Letters from Al, 1966-67 ~ February 22, 2017

Dear Alsie,

The box of your letters home from ‘Nam sits on the closet floor between storage boxes of yarn on the right and oil painting materials on the left. Remember your tackle box, the mustard gold one with double stacked trays where you kept fishing lures, worm threaders, nail clippers — the essentials of casting and catching? That box holds tubes of oil paint, has done for these 28 years (29 in November) since that damned blood clot dropped you.

I kept that box of letters at the foot of the bed for several months after I stopped writing to you, telling myself I would continue, I would complete the project I’d set for myself, I would answer them all — from the now — from these decades of what was once our future. On some level, I wanted to prove you wrong. I wanted to show you I could go the distance, not leave a work short of what it could be. You were, to my way of thinking, absolutely on the money 90% of the time. And I appreciated your honesty. (So easy to write — but did I?) (Being the ghost that you are, you’ve probably noted the long pause before the words began spilling again.)

Here’s the thing: This letter is not in response to one of yours. This letter is to share the news with you that one of my efforts has been published. This letter is to let you know that a publisher believed I had gone the distance, not left the work short.

I’m full of misgivings. Can’t stop wondering what you would think, what you would say. I did so love your straightforward, pragmatic, left brain way of looking at things — so opposite from me. I miss you, you lovely, lovely man.

Ok. So after another longish pause and getting my eyes dry and refocusing, what do I hear? I hear you doing your Donald Duck impression, spraying my misgivings with saliva, making me smile.

xo,
lynnsie

p.s. The True Life Adventures of Irene in White Tights is the name of the book, published by Waterstreet Press. I add this just in case the afterlife has a library.

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750words March 24 2015 ~ Punch Cards and Angels

Earlier today I read a blog post by Ken Decroo (Baja Moto Quest) about a dear friend Ken had lost to cancer and I started thinking about losses and the blanks those who go leave behind, like punched holes in a ticket or those cards stores hand out where there’s maybe twelve numbers and when all twelve are punched you get a free skein of yarn at the knitting store, or a free carton of smokes at the cigarette store, or a big discount on whatever at wherever.

Is my life like one of those cards? A thin, glossy rectangle imprinted with the colors of people who made me (genetically) and teachers who taught me (trained this brain) and friends who have held me and allowed me to hold them (song sharers, happy and sad). Is my life like that? And each time one goes, leaves this world behind … each time one dies, this small flat rectangular card of my life gets a hole punched?

Two years from now I’ll be seventy. The grandmas and grandpas are gone. Mom and dad are gone. Dozens of aunts and uncles are gone. Many cousins. too. And friends. And a husband. Plus teachers. Punched holes in my card have left a whole lot of blanks. There shouldn’t be much glossy space left to apply that hole puncher and squeeze down. Wrong.

Remember that movie from way back when, the 30s or 40s with Loretta Young, David Niven and Cary Grant. Cary was an angel. Loretta was the preacher’s wife. The preacher was Niven. There’s a scene in that movie with a bottle of wine which refills due to the angel’s presence. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not religious. I don’t follow scriptures. I don’t have the gift of “faith”—none of that. Yet, I like the idea of angels. I like to think the punched holes, the blanks, aren’t really blanks at all. I like to think they’re all still here/there—they’ve just gone transparent, see-through—if you know what I mean.

Beyond the idea of transparent angels, there’s the reality of other folks filling the gaps. New friends. New family as grandkids arrive in this world. New people to hold me and allow me to hold them. This punch card, for all the hits it takes, doesn’t get weaker, doesn’t become a tatter of once-shiny cardstock, doesn’t fold, doesn’t tear, doesn’t shred into bits.

To be sure—this life is a little dog-eared at the corners. I wouldn’t want it any other way. If I looked brand new, what would that say? Answer: The holder of this card hasn’t lived, hasn’t been hurt, hasn’t felt the sting of a bee nor watched a swarm of butterflies take over a thistle bush at the creek, hasn’t fallen off a go-cart and ripped a scar to her leg she still rubs with memories every now and again, hasn’t loved hard and been loved tenderly, hasn’t waltzed across Texas and into Arkansas, hasn’t been stepped on, hasn’t stubbed a toe—because she never made a move, never opened a gate or a door to find what might be on the other side. Yep. I’ll take dog-eared any day of the year. And I do.

