There are days, we all have them, where it seems everyone and everything around us is sharp. Sharp tones or answers to our questions that feel snippy and harsh. I call these tender days, a day when tears are close by and thoughts are deep. On these days I feel alone in an alien world that thrives on being blunt or quick. “I need something sweet, Lord,” I whisper in a quiet prayer. “I need something sweet.”
As I get older the tears fall more readily. They often are on the brink, ready to fall and just as close is a smile open and ready to fill my face. Maybe it’s because I realize I have less time to waste on foolishness, or hurtful people or things that don’t serve a loving purpose. I appreciate more the answered prayers that are sent to me. I feel the more I ask for sweetness in my life, the more is sent to me.
On one such tender day, two years ago, I was volunteering with my elderly Hospice patient. She had wanted to go to the grocery store, just to look around. I pushed her wheelchair up and down the aisles as she looked at make-up, smelled the candles, and marveled at the various types of crackers. We perused the Hallmark cards and bought some candy. She just wanted to feel normal for a change and I wanted that for her too. We had spent an hour wandering the aisles, when we got in line to check out. The woman behind us kept staring and smiling at us and finally she said to me, “Is this your mother?”
I smiled at my patient and said, “Oh, how I wish she was. We’re just good friends.”
The woman replied, “Well, you look beautiful enough to be mother and daughter.”
And my patient said, “I wish we were. She is the sweetest girl in the world to me.”
I bent down to hug my little friend, and we both had tears in our eyes. That was something sweet.
I always find when I whisper my need for something sweet, God is waiting and willing to send it. A smile from a stranger. A love pat from my husband. A phone call from my daughter. A thank you from a friend. There’s goodness on its way in many different forms if I am open to see it.
My dear friend Mary, who has since passed away, always encouraged me in my photography. She would call and ask if I wanted to walk the trails at the Wildflower Center, “Be sure to bring your camera,” she would say. Then as we walked, she seemed happy for me as I found butterflies or dragonflies just begging to be photographed. “Look over here!” she would say. “This butterfly is just waiting for you.” She never failed to compliment me or brag to others about my talent. She was something so precious that I can live on the memory of her sweetness for years to come.
I feel the blessings when I encounter kind and generous souls inside my day. The friendly cashier, gracious friends or a loving card in the mail. I feel so lucky because my inner whisper, “I need something sweet,” seems to send my guardian angels into overdrive sending me all manner of beautiful expressions. Even now as I sit at my desk, there is a gorgeous red cardinal outside my window especially for me to enjoy.
I pray to be reminded that when I whisper, “I need something sweet,” there are others, too, who are whispering. Perhaps it is within my power to be that source for someone else. I want to be mindful of their whispers, too. Take note of the whisper in your heart and the hearts of others. Ask God to let you hear the whisper and give you the courage to answer the call.
I did it! It has been one long year of Pandemic, COVID-SNOVID, and sheltering in place and I finally did it. I tried on my jeans.
For one harrowing year I have worn workout clothes. Lyra, polyester, stretchy cotton, and spandex. Nothing else. Oh, a few times during the hot summer I wore moo-moo type sundresses, but by and large it’s been workout pants.
I’ve dressed them up and even worn them the few times we’ve gone out to eat. I have not gone anywhere that had a dress code. I think I have even begun to fool myself into thinking no one cares. Psychologically, I feel that when I’m wearing my mask, no one can see me anyway. I already don’t wear makeup below my nose.
Teleconference with my doctor? Zoom party with friends? Texting? Church online? Curbside pickup? Who sees me anyway? And the worst part is that I haven’t cared.
Boo and I have been lucky enough to get our vaccines and it looks as though we may take a trip to Colorado soon. The bad news began as I smugly got out my ski pants and tried to put them on.
“Whoa! What’s going on in here?” Boo asked. “What’s all the grunting and groaning?”
“I’m trying on my ski pants. DON’T COME IN!”
