Here in the piney woods of Florida’s Gulf coast, the panhandle, we barely had a winter this year, and now — it’s hot. Hot, that is, if you’re doing stoop labor to pick up roughly one gazillion pine cones that fell the past few months so you’re husband can mow the clearing. The warm sun on my bare arms created the perfect conditions for manufacturing Vitamin D and strengthening my immune system.
A first: My iPhone nearly caused me to jump out of my skin when it made a noise like an air-raid signal. It was an emergency alert exhorting folks over 65 to stay home. Lou Lou Belle thought a thunder storm was coming and hid under my desk.
And another first: Winn Dixie delivered groceries to us. I left an envelope taped to the front door with a cash tip in it for the driver. She texted a thank you from her car. I waved from behind the glass door and then, once she had driven away, retrieved the bags and brought them to the kitchen, where I placed them in the side by side stainless steel sinks. Buck offered to help, but I declined. Overkill, most likely, but while he is extremely fit and healthy, he is 82 and a lymphoma survivor. Also my greatest treasure on earth. He knows me so well. He stood in the doorway and watched as I disinfected, stored, cleaned the sink, washed my hands again (and again), and used a Clorox wipe on all nearby surfaces.
“Twitchy Baby?” he said, using my affectionate nickname.
I looked up and saw that tender look in his eyes, hand over his heart. “Yes?”
“Love.” That’s all. And that’s everything.
The morning is dark and windy, with rain and warmer temperatures in the offing. The normal winter pattern here in the Florida panhandle is three days of chill, then rain, and two days of warmth. It’s not unusual for me to wear my same summer shorts and t-shirt augmented by a vest with many pockets or a light jacket from November to February. Rare is the winter day when I reach far back into the cupboard for a pair of fleece sweatpants.
When Lou and I walked down to the gate early, I was reminded of Wuthering Heights and how I always imagined myself like young Catherine, wandering the moors. The silver-gray lights, with sudden showers of leaves falling seems loud as cannons, and the chit-chit-chits of squirrels sounds like they are running around inside my head. The light, soft mist isn’t quite rain, but I can feel my hair expanding, curling, growing wild like a vine. I’m back at the house now, making a cauldron of white bean soup. Lou curls herself up on a small rug near the counter, waiting for offerings of celery half-ribs and quarter-size slices of carrot. Buck is up now, too, drinking chamomile vanilla tea (a more gentle counterpoint to my just-ground dark roast black coffee) and working at his desk.
I wonder if Lou is pondering the deeper meaning of life and why humans can be so unkind to each other and all other living beings or if she is simply wondering if it’s almost time for lunch? Whichever, her soulful eyes get me where I live and my heart catches with love for her. I hover over her like a monkey mama, fearful she will get out of my orbit and into sudden danger and that I will never get over her or the guilt. I can bear her growing old along with me, even God forbid a disease. It’s that unexpected awful thing that could happen because I am inattentive and let something bad find her.
I typed that title, erased it, wrote “nibble,” erased that because it wasn’t true and was too clever by half, typed “feeling the bite” again and am going to let it stand even though it makes me feel like a traitor.
Sexy as hell in a black silk t-shirt, Buck sat on the end of my bed and tried to explain that the day would come when the 14 year difference in our ages would bite. I was 30 then and couldn’t imagine my own mortality, much less his.
Like the two intelligent communications professionals we were, he and I “talked through the Scotch” over many fire-and-bedside chats, and eventually came to the conclusion — in classic cost-benefit analysis style — that if we could get a good 20 years, it would be worth unwinding the dregs of two failed marriages and making a life together.
That was 38 years ago. The investment ripened with years of reinvested dividends and was amortized decades ago. It’s been cream off the top ever since, and more exciting than most Blue Chips.
Buck told me to keep my seatbelt buckled; that it was going to be a wild ride. And I’ve done that. Good thing, too. Especially for this part.
Guess I’ve broken the ice for myself on this delicate subject. It may take a few more food pictures before I broach it again. We’ll see.
Meanwhile, time’s precious, and I’m shutting down the computer for tonight and joining Buck and Lou Lou Belle in our bed we fondly call “the cloud.”
I dreamed last night of my long-dead father. One of those rare dreams I’ve learned to call a major gift.
Standing on a sidewalk at a busy intersection, I was waiting for a car or a bus or a taxi or something to take me somewhere. It was crowded. Lots of people. Many of them seemed to know me. They waved and shouted friendly greetings.
