Friday, December 31, 2010

The Boys

Sometimes, a 30+ year long  friendship is measured in small acts of faithfulness.  I’ve spent over an hour trying to make paragraphs  do justice to years and I just can’t.  Plain and simple, I met two boys just out of high school when I was in my mid  20’s.  I saw those boys- I saw right down to their tender hearts, in one of those rare occasions in life when you have some sense that you are stepping into something big and enduring.   I’m no prophet, and at 26 sure didn’t know much about life, but I  knew then what I know now and will never stop knowing.  Those boys were and are treasures straight from God’s heart.  Those two boys got an apartment with some others and then there were four, and then some moved on and more were added and then there were a lot more than four and really,  who could ever count the people whose lives are different because of a handful of sweet earnest boys who wanted to love God and God’s big broken world. 

God put one thing on my heart- to write those boys letters.  Every Sunday night I did just that.  A letter to each of them.  Even if there were 8 or 10 of them, a handwritten letter.  While the modern convenience of email and facebook and text messages, (even blogs) is great, nothing compares with how exciting a letter feels in your hand in those moments between mailbox and easy chair. There were so many many nights of fun and of feeling out our faith boundaries and writing our faith stories at one or the other of my succession of little apartments in the years that followed. 

I am not surprised, 30 years later, that these boys have grown into amazing men.  They each have found strong beautiful  partners to walk through life with.  They all have beautiful children who carry on their good looks and more importantly their wide open hearts. 

We have all grown older, balder, bigger, wiser, and certainly busier.  We’ve stared down cancer scares and the adolescence of our children.   Our theologies have shifted (many times) and the path we thought we were on has led us to places we didn’t plan to go.   Still, here we are. 

Last night the 4 original “boys” and their kids, and me and my family all got to have an evening together.  The stars aligned to bring us all to the same place at the same time, drawing us in from California and Virginia and Tennessee,  Indiana and Kentucky.   It had been 7 years since we had been able to make that happen, and yet we all just fell right into place, finishing a sentence we left off on 7 years ago without skipping a beat.  The greatest joy was the way our kids (who were just little kiddos 7 years ago) got along together, giving us a sense of hope for the next generation of “boys” in this world.

I (no surprise here) got weepy just seeing us all together.   We are past the age now where we take for granted friendships like this,  or that we will all always be around for the next gathering.   I think we knew we were rich when we were younger, but we had no idea just HOW rich. 

The boys have a plan- to meet up in California in 2 years to commemorate the 50th birthday of one of them by climbing Mount Baldy together.  Maybe I need to start writing them letters again, admonishing them to stretch and grow and reminding them that they are dearly loved as they train for this event! 

It is no small thing in this world to have friends like these.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

I Want One!!

Head on over to Brown Paper Packages for info on maybe winning a Silhouette machine.  What have you got to lose?

Wednesday Link Love

Now these are some gingerbread houses!!

Somewhere, there is someone just waiting to be Cliff’s mom. I’m praying for her.

I LOVE these wedding pictures. I found them via a link from a magazine blog, and then discovered they were right her in my hometown by a hometown photographer.

I’ve been a follower of Edie’s blog for a long time, always loving the pictures of her beautiful home and her sweet spirit. She has been on my mind so so much over this past week. Reading her post tonight, I am so touched by her honesty and her strength.

Aren’t these beautiful? And don’t they look easy to make?

Is it just me, or does this look like about the last place someone would want to go on vacation? Ask me how I feel about it in August though! By then, it’s going to look so so cozy and fun!

This post is great, not just because of the great Ben Sollee in the background, but because I have thought several times today about little Nella waving at her shadow! Love it!

The other, less documented, view of a Disney vacation!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

I meant to ask….

What word do you want to live into for 2011?


So far, I have not gotten around to making my charms. I take my words, and their selection very seriously. Had I made them, I would now have charms that say Joy, Less, and Welcome and for 2011 I would add SMALLER.

My book group has just finished reading Mudbound by Hillary Jordan. A sentence caught my eye and stuck in my heart. The main character describes a time in her life when her life is mostly spent tending to her home and family, and she comments that life was small, and she loved it. In that instant I wanted a smaller life. No, I don’t want to be a housewife. But I do want a life more anchored to doing the things that I truly love and that give me some sense of pride and satisfaction. So, a smaller life in 2011. Do few things but do them well. Maybe I’ll have a theme song this year too!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Music Monday

Love this guy, love this song. It’s been playing in my head all day.

The Day After

A lot of things I had planned went undone.  Some of my favorite Christmas decorations were packed away so well last year that they were not found this year.  I have a pantry full of the makings of batches of things that I just never found the time to bake, and a sack of tins to put them in just clanging around in my bedroom floor.  And still……it came.  And it was wonderful.  It was better than anything I might have planned.  By the time my last child got home on Thursday night, I had been pacing in and out of the house to the porch to watch for her for an hour.  When she walked in just in time to sit down to dinner, and we all held hands to pray, and my son said a beautiful prayer, there just was not enough room in my heart and it burst and I had to lay my face in my hands and cry.

There were gifts, and they were thoughtful and generous and appreciated, but what made us rich had little to nothing to do with those. 

