Tag Archives: Daddy

Cook Until Done

I’m bringing the carrot casserole to our family Thanksgiving at Cowtail tomorrow. Any potluck, buffet or repast wouldn’t be a family dinner without it. I’m not even sure where it came from, but the dish entered the family cookbook after Daddy and Gay married in the early 1980s. Come to think of it, I’ve never been served carrot casserole at any other family’s table or at a restaurant so it may be unique to our family.

Carrot casserole. You can pretty much figure it out from here.

After 20+ years of making it a couple of times a year, I don’t consult the recipe or measure anymore. It’s about 2 lbs. of peeled carrots, sliced and parboiled. A half of a good-sized onion, minced. A good measure of the sharpest cheddar cheese at hand. Two dollops of mayonnaise. More salt than you think it will need but it needs it. Mix together and spread into a lightly buttered casserole dish, usually the Corning French White that I got for wedding gifts a lifetime ago. Top with some seasoned stuffing mix that’s been tossed with a little butter. Pop it into a 350 degree oven.

And that’s when I stop to smile as I remember the last line of Daddy’s recipe:

“Cook until done.”

I love the shorthand of it, the way that my father knew that I would know when the dish was right. Cook it until it’s done.

One Thanksgiving when I had just moved out on my own and was learning to cook for real, I wrote the carrot casserole recipe down on a sheet of yellow legal paper as Daddy dictated. My handwriting was young and strong and girlishly loopy. Back then, before keyboards and touchscreens and voice to text apps, I still used my handwriting all day, every day. Back then, I could call my Daddy if part of the instructions didn’t make sense. I can see his hand (back when he still had all of his fingers!), the way he punctuated instructions with his fingers splayed apart and used them to show a pinch or a stir or a scatter. Then when the instructions were over, he would do that little upward flip of the palm to show that it was finished and relatively simple and he had absolute faith that I could do it. Just keep going until it’s done.

When I went out to get some grocery things this afternoon, my heart was torn about–of all things–pie. Daddy was big into pie and Thanksgiving is the Pie Holiday. I remember a year at Joe and Beth’s house when we had SEVEN kinds of pie. I don’t know how to make pies. I usually choose cake over pie. But my heart hurts for pie this year. Emily posted a photo of an apple pie with a perfect scatter of autumn leaves cut from dough across its golden top. Daddy did that.  Diane’s pecan pie displayed geometric precision in both nut placement and fluted edges. Daddy did that. Jo had a couple of sweet potato pies going alongside her greens. Daddy did that. Mir baked pumpkin pie with gluten free crust and burned the first one then tried again until it came out perfect. Daddy did that too. Well, not the gluten-free part, but the trying again part.

So with my dangerous combination of heartache and enthusiasm, I found myself in the baking aisle this afternoon, talking myself into a 2 or 3 pie commitment on top of the carrot casserole, the cranberry relish, and the rosemary roasted butternut squash I was already down for. I don’t even own pie pans so there I was in front of the disposable aluminum pan display, trying to invoke the spirit of Sam Garrett (who would have been at Williams-Sonoma three months ago to stock up on pie tins).

As I weighed the difference between 9-inch and 10-inch with lids or lidless, a tiny woman at my left elbow cried, “Ten dollars for a turkey pan? Lawd, they got to be kidding me!” I helped her check to see if any of the sizes across the bottom shelf would work but none was cheaper than eight bucks. Three stair-step girls in winter coats and neat braids waited behind the woman. The youngest, about five, wandered over to a display. “Grandma, look! They got snowman marshmallows!” The tiny grandmother waved away the marshmallows with the turn of her hand, fingers pinching the air to sketch a silent “no.”

The girls stayed quiet as their grandmother pulled silver pans from the shelves. She asked me for my opinion on the turkey pan situation. I pulled out one for lasagna that would be big enough. “This one’s six bucks, with a lid…” I offered. The grandmother–who in all honesty was about my age–held up her hand to show me a folded bill. “But I got $5 dollars and that’s ALL. I got everything to cook but I don’t have a pan.” We both turned back to search the shelves again.

