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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Please help me to identify this photo. I think it was taken somewhere in the U.K. in the 1930's. Has anyone ever seen the mural? Is it a public building?

Sunday, June 27, 2010


I've never been to Kansas. No skinny legs have ever shriveled up, beneath my house. Okay okay, we do have our share of little people here in the township, but that is a story for another time.

But, I would just like to declare to those in charge ENOUGH WITH THE TORNADOS!

A long long time ago, I was a twenty year old Pennsylvania girl transplanted to an army base a little north of Nashville, Tennessee. I had a brand new baby, two weeks old, and a pilot husband on active duty with the 101st Airborne. He was never home, especially during bad weather, which I was to learn over my three year stay there, occurred every afternoon from April through October.

I got used to the sky turning greenish black in seconds. After you have been warned tornadoes are on the ground about five hundred times, sometimes three or four times a day, you kind of get complacent. Get a "I'm gonna wait to panic til I see the actual funnel cloud" attitude. Until the day you do.

I was in my living room on an afternoon late in May. It was hot. It was humid. My baby son was asleep naked in his playpen. I remember his precious little head looked like a slightly damp egg. I didn't turn on the tv or radio, or play any music for fear of waking him up. We were still getting to know each other. Later I would learn he actually slept better with background noise.

Saying SUDDENLY, forming the thought and the word, does not express how quickly the sky outside the huge windows turned blackish green. No rain one second, the next - hail and rain started driving directly into the panes. I could see my funnel cloud, finally. It was moving slowly, methodically through the valley, I guessed, about a mile away.

Without thinking, I went to the hallway closet and got out two motorcycle helmets - the kind with the full face? I grabbed my sleeping baby boy, and shoved him into the helmets. Miraculously, there was a roll of duct tape on the coffee table. I used it to strap the helmet together around him. This takes longer to tell than it actually took to do. I sat back down on the steps (WHY do homes in tornado alley never have basements?) and watched as the tornado moved towards us in a freakishly random matter. It reminded me of a huge toddler left to wander at will. Very soon, I couldn't even watch it, because it was so dark, so loud and the rain and debris made it impossible.

Maybe three minutes after I first saw the cloud, the pointy end of it must have been at the bottom of the hill just below my windows. And it bounced.

Bounced up and traveled directly over my house. The wind howled with an agony, everything was vibrating, water started coming in through the cracks around the doors and windows. Yes, it sounded like being under a train. No other way to describe it.

My front door blew open against the hinges. With a commonness of purpose, all the front windows blew out at the same explosive moment. And then it was over, and all was silent.

Of course, the sirens started soon after and because we were on an army base, big green trucks started showing up, unloading people here to help. I didn't have to do a thing, except undo the duct tape and hold my screaming baby boy.

Fast forward thirty five years.

It's an afternoon in June. I am sitting in the living room of the house I share with my baby boy, now full grown, with two sons of his own. The darkness of the sky out the windows to the south catch my eye. Hmmm. That's strange. I get up to look. The view out the windows to the north west is a curtain of rain and wind, moving horizontally across Rt.82. My trashcans fly past the windows. My grandsons are in their part of the house, which I have to reach by going out on my kitchen porch. At the same moment I get to their door, my eldest grandson opens it and says, "Mom called. There is a tornado on the way." I said, "Get your dog and get into the basement." I went back in my house, snapped leashes on my dogs, dragged them out into the howling wind and into the kids' half of the house. (because of the construction of the addition, you can't get to the basement of either house from inside my house any more)

Youngest grandson is pushing their English Bulldog Bob down the basement steps. Apparently dogs do not have a special knowledge of impending danger, because at this moment, all four wanted to stop and sniff butts. Down the basement we all went, the boys and I, and four dogs, climbed over piles of tools and supplies for the construction, and stood at the sliding glass door watching branches and random bits of trash blow past. It occurs to all of us, after a very loud CRACK that it might not be a good idea to be here in front of all the glass, and we get under the steps.

Five or six minutes of the loudest thunder I have heard. Five or six minutes of mysterious crashes and bangs. Here I am, under the steps this time, with the babies of the baby I put in the helmet. My grandsons love that story, the thought of their big strong father inside helmets, duct taped together, to ride out the storm. You would think I was scared. You would assume that I would be anxious about protecting them. You would be wrong.

What I learned under the steps is that my grandsons are calm, collected and capable during scary times. At 13 and 17, they are mature and even funny when stressed. There was just a feeling of waiting it out, that nothing bad could happen to us. I would rather be in a tornado with them then anyone else I can think of. The dogs were so relaxed, they all laid down, taking the opportunity for a quick nap.

While waiting for the storm to pass, we chatted about how we knew a storm was coming - I told them the trashcans flew past the windows. They told me their mother called to tell them she watched a tractor trailer blown over in the parking lot of her business. They went around and unplugged everything, closed all the windows. And then, gone looking for Nana. That would be me.

As suddenly as it came, the storm was gone. We had no electricity, of course. Eldest grandson went across the lawn and checked on the animals in the barn. The horses were already out in the pasture grazing like nothing had happened. The goats don't like being wet, so they were hanging out inside. The chickens were all under the coop, not in it, which we thought strange. Well, except for one Barred Rock, who had ridden it out on the fence behind the coop. We imagined her there, wings unfurled, beak clenched, facing into the fray. She got a new name: Fearsome Bitch!

The three of us sat on the porch in the rockers and enjoyed the breeze. It was about ten degrees cooler! My daughter-in-law arrived home from work and we surveyed the damage: broken dining room window, huge branch out of the crab apple tree. It was a little like that game you play, where you try to figure out what is different between two pictures. Was this here, was that broken before? A pillow from my bed we find in the side yard. There is a mysterious pile of slate shards that wasn't there before. You can see where the wind ripped the ridge cap off the metal roof, and left it flapping. Upstairs my bed is soaked - I didn't have time to close the windows. There are piles of leaves in the hallway. A bedroom window broken. Some shutters hanging by their hinges. All in all, not too bad for a 150 year old house.

We pile in the car and go on the destruction tour, waving at our neighbors who are out on their lawns or controlling traffic in orange vests. We lose count of the number of trees down, or the miles of cable hanging from broken poles. On our cellphones, we call everyone we know and compare stories. We drive over to check on my daughter-in-law's parents who live about two miles away. They have some trees down, no power and some war stories of their own.

Over and over we say, Nothing that can't be fixed. It's a feeling of a bullet whizzing by your head. And if this hadn't happened, how exactly would I know, so completely, that my grandsons are tough as nails? And knowing that is a gift to me. The kids are alright.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Blue Sky Farm Summer Bouquet


I've been pushing it this year since April, which makes me feel guilty, because I completely devalued Spring. In my defense, Spring was a hurried affair this year, barely here for two weeks after the last cold rains of winter dissolved the remnants of the blizzards, grey and dreary in the pasture, and a heat wave arrived tempting us to wear white before Memorial Day and break out our Lawn MuMus. Lawn MuMus are big baggy brightly colored dresses that we wear in Honey Brook when we go commando and wander around weeding or staring at livestock. If bears emerging from hibernation wore clothes, this is what they would choose.

