Sunday, August 31, 2014

Maria makes amends to the rose garden

I knew that they would be less forgiving than my vegetable garden or the herb garden. The beets and cucumbers understood and forgave without thought. The rosemary just laughed and showed me how she had overrun nearly all the basil and thyme. Only the lemon verbena and lavender had fought her back. I had carefully weeded and pruned. Did what I could to cut the rosemary back, smiling as I realized that I would now have ample bottles of rosemary to hand out to everyone for Christmas this year. Rosemary chicken for everyone, all the time! I could sneak it into stews and knead it into breads. It would be my rosemary year.

But, the rose garden was less in the mood to forgive. The bushes sat hunched together, entwined and unhappy, scratching out at each other and anyone and anything that got in their way. They had bloomed beautifully in early June but without me there all Summer to deadhead and cut off the suckers, to infuse the soil around their bases with fragrant wood chips from the lumberyard mixed with our grass clippings, they had been without nutrients and protection for their tender roots and had faltered in some places and overgrown in others.

I slipped on my dreaded garden gloves after it became very clear that yes, those roses were just fine about scratching me. Hard. I hummed to them as I worked, and then when I ran out out of Irish lullabies, I just spoke in my softest, sweetest voice.

I am so sorry. I didn't mean to neglect you. It was just...I was so ill and unable to tend to you. I AM sorry. Very sorry. And Liv wasn't here to help, she was in North Carolina on a dig with her Father. And you know Bing, she tries. But, well....okay...she TRIES...but she doesn't really know what you need and she is a poor listener when I try to explain. The good news is that the bugs didn't get you! The bad news is that yes, I see. Too much water. And you haven't been mulched properly so your roots are not happy. Again, I'm sorry. Please. Let me fix this. I can fix this!

And I tried. So very hard.I clipped and deadheaded until I had a garbage can nearly filled. I saved all the usable rose petals. They could go into my sachet bags that I make every year filled with lavender and lemon verbena. Rose petals are also good in bath salts. As I got down to the underbellies of the other roses, I had to swallow hard and admit that I had been wrong about bugs. I started seeing holes in some of the roses and then yes...a spider mite. I crushed it with my good fingers.

And then...no...an earwig. Several house crickets and what was THAT? I put the specimen in a bag to check online. I would find out that it was a hoplia beetle. I had never seen one before.

So, a trip inside to call Liv's Lakota grandmother, to ask how to deal with these bugs. She answered the phone immediately, as I knew she would. She always, always gets to the phone on the first ring and she only has her land line, so I have no idea how she seems to just know when a call is coming.  Although she consented to a computer for the SOLE purpose, she said, of staying in touch with Tinton and Liv, she has refused a cell phone. Sheer nuisance, is what she called it. So, she had answers. I knew she would. I got right to business. Ina, as she likes me to call her, does not suffer fools or wordy people well. She doesn't do small talk. She calls me takuya, calls Liv takoja and Liv calls her kunsi.
"Ina," I told her, "I am having trouble with my rose bushes. They have bugs."

"What kind of bugs?"

"Spider mites, earwigs, house crickets and what looks to be a hoplia beetle."

There was a small silence. I could hear her thinking. She finally spoke with assurance, as she nearly always does.

"For the spider mites, crickets and beetles of all kinds, cut up rosemary and sprinkle all over. Do you have rosemary in your garden?"

Why, yes, I told her, I just happen to have LOTS of it.

"And for the earwigs, do this: open a can of tuna and make some tuna salad for a nice lunch. In the empty can, pour some beer. Take this out to the garden and lay it at the feet of the roses. The earwigs will fall into the can during the night. Empty it and refill until they're gone. Earwigs love beer and the smell of fish entices them to jump.

I thanked her and also told her that the tea that she sent me all Summer had hit the spot and had been helpful with the finger swelling. Cherry bark and juniper and also thanked her for the pillow filled with ash tree buds to rest my finger on. And said that yes, we had all received the moccasins that she had made for us and LOVED them.



"I got your thank you notes," she said. " I'm sorry that you had to give up your finger. Payment for a misdeed of your ancestors. Thanks to your offering, they can now proceed to the sky. Your handwriting hasn't suffered. I'm glad of that. You have such pretty handwriting. Dainty. My takoja needs to work on hers, though. Hers looks like a chicken scratched it out!"

We laughed. We talked very briefly about my garden and hers. About her visit with Tinton before he went back to teach in Colorado, how he puts so much money in her bank account every month that she didn't want for anything in her snug cabin. As I said, she is not talkative, nor am I, so it was stilted, but we both got through it. And she cared for me so lovingly all Summer with my finger troubles. So many did. I asked her which ancestor had fucked messed up so badly that I had to sacrifice my finger. She didn't answer for a moment and then said, "It matters not." I shrugged my shoulders. I guessed not. Happy trails to them. We said our goodbyes after I asked her to come visit and she declined, as she always does and told me that she was working on a star quilt for Liv's Christmas gift this year and that she had been guided to some sassafras root on her walks lately in the early mornings and would be sending on some to be made into a nice hot tea when the days began to get colder. She said that she had enjoyed the blue cashmere shawl that I had sent to her but had given it away to another woman who had admired it. I sighed. It is almost pointless to give Ina gifts. She feels burdened by her snug home and ample money in the bank when others on her reservation have so little. Whenever anything is given to her, except for artwork that Liv has made for her and a small beaded necklace that Liv has made as well, are given away almost as soon as it is sent. We said our goodbyes after I promised that Liv would skype with her soon.

I went to the kitchen and gleefully emptied a tuna can and made some tuna salad and then texted Bing to bring home one bottle of beer for killing earwigs, please. She knows me, so no questions asked. Later, I would tiptoe out in the evening shade to deliver my gift to the earwigs. Sure enough, the day after there would be a can full of quite drunken earwigs for me to throw into the bag of lawn clippings to be hauled away. It would take four days, but on the fifth day, the can would be half empty and the sixth day, only one straggling earwig left.

The rose bushes are once again thriving, enjoying a soft blanket of mulchy oak shavings and the grass clippings from Bing's mowing, carefully tucked around their tender roots. They are bug free and pruned back so that they can stretch their thorny necks out without knocking into their sister branches. The white roses recovered first, followed in swift succession by the deep reds and pinks and lastly, the pale yellows began to recover.

