Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Contest: Book Giveaway

"This one’s tricky. You have to use imaginary numbers, like eleventeen."
-Calvin and Hobbes, on algebra homework

The Essential Calvin and Hobbes

Spouse and I have two copies of this most delightful Calvin and Hobbes book. When we first met he gave me one as a gift, having enjoyed it himself; when we decided to put our books together in matrimonial harmony we of course had an extra one.

One of them absolutely must go out of our lives and I would much prefer it be to one of my readers, given my euphoria about the fact that I actually have some. Readers, that is.
So, if the above book is something you might like to own, I would be more than happy to send it to a new home.

The reason for this contest is multifold:
I love Calvin and Hobbes and want to share the pleasure;
I will enjoy having one less item in our apartment;
my blog is shortly to have a birthday of a kind: my 300th post. Goodness, it is hard to believe but there it is. I thought it was a lovely round number- especially with those zeros- and a choice time to offer the book to somebody.

The book is in fine condition though it has been gently read and appreciated.

The contest will be open until next Saturday June 7th at midnight Eastern Standard Time and I will do the drawing on Sunday morning. Simply leave a comment on this post to enter.
I will write each commenter's name on a piece of paper, throw them all into a lovely hat, stir carefully, let the mix simmer, and then Spouse will kindly draw for me a single name.

If anybody out there is skilled in the art of drumrolling, your presence will be highly appreciated during the drawing; otherwise I might have to improvise and transmit the noise myself. Or get Mater to do it.

This offer is open to anyone, anywhere as long as you love- or will love- Calvin and Hobbes dearly.

Good luck!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Five Blogs That Make My Day

I wrote an "I Am Honoured' speech last night- quite lengthy and I briefly considered contacting a publisher- and then changed my mind.
Ah, not quite. I jest, I josh, I joke.
I was so pleasantly surprised, though, to find that I had received this 'Five Blogs That Make My Day' award.
I am about to return the compliment and nominate some of my favourite bloggers for the same honour.
I wish I could select more.
The rules for this award are:

1) Write a post with links to 5 blogs that make me think and/or make my day.
2) Acknowledge the post of the award giver- thank you, Texican!
3) Tell the award winners that they have won by commenting on their blogs with the news.

Here are my choices, born out of heartache that there cannot be more:

Beth's Stories: Beth tells stories to make you feel you have known her forever, her writing is inviting and she does not forget about her readers when she goes to Chile for a visit.

Moments of Perfect Clarity: Julie travels, she shares her experiences in a captivating way, she is hilarious, she is a thinker and she now takes gorgeous pictures with her new camera.

Mouse Medicine: we think of the same songs on the same day, she shares delicious recipes and she speaks the truth about what she sees in the world around her.

Rhayne: Jaime writes thoughtful words, is so kind she hates to kill even spiders, and sees beauty in everything.

Crows And Daisies: Polona stuns me all the time with her beautiful photography and a fleeting message to think about for the day. She makes one want to step outside and see what is out there.

Stamper Dad: puts some life back into history, is conscientious and puts an enormous amount of work into researching information for our knowledge. There is always something new.

Tango Baby: She comes from my beloved San Francisco and brings back wonderful memories of happy times. She is funny, and wise, and her blog is a daily excursion into the world of dancing and art.

Oh, dear. Yes, I count seven. I broke the rules. I had to. I suppose that I had to stop somewhere but I simply could not do this easily.

Congratulations to all- and to the other bloggers, just know how much I enjoy your daily or weekly writings.
And of course if Texican had not nominated me, his name would be here too! Funny how that works...

Reasons To Save Receipts For Years and Years

"Caution is the eldest child of wisdom."
-Victor Hugo

Of late we have had some trouble with our ten year old Honda. Mercifully, a good friend just inspected it for us and adjusted a few things but there were a number of elements he recommended we get the professionals to attend to.
That said, he was the most professional mechanic we have met in a good long while and he was very kind to spend time with us and our beloved car.
So, on returning from our trip to Maine, we decided to take the car to Sears Automotive Centre and to have somebody examine the vehicle.
It turned out that Spouse went to Sears many moons ago in California. They gave him a lifetime warranty with that service.
Spouse kept that receipt pristine and perfect in the glove compartment of the car for seven years- not because he thought he would need it but out of a cautious suspicion that one cannot be too careful.
It has been scanned and preserved as have many of our important documents. Not only did the activity of scanning and shredding free up some living space for us but it offered us a security in knowing that everything essential was safely stored on our computer. Sadly our scanner terminated its own employment some weeks ago and put a temporary end to the flow of scanning.
Yesterday evening that document was produced with a flourish, much to the astonishment of the mechanic at Sears, and it directly saved us more than two hundred dollars.
With that money, no doubt we will now proceed to invest in a new scanner.

A Piece of Paper

"A man's real possession is his memory. In nothing else is he rich, in nothing else is he poor."
-Alexander Smith (Scottish poet, 1830-1867)

Sometimes Spouse and I are content to lose things. It happens occasionally along the way that our task of reducing possessions is made easier.
During our last move a lot of furniture was smashed to pieces, including the cabinet on which we normally positioned our television.
We did not mourn those things; they had served us well and in their unexpected absence we found a simplicity crucial to our well-being. As we unpacked and dismantled, we discovered that we were accepting that certain things would be out of our lives, either by being mislaid in transit or from damage caused by carelessness.
If our television stand was broken- and the various splinters gave strong indication that it was- then so be it. We would learn to not need such a thing.
I did, however, note right away that I was unable to find one item in particular.
In Ireland years ago, while rooting through a favourite store in a seaside town, I found a most intriguing poster. It bore the entire text of Chief Seattle's 1854 speech in which he turned down, with the utmost eloquence, an offer to buy the land on which he lived.
The poster's headline: This Earth is Precious.
"How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land?" Chief Seattle's speech says; "the idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?"
The poster mattered a great deal to me because of the happy days in which I bought it and for the words that always humbled me as they hung on the wall in our enormous new house.
That was the very last time I saw it.
One would have to reasonably assume that the new owners unintentionally acquired the beloved paper along with the house.
I thought at first that it might be buried among the mass of papers and objects we own, but the clutter of which I write has long since been diluted and reduced to a number of organised boxes. The poster is not in any of them.
Yet, how can I complain? How can I resent the loss of a piece of paper which I cherished for its reminder that material things are transient and complicate our lives more than we could know?
Chief Seattle praised a world in which humans cared to "hear the unfurling of leaves of spring, or the rustle of an insect's wing..."
"And what is there to life if a man cannot hear the lonely cry of the whippoorwill or the arguments of the frogs around a pond at night?"
With that, I suspect that my anguish for the lost poster has been put to rest, with only a mild scattering of wonder as to why the new occupants of our house never saw fit to do as I and many people would have done, to send it along to the previous owners.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

On the Roof

It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like 'What about lunch?'
-Winnie the Pooh

"My tongue is stuck to the roof of my mouth," is what Mater longed to say, tried to say, of her thirst. She urgently needed a cup of tea and was doing her most polite best to urge me to disconnect the telephone.
Instead, though, she said something else and as a result I found myself forced to record it, both for posterity and for the strange visual image it provoked:
"my tongue," she said, "is stuck to my roof."
Her tongue, she said, was stuck to her roof.
Worrying images of scurrying firemen were abundant in my mind; I pictured them scrambling up the old stone walls of Mater's house to rescue the stranded, parched tongue.
And all for the want of a cup of tea.