But now, joining the Barn Swallows and the Lightning Bugs, it's no longer ME deciding that Summer has arrived. There is a bouquet on the table that announces it with the exuberance of debutantes arriving back to the Sorority House.

Blue Hydrangeas and Orange Daylilies, or Mophead and Fulva, as we call them here.

Everyone who reads this is a better gardener than I. We don't even have to have a score card. It's not even going to be a contest. I concede. I grew up in a family where all aggression, competition and judgment is channeled into gardening. I gave up long ago in the race to drop Latin Names for species and have the first tomato of the season. I don't even CARE about heirloom seeds and grafting. I am much better with things that follow me and beg to be fed than I am with things that soundlessly wither and die without water. That leads me to Mophead and Fulva which you can't apparently neglect to death.

In addition to their ability to live through my inattention, they fill up vast amounts of space in the garden if you let them, so you don't have to plant anything else. When they are not blooming with mania, they are green and verdant enough to fill visual expectations of 'landscaping.' They can also withstand assaults by bulldozers and careless roofers: the hydrangeas and daylillies survived our three year construction phase and will provide the foundation for new gardens we will put in, someday. Also, for some reason, the chickens don't eat them or destroy them.

You can do a lot with hydrangeas if you really want to. You can change their color by changing the PH of the soil, you can get hundreds of different varieties from GI-normous to petite. I justlove my big blue blooms. Once a guy stopped and asked if he could buy some of mine for his wedding!!! I try to pull the wild grape vines out of mine once a year. It's the least (yes, actually it is) I can do for them.

There are lots of people who spend their time hybridizing daylilies. In the Eureka Daylily guide, you will find a Daphne Dore Daylily. For her 80th birthday, I found a hybridizer who would name one of his plants for my Mom. In my part of Pennsylvania, the orange variety (Fulva) bloom almost all summer along our roads. In the breeze, they wildly wave to tourists and residents alike, always happy to see you.

I prefer barn swallows to bluebirds and daylilies to dainty roses: the utility, predictability and toughness of my favorites is what endears them to me. I kind of hope that these qualities endear me to my loved ones, too.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Light

A couple years ago, on a summer evening, we were entertaining my cousins from Australia out on our deck. This is a blue moon, snow in July, extremely rare occurrence. The last occasion that we were all together was in 1959.

At some point in the evening, there was a pause in the conversation and I realized that my cousin's daughter had slipped off the deck in the darkness and was wandering around the yard with her camera. I asked her what she was doing and she said, "I just must have a snap of these fairy lights!"

Can you imagine suddenly seeing, for the first time, the thousands of sparkling, blinking, frantic tiny lights that are my lightning bugs, in the trees, bushes, grass?

Our farm has a completely amazing population of lightning bugs. Down at the bottom of the pasture, at dusk, they rise out of the ground, swirling, twirling glimmering dots of palest yellow, neon green and blue white, the exact opposite of the blanket of dark. I like to watch as they blink, then disappear, to reappear several feet away. To catch them, you have to guess what direction they go, or be fast enough to snatch them with your hand while they are lit. I think I used to be good at this, because I remember filling mason jars with grass and a twig and then using it as a temporary home for dozens of bugs. As long as I left the lid on the jar, I was allowed to have the jar in my room on my nightstand. I would fall asleep to the glowing semaphore they sent. I hope they found love, if briefly, inside the jar.

Because that is what that light is about. Love.

I took my grandsons down to the display in the pasture one evening. In my best National Geographic Documentary Voice, I explained that the light was a signal, that all the bugs were looking for love. "So," my eldest grandson said, "At some point in evolution, a bug said HEY, I bet if I slap a honking huge light on my ass, the girls will love it?"

He's seventeen.

The stuff that makes a lightning bug light up is called Luciferous, after yes, the Doomed Angel Lucifer, whose name means "Light Bringing." A google search of luciferous reveals that scientists inject this into mice and potatoes. I wanted to see this, so I search for images of glowing mice and blinking french fries but sadly, the pictures of the mice are all about breast cancer and the blinking fries do not exist. But should. I do find pictures of glowing Christmas trees that have been genetically adjusted to have luminescence (I want one) and even someone reading on a park bench at night, lit from above by a glimmering genetically altered mimosa tree. Instead of street lights!

When mixed with oxidizing agent Luminol, the same substance is used at crime scenes. It glows blue in reaction to the iron in blood, revealing trace evidence and sometimes, I guess, speaking for those who can't speak for themselves in the pursuit of truth and justice.

And I wonder...do people glow?

Of course they do! and Don't! How many times have you heard people say that a bride was glowing, or that an evil person had no light in their eyes? Is this just a figure of speech? Not according to Japanese researchers Masaki Kobayashi and Daisuke Kikuchi from the Tohoku Institute of Technology, who, along with Hitoshi Okamurain, "imaged the diurnal change of this ultraweak photon emission with an improved highly sensitive imaging system using cryogenic charge-coupled device (CCD) camera" and took DOZENS of pictures of a glimmering light coming from a human that was 1000 times weaker than our naked eye can see. They postulate that what they captured are metabolic changes that pulse and rhythmically emit light. This light, like the light on a lightning bug, emits no heat, and thermographic images of the same human, taken at the same time, are completely different.

So, no happy glowing mice, no radiant french fries, but there are pictures of glowing humans. I wonder if I have a highly sensitive imaging device inside of me that does see the glow in others at times, but if I have lost the ability through evolution or something similar to the scratches I get on the lenses of my glasses which prevents me from seeing the glow in others always. I am wondering if I can will this ability to the forefront of my life and use it to change my attitude (I will admit to being a judger at times). I experiment with this on the way into work. Instead of feeling anger against the slow moving, enormous SUV meandering down the road like a lost elephant in front of me, causing me to miss the opportunity to speed through three stoplights, I try to visualize the happy vacationing family inside. I fail miserably, succumbing to self serving mini-rage. But I get my point. It's going to require more work to recharge my camera.

Of course, this is not a totally original thought, that people have an energy or a glow that we sense more than see. When the Beatles went on their Magical Mystery Tour, they were looking for 'enlightenment.' Think of the thousands of images from hundreds of religions that show deities and average folks, radiating. I know this, but somehow, I suspect those who talk about it. A further search on the internet shows lots of sites willing to help me see the light, for a price. There's the rub. I just don't like mixing enlightenment with something concrete, like money.

On one web page I find a picture of a mason jar of shining bugs and grass, just like I used to make. And below it, is the etymology of the word blessing. Apparently, in Hebrew, blessing means "go forward.'Hmm. Go forward. Into the light. Where have I heard that before?

It's a smack me into the sunshine and call me Shirley moment. Looking for light, I found a blessing.

