Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Silence

On my way to the second site I work in the afternoons, I turned onto a busy highway only to find it a parking lot. I'd been passed by a Fire truck and their Rescue van when I caught the briefest flicker of a blue light ahead. With their exit, I felt sure we'd be moving soon. After five minutes of listening to dollar bills burning up in my gas tank, I shut off the car and called the woman I work with. She said someone had stopped by to say the wreck was so bad, they'd had to call in the Medivac helicopter. Although I was about a half mile back, even with the straightaway I couldn't see a thing. That's when I realized something was really odd.

The silence was deafening.

Usually a wreck comes with the sounds of sirens, crunching glass or metal as the wrecker pulls cars apart, an officer yelling a verbal command to whomever has ignored his attempts to be heard above the noise. And yet, it was silent. Too silent. The slight breeze blowing through my window didn't whisper through the trees. It was mute. The birds had taken a vow of silence as well and not one spring time song could be heard. No officers were yelling, no wrecker was grinding gears to pull a car out of the way. Even the people behind me who had no patience or somewhere VERY important to be, were pulling off so quietly it was like watching a mirage. No tires barked on the pavement in frustration, no quick squeal of rubber indicating a driver's time was being wasted. It was like being in church...at a funeral. Everyone quietly respectful. I had to strain to determine what that sound was I finally did hear....a barely audible melody. The man in front of me had his radio on but it was turned down so low, it was like the background track to a sad film.

After fifteen minutes, we began crawling along. And yet it was still oddly quiet. One truck was on the wrecker, the other truck nose down in a ditch. From the looks of it, they'd hit head on. There were lots of extra Troopers on hand who evidently had blocked the road previously for a driver to be Medivaced out. Everyone standing around looked grim. No one spoke. Even nosy neighbors bobbed back and forth, shaking their heads but keeping their mouths closed. At the intersection a Deputy blocked one lane, directing traffic with a grim expression, a sad shake of the head when a driver indicated he wanted to turn. Even the remaining traffic, which usually zooms by at ridiculous speeds seemed to finally realize that fast can equal disaster. The blue lights were like an exclamation point on a list of DOs and DON'Ts.

Be careful. Slow down. Think twice. Or become eternally silent.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Hey Weather Guy...you go first

The first week in May, I'm taking a vacation. Not to some glamorous place. No, more of a mental vacation, where the goal is not to go to work and sleep late if you feel like it. I'm taking the kind of break where you leave your worries in your desk, lock the office door and don't look back...for at least a week.

After yesterday, I think the Weather Guy needs to ask for time off.

My husband is very fond of the local weather feature on our satellite dish. It allows him to check in any time during the 24 hours of a day to see the high temperature, which way the wind is blowing and when sunset occurs. This is very important to a guy who hunts. I rely more on the Doppler Radar picture than what the actual words say. The picture is often more accurate than the words. Take the comical 5 Day Forecast. They usually can't get it right for 5 hours in a row. Trying for groups of days is hysterical.

So yesterday when hubby called me to come look at the weather, I'll admit I rolled my eyes. The sun was shining, it was 80+ degrees and I knew from the rumbling in the distance a thunderstorm would visit in an hour or so. Hubby was pointing at the screen and...laughing. According to the Weather Guy, it was 64 and we could expect Light Snow at any moment. I actually shook my head, as if to clear it. I mumbled that maybe he didn't realize how far south we were from the current snow problem in Michigan. We popped in a movie, which was a good thing since the thunderstorm arrived, unannounced by Weather Guy, to block the satellite. Our dependable NOAA weather radio, however, kept us informed...before the storm was even close and then where it was headed.

After the movie, hubby checked back in. Our laughter was somewhat hysterical. The Weather Guy now had posted the low for the evening would be 62 and we could expect Light Snow turning to Rain by morning. When we went to bed several hours later, Weather Guy was still declaring we should prepare for snow and a low of 64. We have one of those clocks with the Indoor/Outdoor thermometer included. Checking it indicated it was a freezing 76 degrees in the house and a bone numbing 67 degrees outside.

