Dogs are easy to please. They give out affection as naturally as they receive pets, treats, and almost any kind of attention. When we got Jambo, our first dog, in 1993, Gary looked at the five month old puppy one morning as the dog put paws on his knee and looked up with the imploring eyes of a small child who has lost the top of her first ever ice cream cone on a hot August day. Or Oliver Twist begging in the movie, ”Please, sir, may I have some more?” Gary stared into those eyes of trust and hope and said, “Why are you so needy!?”
Cats tend to be much cooler creatures. They meow for food and occasionally allow us to pet them, but they rarely let us know what goes on in their cat brains. They seem to have knowledge mere mortals do not possess.
During my early walks I love seeing cats perched in kitchen, bedroom, and living room windows, looking out with the wisdom of Buddha or the bored disinterest of Marlena Deitrich.
From their thrones behind clear glass they stare at me without a smidgen of concern. As if all they survey is theirs and they have no reason to worry about anything. Do cats have everything all figured out?
During these uncertain days of the pandemic, I wish I could think like the window cats.
I would watch the bad weather and the worried humans pass by. I would observe without judgement or fear. I might have a sweet pea amount of curiosity about something, but it’s not enough to make me uncomfortable where I sit and survey all that is not me. For my minutes at the window, I am satisfied to meet others’ gazes and I might turn my head at the sudden movement of a squirrel or close my eyes when the sun shines on me just right, yet I am comfortable for the moment, and the window ledge or armchair or doorway is where I need to be for now. All is well.
Occasionally, as a child I would spend the night with my grandma. She lived in a small, stucco duplex on Hayden Street in Amarillo, Texas. Modest is an accurate term to describe my grandma’s house, modest and comfortable. Grandma lived a simple life and was quiet by nature, and since she did not own a television, her house was very quiet, too. The rattle or clang of pots and pans in the kitchen or the on and off of her sewing machine was the only noticeable sound, except for a long sigh or wince as she lowered herself into the swivel armchair by the window, smoothing her apron and rubbing her knees.
On the mantle, proudly displayed in the center, right above the little gas heater was her black mantle clock. The ticking sound was steady and rhythmic and set the tone for Grandma’s house…methodical, never rushed.
My brother and I would ask to wind the clock when it wound down, and often she would let us, but only under her watchful eye and direction. She kept the key that wound the clock safely placed behind it. We understood that if the clock was wound too tightly, dropped or mistreated in any way, it would have to be taken to a clock repair shop and that would cost money. We instinctively knew she did not have the extra funds for that, and so we treated her clock with much respect.
At night as I lay on the lumpy pull-out sofa bed, under two or three handmade quilts, I would fall asleep to the ever present rhythm of the clock. My heart would begin to beat in time with the ticking and I would be lulled into a deep, peaceful sleep. During the day, the clock struck on the hour and half hour with a coil gong striking sound, but at night the gonging sound never made it into my dreams.
Now, in my den, on the mantle is a little French, battery operated clock that reminds me of Grandma’s mantle clock. In the mornings I find it peaceful yet strong as it regulates my heartbeat and sets the perfect tone to ‘sit ugly.’ Listening to the steady ticking reminds me to relax and slow down before the demands of the day take over. There is so much noise in our world, so many sounds that assault us from morning till night. Alarm clocks, blaring music, angry news, sirens or car alarms to warn us of various violations. Have you ever noticed that even commercials are louder than the television show itself?
The other day, I bolted out the door to get in my daily walk. I was halfway through my route when I noticed that I had been “thinking” or at least having mental chatter the whole time. I almost wasted my walk, my time to recharge. When I quiet my mind and listen to nature, my walk is restorative. When I worry, think too much or rush my walk, I waste the gift of today.
Birdies singing, squirrels scampering, the rustle of the wind through the trees; these are the sounds that heal. Nature heals us if we will let it, if we listen to the rhythmic beat of the earth. Everything and every living being falls into the pattern flow of the earth and if we purpose it, our footsteps are like the clock, peaceful yet strong, left-right, left-right. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist priest and author of Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, said, “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” As you walk, you are aware. Aware of your being, your thoughts, your surroundings, and your blessings. The blessings given to you by nature.
Grandma’s mantel clock was one of her most prized possessions. It was the center of her home and the focus of her life, especially as she got older. I think the steady ticking and hourly gonging comforted her and reassured her she was not alone. That classic, black mantel clock stayed with Grandma even in the nursing home, and when Grandma left this world, my brother became the proud recipient. He has it, even to this day, on his mantel, front and center.
