It was a 14 hour drive one way from here to my hometown of Paullina, Iowa.
That’s a long drive.
A long drive gives all sorts of time for self-reflection. Breathing space. Time to saunter aimlessly through childhood memories. Hour after hour and mile after mile of looking out the window at what’s growing in the fields between here and there.
It’s not just that my youngest brother passed away, and we buried his ashes in the graveyard at the Quaker Meeting House and sang a song for him. It’s not just that I visited the family farm again after many years, or talked to Bruce and Carol and Lowell and Eunice, among many others, whom I haven’t seen forever.
And it’s not just that I drove to Gaza, a tiny town where I went to grade school, to see that the building has been bulldozed into a pile of unrecognizable rubble.
Or that I walked down to the gravel pit where we played and swam on Sundays while growing up.
Or that the view of Uncle Orren and Aunt Florence’s home is overgrown with brambles, untrimmed trees, leggy bushes and tall weeds.
Or that my family and I dropped by to see my High School speech teacher on a whim and she welcomed us with open arms. She told my Mom and Dad that she wasn’t, of course, allowed to favor students for any reason, but in retrospect, she was admitting front and center that she secretly favored red heads. My five brothers and sisters and I were all red heads, and we adored her and knew full well that she adored us. And we knew, too, that pretty much every kid in school was a red head to her.
It’s not just one experience in my hometown that changed me yet again, tugged at my heart strings and opened my heart, or molded my cup of life in yet another way — it’s many experiences, all piled together, all of the above, and more.
I took photos and looked on in wonder at the difference between my memory of my past surroundings and the actual size and shape of things now. I stood by the rows of now ever present sky high and wide-as-the-world grain bins that are in every town. They weren’t there when I was young.
But they stand everywhere big as Moses now.
And by the time I arrived back in North Carolina, my now home, my experience of life had re-arranged itself into a new inner world order so to speak. Some ideas or priorities had fallen away somewhere along the journey home, some have grown. What I was most touched by were the people I grew up with, went to school with, and went to Quaker meeting with every Sunday. Their generosity and kindness run deep.
And I am a better person from having been raised there, for having left there, and for going back to visit there.
Thank you, my Iowa. Thank you, my Iowans, where the tall corn grows. I’m tippin’ my pretty green cap to all of you.
My youngest brother passed away on June 5th, 2010, after a year long bout with cancer. He was only 50. It is said by some that we have full view of our entire life before coming into this physical world. I’m not sure why someone would opt for a short life. It doesn’t make any sense to me, and I’m going to miss him.
He was a slender, red-headed jeweler, with a shop full of gold and diamonds. He seemed to love working with jewelry and worked long and diligently to be able to open his own retail shop.
After word came that he had passed, my husband and I sat still and just looked at each other. There’s not much to say when someone leaves.
They are gone, and it’s sad.
However, almost instantly, the sadness lifted.
“How strange is that?” I thought.
All the worry and anguish and heart ache surrounding his departure just got up and left — suddenly! What a surprise! Never had I expected to feel instant, well — happiness — upon his passing.
It felt a little strange.
This feeling of elation in the middle of all the sadness was so striking to me that I wondered if I was tuning into him. If so, he was surely in a happier and more expanded state!
You should know before I go any further that for most of my life, my brother and I struggled to relate. We didn’t agree on much, and locating common ground for a conversation was a bit challenging, even awkward. As the years passed, we’d simply avoid conversations about a subject that was even remotely controversial.
It was just easier that way. We could always talk about the weather, so to speak.
In the last year of his life, when he was ill, we found two subjects we could always talk about: Singing and Sunsets. I used to record little mp3’s for him and send them to him. He seemed to appreciate them. Once I recorded “Bridge Over Troubled Water” for him, and other times I sent improvisational pieces that were prayerful, meditative and reassuring.
One evening when he was in pain and seemed to be wondering about how everything was going to turn out for him, he called me and said, “Tell me about the sky tonight where you are. Is it beautiful?”
So I went outside and sat on the well and told him that earlier that evening, we had set up the high powered telescope to look at the four largest moons of Jupiter. It happened to be a spectacularly crystal clear sky, and all the stars were especially beautiful that evening. My brother and I talked for a long time.
So after his passing, I headed down stairs in my home to a room where nobody was, just a nice big open space, and I started to sing. Not a song, not a melody, just long notes of sound to soothe my soul. I let the sound take me wherever it wanted to go. Singing like this is a way to center myself, let go, and express whatever is there.
It felt like a good thing to do at a time like this…
So there I was, getting warmed up for a good and expressive singing lesson, and I swear on a stack of Bibles — my brother was a man of faith– that he appeared in front of me, happy as can be, and began to playfully direct my singing.
This was out of character for him. In life, he was much more serious than that, much more reserved.
After wondering for a moment if I was just crazy, or if I had an over-active imagination in this time of stress, I just went with it. I began to follow his conducting.
