memory of an aunt

She kept a tidy, minimalist apartment with only the necessities: a simple two person settee, wingback reading chair, side table for library books and her readers, dining table and four chairs, and two extra chairs on either side of a small roll-top desk. In her bedroom, there was a full-size bed and simple chest of drawers, upon which sat a jewelry box lined in purple to house her well-organized adornments- the only pizzazz she allowed herself. In the kitchen, there was a basic set of pots and pans, along with a beautiful four-cup china teapot set she’d acquired on travel group trip to China many years before. For dining, she had she never added to her wedding glassware or china and, like her deceased husband, never did she need replace it.

As she sipped from a delicate etched glass, I would gaze at the scene with awe. In our home there was nothing that perfectly simple. It called to me. How could a drinking glass be art? But there it was, art in the simplest action of one’s day. During lunch, she sipped from the glass and the afternoon sun would glance against the etchings and toss newborn stars across her wall. The Children- my sister and I- were only allowed to drink from the two jam jars she had long ago put aside for our use. It never occurred to me I would one day, in her home, drink from anything besides a jam jar. So on the day she presented me with 12 ounces of icy, orange spiced tea in a glass that birthed stars I was speechless.

She made no comment about the change, simply presented me the glass and gave my shoulder a squeeze. When I was done, I carried my rite of passage to the kitchen without word- washed, rinsed, towel dried and returned the glass to its assigned cabinet. I knew I had done well by this unspoken leveling up, when the next morning I was given juice from a short, delicate green milk glass that she kept well out of reach. My younger sister began to object to not being included in this passage and I stuck my tongue out at her. She took a deep breath that would have turned into a blustery argument at home, but Charlotte simply said, “That’s enough out of the two of you,” and the fight was over. She loved us both so completely and evenly that we never felt the need to compete in her presence. Besides, she wouldn’t have it. Grown folks didn’t behave that way and neither would her nieces.

creating place

I am not a woman who wants to stay in one spot- who nests and is comforted by constant routine. I would much rather be traveling and moving- experiencing this world and all that is has to teach. If I had my druthers, I would travel near constantly- setting up in a place for three or six months to soak up the sounds, taste and histories. I would record as much as I could before moving on to gather new stories and share new experiences from another place chosen by the muses’ whisper in my ear or random spin of a globe I found gathering dust on the shelf of a diner. There would be no set agenda in my wanderings. My ambitions only to talk to people; finding my way into kitchens and learning about food customs; spending days listening to the oldest residents share how the place had changed. Days structured only by mornings filled with writing, afternoons of found conversations, and evenings of processing what had occurred would guide me through this world.

For now though, and forever, I am a mother. I co-parent my child so for eighteen years I will likely stay in one city and the change I crave must be found in different ways. My child and I travel when we can and that is a joy for both of us on so many levels that I never considered. Watching her take in the world is an adventure in and of itself, for my child has shown, from her earliest days, the gypsy blood of her mother shares a strong channel to her heart as well. A wanderer even in her own body, she moves constantly, fidgeting even when sitting still- locked into dreams of travel as she watches National Geographic videos or learning about the world through avenues such as Vox and Now This. Her access to “what’s out there” is beyond what my imagination could handle at her age of eleven. More beautiful is that she has let it be known the videos are not enough- she wants to experience those places. She tells me she wants to find a job that will let her be on the road, but before that she wants to start working as soon as possible so she can save money for travel and buy a “short bus.” She will convert the bus for living and travel that she will do for at least a year before having to get a job after college.

She has told me, “Mama, I want the kind of exciting life you have had, but even more.”

The world is our heart, but for now, here we sit wings clipped by COVID-19. Not by conscious choice, we have both stopped talking about where we want to travel or what new adventures we can go on over the next long weekend. She will be dancing around the house and occasionally just groans really loudly and growls, “I want to go somewhere!” I will ask her where and there is no real answer, “Just anywhere. I need to travel.” I will tell her I understand the feeling and it is hard to be unable to move, but we know that it’s safer for the present. Then we dive back into cooking or reading or writing- searching out microcosms to explore within our confined space.

