the box arrived on the doorstep and, almost immediately, the text came. “delivered to front porch,” my sister texted, “hooray!!!”.
this was not a small box. this box had 17 avocados in it. and not 17 measly avocados you purchase at the local wisconsin grocery store. 17 that were grown lovingly on a tree in florida, some of which weigh over a pound. a pound!
beautiful golden-green on the inside, they arrived on a difficult day and were a welcome sight from my big sister. yes, ken’s words – “life’s vicissitudes” were wreaking a bit o’ havoc and my big sister’s avocados were a balm, like his big brother’s reassurances and caring and teasing on the phone later that week.
we don’t live close to either of those siblings. one lives in florida, with a beautiful home and pool in front of a lush swamp and lake and one lives in colorado in a lovely neighborhood with stunning peonies and a view of the front range. we don’t get to see them often. but they have a way of showing up. and, for that, we are grateful.
in this world today with broad radiuses of residence instead of the close-by of years past, it’s not easy to stay engaged with those you love. you wish to spend more time with them – the ordinary kind of moments – to see what life is like, to step a tiny bit into their shoes or at least have a window into their day-to-day. it’s hard to hear of other families and easy sunday dinners, errands with elderly parents, adventures with grown children. i’ve pined more than once to go browse at target with my daughter or have a pedicure with my sister or watch my niece hold and play with her toddler-boy or view a hallmark-extravaganza with my other niece or, even harder, coffeesit once again with my sweet momma. i’ve thought about all the time i spent at tennis courts or in baseball fields with my son and wished to again watch from the sidelines as he bats and runs and fields or lobs tennis balls over the net. i’ve thought about preparation for fall and pumpkins and apple pies and corn mazes. i’ve thought about the famous calzones made in my sister-in-law’s colorado kitchen, the sweet niece who would sip red wine with me and taking a walk around the lake with david’s momma. and then, the chance to see all the rest…our families, friends, newly-found cousins, wider concentric circles still connected but a little further out.
these years have taken a toll. though we have traveled a little bit, it’s not like pre-pandemic. and there is so much to miss when wisconsin is not where everyone is, so much yearning. i know Making Time for others is important and, with work and budget and covid restraints, we try the-best-we-can to do whatever-we-can. it doesn’t eliminate the missing.
in what seems like decades ago, way back in 2020, on may 19, i wrote a blog with a similar photograph prompt. it was a stick – out in the woods – and i stated that even nature was asking “why?”.
at that time the pandemic was in its very early days, i was recuperating from a couple broken wrists and there was much in front of us we hardly knew – or imagined – would happen. it felt like we were already living in an alternate reality. i left off with a thought – that the decisions we made about the pandemic right then were going to impact us forever. we would look back and, with an eye to conscience, ask why we made them or why we didn’t.
it’s still relevant. y.
it’s the thing that nags me through the days….the whys.
i suppose it is the very thing that can stop-motion all forward movement. sometimes, there just isn’t time for a why. like when your toddler is about to touch the hot stove or run into the street after a ball, there are no moments to spare to answer “why??”. it just is. it does bring to mind all the people who whined “why?” about mask-wearing in a global pandemic. there wasn’t time for that. it just was. over a million people – in this country alone – likely wish those folks hadn’t stopped to ask why.
i’ve come to realize that sometimes, also, there just isn’t an answer. there is no good explanation for why people would be ruthlessly unkind to other people, why so many of our leaders deny that our good earth is in crisis, why – closer to home – people have used their own agenda to thwart the livelihood of people working hard for a community, why people don’t speak up for others being wronged or why people don’t ask more questions before jumping on bandwagons of mistruths, whatever they may be. the irony of it all. on may 19, 2020, i pondered whether decisions would stand the test of time.
so, coming upon the Y on the trail, i had to laugh.
because it is probably the one thing that i belabor, the one thing i try to figure out – day after day – the thing that keeps me from entirely moving on. y.
we were supposed to have company. it has been a rarity these last couple years to share our space with anyone, so we were really, really looking forward to it. visits with people we haven’t seen in a year, two years. coffee-sitting or wine-chatting out on the deck, slow walks along the lakefront, catching up. long-awaited.
