pull.over.

Sometimes I get restless and develop an itch to drive up the river road here and just watch the Mississippi chug by. The midpoint of this trip is usually a woodshop I like to stop at before turning around and heading back home. The shop has lumber from different wood mills around the area, as well as little scraps of misshapen wood, interestingly sliced branches, reclaimed driftwood, and tree stumps you can imagine being turned into chairs or yard signs or any damn thing your heart could think up.

Also in the shop are creations other people, more talented and handy than I, have carved into intricate wall-hangings or furniture. Really magnificent pieces of art that take into consideration every knob or imperfection in a piece of wood and make those little things other people might think of as flaws, into a feature of the work. I like to wander around and look at it all. At one point I had convinced myself I could do some of it, too (much to the chagrin of my family, when I brought home a backseat full of weird-looking wood… out of which a weird-looking bug crawled and infested our house at one point).

I’m not sure what is so calming about walking around all the milled wood, the different varieties, the colors, textures, densities, and shapes. Not sure why I am so interested in seeing all the planks lined up, one after the other. Or seeing all the furniture someone else has already crafted. All I know is that, when I’m driving up the river road towards this place, I am in a hurry and I don’t slow down, I don’t stop and pull over on the side of the road, where there are many places I could pull over safely, and take pictures of the sun slicing off the water, or the bluffs baring themselves to the sky. I tell myself, “Yeah yeah, that’s great, I’ll take a picture on the way back.”

I’ll feel better on the way back. And I will slow down and pull over.

Today when I went to the wood shop I was met with a surprise: it had been cleaned out.

Not totally cleaned out. It was still there, it was still operating. But all the artwork I’d admired last fall was gone, as if its creator had quit showing it there. The back of the building, which used to seem like a labyrinth leading to a treasure hunt of furniture and that perfect scrap of artsy wood for whatever the hell it was I used to imagine I’d make, was organized and clean and held nothing but giant, tree-height planks of wood. No scraps, no cutesy signs or old chairs. Nothing.

I might be the only person in the world to be saddened by order.

I left the building, it having nothing I wanted to look at now. (Plus if I bring home anymore wood, my family will probably kill me.) Got back into my car. Drove back the way I came, fully intending to pull over somewhere and snap some pics. To slow down.

The sun was out, the weather was perfect. But there was nowhere safe to pull over on that side of the road. Sometimes life is just like that. You want to slow down and take it all in because you didn’t before, because you were anxious to get to a place you weren’t even sure would be there when you arrived. And now you can’t.

There’s nowhere to pull over.

no.roots.

no.roots.

Traditions are held up as the gold standard of society. People described as traditional often evoke images of stoic, genuine, pure people. Immune to corruption. Immune to the progression of society. Or at least, the unsavory parts of it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there is anything wrong with any of this. I come from a long line of traditionalists. Family on all branches of my tree have shaped and molded me through traditions that I’d never trade for anything else in the world.

But there’s something seductive and freeing about the thought of having no roots, isn’t there? Something that says, “You can do whatever you want and no one will care.” It plucks free the guilt like a popcorn kernel stuck in your teeth. If you want to go on a cruise for Christmas, you can do that. If you want to bake cookies and go caroling through your neighborhood, you can do that. No one expects any certain behavior from you if you have no roots.

So I’d be lying if I said I never thought about what it would be like to not have such tethered roots, especially during the holidays. The bustle and busyness of it all, the way we’re expected to do too much with too little, the unrealistic bar to which we’re all held by others or maybe only by ourselves, can get exhausting year after year. Sometimes we need a break. Sometimes we need to say, “Yes, Tradition. We see you. But we’re going to sit this one out so we don’t hurt ourselves irreparably for what’s to come later.”

For some of us, the exhaustion builds over time. We know it’s coming. We know that it’s been years since the last breakdown and we’re due for another. We know that the memories of those who are no longer with us are too heavy this year and are bound to break our thread-bare sanity when they’re dropped, one-by-one, throughout the holiday season.

Other times the exhaustion comes out of nowhere, blindsiding us with its strength, the way it so effortlessly and viciously knocks us off-balance. We have to stop. Catch our breaths. Remember that traditions are important, but they’re not everything. Sometimes, we have to be okay with the knowledge that others are carrying the traditions on in our stead, holding the torch until we can catch up again.

And that’s okay.

Last year, for me, was a no-roots type of holiday season. Everything was wrong. I wished we could go for a cruise and never come back. I wished no one expected anything of me at all. Even this past Thanksgiving, I still felt it. That hole where tradition should be. A hole that wouldn’t be there at all if no one had started the traditions in the first place.

