Category Archives: Drafts

I Envy the Trees

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I envy the trees. Their mindful growth. No worry of the future, no regret of the past. Only reach. Grow. Endure winter. Expect spring.

I envy the flowers. Bloom authentically. Attract bees. And butterflies. And buggy bugs. Smell delicious. Scatter seeds.

I envy the path. Cares not where its going; nor where its been. Not burdened by guests; insects, mammals, humans. Not lonely with the lack thereof. Here for those who seek.

I envy the sky. Stormy anger. Bitter rain. Peaceful blue. Quietly watches. Patiently listens. Trustworthy secret-keeper.

I envy the soil. Cool, earthy, deep. Receives the trees, the flowers, the path. Consumes the sky. Provides.

 


I promised.

As promised, I’m letting you know that I found the picture of me in my little pixie cut. So homely, I’m cute. And after all these years, I have to say it’s true.

Peace . . .

 


Over the Drinking Age

2.20.14 VFW

Shot of the VFW out the sunroof of my car

He was a pleasant-looking man, probably a little older than I.  He mocked himself as he wheeled across a floor littered with tables and chairs.  It was clear he had only one arm to work with.  I debated between whether to help him, or preserve his dignity and let him do it himself.  Eventually he was close enough to engage conversation.

His first words were, “You’re beautiful.”  To be honest, most of the people in the VFW sport grey hair.  One quarter of them are women accompanying their husbands.  The other half are lonely.  So I suppose I stood out, but I never know what to say.  I said “Thank you,” because I’m told that’s the correct response.

He told me his name, and asked to buy me a beer.  “It’s not necessary,” I told him.  He said he wanted to, so I showed him what I was drinking, and allowed him to order a beer and chat for a while.

Back in 1980, I was working the store alone, as I often did.  A class ran downstairs — I want to say it was woodworking or tooling of some sort.  It drew men who often ogled me through the glass.  Only once was I approached.  It was one of the younger men, using a crutch and missing a leg.  He asked me on a date.  I told him no — probably too quickly.  I explained that I had to go home and pack because I was moving to an apartment closer to work.  I realized it sounded like an excuse, yet I was glad to have a real reason to decline.  I was nervous and unaccustomed to random men asking me out.  I often wonder if he knew I shot him down so quickly because I was shy, or did he think it was because of his leg?

Here I was again, older, much wiser, in almost the same situation.  I remembered the guilt of turning the younger man down, and had no intention of reliving that, and no honest reason to refuse.

It’s a happy place, a good  casual spot to grab a cold beer after work, and I know a couple of the  women who work there.  While he went up to the bar, my girlfriends took their break and sat down at the table.  I prefer bellying up to the bar because it’s easier for men to join you at a table, but the stools were all taken tonight.  When he brought my bottle to the table, it was clear he was a regular, which made conversation easy.  We passed around pictures of their grandchildren, who were adorable, of course.  Eventually, the women went back to work, and I was left to make small talk.

He strained to find the words he needed, but I learned about his boys and what he had done for a living.  The details were difficult to understand.  He struggled to remember if he was 72 or 65 or some other number.  Then he would get frustrated, and say, “Oh, screw it!”  Which made me laugh.

So while he spoke, I had time to think.

What is it about a bar that makes women so approachable?  Had I been in a restaurant or coffee shop, it’s unlikely that anyone would have spoken to me.  Bars are social, I suppose.  I really enjoy stopping for a beer after work on a Friday, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends.  Unfortunately, because it’s so rare to see a woman alone in a bar, they assume I’m looking for company.  I’m not.  I just want a cold beer and to check emails on my phone while doing some serious people-watching.

Was I leading him on by letting him buy me a beer?  I’m not sure.  Maybe I should have said, “If you’re looking for someone to chat with, you can join me whether you buy me a beer or not.  If you’re looking for someone to date, you should know I am not available.”  But what if I really want to be alone?  Then I should say “No, thank you,” and risk feeling awful about it.  Why do men put women through this?

Don’t think I haven’t tried the shoe on the other foot.  I know what a leap it is to ask someone if you can buy them a drink.  But at what point am I obligated to say yes?

  • because I know it took a lot of courage to ask?
  • because I know he had more obstacles than most to overcome?
  • because I’m in a bar alone, and I should expect to be approached?
  • because I don’t wear a ring on my left hand?

Back in the 80s, my desperation overshadowed what little confidence I had, and men avoided me like the plague!  Nowadays, I’m not the least bit desperate, and am quite comfortable in my skin.  Men sense these things.  I get hit on a lot more in my 50s than I ever did in my 20s, and don’t think I don’t appreciate it!

I met Bubba in a bar.  He let me buy my own drink — the first one anyway.  I can’t resist a man who enables my independence.  It’s a good story and one worth telling someday.

That was back in my 40s, and apparently I still have it.

My girlfriends tell me I have to come back for the VFW BINGO.  My daughter tells me she loves BINGO, but I still regard it as something little old ladies do on Sunday afternoons.  I looked at them and said, “How old do you think I am?”

Peace . . .

