At some point life boils what’s in your crucible down to the salt of you. It did to me. June 28, 2008. My husband died.
It has been a long and incredible journey of grief and healing, of learning things I didn’t want to learn, of giving up things I didn’t want to give up, of building a whole new life. As hard as it was to fathom that I had to build anew, it was a given. It happened by default. The old life existed no more. As much as I tried to gather in all the residuals of that old life, I could not.
My journey of loss, grief, and rebuilding is presented in a memoir published in 2013: Remember the Dragonflies. It’s all there: the loss, the raw pain, the sheer agony, how I dealt with the pain, how I dealt with the “why” of it, and walking up that road of rebuilding. It’s a long, hard journey.
Now, I can say that I am well, I have coped, I am content with my life, I am happy. Yes, I miss him.
Seven is the number of completeness … and rest. And so I leave it with that. I am complete, at rest, at peace.
Ray Hardy was my father. Or should I say “is” my father? Can you ever use past tense on a father?
Yes, I guess you can. There are a couple of others I have been associated with, who came into my life, wore the label for a time, then left, and have no lasting meaning to me. Dad is the only father to ever have meaning.
Dad lived an honorable life. He was faithful and dependable and took care of his family. I sometimes wonder how he did it. A boy growing up on a poor Kemper County, Mississippi, cotton farm in the Depression … a young man surrounded by the enemy at Bastogne one cold Christmas facing an almost certain death … a man five years later celebrating Christmas in a warm, new house with a new baby girl. His past formed him and gave him something to pass on to his children. Something lasting, something I have to this day. Something that lets me be proud of who I am and proud to call Ray Hardy my father.
I wrote the following story in a creative nonfiction workshop about five years ago. My father died in 2006 at the age of 84.
The Last Pump
“I’ll do it,” he says, and scrambles out of the car before I can object.
Even though I am three decades out of my father’s care, when I go home for a visit, he considers it his place to ride with me to the service station at the corner of Highway 8 and Bishop Road, pump my gasoline, and pay for it. The car is his domain. The car, his car, my mother’s car, my car. He makes it his business to check everybody’s oil level and to make sure their tires are properly inflated and their tags not expired. He’s reached eighty, been doing this a long time, isn’t likely to change.
His hands shake as he removes the nozzle from the gas pump and inserts it. The metals rattle against each other as he tries his best to hold it steady with both hands. The shaking has gotten so bad he can barely carry a cup of coffee from the pot to the table.
His hair is white as the clouds gathering around us, white as the cotton on stalks across Bishop Road, but his eyes still have the blue of his youth, the same blue as the jeans he wears. The pointy-toed cowboy boots he bought at Williams Brothers Store aim toward the pump, and we stand there together watching the numbers roll, adding up the count, as a breeze blows across the flat fields and brushes our faces.
I look down at his trembling hands, marbled with black spots from blood thinner and brown ones they call “liver spots,” though I don’t know why. His liver is fine. It’s just everything else.
As a child I stood in those hands, my feet flat on his palms, and he’d lift me high in the air and I’d balance, like a cheerleader with a beaming smile and pompoms. Those hands held scissors close to my eyes and cut a straight line of bangs, they filled out my offering envelope for Sunday School, they dealt a dollar allowance every Saturday night.
His father’s hands shook, too, and he once told me how his grandfather had palsy so bad he had to suck his coffee out of a cup with a piece of hollowed-out sugar cane, like a straw. Hand tremors cut right down the Hardy line.
The wind rocks the front section of his hair to the right of the part. His hair is always perfect, sprayed in place with Consort For Men, Extra Hold. He fusses over it and tells us to be sure and get it right when the day comes that he is in his casket, dressed for the viewing—“You only have to fix the right side,” he says. “It’s all that shows.”
He holds the pump firmly to the car until gasoline flows over and out and down the side of my Subaru, down the tire well, like a waterfall with the sound of a trickling flow, onto the concrete, already stained with oil and cigarette butts and chewed-up gum.
