Tag Archives: memories

Summer Roses (for LKB)

(I realize this is not a comprehensive analysis of our country’s involvement in world conflict. It’s not supposed to be. If you’re here to beat me over the head for my ignorance of the current state of nation, please be nice. I already have a headache. Thanks muchly.)

The sweet smell of summer roses permeates the air surrounding the ranks of soldiers, none of whom are now able to appreciate the fragrance.

The silence, overwhelmingly loud, throbbing inside my head, merges with the cannon salute to another soldier being laid to rest on sacred ground, finally finding peace after finishing his last mission–perhaps last week, or last year, or sometime during the last century.

The history of a young nation, spread out across rolling hills dotted with shade trees; soldiers assembled for battle, their plain white crosses marking their graves in perfect alignment from any vantage point.

The timeline of the wars that, in one way or another, define us as a nation, represented in this place….

The American Civil War: brothers fighting brothers, fathers fighting sons, great military minds who were educated in military tactics together as young men, friends who became enemies, only to come back together after the conflict ended, again showing respect to each other as equals.

The Spanish-American War: Teddy Roosevelt, the charge up San Juan hill, the creation of another new nation, the Phillipines.

World War I: the war to end all wars.

World War II: the result of a nation’s flawed trust in a megalomaniac, the war of unspeakable acts of evil perpetrated against an enemy whose only offense was their race, or their physical conditions, the creation of an ultimate weapon, and the subsequent Cold War that ensued as enemies began to stockpile enough weapons to destroy all life on Earth many times over.

The Korean War

The Vietnam War: the nightly body count read on the CBS evening news by Walter Cronkite, and the fear that my uncle or one of his friends could be called up for duty, based on a random number assignment.

Operation Desert Storm

Operation Enduring Freedom: punishment meted out on an enemy who dared attack us on our own soil, the creation of yet one more day seared into the collective mindset of the American people. Where were you on 9/11?

Operation Iraqi Freedom: the removal of a brutal dictator, another megalomaniac who slaughtered hundreds of thousands of his own citizens.

Do you remember “Shock and Awe”?

I confess to being shocked and in awe of this place and these people.

I am shocked by the sheer vastness in numbers of men and women who sacrificed themselves to protect my country, my freedom, my family, ME.

I am in awe at the realization that a great many of these men and women made this offering, the ultimate sacrifice, willingly, voluntarily.

I will never, ever experience the sweet smell of summer roses in quite the same way again. I am changed by the experience of a cool breeze on a hot summer’s day, blowing the aroma of a simple flower across my face. I breathe it in, where it finds its way to the deepest recesses of my mind and soul, taking up permanent residence as a constant reminder of the true price of freedom.

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summers of my dreams

If you’ve been reading here recently, I made reference to this song and said i *might* explain what it means to me. After thinking about it, I decided that it was a project worth doing. So, here goes……a real life fairy tale.

Back in the days when I was young and innocent, I was blessed to have four grandmothers. On mom’s side, there was my Grandma Ruth, my great-grandma Lena Pearl, and my great-great-grandma Horton. Then on dad’s side there was my step-grandma Irene. Amazingly enough, I lost my last remaining grandma, great-grandma Lena Pearl, in 2004,  shortly after she celebrated her 100th birthday. She died peacefully, in her sleep,  just as she wished.

From about the age of seven, I would spend a week each summer with Grandma Ruth and Grandpa Clayton, then another week with great-Grandma Lena Pearl and great-grandpa David Ed. Then around Labor Day we would head to step-grandma’s VERY rustic cabin in eastern Virginia, on the banks of Saluda creek, which empties into the Rappahannock River. For any of you who were educated in Virginia during the late 60’s or early 70’s then you should recognize the Rappahannock as one of the four tidal rivers that enter into the Chesapeake Bay, as described in our 4th grade Virginia History and Geaography textbook, which I still have. A cookie to anyone who can name the other three….ok, I have no cookies. They are the Potomac, the York, and the James. (One thing I do remember learning in 4th grade from the teacher with green hair.)

