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

Month: August, 2007

molasses light

molasses light

i caught a lick of it just the week before last. seeped through a late afternoon window. oozed in between branches of honeysuckle.

there it was pooled on the dining room table. scattered like seeds on the wall just beyond. it is the light that i live for. it is the light of the autumn, when the globe starts to tilt and the slant of the sun shines more purely, i’m certain.

now, i’m no monet. i know not a thing, not a sciencey thing–or even an art one–about light. how it falls. how it bounces through bits in the air. how our eye knows.

but i do know a thing of the soul. and light, i am certain, unlocks some deep-inside chamber. lets it out. lets it flap like the monarchs that fill the air now. that busy the garden.

and when the fall comes, the light comes right with it. comes before it. knocks on the door, says, excuse me, it’s time for the summer to go. that was the warm-up. far as some of us think.

the real golden days, they are coming. they are autumn. and the light through the window, it tells you. it hints. it gets the pot bubblin’.

it gets me bubblin’, for sure. as long as i’ve lived, as long as i can remember, the fall is the time when my body starts humming. my heart sings along.

the light through the window, the light through the crack in the door, it’s pure gasoline. probably high-octane. i could go round-the-clock when the light turns to autumn.

is it blue light, or white light? or is it molasses?

i can’t quite decide.

i know, though, i’m not alone having noticed. i’ve heard here and there, the snippets of something, the talk of the light. it’s changed. have you seen it? i’ve heard people whisper.

i’m sure deep inside, maybe back of our eyes, there’s a meter. a little widget with dials and buttons. it takes in the light, into a beaker. it measures it. weighs it. marks it as “autumn.” tells the brain. signals the heart. sends a message: dig out the sweaters. start thinking apples. and maybe a simmering stew.

oh, am i jumping the gun? geez, it’s not even september, and here i am woozy for fall. for the “er” months: september, october, november, december. i love them all. some get quite busy, but that’s not here yet. and maybe by then we’ll come up with a plan to avoid the confusion.

right now, we’re just on the brink of what i might call the molasses days. the days when it’s golden. when the light is so straight from the heavens. straight from the heart of what is.

these are the days that make you want to stick out your tongue and just lick it, the light through the window.

these are the days you can taste it. it’s golden and sweet. you could pour it on flapjacks. melt butter.

the light now’s delicious.

it is a most blessed thing to pause for a moment and let it soak in. consider the source.

this here is sacred time, far as i know. far as the jews do too. not too long now, the days they call the days of awe will be here. the highest of high holidays, rosh hashanah, yom kippur.

even though i didn’t grow up knowing those prayers, i do know them now. and now, as i chant them, the light through the windows, i can picture it now, will fall on the pages of prayer books. it will be golden.

it makes me think, long ago, a wise soul or two must have noticed the light. noticed the glow. felt awe drape the days, like some sort of cloak. woven of shimmery threads. told a story that fit the occasion. declared it was blessed.

which it is. the light through the windows, the light in the leaves, it is the light of a God who saved, i am certain, the best for the last.

here it comes now. go out and pluck some. catch it, pour it into a jar. turn the lid tight now. it won’t last. but it’s here now. and it’s ours for the licking.

raise your hand if you’ve noticed. if the change of the light poured through your panes, and hit you right in the heart.

if you happen to know a bit of the science, know what it is that softens and shifts the way it comes in, please do tell. if you, like me, have a light meter, please tell what it does to your engine, this pure filtered light of the fall.

and a molasses-y birthday wish to sweet sandra, who is off in the country, up by the lake, savoring pies and second-hand stores. happy most blessed birthday…..

the way home

i’d just dropped him off, had gone to the classroom door, kissed him, reminded him–because he looked stricken–of his bus stop. where it was, the corner he suddenly couldn’t remember, the one he’s looked out at nearly five-sixths of his life.

i turned then, headed for home, me at 5’ 4”, pushing a bike and a helmet and the training wheels too, all of which came to maybe 30-some inches. so i was listing, had a crink in my side, as i bent and i pushed. and every once in a while the wheels, over the bricks on the streets that are cobbled, decided to go a way all their own. so i’d get jammed in the shin.

it was right about then, crossing not far from the church with the steeple, that i heard my name called.

oh, not in the way that you would have turned too, turned to see who in the world wanted to go out for coffee, say hullo, otherwise check out the world as i knew it. no, not like some shout that ruffled the calm of the morning.
what i heard startled me, made me turn. but you wouldn’t have heard it.

it was the church. the church called me. said, psst, get over here. you and the bike that is banging your legs. cross the street.

so i did. when a church calls your name you do what it says. trust me. who knows who’s doing the calling. and there’s not a soul, not a soul i can think of who calls from a church, who i’d not want to do as they say.

i left the bike and the helmet there at the door. i yanked on the door. it was open, unlocked, a marvel given the way things are in the church, in the world. believe me, there’ve been plenty of times when i needed a church to be open. and it wasn’t. no matter how hard i yanked i could not get in.

do you know what it feels like to be standing with your hand on a tall wooden door, a door that feels like a plank to a castle, and you can’t budge the hinge? can’t get a crack of a chance to get yourself in, settle down, pour out your heart to the God who you know is right in there. but the folks who run things seem to have forgotten that, sometimes, not at mass times, there are folks on the street who need to, who have to, get in. we have our reasons, you know.

well, bless the church by my house that thought to leave open the door. and had candles besides. real ones. not those faux ones that hum because they’re lit by a battery. and forgive me, but battery-operated prayer does not cut it with me. what if it runs out of juice? does my heart-felt petition go up in vapors? pffft, into the dark?

