Today it is raining on the hill. That old rooster down the hill has been crowing all morning. There's still no dawn just this slice of grey hanging over us and I think he is confused. Or he thinks the next crow will be the one that splits the sky open and ushers in the sun. I for one don't mind if he crows all day and the rain never stops. I'm upstairs in my office, the window open to the world, the green so thick I can't see beyond to the ridge. Every year I threatened to cut down a line of trees, to clear my vision, to open up my world. But then the trees, these living beings, I consider them and I don't. Maybe it's silly. Maybe my son calls me a hippie for thinking things like this. I was a little kid I tell him.
"The sixties happened around me. It wasn't like I was smack in the middle of them going to Woodstock."
"I don't care," he replies. "You're still a hippie."
More likely just an artist who knows trees are alive until you chop them down.
What stops that process more than my pretending the fallen trees will be cut and stacked for firewood and in that way keep on giving like The Giving Tree (that hills too steep. No one is going to bring that wood up here. Not even if I pay them.) is that I know in due season, in the fullness of time (one of my favorite Biblical quotes) the leaves will change, thin out, fall. The view will evolve little by little until the trees are bare then the little valley will open up before me, the ridge rise up from the other side. At night I'll be able to stand at this window and look out, watch headlights from the cars a mile or more away, from far, far down the road, circle and climb the hill. As much as I long for that view now I know that there is something precious in this change. Something that would be lost if I had it at the ready ever day. It's the exchange one makes for the aging of the leaves, the falling with grace and entering into the more silent, solemn moments of winter. With age, we turn from this new year and see that our view of life has changed. It is my birthday month. One that affords me the luxury of considering the passage of time of what it reveals and what it packs away.
The rain continues. Thicker now. This is good. We need the restful quiet.
Yesterday, I dug weeds from around the broken porch that needs to be replaced. I tilled the ground - well, that at least sounds poetic. I scratched at it furiously with a hand tool with pointy things. This is more the truth of my gardening abilities. I turned up 1 snake skin that had been shed. (No sign of the snake which meant I kept my eye open for said snake, 1 Giant toad that had been hiding deep down in the dirt (how was he breathing?) and one large spider that decided he would just go find another home with a quickness that eluded me. I don't like spiders or snakes or frogs. I wanted to be working on getting the word out on my new writing classes but Momma said, "I guess I will just have to go outside and stand on my head and pull weeds even though I"m not able I will try." She is like this. She says these things to me because she knows my head will spin and blow off and I'll pout and put on boots and stomp outside. She is very, smart this way.
Stop right there. I have to give you a little backstory.
If you have been reading these blogs you know Mama moved in with me about three years ago. And that she has a green thumb and I have a brown thumb. But that I now have flowers all around the front porch and back porch in my attempt to please Mama and to honestly brighten her day. And, it has. It has also given me plenty of opportunities to act like an exhasperated fourteen year old that wants to slam the door to her room. You want me to water the plants now??? You want more Rose food when??? I need to dig up what????? What I realize is my mother glories in this. The process of it. The actual work of it. As she said yesterday standing on the porch as I was digging, "I just hate it, hate it when something dies on me." And, I'm thinking - Well, this digging could just be killing me right here and I don't see you worried about that.
Don't get me wrong. The lilies we are planting in all that dirt came from Daddy's Creek. They bloomed for years. They are the largest most amazing lilies you have ever seen. I will adore seeing them in action once it happens. But the process? Not so much. Not like my Mama who loves every step of this. "Keeping things alive is hard work," she says.
"Yeah, well so's writing books when you can't ever get to the page," I say back. She ignores me. She gets sick of hearing me talk about a)writing b) not writing. These are two of my constant subjects because either I just finished x number of words I'm pleased with or I am lamenting that I haven't written any words. Which makes me a little crazy.
I dig the weeds, I pour the dirt. Mom has actually been working hard and adding dirt to potted plants, replanting ones that are root bound. She is ever so good at this. She looks over the railing at the end of the day at my weeded plot of fresh dirt and says -
"That really looks good. I'm proud of what we accomplished today."