Our moon flowers are at last blooming and suddenly, everywhere. Their soft green leaves are silent and tucked in during the day and then at night, seem to come to life before our eyes. One moment they are tender white curls swaying in the soft evening breeze and then....POOF...there they are big as my hand and letting their sweetness waft through the air, making us pause in front of the downstair's guest room as we pass. They intermingle with the calla lilies, so lovely in the moonlight that it makes me think of the supernatural. I half expect to see women in long flowing ball gowns waltzing through the yard with their Rhett Butler partners.

Liv and I have put our heads together, planning Bing's birthday dinner. Her birthday falls on Labor Day this year and she has requested what she always does for dinner: all vegetables and preferably, all from our garden. We've complied except for the corn (or as we prairie people call them: roastin' ears.) We'll cut thick slices of eggplant and lay them on the grill and then when they get just tender enough, lay slim slices of mozzarella cheese on top to melt prettily. We have some baby spinach leaves to make a salad and plenty of broccoli, carrots, and sugar peas to mix in. A small carafe filled with Dorothy Lynch dressing to drizzle over the top of it all.

Bing's Aunt from New Orleans has sent us her vegetarian kale soup recipe and I have all ingredients ready to throw in the crock pot to make a good hearty soup. I have the onions, potatoes, garlic, tomatoes and parsley that the recipe called for from my garden, but had to cheat and buy cannellini beans at the store. Otherwise, it's ALL natural from our produce.

There is one more jar of homemade pickles to bring up from the cellar. Liv and I have agreed to set aside September 12 as our day to harvest the garden and do all the canning and pickling of the garden, so there will be a few more jars to add to the cellar. Unfortunately, not enough to share with the neighbors and family this year; they'll have to make do with the rose petal, lemon verbena, lavender sachets and jars of pungent dried rosemary.

Lastly, instead of baking a cake, we have ordered one from one of the best bakeries in the world: Cupcake Island.



A vanilla almond cake with buttercream frosting.

I wish I had the words to describe how incredibly wonderful it feels to have my garden back. To slide my hands around in the soil and just breathe in the scent of my herbs, my vegetables, but most especially my flowers. My tender, difficult, persnickety roses.

Their lifeblood flows through my fingers and into my soul, quieting my angst, softening all of my hard edges and making me feel what my Da felt, what his Da felt and so on and so on. My Da always said that land means all to the Irish and he wasn't talking about owning it. You can't really own land. You bond with it, join your soul to it's soil and then something wonderful happens that can't be explained unless you are one of the tribe.

Today, there was a new visitor to our bird bath. Bing and I were sitting outside, drinking our morning coffee and she suddenly grew very still and whispered, "Look at the bird bath, darlin'. What kind of bird is that?" I looked and then stared and pondered but could not grasp a name. I toyed with taking its photo with my cell phone but was afraid to move for fear of startling it. It splashed around for several glorious seconds and then just as fast at it landed, it left.

Later, I found it on the internet.

A red beaked finch.

I feel as if I am coming back into my skin, my soul after a long Summer of being cooped up, chained up, stymied by pain. It's like I can't stop gulping this air.

At last. 




Thursday, August 28, 2014

Content in this rut

Life is settling down from the roller coaster ride of horrors that was this Summer. We did shut the air conditioner off yesterday, though. The temps have been holding in the low 80's.

It's still August on the prairie, though and Mother Nature does not let us forget that. It's been a wet, soupy Summer. Nice in that we haven't had to turn the automatic sprinklers on once and my garden has not needed extra moisture from my old hose that I stuck periodic holes in to create my own little sprinkler system. No need. Plenty of rain. Slow, steady mist of rain during the days and then loud, booming, crashing thunderstorms reeling through the city like a gang of drunks about twice a week. The kind of storms that make you sit bolt upright in your bed at night, scared half to death and no idea of what. Until the whole room lights up and seconds later, the thunder crashes down.

My doctor gave me the okay to go back to work in my garden ten days ago...provided that I wear garden gloves. Welll...now. That didn't set well with me, but I went and bought a pair of soft pink ones. I stuck them in my back pocket as I set out to see what the damage was.

It was pretty extensive. I sighed. Sat down, cross legged and just looked around and thought for a while. Planned it all out in my head. The potatoes were looking okay, happy underground. I pulled one or two out and peered closely. In good shape. Well formed. No mealy looking ones. Satisfied, I moved on to the green beans, which were pretty much done and gone, buried by some volunteer zucchini and eggplant. I hadn't planted any this year.

I yanked up several zucchini hiding under the big green leaves as big as dinner plates. Disgusted. Zucchini that is too big is practically useless. It is only really tasty if you catch it before it gets too big. These ones were like small baseball bats.

"Ok, guys," I muttered. "Where the FUCK did you come from?" They weren't answering. I grudgingly put them in my basket, deciding to take them to work one day where, hopefully, someone who knew nothing about zucchini would take them off my hands.

I never put on the gloves. I just couldn't. I can't garden in gloves. I have to feel the plants, the dirt between my fingers. And, instinctively, I knew that there would be no harm coming to my stump of a finger here. My garden was desperately reaching out to me, so pleased to finally see me again. Stems wound lovingly around my fingers, tomatoes practically split open with pleasure as I stroked their soft tender red, purple and orange skins. How they had ached for this tending!

I pulled out several cucumbers, just the right size for a nice salad tonight. Nothing tastes as good as cucumbers soaked in buttermilk with a little vinegar and lots of sharp black pepper. There were several baby cucumbers which would be ready to be made into pickles in a few weeks. I smiled happily. So there would not be the usual 30 jars of pickles this year. Maybe ten jars, if I were lucky. But, I was smiling, happy to see them alive.

The pumpkins were just starting to sprout up prettily. By mid October, they would be beauties. Liv would come out and pick several for us to make into jack o lanterns and then more to bake into pies and Indian pudding.

My onions and potatoes were nearly a bumper crop. Most of the other vegetables were pretty much gone from lack of pruning and weeding, but those onions and potatoes had evaded the weeds as had the tomatoes. My peppers were sad remnants, looked as if rabbits had feasted on most of them. Not one plant was fully intact.

