I started prepping the Iowan early. “We’ll hug him, then walk away.”
Mr. Boudreaux’s dad had cried at the end of his high school graduation, I mean really cried. This was after the Iowan spent parts of the evening trying to get me to leave early. “You can’t be interested in hearing all of this,” he said.
Then, the 90 seniors climbed the stage steps for last pictures. Our only child Mr. B. was bunched in back with his boy pack, arms thrown over shoulders. It was beautiful and wrenching. While taking photos, I noticed his dad’s tears. “This is the very last time they will ever do this. It just hit me.”
The Iowan was losing it. He is tall and hard to miss. Internal mother alarms shrieked: Warning, teenager humiliation. I took the Iowan’s hand and joined the slow line to the exit. For the last time, we read Mr. B.’s senior quote, painted on the wall just outside the gym. “When things get too heavy, just call me helium, the lightest known gas to man.” Jimi Hendrix.
Then, too fast, it was college move-in day. We got up at O-dark-30 and headed south. Several hours later, we were moving Mr. B. into the dorm. The roommates put clothes away while parents sweated and wrestled gear. The helpful RA from North Carolina kept referring to me as “Miss Alabama.” A graduate student dropped by to check laptop connections. He told us the weather was terrible during his first move-in day and his parents got into a huge fight so he couldn’t wait for them to leave.
When we couldn’t think of anything else to do, we took the boys to dinner. Then we dropped them off, back at the dorm.
It was time. I hugged Mr. B. tight and whispered, “Fly high, free bird,” my version of a goodbye joke. Dad and son hugged, shook hands and exchanged I love you’s. The Iowan and I turned and retreated, crisply. We were holding it together. All business.
A few heartbeats later, I looked back. Mr. B. had turned around and was watching us walk away, a little smile on his face. His eyes were shiny with tears.
We often sat on the front porch of the homeplace after dinner, listening in the dark to “brother” — the oldest of mother’s siblings — talk the Bible into flesh and blood. Sometimes, the stories turned to the mansion down the road built for a southern belle who shocked Nashville society with her marriage to a Union officer in September, 1864.
Relatives and friends of Mary Florence refused to attend her wedding to Capt. James Pierre Drouillard, an Ohio native and West Point graduate. So they moved west, to the hills and hollows of Cumberland Furnance, TN. Eventually they were accepted back into the Nashville fold. In the next century, mother’s friends lived in that home. The girls would drift slowly down the three-story spiral staircase, practicing for their grownup lives. So did I, once, when mother took me there.
So I always wondered about the girls as they moved along the stairway toward long-ago beaus waiting in the foyer. Did they see the faint outlines of a man in uniform standing in shadow? A wisp of a forever love conjured by bedtime stories and the embedded memories of a magnificent old home.
After young Mr. B got home from school, I saw a small paper under the windshield wiper of his car. In permanent marker it said, “You are beautiful.” Written with a flourish, signed with a heart.
These are lettuce and pea seeds I put in last week. They are growing in my back yard, in a plastic container that held spinach. Yes, it is cold. And it freezes and sleets and ices up, still. But this is winter gardening and people do it even in colder climates than northern Virginia.
You just wash a plastic container that has a lid, punch some holes in the top and bottom, put in some soil (I use a seeding mix) and sprinkle in seeds. Water, close the container, label it with a permanent marker. Place it outside in a sunny area. Now you have a greenhouse environment for your seeds to grow. I may need to transplant these into a larger container before it gets warm enough to plant in the garden.
I also have some flowers and pampas grass sprouting.
Your seeds really want to grow, even in harsh conditions. Like us, they are animated by the life force.
“She took a hammer and smashed my game. Hard, all to bits. It was a punishment.” He sat in the backseat, strapped in, his face to the window. Then his eyes met mine through the rearview mirror. He saw something, a flinch, a startle, maybe. “I deserved it,” he said. “Really I did.”
Another day, they were laughing. They could have been brothers, the two cutups. We drove past a stand of trees and then it was quiet in the car. “Have you been to that graveyard?” Asking me, this time. I had no idea a cemetery was in that neighorhood, hidden somewhere amid well-tended yards and fine, old houses.
“There’s a little boy’s grave. I go when I’m riding my bike. He died a long time ago, but somebody leaves teddy bears. And cookies and things. On the boy’s birthday? There are always cookies. I don’t touch them.” I asked why he went there. “I like to,” he said. “And it just makes me really sad.” I held my eyes steady, steely straight ahead. I kept clearing my throat. Finally I said all I could say, “It makes me sad too. It’s nice of you to think about him. You know, you are such a good kid.”
