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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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.

Dream A Little Dream

Because of my wacky, messed up sleep schedule, I rarely dream.  And when I do, I rarely remember them.  But when I do, they are often doozies.  Such a dream happened a few weeks ago.  It happened when I woke up early after my work shift, but decided not to get up and fell back asleep.  This is most often when my dreams happen–or at least when I remember them.  So here’s the story…

I was at my mechanic’s shop getting my car worked on.  The mechanic was Denny, who is the son of the mechanic who is, indeed, the mechanic who has worked on my cars for nearly 30 years.  Denny took over the shop when his dad, Jerry, retired.  Denny was explaining to me that I did not need to have my brakes replaced.  He had some kind of plastic model and was showing me the thickness or something else to do with brakes and why mine were fine.  Then he said I needed something else done to my car, but that he would have to let Ron do it because his shop didn’t do that, and then he said he would take me to Ron.

This turned out to be just walking across the shop floor to another mechanic, who was, I guess, Ron.  As in dreams, he talked a lot but I didn’t really hear or understand much of it. But finally I agreed to whatever the work was.  And then, I looked up at Ron and said, “You really remind me of Porter Wagoner.”  And I was laughing really hard. I felt myself laughing in the dream.  And everyone in the dream laughed and said, yes, Ron does look like Porter Wagoner.  Then, in my dream I thought, Oh, I have to tell my mom about this, she will love it.  And then, I remembered my mom was dead, and for a minute I was so sad that I would not be able to tell her about this Porter Wagoner look-alike and also because for a minute, I really couldn’t think of anyone I knew who also knew who Porter Wagoner was. (I grew up on Gospel Jubilee and Hee Haw, etc.)

THEN, I suddenly thought, Oh, I can tell Valerie.  Valerie will know who Porter Wagoner is.  (Valerie is my roommate, a couple years older than me and cut her teeth on country music via her mother, an Okie).  And then I was happy again, once more laughing about Ron, the Porter Wagoner doppelganger.

And then I woke up laughing.  Those are the kinds of dreams I have.

Porter Wagoner - Wikipedia

#Deucember – Day 7 – Another Day

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I’ve fallen behind on Deucembering already.  I had to work two solid 12-hour shifts on Saturday and Sunday nights, and the rest of time I was sleeping or trying to sleep, so that took a bite out of writing time and I had a list today and I tried to get through most of it.  It’s now just after midnight into another day, but I managed to get most of my list done, which makes me happy.  I actually did my laundry AND put it away today, something that almost never happens.  Usually the clean laundry just gets worn out of the basket and then tossed on the floor until the basket is empty and is usually by the next wash day.

I got a letter done to my aunt in NC, that I have owed her for a while.  I also went through photos and pulled out some things to send to my younger cousins.

I cut the batting for two quilts that need to get done.  I’ve got some social things going on over the next couple of days but hopefully I can get at least one of them sandwiched and ready to quilt.

While I was going through photos, I found a few of a friend and her daughter from a long-ago get-together.  I wrote a quick card and will pop them in the mail to her tomorrow.

And now, I have to make up my bed before I can get it because I washed my sheets, etc. as well.  Making up a bed inside a tent is a challenge, but the reward at the end of the struggle is Clean Sheets!

And then I shall read until I fall asleep.

#BuckFifty Day Four – A Find

Once upon a time, I did counted cross-stitch.  I really enjoyed it, but then after a while, life got busy and I didn’t have much time to just sit and stitch and I drifted away from it. My most favorite thing I ever made was this set of Twelve Days of Christmas ornaments.  I started working on it in 1990–yes you read that right.  Working on this kit helped me get through the months at my mom’s house when my father was dying of pancreatic cancer.  When I wasn’t sitting with him, talking, remembering, crying, helping my mom, and siblings, trying to explain what was happening to my daughter, I tucked myself away in her living room (the formal one we never used) and stitched away.  Focusing on each ornament as it came to life under my needle was extremely therapeutic and I showed my dad my progress even though I knew he would never see the finished set (he didn’t).

