You Gotta Get on the Bus

You Gotta Get on the Bus
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Please welcome a new Guest Contributor. . .

 

He couldn’t have weighed much more than his new raincoat.  It was so new, in fact, it wouldn’t let his arms hang the way that they should.  They hung out at his sides at an odd angle, and he could no more scratch his nose than he could turn his head strapped firmly in the hood.  He stood stiff beside the road, and he watched me coming for a long way.

As I passed by him, he looked at me in the strangest way.  His lower lip was curled under his front teeth in fear.  In that passing moment, I wanted to stop and comfort him, but it was called off by the rest of his expression.  When I found him again in my rearview mirror, I saw that it wasn’t me that he had been looking at, at all, but that big yellow school bus that was behind me.  “Oh, that’s right,” I thought, the first day of school.  His eyes were fixed on the bus in such a determined way that I knew he didn’t need any counsel.  Brave as any soldier, he was going to get on that bus for the very first time.

As I drove on, a similar bus, in a similar rain charged out of my memory in similar gear.   I hadn’t been to kindergarten, and that’s what had me worried.  I knew my colors, and I could count past a hundred but couldn’t spell at all.  My mother assured me that I didn’t really need to.  That’s why I was going, and that’s what they were going to teach me, but I wasn’t so sure.  My older sister was way up in the fourth grade, and she could spell like crazy.  She had me convinced that I was a mental defective and that the teachers at our small red brick school would serve me up for lunch the very first day if I didn’t get my act together.

Determined to measure up, I asked my sister what it would take to spell.  Lots of paper and some pencils, she said.  Well, the pencils were covered.  I had already sharpened the life out of the three fat number ones in my Roy Rogers cigar pencil box that lay nearby the big pink eraser, which was well broken in.  Mom had told me the school would give me what I needed, but I couldn’t trust her.  She wasn’t going to school, and my sister, who was, had explicitly mentioned paper.  So I stole a pile of new typing paper from under the kitchen drawer and tucked it in tightly under my bright yellow raincoat.

Standing on Highway 259 across from the mailbox, I was probably about as scared as I ever had been or have been since.  Six years old and functionally illiterate and buckled into a raincoat that I wasn’t sure I could wiggle my way out of without maternal assistance.  About the only things I had going for me was a Roy Rogers cigar pencil box, a new pair of cowboy boots, and about three hundred sheets of stolen typing paper.  The hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life was to step onto that bus.  I’d like to say that all my worrying had been for naught, but it wasn’t.

Actually, as I reached this place called George Elementary, my worst fears were realized.  Upon reaching the first-grade classroom, I was greeted by Mrs. Lewis.  I nearly swallowed my tongue as I stumbled on past her into the room.  And it was there that the real trouble started.  All the desks were in neat rows, and each one had a little folded card on it.  “Find the one with your name on it and have a seat, Mark,” I heard her say with a commanding voice from the door.  Other kids I had never seen before were gracefully finding their places and admiring their name cards.  I wasn’t even sure what my name looked like.  I went up and down the aisles until there were only two or three empty seats left.  In seeing what I thought might be an M, I took my best shot and plopped down my Roy Rogers cigar box with great relief into Karen Bowers’ chair.

The details are still fuzzy from there, but I think I was found out during roll call.   I vaguely remember Mrs. Lewis looming over my desk and saying something like, “you don’t even know your own name?”  This was the very last thing I needed to be pointed out in front of my very first peer group.  So still in my raincoat, I clumsily got out of my chair, dislodging the three hundred-odd sheets of typing paper that I had precariously perched under my raincoat.  They cascaded across the oak floor in an impressive display and rapidly proceeded to suck up the water that had been tromped in by thirty fist graders.  First graders being how they are about wiping their feet, it’s a good thing that I had brought as much paper as I did.

To say I could have died would have been an understatement.  I blushed so hard my ears rang.  The thing that I remember most about picking up that paper was the presence of that burning bush right behind me in eternal silence, the cruel giggles of my classmates, and the pounding of a broken little heart.