With a big smile, his right arm shot up in the air and I’d sing that note. Then he’d waver that hand a bit and I’d do a trill. I followed every nuance. I’d waffle the sound to go right along with his indication, he’d smile and then swoop to the next note. Then he’d change sides, go high, go low, go medium, and it all sounded beautiful to me. Part of the time I was laughing so hard I could hardly sing.
Then there was the crying….
I was so touched that he would visit me.
He was joyful and utterly, completely free — fully liberated and totally expressive, without a concern in the world. And he also looked really attractive and young and happy, just like any guy who is being fully himself does.
I was beside myself with joy and gratitude. It felt heavenly to be with him in this way, and I admit that I always wanted him to be more open and light-hearted when he was alive. Now, in this moment, I was just grateful that I got to experience him in this happy place…
I don’t know how long this went on, probably 20 minutes or so, but I’m just guessing, because there was no sense of time anymore.
I moved through more emotional spaces than I can even begin to describe. He finished conducting, gave me a wave, and off he went.
I sat for a while, reveling in the experience.
Then I walked upstairs and while preparing dinner, I noticed the sunset was beginning to be especially beautiful. Inspiring sunsets are a regular occurrence here and we look forward to them every evening.
But it got crazy beautiful!
With every bite of dinner, the colors of the sunset became increasingly spectacular, and they kept changing — radically and in no small way. We’d take a bite of food, and stop midway with fork poised, and exclaim about the stunning sight before us.
“Wow, look at that!”
“Whoa, who thought it could get even more beautiful! But it just did!”
We had never seen so many big color changes and variations in one evening.
We started to laugh and decided it was Calvin saying hello in another way that I would understand. Who knows if that could be possibly true… but it sure is fun to think about it that way!
We’d eat another bite or two and then stop to take another photo of Calvin having a little fun in the sky. It seemed as if he kept changing his mind about what to paint — oh, let’s try THIS!!! OOOO- what if we added a little salmon across the middle…..
Play with pastel stripes...
Or brighten it up a bit?
Add some intensity ...
Add some mist just for fun...
And I haven’t heard from him since. That fantastic sunset was his final bow apparently.
And it was a stunning one.
Goodbye, dear brother.
I’m down. I’m out. I can’t move. I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.
A big darn truck.
Perhaps the world’s largest — like this one in the photo. If you look closely, you can see actual humans standing next to the tire, and they only come halfway up the tire.
That’s how I feel about now, dwarfed by this big darn truck.
But my truck wasn’t sitting all polite and quiet and engine-ready. No, mine was moving and I went, well, under it.
I have some theories about my state of being. You see, I moved last summer, and I moved across the country. All the way from the west coast to the east coast. Why not go all the way while you’re at it, right, and why not with a husband, daughter and 4 animals (yes, they were small… no Doberman’s or Mastiff’s in the car).
It was no small feat, however, first — to get out of town — and second, to drive with 3 dogs and 1 cat (in one already packed-to-the-gills car) on the long road to a brand new life.
I should have made a video for Ellen DeGeneres. It would have won awards, I’m sure. Especially when the cat (who had been comatose in an impossible position under the driver’s seat, refusing to eat or drink while we drove) thought 3 am in the pet-friendly hotel room was a good time to play. Loudly. I have never had so little sleep in my entire life. At least he was entertaining, which saved his life.
Then 8 months later — oops, I did it again. Not across the country again, no! But I moved. (Am I nuts??)
I do know for sure that I’m tired.
There is something about moving that is much worse and than all the lifting and carrying. There is something way beyond the extra exercise you get picking up your stuff and putting it in the moving truck.
I don’t really know what it is.
Is it sorting everything? Sure, how could it not be? Is it decision-making overload? Heck yes. Is it the emotional ripping and tearing that goes on? Of course.
Add it all up and you’ve got the exponentially negative effect of moving.
Wham. That’s my head hitting the pillow….
Who knows if there some cure, some antidote, some fixer-upper magic for the movin’ blues?
That’s a quote from e.e. cummings, and it’s true about our weather now. Yesterday, we barely made it up the hill and it’s supposed to start to rain….more.
My car will make you smile. Take a look.
Beautiful, don't you think?
My car used to be all shiny when I lived in Southern California.
I’m thinking mud facials, mud baths, mud parties…
And if it’s not the mud this winter, it’s the wind and the snow — the most snow in 10 years — and the biting cold, the unusual temperatures for Asheville — it’s the coldest it has been in 30 years.
Wow — I moved here from sunny California just in time to enjoy it all.
As I write now, the winds are high, and the gusts are heaving huge rows of leafless trees to the left…..pause and re-group… and then to the left again. The wind is whistling.
It’s quite the winnie the pooh kind of blustery day!
It reminds us all, in case we should possibly forget, that Mother Nature is always in charge.
This is the daily reminder that I wanted from her. This is why I moved to the mountains.
Appreciating weather and four real seasons again after living in sunny California for so many years takes some getting use to. I’ve decided, in retrospect, that in California there are really no excuses for not getting work done, except “It’s sunny outside and I just had to go to the beach for a long walk.”