I don't know how my cousin's pictures of the fairy lights turned out- that was before digital and phones with cameras. But tonight, if it's still and the fireflies are out, I am going down into the field with my camera to see what I can see. And today, I am going to try to see the light in you.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Barn Swallow's Return

The barn swallows are back! Every year they arrive here on or around my birthday (April 24th.) I was in the yard, thinking about all my birthday surprises. When I glanced skyward, a pair swooped through the open door of the barn.

I get an 'alls right with the world" feeling when I see them. What a blessing - animals that come home without me calling, that I don't have to feed, that take care of their babies without my help. They are the cherry on the sundae of my spring! A being that, like my daughter-in-law says, appear just for extra happiness! Aristotle insisted that one swallow (or one happy thing) does not make a spring (or a person happy). Oh, go suck a lemon. As long as there have been happy things, someone has been around to deflate the moment.

This group of barn swallows have, I imagine, been coming to my barn since around 1790. I actually researched this as best I could on the internet, so I wasn't building idle daydreams on wishes. Something I have been trying lately, as a point of evolution - not rejecting facts because they collide with any convenient theory that I might come up with. And yes, people who care about these things assert that barn swallows have, forever, been following humans around and nesting in their buildings, tolerated for their attractiveness and their voracious appetite for flying insects. Meaning, like camp followers, they migrated with the European settlers from the coasts of the North East going from cabin to barn as settlement spread inland. Maybe that first woman who lived here, the one that left her hair pins in the rafters over the fireplace in the basement, watched the barn swallows follow her man's plowing, like I watched them swoop and swirl after Charles as he mowed the field.

I found out this morning as I read up on them a little, that DNA studies show that barn swallows from here colonized the Baikal area of Siberia. This is not a direction that is expected in bird migration circles, but the idea pleases me. You only have to watch them (not count them, analyze them, or catch them and dissect them) to see how errant they are, how they have a wonderful independence that defies gravity and sense to realize that sense and science are only going to explain so much about them, and the rest is left to that plan greater than us.

A barn swallow's life is not all being a happy harbinger of spring. Like all things that eat, a barn swallow is prey to larger species, like the American kestrel, which nests here, too. I'm not the boss here, I don't make all the rules so acceptance of the checks and balances of life is part of my tenancy. I have watched kestrels pluck barn swallows out of the air, but I have also seen the same kestrel fly smack into the barn while chasing a twirling barn swallow aerialist as it flew effortlessly into a tiny crack in the barn siding. Mrs. Kestrel hovered over him in the air, screaming what sounded like the bird version of the Honey Brook Cursing Dance until he picked himself up off the ground and took flight again. Hey, they were just trying to feed their kids.

I wish the kestrels would eat the bluebirds. Oh, stop! I know those are like the Golden Child of bird people, but honestly if you compare that demanding, picky species with all their requirements for special housing and fickle parenting with the barn swallow, WHO is exactly more useful? The barn swallow prefers to rebuild old nests. The babies that are born first in the spring stick around all summer and feed their younger siblings. Your flock begins in the spring with three couples and at the end of the summer you have forty or fifty Cirque De Barn performers doing a show with no matinees. Hours and hours of entertainment, right on the lawn, a useful search for food (bugs) turned ballet. I read they eat TONS of bugs. Those bugs are somebody's baby, too. It's just what happens.

What DOESN'T happen here is messing with nests. One kid, never invited back, decided that the mud nests were hornet's nests and attacked them with a stick. His mother and I don't speak. A horse boarder hung fly strips (completely unnecessary) which snared swallows out of the air and meant I had to drown three in the trough, to put them out of their misery. I put myself out of misery by sending her and her horse packing.

Some experts insist that they mate for life, but apparently that is when the experts are watching. We have the same drama in the barn, eight feet above the ground where their nests are, that we have in the chicken house. Males defend their mate and territory unless they are busy trying to invade some other male's territory and mate with their female. The females have kind of a (press hand back to forehead and appear overcome) boys will be boys attitude about it. I wonder how much T.S. Eliot knew about this, when he wrote "Quando fiam uti chelidon [ut tacere desinam]?" ("When will I be like the swallow, so that I can stop being silent?") in the Waste Land? And why did he write it in Latin?

If I ever get another tattoo, it will be a barn swallow. Sailors used to get one after returning home safe after a journey of 5,000 miles and another, if they ever returned after another. Sailors with two swallows were rare. Things happen.

I feel like I am on that second trip.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Opera Company of Philadelphia "Flash Brindisi" at Reading Terminal Marke...

I Could Have Touched a Tenor!

About ten years ago, for my birthday, Charles took me to a restaurant in Philly named Victor's. The food is Southern Italian so I was in Carb Heaven. And the wait staff sings opera. SO I was completely immersed in Rodeo's version of Paradise.

I had a glass of red red wine (this was before I understood that the flushing and the heat and the stuffed up nose I get from drinking wine is an allergy). I ordered lots of scrumptious food. And every time a little bell rang, a waitperson would sing OPERA. Right next to me!

I asked our waitperson if I could make a request. I had a notion that if someone would sing Nessun Dorma the top of my head might blow off from pleasure. She said, No. They don't take requests.

Cheerful with a filling belly and heady with wine and a stuffed up nose, I continued to shovel food into my mouth and enjoyed the random bursts of song. Arias from operas - all Italian, thank God - sprouted from all over the room.

Through the haze in my brain from the alcohol and carbs (I know, I'm making excuses) I become aware that yet another bell has rung and the room is getting quiet. Forks are placed next to plates. Glasses jingle as they are set down. A hush falls.

Directly behind me, a Tenor rumbles slowly, softly into the first notes of Nessun dorma! Nessun dorma!
Tu pure, o, Principessa

No one shall sleep, no one shall sleep, not even you, Princess!

I can feel the pressure of his swelling chest against the back of my chair. His breath disturbs my hair.

Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me,
il nome mio nessun saprà!

I have a secret, No one shall know....

Enveloped in his thunder, he rumbles through the lyrics. My right hand stirs in my lap. It begins to shake. Rises to my throat. I am helpless to stop it....

nella tua fredda stanza,
guardi le stelle
che tremano d'amore
e di speranza.
Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me,
il nome mio nessun saprà!

"Don't TOUCH the TENOR, MADAM!" Stunned by the shrieking of the maître d', I bring my hand back to my lap, and it lies there, spent and quivering. A roomful of proper people who have complete control of their limbs pause in judgment. I am shamed, but mostly disappointed. I didn't get to feel the vibration coming from that massive chest, the vibration that results in the gorgeous noise and the passion.

I make myself feel better by ordering baba au rhum. Charles can't even look at me.

An unfulfilled fantasy. A thwarted desire. It festers. It lurks. It waits for its moment.

Fast forward ten years. I am still reeling from my great birthday weekend - I had everything anyone could desire for a happy occasion. Great friends, love outpouring. Best wishes. Unexpected surprises and generous gifts. Larry Holmes The FREAKING LONGEST REIGNING HEAVY WEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD called me to wish me Happy Birthday! I mean, how cool is that? (A gift from a dear friend who knows I love boxing.)

