The Pleather Labyrinth

This past Shabbat, a friend at church looked at my purse sitting on the table and said, “You’re quite an organized person, aren’t you?”

I pulled my beloved purse toward me, smiled proudly, and said, “Yes, yes I am.”

Allow me to explain. Two weeks ago I went on a day trip with two close friends. When I stepped away to powder my nose, fashionista friend said to mischievous friend, “Ugh… I really need to give her a new purse.”

I am not into purses the way the majority of women seem to be. I find a purse that meets my size requirements and compartment needs, and I carry that baby until tidbits of pleather flake off the handles exposing the fabric beneath and the lining rips out. I loathe purse shopping. Besides, the stupid things are so freaking expensive for something that’s going to be chucked into the back seat of my car, flung into a shopping cart, and occasionally forgotten at Home Depot or a restaurant.

I actually do have a lovely, leather purse my mother brought me from Italy, but it’s only big enough to accommodate a whispered secret and a tissue. Not practical. I carry it to weddings, funerals, and really fancy lunch dates.

What probably tipped fashionista friend over the edge was my horror story of how I once stapled the broken strap of a favorite purse and went right on carrying it. No doubt this is what prompted her to ask me upon exiting the bathroom, “How do you feel about black and white herringbone?”

A moment of confusion overcame me until mischievous friend spilled the beans on fashionista friend’s disdain for my bedraggled purse.

“Are you embarrassed to be seen with me and my purse in public?” I asked, laughing.

“Yes,” fashionista friend replied emphatically. She descended to the Fashionista Cave where she stores a bin of spare purses. I believe said bin has a keypad lock (with a code known only by her), is wired with explosives, and is guarded by a German Shepherd. Upon her return, she said, “I chose this one for you because I knew you’d like all the compartments.”

“You want me to switch out purses before we leave, don’t you?”

From the look on her face, I’m pretty sure that was understood. I plopped down on her living room floor and began sorting stuff into all the wonderful compartments of my lovely new purse. It was amazing. Everything just fell into place as I separated the most important items from those used less frequently. I even cleaned out a bunch of garbage I’d been hauling around and tossed it into a plastic shopping bag for disposal. Fashionista friend granted me one pardon when she allowed me to cut the handy little license holder from the old purse and slip it into the new one. Then she threw my old purse away, and we left.

Skip ahead to the next day when my husband noticed the new purse. I swear purses are like magnets for men in the weirdest way. They spy your purse, and suddenly they need something out of it. Of course, I couldn’t have hubby rooting around in my new purse like a warthog grubbing for food. Men are notorious for turning purses into disheveled messes as if a bear pawed through it.

For a microsecond, I entertained the thought of explaining to him how the setup of the new purse really wasn’t that different from the old. Inside the main zippered section (always the largest) was a tiny zippered section where cash and credit cards are stored. That was the same as was the open portion where lipstick, Chapstick, cough drops, and tissues were tucked.

The new purse also had a middle section with a place for my cellphone, check book, and sunglasses. So, slight up grade. Actually, super, awesome terrific upgrade because there are two zippers to this compartment that only need to be opened halfway to reveal a particular side. Lovin’ it!

But wait, there’s more. The next level down is yet another zippered section with a metal zipper pull where I store my keys. Husband should be kissing the ground where fashionista friend walks because in the past two weeks, I haven’t misplaced my keys once since I’ve owned this purse all due to the special place in my purse for keys. “Why did she mention the metal zipper pull?” you ask. Well, I’ll tell you. It’s because my metal keys go in the section with the metal zipper pull. See how that works. Easy enough for any husband who needs to put gas in my car to remember in which section he can find my keys.

Oh, but that’s not all. The whole back of the purse is open, so incidentals like brochures from gourmet olive oil shops and the business cards of women trying to sell me Viking refrigerators land there. No zipper or snap ensures that they fall out which is actually my goal.

There’s a tiny pouch with a snap where my business cards live and another with a zipper where gift cards I have yet to use and restaurant rewards cards are tucked. Brilliant, isn’t it? A place for everything and everything in its place. Did I mention that my lovely, new purse has handles and a shoulder strap? What’s not to love?

But just try explaining why things are where they are to a man, and the whole system breaks down. A woman would look at my purse and know in seconds where to begin searching for whatever she needed. Not that a woman would rummage through my purse without asking. Oh, no—that’s the sort of criminal behavior only men would commit.

Now I know there are many jokes about how scary the inside of a woman’s purse is. There’s even a stupid song about it. I am here to tell you that’s no accident. If we could fit a Minotaur in our purses to keep men out—or at least deter, possibly maim them for tossing it like inexperienced burglars—we would. And don’t bother suggesting that we draw them a map or label the compartments. Our husbands would ask us to store the map in our purses, and it’s not as if we’re going to number the compartments with a black Sharpie.

So now you understand how the friend at church pegged me as an organized person. I like to think she was a little bit envious of my purse. I’m going to carry this one forever, and when I say forever what I mean is until tidbits of pleather flake off the handles exposing the fabric beneath and the lining rips out.

True Grit

Memory Makers Masquerading as Cats

I love blog posts about the magic of ordinary days. You know the ones that expound upon the grit in our daily lives as if it’s some sort of fairy dust sprinkled over us that makes everything perfect and wonderful. This blog post is about the true nature of grit.

If you have ever owned cats or know anything about their personalities, you know they are thieving, little devils. They develop weird passions for things like pens, pencils, Q-tips, etc. Basically, anything they can swipe off a table, out of a cubby in a bathroom cabinet, or from the trash. My three cats (Henry, Simon, and Freddie) crave pencils especially if I’ve placed an eraser cap on the end. They usually chew off the eraser that comes with a pencil (I have found gnarled pieces of metal left as evidence of their handiwork) necessitating the addition of an eraser cap. I believe they work in concert to ensure this happens, and then they celebrate by waiting until I go to bed to work the pencil out of the jar in the living room, the wire spiral of my notebook, or from the side of my laptop cooling station.

