Escape to ‘The Third Coast’

“The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.” ~Kate Chopin, “The Awakening.”

I could live there, on ‘the third coast,’ if I had a million bucks!

The property prices are pumped and primed for real estate investors and the chosen few, from what I understand. That ain’t us. Then again, there’s always ‘the beach bum’ option. Hey, I was raised by Depression Era parents. I know how to make my underpants into rags and a turkey leg into soup for 10!

But instead, I’m another escapee rolling down the well-worn Interstate to Port Aransas, Texas, on Mustang Island, affectionately called Port ‘A,’ for a dip in a dreamy rest-bit from the maddening realities of our busy urban lives.

Five grand can get you a guarantee of family time, fun in the sun, wading and diving through the white-capped waves, and the novelty of island life, if just for a week. It was worth every penny.

IMG_5434With a rented resort house for 12, decorated in monochromatic hues of sea green, ocean blue, sand, white, and weathered with a bit of salty wind; we were in Heaven. Fresh white linens, coral and shell table accents, fragrant lotions at every basin, and an inviting living space…spacious and filled with natural light…graced our lazy day-to-day.

A private pool? Of course. Peaceful swim time and playful grandkids floating on noodles and diving for colorful rings; we had the luxury of both. Cha-ching!

A golf-cart ride through town…on to the beach with the other beach buggies, Coppertone wafting through the gulf breeze, pelican and seagulls riding the air stream above, bold-colored kites whippin’ in the wind, the smell of grilling southern spices and beach fires by night encircled by warmed summer smiles laced our laziness with adventure.IMG_0005

Rows of Creamsicle-colored cottages calmed our screen-stressed eyes, picket fences with crooked gates led up sandy paths of wild roses and sea grass to sleepy porches, a wicker chair, and an easy read in the soft afternoon.

Salty air and sandy flip flops; a sun-kissed glow and flowing clothes reminded me that I’m not just an aging work horse, but a woman…soft, free, sensuous and wise…beneath my wide-brimmed hat.

Beachy boutiques, artist’s pottery, sea glass, mermaid watercolors, and sizzling bar & grill restaurants…shrimp, flounder, fried-fish sandwiches…invited the tourist in all of us.

The trusty Coast Guard station flashed me back to my northern coastal life. It was familiar, the fishing boats and massive freighters passing through Aransas Pass into Corpus Christi Ship Channel. Their lights, horns, bells, in natural agreement with the coastal geography whispered of the 18-mile barrier Mustang Island and Port A’s rich history, of Harbor Island’s seaport industry exporting cotton, the fishing industry, the cottage life, and the smart move to tourism that saved their economy. I could see it’s ghosts, the nomadic Karankawa tribe gathering oysters and spear fishing, the Civil War soldiers entrenched in violent battles, the hardy, daring people who fought, struggled, and settled the island now buried there along with pirate treasures and fish bones.

The lights of the harbor, sail boats in the bay, bent-legged, rutty-old fishermen on the seawall throwing out their nets; the town lives on.

IMG_5526Alone…buoyant, light, held freely in the amniotic fluid of the crystal clear pool where I floated on my back in the late afternoon into the water-muffled evening; my view: the clean lines of our yellow house, stark blue sky, bright white trim and picket fences subtly strung with starfish. An occasional seagull flapping by and palm tree leaves that swayed in and out of my view accepted all my physical and mental stress and carried it away on the cool, nightly sea breeze. Beautiful, nurturing emptiness was its returning gift.

IMG_2854As one of my granddaughters said as she 81650splashed and glided, “This is the most beautiful yellow house I’ve ever seen! I’m having the best vacation ever.”

Tarpon’s Bar & Grill, Victoria’s On the Bay, Fin’s Restaurant & Grill, The Phoenix Restaurant and bar, and Coffee Waves; the flavors of the island served by easy-going, laid back islanders. Can’t go wrong.

Ghost crabs clicking across the path, dolphins almost within reach, and blue heron like city officials standing around the marshes, seagulls hovering, and sea shells in our hands added to our discoveries.

Tanned, weathered beach people, artsy-fartsy folks, young and old, bikini babes, neon-suited toddlers, glistening-muscled boys, your classic ‘Jimmy Buffet’ old men, tourists and locals…mingled into one big happy family.

IMG_2791Plunging into the foaming waves and running out getting toasty in the warmth of the sun; a cold beer, skin sizzling and heads shaded under canopies, a packed cooler, beach chair dozing and the long walk up from the beach left footprints on our days.

Even the merchants seem to be having fun ‘Flamingo Flocking’ each other! For $25 paid to the local 8th grade class for a school trip; the students would plant dozen of pink plastic flamingoes outside a business. Potters on Cotter had been ‘flocked’ the morning we were visiting and the artist said the business owners in town were having a ball flocking each other. In the meantime, the 8th graders were filling their fund-raising coffer.  Seriously, what a great idea!

I could live like this forever…float, tool around in a golf cart, get my island coffee, and wear nothing by a bathing suit, big hat, and loose-fitting shawls….and never miss my house, all my dusty ‘stuff,’ the chaos of pets, cars, traffic, and, well, just the caged, motionless chaos.

Calmed tempers, lazy days, coloring, board games, naps; our coastal vacation was reminiscent of those ‘up north’ days in my northern youth of cabins, lakes and rivers, and quieted paths. Some days I never even turned on my phone, and my laptop was never opened; we all just ‘talked’ and rediscovered each other.

It shouldn’t take five grand to do that.

Even the long lines of traffic leaving the island and boarding the ferry didn’t dampen my island spirit. I was amazed to see so many cars, for most of our days were quiet and unfettered by crowds with limited wait time for tables; people were there, but busy with their own alone time and family gatherings, under their own canopies and porch lights.

IMG_2786Locals and tourists alike were easy-going, music kept in their own ear-shot, exchanging neighborly pleasantries; civil and polite. I think there’s magic in the water.

The coastal sun, salt and sea, and ‘change’ from the monotony of our daily pressures seemed to bring out the best in folks. I’m sure more than a few of us think about chucking it all just to live the island life, as a tired but jovial waitress at an open-air bar and grill shared. She moved from Austin and was living in little fixer-upper, working double shifts just to make it there. She said she couldn’t even afford to buy the coconut cream pie she was serving us, but she wouldn’t change a thing for she loved her life on Port ‘A’ so much. Imagine. We bought her a piece of pie. She cried with gratitude.