Weather Guy, you need a vacation worse than I do. Here, I'll hold the door for you. I think the Weather Radio and the Clock can handle the job until you get back. I just hope your sunny skies aren't filled with snowflakes.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Chicken

Today, I might've sunk to a new low in the role of pet owner. I sewed up a chicken. Not a live chicken mind you. No, a much beloved toy of our oldest chocolate Lab, Smokey. Dog toys come and go but none have stayed around as long as "The Chicken". When brand new, The Chicken crowed three times, wiggled and tried to cross the floor. To activate it all, you had to find the switch....which was located in the chicken's butt. Smokey didn't care about the wiggling and moving, he just liked to hear the thing crow. Sometimes he'd sit there and hit that button in quick succession, as if telegraphing every chicken in the neighborhood that our house was not a safe place to be if you crowed or cackled.

You've seen a picture of The Chicken before, lying face to face with Smokey's kid Boudreaux as if the two are having a conversation. The one in surgery this morning was not the original. Actually, I've repaired 2 of them, who are Chickens #3 and #4 respectively. The first one I threw in the trash a few years back, not knowing Smokey was there. It no longer crowded and I hated to see him just gnaw on the back of it as if determination alone would bring it back to life. Ten minutes later, it was back on the floor, Smokey glaring at me as if I'd sinned. When there was no hope for #1 and #2, I tossed them in the trash when he was outside. He looked for them for a while, glancing at me with a knowing look of grimness. And yes, I felt guilty.

I patched up the last 2 this morning because they are....the last two. I'd purchased them from a discount store who'd bought in bulk and evidently they were discontinued back then. I even looked online. Hey, it's difficult to ignore the big sad eyes of a dog who brings you a toy as if to say, "Look, you walk upright and can drive a car. Why can't you make this rooster crow?"

And so I sat this morning, sewing them back together. Feeling slightly stupid. Okay, I laughed out loud. I hate to sew. Putting buttons back on is my limit of expertise. I had two grandmothers who couldn't understand why I wouldn't sew, yet would do needlepoint. Maybe if they'd seen the skirt I'd made in Home Ec, they would've left me alone. [I'm short, it was the era of the mini skirt and the material was so stiff it looked like a barrel and literally could stand on the table by itself. ] But piecing The Chicken back together wasn't that hard. The crowing parts have long since been removed as I feared Smokey would get so agitated he'd rip that bird apart trying to find out where the crow had gone.

My husband came in to ask a question, took one look at me and burst out laughing. You know the kind that makes your body shake, tears run out of your eyes and the phrase, "You've got to be kidding!" come out of your mouth. I laughed with him, telling him I was trying to keep the chickens in the neighborhood safe. We have chicken houses just down the road from us and I often envision Smokey sitting outside, waiting for escapees to bite in the butt to see if they make the same sound. So far, I guess they haven't because he hasn't brought any home that can actually fly. Boudreaux has, but that's another story.

Hubby declared that he knew where HE was on the hierarchy because he had a shirt and a pair of pants needing buttons put back on. Telling him I wasn't psychic, I asked him to bring said garments to me while I had needle in hand. I took care of his stuff, then went back to the last chicken. As I laughed, wondering why on earth I was doing something so stupid to a TOY that was broken and ripped, it hit me. No matter how many times Smokey lays there on the floor, patiently nibbling at that chicken from one end to the other trying to make it crow, he never gives up. He lives in hope that if he hits it just right, The Chicken will do what he wants. That dog has more patience than I do. The fact he truly believes I can make it better, shows a faith stronger in me than I often have in myself.

So I decided to be his Fairy Godmother and help The Chicken to live a little while longer. Smokey will soon be 10 years old. I hate to think of the day when he is with us no more. He curls up on the couch and keeps my feet warm on cold winter nights. Nudges me in thanks for whatever it is I do that makes him happy. He always has time for me, listens to my whining without leaving the room and sits with me if I get up sick in the middle of the night so I don't have to feel bad alone. I think sewing up a beloved toy is the least I can do for my buddy.

And unlike humans, I know he'll nudge me in thanks as soon as he sees The Chicken is back to play.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Overheard in a Beauty Shop

There are times I am not fond of my "girl" genes, those XX chromosomes which dictate that I'm suppose to love shopping, shoes and shopping for shoes. I received my Dad's shopping gene which is somewhat akin to that of a Caveman on a hunt: go in, grab what you need, put on counter to pay and leave with package. Total time: less than an hour. So going to an actual Beauty Shop to get a haircut is right up there with the shoe thing. Alas, a girl needs to get her hair cut some time.

