What Lies Ahead

When I was little, I worried a lot. About things that had a .000001% chance of ever happening where we lived, like tornadoes or earthquakes. Things my Father called non-questions. He shut me down with that statement whenever I’d finally driven him to the point of exasperation, though he was still kind about it. But there was one fear that neither parent could ever quell.

For my first 14 years, we only took driving vacations, and only within North Carolina or to West Virginia to see my grandmother. (Except for a few train trips down to Florida to see my other grandparents when I was very small.) As my Father worked at the University, we took Spring Break when school took Spring Break, which was usually in March. My parents would load up the car and drive to the Outer Banks, staying in Buxton where the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse sat on the point, shining its beacon as a warning to ships far out in the treacherous seas off the easternmost point in the state.

Palmetto-Peartree Reserve, a lovely
place that terrified a child-me.
Image from The Conservation Fund

It was a drive that felt like forever. We didn’t have a big four-lane highways back then. We took two-lane state highways, passing through rural farmland. I remember seeing so many old white abandoned houses that I wanted to grow up to rescue. We would stop in Willamston and have lunch at the Shamrock (it’s still there), and I always had stuffed flounder (it’s no longer on the menu), which was one of my “special occasion” meals growing up. I can still recall the wood of the captain’s chairs at our four-top, and the art on the paneled walls after all this time. After lunch, the drive turned from farmland to swampland, trees deep dripping with moss in uninterrupted mystery. What we were skirting is now the Palmetto-Peartree Preserve and the Alligator River National Wildlife Reserve, but back then, to a child, it was just the creepy swampland. Then suddenly, the swamp ended and we were heading over the bridge, through Manteo, across another bridge, and onto Whalebone Junction, where we turned right on Highway 12, which runs the length of the upper Outer Banks.

And that’s where the trouble started. Or more accurately, where I started being a particular pain in the ass.

By now, it was usually dusk. Not only was it a long drive from Durham, when you added trying to pack the car and two kids, stopping for lunch, and keeping to the speed limit, which my Mother did, the day was well faded by this time. Car headlights approached us as we traveled the 60 mile stretch of oceanfront road that was frequently washed out by Nor’easters or hurricanes. And therein lay the cause of my fears. Always, all the cars — all of them — were coming towards us. And we were the only car heading in our direction.

I was frequently near hysterical about this, absolutely convinced that something disastrous had happened at our destination, and that’s why everyone was coming towards us. They were all sensibly running away from the tragedy/monster/peril. But we were going towards it. Here we were, an innocent family, blithely travelling straight to our doom. Driving unknowingly right into the greedy, vicious maw of the beast. From my shotgun position, I kept swiveling around to see if there was anyone behind us, but no, there wasn’t. Just a long string of refugees from the terror ahead, passing by us, unable to gesture or indicate what was out there. My parents had enough of my nonsense after about 20 miles, so I would shut up and sit silently, staring into the darkness and girding my loins for our fate. As I recall, my brother, E-bro, was singularly unhelpful in this situation, but that’s what older brothers are for.

Of course, we would always live to tell the tale, reaching our haven of the Tower Circle Motel without being devoured or destroyed. Mr. Jack Grey would have left the light on for us and the door to our unit unlocked. There were no monsters or secret storms, just the sound of the crashing waves and the reassuring beam of the lighthouse flashing in its silent, trusted rhythm. We went on to spend a week with books and games and music and walks on the cold beach, times that I treasure. But every year, I went through this anxiety, without fail, until I grew out of it. I can’t remember how old I was when that happened. Curiously, my nephew had the same fear when he was small. That takes my mystical mind a-roaming to things like soul families and past lives. Did my nephew and I share a life long ago where we had a legitimate fear of something that destroyed us? Sounds a bit far-fetched, but one can’t be sure. I’m just glad that fear is a memory and that I’ve done a complete 180, going anywhere fearlessly and perhaps too often disregarding what might lie ahead. Roads, day or night, are made for adventure.

What Lies Before Us is a Joy and a Mystery.

Daily gratitudes:
Plans
No change fees on plane tickets
Nearing vaccine eligibility
My baked salmon
Getting called for Jury Duty!

Quote of the day:
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” — William Shakespeare



They’re Playing our Song

When do couples usually get “their” song? Is it the song that might be playing during some particularly memorable moment? Something that seems like it’s speaking just to the two of you, that puts words to feelings you have, but couldn’t find words for? Do couples still even have songs? Gone are the days of making cassettes or burning CDs for partners as a sign of love. Do people just share playlists on Spotify now?

