A New Year Declaration

Kayla looked at her cell phone mournfully. Justin was calling again, which meant it was about Mom or Dad. Otherwise, he just would have texted. She pulled out her cell, hoping that whatever the issue, it would wait until next week, when after-Christmas sales and New Year’s celebrations were finished.

“Hey Justin. What’s going on?” she said into the phone.

“You gotta come down here!” Justin exclaimed. “You’ll never guess what Mom is up to now.”

“You’re right. I can’t guess. Just tell me.”

“Well, you know how Mom has been trying to get Dad to let her wallpaper the living room?”

“Yeah. She’s been at him for ages. Don’t tell me she’s doing it by herself.”

“Worse!” Justin said. “She decided that since Dad’s not coming home from the hospital until tomorrow, she would do it herself, before he’s released.”

“So, she is doing it by herself,” Kayla said.

“Worse!” Justin exclaimed. “She’s gluing old Christmas cards to the walls!”

“She’s what?”

“I’m not kidding,” Justin said. “You know she’s got years of old Christmas cards. She’s cutting the fronts off and she’s gluing one after another on the wall facing the kitchen. And that glue is pretty stinky. I couldn’t stop her, Kayla! I tried!”

“Oh crap! Mom is such a packrat. She probably has enough old Christmas cards to paper half the house,” Kaya lowered herself to the sofa. “What do you mean you can’t stop her? Take away her scissors! Get rid of the glue!”

“Kayla, you know how stubborn she is. She’ll just hitch a ride with one of her friends and go buy more of anything I get rid of. She won’t listen to me. And I’m worried she’s gonna get on a ladder to reach higher on the walls.”

“Oh, please tell me you took the step ladder! She’ll fall and crack her head open!”

“I did! When I couldn’t talk any sense into her, I went right out to the garage and grabbed it. It’s in the trunk of my car. She saw what I was doing and took after me with a fly swatter!”

“Okay, that’s funny!” Her brother was three inches over six feet, and strong as any two men she knew. The mind picture of Mom chasing after Justin with a fly swatter was enough to send her into peals of laughter.

“Kayla! Stop it! She’ll just go buy another step ladder, or borrow one from the neighbors next door. This is serious.”

Kayla sobered instantly. She knew Justin was right. “I’ll get the Franklins to watch the kids. I should be there in a couple of hours. In the meantime, don’t let her get hurt!”

“Hey, I’ll do my best. But it may just be putting off the inevitable. Do you have any idea what Dad’s reaction is gonna be when he sees red Santas all over the walls?”

“Oh damn! I hadn’t thought that far,” Kayla said. “Will Mom let you back in the house?”

“I’m at the store now, buying white-chocolate peanut butter cups. By the time I get back, she’ll take the bribe and let me in. Maybe. I think.”

“I’ll be there as fast as I can.” Kayla ended the call and yelled to her kids. “Pack your pajamas. You’ll be sleeping next door tonight!”

In less than half an hour, Kayla had dropped the kids at the Franklins next door. They were really good friends, thank goodness. She could hear their laughter as she ran to the car. She gave them a familiar finger as she drove away, prompting more peals of laughter. Praying for good weather and no law enforcement, she stepped hard on the gas and pushed the old car to well over 80 on the highway.

Kayla ran through countless scenarios on the trip south. Mom falling and in the hospital with a concussion. Dad worried sick over Mom’s glue-sniffing adventure. Dad having a heart attack when seeing sleigh rides and manger scenes on the walls.

They can recover in the same hospital room! I am in no mood for this!  She turned on music and watched the white lines on the road slip away.

The door was ajar when Kayla pulled up to the house. She ran up the front walk, then took a step back and coughed. Glue fumes came wafting out the open door. What the hell is she using? Airplane glue?

“Mom!” Kayla yelled. “Justin!”

She walked into the house. Glittery pictures of sleigh rides, elves, holly, angels, bells, every Christmas scene imaginable reached head-high on two walls. A riot of color—reds, greens, golds, blues, silver, accosted her eyes. And the glue fumes kicked off a long coughing fit.

Kayla called out again and heard her brother’s response from the patio. She hurried out the back door to see Mom in a lawn chair, and Justin holding a cloth on the back of her bent neck.

“Deep breaths Mom,” Justin said. “Deep, slow breaths!”

