Package Full of Memories

 

Today’s post contained a peace offering from my younger, shorter, smarter and angrier little sister.

Carefully wrapped in brown paper was an old cigar box; it once held 25 cent cigars, individually wrapped in cellophane, their foul aroma lingered, this had been Dad’s.

I opened the lid, held tight by a small, sharp now rusted nail.  Glued to the inside of the lid was a picture of a half-naked brunette, pornographic by 1959 standards, with braids, a head band, arms crossed to cover most of her ample breast and wearing a fringed loin cloth.  It was a copy of a Vargas painting that had been cut from one of Dad’s Playboy’s.

And there it was…my heart, the book of questions.  A small black book, 3” x 5” five ring binder and on every other page a question, questions asked by Grampy Vogt.  “You’ll have to give these some thought, Mikey.  When you answer some, they’ll make you smile, some you may want to share with the world and others…well, those will be the answers you will be looking for.

“There are sixty questions.”

The extent of my depression is such that there are unimaginable gaps in my life, some are over years and looking back over an emptiness like that; to keep from going totally mad, I fill the voids with stories, stories that are consistent with the scars that cover my body and my mind.

Holding this book in my hand; I remember that conversation as if it were this morning, “Grampy, what if I don’t know the answers…where will I find them?  Mom and Dad think I should have a Britannica for high school, will that help?  Do you want me to give you the book back when I’m done, and you can grade me?”

“You keep the book, and there will never be any grading, not between you and me.”

The first question:

How would you define eternity?

I don’t have to look at what I had written, I knew the answer.  I had used and abused this wording so many times, that it’s now etched in my brain.  I don’t know if I read this, someone may have offered a direction; but I was 15 when I first used this, in a love letter to a 14 year old girl describing how my love would endure.  I used it again when 17, sitting on a rock in front of Walter Colton Junior High, holding hands with Jeanette DeH.

Once, every thousand years, a crow is born on a windblown rock of an island off the coast of Ireland, this single crow is born with a destiny; it must fly to the moon and seek out a single mountain on the moon’s dark side.  This mountain dwarfs Mt. Everest and is a single piece of granite.

This crow flies to the top of this mount, unseen by any man in all of history and sharpens his beak and returns home.

When those crows have worn the mountain down to dust; that is passing of but a fraction of a second in eternity.

New Neighbors ‘Round the Weed Garden

 

 

Warm sunny day so the SWMBO has a honey-do list.

This winter past was unnaturally cold (for Georgia) and many of our ornamental shrubs and dwarf trees didn’t make it; most notably two fifteen year old gardenia bushes.  Each was four feet by four feet by four feet, a thick tangle of branches stripped of their leaves and brittle like old bones.

I cut back the branches to gain access to the roots.  I was set to unearth a shrub that had brought such pleasure.  Have you ever been near a gardenia bush when it is in full bloom?  These bushes were growing under the two windows in our living room, there was honey suckle growing under the kitchen window, I mean who needs Fabreeze.

Buzzing round my head were a dozen or so bumble bees.  There was not a flower to be found in all the yard, nothing was blooming in the weed garden and that was fifty feet away.  I greeted them, hospitably, and excused myself as I must finish my tasks if I hoped to survive the night (the SWMBO writes her honey-do lists in blood, mine).

One young and rather pleasant bee suspended itself not three inches from my nose, as only a bumble bee can, and when he was certain he had my undivided attention, he dropped to the ground and walked on a small piece of unearthed root.  He took to flight once more, circling the hairy twig then four of his companions joined in.

When they were certain that I got the message, they flew in mass to another branch lying on the grass and repeated their method of messaging.

The SWMBO had other plans for the garden under the window and gardenias were no part of it, but bumble bees and butterflies only talk to fairies and fools and I was sure I got the message.  Today, there are two small gardens, one above and one beside the weed garden, each contains a twig blessed by bumble bees.

And if there was any doubt that there would be gardenias once more to perfume the air as I take my morning coffee; as I watered the new arrivals; a small blue butterfly rested on each new mound and then flew directly to my mud laden boots and then to the brim of my old straw hat, flapping her wings as if to cool me.

It’s going to be a wonderful time at the weed garden; the SWMBO wants me to dig up the crepe myrtle and get rid of it, it died…I went to the little dwarf and it almost giggled as it unfolded a few new leaves.  The weed garden is going to be a wonderment.  Well…its always been a delight to me.

Weed Garden

 

I love my weed garden (there is not a single cannabis plant to be found).  I am the only human in the house that shares this sentiment.