I confess I take a little bit of pride in that. It's not that I can't put on rubber boots and stomp in the mud, pulling weeds with the best of them. I put my back into all that I'm doing. I have a good work ethic but I usually save it for having fingers laced around the keyboard. Unfortunately, to some degree all other work pulls on that string that says time, ticking, time ticking, words not written.
Except for when the grands, those Charmings or Adorables enter my world. Then I will stop the clock, close the laptop, shut down my world to be with them. To create magic in the normal spaces of their lives. The watermelon feasts, and sparklers, lightning bugs, and movie nights. Books and naps and nursing boo-boo's.
This month is also my baby boy's birthday. He is a grown man now but still - I took the Charmings shopping for his birthday. But Bless my Heart honest to goodness thought I could do it while I also took Mom shopping for her groceries. It was a master plan until it wasn't. She had a list. I had kids. Getting in the car was one job and getting out of the car at the store was another job and by the time we made it through the door and into two buggies I began to think maybe I have made a mistake.
Now, we have a downpour. This means my driveway is washing away. Again. Yoga breath. Heavy Sigh.
The store. Mom takes the nine year old to help her with her list. I take the four year old and six year old to buy presents. We make it to the cards where one child says he must go to the bathroom. I ask that question that parents have asked in stores for a thousand years - is it number one or two? TWO! who declares and then I ask the next question that parents and grandparents should never ask. I ask this in spite of being part of the potty training brigade for years. Offering to read to kids on the potty, give m&m's to kids on the potty, sing and dance and do a one woman show for kids on the potty - JUST STAY ON THE POTTY till it works. BUT now, on a birthday mission with a Mother buying enough canned goods for the apocolypse that will need to unload I ask - CAN YOU JUST HOLD IT TILL YOU GET HOME???? - Of course the answer is NO. Which is fair because you shouldn't ask that question. It's a bad question. To the bathroom we go. Which turns into a potty party in the handicap stall with lots of conversation going on between the four year old and the six year old and me getting tireder by the moment.
Out of the potty. Wash the hands. Wash, wash, wash the hands. Back to the cards. Then to Pajamas and shirts and the other kid says - NOW, I HAVE TO USE the BATHROOM. Two? You have to do two? Really? Now? Really? Wow. Just, wow. No you cannot use the Man's room. No, I don't care if you are a man. No I am not leaving you in the mans room. Back to the women's bathroom. Back to the stall only now I have to wait outside the door while the four year old and six year old continue to have plenty of conversation. I want to go home. Out of the Potty. To the sinks. Wash, wash, wash the hands. To gift wrapping. Call Mom. She is half way through with her list. I ask her what is left, just go, go go to the register. I'll get the rest now. I don't need the list. I'll memorize it. Run, run with the wind.
This is how I am crazy. This is where my crazy comes in. I am obsessesed with leaving the store the fastest way possible. I rush between milk and bleach and papertowels. I rush to the register. My mother is far, far away with her buggy. Looking for a living cashier. There are no living cashiers in the whole, entire world. Now, I am yelling like a cartoon strip southern character of which I swear I am not - THIS WAY, MAMA, JUST COME BACK AND I'LL DO IT!
We make it to self check out where the four year old stands up in the buggy like he isn't supposed to and starts putting things on the belt and the six year old is doing all the scanning and they think this is the greatest thing in the world. They are as invested in this process as My mother is those plants. I'm shoving things in the bags like a maniac. This one is for presents. Present, present, canned stuff, canned stuff, more canned stuff. Wait what is this? Ice Cream, ice cream and more melting Ice Cream? MOM! WHAT IS THIS????
"Well, they need a little something sweet! It's good for them."
Canned stuff, oatmeal cookies, more ice cream. MOM!!!
"I don't care. They can eat it in the car."
Present, present - wait - WHERE IS THE CARD we spent 45 mins picking out because you guys wanted to read them all? It's missing. Never mind. I bag, bag, bag- I'll go back and get another card while you guys go to the car. JUST GO TO THE CAR. MOVE TOWARD THE CAR.
