Mary Caroline

February 28, 2012

My grandmother holding my father.

I’ve been thinking about my grandmother a lot lately.  She was a mysterious woman and remains an engima to me many years after her death.  I love this photo of her and my father taken somewhere in  Sulpher Springs/Harkeys Valley, Arkansas in the mid 1940s.


A friend of mine posted a link to this story.  I loved it so much I thought I’d pass it on.  I don’t know a thing about this blogger or video games,  but I love the crux of the story and hope we’re raising sons who’ll have similar characteristics:  the bravery to be themselves and the willingness to stand up for others who are being themselves.

Here’s the first part of the blog, with a link to the full story.

Yesterday I had a pair of brothers in my store. One was maybe between 15-17. He was a wrestler at the local high school. Kind of tall, stocky and handsome. He had a younger brother, who was maybe about 10-12 years old. Thy were talking about finding a game for the younger one, and he was absolutely insisting it be one with a female charcter. I don’t know how many of y’all play games, but that isn’t exactly easy. Eventually, I helped the brothers pick a game called Mirror’s Edge. The youngest was pretty excited about the game, and then he specifically asked me.. “Do you have any girl color controllers?”

I directed him to the only colored controllers we have which includes pink and purple ones. He grabbed the purple one, and informed me purple was his FAVORITE.

Continue reading here:

A Christmas Tree.

December 24, 2011

My mother. 1957.

I love everything about this photo: The haphazardly decorated tree, the frame hanging crooked on the wall, the way my mother is crouched down as if she’s about to leap up and run away, the reflection on the thick glass windows, the fact that she’s wearing jeans…all of it, really.

If my mother were still living she’d probably kick me for posting this.  She liked everything to be polished.  I so much didn’t turn out that way, so it’s kind of nice to see a photo of a tree I can relate to.  Plus, it’s endlessly interesting to think of my mother as a child.  When I look at my kids and wonder how it is that I ever a.) became an adult and b.) became a mother, I remember that she must have felt the same way.  She must have often looked at me (as I do with my own kids) and thought to herself,  “How did I wind up here?”  Children, generally, have no idea how pleasantly overwhelmed their parents are at their mere existence.  And this is as it should be, I guess.  They’re marveling at the world.  We’re marveling at them marveling at the world.

I think the thing I like best about this photo is the simplicity of the house.  But let me be clear in saying that when I say “simplicity,”I have no desire to romanticize poverty, nor do I want to suggest that things were somehow better back in the days when my mother was a child.  Life has always been complicated, poverty has never been sustainable, and while I am indeed quite a Luddite about many things, I’m happy to be living in this generation with all its beauty and struggles.  I love me some internet, after all.

What I like about the picture is that there are presents under the tree, but not too many.  There are decorations on the tree but it looks like someone had fun decorating that tree and wasn’t these least bit worried about it being perfect. Mostly what I like is thinking about my mother as someone who’s gone through many phases in her life:  baby, a child, a teen, young adult,  young mother, middle-aged woman.    We all wind up being so many different versions of ourselves.  Somehow this helps me accept something of the concept of death and really does bring me some kind of peace.   I also recently lost someone who was very, very dear to me, like a grandmother really.   I remember looking at her childhood photos before the funeral.  There is something magical about remembering that those that die old were once children.

As a mother of twins, I often have strangers come up and  tell me to “enjoy every minute” of my sons’ childhood.  I appreciate this suggestion, but little do they know how often I think about how short our lives are or how I often focus on how important it is to embrace every moment with my growing sons.   I’ve never been much of a holiday decorator.  But my sons are in love with Christmas trees.  Who can blame them?  I’m coming to love them myself, especially the messy kind.

Here’s a photo of them with the tree.  Very blurry but representative of the endless motion of our house these days.

G and E

Language Milestone

December 22, 2011

You may remember a post a while back about my son’s love for the phrase “all done” and my own fascination with their language-based creativity.  I recorded an audio version of that commentary for KUAF’s Ozarks at Large program, which you can hear by clicking on the link below.

Click here to listen:

Most of the work I do for radio tends to be more folklife/oral history based and less personal commentary. (you can find those writings here) but I’m exploring the possibility of doing more published writings about motherhood, simple living, and the fine line between grief and joy.

When I was a young child I wanted to be a writer (and a veterinarian).  I was also fiercely private.  As I got older I swore off writing.  And then somewhere along the way I stopped believing that hiding emotion or vulnerability would somehow save me from life’s unpredictability.  And I started writing again. So here we are.  Thanks for listening/reading.

More to come in the near future.

Graves a few days before Thanksgiving. 2011.

My mother and I both always enjoyed walking around cemeteries.  We loved to read the tombstones, look at the flowers, and enjoy the silence.

I took this photograph of my mother’s grave a few days before Thanksgiving.  I love all the color on her grave and how beautiful the mountain looks in the distance.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here, partially because toddler hood keeps me running and also because sometimes I don’t have much to say.

I really enjoyed the silence in the cemetery that day, and I am so appreciative of all the flowers friends and family continue to leave at my mother’s grave.