We all need to find our rhythm, something that centers us and regulates our insides so that the outside world doesn’t wear us down or threaten our peace. Whether it is the steady ticking of a clock, the rhythmic pace of a mindful walk or sitting quietly with your hand over your heart, this is the day we have been given. We must embrace it. The path to peace is always methodical, never rushed.
For twenty years my friend Crystal Fox has been a steadfast source of laughter and support. She lets me dump my food scraps in her city-issued compost bin; her granddaughter, Sunday Joy, is one of my remarkable “practice grandchildren,” and we share food. I drop off containers of lentil soup, and she gives me homemade loaves of bread. Crystal has more good qualities than a thirteen-year-old has sassy looks! For me her sense of humor is her magic power, and her explosive laugh cannot be topped by anyone, anywhere. It begins in her throat – a rich guttural sound that soon moves to her belly and takes control of her torso. She bends over and her laugh continues for at least 45 seconds as she pulls others along for the kind of laughter that leaves one breathless, with stomach cramps, and sometimes in dire need of finding a bathroom.
Crystal and I first met at Crockett High School while attempting to educate teenagers whose hormones were stronger than our computer skills. At work we struggled alongside our teacher peers to deal with the usual high school shenanigans: dreaded state-mandated tests, meandering eye-glazing meetings, countless committees (eye-glazing), unavoidable staff development (more eye-glazing), and classes with more students than we had desks for.
Outside of school we shared happy hours, movie nights, and pool parties. However, what we did best together was getting lost.
We are both blessed with a cockeyed sense of direction that makes all journeys unpredictable and any destination a crap shoot. The two of us get turned around on the streets of Austin and the highways of Texas.
Crystal told me that when her husband Ric used to ask her “Which way should we go?” (whether on a road trip or nature hike) and she gave her answer, he would go in the opposite direction.
Because of our off kilter inner compasses, we often feel like Lucy and Ethel from I Love Lucy any time we venture into new territories (or even to ones we’ve been to before). But like the black and white t.v. gal pals, we find humor in our mess-ups and camaraderie in our wanderings.
Though I’ve played Ethel to Crystal’s Lucy, and she’s been a stalwart Ethel to my Lucy for several years, one of our best episodes took place in 2017 when we planned a trip to New York City with the hope of seeing Bette Midler on Broadway in Hello, Dolly! I’m fortunate enough to have Gayle as my sister – a casting agent who is as generous and helpful as the Big Apple is big, and she had scored tickets to see the Divine Miss M portray Dolly Levi at the Shubert Theater.
Our anticipation to visit my sister, explore NYC, and see Bette in a Broadway show (Crystal’s first!) had us feeling like Charlie when he opened his last chocolate Wonka bar and discovered that magic golden ticket! We had also found budget-priced airline tickets and a friend of a friend’s Brooklyn apartment to stay in for free. A jackpot of a trip for two high school teachers!
Days before our adventure we coordinated packing, reviewed the subway maps of the City, and giggled like schoolgirls getting away with borrowing the family car and smoking Grandma’s cigarettes while we got lost driving around at midnight.
Then at the height of our unbridled joy, I got a text from United Airlines the night before our trip. Our 7 a.m. departure flight was cancelled due to bad weather! We had booked the early flight to give us time to get lost in JFK Airport, secure a cab, meet Gayle, get lost taking the subway to Brooklyn and maybe get turned around finding the apartment we’d be staying in, get gussied up for the theater, walk the wrong way toward the subway, take the wrong exit out of the underground before walking up instead down the avenue that took us to the Shubert to experience Bette’s Tony award-winning performance from our orchestra seats on the fifteenth row!
Pessimism teased its way into my head when I first read the American Airlines text at 8:30 p.m. Crystal had not received any messages from United, so I pushed aside negative vibes as I tried calling the airline over and over. Nothing but busy signals. By 9:10, my palms were sweaty and my stomach felt like I’d eaten a chicken and sausage gumbo appetizer followed by a Wendy’s Baconator. Gary had gone online to see that our flight was cancelled and the next flight from Austin to NYC would not land in the city that never slept until 7:45 p.m. Our curtain call was at 8!
I was about to call Crystal and share some tears when Gary said, “Let’s drive to the airport and talk to a human.”
