Monthly Archives: July 2016

Because of angels

The short conversation with a client who understands my own life all too well stirred an unsettled feeling which still churns in my gut half a day later.  Sleep overtook me like a heavy cloud of ash, surrounding me with its wicked embrace and drawing me into heavy dreams.  Thankfully the ghostly faces which crowded my helpless form vanished with the rising sun though their putrid scent lingers.

But I feel the watchful eyes of other beings — hands which stayed the fury, a body which stood between me and all that rage.  My older self, the woman that the frightened child became, invites those kinder souls to comfort me.  I stand on my back porch, as I do most mornings, watching the light  break across the eastern sky.  I tell myself, You’ve come this far, and nod my head.

No one who did not spend their childhood immersed in fear can understand how hard some of us struggle to let go of the constant battle to overcome the terror.  Others traveled through their early years in the same war zone but live seemingly unaffected by the sound of thunder.    None of us live inside the skins of our sisters.  We all just carry on, hoping that the guiding angels  will not forsake us.  Because of them, I have not surrendered to the crippling fright.

It’s the twentieth day of the thirty-first month of My [Never-Ending] Year Without Complaining.  Life continues, and I continue with it.



Dedicated to S. and her sons and daughters, especially H. and G.

 With love and empathy.

Taking stock

My kitchen shelves groan with a plethora of plates.  The plates which I don’t use occupy a shelf too high for my reach.  The bottom two shelves in that same cabinet hold the square, colorful plates which Jenny Rosen helped me acquire two years ago when I needed a tangible sign of change.  I’ve always liked square plates and I feel good when I slide my scrambled eggs onto one of them beside my little pieces of gluten-free toast.

A stack of old Melamine dishware stands next to the new plates.  Some survived my childhood home; others appeared in one of my care packages from my sister Joyce.  When I pour cereal or soup in these bowls, I think of being “Mary”, sitting in our breakfast room at a formica table for ten, boys on one side, girls on the other.  I hear my mother’s voice from the other room asking for someone to carry the bowls of steaming hot food.

High on the top shelf, memories of my mother crowd the bird’s nest which my son found a couple of decade’s ago.  Her jars and a nut grinder gather dust and mouse-droppings.  When I clean that shelf, I might have to throw it all away, the memories with the dustbunnies.  I’m avoiding that.  I glance upwards now and then, when I’m getting out a little bowl for my morning fruit.  Just having my mother’s old jars barely visible but enduring comforts me.

I have too many dishes but I’m not complaining.  Some day I will carry through with my announced intention to downsize.  Jenny will come and stand on the stepstool and roll her eyes at me, as she knocks down handfuls of nesting material that the mice have no doubt been enjoying.  We’ll box the dusty Italian dishes and give them to Goodwill.  The melamine will travel well, so I’ll keep those, with the square plates, and maybe the ancient nut grinder that I only use at Christmas.  The rest will go.  That’s as close as I can come to starting fresh, but when the time comes, I know that will be enough.

It’s the nineteenth day of the thirty-first month of My [Never-Ending] Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


Morning sky

A rumble that could have been thunder slid through the room as my eyes adjusted to the murky light.  Feet to the floor; stumble down the stairs; call to the dog; swing open the back door.

My routine halts as I see the sky to my left, to the north.  I stand bare-footed, wearing my night clothes, eyes turned upward, skin cooled by the morning air.  My heart flutters; I realize that I’ve been holding my breath.   For a few moments more I stand motionless on the threshold.  When I have seen all that I can of the morning sky, I turn and go inside to start the coffee.

The radio tells me of grief and disaster.  I shut its blare and go into the sitting room to exercise.  My muscles strain in time to some forgotten melody.   My pulse pounds.  I finally swing back to solid ground and lift the crystal mug to take a swig of coffee.  The shuddering in my legs tells me that I’ve done enough.  But I have no complaints today.  I’ve taken stock.  I’ll live.

Last night when I came out from a friend’s house, I found a scthought the newly-repaired bumper of the Prius.  I squatted down to gauge the damage.  My forehead sagged against the fender.  I thought I had left plenty of room for the car parked behind me, but not enough, it seems.  The sigh which coursed through my body could be considered a complaint.  I took my time recovering from my disappointment, then pushed my bag back up on my shoulder, got into my little car, and slowly drove back home.

