March, March, Left and Right

The Friday Reminder and Prompt for #SoCS Mar. 25/17

a

A marching band, that
Is where I spent the happy
Hours of growing up.
Finding the after beats,
Honking on a horn of silver.
Marching in Minnesota,
California, Oregon,
Las Vegas, all over Alaska,
Maryland and Pennsylvania.
I loved to march
Watching those with battered
Lips, lick them in quick
attacks by the tongue
Which would really rest
On a concert stage with Carol Channing.
Loved the changes in season
And when we marched in the
Chinese New Year's parade
In San Francisco, and the
Tuba players had firecrackers
Tossed in the bell to
Drive the evil spirits
Of military service out.
We marched at openings,
Closings, and when we 
stood still, the world cheered.
I loved to march wearing
Orange and black,
Green over green,
Left foot, right foot,
Straw foot, hay foot,
Angles and diagonals
Squares of precision.
I always thought that
The band would hold together 
Over time. But they marched
Away, each to their own pace.
I'm a victim of moonlit hair
That pretends to color,
Looking at the stars 
In a cold March night,
And dreaming of the cadence
Of drums, beating and beating
And bb ee aa t i n g g g g
As they march out of sight and sound
Disappearing into time.
I dream of marching into the stars
Lit for all times 
If you would just look up.
Can you hear the tune?
The brass, woodwinds,
And the percussive beat
Of living a life.
Percussion leading me
In living every day
With the guidance of
The drum major pounding
In my ears. Boom bah boom
Bah, Boom. Then we rest.

Christmas Photo Prompt

Thursday photo prompt – Christmas Present – #writephoto

The shine of a Christmas tree in the boughs decorated with shiny balls and silvery lights lit the child’s face as nothing had done before. Chilly temperatures in the house made seeing a tree inside a logical thing, as the child had just learned cold. One year of age and just twenty days more and all of the learning that had occurred until that day melded together to make Christmas a mystical experience. The cautionary voices of mother and grandmother as they mentioned that she should look, but not touch, gave the child the first knowledge of something precious that couldn’t be grasped. Christmas would be a fleeting moment in her development. As soon as the mystery was grasped, it was also gone. Two weeks in the eyes of a child, and Christmas would be a compounding memory each year. The grandmother’s tree, decorated with family ornaments from 21 years of marriage, filled with family history and time would sit in the child’s eyes out of focus and just out of reach but remembered distantly. A message about a baby. About animals. That was my first Christmas.

Two years later, another child came to learn of the mystery of Christmas. Another one year old, and a little more, stood beneath the tree decorated with sugar cookies because the young couple was making do with what they had. Now there were three children, and a young couple trying to be independent and having none of the money for extras. The sounds of carols from a record player filled the air, and the youngest toddler heard the admonition that he should look but not touch. The cookies hung so temptingly. So he stood with his hands behind his back and bit off all of the feet as mother made a dinner and father went out to seek a Christmas present with only ten dollars in his pocket. He sought it at a hardware store, and finding something he remembered from his Christmas’s long past, a sled with bright red runners. The cost, too great, but he looked at it longingly. The spirit of Christmas filling his eyes, and seen by a salesman, was suddenly his as the man gave him the sled for seven dollars instead of twenty. He would play in the snow with his wife and children, pulling the sled down snow covered sidewalks. All of them young and happy in the moment, then it was gone. But the sled remained for many years, a testament to the spirit of sharing.

Another year, and baby three arrived. Christmas in the blue eyes at only four months of age, now living with Grandmother and Granddad as the world changed. Korea was over, Vietnam was foretold in the news. But in the home, with it’s generations, life was safe and beautiful. This year the cookies hung above the little boys head, just out of reach, except when the oldest would lower the branches just so, entertaining himself and his brother. The toys the children received gratefully disappearing into memory, a doll, a truck, a book or two, all to be well loved and used.