We haven’t laid eyes on him in years. But I still can see him, sitting at the grave of a long gone boy. The living keeping company with the dead.
I stopped the presses once. The 1977 Hanafi siege of D.C.’s city hall ended after the press run had started. It was the lead story in the Birmingham Post-Herald and I was the late copy editor that night. Calls were made, stopping the presses was a costly move and rarely done. But I persisted, saying the story had to be updated. I remember the printers’ boss nodding to me, smiling and saying, “Let her stop the presses.” I was trying to be authoritative but couldn’t. I looked at the eyeshade wearing men poised over the layouts, started laughing, and said it, “STOP THE PRESSES!”
I had no idea that in three years I would be in Washington, D.C., working for United Press International. No more stopping the presses for me. But that city hall building was the first place I went to cover a story, a news conference with Rosalynn Carter, the first lady, and Mayor Marion Barry, whose election came after he was lauded as a hero in the Hanafi siege. After, I walked to the front of the room, introduced myself, and shook Mrs. Carter’s hand. I told the Georgia native that I had just transferred from Alabama. She said, “I’m so glad to have another southerner up here with us.”
This story was partly an excuse to post a photo, taken in the UPI newsroom in D.C., showing one of my favorite bosses ever, Lucien Carr, a key member of the New York City circle of the Beat Generation in the 1940s. And that’s another yarn for another day.
I just got chided by my 91-year-old mother for not being on Facebook more often.
I’m sharing a New Year’s tradition aimed at drawing wealth to you. I have no idea about its origins.
Take a bill or some coins and put the money in a plastic bag. The amount does not matter. Bury it outside your front door while saying, “I am burying my poverty.” Mark it with a stone or something you can find the next day. Seriously, people have not been able to find their buried money the next day. Do this on New Year’s Eve, before midnight. Then, on January 1, dig up the money while saying, “I am uncovering my wealth.” Do this anytime during the 24-hour period on New Year’s Day.
If you don’t have ground outside your door, not to worry, take a pot and bury your money there and place it outside your door or on the balcony. If that doesn’t work, take a bowl and cover the money with a wash cloth and put it beside the door. This is about symbolism and intent. Do not spend the money, ever. Put it away. Some say that if you spend the buried money, you’ll lose money.
If you follow these instructions, unexpected money will show up for you in the next year. Maybe because I believe, this always happens for me. Always. At least in the years the Iowan has not found, and spent, my buried money. I have heard about people who eventually have taken stacks of buried money and donated it to a good cause. For instance, they have donated it to a church or favorite charity and report all is well.
Or you could leave it tucked away in its individual sandwich bags in a hope chest or drawer. And laugh to think about what your heirs will think to find it.
This is my front door this year. It stars an artificial ivy wreath from IKEA embellished with LED lights, which are battery-powered and set on a timer. I added a few sprigs of fake holly the other day. Neighbors’ lights also show up, reflected in the glass door. I used a point-and-shoot camera with a mulish flash so you can’t really “see” how the wreath appears to be a circle of light floating in the doorway. But I wanted Rick to see it, and the bad photo gives a hint of the floaty.
I don’t do this, but I understand why people keep up their holiday lights all winter. They help.
I’m spending time with Miss Nell, who is pushing 92. I tried out some locks/alarms for her last night and left a note by the coffee pot: “Don’t try to open the doors. I’ll disarm them when I get up.” But she wanted to read the newspaper and didn’t want to wait. At dawn, she climbed through a window out onto the porch, then back in again.
She’s taking a new exercise class, at church.
While I’m here, she wants to have a talk with the three of us, her children. “Because when I ‘go,’ I plan on going fast. So y’all need to know some things.”
“We begin, often enough, by hoping to knock the neighbors’ eyes out with the largest mass of color since the lions ate the Christians.” Garden writer Henry Mitchell.
I have my own variation of Henry’s ways. When it gets cold, I like to bust out South American tropicals to keep the pumpkins company. I. Will. Not. Submit.
I tied a tie after consulting You Tube. My efforts were acceptable, even though I did not master the Full Windsor.
I said I needed a photo before he took off to the pre-party. He was grumpy. “But why? You got a picture before I went to last year’s winter formal.”
We met today for a celebration, to mark the marriage of a mutual friend. She was just back from the beach. ”Marry me,” he said. ”And I accepted,” she told us. She wore a white halter top and a white wrap skirt, a two-piece bathing suit of the same shade underneath, no shoes. The groom had on casual attire, with flip flops. They went for dinner at a bayside restaurant, then back to the beach.
