Thursday, December 30, 2010

God And Details

No, not that really gay men's magazine. Come on, really.

Many years ago, Jess and I built a hearth with moss rock in the basement of Bending Tree Lane for mom and dad for a wood burning stove. Jess was the mason, I was the hodman. I think that was 1991.

While we sat by the stove one winter night, with the dogs laying close, she told how when she was little and staying with her Kading grandparents, her grandpa would come in from his winter barn chores, his favorite collie close behind, and would lay his barn jacket on the floor of the kitchen close to the stove, and the dog would curl up in it. Iowa winter winds are the stuff of legend.

This past Sunday, Jess, Al and I threw 3 chainsaws all up in an old elm that had fallen in Al's north field along his creek. We loaded up Jess's truck with almost 6 weeks of heating fuel and headed over to my place where we unloaded it neatly with much satisfaction in our work when we had finished.

We went inside where I rekindled the fire from the morning, visited for a bit, mostly about rototillers, chainsaw maintenance and snow removal. Jess took off shortly after to get back home before too dark.

It was a bitter cold, snowy, windy evening, so I got the fire roaring. Moonpie dog came in, finally, from her evening perimeter sweep. I looked at the pile of winter coats Jess and Jane had brought me from their closet the weekend before, and saw a big fake sheepskin coat that's way too big for me. I looked at Moonpie, who was looking at me, and I laid that coat on the floor close to the stove. She slowly sauntered up to it and curled right up in there and didn't move for nearly 3 hours.

It's hard for me to describe just how moved I was at that moment, a sort of perfect mix of sorrow and joy, pain and elation. Dare I say, redemption? It didn't last long, but it was unmistakable. The sun had just come out only long enough to set and cast the rose color on the snow that we used to call alpenglow in Winter Park.

We've repeated the ritual every night since. In fact, she's curled up there right now as I write this.

A very blessed New Year to you kind, decent, generous people, and I'll endeavor every day to deserve you folks.

P.S. I gave myself a wireless device for The Internets, so y'all aren't quite rid of me yet.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

home

celebrating pre-mas with family in frankenmuth michigan where they have no shift key. got to piqua nearly 7 weeks ago. things are good, honest, difficult, meaningful. wood stove installed wednesday. jess showed up with 4 weeks of fuel this a.m. before we headed up here. i have internet for the next 10 hours only. don't take this the wrong way but miss y'all dearly. had rough august and september, was in a place devoid of hope and no longer wanted to be alive. but now, out of the abyss, i feel mom and dad's presence every moment of every day, and all i want to do is chop wood, tear out drywall, expose rough-hewn beams and salvage 100 year old lumber. no dog has ever been as happy as moonpie dog, even though it's deer season. we're home, but, more importantly, i'm keeping a sacred promise to a dying woman. through christ jesus, all things are possible. damn it. i'll check back in soon. i promise. god bless you people.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Last Day


Today's my last day at work. Turned in my notice Tuesday afternoon, with a phenomenal Letter Of Resignation. Don was visibly moved. Go figure.

My PODS shipping container arrives either tomorrow (Saturday, probably not) or Tuesday. I'll pack slow, maybe take a week. Then maybe have it shipped up to Piqua the next week. Then I'll follow it after a few days and possibly be there to make sure they don't back into the pump well house when they're dropping it off.

Then? It's me against Wicked Mother Gaia. (She'll win, but I won't go gently into that "Good night, Irene!")

Wish me luck/kind thoughts/prayers, and I'll see all y'all up there. And a six-pack to whoever can get the fridge in the house without ripping the screen door off, and a case to whoever can by ripping the screen door off. Seriously.

Peace.

P.S. Won't have internet for at least a month, now that I lost my "RollTide" server at the house.

The picture is looking east-by-northeast from the easement. It looks better the further you get away from it.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Dispatch From Piqua


Arrived late Saturday night, July 3. Bad crash just north of Chattanooga had us sitting in traffic not moving on I-75 for 2 hours.

Reunion at Julie and Steve's in Athens, Ohio, July 4. All were there save for 2 nephews and a sister-in-law. Great food, great games, pretty good fellowship. And quite sad. Mom's absence, for me, was abundantly and palpably present. Or, rather, her presence was absent in the most fundamental way. Still working through that.

