Smells of Summer

My young feral instincts

understood 

raindrops’ residue on hot pavement

(without being told or taught)

meant summertime,

In the same way 

cut grass goodness

dictated and begged

our nightly revelries — 

barefoot

(Ghost in the Graveyard

firefly chasing

front porch sleeping).

Working in the garden,

turned up dirt

lingering and clinging to

Daddy’s wrist and arm hairs

muddied the kitchen sink

spraying earth fumes, 

inhalation inevitable,

unavoidable,

welcomed.

The Waiting Game

“Waiting for . . . the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No. . . just waiting.” From Dr. Suess’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go

Terrifyingly, 
she lost consciousness 
in my arms and I
thank any and all 
gods attending us — 
for our Nurse Practitioner friend,
(now family) 
reviving her, and 
for Gigi
(also now family)
who had the presence of mind and 
free hands to 
call 911, and 
for the paramedics 
who arrived in minutes,
Amen.

They took her away 
for her second ambulance ride 
in as many weeks, and 
thus began the waiting, 
the longest day of my life.

Tears were cried,
hugs were given, and
received,
more prayers were prayed,
calls were made, 
and we waited. 
Six am until ten pm on that 
longest day’s ever night 
for a conversation
with the doctor — 
any doctor — 
for news on my girl.

She was 
so 
very 
very 
sick, 
the doctor said, and 
thank goodness 
they had her 
right where she needed to be, 
back in a hospital bed with 
tubes going in, and 
PICC lines coming out,
for the myriad medicines going in.

They said she would be 
staying 
for a long 
long while — 
for this infection 
consuming her lungs,
was waiting, too.

We can play 
(and win)
the waiting game,
we cried,
hunkered down
for a long 
winter’s month — 
warming up 
phone lines,
facetimes,
and bowls of soup
between us —
the distance always too far
for our waiting hearts.

Days and nights
became weeks
waiting
for the medicines 
to work,
for the chest tube 
to drain,
for the doctor’s calls
to be non-emergent,
for the hospital
to let me in,
for my tears
to stop,
for my fear 
to dissolve,
for our nightmare
to be a bad dream,
for permission
to go home.

The waiting
ended
(finally) and 
we drove away,
leaving the waiting,
(impossible to see)
behind us,
packed to the roof,
as we were,
with living.


Peach Sap

Sunday afternoon I was sitting gratefully under the shade of a pecan tree, whose leaves are shaped like a peach tree’s leaves, in my estimation. We grew up with an old peach tree in our yard, but I think trees prefer to be called “mature,” instead of old. Our peach tree was perfectly situated behind the old carriage house, which had a low slanted roof from the back grading up toward the front of the building, which my parents used for lawnmower, tiller and large garden tool storage and a workshop for my Uncle Tom when he would visit in the summer. I could pretty easily get myself up into that peach tree and climb its super sticky branches onto the back roof of the carriage house. The tree’s branches were just tall enough to offer my tiny self and her book a modicum of shade over the just-right-sized spot on that scalding carriage house roof. The downside to being up there was, of course, the sap stuck to my fingers, which then smeared from page to every turned page.

There was also the day I discovered our cat’s — it was either Cupcake’s or Twinkie’s — collar wedged up in that peach tree, which he’d promptly gone and configured himself out of the moment Mom brought him back from a very embarrassing (for him) trip to the Vet. Being butt-less in the wilds of outdoor cat living was an ego-blow he had to face head-on, no collar to announce his coming. He may have lost the fight that landed him at the vet and cost him both his tail and his derriere, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to walk around with his head held in place for him. I am pretty sure the day I discovered and delivered that missing cone to my mother was the last time she ever paid for any pet’s veterinary needs again. We were always a menagerie; there were just too many of us not to be.