This simple home, this sweet family…..we were the unknowing cast of the Christmas pageant- the wise and otherwise folks, the earnest and salt of the earth shepherds.  We were the gold and the frankinsence.  And right here, in this shotgun house and our tender hearts, the Christ child was born. 

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas Barbara Jo

When the kids ended up with dinner plans and we were left with none, DH and I opted to get a bite to eat out while making a grocery run. That's how we ended up at Barbara Jo's. Every head turned when we came in- all 6 of them- three at the the “bar”, one at the grill, one in a booth, and one eager waitress. We chose the cleanest booth we could find and the service was immediate. Her first inquiry was about how we were feeling about the weather. What we thought the weather might be for the holidays. An update from the national weather service. Once we got that out of the way, we got some menus. We had about 3 minutes to peruse the menu before her return. She arrived at our table with a folding chair in hand, popped it open, took a seat, planted both elbows on the table and asked, “So, what's looking good to you folks tonight?” As we rattled off possibilities, she gave us the pros and cons on each. When I settled on pancakes she assured me I had made a wise choice. DH's choice of a platter opened a whole new line of questions- what kind of bread for the toast, how he wanted his eggs cooked, what kind of meat he wanted, if he wanted peppers or onions or tomatoes or chili on his hashbrowns.

A truck pulled in, someone announced, “there's Dennis” and she trotted off to give Dennis a proper greeting. Sort of like an old Cheers episode, as soon as he walked in every other person in the room besides us gave out a hearty, “Hi Dennis”. He wasn't there to eat, or even to get a cup of coffee, but just to check in. He helped the folks at the bar make a decision about whether or not each state's residents social security number starts with a different number- he felt they do.and then he was gone.

Christmas carols blared from a boom box at the end of the room and folks hummed along at intervals, but when Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas started up, Barbara at the grill, and our chatty waitress (a mother and daughter team, we had figured out) began singing in at a loud enough volume that it begged to become a singalong, and singalong it became with heads bobbing at the bar and in the booth beside us and so , I think, why not us....and in a rare uninhibited moment, I join in. When our pancakes and grits and eggs and biscuits arrive- enough for an army- our waitress admonishes us to save a little of our sausage for her, as it's really good. Barbara herself stepped away from the griddle long enough to bring the bacon and call DH sweetie baby. Sweetie Baby and I tried to go over what we had gotten the kids for Christmas, trying to be sure nothing was left undone, but Barbara was expounding on her no drinking in Barbara Jo's kitchen policy, and the man in the booth was bagging up all of his carryout food, and the boom box was loud, and we just surrendered and became a part of the crowd. Shoot, we can talk in the car on the way home. Lights twinkled in the windows and Bing Crosby was hoping for a White Christmas which brought the whole weather theme up again, and we slipped out into the cold, leaving a Christmas tip behind for our helpful server. Part of me wants to say we will NEVER go back to Barbara Jo's again, and part of me thinks it may become a Christmas tradition..

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Wednesday Link Love


This tiny house makes me smile!

Oh, this jewelry is so so sweet.

Now, here’s a bomb I could learn to love. I’m liking color this week- can you tell?

Looking for some memorable ideas for your Christmas table? Check out my friend Kim’s site.

Oh my! I love this mobile!

This could be the year I finally remember to try my hand at ice lanterns.

Check out the cool stuff on my friend’s new site.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

Unpacking Advent

For several years I volunteered at St. Johns Day Center on Sunday afternoons. I spent part of Christmas day there each year. Many of my best Christmas memories were made there, but one more dear to me than all the others.

A group of school children had painstakingly decorated shoe boxes for each of our guests, written a small holiday message inside signed with their name and age, and filled the boxes with small gifts.

I don’t know that on my own I would have noticed- it was Sister Pat who pointed out to me a young man sitting alone at one of the tables. When she pointed him out he had just opened his box. He read the message from the child thoughtfully, then took each item out slowly. First the orange, then the small bag of candy. He ran his hands across the gloves and admired the pair of socks. It was clear that he was pleased with each item. He let them sit for a while on the table and then he attentively placed each item slowly back in the box. For a while the box would sit in front of him, then he would pull it toward him and look at the detailed decorations the child had made. He would open the lid, read the message and remove the contents-again. First the orange, then the bag of candy. After admiring his gifts, he would again place them back in the box. The box would sit in front of him for a while, then he would pull it toward him and he would do it all over again.

I don’t know how many times I watched that man open his box, but I do know that for every time he did, Christmas “happened” for me anew, as clearly it did for him. It was so dear that it almost became painful for me.

And so it is for all of us this Advent. Into our broken shipwrecked lives, comes this gift of extravagant love- again and again.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Six Word Saturday


One more in the nest tonight….

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Christmas Memory of A Christmas Memory

Years ago the Vogue Theatre in St. Matthews used to print a monthly schedule of upcoming movies.  It was on the back of the December schedule one  year that I first discovered Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory.  For several years, Actors Theatre of Louisville had a one man show of this beautiful story, performed as a gift to their patrons.   I love the story dearly, and every good memory that comes to mind when I think of it..  Even if you’ve read it many times, read it again.  It’s so sweet!

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote

Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar.

A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but, due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is remarkable—not unlike Lincoln's, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid. "Oh my," she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, "it's fruitcake weather!"