Looking for one of my lost pencils is what prompted this blog post. I was on my hands and knees in the kitchen with the three offenders watching my progress as I laid my head parallel to the floor to peer beneath the printer table. I spied a popcorn kernel, and my mind flooded with memories of teaching Joshua how to make popcorn on the stove. I retrieved the kernel and sat back on my knees as I recalled what a great day that was and how many more like it we’ve had since. But I didn’t find the pencil.

I looked into the corners of the fireplace mantel also in the kitchen. A two by three piece of grey Lego was wedged behind the antique wood. It has been years since my kid played with Legos. He started by building every kit according to instructions, but his best creations were those he made up without the benefit of a pattern. The Titanic with a removable panel to simulate destruction by an iceberg, the Iron Giant, a mask similar to that worn by General Grievous, an M1 Garand that ejected the clip, a three-level ship longer than my kitchen table, and a working crossbow were among my favorites. Still no pencil.

Under the stove I found a cap from a bottle of Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy. How my cats managed to get the bottle cap was beyond me, but its discovery prompted the memory of a wonderful, teen-free evening spent with my husband. The night was outrageously hot and the light beverage tasted delicious and refreshing. Husband and I felt like newly-weds again as we whiled away hours in each other’s company doing absolutely nothing and loving every moment. Again, no pencil.

I crawled all over the house looking for my pencil. I could have simply used another one, but it was a matter of principle now. The cats trailed me with mild interest, and I swear they nodded their heads toward their litterbox as if suggesting I look there. Little creeps.

Every room received a thorough search, and along the way tidbits of stuff located beneath furniture or in corners prompted memories of the past twenty five years. At times I fretted over scuffed baseboards and the scars of puppy-chewed carpet, a house that looks quite “lived in” and the realization that I need to sweep more often than I already do! (A wise friend once said, “If you have pets, you’re going to have pet hair.”) But every inch of every room in our home offered up life that was and still is sound and stable. I cast a glance at my cats who sat just out of reach watching me. Their smug faces seemed to say, “You’re welcome.”

I eventually found my pencil inside the cooling station where a clumsy paw had pushed it in an effort to snag it off the table. I threaten to beat their hides every time one of my pencils goes missing, but I have to admit the process of looking for it adds to my memories most positively. Someday—hopefully not in the near future—my broken heart will reminisce Henry, Simon, and Freddie, and I’ll be most appreciative for the days they decided to steal my pencils.

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 26

It’s time to take a deep breath and mentally prepare myself for one of my least favorite challenges in my writing life: querying. I remember the first time I queried my novel. I labored over my letter, presenting it to members of my writing groups and submitting it for a paid critique, as if I was writing the Declaration of Independence. Every word had to be perfect. Nothing less than exceptional would do as I crafted this key to unlock the doors to the world of publishing. But never mind the doors; I must first get past the gatekeepers.

Researching agents is a full-time job unto itself. I found literary agencies that represented my genre, and then I located specific agents within the agency. After choosing an agent, I looked to see which authors they had worked with and which titles they represented, hoping to find a title comparable with my novel. Using tips I’d picked up from webinars, I hunted for any connection between myself and the agent. (Did we have similar hobbies and interests, did we grow up in the same state, do they have pets?) All this was before I even sent the letter. Crazy, isn’t it?

Just today my husband wished for me the kind of writing life where I didn’t have to worry about publishing. And what is the concern, really? Can I not create art for the sake of art? Trying to have my work published was my idea. No one forced me to do it. But then I struggle with the question of why write if I’m not going to try to publish, and I start thinking maybe I should find a job. I hate the way money always pops up in my thoughts.

The truth is, I have a supportive husband who isn’t insisting that I find work or publish to bring in a paycheck. When combined with the abundant amount of free time I have, you may wonder what my complaint actually is. Sometimes, I do, too.

There are days I wish I’d never sought publication because I remember how it felt to write freely without that pressure hanging over my head. Don’t think for one minute, though, that I don’t want to be published. Because I do. I’ve invested in my blog and I maintain social media toward the endeavor of publication. My problem is that my two desires are at war in my mind and my heart.

There are also days when I wonder if I’m creating this drama for myself, and I laugh thinking at least I’ll get a good blog post out of it. Because really, it’s better to let this stuff out than it is to hold it in. So again, deep breath.

I am aware of the emotional toll querying can take on a writer, but I’m not ready to abandon my dream. I’ll balance it by realizing how good I have it in that while I’m waiting for replies, I can write freely to my heart’s content. I’ll fill notebook after notebook with words the world will never see. Writing just for me. And once again I’ll…

…Write Happy!

Nuttin’ but the Best

Most of the recipes I supply are connected to my writing, but this time I’m offering a favorite Gibson Family recipe just because.  Well, that and we’ll be eating it for Hanukkah this year.  This recipe comes highly recommended by my husband and son, and it’s super easy to make.  Factor in the deliciousness, and you’ll want to make it part of your holiday traditions, too.

We’re ice cream freaks at the Gibson household, and nothing makes ice cream a little tastier than a homemade sauce.  With that thought in mind, what could be more American in flavor than peanut butter?  The following recipe is one we enjoy time and again on chocolate or vanilla ice cream.  It’s also good on waffles, pancakes, banana bread, and shortbread cookies.  I’m sure you’ll come up with a few places to try it, too.