And then, this morning, I check my twitter (something not possible ten years ago) and I notice that there was a twit about a Mob-opera at the Reading Market Terminal. Youtube has the video. I have shared it below. This happened on Saturday, my birthday. For a half a second, I have a regret. I could have gone to this, if I had known.

And then I realize, it's here for me now, on the video, and in my future, I am sure, there will be a tenor I can touch. I also realize that for me, there is always more out there. Nothing is going away. It's not that things don't happen, they just haven't happened yet.

To see the MobOpera, see the previous post for April.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What is in your wood pile?

Big Dog Nola and Little Dogs Petey and Daisy spend a couple of hours every day in the outside kennels, keeping an eye on things, barking at chickens and goats, getting fresh air and sleeping in the sun. These dog kennels have a six foot by six foot run in the front like an enclosed porch, and insulated room in the back with a window, a pitched roof with shingles, mats to lie on, water buckets, chew bars, bones, etc. There is one for the big dog and one for little dogs. When it's time to go in, Big Dog gets a fifteen minute vigorous exercise with four frisbees, almost constant running at full tilt. She tells me when she's finished by taking a frisbee, walking toward her kennel and indicating she wants to go in and get a drink. Then she lies down and pants, and watches as I play frisbee with Daisy and Petey wanders around, marking his territory. We go inside when everyone is finished for an evening of tv watching and lounging on the sofa.

The other day, when Nola had collapsed inside her kennel for her rest, and I let Petey and Daisy out, they went immediately to the wood pile. I thought, MY GOOD DOGS watched a rat or mouse go into that wood pile! They are hunting! Good dogs! Smart Dogs! They dug in the wood and growled. They pulled boards out with their teeth, working as a team. I thought - I will just let them do this, get their "dog' on. After about three minutes, Petey emerged triumphant. With a dill pickle.

I took it from him, but not after he had swallowed a big chunk of it. It was cold, fresh, crisp and yes, a six inch Kosher dill. Dogs can eat dill pickles but not keep them down, because while I was eating dinner an hour later, he threw up green chunks.

This is why I do not write fiction, although my family thinks I do. My mother and my sisters call my blogs 'little stories' and my mother is sure most of them did not happen at all. My kids say things happened completely differently for them, than me. We all seem to remember the same thing, but in different ways. I am the only one who writes them down = that is my offense.

I am still obsessing about writer's groups and what I have heard in them. People write about vampires, werewolves, fairies, space, mysterious elements, ghosts, miraculous adventures, made up romances, character sketches of people they don't know, imaginary conversations with historical characters, all kinds of flights of fancy.

I am convinced these people do not have pickles in their wood piles. I DO. Dead deer appear under my car overnight. Hot water kettles get run over in the driveway.Strange men appear under my window at 2am, singing rock songs. Motor cycle axles get stuck in my ice maker.

On Saturday night, I had dinner with some dear friends and John said, Let the sails set your course, not the gale. I understand his intention. But the gale sends me to the places where pickles appear out of nowhere, and goats eat your hammock and that is my Wonderland.

It sounds like chaos, but actually, these pickles are always about the bigger issues. Strange singing men bring to me an understanding of loneliness. Goats eating hammocks put me in mind of good intentions to take care of myself that get forgotten. The pickle reminds me that I am not the center of the universe.

So life is a series of shocking realizations brought about by the unexpected, for me. I have been trying to get a handle on the mess that I made of my life while recovering from Charles' sudden death and the way that brought the issues that were just percolating along before to a 'Come to Jesus Moment.' I guess some people have a midlife crisis. I have a midlife pickle in a wood pile.

This week, the kids have moved into their new home and out of mine. This freed up a room which I turned into a huge walk-in closet. For the first time, all my clothes, handbags, shoes, hats, coats, scarves and mittens, are organized and visible, easily accessible. For seven days, I spent several hours a day in a fugue state, folding, hanging, arranging and cleaning. Quietly, I moved around my home, gathering, making decisions about keeping or trashing, placing things in order. I hung all my clothes by color. I cleaned all my shoes. I was profoundly moved when placing my suitcases on a shelf where I can see them, but they are not constantly tripping me. I could have done this before, in some fashion, but resisted. But now, I am ready. I am ready to integrate order into my richly textured life. The outer order will manifest an inner order. But, bad news, everyone else - I will still be writing my truth and not yours. No fairies, no werewolves or other people's view of the facts.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Head Bangers, Writer's Groups, and World Peace

So, Emma remarks on her Facebook page. "It makes such a weird sound when the carpenter bees repeatedly fly head on into my lab window." I think, we must annoy God in much the same way.

I'm not a church going person, but I do have an abiding faith that what I do is of passing interest to some force greater than myself. I refuse to call this force a name or a gender personally, because I consider those identifiers to be human, and as I said, this force is greater than my humanity. I have to believe it is greater, because otherwise, I would argue with it all the time. Instead of arguing, I ask for help and then, misunderstand or disregard the help and bang my head into the same things over and over.

I'm not the only one. Whether it is a solitary committee of one running a life as best they can, or the collections of individuals organized as families, neighborhoods, villages, towns, states, countries, and unions, we seem to find a mistake we like and keep repeating it. We all know we do it. Change is more powerful and harder than the huge sins or acts of violence and war that they eventually lead to - the simple act of recognizing the crazy and making a different decision is what is going to save the world. Or maybe the day, or the essay.

Right this minute, I am sitting on a stool, typing away with my laptop perched on an ironing board in my closet. WHY? Because three days ago, I didn't listen to my own voice yelling STOP DON'T when I unplugged the router on the second floor of my house - the one that jumps the signal from the other end of the house into my bedroom, where I prefer to write. Now it won't work and I keep forgetting to ask for help to put it right. This is the only place that I can pick up a connection. Can I stop and move to a more comfortable location? NO, because I will lose all I have written. So, here I sit, getting crankier by the minute, with no one to blame but myself. Like ripples in a pond, this will affect my whole day and probably someone else's, as it spills over on to other things, and by mid-day, I will feel frustrated and defeated, mentally ticking off the list of similar things that prove I am a failure. All the while, writing about why I do this. No wonder I piss off that force.

One of the things I do over and over again which never leads anywhere is join writer's groups. It starts with this running commentary by the itty bitty committee: "You should get some opinions from other people, on your writing. Your friends love you, they know you, but they are biased. You really need some complete strangers who will give you input. Complete strangers are always experts and worthwhile listening to."

So, I sign up with a writing group and eagerly share. I start getting emails. Eventually, one comes in like this, as it did the other day, "i have plenty of poems i would like to be published i just dont know how to go about it help is needed desperetly" (errors intact.)

Now, if I was a fish, this would be the biggest, fattest bait worm in the history of chum. It has grammatical errors, punctuation errors, spelling errors and perhaps most heinous of all, a cutesy lack of capitalization that says, "You can't pick on me because I lack ego enough to type a capital I." No wait, maybe even more egregious is the presumption that they can write an email that badly and expect people to help them become a published author. No, wait, that the person who sent it feels it is that easy! YES! That is what bothers me. I spell check everything, try my hardest to be grammatically as accurate as my voice will allow, the voice it took me decades to resurrect from my bowels as honest and true, then, I read and re-read and re-re-read, and, as beads of sweat and blood form on my forehead, send my writing off to the universe to be judged, with the certainty that it is, despite my best efforts, flawed and imperfect. By flibberdegibbets like this one. But the wiggle on the worm that sets the hook is the plea for help. I can not resist.

