London Eye

Posted by on Apr 8, 2007 in My Children, Spirit | 0 comments

My daughter, the international traveler, has an interesting and effective technique for packing her bags. An hour or so before she is scheduled to leave, she upends the contents of her dirty clothes basket into her suitcase, throws in the shoes lying around on the floor, drops in her makeup bag, and gets someone to help her sit on it so it will zip. She has resisted all my efforts to help her organize the effort on her return trips, so the only change I have caused is to make sure all the clothing she takes out of my house is clean. As you might imagine, this drives an over organized planner like myself slightly insane. I have learned to keep my mouth shut mostly, but it makes no difference, she knows what I’m thinking by the body language. She has watched me start getting ready for trips months ahead with amusement, and she likes going on trips with me because I arrive with all the things she forgot. We have learned to adapt to our wildly divergent personalities very well because she likes having shampoo and toothpaste available and I like to feel needed and slightly smug.

Today I’m making the final preparations to go and visit her in London, a process I started 5 months ago. My suitcase has been packed for 2 weeks, but today I am going to unpack and reorganize it one last time before we leave for Dulles at 1:30. I am resisting the urge to add 6 additional outfits “just in case”, like I did last time I lugged two giant bags through the tube, double deck bus, and the final walk to her house. It has been a painful process for me to sort through my wardrobe and eliminate all but the essential. Good news is all my clothing is new, because the old stuff has been shuffled off to other homes since I lost the 95 pounds. I made a decision last month that I would leave my brown outfits at home, eliminating the need for brown shoes, coats and handbags. Men among you may skip ahead to the next paragraph if you haven’t already. I know how you pack and it’s not a work of art. My suitcase will be a masterpiece if it is opened in customs, drawing ooohs and ahaas from the assembled airport security agents. They will take one look and know that no one so organized could ever allow the chaos of drug smuggling into their life. On the other hand, they will have no fears about rummaging through the bag like they might with my girl’s luggage, so I’m not sure if my theory will work.

If all goes well I will be luxuriating in the Sanctuary Spa in Covent Gardens by this time tomorrow. My girl is taking me there right from the airport for a delightful day of blissful massage, swimming, and pampering. She had tickets for the London Eye for Friday, which has me a bit apprehensive, but I am determined to do it all fearlessly. We will do the rounds of comedy shows on Friday and Saturday night and then head north to Shipley on Sunday to visit the Doody’s. From there it’s on to Edinburgh on Tuesday for a few days tour, then we will sleep exhausted on the night train back to London. I return on Thursday, May 3 and have a day to detox before I have to work on Saturday. So, more than you wanted to know about my trip to UK, but you’re not free yet. I will be posting occasionally from over the pond, keeping you all apprised of my middle age daring do. My boss offered bail money when he found out my husband was staying at home this trip. You would think he of all people would know how good I am at talking my way out of trouble.

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Purebred American Mongrel Music

Posted by on Mar 8, 2007 in All things natural, Spirit | 0 comments

I will put a disclaimer on this right up front. My musical taste is eclectic, which anyone who picks up my ipod soon discovers. The theme that runs through my selections is quality, be it Bach or Blues, Hip-Hop or Rock. Last night my feet were tapping to some excellent unadulterated Americana in the center of the universe, Ashland, Virginia. Page Wilson played with Reckless Abandon, which is the name of the band and their style, or so it seems. Like most things that look spontaneous and simple, be it gymnastics or a great jump shot, you know talent, years of practice, and loving dedication are required to make it seem so sweet and pure.

Page always starts his performances with a song he wrote about Virginia. Out in the parking lot between sets I told him the song always brings a tear to my eye, even though I’m from Kentucky. He seemed surprised, but later several big men standing around me admitted they had the same reaction to the words. I understand the craft of writing well enough to know he’s not just acting modest. When people tell me they have been deeply touched by stories I write, my first reaction is the same. Not seeing the genius of your own work supports the theory a lot of people have espoused concerning individuals touched by some artistic muse. In reality the more accurate interpretation is the ninety-nine percent perspiration one puts into these things eclipses the product.

I never really enjoy the meals I cook, even if one or more of my guests proposes that I should go into the culinary business after they eat at my table. I suppose it’s the perspective, because I can come back to an old piece of written work and find the good and bad in it in minutes. Page may be playing it so often he’s quit listening and is really unaware it speaks of a home we all long to come back to, no matter where we were born. Since I couldn’t find the words printed anywhere out there on the web I’m including them here for your reading pleasure. If you are within the sound of WCVE public radio you can listen and judge for yourself next Saturday night.


