His face is etched into mine. As a child I studied that face as he shaved in his boxer shorts standing at the mirror over the sink, his face white with shaving cream, his eyes occasionally glancing over at me with amusement. I was captivated because he was my hero. He traveled a lot and home without him was not a good place for me, so when he was there I tagged after him like a puppy nipping at his heels. I never wanted him to leave and yet much of what I remember is him leaving with a suitcase in his hand, his suit and tie neatly packed, his blue eyes smiling and his black hair shining. I always wanted to go with him and when he would firmly tell me no and kiss my mom goodbye I remember running outside and watching the black Chevy drive away and then hiding in the Russian Olive tree trying not to cry. He was my touchstone, my protector and without him I felt adrift and frightened. This feeling lingered for many years until finally I found that some other boys could be equally as fascinating and he didn’t seem to mind the loss of interest on my part. We sometimes still went fishing together on the river or to a party on the 4th of July with my brother and my mom and I don’t remember much alone time with him, but he was often who I called when I was brokenhearted or afraid. He would listen to me and encourage me and let me know that everything would eventually be okay and I believed him and eventually it usually was. He rescued me many times from precarious places and some really bad choices and he let me learn some really tough love lessons too. As we both aged, I began to see him in a more realistic light and he became a friend. I started to worry about him more and want to take care of him and he would do things behind my back (like tell me he wasn’t driving when he was) or that he was fine when he was clearly struggling. We began a slow role reversal and I began the incredibly painful journey of learning how to hold loosely the love I have for the best person I have ever known. This picture was taken this past Christmas. I am 63 and he is 92. He is my Familia, the place I know and am known.
Sometimes I grow weary, of marriage in the mundane.
I want to remember full moons, and the washing of water in the after glow of love.
I want to dream in his arms, under stars, kissing through deep waters and not the shallow edge of maybe.Call me crazy. I want to sit for a long while, without the ringing of bells and whistles and the chirping of cell phones. No rushing to answer with fingers, the urgency of nothing special shouting loudly “Where are you?”
I want to lay beside waters, silent and sure of the gentle harmony of love.
In slow deep breaths, I want to plunge into poetry and music and sweet tea. I want to languish and be fed fresh peaches off the tree. All of me sticky sweet, with love and music and peaches and promises.
I dream in his arms, a thousand kisses of love.
Through 7336 days since we said “I do” how many times have we dreamed in one another’s arms? In longing, in contentment, in surety, in fear and angst of soul and desire?
In another time this will not matter. The tree’s we lay under may have fallen. This place of home will not care that we have left it. Barren hills without children conceived, will leave our legacy to the earth by which we will lay. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust we will go.
I am laying in his arms and I am dreaming. I see his arms, tanned and strong and I lean in to kiss the salt. It nourishes my soul.
I want to take slow steps to the end.
Things grow wildly
skies and wandering trails of morning light, a tree stands tall in the middle of the wandering.
I am faithfully walking, feet aching, flowers blooming, dark clouds looming.
Oh how I want to know the sun upon my hurts, the love that I cannot feel from the wounds that will not heal.
I know some deeper grasp of breathless while living in the wild air. I want to lightly sigh as love abandons a lovers kiss, a woman of no measure, who lives confined in a wild beating heart.
I am on my knees in gratitude for such a long life. A long life that was cursed from the beginning, feebly and shallow breathing the city smog, smothered in longing, gasping for hope.
Today I see that things grow wildly, as I am faithfully walking in daily abandon of living as I do now in the wild air.
I choose to believe the folklore of my people. That if I listen long enough I can hear their spirits on the wind. That my grandmother was a ghost in a bed sheet, while my grandfather and his brothers ran through the sacred grounds of an Indian burial site. She wanted them to stop going there, so she put on a bed sheet and hiked up the back way. In the early light of dusk she came over the crest of the mountain and began to moan. Story be told they ran like a bat out of hell. My grandmother died one week short of her 100th birthday. She was eating a dish of ice cream and fell face down. We had planned this HUGE party for her and she couldn’t wait one more week. What a send off that would have been. I still can’t believe she did that. It was more her style to be the life of the party. I wish she had the chance to be the belle of her final ball. I miss her every day.