At 9:20 p.m. we walked into the Austin airport’s empty check-in area, saw the dark counter for American, and headed downstairs to baggage claim. Someone pointed us to a quiet corner and a dim lost luggage window where a lone American employee waited. The urgency in our voices convinced Majorie that we had to get to New York as early as possible the next day. She looked energetic in her crisp navy uniform with the red accents that matched her lipstick, and she started tapping her computer keys and nodding her head of long jet black hair that was teased and styled to handle all airline emergencies. Gary gave her our cancelled flight details. He also explained about the Hello, Dolly! tickets and how my friend Crystal had never seen a show on Broadway.
“Oh, they have to see Bette,” said Majorie and she focused on her computer screen to work her magic. I stayed quiet because I knew I’d cry if I spoke about my greatest fear – missing seeing Bette live.
Majorie squinted at her screen, furrowed her brow, and allowed her red lips a brief pout before she typed faster. I let out a sigh and stared at the dirty floor while saying a quick Hail Mary. Gary drummed his fingers on the counter and said, “They’d fly into New Jersey if that would help.” Majorie typed even faster. My blood pressure rose as my hopes of sharing Hello, Dolly! with Crystal dwindled.
“That 7 a.m. flight was the only direct one to New York. All the others have connections in Houston or Dallas,” said Majorie. “Earliest I could get you there from here is 7:30 p.m.,” said Majorie. She gave me a sad slow smile.
Gary interrupted our brief connection of empathy. “What time is the first flight out of Houston?”
Majorie followed his thought process, raised her perfectly plucked eyebrows, and typed with hopeful fingers. Then she smiled at Gary. “I got seats on a 7:45 a.m. plane to LaGuardia!”
Gary looked at our heroine. “I’ll drive them to Houston!”
Majorie straightened her shoulders and clicked with confidence. I stared at my husband in disbelief. Houston was three hours away. “But we’d have to leave Austin at…” I struggled with the head math.
“Leave at 3 a.m. to be safe,” said Majorie as she finished her typing and Gary smiled at me.
“You’d take us?” I said. “And drive right back home?”
“It’s Bette!” was his answer.
Majorie gave us a glorious smile and handed me the new airline tickets. “You just got to see Bette!”
As we drove home, I called and woke up Crystal (it was now 10:40 p.m.).
“Gary offered to drive us to Houston to catch a flight that will get us to New York in time to get to the theater. You up for leaving in four hours?”
“Of course!” said the Ethel to my Lucy idea.
The drive down a very dark Hwy. 71 and a mostly empty Interstate 10 went quickly because our shared adrenaline kept us giddy with the refreshed joy of getting to see Bette on Broadway.
The brightness of the airport and the thought of seeing Bette made our first hour in Houston joyful. As we sat at our gate, even the initial flight delay of one hour did not squelch our excitement. We walked a couple of laps around our terminal and returned to our gate in time for the announcement: “Due to weather concerns, Flight 1313 to New York is delayed and will depart at 12:07.”
Crystal and I exchanged worried looks, but ever the optimist, she said, “We’ll get to New York around 3 and have time to meet Gayle and go to Brooklyn and get to the show.” She paused. “Right?”
“Sure, sure,” I said and imagined a taxi strike in the city (unlikely) or us getting lost in the airport as we tried to find the taxi stand (likely).
We now had two hours to kill so we decided to do more walking. When we passed an empty bar just opening up, I said, “Let’s have a drink.” We bellied up to the bar with our luggage beneath our stools. “Two Kir Royals,” I said.
Crystal smiled and told the bartender, “We’re seeing Bette on Broadway!”
The bartender put on a little show adding the creme de cassis to the champagne, and we toasted to Bette, to Gayle, to Gary, and to New York City.
“We’re doing this!” said Crystal.
The 10 a.m. cocktail revived our hopes and warmed our insides. The bartender took a picture of us smiling like Cajuns on a Mardi Gras morning with a cold beer in one hand a link of hot boudin in the other.
Forty minutes later we settled into blue plastic chairs near our gate and nibbled peanut butter sandwiches and cut up apple slices Crystal had brought along. We reviewed our plans to grab a cab, get to my sister’s place in Greenwich Village, hightail it to Brooklyn, and make it to Times Square and the Shubert before the stage curtain rose. We leaned back in our chairs confidently, and soon we were both fast asleep – probably dreaming of a dancing and singing Bette.
Two hours later, I awoke to an intercom voice: “Final boarding call for Flight 1313 to New York City. Final call!” I punched a snoring Crystal who jumped up, grabbed her suitcase, and led the charge to our departure gate.