Another year, and the house stood on the banks of the Mississippi, and the newest edition to the family being a parakeet who flew into the open window that summer and stayed for over ten years. Uncle Ned liked the tree and the lights. This year cookies came from a Swedish bakery and were placed in a clear jar only to be opened by the mother and father. Large cookies tasting of peanut butter, sugar, chocolate chips and the mother’s oatmeal raisin cookies tempting good behavior and giving instant reinforcement when that behavior was given with ungrudging enthusiasm. It was the first tree that was in focus for me. I had received my glasses that summer. It is the first tree I remember, the clarity of vision adding mysticism to the experience. This Christmas too was fleeting. But I was now old enough to know that there would be more.

The next Christmas in another grandparent’s house, for my Grandmama needed help from my parents in managing all of the daily tasks. The room was dark, but lit by the tree. Mom never had enough time to do all of the things she needed to do. Now she was no longer working forty hours a week, instead she was making all of our clothes, cooking and baking all of the meals, cleaning the house, playing with us, reading with us, showing her competence but feeling graded at every moment.

I missed a memory the next year. The only thing I remember is singing a hymn about Jesus and the animals. “Jesus our brother kind and good, was humbly born in a stable rude and the friendly beasts around him stood.” I sang that song until June. Over and over, my poor mother must have been driven nuts by it. I started school the next year at 4 1/2. I now think that my mother must have sent me early so that she could have a break. With four babies in under five years, her hands were full and she never complained or rejected us. She did need her own place to be totally happy and that happened as we started school.

The year after, we moved into our own house a few blocks away. Those years are filled with the memory of my brother making my father laugh as he pretended to be a goat head butting him in the knees. The trees got taller. We accumulated shiny balls and figures of ancient Santas, tinsel carefully cherished from year to year. My mother made incredible ornaments from egg cartons. She made tall angels to sing in a choir out of bottles and styrofoam balls, gold paint and old sheets. There was nothing cheap about the way they looked, gleaming as they did on the one book case we owned. She made a sled out of cardboard boxes to hold presents and keep them tidy and the tree safe. We were given an apple and an orange each Christmas by Santa once our stockings were big enough to hold them. There was always a candy cane. And Robert Shaw and Harry Simone came to symbolize the way Christmas should be sung about. One year, four stockings arrived from my Aunt Diana, and pajamas the next, a start of new traditions. We went to the Swedish Institute and learned of the tale of St. Lucia. Red candle holders turned up sometime in the first few years. Ribbons hung from the curtains, in gold and green combinations and splendar.

Mom did most of the work getting ready. Dad would put the lights on the tree and we would decorate. Dad would work. He made ice for the skating rinks, leaving in the early morning to put new ice on the rinks for Christmas. Then skates arrived one year, left over from other children who no longer fit them, Dad brought them home and we learned to skate. Granddad came to skate with us. I skated on my bottom more than my feet, eventually switching to rubber boots so I could stay up. It took me years to learn. So many Christmases. We lost my grandmothers early, and missed them each year.

My mother would make clothes and toys for us by hand. She would make new clothes for the dolls that my sister and I owned. And when I discovered that she was the spirit of Mrs. Santa, she enlisted my help. She and my older brother made me a doll house from a cardboard box that looked so real and was the dream I had thought I would never receive. My mother was Christmas. For us, Christmas was the moment when we could all be happy, safe, and full of joy. We were a lot like the Whos down in Whoville. Somewhere in the early years in the green house, we became recipients of gifts from the VFW. That had been a tight year, and we were invited to a Children’s Show. Every child there received a gift by name from Santa. I wonder now if it hadn’t been part of the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program. No matter, the VFW make Christmas real. My older brother got a lock which had a gun hidden inside it that worked with caps. My baby brother got a gum ball machine, which was also a savings bank. We helped him eat all of the gum balls, only to feel chagrin later in life for having done so. My sister and I got dolls, although I don’t remember any more. I remember sitting in that room feeling special and valued. We didn’t feel like poor church mice even when money was so very tight. Then there was the Christmas that the stockings hung empty, and my father said we had not been good, Santa hadn’t come. Oh the tears welled up in our eyes, and just before we all cried boohoo, gifts were discovered, too large to fit in the stockings. Oh such joy. We had been good, as good as normal children could be. I had a stove and refrigerator that I loved until I went to College and played with constantly with my dolls. It was just the right size.

