Mother’s Day retrospective

Dear Mom,

Another Mother’s Day has passed without you. Though I was physically required to be present in a non Mother’s Day environment, my mind was drawn to thoughts of you, remembrances of years and years of safety in the same world with you. As long as you were here with me, no matter what happened, big or small, I knew there was a safety net. Regardless of the fact that in recent years you were rarely called upon in that capacity, just knowing it was possible made me invincible. Now that you have gone to a place that I know nothing of (yet) I am a little bit less bullet proof.

My mom, age 13
My mom, age 13

Honestly, I don’t need a Hallmark holiday to think of you. I do it every day, in a variety of situations. Sometimes a particular sound or location or something someone says will trigger it. Other times I can’t, for the life of me, figure out what zinged you into my consciousness at that moment. There is something about being at my desk at work that frequently makes me startle for a split second and wonder if I have left you alone at the house for too long. This happens several times a week. For just a moment, I will pitch madly through my muddled mind for orienting circumstances, settling finally on the fact that you are gone, that I was there with you as you left this life, that I don’t need to watch over you any more. The tears will spring to my eyes for a moment (as they are now) and I will stare unseeingly at my desk or computer monitor or telephone, then right myself and move on. Every time I pass a certain location on the freeway, I wonder if I will get back to your house in time. For what, I don’t know. I listen to your granddaughter speaking in her “realtor voice” when on the phone with a client, and remember you having that very same voice back in the days when you were working and I was still a girl in my mother’s house. And for some crazy reason, I think of you sometimes when putting my coffee in the microwave to reheat. Now, isn’t that just silly?

Christmas 1965ish
Christmas 1964

Every few days, I think to call you, or I see a card that would be perfect to send to you. I finally stopped thinking I should print a copy of a recently taken photo of one of the kids for you. You always took such pleasure in those things. You almost never were too busy to hear of the latest escapades, or the budding plans, or the hard won accomplishments of your grandchildren. You always asked after every single one of them each time we talked on the phone or got together for lunch. Your delight when one of them visited was always wonderful to see. I miss being able to consult with you when I am worried about one of my babies. Your advice, and sometimes just the questions you thought to ask, so often pointed me in the right direction, or at least a different one that I might not have thought of on my own. Just knowing that you knew my concerns made them less dangerous somehow. Thank you. I miss that about you. Too many people these days are uninterested in anything outside their own immediate wants and needs.

I miss, too, exchanging books with you. I used to buy my next read with you in mind. Wonder if Mom will like this one? I couldn’t wait to bring you new books by our favorite authors. I was sad with you when we learned that Maeve Binchey died. And I wonder if you and Papa are getting to laugh with Ferrol Sams wherever you are. He died a couple of weeks after you did, you know. We so wanted him to write us another couple of good books, didn’t we? Wasn’t it fun when we went to the Decatur Book Fair and listened to him speak and read from one of his books? Anyway, I still read constantly, Mom. And now when I have something good to pass on, I take it to Aunt Nona for you. We both miss you being in the middle of that loop, though. And hey, I have a Kindle reader on my iPad now, but I still prefer a bound book. Pages to turn and covers to hold. Just like you and I predicted.

Camping, 1960s
Camping, 1960s

I wish I could thank you again for the wonderful childhood you worked so hard to provide for me and my brother. I know you know how much I appreciated your devotion, especially after I had children of my own and understood more deeply the sacrifices you made. You knew that being a mother myself would open my eyes to a world I didn’t imagine prior to that time. Thank you for being such a good example to me. I feel always a step or two behind in following that example, but I at least have a model worth emulating. I sometimes wonder what of that good teaching I have passed on to my own kids. Sometimes I see it in them, but I think some bits are far more deeply held and not visible, even to their mother.

Best grandmother ever.
Best grandmother ever.

And Mom, regardless of the fact that you and I were so different in our approach to life, in what we regarded as success, in how we held our spiritual beliefs, you knew how to appreciate me and make me feel accepted and loved and encouraged always. I hope my kids feel that kind of love from me, too. You gave my brother and me community and a feeling of responsibility to our family and neighbors. I find it kind of poignant that when you died, it was the end of our old neighborhood. Nearly fifty years of one after another of the original families dying out or moving on. You were the last one. You stuck it out. Well done.