Lots of mowing and pruning of apple, cherry (I think) and peach trees. The tractor did everything I asked it to do. Eventually.

My 1/2-mile easement to the house is riddled with blackberry bushes with the most sweet candy-like berries.

Moon Pie dog was completely and totally in her element.

Jess came over Monday the 5th to help with the new chainsaw, a magnificent Stihl that's a treat to use. 4 killed. We ended up visiting for nearly 5 hours. A good visit. Al came over the following Wednesday. I was having a bad morning. He planned on working, but I was so tired we just talked for about an hour or so.

Thought about mom and dad nearly the whole time.

Met my neighbor who has farmed the property surrounding me on the west, north and east sides for 32 years, a Mr. Tom Hill. Seems like a good man, though far too young to have farmed for 32 years, unless, of course, he started when he was 10.

Lots of foraging for fuel for my (future) wood burning stove to survive the winter. Unprompted, Mr. Hill said he would consider it a favor to him if I were to keep his woods surrounding his tillable land free of fallen and dying trees. It's times like that, with Jess standing right there next to me, when faith in Jesus H. Christ gets in the way of my atheism. I've already apologized to him many times for calling His Father an Incompetent Asshole.

Got back down here yesterday, Sunday, around 6 in the evening. It felt, and feels, strange to me. Different. Almost... unfaithful, if you will.

All in all, the 2 weeks were filled with anxiety, excitement, fear, sadness, loss, and a moment or 2 of strict clarity. I plan on being up there permanently before Labor Day.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Making Do

"After a late start, Danny and Lyda had seven children: Will, Royal, Coulter (named Coulter Branch, Danny said, for the stream that ran down off the Coulter ridges), Fount, Reuben, and then ("Finally!" Lyda said) the two girls, Rachel and Rosie. I won't need to make much mention of the children; I name them all together now to give them my blessing. If the world lasts, there are going to be Branches around here for a long time. As the boys grew older, they made do with old cars and old farm equipment as they earlier had made do with old bicycles and outboard motors. This is the way they will survive--by being marginal, using what nobody else wants, doing well the work that nobody else will do. If they aren't destroyed by some scientific solution to all our problems, they will go on though dynasties pass. By this late year of 1986 Danny and Lyda have already got a whole company of grandchildren."

-Wendell Berry, from Jayber Crow

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Moon Pie Dog


She came to me in late March of 2002. She was a stray. I had her fixed and got all her shots for her. She's a border collie/husky mix.

She's never been particularly happy here. She didn't much like Block Head. I have a small yard -- plenty big for a big dog, but I, like my mom and dad, hate keeping dogs within fences.

I took her up to Piqua with me for Memorial Day week. We got in late Wednesday night, having driven through the worst thunderstorm ever in my life. She slept through the whole thing in the back seat, using the armrest as a pillow. The storm cleared just soon enough to reveal a gorgeous sunset.

We woke up to the site of 3 deer in the east pasture. She didn't see them. I kept her on the leash while I worked on dismantling the split rail fence. Jess showed up about 2 in the afternoon. He asked why she was on a leash, and I said I wasn't sure what she'd do. He said he thought she'd be fine. So I let her off, and she wandered off. "Don't make a liar out of me, dog," recalling the "too windy to burn" incident.

So she wandered off. And then she wandered back. Wandered off and back again, all afternoon and evening, testing the boundaries.

Let me just say this: That was the happiest I've ever seen that dog, laying in the pasture, taking it all in. Every time I turned around I almost always saw nothing but a buried head and a wagging tail. By the mulberry tree, by the wood pile, by the hydrangea, by the falling down porch. Buried head, wagging tail. My heart nearly burst with the knowledge that she wasn't just content; she was at home, or, rather, she was home. Home, whatever that means anymore. She was happy. Truly happy.

She killed a groundhog Saturday night during A Prairie Home Companion, and paraded it around the whole pasture, staking her claim, while I burned the day's trash under Homer's "rosey-colored fingers of dusk".