i knelt me right down. right up at the front, off to the side, under the carved marble feet of mary. you know, the blessed virgin. let me tell you, there is–to my liking–hardly a place in the world where a mama can feel quite so embraced, so understood, as there looking up at the very big toe of dear mary, the most blessed mother.

she soaked up my load like one of those paper towels you see on all the commercials, where they dip the tip of the towel into a puddle of kool-aid, and shhhhhlllpp, soaks it right up.

mary did that right to all of my worries. i gave her the whole wad, every last thing i could think of for all of my boys. the one i’d just left with the quivering face. and the big one, the one off at the high school, where he seems to come home every day with a smile i’ve not seen before. he is happy right now, but the place can be tough, and i thought it smart to stock up on prayer and protection.

i learned long, long ago that to be all alone in a church at the start or the end or even the middle of a day, is a most holy thing. i know God does not really live there. not only there, is what i mean. not exclusively there, not nowhere else there.

but still, to be alone in a cavernous place, especially the one where i knelt beneath mary, a place where a long row of stained glass makes the light pour in in a cocktail of colors. a place with a particular quiet that is not like that of the woods, or even the night. a place where, despite all logical thinking, you are certain God is right there in the shadows, heck, just there at your back. and any darn minute you might feel a brush of the wind, or a finger ever-so-lightly there on your shoulder, and you’ll turn, and there will be God. there will be the face of the one you have prayed to all of your life. the one who’s dabbed all your tears. oh, my God, think of the kleenex. the one who’s put air in your lungs and wind to your wings. the one who, really, you live for.

only you’ve not seen him lately, because you keep forgetting to stop in the church. you’re not so keen on the church, at least lately, when everyone’s there. you like it best when it’s just you and the light and the colors and God. mary, too. mary is welcome.

so i sat there after i knelt there. i just soaked up the sense that really that place is a good place. is a place i really should visit. it’s a place on the planet that feeds me like few other places. especially when no other soul is there right beside me, is blocking my prayer with some hat with a brim and too many flowers.

after a while, i knew that my visit was over. as i got up to leave, dipped my hand into water that’s holy, that’s blessed, that i splash like some kind of a mad woman, over all that might need it–my lips and my eyes, my heart and my head, even my ear lobes–i thought how i might have just found me a new way home in the morning.
i thought how i might have just found the way home.

i felt rather blessed, and most delighted, that, hobbling toward home, i heard that church call my name. now i know how to get there, and who’s there when i yank on the door.

do you have a sacred place where you don’t often go, but when you get there, you know that you’re home? or do you have a sacred place you go often, because it so fills you? have you ever been away from a place for a while, and been stunned at how home you feel, right away?

heart to heart

the little red heart is the size of a button. so is its twin, the other half of its whole.

when the sun peeks in his room, when he bounds out of bed and into his school clothes, he’ll slip his into his pocket. so will his mama. i promised i would.

a heart in your pocket is a very good thing. especially on the very first day, the very first long day, when the time between saying goodbye at the school door, and climbing off at the bus stop, way past lunch in a lunchroom, and scrambling all over at recess, way past standing in lines and marching through halls, past sitting in chairs and reaching in desks. way past finding your name on all sorts of supplies, and even a locker you barely know how to use.

a heart in your pocket is a very good thing.

you give it a squeeze when you need to. you give it a squeeze when you’re sad. or you’re wobbly. or lonesome. you give it a squeeze when you’re certain its powers will work like a cell phone, connect you in magical ways, without even dialing. and the heart on the other end of the line will be there, will know that you’re calling, really she will.

because hearts in the pocket are like that.

they connect you.

and when you are six, and going off in the world, for the very first time really. for the very first time where the lumps in your tummy, and the ones in your throat are so big you think they might choke you. or send you flying to the boys’ room, way, way down the hall, before it’s too late.

the need for a heart, the need for a something, became wholly apparent last night in the dark.

that’s when your heart’s bared. that’s when all that is hiding comes out of the shadows. that’s when your room and your bed get overly crowded. that’s when the things that behave all through the day come haunting. they decide in the nighttime, they want some air time. they want to romp in your head.

that’s when the feet came. tiptoeing down the stairs, around the corner, right to my side, that’s when the words came too: “mama, i need to talk to you about something really serious about school.”

and so, of course, i stopped what i’d thought was important, scooped him onto my lap, and i listened.

“ i think i’ll be homesick.”

that was round one. before it was ended we’d talked, re-climbed the stairs, re-tucked into bed, re-kissed that soft head.

then came round two.

again, feet shuffling.

this time i was not far from his room. this time the words came in whispers, barely audible whispers there at the top of the stairs, where i promptly sat down.

“i’m nervous about tomorrow. i’m afraid i might vomit.”

the child goes straight for the heart. cuts no corners. softens no blows.

in a word, he took me right back. took me back to the weeks, there were two of them, one in kindergarten, one in first grade, where i too got so sick, so dehydrated, they twice tossed me in the hospital. i remember it vividly. remember the little pink puppet they sent me home with. but i remember other things, too, that weren’t quite so nice. things that still give me shudders.

i know what it is to be so afraid, so rumbly inside that you can’t hear a word, and the room feels like it’s swirling.

i took my boy by the hand. we had us some digging to do.