Crazy. Yes, I know.
I must take the six year old with me because he moves too fast to leave him with a group where someone isn't designated to catch him that might not be fast enough. This is the truth. HE's like the flash.
New card. Out to the car. Forty thousand bags of stuff. Presents. Ice cream that now my mother and the other two children are eating in the parking lot. There is melting ice cream running down their hands. I open the paper towels and pass them out and say Get in the car. Just everybody get in the car.
The children are ever so happy. They have pottyed. And ate ice cream. And bought presents for Daddy. Life is good in their world. UNTIL . . .
The Signing of the card. Which must be done in the back seat while I drive and Mom is in the passenger seat feeling a little better because she had an ice cream pick me up. I am not feeling better. I haven't had an anything pick me up.
A discussion ensues over what will be written on the card and who will do the writing. It is my understanding as I'm driving that the six year old has decided to dictate to the nine year old what will be said because he says he has better handwriting. Then the four year old declares that he wants to write too. Which brings on WWWIII in my backseat. With - HE SNATCHED the Pen Out of my HAND and STOP TRYING TO BREAK MY ARM YOU CANT have it BACK.
And the six year old who is slightly OCD is freaking out because as he says his brother RYDER CAN'T EVEN WRITE AND HE'S JUST GOING TO SCRIBBLE ALL OVER OUR PERFECT WRITING.
And I say, DRAW A CIRCLE ON THE BACK OF THE CARD AND JUST LET HIM SCRIBBLE IN THAT.
And my Mama is laughing and asking me, "Are we having fun, yet?" And I say, "Oh, so much fun. SO MUCH FUN!"
As the boys continue shoving and screaming and fighting with a pen in the back seat as the six year old has a nuclear melt down and the four year old scribbles OUTSIDE THE CIRCLE HE'S SCRIBBLING OUTSIDE THE CIRCLE ON EVERYTHING HE'S RUINING IT ALL!
And I pull up in the driveway of Daddy's house where Mama says, " I think I'll just wait right here."
As I tell the boys ok, here we go everybody get ready to say SURPRISE! And sing happy birthday and one of them takes the present bag and one of them takes the card and they run up the stairs and open the door and scream SURPRISE and they are beside themselves with happy and that grown man baby boy of mine has a look on his face that is absolutely a wonder.
And then he smiles as we all sing Happy Birthday TO YOU! And says, well, you did it, you actually surprised me. And the kids are all grins and giggles and they are so proud of themselves. Happy Birthday, my baby boy and this Mama has got to go.
Mission accomplished. Lilly's and dirt. All in a day's work of being a daughter, a mother, a Zaza.
It could rain all week I don't care. A blanket of rest, a great book, a nap. I could use these things. And if the driveway is gone nothing to worry. We've got enough canned goods to last till Spring.
I hope your life is just as full of love and wonder, of moments to treasure, as it is it's own kind of crazy and that you enjoy your messy, mixed up life to the fullest!
Morning has broken. The rooster down the hill, crowing. More fervently today. More frequently. Morning has broken indeed, he says. Awake! Arise! The great night of the storm has passed. We are still here. On this hill. All is well and all shall be well and all is well.
The storm last night was a doozy. Wind blow, gusts roar, rain deluge. Tornado watches and threats. Worry, toil, trouble. Rescue Kevin was antsy because I brought him inside as the winds picked up, screaming and roaring up the valley and into the ridge, rolling up over us. He bounced, he barked. He picked up an old Christmas tree ornament he found in a corner and ran with it, the hook dangling from his mouth as I chased him saying, Give me that! Give me that right now! Then I put him out again and followed him to the edge of the porch where he bounded down stairs, turned and looked back at with me with a smile, saying - Let's play! It is wild tonight and we are free beasts to roam and roar back at the wind.
I said, the rains are starting dog. I'm going to bed. An hour later when the deluge hit, I got up again, opened the door and called. Toweled him off and declared lay down. He still pranced nervous until I got a blanket and went downstairs tried to sleep on the couch, be in the lower level close to the closet beneath the stairs. To the bed, to the couch I went. Then finally, to my bed in the dark, my head nestled in covers thinking maybe they alone could protect me.
