Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Darcy and Me

The message on the ListServe caught my attention:

Eighteen month-old male beagle-- full of verve and joy--all shots. He is ready to move in with you right now! Be ready for active and playful! He is yours for the asking. His name is Snoopy

We piled in the car with Arlo (our spoiled Samoyed) to meet Snoopy at the Annandale Animal Hospital. “We’re here to meet Snoopy.” The Vet’s employees were perturbed because their lunch had been interrupted. Begrudgingly, Hazel (the least perturbed) brought out Snoopy so everyone could get acquainted.

It was not love at first sight. If Arlo could talk he would have said “Mama, get me out of here. This beagle is crazy.”

I would have agreed.

It was a sad trio that left Annandale Animal Hospital as Hazel led the wildly barking beagle back to his puppy jail.

We decided to make a stop at the Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Open House on the way home where we made our way through a plethora of beagles. “Did I miss the news about the beagle population explosion?” I asked. I was about to give up when I saw a timid liver spotted Dalmatian. “Look, Honey! She’s not too large, not too small…she’s just right!!” Darcy the Dalmatian had a very sad story. Her owner had gone to jail and Darcy had missed being put to sleep by just a few hours. Since November 2nd she had been living in an animal shelter. Most people want puppies. Darcy was three years old.

John and Arlo looked skeptical. They hadn’t seen what I had seen. It wasn’t looking good. Sadly I followed John and Arlo back to the parking lot where John saw the sad, sad expression on my face.

“Oh, alright! Go get her.”

That’s how Darcy came to live with her new family where she will live happily ever after.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Life is a Long Road...and Fear is a Road Map

I don’t feel fear often. When I do I am usually on the Beltway just a couple of tailgaters shy of an all out panic attack. If I am alone I might roll up the windows and scream. I did that once. I was driving up from Florida and I hit Richmond at rush hour. I was so tired I was seeing double. The day had begun in Georgia where I’d driven for an hour in a fog so thick I couldn’t see the front of the Chrysler New Yorker. It had been my Uncle Paul’s car. Aunt Gladys had decided to give it to me – along with a backseat full of philodendrons, some Ann Murray eight tracks and a case of pear preserves. There might have been some vinyl records in the back seat too. The trunk was empty except the catalytic converter that Paul had removed from the Chrysler. I was afraid to drive from Jupiter, Florida to Washington, DC alone. But I wanted a car. I didn’t need a car, but I wanted one. Like I was saying, I got to Richmond at rush hour. 95 was full of homeward bound maniacs with some kind of a death wish – all going 80 miles an hour or so it seemed. I rolled up the windows and just screamed. I screamed until I was hoarse. If the other drivers noticed they probably just thought I was singing along with whatever the dj on WNOR was playing. I was surprised when I left Richmond behind and I was still alive. My next challenge was going to be navigating my way though DC traffic and snaking my way to 25th and Q Street. When our apartment building finally came into view I was so grateful I cried. Maybe that was why I misjudged the length of the Chrysler and “tapped” the VW behind me as I tried to parallel park on P Street. I pulled out and drive a few blocks east until I found a spot big enough to just glide into. I left philodendrons, eight tracks and preserves in the car and headed back to our apartment building. It was days before I retrieved the stuff from the backseat.

I felt fear the time a couple of kids pointed guns at me outside of RFK Stadium. I felt fear, but my external response was to laugh uncontrollably. I’ve never understood that. I felt a little fear the day I lowered the Boston Whaler into the water without replacing the bilge plug. Luckily I was standing close enough to the lift switch to raise the boat before it sank.

I felt fear in a plane once. We flew through an awful storm. Buffeted by wind. Lightning. Nuns praying. Babies crying. Flight Attendants strapped in. I was feeling fear. I was feeling helpless. Powerless. Which is what always accompanies my fear.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Writing Practice

This is how my writing is at times. Just a string of meaningless characters - illegible, indecipherable, scrawled and scribbled.


Point Lookout

We pulled in behind the old blue pickup truck and unloaded our fishing gear. Poles first, then bait board, then knife. The bait came out last. Spot and bunker. I scrambled down the rocks, glad that I had worn my old moccasins instead of my flip-flops. I settled down on the warm rocks and looked out at the Chesapeake Bay while John rigged his poles – two of them – and cut bait. While he was finishing up I walked up to the blue truck to say hello to its occupant.