My friends in California want to know what I’m doing with my time in Asheville.
I’m dealing with weather.
Where I Sit When It's Warm Outside...
This is not something Ashevillians are use to, or so they tell me. Usual winters include a week or two — max — of below freezing weather. This current cold streak is apparently the coldest it has been in Asheville in 30 years and we haven’t seen the end of it.
I can tell you one thing. Time does not fly when it’s cold.
And then there’s the snow question. When I moved here this past summer, I was regularly informed from multiple (and confident) sources that snow in Asheville was not a big deal at all, and that typically it might snow an inch or two — three at the most — and that it was gone in a day.
Apparently we moved here just in time to see a brand new COLDER AND WHITER Asheville, because our first snow was 17″. We live at the top of a steep hill, and were snowbound for a week. You should have seen our first trip DOWN the hill. Mr. Toad’s wild ride….
And then it was another week before we could get back UP the hill, so we would hike down to the car, go buy groceries, and hike back up the hill. Sure makes you think about what you’re buying….
It’s OK. I just didn’t expect that regular living would take quite so much work.
(Including the work of having ongoing flashbacks to my wood-burning, wood-carrying, “staring-at-the-temperature-gage-from-the-bathroom-window-which-reads-twenty-below-zero” winters in Iowa where I grew up. But that’s another story.)
I can only imagine the brave souls who endured the pioneer days and the daily grind of keeping warm and eating. And where did they get their warm clothes and footwear? Did it come by horse and buggy to their town? By train? What if they didn’t have the right size? Did they wait another month for the next delivery of warm coats? And did they knit their own socks by the fire during long dark evenings? Heck, I don’t know.
But I can tell you I do have a new appreciation for boots and warm socks here!
Speaking of socks, do you know what it means to “darn a sock?” When my father’s socks got holes in them, we didn’t buy new ones. We mended them. My mother taught me how to put a light bulb up inside the sock (it’s lightweight and the needle slides right over the smooth surface of the bulb), thread a very big needle with darning floss, and mend it. First you make rows across the hole, then you weave the thread the other way, and vwaaaa-la. You have a sock with no hole.
But I digress.
Even the outdoor creatures are cold. This morning a mouse found its way into the warm (relatively speaking). I don’t know if one of my cats brought him in or if he just saw the doggie door and went for it. My suspicions are in the direction of dear young Bella, the enthusiastic new feline hunter.
Anyway, right along with making the fire and brewing up some coffee, I had to catch the little gray guy in a towel and send him back out to find the warmest place he could. I felt bad, even for a mouse, but I’m at least he’s used to this survival stuff.
Here’s what’s going on at my house in Asheville. We’re renting, and just for our winter entertainment I’m sure, a little drama is going on with the family who owns this property. One of the landowners passed away, and now there is a mad scramble because the one in past control, is no longer in control. The power and say-so about the house and the land is now divided.
In some kind of effort to punish her children, she emptied bank accounts, cancelled family cell phones, and ran off to another country with the money and a big attitude which, granted, was not developed over night.
No, this drama has been building for years. The really silly part is she already nabbed a well-to-do husband there who provides everything she needs. The human race is an interesting species. This woman is like the obsessed squirrel who keeps gathering nuts, even though there are plenty, even for a long winter.
Oh, and she stopped paying for certain things, including our utilities.
Shall we say this makes my life more survival based than I had planned? Yes. My day today is about keeping warm. The children have stepped up to the plate, but even so, our propane delivery is days overdue, the tank is almost empty, and the delivery guys say they are coming, but meanwhile, I’m building fires in the wood stove to keep warm. Several days ago, I turned the heat down to 50 degress in one part of the house, and I don’t open the french doors to the land of the frozen — the kitchen — unless I have to make something hot to drink or see about food.
Excuse me, I have to go put more wood in the stove. I’ll be right back.
Ok, getting warmer now! Ahhhhh….
When there’s no family drama going on, there are other ways nature creates a little survival drama. First, there’s some kind of storm and the electricity goes out. Pretty often, actually. When that happens, there’s no heat because the furnace needs electricity to kick on, and no water because the pump is electric.
Oh, the joys.
Well, in any good crisis there’s always irony. Here’s one. My electric dryer is running. I’m watching wonderful, heavenly, moist, warm, steamy good heat going by my office window. I would give anything to have the strength and where-with-all to pull the dryer away from the wall (my hubby is on a business trip) and vent all that good moist heat INSIDE.
If I could do that, I’d be enjoying indoor tropical weather right now…
My Wood-Carrying Helper
‘Scuse me. I have to put my heavy clothes on, my wool socks, my boots and hat…well, you get the idea. And tromp out to the big tree with my new best friend, the red wheelbarrow, where the scrap wood is and bring some more in here because my inside pile is getting low.
Hey, it’s good exercise. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. Then I think I’ll have soup for breakfast. It’s WARM. And I’m going to eat it right out of the pan so it stays HOT.