Today it is raining on the hill. That old rooster down the hill has been crowing all morning. There's still no dawn just this slice of grey hanging over us and I think he is confused. Or he thinks the next crow will be the one that splits the sky open and ushers in the sun. I for one don't mind if he crows all day and the rain never stops. I'm upstairs in my office, the window open to the world, the green so thick I can't see beyond to the ridge. Every year I threatened to cut down a line of trees, to clear my vision, to open up my world. But then the trees, these living beings, I consider them and I don't. Maybe it's silly. Maybe my son calls me a hippie for thinking things like this. I was a little kid I tell him.
"The sixties happened around me. It wasn't like I was smack in the middle of them going to Woodstock."
"I don't care," he replies. "You're still a hippie."
More likely just an artist who knows trees are alive until you chop them down.
What stops that process more than my pretending the fallen trees will be cut and stacked for firewood and in that way keep on giving like The Giving Tree (that hills too steep. No one is going to bring that wood up here. Not even if I pay them.) is that I know in due season, in the fullness of time (one of my favorite Biblical quotes) the leaves will change, thin out, fall. The view will evolve little by little until the trees are bare then the little valley will open up before me, the ridge rise up from the other side. At night I'll be able to stand at this window and look out, watch headlights from the cars a mile or more away, from far, far down the road, circle and climb the hill. As much as I long for that view now I know that there is something precious in this change. Something that would be lost if I had it at the ready ever day. It's the exchange one makes for the aging of the leaves, the falling with grace and entering into the more silent, solemn moments of winter. With age, we turn from this new year and see that our view of life has changed. It is my birthday month. One that affords me the luxury of considering the passage of time of what it reveals and what it packs away.
The rain continues. Thicker now. This is good. We need the restful quiet.
Yesterday, I dug weeds from around the broken porch that needs to be replaced. I tilled the ground - well, that at least sounds poetic. I scratched at it furiously with a hand tool with pointy things. This is more the truth of my gardening abilities. I turned up 1 snake skin that had been shed. (No sign of the snake which meant I kept my eye open for said snake, 1 Giant toad that had been hiding deep down in the dirt (how was he breathing?) and one large spider that decided he would just go find another home with a quickness that eluded me. I don't like spiders or snakes or frogs. I wanted to be working on getting the word out on my new writing classes but Momma said, "I guess I will just have to go outside and stand on my head and pull weeds even though I"m not able I will try." She is like this. She says these things to me because she knows my head will spin and blow off and I'll pout and put on boots and stomp outside. She is very, smart this way.
Stop right there. I have to give you a little backstory.
If you have been reading these blogs you know Mama moved in with me about three years ago. And that she has a green thumb and I have a brown thumb. But that I now have flowers all around the front porch and back porch in my attempt to please Mama and to honestly brighten her day. And, it has. It has also given me plenty of opportunities to act like an exhasperated fourteen year old that wants to slam the door to her room. You want me to water the plants now??? You want more Rose food when??? I need to dig up what????? What I realize is my mother glories in this. The process of it. The actual work of it. As she said yesterday standing on the porch as I was digging, "I just hate it, hate it when something dies on me." And, I'm thinking - Well, this digging could just be killing me right here and I don't see you worried about that.
Don't get me wrong. The lilies we are planting in all that dirt came from Daddy's Creek. They bloomed for years. They are the largest most amazing lilies you have ever seen. I will adore seeing them in action once it happens. But the process? Not so much. Not like my Mama who loves every step of this. "Keeping things alive is hard work," she says.
"Yeah, well so's writing books when you can't ever get to the page," I say back. She ignores me. She gets sick of hearing me talk about a)writing b) not writing. These are two of my constant subjects because either I just finished x number of words I'm pleased with or I am lamenting that I haven't written any words. Which makes me a little crazy.
I dig the weeds, I pour the dirt. Mom has actually been working hard and adding dirt to potted plants, replanting ones that are root bound. She is ever so good at this. She looks over the railing at the end of the day at my weeded plot of fresh dirt and says -
"That really looks good. I'm proud of what we accomplished today."
I confess I take a little bit of pride in that. It's not that I can't put on rubber boots and stomp in the mud, pulling weeds with the best of them. I put my back into all that I'm doing. I have a good work ethic but I usually save it for having fingers laced around the keyboard. Unfortunately, to some degree all other work pulls on that string that says time, ticking, time ticking, words not written.