An answer came to me as simple as “Cook until done.” I knew what right looked like in this situation. I opened my wallet and pulled out a $10 bill. “Here you go. Get what you need.” She flung her arms around my neck and we patted each other on the back. I whispered, “Grab a bag of those snowman marshmallows, too.” She squeezed my hand and chirped, “Y’all get you some marshmallows!” All three girls reached for a bag each, felt what it felt like to hold them, then the two older girls put theirs back down on the display so the littlest girl could carry them. We picked out a roasting pan and a couple for casseroles then shared one more hug before the family went on their way.

I walked away with a lighter heart and a much diminished need to bake pie. Pie was Daddy’s love language. Mine might be giving what I have to give.

Cook until done.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

Living or Nonliving

How do we know if it’s living?

A few weeks ago, after he had spent an afternoon with me at my office, Carlos and I stepped off the curb and cut a diagonal across the parking lot towards my car.

“Mama? What’s trees–living or non-living?”

“What do you think?”

“Living.”

“What tells you that they’re living?”

“Trees can grow. They drink water and eat…what trees eat?”

“Um…They absorb some nutrients from the ground through their roots. And I guess you could say they eat sunshine–they can turn it into energy like you turn food into energy.”

I pointed to a sleek gray Tesla parked in the spot reserved for the radiation oncologist. “What about a car? It drinks gas and it can move around. Living or non-living?”

He giggled. “Cars are non-living.” Before I could ask him, Carlos asked, “Why cars non-living?”

“They can’t grow or change or make more cars.”

He clambered up into his car seat and while I fixed the tangled straps he pulled his prized rocks out of the cup holder.

“Rocks are non-living.”

“Exactly. They don’t eat or grow or change.”

“There are fwee types of rocks,” he told me. “Igmeous, selementary, and mectamorphic.”

“Good job, bud.”

I love kindergarten science.

 

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The Thin and Sudden Line Between

A few hours after Carlos and I talked about living and non-living in the hospital parking lot, I got word from my cousin that her mother was going into hospice care. Aunt Dixie, who baked the prettiest pink cake that ever was, had been sick for over a year with a lung infection that just wouldn’t give in. But even as sick as she was for as long as she was, she was still 100% living. I pictured the delicate green chair that she had been sitting in on Christmas Eve. Everything else in that room is the same, the chair waits for her, but she is gone. That’s the way it goes–we’re absolutely alive and suddenly we are absolutely not.

I was there when Richard slipped across that profound line between living and non-living. When I leaned over him to check his oxygen cannula, he was living. The strange clatter of his ragged breath disappeared into the air between us. I straightened the clear plastic tube under his nose to make sure he was getting all he needed. Was it the silence or the stillness that I noticed first? He took no next breath.

I think now about that first blustery day when we met on the side of the highway, the first time we stood close to each other and our breath mingled in the living air. Saying hello, and help, and thank you for the first time. I value every breath from that first March day to the last March day. He was 100% living and NEVER gave up. I suppose that’s why, even after 10 months of watching cancer eat away at him cell by cell, the moment when he slipped across that thin line took my breath away.

 

Left: Beach gravel Right: Leukemia cells

Left: Beach gravel
Right: Leukemia cells

Some Things, Say The Wise Ones

By Mary Oliver

Some things, say the wise ones who know everything,
are not living. I say,
You live your life your way and leave me alone.

I have talked with the faint clouds in the sky when they
are afraid of being behind; I have said, Hurry, hurry!
and they have said, Thank you, we are hurrying.

About cows, and starfish, and roses there is no
argument. They die, after all.

But water is a question, so many living things in it,
but what is it itself, living or not? Oh, gleaming

generosity, how can they write you out?

As I think this I am sitting on the sand beside
the harbor. I am holding in my hand
small pieces of granite, pyrite, schist.
Each one, just now, so thoroughly asleep.

The last trip Richard and I took together was to Maine. We sat beside a harbor like the one Mary Oliver captured in this poem. He ate a cinnamon roll that was bigger than his head. I took a picture of our feet with the boats as a background. Richard had burned with a strange and painful fever the night before, but that morning we were 100% living.

