Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tears

When my grandchildren were little, I hated it when they cried. I hate it more today, now that they're grown, because today it takes grown-up hurts to make their tears flow. This past weekend they lost a friend, and there's no way anyone can kiss that kind of hurt and make it well.

This particular friend was the best man at my granddaughter's recent wedding, the best friend of her new husband. He was traveling through Texas Saturday, on his way to Galveston to board a cruise ship, when he was killed in a head-on collision.

I'd met this young man only briefly, but I stopped by the funeral home tonight to offer a little support to my family members who knew and loved him. The place was packed. As I waited in a long line, I had the opportunity to listen to others speak about him. They cried as they talked about how much they'd miss him and how he was the one others turned to when they needed their spirits lifted, then they laughed as they told stories about the way he went about lifting them. And then they cried some more.

He touched a lot of people in 28 short years. I suspect that won't stop just because he can no longer do it in person.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Canines of the Corn

The full moon glowed above my neighbor's rooftop tonight and made me think of all the tales I've heard about eerie things that happen when the moon is full. The stories were fun but purely fiction, or so I've always believed. Now I'm not so sure.

Something weird is going on. If it's nothing to do with the phase of the moon, perhaps it's the fact that Halloween is just around the corner, or maybe the dogs next door have been filling Butch and Kadi's heads with ghoulish campfire stories. I only know that I have reason to suspect that my dogs are performing secret rituals while I'm away at work.

Butch and Kadi, at 9 and 10 respectively, are no longer interested in playing with toys. If an object isn't edible, they don't want me to throw it for them or shake it playfully in front of their noses. Still, I've kept their big basket of toys, because Lucy and Winston, my much younger granddogs, enjoy the toys when they visit.


When Butch and Kadi were young, the toy they both preferred was a stuffed hedgehog. They liked the gruff sound it made when squeezed, and they enjoyed the process of ripping the stuffing out of it. As I bought new hedgehogs to replace the disemboweled ones, the empty hedgehog pelts seemed to disappear, presumably resting in peace at the bottom of the toy basket. Until now.

I came home earlier this week to find this:


If you'll click to enlarge the photo, you'll see clearly that three hedgehog carcasses were extracted from the variety of toys in that basket, then carried all the way from the basket in the den to the living room, where they were placed ceremoniously around the perimeter of a vase of tall, dried stems. Don't you think that behavior is rather Druid-like? (No offense to the Druids among you, dear readers, but I find this all a little spooky.)

I saw no signs of fire or blood, and the dogs are not admitting to anything, but I'm keeping an eye on them just the same.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Under Siege

Part I
I've spent the last two evenings watching the news about the West Coast fires and talking with California relatives, all of whom are safe, thank goodness. As much as my heart aches for so many people who have lost everything, my spirits have been lifted by the strength, determination and acceptance displayed by those I've seen interviewed. There was sadness, for sure, but I didn't see even one person who appeared to feel defeated. I'd like to believe I could show that kind of grace and dignity under such circumstances, but I'm not so sure I could. God bless 'em.

Part II
The reason I'm having doubts about my own strength of character is that I've been reflecting on my overreaction to a situation that occurs in my life almost every morning, one that changes my mood from good to bad in a matter of seconds. I am attacked on a daily basis, and I respond each and every time with anger and curses, despite the fact that I'm entirely alone when the attacks occur. I need to get a grip on it.

I step into the shower each morning feeling relatively calm, then I turn the water on, and before I'm even wet all over, the plastic shower curtain liner has become this massive, moving, suffocating beast that wants to swallow me whole -- or at least to get close enough to know me in a Biblical sense -- and I find myself struggling to stand upright. While I'm washing my left leg, the shower curtain wraps itself around my right one. While I'm shampooing my hair, the curtain drapes itself against my shoulders, clinging, copping feels like a movie version of a creepy drunk. I feel as if I'm about to be drowned -- or maybe shrink-wrapped.

And so I fight. And I swear. And I fight some more, until I can call myself clean, then I turn off the water to tame the monster and escape, exhausted. Oddly, by the time my hair is dry, the anger is gone and I forget about it.