Finally, when they were all done, I suddenly wasn’t sure I could hang them up on my tree, so on an impulse, I gave them as a Christmas gift to one of my best friends (who has put them up at Christmas every year since then).  The patterns with all the info for yarn colors, etc., I put in my mother’s coat closet because I figured no one would mess with them there.

Then time intervened, I moved from Atlanta to Colorado, lots of stuff happened and I forgot about those little patterns (except when my friend sent me photos every year).  Then my mom passed away, we sold her house and in all the hustle and bustle of trying to handle an estate long distance, an old set of cross stitch patterns took up very little space in my brain.

Until a few years ago, when I started quilting and doing more crafty things again.  I realized I really, REALLY wanted those patterns again.  But I had no idea how to find them, other than Googling, and by then I didn’t even remember the brand, the name of the kit or whatever.  I looked at the online catalog where I bought them (still in business), but they didn’t have anything like it over the last few years.  Then, the wonder of social media happened.

Just a couple of days ago, on a quilting/fabric group I joined on FB, I posted a photo from my friend and said, “Have you seen these kits?”  Lo and behold, I got more than one response with websites, etc.  I was amazed and thrilled!  And so, after nearly 30 years, on Friday, I will have another Twelve Days of Christmas ornament kit, complete with patterns, thread and frames, so that I can now make a set of these for myself.  I just can’t tell you how happy this has made me, but I will say that these will not leave my possession and hopefully will be handed down to my family when I’m gone.

What a day!

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A photo of some of the ones I made:

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Leo

Sometimes, my thought convolutions and trails of memory surprise me. This morning, in the wee hours, to get a brief break from work, I read an online essay at Lucky Peach, a great food, cooking and culture magazine. In it, the author talked about keeping a food diary for none of the reasons that people are often urged to do this, i.e., track your food so you’ll know if you eat “too much” and then you can eat less and lose weight. This woman keeps a food diary as an aid to memory. Even writing this takes me down another mind corridor, to a conversation I had years ago with a college friend and her husband in New Orleans about our parents and their various quirks. Her mother invariably remembered events and occasions by what was eaten: “Oh, remember when we went there? We went to X Restaurant and you had that dish, and your father ate that?” while her husband’s father always seemed to remember event by how much things cost: “Oh, remember when we went there? We went to X Restaurant and the bill was X dollars, and you had that steak that cost X!” And so it goes.

Working nights is weird. I get hungry at odd times. I mean, really hungry. I don’t know if it’s the brain power I’m expending at times when my mind would normally be resting or if it’s just my body trying to tell me to sleep, but instead it just gives up and says, “Well, I know you’re not going to sleep, but I’m really tired, so why don’t you eat something instead?”

Either way, tonight/this morning there was a perfect combination of circumstances that threw me down memory lane big time. I decided I wanted some cheese toast. Toast has become a real treat for me lately because over the past few months, I discovered that either wheat or gluten or some combination of the two was the major culprit in all my miserable itching. I did two somewhat controlled experiments where I quit eating bread, baked goods, wheat flour products, etc. for a couple of weeks, then ate the same and wow…the itching had calmed down a lot and after I ate the things (2 donuts the first time, 1 corn muffin from a restaurant the second time) and had immediate and severe skin reactions, I thought, well, I can do without bread, etc. if it means not scratching myself till I bleed.

I did well the first 6 weeks or so. I’m not a really big bread eater, although I like it. Crackers are more my downfall, and I found some gluten free ones that I liked, so all was well. But, every now and then I want a sandwich. Or a piece of toast. So, after nearly 3 months of no bread, wheat flour, etc., I found a loaf of Udi’s gluten-free bread on sale and thought I would try it. I got the millet-chia variety and it is really good. My first piece of toast in 3 months was incredibly delicious…buttered under the broiler, with peanut butter and cherry preserves. Yeah, THAT’S a memory.

Which brings me back to tonight/this morning. I wanted cheese toast with tomatoes. And wanting cheese toast with tomatoes, I thought of Leo.