My grandmother was 16 when she married my grandfather, who was the principle of her one room school. Lore say’s that he hiked “nine miles in a snowstorm” to propose. They were married till death do they part. She lived twenty years beyond my grandfather. She cried and mourned for eight of those twenty years. I was witness to some of that. My grandmother spent time in a TB sanitarium. She was a social worker. She took care of people. She was a mother. She once backed up and rammed a driver in a car who was honking his horn at her, one too many times I guess. She was a great storyteller and captivated many people with her words. She was a protector of the under dog. I was in Denver and met a woman from Texas in a store. She said she was travelling through New Mexico and had lost her wallet. A “kind” woman let her stay in her hotel for free. Something told me it was my grandmother. “My family owns the hotel in a little town in New Mexico” I said “What’s her name?” she asked and when I opened my mouth to say “Georgia” she said it too. In amazement we looked at one another. “Your grandmother is the kindest person I have ever met.” and she was…except when she wasn’t.
Lore has it that she once fought a woman over my grandfather when she was young. The woman had eyes for my grandfather ( a 6’3″ black hair, blue-eyed man) and my grandmother didn’t like it. Story goes that they had it out…and my grandmother won. She and I once locked horns over her putting traps out for the coyotes. I couldn’t bear the suffering that caused them. She eyed me and said “I was a foolish city girl.” and her look warned me that was the end of that. She was legally blind the last ten years or so of her life yet she could see so clearly the joys that still held her captive. Her garden, her grand kids, her beloved hats. She loved pretty things (I use her china in my B&B), she sat and listened to the baseball game and knew every player on the team. She adored men. Once when I was trying to help her walk across the room she said she didn’t need any help, but when my husband came in the room she looked at him with her blue eyes and asked if he would help her. He was honored of course, while I just chuckled in the kitchen.
I think of her every time I garden. She actually uprooted some Iris Rhizomes and sent them to me through the mail, wrapped in newspaper. I have dug those rhizomes up and taken them with me on every move we have done. Those beautiful Iris’s called out my name every single spring since she has gone. Her gospel was her flowers.” They brought her closer to her maker” she once said to me “than any church pew.” though she loved a good church service. The more Baptist the better.
She was a southern lady. Born in the deep pockets of Texas, she was a prejudicial southerner that embarrassed me at times in ways unimaginable. I was a hippie type of girl, was in the busing of the early seventies and dated a black boy one summer. It horrified her to no end. She called him the N word and I about cried. “How can you call him that?” I shouted. “It’s what they are called.” she said “NO, it’s NOT.” I persisted horrified. “Granny, stop it!” she turned in her apron and stomped out into her garden and began to hoe the earth with a vengeance. I imagine she wanted to throttle her grand child who was the exact opposite of her in many ways that mattered. We stayed clear of one another for a day. What always worked to bring healing to our rift was that incredible garden. I would sit down next to her and weed while she talked about her childhood and grandfather and their dreams blown away by the dust bowl days. We picked beans and sunflower seeds and carrots and lettuce and tomatoes. We canned and we washed and we weeded and we mended our fences. It was our church. The meanness of the south was forgotten. I also watched her take in vagrant farm workers. As a young woman I thought I was called of God to preach. I was living with her on the 2000 acre ranch that had been her home for 30 years. She bribed the workers with breakfast if they would come on Sunday mornings and listen to me preach. I would stand up there and they would remove their hats and nod their heads and after a month of Sundays I realized not a one of them spoke English much past thank you and yes. They always thanked me after I preached. My grandmother never said a word, (she loved me that much I think). Some of my favorite times with her were laying in a bed somewhere in our pajamas talking. We talked about everything, it was our greatest joy with one another. Our mutual love of the spoken word, that and gardening.
I can still see her today standing at her stove in the chill of the ranch house kitchen, making pancakes and biscuits and eggs and bacon. Pouring anyone who wanted it the blackest coffee, and with that biscuits with the most luscious whipped butter I have ever had. I can still see her in her bonnet and in her garden, while the prairie winds blew and the dust flew, she would tenderly care for that 1/2 acre of love. I can still see the respect on the visitors faces while they sat in her parlor. After removing the plastic from her blue velvet couches, she would serve them coffee and cake with the hands of a rancher in the room of a princess. Blue walls and a chandelier with crystals in a rugged ranch house in the wilds of New Mexico, while mangy dogs begged for scraps and the scent of my grandfathers pipe settled into our pores.