The next morning when the alarm goes off, I stumble through the house to let the dogs out, get that first and most important Diet Coke and some toast or cereal, turn on the "Today Show." Everything in my world seems lovely as I sit quietly and have breakfast, but slowly, inevitably, the brain-fog lifts, and I'm ready to take a shower. It's time to do battle again.

There is neither grace nor dignity in the way I handle this daily dose of adversity, but at least I'm aware of it. I'll try to do better tomorrow.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Hope Votes

The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.” - Henry Kissinger

I’ve never been much of a risk-taker, but yesterday, with a single touch of my finger, I, a liberal Democrat, voted for Bobby Jindal, a conservative Republican, for governor of Louisiana. He won the election, and I’m counting on him not to let me down.

Though I definitely lean to the left of moderate, I’ve always tried to vote for the candidate, not the party. This isn’t the first time I’ve crossed party lines, but it’s the scariest time. I’m sickened and saddened by what the current administration has done to our country, and I don’t want to be responsible for electing someone who might perpetuate more of the same.

I knew even as I pushed that button yesterday that I disagreed strongly with Jindal’s positions on several political issues, but I don’t think those issues are of immediate concern, either to me or to the candidate. I voted for him because he, among all the candidates, is the one who gave me hope.

Someone said once that the problem with Louisiana is that there’s such a high level of satisfaction with the lifestyle here that many people never leave, and that people who never go anywhere else can’t imagine that things could be any better. I think that’s true. The flip side of that problem is that many of our college-educated people do leave. There aren’t enough jobs here for highly educated people, and without an educated work force, we can't attract the kind of businesses that will boost our economy.

Smart isn’t everything, but I want a leader who is smart. Bobby Jindal is. I want a leader who is concerned about all the people, not just those with money enough to make campaign contributions, and I think this man cares. I want a leader who looks forward, not back, and I believe this governor-elect is focused on raising our state from its standard position near the bottom of the “best” lists. I want a leader who is a doer, not just a “decider.” When I watched TV as Hurricane Katrina turned South Louisiana into a high-water Hell, I saw Bobby Jindal getting things done while other politicians stood around waiting for direction.

I’ve often pondered the irony that for all my liberal leanings and progressive, independent thinking, I ended up plopped down in the middle of the land of the good ol’ boys, destined to feel like an outsider even after 29 years, and still, for the most part, to feel content. Unfortunately, the discontented part of me has grown in the past few years. It’s grown in direct proportion to the bungling, on every level from local to national, of those we’ve elected to look out for us.

I made a huge leap of faith when I pushed that button yesterday, and I pray to God I didn’t make a mistake. If time proves that my faith wasn’t justified, I hope you’ll all remind me of that–-mercilessly--before the next major election. In the meantime, I’d like to read your thoughts and comments (but not political arguments; save those for your own blog) about what you look for in a leader.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Love letter

Yajeev left a funny comment about my last post. In part he wrote: "The first house belonged to the Smiths. I was friends with their daughter. I had a crush on her and even played Barbies with her just so she'd hang out with me." As soon as I read those words, I knew what I'd write about next.

In 1970 and 1971, we lived in Miami, Florida. One of my daughters' most frequent playmates was a little boy, Andy, who lived directly behind us. Andy was seven when my girls were six and eight, a cute little guy whose freckled face radiated innocence.

I used to watch from the window as the kids played in the front yard. I understood why Andy might like to join in the high-energy games, but when the girls set up a complete Barbie village near the front sidewalk, it surprised me that he seemed so interested in that kind of play. It surprised me for several days in a row. Then I stepped outside quietly and got close enough to discover that Barbie and Ken were naked. It could have been worse, I know, but that was the end of playing Barbie with boys.