Except for when the grands, those Charmings or Adorables enter my world. Then I will stop the clock, close the laptop, shut down my world to be with them. To create magic in the normal spaces of their lives. The watermelon feasts, and sparklers, lightning bugs, and movie nights. Books and naps and nursing boo-boo's.
This month is also my baby boy's birthday. He is a grown man now but still - I took the Charmings shopping for his birthday. But Bless my Heart honest to goodness thought I could do it while I also took Mom shopping for her groceries. It was a master plan until it wasn't. She had a list. I had kids. Getting in the car was one job and getting out of the car at the store was another job and by the time we made it through the door and into two buggies I began to think maybe I have made a mistake.
Now, we have a downpour. This means my driveway is washing away. Again. Yoga breath. Heavy Sigh.
The store. Mom takes the nine year old to help her with her list. I take the four year old and six year old to buy presents. We make it to the cards where one child says he must go to the bathroom. I ask that question that parents have asked in stores for a thousand years - is it number one or two? TWO! who declares and then I ask the next question that parents and grandparents should never ask. I ask this in spite of being part of the potty training brigade for years. Offering to read to kids on the potty, give m&m's to kids on the potty, sing and dance and do a one woman show for kids on the potty - JUST STAY ON THE POTTY till it works. BUT now, on a birthday mission with a Mother buying enough canned goods for the apocolypse that will need to unload I ask - CAN YOU JUST HOLD IT TILL YOU GET HOME???? - Of course the answer is NO. Which is fair because you shouldn't ask that question. It's a bad question. To the bathroom we go. Which turns into a potty party in the handicap stall with lots of conversation going on between the four year old and the six year old and me getting tireder by the moment.
Out of the potty. Wash the hands. Wash, wash, wash the hands. Back to the cards. Then to Pajamas and shirts and the other kid says - NOW, I HAVE TO USE the BATHROOM. Two? You have to do two? Really? Now? Really? Wow. Just, wow. No you cannot use the Man's room. No, I don't care if you are a man. No I am not leaving you in the mans room. Back to the women's bathroom. Back to the stall only now I have to wait outside the door while the four year old and six year old continue to have plenty of conversation. I want to go home. Out of the Potty. To the sinks. Wash, wash, wash the hands. To gift wrapping. Call Mom. She is half way through with her list. I ask her what is left, just go, go go to the register. I'll get the rest now. I don't need the list. I'll memorize it. Run, run with the wind.
This is how I am crazy. This is where my crazy comes in. I am obsessesed with leaving the store the fastest way possible. I rush between milk and bleach and papertowels. I rush to the register. My mother is far, far away with her buggy. Looking for a living cashier. There are no living cashiers in the whole, entire world. Now, I am yelling like a cartoon strip southern character of which I swear I am not - THIS WAY, MAMA, JUST COME BACK AND I'LL DO IT!
We make it to self check out where the four year old stands up in the buggy like he isn't supposed to and starts putting things on the belt and the six year old is doing all the scanning and they think this is the greatest thing in the world. They are as invested in this process as My mother is those plants. I'm shoving things in the bags like a maniac. This one is for presents. Present, present, canned stuff, canned stuff, more canned stuff. Wait what is this? Ice Cream, ice cream and more melting Ice Cream? MOM! WHAT IS THIS????
"Well, they need a little something sweet! It's good for them."
Canned stuff, oatmeal cookies, more ice cream. MOM!!!
"I don't care. They can eat it in the car."
Present, present - wait - WHERE IS THE CARD we spent 45 mins picking out because you guys wanted to read them all? It's missing. Never mind. I bag, bag, bag- I'll go back and get another card while you guys go to the car. JUST GO TO THE CAR. MOVE TOWARD THE CAR.
Crazy. Yes, I know.
I must take the six year old with me because he moves too fast to leave him with a group where someone isn't designated to catch him that might not be fast enough. This is the truth. HE's like the flash.
New card. Out to the car. Forty thousand bags of stuff. Presents. Ice cream that now my mother and the other two children are eating in the parking lot. There is melting ice cream running down their hands. I open the paper towels and pass them out and say Get in the car. Just everybody get in the car.
The children are ever so happy. They have pottyed. And ate ice cream. And bought presents for Daddy. Life is good in their world. UNTIL . . .
The Signing of the card. Which must be done in the back seat while I drive and Mom is in the passenger seat feeling a little better because she had an ice cream pick me up. I am not feeling better. I haven't had an anything pick me up.