Well, okay, I thought. I wouldn't have my bountiful garden, but it had survived a Summer of neglect. Not bad. Not bad at all.

And now, with everything weeded, it was looking tidy and loved. September is an elusive month on the prairie. Days of near 100 degree scorching days followed in short order by rainy, cool days of mid 50's. September takes a while to make up her mind when to leave the heat behind. I would can the second week of September.

I sat back on my heels and looked around me, pleased with myself. It had taken me the better part of an entire day, but my garden was back to being MINE. Maria's domain.

And life was back to the ritualistic hum that it takes on when school goes back in session.

Bing bought herself a new car. A Lincoln. She and I decided to give Liv her cherished Ford F-150 as an early Christmas gift. It kind of looks like this one, but is more of a golden color and it is almost TEN years old, so no fancy gadgets.



She can't drive it yet without one of us in it with her. But, that's okay. She'll learn to drive in it. Bing likes it because she can't pack friends in it. I like it because it has 4 wheel drive and will be good on snowy roads. Liv likes it because it is Smitty, the champagne colored little truck that she has always loved.

And Bing? She is all over the Lincoln, her first racy looking red car. With GADGETS galore. Seat warmers and coolers. A voice that warns her if something is behind her.




I am happy with my old yellow VW bug. I've had her for many moons and trust her. Bing keeps trying to get me to upgrade her. No way, Ray. She's Tidbit to Bing's Smoochy. She's yellow. She's small. She's me. She's staying.

We are now a three car family. Jeez...

Life is once again revolving around Liv's softball schedule. Practices on Sunday afternoons and Monday evenings. Games on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and sometimes Saturday mornings. So far, every single one of her games has been rained out at some point. We made it to inning four a few days ago.

Liv's growly because she didn't make varsity this year and she is only the backup pitcher on junior varsity. It is the combined opinion in our little family that she is being punished for leaving the team early last year (rotator cuff injury), but that's okay. This is life. It is called sometimes unfair. I just plan to sit back and wait. I have seen this child's left handed pitch and so has the coach. He wants to win. He's not one of those touchy feely this is a fun game and everyone gets to play coach. He is a we are going to win this thing! coach. He will let her hang to dry for a few games and then let her out of her cage (which is currently far left field.)

Me? I am just loving sitting in my lawn chair and taking deep sniffs of the playing field. The scent of the concession stand cooking hotdogs. The smell of the field, the dust that swirls around as the ump sweeps off home plate with his little broom.

And watching my daughter in her black and red uniform. Her hair pulled back in a tight braid down her back, her baseball cap on, cleated shoes digging deep into the dirt as she leans in lightly on her right leg, prepared to swing. And then...YES...a hard WHAPPPP to that ball as she sends it flailing out to right field and runs hard to first and then the slide...and YES! She is safe.

I come home from work in the evenings, tired...but as they say...a good tired. There is the smell of tuna casserole bubbling in the oven (Liv's turn to make dinner...tuna casserole is one of her go to preparations.) She sits on a chair by the oven, slicing a baguette of that good crusty french bread from
here:



Bing stands at the counter slicing tomatoes freshly picked from our garden to eat with it.

They both look up and smile when I walk in. Socks comes running into the kitchen from the living room, skidding a little and then recovering his dignity, walking to me, tail wagging. I reach down to pet him, then set down my purse and go to my daughter and kiss her cheek, go to Bing and wrap my arms around her waist from behind, kissing her shoulder. She leans back into my hands, grinning.

A good dinner.

A hot shower before bed. A good book to read in bed for that last half hour before sleep.

This weekend will be busy. Tomorrow, we will all go to the first football game at Bing's school. Saturday morning, Liv has a game and then afterwards, we will rush home to let Liv take a shower and pack sandwiches to eat in the car and head off to the first Cornhusker game of the year.

Saturday night, Liv has a party to attend. This means that Bing and I will be nodding off on the sofa during SNL as we wait until she returns at her midnight curfew. A boy is picking her up and bringing her home, a new gentleman caller named Ivan.

We like him better than the others who came before. Ivan attends Bing's school and his family isn't dripping in wealth like Liv's previous suitor whose Father used to take them to and from activities in a BMW with vanity plates and stand at the door checking his Louis Moinet watch. Ivan and Liv met when Bing hired him to come over and trim our hedges and he took his time over it because Liv took him out a brownie and some milk and they ended up sitting on the front steps talking. And flirting.

But, Ivan is newly turned 16 and a junior and can drive....so that opens up a new can of worms for us. Liv has never went out with a boy who can DRIVE yet. This is worrisome and the poor kid, Bing has practically threatened him with expulsion if he so much as drives 2 miles over the speed limit.

And Liv and I had to have one of those talks. The ones that I hate. That we both hate. About sex. About not making out in cars with boys. Even though I know she will at some point even though she swears it hasn't happened yet.

"Mama," she said, looking at me, laughing. "MUST you keep calling my perspective dates gentleman callers? You sound like Amanda in The Glass Menagerie.

"Welllll," I retorted. "Excuse me for trying to be humorous. Let's just call them what Bing does: those PUNKS."

We both laughed. We had to. For me, it was all just too ridiculous. I couldn't believe that I was talking to my daughter about birth control and she was queasy with embarrassment. 

But, as we hicks here on the prairie will tell you, I didn't fall off that turnip truck yesterday. It's a comin.' It came for me. It will come for her. It comes for all of us. I just don't want it to come for her until she's 32.

So, we've had the talk about birth control. About how I do NOT want her to be having sex when she is in high school, but if she MUST, she needs to get on birth control and be vigilant about STDs. This talk was not enjoyable for either of us. Afterwards, I spent an hour on the phone with my bff, Harriet, spilling. So sure that I had totally fucked it up. I didn't want Liv to feel that I thought it was ok to be sexually active. I just didn't want her to go into it blind.

Harriet had snorted. "She's going to do it at some point, Sugar. Probably best that you have no idea when, but judging from her reaction, she's not ready yet. That is a good thing...."

Because, yes...my daughter had looked at me as if I told her not to eat cockroaches on her dates.

"Mama! I haven't even made out with anyone yet! I don't think you have anything to worry about!" she had said, her face as red as one of the tomatoes in my garden.

