pull up a chair

where wisdom gathers, poetry unfolds and divine light is sparked…

Month: July, 2007

letter from camp

in our house, it is nearly extinct. the tradition, that is, of writing letters from camp.
we do seem to get the requisite one. the one that keeps campers from dinner if they don’t hand it over. the meal-ticket letter, basically. you walk in the dining hall, you cough it up–signed, sealed, stamped–or no grub for you, pal.
regardless of its position on the endangered species roster, the chap i live with, the one who rolls in the door most evenings, newspaper tucked under one arm, tie loosed at the neck, a veritable modern-day version of ward cleaver home from the office, asks every night: any word from the woods?
he is hopeful, the man who married me. so very hopeful.
well, what to our wondering stars did appear just a few days ago, not one but TWO (sit down, she used the capital letter key. quiver me timbers), t-w-o (in case you were so distracted by caps, you missed the point there), real-live, hand-scribbled (and i mean scribble; it took a committee of two to decipher a few of what must have been code words, written in deep-woods hieroglyphics meant only for campers) missives, complete, you can see for yourself up above, with delightful delicious illustration of the old family symbol for how much one is missing the other. (his outstretched-arm little stick fellow so finely fine-tuned for the occasion with the addition of backpack, quick-dry shorts and boots, each labeled and arrowed.)
the letters were rich: news of 12-mile hike in pouring rain, complete with hail. and aborted overnight sleep-out when counselor discovered campsite was closed.
the letters were heart-wrenching: the news, illustrated, that we were missed, more than ever before.
the letters were wise: the sentence about how it might be time to take a pause from observing the world and get to know himself, find the person he really is.
and the letters made me worry all night: the news that his feets and his boots were not getting along, not at all, and the mere removing of socks was, in his word, “excruciating.”
perhaps the news just above is the heart of the reason a mama whose son is at camp is better off believing that a day without mail is a day without worries. maybe it’s true, after all, that no news is good news. and a mama is not meant, by design or decree, to hear but a speck from her boy in the woods.
ah, but what would a mama be without worries? heck, she would be barely employable. she would defy job description. she’d be snoozin’, asleep on her shift, slumped in the corner. whole assembly lines rumbling by, parts missing, and she’d be utterly useless, lids down, zzzs roaring.
mais non. a mama with cubs is a mama awake and trembling with worries whenever she can. it makes her feel needed, it makes her feel useful.
so i do what i can to keep myself in the business.
i lay awake a good chunk of the night, picturing my boy with his feets red and throbbing. remember the ingrown toenail commercials of long, long ago? where that big fat red toe was pulsing and blinking? the little red zigzags, a halo of pain, streaking out from the toe? well, that was the scene that i saw in my head. only it wasn’t his toe, it was his feets, right and left.
i pictured the child, limping along, miles behind even the next slowest camper. but then i said to myself, self, cut this out. he is, as you fret, most likely ensconced deep in a golden-charred marshmallow. (i know his taste, know it precisely, know that he likes a bit of burnish up on the top, but the underbelly he likes looking like charcoal.)
so instead of sinking in worry, i reread the letters. i wiped away tears. i read them and held them as if they were him.
they were, really. that was the beautiful thing. the boy digested his soul, digested his wit, spit it out in sentences that sounded just how he sounds.
it was, as in all the best letters, as if i was holding a piece of his heart, right there in my hands.
a letter from someone you love, really love, is not only rarer than rare these emailing days, a letter from someone you love is a full-service smorgasbord. you are filled. you are sated. you get a taste of all of the food groups. you drink of his joy. you chew on his thoughts. you push back from the table, the letter, you think you want more. but then you sit for a moment, and you feel yourself full.
you walk, yes you do, back and forth to those letters. you read once again, you soak in the essence. the boy that you love has sent you a piece of his soul, of his story.
and you can’t wait for more. though you know it will not, more than likely, come in the mail.
you wait, yes you do, ’til the real thing himself comes out of the woods.
and then you will sit and you’ll listen, you will. you’ll get the whole deal. you’ll smell it. you’ll see it. you’ll hear of the ups and the downs, and the in-betweens, too, as you soak and you rub those poor aching feets.
and, better than best, you won’t have to slide it, not one little bit, back in the envelope.
the envelope, by the way, that’s worn out from all the pushing and shoving, the shoving of pages you’ve read and re-read, so many times you could tell them by heart.

anyone else getting fine morsels in the mail this summer? s’mores in the form of pages of print? do you read them and read them again? have you sat down to send any missives yourself? summer, it seems, is a fine time for brushing up on the fine art of letters. my hope, then, is that someone you love, really love, sends you a sheaf of all that is new, that is good, spelled out in words that stream on for pages and pages.
p.s. speaking of morsels, a few new ones on the ol’
lazy susan, the one spinning a little bit lazier now that it’s summer.

black & white & not-so-blurry

the day we decided to move here, the day we decided the house that we’d found here was about as good as any we could get, i was, after much gut-wrenching over the weekend, finally driving some big fat check to the real estate office.

we’d just spent an afternoon in the school my then-fourth-grader would be transferring into. and he was in the back seat reading some charts they’d handed him in the school office. actually, they’d handed the charts to me, but he’s a curious kid so he too wanted to read the numbers.

that’s when he piped up: “hey mom, it says ‘caucasian, 98 percent.’”

we both swallowed hard. i could hear his gulp.

that was not a world we’d lived in, not a world we believed in. but we’d been looking in places where the world was colored the way we believed it should be, colored in many colors. not just one. and we couldn’t find a house we could afford there.

not one that didn’t need to be ripped apart from top to bottom. which on top of buying was not something we could afford. we had to buy ready-to-live-in. and a house, when you hear it call your name, as this one did, is hard to walk away from. so we were, yes, moving to a town where the color is 98 percent white.

and that’s when i, squirming in the front seat, made a promise: “sweetheart, more than ever, we are going to have to seek out a world that is not all white.”

and so, we have. and so, when i heard a few years ago about a summer camp where kids from the inner city jumble it up with kids from whitebread land, i got in line. i had to wait, though, ’til my little one was old enough to fit in one of the camp t-shirts.

this summer he got his t-shirt. this summer he went off to twig, a name that stands for together we influence growth.

it’s a camp started 41 years ago, by a black man, married to a white woman, who’d left the city, moved out to where there were few to no black faces. he, a disciple of martin luther king, did not believe in such a world. just found himself living amid it.

he believed, like i do, if you start young, if you start with simple summer games, you too can grow up thinking the world works best when it comes in many colors. when the colors blur, don’t matter, ‘cause you don’t see them anymore.