We had talked a bit the day before. Just “How’s the fishing?” and “Where are you from?” kind of talk. He'd told us he lived in Stafford, Virginia. Neither John nor I mentioned we had two homes and that we were spending the weekend in our home in Solomon’s. That would have sounded like bragging even if it wasn’t.

“I brought that picture I told you about yesterday.” He followed me back to our truck. I opened the back door and pulled out the copy of the Bay Times open to page 24. John grinned up at us. He was holding a 43” rockfish, its weight evident in his face. This was bragging.

I realized we hadn’t introduced ourselves. I held out my hand. “I’m Brenda.”

He took my hand. “I’m Ed"

Ed pointed across the causeway to the spot where a young boy was fishing. “That’s my great grandson Trevor. He caught a couple with that Shakespeare I bought him and now he’s an expert.”

Ed and I walked around to the back of our truck where John was ready to fish. His first cast was awkward. Unaccustomed to fishing from rocks, his cast was off-balance. Ed took note. “I heard it hit behind you.” John nodded and began to reel in. The second cast was better. John stuck the rod in the pole holder he has wedged in the rocks and baited his second pole. Ed and I watched as he made a good cast on his first try.

When John had secured the second pole, I pointed to my kayak. “How about helping me get this down so I can go for a paddle.” Together we loosened the straps that held my orange and yellow “Pungo” to the roof of the pickup and lowered it to the ground. He helped me walk it across the causeway so I could launch it – right behind the sign that said “No Swimming – No Boat Launching”

“There’s chicken in the cooler” I called over my shoulder as I glided away from where he stood on the shore. “You’re coming back, aren’t you?” he shouted to my back. “Eventually” I replied as I pointed the nose of my kayak toward the pines on the other side of the cove.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Creek of Peace

“I’m here to take you bone fishing for free.”

We hadn’t expected him. I had called to cancel the trip. The night before an intruder had robbed us. We had no money, no passports. I'd spent the last three hours cancelling credit cards.

Now Ansil Saunders stood before us – a wiry brown man with white, white teeth and strong hands. He smiled showing all of his teeth and brushed the events away with a swish of his hand.

“I will take you for free.”

We followed him like children to his big American car that seemed out of place on an island where most people traveled by golf cart. The thief had made his escape in a golf cart. – putting up the narrow Queen’s Highway along the rocky beach.

We were quiet as Ansil drove us to the spot here his boat was tied. It was a beautiful boat – wooden – made with his own strong hands.

“Do you have any hardboiled eggs or bananas…those are very bad luck on a boat, you know” We had neither but his words reminded us how hungry we were. We hadn’t had breakfast. As if reading our thoughts, he pointed to the picnic basket beside the boat. It was filled with fruit, bread and water.

Ansil guided us through the mangroves. My mind fidgeted but my eyes found his hands and they focused there. I watched as his hands on the oars guided the wooden boat through the mangroves. Soon my mind joined my eyes and forgot to worry. I was present. For the rest of the day Ansil guided us through the shallow waters, through the mangroves as we tried to put the events of the previous night behind us and concentrate on spotting the nearly invisible bonefish. We quickly learned that the best approach was to stop trying to see the fish ourselves and to just cast where and when Ansil pointed. When we did that, we caught fish.

Ansil brought us to an open space in the mangrove. “They call this Bonefish Hole...” I looked around. I saw no hole and I saw no bonefish. He continued “…but I call this Dr. King’s Creek of Peace.” Ansil went on to tell us about the first time he brought Martin Luther King to Bonefish Hole. Dr. King had come to Bimini at the invitation of Adam Clayton Powell for a rest and to work on his acceptance speed for the Nobel Peace Prize. He had spent the day with Ansil not for bonefishing, but for relaxation. I wondered how long it had taken his mind to stop fidgeting and focus with his eyes on Ansil’s strong hands.

Ansil stood in the bow of his boat resting his chin on his oar. Then, with one arm, he gestured to the sky, the water, and the mangroves. “Dr. King asked me what I told people who came here and still doubted the existence of God. I told him I didn’t have an answer for him then, but I would when he returned to Bimini.”

