Just Bloom

This is my favorite place. Ever since I can remember, I have escaped to this veranda. It’s nestled off the second floor of our old antebellum house, once regal but now chipped with paint and in need of attention. My haven overlooks a copse of generations old live oak trees smothered in Spanish moss. It also gives the best protection from the berating noises of my father hollering across the house at Mama. Lord knows what the bourbon has lied to him about this time. The magnolias have bloomed fast under my bedroom window just to the left of me, and their scent serves as a reminder. They are beautifully fragile and last only a moment, yet they are strong enough to return each year. Just like me… and Mama.

Dilcey says Daddy had a rough upbringing, and since she’s the oldest person I know, I reckon it to be true. She’s never lied a single day in her life any how. She says Jesus rewards those who are true. I sure hope so. She’s got to be at least sixty so she’s had plenty of time to figure things out. I can’t even remember a time when Dilcey wasn’t here with us in this big old house. Her grandmama was a slave right up the river a long time ago, and Dilcey’s grown roots here. Says she ain’t never leaving. I figure that’s true too.

Dilcey is the only one who knows that this is where I hide. It’s got two old navy damask wingback chairs, faded with time. They face one another like two old people sitting in silence. I usually just plomp down and cross my legs just to feel the coolness of the worn wood planks on my skin. Mama and Daddy haven’t been out here in ages. They stay downstairs where it’s cooler in the summer when the windows are thrown open, and heated up by the fireplaces in the winter. Only I use this place to look out over my little paradise. Or to escape it.

One time, before Dilcey’s knee began to ache too much, she climbed up the stairs after one of Daddy’s bad ones just to bring me an ice cold lemonade.

“Chile,” she said as she persuaded my fine, limp mousey hair into braids, “Sum folks jes got so much hurt inside of dem dat dey don’t kno’ how ta do nuthin’ else but hurt.” She didn’t say anything else to me. Just let me sit there in the shade, sipping my lemonade, trying to fix my helpless hair. I patted her arm to let her know I understood. That’s the way it’s always been with me and Dilcey- not a lot of words, but a whole lot of talking.

Now I sit- much older than I was then, but too young to do much about anything. My hair is now pinned to the top of my head, letting the slight breeze tickle my neck promising of cooler days to come. I close my eyes, trying to drown out the sound of his voice and strain for the song of whippoorwills in the distance. Mama doesn’t make a sound. Just listens. But unlike me, she listens up close. Taking the brunt of his anger, fending off the sharp edges of his words.

Eventually, he will put down his weapons and return to himself, just as he always has. Our little paradise will return, and life will go on. Kind of like those magnolias. When they are here, they are beautiful- pure. But as they die, they wither into a sickening brown, littering the yard below with their ugliness.

 

~~~

 

This is just one of many pieces I have written over the course of the past three weeks during the Oklahoma Writing Project’s Summer Institute.

http://www.owp.ou.edu

Happily Ever Never

She gazed fixedly at the couple just a few tables away. The lady, probably once beautiful, twirled the pink umbrella in her drink, apparently more interested in the designs she was making in the frozen concoction rather than her present company. Said company was a man, slightly balding yet attractive rapidly typing away on his phone, clicking sounds resonating through the restaurant. Each click seemed like it tapped directly into her brain as she watched the two of them. Click. Click. Click. Faster and faster as she watched.

Aware that she as completely unobserved, she unabashedly watched the two for quite some time. The woman’s full lips were painted red, turned in a slight frown that matched her drawn eyebrows. She was dressed smartly in a black blazer and jeans with grey booties. Her auburn hair fell long around her shoulders but was pulled back on top by a clippie, the only sign that fashion was probably not at the top of her priority list. Occasionally, the lady would bring the straw to her mouth, sipping heavily of the drink before returning to her musings. Every so often, she would look around the restaurant as though waiting for someone else to appear, some one who might entertain her and fill the void with more than clicking noises.

