Thursday, March 22, 2018

On History

Folks - it's been a year and a half since I was trolled and threatened after someone shared my blog with a group that did not share my views, forcing me to go private the same week my third book was published (there's been a fourth book that will be a post for another day).  That was tough, and shutting it down when I had a book just out that people told me not to write was even tougher because even though many of you wouldn't read the genre, not having a blog as a platform was pretty much-guaranteed FAIL. Fortunately, despite my former publisher saying "do NOT publish a conservative Christian novel"  I did, and it won a major literary award last year, becoming a best-seller and is being looked at for a movie (likely not to happen as there's not enough action in it, but just the option was kind of cool).
Then the Piano Guys pianist, Jon Schmidt, and his wife loved it and wrote me a letter. (If you've not listened to their music you are missing out).
and the next thing you know, I got to help produce one of their videos with few of their other supporters. 
So life was good, I just didn't have the entire HOTR community to share it with.

I really didn't understand the trolling.  I  never once posted anything about the election, only history and freedoms and family (and bacon!) and I hope they will leave me alone as I've sorely missed all your company.  I realize I have probably lost 95% of my readership built over 10 years but I am thankful for those of you that still visit, read, stop and say hi in other social media, and even buy my books.  I am indeed grateful.

I won't be able to post daily like I used to.  For most of first 8 years of the blog, I was living on my own and had a lot more time to write.  Now I have the company of my husband, a 100-year-old house under restoration, and Dad is requiring more of my time and commitment, gladly given, so it leaves less time for writing. But thanks for being my blog family.
The pictures of Dad and the house here were taken when I visited my Dad a couple of years ago. Colonel Harry Allen D. He still lives on his own, house and yard tidy, still spry, though he turns 98 in a couple of months.  His companion, the great and powerful Oz, was almost 12 when this picture was taken.  He can no longer drive but he still works out 6 days a week. He can't do 18 holes on the golf course anymore, he walks a mile every day.  His secrets to health? Exercise, hard work, integrity, commitment, good scotch, and adopting two kids when your friends are becoming grandparents. Yes, we have a home nursing aide 12 hours a day, to help with medications and meals and companionship since he refuses to leave his home to live with us, but he is still mentally sharp and wishes to keep as much of his independence as he can.

He never planned on getting Oz.  She was the family member of a family member who had been childless despite years of trying.  Suddenly, there was a baby, one which the Dalmatian didn't kindly share the house with.  Despite the movie of their namesake, it's not a breed good with children, and action needed to be taken.  Surprisingly, Dad was the first of the extended family to offer her a home.

Being a senior, she didn't need a lot of exercise though they enjoyed that long walk each day.  The evenings were spent with her dozing on the dog bed that Dad spent more on than what was granted for our college educations.  Dad was of the mindset that he put himself through school, we should do the same. In looking back, I'm glad as it gave me a work ethic lost on many, as well as making me more self-reliant and wiser about the perils of the world to a solitary soul.
I think of Dad in those last days with his four-legged companion. As the sun descended in the West,  he would sip of amber liquid as he talked to his furry companion -  stories of years past, those stories of opportunities, of hope and longing, stories perhaps best left for youth and temptation, as they traveled through the years until what remains is only tenderness and regret.

They were stories, such as the rest of us are building, but his have in their background the shadows of two women and two children he has outlived, looking down on him wistfully, with sealed lips, and heaven's healing. He visits them on a drive of several hours to the military cemetery with his nurse, a stop at several graves, a garland of leaves and flowers woven around the simple stones, fresh as is their memory.

He's doing well despite a mild stroke about 10 years ago. I took much of the summer off from work and stayed with him through the initial recovery and he was up and moving about surprisingly fast. He was out of the wheelchair in three weeks. The doctor recommended a cane when he started getting up and around walking. He didn't want to use one as "those are for old people". So I got him a hand carved "hiking stick" with a big bear on the crest of it. That's so not a cane. He will use it when he gets really tired and for that I'm thankful.
It is hard to come to grips with aging. I see it in myself, after blowing out a knee and having much its support structure surgically removed, the damage beyond repair.  I remember the Orthopedic surgeon saying "I usually see these injuries in professional football players  - what did you DO?" to which I replied, "busted a move, walking the dog".

 But getting past that, the surgery, physical therapy, and a year with a German physical trainer that wore a shirt that said "I'm the trainer, you are the victim", otherwise a vibrant pretty young woman, I made it. I may not be as fast as I once was, but like Dad, I'm even more wise, no longer snared or fixed in the frail web of hopes and fears that is our youth, but fixed and established on that rock which is our well-aged reasoning, with which we cope by some means, or perish.