Ansil kept his promise. He wrote a Psalm. The next time Dr. King visited Bimini Ansil had an answer for him. While John and I sat in the back of his boat in the middle of Dr. King’s Creek of Peace, Ansil recited for us the Psalm he had written for Dr. King. “…and God made the fish that swim in the ocean, the cows the graze on the hillside and the stars the shine in the sky…” As he spoke he gestured to the Ocean, the shore and the sky. I knew that no one could sit in that boat in that beautiful space and watch this beautiful brown man reciting this psalm that had sprung from his soul and doubt the existence of God.

That was Martin Luther King’s last trip to Bimini. A short time later he went to Memphis where he was shot to death.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

One question. Does it fly?

One question. Does it fly?, originally uploaded by imustwrite.

Nothing brings a group of strangers together faster than something they haven't seen before. On the way back from lunch I joined a crowd that had gathered around this odd looking contraption as we - very politely - tried to stay out of each other's way while snapping pictures with cellphones. My guess is it is owned by AIG Chief Executive Edward Liddy since he is in town testifying today.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I Always Thought I'd See You Again

Bertie lived with her mama Lilly Mae and six younger brothers and sisters. The youngest was an infant, which accounted for the smell of urine that hit you like a wall when you walked into Bertie’s apartment. I got used to it after a few breaths.

Bertie and I were the same – only she was prettier. Her hair was straight and Lilly Mae let her wear makeup. But Bertie smelled poor – just like me – and when we got on the school bus together, the “others” could smell the poverty on us. We sat together and talked about other places and other people – the ones we saw on television mostly. Our favorite shows were Dr. Kildare and Ben Casey. She loved Richard Chamberlain. I preferred Vince Edwards. We ignored the “others” and retreated into our own private space. Sometimes we sang together, ignoring the looks, the smirks, and the gestures from the “others”. We were a ragged army of two against the perfectly dressed villager army.

On weekends we rode the city bus down town where we shopped for clothes we couldn’t afford. Sometimes we put them on lay-away but we never took them home. In the summer we rode the bus to Ocean View Amusement Park. Bertie flirted with the boys on the boardwalk and they flirted with her. I watched. They ignored me.

I saw Bertie for the last time on a Saturday in the summer of 1963. We took the bus downtown to see a movie and Bertie insisted on seeing two.

“Let’s go see one more. I want to see Bye Bye Birdie.” It was playing just across the street.

“Bertie Mae, that will make us late getting home and besides, I’ve got just enough money left to get home.”

“Come on. I’ll pay for it. You can pay me back.”

We went to the second show. When we walked out of the theatre onto Granby Street it was dark.

“We should have been home hours ago,” I moaned. “I hope mama and daddy aren’t worried.” I couldn’t call them because we didn’t have a telephone.

“Hell. Lilly Mae won’t even know I’m gone,” she said as we boarded the bus.

When I got home all hell broke loose.

“Where have you been?” mama screamed. “We thought you had been murdered.” Daddy nodded. He was awake and sober. That was unusual, I thought. They must really have been worried.

They had called Aunt Gladys from the payphone at the rental office and she was there too.

"Don’t you know any better than to go traipsing around downtown Norfolk at night by yourself?”

“I wasn’t by myself. Bertie Mae was with me.”

Addie and Willis were sitting there quietly – but they had been crying. I knew I was in trouble but at the same time I was pleased that my absence had created such drama. I wondered how Bertie was making out.

Mama and Aunt Gladys took turns yelling at me for a while. They seemed to enjoy being on the same side of an argument for a change. Daddy went to bed without saying much. Willis and Addie fell asleep on the couch – both sucking their thumbs – ok for Willis – He was only two, but Addie was almost 11.

Aunt Gladys finally changed the subject. “Well, Frankie Mae, I’m going to go down to Belhaven tomorrow to check on Mama and Blanche.”

“Can I go, Aunt Gladys? I haven’t seen Grandmama in ages."

Before Mama could object, Aunt Gladys nodded.

“We’ll be back Monday or Tuesday.”

I ran to grab a few things from the room I shared with Addie, returned to the living room and sat quietly in daddy’s chair hoping Aunt Gladys would be ready to leave before Mama changed her mind or Addie woke up and insisted on coming along.

I don’t remember the trip to Belhaven but I remember the day I got back. As soon as I could I ran over to Bertie's to see it she had gotten into trouble for being late.