Award, Award

"Our brightest blazes of gladness are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks."
-Samuel Johnson

Nobody ever suspects what a day might bring.
I discovered this morning that I have been honoured with a 'Five Blogs That Make My Day' award.
The Texican nominated me; it has, so to speak, quite made my day.
When I had at last picked myself up off the floor I called Mater to let her know.
Then I called Spouse.
Or perhaps it was the other way around; nevertheless, both were as pleased as I was.
I will go forth shortly and nominate some of my own favourite blogs for this particular award.
For now, I will relish the unfamiliar feeling that this day has brought. And I must also just say:
Award! Hurray!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Stopping On The Road With Sausage Bread

"The more I travelled, the more I realized that fear makes strangers of people who should be friends."
-Shirley MacLaine

On Monday we drove home, away from our friends and back to our ordinary life. As we travelled South we noticed something up ahead on the road. We were forced to slow slightly, then to a barely discernible crawl, and then stop entirely.
The freeway was at a standstill, that was soon clear. Cars were not simply idling: one by one people began to emerge from their vehicles, to walk around, to stretch their legs and in one case, to give their dogs some exercise. As people began to wander about, more were inspired to do the same until the road resembled a busy meeting place.
Somebody close by said they thought the traffic was halted for a length of fifteen miles. Gossip swept along through the chain of cars with a fervour.
As I mused on the peculiarity of wandering on a road we usually identify only as a grey blur, the woman in the neighbouring car asked Spouse and I if we knew what the trouble might be. Of course we did not have a clue but she gave up hoping we would soon start moving again, stepped out of the car and started to talk to us about where she had come from, where she was going. She asked us if we were going home.
Her young granddaughter poked her head out the window and updated us several times that she had heard a whisper there was an accident, she had heard somebody say we would be trapped for hours.
The chirping child had particularly good ears for picking up the news on the air and her grandmother remarked that the child inside the car knew more than she herself did while standing on the road.
I mentioned to the very friendly lady that we had sausage bread, a fresh trout and a chive plant in the back of our car and joked that at the very least, we would not be hungry.
Our neighbour suggested that it was far better to be at this part of the accident than actually involved in it- a sobering thought which, despite the obvious common sense of it, had not struck Spouse and I until it was said. It made the waiting a good deal easier.
As we stood there, grateful for the sky that held its rain, glad to be safe, the crowd watched as one driver decided that his time was too important: he jumped into his car, drove off the road, dragged the vehicle over the grassy verge between two freeways, almost sank twice in the swamp he had not guessed at, and finally pulled himself out to get back on the road on the other side- not only a completely illegal endeavour but a dangerous and thoughtless one.
As he sped away in the opposite direction we heard a dreadful bang and a clatter; something had gone awfully wrong with the car and no doubt he would pay for his haste.
We were all in the same boat, all having to wait and make the best of it, all wanting to be on our way but not so troubled that we could not make time to share a few comments with fellow travellers otherwise unknown and passing like ships in the night.
After about twenty minutes, one young fellow nearby brought forth a guitar from the back of his car and I am sure that we would have been entertained musically had the word not trickled slowly down that traffic was beginning to flow again.
We all said our goodbyes and made our way onwards, relieved that our precious food would not be spoiled and in some way pleasantly surprised by the encounter and the brief interaction that was so unexpected.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Something To Write Home About

"If those who owe us nothing gave us nothing, how poor we would be."
-Antonio Porchia

A colleague of my Spouse's once needed a taxi in Sweden. He saw one, sat into the cab and asked the driver to take him to a certain hotel, one which was part of a chain and vast in size.
The colleague happened to have a set of directions which would involve the car being navigated through several extremely busy streets. He told the driver specifically where to go and relayed his own version of how to get there.
The driver looked at the fellow, and said,
"I could take you. But see that gate over there?"
The colleague did see.
"That happens to be another entrance to the hotel. As I said, I could drive you, but..."
There was no financial gain to be had by telling the passenger this information; a taxi driver insistent on following directions and making money could just as easily have spent the next thirty minutes in traffic earning a princely sum.
It turns out, though, that people are not all selfish and thoughtless as the world would have us believe they are.
This weekend just past was nothing short of splendid. Spouse and I have found a place where kindness is willingly offered and nothing is expected or demanded in return.
It strikes us again as utterly unselfish and we are at a true loss as to how to extend gratitude toward people who appear, with their close knit family and simple, self sufficient living, to have everything.
Per Spouse's request, a member of the family took time to make his way over to our friends' house, examine our car and deem it roadworthy- an issue which has bothered us for some time both because of the awful noises that emanate from it on a regular basis and because honest mechanics are not as plentiful as they ought to be. After sacrificing hours of his weekend the fellow at first refused to take any money for his time and his assistance and for his furious battle with ravenous mosquitoes.
It is something to be welcomed into a family and to immediately be treated like we belong instead of as a passing visitor.
We gladly trundled home with:
one freshwater trout, caught that morning and generously offered with pride; two large loaves of sausage bread; an armful of rhubarb; a dozen warm hen eggs; two twice-baked potatoes filled with sour cream and chives; a container of delicious pasta salad; a living chive plant; a package of bacon; both frozen and cooked vegetables; countless chocolate cookies and six handmade chocolate pies.
Like the aforementioned taxi driver who gained nothing monetary, instead something more important, and like the family that wraps its good nature around us without hesitation, there are bright spots in the world, and people who are inherently good, and it is not- cannot be- limited to our experience.
We have been so very fortunate.