In the shade of this old tree in the summer of my dreams
By the tall grass by the wild rose where the trees dance as the wind blows
As the days go oh so slowly as the sun shines oh so holy
On the good and gracious green in the summer of my dreams

Great-grandma Pearl lived in the Blue Ridge mountains, very close to the NC/VA state line. Her original home place is now a part of I-77 Southbound. She lived in a two-story farmhouse with a creek running behind it. On the other side of the creek was the general store that great-grandpa Ed ran up until the early 70’s. When he finally closed the place down, gas was selling for $0.33 / gallon, and if you know where to find the remains of the store, you might still be able to see the remains of those gas pumps. The store sold everything from food to farm implements, clothes, shoes, candy…everything a little girl could ever want. The counter had on old, push button cash register, a large jar of pickles, pickled eggs, pickled pigs feet. There was a chest cooler with soda pop. My favorite was Dr. Pepper, to be consumed with a bag of salted peanuts that was poured into the bottle before drinking commenced. There was a pot-bellied stove in the center of the store, and a bench on the front porch where the old farmers would gather on a warm summer afternoon and discuss the weather, their crops and cattle, and life and death in their small community.

The farmhouse had a porch that wrapped around two sides, with a porch swing at the corner. There was a root cellar under the side porch. She also had an enclosed back porch with a spring house. Cold water was always available, dipped by a dried gourd that hung above the spring. There were usually fresh vegetables from the garden in the spring house water sink, cooling for dinner. Grandma had a freezer on the back porch that usually contained frozen meats, processed from animals they raised themselves. She had two milk cows that were faithfully milked morning and evening, with any surplus milk placed in a milk can and then placed in another spring fed cooler in the front yard, where the milk truck would pick it up and return the empty milk cans the next day.

Grandma’s garden was across the creek, behind the store. She tried to teach me how to recognize the vegetables from their greenery. Once, after spending a day picking green beans, we went back to the garden where grandma Pearl showed me rows of plants and asked me what they were. Pushing the green leaves back and finding nothing that looked like anything edible, I replied, “I don’t know what it is, but it sure has been picked clean!” It was potatoes. Hey, I was seven, remember?

Grandma Horton would usually come for a visit. She would spend time traveling from one child’s home to another, staying a few days at each one. She was almost blind, wore dark glasses and dressed like Grandma Walton, complete with apron. She called me “Bernice”.

We used to play in the creek, chasing fish and crawdads, and if we were lucky enough to catch anything we would take our captives from the creek and place them in the milk can cooler where we could observe them up close.

There was a cherry tree that grew at the riverbank. We would eat cherries until our tummies ached.

By the banks of this old stream in the summer of my dreams
By the deep pool where the fish wait for the old fool with the wrong bait
There’s a field of purple clover there’s a small cloud passing over
And the rain comes washing clean on the summer of my dreams

One of my cousins would come down to visit whenever I was there. He was maybe three or four years older than me, and I had a terrible crush on him. He used to push me on the porch swing. Grandma had pots of flowers covering her front and side porches. It was beautiful.

Grandma Pearl’s house was not built with indoor plumbing. By the time I came along they had built a single bathroom that took up the back of the side porch. The door to the bathroom was in the kitchen, a bit awkward. She kept a small bottle of turpentine, closed with a cork stopper, that was used to cure any major injury that came up: bee stings, poison oak, mosquito bites. She had a wringer washing  machine. I was helping her do laundry one day and as I fed the clothes into the wringer, my fingers were caught between the rollers and my hand went through the wringer, all the way up to my elbow. Scared Grandma Pearl half to death.

I was there when Pearl and Ed got their first telephone, a party line. Grandpa would NOT answer the phone. Period. There was this one day when Grandma needed to call someone and two other ladies had the line tied up, so to speak. One of them kept saying that she needed to get off the phone and check the beans she’d left cooking on the stove. After about an hour of this, Grandma Pearl picked up the phone, listened in for a second, and said “Lady, them beans is burned by now!” She got the line freed up to make her call.