Of course, I lived through all of this and went on to finish my first year of school.  I got used to Mrs. Lewis, even survived getting into trouble on the playground, was never served up for hot lunch, and believe it or not, she even taught me how to spell.  I even got to play Joseph in the Christmas play.  All of these memories came back crystal clear to me as I passed that little guy on the highway.  All of the fears and uncertainties that come with a strange new land.  All of the pain and humiliation that go along with screwing it up and everything we learn in the process.  It never stops and it never seems to get any easier.

 

I must say how encouraged I was, though, by looking at that small face along the road.  Biting his lip in terror but with pure resolve in his eye, he reminded me all over again of the best lesson I have ever learned.  If you want to go somewhere, you gotta get on the bus.

 

 

 

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Death at the Clip & Curl

Death at the Clip & Curl
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We are, all of us, wandering about in a state of oblivion, borrowing our time, seizing our days, escaping our fates, slipping through loopholes, unaware of when the axe may fall.                                –Maggie O’Farrell, I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death

We were alone, just the incredibly odd man and me. I thought it was the end for me, but what could I do about it? Scream, absolutely. Talk my way out of it, doubtful. Fight, sure, but given my lack of physical prowess, not a viable solution.

It was a day of heavy, jet-lag-meets-the-flu fatigue, arms too heavy to do my hair, much less my job. I pulled into what I shall call the “Clip & Curl” to have someone shampoo and blow-dry my tired hair. A lone stylist was there, a man. I did not think much of it until it was too late.

I do not frequent walk-in salons, but I had a chaotic day ahead and needed help, so I went into the no-frills vanilla salon. The only staff member there was a medium-sized man of about forty. I cannot say he greeted me, just soberly showed me back to the shampoo area and prepared me for what I hoped would be a relaxing head massage and speedy hair styling. Straightaway the man was odd.

His movements were exaggeratedly staccato, as was his infrequent speech.  He said absolutely nothing as he yanked a towel around my neck and fastened the shampoo smock so tightly I could scarcely breathe. I reached up and loosened it. He placed another towel under my neck in a heap as I leaned back onto the cold shampoo chair and stared up at the faded fluorescent lights. He is tad rough, I thought. I tried to settle in, wondering if my hair would actually look worse when I left the Clip & Curl.

He brushed my hair roughly and positioned it back into the shampoo bowl with a thud! I was reminded of Mom giving me a ponytail as a kid, pulling my hair back so tightly I looked like a different child. The woman was impervious to certain kinds of pain and thought her children should be too. Impervious to pain and clean, very clean.

The water was uncomfortably hot, then freezing, hot, then ice cold. I felt a mighty blob of shampoo dumped on top of my head; it felt like enough do three people. He slapped the product on and around the periphery of my head in quick staccato movements, then grasped the sides of my head with both hands and squeezed my head firmly as he rotated it, like a melon!  He scrubbed each section exceedingly hard, then twisted my head and squeezed some more. I do not remember ever having my head squeezed at a salon. My hair is thin as it is, I wondered how much of it I would have left when he finished.

That was when I realized no one else had come in for service. We were alone. Positioned behind a partition about shoulder height, no one could see me, even if they did come in.

He put a hand on each side of my neck and began squeezing, rubbing, and twisting, all the while I could feel the lump of shampoo on my head. This was so far from the head massage I had hoped for, more like a prelude to strangling!

I remained calm; if the stylist was determined to choke the life out of me, I needed to have a defense plan. I decided to make polite conversation in an attempt to dispel any demons he may have been exorcising at the time. How long had he worked there, I asked shakily. Five years, he said. This gave me some comfort; surely, he could not have done anyone in and still be there! I was encouraged.

My fears were no more abated than he began pushing my head down in the stream of hot water, and the head squeezing torture began again. My body was actually coming out of the chair as my head dipped further and further into the shampoo bowl! So, he was going to drown me, not choke me. Was that a better way to go?

I looked from side to side for anything I could pick up to slug him with–nothing for at least three feet. I thought of my upbringing, treating everyone with respect even though you do not approve of their methodology. I tried conversation again. Do you have many clients drop in on a typical Wednesday morning? I inquired. He replied, very few. My heart sank as my head did.