Friday, May 23, 2008


"A true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg even though he knows that you are slightly cracked."
-Bernard Meltzer

Spouse and I will spend this weekend in Maine with our friends. They will shower kindness and food on us, and for a few days we will be comfortable in good company.
The last time we visited, it was August and as we were going home again we were loaded down with freshly cooked food as we set off into the burning noonday sun.
One of the family members had prepared a special sausage bread. There was a good deal of it, wrapped in foil and tempting our palates, filling the car with the scent of a veritable feast.
Our friends and their extended family live in the most Northern part of Maine; close, but not close enough given their warm friendship and delicious meals.
I called my friend when we reached home to say Thank You for everything. She mused with pleasure that we would have sausage bread for lunch for the week.
I hesitated for just a heartbeat before telling her that the sausage bread never made it past Bangor, which according to our map is not even halfway home.
It never made it. We ate just a little bit at first, and then some more and we ate until all of it was gone, relishing each bite, dispatching the bread with mumbles of joy.
No, the sausage bread never made it past Bangor.
But oh, it was so lovely.
This weekend we do not know quite what will await us but we will treasure every minute we can spend with decent people and superb cooks.

I will be away from the computer for the weekend and will return after Monday with armfuls of secret recipes and tales from the hearth.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What We Are Made Of

"Perhaps I am stronger than I think."
-Thomas Merton, Trappist Monk

When I was nineteen I decided one day that I needed a new bed, the one I slept in being more than twenty years my senior.
I ordered my choice from the store in the city and paid for it with my simple waitress salary. It was, my recent trip to the United States not withstanding, the most expensive thing I had ever bought.
I happened to be alone on the afternoon that it was delivered to our house. I think perhaps the truck drivers had arrived a little early. Anyhow, I stood in the living room and admired my new plastic-wrapped bed, and waited for everybody to return so we could make a start on installing it.
A little note about my bedroom: it was in a loft, and the only access was by way of a metal ladder and through a space with a low ceiling and wooden beams.
I wanted the old bed away more than anything. I was not very patient at all and was annoyed that nobody was there to assist me.
The very next thing I remember is standing in the field behind our house having just dragged my old bed into the grass, and feeling jubilant and exhausted.
I had managed to carry the thing out of my bedroom and down the ladder, across the living room, out of the kitchen and into the back garden for disposal.
My mother came home and turned pale when she saw the familiar lump in the field.
She asked me how in the world I accomplished it.
I said, "I just really wanted to."
To this day I imagine I needed no more than to desire the bed gone, and that is how I mustered the strength to somehow carry the weighty object down a ladder without injuring myself.
The new bed of course was another matter- I would never have attempted to get that up to my bedroom alone. A very good thing, too, since we later found out it was very much the wrong size for my meager bedroom space and I had to donate it bitterly to my brother whose bed was also of an age suitable for disposal. But I digress.
Strength moved that bed: strength from thin air, conjured in a moment of frustration and impatience. I try now to define strength in ordinary terms and suddenly am at a loss.
I am these days reading a certain memoir; it happens to be one of the finest I have ever picked up.
It is called 'A Three Dog Life' and it is Abigail Thomas' account of the period following an accident that cruelly robbed her of a husband. A brain injury snatched his personality away except for occasional tormenting glimpses, and left both he and his wife struggling tragically to find reason in a broken life.
Abigail Thomas strikes the reader as a profoundly strong woman. Quiet and dignified, she tells of her feverish nightmare, one which she could never quite share with the man she loved.
The book opens with: "This is the one thing that stays the same: my husband got hurt."
Such writing both haunts and heals the reader and makes one deeply grateful for the enchantment of words and for those things which have been taken for granted.
I think of the ferocious courage it must have taken Abigail Thomas to witness her husband fall apart with numbing slowness and to not crumble along with him.
I think of the insight she must have possessed in order to write beautiful, aching words that extend far beyond the circle of people who knew her husband to tinge the most distant reader with a deep sadness.
I almost cut myself on some glass earlier this month. The thought of What Might Have Been troubled me for days. I told my friend about it over the telephone and I said miserably that I did not know how I would have fetched help in such a situation.
She said to me, "you would just do it. If you had to, you'd find a way."
While it might seem that there is a literal gulf between my singular tale of physical strength in transporting a bed, and the devastating story of a lost husband and companion, they serve to prove my friend correct: one does what one can whenever necessary. Basic human instinct negates a lot of conscious decision making and allows no room for the luxury of wondering.
Humans have a stunning capacity for strength. Whether it is of the mind or the body we do not at all know the possibilities until the very moment we are called to use them.
We hardly know what we are made of, or what we are capable of achieving.
'A Three Dog Life' is most highly recommended for those who love powerful and graceful memoirs.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Portrait of a Fortune Teller

"A loving heart is the truest wisdom."
-Charles Dickens

Somebody telephoned my mother the other evening.
A stranger.
Perhaps a friend she had not yet met but more than likely it was a simple case of mistaken identity.
"Are you the fortune teller?" said an unfamiliar voice.
"I am not," said my mother nicely.
"Oh. Really?" The caller very much wished to be speaking to the fortune teller and hoped to have dialled the correct number.
"No, I'm not. Sorry," Mater said, but the caller was hesitant to believe.
Naturally, the call ended, as they each must do, but I wonder if Mater ought to have said "yes."
Mater, after all, is the person who sends me tea before I know I need it; makes public telephones chime as I am passing by; mysteriously knows what clothes I am wearing through the medium of miles of cable that swirl underground and under the ocean to connect our voices with each other; is certain that I am lying when I declare I am not ill; and of course numberless other magical incidents which scarcely get recorded nowadays, so matter-of-fact are they.
My mother's instincts are wrapped up at times in enigmatic and incomprehensible codes: the night before Spouse and I got married she had a dream about a pig bearing black and white stripes, with whom she talked.
Sadly and most unhelpfully, all transcripts were lost during the transition from sleep to waking and we will never know what was said to Mater, or why such a pig said it.

So, then: "are you the fortune teller?"
"It depends who you ask," Mater might say next time with a wink and a sly smile.