I knocked. When no one answered I pushed open the door and walked upstairs. The apartment was empty – only the smell of urine remained. The furniture was gone.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rainy Weekend

The constant drizzzle was getting to me so I went digging in my pictures for some reminders of the rewards we reap from March rains. It was not my most productive weekend. I spent most of it nursing my knee and twittering - or is it tweeting. I follow a varied array of people - from Shaq to Steve Case; from John McCain to Tony Robbins. McCain seems to have two topics - pork and the NCAA Tournament while Robbins' tweets have given me some deep thoughts like "If you knew what I know about the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it in some way." ~Buddha. Twitter is a wonderful mish mash of haiku, fortune cookies, and Hardball.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Winter Legs

Winter Legs, originally uploaded by imustwrite.

It must be March. In a span of five days I scooped a foot of snow out of our Boston Whaler, stoked a fire all night to keep the pipes from freezing, picked my first daffodil of the season and kayaked to the mouth of the Patuxent River. My plan for the rest of the month is to do one more thing than I want to do - each day. Today it was going to the DC Friends of Ireland Festival. I would really have preferred to stay home and twitter -or is it tweet?


Saturday, March 07, 2009

Saturday Morning

Arlo in the morning, originally uploaded by imustwrite.

This morning I sipped coffee at the end of the pier while Arlo and Darcy frolicked and chased birds up and down. It was hard to believe that just four days ago the bench where I sat was covered in a foot of snow and the creek was frozen. When I came back inside there were two small birds in the kitchen. I restrained the dogs while the birds found their way out through the door I'd left open. The old folks said birds in a house is a bad sign. Maybe it's just a reminder that life intrudes when where we don't expect it


Thursday, March 05, 2009

Sudden Storm

No two are alike.
Snowflakes. They say.
That's one of the truths no one disputes.
There comes a time when it is easier
to swallow a truth whole than to bite into an argument.
No two are alike. Arguments.
Sometimes they end in silence. Sometimes in an avalanche of
Words that once said cannot be unsaid.
be forgotten.
There comes a time when it is impossible to make
peace one more
Better to leave the battle lines in place.
And feelings frozen.

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I can feel it in my bones. The onset of spring fever. Daylight savings time coming. It won't be dark when I drive home. 70 degrees this weekend. Here's an old poem I wrote about a spring day a lifetime ago.

Spring in the Yard with No Grass

I nap on a brown army blanket and I am content.
I breathe in the smoke from
Daddy’s Chesterfield cigarette and his Old Spice Cologne
I ignore the gumballs under the blanket.
I count the flowers in the linoleum on the kitchen floor.
I memorize my phone number and the pictures in my Little Golden Library Book.
I like the flowers best – the yellow ones that look like butter.
The flowers on the linoleum are red.
The television is always on
as The World Turns
If I open the cupboard under the sink will I still find your whiskey bottle there?
Does your ironing board still crowd the dining room where no one eats together?
Do you still have the ashtray I brought you from Luray Caverns?
Do you still catch your toe under our worn carpet and cuss at the dog?
Have you shot him yet?
Do you still write me everyday in your mind?
Can I come home again?
Where rabbits hutch in Aunt Irma’s backyard.
Where Bill Mackey’s motor scooter dives down a hill that seemed steeper then.
Where you are still young and you tie a perfect bow in my sash and send me off starched and ironed to conquer the first grade.
Where the houses on both sides are filled with people who love me.
Where you stand on the front porch and holler “It’s Howdy Doody Time” and I run home to you.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Boats on Ice

I spent a long, cold weekend at the creek house. I was there to keep an eye on the boats to make sure the weight of the snow didn't collapse the boat lifts. The first night the power went out. I quickly learned there were things I couldn't live without - hot coffee, my laptop, heat, noise. It was so quiet. The only sound was my own voice. The snow on the roof muffled everything. I found a couple of bundles of wood in the garage and sat in front of the fireplace reading my kindle. Then I walked to the top of the driveway and snapped a few photos. Then quickly back to the house to warm myself in front of the fire. When the power was finally restored the first thing I did was make a pot of coffee. Then I lowered the boat lifts and climbed aboard and scooped out the snow with the blade of a kayak paddle. So much for my grand adventure during the blizzard of '09.