Friday, July 9, 2021

Culture and observations: Meeting Becky.

Life has been difficult for us for most of the last decade. We're starting to see a glimmer of daylight, and yet old habits die hard. We take a little time for ourselves, but we have to remind ourselves to do it. Last week, we chose to reward ourselves by having a moderate meal in a decent buffet-type restaurant. It turned into something a little more interesting, along with the delicious food.

We found an unused table and prepared to sit down. Immediately, a tiny dark-haired woman whizzed up to the table, popped a card on it, and chirruped in a lovely accented voice, "Hi, my name is Becky, and I'll be your server tonight!" 

Serve, she did. Our southern-style sweet tea was never permitted to run dry. Halfway empty glasses? A little motherly clucking noise preceded Becky placing a second, fresh glass for each of us. She was precise, swift, attentive, and without fail, I noted, she served to my left and removed items from my right. My husband, she generally avoided altogether, preferring not to meet his eyes or speak directly to him. My own smile and greeting, a casual thanks, these she latched onto with a delighted passion. From time to time, I was gifted with a gentle, motherly pat to the shoulder. 

I don't know if she saw my braces, cane, and taped up hands as a comfort, my disabilities offering a suggestion of weakness, or if she had suffered some violence from a strange man or men in the past, but as gentle as my husband was and is with women, she could not bring herself to communicate directly with him even when taking our modest, heartfelt tip. 

At last, I suggested, "I love the music in your voice. May I ask where it is from?" 

At first, she looked at me guardedly, startled, then she said softly, "Korea." The hurt, homesickness, and sorrow in her entire body language barely balanced the delight and happiness that someone appreciated the sound of that native language. For the first time, I got a full-on smile from her. "Korea," she said again, sighing.

"You must miss it very much."

"Yes," she said. "And no." This time her smile was no more than a sad, poignant curl at the corners of her lips. Bleak memory drew the lines of her face harsher than the mask she habitually wore. It was a glimpse of the real person. 

"It's very beautiful, your language." It was, touched with a sing-song lilt beneath the harsher Americanized English speech. I always wished I could learn a second language, but I've also been glad I haven't been forced into it by circumstance alone. 

"I do not forget it." She stood straight in a body no longer young, but strong in spirit regardless. 

I shook my head slightly. "I would never ask you to forget it. It makes you who you are, and brings depth to a world often tired beyond knowing." 

She grinned. "Thank you." A quick pat on my shoulder, and she was off to take fresh drinks to another table. 

I watched her working. The sheer efficiency was amazing. When she came back to our table, I asked her, "You have worked in very large, very nice restaurants before now, haven't you?" 

She stared. "I have. How..." Shaking her head, she shrugged. 

Waving my hands to illustrate, I showed her. "You serve from this side, remove from that side. It's something you do naturally, without thinking about it." 

Shivering slightly, she blinked. "You watch me?"

I laughed a little. "I can't help it. I watch everyone!" I mimed writing. "I write stories sometimes. It's a thing I like to do. I like to listen to voices." Flipping a hand in her direction, I explained. "You teach me. I am learning about waitresses working as you work. I watch, and I learn. It's better than only learning from books." 

"Ah!" Becky was almost bouncing. "I teach, you learn. You are smart." 

"I'm not very smart, but I can see you're a hard worker and a good person, Becky. I want to thank you for helping me." 

"You are welcome!" She beamed a smile at me, then whirled away to come back with two glasses of fresh tea. "Tonight is my first night here. I am excited!"

"So am I, Becky. Thank you for everything. We will hope to see you again sometime. Stay well." 

On our way out the door, she slipped up behind me and gave me a hug, as petite as a child next to my comparatively heavy, braced-up shape. She looked up at me with a second genuine smile. 

"Please stay safe, and come back here to visit with me sometime. I will think of you often."

I was still hearing the gentle ring and chime of that lilting voice hours later, preparing to sleep. What dreams may come, indeed. It's a rare old world, and all any of us wants is a better life. 



Thursday, June 17, 2021

Another very short-short, from a writer's prompt.

Another writer's prompt. 😳 (Image from unknown source. Accreditation welcome!)

...

Every day at the lighthouse fell into a pattern of illusory normalcy. They ate, walked on the rocky beaches, slept, each of them unwilling to admit what they had seen. 

It was the Atlantic ocean, not Loch Ness. Such things could not happen, anyway. Sea monsters and mermaids did not exist. Imaginations had taken a leave from regular senses, that was all.

Salt breezes and sea birds went about their ordinary lives, whirling through patterns too complex to chart. Nightly bonfires ceased; the darkness had its realm, and the television screen was no part of it. 

Let Gilligan and the crew of the S.S. Minnow soothe the psychic collective, it went without saying among them. And let no one speak of the reeking carnage caught in the shifting tides at the edge of the north cove. 

Scratching idly around the bandages on his left arm, Sim cursed under his breath. Maybe the rest of them could forget, but he could never unsee her face. Nor could he deny the scars he would carry the rest of his life. 

He pulled the carved bone sliver from his pocket, staring at the intricate design for the millionth time. Sea wrack, it was not. 

Sera pulled it out of his arm that night, her eyes wide and dark, pressing it silently into his good hand. "I'd tell you to forget her, except you won't," she said. Her voice was low, sad. 

When he awakened next, Sera was gone. She would survive on the mainland.

He could not go back. The sea held a part of him forever, blood, and bone. His heart, too. 

In Davey Jones' locker lived a warrior maiden fair. It was a thought too bitter for laughter, too sweet for tears. 

Tonight, he would write the song. Perhaps he might live long enough to hear her sing it for his mortal ears just one time.

Clenching chilled fingers around the bit of blade, he ignored the tickle of dripping blood. An offering to the sea was well within what he would pay to spend an hour with her just once more.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

From a writing prompt... a very short-short Sea Tale.

I did a writing prompt yesterday, liking the results more than I'd thought I would. I'll paste the results below, along with the originating image. (Artist unknown--I'd be happy to give credit!) Genre: fantasy/speculative.

______________

     Surfacing, she sheathed the forked fishing blade, freeing both hands to wipe the goor's inky slime and sand off the strange object. The goor was a particularly nasty creature; it did not deserve the respect of a true sea leviathan, and could rot for all she cared. This glimmering, shimmering bit of sea wrack held her attention. 
      
Freed of dimming substances, it seemed to echo the glow of moonlight, a faint vibration, almost a pulse, sending her scales a-ripple. Despite the seasonal chill, the thing was decidedly warm to touch. 

No wonder the goor was guarding it so fiercely. To her reckoning, what she held was an egg, a living bit of opalescent beauty, something rare and beyond her ken. 