so he got a bus, filled it with kids from the old neighborhood, drove it out to where he’d moved. he invited white kids to play with black kids, and the other way around, as well. it worked. and it’s been going now for two whole generations. the kids of kids who went there long ago, now sing some of the same silly camp songs. wear halloween costumes one friday in july. splash in the same cold lake, learn to swim in the fancy high school pool.

i was in, mostly. i’d be lying if i didn’t say i had at least a few qualms. the bus ride, for one. there was something out of kilter, i thought, about a plan that had the city kids doing all the riding on the bus.

little ones, as young as 5 and 6, were packed on a bus, rode one hour back and forth each day, to come to where the leafy trees are, and the swimming pool is deep and blue.

i wasn’t sure i liked that the suburban kids got dropped off, from their minivans and SUVs and station wagons, just a hop and skip from their houses. why didn’t the leafy kids get on a bus, ride for one hour each way? why not split the session, half in leafy land, half in inner city?

maybe they were worried there wouldn’t be enough campers to ride the other way.

but then, all summer, i’ve been hearing about my little one’s new best friend. his name is ricky. he lives far away.

and because at 5, a child sees and names what he can see, i heard early on that my little one was friends with all the african-american kids. but his best friend, he told me, was ricky.

i met ricky just the other day, on the last day of camp. my little one had been sick and missed the whole last week. but the last afternoon, his fever had been gone for a day, and we wanted to say goodbye and thank you. so we made a giant thank-you card and off we went.

as we stepped into the auditorium where the camp production of the lion king was just about to begin, there came running down the aisle a little guy with a smile beaming, from his face, yes, but mostly from his eyes.

before i could say a word about not getting too close, what with any stubborn leftover germs or anything, they were tangled up. arm in arm, hand through hair. touching tummies. touching backs. lips to ear, ear to lips. giggling, laughing, rolling, twirling.

they were kids who were, simply, best friends. no colors asked. no colors mentioned.

we sat together through the play that went on forever and ever, despite the fact that i could barely hear a word. but right beside me, the two best friends put on a show i’ll not forget.

for one thing, i now know there is another kid on the planet with as much imp in him as i know is in my little one. between their matching dimples and their pint-sized energy-pack bodies, they could be bookends. they seem to share a delight in making funny noises with their body parts. they know each other’s silly jokes.

as i sat there absorbing the beauty of their wholly blurred little selves, as one giggle morphed into the other, as arms and legs and trunks coiled and bumped and heaped on top of each other, i clearly saw the picture i’d been intent on seeing years ago, back when i made a promise that we would seek out a world that wasn’t only white.

i still don’t like the bus ride business. still think i’m going to raise my hand and ask if we might practice taking turns. how ‘bout three weeks the leafy kids take the bus; the other half, the city kids come to where it’s leafy?

but in the meantime, we’ve got little ricky’s number. and any day now i hope to hear those funny noises they make with body parts. doesn’t matter to me, if it’s our house or his. just so what started this summer never ends.

oh goodness, talking race is not so easy. it is laced with pangs and twinges. guilt. privilege. what’s fair, what’s not? but not to talk of it is worse. if we don’t keep fumbling forward, how do we not settle for the status quo? how do we change a world that seems to keep falling along dividing lines? colors? religions? cultures? i bring this to the table not because i have it figured out, not because there are no soft spots in my thinking. i bring it to the table to hear your thoughts. and to say that, in the end, despite my doubts and misgivings, my uneasiness about what i worried had a tinge of “hoity white kids open arms to poor black kids,” i saw something beautiful. something i want to last. i await your thoughts? how do you live in a world without dividing lines? how do you break down color barriers?

the grampa who would not be

it started so unsuspectingly the other day. the phone rang. a woman was on the line who thought she might have a story for me. a sweet story. a story about how her husband, a retired plumber, has been out in his garage workshop for months, building a playhouse for his youngest batch of grandkids.
i really should come by, she thought. it was quite something. even had electricity so they could hang a lavender chandelier, and, in december, a lighted christmas tree, just like one she’d seen when she was little and never stopped wishing she too could own.
now, those who knew and loved my papa might never take the double twist in mid-air that i’m about to take–knowing that not in a million years would my papa be one to lift a hammer, or, geez louise, string a chandelier. it remains to this day a question of much debate: could he change a lightbulb or did he need to call in an executive assistant (who would be, of course, my mama)?
but as i pulled my notebook off the shelf, headed out the door, en route to see this grandpa who was building dreams for his little grandkids, i was washed over in missing for my papa. specifically, for the grandpa who would not ever be.
it’s odd. my boys are 14 now, and almost 6. so it’s not as if i suddenly realized they were growing up without their grandpa. there were moments when i was awaiting their arrival that i’d felt that twinge, or worse, the deep throbbing, for the truth that they’d not know his belly laugh, or his hot-wired wit.
and over the years, grandpa geno stories have come to slide into conversation almost as if they’d just unfolded the day before.
but spinning stories, recalling tales that make you laugh more deeply than they should, only because you are hoping that in the deep rejoicing you can sink down into a place where you can almost bring him back again, so you plumb the bottom of your belly, hoping, half expecting.
all of that, after a long while, is only fumes.
it is not flesh and blood. it is not his left hand, the way he wrapped it around his tennis racket. or the indent on his bald head where the farm dog, long long ago, raked its claws through his moppy curls, dug right to his skull, forever left a long comma up where hair had been. it is not the glint of his gold wedding band, the way it always caught the light when he was typing, flashing, shining, with every other downstroke of an “a” or “s” or “d.”
there was something about thinking of this grandpa who was very much a fixture in his grandkids’ lives, who could haul out a jigsaw and cut a heart in the plywood door, who had struggled through the construction of four paned-glass windows, who would hole up in his garage, country-western tunes crooning from the radio, that made me ache for all the hours that had not been.
that made me miss the grampa my boys did not know.
the one who never got to do the 100-yard dash across the front yard, and beat them every other time, just so he could prove that, even with his, um, expanded gut, he could do it.
the one who didn’t teach them how to watch the wristwatch, and make sure to flip those eight-and-a-half-minute burgers at the precise and pre-anointed moment.
the one who didn’t get to teach them prestidigitation, just one from his long list of tongue-twisting words that he used the way most folks use catsup and mustard. on top of everything.
grief is like that. it comes up, sometimes, and taps you on the shoulder. you think you are merrily riding your bike down the gravel lane. but then all of the sudden, the pulsing breathing shadow is there. is right beside you. brushing up, whispering in your ear. you turn to look. and that’s when all of a sudden, your wheel goes wobbly. you tumble. you skin your knees on the bumpy gravel. and it hurts. for a while.
you clean the bits of grit out of your bloodied knees. you put on the mercurachrome, that stingy rusty stuff the school nurse would always drip from her evil dropper. you slap on a band-aid. and off you go.
only, for a while there, it hurts to bend your knee.
and so it was, that as i drove to see this grandpa, my very own little one, riding along behind me, out of the blue piped up about his grandpa geno.
“did grandpa geno ever embarrass you? i mean bring out baby pictures when you were 16?”
i held the wheel, but wondered mightily how his thoughts had drifted in the same direction as mine.
it was my turn to ask a question: “do you ever think about grandpa geno?”
his answer: “not so much. i can’t hear him. i can never hear him.”
ouch. i blinked. blinked and tried to drive for the big lump i was swallowing.
he, apparently, was still interested in the subject: “is he funny? very? would grandpa [he means his beloved new jersey grandpa] like his knock-knocks? [he and his new jersey grandpa have a rolling knock-knock joke routine; it’s been going on for a good year or so, it seems].
“do you remember his knock-knocks? [apparently he thinks all grandpas are synonymous with the telling of really corny knock-knocks.]
“even one?” he asks, insistently. hoping just the way i do, i suppose, for just the tiniest hint of something to hold onto.
he wraps it up, there in the back seat, with this: “i never saw him, before when he died.”
he was born, the little one, a full 20 years after his grandpa died. all he has of his grandpa geno are his mama’s stories. stories that over the years he’s made his own. as has his big brother.
but he has no knock-knock jokes. and no chandelier hanging from a playhouse in the backyard.
and some days, out of the blue, that makes the hole feel very big. it makes the tumbling from your bike, and the skinning of your knees, sting like nothin’ you have felt for a long long time.