Peanut Butter Sauce

1 c smooth peanut butter

⅓ c sugar (I use raw)

¾ c heavy cream

2 T butter

¼ c light corn syrup

1 t vanilla

If using raw sugar, place the heavy cream and sugar in a small saucepan over the lowest heat possible.  Stir constantly but gently until the sugar dissolves.  This step is necessary to melt the larger crystals.

If using regular white sugar or a small-grained, organic sugar, place all the ingredients in a saucepan over medium-low heat.  Stir until the ingredients are combined thoroughly.  Do not boil or overcook as this will make the sauce too thick.

Cool the sauce slightly before using.  I’m told you can store it covered in a refrigerator for two weeks, but ours never lasts that long.  You can reheat the chilled sauce in a saucepan on a low heat.  Thin it with 1 – 2 tablespoons of heavy cream if necessary.  Do not microwave the sauce or it will become grainy.

The Sukkah Experiment

Less than twenty-four hours to Sukkot, and I have no sukkah.  What I have is a cabana frame with no way to attach the Chinese silver grass (and no promise the frame will support the weight) and no way to affix the sheets I plan on using as curtains.  Oh, I also have a mother who says, “You know I like things elaborate,” and “I just ran out of time to make the curtains.”  Funny how we’re back to using the sheets I suggested in the first place and she dismissed as hillbilly.

This is round two of building a sukkah for the Gibson Family.  You’ll recall last year’s efforts (Learning Curve) were redneck at best.  We’ve come a long way since then, and we’ve learned a few things.  Such as sukkahs need four walls and branches still attached to the tree don’t count.  Still, we did our best, and I truly believe Adonai was honored by our efforts.  This year, I’m thinking He might be grading on a tougher curve, and we’re getting points checked off for lack of preparedness.

You see, I had this all planned out on Monday when Mom and I went to buy the PVC pipe, three-way elbows, and the shower curtain clips.  We were on our way to Home Depot and ended up everywhere except Home Depot.  I could have had this finished Monday evening and been peacefully admiring my sukkah in anticipation of sundown Wednesday.  Instead, I’m anticipating watching my mother weave paracord around the top of the frame (at minus five-foot-short, I have no idea how she’s going to reach the top of the ten-foot-plus, peaked cabana frame) probably while standing on a step ladder (I’m not sure we own one anymore) placed on uneven ground.  I’m having flashbacks to Mom and Dad fighting over the set-up of…well, just about everything.

And the grasses still need cut down.  With a reciprocating saw.  I know we own one of those, but I have absolutely no idea what it looks like or where it is.  Dad is supposed to help me with this, but then I wonder who will watch Mom while she’s weaving paracord on a ladder?  This is not going well.  At least Dad should be sufficiently occupied cutting grasses so as not to pick a fight with Mom.  And nobody better pick a fight with me because I have a headache already.  Is it too early in the day for a glass of bourbon?

Here’s the kicker:  we have until sundown this evening to complete this, except Mom wants to eats dinner in the sukkah as a family.  My husband, William, leaves for work at 3:30 PM.  So, we have roughly four and a half hours to get this thing ready.  I’m thinking we should have completed the sukkah today, enjoyed some coffee, tea, and cake in it, and then tomorrow when husband’s vacation starts, enjoy dinner as a family.  Am I the only person who sees this spiraling out of control?

Don’t even get me started on dinner.  Mom asked what I planned on making for the first evening.  This is code for “I’m buying the cabana frame, so you make dinner.”  Not a problem at all.  Really.  I figured we’d have the sukkah up by Monday evening anyhow, so I’d be free to prepare food.  Then she texts me with a picture of the marinara sauce she’s making for dinner.  I hadn’t even suggested a menu, and already she nixed it.  Again, not a problem.  We like marinara over spaghetti, and I have back-up sauce in case our teenager snarls his nose at it.

It’s anyone’s guess how this is going to go off.  I know there are a few details we still aren’t going to get right, but like life in general, Adonai gives us time to grow.  It’s anyone’s guess whether it’s His voice or mother’s in my head saying, “Have a little faith.”

Photograph

Zara wrenches the key from the lock as she pushes the door open and calls, “Jan, where are you?”

A feeble voice from the bedroom replies, “In here still.”

“How pathetic,” Zara mumbles.  She slams the door shut with her foot and tosses Jan’s spare keys on the countertop.  Six plastic shopping bags, two to an arm and one in each hand, cut into the sleeves of her jacket and across her palms.  She hoists the bags upward with a groan and deposits them beside the splayed keys.  A quick survey of the apartment reveals that Jan hasn’t made much progress in the hour Zara has been gone.

“Oh, hey…you brought food,” Jan says.  “Thanks.”  Her slippered feet scuff the hardwood floor as she shuffles into the living room.  She wears a nappy, pink robe over the faded Superman t-shirt and sleep pants Zara found her in that morning.  A black and white photograph in a silver frame rests against her chest, safely embraced within her arms.

“I thought we agreed you’d start clearing out Jay’s stuff while I was gone,” Zara says.  She shoves perishables on the refrigerator shelves, cans and boxes in the cupboards.  Then she turns her attention to the newspapers and magazines strewn across the coffee table, couch, chairs, and floor.

“You don’t have to do that,” Jan says when Zara scoops up a stack of Jay’s photography magazines.

“Yes, I do.”

“No—you really don’t have to do that.”

Panic and annoyance strain Jan’s voice.  She abandons the photo on an end table to follow Zara to the garbage shoot in the hallway.  A brief wrestling match ends with the magazines scattered across the hallway floor.  Zara plants balled fists on her hips and taps one Christian Louboutin; the red sole is soundless on the sculpted carpet.  Jan cannot look at her best friend when she stands with the magazines clutched to her heart.

“I’m not ready to let this stuff go yet,” she offers as an apology and walks back to her apartment.