And I grew, lean and uncoordinated, very slowly, but woke up one day knowing that the time of family celebrations being over was coming soon, and not wanting them to go. But they did. I went to college and learned more of the music of the season, carefully taught by teachers who believed that the music was more than for enchanting children. I learned of nuns, and sacrifices, and brought home that knowledge for two weeks of trees and changing brothers and sisters.

Then I was gone, living on the west coast, and rejoining once more a Christmas at my Granddad’s home, which fleetingly sped past as only two days was allowed for my visit. I was gone again, this time to the East Coast where Christmas became the time I was to be married. The ceremony held in Minneapolis, just a few days after Christmas, so full of family and time that I could barely grab the holiday. I remember that it was cold, -5 degrees in the morning, and then warm 45 degrees by noon. The wedding hung over the holiday and mixed the two so in my mind that I have never been able to separate them.

After that, I had my own children. Two years apart they acted like twins by the time the boy was four and the girl was two. We had trees and presents and travelled from one family to the next for family dinners. We now had three family dinners, one with my husband’s grandparents, one with my parents and one with my Aunt Diana and Uncle Herb. The first four years were as rough for us as had been for my parents. Poor in cash but rich in grownups who realized I had bitten off more than I could chew. They provided me with stability and the knowledge that life would provide us with enough speed bumps as to make it interesting. My focus at Christmas became the tree. I could never equal what my mother had done for us, although I tried. I baked gingerbread cookies for the tree, but no one nibbled on the feet. I had learned the tale of my brother and took precautions. Each year we added ornaments that we made, candy canes made of shiny plastic beads carefully sequenced in patterns. We made bread dough ornaments. We colored paper chains and threaded cranberries and popcorn. I made some dresses for my daughter but was nothing like my mother whose clothes had turned out perfectly. I worked. I, like my mother, had gone back to school when my kids reached an age where they could understand that I needed to do homework. They were in second grade and kindergarden. My poor mother had had to wait until we were in high school. Somehow she had managed all of the decorating, shopping, baking, cooking, and never missed a step. Me, I stumbled all over the place, but my heart was in the right place even if my skills weren’t.

My father died when my son was 14, and my daughter ll 3/4. It was 1995, and I remember insisting that mom come down and stay with us. I was teaching by then. She filled the day with joy, even though her heart was broken. In the years that followed, she began packing up Christmas and moving it to a place further away in her closet. It wasn’t the same without my dad. It wasn’t the same for me either. He had taken such joy in what my mother had created for Christmas, and that joy must have been the reason she continued to be so creative for so many years.

One winter my family from Minnesota came to Virginia for the holiday. My older brother, my little sister, her husband and two children, my younger brother and my mom all fit into our house in one fell swoop. We went to Mount Vernon and Williamsburg. I was informed that I was the favorite aunt because my lap was cushy by one of my nieces.We had the tree and a feast. It felt like the old days in the green house for me. I gave my little brother a ha’ penny, but he missed the symbolism. It didn’t matter, I got the message. I wanted my family to know that they were loved. Mom took photographs, as mom always does.

Then my children grew. In 1998 the first MS attack that we can document with a certainty occurred and I slowed down. I couldn’t do the things I loved to do. My children stepped up and helped with the tree becoming more and more competent each time. Popcorn and Cranberries were no longer on the tree. Mom donated some of her ornaments and the cats took the tree out that year, as cats are wont to do. They broke and it made me sad, but still the tree was reassembled and the holiday went okay. After that, my kids were grown and mom started going out to Minnesota for the holidays. We each got her for two or three days, but the season seemed fragmented without her.

One Christmas Eve, we had finished the tree that night, my husband having to work, and the kids had a surprise for me. We had been married 24 years, and that evening my husband brought me an engagement ring. I guess he figured out he wanted me to hang around. Time sped up.

When my son returned from the Navy, he brought a wife. She had troubles, but her children were sweet. We had a tree and took the kids to all of the places children should go when they visit a grandparent. It was only for that one Christmas, but we were exhausted at the end. I lost ten pounds that holiday. It was a nice perk.

One year, we had a Charlie Brown tree that the kids found and took the bottom branch of the tree in the back year from. They wrapped a blue sheet around the bottom and it had two ornaments, one from Charlie Brown that we had had, and a new Charlie Brown ornament from my dear friend Ana.