Mater is pictured above; a wax figure of Whoopi Goldberg stands beside her. Mater is beaming both because of her proximity to a celebrity's likeness and because of the fact that she is able to walk around Las Vegas like the elated tourist she finally can be. The trip began in Las Vegas and ended with a visit to the Grand Canyon.
Permission was granted by Mater for this picture to be used; in actual fact she selected the photograph.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Irony, Ironía

"Language is a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity."
-Gustave Flaubert

Irony is just this, perhaps:
Spouse successfully completing a four-month-long Spanish class in a Northern California community college;
Spouse's teacher subsequently delivering the record of achievement, emblazoned with an 'A+' grade, and a short note;
the message, written in Spanish, being beyond Spouse's understanding;
Spouse opening a dictionary to determine the meaning, which turns out in the end to signify a warmhearted letter of congratulations.
As a happy afterword, Spouse has never forgotten the meaning of that Spanish phrase and has maintained a reasonable level of the language.
Ironía is just that, perhaps.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Of Time and Books

"Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day."
-Winnie the Pooh

I read 'The Book Thief' by Markus Zusak a year ago, borrowed from the library.
By the turning of the final page, I resented the sentimentality of the work, the fact that I felt pushed into feeling compassion for the main character: a child- The Book Thief- who had lost her family, loved books and was caught up in one of the most dreadful events in human history.
How could a decent person feel anything but sympathy for her? With that, how could I be free to form an opinion of my own? Even in the highly likely scenario that I came to admire the character, I would rather have arrived at that conclusion by myself and not through artful coaxing akin to emotional blackmail.
It was not so much that the girl's character left me cold; rather I was irritated by the glaring fact that I was fated to like her no matter what.
I mused to Mater the other week that I had not stopped thinking about it in twelve months. I had spent months defending my attitude and arguing with my own self in verbose bouts of literary debate that it was an overly-saccharine, self-indulgent novel.
I mentioned it to Mater and- I never learn- she sent me the book the following week.
While I still consider that such a carefully constructed character portrayal leaves little room for development of an opinion, I do feel that a second reading has, surprisingly, warmed me to the novel.
Perhaps this time I paid more attention to the little detail, to the lines beyond the child herself, to the humanity and the cruelty that surrounded her in the story.
At second glance, then, it is suddenly lyrical and lovely and heartbreaking and, though I took the slow train of stubbornness, reached my destination in the end.
I wonder if perhaps, bizarrely, the greatest review a writer can receive, beyond the accolades and typical applause and single-faced murmurs of approval, is this:
"I did not like your book at all. And now I do."

I know of somebody who, when I was little, took a book about a famous composer out of the library. It was an enormous volume, staggering in size, and filled with rich paintings and passages about the musician's curious life.
The person in question liked the book so very much that she renewed it before the due date and kept it for another three weeks. She did that repeatedly for a year and a half, I believe, until she was forced to return it when another composer enthusiast had requested the same book.
I do not doubt that she would still today have the book in her possession had that anonymous fellow not come along and intervened.

Nancy Drew stories are delightful for reading aloud at evening time to another book lover. I began reading 'The Secret of the Old Clock' to Spouse shortly after I found a used and antiquated copy in a thrift store. He found the plot gripping in a charming and timeless fashion.
The suspension of time is all too true, though, because I paused mid-sentence five years ago in California- and several homes and the width of the United States later, I have not had a chance to read the remaining chapters to my Spouse.
Somewhere out there, Nancy Drew awaits our command and is frozen, flashlight in hand, mouth open in perpetual moment of crooked discovery, ready for me to slide the book from its place on the shelf and begin again.

Time takes care of everything in its own way and books are no exception to that.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Just To Say

"A memory is what is left when something happens and does not completely unhappen."
-Edward de Bono

The only handbag I have ever owned- I must write about it- is about to expire.
The faux black leather is crumbling and leaving a trail of shredded crumbs wherever I wander. The strap, which converted the thing to a comfortable backpack, fell off three months ago and since then I have had to grip the bag with my fingers to carry it.
I used it in college in California. Pens, cellphone, notebook, sunglasses, keys, wallet, water bottle, food and reading material all managed magically to find room in the bag with more left over for my daily after-school visits to thrift stores and library.
The bag never once failed me and I always found room for something new.
Six years. It served me rather well. It carried me through pleasant times and gloomy ones, hot sun that threatened to crack the ground open and biting snow and ice, through many states and countries, and was the bearer of numerous treasures rooted from the dusty corners of beloved used bookstores.
I had it with me during all the fourteen months in Ireland while waiting to hear if I could join Spouse: it was in my terrified and sweating hand at the heart-achingly-long Embassy interview when I could not guess whether my precious passport and new visa would be tucked into one of its many compartments afterward, when I would emerge into the daylight.
Spouse quite likes the bag too and has long admired its capacity for endless carriage.
Then the zipper fell off yesterday and landed with an ominous clatter on the floor. I can be in denial no longer.
Some things are impossible to replace. As someone who never at all wanted to have such an accessory in the first place, I find myself unexpectedly melancholy that I have to let it go now and consign it to the past.
As it is with everything, the time has come. This is not intended to anthropomorphise an inanimate leather bag, just to say that I will be at a loss for a while.
A new bag will just not be the same.
Adieu, Dear Handbag!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Point of View

"We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are."
-Anais Nin

Mater went to London this week and stood before Buckingham Palace. She called me from her cell phone and exuberantly told me all about it. Given her extraordinarily poor sense of direction I had to express delight that she had found the palace.
Spouse and I were in London two years ago and we wandered into that very same area.
"Where is it?" I remember wailing to Spouse as the rain poured down and our street map grew soggy.
"It should be really close," Spouse called through the torrents. Everybody in the crowd had umbrellas except us.
We thought to beg directions from a passer-by, who kindly let us know that we were standing right beside it.
There it was then, just like that. We had been looking at Buckingham Palace from the unfamiliar side- in as much as photographs and television can be said to offer a feeling of recognition- and from the perspective of sodden and anxious tourists.
Spouse and I did not quite know what to say to one another: we had talked about visiting Buckingham Palace for the better part of a week and when we got there we did not even recognise it. When we reached the front of course it all made sense but whoever looks at pictures of Buckingham Palace taken from the back or the side?
Most things in the world are like that in their own way, and hardly ever turn out to be as we imagined them.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Garland

"You will find as you look back upon your life that the moments when you have really lived are the moments when you have done things in the spirit of love."
-Henry Drummond

Last year Spouse and I had our second wedding ceremony. Some friends that could not make it to our wedding in Ireland the previous year wished to mark the occasion, and to do so in a manner reminiscent of Spouse's culture of origin.
We drove to friends in Virginia in July; right away they began to cook sumptuous food and prepare the various rituals.
Our friends' daughter, who was nine, helped to make the garlands that Spouse and I would put around one another's necks in a symbol of marriage.
She and her mother created them by threading whole fresh flowers together, painstakingly and with delicate care.
The nine year old worked especially hard on my own garland; it looked slightly different from Spouse's. She could not wait to have her work of art put to use as part of a special ceremony.
During the event Spouse and I held a garland each; we were to step forward and give them to each other.
At the last moment, when we were in the midst of a solemn ceremony and it was too late to do a thing about it, I suddenly realised that my personal garland was in my own hands, and that I would have to give it to Spouse.
I looked at the child. She understood too and I watched as tears began to stream silently down her cheeks.
Due to the nature of the ceremony there was simply no way to exchange the garlands. I was forced to continue and I put the garland made purposely for me over Spouse's head. I felt dreadful; not one of us had considered that the exchange would mean I needed to have Spouse's, and he mine.
The most awful part was the muted crying that begged for no pity at all. The water flowed endlessly and kept doing so as we carried on with the wedding.
She stood off to the side, all her hopes and dreams for the day dashed and her work- with no disrespect to Spouse- fallen into the wrong hands.
I think that I succeeded in consoling her at last by explaining that the garlands would be hanging up in our home, side by side forever and that, in the end, it would not matter at all whose was whose.
What might appear trivial to the grown-ups is the entire world to a child. Life moves so much more slowly and as such it is harder to heal a sorrow with the promise of time.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Airport Journey

"It is not so much our friends' help that helps us, as the confidence of their help."

