~Winter memories, frigid weather, snow fun

I had never seen anything like the sea ice coming onto shore. Local Inupiaq lore had promised it would happen. While walking the hallway between two buildings, elevated to protect the Permafrost, I still remember the date because it was my mother’s October 4 birthday so many years ago.
I caught a glimpse of the white pieces just at that time in mid-day when the light was right. Not too Arctic dark yet, and through the thick glass windows framed in frost and ice, I could not recognize the chunks of floating ice for what they actually were. In their jagged march ashore, each looked like a giant broken section of solid white foam. Tilted and tossed askew without pattern, as if they had been pitched at large from a storm ravaged old dock, I imagined creaking sounds from my inside vantage.
Living on the edge of the Chukchi Sea brought countless gifts and untold surprises, the value of which memory increases with distance from a time of great individual challenge. Almost in the blink of a single moment, when I was able to look out a window again, the sea had changed into a vast colorless, never-ending pure white landscape.
Much too early for safe vehicle travel across, expectation for a student Christmas snowmobile journey came with storied warnings of trucks falling through the too thin ice. I wondered if I would muster the courage to be a part of this highly anticipated annual holiday trek!
With devoted effort, those who were not working in the school … parents, elders, and local friends … collected and carefully anchored a trail of small trees from a far-away shore. Only cranberries would grow in the bog and permafrost of our small spit. In lightly falling snow, a miles-long, out and back pathway, was magically set across the frozen sea to the distant banks, summer fish camps, for kids to sled before Christmas. Without markers, where it was difficult to detect any whereabouts in this land of snow, ice, and whiteout conditions, becoming lost would ripen into the end story for others to tell.
Few memories have been as heartening except maybe the rush to scramble up icy metal stairs of an idling Alaska Airlines flight for Anchorage in snow-dusted, fur-lined parkas and boots; each leaving afternoon winter darkness from remote village schools for home. Subsistence and pleasure have a way of creating a rich blend of history in the far north, on the land, over the changing seas or high in the skies exposing a glaring horizon from hidden winter sunlight.
Until this past frigid week on a Pacific Northwest island where we live, I had almost forgotten about that simple, childlike excitement of again watching the sea evolve into its amazing white frozen landscape while I reminisced with a steaming cup of hot chocolate warming my hands.

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~Weightlifting, CrossFit, Lightly aging

Ironing now is way different from standing above that ole’ adjustable, wide arrow-shaped wooden, cotton covered board. Beaded with sweat and in hope that the parcel of black wire hangers on the end would not jiggle loose and fall onto the floor, our generation ‘smoothed’ and ‘steamed’ ahead!
Television still had a curious newness. So, depending on the time of day, the black and white small screen excitement of I Love Lucy or Leave it to Beaver helped divert drifting attention while we tackled this mundane weekly chore. Procrastination was never a problem! Reaching into the overstuffed pillowcase was.
Just had a chance to watch my granddaughter challenge her 17-year-old Cross Fit body to a hefty bunch of iron. Before her turn in front of the judges in a packed gym, many others lifted, failed or achieved a PR. I held my breath for her as the youngest competitor, wishing for her success and fearing her disappointment if she failed. Finally, after reliving aging mind-pictures of darkly tanned, heavily muscled, scantily clad women of my generation, she strode to the middle of the floor, ponytail softly swinging to her confident step.
By the time she had bent over the giant bar with huge black iron wheel-like attachments circling each end, my heart was racing. I wondered if I should sit or stand. On the other hand, maybe leave. Her mother’s eyes glistened with the same pride and fear I held onto. Her father puffed out his chest in pride.
Slowly she wrapped her hands in a carefully placed grip around the bar. She held onto it raising it high into the air above her head. Immediately I worried that it would drop onto her small frame. Then, almost magically changing her stance with a quick step, the powerful weight seemed to rise even higher as she stood squarely underneath. Time stood still with her.
Thumbs up, three judges signaled she had accomplished her task and down it went, crashing soundly onto the wooden floor in front of her. One of three attempts allowed. Each one a triumph! My breath slowly escaped from my pounding chest like hissing from a radiator. I joined in with the clapping and whooping filling the room! As softly as she came, she turned and left the floor; ironing finished for now!
A weightlifter said in a blog, “We’ve all got the same iron spirit running through us. It is just that the spirit takes some people in one direction, and it takes others in a different direction. Some people become fanatics, while others just dabble. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with dabbling. Anytime somebody is using the barbell to get any kind of positive results, it’s a good thing.”
After my return home, I vowed to replace my own iron with something new. I swapped a favorite “OLIVE YOU” loose fitting T shirt with a neon tank top stating, “LOVE TO IRON!” My blue 5# barbells, surely soon to be remnants of my weakling past, sit conveniently close on my shiny white kitchen counter, while I chop Kale for a protein-style burger, after maxing out my plank time!
“Weightlifters say things like, “You’ve got a great looking snatch” and they don’t think there’s anything weird about it.” I have zero personal worry that I will ever, ever be a recipient of such astounding words for my fitness accomplishments! If I should happen to hear them however, walking through the gym, I promise my family I will not pass out in shock!

