Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Waiting for Isaac

It was a typical lazy Sunday until shortly after one p.m., when my daughter Kelli called and told me that Tropical Storm Isaac had changed its course and was headed straight for us. Within minutes after that phone call ended, I was stopped at a gas station, filling up my tank.

The next stop was Walmart, where I thought I'd get a head start on hurricane preparation. The store was packed with other people who had the same idea. Luckily, I arrived in time to get some bottled water. I also snagged some non-perishable food, but only because I'm willing to eat tuna for several days in a row rather than starve. Tuna was pretty much all the non-perishable meat they had left, so I bought five pouches of it. I also found a couple of cans of pork and beans, some peaches and pineapple chunks, peanut butter, sugar-free strawberry preserves, and the last loaf of whole-wheat bread.

I needed batteries, too, but they were out of the size I needed most. I eavesdropped as a clerk told another customer that there was a relief truck on its way and they would have more emergency supplies on Monday. That turned out to be true, so Kim picked up lantern batteries yesterday.

Monday morning I ran errands to check a few more things off my list:
* cash (ATMs and debit cards don't work if the power is out);
* ice (to store in the freezer and transfer to an ice chest when the power goes out);
* library books (in case there's no TV or computer for entertainment);
* a new car charger for my cell phone.

That last item turned out to be a tough one. I went to several places to try to find one, but it turns out they don't make them anymore for my model of cell phone. I gave up and went home without it, knowing that meant I could only depend on staying in touch with my family for a couple of days. I had bought a car charger the same day I bought the phone, but I had misplaced it months ago and have turned this house upside down trying to find it. Oddly, ten minutes after I got home from shopping for a replacement, I opened the drawer to my nightstand--a drawer I open at least once a week--and the charger was right there, sitting on top of a book. Thanks, Universe!

A little later in the day I used some ground meat that was in my refrigerator to make a dozen one-serving meat loaves. They're in the freezer now, and if/when the power goes out, they can thaw gradually in the ice chest. While those were in the oven, I put all my eggs on the stove to boil, then filled every nook and cranny in the refrigerator with bottled water and canned soft drinks. The tighter it's packed with cold things, the longer the perishables will stay cold.

Planning further ahead, I vacuumed all the floors. There'll be mud tracked in over the next few rainy days, but after the storm hits I may have to rely on a broom instead of the vacuum cleaner. Next, I changed into my oldest shorts and T-shirt and laundered everything else that needed it so I'd have enough clean clothes to wear for at least a week.

This morning (Tuesday), I dusted everything in the entire house, took a shower and shampooed my hair, and scheduled eight days' worth of  photo blog posts. I was shooting for two weeks' worth of new photos, just to be on the safe side, but quit when I lost the internet connection.

When I'm finished here, I'll be as ready as I can get. Kim is here with me, having arrived a short while ago with salisbury steak for our supper and a few more grocery items. She, along with her Lucy and Oliver, will wait out the storm with Levi, Gimpy, and me.

The dogs have been behaving a little strangely for the last day or two. Gimpy spent a lot more time in his crate yesterday than he usually does, and Levi was rather subdued, too. During the night they woke me up twice, Gimpy by calling me--"Wwrraawwrraamaamaaaaaaaa"--and Levi, a couple hours later, by standing on his hind legs at my bedside and licking my face. I'm wondering if they sense the storm in the atmosphere. This morning their strange behavior turned to frolic when they stepped outside into cooler air and stiff breezes that I enjoyed as much as they did.

Isaac is now officially a hurricane. It doesn't seem to be much of one in terms of its strength, but if it sits on top of us as long as is predicted, it'll be capable of doing some damage. Until the last possible minute, we'll still be hoping that we've done all that preparation for nothing.

So...Writing this blog post was the last item on my pre-storm to-do list. Until next time, I wish you all a gentle rain if you need it or fair weather if you don't.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Watch It Grow
The narrow patch of woods across the road from my house looks lush and thick. This summer's heavy rains have produced more greenery there than I've seen in the entire 15 years I've lived here. Beautiful, but as rapidly as these vines and branches are growing, I'm halfway expecting them to reach out and snatch a car off the road any day now.

Have to Go
Of course, those same rains have made the weeds grow faster, including these that are crawling through every little crack in my fence:

Set It Free
This butterfly (or is it a moth?), shown here flattening itself against the inside of my glass storm door, realized its mistake as soon as the door closed behind it. It tried desperately to get back out into the fresh air, but the cruel side of me made it wait until I had taken its picture.

Let Her Be
The neighbor's dog, Jelly Bean, was a guest in our home while her person was on vacation. She decided on her own that Gimpy's bed was the one that was "just right," and Gimpy kindly let her stay there for a long nap.

Can't Be Trusted
This ugly gecko had made its way inside a window screen, and I was concerned that it would somehow get around the edge of the window and into the house.

Oops! I'm Busted
I needn't have worried. As soon as it noticed me watching it, it scurried out the same way it had come in.