It was just that kind of place, you know, like towns one sees in Hallmark movies but one thinks doesn’t really exist.

IMG_5514Many Texans know about ‘Port A’ and have traditionally rented beach houses, RV’ed their way down, camped on the beach, and have histories in that endearing get-away resort town. Even my own kids have vacationed there, gotten engaged amid the sand castles at sunset, have their favorite hang-outs, and can hobnob with the locals.

Where have we been?

I think the days of living by our mantra ‘pay now, play later’ have finally shifted. It’s time to play now as much as we can, even if we don’t have bronzed beach bodies and a cooler full of Lone Star beer! As they say, it’s never too late to live the life you were meant to live. Senior living on ‘the third coast’ might just be our paradise.

Port Aransas filled my senses and won my weary heart. She’s good for my skin, my spirit and my soul. The piggy bank for our next ‘week at the beach’ is starting to fill again. After needing to pull on a sweatshirt in the middle of a Texas summer night because the breeze coming off the coast was as cool as a Michigan morning, my 20-some years of southern summers suddenly looked promising!

We may be past the energy and dedication of a fixer-upper, and nowhere near financing a beach house of our own, but…I’ll be there again on her beaches as the calendar pages are torn away, embraced by her waves, and lost in the ‘the voice of the sea that speaks to the soul’ on some little porch with a sandy path to her salty shore.

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Summer Again

picmonkey on the dock“And talk of poems and prayers and promises and things that we believe in. How sweet it is to love someone, how right it is to care.~JD

When you are empty and so set-apart, open your eyes, and soften your heart.

Think of us sitting at the end of a dock, feet dangling in the water, not alone on a rock.

We are young and excited; no sense of alarm, my swishing hips and your muscular arms.

Our senses are heightened and acutely aware of the quaking aspen and pine in the air.

The billowy clouds fluff the blue northern sky; the smell of the earth is ripe and alive.

The lap of the lake swallows up our strong knees, no aches or moans; we’re as wild as we please.

Sweet fragrance of sweat glistens on our summer skin, in the wild of the forest, the water, and the wind.

Something is stirring, sensation and ache. It’s easy to be silly and sleepy and wide awake.

Not yet armored by disappointments and hurt, our hearts gladly open, we tease and we flirt.

The sun on the water mirrors the light in our eyes, and laughter comes easy, we giggle and sigh.

Soft kisses, near misses, come close and then run; we splash and we dunk in the afternoon sun.

We dive and we swim, float at near flank. There’s a chill in the air as we race towards the bank.

We scurry to gather our blankets and loot; flannel shirts, suspenders, blue jeans and boots.

A campfire is built as you wield your fine axe; wild violets, forest lilies grace our table of snacks.

Our poles find perch at the end of our lines. It’s late, but on time, as crickets sing and rhyme.

In the breath of the forest, no one’s right, nothing’s wrong, as evening settles in and the shadows grow long.

Quiet talk at our camp fire of constellations and bears; your fingers entangled in my gossamer hair.

We lie on our backs, hear the cry of a loon, we stare up at the stars and the wax of the moon.

Not a penny to spare, we can’t leave home, get married, buy a house, or backpack and roam.

Weightless and free, no child or great plans; aging ills or more bills, no regrets or political stands.

Nothing binds us, except the love of life, and our fire-lit gaze, sun-kissed hands held tight.

We are both each other’s listener and new best friend. There’s magic in the moment, feeling love with no end.

If I were to ask for a couple of things, in the drab of daily details, routines, and worn rings.

It would be for you to see me as sweetly as then, in need of your smile and a prince among men.

We could take an adventure; make a few stops; walk hand-in-hand as we dally through shops.

Forget that we’re older, return to the woods, no caution or worry, no ‘we can’t’ or ‘we should.’

But regardless of everything, more than anything, my old friend, I’d ask you to bring back the summer again.

Have I Got a Dish for You!


Epaig ‘Stratford’ pre-1950s

People have addictions. It might just be that you overload on bowls of pasta while Netflix-binging on ‘Will and Grace’ every Saturday night, or that you secretly smoke cigarettes in the pantry between the shelves of canned pickles and paper towels, or worse inclinations that require serious help; mine (well one of them anyways) is purchasing dishes.

Dishes do something to me. I get mentally and emotionally elevated, dreamy and romantic; I get downright high. My eyes become fixated on the color and pattern. My fingers almost erotically find pleasure in the smooth curve of the plate or comfortable fit of the handle. If I am anywhere near dishes in a store, I find myself so distracted by a set, or maybe even one piece, that I can’t look at anything else. I circle back around, walk up and down that same aisle, and stalk any other shoppers who move toward the object of my desire. All the while, I’m imagining a million ways I could dress my table with these delicate obsessions or how they can be perched behind some other trinket in a vignette in my dining room.

I should be over this. I’m almost sixty years old, for goodness sakes, and everyone around me is reminding me that I should be giving away all my crap, that I should be down-sizing not adding more to my stockpile of stuff. I get that, and feel that, for the most part, but not when it comes to dishes. If time is good to me, I’ll have many more Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving Day meals to host as the grandchildren are making their arrivals. I don’t use paper or plastic plates so they’ll have to eat off of something, right?! I really want to ‘entertain’ again, like in the old days, with interesting people enjoying deep conversation and hardy, belly-filled laughs and teary-eyed toasts  across the comfortable ambiance of my candlelit tablescape. I still have plans that involve dishes, so I’m justified, right?

Blue Danube China

Blue Danube China

The problem is I don’t have any more space to store all these lovely, mostly vintage china pieces. The Inn is full. I know the obvious solution. It’s time to get rid of some of the others, but that’s the thing. The ‘others’ hold the memories that have graced my table for years and whisper of Sunday dinners and homespun conversations with our kids, every time they are placed on the table. They mean too much to me and besides, I hope that at some point my daughter, or daughter-in-laws, maybe my grown granddaughters may want to inherit them. Maybe. It’s hard to say these days, but it doesn’t seem to matter where they will go after I’m gone. I like having them NOW. Apparently, I’m a dish-whore or hoarder; I’m not sure which is worse. But, let’s just say it sweetly, I’m a lover of beautiful things, primarily dishes, some of which I must possess.

