I remember my two older brothers making a game of jumping from the roof of an old horse shed. I must have been six at the time. I watched for awhile, wondering how they could throw themselves off that impossibly tall building, all the while shouting and laughing, landing surefooted without a single tumble, only to climb back up, and do it again. Looked scary. Looked like fun.

I wanna do it!” I called to Steve.

Well, come on up then!” Steve was three years older, and at the age where a girl wasn’t worth anything if she was timid.

I climbed to the top of a rickety fence and reached up, not quite tall enough to touch the sheet metal roof. Steve leaned over and hauled me the rest of the way.

Walter was only a year older than I, and hadn’t yet learned to be as unforgiving as Steve. “Now watch what I do,” he said. “And do it exactly the same way.”

He jumped. Steve jumped. Then both scrambled up the fence and to the roof. I stood back awhile, watching the rotation continue, my brain working overtime.

Why don’t you fall down?” I asked.

Because we land on our feet,” Walter explained. “Try it! It’s fun!”

I walked to the edge of the roof and straight into space. I landed hard on both feet, pain shooting up my legs and spine.

You did it!” both boys exclaimed.

But it hurt!” I shouted, tears sliding down my cheeks.

You gotta bend your knees!” Walter said. “Didn’t I say watch me?” He jumped again, and sure enough, for the first time I noticed his landing, knees bent, feet flat on the ground.

I scrambled, and was hauled, back to the roof. More determined than ever, and still sniffling, I walked to the edge, bent my legs a few times as a test, and jumped as both boys watched.

This time I slamed my chin into my bent knees. I spit out a mouth full of blood and a tooth. Walter looked distressed, and asked me to watch one more time as he demonstrated a bent knee landing, with knees apart!

It was no good, I was all done in and crying uncontrollably. Steve look disgusted as both he and Walter walked with me back to the house. The boys got a whipping for letting me do something so dangerous for a girl my age. I was exempt from the whipping only because I could easily produce a mouth full of blood.

It took me a few years to realize why Steve didn’t want me around.

There was the time I got a splinter in my behind on Easter Sunday from sliding down a perfectly good, old board that the boys had been using for more than an hour. The splinter was so deep that Mom had to pile us all in the car and meet our family doctor in his office. I actually had stitches, and the boys got a whipping.

And the time I went sailing out of a swing while trying, on a dare, to reach as high as my brothers. I was banged up and bruised. The boys weren’t allowed to use the swing set for a week.

I can’t remember how old I was when I joined them in a game of Nazi-hunting, only to find myself left behind as they ran after our imaginary foe. It seemed we’d wandered pretty far and I hadn’t a clue in which direction was home. After some time Steve found me and promised to take me home, if and when I quit crying.

Misfiring slingshots, digging holes in sliding mounds of gravel as tall as a house at the town water department, hide ‘n seek games in old refigerators, being lowered into a storm drain to retrieve a dime before the rain got any worse.

We all can remember similar moments of excitement and pain. And we learn along the way how our childish ignorance kept us from knowing just how often we were close to real catastrophe.

Those moments with my brothers came back to me last weekend while I was teaching my grandson how to use grass sheers around the flower beds.

My son Cliff stopped mowing and hurried over to us. “Mom! Why are you letting Furio use those? He got stiches in his hand from plastic scissors he used at school!”

Cliff has only one child. He suffers from a vast pool of limited perspective.

He’s ten!” I said. “You gonna wait ’till he’s 20?”

He almost cut our internet cable!” (Ah! The real issue!)

Which is why I cautioned him to pay more attention to what he is doing.”

He was six inches from cutting it!”

He was a good twelve inches,” I quibbled.

To avoid further panic I redirected my grandson to trim around the flagstones.

As I washed my garden tools, I thought about how closely I’d watched my son grew up. I had one child. My mother had seven. Maybe after an unknown number of bloody noses, skinned knees, childhood diseases, doctor visits, piles of dirty laundry, teenage angst, broken hearts, and the occasional police officer ringing our doorbell with one of my brothers in tow – maybe Mom understood that she could only do so much. Maybe she had to let go a little.

I never thought I did enough, although I really like the man my son has become.

I don’t think he’s figured out yet that there is a limit to what a parent can do. You teach, admonish and guide, and then you trust your child and Providence to make it safely through the day. You pray they reach adulthood. And then you pray you die before they do.

Then tomorrow you do it all over again.

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Plant Charms

Both my grandmothers were born and raised in Texas. And both of them grew amazingly beautiful flowers. There wasn’t anywhere they couldn’t grow something. They grew herbs in pots, rusted cans, broken coffee cups and old shoes. They planted abundant beds of lupines, bells of Ireland, coleus, daisies, roses, irises, asters, purple cone flowers, and dozens of other things I don’t know the names of. They cultivated under shade trees, in bright sun, against the house, next to the road, in and around rocks. They coaxed lovely, voluptuously full, green growth up trellises and wire fences, down narrow breezeways, out of the hard – packed dirt or sandy soil – name a spot, it probably had something blooming in it.