98 years.  I realize, having lived a little more than half of that, how much he has seen.   From growing up in Montana, with woods rich with game and streams full of fish, rich soil drenched under Spring thunderstorms, rich and waiting for seed.  For desolate hard winters, in a time of our country where bellies were empty and they looked out on barren land where hope should have been, wondering if they would survive until spring.

Then War, chosen by destiny out of a paradox of background of squalor and strife, he became an officer in a great war, as if God himself put a warrant on his hand to protect his men, and bring them home. Which he did, to my Mom, who waited years for his return, only to marry him and bury the first child they bore together.
Then the ensuing happy and hard years, where he watched his only son and two beloved wives leave him to go to their reward.  He never blamed fate, that arbitrary revenge against the souls on earth that seek to rise above the trials of earthly caution. He looked at life as one lit by all glory of all possible risks and renunciations, trusting his heavenly Father to bring him home, only when it was his time.

No matter what he lost, family, or health, he never complained, he never cried and when I watch him napping I see those hand, those old Colone'ls veined and sun marked hands holding strongly to his Bible that he reads from each and every morning.

I realized it as I watched him. The future is what we make of it, every single day, a gift. Coming from being with him, I realize that and I do my best to remain close. Dad doesn't have a computer, a cell phone or a blackberry. So for my Dad, between many phone calls, I write letters

A letter. Faded with time, a bit frayed around the edges, the words upon it written with clear, flowing script. The stamp carefully placed, the envelope addressed with precision.

Letters from my father to me when I first moved away from home. No one really had computers back then for personal use at school, the phone was the most common source of connection for the family. But as computers became second nature, my father continued to write me letters, refusing to learn to use a computer. Harriet would read him my blog, the words in there as meaningful for him as if I had written them on paper, read aloud by the woman he loves. (Yes, Harry and Harriet). But he will not take up a keyboard, and will not before he is gone, so others print out some of the posts for him to read now that she is gone these many years. He's probably raised an eyebrow to more than one, but he knows how he raised me, where I come from, and where my heart is.

Simple letters, simple words.

The letters themselves are not full of particularly sage wisdom, or things that might be considered of great depth. They are simply the doings of his day and the memories of his heart. What he planted in the garden, where he went out for lunch after church. A bird he saw on a long drive, a story of that steelhead trout he finally caught under the covered bridge at Grey's River. He wrote to me after he buried someone he loved more than life, words flattened out on paper, like rain, but not lost like rain, streaming out to a valueless torrent of dissolution. His words, though heart-rending, uplifted me, a love not lost through life's unravelings. When I held on to him at that grave, while taps played in the distance, his words were engraved on my heart.

They were words that didn't teach, or lecture or portend, but words, that on their reading, mattered. For they filled me with elation that in their capturing, those moments would never be lost, that even when my Dad was gone, there would be stories, of meals, of moments, of caring.

Is that a testament to the power of the word or simply the power of the habit of writing? That which, however mundane, comes to our mind each day. Small, succinct phrases of thought that capture the dots of our lives, connecting us, transcending time or moment. What was in the past is here in my hand now, as if it transcends time and for just a moment we are free of the confines of past tense.

He is here with me now, with his story of that fine day, that could have been a week ago, or 50 years. His words caught and released, a brilliant day, a fighting salmon. A trip to the store, or a small prayer over his breakfast, shared with me here, as if the paper had caught it in time. Our lives are in these moments, gone too quickly, rushing water over our days.

Each of us lives in the present, yet we contain our past, and we can not put our future into words until it too, becomes our past. Time is an illusion and death is a transient bend in a long journey that will take its own time. Past, present, future, I'll retain my Dad's stories, his laughter splayed across a small white page as if part of the paper. As I fold it up and place it carefully in my desk drawer, to perhaps be opened up one day again, a thought comes unbidden. I realize that what is here, be it thought, emotion or the trivial events of our day that we share, for someone, somewhere, will be the most precious of memory.

Dad will still be asleep, Oz contained in a small wooden box on which rests a pawprint that was her last act.  Dad slumbers in memory surrounded by those things familiar for decades, left in the warm comfort of the annealing ash that is his history.

I take out an envelope and small piece of paper, and on it scribe some other words. Not a blog post, but simply words. You have loved me when others did not, I am grateful to be your family.  There is no place I am going to mail it to right now but I feel better for writing it. I put it in the envelope and seal it with a small kiss from my lips, the paper resting for a moment like a wafer on my tongue, confession, redemption.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

St. Patrick's Day - Sticks and Stones

On the table at the outdoor sports, knife and gun show was a piece of a meteorite on display.  There was a sign that you were welcome to touch it, but don't pick it up.  Its weight was such that to do so might cause injury.  There was a tiny one as well, that you could pick up.  The weight of it considering its size was surprising.

