Strange Things

Strange things happen around you whether you notice it or not.

Last evening was one of those times.

I take the backroads to and from work. They are filled with fields and farms and a house now and then. The drive strips away all my crummy moods left over from work, and I come home a clean woman, ready for the evening.

The road itself makes three “S” turns, giving you a view of three different directions. Just after the third “S” is a huge field except for one acre that was carved out for a farmhouse. I remember when I first started working 15 years ago there was a white house on that lot and a big, dilapidated barn across the street.

I remember a kid riding a go-cart through the levels of the barn, a little old man laughing and watching him. It was a long time ago, but the memory stuck, so I wrote a short story about the old man and his ghost still walking the territory.

The house is gone now, as is the barn. The barn’s acreage has been replaced with fields of corn or soybeans, the house’s lot empty, yet mowed every year. I think about the little man every time I drive by, often giving a nod to the land he once called his.

Yesterday I made my daily morning trek past the empty parcel and there was a black truck parked on the cement triangle that used to be a driveway. I thought that odd, for there’s never anyone around that time of the morning, especially there.

Last night I was driving home from work when I was stopped by a car in the middle of the first “S”. He asked me to take an alternate route because there was a “matter” down near Freemont Street, the end of the third “S”. Dutifully I took the horseshoe around the countryside until I came to the junction of that road and the end of the last “S”.

You know how you sometimes get a feeling of foreboding out of nowhere?  I looked down the end of the “S” and there was yellow caution tape wrapped all around the old man’s acreage. Flashing lights blocked the road, and there was the same black truck parked back further on the road.

Yellow caution tape. On my sacred parcel.

Had the old man come back to look for his house that wasn’t there? Did someone make a sacrifice on my sacred land? Did one of his decedents commit suicide there? Or was it merely a gas leak?

I haven’t found out what happened, and don’t know if I ever will. But I feel as if someone blasphemed on that special place where the ghost of the old man still wanders.

Maybe I don’t want to know.

Like the visit to my old homestead, time changes things. Keep the memories and the inspirations of your first experiences and hold them close. For what comes out later is never the same.

For the past becomes nothing but ghosts in the night.

The Past is Not Always What You Think It Is

What is the quote —You Can Never Go Home Again?

Perhaps that’s not the correct quotation, but its meaning hit me this past weekend.

I have always dreampt of going back to where I spent the first 22 years of my life, the house I grew up in. Now leaving home at 22 isn’t a big deal except for the fact that it was 44 years ago. We always go back to my husband’s old stomping grounds in Chicago, but that’s because we go down there to see his brother who still lives in the house he grew up in. So we always got to experience where he grew up.

But never where I did.

So Saturday we went to pick up my brother-in-law from a physical rehab center two blocks from my old house, and I asked if I could be dropped off so I could walk around the block once more while the brother-in-law was checked out.

I remember riding my bike to the back side of the block, playing with the few friends I had. Drawing on a chalkboard in one friend’s screened-in gazebo; swinging on my friend’s swingset; Fourth of July tables in front of my house. Three brothers, three girlfriends, and my first two loves of my life lived around that block. I thought I would be swept away with memories and emotions and flashbacks to days gone by.

I wasn’t.

The only thing that hadn’t changed was my house.

The back side of the block backed up to the golf course, and all the small houses that used to be there had been torn down,  huge, gawking houses replacing them. Susie’s house is gone. I don’t even recognize Lucy and Rita’s house. On my side of the block there is an apartment complex across the street from my house where houses and fields once were; even the hospital rehab center is new. The school directly across the street has grown another floor, and there’s a stoplight there, too.

The whole area has changed. The two-lane road I used to play on at 3 o’clock in the morning while my parents were packing to go camping is now a busy four lane. Further away sit new shops, gigantic houses…nothing I knew as a child.

I walked around the block, hoping, praying I’d feel that knot of nostalgia that comes with dipping into the past. The house my dad built is still there, as was Andy the old man neighbors and Lynda’s sprawling ranch.

But the thrill I thought I’d find walking through my past never came.

Oh, it was nice walking around the peaceful back of my block; I even walked past my first love’s house…if it was his house…it was so different. I walked by John’s house, the boy who never knew I existed, and his buddies the Abbotts next door.

But John and Lucy and Lynda were long gone. It was time for me to let the past go, too. I’ve walked my last walk around the block of memories.

My memories, no matter how distorted, are much better.

 

Every Moment Is A Kodak Moment

I have been on a photography kick for the last seven years or so.

Oh, I took pictures when I was young. First married. Family, my brothers, my dad. With my kids through school and high school. But they are all sitting in a box somewhere, waiting for my A.D.H.D. to slow down enough to go through all of them.

Then came my first Smartphone.  And my learning about Picasa (which has turned into Google Photos).

I am hooked.

You would think I were a master photographer the way I run around taking pictures of everything. Of course, grandkids take up the majority of the space on both Google and my phone. Kids walking. Kids laughing. Kids falling down. Kids in daddy’s shoes. Kids standing on the picnic table. Kids Kids Kids.

None of those would win a photo contest, but to me they are unique moments in time that will never happen again. It’s like driving down a deserted road and watching a leaf fall from a tree. You are the only one in the universe that saw that leaf make its final journey to the ground. How special is that?

Of course, life is made up of special moments. 16 hours a day (the other 8 for sleep, a special moment all its own), 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year.

That’s a lot of camera moments.