She often lays on the couch- staring into space, fidgeting with a pillow. When I ask what she’s thinking, the reply is, “Nothing, why do you aways ask me. I’m just sitting here.” I see she is a tween finding her own thoughts and I must patiently wait to be let in. So I am learning to wait. On other days she lays staring, fidgeting, and will let me into her thoughts, “Mama, how much money do you think people spend on sales tax in their lives?,” which leads to a conversation on tax percentages and the fact that our nation has many socialist values, even in the midst of declaring we are capitalist society, and how there is a variance to all political structures. Then she tells me how many tax dollars Trump has spent on putting up his personal guests in his hotels and she wants to know if he’d go to jail if we did ever get to look at his tax records. On another day, she wants to understand why kindergarten isn’t called grade one, because it is really school, so maybe it should be called grade zero because that’s the start of the number line. Her mind is a fertile field of adventures in questions and possibilities.

++

We are about to move from a house-share situation into a 624-square foot cottage, situated on a steep hill, with a back porch built of stone blocks, and a yard full of more weeds and rocks than workable soil. I didn’t find this cottage, my daughter did. After days, no weeks, of pouring over real estate listings. She had shared dozens of properties with me and we had long conversations about why different houses could be wrong or right for us. One day, I finally told her the timing was too far out and I couldn’t handle discussing more houses, I was exhausted by the discussions of “what if.” But she kept up the search. She came to me the next day.

“Mama, can you just look at this one house? It’s new and $100 dollars below our budget.” I moaned in her general direction.
“Make it quick, kid.”

The cottage was so sweet. Built in 1958, clean lines, renovated to reveal high ceilings that followed the roofline, painted white throughout, beautiful hardwood floors and so many windows. Also, very close to the junior high she will attend in fall- hopefully with real-life classrooms and teacher interactions and all the activities she needs to keep her active mind and body engaged. We decided to drive by and look in the windows- after being stuck in our house for weeks, it was at least something to do. The yard was huge and totally unkept. The cottage was so very small, not a grand space to be filled, but a respite to return to at the end of the day. It has so much potential to be an oasis. I wished we needed it at the start of May, but we couldn’t move until the first of June. As we walked to our car, a man came toward us.

“Can I help you with anything?”

I told him we were just looking in the windows of the place- it was for lease. He said, “I know, I am the owner. You want to look inside?” We did. It was perfect. He was delightful and loved that she was about to attend the school down the road- that we wanted a place for at least three years. I told him it seemed perfect, but the timing was wrong. We wouldn’t be ready to move for another six weeks. He said he would talk to his wife and maybe it could work. That weekend we signed a lease. We could move at the end of May and he was okay with me working on the yard in the weeks between. It will be a place we can create adventures even when we can’t travel.

++

Gardening is about creating an oasis- a place to travel into other spaces without leaving the place you are rooted. Within the oasis, a garden grows and with time, you work with the land to create a space that will cycle through its own replenishment. With time and attention, additions of food and scraps that have broken down into nutrient rich compost, you turn dusty rocky soil into fertile planting beds. With gardening, you go nowhere physically, but create new worlds that are always evolving in place.

At this new space, we have be given the opportunity to start building our oasis before we actually move-in and building have we begun. At the front of the cottage, every time I turn over the soil, my shovel hits rock after rock. I am collecting the rocks, stacking them aside, making more room in the ground for rich soil to build itself. The rocks will become edges and we will paint them to make bright markers amidst the plants- warnings that things are growing there so please don’t mow them down. With time, I hope there will be nothing left to consider mowing. We will put in herbs and butterfly beauties and rains will come. Water will seep into soil and plant roots will stretch into the gaps and push into new space. With time, turning over the dirt, adding the nutrients, and water, the earth will call new insects and grubs will know it is a place they can breed and they will add to the land as well. With time, there will be new deep, rich soil in which to grow more and varied plants. We will see new butterflies and more birds, maybe a possum will drink from the saucer of a potted flower. We will eat the foods that grow and reserve a few of their seeds- allowing them to dry and wait out the season before the next season sees them set into the ground. Then, as we give back to the earth, we will ask, in return for our work as her custodians, for another season of growth.

