After The Flood

AFTER THE FLOOD

It was just the day before wIMG_0183hen my grandson and I had been looking for “crayfish ‘n lizards” in the little creek that runs through my uncles yard.

Over night a wicked storm had come through that turned the neighborhood into a lake.

Footbridges washed away, shrubbery, flowers, gone.

It taught us a lesson in appreciating what we have-today, the creek is lined with huge boulders to “hold back the rain.” It is ugly, the creek went from natural to today’s version of protecting our homes, tainted only by the tears of a grandma who remembered.

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Christmas Past

DSCN2231I remember those magical days-

children running in from the bus

to see what new presents

had suddenly appeared under the tree.

I remember the magic of lights-

the “oohs and ahhhs” as the switch came on.

The weeks of “what I want for Christmas”

coming from innocent souls.

Then the chorus of “and that’s all…”

followed by several more favorites.

Yesterday, my babies, my life-

The Joy on their faces, on my face as well.

Today, I lay here alone, a tree with no presents.

Sits in a “living room” no one plays in.

I pick up a sick grandchild from school,

Drive by a graveyard-when one of them lies.

I wonder, today, with life having little meaning,

how those days, when we were so poor,

when those “wants” really did magicially appear.

If it is worth it now, the memories, all I have.

My sick heart pounds, the hot tears roll,

down lonely cheeks as teens tell me

“I won’t be home after school, I have to hurry.”

There are dinner and parties, friends, life.

Please remember, children of today,

that life goes by so fast, that todays’ kids

are tomorrows adults, with kids of their own.

And we, who once were so needed and loved.

Have grown old as my babies grew up.

I put up a tree, as my youngest insisted.

But no joy of a new present  hiding  there today.

Just memories, the awareness of time rushing by…

Like the old Scrooge Tale, it is-

Christmas Past, Present, Future.

I must remember that life moves on, even if

it drags me kicking and screaming.

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The Once and Future Homeplace

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No! Stephie cried when she heard that her relatives were selling the family farm. She had begged her mother to help her save it and her mother was definitely an advocate of saving it, but it wasn’t “hers”. It wasn’t I her name and all of her begging and all of her daughter’s tears and heartfelt letters didn’t change what was to come.

Her mother described it as “like a death”, as they tried not to watch the bulldozers build roads and then driveways. Sometimes. They would swallow their pride and go on walks up the now, ruined valley that had once been so beautiful, so unusual, with its north side and south side and the different plant life that chooses each environment.

It was heart breaking to trudge over the humps of dirt where the developers were making roads. Stephie remembered the days when she had walked these hills with her grandmother, aunt and mother. She remembered the galax plants on the end of the north side and the stream where cattle had crossed, making it wider and melodious as it tumbled over the rocks. Stephie grew up going to the pasture with her mom and hunting “lizards and crayfish” in the creek. The memory of it was one of her childhood favorites.

Stephie was afraid of the cattle and the goat her grandparents kept in the pasture. She once cut her had badly trying to make it through the barbed-wire fence when a bull charged her. She remembered the six-foot long black snakes in the barn and the garter snakes that surprised her as she jumped the small ditches that ran down the hillsides. But this place was like heaven and she could not imagine that a realtor with a wad of money had convinced her aunt and uncle to sell the property they once cherished.

Of course she knew their age and health and the death of her grandparents, who lived into their 90’s was part of it. But Stephie had always thought the family would be asked if they wanted to buy it first, or at least, that it would be left to the nieces and nephews in a will.

The houses of the wealthy began to replace the small streams and spring beauty, the curvy road was not in the place the cattle trail had been, it was soon taken over by briars and weeds. A cousin rescued the old bathtub the cattle drank from. Though she never understood her aunts and uncles motivation, and though she cried over it, told them how it hurt her many times, she forgave them and loved them and sometimes watched an eight-tack tape of the pasture before the developers ruined it.

Decades went by, Stephie married and bought the “old family home” on a road nearby. Her older children remembered the pasture, the younger did not. In her mind, she never got over the desire to buy some land, have it belong to their family, and for them to value it like she did. She taught her children and grandchildren that there were more things like TV’s computers, fancy houses, clothes, but God made only so much land and when it was gone, it was gone. Period.

Sometimes she felt a bit selfish for the hurt she felt towards her beloved aunt, but there must have been some issue her aunt would not reveal to her that made her separate herself from the love of that place with the beautiful view where she build her house and had her farm. She had kept her home and a few acres, but Stephie feared she would sell them too and a rich person would tear down the house and build a mansion, after all, the house had the best best view in the valley. She would do everything she could to keep that from happening!

