Thursday, October 31, 2013

Scary Is in the Eye of the Beholder

The waning moon was large enough to cast a faint light across the sky, but everything at ground level was steeped in shadow. The nether regions of my backyard were dark. Very dark.

It was past bedtime. Twenty minutes had elapsed since I'd let the dogs outside for the last time of the day. I stepped out onto the patio and called them, softly, so I wouldn't wake the neighbors. They didn't come. I called again. And whistled. Still nothing, except, in the distance, the muffled clanging of something bumping against the wire fence.

I went inside to get a flashlight, shined it from one corner of the yard to another until its beam fell on Gimpy and Levi. They were standing on their hind legs, stretching upward against the fence, their front paws batting at something I couldn't make out in the dim light. I could see that something's eyes, though. 

If I'd go closer, I thought, I could grab Levi by his collar. I knew that if I could do that,  Gimpy would follow Levi back to the house. In my ankle-length, navy-blue bathrobe, the one with the hood, the one that looks black in the dark, I traipsed through the damp grass toward the back fence. The dogs started barking. I wondered what the neighbors would think if the noise woke them and they looked out to see a dark-hooded form, holding a torch, moving through the pre-Halloween shadows.

Once I got close enough, I could see that the object of the dogs' interest was a possum (an opossum, if you want to get technical about it, but here in Louisiana we don't do technical) that was huddled on the fence rail, its prehensile tail just out of their reach. The possum wasn't moving, and the dogs wouldn't leave it. To lean over far enough to reach Levi's collar, I'd have had to turn my back on a possum that would be no more than two feet away from my head and shoulders. No way did I want to put myself in that position.

I turned around and slogged back to the house to get Levi's leash. And the camera. If I was going to risk letting a possum jump on my back, I was at least going to get blog photos out of the deal. 

Once more I trudged toward the back fence, a witchlike figure with a digital camera strapped around my neck as if I'd been elected public relations coordinator by a majority vote of the coven. I raised the flash attachment, pointed the camera at a patch of darkness in the general area of the dogs and the possum and hoped for the best. After half a dozen shots, the flash quit working (it's working fine today), but I got some pictures of the creepy thing.

Gimpy in the red collar, Levi in the black. 

Stealthy night visitor.

I got the leash on Levi and dragged him away, Gimpy followed as predicted, and we all went to bed and slept soundly. This happened several nights ago. I haven't seen any sign of the possum since. I know it's out there, though, probably nesting somewhere with its mate, the two of them raising a pouchful of ugly possum babies, teaching them to lurk in the darkness and look like they're planning to pounce. 

Are we safe in our own backyards? I think not.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Yesterday We All Died Laughing

Yesterday nine women--eight students and one instructor, all over the age of sixty--squeezed around an oval table in a pleasantly decorated room at the local center for senior citizens and took turns reading aloud to each other. It was the last class of our six-week session of Life Writing, and we were reading the homework that had been assigned at the end of the previous class: to write our own obituaries. Does that sound like fun?

You can't imagine how much fun it was. For one thing, we had snacks, brought from home to celebrate the completion of our writing course. We filled Halloween-themed paper plates with hummus and carrots, crackers and dip, caramel popcorn and fun-sized candy bars, then we chomped and chewed through eight recitations of death notices and the boiled-down biographies that accompanied them.

I think most, if not all, of us approached the assignment reluctantly, and, judging by the end results, we each approached it from a unique perspective. There were basic similarities, of course--names, dates, and lists of survivors--but there was so much more than that. The collection of readings ranged from poignant to humorous, from brief to expansive. There were burial instructions, last wishes, expressions of faith and love, and even some softly sung phrases from favorite funeral hymns. The experience we'd expected to be morbid turned out to be beautiful.

In between the readings, we talked. We talked about mortality, our own and that of loved ones, about special moments we'd personally experienced at funerals, about final gestures of love for the deceased. We spoke of the ridiculously high cost of publishing obituaries in the newspapers. We laughed about how squeamish our adult children are when it comes to discussing death and the decisions to be made in its aftermath. Somehow, in the years that have passed since we were their ages, we've begun to make peace with the inevitable. It was freeing to discuss end-of-life issues and ideas openly, to bat them around with no greater sentiment than if we were discussing plans for an upcoming ladies' luncheon.