I’m also the nature picture girl. I’ve got a thing about taking pictures of clouds, woods, water, animals (when I find them), plants, old houses, old barns — anything that looks like an elf or a faerie could be just around the corner. My husband chuckles at all the path-through-the-woods pictures on my phone. I mean — how many cool paths can there be?

At my age, EVERY path is a cool path. I imagine the turn in the road, the path not taken, the path that leads to Hobbiton and Brigadoon and Diagon Alley. That barn covered in ivy and disrepair might be the gateway to Neverland. That flower in all its unique glory could just have been danced upon by faeries. Pictures of unusual places and things tickles my imagination, and the most wonderful things come out the other end.

Maybe all this is nothing more than wanting to retain images of the things I love before the end. That when I’m old and gray I can look at these pictures and remember when — if at all. For we all have a “when”. And it flies by too fast.

Don’t be afraid to use your camera/Iphone/Android. Create worlds of your own with just a click. Delete the ones that don’t take you to Avalon, Asgard, or to your family and friends. Then let your imagination take you where it will.

Get the photo bug today!

Get Together Now!

mihai-criste-tuttart-2Driving up north to our 10th (or so) annual Ski weekend has me thinking about family and friends and how important they are in my life.

Do you do any “annual” things with your family or friends?

You should.

We have our Polish Sausage Making Party every year — those that participate say we’ve been doing it for 15 years. I look back on my life and remember the girl’s shopping weekends we used to take just so we could stay overnight and drink and eat and gossip and not drive. Further back, I remember fishing trips I used to take with my family; sticking bamboo poles in the muddy bank, playing hide and seek in the woods, and whispering about the strange old hobo man that lived in this nasty little shack down the road.

I wish our minds held more memories, don’t you?

I know I went places, did things, with family and friends. I get glimpses camping with my oldest being only 1-year-old, of taking my in-laws to Las Vegas two weeks before my mother-in-law served divorce papers to my father-in-law. I vaguely remember spending a week out in Seattle visiting a girlfriend when I was younger, and another week visiting a friend in Texas.

But that’s all I remember.

I didn’t take many pictures back then. The cameras were clumsy, and who wanted to bring film to be developed all the time?

These days my phone camera is full. There’s not a get together I don’t try and snap, a sunset I don’t capture. And that includes this ski weekend.

As I get older I find I’m forgetting more and more — not so much a dementia thing, but I’ve got 560,640 hours of experiences in my head. A bit much even for a human computer to recall.

That’s why doing things with family and friends is so important. So many of us hide behind the ego’s judgement of “they should call me” or “they didn’t invite me.” So we therefore skip over thinking or calling or doing something with those who really make our life full.

I learned long ago that it doesn’t matter if I’m the one who’s always calling. So what? Some people have quirks in their personality that stand in the way of their desire to do the same. It’s the same with planning things. I’m always “complaining” that I’m so busy all the time, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. Being busy means interacting. Growing. Discovering. You can’t do that locked up in your house behind a computer screen.

I encourage those of you who are on the bring of making plans to MAKE THEM. Don’t let whose turn it is spoil the possibility of a wonderful time. And wonderful memories.

One day your memories will begin to fade, and all that will be left is the smile that was created the day it happened. And if you’re lucky, that’s a hell of a lot of smiles to keep you going.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

shamrock-heart_designTo my Mom, who was Irish.  Miss you, Mom. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

*

*

Irish Regret

Bittersweet memories

Blur my perception of the past

Connection with my roots

Happened long after

My Irish mother

Went wandering

Into the Eternal Green

I always heard the song

Of the creative muse

In my head, my heart

My very soul

Yet my ignorance

Veiled the possibilities

Of today, tomorrow

And all that had been

My dearest Irish Rose

A perfume I rarely inhaled

Is your memory enough

To make the garden bloom again?

My mother’s secret shadows

Haunt me to this day

Leaving so many strings untied

If only I had paid attention

I should have asked about

Her blood so green

And history so ripe

Tales of the clan of Cullen

Too late came to light

Only to become part of

Yesterday’s sunrise

I’m sorry I didn’t feel

Your Celtic heart

Pounding inside of mine

I hold onto the strands

Of Irish dreams and songs

One last attempt to thread the tapestry

Of an ancestry so bright and real

I shine within my mother’s glow

And scream it from top to hill

My melancholy regret

Is that she’s not here

To dance the jig

And toast the shamrock

With her daughter so true

And so Irish

When Is A Holiday Not A Holiday?

grandmaI am beginning to see for myself why older people act and think like they know so much. Why their opinions are so die hard. So know-it-all.

I’m getting to be that way, too.

Sometimes the world seems so stupid. I know that’s a demeaning statement; it’s not fair to the rest of the world who is struggling to make it (just like me). But it’s a blowing-off-steam statement as well. For how many useless things and actions thread through our personal tapestry every day that sidetrack us from getting what we really want?

You know I don’t mean the obvious roadblocks — we all deal with them as they come. I mean the events that can (and should) be avoided that are always haunting us.

Being an “older” sprite, I can see the futility of trying to change a person, of wanting to be a vice president with a high school education, of trying to visit the capitols of Europe on a retiree’s budget. I mean, if you could you would. But some things aren’t meant to be. But instead of accepting what you cannot change (that wonderful adage), people spend hours and days and years trying to do just that.

