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You Can Feel It

IMG_0241The sun is hot and then it’s not.

The wind blows and the sky suddenly gets scowly with clouds and leaves you didn’t know had fallen begin scuttling across the sidewalk.

Temperatures swing from the high 50s to the mid- 90s in a single six-hour period.

Something is happening. The crickets know it; your skin knows it, safe from a weakening sun.

Even the crickets know it, who, at twilight, are buoyantly bowing away on their little fiddles but by 4am are dead quiet. Have they taken a fright at the nighttime cooling and are dummying up so as not to call attention to themselves?

I don’t know.

I understand almost nothing of the great changes afoot.

Here is a poem by James Richardson called End of Summer. It makes an sharp ache in my throat today. See if it does that to you: 

Just an uncommon lull in the traffic
so you hear some guy in an apron, sleeves rolled up,
with his brusque sweep brusque sweep of the sidewalk,
and the slap shut of a too thin rental van,
and I told him no a gust has snatched from a conversation
and brought to you, loud.

It would be so different
if any of these were missing is the feeling
you always have on the first day of autumn,
no, the first day you think of autumn, when somehow
the sun singling out high windows,
a waiter settling a billow of white cloth
with glasses and silver, and the sparrows
shattering to nowhere
somehow ARE the Summer waving that here is where it turns

and will no longer be walking with you, traveller,

who now leave all of this behind, carrying only what it has made of you.

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

EVERYBODY Sing!

karaokeDown here at the karaoke bar on this warm summer night, with a moon slim as a dancer watching all the action, things are gettin’ pretty lively. Four young women have just told the Master of Ceremonies that one of them has turned 21 that very day. “Born in the mid-90s, and drinkin’ here tonight, people!” he calls from the stage to the rest of us

“I have socks older than they are,” a mustachioed mutters, but the emcee does not hear him. Like a preacher with a killer sermon, he is busy building momentum.

The first young guy up sings something so wildly off-key that only the two great-grandmothers at the corner table manage to smile their encouragement. Everyone else talks right over him, some of them wincing as they talk.

Next, two ladies join forces for “We Are Fam-i-lee” (as in “I’ve Got All My Sisters With Me”) and the crowd stamps and whistles.

Now the emcee shouts, “At this juncture, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the best attorney on earth and on the moon, FRANK!”  and Frank takes the stage to deliver a tender ballad called “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off.”

“OH yeah!” cries a young woman with a drink in her hand.

Then, as if to illustrate its theme, she rises, her cocktail still in her hand, and begins executing that female dance move where a lady rotates her hips while languidly waving one hand in the air like a sleepwalker hailing a taxi.

In response, a young man moves toward this young lady, perhaps because her clothes have in fact begun falling off, in a kind Venus-on-the-Half-Shell way. He smiles to show harmless intent, then yells at the top of his lungs into her ear, which is what people have to do in order to be heard in settings like this.

She leans very far forward, whether in real or feigned deafness, prompting the three other guys who had come in with this brave swain to snap their eyes over to the slow loping rhythms of the ballgame on the wide-screen. No guy wants to be seen eyeing the cleavage of a girl another guy has begun the Great Dance with.

Now a man and a woman on the high side of 60 are also smiling and attempting to chat until, with a sour face, the woman’s girl-pal moves between them and says, “We are out of here. NOW.” 

So this 60-something woman bids the gent goodbye, though not before hurling a nasty remark at the back of her departing friend.

The gent just smiles philosophically as if thinking “Hey. Women: They come. They go. What are you gonna do?”

Next, a young guy steps to the stage and does a hip-hop song about love and body parts. Now, a stocky girl takes the mike for a growly version of Nancy Sinatra’s “Boots.” After that, a smallish young man tackles Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” the one song I have just recently been told is guaranteed to bring any wedding dance-floor to soaring life.