   Either one of them could take a limp, unidentifiable, half-dead twig, break it into three pieces, and in a month’s time have a rose, a lily, and a fig tree reaching for the sky.

You would think one of them would have shared that particular magic with me before kicking the proverbial flower pot. 

But, no. 

My pattern is to ask four different people working in a nursery really important questions, like: what will grow in this part of Texas? Sun or shade? How often do I need to water? How long will this plant last before I kill it? 

And it’s not like the weather cooperates. If I water, it will rain for three days. I’m the one to blame for spring flooding this year. If I hold off watering because the forecast predicts major downpours, the day will turn blazing hot, glaringly bright, and by late afternoon my plants will be crawling out of the ground in an attempt to reach any available shade. And yet, I dare not water in the evening or they may get a fungus or leaf spot, or some kind of flesh eating bacteria.

Having said this, I must confess that my perennial torture chamber continues outside my back door. I have lambs ear that wilts in the sun and drowns in the rain. There is a Lantana with big blooms and no leaves on spindly stalks, spider plants that alternately bloom one day and turn brown the next, a two foot tall aloe that left a two inch baby behind before sinking into itself and forming something that looks like a 2,000 year old mummy, and a gardenia that’s racing all of them to the compost bin. Some last longer than others, but I swear I can hear all of them gasping.

I should quit killing things; I know! But my head is full of pictures of Texas desert oases created by these amazingly gifted, tight-lipped, old women who are separated from me by only two generations and a few dozen years. Where are my green genes? What incantations did they whisper before retiring at 7:30 each night? And what concoction might they have been putting on their plants at 4:30 in the morning before everybody woke up?

Maybe if I dig up my grandmothers, fly to New Orleans and bring back a Voodoo priestess, she can do something to get the truth out of them. Okay, I know it sounds crazy. It’s a long shot, but I have to do something! Even the weeds are starting to lean away from me as I walk through the back yard.

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Say Again . . . ?

Losing my hearing is strange. I thought sounds would just grow fainter by stages until everything was silent, or that I’d fail to pinpoint the direction of a sound if one ear lost hearing faster than the other. Turns out, there is an entire host of other challenges.

A high-pitched squeal in both ears keeps me awake, makes it difficult to concentrate, and never, ever goes away. I turn the TV too loud. I miss entire conversations in noisy restaurants. Conversely, sound bouncing off walls in a movie theater or concert hall seems deafeningly loud.

Words become garbled. What I hear is word salad. People talk too fast. They lose patience with me over the phone because evidently I ask them to repeat themselves too often. I request that they spell even simple names because of “static” on the line. My spouse accuses me of not paying attention, when really what I’m trying to do is make out what I just heard. It’s an entirely unpleasant and complicated business.

I now tend to ignore the mishmash and jumble of sounds until it is repeated louder, in a form that is intelligible. I’m going to assume there is at least one other person in the world who does the same thing.


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Change. Ugh!

I must have been five when my Granddad drove to town and returned with his first set of dentures. Mom and Grandma had him grin several times, oohing and aahing over what they obviously saw as an improvement in his features.

“What is it?” I asked.

“I got a brand new set of choppers,” Granddad said. “Wanna see?”

“Sure!” I said as I climbed onto his lap. He smiled, showing two rows of brightly shining teeth, straight and white. They looked like several miniature sets of Grandma’s white, metal canisters, that sort of bulged out at the center.

I frowned “Where is your old teeth?”

“Gone!” Grandad said. “Don’t you like these?”

I placed a hand on each of his long arms and leaned in to get a closer look. Grandad grinned wider. I leaned back and shook my head.

“I like your old teeth!” I said. “Where is your old teeth?”

“Why don’t you like these?” Grandma asked.

“They’re not Granddad!” I stated the obvious.

Grandad gaffawed lowdly, hugging me in his familiar bear grip. I settled into his arms, still suspicious, but thinking maybe he would be all right. Just maybe those white tiles in his mouth wouldn’t hurt him.

As I look back on my childhood, I realize that I rarely liked any changes my Grandparents went through. They were a stabilizing influence in my life. The ones you love always die too soon.

The ones you don’t like – seems like some of them tend to stick around. Could be a relative who has been really hard on you. Maybe his soul is thinking, “If I just give him a little more time, he’ll have an epiphany and change his ways.”

Or maybe his soul is thinking, “If I just give him a little more time, she’ll have an epiphany and change her ways.”

Damn! I hate those kinds of lessons.

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On Being Amazed

I’ve played the game that everyone else has played from time to time: what would my life be like if . . . .

If I never married.

If I had gone to different schools.

If I had different parents, if I’d never joined the military, if I’d never had kids, if I’d moved somewhere else, if I had been born blonde with big boob genes.

But this game is not very helpful for at least three reasons. 1) Stuff happened to me and around me, which I had no control over that also helped determine who I am today.  2) I can’t change the past. And the biggest reason is 3) Here I am.

Here I am. It could be better. It could be a lot worse.

I choose to be amazed at what I see, the people I get to know, the things I get to do. The kindness of strangers. The rudeness of some drivers. Hey, I’m not perfect. And they most certainly are not either.

I got a long way to go. And I choose to be amazed.

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