sweet friends, i know i am not alone in missing a papa or a mama who is no longer. who is not a part of the everyday of all the others we have come to love. we’ve talked before about missing a parent for who they were to us, but what about to little children who grow up not knowing. only holding onto wisps, but not squeezing a hand that you can feel even now. just closing your eyes. do you get caught out of the blue some days, if it’s been a while? or is it still too new and every day brings a wobbly moment, where you can feel yourself going down, onto the gravel lane?

cat patrol

sequestered in the house, felled and fevered by a bug that would not leave, the little one was left to dull diversion: his mother’s whims, the drone of a channel she disdains (but after five days of fever, who does not surrender?), whatever flickered by the window.
and so, it was as if abbott and costello had rolled in the neighborhood when a pair of chipmunks took to romping just the other side of the patio door on day 5, the fever hostage crisis.
heck, with all the romping just beyond the screen, even the drowsy cat stirred from his deep slumber. as he ambled to the door, john wayne style, he caught a glimpse of what was causing all the ruckus, and i tell you he licked his little lips.
the cat, you see, has been on something of a chipmunk binge this summer. there’s been some whispering in the house that he was on a mission to right the wrongs of the scampering population that, months ago, had set the other brother, the manchild, soaring through the air, launched from the seat of his mountain bike by a chipmunk in the trail whom he didn’t want to squish.
that bit of aeronautics, you might recall, resulted in a neck that broke in two. the boy’s, not the chipmunk’s, mind you.
and while i’ll spare you the bits and pieces that i’ve discovered, morning after morning, waiting on the doormat, i will assure you it is not the morning’s news. although i am certain what i find is reaping heartache and big headlines in the nearby land of furry little critters. they must be quaking at the knees, fearing for their futures.
it had been decreed, by the fevered child, that the hungry cat would not be leaving the premises. the cat, poor thing, would be stuck inside with the rest of us. as long as those two chipmunks were within sniffing distance.
but the cat, you see, had been sleeping since the morning. and the cat was wiggling in that way that kitties do when they need to, you know, attend to kitty business behind a bush. that cat, i’m telling you, was all but crossing its legs.
i tried to bargain with the gatekeeper. please let him out, i begged. or there will be a puddle to pay.
and besides, i tried convincing, we are right here. those chipmunks aren’t so dumb that they’ll not run away. (sometimes as a parent you must make up little ruses that skirt the truth; you must grease your way to winning the debates that crop up, oh, on the 8s, as they say on all-news radio. you must fib, even on a day of high, high fevers. how did i know it would not be chipmunk legs for dinner?)
at last, the screen was pulled, the cat let out. but then, in a flash, the fevered one went with him.
the cat leapt down behind a bush. the fevered child went too. the cat crawled over branch. the fevered child, too.
egad, i squawked, what are you doing?
“i am keeping turkey” (psst, that’s our cat; don’t ask) “out of trouble. i’m guarding him from chipmunks.”
it went on like this for a whole zig and zag of moves. (that purple advil, have you noticed, is a wonder drug.) wherever kitty went, the boy was sure to follow.
i could hear, i swear, those chipmunks snickering in the offing.
the little one was all over his campaign to save the ‘munks. for a boy with sweaty brow, the feat was rather something. he was, apparently, trying out all his superhero moves. had there been a tall building, he would have leapt from it. had there been a phone booth, he would have torn off his pajamas, emerged with flapping cape.
as it was, our episode of chipmunk boy to the rescue drew to a whimpering conclusion when the crusader merely scooped the cat, held him wobbly by the belly, and hauled him back inside.
with the kitty safe beside us, still drooling for the tasty morsels, we slid the markers on the scoreboard: chipmunks 2, cat 0.
ah, but that was just an inning. for the summer’s game, the cat, alas, is way ahead.
and that’s the sorry entertainment for a mama stuck inside since sunday.

psst. what do you do to keep from going nuts when you too are housebound by an ailing child? or an ailing self? besides chasing cats, we spent some time constructing a get-better box, which i might have mentioned in the past. it is a fine thing, a thing i‘d made for sick boy no. 1, but it’s since worn out, so we made a new one. it is a box that is filled with little quiet things you can play in bed, or on the couch. it only slides off the shelf when you are aching, or hot and fevered. it makes the land of counterpain not so lonely. and when you’re better you air it out in the sun, chase away the germs, return it to the shelf. wait to play ’til another sickday. you might tuck inside some jacks and a ball. a little set of colored pencils. a teeny deck of cards. a particularly chambered seashell. a rock that could be from the moon. besides the cool wet washcloth to the brow, it is the sweetest part of being sick. at least at our house it is.

on a much deeper note, today is the day my farmer friend terry is marking the fourth anniversary of her firstborn, beau, dying. it is a terribly hard day down on the farm. i would ask you to remember her, and him, today. and hold her up, however you do so. she could use some arms around her. i am reaching mine.