it wasn’t to be.
just before, we had attended a small gathering – outside. we were alerted a couple days later that we were exposed to covid. guidelines are such that it was then our responsibility – which we don’t take lightly – to isolate from others so as to avoid being contagious, whether or not we were also ill. we have respected this pandemic and its resulting health guidelines from the start, so we did the only responsible thing. we cancelled our guests, two sets of them.
to say we were disappointed is to underplay the isolation of these times. we were stunned. the ever-present facebook shows people off gallivanting on vacations and cruises, at disneyworldland, at parties. and we, abiding by what had been outlined as ways to protect others, were alone. in truth, we were a little ticked.
and so, we dedicated ourselves to crossing every appendage we’d stay healthy and working on the backyard. the new fence has created a blank canvas and we wanted to re-plant and re-organize our tiny sanctuary. i began studying plants and sun and shadow and height and breadth and movement and placement.
we moved the old hostas. they were along that back fence line. it hasn’t been a good year for hostas, dan told us, and we’d have to agree. these intrepid plants, we knew, would bounceback, so we transplanted them next to barney and under the white fir pine. i wanted a few hosta for under the blue spruce, but i wanted elegans hosta, rich green not variegated, huge heart-shaped leaves, gorgeous texture that will share that space with tufting blue sedge grasses.
we went to the nursery. it’s all outside so we felt confident we were not exposing anyone and we spent a few glorious hours wandering in and out among the plants, dreaming. that’s where we fell in love with that little stand of quaking aspen. (pause for a moment…)
i took a zillion photographs, not only of grasses and plants, but of the accompanying tags of information, so that we could go home and i could research and develop a plan for the new landscaping we would be planting. i had my work cut out.
i made several trips to the nursery, asking questions and moving slowly through, glancing at my camera at the pictures i had of our backyard space, pondering. after a week – sans people – we went and picked up the first of the grasses, three switchgrasses, tall with plumes just peeking out. they would join the hardy pampas we had already purchased, hoping they would grow tall against the fence.
busying ourselves with greenery helped the sting of losing the opportunity to see loved ones, but not entirely. though grateful each day to not take ill, we felt gypped.
a few days ago we added a couple dwarf fountain grasses. their flouncy-ness is charming. we brought home a little zebra dwarf silvergrass and a purple fountain grass for contrast. after a few days of studying placement, we’ll actually dig holes, take them out of their pots and plant them. and there’s space for a small rock garden too, perfect for this thready heart.
it’s the end of the week and now more days have passed since our exposure. though we went through ten home tests – to make sure we were moving through a ridiculously long incubation period – we have mixed feelings.
we know that in cancelling our company we did the right thing, for we would not want to inadvertently infect them or anyone they would, in turn, see.
but we remain just as hungry – we are just as longing – for a bit more normal as we had been. we’ve all sacrificed much in these two plus years to protect each other. we – the two of us – have limited our restaurant-visits to less than two hands, have stayed back from concerts or festivals we wanted to attend, have masked in shops and stores, risking the dirty-look ire of others who have simply moved on. and we have not had the chance to really see many others – to laugh in our pjs together, to get in each other’s way in the kitchen, to spill out stories, interrupting and laughing.
doing the right thing is sometimes painful. especially when opportunity is few and far-between.
this weekend we’ll sit out on the deck and gaze out toward our new fence. in the early morning of the days i’ll water all the new plants, greeting them each time. and maybe, later in the day, the new grasses will catch an early evening breeze and tilt toward us, billowing. i imagine they will be thanking us for bringing them home. birds and more birds will attend to the feeders. squirrels and chipmunks will scamper, chasing each other looking for fallen seed, high-tight-roping across the yard. dogdog, a little older and more tolerant of little friends in his yard, will lay on the deck watching with us.
just like when i take a photograph of a person i try to avoid having extraneous people in the picture, when i take photographs outside i try to avoid any messy unnecessities.
this time i did it on purpose.
on july 29th i will have lived in this house for 33 years. i have sat out back watching the sky turn orange over the garage for 33 years. i have watched the trees grow up over the rooftops in my view. i have watched squirrels on their highways-of-highwire for 33 years.