Halfhearted attempts at straightening no longer appease Zara, and she knows it’s time to confront Jan.  She lures her friend’s attention by sitting on the couch with legs crossed, arms folded.

“I thought you said we should get busy cleaning,” Jan says.

“It’s past the time for cleaning, Jan.  We need to talk.”

“It’s too soon.”

“No, it’s been three weeks since Jay left you for his assistant, Chrissy, and in those three weeks you’ve allowed your life to—I don’t know—something between fall apart and explode.”

“Are you judging me?  How can you expect me to deal with this right now?  I didn’t think you’d be so cruel.”

“Oh, spare me.  Just because everything in your world is going to hell in a handbasket doesn’t mean it’s affected everyone else.  I haven’t changed, and for that you should be glad.”

Shock etches Jan’s face, drawing her brows downward, and she says, “Damn, I admit I was just trying to buy some time, but you really are being mean and hurtful right now.”

“You need me to play it straight with you,” Zara says, punctuating the air with a condemning finger.

Jan knows this to be true.  She crumples into an armchair, still holding the glossy magazines.  Emotions sting her eyes.  She sniffs hard to keep from sobbing and pulls a wadded tissue from her robe pocket to dab at the wet trails on her cheeks.

“I’m just so embarrassed.  In front of all my friends and family.  My co-workers even.  For something like this to happen.  I mean…no one—no one—saw it coming.  Least of all me.”

Zara remains seated, aware that this little outburst confession is Jan’s way of softening up the other person thereby distracting them from what needs to be dealt with.  It would be so easy to slip into the crowded space of the overstuffed armchair and wrap her best friend in a hug.  But then Jan would never get out of Jay’s old pajamas and on with her life.

Instead, Zara claps her hands with a slow, rhythmic beat.  Twenty claps before Jan bursts out, “Okay—fine!  What the hell do you expect me to do?  You’re so smart?  You have all the answers?  Well, I’m listening.”

“Getting pissed off about this is a start.  At least I know you’re still alive, that there’s a hot-blooded woman in there.  You used to be so strong—”

“I am strong, Zara.  I’m just tired.”

“Yes, well, stewing in your own misery isn’t the answer.”

“Then what is?”

“Tell me something, Jan.”

“What?”

“How is it that you can wear his pajamas and sulk around this apartment all day, holding photographs that he took in Hawaii and act as if Jay’s not the reason you’re so miserable?  I mean, he up and left you in a single, freakin’ day!  Who does that?”

“Obviously Jay does.”

Zara startles when Jan bursts out in maniacal laughter.  She uncrosses her arms and leans forward, ready to catch her friend if she starts running and shrieking hysterically, which is exactly what Zara expects from her friend right now.

“Oh, oh my god…how did I fall to such depths?” Jan asks through laughter and tears.  “And don’t even think of saying this isn’t my fault.”

“It’s not your fault.”

“Yeah, well, maybe Jay leaving me isn’t, but allowing myself to get like this is.”  Jan indicates her unwashed, disheveled appearance with both hands.  The magazines fall from her lap as she stands, spilling into the piles at her feet.  “You know what’s been on my mind today?”

“What, honey?”

“Will that bitch show up at Jay’s funeral or will she be granted calling hours of her own?  You know, like when feuding families host separate baby showers or something?”

“Oh, Jan…”

“Now that his body washed up on shore, it’ll be sent back to me.  The wife.”

“Do you need me to go with you to identify it?”

“No, his brother flew down to Cozumel to do that.  Then there was a bunch of paperwork, and the authorities acting all superior because Jay’s brother is American, and finally they cleared the body for shipping.  So much for their Caribbean vacation.”  A derisive snort is on the cusp of more crazed laughter, but Jan reigns in her emotions.  “The body.  Because that’s all Jay is anymore.”

“I guess what I don’t understand is why you aren’t furious with him for what he did.”

“You want me to hate him, I know you do, but I can’t, Zara.  There wasn’t enough time for me to become angry with Jay as the cheating husband.  He left me on Friday and died on Monday when his boat capsized in a storm.  For me, he was still the man I loved, the man I married.  Does that make sense?”

“I suppose so.  No, not really.”

“If he hadn’t drowned in that storm, if he and Chrissy were still touring the world and taking gorgeous, award-winning photographs for prestigious magazines a year from now, then yeah…I’d be looking at this from a whole different perspective.”

Zara sighs and tosses her head from side to side.  She still cannot comprehend Jan’s passivity, but she hopes to give the appearance of understanding.

“All right, then.  The order of the day is to find a new perspective for you,” Zara says.  “One for you, about you.  Okay?”

“What does that mean?  I’m still not quite ready for any major changes.”

“The only thing you need to do right now is get out of those smelly pajamas and into a hot shower.”

“That’s it.”

“One thing at a time, Jan.”

“Then what?”

“Then we’ll see about getting some orange juice—”

“The orange juice turned.”

“How the hell does orange juice go bad?”

“I don’t know, but the last time I tasted it, it was fizzy.”

“That’s disgusting.  Okay, shower first then tea and toast afterward.  One little thing at a time.”

“That’s your big answer for fixing my life?  A shower, tea, and toast?”

“I don’t have the answers for your life, Jan.  You do.  I’m just here to help you unearth them.”

The Truth in History

Tim Eady’s father worked for Mrs. Burton during the winter months when the construction crews were laid off. Occasionally, Tim’s father landed inside work hanging cupboards or finishing baseboards. This year, all the new homes were completed on time inside and out. The first flakes of snow saw the departure of a handful of families for Florida or one of the Carolinas, seeking work to tide them over.