The next Christmas and those following found my family working to keep the holidays of Halloween and Christmas according to tradition. Until present day, we struggled along as best we could. But this Christmas arrived on my birthday with all of the bells and whistles and I feel that joy that I must have felt when I was one and the tree was lit with magic. This Christmas coming in a week will be our best. My husband took a week off. We plan to go to an arboretum to see lights. The tree is up and I made handmade ornaments to add to the collection. My daughter-in-law will be staying for the holiday. My son has taken a few days off work. And the cooperation between my two children is something new and something I wanted to see. My son-in-law has been putting up with all of this Christmas stuff for me, even though he doesn’t like the holiday. My father-in-law will be here. There is a new baby due in the family soon, my niece is expecting her first any day now.

There is a dark part to this Christmas, one I don’t generally talk about and try not to let it take over my holiday. I’m not sure how many more times I will have to celebrate the holiday. My father’s side of the family dies at about 65 and that is 6 years away. I know, I shouldn’t dwell on such a thing and I should take one day at a time and be glad for the times I have. But really, 65 is way to young to die. I’ve just figured out how to play the game here. It’s all gone by so fast. It’s the hospital stay that brought this on. But I will blink and block these darker thoughts for now. I’ve got what I wanted most for Christmas. I have a family. I wish mom could be here but she’s jet setting around the world as she likes to do. She’ll stay long enough to make sure that things are still Christmas and move to the next sibling. I’ll have her back soon enough. I know, I have a book for her present and she is a bibliophile. She can’t resist a book. Neither can I.

I’m off to watch Christmas shows and create some presents from “Stuff” I have lying around that needs to be created with. I want to leave something beautiful for each of my family to glow for many more years.

Merry Christmas, happy holidays…remember the light.

 

Cee’s Oddball Challenge, week 47: The Blues

Cee’s Odd Ball Photo Challenge: 2016 Week 47

When the band has the blues,
When the night burns florescent,
Then time collects in pockets
Of memories, greeted with toasts.
Proffered feasts fading into the
Jazz heated spirals of sax,
Yes, sax, and trombone glissandos
As time burns through the bar
As patrons slide to the floor
Melting into the hot blue night.

img_0970

Microfiction Challenge: Isle of the Dead

I didn’t intend to write this story. I had something else in mind. But as I looked at the isle, something hit a dark place in my mind. The Isle of the Dead is where an atrocity had to have happened. The music that goes with it, well, it just pushed me to write. A harsh challenge to take on.

https://janedougherty.wordpress.com/2016/10/28/microfiction-challenge-20-isle-of-the-dead/

They called it the Isle of the Dead, but no one was sure why. Townsfolk from the nearby town wouldn’t talk about the island, nor would they venture near it. Being a stranger on vacation as a change of venue, meant to help me overcome the malaise that haunted me, I didn’t understand the hesitation that followed every enquiry I made about the island I had seen from the plane upon landing.

“It’s not a fit topic, lady, for someone as young and beautiful as you. Best to avoid it. Best to find something else in this town to occupy your mind. Just let it lie.” My landlady was the first to give me that advice. She wasn’t the last.

I wandered through the town’s market, a strange combination of “Made in China” and woodcarvings. The buildings of the town were straight from a tour brochure. White stucco houses with red tile roofs contrasting with the business section where the colors alternated between yellows, blues, creams, and pale greens. It was all organized. The creams were restaurants, yellows were full of odd local creations, blues were clothing venues, and pale greens were all of the artsy stores. With each store declaring it’s originality, they were all the same.

I saw the painting in the window of the very last green store on the left as the road went back into the residential section. It contrasted with the soothing color of the store. A slim man dressed in white being ferried to the island. Grays, blacks, whites gathered together like storm clouds on the horizon and created a chill that went up and down my spine. I’d never fully understood that cliche until that moment. Taking a deep breath and gathering what nerve I had left from living a daily life so boring as to be insignificant, I entered.

“About that painting in the window? Is it for sale?”

