Blackberries

When I was somewhere in my early teens, my father bought a plot of land in Villa Rica, Georgia, a tiny little bit of nowhere about thirty-five miles west of where we lived.  My dad had always wanted to live “out in the country.”  He was a city boy, if you can call growing up in the hamlet of Henderson, North Carolina, “the city,” and I guess he thought he wanted to live off the land, or maybe just not have any neighbors that he could see.  My mother, who had been raised out in the country on a tobacco farm, was decidedly against living there again, and so there was never any actual progress toward moving west.

There were no amenities on this property or in the greater Villa Rica area, but what was in abundance was blackberries.  Like kudzu, blackberries grow everywhere in the South where there is not constant and diligent oversight of the land.  They send out prickly runners and creep and expand until they are huge, thorny areas ready to shred your clothing and skin if you get too deep into them.  But, in spite of all the dangers, the lure of the sweet, juicy, seedful fruit makes it hard to stay away.

Although family camping on the land was a solid failure, my dad and I made a number of trips to Villa Rica over the years in the summers for blackberries.  Armored in thick jeans, long-sleeved shirts, heavy boots and gloves, we tackled the weaponized branches and kept eyes and ears out for the rattlesnakes that loved the protected spaces.  Our prize was gallons of huge, glossy, sweet berries and all the precautions necessary were no problem given what we came away with. Picking blackberries with my daddy is one of the few times I enjoyed being outside in the summer.  I suddenly didn’t mind the heat or the sweat or even the bugs.  Daddy and I were doing something together, something that apparently no one else in the family was interested in.  We left early in the morning, since we two were always the first ones up, and got out to the land before the sun was too hot.  We suited up out of the trunk, changing shoes, making sure our cuffs were buttoned and our pants legs tucked into our socks.  If you’ve ever encountered a large swatch of blackberry bushes, you’ll know this was absolutely necessary for the preservation of skin.  We took our gloves, but I didn’t always wear them because it was harder to grasp the berries.  It took a light touch to pull them without squishing, and my smaller hands could get into the deeper areas where the fruit always seemed to be fatter and juicier.  Of course, we ate nearly as many as we picked.  That’s the first rule of picking blackberries, especially when you’re picking them on your own land and not having to pay for them.  Afterwards, fresh blackberry cobbler, blackberry jam and just a handful of berries on cereal or ice cream made all the effort worth it.  Years later, when I spent the summer after my sophomore year in college away in Colorado, I got a latter.  “I went to the land and picked blackberries last week,” Daddy wrote. “I wished for you.” 

Little Memories Everywhere

One of my friends in Pueblo died suddenly a few weeks ago. I got a message about it from another friend in town and then her daughter, who I also know. Her death was not COVID related, but apparently the escalation of a chronic condition that moved too fast to catch. And so she was gone. I sent the appropriate condolences and have messaged back and forth with her daughter and other friends, trying to offer comfort and advice on grieving (there is no real advice, you grieve how you grieve and it lasts as long as it lasts). But since we were also friends on Facebook, I now see her comments on past posts when my daily memories come up and here in my room there are always constant reminders of her.

I first met Karin right after I moved to Pueblo in 1993. At that time, aside from a few big-box stores, there wasn’t much shopping in town, and what there was was located in the “historic Union Avenue district.” Karin’s store was on D Street, off Union, a little emporium called Instant Karma. I loved it before I ever walked inside. It was a tiny space, then, filled with funky, hippie-type clothing, sarongs, bed spreads/throws, incense, crystals, Tarot cards, books, CDs and cassettes (definitely dating myself here!). Ms. Karin fit right in. She was a small woman herself, five foot nothing, a bit zaftig, and her persona definitely matched the store. She was a cross between Stevie Nicks (wardrobe), Barbra (hair and accent) and her own unique fabulousness. I never saw her once after that without receiving her standard hello of “Greetings!” She loved all dogs, her husband, Tom, with whom she shared a birthday, her two daughters, her sweet mother, Anita (who also became a friend), and above all, John Lennon.