A couple of month ago I was spending the day with my daughter in a beautiful, quaint Texas Hill Country town, a place where charm and historic homes just seem to command, ‘You must buy something while you’re here!” I had braced myself for this, did a lot of self-talk on the road, and asked my daughter to ‘stop me’ if I got too caught-up in any dishes, “I simply don’t have any more room, Sweetie, so remind me of that when the time comes.” Much like a recovering alcoholic who isn’t ready to sit in a bar, it didn’t work. All the promises I made to myself went right out the door and across the gingerbread porch of the antique store we were in, as soon as I saw the perky pattern and colors that could be used in just about any season, hidden inside.

At first I saw a few orphaned plates of blue and white that called to me, but I was strong and just gave them a knowing sigh as I moved on. I chuckled at all the ‘antique’ dishes on display that were from MY time, MY youth; stuff my mom got at the Montgomery Wards and Sears & Roebucks. Are we antiques already? That’s just plain weird.

Then I saw my daughter off in another section staring dropped-jaw into a large glass, upright display case. Walking towards her, she waved me off, told me not to come her way, ‘Mom…just don’t!’ Too late, I was there, opposite her on the other side of the glass completely captivated, mesmerized, in love; I was a goner (as us antiques used to say).

Simple, yet elegant, with a dancing line of gold, orange, green, even pink flowers around the edges, held in by a metallic gold rim (something that has never before appealed to me); Epaig ‘Stratford,’ made in Czechoslovakia; it was like I found my long, lost love of the dish world. Youthful, yet pre-1950s vintage; playful, yet serious; light enough for Spring, warm enough for Autumn; a whole serving set on sale for only $100. Let’s be real, I could go to Target for toilet paper and end up spending twice that much on a bunch of nothing; why look away from this?!

We just stood there, my daughter and I, silently staring for quite some time, both knowing what the other was thinking, “I don’t have room. Dad’s going to kill you if you bring home another dish. You already have enough dishes to serve a small village. Don’t do it, mom. No, I can’t…” I walked away….several times…but I was drunk on the beauty of them, injected with the poison of mealtime pleasure, aglow on the anticipation of spreading a beautiful table, and weak-in-the-knee by the thought of hand washing them; I could feel their fragile strength warm and sleek in my soapy hands.

I bought them.

It was tough, on that hot Texas day, getting three huge boxes of individually wrapped dishes into a small car with a trunk the size of a bread box, but of course we did it…with a little swearing and a lot of sweat. I got home to an empty house, and painstakingly rushed them into the house alone (having to take them out of the boxes in small loads, since I couldn’t carry the weight of the boxes), and hid them, yes hid them, in the closet under the stairs.

The dishes have been in-hiding since that summer day.

Tonight, while a roasting pork loin filled the kitchen with a warm aroma of home, I systematically (okay, I snuck in-and-out of the closet) retrieved enough of my secret stash for a four-place setting. When my husband sat down, he said, ‘Oh no, what is this?” My son’s girlfriend, who was not privy to my dish ordeal at all, immediately commented on how lovely they were. Thank God for womenfolk! So, I revealed that I had fallen off the wagon and bought a lovely set of dishes at a great price! I admit I strategically planned to bring them out when company was present. It worked.

Surprisingly, he liked them (though he didn’t know just how many were stuffed under the stairs). Just the same, the hardest hurdle, the great ‘reveal,’ was over and now commencing with the storage issue would just work its way out. It always does. This isn’t my first auction haul!

As the evening wanes in a peaceful glow of acceptance, all the hand-washed dishes are stack proudly on my counter waiting for me to give them a comfortable shelf to dwell on, and my hubby is joyfully discovering facts about the vintage pattern, for if anything, he too appreciates time-worn things. It’s kind of sweet of him. It’s moments like these that he reminds of my father, who used to turn into a little kid whenever my new recipe cards from ‘Better Homes and Gardens’ would come in the mail as I was preparing for wifedom in the 1970s. He and I would spend hours combing through the recipes in the warmth of the kitchen light. When it comes to my husband, space or no space, it seems antiques continue to be our comfortable common ground.

You see, dishes, like recipes and meals, bring people together. Everyone has a memory of someone special at the glance of a familiar dish pattern. We see our aproned grandmothers and aunts bending and busy in the kitchens we loved, our mothers giving us the honored tasked of ‘getting out the good dishes’ when the hungry smell of a holiday dinner was filling the crowded house. Dishes clink and slide, stack and hide in all of our memories, and I am very much connected with that scene, mine and theirs, from the heart of the home, the kitchen.

Contemporary fun!

Contemporary fun!

From leaf-laced, autumn patterns to Blue Delft old-world charm, country white plates for simplicity, Christmas Spode gems, and round oatmeal glazed bowls just right for soups and stew, to bunny-shaped Easter favorites that the kids still love to see; my cupboards are filled with much more than porcelain artifacts. My dishes help tell the story of our lives. There is historic sweetness in a set of pink flowered, silver-rimmed dishes from my mother-in-law’s days of collecting dishes at the movie theatre one movie and dish at a time; I can see her trim and proper, with a huddle of blond-haired kids straight out of the “Dick & Jane” children’s book series, anxiously walking down her small town Midwestern street headed for the cinema and another new plate! Like the visual pleasure I receive from my 1950s era ‘Currier & Ives’ Royal blue village dishes which beckon back to my days around the crowded table of my parent’s house and the cupped aroma of coffee on cold Michigan mornings at our wood-smoke cottage; 1970s stoneware comes with a song; Transferware can transport. They all speak of places I’ve lived and people I’ve loved; each has a story, evokes memories, and allows for the pure pleasure of creatively setting a lovely table.

Currier & Ives Blue Royal, circa 1950s

Currier & Ives Blue Royal, circa 1950s

Have I justified my purchase with passion and purpose? Ha! I always say, if a thing doesn’t give you pleasure or serve a purpose, than it’s time to let it go.