See the raindrops on the grass now just like diamonds lying there
By the old road where I pass now there’s a twilight in the air
And as the sun sets down before me I see my true love waiting for me
Standing by the back porch screen in the summer of my dreams

Staying with Grandma Ruth was different. My grandpa Clayton also ran a local grocery store, and he was the butcher. In addition, he raised sheep and beef cattle, which also meant he raised corn and alfalfa. I remember the first summer I stayed with them and was expected to WORK on the farm. Grandma took me to Roses and bought me a pair of Levi straight leg jeans, very unfashionable for 1973. Bell bottoms, 20 inches minimum…now THAT was a pair of jeans. She also bought me a sleeveless t-shirt and sturdy shoes, sent me out on the farm with my uncle and his farm hands to bail and put up hay. Grandma would supervise, her main job was to look for and exterminate any snakes that dared show up in the hay field or barn.

After a long day of working the fields, we would peel off our sticky jeans, throw on a bathing suit and head for the lake for some cooling off and water-skiing. My uncle taught me to ski, and he always had his farm hand buddies with us. I remember falling once, hard, and the impact yanked my bathing suit top right off. It was a good thing that I had decided to wear a life jacket instead of a ski belt (can you even BUY a ski belt anymore?) Otherwise I would have been forever dead of embarrassment. Sometimes it would rain in the afternoon and we’d all jump in the water to “keep from getting wet”.  I also wished that one of my uncle’s farmhands would notice me, but I was maybe thirteen and they were much older, like sixteen or seventeen.

In the shade of this old tree in the summer of my dreams
By the tall grass by the wild rose where the trees dance as the beans grow
As the days go oh so slowly as the sun shines oh so holy
On the good and gracious green on the summer of my dreams

When I listen to the words now, I remember not only the long past: the cherry tree, the creek, the gardens and green fields, the summer lightning and refreshing rain, but also the more recent loveliness of summers spent on the New River with my parents, and my then-boyfriend/now-hubby, walking the dirt road down to the river, getting caught in afternoon thunder storms. I remember my dad, sitting on the dock at his sister’s lake house, a cane fishing pole in his hand, whistling  poorly and watching the sun go down.

As the days go oh so slowly as the sun shines oh so holy
On the good and gracious green on the summer of my dreams

And my step-grandmother Irene? That’s a whole other story.

Christmas Gypsies

I guess I’ve always been a Christmas gypsy.

When I was little, Christmas was always at my Grandma’s. Or, Grandmas’, or whatever the plural-possessive form is for “grandma.” Christmas Eve was at my Grandma’s house. We’d spend the night so Santa could find me, then Christmas Day was at my Great-Grandma’s. Then we’d head back to Grandma’s, and maybe back home Christmas night if it wasn’t too far.

My Great-Grandma lived in the mountains. She and my Great-Grandpa ran a country store complete with pot-bellied stove. They sold everything from candy to clothes to farm implements and gas. This summer when we were in Todd, NC we went to the Todd General Store. The minute I walked in I was flooded with memories from Great-Grandpa’s store. Shelves on the wall behind the counter, the push-button cash register, the creaky wood floors.

Christmas Day was all about family and food. There were the three children, around 13 grand-children and close to 20 great-grandchildren. I don’t think we were ever all there at one time, but we came pretty close. There were people and food everywhere: in the kitchen, dining room, living room…I think I even ate a Christmas dinner or two in my great-grandparents’ bedroom. A typical Christmas dinner went something like this: country ham, turkey, biscuits, gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans, macaroni and cheese, sweet potato casserole, creamed corn or corn pudding, rice pudding, broccoli casserole, rolls, pickles, preserves, cakes, pies, custards….

Their house had a porch across the front and down one side. There was a spring house, complete with dipping gourds, and a separate porch across the back. Part of the side porch became their bathroom when they added plumbing. I think it was sometime in the late 60’s or early 70’s when they got a telephone, party line. There was a small spring house in the front yard where they’d leave the full milk can to be picked up by the dairy truck, and where the empty can would be returned.

