Monday, June 28, 2010

Garnets Fell From Our Fingers

Garnets fell from our fingers.
Dark red, glinting, as big as your thumbnail. 
Uncut, unsmooth.
The very droplets of mountain blood,
Seemed to us,
Lying scattered
In the ice cold pool at the base of those falls.
Our hands were blue with the scooping up
of the gems. 
Garnet Falls. 
We camped there on many a midsummer night.   
Fire flies and bats flickered and flit above our heads;
Smoke rose from forbidden cigarettes.
Wicked giggling whispers flew like luna moths
behind furtive wanderings into the forest.
One, then the other, would stumble away
From the fire lit circle muttering
Something about a quick errand in the dark;
But really just an excuse for a stolen kiss.

Or two.

Or more. 
Sometimes a fox would pierce the whoosh of the falls with a bark.
And an answer echoed back
From down in the rill where the water went. 
Our flashlights pecked
The summit of the falls,
Water cascading down glazing our upraised faces
Bearing little clots of sparkling petrified mountain blood;
Fractured quartzite crystals lined our jeans pockets.
With fire and beer wound down
Into small amber embers
We nodded.
We slept dreamless
Innocent and loose,
Sometimes alone, sometimes in the arms of another,
Splayed out on the stone strewn ground
Like angels fallen from a great height. 
We awoke,
Wet and shivering and chigger bit,
To the droning machines grooming
the greens and fairways of the course.

The Garnet Falls succumbed to the expansive development of the golf course and was bulldozed to make way for a new, more challenging fairway.  A corrugated metal conduit juts from the side of a mud hill where it once was, giving silent testament to the magic that lay beneath. 
I am so glad I remember…I know where the magic is buried.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer Solstice Smile

Happy Summer Solstice!

Dog is Love

Road Rash

"Let's go!"

We didn’t even make it out of the driveway before they started bitching at each other.
“Move your seat up, dumb ass, my knees are up around my ears!”
“No.  Deal with it, butthole.”
“You selfish tool! Just you wait ‘til you’re back here, I am going to shove this right up…”
And so on. 
Until they ran out of angry glares and filthy insulting compound words (although I was impressed with their creativity) and fell into that deep comatose drool-on-the-pillow sleep provoked by the hum and hush of the air-conditioned car hurtling up the Florida Turnpike heading north.  With that serene snore-punctuated peace, I successfully launched our annual summer mountain retreat to western North Carolina.
Bella, my Pomeranian best friend, chose to doze in my lap as we drove.  She drooled as well rendering me a little damp and sweaty, but feeling loved.  Ah well.
The closer I got to my mountains, the bigger the grin on my face.  Those eleven hours of discomfort cooped up in the car with two self-absorbed teenagers and a Pomeranian was well worth it. 
Even though I threw up a couple of times.  Car sick. 
My seventeen year old son and fifteen year old daughter were being wrenched away from their friends and Xbox and sleepovers and mall assaults and paintball and the beach and budding sweaty freak out romance to see the Grandparents, PapaJohn and MamaLo. 
So they weren’t too psyched up for the trip to begin with.  
But the allure of being spoiled rotten by the grands, along with water skiing, white water kayaking, hiking and climbing mountains, bonfires, fresh veggies and s’mores somehow changed their minds.  The smorgasbord was irresistible and they faux-reluctantly condescended to pack the car and leave one hundred degree temperatures in Central Florida behind. 
For a while there it seemed like Bella and I were the only two really excited to take the trip. 
And for a short stint at the beginning, I was about to turn the teens out onto the side of the road with a few bucks and a well-wish for a successful hitchhike back home.
But they woke up refreshed and we were treated to a reading of chapters of Twilight by the Girl making the miles fly by on vampiric wings of teen age angst.  In fact, the Boy requested that the Girl read on in her dramatic interpretation of the story, multiple times, sealing a sweet sibling camaraderie that released us all.   Bella influenced the mood by flashing us all, in turn, her signature “super happy lovey face;” she is blissful to be with her people.
We marked the time by identifying familiar milestones:  Seven, count ‘em, 13 foot Gator attractions, the big cool split-in-half Ron Jon sign where the Turnpike turns into I-75, Cordele where Aunt Polly talked a man into not shooting her, and cows in pastures (moo!).