Many a mile a soul may wonder
To fates and places yet unseen
In the end was just a gamble
At least you chased a few dreams.
You miss the ones that always loved you
No matter whether right or wrong.
Sometimes just a memory
Is all you have to call home.

My home will always be Virginia,
Between the Blue Ridge and Chesapeake Bay
Atlantic to Appalachia, home in my heart always.

Some of us are meant to ramble
Some for staying at home
Hopefully everyone here
Will find some place they belong
So shed no tears at life’s passing
Know the best is yet to come
Find the peace everlasting
Was peace of mind all along.

My home will always be Virginia,
Between the Blue Ridge and Chesapeake Bay
And I’ll always be Virginian, born free to live out my days

My home will always be Virginia,
Between the Blue Ridge and Chesapeake Bay
Atlantic to Appalachia, home in my heart always.
You know I make my home in Virginia,
Between the Blue Ridge and Chesapeake Bay
And when this earthly ramble is over,
My soul will find peace there always.
The home in my heart is Virginia

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Posted by on Jan 7, 2007 in All things natural, Spirit | 0 comments

The moon is slightly off round tonight, and the color of a summer peach, resting lopsided on the dark horizon. A few grey clouds lie wispy across the pocked surface as I drive home in darkness. The man in the cream sedan beside me at the intersection is confused. He thinks I want to race because I left him at the last light. He had his window down, smoking, and smirking at me at the next stop. I cannot see him for the moon that follows me about the earth, ripe and ready to burst. I let him roar ahead, expending gas and pride at three times the rate necessary to beat me. This morning the sun was in a rush and pushed all the believers in it’s path, but the moon is ignorant of time, and hurries no one. Some mornings it doesn’t even bother to hide from the sun, but sits pale and breathless in the dawn until the sun lodges a protest to whatever powers run the sky. The moon only laughs at them and comes and goes as it pleases, changing shape and size in a joking way, teasing little children and lonely wolves.

The man waits for me at the next light, a cool white line of smoke trailing out the window and rising in curls before it disappears over the roofline. The light changes to green as I approach. There is no traffic ahead of me. I sail silently past him and leave him there behind a truck. The moon and I do not change our expression, but inside we are gleeful at our joke

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A Place in the Sun

Posted by on Jan 7, 2007 in All things natural, Spirit | 0 comments

About 10 years ago when I worked at the middle school there was a child I’ll call Emily who intrigued me. She was autistic, but like a lot of special needs children, she had physical and mental problems that overshadowed that issue. She was about 12 at the time, and had what would have been a beautiful face had she not had a deformity in one of her eyes and that certain look of wrongness about her demeanor. Still, Emily was a treasure to us, and certainly to her parents. She was slim and dark and loved clothes and hats. One day she came to school wearing a picture hat with a brim sloped to one side to disguise the issue with her eye. Of course, hats were not allowed in school, but no one even suggested to Emily that she should remove it. The theory on MR children currently is inclusion in regular classes, so Emily and I were on our way to art. She looked forward to the class and was always kindly received by the “normal” group of students. Emily turned her good eye toward me, twisting her head all the way around. She tugged at my arm impatiently and said, “Sing”. I knew the song she wanted, her favorite; I’ve got no strings from Disney’s Pinocchio.

I’ve got no strings

to hold me down

to make me fret, or make me frown

I had strings

But now I’m free

There are no strings on me

I’ve got no strings

So I have fun

I’m not tied up to anyone

They’ve got strings

But you can see

There are no strings on me.

Emily sang the “got no strings part”, but she could never quite memorize the rest of the words. She held her arms in the air and danced down the hall joyful and delighted to show she had no strings. Emily had certain savant talents, like knowing all the names of coins and the names of the people whose faces were embossed on them. I once brought some French money to class and she spent hours looking it over and asking the names of the denominations and the people. I had to do research to find out who they were, but by the end of the day she was saying all the words correctly, and even though I no longer remember them, I’m sure Emily could name them all right now if they were put in front of her.

We made a grand entrance into art class with Emily’s hat set roguishly on her black curls. The teacher insisted that he capture her beautiful chapeau and sat down to make a quick sketch. Emily held onto the black and white page while the rest of the students got ready for a field trip to the wetlands behind the school. They had sketchpads in hand to capture the best of still life but Emily refused and held firmly to her treasure. When the class headed out the door Emily became overwhelmed at the unexpected turn of events.