Take Care of It
This squat toad, about the size of a large egg, has taken up residence underneath the dogs' outdoor water dish. Since it probably dines on bugs that are traveling across my patio, I decided to let it stay. The dish is a big plastic square with a moulded round center that sits close to the ground, so the only spaces left for the toad are the four corners. This means that every time I pick up the bowl to fill it or to toss the water out of it at night (mosquito prevention), I have to be extremely careful not to set down any part of the bowl on top of the toad. I hope the toad appreciates my caution.

Gotta Love It
This is Kim's dog, Oliver, who has an open invitation to my house. The only problem? His favorite seat in the house is also my favorite seat. Fortunately, he's small; it isn't too difficult to scoot him over, even if he does grumble about it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What I've Been Reading

Three more good ones:

Lowcountry Summer by Dorothea Benton Frank

Gravesend Light by David Payne

We all know that book covers sometimes change from one edition to the other.  I'm showing you the cover on the book I read, but the embedded link takes you to a site that shows a different cover. Don't let that deter you. I thought it was a really good book. Something different.

The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd
Reader reviews on this one averaged only two and a half stars, which I personally think sells it a little bit short. The main complaint seems to be that it doesn't meet the expectations raised by The Secret Life of Bees, also by this author. I agree with that observation, but I think this one might have received better reviews if it had been written first. I personally enjoyed it.

For a description or reviews of any of these books,
click on its image above.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Gleeful Murder

I would not bother to deny
How much I love to kill a fly,
To swat it soundly on its head
And watch its body lie there dead.
I only wish, when I kill flies,
That x's would replace their eyes.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Old Documents and Flesh and Blood

Today I want to tell you a story about a woman I once knew and a girl I never met. The woman and the girl were the same person. The story is pieced together from memories and from a string of documents gathered over the years on a genealogy website. This week a page from the 1940 census inspired me to dig deeper, to find out more, and made me long to travel back in time and wrap my adult arms around that girl and tell her--even if it would turn out to be a lie--that everything would be all right.

The girl was born in 1923 in the same East Texas town where she would die, too young, in 1972. Her father was artistic and made his living as a sign painter. I found his World War I draft registration online, and I imagine (don't know for sure) that he met and married the girl's mother, who was born in Wales, when the war took him to Europe.

I've learned from an old city directory that in 1929 the girl's family, including her paternal grandmother, lived together in the Texas town where she was born. The girl had an older brother. Their younger brother had passed away in 1924 at the tender age of six months.  In 1929, probably about the time that city directory was distributed, a fourth child, their baby sister, was delivered stillborn.

Months later, at the time of the 1930 census, the family--minus the children's father--lived in a different house. I've never been able to determine where the father was or why he was absent. The girl's mother had bravely returned to work after the loss of her two babies, working as a saleslady at a variety store, but by the time Thanksgiving of 1930 rolled around, she herself had died. She was only 31 years old.

A 1931 city directory shows that the girl's father and his mother were living together again. I assume the children lived with them. Then, in April of 1932, the grandmother died. How much loss can one child bear? The girl would have been almost eight at the time, her brother only eleven. Ever since I discovered those documents I've wondered what happened to the children. Oh, I know they survived, because the girl grew up and married my uncle, and I know from published records that her brother survived to the age of 73. But what about those interim years? Was their father able to care for them? I've learned that he lived long after his children were old enough to be on their own, so maybe he did. At the time of his death in 1949, he was unmarried, residing in Louisiana, and still painting signs.

By the time I met the grown-up little girl in the late 1940s, she was already my uncle's wife. Both of them had joined the military in World War II, and they met and married in England. In the early 1950s they and their three young sons lived just three doors up the street from us in Missouri.

I probably saw my aunt at least once a day in those years, but it never occurred to me that her life had been anything other than ordinary. The only tragic thing I ever knew about her childhood was that she had been attacked by a dog when she was very young. It was a German Shepherd, she told me when I asked out of childish curiosity about the scar that began above one eye, crossed at an angle over the bridge of her nose, and continued across the opposite cheek. I never thought to ask another question, and if she ever told any other stories of her early life, I don't remember them.

We still lived in Missouri when my aunt and uncle and their boys decided to move away to the East Texas town where she'd grown up. A few years later we took a road trip to visit them there. It was on that vacation that my mother met the man who'd soon become my stepfather and changed the geographical course of my own life.

Time passed, and on a late-spring day in the mid-1960s, when I was a young mother with two babies of my own, one of my aunt's sons called me on the phone. "I just wanted to tell you we have a new brother," he said. He went on to explain that a young man and his wife had surprised my aunt with a visit a few days earlier--on Mother's Day. That young man, in his 20s then, turned out to be my aunt's first child. My cousin stated matter-of-factly that his mother had gotten pregnant when she was young, that her baby had been adopted at birth, that my uncle had known the whole story since before they married, and that their whole family was thrilled to welcome the young man into their midst. My cousin also said--I remember this clearly: "She says they forced her to give up her baby for adoption." That part of this story did not have a happy ending. My aunt's firstborn son, lost to her for so many years, died of leukemia about a year after their reunion.