The Counsel of Twelve Elders must know of this, and soon. If it might be a legendary Sea Egg, as she thought it must, the End Time approached. Seers claimed the waters would boil, and monsters walk on land.

She shivered. Feeling humble and small, heart beating heavy, she knew the Tide of Tides had changed against the knowing of the People. The position of Harbinger was never one she had willingly sought, yet here it was, a burden she could never deny.

Wrapping the orb in a fold of loose garment, she again drew the carved bone weapon. Time was no friend to life. 

...

©️ June 4, 2021, by RLMT.

______________________

Friday, May 28, 2021

Seven Sisters springtime.

Yesterday, a steamy "summer" day, albeit scented with the heavy, seductive odor of honeysuckle. Today, the miasma of spring is again upon us, a cooling rain drawing its veil across these hills. 

There are buds forming on the feral  pink Seven Sisters roses sprawling through the untidy regrowth. They will soon bloom, a growing reminder of hands long gone to dust. Sweet, delicate, and enduring.

Someone set the door stones, someone shaped up the foundations. Someone planted the roses and flower starts stubbornly persisting so many decades later.

We build our towers. Aesthetic joys not withstanding. Each year, we live a little brighter, a little wider, looking for a worthy purpose and its gratification. 

Each year, the towers crumble. Foundations sink into soil, rich moss growing jade and emerald over the evidence. Ferns rise, reveling in the infinitesimal, inevitable return of forest primeval. Honeysuckle vines tangle, binding blackberry canes, redbud trees, and juniper berries into artful arrangements.

And when the time is right, Seven Sisters rise up, ghostly in the shady edges where memory clashes with nature, wear their naked thorns with pride, and sprawl, pale faces rosy beneath an unconcerned moon. 

...

Photo: Seven Sisters pink rose, growing wild on an old house site. ©️ May 28, 2021, by @_RLMT/R.L.M. Tipton

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

There must always be time.

The scent of honeysuckle and wild roses, of the green and growing seeds summer will one day call its own, the flicker of songbird wings sailing late spring breezes. It's time to turn the rich earth and touch it, bringing it --in reverent hands--to make contact with things of beauty. It's time for kittens and puppies and children, time for scuffed knees and smiling faces with sunburned noses, time for long walks down shade-sheltered lanes or to play in the soft warm rains. For those things, there must always be time.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

April's [Independent] Showers

Into every life a little rain must fall. In that microcosm of fluidity, it's difficult to see the naturally occurring rainbows. As a flood, a fisheye lens of distortion begs the question even more. 

Where, then, is the creative mind in the moments after early dawn, when a molten sun lifts shrouds of mist once more to ungrateful skies? Shedding salty tears of grief and confusion, stroking grimly for a distant shore, a miasma of pseudo-reality bent on wringing every last droplet of hope into an overfull waste basket. 

The scent of damp earth on a spring morning, the haunting touch of forest cobwebs, the taste of water from a familiar spring, the distinctive, haunting song of wild birds. The depth of grounding echoes through a sparkling, shattered soul, leaving silence in its wake.

Into that, a single raindrop makes its way, and the story is thus written. 




.

4-28-2021 ©️by @_RLMT.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Eulogy. (Fiction fragment.)

Look there. Do you see the place you called home? There are things in it, the little comforts and comforting items laden with memories. The indescribably ugly afghan your aunt crocheted for you when you graduated high school with big plans to live happily ever after with your sweetheart.

The coffee table is overflowing with pizza boxes, disposable food containers, empty cans and bottles. A few have emptied out on the floor, where a thread of ants is practicing thrift on your behalf. They're steadily carrying every morsel out, working their way through the crack under the door you created when you passed out last Hallowe'en and the devil's tail on your costume hung in the door sill. You never fixed it, though you cursed the rat that managed to squeeze inside through it to escape winter snow.

It seems so minor now. There was that party, and someone who wasn't passed out stole your high school sweetheart. They left you facedown in a spill of mud on their way home, because you wanted to fight so much you dared sucker punch the senior quarterback. When you got up, you drank from the lawn hose, sprayed yourself off, and took the wooded route home, staggering through blackberry thickets and ditches reeking of leaky sewage, hoping to elude your parents long enough to get a shower.

You were so proud of yourself for putting a half pound of sugar in the gas tanks of both your sweetie's date and the infamous nice guy quarterback at the next party. No one caught you, though you were the top suspect. You left no proof.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The show goes on, if slowly.

This is just a brief update. I'll pay for it later, no doubt. 

I'm using two fingers on my right hand to type, my left thumb, index finger, and "pinky" out of commission. My left hand is impaired, too. I never expected this to happen, but the last year, well, it's been rough. There have been loses, but also a few gains. If I expected this to be a better year than 2020, it's as if 2021 gave me a wicked grin and said, "Hey, somebody hold my beer!" 

It wasn't an accident. It will not "feel better soon"; it's for life. There's no cure, only palliative care. If treated correctly, it's not directly (or immediately?) life threatening. It's not cancer, either. It's probably genetic; I'll have answers to that question later this month, I hope. 

What is it? It's something rated as rare, something doctors don't look for, just as they've been taught. "If you hear hoofbeats, expect horses, not zebras, " they say. They're wrong, in my estimation. I've had this collection of progressively problematic illness ("syndrome"?) since I was born. In over 57+ years, no one "educated" caught it, leaving me to cope on my own, often with so much insufficient information that it did damage. As in, "damned if you do, and damned if you don't" grade of neglect. It's called Ehrlers-Danlos Syndrome, a long string of comorbidities and complications coming with it. 

No, it's not autoimmune. Bracing of loose joints is done to prevent chronic re-damage of vulnerable connective tissues. Injury, not merely inflammation. (Age adds arthritis, of course, and it's possible to have an AI disorder with EDS.) One keeps in mind, "If it hurts, don't do it." And yet, movement is life. Carefully.

To present, it's lost me everything I ever had or needed, long term. Home, security, income. I know I'm not alone in that, or in suffering what I thought was "normal" pain. Every single day of my life. 

Adding insult to it, I can't use the drugs commonly handed out, including those for pain relief. I had to stop eating ordinary food and go to an expensive Celiac diet (a common comorbidity), and I wear multiple orthotic braces just to keep functioning, even at a low level. I'm exhausted all the time: chronic fatigue is quite real, I discovered. A trip to the emergency room could be dangerous for me, so I just don't go unless it's beyond my own scope of experience. Small injuries, pfft. Ignored. 

I have about nine unfinished manuscripts. If I could unpack my art supplies, I'd have an endless list of projects I want to finish, as well. As it is, I'm just going to be happy to finish this one story. 

After that, I don't know... I really don't. I can't guess where a collagen-error illness will take me next. Joints, bones, organs, circulatory or nervous systems? EDS patients must be patient. Our lives are both painful and unpredictable. 