Leo was my boss at Six Flags Over Georgia in the Crystal Pistol for four years. The first year I worked there, I worked in the general wardrobe, where I took in the dirty uniforms for all the park workers and handed out the clean ones for the next day. I worked with a high school friend and her mom along with the rest of the crew, in a huge warehouse type place full of long racks of brightly colored uniforms for the different rides. There was a guys’ side and a girls’ side because every day after shift, the workers came in, went upstairs to the locker rooms, changed into their street clothes and brought their uniforms to us, got replacements and then went back upstairs to put them in their lockers for the next day. Over time, I learned people by their clothing size. I learned to look at a guy and think, “Oh, 32 x 32” instead of “Cute butt.” I learned to look at a girl and think, “Flume Large” or “Sky carts medium” which had absolutely no bearing on whatever size she might wear in the real world. But that’s a whole other post. The wardrobe was my world for the first year I worked as SFOG. I worked weekends and nights after school when the season overlapped and nights during the summer. It was my first experience with night shifts. SFOG was where I learned to drink coffee.

I liked working there, but even then my introverted self did not want to be out in the park mingling with the tourists. So, the second year when spring time rolled around, I put in an application again and started following up. My mom called, I called, but nothing seemed available. Finally, when I was just about to give up hope, my mom made one last call and the HR person asked, “Can she sew?” Oh, yes, I could, and so I got an interview with Leo at the Crystal Pistol.

On the day of, I went into the office area that I was familiar with and was told I needed to go out to the Pistol for the interview–that was where Leo worked. So, I found my way there, and asked the crew where to find Leo and they directed me backstage, where I found a woman in a tiny cubicle with a two sewing machines facing each other, surrounded by vast yardages of lace, net, tulle, satin, rhinestones and sequins, separated from the rest of the backstage space by a counter and a Dutch door.

As I got a little closer, it appeared that I was looking at her through the neck of the sewing machine…her head was barely over the top of it. I stopped at the Dutch door and told her who I was. She slowly got up and made her way around and through the piles of fabric and to the door and opened it for me, inviting me into her inner sanctum. I stepped in, more than a little nervous, especially when I saw that Leo was probably older than my grandmother and barely taller than my waist. Think Linda Hunt as Hetty in NCIS: LA.

Leo greatly resembled Gertrude Stein and she was, in effect, cubic. She was almost literally as wide as she was tall. She wore long smock tops and loose pants, and she pulled one of those vertical wire shopping carts along behind her coming to work and going home. She had crisp gray hair that she wore pulled back in a severe bun and bright blue eyes in a round face that was soft with wrinkles. She was not a particularly cheerful person, but over time, I could tell when she was amused because her eyes would sparkle even if her expression never changed. She never hurried, but she got everything done on time. She was a brilliant seamstress who had no formal training but she could look at a person for a few minutes and work out a pattern to fit them from thin air. I was immediately intimidated, but she asked me if I had made the top I was wearing, and I said, yes, ma’am, I had, and everything was downhill from there. I was in.

Leo ruled the backstage area. Nobody messed with her. As with the general wardrobe, the performers turned in the part of their costumes that were washed and cleaned every day…tuxedo shirts, or similar, various ties, accessories, even underthings (dance belts–if you don’t know what a dance belt is, Google it), dance hose, leotards. We were responsible for keeping the costumes up, washing the things that could be washed, and maintaining the dressing rooms. But Leo brooked no sloppiness. We kept things cleaned and mopped, but woe to anyone who left a bow tie or a stocking behind and woe to the person who turned in their things bunched up or inside out. There would be fines and no one got their items back until the fines were paid.

In addition to the two sewing machines and piles of fabrics and shiny things, Leo kept a fridge and toaster oven in the tiny space. I’m sure it was some kind of a fire hazard, but no one was going to tell her she couldn’t have them. One of the things she loved to make was cheese toast with tomatoes. She brought big, juicy tomatoes from her yard (her husband, Harold, was a gardener–when he wasn’t watching religious shows on TV, something Leo greatly disapproved of, as Harold was apparently prone to sending money to the televangelists. Leo was nothing if not frugal.) She sliced the tomatoes thick and the cheese thicker, and popped her little open-faced gems into the toaster oven to bubble and ooze into melted perfection.

My mouth watered every time she made this concoction, and I vowed I would try it at home. At work, I brought a cold lunch in and Leo and I ate together while I trained.