One day, Stephie, who was the grandmother of quite a few grandchildren by now, saw an ad for a farm about 40 miles away with a small farm house, a trout stream and 20 acres. Her heart trembled.DSCN1676

She nervously called the number of the farm which was on the border of the next state, in a very rural area with isolated mountains. A man who sounded very old answered the phone with a wavering voice. “I don’t want to sell my farm,” he said, fighting tears. “I don’t want to see it developed or ruined, I love this place, it is my heart. My wife died last year and we have no children, I just want someone to love it like I did.”

Stephie fought back her own tears, and quietly told the old man, “Then you’ve found your girl’. She told him the story of lost farm, how it hurt her and that she wanted her grand children to get to spend time out in the wild places that she remembered from her youth. “I don’t know where I will go….” the man said softly. “How about nowhere?” Stephie smiled.

“What?” The old man said and as he held his breath, Stephie realized they had not even introduced them selves and told him her name. “My name is John Withers,” he said. “Have you ever heard of a “life estate” she asked and when Mr. Withers said “no”, Stephie attempted to explain to him how she would buy the farm now, but not take possession of it until after his passing.

Mr. Withers was in tears by now. “I know God sent you to me.” he sniffled. I prayed every night that some one would come along who would love this place like I do,” Stephie laughed, “Well, life has not been good to me, and praying isn’t easy but I have hoped and even tried to pray hat I could find a place like yours for my family to have-forever. They both sat silently for a minute and then she laughed, “You know, I haven’t even seen your property, but I know, without a doubt, that I will love it., When can we come and meet you?”

Somewhere inside her, Stephie felt a peace that she could not even remember. She had actually made someone happy and in the process, fulfilled her lifetime dream as well. A few weeks later a van load of Stephie’s family rumbled up the long dirt road to meet Mr. Withers. From the moment they saw the land, they knew it was the place they were supposed to have, They would share it, enjoy weekends there, holidays together, maybe have a garden again. Mr. Withers had offered them use of the land when ever they wished,if he could just live in the house. Stephie talked about build one, just one big house up on the hill for her big family, and Mr. Withers gladly agreed.

It had been 40 years since Stephie’s heart was broken by the ale of “her farm” the one she grew up next to. She had given up on ever being able to afford to find another one. After all the years, all the tears, sorrow, and pain, something had worked out right for two strangers. Stephie was sure that Mr. Withers would have a bigger family now than he ever imagined!

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Winter Alone

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I listen to a cold wind blowing-

ice crystals like music,

ring against my windows.

The quiet disturbs me,

even as I read a well loved book,

sip hot tea, remember…

Winter-with its chill enveloping me,

with the whistling of the wind,

seems so much colder without you.

I remember days, when we cuddled

the warmth of our bodies dispelled the cold.

The wind and ice was almost comforting.

It made me realize that I was warm,

in spite of the cold, the blowing wind,

ice crystals decorating the trees outside.

I wonder where those days have gone?

You are in one room, me in another.

We barely speak. This is not love.

We look around and see nothing better,

nothing more enticing than simply home,

a familiar place, warm under electric blankets.

Over thirty years and what are we?

A couple-maybe from the eyes of others.

We are just two people in one house.

I cannot even imagine it being any better,

for us to cuddle, to whisper sweet words.

So this is how it ends? Together, alone.

Could I love again? Could you?

Would we even want to take the chance?

Or would we rather just lay safely?

Knowing how love hurts, how loss hurts

and not being willing to a the risk?

Dreaming of “what if?” but never finding out.

listen to a cold wind blowing-

ice crystals like music,

Winter Alone

I listen to a cold wind blowing-

ice crystals like music,

ring against my windows.

The quiet disturbs me,

even as I read a well loved book,

sip hot tea, remember…

Winter-with its chill enveloping me,

with the whistling of the wind,

seems so much colder without you.

I remember days, when we cuddled

the warmth of our bodies dispelled the cold.

The wind and ice was almost comforting.

It made me realize that I was warm,

in spite of the cold, the blowing wind,

ice crystals decorating the trees outside.

I wonder where those days have gone?

You are in one room, me in another.

We barely speak. This is not love.

We look around and see nothing better,

nothing more enticing than simply home,

a familiar place, warm under electric blankets.

Over thirty years and what are we?

A couple-maybe from the eyes of others.