Glo and Gor, 2011
Glo and Gor, 2011

That last year with you, after the horrible diagnosis and surgery that never should have happened, was rich and frightening all at once. Suddenly you were without your sweet Gordon, and sickness had overcome you, and you were so, so lost. I am glad I was able to stay with you and care for you that last year.  It was such a small payback for the fifty plus years that you had been a stalwart fan and protector to me.  You and I both learned how to be the people we needed to be during that hard time. I fumbled my way through medicines and feeding you, bathing you and dressing you. We listened to music together sometimes, you let me read to you at other times. I almost couldn’t stand it when you thanked me so humbly every day for caring for you, for loving you.  But you would slowly raise that frail thin little hand to my face and tell me I was your angel… And so we wound slowly down to that last night, and just before the sun rose, I whispered goodbye to you.image

I miss you. We all miss you. You were a fine woman from a proud line of fine southern women, and the world lost a little bit of its color when you left. I am trying to carry on the tradition, albeit with a slightly different pallet than yours. But then, isn’t that what you did?

Love you, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day.

Learning….always.

I love to learn new things. I think I may have had a whole lot more fun homeschooling my two youngest kids than they did. Poor things, they tolerated my insane ideas about how to learn outside the box, but I think if you ask them today, they might say they are at least a little glad we were a bit unorthodox. We did have a few fun field trips. We went to Williamsburg and Andersonville when all the other kids were in school, so could enjoy the setting without the usual constraints of overcrowding or being limited to spring break or summer vacation times. And I know they will agree that Six Flags is unmatched for nonstop fun on homeschool days. We rode those roller coasters til every bone in our bodies ached because there were no lines, no wait. My daughter was able to take a hands-on botany class through the Environmental Learning Lab at the Tennessee Aquarium one spring. A couple of times a month I took her to meet her class in a wicked beautiful forest at the foot of Lookout Mountain for a day of tromping around and studying trees and other flora. I took a book along and camped out in the car with my ubiquitous travel cup of coffee and hours of uninterrupted time to read.

While some of the homeschooling families we met during this time of exploration were pure fruitcakes, and their kids occasional horrors of misbehavior, we did meet and make a few fascinating long term friends. There were some awesome instructors, as well. Mark Warren, of Medicine Bow School of Earthlore is a genius of primitive knowledge, and visiting his camp in the north Georgia mountains is an experience I will never forget. We learned about tracking and natural foods and making primitive tools. Another dynamo of guerrilla learning we met during this time is Vered Kleinburger, whose connections bring me over the last few years to my own primitive classroom at Earthskills Rendezvous. My kids are grown and busy now, and inclined toward other endeavors, but their mom never got enough of the primitive skills training during their growing years to suit her.

Getting acclimated
Getting acclimated

I have been to two of the spring encampments staged by Earthskills in the last couple of years. They are held at a bucolic acreage near LaFayette, Georgia for one week each spring and fall. Instructors and students alike bring tents and campers or car camp for the week. At my first visit, I had an old ’88 Volvo 240 wagon which, with the back seat folded down, made the perfect sleeping enclosure ~ happily up off the ground and easy to stow my stuff once I crawled (literally) out of my cozy sleeping nest in the mornings. And by the way, coffee brewed on a camp stove out in the morning mist is the best coffee in the world. Just saying.

imageOrganic and locally gathered foods are cooked in the outdoor kitchen each morning and evening, and the meals are scrumptious! Instructors of various primitive skills from all over the country gather to impart their knowledge to those of us who attend, and the atmosphere is fascinating as people from all walks of life share what they know, and learn without the stress of modern competition for grades. On my first visit, I took a tracking and snares course, and learned basket making using locally available materials such as kudzu (lord, we have enough of that pest!) and pine needles and muscadine vines. I spent one day following a fella through the fields and woods who instructed us on locally growing plants that were edible and others that would kill us (and don’t confuse the two!). And how many people know how to generate fire from wood friction? I do.

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Year two, I was unable to stay for the whole week, but had two wonderful nights and the better part of three days to learn hand building and ground firing of pottery with Keith Grenoble. While I was there, I observed as a new cob oven was built near the kitchen and a stone BBQ pit was begun. I spent a few hours with Baron Brown learning to carve primitive eating utensils. I made my own spoon from a split of poplar wood! I also learned that a simple utility knife from Home Depot makes a very versatile carving tool, and bought one on my way home. Still on the hunt for a good gouge with the proper curvature for spoon bowls, though.