“No.” That was all the clerk said, meeting my eyes with a hostile look.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend. I’m from out of town. We flew over the island when we arrived and it’s striking in its natural beauty. But no one will tell me about the island, they just hush me and tell me to move along in my thoughts to something cheerful. Can you at least tell me what the painting is called?”

“The Isle of the Dead.”

“So it’s like that story with Charon and his love from the world of the living?”

The clerk sighed, her disappointment in yet another tourist etched across her forehead. She fumbled behind the counter for a moment, then produced a tablet, brushes and watercolors.

“That will cost you 250 Euros. Your shuttle to the island will leave tomorrow morning at 6 am. Are you sure you need to know the story?”

“Wait, you run a shuttle to the island? Why did no one tell me about it? I’ve asked all over.”

“Do you want the tour or not?”

“Yes, I guess I do. What are the paints for?”

“You must be an artist to be permitted on the island. You are an artist, are you not?”

I paid the money, gathered the bag of supplies and my ferry ticket to the island and left. For the rest of the afternoon, I wandered the galleries, but found no other paintings on the subject.

Dinner was somber at my accommodation that night. My landlady had seen the package I carried tucked under my arm. She had asked what was inside, but my answer had left her with a haunted look. Lamb, potatoes, green peas, leaks, and a desert of peach strudel filled me, but the silence emptied me as quickly. Finally, pouring a glass of wine for the two of us, all of the other tenets having retired for the evening, she broached the subject.

“So, you decided to pursue the matter. You have the tour in the morning? You mustn’t go. Keep the paints and tablet, but keep your sanity, as well. Don’t go. Don’t get on that ferry for any reason, I beg you. I’ve seen the results all to0 often.”

I didn’t listen. The power of the unsaid mystery had gripped my soul, and it wasn’t letting go.

Gray mornings, the light just before dawn, had always delighted me. The morning would sneak in, one little strand of the sun’s rays at a time, the color would return to the world. I had forgotten how much hope the early hours had given me. Life in reality ran into the dark for me, this was a pleasant change.

The boat wasn’t a ferry, but a skiff. There was one crew member who took my ticket, shook his head and pointed me toward the last seat in the skiff. He untied the ropes mooring us, pushed us away from the dock with his oar, and off we went. Waves don’t bother me, and that day there weren’t many. The man said nothing until we were well away from the town’s dock. Then he began to tell a tale in time with the thrusts of the oars that carried us swiftly out into deep water.

“It used to be called the Island of Hope, back before the war. Youngsters would go camping there, their parents staying overnight on a yacht that was more a hotel that a sea going adventure. Newly married couples from all over Europe would come and stay overnight, and when they left the island the next day, they were more in love than when they had arrived. The Isle put roses on their cheeks. Then the war came. and the Isle became troubled. Youngsters complained of hauntings, of chills, and of noises that struck the soul numb. We laughed it off, there in the village. A bad wind calling, a wave that struck the rocks in the distance cracking against them whiplike, or maybe it was the tucker that the youngsters filled themselves full of before they arrived. A bit of seasickness compounded by a stomach plagued.”

I was fascinated. He never looked at me, telling the story as if to himself.

“Was there a haunting?”

“Ain’t no such thing as a ghost, Miss, ain’t no such thing.”

“What caused the change in the visitors to the island?”

“Now, Miss, if we knew what started the change, I’d tell you. But listen on, there’s more story than this.”

I nodded, spellbound like a child in the reading circle at a library.

“The Nazi’s came, of course, bringing with them their particular breed of fear and loathing. We tried to live our lives with them observing everything we did, oh dear God, we tried. But the suspicions they sowed between us, the hatred of all good, the theft of all that was ours being sent off to one of them storehouses that evil man created for his great museum, it was more than a fellow’s intellect could handle.”

“But that was before your time, surely. You don’t look a day over 45. Is this a tale from your grandfather’s time?”