Her store became my happy place. I found it when I was having a particularly hard time getting settled in a new place, something I had not experienced since I was a kid. Moving to Pueblo from Atlanta was definitely a culture shock, especially at that time. The town was still reeling from the near complete shutdown of the steel mill that had been the major source of income and employment for most of the population. Customer service was an unknown idea and women treated each other very differently than I was used to. I was absolutely to be regarded with suspicion since I wasn’t from there. Karin never treated me with anything but friendship and caring, even at our first meeting.

I bought my first goddess book at her store, Z. Budapest’s “The Goddess in the Office” and it really helped me deal with the passive aggressive treatment at my job. As I look around my room now, nearly 30 years on, I see a lightweight cotton paisley bed spread that I have used as a table cloth and now current serves as block for a gap under the French doors to the back porch. I see a short lightweight robe, black with yellow dragonflies, that I travel with when I need something to toss over my swimsuit on the way to the pool. I see a string of small, cheerful bells hanging from my curtain rod next to my window that I jingle every now and then because I love their airy sound. Karin had a similar string on her door to let her know when folks came int. I see right here on my desk, my favorite Tarot deck, Osho Zen, which has been a huge part of my life ever since she let me shuffle through the cards to see if I wanted it. I still buy the same brand of incense she used, Escential Essences, that’s the only brand that doesn’t send me into allergic fits. Every time I burn it, I think of Karin.

And then, there are the Buddhas. I can’t say I’m a full blown Buddhist, but Buddhist teachings and writings have influenced me greatly over the years. Letting go of attachment and expectations in my life has helped me in so many ways. I bought my first Buddha at Karin’s, after she expanded her store to a huge, open space on Union Avenue. He’s metal and heavy and has an odd little rattle, as if something was trapped inside during the making. He sits on the altar by my bed, a quiet reminder of time passing.

I also worked for Karin for a little while. She was going through some tough times with her younger daughter and needed to be away from the store for various things. I told her I could hold down the fort for a few hours a week if she needed me and I was glad she accepted. I enjoyed being the one behind the counter and providing the greetings when folks walked in. Sadly, as with many businesses, the 2008 mess hit Instant Karma as well and she had to close. It was a sad day for me and for many others, let me tell you. Several months later, Karin had a garage sale to try to recoup a bit on her inventory, and there I acquired my other Buddha, larger, black pumice stone, and so peaceful. He graced my little grotto in the apartment after I broke up with my last ex, and had a place of honor in my Denver room. Now, he sits on my small bookcase across the room from where I write this, yet another memory of a woman who touched so many people in her too-short life, who was loving and generous and joyful. Karin, my friend, you are missed, but I am so glad I knew you and that I have so many reminders of you all around. What a gift to the world you were!

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Not Working

Today marks ten months since I quit my last job as a medical transcriptionist and eight months since I have been in Texas with friend A. Thanks to her generosity, I have managed to eke out my extremely meagre savings this long without having to seriously look for another job. And a couple of weeks ago, I discovered that I will soon be able to draw survivor’s benefits on my late husband’s social security, so it may be that I won’t actually have to look for a job any time soon. To say that I was surprised and stunned at this news is the understatement of the decade. Once again, my dead spouse is treating me better than any of the living.

I love not working. I have not had this amount of time off from a job since I started working for pay at age fifteen. I only took one month off after I had a baby and one month when I moved across the country from Atlanta to Pueblo, and only that long because it took a while to find a job. I’ve basically been employed for nearly 50 years, so it’s safe to say I don’t even know what it’s like to not work as an adult.

This is not to say I don’t stay busy. One of the reasons I came here was to help A out around the house, etc. I wrote about my sweeping duties and these have expanded over my time here. I do pretty much one hundred percent of the cooking and grocery shopping. The teenager can put frozen things in the oven and heat stuff in the microwave, but that’s as far as her cooking skills go. I showed her how to use my rice cooker and that made her really happy and now she even cleans it after she uses it. We take small miracles where we can find them. So, I sweep and cook and shop and keep things organized. I check mail for A’s brother, who lives behind us in a small house A had built on the property for her daughter years ago when she first bought the place. He suffered multiple strokes in February when we were having terrible weather and spent nearly sixty days in hospital and rehab facilities. For a while, I was making and taking him lunch three or four days a week and adding him into our dinner portions as well. Then he decided he needed to go to an actual rehab hospital for several weeks and he made great progress with them. Since he got back, he can move around more, and do is own cooking. But I am here if he needs help and he doesn’t hesitate to call.