Maybe it’s just that the older I get, the more roads open up before me. There are lots of roads that are closed, buried in rubble or sunk under the sea. But it’s like the roots of a tree — more sprout out every day. And when I see my friends, my acquaintances, my new found peeps, spending all their tears and energy and lifeforce trying to make it “better”, I get ticked off. For I find beautiful flowers trying to push the boulder out of the way instead of growing around it.

Take Thanksgiving and Christmas, for instance. Big, emotional holidays filled with nostalgia, made-up memories, and TV propaganda. People get so wrapped up in “family” and “being together” for the holidays they lose common sense. Their hearts are broken because A had to work or B got the flu and couldn’t fly in. They dwell in the mist of “this may be XYZ‘s last Thanksgiving with us” or “Why can’t Christmas be like when I was a child?”

Don’t they know that every dinner is Thanksgiving? That every day you open your eyes, take a breath of air, and see the sunshine, is Christmas?

Why do we need a particular day to focus our energy on our friends, our family? A particular day to give gifts, to cook a turkey, or to go to church? A has to work? Get over it! Nurses, waitresses, truck drivers, TONS of people have to work on the days you lay back and sing Christmas carols. B‘s got the flu? Better to stay home and get better than bring the germs cross country to incubate in the stuffing.

The same thing is true about remembering birthdays, anniversaries, and other man-created important dates. Maybe I’m biased about remembering these things because my hubby barely remembers those actual dates.  I don’t get flowers or diamonds or fancy dinners on those exact dates. But I’ve got a hubby that’s stuck around for 33 years, and we squeeze in dinners and buy plants in the spring, and it somehow has always worked out.

I don’t judge my life by the rememberance of wedding anniversaries or Christmas presents. I judge it by the times I’ve been able to say “thanks” over a meal, or by the number of sunrises and sunsets we’ve been able to share. I know I’m too old to start a new 9-5 career, but not too old to develop my writing one. I’m too old to play the “if he/she loved me they would ____”  For if he/she really loved you, they would. Period. It could just be that, for some reason, they cannot. And so it is.

I don’t think I’m a hard realist as much as I am an experienced dreamer. I have had dreams shattered, plans never come to fruition, loves lost. As I look through the tunnel backwards, I see how I could have turned a lot of keys sooner. How I wasted years angsting on things I couldn’t change. Things that didn’t matter.

Perhaps that’s what the older generation sees. They wonder why we worry about getting together on the holidays and worry about getting together tomorrow.

And that makes a whole lot more sense to me.

 

Flashbacks

zinniaThe other day at work I was cropping an image of a “pretend” penicillin bottle, and I swear I could smell that sweet, sticky medicine from my childhood. I found it amazing that a direct interaction with one of my senses (sight) could trigger a smell that I haven’t smelled in years.

Some people have constant triggers between scents and memories or sights and memories. All of life’s experiences are triggers, are they not?  There are negative triggers, too, but we’re not talking about them this fine Saturday morning. I mean the odd things that flash back when you least expect it.

I have a handful, too, but only a few trigger a stop-in-your-tracks kind of reaction. Whenever I walk into Menards the scent of lumber sends me back to the days when my dad took me to his construction sites.  Jergens lotion doesn’t nearly smell as rich and unique as it did when I was a teenager. Now and then, when an airplane passes overhead, I get a real nostalgic jerk back to being a little kid, swinging on my swing set, watching them following their flight paths.  A whiff of reconstituted dried onions makes me think of dad bringing home a bag of White Castle burgers, a real treat as a kid. And the weird scent of zinnias make me think of my mom’s garden. Hearing polkas (especially on Saturday mornings on some non-descript Wisconsin radio station) reminds me of my dad listening to them as he worked in his garage workshop.

Do you have flashbacks triggered from sights or sounds or smells? Pleasant, momentary dips into good feelings or childhood memories? I’d love to hear them. Maybe they’ll trigger memories for me, too.

Like the icky smell of penicillin.

A Little More Sprinkles

buddiesI am getting ready for a Celebration of Life this Friday for my younger brother whom I lost to the “big C” recently. The Grim Reaper has always been around us — me — it just seems the older I get the closer his scythe is getting to me. To have a younger brother cut down quickly by something no one knew he had is just one more wake-up call. Not that I’m not awake — I have treaded on thin ice a couple of times the last few years, and I realize that if I don’t pay more attention (well, even if I do), that that scythe can sneak up on me, too.

I wrote this blog a couple of years ago after the “Big C”. I think it’s an appropriate thing to repost this week. Pay attention, my friends. To your body, your mind, and your soul.

A Little More Sprinkles

The past few weeks have been the bottom of the roller coaster ride for me. After a bit of a medical drama, I am well, back into whatever groove middle aged women get into, trying to build my energy back up to see what trouble I can get into. How much trouble can a goddess like me get into? We won’t go into past details, but there have been times in the past that I have stepped over that preverbal line, most times with no consequences, other times being dutifully chastised and set back upon the straight and narrow.

The funny thing about my misadventures is that, in the eyes of the world (especially to those under 40), the things that I’ve gotten in trouble for are powdered sugar compared to what others have done. I have never hung with the “wild” crowd, never gotten arrested, reprimanded by principals, or been asked to leave.  I’ve led a pretty vanilla life and stayed fairly happy and clean cut. I try not to compare my life, my ups and downs, with others. For, as you know, you will always be overblessed in one way and underblessed in another.  My dirty laundry is someone else’s humorous fluff.