Over the years I have planted trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials around the house and throughout the yard.  Digging here is much like anywhere in Georgia; there is red clay and there are rocks, rocks of every size, shape and mineral imaginable.  The rocks went into a pile; I called it, my pile of rocks.

On one particularly hot summer day, four years ago, I envisioned a rustic rock wall, along the culvert that made an eight foot deep cut into the little hill that is my back yard.  The culvert runs for about a hundred feet before sliding into the five foot diameter drainage pipe beneath the lane.

It was an ambitious plan and after careful thought and a chilled beverage, I scaled back my vision of a wall to about twelve feet.  Even so, it was still a lot of rocks to move.

As happens with many of my visions, things changed.  The wall I envisioned moved from the top of the hill; I carved instead into the bank and stacked the stones.

Just beyond the top of the wall was every imaginable natural, wild growth to be found in Georgia.  One year the rains carried blackberries, blackberries that grew in grand proliferation; to the delight of the neighbor’s children as they approached the brambles with buckets and visions of jams and pies.  The storms came and as storms are want to do, they brought change; the blackberries were soon replaced with fragrant honeysuckle (and poison oak, not the best year).

It was that year of the ‘fragrant itch’, in late spring the wall evolved, into a garden.  The pile of rocks all but disappeared and became three small, terraced sections, bordered by rough stone walls.  Taken as a whole, the garden was shaped like a leaf.

I turned the earth, that wonderful Georgia red clay, and added fresh soil and turned it again.  I planted… wild flowers. In a few short weeks, tall, gangly green plants had pushed through the soil and raised their heads of yellow, orange, blue and red to the summer sky; and then the fun started.  Bumble bees from three counties took up residence, along with a host of butterflies and by early July, the humming birds.

I took to having my morning coffee; sitting on the wet grass beside the garden, the new inhabitants took little or no notice of me even the feral gerbils that had burrowed their way in (chipmunks).

Today, once again, the SWMBO, informed me that the garden, like my unkempt hair was “unbecoming” and had to go.  One is going all too fast on its own, the other…not by my hand, if however she wished to disassemble it…

As it is every Spring Season, the garden is overrun with weeds and leaves from the old sycamore that had at last surrendered to the assaults of wind and lightening.  Vines of various types had worked their way up from the culvert and through the cracks in the wall; some moved the stone in sections and that part of the wall would be redone and others anchored the stones in place, like a living thing.

Familiar earth, rich and black, turning easily, as a familiar shovel blade cut into it, weeds give up their hold, for a season.  Soon I’ll sit quietly in the grass and listen to the sweet music from my little weed garden.  And I’ll smile, a lot.

Peace out, pilgrimsImageImageImage

Untitled (which is a title actually, isn’t it?)

It’s taken me six days to remember how to breathe; and I’m still trying to master sleep.

At this point I will issue a product warning:  this is the season of Lent, a time when I reviewed all the things that I might give up; chocolate is a favorite, ice cream (that’s a biggie), when I was younger; sex (solo and shared).  This has ben a year of changes and reflections; this year I was going to take more on: more prayer (10% of my day, 2.5 hours), teaching Sunday School…giving, not taking on.  So I prayed on it, right?

Answered prayer is a bitch.

I am with the octogenarians, parents to my wife, the SWMBO.  I asked to do this(?).  Mom has been diagnosed with a cancer; it has metastasized to her spine…limiting her movement in shoulders, arms and hands and has brought on pain, pain of a level she had not known before.

Now let’s us introduce pain meds, fun for a day or two and then the hallucinations, the falling and an unpleasant disposition.

We’ll add in a heavy dose of denial, “mini-strokes” and the onset of dementia.

Do, do be sure you ask for what you want in prayer.

Communication is a challenge;  Drs. don’t recognize my status, they talk to Mom, I remind her of the conversations and I’m a liar, Dad’s in the room, physically.  “Dad, do you understand what we are going to be doing?”

“What’s on tonight?  Tues is NCIS?”

“It’s Friday”

“Mom, we have to be at the Interventional Radiologist’s office in half an hour, have you got everything?”

“I don’t want to go, I don’t need to go, I’m strong.”

“If you walk away from this fight without the weapons they’ll give you…you’ll be weaker in spirit and body and you will lose.  And you may very well die.  It will kill you.”

“Give me your hand and we’ll go get you signed in”

“I hate you.  No one is going to run my life.  Don’t treat me like a child.”

“I know…you can call your insurance company and see if they will cover a care giver you like…after we get you signed in”

Dear readers,

Did you know that there are things YOU can do to help a cancer patient, their family and care givers endure the time before, during ad after treatments.

Every treatment center waiting room has a book exchange with very limited numbers of old, for the most part tasteless, paperbacks.