These are all things that A would have had to manage while doing the full time job of teaching. So, I definitely don’t feel like I’m freeloading or being a burden. I’m also happy to run errands into town like picking up prescriptions or mailing things or whatever else needs to be done. Why wouldn’t I? I know what it’s like to work full time and never be able to go to the post office or a particular place because you’re headed to work before they open and not off till after they close. I’m happy to do these things for A because she’s my friend and because I can.

I thought for a while about trying to find some kind of job on line part time but as things piled up here and more things happened regarding brother, etc., I realized that adding an actual job into the mix of the things I was already taking care of was not something I wanted to do. I realized I like getting up when I want to. I like taking an hour or more to have coffee in the morning. I like jumping into the pool when it’s not thundering and lightening outside (we have had Noah levels of rain this spring!). I like working on my quilts and having dedicated space to do so. I like taking a nap if I feel like it. I get lots done every day, but every day I get to decide when and how I get it done. *I* get to decide. And if I don’t get to something on my list, no one yells at me. No one accuses me of lying about having computer problems or other situations. I get to do the work I do on my terms and my friend is happy with it. I can be her sounding board and her shoulder to cry on and vice versa. I have mowed part of the property once on the big zero-turn mower, and I will probably do more of that, but with all the rain it’s been hard to find a dry time to mow and I need A to be here at least a couple more times before I try it completely on my own. But I will conquer it!

I’m also learning pool maintenance. A’s cousin wanted to do something nice for her, so she paid to have the pool serviced and a new sand filter put in. Again, A was at work when the job was done, so the guy showed me how to do it (I made videos!) and I have been taking the water samples in every week, adding the chemicals, clearing the filter as needed, etc. Add one more skill set to the list.

So here I am. Apparently on my way to retirement in spite of myself and extremely grateful for everything that fell into place to allow me to do it. And now, the coffee is done and the sweeping beckons. See you soon!

Sweeping Changes

I bet you think this is going to be a political post, given we just had the Inauguration last week. But no. This post is actually about sweeping. My new place has only hard floors. Laminate wood in most of the space, tile in the kitchen and mud room. I have a couple of small rugs in my room, one in front of my bed because I don’t like putting my warm bare feet on a cold floor and one under my rolling desk chair to protect the floor. Other than that, bare floors.

Given that there are dogs, cats, horse riders, hay, dirt, dust, and all the other detritus of human existence, sweeping needs to happen a lot. Like nearly every day. The rooms are big and open and the furniture doesn’t nearly fill most of the space (unlike my previous digs) and so it’s very evident when sweeping doesn’t happen.

A normal day for me is getting up whenever, but still pretty early. Usually after roomie has gone to work on weekdays, maybe a little later on weekends, when she sleeps in. I make coffee, get my eyes focused, open the curtains in the living room to let in the light (yay, light!) and then grab the broom. I like sweeping first thing in the morning. For me, it’s like getting the old energy from the previous day out, and letting the new day’s energy in. I usually start in my room, sweeping around my piles (yes, I still have piles and boxes–I don’t have a closet, so…), then into the living room, the den/dining area and now, I’m happy to say, I can add the front room/reading nook to the sweeping space. With the exception of the teenager’s room and roomie’s room (where the cats live), I have the sweeping run of the whole house.

This morning was particularly lovely. It has been raining or cloudy for nearly two weeks straight. I am not used to that much cloudy weather, although even when it’s cloudy, it’s brighter in the house than my previous bottom of the well apartment. But the sun’s out today and the house faces mostly east and the light is wonderful. I was happy to open the curtains and sweep everything.

I am surprised that I like sweeping here. I didn’t sweep much in the other place, but with the exception of the kitchen, every square inch of floor space was taken up with something, so sweeping was aggravating. Here it’s an open road. And I have the pleasure of a clean and shiny floor afterward to put my yoga mat on, to walk on, to just admire while sitting in a reading chair. Who knew sweeping could unlock such feelings?

Watch out, next time I might wax rhapsodic about washing dishes!

FYI, view from my desk into the front room/reading nook with all the light.