The six-week Life Writing course that ended yesterday was the second session I've attended, the third for some, the first for others. Our instructor drives a long way to and from each class, but she keeps coming back, keeps urging us to dig deeper, write more, go into detail, tell our truths so that those who come after us can learn who we were and how we lived. And we do. We write about things that matter to us; in that way we get to know each other better and faster than we might if we were to meet under other circumstances. We write, we read, and along the way we build trust and friendship.

We're all different, the nine of us, and it's those differences that keep our stories fresh and interesting. What's most important about our stories, though, what makes us care about them and their writers, is that they remind us of the countless ways in which we're all the same.

Yesterday's class was reminiscent of the time just after a funeral's over, when family members and close friends gather at home, pull off their neckties or kick off their high-heeled shoes, eat comfort food from covered dishes delivered by thoughtful neighbors, and swap favorite anecdotes about the dear departed. They know there'll be plenty more crying in the days to come, but right at that moment it feels so darned good to laugh again.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Moving Day

Kim and her friends have been here with the big van, unloaded the furniture and boxes that are moving here with her, and gone on to take the rest of the load to the storage facility. We'll have other boxes and random smaller items to move in the car over the next couple of days, but as of tonight, she'll be living here again. She stayed with me for a couple of years when she first came home from New York, but that was more than a decade ago. It'll be a change for both of us. A good change, I think.

Her dogs, Lucy and Oliver, moved in a week ago so she could pack without their interference assistance. They're getting along beautifully with Levi and Gimpy, perhaps because Oliver established his alpha status a long time ago, and there's no longer any need to fret over it. Gimpy and Lucy have taken a special liking to one another. He waits for her before he goes outside each morning, and she occasionally seeks out his company even as she behaves as if Oliver and Levi don't exist. Levi has assumed the role of canine interpreter, serving as spokesman for the pack when it comes to letting me know what they want or which dog is in the process of breaking a rule. I appreciate his watchful eye; it's as if he's channeling Kadi.

It'll take a few days to get everything sorted out and in its proper place. It'll probably be an ongoing process for Kim and me to make the personal adjustments necessary to accommodate each other's needs and habits, but we're going into this arrangement with an abundance of love and goodwill, we both want it to work, and I'm confident it can.

It's a brand-new day.


The song is "Brand New Day" by Van Morrison.
Click here to read the lyrics.
Thanks to vanthemanxx for posting this video on YouTube.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Sometimes We Get Lucky

In May of 2007 I wrote about favorite photos I'd misplaced two years earlier. At the time of that post I'd given up hope of ever finding them, assuming I must have accidentally tossed out the file folder they were in when I'd last seen them. Last week, going through yet another plastic storage box stacked in the closet of what will soon be Kim's bedroom, I found the file with the photos in it. I felt as though this discovery was a reward from the universe, a vote of confidence that Kim and I are on the right track with her upcoming move into my home. It also occurred to me that there was a subtext to the message: Stop giving up so easily! I'll try to remember that.

The fact that these photos are some of my favorites doesn't necessarily mean that my daughters are all that crazy about them, so I hope they'll forgive me for posting them in spite of that. I bet you'll understand why I love them.

These little pirates are Kelli (on the left) and Kim (with her jaw stuffed full of candy) when they were 2 1/2 and 4 1/2, respectively. We lived in Bridge City, Texas then and snapshots from that period are rare.

This shot was taken in 1969 at a scenic overlook somewhere between Texas and Ohio. I don't know where the dog came from, but the expressions on the girls' faces show that they were more interested in the dog than in the mountains.

My daughters wouldn't be caught dead wearing these clothes in public, and they may kill me for posting this one. There was a lake behind our first house in Georgia--a lake full of catfish and also full of mallards. Unfortunately, the banks of the lake were covered in ducks--t, and the girls weren't allowed to fish in anything but their oldest, worst clothes. I hope that sufficiently explains Kelli's high-waters and Kim's shorts/tights combo.