it suddenly occurred to me that there might come a day when i can’t simply walk out the old screen door onto the deck, stepping onto the patio to watch the sky in the west. there might come a day when i live somewhere else and i won’t have access to this view.
and so the messiness of wires sectioning off the sky became important. important enough to photograph. important enough to remember.
we’re surrounded by things – and views – we have taken for granted. we see them every day – though we don’t really see them.
they seem unimportant.
yet, these familiar sights are the very things that help ground us. in a world that is politically volatile, climate that is destroying mother earth, bombastic leaders itching to reduce freedoms, disrespect and aggression out of control, it would seem that we need grab onto that which grounds us, centers us, slows down our breathing.
because i’m thready, i notice – and try to memorize – things like how the old wood floor creaks in the hallway, what it sounds like when the glass doorknob falls off, the feel of the small chain on the basement door and the decades-rubbed indent it has made, the sound of a double-hung window with ropes and weights opening, the deck cracking in cold weather, the cool painted-cement floor under bare feet in the basement, the places where the plaster has cracked. they all spell home.
and, with a world in turmoil, everything in flux, so much anxiety and grief and worry, things that are solidly familiar help.
“will you get to watch any fireworks?” she texted.
our city has spectacular fireworks. for over three decades i have marveled at the extent of the fourth-of-july display over lake michigan, sitting on the rocks along the shore, in the parks along the lakefront, down by where they set them off by the harbor. the fantastic light show goes on for about a half hour, culminating with a finale that bursts open the sky with color.
this city has a festival down by the lake, a carnival in the downtown, food vendors and dock-jumping-dogs and lots of music. there are children with ice cream cones melting on tiny fingers, bubble machines making iridescent bubbles float all around passersby, red, white and blue tchotchkes/chotchkes/chachkis on carts and people, bike parades with flags and streamers. there are hot dogs and brats sizzling, cheese curds and funnel cakes, lemonade and icees and dippin’ dots. there is no shortage of fun celebration and it’s all right there, within walking distance.
but in this day and age…
we won’t be going to watch the fireworks. this will be the fourth year now.
in 2019 we had just moved on island and didn’t leave dogdog and babycat during the display; they were adjusting to a new house as it was and we had no idea how loud the fireworks would be.
the city cancelled the fireworks in 2020; the global pandemic was early-on and there was a healthier respect for distancing.
last year, following the insurrection at the nation’s capitol, along with little to no leadership-held-responsible-for-all-of-that or any accountability, we stayed home.
and in this day and age…
we will stay home again. for the farcical supreme court has begun absolutely dismantling the freedoms that we are supposed to be celebrating. extremism and religious right are suffocating citizens of this country, thwarting the ability to live freely and make one’s own decisions. equality is going the way of centuries ago. discrimination is rising up, like fog on a wind-shifting hot summer’s day over the great lake. gun violence is dramatically increasing and, yet, guns are not limited. the extreme climate crisis is heaved off to the side in favor of big business; the epa is undermined and our children’s futures will feature many more “air quality alerts” than we could ever imagine, not to mention the global warming fallout from fossil fuel emissions. we watch lake mead drop and drop. we read of the po river in italy receding, lives substantially and critically affected. we see that australia is under water and that there are red flag warnings across the southwest – fires will be prevalent as the heat is heating up. the relationships between countries are strained. politics are warped. politicians play on stages of self-agendized blather. there is a lack of responsibility. there is a bigger lack of looking out for the big picture, the long haul, the world that will be inhabited by the children of our children’s children. kindness, consideration, compassion are looked at as weakness. we are flabbergasted at the stupidity. more, we are incredulous at the lack of people to see the stupidity. it seems the more clownish, the more vile, the more popular. it seems that evil lurks. and i wonder about the hypocrisy of watching fireworks while there are people quietly – and not so quietly – undermining democracy. we could ignore it all and go cheer – as loud as my sweet momma used to cheer – at the fireworks. or we could take a pause.
