Transformation

A few years back on a July rainy evening, Linda, one of our original members for many years prepared a delicious chicken salad with curry on a bed of crisp mixed greens with crusty baguette bread. It was her turn to host and give a writing prompt. She passed around blank greeting cards and Diana, Jackie, and I choose one each to write a story from the artwork. Linda’s theme for each woman pictured on the card was ‘transformation’.

These were to be a complete flash fiction story 1,000 words or less. Here is my ‘transformation’.

I noticed Jolene the day she came into her first yoga class. She was tiny, shy, with a few freckles across her nose and strawberry braids. She didn’t look more than fifteen, although she was married at that age and now twenty-seven.

The instructor starts the soft music and dims the lights. Jolene spreads her purple towel and sits cross-legged, a look of relief gleaming across her face as she shuts her eyes. She wore no leotards, just a pair of cut-off denim shorts, worn threadbare, and a pink t-shirt faded from the sun after many mornings on the clothesline. This didn’t seem to sway her determination to come every week, at the same time as clockwork.

Every now and then, she came to class wearing blue jeans. I simply asked, “Aren’t those uncomfortable to bend in?” She said, “Hadn’t had time to wash.” She was too busy canning beans from the garden her husband made her put in. Found out later too from Martha who lives next door, it wasn’t the wash she couldn’t get done, it was pleasing her husband that couldn’t get done. I started to find out too much from Martha about Zeke. He was careful not to leave any of his bullying above the belt line.

I took pity on the gossip and made a point to talk to her more. I asked one day if she would like to go to a movie sometime.

“No, can’t.”

The following week I asked if she would like to come to church with me on Sunday. Maybe she was more religious than social.

“No, better not.”

A couple more weeks passed, and I asked one afternoon after Thursday’s class if she needed anything from Wal-Mart and wanted to go.

“I have to wait on Zeke to take me.” She frowned a tiny bit and slipped out the door. Martha ambled over to me and muttered, “Humph…that no good husband sees a girlfriend on Thursday afternoon, otherwise poor Jolene couldn’t get out of the house without him knowin’ about it.”

I finally gave up and decided to let it ride. I didn’t want to seem like a pest. Ten months and eleven days later, and mind you, not on a Thursday afternoon class, but a Monday evening class, she came in and had a tiny brown mustache drawn across her upper lip. It curled slightly at the ends and matched the curl of her soft peach lips. No one said a thing.

Jolene snapped her purple mat open, not the old purple towel, and sat down like before, crossed legs, hands balanced on knees, fingers pinched together, closing her eyes. The instructor began with an odd look and the lights dimmed and the warm-up began. Jolene sat in her spot and didn’t move. She didn’t rise to do a sun salutation, downward dog, or even the child’s pose (which fit her to a T). Nothing. Just sat with her little, brown-drawn mustache and a slight smile. The darndest thing I have ever seen.

After class, Jolene stood and rolled up her purple mat and came right over to me. I stared at this little pint-size young woman with the silly mustache drawn on by an eyebrow pencil across her lip and blurted out, “You taking too many hormone pills?” Jolene flipped a long strawberry blonde braid off her shoulder and replied, “Naw, I just finally woke up to take care of some business at home.”

Once we finished and ready to read, Linda turned on the coffee pot and served her fresh made strawberry pie with a huge dollop of whip cream to enjoy while we read our very different stories from the greeting cards artwork. This is a writer’s group evening.

Friendship

A friend can tell you things you don’t want to tell yourself ~ Frances Ward Weller

Friendship isn’t one big thing. It’s a million little things ~ Anonymous.

Friendship is built on mutual respect and trust ~ Stieg Larsson

Strangers at first, we built a friendship word by word. Words we spoke and words we wrote. We learned about ourselves and each other over decades of sharing ideas, personal memories, and experiences. It did not happen immediately. It took time to build our relationship, a bond of trust. There were four of us, Sally, Linda, Jackie, and me, at the core of our writers’ group that lasted years. A few others joined for a brief time and left for a variety of reasons. The group has now run its course, but the friendship endures. Over the years we had many dinners, lunches, and breakfasts together. We shared millions of gut-busting laughs and quite a few tears. We had overnights and out-of-town trips together. We slept on the floor next to each other. We shared beds in unfamiliar cities. We explored cities, towns, and countries, attended workshops, and took classes together. The tapestry of respect and love is tightly woven thread by thread.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about a memory I have of a dinner celebration the three of us, Sally, Linda, and I, had together. We went to a restaurant and in the parking lot we found a token of kindness hanging from a tree, Ben’s Bells. I wrote that I retrieved the token from the tree and had it hanging above my desk as a reminder of that time together. Sally later reminded me that it was she who retrieved the bell from the tree and had it in her studio at home. The next week she gave each of us, Linda and me, a ceramic token in remembrance of that date. The token that hangs above my desk is even more precious to me because Sally wanted us to keep that memory as she did.