At a beach made of smooth pink stones in Acadia National Park, I slipped two small rocks into my pocket. All these years later, those rocks are asleep upstairs in a bowl on the book shelf. A pair of ancient and silent stones that aren’t living and never have been, but when I hold them in my hand, something else comes to life, a memory. A memory of living, a generous time when I lived my life my way and cheered on the clouds. A memory of the days when our life was blindly and blandly about living. A few days after that, Richard was diagnosed with leukemia and our days became consumed with staying alive.

Given the fear and sadness that entered my life on Richard’s last breath, given the hollow fact that Carlos won’t remember his Papa, my Daddy who would have been 75 today…How will I teach Carlos about living? Not just the facts about living, but the giddy joy of living? The living in a world of pink smooth stones, whether we can say if they are igmeous or mectamorphic. The living in a world of roses and starfish that are always going to die, every one of them every time.

I will teach him to love it all. Oh, my dear boy, the easiest way to tell whether something is living is to know that it can die. Love anyway.

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Build Me a Son Like Joe

For 50 years, the world has been home to my brother Joe. For 48 years and 2 weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of being his little sister and sometimes making him cry.

Aunt Smarts, Aunt Fancy, Unca Joe, Aunt Sassy

Aunt Smarts, Aunt Fancy, Unca Joe, Aunt Sassy

When we were little, I’m sure I made him cry in frustration a time or two. Now that we are older (some of us more than others…), I like to make him cry happy tears by holding up a mirror to show him what a fine man he has become. I wrote that piece a few weeks ago called What Does Love Carry In Its Hands? My brother is the perfect example of how to be good at loving the world. His hands are never empty–he carries hammers and hams and small people who need strong men.

He’s made me cry a time or two. Like that time when Richard was in the hospital and I invited the family over on Labor Day. When I mentioned how much I hated the chain link fence around the pool, he and Daddy set to work and by the time I got back from Kroger with dinner, my family had that fence rolled up and gone. I stood in the bedroom window and watched them, crying. Joe is the kind of man who always has tools around, in case something (or someone) needs fixing. After all that sweaty work, Joe manned the grill when it was time to cook dinner. I handed him a pack of tofu dogs. He cried.

Mr. Fixit

Mr. Fixit

A few months later, everybody cried when Richard died, but Joe didn’t show up with empty hands. We had planned to greet family and friends after the service at the church, so there were sandwich trays for that crowd. I hadn’t planned on all the folks who gravitated back to the house afterwards. We didn’t have much lying around to feed them. Then Big Gay opened after a knock at the kitchen door and there stood Joe with a glistening glazed ham. “Did you just drive around with a ham in your car?” she asked. “Yep,” he said. “Someone died…you make ham.” I cried.

Baby Carlos and Unca Joe

Baby Carlos and Unca Joe

Now that I have a son of my own, I cry when I see my little boy run to his Unca Joe for a hug. Back when Carlos wasn’t very social, Unca Joe was the first relative that he identified with, that he sought out, who was allowed to love on him, whose name he remembered weeks later. Joe picks Carlos up and tosses him over his shoulder, toting him like a sack of giggling potatoes. That sight always makes me cry. Joe teaches Carlos that he is loved and he is safe. Last year, we were at Cowtail for Easter. Joe had a drill out, fixing an old chair. The loud noise made Carlos cry. Instead of telling Carlos to toughen up, or saving the task for later, Unca Joe called Carlos over and explained the drill to him. He helped Carlos hold the weight and aim the bit then let this little boy do the work. Carlos crowed with delight. I cried.

Sack of taters

Sack of taters

When Joe’s oldest son was christened, I didn’t know what kind of gift to give. Instead of a thing, I found this prayer and shared it with my brother. He cried.

A Father’s Prayer for His Son

By General Douglas MacArthur

Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid; one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.

Build me a son whose wishes will not take the place of deeds; a son who will know Thee—and that to know himself is the foundation stone of knowledge.

Lead him, I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort, but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenge. Here, let him learn to stand up in the storm; here let him learn compassion for those that fail.

Build me a son whose heart will be clear, whose goal will be high, a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men, one who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past.

And after all these things are his, add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor, so that he may always be serious, yet never take himself too seriously.

Give him humility, so that he may always remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, and the meekness of true strength. Then I, his father, will dare to whisper, “I have not lived in vain.”