They had gone the long way around to find each other. She was born and raised in New York City, to Greek parents in the restaurant business. She had several careers, ending up in the news business in D.C. When I met her decades ago, she talked about Latin music, about salsa. The groom, born in Puerto Rico, is a longtime civil servant. He’s also a musician. He owns four guitars.
But I had to wonder about this hasty marriage to a man she’d been seeing for five months. Then, he came into the room. He was a stunner. She was glowing. They talked about moving by the end of the year, maybe to Spain. Her dream is to be on a plane, on New Year’s Eve, flying to Madrid, her new husband at her side.
The thing is, these aren’t babes. They are at or near the age when they can draw retirement. As in Social Security.
You would never know it. They’re sleek and fit, all that dancing. And one thing was so obvious it filled the room with sweet certainty: My long-time friend is with the love of her life. And the feeling is mutual.
Irene roughed up my flowers and our psyches. Both are recovering nicely. As the storm moved toward us Friday night, we popped out to the John Prine concert. We sat on the expansive lawn of northern Virginia’s Wolf Trap concert pavilion. People were mellow, nibbling picnic food, drinking wine, chastened by a week of unexpected earthquakes and then, what next, a hurricane.
Night settled in and I pulled my wrap around me. I was carried away by the opening act, British singer/guitarist Richard Thompson. I closed my eyes and soared. He was dynamite, pumped up maybe by the hurricane mustering strength in the Atlantic. Then the Iowan bolted. He’d gotten a call — Home Depot, a shipment had arrived, the backup sump pump might be in. He was in natural disaster mode. So we left, rushed for the depot. I didn’t mind. The Iowan had talked me into going to the concert. I would have sat at home working and worrying. I got to see Thompson, I’d seen Prine several times. I got home and readied for the next day.
There was no sump pump backup (but of course). I went to bed, got up early on Saturday and shoveled copy all day as the winds blew and rains slammed. The Iowan went next door for happy hour, hurricane parties are big here. He was looking out the window when a big limb crashed down on the neighbors’ car. Later, the wind knocked down half of my “green screen” on the back porch, my outdoor living room, a mesh netting of climbing plants I put in to replace the running bamboo (!) the ambassador’s wife placed there as privacy for the (now gone) hot tub. The Iowan said “we’ll fix it in the morning.” But he got on the phone, and I got my little hammer and nails and slipped outside. I climbed up on the white wicker settee and tap tap tap in the wind and rain and set it to rights before the yelling started: “GET IN HERE WHAT ARE YOU DOING WE ARE HAVING A HURRICANE!”
Finally, to bed around midnight to sleep in fits and starts. The Iowan stayed up, prowling the blue house, stacks of old towels at the ready to fight off any water encroachment from the not-so-finished side of the basement to the other. I found the stub of a cigar on the porch the next day, dregs of red wine in a crystal stem on a side table next to the back door. I could see him in the mind’s eye, leaving the the covered back porch, stalking across the open deck, glaring into the black sky, pelted by rain but staring Irene down, daring her, don’t even think about it.
Sunday. Rainy but calmer. We were still standing, a few small tree limbs down (thank you, my talented tree trimmer). The sump pump held. We never lost power. I worked into the early evening.Sunday night. Drained.
We’ve had a week.
We’re still dealing with aftershocks and looking forward to this weekend’s hurricane. So I’m thinking about cats. Not really. More like green things. I thought maybe even non-gardeners might appreciate this little meditation on the growing game.
I’m not sure what I did to this photo to chop it up, but it is just a copy of the original. Anyway, Miss Nell is on the left, before she married and had children. She was in New Orleans with her friend Lois and her other friend Lois. I told her, “You looked right sultry in that picture.” She said, “Lois probably was driving me crazy.”
I woke up screaming this week. A bad dream, said the Iowan. Eventually I went back to sleep, but the rest of the night was uneasy. The next night at dinner, he asked me about it, but I said I could not remember what was going on with me. Sleep walking and talking is not unusual in my family. Mr. B. will “speak in tongues” in the night, the Iowan says. But I quieted down long ago. And had not screamed in my sleep in decades.
Until just after midnight on June 29, 2011. The truth is I did have a vague notion about it all day. I didn’t really want to talk about it. Until I did. “Maybe it was because this was the day daddy died, 20 years ago.” I was born on Father’s Day. I had his black, curly hair. His laugh. His way of never meeting a stranger.
And on June 29, 1991, he shook hands with a friend after a session at the coffee shop, then ran straight into the path of a car. Did not walk. He ran.
Distressing thoughts, emotions, shock, these things can be tidied up and put away, but only for so long. The old mantle clock’s single peal at a quarter after midnight was all it took to crack open the mind’s thin colluding door. And out it came, a long, ear-splitting, scream. I imagine it sounded like loss.