“we need a heart,” i informed him, as i led him. as if i knew just how to fix this. as if i was a sorcerer and i held the potion that would cure whatever ailed him. sometimes even parents play pretend. because they have to. because sitting there falling apart would not help. would not do a thing.

so we pretend that we’ve all sorts of lotions and potions and balms. we dab cream on a cut, make it feel better. whip up concoctions to take out the sting. we do voodoo and rain dances, for crying out loud. whatever it takes to get over the bumps.

the bump last night called for a little red heart. or a little wee something. something he could slip in his pocket, and know i was there. not down the street, around the corner, four more blocks south.

we dug through my top drawer, the one where i stash all my treasures. there was a rock shaped like a heart, a tarnished old ring, a bunny the size of a quarter. and the two red see-through hearts.

we sifted and sorted. i let him decide. i told him how his big brother, too, used to go off in the world with me in his pocket. explained how it worked. how you give it a squeeze and you know that i’m there. that i’m thinking. and loving. and waiting. for the end of the day when he’ll be home again.

i told him i, too, have him in my pocket. how i too would carry a heart. give it a squeeze. send a signal. all day, back and forth, little hearts would be flying. would be defying all logic and sense, and even some science.

but they’d not ever quit. would not break. not run out of batteries. they are forever.

good thing when you’re six, you know things by heart. and you believe, most of all, the things that your mama, she tells you.

especially at night, especially past bedtime, when all of your insides come tumbling right out. when the house has no noise, and the moon guides your way down the stairs.

that is the hour that’s blessed. that is the hour that mamas and papas and all the people who love you pull out their needles and thread, and even their little red buttons, whatever it takes to stitch you and your heart all back together.

now go to sleep, sweetheart, and when the day comes, just give me a squeeze. and i’ll do the same. we’re as close as two hearts in a pocket.

that’s a promise i’ll keep. i promise.

any butterflies and rumbly tummies at your house? what magic spells and secret potions do you have to chase them away? do you remember your first long day away from home, tucked in a school desk, when you thought your heart would pound right through your chest, and the flip-flops in your tummy nearly did you in? did someone you love soothe you? make you believe you could get over the hump? do you still get butterflies? i do…..

does the tooth fairy cover first shaves?

i’m sure if i can dig up the contract, if i can find where i tucked it–hmm, maybe under the pillow–i can figure this out.
i’m sure there aren’t too many folk in this odd little predicament, this strange hidden corner of the salle de bain, requiring dual coverage from the winged thing who comes in the night, the one who leaves bright shiny quarters for all blood-drawing procedures. or at least the ones in the mouth.
what i’m not sure of is what of the nicks on the neck? do i call in some fairy with post-graduate work?
i seem to have no one to ask. i seem all alone in this quandary. it seems rather a stretch for the fairy, covering quite so much breadth. most folks i know have their kiddies in bunches, don’t put such hyphens into their pediatric constructions. so their fairies aren’t put to such tests.
i mean maybe in the old days. maybe in the days when a nice catholic girl and her mate got started on the honeymoon, didn’t stop till what they thought was well after “the change”–code word for a body function you did not want to spell out, not in polite company anyways. oh, my heavens, what would they think at afternoon bridge?
back then, heck, it was nothing to have a whole string of saint’s names tucked in your beds. nothing to have one kid in need of a shave, while the apostrophe, the afterthought, the caboose, was way down the line with a wiggly tooth.
maybe back then, maybe when milk came in big gallon bottles set by the door in a box in the night, maybe then it was nothin’ for son no. 1 to holler for burma-shave (and quickly thereafter the band-aids) while down in the kitchen one of the little ones–say, son no. 6–was flapping like a hen, a bloody old kleenex stuffed in his mouth, soaking up what comes at the end of a wiggly tooth that gets yanked.
ahh, but this is not the old days. this here’s my life. my odd, unusual, often comical, split-screen of a life. my life straddling the canyon that comes with eight years between delivery-room visits.
on the one hand, there’s the fellow up till heaven-only-knows how late in the night, writing some essay on voltaire’s pithy little quote that history is the lie commonly agreed upon, while the other one, the little one, kept roaming the halls looking for anyone who would listen to his rumbly tummy, charging with butterflies, on the eve of first grade, which starts any minute now.
and so it was that this weekend, the one that’s no longer, held high drama of so many kinds.
one night, the little one was off crossing the alley for what was planned as the first-ever sleep over (although as he tucked his bear in the bag, his lower lip quivered and he remarked that this might be merely a sleep-under). and before i’d even settled in for a long night of quiet, the phone jangled. i was met with the news that the young boy was bloodied and now missing a tooth. i dashed, camera in hand, not wanting to miss for a second the very last time a first tooth would be lost.
bounding into the kitchen of an otherwise innocent family, chomping on chicken and fries, i spied my littlest angel, bloody wad of a napkin stuffed in his mouth. he removed it long enough to show me the evidence. long enough for me to squeal, carry on just as you’d imagine. i took pictures. i flapped. said again and again: “let me see, let me see.”
the mother of said innocent family, a doctor it so happens, had already dutifully slipped said bottom-left front tooth into a zip-top bag for instant inspection.
there it was, a speck of a thing that could be mistaken, so easily missed, for a kernel of corn that never did grow. (hard to believe that little thing, that chip of a thing, made me let out a yelp when long, long ago i discovered it as he was nursing.)
it seems a chunk of fried chicken had wedged by that tooth, and as he yanked on the chicken, out came the tooth.
sure enough, when that boy toddled home at 10:30-something, when the call came confirming he was not sleeping over, we extracted said tooth and said baggie from the pocket of overnight satchel, and tucked both straight under the pillow.
bingo: two shiny quarters by morning.
perhaps it was that, the notion of coins under the pillow, that stirred the big child to ask for a razor.
or, come to think of it, it was his father who’d done the insisting. “time to shave, son. time to banish the ’stache.” or words to that effect.
anyway, next thing i knew there we were waiting for blood once again. i flapped, to be certain. only this time, there at the bathroom’s thin door, watching this spectacle of father passing along intimate knowledge, as the faucet ran hot and the blade was duly examined.
the littlest one dressed for the occasion, outfitted himself in full storm-trooper regalia. spent half the first shave with weapon aimed at the razor. should his dear brother be attacked, perhaps, by the blade, and need someone to come to his rescue.
never mind me and my camera, i was too busy recording the moment to even have noticed if he’d drawn any blood.
i found the whole thing quite charming. never had seen such a thing. felt like i was being let in on some secret society of shaving.
oh, the tricks i picked up. all sorts of facts about hot water and cold. the thermal equations, and how they can sway the whole chemistry of the day. and i thought a swipe of mascara remover got me jazzed in the morning.
the boy, er the man-child, is now clean as a whistle. the sinister shadow just over his lip is now gone. no longer do i think, “snidely whiplash,” whenever i glance his direction.
i have one who is toothless and one who is stripped of his whiskers. i myself, the mother of both, would be utterly puffy-chested, if not for the one dangling thread, the unanswered question.
i put in a call to the tooth fairy, i did. but, dang, two days later and she’s till not rung back. it’s not like it’s hard, it’s not like i’ll take much of her time.
the question is simple, the question is this: does she or does she not cover the very first shave, as well as each tooth?
i have two boys and two pillows. one has two quarters he’s already kerplunked in his firetruck bank. the other is drumming his fingers.
this tooth fairy, does she expire?
and if not, what might she deliver?
band-aids, we think, might beat even the shiniest quarter.