All of us gypsies would gather there on the mountain, eat until we had to get horizontal, exchange a few gifts and just visit. If the weather was nice the younger ones (my generation) would play outside on the porch swing or in the creek or the spring houses. If there was snow we’d play…outside on the porch swing or in the creek or the spring houses. The grown-ups would be in clumps in various rooms, talking about farming or work or us kids. Around 4:00 in the afternoon families would start saying their goodbyes and heading for their cars to start for home. All the goodbye-ing would last an hour or so, and we’d finally hit the road about sundown.

When hubby and I got married in 1984 we continued the gypsy Christmas: Christmas Eve at grandma’s, Christmas Day (morning) at great-grandma’s, and end up at hubby’s parents in the evening, then back to our own home. We probably traveled a couple hundred miles round trip. It was doable, until the kids came along. The trip to my great-grandma’s became an every-other-year sort of thing until she passed away in 2004. In its place was the trip from North Carolina to my parents, then my grand-parents, then hubby’s parents and sibs.

And so it goes.

Today we made the gypsy trip from North Carolina up the mountain where my great-grandparents are buried, past the towns where my grandparents and my dad now rest, to the town where hubby grew up, where his parents also now rest. Today my oldest sister-in-law said she was carrying on the matriarchal tradition of wrapping gifts at 5:00 AM and cooking non-stop from then until everyone finally arrived around 2:00 this afternoon. Again, we exchanged a few gifts, visited a little, started saying our goodbyes around 4:00 and finally got on the road about an hour later.

Each year it gets a little harder to put my gypsy shoes on Christmas morning.

And each year I know that, if I don’t, another year could pass before we see some of our family again, unless we’re forced together to say a final goodbye to someone else.

So, we wear the gypsy shoes.

2:29 AM and all is as it should be…sorta

Christmas Eve.

I’ve always loved Christmas Eve. The day’s events start out early, frantically. Way back, we’d spend Christmas at my grandmother’s house and would inevitably need to run to Leggett’s for something. Leggett’s had everything, it was right there on Main Street, very small-town Americana.

Now Leggett’s is gone, replaced by a Belk store at the local mall-o-rama, where you can’t ever find anything in any department without first knowing who designed it. Sorry, I don’t shop by label, I shop by function.

Anyway, we’d get back from town to find my grandma cooking, or watching the soaps while various food items were cooking themselves. Supper was at 5:00, always. My grandpa’s store was open on Christmas Eve, so he might be working that evening, but he always had supper at 5:00. So there you go.

And it was a typical Southern holiday spread: ham, mashed potatoes, green beans, macaroni and cheese, deviled eggs, various other veggies in various states of cooked-ness.

Then there was dessert: applesauce cake, pecan pie, fruit cake that was actually good because someone make it right after Thanksgiving and soaked it brandy ’til Christmas.

There were quite a few of us grand-kids, and we were responsible for cleaning up after supper, which had to be completed before the commencing of the gift distribution, which was organized chaos.

Things changed as we grew up. Sometimes the family’s numbers dwindled as we started going to our boyfriend or girlfriend’s house; sometimes the numbers increased, when our friends came with us to Christmas Eve supper. Then the great-grandbabies started coming.

Once everyone was stuffed, all the gifts opened (except for Santa’s), all the wrapping paper gathered up and placed in the burn barrel, things started to quiet down, families would leave for their own homes, the grown-ups would talk while we got ready for bed.

Finally, around 11:00 PM, it was calm.

We still have a few things to do around here Christmas Eve. Actually “a few” is an understatement if you include the moving tasks we still haven’t finished…or started. So things aren’t quite as they should be; not just yet. But we’ll get there, as we do every year without fail.

I think about the first Christmas, whenever it actually was. The quietness of Bethlehem that night as Joseph and Mary tried to find somewhere to rest, only to find no open doors. Even now, as we drive home from Christmas Eve service at church, it fascinates me to see all the stores closed, the streets devoid of the snarling traffic, and I think about this event we call Christmas. The birth of a child, during the night, in an animal pen. Here we are, 2000 years later, running around doing our “holiday-ing”, as one retailer put it this year. (Did you ‘holiday’ was a verb? Neither did I.) But as the hours dwindle down and we finally go home, a quietness settles over the cities, towns and crossroads of our country, as well as those of most other countries. How could something so seemingly insignificant as the birth of a single child, 2000 years ago, in a barn, still bring everything in our world to a screeching halt?

