Welcome to my world and beyond...

A collection of snippets of the books I write and, occasionally, my life and the things that inspire my writing...

Friday, October 14, 2011

Happy birthday, Mom... A Remembrance

And the years roll on.  I posted this last year--wrote it two years ago, and post it again this year for mom's birthday. 


Today is my mom's birthday.  Last year on her 83rd birthday, at the end of the evening, she had trouble breathing and was admitted to the hospital.  Within a week she had suffered a heart attack and was resuscitated by the hospital staff...sort of, but never quite came back to us.  

The odyssey of ICU, breathing tubes, feeding tubes, kidney failure and dialysis, all followed by her being deemed unable to swallow and not tolerating the tube feedings, left us with a slow and quiet end at hospice.  

Two months before her heart attack, I'd lost my job of 22 years.   Since I felt compelled to not have her be alone at night during her final days, and didn't have to divide my time between hospice and work, I spent the nights with her.  

The nurses thought she might live for three more days. She lived for ten.

I wrote my way through the pain, typing quietly away on my laptop while I sat beside her bed.

Tonight, almost a year later, while I quietly wish her a happy birthday, I hope that there is an afterlife for her that includes my father.  Eighty-three years on this earth.  As I blink back tears, I remind myself of what I have said so many times to others...others who struggled to find the words to alleviate my grief.  "It' okay. She lived a good, long life.  And though it is heartbreaking to lose her, when the universe is working just right, we bury elderly parents."

Here, for her birthday, I post something I wrote last year while sitting at her side... in her waning  days on earth...

Mothers and Rainbows: A Remembrance 

This afternoon, after I finished my "night's" sleep, I walked into my living room and saw that the sun, shining in an azure sky, had slipped far enough south to shine on the prisms hanging in the windows;  the room was spangled with rainbows.  I set about tasks that had to be done, cleaning, dishes, and  catching up on things that the vigil I keep has allowed to fall behind.

The thoughts paraded through my mind, how peacefully mom slept last night, how gaunt her face has become, tears...then more tears, then thinking about what I had to do today-- I should bake cinnamon bread to take into the hospice unit.  

I looked at the rainbows dotting walls, ceiling, and floor as I worked, and recalled how excited a rainbows sighting made us when we were young.  We'd  dash outside after a rainstorm to look toward the east at an arc of colors, with our mom beside us looking on in wonder at the beauty of simple things, and with gratitude for an end to all storms.

Mom, unlike my dad, had no deep-seated religious conviction. And that made our earliest association with rainbows-- and the lore surrounding them to be much more rife with tales of leprechauns and pots of gold than about promises from a god about major floods. So, oft I stood wondering where in that forest of trees on the yonder hillside was that pot of gold found at every rainbow's end.

Back to my tasks at hand, mixing the bread dough, water, shortening and flour in the bowl, more water, sugar and the yeast in a separate bowl.  My mind drifts, I can hear her voice the day she taught me about yeast dough, "Dissolve the yeast in water, stir...like that, okay add some sugar because yeast needs something to eat so that it can grow."  And the tears come...

I held her hand last night as I talked to her...she slept,  I can only hope, dreaming dreams that my words influenced.  Maybe morphine dreams do not exist... maybe her mind is held in silence and darkness as the waning days of her life slip by... but I hope... I tell her that I will get the book published, and will dedicate it to my biggest fan...her. 

My thoughts wander to Christmases past and I tell her that I don't know how she did it, eight children and we had next to nothing, but Christmases were always good--. I can't recall one when I was disappointed. I then sat with a lump in my throat, I had to choose--silence or sobs...I chose silence... as I thought of Christmases forward.  All Christmases forward...

I note, without giving much thought, that the rainbows have crawled across the living room wall...the sun is heading west.  The first batch of bread is in pans to raise. As I mix a second, I don't know why but I keep thinking of going around the fence with mom.  