As I said, a matter of time.

So...then after Liv's party? A whole TWO days of nothing planned.

I can dive into my book. Maybe we can all go to a movie. It's my turn to cook on Sunday and I've already decided that we are doing Chinese take out.

Life is returning to our rut. Our family rut.

No more stinging, aching finger. It's gone and done with now.

No more restrictions on my activities. No more canes.

I am content in this rut.

Life is good. Being bored is a very good place to be, I've decided.

And best of all? Bing just came up to me and said, "Come outside. I want to show you something."

She led me to the window next to the guest bedroom.

"Look?" she said, pointing.

I looked. And laughed with sheer joy.

The moon flowers are blooming. FINALLY.



Yes, so happy in this rut. 




Sunday, August 24, 2014

The family ghost speaks

My name is Madge. This house was mine before it was Maria's. I was 22 years old when I came to live in this beautiful Victorian home. It was fairly new when I stepped over the threshold. This house was built by my husband for his first wife in 1918. She gave him two daughters and then died giving birth to a son. My husband, a wealthy banker of 42 at the time, wasted less than a year before he found a replacement to raise his children and live in his big, lovely house. He wanted a young healthy wife and that was me. At 22, I was right next door to spinsterhood, being too choosy with my beaus in my younger years and then left with a slight panic as I crossed my 21st birthday unbetrothed. I balked at first at the idea of a 43 year old husband with three children for me to raise up, but at my Mother's urging, realized that this was no time to look a gift horse in the mouth. I agreed to marry him.

He was still fairly handsome for an older gent and he had a kindly, albeit, absent minded way about him. I was to be in charge of the household and the children and could make any changes as I saw fit as long as they didn't bankrupt us. The children already had a nanny, Molly, who lived in the maid's quarters on the top floor. She had her own bathroom, a luxury not held by many of her station. Molly was just two years younger than I and we hit off fairly well. I also was in charge of a cleaning woman, a deaf older lady who came twice a week and did her job but since I didn't know sign language, I let the oldest child pay her at the end of the week, telling me how much we owed. It wasn't much and she did a wonderful job of it.

I can't remember the deaf cleaning lady's name now. I feel badly about that, but in my defense, in the many years that she was in our employ, I only spoke to her through our oldest child, Florence, and then with crude sign language after Florence moved out to marry.

Molly was a sweet Irish girl, born and bred in County Cork and she came to the United States with her two sisters, hoping to find work and marry eventually. She did this, but not without some pain. Her sisters found work in a mill factory in Missouri but Molly was not taken as she did not pass the sewing evaluation. She would later see an ad for a nanny in the newspaper and take the train to our city to interview. She got the job and would stay with us through the death of the first wife and my turn as the second. As I said, though, she was Irish and had the soft heart of those girls from that country and would often sit up in her room weeping at the end of the day, homesick for her sisters and her old country. Her bedroom was directly above my husband's and my bedroom and we would listen to her crying until he could stand it no longer and direct to me to go comfort her. I would do my best, but I'd never been the sort of woman who had many girlfriends and I'm afraid that I did a poor job of it. Molly would stay with us through the births of my 2 daughters and 2 sons. Eventually, she did marry the man who brought our coal every week, but she was nearly 30 years at the time. She stayed with our employ, but didn't live in with us anymore. The third floor was given over to a live in cook and maid then. She was a no nonsense woman named Ursula who had no desire to marry anyone and did her job stoically but with little joy. There was no weeping in the room upstairs anymore, but the children missed Molly's warm Irish lullabies at the end of the day and her hot cocoa when they awakened with stomach aches in the middle of the night,

I felt relief because when Ursula came, I no longer had to cook and we now could afford two maids. Ursula and the deaf woman divided up the chores neatly between them. This let me do what I loved: gardening.

Eventually, my husband died and our children scattered away, all moved out of our city, and it was just me and Ursula in the house. The children and their families came to visit for Christmas every year and sometimes on Easter. The other holidays, I took the Amtrak to visit them and Ursula stayed home, glad for the peace and lack of chores, she said.

It was Ursula who cared for me in my old age. There is a button that looks like a doorbell right next to Maria's bed now. It used to be right next to mine and when I pressed it, it would sound loudly up on the third floor to alert Ursula. Other buttons were also in the house. A button underneath the dining room table that sounded in the kitchen to alert staff to come in and take the dishes or bring the next ones. Another button at the top of the stairs on the second floor that also sounded in the third floor bedroom. Bing would dismantle these buttons when little Liv would entertain herself by pushing them to wake her Father who stayed up in the maid's quarters when he would visit at various times. I sometimes miss that sharp buzzing sound. I knew that when I pressed it, Molly would either come down and take care of a child's stomach ache or Ursula would bring me some seltzer water for my heartburn.

I died in Maria and Bing's bedroom on a cold day in January at the ripe old age of 93. Ursula was almost 84 and still taking care of me, still living on the top floor. My youngest daughter, Priscilla, who never married, decided to come and take over the house. Ursula was sent to an assisted living place to live out her years. She didn't last long, died a year later. Some of us were meant to serve others in this life and when that is taken away, have no desire to stick around.

Priscilla did not keep up my gardens well and she had my koi fish pond dismantled. She lived on her own in the house until she felt that she could no longer manage the many staircases and then she and her remaining siblings decided to sell the house so that she could go live at the very same assisted living place that Ursula had gone to live.

That was when I met Maria and her baby. A little girl named Liv.  I was embarrassed when the realtor took her through the house as Priscilla had not kept it up well. But, Maria seemed enthralled with it, right down to the toilet on the first floor that was so old that it worked by pulling a chain. She ran her fingers lovingly over the claw foot tubs and when she saw the back yard, she gasped with excitement.

"A rose garden?" she asked. "Is this a rose garden gone all wild? Oh, my! Won't this be fun to fix up again!"

She smiled over the wooden floors that slanted from too many children's feet running and she gently touched the glass doorknobs. When the realtor suggested that the house was a good fixer upper, she shook her head.

"Oh, no!" she exclaimed. "I want to keep it as true to its original structure as possible!"

I liked her then and hoped that she would buy it. She did. And she kept true to her word, has tried hard to keep our home looking as it did when my children ran across its floors.