what every kid should know

i swear i stopped reading books about the growing of children the day i peeked ahead into the “when things go wrong” chapter of “what to expect when you’re expecting,” the bible they handed out with the very first obstetrics appointment, shooshing you out the door with prenatal horse pills in one hand, “what to expect” in the other.
you might think someone wired like me might be inclined to read every roadmap under the sun. but in fact, i’m winging this act. mostly, i swing without a net on the mama trapeze.
except for when it comes to snippets of nostalgia, guidebooks and missals that harken back to a way of childhood that is no longer. only i insist it can be resurrected. should be. must be.
dozens of these titles came to me in what was the mecca of my mothering university. a little shop called sweet pea, a magic place. a place as magic as any i have known. it was a place with a proprietress who believed that the minimum daily requirements of childhood boiled down to simple playthings carved of wood, woven from pure cotton, and a vast imagination to turn those few fine things into fairy castles or gnome homes, enchanted forests or starlit rocket rides.
sweet pea is no longer, but the shopkeeper is still around. and she is still slipping me titles that do wonders to my heart, my soul, the growing of my boys.
not so many months ago, one that caught my eye was “catch a fish, throw a ball, fly a kite: 21 timeless skills every child should know,” by jeffrey lee (three rivers press, 2004). but years before i’d stumbled on “the american boy’s handy book,” centennial edition, by d.c. beard (nonpareil books, 1983), originally published in 1882.
it is the latter that i read as literature, going on as it does about how, before 1915, boyhood was seen by most grownups as a “state of natural savagery,” and then goes on to remind that savage, after all, derives from the latin silvaticus, “pertaining to the woods,” which just might be the epicenter of all essential childhood skills. boy or girl, doesn’t much matter, far as i can tell. (by the way, there is a “girl’s handy book,” which i’ve not got on my shelf.)
the handy boy’s book, written by the man who went on to found two groups (the sons of daniel boone and the boy pioneers) that would merge and become the boy scouts, is a primer that holds up huck finn as the archetypal boy.
and, delightfully, for a girl born smack dab in the middle of america, points out that a genuine boyhood can best be found in the real part of the country, ohio and missouri, two states so named. where “enough of the frontier democracy survived so that practically all boys were expected to be little savages.”
not so, the foreword tells us, on the atlantic seaboard, where “the idea of boy-as-savage was complicated by the rapidly growing class structure. a son of the upper class, and even a son of the bourgeoisie, tends to learn that self-control is what makes his class strong.”
alas, a boy in boarding school cannot whittle away precious hours in the woods. poor child.
according to the handy book, a boy could get by in boyhood with only these essentials: “a jackknife, some twine, a few fishhooks in the lining of his hat, and an ax.
“he could fend for himself all summer,” we are told.
but then, for the next 441 pages, it spells out a few more lessons: how to build a corn-stalk fiddle, how to build a minnow bucket, how to camp without a tent (a whole chapter here), how to rear a wild robin, how to spear a fish.
before it ends, it teaches how to build 10 kinds of boats, 16 kinds of kites and hot-air balloons and fishing tackle. how to build a hut from pine boughs. how to build one-person canoes. even squirt guns with astonishing range.
on and on it goes, drawing me, the wistful reader, deeper into the woods and deeper into a past that was gone before i got here.
then, along comes a modernized, and somewhat sanitized, “catch a fish,” the jeffrey lee book. he purports to pick the 21 timeless skills every child should know. while it is a trove in terms of explaining things, it is lacking in the poetry of ol’ dan beard.
mister lee, whose parents were chinese immigrants and, he says, fairly clueless about what a homespun american kid should know, stumbled on his primer the hard way. his father, he writes, was forever going to the library to try to read up on whatever skill seemed necessary to impart to his four california sons. lee, in an attempt to fill in his father’s blanks, lays out all he thinks a parent needs to know in one simple manual.
way he sees it, the essential skills are these: catch a fish, throw a ball, catch a ball, plant a tree, ride a bike, bake bread, fly a kite, juggle, build a fire, make a sand castle, play a blade of grass, skip a stone, make a paper airplane, do a magic trick, eat with chopsticks, build a wooden box, spin a yo-yo, grow a garden, make apple pie, throw a frisbee, name the stars.
i find the list charming enough. but, of course, i would edit. i think i might erase the chopsticks and the wooden box. juggling, too. no offense intended. but i might tend toward the more poetic.
i might add: catch a firefly and let it go, sleep under the stars, grill an egg on an upturned coffee can, hop across a gurgling creek, sit silently in the woods, tend to an ailing bird or a baby squirrel, make a clubhouse out of a refrigerator box, fingerpaint a rainbow.
i don’t think i could stop at 21. i might go on to 100.
just now, in fact, i’ve thought of these: sew a hand puppet, make lemonade from lemons, build a go-cart, take tea and crumpets to an old lady down the block.
egad. i could get lost here. spend my whole darn day dreaming up the essentials for every growing child. it is why, i think, i was drawn to this mama business in the first place.
i only wish i could grow enchantment for a whole planet of little children. sadly growing up in a world where so many woods have been paved over. and if you carried home a baby squirrel someone might call the police.

have at it, people. what essential skills would you put on the timeless list? the sky, of course, is the limit. go for the moon, if you so choose. i can’t wait to see what we here at the table insist is non-negotiable. perhaps we can rewrite the book on how to be a child in the third millennium before these arts become lost ones.