Going in and out of the hospital changes your perspective on a lot of things. Suddenly losing those last few pounds doesn’t seem so important. Or finally losing weight to get healthy rises to the top of your list. Your family becomes a priority, along with your health, your pets, and your pastimes. You sit and wonder why you’ve wasted so much time setting unrealistic goals and then were so hard on yourself when you didn’t achieve them. Your desires and your timelines seemed to have gotten crisscrossed, a Celtic design that has no beginning or no end. You will do A as soon as you accomplish B. You will buy outfit C as soon as you lose D pounds. You’ll go visit someone as soon as you (fill in the blank).

I know you’ve heard this story a thousand times a thousand different ways. Don’t wait until trauma and tragedy arrive at your doorstep before you learn to live your life.  Well, what do you do if that dynamic duo arrives at your door and you’ve already been living your life? Are you supposed to go further off the deep end? Are you supposed to  throw away the restraints of society and be a wild and free sprite?

I was lucky, not only to have a good prognosis, but to have wild and fun things to come back to. Our Polish Sausage Making Party has been going on for 14 years, an annual madhouse that seems to be growing every year. I had a laptop, waiting for me to create another fantasy, another out-of-the-box story. I have kids to bug and a grandson to spoil and friends to compare drinking stories with.  I have a room full of second-hand books waiting to be read, sweaters that need sparkles sewn on them, and sushi that  needs to be shared with girlfriends.

I decided long ago that I was tired of being on the outside looking in. I was tired of being vanilla in a rainbow world. I’ve always respected my bosses and the law, always been polite (sometimes to the point of nausea), and given money to charity or to my kids (sometimes the same thing). But I also found out that if you want something in  your life, you need to be the one to go for it. You can’t wait for those things to come to you. That goes for friends, restaurant reservations, and health issues. Sometimes “going for it” makes you a little more aggressive than you usually are. Succeeding at “going for it” makes you feel stronger and smarter.  It makes you raise your own bar a notch or two higher. And you have yourself to thank for it.

Going through a health predicament only reinforced the importance of finding out who I am and what I want in life. That what I wanted in my life is nothing more or less than anyone else wants. I just make sure I made lemonade every time I can. I make a point of getting together with friends often, and family birthdays become family reunions a  dozen times a year. I don’t want life to pass me by and at the end be filled with thoughts of why I didn’t do this or that.

You are never going to be rich enough, thin enough, smart enough, for A to really ever meet B. So take the victories you make along the way and celebrate them. Don’t spend days and months and years waiting for the “payoff.”  The payoff is here and now. If you pass up picnics on the beach with the family because you want to lose weight first, you’ve done nothing but miss a great picnic. If you wait until your kids are in college to go away for the weekend you’ll never get away, for most of the time they come back to haunt you. Turning down an invitation to walk through a festival with family members because you need to clean your house does nothing but toss another fun time into the twilight zone.

There is always room in your life for adventure. To cross some lines. To speak up. To stand up.  There’s always time for you to change your direction, your health, your dreams.  To be proactive. Not inactive. If the jester hat fits you, wear it! If bling is your thing, bling!  Always wanted to try and cook Thai? Go for it ― even if you’re the only  one who will eat it. Don’t wait for someone else to initiate a pizza night or drinks after work ― call, plan, and do it. Don’t sit around waiting for someone else to “take their turn.”

This is the only turn you’re going to get. Don’t let anyone else take your turn for you. There’s nothing wrong with vanilla, but just think of how much better it is with chocolate syrup and whipped cream.

And me?  I think I’ll try rainbow sherbet with multi-colored sprinkles. Can’t get enough of that color thing…

Repeat on a Saturday Morning

rI’m supposed to be vacuuming the house at the moment; the kitchen the next battle ground. But you know what happens when creativity pokes you in the back like a stick. I started organizing my laptop, which led to making sure I had copies of all my blogs, which led me to the one I did a few weeks ago about being published, which led me to thinking that maybe not all were able to follow the link, which led me to….well, you can figure out the rest.

For those who might have wanted to read my short story but never got a chance to follow the yellow brick road, here it is. I hope you like it.

We Speak as One

 

I don’t know how many of us are here now. Our weight steadily increased until one day the machines lay silent.  The parameters of our existence really do not bother us much anymore. Weight and length and color are nothing more than shadowed measurements of something once thought important.

We are tired, some of us more than others.  Our collective consciousness is slowly seeping out of this world, thoughts of ever-after more a smile than a possibility.  I think there are six of us here on this flatbed. We mouth colors of Regal Black and Arctic White and Matador Red, but no sound comes out.  Perhaps that is what we were once called.  It doesn’t really matter now.  Our identities no longer lay within the tints of our shell. The cold September wind is whipping around us, rhythmically snapping some long forgotten trim against someone’s bumper.  We lay together, six tall, waiting for our last road trip, trying to remember what we once were.

As we try to sort our individualities from of this pile of crushed and bent steel, wisps of once-upon-a-time mingle and become one long thought:  “I carried the homecoming queen in the high school parade was the fastest car in Jefferson County remember children fighting in my backseat on their way to grandma’s my engine never really ran the way it was supposed to.”  Our minds are slow now, almost non-existent.  I don’t recall if it was me that celebrated the millennium at a park in New Jersey or the Nova two stacks above me.  One of our back seats is full of motor oil; someone else’s is full of blood.  It’s these sorts of sleepy memories the six of us share now as our bodies are crushed to one-eighth of our former glory.  The white Toyota on top tries to boast of big V8’s and posi-traction, but the collective knows Toyotas never had those kinds of engines.  Red Bel Air doesn’t remember what year he came off the assembly line, but is almost positive the first song played on his radio was “Love Me Tender.”  The rest of us don’t know if that is true — most barely remember yesterday.