“Strippers!  Need we say more!”   By far the winning billboard this trip.
 We saw the giant peanut, and the giant peach.  We saw the Phantom fireworks place in South Carolina and marked it for the return trip home so we could explode stuff in the back yard on Independence Day.
 He got his license about a week ago so I let my son take the wheel on about Macon.   He only scared the shit out of me once.  He even took the dreaded Falls road up into the mountains gracefully, driving Ursula the PT Cruiser gently, steeply uphill without revving her hot into overdrive through rain and mist.  
And without pissing off any locals.   They hate us pokey flatlanders.
 The road bloomed with steamy tendrils of moisture as the summer rain landed on the pre-heated pavement, and the setting sun burst through the trees in flickering pops of honey yellow as we drove through to the top. 
We're here now.  Time is malleable.  The mountains breathe a smoky hello. 

 Bella on the hosta path.

photos: by us
and courtesy of  (peanut, peach) 

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Such a Sucker I Am

Red Shoes did it again.  Another quiz.  I must have a soft spot for smart ass marginally pervy guys from Mississippi who play guitar and blog about tornadoes.  Or, I am becoming unnaturally narcissistic.  And no one likes a narcissist so...I blame shoes.

I am to tell seven (7) things formerly unknown to y'all about myself in order to earn the Versatile Blogger Award depicted above.  (See it glowing?)

Ironically, though, upon mulling it over, I have discovered seven (7) potential post  topics I have not thought of before.  So thanks, shoes, for shaking the tree.  Good  fruit fell out.

1.  I had a pet skunk.

2.  My second toe is longer than my big toe.

3.  I was impaled in the arm by a flying carpentry nail.  No nail gun involved.

4.  Witnessed a car accident with driver ejected.  Held the victim's wound shut until paramedics showed up. 

5.  Slept in Mickey Mouse's bed.

6.  Had beers with Dennis Hopper.

7.  Danced with Ted Bundy.

Again, I am a lazy girl, so you ALL may abscond with earn the Versatile Blogger Award if you tell us in my comments, or your own blog, seven (7) juicy pervy formerly unknown things about yourself. 