Liv learned to walk across those slanted wooded floors. On 9-11, the bedroom window actually fell out of its socket and had to be replaced with a new one. Every year, the chandelier in the dining room is ceremoniously dunked and wiped clean.

The koi fish pond was not replaced, but turned into a giant sand box for Liv. Next to it is a beautiful tree house that was built by Maria's friends from Chicago.

The wall paper remains the same in most of the rooms; the pale pink roses remain the same in the bedroom where Maria and Bing sleep now in a four poster bed that looks remarkably like the one that I slept in with my husband.

The New York subway tiled bathrooms remain the same. The sunporch holds the Christmas tree every year as it did when we all lived there. Except now, instead of the fresh scent of a pine tree, Maria puts up a silvery tree that comes with a little color wheel. It is pretty in its own way, I suppose.

There are no maids or cooks to sleep in the maid's quarters on the top floor. It is now a guest room where Liv's Father stays when he visits. A group of women in yellow tee shirts come once a week to clean the house instead. They don't tend to the house as lovingly as Molly and Ursula did, but this is modern life, I suppose.

I have shown myself to Maria many times. She has no fear of ghosts and that pleases me. She even addresses me sometimes. She did her homework on the history of the house and after studying photos of us, decided that I was indeed Madge, the second wife of the banker who built the house. She has asked me not to show myself to Liv. I have honored her request. I have no desire to frighten children, although I can see that Liv is a pragmatic child who is not the hysterical sort. I doubt that she would run screaming from me, but a promise is a promise. I did show myself to Bing once as sort of a cruel trick. She had been shaking her head at Maria for years about me, saying that she was imagining me. I decided to show myself to her one night when she came down for a glass of milk.

It did not end well. She gasped and screamed and left the half filled glass and the carton of milk on the counter top to spoil. Oh. She was also naked. I imagine that was embarrassing for her, but I am beyond that sort of silliness. Nothing embarrasses or shocks me anymore. But. She no longer insists that I am a figment of Maria's imagination.

There is also a little dog who sees me. His name is Socks and he and I often have discussions. He and I are in agreement that Maria has a good heart, but she is a little too vain for her own good. That Bing is the love of the home. That Maria adores her daughter but somehow it seems to elude her that Bing would walk through fire for both of them, for all of them, even the dog. Bing holds the love of the house. Maria, with her Irish roots, holds the heart of the house, the roots. The Irish need roots and tend to be sentimental about such things. If Maria ever leaves this house, it will tear a piece of her heart out. With Bing? Not so much. Her heart IS Maria. It goes where she goes. And Liv? She is the soul of this house. She grew up in this house, was raised in this house and is deeply loved and nourished by the occupants of it. And by me. I will protect that child with everything I have left. Just because her laugh makes the rest of us smile every day.

And me, you ask? Why am I still here? Well, I don't know. I can still see the light and some days I step towards it. Other days, I am pulled back towards my house, the place where I saw my babies walk and all of my children grow up. Where two of my children were married, one in the parlor and one in the back yard, next to the koi pond, now still a sandbox, although Liv has long outgrown it. One day, I suppose, I will give in to the calling voices of the light, but, for now, I wander in and out of the rooms. I smile at the tiny seedlings that grow in the basement in the late Winter, early Spring. I watch Maria sitting in the chair on the sun porch, tears in her eyes as she looks down at her missing finger. I watch Liv's golden head bent over homework or a text on her talking box from some boy. I watch Bing sliding into her running shorts every morning and reaching for Sock's leash and saying, "Ready, boy?"

I may be here tomorrow or maybe not. We'll see where the wind takes me. For now, for this minute, I am here with my new family, watching, waiting, smiling at how the love just goes on and on in this world.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Older people live here...

Liv and I were talking a few days ago and she brought up the fact that she has always been the girl with the oldest parents in all of her classes.

"It's not necessarily a bad thing," she commented. "It's just what it is."

Well, considering the fact that I was 41 when she was born, yep...at all those school things, Bing (who is a year younger than me) and I are usually the oldest there. Sometimes confused with the grandparents who are also there.

Well, you know me, Ms. Vain. THAT bugs me.

But, this morning as I went outside to water the plants in our back veranda, it occurred to me, that there are many signs of aging around here. Beginning with this:



Our handy, dandy pocket hose. I ADORE this thing. It is lightweight and best of all, NO KINKS. Ever. And I don't lug it around like I did with our other hose. I daintily carry it. After all, I am getting up there and with RA, every load off is the better.

And then, there is the cane. I have one cane. I refuse to buy more. That vanity is rearing again. I have one plain black cane and every so often, when my RA threatens my knees or ankles, I use it. In between times, it sits behind our coat rack, with the bat. The bat is Bing's weapon in case a burglar or stray squirrel drops in. And yes, it has happened. The squirrel, not the burglar. And no, she didn't kill the squirrel. She just terrorized it while I further traumatized it forever by running around screaming.

We will never never leave that back door open again.

I have a handicapped hang tag for our car and we use it. Constantly.

If anyone were to check out my facial cleansers and moisturizers, one would see that virtually all of them promise to reduce wrinkles.

Above our kitchen sink, is a spice cabinet. It doesn't contain one spice. It contains my medications. I take pills for RA, pills for Meniere's Syndrome, pills for leg cramps, for migraines, for joint pain, for muscle relaxing. The rest of the cabinet is filled with Bing's homeopathic remedies that she makes me take because she doesn't much care for Western medicine. Celery root. Devil's Claw. CoQ10, Tumeric, Bromelain.

I still have a closet full of high heels. I can't bear to let them go and on my really good days, I confess to still wearing them. But, more and more, there are shoes that are good for my feet. Flats. Shoes with good arch support.

There is a large bottle of Imodium in our medicine cabinet. Also, a stool softener. Irregularity is a way of life in our house.

On Bing's chair in the dining room? A doughnut. Her butt hurts sometimes in the evenings.

There is an afghan over the top of our sofa. In the Winter, Spring and Autumn, I am usually wrapped up in it if I'm reading or watching television.

Bing has reading glasses that she is always losing. She often can't read texts that she gets on her phone because she can't locate her reading glasses. So, Liv or I have to read them to her.