We got settled into our seats and did not close our eyes for the duration of the flight. When we clicked on our seat belts and watched the stewardess make the final seat check and snap shut all the overhead bins, we truly believed we would see Bette on Broadway. Crystal and I clasped hands and took a selfie as the plane backed away from the gate and rolled its way forward for take-off.
I returned home Sunday, from a three-day girl’s weekend. The four of us have been friends for many years and really treasure our time together to talk, laugh, eat good food and maybe drink a little wine. As is my custom I usually call or text Boo when I am on my way home. “Time to kick out the dancing girls and stack up the beer cans!” I joke.
But, when I walked into the house on Sunday, I was immediately hit with the smell of Fabuloso (think Pine Sol with a big dose of lavender) and charred red meat.
“Wow Babe, did you clean while I was gone?” I asked.
“Oh, you know…I like to have everything looking good for my baby when she gets home.”
Lest you think I am an ingrate; I know his little secrets. Fifteen minutes before I walk in the door, he will Swiffer the entry hall, swish Fabuloso in the hall bathroom commode, open the blinds, fold the accent blanket on the couch and for a bonus effect he will start the dishwasher or a load of towels. This is his “cleaning” routine for his ‘baby’. It smells Fabuloso, but don’t look too closo.
“Did you girls have a good time?”
“Always! We talked and laughed the whole time and made a charcuterie board with fresh shrimp on the side.
“What kind of board?”
“Cheese, crackers, olives..just snacky stuff,” I said.
“Enough about me, what did you eat while I was gone? Something meaty?”
“Just the usual. Meat Lovers Pizza Friday night then Saturday, I cooked Baby back ribs on the grill, sausage links, and a New York Strip. I made salad and a fresh blueberry pie.”
“Oh, and I opened a can of green beans.” (opened is the operative word.)
Boo’s idea of salad is either iceberg lettuce with croutons and lots of dressing or it is Suddenly Salad, which is not really salad. Suddenly Salad is a macaroni, mayonnaise and secret packet concoction that has preservatives listed as the number one ingredient.
“Wow!” I said.
“I know,” he said with pride.
While I’m gone, I know he eats pretzels and M&M’s in bed and sleeps all night with the T.V. on, which is the opposite of the dark, quiet room I like.
I know he lets the cat sleep with him, in fact she acts indignant when I get home. She tries to get in on my side of the bed before I can and puts her little head on my pillow.
I know that days before I go out of town, he is making a secret grocery list with all the essentials: meat, meat, and more meat.
I know he made a pie, but I also know there’s a new package of Twizzlers, Caramel de Lites Girl Scout cookies, and Tootsie Rolls open in the pantry.
He watches the news and sports and an action movie on Netflix all at the same time, clicking back and forth. Denzel Washington is probably killing someone or blowing something up in between Wolf Blitzer or Sean Hannity and all the while corn is popping in the microwave, with real melted butter.
Boo goes all out for his staycations. I don’t begrudge him any of his fun and relaxation because he always lets me go and do whatever I want. He encourages me to see my friends and he genuinely wants me to be happy, and if he happens to have a weekend to himself then it’s a win-win. I applaud his self-sufficiency and creativity.
Boo is a self-actualized man who knows how to take care of himself. I would never have to leave him casseroles in the freezer for fear he would starve, and while we don’t always see eye-to-eye on nutrition or cleanliness, he’s capable and likes to think out of the box. He’s the yin to my yang, the Snoop Dogg to my Martha Stewart.
I know Boo really likes his time alone at home, just to chill and do his thing and I’m glad it’s not with the dancing girls and cold beer! So, if a few ribs, a little candy and 24/7 TV makes him happy who am I to spoil his fun?
My husband Gary wakes up with a head full of Gary. Like a toddler or teenager, he has perfected the art of self-absorption.
In the 1990s when our three sons were young and Gary and I both taught full-time, I woke up early to make little lunches and plot the day’s obligations: get the boys to two different schools before getting to my own school and teaching five sections of seventh grade language arts; remind Shane he had jazz band practice after school, Casey he had computer class at Boys and Girls Club, and Evan to do homework at his elementary’s Extend-a-Care program; stop by HEB for supper ingredients and swing by Terra Toys for a birthday party gift on Saturday before I picked up my sons.
All day the kid details fought for control of my brain with lesson plans about teaching the difference between “your and you’re” or nuances of dramatic irony in Roald Dahl”s short story “Lamb to the Slaughter.”