Retired New York City sanitation worker Angelo Bruno (L) speaks with his friend and former partner, Eddie Nieves (R). From the Storpcorp page.

In honor of G and E’s birthday my dear friend Kristin Dowell sent me a link to this Storycorp piece with two garbus men in New York.

It’s wonderful.  Take a listen. May we all have such pride in our work and such love for our fellow humans.

Angelo Bruno and Eddie Nieves

Words and Stuff Like That.

August 22, 2011

In recent weeks my sons’ language has exploded.  Here’s a post I’ve been meaning to write for a few months now, an appreciation of making much out of less. 

I love toddlerhood.  I love their insatiable desire to explore, experiment, and hurl themselves, clumsily, toward independence.  But perhaps the thing I enjoy most is watching them acquire and experiment with language.  It fascinates me to see them learn new words, and I always beam when they discover yet another one  to add to their electic vocabulary. But what I find most inspiring is watching them find creative uses for the words they already know.

Take the phrase “all done,” for example.  It was one of the first baby signs they learned, and it wasn’t too long after they caught on to the verbal phrase.  “A–da,” they’d say when they were ready to get down from the table and run off to play.   They soon learned to use it to convey that they were done being held or done with a bath.  Despite its many obvious applications, I’ve been surprised at how many uses they’ve found for that phrase.

First they learned to use it as a question/plea.  When they’re bored in the car and ready to get out, or They are bored in the store and ready to go home, they’ll look at me with pleading eyes and say,  “All da?”   If I say, “No, net yet,” they’ll be sure to continue to ask me every minute, on the minute, until we’re done with the task at hand. During long car rides it becomes a lament.  “All-da” they’ll say over and over, as if willing away the miles.

They also use it as a kind request.  When they’re ready  to take off their shoes, for example, they’ll point to them and kindly say, “all da.”  Sometimes they even use the phrase to communicate with their brother.  G will go up to E who is happily playing with his trucks and let him know that he’s  “all da” with those trucks and should come play with G instead.  It’s beyond adorable.

My favorite creative use of this phrase, however, took place when we were at a dear friend’s wedding several months ago.   There were several other kids running around playing and one the them was pushing himself around on a  little toddler-style scooter.   E really wanted to play with that scooter, but we told him he had to wait until the other little boy was finished before he could have his turn.  He tried waiting patiently for a moment, but that was just too hard.  Before long he went up to the little boy,  tapped him on the shoulder, and informed the little boy he was “all da ” and then proceeded to try and get on the scooter himself.

I let E know that wasn’t really the best way to handle the situation, and I made it understood that, despite his clear request, he’d still have to wait his turn.  But I couldn’t help laughing inside. I was so impressed with his creativity and his ability to use what little vocabulary he had to make his ideas known.  Now that, I thought to myself, is what communication (or life, for that matter) is about: creatively using the tools we have to interact with the world around us.

I don’t want him to learn to go around pushing kids off of scooters, of course.  But I hope he always builds on this ability to make extensive and creative use of language and never loses his willingness to find new and creative uses for the skills he already has.

Now, of course, my children are not the only ones who creatively use phrases.  It’s a very normal toddler behavior and millions of children everywhere are doing the exact same thing.  But it’s a normal behavior I think we should all find completely amazing and to which all we should all aspire.   After all, this normal toddler behavior is at the root of the most astute of problem-solving skills.  It’s all about using the skills you have to interact in new ways.  And that seems pretty amazing to me, and it reminds me that, to a large extent, we’re born with the ability to think creatively and make use of what we have.

I don’t want to discredit the importance of learning new skills.  After all, learning new words and having an extensive vocabulary can be a wonderful and incredibly important thing, and that fact should never, ever be downplayed.  It allows all of us, regardless of age, to name and understand the world, and adding to that language is key development that deserves all the attention it receives.  But that’s just one part of the equation.  And all the words in the world can’t make up for the inherent toddler trait of creativity.

In watching G and E attempt to communicate with me and the world around them, I have come to believe that creativity and fearlessness with limited language  is a highly underrated skill that needs much greater appreciation.  So as a mother, I’m adding that to my own personal list of milestones.  After all, what ultimately makes for a good communicator is not how many words you know but how creatively and effectively you can use them.  And I think that’s pretty awesome.

What creative words and phrases do/did your kids use?


July 23, 2011

My father got a cancer-free diagnosis last week.   Having watched both my parents battle this disease and witnessed their bodies destroyed by the treatments meant to cure them, this news makes me as  happy as G and E on trash day (or “garbargubus” day as we refer to it around here).  I’m just so relieved  and giddily peaceful over this good news that I had to share a photo of my father.  So here we are in the lat 1970s.  As you can see my father has always had superb tastes in button-down shirts.

Not to over-share, but just a few months after my mother died from cancer in 2008 my father was diagnosed with a recurrent form cancer thought to have been cured back in the mid 1990s .  His chances of remission with this second round were statistically quite slim.  He began treatments, but they made him horribly ill.   He quit eating, lost a lot of weight, and it seemed unlikely he’d ever make it through effects of the medicine, let alone the cancer.