I flashed back again to the days Mom washed my hair. I hated these episodes so badly that they purchased a professional salon device that fit over the sink so my waist-long hair could flow back and my neck would not hurt. This made no difference whatsoever; my mother was rough as a Sumo wrestler and every bit as strong, it still felt like she was trying to kill me. At this point, the odd man glared down at me coldly.

His eyes were tiny narrow slits of hollow disregard, his hair close-cropped and severe, he had long Ichabod Crane fingers that wrapped around my head, and thin, very pursed lips. Was he grinding his teeth?? This was decidedly a bad sign; he had taken a dislike to me from the get-go! I was going to die at the Clip & Curl.

I invoked a silent prayer, God, its Karen, you know that matter we discussed this morning? Please cancel that and instead focus on this scary head squeezer.

Not even fifty yards away people were driving right by us, oblivious that just a few doors down a fairly nice, albeit persnickety, sixty-six-year-old was being killed at the Clip & Curl!

Then, as abruptly as the torment began, it ended, and I was allowed to sit up. The man blew my hair dry in a manner I shall never forget, stopping after each swipe of the dryer to put both the dryer and brush down. This took f-o-r-e-v-e-r, but he never uttered a word.

I did not die of drowning or choking but emerged looking a bit like Ethyl Merman. Wonder if she went to the Clip & Curl too? She did pass on. . .

Let’s all observe a moment of silence for those days your hair was perfect and you ran into absolutely no one. All day long, no one .— Pinterest, unknown author

 

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Dogs and Ducks & Swans Better Scurry

Dogs and Ducks & Swans Better Scurry
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“If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between dog and man.” –Mark Twain

 

Didn’t get out much did you, Mr. Twain? Recently I risked life and limb rescuing the tiniest Dachshund from traffic during rush hour, no small feat. After, the little ingrate thanked me by biting me on the leg harder than I thought possible, despite his owner’s protests that “He never acts like that.” Critters can be persnickety.

Caesar and Cleopatra

Birds had it out for me from the get-go. Mom had two black swans, Caesar and Cleopatra. Caesar had no use for me, and with a wingspan of six feet, he was intimidating. He charged me routinely, enormous wings spread, serrated beak wide open, lunging for my bottom as I hightailed it toward the fence. The only human Caesar showed a modicum of respect for was my little niece Katy, who sort of scared us all back then.

We lived in the country with dogs, cats, cattle, horses, catfish, turtles, swans, ducks, and for a time, an alligator and one tiny fawn. Our place was also residence to coyotes, skunks, feral cats, Blue Herron, various reptiles, rabbits, squirrels, possums, and the occasional goose. I adore animals of most species, and we had some doozies.

Dad and Jessica with Hissy Fit

Dad bought a Shetland pony for the grands, Hissy Fit, aptly named for my niece, Jessica. When he kept the pony at his Veterinary clinic, she stood over the burning clinic waste and snorted the smoke. She’d have most likely been a fan of our new cannabis laws.

Over the years my family had about ten breeds of dogs. One Chihuahua, Button, was especially clever and a petite chowhound.

One afternoon we returned home to find Button lying on her side, belly bloated. The five-pound dog had jumped on a barstool, then onto the breakfast bar, and strolled around the kitchen counter to a pan of Linda Coffin’s famous cinnamon rolls. She licked ALL the icing off every roll. You cannot fault the dog’s culinary instinct; Linda’s pastry rocks.

Brother Mark and Button

This same pooch disappeared one day. We turned the house upside down, no Button. I walked by a bedroom and noticed my plush robe on the bed; one sleeve was thicker. Two eyes blinked out at me from inside the sleeve; Button was stuck inside the sleeve and could not even wiggle. She was the most laid back small dog I have ever seen. She used to go to work with me when I worked for KATT radio, once she attended an out-of-town sales meeting with me!

One of Mark’s boxers was shot by a neighbor, another was stolen. The most emaciated dog I had ever seen appeared on the patio one afternoon. It was Major, who had disappeared three months earlier. A wide circle around his neck exposed raw pink flesh; the pads on his feet were pink and bleeding. That magnificent dog endured terrible treatment and traveled many miles to get back to us. Dogs are just better people than we are.