I remember adjusting the shoulder strap of my heavy bag that was filled with notebooks and sketch pads, craning my neck to look for my ride, when someone called out: “Wait! Don’t go yet. Your Daddy is coming to see you!”
My head snapped up and sure enough, a man who could not be anyone but W. T. Jones was striding through the crowded sidewalk, pulling off leather work gloves as he walked. His crack-the-dark-world-open brilliant smile went all the way to those flashing bright eyes that never left my face.
Before there was time to think or react or, thank God, wake up, I was wrapped up in those dear arms. “Baby girl!” he crooned, nearly waltzing me around, his joy my sunbeam path.
I awoke then and nearly sprang out of bed with energy and a smile, still feeling that loving affirmation from my sweet, long-missed Daddy.
In the dream, Daddy was slightly heavier than I remembered, still sun-browned with crinkles around his eyes and a light sheen of sweat as though he had just come off the construction site of one of his subdivisions in central Florida, circa 1964, the year his heart suddenly stopped.
Tough blow for a thirteen-year-old to lose her dad. My older brother was sixteen; our younger brother only nine. Mother was fragile and unbalanced. Tough all the way around. The lodge pole of our family structure was jerked away and the roof quickly fell in.
For weeks, now, I haven’t been sleeping well enough to dream, much less to remember a dream. Several hours have elapsed since the dream. I’ve walked to the gate with Lou, fed her breakfast, and brewed coffee.
Cutting strawberries and oranges for Sunday breakfast a few minutes ago, I laughed to realize I was whistling Daddy’s favorite song.
Strange, the power of these mixed media pages done on the fly. I thought I was sticking bits of paint, tissue, words and even the grainy contents of an unused herbal tea bag to work toward some essential point about one of my characters, Jackson Celestine Harper, and his feelings about the loss of his wife to ovarian cancer several years earlier.
But when I went upstairs to take a picture of the page, I was stunned to feel an emotional wallop and understand that this page conveys some of my own feelings about the death of my stepson, Darryl. He was 45 and died of a massive heart attack while sitting in a lawn chair on the patio of his apartment, apparently immediately after eating lunch and smoking a final cigarette. It happened thirteen years ago: October 6, 2005.
I won’t show this post to Buck. He said at the time, “I can’t live long enough to get over this.”
Darryl told me once he was the black sheep of the family. I said, “No, you may be slightly gray, but you’re a sheep of our fold, and always welcome to come home.” He knew we always had a candle in the window for him. Still do.
I was married once on September 10. Gosh, we were young, clueless and divorced in ten years, damaged but neither of us broken.
Thank God, I got another chance to have a phenomenal, long-running marriage — coming up on 35 years next February.
I propped this recycled cardboard card up on Buck’s computer this morning so he would see it when he turned on his desk lamp. Yep. He was pleased as a pup. Keep in mind, kids, you’re never too old for romance.
A special thank you to Sibyl Dana Renolds, founder of the Belle Coeur Community, who created the Invitations to Reflect cards, one of which I used in the top right corner to symbolize the spiritual aspects of love.
Love wildly, like it’s a bottomless cup of the best coffee in the world. No stinting allowed. It’s the ultimate act of enlightened self-interest and the most radical act. Stories from a long-running happy marriage are here. #blogcategories
Yes, I know that’s not the way e.e. cummings wrote the line in the first stanza of anyone lived in a pretty how town. But that’s the way it popped into my head sometime in the greenhouse hours between 3 and 5 this morning.
My pre-dawn editing, changing “he sang his didn’t he danced his did” to “she sang his didn’t he danced her did” is actually easy to puzzle out.
Check out the photo below:
The young woman is our granddaughter, Andie. The occasion was brunch at our home this past Sunday in a room we call the library bar. Lots of books and a round table for four, just right for good talk. Now, look over Andie’s shoulder to the bookshelves. On the second shelf from the top, a salmon-colored book with a black band near the top is Complete Poems: 1913-1962 by e.e.cummings. That sets the stage.
That evening, when Buck and I had closed our books, we turned out the light and talked until one of fell asleep like we always do. We had a tender conversation about how the sweetest fruit of a long, happy marriage is to grow old together and still have so much to say to one another, so much to share, so much love to express.
So, when I came wide awake with “she sang his didn’t he danced her did,” it made perfect sense. Still does. And it’s in my head now, more melody than poem.