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.”
Sometimes you come upon priceless little treasures you tucked away years ago for safekeeping. And you find them later and melt like chocolate on a warm spring day. It happened to me last week, a week before Valentine’s Day.
I was cleaning out some boxes and bins in an upstairs closet, organizing and throwing the old out. In a folder I found a card Charlie had made for me one February 14. I think it was the same Valentines he bought a life-sized card, three feet tall, and so how do you top that with something personal? You draw a card. You make it yourself.
And so the engineer drew a heart with a red magic marker. Note that the low point at the top of the heart where the lines meet is exactly above the bottom meeting point. Because that’s what engineers do. And note that the sides are exact, too. I’m sure he folded it or something to get it right. Because that’s what engineers do. It can’t be off. And I don’t know if there’s a compass thingy for a Valentine.
The always-working engineer found time to make a heart.
In black ink he wrote:
The three magic words
A qualifier to the three magic words
The signature that you can barely make out to say “Charlie”…
I can’t tell you how many hundreds of times I practiced signing his name. He always laughed and told me I’d never be able to do it like him. And he was right.
He cut out the heart. Lord help us all, the engineer did not stay on the line!
Charlie’s “I Love You” came to me ten, maybe fifteen years ago, inside this red heart. And it was endearing to know that a busy man would take the time to create something so simple, so personal, so heartfelt, rather than just stopping by the Hallmark store.
I didn’t know then that it would be a heart – his own real heart – that would take him away from me. But it was, and he is gone, and now I have this paper heart and the two red lines that touch in the middles and the magic words inside. And for the moment it is enough.
I scrubbed them with lime basil soap and rubbed in lotion of coconut milk and orchid extract again and again. Still, my hands feel like sandpaper. It’s okay, though.
It’s what happens when you put your hands in the dirt for the first time as the season of planting and growing draws nigh.
When I bought this house three years ago, I told myself I wasn’t going to plant anything. Except grass. There was nothing in the back yard but a blanket of dirt with seeds and straw over it. I couldn’t manage all the flower beds at my old house, and I didn’t want to find myself in that shape in this place. But no. I couldn’t leave it alone.
I hauled in a hundred bags of topsoil and mulch and spread it all with my bare hands. I hauled in stones for delineating the beds and pathways — over four hundred of them. I planted eight trees, twenty-eight bushes, and more perennial flowers and herbs than I can count. So now, I have to keep the weeds out and the mulch fresh.
Yesterday, I started the job. I cleaned out one bed.
There’s just something about being outdoors in expectant late winter when one day after weeks of cold and wind and even snow and ugly ground, the sun shines and sends down warmth. My soul feels a need to be a part of it, and so I walk my little plot of land and look at buds on tree limbs, hopeful, and blueberries wanting to break forth, and irises rising up anew. It all sends a push of joy up from my chest.
There’s nothing more satisfying than surrounding myself with life and growth and fun and memories of places I’ve been and people I love.
And I know … I will find a way and a place to plant something new in that full yard once spring comes to stay.
We were only supposed to get a dusting, but some time in the night between eleven and four, it swirled in and piled up — at least an inch of white, wet snow. It’s a whipped cream day in Williamson County!
Every snowfall, I remember a big snow in the late 90s and my Southern husband who had lived in the North and knew how to drive in it and a trip home from West Tennessee.
It had started to snow when we were in Huntingdon visiting Charlie’s mother. We drove back to Franklin in it, and it wasn’t flakes. It was like silent blades of snow hitting the windshield. By dusk we were outside Nashville. We usually turned off the interstate west of town and followed McCrory Lane south, making our way to Sneed Road — that beautiful country drive through horse farms and million-dollar houses.
It was dark. Sneed Road was closed because of too-deep snow.
I’m always the scared one. “What’re we going to do? We’ll have to go back.”
“I’m going down Sneed Road anyway,” Charlie said. “It’s more dangerous to backtrack and find another route.”
He pulled around the barricade. I was tense, every muscle tightened, and in a panic mode.
He had no fear. Here was a man who had lived in Pittsburgh for twenty years, wore a long leather coat (which I still have) and wool scarf, and knew what he was doing.
Then…he turned the headlights off.
“What? What’re you doin’?” I pressed my feet into the floorboard like I had two brakes down there and could stop us from going on into the night, into the drifts.
He laughed. “It’s okay. We can see better without the lights. The snow makes its own light.”
He was right. The whole world around us was white, and we watched snow hit the windshield without the glare and harshness of manufactured light, and we could see just fine. It was beautiful. It was like a sleigh ride through the countryside.
Quiet. Soft. Peaceful. I will never forget.
Next month there will be a few days warm enough that I can take off the boots and put on the Chacos. I live for those days. Apparently, others do, too, because people in the neighborhood are out walking, cleaning the deck, working in the yard, and jogging. All we need is a little sunshine and some 50s, and we find ourselves thinking it’s an early spring, or hoping that one will show up.
Reality always comes down, though, because those icy winds will blow again. And we haven’t really had a good snow yet.
My daffodils always prove this out. Like me, they are always eager, coming out with the first yellow day of the year, rising toward the warmth. Once they’re up and their bonny yellow heads are peering around, clouds come slithering in and dump a little snow.
For now, I’m out in it.
Resolutions. That’s what I’m talking about. Do I need them?
Last year’s first of January blog said, “I need resolutions. With them, I know I am making progress. If in the end, I don’t reach the top of the ladder, it’s okay. I’m at least halfway or three-fourths of the way up. And that is good.”