Sunday, before we left, we saw 6 deer in that same east pasture; she barked and growled at them through the glass door. "Get off my lawn!", she was saying. Then we went outside to a beautiful windy sunny day. She lay near the burn pile surveying all that was newly hers, content. We're both home. I opened the back door of the car and she begrudgingly hopped up and in. I assured her we'd be back in less than a month. She seemed to know that already.

Turns out she really is a great dog, that Moon Pie.

So, I have Grandma Kading-era running water, i.e., the pump out front, electricity, 11 channels on the TV, a toilet that won't flush, and a dog who's about to realize her Aristotelian "becoming". I'll try not to be far behind. And I think I'm adjusting the permanent move date from May 2011 to October 2010, just for her. She'll love the cold, and I'll love the wood burning stove. There are worse reasons to move than for a dog. I'm even certain my mom and dad would approve. Heck, they might even be proud of me for that alone. They were that way.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Art Of The Song

So.

There I was, in my backyard, minding my own business, tying up my tomato plants with twine, when I was blindsided. A Prairie Home Companion was on the radio; it was a compilation show, and one segment was someone, I forget who, singing Randy Newman's "When She Loved Me" (also often called "When Somebody Loved Me").

I sort of collapsed to my knees, and made my way over to my plastic lawn chair and listened to the rest of the song, sobbing. (Technically not a dangling participle, but yeah, I know.)

I don't know much about anything, but I know a lot about music. I'm even a self-acknowledged music snob, for better or worse. So believe me when I say that "When She Loved Me" is 3 minutes of beautifully, perfectly crafted art song genius. And I think it's high time we put Randy up there in the American art song legions of Ned Rorem, Hugo Weisgall and David Noon. (Full disclosure: I studied with all 3, and Noon is a good friend, and would easily concur.)

I'll try to steer clear of cliche-ville, but obviously as we get older we hear and see things through the prisms of our losses. When I listened and cried, little mini-movies of my mom and dad flashed passed me at an unmanageable pace, and I was overwhelmed, I guess. And it haunted me all night and through much of today. My whole body aches with it.

Sorry about the cheesy video, but the audio is better than the Toy Story 2 clip, which, by the way, I find to be 3 of the saddest minutes in movie history.

Most people live their lives unaware of the power of music to elate us with joy and paralyze us with grief. Hope may have been a dangerous thing in Shawshank (note Randy's brother, Thomas), but, right now, it's all I have. Which is to say, unless I can somehow convince myself that my best days are not behind me, and then back it up with some some actual proof and deeds, then all that's left for me is pain, sorrow and ruin. I have bad days and worse days, and when I come out of those funks, I hope I'm a little stronger and, yes, a little less hopeful-less. (Not a word.)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

On Faith And Failings


If I were to die today, I don't think anyone, including my family, would have anything of much substance to say about my life. I was, at one time, a semi-gifted musician. I read a lot. I had to explain words I used. To be sure, I loved my mom and my dad, but never really told them that, not even in so many words. And I often wished I hadn't waited until mom was dying to tell her how I felt, that the world was a far better place with her in it. What I didn't do was beg on my knees for her not to leave me. That would've been the "momma's boy" in me talking, not to mention unforgivably unfair to either of us.

We weren't raised to express that kind of affection and endearment openly. We were raised to be stoic and to show family affection by making fun of each other. And believe me, we show each other affection a lot, obviously.

What am I doing? What am I doing, indeed. I hardly know. Right now I'm experiencing two existences at the same time, one down here in Alabama, and one in my head up in Ohio. But I'm not participating in the living of either of those existences, at least not in any real, tenable sense.

My faith, our faith, is a decidedly Lutheran one. It's within us, but rarely shared with others. We are not a proselytizing sort of people. Our blood runs deep with the black-as-night soil of the Iowa plains. But my family has faith, mostly in each other, at least sometimes.

In all of my life I have never experienced so much regret and guilt as I have for the last 2 years. I can't remember if I've shared this with any of you, but I told Jesse that dad would be ashamed of me, of my being miserable at work and at play. Jesse informed me that he wouldn't be ashamed; he'd be frustrated with me. Little comfort, but little is better than none.