Then yesterday was another Christmas. And some parts of the day were missing major players. Some sections of my day would’ve been made infinitely better by a brother or cousin or nephew. Some parts of my day could’ve been cheerier or lighter. I could’ve been cheerier or lighter. I could’ve gotten more done, baked more cookies, addressed Christmas cards, made more homemade gifts, been more thoughtful and present.

But I didn’t.

Not gonna lie, I wasn’t feeling much like hitting our last stop of the Christmas Day. I was tired. I was missing people. I felt like I hadn’t done enough, hadn’t settled into tradition enough this year. I had decided that maybe this was just going to be my new normal, and that decision covered me in a sadness I thought unshakeable.

And then I got to “the hall.”

The hall for those who aren’t aware, is a VFW Hall where my mom’s side of the family meets for Christmas. It’s tradition, since I was little. I have fond memories of running around the VFW with my cousins, singing Christmas songs and opening presents. Watching my uncle balance chairs and canes and books and anything we could find on his chin. Being able to skate or bike inside. The hall was a Christmas haven for us kids. We could do anything, it seemd.

Eighty of us were there this year. I know, because my aunt makes us count off before we can eat. Tradition. There were so many of my cousins present, cousins I see only once a year. We sang the Hallelujah Chorus, something we’ve done in the past, but had neglected to do last year. At the end of the night we went through old treasures of our grandma’s, on a table marked “Grab-Bag.” Another tradition that had died out, but recently came roaring back. This year we had an entire jar of old buttons and pins on the table. My grandmother’s. We went through them all, my cousins and me–the cousins who used to skate and bike and build with me but who now have kids of their own to do these things in their stead–laughing and remarking about the significance of each of the buttons. Demanding someone take a pin that suited them even if we wanted it too. Running our fingers over the sayings that were our roots. These ideas and sayings that belonged to the head Root-Planter who helped start it all.

I read each one. And I thought, “You know what? Maybe having roots isn’t such a bad thing, after all.”

cook.book.

cook.book.

Before the invention of the internet, people had to find recipes in magazines and newspapers, on the backs of boxes and plastic wrappers and jars, in cookbooks and handwritten on recipe cards. There was no Pinterest. There was no Google. If you lost that scrap of paper your grandma had scratched her wisdom on, you were screwed forever.

Around Thanksgiving, I tried to make my mom’s pumpkin bread. But I couldn’t find the recipe, it was no doubt already packed up in a box, in preparation for our impending move. I scoured the internet, but couldn’t find anything that looked right. Finally, I settled on one that seemed close enough. But it wasn’t. Pumpkin bread was ruined. I didn’t even attempt fudge.

Tonight, we unearthed the box of recipes in our new kitchen and took our time going through some of them. Most of them were from my mom’s house, saved from the dumpster after she died. We sifted through the scraps, the thin paper and plastic ripped or carefully cut from the various media my mother relied upon for information of the domestic sort. We found handwritten recipes stuffed into books, dog-eared pages for meals she wanted to make at some point. Carefully folded pieces of paper containing my grandmother’s sweet dough concoction. All of it causing a swell of bittersweet goodness in my chest. The pumpkin bread recipe! The fudge! It was all here for me to make at Christmas, scrawled in Mom’s perfect handwriting.

And there were other recipes, too. For casseroles and pies, spicy jerk chicken and pasta salads. Fancy appetizers and tarts. Meals and desserts she lovingly sought out and saved for her family.

All I could think, as we put the books on their new shelves where we can always find them from now on, was, “My mom never made any of this shit.”

So I guess I, here from the Pinterest generation, am not so different from my mother after all.

 

the.foundation.

There’s a little street I usually run down when life affords me the opportunity to do so. I’m not sure if I run down this street because it is a reasonable path to where I want to end up, or if it’s because there are two houses on that street in which I made fond memories as a young person. But at any rate, I run down this street 2-3 times a week.

For the last year or so, on this street, there has been a giant empty lot for sale. I don’t know how much it was selling for, I’m not sure who owned the land. I just know it was for sale for a very long time.

Then suddenly, a couple weeks ago, the For Sale sign was gone. The week after, a foundation was laid. Right in the middle of all this green, sprawling grass.

A foundation.

I slowed to a walk as I passed, inspecting it. The lot is not huge, but the foundation seemed so small, so insignificant. Just this slab of concrete. I walked more slowly.