Gary’s brain lived a different existence. It woke up an hour and a half later than mine, and after his mandatory two cups of coffee, it was awake enough to carefully fry three neat strips of bacon for his own breakfast. He did help with the dropping off and picking up of children if I wrote him detailed notes and reminded him during his lunch break and ten minutes after his school’s final bell.
As our boys grew up and needed more rides to more places, Gary became a trusted driver as long as my directions were specific and did not impose on his weekend jogs and his Thursday “pint night” at the Dog and Duck Pub.
Now our boys are men and living their own lives. Gary and I have been navigating the pandemic and aging as best we can. We walk our dog each morning as a team – he’s on lookout duty for other dogs on leashes and for free-range cats. He also scans the sidewalks and grassy areas for discarded scraps of food or other potential dog distractions. Millie pulls on her leash as I follow, and Gary calls out helpful warnings like “Big brown dog at twelve o’clock” or “Broken beer bottle on my right.” Sometimes, however, his head fills up with his own thoughts, and he misses telling me about a stray fried chicken bone or a big turd dropped in the middle of the sidewalk. We have brief spats and he may say, “Don’t you have two good eyes as well?”
Gary has admitted to not being a noticer. And he’s not talkative when he gets in his “me zone.” Also, now that he’s lost hearing in his right ear, I take no offense when he sometimes does not respond to my insightful comments during our dog walks. Did I remember to direct my voice to his left side? Or is his mind too preoccupied with more important things like his latest film script or the current Amazon rental sales of the horror/comedy movie he wrote and self-produced in 2013: Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains?
Gary is a natural at self-promotion. He raised thousands of dollars on Indiegogo to realize his dream of being a film producer! He will tell our condo neighbors or grocery cashiers or anyone who comments on his Virgin Cheerleaders inChains t-shirt, “I wrote and produced this movie! Available on Amazon! Very meta; not a porno!” I envy his confidence and bravery.
Am I any less self-obsessed with writing blog essays and linking them to my FB and Twitter accounts? What is the line between “Look at me!” and “Give me your money”?
Most mornings my head fills up with thoughts of my family and friends. I worry about their health, their happiness, and what I can do to help them with either one.
I blame my momma. She took care of my dad, my brother, my sisters, and me like the strong Cajun force she was. She cooked and cleaned nonstop and insisted we spend all our time with her because she did not want to miss a bouree card game, a trip to the drive-through Daiquiri Shack, or hanging out on the front porch. At the end of our holiday visits, she hated telling us good-bye.
“Oh, oh, I don’t want y’all to go,” she’d say and give me the biggest hugs her 5’2” ninety-nine pound frame could produce. She’d lock her arms around my waist and give me three short but intense hugs. “Humph! Humph! Humph!” My body would tense waiting for those squeezes of love. She cared and worried about those she loved. However, she also realized that not everyone needed looking after.
Every Christmas holiday, Gary spent a night in Baton Rouge with his best friend Richard. One time I was concerned about saving enough turkey gumbo for my husband when he returned to Eunice. Momma focused her bright blue eyes at me and said, “Don’t you worry about Gary. Gary will always take care of Gary.”
My momma knew some big truths!
My husband may think about himself a lot. He may need a little guidance with remembering others’ needs sometimes. But self-reliance is a very positive attribute. Emerson said, “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.” As I follow Gary on our dog walks, and he clasps his hands loosely behind his back and strolls a half block ahead and he tilts his head to look at tree branches dancing in the wind, I will recognize a man comfortable with himself and at peace with his own thoughts.
In 1986 I began my love affair with Oprah. I loved her. I mean L O V E D her. During the early years I would race home from teaching school, throw my kids a snack and turn on the television. Propping my feet up, I would zero in on Oprah’s newest topic, challenge or guest. If one of the kids dared to interrupt, I was indignant. “Can’t you see I’m watching Oprah?” I did not want to be bothered by the real world when Oprah was imparting some important life lesson, weight loss miracle or reuniting a fractured family.
As the years went on, work plus family life did not allow a 4:00 p.m. break. We finally got a DVR and could tape her show, so I at least had my fix before bedtime.
As a true believer, I would often quote Oprah and her mentor Maya Angelou. “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” I admit I learned this lesson the hard way, but none the less, Oprah was right. If one of the kids would complain about not getting something, I would spout, “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never have enough.” If Oprah said it, it was gospel.