All in all, it’s a harmless addiction, obsession, or hobby, whatever one wants to call it. It could be worse. I could collect unicorns, or gum wrappers, or expensive Italy leather shoes. In time, as time so cruelly will do, I’ll give them all away to someone else with kitchen memories and table dreams, while we finally empty our cupboards and down-size and succumb to the reality of Chinet disposable dishware. Ugh! Until that dreadful day, I’ll keep making memories, one delicious dish at a time…and, for sanity sakes, go on hiatus from browsing antique stores!

It’s Just Another New Year’s Eve….Another Auld Lang Syne

Christmas 1969 at Grandma Cowans houseEvery year, like so many of you I am sure, I get caught up in the reflective aspect of the turning of the old year to the new. I’m not busy getting ready to go anywhere.  I think I can count the number of times that I’ve actually gone to a New Years Eve party, on one hand. Either isolated in some edge-of-the-world frozen northern town, or choosing to stay close to my children on such a sentimental night; we just rarely mustered up the energy to ‘go out’ and celebrate.

Neither did my parents.

My memory of New Year’s Eve is one of youthful anticipation, the thrill of staying up late, our ritual of banging pots and pans as the clock struck midnight, and the time honored swig of Champagne from my Grandma’s heirloom long-stem glasses that my parents allowed only on that night….even when we were quite young. I always thought I had the coolest parents.

After the pile-up of seven kids armed with sauce pans and wooden spoons, the coveted two pot-lids that mimicked the cymbals, and the predictable chaos and yelling to ‘get off the front door so daddy can open it,” what was left for seven, eight, and ten year old children in the 1960s? The warmth of being tucked safely under the sheets and covers of our shared beds, the reassuring hum of the furnace kicking in, and that moment of reflection in the blue glow of the moonlight reflected off the snow-covered roof tops, which softly streamed through the window and moved our thoughts into the New Year.  It was a personal and quiet time of looking forward, of dreams, resolutions and prayers, and the thrill of possibilities as the sound of fireworks and people singing and laughing lingered on the porches in our snowy neighborhood and eventually faded into the night. All was well with my little world on Lincoln Drive. My life was new and not yet burdened by regrets, responsibilities, losses and ‘impossible’ dreams.

Emily and I at Floore's Dance Hall

Emily and I at Floore’s Dance Hall

A New Year's Eve kiss...Emily and Shane at Floore's Dance Hall

A New Year’s Eve kiss…Emily and Shane at Floore’s Dance Hall

I recall a few big, wild New Year’s Eve events, but not many. One time we went to a comedy club in rural Minnesota in which I thought I would never stop laughing. The long, frozen drive across the snow-covered prairie sobered me up.  My husband and I went to a fancy club in Minneapolis once when my first baby was nine months old. I spent most of the night wanting to dance, but not.  It was agony leaving my baby. It was the first time she was left with a sitter. I couldn’t wait to get home. And in recent years, with both of my children at that fun ‘young adult’ age, we’ve taken to going to the local Texas dance hall, together as a family, for their annual New Year’s Eve party and traditional bowl of black-eye peas for good luck in the New Year. Those nights were memorable, but all too soon our children are off doing their own thing….married, working, spending time with friends, and building their own memories.

But mostly, New Year’s Eve was a family thing as it was when I was little. We gave our children the same privileges we were allotted in youth, of champagne and treats, noise makers and party hats, and the unleashing of spirited yelps on the front lawn as we watched the sky light up with fireworks and smoke. Perhaps because south Texas temperatures are more inviting to linger in; fireworks on New Year’s Eve are out-of-this-world here and always a good show even from one’s own porch steps.

My daughter had the upstairs bedroom that I would have wanted as a child, where the windows reach the floor and one can see over the roof-tops of the neighborhood, chimney smoke swirling, and the owls in the top branches of the Live Oaks trees at night.  She and I used to retreat there on the floor in front of the windows, when all the blasting, blowing, calling “Happy New Year” into the night, and champagne bubbles had simmered down, and we’d reflect there together. Those were precious times for me; close, intimate, and perhaps more my cherished memory than hers. For many years that was our New Year’s Eve ritual, until, at last, she was too old and cool for those kind of moments and would rather hang with her friends or go off to bed alone.

My light-hearted son was always fun, willingly wearing silly hats and doing the cha-cha with us around the living room and kitchen as we rang in the New Year. I have no regrets about spending the last twenty- some December thirty-firsts with our delightful children, all the sweet-lipped, good night kisses and shared wishes; it was a gift.

Taylor a couple of New Year's ago...

Taylor a couple of New Year’s ago…

Taylor on New Year's Eve 2000

Taylor on New Year’s Eve 2000

But now, with gray in our hair, an empty house, and no real tradition of donning a sparkly little black dress or bow-tie and tuxedo, we have settled into the proverbial ‘quiet’ New Year’s Eve, pouring ourselves a glass of champagne, watching the Time Square ‘ball drop,’ as we all used to say when that was the only celebration to watch on TV, tooting our horns in our now sleepy neighborhood, and then shutting off the porch light and heading off to bed while the rest of the world parties.

But still ‘the reflections” of Auld Lang Syne come, just as they did for the ‘little girl’ me with my sisters and brothers, and later my children, in what seems like so many years ago. I’ve always thought the line “Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind,” odd, indeed cruel, at such a time when it is quite normal to remember the people that have come and gone from our lives even more than usual.

I miss the call from my mother, who even in old age kept up the ‘reaching out’ to her children from her own lonely living room. I could see her there in the light of the TV screen and the small ceramic Christmas tree that was all she could do, tearfully smiling, sending wishes, and remembering all the New Year’s Eves of her life when her house was overflowing with youthful energy and excitement. My siblings in the East are settled into their beds (or own rituals) by the time Texas hits midnight, and my brother in California is hours away from the celebrating; so the calls and now text messages come in sporadically, if at all.

Just as the instinctive need to reform one’s thoughts and actions, to make resolutions for good change, and to step into the new year ‘anew’ will continue (I hope for many years), so too  ‘forgetting old acquaintances’ will NEVER happen.