We try to recall a time when the roads were ours.  When our owners rushed home to wash us, took us on drives through the countryside, sat in front of houses while lovers said goodbye.  Someone says there was a time when pride of ownership was the foundation of his existence; the car on the top hasn’t been around long enough to know what that means.  One of us has been abused since we were bought off the lot; someone else swears they were pampered until they were driven off the road in a thunderstorm.

Black Skylark doesn’t send many vibrations through us anymore.  He lies at the bottom of this crushed steel heap, his days of glory long gone.  He remembers little, as his body was mangled beyond recognition by a high-speed drunk driver one Saturday night.  But it is just as well, he moans.  Our purpose was never to last beyond our usefulness. AMC Concord right beneath me is ever the optimist. Thinks his owner will come and reclaim him from the shadows of the abyss before it is too late. If I had much emotion left I would tell him it’s already too late. There will be no reclamation for us. Nothing but transition.

The platform on which we lay is cold and hard. There are no wrinkles, no folds, no contours of steel as with us.  We hear we are leaving soon — the one, last, great adventure.  Words in the distance barely reach us.  Scrap yard.  Recycling plant. Shredder.  Those words are alien to us.  Stick shift. Transmission. Spoilers.  Now these are words we understand.  Words that ring true about what we once were.  Who we are still.

Tired now, our collective efforts to share one last glimpse into our pasts are failing.  Style and accessories mean little when you are crushed flat against another.  Perhaps we were once fresh and new, but all that is left is this pathetic tower of crumpled steel and broken dreams

We…Speak…As…One

We…Speak…No……More……

Home on the Farm

034I have always enjoyed the feel of this blog…I try to make it light, witty, and, if I’m lucky, life-affirming. This is one side of me. Like all of you, there are many facets to my diamond. I read a very warm, articulate piece by my fellow blogger ittymac (http://ittymac.wordpress.com/) which made me think about all my other writing facets.

I’m going out on a limb this evening and posting one of my favorite stories. It’s about 1,036 words long, so it shouldn’t take you too long to read it. It is a tribute (in a way) to my father. I hope it touches you like it touched me.

Home on the Farm

He woke up before the crowing of the rooster, something he hadn’t done in a long time.  There was only one rooster left now, a strutting white leghorn with tan wings and black spots on his chest.  The old man stretched carefully,  surprised to find the shooting pains in his legs gone.  Remarkable. Last night the pain had been so bad he had to double his medication just to make it to his bed.  Now — now his legs felt sturdy and strong.

Sitting up in bed, his watery eyes looked out the window towards the coming sunrise.  The light sparkled like a million crystal chips shimmering at the edge of his vision, stretching the morning clouds into ribbons of pink and gold.  Someone once told him that the sunrises were brighter these days because of all the pollution in the air, but he didn’t agree.  John had witnessed many a sunrise on his farm, many a sunrise and sunset since his father plowed the land when he was a boy.  Maybe they all didn’t sparkle like this one, but they were all unique, all beautiful.

Climbing out of bed and into the bathroom, John savored  the fact that his bodily functions were once again running smoothly.  What an enjoyable respite from the dribbling and splashing he had been going through lately!  Looking into the mirror, his large blue eyes were the clearest he had seen them in a while, the age splotches on his face nearly non-existent.  His hands didn’t tremble as he shaved, nor did he need his glasses to comb his hair. It was about time.

Donning his flannel and overalls, John called his hound to come join him on a morning walk.  The 84-year-old had not wandered through his farmland in ages, and his legs felt so great, so strong, he couldn’t resist the urge to revisit fields that had seen better days.  Bouncer didn’t come running, though, but merely slept in the puddle of sunlight that fell in front of the living room sofa.  Fine, John thought.  Sleep the morning away.

Opening the back door, the chill of the morning air danced around him, invigorating his senses.  The scent of hay and grass filled his nostrils, along with the earthy sweat of horses and cows.  John looked down at his legs and for a moment worried they wouldn’t carry him across the porch and down the stairs to the old barn.  He hadn’t been able to make that trek in quite some time, his body having grown more useless as the years passed.  But this morning — this morning was different.  There wasn’t a cloud hanging over his thoughts anymore.  No depression, no drugs to slow him down. He could do it.

He cautiously moved down the stairs and followed the dirt path that led to the empty red barn. Vivid memories of his father and mother and brothers bombarded him as he neared the dilapidated structure. His parents had moved to Wisconsin from Poland, hoping to find freedom and a new life in the rural countryside that looked so much like their native land. His father tended 25 cows in his day; John almost 40 during his middle years. Adding chickens and a couple of bulls to the mix, he made a decent living, enough to support a wife and three children in the heyday of the 50’s.

But the kids grew up and moved to the big city, and his wife took on a bout of cancer about ten years back and never recovered, leaving the farm and livestock to run wild with abandonment.  John finally allowed the neighbor to plant corn in his empty fields, providing a small but decent return that, combined with his small pension, afforded him a comfortable retirement.

The past was the past, and now all John could visualize was the barn full of cows and the chickens raising a ruckus in their pen somewhere behind the milk cans and the  ’52 Ford pickup that was down a quart of oil.  His footsteps were lighter than air, quick and sure, walking the path they had carved into the earth for the past 80 years. He saw horses in the pasture and hay bales stacked up in the loft and barrels full of cracked corn.

