Sunday, June 3, 2018

Summer

Summer. I love it and hate it. There was a time when I couldn’t wait for the days of long light and no responsibility. Long gone are the freedoms of childhood, but maybe one day I can retire and discover some of them again. I remember one summer as a child I determined if I got out of bed by opening my eyes and looking up and out the window.  If the sky was a robin’s egg blue against the green of the pecan tree I would spring out of bed to absorb the day.  If the blue was off a bit or I saw clouds in the way I would roll over to the cool side of the sheets and sleep some more.  My laziness was the product of having both parents at work and two grandmothers who were busy enough they didn’t miss one less child making a mess in the kitchen. 

I lived outdoors in the summer primarily because we didn’t have air conditioning and outside was cooler than inside.  Plus, our Rawls Avenue yard was a virtual summer oasis. Our house sat on two lots so our yard was wide and deep and almost completed shaded by several large trees strategically placed by the Almighty. There had been a huge oak tree outside the back door and the space between the roots of the tree was my playhouse. There was one niche that was my perfect size and it was my car I drove to all points on the globe I knew existed, which at that time was only about a five-mile radius. Hurricane Camille took it and more out in 1969, but despite losing the canopy of the oak we still had enough to protect us from the blistering heat of South Mississippi.

In my mind’s eye the yard was divided into distinct sections. The immediate back yard began with the back steps encompassing Daddy’s shed and Mama’s monkey grass garden and ended at the clothesline (we didn’t have a dryer, either) just behind the pecan tree. This part of the yard was more utilitarian, so there wasn’t much playing there. The cats, or whatever animal we had at the time, ate on a small bricked area so it was always littered with old pie plates in various stages of rust. The rest of this yard was too shady for grass to grow and stayed covered with mulberry tree droppings, which was fine if you didn’t mind having purple feet (who wore shoes?).

Behind the clothesline was a fig tree carpeted with wild, pink oxalis. As I side-note I once watched the Middle-Child cook a bunch of the clover-shaped leaves and eat them. I later learned she did it to put off the advances of a young suitor. At the time, I thought she was a genius with survivor skills when actually it’s a miracle she didn’t poison herself. Beyond the fig tree was a jungle of bamboo and wisteria vines bordered finally by a mysterious, low stone wall. On the other side of the wall was the remnants of an old road or alley. If I could time travel I would go back to see just what it all looked like before the Csazar family called it home. Oh! Maybe the stones are a time portal! I digress, again.

A towering magnolia divided the two lots and on the other side, was the bonus back yard. At the back, on the house side of the walled jungle, there were relics of what have might have once been a garden. It’s here my imagination wandered when my daddy would tell me bedtime stories about fairies and gnomes and the one about the grasshopper and the ants. My daddy was a master story-teller. In line with the magnolia was a Catawba tree covered with caterpillars my Uncle Walter loved for fishing.  Further up were plum, wild cherry, and Japanese magnolia trees, and in between was the only area where the sun would shine the most. This was the site of home movies, a pet cemetery and Daddy’s prized satsuma tree.  In the summer months, the yard bloomed with well-oiled teenage girls in bikinis working on tans they didn’t need because of their natural Mediterranean skin. And it was fine for them to be so scantily clothed because they were safely protected from the wandering eyes of the neighbor boys by a ring of overgrown azalea bushes and other shrubbery my father refused to trim. Head slap! At last, I understand you, Daddy!

The front yard was for socializing. It started with the front steps and was enclosed by a pipe fence useful for sitting and talking with friends and neighbors, or practicing acrobatics and tight-rope walking. It’s where the girls of the house held court and broke hearts or had them broken.  It’s where one could go and sit and think and dream in the cool shade on long, hot summer days.