We have shampoo made especially for gray hair in our shower right next to Liv's shampoo that is specially formulated for blonde hair. Sometimes, since I don't wear my glasses in the shower, I am not sure which one I'm using. Oh well. My hair is clean. Enough said.

I hear myself saying catch phrases like enough said often.

The early bird gets the worm.
Think before you speak.
Don't give me that look. (Sometimes I add the word missy at the end of this and am horrified because I sound exactly like my Mother.)
All's well that ends well.
Don't look a gift horse in the mouth. (What the FUCK does that mean, really?)

I find myself getting sleepy at 9 o'clock at night. We often have to watch television shows on our ON DEMAND feature because neither Bing nor I can stay awake for them if they start after 9.

I talk like a senior citizen:

"Is it chilly in here or is it just me?"
"Don't forget to buy cold cuts at the store."
"That anchor woman needs to stop with the cleavage shots."
"It's never too early to start saving. I wish that I had started saving at 25 instead of 32."

Today, I went in for a hair trim. I wear my hair just long enough to pull back in a chignon. Or to pull back in a scrunchy. My hair stylist asked me if I was feeling daring. Did I want to get rid of that gray and go red today? No, I told her, basically at my age, I was just happy to look clean.

I call everything the wrong word.

I call my flip flops thongs. This makes Liv cringe each and every time.

I say tennis shoes instead of sneakers.

Malted instead of a malt.

Liv tells me that even our flowers in the front yard are old ladyish.

They're petunias for god sakes. How bad can petunias be? Wait. There are a few marigolds too, I suppose. I like the golden of the marigolds against the dark purples of the petunias. Sue me.

I asked Liv if she ever wished that she had younger parents.

She says no, that in many ways, Bing and I are hipper than her friend's parents. That made me feel better.

"You used to be kind of hipster, Mama," she reminds me.

I did, didn't I. Where did she go and why did I let her leave. And does she have my hot little black dress and fishnets and fuck-me stilettos? 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Run Like A Girl

A big thank you to Steph Lovelady for introducing me to this.

Passing it on to you...



Wow.

For all of our daughters, nieces, granddaughters, friends, students...yes?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

O Captain. My Captain!

I cried over Robin Williams and his passing. I think a lot of us did. He was one of those gifts to us from the gods.

I never watched "Mork and Mindy." And there were times when I watched him being interviewed when I felt a little uncomfortable with how manic he seemed to be. More than once, the psych expert in me took over and I felt a diagnosis coming on.

Yet, he made me laugh. Sometimes very, very hard. And sometimes there was this window into his spirit that told me that he must be a gentle, tender soul.

When Bing saw me sitting in front of the computer, tears running, she came rushing in to see.

She looked at the page and then frowned, puzzled.

"Why would someone who had so much kill themselves?" she asked.

I turned around to look at her.

"Please don't be obtuse," I said, giving her a withering look. She retreated. We haven't discussed it again because I don't think she gets it. I don't think many do.

Depression is a deep well. I suffer from it. Not just the garden variety of days when I have the blues, but  real "black dogs" as Winston Churchill described his depression. But, I am one of the lucky ones. My depression is fairly minor. It wanders into my life about every four or so months and takes over for a few weeks and then dissipates on its own. My Da had it before me and his Father before him. I'm sure the line runs down and further down yet. When I was little, I knew that there were days when my Da didn't feel quite right. He referred to those times merely as those ole blues. In my family, we just accepted it. It was a time when we treated him extra gently. My Da was never mean spirited, never went too deep. He was just very quiet and a little unreachable for a while. He would stand outside and look up at the sky a lot. Once I asked him when his blues started. He looked at me for a long time, probably measuring as a parent how much was prudent to tell me. Finally, he answered.

"I think I was about 14 or 15," he said. That was all we spoke of it.

My bouts with depression began when I was in my early teens. Like my Da, I was not officially diagnosed. Well, not until I was in my 20's and began my psych internship. Then, as part of our program, it was mandatory that we see our own psychiatrist once a month. It was then that I described my own black dogs to my doctor. I told him that the best way to describe it was like in the movie, The Wizard of Oz when everything goes from black and white to technicolor. That my depression days were like those black and white scenes. Like life suddenly went from colorful, rich, and full to bleary, dull, and flat. Worse, I often could feel or sense when the depression would be coming, but I could never sidestep it, no matter what I did. We tried different variations of medications. Some seemed to work, but the price was too high for me. Not financially, but mentally. In order to keep the depression at bay, I had to agree to feel shaky and buzzy inside, as if there were a small nest of bees just under my skin. I didn't like the feeling and frankly preferred the depression. At least it felt more honest, like I was living in my own skin. My doctor reluctantly agreed that I could stop all medications as long as I alerted him if I ever felt suicidal.

I've never been that far gone. Like I said, I am one of the very, very, very lucky ones. I suffer from very minor depression just a few times a year.  I can only imagine what it is like for those who suffer deeply and relentlessly from it.  And I never will treat it lightly, will never be one of those naysayers who insist that those who suffer from depression just need to go take long walks or stop thinking solely of themselves.

It isn't a choice. No one would choose to feel depressed. It's a condition.

I remember showing some of Robin Williams' movies to Liv. She's seen Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji, Hook, and Back to Neverland. And loved them.

I loved The Birdcage, Awakenings, One Hour Photo, Good Morning, Vietnam, and my two personal favorites: Dead Poet's Society and Good Will Hunting.

In fact, one of Robin's lines from Good Will Hunting is written on a piece of paper that I carry in my purse.

"Maybe you're perfect right now. Maybe you don't wanna ruin that. I think that's a super philosophy, Will, that way you can go through your entire life without ever having to really know anybody."

It was a line that stuck in my head and I took it to heart. I still do.

So, yeah, I cried when Robin Williams killed himself. I think that there are those among us who feel the world around them so deeply, so acutely, that it gnaws away at them little by little until they feel cornered and helpless. Many, like Williams and yes, like me too, drink too much or take too many drugs to try to find a way to cope, to sidestep, to manage.

I loved drinking. I still do. I loved drugs. Still do. I just don't take them anymore. I have a daughter and made a promise to myself and to her the day that she was born that I would lead an honest life and would do my best to be honest with her as well. That I would not take drugs because they were illegal and that I would not drink excessively because I never wanted her to see me inebriated.

