Goodbye 2019!

2019 came in quietly and stayed that way all year. It seems I didn’t do much the last twelve months. I guess the biggest thing that happened was that I took a few months to work on my own project instead of everyone else’s. And I took the time to do some little things I never did before, like visiting a salt room with friends, sending out Christmas cards, putting up three Christmas trees.

Here are a few fun and memorable things:

Led a session at a women’s retreat on blooming after loss in Columbus, Mississippi, with a few other A Second Blooming authors. Some of the ladies shown here playing drums.

Edited some good fiction and nonfiction books.

Served on a panel at the first-ever Franklin Book Festival.

Joined a new writers group: Harpeth River Writers.

Participated with the Authors Circle at Main Street Festival and Pumpkinfest.

Participated in a Salon Reading with two other local authors – first time I ever did that!

Enjoyed baking with lavender. Made cupcakes for my granddaughter’s birthday.

Had my own big birthday with everybody in the family in attendance! That never happens. Shown here, all the women of the family, one facing the wrong way.

Watched the grandson play basketball. (He won the Super Bowl in football, but I missed that game.)

Went shopping with the granddaughter. (Oh mercy me!)

Went to the mountains. Had Thanksgiving with Son 2 in Asheville, went to the National Gingerbread House Competition, and journeyed up a mountain to a Christmas tree farm, where I found fodder for a story. Shown here, Grove Park Inn (my favorite place).

Went to the beach. Spent Christmas with Son 1 in Pass Christian, Mississippi, and his family. Had Christmas Eve brunch at Brennan’s in New Orleans and went to see Little Women on Christmas Day. Shown below, Bananas Foster at Brennan’s.

AND THE BIG THING: Wrote a novel and finished first revisions.

Thank you 2019 for being soft to me.

Pond Fail at Wimbledon House

All the digging, installing, the hard work of stone gathering and stacking, the view of mirrored water full of lilies and hyacinths, the sound of a waterfall, and visits of birds, even a blue heron once, ended abruptly one summer afternoon. I was sitting by the pond in a wooden Adirondack chair reading a book when it happened.

I heard the shifting clunks, the scrapes of rocks sliding against each other, the grinding collapse of the stone sides. Chipmunks had tunneled and hollowed out solid ground beneath the rocks around the pond, and the rocks, unbalanced, fell. I watched as loose dirt dug up by those little creatures sifted into the pond water, turning it to a silty, cloudy brown that would challenge the pump and cause it to fail.

It was a helpless feeling, this loss of the pond. This pond I dreamed about from the moment we moved into the house. I was consumed with the idea; I had to have a pond. Charlie groused about it at work, even named the new office computer server DAMN POND. He didn’t want to fool with it. Said it would be a lot of work to maintain. But he went along. We collected stones at the new development on Carothers south of Cool Springs Boulevard, then he engineered their placement around the black rigid pond form in the ground. He set up the pump, installed piping, and created a waterfall. Every spring, he helped scrub out the algae and scoop out the plant rot; he knew how to reverse the pump and drain the pond. We named the eleven fish and talked about them like they were children.

Then he died.

I was alone with my pond.

When it came time for cleaning, I emptied the water bucket by bucket by bucket. I sat in the dregs and scrubbed and cried, overcome with grief. I had scum all over me. The pump failed. I replaced it somehow. It failed again, and the summer sun grew algae so thick it took over the pond. Winter came and ice formed over the water. When spring rolled around, I cleaned it again and installed a new pump.

Now this. Chipmunks. An outside attack. A mess. I was tired, worn down, defeated. The walls of my life had already crumbled and fallen. Now, the walls of the pond. You can’t expect to build something or have something or fix something and have it remain in its healthy state. Things break. Things die. Things end.

Meanwhile, above the pond, the flowering abelia stood undisturbed beside the dirty water, bees visiting its blooms, getting their fill in a higher level of life, unaware of the fail.

The pond died that day. A little of me died, too.

The next day I removed all the stones from the pond’s perimeter and slung them out in the middle of the yard. I was angry. I didn’t like ends. Or change.

I ripped out the plastic pond liner and dragged it to the curb for the garbage man to pick up. Then I filled in the vast hole with dirt, twigs, and pinecones and put down a layer of flat stones on the surface. I stacked the rocks in a wide circle, repurposing the pond into a firepit.

I transitioned from water to fire. Two of the earth’s elements. Water is symbolic of death, as well as rebirth. Fire enables life. It symbolizes strength, courage, energy, power.

All good things end; the ends can be transformed into new beginnings, which may never be as good, but will be.

Hard Heads, Red-painted Lips, and Open Eyes

I don’t remember ever making a Christmas list as a child. I’m sure I did, but I don’t remember. I remember the Sears Wish Book. I mostly looked at dolls. I don’t remember wanting anything in particular or having an aversion to anything. I’m sure I did, but I don’t remember.