I have a great memory for experiences, but I do not necessarily get all the details right. I remember the sensory aspects, the emotions, like pictures in my head that can be easily misplaced in time and space. My husband and children often correct me when I tell a story. Yes, the event or experience happened but it happened in a different place at a different time. I’ve gone to other relatives to corroborate some of my earliest memories. I’m so happy to have witnesses to my life, but it does not preclude my enjoying memories in my own way.

Sally, being the chronicler of our group – she has a scrapbook of all our escapades and calendars kept over time – is the go-to person whenever I want to authenticate a memory. I love that about her. I treasure her ability and willingness to keep things straight. She knows me and laughed when she read the post, then reminded me of the facts. Thank you, Sally, for being my tolerant friend.

Bob Dylan 1963

Pershing Auditorium in Lincoln, Nebraska is being torn down after serving the community with concerts and other large events for sixty-seven years. I was fifteen the first time I stepped into the auditorium to experience the thrill and wonder of musical performances. I owe this to my father, who was clearly a music addict.

He loved music in many genres and purchased album after album, introducing us kids to the world of music. There was Al Hirt with his trumpet, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, their song, Taste of Honey, pounding from a console in our living room as our children and their cousins choreographed a dance they performed over and over, delighted as they filled my parents’ living room with laughter. He bought country records – Eddie Arnold, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell. He raved over Barbara Streisand when her first album debuted in 1963. We listened to classical: Mantovani’s cascading strings, Andre Previn and Henry Mancini. Of course, we siblings had favorites – the Beach Boys, Lesley Gore, the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, and the addition of folk music by Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, the New Christy Minstrels and the inimitable Bob Dylan.

It was Bob Dylan that “wooed” my father to Pershing. In March 1966, while I was at my friend’s house not a quarter mile away, he called. “You want to go to the Bob Dylan concert in Lincoln?” What? Really? A concert?  Of course I wanted to go! He bought tickets for he and Mom, my friend Peggy, and me. 

The night of the concert, I’m pretty certain my friend and I were the only teenagers accompanied by parents. The auditorium was packed with college students that screamed and clapped as Bob Dylan entered the stage, his long, super-curly hair sticking out this way and that, not really a true mullet, but something similar. He finished his hair style with uneven sideburns. During the performance, my father tapped his foot in time to Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone. I was completely mesmerized. No wonder. It was my first concert. But, maybe I was so absorbed because I was inhaling all the marijuana smoke wafting everywhere? I was clueless about that and thought the haze was used for special effect. Visual, not the same special effect it was for all the college students surrounding us. It didn’t matter, really. It became a great motivator to attend many more concerts. Minus parents.

Travel Writing from My Chair

I read many blogs of those who are busy traveling. (https://sarasomers.com/ and

https://ruthtalksfood.substack.com/, to name two.  Places I have not had the privilege to explore, and places I have.

My husband and I have not traveled since 2018 on a fun trip. The few years prior was driving or flying back and forth to Illinois to deal with aging parents and squeeze time in-between to spend with other family members. I believe I was still recuperating from those years and allowed 2019 to pass with no concern, then Covid struck, and so did additional health issues for us. Since then, we have played it safe and kept the term Staycation as active as possible. I don’t fret over this because we spent our entire marriage coming and going all over, local and abroad. We did not believe in waiting for retirement. Let me share San Miguel de Allende.

Have you ever heard rain fall on the moss in San Miguel?  This small colonial city evokes the strongest of emotions in sensory perception; the senses of aging, timelessness, roughhewn stones covered in moss, and rattled vines. The cobbled smooth stones curve and wind up and down that form narrow streets and if on a sidewalk, one has to step in the street when meeting another.  

I think of my first of many trips to San Miguel de Allende with my husband, Allen, and the friends who introduced us to this undeniable jewel. This city is located in the far eastern part of Guanajuato, Mexico a part of the Bajío region, and lies 170 mi northwest from Mexico City, and 60 mi southeast from the state capital Guanajuato.

We stay at a lovely old hacienda called Casa Carmen located a block from the main Jardin, the heartbeat. I will jump directly to the food served by their charming three cooks. Breakfast and lunch were part of the package and rated right along with the high-end of go-to dining in the city. Our first taste of Chiles en Nogada captured the flair of the region on a plate. We requested this dish every time thereafter on our visits.   