This morning. I open my window. The clean, clear air. The rooster. The all clear sound. My thankfulness. The house has stood yet another storm. The storms I've faced down in life in the natural and in the human would fill a multitude of books. Some, I've simply just survived. I'm sure you, too. We are simple and same like this. We face our storms. Or we hide our heads beneath our blankets and pray for them to pass. But always, the clear morning air, the all is well sound relieves our soul.
This week - The taxman I had to meet. Downtown in Nashville. Clearing up some old business that wasn't mine to do but looks like now it is. I check in and take a seat. The office full to overflowing. Men, tired at midday. Tried from work and strife and troubles stared at their boots. Women waited, coupled whispered consolations and assurances. A man came in to make an appointment. But you can only make appointments by stepping out the door and calling a different number. He took some brochures, said ok. Then he turned to go. He was built like Santa with a beard and suspenders. He glanced around the room before he left and said, "Good Luck, Everybody," with a booming voice. A heartfelt hope. There was no sarcasm there. No frustration. A ripple of laugher rolled across the room. Then an echo of thank you, thank you, thank you. From everyones lips including mine. There was something special about it, about him. About that sincere moment where he cared what happened to the people waiting. He saw us all. He took us in. And, stepping outside whatever trouble he might be in, he offered a peaceful benediction. The room felt lighter when he left. Less concerned.
I have the oil lamp lit on my desk. I had readied everything in the storm. Prepared for our lights out moments. I trimmed the wick. It's amazing how the lamp burns more evenly when you do this. How much more light it casts when you wash the globe. Our souls must be like this. Our lives. Needing pruning, care, a little time and consideration.
This week - The Undercover Reader Posse began. (A nod to my Daddy's birthday, also this week and a great personal anniversary for me. To my Daddy's love of westerns. To me and sister loving to watch them with him.) Early readers will be riding shotgun with me as I finish this new novel and bring it home. This alliance is something brand new and fills me with the excitement and expectation that new births are filled with. Not just the novel but this early connection with readers and story lovers. You can read more about it here. (Or find in navigation bar if page changes)
Yesterday. I read in Flannery O'Connor's prayer journal published after her death. The prayers are filled with angst and love and longing. Sometimes, too intimate to touch. Like this -
"I am one of the weak. I am so weak that God has give me everything, all the tools, instructions for their use, even a good brain to use them with, a creative brain to make them immediate for others. God is feeding me and what I'm praying for is an appetite."
I've been that way before I can relate. Praying for abundance when my mouth is full of blessings.
This week - We continued the amazing Mastermind Writer Series with Session Two. 100 percent of the class decided to enroll again. To stay with it. To keep working on their writing with me in this small conference class group with one-on-one conference calls. This week I'm kicking off a new Fiction Writing Workshop series. For any who are interested you can find out more here. And look for updated posts on the coming fiction series Monday.
That rooster. Boy, is he proud this morning. Relieved and happy. I suspect he might crow all day.
I had planned to work this am so early on the novel. But the novel is a page turner, a mystery. Better to write in the midst of the stormy night beneath the covers. So, I'll turn my eyes to peaceful words and worlds. Kevin went back out at four after the big storm passed. But still the rains were there. This morning he heard me making coffee at 6:30 looked up at the window from outside. His resting now on the couch, milk bones in his belly. The night has passed, the day at hand, the all clear sound. He knows finally his watch is through and he can sleep.
I pray your week holds victory, peace and sustenance in all the ways you need it most.
The sun is still lazing it's way through these Tennessee hills. Hasn't broken ground yet. The birds don't care. They are singing as if Spring has sprung. An old rooster crows from down in the little valley and it bounces right up to us. I thought I heard a donkey but that could be wishful thinking. They are good for something and good company. Donkeys stuffed and otherwise have been my friends.