The person to whom she is speaking is myself. I am seven; she is sixty-something, We are cousins, very distant ones, and we have lived together—well, as long as I can remember. Other people inhabit the house, relatives; and though they have power over us, and frequently make us cry, we are not, on the whole, too much aware of them. We are each other's best friend. She calls me Buddy, in memory of a boy who was formerly her best friend. The other Buddy died in the 1880's, when she was still a child. She is still a child.

"I knew it before I got out of bed," she says, turning away from the window with a purposeful excitement in her eyes. "The courthouse bell sounded so cold and clear. And there were no birds singing; they've gone to warmer country, yes indeed. Oh, Buddy, stop stuffing biscuit and fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat. We've thirty cakes to bake."

It's always the same: a morning arrives in November, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the Christmas time of year that exhilarates her imagination and fuels the blaze of her heart, announces: "It's fruitcake weather! Fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat."

The hat is found, a straw cartwheel corsaged with velvet roses out-of-doors has faded: it once belonged to a more fashionable relative. Together, we guide our buggy, a dilapidated baby carriage, out to the garden and into a grove of pecan trees. The buggy is mine; that is, it was bought for me when I was born. It is made of wicker, rather unraveled, and the wheels wobble like a drunkard's legs. But it is a faithful object; springtimes, we take it to the woods and fill it with flowers, herbs, wild fern for our porch pots; in the summer, we pile it with picnic paraphernalia and sugar-cane fishing poles and roll it down to the edge of a creek; it has its winter uses, too: as a truck for hauling firewood from the yard to the kitchen, as a warm bed for Queenie, our tough little orange and white rat terrier who has survived distemper and two rattlesnake bites. Queenie is trotting beside it now.

Three hours later we are back in the kitchen hulling a heaping buggyload of windfall pecans. Our backs hurt from gathering them: how hard they were to find (the main crop having been shaken off the trees and sold by the orchard's owners, who are not us) among the concealing leaves, the frosted, deceiving grass. Caarackle! A cheery crunch, scraps of miniature thunder sound as the shells collapse and the golden mound of sweet oily ivory meat mounts in the milk-glass bowl. Queenie begs to taste, and now and again my friend sneaks her a mite, though insisting we deprive ourselves. "We mustn't, Buddy. If we start, we won't stop. And there's scarcely enough as there is. For thirty cakes." The kitchen is growing dark. Dusk turns the window into a mirror: our reflections mingle with the rising moon as we work by the fireside in the firelight. At last, when the moon is quite high, we toss the final hull into the fire and, with joined sighs, watch it catch flame. The buggy is empty, the bowl is brimful.

We eat our supper (cold biscuits, bacon, blackberry jam) and discuss tomorrow. Tomorrow the kind of work I like best begins: buying. Cherries and citron, ginger and vanilla and canned Hawaiian pine-apple, rinds and raisins and walnuts and whiskey and oh, so much flour, butter, so many eggs, spices, flavorings: why, we'll need a pony to pull the buggy home.

But before these Purchases can be made, there is the question of money. Neither of us has any. Except for skin-flint sums persons in the house occasionally provide (a dime is considered very big money); or what we earn ourselves from various activities: holding rummage sales, selling buckets of hand-picked blackberries, jars of home-made jam and apple jelly and peach preserves, rounding up flowers for funerals and weddings. Once we won seventy-ninth prize, five dollars, in a national football contest. Not that we know a fool thing about football. It's just that we enter any contest we hear about: at the moment our hopes are centered on the fifty-thousand-dollar Grand Prize being offered to name a new brand of coffee (we suggested "A.M."; and, after some hesitation, for my friend thought it perhaps sacrilegious, the slogan "A.M.! Amen!"). To tell the truth, our only really profitable enterprise was the Fun and Freak Museum we conducted in a back-yard woodshed two summers ago. The Fun was a stereopticon with slide views of Washington and New York lent us by a relative who had been to those places (she was furious when she discovered why we'd borrowed it); the Freak was a three-legged biddy chicken hatched by one of our own hens. Every body hereabouts wanted to see that biddy: we charged grown ups a nickel, kids two cents. And took in a good twenty dollars before the museum shut down due to the decease of the main attraction.

But one way and another we do each year accumulate Christmas savings, a Fruitcake Fund. These moneys we keep hidden in an ancient bead purse under a loose board under the floor under a chamber pot under my friend's bed. The purse is seldom removed from this safe location except to make a deposit or, as happens every Saturday, a withdrawal; for on Saturdays I am allowed ten cents to go to the picture show. My friend has never been to a picture show, nor does she intend to: "I'd rather hear you tell the story, Buddy. That way I can imagine it more. Besides, a person my age shouldn't squander their eyes. When the Lord comes, let me see him clear." In addition to never having seen a movie, she has never: eaten in a restaurant, traveled more than five miles from home, received or sent a telegram, read anything except funny papers and the Bible, worn cosmetics, cursed, wished someone harm, told a lie on purpose, let a hungry dog go hungry. Here are a few things she has done, does do: killed with a hoe the biggest rattlesnake ever seen in this county (sixteen rattles), dip snuff (secretly), tame hummingbirds (just try it) till they balance on her finger, tell ghost stories (we both believe in ghosts) so tingling they chill you in July, talk to herself, take walks in the rain, grow the prettiest japonicas in town, know the recipe for every sort of oldtime Indian cure, including a magical wart remover.