In the sixth grade our classroom moved outside for a week — it was called Camp Greentop — and (thank you, Google, I just learned that) from 1957 through 1996, every student in Frederick County, Maryland, “enjoyed the opportunity to make a national park their school.” Another fun fact just learned by me 30+ years after attending Camp Greentop is that it was the second of three camps designed and built in the Catoctin Mountains, with the third camp of that 1930’s construction era being Camp David. My time at that camp as an excessively skinny prepubescent girl predisposed to climbing sappy trees to enjoy quality alone time with her books (and none of her seven siblings), was both enlightening and embarrassing.

We went on actual nature hikes for class, looking at and learning every type of leaf associated with every type of tree that our precious slice of the Catoctin Mountain showcased. We were shepherded late at night onto a large open field, most certainly with a fairy ring in its center, for a class of star-gazing, learning and looking for the constellations visible on a late starry night in May. We scoured the woods for flowers and poison ivy, touching and picking none of them. Also I peed my pants during one of our day hikes because I was a new 12-year-old who didn’t know who to tell or who to ask or where there might be a tree behind which I could — no, I could not — hold it. And, no, I didn’t, couldn’t, tell anyone. I relocated myself to last in line and raced my way back to my cabin as soon as I was back in camp, surreptitiously swapping my under and outerwear before my high school senior counselor found me for mess hall responsibilities.

It turns out that I was in the stingingly painful throes of my first ever bladder infection, but I didn’t know that until I got home at the end of my week at Camp Greentop, bringing with me my wonder and my shame, racing to the laundry room to put my under and outerwear into the washer, an extra scoop of soap to be extra sure no one would know. I wanted to climb up the peach tree with my book du jour, get covered up in sap and sticky fingers, surrounded by leaves I now knew were: deciduous. Instead, our 60-year-old babysitter sent me with her husband to see our family doctor, also a man. So my longing to climb up the peach tree and pry loose my embarrassment to leave it behind was never realized. I got spotted immediately by our old babysitter, who was probably just matronly and mature and understood things I couldn’t see or say. Mrs. Perry was perfectly-situated to ask me where there might be a tree behind which I might be hiding. Cupcake or Twinkie, whichever brother it was who got his butt bit off in that late-night fight — turns out that he and I aren’t cone wearers after all.

Bees and Birds

Bumblebees spend their days banging into my window and into each other — it must be something to tumble through life because you’re just so happy to be in it — you touch everything in your flight path, albeit frenetic to the outside observer.

The mama hummingbird outside our kitchen window splits her time between nest sitting and food sourcing for the babies she’s sitting on top of. We keep a pair of binoculars on the counter next to the sink for 24-hour surveillance of the life flitting back and forth in front of us. The nest she built gets just as many views from us as she does; its craftsmanship at a mastery level my knitting only dreams of attaining in this lifetime of needles clicking. Curt’s Aunt Carol recently told me, casually of course, that I’d have to knit faster if I ever hoped to finish anything. She’s right, of course, but I do have a track record now of beginning projects being completed, begging the beginning of something new, which is where Aunt Carol was sitting next to me — at another beginning.

Our curiosity that our neighbors (whose house is the backdrop for the hummingbird’s nest) might — or must — wonder if we’re scrutinizing them with our round-the-clock laughter that tumbles and tangles together like two bumblebees on the back porch: the bounce effect of belly laughs only ever begs for more.

We spent the last four days in New York City, bumbling our way through the City That Never Sleeps. We took the stairs underneath 28th and Park and swiped $2.75 each (that’s the current rate to ride the MTA) to get on the 6, which would take us to the 7, which would take us to the B, all of which would take approximately 28 minutes. But this was the wrong 6, heading in the wrong direction, so we exited through the same turnstile we’d just paid $2.75 each to enter. We walked up the stairs to 28th and Park, did the Hokey-Pokey, turned ourselves around, went back underground, swiped another $2.75 each, and stared at the same wrong 6, heading in the wrong direction. Rinse, lather, repeat — back through the turnstile, but this time I asked the MTA attendant sitting in his box for help and when we walked topside to come subterranean and swipe another $2.75 each, I did it with confidence and verve. Start spreading that news. . . I’m looking at the same wrong 6 for the third time! and the MTA guy is looking at us shaking his head waiting for his moment in the subway break room to talk about the two bumpkins from Birmingham who spent $16.50 in a ten-minute swiping spree to figure out how to cross the street NYC-style: by actually physically crossing the street.