In seconds, I dash off a reply, "That red line that appears under a word means it is misspelled. Desperately. If you want to be taken seriously, use proper capitalization and punctuation. Heed your spell-check. "Don't" is a contraction. If you send an email to a publisher or a magazine with this many errors in it, they will not even look at your poem.
Also, follow directions.
Now, don't get insulted. You asked for help."

I honestly believe, at the moment I send this, that it is a good, helpful and correct thing to do. Well, that is, I have convinced myself that it is, and shushed the protesting of the itty bitty committee who are pantomiming head banging into walls and slicing of wrists. They just don't understand the gift I am giving - like the thirteenth Fairy Godmother I am giving a gift of honesty - one that could be the help this writer desperately wants.

In seconds an indignant response comes from someone on the list. "You just got the smack down layed (sic) on you with the Paddle of Passive Aggressiveness. . . holy shit." (errors intact)

And the race is on. I fume, I stew. I have arguments in my head with this one and that one. This is a WRITER'S group. I start compiling the list of things that irk me about this defense. A! It is spelled LAID! B! The Paddle of Passive Aggressiveness may be clever but I was NOT passive aggressive. I was pretty up front aggressive. No, I wasn't. I was HONEST. I start looking up the definition of passive aggressive, just to prove to myself I am right.

And then I get a private email: "Your email was awesome, I was thinking the same things myself!"

Oh, really? Then why didn't you respond to the whole list? When did stupid people get loud and brave, and smart people get quiet and frightened?

Another list wide email appears: "Same rules apply: It's cell phone."

This refers to the PUN (a literary device used to convey several layers of meaning) I use in my signature - sell phone. I'm a Realtor, for God's sake.

My brain sparks and my spirit is galled and I find sympathetic ears to listen to my drama. I figure I just proved myself right about another writer's group - I don't belong.

I joined this group to be judged. Now, I am not liking it, because I don't respect the judges. Head Banger? Oh my, how many times I have done this, the pattern to each micro-drama exactly the same: !. Join. 2. Submit 3. Get insulted 4. Argue 5. Feel Martyred 6. Quit.

Beyond the issue of the judging/quality of judging issue is the more disturbing idea that I do this ALL THE TIME. It's just the most minor of all my constantly repeated idiotic, non-productive, constantly looping same old songs. What ails me?

I wonder if I find comfort in these same old stories? I know that life brings troubles. I have endured pretty horrific unexpected, drop on you like a comet troubles, but many many more of the same old same old troubles. Chagrined, I realize that maybe I am hoping that the same old troubles will squeeze out the unexpected troubles, as if there is only space for a certain amount and I get to pick. I am reminded of another old hackneyed truism: God will only give you what you can handle. My choices are the currency of a bargain I think I can make with God. If this is true for me, is it true for committees, nations and continents? Could the answer to all our ills, global and local, be just waiting to be chosen, instead?

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Contingency Breakfast Solution

It's a crystalline moment: Joanne, I, and Waitress Becky with Braids are standing next to our table at Outback and all three of us have our hands on the plate holding the remains of the Awesome Blossom. Our hair is catching the light in halos. You can almost hear the angel choir.

"So, do you want this wrapped?" The spell is broken. "Why of course!" Joanne says. She's the one who paid - she had a gift card with a history and asked me to dispel the bad juju by sharing the meal with her. I chime in, "Well, yes! Are there people who don't want their Awesome Blossom wrapped?" Becky with Braids nods. "Some people don't." Joanne and I with knowing looks judge these people as being younger and not ever having been broke. "We'll take it home." And Becky with Braids disappears to the back and returns with our receipt and a styrofoam clam full of goodness. All the way home in the dark, while Joanne drives and talks about how she gave the gift card as a gift and someone regifted it to her and how odd she felt about that, I am wondering whether Becky with Braids put some sauce in the container. And whether Joanne really wants that onion.

We arrive at Joanne's house and she invites me in, and I dutifully carry that the brown bag into the house. I put it on her kitchen counter and go into the living room where we do what women our age do - we chat about our families and gifts and regifting and how the world feels a little strange now that we are older and more alone than in the past. Like that onion, we peel the layers off our lives and examine them, showing them to each other, validating each other. Yes, certainly, that was a hard time. No, no one really knows until you live through it. We could not become anything else than what we are, having gone through what we did. It's nice to acknowledge that in each other. We both get tired at the same moment, yawning, and I call it a night and head to my car.

I'm about to get in when Joanne comes out of the house waving the bag. "You forgot the onion!" She read my mind! I hug her, thank her and drive home.

The next morning, I open the bag. It's a huge portion of breaded, deep fried onion. I wanted it, now what am I going to do with it? If I put it back in the fridge, I might ignore it til it is spoiled and smelly. It needs crisping to be palatable - some fat has congealed on the breading in little white lumps. I wonder at how they cut them so perfectly, so that the petals fall apart enough to be coated. I wonder at how my mind can take in this minutia in the morning yet miss rather obvious other stuff. I decide to stop wondering and plug in the George Foreman grill.

I got this grill because my oven is still broken, a metaphor for my indecision over what to do with my kitchen and my life. Instead of getting a new oven, I keep defaulting to contingencies: stove top broken, heat water in microwave for tea, stew in crockpot, roast in roaster, and now with the grill I bought for four dollars at the Goodwill, grill in George Foreman. So far I have made chicken wings, chicken thighs, and something I am calling a paffle, which is half waffle (because the grill has grooves) and half pancake (because the grooves only go one direction),some delicious stuffed french toast. I smashed and grilled some leftover sandwiches, too, which were outstanding. When I think about it, this is like that onion. Too complicated, too layered and just a little bit over blown. Maybe crazy. I am beginning to worry that I will always be a person that finds contingencies and ways around and alternate plans, preferring leftovers and hand me downs to new, thus wandering through life like a beagle through a cornfield. I am so used to things not working out the way I planned, I begin planning with Plan B, and realize there will be a C,D,E, and probably an F. I know there are people who do not accept anything but the original conception of an idea. I lived with one. Well, more than one. They rail against any deviation, refusing to change course one degree. It looks frustrating and hard to me, and I know that it works for them a lot because I adjust. Someone has to.