The clicking noises only paused every other minute while the man took a drag from the bourbon setting in front of him. Ice melted slowly in the amber liquid causing a pool of water around the glass on the wooden table. She watched as the man sipped without even taking his eyes from the screen in his hand. His eyes never left the phone. It was almost a talent. He seemed completely unaware that the woman was even across the table from him. Unlike hers, his face was one of peace. Lines formed across his brow, but did not crease or shoot upward in surprise. It’s as if there was no emotion what-so-ever. Just him, his bourbon and the clicking sound.

She wondered what brought this couple to this place in time. The dull gleam of rings indicated that they were married, and given their age, it must have been for some time. Both were relatively attractive people. Surely it was that which had first drawn them together. She allowed herself to imagine them as they may have been 20 years ago. She with shorter hair and 15 pounds lighter, was quite the catch. He, head full of dark hair and athletically built, holding his arm out so that she might escort him to a party. Him smiling at her as though nothing else in the world existed. Both of them dressed to the nines.

“Ah hem”. The smiling waiter interrupted her thoughts, blurring the party’s details. “Anything else?” His youthful face begged that she would say yes. His hope for increasing his tips for the night was plastered over pimples and barely-there whiskers.

She smiled, “Yes, please. Another of these.”

“Very well. Be back in a second!” He beamed at her and left.

Returning to her musings, she pictured the couple on the beach, sipping margaritas with the same pink umbrellas, leaving them to melt and wading out into the ocean. The man swinging the lady around, her head tossed back in estatic laughter, only to draw it in toward his smiling face for a passionate kiss. Then splashing back to their towels on the sand, dissolving in fits of giggles.

Maybe it wasn’t always so picturesque, but she took comfort in giving them some sort of benefit of the doubt. Surely their lives couldn’t always have been this way.

Her waiter returned, exchanging her empty glass for a new one. Thanking her with his eyes.

Looking down into her glass, she frowns. This poor couple, she thought, looking up over her glass for another peek. They sit here in this restaurant hardly even acknowledging one another. It’s so tragically sad. Sipping her drink and finding it satisfactory, she stares over at the couple again.

The man has set down his phone, tossing back whatever remains there were of his bourbon. The woman’s drink is nearly gone, pink umbrella still swirling around in her fingers. She has yet to look at her husband.

Gosh, these two are such a sad couple. What a terrible date. She shudders at the thought of them and thinks to herself. Lord, I hope that never happens to us. 

“You ready?” The voice from across the table makes her jump. So caught up in her own observations, she’d almost forgotten he was there.

“Sure.” She twists the pink umbrella out of the glass, dropping it to the table, and stands to leave.

 

A Father’s Love

Oh that I could only erase her pain, he thought as he stood, sand swirling around his feet. The sun beat down upon his dark hair, and he lifted his eyes to the heavens for just a moment. He peered into the faces surrounding him, faces he knew and loved. He found his mother’s face crumpled in the despair of her loss. Those soft honey-colored eyes leaking out her sadness from the depths of her soul. She looked not at him but at the shrouded figure of her husband, his father… well, his earthly father, the man he had called ‘father’. This man who loved him just as he loved his own biological children. Now sleeping.

Memories rushed over him… even his earliest memories as a toddling baby involved the strong hands of his father soothing him, caressing him, teaching him. Those strong hands were the same that taught him all he knew of carpentry. He remembered watching his father’s sinewy arms strip the bark from trees as he molded them strategically into something with purpose. Just as he had done the the trees, this man had molded him into something more with great purpose.

His own tears clung desperately to his dark lashes. He was not saddened by his own loss, as he knew it was only temporary. But his heart broke over his mother’s mourning. This man, her husband, who had every right to toss her aside only 18 years before, was her greatest friend. He alone knew and believed the truth. The time had not yet come for others to know.