My first marriage ended not long after I was told about my aunt's long-lost son. Later, during my second marriage, my  husband's work kept our family moving around the country. During those traveling years I rarely saw the Texas portion of my family, and I never saw my aunt again. She died at the age of 48 from a brain hemorrhage, I believe it was. The exact nature of her illness didn't stick in my mind as soundly as the fact that it had gone largely untreated. A few years earlier my aunt and uncle had become involved in a religious movement that forbade medical treatment. My uncle would follow her down a similar path six years later.

And so we leave the story of the grown-up aunt, knowing what ultimately happened to her, and we return to the story about the girl. I found that girl this past week in the 1940 census. That year she was 16 years old and living in a convent in Houston, Texas, with eight nuns and 103 other girls and women listed in the census as "charges." Through further research I've learned that the nuns who ran the convent were from an order known for its work with "wayward girls and fallen women." Given the circumstances of my aunt's early life, I find it difficult to think of her as wayward. Or fallen. Broken maybe. Lonely, for sure.

I will probably never know, nor is it any of my business, the circumstances surrounding the conception of the child born to the girl. That act may have been tragic, too, but until I learn otherwise I will refuse to think of it that way. I want to believe that the girl met a boy, her first love, someone who would finally hold her close and make her believe that good times lay ahead of them. Maybe that's wishful thinking. If not my aunt, though, then certainly there were others among the "charges" in that convent whose stories began with love and ended in loss and shame because of the mores of the time. So many young women. So many different stories.

Life can be cruel sometimes.


And what of the boy, the father of that baby? When a certain old song shuffled up on my iTunes playlist this morning, I thought for the first time about his role in this story. Except for the fact that my aunt's name was not Joanne, the song made me imagine that boy as he might have been in later years, grown well into manhood and maturity, remembering the young girl and wishing he knew what had happened to her.

The song is "Joanne" by Michael Nesmith.
Thanks to Margaret Chaplynski for posting this video on YouTube.
Click here to read the lyrics.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

When a Place Calls Your Name

Have you ever experienced an intense longing to visit some particular place? Maybe  somewhere you've lived before, somewhere you've visited, or even somewhere you've never been except in your imagination?

I've had occasional longings to return to the Missouri hometown of my childhood and have made that trip a couple of times. Last spring the Smoky Mountains were tugging at my heartstrings, so much so that I went on a binge of reading books set in those mountains. Call it coincidence or call it fate, but right in the middle of that book binge, my sister Judy called and invited me to go on vacation with her--to the Smokies. It's been almost a year since we fulfilled that wonderful dream.

Also, for as long as I can remember, I've imagined myself being in Ireland. Knowing I'll probably never get there, I attempt to satisfy that urge by listening to Irish music and watching step-dancing videos when I get the chance. It hasn't escaped my attention that the roots of bluegrass, the  music of the Smoky Mountains, extend partly to Ireland. Who knows? Maybe those longings are in my blood, a connection to an Irish ancestor who settled in the Smokies. Or maybe (woo woo) it's even some kind of a past-life thing.

Donna, my stepsister, fell in love with Charleston, South Carolina when she visited there, and she speaks often of wanting to go back. Her love affair with Charleston is one of the reasons she wanted me to read the books mentioned in my last post. Having now read some of them, I understand the attraction that the low country holds for her.

I'm pretty sure most of us experience those geographical longings at some point in our lifetimes. In fact, songwriters and musicians have been inspired to write about places they've been or wanted to be so many times that a Google search for "songs about places" turned up "about 370,000,000 results." So what do you think it is about a certain place that reaches out and grabs you and won't let go?

The reason this whole subject is on my mind is that lately I've been replaying one particular song over and over because I love the feelings it inspires. The places mentioned in the song don't hold any special meaning for me, but the sentiment of it touches me deeply. Listen and see what you think; it's this week's Saturday Song Selection:


The song is "Talk to Me of Mendocino" by Kate and Anna McGarrigle.
(Click here to read the lyrics.) 
Thanks to TempleBethShira for posting this video on YouTube.

What I've Been Reading: A Big Bag of Books

My stepsister, Donna, brought me a bagful of books on her recent visit, and I've been working my way through them, starting with several that were written by Dorothea Benton Frank. I haven't checked yet to see if all of Ms. Franks' books are set in or near Charleston, South Carolina, but the ones I've been reading have all taken place in that area. One thing I am particularly enjoying about these books is that, although the stories are all different, characters from one book sometimes make a brief appearance in a later one. That lends credence to the stories, since it might be expected that people living in the same area would bump into one another occasionally.

I dug into the bag of books at the first opportunity, reading a few pages at bedtime while Donna and her hubby were still here. Here's what I've read so far:


Return to Sullivans Island

Isle of Palms

Shem Creek 

For a description and reviews of any of these books,
click on its image above.

If you like books that leave you with warm, fuzzy, family feelings, you'll like these.

By the way, Donna brought the books in a big, brown paper bag, but she also brought me a large, reversible book bag that she'd sewn herself:

Beautiful, don't you think?