Finally, a man in his 70s comes forward and croons a pitch-perfect version of Louis Armstrong’s “Wonderful World” – at which point even that elegant slim dancer of a moon seems to bow in homage, just ever so slightly, in the moist summer sky.

karaoke night  1

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Hot Enough For Ya?

the magical keep-it-warm hot trayLet’s call this one “To Do List For a Hot Summer Day’ or… “Livin’ on a HotPlate’

  • 6:00am: Rise, run coffee IV. Shower, dress, and right now, while it’s still sort of cool, iron dress to wear for night’s dinner guests.
  • 7:00: If you really must serve broiled salmon on a day when temps are headed for the Self Clean setting, then broil it right now, before your eyes start melting and sliding down your face like they did yesterday.
  • 7:30: Hmmmm. Recall that you tend to smell like salmon when you broil salmon. Throw clothes off and shower again.
  • 8:15: Consider harsh penance of exercises your doc has you performing every morning. Not that you hate said exercises but so time-taking! Plan on doing later.
  • 8:25: Head for home office 20 feet away. Close door, to keep you in there.
  • 8:30: Get to work, first lowering window shades to keep out solar death rays.
  • 8:58: Ask self, “Why is it again that AC unit in window is off?”
  • 8:59: Remember: Electricity fizzles and fails with more than one such unit on. Must keep living room cool for dinner guests!
  • 9:00: Keep working. Drink from giant water bottle, stored all night in freezer.
  • 10:30: Recite pearls of Buddhist wisdom inwardly: To live is to suffer! Detach!
  • 12:00: Break for nourishment. Ask self what is a cool, easily-prepped lunch.
  • 12:05: Settle on couple of dabs of peanut butter spread on cool fluted columns of celery. Add sliced tomato, tangle of spring mix straight from the box. Toss back handful of almonds. Drink more water.
  • 12:30 Attempt penance of exercise now, the weights, the core work, the cardio.
  • 12:45: Epic fail on last. Nice try though! Take day’s third shower.
  • 1:30: Back in work space. Note small beads moisture gathering on keyboard. Automatic sprinkler up on the ceiling the cause?
  • Remember: IS no automatic sprinkler system.
  • 1:31 Slowly realize: Misty bits = own perspiration.
  • 1:32: Wipe off keyboard, keep on working. Write like the wind!
  • 1:33: If only there WERE a wind.
  • 2:55: Pause to peek out under window shade. Hallucinate sidewalk segments starting to slide, buckling and slipping like tectonic plates, one under another.
  • 3:00: Give up on going AC-less. Activate unit. Gulp down more bottled water, which is now body temperature.  4:00: Day’s final push in the writing department! Letters on the screen swarming. More hallucinations, or brilliant e.e. cummings-style invention?
  • 5:00: Conclude not likely the latter. Sigh. Close up shop and descend to kitchen to consider company dinner menu.
  • 5:15: Nix on steamed corn on cob. Nix on hot dinner rolls. Hell yes on cold gin. Pop same in freezer. Check on chilled wine.
  • 5:30:  Greet mate, home from nice cool workplace. Swallow envy. Fake a smile.
  • 6:00: Trudge upstairs for final hose-down. Climb into ironed dress. Brush teeth, bend to gulp cool water, right from the faucet.
  • 6:30: Guests arrive! Cold broiled salmon, unwarmed dinner rolls, greens right from the box – too hot to die from E Coli!-  and, just for laughs, raw corn on the cob, haha!
  • 9:00 Dress now all wrinkled, shoes now kicked off. Good times had by all! Good day in general, and what do the weather guys know anyway? Tomorrow just might be cooler, right?

dog cooling trick

  me once the guests left

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Now Showing

meteor shower by waterThe world, as usual, seems to be going to hell in a hand basket, but just before midnight last night, here on vacation in the Low Country with our little ones all asleep, some of us went down to the beach to see if we could spot some meteors – and did we ever spot them. The “we” in this case were my three grown children, called Carrie, Michael and Annie, and Annie’s husband, called John .

I’m a good deal older than they are of course, and I couldn’t see well at all on the long boardwalk down to the ocean, on the dark and moonless night.  I thought I could navigate my way by starlight alone but no: a quarter of the sky, low to the horizon, held a veiling of clouds in which lightning flashed and forked.