Those ‘old acquaintances’ are with me tonight more than ever. My little siblings and I laughingly ready to emerge from the house with our pots and pans to the celebratory front porch, my beautiful young parents handing out the champagne smiling and hopeful, my little boy in his big Mexican Sombrero dancing around the house tooting a silver horn, and my little girl and I curled up close to each other in her upstairs bedroom window, the fireworks reflected in her innocent eyes, talking quietly into the New Year and holding on to the moment until we were both too tired and the cozy warmth of sleep called to us, are brought to mind on such a night like this.

I don’t care who you are. Whether you’re braving the cold at some festive outdoor event, standing on the lawn with your kids, in the throes of passion with your lover, or closing the light early after a kiss from your dog; one can’t help but be reflective on such a night. One can’t help but remember our ‘old acquaintances’ and hold them close to our hearts. We’ve made it through another year, sometimes through Hell and high water! We’ve lost loved ones, more hair, opportunities to ‘go places,’ and gained simple moments of joy and accomplishment that filled our days with pride and family love. All of these things come to mind…and are worth the tearful or even drunken reflection.

So, it may be just another New Year’s Eve, another Auld Lang Syne, and even my old man and I…two pups and two cats… some Rudy’s BBQ and a glass of champagne to toast at midnight, have our own personal reflections and will awaken to the a New Year hopeful of only good things and good health…and, come what may, we’ll be just fine.

From the bottom of my sentimental heart, I’m sending an earnest Happy New Year and a wish for good health and much love…to you all!

Me and my sparkly, happy girl!

Me and my sparkly, happy girl!

In the Blue Jay’s Call…

p956070856-5[1]     There is something distance in the singular cry of the blue jay that pulls me home to places along my trodden path.

Perhaps its sharpness awakens memories seemingly dormant that beg to be noticed just about the time one thinks they are forgetting. Whether in mid-conversation, quietly reading a book, or my hands plunged in hot soapy water washing the last of the dishes with my mind lost in thoughts of weekend plans or nothingness, that cry…brings me to a halt. I am transported, ever so briefly, but enough to recall steps, paths, and moments of wonderment along the way.

My youthful summers were often spent along the winding trails of the birch and pine woods around our summer cabin. A rough place, by most standards, made of log and mortar with a cinder block foundation; it was often cold with the wind whistling through the walls. My dad needed to build a fire in the wood stove on those Michigan mornings to get the summer day started, especially when we needed to be brave enough to visit the outhouse and wash up in the icy cold water pumped out of the earth from the well.  Built by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) near Gladwin, Michigan, my grandfather owned the place affectionately referred to as the Ca-Ha-Bo club, which he frequented with his buddies back in the 1930s. My dad and his brother went along as early as 1936, fished, climbed, and played along the moist treacherous ravines and sunny sand mound roads.  My father made it his own in the late 1940s when he and his high school friends all decided to get out of the city and into the woods. In his dad’s old 1931 Essex with a rumble seat, they made a book of memories just being boys. Until the boys turned to men and began bringing their young families to the shabby old cabin along the Tittabawassee River which snakes through mid-Michigan, and then it was our rustic get-away until 1975, when no one was left to visit and it was sold.

We did a lot of nothing there, and the nothingness was lovely.

We colored and played cards for hours on the screened-in porch that look out over the river, fished off the dock and occasionally rowed out to the middle of the river with my dad, our bobbers dancing on the waves in waiting like our dreams of ‘someday,’ and returned with our strings full of perch and sunfish for dinner.  In the sleepy mornings, the air rich with aromatic cedar and pines, we would take our bowls out to the sand roads and gather wild raspberries and blackberries until our bowls and bellies were full and our mother of pearl finger nails stained red. These were the sweetest of times, no rush, few demands; childhood in its simplest form.

The sisters at the cabin

The sisters at the cabin

But it was our walks in the woods, passed spindly groves of birch and aspen, and then deep into the thicket that scratched our youthful legs, that was most daring and adventurous for me. Always with other siblings, there were moments when I wished I was alone. The sun light shone bright up above the canopy of leaves against that bright blue sky, as the ‘old Indian trails’ grew narrower and more difficult to navigate. Though we hoped to see a some deer or maybe a bear, with a brood of kids, some loudly thinking there were chieftains, we didn’t see much, except chipmunks and raccoons, and the ever present birds.

These days, when I hear the aggressive blue jay cry outside my grown-up home so far from those northern woodlands, and see all the sparrows and dove scatter in its presence, it is there that I am transported….to the sun dabbled path, the sisters out ahead, and in those moments when the call of the jay would echo through the forest walls making me shiver with aliveness and possibilities. What will I be when I grow up? Where will I live? When will I fall in love and who will he be? Until someone’s voice as shill as the jay would bark at me to not fall behind, I was happily getting lost in my own world.

There in the forest, where later in my teens, older sisters off with their important lives, the younger kids napping in the cabin, I would take my flute and walk to a clearing, where I would sit on a rock and listen to the deep tones of my instrument mingling with the fluttering leaves along the edges. I would sing, without holding back, and dream of stages and audiences, of flowing dresses and gentlemen extending their hand to dance with me…and of kisses…my rosy lips perched in a bow, eyes closed feeling the hand of the wind caress my face and comb its fingers through my hair. There on that rock in the clearing, I could create my own world. The blue jay, plentiful in those mid-Michigan woods full of oak trees, would call to me when the sun was high, or when it was getting late, wake me from my dreaminess, and remind me that I wasn’t alone in my aloneness.

I remember once, over twenty years ago, walking along a path in northern Wisconsin near the border of Minnesota in the woods at Amnicon Falls, when the blue jay made itself known. It was a troubling but exciting time for me, full of complications and cold hard facts. At one point, I was walking along a wooded trail just ready to enter a deeper, darker part of the forest, and the blue jay called its singular cry….echoing, echoing, echoing through the forest as I looked up into the blinding sun for that blue-winged alarmist. I couldn’t see him. I couldn’t see much at that time in my life, but could hear the rustling of the trees in the summer breeze inviting me to move along. I could feel my footing…cautious but bold …and continued to follow my hearts desire…the bird and its call weaving through the trees, flirting with my senses, daring me to listen.