Monday, June 14, 2010

Dad Builds Character

Already told to go pound sand by mom, dad enlisted his first born, me, as the perfect accomplice for a project he was planning for sundown. 
“It’ll take us five minutes, just five minutes, swear.”
 Common family knowledge was that if dad estimated five minutes on a job starting at sundown that meant we might make it back by dawn, and usually in need of stitches, a splint or antihistamines. 
It all started when dad had a rocking chair chat with a couple of the local guys down at Rheinman’s store.  Since that confab, he had been obsessed with fulfilling this mysterious rustic Jeremiah Johnson live off the land dream. 
And without saying exactly what it was, he was hard selling the experience as a wilderness epiphany; an ultimate homage to the local food chain and a pioneer-style boon to family togetherness.  
Mom’s eyes never stopped rolling. 
And grandma, who was raised on an Illinois farm, had been there, done it and preferred store-bought lunch at the club.
 On the front porch of the cabin we had rented at Lake Toxaway in North Carolina for summer vacation, I found dad gazing wistfully at the sun sinking low over Hogback Mountain while sharpening a small three-pronged fork-like tool with a whetstone.  He had inserted the end of a long dowel into the hollow circular bottom of the pointy sharp thing creating a fork on a stick.  It was a trident like those wielded by that seaweed-bearded, flipper-footed bad ass, Neptune, in cartoons.
In front of him on the porch bench were a couple of flashlights, a big burlap bag and (aw, hells bells) my little brother.  He was all duded up in jeans, a sturdy plaid shirt, hiking boots and enough “Off” bug repellent to give him hallucinations.
He was giving me the extra hostile stink eye. 
He had already been told to stand down from this mission by mom and grandma and he was pissed that I, a girl, was getting to fulfill my dominance by birth order.  He could come along but only to watch.  Mom had indicated that she would kick dad’s tall ass if my little brother got so much as a chigger bite.
“I just need you to hold the flashlight for me steady tonight, got it?”
“Sure dad.  On what?”
Mom hollered from the kitchenette, now exasperated because she had not successfully shut this thing down.
“Damn it, John Louis, you’re on your own. I am not going to clean them, or cook them and sure as hell not going to eat them!”
“C’mon, let’s go.  She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.  You’re going to love this…”
We gathered up the equipment and scurried down the steps out into the night.  I figured dad was up for some kind of nocturnal spear fishing and since we’d been fishing together before, I was liking this. 
We wound our way down the horse path through the apple orchard smelling the sweet late summer rot of fallen heirloom fruit and the comforting tang of horse poop being careful not to slip.  The golf course lay ahead of us with its obsessively groomed fairways, buzz cut putting greens and shiny rippling water hazards teeming with stocked fish.  Bream, bass, trout – all fun to catch, good eating and I was getting excited.   
The golf course ponds positively thundered this particular night with the cacophonous grunts and squeaks of horny mating bullfrogs bubbling out their chins with aural gusts of seductive sound.  Frog mating calls so loud they echoed across the rills and hills surrounding them.  The whole place pulsed and vibrated with frog song and firefly blinks…HuhRUMPH! Bree-deet! Aerk-aerk-aerk!
My father certainly was enthralled.  Not in a pastoral poetic way though.
We picked out one of the ponds, the biggest, and dad sat the two of us down on a tee box for the briefing.
“Boy, you will sit here and watch.  Girl, you go hunt out the frogs on the bank of the pond, put the flashlight on ’em from behind me, and I’ll gig ‘em real quick like this... “
He demonstrated his technique by sneaking up on an imaginary frog, all Elmer Fudd –like.  He raised the trident up, took aim, and smote the ground with a moist thud.
DAD!   You’re going to stab frogsNOOOOOO!”
“Calm down and don’t be a baby.  They don’t feel it because you gig them in the head, if you’re doing it right.  And they’re just amphibians. OK?
"Oh my GOD, dad.  Eew." 
 "Hey, it's 'oh my gosh.' You know your mom hates that.  Now, after I have them stuck on the gig, I’ll hold them up so you can get a good grab to pull them off the prongs and put them in the burlap sack…”
“Uh uh NO! Dad, I can’t do thatWhy are you doing this?”
“Frog legs! They taste just like chicken.  You’ll love them. C’mon now...No guts no glory. ”
I got up on my feet. “No.  I’m not gonna. That’s just gross!”  And I locked my knees.
From out of the tense darkness, a small, grubby, poopy-headed voice piped in.
“I’ll do it!”
 Up stepped my little brother with all the cheeky bravado of one who finally saw his best shot materialize to join the testosterone club in the family.  He was going to earn his eggs right there, right then.
For a second, I think my dad calculated whether mom’s ass kicking would be worth it, determined it was well worth it and some, and made a command decision.
“Well, ok then.  Looks like your brother has more guts than you do.  Go on, son, tie that gunny sack to your waist, grab a flashlight and let’s go.”
Now, I don’t know if it was blood beating through my mortified head or the sound of the proverbial gauntlet smashing down to the ground. One or the other goaded me to snatch that flashlight and bag out of my brother’s grasp, and stomp not only down onto the bank of that pond, but directly into it.  I waded up to my waist in the dark, muddy and, as we came to find out later, moccasin-infested water.
I would NOT be called a coward by my father. 
The burlap bag floated next to me and I turned around to face the bank of the pond.  I could see my father’s silhouette, my little brother a small blob of shadow beside him.
 The frogs went silent.  Thousands of shining amphibian eyes glowed back at me.  
I whispered, “I’m sorry.”

 “OK, dad.  I got one in the spotlight. Let’s GO." 

