Her tiny house was built of an odd red block I’ve never seen used since. When it was constructed in 1945 it was the only material available, due to post war shortages. We lived next door, close enough that my dad’s powerful arm could have thrown a stick the distance. Both houses sat on a tranquil cul de sac in the quiet town of Beaver Dam, Kentucky. I was born at home in November of 1945, the third and last living child of my parents. Until the age of five I shared a bedroom with my brother and sister in our modest white frame house. Mom and Dad slept on a fold out sofa in the living room. After the war, my Dad used the welding skills he honed building battleships to start an auto body repair business. His work place was in a large cinder block building separated from our back door by a circle of grass and a gravel parking lot. Most of the money he earned was put back into the business until the summer of 1950, when construction started on a two-bedroom addition to our home. Mom indulged in a king size bed for her new room and for the first time since their 1936 marriage they had a comfortable bed with room enough for her husband to stretch out and leave a space for her too. I remember all her 6 brothers and sisters, the in laws, and their children being taken for a tour of the room to see a bed that was the first of its kind in the area.

Mother was up with the sun making mouth watering biscuits, eggs, bacon or sausage, or sometimes fried county ham. Gravy almost always accompanied the meal, cream gravy or the red eye variety served with ham. In the summer, when blackberries were ripe, mother would occasionally make cobbler for breakfast. Served with top cream from the bottles left on the doorstep by Westerfield’s dairy, it was a treat beyond belief for all of us; dessert for breakfast! Even on days when we were conserving, and mother made a pot of oatmeal, we still had those lighter than air biscuits dabbed with country butter and homemade jam. So what did this deprived child do immediately after eating a farm hand breakfast? Well, when my chores were done, I ran to my grandmother’s little red block house, sat down on one of the ice cream parlor chairs around the oak pedestal table and had a second breakfast! Usually it was another biscuit, this one made with lard, smeared with butter and sprinkled with sugar from her cut glass bowl. After I could eat no more, we started our day’s routine.

In my memory it was summer much of the time and the chores of summer were a delight to me. I would pester my grandmother relentlessly, Mamaw, when are we going to check the garden?  She would laugh while she put on one of the stiff, starched, bonnets she made from calico feed sacks, because I slammed out the back door as soon as I saw her take the bonnet off the nail. We walked the path beside the house checking each lovely rose and shrub for damage or insects, smelling the wonderful smells and perhaps picking a few to grace the table. We checked the vegetable garden, vines, and brambles for the fruits of the earth and her toil, picking the ripest and deciding what should wait for another day. We stole eggs the hens had lain overnight, ignoring their squawking indignation. Silence and twitching noses greeted us through the wire of the rabbit cage, then the chewing sound of tiny rodent teeth as they munched the special fresh leaves I poked through the hexagonal holes. After, we would sit on the front porch swing and wile away the hours, talking about anything and everything. Dad’s old black and tan hound sometimes tried to join us on the tiny porch, wagging his enormous tail in great whooshing arches, hitting a flowerpot or tender plant with each swipe. She would jump up and fetch her broom, threatening the exuberant dog, but never actually hitting him. Shamed, he sat on the step and looked at us with those sad eyes, till I relented and joined him for a smelly hug and gave his head a scratch.

As fickle as a sprite, the lure of a run with the dog would overwhelm me, and I would leave mamaw lonely on the porch, with hardly a backward glance. There was just too much to do to sit for long. In early spring the persimmon trees that covered the acre lot across the street were in bloom and tiny perfect yellow flowers fell like fairy teardrops from on high. My sister and I sat for hours making chains of them to wear like gypsy jewels, piercing the tiny hole nature supplied with the darning needle and crochet thread mamaw had loaned us. When the miniature yellow flowers were gone, there were clover blossoms all summer long, requiring only the manual dexterity to tie the stems together for fairy crowns, necklaces or bracelets. When these innocent pleasures lost their charm and I tired of my sand box, I checked to see if there was any excitement in my daddy’s garage. It smelled of grease, gasoline, acids and solvents, and always, the burning odor and flying sparks of the welder’s torch, which I learned early to avoid. When Dads work crew had enough of me, I was off again, perhaps to the barn behind the business where a sealed room was set up for painting, free from dust. I was forbidden to be in the paint room, but the blotches of colored enamel were too intriguing to leave untouched, so I headed back to mamaw’s porch. She used the kerosene from her stove and a piece of worn cloth to scrub the tell tale paint from my fingers and clothing. Then I would linger on the porch till the fumes of the coal oil evaporated, fearing Mother’s reprisal if the smell betrayed where I had been. Mamaw and I were great conspirators.

