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 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.

Not Like Missing Socks (revisited)

I am drowning in years and buttons — grappling with broken
white threads of dresses, the loosed hems of horizons
teasing appliqués of bald mountains on their way to me . . .

Yet it could be the ocean that comes.  That line where water
meets sky and eyes cannot differentiate blues, grays,
and air is water, water air — until the sun, moon,
or some heavenly body hangs an angle of light
across the shoulders of passing day or the thigh
of lumbering night.

To keep my chin above days, I stack flat goods of florals
I will sew into aprons for others.  I stack wools
in their weaves of Pendleton plaids and the black
and red flannel lumberjack checkers for shirts
I will never make.  I manage toeholds in rolled gowns
and diplomas, use mortar boards for recycled steps.

In 1960 our Home Ec projects were hospital corners
for Perfect Beds, Boiling Water, Nail Filing 101,
Personal Hygiene, the Evils of Sex wheeled in
from a.v. — those audio-video geeks who would later
own Silicone Valley.

Out of tiny blue checks, I made a pincushion horse and gave her
a mane and tail of red yarn, backstitched a halter
and reins I held to ride across cutting tables, gallop
the chalk trays of pond-green boards, and swing
on the pulls of maps, lowering continents into 7th grade,
patches of the world, each in the shape of a scrap . . .

The buttons grew in number — the lost ones, the found ones,
the shanked, 4-holed, 2-holed, oval, square, round,
shell, bone, Czechoslovakian glass, wood, brass.
Grandmothers, aunts, mothers of friends, seamstresses,
doodlers with thread, et al, made me heiress to tins.

This sea of fasteners proved unable to hold a coat closed, a cuff
circling a wrist, or his pocket flap in place.  They are failed
buttons of happenstance, missing buttons of place.  I have
bobby-pinned back a part in the hours, sectioned minutes
to the right and the left, braided seconds and wound them
about my head, which I keep above tides of buttons, and wait
for the horizon to come — buttons all missing from shirts
and skirts worn by somebody somewhere somewhen.

[after reading Christopher Buckley’s “Cloud Journal” from Sky]

March and another Tuesday

 I am a day back from a 2-week journey and I took 2 days in returning instead of the usual 8 hard hours of driving.  I pulled off the 101 at Avila Beach or one of those beaches before San Luis Obispo and I sat on a bench in a park looking out toward the ocean.  I read a book, The Circus in Winter, by Cathy Day, and watched the water roll from far out.  The last bit of ocean before sky, or sky before ocean, is faded purple.  A quarter inch of faded purple, lined top and bottom with a fine stroke of eggplant.  

From that bench just south of SLO, I sometimes put down the novel by Day and made notes in a palm-sized notebook with a wide elasticized band to keep it shut, the kind of notebook that opened up over the top like a steno pad, the kind I discovered was called a “reporter” style journal from a reporter-style man named Jerry at the memoir workshop the weekend before.  And the notes I made were about the Pacific and where it met the sky and the sky and how bright it was and the sparse grass underfoot and the cluster of houses with perfect yards across the street to the north of where I sat.  It was nine in the morning and the day was fresh and the sun perfect.  This was when I decided to take the Highway 1 coastal route, to take turnouts as often as I chose, to read or watch for whales or draw poor sketches of poppies and telephone wires laden with small birds. 

I think it was Monday then.  I was one hour gone from kids and grandkids in Santa Barbara.  I was more like four hours distant from old friends in Huntington Beach and the great ache I knew they felt because a small shadow of that ache throbbed in me – me, so very far removed.  How difficult, how impossible, how sharp-edged and fragile and blank, so very blank at times they must each feel.  I feel as thin as a slip of Bible paper to even write these words.  It seems dead wrong to chronicle grief – or to try.  Perhaps it’s the habit; I’ve been trying for such a very long time to chronicle my own, now the habit spills over to descriptions of theirs.  But no, I don’t think that’s it at all.  While I hurt for my much loved friends, I feel the absence too and ache for my own sake the loss of a life not known. 

Nothing in the News

I spent some little bit of time reading headlines today from/in various newspapers. What I found was that there wasn’t a whole lot going on in the news on this date, the 5th of November, in 1988. The Soviets had stopped their withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan; Michael Dukakis and George Sr. were keeping the crowds entertained with campaign speeches in Chicago; a student at Cornell had been found as the culprit behind some big computer virus bug — he’d written the code as a joke, an experiment.

I don’t know what it was I was looking for in the old news. I belong to that Newspaper Archives thingie now and just figured, What the heck. I didn’t expect anything out of the ordinary; I didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. It was all ordinary. An ongoing war with a big country invading a weaker one. Men and politics as usual. A boy got up to some mischief and the consequences of such mischief. [The boy was 23 and his father was one of the deans at the university.]

I don’t know what it was I thought might be there, somewhere, in the news. I read articles in Syracuse NY papers and Arizona papers and Michigan, Pennsylvania, and CA papers. There wasn’t a clue in any of them that Al would die that day. Not a hint. Nor was there any particular line or image that would lend itself to some metaphor or simile I could use here, writing today, 19 years later. It’s just all so very ordinary — this passing business.