anyone have a tale of a parent passing along some secret growing-up rite? for me, i recall the ironing board and my mother and a whispered exchange about baby-making and how it was beautiful, complete with the subsequent taking down from the bedroom shelf of the blue box from the makers of kotex. anyone with a tale of a first lost tooth, or a first flick of the razor? anyone draw blood on either occasion? anyone else find themselves oddly straddling two distant-enough planets of parenting? one where teeth wiggle, one where whiskers fall by the wayside?

the garage-in-the-alley theatre

the name, i think, says it all. there is a garage, just down the alley, and twice a summer–once for the matinee, once for the twilight performance–it takes on the makings of a theater.

curtains are strung, the old theatre sign is hoisted. the sound system, such as it is, is rigged. the battery-operated keyboard is slid back where the bikes and the so-called antiques–broken chairs, a whole herd, a dresser, a table whose wing does not flap anymore–are stashed in a corner.

ah, then come the players. the children of house after house, the houses that flank the street that is ours. a wholly egalitarian troupe. all inclusive. for each child, a part.

the ones who might otherwise stammer. the ones just beginning to read. the ones who not long ago cowered off in the wings. and then the occasional one who, given a mike and a hat and a song with mighty fine lyrics, belts it out like, well, there’s no tomorrow.

this year there was a tomorrow, a loud one. an off-key one, depending who was doing the singing. this year the big show was annie, complete with the neighborhood lassie-look-alike playing–remarkably well, by the way, not a bark out of line, not a whimper–the part of sandy the dog.

for a while there, a flood plan was mapped. we all prayed the trees that went flying would not crush the garage, or land with a thud on the cardboard-box sets that had been painted and stacked center stage.

ah, but the theatre gods must have been listening. must listen to prayers of thespian children. the rains stopped, all right. or at least they slowed to a manageable drizzle.

the river that had been the alley receded. and even if it hadn’t, the show, of course, would have gone on. we would have rowed in the players.

there’d been a moment, during a dress rehearsal earlier in the week, a rehearsal under a threatening simmering sky, a sky the color of soot, that made for unscripted irony–and underlined the unblinking optimism of this little company–as the troupe belted out, “the sun’ll come out….” and the thunder rolled in the offing.

the builders at my garage, just down the alley, put down their hammers and laughed.

that’s how it is with the alley theatre. what’s unscripted is what you’ll never forget.

this year it was the tap shoe that flew off a foot–and i mean think high-arching field goal–and into the crowd.

and the young agent I–he of the three-player ensemble, agents F, B and I–who seemed to be playing charades, or doing some sort of sign language, with his grandma clear back in row three, and would not exit stage left, not for a very long minute or two. not till some serious whispering and finally a yank got him to do as directed.

in the past, there’ve been pirates who got lost in a sword fight clear under the tree swing on the far end of the yard, and never did hear their cue, never did make their scene, which rolled by wholly without them.

it’s what happens in old-fashioned neighborhood dramas. although, ’round here it’s always a musical.

the girl who’s in charge, the one who spends months planning and plotting, scouring second-hand stores, using her own piggy-bank money (often earned peddling lemonade out on the sidewalk), is keen for the song and the dance.
so she does what she must: she teaches and coaches, gives up enough high school doings that her mother gets worried. but she is a directress tied to her company. and they, to her–yes, indeed. she is, frankly, adored.

i happened to catch her as night fell the bedtime before showtime, tiptoeing around the lakes in the alley, carrying a little pink basket of curlers. she was off to the house of each of the orphans, off to set little girls into dreams with heads in neat rows of pink spongey curlers.

she is a director who makes house calls. she tends to every last detail. she is at once director, producer, lyricist, choreographer, costume designer, set builder. and i’m sure i’m forgetting something.