Bumbling, tumbling, and laughing our way through life is the lesson we keep learning from the bees and the birds who fill our windows and our hyper-focused lenses with reminders that through the lens of someone else’s window is the funniest and most fun way to be:  just so happy to be in it — you touch everything in your path, albeit frenetic to the outside observer.

What Love Made Me Do

During a recent doomscroll session on Facebook, I pulled myself away and forced a full stop. I had a mission to fulfill.


But first, the doomscrolling — I belong to a private Facebook group made up entirely of women who in some way are separated from the Mormon church. Some are inactive members, others who have openly removed themselves from the church, and still others who are in mixed-faith marriages (with one of them engaged in the church and the other not at all, or participating with limited activity), but all of them on what I would call a faith journey. Confessionally (and by the way, Mormons don’t have formal confession in the way Catholics do, but that adverb specifically seemed the right one for me to choose in this moment), I initially joined this group two years ago to see if I could find clients in my work as a transformational guide. I have never actually solicited anyone — nor do I intend to — but I have stayed on as a witness.


Whenever I pop onto this private page to read what’s been posted, to catch up on the lives of these women spread across the country in their range of communities, life and relationship circumstances and stages of their respective faith journeys, I am no longer surprised by the common and persistent theme of posts and responses to said posts. These women are hurting, and deeply.


Most of the women who post (there are over 9000 members in the group and certainly not all of them are posting, myself being part of the latter percentage) are sharing intimate and vulnerable situations they are personally encountering. All of these situations are heartbreaking for me to read, especially with the pile-on comments that add up to literal volumes of the stories of families abandoning their loved ones, mothers and mothers-in-law belittling, guilt-tripping and blaming their daughters, and entire communities gaslighting, ostracizing and turning their backs on these struggling women.


They are alone and they are seeking support in an online forum, where they’re not alone in their fears and in their experiences. It’s so difficult to read these accounts of mothers not loving their daughters.


My mission, which became evident to me only at the bottom of one-such doomscroll session, was to immediately step away from Facebook and to shut it down completely, and to then open FaceTime and call my own mother.


My mother answered my call with a whispered finger drawn across her lips, warning me not to speak too loudly because she was at work, at her volunteer position with the Mormon church as a researcher and a guide for anyone visiting the Church’s records building in Salt Lake City, Utah.


“Why are you calling me at work?” she whispered before I’d had a chance to make any noise.


“Hi, Mama! You sure look pretty today. I just wanted to tell you that I love you!”


“Well, I love you, too. Now why are you really calling me?”


“No, really! That’s all I wanted to say. I’m just so grateful for how you keep loving me even though I don’t go to church anymore.”


She so matter-of-factly stated: “Well, of course I love you no matter what. You’re my daughter and I love you.”


“Yes, well there are so many women I see hurting because their mothers are choosing to fight against them instead of just loving them, and it makes me so sad for those moms and their daughters, and so grateful for you and for me. I just wanted to be sure you know that.”


And my mama — who is the actual greatest — looked at me with her beautiful soft smile and said, “I do.”


My mission — to ground into what was, what is, and what will be — is, has been, and always will be — to love out loud, just like my mama continues to do with me.

Taking Up Space

I went for a run two hours after the call came from Curtis that his dad was gone. I covered familiar ground, sticking to the sidewalks through the neighborhood nearest the village library. I just learned (I read every single installment of the library e-newsletter, of course) a water pipe to the fire suppression system burst and released a large volume of water into the library. I have never heard of a fire suppression system, but mostly I am sad when I think about that wonderful building holding my heart on every single page on every single shelf. I don’t know what new and temporary location will hold space for us when we gather as lovers of words while we wait for repairs and replacements to be made. Recovery takes a long time and I’m still mentally preparing for and reminding myself of that truth. A couple of months ago, I gave my spare library card to Curtis for safekeeping because you never know when I might need him to run down the hill or swing by the village on my behalf: my library proxy.