Next morning, grandma, a half-smile on her lips and her grey hairpiece neatly pinned to her head, was drifting around the little kitchenette in the cabin when I woke up.  I smelled day-old sale donuts in the oven that she had cut in half, buttered, and broiled to a caramelized golden brown crunch.   The table was set and she was scrambling bright yellow eggs in an improvised double boiler.  Next to the eggs, the cast iron skillet huffed and hissed with aluminum foil on top covering the contents for cooking. 
Mom got her coffee and plunked down in a chair. “Hey, what’s in the pan? Bacon?”
Grandma went to show her, but was upstaged by several loud tapping sounds. The tin foil on the fry pan dimpled up with each tap like dings in a cheap car door.  Then it flew off,  just levitated, and fell to the ground as though of its own accord, revealing last night’s quarry, breaded, frying up, and twitching reflexively in hot bacon grease.
“Ha!” said grandma, “I forgot they still like to be a-kickin’ while they’re a-cookin.’”

Friday, June 11, 2010

Dad Creates a Stir

Dad always wanted me to be a boy. 
The day I was born, my dad, by virtue of being a resident doctor at Holy Cross Hospital, was permitted to hang out with mom while she labored to bring me into the world.   Dad had privileges, unlike all the other anxious daddy-os brooding and pacing carpet ruts in the waiting room floor.   
I was way overdue and not making any signs of popping out any time soon. Reportedly, my birth was a mighty push helped along by forceps and some happy-slappy amnesia-inducing medications they wouldn’t dare use today.  But everything turned out fine.  Mom and daughter resting comfortably. 
There was one small problem, however, that provoked a ripple of concern throughout the hospital.
When, apparently against my will,  I was yanked blinking and squealing out into the open, Dr. Pat announced, “It’s a GIRL!”  
Then (and this must’ve been some Rockwell tableau) the obstetrical nurses and attending nuns gently applauded and made approving cooing noises.  All admiring eyes, welling with tears of joy, were trained on the handsome young doctor who looked like Gregory Peck, his Grace Kelly doppelganger wife and their naked fussing pink wiggly newborn daughter.
Dad took a big breath looked seriously at my woozy giggling mom, then at me, and in a moment that will live in hospital infamy, he said:
“Put it back until it grows a dangle.”
Tick. Tock.   
Then explosively my mother laughed like a crazy maniacal doped-up nut woman and flopped back on the pillows in a swoon.  Dad turned on his heel and rapidly left the labor room, never even attempting to kiss or hug mom or me, leaving the nuns and nursing staff in a stunned silence.
At Holy Cross, the underground railroad of juicy news was the staff -  Telegraph, telephone, tell-a-nurse or tell-a-nun as the case may be.  So the whisper game began quoting my father’s parting “dangle” remark, how my mom was apparently driven mad by the comment and passed out, and the tsk-tsking was escalating over what it seemed to reveal.   
The rumor travelled at light-speed from the top of the hospital to the lobby infecting every coffee room and water cooler in its path.
 “Could it be that the doctor doesn’t want his daughter?”
Now, dad and mom have wicked senses of humor.  Of course they had discussed the idea of gender and they were fine with either.  But Dad had teased mom relentlessly throughout this first pregnancy with crude faux-machismo taunts about producing a first born boy, or else
His punchline delivery was in that Jackie Gleason-style “trip to the moon” kind of humor which was broadcasting in glorious black and white on TVs everywhere at the time. 
He had saved up the “dangle” line as some kind of uproarious finale to his nine month (no, ten month) long comedy show.  That’s why she laughed like crazy. 
It was opus. 
Just nobody else knew that.  
Her swoon?  She was spent and sedated.
And dad’s abrupt exit?  Never much for smoochy, gooey displays of affection, he was just anxious to fulfill a promise to immediately call the grandparents on the phone outside in the hall. That’s all. 
It didn’t take long for the staff at the hospital to see that dad adored his girls and the jungle telegraph piped down almost at once after a little explaining by both my parents.
However, as with any joke, fifty-percent is goofing around and the other fifty-percent is serious.

Lois and John

Monday, June 7, 2010

Dad's Sunday Lesson or Jesus In My Stomach and the F Word

That creepy smug expression on my younger brother’s face gave me a solidly foreboding hint about how the rest of that Sunday was going to go. 