I must initiate then, as an antidote to the contingency response. I am starting with the windfall onion. I cut a hunk off, slap it on the grill, close the lid, try not to look at the huge amount of orange grease pouring out onto the counter because a four dollar grill does not come with a drip pan, and start to imagine what would go well, flavor wise. Egg for mellow mildness to compliment the strong, salty, crispy, peppery flavor of the onion. A little cheese for smoothness and to glue the whole thing together. Toast, to provide a foundation. And yes, Becky with Braids did include sauce, bless her heart. The whole mess is done in minutes. It's really good. Worthy of a name. Contingency Breakfast Sandwich.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Not Gonna Go No Mo

I am not good at driving in snow. At least I am honest about it, or at least aware of it. I think people who think they are good at driving in snow aren't aware that luck has a good deal to do with not getting stuck in a ditch, probably more than skill. And you could have a four wheel drive, 4,000lb vehicle with traction lock front and back, an 18in clearance, chains and studs, and somebody driving a 1983 Bonneville with bald tires will come around a corner, slide sideways and mess you up. Or not.

But back to me. I have had two fairly serious accidents in the snow. The first one was in a 1977 Chevrolet Chevette. The only explanation I can offer for the following sequence of events is that I was young. You see, I was on a mission to find a copy of the Delaware yellow pages, so I could find a talent agent in Delaware who had hula dancers. I was trying to start a public relations/events business (which was as doomed as my trip that day) and I worked myself up into such a lather about locating those dancers that I got in the car during a terrible storm and drove the twenty miles down to my Mum's to get the book. This was way before the internet. I don't remember why I had my one year old irish setter/golden retriever mix puppy next to me on the front seat. On the way home, a tractor trailer jackknifed in front of me on a four lane highway. I slid into a guard rail instead of the tractor trailer. Because this was before seat belt awareness, I smacked my head sharply into the steering wheel, enough to see stars.

My head hurt. A lot. And I was scared. Really. When the cops and emergency workers arrived, I had my hand pressed against my forehead. The policeman told me I had to move my hand so he could see how badly I was hurt. I explained to him that I could not remove my hand, or my brains would shoot out all over the dashboard. He explained that if I was that badly hurt, I wouldn't be able to tell him that. Well, that made sense. I removed my hand and I didn't even have a knot or a bruise. That was embarrassing.

Years later, I was on my way to work in my 1986 Lincoln Town Car. It was not 1986 - It was more like 1998. I loved this car, but no one else did. It was huge - sort of battle cruiser class. It was black with a red leather interior which gave it a pathetic, trying to be sexy quality. My husband always said that it handled like a sled, which ironically made it terrible in the snow - you could only go straight. I missed a curve on a small hill, ended up
with the front of the car buried in a snowbank, and again - this time because I sit too close to the wheel - banged my face into the steering wheel, putting my teeth through my lower lip. I got out of the car, stood in the road with blood dripping down my chin. The first person to arrive is my daughter-in-law's brother. He gets out of his truck, hands me a tissue and says "Did you get thrown from the car?" I reply, "Gnaw - fly dumb they flap?" Which is, when you have a flapping bottom lip, "No, why would you say that?" He points to my sweater, which is covered with hay and grass. I fed the horses right before I got in the car, carrying the hay into the barn and me being me, had not brushed it off. At this point, the ambulance arrives, I am whisked off to the emergency room, and the first thing the attending asks me is, "Were you thrown from the car?" while he points to my sweater. They stitch me up, each person involved with this asking upon entering the room, "Were you thrown from the car?" The nurse calls my husband who says he can't come to the hospital to drive me home, finally getting in touch with my mother who picks me up and says, "Oh my! Were you thrown from the car?" She drops me in the driveway at the farm, I climb the stairs, wake up my son, who looks at me, sweater covered with grass and hay and now blood and the snipped ends of sutures and he says, "Why did you wake me up?"

This is how I learned the hard way not to drive in bad weather. I won't even go out now, BEFORE the storm hits.

No matter how many advisories, predictions of significant inconveniences, potential threats, winter mixes, hazardous conditions, frequent gusts, failing visibilities, threats to life or property, lake effects, sustained wind velocities, or even non-existent temperature warnings associated with blizzards they might declare, and no matter how many parka wearing, coyote fur hooded intern reporters they strap to telephone poles all over the Delaware Valley, weather reporters can not frighten me into going to the grocery store. What the heck is a ROVING Penn Dot Crew anyway?

All those alarmists who foam at the mouth when some high pressure system meets a low pressure one over a body of water and starts sucking up moisture and pairs up with gale force winds and begins to careen up from the south can save it. Won't work on me now. OH, I’ve gotten in line at Croppers with 24 rolls of Scott Toliet Paper, 6 loaves of Meyers Italian Bread, 4 Dozen Eggs, 3 Frozen lobster tails, and a pound of brown sugar just in case I want to bake something (which I never do). Not to mention the dog and cat food, chips, salsa, pretzels, soda, hot cocoa mix, matches, candles,bottled water, and chocolate I’ve lugged into the house. I will not wander down aisles this time imagining that I will make huge crock pots of steamy messes that I can post about to admiring Friends on Facebook. In the past I have reacted to weather warnings by spending hundreds of dollars on food that I really didn’t need, I’ve also gotten in line at the gas station and the hardware store to buy shovels, salt, chains, gloves, boots, windshield cleaner, radiator fluid and kerosene.

But not any more.

I’ve declared a moratorium on this kind of knee jerk catastrophe avoidance activity. Not only do I have most of the stuff from other binges still in my closets and pantry, but I am just fed up with the lines. I thought about it, realized that I have never, in fifty seven years, been snowed in for more that 24 hours. I’ve never been without electricity for more than ten hours. And if I had, all that food would have gone bad anyway. Also, as I’ve gotten older, I have just decided not to go out. And for the duration of this storm and all future ones, on the extremely rare occasion that I will get stuck at my house due to weather, I am going to relish it. I will consider it a demonstration of character and faith that this time, I will live on the girl scout cookies, canned tomato soup and frozen pizzas that I already have.

So there.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Let Me Help You With That


by: Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)

THE fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

It comes as sort of an epiphany, at four thirty am, when my mind is open to epiphanies. My cat is using me.

Her name is Fog because she is grey and she has little cat's feet just like the poem, and she does spend a lot of time just looking at me and figuring out how to make me understand what she needs. She believes I am trainable. And sometimes, when she can't figure out how to convey her wishes and needs to me, she just moves on with no hard feelings and kills something to slack her appetites. Mice are so convenient, really: little packages of hydration, protein and pre-digested vegetable matter that reproduce themselves in climate controlled corners of the attic and basement and pantry. The fact that cats eat mice we view as a benefit to us. However, I can tell you that your cat will never hunt your house mice to extinction. They will always leave a few for that rainy day when you run out of cat food and try to substitute something lame like scrambled eggs. That MIGHT work for your dog.

Fog will occasionally make the grand gesture. Once she brought a newly killed mouse into the living room and plopped it down in front of the old, brain damaged Jack russell. He was so startled that poop shot out his butt like a cannon. In disgust she smacked him on the head, picked up her mouse and left the room with her tail straight up in an exclamation point.