Now, with supper finished, we retire to the room in a faraway part of the house where my friend sleeps in a scrap-quilt-covered iron bed painted rose pink, her favorite color. Silently, wallowing in the pleasures of conspiracy, we take the bead purse from its secret place and spill its contents on the scrap quilt. Dollar bills, tightly rolled and green as May buds. Somber fifty-cent pieces, heavy enough to weight a dead man's eyes. Lovely dimes, the liveliest coin, the one that really jingles. Nickels and quarters, worn smooth as creek pebbles. But mostly a hateful heap of bitter-odored pennies. Last summer others in the house contracted to pay us a penny for every twenty-five flies we killed. Oh, the carnage of August: the flies that flew to heaven! Yet it was not work in which we took pride. And, as we sit counting pennies, it is as though we were back tabulating dead flies. Neither of us has a head for figures; we count slowly, lose track, start again. According to her calculations, we have $12.73. According to mine, exactly $13. "I do hope you're wrong, Buddy. We can't mess around with thirteen. The cakes will fall. Or put somebody in the cemetery. Why, I wouldn't dream of getting out of bed on the thirteenth." This is true: she always spends thirteenths in bed. So, to be on the safe side, we subtract a penny and toss it out the window.

Of the ingredients that go into our fruitcakes, whiskey is the most expensive, as well as the hardest to obtain: State laws forbid its sale. But everybody knows you can buy a bottle from Mr. Haha Jones. And the next day, having completed our more prosaic shopping, we set out for Mr. Haha's business address, a "sinful" (to quote public opinion) fish-fry and dancing cafe down by the river. We've been there before, and on the same errand; but in previous years our dealings have been with Haha's wife, an iodine-dark Indian woman with brassy peroxided hair and a dead-tired disposition. Actually, we've never laid eyes on her husband, though we've heard that he's an Indian too. A giant with razor scars across his cheeks. They call him Haha because he's so gloomy, a man who never laughs. As we approach his cafe (a large log cabin festooned inside and out with chains of garish-gay naked light bulbs and standing by the river's muddy edge under the shade of river trees where moss drifts through the branches like gray mist) our steps slow down. Even Queenie stops prancing and sticks close by. People have been murdered in Haha's cafe. Cut to pieces. Hit on the head. There's a case coming up in court next month. Naturally these goings-on happen at night when the colored lights cast crazy patterns and the Victrolah wails. In the daytime Haha's is shabby and deserted. I knock at the door, Queenie barks, my friend calls: "Mrs. Haha, ma'am? Anyone to home?"

Footsteps. The door opens. Our hearts overturn. It's Mr. Haha Jones himself! And he is a giant; he does have scars; he doesn't smile. No, he glowers at us through Satan-tilted eyes and demands to know: "What you want with Haha?"

For a moment we are too paralyzed to tell. Presently my friend half-finds her voice, a whispery voice at best: "If you please, Mr. Haha, we'd like a quart of your finest whiskey."

His eyes tilt more. Would you believe it? Haha is smiling! Laughing, too. "Which one of you is a drinkin' man?"

"It's for making fruitcakes, Mr. Haha. Cooking. "

This sobers him. He frowns. "That's no way to waste good whiskey." Nevertheless, he retreats into the shadowed cafe and seconds later appears carrying a bottle of daisy-yellow unlabeled liquor. He demonstrates its sparkle in the sunlight and says: "Two dollars."

We pay him with nickels and dimes and pennies. Suddenly, as he jangles the coins in his hand like a fistful of dice, his face softens. "Tell you what," he proposes, pouring the money back into our bead purse, "just send me one of them fruitcakes instead."

"Well," my friend remarks on our way home, "there's a lovely man. We'll put an extra cup of raisins in his cake."

The black stove, stoked with coal and firewood, glows like a lighted pumpkin. Eggbeaters whirl, spoons spin round in bowls of butter and sugar, vanilla sweetens the air, ginger spices it; melting, nose-tingling odors saturate the kitchen, suffuse the house, drift out to the world on puffs of chimney smoke. In four days our work is done. Thirty-one cakes, dampened with whiskey, bask on windowsills and shelves.

Who are they for?

Friends. Not necessarily neighbor friends: indeed, the larger share is intended for persons we've met maybe once, perhaps not at all. People who've struck our fancy. Like President Roosevelt. Like the Reverend and Mrs. J. C. Lucey, Baptist missionaries to Borneo who lectured here last winter. Or the little knife grinder who comes through town twice a year. Or Abner Packer, the driver of the six o'clock bus from Mobile, who exchanges waves with us every day as he passes in a dust-cloud whoosh. Or the young Wistons, a California couple whose car one afternoon broke down outside the house and who spent a pleasant hour chatting with us on the porch (young Mr. Wiston snapped our picture, the only one we've ever had taken). Is it because my friend is shy with everyone except strangers that these strangers, and merest acquaintances, seem to us our truest friends? I think yes. Also, the scrapbooks we keep of thank-you's on White House stationery, time-to-time communications from California and Borneo, the knife grinder's penny post cards, make us feel connected to eventful worlds beyond the kitchen with its view of a sky that stops.