When I hear my dad say he’s had yet *another* cancer-free diagnosis I know that, chances are, he’ll be around for a while longer.  And I feel like, at least on some level, I understand the depth of that gift.  And for G and E, no one can top Pappa when it comes to awesomeness.  They talk about him every morning when they get up and every night before they go to bed.  He looms large in their imaginations, right up there with helicopters and fireworks and stars.  One way I know this is because any time they see an older man in a picture, regardless of whether he’s tall or short, thin or heavy, black, white, or brown, they yell, “Pappa!”   To them, the world is full of Pappa.

Back in his rodeo days.

My dad is the man who taught me how to tell stories, love music, ride horses, work on cars, budget and save money, live frugally, shine cowboy boots, embrace my rural, financially poor roots, and work with, and learn from, animals.  He help me to appreciate the aesthetics of a nice name-embossed leather belt, four-part gospel harmony, and a freshly paved road (he worked for the Highway Department for years).  Things I’m still trying to learn from him include how to tell the weather just by looking at the clouds, the names of every community in our great state,  and principles of applied math. The man can sit down with a calculator and a notepad and entertain himself for hours “running numbers and figurin’,” as he says.  Who does that?

I know what it’s like to hear that your loved one has cancer and I know what it’s like to watch a parent die. And sometimes I wonder, rather than only say silent prayers of thanksgiving, why don’t we throw a huge party and run around town honking our horns and screaming “cancer-free!  That’s right, you heard me! Cancer-free! ” out the window?  Since I live in Little Rock now and my neighbors don’t know my dad, I’m not sure that would work so well.  So instead I decided to write this blog post which is sort of my version of a parade.

If I may be so pedantic, call your own relatives and tell them how awesome they are.

Tending, Tender, Blooms.

June 22, 2011

Jet Black Hollyhock from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.

About a month ago I started writing a column for my home-town weekly paper, The Post Dispatch. Combining ruminations on folklife and grass-roots action, the column is an exploration of themes such as tradition, community, stories, human rights, sustainability, and positive community-based change. I’ve been calling it the “Seed and the Story” for reasons both literal and metaphorical.

This week’s column touched on the current status of my garden, and concepts of gardening and people in general, and so I thought I’d share a few photos of that garden here.  I recently discovered my camera has a foliage setting, which has opened up a whole new world of opportunities!

I know lately that this thing has turned into a gardening blog of sorts.  That’s because I filter my realizations and grief through plants, especially flowers.  And the last few days I’ve been thinking about fragility and the people I love.

When I first started this blog about grief, mothering and the magical layers of daily life, I decided on the word “tending” partially because of the word’s garden implications and that sense of waiting and watching it seems to suggest.  I don’t know about you, but a lot of my so-called work in the garden is really just walking around staring at things, looking to see what little, or big, changes occurred while I was busy running errands, cooking dinner, breaking up a toddler fight, or taking a shower.  Similarly, this blog was originally intended as a way for me to kind of walk around staring at my thoughts if you will, something akin to tending to the pain, the bitterness, the joy and confusion while also being in awe of the growth of my children, their magic, their wide-eyed acceptance of mystery.  In the end I just wanted to  discuss grief with honesty, hoping on some very basic level it might help others find their own unique ways of walking through their own grief and confusion.

I also like the word tending because it evokes it’s cousin, “tender.”  The word tender has a ton of definitions,  but it’s this one I like the best: ” demanding careful and sensitive handling.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Hen and Chicks.

May 24, 2011

Heather's Hen and Chicks.

This past week a dear friend of mine posted this photo of the hen and chicks plant my mother had given her a few years ago. If I remember correctly, the tiny cutting used to sit in a pot on my friend’s window sill.  It’s clearly come along way since the last time I saw it, and this picture of my mom’s beloved hen and chicks taking on a new life in a new town just makes  me so happy.

If you ever visited my mom in the summertime it’s very likely that you noticed the several very large hen and chicks plants on the front porch. And if you happened to mention them, which you probably would because they were so striking,  she’d be sure and send you home with some for your own garden.  She took great pride in those succulents, especially because they were about the only plant that would live through an Arkansas August on  her concrete front porch which caught every bit of the afternoon sun.  She’d break off some of the “chicks” (the little growths that sprout from the larger “hen” part of the plant) for neighbors and friends, and she never seem to run out.

When I googled “hen and chicks” I came across this nice post with photos of one woman’s different varieties of hen and chicks, some of which had once grown in her grandmother’s garden.  I don’t know much about her blog, but it looks wonderful and I can’t wait to read more. I always love to come across bloggers writing about concepts of the simple life, however they may define that concept.

I’ve got a few of my mother’s hen and chicks growing now in some strawberry pots out on the front steps. They don’t look so great right now, but I know once the days grow longer and we all began to swelter in the miserable Arkansas heat, those hearty little plants will start perking up.  They’re tough little guys, those hen and chicks.

Do you have any hen and chicks? Where do you grow them? Did they come from a family member or friend? I’d love to hear about them! Send photos if you have them too.