Tim’s father would have gone, but his mother said it made no sense to pull Tim and his two sisters out of school for three months. The girls had started third and fourth grade in the fall. Tim was in his junior year. Besides, his mother expounded, Tim could hunt again this year, and they’d be near family come Christmas. Not to mention Florida never had snow for Christmas, and what’s Christmas without snow? Tim’s father grew up with fireworks in Charleston for Christmas, but he just shrugged his acquiescence.

Mrs. Burton lived on the outskirts of town and drove a faded, red Ford pickup. She wore a plastic bonnet over her hair whenever she went out, rain or shine. Every day found her in heels and pearls with a lace hankie tucked beneath her watch band on the underside of her wrist. When Mr. Burton died, she went right on living at their farm instead of selling and moving in with her sister in town. From the porch of her home she fended off foreclosure and potential suitors with Mr. Burton’s double-barreled shotgun. She also grew shrub-sized, pink begonias in wash tubs on that porch.

Canning, gardening, and tending chickens kept Mrs. Burton involved, as she called it, and gave her purpose in life. She also baked and attended Bible study, joined missions’ teas and volunteered at the library, participated in the fair and collected clothes for the migrants who worked the lettuce farms every summer. Much to her shame, she could not sew, but a few frenzied days of her clicking knitting needles produced some of the finest afghans to ever grace the back of a couch.

There were no animals in her house save only a yellow canary in a cage in the living room. The bright little bird never sang until the day his mate died, and then he chirped his fool head off every waking moment of the day. Mrs. Burton thought this morbidly hilarious. She had one of her church friends make a double-layered cage cover of black fabric to place over the bird when she needed it to shut up. She wasn’t unkind to animals. She just believed they belonged outdoors. She fed hundreds of strays and wouldn’t kill a snake in her yard. In autumn, when the corn grown on her land leased by others had been harvested, she walked boldly among the cattle let out to graze the stubbled fields.

the-truth-in-history

Winter on the Farm by Guy Whiteley

Tim’s father started with fence repair, and since there were miles of fence, he was guaranteed steady work. But his father wasn’t the one to prolong a job just to draw out a paycheck. Tim hunted the woods skirting Mrs. Burton’s fields and occasionally stopped to talk with his father when he worked the fence closest to the woods. A sharp crack in the distance always brought his father’s head up and a smile to Mrs. Burton’s face. Then she’d drive the truck back in the direction of the shot, stopping to pick up Tim’s father, and together they’d find Tim and the deer he’d killed. She waited in the truck while Tim and his father loaded the deer in the bed.

“Now Tim, you put plenty of them newspapers down under that doe when you hang her in the barn. At least an inch thick. Sprinkle saw dust on any blood that soaks through, you hear?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Rake it up and throw it all in the burning barrel with the paper and guts when you’re through, son.”

“Yes, sir.”

Then she’d drop his father back off wherever he’d been working and drive Tim to the barn where he’d dress the deer. There was a handy block and tackle setup with a crank handle for hauling the deer up toward the rafters. Tim supposed Mr. Burton had rigged it for getting heavy stuff up to the loft. Mrs. Burton brought him hot tea and sandwiches, the same delivered to this father, and when the job was done, she’d drive him to Fulmer’s to have his deer processed.

As a reward for feeding the family, Tim’s father allowed him time off from helping with chores to tan the hides of any deer he shot. Mrs. Burton graciously let him use her barn as a workspace. It took Tim a few tries, and a lot of trips to the library, but through his trials and errors he became skilled at producing supple, quality leather. That Christmas, everyone in his family and Mrs. Burton received moccasins. The following year, he sold his hides and earned such a reputation that hunters began bringing him their hides for tanning. Tim’s father let him keep the money he earned, so Tim made sure his father saw him spending it on jeans and shoes for school, fabric for his mother to make his sisters’ dresses, and books for the three of them. Reading was the only thing he had in common with the girls.

When the fences were done, Tim’s father worked in and around the barn. Tidying and repairing kept Mrs. Burton’s farm neat as a pin which always humored Tim because she was a bit of a pack rat. At least the newspapers in the empty stalls were stacked neatly as were the towers of plastic flower pots from the nursery. If she had one of something, chances were she owned at least a dozen of whatever it was. Radios, all in working order and dusty, lined the shelves next to the wood chipper. Scythes and shovels stood like troops at attention five deep against the walls of her garage. More canning jars than she could use in a lifetime even if she broke half of them waited patiently in the cellar next to coils of chain covering the floor and shoe boxes full of different sized knives. But Mrs. Burton wasn’t stingy. From her own personal stores she’d supply whatever need demanded filling.

“Ain’t you worried about rats around here, ma’am?”

Aren’t, Tim—and no. The threat of death keeps them at bay.”

Tim assumed she meant the smell from his hides, and he worried that her comment had been a request to tan them elsewhere. He’d meant drawing rats all over the farm with the promise of hiding places and knew they were attracted by the smell of a fresh kill, not repelled. He let it go when she hinted at a pair of fur-lined slippers.

That year’s wood supply diminished quickly when the weather turned for the worse, and Tim’s father had to drag downed trees from the woods. They worked together bringing the logs in to the barn where his father sawed them into manageable pieces and split them. Tim stacked it on the back porch, sneaking a peek in the kitchen windows where he could see Mrs. Burton sitting at her kitchen table writing out recipe cards. On his third trip from the barn to the porch, he felt a twinge in his throat and a flush of heat on his cheeks. He straightened from piling wood and swiped the back of his glove across his forehead, moving shaggy, wet bangs from out of his eyes. As he did so, he made eye contact with Mrs. Burton who waved him in. She met him at the back door and led him by the arm to sit at the kitchen table.

“My boots, ma’am.”

“It’s just snow and sawdust. Nothing that won’t wipe up.”

Then she put her cool hand on his sweaty neck to draw him forward. He blinked like a toad in a hailstorm when she pressed her dry lips against his forehead and held them there for half a minute.