“Oh my God!” Kayla exclaimed. “Justin, did you call 911?”

“Already done, little sister. They’re on the way.”

It was then she heard the sirens in the distance.

“Why didn’t you call them after talking to me?” Kayla asked.

“Mom didn’t feel dizzy until just a few minutes ago,” Justin answered calmly. “And you know there’s no way I could stop what she was doing, short of picking her up. Frankly, I didn’t want to fight that tiger.”

“Do you know where she got the glue? I’ll bet it’s outlawed in 10 states.”

“She told me she bought it from a yard sale.”

“Mom!” Kayla knelt beside her mother. “Mom! Can you hear me? How are you feeling?”

“Of course, I can hear you,” Mom answered, then giggled. “I feel fine . . . a little light-headed.” Mom leveled her head and looked at Kayla. “Why are your eyes so big?”

Kayla looked up at Justin. He shrugged. “She’s been talking weird since I got her out here.”

“Mom, you’re high,” Kayla said.

Mom began to laugh loud and long. Leaning her head back into the chair, eyes squeezed shut, she shook with laughter, then coughed. Justin pushed her head back down to her knees.

“Le tme go!” she mumbled, laughing between coughing fits. “Let me go!”

Justin helped her straighten, and she looked, bleary-eyed, at Kayla. “Do you know how often I’ve said the same thing to you?” Mom sunk deeper into the lawn chair and continued laughing. “High . . ..” she chortled. “High . . ..”

“I’m going to pack her an overnight bag for the hospital,” Kayla said. She made her way to her parents’ bedroom and immediately flung open the windows.

“Justin,” she called out to her brother. “You might want to call 911 back and let them know about the glue fumes.” Not airplane glue. Back alley-industrial-strength-super-bonding-respirator glue! What the hell is the matter with people, selling this kind of stuff at a yard sale?

Kayla retrieved a bag from the closet, quickly packed a few necessities, found her Mom’s medications on the kitchen counter, and threw them in the bag as well.

The sirens grew loud and then stopped abruptly. Half a minute later, she heard a call from the front door. “Hello?”

“Come on in!” she told the paramedics. “Through here to the back yard.”

One of them barked a quick laugh as they passed through the living room. Both smiled as they followed her out the back door. They set the bag down next to her Mom and began their examination. Justin hovered close by.

The EMT conversed with the local hospital as they administered oxygen. Stationing herself at the front door, Kayla heard a second siren and watched an ambulance pull up to the curb. Two paramedics unloaded a stretcher. She ushered them through the house to the back yard.

“Is she going to be okay?” Kayla asked.

“The doctor needs to examine her. She’s breathed some pretty hefty fumes,” The EMT explained. “Do you have any idea where she got ahold of that glue?”

“Yard sale,” Kayla answered.

The EMT raised an eyebrow at Justin. “Does your Mom have a history of substance abuse?”

“Of course not!” Kayla answered indignantly.

“Is your Mom married?”

“Yes. Dad’s in the hospital, due to be released tomorrow.”

“One of you needs to come to the hospital and explain things to your Dad. If she needs to be admitted, he’ll have to do it. She’s in no condition to sign the paperwork.”

“You go, Justin,” Kayla said. “I’ll close up here and then be right behind you.” She really didn’t want to be in the room when Dad got the news. Not that he’d be done expressing himself by the time she got there.

As the ambulance pulled away, Kayla shut the bedroom windows and locked the back door. She set two floor fans to blow out the living room windows. If burglars break in, with any luck they will pass out before they can take anything. Poor Mom! I hope she’ll be okay! Kayla climbed in her car and drove to the hospital as fast as traffic and speed limits allowed.

Dad was standing at the admittance window when she arrived. He had a walking cast on his left leg. She ran over and hugged him tightly. “Where’s Mom?”

“In examination room three,” he answered. “I’ve signed everything. Finish filling all this shit out, will you? I’m going in to be with your Mom.”

She took Dad’s place at the window and watched him hobble quickly toward the ER double doors. He turned back toward his daughter, “When things settle down, I’m gonna find those fuckers who sold your Mom that glue.”


Two days later, Kayla carried both her parents overnight bags as Justin and a ward assistant pushed Mom’s and Dad’s wheelchairs toward the hospital exit.