Finishing what I'm working on is a start. It's a rewrite of an unfinished novel I call de Oro. A mixed genre work of sorts, falling into the literary speculative or literary science fiction area. It's a romance; most stories are, after all. I'm very near the ending, bringing it to a new level of interest, I hope. I may have ruined it, but I'm sure my trusty beta-reader club (just trusted every-reader friends who make comments to help me improve it) will tell me what's wrong. 

I'm glad I have friends. They keep me going when nothing else does. 

If all goes well, next month, I may publish a new novel. No promises. But I have hope. That's something. 



 

Brace #1.

Brace #2.

Brace #3.


Thursday, November 5, 2020

Update: Find joy.


 

This has been a difficult year for many people. For some, it's been a difficult decade. That's where I am. It's the reason my blog is rarely updated: the old saying suggests "if you can't say anything good, then say nothing." I have said very little, and that, I think, says more than I need to give details on here. 

Suffice it to say that thanks to some very kind people, I am at work on a novel again. The tentative (in-progress, really) cover is shown above, inset in a desktop wallpaper I made to keep myself motivated. 

This manuscript has been with me a long time. I wanted to do a good job on it, but needed to get some distance. To that end, being unable to work did me no lasting harm. I've recently been able to make some hard decisions. 

First of all, the publishing market is insanely complicated. It always has been. COVID-19 only made that worse. Good, established editors and acquisitions people lost jobs. Many changed positions in the business and kept going. Some opted out. It's harder than ever to know what's going on, and how to address it.

Book sales are way down, indie or traditional, and the movie industry began to reel, concern over safety of everyone's safety throwing the old funding patterns awry. Take away the storytellers, and the entertainment industry, et al, is a mess. 

Ho-hum. No news? Well, not to me. I'm just summing it up.

Personally, I have a whole other set of problems. Apparently, disability conditions I could never have ducked out on. That tops the list. It set off an avalanche of peripheral problems, thanks to the antiquated medical and associated systems where I live. (To be honest, we would relocate, if we could. It would be a practical decision.) We're working on that, but don't have a lot of hope for change anytime soon. 

There's no way to change the medical issues. There's no cure. There's only living with it, and doing something to feel productive. Facing those facts cost me. 

Being honest with myself, well, that conflicts with some people who have little understanding of what it's like. I am a person who was once physically active (I worked with animals, on farms, and in rural areas), and who cannot be now. I don't know even day to day how my health will go. Good days are getting farther apart. Things, my joints and connective tissue, go wrong overnight. Braces help rest the damage (not autoimmune), but are no viable replacement for a healthy body. 

The decision to ignore all the "you should sell" advice and simply enjoy the art for what it is, as I have chosen to do, is very freeing. In future, I will not actively seek agents or editors, or other venues outside my social loops. I expect to get no money for what I do, because it's a bad gamble. 

I want to tell great stories. I want to do an excellent job of it, because I enjoy the art form, and because it's within my means to do. 

Photography is outside my realm; I don't have the equipment. Painting had gotten painful; I was making three paintings a year when I had to stop. I don't have the space to work, even if I could maintain it at a competitive rate. I doodle with graphic arts, mostly online, but there again, I don't have the equipment or software. 

This is where I am. I make up stories. I like to see a copy sitting on a shelf, a solid copy. Not an ebook, stored on someone else's device (I don't read ebooks, myself... eye issues). I don't expect to make a profit; past history proves it unlikely. 

There are those who like my stories. Friends, mostly. Family, no. Few. I intend to finish the de Oro manuscript, which I am editing and revising at present. I'll cobble up some kind of cover, set everything up myself, and get a printed copy, eventually, for the satisfaction of it. 

Life goes on. Look for some way to have fun. COVID-19 won't last forever, and neither will we. Life is a gift... it shines the more you use it. 

Be happy. Shine on. 


R.L.M. Tipton, artist and author (for the joy of it)

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Find my books on Amazon!

Fiction or nonfiction. I enjoy writing in a variety of genres, just as I enjoy a variety of visual art mediums.

Find me on Twitter... @_RLMT.

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Voices Make Me Do it. [Writing sample and commentary.]


The Appalachia, specifically Kentucky, that I knew in my childhood is fading fast. People were different back then, more down to earth and practical. That doesn't mean they were or are lacking compassion; the opposite is true. The proof is in the music and arts made popular by their ease of use on front porches, where swatting summer mosquitoes and singing off key while frogs sang all night out at the pond was the usual evening entertainment. Cold ice tea, beer, fried chicken, and biscuits. Home. To remember is to carry forward the battle, a blended culture based on story telling. A region respecting the art of bards.


There are few songs in Appalachian music to rival the bittersweet beauty of Put My Little Shoes Away. In the song, a dying child asks its mother to put away its most treasured belongings, a pair of little shoes. "Give them all my toys, Mother, but put my little shoes away..." It's tragic and vivid. It cries out to our heritage, the strength of generations of immigrants, poverty and struggle versus hard work and honest profit.


From time to time, fragments of the past float up in my brain, creating voices where none existed, almost as if time and experience have created spirits that refuse to lie down and rest. When that happens, I have to let it flow. Open the valve, let it flow. Otherwise, the pain of silence is unbearable.

The following is what became of one such inner episode:

Momma says I shouldn't talk to strangers, but you're a neighbor, so it should be ah'ight. Them's right purty flow'rs you got there; I bet my granny would like 'em. She grows all kinds o' flow'rs. Momma says hit's a waste o' time, a waste of good sleepin' hours. Momma's at work down at the rest'rant right now.

Yesterday hit rained, I know. Got a lot o' mud puddles in th' road. I like to ride my bike through 'em, but Momma gits mad when I git m' good clothes dirty. She says she reckons warshin' clothes hain't a good pass-time when you're tired.

Lookee, I got me a candy-bar. Momma just got the food-stamps; they call that "SNAP Benefits" now, she said, but hit's the same thing. 'Long 'bout the end of the month, won't be no candy, cause the money and the food stamps done run out. So's I make 'em last, the two candy-bars I git. Got a Pay-Day so there wouldn't be choc'late to melt in my pockets. Purty smart, eh? Well, I miss the choc'late. But not as much as I like the sweet lastin'.

Yessum, I know that, an' I brush my teeth. When Momma can get some toothpaste. Some of the bristles is gone outta m' toothbrush, but I still use it. Hain't got 'nother'n. Just the one. But it still works. Momma says soap an' soda's about all she can handle paying for, an' toilet paper. Gotta have gas t' git t' work, an' hit's precious to buy. Can't waste ary dollar on frippery, Granny says. Momma says 'yes ma'am'.