“Mm…hmmm… You’re fevered.”

Tim sniffed hard to no avail and employed his coat sleeve to stem the flow of what felt like hot water dripping from deep inside his head. The heavy canvas raked his nose but absorbed nothing. Mrs. Burton had turned to the stove to make chamomile tea, but even without seeing she knew to grab the box of tissues and place them on the table beside Tim.

A few minutes later as the kettle whistled, the indeterminate voice of Tim’s father rang out. His footfalls pounded the steps and back porch, preceding a woodpecker’s rap on the glass pane of the back door.

“Come in,” Mrs. Burton called.

“What’re you doing in here, boy? I been calling for you.”

“He’s got a fever.”

“That so?”

“Yes.”

Mrs. Burton’s word was final, and Tim’s father finished cutting and stacking wood on his own.

“He don’t mean to be hard,” Tim said as he sipped his tea.

“He could take unemployment like other men do.”

“Naw, he couldn’t, ma’am. Pride won’t let him.”

“Mm…hmmm,” Mrs. Burton said into her own teacup. Then, “How are your studies going, Tim?”

“Good, ma’am. I got a B+ in Algebra and an A- in English.”

“How’s your Science and History?”

“I’m working a solid B in Science, but History is kind of boring.”

“And what grade does boring translate to, Tim?”

“A C-, ma’am.”

“Oh, Tim,” she said, placing her hand over his, “History is too important to forget.”

“It’s all just memorizing dates and the bad things people do to each other.”

She cooed like a dove behind her slim hand, and Tim understood her to be laughing at his assessment of History class.

“Yes, well, I suppose it’s the way History is presented that makes it interesting or not. Why don’t you slip off your coat and boots, bring your tea, and we’ll sit in the living room?”

Tim had never been in the inner sanctum of Mrs. Burton’s home. She never forbade him from entering; none of the jobs she had for him ever took him beyond the kitchen. She settled him on a love seat with a mound of embroidered pillows and a red and blue afghan. Tim’s size twelves stuck out, and he overlapped his feet to hide the hole in his sock exposing his big toe. A dull thud permeated the frosted windows; Tim’s father was splitting chunks of freshly sawn logs.

“Everyone remembers history differently, Tim.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Mrs. Burton paused her rocking chair to trace her finger through a fine silt of dust on an end table. She frowned and rolled the gray film into a ball to be flicked away with her thumb.

“Did you know I used to keep this house spotless? Spotless without a single thing out of place.”

Tim couldn’t, and wouldn’t, contradict her for he had nothing to compare to except the twine tied bundles of magazines bordering the room and baskets of yarn on every available surface not taken up by a knickknack.

“Mr. Burton insisted on it. Said his mother kept a spotless house, and so would any woman fit to marry. Guess that means I wasn’t fit for marriage to Mr. Burton.”

“But you said you did keep it clean, ma’am… or do.”

“I tried at first, but my efforts always fell short. Mr. Burton could only remember how perfect his own mother was, and it’s that history that came between us.”

Tim shifted on the loveseat. He slurped tea and waited to receive whatever Mrs. Burton would say.

“Then there’s the history of excuses I made when I couldn’t be seen in public because the bruises Mr. Burton left showed up on my arms or face. Only so many times a woman can wear long sleeves in the summer or walk into an open cupboard door.”

“Ma’am?”

Longing glances toward the barn couldn’t will Tim’s father to fetch him home. All he could do was watch the windows darken with twilight. The sky thickened with clouds promising snow that night.

“I always said the dusting wasn’t going anywhere, so what’s the rush? It’d be there when I returned from grocery shopping or running errands. But Mr. Burton wanted it done now o’clock.” She chuckled at the joke. “And the pendulum of his fist always swung on time. Sometimes in the middle of the night for no reason.”

Tim coughed until his chest rattled. He had no place to expel the viscous secretion, so he pretended to sip tea and deposited in the cup.

“So I dusted, and I cleaned, and my fingers and knees went raw from my attempts to please Mr. Burton, and people called me eccentric. Said I was too particular about my house and that it was too clean for a body to feel truly welcome. That’s the history people in this town remember.”

“Ma’am, it’s getting on dark, and my father will just about be done, I’m sure.”

“There’s a light in the barn, Tim.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She licked her lips and said, “Do you think I’m eccentric, Tim?”

“Ma’am?”

“I thought I might as well live up to their opinions of me.”

“Whose, ma’am?”

“Oh, you know. Those gossipy, ole biddies at church. I started by saving newspapers because they’re so harmless and absorbent. That’s how I justified it to Mr. Burton, by making newspaper seem useful in more ways than one. He didn’t care as long as the house was dusted. Then I save wooden thread spools, bread wrappers, and twist ties because they were easy.”

Tim thought of the coffee cans of said items stacked on the kitchen counters.

“Did you know there’s a bedroom closet upstairs chock full of peanut butter, pickle, and mayonnaise jars?”

“No, ma’am. I did not.” He chewed the inside of his cheek. “I suppose them rocks lining the flower beds were part of it, too?”

A nightingale laugh trilled from her lips, and the passion of memory glowed in her eyes.

“Exactly, Tim. I’d forgotten the rocks. And see how easy it is to mix up the real stuff with the useless? You’re such a smart boy to remember.”

Her praise solidified them in unwanted knowledge. Tim sat forward and placed his teacup on the coffee table.

“You’ll remember my history when I’m gone, won’t you, Tim?”

“Where’re you going, ma’am?”

“I don’t care if you correct them in their erroneous beliefs; I just need one person to know the truth.”

“What truth is that, ma’am?”

“I hated dusting. Can you do that, Tim? Can you remember my history the way it really happened?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

A soft silence fell between them, ruptured by Tim’s father poking his head in the back door and calling out.