Parting his way through the crowd, he made his way to his mother’s side and wound his fingers with hers. Opening her eyes, she peered into the face her son, her own son, so different from that of her other children, and smiled wistfully. Yes, she thought, he understands. We shall meet again soon. Clutching his hand, she bowed her head to thank God.

 

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So I imagine it must have been for Jesus when Joseph parted from this world. Joseph, who by the time Jesus is 13, is no longer mentioned in scripture. We know that Joseph went on to have children of his own as they are given mention and even names, but he would not. Only his selflessness in accepting God’s son is known to us. (But by no greater accomplishment can we be known.) Past the birth of Jesus, little is said about him or known of him. Joseph, who followed God and guided God’s son, must have been one of the greatest men to be disremembered by history.

 

 

Holding Hands

I watched them through the window. Sitting across from one another silently. No words needed. He savored the sweetness of his chocolate ice cream and waffle cone, pausing occasionally to push his sliding glasses back up the bridge of his nose. She daintily nibbled at her vanilla scoop in a more lady-like cup. They spoke no words. They rarely glanced at each other. Neither of them needed to see or hear one another. They simply enjoyed their ice cream together. Pausing to wipe his mouth on the cheap crumpled napkin, he exchanged it for her wrinkled hand. Softly, he pressed his lips to her gnarled fingers, set them back down on the table, then continued to devour his ice cream. She didn’t blink, didn’t smile. She never even set down her spoon, but continued eating. His kisses are common place. I watched.

What must it be like to grow in life for such long time that words become unnecessary. Words, which once sparked such emotion in an early relationship, finally become useless, replaced by actions instead. Unlike a newly blossoming relationship or a marriage in its early stages, Time brings together two souls not with their words. Words that can cause more damage than any other weapon in one’s arsenal, that have less power to heal than to hurt, become dispensable.

Watching this elderly couple in Braum’s brought back one of the few memories I have of my great grandparents. My MaMa (pronounced in a very slow Texas drawl ‘MawMaw’) was deeply in love with PaPa (PawPaw). Before he died, they spent 69 years of their lives together. Married during the Great Depression, these two teenagers built a life together on a farm in east Texas. God didn’t bless them with biological children. (And their generation did not talk of such things as it is indeed a personal matter.) He did, however, send my Granny to them when she was 15 years old. They raised that sassy red-head like she was their own. They were God-fearing Americans, and they were as solid as an oak tree.

Wearing his faded blue overalls holding a glass gauntlet of tea, PaPa would sit in his favorite chair with the doily on the back of it. “Zettie, how long ’til supper?” he’d call to her. She’d come back with some snappy quip. As she would walk by, he’d reach out with a mischievous glint in his eye and pinch her. Despite her age, she’d whip around with a smile and say, “Oh, Russell!” And for a moment, just a moment, I saw it. I saw the two of them, teenagers crazy in love, flirting with one another. The memory is blurry around the edges of my mind, but I can see it. I can see them.

My memories of them are few. Living so far away, I was not around them as often as I wanted. Being so, my visits with them were even more precious. Each time I was there, MaMa would slip my brother and me some money with a wink and say, “Don’t tell PaPa.” And she would cook. Man, oh man, could MaMa cook. (Perhaps another secret to their happy marriage!) She would cook up a storm, and we would eat. I’d help her and Granny shell peas, we’d shoot BB guns, and fish. Most every time we visited, I remember seeing the love between MaMa and PaPa. I cherish those memories, despite my mind’s alterations and embellishments.

Theirs was a relationship that needed no words. Almost 70 years together was enough time that two become one. A look was enough. A wrinkled kiss on a wrinkled hand. A flirtatious “Oh, Russell!” was more than an “I love you.” A genuine respect for one another borne out of what I can only imagine of Life’s hardships was a foundation for happiness. A stubborn belief in God as the Almighty was a safe-hold against Life’s tumults. Theirs was a relationship that needed no words because what they had was so much more powerful than what any word could offer.

