November Nomad: Lessons From The Road

Flexibility is the jewel of youth.
I am not young.
Nevertheless, I can roll with it
If the road requires –
Provided certain non-negotiables:
Good coffee, hot shower.
Otherwise, I am Thor Heyerdahl.

I love my children and those I have adopted.
Settled happiness is listening to
Insights and laughter
From the offspring of my youth.

I love mountains. Earth above me is
Ultimate humility.

I love Montreat mountains – Assembly Inn,
Hewed from the rocky side of the bowl that
Holds Lake Susan, cold air straight from
God’s pure storehouses into my hot lungs,
Frost on every brown leaf under the laurels.

I love going to another church and singing –
No, shouting! –
Receiving the sermon from the lips of
A man of God, deep conviction and
Deeper healing. Oh! Thank you, Lord!

I love my in-laws. What I learn from them is,
As another said, A long obedience in the
Same direction. We love to think compromise
Is smart. They teach me it is not.

I love beauty. My heart sings of the beauty of
Antique stores – tiny cream pitchers in striped
Stoneware, sideboards chalk-painted buttercream
Leaving dark cherry exposed. Deep
Knowledge that time is fleeting and I am too.

I love a table of shared food – green curry in my
Daughter’s first home. Bennet Avenue by
Candlelight.

I love my children’s loves. I am speechless over
Their finding their soul’s friend.

I love traveling with Andrew. How many times we
Laugh and say, I was JUST thinking that!

I love going. Well, I hate packing with a
White hatred. But, I love the first vista of
Smoky blue mountains just past Knoxville.
I love woodsmoke and
That fall sun that both slices and mists.

I love the quilt on the wall at
The Yellow Deli – two-inch squares of
Upholstery fabric become, in the hands
Of the artist, a window onto a creek bank,
Shadowy undergrowth and light-tipped leaf,
Silver water over moss and rock bed, and all from
Crushed velvet sofa scraps.

I love hearing God tell me that
He is my rock and I am the
Apple of his eye; I can hear him deeper
When I’m on the road.

      

    

     

   

   

    

            

     

     

     

     

Psalm 17 and 18

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Clogging Day Two: Triples and Buck Joeys

Day Two.  Well, you know day two of any conference; some of the bloom is off the rose and it’s not the rose’s fault. You’re tired, you’re at your conversational limit, the comfort zone is still a whole day away, the gals next door turn on the TV at 6:00 am, so you’ve got to dig deep. You’ve sweated through several shirts, but tell yourself, ‘This is a workshop; I’m supposed to look like my son’s rugby bag.’

Also, aside from the immense awe I have for the dancers in the advanced class I attended today, the clacking which invigorates the dancer, begins to try the sleep-deprived brain.  Let me clarify: I observed the advanced class. My participation was to video the teacher’s choreography and one of the professional students, at her request.  The quote of the day came from that class:

“Isn’t there a triple before the Buck Joey?”

“Yes,” said instructor Andy Howard, “yes, there is!” They all nod. Not only does that change EVerything, it seemed to sum up this whole fun experience for me.

Which leads me to the sheer delight of following the caller as he says things like “SaMANtha, Mountain Goat, Turkey, Scotty, Charleston, the aforementioned Buck Joey, and the matchless I’m Gonna Get Cha!” And all those steps can go left, right, and backwards, so you’re either ‘back home’ or facing the back wall or sitting beside Clogging Mom who is like any other Sports Mom – convinced scouts are everywhere and it is her responsibility, nay, her joy, to direct their attention to her starlet.

I got a kick out of the cloggers who came from Wisconsin or Michigan because they were wearing jackets with hoods. It is 90 degrees in Fontana Village, but I guess where they’re from they put on jackets in August and take them off in July. So September is clearly a jacket month no matter where you are.

An evening bluegrass concert capped the day allowing freestylers to take the floor and follow their heart. A three year old girl with two white-blond french braids jigged like one who understood the art form at a cellular level, like Grandma must have at the Sugaring-Off Dance in the Big Woods.  And then a husband and wife danced so entrancingly, so perfectly fit together, so gently looping their arms over shoulders and around waists, like figure skaters only warm and accessible. Like maybe we could all do that.

So, yes, there is triple before the Buck Joey. Bank on it.