The house was in the "hollow" and the entire 25 acres of it were fenced in for cattle, with electric coursing through the barbed wire.  It was a big job that mom did while dad worked at the Catholic Seminary five miles away.  I can picture her; she has a five gallon metal bucket full of the tools and supplies... lashing wire, extra barbed wire, insulators and nails.  A claw hammer, wire cutters, and a pair of leather gloves complete the  items.  

And we started, up the lane by the gate, up over the hillside and into the big oak woods at the top of the hill across our small creek.  We pause at the hollow tree while mom peeks inside and then tells my younger sister and me that the elf who makes shoes lives in there.  I am five and my sister is four--everyone else is at school, and we are now both amazed and ill at ease at the thought of an "elf" living in a tree near the grazing cows.  

Down over the hill, across the bottom of the fields below the house and barn, then a broad sweep along the fence bordering an old "mending walls" stone fence leading us back up over the hill.  There, below the orchard, where there is a gate in the electric fence,  mom says, "Look at that."  My sister and I look at where she is pointing, and we have no idea what it is that is struggling--tangled in the wire.  She tells us that it is an "owl", and we watch her put on her leather gloves and begin trying to disentangle  the creature.   We stare at the strange eyes that look startled wide open.  It claws her leather gloves and then as the bird is freed from the wires, its curved beak bites down on the leather too.  She wraps it in a flannel shirt and we take it to the house so that her other 6 children can see an owl up close when they get home from school.  Then she checks it over for injury to be sure that it will be fine when she releases it later.

The memories come and go...so random in nature, and I grieve each one at the emotion of acknowledging--no more memories will be made.  I know...I know that the challenge is to find the joy in the memories, but today I cannot...not yet.

The second batch of bread is in pans and raising, and the rainbows are now fading in the light of the late day.  I picture my mom, standing on the east side of the house with a camera in her hand and she has photographed a rainbow.  She pulls the backing paper off of the Polaroid print after carefully watching her wristwatch for the allotted time.  She has her photo...

I have my picture too, in my mind...but my photo of the  rainbow includes my mom, looking toward the eastern sky, watching a fading rainbow.  The storm has ended, her family is all safe and sound, and maybe, just maybe, that really is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

So, tonight as I read to her and sing quietly to her, I need also remind her about the rainbows...about a lifetime of rainbows...and that every storm ends-- a lesson that she shared with us.  And I will whisper quietly to her as I have been, while I struggle to keep my breath from coming in sobs, "It is okay mom, we are all okay...you can go... there is a rainbow waiting for you at the end of this storm..."

Happy birthday, mom...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Winter Predictions From My Crystal Ball

Today was lovely--in a wet kind of way.   The rain came and soaked down near-perfect autumn leaves.

I have watched autumns come and autumns go, and this has been one of the prettiest in a while.  I admit, sometimes nature consumes me, and this year has certainly grabbed my interest. I make mental notes, daily, driving to and from work. I always mean to write them down--they seem so profound, so important as the notes roll through my mind.

Ha! But here I sit, without a single note on paper...trying to conjure up something worth reading.

So...I travel back-roads out to the four-lanes as I make my way to work.  Today, as I passed crimson sumac and Ash trees that looked like they glowed gold beneath purple leaves, I thought about my grandmother driving a horse and buggy to church out at St. Johns.  Down across the log bridge that crossed our tiny "crick", out the lower lane to Smith Road--where the Smiths lived--you know where the fellas all played cards and drank local made hard-stuff. I hear, as the old timers used to say, that hard stuff will make you drink a glass of fresh ground horseradish on a dare...and then nearly die.

Ugh, tangent...sorry, then grandma made her way up out of Rough Run hollow to the church a few miles away. 

One more tidbit, always grind your horseradish in a month that contains the letter "r".

Tangent done.