Andy, bless his heart, stayed around anyway, and in the first months of 1972, when we moved to Georgia, he seemed sad to see us go. We gave him our new address before we left, and it was only days later that I got a letter from him, a letter that brightened my day and still does, thirty-five years later. When I read Yajeev's comment, I knew I had to dig this out and share it with you (click to enlarge):


Isn't that the sweetest thing ever? This is the best letter I ever got from someone not in my family -- certainly sweeter and more heartfelt than anything ever written to me by any in the series of men in my life. I like Andy's letter even more because he included our whole family in his affections, even though his early man-training led him to "like" instead of "love" my husband. And because he erased the word "girl" and replaced it with "lady."

Andy would be more than forty years old today. He was a sweet, sensitive boy, and I'd love to know what kind of man he grew up to be.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Going home: a walk to remember

A severe case of nostalgia settled over me a couple of weeks ago, and I haven't been able to shake it. Not that I've really tried. I suppose you could even say I've wallowed in it.

Aided by the magic of the Internet, I've toured the college campus across the street from the home where I grew up and "visited" some of the neighbors I remember from way back then.

This is a photo of my little sister and me, standing on either side of our maternal grandparents near the front steps of their Missouri home:


This was the home that provided security and stability for us throughout our young lives, the home we'd be leaving the next day to begin a new life in Texas with our mother and brand-new stepfather.

I look at this photo and I can smell the flowers that Mammaw planted in the dark-green, wooden flower boxes. I can feel the roughness of the stones as well as if my fingers touched them today. In the background I see the homes of neighbors, and I begin a mental walk westward down the block.

Right next door to us lived the Buzans, Hattie and Cecil, a friendly couple about the age of my grandparents. They rented an apartment in their home to Mrs. Anderson, grandmother of my school friend, Sarah, and another room one summer to a South American exchange student, Suzanne, whom we admired for her beauty and her foreign accent, the first one we'd ever heard.

The next house was a smaller one, home of a playmate, Nina Ruth Brown. Nina Ruth's mother had severe arthritis. Walking was difficult if not impossible for her, and she didn't have a wheelchair. She spent her days in a straight-backed chair, bouncing and jiggling it, inch by inch, to move through her house.

Two families lived in the next house during the time we lived on that street. First was the Maness (Mayness?) family, which included my good friend, Carolyn Sue, whose daddy was a minister.


I'm on the left in the photo, the curly-permed girl in the skimpy sunsuit, and Carolyn Sue's the pretty girl in the modest dress. The boy on the bike is my uncle, Joe, who gained a good friend after the Manesses moved out and Jimmy Wheelis moved in with his aunt, Annette, a beautician.

The next house, a tall, two-storied one with a peaked roof, belonged to the Fullers. They were a super-nice couple who always seemed to be apologizing for their darling-but-snarling chihuahua, Susie. It was Mr. Fuller who accidentally shot my sister one day. He was shooting at a pesky squirrel in a tree in his yard, but the bullet hit a branch and ricocheted four houses up the block to our backyard, where it struck my sister in the neck. The force of the bullet had dissipated enough that it didn't break the skin, but it did give my sister a nasty sting and a big welt on her neck. I remember Mr. Fuller bringing my sister a present (a box of candy, I think), which made me wonder why I couldn't have been lucky enough to have been shot.

The Rice family lived on the other side of the Fullers. The Rices had a beautiful daughter, Beverly, who was much older than we were but always very nice to us. In fact, the whole family was nice, despite the fact that my sister and I always attempted to steal a piece of their house when we visited. The exterior of their home was covered with a grey, mortar-like substance that was embedded every half-inch or so with bright, multi-colored bits of glass. It was my habit to knock on their door with my left hand, while my right hand, furiously but unsuccessfully, tried to dislodge at least one sparkling gem.

Next came the Stinsons. I don't remember much about them except that they, too, were very pleasant and that their grey hair made me think they were the oldest homeowners west of us on the block.

There was one more house past the Stinsons, but I never knew who lived there and don't remember ever going to their door, even for Trick or Treat. They had a screened-in porch made almost invisible by tall bushes that grew in front of it, and there always seemed to be a lot of college-aged kids hanging out on the porch. Maybe it was a boarding house of some sort.