   

Floods And Scars

How hard it is to watch others suffer.  Of the many recent images, one stays with me. A man – elderly, sparse hair – is being helped through Harvey’s brown flood to a waiting flatboat. Bad enough at that. But he is shirtless. And his chest has the long, livid, vertical scar of recent open heart surgery.

And I think, Wow, Lord. This man? This scarred, scared man?

I keep my theology straight and remember where floods and scars originated – two people in a garden rejecting the greatest offered Love, Love that kept offering through His own scarred back and hands and feet. He knows scars. He loves rejectors.

But why are the most vulnerable ones, the poor, the already scarred, taken through the water while I sip my coffee in the broad daylight?

A whisper: ‘I am doing something.’

In them. In me. My guilt is wasted time. He is doing something, and He will strengthen those in the water to cling to Him and those on dry land to send out rescue boats of every shape and size.  The other comforts are still true, too:  Good will come out of this, good we cannot see. We need waking up. We are on our knees and not drunk on pleasure. This will bring healing; it is the saline flush of a filthy wound.  My close friends Charlie and Leslie, in the water right now, proclaim this truth with tears and praise songs.

Lord, Lord! Keep us soft.

When Angels Smile On Bennett Avenue

I talked with God this morning,
About a certain street, said, Lord,
Spread your wings, Lord,
Send your angels too, to bear us up and
Bless the souls on Bennett Avenue.

I talked with James next door
In the quiet of this morn. He said
A devil last night rode him hard,
But today is new; another day,
He’s looking up, On Bennett Avenue.

I talked to Gayle this morning,
And she shushed
Her two dogs sharp so I could hear
Her say it’s true, they had
Each other’s back on Bennett Avenue.

I talked to four sweet girls last night,
Working lovelies, heart and mind;
Their laughter rang out late and loud;
And strong their faith, too. Deep their thought
For this old world on Bennett Avenue.

I talked to a man and woman last night,
He is dark and she is light,
And their hands held and my heart
Sang true a parent’s song of peace
And tomorrow on Bennett Avenue.

I helped along a child of mine;
Smoothed the quilt, folded clothes,
Swept the fine dark hardwood floor,
And left the love of candled meal
To shine on Bennett Avenue.

And this is not a scholar’s take
On all the knots that need unknotting.
It is a woman-mother saying,
It’s sweet and fine, for this old world,
On Bennett Avenue.

Hints Of Fall

Hummingbird sups warily at the
Red-prismed glass feeder. He has been here all day
Defending his patch.
Occasionally he is strafed by a rival,
Or bombarded by the squirrels higher in the
Pecan tree. The squirrels are in full fall gorge-mode,
Gnawing a fraction of the million pecans into sharp
Shells and shavings all over the walkway,
And dropping pecans heavy as padlocks
From the nethermost branches,
Onto the tin roof in shocking
Explosions.  All day. On their smoke break,
They chase each other round and round tree
Trunks, claw-skittering up the bark, using touching
Limbs as a high way in the air. Their tails swish-
Dancing for balance, they hop the power lines,
Mouth full of fat pecan, and steal off secretly to
Stow their victuals against a coming bleak day.

            

          

Mom’s Guide To Raising Sons: The Motorcycle Chapter

He’s 19 and he bought a Ducati.

A few of my friends, fellow mothers, tilt their heads and eyeball me and ask, “So how are you with that?” They seem to really want to know.

I have heard the many nicknames for motorcycles, including “Donor Sled,” a term coined by ER docs.  I’ve also been dragged to motorcycle shops by the enthusiasts in my family and (true story) had the proprietor crutch out with his leg in a cast and his arm not only in a cast but propped up on a 45-degree-angle, hip-to-elbow pole contraption. He proudly told us he had broken his femur in thirteen places and then turned to the happy and obvious task of selling us a bike. I was the only one in the showroom feeling the irony. So I left and went to an antique store with my mother in law.  No one’s ever been killed by a milk glass compote dish.

But.

Any thoughtful mother of a boy knows that nine-tenths of her job is backing up and praying. The other tenth is table manners.

So, when he tells you he’s buying a motorcycle, and you flash over the hospital horror stories and maimings and utter road pizzas you have read about, you have to make your lips say something you really don’t mean: “Son, that’s great! Ducatis are awesome.”

And then you quietly walk to the garage and you lay your hand on that bike, and you pray.  I prayed that angels would anoint the Duke with their permanent presence and blessing, that it would be an ever-visible bike, and its driver would be as savvy and prepared as a Boy Scout. That it would never leave our garage without a host, an angelic army, before and behind. And after praying, I rest in the knowledge that my prayers don’t evaporate, but are an effective conversation with the God of this universe. He hears and remembers.