Same lake the following summer (1973). Nobody ever swam in the lake (again because of the mallards), but there was a city swimming pool three blocks from our house. I like the view of the lake in this one, but what makes it special is the view of my daughters' pretty hair. I still remember how Kelli's curls and Kim's long, straight locks felt in my hands.  Edited 5/3/2014:  I have edited the above photo after realizing that this post gets a large number of hits from people who have seen this picture on Google Images and clicked on it for a closer look. One daughter is wearing a yellow bathing suit, the other an orange one, but I guess those colors don't show up clearly in a thumbnail photo. Ewww! 

This one was taken much later ('78 or '79) after we'd moved from Georgia to New York, back to Georgia, and then here--Louisiana. Kim was touching up her Farrah Fawcett hairstyle before heading off to her after-school job. So pretty!

This is my other pretty girl, Kelli, in 1980. I don't know where she got her natural curls, but I love the way this photo shows them off. The sofa in this picture is the bargain couch that lasted more than twenty years. On the wall behind Kelli are two of four door mirrors, with halves of placemats, cut lengthwise, between them. I had asked my husband months earlier to hang them for me, and he kept putting it off, explaining the complications of the arrangement I wanted. One afternoon it dawned on me that I could use a small book to measure the distance between the mirrors and a larger book, its spine laid on the back of the sofa, to measure where the bottoms of the mirrors should be. I had them all hung in an hour.

There were other photos among the missing ones, now recovered, but these are the ones I remembered when I'd think about what I'd lost. The universe gave them back to me, now I'm putting them out in the blogosphere.

Monday, October 21, 2013


It seems impossible that it's been two weeks since my last post. Where has the time gone? While I try to backtrack and figure out the reason for the time warp, I'll go ahead and post the most recent piece I wrote for the Life Writing class. Our assignment was to incorporate dialogue into a story.

It's been too long, of course, to remember anyone's exact words in a conversation that took place in the early 1950s, so I did the best I could to capture the essence of each person's speech patterns. In some cases I did use specific words or phrases I remember hearing them say, although they may have said them at a different time. Anyway, with the exception of the inexact dialogue, the story is true.

Sis, this one's for you:


My sister, Judy, and I grew up as part of a multi-generational family in our grandparents’ home in Springfield, Missouri. In addition to the two of us, the family included our mother, Wanda; her parents, Lola and Lewis, whom Judy and I called Mammaw and Packy; Mother’s much younger brother, Joe; and Mammaw’s mother, Dora, known to us as Grandma.

Linda, Judy, and Wanda

Most of the time there were a couple of college students in the house, too. We lived catty-cornered across the street from Southwest Missouri State Teachers College, and Mammaw and Packy rented out one of the upstairs bedrooms for five dollars a week to help make ends meet. The house was big enough that we didn’t feel crowded except when we gathered around the small kitchen table at suppertime. Thank goodness the college boys didn’t eat with us.

Mammaw and Packy (with Sugar, the parakeet)

Judy and I set the table every evening, and Mother washed the dishes after supper. Mammaw, a short, plump woman with dark curly hair and kind brown eyes, did all the cooking by herself, although Grandma offered assistance. Tall and slender at age eighty, her waist-length hair pulled back into a tight bun at the nape of her neck, Grandma would walk into the kitchen every evening and ask sweetly, “What can I do to help?”


Mammaw would answer, “Well, I reckon you could peel the potatoes if you don’t mind.” Grandma, who had senile dementia, would stand there for a minute, her posture erect while she studied the potatoes, then she’d mutter that she was a little tired and needed to rest, and she’d bow her head and leave the room. Minutes later we’d hear two voices raised in laughter as Grandma, her hands upraised and curled into “I’m-gonna-get-you” claws, chased Judy through the house. When they made a pass through the dining room, Grandma would spot Mammaw through the kitchen door. She’d stop chasing, walk through the door and ask again, “Could you use some help?”

Mammaw would say, “Yes, Mama, thank you, can you peel those potatoes?”

That happened several times every evening. I never saw Grandma do a single helpful thing, unless you count entertaining Judy, but if Mammaw ever lost her patience with the endless repetition, I didn’t see that, either.