The handmade plates held poblano chilies stuffed with ground meat, golden raisins and smothered in a white walnut sauce and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds—green, white, and red.  A Christmas dish favorite in certain parts of Mexico. This lunch was on a mild sunny day in mid-July, close to Allen’s and my anniversary. I have since made this dish at home on special occasions thanks to their willingness to share this splendid recipe and how quickly I have become a fan of pomegranates. These cheery sultry red seeds can dress up any room and how ingeniously they can be used…(fresh strawberries, raspberries, squeezed oranges, tequila, splash of triple sec, pureed with ice, and sprinkled with pomegranates) …now come on here!

One day we hopped on a Segunda Clase (second-rate bus) to take a long day trip to Guanajuato. We knew we had to sacrifice lunch at Casa Carmen and whined about it at breakfast. The three kind women cooks surprised us with a lunch of fried chicken, ham sandwiches, plantains, grapes, and bolillos in paper bags for us to take. (Details of these rides will come in another story). Once off the bus, we walked to the city’s largest market, Mercado Hidalgo which is two stories tall. We found a table outside the market with a bright red umbrella and bought cold cans of Modelo Especial. The vendor snapped open the tab, sprinkled salt on the rim, and squeezed fresh lime juice all over and in the beer. Wow! That first swig was an eye-opener.   

While eating, we noticed a handful of young boys eyeballing us. They kept inching closer and began to point at our meal. We gladly wrapped all the untouched and gave to the small boys. Their eyes lit up like small night fires, and they grappled over the brown sacks and contents. We then roamed through the market, found items to put in our big woven Bolsa bags, and grabbed another cold Modelo for the bus ride back to Casa Carmen.

Every minute of the day was full of the thrill for discoveries, enjoying the delight of a warm culture, taste bud virgins to new types of food, and the gravity that pulled us back year after year. My home is sprinkled with these trips and gave me endless inspiration. I can’t wait to share more and a trip to Delores Hildago when we ended up hitchhiking in the middle of nowhere to find the Talavera pottery factory.  Buenos Dias!

watercolor by Sally Showalter

Summer Legacy Project

Our grandson, Henry, just began his first year of high school. Oh, the nostalgia that bubbled up in me. Our daughter, as a single mom, gave us the opportunity to be a big part of his childhood. Instead of putting him in daycare, she asked if we would be willing to have him at our house during the week while she was working. Willing? We jumped at the chance to be part of his growing up. What a privilege! He was the focal point of each weekday from the time he was one (she stayed home with him for his first year) until he started school full-time at age six. Then he was with us after school and holidays for several years until he was in middle school. Thereafter we became traditional grandparents, seeing him once or twice a week. We have settled into a lovely routine for Sunday mornings – brunch and a visit weekly to catch up on his news.

Final seat wall

For this past summer, Henry spent part of each Friday with us. He had a job Monday through Thursday as a camp counselor at Steam Pump Ranch archeology camp. He had been a camper there for a couple of weeks every summer until he aged out at thirteen.

I had a special project for him. I asked him to build a brick seat wall on our front patio. I wanted a legacy project that would be a permanent part of our house – something he contributed that would be functional for us and would occupy those Fridays. I always wanted more seating for guests on our front patio, a place we sit with coffee or cocktails to look at the mountains and enjoy the activity in the neighborhood. He was in charge from conception to finish. We had final say on design and materials; he planned and built it, and we reviewed it and paid for the materials.

Henry began with internet research – of course, he’s fourteen and everything begins with the internet. He came up with a plan and put it on paper showing us the front, side, and top scheme of what the wall would look like. He made an interlocking pattern for stability. Then he researched materials, where to buy, and what adhesive to bind them together. Finally, he was ready to order materials for delivery. That was a biggy since he was then spending real money. Bricks were delivered (not without drama over missed shipments and duplicate shipments). A pile of bricks then had to be made into a real structure according to his plan. There were only three bricks left over – now I call that great planning.

Measure for sure
Following the plan

Amazing! It worked. He built it just as he envisioned it. Now we have exactly what I wanted, and his brain and hands created it entirely. What a legacy!

Partially built

Exchanges

I recently listened to an NPR interview with an archeologist discussing research she and her peers had completed on hunters/gatherers years ago. They discovered that 80% of the women were also hunters and even had a favorite weapon. Their children were taken with them and learned at a very young age to hunt. The archeologist said that roles for men and women were intermingled and there was no assignment of either-or. It was about survival.