“Tha’s enough, tha’s enough.” I grab the nozzle to shut it off.
“How’d that happen? I better clean it up.”
“No, it’s okay. You go pay. I’ll take care of it.”
My own hands shake as I put the nozzle back and wipe up the mess, then toss the soiled paper towel in the garbage. The pungent odor of it stings my nose and makes my eyes water. I can smell it on my hands.
I feel like a little girl again. Perhaps an “old” little girl who appreciates detail, beauty, and meaning.
My fairies arrived yesterday. I feel certain all the neighbors on Elsie Street heard my excited child’s squeal when I saw the box from amazon on my porch. “My fai-ries!”
I got the idea of creating a fairy garden from my sister. She’s a master gardener and was doing some spring refreshing of her lovely yard and decided to build a fairy garden. I’d never heard of that, but I thought about it and decided it would be a fun thing to do, something we could build together and compare—her in Memphis, me in Nashville. So I did a quick Amazon search, settled on a few cute fairies, and jumped into this brand new world.
I was expecting three four-inch, doll-like, winged creatures—cute, colorful, a nice addition to the little garden I’d prepared with herbs and perennial flowers and a tiny cottage and rocks I’ve collected on summer trips. I got far more. I have stumbled into a whole fairy realm of beauty. My fairies are collectibles designed by Cicely Mary Barker. They can hang as ornaments or become part of a special garden, sitting on wire picks provided. There are books and prints and poems.
I am deep into this. I woke up at two this morning thinking about my fairies.
Cicely Mary Barker was born in 1895 in Croydon, South London and received her education at home due to ill health. She taught herself to draw and paint and first published a set of postcards when she was sixteen. The publication of a series of Flower Fairies books beginning in 1923 brought her international acclaim as an artist. She produced charming Flower Fairies, botanically accurate illustrations, and accompanying storylike verses. How could I have not known about her works? I must have been reading too much of Alcott and Brink.
My first three fairies are Willow Tree, Wild Thyme, and Elder Flower. Willow looks like a dragonfly.
By the peaceful stream or the shady pool
I dip my leaves in the water cool.
Over the water I lean all day,
Where the sticklebacks and the minnows play.
I am shaping this year to be my creative year. Creative with words, yes. But also I plan to get out my oils and paint a mystical Delta scene on canvas. And now I am immersed in creating magical worlds of fairies and flowers—new little friends to visit each morning in my garden.
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.
[Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream]
Some people think I’m a negative type of person. I say I’m a realist. I see the whole picture. I see the bad and the good. It’s just that when I talk or write, I tend to go for the bad. Because the good is the good and we don’t need to do anything about that, but the bad could use a little thought and work.
C’mon, people, give me a break here. If a person is a writer, there has to be bad (conflict) spoken of or there’s no story or fullness of life. There’s nothing to work with…without the bad.
I also see the good in the bad and the potential for positive to come from it. When you think about it, that’s what life is made of. Bad things happen to us all, eventually. And we learn to shoulder into them and grow and become stronger and better people.
As a part of my growing and becoming a stronger and better person, even though I’m old as dirt now, I’ve decided to focus on the good for a while. ‘Bout time, huh? Last week on Easter I vowed to find something good and positive every single day and write and speak of it on Facebook.
These are the things I’m thankful for. These are the things that bring me joy and happiness and smiles. As I used to say as a teenager, “I’m so excited!” Here is my first week:
April 6, 2015
“I LOVE IT WHEN…” (after a grateful Easter holiday, I hope to make this a daily activity!) my kindergarten grandson opens a thick hardback Dick, Jane, and Sally first-grade book I took to him and starts to read to me, sounding out the words as I taught him to do when he was two, and when he gets to the word “shoes” he pronounces it “shows.” Good job, Hardy. You’re right.
April 7, 2015
I LOVE IT WHEN I note that my son’s car tag number is the same as the house number of my growing-up home.