It’s the eighteenth day of the thirty-first month of My [Never-Ending] Year Without Complaining.   My life continues.  I think I know where I am going.   I take my time.




The woman ahead of me in line at REVIVAL dragged a maple rocker.  She hoisted it to the counter and glanced at me.  I flashed a smile and said, I have one just like that at home. Something dark and unrecognizable fIickered across her face.

The hum of the place surrounded us — the heady glare of the sun through the wide glass windows, the murmuring of couples wandering in the paths between the rows of furniture and lamps.  Two clerks spoke in low voices a few feet from the register, the man’s hand resting on the woman’s arm.  I tried to follow the conversation on their lips.  Tension played across the female clerk’s brow.

The woman with the rocker made a funny noise and turned to me.  She spoke in a raspy voice, an old smoker.  I’m going to paint it white for my daughter-in-law’s baby.  My eyes widened but I willed my tongue to stay silent.  She said, I’ll put some cushions on it, make it look nice.  My mouth drew itself down; I tightened my stomach.  The woman took a step towards me and I said, finally, Is the rest of the furniture white?

That look flashed across her features again.  She shook her head and said Yes, well, it’s going to be.  That’s my gift to them, I have to buy all the furniture.  I think this chair will look nice when I get it all painted and put cushions on it.  She reached out and pushed the chair a little.  I held back my thoughts about her plans.  Instead I mentioned how wonderful my own chair had been to rock my son, the length of the runners making its motion soothing, its stance close to the ground so I could use one foot to keep it going.  The woman raked her glare up and down my body, then replied, Well, my daughter-in-law is tiny.  I suddenly felt huge and sucked  in a long breath, holding it, willing my 5-4, 115-pound frame to shrink.

The clerks finished their argument and the woman turned to cash out the rocker lady.  Then the customer lifted the chair down and dragged it out the front door.  I watched her pull the chair through the door, willing her to turn, to change her mind, to let me save that gorgeous rocker from the sacrilege of white enamel paint.

When I had paid for the computer desk which I’d found in the back room, I pulled the Prius around to the loading door and met up with Eric, the downstairs attendant.  I don’t know if it will fit in my car, I said, and Eric beamed at me.  I’ll put the seats down, he replied.  It will fit.

Astonished, I turned and watched as he did just that.  I had no idea.  Oh my gosh, I gushed.    My new best friend!  Eric chuckled and hauled the desk into the back of the car.  He gently closed the trunk lid while I chortled and danced beside him.   Then I clapped my hand against his and hopped into the car, driving home slowly, my rear-vision blocked but my heart a little lighter for the gift of Eric teaching me something about my car that I had not previously known.  The seats go down.  The seats!

At the house, I made a cup of tea and sat in my rocker, the twin of the one that the grumpy mother-in-law had bought to fulfill her unwanted obligation.  I ran one finger down the smooth worn spot on its arm, where the finish has yielded to twenty-five years of my hand’s light touch.  The owners of a used furniture store in a strip mall on the south side of Fayetteville had given me this chair during my pregnancy.  The wife said, I used this chair to nurse all three of my children.  I lowered my heavy body into the chair and gave it a tentative nudge.  I closed my eyes and wrapped my arms around the baby in my belly.  I surrendered to the rocker’s gentle glide.  I could have sat that way forever.

I have seven rocking chairs in my home, and one in my office.  I’ve never painted any of them.  I cannot bear the thought of painted wood.

As I sat last evening, rocking, rocking, rocking, I worried about the tiny daughter-in-law and the baby whose looming birth caused that woman in REVIVAL to harbor so much anger.  My rocker did not match the store-bought painted surfaces of the crib, cradle and changing table in my baby’s room.  But it was perfect anyway.  And no resentment lingered within its calm embrace.

It’s the seventeenth day of the thirty-first month of My [Never-Ending] Year Without Complaining.  My curious life continues.





