There's an old song that sings about 'carrying moonbeams home in a jar'. I've always loved that song because it was one my mother used to sing when she was happy. I'm going to put it on my request list for the next sing along which we just do around our house all the time. Which is not the truth. Most of our singing is done in our hearts. We love music and have had some rather talented, musical players in the family but Mom and I don't count ourselves along their company. The funny thing is - I like to hear Mom sing. I don't think she would say the same for me except for one night we were camped around the kitchen table playing rummy and I broke into, King of the Road and she had a surprised look on her face said -
You could sing. I mean you don't sound horrible. You can actually sing that song.
Let's just say the bar is set incredibly low when it comes to my singing abilities. And apparently King of the Road by Roger Miller is the beginning and end of my repertoire but at least I have one go to favorite. I am much more Cameron Diaz character in My Best Friends Wedding singing Karoke at horrible warbler levels. I have had some bad singing experiences (like my 6th grade teacher trying to get me to harmonize with the other girls for a performance and going DON'T YOU GET IT???? WHY DON'T YOU GET IT???? I think she ended up telling me to mouth the words and not sing.) and those kind of things kinda shut down your performance schedule for the next fifty years.
Thankfully if people try to shut me up from telling stories I don't pay attention to them and won't shut up if they ask me to. And I do this thing called RADIO where I talk some, interview others, and play great music. I do not sing along.
I could not sleep. Could. Not. I tried Valerian root, warm milk, reading, no blue screens, more blanket, less blanket, fresh air, not air. Just as I was falling asleep I'd think of something that would startle me awake. I thought I heard Mom calling me in a desperate way. I startled awake, got up to go downstairs to check on her. Nope. Just my imagination. I almost went to sleep again. Startled awake. Wondered if I had forgotten to pour water on the fire I had started outside earlier. Mom was in the swing and me in the chair and we were in catch up mode as she pointed out which flowers needed more water. (watering flowers is Mom's thing and she has the greenest thumb I've ever known. I have figured out I can grow plants that don't have flowers. Ferns and ivy's. And, really, who can ever have enough fern and ivy?) Soooo I said - we should have a fire. And I got the lighter fluid and kept tossing it on the wood and relighting it to the whoosh sound. Mama said - you are gonna set yourself on fire. And I said - no, I'm not. I just like the instant heat. And, by the time we were ready to come in the wood actually caught fire.
Startle awake because suddenly I swear I can smell smoke and if the fire restarted it could blow embers onto my car which would blow up and that would catch the house on fire . . . I put on my garden boots and stomp downstairs and out the door. There is no fire. There is mist hanging on the trees so there is that dripping sound that is just the wet of the night air. But the sky is cloudless, the stars are out. It smells clean and good and I think to my surprise, This is August in the deep south and I could camp tonight by a fire. Camping. Something I haven't done in a while that I miss. (I have a new mastermind camping plan that involves Vespa's, the Natchez Trace, and one great backpack. This is a new plan that was inspired by riding the greyhound bus for forty thousand hours and it's still in the making.) But right now I'm in the backyard and I'm amazed at the peace and the quiet and the light. I decide to go to the front porch to see the moon. So I go back in, lock up that door and go out the front door.
And there was the moon. Pushing to full. And I thought - OH, it's you. No wonder I'm not sleeping. Full moons have a waking effect on me. Even if I can't see them. Call it strange or wondrous or both but like an animal - I am aware. I looked at the moon and at the new lights compliments of Nashville electric that light up the driveway in the dark. The light spills gently through the leaves of the trees and It reminds me so much of Daddy's creek and the light doing the same. I am thankful for the comfort of them. And I stepped to the edge of the porch where it's open and looked up at the sky and there she was in all her glory. A moonbeam! At first I thought I was looking at the milky way but then I realized no, this is something different. This is light. It is - Moonlight. And, it is a moonlight moonbeam shooting over my house and into the sky. I have seen many thing but I have never seen anything exactly like this. It was worth not sleeping.
If I hadn't taken time to sit with Mom and visit a little late yesterday, I wouldn't have seen it. Because I wouldn't have started a fire. And I wouldn't have startled awake in the wee hours to stagger outside have asleep and be accosted by starlight and fresh air and that moon.
I am always amazed at the things in life that catch me unaware. The moments that seem wrapped in surprise. The ways that natural elements combine to create something I see for the very first time. Still. At this age. At any age.
I hope tonight I get some much needed rest. But if I startle awake, out come the boots. I'll make some tea and head to the porch, look up at the sky and sing Moonbeams softly into the night.
Wherever you are hope you are able to catch a sacred, magical moment of your own and carry it gently to bed and into your dreams.
At some point I fell in love with the fog that rises up on this hill. Then I fell in love with it again and yet again. The fog rises from the water along the bay where I am from so that many mornings you couldn't see a car a foot from you. Everything shrouded, moving as if we were each of us a ship sailing though open waters.
This house up on this hill, the same. It's the odd thing that has hooked and attached me to Tennessee. The Gulf Coast salt water girl in me realizing, ahhh, the fog, the wind. Like sisters of familiarity that wrap me close and help me to remember who I am. Not so far from things I've known.