suddenly, r-e-a-d-i-n-g

it started like every other climbing into someone’s lap. there was the shifting of one bottom to make room for the other. the nestling down just so, the interlacing legs. then, lean back, shuffle shoulders. comfy, yet? oh, wait, the book, don’t forget the book. little legs leapt up to get just the right book. then start it all, all over again. the climbing in, the shifting bottoms, the wrapping little legs in big legs, the shoulder jostling. at last, all set.
only this time, only no one knew it, this here was a runway.
for months and months–years and years, really–we’ve been pointing at scratch marks on pages; you know, the little wisps of ink, sometimes tall like soldiers, sometimes full of humps like camels, sometimes with little dots, or criss-crosses like the jib across the mast on a sailing ship.
all those squiggles, they must have looked like this: jkelsoi sjtiwm xooe,s.
no wonder he needed pictures to tease out the tale.
but suddenly, the other night, an ordinary summer’s night with just a slice of moon, and a big brother far away, so the little unscrambler of the alphabet had his mama and his papa all to himself–and you have to wonder if soaking up all the sunlight all yourself makes the grapes on the vine ripen just a little more succulently, a little faster–that little boy took off.
the book that birthed the flight was all baseball, all the time. he’s turned the pages, soaked up the pictures a hundred times before. nothing really stuck. but this time, we could tell quite quickly, something wholly new, something deep, was clicking.
it is, i tell you, like watching someone catch the wind. talking we are born to do. these sounds come flying from our mouths, and after months and months of listening, we learn to string those sounds into little tiny words. even if at first, they are rather lumpy.
not so, reading. reading takes some doing.
there are those, i know some, who’ve never made the leap. who are locked in a world where even bus signs remain a mystery they’ll not decode. they rely on the mercy of strangers, and an odd soup of shame and gumption, to get through the never-ending maze.
not so here. not anymore.
his papa and i were practically in tears. he was beaming, plenty. it was a moment witnessed all around. often, that doesn’t happen. to learn to read, sometimes, is a solitary triumph.
but this time it was a holy communion of sounds and spirit coming together, words leaping all around the room. and with them the hearts of a mama, a papa, and a little boy for whom this leaping did not come without some true determination.
it started with the names of baseball teams, a page with logos on it. at first we thought he was merely spitting out the symbols. but then his papa pointed to obscure ones, teams that are no longer.
bing. bing. bing. he did this little trick his reading teacher taught him. he extends his lanky little arm, he taps each sound, of every letter, in a chopped-up deconstruction, then slides it all together with a whoosh. what was a string of disconnected sounds becomes a word, a necklace really, of bright and shining grunts, beginning, middle, end.
on and on, he picked up speed. grabbing book and paper off the shelf. whatever had a word, he was making sense of it. it was as if the giant combination lock inside his little head had finally, after much jiggling of the dials, settled on just the right parade of numbers, and he was off and reading.
“oh my goodness,” we mouthed, glancing back and forth from boy to page to each other’s wide-eyed, drop-jawed face. the wheels aren’t wobbling. the boy is pedaling without those back-up baby wheels. there he goes, down the alley. we’re holding tight, but now we’re not. we let go, and he is soaring.
you could see it in his face. and beneath his little arms. it was as if a wind had up and lifted him. he was glowing. he was spinning. he was reading words, plucking one after another off the fence, as if each was a big fat crow and he was tossing corn.
pluck. pluck. pluck.
there will be, of course, long roads to go. but for now he knows the feeling of the breeze, carrying him, taking him, alone, to places he’s not been. he can haul out a slim volume, or a cereal box, and he can make it all make sense. or at least grope his way through the not-so-murky swamp.
we live, ask my mother, in a house where books are everywhere. too many books, i’m told. the shelves groan, i’ve heard them. they bend. sink low as if they too are protesting, threatening to break. let go. spill stories to the ground.
a house where all the walls are reinforced with books is a house that i’d say is constructed well. it makes me feel safe, wrapped in friends.
it is a house, indeed, where you want to know the secret to unlocking all those pages. whole rooms, now, have opened up to him. worlds, too. but you knew that. because you are of the great society of readers who each, once, long ago, tripped upon the perfect combination that slid each tiny letter where it belonged. and for you, as for the latest little reader, the world was ever opened.
to have watched that moment happen, indeed, was to rediscover and remember that once upon a time the universe of lined-up letters was a club to which we did not belong.
and in a moment of pure invention and creation we stumbled on the very thing that, through the many many years, would bring solace and solution, heartache and heady heady wisdom, all rushing in.
one blessed sentence at a time. starting with each sound, then syllable. soaring high from there.
it was, i tell you, like watching birth. only this time i was not the one lying down, looking through bent knees.

do you remember the first time the letters lined up for you? behaved? made sense? for me it was “the night before christmas.” i was reading to my papa, standing just beside the darkened family room window. dinner had just ended. i remember turning, looking behind me, as if some magic wand must be tapping me on my shoulder. for this was the purest form of magic i’d ever known. have you watched a little person catch the wind? taught them how to do so? patiently stood back and watched the wheels start spinning all on their own? can you imagine a world where we were cut off, an island all our own, because we couldn’t swim across the great wide gulf of scratch marks that made no sense?