“Spit,” she said, turning to me with a puzzled look.

“No,” I said, “Emily does not spit, that’s right.” Of course, Emily used to spit when she was mad or upset, but she has the word now and is able to refrain from the activity. I told Emily where we were going and what we were going to do again, just like I had before we had left the special needs room. Emily seemed to recognize the relationship between my story and the actions and settled peacefully into the line of children.

“Trees,” said the teacher with an obvious flourish of his hand to the surroundings. “I want you to find one you like and make a rubbing of the bark and leaves, then we will fill in the picture when we get back into the class room.” He illustrated the skill on a nearby shagbark hickory, his favorite. Everyone took their lead pencils and papers and rushed off to find a tree. I turned to Emily and asked her what tree she would like. She took my hand and pulled me back the way we had come.

“No, Emily, We have to find a tree.” She tugged harder and I decided to follow. Emily marched to her own drummer and we had learned to let her head her band of one when no harm seems to come of doing so. I soon realized what she was headed for. There was an oak right off the path that had been bent into an odd shape by some unknown force early in its life. Although it stood as high as the others, the trunk actually took a right angle turn, then another, making a tiny space that could serve as a seat for someone as small as Emily if she got a boost up high.

“Tree.” Said Emily and I smiled and clapped my hands.

“Wonderful,” I said, “the perfect tree.” She turned her back to the seat and I lifted her feather light frame onto the roost. She sat there for the rest of the class time, watching the others in the distance and repeating,

“Tree!” from time to time. I made a rubbing for her on the extra paper I brought, but Emily refused to help with the drawing. She still clutched her hat picture and fluttered it through the air occasionally. When it was time to leave I wondered if I would have trouble getting Emily to follow the class. They started filing by in twos and threes, each expressing delight in Emily’s cleverness in finding such a great tree. The teacher saw Emily sitting there and acted wildly surprised, even though he had spotted her long before.

“Did you fly up there Emily,” he teased? Emily said,

“Strings” and waved her arms in the air. We all laughed at her joke. The teacher told her we were going back inside to color her picture as he swung her down from her seat.

“Strings” Emily said again, and I realized she just wanted her traveling song, although I always suspected that she understood much more than she let on.

I glanced back at the tree as we walked away singing. It did not ask to be twisted and malformed, but it had managed to accommodate its life comfortably to the circumstances of its situation. I thought of the tree farms with perfect white pines growing in straight rows, all of them identical. Emily’s sweet monotone voice sang out, “got no strings” over and over. Her hat sat firmly askew on her head and her arms waved in the air like they had been newly released from bondage. I came up beside her and put my arm around her shoulders. She stopped singing and looked up at me with one beautiful blue eye. She was holding something in her hand.

“George Washington” she said, showing me her quarter.

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Posted by on Nov 7, 2006 in My father's mom, Spirit | 0 comments

The man’s name was Hardin Porter and he was suppose to be a cousin to my Dad’s mother, but I have searched the family tree and have yet to shake out a Porter from its branches. I know he existed, because I have an article about him rafting logs down the Rough River in Grayson County, a dangerous and highly skilled job. The article mentions his sons, Harvey and Mike, who remembered their Dad … careening downstream at the rear of a 200-foot log raft, yelling orders to the oarsmen: “A lick to the left! Two licks to the right! Half a lick to the left!” It was a tough and rowdy bunch, and I think I might hesitate in suggesting any kinship to them if they were alive today, but times were different in Kentucky at the turn of the century. The newspaper article I have came from the Courier-Journal about 24 years ago, and Hardin’s son Mike was 78, his father long dead. It was a great story that told about a way of life wilder and more grueling than I can imagine.

In between times of rolling logs down the river, Hardin was a farmer and raised cattle. I do not know if it was a common occurrence, but the facts passed down to me were that on at least one occasion he took a trip to Louisville on the train to sell a load of livestock. He returned without mentioned anything of his adventures to his family, but when a train car full of furniture arrived for him the next month, his sons questioned their Dad about the extraordinary event. He had to admit that he had gotten drunk in the big city and did vaguely recall buying the things. Having no storage for the items, he was forced to sell them off at a discount to family and friends. My Grandmother bought a beautiful iron bed for the princely sum of two dollars cash, or perhaps $1.50, depending on whether my sister or I have the better memory.