Both were innocuous in appearance, yet in realizing where they came from it was if they possessed of some secret, to galaxies far beyond the limits of imagination, created somewhere in deep space, perhaps in a time when things were not irrevocably fixed to their form.

In a container in my vehicle is another stone, this one a sturdy chunk that possesses neither beauty or function but was picked up from a lake high up in the Sierras where a hundred and fifty years prior, the Donner Family was stranded.  I'd gone up there after a death in my family, to just get away from the city and be alone.
I'd taken it from the water, and used it to form and contain my campfire, located a short distance away.  Before I packed up to head home, checked the fire to ensure it was out.  I'd checked before, but it only takes a spark to start a forest fire, though it takes an entire box of matches to get a campfire going. But I checked again, anyway, even though it rained, moving that larger rock away.. The rock was still warm, not enough to pull my fingers away, but enough that it possessed a luminance heat, not the sort that would burn, but a slow steady warmth that the dying fire may scorn, rain would dilute, but only time could truly deplete. I picked it up and held it in my hand, feeling it cool. Not everything of strength and density is cold. Watching a drip of water fall to the ground I thought, even a stone can weep.

I'm not sure why I picked it up and took it home, nor why I still have it, But it's there among the tools of my trade.
On my desk are beautiful, colorful stones, heavy with color,  many of them are ones I picked up as a child, out with my Mom looking for agates. After the winter's snow had retreated, we would head outdoors, just the two of us, along the shores of local bodies of water looking for stones, stones that may not have been unearthed for years, abundant embedded in earth and sand. They're quiet treasures on the shores of the West, windswept lands riddled with unclaimed treasures that people simply pass and forget, not knowing what they have underneath their feet. Beneath this great land lies jeweled richness of stone, and prehistoric bones, telling tales as they surface, dotting the future with pieces of the past.

There on the shelf in my office are other such things,  small bits of history, small stones, a piece of bone that appears to have been carved, a perfect, pristine shell, both delicate and strong. Water and history, two elements of life that draw me in deeply, draw me back to such places. Part of my childhood was spent on the shores of a body of water in the West where we stayed in a little cabin with a view of the water,  years before Californians discovered it and developers took over the place, building vast condos that blocked out the sun.

My brother and I would get up while it was still dark, and march down to the water's edge, hoping to get there to see the dawn explode over the water. I could spend hours there, just watching the way the water shaped itself around the rocks and me, the gentle waves moving against the shore, like breathing. In the bright cold water, there would be all sorts of strange creatures,  all sorts of mysteries.
Big Bro and I  wade along the edges, gingerly looking, while not harming anything that was there, hoping to find a prehistoric shell to take home, knowing that at some time, all of the lands where our family homesteaded had once been part of this ocean.  We occasionally found bits and pieces of things, some strange, some so very familiar.

Many of you have seen a sand dollar. They're commonly sold in souvenir stores. But what you see is only the remaining skeleton of a living sea creature. When living, the sand dollar is covered with fine hair-like cilia that cover tiny spines, soft, and almost purple in color. But the remaining shell is beautiful, fragile, white. The essential essence of what this creature was.
We'd come home at the end of an adventure, our pockets full of small rocks and shells and artifacts of the day. I felt somehow at home with these small bits of the ancient land, though I felt as if I was living in an alien world in the small eddy currents of their homes, among creatures that were so different from me, somehow I knew I belonged there. At night, we'd build a fire and sit and listen to the lapping of the waves, dreams of my future filled my head.

One of my favorite places in the world is the rocky coast of Northern Ireland.  Being there reminds me of those days of childhood,  the rush of the water an affirmation of what draws me to search and discover. It takes me back to the taste of salt on my lips, that of rain or tears, only the years remember. The water rushes, then waits, as I do, moving in, retreating, watching, still waiting. Remembering everything past, hoping for everything good of the future, in a bone-deep calm that belies the deep ache in my muscles as I climb up ancient stone steps that lead to cliffs hundreds of feet above.
There at the top, a view, an expanse that is as untouched and unchanged as what drove me here in the first place.Steeling myself against the wind and looking at the distance down, I wondered for a moment if I'd made the right decision to come up here.  Like anything, you do your best with what you have, and you hope you make the right decisions. Sometimes the decisions seem to happen by themselves as if found at the end of an invisible chain, sometimes they are long drawn out thoughts, held in the hand and dreamt of in the night before taking human form.

I wasn't alone, though the rest of the group, took the bus back the short distance, there was a handful us, strangers but kindred spirits, not speaking, simply looking outward. The others don't dare the height, the edge, not with the wind that day, but we do, not feeling the fear until afterward, only feeling alive, on the wind the smell and the taste of the longing to simply be here.

