against the headrest, closed her eyes and replayed the conversation. “I just need to go, Michael. I can’t explain it. I mean yeah, things have been rough; and I honestly don’t know whether it’s worth fighting it out. The two of us are making each other miserable. But this trip isn’t about us…it isn’t about you.”

A blast of cool air hit her as she entered the quiet diner, her eyes adjusting to the shadows. The waitress behind the counter pulled a pen from her dish-water blonde hair and a pad from her apron. “Come on in out of the heat, and grab a seat anywhere you’d like, hun!” She followed Jeanette to the corner booth, her sneakers squeaking on the tile floor. “You look like you could use some iced tea. Sweet, or un-sweet?” Jeanette slid across the faded vinyl and nodded at the woman’s name tag. Linda. “Un-sweet, please. No lemon.” With a wink, Linda handed her the menu. “The blue-plate’s normally the best bet, except when Earl’s cookin’---which he is---and when Earl’s cookin’, you can’t go wrong with a cheeseburger.” Linda patted Jeanette’s arm, before turning. Jeanette smiled at the familiarity, and then turned to scrutinize her reflection in the window.

Standing in the bedroom doorway, Michael had stared the same way at her half-packed suitcase, asking, “Can you honestly say you’re not running from this, from me?” He’d sighed, annoyed when she didn’t answer. “You know we’ve got the counselor Tuesday?” Her response had been strained. “Michael, I don’t know. I just need time and space. I can’t breathe. There’s paranormal activity in Santa Rosa, and you know I’m on deadline. Call it a research trip.” She wiped her forehead with the flat of her hand, echoing his sigh. “I’ll be back soon, and we’ll reschedule counseling, okay?”

The clink of glass on the table brought Jeanette back to now. The waitress asked, “You decide on lunch?” Jeanette accepted the tea, and gulped from the glass. “That’s good.” After a second drink, she realized that Linda was waiting for her to order. “Oh! I’m sorry. I think I’ll go with the cheeseburger.” She was too exhausted to bother with the menu.

Linda arched an eyebrow leaning against the booth, “Looks like you’ve come a long way. What brings you to Amarillo?” Jeanette shrugged. “I’m headed to Santa Rosa, for research, writing about ghosts.” Linda brightened, settling into the seat across from her. “You know we’ve got ghosts in the Nat, uptown. She lowered her voice conspiratorially, though the diner was empty except for the two of them, and Earl. “I’ve seen them myself---a couple waltzing across that polished wooden dance floor all satin and sequins. Tommy Dorsey played the Nat, years ago.” She paused.

“And the cafe used to have a ghost. Not for a while now—but a pretty, little slip of a girl, no more than nineteen used to haunt the place. “Folks say she came in one night, put quarters in the jukebox, ordered a Coke, and ducked into the restroom. She just disappeared, never came back for that Coke. Shirley had the late night shift. She remembers the girl, because of the dandelion tattooed on her left thigh---you know, the white kind, with the seeds that look like umbrellas on the wind?

Nobody thought much of it until later. Old man Henderson drove by one night, and saw a girl at the jukebox. He called the owner and Sheriff Wallace, but by the time they came, the place was empty. Folks have spotted her at the counter sipping a Coke, and I’ve been here alone late, and heard the restroom door open and shut. Poor girl. Dunno why she chose this place, but seems to me, she was waiting for someone. I guess she decided life was short, and went on her way.”

Jeanette felt a chill, and took a deep breath. Linda frowned in concern, “You okay, hun?” When she didn’t respond, the waitress jumped to her feet. “Oh, listen to me---going on, while you’re starving for a good lunch.” Jeanette nodded vacantly. “I’m sorry… yeah, maybe food would help. I feel dizzy.”

As Linda headed for the kitchen, Jeanette raised the hem of her cotton skirt, tracing the outline of the tattoo on her right thigh. The dandelion was the exact mirror of Jackie’s tattoo, done on their eighteenth birthdays. The twin connection thing had always been true for them, like a sort of ESP. The night Jackie died, Jeanette had awakened screaming in her dorm, the sound of screeching tires echoing in her head. The news came hours later, but Jeanette already knew, she’d heard Jackie’s goodbye. Staring again at her reflection, she watched a tear trace its way down her cheek. After twenty years, Jackie was still sending her messages.

When Linda returned, she was surprised to find a gold band on the table, and a twenty-dollar bill. She stepped out into the bright August sunshine and shielded her eyes from the sun, watching the Impala disappear over the shimmering horizon. Trudging back into the dark diner, she sank into the empty booth, and took a bite from the cheeseburger. “Yep, I’d have to agree. Life is too short.”

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Kindred Spirits and Connoisseurs

I want this book.

I'm waiting until payday, hoping I'll remember to order it from Amazon.com's used book sellers, before all the paycheck is spent and I have to wait until I remember it again. Surely I'm not the only one who does this?

I read the above excerpt and think yes! This Tom Robbins is obviously someone who thinks like me. Look, there's proof, he keeps a green-labeled bottle of Anais Nin locked in the cupboard, and likens his writing to a juggling act. I get it! He gets it! I must own this book! (I must also seriously consider the possibility that I over-use the exclamation point.)

I had a similar reaction to Roy Blount Junior's Alphabet Juice: The Energies, Gists and Spirits of Letters, Words and Combinations Thereof: Their Roots, Bones, Innards, Piths, Pips and Secret Parts, Tinctures and Essences; With Examples of Their Usage, Foul and Savory.

Sure, the fact that I identify so readily with these two authors --- that my heart sings and celebrates their grasp of language, and the skill with which they make amusing playthings of words --- may simply prove that I'm a creative genius who is only one strong breeze away from falling completely off my rocker, but hey, it seems to work for them.

So, why not?

And if you think of it next Monday, please remind me to order my copy, before the paycheck runs out. I'll be forever grateful.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

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