next best thing to a rooster

at 4:39, he kicks in. which, even for a girl who dreams of scarecrows and rolling hills embroidered with french knots of bush beans and curlicue cucumbers on the vine, is a tad farmerish.
i mean the night is still rather much the order of the hour. only the barest bit of blue is beginning to dribble into the batter. mostly, it is black out. it is still fine time for keeping eyes closed and dreams a-rollin’. for not yet planting feet on floorboards.
ah, but papa cardinal doesn’t think so. apparently, he thinks the street needs a rooster. either that, or it’s the only open slot in his busy schedule for what sounds like a one-on-one tutorial, with a little fellow not long out of the nest, a little fellow with some throat work on the docket.
the yodel class, perhaps, demands an early start, to convey the fine points of the warble before the noisy day drowns out the session. papa cardinal seems to have a student, a not-so-learned feathered thing who needs to pick up a thing or two.
in the vocal department.
and so, just outside my window, the one i’ve opened for the breeze, papa and his protege go on and on. he seems to be instructing in the fine art of waking up the neighbors.
first it’s papa, a proud, thick, much assured, “whoit, whoit, whoit, whoit.” then, a little less assuredly, a little wobbly, the echo comes. or tries to come. it’s more a half-baked, “wha, wha, wha.”
which, come to think of it, is not unlike a baby child learning how to exercise its grave displeasure with the grownup world, a world where milk might be forgotten were it not for throaty hollers.
it goes on, the echoing, for a good 45 minutes. before the whoit-wha drill winds into silence. break time, maybe, when the instructor flutters off to down some worms, pump up his lungs again.
i don’t mind a single lusty note. don’t mind one bit all the racket in the leafy classroom, just beyond the would-be sleeping chamber.
frankly, i crave a rooster.
alas, village laws won’t let that happen. not unless he comes with muzzle. which would, i think, defeat the purpose.
so i go with red bird. serenading the dawn away.
and i realize, right away, this waking up to a feathered version of the radio in my ear, is far superior to the squawking of the morning’s news.
would i take a “whoit, whoit, whoit” over scratchy deep-throat spelling out the casualties in iraq, or the latest blunder on capitol hill? you betcha. sign me up for cardinal broadcast, early on the a.m. dial.
it’s the closest i will probably come to waking up, on a daily basis, to the full-throttle cock-a-doodle of ol’ rudy rooster. a sound that when i was little i heard a dozen times a day, at least. and not because we lived on any kind of farm. just because the hippie neighbors played doctor dolittle and stuffed a whole menagerie in their old orphanage, right across the fence.
much as i don’t mind, though, there is a little problem. i share a bed, you see, with a fellow who would like to sign that bird up for a tonsillectomy. one that required putting that throat on ice, oh, for about a year or two. but only in the pre-dawn hours.
by day, that bright red would-be rooster brings joy to the nth power. even to the sleepy fellow with the pillow on his head.
it is like having your very own treetop sentry. the way he clings to one yard as if he owns it. which of course he does.
we are poachers on the cardinal’s turf. and he is deep in the task of teaching yet another generation a thing or two about singing from on high.
and i, up in my bed, get to listen in on class. the more i listened, the more i knew, this was something sacred going on. i had seen, just the other week, the fine art of teaching flying. and now i was listening in on how to sing like a cardinal.
we are not the only species who spend our hours teaching our young just how to be. the chain of evolution carries on, sometimes taught in warbles and flapping wings. and if we pay attention, we too can sing along.
because i find this whole thing about as amazing as anything i’ve considered in the last month or two, i looked it up, in a fine fine book i’ve got, a book called “the birder’s handbook: a field guide to the natural history of north american birds,” by paul ehrlich, david dobkin and darryl wheye (simon & schuster, 1988).
there, on page 601, ehrlich & co. talk all about how birds learn their songs. some birds, it seems, are hatched knowing all the lyrics. but many, the northern cardinal among them, need to go to school.
“the learning of songs is a gradual process that takes place over a period of weeks or months,” ehrlich writes. “typically, a vague, jumbled, ‘subsong’ appears first, which then gradually is transformed into a more structured, but still quite variable ‘plastic song.’ the end point of this process is the production of a stable repertoire of ‘crystallized’ songs.”
these birders go on to tell us that the “social bonds to the song tutor (usually the male parent)” make all the difference in terms of what songs are learned. i found that bit of reading rather thrilling as it spelled out what i’d been thinking: this was a father-son singing thing going on. i was not imagining the echoing.
there is also a theory, one i find quite fine, that birds are born with “auditory templates,” meaning a neurological blueprint of what a song should sound like. a bird, then, develops its song by matching what it hears with what’s inside its little brain.
it is this, the birders tell us, that helps a baby bird to filter out those sounds that have no meaning, while drumming in the ones that fit their so-called lyrics. (imagine if a cardinal took in the sounds, say, of a squawking squirrel. or, worse, the cement mixers that rumble through the alley. egad, it would be a noisome chorus.)
again, this bird-song filter is not unlike a human baby who is born with the capacity to make the sounds of every human language, but over time develops only those that it hears again and again. which is why a grownup learning chinese might struggle, and a baby doing the same could pick it up just as easily as any other language.
once learned, a bird’s song is most essential. not only does it mark its turf, and keep out intruders, it is also known that a male singing stimulates ovarian development and accelerates nest building in females. or, get this, “females use size and complexity of the song repertoire to assess a male’s overall potential ‘fitness’ as a partner.”
sounds to me like checking out the pecs at some singles bar, or spring-break beach.
only, in the world of birds, such shopping is so refined. a warble here. a warble there. a song is born. a pairing, too.
no wonder papa bird is hard at work, teaching all those trills. it is the song of heaven being imparted. and i’m not slamming windows, shutting out such joyful noise.
even if it jolts me wide awake, at 4:39 each morn.

oh goodness, apologies for the late start today. besides the warbling, there was a sick camper to attend to, all night long. my questions this morning are these: do you too crave a rooster? do you delight in waking up to birdsong? do you hear it? or is your air conditioner humming, drowning out the morning chorus? have you ever thought before about the fine art of teaching song to bird? or how little children take in the world of sound? which sounds matter, which do not? i tell you it takes your breath away, to be witness to such heaven-sent instruction.

twas a big weekend in the newspaper. i’ve told you i had a story to tell about the finest farmer lady i’ve met in forever. and that story now is told. you can find it here, which will link you over to my day job. it is a story i hope you’ll not forget. i know i won’t. we are all, all the richer for understanding the story of beauregards farm.

oh, p.s. about the rooster perched up there above. i tried, i really did, to get papa singing in the trees. but what with the leaves and all, it is rather challenging to get him in the crosshairs of my lens. thank heaven, i have long had a rooster thing. this little fellow was more than happy to pose for pictures. he sends a mighty cock-a-doodle-doo.