I know that at many of the weddings that I’ve worked, the first dance isn’t really the couples’ song, but just whatever the DJ recommends. There are hundreds of suggested “first dance” songs on the interwebs, and I’ve heard hundreds over the years. The memorable ones — which are often songs I haven’t heard before — are the ones that I can tell are that couples’ “song”. One of my favorites wasn’t a bride/groom first dance at all. The groom had the first dance with his little girl, who was about six, to her favorite song from Frozen, and his bride joined them towards the end. I thought that was pure lovely.

Looking back on my past relationships, I wonder why some, which were “meeting the parents” serious, did not result in a song, while others did. I believe it reflects the strength of the relationship. In those where we’ve had a song, we still think of each other fondly, even decades after the romantic relationship ended (with one exception — there’s always one exception). So, let’s travel down memory lane and take a peek at my relationship song playlist, starting with the first and ending with the finest.

The college boyfriend from Boston: “Genesis” by Jorma Kaukonen. The boyfriend was kind of a Deadhead, but also artsy. Our relationship was a bit stormy (my fault – I was young and stupid) but he still kept me company on my last night in town and saw me off at the Greyhound bus station the next morning. On that night, we sat on the floor in his apartment, on the carpet we’d carried home from Sears about half a mile away (a building which is now the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts offices, and in which I had a work meeting once about a dozen years ago, which was weird) and looked into each other’s eyes silently as this played. It’s a sweet memory.

The Ex-Husband (heretofore known as Ex-Pat): “Last Kiss” by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers. K thinks this is a terribly morbid song to be her parents “song”, and I can’t recollect why it was our song. Ex-Pat had a wonderful singing voice; I have a vague memory of him singing it to me, driving down Highway 93 in his old white Ford Falcon station wagon very early on in our relationship. He also serenaded me with it from a stage in a bar while I was playing pool one night. Another sweet memory.

One Dear Friend: “The Girl from Ipanema” and “I Thought About You”, both by Frank Sinatra. We were as close as a couple could be without ever being a couple. We danced to both of these songs, the former on a balcony in New Orleans in the afternoon light, and the latter in an Italian restaurant in Las Vegas. And we both loved Frank.

The Captain: “Roam” by the B-52s (a song he shared with others that he sailed with) and “My Romance” by Carly Simon. We were in a cab in San Francisco one time, talking about music, and Carly Simon’s name came up, and he made the cab stop and wait while he ran into a music store we just happened to be passing, coming out with a double Carly Simon CD, from which we gravitated to this song. When I knew of the Captain’s death, I was in the car in a traffic jam in Washington, D.C., and was listening to Rod Stewart’s “Sailing”. I cannot listen to that song now.

Ex-fiance Dr. Narcissist: “Come Away with Me” by Norah Jones. This relationship was just what you’d expect from a narcissist, so needless to say, it ended terribly and has taken a decade of recovery and ongoing recognition of how much gaslighting I experienced. In this relationship, I loved like never before, which makes it that much sadder. This song is never to be played in my presence, which is a shame because it’s a beautiful song.

And saving the best for last, my husband M: We have two pieces of music that we think of as our song. “Variations on a Theme by Thomas Tallis” by Ralph Vaughan Williams, which obviously isn’t a song, but we discovered early on that we both liked classical music and that this was a favorite of each of us. You don’t find a lot of classical music lovers out there these days, so I got lucky. The other, which is an actual song, is “True Companion” by Marc Cohn. We’d both wanted a true partner to be in love with, which is what this songs speaks to, and we were blessed to find each other.

I’ve had two weddings (although M says we actually got married three times), and neither was large enough to merit music or dancing. They were both outside, so in the first, the music was the wind in the pines and strangers singing acapella to us from the next rocky promontory over. In the second, the music was the sound of the waves. That sea song was sweet enough — no other accompaniment needed. On our next trip to the Retreat, I think I’ll ask Alexa to play both of our songs. It will be a nice housewarming.

Do you have a song with your partner? If so, tell me what it is in the Comments. I’d love to hear it. One day, I’ll write about having a soundtrack to my life, something I think we all have.

Daily gratitudes:
Hawks on light posts
Housecleaning room by room
Halo Top ice cream
Snuggly Cat

P.S. Mr. Man and I also have a song: “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” by Ava Gardner from the musical Showboat. I have loved this song for decades and only realized this weekend that it actually references “Mr. Man”. It was just meant to be.