Somehow, though, far overhead, there they all were, our ‘old friends’, not our friends at all really. and not looking down at us as we once believed but just burning away, unmindful of us in our tiny world. 

John had a birthday yesterday. Earlier, with the children all still up, we celebrated with a fat chocolate cake and sang and he pretended to blow out the candles though a stiff ocean breeze did that for him half a second after we brought the cake out onto the deck. Born on August 12th, he has doubtless been told all his life that the Perseid Meteor shower coincides with his natal day. Anyway he sure knows a lot about it, AND the constellations AND the origin of the universe, this whole cat’s cradle of starry matter in which we are caught and held. He’s a big-picture type of guy as you would know if I hadn’t cropped this photo of him and Annie standing before a map of the world… 

annie & john at the top of the worldIn fact  Annie just joked via text when one of us asked where John was during the violent hailstorm that drummed us all into submission last week that yes, John was safe at home, out in the yard at present, explaining the Greek debt crisis to the dog.

Anyway, last night when we five got down to the water, we lay back in beach chairs looking up. Mosquitoes feasted on our ears and our skin went clammy in the tidal air. “Start by looking over by Cassiopeia there,” said John, pointing upward.

We did. A minute passed. We saw two meteors.

“I read where the stars really were brighter , maybe even closer, in the time of Plato,” somebody said.

“They were,” said John.

Another two meteors.

“So the universe really is expanding and cooling, cooling and expanding?” somebody said. It might have been me.

The others agreed that yes,  this was the case. A palmetto bug trudged over somebody’s instep and three more meteors passed.

“So where does it end?” somebody said. 

“It all collapses and goes dark. But well before that, like in three billion years,  the Milky Way will collide with Andromeda,”said John.

A thoughtful silence. 

“Will I still have my job?” said Annie in a small voice.\

Then a bat swooped low over Michael’s head, which caused him to give a yelp, and a second yelp as it swooped back up and swooped back down as if choosing him more truly.

Two more meteors, then three, then one. 

I stood up out of my chair then, thinking of my husband David and daughter-in-law Chris in our rented house with its honey-colored light.

 “Mum wants to go back,” said somebody.

It was true. Mosquitos had begun nesting  in the net of my hair and my neck hurt from all the uplooking.

So my youngest child Michael escorted me, almost as blind as his recent bat friend, along the 300 yards of skinny boardwalk. It was utterly dark among the palmettos and now came a loud rustling sound just two or three feet from us.

“What was THAT?” I said, though I wasn’t frightened. 

“It’s a deer, see it?” said Michael.

But I didn’t. And then I did. I saw its eyes, two close-set headlights, as they looked to me. I never did see the whole animal, but I guess that’s how we mostly do see, here on this mortal plane: in part, as the Apostle Paul wrote and one day face to face  – and would that not be lovely?

  

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Here at the Ferris Wheel’s Top

ferris wheelI used to think of us, at this high point of summer, as people perched at the top of a roller coaster’s first thrilling hill, but today I see that that’s the wrong image entirely. It’s no roller coaster that we are on, lurching gear by gear to the top of its climb, then dropping so fast our eyes can’t focus. Rather it’s a Ferris wheel, that stately old machine into whose gently rocking seats we are strapped, then lifted slowly skyward, pausing in our ascent until the carts are all full, and those at the bottom are strapped in too.

It doesn’t matter that those others are strangers to us. We are all on this ride together in the pale-yellow mornings and the violet-hued twilights; all of us together on this great wheel of Time. 

I hear tell that even as we here in these northern climes are kicking off our sheets and flipping our pillows to find the cool spot, it is winter in Argentina. In New Zealand. In Mozambique. I hear this but I can’t ever believe it, quite, not as a person who, in order to visualize ballet of our solar system’s, still needs to have one person stand in the center while nine other people orbit around him, turning in small circles themselves. 

This makes me sound like kind of a C-minus student of the sciences, I know, but I find I don’t mind that; I don’t see myself as more than a C-minus grasper of much in this world.