I remember going to the Beauty Shop with my Mom as a young girl. All I remember were a sea of mouths, all moving at once. Sometimes whispers and sideways nods, often loud accompanied by fierce laughter. Fierce because some poor soul not present was the butt of the joke or story. I was shocked that women gathered in a group under hairdryers often sounded like hyenas. Or worse. I would walk away from these brief, infrequent encounters somewhat shell shocked. I heard stories I shouldn't hear...most of them long, difficult labors that questioned why anyone would want a child. Or a husband. Most were horror stories of simple things gone bad. Not once do I remember stories that were filled with praise of children or grandchildren even. I thought of it as a Woman Cave with rituals I didn't really want to participate in if the stories being told were true. And frankly, the place stunk. Hairspray and perm solutions are not pleasant, especially when accompanied by tales of woe. If Stephen King was a woman, he'd have had a field day there. And the hair dryers would've been victorious and eaten the hyenas.

But today was my day for a haircut. Or a trim, in my case. I like Cindy, the woman who cuts my hair, although I'm jealous of the fact I'm probably the fastest money she makes all day. With my baby fine hair, $17 worth of work is completed in roughly 4 minutes.

As usual I arrived early. Another Dad trait. I smiled and said I'd wait patiently and without causing trouble. Cindy grinned and said she'd hold me to it. The older woman holding court in the chair was not happy with the interruption. It was a slow day and as I sat around the corner, which was actually on the other side of the wall, I learned a lot.

According to this sage woman on the beauty throne:

Obama is not the anti-Christ. His wife is. It appears Michelle has a plan for taking over, not the U.S., but for world domination. Sadly she whispered the part about what the plan was, so I can't reveal it here. All I know is that it's awful and we can't let that woman gain power. [Insert rolling eyes here].

Then again, I hear that the Evangelical Christians have their own plot..I mean plan to run the country. She, of course is a good Christian, not one of THOSE kind. You should know they won't be running their plot in public but in an UNDERGROUND system of passing on information. I wonder if she meant the Internet?

The End of the World will occur in her life time, she is sure of it. After all, the world is going to you-know-where in a hand basket. Why her very own nephew had been seduced by drugs. Yet it is other druggies who are the reason we need more prisons. The end of the world is coming, she kept saying. With feeling. Let us pray she's not right....she looked about 80.

And then the true End of the World raised it's ugly head. Did you know it should be a crime for grandchildren in a public school system to be made to graduate outdoors? In a facility known as a..gasp, [I hope you're sitting down]...football stadium. So undignified. Where boys grunt and sweat and hit each other. A location uncovered. Sitting on wooden benches, laced with splinters. In the out of doors. In the South. In June. How awful that her darlings have lost the previous indoor venue...the one where only 2 family members per graduate were allowed to attend, often leading to blows to see which two surviving members would be present. All that traded for a whole stadium filled with seating. And her grandson's last name begins with a "Y", so it will take FOREVER to get through the 300 or so names to reach his.

The last one almost made me pop my head around the corner. First to tell her that her whining was making my ears bleed and I feared Cindy would take it out on me. With scissors. Then I considered consoling her, to tell her it hadn't killed me. I sat on that field during graduation in a class of 720 with a thunderstorm building overhead. By the time we reached name number 600, thunder was rumbling. By name 700 the dark sky was lit up on occasion by heat lightening. This was quickly followed by the stuff that catches your attention...in bolts. My best buddy was the last to cross the stage...with a name like Zilch, where else would he be? He threw his cap in the air, against all regulations, encouraged us to start singing the damn Alma mater so we could get home and we did. We threw our caps in the air, were greeted by our loved ones and walked to cars unscathed. As I opened my boy friend's car door, the bottom dropped out and we got soaked.

I wanted to tell her that if she sprayed the stadium seat with the same lacquer that was on her head, she'd be fine. Then I wickedly thought about telling her the rain had ruined my hair. And I hadn't cared. Wouldn't care if it happened today either. But I didn't. Who wants to be lumped in the same category with Michelle Obama?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bluebirds Are Morning People

Most people have some sort of morning ritual. With all the talk of "being green" and worrying about the environment, I'm sure someone is going to roll their eyes at my next sentence. My morning ritual is often rising from bed to resettle in a nice warm bath. No, I don't do that every morning. And it's not like I'm filling a jacuzzi size tub. In fact our tub is so energy efficient my 5'1" frame allows me to just fit and slightly submerge. My poor 6' husband, with the bad back and worrisome knee he'd like to soak, won't even attempt getting into what he sees as a munchkin size basin.