I have been pretty good at keeping that promise. I admit to smoking weed occasionally when I know that she will never know. And I have never been drunk in front of her. Ever. I've also been honest with her about my drinking and drug use in the past. She knows that while I've never had to go to re-hab, that I was two steps away from it.

She also knows about my black dogs, my depression. She knows, as I did with my Da, that there are a few times in the year when I have to kind of step back into myself for a while to deal with a world that is just too close to me sometimes. That I will never shut her out, though, and that I will always come back in a few weeks. I think this is much better than having her live with me on medication, a false replica of myself.

But, if I ever got to the point where I feared that I would hurt myself or anyone else, I would get on those meds. Lickety split.

Drugs and depression seem to go hand in hand. And what a vicious circle. You take the drugs to escape the depression, but the drugs cause addiction and then you have an additional dilemma to deal with. It can cause a sorrowful life.

I don't know if I've passed on this genetic disposition to depression and/or addiction to Liv. So far, she doesn't seem to be suffering from any form of those black dogs. And I have been vigilant about nonchalantly checking her pupils and smelling her breath when she comes home from being out with her friends. Not even a whiff of cigarette smoke yet.

But, I'm not naive. I'm fairly certain she's tried a few things. Few of us grow up without taking that dare. I just want to nip it in the bud. Hopefully, my honest sharing of my life has given her some perspective. Maybe I'll get lucky and she'll slide through. Maybe.

Maybe.

As I said, I'm no fool. Well, actually I am a bit of a fool, but I like to think that I am one of the brighter fools.

So, I cried when Robin Williams died. Did you?




Saturday, August 09, 2014

Liv and her Father

They are quite the pair.

A far cry from whence they started...she, a wise-beyond-her-years toddler and he, a fumbling 25 year old guy who didn't have a clue how to talk to a three year old.

Now, as I pick them up from the airport, they are walking towards me, laughing together about something. Liv sees me and breaks into a run, flying into my arms as if she hasn't seen me in a year.

"Lemme see," she demands, reaching for my right hand. I show her my stump and her eyes crinkle and then fill with tears. I hug her.

"Honey, it's just a finger. I'm fine," I tell her.

Tinton has caught up to us by then and reaches for my hand, examining it closely as I hold Liv with my left arm. He frowns, takes my hand and kisses it gently.

"Are you in pain?" Liv asks, her face anxious.

I hesitate. Decide to be honest.

"A bit," I say. "It's manageable."

I look over her head at Tinton and mouth the words good drugs!  He nods, smiles.

We walk to the baggage claim and wait until the bags begin to spiral out. Liv is talking a mile a minute, finger already old news. Whew. She is eager to get to the DMV to take the test so that she can get her learner's permit. Can we do this on Monday? She's been studying the driver's manual for a week and feels certain that she can pass. I tell her that I have an important meeting on Monday morning that I can't miss but will take Tuesday off so that we can go to the DMV and go back to school shopping since she starts school on Thursday.

I'm suddenly tired. The past month has been very, very painful but also very low key. I have gone to work and come home. The biggest outing for me, besides the Foster The People concert we went to, has been grocery shopping. Now, well...Liv has softball tryouts on Monday and Wednesday afternoon. Bing starts school on Monday, so I will have to try to figure out a way to get her to tryouts. I make a mental note to see if she can catch a ride with one of her friend's parents. And then...if she makes the softball team, all those games. Twice, three times a week.

Back into the saddle. Time to put my chauffeur's hat on again. Maybe it won't be such a bad thing when she can drive herself places.....

It's been nice, though, to have my daughter back home again. The house has seemed too quiet without her thundering feet running up and down the steps (how can a 109 pound girl make such a racket going up and down steps?) and I've missed the smell of her. The lemony, grassy natural smell of her as she walks by or plops down on the sofa beside me.

When we get home from the airport, Bing is waiting on the porch, arms akimbo. She breaks into a smile when we turn into the driveway, comes loping up to us. Liv climbs out of the car and into Bing's arms for a long, sweet hug. Bing holds her back from her and proclaims that she is still skin and bones. She frowns jokingly at Tinton.

"Did you starve her up in those mountains?"

He grins at her, tells her that Liv must have the metabolism of a hummingbird, that she eats like a horse. He can't figure out where she puts it. Liv holds up her arm, tells Bing to feel her muscle and then lifts up her shirt and says, "Lookee here, Bing. I have a six pack!" Bing oohs and aahhhs over  Liv's muscles, which are indeed pronounced.

"I'm all muscle now," she brags.

She really is. Not ickily so, but she looks very, very fit. Her always tawny skin is now a deep tan and her always honey blonde hair has bright blonde streaks in it from being out in the sun. She looks like an ad for a fitness club.

We go in and the house smells deliciously of angel food cake, Liv's favorite. Bing spent the afternoon baking her week late birthday cake and while I was picking them up at the airport, she frosted it with a strawberry glaze. Liv and Tinton set their bags down and we decide to dig into the cake and have some strawberry gelato to go with it. As we eat, they share their adventures with us. How that one time, Liv almost fell when they were traversing across a rangy bunch of rocks. I am the only one not hooting over these stories. I pretty much want to throw up thinking about my daughter hanging from a rope as she zigzags from rock to rock.

Then, we move on to presents. Bing and mine to her are simple. A pair of black Darin ankle boots and a Fallon felt fedora. Liv puts on the fedora and we all snap out our phones to take photos. She poses prettily, the hat tipped engagingly. Liv opens her card from Vince and Thuan, our Chicago friends. In it, is a 250 dollar gift card to Anthropologie. I shake my head. They spoil her rotten! Harriet has given her a book: Conversion by Katherine Howe. Later, Liv will go to her friend, Kat's house and they will have a late birthday party for her there. She will come home with all kinds of girly girl gifts, way too many filmy bras and undie sets. A few new books. Lots of hair accessories.