Christmas morning, there were always all kinds of gifts under the tree from Santa—things I don’t remember wanting or asking for or that I even knew existed. A deluxe chemistry set. A pogo stick. Monopoly. Game of the States. A bike when I was seven or eight—a turquoise bike with tan trimmings (beautiful!), the only bike I ever had. Pop beads. A white jewelry box with red satin interior. I still have it. Dolls—the Bannister Baby, a Madame Alexander I named Sidney, the big baby Angela. Never Barbie. She came at the end of my doll era. I got dolls every Christmas until I was maybe eleven.

Whatever I got, I was pleased. Except maybe for the pop beads. I remember all those years ago being surprised at the jewelry-making kit. I mostly got educational toys and toys that stimulated my imagination. The bike, for example. It could easily become a horse and I was on a tan leather saddle on some narrow western dirt trail instead of the sidewalk on Fifth Avenue. I clothes-pinned a few playing cards to the spokes, and the sound was that of a horse clomping on bedrock.

And the dolls. I didn’t dress and bathe and feed them. I didn’t play mother. I made up stories with them. They were always crossing the prairie, migrating west, running into danger. Stagecoaches, long dresses, and campfires under a starry sky mingled into the tales.

Because I had so much fun (and I didn’t have daughters), I tried to pass this doll adventure on to my granddaughter. But. She hates dolls. Always has. I bought them anyway. American Girls with books, a Madame Alexander, a lookalike Cabbage Patch I had birthed and named Lucille Deering (after my mother and my growing-up street), a multitude of Barbies—at least three a year. And then there was Anne of Green Gables that I bought in Prince Edward Island, gave to her, and ended up bringing back home with me.

Jillian doesn’t like dolls. “They creep me out,” she says.

I guess I can see that. Big and hard plastic heads with manufactured-molded hair and wide eyes that never close and a red-painted mouth. I never saw as a child that their expressions were creepy or scary. I saw them as real people. With feelings and thoughts and interesting lives. I lived in fantasy. Jillian lives in reality.

So this year, along with a precious, personal handwritten scroll letter she wrote to me and a canvas oil painting she created, she bought me a doll to make her point. “It’s just a joke, Grandmomma,” she said. But I think this is how she sees all dolls.

This Christmas, I gave her purple low top and black hightop Converse shoes, a string of penguin lights, headphones, and books—from a list she texted me from her Apple phone to mine. I’d already learned my lesson on the dolls.


Tracks in the Dough

A slow, cold drizzle was all the low, gray skies could give up that December afternoon. Inside, the Christmas tree with its colored lights, candy canes, and blinking, bubbling candles stirred up a cheerful, cozy warmth. I set a pot of cinnamon-scented wassail on the stove. It was time to heat up the oven and bake some cookies.

I opened my Cotton Country Collection cookbook to an oily, dough-stained page 459, “Holiday Sugar Cookies.” After creaming butter and sugar and blending in eggs and vanilla, I added flour, baking powder, and a pinch of salt and then chilled the mixture. I lined counter tops with waxed paper and greased four cookie sheets. I pulled out a box of tin cookie cutters from the top shelf of the pantry—a camel, a Christmas tree, a Santa with a pack of toys slung over his shoulder, a bell, and a star. Then I generously floured the large butcher-block table in the center of my kitchen, kneaded, and rolled out cookie dough.

As I rolled to the left and then to the right, my two-year-old dragged his “little helper” stool up beside me. He brought with him two heaping handfuls of MATCHBOX cars—a yellow Peterbilt Pace Construction dump truck; a blue and yellow Peterbilt cement mixer, Cement Company, LTD; a yellow Camaro-IROC-Z 26; and a red Metro Airport FOAM Unit #3. He lined up his vehicles beside my dough, propped his elbows on the table, and smiled at me, content briefly just to watch me work with the rolling pin.

After a moment, the dump truck began its slow, deliberate journey into the flour at the edge of the table. A roadway formed in the flour. The Camaro joined, jutting off in a new direction, picking up speed. The cement mixer followed. The little boy leaned into the flour, encroaching on my clump of dough, happily driving his vehicles. As his lips vibrated softly to make the sound of an engine, the little boy pushed in the Foam Unit #3. With flour on his hands, elbows, and cheeks, and tiny bits of dough stuck to his shirt, he took the task seriously, absorbed in his construction project. Several roads took shape.

I continued working quietly beside him, cutting out bells and stars, as he drove vehicles back and forth in the flour and over the scraps of unused cookie mixture, leaving little tire tracks in the dough.

I thought, this moment reflected the essence of motherhood. Mother and child, together, each respecting, accepting, and allowing the other to creatively express the vision and gift of a unique personality—a spontaneous, special moment to savor, to slip into a scrapbook, to stamp in my memory.

The little boy is grown up now. The yellow dump truck, Camaro, cement mixer, and red Foam Unit #3 are boxed neatly and tucked away in the attic, with pieces of dried cookie dough still in the crevices of the tires. Each Christmas season as I pull out the old dough-caked cookbook and tin cookie cutters, I also pull out my memory of a precious little son smiling up at me through blond bangs, tugging at my heartstrings, driving MATCHBOX cars through my flour, and making tracks in the dough.