Pie of a Lifetime

Yesterday, I made the above. It’s a butternut squash pie, and I got the recipe from a chef I’ve been following on Twitter for a while, Amethyst Ganaway. She goes by @ExcuseMyFly on Twitter and @thizzg on Instagram and she’s definitely worth following. She’s a young, Black, Charleston, SC, low-country gal living in the high country of Albuquerque, NM and she writes a mean article about pie, grits, food and work equality in the business, and other interesting things. The link is to the article and recipe for the pie, but check out her other things and definitely give her a follow. You won’t be sorry.

I was never a pumpkin pie fan. In fact, I never ate pumpkin pie until I was an adult. My mother didn’t abhor it, but she always said she just preferred sweet potato pie, so that’s what she made, and that’s what we ate. I loved her pies and make a pretty good one myself. However, when I read Ms. Ganaway’s article, I knew I had to give butternut squash a go. I already had a go-to soup recipe, so adding a pie just made sense. I used store bought, deep-dish pie crusts and I actually par-baked them for the first time. This definitely made a difference.

I confess that I am that person who looks at a recipe and immediately starts finding ways to modify it in my head, and I confess when I looked at the pie recipe, I thought, Oh, let’s add this and try that, etc. But, since it was an “heirloom” recipe, I wanted to make it just as is, at least for the first time. Other than slightly decreasing the sugar, I followed it to the letter. I am so glad I did, because it doesn’t need one other thing. The recipe is easy. I baked three butternut squash, used two of them for the pie puree and froze the other one for soup later. Just a few simple ingredients whisked together, poured into the shells and off they went. I had to bake them a tad longer than an hour, but they set up perfectly.

When I posted the above photo, Amethyst responded, “Tomorrow morning, have it with a hot cup of coffee, early if you can while it’s cold and quiet out. It’s gonna be life changing.” I got up around 6, which is still pretty dark in Texas. I put my pork roast in the oven, made my cup of coffee and then cut that pie. Sitting at the table in the early morning quiet of Christmas day with it was a gift. I watched the eastern sky get light out the living room window and savored each bite. It was a perfect moment. The pie is light, fluffy, just sweet enough, and believe it or not, that half-teaspoon of lemon zest came through. If you make the pie, do not leave it out! I had all kinds of feels when I ate that pie. I thought about how recipes and cooking tips get passed down in families and I smiled at the one tip for cooking chicken that my paternal grandmother gave to my mom, that I still use today. She was a terrible cook and she hated doing it, but I still cook chicken like she said and people still ooh and ahh over it. Food memories are an unbreakable connection to your past and a way to forge the future.

“It’s gonna be life changing,” she said.

She wasn’t wrong.

Thanks, Amethyst. Merry Christmas.

A Different Planet

I’ve been in my new space in Texas now for a little over a month. As far as I can tell, things are going well. My friend and new roommate suffers from depression. She has dealt with this most of her life for various reasons. This was not a surprise to me. She also hates to cook, something I knew as well, and one of the ways I feel all right living here basically rent free, since I take that worry off her shoulders and try to make sure she eats a little better than she has been. She is type 2 diabetic and trying to get her blood sugar under better control and hoping to get off insulin in the near future. As far as these two things, nothing has been unexpected. However, I didn’t realize that entering the kitchen of a depressed person who hates to cook would feel like being on a different planet.

When I got here, I stayed for just a couple of days to get my rental van unloaded, then drove back to Denver to get my car. During the time I was here, I cooked several different things that ensured there would be good food that could be heated up, etc. for the coming week or so until I got back. I left the kitchen pretty much spic and span, aside from the parts of the counter taken up by piles of junk mail which I didn’t feel was my place to simply throw in the trash (although most of it is likely months, if not years, out of date).

When I got back, I wasn’t quite prepared for the kitchen. I had made a batch of Brunswick stew which I left in the crockpot in the fridge. Apparently, they had finished it a couple of days before I got there, but the crock was still in the sink, full of water. Most of the dishes were also in the sink or across the counter. Friend had said she made Salisbury steak a night or two previously and the skillet with remains was still on the stove. There were horse buckets in the middle of the kitchen, which is difficult, since the kitchen is TINY and nearly all of the floor space is taken up by an island which contains the stove top. There is barely enough room to open the side-by-side fridge on one side and the dishwasher on the other. Clearly, not a well thought out design. But the up side is that you can access the stove and cook on any burner from nearly anywhere in the room!

