Friday, August 24, 2018

The Places of Our Happiest Memories

Folks - After a little more than a year off from serious writing, I've started book number 3 (4 if you count the Novella with Old NFO's anthology).  It's going to be a look back on my flying days, not specifics of my career just the mindset and philosophy of flight in its varried forms and some of the both scary and esoteric experiences I had aloft.

Chapter 1 - The Places of Our Happiest Memories From "Compass Course" by L.B. Johnson

That Monday morning began with a distant rumble of thunder.  My husband was already up for work, I had a day off and just snuggled down under the covers while Abby snoozed on the futon  As the sky darkened I heard the click click click of her toenails on the hardwood floor.  She was headed into the narrow but deep closet where she hides when it storms.  I gathered myself up to go watch the sky, sharing something with the nature of that rumbling.  Such storms have accompanied me on so many nights out in the field, their power lighting the sky, laying bare all risks and renunciations, as I work in the echo of someones last whisper.

The storm rolled through fairly quickly and with more than a little rain. This has been quite the year for rain, setting a fifty-some year record.  The damage on the drives home each weekend was explicit - whole farm fields submerged, others dotted with large pages of dead vegetation that succumbed to days and days of standing water, The flat land was ridged and rutted with the marks of the centuries, the land passed over with wagons and guns, tears and tribulations.
That Monday I rose with the day and the sound of the rain and stepped out onto the porch to looked at the sky. The sun had come up in the east, the horizon gleaming as if lit by a candle within, my form only a solitary sentry who forever challenges it.

It was only a few years ago, we had a drought, the corn dying across the landscape. There is no pattern to it, no predictability beyond a farmer's almanac and the scattering of bones across the ground. I remember one hot day in that summer - a small farmhouse - an interview to be conducted. The woman that answered the door knew why I was there, even as she looked past me as if hoping I'd disappear. I'm supposed to say "I'm sorry for your loss". But I could not. I simply stood there as she grabbed onto me as if a lifeline, breaking into tears. She couldn't have been much more than 100 pounds and felt like a bundle of sticks against my muscled form as she cried - sticks that had weathered so much, for so many years, only to be tossed onto a fire, for which I could offer no healing rain.
For some reason, I think of that on that Monday morning, as the rain dripped down eaves that have wept the tears from above for well over a hundred years. The village itself was old, all but a handful of the homes a hundred years old or more, trees covering my shadow that had existed long before I did. It's a quiet place, a safe area to walk. Each morning my husband or I would take Abby out for her walk, passing a Pub, the Catholic Church, down past the school to my house. As I went that day to get her leash, a flock of Canadian geese flew overhead, causing me to look up to a gunmetal sky as I looked out across the neighborhood.

The wooden steps listed ever so slightly, as if tired, a project when the kitchen is done.  Branches of age-old trees moved in the wind, a flutter of birds released as they bow down upon the altar of a porch, The air within was still with invisible memories of the several generations who have lived in this home.

I wondered if I could instantly take myself to this spot 50 years in the future if it would be the same, if it would even be here. That's something I will never likely know, as the future, like beauty itself, floats fleeting, undefined, half hidden in the silent, still air, to be recognized only when we are ready.

As we returned from a short trip out to the grass, then a dash back to the house, I took my boots off, gliding quietly over polished floors, throwing my raincoat on the fragmentary curve of the chair.  The house empty now, I went down to the basement, ducking my head in stooped courtesy to the low ceiling, where I would take up a tool and hammer grief into a piece of wood.

I hope this is the last house I live in, having moved too many times in my life due to circumstance, choice, or sometimes just the ingrained habit to endure.  So many homes though stand in my memory - so many of them now gone.

My Aunts house, where I sat in the tiny living room and listened to my favorite Uncle, the Engineer, ask questions that made me view the world in a whole new way. It's gone, the house raised to joint the tall colorful homes that rise towards the sky on those small lots. All that is left is some glassware of my Aunts, my Uncle's engineering books, passed to my brother, then to me. There in the closet is the carefully tended uniform of a great War, the cloth itself assuming the shape and form of those who are our heroes, looming tremendous against that backdrop of books and tools, and a small folded flag, that fills a sleeping house.
On a corner outside of my hometown, stands the funeral home where I worked as a teen. It's now a structure that has been empty for years, the economy taking a toll, the form of a place where the dead were once prepared and grieved not the sort of place one wants to buy and turn into a Chuck E. Cheese. It's as grey and desolate as a tomb, the faded Realtors sign in front the only sign that anyone had been here in years. There is nothing inside, no future, no life, nothing but the echoes of shades within, impervious to time or alteration by their very weightlessness, no bodies left to be buried, just the shapes of memory, recollections that lie as dust by those that drive past, unseeing.

There in a city further away is a rental house I lived in as I started University. I shared the top floor apartment with two girlfriends from high school, the main floor housing one of their brothers and a roommate, as did the basement. It was owned by one of my friend's parents,  We got cheap rent, but it was NOT free, the house having to pay for itself.   It was so very tiny, two of us sharing one bedroom, one former bedroom, now the "living room", the really small one, mine, just enough room for a twin mattress on the floor and some pictures of musical instruments on the wall. In the tiny bathroom, a single antique claw-footed tub, as deep as desire.  It was a sanctuary where I would soak for an hour with Vivaldi playing, not the usual Queen or Led Zeppelin when I actually had the place all to myself.
I wonder if I drove past that old neighborhood today, that house would still stand, or would it have been razed, the lot it was on, being worth more than the dwelling placed upon it.