“I can damn well walk myself out!” Dad grumbled.

“We’ll be out in two minutes,” Justin answered him. “Then you can drive home if you want.”

“I damn will drive home!” Dad exclaimed. “Making an invalid out of everybody . . .!”

Kayla barely listened to Dad’s continued protests. Thank goodness Mom is back to normal, more or less. Her doctor had cautioned them to return to the hospital if she showed any changes in mental acuity or stability. Kayla sighed as she pushed the break on the wheelchair with her foot.

Kayla and Justin helped their parents into the truck. Then Kayla followed in her car as Dad drove home. She couldn’t stop thinking about the living room walls. They’d broken the news to Dad, who was so completely preoccupied with Mom that she wasn’t sure he’d paid much attention. But describing it and seeing it were two different things.

The glue fumes had dissipated by early that morning, and she had attempted to remove one of the cards. Every one of them was amalgamated to the walls. She wondered if the drywall would have to be torn out.

Dad didn’t even glance at the living room when Justin opened the door—just walked Mom slowly into the bedroom and helped her into a clean pair of pajamas. “Do you want anything, Mama?” The kids heard Dad talking quietly. “Are you hungry?”

“Maybe we should go,” Justin said.

“You go if you need to,” Kayla answered. “One of us should stay here to see what help Dad needs to fix the walls.”

“There’ll be no removing these cards,” Dad commented as he exited the bedroom. “Justin, you and I are going to finish this job for Mom as soon as she’s feeling up to cutting her Christmas cards. I’ll tell you what kind of glue to buy.”

What?” Kayla and Justin exclaimed in unison.

“We thought you’d hate it!” Justin said.

“Yeah!” Kayla added. “We thought you’d go ballistic!”

Dad took a few seconds to stare at the sparkly walls. “Well . . . I might have. Except your Mom could have died on me.” He was silent for a long moment. “She’s everything to me.”

Kayla and Justin stared at their Dad. His eyes were red.

“The walls don’t matter,” he said. “Nothing . . . nothing is as important as she is!”


Later that evening, kids tucked in bed, Kayla sat with her husband. “You know what I want, Honey?”

“What’s that, Babe?” he asked.

“I want you to love me like this.” She held out her cell phone—her parents’ living room glittering in a mishmash of brighter-than-bright colors.


© 2017   T J Barnum

Why I Need Guns

The other day I read another essay on gun control. Too many mad men with grudges. The author had good arguments for limiting gun access for certain populations, for outlawing guns like the AR-15, a popular weapon that has been used in countless school killings and other mass murders in this country. Then he asked a question that I’d never seriously addressed—why do we, personally, need so many guns?

I decided to give this considerable thought.

I tried. I really tried to get to the root of my love for the smell of gun oil and metal, the sleek, cool feel of my 12-gauge shotgun, the satisfying kick of my .357 magnum … the power rush when I slowly squeeze . . .

Okay, so there is a fetish component. I admit it.

I decided to go deep, really examine my insides. Why do I find guns so attractive?

Here it is—the top 18 reasons why I need guns. (I tried for 10. Didn’t work.)

18. Because our large collection of knives would be lonely without guns.

17. It’s the only way I’ve managed to help my neighbor keep his hostile German shepherds in check.

16. I’ve got to leave my grandchildren something when I die.

15. Squirrels in the bird feeders.

14. Stop signs just don’t look right without bullet holes.

13. More satisfying than fireworks.

12. I’ve got to collect something, and I don’t like Hummels.

11. It’s a friendly family competition.

10. Neighbors with guns make me nervous.

9. Neighbors without guns may need defending.

8. Christmas just isn’t Christmas without an ATN X-Sight II HD Day/Night Vision Rifle-scope under the tree.

7. Spiders.

6. Guns are necessary components of the Spaghetti Western costume I wear on Halloween.

5. When the electricity goes out, tracer bullets light the way to the bathroom.

4. I don’t have enough room for cannons.

3. More effective at Whack-a-Mole than that silly little hammer.

2. My Daddy always told me that when it came to men, a woman needs an equalizer.

1. Men like my Daddy.

Copyright © 2017  All rights reserved

Conversations with Cosmic Consciousness

I need some assistance.

How can I help you?”Cosmic consciousness

Who am I? Who am I supposed to be?