Mail and clutter was piled up where there were no dishes. The dog’s water dish was in exactly the right place for me to kick it across the room every time I moved (that was fixed immediately). The floor hadn’t been swept (a tile floor that is breaking and cracking due to house settling as the result of a flood which didn’t enter the house but washed underneath) probably in days and there was absolutely no rhyme or reason to any of the cabinets.

I say this as a description with absolutely no judgment. While I am not depressed now, I have been in the past and there are days when simply walking down the hall to the bathroom seems to be more than one can cope with. Only the thought of having to change the sheets from wetting the bed got me up. So, if there were dishes in the sink and dust on the floor, I could deal with it. Once I got the rest of the stuff out of my car and got in for real, things moved quickly. There is still a massive pile of junk mail in one corner of the kitchen, but it’s not a corner that would be used much anyway due to its location, so it can stay there a while.

The other interesting thing was finding about half a million lids for food storage containers with no container that fit them. Cabinet by cabinet, I searched and finally made some matches, but decided that if I couldn’t turn up a match for a lid or a container, then out it went. That freed up some space quickly.

Then I had to assess utensils, cookware, etc. One nonstick skillet, mid-quality, one small cast iron skillet, a little too small for much (maybe baking cornbread). Stoneware baking things. No cookie sheet but this horrible heavy stoneware thing. Pampered Chef, maybe? Regardless, I’m not a fan. A pizza stone, which is fine. There’s a 3 quart stoneware casserole dish with a lid that won’t fit in the oven except on the lowest rack, which appears to be the only baking dish she has, so I bought a nonstick cookie sheet, one of those speckled roasting pans and a glass 8 x 8 dish at Walmart. She had muffin pans and loaf pans and other small kitchen items.

I got the pantry cleaned out and organized as well as the fridge. Items from 2015 to 2019 got tossed. Old spices got tossed. Rusty cans got tossed. Friend and granddaughter talked about a cake mix she had bought “a while ago” to make and showed me round cake pans. When I found the mix in the pantry, it had expired in 2016. When you hate to cook, a mix is too much.

So now we have a routine. I got her some protein-y things for breakfast (keto type cereal, full fat Greek yogurt, etc. She HATES eggs and cannot eat them unless they are baked in something). She’s all about leftovers, so that’s good, and she is more comfortable now asking for something she wants. She’s a fiend for chicken salad and loves mine. I’ve rearranged and reorganized things to where they are a bit more functional and logical (for me, anyway). Granddaughter is bringing dishes out of her room on a more regular basis and also eating with us. We run the dishwasher most every night and tonight, she even washed the dinner pan and put stuff in the dishwasher before she headed to bed.

I think the planets may be coming into alignment, and this is a good thing.

Irony

The last time I had “real” insurance was in 2000, when I worked for the HMO. My job there ended in September, 2000, due to a layoff because the company closed. I was one of the last three employees left, as I managed the appeals and complaints and I had to stay and make sure claims were paid and everything was handled according to state and Federal regulations.

Once that job ended, I obtained care via the Pueblo County Health Department. This public health entity should be a model for the rest of the country. You go to the administrative offices to sign up. You have to have proof of address and income (if any); however, even if your income is too high to qualify for the discounted program, you can get care with a higher copay. Over the 18 years since the HMO job ended, I received great care from PCHC. I had good providers, the offices are just as nice as any doctor’s office I’ve been in, and for the years my grandson lived with me, my copay for regular visits was $22. I went there because the jobs I have had since 2000 either did not offer benefits at all or they cost too much for me to buy.

When I moved to Denver, I thought surely a big city would have something to rival little Pueblo when it came to public health. Nope. When I went to the clinic for my financial interview, it turned out that I made one thousand dollars a year too much to qualify. There was no discount or just a higher copay. If I wanted care, I had to pay a $90 “deposit” and then be billed another $90 (at least). Lab work was separate, of course. The provider I had in Pueblo kindly wrote me a prescription for the one medication I take for a year. When I saw the provider in Denver, she was reluctant to write more than 3 months without major lab tests, which would have cost approximately $300 on TOP of the over $200 I ended up being billed for the first actual visit. So, a $10 prescription (filled at Walmart) was going to cost me nearly $600. What is wrong with this picture?