Our friends in Ireland set off on a trip to Portugal this week. Mater offered to drive them to the airport. Minutes after she collected the pair from their home and they rolled through their little town- which is next to Mater's- they all three waved at the shops and houses and said, "goodbye, town."
Of course Mater was coming straight back again through that street but it gave her a pleasant feeling to be saying farewell even for an hour or two.
Then, from the back seat, the husband said very gently, "I've left my bag at the house. It has the tickets in it."
He was so calm about it that Mater assumed the comment to be a practical joke.
"I don't care," said she, chuckling. "You're going to the airport with or without your ticket."
A few moments later when reality set in she abashedly turned the car around and guided it back to the house.
The couple dashed inside, much to the surprise of their daughter who had not expected them home quite so soon.
On their way again, they said another, yet slightly muted 'goodbye' to the town, tickets properly in hand this time.
At the doors of the airport Mater bid them well, wished them sunshine and plenty of rest.
"I've left a little something for you in the car," said her friend. Mater and she had firmly agreed beforehand that the drive to the airport was to be gratuitous. Mater admonished them both and walked back to her car as the couple stepped inside the airport terminal and were swallowed up in the herd of tourists.
Mater got into her car and looked for whatever sum of money her friend had left behind.
Instead she found a handbag, precious and much-needed.
Mater dialed the couple's cell phone number hastily- thank goodness their phone was not also inside the bag- and brought the already weary two back to the doors where she reunited them with the priceless item.
Off they went again- and thankfully Mater has not seen them since. I wish them a safe and soothing and very much needed excursion.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Special Meal

"A sense of humor is a major defense against minor troubles."
-Mignon McLaughlin

My Spouse flew to Europe recently and spent a week.
Too late, it dawned on him that something had been curious about the meals he had been served to and from his destinations.
Some time ago he had opted to say 'diabetic' on his preferred meal plan for flights; that way he avoided the excess of sugar found in usual airline food. Not only that, but he would get served first, the food would have less grease and there would be a little portion of fruit as well. The requirement went into the system and now any time he flies for work-related purposes this benefit happily and automatically presents itself.
This had worked perfectly well for all subsequent flights; except that on his way home from Europe Spouse remembered that the airline attendants had not given him a diabetic meal for any of the numerous parts of that particular trip. It occurred to him just as he boarded a flight in Iceland and prepared for the last leg of a long journey.
He wondered idly about it but determined that it was too late to make a fuss.
When the meal was finally served mid-flight Spouse unwrapped the hot package of food:
there was a long, breaded, golden-fried piece of chicken on a bed of special rice. Other passengers were soon tucking into the same thing. Forget the diabetic meal, thought Spouse in eagerness: this looks surprisingly delicious.
The aroma hit my hungry Spouse and he raised his fork to stab it into the delectable dish.
Spouse looked upward.
The air stewardess said a name and asked if Spouse was he.
"That's me," he replied.
In her strong and fierce Nordic accent she cautioned with a shake of her head, "you have special meal! You have diabetic meal!"
Spouse glanced down and the food had vanished, snatched away by an Icelandic eagle before he had so much as a moment to blink. At the most inopportune moment of all they had remembered and decided to present Spouse with the diabetic meal.
The superb standard meal was immediately replaced with a similar-sized portion of boiled vegetables and colourless, bland, boiled chicken.
Oh, the joys.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Bright Ideas

"If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it."
-Albert Einstein

I always think that mishearings are a fountain of creativity.
Poor Spouse is feeling most miserable with a cold for the last few days and had to take today and yesterday off work.
His voice is not quite his own and yesterday afternoon as he was sitting up and struggling to read a magazine article out loud to me, I could not help but ponder.
It was a technical magazine he was browsing through and from under the comfort of three layers of bedding, Spouse showed me a picture of an elaborate meal with prestigious guests and esteemed speakers, and muttered something about "an International Debtor Symposium."
I thought about that, and marvelled a bit at the ingenuity and craftiness of getting a lot of debtors into one building.
Imagine it, if you will: luring all the people in the world who were overdue in returning money to anybody- persuading them to fly to a certain country, then drawing them into a great big hall under the pretence of feeding them- then locking the doors, crossing one's collective arms and firmly but politely demanding one's payment.
What a fine idea.
Where could the debtors run to? What excuses could they possibly use?
A good deal of paperwork would quickly be avoided, debtors would exit as free, unburdened souls and a lot of sleepless nights would soon evaporate for those on both sides of the thorny monetary issue.
Presumably not having got the reaction he had hoped for, Spouse diluted my daydream and told me that he had actually said "International Radar Symposium."
Well, then. It was just a thought.

Monday, May 12, 2008

In the Lake

"For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business."
-T.S. Eliot

Back in the days when we lived in California and Spouse had an understanding and friendly boss, I was invited along on many work-related excursions. One of these was a company picnic on the shore of a lake.
Several colleagues had motorboats and they offered a ride to anybody who wished to partake.
Spouse went along on one vehicle and I on another. Neither of us like water and neither of us can swim. Yet there we were on our respective ends of the gigantic lake learning new and thrilling things.
Spouse's boss- let us call him M.- stopped the boat and urged us all to get out and enjoy the waves. I was horrified. I had thought to spend the time just looking at the lovely water but I nonetheless found myself a few minutes later clambering rigidly down the ladder.
I held onto M's arm. This worked for a short period until M. wanted to swim and needed to be relieved of the human barnacle.
I prepared to release my grip one finger at a time. He watched me patiently.
I come from a place where swimming, on account of the weather, is not a habit, and though I grew up two miles from a lake, it was an entirely different scenario.
Firstly, I usually had a tyre or other means of floatation to support me when I ventured into the the lake; secondly, as I have stressed it was not a common occurrence to go into the lake; and lastly, the popular swimming area was no more than five feet deep.
"What are you doing?" M. enquired curiously. I was performing some strange movement with my feet and he was confused.
"I'm looking for the lake bed," I explained. "I'll let go of you when I find it. I promise."
M. glanced at me sideways and then helplessly at the rest of the group.
He cleared his throat and then said gently, I imagine so as not to alarm me, "the lake is about eighty feet deep. You won't find the bottom."
What a learning experience that was for me: lakes across the world are not all the same depth.
With that wisdom absorbed, I surprised myself by later lying across a rubber tube, grasping a wet rope and allowing myself to be pulled along by a boat driven by a fellow determined to show me the health benefits of swallowing lake water.
I had a marvellous time.
I still cannot swim. Neither can Spouse, who at that very same moment was water-skiing elsewhere. I doubt very much that we should have recognised each other had we crossed paths like ships in the night.
One never knows a thing without trying.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