little people’s little lives

like a mama mouse, or a lilliputian of extreme proportion, i have always been drawn to little rooms. i mean really little rooms.
rooms with teacups the size of thimbles for your pinkie finger. and candlesticks made of a matchstick, snipped in half. and teeny tiny banana bunches, bananas so undersized you might mistake them for a grain of fat risotto. or, the thing that truly sends me to the moon, a newspaper, or a book, with turning pages, each page printed with words so deeply shrunken you’ll go running for the eye chart, and the doctor to go with it.
when i see a little door, or a window peering in on someone little’s little life, i cannot not fall to my knees, start putzing, re-arranging chairs.
i do believe i spent the better part of a good chunk of my youth, certainly from kindergarten to 11, with my nose and my little fingers, stuck in someone’s little house. when i was five, i built a whole village, complete with steepled church, for a ladybug i’d rescued. she, of course, was catholic, and she sat through mass each sunday.
indeed, for a few key summers there, i lived and breathed for the building of my dolls’ house.
all this came swirling back to me just the other day because my best friend’s little girl was here. she came from california, and she, like me, lives and breathes for long unspooling little stories of little people in little places.
but she, being a southern california girl, a child of l.a., she spins her stories with peculiar twists that could only be those of a wise and wiser-than-her-years daughter of the sit-com city.
why, her uncle bob was the one who dreamed up the wonder years and later something called malcolm in the middle, of which i might be among the few in america who are clueless as to what that is, so i should not be surprised that in her dollies’ lives the middle son is rather troubled. “disturbed,” i believe, was the word the 9-year-old used. “he works it out in therapy,” she said, straight-faced.
oh my goodness, can’t you tell, that what goes on in little houses is not much different than full-sized lives.
the dollhouse, i would surmise, is a fine stage for playing out all sorts of plots, twisted and otherwise. and thus, perhaps, the reason i’d propose that every house have a dollhouse. within reach. tucked just off in a corner. at all times. for years and years.
you never know when you might have a little narrative to work out. or a spat that needs some play therapy.
perhaps it’s why, to this day, i am so fascinated by the human drama. i practiced it and practiced it, as a little girl, moving my dollies around their little rooms. i do remember naughty little dollhouse children jumping on their dollhouse beds. and i do remember dollhouse mommies scolding them for doing so.
despite the fact that both my boys are boys, i bought us a dollhouse early on. when the older one was two. i found, in one of my all-natural, all-wood-plaything catalogs, a fine colonial. two floors. ample-sized rooms. lots of windows.
i ordered with it a room or two of furniture. the essentials: a kitchen, a bedroom. and a little nuclear family–what appeared to be two grownups, two kiddies, both genders, though they were amorphous enough that you could have used your imagination and needn’t be offended by some pre-determined definition of what constitutes a family, not in the third millennium where all is open, wide and free. even in dollhouse politics, thank you much.
i don’t believe, sad to say, that anyone around here, besides me, has put in the dollhouse hours i’d hoped for, puttering about that little place, spinning stories by the chapter, with a nightly marker to hold the place ’til tomorrow.
i do know that the latter child, the one more inclined to do so, did a fine job redecorating with a magic marker that is not of the washable ilk. the roof now sports some fine graffiti.
it reminds me of our old neighborhood.
oh well.
i keep the little house on hand for the occasional little friend who might just take to playing the way i used to.
i kid you not there were two whole summers where every single morning i leapt from bed, and every single night i dreaded turning out the light. i was obsessed (an early sign of trouble, i suppose) with cutting out bits of fabric, gluing cardboard, raking my house and, my dollhouse accomplice, martha hackney’s for little bitty treasures to make our cardboard boxes as habitable as they could be.
that proved to be an especially fruitful exercise at martha’s where the closets were crammed with geoffrey beenes and oscar de la rentas that we’d scoop off the floor. alas, martha’s mother or martha’s mother’s cleaning lady always managed to snatch them away just before we put our scissors to them, not knowing they weren’t there to upholster our little couches.
it was there, in a pre-shrunk world of my own making, that i, like any domestically-driven child, came to understand the sanctuary offered by four walls.
it is, i think, where i sprouted roots that only deepened in my affection for the house, and what it stood for. what it offered in ways that anchored me, let me loose to unreel my kites.
sprawled there, scissors to the left, glue bottle to the right, it dawned on me that as i padded my cardboard rooms with certain colors, certain textures, i was unlocking much more than just decor. i was building spaces that made me feel safe. that charmed me. that set my dreams soaring out the windows, into the beyond.
as i’ve grown, i’ve done the same in all the places i have lived, places no longer made of cardboard, and martha hackney’s mother’s hems.
i suppose i’ve often felt a little sheepish, depending as i do on what surrounds me in a room. but it is not about how it looks. it is, rather, how it makes me feel. i am, not unlike the little girl who spent hours making teeny tiny books and sewing pillows the size of chiclets chewing gum, still kindled by the stage sets all around me.
when i walk in a room and inhale a particular cobalt blue, or see the old tin cookie cutter tucked along a favorite heirloom cookbook, it sets my dreamer wheels to turning.
i think, in many ways, i am still a little girl playing with my dollhouse. only now, you can eat the bananas. but you still can’t jump on the beds.

i am curious, did any of you spend hours at your dollhouse? what drew you more intently, the building of the rooms or the unspooling of the stories? or were they wholly intertwined? do you know little children who spend hours on their knees, at the foot of the dollhouse theater? and do you still find that the way you arrange your big-size rooms sets you to feeling safe to dream, and launch your big-size hopes?

beware: the pretenders

don’t be fooled, people. those squat red orbs skulking in the tomato bins, they are not what you think they are. they are impostors. not even particularly convincing ones. but they’re lurking.
they are there to tempt you, make you want to take a bite. but don’t, i tell you. not since eve has there been such reason to resist.
oh, not that all mankind will fall apart. not that paradise is ours to lose. we lost that a long time ago. back when eve told adam to clamp down with his incisors. or maybe, sadly, when jfk was felled that awful dallas day. all i know is, this ain’t camelot no more.
and it sure is not tomatoland. not today anyway. and not tomorrow.
do not be seduced by the pretenders in the produce aisle, that’s my caution. if it’s summer’s essence you think you’ll taste, think again. it is not yet tomato time.
i know, i know, the calendar says july. and i know you cannot bear to wait another minute. i also know that what you see, piled high and looking greased, for heaven’s sake, is neither brandywine nor big boy nor his hefty sister, big girl, either. (i’m not so sure i’d take a liking to a name like that, by the way, if i were dangling on a vine, awaiting summer’s blush to come my way.)
that fruit you see there, it is either a.) a hothouse social climber, or b.) trucked in from far away, plucked before its time, so as not to turn to mush, or tomato puree, inside some steaming truck along a jampacked interstate, zigzagging coast-to-coast.
all because we are a nation, an anxious lot, that cannot stand to wait. we do not do so good at twiddling thumbs. oh, no, thank you, we want service and we want it now.
you want your tomatoes before their time? well, then, you will have to settle for costumed styrofoam, might as well be halloween, posing as the height-of-summer’s most prized champion of the vine.
for my money, there is no finer indulgence than the sweet and runny first bite of the summer’s finest fruit, the one that pretends it’s a vegetable.
a clear clean aorta-gushing bite, is what we’re talkin’. not that whitish-grayish-pinkish composition that makes you think someone drained the tomato out of the skin. which, frankly, they did.
they’ve gone and worried about every blessed tomato factor, except the way it tastes.
but there are those, and i am one, who know where to find the real thing. and how to wait.
i am waiting.
but even i get fooled.
just the other day, my sweet mate and produce purveyor on occasion, had occasion to be somewhere near the knuckle of the ring finger of ol’ michigan’s mitten (they talk this way in michigan, i kid you not, everything is of the hand; what they mean, basically, is he was up north in the great car state).
there, beside the road, he saw a stand proclaiming to be a farmer’s stand. he bought a peck of red tomaters. he brought them home. odd, i thought, that northern woods would have a true tomato before my friends in central illinois.
but i, like adam, succumbed. i gave in to mid-july temptation. i took the bait. i bit.
bllkkh, is all that i can say.
then i did some sniffing around. i investigated what was in that farmer’s grocery bag. and there i noticed, dead giveaway, a sticky little tag. no farmer i know takes the time to tag his harvest on the way from field to truck.
this was not a farmer tagging fruits. this was some industrial operation, masquerading as a farm, growing bushels, yes, but in arkansas, for crying out loud. i could have pedaled my wicker basket to the nearest grocery, had i wanted a tomato from the home of sam walton and that chicken man who looked like ross perot.
what in the world were they doing peddling arkansas tomatoes up in northern michigan, under the guise of some suspendered farmer’s old wood stand?
those dern tumaytahs had traveled 790 miles, at least, from little rock to kalkaska, and another 227 home to me. with the going rate for gasoline at somewhere in the 3-bucks-and-change range, that means those faux tomatoes racked up a whole $177.98 in travel expenses before they got within drooling distance of my mouth.
for that much moolah i could have planted my whole back yard in big girls, only i would dub them maybe bodacious babes, or honey-you-got-you-some-cheeks. and i would have irrigated them, hourly, with perrier, the fuzzy water that broke the ice when it came to wanting more in h2o than what flowed from the kitchen faucet.
please do not tell my tomato driver that he drove all that way, pulled off the road, for little less than nothing.
but promise me, you’ll not fall in the same tomato trap.
repeat after me: it is not quite time to take a bite. it is not yet tomato hour, no matter how tempted you are to think so.
in the meantime i will help you bide the time, by sharing with you my supremely top-secret how-to-eat-a-tomato strategy:
grab the finest salt on your shelf. a good gray sea salt will do. kosher, in a pinch, is swell. next, pull down your pepper grinder. no shaker here. you need the grinding action, which will make it rain, should the stars align, in quarter chunks of peppercorn. you need that bit of grit to really score the bite we’re after.
now, for the hard part: when you have been alerted, by certified letter, that the tomatoes on the vine, or at the farmer’s market, are the genuine article, none of this ersatz tomato business, you may then pass go, go directly to your botanic destination. do not squeeze. use your nose, for heaven’s sake. sniff out the best there is. then take it home. oh, don’t forget to pay. unless it’s from your own vine, you’re plucking.
rinse, shake, grind.
now bite. is it running down your chin? are you drooling? or are you swooning so, you hadn’t even noticed? or given half a whit?
well then, repeat, repeat. when all is gone, you’re sort of done. only you won’t want to stop, as you’ve been waiting a whole long year, and the weeks preceding, what with all the temptation you’ve been thwarting, have frankly been a bit of hell.
so, then, chomp on. i won’t look. wolf as many as you can, before your belly bellows: time out! i can’t take another luscious bite.
once your tummy settles, though, carry on again.
we’ll be back to mere impostors soon enough.
and you know what that demands: tomato abstinence, the penance for pretenders.