We will read together and learn about herbs for food and healing. What does this part of Texas grow without interference? What do those plants have to share with us? What plants can handle the harsh conditions we have here? What are we willing to nurture and protect because it has a valuable property, but might not appreciate the intense heat that beats our summers down? What is not native, but grows around the world in climates like ours? Where can we travel in the garden we grow?

Like our travels, the oasis we create will not have a set agenda or borders. There will be a few “must do” plants, such as citronella and basils and squashes, but others will be experiments and some are both. The Hill Country okra seeds I just planted is one such experiment. I’ve planted it in front of my bedroom window, not just because it is a great producer, but because it grows tall enough that it will act as a cover for the bottom half of my window. By the end of summer, I hope to look out and see it’s bold flowers and purple streaked pods of green. I will say “thank-you” as I pick them, chop them, and braise them with tomato sauce and thyme taken from another corner of the yard- that spot that could erode, but will become stronger for the roots of the herb. Our little oasis won’t be everything we need, but as I envision what it can be I am not so anxious to find new destinations. As I walk around the yard that is three or four times larger than the little house, I envision the plants taking root, and can almost hear laughter from friends gathered to eat on the back porch- there is no room inside for a large table. Cool breezes rolling down the steep hill that cocoons the back of the property will ease us into staying for another glass of tea and just one more story. In all of this, maybe, just a little bit, I can see a side of me that might be okay with staying in one place for longer than a season.

connection

you are on the road
so I will not ask
when will you be home –
for the road is your heart
and that heart
is what I love.

our love
is not to be
explained,
is not to be
consummated,
it is, simply,
an understanding.

there is a low flame
that draws us back together-
creators of worlds
sayers of truths.

you have a darkness brushed
by light.
I have a lightness
shadowed by demons.

we are two wholes.
you free on the road
me rooted with child.

our love, an understood respect.
creation is our connection.

01/07/2020

yesterday was easter

yesterday was easter
I have confetti in my hair

we visited my family cemetery

against the swift breeze
mother put laundry out to air

stories of sisters arguing over land
they may one day reside inside

two uncles laid at my feet
I poured beer on the blanket
of their decomposed toes

why did you pour out your beer,
my child asked

It’s easter and they are thirsty

young adults

Untangling from the person whose body created you-
the person who projects
how they could’ve done better-
how they wanted to be treated-
onto you.
Telling them, that’s not what I am thinking / feeling / doing.

Even when working to see your child-
stepping back to hear them and give them space-
even when fully accepting them-
still you see how you would’ve or could’ve done differently.

stepping back is so very difficult.
stumbling, apologizing and learning to keep your damn mouth
shut.

learning to let them be them.
watch them become bigger.

sweet moments

Help giving“Help giving” by BournemouthBC is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0


As we talked, I finished the coffee mom had poured for me. I could feel its warmth on my hands. The mug nestled close and becoming a memory of a beautiful day. It was Día de Muertos and we talked of the people who had passed. Her parents and brother, buried in the small family cemetery just across her pasture, I am certain were listening to us. I caught her up on my daughter’s week of school and we chatted about my sister who lives in another state. She told me about the book on tape she’s listening to- reading at night has become hard on her eyes. There was no strife, just love and simple conversation. In these days where she often mentions lapses of memory or joints hurting, it was lovely to simply have a time with no concerns. Those moments are always sacred, but I know will be more so as the next years pass us by.

childhood dreams

What I hate is when I am walking through a park with friends, feeling really on top of life, then I trip over a branch … And my fall is broken when I wake up and find myself trapped in my kid’s bed, arm locked under her sweaty little head and I have drooled all over her favorite stuffed bear. But now I’m awake, at 11pm. I decide to have a bath and a glass of wine.