What kind of house can be built on such a small slab?

Who would buy this big lot and lay down this tiny foundation?

There isn’t even going to be a basement?!!? What kind of house will this be? 

All thoughts I had as I strolled by, staring at this new development on what I’d started to consider my street (even though I live nowhere near it). I picked up my pace and finished my run, not thinking about it again until the next week.

When I ran by this lot again and… the frame was up.

An entire frame for an entire house. It was all there, already, standing firm on this foundation. I could see where a living room could go, a bedroom. A kitchen. I could see where there was room for a bathroom and a hallway. Maybe even a pantry. Once the lines had been drawn, the frame erected, it was easy to see that this foundation had been big enough for a house all this time. I just hadn’t seen it.

Foundations can be funny like that.

black.thumb.

pumpkins

 

It’s October. I wish I had better news for you, but… I don’t. It’s October and it’s almost Halloween and I have killed my pumpkin plant.

If you know me, you are now thinking, why in the hell did you think you could grow a pumpkin?

Well, let me tell you: I didn’t.

The pumpkin plant sprouted spontaneously from the ground with no help from me, save for my laziness last year as the kids and I were gutting our lovely pumpkins in the front yard and chucking the guts into the flower bed (okay yeah yeah, flower bed is too strong a phrase for the shit going on in my front yard). It started small and vine-y and my husband did not believe me when I shouted, “It’s a pumpkin vine! It’s going to be a pumpkin!” But then it got longer and bigger and started to flower and there was no denying: We were going to have our very own pumpkins this year.

Now, again… if you know me well, you know how delusional this was for me to think. After all, I’ve killed the following plants in the last couple of years:

  1. An Aloe plant I was told was very hearty and healthy and nearly impossible to kill
  2. More than one cactus – that’s right folks, living with me is harsher than living in a fucking desert
  3. Two hanging plants that hung on and really gave a good fight all summer but are now dead
  4. Various amounts of hearty mums
  5. Two potted plants that honestly, I don’t even know the names of. They have, like, really dark green slippery looking leaves but no flowers? I don’t know, but they’re dead, too.

 

And now, the pumpkin plant.

So I guess it’s off to the market for me to buy stupid pumpkins some other person was able to successfully grow without killing because they’re better caretakers than a sandy, hot, emotionless void. Like they’re so special or something.

 

trigger.warning.

sunset

 

Grief is fluid. Yeah, there are five stages of it, everyone who has taken Psych 101 knows that. But what they don’t know, if they’ve never experienced it, is that sometimes the stages melt into each other, dissolve, disappear for a while, then reemerge and start all over again.

The word trigger has gotten a bad rap lately–or maybe it’s just been overused to the point of obscurity–but it’s true that there are things in a grieving person’s day that can cause her to get tripped up, freeze her in place, make her wonder why she’s not been grieving continuously and needed a reminder of her loss.

I have said many times that one of the hardest things to deal with after my mom died, was never seeing her name/number pop up on my phone again. I missed hearing the phone ring, looking at it, and seeing MOM flashing on the screen. Seeing her number. For a long time after she died, I couldn’t delete her number from my contacts. I liked scrolling through and seeing her there. She only disappeared when I bought a new phone and couldn’t bring myself to put her into it, knowing how pointless it was.

Another thing I missed was getting emails from my mom. When I was in college, before the age of texting, she would email me throughout the day with important information I might need to know. Upcoming events at home. News about my brothers. I never deleted any of them, but at some point, I did get a new email address and started using that more frequently. At some point, I must have let the new email transfer all my old contacts from the old email… and then allowed LinkedIn to scour my contacts for people to connect with while job searching… because yesterday, as I was going through my new notifications, the website presented me with people I should invite to join LinkedIn. And there she was, my mom. Her email address.

I hadn’t seen it in years.

And I know that all I would have to do, to never feel that lump in my throat and dramatic thump in my chest, is send the invite knowing no one will ever respond. Or delete her, finally, from my contacts.

It would make the trigger go away.

But the thing about triggers, is that sometimes you need them. And sometimes they remind you to slow down and sometimes the hurt is necessary and beneficial even if it’s unwelcome.

Sometimes, you can’t feel better until you feel worse.

purple.socks.

purplesocks (2)

 

When your husband–the one who used to willingly get into a cage and fight other grown men for fun, and who, when cut or sliced or otherwise maimed at work usually just tapes up his wound with whatever is closest–calls you at work and says, “I did something stupid. I cut myself and I need you to come get me and take me to the hospital,” you don’t ask questions. You flee your office, barely explaining why to your boss, and go home to see what in the hell kind of stupid thing your husband did that necessitated him calling you in the first place.