Rescue Kevin says he doesn't need to come inside to shake off the midnight cold today. He is fine thank you in the drive waiting for the sunrise and I should join him. He takes a bone and digs a hole, hides, hides, hides, it with his nose shoveling dirt and leaves and rocks to nestle it. No other dogs can walk around the yard because he growls when they draw close to bones buried for a year. It's like an easter egg hunt but not.
Last night I dreamed of things that could have been. After all this time. But I was tired the night before, had cried a little at carrying on but carrying on we must. Realizing we get tired of our burdens but then we are only human and that a little rest, a little tea and all will be well. Or better. Or different. Or all of these things. I woke and looked out at the dark and went back to covers. Now the sun is promising to rise on a new day.
A sign went up down the road on a large piece of land. It will be sold at auction soon. The sign said in just one tract. It is the most beautiful little meadow that meanders along Little Marrowbone creek, a ridge rises up behind it and in the middle against the hill, a tiny, white house sits silent like a chapel. Although I can't see it from the hill this is my view, the air that rises up above it. Down in the valley is that meadow and that house. For years hay was baled and rolled and before that cattle roamed freely. Beautiful, majestic.
Once Big Dog Titan loped off and went missing. For a day and then a night and I was beside myself with worry bordering heartbreak panic. Then a phone call reached me at work where I'd been writing a million dollar grant for Nashville State and the phone rings. A woman asks -
Are you missing a dog?
I say, Yes, I am, I am.
And she says -
I think I have him. Is he real big, and white?
And I tell her, Yes, he is. And she says -
I'm sorry but he is so big I was afraid to reach under that big mouth to read his tag. We locked him up in the goat pen but this morning we saw he was friendly.
Friendly was an understatement.
She said we live in a little, white house. There's cows out front but just come through the gate and then on down the path they won't hurt you.
I told her I knew her place and passed it everyday and I'd be right there.
My Big Dog! Oh, happy, happy, joy, joy!
I stopped to open the gate and drove in and closed it behind me so the cows didn't get out. Then I drove across that field up to the little, tiny house nestled up against the ridge. A grandmother's house. A great-grandmothers house. From times gone by when people didn't need so much of everything.
The door was opened but the screen shut and there stood Big Dog, in the tiny house now. The woman met me at the door.
Well, I can see he's yours. (This after a Titan hug as only he could do) Then, come sit down. I am 74 and this is my mother she is 93 and it was just the two of us here so we didn't know what to do. That's when I locked him in the pen.
'But he ain't nothin' but a baby,' her Mama said. "And he likes chicken.'
When I figured out this morning he was friendly I brought him in.
'He likes collards, too,' her Mama said, "And Biscuits."
Big Dog took up half the little kitchen, was bigger than the Mama.
She smiled at him and said again, "He ain't nothin' but a baby."
After some time the cows were gone. The field was empty but every year it would be baled for hay. A truck would be parked and I wondered. About the woman, about the mother. Big Dog passed away last year and I think of him every time I drive pass that spot. (You can click to read his eulogy.) I need to stop and take a picture. Because things will change now. Someone will buy that tract and like everything else around here begin to dig up the ground, plow it under, pour concrete. It will be houses upon houses or multiple apartments. People will move into them. The noises down my hill that rise up from the valley will be different. And in due time that will be okay.
They will be good people with children who will play in their yards and whose voices I might hear until dark. Then they will go in at night and turn out their lights, maybe say a prayer or be thankful at least they have a roof, a place to lay their heads. They will grow up and grow old but they will never know they live on holy ground where once upon a time there had been cows and a little white house and an old, woman who'd fed a BIG White Dog biscuits from her table while they waited for his human to come carry him home.
(*This blog was picked up by Psychology Today and chosen as one of their essential reads. You can catch it here.)
I came into the world in the month of September. The great time of hurricanes. My birthday is only a few days away and Florida is heavy on my mind. Weighted on my heart. Saltwater runs through my veins and as I write this looking over this hill from Tennessee I can see those waves crashing, hear the pounding of the Gulf growing angrier by the minute, the slash and snap of the Palms wild from the wind. Along with the rest of the nation my eyes are now turned to the devastation that Irma has left in the Islands and fearing what is yet to come.