When he flopped down on the car seat with his arms crossed, and sat completely still with that damn prissy Chiclet-toothed grin, he purposely trained his eyes to stare out the windshield with that annoying superior glint he knew I hated.  He was calculating his amazing windfall of leverage over me.   He was silently patting his suddenly very full ammo bag ready to shoot the first volley once Dad came back.  He was loaded. 
He was going to tell.
Sunday mornings meant Dad stopping by each of our rooms at 6 a.m. to snatch the bedcovers off of us in one deft yank yelling, “It’s time to pay the piper!” 

That was Dad code for:   “It’s time to go to Mass!” 

We’d roll out moaning and scowl at Mom, who was Lutheran and exempt, as she put out our dress-up clothes. Mom even got the morning off of breakfast duty since, in those days, one fasted before taking communion. 
Sister Aloysius Gonzaga de Josephina Maria said it was so that the chunk of the actual body of Christ we were eating had a nice unobstructed pure entrance into our stomachs and could do the most good with our little heathen lives.   God forbid Jesus had to work around a bellyful of Fruit Loops!  Or bacon, for the love of Pete.  He was Jewish after all. 
Starving, I buttoned myself into a jumper or skirt with blouse, yanked on white socks and screwed my beach roughened feet into black patent leather baby doll shoes.  (Jesus, I liked to think, really enjoyed the occasional pixie stick or Jolly Rancher candy I kept stashed and ate before Mass to keep my stomach from roaring in church.  Must’ve been much like getting a nice courtesy basket when visiting somewhere.)
My brother had to wear seersucker shorts, shirt with tie, a jacket, white socks and the dreaded White Buck Shoes with Orange Soles, like Dad’s.  They looked like Atticus Finch and mini-Atticus Finch together.  I was a dour Scout bringing up the rear,  all wrinkly and mopey wishing I were barefoot in my swimsuit.  i was not happy being hustled off in Dad’s rust-colored Oldsmobile convertible  to church where everything smelled funny .
Church was in a hospital for us.  The aroma was a mélange of incense, bleach, flowers and pee.  Dad was a General Practice Physician and would put all his patients in Holy Cross Hospital.  He was pretty crafty to make us attend Mass there in the chapel so he could multi-task and do a complete set of “rounds” checking on his patients after services. 
Luckily, Father “Machine Gun” Kelly said the Mass at a light-speed pace like he was unloading a clip on a Gatling gun and we were usually done in twenty minutes.  Saying goodbye every single Sunday, he couldn’t say enough about our chlorine green hair since being on a swimming team had given our white blonde locks an absinthe colored tint. 

“Oh! Look! It’s me little leprechauns come to see Jesus!”

We loved that Lucky Charms priest.  
As he disappeared into the green tile environment of the hospital to do rounds, Dad always gave me the keys to the car so I could “be in charge” and listen to the radio until he came back.  My brother and I would start off fairly calm in the car waiting patiently, since we were still in a “state of grace” from Mass.  (No, actually our blood sugar was hitting rock bottom from the fasting so we were hot, weak and dizzy.  Even though Jesus was in my stomach redecorating my little soul, I was working up the meanness anyway.) 
I wanted to listen to Rick Shaw on 106.7 because he played beach music and that’s where I was headed that day once I peeled my jumper and shoes off.  My brother wanted to listen to anything other than what I wanted to listen to, so he started jabbing his fat little finger at the radio mashing the buttons changing the channel just to infuriate me. 
“My turn!” he would shout in that little boy voice.
(Click! Cuban big band music…)
“Dad gave me the keys, I’m the boss!”

 (Click!  “Yer makin’ me Dizzy!  My head is spinnin’…)
“You’re not the boss of me!”

(Click!  And now the news:  President  Johnson signed civil rights legislation…)
“Oh yes I am, and I get to listen to what I want!”