See me now:  Standing on the porch. . .falling through the door . . peering at the ceiling where the lights have begun to flicker.  See me now:  Arms tired from reaching for the heavy basket; feet sore from trudging to and from the end of the driveway.

Pack the computer; sit at the coffee shop.  A man stops at my table, says, “Do you mind if my friend and I converse?  I can be vehement.  I can be boisterous.”  I smile at him; I shake my head.  My voice stubbornly refuses to play along but he gets the point.  Do I care?  Certainly not; silence saturates the air of my home.  I came here to write because I feared that silence, feared that it might steal my words.

Quitting time approaches and I tuck the computer back into its case.  The sheaf of papers follows.  Two hours have passed with nothing more eventful than a hug from Farmer Greene who chanced into the place.  We talked about politics; he shared about his brother’s fragile state.  I touched his arm.  Then the mood shifted; the smile returned to his face.   Quick as that, off he went again, another hug, another quietly closing door.

Behind the wheel — driving home — at the red light.  Then I saw him:  My mystery man, the walking man, 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.  South to north and back again.  I pulled over, quietly put the window down, watched him pass.  He did not turn.  He kept walking.  Still.

The youth in his faced astonished me.

I continued down the road not quite sure what I had seen.

It’s the fourteenth day of the thirty-first month of My [Never-Ending] Year Without Complaining.  The little dog sleeps at my feet.  All is well.  Life continues.



Secondhand Advice

My father adored Barbra Streisand.

We owned every vinyl on which she sang and we spun them over and over.  From Funny Girl, the musical in which she played Fanny Brice, he most adored her rendition of “Second Hand Rose”.    One day I whined about having to wear clothes from my cousin Kati and my sisters, so my Dad tried to cheer me by nick-naming me his “Second Hand Rose”.

As I grew into young womanhood, second-hand clothes became a way of buying designer labels on a budget.  I try to always look presentable, though at times my combination has garnered scorn or ridicule — friendly, some of it, but with a little nugget of truth in the jabs.

This morning I fished into a side-pocket of my purse, trying to figure out what a crinkly sound might be.  I’ve had the purse since February, when I got it at a consignment shop to take with me on one of my California trips.  I thought it had been empty when I brought it home; and I’ve carried it for five or six months.  But the crinkly noise suggested that someone had left something behind when they sold it to the store.

Sure enough, from the depths of the pocket I extracted a small square of waxy paper.  I held it in my hands, looking down at  it, reading and re-reading the words.  I kept it with me all day, occasionally sliding it from my pocket to run one finger over its lettering.

When I got to Rotary, one of my fellow members asked how my day had been.  I thought about the paper which I had found in my purse.  I mentally reviewed an e-mail exchange that I’d had with someone addressing a lamentable and life-changing series of deep misunderstandings.  I looked at my colleague and replied, “Enlightening.  The day has been enlightening.  But on balance, I have no complaints.”

It’s the thirteenth day of the thirty-first month of My [Never-Ending] Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.



I couldn’t find a video of Barbra Streisand singing the entire song, but if  you would like to hear her astonishingly beautiful rendition of a mildly amusing ditty, click HERE.

In which I grapple with my demons

I told someone today that I had only good thoughts of them despite discord between us.  They evidenced surprise.  I realized that I must have done a poor job of portraying my character, that I should be thought capable of holding anger and malice towards anyone.  Even if I am upset, that feeling fades. I try to put the situation into context.  As I drove towards an early evening meeting, one thought reverberated in my mind:  How have I been portraying myself?

My meeting date fed me a  lovely mealy from Lulu’s.  We went over Rotary business, noshing, laughing, trading stories.  In her charming apartment, I saw the sweet decor which she assembled for her daughter’s room; a striking art piece made from quilt squares; a couple of plein air works; and a painting of an angel done in a vivid primitive style.  I walked through her airy rooms, feeling peaceful, thinking of my own heavy decor.  Time to divest.