I present my grandmother as all writers do. When she passed I was asked to write the eulogy. She was a legend to many and the glue of our family. We fractured after she passed. The meanness of the south, the bickering of the family over some of her things crushed me. I withdrew from them for a long season. Some of us long in marriages of endurance rather than love divorced. Some of us scattered, moving away to begin our lives anew taking our memories of her with us in suitcases of pain. My grandmother presented her life to us in story and in memories so southern sweet I can taste her on my tongue. She will remain, the lore of her in our decisions and our choices. She is still a living thing, in every flower, in the scent of bacon frying on the stove, in the china I carry to the guests who visit. She brings out in me my finer nature of working the land and raising gardens. I ask her to bless them. She visits often; her spirit visits me in the wind.
I turned 61 today. For someone who was sent home to die at the age of 24 that is quite the celebration. Every year that I am on this earth is a gift and I am thankful. My birthdays always start out with a phone call from my beloved Dad, who shares how it was a blizzard that year and he was freezing and hungry in the waiting room while my Mom was warm and toasty delivering me. Then there was a card or two and breakfast. My first gift came in the mail from my Uncle who gave me a beautiful love gift for my orphans in Africa and so the first blessing was I funded a water well this morning. My heart lifted and I felt so light with the beauty of that.
Happy Birthday to me!
As my sister (who is also a present every year for my birthday, my Joey, the pups and I) headed off to run errands. Looking for lamps for the bedroom. The sun was pushing against the clouds and I am humming in the front seat, when I see two people sitting on a curb, sign reading “I need a hand up.” They are long without a bath, dust of a thousand storms upon their faces and clothing. “Stop,” I cry out to Joey “We need to get them some food!” So we do…and I walk bags of chicken and fruit and vegetables and green drinks and crackers to them sitting there, eyes so haunted and sad that I can’t help but to say “It’s not always going to be like this.” she looks at me, her nose running, her face as grey as the sidewalk “Can I pray for you?” she cringes as if I am about to hit her and then she nods. I touch her and I touch him and when I do GOD and his mysterious ways comes through my hands into them and they burst into tears and I am thankful to open the heart of GOD to them…We sit like that, bathing in his mercy to us all. I am whispering “You are cared for” into her upturned face, she nods. God is so good. They eat, tearing into chicken and I hear her say quietly “It’s going to get better.”They are clinging to one another weeping as I walk away. We wave little waves of thanks to one another and God has given me another beautiful gift.
Happy Birthday to me.
I am then taken to lunch with two of my favorite people in the whole world and we munch on chicken salad and grin at one another. Just thankful to be alive and sitting together, hungry and full at the same time. After lunch my sister and I go into the world of Barnes and Nobles where books and Mozart and a movie Fried Green Tomatoes (one of my favorites) go into a bag of goodies for me. I love bookstores.
Happy Birthday to me.
After coming home to dinner in the oven, I do yoga and stretch and notice how different my skin is and my legs are looking…well older. I am thankful they still work and I am still here on this planet to experience this memorable day. Then dinner in my little cottage that Joey built with his own hands last summer, and a birthday bag of love love love from the kindest person I know and then a massage from hands that should be bronzed they are so beautiful. My final blessing is a pear pie eaten in a claw foot tub with hot water and two little puppy faces peeking over the sides of the tub begging for pie. I share crust and a piece of pear with the both of them before they curl up on the bathroom rug and sleep. How merciful and kind is God to me today. Giving me so much love..so much purpose and so much grace. I am one blessed woman. Thankful to all for the well wishes and love. Thank you.. To another year of his mercy and grace and for the two tattered angels upon the sidewalk I pray you find your peace tonight.You are thought of and loved.