this year, as always, she and her troupe had spent months stuck down in a basement. this year they learned how to tap. even a 6-year-old slugger, a boy who is fluent in tackles and touchdowns, he spent plenty of afternoons strolling the sidewalk in hand-me-d0wn tap shoes tied with orange polka-dot ribbons.

oh my.

that boy was not mine, by the way. mine draws a line, yes he does, and he does not do what he does not do. and tapping, he seems to not do.

mine did, though, succumb to the goo in his hair. did appear on the stage looking slicked down and parted, a little lord fontleroy. though, of course, he squirmed when they gooped him. and, trust me, once he’d taken his bow, he dashed down the alley into the house, up to the sink where he proceeded to splash quite a pond, there on the powder room floor, as he raced to return to the boy with the curly-haired top.

it is, all of it, the no. 1 luxury that came with buying this house. you can have your media rooms. your bathrooms that look as if built for zeus and apollo.

give me a garage and an alley, a warm summer’s night. give me the moon rising over the roof, over the tapping of 28 hoofs. give me the crickets drowning out lines. give me the mamas and papas wiping their eyes. and strangers, too; it’s that sweet, that irresistible.

give me the garage-in-the-alley theatre. any old time. make me feel more alive while i take in that show than should be allowed, should be possible, for a chest with a heart that thumps right through the walls.

to the girl with the dream, and the heart to go with it. the girl who is oxygen in a world that’s gone stale and polluted. you are, i am certain, as close to an angel as a human can be. you are heaven among us. and you should be draped with all of the stars and the very full moon. you are blessed, sweet claire. you are beloved.

this one’s a reminder that if we but look, we can find swatches of heaven on earth. we don’t petition for them. they just land in our laps. one of us is not more deserving than another. we just get blessed, without warrant or reason. have you had a taste of heaven this summer? if so how, or who? do tell. the curtain on summer is closing. and we’d not want to miss a really fine show.
to all the faraway family and friends of g-i-t-a players, it really was something. i was not alone, not hardly, in having my breath sucked right away.
this was the third year of alley theatre, and it’s not over yet. not till sweet claire is whisked off to college. and even then there’s a chance, if our blessing extends, it won’t end.

you thought who was in charge?

last night, in the dark, we couldn’t see. after the winds died, after the rain slowed to a lull, we swung beams of the flashlights, raked flickering bulbs through the limbs of the trees, searching for ones who’d not made it.
the sky the color of bruises, when the bump on your shin turns that god-awful purply-green, i ventured out to the street that had turned to a river. saw whole halves of trees sprawled in their dying, smack against asphalt, what had been the lanes but now was the slow-stirring current.
i couldn’t stay long, though, because the rain, like a faucet, turned on again. and the lightning wasn’t far either.
and besides, inside was as dark as the outside. maybe darker. looked, by now, like little house on the prairie. most likely, a long night ahead, making like ma pioneer and her kinfolk.
candles were burning. i’d stolen an armful from the fridge, before it lost all its cool. i would make do: near-frozen sausage, cold squares of pasta, brussel sprouts i managed to steam.
it doesn’t take long to stand in amazement at the power of the electrical grid. you bump along into realizing, one after the other, just how much of your life cannot be, when the lights dim, then flicker, then die.
all the hum of the house stopped. there wasn’t a sound but the pounding of rain, and the little one’s gasp.
we’d all been in the basement. watching the news on tv. watching the red splotches right over our town on the map that showed where the storm was, that spelled out the wrath of the late summer’s fury.
we went to the basement when the trees went horizontal. when all that was green turned to silvery-gray. because nothing was up anymore. everything turned on its side. even the rain came in sideways.
it had taken three hours for the one new to high school to get home from the school just five miles away. with a late summer tornado in the offing, they’d locked down the campus. stuffed some 1,000 kids into the cafeteria. then, when they got the all-clear, when they let them onto the buses, it took a good hour to course home through the downed power lines and the trees that were blocking the streets.
he came in with a soaking-wet smile. it had been a five-star adventure.
we thought the worst of it was over. but that’s when the lights dimmed and died. a gasp, then a shudder, then darkness.
we three in the basement, the deeply black basement, we shuffled and groped for each other. we climbed up the stairs, dug out the candles, the matches, the flashlights.
we got a call from the village. do not leave your houses, they warned. there were trees down all over town. roads blocked. power lines dangling. live ones, they made sure to mention.
i figured we were in for a few days of darkness. gulped hard, realized once the last drop of light was wrung from the fading night sky, this game would get old. i’d not want to play pioneer. i’d long for the microwave popcorn.
the little one, the one who takes flashlights to bed, he thought this was pure heaven. put himself in charge of dessert, scoured the pantry looking for sweet things you could eat that didn’t need light or heat. believe me, he was stocked within minutes.
but just as we sat down to our candle-lit dinner, the dinner prepared by the gas of the stove, the lights, brighter than i’d remembered, it seemed, snapped right back on. the whole house, the whole street, dotted with lights that any other night i’d take wholly for granted.
the tv, once again on, told us the winds had whipped up to 80 miles an hour. some 1200 trees were down in the city. light poles too. cars and houses were crushed.
then the call from the school came. high school, which had been in session for all of one day and a half, was cancelled. the back-to-school buzz was put on hiatus. and, believe it or not, that was not news met with a grateful reception. it was rather deflating to a boy who’d just gathered the steam to start climbing that steep high-school hill.
and so, not much later, i rolled into a bed with an alarm clock blinking beside me. and all through the night i tossed and i turned to the far-off wail of the sirens.
when light came, i tiptoed out where before i’d not been able to see. i looked into trees, heard the sigh from all that survived.
i tried to tend to the wounded. dragged broken limbs off of bushes, hauled logs from the garden.
on a morning of eerie strange calm, in the dawn of an unsettled day, it’s not hard to get goosebumps.
it’s not hard, not at all, to remember that not for a minute do we know what each hour will bring. on a dime, winds change. the sky turns to odd ugly colors. all that was, might not be.
don’t bother to think that you are in charge of what’s scribbled there on the calendar, or even what hangs in the trees.
someone else blows the wind.