At this time of year I’m more than happy to see myself as the soft animal that every human being is, not especially fleet of foot, undefended by natural armor, a small creature fated to return to the earth far sooner than many creatures with shells, or tusks, or fins. And what kinship I do feel with all creatures waking to these warm summer days!

  • Take this array of ladybugs on my windowsill, who appear to be lazily arranging themselves into a necklace of red and black seed pearls, as if for their own idle amusement.
  • Take this 18-month-old I saw at the electronics store, who decided to lie right down on the carpeting near the adapter/powercord/and earbuds wall. I saw him on his little back, dreamily waving his arms over his head and I wanted to lie right down right beside him and do the same.
  • Take the lone turkey I saw last night, head-bobbing his way across a busy street as we humans in our passing cars braked quickly and stayed braked before passing him oh-so cautiously, and going on to warn oncoming cars of his presence.
  • Take my neighbor’s cat who is the exact color of a butterscotch sundae and who comes each morning to tickle her tummy by strolling slow and easy through the flowerbed that lies between our yards.

Slow and easy is how I want to walk now too, noting every least thing as we sail high over the fairgrounds. 

We’re at the top of the Ferris wheel still in this first full week of August, and the ride up has been plain lovely. We need only remember, as the days keep growing shorter, that the ride back down can be mighty lovely too.

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Old Things

glass liquor bottle 1890sI love old things. One of them you see here, a bottle from the 1890s or before, meant as I am guessing, for spirits of some kind. You can’t really tell with the label mostly effaced.

I came upon this and the item below while going through a nasty drawer full of junk under our kitchen’s utility sink. It was in the 1980s that these two items first came to our notice from their sleeping-place deep down in the earth . It happened when we excavated a portion of the yard to expand our antiquated kitchen.

I don’t know what the builder was thinking when he laid out the original room when the house was new in the 1890s. Even by that era’s standards, it seems a truly terrible space to for the preparation of food. I say this because in all the 90 years before we came, this kitchen had remained the same. Sure, the stove had been swapped out and the old stove still reposes, a slumbering whale in our basement. The refrigerators got swapped out too, from the original icebox to electrified coolers, like the 1920s-era version that also slumbers below stairs.

But the basic layout?  Unchanged in all that time by which I mean to say that when we got here, there were no cupboards above sink or stove or fridge. If you wanted a cupboard you had to walk in to the next room, a room grandly called, in those days, ‘the butler’s pantry’. I called it that myself  – I had grown up in a house with room we called the l pantry – until I realized my small children thought I was talking about a pantry without a butt. (It must have been my Boston accent.)

Additionally, there were no surfaces on which to set things in this kitchen we inherited in the 1980s. Not a countertop in the place. If you wanted a surface, you had to walk into another room called the larder, where there were wooden shelves, wooden drawers and a lone square of marble for rolling your pie dough on. If as the cook, you needed to pare the potatoes you stood at the sink. When you needed to whip the potatoes, you sat at the wooden table in the room’s center and worked with the bowl in your lap.

And when our family of four sat at that table, still situated in the room’s center, we were all squeezed in so tight that someone had to vacate his seat and push in his chair in order to open the fridge for a forgotten item, and another person had to do the same so someone could check the oven to see if the brownies were done.

We couldn’t wait for that renovation. It brought us not only a larger more airy space in which to prepare and serve meals to friends and family, but it also delivered to us this last old item: a railroad spike from… who knows when, as Its irregular shape argues for a vintage older still than the 1890s. Today I am thinking hmmmm: the old Massachusetts town of Concord lies only a few hills and laps distant from here.  Maybe this is the kind of spike driven in to the earth when they first laid that Boston-to-Fitchburg run in the 1840s, and the iron monster  so shattered young Henry Thoreaus’s peace of mind over there in his cabin on the banks of Walden Pond. Anyway, here is ‘our’ spike, seen against one of my cookbooks for scale.

IMG_5179

The past is all around us, no doubt about that! Now if I could just talk to Thoreau, or Emerson, or Walt Whitman, or my girl Emily D. over the road there in Amherst. Where do they go, the dead, the silent dead?