Mark, Me and a healthy Major

Georgia, our athletic Chihuahua, darted onto the highway. As I raced to snatch her out of the road, an eighteen-wheeler (that never slowed down) came barreling down the hill and missed her by about a foot as I looked on in horror. She was fine, I required wine resuscitation afterward.

Hootie, my Maine Coon cat, loved dogs, felines, not-so-much. If another cat came into the yard, a fight ensued. My friend Leighanna went to the Veterinary clinic to pick him up one day and found him seated between a huge hound and a massive St Bernard, just chillin.

That Veterinarian used to let him roam the clinic and visit guests. One day when I arrived, he was caged. They told me he had been grounded for having his way with a forty-pound bag of cat chow. Hootie claimed one-pound Marley as his own and watched over her. He let that puppy pull all the hair out of his tail. A huge fur-ball with a bald tail.

Marley, Pup in a Cup

Hootie Katt, master of the house

On a sweltering August day, he was gone all day. I must have gone to one-hundred homes with flyers. At the last house, I asked them to open the door to their metal shed; out sauntered Hootie. It was one-hundred-five degrees that day.

He roved the neighborhood regularly; everyone knew Hootie. When my neighbor Wayne passed, there was a picture of him and Hootie at his service.

When Hootie met my ex he attached himself to the man’s face straightaway, claws exposed…you gotta love a creature with great intuition.

There were also adventures with non-domestic critters. One summer we emptied the pool to paint it. I noticed something stirring in a pile of leaves on the bottom. It was a possum, panting very hard. I thought she was in labor and soon a baby possum climbed up into the pouch and confirmed my suspicion. Animal control arrived and took the new mom to a truck for relocation while a gaggle of kids gathered. Birds, bees, and possums 101.

Gusser, romping in the snow

The first cold day of fall last year Gus was sprayed by a skunk and promptly ran through the house. The poor dog was given so many baths; he is afraid of the bathroom. The windows had to be open so the house could begin to air out; it was 40 degrees. Good times.

I missed work the next day because I too smelled like skunk. The second day, more baths for both of us and home deodorizer. I was so stressed, I backed through the garage door, missed work again. I rented traps to relocate the smelly creature and caught two possums, a squirrel, a darling raccoon, and one most unhappy cat. All were set free if a bit pissed off.

Evidently, rodents are not fans of winter because they prefer my home. I had one in the luggage closet, most of which I threw out because it was fouled beyond repair. The last bag I checked was my favorite multi-pocket duffle. I unzipped each pocket to find the perpetrator. The last zipper revealed the chubbiest mouse I have ever seen, pregnant, making a nest, and staring right up at me.

I put the duffle in the outside trash bin and felt remorse because I knew the compacting trash truck would squish the mother-to-be. So, I took the duffle and expectant mom to a wooded area, unzipped her duffle door and left her there with her very own condo. Go ahead, say it, I’m a tender-hearted sucker.

 

All his life he tried to be a good person. Many times, however, he failed.
For after all, he was only human. He wasn’t a dog.”
― Charles M. Schulz

 

 

 

 

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Celebrate Me Home

Celebrate Me Home
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Home for the holidays,
I believe I’ve missed each and every face,
Come on and play my music,
Let’s turn on the love light in the place

Please, celebrate me home,
Give me a number,
Please, celebrate me home
Play me one more song,
That I’ll always remember,
And I can recall,
Whenever I find myself too all alone,
I can sing me home.

Excerpt from Celebrate Me Home, Kenny Loggins

Originally published in 2014

Sitting alone in the woods with the two monastery dogs, Banjo and Oriole, I gaze out in the distance, they are good company and seem to have taken a vow of silence like me. From the hill, I look over the tops of the trees struggling to show some early spring radiance. I can see Lake Keystone as the sun beats down on the back of my neck, reminding me that it won’t be spring for long. Before you can say “hotter than hell,” it will be.

The pond at our ranch home growing up.

Hiking and climbing over the huge boulders I do something I have not done in a very long time, I smell the earth.  It takes me back to a time when I was much closer to the earth, the land, the country, and I am grateful for my awakening senses. For a while I am home.

I was a small town girl, but I really grew up out in the country. Our home was in the country, my families’ livelihood came from the country, our nurturing was grounded in the country, and a piece of my soul lingers there still.