Lovely designs on cob oven
Lovely designs on cob oven

In the evenings after supper, folks gather around the central council fire (which is kept burning throughout the week) to tell stories, sings songs and DRUM! The drumming leads to dancing and the entire effect is electrifying! One night of the council fire is always enough for me, so I spent my second evening with friends, both new and from the year before, around a bottle of very mellow tequila, telling our own stories and enjoying the truly dark night sky and a million usually invisible stars. Our camp was a little distance from the central fire, lending the somewhat removed thrumming of the drums a spectral character.

Let the drumming begin!
Let the drumming begin!

Though I am not a happy camper in the hot, steamy summers on offer in Georgia, winter and early spring are heavenly with cool cool nights and fresh sunny days. I lucked out with this most recent encampment, as there was no rain, and my new mummy style sleeping bag was a dream to sleep in. Looking forward to next year, learning new skills ~ split oak baskets or hide tanning next time. And who knows, maybe by spring, I will be sleeping in my bus. Stay tuned…..

Future spoon
Future spoon

Existo inferno

If you have looked at the “About” page on here, you might have noticed that I am reluctantly in Georgia. It’s true. I was born here, my family kept me here, real estate encumbrance is keeping me still.  My little gypsy heart flits about anywhere else, though, and especially on days like today. It’s May 6th and already we are hitting the 90 degree mark. Tomorrow and the next day are forecast to be hotter.

The morons in the driver seat in Washington tell us, in dramatic and nuanced tones, that it’s that evil global warming coming to devour us. Children, I am here to tell you that I have been in this armpit of Amerika all my life, and it has always been this way. There is a reason the rest of the world perceives southerners as lazy ~ about eight months out of the year it is too frickin hot to move. We puddle up in self defense. Any uptick in human energy expenditure is exponentially multiplied in sweat production. It’s kind of gross, really. You see all those commercials on video media expounding the sweetness of hard physical exercise, and that sexy glow of sweat is always the representative of healthy virtue. Well, I do not find that at all attractive. Those people just look like we do here in the south on any given Tuesday, while washing the dishes, or, god forbid, drying our hair after a pointless shower. Yes, yes, we have air conditioning (and indoor plumbing), but it costs the same as an S class Mercedes lease every month to pay for it.

No, I am a winter girl. I love sweaters and boots and seeing my breath when I step happily and energetically out the door. I love that the dogs are frisky and alert.  My cars run better in the cold. And the best part, the most beautiful thing about winter and cold is the way the woods look. The grays and blacks of the naked trees are a geometric wonderland to me. In the mountains, the leafless hillsides are revealed, and the boulders and ravines and rushing little streams are all bared to our eyes. Heaven.

For now, though, there will be six months of incessant green, and shimmering heat waves, and ticks, mosquitos and gnats. In a couple of months the swimming pools will all be warm as bathtubs, even at midnight.

Me? I am dreaming of cool crisp evenings and bonfires and s’mores. I might have packed away my sweaters for now, but summer hasn’t defeated me yet.

 

Rare snow in Georgia, 2014
Rare snow in Georgia, 2014

 

Stepping off the edge….

…into the abyss of this unfamiliar medium. Learning as I go, which has been the hallmark of my education, I will hope not to scald the sensibilities of any readers who stumble into this little cow patty.  Keep your boots on though, just to be safe.

My beautiful Mom and me in 1958
My beautiful Mom and me in 1958

I am 56 years old. Can I say that? It surprises the hell out of me anytime someone asks my age and I have to say that number out loud. Though I have children ranging in age from 23 to 37, I surely couldn’t have left the safety of my thirties yet, could I? Yes, there are physical indicators that a few extra decades have been enjoyed (mean old Mr Gravity…), but mischief is so attractive, and crazy, teenagery things pop into my head with some regularity.  For instance, my youngest daughter and I are planning a trip to England this summer to walk 85 miles along Hadrian’s Wall.  Have I lost my ever lovin mind?  Maybe, but then again, maybe it has fled to the wall already and is warbling my name to draw me there.  We’ll see. Yes, we’ll see how long these damned old knees hold out, carrying my belongings on my back over hill and dale, scrambling to keep up with my lithe 23 year old child. I am thinking the Ministry of Funny Walks might want to observe my progress toward Bowness-on-Solway.

Jeez, it’s midnight, and my eyes are crossing, and the pup alarm goes off at daybreak in this house.  The lateness of the hour will be my excuse for the rambling nature of this first foray into Blogland. I promise to gather my wits a bit as I go along with this, and present more coherent collections of thoughts in the future. Really. I swear.