But for now, a few more hours, a few more artifacts of time I stole from the past, flirting with the ancients, hard rocks, the smell of peat and coal, a land brushed with snow, burnished with the traces of those that went before. Traces that say, remember me, remember this, for in it you will find yourself, and leave a piece of your heart behind.

There on top of a sea green cliff, I will throw out a rock to watch it splash down far below, as above, I watch above, from a strong, yet fragile, light shell that houses this old soul. The rock flies through the hindrance of the deepest sleep through the stiff fabric of the wind, into the warm sea.

It's only a rock, only a bit of artifact of the past that holds in it, not the prolonged burden of time that too many embrace as they age, but the bright colored fluent movement of youth, the dancing heels of those days of risk and glory.  Perhaps the days of my youth are gone, as is the rock,  yet the feel of its absoluteness will remain in my hands, in me, long after the wind goes silent. - Brigid

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Talk to the Paw

While my husband went and got some supplies for this weeks home renovation projects, I got dinner cooked.

Abby is snoopervising, only retreating to the futon for a nap when Vlacula comes out to clean up the area rugs.
I'm helping Mom!

Call me old fashioned but I enjoy taking care of a home and a kitchen for my husband so he's got a comfortable place to come home to after a long day of work (as do I). You know, where my husband forced me to vote for someone other than Hillary Clinton. (snark).
After they got married my great grandmother did that, my grandmother did that, my Mom did that (when she wasn't being Deputy Sheriff).  But they did it out of love, the greatest of reasons.

My husband does as much work as I do, probably a bit more with all the renovation. It's a shared responsibility but I don't mind doing the tasks he doesn't like to do,  just as he cleans the gutters and does the weeding and yard work, which I don't like to do.

Because if I was expected to do everything it would be.

But I'm lucky to have a husband like my Dad, that views the house as a shared responsibility.  As he deals with spiders, and plumbing reworkings, I try and leave enough meals so that after a long day, or regular weeks away from home in a hotel, he doesn't HAVE to cook or eat something from a box.

We had roast beef sandwiches for lunch but tonight's dinner was "what's in the fridge.  The stir fry I made a couple of days ago was gone and I usually do my grocery shopping on Friday morning early before work when it's not so crowded.

3 large tortillas.
the usual canned stuff.
some frozen veggies
2 cooked chicken breasts
about a cup of sour cream
a bag and a half of cheese
and a few jalapenos


I can make something out of that. (the light was pretty low but you get the idea)

Tex-Mex Chicken-Jalapeno Lasagna

No noodles to boil and a tasty mix of creamy, cheesy, and savory with a nice little crisp bite from the peppers. 

In a cast iron pan with a little olive oil saute until softened;

1 large onion

Set aside 2 cups of grated Mexican Blend Cheese

In a bowl mix:

Can of Cream of Cluck Soup
A cup of sour cream
A small box of spinach, thawed and drained and squeezed between paper towers til all the moisture is out.
A few dashes of seasoning salt (I used Janes Krazy Mixed Up Salt - My favorite as it is lower in sodium than many seasoning mixes).
The sauteed onions (or replace with celery or yellow or orange bell peppers if you don't like onions)
3-5 chopped de-seeded jalepanos. (I used 5 for hot, not make your eyes water hot, but zippy)

Chop up 2-3 cooked chicken breasts (or prepared veggie chicken or tofu), dusted with a little ancho chili powder before cooking).

Layer in a non-stick sprayed 8 x 8 pan

1 flour tortilla
1/3 of the soup mixture
1/2 of the chicken
a big handful of cheese

1 tortilla
1/3 of the soup mixture
1/2 of the chicken
a handful of cheese

1 tortilla
remaining soup mixture
remaining cheese.

Bake, covered with foil, at 325 F for 35-40 minutes, until bubbly and the cheese is melted.

And the beer was for the cook.
It was REALLY tasty and made enough to feed six folks, and should freeze really well for leftovers.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

A Sense of Thrift

During a fair bit of the last 20 years, I have been a  sponsor or volunteer at local shelters for the physically abused, many also homeless. People ask why I do it, as it is often depressing, and sometimes futile.

The women there who have been abused (though abuse goes both ways, men also a victim of it) present an image to the world that is often one of stone, hiding the pain, hiding the bruises, until eventually, one night, the stone is shattered by the fury of a long fall or a storm surge. Sometimes it's simply eroded away, what is unique, distinct, worn away over time, as if by water, drop by ceaseless drop. Perhaps with those who will listen and support, some of whom have been there, a little of what is left can be reclaimed, still capable of beauty.