Walking down a country road.

The solace the country offers is inclusive, there for anyone who takes the time. Its gifts are the healing sight of pastures and farm ponds, the touch of green grass, a soft blanket of needles underfoot through the pines, the smell of freshly cut hay, the whinny of horses, and the feel of a warm, humid breeze on your face.  Nothing occludes the stars from your vision when you are in the country, a tonic for city worn eyes.

The end of the day did not find me with friends at the Dairy Freeze when I was in school; I was in the country feeding cattle.  My brother and I had a little cattle company when we were kids, the “M & K Cattle Company.”  I’m still pissy that it wasn’t named the “K & M Cattle Company”; after all, I was older and infinitely wiser. This joint venture provided biology lessons, finance 101, daily workouts, precious time with a treasured sibling, and opened us to the dire truth of forgoing something we liked for something better.

Blossoms from Mom’s peach tree in my folk’s backyard.

In the country, folks just drop in when ”Y’all come round” is extended, and you better have coffee and pie ready too; they never turn it down. They just sit and talk mostly. Some walk quietly around the pond and skip stones across the water, or sit on the bench under the trees and smell the honeysuckle that lines the fence row.  Or, go out to feed the horses some hay and stand on the corral fence to get a better look at the cattle down in the pasture. You can tap on the fence that extends into the pond, and the catfish know it is feeding time; they skim along the top of the pond, huge mouths wide open to scoop up chow.

A painting in my home by Steve Hanks.

There is something about the expansiveness of the countryside that makes you feel free in a way nothing else can. The absolute wonder, stillness, beauty, and simplicity of the land, the animals, the sunrise, the night sky-even the air bristles with unique enchantment.

I’ve lived in the city now for years and love its rhythm, its convenience, the melting pot of faces, cultures, and cuisines, its opportunities, the city lights when it rains, the anonymity, the seasonal events, the synergy of liked minded spirits, and the life I’ve nurtured here. But I sometimes feel a deep longing and know I’m missing that part of me I left in the country. Nowhere can I hear better God’s invitation to sit and talk.

Dad’s beloved horse, Copper.

I remember years ago coming to myself, realizing that I was smiling for the first time in about four months. I was out in the pasture, just walking in the country. I was home.

God made the country, and man made the town.  — The Task, William Cowper

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What are We Willing to Risk Today?

What are We Willing to Risk Today?
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In the spring while the cherry blossoms were showing off, I went to Alexandria Virginia to visit Pat, my dear friend, and spiritual director. We chat Thursday nights unless one of us is too pooped. Embarrassingly, it is usually me.

If you spoke with Pat on the phone, you would think you were speaking to a very spunky fifty-year-old, engaged, clever, opinionated, intelligent, and passionate. Pat drove me to catch the Metro so I could visit D.C, takes two flights of stairs routinely, and insisted on cooking for me each night. She is ninety-three and treasured.

Something we are both passionate about is voting. It is a privilege that was won, literally by the blood, sweat, and tears of other women. These are my heroines, not movie stars, politicians, beauty queens, TV personalities, not even great singers. Pat and I never take these women for granted. For years our Grandmothers, aunts, and her mother could not vote. Can you really imagine it?

                                          Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, April 2018

As I stood in front of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, I remembered a photo of the suffragists, the National Women’s Party in 1917, standing in the same spot holding picket signs. About two hundred women were arrested during those days, half of them sent to prison. Alice Paul, their leader, and others who went on hunger strikes in protest were force-fed. Those brave, determined, women fought and suffered, so I don’t have to.

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Meant for Better Things

Meant for Better Things
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. . .we’re squeezed into uncomfortable things that pull, pinch, tug, choke, itch, hike up or down, and make the days of our lives miserable. We wear these creations of torture, we tell ourselves, in order to be agreeable to the rest of the world. But, why shouldn’t we find a way to make the rest of the world agreeable to us instead?”   —Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance

 

Back in the day, I was a “disco” dancer. A night of dancing was torture for your feet, especially in the shoes we wore back then. They were a cross between stilettos and the stacked heels girls wear today. John Travolta would have been proud.

I took a dance class to learn new moves. A guy named Kim, several years younger tossed me over his shoulder and expected me to land on my feet. It resembled a mis-fired double lutz. My feet never forgave me.