“Hey, boy—I’m warming the truck, so get your stuff and c’mon.”

“Yes, sir,” Tim called back.

He and Mrs. Burton stood at the same time. She carried both cups into the kitchen and set them in the sink. With her back to Tim she said, “The only paper I never saved was the one with Mr. Burton’s obituary in it.”

Tim jammed his arm into a coat sleeve and asked why not.

“I didn’t have to. Everyone remembered for me, told me about it all the time. They never found his body, you know. They dragged the lake come spring where they thought he’d gone in, but they never found it. That lake is so big and too deep. Three in one, really.”

“What was he doing on the lake, ma’am?”

“Trying to save some little kid who’d fallen in.”

“I thought he was ice fishing. Did the kid die, too, ma’am?”

“Huh? Oh, no… I guess I was wrong. I saw a red and blue knit cap on the ice as we were driving by and figured it belonged to some kid out there skating who should of known better with the thaw making places thin. I drove back to town as fast as I could and went straight to the fire department, but it was too late. I couldn’t remember where he’d gone in. Mr. Burton was lost.”

A headache and stuffy ears made it hard for Tim to think. Finally, he asked, “Where were you coming from that day, ma’am?”

“I don’t understand? What do you mean, Tim?”

“When you and Mr. Burton were driving by the lake, where were you coming from?”

“Does it matter?”

“I don’t suppose, but you remember everything else so well, ma’am.”

“Very good, Tim. We must keep our histories truthful.” She took a deep breath. “From the hardware in Austinville.”

“Why over there, ma’am, when we got a perfectly good hardware in town?”

“Because the road back took us past the lake, Tim.”

“What did you buy in Austinville, ma’am?”

“Matches, Tim. I had a lot of stuff in the burning barrel that needed burning that night.”

Three honks from the driveway told Tim to hurry up. He zipped his coat and shoved his feet into his boots without tying them.

“You take tomorrow off, okay Tim?”

“Yes, ma’am. My mom’ll make sure I don’t escape the house for school or work once she finds out I’m sick. I’ll be laid up with Vicks all over my chest and a hot water bottle tucked in my side. She still gives me baby aspirin, but at least I get ginger ale and popsicles.”

Mrs. Burton smiled at Tim’s mother’s doctoring skills.

“Well, it sounds reasonable to me.”

“I’ll see you when I see you, ma’am.”

“Goodbye, Tim.”

Mrs. Burton watched Tim and his father out of sight. In the morning she’d take a bag of horehound over and see how Tim was faring.

This Mothering Stuff is Hard

eagle-medalSince our son’s birth, I have enjoyed some amazing milestones with him. There were the obvious ones of first tooth, first step, and first word. The day I put him on a school bus for kindergarten was a thrill. I wasn’t afraid for him at all because my husband and I raised a tough little man. He was the type of kid who would scrape his knees to a bloody mess and worry more about returning to play outside than he was about the sting of hydrogen peroxide on the open wound.

Then there was a day ten years ago when Joshua decided he wanted to join Cub Scouts. He had tried T-ball and tennis, but Tiger Cubs appealed to him more. The first night he joined, throwing his stick of wood into the fire and announcing his name to the Pack, he declared he wanted to be an Eagle Scout. He stayed with Cub Scouts, achieving many more incredible milestones, and finished by earning his Arrow of Light during his second year of Webelos. Next came Boy Scouts.

About his time, Joshua started middle school. Homework, girls, and friendships became a little more difficult. Our sweet little boy turned teen, and a strange new creature emerged. My husband and I thought we were going to lose our minds at times as we dealt with this always hungry, often cranky, and sometimes smelly person. Through it all, Joshua kept plugging away at Boy Scouts, and he did quite well.

Mounds of pictures of Joshua at various Scouting functions piled up, and I always thought I’d have time to scrapbook them. And then one day, the time was gone. Joshua completed all the requirements toward the rank of Eagle and passed his Board of Review. We were ecstatic, the grandparents were over the moon, and even close friends and acquaintances smiled with pride when they heard. I tried to pack ten years’ worth of scrapbooking into a month and a half all the while planning Joshua’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor.

I put my entire life, including my writing, completely on hold because that’s what a good Eagle Scout Mother does. There were times when I wanted to quit making additional sacrifices on top of those I’d already made, but instead, I told myself to quit being a martyr and press on. Well, Joshua’s Court of Honor took place this past Saturday. I’m still receiving compliments for hosting an amazing party, and my dear husband defers any praise to me for the whole event. With a deep sigh of satisfaction, I turned Joshua over to another plateau of maturity. Only the feelings I expected didn’t occur.

Every time I looked at his shirt and merit badge sash bedecked like a four-star general, I tingled all over. That must be the pride, I thought. Only there was a lingering sense of melancholy. I chalked it up to post-party let down and laughed it off with the thought of now what? Occasionally, my eyes would tear up for no explainable reason.

Now don’t misunderstand me: I don’t want to abandon Joshua completely, but I did believe I’d relinquish him somewhat to his future. I’m not so sure that’s how motherhood works. My own mom confirmed this for me when she admitted that she still thinks of me and my brother as her babies, and the addition of spouses and grandchildren only provided more people for her to pray and worry over. In short, motherhood never achieves the status of finished.

What am I going to do when he graduates high school and leaves for college? How am I going to survive his engagement and marriage? What if he and his wife live out of state when my first grandbaby is born? And when he becomes the Prime Minister of Israel, next to the red phone on which he takes important calls relating to the administration of the country, he’d better have a gold phone labeled Mom.