"It is strange to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely."
-Albert Einstein

Spouse and I stood in the clinic two weeks ago and filled in numerous and numberless forms that gave our vital information to the new doctor.
We were there for routine check ups; a double payment, double the wait, double the hope that this time our doctor would be a wise and helpful person, one who cared.
As it turned out she is the kind that makes calls afterward to follow up, and makes them personally.
No silly jokes from her, either.
Our last doctor laughed at Spouse, chucked him under the chin and said, "so, you're not dead then."
We decided right there to move along swiftly and into an era with a serious and honest doctor.
As we stood, then, completing the paperwork, we reached the portion of our respective documents that asked for names of next of kin. The nurse noticed our hesitancy as our pens hovered, synchronised, over the pages.
"That's just in case something happens to you while you're out here today. We need a contact number and name."
Still we wavered. Pitifully, the thought crossed my mind: could we write one another's names? I looked at Spouse. Spouse looked at me. We were thinking exactly the same thing.
It turned out that we could not use the other's name because we were both present and for logical reasons the office administration wanted a third party to be on the list.
We were fortunate to be able to come up with the name of a friend but in an enlightening moment we realised that we were no longer in California where most of our friends live and where we were not a bit isolated.
There, we experienced conversations that started from the air, about nothing, with perfect strangers: people wanting the company of other people. That was our measure of California and our experience of a close society.
I am fortunate these days if a fellow walker on the bridge obliges me with a grunt.
There is certainly a good deal to be said about community, and neighbours taking care of one another.
Loneliness met us in a doctor's office, breathed delicately down our necks and reminded us of the perpetual human need for people.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Poem Number 56

"Dreams are today's answers to tomorrow's questions."
-Edgar Cayce

When I was eighteen I slept for a time alongside my mother. It was a most curious period: once, I nudged her slightly in the night when I lost all the blankets and she practically barked at me to get out of the way.
Intrigued, I just had to prompt her a little more. Mater informed me that the waitress was coming through with a tray.
I was baffled. Did she mean me, who was working as a waitress at the time? I said to Mater that I did not see a waitress anywhere at all.
"What do you mean, you don't see her? She's right there! She's coming through with a tray. Move!"
With that, the discussion faded into the night but it occurred to me that, with Mater's permission afterward, I might be able to craft a poem out of her nightly ventures.
And so, in 1998, the following was constructed. I shall keep with the exact text, and the original title as it fitted numerically into my book of poems at that time.

Poem Number 56

My mother just wiggled her fingers in her sleep,
hand over eyes to shield from the glare
of the sun, perhaps, as it brightly burns
in some distant place I cannot ever be.

My mother just wiggled her fingers in her sleep,
maybe saying hello or goodbye to someone there.
I think I shall ask her when she returns
about this stranger I can never see.

My mother just wiggled her fingers in her sleep
and twitched her leg- she might be racing now
to catch a bus back home so she can wake.
When she stirs this mystery will unravel.

My mother just wiggled her fingers in her sleep
and lightly touched a hand to furrowed brow.
I think she missed her bus- I'll give her a shake
and bring her back from where she alone can travel.


Friday, May 9, 2008

Before We Got Away

"There is no terror in a bang, only in the anticipation of it."
-Alfred Hitchcock

There was absolutely nothing wrong with the room at the Bed and Breakfast but the owner would not believe our insistence.
"Rose," he called to his wife down the hall. "Come here. This couple has a problem with the room."
Our collective bloodstreams ran cold.
Rose came thundering up to us.
"What's wrong with the room?" she demanded to know, speaking over our heads to her husband.
"They think something's wrong?"
Spouse and I were speechless.
"Isn't it good enough for you?"
"Nothing. Nothing is wrong. The room is fine." We were both alarmed, quite so.
"You don't have to stay here, you know," the fellow said as an afterthought.
It was late and we were physically tired. We had been mentally exhausted too until that little encounter awakened the hairs on the back of our necks. Spouse and I looked at each other and decided to stay despite the distinct chill in the air.
We locked the bedroom door; certainly we locked it that night.
Where the tension had arrived from Spouse and I had absolutely no idea. We had come to the house after booking earlier that evening over the telephone; the room was fine, we had arrived at a reasonable hour and had as such given no indication that things were not as we had hoped. There was an atmosphere, a particular feeling of having walked unwittingly into the second act of a play and of course not knowing any of the necessary lines.
In the morning Spouse and I whispered to one another that we ought to leave as soon as possible.
In Bed and Breakfasts in Ireland the dining situation requires that one sits at a large table to be served by the hostess. There are usually no other guests. I was overly cautious but after the previous night insisted that we not eat there for fear of being forced to sit through an uncomfortable repast. Awkwardness ought to be avoided at all costs.
We would pay for the inclusive breakfast so the only loss would be to us. We gathered our bags and stepped lightly into the hall.
The fellow was standing nearby.
"We'll put the breakfast on for you now," he said grimly, without a hint of life force.
It was difficult to explain to him the situation.
"We've decided to just go on," said Spouse carefully.
"We're in a bit of a hurry. We'd rather just go. We'll pay for the breakfast but we should be driving now."
"Rose. Rose!" he bellowed and in a minute Rose came up the stairs.
"This couple doesn't want breakfast. They want to leave."
"Is it my cooking? They don't think it's good enough?" Rose wailed.
I inched Spouse and myself ever so slightly down the stairs, and they followed. It was time to pay and exit.
"We woke up a little later than we planned," explained Spouse. "Otherwise we'd love to stay."
The couple glared at us, four ice chips of eyes boring through our skin.
Spouse moved to give the man his credit card. I could no longer take the tension and I stepped outside, warning Spouse with my eyes that he should not delay.
As I shook with cold in the misty morning air the front door opened. I turned, expecting my Spouse but instead found myself face to face with the woman.
"Did I do something to offend you?" she whined.
"No." I did not know what else to say. I was confused, utterly bewildered and weary of the charade. I was afraid to say anything else.
I turned away from her and the strangeness of it all.
When I looked back she had faded into the fog.
Spouse came out a few moments later.
"Get in the car," he said with an urgency in his voice I had not heard before.
"What happened?" I wished to know. I could not break the code of his expression.
"Let's just get out of here."
He took silent but long strides toward the car and I did the same.
As we clipped our seat belts on, Spouse said, "what did you say to her when you were outside?"
"I didn't say anything!" I paused.
"Wait. I said, 'no.' "
"That was all you said?"
"That was all. Why?"
"When she came back inside after talking to you, she started crying. Really crying."
It seemed that she had begun to sob and she turned to her husband and said,
"I think I'll go up to my room, to my room to cry."
He patted her and soothed her. "That's a good idea, Rose. You go to your room. I'll deal with this."
Spouse never signed a credit card receipt so hastily in all of his life. I am positive that his hands shook.
She went to her room and cried, Spouse vacated the house and the man watched from behind a curtain as we slipped into the blessed safety of the day.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Getting Away