A few years ago I took all my high-heels to Goodwill. I could still wear them, but my “sensibilities” had changed; I was no longer willing to drink the fashion slave kool-aid.

Recently I heard a radio interview with a surgeon who stated: ”Once a week someone comes in wanting her feet surgically altered to fit a particular shoe.” It sickened me to think one would do this for a pair of shoes! It reminded me of the practice of foot binding forced upon young girls that took place in China.

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Trip to Crazyland, 2015

Trip to Crazyland, 2015
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“Sometimes you have to say it like you’re not coming back,

and most likely won’t be invited.”

Pat Meeks

 

One of the twin beds was soft, the other was sheetrock firm; I bounced as I sat on it. The soft bed had a nice mushy pillow, like the one at home. It would do.

It was unusually chilly for July; a welcome change in Oklahoma, where temperatures soar into triple digits. I sat down, covered my legs with my hoodie, and adjusted the lamp next to my soft bed and leaned back against the mushy pillow.

Surveying my little nest, I thought about what brought me back to the Forest of Peace, this spiritual sanctuary. An enormous sigh of relief started at the tip of my toes and rattled all the way up my spine, pouring out of my body spontaneously as a knowing grin found its way to my face.

Here in this sacred place lush with vegetation, rocky hiking trails, blue sky, and a few other quiet souls, I knew I could begin to heal, and remember who I was. It was the eighteenth month of a journey through loss, grief, and gut-wrenching anxiety; I was finally feeling alive again.

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When Music Held Me

When Music Held Me
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“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!”
― J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

A yearning has settled over me the past few years as if some unnamed loss has occurred. Did I leave something behind? A recall of current events points to change as the culprit, inexorable change.

We just learned that Neil Diamond, Elton John, and Barbara Streisand have ended their touring days; soon Eric Clapton and Paul Simon will. Aretha Franklin gave it up a while back. This is life. We age, develop health issues, or priorities change, and we make difficult choices. Life must become simpler. I get it, it happened to me early, at thirty-eight.

These musicians sang my life, all against the backdrop of the Vietnam War. It was the seventies, the rise of feminism, environmentalism, technology, the questioning of-everything. A new normal. No wonder my passion for music is so acutely attuned.   Read the rest of this entry

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The Other Side of the Bed

The Other Side of the Bed
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It’s coming on Christmas

They’re cutting down trees

They’re putting up reindeer

And singing songs of joy and peace

Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on.

River, Joni Mitchell

 

Not everyone looks forward to Christmas, for years I was one of them. It was more comfortable to ignore it, pass on all the festivities, and my life has been a cake walk compared to many. In some parts of the world, happy Christmas celebrations are nothing more than a distant dream and have been for entire lives.

We do not have to look to other countries to witness Christmas angst though. It is right here in front of us, but we are too self-concerned or self-congratulatory to awaken to it.

For me, it was not the reason for the celebration that made me shrink away; I treasured the divinity in the celebration, the birth of Jesus. It was the holiday gatherings I dreaded.  Read the rest of this entry

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One More Midnight Confession

One More Midnight Confession
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Sometimes I miss the younger woman I was. I do not look back and wish I had done this or that; I did most of it. What I do look back at with longing is the untamed spirit I had. The years have refined me, smoothed out my uncultivated surfaces, and tamed me.

Something as simple as driving, I saw as an adventure. I have collected more miles than average on my vehicles and it has not always been smooth cruising, or parking for that matter.

After overspending at the mall, I returned to my Jeep to find a policeman waiting for me. “Mam, your vehicle has been involved in a hit-and-run” he announced.

I told him I did not have a self-driving vehicle, so that was just not possible. He ushered me to the side of my car which revealed the entire side smashed as if I’d been in a significant accident.

A very-sturdy looking soldier approached, telling us he had “seen the whole thing.” We inquired how my car got smashed with no driver. He replied, “See that big green truck parked five spaces down?” We did see it. “He missed the space beside you and hit your car, got out, surveyed the damage, then moved his truck down a few spaces.” When the young driver returned to his green truck, he had quite the greeting party.  Read the rest of this entry

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