Posts tagged memories

Talking with the Dead

Though I have chosen a scary title for my Halloween blog, I have only precious memories in mind.

Holidays are a time when my lost loved ones are particularly on my mind. I remember things we did together, laugh quietly at converDSCN1024sations and times we shared.

I lost my father only two months ago. There are so many times that I find myself thinking, “I can’t wait to tell dad about that!” -then realizing that dad isn’t there to tell. My heart sinks as I think that the books and stories he wrote are all I will ever have. Memories constantly come into my mind of our days together. We were both strong willed and had our differences, but I was his only child and he loved me unconditionally.

I often feel that I never really knew my mom like I so desperately wanted to. She kept her past life very private. She was lively, funny and beautiful, I will always remember the funny things she would say, tricks she would pull, and the delicious treats she would make. My son loved her special dessert she called “Good Cake”. Still, there was a mystery about my mother that I sometimes connect with, a knowledge that she was so much like me, that when she saw me taking a “wrong turn”, she though of herself, and it caused her to close up inside. Since people tell me that I “look just like her”, I often wonder if our solemn, secretive natures were more similar than I will ever know. Perhaps the things she saw as regrets were different from mine only because of the time we lived in and the increasing acceptance of life’s choices.

Halloween, and then Las Dia de Los Muerte, in the Hispanic culture always bring back sweet, yet painful memories of my son. He was 15 when I lost him very suddenly in early October a few years back. October had always been my favorite month, and now it is only a long torture that ends in the very “celebration” of death, or at least a connection with the dead. My son and I were very close, every day is another trial in pain and sorrow. I literally lost my health because of his death, so I cannot for one minute forget it. My son loved Halloween, dressing up and going out with his older brothers and sisters when he was young, and then,with his friends as a young teen. He was quiet, but had a beautiful face, a sly smile, that I still see looking at me when my thought wander in quiet times.

I often visit the cemetery where they now lie, along with the old graveyard down the road where many of my elders are buried. It down and talk to them, cry for them, ask for their help, for reminders of their love, like the dimes I am constantly finding that have come to feel like a message from my son that he is with me. Since it is Halloween, I will mention the other special sign that I have with my son and my mom-I find Black Widow spiders on their graves, in the flowers, beside the stones. Its like they remember that I study insects and know that I will see them as a sign that they still dwell with me. I will look around and find no other Black Widows in the cemetery. That convinces me that it is a special and private symbol between us.

Talking to my lost loves provides me with a link to them, a closeness, that I never want to loose. I have never felt that I had to be in the cemetery to connect with them, but sometimes, being there, bringing a flower or a small symbol of something that reminds me of them, helps my aching soul. There is nothing to fear, and much to treasure when we refuse to let those that have been stolen from this earth to become stolen from our hearts.

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Fresh Flowers on the Grave

 

 

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

 

I walked up the hill as I so often did. My 15-year-old son rested there with a black obsidian stone that we had ordered from Africa standing guard. Many people had left mementos over the 7 ½ years since that night of hell when we lost him. There were tiny figurines, glass etchings, a link of chains with the number of people who were supposed to be in our family, notes, items from his favorite ball teams. Then, along with Christmas ornaments and coins, we kept a vase of artificial flowers.

Ironically, I often found black widow spiders on the flowers or near the stone. Since I study arachnids, it was like a special message from me-one that spoke of the anger we both felt from the loss of his life through mistakes and excuses. When I looked at other graves in the large cemetery, I found only one other place with a black widow spider-my mother’s grave.

As I walked up the hill on this early summer day, I noticed a new container of flowers sitting in front of the stone. They were light orange with delicate leaves dancing in the breeze. As I reached the grave, I realized that the flowers were fresh. It was unusual to find fresh flowers on a grave that was not a new grave because they do not last long in the heat and wind.

I knelt down to look at a small note attached to the vase that held the flowers. On the front , I could see a set of fading initials-it had rained the night before and I couldn’t read them. As I turned the little note over, I saw a delicate pink heart. I smiled. He never got the chance to experience true love, but after all these years, someone still loved him, thought of him. Without coming to a conclusion about who the flowers were from, I smiled, ran my fingers across his name as I always did and knelt down by the stone, whispering, “I love you.”

I was reminded of something my grandfather used to tell me. “As long as someone loves you, and remembers what you loved and dreamed, you will never be forgotten.” The scent of fresh flowers wafted in the air. For just a moment, I was with him and this time, we were not alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Memories from Log Cabin Kitchens

 

 

I could smell the fragrance of the thick molasses all the way in the upstairs room my brother and I shared. My grandpa’s molasses making trays and tools were still tucked under the shed, waiting to be washed today before the bugs went crazy.

The lightning storm that had crept up suddenly the night before had almost ruined this years molasses run, be together, our neighbors, my father and brother finished the load.