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~A mother borrowed…

The loss of a mother can fill us with painful unfamiliar, occasionally conflicted emotions. Memories of what she did fill our spaces of reflection about who she was. In addition, we think about why we became who we are now. Perhaps how we should have spent time in different or better ways before she left us. As we become older, there are fewer mothers around us with whom to connect about how we grew up.
It can be a funny thing about exactly what spurs ‘mother’ memories. Parenting children or sharing grandchildren at a certain moment can remind us of that dread in becoming just like her. Alternatively, admiration at modeling something we learned and thinking about what took place, or that we experienced just at that moment as a child, or adolescent, or maybe a young bride or groom.
I cannot yet toss the huge collection I have kept of tattered and torn, food stained and outdated recipes my mother amassed. Looking at those encourages memories of an event, or a noisy family meal, or many of them, to rush back into clear focus. What was once a point of a daughter’s frustration at a habit of clipping seldom tried, though appealing, Sunday newspaper recipes, has now become an occasional trait of mine. I miss not being able to call her so we could laugh about my insight.
Aging thin faded flowered tablecloths or a single hand knit small blue and white mitten I occasionally run my fingers over, or place close to my face, remind me of holidays or seasons and where I was, or what age I might have been. Now that I live in a place where seasons define so much about family and life, like she did when she was younger, I long to talk with her about this.
Again, I think about our grandchildren. I wonder what I might be doing now that they may remember or laugh about later on. As their busy lives abbreviate our time together, I remember the hurry and rush of being a young parent too, dropping kids off and moving on. When I reach for the phone to share this with her, and to offer belated apologies about not making more time, reality abruptly reminds me I cannot. I know she would tell me that she understood then…and still does now.
Reassurance and unconditional love is just one of those things mothers offer children to take away your guilt and enable you to let out the breath you have kept inside your chest. Sibling harmony or conflict has to be remedied or forgotten, on your own now. Diplomatically, and with a greater sense of hope, too. That is exactly what she would have told me to do if I had called. That is what we were taught, but rarely gave either parent complete assurance we could model.
Without telling me often, I knew she was proud of me. The missteps gradually decreased, though I still make them. Remembering my mother requires a peek through time with treasures I cannot yet part with. The tiny handwritten note I found long after graduation excitement waned, with an unexpected bill tucked inside, brings tears still today knowing the sacrifice she made with her gesture. I long to softly hug her and tell how I discovered the surprise and how I loved that she did that for me.
With those few things I have saved, I can smell her fragrance when I want to or see her ‘Cherries in the Snow’ lipstick. It becomes more difficult over time to imagine anything but the best of memories. Of course, that is what I miss. I want to have her tell me still that she just loves what I am doing or to laugh at something I told her, even if she knows better.
Not long ago I finally understood why she had countless grocery receipts for small things, needless expenses, duplicate items we were to find after she had gone. Using them as a middle school classroom math exercise, my students tallied up unnecessary costs for my widowed mother living on her limited income. In addition, too, there was the gas she must have consumed each time she got into her older model car to make the trips.
I now know a particular comfort in going to the local grocery and finding a familiar face on chilly, quiet mornings. To be greeted by a friendly face on a silent winter morning or maybe on the day of a significant event she remembered, had to have provided enough needed comfort to last several days. I cannot call to let her know that I discovered the reason for myself. For this and countless other mother things they do, it seems we grow to miss them more when we cannot reach out to them.
Yesterday I borrowed another’s mother. We watched a ball game. Together we ran errands. We luxuriated in too much lunch and laughter on a sunny day following a charming seaside drive. Without knowing so, she reassured me in the wise, rich lessons she spoke of for her spunky 92 years. She warmed me deeply as only a mother can, with her calm and gentle fragility, as we walked arm in arm. Not for a single minute, did she let me forget her stubborn independence and whimsy. Yes, as only a mother may do. Just as I most certainly must be doing.
It matters not that she belongs to another. The simple joy in her well-tempered motherly messages and quirks was all mine to savor, if just for one day. On my leisurely drive home, reflectively I missed my mother a little bit less and at the same time, a whole lot more! Thank you dear Ruth!