It was incredible how good it felt to be alive, to feel the earth and the farm under his feet, the sunshine on his weathered face, to hear his children laugh and scream and chase the dogs around the front yard.  John fleetingly wondered about his newfound energy, the firmness of his limbs, the accuracy of his eyesight. There were no hints of arthritis or pneumonia; there were no more regrets about the past or thoughts of suicide. It was as if he had always been this way.

Past the farm equipment, through the barn and out the double doors on the other side, John spotted his wife sitting on the picnic table under the huge oak tree at the bottom of the hill, laughing and talking to his mother and father. Margaret took on a subtle glow as she beckoned him to join her under the overgrown tree.  His father sat in the wooden chair that used to sit by the fireplace, and his mother stretched out on a blanket at the base of the tree.  The kids squealed in the background, the dogs barked and the crows threatened from their perches atop the trees.

The sun crested above the distant pines and the rooster crowed, cracking the morning with its triumphant sound.  At that moment John heard a jumbling of sounds:  a phone ringing, a dog howling, voices and noises and the shattering of glass.  But it must have been the wind playing tricks, carrying nonsense through the open fields from the farms down the way.  He hesitated as a thought, a rationalization, tried to take form in his mind.  But it was gone as quickly as it appeared. The world was full of enchanting sounds and scents, and it all belonged to him.  He turned, and smiling, went into the arms of his beautiful wife.

The reunion had begun.   John was home. Home on the farm.

 

Trippin’ Right Along

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Gaelic Storm, Milwaukee Irishfest

One of the keys to surviving middle age is to balance your complaining with your freedom. People like to read about your older “boomer” adventures, but few have time to listen to a thousand words of whine. As a friend once said, things of a personal nature have a short shelf life, because people quickly confuse your madness with theirs.

I had a great time this past weekend. Went to the zoo with family, went to Irishfest Friday evening, then back to Irishfest all of Saturday with family and friends. The music lightened my soul, and walking and eating and talking with friends and family strengthened my heart.

That’s what people want to hear.

They don’t want to hear about my aching legs and feet, or my Alzheimer’s moment of leaving a tube of ointment in the bathroom stall, or the five dollars I lost by stashing it in a place that jiggles too much. No one wants to know that I took a tumble trying to step over a chain that was a wee bit too high for my short legs, or that the cause of my headaches was more likely from dehydration than stress.

People love to read that I took my grand-baby playing in the Irishfest park and that we walked to the lake and watched the boats and threw rocks in the water. They don’t want to read about the almost-twisted ankle I got because I climbed on rocks I had no business climbing on.

I wonder if I was this muddled 30 years ago? If I was as prone to forgetting and stumbling? Back then I’d get drunk and others thought it was funny and entertaining. If I’d do that now people would think it embarrassing and senile.  I’m sure I dripped food on my chest from the time I was 16; now, if I do it at 60, it looks like I’m feeble. I never was a jogger or a marathon runner, but having to stop and sit now and then makes me look like I’ve lost my get-up-and-go. Did I ever really have it, though? And did it ever matter?

Ah, but I don’t let that fear stop me from living. Neither should you. Once you get passed your bruised ego look at all the good things that come from it. I listened to music I loved; I played with my grand-baby and almost-grand-baby; I got a nice sun tan; I leaned to drink more water, I sang my favorite songs with the band; and walked so much my legs are ready to walk with the girls at break again.

I also learned that nothing is safe when hidden in places that jiggle alot.

Paint Who’s Wagon?

On this glorious Memorial Day I am reposting one of my most “memorial” posts from yesteryear. I hope you enjoy it!  Oh — and while you’re at it — take time and give a nod and blow a kiss to those whom we honor for their service to our country — today and EVERY DAY! 

 

What does it mean to be middle-aged? Is there a line drawn across the cosmic playfield that says on this side, you are old, on this side, young? If you love Big Band and Glen Miller, are you old? If you like Rhianna or Jay-Z are you young? If you like InSync or Boy George, are you just … weird?

The older I get, the fuzzier the line gets. I have friends on the 40/70-year-old line that lead fairly “normal” lives:  Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, Oprah. Then there are those who are a little more wild: The Shield, Sons of Anarchy, AC/DC. Where do most of us fit? How do we know where the line is between antique and hip hop? Between dancing and throwing our back out?

The trigger mechanism tonight was Paint Your Wagon, a musical made 40 years ago. Imagine:  Clint Eastwood singing. Lee Marvin dancing and singing about beans. This movie is 40 years old; twice as old as my youngest son. Yet there are some of us who sit around, laughing and singing the songs as if they were still on the top of the charts. When I watch musicals like Brigadoon and Sound of Music and Camelot, my kid looks at me like I’ve grown a second nose. Musicals give most teenagers the willies. If it’s not High School Musical or Glee, it’s not a musical. He shakes his head and goes to watch movies where people get their limbs cut off or that showcase breasts that hang out like watermelons in the summer sun or guys sitting around smoking weed and talking about getting laid. It’s at these times that I feel so disconnected. So…old.

I know that every generation has to evolve. What was fascinating, entertaining or daring to one group is not necessarily to the next. I find myself cringing at songs like Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini and The Bird is the Word. And those were from the generation right before me. I’m sure that same generation shivered at songs like Transylvania 6500 and Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree. Even my parent’s generation had dissenters: I have a song in my collection called If Swing Goes I Go Too by Fred Astaire, singing about “some old fogey wants to ration swing.” Imagine! Our parents being rebels!