A discussion ensues over what will be written on the card and who will do the writing. It is my understanding as I'm driving that the six year old has decided to dictate to the nine year old what will be said because he says he has better handwriting. Then the four year old declares that he wants to write too. Which brings on WWWIII in my backseat. With - HE SNATCHED the Pen Out of my HAND and STOP TRYING TO BREAK MY ARM YOU CANT have it BACK.
And the six year old who is slightly OCD is freaking out because as he says his brother RYDER CAN'T EVEN WRITE AND HE'S JUST GOING TO SCRIBBLE ALL OVER OUR PERFECT WRITING.
And I say, DRAW A CIRCLE ON THE BACK OF THE CARD AND JUST LET HIM SCRIBBLE IN THAT.
And my Mama is laughing and asking me, "Are we having fun, yet?" And I say, "Oh, so much fun. SO MUCH FUN!"
As the boys continue shoving and screaming and fighting with a pen in the back seat as the six year old has a nuclear melt down and the four year old scribbles OUTSIDE THE CIRCLE HE'S SCRIBBLING OUTSIDE THE CIRCLE ON EVERYTHING HE'S RUINING IT ALL!
And I pull up in the driveway of Daddy's house where Mama says, " I think I'll just wait right here."
As I tell the boys ok, here we go everybody get ready to say SURPRISE! And sing happy birthday and one of them takes the present bag and one of them takes the card and they run up the stairs and open the door and scream SURPRISE and they are beside themselves with happy and that grown man baby boy of mine has a look on his face that is absolutely a wonder.
And then he smiles as we all sing Happy Birthday TO YOU! And says, well, you did it, you actually surprised me. And the kids are all grins and giggles and they are so proud of themselves. Happy Birthday, my baby boy and this Mama has got to go.
Mission accomplished. Lilly's and dirt. All in a day's work of being a daughter, a mother, a Zaza.
It could rain all week I don't care. A blanket of rest, a great book, a nap. I could use these things. And if the driveway is gone nothing to worry. We've got enough canned goods to last till Spring.
I hope your life is just as full of love and wonder, of moments to treasure, as it is it's own kind of crazy and that you enjoy your messy, mixed up life to the fullest!
Home. Central time. 5:30am.
Last night I slept like a kid pretending to sleep. This is what it looks like to sleep. Pillow, blanket, eyes shut. Sometimes it worked. I napped for a few minutes. Maybe an hour. Then woke up and looked out at the moon. I did not make tea or go to the porch. This is the problem with being tired and insomniac. You want to sleep. Really, you do. But that brain keeps going clickity, clack down the track. A fun fact about the new novel - it involves two sisters who have inherited the insomniac gene that assails all the women in the family. The men sleep like the dead.
At 5:30 this morning I gave up any thoughts of going back to sleep because of the birds.
It started a long time ago, many, many years ago in fact when Mama and Daddy were at the creek. They spent some years there in retirement if that's what one would call it. They just called it life. They were some of the happiest of their lives. Daddy fished. Mama walked and worked in the flowers. She got some sun and that beautiful pale, skin that doesn't look kin to me got a tan. They both fed 'our birds' as they called them by which they meant the whole swampy creek full of birds. They had multiple feeders with seed For birds who like seed and fruit feeders for birds who loved fruit. They had raccoons that would eat from the porch at night and stare right in the window at them. They had a tribe of wildcats that came up out of the woods and took up residence. We had always had a few dogs and a few cats 'at home' down on the corner of 11th St. but now they had all manner of furry beasts that answered to their call. Even the wild birds came when they called them. They were Tarzan and Jane of Holmes creek.
One day a hawk took up there realizing he'd hit pay dirt. All those birds feeding at feeders were like me passing a fruit stand. I'll have one of those, and a red one and a green one and an orange one and so on. Momma and Daddy became sorely vexed over the situation because they felt attached to the birds that they had watched through this whole circle of life. The mating rituals, the nest building ritual, the baby birds being fed ritual and the fledglings learning to fly ritual.
When I got home recently after days away Mama wanted to tell me she was worried about 'our birds'. Now, this has been an effort of mine to make Mama happy. To hang flower boxes for flowers I don't have time to water so she points out to me - those flowers need watered - but the fact is my efforts to make Mom happy, to paint shutters and plant flowers has resulted in things looking down right lived in around here. Much more like a home than a house where I pull in and go to the computer with blinders on - write, work, write, work.