Mammaw always tried to have supper ready to put on the table as soon as Packy, Mother and Joe came home. Mother and Packy both worked, and Joe usually stayed after school for football practice. Joe was more like an annoying older brother than an uncle. When Judy was five, I was nine, and he was sixteen, Joe was already over six feet tall. He was growing so fast that his body could almost be mistaken for that of a man, but his freckled face and mischievous behavior marked him as all boy.


Packy sat at one end of the supper table with Joe on his right. Mammaw sat on the other side of Joe, then, counter-clockwise, came Grandma, Judy, Mother and I. I sat between Mother and Packy. Thinking about that seating arrangement now, I suspect it was planned so that Judy and I wouldn’t sit next to each other, Joe would be separated from the two of us, and Grandma and Judy would both have someone close by who could help them cut their meat.

Our normal suppertime conversation wasn’t what most folks would consider stimulating. Mammaw might pass along some news she’d heard from a neighbor: “Miz Belisle says Cecil’s mama had the stomach flu four days last week. I swan, that poor ol’ lady’s sick all the time nowadays.” If nobody else expressed an opinion about Cecil’s mama or the stomach flu, Mammaw might turn to me, as she did during most meals, and urge me to at least taste the vegetables. “Linny Lee,” she’d begin, using the nickname I detested, “try this salad; it’s so fresh and good.”

“I hate salad,” I’d say sullenly, irritated that she’d called me that baby name.

Mother would quickly swallow whatever was in her mouth so she could remind me with her words as well as her eyes, “You need to watch your tone of voice.”

Mammaw would try again to make conversation: “Joe, what’d you do at school today?”

“Nothin’,” he’d mumble, then shove half a roll into his mouth, hoping it would deter her from asking any follow-up questions.

Mother occasionally talked about her day at work or her plans for the evening. Mother was a pretty woman, and she worked at the stock exchange. She was surrounded all day by old men who had nothing better to do than sit around and keep an eye on their investments and her stocking seams. “That old coot, Mr. Henderson, patted me on the fanny when I walked by today,” she reported. “He may be as rich as King Midas, but I don’t care; I told him he’d better keep his hands to himself if he knows what’s good for him.”

Mammaw, frowning, said, “Good for you, Wanda June!” Grandma smiled--she mostly smiled all the time--and took a sip of Judy’s milk, prompting an expression of righteous indignation to flit across Judy’s face before she remembered that Grandma couldn’t help the odd things she did and we were supposed to always forgive her.

Packy, dressed as always in khakis, his pants held up by suspenders, slowly shook his head and weighed in with a bit of borrowed philosophy: “It takes all kinds of people to make the world.” That was a longer sentence than Packy usually ever spoke at suppertime. He followed it up with an utterance that was more familiar to us. “Harumph,” he grunted, then nodded so that his head, his eyes and one index finger pointed at the green beans. Hands reached out from three sides of the table to get the bowl and pass it to him.

Things got quiet for a moment, except for the clinking of forks against plates, until a barely perceptible thumping noise started at Joe’s end of the table. Joe was using a knuckle to rap out the rhythm of “shave and a haircut, six bits” on the underside of the table.

Judy screamed, “I am not!” and erupted into sobs. Jaws dropped and all eyes turned to her.

“Judy, Judy, what’s the matter?” Mother asked at the same time Mammaw slapped a hand to her chest and exclaimed, “Oh, land’s sake! What in the world?”

“Joe said I’m fat!” Judy cried, tears falling on her round cheeks.

Joe raised his eyebrows and feigned an innocent expression, looking first at Mammaw, then at Mother, and lastly at Judy, whom he asked, “Are you nuts? I never said a word.”

Mammaw took up for him. “He didn’t,” she said, sounding relieved about it. “I didn’t hear him say anything at all.”

Mother agreed. She pulled Judy close as if to comfort her, but what she said was, “Stop it. Straighten up right now. Don’t be silly.”

Packy looked from one person to the other without commenting, his fork moving back and forth between his plate and his mouth in an unbroken rhythm. Grandma also looked from one person to the next, her pleasant smile seeming to say I’m so happy to be here. Aren’t we all having a lovely time? I pressed my lips together in a tight line and aimed my meanest glare directly at Joe. He blocked his face from the grown-ups by pretending to rub his nose with both hands and sneaked a smirk back at me. I knew what he’d done, and he knew I knew it.