Many of us are highly sensitive to sounds and smells, which is sometimes a blessing and at other times a curse, for they can easily distract us when we should remain present and focused. I see this all the time in the classroom and gently bring a child back into reality, after allowing the student to quickly jot down whatever he or she was remembering for later use in their writing, something that was lost on me in the 1960s, when I was aptly labeled “a day-dreamer.”

The tinkling of glass wind-chiming can take me back to that screened-in porch, someone snapping their chewing gum to my mom happily ironing, the chattering chickadees in spring to a morning in Wisconsin when, through a tent window, I watched a flock of those black-capped wonders of endurance wake up the day all chipper with excitement. The sound of the furnace turning on in winter, its comforting hummm, sends warm goose bumps along my skin, as it did when I was a child, and cold, and would crawl under the bed to lie up against the heating vent. The sound of clinking dishes and people talking at the same time with the lifts of laughter, a couple bars of a song sung, and the bending sighs… can take me back to the kitchens of my youth, aproned women all busy gossiping and working at the same time; people now gone.

The sound of a train whistle in the distance, like the sound of the fog horns from passing ships off the coast of the great lakes; seagulls in the morning, geese in formation honking their goodbyes as they left the brilliant colored autumn behind, and the sound of hushed stillness … the woods covered in fresh snow…can transport me without warning. New sounds like the cicadas buzzing the trees at the height of a blazing hot afternoon in south Texas and fire truck sirens make me think of my boy playing in the yard with his trucks, now off on one of those big engine racing through traffic, and the southern sweetness of the solitary song of the mockingbird in the empty street of a late night…sharing multiple melodies it has learned along the way, to no one except itself, all so clear and distractive, yet surely meant for some purpose in this maddening world. Why else would the mockingbird sing, if not for us to stop and listen?

But, the singular call of the blue jay echoes through my ears into the years, and in its hard call seems to remind me, like it did then, that I am falling behind the others, that it’s getting late, that all around me are dark forests with unknown adventures waiting for me to boldly enter. Even here in my suburban kitchen, cup of coffee, dogs at my feet, and the constant rhythmic tick of the clock, that bully blue jay makes me stop and think and remember…I’m not alone in my aloneness, and it’s time to gain my footing for the path that leads forward.


Alone With Myself on the Curb….

I was alone; left on the curb of the street.

No more than five or six-years-old, I sensed that they had lost me for a moment, for I was rarely alone as a child, and I questioned the uncertain adventure that was before me. I wasn’t scared, but it was a curious situation for the middle child of eight children. It was odd, and I knew it.

I looked up to the house only about 30 feet away. The windows invited me in with the yellow light of evening, the warm aroma of dinner cooking on a chilly autumn night, the little heads of my sisters moving about; I was aware of me, but were they?  No one called or came out for me, so I let go, for what seemed like a very long time, of the warm blanket of safety that was my family.  My timid, tiny self just stopped looking over my shoulder and decided to stay put.

“Being present” wasn’t a common term or practice in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and if it was a little girl like me wouldn’t have known it.  But even though I could not articulate what I was experiencing I sensed that this was a rare opportunity to “be where I am” and to listen to my own thoughts. Honestly, in a family of eight kids, the noise of so many opinions and thoughts got muddled up in my own. I could never be sure if my thoughts were mine…or theirs.  So I did what I already knew how do to, I “noticed” everything and decided it was important.

It was a fall evening and the sun was low in the sky, giving the world I knew a golden glow that was cinematic.  The white of picket fences and trim around windows popped with light. The colors of the tree bark richly darken from the day’s rain, fluttering gold and orange leaves released from their sleepy branches, the red of the fire hydrant and the sturdy brick on our northern houses all created a romantic luster of a magazine picture. I was in love. There was nothing I enjoyed more than beautiful images found in magazines and the movies, and I felt some innate need to capture the moment as if my eyes were a camera lens.

Through a series of thoughts about whether my grandparents and parents could remember when they were young, I made this weird little decision, out loud, that this was a moment to remember.   So, I set about the act of observing every detail around me.

I was a petite child, rather meek, and can remember looking closely at my small pink hands as I spread open my fingers in the air with the moody gray sky as a back drop.  I observed that I had my father’s hands, square and strong, but when I moved them like an Hawaiian girl waving her hands to the Hula, I had the grace of my mother’s long slender fingers.  She had once been a hand and foot model, and her hand always looked so perfect in my father’s. I resolved that my hands were the perfect mixture of both of theirs and suddenly didn’t feel so all alone, as if my parents were always at the end of my arms.

The cold breeze on that Michigan night swirled around me and flipped about the bangs of my soft, brown pixy hair (a standard little girl cut in our house) and I watched the silhouette of geese honking their goodbyes as they passed over our rooftop. I could smell the crisp chill in the air combined with the lingering smoke of the day’s burned leaves and dead branches.  My mother was making a simple meal of hamburger, onions, and gravy that was poured over rice; filler-food, for a lot of kids. It wafted from the partially opened windows, and even if no one else was calling for me to go in, my stomach was.  I closed my eyes, my little body wrapped in the natural and home-cooked aromas of the day, and I resolved that autumn would be forever my favorite season…the place I belonged…the season when I was most aware and alive.

I can stillAt Age Five see my shoes, brown oxfords scoffed around the toes (probably worn by my sisters) and loosely tied, below brown corduroy pants faded at the knees. Wearing a candy red cardigan sweater over a polo shirt with buttons big and shiny; I liked to finger the smooth edges of those buttons. They looked edible.  I recall liking that sweater a great deal, so I felt safely tucked into its familiarity that unusual night.  Where I sat on the curb, my oxfords were damming up the run-off rain water as it headed for the gutter.  Orange maple, red oak, and golden birch leaves matted the water’s edge and little ripples moved the fallen foliage to their final vibrant end under the street.  I remember a sense of sadness for their going away, layered with anticipation for the first snow of winter that so many people of the seasons feel and understand.

I seemed to understand the changing seasons, even at such a tender age, as the normal push and pull of life, the sentimental mystery of time passing. Blame it on the movies or my father’s songs; I already knew autumn was bittersweet.