He read it, standing there in the colorful nursery of his own tiny boy. He cried. He handed it to Daddy, and Daddy cried too. The only person in that room who understood how much Joe loved Grant was Daddy, because he could look upon a son who had been built strong and funny and kind and gracious and brave and gentle.

A fine family: Joe, Jake, Beth, and Grant

A fine family: Joe, Jake, Beth, and Grant

Joe, I hope that you know you are loved and admired every day, not just early in November. I hope that you know that, judging by the men you are raising, you have not lived in vain. I hope you know that our father, who loved you so, could dare to whisper, “That’s my boy. I have not lived in vain.”

Happy Birthday. Now let’s eat some smoked pig. We can blame the smoke if there’s any crying.

Household Spirits

“Mommy, I’m having that anxious feeling again.” Vivi and Pengy curled up on the couch next to me, ten minutes past bedtime. I stretched her legs over mine so i could rest my hand on her knee.

“What’s got you feeling anxious?”

“I’m scared of ghosts.”

Roman statue

Roman statue

I gave her a skeptical look. “Are ghosts real?”

“No…I know, but Myca was talking about maybe Biscuits is a ghost cat. Like there’s this cat spirit and it lives in the woods until it decides to come out and haunt a family…”

Biscuits heard her name and promptly hopped up on the couch with us. I tucked a long curl behind Vivi’s ear. “Honey, if you know ghosts aren’t real, it doesn’t really make much sense to get worked up thinking about them.”

“I just can’t stop thinking about them. They might hurt us.”

“OK. Well, if you are going to think about ghosts that might want to be hurtful, then why don’t you also think about the ghosts who are on our team?”

She twisted up her face and gave me a sideways look.

“So let’s say there is some kind of life after this one and there are some ghosts that linger on. If that’s the case, then the spirits that want to take care of us hang around us too?” She was thinking about it. “Like Papa. You’d have Papa on your team of friendly ghosts.”

“And he’d be…” She threw her voice down into a gentle growl. “…you better get in here!”

“Right! When you were a little baby, there was one night when I was so anxious that I couldn’t sleep. I remember leaning over your crib and wishing I could quit worrying and go to sleep. So I summoned my protector spirits and asked them to sit on the roof of the house and watch over us.”

She lit up. And I did too.

“I imagined my Pop on one corner, and my Grandmama Eunice on another corner and Daddy’s daddy–the first Carlos Jose–was out there, and I imagined Richard right up on top of the roof because he wasn’t afraid of heights. Now we’ve got Papa up there too, watching out for us.”

Vivi shook herself back into worrying and stuck her finger in her mouth. “But how could they keep us safe from mean ghosts?”

“Papa was a really good shot when he was young. He won riflery medals. And he was strong! He could throw a cow to the ground with a rope and his bare hands.”

She caught the tail of the story and held on. “What about your grandmama?”

“Oh, well she was a gentle lady but she would not tolerate any foolishness. And if you messed up, she made you pick your own switch. Do you know what that means?”

“Like you had to spank YOURSELF?”

“No, you had to go out to the yard and break off a switch and then she would spank your bootie with it.”

“What about your Pop?”

“Pop wasn’t a fighter that I know of, but he chewed tobacco…”

“So he could SPIT AT THEM!”

“Yes!”

G walked into the den. I asked him, “Hey, Daddo. What would your father do to protect us if he was a friendly ghost?”

“Oh, my father, he was a pretty laid back guy.”

“Right, but if someone threatened you?”

“He’d get his father’s Beretta from the war.”

Vivi hooted at the idea of all these fiercely friendly ghosts hanging out on the roof.  “What about Richard?”

“I always pictured him right up on top of the roof, sitting lookout. Richard knew a lot about how to take care of himself. He knew how to fight…”

“Like karate chops?”

“Not exactly, but, well, just stuff. He wouldn’t let anybody get in this house.”

It took a few more minutes, but eventually we sent her off to bed with no more worries about ghosts in the night.

Our talk got me thinking the Roman belief in household spirits. The lares domestici were the spirits of family ancestors who watched over the home and hearth. Each lare protected a specific physical spot (for example, a 1961 ranch house with a little girl trying to avoid her bedtime).