If I line up my angels—pick them one by one from my brain as if picking up paper dots the hole punch has clipped from life—and interrogate each one as I examine its presence on my fingertip, what will they have to say?

Will Daddy break his shy silence? No. He’ll beam with that ruddy glow–his way of showing pleasure.

Will Mama turn her eyes away? She might. She never quite knew what to make of me, never quite understood what made me tick, yet, she was nonetheless sinfully proud of everything I did from first baby-step right on through to the end.

And Al? What of my late husband?

Each time I try to examine what my fingertip holds, his dot slips away. Honestly, I can’t explain it, can’t say if it’s me causing him to slip—or him—unwilling to be questioned. I could trouble myself about this, throw the blame of whatever it is going on in my thinking (or not going on as the case may be) over my shoulder like a sack of heavy laundry and tote it around throughout the day. Or I can let it go. No need to peel his dot from my finger. He’s already slipped away, silently, not skulking—just slipped away, shoulders straight, head high, what might be a smile about to happen, about to play in his eyes, curl the ends of his moustache, find his lips, change his unreadable face.

750words March 23 2015 ~ Sol y Mar = Sun and Sea

A few days ago I talked a neighbor into going over to the place where I’ll be living in about five weeks. The address is Sol y Mar #3001.

Sol y Mar = Sun and Sea. It’s all that.

The current tenant, floppy curls windblown every once in a while to dance over his eyes, was friendly enough as he answered questions and pushed gray-streaked ringlets away from his line of vision.

I asked about the path to the playa below the house. “You think a woman my age can handle it?”

A middle-aged surfer, he said, “Do this,” and lowered himself to squat, arms extended.

I was down in a heartbeat, arms extended.

“Yeah. You can handle it,” he said, turning toward the arched door separating his place and the neighbors on the south. Lucky for me—his quick turn away from my squatted response to his directive—because some serious wobbles took place as I stood to follow him through the gate. Rather than offering a hand, my neighbor smirked as I wobbled, then seemed a little surprised I made it up without using my hands to push off the flagstone.

“How’s surfing here?” I asked. I’d already mentioned kids and grandkids who surfed.

“For long boarders, it’s a little piece of heaven. K38 is probably better for short boards, guys who really know their stuff.”

Then we were through the gate, passing between the neighbor’s back patio area and the edge of the bluff above the ocean, stopping at a low fence built from wrought iron window-guard scraps and broken plywood. Maybe a bit over two feet tall, and lower on the bluff edge end—the fence was haphazard at best.

“There are two ways to cross. Some of us step over here—were the fence is low,” he said, standing at the edge of the bluff. He demonstrated. On that end the fence was only fourteen or fifteen inches high; between where he stood and a free-fall of a hundred feet or more (probably more) to the playa below—there wasn’t much room for error. A wobble, coupled with a toe tripped up by the fencing, would not be a good thing.

Maybe he noticed the tilt of my head, the doubtful squint of an examining eye, or the smile I wore—one of those smiles that said, “Not a bluebird’s chance in hell.” Whatever the cause, he moved away from the edge toward the opposite end of the fence and said, “Or, you can pull this open here, and wedge through.”

“Here” was nine or twelve feet away from the fence’s low end (and the precipice). “Here” pieces of ironwork and plywood leaned against a post and could be heaved away, allowing sideways (if not frontal) passage. We sidestepped through, walked on barren ground, and approached an outdoor “living” area replete with two easy chairs scavenged from the side of the road or left near a dumpster for anyone who might find them of continued value. Random surfers frequent this spot; one said “Hi, folks” from the open side doors of his van as we passed. He looked as if he’d been napping, sleeping bag hanging loose from the van’s cargo area to kiss the ground. I pictured him kicked back in one of the easy chairs, feet planted on an overturned bucket used as an ottoman, wood blazing in the makeshift fire pit, gazing toward the horizon, watching the sets come in from this high bluff at the edge of the sea.