The first year, I worked under Leo’s close scrutiny. I learned to fit and alter, to sew yards of rhinestones onto plush velvet without marring the nap, to take regular looking street clothes and turn them into something showy that was also able to be yanked off a moving body in a hurry and replace with an equally showy different garment for quick-change moments. I once even fixed a young man’s zipper while he was still wearing the pants. When I told him sternly, “Don’t MOVE,” and he didn’t, I began to understand where some of Leo’s power came from.

Throughout the season, Leo continued to make her cheese toast with tomatoes. And I started making it at home. It’s such a simple item, but so good…way better than the ubiquitous grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup. I could never abide tomato soup, even as a child, but the warm tomatoes coated in the melty, bubbly cheddar atop the crispy, buttery toast…that was comfort food at its best.

And so, last night/this morning, as I made my toast, Leo wandered into my head and in just a moment, I relived all those years at the Crystal Pistol, sewing rhinestones and sequins, watching the pretty boys and girls dance brilliantly onstage and cuss like sailors and smoke like chimneys backstage. I felt the swish of the netting around me as I worked in the close confines of Leo’s creative closet. I smelled the funk of costumes that can never really be washed but only “cleaned”…that unique mix of dry cleaning fluid and body odor that never exists anywhere but in the back of a live-performance theater. I thought about the author of the article, writing her food diaries ever day, hoping to preserve her memories of events and people by writing down menus. It’s a powerful technique, if just thinking about cheese toast and tomatoes can carry me back this far to a long-passed period of my life.

I’ve got short ribs in the crock pot tonight. Maybe I should write that down.

Layers

Today is my 2nd grandson’s 13th birthday. Yes, I now have two teenaged grandchildren. I can hardly wrap my head around that, let me tell you. This week, on my days off, I took E and we went up to Denver and got C to spend the night in a hotel, hang out at the pool, and just have a nice time. It went off partially well.

First, we got kind of a late start. Then, there was a ton of traffic all the way from Pueblo to Denver, and of course, they live on the north end of Denver, and the hotel I got was on the south end. I don’t even remember why I did that, but there it was. So, by the time I got up to pick up C, it was already 3:30 and his step-dad was home. I spent a few minutes there, got to see my granddaughter who is two now and a little cutie. Of course, she had no idea who I was, but she was very sweet and friendly anyway. She and C are obviously crazy about each other…she wanted to know why he was going with me, etc. E came in and played a little bit with her, too, but she didn’t really remember him, either.

Then, we fought rush hour traffic all the way back south. E had Google maps on his phone, so he played navigator when I asked him to route me through town instead of on the highway. That was actually kind of fun, and he got involved in it. Then we got to the hotel, and he started acting like a complete snot. All he wanted to do was set up the XBox (which I let him bring) and play that, and talk mean to his brother…not so much what he said, but how he said it. C wanted to play and they did, but I was getting hungry, so finally at around 8 pm, we went to this BBQ place that was right in front of the hotel, and man, was it great! That was a good find, anyway. After that, we went back to the hotel and C and I went to the pool, where he got on the ellipitcal for a bit while I swam a little, then he got in the pool and then we hung out in their nice sized jacuzzi. E of course, stayed up in the room and played the XBox. Wheeee. But it was nice just hanging out with C, talking, finding out a little bit about what’s been going on with him. He just finished the 6th grade and did pretty well. I think he likes school a lot better than E does, at least for now. After that, we went back to the room, got dried off, and C. decided he would sleep in the other bed in my room (I got a 2-double suite with a sleeper sofa, but they’re kind of too big for sharing that now. It was good because we each had a bed.) He flaked out pretty early, I read for a while, then went to sleep, and of course, E was still XBoxing away. He probably crashed in the wee hours.

We slept in. The room was dark, and I woke up a few times but refused to get up. Finally, we managed to get up and get going before actual check out time. C said he would like to go to the aquarium, which was a little more money than I wanted to spend, but I caved in. The Denver aquarium is small, but pretty nice, and of course they wanted to hang out at the big saltwater tank where the sharks are. That was pretty cool, I have to say.