Along with the sad leaves in the little river at the curb, sat three little toy boats in primary colors. Made of hard molded rubber, they were propelled by twisting a rubber band around a spindle at the rear of the boat.  They didn’t go far or make much noise, but they were a favorite water toy of ours.  I worried for a moment about their safety in being left outside, but moved passed it to observe the sparkly pebbles in the cement that made up our street.  I marveled at how the street could be made up of such jewels of pink and pearly-white stones…like a treasure just ignored as people walked and drove over them.

Only minutes passed, I’m sure, but for me it seemed like time just hung in the air like the aroma of cedar and smoke.  Before the urgency of getting called from the house, I took one last look at the pure radiance of dusk and decided that I was meant to remember things. It would be my job, my calling to notice and file away images, aromas, textures and expressions.  I would do this for everyone in my family, because I felt deeply that ‘someone’ needed to slow down and see things; someone needed to remember.

As many young children feel, I believed I was living in the cradle of a perfect family and that my love for my parents and sisters and brothers was unique and stronger that life itself.  I believed we would never leave each other; it was unimaginable.  And yet, something inside my innocent self felt that, just like the seasons, life turned too quickly. It left me thinking there was a great need to approach all things on a sensory level so to record them in my memory for all time.  From the spring time smell of lilacs in the alley, the new smell of vinyl toys at Christmas, the sound of my father’s deep base voice to the look of deep emptiness in my mother eyes staring out the window; I experience the world around me with an acute awareness. From the embarrassment of having to wear bread bags over our shoes inside our boots to keep the melting snow from reaching our socks, to the warmth of my sister’s legs tangled-up in mine on a cold winter night; I experienced everything with deep emotion, as well, and never wanted to NOT feel those emotions. Over time, very little escaped me.

On that day, alone with myself on the curb, I had an awakening and made vows to the God within my soul to see and remember everything that I thought was important. Little did I know then that the trees and colors of the neighborhood we once lived in would vanish, and that the family that was held together with super-glue love would one-by-one grow up and leave.  That I, too, would be so removed from the seasonal changes of my youth, and that I would never know autumn like that again in my adult life.  My memories at the curb were just the beginning of a lifelong need to capture moments with my senses, perhaps for the day when no one else would remember.

In today’s information rich world, choked by an over abundance of arm-chair psychology and philosophies, one would say I was ‘mindful’ or hyper-sensitive. I might have even been diagnosed with attention deficit, since I was so often distracted by my senses as to be called a ‘daydreamer,’ ‘lofty’ and ‘a quiet and shy sort of girl.’ But even in early childhood, though I failed to have the vocabulary and understanding to express what I was experiencing, I knew it was some sort of gift or calling, this intense alertness to things around me, and to hold on to, remember, and recall the details of what my senses brought to me.

No one really cared. In those days, our parents were not being trained to listen to their children or promote their special gifts. I had to fit in, do my chores, perform as well as my sisters in school, sit down, shut up, and get to bed! My parents certainly gave me a rich life of music, stories, and nature, but I think they were much too busy just providing for us to single anyone of us out and give us ‘extra’ attention. We would have to do that on our own.  I often wondered if one of my parents or a teacher along the way would have seen this intense perception in me, particularly this sensitivity to the natural world, how I placed value on them and connected them to some sort of quality of life; if they would have encourage me to write or express myself through art, what creative things would have sprung forth?

Instead, I have lived an ordinary life, restricted by conventions and low expectations and my own choices to shelf my sensory perceptions and memories, to be dealt with ‘some other day.’ Babies to raise, bills to pay, traffic to dodge, people to please; with no encouragement or acknowledgement of any special gifts; I grew up and into what society expected and was quieted by self doubt.

I felt guilty if I shared my perceptions, indeed wrong if I dwelled too often on them. Heavy company, overly dramatic, moody, distractible, highly emotional, too intense; these are the things I’ve been called. Many times, all bottled up inside myself, I just felt like I was crazy.

But, I wasn’t. I know that now, fifty years later. I was born with sensitivity, intuition and the ability to see how fine details affected the bigger picture and people’s emotions; the kind of gift that leads to a highly creative life, if nurtured. It wasn’t nurtured, so it didn’t flow or grow. I let down that little vow-maker on the curb, and I am sorry for that. She was my authentic self and over the years I betrayed her, disguised her to be something else, quieted and shelved her to the demands of other people and voices that discredited her. I was afraid of her.

Authenticity, though, doesn’t go away. When autumn comes to South Texas, I see things that people who have lived here all their lives don’t see. And I remember the detailed dramatic autumns of my youth, like a memorized movie running in my head. I am still at the curb, taking in every aroma and sound, only now I am not listening for anyone to ‘call me in.’ I am aware of me, and it no long matters if anyone else is. I am alone and letting the remembering flow like the water along the leaf strewn gutter…cluttered, rippled, and dotted with colorful objects. The only one who is calling is that little voice inside me, wondering when I’m going to respond.

Perhaps my five-year-old self understood something that took me years to comprehend, when she proclaimed that ‘autumn’ is my favorite season, when I am most alive; the place I belong. Not in the way of ‘time in the year,’ necessarily, but more in the way of life’s cycle. Spring and summer were too busy and binding for the little girl on the curb, and winter is yet to unfold. Autumn would be the place where my own dramatic changes would unravel and become revealing with images and memories flowing like the stream at my feet and sparkling like the road that no one noticed and just trend upon. Seasonality is not only choice for me, it’s a gift; an ability to see the beautiful struggle of changes, its entire splendor from life to death, and not only embrace it but yearn, indeed ache for it.grainy half face colored eyes

The poets and artists have always known that autumn is the most romantic and memory-inspiring time of the seasons, when trees can no longer keep their leaves and must let go, the shadows grow long, the light is illuminating, and when the changing air sends a little shiver down our sweatered spines.  As I let go of youth, the tyranny of convention and obligation, and the privilege of time, so it is that autumn has become my most vibrant season of all. I am most certainly in the season of change, awakened and alive; where the little girl on the curb knew I was meant to finally ‘be present.’