the wrath of a late summer’s fury leaves the world weak at the knees. most of all, is everyone safe? when you surveyed the scene in the morning did you hear a few cracks in your heart? is it not humbling to learn once again that we are but markers on the game board that is our small planet? all across the country, the sweep of weather’s great wrath is tweaked and twisted. my ugly day might be your beautiful morning. not a bad back-to-school lesson: count on little, but do count your mercies. some mornings, they’re big as the trees that still scrape the sky.

not just any old seat

i hadn’t realized how long we’d been waiting. but now that they’re here, now that the big green truck lurched to the curb, ever since jose, the really nice man with the clipboard and the little phone in his ear, ever since he got the big boxes down off the truck, onto the dolly, rolled up the wiggly walk, ever since i saw my very own brother’s words on the side of the boxes, ever since the tall grownup i live with hoisted them out of their boxes and all of their miles of soft paper padding, ever since they were lifted and carried to right where they sit now, lifted like some sort of offering up to the altar, i realized we might have been waiting since long, long ago when we decided to make us a family.
what they are, elementally speaking, is two stools. one for each boy. carved, bent, fitted, sanded and waxed by four of the lovingest hands in my world: my brother david, and his beloved wife, bec. the seat and the crest (you might call it the back; i did until i was otherwise told), are of cherry; the legs and the spindles, of ash.
they are thomas moser-designed, david mahany-and-rebecca neumann-constructed. thomas moser, you might know, designs some of the finest american furniture. he is in a line with hitchcock and stickley, both new england chairmakers of earlier centuries. for more than a year now, my woodworking brother has lived up in maine, building for moser. a moser chair, or a stool, is something to dream for.
believe me, that tall guy with the eye for design, the one who lifted each stool as if bread to the gods, he’s been dreamin’. could not wait to see the bent cherry peeking over the counter. could not wait to run his palms down the spindles. could not wait, not at all, to slide his bottom onto the seat that fits like a fine pair of pants.
he knew, because he knows these things, studies these things, lives and breathes for these things, that the stools at once brought art and place to our old farmhouse kitchen.
place, as defined by the tall guy, roughly translated by me, is the invisible carving of space, the creation of some spot on the map with a particular function. a blip of a room with a purpose. a corner, perhaps, where you curl up to dream.
or a stool at a counter where you pull up for wisdom. or consolation. or confession. we joked, right away, as i leaned by the sink, and the manchild sat in the stool, unspooling his worries, that the only thing missing was the sound of the little door sliding inside the confessional box. so we mimicked that sound, sliding the screen door for effect, back and forth a few times.
it was immediate. soon as those stools were stripped of their wrapping, two bottoms slid in. planted elbows. demanded grilled cheese.
my sink, the sink where i spend so much of my day, is right there. right across from the stools whose fine cherry tops–i mean crests, please excuse me–now peek over the counter.
i’ve a feeling that i will remain at my water-splashed post. the priestess to those in the stools.
i like that.
now, thanks to the fine carving and waxing of four hands in portland, there is in our house a place set aside for planting your worries. come to the counter. take a seat. spill your heart. have a pop-tart. or a big bowl of rice chex, right before bed.
while i cook and i chop. while i scrub and i rinse. bring me your worries, your stories, your heart’s heavy load.
i can think of no rail for communion i’d rather preside at.
a house is a holy thing. what unfolds there is decidedly sacred. what is carved and boxed and sent far away is, well, far more than a stool, it’s a seat for the soul to be honored.
and both my boys now have a place that is theirs for the rest of their lives.
thank you david and becca. thank you with all of our hearts. and all of our bottoms besides.

do you have a place in your house where you always sit to unload your worries? did you have such a place in your growing-up house? what other sorts of nooks and crannies call out your name? have a particular purpose? the place you dream? the place you cry? the place you pound out your stories, give wing to your fancy? any one else know the great gift of having someone you love build, or sew, or mold, or paint, a piece of your home that you will always carry with you? as much a piece of your heart as your kin?