"Adventure is worthwhile in itself."
-Amelia Earhart

Spouse and I once had the most horrible experience with a Bed and Breakfast when we were gallivanting around Ireland. Some day I just might even bring myself to talk about it.
Ah, yes, I am going to begin at the end, when we revved the car engine and escaped from the House as fast as ever we could.
One might suggest I have adapted a cruel measure of unfairness here, in telling the story just as it was ending.
But nothing ever really ends, you see, and the adventures go on and on. What does it matter which point we begin at?
"That was close," said Spouse as we turned corners and bumped over potholes, wheels flying over the narrow stretches of road.
I could barely think of a coherent response other than that I too was glad to be away.
We drove for a long time, past green hedges and battered signposts, tiny post offices and crumbly remainders of castles. We had no notion of where we were going, except in the general direction of my homestead.
My eyesight is as poor as my navigation skills are; after almost an hour we noticed a large sign in the distance, over the hill. I had visions of finding a quaint little restaurant or pub to seek refuge in.
"WELCOME... I can't read it," I wailed.
I was hungry by that time, not having had breakfast in the Bed and Breakfast, and needed the safety of my mother's kitchen with a plate of sausages and bacon and bread, and a strong cup of black tea in front of me.
"WELCOME TO..." Spouse's eyesight is a good deal better than mine and he was able to add another piece to the puzzle.
It was then that we passed the Welcome sign, and eerily familiar town, and a moment later, the Bed and Breakfast with its chilly, staring windows.
We both shivered. I am sure that I cried. We had been vaguely circling the area for one hour to end up in the very spot we had been striving to get away from.
Nevertheless, remembering that we were on an adventure, we stopped the car at a safe distance and laughed, and then we got out a map and laughed some more, all the way home.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Street

"No one is rich enough to do without a neighbor."

I grew up on the outskirts of a village that then boasted a population of less than six hundred people and still today with less than seven hundred.
There are no stores, so one can just imagine the hair's breadth of space the village manages to occupy in the world.
There is a single street, known to all as The Street, which stretches about the length of ten houses and which can be seen in its entirety from one end to the other. The general population is distributed among the outer regions of the area but The Street, with its Church and two pubs, is the sole meeting place and hub of the little village.
So yesterday, when Mater kindly read me a report from a county newspaper about an event which took place there, I could not contain my bewilderment.
Some fellow had been struck with an implement by unknown assailants- I strongly suspect that it was connected to a feud that spilled over from a sorry area of the city that is about fifteen miles away- and those at the newspaper thought it a good idea to give specific details about where the argument had taken place.
The unfortunate occurrence transpired "on the North Side of Main Street."
The North Side, mind you.
I have not lived near the village in some years but I largely doubt that the Road of Brevity has had to be cut into divisions and regions and classified according to its polar direction and astral coordinates.
A dear friend of my mother's, a fine neighbour to everybody and the very heart of the close knit community for as long as I can remember, has had something dreadful happen to her life.
Some youths have several times thrown eggs at her house, not out of spite toward her particularly, but from sheer mindless boredom and lack of discipline. Neither she nor any good, hardworking soul deserve to have their peaceful life invaded by idle pranksters with careless parents. The aforementioned parents have laughed off the matter and refuse to take her seriously or admonish their offspring. It is continuing and she fears it might not stop at broken eggs.
So, on the other hand, with such crime creeping in, is it any wonder that one end of the village might wish to turn its back on the other?
I suggest, though, that it remain The Street and that the encroaching and alarming trouble be solved by all people together, as a concerned community. Otherwise, I can envision the North Side being segmented into similar quarters and each of those quarters being sectioned into another North, South, East and West and on and on until even the local dairy cows begin to glare at one another in brown-eyed animosity.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Dream On

"I shut my eyes in order to see."
-Paul Gauguin

When I was three years old and my brother was six, the latter caught a glimpse of the film 'Planet of the Apes' on television and then quietly went to his bedroom.
Some minutes later Mater heard a bump and a thundering crash.
It is one of my very first memories: Mater trying to force my brother's door open and struggling against the enormous wooden wardrobe that had tumbled against the doorway. My brother was caught in the space under it, calling placidly for help.
I have an image of my frantic, anxious mother running to the house next door and of our neighbour at last pushing his way into the room to rescue my trapped and stunned brother.
My sorry sibling explained afterward that he had just wanted to be an ape. He had been practicing his climbing skills until the wardrobe ceased to oblige him.
Imagination is an extraordinary thing, made more so by the fact that a good number of adults are embarrassed to employ it. Instead they confine it to the realms of childhood fancy.
I do not recommend for one single moment that television's influence is a positive one on young minds, but at that moment my brother believed anything in the world was within his reach. Hardly a bad thing as long as one discounts the unsteadiness of his climbing equipment.
I find it a most stirring picture: my brother's small fingers grasping the lip of the hulking wardrobe, he himself hanging on the cusp of possibility.

Reader, what aspirations and dreams did you have when you were little?

Monday, May 5, 2008


"Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got till it's gone."
-Joni Mitchell

With time on my hands last evening I pulled a cardboard box from its corner and began to rummage through it.
The box holds our personal memento papers: cards, letters, photographs both loose and framed behind glass, scribbled notes and some newspaper clippings.
For twenty minutes I plunged through the box with enthusiasm. Every few months I try to reassess the contents and it usually happens that at least some papers can be discarded.
I found a good number of printed essays from community college days in California: those would stay, as would my notes from a very successful math class I took in Texas.
But those are not what I want to muse about now.
I instead want to state unequivocally that I am thankful, more so than I was before I began to dig in the box.
As I excavated items and every few minutes sorted them into various tidy piles, I gradually moved toward the bottom of the container.
At the last moment, as I stuck my wrist and hand in to scrape the last few things away and as I shook the box a bit, a dreadful noise made me pause. I lifted, ever so slowly, the remaining papers and revealed what was hiding underneath.
One of the glass frames had splintered and the upright shards were like teeth, cruel and crafty. I very nearly, with an inch to spare, did not see them at all.
The number of fragmented pieces, the speed at which I had happily been examining the box and the force with which I had been grabbing things and flinging them onto the carpet meant that I surely would have been injured and I doubt that it would have been superficial.
Spouse is not here and so the whole thing left me feeling both thankful and rather shaken. It might have been so very different.