I don’t think any one who has never gone through the grinding of cane stalks, the shuttling of the sugary fluid through the zig-zag trays, or stood sweating in the August heat should be allowed to savor the incomparable taste of warm biscuits slathered in molasses!

When we were young, our family had a joke. If you asked for ‘lasses, that meant that you were asking for your first serving. If you anted a second service you asked for “molasses!”.

Not many people get to see the metal trays set up for molasses making these days They didn’t see horses turning the machine that grinds the stalks of sugar cane, they don’t watch the paddle moving the molasses along the divided trays above the flames. Indeed the love of molasses has nearly disappeared in some areas.

Oh, go on to thee store, buy a bottle and try to imagine the making of molasses I have described, use the little honey stirring devise to drizzle the molasses on your canned biscuits. I guarantee, you will get a glimpse of the way grandpa make then as you close your eyes and savor the first bite!

 

 

 

 

 

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The Ephermals of an Appalachian Forest in Spring

As a teen, I often wandered in the forest and grassland of my grandparents pasture. The sight of the ephemeral flowers of spring always brought me great joy. It seems one dy, in late February, I would notice a tiny Spring beauty growing below the deciduous tress deep in the woods. Then there wold be another and another. I would round a curve on an old logging road and discover a bank filled with Bloodroot. I felt as though I had found a treasure, as all ephemeral rise up, bloom and disappear within a few weeks, before the leaves are much more that a pale green bud.

There are “arguments” among locals as to which wild flowers of early spring really qualify as ephemeral-meaning flowers that appear, bloom, fertilized each other (sometimes themselves) and disappear within a very short time. I never really cared. I knew which ones fit that category in “My woods” and that was all that mattered. After the first flowers had begun to disappear, others wold take their place. There were Clinton Lily’s. Pink Orchids, common violets, Pipsisewa, May Aapple and many more as spring progressed towards May. Between mid-April and mid-May, the forest was covered with these small shy flowers. I found them to be fascia ting, often getting down on my knees to explore each leaf and bud.

I always enjoyed the sounds of busy squirrels and chipmunks, I loved the way that the sound of the creek became louder as I got closer to a small pond that someone had long ago built for cattle drink from. Occasionally, sight of a foot-long ground snake, would surprise me. We would stare at each other, her head held high,and then she would slowly crawl off into the brown leaves still littering the ground. It was always exciting to pick up a stone and find a resting lizard, remaining still underneath. I often had to put the rock back down right beside the creature for fear of crushing it.

I was raised in the woods. My mother, aunt and grandmother would go on walks with me. We knew where natural springs flowed from depths of the earth, with water as fresh as a spring shower. We would lift rocks with a hoe from the creek where the cattle drank and catch crawfish (who, of course shoot backward when disturbed and were easy to catch.) DON”T argue, crawfish is what we called them! Salamanders would hide in the s shallower areas near the edge or the water plants swishing near the edge of the creeks.

By mid June, blackberries were starting to ripen, and the chiggers that lived on and around them were waiting for a dog, person, any creature that spelled “food” to walk by. When I was 12 years old, my parents made me go pick blackberries and I got 103 chiggers bites. I swore that I would never go again, and I didn’t, until I was a young adult and had to decide on my own whether the seedy berries were worth the briars and chiggers.

The fields are gone now, either grown up or a mansion has sprung  up in the middle of a big “lot”. It should have never happened. It breaks my heart that only my mom cared enough to want to save it and she was out-voted.

Times have changed over the decades. The big houses have chased the bears, wild turkeys, coyotes, even bobcats down into the valleys. There, they have found easy meals from scraps and trash cans. My grand kids will never see the world I knew. I take them to the Botanical Gardens at the University or the Bird Sanctuary at the man-made lake.

There, they can see mallards and red-headed ducks, turtles resting on logs, frogs jumping into the slim-filled swampy areas, birds of all kinds. That is as good as it gets near my home any more. I have always hoped to one day convince an old farmer that what I could offer him to save his land was worth more to his descendants than the crowds of houses the developer wanted to build, smiling and offering him an exorbitant price to destroy his land. I have about given up hope, it seems the green on money means more to even the old farmers than the lush, lovely green of trees.

Perhaps someone with more money than I have will come along, or some old timer with a mind that loves nature like I do, will donate his land to a nature conservancy. In the meantime, I will go to the edges of the woods , when it has just started to sprinkle rain and the fragrance of soil and plants fills my senses and remember what this place was like before the leaders of surrounding towns turned paradise into pitiful.. The Singing Group called the Eagles wrote a song when I was a teenager that said, “Call a place a paradise, and kiss it goodby.” How sad, how true. But I have my memories. Please take time  listen to the song that plays on this blog.

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A Special Place

Red dress 3-31-14

Not far from my son’s high school, sits a mansion, Biltmore House, which was built by George Vanderbilt in the 1880’s. This was during the time when the wealthy seemed to be having a contest to see who could build the largest house. Many were in new York and on Cape Cod.