You’re writers, artists and readers; collectors, gather books; stand up at your Starbucks and ask.  For those that are truly bold, volunteer yourself for twenty minutes a month and make sure that the two shelves on a small book case has something to offer…maybe your new tome.

Answer someone else’s prayer, qietly let them know that someone cares when they may in doubt.

Peace out

mw

Who/What Am I Today

The daily question: What am I going to do tomorrow.  How stupid is that?

0500, the SWMBO is showering, preparing for another day in the “orifice”.  The kids ; fed, moderately played with, walked and soon to be neglected for the balance of the day as I sneak away…to meditate…to meditate on the question: should I continue my studies to become a meditation instructor?  How stupid is that?

My turn to prepare for the outside world; the donning of the distractions; ornate rings on either hand (two for the right one for the left), several bracelets, leather and wood, outlandish socks, poly-chrome shoes, stylish cane and always a hat.  Always an odd old bird, but few see the tremors, the twisting and jerks, or so I like to think.  Like a four year old that makes himself invisible…by covering his eyes. How stupid is that?

This morning its take the octogenaria to the hospital, more tests…still no answers

I’ll wait ’til tomorrow to answer all my questions.  Really, just how stupid is that?

Illustration: Calligraphy-Zen Art by Qiao Sen

CalligImage

The Major and Darcy Weaver, Chapter One

Every self help group in the world would have you list all of your accomplishments.  I have limited myself to: being able to fold a fitted sheet.

When time and tides swept me in to the mire of madness and depression and a string (a small string) of hospitals and treatments; I left behind my young son.  He didn’t and doesn’t understand doesn’t know me.

That was forty years ago.  Forty years ago I penned a series of fairy tales.  In those very simple, crude tales I told him about all the things that I, truly, believed in, what I valued and what I hoped to leave him.  He never received them, but I’ve carried them in my head and my heart for forty years; and oh how they have grown.  I hope that for you, they will have a life of their own.  I do know that they were always intended to be shared.

The Major and Darcy Weaver

“Miss Weaver,” the Major spoke to the young woman’s back.  Expecting a more immediate response to his address, he raised his voice to a more commanding tone, a more comfortable tone, for a Marine Corp officer, “Miss Weaver!”

“I answer to ‘Darcy’, Major, my mother was ‘Miss Weaver’ “, Darcy continued her walk to the VW bus.

“Miss…Darcy, what the hell are we doing here?”

With her head in the back seat of the bus her response seemed to echo, “You’re here to lose a Storytelling competition and I’m here to help you write about the experience.  Ah…here they are.”  Darcy threw several pieces of clothing at the Major, dug further through a collection of what appeared to be last week’s laundry.  “Yes, the hat…needs feathers, big, dumb feathers.  Feathers, where are the feathers…here? no…no…yes, yes…no, break one?…YES.”

The Major had no idea what was happening, or whatever was going through her mind.

The bus seemed to be swallowing Darcy up as less and less of her was visible and the pile of last week’s laundry seemed to be growing.

The bus, a poly-chrome green, well it was more like Jackson Pollack discovering every shade of green while designing a mobile Rorschach test, green.  It blended nicely with the trees that framed the parking area and yet not camouflaged; the Major, Darcy and the bus were alone in the early morning hours.  But those hours of solitude were swiftly passing as more vehicles arrived.

The cars, trucks and RVs filled the parking area.  The Major couldn’t see an exit, his pulse quickened; all the voices around began to blend into a maddening cacophony.  What were they saying?  What language?  He heard the scream again, who screamed?

No one else responded…The Major couldn’t breathe, in the cool of this mountain morning sweat was rolling down his brow, burning his eyes.

A small, gentle hand rested on his shoulder, “Major, in the bus, you’ve got to change.”

“Change?”  The word didn’t register.

“Yeah, change, take off the khakis and put on someone else, like the costume, the one you’re holding, become a storyteller…and don’t forget the hat…the hat sells it…and oh those feathers, love the feathers.”  Darcy almost swooned at the thought of the feathers.  The Major wondered which of the two of them had problems.

The Major climbed in the bus and noticed for the first time the garments he held; a forest green velvet coat, Edwardian style, brown wool trousers that resembled tree bark, with purple paisley braces, an off-white ruffled front shirt with lace cuffs, a tattered brown ascot, olive green sneakers with, international distress orange laces and The hat…a scarlet colored felt beef eater style, oversized…with feathers.  There were peacock tail feathers, one bent up, like a thin, colorful check mark and bright yellow-orange flight feathers pointing…down.