So I just went ahead and lied to mom as she lay dying, and told her that I'd be just fine. To make things worse, I think she knew I was lying. Of her five kids I was the one she and dad worried about the most on account of my proclivity to take things so viscerally, so personally. After all, dad had the decency to drop dead in an instant; we had to watch the strongest woman any of us have ever known be reduced to a bag of rotting organs and bones, vomiting every 45 minutes for 8 days.

I'm not looking for sympathy. Er, maybe I am. I don't want you to feel sorry for me; I'm doing that for myself aplenty. I guess I just want you, like for myself, to try to do a better job of... living? Not that you're not doing that already. I guess I'm mostly talking to myself but channeling my dad's voice in order to do it.

Living. What does that even mean anymore?

Okay. Here's a promise I'll make to you and to myself once I finally (hopefully within the next year) move up to Piqua: At every sunset, I'll crack open a reasonably cold beer (or wine, should the moment strike me), and I'll watch that sun set on an acreage of mean size, shape and order, but I'll let the rosy-colored fingers in the dusky west reveal that during the course of this day I worked hard to improve my lot, and my lot, that I'm now one day closer to growing the perfect tomato, that my day was productive, simple, genuine, and hard-won. In the winter I'll build a small fire by the apple tree, with snow on the ground to avoid Pasture Fire 2011!!! In the bleak midsummer that beer won't get chugged 'till close to 8pm, which will be glorious in its way.

It's a start. I owe it to them. But even more so, I owe it to myself. For, indeed, it's within me that the both of them now reside, and if the substance of my life ends up being a sincere story of the lives of my mom and my dad and my family, at long last catalogued and organized and set down with pen and ink with an affection that no instrument yet invented could measure, I would be honored for that to be, in total, my penance, my atonement, and my redemption.

Or I'll just clean toilets and the nursing home. You tell me.

No other son had such remarkable parents, and no other person is more proud, blessed, and grateful to have had the honor to be called their son.

May God bless your people.
Oh may he remember them in their time of trouble,
and at the hour of their taking away.

And God bless you incredibly decent folks. Thanks for listening.

(I.e., Piqua or die. Or both. It's a good fit.)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Good To Smoke The Green Green Grass Of Home

After our mom's funeral last March, when we were sorting some things out at her West Virginia house, and it had begun to become apparent that I eventually needed to move back to the central Ohio area, Jesse and Al thought that I needed to take mom and dad's John Deere tractor, and that Al would "hold" it until I was able to take delivery.

Then I burned down the northeast pasture Easter Sunday, which Jesse was happy to share with Al.

So yesterday I sent both of them a list of things I plan on trying to get done Memorial Day weekend. This morning I got this email from Al:

The John Deere is now at the Urbana service center. I told them I'd pick it up Memorial weekend. I also told them to put fireproof belts on it, and bulk up the heat shield for re-entry.

Is it any wonder why he's my favorite brother?

Monday, April 12, 2010

2010 Memorial Day Weekend Honey-Do List

Though there's technically no "honey" in this scenario. Yet!

Sorry.

Anyways, I'll drive up Thursday and spend Friday, Saturday and Sunday up north. My goals:

1. Tear up carpet and subflooring in back bedroom to reveal 90-year old pine boards.
2. Clean out trash/brush in the northeast and southeast pastures.
3. RUNNING WATER!!!!!!
4. Tear out cupboards in "kitchen".
5. Rip off porch on west-facing side of house.
6. RUNNING WATER!!!!!!!!!
7. Get mom's John Deere tractor running. (Al broke it. Again.)
8. Invent the first composting toilet.
9. Oh. Wait.
10. RUNNING WATER!
11. Write a bit about mom and dad every day. Just a bit.
12. Distinguish my west-central Ohio accent from affectatious southern dialect (newly aquired) so as not to be beaten up by the big kids at school.(I.e., Mambo.)
13. BANDWIDTH!!! WE'RE RUNNING OUT!!!!!!

I think that's a good start.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Little House On The Prairie Fire


"Ya think it's too windy to burn?" I asked Jess before he fired up his professional grade Snapper "haymaker" to do the front.

"It's pretty windy. Try to keep it small."

So I sprayed one small portion of the burn pile he, Al and I had amassed the day before, which I had added significantly to this morning, a pile probably 5 feet high of combustible trash, with lighter fluid, and lit it.