our old backyard neighbor played two things in their backyard. one was the soundtrack for “mamma mia” and the other was an album of john philip sousa marches. never insanely loud back then, both made us smile. a relationship three decades long.
but in this day and age, there are multitudes – truly multitudes – of children in that yard out back, a yard equipped with every single thing any generous public playground might have: full-size batting cage, full-size trampoline, three soccer nets, a basketball court, zipline, fort, swingset, sandbox, large plastic toys, atvs to ride, bikes, balls, bats, rat-a-tatting big toy guns and a new mysterious large wooden structure being built back along our lot line, where they can’t hear it or see it from their house, like most of the other entertainment devices in the large yard. apparently not at all conscious of the it’s-a-neighborhood-you-live-in-a-community philosophy, surrounded by people who have actually resided right here for decades, they play loud music through outdoor speakers so the whole neighborhood can hear – though no one gets a vote on what’s played – and the children have a spicy – and foul – vocabulary and bloodcurdling screams they don’t hesitate to use. demonstrating antagonism seems the way in this land beyond the dead arbor vitae. goodness! when did the rules of neighborhood – the rules of neighboring – change? did they not watch mr. rogers? parents need remember children are always watching their lead. likewise, leaders need remember citizens are always watching their lead. and how precisely did we get here?
this day and age.
we could make a big pitcher of iced water with slices of orange and lemon and grill some (plant-based) burgers, play a little music – at an appropriate volume – and watch our new pampas grass grow. we could admire our newly-cleaned garage or the new green blades growing in the haynet out front. we could paint rocks to hide on our trail or plant a few flowers. we could speed-dial fred rogers. all are quite likely. well, except for fred.
and we could go see the fireworks.
but we won’t.
not in this day and age.
though it will be a statement we make only to ourselves, it will be comforting to dogga for us to stay home.
besides, some things are just too much. in this day and age.
a good self-actualizing refrigerator and freezer will keep things cold and frozen, respectively, and have no further issues. the job is simple.
now, there are fancy fridges and run-of-the-mill fridges…side-by-sides, french-door-bottom-freezer models, freezer-on-top standards, retro fridges, beverage center fridges, deep built-in fridges…but the one thing they have in common is keeping things cold, keeping things frozen. so, leaking water onto the floor is not in the list-of-things-to-do for a fridge/freezer combo that has any self-respect.
which brings me to the last two years of our kitchenaid.
back in 2013 i spent a literal fortune on a stainless steel french-door-bottom freezer refrigerator because suddenly, after merely 24 years, my fridge had failed. there is limited space in our old kitchen where the fridge goes so i had to choose carefully, measuring tape and measurements in hand.
they installed the new shiny fridge and, i have to tell you, i felt fancy. gleaming stainless steel, sunlight reflecting off its french doors, bottom freezer the coolest-invention-ever, i was pretty darn excited, despite the monthly payment to the temporary credit card issued by the local appliance store. classy fridge and all, i moved on in life.
seven years later, this fridge, that i have babied with stainless steel cleaner and soft cloths, began to weep onto the wood floor.
there was no reason for it to weep. on the contrary, i should have been weeping as i watched rust spots accumulate on its no-longer-gleaming doors. stainless steel that is not stainless. when i asked kitchenaid about the rust spots and streaks, they said, “we’re sorry you’re experiencing rust on your stainless steel fridge. we recommend using stainless steel cleaner.” well, hello. that’s the only thing i have used, frequently enough to have to purchase and re-purchase. somehow i am not feeling their remorse or sympathy.
but, back to the water-on-the-floor. the opening credits of the pandemic on the screen of life, we were not anxious to bring in a service rep, so i googled. there was a gigantic sheet of ice under the drawer of the freezer – and this was leaking onto the floor. apparently, this is a common problem. (which begs the question why this is not addressed.) i defrosted the freezer and fridge, cookie sheet catching the icebergs as i rubber-spatula-ed them off of the freezer floor. cleaned everything, dried it all off, stainless-steel cleaned the doors and body for good measure and turned it back on.