Mr. Man, the Snuggly Cat himself.


Songs of Mothers

I am not much of a singer, being very shy about my voice, which is something that a therapist would no doubt have a great time unpacking. I actually think I have a pretty nice singing voice, judging from my enthusiastic performances during The Drive. I especially like it when I have a bit of a cold, because then I get my sultry 900-number voice and sound like a torch singer. Only once in my life have I ever done anything like karaoke. It was in Dallas, on top of a grand piano, after much alcohol, and the evening ended with the police recommending that I leave town and not return (though not because of my singing).

If I sing in someone’s presence, it means I trust them with some deep and sensitive part of me. I sing in front of M, which reflects the strength of our relationship. And I sing unconsciously in the kitchen when K is home, because I’m happy she’s there and I feel I can be completely myself with her. I hope she remembers when she gets older that her mother used to sing incomplete versions of The Lumberjack Song, among other ditties, in the morning as she lay in bed. I usually add my own lyrics when I forget the actual ones. My Mother also sang snatches of songs in the kitchen. That’s where a lot of my kitchen songs (and ones I used to sing to K in the car) come from. They’re all old songs, and when I say old, I mean from the 1940s. Think Fred Astaire movies and Cole Porter tunes. My Mother had a lovely, sweet, singing voice

I sang to K at night when she was little, as my Mother did to me. Every night when I was small, my Mother would sing Rock-a-Bye Baby to me. If I had bad dreams, she would cuddle me in the big rocking chair and sing to soothe me. My two favorites were “I Wonder as I Wander” (fitting for the little wanderer that was me) and “The Cherry Tree Carol”. I’m sure there were others. In fact, decades ago, my Mother made me a tape of herself singing my favorite lullabies. Even though I treasure it, I have had a very hard time keeping track of it. But I know that the tape will reappear when I need it most. Of that I am certain.

The songs I sang to K were not the same as those my Mother sang to me. My favorites to sing to her were “When Halley Came to Jackson”, “Down in the Valley”, “End of my Pirate Days”, “Go to Sleep my Zoodle”, “Go Tell Aunt Rhody”, “Meet Me in St. Louis” (which is a song that saved her life when she was very tiny because she had been crying for six straight hours and I was home alone with her and called the doctor because I wanted to drop her out of the second story window into the snow and I discovered that singing this song to her over and over made her stop crying), and a lullaby that I created when I was pregnant called “Go to Sleep, my Little Love”. Again, I’m sure there were more. She doesn’t recall the songs too well, but I think that’s a factor of age and where she is in her life. If she has a child, she will remember my singing to her, and find her own songs to sing to her wonderful little person.

I’d love to know what songs you sing (or sang) to your children, and what songs your mother sang to you. I have a dear friend who is having her first child in May and I’d like to put together a little collection for her. She and her husband are exceptionally musical, so I know they won’t be shy about singing to their little guy who will, as so many children before him, feel the love in those songs.

Blooms

Flowers bring me joy.

I spent my first two years of college in Boston. There was a man who sold flowers out of his van on Commonwealth Avenue. He was a ray of sunshine and he was there seemingly every day. His bouquets were fresh and cheap. Rumor had it that he was a man who had come into a fortune and decided he wanted to spend it making other people happy in this very simple way. Poor college student that I was, I bought them whenever I was able, but I promised myself that when I was officially grown-up, I would always have fresh flowers in my house.

There have been times since I’ve (theoretically) become an adult that fresh flowers were a luxury that wasn’t in the budget. There have been times when I was so sad that I forgot the happiness that they might bring me. In my ex-house, I had a lovely garden, and could seemingly grow anything. In the Bungalow, my every effort to create flower beds or grow vegetables has failed. I did manage a few tiny tomatoes this year in pots that spent most of September indoors due to unseasonably chilly weather, but that’s it.

M buys me flowers on occasion, and it’s always a lovely surprise. Many of his bouquets – and some single blooms from K – sit in dried loveliness in old vases on top of dressers, or hang in bunches from ceiling hooks in the sunroom. As we prepare to move, I expect that they will be turned to compost, as they wouldn’t stand the trip, and moving is a good time to part with some things. One thing you didn’t know about me: I’m exceptionally sentimental. I’m working very hard on letting go of things that I’ve saved, especially if I can’t recall why I’ve saved them.