With ninja-like stealth, I extract myself from her bed and stand up, on our dog. He howls, I cuss, apologize, and shush him all at the same time. As that is happening, I trip over the towel my kid left on the floor after her bath time and stumble into the wall with a thud.

At this point, my kid throws her arm across the bed and dream-sings, “All you’ll ever be is mean,” and I wait for it. That moment where my night goes from finally able to relax to being re-trapped in the cycle of Putting The Child To Bed. But somehow she stays asleep and I send a little prayer to saint Taylor Swift, because her song has made my child’s dream world exciting enough to sleep through the chaos of my parenting and kept her away from dark dreams that are shadows of our reality.

One night, at 7 years old, she woke terrified because she had been left on the side of the highway and I had been taken by the police for speeding. This was in the weeks after Sandra Bland was arrested and soon found dead in her jail cell.

The next truly scary dream came in the midst of the ICE raids in 2017. One night, after listening to coverage on the radio and hearing me talk with friends about documenting the raids, her sobs woke me. From another room, I rushed to her and had to work to wake her from the fear.

“They were taking undocumented immigrants away and we were helping the immigrants, so we were running, too. We were all camped in the woods with the pecan trees. But they found us and people were running and there was a field, so they ran to the field and the people chasing us were spraying a smoke that if you breathed it you would die.”

I held her closer, kissed the top of her head, still damp and sweet with childhood sleep filled with lost innocence, “You are with mama. We are in our house. It’s safe baby. You can finish if there’s more. Let out your story.”

She snuffled hard, took a breath, and continued, “There was also a hole in the ground and my teacher was trying to help people, but there were chains going into the hole. If you fell into the hole, you could only get out if you climbed the chains. But you had to sign a paper with one hand to say you belonged here while you climbed out with the other hand. And there were portapotties and I hid in one. Then, you woke me up.”

Our media culture seeps into the subconscious in some mighty fierce ways. But it is a media that is covering what our world has become. My daughter is ten now and she can ask enough questions to keep her dreams safe, but the fact that she has to ask those questions breaks my heart. The fact that when she was 8 her subconscious figured out that staying in this country as an undocumented person and working to become legal was tantamount to climbing up a chain, out of a pit, with one hand with a toxic gas encroaching on you. The fact that she hears enough reports of police taking people to jail over traffic violations and innocent children being killed or abandoned that she dreamt of being left on the side of the highway. Scared and alone.

As a parent, my one job is to keep her safe and alive – that she may become a good person with a full life. I think I do a damn good job of that, but having to go up against a world full of discrimination and hate makes my job way more complicated.

I’ve had people catch their breath when they learn that she was allowed to see the making of Lord of the Rings at 6 and we started watching Gray’s Anatomy when she was 9. “That’s all so graphic, so adult. She needs to keep her innocence,” they gasped.

I don’t know where these people are getting their news, but from what I’ve experienced, NPR during the 7am drive to school is far more disturbing than make-up artists explaining how they created the Orcs or Meredith Gray laying out the trials of relationships.

updates

That aunt of yours, you know she just rushes through all the time … never having time to talk. She just brought me flowers … wearing little white shorts, showing off her legs. She just wants to show me how skinny she is.

A pause falls as she takes a drag off her morning cigarette.

Mom, I am sure she didn’t pick her shorts out thinking of you.

I hear her sip her coffee.

She probably did! You know how women are … always trying to compete. Trying to prove they are better than you.

Okay mom, it was nice to talk to you … glad you are feeling better. I’ll talk to you later.