(Click! “Love grows where my Rosemary goes…”)
Then he brought out the big guns:  The White Buck Shoes with the Orange Soles.  He twisted his little chubby seersucker shorts-clad butt around and began delivering a hail of efficiently well-aimed kicks with those infernal shoes.  To my shins, my chest, gasp! my incubating boobs! and my butt which I had turned toward him as a shield.  Scuffs of orange stained my blouse and stormclouds of bruises were coagulating on my arms and legs.
“Stop!  Stop!”

“Make me!”

“Cut it out, you little FUCKER!”

And that’s when his eyes glinted, he went still, and the chiclet teeth shown in an evil little perma-grin.  I was toast.
Dad jumped into the car with the airy energy of a guy who knew his day was going to be all kinds of swell with football games on TV, puttering in the yard, and maybe a nice bourbon and soda for happy hour.  My brother turned to him with puppy dog eyes and a look of pure baffled cherubic curiosity on his chubby little face.  Ignoring my impassioned pantomime to zip it, he asked this pivotal, and might I say the most masterful question in the universe of sibling passive aggressive assaults:
“Daddy, what is a fucker?”  

I saw my Dad just deflate.  His whole day  blew away like so many dandelion seeds.
“Where did you hear that bad word?”

His little fat radio tuner finger rose up and pointed directly at me. 
“She called me a little fucker!”

I had to think fast.  I didn’t know what plausible deniability was at that time, but I went for it like a natural. I willed my face into the incredulous how-could-he-say-that-face, looked him square in the eye and said:
“I DID NOT!  I would never say that!”

“She did, she DID, SHE DID!” 

My brother was red faced and fighting hard now.

Dad, without taking his eyes from mine, not a blink, said:  “Well, son, she says she didn’t.  So we have to believe she didn’t.  Maybe you misheard her.  Let’s go home.”

My brother ranted and raved the whole 3 minute drive home and then sulked in his room the rest of the day. 

But Dad was not done yet.
No, Dad knew this day was coming and a mere spanking wasn’t anywhere near effective enough to curb the oncoming tidal wave of bad language.  He had prepared the ultimate scorched-earth of emotional psychological ops strategies to tackle what he knew his headstrong defiant daughter would gleefully perpetuate for the rest of her life if he didn’t nip it now.  If he botched this one, who knows where it would go?  I could’ve become one of those hippy people uttering strange things about free love and pot and LSD and…Well, the orchestrated take down was executed with relentlessness.
Over lunch he asked me, “Did you call your brother a little fucker?”
“NO, I did NOT.”

At halftime he asked me:  “Did you call your brother a little…?”
“NO!  I didn’t.”

In the yard at the frangipani tree he was trimming he asked:  “Did you call your brother a …?”
“No, Dad…”

At the end of the day, with his bourbon cocktail he asked me:  “Did you call him that?”

He wore me right down.  I was a quivering pudding of abject defeat. Broken.

With bottom lip trembling and resigned to the punishment I knew was coming, I said in a squeak –

“Yes I did, Dad.”
With that, Dad sat me down as he left the room to retrieve the "persuader" as Mom called it...The belt.  I made a pact with myself that I would not cry no matter what.

As he came back into the room, he brought out instead the pink album of pictures that chronicled my life from birth, My Baby Book, and began flipping through it.  In the most effective example of child discipline ever, Dad said: 

“Never did I think that pink little bundle I brought home from the hospital all those years ago would ever say a word like that, especially right after Mass, and then lie about it.” 
I had won the trifecta of damnable behavior with one short utterance. No spanking.  Just the worst feeling I had ever felt in my short little life.

The disappointment of my Father. 
Jesus in my stomach shrugged and sighed.
And for about 10 years after, that word almost never came out of my mouth. 
Well, only sometimes. 
When really provoked, you know? 
I had to really have a reason to…
Ok, fuck it, I said it!  Sorry Dad. 
Sorry Jesus.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Stunt Baby

A Buick clipped the sidewalk in front of me careening on two wheels.  A baby in a soiled diaper clung to the open car door swinging wide toward me, terrified eyes wide, toes clutching the air parallel to the ground. He let go and flew.  I caught him, midair.

*This was just some fun fiction in 50 words.  With all my usual wordy bloviation, this was good discipline!