out the door with a prayer

never mind clean underwear and new no. 2 pencils. i’m fairly certain, as certain as a laundress can be, that he had the former. saw ‘em stacked there on the chair. where i–i mean the laundress–had left them. the latter, the pointy-tipped pencils, he’s long outgrown. outgrown till he gets to the SATs, which, the way things are speeding along here, might be tomorrow for all i know.
my baby just left for high school. i know, i know, you’re not here to hear me whine. i won’t. i promise. i did not shed a single tear, i’ll have you know. not like in kindergarten when i gulped and hung in the hallway, peeking in through the cracks with all of the other over-bred mothers. or first grade, where i’m sure, though i cannot remember, i repeated the scene.
well there was the day last week, come to think of it. he had some gathering with all of his homeroom. called the advisory, here on the chi-chi north shore.
i let him out at the curb, after our usual goodbyes for such an occasion: ”love you,” says i. “love you,” says he. “more than life,” i come back. “more than life,” he confirms.
then i watched his long lanky body, the one with the curly-haired mop on the top and the brown-colored skin all over the rest, watched him lope down a sidewalk, watched him steer toward a coagulation of boys-verging-on-men.
“he’s going to high school,” i heard the little voice in my head announce. and then, on cue, the tear kicked in. oh, all right, maybe it was more than just one.
but he is my firstborn, you know. he is always the one who does everything first. and drags me right along with him. never before have i been the mama of a child four years from college. or, as he reminded me the morning he woke up 14, two years from driving a car, one year from taking the wheel, practicing on high-speed expressways where they do not save a lane just for your little boy.
dang. maybe i will shed a tear here this morning. after all.
but nope. i’m stayin’ dry-eyed. no precipitation from this mama’s eyes will do one thing to alter the outcome there at that high school.
he’s on his own.
we did all we could here. besides putting out the red plate, the you’re-special-today plate, and the waterford goblet for o.j., besides the three-egg-bacon-and-cheese omelette, made by the tall grownup who now calls himself the omelettizer, there wasn’t a whole lot of use for us old folk.
oh, sure i wrote him a note. but mostly i wrote all of the things that he’s taught me in the last coupla weeks, since he came home from the woods with the mantra, “walking is putting one foot in front of the other.” just reminded him of a few others.
like that light is the divine animator, and he is illumination, defined. that boy, i’m tellin’ ya, has a light, much more than a double-dd beam, shining from back of his eyes, back where his soul is.
can’t claim any credit for that. he was born that way. way i see it, all we could do all along was recharge the batteries. i did that each night on my knees, way back, from the beginning. once he could talk, me and his papa, and plenty of others, we did the recharging through umpteen gazillion hours of long conversation.
puttin’ that kid to bed, even back in the old days, meant you were in for a two-hour philosophical jaunt through the woods. listening to where his mind poked around, always being there at the bend, ready to shine our own sort of light on the answers he sought.
it’s all of that that we sent out the door on this fine august morning. it is all we ever can do. in the hours we’re given, in the hours where our shoulders can touch, and our fingers entwine, we pack in what little we know, and we pray for the rest.
there is, i realize, a whole bunch of catch-and-release in this parenting. you catch ‘em just before falling. you hold ‘em, embrace them, whisper soft words in their ears.
you let go, with ever-increasing frequency, it sure seems. we are thick in the letting-go years here. we are left, many a morning, murmuring there on the doorstep.
good thing the good Lord knows how to decipher all of the murmurs.
at my house, they go something like this: make him the light of your love, God. make him the light.
and should the batteries dim, come to me. i’ve got a whole closet of back-ups. and, just in case, i’ve got knees that’ll never wear out.

gracious me, i had no intention of bothering you with my letting-go thoughts. i had every intention of telling you all about something altogether other. but some mornings i just listen to the pounding of my heart. and this morning, my heart pounded one song, the song of the boy on his way into the halls of the high school. once again we strike up the letting-go theme. what are your thinkings when you send the ones that you love off into the world? how do you play catch and release?

summer’s last call

the lemonade is drained. the calendars, dragged to the table. it’s time for check, cross-check, triple cross-check. aligning the dates and the schools. aligning my life. getting over the hump called back to the classroom.
i thought it was over. thought the days of butterflies in late august were a thing of the past. thought i put them away the very last minute i worried about GPA and exams and who would be in my homeroom.
but, dang.
it comes back. in duplicate at my house. triplicate or beyond at others. with each kid, comes a whole herd of butterflies. theirs and mine.
this year i’ve got one worried if he’ll find his way through a campus that holds nearly a fourth of the alphabet, buildings A through F, far as we know. plus a few side shows.
the other one, the little one, is worried about putting pencil to fist and free-forming those very same letters. the B gets too wobbly, even for his taste. comes out looking like P with a goiter. a really big one, or one that’s too little, more like the lead took a detour.
the brand new packs of markers and notebooks are tossed in a bag in the pantry. soon as i dig through the pile of papers that came over the weekend, in fat envelopes that shouted OFFICIAL, that gave me the willies, they did, i’ll know how to plot my way through these woods. know what to buy. where to be. oh, and when. it helps, i have learned, to be there on time. oh, the rules.
the only way through the maze that is right here upon us, is with tri-colored markers, and calendars splayed all over the table. i feel like some general, lining up troops. only, mostly i feel lost in the desert.
i am not ready to go back to school. not ready to give up the long evenings, the lazy strolls under stars. not ready to hang up hanging up dripping wet suits, when the boys come in from the pool, smelling like chlorine, looking all wrinkled.
today, at our house, is summer’s last call. on the morrow, the alarms will be clanging, the buses will roll to the corner. high school will start, and right behind, all the rest of the schools.
summer, tomorrow, is over.
so today is the day we pack in every last bit of the summer. we slept later than late. we awoke knowing day after this, at this late morning hour, one of us would already be in world history, diving in to ancient civilization. or maybe just trying to find the lost classroom.
as i type, fresh hot scones are out on the table. the other grownup around here took the week off, a major concession to summer’s end, and the need for four hands to get us up over the hump. he’s got a day packed with fun, one last blast of all that makes june, july and a good chunk of august worth sticking around for.
and we’ll end, we’ll wind up the day and the summer’s vacation, as we always do, at a joint that sells burgers and oniony rings. a whole loaf of ’em.
makes your tummy squirm sometimes. but then at least one of the tummies ’round here is already doing that. might as well gulp down the onions to feed all the butterflies.