“No, no, I was there. I’m the last one who was there. They brought a bus full of old timers down to the docks, said it was a trip to celebrate their age. The town was all for that. Giving some old folks a trip to the sea was worth the effort to prepare them a picnic lunch and a few of the fisherman’s boats for a holiday. It was a present of goodness out of a fearful black existence. We were such fools then. I was a boy, fourteen and barely grown into my legs. I was a good looking boy, too. I had the tousled hair from the wind, a deep brown, brown eyes that could see the frigate birds in the distance and  the occasional kite. I loved working for the fishermen. School had never filled my head with the excitement being at sea gave me. So, I helped rig the sails, then I dropped down with the Grandpas and Grammys and gave them a cheerful story of escaping school and falling in love with a girl whose nutty brown skin and green eyes had captured my interest for all times. The sun was up, sky was blue, and how could anything be better in the world.”

“So it was wonderful then?”

“I’ve already said to much.”

He focused on his oars, turning the small skiff into the wind, and the island came into view. Breathtaking would be an understatement of what I saw. There was one other skiff anchored six feet offshore. No one was to be seen. The gray of the morning had risen to be lemon yellow behind the island, and the rocks stood in grim contrast to the sun’s cheerful face.

“I’ll set you out on the sand then. Just wave to me when you are ready to leave. One other thing, be careful. There’s things out there you don’t want to find.”

Taking my shoes off, I stepped out of the skiff and waded the three feet to shore. Pines grew on the island, junipers with that biting aroma treasured in candles. The beach was white sand, created by pounding waves against coral. Warm and soothing though it was, I rinsed my feet and put on my shoes. There was a trail that led into the island and I took the tablet out, sketching a quick view. Wandering down that trail led me to an area that was blackened by a great fire. Nothing grew there. The rest of the island was full of life trying to climb above the rocks, but not here. No moss to soften to jagged edges of rock. Looking closer, I realized that the rocks were cracked by the heat of the fire.

As I stepped onto the first of the burned rocks, there was a cry of sorrow and fear. There was no one in sight. I took another step and a soft cry of sadness rose to blend with the other sounds. With each step I took, the cries became more. First a duo, then trio, a quartet, an ensemble, a symphony of sadness.

I noticed a glimmer of something on the far side of the area. Stepping carefully between rocks and soil, I found a small bracelet. It was engraved.

“I forgive you.”

Astounded, I looked around to see if there was anything more. In my haste I set the tablet and paints to one side. For the next two hours I searched, finding two wedding rings, a broken locket with a badly weather picture inside, and a lapel pin.

Noon brought with it a reminder that I was hungry and thirsty. I walked back to the beach and waved at the captain of the skiff. He rowed to shore for me.

“Is it lunch then?”

“Yes, I found the strangest things.”

“Where is your tablet?”

“Oh dear, let me run and get them. I set them aside as I explored. I only started one sketch.”

Back I went, picking up my things and returning to the skiff.

As he poured me a cup of water and opened the sandwiches for the tow of  us, I washed my hands in the sea. “Salt water to cure anything ill,” my grandfather had said.

“So, what did you find?” A question to pass the time with.

“There is a section of the island, behind the pines and below the mountains, that was subject to a terrible fire at some point. The rocks themselves cracked beneath the heat. I walked out into the area and found that some soil had eroded between the rocks. I found this.” I showed him the bracelet. “I was so excited by the find I put the tablet down and kept looking. These wedding rings, engraved with “Forever and Always” on each. The bracelet, look it says “I forgive you.” Who would give a gift like that? and I found a tie pin. It looks like the one my grandfather wore for his toastmaster meetings, but it isn’t quite the same, it’s…take a look. I’m not sure what it means.”

The man sat there silently for a minute. “You should take these back after lunch. They belong to the island.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Take back my new finds?

“Take them back, young lady, you have no claim to these.”

“Okay, but why?”

“The Nazis arrived after the picnic was finished. They sent us to the fishing boats, but the promised the old ones a walk. We never saw them again. No one has entered the island since the fire the Nazis ignited on the island. We should have done something.”

I put the items down on the skiff’s seat and moved to sit on the same seat as the captain.

“I don’t see how you could have done something without endangering your whole town. Those days lacked hope for a reason when the nazis came.”

“I should have done something, anything. By not doing anything, by not protesting, I sold my soul. Now I carry passengers to Hell in my skiff as my penance, and I will continue until the sun no longer shines in our world.”

“That can’t be true. There’s no such thing as a curse. You must forgive yourself.”