and now? i am doing this every four to six weeks. but i have it down to a science. i use this tiny fan that my sweet poppo made, a rube-goldberg special the rpms i could not guess but the pitch of the whir tells me it’s mighty fast. i only thaw the freezer floor – so i only need one larger cooler for the freezer food and i don’t open the fridge. i wipe it all down (there’s no chance for it to get icky these days) and turn it all back on.
yesterday morning…merely nine days since the last great-thaw…we woke to puddles under the fridge, clearly having a meltdown (no pun intended). we are increasing the defrost-the-freezer-frequency and looking up appliance repairmen.
my conversation with kitchenaid was…interesting and very, very long. they promised to send me a part on the 22nd. a couple days ago i checked on this. they told me the information i provided does not match their records. so i am at ground zero again. no irony there. zero. the degrees the freezer is set at.
i just don’t know. it goes without saying they just don’t make things the way they used to.
the color that is most associated with freedom is blue. it represents vigilance, perseverance, justice, prosperity, peace, and patriotism.
and, yes, freedom.
in a horrifyingly regressive turn of events – strategized and intended – the supreme court has diminished the freedom of women in this country. we have traveled backwards decades upon decades upon decades. the panting of their victory lap pales in comparison to the collective gasp heard around the world as the united states thwarts its own growth toward equality, toward being a nation held up as an example respecting human freedom-for-all. with no backwards glance of remorse, these justices undermined fifty percent of this sea-to-shining-sea-this-land-is-your-land land.
and so, it is time to climb out of the quiet shells in which we try to peacefully reside and speak up, speak out, shatter the silence. we must hold those responsible who have struck down the rights of women to have autonomy over their bodies. we are on a downhill vector and the rights and freedoms of gender identity, sexual orientation, racial equality run neck and neck in the justice-extremist-whack-a-mole, justices holding hands, religious-patriarchal-supremacist stickytape gluing them together and eroding the separation of church and state they are sworn to uphold. what deity would support such reprehensible action? the color blue – the sky, peace, true justice – weeps. democracy cracking, a fragile idea failing.
“…o say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?…”
robins laid these blue eggs. birds. symbols of freedom. also of hope, renewal, rebirth.
though unable to sprint away, the turtle knows when to withdraw. the beautiful wizened face peeks out from under the shell and i don’t want to scare it, though it is likely i already have. the black iris stripe, always parallel to the horizon, the water’s surface, highlights its beautiful eyes, yellow-green peering at me. the marks on its shell tell tales we won’t know. we don’t pick it up or move it; there is no road danger for this turtle as we are in the woods and, by the trail it has left in the grasses, it seems to have a deliberate destination.
these years seem turtling years. pulling in, sheltering from the outside, moving slowly, slowly. in light of all that has transpired through the last couple years, i have not minded turtling. it is renewing strength, re-prioritizing, revitalizing humor, stoking up energy. the pandemic has forced this inwardness; this place has been our shell, reassuring, comforting. even with all the zeal i have for adventure, i love being home. there will be a different time. time will pass and seasons will change and the river keeps flowing. nothing is static. my eyes focus on the horizon.
the turtle paused in its trekking as i took its picture. it looked out from under its own fortress-home and whispered smart-turtle-wisdoms, grinning at me, “just keep going. wherever you go, there you are. you carry home with you. keep your eyes on the horizon. slow, slow.”
my poppo’s cane stands next to a chimney cupboard in the sitting room, propped with a couple of walking sticks. i’ve never been very good at using a cane – for some reason, i find it confusing. you shake your head and wonder, i’m sure, but there is something about placing the stick and the side you place it on and which leg you are attempting to aid that is a little bit baffling for me.
this past week, though, i had a full day of using my dad’s cane. i had broken two toes and needed a little something to lean on to get around. i tried using the foam roller but that proved awkward. and david, well, his shoulder wasn’t available all day.
my dad was most certainly chuckling watching me. i’m sure he was trying to instruct me from that other plane, in-between sipping coffee and nibbling on crumbcake. i figured it out, even though i couldn’t hear him, but not without laughing at my own awkward brain-cane-leg shenanigans. mostly, my hand holding the curve of my dad’s cane was a little bit of a gift. sitting as a decoration, it hadn’t occurred to me that it might come in handy. “use the stick,” i could hear him say. i keep listening for him, a decade tomorrow since i started missing him. always.