Just before emerging from the Rorschach test of a bus, he opened the door and asked, “What’s the bus’ name?”  Why did I do that, she’s going to tell me…it’s going to have a name, I know it’s going to have a name.

“Donnenel.”  Came the answer.

“What’s a ‘Donnenel’?” Why am I doing this to myself? The Major thought.

“A very lazy elf, he was a mess.  Let me see what you look like, let me see.”

The Major began to make his way through the pile of last week’s laundry that was the back seat of the, ever so green, VW bus when a scream stopped him.  “What are those, WHAT ARE THOSE, THOSE THINGS?”

As only his left foot had managed to make itself visible at that time, “You mean my socks? These ARE your shoes.”  He didn’t remember Darcy having size 11 feet so they really might not be ‘her’ shoes.

Not willing to face that yell again, he removed the olive green sneakers and then the regulation military issue khaki socks and replaced the shoes, sans socks.

“Better, they ruin the look.”  She tugged at the tail of his coat, pulled a sleeve down just a hair and stepped back to admire her handy work, “Much much better.”  The Major just raised one eye brow, the left, just enough to be discernable as he gave her a look.

“How has your prep been going, what have you done?”  She asked as she stepped back a pace to view him again.

“I’ve been reading all of Anderson’s, spent a weekend in B&N in their children’s section looking at contemporary things, I think I was being taken for a pedophile, and I don’t know…I don’t really get it.  Storytelling.”

Darcy slowly lifted her violet eyes from a speck of lint on his lapel, her back straightened, her hands in fists, rested squarely on her hips as she spoke and from the tone of her voice, he had no doubt who was in command.  “Most people will tell you that there are five elements of storytelling.  The setting: where the story’s taking place.  The character:  This is whom the story is about.  Plot: what’s happening.  Backstory: what happened before and how did it contribute to the current situation.  Detail:  which specific things should your audience notice.

“That’s all well and good, but when you are telling a story, not reading it aloud, not reciting a thing you’ve rehearsed over and over ’til it’s perfect.  Storytelling is about taking your audience someplace else.  Your biggest problem is figuring how you’re going to get them there, Major.

“We’re here to write an article about you losing a competition, a competition that no one has won in 37 years, because no member of the judging panel has ever been taken left this field, no one has gone ‘somewhere else’ .  You’re going to tell a story…you may lose, BUT, know this; you’ll walk back to Mountain View if you just quit.

“There are your judges, four very ill tweens, six vets; who like you are wounded, their scars are on the outside and that smiling little girl, blind since birth.  So…show me what you got soldier and it better be your best.”

What have I got?  You want a story that has hope, courage and paints pictures in the mind, he thought to himself.

“That’s what storytellers do.  And you forgot heart, gotta have heart.”  The Major never noticed Darcy was responding to just his thoughts.

“Darcy”, speaking softly, almost a whisper, “Darcy I don’t know that I have any of that…not any.”

“You forget, Major you’re someone else, you’re the storyteller.  You’ve got every story that you’ve ever heard, every dream you’ve ever dreamed to draw on.  Wasn’t there a time that you wanted to, had to, tell someone something, something important, and a story was the best of all possible ways, the only way, to say it.  A story for a child, an elder, someone you loved, for someone who was loved?”

The Major knew that in his life there were only the five letters, letters to the families of the men that were with him, with him then, and their responses.  Those responses he had never opened.  Afraid to accept that his letters failed to tell the story well, tell who their sons and daughter were; to him, to each other, to so much more than their country.  Not knowing that without those replies, the story would never be complete.

“No, no never.”  His head turned to the side, looking off in the distance at…nothing.

“Well, you’re going to today.”

The lighthearted lilt returning to her voice, “You might think that Major Quickstep doesn’t have enough of that, but today, today you are Shaman, and that is your stock and trade.  I mean would the Major ever dress like that?  What’s your first name, and if you say ‘Major’ I will slap you.”

“Stephen, its Stephen P. Quickstep.”  Sounding like a boy in grade school responding to an inquiry from a teacher, head hung down and scuffling his feet.

“What’s the ‘P’ stand for?” she was back to adjusting his costume.

“Oh, nothing, just my grandfather’s idea of a joke.”

“Stephen, I am in journalism, or at least a journalism class, and neither ‘Nothing’ nor ‘Joke’ starts with a ‘P’.  Never mind.  Let me fix that hat.”

“It doesn’t fit, it keeps falling down over one ear, and the feathers tickle.”

“Yeah…and it is sooo cute.  Just work it into the story.”

“What…?”

The Major was called to the stage and walking up those two steps to the small platform, he was thinking; Hope… Courage… light and dark… how do I get them there? Heart…He glanced up…thirty seconds…crap.