I kept my resolutions from last year. 1. Walk every day or at least five days a week. 2. Keep better financial records. (Not great, but better than the year before.)
But I had no goal on my list for 2014. Nothing I planned to accomplish. And so I guess I didn’t accomplish anything. Is that okay?
I think so.
2014 was a good year. I did lots of stuff. I worked hard and played hard. I took time to walk in the neighborhood and explore and enjoy nature. I kayaked and hiked.
I traveled some — went to five states: Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, Nevada, and Arizona…and many towns in those states. I went to Las Vegas and Area 51 and the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam and rafted on Lake Powell, went down Route 66, visited the Hopi and Navajo Reservations, toured the slot canyons, bought jewelry in Sedona, and went up the mountain to Jerome and bought a silver and turquoise bracelet and ate a hamburger.
I went home to the Delta. And the thing that made that so wonderful was that I went with family. We’re scattered and it’s hard to get everybody together. But we did. Both my sons (North Carolina and Florida), my sister and niece (Memphis), and my twin grandchildren. We went to Cleveland, visited Mom and Dad at North Cleveland Cemetery on North Bayou, drove by the old house and the barber shop, went to Delta State and found Mama and Dad’s brick under the clock tower and bought Okra shirts at the bookstore.
TurnStyle was successful in 2014. I had good solid work and enjoyed my clients and their writing. In the technical aspect of my writing, I was one of two Americans to work on an international book project, now published. (Oh, so, hey, I did publish something in 2014!)
And with my personal writing, I took my new book on the road to my home state for a signing, I spoke about it at GriefShare groups, and I made appearances at local bookstores, festivals, and art crawls. And, drum roll, the big thing was that I was on a panel at the Southern Festival of Books.
Both my sons got their “dream” jobs in 2014 (and well, a day or two after the end of the year). One is back in school to climb the ladder a bit further.
My dog turned sixteen in 2014 and is still hanging in with quality of life. She perseveres even though she has congestive heart disease, cataracts, deafness, and spinal degeneration that will make her a paraplegic. I’ve built ramps, put down throw rugs so she won’t slip on the hardwoods, and installed solar lamps to light the back yard in the evenings if she needs to go out.
Yes. 2014 was a great year. And I did accomplish a thing or two.
I’ll take a little more in 2015, if it’s not too much to ask. More of a slow appreciation of the world around me. More spiritual growth. More intellectual reflection. Maybe do an oil painting. Maybe work on my back yard until it is absolutely perfect. And I want my William Faulkner irises to bloom this year. And as for my writing, I just want to enjoy putting words together. Beautiful, definitive, descriptive words. Right now that sounds good. And fun and fulfilling.
I want peace and friendship and laughter. And Comfort and Joy, like the name of my favorite Tom Clark gnomes, above.
Mama had joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in January of 1943. The WAAC was the predecessor to the Women’s Army Corps, but the women soldiers didn’t have military status. The WAACs were needed overseas, but the Army couldn’t provide them protection, if captured, or benefits, if injured. In March of 1943, Congress opened hearings on converting the auxiliary unit into the Women’s Army Corps, which would’ve made the women part of the Army with equal pay, privileges, and protection. It would also make a much larger army and let the women take over some of the jobs men were doing, so the men could go fight.
Mama was stationed in Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia, the Training Center for the Women’s Third Army Corps. She had volunteered for Cooks and Bakers School because she came from a family of ten children and she thought she’d be good at cooking for a crowd. She was issued all the corps’ uniforms, but the cooks wore white short-sleeved dresses when they worked.
On April 17, 1943, Mama was in cooking school wearing her white uniform. A parade was scheduled on the post that day. The soldiers were expecting somebody important, a high up, but they didn’t know who it was. Mama was hoping for the president. She asked her instructor for permission to go, and her teacher said yes, and told her to put on her Army overcoat and button it all the way up to her neck to cover every inch of the white uniform.
Everybody else was already gathered at the parade grounds. As Mama ran out of the training center and down the sidewalk, a cannon began to fire, announcing the arrival of the guest. She counted the shots. 1, 2, 3. She got to the end of the sidewalk. 4, 5, 6. She ran down the steps. 7, 8, 9. She neared the street. 10, 11, 12. The cannon blasts kept coming.13, 14, 15. She saw a black car approaching. 16, 17, 18. She stopped at the curb. 19, 20, 21. She froze. Twenty-one shots. That’s HIM!
The President of the United States of America was in the black open-air vehicle coming right at her. She collected herself and did what she was trained to do. She stood at attention, straight as a board. She saluted. She had to get the salute exactly right, at the tip of the hat. She knew to hold it until it was returned.
The car stopped right in front of her. President Franklin D. Roosevelt sat in the back seat of the convertible, close enough for her to put her hand down and touch him. She looked right into his eyes. His dog Fala, a Scottish terrier who could curl his lips into a smile, was sitting in the President’s lap. Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby, the female director of the women’s corps, was sitting beside the president. They both saluted Mama.
The president wore a black cape, and his face was white as snow. He smiled at Mama and said, “That was good, soldier.”
That day, President Roosevelt reviewed three thousand WAACs on the parade grounds at Barnhardt Circle and inspected the women’s training program to determine for himself whether they should become part of the Army. On July 3, 1943, three months later, he signed the bill into law, and the Women’s Army Corps was born.
Mama was most likely the first soldier the president inspected on the post that day. I think Mama was the reason the auxiliary unit became the Women’s Army Corps.