My own ears have become fine-tuned instruments, cupped for the sound of the bike on its way home after a day at the work site or the twilight exhilaration of the cool pockets and mosquito slaps of a summer road. I can be sewing, cooking, studying, hostessing, or attempting sleep, and my ears are independently turning like an antenna seeking a satellite.  And although I am oblivious to the sounds of the car I drive throwing a rod, or jake breaks on the interstate ratcheting down, I can hear the cycle from a good half mile, turning off 31 on to Woodland Street, and then every neuron I possess goes soggy as a zinnia stem the morning after the dinner party.

Are there positives to the son purchasing a powerful, unprotective rocket? He is a man striding in with the freedom of a man. That’s the whole point of my neuron exhaustion, anyway, plus it makes me really happy. Surely some fine motor skills are being developed like balance and dexterity and coordination and intuitive bike IQ. Maybe some mechanical-tinkering know-how. You know, those guys.  Physics, algebra, principles of internal combustion? Or maybe none of that, but a whole lot of joy. Either way, I will look like that zinnia.

I age a little bit every time the popping, chesty rumble ignites in the garage. And I just pray for stamina to make it until someday when he is married and his wife is expecting their first child and the Duke has to be sold for diaper money.

That’s how I’m doing with it.

Ode To A Different Kind Of July

Usually this month, I am weeping the
Teacher’s Lament
Late-July tears over the weight
Of an entire school year looming
Plus my own kids’ growings and
Goings. I think if I dig my
Heels into the floor, could I stop the
Rotation of the Earth?

But not this July!
(Insert emojis of me
Cha-cha-ing in a pancho and
Sombrero) I hung up my
School teacher shoes and
Opened an Airbnb in our modest
Little Rancher. And now . . .

For two-plus decades I haven’t
Dabbled.
I’ve grappled.
I’ve been in the life-or-death
Grapple of time versus
Children versus budget versus
Ought versus keen love versus school calendar
Versus me.

But now I can Dabble.
Today, for instance, I
Opened a bag of quilt blocks
Purchased at an antique store in
Swannanoa, North Carolina.

A few minutes studying the blocks
Laid out on our bed showed me
That my new task was
Metaphorical.
The ‘how’ and the
‘When’
Are the same:

Around the Edges.

I sew around the edges of life,
Around the edges of running a life –
Inn-keeping, Mama-loving, ACT Prepping –
And
I sew around the edges of
The pot and stem and three
Hexagonal flowers designed,
But never finished,
By an Appalachian mystery woman.

Big muslin block
By big muslin block,
They tell her tale:

Auntie prepared them.
To be sewn around the edges.
And then, for some reason,
She abandoned her careful
Design and tiny stitches and
Lovely colors of hope and
Symmetry, of yellow calico pots
And funfetti flowers.
She just quit.
And of course we knew why,
The way of all flesh. The world lost
A quilt when she died.

A niece took a stab
In one block at
Carrying on Auntie’s vision.
But she was impulsive,
A Facebook scroller.
She didn’t notice
Details.
She didn’t see that Auntie’s top
Flower was solid
With a busy-print center.
And the two lower blooms
Were
Opposite –
Busy-print with a solid center.
She didn’t notice, you see.
She was in a hurry.

So I will notice. I will notice,
In the blocks, Niecey
Not noticing. And I will notice
The importance of noticing.
But I will fail too. I will not notice
Auntie’s green thread and will
Laboriously stitch with white.

Are Niecey’s deviations
And mine part of the final quilt’s
Grand story of three women and their
Artistic and contextual convergences?
‘Psshh,’
Says Auntie from
The sewing corner, the
One light corner, of her home in the
Pisgah, ‘Look at it. Get it right!’

So I will learn an appliqué stitch,
Via YouTube,
And will stitch more big
Muslin blocks of stems and
Hexagonal flowers. I will
Slow
Down
And notice Auntie’s stitches and
Plans.
And I will
Honor them. It will seem
Unimportant,
But it will be a song crafted
With a needle, as all quilts are:
‘Death, where is your sting?’

And when Auntie’s work is finished,
I will put it on our bed, our big
Happy, empty-nest, inn-keeping
Mama-loving, July-singing
Bed.