I found myself
on top of the mattress of promise
you lay tangled beneath me
Your eyes cast in shadow
your lips slightly parted
whistling dreams of glory
I thought this is the time to touch your skin
brown as a berry
bring me your prayers
and your sugar lips
Entwine them on my heart
like holy wine
“He won’t let us approach suffering with our own agenda.” Joni Erikson Tada
Because you are the maker of the universe and everything in it, I know that what I am about to share with you, well you probably already know what I am going to say. Even before I say it, right? You know that I don’t always understand your ways, like the amazing, mind boggling gazillion miles of stars and light around this little planet called Earth. I think prior to understanding the staggering magnitude of your creation, I thought earth was pretty much it for created beings that could capture your attention. I heard about UFO’S, heck my family swears we all saw one on a dirt road in New Mexico, but part of me just shook it off and continued to hold my elitist attitude of believing that there aren’t any other life forms. But now that I am older in years, I recognize truly how small we are and how, I don’t know, replaceable. I have been thinking so much about how fragile life is, really fragile, yet so resilient and tenacious in it’s ability to “carry on.” Heck Lord, I am that way, fragile in body and tenacious in spirit. Rowdy like a bull when provoked and tender as a new love for those less able. I think you made me that way, I think you had a plan for me that needed me to be different. I simply desired to be “normal” for so long. Normal as in taller with long thick hair and big eyes, who would be a mom with two kids and go on vacations with her family and eat sea food and drink something fruity with an umbrella in it, painted fingernails and toes and a big wide smile. “Normal” as in one cold a year would be the worst thing I would have to suffer in my body, or maybe have a few sleepless nights. I know that sounds crazy God, that being normal could hold such an allure for me, after all the incredible moments of time and space with you, the GOD of the universe. I guess the suffering that I have been entrusted to endure is the reason I could never be normal, not ever. To be normal is not really what I want, I guess what I want is to not suffer every single day of my adult life, with pain so humbling at times, I beg to draw my last breath and see you unveiled. The truth is I don’t really want to die, nor do I want to second guess the reasons why I am not normal. I just want to recognize that even though I suffer, even though I am skinny and growing older, and can’t go anywhere without being made sick by the chemicals that other’s wear to smell and look “pretty”and the smoke and the herbicides and the cleaning fumes, that the world has gone mad with chemicals and I am not normal. I live with numbness and pins and needles and tingling body parts, and a stomach that burns and churns and eyes that burn and are red all the time and a body that hurts to move and to sit and yes even to lay down. There is not a moment without the awareness that I am not normal. Yet I can stand in my room and feel your presence as strongly as the wind and I can weep for joy at your touch and know your voice and ask you every morning for Manna to get through another day. I don’t take anything for granted, not really, I am not normal enough to do that. When you watch your loved ones take their last breath, over and over again, you know how fragile life’s chord can be. So God, I want this suffering to matter you know? I need for it to matter, to underscore what a good God you really are and not some mean ol God who let’s his people suffer without cause. I don’t really believe that about you, well maybe still I wonder how all this suffering can be love, but that thought doesn’t last very long and I always come back to the truth of me and you. You have ruined me for anything or anyone else. Ruined me with your presence that is unlike anything on this earth, ruined me for normal. I don’t want normal, I want you. I want to feel you in my room and your breath on my cheek and your voice in my ear. I want to continue to be that person who people come to when they want to know you better, or they want someone to hear their cries and their pain. I want to have you be my first thought and my last thought and to be in every thought in between. I’m not there yet of course, I am still too selfish in my pain to be with you in every thought, but I want it to be wild with your presence and caressed with your grace. I thank you God that the suffering has brought me to see those who suffer too and try to do something about it. That’s a gift, to care about others most of the time above yourself. The more I think about myself the more miserable I am. The more I see someone else’s pain and work to help lift it, the better I feel. Suffering did that for me.
Okay, I guess I will end this letter by saying “I wouldn’t change a thing if it meant I wouldn’t be this close to you. I can’t suffer on my terms. I must lean in and lean on you to get through my days and nights and that’s okay. Heck God it’s better than that, tonight the suffering is for you. Because I am yours and you are the creator of the universe and I am small and here for a blink and you are forever. Like your universe, gazillion stars and who knows what else.”