If the family moved, they took their lares with them. The lares sat out on the table during meals. They received offerings on important days and they witnessed family events like marriages. Remember, in the movie “Gladiator,” those small carved figures that Maximus carried with him in a little leather pouch? Those were his lares.

Roman bust

Roman bust

On that night several years ago, when I couldn’t imagine a way to let myself rest now that I was responsible for a tiny sleeping wonder of a child, I called upon my lares domestici. Pop, who smelled of Levi Garrett and I can hear his smooth fingertips glide over the pages of a Louis L’amour novel while he guards his corner of the roof. Grandmama Eunice, dressed for church in a purple pantsuit with her purse on her lap, keeping watch over her corner with a Sunday school teacher’s all-seeing and all-loving gaze. Carlos Jose the First, quietly singing a lullaby in Portuguese and watching over the dark backyard where the hummingbirds sleep. Richard sitting watch on the crest of the low shingled roof, never in need of sleep, never daydreaming.

Now I see Papa sitting beside him. Telling stories, talking politics, enjoying each other’s company. Keeping watch until morning.

When my child finds herself wandering off into the frightening dark maybes of the world, I call her back and remind her that there is more good, more protection, more fierce and unfailing love around her.

 

Know How to Receive This Gift

I owe y’all an update on the kitten! If we’re friends on Facebook, you already know the surprise ending (spolier alert: WE GOT A NEW KITTEH!) As with just about everything in my life, this adventure got me to thinking Big Thoughts that I like to share through Barely Adequate Words.

As soon as I wrote that blog post about the kitten in the tool shed, the kitten left the tool shed. And like the 100% sane and stable person that I am, I  started thinking, “Great–now that I’ve told everyone about the kitten, Huck probably ate it. This is all my fault!”

Nevertheless, the kitten showed up again. Turns out, it was living under the deck, in between the decking boards and the tin roof of the screened porch down below. I caught a photo of the teensy baby one morning when it came out to explore the sourwood tree. One golden leg like something out of a classical myth…

kitty tree

And then I made the mistake of giving Vivi my phone as a distraction at lunch and she saw the photo.

THE CAT WAS OUT OF THE BAG!

kitty vivi

Operation Kitty Katcher was launched about 20 minutes later when we got home. We deployed cheap tuna fish, long crinkly ribbons from Vivi’s birthday balloons, leafy twigs, and flashlights after dark. Vivi sat on the deck with her tablet in hopes of catching a photo. We got close a time or two, but kitten was too wily.

kitty ribbon

We dropped chunks of tuna fish through the railing and onto the tin roof below. Slowly but surely, the kitten began to trust us. I taught Vivi to tap the spoon against the wood every time she fed it to call the kitten out. We brushed our fingertips against the kitten while it ate. We wiped tuna fish on our fingers and eventually the kitty licked them clean.

kitty catcher

It was so stinking hot that weekend. Yellow jackets like tuna fish–did you know that? Me either. But we kept at it.

At one point, Vivi said, “How do you think the kitten ended up here?” I told her that Nana said Papa sent us the kitten. “I know that’s not really what happened, but I like to think of it that way,” I told her. Vivi knows I don’t believe in any kind of afterlife. Her thoughts flickered across her face then she smiled, “I agree with Nana–I think Papa sent us the kitten.”

We sat there together with our arms contorted through the deck railing, dangling our stinky fingers over the edge in hopes of luring the kitten out. “Well, even if Papa didn’t actually send us this kitten, he taught me everything I know about catching kittens. He taught me where they hide and how to feed them and ways to get them to trust us. He taught me that it’s good to take care of hungry little kittens. So in a way, Papa is part of us getting this kitten.”

This is the first kitten I’ve had in my lifetime that wasn’t handed to me by my father. There were allllll those kittens when we were growing up–Slick, Jasmine, Farrah, Wildfire (I gave my cats stripper names). When I was out on my own and ready for another heartbeat in the apartment, he found Jane for me. The most beautiful meanest butterscotch bitch you ever reckoned with. I thought she might be lonely when I started working full time, so I went back to see Daddy. He reached blindly into a cage of stray gray tabbies and put Mr. Kitty in a box for me. Jane bit him on the neck as soon as he climbed out of the box then she spent the next 15 years hissing and spitting at him. When Jane and Mr. Kitty both passed on, and Richard’s Nixon followed a year later, I went back down to Griffin for Thanksgiving and came back with Rufus and Jinx. Someone had thrown Jinx in a trash can when she was three weeks old, and Rufus had been dropped off in the parking lot. Daddy got an earful when Rufus gave Vivi ringworm right before school picture day. Anyway, I’ve had a good run of cats, thanks to Daddy. But now I’m on my own. And my daughter has been begging for a kitten. I’m the grown up in charge of kitten procurement now.