Some of them will go back, the fear of the unknown overwhelming, the knowledge that someone, otherwise, will wish them, forever, anything but peace.  Peace is not often plentiful.  I could almost always guess which ones would go back, they wore that quality of outworn violence like perfume, drawn back to the evangelical zeal of their abuser, simply too tired to fight any longer. It was often a fatal mistake, realized too late, as they were borne beyond the hurt and harm of man, into the ground.

Better they said, to go back, then live homelessly. Some escape, but live for years with their scars.  Those scars are apparent to some, who try and offer a healing balm, but to others, they are but a rattlers warning, a bite to those that don't understand their pain.
Many of us already live homelessly. Not in our dwelling, but in the neighborhood of our true self. We spend years trying to change someone, only to realize the only thing that could change was ourselves. We spend so much time chasing after things, that we ignore what we have here now.

Some of the unhappiest people I know have the most expansive and expensive of possessions. I sold or gave away most of mine several years ago, downsizing to a life much simpler. When I had my taxes done today, the tax guy said "congrats, you are now in the 33% tax bracket, and then looked out on my 12-year-old rusty truck with a wry smile.  After doing my taxes for years, he understands why we live as we do, giving generously to non-profits and veterans groups, helping those in need who after years of hard work, have a family disaster, and giving joyfully to our church. I don't miss the days of big house and BMW, and not an extra cent for anyone but myself.  I have all I need, a family, a warm house, enough food to eat (OK, and a nice collection of Single Malt)

I sometimes look at pictures of that former McMansion home, the two-story entryway, the three car garage, and have a twinge of regret, but it's rare. I could have stayed in that house and my world would have revolved around its upkeep while its value just went down in a crashing marketplace and the people that might have been impressed by it weren't worthy of the efforts.  Or I could pay off debt, learn to do the things to sustain, not just consume. I  could ensure Dad could stay in his home with a nurse as his health declined. I could spend time with people who were important, not just labor for the upkeep of those walls.  It was an easy decision.

I don't own a lot, but if the world falls to ruin tomorrow, I will have enough to survive and the knowledge and means to know enough to protect it.
My parents always helped those that help themselves. Dad, getting his CPA after the military, did income taxes for free for the elderly. He was active in the church and in other organizations, living his life in a brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God, as he would say if you asked him. Mom, as well, volunteered at the church and at the local hospital.

There, she was the Tel-Med operator, where people could call and request recordings on medical topics from a published directory that had the topic by number. There was everything from child illnesses, cancer screening, nutrition and baby care to several on sexual issues and other embarrassing personal topics people might be too shy to ask the doctor about.  Dad would disguise his voice and call when she was there and request those "special" numbers just to hear her stammer "thank you" as she was turning red, then she'd exclaim "Bud, it's you isn't it!" and they'd both laugh. But I know he respected her for that volunteer work, even as she herself was battling cancer.
My early career days were such I couldn't volunteer but I did sponsor a child through one of the Christian children's charities, just enough to provide for some schooling and at least one hot, nourishing meal a day. Sponsors were allowed to give extra money, with the stipulation that it would meet a specific need, not to be squandered. So one time, when bills were light, I sent a few hundred dollars I had saved up, with a specific need in mind.

I got a letter back from the little girl I sponsored in Africa, Louise Marie, handwritten, with colorful crayon drawings of a little house with a roof and a door, with little Crayola cartoon chickens and smiling children gathered around.  You see, before the gift, her family had been living on the ground, in a lean-to, her widowed mother's $50 a month income as a sustenance farmer not enough for real shelter. With the money and the assistance of the charitable foundation, they built a house.  It wasn't a house like you and I expect to live in. But it was a grand house to them, with four walls to protect them from those that would rob or hurt, a floor and a real roof to keep the water and elements out.
Some folks would say I spend too much money on firearms or tools. I don't mind spending money on something that has a use, retains its value and can be passed down to generations. I have absolutely no issues with spending money on those tools that can protect my life and others.  I have a hard time spending money on just "stuff". A woman I knew from a community organization, proudly showed off her $500 designer purse one day.  She has about 20 purses (I'm not kidding), but this one was special because, well. . . . it was $500!

I don't have a $500 purse. Until I was in my late 20's I didn't even have a $500 car.  But I have friends that share my table that would take a bullet for me to keep me safe. I have the openness of the horizon and the strength of my free will. I have freedom, I have my faith in God, I have balance and I have people that share my life that totally understand this. For this, I am grateful and try to do what I can to give some of that back.
Hopefully, most of you won't ever get to the point where you have nothing left of yourself but the letters of your name and what you can shove in a suitcase. Most of you won't give away most of your stuff and totally change how you live when you don't have to. But when you do pare down, by circumstance or by choice, it is quietly liberating, as you discover just what it is that was, still is, precious to you, what is worth your time and attention.