There, on the left.
I was on temporary assignment, holding a postcard or photo of a belly dancer. Which seemed appropriate for the time and the place, somehow.
Journalists start out wanting to save the world and after a while get jaded. You write and write and write. You’re accused of having a secret agenda when really you don’t. Then, in the middle of the night you examine your motives for one that maybe you’ve hidden from yourself. At least having accusers is better than people who don’t read you at all.
Everyone is tired. Stressed. People with strong opinions aren’t likely to change them after a certain point. Back then, lots of folks would get their notions from television and it is hard to explain a complicated issue in a sound bite. Now, I’ll sometimes hear people citing as fact opinion pieces or blogs or the things coming out of talking head yelling matches. And it has gotten completely confusing, I admit.
I talk about the difference between fact and opinion. I say it is difficult to isolate a fact, but I’ve been told that statement makes no sense. Let’s see, try to isolate an actual fact from opinion or something made up or slanted or spun. How’s that.
And on and on and on it goes.
So yesterday, I was fiddling with a beads and pearls hair comb that I use to pull back my hair on hot days. Rick said, “That’s pretty.” I was flattered. The Iowan is very notice-y. Mr. B. also can be alert, for a teenager. But if I was bound, in front of the wheels of a truck, with the driver threatening to run over me unless those two could name the “cute hair accessory” I had been wearing all week, I would be in trouble. The Iowan wouldn’t be able to say. Mr. Boudreaux would whisper, “What’s an accessory?”
Rick, the writerly friend who also has been a merchandising designer, notices. I see that he takes it all in, maybe even when he is trying not to do that.
I need all of it, my guys at home, my friends who wouldn’t visit this blog and even if they did would click off, baffled. And my Clusterflock. The flock has different meanings for all of us, of course. But to me, it is a shiny bauble, the layer of bubbles that appeared from out of nowhere and now accompany me throughout my day.
Will you tell us where you got your name? Was someone in love with the impish India in “Delta Wedding” maybe? Or something more obvious. You can tell me to mind my own business.
A neighbor asked me over last week to look at his American elm seeds. He is trying to grow new trees from a large healthy one that somehow has managed to escape Dutch elm disease. This is part of an effort to grow new American elms in our county in Virginia. But the neighbor has sprouted only a few seeds from dozens of attempts. And they don’t look so good.
My yard was very conservative when I moved in last summer. Within weeks it was bright and beautiful with exotic flowers that bloomed until December, then burst into life again a couple of months later. This earned me a bit of a witchy reputation. But my experience is limited to flowers, fruits and vegetables. I am not a tree person. But I told the neighbor I would see what I could find out. I started researching online. I found some information, but it was confusing. I was frustrated. Later in the week, I had a dream. I was walking with my father in the woods. He was the kind of person who could go straight to a stand of trees that had been declared extinct, or nearly. No big deal. It was like he could smell them out.
In the dream, my father bent down and started digging with his hands in the forest soil, pulling away the organic matter on top. He pushed deep into the packed earth and pulled that up in his fists. He held out the rich soil to me. I woke up thinking about the elms.
Yesterday, I told the neighbor I wanted some of the seeds. I mentioned the soil in the woods where I often roam near the trail near here (the Iowan sits on the bench and waits for me to get my fill). I did not mention the dead father and dream. But, I said, “I’m in.”
Three tornadoes rampaged through my little hometown in north Alabama. The relatives are fine and their homes escaped significant damage. They are staying at the lake houses just across the line in Tennessee because the power is not expected to be back on for days.
I reached Miss Nell at home, her phone is working and she was back for a bit. She was sitting in her recliner in the garage, reading the newspaper by the light of the sun. The recliner was placed in the garage because someone was supposed to pick it up and throw it away, then Miss Nell discovered it was a good place to go for a change of scene.
She reported long lines at gas stations. The owner of a couple of pumps nearby refuses to charge more than the pre-tornado price, $3.89. It just wouldn’t be right, he said. Miss Nell’s neighbor, the man from Maine, stopped by with a portable generator to “recharge” her refrigerator so the food won’t go bad.
Hale might have damaged her roof, said Miss Nell, but she’s not going to worry about it. She is 91 and notes, that in Alabama, “We’ve been through this before.”
This is a crimson red Camellia I planted last fall beside the front door. I have four in all with names like “Tom Knudsen” and “April Tryst.” They bloom in the cold/cool weather. The Camellia, the Alabama state flower, can be tricky to grow in northern climates. But I had to risk it. They remind me of home.
This is a response to the photo of Daryl’s beautiful Iris.
I think this encounter is why I can’t eat fish.