Momma sleeps a lot. I gots a key to the house, see? Granny sleeps a lot too; she says she's just restin' her eyes. Granny's supposed to watch me, but I wake her up before Momma gits home and we sit an' eat sammidges in front of the TV with ice-tea. Gotta knock that dang cat outta the way, ever' time. Sits on the footstool and scratches them fleas like hit was a preacher poundin' on the pulpit a-Sunday. Granny calls 'at cat names, then tells me not to say 'em. Not fair, I call it.

Yesterday I helped weed the garden an' pulled up some plants I wasn't s'posed to. That's where 'at bruise come from. Momma said she's sorry, just so tired she can't think straight. Worrit, I reckon, 'bout Granny an' me an' the 'lectric bill. We all gotta drain on Momma. I split out a pair of jeans an' ripped a shirt last month when some kid called me a welfare bastard, whatever that is, an' I pounded his head some. Momma was still upset over bein' woke up by the school an' replacin' my clothes, so the garden thing hurt more. I didn't mean to harm, hit just happened while the sweat was runnin' in my eyes. Reckon the bruise'll heal. Usually does.

Well, I gotta run now. 'Bout time to feed Granny an' git me a bolony sammidge too. Momma'll be home soon. Work t' do. 'Bye, now.
.......................................

This is a work of fiction (social commentary, a story told by a storyteller) based on composite fact, told in the voice of a child living in the hills of Appalachia, dealing with the problems of his youth as has every one of his ancestors has done before him. Times change, problems remain, yet the people endure and adapt as they must, and go on.

Copyright: author R.L.M.Tipton (Home page http://songoftheraincrow.blogspot.com)

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

A brief glimpse into The Glimmerings. (Novel excerpt.)

              An excerpt from an older novel series: fantasy of the magical realism flavor.
                                                                            - RLMT.


~*~


      Something about the shape of that elderly female face worried him momentarily. She flipped something dusty at him, a substance with a delicate scent of herbs and something else held in the cloud of its passing. It glimmered, a faint glow suffusing the powdery stuff as it left her hands. When it hit him, he staggered as if slammed into by a large, heavy object.

     He heard the person say in a voice shimmering like delicate silver, yet hard as tempered steel, May your body reflect the size of your functional soul, and may only the scent of your haven release you to be whole and fulfilled. Once, twice, thrice, by the truths of the veils, so mote it be.
      A roaring wave of violent, rushing nausea swept over Logan. He aimed with sudden precision for the men’s loo door, the light around him somehow seeming to have turned a spring-leaf-green. In the bathroom, he was thoroughly sick. He wiped his dripping face with a damp paper towel, aching shudders racking his body. A slick of sweat coated him and Logan yearned for a place to rest where the cool air might soothe his misery.

~*~

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Starting over.

Established readers of this blog will notice that I've removed the past postings from it. I'm changing my life to focus on things that make me happy. I'm exhausted with the whole anxiety-for-pseudofun-and-profit game. This is my life. I intend to make the most of what's left.

Stay tuned for changes.

RLMT

Thursday, April 27, 2017

This isn't just horsing around. It's a day out of my own life. (Memoir.)

ROUGHING IT


_________



_________

A writer and visual artist, R. L. M. Tipton
is descended from Scots-Irish, German, English,
and Cherokee ancestors who first came into Powell County, Kentucky,
as early as the early 1880s,
about four generations ago.  
She is no stranger to living off grid.

_________________________________

     Every winter, responsible people worry about the roads, often wondering if they can scrape up enough cash to pay the heating bill before the pipes freeze up. It's cold, and while Kentucky is at risk for more ice storms than blizzards, it can be uncomfortable. It's hard to see the beauty in something that makes your bones ache and your wallet suffer. That's understandable.
    
    When we were kids, all we saw was a day off from school on occasion. It seemed a  fine time to go make some snow cream or slide down a nearby hill on sled of some sort.  When you're young and the cocoa's being made by someone who loves you while you deliberately turn into a human Popsicle, getting cold is a lark.

     I was the same. It's been many years since I was young and sassy, yet I have my memories of fun. I've slipped and slid using greased cardboard, real metal-runner equipped sleds, inner tubes from a big truck or tractor, or even a sheet of heavy plastic. But my most favorite activity in the winter was to ride a horse on the coldest of days, to take a wild, chilling trip around the lake and into the woods where there was no human to share that priceless experience.
     I remember one day in particular, from those years past:

     The day dawned bitterly cold; the air seemed to freeze around a breath, like the words or a sigh might fall tinkling to the ground in an instant. The snow was, for once, several inches deep and powder dry. Under it all was a thin skim of ice atop the long-frozen ground. Everything seemed white and ice blue, cold to look at, even, and bright enough to be painful to the eye. I'd been stuck in the house for what seemed like ages, but had only been overnight. And I had my mind made up: today, I would ride.

     The crackling cold was only a minor irritation compared to the need to be in the woods, old Bess carrying me along like a feather on the wind, the sharp smells of pine and frozen lake water wrapping chilly fingers around us. The woods were calling. I would have bet every dime my teenage hands could gather that old Bess was just as restless as I; kindred souls speak the same language.

     When I left the house, I had on so many layers of clothing that I waddled. The snow was slippery beneath my feet, and hiking boots took care of that nicely. In deference to the bitter cold and the wind chill of traveling horseback, I intended to skip the saddle and use Bess's warmth to aid in preventing frostbite. In the edge of the barn, I stopped to wipe my eyes. The wind was sharp, though the sunlight had turned everything in its path to cold fire. My barely-exposed cheeks were numb, my nose the same.

     I began to doubt the wisdom of my decision to ride, and had almost made up my mind to go back home when a golden head thrust over the stall wall, huffing and whickering eager welcome. Cold as I was, I melted. Who could say no to a face like that?

     The bridle was on in a trice, and I scrambled, clumsy in my many layers, onto her back. She jigged in place, trying to take the bit and go. I stayed with her, wrapping my legs in the saddle blanket I'd tossed up across her neck. The ends of it fluttered slightly in the stiff breeze at the edge of the clearing, and she reared onto her hinders for long seconds, dancing in the icy slickness with borium-enforced steel shoes. A handful of dark red mane held me up; her winter coat was sleek and full, slippery against my jeans.

     We stepped out onto the blacktop road and made our way to the far end of my parent's loop driveway. It was a steep hill, but missed the greater length of icy blacktop base to walk on. I could circle Bess around and go straight to the creek-rocked road to the lake and hill trails. The question, at that point, was not if my sassy old mare would act up, but rather when. 

 
     Near the top of the hill, almost to the house, it happened. She began her ritual telegraph of action. Right ear flickers. Left ear. Head turns to the right, then the left. I was breathless... and she wrung her tail just as I grabbed a fierce handful of thick mane.

   One more stride....