Thoreau once said, "The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.". That meant little to me when I first read it in English class. It would mean little to people who have had everything handed to them, with little effort,  the cost of their education, their sustenance, their lifestyle. After years of sweat, tears and hard work, I understood, having long ago severed ties with things, even people, who gave me only pain for my efforts, for, in the end, such things, by their exchange, violated my sense of thrift.
As snow clouds gather on the horizon, I look out towards the trees, to the chattering of birds as I step outside with a furry little Rescue dog.  On the ground two doves, who when Abby approaches them, run, don't fly away, their brain not sensing the danger.  Fortunately, she shows no interest in their harm.  Above, two cardinals flutter like two tiny flags amongst the branches, then fly away, as if the wind dispersed them like small scraps of cloth.  On the railing, a small sparrow, looking a little worse for wear, looking at the empty feeder, watching me carefully, wondering if I will harm or help. On the air, the echo of all of their cries, mournful and plaintive, barely heard above the wind.

I think of the Bible Verse "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?"  I look at the fridge, as I enter my home, to a little picture, drawn with the colors of hope.

Today, I live so much more simply, surrounding myself with those with whom I share a personal history as well as those possessions which I know serve a useful function.  On days where doubt raises its head, as to my worth, as to my place in the world, I simply look at that little picture and smile broadly, no longer hearing the echo of invisible bruises. Life is a risk, never a possession, live, and love, accordingly. - Brigid

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Restoring Ourselves

It was that time of the evening when things grow both restless and weary.The sun has dipped below the horizon, just enough light remaining to make out the forms of a couple of bicycles strewn across a lawn down the street, abandoned by children called in to supper. Piled up in the corner by where I sit and read are Abby is the pile of Abby's "stuffies" laying as if napping, where they will remain this late afternoon until she gently carries them to her dog bed at night, to sleep by her side.

As I get ready to go out for a quick jaunt around the neighborhood before dark, it's not hard to see the houses that have big screen TV's in the living room as they are directly evident if the windows are open, or providing that tell tale glare of light through the curtains. For many people, the TV is on as soon as they walk in the door, People come home, turn on the television, turn on the video games, draw the blinds, their view of the world that which comes through on the TV, losing imperceptibly their sense of the outside, of the world beyond a news anchor.

If someone walked past our porch at night, they'd see no such light. For we don't have a big screen TV. We don't have a TV at all, but for a small one in the in basement where we can get the weather with an antenna on the roof if we're down there due to Mr. Tornado.  If we want to watch a favorite show we have boxed sets, (cheaper than cable) from which to pick, watching on the computer monitor that can be turned to face the cozy futon in the office. Even that is something we only do on some weekends.
The crash pad where I lived after I got married, but before I was able to transfer to our Chicago facility, had a nice TV from my old house, but it was given to the young couple in need who are got all of the furniture, which we really have neither need nor room for up here.  They had lost everything in a natural disaster, and on a waiting list to adopt a baby, were anxious to be able to provide a furnished home.  They rented a small house, I provided all of the contents of mine, and they were finally at ease, that baby coming along in two months time from an unwed mother loving enough to give her child up to a good home.  Some things just work themselves out.

I'm fine with my smaller, older home. But anyone curious or casing this place to rob it would see hardwood floors, restored antique furniture, lots of leaded and stained glass and a Victrola, my service revolver in the nightstand and a few vintage LEO pistols of generation's past carefully locked up in the safe.
As big and beautiful as it was, I don't miss my old house.  It was your typical McMansion, those huge suburban  houses that are less home than monopoly game house squares of plastic and cheap lumber and wasted spaced.  What wood is there is usually laminate, the walls not thick enough to withstand a really good storm or the thump of a neighbors bass played too loud. They look OK now, but I can't imagine what it will take to sustain them 100 years from now, if they're even still standing.  But they are big  and "new!" with three car garages full of a lot of things that aren't paid for yet, the neighbors house so close you can't swing a tax assessor without whacking your next door neighbor. Some didn't even have furniture - the people buying them not having enough money after buying the too big house to properly furnish it.
Our house is old, it's small and it's sturdy.  There is no big mortgage, there is no credit card debt for the furnishings.  But for a small table that was a family heirloom, everything in our view we bought with cash, or picked from curbside trash, restoring it as best we can, those items that another found to have little worth.  I think the only things well under 50  years old in the house are the computer, the mattress, the frame of a couch we restored and the two beloved souls I live with, both two and four legged.