April 8, 2015
Six years ago today, my twin grandchildren were born. I LOVE IT WHEN I visit and they still fight over sitting in my lap. And when two minutes after I walk in the door, Hardy pulls out the three-inch thick Chronicles of Narnia book and reads to me. And then reads from an age-appropriate book. And when Jillian sits close to me and works the activity numbers, letters, and patterns book I took her. I love it that they have a hand in every chore in the household and are happy workers. I love it that they have learned to pick up after themselves and organize their toys in their closets in bins. I love it that they use big words and ask thoughty questions. I am so blessed to have these growing, beautiful children in my life. (I just wish I lived closer!)
April 9, 2015
I LOVE IT WHEN I am unrushed and can take my morning walk and think deeply and do significant planning for my writing project or that of a client. I love it when the sun warms my skin and the breeze brushes against my face. I love it when I can breathe fresh air and feel good. And I love it when my new dogwood comes into bloom for the first time.
April 10, 2015
I LOVE IT WHEN after a snowy, cold, icy winter, I finally get to Authors Circle at Merridees on a Thursday evening. It was good to see, chat with, and plan with Patty, Tom, and Bill.
April 11, 2015
I LOVE IT WHEN my “William Faulkner Iris” blooms for the first time! I’ve had it at my front steps for three years, after a friend acquired it and nurtured it in her yard. (Thank you, Friend!) It originally came from Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s home on 29 acres south of the Square in Oxford, Mississippi. My heart leaps with joy! I grew up one hundred miles from William’s home at Rowan Oak.
Okay, now, so really, without conflict, is this boring, or what?
Hard to believe these babies will be six years old next week! Happy birthday, Jillie Bean and Mr. Hardy.
My Saturday morning Facebook post: “It’s starting to get to me. Seven days inside my house. Can’t even walk to the mailbox now. Can’t get the dog out without risking my own safety. I carried forty bowls of hot water out and cleared her ramp and put towels over the slippery deck, but she still slides on the ice-covered ground. Supposed to rain today and melt, but it is not happening here yet.” It’s been seven days since I’ve gotten out of my yard. The neighborhood and town streets are still iced over. I’m still getting 911 messages that certain streets and intersections are dangerous and to STAY HOME. Okay, I am staying home, and I’m sick of it!
I need to go to the grocery store. I’m out of bread, paper towels, and CHOCOLATE.
Each time I look out the window at white, I fall apart a little more.
First, there’s the geriatric dog. I’ve worked my bloody fingers to the icy bone trying to clear a space for her to get out to do her business. The needles of ice that used to be soft fescue have bloodied her paws and made her a trembling wreck. She hates being carried to the front yard because she knows it is painful. In the back, there’s the ramp I’ve worked hard to keep safe and then inches of ice on the ground. She squats and her legs keep going into the splits. It’s hard for an old girl.
And then there are the house issues. I’ve dripped faucets. I’ve shoveled snow. I’ve worried for three days that my gutters would fall off. So far, so good. But I’ve just heard in the last hour about three neighbors whose upstairs storage crawl spaces are leaking. Southern houses just aren’t built for this kind of stuff! They are all devastated. These are new houses. I check my storage space quickly. I don’t want to discover anything. Please God, no leaks, no water on the floor. Please. I seem to remember asking this once before…maybe this time it can be okay. Maybe I have enough sun on my roof to melt the heavy stuff.
And then there’s the looming medical procedure Monday. I need the ice to melt so I can get there.
Like the layers of ice, inch upon inch, there’s one stress on top of another and after seven days of climbing the walls, I am fast coming unglued.
It’s enough to send a girl scrambling for the bottle of Jack Daniels and whatever chocolate she can scrape up, which consists of a handful of complimentary chocolate mints Olive Garden hands out.
Woe is me, for I am undone.
Okay, that’s my whine. I’m done. Now, I will pick myself up and do as my son told his ten-month-old daughter when she fell down while learning to walk and started to cry: “Walk it off, Jillie, walk it off.”