i’m not sure why i break my toes. the report from the dr’s office to the x-ray folks read “kicked a door jamb with her left foot.” i beg to differ. i didn’t KICK the door jamb. i ran into it. there is a difference. one sounds like a hissy fit, whereas the other is clearly an accident that happened as i zoomed around in the house, getting stuff done, barefoot.
it seems that every year or so i hurt a toe. most of the time, barefoot. but sometimes i even have my flipflops on. this time, though, was a doozy. two at once! i mean, seriously?
on the third day post-communing-with-the-door-jamb i put on one of the thick snowboard socks of a pair we had gotten when we went snowboarding and i broke both my wrists (another fun day) and i found a sport slide sandal of my son’s (who has much bigger feet than i do). the combination worked like a charm and i found that i could manage to move around. i’m still wearing this winning combo. i don’t look vogue but i am getting from place a to place b. and gaining momentum.
i suppose i should just wear shoes. like all the time. something to guard my toes, since they seem vulnerable. but i really love the sensation of bare feet on old wood floors. the planks creak and groan a little and you can feel the spaces that time and history have created in between the boards.
as much as i don’t look forward to any more broken piggies, i suspect these are not my last.
there is a gold frame around the old black and white photograph. a still life of a family. it was taken in the 1920s and it captures the still-life of my sweet poppo’s family…at that very moment: his dad, his mom, his brothers and sisters as young children and babies.
i don’t have another like it; there is not another portrait – at least not in my collection of photos – that has both his biological parents and all his brothers and sisters. my dad lost his mom to metastasized breast cancer when he was merely eight years old. my grandpa married a woman – the only paternal grandmother i knew – who was willing to take on six growing children. life was not still.
in the way that families sometimes splinter, my dad’s family lost touch after the death of my grandparents. there was some rift and there were plenty of hurt feelings and, then, there was silence. i grew up the rest of my life without my cousins, without sharing in their stories, without the chance to know them or love them. it was like the still-life-portrait was carefully cut up and only my dad was left.
one of my uncles had drowned in the swimming hole in upstate new york during their teenage years. another uncle was lost at sea during the war. i think my third uncle passed somewhere along the way maybe in brooklyn, where they all grew up, as did one of my aunts, a fun-loving californian who always went by her nickname. and the aunt who had children – who would be my first cousins, wished for but lacking in my own circles – was in new england.
a couple years ago – after i broke my wrists – when i was sitting with casts and a laptop and the pandemic had just begun, i decided to google them. i wrote a bit about finding them – a golden moment of connection. suddenly, through research and social media and, unfortunately, posted obituaries, i discovered two of my four cousins.
i reached out, one on either coast. they reached back. and the ripped pieces of portraits that could have been taken through the years began to assemble. tiny bits of photo paper, a little glue, stories to be told.
my dad – on the other side but not too far away – smiled when i had my first conversation with his sister, my aunt. he no longer remembered the details of whatever the rift was and, besides, it was a ridiculous fifty years prior. how long does one hold onto these kinds of things?
my aunt, with a touch of brooklyn and a touch of boston, told me stories and i really pined to meet her, to hug my dad’s sister, to hear of my dad as a youngster, to sit with her. but covid and fragile health sadly combined to prevent this.
my cousin called while we were driving to the grocery store. he told me that earlier in the morning his momma, my 99-year-old-would-have-been-100-in-three-months-aunt helen, had died. once again, the still-life photo shattered. i would not capture a picture of us together, our jowls matching, perhaps our eyes, perhaps the curve of our faces. i watched her service online yesterday, trying to memorize the smiles and tears of my lost-now-found relatives.
i’m grateful for the brief conversations and the fact that she knows i looked for her, for her children. i’m grateful to have contact with two of my cousins and to someday meet their families and the families of my other two cousins who were holding a spot for their momma in that other plane. with great joy i listen to stories they tell me and i know that we’ll share time and snapshots, close-ups, wide angles, portraits, candids – reaching back and reaching forward – of our lives together.
i learn every day to let go, to hold on, to appreciate it.