I've had a couple casual acquaintances look at the sagging porch that needs to be redone, the antiquated kitchen and a sun porch that makes the Green Acres house look upscale and make a subtlety snarky comment about it. They're not invited back. It's a work in progress, the whole house being a restoration project, much of the work on things you won't see on the surface. I look at it differently, I guess.  I don't see what still needs to be done.  I see what HAS been done.
The little village within the big city we live in is small, with a train station, a small grocers, a mom and pop pizza place and a couple of pubs.  The houses themselves are grey, white, brown or brick, no trendy Victorian doll house colors, no urban renewal shades of  yuppie reclamation.  The houses and porches are the shades of time and shadow and quiet murmured voices gathered between columns, as if time and breath had made them all one quiet color, a hushed vestibule where all is forgiven.

Within a short drive is a trendy urban area where people live in half a million dollar apartments, taking the train into the city, some not even owning cars as every bit of millennial spender and excess is within walking distance. We do go there as that's where the big home improvement store is.  That's where we bought all the copper pipe and wood for the house and a nice runner for the hall at a good discount, because the young man with the trendy haircut couldn't multiply $12.97 times 6 on a piece of paper when the calculator went missing.

No, I'll pass on all the "hip" places unless they have tools.  I'm perfectly happy browsing in an antique book store or standing in line at the grocer with elderly Polish women.  Dressed as if they are going to church, many of them have survived more than one war, holding our numbers and waiting for the deli clerk to slice meat that was roasted in the store, not unwrapped from cellophane, shaving the meats and the cheese and carefully wrapping them up for me with a smile. There's homemade sausages, salads, and potato pancakes, foods known well to the immigrants that settled in this place. I'll pass on the toaster strudel, and buy one of the real thing, made by hand, breathing in the scent of sugar and yeast as I head home with my bounty, driving past an ancient church and a small park which knows know only the shades of those first children that played there.
Am I just getting old - looking at the past as simply stories of youth and bravery, doomed to forgetfulness as I eventually pass, as we all will, those points of affection and regret into a fog that quietly dims the lights? Or have I simply changed what parts of the world are important to me based on how I have touched the world, and it has touched me in return?

I think it is the latter.  Getting to middle age is is some way, like surviving a war.  There are false truces and negotiations, retreat and reconciliation, triumph and treachery. In the end, if you are lucky, there is peace, your warrior's medals and ribbons being internal, only recognized when you look into the mirror and see those first lines around your eyes and smile because you know that despite it all, your sustained breath is its own little victory.
It's a peace I enjoy and as some of my peers rush around getting Botox and fillers, putting on enough makeup to make Krusty the Klown jealous. I'm perfectly content to put on sweat pants and tactical lip gloss and just hit the road, face bare and long red ponytail trailing behind me like those red warning flags you see on timber hanging off the bed of a fast moving little pick up.

So tonight, I'll  take a jog down through the village across the railroad tracks and down past the old church.  In the small graveyard there stands upon a grave site, a  stone angel, her shadow painting a canvas of dimming light as I move past.  She is a melancholy spirit, crafted in another century, her eyes closed as if in prayer, her mouth open as if she turned to stone in the moment she uttered her life's final secret.  Around the grave there is a garland of living flowers, grown wild, even as the rest of the small graveyard fades to dust, flowers reaching for one last bit of sun, there amidst the silent stones, the histories that live on in this place.
I wonder how many people have walked past her, with earbuds on, or their head down with texting, not realizing the significance of a forgotten grave - that one small thing, that soul - at one time, the most important thing in the world to someone, held through sickness and health, and cherished even as they grew old and faded as flowers will.

How many now, truly possess that which holds weight and value, something that when viewed, when held, lights up the eyes with the triumphs of all risks and renunciations. Or have we become a society of the easy and disposable, be it a product, a relationship, or worse, even a life?

As the sky begins to spit snow again, I hurry home, but not before lifting my closed eyes up to heaven, mouth open, catching flakes of snow on my tongue, a self-communion of one, as I say a blessed thanks for a long safe travel through life.
As I approach our house, the light dimming, I see the glow of the television sets in other homes, an unearthly artificial glow, as canned laughter seeps out of an open window. As I arrive home, climbing up the tired stairs unto the large porch, there is light inside from the wall sconces, rewired but decades old, bright as a spark, significant of human shelter and repose. As the key rattles in the door, there is a soft woof of an old Rescue Lab, her grey muzzle snooting me happily as I enter the house

A burglar casing the place would look through the front window and shake their head, seeing little for which they would give value. I look inside and see the riches of a strong house that shelters me with vigilant accord. It has stood for a hundred years, with an air of history and invincible possession, which will remain, long after I am gone.