Of course, there are many other reflections of generation gaps, many other blank looks from both sides of the fence when music and movies and clothes come to the forefront. I am not the first to discover that there are a number of meanings for the same word, and not everyone is on the same page of the dictionary. My son is fond of chillin’ and hangin’; I can imagine what that would mean to my grandfather’s generation. While I try not to use phrases that date me like groovy and far-out, I can’t help but fall back on standbys like cool and hunky dory, words that dance on the edge of fogey-ism.

I think alot about the generation gap. Not so much how I am on one side or another, but how I can bridge that gap. Sooner or later everything revolves back onto itself. Not back to exactly the same spot; not to the same beat (eight-to-the-bar, jive, waltz), nor to the same words (commie, greaser, beatnik), but to explanations for the same situations that haunt all human beings. As much as underwear sticking out from atop blue jeans and skull caps shake our interpretation of fashion, I imagine mini-skirts and go-go boots did the same for those who wore spats and garters.

All generations wander through the fog; some with purpose, others just along for the ride. All generations start out with a dream, a hope that they will somehow make a difference in their world. One way or another everyone wants to be noticed; everyone wants to be remembered. Some make slasher movies; others cures for diseases. Some climb Mt. Everest, others walk the track for Breast Cancer. For some of us the best we can do is pass along our lasagna or apple pie receipe. We all contribute in our own way.

But back to the over-the-top musical from 1969. Listen to the words to the title song:

Where am I goin?  I don’t know

Where am I headin’? I ain’t certain

All I know is I am on my way…

When will I be there? I don’t know

When will I get there?  I ain’t certain

All I know is I am on my way

We are all wanderin’, we are all goin’ somewhere. And few of us know when we’ll get there. And yes, we are all chillin’ and hangin’. We are all part of the same cycle, mixing and blending and blurring the lines of old AND new. Amazing what happens when all generations fall into the same pot — we become one amazingly flavorful stew.

Groovy.

What Is True Success?

So many things make us happy; so many things make us sad. So many times we wished we  had turned left instead of right; so many times we are soooo glad we did turn right instead of left. Sometimes I get really sad that I’m soon going to turn 60 — where has my life gone? Other times I look back and am sorry my mother never made 54. I’m sad that I had breast cancer; other times I’m so glad they found it when they did.

Life is packed with highs and lows, yellow and blacks, snow and scorching heat. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what it’s always been about. For us, for our grandparents, for George Washington and Kublai Khan and St. Joseph. I’m sure they all had a hundred things they wanted to do at one time, too.  Just like us. We all want to be appreciated for what we’ve done. What we’ve become. We all would like to think that our time here on Earth has been for the Greater Good.

This is not a confessional blog; this isn’t a tell-all or a bad news bomb.  I’m sitting on my sofa this cold Sunday afternoon, looking at the bare treetops in my front yard. Of course, you know me — I’m also watching football, eating lunch, doing laundry, getting ready to write some in  my latest novel, wondering what I’m gonna wear to work tomorrow. I’m also thinking about the fun I had with my grandbaby this weekend, thinking of taking some drugs for my achy legs, and feeling guilty I haven’t played fetchie with my dog today.

That’s really what this blog is about. Sometimes I feel I should be pushing this blog harder, trying to share the Word with more readers. Other times I think I’ve run this horse to the finish line, and should start a new creative venture.  Yet more often I think  I’ve let my writing simmer on the back burner for so long it’s started to dry up and stick to the pan.

How do you know if you’ve succeeded at what you tried to do? What is the measure of success? Big paychecks often are an indicator;  good health, always. Waking up every morning is a success all on its own. Family? Kids? Making the perfect apple pie? All of the above are successes if never done it before. Success has always been measured from the heart first, from the masses second. And often it takes on a meaning more cosmic than one thinks. I think I make the best spaghetti sauce this side of the Mississippi. If you don’t agree, does that mean it’s not good? Of course not. All it means is that I can eat it all myself.

Writing is the same thing for me. What is being a successful writer? Have I ever been published? A short  story here or there in the past 10 years. Have I won awards for my creativity? No. Have I ever I gotten a call or email from a publisher? No. Do I think I’m a successful writer? Yes. Definitely.  I’ve had people say positive things about my stories; I’ve brought smiles and tears to readers.  I’ve written 4 novels, 1 novella, 32 short stories, 42 poems, 84 blogs, and 3 novels in-progress. I think that’s being successful. Why? Because Ive continued to do what I love, no matter what the  result. I’ve had fun making friends, creating worlds, and trying things that make me uncomfortable. I encouraged people to believe in themselves, given life to middle-age heroines, and never killed off  the main character.

There are still so many paths to follow, worlds to explore. And that’s only after I play with my grandbaby, fetch my dogs, pet my cats, cuddle my husband, go to work 40 hours a week, clean my house, grocery shop, get together with family and/or friends, and dozens of other responsibilities. Life has only so many hours, and I’m still struggling on squeezing a few more out of every week.

So what this all boils down to is that I’ve driven the Humoring the Goddess train long enough. Hopefully I’ve encouraged you to believe in yourself, have fun with your life, and laugh as much as you can. There are so many things you can’t change, so why not toss your hands up and laugh and move on? You’ll know the things you CAN change..that little voice in your heart/head/soul is always there to remind you. Your job is to listen.