I drove home near dark, parking in the back while the dog watched me through the fence.  As I pulled my body up the driveway, a heavy wind rippled through the space between the houses.  A shudder overcame me.  I could not shake a sense of  impending evil. I had been touched by an ill wind blowing no good.  I paused on the front sidewalk, peering into the grey expanse of the street.  The unbroken blackness of the city night surrounded me.  Fatigue gripped my bones.  I steeled my body against whatever harrowing fear might claim me.  When I felt I could do nothing more from inside darkness, I went into the house, turned on all the lights, and secured the door against my demons.

It’s night time on the twelfth day of the thirtieth month of My [Never-Ending] Year Without Complaining.  A ghost has walked over my grave; but life continues.



I pulled into traffic with the Bluetooth talking to me.  The workday wore heavy on my shoulders.

A friend’s voice filled the cabin of the car.  I could glance over my shoulder, pull  into traffic, and head down Broadway without missing anything in the exchange.

At the red light, two bicyclists cut in front of a car passing to the west.  I winced; the narrow escape reminded me that I should focus on the road.  But my friend kept talking; I kept driving; and the sun shone into the window on my right.

I slowed for a man in a motorized chair, watching him dart back on the curb cut and head towards the restaurants on Westport Road.  The potential that I could be doing that lingers just behind me at all times, pushing me onto the  stepper, lifting my arms in the modified sun salutation, driving me away from the table.  Keeping thin, keeping flexible, keeping active:  These keep me on my feet.

I pulled into a space alongside the grocery store.  An SUV honked its drivers complaint.  My son has told me time and again that I’m the worst parker on the planet.  I studied the face of the driver of the massive vehicle.  She raised her hand in what I took to be a vehement castigation of my positioning the Prius so close to the line on my left.  I thought, Good grief, woman, you’re going to blow a gasket, and then I grinned and turned off the engine.

She jerked her steering wheel and headed for the lot to find a different spot to occupy.

It’s the eleventh day of the thirty-first month of My [Never-Ending] Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.



One step forward, two steps back

Cicadas serenade the neighborhood.  The little brown dog rests her greying muzzle on the smoothness of the wood floor.  A light over the sink in the kitchen shines through the stained glass pieces danging on a silken cord.  I sit in darkness broken only by the glow of the computer screen.

Somehow even words fail me tonight.  My armor falls away; my unused voice sounds harsh in the heavy air around me.  I hold a list of tasks that stand undone.  My eyes flutter closed.  I choke on my complaint.

I take one step forward then stumble, falling backwards, losing ground.   This is the longest year; my never-ending year.  Night falls on the tenth day of its thirty-first month.  Joy still eludes me.  I beckon sleep.  Life continues.



Still life with angel

I leave the coffee shop at six p.m., pleading chores to do.  I have them, it’s true; but I spend the evening in a rocking chair.  Shooting pains have overtaken my legs.  The damned viruses sear through my blood.  My breath grows raspy.  

I vegetate. The dog wanders through the house.  If she knew my language, or I knew hers, we might converse but she just casts baleful looks in my direction once in a while.    I think she’s suspicious.  I rarely linger.  Other than dishes, and the simple frying of a pan of tofu, I haven’t done a thing for hours.

I force myself to stay on the first floor til ten, then gather the little necessities of night for the climb to my cabin hideaway.  Piles of untended laundry, a stack of books, and scattered shoes greet me.  I close my eyes, pausing on the top step.  What became of the energy with which I greeted the morning, thirteen hours ago?  I lower myself into the chair and stare out the darkened window.  A rumble of thunder ripples through the outside air.  I cannot see my neighbor’s house.  I cannot see anything.

A song flows from my five dollar speakers.   The glass knob on the downstairs door gleams in the glow of  the light fixture illuminated above it.  A smattering of applause follows the end of a song.  Night surrounds me.  My eyes fall on a cluster of random objects beside me: book, beads, measuring tape.  An angel watches from beside the lamp.  I can’t think how this odd assortment came to be here, like relics of too many days without direction.

It’s nearly tomorrow; almost the tenth day of the thirty-first month of My [Never-Ending] Year Without Complaining.  Daughter plays on the laptop, filling my space with that perfect blend of bitter and sweet.  I hold my breath.  I do not complain.  I wait for morning, turning up the volume to drown the sound of thunder.




Hear DAUGHTER’s tiny desk concert HERE.