Along the Gulf the wind is a constant on most days. Some light, some heavier but a constant that is not realized until it stops in the dead of summer. In dog days with heat lightning and a stillness that will weight down the steps of the youngest, strongest man. Otherwise it's constant. It has taken me awhile to understand my happiest days are when the wind hits the house on this hill with such force we take sail. It whistles and moans and the house breathes and we move along at the breakneck speed of nothing. But something in it sounds like the familiarity of home and it settles my soul in its whining.
This year in a desperate attempt to save Mom's Florida plants - great palms and rose bushes and gardenias and all manner of things I have no name for that were not planted in the ground (she the green thumb, mine the black) I had a friend nail up thick visquine around the porch. So thick it blocks the view. My favorite thing - gone. So now when we look out the living room windows we see a haze of plastic instead of trees etched against the sky, rolling off into the air, the ridge beyond. My mother finds it comforting I think. A flatlander at heart. It's a simply lovely grey and is more grounding. She has the most beautiful views from her bedroom windows. She keeps the curtains closed. This is a life-long battle of mine that I should soon forget, give up, it's over. Let's keep it cozy, she would say while I scream for light. Air. Freedom.
I would do good to live at sea.
The plastic. It had to be reinforced around the little porch top to bottom and to the side. It's where I'd made rescue Kevin's bed, blankets upon blankets by the chairs. A heating pad for freezing nights. His food bowls. Out of the cold and wind. He eyes the plastic suspiciously. I sat with him on the porch floor, my back against the wall as the great wind rolled up the hill and slammed into that visquine and filled it like a mighty sail, released it and then slammed and filled it up again. He rolled his eyes at me. It's ok boy, I said. We're just like a ship at sea. His doubt etched deep into his eyes. When I'm not there he sneaks down the stairs to the leaves on the side of the house, hunkered down into the certainty of the ground of Tennessee. No boats life for he.
The last two nights the coyotes have came calling. Down the hill in the direction of the old farm. It started up low and then quickly grew and then it seemed a hundred of them howling and calling. I rose from my Nyquil slumber having been hit with this dystopian wildfire flu that assails the country and hung my head out the window. I'm not much a party to screens for this reason. I fight those blasted bugs just because I long to lean, to see the moon, the branches etched against the ground in that strange light of night that remains a wonder - after all these years. Me still child like hanging out beneath the stars. And there they sang and then Kevin joined in but his song is a deeper one - a low lament because it sings, I am alone and I am alone, because that's the only song he knew before I brought him home.
He has other words, bear growls and grumbles that he uses when I pet him, stroke his fur. But these are different, these are at once, thank you and don't leave me and what took you so long to find me and you don't know the trouble I've seen and I've been so alone.
Because unlike Big Dog Titan who would wake and bark from inside the house when the coyotes started it up, he never had a human to wrap an arm around his big shoulder, pat his head and say, There, there boy, it'll be alright. It's just coyotes singing and soon the morning light. Now, let's go back to bed.
Tomorrow the meadow goes to auction, all one hundred seventeen acres of it. And I think the coyotes know. I think they sing a song of mourning, of moving on. Of change to come. Surely they feel it in their bones. They'll be searching for higher ground. Somewhere safe to live in shadow.
Like most of us. That song. That lament. Searching for home. For someone to say - there, there, it will be alright. Soon, so, very soon - morning light.
Friday is such a wonderful day to say - WHAT DID I EVEN DO THIS WEEK? I mean where did it go? Which made me think - I should write stuff down then I'd know.
I broke up a dog fight between Kevin the Rescue and Duncan the Dangit. Blending a family can be difficult when one of you has been a survivor eating from trash cans and possibly surviving on strange little creatures that run through the night (I'm not thinking about that part but I do kinda sleep with one eye open just in case I'm looking tasty). The FAT CAT STARTED IT with a HISS and the dogs bumped into each other trying to get away. Hissing starts a lot of problems always. If you are in an elevator and someone hisses at you there will be trouble before you can get out at the next floor. If you hiss at me in an elevator I will think you are turning into some kind of zombie thing because we are in an elevator in a medical building and they have been experimenting on you. I am not going to be your next zombie thing. So stop hissing. Sure, I have days where I'm tried enough to think - ok, sure just go ahead and eat my brain but then I will think NO!!!! I do not like hissing and I will think of Mom's fat cat and how many times I've had to clean that litter pan (the cat has been on a diet for weeks and the pan is still full every night. She does this out of spite) and I will take my fifty thousand pound purse and clobber you. I will go batcave crazy on you so that you will take those zombie fingers and try to escape. Crazy will neutralize zombie. Because let's face it you just left that doctor office and are just having the first twitches of what's to come and I'll be long gone and on the highway before you get that full on zombie strength.
Week in Review.