I'm sure someone will surmise something Freudian about my habit of sinking into a warm [okay, closer to hot] tub of water without bothering to turn on the bathroom light. I find it comforting, not due to some psycho-babble about returning to womb-like conditions but because it enables me to slip from sleep to consciousness on a kinder level. I'll admit it. I am NOT a morning person in the sense of springing out of bed with a whistle and a song in my heart. I do not leap from bed, I slide out of it. Or, more precisely, down off of it since our new mattress leaves my feet about half a foot from the floor. I often view morning as a necessary if sometimes annoying interruption of my dreams, which quite frankly can be more entertaining than going to the movies.

So I sleep walk to the tub and climb in. The splashing water reminds me of childhood vacations at the beach where I awoke to the sound of surf lapping against the sand. I sink slowly, if not deeply, into my water bed and a sense of calm surrounds me. Sometimes it's so soothing I've actually fallen BACK asleep, only to awake wondering why am I so cold...and naked?

Most of the time, those moments in the tub constitute thinking time. I may not jump out of bed, but right after I awaken, the creative side of my brain begins to hum. Not so loud as to startle still half asleep me, but enough so to allow ideas to gently float past. The water seems to buoy my creative process. A simple idea will suddenly turn into a paragraph which rapidly grows into a story, while the General of Organization in my head yells for it to slow down, we have no paper to write on. The solution to a week long problem whispers a conclusion wiser than daylight has rendered. No one is demanding my time or my work for them to put their own name on. There are no lists to fill, meals to cook, commutes to make or people with endless dialogs to listen to. It is quiet.

I am surrounded by silence floating on water.

Sure, there are moments my brain tries to whisper, "Hey, while we've got a few moments of peace and quiet you might want to think about how you're going to handle--". Shhh! I think mentally. Not now. "Handle" is for the other side of the door. Here is for warmth and quiet. Well, most mornings.

This morning I couldn't seem to get warm, even with a space heater and a tub full of hot water. At least I was comfortable and content with the silence. And then the birds started up. They seemed much chipper than usual. I suddenly got the silly visual from a scene in Disney's "Cinderella" cartoon. There little bluebirds were flitting around the room, singing cheerfully while draping material around the soon to be Princess. I chalked it up to the fact it is Spring and they do wake up faster than I do. And that Mockingbird has quite the songbook catalog. All of a sudden a large yellow bird joined in. Swooping across the field, he momentarily silenced the chipper chirpers with the power of his flight. After our neighbor Larry the Crop Duster made a second pass in his yellow plane, the birds went back to singing, realizing the song he had to contribute was rather monotone in nature. After a few more passes I knew the yellow bird had shattered my thought processes for the early morning so I got out of my little haven of peace. I dried off quickly, still cold, then jumped at the sound of a bird who appeared to be sitting in the bathroom to enjoy the acoustics. That's when I discovered my husband had opened the window yesterday.

When I got in my car to leave, I saw the metallic yellow bird fly off, his job of tending to the wheat done for now. The wheat field looked like a sea of green, it's bobbing waves ridden by one of the bluebirds. Yes, we actually have bluebirds. A pair returns each year to their own private condo on a pole outside the living room window.

I'm no Cinderella but I do have happy bluebirds in my life. And that's not a bad way to wake up.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Gabriel's Ghost

Ten years ago the seniors and I did a project called LINC. It's a grant program which pairs senior citizens with youth. We pushed the very edge of "youth" when we arranged to work with a group of scholarship students at the local college who were from Central America. I say pushed because they ranged in age from 17-24. We helped improve their English, they tried to remind me of my high school Spanish and we went around the area as they performed dances from their native cultures. Laughter, however, needs no translation and we shared a lot of it. I wasn't surprised when the group won the "Best Community Project" award.

It was an eye opening experience and by the time the students left a year later, it was like watching your family fly off. Once their planes had landed, we heard from all of them. Except Gabriel, who lived in El Salvador. At first we chalked it up to him living in one of the more remote regions. A week later his town was hit by a devastating hurricane. Months went by and no one heard a thing. We all feared he'd been badly injured. Or worse.