Now a nude December fig branch grates against the window. The kitchen is empty, the cakes are gone; yesterday we carted the last of them to the post office, where the cost of stamps turned our purse inside out. We're broke. That rather depresses me, but my friend insists on celebrating—with two inches of whiskey left in Haha's bottle. Queenie has a spoonful in a bowl of coffee (she likes her coffee chicory-flavored and strong). The rest we divide between a pair of jelly glasses. We're both quite awed at the prospect of drinking straight whiskey; the taste of it brings screwedup expressions and sour shudders. But by and by we begin to sing, the two of us singing different songs simultaneously. I don't know the words to mine, just: Come on along, come on along, to the dark-town strutters' ball. But I can dance: that's what I mean to be, a tap dancer in the movies. My dancing shadow rollicks on the walls; our voices rock the chinaware; we giggle: as if unseen hands were tickling us. Queenie rolls on her back, her paws plow the air, something like a grin stretches her black lips. Inside myself, I feel warm and sparky as those crumbling logs, carefree as the wind in the chimney. My friend waltzes round the stove, the hem of her poor calico skirt pinched between her fingers as though it were a party dress: Show me the way to go home, she sings, her tennis shoes squeaking on the floor. Show me the way to go home.

Enter: two relatives. Very angry. Potent with eyes that scold, tongues that scald. Listen to what they have to say, the words tumbling together into a wrathful tune: "A child of seven! whiskey on his breath! are you out of your mind? feeding a child of seven! must be loony! road to ruination! remember Cousin Kate? Uncle Charlie? Uncle Charlie's brother-inlaw? shame! scandal! humiliation! kneel, pray, beg the Lord!"

Queenie sneaks under the stove. My friend gazes at her shoes, her chin quivers, she lifts her skirt and blows her nose and runs to her room. Long after the town has gone to sleep and the house is silent except for the chimings of clocks and the sputter of fading fires, she is weeping into a pillow already as wet as a widow's handkerchief.

"Don't cry," I say, sitting at the bottom of her bed and shivering despite my flannel nightgown that smells of last winter's cough syrup, "Don't cry," I beg, teasing her toes, tickling her feet, "you're too old for that."

"It's because," she hiccups, "I am too old. Old and funny."

"Not funny. Fun. More fun than anybody. Listen. If you don't stop crying you'll be so tired tomorrow we can't go cut a tree."

She straightens up. Queenie jumps on the bed (where Queenie is not allowed) to lick her cheeks. "I know where we'll find real pretty trees, Buddy. And holly, too. With berries big as your eyes. It's way off in the woods. Farther than we've ever been. Papa used to bring us Christmas trees from there: carry them on his shoulder. That's fifty years ago. Well, now: I can't wait for morning."

Morning. Frozen rime lusters the grass; the sun, round as an orange and orange as hot-weather moons, balances on the horizon, burnishes the silvered winter woods. A wild turkey calls. A renegade hog grunts in the undergrowth. Soon, by the edge of knee-deep, rapid-running water, we have to abandon the buggy. Queenie wades the stream first, paddles across barking complaints at the swiftness of the current, the pneumonia-making coldness of it. We follow, holding our shoes and equipment (a hatchet, a burlap sack) above our heads. A mile more: of chastising thorns, burrs and briers that catch at our clothes; of rusty pine needles brilliant with gaudy fungus and molted feathers. Here, there, a flash, a flutter, an ecstasy of shrillings remind us that not all the birds have flown south. Always, the path unwinds through lemony sun pools and pitchblack vine tunnels. Another creek to cross: a disturbed armada of speckled trout froths the water round us, and frogs the size of plates practice belly flops; beaver workmen are building a dam. On the farther shore, Queenie shakes herself and trembles. My friend shivers, too: not with cold but enthusiasm. One of her hat's ragged roses sheds a petal as she lifts her head and inhales the pine-heavy air. "We're almost there; can you smell it, Buddy'" she says, as though we were approaching an ocean.

And, indeed, it is a kind of ocean. Scented acres of holiday trees, prickly-leafed holly. Red berries shiny as Chinese bells: black crows swoop upon them screaming. Having stuffed our burlap sacks with enough greenery and crimson to garland a dozen windows, we set about choosing a tree. "It should be," muses my friend, "twice as tall as a boy. So a boy can't steal the star." The one we pick is twice as tall as me. A brave handsome brute that survives thirty hatchet strokes before it keels with a creaking rending cry. Lugging it like a kill, we commence the long trek out. Every few yards we abandon the struggle, sit down and pant. But we have the strength of triumphant huntsmen; that and the tree's virile, icy perfume revive us, goad us on. Many compliments accompany our sunset return along the red clay road to town; but my friend is sly and noncommittal when passers-by praise the treasure perched in our buggy: what a fine tree, and where did it come from? "Yonderways," she murmurs vaguely. Once a car stops, and the rich mill owner's lazy wife leans out and whines: "Giveya two-bits" cash for that ol tree." Ordinarily my friend is afraid of saying no; but on this occasion she promptly shakes her head: "We wouldn't take a dollar." The mill owner's wife persists. "A dollar, my foot! Fifty cents. That's my last offer. Goodness, woman, you can get another one." In answer, my friend gently reflects: "I doubt it. There's never two of anything."