I relished Oprah’s Christmas Give Away shows, even entering a lottery to get a ticket for the show. I saw myself screaming, jumping up and down and smiling ear to ear as I won a TV, toaster oven and adorable mink lined slippers. One year Boo gave me a subscription to Oprah’s magazine, and this fueled my even bigger fantasy, that I was one of Oprah’s friends. Once, Oprah told us about one of her favorite snacks, which I took to be mine, as well. Wasa cracker, thin layer of light mayo and a slice of deli turkey. Delicious and low calorie. One spring I literally lived on Oprah’s favorite snack, ignoring the fact that Oprah obviously had many other favorite things as well as snacks.
I was there when she lost, then gained, then lost her weight. I watched as she discovered her half-sister. I was a member of her Book Club and I watched The Color Purple. I laughed when she laughed, cried when she cried, and I always believed Stedman was her soul mate. I was unsuspecting when the worst thing imaginable happened…The Oprah Show came to an end. May 25, 2011 was a dreadful day indeed. Who would I become without Oprah? I was depressed and despondent as I shuffled through the few hours between work and bed, and I resented her desire to do something else. “What about me?” I cried.
Soon, she started her OWN network, and I watched the Super Soul Sunday’s, and did my best to hang in there with O. It just wasn’t the same and soon, my attention dwindled. Boo became fed up with my moping around and declared my depression was all in my head.
“Get over it already,” he admonished. “Just let go and go on with Dr. Phil.”
“Easy for you to say,” I cried. “You don’t know Oprah like I do.”
It was hard, but I did recover. I’m just grateful that I had Oprah for as long as I did. I want her to be proud of me and know that I am doing just fine these days. I want her to know she was my inspiration and my role model. And if I close my eyes, I can still see her smiling and saying, “YOU get a car! And YOU get a car! And YOU get a car!!!” Her generous spirit lives on!
Note: I didn’t get pictures of the dogs in this essay, so I included pictures of the dogs I know best.
I started my by-myself walk during the pandemic. It’s earlier than my walk with my dog Millie and my husband Gary.
I cover a couple of miles; I pay attention to bird songs and the sun rising and people’s homes and yards, and the unevensidewalks I walk on.
I make connections with people who also walk in my neighborhood before cars head to work.
I also encounter different dogs along my route. First, I pass a place where two monster guard dogs live. It’s a head shop, and if I walk after 9 AM the employee has released one white and one black dog who make me cross the street as they growl, bark, and run along a crooked chain link fence that extends to the business’s back parking lot. One scary morning those dogs squeezed through the back gate and ran toward me, Gary, and Millie at first. However, we were lucky that they were more interested in their unexpected freedom than attacking us or our startled dog.
The second street I walk down has a house with a mid-sized brown dog who claws at his window and the rest of the Venetian blinds he’s managed to destroy half of while frantically barking at passers-by. Another place has a wooden fence that’s undecided in its leanings and hides two small dogs who take turns yipping and yapping while I walk by.
After I turn onto the next street, I see an elderly housing solutions development (for older folks with problems to solve I suppose), and I sometimes see a dachshund wearing a smart blue coat who searches the sparse grass for the best spot to pee. He seems as unaware of me as his hunched over owner is.
Later, I turn down my favorite street that runs alongside a small, tree-filled park. At the corner of Armadillo and Cottontail, a Pomeranian on the other side of a barely standing chain link fence barks at me nonstop with yaps as fast and high as his blood pressure must be.
However, my favorite dog I pass during my daybreak walks made himself known to me in pieces. I first met his nose. I was walking past the house with the vintage baby blue Dodge Charger in its driveway. The place has a long wooden side fence, and one misty morning I spotted a large pink nose thrust through an arched mouse-sized hole when I’d reached the fence’s midpoint. I startled a second and walked on. The dog did not bark, but sniffed my presence as best she could. The next day when I passed that same fence, someone had forced a rock of concrete into the hole. (This reminded me of the tree’s knot hole being filled with cement in To Kill a Mockingbird). It wasn’t until a week later that I met the dog face that belonged to that inquisitive nose. The long fence ends at an enclosure for the house’s garbage and recycling bins, and right at that corner at the bottom of the fence is a rectangular cut-out about 6×4 inches.
As I strolled past the small fence opening, my dog acquaintance shoved her nose, mouth, and one eye into that missing piece of fence. My shoulders jumped when I noticed the white face, red-rimmed eye, and pink nose of a pit bull. No barking, just an intense glare and a sniffing nose. The next day I got ready to acknowledge my dog friend, and I was surprised to see the top half of her body atop an upholstered chair in a window right before where the fence started. She barked twice, and as I kept walking the fence line, someone let her outside and she hurried to catch up with me as I could barely see bits of white dog running in the backyard. Then at that fence cut out she once again pushed her face towards me. Both of us shared a few seconds of silent appraisal of one another.