 


Ode to an Ornament

UntitledLittle ornament, I sometimes think of you on the warmest days of summer, waiting silently and patient in your storage box of red. You quietly guard so many memories beneath your glassy wings.

The day we brought you home, my mom and me, we found you hanging from a needled branch on a department store christmas tree.  The music piped, the lights twinkled, and we saw you dangling there.  We laughed at your tiny feet, your silly eyes, and eggshell hat.  My mother said, “It looks so fragile, I don’t suppose it will last a year.  But it’s so silly I think we need to get it, don’t you?”  I emphatically agreed as the saleswoman wrapped each of the ornaments we had chosen in layers of tissue and placed them in a bag.

Every year as you emerged from your ball of crumpled paper, Mom would exclaim with delight that you had made it one more year. And every year so far, you have.  Do you remember the year we brought you up to the cabin in Wisconsin?  You swayed nervously on the feeble bough of a tree so small we tied it to the window to keep it standing.

You’ve survived toppling trees, wagging tails, and even curious toddlers. You’ve seen the birth of many grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.  You’ve seen tears of joy and laughter.  And you’ve seen the tears of remembrance.

You see, you never know when you’ll open a box and the thing you find most precious is broken beyond repair.  And everything it ever was will remain only in the heart of those who love it.

Thank you for reminding me, especially at this time of year, that life is fragile and fleeting and to cherish my loved ones with all my heart while they are within the reach of my loving arms.

Peace . . .


The Hardest Gift 

   
 We are now only one turkey dinner away from being launched into the official gift-giving season.  I know that sentence made you cringe. There’s all kinds of bad juju wrapped up in there.  It brings to mind long lines, empty wallets, and whiny kids waiting to sit on a strange man’s lap. Tell me, when else do we let that happen?

And there is the added stress of finding that one gift that will change someone’s life forever. I received one of those gifts the last year of my mother’s life. It was the hardest gift I’ve ever had to receive. 

It was a pair theater tickets to the musical The King and I.  She loved the theater.  All four of my children had attended by the time they were six. She made sure of that.  We have a wonderful Children’s Theater in Minneapolis, and the productions are amazing. 

The catch was that it was a pair of tickets for the both of us. This would, under normal circumstances, have issued no grief on either of our parts. But these were not normal circumstances. Since my mom’s stroke six months earlier, I had only taken her out once or twice.  

At the risk of sounding shallow or selfish, I tell you I was afraid.  My mom had always taken me out to the theater. I followed her leads, and let her help me.  This was going to be very different. And it went beyond what I wanted to do or any fears I might have had. My mom wanted to go to the theater one more time. And she wanted to go with me. 

When I showed up at her house, her live-in caregiver greeted me at the door.  Mom was wearing her prettiest black dress, though it hung lake drapery on her thin frame. She wore makeup and held a small black bag, the tickets tucked securely within. 

I pulled up to the front of the theater, as she instructed, parking in front of the valet.  She pressed some bills in my hand, telling me to give them to him as a tip. The valet helped me unload and unfold the wheelchair. Leaning down, I wrapped my arms under hers, and around her back. I lifted her to her feet, supporting her while she shuffled to position herself in front of the chair.  The valet held the chair steady and, once seated, asked her if everything was okay. She nodded, and he grinned wide as I handed him the money she had provided. 

I was walking a tightrope, balancing between helping my feeble mother and letting her help me, as it had always been — offering some small piece of normalcy in the otherwise implausible life she now lived. And yet, it was no act. This was her world, not mine. I needed her every bit as much as she needed me. 

I followed her crooked finger, turning this way or that, past elegant ladies and handsome men. We took the elevator to an usher who directed us to one of the seats next to a bit of open floor where we parked and set the brake. It wasn’t long before the lights dimmed and I allowed the tears to swell in my eyes. 

I was ashamed at my nervousness and astonished at my pride. Proud for facing my fear, for having her want to spend this precious time with me, and proud, as always, to be seen with her. 

I’m not sure how she did it, perhaps by sheer will, but she made it to intermission without vomitting. You see, this is what really killed her. She kept very little food or drink down. Her voice was weak and coarse from the irritation of it. And she was slowly wasting away. But the fact is that the first half of the show was quite uneventful, aside from the magnificent story unfolding on stage. 

  
We pushed out to the lobby, each ordering a glass of wine against my better judgement.  We exchanged small talk, and I made sure she was comfortable. Back in my seat, the alcohol calmed me and made me sleepy. 

The man next to me leaned over me to ask my mother how she was enjoying the play. I will forever be in this nameless man’s debt. Perhaps he sensed my trepidation. Maybe he just wanted to make an old woman feel seen and heard. But his conversation brought me relief and I will always remember him.

The lights dimmed again, and the actors took the stage. I scarcely remember the production.  Each nerve in my spine stood rigid and ready, like taking a newborn home for the first night. I waited until it came. The retching. The straining. I held a bag with one hand while soothing her back with the other.  While I measured the distance to the door and which was the worst distraction to the audience, it stopped. I handed her tissues, and it was over, and the musical concluded in one grand finale.  