before i wave summer goodbye, before i turn the page on this long stretch of lazy old days, i might quell the flutters with the litany of all that’s been rich:
the melons so sweet i licked down my chin, the sound of the crickets that lulled me to sleep, the cicadas that came from some faraway planet. the night that i slept on the root in the woods, and counted the hours till morning. the pages of books that told me fine stories, took me to places i’d never imagined. the real-thing tomatoes that i cannot stop eating. just some salt and some pepper, i’m set for a meal. the delphinium i bought, once again seduced by that blue beyond blue, then watched it all shrivel away. the baby bird that took to the breeze. the camper i plucked from the woods. summer rains, soft and soaking, or, some afternoons, rambunctious and streaked full of lightning.
good thing, i think, that real summer is not over yet. just the part that feels the most like it. the part that ends with the school bell. which rings, now, in less than 24 hours.

what parts of summer will you carry into the school year? which moments are you not yet ready to whisper goodbye to? anyone else suffering back-to-school butterflies? do you have a sure cure? or at least a good dose of wisdom?

other people’s children

i cooked up a storm. well, i got lots of pans dirty anyway. not sure though if the transitive “cook” quite applies to cranking the oven, cranking the stove, making miles of smiley fries, and pans of those faux chicken legs that taste to me like mush with some breading. oh, i skinned kernels from corn, tossed in some mom food–the requisite carrots, peaches and grapes. made them drink milk, just cuz i’m mean, and wouldn’t do cherry juice for saturday dinner.
the way i was cookin’ you would have thought i was feeding a whole army of children. really, it was only one extra. but, apparently, it was enough–on a saturday night–to make me think i had finally scored me the gaggle of kiddies i’d always wanted.
see, i grew up at a crowded kitchen counter. where elbows routinely engaged in a duel for space. to plant your elbows (and incur the wrath of my mother who would clomp them, remind you that elbows are not to be seen, not perched on the edge of the table anyway) was to have claimed victory over all the encroachers.
spilled milk was taken for granted. what with all the elbows perching and clomping and reaching for things, there was always some appendage knocking some glass and spilling its contents.
somehow though, despite the chaos, it made me want to grow up and repeat the scene. at least the math part of it. the numbers. i too wanted kids by the gaggle.
ah, but that was not to be. i am the mother of what was unheard of in my growing-up ’hood. i am the mother of two. a mere two, a duet, one then the other. maybe one’s hiding, look under the couch. must be a runaway ‘cuz just two is impossible.
running my old brain up and down the whole street where i grew up, the whole half mile winding through the woods, i can only think of one house where there were less than four children.
before i got married i said i wanted 13. then i downsized to a reasonable six. then, for the sake of a future with the man of my dreams, i settled on three. i was giddy, in the end, when i got two.
for a long time, maybe since i grew up next to an old orphanage, i said i too wanted an orphanage. wanted children from all over the world to come into my big old house. i wanted one on each hip. think angelina jolie minus the lips, i suppose. minus some other parts too. oh, never mind. scratch the image. just picture kids of all colors and kinds, home with their curly-haired mama.
well, lately, i’ve been revising that plan. i’ve got ideas. i am thinking i will be a way station for grownups who need a bit of alone time, and, even better, a place for kids who i love to come spend the night, or the weekend, or even a week.
way i see it, it’s win-win, all around. my boys could use the occasional substitute sibling. sort of a saturday night replacement for the same-old-same-old. mix things up a bit. change the dinner conversation. get more smiley fries.
i could finally get me a girl. i could stand right beside her, teach her the few tricks that i know in the kitchen. most likely, she would teach me. we could pick movies. girl movies. and for once, i wouldn’t automatically be outvoted. a weepy girl movie might air in this house at an hour that is not single digits, me waiting till all are asleep to settle in with my kleenex and my hugh grant, or even better, french with subtitles. ah, oui.
i would like that. i like my grand new idea. we could fill this old house with all sorts of other people’s children. i always wanted to be the house filled with everyone’s kids. but so far that hasn’t happened. so maybe i’ll do the inviting. like i did this weekend. a dear friend of mine is a single mama, round the clock, no time out except for the babysitter at 10 bucks an hour. that’s daunting, especially on one paycheck. i love her kid, and even though he doesn’t really know my boys, and my boys don’t really know him–or didn’t, that is–we knew him to be a fine lad. a lad you might want to have come for the night.
so he did. packed his bag, hauled his sleeping bag. i liked being his mama for the night. didn’t even mind that he wakes hours earlier than me or my boys. enlisted the other grownup in the house to handle that, to handle early-morning ping pong. (they played for two hours.) didn’t mind that he would have nothing to do with the smiley fries. or the corn. all he wanted was faux chicken and milk. fine with me.
that’s the thing about caring for other people’s children. their quirks are your delights. they’ve not been under your skin long enough to drive you batty. you find them wholly enchanting, engaging. delightful. maybe it’s sort of like grandparenting, which i have no clue if i’ll live to see. you send them home at the end of the visit. be it a night. or a week. or a weekend.
give them a hug, maybe a kiss. send them on their way. invite them back. cuz you happen to love kids any old way.

call me nuts, but is this not a fine plot: sort of a library of children. borrow them for a while. return without fine. it seems a grand way to spread around sanity. i know plenty of friends who really could use a break. i could too plenty of times. what if we all took turns? cranked up the ovens, crisped up those nuggets o’ chicken. played games that aren’t boring to whoever’s new? watched movies. pretended, before our time, that we were wonderful marvelous grandparents you couldn’t wait to go visit.