It was controlled enough, and I fed it very gradually from around the sides, careful not to get too much burning at the same time. And I was having a very pleasant afternoon of it, thinking of my dad and I burning leaves in the Fall. It was a beautiful Easter Sunday in west-central Ohio.

But then when I shifted the old door that was burning well from an obtuse to an acute angle, that's when things changed fast.

The middle of the pile kind of exploded, and immediately the entire pile was roaring. And then it got bigger. Soon, the unmown and thatchy edges of the burn pile were catching. And not long after, with help from a wind out of the southwest, an army of flames were headed north-by-northeast, invading ultimately my new neighbor's harvested corn field.

I ran all around the fire; it must've been 800 degrees at least. I tried to keep it from spreading, but the more I pounded on the burning edges with my rake and my shoe, the more it seemed almost to get stronger.

Meanwhile, Jess saw what was happening, and he steered his mower around to cut the spreading fire by mowing the thatch between the burning pit and the spread. After he'd done so many times, his mower caught on fire, and he had to stop to put it out.

Oh. Did I mention that we hadn't got the well-house pump working, so we didn't have any running water?

Just to keep from having a massive panic attack, I played Bach fugues in my head.

"Just let it burn itself out," he said calmly. "The wind will change, and the fire will run out of fuel when it hits the new growth. Just keep it out of the corn field."

Which we did. And it did burn itself out.

"Man, Jess, I'm so sorry about your mower."
"It's fine. It's just a belt. It was due for service anyway. Sit down and rest, and drink your water."

I did. Then I looked down at the scorched earth, sullen, and said, "Well, this isn't exactly the beginning I had in mind. Not very auspicious, is it?"
"It's a great beginning. It's a spectacular beginning. What it shouldn't be is a terrible ending."
"You make a good point. If this is some kind of cosmic test of my resolve, I'm not giving up. Thanks."
"In a month all you'll notice is all the new growth coming up from where it burned. No big deal. I won't tell Al or Jane; they'll never know."
"You can tell 'em. I don't mind."

Then Jess, eyes squinting to look across the southeast corner of the adjoining property that holds a decent stand of trees in a wetland area with a small creek, which I'm gonna try to buy as well, and because we were both obviously thinking of him, inadvertently channeled our dad and said, "You know, come to think of it, it just might be too windy to burn after all."

We both just laughed. And he did tell Al. And Jane.

What is this? Am I home? Again? I didn't think we could go home again. Maybe we can? My stomach hurts. I think I'm gonna throw up. Again.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Road Trip

20 to 459 to 59 to 75 to Piqua. I'll leave late Good Friday morning and stop in Richmond, Kentucky and watch Ghost Whisperer. Then I'll leave early Black Saturday and arrive at the old homestead later that morning. I suspect both Jess and Al will be there.

I'll be honest with all y'all: I'm scared. Bought it site unseen. If it wouldn't be too much of an inconvenience, I'd like to take you guys with me. You went to Iowa. This is a much shorter drive. (Limited bathroom breaks; I am my Father's son, after all. Who called shotgun again?!)

Pictures to follow.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

You Say Crawl Space, I See Basement


"Hmm... I wonder what this switch does..."

[thwozzzzz... poof]

My oldest brother, Jess. All-American decathlete, former record-holder at his alma mater in the high jump. 6 feet 10 inches, for those of you keeping score.

Husband to Jane, father of 2 beautiful girls.

The "mechanical room", just east of Piqua, Ohio, photographed by aforementioned Jane, Sunday, March 21, 2010, almost exactly 9 years to the day of our dad's death.

He's just looking out for his baby brother. As usual. See you in about a week, god willing. (Wisdom tooth flare up. Long story.)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Art Of The Trio

From time to time, the world belies itself (is that the right word, "belies"?) and reveals that there is indeed just a little bit of justice in this world, at least every once in awhile, that is!

He got off the heroin in 2000 and has pretty much been on a tear ever since. (Urban legend has it that Larry Grenadier simply locked him in his apartment for a month.)

Well done, Brad m'boy. Well done, sir. Score one for the good guys.

Bonus track, yet again, for you diehards. (You know who you are.)