Home: Queenie slumps by the fire and sleeps till tomorrow, snoring loud as a human.

A trunk in the attic contains: a shoebox of ermine tails (off the opera cape of a curious lady who once rented a room in the house), coils of frazzled tinsel gone gold with age, one silver star, a brief rope of dilapidated, undoubtedly dangerous candylike light bulbs. Excellent decorations, as far as they go, which isn't far enough: my friend wants our tree to blaze "like a Baptist window," droop with weighty snows of ornament. But we can't afford the made-in-Japan splendors at the five-and-dime. So we do what we've always done: sit for days at the kitchen table with scissors and crayons and stacks of colored paper. I make sketches and my friend cuts them out: lots of cats, fish too (because they're easy to draw), some apples, some watermelons, a few winged angels devised from saved-up sheets of Hershey bar tin foil. We use safety pins to attach these creations to the tree; as a final touch, we sprinkle the branches with shredded cotton (picked in August for this purpose). My friend, surveying the effect, clasps her hands together. "Now honest, Buddy. Doesn't it look good enough to eat!" Queenie tries to eat an angel.

After weaving and ribboning holly wreaths for all the front windows, our next project is the fashioning of family gifts. Tie-dye scarves for the ladies, for the men a homebrewed lemon and licorice and aspirin syrup to be taken "at the first Symptoms of a Cold and after Hunting." But when it comes time for making each other's gift, my friend and I separate to work secretly. I would like to buy her a pearl-handled knife, a radio, a whole pound of chocolate-covered cherries (we tasted some once, and she always swears: "1 could live on them, Buddy, Lord yes I could—and that's not taking his name in vain"). Instead, I am building her a kite. She would like to give me a bicycle (she's said so on several million occasions: "If only I could, Buddy. It's bad enough in life to do without something you want; but confound it, what gets my goat is not being able to give somebody something you want them to have. Only one of these days I will, Buddy. Locate you a bike. Don't ask how. Steal it, maybe"). Instead, I'm fairly certain that she is building me a kite—the same as last year and the year before: the year before that we exchanged slingshots. All of which is fine by me. For we are champion kite fliers who study the wind like sailors; my friend, more accomplished than I, can get a kite aloft when there isn't enough breeze to carry clouds.

Christmas Eve afternoon we scrape together a nickel and go to the butcher's to buy Queenie's traditional gift, a good gnawable beef bone. The bone, wrapped in funny paper, is placed high in the tree near the silver star. Queenie knows it's there. She squats at the foot of the tree staring up in a trance of greed: when bedtime arrives she refuses to budge. Her excitement is equaled by my own. I kick the covers and turn my pillow as though it were a scorching summer's night. Somewhere a rooster crows: falsely, for the sun is still on the other side of the world.

"Buddy, are you awake!" It is my friend, calling from her room, which is next to mine; and an instant later she is sitting on my bed holding a candle. "Well, I can't sleep a hoot," she declares. "My mind's jumping like a jack rabbit. Buddy, do you think Mrs. Roosevelt will serve our cake at dinner?" We huddle in the bed, and she squeezes my hand I-love-you. "Seems like your hand used to be so much smaller. I guess I hate to see you grow up. When you're grown up, will we still be friends?" I say always. "But I feel so bad, Buddy. I wanted so bad to give you a bike. I tried to sell my cameo Papa gave me. Buddy"—she hesitates, as though embarrassed—"I made you another kite." Then I confess that I made her one, too; and we laugh. The candle burns too short to hold. Out it goes, exposing the starlight, the stars spinning at the window like a visible caroling that slowly, slowly daybreak silences. Possibly we doze; but the beginnings of dawn splash us like cold water: we're up, wide-eyed and wandering while we wait for others to waken. Quite deliberately my friend drops a kettle on the kitchen floor. I tap-dance in front of closed doors. One by one the household emerges, looking as though they'd like to kill us both; but it's Christmas, so they can't. First, a gorgeous breakfast: just everything you can imagine—from flapjacks and fried squirrel to hominy grits and honey-in-the-comb. Which puts everyone in a good humor except my friend and me. Frankly, we're so impatient to get at the presents we can't eat a mouthful.

Well, I'm disappointed. Who wouldn't be? With socks, a Sunday school shirt, some handkerchiefs, a hand-me-down sweater, and a year's subscription to a religious magazine for children. The Little Shepherd. It makes me boil. It really does.

My friend has a better haul. A sack of Satsumas, that's her best present. She is proudest, however, of a white wool shawl knitted by her married sister. But she says her favorite gift is the kite I built her. And it is very beautiful; though not as beautiful as the one she made me, which is blue and scattered with gold and green Good Conduct stars; moreover, my name is painted on it, "Buddy."

"Buddy, the wind is blowing."

The wind is blowing, and nothing will do till we've run to a Pasture below the house where Queenie has scooted to bury her bone (and where, a winter hence, Queenie will be buried, too). There, plunging through the healthy waist-high grass, we unreel our kites, feel them twitching at the string like sky fish as they swim into the wind. Satisfied, sun-warmed, we sprawl in the grass and peel Satsumas and watch our kites cavort. Soon I forget the socks and hand-me-down sweater. I'm as happy as if we'd already won the fifty-thousand-dollar Grand Prize in that coffee-naming contest.