I don’t know what color it was in the beginning, but I recall it in my grandmother’s house painted a ghastly shade of dark brown. Perhaps because of the cheap price, they did not value the massive thing, and were trying to make it look like wood. As all members of the family can attest, it is a solid piece of furniture, possibly indestructible, so I imagine all of it’s friends from the freight car are still around the country somewhere, unless they were melted down during the war to make tanks. My sister was in possession of it after my grandmother died, but she graciously passed it on to me when Eva was born. It came over the Appalachian Mountains to Virginia in a u-haul trailer with other assorted pieces, to furnish her then empty room in our first suburban home. The trip was memorable because it’s when my husband and I confirmed some fundamental things about our children and Pontiac products. Two facts were crystal clear as we pulled into a mountain gas station at 3 in the morning, with steam pouring out from under the hood, and hysterically tired children in the back seat. Since it was our fifth, or perhaps sixth stop to fill up the radiator, we were quite sure that our babies really, really, did not sleep in cars, and the cooling systems of Pontiac station wagons are really, really, not designed for hauling trailers.

There was a lot of cursing and grumbling as we hauled the heavy frame up the stairs late the next day, but I have a feeling the bed has heard it all over the years. It looked innocent enough, decked out with a coat of white paint and adorned with an antique quilt made by a great, great, aunt. You would never know by looking that it had lived such an exciting life. In many ghost stories, pieces of furniture hold memories from long ago, and I like to think that some part of my grandparent’s energy is somehow tied to the bed. I remember sleeping in it when I stayed overnight at Mamaw’s house when I was a child, bundled under homemade quilts on a feather mattress. Eva was never really fond of the bed, because it provided no soft, cozy, resting spot for her back. I also fussed with her often about the two tiny brass balls that were screwed onto the ironwork as finials. Evidently the desire to unscrew them was unbearable, and I would have to crawl around under the bed to search for them frequently. Because it is one of the few physical links I have to fond memories of my grandmother, plus the fact that the grandfather I never met slept in this very bed, it will continue to be a part of my family as long as I live.

So I am grateful to Hardin Porter, a man I never met, but have tried to imagine from the first time I learned about the bed as a child. His story was a bit risqué when I was young, what with the drinking and all, but as I have grown older, I view it in a different light. I doubt that Hardin traveled as far in his lifetime as the bed has, and I picture him in the unaccustomed bright lights of Louisville, tempted to check out one of the establishments where you could actually go in and order a drink from the bar. I like to think he stayed in a hotel, had a bath in a big claw foot tub, and dressed in his cleanest duds to go out and do the town with his cattle money. If he had been a hard drinking man, he would have been more cautious, but unaccustomed to spirits, he quickly became drunk and was vulnerable to whatever shyster took him in. I have no idea if that’s how it happened, but I enjoy the false memory of him waking bleary eyed and puzzled the next day, checking out of his hotel, wondering where his money went, then catching the train home. My children, who are exhausted from my constant probing curiosity, will be amazed that I never asked more about Hardin years ago when his sons were living.

While others study the great tides of history, I find myself drawn to these trivial rivulets that are rarely recorded. The human equation tells us why, not just what and when, and even though we know mortal weakness all too well, it is somehow comforting to know we didn’t invent folly. The bed sits solid and substantial, and for me, a tangible symbol of both abiding love and reckless behavior, the kind of conduct we all say is idiotic, but that we secretly find intriguing. I hope the bed, along with the story, will pass down in the family, and that unscrewing the brass finials will fascinate some future grandchild, or great grandchild.

p.s. Lulu Estelle Renfrow Crume, my grandmother, was born April 1, 1882 and died September 1, 1970

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Life Lessons

Posted by on May 7, 2006 in Dad, Reckless youth, Spirit | 0 comments

By the time I was six I am sure I had told a fib or two, probably influenced a lot by a neighbor girl named Judy Nell, with whom I was forbidden to play. She was a practiced, and almost professional liar, rare in a child so young. In me she found the perfect foil for her games, because I believed every word she said. I recall us sitting together one summer morning, on opposite sides of the wire fence that divided her yard from my grandmothers. She showed me a half dollar size piece of broken blue pottery that she was keeping inside a large box of wooden kitchen matches. She declared, with the greatest conviction, that the bit of blue plate had magical powers and would put out all fires, perhaps a prelude to getting me to start one. I begged her to demonstrate, but she would only show me one burned match, and told me that she had extinguished it that morning using the magic token. On this occasion her mother caught us, which was much preferable to being found out by mine. My mother was the one who had declared this relationship off limits, since I was the gullible chump that was being led astray. I don’t know what her mom thought about us playing together, but she never told on us, and managed to prevent us from setting the house on fire. I sure my mother was relieved when Judy Nell moved to another city, but I remember how sad I was when the notorious pre-scholar departed. I had no one to play with for a long time, until my own naive mark moved in across the street.