Friday, March 5, 2010

16 Minutes Of Musical Perfection

Knoxville: Summer Of 1915

This is the very recording I listened to several times a day and night during the last half of my senior year in high school. I don't remember how I stumbled across the piece or the recording, but no one, not even Dawn Upshaw, has been able to match it in exquisite tone, depth of feeling, and grace of intent and execution. This is the soundtrack for Act III of my life, coming this summer to a bean field near you.

Note: Unless the geniuses who uploaded the song have fixed it, they completely mangled the end of Part 1's transition into the strings' descent into Part 2, where it's almost as if the fiddles are the musical embodiment of falling leaves after a late Spring thunderstorm in Eastern Tennessee. Idiots. God is in the details, folks. Even on Youtube.

I can't really put into words what this music means to me, so I'll just let you listen and read along with the text if you want. I dare you to try to be unmoved by the end. Would that life were a movie, one we could write ourselves into.

Part 1
Part 2

It has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently, and watching the street and the standing up into their sphere of possession of the trees, of birds' hung havens, hangars. People go by: things go by. A horse, drawing a buggy, breaking his hollow iron music on the asphalt: a loud auto; a quiet auto; people in pairs, not in a hurry, scuffling, switching their weight of aestival body, talking casually, the taste hovering over them of vanilla, strawberry, paste-board, and starched milk, the image upon them of lovers and horsemen, squared with clowns in hueless amber.

A streetcar raising its iron moan; stopping: belling and starting, stertorous; rousing and raising again its iron increasing moan and swimming its gold windows and straw seats on past and past and past, the bleak spark crackling and cursing above it like a small malignant spirit set to dog its tracks: the iron whine rises on rising speed: still risen, faints: halts: the faint stinging bell: rises again, still fainter: fainting, lifting, lifts, faints foregone: forgotten.

Now is the night one blue dew. Now is the night one blue dew, my father has drained, he has coiled the hose. Low on the length of lawns, a frailing of fire who breathes . . . Parents on porches: rock and rock. From damp strings morning glones hang their ancient faces. The dry and exalted noise of the locusts from all the air at once enchants my eardrums.

On the rough wet grass of the backyard my father and mother have spread quilts. We all lie there, my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunt, and I too am lying there. They are not talking much, and the talk is quiet, of nothing in particular, of nothing at all in particular, of nothing at all. The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very near. All my people are larger bodies than mine . . . with voices gentle and meaningless like the voices of sleeping birds. One is an artist, he is living at home. One is a musician, she is living at home. One is my mother who is good to me. One is my father who is good to me. By some chance, here they are, all on this earth, and who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth, lying, on quilts, on the grass, in a summer evening. among the sounds of the night.

May God bless my people, my uncle, my aunt, my mother, my good father, oh, remember them kindly in their time of trouble, and in the hour of their taking away.

After a little I am taken in and put to bed. Sleep, soft smiling, draws me unto her: and those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home: but will not, oh, will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am.


-James Agee, from A Death In The Family

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Corn Cutters

"Boys," Mat says, "It was a hot day. There wasn't a breeze anywhere in that bottom that would have moved a cobweb. It was punishing." He is telling Elton and Andy.
It was a long time ago. Mat was only a boy yet, though he was nearly grown. His Uncle Jack hired him to help chop out a field of tall corn in a creek bottom. It was hot and still, and the heat stood close around them as they worked. They felt they needed to tiptoe to get enough air.
Mat thought he could not stand it any longer, and then he stood it a little longer, and they reached the end of the row.
"Let's go sink ourselves in the creek," Jack said.
They did. They hung their sweated clothes on the willows in the sun to dry, and sank themselves in the cool stream up to their noses. It was a good hole, deep and shady, with the sound of the riffles above and below, and a kingfisher flying in and seeing them and flying away. All the afternoon when they got too hot, they went there.
"Well sir," Mat says, "it made that hard day good. I thought of all the times I'd worked in that field, hurrying to get through, to get to a better place, and it had been there all the time. I can't say I've always lived by what I learned that day -- I wish I had -- but I've never forgot."
"What?" Andy says.
"That it was there all the time."
"What?"
"Redemption, " Mat says, and laughs. "A little flowing stream."
-Wendell Berry, from Remembering

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"We didn't know any better."