Now, I've put out multiple feeders. Seed feeders for birds that like seed and fruit feeders for birds that love fruit. Mama tells me she'd seen a hawk out there on more than one occasion the past days gone by and the birds aren't coming to eat at all. She's right. There is seed still down in the feeders. So, when I heard the birds at 5:30 I thought - well, I haven't slept all night why try to sleep now. Just go check on the birds.
Coffee made, to the porch I go.
The rooster is crowing. But it's a different crow. Either it's a new rooster or an old rooster. One finding his crow or losing it. That noise just doesn't sound like the rooster I know. And right I am. Because 'my' rooster answers this crow. Seems that there are now two roosters down the hill now. Maybe they live next door to each other. Down the hill is a good distance for a rooster to be at 5:30 in the morning. It's that kind of poetic ambience you can listen to outside but not one that is crowing at 5:30 in your ear right outside your window.
The birds are singing but only a little. Like they are whisper singing. A mother redbird comes to the feeder but she doesn't relax. She keeps looking up and over her shoulder. The next bird, some kind of finch I'm too tired to get up and get the bird book to identify is so nervous he isn't even getting any seed. He just sits there. Crazy eyed, staring up into the trees.
Bout a hundred years ago, a lifetime away now someone shot that hawk at the creek. Might have been boys on a dare. Or someone that just didn't care. My daddy found him. Brought him to my mother and laid it at her feet on the porch. She looked at the feathers, the span of the beautiful wing and said, 'Oh, how majestic,' through her tears. She still tells me about this. The beauty of that bird. "'They have a right to eat, too," she says, "I just don't want them eating my birds."
I google bird eating hawks. What to do. Move feeders under shelter, it tells me. Good ole google. At 6am it knows just what to do. I go down the steps that need replaced, make a mental note - these steps sure need replaced before they just fall off the house - and gather up the feeders. The seed feeders and fruit feeders and special little suet feeder and bring them back up the rickety steps to the porch and hang them up where I know they will make one heck of a mighty mess. There will be seed everywhere. And other stuff to clean. But, Mama's birds give her some peace.
Eventually, google says, the hawk will grow bored with birds having shelter and move off down the creek somewhere. Go to better hunting grounds. Someone else's backyard feeder.
When Mama gets up she takes her coffee to the porch, says look, "This one hangs upside down. That's just the way he likes it. He's that kind of bird."
These are the brief moments in my life where I know I did good. Where I got it right. And the world hangs for a moment in incredible balance where all is well and all shall be well and all is well with my soul.
Happy Sunday. I pray your soul find peace and comfort today, a perfect balance, in the middle of your busy life. And that you realize more times than not - you did good. You got it right.
ALSO - You can now check out my new Patreon Page here for new ways you can be a part of this wild journey called my writing life. Links for the Undercover Reader Posse, Story Support, the Phonebooth Writer Series and more!
On the backside of Father's Day I have to write about what was heavy on my heart yesterday. It was father's day and this is a photo of my father better known as my Daddy and my sons who knew him as Pawpaw. He sits on his boat which after 22 years in the Army (including twelve years in Airborne) was the best place to be. Those cocky little kids on the boat were the best present I ever gave him.
All of our growing up years on Panama City Beach were spent making weekly pilgrimages a stones throw back up in the woods to Holmes creek. This eight acre little spread was down on the water lined with Cypress. The creek was filled with fish, nested by long legged herons and swamped enough to hold a few alligators. It was the beating of my Daddy's heart. And, now - it's gone.
This property has been in the family for generations. My great-grandaddy pulled the ferry across the creek with his old horse, Maude. Back then the creek was just slightly wider and cars would ferry on and ferry off. Years later my daddy as a young man would be one of the first on the crew that built the first bridge that went across. My young years were spent exploring the creek and like every kid and cousin for miles around hanging out under the bridge was a part of that ritual into adulthood. We read the names scratched underneath. Who hearted who. Years of graduation. Simple things. No F-bombs. Nothing crude, lewd or something you'd find in a bar at 2 am. Just kids being kids. The ground underneath the bridge was filled with piles of sandbags filled with cement that had solidified into a thing of it's own. This mound. Which is where we sat listening to the rare car coming a long way off and then thump, thump, thump as they slowly crossed the bridge checking the water.
Checking the water has been a part of that ritual of growing up. Is it high? Getting higher? Reaching flood level? Is it low? Are the fish biting? If they are - what's biting? Catfish, shellcrackers, mullet? What you usin' to catch'em?