Now comes September 2020. The last day at my transcription jobs was September 4. Because of pay lag and cashing out my remaining PTO, I received 2 full paychecks that month. During that time, I applied for Colorado Medicaid. BOOM. As of October 1, 2020, I was immediately accepted for Medicaid. Now ANYTHING I might want to have done, would be covered. Any test, any prescription, any treatment. Now at the point of NO income, suddenly I am eligible for decent coverage. This makes absolutely no sense to me, but I’m not going to turn it down!

Now I have relocated to Texas. At the moment, I am still not working, so I am going to apply for Texas Medicaid. We’ll see how difficult they will try to make it. I have to say, Colorado has streamlined many of their bureaucratic functions to be manageable. I wonder how Texas is going to stack up.

I’ll keep you posted.

Observations

When the bottom dropped out, nobody knew how to free fall.
No leader could offer direction or directions. We had to find our ways alone.

Previous comforts were banned; hugs and hand holding weaponized.
We reluctantly released each other into separate bubbles of angst and anger. Even grief could not be shared.

The ether offered some connection, but a virtual tether cannot be touched.
Maps misled and compasses whirled, unable to settle on any cardinal point.

One day, driving aimless on a familiar road that no longer went anywhere, I passed a newly plowed and planted field.
The straight and even rows, previously ignored, became an anchor in the sea of uncertainty I was attempting to escape.

Tiny green shoots told a tale of hope for the future—despite the worst, things continue to grow. In sensible rows, farmers will organize the world.
My obscured parachute opened and I felt a quick tug of hope. I steer in the direction of clarity, still floating but hopeful I will land on my feet.

Free Falling

Saturday morning at 5 am was my last work shift. I quit my job. I had just had it with the hours, the arbitrary schedule changes, being treated like a recalcitrant three-year-old whenever I asked a question, literally being told “STOP TALKING!” when I was trying to answer a question that I had been asked. I could go on and on. How a company could manage to create a hostile work environment when you work from home is a mystery but this company did it. I had been dreading going to work for a long time, and I was lucky…I worked when all the big bosses were off (nights and weekends), but after I got off work on Tuesday mornings, I spent most of my down time worrying what I had done wrong (that I didn’t know of) and how hard I was going to get yelled at when I came back to work. Miserable.

I was professional. I put in a two-week notice. I thought about writing long, ranting letters to the powers that be, but that would have been a complete waste of energy. They don’t care. It’s a corporation. The next warm body was in the seat five minutes after I left and all will carry on. That’s been the same since there have been companies and I don’t even need to think about it. Time to move on.

The decision to quit was a confluence of many factors. About a year ago, I decided to make another trip to Scotland (which would have started tomorrow). I put in my request for time off a YEAR in advance, because one of the other things my former employer is notorious for is not allowing you to have any time off. Oh, you accrue the hours, but trying to actually TAKE the time is an entirely different story. So, I put in my request and checked up periodically to see if it had been approved, which for the most part got no response. Finally, I had some back and forth with my boss and I got the hours/days nailed down. I made plane and room reservations, etc.

Then COVID hit. Days and weeks passed and Scotland was being firm about quarantining, etc. My boss asked if I was still planning the trip. I said yes. Then, I found out my daughter needed major hip surgery the week before I was supposed to leave. That started things teetering. In the meantime, I had a long conversation with my oldest friend about how lost I was feeling and she, out of the blue, said, “Come live with me. My house is paid for and you won’t have to work for a while if you don’t want to.” I was stunned. I honestly didn’t know what to say, but simply having such a generous offer suddenly took a huge weight off my shoulders. Then, I got an e-mail from Icelandair, where I had booked my direct Denver to Glasgow flight, stating they had canceled my flight on Sept. 8 and were moving it to the same time on Sept. 7. The utter despair I felt at having to talk to my boss to let her know that my flight had been changed sealed the deal. For three years, since I started working for her, every time I needed to make a change to my schedule for a personal reason or had any kind of Internet or computer problem, I always felt she thought I was lying. Like I want to go through this misery with you just to have a night off? I don’t think so.