I have enjoyed entertaining you all these years more than you know. I have learned so much from you. I might try another blog, or finish one of my novels, or sit and spew poetry until I feel nauseated. I’m sure I’ll be back and visit sometime. If I start something new I’ll post it. I will look foward to hearing from you and YOUR projects. You will always find me at my email world…  humoring_the_goddess@yahoo.com.

There is always a path ahead of you. Always. It’s up to you which one you take, or how often you turn left or right. In the end, none of that matters — the only thing that matters is that you keep walking.

Keep Humoring the Goddess…and Loving your Life…

Claudia Anderson

Charmed

When I was in high school, charm bracelets (along with getting “pinned”) were the big thing. Some girls had wads of charms so thick they would leave dents in the wooden desk tops. Others, like mine, had a half dozen mementoes of graduation, birthdays, and a few others that, to this day, still make me wonder what they stood for.

 These days there are expensive, modern versions of the charm bracelet. Some have bead-type charms you string on sterling bracelets, everything from baby carriages to roses to moms charms to birthstones. There are token charms hanging in displays in department stores, shopping malls and internet jewelry stores, still an ode to the special moments of one’s life.

 I no longer have bangle jangle charms around my wrist, but I do have a handful of sparkles on a simple, long, not-gold necklace that I often wear. What’s on my necklace?  Well, I’ve got rings that my kids bought for me when they were in kindergarten, a ring that symbolizes my role-playing days, a silver “coin” for money, a rune with “enlightenment” carved on it, a dream catcher that used to be an earring, a plastic blue unicorn with his horn broken off, a faerie holding a blue globe (also a remnant from a pair of earrings) ― all sorts of nonsense that brings back memories and keeps me in good spirits.

 Do you have a charm bracelet or necklace? What hangs from your life’s testimony? What kinds of charms do you wear? Of if you could put one together, what charms would you add?

The Sashaying Mink

            I was sitting around the other day, talking with friends about fashion, and somehow it came up that I had two of my mother’s mink stoles in my front closet.  They are at least 50 years old, and although she passed them on to me, I’ve never had the nerve to wear them. After all, no one wears stoles anymore.  And, besides, I didn’t think it would look right to wear the things grocery shopping or bowling.  We all had a good chuckle, then one friend asked what I was waiting for.  How old would I have to be to not care what other’s thought of my wardrobe?

            I have spent the last ten years of my life trying to accept who I am, and being happy with said acceptance.  I have always been too critical of the way I look, and I’m finally at the point where I don’t cringe when I look in the mirror.  Why I wasted so much of my youth thinking I was going to blossom into a sparkling rose or a diamond beauty I don’t know.  I have learned that people love me for me. They accept me with my Rembrandt physique, unicorn obsession, and all.

            But back to the mink stole.  My friend got me thinking. I am finally feeling good about myself, who I am, and where I’m going. I will never be a runway model or Nobel Peace Prize winner, but who cares? I’m a lot more fun to be around. I don’t make a daily drama over which sweater to wear with what skirt, or how long my hems should be.  I’ve waited all my life to have a sassy, witty side, and I’m finally having fun letting these sides out of the box. I’ve changed my eating habits, my clothes, the books I read and the glasses I wear.  Why can’t I keep pushing the envelope and wear my mother’s prize possessions?

            I might not go to places where mink stoles are the height of fashion, but I do get together with friends and family who love me and enjoy having a good time with me.  We play games, we gossip, we laugh.  We support each other through surgery and unemployment and cancer and the passing on of loved ones.  We talk about each other’s health, libido and career, so why wouldn’t they support me if I wrapped a gorgeous mink around my shoulders? 

It would open up space to share stories about our mothers and grandmothers, about the way they dressed or the great meals they cooked.  We could talk about their lives, whether they went to school or worked on the farm.  We could share the heartache of losing our mothers at a young age or watching them wither away from Alzheimer’s or how we still enjoy being with her. We could share how much we missed our moms and grandmothers, or how glad we are that they are finally out of our lives.

            We are all rich in history.  Everyone you meet has a past, perhaps even a past life.  We spend so much time hiding behind facades that are acceptable to the population at large, and rarely take time to be just who we are.  Now and then it is prudent to keep your idiosyncrasies to yourself…after all, it wouldn’t do to dress like a Renaissance Faire wench at work or bring a laptop to the movie theater.  No one wants to hear you sing Bon Jovi in the bathroom, nor are they interested in your bedtime rituals. 

But what about the classical music geek who is dying to get out from under the cloud of secrecy?  What about the fact that you love tinkering with cars or that you look for the hidden meaning in Woody Allen movies? What about your collection of angels that can fill a small room or the songs you’ve written that you plunk out on a guitar?     

            Why are you hiding who you are?

            If you are afraid of others making fun of you, get over it.  People have made fun of us from the day we were born and will make fun of us long after we’re gone.  There will always be some goofy looking baby or toothy grade schooler or chubby high schooler that will forever look back at you in the mirror. You will always be who you’ve always been.  So why not have some fun with it?

            There is a game night coming up next month at one of our friend’s houses.  I think I will wrap one of the mink stoles around me and sashay into the world of daycare workers and college students and tool and die makers. I will bring the memories of my mother Rose along with me, inspired by the fur around my shoulders, and she’ll be right there, having fun with us, too.

            I think I’ll bring along the other one just in case someone else wants to sashay, too.