Socks, our dog, gives both Tinton and especially, Liv, the cold shoulder. He always feels betrayed when any of us leave for longer than a day and lets us know his opinion regarding that. Later that night, he sits on the my bed with me as I read. Liv comes in, wearing her sheep pjs and cuddles up next to me to tell me about her friend's party for her. During our talk, every time that she reaches down to pet Socks, he turns his head away from her snippily and once, when she pulls him into her lap, he promptly gets up and returns to lay at my feet, head averted. He won't even look at her. I smile. He is such an actor. When Liv gets up to go to bed, she pats her side and says, "You comin' boy?" He gives her a long, disdainful look and lays his head on my ankle. Liv, hurt, walks away.

After I hear her feet in the hall, I look down at Socks.

"Give it up, Richard Burton," I tell him. "You know you want to go be with her. Life is too short to act like a bad ass. C'mon, now."

Socks says to me in his Ernest Borgnine voice, "She needs to learn a lesson. I am schooling her. Don't interfere."

I shrug, go back to my book. "Well, when Bing comes in, you know she's going to kick you off the bed...." Bing is not a believer of dogs on the bed. It is an iron clad rule in our house. Socks can be on the bed if it's just me, but once Bing joins us, she wins. He needs to go elsewhere.

Socks sits sulking for a few more minutes and then very, very slowly and carefully casual, he jumps off the bed. I pretend that I don't notice. He deserves his dignity. Later, in the middle of the night, I will get up to check on Liv and find him in his usual spot, spread out next to her, both of them, sleeping deeply. Happy to be together again.

The next day, Tinton and I have time to talk alone as we walk Socks. I am almost back to normal, but my gait is still slow. Tinton politely slows his pace to mine, his long legs moving in sweet slow motion. He tells me that he and Liv had a good Summer, that the gig wasn't overly taxing, that they had lots of off time too and used it to hike, camp, fish and explore. I tell him that she must get this outdoorsy gene from him. She certainly doesn't get it from me. I don't hike anywhere unless the car breaks down and camping is not my idea of a fun time.

Tinton laughs. Agrees. "She reminds me a little of my sister," he tells me. The one who died a few years ago. "Liv has this way about her, kind of relaxed and good at hunting down herbs. Reminds me some of her. But, you know, Liv is so much like you that it is uncanny. She would say or do things that were so....just Maria...it would make me stop and stare at her for a moment. She is her Mother's daughter."

I respond that she sure doesn't look like me. She is him all over. Except for that blonde hair, that is a stray gene that strikes my family once in every generation. My sister, Celia, got it in my generation. My Aunt Dodie in my Mother's. No one in the younger generation has it now but Liv. She is the one exception in my family full of redheads and brunettes. Liv has the blonde hair, but her eyebrows are dark like Tintons and she has his dark brown eyes. His tawny colored skin. His wiry build. She even walks like he does and her word cadences are his.

"She has your laugh, though," he says. "And your wit. I think she got the best of both of our brains. I swear she's smarter than I am, maybe even smarter than you....and you may worry that she's growing away from you, but Maria? She loves you so much. She talks about you a lot and you know the day of your surgery? She asked me to take her to this little church she's spotted in a nearby town and she spent the morning sitting in a pew praying for you. Our daughter has become rather religious. I didn't see THAT coming. I mean, we're both agnostic..."

"Well," I retorted, "She does go to a Catholic high school. I'm sure that some of that doctrine is spinning around in her brain. As long as she doesn't convert, I'm okay. Prayer. Believing in God. Fine with me. Joining the Catholic Church? No way."

"And what would you do if she told you she WAS joining?" Tinton asks. "You'd be the first to let her. You are very into following your arrow wherever it goes. If her arrow went there, you'd find a way to deal with it."

I'm quiet for a little while, chewing on this. And then admit that he is right. I would. It's her life. Her journey. Sometimes the hardest part of parenting for me is allowing her to follow her heart.

Tinton and I agree on one thing: we have an exceptional child. We are lucky, lucky ducks. And we have the grace to know that.

I love watching Liv with Tinton. I once had a friend of mine who was divorced and she told me that seeing her ex husband with her children having fun was like getting a knife in her chest. That surprised me. Tinton isn't exactly my ex, we never really had much of a relationship to begin with, but I am delighted that they get on so well. One more person to love and protect her if I am gone. That's how I think these days.

And they are good together. Their relationship is not a classic Father/daughter one really. It is close and yes, paternal, but it is more of a very deep friendship. She trusts him, depends on him in a very intense way. He is her Dad, but he is not always around to see her day to day life (although I am pretty good at texting and sending pics) and although they skype weekly and text daily, their time spent together has a winsome, fleetingness to it. They know that soon they will have to let go of the other for a while, possibly several months. So, they take every bite that they can.

They laugh a lot. They are affectionate. Liv, especially, is very cuddly with him. Liv is not much of a cuddler. I always worry that she got this from me since I am not one either. In my family, we are patters, not huggers. It was the way that I was raised. But,  I didn't hold back with her. I couldn't have if I wanted to. The second I saw her face, I was so fiercely devoted to her that I wanted to be a kangaroo and have a pocket to put her inside. Liv and I used to be more cuddly, but as she has grown, she has stepped away. More often than not, I am the one hugging the hardest and the longest. She is the one who breaks away first. With Tinton, she is easier. She will plop into his lap or sling her arm around him if she is next to him. Kiss his cheek. He glows under her touch, is so sloppily crazy about her that his dopey smile says it all. He is powerless around her daughterly wiles. In short, she can play him like a fiddle and he knows it.

Once he told me, "I just look at her and melt. I am amazed that a dork like me had a part in producing someone like her. She is just so freaking PERFECT, Maria. How did we pull THAT off?"

I dunno. I dunno.

I'm just glad that she's home. We take Tinton to the airport tomorrow where he will fly back home to Colorado to teach for the year at a university and live with his girlfriend, a dog breeder. I have already promised Liv that she may spend Christmas vacation with them. Bing and I are tentatively planning a trip to New Orleans over Christmas and this will work out. She and Tinton are already discussing trees. He wants to go cut down their own tree. Liv is not much into killing trees for sport. I suspect that she will win. She usually does with him. Of course, the girlfriend will come into play too now. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.

So, my girl is back home with her Father. Socks is back to following Liv around with sheer puppylove and me? I'm feeling a little like I am being pulled along by my bonnet strings. But, I am smiling, dudes.

I am smiling.