Fog owns places in my house I will never visit. My family laughs at my efforts to keep her from slipping out the kitchen door to the yard because they say they routinely see her on the lawn in the moonlight. I have seen her footprints in the dust on my car. I think the sounds I have attributed to the "ghost in the attic" are actually her using the old coats and Christmas wrap. She gets up there by jumping first on to the fridge in the kitchen. From there, she leaps at a 45 degree angle up to where the cabinets meet the ceiling. There is a hole up there through to the unfinished room above. She might actually climb up the inside of the wall to get into the attic. I am afraid that some day she might get stuck. I am afraid of that because I am human, not a cat, with a cat's confidence.

Fog greets every guest to the house, after the dogs are finished their hysterical STRANGER DANGER WHAT FUN slobbering, barking and jumping. She assesses visitors for usefulness by presenting her rear for scratching. She is happiest with a sort of unconscious stroking. If you get enthusiastic and try to place her on your lap, she assertively wiggles out of your grasp and calmly moves beyond reach, sending an unmistakeable message of NO THANKS - a move all young women should learn. No hard feelings, just NO.

On cool nights when I have the fire going, she will sit next to me on the sofa - once the dogs are settled. Her gorgeous, long, white whiskers enchant me as do the perfectly symmetrical swirls of dark among light of her fur. And then she purrs and all is right with the world.

The other day, I was doing chores and she came to fetch me - very declarative meows and short running bursts toward the kitchen. I put down my dust cloth (OH SERIOUSLY - do you think I was dusting? I was staring into space in the living room with the TV on, holding the dust cloth, in a Law and Order Stupor.) Anyhow, I put the dust cloth down, followed her into the kitchen while she frantically jumped on to the table where I keep her food and water out of reach of rude, opportunistic dogs. She stood next to her water and HOWLED - A gut wrenching, operatic mournful sound that caused people in three counties to stop what they were doing and glance toward heaven and cross themselves.

There was a moth, flapping in the water. I flicked it out, she elegantly stretched, dipped down to the bowl and sniffed. Turned her back to it and stared at the kitchen sink. I picked up the bowl, carried it to the sink, emptied it out, swished it with dishwashing liquid, filled it with fresh water, placed it back on the table. Stretching again, she sniffed the water again, found it satisfactory and began to lap with her perfect pink tongue.

Not til 18 hours later, in the middle of another sleepless night, did the full impact of this hit me. If my cat can work me like this, how well trained am I? My CAT has my number. My cat, simply by observing me on a daily basis, knows she can work me. Not only work me, but get me to perform. Tricks. Had I ignored her, she could have gotten that moth out, or she would have sipped that moth water, all the same. Perhaps she would have eaten the moth. Maybe it could have become Moth Broth. I've seen her catch them while they were beating themselves to death against the window, and then crunch them like potato chips.

And because it is an epiphany, and the middle of the night and my mind is free to wander, and because it is close to the third anniversary of his death, I am thinking about the time Charles told me he knew he would marry me. I had asked - and he said, "it was because of the movies, that time." "That time?" He says, "yes, that time at the movies. I think it was our third date or so. There was something gross happening on screen, I turned to you and pretended to gag. And you put your hands up toward me, cupping them."

I don't remember this, and it stuns me. "Like I was going to catch your..."

He says, "Yes. At that moment, I knew you would be my wife."

This was not the romantic declaration I was looking for. But he goes on, "I figured that a girl who would do that, well, would be a woman that I could count on."

So. I think about how angry I have been, for so long. I was a woman he could count on, many many many times, and a lot of the times I resented being counted on. Sometimes I was tired and sometimes I did not want to be the one cleaning up the mess. Sometimes I felt my good nature was used and abused. And then, he died and I was angry. SO angry. He died alone in that truck, and I remember thinking, that bastard. He was not sick, I could not hold his head. He was not in pain, and I could not make it better by fetching something or offering a glass of water. I did not get to pound his chest or press my lips to his to force air down his throat. I did not call the ambulance. Instead, I sit and listen, numb on my sofa, to two cops tell me the story of how he was found. When I ask, they say, the body was identified by the customer who found him. No need to go to the morgue. They hand me a slip of paper with a phone number on it, but tell me I really don't have to call. I will get a report when the coroner is through. They tell me that I don't need to do anything. My job as wife is over.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

And That is Why They Call it a Turkey

"That bird is going to kill himself."

As I remember it, Charles is leaning on a shovel, digging a trench, when he says this. I stopped raking debris long enough to glance up to see what he was talking about. The reason for the trench digging is lost to time and dead brain cells but the picture of a thirty pound turkey balancing himself on the lower half of a barn dutch door will never leave me. It was a blustery autumn day in November (which means there must have been an urgent need for a trench) and the top half of the door was swinging back and forth, barely missing "Orson Wells" as we called him. He was doing a 'duck and cover' maneuver, but would not give up his position on the door. Jane, the hen, was staring at him in a confused sort of panic, not knowing whether she was supposed to join him or just admire him from the ground.

Oh, now I remember - we were trenching out the hydrant for the barn water. It had rusted out at the bottom and in order to have water for the winter, we had to get it replaced before the ground froze solid. I remember this because we put down our rake and shovel, went around the barn to get the new hydrant out of the truck bed and carry it back.

To find Orson stone cold dead on the ground, his neck crooked at a forty five degree angle.

"Well," I said. "At least we already have a hole dug." (The search for the bright side of any situation is a knee jerk reflex. I can't help it.)

Charles said, "Are you kidding? That turkey cost us 3.50 and we poured all that food down it. We are going to butcher it!"

Eating animals we had raised was nothing new to us, but we had always taken them to the butcher in Terre Hill for processing because he was fast and efficient. He could kill and clean them in minutes, with no suffering. We had always thought it would not be fair for us to learn on a living, breathing entity. But now, Orson was certainly not breathing.

Charles bent over and looked at the huge bird, so quiet and limp. "I think he would want us to do this." I had my doubts, this sounded very convenient for us, anyway, but once Charles had a project in mind, we were on a set course. The hydrant could wait. He picked up Orson and headed for the top of the barn. My faint protest of "But we don't know what we are doing..." was lost to the banging of the barn door and the wind.

It occurred to me that I had a very very old recipe book in the kitchen. I bought it on a whim at a junk shop and I found it interesting that the recipes had directions like "select a fine hen from the yard." I had never actually used any of the recipes because I didn't think my health conscious family would actually eat anything I made with rendered beef fat or encased in clear natural jello made from pig bones, but I was pretty sure it would have some kind of directions we could follow.

I took it back to the barn. Charles had put the bird on a plank between two saw horses, under the swinging single light. He had collected a variety of tools he apparently thought might be handy - a hatchet, some pliers, hedge clippers. A dry wall saw. The shank I used to cut bailing twine. You know when you take objects out of their ordinary context they can start to look very odd. All in all, watching this was not good for my imagination.

He used the hatchet to remove the head, after some initial attempts with the hedge clippers. The feet came off next. Orson was starting to look like an object, less like the amusing lawn ornament he was when breathing. Charles hesitated. "Good! You got that book! What does it say I should do next?" In the index there WAS a chapter on butchering poultry, a step by step guide....and of course we learned too late that we had done things out of order, but we were sort of committed now.