If Not For the Rain…

“Come to the door my pretty one. Put on your rings and precious things. Hide all your tears as best you can, try to recall what use to be.” ~Gordon Lightfoot, “Love’s Return”

I sat on the porch swing tonight watching the rain pour down on our poor dried-up lawn. We’ve been in a severe drought for several years now.  Spring often starts out relatively green and fragrant, the mountain laurels heavy with purple blossoms, the red bud’s perky show of pinkish red flowers, the Mexican plum near my front door welcomes me home with a sweet aromatic bouquet. But soon the leaves fade to grayish-green, the lawns remain spotty, and everything seems to turn to dirt brown long before mid-summer with the cicadas buzzing in the trees and the sun sizzling the day into a baked emptiness.

As I softly swayed on the swing tonight, watching the rain roll off the roof, hovering slightly when the cold wind picked up and blew the downpour near, a bittersweet memory emerged of a porch-swing on a rainy evening long ago, though the memory was as clear as a bright blue-skied day.

I was in McKeesport, Pennsylvania with my boyfriend’s family, visiting his Croatian grandmother in her quiet little neighborhood of 1940s brick homes, tree-lined streets, manicured lawns, little pocket parks of swings and merry-go-rounds; the family neighborhood of steelworkers and immigrants who had prospered and stayed on.  His widowed grandmother made the best apple strudel I was ever to have, and moved around her house of many up and down staircases with ease and surety; a soft-footed ‘angel of the house,’ as Virginia Woolf would have observed.

My boyfriend and I were young, only 18 and 16 years old, but old-fashion and certain that ‘we’ were meant for each other.  We found ourselves sitting on his grandma’s porch swing, high above the street and rich green lawn, watching a thunderstorm shower this old eastern town with a hardy spring rain. We were happy to be away from the kin-folk, at last alone to soak up the drama of the rain storm and the sweetness of our young love.

He was everything to me, as I was everything to him. Not unlike other first time loves, we couldn’t get enough of each other. We, of course, lived by the moral foundations of our times, and weren’t about to blatantly make-out or get carried away on his grandma’s porch, but we found delight in the subtle exchange of little kisses, holding hands, and my leaning firm against his arm as I curled up closer to him with every thunder clap and spark of lightening.

It was simply a sweet moment. The air was rich with lilacs and lily of the valley and the fresh aroma of rain-cleaned streets with the swish of cars passing by. We didn’t talk much on that swing, but we seemed dreamily in the same place. We were intoxicated for the first time on love’s sweet promise and both seemed happily anxious about what the future had in store. I loved the scent of his skin, a scent that every now and then I will encounter on a young man passing by, or even my own son, of sweat and denim, Carhartt jackets and leather boots. He was not a boy of words, but he made it clear that he loved my bright eyes and rosy lips, and the feel of my little hand in his. That was enough for me, and I thought I could live on that complete feeling for the rest of my life.

But life had other things in store.

We were to marry four years later, but little did we know that we did not have the resolve to move through the challenges of life together. Perhaps we were too young and hadn’t really found out ‘who we were’ before we pledged our hearts to each other, but the road led us to faraway places and unforeseen sadness that our love simply could not shoulder. After nine years of marriage it was officially dissolved, and I never saw him again.

Forty-four years have gone by.  New loves, new places, many houses, marriage, babies, and grown children, and yet something as simple as a rainy night sitting on the porch swing transported me back to that place where I once felt completely loved and cherished, full of hope and possibilities. It has been so long since I’ve felt any of those feelings, that it was easy to rock in that image, to see it all again through the sheets of pouring rain, and to recall the warmth of an innocent time.

I don’t pine for him anymore, though I did for many years. He went his way and found what he was looking for, and for better or worse, I found my way in the world as well. But, I can’t help but wonder, maybe hope, that on some stormy night, when he, now gray and showing the years on his face, finds himself sitting on his porch watching the rain, that he might think of me in passing and remember how much we once loved each other.

I am surrounded by young people these days, all holding hands, gazing at each other with adoration and desire, happily making their plans and enjoying this time in their youth. It’s a joyful time, as it should be.  And yet I feel compelled to tell them secrets; secrets about love and how it can go right or wrong.

For love can be like the rain. It can be fickle. It can come in with gusto, be exhilarating, rolling and pounding away on your emotions like a thundering storm.  Or it can be torrential, flooding your thoughts and overwhelming you until you feel like you are drowning and need to save yourself. Or it can be a soft, constant shower, drenching you slowly with a gentle watering of pleasure and consistent nurturing.

But love, like the rain, can slow down, tapper off, come to a slow pensive drip off the house you built together and …stop, as well. And like the trees and plants in your garden, it can dry-up for lack of watering and subsidence. Love needs to be refreshed; carefully cultivate and gently re-planted, if need be, with the things that make it grow and blossom. Love does not continue on its own, and once it has been neglected long enough, it is like a plant that has not been nurtured, it’s stem gnarled and ugly, dried to a crisp, it’s roots detached; it most likely will not come back to life again.

It is unfortunate for some of us, now older and wiser with broken hearts that have been glued back together, that we should be so aware of this little secret about love when it is, well, almost too late. But perhaps, if the young are listening and watching carefully, they will learn from those of us who have lost. Love is not a stagnant emotion. If it is to remain alive, love must flow and breathe and be born again and again. Lovers must be vigilant. They need to watch their partners like a mother watches a child; know what it needs before it asks. They need to give each other space to grow, affection that never turns away, and words that produce more smiles than tears. Sometimes, in the depth of trouble and disappointment, that will be hard, almost impossible. But, do it anyway. Not because some piece of paper tells you that you must lawfully bind yourself to this person, or your church says your love was sanctioned by God.  Love begets love. This is a simple truth that is so easily tossed aside by pride and resentment. Don’t let the flower of your youth dry up for lack of love. Water it. Let it flow in sheets of passionate down pours or gentle, consistent showers, but let it come. A drought isn’t pretty. It’s a painful slow death from want and thirst.  If not for the rain, there would be no hope of life, or love’s longing to stay alive. Do it to hold on to the love you once had. That young love that sat sweetly on a porch swing watching the rain, hand-in-hand, with tender kisses between the threatening claps of thunder.

My swing is empty, the rain has stopped, yet my memories of love have taught me well. There is always hope for showers again tomorrow, a quenching of thirst after a long drought, a green garden and fruitful boughs and the promise, with nurturing, of sweet love’s return…and, maybe, a piece of apple strudel shared from a grandma’s old recipe box, on some soft rainy day.