The house belonged to my great grandmother, but when she passed away it became rental property and income for the heirs. Sammy was the child of the new tenant, several years my junior, and small for his age. Since my mother did not object to him, we had the roam of the dangerous, but delightful playground of my youth. We hung out in my dad’s body shop, and played in the junkyard and barn behind the shop. I will never know why I decided to be destructive that fateful day, perhaps because the heavy iron mall was just sitting there, right beside the pile of clay drainpipes. I had no idea what they were, but after I hit one with the mall, it shattered so satisfying that I couldn’t resist hitting another one. Since it was fun, I decided to give Sammy a turn with the mall, and he broke a few with no hesitation, except for trying to pretend he could lift the mall as easily as a girl. We kept taking turns until every pipe was smashed to bits of rock and red clay dust, but at no point did it occur to either of us that what we were doing was wrong.

That came later in the evening, when my Mom and Dad were talking about what happened to the pipes they had just bought. We were at the kitchen table, and each of the children was questioned, although there would have been no chance of anyone but me being the culprit. I didn’t hesitate for more than a few seconds before denying all knowledge of the incident. I’m sure my face betrayed me, because the next morning my mother told me she called Sammy’s parents, and he had admitted guilt. My mother had always threatened to tell my father if I didn’t behave, so I was terrified that she turned me over to him for punishment. The normal routine from her was an immediate spanking, with no words spoken, and remorse or guilt on my part was nonexistent. This was to be very different.

We all have defining moments, what psychologist call life scripts, which affect us so profoundly that they become the basis for our character. Dad and I were in the kitchen alone, and he sat on the chair with his arms around me. He told me what the pipes were intended for and how much they cost. He explained how my destruction had delayed a project he was working on and had made extra work for a lot of people, including himself. He told me that none of that mattered to him one bit, but he was so very disappointed that I had not taken responsibility for my actions, but instead had chosen to lie to him. He told me how important it was for him to be able to trust me and to believe what I said, and how it would be a long time before he would be able to have that faith in me again. He said I deserved to be spanked, and even though he had never spanked me before, he would have to now. He then patted me twice on my bottom with the force of someone brushing a fly off a piece of fragile crystal.

I will always remember the shock and horror on his face as I broke into uncontrollable sobbing. Mother came into the room, perhaps to restrain him from beating me to death after she heard my cries. He kept repeating that he barely touched me, but for the first time in my life, I had been touched to the depths of my soul. How much easier it had been with mother, where the brief pain of corporal punishment wiped the slate of guilt clean. The consequences of that day stayed with me like a grain of sand, around which I created a pearl of conscience. I won’t say I never lied again after that day, but I will say I never did it again without awful guilt. As far as my father and I were concerned, I know I had a quite a few sins of omission during the teenage years, but I like to believe I moved beyond that to establish the framework for my adult life.

I never knew what became of Judy Nell, and often wondered about her. Did she too have her Waterloo and face the truth about herself? Did she end up like my mother believed she would? Was she just an extremely imaginative child, who went on to many creative endeavors? I lost track of the little squealer Sammy too, although I would like to find him and thank him for ratting me out. I didn’t know it at the time, but it made all the difference in my life, and I am genuinely grateful.

The world we live in rarely rewards integrity, and sometimes it is very discouraging. Still, like many idealist before me, I believe that there is an earthly remuneration for a solid moral compass, if we are patient and persistent. I don’t know exactly how to recreate this homing beacon in others, but I have proof of its existence. It is not exclusive to any age, gender, race, creed, economic stratum, social class, or political party, but appears to be a scattered random attribute. Just when I have become disheartened with all the bold-faced liars that have been elevated to positions of power, I find that one honest man or woman, holding onto their convictions, and taking responsibility for their actions, no matter what the cost. I don’t know where I heard the homily, but have often repeated to others, that the best thing about telling the truth is that you don’t have to remember what you said. That is certainly accurate, as we have all watched the soap opera dramas that people create trying to cover one story with another. In the end, lying reduces our capacity for recognizing the truth, either in ourselves or in others, and makes for a very paranoid world. If it had not been for Judy Nell, Sammy, and my Dad I could have gone on through life untrusting and untrustworthy. Thanks guys, wherever you are.

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