Next up was a single-story, flat-roofed building that housed three small businesses. Annette's Beauty Shop, operated by our neighbor, Annette Wheelis, was first. I got a perm there once, an event I probably wouldn't remember except for a slightly embarrassing moment. I was under the hair dryer, reading a comic book and singing softly (I thought) to myself. A tap on the shoulder alerted me to look up, and I saw a shop full of ladies laughing and looking in my direction. Apparently, I'd been singing much louder than I'd intended and didn't realize it because of the noise of the hair dryer.

Next to Annette's was Frank's Market. Frank Scroggs was the neighborhood butcher. He was the father of my classmate, another Suzanne. This Suzanne had dark eyes and long, black, curly hair. She wore two big bows in her hair each day, positioned one on each side of her forehead so that they reminded me of a favorite comic strip character, Little Lulu. Suzanne's mother was always dressed "fancy," in my youthful opinion, as if she had important places to go, and I assume it was her doing that the family sometimes wore matching outfits, dresses and shirt all made of the same fabric.

At the end of the block, on the corner near the mailbox, was Parson's Drugstore, where comic books sold for ten cents each and the soda fountain beckoned with cherry phosphates and multiple flavors of ice cream cones. Parson's was one of my favorite places in the world.

This post has grown much longer than I intended it to be, and I don't know how many of you readers have chosen to accompany me all the way to the end of the block. I do know my sister will walk with me every step of the way along the sidewalk we traveled so many times together that is no longer there, beside houses that have long since been demolished to provide space for college expansion.

My sister and I have visited that patch of earth together in recent years and stepped out onto the ground where we used to play. Even as I saw the tennis courts that are there now, I looked right through them. In my mind, in my heart, I 'll always see well-tended houses, beautiful trees, smiling neighbors. I'll always see home.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

When I turn 80, these'll be the good ol' days

The mercury hit 86 degrees here this afternoon, better than the high temperatures we've experienced for too many months, but still uncomfortably hot. This morning, though, for just a few hours, the air was cool. I opened the door at first daylight to let the dogs out, felt the coolness on my skin, and immediately felt wide awake and alive. That's quite a contrast to my usual groggy morning self.

Today inspired hope that the oppressive heat will soon be over. If I'd been lucky enough this morning to have the privacy of a place like my imaginary cabin in the woods, I'd have followed the dogs out into the yard and danced in my nightgown like a(n oversized) fairy in the dew.

Fall is the only time of the year that I really enjoy being outdoors. The rest of the year, as much as I appreciate the beauty of nature, I'd just as soon view it through glass.

I'm also looking forward to taking more pictures now that the weather is cooler. (It's been so frustrating this summer to see something outdoors that might make a good photo, only to have the camera lens fog up the instant I stepped outside.) I especially want to get some shots along the road I take to work each day. Sometime between last Friday and Monday, fields turned from green to bright yellow like magic, presto chango. Some of the fields are bursting with Goldenrod and others with blankets of Black-Eyed Susans. Simply beautiful!

If it sounds as if I'm all hyped up by the change in the weather, that's only partly true. The cool air is definitely responsible for a portion of my good cheer, but another large chunk of happiness is because today's Thursday: "Ugly Betty" and "Grey's Anatomy" will be on TV soon.

Life is good.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Why I call her Lucy-Fur

WARNING: This post contains certain information that might offend some people's sensibilities. Part of it even offends my own. Proceed at your own risk.

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Kim went out of town six days ago, and it's been my pleasure (most of the time) since then to have Winston and Lucy as houseguests.


Winston has been exceptionally well-behaved, as if he instinctively understands the importance of pleasing the provider of his food, water and treats. With the exception of a few rousing games of plastic-hamburger-keep-away and occasional lifts into and out of the high bed, he hasn't made any extra demands. Lucy, on the other hand, has seemed to have only one thought on her mind since her mom dropped her off:

"Paaaaar-teeee!"