Yes, a child like me could get lost in a yard like we had. So many nooks and crannies to hide in away from a mother and grandmothers who wanted you to do chores and siblings who mostly ignored you anyway because of the age gap.  But I wasn’t always ignored. There were those summers my closest brother used to play with me before he realized it wasn’t cool to have your baby sister hanging around. My favorite was the summer of the Lawnmower.  It was an old lawn mower, part of Daddy’s hoard, with no engine or blades but perfectly working wheels.  I would sit on the hole and my brother would push me around the neighborhood and up and down the Hills in the empty wooded lot across the street.  I could write a whole book on the wonders and joys of that lot, so I’ll just leave it for now. Did he pull me in the lawnmower behind his bicycle? I don’t remember but I’ll just say yes because it was exciting to me either way.  Then there was the summer he (we) collected cans.  This is before cans were made of aluminum so collecting wasn’t for recycling. He (we) collected cans just for the joy of having a collection of as many different cans as he (we) could find. That summer I learned there were a lot of different beers in the world.

Eventually, I outgrew the desire of wanting to be outside coincidentally about the same time my mother installed an air conditioner and cable in the living room. Suddenly being cool in front of the television with more than two channels was much more inviting than the heat and bug bites of the outdoors. If I needed to get away I would go as far as the swing on the screened front porch and lose track of time to the rhythm of the squeak and clang of the chains as the swing rocked to and fro.  Again, I could write a whole book on the joys of that front porch so I’ll leave it here only to mention there was nothing more magical to me than that front porch on a moonlit summer night. To this day I dream of it in my sleep and waking hours.

When I began my responsible life of job, wife, and mother I lost summer in the jumble of every other season.  The years to me were just hot and cold, and I loathed the hot part.  Last year I began a campaign to reclaim summer.  I force myself to sit outside to eat lunch on workdays and walking for exercise after work even when the temperature holds strong in the ‘90s with high humidity. On weekends, I make myself do something outside even it’s just sitting in the shade on the porch and reading, or like today, writing.  By forcing myself to do these things I’m learning to live with the heat and embrace summer again.  I said live with it, not love it. Maybe my love will grow again when I don’t have to measure my days between weekends and holidays, and I can decide to get out of bed by the color of the sky. Until then, at least I’m trying.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

100 Words

On May 31, 1918 a boy was born in Chicago to two Hungarian immigrants, Barbola (Bessie) and Karoly (Charley).  Bessie came to the United States as a servant, Charley in the company of his father.  They left Chicago with their first-born, Louis, and moved to a small farm outside of Sumrall, Mississippi. Louis was the oldest of their five children and when he was 47 years-old he became the father to the youngest of his 7 children - me. In honor of what would be his 100th birthday, an age I’m sure he would have loved to have lived to see, I have come up with 100 ways to best describe him in my eyes. Some words are contradictory to others in the list, but I think a person can be two things at once and still be their true self. Some words are not very complimentary, but if my daddy was anything it was honest and he would expect me to be the same.  Here it goes in no particular order (deep breath):

American citizen, Hungarian to the core, proud father, husband, uncle, devoted son, giddy grand-father, gentle, loyal, irascible, meek, straight-forward, brave, unassuming, whimsical, God-fearing, crossword-puzzler, sentimental, dependable, obedient, charitable, imaginative, shy, blue-eyed, radiant smile, infectious laugh, austere, tender-hearted, boxer short wearer, humane, gracious, animal-loving, Catholic, hero, medic, reserved, Reservist, generous, penny-pincher, born dirt-poor, grumpy, obstinate, cat god, roof sweeper, never-changing, ice washer, lawn-mower, joke teller, docile, unyielding, trustworthy, dutiful, humble, resigned, quiet, handsome, devoted, patriotic, corny, nostalgic, college-graduate, Veteran of Foreign War, intruder chaser, black sock wearer, private, quirky, determined, sensitive, hoarder, security-guard, thrifty, peculiar, introverted, Knight of Columbus, American Legionnaire, bingo-caller, retired, unretired, cotton picker, Santa, story-teller, poem reciter, silly dancer, proud, healthy, Depression survivor, ear-flipper, head-thumper, treatment giver, obedient, tactless, bo-bo-healer, Easter-egg hider, true-friend, soft-spoken, irritable, blunt, traditionalist, satisfied. Daddy.