We are just two people in one house.

I cannot even imagine it being any better,

for us to cuddle, to whisper sweet words.

So this is how it ends? Together, alone.

Could I love again? Could you?

Would we even want to take the chance?

Or would we rather just lay safely?

Knowing how love hurts, how loss hurts

and not being willing to a the risk?

Dreaming of “what if?” but never finding out.

ring against my windows.

Warmth from the roaring flames

growing lower, the crackling quieter now.

just embers, flashing from the fireplace.

The quiet comforts me,IMG_0050-crop

Winter Alone

I listen to a cold wind blowing-

ice crystals like music,

ring against my windows.

The quiet disturbs me,

even as I read a well loved book,

sip hot tea, remember…

Winter-with its chill enveloping me,

with the whistling of the wind,

seems so much colder without you.

I remember days, when we cuddled

the warmth of our bodies dispelled the cold.

The wind and ice was almost comforting.

It made me realize that I was warm,

in spite of the cold, the blowing wind,

ice crystals decorating the trees outside.

I wonder where those days have gone?

You are in one room, me in another.

We barely speak. This is not love.

We look around and see nothing better,

nothing more enticing than simply home,

a familiar place, warm under electric blankets.

Over thirty years and what are we?

A couple-maybe from the eyes of others.

We are just two people in one house.

I cannot even imagine it being any better,

for us to cuddle, to whisper sweet words.

So this is how it ends? Together, alone.

Could I love again? Could you?

Would we even want to take the chance?

Or would we rather just lay safely?

Knowing how love hurts, how loss hurts

and not being willing to a the risk?

Dreaming of “what if?” but never finding out.

Love is an ember now, but Ice is still cold.

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To Be Someone’s Everything

Since I was only 19 years old, sitting in a frayed chair,

I have loved looking down upon a sweet head,01090049

of soft,curly hair, stroking it, as it mixed with my own.

That was the incomparable joy of motherhood.

A sleepy head upon my shoulder, or laying beside me,

a soft, even breath when sleep finally came and I could rest.

I would lovingly touch their sleepers of pink or blue,

as I laid them beside me, watching them as they dreamed.

“It’s hard to be someone’s everything.” I told my friend.

A young mom too, she laughed and said, “But so sweet!”

In those difficult times, I though,how true it was,

To be wrapped in the joy of life’s greatest pleasure-motherhood.

Now, I am not young, and have spent nearly 40 years,

with a soft head of hair in many colors, and textures

laying beside me, or on my shoulder, they all loved being loved.

For me to rub their backs or heads as their eyes closed for the night.

We have been through so much, over the years-

the unimaginable joy of new life and the unspeakable sorrow

of the loss of a child, and still, running my hand through

each child’s hair has remained an unforgotten blessing.

Today, I walked into my teens room, music playing quietly,

and saw him lying there with her head on his shoulder,

His girl, not me, and I found it hard to hold back the tears

as I walked away knowing those days would soon end.

Yes, I would rub the heads of my many grandchildren,

such beautiful, soft hair, I touched and remembered.

But it wasn’t the same. I would lay them in their bed,

or take them to their home. Leaving me here, alone.

If only I could be young again, tired again, I thought.

Running my hand through silky hair, and knowing,

that this tiny act of love between us was so precious,

would one day be only a sweet memory, but not,

I hoped, today…..

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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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MUSCADINE MEMORIES

DSCN2817One day last week when I was at your house-okay cleaning out your now empty house, I noticed the most wonderful vine of the old fashioned Muscadine grapes growing up a tree at the edge of your yard.

I have never seen anything like it! Oh, Dad, how I wanted to run in and get you and show you the redbud tree hanging full of Muscadine grapes. You and mom grew up very differently, but I lost you both in your 87th year. Mom was a few years older, so I had to watch you drown in the misery of waking up without her after 62 years together.

l I haven’t been able to write for the past few months, since I lost you. There is so much inside me, I know I will never remember the feelings as I did when they were fresh, and I will always resent it. What kept me from writing was not because of you passing, but the pain was nearly as bad. A violation by someone, of my deepest thoughts, written in my journal, had made me feel as though I had been robbed of my most precious gift-the truths, good or bad that I written in a journal to the son I lost when he was 15 years old nearly every day.

When I saw the Muscadines, I knew the only reason they had survived was because they were wound around the branches so high in the redbud tree. Your neighborhood is full of bears, and my son who lives next door has seen many walking through your yards. My aunt on the hill above you had lost her grapes to the bears, as had neighbors and friends, I couldn’t think of anyone who hadn’t lost their grapes to the bears. A surprise for you, dad, but a couple of months too late.