   At the top of the road there, on a level with the house, she thrust her compact, meaty rump skyward, trying to get her head down and buck. Then she quickly recovered and attempted to bolt. I compensated, laughed wildly, and stayed put. She stretched into a lope around the back of the house with both short ears perked up and forward. To the hills with us, she seemed to cry; I feel wonderful and we need to run! If I had come off on the frozen ground, it would have probably meant more than a slight injury. The ground, so uneven, was filled with saplings and stumps all around, and rough stones beneath us. I was young enough not to care, reckless enough to glory in it. The old mare was never old in heart. A fine pair we were, it was often said -- wild eyed and moving like a centaur into battle.

     The wind off the lake was razored and so cold it burned. We made it to the tree line and the hills broke the back of the killer wind for us, though the ridge-line trails were blown almost clear of snow. Here and there, tracks of deer or dog showed briefly, the wind keeping secrets in its transparent path.

     Bess took the bit in her teeth and I let her.

     Blood-dark tail a-flag, she blew hot steam from her nostrils as she pounded the ground with hard hooves. The swing of her gallop up a slight rise reached fever pitch, those short, perfect ears flattened back angrily, furious at not being able to take full flight.
 
      At the top of the ridge, she slowed up, snorting steam and dancing sideways from a cardinal that blew past us. Ears up again, she collected herself into a prancing running-walk, smooth as silk and a joy to sit. I glimpsed a fox in the distance; it went out of sight with something feathered still fluttering in its mouth. A crash of brushy stuff over the hill told tales of a whitetail doe and her fawn startled by Bess's charge up the hillside.  A murder of crows cursed us from the treetops, unafraid of the horse where a person on foot would have made all things silent within a few footfalls.

      We traveled the whole trail, coming down the backside where a slide had long ago broken the original logging trail, a path set there before the region was ripped of all the primordial forest that once grew on it. The original path makers were the woodland bison, a creature extinct for over a hundred years, perhaps more. The slide was a place best walked on a good day with a stout staff of hickory or sassafras; a horse had to travel it sitting on hind feet and haunches, and it was not for the faint-hearted or inexperienced to attempt while on horseback. 

 
     At the bottom, we cut back up into the gap of the Chaney Orchard, long abandoned and grown up. At the ridge again, we caught up with the original trail, headed east and a bit north, back toward the house. About 300 yards shy of the turn to go to the house via the kennels, I turned Bess down a small path, passing the comical "two-seater" outhouse in the woods that Dad built. We slid down the hard-clay path, a coating of white making it all but impassable by dry lubrication.

     Back on the road around the lake, we walked sedately, listening to the riot of life alive in the woods when a storm has well and truly passed us by. Woodpeckers pounded, crows cawed, Dad's Beagles tried to raise the roof because an opinionated squirrel hung over them on a dangling branch, scolding the foolish creatures for merely existing. Bess's feet echoed my heartbeat on the snow. A one and a two and a one and a two... as if we were made to think and move as one. The bit jingled and occasionally a steely shoe hit on an exposed stone. I was no longer cold. Neither of us had broken a sweat, but we were warm and happy and calm at soul and in the flesh.

      Perfect. It was a beautiful day in Kentucky. A day I will not forget. A day like none the children of today are likely to experience in their lifetimes. A priceless memory to me, a curiosity to someone else.  When I think back, I remember a fine old mare who was also my friend. 



~R.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Springtime in Kentucky, rambling for memories.

The forests are blushing a beautiful green, the color of new life almost humming against rainy skies. Dogwood "winter" has risen on the hills of eastern Kentucky, and we await the chill to follow the blackberry thickets' show of white. Though the nights may be stormy, playful breezes tickle the ridge tops by day, running invisible fingers through forgotten growths of daffodil and iris. Old homes fade away, but the earth and her children always remember.


                                                                           ~*~

My mother's old home-place on Spaus Creek, near the Red River Gorge of eastern Kentucky.
It was burned down by firebug vandals several years ago.

Copyright 1995 by R. Lee Tipton, author/artist.
                            


Behind where we're camping, there's an old house site. Not a board remains of the original structure, just a few stones used for the foundations. The main signs of a once-beloved human habitation are the wide green blades of someone's spring flower patch. Iris, daffodil, and other blooming beauties have held the faith, though the hands that planted them have long gone to dust beneath cold stone markers.

It's not unusual to find things like these in Kentucky's woodlands. Sometimes it's a pink Seven Sisters climbing rose gone wild among low-growing redbud or similar trees, other times, a rainstorm will wash the soil away from the base stones of a chimney, revealing the carefully laid hearth. I've found them while out riding horses along rough hillside trails, and never fail to step out of the saddle and offer a moment of quiet reverence for memories I don't share with the founders. I will wander and visit the surviving flower patches, seek out the spring or well, treading carefully so as not to fall into a hole no longer guarded by a wooden box.

These sites are the ultimate museums. Anthropologists hum and sparkle over a bit of rusty knife blade or a hand-axe made of stone by native hands. There are no treasures of gold and silver, and one is extremely lucky if some bright bead can be located; those who lived on these hills either moved on or passed on, and the result is the same.

Empty dooryards, a scattering of bright flowers, and time make for a quilt of patches on a patch of earth that has endured glacial formation, the changing of immigrant life since long before European influence.

I stand leaning on my walking stick, the good sense to keep watch for wakening serpents in a remote portion of my mind, and wonder at all the stories time has filed away for the earth to store. Children. Born, raised, married, and the cycle re-beginning, some simply moving away in the name of change. The urge for bright things after a long winter sending someone to grub in the soil, planting, like as not, some flower with a history all its own. All of it for the forest to re-enfold, transform, and give peace to in the way of nature's own patience.

Yesterdays are still tomorrows. We should all learn to plant flowers. The beauty of today is the ability to dream. The ability to look forward through hardship and sorrow sends us into worlds we alone can and do create.

Every old house-site makes me want to take off the cap I wear to shade my eyes, lift up a handful of living forest soil, sniff it carefully, and run it through my fingers as if it were some holy relic to count prayers on. These hills are green cathedrals, every leaf of its living guardian green recording truth and endurance.


Friday, April 14, 2017

Adventures come in all sizes. (A nonfiction story.)


Living off-grid can be an adventure. The wildlife can be large or small, but conflicts occur regardless of size. Or so I found...

Note: We now use mint oil and bay leaves to repel mice. I've never liked having to kill anything without good reason. At the time this was written, the woodland rodent population had decided to overtake our residence. They were making havoc in everything, even the big packrats finding a way in (I'm still missing some socks!) to carry things off, especially soft or shiny items. The cat, poor little girlie, was delighted with all the live toys; she was raised in-town, and had no idea about killing anything. She learned fast. From me.