Perilously I laid on the bed, flat as Flat Stanley, and slowly began to zip, careful not to pinch the extra skin that was not there five years ago when I easily wore two layers underneath. I finally got them zipped and hooked the closure, which looked as if the threads were disintegrating right before my eyes. I stood up.
“I can breathe,” I said to myself, but then I couldn’t sit back down.
That was a wake-up call, because I instantly thought of my jeans. I ooched out of my ski pants and went to the closet flipping through hangers with jeans that said: Straight leg, skinny jeans, low rise. Good grief! Where are my jeggings? My high waisted, relaxed fit? This was not for the faint of heart. I had to find one pair that fit.
I spotted my all-time favorite pair draped unsuspectingly under the low-rise jeans. “Please fit.” I begged them as I headed for the bed to assume the position.
“You’ve always been my favorite,” I crooned to my jeans. “You’ve never let me down. I need you.”
It’s not only that I mind getting a larger size, but also the whole trauma involved in finding a pair of jeans that fit perfectly and always work. It takes a lot of effort and confidence and frankly, I’m fragile after my spandex wearing, no make-up, pony-tail swinging covid year.
Just then, the sun started to shine, I heard a birdie outside my window, and I zipped my jeans and cautiously snapped them at the waist. As I stood looking in the mirror, I knew they didn’t look exactly like they did a year ago, but they zipped, and I was oh so grateful.
I have come to believe that nothing will ever be the same after this year. We’ve all developed a new way of interacting and behaving during this traumatic time. But friends, keep your eye on the positive, keep your sense of humor and for goodness sake, keep your favorite jeans…they just might fit.
Putting a jigsaw puzzle together with pieces that look like they should fit together but don’t takes patience, tons of it. And it takes careful noticing. Does the piece I need have two knobs and two holes (also called keys & locks or tabs & pockets)? Or three knobs and one hole? Are the knobs on opposite sides of the piece or next to one another? What colors am I looking for? Are the pieces skinny, fat, large or small? Does my sought after piece have unique curves or weird indentations? Good lighting is crucial, as is enough space – to spread out all those pieces and divide the colors and designs of the puzzle. But PATIENCE is what I need most of.
Some people are drawn to puzzles. These COVID Days can feel long, boring, repetitive, and uncertain because the future ain’t nothing but a fat, shaky, stuck-up question mark! During these pandemic months, jigsaw puzzles have soared in popularity. Perhaps people stuck inside enjoy the challenge and the distraction of complicated puzzles. However, in my speck of space, I have a complicated relationship with jigsaw puzzles – I loathe them but can’t seem to avoid them.
During the second week of 2021 our good friend Sandra gave Gary a 1000 piece jigsaw that depicted the Dracula movie poster from 1931. This gift took up over eighteen square feet in our den of 100 square feet in a condo of just over 900 square feet. Both our coffee/dining table and a folding table we had stored in a closet were covered with 1,026 ( the true number of puzzle pieces) stiff paperboard pieces, leaving no room for four tv controllers and our dinner plates. I felt like the puzzle’s Bela Lugosi vampire had his arms raised and his cape spread open, forever looming over me in my home. The poster depicted the caped bloodsucker with outspread arms hovering over the red letters of his name with a huge spider web backdrop. It was almost all black except for Dracula’s red name and a few yellow accents. Over a thousand pieces of frustration!
It took us five weeks to complete that jigsaw, and it would have taken double that time if our son had not stopped by to help us so often. Casey has the gifted puzzler’s keen eye and the stamina that can study the photo on the puzzle box, scan a few hundred same-colored pieces, locate the needed one with the correct holes and nubs and neatly snap it into place before wanting to scream and run from the challenge.
Casey’s skill sometimes inspired me to use my own plodding puzzle strategy: to staring at an empty spot, counting the holes and nubs needed, and then methodically trying every piece of the correct color that has the nubs and holes in the right places. I would try all 211 black pieces with three nubs and one hole as if I were an assembly line worker at the beginning of a shift who fit small round loops into tight square sockets coming down my conveyor belt. I used mechanical movements that made finding the correct puzzle piece catch me off guard. After 87 minutes of looking, I’d break into an idiotic grin when the piece of cardboard connected with its mate. I’d stand up, slap the edge of the table, tap the piece twice with two fingers and exclaim, “Ah ha!” to my dog sleeping under the folding table.