Oh! Come on! I cry at the drop of a hat. I’m neither strong, nor athletic. I am easily defeated.

You ask. I give you data. Your point is . . . ?”

Fine. What do you mean by “undefeated”?

Watch Cool Hand Luke.”

He won, with nothing.

Imagine what it takes to succeed with few resources, with entrenched trauma and PTSD, with little real preparation for adulthood, neither role models nor mentors, and significant obstacles.”

You are talking about most of the world’s population.

I am talking about you. There is more. You have grit, tenacity, curiosity, hope and optimism in the face of adversity.”

I disagree with your assessment.

I should know.”

What’s the point?

I have certain educational goals in mind, which you will reach, sooner or later. Beyond that, your strength of spirit and determination surprises and delights Me.”

You can be surprised?

Of course. I have a much broader perspective. However, I cannot be 100% certain how any specific part of this experiment will go. I set the parameters. But there is always a quality of spirit – my Spirit in you – that provides multiple unknown variables to the equation. The math is beyond your current comprehension.”

So . . . what? You set up this demonic obstacle course and watch what happens? Do you place bets on the side?

Seriously, there would be little point in betting against Myself. Besides, I am invested in the outcome. I am not idle. I do not ‘watch.’ I participate. The more accurate description of what you are experiencing is exploration.”

Says you! Dial the sensitivity back a bit, won’t you?

You want to be less aware? Go back to sleep. You want to check out? Certainly these are some of your options. If you don’t want to be so sensitive, fix it.”

I don’t believe I can. So much of it seems to be hard-wired.

Nonsense. You are Consciousness, as yet unaware of your full ability and potential. You can increase your current level of functioning. If what you want seems to be beyond the parameters of the game, then you have not focused enough on the outcome you desire.

You have always had my blessing to change the parameters. If you haven’t clued into the fact that you have been doing so your entire life, then start paying more attention.”

I’m not that powerful.

You can tell yourself that as long as you want, along with all the rest of your negative self-talk. It only delays our progress and causes more pain. You are the Gift we give to each Other.”

– – –

Conversation II

Data please.

Certainly. What’s on your mind?”

I feel so damn fragile today. I don’t like it.

So quit claiming it.”

Okay, so let me see if I understand this: If I feel exhausted, and tearful, and like I’m running on empty, I’m supposed to suppress what I am feeling and tell myself otherwise?

No, of course not. You are to recognize that your specific helpful or unhelpful behaviors, your general health, your interactions with others, as well as your background conversations with yourself, have led to your current emotional and physical states. So you are to go about the process of examining your self-talk and take corrective measures. Also check the obvious: sleep, adequate physical and mental nutrition, and so on. You may just need a nap.”

So what You’re saying is, I am causing all of this.

Well, in a word, yes. However, I do not expect you to comprehend non-local awareness just yet. I encourage you to eat this particular elephant one bite at a time.”

I work on myself – a lot. Doesn’t seem to help.

Let’s do a fact check here. Those internal dialogues played over and over in your imagination, your self-flagellation, constantly forcing yourself to stay awake, not giving yourself credit for all that you do, becoming distracted instead of staying in the NOW, the way you . . . .”

Okay! Okay. I get the point. But it’s not that easy to turn off all that stuff, especially if I feel hurt.

Easier with practice. Ask yourself, how often do you make concerted efforts to address any of the areas I mentioned?

Huh . . . I don’t really know. Haphazardly most of the time. Sometimes more often.

And that would be correct. You can make a more concerted effort, should you so choose. It’s entirely up to you of course.”

Hey! Working on it here! I was hoping to get more help from You!

And you shall have it. All you need do is ask. It helps to be specific.”

Can’t I just make a general request for help?

Certainly. And you will get help, generally speaking.”

Okay, I know specificity seems to help. But I don’t know why. And I don’t always know what specifically to ask for.

We have wandered into the subject of non-local awareness again. ‘Ask, and ye shall receive.’ ‘Only believe, and it shall be done unto you.’ ‘Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” How often do you need to hear the same message? You know, I really have been sending it out on multiple platforms.”

There is a lot of bad information out here.

You think so? And so shall it be. You do not see what is. You see what you are. I hold in front of you a mirror. Listen to my words carefully. Would you prefer to have something better? Do you want to have something better? Or do you persist in seeing something better, regardless of what’s currently in front of you?”