Happy 100, Daddy! I’m sure you would be embarrassed to read about yourself and make a fuss, but a little proud just the same.  "Good evening, friends."

Friday, December 22, 2017

Tradition

For quite a few years now I have had a Christmas Tradition with my OFTP. She comes down from the Buckeye and we traipse around a small corner of the Magnolia visiting cemeteries and placing festive trees on the graves of our sleeping ones. The day usually starts with me picking her up at her mother’s house. We visit for awhile, and end the day in the same way.  Now that her mother is one of the sleeping my friend isn’t coming this year, something I’m not thinking about and certainly not writing about.  Writing and thinking make it real, and I live in a pretend world full of fairies and unicorns all seen through rose-colored glasses.

So, let’s just say she’s going to be late this year.

Since she can’t be here in time I decided to go ahead with the Tradition because these souls depend on us.  Luckily, I had some trees left from last year, OK, I recycled them, but there’s nothing wrong with that, right? I did buy two new arrangements for our mothers, swanky gold glittered star-shaped Fancy Trees with red sparkly apples and berries, pinecones, and gilded ribbon. Our mothers would be so excited to be gifted something so fancy.  I loaded my car with the ornaments, wire from my husband’s trash pile, and wire cutters and off I went.

I like to start my errands from the furthest point and work my way home, so my first stop was my maternal grandparents on the far side of town. Here’s something I should have given more thought to before I decided to go it alone - with company, I am like granite.  I can visit graves, clear them of debris and place flowers all with a wink and a smile. Alone, I melt into a puddle of tears.  The first tears poured at the foot of my Granny. I gave thanks to God for my heritage and giving me such a wonderful woman to be my grandmother.  I thanked her for the Christmases past, and I left her a shimmering tree that reminded me of the aluminum one she used to have in her tiny living room, the favorite room of my childhood. As I prepared to drive away I dug a Sonic napkin out of the glove compartment and blew away my sadness.

Stop number two, my parents. Why doesn’t grass grow on their plot after nine years? I’ll never know, but the Christmas Miracle, the heart-shaped patch of rye grass planted by a Good Samaritan, was there again. I placed the Fancy Tree making sure to secure it firmly in place with wire, just as my OFTP taught me.  More tears. More thanking God for parents who gave me a wonderful life and Christmases that I’ll never forget. I wished them a Merry Christmas and walked across the street to my brother-in-law and left him a manly tree. Glittery, yes, but in a manly color. He would be pleased.

On to the next stop, my paternal grandparents. The puddle got deeper as I regretted never spending a Christmas with my grandfather and telling my grandmother that I miss her. Really, I do. She wasn’t the warmest person in my life, but I have good memories of her.  I think she liked me fine.

Then onward across the road and down a little to the founder of the tradition, Mr. S., my OFTP’s father. And even though I bought a Fancy Tree for her mother’s first year there, I was still startled to see it, that space that hasn’t settled quite yet even after six months.  I had to take a breath. In my happy world, she is still out there in Purvis, waiting on me to come pick up my OFTP for the Tradition.  I want to visit her there, not here.  Reality sucks.

Needless to say, they got two trees, one from her and one from me. She got Fancy, he got Traditional. Glittery yes, but traditional glitter. He would be pleased.  Her Uncle Burrell got one too, because she always thought of him and I was a mission.  I apologized to the electrician side of him for the awful way I cut and bent the wire to secure his tree, but I told him I was sure he understood.

The final grave in that cemetery was one I have visited at Christmas even before the Tradition. His is in a family plot with matching rose-colored granite footstones.  At Jimmy’s feet, the puddle turned into a small stream as I thanked him for making a little girl feel so special.  Blah, blah, blah… (Look! A fairy!)  He didn’t get a tree because it just wouldn’t look right with his family’s style, and because I only had one left and I had a special place in mind for it.  Regardless, he had plenty of cheer because the Good Samaritan visited him, too, and the Christmas Miracle lives on.