From there, we stepped sideways down a slopping trail to steeper terrain with shallow steps cut into the earth, curved right and came to a drop where three steps had been chiseled from the shale, dropped to our fannies to reach footing on the highest cut-in step, and continued to the sandy bottom with the next two steps.

The tenant, already several yards ahead, said something along the lines of, “Little piece of heaven,” and I said something like, “Big piece of heaven if you ask me.” Looking north or south, I found nothing but beauty. Beautiful boulders, shimmering water, stretches of clean sand without a single footprint other than those left by the birds.

Cinnamon colored long-legged birds with long needle-like beaks high-stepped through low-tide shallows, seagulls soared air currents overhead, anemones lined the faces of tide pools, and sand-stone formations offered nature-sculpted places to sit and take it all in.

“From here,” the tenant said, “at low tide you can walk as far north as Las Gaviotas or south as far as Puerto Nuevo.”

I looked at my neighbor. “Las Gaviotas? That means I can walk to Rancho Santini by cutting up from the beach there. If low tide’s early enough, I can still walk to Jo’s for morning coffee!” He gave me the smile, the one that says, “Yeah, right. Like that’s gonna happen.”

I’m thinkin’ it will. I’m thinkin’ “Fooled you when I stood up without using my hands. That walk’s gonna happen.” All I have to do is get past those easy chairs up on the bluff before I sit myself down and put my feet up to take it all in …

750words March 14 2015 ~ Tequila and Transplanting Shock

Yesterday I wrote of whales and bricks. Today, while this two-story townhouse casts cooling shade over the backyard, I should be pruning pelagoniums, removing the once broad but now thrashed and wind-shriveled leaves on the banana tree Marcelo planted, soaking the ground to dig up dozens of cana shoots, reducing the spread of red apple—lush succulent that it is—with its fiery pink blooms so loved by the bees. Instead, I’m writing.

Thus far, with the exception of one day, I’ve maneuvered 750 words plus to the page. I blame tequila for the missed day. The thing with tequila is this: It makes a person mis-remember. Or not remember at all. The thing with the missed day is that I know I began my 750 and believed I’d completed them only to find, on the following day, I hadn’t. This lapse may have been age-related, but I choose to blame it on the tequila. Why? Because tequila intake is by choice; aging and memory loss due to aging—is not. By opting for tequila as cause, I avoid the unavoidable proof of a failing brain. Did I, in fact, have tequila on the third of March, the missing day in question? I haven’t a clue …

By May, I will be gone from here, moved to a different place. I will miss my garden: its sandy paths through the red apple groundcover; the palm trees Fernando planted when they were mere pups—barely a foot tall—not even close to the tall dogs they’re meant to become; yucca starts that took hold in this ground after Jennifer brought them to me; creamy white blooms of the calla lilies happily shaded beneath a wall of magenta bougainvillea; mounds and leafy galloping stems of white, purple and pink African daisies; vining tendrils of orange and yellow nasturtium … yes, I will miss all of this. This greening and growing. The chaos of it all. I’ll even miss the weeds.

There are things I can take, dig up and replant at the new place. The double-orange hibiscus must leave Rancho Santini with me just as it left Hacienda Villa de Floresta and the tiny casita where I lived when Jo Ann delivered it into my hands as a house-warming-bienvenidos-welcoming gift. For a time, that hibiscus and I lived at Terraznos in a big party house on the hill across from Calafia; for another spell, the hibiscus in its pot adorned the front porch of the pink house in Rosarito centro before moving with me to Plaza del Mar’s Los Arcos section into Doug and Anna’s charming cabana (which no longer exists). Another move—up the hill from the cabana—the hibiscus occupied an upstairs patio with a view of sea and dolphins at play while I occupied a studio apartment and enjoyed the comforts and friendship of my landlady, Ruth.

So many moves (five) in so few years (three) … it’s a wonder she’s survived. (I think of this particular hibiscus with its double-orange blossoms as female, representational of Judith Hollahan, a precious friend who lost a nasty battle with cancer before a sufficiency of tick-marks decorated her bucket list, a friend who loved “orange” in every possible way—from nail polish to crockery, lipstick to flowers—and is, very likely, the reason I signed the first lease on the tiny casita south of the border. Judith’s death, a few weeks before I traveled south to “visit” a friend, caused me to consider my own “bucket list.” Living in Mexico may not have been on the list when I arrived—but it was once I got here. End of story.)