It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye

Boyz II Men floats through my brain, weaving those sing-song notes in and out of my thoughts. It’s so haaaaaarrrrrdddd to say goooooddddbyyyyye to yesterdayaaayyyyaaa. Sigh.

It really is so hard. An era has come to a close. A chapter in my life is over. Time to turn the page. Time to move on. Time to find… another. But how? Oh, how will I ever find a replacement? Nothing can take its place. It was unique. It was entertaining. It was a part of my weekly life for 8 to 9 weeks of the year…. so, how am I supposed to replace “Downton Abbey”? Sigh.

I know it seems dramatic. If you never watched it— YOU. JUST. DON’T. UNDERSTAND. You’ll NEVER understand. Downton was…. well, it just was. Any fan gets it. The witticisms of the dowager, slicing remarks from Lady Mary, snobbishness of Carson… they are just a part of life, part of the fun.

But I get it. It sounds dull. It doesn’t seem exciting to an outsider.

“What’s your favorite show?”

“Downton Abbey.”

“Oh. What’s that?”

“It’s a show on PBS…” (Your listener already starts to nod off.) “about a family in the early 1900’s. They’re aristocrats…”

“Mmmmhhmmm…” (Starts mentally tuning out.)

“No, really. I know it’s not ‘The Real Housewives’, but it’s SO good!”

“Yeah, yeah. Sure.” (Eyes roll and subject changes abruptly.)

And THAT is why it’s so hard to explain. The depth of the conversations, the meaningful glances, the aloof austerity- all of that is lost in the mere explanation of the show itself.

A completely different world that really did once exist- it is a great place to lose oneself. That’s the appeal of it. It’s not some fictional, non-existent, unrealistic show. It’s REAL. Or, at least, it once was. There once was a family much like that portrayed in the show, who experienced the sinking of the Titanic, the invention of the telephone, the utilization of cars, World War I, the jazz era, and so much more.

The evolution of fashion itself is worth watching the show. I long for a day when I can wear a hat on a daily basis because it’s socially expected (maybe we can bring that back??). A time when modesty was a virtue, and skin remained a mystery. A time when manners and morality was admired rather than obscure. Sigh…

The appeal of the show is manifold. Fashion, family, friendship, loyalty, manners, history…. all of these are reason I will dearly miss this show. So… goodbye. Goodbye Crawley family.

Southern- Bless My Heart

As I lay beside my son, unable to drift off to sleep with him during his nap time, my mind wandered into my childhood. The bedroom suite I currently have is that which my parents had when I was his age (considered an antique now). I vaguely remember lying on that bed, in a small military housing apartment. When I was old enough not to take naps, I’d peek in on my brother who still had to take his on that same bed, smugly feeling much more grown-up than a 5-year-old should. He’s almost 5, I should note.

Another detail of that apartment floated up from my sub conscience during these sleepless recollections. It was that of the Confederate battle flag, woven into the decor of our home, next to an American flag. It hung there out of pride of who we are. See, at the time, we were stationed in England. Americans far away from home. Not only Americans far away from home, but Southerners, more specifically, out of sorts in a land among foreigners. Those flags were just a tie to who we were… who we are. A representation of home.

It’s like Texans… you ever meet a real Texan, you know it. They are darn proud of who they are. When you meet them and ask, “So, where you from?” Their chests swell out, and they smirk with pride as they answer, “Texas.” No city, no county; just “Texas”. Texans innately have pride in who they are. Having been an independent Republic, self-sustaining, sought after for what their land had to offer, these decedents of those original Texans have pride in who they are. Their identity in who they are is strong.

It’s much like we Southerners. We are a proud, strong people. The south was a wild region, forged by those strong enough to tame it, desired over decades by countries for its resources, and fought over with passion numerous times. Its history, good, bad, and ugly, has molded Southerners into a people unlike any other. And that same battle flag which once hung in my house as a child, that now has sadly become so tainted, is a symbol of its history. It is a battle flag, and Southerners of all walks of life, all colors, all socioeconomic backgrounds are fighters. Our identity is strong.