The first night Gary and I turned off the tv distraction, set the radio dial to Sun Radio’s “Blue Monday” program, and gave the puzzle three hours of our lives, Gary had searing lower back pain, and I had a headache that felt like bats was eating my brain. I think we had found a third of the straight edge pieces. And those are supposed to be EASY to find!
Thirty-six days (and nights) later we finished the horrific Dracula puzzle. We left it out on the folding table and ignored people’s suggestion: “You should frame it!” Gary wanted to drive a stake through its heart.
For two full days we let our pride make us feel like we were somehow now productive members of society because we had correctly interlocked 1026 pieces of paperboard into their right spots on a 38X27 picture of an undead creature that sucks the life blood from healthy humans in order to exist. There’s some kind of irony in this nightmare!
Then the next morning after I masked up and got ready to venture out to our HEB grocery store, I told Gary, “Get rid of that damn puzzle before I get back.” I had hopes for returning to a light and airy apartment with more table and floor space and less stress.
Fifty minutes later I returned home to find Dracula gone, but a new pile of over a 1,000 small pieces of cardboard – all white and blue – on the folding and coffee tables in our main living space: Katsushika Hokusai’s “The Wave”!!!!
How could he!?
As I dropped grocery bags on our 4X3 foot kitchen table – the only flat surface in our whole condo with any available space, Gary unbelievably smiled and said, “I found this in my closet – the puzzle Evan gave me for my 70th birthday!”
My melting ice cream delayed me from verbally abusing my husband. I whisper-prayed a Hail Mary through clenched teeth and asked for patience. I unloaded the groceries as Gary separated 126 border pieces from the rest of the nuisances that left superfine puzzle dust behind in the box. I hid my anxiety behind the statement, “Maybe purchasing this 48-roll package of paper towels wasn’t a wise idea.”
He ignored my lame attempt at humor as he hunched over the coffee table and used his index finger to separate 605 pale beige and white pieces from 421 light and dark blue pieces.
Our struggle to locate and connect all the frame pieces would last eight days. Only after Casey gave up half of his Sunday did we have The Wave’s full border. Holding up an amoeba shaped piece with no holes or nubs, Casey said, “This is a true jigsaw! No two pieces are alike.” I picked up a piece with four holes and one part looking like Thor’s hammer hand.
“You’re right,” I said.
Gary added, “That should make this puzzle easier!”
Three weeks later Hokusai’s Wave is about to drown us in despair.
I find myself sitting at the folding table, staring at a spot for two missing pieces of white and blue sea foam in the bottom left corner of the jigsaw. Then 86 minutes later, I’ve forgotten to take the dog on his afternoon walk, the cat is meowing, and my throbbing headache convinces me I may have COVID. And I’ve found neither puzzle piece.
I daily remind Gary, “This is the last damn jigsaw this apartment will ever know! You understand?” And if he pretends to not hear me, I say, “This place is not big enough for two adults, a 60-pound long haired dog, an ancient forever-meowing cat, AND a thousand piece puzzle!”
I believe Casey’s cool spatial recognition skills and his visual stamina will keep me from divorcing his father. And I don’t think I will really accidentally overturn my grandma’s old folding table while sweeping up dog hair one morning. That’s the optimist in me.
However, I have begun to regret downsizing from our 1,600 square foot, four bedroom home for this “cozy” condo. The jigsaw frustration and the pandemic uncertainty may be what sends me over the edge of Nietzsche’s abyss.
Katsushika Hokusai said, “It was not until after my 70th year that I produced anything of significance,” but at age 64, I do not feel I have the time or the patience to reconstruct his fantastic wave out of misshapen bits of colored paperboard before I enter a new decade!
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.
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.
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.