Now I look forward to seeing my pit bull friend’s face. Some days I catch her in the window first and we meet at the end of the fence; other times she’s already in the yard and I see snatches of her muscular form dashing to our meeting spot. Sad to say, she’s not been there this week. The Charger is also gone. I hope she and her owner are on a vacation and will return soon.
I don’t know why, but I enjoy the dog’s intense perusal of me, and I tell myself she does not give everyone who passes her the same look – all curiosity and intelligence, no anger or fear.
To be honest, broad-headed, confident pit bulls normally frighten me. I think they want to start a fight or at least show me who’s boss.
So I think this pit bull is teaching me something. I need less fear and more curiosity in my life? Understanding others is crucial to respect? I was looking over some MLK quotes Monday and I focused on the one about light and darkness: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
My morning walks and the yard dogs I meet may lead me to a more hopeful kind of light.
My little Auntie Sue always said she was going to give Eve a ‘talkin to’ when she got to Heaven. Never a complainer, she did want to tell Eve how miserable life with menstrual cycles, menopause and adult diapers was. She blamed Eve for all of this and wanted to give her the ‘what for.’ It’s been several years now since Auntie Sue got to Heaven so I’m sure by now they’ve had their talk. Being a reasonable soul, I’ll bet Sue got it out of her system and all is forgiven. She never was one to hold a grudge…for too long. Unless you continuously interrupted her sittin’ ugly time or messed with her family, then she could positively be ninety pounds of bulldog fury.
Every morning, at the crack of dawn, she would make her one and only cup of Sanka and sit down to read her Bible and her Alanon book. This was her sittin’ ugly time. Her quiet time to get her mind straight for the day. And then she was off like a bolt of lightning, hitting the trail for her morning mile with her sporty red walker. Down the hall, down the elevator, past the common room, across the solarium, outside, down the sidewalk and across to another part of the building then back up the elevator and down the hall to her apartment 215. She would do this twice a day, adjusting for rain or snow, as Oklahoma City was prone to have. “You have to walk or die,” she would say. And I believe her.
My little Auntie was over-the-top with enthusiasm. If I came for a visit, she would say it was the best visit ever! Every rent car I drove from the airport was the best car ever. It was always better than the last one. Every joke she heard, was the funniest thing ever told. Every meal was the most delicious. Every game of Skipbo was more fun than the last and everyone she met received a compliment. She was genius at complimenting even the hardest shell. She was thankful for every phone call, card, and hug. She was generous with her money and always tithed to the church, even on a fixed income. She was fiercely loyal to her family and loved her only child more than life itself.
If she was here and heard me going on and on…tooting her horn, she would argue that she was not perfect, she had faults. Maybe she did, but I never saw them. Her five-foot frame, ninety pounds soaking wet, shock of white, curly hair and easy smile was perfect to me. Her true grit, determination and positive attitude was perfection. Auntie Sue had it all and everyone wanted to be her friend, even her would-be foes.
Like her issue with Eve, there are many things in life we don’t understand now. There are loved ones who leave us too soon, and some things we know in part but won’t know the true reason until we’re in the by and by. That’s just the way it is.
January 19th would have been Auntie Sue’s ninety-ninth birthday. Those of us who knew her and loved her, still miss her every day. She was a loyal and loving wife, mother, grandmother, aunt and friend and there will always and forever be only one, Ysleta Davis Lane aka Auntie Sue, the original Sittin’ Ugly Sistah!
Writing has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I had a white ‘My Diary’ journal in sixth through eighth grade. It had a tiny key so I could lock up my secrets safely from prying eyes. I’m positive I wrote about daily occurrences and boys I liked or who said what about something or other. I wish I could remember what happened to ‘My Diary’. Maybe it made it to a landfill somewhere, fully intact, secrets safely hidden. Maybe I dramatically ripped out each page and tore it into a million pieces to protect my thoughts… I don’t recall its demise.
Once, I came across some writings from high school where I had copied the words from songs. During one particular romance, it was that song by the Turtles: “Imagine me and you…I do. I think about you day and night, it’s only right…. So happy together!” The name of the boy is nowhere on the pages, and quite possibly he didn’t even make it to the end of the song, but I had pages of songs written out. I must have listened to my albums playing over and over to get the words, because there was certainly no google lyrics to look up.