For three and a half years, I’ve put down roots at Rancho Santini. The double-orange went into the ground here; she’s blossomed as never before, happy beside a deep-pink blooming sister I purchased in early 2014. I’ll take them when I go, dig a hole in new ground, nurture them with food and water, watch them grow, become lovely again after the shock of transplanting. I’ll do the same with the flax, with the blue agave (a gift from Fernando), with the calla lily and new starts of African daisies.

Hmm … all this “missing” business filling the screen … Am I suffering an early onset of the “shock of transplanting”? If so, let it be. Let it come. Bring me a shot of tequila as the sun sets. Let me grieve for what I’m leaving behind. And forget. There’s new ground waiting, a new place to settle into, take root, blossom as, perhaps, I haven’t yet done. I can become lovely again. I will. In time.

750words March 14 2015 ~ Tequila and Transplanting Shock

Yesterday I wrote of whales and bricks. Today, while this two-story townhouse casts cooling shade over the backyard, I should be pruning pelagoniums, removing the once broad but now thrashed and wind-shriveled leaves on the banana tree Marcelo planted, soaking the ground to dig up dozens of cana shoots, reducing the spread of red apple—lush succulent that it is—with its fiery pink blooms so loved by the bees. Instead, I’m writing.

Thus far, with the exception of one day, I’ve maneuvered 750 words plus to the page. I blame tequila for the missed day. The thing with tequila is this: It makes a person mis-remember. Or not remember at all. The thing with the missed day is that I know I began my 750 and believed I’d completed them only to find, on the following day, I hadn’t. This lapse may have been age-related, but I choose to blame it on the tequila. Why? Because tequila intake is by choice; aging and memory loss due to aging—is not. By opting for tequila as cause, I avoid the unavoidable proof of a failing brain. Did I, in fact, have tequila on the third of March, the missing day in question? I haven’t a clue …

By May, I will be gone from here, moved to a different place. I will miss my garden: its sandy paths through the red apple groundcover; the palm trees Fernando planted when they were mere pups—barely a foot tall—not even close to the tall dogs they’re meant to become; yucca starts that took hold in this ground after Jennifer brought them to me; creamy white blooms of the calla lilies happily shaded beneath a wall of magenta bougainvillea; mounds and leafy galloping stems of white, purple and pink African daisies; vining tendrils of orange and yellow nasturtium … yes, I will miss all of this. This greening and growing. The chaos of it all. I’ll even miss the weeds.

There are things I can take, dig up and replant at the new place. The double-orange hibiscus must leave Rancho Santini with me just as it left Hacienda Villa de Floresta and the tiny casita where I lived when Jo Ann delivered it into my hands as a house-warming-bienvenidos-welcoming gift. For a time, that hibiscus and I lived at Terraznos in a big party house on the hill across from Calafia; for another spell, the hibiscus in its pot adorned the front porch of the pink house in Rosarito centro before moving with me to Plaza del Mar’s Los Arcos section into Doug and Anna’s charming cabana (which no longer exists). Another move—up the hill from the cabana—the hibiscus occupied an upstairs patio with a view of sea and dolphins at play while I occupied a studio apartment and enjoyed the comforts and friendship of my landlady, Ruth.

So many moves (five) in so few years (three) … it’s a wonder she’s survived. (I think of this particular hibiscus with its double-orange blossoms as female, representational of Judith Hollahan, a precious friend who lost a nasty battle with cancer before a sufficiency of tick-marks decorated her bucket list, a friend who loved “orange” in every possible way—from nail polish to crockery, lipstick to flowers—and is, very likely, the reason I signed the first lease on the tiny casita south of the border. Judith’s death, a few weeks before I traveled south to “visit” a friend, caused me to consider my own “bucket list.” Living in Mexico may not have been on the list when I arrived—but it was once I got here. End of story.)