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~Some of us wept…

Filling the sweltering late summer air with an aura of silent anxiety, apprehension and sorrow, their hesitant steps offered unspoken sentences. A first time visit first for some; others had been there before. Teeming crowds of people parted, widening space for their passage and guarded positioning.
Age and time, recognizable on tanned, tough-skinned necks and scarred limbs of those who traveled battlefield distance, defined their purpose. Decorated by fading bluish tattooed arms, and wrinkling faces finely etched with unspoken emotion and horror, they walked in a halting daze.
War extracted its cost for those who came home. No longer innocent or ripe for high risk experience, eager to pay overdue reverence, empty eyes scanned and scrolled from page to name. A few, on a far sidewalk, vacantly staring, alone, as if coming much closer would weaken emotion tightly guardedly, untouchable. For each, time faded to fixed, lost to outside intrusion.
Underneath ball caps adorned with battle insignias, hair grown longer, much longer, graying too, or gone. Others reaching on bended knee, or stretching high, touched names they recalled, or had fought for in battle, as if an unbreakable connection had reformed. With trembling, worn and wrinkled hands flattened on the glossy, granite surface, not wanting to let go this time, silent memories were painfully pulled from the past. Finally, a mournful farewell offering; agonizing and prevented by peril of battle. Some were never sure. Wondering was a cruel game. No one talked about it once they got home. It had been nearly fifty years.
Well traveled eyes, having seen too much, glazed and filled. Wadded tissue, hidden in clenched fists, rose here and there, shamelessly dabbing. Tears spilled over in unexpected torrents of memory. Torsos hunched, heaving silent passion. Two or three in wheelchairs rolled up close and sideways, heads touching, the same skulls protected by fear and helmets years ago. Together now, solemnly listening to a space for that familiar voice, dear to memory, leaving a moist cheeky imprint, dulling the mirrored gloss. Knowing, and watching, some of us wept.
Response to a Patricia Ann McNair prompt (6.11.13)

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~A marriage irretrievably broken…