One of the girls had become especially close to a senior couple whom she called Grandma and Grandpa. She invited them to her wedding in Guatemala and the couple went...because in her country, your grandfather gives you away. "Grandpa" made a video and we had a blast seeing how many of the students had come to see her marry. One had actually trekked through a jungle and walked for miles just to catch a bus to her country. Many of them kept in touch, even if it was with each other, but some were in such remote areas it was difficult. However, whoever had the latest update passed along news about the group to the rest of us so we could keep up. Years went by and there was no news of Gabriel. If one of the students came to the States, they would always drop by the Center to say hello. I'd ask about everyone, saving Gabriel for last because I knew the answer would be a sad expression and a shake of the head. All I could think of was his megawatt smile and hugs that always spoke volumes even when he was at a loss for English words.

Thursday morning I received a call from a Professor's wife who'd been the students "Den Mother". After asking how I was, she wanted to know if "Grandma and Grandpa" were still alive. When I told her they were, she said she had someone who wanted to speak to them, so I gave her the phone number. I could hear the laughter in her voice when she added, "I have a visitor from El Salvador." Without thinking, the first words out of my mouth were, "Gabriel's alive?!" She laughed and said, "He's standing here in the kitchen. Wanna speak to him?"

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, but I did have the presence of mind to say "Yes". We only spoke for a few minutes because Gabriel assured me he would ask Grandpa if he could go bowling with us on Friday. When he walked into my office the next morning, all I saw was that brilliant smile as he sang out, "Where are all my friends?" as he opened his arms wide in greeting. A couple of the seniors beat me to him, but when I got up, he threw open his arms. He was the smallest of the guys, just barely taller than I, but he engulfed me in the most heartfelt hug I've experienced in a long time. Kissing my cheek softly he said, "You didn't change. You are still lovely." I joked that half the weight I'd lost when they were around had come back and I was 10 years older. He stepped back, never taking his hands off my shoulders, eyed me up and down, then shook his head. Hugging me again, he said, "No. You are the same. And I missed you."

He'd brought one of the American students, Susan, who'd dated one of the Nicaraguans with him and it was good to see her as well. I teased both of them about having reached 30 without changing and Susan quipped that yes, they were both still single and childless. Then they launched into who they'd seen last, who had kids and I shared what I knew. Susan and I giggled hysterically when Gabriel told us the "Romeo" of the group now had 3 year old twin GIRLS. If ever a guy deserved a future with twin female teens, this one would now see what the fathers of all his conquests went through. We had fun at the bowling alley and those who didn't know Gabriel before were ready to take him home with them. All he had to do was smile.

When we got back to my office, Susan and Gabriel were going to lunch with Grandpa and Grandma, then Gabriel would be leaving Saturday to head for his flight out in New York. I always hate to see them go, but this time, it was okay. Because I knew he was alive....plus he promised to leave an e-mail address this time. He wrapped me in one of those heartfelt hugs, kissed my cheek and told me how good it had been to see me. I hugged him back just as fiercely, knowing that he was trying to hold onto a good memory to take back to a country that is so different from mine. He backed up, looked at me intently as if memorizing my face, sighed my name, kissed my cheek, then hugged me again. Harder, yet with a gentleness that made a lump form in my throat. It was like being the mother of a small child who doesn't want to go to let go on the first day of school. I whispered in his ear that it had been so good to see him...then added that now that I knew he was alive, I knew I'd see him again. That made him laugh and let go, if haltingly. He got in the car and waved. The last thing I saw was that megawatt smile of sincerity, Gabriel's ghost of memory which will linger in my mind

The last thing I felt was a hug of true friendship that will last for a very long time.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Bye Bye Bees

Good thing we took pictures yesterday. As hubby predicted, the bees have moved on to find a suitable place to build a permanent hive. That's good, since scientists have been bemoaning the fact that honey bees seem to be disappearing at an alarming rate, for reasons they haven't been able to document. There are still plenty of them amongst the crop of dandelions in my back yard.
Yeah, I know. Hubby's discarded junk often ends up as one of my little photographic treasures.


Sunday, April 6, 2008

What's The Buzz?

One thing about living in the country, it's always entertaining. As I rounded the corner on my last turn home Friday, I saw the oddest strand of moss on the tree by the historic church. It was shaped like Moses' beard, yet seemed brown in color rather than the usual gray of Spanish moss. So I backed up. Much to my amazement, it was a hive of honey bees, trying to decide how to group.

The shape has changed over the last couple of days, so today hubby and I stopped to take pictures...without disturbing these diligent workers. As you can see the shape has continued to meld into a new form. Any little "black dots" you see in the background are busy bees.


Here's a more up close and personal view.


I can't wait to see what these busy little workers will have come up with by Monday morning.