My adorable grandson told me if I didn't stop singing in the car he was going to throw up. So I sang louder. To which he replied - I'm not kidding ZAZA if you don't stop singing I'm going to throw up. When I checked the rearview mirror he was searching for something to use as a bucket. This actually happened a few weeks ago but to prove I don't hold grudges I picked him up for a sleep over this week. He ate watermelon and read books and watched Mickey mouse and helped make biscuits and ate more watermelon and played in a that little seven dollar pool like we were at the Holiday Inn. Laughter and storytelling ensued. I did not sing.
My mother used to sing to me. I never told her that she was about to make me throw up. The singing always came with rocking. I was a sucker for a good rocking so no matter what she sung I was quiet and just took in a good rocking. She had a regular playlist. These were my lullabies.
*Keep a moving Dan he's a devil not a man and he (something about lying) and water. It's a song about a man on a horse going through the desert with no water and they are both going to die and you know it even when you are four years old.
*Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley cause poor boy your bound to die. This is a song about a boy being hung and who is going to die.
*The green Green Grass of home. - Pretty much ditto
*Frankie and Johnny were lovers. - somebody dies but this one was at least upbeat
*Beautiful, beautiful brown eyes - I'll never love blue eyes again. Or something like that. I think somebody dies.
*Amazing Grace. - Nobody dies in the song but it is sung at every funeral I've ever attended.
Then I grow up and wonder what with the funerals and the lullabies why I write something called Southern Gothic fiction.
I went to the doctor this week and Mama went to the doctor this week. I was in and out. When I go to the doctor with Mama it is an all day event. Or it feels that way. We must pack three bags for Mom. One that is her purse that weighs 150,000 pounds which I offer to carry because I'm a good daughter. I do not understand what in the world can make this woman's purse so heavy. You would think she is smuggling guns. (She's not for the record for little robots that pick up things like that and report them to the authorities it's just gummakeupmedicinehairbrushchainpurseextrajewelry-penspapercheckbookwalletpictureshairclipsgemclipslipstick-fourteenpagesofnoneofyourbusinessandsoon) We have another bag that is just for her book and her cold water and extra tissues. We have another bag that will go unnamed. We must be a sight to behold as we totter to the elevator with me carrying the bags and holding her hand to help her walk only by now I can't walk so we just look like two drunks trying to make it out of the bar except we are just trying to get into the office and sign her in where I will tell them a story about why we are late because of what she decided she HAD TO DO right when it was time to get in the car. Fill in the blank. There is always something that is CRUCIAL WHEN IT IS TIME TO GET IN THE CAR. As a matter of fact, I always have the car already running when this happens. The dogs are barking because they think they want to go even though it is 106 in the shade outside because they are air-conditioned and know nothing of what lies ahead.
By the time I get Mama home we both need to take a nap. And that is that day.
WEEK IN REVIEW
I moved more boxes. i have been moving mama for three years and forty two hours. I have made one million trips to florida. I have carried more boxes than anyone my age should care unless they work for a moving company. My biceps do not reflect the amount of work I have put into this. Why is this? I should look like someone named Greta with good genes. I blame my lack of muscle definition on some dna factor which may trace it's way back to my Memaw when I think of it because she was kind of roundy. The boxes are now just "thrown down" as Mama would say and piled up in a room because I have run out of places to put things. REALLY RUN OUT. So they are just sitting there waiting for me to do something. They look at me and I look at them but we are at a stand off because I don't know what to do. I have two storage sheds in the yard now full of more boxes. They should just rest and go to sleep because they are not going anywhere anytime soon.
I went to read stories to the little wolfpack. They scream ZAZA when I come through the door like I am Cher and they are groupies. They gather/pile around me while I read them big, beautiful books procured at Parnassus and shove one another out of the way trying to be the person sitting next to me or in my lap. Other than a little crowd control on my part we have a great storytime then they smother me with hugs (hang on my ankles) as I try to get out the door. I am always amazed at this. This absolute ZAZA power thing. It's the best role I've ever played in my life. That and being Big Dog's person. I was great at that too. (Insert tear, misses big dog)
WEEK IN REVIEW
All in all, in the middle of everything wild and wonderful it was a lovely week and it continues. I wait with baited breath (what does that mean? does that mean fishy breath? who wants fishy breath?) for editor A. up new york way to send me her thoughts/notes/andsoforth on the latest American Mystic manuscript. I'm sending a short-short story I wrote titled Civil War to a national competition because I've not written a short-short story previously and I've never entered a short story competition before this month and I want to win something. But I was really thinking of an all expense paid trip to Europe. I wrote another short story that I don't like except for the first sentence that may really be a novel. I haven't rewritten my mystery novel because it occurs to me I have to basically keep all the bones and rewrite all the rest and that is a SERIOUS REWRITE which is a long way from done. I have four novels in process. One of them needs to be finished and published.
I am behind on my class for Theoretical Physics. So now I need to go cram some string theory.
And I need to call the bug man because there are some creepy things showing up that I don't recognize and have never seen. I keep trapping them in things so that they die so that I can show the bug man so I have dead things here and there under glass. Just keeping it cozy.
That's the view from the hill in my world. Hope things are sassy in yours.
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.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.