As far back as I can remember, I have significantly enjoyed an enduring, richly stoked, somewhat stubborn love affair with anything outdoors, especially working in our yard and garden. Probably it can be traced back to the time when I was nine, using Dad’s manual hedge trimmer on overgrown hedges, the trimmer with 20 inch long blades, longer than the handles and almost as tall as I was. My father, coming home after work, noticed and complimented my work. In the interest of pleasing him, that was all I needed to hear!
Spanning many years, acres of barren space, and using landscaping imagination, I vigorously mowed, trimmed, cut and clipped. With hardworking young daughters helping, we once loaded the bed of our pickup with countless shovels of medium sized, gray, white and black Salt River rock, lugging it home on nearly flattened tires. Together we pushed and shoved rock from the truck bed, proudly spreading our free loot into respectable, fence-lining ground cover. Plugging, planting, picking, and perfecting with age, my outdoor love and skills continued to expand with each move we made.
Fast forward to my life changing decision, this day, about not adding more perfectly aligned, diagonal patterns to lawn trims! I still am not quite sure exactly, but I think it happened when the small, hard rubber, black wheel of the mower must have hit the warped and worn lower part of the aging, redwood stained fence. A piece of fence shattered, leaving a wide, welcoming, gape for rabbits to my garden. Almost finished, and now deeply frustrated in thought about the proximity of vulnerable vegetable starts, I attributed a slight handle wobble to my weakness likely from a small bicep tear, the result of an old tennis accident.
With focus upon a shorn, narrow pathway, the loudly reverberating sound, above the lawnmower noise, was if I’d been standing next to someone shooting off large caliber rounds on the range! I ducked. It whizzed with rocket speed, right through the 16 panel, double pane, bathroom window and, somehow, must have ricocheted off the window frame into the textured safety glass of the shower doors shattering into more than a million tiny pieces. Good thing, though, is that by way of a most unusual trajectory, from what I could tell, it must have hit the water faucet knob, apparently lodging it just enough to release an awful lot of water, but washing just about all those glass fragments and pieces down the drain. Directly into our “Protect the Salmon”, sewer! Shocked, I stopped mowing.
It quickly became obvious. I noted a missing bolt and nut, which attached the little red knob for tightening a too loose handle. I knew then what I had run right over. Backtracking, the flower shaped little knob was all I found. Poring through tiny plastic drawers of seldom used, but saved for years, screws, and nuts and bolts until the right match was found, repair was made. Resolute to determine what damage had taken place, and wondering about insurance, I continued on.
My head filled with doom, I emptied the heavy bag in time to take a call from my husband, quite happily touring the country on two wheels. Not revealing the cause celebre, I simply added that the large waste container was nearly full. He told me to get up on top of the picnic table and, using the old, rake, just mash it down until it all fit. My imagination got the best of me right then and, thinking it best to end the call, thanked him and hung up so I could wash the mower blades free of heavy wet, thick grass.
With the hose jetting its cleansing speed to the underside, it slipped from my weary hand, flicking its speed to a mighty power stream I had long ago thought was nozzle history. Quickly as I could react, I grabbed the writhing, twisting, worn green hose, which shot sharp stinging spray into our nearby kennel, where I’d safely stashed our two dogs, creating loud yelps of confusion and pain.
Unable to immediately calm the snaking, hissing hose at my feet, a too sharp nozzle piece slashed a small, neat slice from the back of my calf. The hose would not turn off! I let out the barking, alarmed dogs. Some blood, mixed with the dripping water spread across the cement and imparted a dark pink tinge on the thick, double coat of my cowering, scooting white German Shepherd.
Somehow when the nozzle hit the cement, it must have jammed. Setting it down, I ran toward the nearby spigot, with full realization that it would spiral out of control in my momentary absence. And it did. Shooting right over the fence onto the deck next door, blowing a small hole in their umbrella, the force of which toppled their brand new summer’s purchase right onto our neighbor’s baby carriage where their innocent little one blissfully dreamt eight month old, warm afternoon visions. All of this, of course, wreaking profound Mom havoc with her afternoon plans to peacefully, finally finish a quilt and, for all time I believed, our long friendship.
Thoughts turned to high spirited, post retirement bliss of my traveling husband. Decision made! The weight of it lifted, I drank lots of water and retreated to the garage, grabbing the cushion for the lounge. Stretching out just until the effect of the Motrin could be felt, in cerebral and physical fatigue, I must have fallen asleep. In the hot, afternoon sun. Wearing, by then, only running shorts, and stripped down to a jogging bra.
Mow, mow, mow the lawn, for gently you should go; Now I am finished, you are gone; Never more to mow!
For Sale: Lawnmower with clean blades, grass catcher. Cheap. Well cared for. Lovingly, gently used, repeatedly and reliably, with finite precision by senior lady trading outdoor love affair for possibilities of intrigue or international travel. Free Honda 2007 Goldwing motorcycle thrown in!