In my early twenties, my then husband and I tragically experienced the stillbirth of our first daughter together. The months afterward were dark for me, and I have since found the poems I wrote during that time. The poetry of my grief was written in sprawling handwriting on sheets of stationary and somehow, I preserved them, guarding my grief like the protective mother I wanted to be. I still feel the sadness written onto those pages. It rises from each word like heat off a summer sidewalk.
I saved the hysterical letters I later got from my girls when they were at summer camp. I’m sure my letters to them were discarded long ago, but theirs are short and confessional.
Dear Mom, I’ve worn the sme cloths evryday, but they made us take showers and eat cantelope. Send stamps! Luv, Courtney
Sittin’ Ugly Sistahs, the antics of life that Ginger and I share with you, as well as the birth of my memoir, I Thought It Was You are recent projects that fill me with joy and at times, angst. I feel as though to write is to live. To breathe is to write. Words scrawl across my mind like an old-fashioned typewriter clicking away. The one thing that remains the same is my fear at being vulnerable and, in contrast, the exhilaration of facing my fear.
I’ve learned an awful lot about myself since beginning this writer’s path. I’ve seen boldness and shyness live on the same page.
I’ve pushed myself to see parts of my life I long ago buried.
I’ve resurrected bravery.
I’ve accepted that not everyone wants to read what I have written, and I’m learning not to take that personally because I have to write. It’s part of who I am. And whether trolls on the internet agree with me or not, I am a writer.
Whether an agent takes my book or not, I am a writer.
Whether my husband, children or grandchildren ever read a word I’ve written or not, I am a writer.
Whether somedays I don’t believe it myself, and my inner critic is screaming ‘You’re Not Good Enough!!’ I am a writer.
I am a writer with a writer’s soul.
I am a writer.
“I can shake off everything as I write, my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”
In 1968 I got a 3×5 inch red five-year diary with a tiny lock and key to protect all the wisdom and intrigue I would pour onto its pages. Each day of the year was allowed four lines, and profundity like “Today I quit playing paper dolls forever” (first entry) or “Kelly made her confirmation. It lasted 2 and a half hours. But it was comfortable with the new cushioned pews” (last entry) filled its pages.
I was a faithful writer for four years, never neglecting to document a day’s monumental trivia. I hid these pencil-written treasures in the bottom drawer of the heavy blonde oak night table next to my bed. Two years ago I reread my 12-year-old regimented thoughts and found at least three interesting entries over that four year span.
A year before I received my diary, I had tried to write a children’s book. I made up a tale about a rabbit and a crawfish and mailed off this masterpiece to the “Be a Writer!” course advertised in the back of an Archie comic book. The writing professionals sent me a typed letter that proclaimed I had “potential”! They promised me fame and publishing creds if I sent them $50. My dad exposed the company for the scam it was, and in 1967 I decided I should settle for being a world class actress instead of a writer.
Still I kept writing, and in 1971 I traded my red diary for a blue 8×13 ledger that expanded my writing experience. I no longer wrote every day, and a day’s entry could take up four full pages. I obsessed over fights with my sisters and crushes on boys I was terrified to talk to. My ideas danced around philosophical questions like why cousin Gina liked my sister Gayle more than me or who Bobby G. was taking to the homecoming dance. Also, my Barbra Streisand fanaticism screamed from these pages because I always wrote her name in all caps and underlined it.
Despite the banality of what I wrote, I still felt compelled to fill the ledger’s pages and apologized for sometimes letting weeks go by between entries. After the blow of the children’s book writing course, I no longer believed I was a writer; however, I needed to write for my own sanity. When I read To Kill a Mockingbird in ninth grade I loved Scout’s thoughts on being a reader before she went to school: “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”
When I move my pen across blank pages, ideas often come faster than I can write. Even if I later loathe what I’ve written, I feel stronger and saner. Now that I have the time to write every day, a day is not pointless if I have made time to write something down. Life is somehow easier if I write. It’s my Balm in Gilead, my parade I don’t want people raining on, and the actual rain that washes dust and bird poop off my car.
As much as I hate the word “blog” because it sounds like a portmanteau of “blah” and “slog,” I’ll keep posting essays online because it feels equally right and ugly. I may be vomiting words that are unworthy of others’ attention, but filling pages in notebooks lets me process life’s joys and tragedies. I write for myself for sure, yet pressing the “Publish” button on a wordpress blog gives me a jolt of bravery that I think I’m addicted to.