There are two things we can do for our children. We can give them gifts, and we can teach them how to receive gifts. My dad did both. He gave me kittens. He also taught me how to see kittens as a gift. How to receive another mouth to feed with joy and a light heart. How to see a kitten as an increase in love, not an increase in burden. How to spend a sweaty Saturday stinking like tuna fish and getting a crick in my neck because my daughter wants a kitten to love on. And her mama can give her that gift.

On the Monday before school started, I pounced.

kitty carrier

It’s a girl. She was Socks for a couple of days. She was Sammy Socks for a while. But she does that thing that kittens do–kneading her front paws back and forth with her purrbox cranked up to 10. One time I asked Daddy what the clinical name for that motion was and he said, “Makin’ biscuits.”

Meet Biscuits.

Thanks, Papa.

kitty puzzle

kitty biscuit portrait

Sunset With the God of Horses

Poseidon was the god of the sea, earthquakes, and horses. All the things that thunder. The things that shake the ground beneath us and remind us that we can be moved.

Wild horses on Cumberland Island, Georgia.

Wild horses on Cumberland Island, Georgia.

Tonight, when I went walking along the sand bar at sunset, I remembered that title “Sunset With the God of Horses.” I started this post last summer, on the night my sister sounded the alarm about how sick Daddy really was. How he wasn’t going to magically get better with some rest and the right care. How Big Gay had been holding on with all she had but she needed help. Last summer, on that sad and confusing day, I took a walk by myself onto the sand bar at Saint Simons Island at sunset to think.

The waves of the rising tide raced each other to the sand. A long time ago, Richard and I took a small boat from Mykonos to the holy island of Delos. I looked out over the dark blue swells of the Aegean Sea and understood for the first time why the god of the sea would also be the god of horses–the movement of the water looked just like the stretching necks of a herd of running horses. Raw power, thundering out ahead of itself.

And here I sat, missing Richard because he was the only other person in the world who remembered that boat ride on that day. How was I going to live in a world without my dad too? The curve of the sand bar and the beach created a narrower inlet that penned in the waves. They clambered over each other, but by the time they reached the shore, they had sorted themselves into regular shapes, like the scalloped lace on a little girl’s collar.

These were the things I tried to think about so that I wouldn’t think about my father dying.

When I was little, I wanted a pony just as desperately as most little girls do. And it seemed like it shouldn’t be all that hard. My dad was a veterinarian. We lived in the corner of a pasture. There was grass EVERYWHERE for a pony to eat. What was the holdup?

One day, we showed up at my dad’s clinic, and lo and behold, there stood a little spotted grey and white pony in the paddock. Daddy called it a “Pony of the Americas” but all I heard was “blah blah PONY.” One of his clients had turned it over to him as payment on a bill.

Can you imagine what my heart did at the sight of that little horse? Daddy said it was a good cow horse. He got up on it and roped a couple of the calves in the pen. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. My boring old Daddy, who came home every night and collapsed in a chair to read spy novels and fart–riding and roping! Who was this person who could do stuff that we never heard a peep about at home?

Well. We didn’t get to keep the pony. Daddy took it to the sale barn the next week and sold it off for cash money, which we needed way more than we needed a pony.

That night on the sandbar at sunset, I couldn’t get that little pony out of my mind. That little pony allowed me to see a part of my dad I never knew. I saw him rope calves and flip steers in the air like it was nothing. He had this whole other life, of powerful things, that I knew nothing about. That’s what I was thinking about on the sand bar. What else would I never know about my father? Now that we found ourselves at sunset. Sunset and the god of horses.