The Retreat is at an altitude that will make growing flowers a challenge. But there are rose vines climbing up the front stucco, and window boxes at the ready for planting, so there is hope yet. There is always hope in the Spring. I think it’s time, as my life changes, to hold onto one thing — that promise I made to myself 40 years ago on sunny afternoon in Boston.

A Particular Shade of Blue

One thing you didn’t know about me: blue is my favorite color. While I’m most often drawn to the endless, sibylline array of turquoise shades that are only to be found in tropical waters, pretty much any blue will do. M has amazing blue eyes that are often the color of stormy seas, with a tinge of fall-painted aspen leaves in the center. My bed is covered with a piece of fleece my mother bought for me the year before she died; it looks just like the swirls and shallows of the ocean, seen as we fly into the Bahamas. It also is covered with Mr. Man’s fur – he loves it too.

As photographers know, there is a time around sunrise and around sunset, called the “golden hour” where the light has a luminous that is unique to that time. Light is a curious and playful thing. In Santa Fe, the light always has a certain quality I’ve never seen anywhere else. In times of great change in my life — the birth of K, the death of my mother — I watched the light evolve through the windows of the day, and it was strangely memorable as I tracked those passages.

But I digress, which I have a tendency to do.

One day, a long time ago, I was sitting in my truck talking to my best friend, watching the sunset. After the sun had stolen behind the mountains, it left behind a shade of blue I’d never seen before. Not while sailing in the Caribbean, not while looking into a lover’s eyes, not in empty robin’s eggshells in spring, not even in forget-me-nots. I have never forgotten the color, and look for it in each sunset. I caught a tiny glimpse of it today, in the unpoetic venue of a WalMart parking lot, but somehow, I can never see it in my photos.

My best friend is gone now, a victim of leukemia he didn’t even know he had while we spoke that day. That blue, on those rare occasions when it chooses to show itself in the sky, makes me smile, knowing that the angels are looking after me, come what may.

Someone’s in the Kitchen: Part 1

And it’s me. Which, historically, does not always work out well. I am hopefully now beyond the days when I felt the need to alert the fire department if I decided to cook, but I can’t say for certain.

What is the saying? The kitchen is the heart of the home? I suppose this is true, because a lot of love emerges from cooking and most of the best parties somehow wind up in the kitchen. Growing up, my mother did most of the cooking and my father did more of the baking. He was known for his fruitcakes and pies, with my mother making the pie crust, a skill I have yet to acquire, even using her recipe. She told me she needed to show me how to do it, but she died before we got a chance to try it together. My mother was best described as an obligatory cook. It never seemed to be something she enjoyed, just something that she had to do. That said, our kitchen, with it’s green tile floor and red cracked ice table, chairs, and formica countertop, and knotty pine cabinets, was warm and sweet. We had breakfast there every weekday, though my mother never ate with us. I think she was up earlier than the rest of us and must have eaten then. It’s a shame I never thought to ask her about that.

While I was very proud of being able to make my father cinnamon toast and pimento-stuffed celery at about age eight, I never was much help in the kitchen. My brother never lets me forget a time when I was about 14 and had no idea how to boil water. But I progressed from there to being able to make bacon and eggs. And that was it.

With an irony that is not lost on me, my first job at 17 was as a cook in a restaurant. My parents didn’t want me to get a job. They thought it would negatively impact my education. But I’m really quite mulish, so I looked for a job, and happened into a downtown restaurant, asking if they had any openings. The owner looked me over, had me fill out an application, and hired me on the spot. Later, I discovered it was because she thought I would look good working in the front window, and she was desperate. So I learned on the job as a lunch and dinner line cook, and I managed pretty well. I burned myself a lot, cut my thumb open on the meat slicer on my 18th birthday, threw fruit salad at the head waiter, and cried while picking a case of chickens at midnight on a school night. But that job changed my perception of who I was and how the world saw me. And I still remember how to make a good coleslaw, chicken salad, grilled cheese sandwich, and Rueben.

Since this is only Part 1 of Someone’s in the Kitchen, I’ll be back with more kitchen chronicles. But today, since it is cold, and my husband M and I aren’t in the same house yet, and my daughter K has gone back to her own house in New Mexico, I felt the need to make my house warm and sweet as best I know how. Today’s little kitchen has produced boiled broccoli, chicken salad, veggie stir fry, brown sugar chicken, and, just out of the oven, wonderfully fragrant pumpkin bread.

If I could send you the scent of pumpkin bread warm from the oven, please know that I would.