I opened up the window, the air breathing in and out, lightning flashes and with the weight of the dark, my breath quickens - blood running warm and quiet.  So many places, now gone or changed to where what I remember of them is more recalling a piece of music I've heard,  but for which I played no part.
Though sometimes you are surprised.

When I was in grade school, on the long walk home, there was this giant shrub, actually several that had grown together, dying parts replaced by new shoots, all trimmed in a huge square shape. But underneath, in the tangle of their bases, you could crawl through, on your belly, like you were in some sort of secret fox hole tunnel. There were lots of open branches and space so it wasn't EXACTLY like a foxhole, but we could pretend. Of course, I'd arrive home, the dress my Mom had made for me all dirty and she had NO idea how I could get that way from a "walk home".

So imagine my surprise when I was first back in town after university and saw that sculptured shrub was still there, all new pieces perhaps, but still a growing living thing. I could no longer fit underneath its form but I could see that image still, looking up through the dense shrubbery, the branches, the arms that protect, the leaves, guarding not just my form but my urgent heart as I thought that surely heaven must be this color green, that forever grows and will never die.
I think of the walls of my crash pad near work, a place that was only a spot to lay my head when I was on duty, my true home far away.  But what of the memories made there, the dinners and laughter, Barkley's attempts to get the little plush Chewbacca that was attached to Tam's purse, friends stopping by to see both of us, innumerable waffles, toast and toasts and always, books. There were tools and brass and puzzles and a question asked that made me look at the world in a whole new way. There was a dog bed, by mine, now claimed by a senior rescue dog, who will twitch in her sleep as she guards that which remains. 

Then there were the nights alone there, waiting for the phone to go off, even as it didn't.  My eyelids lids would twitch as I tried to sleep, the movement in response to my own brains thoughts or perhaps merely the cyclical movement of the earth and all of her watchers. In that place, there were memories made, and a life, perhaps forever changed. I wonder if years from now, I will drive past, just to see if it's there.

For these are the places of our happiest memories. They are scraps of time, like scraps of a note where your name once lay, a bit of stiff paper that means little of itself, yet still you keep it, will not burn it or throw it away because it means something, something you can hold even if the marks upon it are faded to white, something that says what you were, what you felt, even as you still are.
Years from now, oh so many years you hope, year to dream, to grow, there will come another night, with eyes that twitch with the minds flooding, even if the body is failing, the organs requiring the care of a Swiss watch even as time ticks down. The eyes are full of everything save consciousness and others gather around, looking on with knowing and unbearable eyes. The places of your memory are likely long gone, all they have here is the pictures of them in that brain that still sparks like a match, unspoken stories mirrored in the eyes of those around you.

Those places are never truly lost, they simply lie in whatever peaceful trail, besides whatever placid and assuring pond of spent years remains; in the mirror of days in which the mind still contemplates older desires and everlasting hopes. They are there, always, quiet, musing, steadfast, the joy still triumphant even if the actual place is now cinder and dirt. In that brain, is one final vision, a place perhaps, a person, someone for whom that spark exists even if they were years gone. The breath slows, the body remembers, the eyes finally close even as they embrace all seeing.
Far away, on a hill guarded by a small battalion of floral sprays, stands a grave marker. It was erected long before the soul's shroud that lays beneath would have believed, a life cut short without pattern, or prediction.  The stone has seen both sun and rain.  It has witnessed the dry heave of grief coming deep from the chest and the splash of tears against stone.  It will be here as the landscape grows, withers, dies, and grows again, generation after generation, even as those that visit fade from drought to dust.  It will be here when the night sky calls our name and doesn't look back.

From outside the basement window, the rain ceased as a flock of geese flew overhead, in the trail of a small aircraft that was skirting the storm.  Their sounds rose towards an astonishing crescendo, beyond the compass of hearing, as they flew upwards into a bright green sky.

-LBJ

9 comments:

  1. Nice to see you writing again!

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    1. Thanks - I needed a break, 3 books and a novella in 4 years plus full time job, home restoration and Dad's care, just had me burned out. I enjoyed the free time to get through a huge stack of books I wanted to read.

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  2. The words that you write, the stories which you weave, the tales which are told in such form as to invite the reader to be a witness of the story ... enchanting and magical. I will buy this book. How could I not?

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    1. Thank you Paul. Your support for my stories has always meant a lot to me.

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  3. Are you taking pre-orders yet? Based on your precious offerings, sign me up! I want the complete set of L. B. Johnson.

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    1. I'll let you know as soon as Amazon has it available. I'm looking at an early Spring publication. I just now got started and we have some noisy home projects (gutting a bathroom and sunroom) that make writing on the weekend on my days off a bit tough.

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  4. This is more good reading.
    One odd thing - "large pages of dead vegetation" - is that poetical or did you mean "patches"?

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  5. bittersweet indeed - especially the part about the widow.....

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  6. Beautiful! And evocative of what we choose to keep close in our hearts.

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