I can be slow to make up my mind about things, but once I’m certain, I act fast. I decided it was time to leave the soul sucking vortex of a “job” and take my friend up on her offer. But first, I will be helping my daughter get back on her feet and actually be available for a change. She won’t be able to drive for 6 weeks and will be going to lots of appointments and her husband has to continue on his job, so now I won’t have to try to juggle work, sleep and trying to help out. Once she is up and about, I will be packing a truck or a van and taking myself to Texas for the next chapter. My daughter, roommate, grandsons and a couple of other friends know, but I had to keep it close to the vest until I was actually done with working, since you never know who will say what to whom. I was a success because the busy-body coworker who reports every WORD you say to her to my former boss knew nothing when asked. I learned my lesson about her early on. Talk about food and TV shows only!

For the first time in my life, I have no real plans going forward, other than to get to Texas. In nearly 48 years of working full time, I took a month off when I had a baby and about a month off when I moved from Atlanta to Pueblo. And in both of those cases, I knew I had to work soon, and so the time was about as far from relaxing as it could be. Now, I just want to get to Alice’s house and set up my sewing machine and chill out for at least a little while. She lives on a nice piece of land out in the country and her brother lives in a small house behind hers. She also adopted her granddaughter (who just turned 18) a few years ago, so we have that in common, too. I went to visit her for Thanksgiving week in 2018, so have seen the area and it’s lovely. Of course, I’ll be in a red state and I can’t say I’m thrilled about that or the fact that they seem to be fairly anti-COVID precautions, but, again, I will be in a rural area and not doing a lot of socializing. But her house is open and airy and I also realized that living in this dark apartment has affected me more than I realized. It’s just time for something entirely new and it’s time for something that is entirely about ME for a change. I honestly have no idea what will happen, but I will figure it out. I’m going to try to embody the words of my favorite mantra: Relax, nothing is under control.

Here’s to free falling. May the parachute open when it’s supposed to.

Murder Solves A Mystery

When I lived in Atlanta, to get anywhere into the city or beyond (like my college, or jobs, or theatrical events, etc.), you had to drive on what is known as the Downtown Connector, a section of road where two major highways, I-75, and I-85, combine to go through the middle of the city before splitting into their respective directions north of Georgia Tech.  This is still the case, although the exits and lanes have changed and continue to change on a regular basis.

Many times, while driving or riding over this road, there was a particular section, just as we left our south-side area proper, where the road rose high above the neighborhoods below.  Regardless of time of year or season, the car would be enveloped in an overwhelming aroma of bacon.   As much as possible, whether I was the driver or the passenger, I tried to crane and gaze over the guardrails to see where that powerful fragrance was coming from.  All I could ever see was a sign for one of the multitude of Waffle Houses that call Atlanta home.  I couldn’t imagine even the busiest of Waffle Houses could cook enough bacon to make an aroma that could get into my car from over a quarter-mile away.  Baffled, I filed it away as one of life’s little mysteries.

Cut to a scene in the 1980’s.  For some reason, during that time, right after my daughter was born, working my first job for a weirdo who charged you “negative time” if you missed work, I got called for jury duty three or four times.  I ended up serving on nearly all of the summons.  Most were for civil cases, insurance, money judgments, and the like, but my last time serving jury duty in Georgia was on a murder trial.

Like the majority of murders, it was incredibly stupid.  Two coworkers had gotten into an argument, one worker had hurled verbal slurs and bad language at the other one and then they separated.  The other worker, enraged by the name calling, went to the locker room, got a knife and proceeded to stab the other worker, who later bled out and died.  Stupid.  One life gone and the other ruined over a bunch of meaningless words.  The biggest thing I learned at that trial was that words alone are not considered provocation for physically violent reprisals.  At least that was the case then.   Now, who knows?

Anyway, as I and my fellow jurors sat in the box and listened to the attorneys build their cases, one detail stuck with me.  The two young men happened to work in a factory that processed and packaged products for Frito Lay, Inc.  And one of the things they produced was pork rinds.  And, you guessed it, that factory was located in the general area of that section of highway where I always smelled bacon.  When I put those things together, I just had to shake my head at the utter randomness of the Universe.  Who could have possibly thought that by serving on a jury that I would find out the solution to a weird question that had bugged me for years?

And sadly, based upon a great deal of evidence and a thorough explanation of the law, we found the defendant guilty.