                                                             B-Movie Mouse




Tossing and turning all night, dreaming repetitive dreams of visiting and helping to cook a huge meal in someone else's kitchen, waking up sweaty over and over, the air not moving at all. Nothing making a move except with the whine of a hunting mosquito.


Finally the alarm clock went off, just the buzzer on my cell phone (I'm almost always awake before the ringing actually starts) vibrating the headboard of the bed. I turn it off fast, lie still in the tangled, damp summer sheets, and pray for strength to rise and at least fake shining.

A trip to the bathroom. I hear a mousy squeak on the other side of the wall, and think, "Yeah, Lucy Jo finally got that damned mouse again! Finally." She'd played with it about a week ago, and I hadn't seen or heard it since then, though I knew she'd been watching it off and on.

I stump stiff-footed back to get dressed by the light of my clip-on flashlight. Just the basics. Fill my pockets with phone, a tiny spare flashlight, a small pocketknife, and clip my watch onto a belt loop. A pair of soft, comfortable cushion-y shoes made of foam-plastic of some sort.

Back to the bathroom to wash up a bit prior to making coffee and breakfast, a wet washcloth to clear the sweaty-face and the sandman's leavings from the corners of my eyes. I bite back a cracking yawn; bugs like to flit about under the flashlight, and I don't care for the taste of adventurous bug much.

I start to turn away from my tiny mirror, and then I hear it, realizing at last that the squeaking is a lot closer than it had been. When I look down as I turn, I see why: Lucy Jo is at my feet, looking up at me with big, joyous eyes.

"Look, Mom! I found that great toy again. Wanna play?" She seemed to indicate, looking happily from me to the mouse.

The mouse. Ah, the mouse. It was sitting less than the width of my hand, perhaps three inches, from the cat's nose, squeaking at the top of its lungs. Obviously, it was giving a mouse-to-cat cussin' that went beyond the average rodential rant. It ignored me totally. 


It hopped at the cat, seeming to rave madly in its tiny, tinny voice. "Put up your dukes, you damned feline! I swear by the Great Cheese, I'll tan your hide to nest in! Go on, y' great fool! You couldn't keep me caught last time, so why should I be afraid now? COME AND GET ME, CAT!"

I shook my head. I wasn't hearing the words, I swore to myself, I wasn't. It was merely an early morning, before the first cup of my beloved, acid-strength coffee.

Just then, Lucy Jo peeked at me again, and did a small, delicate cat-squeak of delight. "Oooh, look, Mommy! It wants to play. Play with us, please-please-please!"

The deer-footed field mouse never let up once. It was giving the cat pure hell and hopping around in a purely pugilistic manner.

I squeezed my eyes shut and reopened them, hoping the illusions would go away and I'd wake up to see that it was too early for the alarm to go off after all... but when I opened my eyes, they were still there, and I could clearly hear Ronnie snoring from his prone position on the big, soft bed.

"Lucy, please tell me you're going to go ahead and kill that thing. It's way past time." I mumbled aloud.

Inwardly snarling, I considered: foam-plastic shoes. What were the odds...? Oh, well. Here goes.

The mouse had maneuvered to between me and the cat, back to me. Ignoring me still. Lucy Jo was starting to look puzzled, wondering no doubt why I wasn't playing with her wonderful mouse, er, toy.

So I stomped the mouse. Foam-plastic shoes and all.
Sometimes one just has to stand up and protect the resident cat.

When I stepped back, by the light of the clip-on, I saw the mouse standing still. Stunned, at least. I waited. It slowly slumped forward, sneezed out a tiny blast of blood, and spasmed once.

Ahhhhh, no more mouse dancing a challenge to the resident cat. Or me.

Lucy looked first confused, then insulted. I quickly pulled over a box half full of clean litter and propped it over the little carcass. No way I was going to let her eat it after it acted so crazy!

Ronnie, hearing the noises, managed to ask me what was going on. I told him to go back to sleep, that it was all a bad dream, and any rate I hadn't had my coffee yet. He was snoring again before I got through speaking.

Oh, but that coffee tasted so good. I sat and sipped it quietly in the dark of morning, by the usual candle-light, while watching Lucy Jo wander about the house. She kept calling to the mouse as if it were a kitten: "B'ahw? B'ahw?" But her search was in vain.

Ahh, coffee... maybe it was all a bad dream, after all.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

This Appalachia, this Kentucky, is not the rest of the world. (FREE STORY.)

A country funeral
-- "adopted" family.


...

    This is a little piece of the hills I love.
It's not really a story, more of a journal entry,
a memory noted down in detail.
It's a tale, yes, of a single aspect of our Appalachian,
if you will so label it, lives here,
and the way we're all so much like people from other places ... and the way we're infinitely different
.


...



    It's hot today, but raining periodically, thunderstorms rumbling in and out of the neighborhood.

    The reason for this is that I wanted to tell you all a little something about my little corner of the world before I take off for No Internet Connection Land, and this seemed to be the best, most vivid and recent option. I hope to post it before the storms swing back into this direction, and from there... well, I'm back to packing up the last bits.

    Weather permitting, we'll haul some stuff in and set it up tonight. By the truckload if we can (only two wheel drive), and by the much smaller Jeep load if we can't. I still need more clean, strong boxes, too, and will have to get some this evening.

    Yesterday was also busy....

    Ronnie took the entire day off from work yesterday; he was designated as honorary pall bearer for a funeral. He'd have been a pall bearer, but the family was unable to find him in time to get it into the newspaper in time. Our telephone number is unlisted, our cell phones are prepaid. He was upset about the way the arrangements had to work out, and a little confused, but also very heartbroken.

    Many years ago, Ronnie lived with a local family. They not only took him in and kept a roof over his head and food for him, but they also took him into their family completely. Not on paper, not in any computer, but in a place that matters far more: in their hearts. Monroe and Darleen treated Ronnie like their own children of the flesh, making room for a fourth with no discrimination between them.

    As in most families, there was a certain amount of "sibling" conflict, and in the end, to keep the peace, Ronnie left the family and moved back in with his maternal grandmother. She was happy to have him, as was his grandfather.

    I have been lucky enough to know all of these people from Ronnie's past. Of them, only my Ronnie, Darleen (who has fought various forms of cancer for many years now) and her three blood children remain alive. Ronnie's grandfather died first, eaten alive by cancer. His grandmother died many years later, several years ago, the 'Old Timer's disease' combined with arthritis, a worn-out heart, and numerous other problems associated with old age. Monroe (pronounced "MON-roe") died on Monday, of cancer he hadn't fought for more than a few months.