Christmas Eve. The calm before the storm of last minute preparations, before the calm as dawn approaches, carrying with it the joy that is Christmas.

I love Dr. Suess’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas because it communicates these same ideas that I stumble through with such ease, sweetness and simplicity.

This Christmas probably has more than its fair share of “grinches”: economic crisis, political upheavals, and plain old garden-variety evil. But Thursday morning the sun will come up.

So he paused – and the Grinch put a hand to his ear. And he did hear a sound rising over the snow. It started in low… then it started to grow.

But… but this sound wasn’t sad. Why, this sound sounded glad. Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small, was singing without any presents at all. He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming, it came. Somehow or other, it came just the same.

He puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!

Welcome, Christmas, bring your cheer. Cheer to all Whos far and near. Christmas Day is in our grasp so long as we have hands to clasp. Christmas Day will always be just as long as we have we. Welcome Christmas while we stand, heart to heart and hand in hand.

Remembering is the hardest part…and the best

Before we officially move, I need to pack up some stuff that didn’t make it to Mom’s new home in the mountains. Lots of bric-a-brac, “frou-frou” in the Interior Design profession. Some clothes, linens…stuff like that.

And things sneak up on me, just like that photo of my dad at the river did on Thanksgiving at my brother-in-law’s house.

I found the rehearsal schedule for the only ballet recital I was ever in. I was in second grade.

There was a skirt / blouse ensemble that my mom purchased over twenty years ago from an exclusive dress shop in Roanoke. She wore it to work. Then I wore it to work. Then it went back to her closet, so she must have worn it to work some more.

Mom made a smocked dress for me when I was about six. Found that. And a yellow dress I wore for a portrait when I was a little younger.

Her high school yearbook from her sophomore year was in a box in a closet. I look at those pictures now and think it looks like they were taken a hundred years ago. Then I look at my own yearbooks, stacked in the floor in my living room, waiting to be boxed up, and think the same thing.

During high school, then again in college, my piano teachers would pull out some old nasty-looking piece of sheet music they’d played in college and give it to me. The pages were always brown, torn, held together by pieces of dried Scotch tape. My own music from college looks just the same.

I stumbled upon a pink dress box, lined with tissue paper, containing a few Christmas ornaments left from the ones we used when I was little. Always on a cedar tree from a farm somewhere. And,  in the same box, genuine icicles. The long stringy tinsel things we used to put on the tree after it was all decorated to make everything sparkle. Then a cat or dog would pull a few off the tree, chow down, and make the yard sparkle all year long!

Dress patterns for dresses my mom make for me to wear to school. Some of them are hilarious; others could be made and worn today and no one would know they were 30-year-old patterns.

Other craft patterns: for a red sweater mom knitted for my son when he was a toddler. It has owls on the yoke; for slouch bags she sewed, and taught Domincan women how to sew. Doilies. Lots of doilies.

Cassette tapes, from Country to Classical. All outsourced now, to CDs and MP3s. Even a few LPs, being revived by new gadgets w/ USB connections so you can record your old LPs onto your computer, scratches and all, I guess.

Picture frames, bowling balls, carnival glass my Grandmother won at fairs over the years.

Stuff. Individually, all these things are just stuff. The neat thing is that I can pick something up, hold it in my hands, and remember. “Oh, that was real! I thought I’d dreamed it, or imagined it. But here’s proof!”

Individual pieces of my history, boxed and stacked and spread out all over the place.

But when I add them all up, they amount to, well, LIFE.

Or lives actualy.

My grandparents; my parents; me; my children.

And one day, their children.

And their children.

Today I’ll wander back into the past, remember, reconcile and take another step into tomorrow.

the deli

Yesterday we went to lunch at a local deli. When we first moved here over 20 years ago, there were several locations of the local deli, including one downtown where I worked. Over the years the owners have sold first one location, then another, until now there are only two (I think) original delis left.