“Go put the things back.” So I did.

I returned to the skiff, but the captain was gone. While I waited for him, I opened my tablet and looked at the first sketch. Someone had finished it. Color had been added, people added, and joy added. I turned the page to look at the backside, seeking a note from my collaborator. It was blank, but the next page was filled with scenes of a picnic. The page after that had scenes of the boats moored close to shore and there was a drawing of a boy, maybe fourteen years of age, with legs that were just a bit to long for him. He matched the description that my escort had given of himself. I wondered how many trips this man had taken to the island. I turned another page, and the sky turned red with flame against black mountain. The theft of the items the old folks carried was the next photo. The horrors continued.

My captain didn’t return. As the time passed, I began to wonder how I was going to be taken back to town. The ocean was getting rougher, the sun was now setting. Still my captain was missing.

I was lucky that evening. Eventually a fisherman, returning with full nets and lots of gulls, saw me waving at him. He sent a young man, legs just a little to long, to get me to his ship. I told the fisherman my tale, but he said the skiffs had been abandoned many years ago. I told him of the tablet, and his face grew clouded with sorrow.

“An emotional wound of such horror leaves a mark on the world. That man you saw sounds like my great-grandfather. He died in 2000, bitter at the world. May I see the tablet?”

“I found a bracelet there. It had engraved upon it, ‘I forgive you.'”

“I hope she has.”

Music Lessons

Part of a series of exercises in the use of the Acrostic Poem.

 

He gave me my first baton.
Endured the fact I knew no theory,
Never lost his temper.
Rigorously teaching the passion of
Young composers with free tickets to see
Conducting Copland, Hanson, Ives.
Soothing nerves as we met our exam, conducting
Minnesota orchestras musicians while
Instilling lessons that gave straight spines and gentle hands.
Those he gave changed lives, the downs, the losses, the ups.
He gave joy, and I, his student remember 41 years later.

Love, a Tiny Tale

I met him at a social function. He caught me before I fell off a cliff. Inebriated, I fell off the cliff of love. We were engaged two weeks later and at a distance of 3,500 miles we found a way to marry. That was thirty-six years ago. I’m still falling off the cliff of love.

When I Found Someone

No, this one isn’t a love story, it’s about meeting someone while blogging who looked at my world from a very German/Austrian world. They found me first, reading my poems and blogs and posting poetry and photography that I enjoyed. What changed was the fact that they were traveling in the United States. They were following roads that I have traveled with my family, with my parents, with my readings. I grew up in the Midwest and that’s a world far away from living near Washington, D.C.

I remember the wild flowers that seemed to sneak along country roads. If you had time to stop and see them up close, there was a symmetry to them as well as a beauty. There were fields of corn, wheat, soybeans, and the sunflowers in North Dakota that tracked the sun across the sky. My parents were involved with crop management and plant diseases. Dad was an Agriculturalist, Mom a Plant Pathologist. Both were active in many garden societies. They made sure we children each had a garden to mess about with and I loved mine. We spent money we earned shoveling snow or babysitting on plants. I always had perennials, iris and once a peony. There was the annual Iris Society auction that we could bid at. There would be one or two bids against us, before with wise smiles the adults would let me win. I liked yellow, blue, and purple iris. I wanted to breed my own colored iris, but I didn’t have time as I was growing up and time is fleeting when you are young. Dad taught me to root ornamental bushes so that new ones would grow. He forbade me to pull them up and check to see if roots were growing. I was as bad with carrots and potatoes.

We would head west once in a while, living Minnesota to visit family in North Dakota. We went to Jamestown where the world’s largest concrete buffalo lives. My uncle Jerome, Uncle Jerry, conspired with another man to buy and relocate real buffalo to live under the statue. He bought three females and the other gentleman bought a male. They flourished under the statue. There was a wild west town that was located above the field the buffalo were in. It had a school, a prairie church, a couple of houses with iron stoves that were powered with wood, coal, braids of straw in bad times, and sometimes even buffalo chips (But those would smell very badly.) I was never sure whether or not I was being teased back then, I believed most everything my parents said when I was young, trusting them not to lead me astray.