Have you ever noticed how much space we humans take up? That space occupying was all I could feel, see and hear while running my library-adjacent route: the man walking three tethered-to-each-other dogs, the two women pushing double-wide strollers (coffee mugs in-hand, too consumed with their conversation with each other to notice me using the same sidewalk), the jumbo-sized SUVs in the morning school line (stretching endlessly-adjacent to the sidewalk I was running), the distracted drivers with no crosswalk awareness cruising straight through their right and left turns (completely oblivious to my permission-granted blinking light trajectory, swiftly dodging their swift deli meat slicer moves), the overly-cologned man leaving a trail for my nose to unwillingly follow (with the window of his truck cab down all the way), the wailing siren somewhere in the distance (unseen but felt in an instant in my heart — my sharp breath intake, breathe out a silent prayer for peace, for grace, for love), the laughter of a cluster of middle-schoolers making their way through the same crosswalk as me (but in opposite directions). Trapper Keepers took up more space in my backpack than their clever commercials promised, but I had to have one.

We’ve been walking Curt’s dad to his next adventure, Curtis and I, these past few months. Taking up space in his room, where he’s gradually occupied less and less of it: walker-assisted walking, to a fall that rendered him bedridden, to therapy to move that hip, to reassert dominance over a wheelchair, sitting upright with self-propelled mobility, to nursing station hangouts, filling that hallway with his jokes and quick retorts, inciting laughter and delight (both space taker-uppers), and then back to bed, curled up in the fetal position, refusing food and water because they take up too much internal space.

Love (and grief — because grief IS love) takes up space and moves between and among us, filling us all — all at the same time, with no limit to its capacity. It might be the great mediator among us, Love. While we wait for repairs and replacements to be made to our hearts, I remind myself that healing, if there is such a thing to be achieved, takes a long time. I’ve noticed that my dad, who’s been gone three years now, and that Curt’s dad, who’s been gone just eight days, are still tethered to us, taking up a lot of space inside of us, holding our hearts on every single page of this story we’re still living out loud and writing in real time.

Kalanchoe Vibes

I’m sitting at the quaint two-seater table on our back porch, a pot of recently-watered blooming yellow Kalanchoe in front of me, listening to a dozen different bird species greeting the morning (and each other) in full surround sound.

I love this start to our Monday morning and to our week with everything possible in front of us, like an advent calendar whose individual doors are hiding a surprise I can’t see until it’s just the right time.

We spent all of Saturday and Sunday sitting with Curt’s dad as he transitions; Hospice says it will be today. I wonder if there’s a word for this watching and waiting window, like sitting shiva, but before they’re gone. It’s certainly a sacred time of honoring, whether there’s a word for it or not. 

The call just came. He’s gone. Now the birds’ extra-buoyant  chatter makes more sense.

hell with a little heaven in it

“As I Lay Dying”
That’s what I’d call this chapter
His chapter
We’re just reading it
Out loud
As a group
Gathered
Witnesses
Heartbroken
Just go
Finish the chapter
Please
We’ll write the next bit
On your behalf
Grateful
So much material
Exists
With you

Knocking On Doors

Not to keep on about this
Door knocking and
Us opening said door

I hate to think it; let alone say it
But is it possible
You’re wearing out your welcome?

Not that we welcome you
Except when we do
Which of late is the case

House and heart guests can be wearying
Like fish, they say
But please, make yourself at home

We hear you banging
Beating repeatedly, incessantly
Coming heavy-hearted to the entry, or is it the exit? 

Opening to you
Closes us to him
The intersection of breath and death

By the way, we received your hostess gift:
Grief arrived before you
Barely visible beneath all that baggage

Dimentia

Our sweetest Easter
He doesn’t know it’s today
He always knows us.

Lotion on each hand
I gently massage his feet
Hours he will forget.

Who needs Easter eggs
We found joy in front of us
Spending time with him.