Summer evenings after supper were the best of all. As light faded, the catalpa tree on the far end of mamaw’s lot was full of lightning bugs, heavy with their little blinkers attached, they were easy prey even for tiny hands. Shut up in a jar for the balance of the night, thwarted in their mating rituals, they entertained us by the hour. We were supposed to release them unhurt, but my brother delighted in smearing one across his white tee shirt, where their illuminated intestines would glow for hours. As a bonus, he got to hear the grossed out squeals of his two younger sisters, who were not brave or cruel enough to do the same. Not far after sundown, we were in bed. Our first TV was not purchased until 1956, so the only entertainment, after the lightening bugs were released, was ghost story told by my sister, or the radio my brother was allowed to listen to via headphones, long after we were required to be asleep. Closing my eyes today, I can still see the glow from the tubes across the room and smell the honeysuckle perfume that wafted in through the open window. We had no fear of intruders with our faithful Joe on guard on the back doorstep. Occasionally he would mistake the incautious raccoon or possum for an actual threat and let out an enormous series of musical whoops, but he was soon hushed. Whatever fears and dangers that lay outside our small town were unimaginable to us.

When my grandmother was in her declining years she fell outside her back door and broke her hip. In the pain and confusion afterwards, she traveled in her mind back to the world of her childhood, making trips to the spring to fetch water and climbing apple trees in the summer. All her visitors in the nursing home she was sent to became, not her living children and grandchildren, but her brothers, sisters and parents, long dead. I think the small and comfortable world of our childhood is always the safest and most treasured place of our heart. If my mind should ever fail me, I pray that it takes me to that primal refuge of my childhood in Kentucky. Thought I have traveled far from home, there is a thread that ever ties me to the feel of sweet clover under my bare feet, the whoop of the hounds in the still night, and most of all, the enduring bond of kinship to its land and people.

Promises of Paris

It’s almost 2 AM, too early to wake, but Paris and hunger has roused me from a restless four hour nap. I recall very few times in my life that I have been too excited to eat, but the last few days before my trip have been so packed with preparations and anticipation I have lost track of even meal times. Now with my suitcase ready for zipping, my traveling outfit selected and my job put to bed for the month, my stomach wakes me complaining. I cannot decide it it is too later or too early to eat, but after months of being too bound by responsibilities to take time for myself I find that more than food, more than sleep, I need to write. So, let me tell you about Paris.

In Kentucky where I was reared, many early pioneers left a stamp of incongruent place names across the young wilderness, names that were doomed to be twisted into unrecognizable pronunciations by the uneducated tongues that followed them into that dark and bloody land. My high school French teacher did nothing to dispel the ignorance in myself or my classmates concerning the butchered names. The rules of pronunciation that I learned in class were not applied locally. It was my first husband that made me aware that the Versailles Highway and the palace of the Sun King were spelled exactly the same way, but that Louis would have gone into the French equivalent of a hissy fit if he heard the locals speak the word. We even named the largest city in the state after him, Louisville, but I can almost see his sneer if he heard it spoken. Hopefully, I will not see the same sneer Sunday morning when I arrive in his native land and open my mouth.

In an effort not to rise above my raising I have diligently fallen asleep for weeks with the headset Rosetta Stone sent me wrapped around my head whispering barely remembered words from long ago. The only thing I have learned for certain is how to ask politely for the toilet and a translator to understand the directions to same. Last night I admitted to a bit of terror along with my excitement. Come what may however I will be on the airplane in six hours, ready or not.

I wish I could say I yearned for Paris as I sat eagerly on the front row of Mrs. Render’s French class but truthfully I just wanted to be anywhere but in Beaver Dam Ky. It was later that Paris assaulted me, so deftly I am uncertain of when the blow was struck. I do know the longing is there and a bit of it seems to be in many of my friends and acquaintances, for when I tell them about Paris they get a dreamy look in their eyes. Some say, well, the people are rude I hear, or the city is dirty, but under it all they know romance waits there in the air, in the water, in the food, and especially in the language. La ville éternelle m’appelle, et je vais…

To be continued…


I ran again in dreams last night,

My bare feet skimming the ground

Across the clover field that lay

Between the house where my grandmother lived and my own.