Judy took a deep breath between sobs and tried to explain: “He did this,” she sniffled, demonstrating by tapping her spoon on the table: tap-tappa-tap-tap (pause) tap-tap. “That means I’m fat.” Again she drew incredulous stares from everyone but Grandma and me.

I backed her up. With the self-important air of a key witness testifying at a murder trial, I announced, “She’s telling the truth. I was there yesterday when Joe tapped that noise on the wall. He told Judy that every time she hears that from now on, for the rest of her whole life, she’ll know it means she’s fat. I heard him say it.”

Judy screeched, “I told you!” and her face crumpled up again.

Joe scowled and said, “Linda, you’re lyin’ and you know it,” but by then he was so pleased with himself and his acting ability that he couldn’t keep a straight face. A big grin fought its way past his scowl, and as soon as everybody saw it, the jig was up.

A chorus of adult voices began fussing at Joe. They scolded him soundly, then they all apologized to Judy and assured her that she wasn’t fat and that nothing Joe could ever say or do would make it so.

Joe’s in Minnesota now. He’ll be 78 in January. I bet he’s forgotten all about that incident. Judy remembers it, though. Every now and then, when she and I have managed to bridge the gap between her home in Texas and mine in Louisiana, one or the other of us will ask, “Remember this?” and tap out that little seven-note sequence. Then we both burst out laughing and start looking around for someone new to tell the story to.

One of these days, when we get really old, if you happen to see Judy or me sitting alone, rocking maybe, and smiling for no apparent reason the way Grandma used to do, it could just be that we’re thinking about that.

Monday, October 07, 2013


“Write as though you were writing about yourselves to your great-grandchildren.” Those are the words I noted about this week’s writing assignment, so that’s what I’ll do. If you’re reading this because you want to know about where I grew up, what things I did as a child, my two marriages, my thoughts about religion and politics, or my hopes and dreams, I’ve already written about all that, and you can read it on the Internet. At least I hope you can; surely some version of the Internet still exists in your day and time.

But if you are my great-grandchild or another direct descendant, then there’s really only one thing that’s important for you to know about me:  I love you. If you are Owen, whom I’ve held in my arms and watched grow almost too big for them, I hope to show you enough love that you’ll feel it, if not remember it, even after I’m gone. If you are another child, born too late for us to spend time together in person, then you need to know that I am madly, deeply in love with the very idea of you.

I’ve traced our family history back into centuries numbered in three digits, and let me assure you, you come from good stock. Also from some that was not so good. You can learn a lot about yourself by exploring the lives of those who came before you. You had no choice about whose genes you inherited, but you can freely choose whose behavior you want to emulate. I hope you’ll decide that the honest farmer and the hard-working country doctor are better role models than the cruel king, but that’s up to you. I can suggest that your life will be easier if you make good choices, but I will love you whatever you do.

Most of us mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers are quick to notice our offspring’s kindnesses and accomplishments, the deeds and achievements that lift our hearts and make us love you more than ever. A funny thing about us, though, is that when we see some less than desirable conduct on your part, we nearly always think the best way we can help you do better is by loving you more. That doesn’t always work, just so you know, but the occasional failure of the theory doesn’t diminish the truth of the emotion that inspires it. Either way, you are loved.

I also want you to realize that you’re not alone in either your joys or your struggles. In addition to the family you know now, there has been a large network of people who came before you who have held great hopes for you and have given conscious thought to what they could do to make the world a better place especially for you, whose name they didn’t even know. I’m only one of those people. You and I are part of a long chain, not only linked genetically, but also bonded by our shared history and by all of the emotional tethers attached to the word “family.” We are part of each other.

I am your past, and you’re my future. So, yes, child, I love you dearly.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Accentuating the Negative

This morning I'm working in my office, clearing, sorting, shredding, filing--that sort of thing. I just opened a small cardboard box that contained, among other things, florists' cards from my mother's funeral and a baggie full of old photographic negatives.