I’ve ridden out more tropical storms than I can remember. For about fifteen solid years I’ve made Tennessee my home but right now it’s in my blood to stock up on batteries, water, canned food. To Hunker down and hope.Had our little brick house turned into Noah's Ark full of cousins and animals and family year after year. My mother managed a restaurant right on the beach where I worked every summer. People sat at tables by the water and watched the moonlight on the waves as they rolled up on the shore. Every year we saw that it was bordered up and prayed for the best through the hurricanes. Every single year. A part of life.
I witnessed the destruction first hand after Hurricane Camille - a raging category five - hit the coast of Mississippi on the way to see my Daddy at Ft. Polk right afterwards. My mother crept the car by a warship that had been tossed onto land and into someones yard like a toy boat. The destruction was eerie. It was like driving through a graveyard at the close of day.
Hurricane Opal was downgraded to a three before it hit but the storm surge of Opal came in at high tide and carved molehills out of the backside of condos. From the front they looked perfectly fine but when you walked around to the back of the building there actually was no building there. The storm surge is a deadly thing.
The first time I actually moved away from Northwest Florida was to transfer with my company to south Florida. A world away. The palm trees were taller than the buildings from my hometown. The scent on the air intoxicatingly exotic. The night blooming jasmine, the orchids. I was 21 and didn’t know what to expect. North Florida is a land of old oaks, beautiful beaches, slow talkers, and porch rockers. Pine trees. Ft. Lauderdale was fast. It became home. I gave birth to a baby boy there in Hollywood just north of Miami where I had friends.
I evacuated one time when it looked like a ‘cane was coming in fast and furious and might land as a strong four and my daddy wanted me to get out. Me and sister packed up two cars with two little boys, two dogs, four puppies, one cat, and all the family photos I could carry. My brakes went out as I skirted storms that sent crashing limbs into the roads. Tornadoes chased us all the way to my Aunt Kate’s door up in Georgia. It was days upon days before we could get back (with new brakes), the National Guard still in charge, the power still out.
The world is full of refugees. It’s a clamoring world problem but sometimes a distant drum from our side of the pond. Until Katrina sent refugees scattering everywhere trying to find a toehold to hang onto. Until Harvey just hit and took our breath away. After the big show, when all the tv crews have moved on, the recovery begins. Recovery is slow. Harvey’s price tag might be close to 190 billion. But crunching the numbers says nothing about the amount of lives that will have to be rebuilt. And here’s Irma with Jose right on her tail and barreling up the same path. This time - we are the refugees.
Millions have evacuated. Millions. I can’t even fathom that number on the move in this country trying to avoid disaster, trying to save their loved ones. That’s a lot of tired, scared, thirsty, hungry people. I saw on the news where a city in another state opened a shelter and advertised for Floridians to keep coming north, they have arms open. I was watching the news from Tennessee but I was watching it as a Floridian. Worrying about family and friends there in different counties. Watching the path of the storms twists and turns. Then I realized, I’m not the only one watching. That the entire nation is watching.
Should you be a praying kind of person, now would be a good time to give a pause, to say hello to God for a good cause. For the children losing homes, for the parents clinging to their children, for the first responders everywhere and those that are standing at the ready to work to rebuild what is about to be destroyed and can’t be held back. For order, peace, provision.
Frank Sundram posted on Facebook a reminder from the old movie Starman. When the alien is asked why he wanted to come to Earth he replied, “Unlike the rest of the Universe, the people of Earth are at their best when things are at their worst.”
With a storm that will be felt across the entire state of Florida barreling its way toward us I see the news reporting that campgrounds, hotels, shelters, cities are all opening their gates to evacuees, I cling to that truth. In the survival against what might be the worst to come that we may prove in a million ways be our very best.
Pennies and prayers. They both count more than you know. Give what you can, where you can from the heart of who you are.
Praying for your peace in the middle of all of life’s storms within and without.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.