Lucy is the delicately built girly dog who likes to snuggle. She lets us hold her like a baby and stretches her pretty neck to get close enough to bestow dainty dog kisses on our cheeks. Let's just say that after this visit I won't be so eager to have any more of those.

Here are some of the things I've taken away from Lucy this week:

1) One half-eaten dead wasp;
2) One half-eaten dead beetle;
3) One whole chicken wing stolen from my plate;
4) Two cotton balls;
5) One stuffed animal whose fabric tail she was tearing into pieces, chewing up and swallowing;
6) Two knee-high stockings, worn ones that smelled like feet;
7) One big wad of paper towels I'd put on the floor to blot up a puddle of pee (hers); and, last night at the foot of my bed,
8) One well-chewed-but-not-quite-dead tiny pink gecko.

To complete the portrait, here's a photo of Lucy slinking up to play Inspector General while Kadi goes about personal dog business in the backyard:


The reason I'm telling you all this is to demonstrate that Lucy is not the sweet baby doll we thought she'd grow up to be. Though she's capable of turning on the charm, she's all dog.

So here's the clincher, the for-certain-too-much-information part of this post to explain how Lucy hurt my feelings: She had settled down on the sofa beside me, the entire length of her body snuggled up against my hip and thigh. She was sleeping soundly, and I didn't want to move and wake her, but I began to feel some rumblings in my abdomen.

After a moment I shifted position ever so slightly, and when I did, a tiny amount of gas escaped, accompanied by what I considered an unfortunate but rather feminine little toot. Lucy, the willing eater of vile creatures and close-up admirer of fresh poop, raised her head, sniffed the air, whipped around to look at me with an expression of disbelief, then leaped down and ran across the room and jumped up on the other sofa. How dare she?

Strangers who meet her think she's the prettiest, sweetest little thing. Humph! They've never seen the devil-dog side of her.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

This is NOT about Britney Spears...

...except that the recent news about Britney’s custody battle reminded me of the most theatrical real-life courtroom scene I ever witnessed.

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In 1967-68 I worked for an East Texas district judge. One morning when court was in session I noticed a family sitting near the front of the courtroom. There were a father, a mother, and four children who appeared to range in age from about twelve to six. All of them were dressed in their Sunday best, and the children were exceptionally well-behaved. The clerk called a number of other cases ahead of theirs. The kids sat without making a peep from nine in the morning until the judge recessed court for a lunch break.

After lunch, the family returned promptly to the courtroom and sat quietly for about another hour until the clerk called their docket number. That’s when I learned that the case was a contested adoption. The father had always had custody of his four kids, and his present wife had cared for them for years. She wanted to adopt them, but their natural mother was unwilling to consent to it. This hearing was a chance for everyone involved to have their say.

A good friend of mine, Paul O., was the attorney for the children’s father and stepmother. He had the first turn to speak, and he immediately called the children’s birth mother to the stand as a witness.

Paul O: "Are you the natural mother of the children who are the subject of this case?"

Witness: "I am."

Paul O: "Are the children present in the courtroom today?"

Witness: "Yes, they are."

Paul O: "Will you point them out to the court, please?"

The witness pointed to the four children who had waited so patiently all day long.

Paul O: "For the record, you’re indicating these four children in the second row?"

Witness: "That’s right."

Paul O: "Your Honor, I move to dismiss the witness’s motion to contest this adoption on the grounds that she’s had so little involvement with the children that she doesn’t even know what they look like."

As it turned out, only the oldest child was hers. The three younger ones were ringers, neighborhood children who’d been "borrowed" for the occasion.

No other witnesses were called. After a brief discussion with the attorneys, the judge dismissed the motion and granted the adoption.

********

Back to Britney (sorry, couldn't resist), the word is that she turned her kids over to their father earlier than the court required and chose to run errands rather than attend yesterday's hearing. No matter. If, someday in the future, she should run into problems similar to those of the mother I just told you about, she shouldn't have any trouble identifying her two boys. All she’ll ever need to do before a scheduled court appearance is pick up the latest issue of People magazine. No doubt their photos will still be in there, bless their innocent little hearts.