Last stop, my aunt’s grave.  She’s probably the only one I visit at other times of the year, and if I don’t stop I always wave to her as I pass on my way to mass.  She was only 13 ½ months old when she died of an accidental overdose of prescribed medicine. Accidental because the doctor prescribed it wrong. In 2017 that doctor would be sued for malpractice. In 1920, it was an accident.  My little aunt has no family near her, but she’s not alone. She is surrounded on all sides by other babies and small children who are also without families.  I wonder if the cemetery was set up that way on purpose, or if it all happened by chance. I left a tree for all of those babies.  My aunt only saw one Christmas in her life, and I doubt they even had a tree.  Some of those other babies never even saw a week, much less Christmas. By this time the stream was a river.

I ended the Tradition with a dull headache and Sonic napkin that could hold no more.  A sad day, yes, but a cathartic one as well.  I needed today.  These feelings have been welling up inside me for weeks, so it was better to release them this way instead of a breakdown over something stupid like burnt cookies.

Christmas is a time for remembering, good as well as bad.  In all of the places I visited today I relived good memories of Christmases past. The sadness was not in the memories, only in the process. I hope I will be a source of good Christmas memories for others in the future. Who knows, maybe I’ll even merit a Fancy Tree. I can only hope.


Merry Christmas!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Let there be light and lots of it

What is it called when the world is yellow?  I call it “the world it yellow,” but I’m sure that’s not a scientific term.  You know what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about those late afternoons when the light is slanting in a certain way and the world looks like you are seeing it through amber-colored glasses.  When I was little I would run outside and twirl around and exclaim, “the world is yellow!”.  Wait, I did that not too long ago.  I guess twirling isn’t just for little girls after all.  And pink days! Don’t get me started.

A few weeks ago, we received some of the tropical storm bands from a diminishing Hurricane Harvey. That morning on my way to work I was waiting to turn onto the highway, and I was stunned by the light. To the west the bluish-gray storm clouds were mounting, and in the east the sky was clear with the pinkish-yellow radiance of the morning. In the middle, where I was, the light held a cool blue luster and it bathed my hands and arms with an icy glow.  I know yellow and pink, but that was my first experience with blue! I just sat there soaking it up, wishing there was a way to capture it in a bottle, or at least a photograph.

I’ve always been a fan of light, but I did go through those brooding teenager days (ahem, years) when I would spend hours, days even, shut up in my bedroom with the blinds drawn, lying on my bed listening to music or reading.  I remember a time in my college years I spent the entire summer holed-up in my bedroom reading.  I discovered John Irving that summer and only emerged from my cocoon to go to the library to get another volume.  At the end of the summer break when I was on campus registering for the fall I ran into some friends I hadn't seen since the previous school year.  It was like blinking into the sun after a winter’s hibernation.  The light of day and friendship brought me back to life from a dark place I had hid myself.

Over the years I’ve tried to stay out of the dark and I find myself craving light more and more.  I notice it everywhere.  I live in a house of many windows and few curtains.  Earlier this week I had to pull over to watch the sunset because the deep golden cast it was emitting was mesmerizing.  Although rain was falling the sun was shining through the mist, and it looked like the fields behind the houses on my road were on fire.  Not 20 seconds later the glow was gone and the sun was sinking like a rock.  Light can be fleeting.

But light doesn’t have to be in the form of an emanation from a source of energy.  Sometimes light can take the shape of kind words and warm smiles you know are meant only for you.  Or getting a phone call in the middle of the day from you niece to tell you something that had happened to her that was so special and unique she wanted to share it with you because she knew you would appreciate it and understand.  Light is having affirmation that you are important to another person.  It warms and reveals.

It doesn’t take much to be a light for someone else. Really, it doesn’t. Be nice. Be kind. Give a compliment to a stranger.  You will soon realize that light is at its brightest when it is shared.