Shades of meaning on the one hand, and Pollyanna naviete on the other.

No. Specific words. Specific meanings. Otherwise one word would do. Words have power. You are what you believe yourself to be. I am what you believe Me to be. Angels are real when you make them real. Help comes to you when you believe it comes to you. Doors open when you persist in seeing them open. The world improves as you SEE it improve, not before! I will continue to give all of you this same message.

You do not see what is. You see what you are. You can change what you are. Indeed, you have done so, mostly unconsciously, all your life.

And while we’re on the subject, see and sense and feel a better, healthier world. Quit dwelling on the negative. I’m not asking you to ignore what’s out there. I’m asking you, instead, to see a better world, instead of envisioning the worst of what you don’t want. There is no such thing as nothing. Something will fill the void of anything you tear down, mentally and physically. So, build instead. And as you build, make sure it’s something the world needs.”

Copyright © 2017  All rights reserved.

“We do not write because we want to; we write because we have to.” ― W. Somerset Maugham

I’ve been trying to get to my blog all day. Not sure when it happened, but suddenly I have a life.  People and pets need attention.  There is a long list of unavoidable chores.  Emails have to be answered. I go to twice a week classes about writing! (That’s a must.) There is a long list of enjoyable places to see, fun things to do, friends to hang out with.

Surely all of this activity is new. Somewhere along the line, I slipped from I really should focus on my writing more often, to What can I let slide for now so that I can write!

I’m trying to remember what I did before I contracted this strange bug. I think I was in a coma somewhere, or maybe dead.

My favorite apocalyptic story is an old Twilight Zone episode: “Time Enough At Last.” It is based on the short story by Lynn Venable. Burgess Meredith plays the lone survivor of a nuclear war. He gathers a huge number of books he’s always wanted to read, and just as he opens the first book, he fumbles and breaks his glasses.

This is my favorite because it is one of my nightmares.

“Honey, all the food is contaminated!”

“Yeah, but is the library intact?”

Now we are headed toward holiday season, and time for writing (and reading) will grow even more scarce. Halloween is big at our house. I invite a crowd to Thanksgiving dinner. The more the merrier, come Christmas! My decorations are minimal. It’s just that I’ve discovered it’s more fun decorating with family, friends, and the occasional stranger or two I meet at the grocery store or on the street, or therapist’s office.

. . . see! Someone just came in the door.  Serious writing to come. Tonight. Tomorrow after I stare at the cat hair on the stairs. I can let that slide.


Copyright © 2017  All rights reserved.

Hair Solution

I colored my hair today, an every third week ritual that sometimes stretches to a month. When I miss this self-imposed deadline, my wide swath of white hair looks like a cap made from skunk fur. I can stand in the middle of the street at midnight and headlights reflected off my head will bring every car to a screeching halt.

As I prepared the exact mix of chemicals, my son stopped in the doorway. He teased me about the white line, growing a good half-inch wider as we talked. He suggested I let it “go natural” so as to save myself time and trouble. My grandson, who nosed in between his dad and the door, commented sincerely, “I like the two colors! Don’t change it!”

My grandson also likes Mohawks and purple hair, and has a 10 year old’s predilection toward haphazard grooming.

His plea reminded me when I was ten. Back then, almost everyone looked, dressed and sounded more or less the same to me. I remember liking anything that was out of the norm: an unusual hat, a handlebar mustache, someone very short or very tall, unfamiliar music, the lights and siren on a police car. Fires.

I used to hate conformity. So why am I still dying my hair? Are women really staring as if mesmerized by the top of my head? Am I actually seeing men blink rapidly when I remove my hat, then move hastily out of range, as if I am about to launch some kind of rocket out of my scalp?

Yes, I am totally convinced all this is true. My family snaps a picture, and I see a street wide gap between the right and left side of my head.

I’ve got a new plan. I’m going to shave my scalp and have the entire surface tattooed black. Then as the white hair grows back in, it will look like I dyed my hair white, on purpose!

I’ve always wanted a tattoo.


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.

Copyright © 2017 All rights reserved.

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.

Copyright © 2017  All rights reserved.

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.


Copyright © 2017  All rights reserved.

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.

Copyright © 2017  All rights reserved.