how do you do tomatoes? do you have concoctions you wait all year to make? is it not worth the wait, that sweet first bite, which we’ve yet to take? or have you? have you some secret local source for the real thing, dripping down your chin? ’fess up. let us hear your tomato truths.

drip drop

out my window now, the morning sun is rising. shaking out its golden dust specks, like a schmatte used to clear the cobwebs. golden glowing bits are scattered everywhere.
but not so in the morning just a day ago. the air then was thick, felt on the verge of something moist. the sky was void of all things golden. there was no shaking out of dust rags, at least not the glowing sun-drenched kind.
i dallied not. i carried on with this and that, got my little camper out the door, paid no mind to the stirrings of the sky. didn’t even notice when it started falling.
it came on without a bang. just the softest whisper of a pit-a-pat. the sky, it seemed, was dripping, was leaking, was wringing out its soggy summer clouds.
it lulls me. it called me from my puttering around the morning house, where, before the pit-a-pat, there was mostly quiet. only the tick and tock of a grandpa’s clock interrupting silence. and the sound of my own bare feet, padding up the wooden stairs.
but then i heard the softness, the barest breath of shoosh. the parachuting, free falling, of the water-sodden mist.
i heard the summer morning’s rain, and i scuttled over to a window, where i leaned against the sill, and i watched the rain fall. i felt my hair go curly. curlier. it curls already, and when the rains come it gets kinky curly.
i looked around for puddles. but then i saw that this was not a puddled rain. this was softer, still, than that. this rain had only drips that swelled to drops, and, by design and definition, did just that.
i watched the dripping dropping for quite a while.
found myself outside, huddled beneath a bush, watching water swell on the tips of leaves. watched teeny tiny water droplets grow, collect, rub elbows, like passengers squished inside an elevator.
the drops just hung there. waiting. bulging. bloating. deciding, perhaps, if they were yet inclined to take the fall. or wait around. wait for more wet riders to pack the lift, push a button, pick their floor, and then, poof, the load was met, the weight exceeded, the water drop was dropping to the basement of that green-leafed department store. “ladies’ shoes and belts. please watch your step.”
i don’t often get to watch the rain. but i did yesterday. because i was home alone, and my work day, not yet started.
it is, a summer’s rain, a blessed interlude. it comes on, sometimes, with no more notice than a darkening. a gray sky that hovers for a while, suggests.
but i’ve often seen—i’m sure you have, too–a summer rain that comes with sunshine playing peek-a-boo, or boldly holding onto, not backing down from, its high and mighty post, blithely shining, fully occupying sky. sun and rain, together, sharing airspace. with a rainbow, their teacher’s sticker, for doing swell at cooperation.
a rain in summer is often just the thing the doctor ordered. you can almost see the garden’s growing fellows crank their necks, open wide their gullets, swallow deeply. sometimes even hard cement and asphalt streets let loose a cloud of steam, thanking sky for cooling off their hot and dusty faces.
i know a summer’s rain is balm to me. it soothes parts of me i didn’t even know were hurting. ’til i hear the rain. and then the healing washes over me. like the rain just yesterday.
i did the oddest thing, i did, when i came upon the rain, the very opposite of what you’d think a grownup would think to do when the rains come: i opened all the windows. i let in the mist, the sound, the scent of falling rain.
i thought this old house could use a spritzing. nothing got wet. no sills are soaked. or even splotted.
i just felt, deep inside, that a good rain on a quiet summer morning was the very thing to cure whatever aches and pains this house is feeling. the wood floors creak, some walls have cracks. maybe a little rain therapy could ease the rheumatism that nearly always comes, that sets in all old joints, wood or bone or otherwise.
the rain was gone by hour’s end. the sun, back out.
but, until the high-noon dehydrator had shlurped up every drop, every leaf was glinting, a hundred thousand gems spilled across each bush, each branch, each bough.
the world was sparkling, jeweled for all the morning. so, too, my soul.
i heard a pit-a-pat out my window. heard the soft rain falling. heaven sent me holy waters, and i drank in every drop.

to botchedly misquote ms. browning, i think that i shall never see a poem as lovely as a summer’s gentle rain. those of us who huddle ‘round the shores of lake michigan, got our sprinkling yesterday. that might be our dose for the week, though the weather page does tease us with little rainclouds stacked up for today and tomorrow. if i were to pick the top 10 sounds that soothe me, a summer’s rain would have to hover high on the list. funny how the rain, as opposed to snow, comes complete with audio. have you curled up and watched the rain fall lately? aside from puddle jumping, it might be the finest precipitation participation exercise. would you agree? or do you have other things to do with rain?