I sat there by myself and I cried a few tears for the confusion of it all. The end of his life, coming like the relentless waves. The things he had given me, like my love of stories. The things he hadn’t been able to give me, like that pony. All flying away in the wind. All heading to the silent lands in the west, like the setting sun.

Endings and leavings. Here I am a year later, standing beside the ocean with the same questions in my heart.

Coming Back to My Senses

G caught me flapping my hands and muttering to myself this morning so he asked what was up.

“Carlos needs to get dressed, Vivi’s lunchbox is missing, I need to get the house organized because the cleaning lady is coming today, oh and the guys are coming to stain the deck, so Huck needs to be cooped up in the basement, which reminds me the pool is turning green but I don’t have time to take a water sample in at lunch today because I have an all-day class and we are out of groceries.”

G went back to getting dressed. I added “carry around a big load of resentment” to the list. Then, like most every other day, I got all that taken care of and managed to get myself ready for work.

By 3:30 p.m., I was in the office restroom crying into a paper towel and trying not to make any noise. This time of the day, this time of the week, I’m getting overwhelmed with feelings. Orlando. Senate filibuster. Cheeto Jesus. Father’s Day.

Father’s Day. At lunch, a friend had asked, “What are y’all doing for Father’s Day?” and before I could brace myself, I thought, “Nothing–I don’t have a father anymore.”

By 5:00 p.m., I was sitting in my car trying to remember what I did last Father’s Day for Daddy and all I could be sure of was that it wasn’t enough.

Back at home, there was the green pool and the deck guys who never showed and the groceries to unpack and the and and the and and the and.

I stood at the kitchen sink trying not to cry while getting dinner together. I couldn’t find one happy thought to hold on to, not one safe and still place to let my heart rest.

I rinsed the potatoes that came in the produce share from Collective Harvest. I was reminded of the first time I watched Daddy dig up potatoes in his garden. I’d never seen them growing and was delighted by how they hung down in a crowd from the plant that he’d lifted out of the soil with a wide-toothed hay fork.

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I pulled from the block the little paring knife that Daddy and Big Gay gave me for Christmas that year after Fartbuster and I split up. I had asked for a sky diving certificate or some good knives. They decided the knives were less dangerous. I carefully cut into the small purple potatoes without using a cutting board, the way I had been taught. The jeweled inside of each potato reminded me of a fig. I’ve never been one for figs, but that reminded me of Daddy laughing about how Grandmama Eunice loved figs so much that she would stop the car and climb over a three-strand barbed wire fence if she came across a fig tree standing in a pasture. It wasn’t stealing, because that fig tree had to have been planted by some farm family long ago. Even if the house just a memory, the fig tree deserved to be loved and Grandmama Eunice wasn’t about to let figs be wasted on cows.

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With the purple potatoes cooking in a little oil, I turned to snapping two handfuls of green beans. The texture of fresh green beans takes me right back to being a kid with an afternoon’s worth of beans to snap or purple hull peas to shell or corn to shuck. We had BIG gardens. The scratchy green surface of the bean, like a kitten’s tongue. The rewarding crisp ripeness of some and the floppy meh of others. The distinctive SNAP. The summer smell. The clatter as the pieces fall back into the collander and dinner grows step by step. When we were kids, the worst possible thing to hear was “Y’all get in the car–we’re going to the garden.” Now I ache for a peck basket and a row of green beans to work my way down.

 

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A pretty pint of blueberries and the rest of the strawberries from the fridge. I scoop a handful of the blueberries gently into my fingers and pour them into my mouth. Most of them perfectly sweet, but always that bitter one. Farm fresh blueberries take me back to a late June trip to Maine with Richard. We ate breakfast on the hill overlooking Bar Harbor. He ate a cinnamon roll as big as his head (I have the photo to prove it) and I devoured a blueberry muffin made with the biggest blueberries I had ever seen. We took our traditional “feet picture” with the sailboats and bay in the background. That photo turned out to be the last one of a long series. Memories. Most of them perfectly sweet, but always that bitter one. I ate another handful of blueberries then stirred the supper.

I can’t say I suddenly felt happy at that moment and all was right, but I felt more solid. When my brain is racing far ahead and my heart is twisted and panting with the struggle to keep up, I have to come back to my senses. Sight. Touch. Sound. Smell. Taste. Memory.