In case you’re curious whether or not I actually fled or if I’m just using that term for dramatic effect, I will tell you this: I left a full 24 oz. cup of piping hot coffee on my desk.

Yeah, that’s some serious shit.

On the way home, which, luckily for him, is only about half a mile away, I wondered what I might walk in on at home. I’m not what you’d call steel-nerved when it comes to things like blood or vomit or other bodily fluids. He hadn’t told me where he cut himself, what if he was passed out by the time I got home? What if he couldn’t walk? What if his finger was in a plastic bag full of ice? What kind of stupid thing was he even doing?

There was little time to worry about a lot of these hypotheticals because as soon as I pulled up to the house, he was opening the front door and hobbling out, a towel wrapped tight around his lower leg. I know I have an over-active imagination, but it was a huge relief to immediately know he wasn’t passed out in a pool of his own blood in the living room.

He had no shoes on but there was no time to get him any, because he was bleeding everywhere and let’s be honest, I don’t even think there are clean matching socks anywhere in my house right now, so barefoot seemed like the easier/better option. Who wants to be the wife who tells a eulogy that starts thusly, “It was a real shame that I spent fifteen minutes trying to find two matching socks in the fourteen laundry baskets of clean clothes we keep in the basement. If I hadn’t had to do that, he may not have bled out.”

So off we went, him barefoot, me trying not to look anywhere in the general vicinity of the source of the blood. We were on the road before he told me what had happened, which was this: The remote control airplane he’d been building with our son had turned on while he was, ironically, trying to set the safety for the throttle, and the propeller turned into his calf, slicing it. In case you were wondering, this plane isn’t some tiny little drone thing that can fit in your hand. It’s a plane with a five-foot wingspan.

On the way to the hospital, my loving husband told me details I didn’t need to know. Like how, when it happened, and before he’d really processed that he’d just been cut, it sounded like he’d spilled a cup of water on the floor. And how now there was so much blood all over the living room it looked like a crime scene. And how he maybe thought he had even seen a few chunks of flesh (I think he just threw that detail in to gross me out. He likes to do that). But then he started to feel dizzy and in pain, which probably wasn’t helped by the fact that I was driving in a way that could maybe be described as a sorta cautious maniac.

When we pulled up, I told him to get out and I’d run in to see if they’d let me bring a wheelchair out, instead of making him hobble barefoot up the walk. In the ER lobby, I told the receptionist that my husband had cut himself and I needed a wheelchair. She pointed to where the wheelchairs were and asked if I needed help. After I said I could handle it, she asked what he cut himself on. I panicked, not wanting to go into some long-ass story while he was waiting for me, and just said, “Airplane propeller!” on my way out the door.

This seemed to cause some confusion, but it did end in nurses being called immediately to come inspect his leg.

“So uh, what exactly did this?” was the question of the day. We quickly clarified that the airplane propeller was attached to a remote control plane, and not a real airplane. To which one nurse said, “Ahhh okay. I was wondering how he’d even have a leg left…”

So let that be a lesson to you kids. Clarity is important, but sometimes being vague gets you seen faster in an emergency.

They got him back into a room and I still refused to look directly at the leg because, you know, I’m a giant baby. The doctor saying, “Ooooh no, I need to go get more supplies” was enough to evoke certain images in my brain that I didn’t want to see. Nurses kept coming in and asking questions. One winked at me and said, “Mine’s a big kid, too.” But mostly I think they were just disappointed that an actual airplane hadn’t cut my husband’s leg.

My husband was just embarrassed and kept saying so. But everyone assured him that they’d seen much more embarrassing things in the ER. I reminded him that we’d been in the ER for more embarrassing reasons. But he was just concerned with the state of his toenails and the fact that he wasn’t wearing any socks or shoes, and hadn’t had a shower yet.

Eighteen stitches later, he was all fixed up and ready to go. The nurse who had confided that her husband also loved giant toys came back and laughingly asked (as we were getting ready to leave), “Do you want me to bring you some of the socks with the grippy bottoms so you don’t have to be barefoot?” And he said yes. When she came back, she had giant purple socks, which isn’t a thing I’d ever be able to get my husband to wear, but this nurse had the magic touch, I guess. He put those suckers on, and I walked my maimed husband out to the car. And that is the story of how my husband got his very first pair of purple socks.