I was the light princess,

The one in my storybook,

Equally free from care and gravity,

A time traveler headed for the marvels of tomorrow.

Waking alone to a nightmare

In a world most dreadful dark

I scream

But the howling wind smothers the sound

As I cling to a string, so thin and worn

That any minute it may break

Severing all ties with earth

And I will be sport for the tempest.

Again today I take precautions

So the wind will not take me

I’ve gathered many sweet and madding weights

and glued them fast onto my frame

Even while my voice protests confinement

I’ve sealed all possible escapes.

Trapped by my own hand’s protection

I cannot float away

Or even move.

Fall 1990

Days of Amber

The light is perfect today, brilliant and golden, like the world put on its polarized sunglasses, laughed, and then woke me early to share the joke. Even before I venture outside, the color tells me there will be a crispness to the air and a faint whisper of burning leaves. The scurry of fall is upon us; the memory of languid summer days almost erased by the press of winter anticipation. Even city dwellers who cannot tell soybean from wheat fields feel an urgency to count their metaphorical sacks of grain. The days grow shorter, the grasshopper’s summer song begins to take on a remorseful refrain, and the ant tidies up his honeypots with a dour air of smugness.

The suede jacket that has hung in my closet these long months wraps me in it’s soft embrace, like an old friend returned from sabbatical. My blood quickens as I step out into a world ablaze with color. For all appearances the earth goddess Gaia rejoices in her her lying down to sleep, but perhaps she stuck a bad bargain and is making the most of it, like us all.

I am thankful it is Sunday and I have time to reflect. I need physical and emotional recovery from two nights out this weekend and the excitement of my first real birthday party since I was a teenager. Two weeks before the party I began to wish I had ignored my natal day as I have so often in the past. The week before I am unexpectedly teary. On Thursday, the day before my birthday, events unfold both at work and in my personal life that make my sojourn in my own private purgatory a bit more bearable. Friday afternoon I send out all my work evaluations at ten minutes of three and make my escape before anyone can email me. Friday night I find myself surrounded by supportive loving friends and family, and I sat there drinking it in like the woman who has everything.

I am acutely aware of how lucky I am when I see envy on the faces of strangers and casual acquaintances. It makes me ashamed about all the times they might have seen the same look on my face, just for a second, just before I turned my head. We are greedy creatures we humans, and I more than most. The words from Leonard Cohen Bird on a Wire  play on the soundtrack of my life:

“I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch,
he said to me, “You must not ask for so much.”
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door,
she cried to me, “Hey, why not ask for more?”

I give myself over to a moment of selfishness on Saturday night and tried to explain my restlessness to the man I married. The words don’t come out right. They never do, they never will. I live in a place of abundance, surrounded by love. No one could ask for more, and yet, I do.

After the band played its last song Saturday we stepped out into the cool dark of evening, flushed from the dancing. I lifted my hair and let the air evaporate the dampness from the nape of my neck. In the car I fingered the amber talisman on my bodice, an ancient palliative against aging and evil spirits…

The morning sun found me on the sofa, my charm still encircling me, guarding me. Its honey yellow color echos the light of the day and an unimaginable morning forty million autumns ago when resin dripped like butterscotch from a wounded Mesozoic tree, now long extinct. In an eye blink of years from now the memory of my current struggle will be reduced to lines on paper, less important to the universe than the flotsam this amber trapped before it hardened. Unanswered questions that shot like sparks from the fire inside my soul will be long cold, and my restless spirit will lie still and silent. Today I am taking inventory. With a burst of grasshopper regret I realize that the dreams I stored in the summer of my life may be insufficient to take me through to the end. Perhaps I need to run faster than I ever have before to find a place I am not even certain exists. It may be that my run must be in solitude and sacrifice, but not to try is to deny my birthright. The rustle of  leaves beneath my boots seems to whisper, Hurry, hurry.

Written Nov 2010


The world seems too big tonight
To ever find the things
I so carelessly left behind.

The highway winds into the distance, black and uncertain
and while I cannot see them,
I know the ancient mountains rise behind
In the wake of my hurried passing.

I do not recall the journey’s beginning
and flight seems my only destination.

I run alone, breathless,
Searching the sky for dragons, the woods for lions,
Praying silently to whatever gods might be listening,
But no one comes to rescue me in dreams.

Nov 2010

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