Before we left Pueblo, we had sort of arranged that E would stay up there until tomorrow and visit with his dad. He had found out that his dad’s girlfriend would be home, so I could just drop him off there, so after the aquarium, he once again became navigator and we found their house with very little trouble. We visited a little and I got to see how his dad’s other two kids (one bio and one not) both adore E…so he got a little bit of the feeling that I imagine C has when he is with his baby sister. The little boy, Jase, just couldn’t WAIT to show E how he could play the Leggo game on the (you got it) XBox, and when C and I left, they were happily being Leggo Indiana Jones and blowing things up.

Then, I let C pick where we went for lunch and we enjoyed that, and I eventually got him home about 4:30. I visited with step-dad and the baby for another few minutes (got a hug this time) and then I had to brave traffic to get home. Rather than sit on the highway bumper to bumper, I went through town, remembering a lot of the ways I used to drive when I lived up there for a year and a half before E was born.

Because of all the rain, the city is incredibly lush and green this year. I drove through inner city neighborhoods of mid-century homes, high rise apartments, and new construction, with trees and landscaping burgeoning out onto the sidewalks. It seemed that every street I drove down reminded me so much of similar neighborhoods I used to travel through in Atlanta on my daily commute, and traveling with a long lost love, who showed me how to use the back roads to save time and turmoil off the beaten path. Memories crowded in and time thinned out in front of me. The intervening years between now and my time in Denver and my youth in Atlanta all melted away until I seemed to be experiencing everything all at once.

I thought about the nature of families and how each of the boys seems to be creating their own branch, with siblings and half-siblings and completely non-blood related siblings, but all family nonetheless. I felt a little sad that their once-close relationship seems rather broken, but then I also remembered how relentless C once was about wanting E out of the house so he could be the only one (for a few minutes, at least until the baby came). I don’t want to blame him for that, but at the same time, I couldn’t help the fleeting, curious thought, wondering if he even remembered wanting that, or if how things are now were simply how they have always been in his limited memory. Who knows that things a child remembers over time? I have been together with all of my siblings and when we have discussed particular events that we all shared and there couldn’t have been four more widely divergent stories. I’m sure the boys’ versions of how E came to live with me will be equally diverse if they ever talk about it.

The traffic was relentless and my thoughts went on. Time travel, memories, the nature of family, connections, how I would never have known any of these people if not for my daughter, and so on, until finally, more than three hours after leaving C at home, I managed to walk in my door and crash.

Tomorrow I’ll go pick up E and he starts his weight training for football at 7 a.m. on Monday. He’ll be mad at me all the way home because I wouldn’t let him take his dad’s puppy. Of course, they had to get a dog (part lab, part pit bull), and of course they didn’t pay the pet deposit at their apartment and of course they can’t afford the damn dog anyway. The girlfriend (who is very nice) called me on Thursday night after I finally got home and asked me. I was adamant. I know E wants a dog, but he can’t even pick up his room or put his dishes in the dishwasher for god’s sake. How is he going to take care of  a puppy? I am not up for vet bills or pee/poop on the carpet, etc. A puppy/dog/pet is just not happening here. Nope. Period. Full stop. So, he will just have to be mad at me and when he’s on his own, he can have whatever dog he wants.

So, on Fathers’ Day weekend and Summer Solstice, I wish you all the blessings of the season and hope you are having a slightly more relaxing weekend than I did.

Writing Challenge #3 – The Worst Foot-in-Mouth

When I got married for the first time, I knew from the beginning that it was a huge mistake, but I was so overwhelmed by circumstances that I simply didn’t know how to get out of it. I have never been good at stating boldly to the universe what I want, particularly when it involves standing up in front of people and making it known that I actually want something. So, after things got to a certain point, for me to put my foot down and say, “I want NOT to marry you” was virtually impossible. I know that I might come across as assertive or confident or whatever in my safe little blog world, but trust me, when it comes to standing up for myself in most situations I am pretty much a spineless jellyfish.

Of course, I didn’t want a wedding–but then I never did. We got married in my parents’ family room, by the justice of the peace who lived down the street. Of course, my mother was terribly disappointed that I wanted nothing to do with traditional wedding stuff…no shower, no reception, none of it. I just wanted to get it over with and get on with what I hoped would be a relatively normal life married to an insanely jealous sociopath. Yeah. Good luck with that.