For three and a half years, I’ve put down roots at Rancho Santini. The double-orange went into the ground here; she’s blossomed as never before, happy beside a deep-pink blooming sister I purchased in early 2014. I’ll take them when I go, dig a hole in new ground, nurture them with food and water, watch them grow, become lovely again after the shock of transplanting. I’ll do the same with the flax, with the blue agave (a gift from Fernando), with the calla lily and new starts of African daisies.

Hmm … all this “missing” business filling the screen … Am I suffering an early onset of the “shock of transplanting”? If so, let it be. Let it come. Bring me a shot of tequila as the sun sets. Let me grieve for what I’m leaving behind. And forget. There’s new ground waiting, a new place to settle into, take root, blossom as, perhaps, I haven’t yet done. I can become lovely again. I will. In time.

750words March 13, 2015 ~ Whales and Bricks

On May 1, 2015, I will live in a different house with a different view of the ocean. Olga has said the whales cruise close to the shore there as they make their way north from the lagoon at Guerrero Negro, close enough to see the babies jump and play.

Last night I fell asleep thinking of Guerrero Negro and the baby whale who rested above the water on his mother’s back, offering those of us in the panga (boat) his or her gaze from an innocent blue eye, that eye large and unwavering as it scanned us, the mother whale holding place alongside the boat and near enough for our human hands to reach out and stroke her offspring.

I thought about humans, our distrust of our own species, and tried to imagine myself with an infant or toddler or juvenile child, the child cradled or held by the hand as we approached a gathering of people never previously met. I imagined the stance we might take to observe those strangers—perhaps wearing turbans, feathered headdresses, striped muslin gowns, denim pants with the crotch bagged down to the knees, backward ball caps, pink spiked hair, safety pins laced through lips and/or eyebrows, loin cloths, less than loin cloths, etc.—and if I could or would allow them to touch and run hands over my baby/child/loved one.

I wouldn’t. This kind of behavior is not in my DNA.

Then I tried imagining introducing my offspring to a flock of geese, a family of coyotes or orangutans, a colony of ants, a hillside warren of rabbits, bears (any color or size), alligators, ostriches, elephants, yaks, racoons and any number of other terrestrial creatures.

Imagination failed. Although, I must say, not as dramatically as it failed while visualizing sharing (introducing) my young to strangers of my own species.

Eventually, I drifted into sleep. No dreams come to mind as I write this. If they came, they came quietly and left on tiptoe.

Now, I consider the days until I’ll live at the new location. Will the gray whales still be migrating north with their young—those miraculously inquisitive and trusting creatures? Will I take the time to watch for them, plant a chair of adequate height near the balustraded property edge and rest elbows on the top railing, binoculars in hand? Will I need binoculars if they migrate as near the shore as Olga has indicated? Of course, I may miss the migration north. The weather is unseasonably hot and sightings along the coast occur with frequency according to friends with such views.

Movement. Migration. Trust. How we glide through life currents. How different are lives—from whale to woman to child to Monarch butterfly? First steps. First flights. First breach by a youthful gray whale among Guerrero Negro’s calm waters or from the swells of the blue-gray-green Pacific Ocean.

Later steps and glides and slides—tempos at passages ever swifter—until days seemingly pass as if seconds, months as if days.

At 68, recent years are a tumble of formed bricks at my feet, bricks shaped by choices I’ve made and fired by blazing experiences. All recyclable. Nothing is lost. Even the dust of what was once mortar flies off to another horizon, becomes part of another landscape, or sediment, cool under its blanket of water. What does that mean? What am I trying to voice with this misshapen pile of rubble meant to be a metaphor of time (my time) and experience, what I’ve built out of life and what I’ve either (1) allowed to crumble through negligence, (2) intentionally dismantled, or (3) witnessed the forces of nature disassemble.

A line from Sense & Sensibility, a line I won’t quote properly comes to mind: Nothing is lost which cannot be again found.

I think that’s what I’m trying to voice. What is lost, what tumbles down—can be again found, rebuilt. The shape won’t be the same; textures and colors will differ … but maybe, just maybe, new configurations will wear more comfortably, stand stronger against whatever nature may throw their way. Who can say?