I ask though, how much consideration did I give to my health and my hands before yesterday? It is the same, I suppose, with headaches: when I have one, I am miserable, but during the days that my head is clear, I never once consider how wonderful it is to not have any pain.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

All the Mornings

"Don't be fooled by the calendar. There are only as many days in the year as you make use of."
-Charles Richards

Spouse is away again, on a business and pleasure jaunt in Europe.
As a result I awoke this morning and started my day admittedly a little behind schedule. Rising late always bothers me and as I prepared some hot tea and observed the lazy Sunday rain I mentally attempted to excuse myself.
I considered that, with the notable exception of today, I had been surprising myself and getting up quite early since Spouse left- and surely one morning- 10 AM on a Sunday- was forgivable?
At the very least I had been getting up before 7 AM on the other days, and it gave me a little consolation.
That is, until it struck me that Spouse only left on Friday evening.
Yesterday, then, was the only morning- and there I had been thinking about my consistent early rising!
How could I have mistaken one morning for several?
The one-person days- they can drag on like tired horses through mud.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Early Bird

"Hope is the poor man's bread."
-Gary Herbert

At this time of year Mater must be most careful when lighting a fire. Birds tend to drop sticks and feathers and miscellaneous offerings down the chimney chute in attempts to establish a comfortable home for themselves and their future darling offspring.
Mater, however, very much appreciates the warmth of a hearth. She cannot set the nest alight but instead scoops up the branches and other bits of the woodland and transplants them outdoors where inevitably they are collected once more by our resolute friends who drop them again down the chimney chute with perpetual optimism.
The birds live in hope that one day they will find their nest undisturbed; Mater lives with equal measures of certainty that one day the birds will find another chimney or corner to roost in.
I for one wish Mater and the birds the very best of luck in their endeavours.
May the best homemaker win.

The Thing

"The absurd is the essential concept and the first truth."
-Albert Camus

My brother saw something odd last week. He was driving home to his apartment after a brief visit with our mother. With a quarter of the journey completed he called from his cell phone and made Mater an offer.
"There's something I just passed on the road. You have to come and see it."
It was a period immediately following a wild storm and Mater had no inclination to roll her car through the mud puddles.
"I promise you'll be interested," he pleaded.
My mother was adamant that she was on her way to bed and there only.
"If you don't like it, I'll get you a box of chocolates."
My mother cares for chocolate but cares more for my brother and finally, when she heard the desperation in his voice and sensed his need to share what he had seen, she changed her mind.
She grabbed her jacket, and my cousin who was beside her, and they set off in the car to see whatever curious thing my brother had seen.
Of course my brother had kept driving after that call and he could not remain on the road; he had to get to his own home. So my mother and cousin did not see him. They guessed, however, what he had been exulting about as soon as they rounded the bend.
There was a slight traffic jam- a rare enough incident on such a road- and they had to slow down and wait.
It appeared at first to be an accident on the road but they soon saw that somebody was merely changing a flat tyre and holding up the the traffic as they did so.
I must add, at this point, that I am referring to a remote, green, winding and generally quiet stretch of road in Ireland. I must clarify that, for the next scene was quite out of this world.
There was a very peculiar armoured vehicle pulled into the side of the road. It had a jutting turret, rather like a periscope, although Mater claimed that it was not an army tank, certainly not like one that she had ever seen.
There was a fellow in the turret and he was directing traffic. The tank had no lights at all. He was waving wildly, attempting to guide the passing cars through the congested area. According to Mater, the man in the tank was extremely small and his form was swamped by the enormous engine.
All was dark. His task seemed futile yet there he was, unconnected so far as anyone could tell to the people with the flat tyre, gesticulating orders in the gloom, a dim figure in the night.
Apparently my brother told Mater that when he himself passed the monstrosity he rubbed his eyes.
He thought that because it was late and because he was tired, he must have been hallucinating.
Perhaps he recalled the transparent squirrel I had once seen, and he doubted himself. He kept rubbing, certain the absurdity would vanish.
He thought of television shows he had seen when growing up, such as 'The A-Team' and he wondered what on earth the thing was, and how such a fellow came to be standing in the turret and acting as a traffic warden in an otherwise ordinary part of the countryside.
Mater did not ask for those chocolates from my brother. It had been worth the trip.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Missing the Boat

"It's so much friendlier with two."
-Winnie the Pooh

We owned a house in Texas once- in as much as anybody ever really owns anything. We did not stay there for more than a year but in a brief span of time we made a number of friends and established some cheerful and indelible memories. Purchasing a house opens one up to new contacts as it is such a lengthy and complicated process.
Our Realtor, who quickly became our friend, took me out for shopping excursions, showed me the local areas and bookstores and encouraged me to meet people, that Spouse and I might become acquainted with the community.
One such time she thought it would be fun to go canoeing on the river that runs through downtown Austin. There were many grassy and shady nooks along the bank and despite it being in the heart of a city, the river was very beautiful.
We hired a canoe, dragged it as close to the water's edge as possible and prepared to climb in. We had to walk in the water first so my friend took off her shoes and flung them into the boat.
I did the same. One of my shoes, however, kept going, flew out over the boat and landed with a miserable splash in the river.
I stood numbly on the bank and wondered what to do next. The entire day would be a disaster if spent with just one shoe.
Without a thought for anything but said shoe, my friend stepped into the current and waded until she was more than knee deep in the Colorado River. She grappled around below the surface and grabbed my shoe before it sank too far and was lost forever.
In the interim she had forgotten all about her cell phone, which she had put carefully into her pocket. The phone had been submerged for a good minute or two. As things turned out, it never did function again. She kindly and patiently laughed it all off as an adventure.
We rowed as we had intended, splashing serenely through the water, slicing the river with our paddles, passing careless idle turtles perched on wet and floating branches.
I cannot separate the two events. I think of the solitude of the slapping water, the mild rolling of the boat, the lush green of the park we set out from, and I think of my sodden shoe and a ruined cell phone; and I think, too, of how utterly useless the excursion would have been had I gone canoeing by myself, even if I had possession of both shoes.
The company we keep nearly always makes the day.
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I welcome comments and thoughts.