"My, how foolish I am!" my friend cries, suddenly alert, like a woman remembering too late she has biscuits in the oven. "You know what I've always thought?" she asks in a tone of discovery and not smiling at me but a point beyond. "I've always thought a body would have to be sick and dying before they saw the Lord. And I imagined that when he came it would be like looking at the Baptist window: pretty as colored glass with the sun pouring through, such a shine you don't know it's getting dark. And it's been a comfort: to think of that shine taking away all the spooky feeling. But I'11 wager it never happens. I'11 wager at the very end a body realizes the Lord has already shown Himself. That things as they are"—her hand circles in a gesture that gathers clouds and kites and grass and Queenie pawing earth over her bone—"just what they've always seen, was seeing Him. As for me, I could leave the world with today in my eyes."

This is our last Christmas together.

Life separates us. Those who Know Best decide that I belong in a military school. And so follows a miserable succession of bugle-blowing prisons, grim reveille-ridden summer camps. I have a new home too. But it doesn't count. Home is where my friend is, and there I never go.

And there she remains, puttering around the kitchen. Alone with Queenie. Then alone. ("Buddy dear," she writes in her wild hard-to-read script, "yesterday Jim Macy's horse kicked Queenie bad. Be thankful she didn't feel much. I wrapped her in a Fine Linen sheet and rode her in the buggy down to Simpson's pasture where she can be with all her Bones...."). For a few Novembers she continues to bake her fruitcakes single-handed; not as many, but some: and, of course, she always sends me "the best of the batch." Also, in every letter she encloses a dime wadded in toilet paper: "See a picture show and write me the story." But gradually in her letters she tends to confuse me with her other friend, the Buddy who died in the 1880's; more and more, thirteenths are not the only days she stays in bed: a morning arrives in November, a leafless birdless coming of winter morning, when she cannot rouse herself to exclaim: "Oh my, it's fruitcake weather! "

And when that happens, I know it. A message saying so merely confirms a piece of news some secret vein had already received, severing from me an irreplaceable part of myself, letting it loose like a kite on a broken string. That is why, walking across a school campus on this particular December morning, I keep searching the sky. As if I expected to see, rather like hearts, a lost pair of kites hurrying toward heaven.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wednesday Link Love

Image of A is for Apple  (3 HAIR COLOR CHOICES)

I think these dolls are ADORABLE. Especially by the armload!

Some great little diy hanging lights.

Cute and easy!

Seed catalogs started showing up this week, and then this. Come on Spring!

I’d like to share a meal at the Little Round Table!

I’m thinking these are pretty cool.

Any way you could NOT be happy nestled under this quilt? (While settling into this bed!)

I like this. So simple.

Ornaments of tiny houses? Why YES! And some little trees to go with them.

8 Things I hope to do over Christmas break….

Not necessarily the ONLY 8 things, and certainly not in order, but here goes:

1. Eat lunch out with several friends I need to catch up with.

2. Play some late night games of Phase 10

3. Stay up all night and take long afternoon naps.

4. Have lunch with the kids at the thai buffet.

5. Make comfort foods

6. Maybe finish Christmas shopping?!!

7. Set good intentional goals for 2011

8. Enjoy my time with my family.

Tomorrow is my last day to work until 2011. Can you tell I’m excited?!!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Thou shalt not covet my husband’s Christmas gift…

For years my church had a Santa Sale each year.  Folks from other churches would collect things all year to bring us.  A lot of what we got was stuff people had gotten themselves but didn’t like, or things that had sat around unused, but all of it was nice and the most important thing was volume.  On the appointed Sunday afternoon, kids from the neighboring housing project could line up outside and we would let in a group of 10 at a time to go up into the room where the sale items were.  They could select 5 items to buy for 10 cents each.  The sweetest thing was how hard they would look for just the right gift.  Almost always they wanted to get all five gifts for their mother….or for themselves.  Then they would bring their gifts downstairs where lots of folks from the church were standing ready to wrap their gifts for them.  And boy we had some difficult stuff to wrap, but we managed to send each child and their five wrapped gifts on their way as 10 more kids were about to come down with their selections.  We did the same sale for Mother’s Day.   Now when the neighborhood kids had all come and gone,  there would still be a truckload of stuff, and kids from the church would be allowed the same privilege- 5 gifts for 10 cents each. For most of those years I didn’t have kids so I got to “help” other church kids make their selections.  When my pastor was about 11 months pregnant, her little boy selected a set of those barbells that you got on your knees and rolled  out in front of you to tighten up your abs.  No talking him out of it.  So, it was with great joy and curiosity that DH and I unwrapped OUR gifts purchased by our little girls the first year we had them.   Mine was in a nice Christmas liquor bottle box, and was a collection of small things like a container of hand creme and some gloves.  But DH won the Santa Sale lottery…… of the girls gave him……a ten commandment bracelet.  Gold. And in yet another moment that gives testimony to what a great dad he is, he put it right on and wore it around the house for a while.  And then for years it was safely kept in his nightstand drawer, just a sweet reminder of those little girls at their cutest. Made for a great Christmas memory!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

One Lucky Mom

I have sort of a reputation among my friends and family members.  I am a little on the emotional side.  And whether happy or sad, I’m crying.  And during the Christmas season, I find everything touching.  So, I cry a lot.  One year it was just the sight of the way a woman in my parking lot was carrying her casserole in for the office party, so earnest and happy.  And don’t even play that  Christmas Shoes song- gets me every time.