I was surprised to see that the menu hadn’t really changed at all. You still order by number, and number 5 is probably the perenniel favorite. It’s something like a battered, deep-fried chicken breast served on a bun with bacon, ham, cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo or mustard. Basically it’s a coronary. Then there’s a super version of it, although I can’t remember what makes it ‘super’, that’s, well, quadruple bypass.

Hubby ordered the usual Reuben. I had a chili taco salad.

This particular location has seen better days as far as its decor is concerned. It’s dark, a bit seedy. The space was probably a shoe store when the shopping center was first built. Remember Thom McAn Shoes? Had those great big display windows on either side of the entrance. My dad bought me a pair of black and white saddle oxfords from good ‘ol Thom, in ’75 I think. I was in the eighth grade. All the cool girls wore b&w saddles. I used to love to look in the shoe store windows.

Well, at the deli the windows on one side are for dining, sort of a raised platform dining experience. The opposite window has a hand-painted board with Tom and Jerry extolling the praises of the soup, salad and sammiches.

It’s been years since I’ve had a taco salad from the deli. When I worked downtown our whole team would troop down the block to the deli, and my best friend and I would always order taco salads. There was interesting elevated platform dining in that restaurant too. We’d always try to get a big table in the upper level so we could be loud and goofy and not disturb the peace. Sometimes there were 10-12 of us piled up there, munching and complaining about management and stupid project requirements and unreachable goals and deadlines designed to be missed. It was kinda fun.

Of the mob of us, only 1 still works for the company and his job is to be the go-between for the system users on one side and the foreign, off-shore contractors (that used to be us) on the other side. Some of us were able to transition into web and internet development, or network administration. The rest of us filled in where we could until we quit or were advised to seek employment elsewhere. A few have moved away, including my friend.

So I sat there, eating my taco salad, the sights and smells of the deli bringing to the forefront of my mind all those people, all those lunches, ups and downs in our careers and our personal lives, Several of us had children the same year; now those babies are college freshmen. There were separations, divorces, remarriages, more babies, life and death itself, all celebrated around the tables at the deli.

The taco salad I had yesterday was just as good as it always was.

The memories were oh so much better.

Taylor and Maria

See that guy in the video up there? His name is Taylor Cameron Carpenter.

If you Google him you find out he’s a “rock star organist”.

When he was about 14, he was our church organist while he attended Arts high school in the area. When I think about those years now it blows my mind to realize he was only 14. His technical skills at the organ, or piano, harpsichord, whatever, are exceptional. But what always amazed me was his ability to improvise. I’m not talking about a typical improv an organist would do to get from a hymn in one key and meter to another hymn in other key and/or meter.

In December 1995 a dear friend of ours died from a rare form of cancer. She and her family were ardent supporters of the arts. Her memorial service was not only a tribute to her life, but also a musical celebration of her life offered by Taylor. It was mentioned that our friend had a flair for the dramatic when it came to her artistic talent. She was a painter, sculptor, singer, decorator. Everything she did was uniquely her own, and sometimes got her into a teensy bit of trouble. Like the year she decorated the fellowship hall for Christmas by hanging the Christmas tree upside-down from the ceiling. It was a fad for a year or two, as I recall. But she embraced it! There was the tree, hanging down in all its glory, and people were talking! You would have thought she’d desecrated a sacred icon, instead of twisting an adapted pagan symbol into something completely different, as Monty Python would say.

So, in her memorial service our pastor compared her to “Maria” from “The Sound of Music”, and referred to the song “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” when speaking of her.

Once the memorial part of the service was complete, it was time for Taylor’s musical offering. I remember him playing “In the Bleak Mid-Winter”, which had been one of her favorite carols. There were a couple of other pieces that I can’t recall specifically. One was probably a hymn.

But THIS, I remember: As Taylor played, a simple melody was forming above the frenzy of notes flying from his hands and feet. It was familiar, but not quite above the threshold of recognizability. At first the notes were elongated, making it harder to pull them out of the mire. But as the tempo increased, and the melody rose from the bass line to the upper registers, there it was: How do you solve a problem like Maria?

Of course, my friend’s name wasn’t Maria. And now Taylor is world-famous and goes by Cameron.

But for that one moment in time, on a cold December afternoon, Taylor and Maria danced.

And it was magic.