That's what mom would tell me every time I asked her how she and her family managed to eke out a living on the northern-ish prairie in post World War 2 Iowa.

I suppose you could interpret it to mean that these backward farmers were too stupid and unaware to realize they didn't have to raise livestock and can tomatoes in order to skimp through the winter, that they could get "real" jobs that didn't involve backbreaking labor and ridiculous hours. (What are those jobs again?) That they could go to college and lead lives of relative ease and leisure. (Some did go away to college; most came back even better well-read farmers.)

Or you could be more generous and conclude that that was simply their life, the one handed to them by their parents, and their parents before them; it's just who they were and what they did. They didn't really have a choice, as such.

Not me. The more I think about how brutal north central Iowa winters can be, and how pungent the poop of 2 dozen pigs and cows can be, and how the kitchen garden wasn't hidden behind the homestead but was planted as close to the road as possible, as large as possible, in order to show your pride and thrift in running a farmhouse to your neighbors -- the more I consider the notion, they really didn't know any better. What could be better than participating in a system of growing and sustaining things that in and of themselves begin not only to sustain themselves but also the small universe around them? Horses eat oats, horses poop, cows eat grass, cows poop, poop goes on the fields (and the garden) to grow vegetables and, well, oats, horses eat more oats and work the fields used to grow oats, corn, beans, tomatoes (obviously).

Chickens forage, lay eegs, get fat and delicious from the "wild" grasses and fruits and whatnot they come across, they brown up nicely in the oven or crisp in the shortening-laden frying pan, served with just-picked russets and asparagus (in April, of course).

You get the picture. I.e., poop really is a beautiful thing.

Hard to believe it's already been a year. Exactly a year yesterday evening at 5:50 PM. I think I miss her now more than I did a year ago.

Funny. It's all in the hands of some title company in Cincinnati, not exactly known for its, what, alacrity with regard to foreclosed properties. But I did promise her during her last breaths that I'd move up there and protect my nieces and nephews from their parents. And even in her compromised condition at the time, I'm convinced within myself that she of all people knew I was only half-joking.

Payback may be a bitch, but redemption is the bastard everybody pretends to like but forgets to talk to.

Not me. I'm all but yelling in its face. Go figure.

Friday, January 29, 2010

When The World Continues Not To Make Sense

Good netizens of swittersville. Or something. A favor.

I've known Tia for almost 20 years. We met in college. She was my first love.

She and Tom were married in 2003, I think, in Maine. Beautiful ceremony and reception.

Soon thereafter they had a daughter, Sarah. They live in Montpelier, Vermont. Great town, great state. The Northeast Kingdom, they call it I believe.

Awhile ago they had another daughter, whom they named Jane. The birth had some complications, and Jane had to stay in the hospital, in and out of intensive care for the most part.

Jane fought hard, buttressed by the love of her parents and by the love for Tia and Tom.

Jane died yesterday afternoon, at the age of 6 months 6 days.

I wonder if, over the course of the next several days, you might hold Tia, Tom and Sarah close to your hearts and wish for them the ability to be strong for one another in perhaps the most fragile moment of their lives. You were there for me; by extension, could you be there for them?

There are no words. Whatever she needs.

(Hug your kids, call your mom.)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hallelujah


Hallelujah

(I've never owned a garage before. Hmmm...)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Emotional Pornography

I'll be interested to see just how bad it gets tonight. Oh, sure, George is completely respectable, and smart. I think he does these sorts of things from the heart; it's not just publicity or, for that matter, politics.


Disclosure: I've been a giant fan of his since his tiny role on Rosanne. ER, etc., whatever. Ocean's 11 may have been one big inside joke; the joke just happened to be very very funny. But so was Syrianna. Funny, not so much.


You all know obviously I'll watch every minute of the telethon, being a sucker for such extravaganzas. I like the music. Still, I can't help but wonder when oceans of hungry, thirsty black people will start to look like little more than the opening of V For Vendetta, and portend as much. Just spitballing.


Obama/Clooney 2012!


P.S. Closing date extension requested Thursday p.m. by Sandra The Realty Lady so the bank/mortgage company has sufficient time to remove thumb from bottom.