    We didn't sleep well the night before, which is normal for us. But that we both were tired when we got up was unusual. Ronnie usually hits the floor in full charge, all steam ahead and damn the torpedos! I, ahem, am far more ... decorous (limpy, drabbled in leftover sleep, and more than a shade grumpy prior to strong coffee). I checked the forecast on the radio, and was surprised to hear that the long-awaited rains had been taken out of the listings for the day. Odd. The humidity was heavy enough to float your hat on, and the tree leaves were all turned upside down on the water-trees across the driveway, each leaf quivering independently with the changes in the atmosphere.

    When the fog burned off, the day turned seriously hot. By 10:00 am, it was already in the mid-80s F., and the humidity was if anything stronger. Yet the sun was brassy-hot in the sky, the sky itself faded from a pleasant blue to a washy white.

    The funeral was at 11:00 am, in a small-town chapel in Clay City, a neighboring town in the same county we live in. We went in a shade late -- the ceremonies had already begun -- so we snuck down the hallway of the old converted house and into a seat in the back of the family section, as we'd been instructed to do. Several smiles met us along the way, some faces that we knew, some that we didn't. More than one face was surprised to see us there at all, as we were of them in turn.

    As usual in such a place, the folding seats had cushions that were as hard as the wood itself, and would have done the Spanish Inquisition for torture instruments. The whole place was done up in an insipid, slightly off-key shade of fleshy pink, even the carpet. Every curtain at the numerous windows was drawn tight shut, the bright daylight filtered through this sickly rose and promptly gave me a headache, something I almost never get. Every incandescent lightbulb in the place was lit, obviously by someone who had the inclinations of an anemic Anne Rice vampire.

    Honestly, I don't like pink. It's a personal thing. I think the headache was the pressure of a sheer desire to get up and paint the place a nice soothing blue-gray or something, just to get rid of the wide pinkish pinstripes and fluttery flower patterned wallpaper. Some of the local florists had tried to combat the sickly color by sending large, bright yellow and white flowers. The effect was worse than ever.

    There were three preachers. I was in hell.

    After a bit, I dropped into a meditative state, getting rid of the headache, the pukey pink decor, and the droning voices crying out in loud enthusiasm periodically. "PRAISE the LORD!" The occasional bout of music, not live as many of these occasions bring out, poured crackling from inadequate speakers thankfully located in the hallway we'd come in through, and thus was less than direct in damage to my ears. Ronnie curled an arm around me, and I eased over against his side. He patted my shoulder, more to comfort himself than to comfort me, though I'm sure he knew I wasn't comfortable with things.

    Through this meditative filter, I was able to listen objectively to the men who spoke (no women at all spoke) about the deceased. They told little stories about Monroe's skill as a carpenter, his joy in helping friends, his unspoken kindnesses, and his unflagging spirit.

    They spoke of his sneaky, harmless sense of humor and the pranks he loved to play on those he cared most about. One man, a brother-in-law told of a mule that Monroe worked for a long time, a mule belonging to a good neighbor.

    It seems that Darleen had noticed that Monroe would sometimes ride the mule home for 'dinner' (lunch), and sometimes Monroe would arrive on foot, leading the mule instead. So she asked him about it one day. He told her, "Well, you know when I go back out after dinner, and bend one o' them ears of that mule down?" She hadn't seen him do this, but nodded, thinking she'd only missed something. "I ask that mule if I can ride. Sometimes he'll let me, sometimes he won't." So after he ate lunch that day, and every day thereafter while he worked the mule, he would go out and bend down one of those long, expressive ears, and pretend to whisper into it, then listen for a reply. After that, as often as not, he rode the mule away. The rest of the time, he led it.

    Monroe had let the brother-in-law, also a good friend, into the secret joke. The punchline of this was that Darleen had never caught on to the gag.

    The hard-working mule was a "telegrapher" -- he would tell on himself by certain repeated actions if he was in a mood to act up and misbehave. In this case, the mule communicated his displeasure by lowering both ears. If those ears went down, Monroe stayed safely on the ground. The mule would work in harness, but not tolerate being ridden on those days.

    This story brought every person in the funeral home to a smile, and most of us to outright laughter. There was, in the crowd, an accumulation of horse and mule enthusiasts that outnumbered the others by a huge margin. Every one of us in the majority got the joke, because we'd all been in his place: most horses or mules have a tell-tale like that. My old Bess was a classic, which was why I could ride her when I was only sixten, when grown men couldn't stay on her for any amount of time. This story brought kinship, it brought understanding of the person, Monroe, who was gone from this life.

    After an hour of laughter and tears, of hearing countless "PRAISE the LORD!" outbreaks, and of pink miseries, the funeral broke up and the mourners were allowed to view the deceased for one last time.

    "He looks good."

    "They did a good job on him, didn't they?"

    "Ay, Gods. I'm a-gonna miss him."

    "He was a good soul, and a good carpenter. Why, he built my barn! Did I ever tell you...."

    "Bless you, sister. Bless you, child. He's watching you, and he knows your love is dear."

    The smell of flowers in the close place, with the air conditioning laboring to catch up with the day, was overpowering. Ronnie patted Monroe's hand one last time, I had a look (and said my piece under my breath so as not to offend anyone with my own beliefs). We dodged through the throng on the wide, long porch to a location light on colognes and perfumes and body heat. Ronnie hopped off the edge of the porch after a while to go see Darleen and her (adult) children for a few minutes. I stood my ground on sore feet -- not having a good day with the pain -- and watched the crowd for signs of the pall bearers carrying the coffin.

    Children romped in the small yard, parents and grandparents of every description chasing after them while all wore their Sunday best. There were more smiles and tears all around. I felt like an outside observer, leaning on a porch post alone, wondering at the unique combinations of interaction.

    When the pall bearers came out, loud wails also split the air. My headache hit apex, and I quickly shut it down again. The humidity was more pressing than any personal preferences, and contributed a lot to my discomfort. I wasn't the only one in distress; I saw many people fade off the edges of the crowd immediately.

    When the vehicles (all kinds, from beat-up old farm trucks and SUVs to a glossy BMW and both a new and a Classic Corvette) were all lined up to the funeral director's satisfaction, the procession began. All through town they took Monroe on his last ride, swinging onto a main side road just inside the other edge of the town's limits. We rolled slowly along, looking down on Red River, where wild cane grew in blotches among other tall weeds. Houses on the other side of the stream had beautiful, rich gardens all along the way. The soil is strong where the river feeds the land. A patch of dried thistle stalks stood tall, strung out on a narrow steep bank alongside the road for most of a mile. I saw birds take flight after a hawk who had intruded on their territory.

    Ronnie wiped the sweat from his face, letting the open windows do the work of our long-forgotten (to recharge) air conditioning system in the Jeep Cherokee. He too was watching the land along the road. A rock bluff on our left, the river on the right. The road lay just above flood level, a main artery to the next county.