Clearly, my rural family was not considered hunters nor gatherers, but our responsibilities while growing up on a farm in Nebraska were also mixed. It was our mother who sought employment after our cornfield was decimated two years in a row due to hailstorms. She “pulled up her bootstraps,” as she liked to say, took a typing and shorthand class and applied for a job at our small bank. She worked there over forty years. At the same time, our father worked the cornfields once again, hoping for summer rains, minus hail. He “put up” hay for the animals’ winter feed, kept the machinery running, a constant job, and took care of us kids while Mom was at work. He wasn’t really babysitting; it was more taking us with him to work the fields. 

When Mom arrived home from work at 3:00, Dad drove the pick-up to the house and they both drank a big cold glass of sun tea. Mom changed into working clothes, tended garden to prepare for canning fruits and vegetables, while Dad hoed the weeds and helped pick green beans. On the weekend, they dressed chickens with Dad killing them, pulling the feathers and Mom dressing them. At 5PM, they headed to the barn for the evening milking while we kids fed the cows, baby calves and loud squealing pigs. 

During holidays, both worked at fitting a big turkey into the roaster. Mom made the rest of the sides and pies. Dad made a load of different types of candy. All of us cleaned the house for the upcoming event. This lobbing of back-and-forth roles was just natural and without it being said, we all understood that helping each other and doing what was needed to survive was just a way of life, one intermingled. “That’s a man’s job,” or “a woman’s job,” just didn’t surface in our home. I’m glad it didn’t. It certainly tamped down ideation on defining who and how someone should be. 

Crusty Writing

Raw edges. Holes in the middle one can peek through. Burned pieces sifted through. Having just finished Abigail Thomas’ latest book, Still Life at Eighty, she once again confirms to me she is a crusty broad.  “I write to see what the back of my mind is doing while I’m doing nothing.” What she does is write. A lot. Now at eighty-two, I hope she has something more for us readers. She says when something catches her eye or keeps cropping up, she writes. These bits and pieces don’t have to get dressed up for the occasions because she explains she is distilling, not decorating. She flat out writes what she is figuring out or figured out, or just plain excepted. I so admire her jagged quality and her style is considered to be passionate and with unwavering honesty.

Her go-to is The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots. In one of her short chapters, entitled Death, she goes to this book when she is stumped with a word. She describes what she finds, or thinks she finds because she can’t find her glasses and the light is dim. For a brief ecstatic moment, she thinks dead evolved from the verb flow, to rise in a cloud. She thinks how fun to open a window and evaporate like a mist. She then puts on her glasses and discovers she mistook dheu2 for dheu3 and writes, ‘…damn it, dead has always been just dead. Of course, it has. Dead is dead is dead and there is no story here…one day I will be as dead as a doornail, and what will that be like? Well, I’ll be dead. Dead is an ugly word. I don’t mind death, it rhymes with breath, even if it’s the last.’  Crusty.

Another favorite is Jim Harrison. I saw a movie made in 1990, Revenge, based on a story by Jim Harrison. This movie is crusty, raw, and jagged. A romantic thriller tragedy starring Kevin Costner, Madelin Stowe, and Anthony Quinn. James Gammon (Major League; Nash Bridges) plays the crustiest character I have seen in a very long time. For many years I searched in every possible bookstore, online, even called the Chamber of Commerce in Patagonia, Arizona where Jim lived part of the time to write. I figured I could weasel my way into a meet. He was still alive and writing, one of which, The English Major, 2008, is on my desk to read next. More years passed and each time I watched the movie my desire to have this book would flare up and a search continued. I wanted to read the ‘written story’, not the Hollywood version.

One day in early 2021 while reading a newsletter online, novellas are mentioned along with Jim Harrison’s name and a book entitled, Legends of the Fall, which contained three novellas of his. On Amazon, I opened the look inside, and the first story is Revenge. All these years I thought Revenge was a stand-alone novel, not a novella hidden away among two other short stories. I was ecstatic, just as Abagail must have been when she thought she would float away. (PS – novellas are beginning to be of great interest in my writing world).

Both of these superb authors have influenced my thoughts on writing. As in Abigail (memoir), who writes through the confusion for clarity to find meaning when meaning is hard to come by, and Jim (fiction) who nails nuances of character and honest complexities of storytelling.

These two are darn, good crusty writers.   

Things That Matter

In the hustle bustle of our everyday life, we lose sight of things that matter, even if they are right in front of us.  I was attempting to clean up my office area in the library/cat grotto. It is one of those tasks that never really ends, just begins – again and again. I get it mostly done then find something I meant to read or something I want to ponder or write and there goes an hour or two. By the time I’ve come back to the task, I’ve lost momentum and the remaining mess is shuffled to a corner until tomorrow or mañana, whichever comes first.