Finally, what does all of this have to do with the whales? Let’s say it has to do with their ability to “trust” what’s out there when they breach, break the horizon line with great exhalations, spume rising all but invisibly against a backdrop of blue; it has to do with their great gray-blue inquisitive eyes; with their migratory patterns and timing, their generational runs north and south, south and north.

I’ll be heading farther south shortly (six weeks is a minute these days). Yes, let’s say the whales are the vehicle I’ve opted for to carry the metaphorical bricks of a life I’ve chosen (and continue to choose) to live. May not work for every reader. Doesn’t have to—so long as it works for me. And at the moment, it does.

My Brother Never Had Roosters

I’m convinced Daddy and Mama should never have let them take the roosters from my heels. Those birthmarks must have been red and raised and crowing to be removed from my tiny newborn feet in 1947 for Mama to have agreed.

When I wonder about those roosters now, I have no one to ask. Mama’s only surviving sibling doesn’t recall them at all. Eighty now, he remembers my shoes too white, my dresses too ruffled, my hair too perfectly parted and bangs too perfectly cut. With the exception of Mama’s boring devotion, he remembers no flaws, o birthmarks of any kind, no rooster marking one heel, much less two.

Imagination allows me to re-establish them there, one to each heel, raised like a delicate cameo but in the shapes of full-silhouetted birds. Wings aflap and beaks ajar, they welcome the lines of light that widen to run up blue-black nights, announcing arrivals of breaking days. Try as I may to have these rooster-marks face each other in mirrored affectations, they refuse, adamantly crow toward my left, regardless of where the east and the sun might reside.

What can compare with the imagination of an old writer missing what she was born adorned with? Not much, not when I give those birthmarks personality and substance. Never petulant, never wraiths, they’re rosy as coxcombs overall in color and, being of my heels, possessed of the same sort of magic as, say, Hermes, the crippled messenger of wing’ed feet.

Were my roosters interpreted as harbingers of dark times ahead by my parents? Did their surgical removals leave me with blind feet? shorn wings? No. Their removal left me with infant feet which would later be able to wear shoes without roosters squawking out blisters with every step. With or without those birthmark birds, I was gifted with mother-clucking adoration.

Above all—I was adored.

Out of that great deprevations of the Depression came showers of protection, one set of eyes upon me and then the next and the next. All those pairs of eyes were connected to smiles and coos and no doubts, none, that I could be anything, everything, all. They were a system, a flock and a herd and a gaggle of care—grandparents, aunts, uncles.

There were cousins, of course. Paul and Joe of the early years. Boys. Different. Somehow outside the magic, beyond the protective lore. They didn’t know to turn shoes at the end of the bed to carry off menstrual cramps. They knew nothing of chicken bones and threads buried in holes I dug and dared not look back upon after circling thrice and walking away—the cure for the removal of warts (which disappeared over that summer between third and fourth grades). Yet those boys, my cousins, were part of the cures, of what it took to ease me from who I was, or might maybe have been, into the woman I became. I was as good as they were. As fast. As strong. As fierce. As kind. And as fair.

From brand new with my surgically flawless heels to fourteen, I moved in the circle of No Doubt Whatsoever About Anything Under The Sun. I had a little light that I let shine every Sunday in church and Sister Martha (Brother Benton’s daughter) had a flannel-covered storyboard: pale blue felt made the cut-out Mary; dark blue felt made the robe Joseph wore; the donkey was brown. Books of the Old and New Testaments rolled off my tongue like birdsong. Catholics were wrong on account of confessions; Seventh Day Adventists were wrong on account of their days were confused; Baptists were wrong on account of some reason I cannot recall; atheists were an abomination; agnostics were not defined. My brother Randy and I were given dimes to drop in the basket when it passed down our row; we were meant to tithe. I was oldest and did; he was younger and bought jaw breakers with his.

Randy never had roosters, was never heel-marked with crowing for a next sunrise, a next new beginning. At Easter Egg Hunts, he did fine, though he never earned a single small zippered testament with a color photo of Jesus in the Garden for memorizing The Beatitudes or any of David’s Psalms.

I had them, the little testaments and the roosters. I don’t anymore. But …

If I believed in heaven and, believing, made it there, I can’t help imagining these heels would resurrect those old roosters, wings aflap. Mama would see them and know I’d arrived, intact.