There is a show in Medora, North Dakota. If you ever travel through the area June through August, check into one of the hotels there. They’ll ask you if you want tickets to the show and you must answer yes. The entire town closes at sunset and you sit in an amphitheater with one escalator. The first joke is that it can go up or down. It was the whitest audience I had ever seen. A combination history (somewhat exaggerated) Of Theodore Roosevelt and his ranching there after the death of young wife and a revival of religion and local color and traditions it’s worth the time to sit and laugh and be part of the past. Theodore Roosevelt national park has wild buffalo, wild horses, rattlesnakes and horse trails so that you can feel what it’s like to be in the wild west the way it might have been. The prairie glows golden through the grasses, red next to the drop-offs into the badlands. There are so many different colors of red in that sedimentary rock. White clay, oceanic clay, for this was once a sea. There are fossils and coal veins that burn when struck by lightening. Eagles and owls overhead with their shrill cries. The owls at dawn and dusk move soundlessly feeding on gophers, mice, snakes. They have large appetites.

Heading west along I 94, you leave North Dakota for Montana and it’s sage and tumbleweeds. For those who think that North Dakota is flat, Entering Montana is flatter. The ground moves down and away from the highway, and the wild west is filled with farms, small towns and oil rigs. You take a left three quarters of the way through the state and you arrive at Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone is full. It’s just full of people, wild animals, rangers, a probation work program for young offenders who wait tables and wash dishes. It’s a cheap labor force and one that does some good. there will always be some who seek out recreational drugs but most of the kids are glad for some cash in their pockets and something to do. Retired folks work in the gift stores, spending their off times in walking, driving and seeing the secrets hidden but waiting for discovery. Pelicans, I never knew there were so many, weather on Lake Yellowstone. Bison and Elk stand next to signs that say “Stay away from the wild animals. They are dangerous.” There’s always one parent throwing a terrified child with a grimace next to the beasts to take a picture. I’m amazed at how patient the animals are. Buffalo aren’t known for their patient natures. They are wild with the need to roam and smack horns, to defend their young and their herds. The elk seem more mellow, laying on the shoulders of the roads watching for wolves and poor drivers. They turn their heads back and forth, just watching. About five in the afternoon they wander away, finding other places to munch and watch for wolves. When you see the wolves for the first time, they run along the road, tongues lolling, happy. You can see the happiness that is their spirit. They can hunt and they will, with or without watchers. The elk are their favorites, seeking the old or new. Then you find the bears. One is head first into a bear proof trashcan right at the ranger stations. The rangers just shake their heads, for a black bear will find a way. Feet waving in the wind, it was the only black bear we saw in the week we were there. The moose that appeared with a crowd of human tourists chasing it for photos was displeased but it had somewhere to go, where the water was deep enough to shake the humans off. The grizzly was trying to cross the road. The humans surrounded the young bear who wanted to go feed. I went up to the ranger and asked he had ever had to shoot one. He wryly looked around at the tourists, then grinned at me and said, “No, but I have been sorely tempted.” There was no mistaking the humor of a man who was stationed amid the wild how had to deal with humanity out of control. I asked where we could find a grizzly from a distance so that we could really see it. He looked shocked, then told me to go one parking lot back in the direction we had come from. He said to sit there and wait. We did. A field of lupines on the side of a mountain, and after an hour, sure enough, the bear did come over the mountain. It was free of humanity and dug for roots, ate flowers and really didn’t pay us any mind. When he had covered half the distance to us, munching happily, we did as the ranger requested and got back in our car, put the windows up, and left when he was still 50 yards from the road. His ambling was precious, his path through beauty breathtaking. The moon rose, and we retired, only to find a small lizard on our hotel door. An anole of some kind.

It was the path that my fellow blogger had followed. I remembered things through the lens of their camera. I’ll have to go back to my pile of photos and scan them into my computer to share with you sometime. I miss the west, the sense of community. I miss the way people helped each other. I miss the pace of life. However, I am a Virginian now, and there are places out here equally beautiful to show people. I hope someday they will be in the area so I can show them Luray and Skyline Caverns. I’d love to show them the mountains and the ocean. I’d love to take them to a baseball game in DC and a show in New York.