I know...I know...I write fiction.  But, really, my grandma driving a horse and buggy to church?  Straight goods.  My dad was 40 years old when I was born, and his mom was near 40 when he was born, and I am ...yea...I am over 40 now <by 11 years>.  Did I just write that out loud? I thought I was just thinking it ;-)

I reckon that my grandma was rather consumed by nature as well.  The weather, the timing of the first frost, or the last snow must have played heavily on her world.

But, in my world, not so much out of necessity, but more so out of just a love of wondering about things that defy an explanation or an understanding...let alone any kind of predictable schedule.  And the timing of "visual" autumn is very much like that.

Which lead me to wonder about the old folklore...or as I like to put it, "The old timers used to say...". But even with all of my wondering, I have rarely thought to set down the words so I could check on them after a season has passed to see just how true their lore rings.

Winter was --and out here in the country, in the farming part of the world still is, the season that garnered so much speculation, and had so many natural predictors.

I am setting down some words, my prediction for this winter, based solely upon folklore...or the crystal ball I keep hidden for just such tasks.

The hornet's nests are high...so deep snow will abound.

The nut trees are loaded, the butternut tree behind the house is grand central station to the squirrels right now.  A hard winter ahead.  Nature takes care of its own.

The wooly-bears are mighty black with very narrow brown ends on them. Mild start, long cold winter, then a late mild spring.

The apple trees, the hawthorns and even the wild grasses produced abundantly.  Long winter.

Tough apple skins, cold winter--yes, they are tough.

So, my prediction is...there will be a winter :-)

Winter will be a great time to catch up on writing, do some x-country skiing, and plan what will go in my garden after that late, mild, spring :-)

Other than that, a writing catch-up. I am pushing to finish to Aaydan's Tale. I hope to get that off my desk in time to participate, first time ever, in NaNoWriMo (NationalNovelWritingMonth).  I just signed up for it this evening. Woohoo! For any writers who are interested in a fun challenge and an opportunity to network with other writers, check here: 

National Novel Writing Month

It is free and a great learning experience--from all I have gathered from past participants. The idea is to write a 50,000 word novel in November.  The focus is on output!  No emphasis placed on editing.  The idea is to write, write, write...

On a personal note, my husband is having surgery first thing in the morning, so if I am scarce for a while...that will have a lot to do with it.

My crystal ball shows, editing, writing, and then shoveling snow.

What does your crystal ball show?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Autumn Closing In

I stepped outside at lunchtime several days ago, and felt a glorious breeze brush by, just hinting at a bit too cool... but so soon the breeze stopped, and the sun warmed away that tingle of... just exactly what was it that I felt?

There was no immediate rush, no pending urgency of which I was acutely aware, yet...there was something that I felt-- that defied definition.

The trail, after work was calling me.  

I saw the sumac just as I rounded the first gentle bend, and it had begun to go red. And the goldenrod was coming into full bloom, rivaling only the queen Anne's lace for beauty.

Time was when my world was young, and the first day of school had come and gone. The berries had all been picked, and the beans and the tomatoes had all been canned.  All that yet called were the fruits in the orchard.

It was soon time to dig out every bushel basket from the upstairs of the summer kitchen, and then load them on the wagon.  Away to the orchard, the tractor chugged up the hill. The cap on the top of the muffler, flipping open and closed as the machine worked to haul us to appointed task.

As we pulled in beneath rows of apple trees, the smell hung in the air. It was the smell of autumn closing in.  Apples on the grass beneath the trees, sticky and sweet, were covered with yellow jackets.  We all wore shoes on that warm day because the yellow jackets were passionate about their apples; they seemed almost like mean little drunks--intoxicated with the sugar of that half-rotten fruit that covered the ground.

I watched my grandmother work... by then far too old to do much of the gathering--and even less of the picking.  We stood on the wagon to get apples from low branches, and balancing on upturned metal 5 gallon buckets, we reached the ones that were just beyond the grasp of a child standing on the ground.  We looked over what had already fallen--for recent drops, and chose whether it looked the effort to chance the run-in with the angry bees.