All this time that I have been unable to write, I have though of you and mom, of my Andrew, all the loss, the sickness and pain I have endured, all the court stuff I had to endure in order to settle your estate. Hell has been my constant companion. Maybe that’s why the wild grapes were so special-a moment of joy and beauty amidst all the pain.

I can write now, the anger over having been put through a completely unnecessary hell during the weeks proceeding your loss have dissipated to the point where not writing would let the evil win-and I damn well wouldn’t do that. So I will write a few of the memories that the Muscadines brought to me. Perhaps, in some small way, they will help me heal.

Dad, I had seen your health failing for a long time, your memory and rationality fading as well, and I had been working to get things in order. I felt a lot of guilt, many of the decisions I had to make were hard. I knew without a doubt that I was doing what you wanted me to do, but there was still a ring of guilt to suddenly be the ‘one who held the gold’.My kids and I will never forget your slightly evil (but loving) smile, when we would want something that your conservative mind could not quite go along with and we would see you smile, as you looked at us and said, “You know the ‘Golden Rule?” And we did know it. Your “Golden Rule” had always been, “Whoever has the gold makes the rules.”(possibly first used by Confucius) -and it had always before meant YOU. Suddenly it was ME.

Part of me anxiously awaited my turn at “holding the gold”, and part of me had always feared the responsibility that came with it. Now, that I did “hold the gold”, even though you were still here in a weakened condition, I found the responsibility both humbling and empowering. Every decision that was made was MY responsibility, every mistake made was my fault. Suddenly, I wondered how you could have held that responsibility all those years and smiled as you reminded us of it. It was completely terrifying.

Thinking back, again, (and not having allowed myself to write it), I remembered the little gift your grandchildren and I received within moments of your death. My son’s friend, who had been with us when you died and had loving called me “Mah-mah” since his childhood, had called my son on his cell phone and told him to look at a photo he had made with his phone. In his picture, directly over the spot where my mom (and soon you) would be buried, there had suddenly appeared a beautiful rainbow, so perfectly centered above your graves that it had seemed like a message from God.

Muscadines…they reminded me of so many of the moments in nature I had shared with my grandparents, parents and children through the years. Those little snips of beauty that stay with you as though your mind was a camera, even though you had no actual photo. I thought of Andrew, three or four years old, staring up at a huge sunflower. I will never forget the look of wonder on his face as he gazed up at that eight-foot high flower, as golden as the sun, above him. I remembered finding the hillside filled with bloodroot flowers whenI took a walk with my children were they were quite young. I showed them how the plant got its name from the Mercurochrome-colored fluid that flowed from the stem when it was injured or broken of. Many years later, I witnessed one of my children, telling the same story to their child.

Once, when I was about ten years old, my grandmother, aunt, my mother and I, went on our daily walk in my grandparents pasture. Suddenly, my grandmother almost stepped on a snake. My mother screamed and my aunt laughed, “Its only a garter snake.” she smiled as she saw my mother look away. My mother was never afraid of snakes or spiders and was quite embarrassed at her own reaction. “I hadn’t looked that close yet”, she mumbled, and we knew it was true. Mother always told me that she was much more afraid of men than of spiders and snakes, “because you knew what a spider or snake was going to do.”

My aunt ran a little country store and to this day, I can see my mother marching in with a black widow spider she had caught in a jar. Even the men stepped back a bit as she told them about catching it on the very steps they had just gone up. I could write a book on “the little store” stories that my cousins and I shared as we enjoyed freedoms modern children no longer have-wandering the neighborhood without supervision. To this day, my favorite “little store” stor is the time mu cousin, Johnny, who was maybe 14, pretended to vomit on the store’s steps as my furious uncle tried to sweep up the fake plastic vomit before someone stepped in it. A crowd of cousins stood at the edge of the store building giggling away. When my uncle realized that he had been duped by a teenager, he was madder than ever.

Sometimes, in this rough and often cruel life, a simple scene like the muscadine grapes will bring us back to all the good memories we have had. For a moment, we smile, we realize how much love surrounded us, even when we were a bit naughty. WE close our eyes and remember those who are gone now and find ourselves smiling rather than shedding ear. Just for a moment, those muscadine memories surround us, comfort us and ring us home. Maybe life wasn’t so bad after all.

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