An idea hit me. I pulled out one of the negatives, placed it on a white sheet of paper, took a picture of it with my camera, then uploaded the image to my computer. This is what it looked like after I cropped away the white paper:

Next, using the "invert" filter in PhotoShop Elements, I changed the negative image to this very light positive one:

I then tinkered with the lighting adjustments (highlights/shadows and brightness/contrast) to make the picture as clear as I could and realized it's one I've never seen before. The final result still isn't great, but I recognize both the little girl and the outfit she's wearing from another old photo, a formal studio portrait. Here, after all the tweaking I know how to do, is an approximately 68-year-old snapshot of me, picking my nose.


While I was working on the photo, the music in my head kicked in with a fitting scrap of a song lyric: "I put your picture away..." Those words are from a really good song, and it's Saturday, so thank you, Inner Jukebox, for suggesting this week's Saturday Song Selection.

The song is "Picture," by Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow.
Thanks to alexiahazlett for posting the song and its lyrics on YouTube.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Old Notes

One reason it takes me so long to clean out drawers and closets is that I have to read every doggone piece of paper I find. This morning, going through the deep drawer of my nightstand, I found a pad of paper on which I'd written several notes--late night thoughts, apparently. It touched me to be reminded of Kadi, who was determined to be the best dog ever, and Butch, my beloved blind dog. And it made me wonder what in the world was going on in my life when I wrote those gloomy haikus. Here's what I had written:


Kadi holds her big biscuit between her paws, wedging it against her dewclaw, eating from one end to the other. Butch drops his biscuit on the floor, chomps a bite right out of the middle, hurries to eat both ends, then goes to where Kadi is and sniffs the carpet for crumbs.


Butch hovers beside me as I eat dinner, hoping I'll give him a bite. "Move," I tell him. He backs away a few steps, turns in a circle, then comes right back to where he was. "Back off!" I say. He backs up, walks around the coffee table and shows up on the other side of me. "Butch, I'm not sharing!" I say, sternly. He stands there for a couple of seconds longer, then crosses the room, exhales deeply in what sounds like a sigh, and lies down.


I'm watching a video about a 22-month-old girl taking her final exam in swim class. The child whimpers as the instructor puts her under the water over and over. The girl's mother watches but doesn't interfere. Butch, however, takes action. He eases himself off the futon and moves hurriedly to stand in front of the computer, his ears cocked and his forehead wrinkled as he tries to locate the baby in distress. The sounds of crying children and whining puppies never fail to get his attention.


There were so many adjectives in each sentence that I felt as if I were standing blindfolded in a pool full of manure and flailing around desperately in search of a point.


I asked you because
I needed some clarity.
You answered in fog.


What if my true thoughts
Were written on my forehead?
Who would love me then?

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Beside the Still Waters

See these pots drying on my kitchen counter? They were freshly scrubbed, but not because I'd cooked in them.

Yesterday morning as I sat here at the computer reading other people's blogs, my next-door neighbor called. "Is your water pressure low?" she asked. I had no idea, but I went to check on it while she waited and reported back to her that yes, it was low. Not much more than a trickle, in fact. She said she'd call the water company, then call me back.

Knowing I badly needed a shower before heading off to the writing class, I dug out my three largest pots, set them one by one in the bathtub, and slowly filled them all with water. I had bottled water to drink, so I figured I'd use two pots for bathing and save one for flushing. I'd make do if I had to.

It took a while for my neighbor to make contact with a human at the water company, but once she did, she called again and told me that someone had accidentally cut a main water line about a mile from here. The woman at the water company had told her, "They're working on it, but we don't know how long it will take to fix it."

I hung up the phone and headed to the bathtub while my potted water was still warm. I turned on the shower, mostly out of curiosity, and discovered there was enough water trickling out of it to wet down my body so I could soap it up and enough to rinse the soap off if I was very, very patient. I took a chance and shampooed my hair, but there wasn't enough water pressure coming from the shower nozzle to get a clean rinse, so I dipped a big plastic glass into my largest pot, many times, and poured it over my head until my hair was squeaky clean.

I've been reading lots of historical fiction lately in which characters struggled every single day to carry water from the nearest creek. That was their only option. Nowhere in any of those books was it written that even one of those characters felt as virtuous as I did yesterday about bathing in a small amount of water. I felt like a hardy pioneer woman.

If I'd had a mule and a wagon, I might have tried to get to class that way.