There was a Winesap on the upper eastern corner, and partway down the row was a Russet.  Two rows in was a King apple and one to match it the next row over. There were banana apples and a summer apple tree.  And somewhere on that top row was the Northern Spy, my grandma's favorite.

She sat on the wagon, sorting through what was being loaded.  The fingers of her hands were as old and gnarled as the twisted branches of her aging apple trees.  Occasionally, she shouted a question to my dad who--though in his late forties, was still just a boy to her.

And all the while the bees buzzed. Inevitably someone was stung and was excused to run down over the hill to the house.  There, my mother was waiting with a box of baking soda--and a teaspoon of water at the ready.

Today, the brown-eyed-susans of my youth still bloom, though now they are Jerusalem artichokes "sunchokes".  And the remnants of grandma's apple trees still stand, broken, diseased and overshadowed by wild cherries that have encroached upon the orchard's sacred ground.  I will probably not venture into that fruit patch that no longer resembles the place of years ago.  Wild brambles line its edges, and pokeberries stand tall, purple-black, and glossy in the late autumn sunshine.

I imagine that those twisted, old half-shadows of trees still produced some misshapen fruit.  And when it lies on the ground, the yellow jackets buzz and zoom fiercely about the place, angrier and more aggressive than any other time of the year.

Wonder why they behave differently in late summer?

On down the trail I went, with deer flies occasionally becoming a nuisance.  The wildflowers are spectacular this year.  There are places where turtleheads, pink and palest of pink mingle...close-by to the aconitum-- the monkshood. The latter makes my thoughts drift and wander, and I can see the hood of medieval monks, coming and going, getting their little monasteries and surrounding buildings in order for the changing season, the coming winter.  Yep... autumn closing in...

Across one bridge on the trail.  Minnows swim in a small pool created by the bridge construction--a century ago.

I think of grandma, and her apples at the end of the day in the orchard.  Tired, we all were for sure, but grandma would never let on. 

The apples were hauled into the springhouse and set up off of the damp floor onto wooden shelves.  There they would stay to be used for apple salad for thanksgiving, and for Christmas pies-- mixed with mincemeat, and we would have fresh applesauce the whole winter through.

Another bridge, and I see the Arrowood viburnum has begun to change, but in ways ever so subtle. Old people notice such things.

As I walk I am, at once, acutely aware of what I likely had subconsciously sensed days ago. There has been a change in the song in the air. The birds are all but silent, and have been replaced by crickets chirpsong, and the buzzing noises of autumn insects.
I check the time and see that I have to turn around and get home, things to do. 

As I head north, I make a mental note of where the sunshine lays this time of day... and the shadows cast by the western edge of this valley are now long shadows indeed...

I pass a wild old crab apple tree, and my mind goes back to the apples in the springhouse.  Looking at those gnarly branches on that wild tree, I see my grandma's fingers, twisted and crippled with age.  She is in her rocking chair, and my younger sister and I are at home with her, everyone else is at school, or work. And she says, "Go down to the springhouse and get me a kettle of apples."

I do as I am told, smiling all the while because I have been given this chore before :-)  I return with the apples, and grandma has an "old hickory" paring knife in her hand. She painstakingly peels an apple, then quarters it, and hands pieces to my sister and me.  Then she eats some.  This continues until we are plum sick of apples for the day.

Rounding the last bend, I see tall tall grasses, brown and stiff, protesting the breeze with the rustle of autumn.  A yellow jacket flies by me.

I would not have to look at a calendar to know that summer has long since waned, and autumn is now waxing rapidly.  The change in the sound of the air, the angle of the sunlight, the smells, the sounds, and maybe something else of which  we are not consciously aware, that the yellow jackets full well understand.  

Time is fleeting, and summer does not last but for the blink of an eye-- for all of us. So soon, our hands will be crippled and gnarled, and the apples will be lost in time, only brought back by an occasional remembrance.  'Time to gather your leaves together... autumn is closing in"...