    Just a couple of miles out, the procession of mourners turned into a hidden driveway entrance surrounded by weeds and neighbored by cluttery little houses perched on what passes for high ground along that stretch. Every vehicle, regardless of make and model, drove along the gravel road and through a cowpasture. Where the creek crossing had to be made, we all lurched across a water-fissured slab of solid stone, splashing the water flowing over it into little fountains, rooster-tails of sunlit liquid spraying and squirting up to sparkle and fall back, passing along on its way to the distant sea.

    The graveyard, when we arrived, sat perched on a little knoll, a brief island that the floodwaters probably never touch. It wasn't much to look at; the whole area enclosed by the woven wire farm fencing was smaller than what an average sized brick veneer ranch house would occupy.

    Every low-slung car in front of us was searching for a place to park, and I indicated to Ronnie that he take our Jeep up on the bank beside the road proper, nosing it into the fence near the gate. He concurred with my assessment: not too far to walk, and it would let others have better places to park cars that had their limits in efficiency.

    We got out and stepped carefully around the Jeep, dress shoes not being the weapon of choice for combatting fresh cow pies. Someone had already stepped in one, I pointed out the slick smear to Ronnie and he grinned. We swung wide and arrived at the open gate with clean footwear. Others weren't so lucky -- or careful. Several people took time to stop at the gate post to prop up and check their shoes, then some wandered away from the crowd into the thicker grass, hoping to wipe away some of the evidence on the pasture itself.

    Dresses. Jeans. Suits. Jewelry. Tattooes. Hats, caps. Bib overalls. All clean, all respectful, all quiet. It was a swirl of hot faces, hot tears, hot sun, and it all centered on one green canvas canopy over a neatly dug hole, covered with plywood and a piece of green indoor-outdoor carpet. One large metal box, tightly sealed.

    In a short while, the service was over. All goodbyes had been said ceremoniously, and the mass of mourners began to talk in little clumps, some of the family carrying away a rose from the spray atop the coffin for a souvenir of love and memories.

    Darleen came to Ronnie like a moth to flame, patting him on the arm, hugging him, teasing him about her "poor" cooking and how he was the "only-est one who ever liked it!" Ronnie gave her a hug and responded in kind.

    After the hugging session, Darleen reared back and looked at Ronnie with suddenly ancient eyes. "Do you think he'd have been proud of me, Ronnie? This is the first funeral I ever sat the whole way through. Sick or not. Whether I loved the person or not -- family, friends, all of them. I went, said my piece of goodbye, and left. Not this time." She swallowed hard. "This time, I wanted to be here through it all. I'd... I'd follered him for so long, I reckon I just wanted to foller him as far as I could go right now."

    There were no tears in her eyes, only in her voice, so I made the offering for her. One of her grandchildren hugged me tight, patted Darleen on the shoulder and let me walk away alone. Ronnie followed me after a while.

    "Why'd you do that?" He asked curiously.

    "Because she couldn't. Not now, not this soon."

    "She will."

    "But not right now. She can't. She's the strong one for all of them." I indicated the family and extended family all bunched up once again around the coffin. "So I did it for her. I just know how I'd feel if it was me in her place."

    He fell silent, thinking. There was no more conversation as we dodged back among the cow pies to the Jeep. It was hot, the sun seeming to hold back all the cool for fear that it would rain on a solemn occasion.

    We'd been asked to come to the house and eat, as is our custom in this region. When we got there, we were taken in, both of us, with complete acceptance and affection, as if Ronnie had never left them and I had been there all along. Heaps of food awaited us, but my appetite had fled with the heat.

    Monroe's tiny little Chihuahua dog, a pet he'd bought for his beloved wife Darleen but ended up being claimed by himself, took up with Ronnie and I, begging for food from our plates, which she got. Poor little thing, she wandered in and out, watching every person who came in the gate, listening to every vehicle that passed on the road beyond the fenced yard, looking for someone who would never come home again.

    I claimed a thin ham sandwich, wishing for a thick, messy slab of garden tomato from the house, and followed it up with some dead-ripe slices of cantalope. A Pepsi washed it down. Ronnie gorged himself, as he usually does, cracking jokes with first this person and that. I simply sat, my left foot aching so badly that I was almost sick from it. I wanted to go lie down, but put it off, keeping to a polite joking tone with everyone who spoke to me, saying nothing about being uncomfortable in any way. They'd had enough. Monroe's daughter was so jittery and lost without "Daddy" that her grown daughter took over the hostess duties and made her mother go out on the porch for a while.

    As soon as we had eaten, and escaped the house to step outside, one of Monroe and Darleen's sons grabbed us for a tour of the menagerie. It was as always, even though they had moved house since I'd last visited with them.

    A Boer goat, a wether, naa-naaaa-naaaa'd constantly from a pen it shared with a fat nanny. Chickens and turkeys, geese, pidgeons -- many a fowl creature lurked in the narrow acreage between the house and a mobile home belonging to a neighbor. All of them healthy and clean. One caught my eye right away.

    It was a white goose with four wings! The tour guide, the oldest son, explained to us that the bird had been born that way, two normal wings and two turned upside down below the main ones. "It ain't never bothered it none. Mommy wouldn't take a farm in Georgia for that bird!" He wondered aloud if they'd have to get rid of some of the animals, or all of them. The younger son replied that she'd said to sell some, just a little while ago. I nodded, as did Ronnie. We'd been there when she told him.

    "Well, I reckon somebody's gonna get screwed when they get that noisy-assed damn goat! It ain't shut up once since Daddy brought it home." Ray snorted in disgust. The goat chimed in with a particularly long naaaaaaaaaaaa. "See what I mean?"

    We had to laugh. Flowers, critters, and children in this place met with equal care, all they had to give. These people weren't rich, just average folks with an adequate retirement, happy to make the adjustments that meant something beyond survival. They loved life, both Monroe and Darleen.

    Now Darleen is alone, Monroe having passed on this week, but for her grown-up children and a mess of grandchildren adult to still in diapers. She'll miss her dear Monroe for the rest of her life, however long she can fight the cancer. Her thin, chemical-shorn locks of gray are battle scars from a life never easy, yet always full of joy.

    It was the hardest thing I've ever done, keeping a dry eye when she held up a fluffy red teddy bear with "KISS ME!" sewn into a heart on its chest, and said, "This was my last Valentine's present from Monroe. Ain't it a pretty? Feel how soft it is. I could just hold it forever." At this juncture, her youngest grandson toddled up, grabbed the sentimental toy and jogged off to the kitchen to show it to MeMe (Mommy). Darleen laughed, watching, and said not a word. Monroe would have loved to see that baby with the bright bear, just one more time. Her face was lit with memories.

    ...

    (c.) 7-27-2007, by Rhonda L. M. Tipton