Before we left the theater, we found a wheelchair-accessible restroom. I wheeled the chair in, locked it in place, and asked what she needed next. Mom assured me she would be fine, but that she would leave the door unlocked, “just in case.”  I paced outside like an expectant father, waiting and listening for what seemed too long a time. When at last she emerged smiling, she suggested we find dessert. 

When the evening concluded, I left her in the capable hands of her caregiver. We kissed and hugged and exchanged thank yous. I imagine she slept well that night and awoke the next morning with a happy heart. 

As for me, I haven’t been to the theater since, and when I do it will never be the same.  I am ashamed to admit the fear I felt. I hope I was able to hide it.  Yet she was my mother, and mothers have a way of knowing.  

I’m not sure who received the greater gift that night, the giver or the recipient. And I can’t tell you whether the gift I received was the honor of having been chosen to receive it, ot the strength I found in carrying it out.  But I can tell you its greatness lies within the mystery. 

Peace . . .

  


The Behavioral Science of Snow Removal

Schneeschaufel snow shovel

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It occurs to me that those living closer to the equator may not have the luxury of appraising neighbors on methods of snow removal.  By closer I mean closer than one of the northern-most United States of America.  Mention you are from Minnesota, and people immediately conjure images of wolf-like dogs racing across an open tundra, a parka-clad rider mushing them on in search of the next meal of blubber.

Yeah, it’s something like that.  Only I’m in my Dodge Neon, the dog has positioned herself on the center console looking out over the dashboard, and I’m on my way to the supermarket.  Sure it’s cold, and there’s snow on the roads.  It’s Minnesota.  It’s winter.  Get over it.  The minute a flake falls from the sky, everyone wants to know what the roads are like.  My answer?  “Eh . . it’s winter.”

And with the season comes the practiced art of snow removal.  Minnesotans have been removing snow for centuries.  Technically, the snow is not removed.  You can’t remove snow unless you bring it inside, melt it and flush it down the drain.  No, we move it.  From here to there.  Sometimes, we have so much snow to move that we scoop it up in front loaders, empty it into dump trucks and haul it away.  I’m not sure where they go with it, but if it were me I’d haul it to California.

While snow in the city comes with parking bans, tow trucks and impound fees, in the suburbs it’s all about what your neighbor is doing.  Why should winter be different than any other season?  As soon as the lawn is covered, and they can no longer judge the green of your grass, they will begin to analyze the white of your driveway.

Technically speaking, if one does not remove the snow from one’s driveway, the snow will eventually remove itself.  However, if your intention is to leave the snow until it melts in the spring, after driving over it and the fluctuations in temperature, you’re going to end up axle-deep in frozen ruts going nowhere fast.  I think all Minnesotans can agree that some amount of snow movement is necessary.

You have several options, offering various stages of effort and cost.  You can buy a shovel or hire a kid to shovel you out.  You can buy a snowblower, or hope a neighbor brings one over.  Some people put a plow on the front of their truck and not only plow out their place, but make money plowing out others.  My dad used to take out his four-wheel drive with the plow on the front and drive around looking for little old ladies shoveling their own driveway or families stuck in the ditch.  His pay was the smile on their face.

Once suburbanites have chosen our option of snow removal, we are obligated to assess our neighbors’ methods and motivation.  It is safe to say that a homeowner can be accurately labeled by the driveway he keeps.

  • The Gambler:  This guy checks the forecast first.  He may leave up to three inches lay if he thinks it will melt by 2 p.m. tomorrow.  If the stuff is still falling, he gauges the weight per shovelful, duration of snowfall, and rate of accumulation before making his plan of attack.
  • The Sloth:  This one owns a snowblower, but will wait to see if it melts first.  He is often seen three days later carelessly snow-blowing ice chunks toward windows and small children.
  • The OCD:  He is out there with his shovel as soon as a dusting appears.  Unfortunately, as soon as he finishes the bottom of the driveway, the top is already accumulating snow again, and he can’t possibly go inside until the whole thing is clear.  You might want to bring over a cup of hot chocolate or a small meal.
  • The Over-Acheiver:  You can spot this star student by the way he not only shovels his sidewalk and driveway, but his effort extends to parts of the yard, and even into the street.  Where other houses’ curbs slope naturally to the street, his is cut at a 90-degree angle exactly at curb depth.
  • The Good Samaritan:  This guy can often be spotted down the street, snow-blowing out every plow drift along the way.  The plow drift, as Northerners know, is what the city plow deposits at the end of your driveway after you have meticulously cleared it out.  The Good Samaritan wears a frost-encrusted smile accompanied by a frozen-snot icicle mustache.
  • The Homeschooler:  You can spot this one by the number of shovels lined up in various sizes outside the door.  While the shovels are in use, please slow to 15 mph as children will be present.

Me?  I’m inside huddled next to the space heater.  The chimneys across the street are emitting a steady flow of horizontal steam, communicating a cold, steady wind against a sunny blue sky.  I can hear the rhythmic scrape of Bubba’s shovel, his black toque bobbing occasionally above the window sash.  He finally invested in a snowblower this year.  And as Murphy’s Law dictates, I think we can forecast a fairly light year for the stuff, rarely dropping enough to start it up.

Maybe that makes me the smart homeowner.

Peace . . .


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