From the get go, my mother wanted to give me some kind of celebration. Finally I gave in with one request…that, aside from my father, ALL guests had to be female. Spouse and I already had long, intense agonizing arguments regarding two male friends of mine…neither of which had ever been the least romantic. One wouldn’t be a problem because by then he lived far out of town and likely would not come back just for this little party. The other lived in town and I begged, I mean BEGGED my mother not to invite him. This was the one time in my life where my mother failed me.

So, we planned the party. I gave her the guest list I put together, maybe twenty or so friends from high school, college, and co-workers, all female. She found a place, a clubhouse at someone’s apartment, and we set a date. I was eager for the day to come and go so that I could just get on with things in peace. My stomach was in knots worried that someone would say something wrong, ask the wrong question, mention someone who wasn’t there (male) and everything would blow up like an acetylene torch.

The day came. People started to show up. Everyone was female, and on the list. I began to relax just the slightest bit. Then, when I was in the kitchen area of the facility, my mom came over with this big grin on her face.

“Look who’s here!” I turn around and looked into the face of my local friend.

And I froze. Even now, I can remember the feelings of sheer terror that coursed through me and the sick sensation of utter betrayal. It wasn’t until I left my husband under cover of darkness nearly five years later, and finally showed her an article about a woman who had done the same thing and written about it that my mother finally understood just a LITTLE of how I felt around my husband all the time. She never took the danger of him seriously, I always did.

So here I was face to face with a dear, dear friend. We had met my senior year in college when I cast him in a play I was to direct for my senior project. He was a young journalism student in college out of town, but home long enough to be able to participate in the play that quater. We hit it off. He took me to my first gay bar and drag show and taught me how to disco. When he went back to school after the play, we stayed in touch. We wrote letters…LETTERS, can you imagine. We stayed in touch after I graduated and moved to New Orleans. After I moved back to Atlanta, he was living in the funky Virginial Highlands area and I hung out with him while he wrote his first novel. He took me to go see Raiders of The Lost Ark when it first came out and we loved it as we laughed together over the quirky new-retro feel of that movie. In fact, we and several other people had agreed to move into a house together, but then I had to get it into my head to join the circus and “fall in love.” I couldn’t possibly have been more stupid.

He was there to celebrate my disaster of a marriage, not having any idea of anything. I stood there and looked at him, and I was struck dumb. I know he wanted to hug me and congratulate me and all I could think of was I could NOT let this male person touch me in front of my husband because I just knew he would have dragged this beautiful man out of the building and beat him up in front of me. I couldn’t possible risk it, so I did something even worse. I just turned my back on him. Literally. I backed away and tried to pretend I hadn’t seen him. It was the most awful thing I have ever done, but honestly, at that time in my life, I truly did not know what else to do.

Momentarily, I was saved when another friend from college had a convenient fainting spell and all attention turned to her. In the melee of trying to get her situated, I think my other friend, if I could even be allowed to call him that now, slipped out unnoticed. I honestly don’t remember. I remember the fainting and then I remember packing things up to leave afterwards, but that’s about it.

I hated myself and I was so angry at my mother. I confronted her later and she simply could not understand why I was so upset. I don’t think she ever did.

A year or so went by. I had the baby and the husband was in prison. I was working in an office job and found out through the grapvine that my friend now worked for the Atlanta newspaper. One day at work I said what the hell and called him, leaving a message under my married name. He called me back. It was obvious that he didn’t reconize my voice, but then, we hadn’t talked a lot on the phone, and I had already started to develop my “phone voice” for business.

Thankfully, when he finally realized who it was, he was glad to hear from me. I can’t express the relief I felt. I told him I wanted to see him, to explain what had happened that day, so we met a couple of days later for dinner. I finally got to tell him the sad story of my marriage, how scared I was, and admit to, and apologize for, my complete cowardice that day. We cried together over dinner, but at least I knew he hadn’t given up on me.

We saw each other a couple of times after that, but shortly he moved to the West Coast and began a career as a screen writer. Now he’s married to his husband and we keep in touch via Facebook. There are moments that I still blush with embarrassment over what I did that day, but more I am filled with gratitude that I can still call him my friend.