I set my keys near the Victrola and my husband's Fedora.  As he calls out a greeting from the kitchen, I pat Abby the Lab on the head, looking at the small precious things that have been rescued and now live here, grateful for eyes that finally learned to see.
 - L.B. Johnson

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Into the Night With Me

In Chicago this week, we lost a well-loved and respected police Commander, to a criminal's bullet.  His colleagues were helpless to stop it, but they are there now to honor him.  When going into battle soldiers know who has their back. In Law Enforcement, it is much the same. But in the day to day life, we often find out who is around us that would take that literal bullet for us.

Growing up my big brother was my protector. If you've read my first two books you know our story well. He was my best friend and guide despite the age difference.  I still thank him for when he sent the "live toad in a gift box" to the snooty girl down the block that made fun of me for wearing hand-me-downs and home sewed clothes because my Mom chose to be a full-time mom rather than return to the workforce as a Deputy Sheriff when they adopted the two of us late in life.

When Mom died, and Dad briefly checked out emotionally, my beloved brother off in Submarine Service, I left home young, starting college at age 14, fleeing not simply because I was fleeing, but that the absence was the only argument I had at 14 to employ against the losses in my life. I was alone until I was not, then a pregnancy in college and my daughter's subsequent adoption made me realize I needed family around me again, even if not related by blood. So there were friends, and there were toasts and tears and healing as I got past the sound that goodbyes made.
When I graduated and was accepted into flight training to become a pilot I had much the same support system. Our Crew Chief, who often looked at us like something on the bottom of his shoe, honestly was our biggest fan, but using Crew Chief etiquette wasn't allowed to show it. Crew Chiefs were like that, finding the occupation of keeping their emotion steeled against the worst so captivating, that they had no other emotion available. He wasn't scared, but thinking everyone under his charge was such an idiot that we would never see another sunrise, he remained firm in his resolve that what was to be was predestined.   The ground crew was won over by homemade chocolate chip cookies even if they weren't quite sure what to make of the first female Commander in the unit.  My copilots became family, even the one that used to spray the whole cockpit down with Lysol because he was a germaphobe which followed with me puking into his flight bag due to a late night out and a fighter pilot breakfast (you'll have to google that, this is a family-friendly blog).

We'd launch, whether we were ready or not, listening to the sounds of the ground crew (clear on 2) with that listening attention that meant we were ready to go out and confront whatever those words meant. In the distance, a knot of men, moving with deliberate movement, offering a wave as we taxied out, their roles unclear as the wind amped up a slow vibration in the air, but their support unwavering,

But later in life, when my flying was behind me except for the occasional inverted romp in an 8KCAB, my support system was not so structured. There were friends I thought I could rely on that disappeared like smoke when there were clouds on the horizon. There were those that wanted to be friends simply to build their fan base. And there were those that were like the walls of my house - quiet, not always saying anything, but always there to keep me warm and safe.

My team at work has always been a constant. I've worked with gruff curmudgeons who held evidence in their giant paws of hands like the most tender of playthings even as they busied themselves with matters of life and death that brooked no delay. And I've worked with the young probies, so bursting with ambition and testosterone that they always upheld a state of lively satisfaction no matter the amount of deeply questioned bloodshed.

I've been covered in gore, and I've been shot at, ending my day wet, tired, and stiff in every joint, with that momentary hallucination of vision that comes to the insanely exhausted, where like a drowning man reviews his life, I realized that not only did I not find the smoking gun, I left the coffee pot on this morning.
But I always had my support system.

Today, I'm management- more likely to be felled by a paper cut than a bullet. My team still visits, but in doing so I'm "Ma'am" not "Brigid" as I'm the director. Times change, time slows. But I do know that there are those around me I can count on, both personally and professionally, in that enlightened compression that dwells upon the approach of a storm.

Yet, on those nights I'm stuck in a hotel room, the bed linen cold and soundless under my hand, clinging softly to that hand in the quiet air as breathing vaporizes in the faint light as I wait for the phone to ring, I'm aware of something.
I still have those that watch my back, even if they are only friends and family, strong in my life, even if their numbers are as a shadow is larger than the object that casts it. They are there in those mornings where the red dawn crests in the sharp light as if beyond the horizon lay hell not heaven. They are there in those soft nights, where ice cubes tinkle and the air carries on it only the scent of mint and soft lemon verbena perfume as small children chase fireflies in the yard.

As I return from my travels, the taxi taking me from the airport, the old bungalows of Chicago pass by the window in grays and browns, lighter than dust and laid lightly upon the earth, as if one good hard rain would wash them away, I smile. I am simply another suit and a laptop, trying to make a little difference in an insane world, where those that work for me, risk their lives for what is right and good. This is not the life I planned, and it is not the life I imagined, but it is the only life I want, here with those who would walk into the night with me. - Brigid