Along the way, I rediscover treasures. They are treasures of the heart. Part of the beauty of having a special place of my own to write, read, and think is that I surround myself with what my husband calls stuff. Photos, cherished books, posters, artwork, and objets d’art that have meaning for me. If piled all together they wouldn’t have the market value of a head of lettuce.

On the wall above my desk is a homemade birthday card from my grandson when he was eight or nine. Homemade in every respect. He made the paper and then printed the greeting on it. It reads Happy Birthday Grandma. You have a heart of pure – there he glued some gold fragments in the middle of the paper. It is signed Love Henry. There is no currency that can equal the value of that piece of handmade paper.  

On the wall next to it is one of Ben’s Bells that I found one evening when I was out with friends. It is a pay-it-forward symbol of intentional kindness. The story behind it is of a two-year-old boy who died suddenly in 2002. His grieving mother and family began making ceramic wind chimes to heal their grief. They were joined by others who helped. Four hundred bells were made and distributed around Tucson in random places on the first anniversary of Ben’s death. The one I found was hanging on a tree branch in a restaurant parking lot – it says “Be Kind”. Thousands of people joined the effort to make and distribute the bells. The movement grew as a non-profit educational program of kindness in schools and businesses all over the world. Every school I’ve been to around Oro Valley has a kindness program with the Ben’s Bells logo at the center of it. The green Be Kind symbol is displayed on school walls as a reminder. Awards are given at the end of the year to students who have displayed kindness toward others.

Those are just a couple of items that make my fortune more valuable than gems, or gold, or silver.

Sixteen Paws

Dog-sitting can be quite a fiasco. Our daughter and family travel quite a bit and we babysit their three dogs at their home, taking our own Rusty with us. We might stay at her house anywhere from two nights to two weeks. The dogs are quite a mix. Of course, any animal lover knows their pets have distinct personalities. Our “herd” does also.

First comes our ten-year-old Rusty. Of course, his name gives away his color. He hates sleepovers and is not fond of staying anywhere but in his own home, own bed and with his own parents, being us. When we are dog-sitting and intend to run a few errands, even before we’ve reached the car, Rusty has jumped off the living room couch, scrambled through the doggie door, charged down the deck stairs, run to the five-foot fence, jumping over it, swifter than a deer and meets us at the car. His message clearly, “You’re not leaving me here!”

Second, there’s Piper. A seven-year-old lab, a rescue of unknown mix, clearly the slacker of the bunch. Our daughter lives on five acres next to neighbors who own four mules, a horse and goats. Any bray from the mules that reaches the dogs relaxing inside and the three of them charge out the doggie door, scrambling over each other as they bark all the way down the deck steps to check out the mule status as to who did it. Piper? She stays curled up on the couch, raises her head and just watches them tear outside with her soft, dark brown eyes and contrasting tan eyelashes. If she could talk, I’m sure she’d say, “fools.”

Third in line is Rocky, a five-year-old and pure-bread Australian shepherd with black and light gray fur, brown legs with white socks and one blue and one brown eye. He’s clearly the sovereign king alpha of the clan. I do mean alpha. He and Rusty abhor each other and keep a good amount of distance away from each other. More like a big circle. If per chance they mistakenly enter each other’s territory, Rocky’s eyes narrow as if looking directly into the sun and Rusty rumbles a low growl, a ludicrous move on his part, considering Rocky could take him down with one paw behind his back. It’s a stroke of luck Rocky doesn’t, allowing Rusty to continue living in his delusional world of believing it’s him who’s the tough guy. 

Last, but not least, is Milo, their nearly three-year-old mini-Australian shepherd. He’s small and full of personality. A canine Johnny Carson, he has dark and light brown splotches all over his body. Milo’s white legs have a few small brown spots dotting them from his knees on down. His eyes are light blue and constantly scouring the household for food of any color, texture or taste, wrappers included. We’ve all learned to never leave food on the table nor anywhere else within his short stature reaching distance. However, he’s quite adept at using chairs or footstools to reach his goal. A warning: If you leave your plate to quickly grab a glass of water, salt, pepper, etc., before the time it takes to yell his name, your food disappears, like magic. Only it’s not, it’s Milo. But he’s so darn cute with his bobbed tail, he’s quickly forgiven. 

Like I said, the herd of dogs are something else, pure entertainment. Though my husband and I would much rather sleep in our own bed, Rusty included, we are always willing to watch our daughter’s dogs, especially me. It’s a little piece of heaven, being with four dogs, all at one time. And now, as a volunteer, I’m going to get ready to head to a puppy rescue near me. Pure delight!