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2015 in always the past, death, Time

 

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On Houseguests and the Laundry

Carrie packing it up to go homeFor most of the last decade I moonlighted as a massage therapist, and this story begins in those years.

It begins on the day a tall big-boned woman of 75 appeared in my office for her first appointment. After completing the intake form together, she and I entered the massage room itself where she took one look at my thickly linened table and without preamble turned to me. 
“So you’re Irish,” she said.  “How did you know?”I said back, startled.


“Hey just look in the mirror” she shrugged, and then nodded toward the table. “And I see you do a WHOLE lot of laundry!”
 
“I sure do!” I sigh, thinking of the Santa-sack of sheets and face-cradle covers I toted from office to home and back every day.

“Well,” she went on matter of factly, “it’s lucky we Irish are good at washing because we sure ain’t much in the kitchen!”

I laughed out loud then. And I’ll admit that for all its ethnic stereotyping, her remark about laundry has made me smile many a time since that day.

In fact I am thinking of it now. Why? Because for the last two weeks we have had five extra people in this house, three young children and their two parents.

They are family so I love them already, but the truth is I love it anytime guests come to this house and sleep over. I just find the arrangement so …cozy.

I mean sure it was a little more work having five  ‘boarders’ for a fortnight. And yes the children brought with them everything but their very beds; from favorite books to their stuffed animals to the small electronic devices all school-age kids seem to have these days.

But in general they were among the most low-impact guess we have ever had. They prepared the food. They cleared the table. They loaded the dishwasher. They emptied the dishwasher.

And when they climbed the stairs for bed each night, they did so taking every last sneaker, bookbag and babydoll with them, leaving our first floor as tidy as the rooms in a funeral home.

They left this morning, – that’s a picture of my girl Carrie above starting to make their move – which is why I find myself now once again doing laundry.

I have gathered the linens from four beds and a crib; I have dragged downstairs the tall damp mountain of towels left in their wake, and all these I have submitted to the slow churn and gurgle of the washing machine; to the busy spin of the drier.

And now, in remaking the beds, I am finding traces of this family’s stay. Here, for example: here is a tiny sock. And over here: here is a small stuffed bunny.

I’m also learning things as this task progresses. I’m learning that one child appears to have slept all these nights with a giant box of tissues right in under the covers with him. I’m learning that his mother has curled up all these nights attended by a travel pillow in a hand-stitched pillowcase case from the 1890s.

Chiefly I am relearning things I already knew. I’m learning again that I rather enjoy sending a fresh clean sheet aloft with a billow and a snap, whether it is to settle finally on a message table or a bed;

And I am learning again that I do so love the feeling of having lots of people here in the dark midnights, all breathing safe and quiet under the same roof. It’s what I imagine God must feel too, gazing down, from that Heavenly realm, on all our little heads.

callie in her bed-within-acribour littlest houseguest, 

 

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Exit Only

Because one minute you're a baby and the next you're getting the senior discount - and there's no reversing direction!

Flaming Honesty

By James Christopher Darling

Something Like a Storybook

This is where Morgan Bradham shares.

Days Like What

There are 24hrs in a day, here are mine.

Storyshucker

A blog full of humorous and poignant observations.

The Freelance Retort

Because one minute you're a baby and the next you're getting the senior discount - and there's no reversing direction!

uppervalleygirl

Another Good Day in Rural America . . . . . . . © 2012, 2013, 2014 Ann Aikens ~ all rights reserved

Eating The Week

Week-size morsels of the stuff we eat

Exit Only

Because one minute you're a baby and the next you're getting the senior discount - and there's no reversing direction!

Flaming Honesty

By James Christopher Darling

Something Like a Storybook

This is where Morgan Bradham shares.

Days Like What

There are 24hrs in a day, here are mine.

Storyshucker

A blog full of humorous and poignant observations.

The Freelance Retort

Because one minute you're a baby and the next you're getting the senior discount - and there's no reversing direction!

uppervalleygirl

Another Good Day in Rural America . . . . . . . © 2012, 2013, 2014 Ann Aikens ~ all rights reserved

Eating The Week

Week-size morsels of the stuff we eat

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