For some reason, this picture reminded me of the trees lining the way to the front of the house though to  see the beauty of nature leading to a comforting barn rather than a mansion was much more of my taste.DSCN1812

However, I must commend Mr. Vanderbilt and his family for their appreciation of nature, to help in starting Pisgah National Forest and the Forestry Movement as a whole. There are museums and fish hatcheries open to the public along a beautiful stretch of mountain highway, filled with the wonderful rumble of waterfalls, trails lined with wild flowers and nature preserves where we can still see what the beautiful Blue Ridge looked like before the retiree with money filled so many hillsides with their homes.

A line of deciduous trees is particularly beautiful in autumn when the leaves put on their grand show for a few weeks. Often, in spring, wild flowers decorate the area around the trunks, enhancing their beauty.

When I see a photo that reminds me of a location so very different than the red barn and the Biltmore mansion, it makes me realize that, in our hearts, the rich and the poor, the have and have-nots are not all that different in what they find attractive to the eye or soothing to the soul.59100010

I try to appreciate those, like the Vanderbilts, who saved thousands of acres from development (this was before income and property tax days, of course) donating and helping develop these areas that will be kept wild forever. The sound of a bubbling brook, the quiet of a deep green forest, unusual rock formations, accidental encounters with wild animals, all enrich the days of both the young and old.

It is doubtful that money will allow me to fulfill my dream, yet I keep dreaming.
“If I could just let this farmer know that I would not develop his precious farm before the developer comes up waving tons off money to a man who raised a family on $20.00 a week… If, if, if. I will keep trying, a will my children, and who knows, one day there may be a grove of trees and a barn, perhaps an old farm house with my name on it and my heart in it.

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The Oregon Trail and the Modern World

The Oregon Trail

History Majors are an ever-smaller group at our university it seems. If we aren’t finishing a degree in Computer science, business, accounting or the like, there is little need to get in line at the job fairs held on campus or at the mall. In my mind, that of a Public History Research major from the 1980;s, our “learning” is s far out of date we have little chance of being noticed. Yet, as I see my youngest son, obsessed with his computer and coding, never picking up a book to read, unless it is required, I see more and more need for courses to be required in subjects that teach us not only about the future, but how we got here. Who we are, where we came from and the process of learning are just as important to a Computer major as to one of us poor “do you want fries with that’ majors we used to joke about 30 years ago.

I may be wrong, but this photograph looks like one I once saw of the Oregon Trail. It was amazing to me that over a hundred years later, the ruts from the hundreds of wagon wheels traveling somewhere west of where ever the settlers had begun were still visible on the tall grass prairies which led settlers not only to Oregon, but many other places which, today, are as crowded and crime ridden as the ones these brave souls were escaping when the trails were made.

As a historian, genealogist and general lover of the studies of past places, countries and ways of life that lead us to the unbelievable places we can go today, I find learning about these cultures and how they thrived and often ultimately died of fascinating interest.

I admit, I almost agreed with some of my older children when they called the “Humanities” courses “Department Funders” In other words, they had no real use in the modern world. But as I get older, I have changed my mind. Hear the news about Vladimir Putin taking over the Crimea reminds me quickly of the horrors of Sevastopol during the wars with Great Britain in the 1850’s. It reminds me that thinking an event, or one similar to it will never happen again, is not only foolish, it is simply wrong.

I encourage all Universities, colleges and Even Technical Colleges to require students to have some knowledge of world history so that they can have a basis on which to prevent the errors of the past from repeating themselves.

And, lastly, I would like to see today’s children understand why they have the technologies they now possess and what their ancestors endured in order for them to live their lives of luxury, or at least,lives of hope.

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Winter’s Fate

She wiped the tears upon her dress.

“I’ll take no more.” She did confess.

As he stood staring at the sky. He whispered to her, “Darling, why?”

“You leave when autumn’s just begun with furs, and grains and many guns. You stay until the melting snow drives you back home, more crops to grow.”

“I must.” he told her, gun in hand. “to sell our furs and crops again.”

“It does not take four months of cold to travel there and back, I’m told.”She glared at him with angry eyes as clouds approached in autumn’s skies.

“But weather makes the trip back home to dangerous to make alone.” She listened not to his protest, and brushed the dust from her worn dress.

“The children need you, so do I.  I cannot bear to watch one die, the way I did this season past, with no one here to help the rest.”

“I know.” He bowed his ruddy head. “I’ll find some other way instead.”

“John Griffith takes the trail nearby.” She told him through her misty eyes.

“Then I will ask if he will go, with me, through ice and cold and snow.” He walked to her, the children came. They gathered there, out of the rain.

“Tomorrow, I will go to town and look until I hunt him down.” He smiled and drew her near his chest.

She felt the heat of his warm breath, and knew this winter, they would stay, but not alone, sick and afraid.

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