When I was a little girl this tiny place was an actual working farm-ish. There were plenty of chickens, a big pig that always had little pigs back in the pen, a horse named Maude (still alive) and a barn we called the corn crib. There were barn cats which meant barn kittens that were beautiful and ferrel and meant to be mouser's not cuddle cats. ON more than one occasion we caught one and took it home to our house where they learned not all cats are born to be barn cats. It's where my sister had a little horse, where old Maude went wild one day with me riding her bareback, where family reunions were held down by the water but where ever day was a reunion. It's where Memaw worked hard and then watched her stories then we would all take a nap with the box fans in the window cooling us in the heat of the day.
Our Memaw cooked three meals a day the old fashioned way. That means with a stove. Her's being gas and an oven that turned out seven layer peanut butter cakes that we would fight for. The supper meant fried chicken and peas, fresh corn, and cornbread. Or fish caught that day from the multitude of folks that paid to launch their boats. When my great-grandaddy was alive he had a few boats he rented out for the day. The last chore of the evening of his was to bail those boats out and pull them to the shore.
My Daddy was raised here, in this place. My sister and I also. My sons, her children. My grandchildren have visited, played in the creek, listened to the stories. All of them. Of the Christmases past and of old lying Uncle Eddie Lewis and of so many silly wonderful simple days.
I once asked my Daddy where of all the places he'd been in his Army days was the best of all of them. Without hesitation he said - right here - with a grin that was his trademark. He was serious. If a person can be a place itself then Daddy was the creek.
As we got older a slew of teenage friends went with us spring, summer, fall to paddle the creek. Kids swam near the bank and we hang out in this paradise that we took for granted because it always had been and therefore always would be.
When Daddy died there was a comfort in knowing that as long as we had the creek, we had him. That somehow having the creek tied us to the past of every good thing. It was our north star and our touchstone. Our taproot. it tethered us to our lives and to each other.
But times, they do change. Old people die. Sometimes way too soon and too young. The Corn crib barn fell to ruin eventually. There hadn't been a hog in the hog-pen for twenty, maybe thirty years. Maude died finally before Grandaddy Skipper. Memaw passed away. The little house that had housed a multitude and fed an army every week got older and tired like people do. Even though it was propped up and nailed and had a new tin roof, it still leaked and sagged. It was ready I think to give up the ghost.
We have a few photos that all belong in a big immortal album but they are yet to be collected. Of us growing up and then our children posing down by the water or running across the sandy yard in a game of something born straight out of imagination. The photos that are missing are ones that are still in my heart. The time my sister and I were on the boat with Daddy, fishing just there at the edge of the bank on a quiet summer day. The dragonflies flitting at the waters edge. The wind stirring the surface so that I'd lift up my pole, check my hook, plop the red cork back down. Daddy would say - It's just the wind, not a bite - but I couldn't tell the difference. I was more aware of the song of the cicadas, the sun on my shoulders, the sound of my mother a lullybye softly as rocked one of the baby's to sleep, the melody but not the words lilting and finding their way to our ears.
I once told my mom we could tear it down and build something new. Maybe just put a little trailer there. She said that she wouldn't even want to be there anymore without the house there. It wouldn't feel the same.
Last night I dreamed of I was driving in storms, lost and trying desperately to find my way home. I finally pulled over and asked someone to help me. "I have to get to North Florida," I told them. When I woke I understood. My crush and longing from yesterday filtering into my dreams.
The creek was sold last week to a lovely family. Word is they are distant relatives, that somehow if this is actually possible their people owned the creek before our people did and then the families married and so on. I hope this is true. It helps take the sting out of the heartbreak.
It was time. It had to be done. But as much as my sister and I, my sons, my niece and nephew and kept a stiff upper lip - I'm afraid we've come undone. At least for Daddy Day. Maybe this week we'll all get back on track. I hope so. There's things to be done.
As a writer I know that all our memories have not disappeared but will now cross over into the place of myth. Where the power of story grows stronger with each passing year. Nothing can take away this from us. Our stories are ours to tell and tell well. It's the way legend's are born and men like my Daddy live forever.
Once upon a time there once was a Creek - and that story is never-ending.
But if you happen to be out for a drive in North Florida and find that you've wandered your way back up in the woods, turn down Miller's Ferry Road and drive till you come to a bridge - you'll know the one. When you cross please do us a favor, slow down to a crawl, roll down your window and check the water. Honk the horn twice to let folks know you've arrived. That you are crossing that bridge, making your way home.
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