I remember the night I gained the courage to turn off the baby monitor because it was extremely sensitive, and every time Joshua rolled over in his crib, the sound of crinkling sheets woke me up. I thought I’d never lose what my sisters-in-law dubbed my Mommy Ears. Little did I know that the tradeoff would be an increase in the footprint our son left on my Mommy Heart.

Learning Curve

learning-curveMy husband and I always try to present a good example for our son, Joshua. So this year, we decided to get down to brass tacks and build a sukkah. After all, we wanted to be obedient followers. William started by searching the Internet for suggestions on how to build one and found many companies that sell plans and/or frames. They were expensive. Next, he looked up the cost of PVC pipes and fittings with the intention of building our own frame. He must have looked at the price for 1/4” pipes because when we arrived at Home Depot, the pipes that would actually create a frame to withstand a gentle breeze were somewhat out of our price range, especially with all the cash we’ve been shelling out for our son’s upcoming Eagle Scout Court of Honor. We were not deterred.

We took encouragement from a friend who suggested building a sukkah over an existing frame such as that for a cabana. The Gibson household doesn’t own a cabana. We have a pup tent. Back to the drawing board. At least we had a ton of Chinese silver grass to cover the top of our sukkah once we built it. Another Facebook friend suggested chili pepper lights. I don’t believe we’re going to do that.

So, limited by funds but spurred on by faithfulness, William and I walked up and down the aisles of Home Depot looking for sukkah ideas. We found the prairie-style windows we’d like to have some day, the pegboard for the ribbon rack I want in my scrapbook room, linoleum for the basement room to replace the carpet that was ruined in the flood, and the sink and vanity for the bathroom when we finally redecorate. Nothing remotely sukkah-oriented came into view.

I can’t speak for William, but I started to feel depressed. I wanted so much to keep Sukkot this year, and I could blame only myself for not preparing. Who am I kidding? I also blamed William just a titch. That’s when the idea to build a sukkah between the back of our shed and our maple tree popped into my head. I envisioned something tent-like with an open top covered in the grasses William had yet to cut down. We could sit in our sukkah, eat, and watch the beautiful stars above. One hundred-feet of paracord and two lag bolts with eyes later, we were on our way back home to construct our sukkah.

Will drilled holes in the back of the shed for the bolts, and Joshua used a couple knots learned in Boy Scouts to make two sides of the sukkah. Thelearning-curve-2 paracord was looped around the tree, held in place by a two-by-four and a garden stake to reduce the sag, and I draped mismatched, flannel top sheets over the rope. The sheets were held in place by two clothespins on one side and two clipped hangers on the other. We didn’t use the grasses because the branches of the maple provided the perfect lattice cover.

It’s crude, and the sheets blow around quite a bit, but our redneck sukkah is the perfect place for two camping chairs positioned face to face with enough room for a third if Joshua ever gets a night without an overwhelming amount of homework. William, our collie, Aria, and I enjoyed a dinner of buffalo chicken dip eaten directly from the casserole dish in our sukkah last night. He had to sit a little to the right to block the setting sun from blinding me, but the golden reflection on the maple leaves was quite heavenly. We revisited the sukkah after dropping Joshua off at Scouts, and I must say that the stars looked a little brighter when viewed through the open top of our sukkah.

This Stinks!

One of the best parts of being a parent is getting to torture your teenager. It is why my husband and I were put on earth according to our teen, Joshua. We make his life miserable by expecting him to unload and load the dishwasher, sweep the floors, feed the pets, empty the trash, take out the recycles, keep his room clean, keep himself clean, do his homework, and get good grades. I’m sure you can see what horrible ogres we are.

These requests are usually met with heart-wrenching sighs and occasional eye rolls, sagging shoulders, and shuffling walk as he wanders off to complete this drudgery. This frees up me and the hubby to invent news ways to torture him right out of existence. And sometimes, the opportunities just present themselves in the form of stinks bugs.

this-stinks

Public Enemy Number One

I don’t remember stink bugs when I was a child. I’m sure I would have because the name alone invites ridicule; but truly, these foul little creatures seem to have materialized from nowhere. At the end of summer, just as the temperature is changing to give us frosty mornings, warm and breezy days, and chilled nights, the stink bugs show up. They cover the screens of every window and door, walk around looking menacing, and make the most horrible buzzing noise. I’m not an entomologist, so I assume the stink bugs are looking for a warm place to crash in the winter. Every now and then, one makes its way inside. If I leave the windows down on my car, they climb in. Joshua is terrified of them.

Picture this: I’m driving along one day with Joshua in the passenger side when I spied a stink bug on his side of the vehicle. It took my wicked mind only a split second to devise a plan.

“Hey, Josh? Don’t freak out, but there’s a stink bug on your side.”

“What? Where?”

“It’s moving.”

The brilliant little stink bug must have overheard our conversation because it flew off right on cue. Joshua freaked out, looking all around him for the flying demon. I actually lost sight of it for a moment because I needed to keep my eyes on the road. Joshua, who was seat belted, twisted in his seat peering into the space between his chair and door or between his chair and the center console. I saw the stink bug had landed on the far side of the visor in front of him. It was barely visible from where I sat. The tips of its legs gently curled around the edge of the visor.

“Mom—where is it?”

“Right here.”

I flicked the visor down toward Joshua which sent the buzzing offender flying toward his face. He screamed like a little girl. If I hadn’t been driving, I’d have been rolling on the floor. Then in a microsecond, he managed to unbuckle himself and dive head first between the front seats, landing in a gangly heap in the back.

For the sake of this post, I actually measured the space between the seats: it’s eight inches wide. At the time, Joshua was probably 5’ 10” – 5’ 11”. How he managed to jump from a seated position, fly between the seats without touching either side or the gear shift, and land in the back without breaking something is beyond me. It sure does make for one hilarious post. We never found the stink bug.

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