One day, a number of years ago, I was in the line at Target to check out.  In front of me were two little boys.  The oldest looked to be about ten and the other about four.  The oldest had the biggest toaster oven box ever in his cart.  He kept patting the box and looking proudly at it.  He says to his little brother, "Now, don’t worry about paying on this.  I’ve got it." Then, he pats it admiringly again.  "She SURE is going to be happy when she sees THIS."   That toaster oven just seemed to be begging for compliments so I said to the boy, "That’s a really nice one you’ve got there."   "Thanks!  It’s for my mom.  She’s been wanting it since last year.  She’s NEVER going to believe I got it for her." And he pats it again.  Even typing it has me welling up.  "Well,"…..(and the blubbering began) I think she is one mighty lucky mom to have such thoughtful sons.  She is going to be so so happy."  And the poor boys look a little scared!  I mean, I was crying!  And I didn’t stop.  I say, all chin quivery with tears pouring down my cheeks to the cashier, "These boys have the luckiest mom ever.  Look at this great toaster oven they are getting her!"  And she was about as touched as I was once she saw how proud the boys were.  They paid, all small bills and change, and start to grab the bag but the cashier says, "Is your mom outside waiting?" And they said she was, so she and I busied ourselves with triple bagging it in hopes of disguising it.  And we both told them again how lucky their mom was.  And she had a tear sliding down her cheek too by that time.  And off went two happy, but somewhat bewildered boys.  And a mighty lucky mom was waiting to take them and their precious cargo home.

Six Word Saturday


Visiting Santa wears a fellow out

(yes, he sleeps with one eye slightly open!)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wednesday Link Love

Ever since I saw this I’ve thought about how much I love it and would like to have one!

Oh how cute!

Here’s a pretty idea!  And I have a gold sharpie AND a votive holder!

And since I am indeed the girl who thinks if 7 is good, 10 would be even better……..

Great Christmas printables!

Yep, I want to make some of this!

Ohhhhhh, I love these scarves!  I really love them!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010



I may not have any other Christmas decorations out, and I may or may not have just taken my jackolantern to the trash tonight, but I do have my Advent calendar out.

At church, we spent the weeks preceding Advent looking at the things we say NO to.  It was great fun to walk into church on the first Sunday in Advent and see a giant YES unfurled from the ceiling!  Saying yes feels good for Advent.

Leave your windows and go out, people of the world,

go into the streets, go into the fields, go into the woods

and along the streams. Go together, go alone.

Say no to the Lords of War which is Money

which is Fire. Say no by saying yes

to the air, to the earth, to the trees,

yes to the grasses, to the rivers, to the birds

and the animals and every living thing, yes

to the small houses, yes to the children. Yes.

       Wendell Berry

Music Monday

A nagging head cold thing has left me lagging a bit in Christmas spirit and decor, so I thought I would use this song tonight.  So, purely by accident I find this!!!!  I love it!  I want to be in their family!

But wait…….there’s more!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Six Word Saturday

Otis is gettin’ his Christmas on…..


(This week while looking at his shot records, I see that his given name is Otis and must have been changed to Odie by the last folks.  He seems to respond to both, but he really perks up at Otis, so I’m trying to readjust!)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Link Love

Post image for Quick and Easy Holiday Decorating Ideas

I’d be tempted to build one of these just to have somewhere to hang the stockings!

Nice idea…..if I ever used name cards.  Probably could work the idea in somewhere else.

Cool cookies! (minus the googly eyes)

I could have some fun with these.

Nice printable.

Nice Advent post here from Britt-Arnhild.  I love her blog, but especially during Advent and Lent.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Hop on over to google or your favorite search engine and plop in these words: crack pie.  If you haven’t already heard of it, you will quickly see that you are in the minority.  It has shown up on a couple of blogs that I frequent and seems to have a bit of a celebrity following. 

One review that I read told of a man who ordered one of the $44 dollar pies and when it arrived, he dropped it.  He and his friend got forks and ate it from the floor.  It said that.  Same blog entry had a comment from a person in California who had ordered two of the $44 pies and then spent the $40+ to have it shipped to her. 

So, you know……..we had to give it a try.

This is not our pie (above).  Ours was flatter.  And I think our lack of a proper food processor may have been somewhat at fault, but ours would also not slice or come out of the pan in “pieces”    Did that stop us from eating it straight out of the pie pan? No. 

Friends, make a quick note of the next statement.  You have never heard me say it before.  Probably won’t hear me say it again.  It was too rich.   As a rule, I find people who whine and say something is too rich fairly annoying.  But this….this was indeed too rich.  To eat more than one piece anyway!

I’ll let you decide- will this lead you to a 12 step program?

Recipe can be found here or here…… or just google it.  Let me know what you think!