To say that Southerners fly the Stars and Bars because we are full of hate is a gross stereotype. And since we’re all in a state of offense- I am offended by the supposition. It’s like saying that all Texans wear Stetsons and boots, spit tobacco, and ride horses simply because they’re from Texas. Some do, but certainly not all. All Southerners do not fly it because we hate or because we are racist. It is flown because we are a proud people. Proud of who we were, who we are.

I cannot argue that the flag is unoffensive to some, but will readily agree that it has become so, and understandably. Putting myself into the shoes of others, I can certainly empathize. So, do not misunderstand my thoughts here. I do not argue that it is unoffensive in this modern times. However, I do argue against ignorance. Ignorance leads to misunderstanding, misconception, and ultimately, chaos.

History has unequivocally proven that tyrants thrive on those ignorant of truth to create chaos thus creating the opportunity to rule.

Despite the current tribulations surrounding the South, I am incredibly proud to be a Southerner. The DNA of a long line of Southerners is woven into the blood that pumps through my heart each and every day. For 300 years, my family has inhabited lands south of the Mason Dixon line. They were self-made men who raised their families in the South. Many of them fought for the Confederacy for the same principles that their grandfathers had fought in the Revolutionary War. Some of those principles, pride, honor, hard work, and the (now dying) American dream are among some of those I hope to pass down.

I’m not ashamed to say it, though in today’s world some would rather I be.

 

 

 

 

Another World, Another War

Recently, I took a trip with some friends, and we stopped in the quaint little town of Jenks, Oklahoma. What a gem!! They have these adorable antique stores downtown where we spent hours perusing the aisles of items that we were once loved by many others. Items that have become outdated, unloved, unnecessary…. yet hold a romantic quality to this beholden eye. I skimmed along the kitchen bowls wondering whose hands had held them and what she had made for her family. Records that used to spin and emit a cheery tune for a room full of party-goers now discarded and sold for $1 to anyone desperate enough to try them out. And junk. So much of it was just junk.

Others, were treasures. Sheer treasures. Like this picture I found….

WWIIThis picture from was about 1″x1.5″ in size- a tiny thing. Yet as I held it in my fingers, I was enraptured and swallowed through time into an entirely different world. Gazing into the smiling faces of two young lovebirds caught in the era of World War II, my mind swirled with what might have been their life stories. Perhaps he was home on furlough for Christmas, and decided that THIS was the time, THIS was the moment to ask THE question. Dressed in his army green, she in her finest fur, they make an evening of dinner and champagne and pretend that the world is not in distress around them. They laugh. They talk. They sit in moments of companionable silence. He waits. Waiting for that perfect moment. Waiting for the perfect words. The world floats by them. As Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” melts through the restaurant, he wipes his palms on his slacks, takes a swig waiting for the bubbles to tickle him into action, grabs her hand across the walnut table, gazes into her hazel eyes and says, “Baby, let’s get married.”

I then had the audacity to open the frame to see if there was anything written on the back. The picture had been cut to fit. What was left of the handwritten caption said, “… to one of the best friends I’ve ever known Feb. 4, 1943”.

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Another story spirals around in my head. One of a couple being stationed far away from home, seizing the moment to snap a happy photo, sending it with a handwritten letter to a friend back home. She licks the envelope and seals it, pressing it closed with her red-nailed manicured hand. Holding it to her heart, sending her best friend love in every thought. Pausing a moment to remember the better times…. before The War.

Who knows? The names, the location…. all lost to History, sucked into a vortex of the Unknown. The only shadow of yesterday left is their smiling faces, his protective arm around her shoulders, and …. and…. that is all we know. That is all we will ever know. Their story…. lost, tragically amongst the heaps of junk and treasure within a small-town antique store.

THAT is the appeal of History; the romantic endeavor to imagine and recreate a person’s story with just a few details.