Spoofing (maybe), in response to a Patricia Ann McNair prompt, The weight of it … (5/31/13)

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~They Remember…

~They Remember…
…the noise made when the official envelope addressed was slapped onto their dining room table. An abrupt silence followed as they looked at him, one by one around the old table, forgetting mashed potatoes, meatloaf, and manners. Breaking the deadening hush, a father, memories of another war, another time, cleared his throat. A mother struggling to hang tightly onto her emotion blew her reddened nose behind face sized pot holders while little mewing sounds escaped from the fragrant kitchen, forever to pervade his every sense.
They remember…
…farmlands and chores left behind in the rear view mirror of the dusty old pickup, chugging its way to the rural train depot. No longer thinking about the hole in the front pocket of ragged old denim overalls, his thoughts turned instead to billowing clouds of road dust making him cough, settling on his clean pant legs. At college commencements several perky young nurse graduates held their sights set high on performing noble service in a country far from home. Jubilant parents gathered, offering excited congratulations, amidst worry and wonder their daughters might not be ready to leave home. Comments of surprise arose from high school classmates about decisions to join up. Words of relief heard in unanimous refrain from a local school, echoing ‘that young man’ will do something meaningful, fell silent over time.
They remember…
…bursting buttons on a worn red and blue plaid shirt at booming congratulations from a local recruiter. He rationalized that decision to beat the draft notice was surely good even if his family did not yet know. Together the fraternity made up their minds, while lying around on evening damp courtyard grass, to sign up together. School could wait. Their country could not. And the girls were enticed by promise of service to others. Few others would seek to entertain.
They remember…
…wearing black rubber shower shoes, identical shorts and t-shirts, all with shaved heads, they lined the hallway facing each other, focused on vocal explosions of a loudly commanding drill instructor. Time came to leave training. Nothing took the edge from fear. They felt grown up. Prepared. Scared.
They remember…
…the reality of war. Danger. Smells. Artillery bombardment, relentlessly screaming for days on end. Brothers and sisters falling; the ground awash in blood red puddles and rivulets. Fog shrouded mountains and dense foliage hid enemy, relief, and incoming. Sticky, wet, ruby colored helicopter floors. Too much blood. Not enough blood. Explosive, pounding, tragic battle. Nighttime arc light revealing faces darkened by soot and terror; 1000 yard stares. Peace and calmness coming only in death.
They remember…
…ravages of countless fallen; those they could not leave behind, but could not immediately go after. Today, and most days for more than forty-five years, their lives and loss are painfully grieved. Brothers and sisters, all. Those who had your back and you, theirs. Helplessness. Hopelessness. Wretching terror from aging memories.

Today, especially…

Remember…

The Fallen,
…and those who remember their fall.

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~Sometimes it all got heavy…

Northwest winters beckon to some for whom procrastination of chore or unfinished summer task requires the solitude. It was the quiet of winter making time seem right for him to start through the weathered, tattered stack of letters. Both parents had been gone for years and there were really no memories of much of the time he served. Buddy war talk at a reunion lit the spark to see if there was more.
He untied that kind of thick spiral-wound, white string that he’d watched his mother use to keep her flowers and vines from falling outward, when he was about six, he recalled. She had used it too, to keep the aging, yellowed envelopes together all these years. Must be about forty years she had them stored away somewhere. Surprise suddenly brought a wry smile that she had kept them at all. After she died, some family member found them and handed them over.
Settling into the comfortable familiar fit of his red chair, the untied string falling slowly from his hand to the carpet below; his fingers grasping the frayed end until he shook it free to drop. Still in the order he’d mailed them, with that telltale ‘free’ scribbled in place of a stamp, and the writing easily recognizable as his, now shaky and less legible, he softly touched one. As if to gain courage, pausing, he gently lifted the folded, blue-lined white paper, from the envelope, bordered in red and blue.
Placing it in his lap for a time before first reading words he’d sent from Viet Nam, he slowly exhaled as if he had been holding tightly onto his breath too. He began to read and, though he invited me, he did not notice as I stood, watching silently from the doorway of the kitchen, darkening with late afternoon shadows.
Without a word from him, as he continued, I knew sometimes it all got heavy. I could tell as his eyes welled and ever slowly, now and then, I could see the silvery glistening of a tear as it slid down his ruddy, aging face. The letter would fall to his lap for a time before he continued, sitting motionless for what seemed forever.
“I didn’t remember making friends while I was over there. We were told not to in case they were killed … which they were. I do remember about Mark, and wonder what happened to him after he was evacuated. He came home for Christmas with me just before we left Camp Pendleton. I hope he didn’t die.” He would read no more that night, darkness enfolding his thoughts.

In response to a Patricia Ann McNair prompt (5/5/2013), Sometimes it all got heavy…

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