"Okay," I say. "You need to cut him open *DOWN THERE* (pointing to the diagram) and I am going in to boil water for getting those feathers off. When you have all the guts out (holding the book in the light so Charles could see exactly what guts I was talking about) bring him in and we will finish him up."

So, I guess I could have waited and watched the gut removal, but it just seems that boiling water in the case of butchering or babies is always an excuse for the faint of heart to exit, stage right. I beat feet back to the kitchen, leaving Charles with one hand up inside that bird, and the other holding the book and squinting.

I realize that I am going to have a pretty big pot to hold Orson in all his grandeur. Even without feet and head, he was big. Real big. I mean, BIG. You don't really comprehend how large something is til you have to boil it whole. So I get my biggest canning pot, blow the shelf schmutz out of it, and start filling it with water. I do realize there is a displacement issue, so I don't fill it all the way up. I heft it on to the stove, across two burners, and turn on the flame.

A grey looking Charles arrives at this point, with off putting blood stains up his arms. "There was a LOT of blood, Rodeo. A LOT." I think he went seriously up in my esteem that night. This was a man who did not make his own peanut butter sandwiches. THIS was a man who did not know where our can opener was kept. He would cook something on a grill, but only after I had shopped for it, unwrapped it, seasoned it, placed it on a clean platter and carried it out to where he was in the yard. And by cooking I mean, placing over the heat, sipping beer and turning it while chatting. Now he was actively involved in the business end of meat.

The water is just not boiling. A watched pot, as the saying goes. The book says I need that water rolling and bubbling to get these feathers off. And we are talking a lot of feathers. Some of his wing feathers are over a foot long. I am not sure how this is all gonna work. I know that water better be hot when we put in 30 or so pounds of lukewarm turkey or it will take another hour to bring it back up to temperature again. According to the book, the de-feathering thing is a dunking and stripping action. There is a line drawing over a hundred years old in the book of one hand holding a carcass by the neck, the other yanking feathers off. Charles is not concerned with any of this, and just plunks the turkey in the pot.

And of course the pot is not quite big enough. Orson is posed with his wings over the edge of the pot, his headless neck jauntily poking out of his massive feathered chest, looking oddly like he is soaking off some muscle soreness in a hot tub. I show Charles the dunking motion in the book. He grabs the neck and tries to pull of feathers. Nothing. But the smell is pretty awful. The hottish water is now forming plumes of mist that smell like the barnyard. Dirty Bird.

We have a discussion about how this is not working. The water is just not hot enough. The bird is too big. The book says this or that. To hell with the book. Book is thrown across the kitchen. The turkey (not Orson any longer) is hauled out of the water and out to the yard because we have decided to skin it.

This works pretty well, and we convince ourselves that the skin wasn't any good for us anyway. After we remove the wings and make some judicious slits, the skin comes off and hold its identity - sort of a Turkey Suit. I say I can keep that in the freezer til we decide what to do with it, but Charles looks at me sternly and tosses it in to the trash can. Too late we read about the aging WITH the skin on. We wrap him in lots and lots of plastic wrap and aluminum foil, put him out on the back porch where it is cool and let him sit over night.

We don't call friends the next night to come over and share this feast. Some stories aren't funny or even interesting til a period of time has passed. It's taken me ten years to get around to telling this. It's not that it was too gross or too emotional. It was just that for most people there is no frame of reference for blood and guts and feathers and meat and eating and respect and heroics, outside of a plane crash on a desert island and survival. It made sense at the time and was part of our history. It's one of those memories that, now that Charles is gone, I carry on alone. No one can say whether it happened that way or not, except me. You will just have to trust me on this one.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Salad Days

"I hope ya feel as good as ya look to your gal Sal" Gail and I smile at each other, because we do feel good! It's around 4:30 pm on a wintery afternoon about 1958, and Gail and I are watching The Sally Starr Show with our Patty PlayPal dolls. OUR GAL SAL is wearing a shirt with sparkles and spangles and stars, and a white cowboy hat. I know that this particular day I recall was in winter because in the summer we were not allowed to sit inside watching tv. We would be outside swinging on the swings singing Yippee Aye A Cay AYE! Yippe Eye OH! in our cowboy hats and spangly shirts, firing our cap guns into the air to add emphasis. I love Sally Starr so much that I am pleased that my initials (S.A.L.) get me half way to being almost named the same, and I love her blonde hair. (I consider remaining blonde into my mid fifties as one of my highest achievements.)

At 5:00pm, Daddy will come home, pretend that my blond Patty is me, kiss her and make a fuss. Sally will say "May the Good Lord be blessing you and your Family, Bye for now!" tv will go off, I will walk Gail and her Patty half way home, come and sit down to eat with my sisters and my parents. Afterward, we girls will do the dishes - singing all the while so we don't fight - and Mum and Daddy will walk the dog around the block. Then off to bath, bed and dreaming of riding the plains on my horse and and saving towns from bad guys in black hats.

I remember heroic dream hangovers for days, after one of these western themed sagas. A palpable threat, like say a horde of angry rustlers (I had a very vague idea what these were, from Bonanza) would be forming on the horizon (again, something I had only seen on TV because Springfield, PA's horizons were the roofline of the house next door) and I would do *SOMETHING HEROIC* (insert unexplained action) and the horde would disperse, the townsfolk would gather to cheer, there would be a parade, and I would get some kind of brain chemical infusion from this head trip that induced feelings of good will and confidence in the waking world of school and play and home.

These days my dreams have a Sisyphean theme: doing endless paperwork, car ignitions that just click and click but won't turn over, a salad making competition where I have to make a salad 'three ways' - and the only one I make is frisee with roasted walnuts and goat cheese. Why I have a dream about a salad I have never eaten or heard of is beyond me. I dare Freudian analyzers to sexify that.

So, at 4:30 am, I am looking up FRISEE on google and wondering why my family dislikes me.

Turns out, frisee is a kind of endive, and endive is a bitter salad green related to the daisy family. Now, this is interesting because I have often been accused of being a little over cheerful, sort of Daisy like. Gerbera daisies frighten me with their aggressive cheerfulness: this is how I must appear to some people - gigantic technicolor head on a tiny body inadequate to hold it up, supported by some kind of device like a clear plastic straw or wire. I love the regular shasta daisy with white petals and yellow center. I aspire to their simplicity and geometry. And of course, I always count the petals ahead of time, so I know where to start, to guarantee the results I crave while plucking off "he loves you, he loves you not." Yes, I want to know, as long as I know ahead of time and can prepare.

I am not sure that the walnuts and the goat cheese are important at all, except that I can't imagine having a salad with less than three ingredients. And then, at 5:00 am I finally get around to thinking what this would actually taste like, the bitter daisy greens, the acrid walnuts and the tangy goat cheese. Oh.

So, this harsh, acerbic mix is the only one I make, according to my dream. Sally Starr, I hope I am feeling as good as I look to you, but probably not. When did the Star-Spangled, gun toting Rodeo Girl become an acrimonious one trick pony? Those were my salad days, and I made of them what I could, but as far as I know, the competition is not over and I still have two salads left to make.