Twenty years

September, When Grass Was Green

Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh, so mellow
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow…

(T. Jones/H. Schmidt, 1960)

I remember
our last conversation
in September
twenty years ago

you said you’d
been cutting the grass
and that maybe
you’d overdone it
going back and forth
with your mower
making a pretty pattern
—you thought your chest muscles
were sore from the turning

it worried me

—you were worried
about other things

but happy to be retiring
in two weeks

the thing about last things
is that you don’t know
they’re the last

I remember promising
to come celebrate your retirement
and how we spoke of you
having more time to spend with
your grandchildren

I remember getting the news
a week later
as soon as I walked in from shopping
with the retirement card I just bought
still in my hand

I remember that September day:
so glorious, cloudless
sky so blue it hurt
all the trees still green, sharp-edged,
clinging hard to the light

never again will September
be as bright

or kind

I remember coming home
for the last time

to speak at your funeral

to thank you,
my duty-minded, dedicated
father

twenty years
come this twenty-fifth day
of September

don’t you know
the grass is still oh so green
and Daddy, you are still
in the scent
of its cutting

Yesterday’s sunrise

with thanks to Susan Ahlbrand for the Do You Remember prompt with musical inspiration on Ethical ELA’s Open Write earlier this week. Susan remembered her own father’s passing with Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September”. I chose “Try To Remember” as a frame instead. The song predates me; I recall hearing it on my father’s radio when I was very small.

I still have the retirement card I bought for my father on the day that he died, with three workdays left to go. The card mentions that it’s a great time to be alive.

Twenty years, and that remains the great dichotomy of late September.

September = scuppernongs

I write about them every September: scuppernong grapes.

A dear lady in my church picks them from an old, old vine that belonged to her mother-in-law. She brings the grapes to me, knowing how I love them.

It’s not just the divine sweetness. That’s only part.

In these thick, green-gold husks are memories as rich and sweet as the fruit itself.

I pop a scuppernong in my mouth, whole, splitting the thick skin against my teeth. Inside the hull lies a cool primordial pulp, a velvety experience…

It is the taste of my childhood, of my grandfather, whose vines grew lush and thick by the ditch bank of his country home. It is the taste of belonging, love, sacrifice, survival. Of wars won, losses mourned, marriages that endured. It is the taste of reward. Of dirt roads, tin roofs, earth as black as night, crops in the fields, glittering with morning dew. Of dense forests, timbered yet returning denser, again and again, still retaining their secrets, bearing silent witness to generations rising and falling. It is the taste of seasons, centuries, epochs in their turning.

I grow older, savoring my children’s children, the sweetest thing I have ever known.

September. The month of my grandfather’s birth and my father’s death. The month of scuppernongs, ever a reminder of my Carolina roots and my heavenly home.

Remembering Olivia

Early 1970s:

My aunt bought a tape recorder
such a modern thing
she had my little sister and I
sing into the thing:

Let me be there in your morning 
Let me be there in your night 
Let me change whatever’s wrong

and make it right (make it right)
Let me take you through that wonderland 
That only two can share 
All I ask you-ou-ou
ou
is let me be there ..

We giggled
and felt so grown-up
singing the soul-felt words
of such
a beautiful
person

we knew
and believed
every word….

If you love me, let me know
if you don’t, then let me go
I can’t take another minute
of a day without you in it
If you love me, let it be
if you don’t, then set me free
Take the chains away
that keep me loving you….

We loved you,
Olivia,
from our very beginning.

I do

Do you remember
how it stormed
on that long-ago morning
and your mother cried
because it was raining
on your wedding day?

I do.

Do you remember
that the ceremony
was over
in ten minutes
(my aunt looked at her watch)?

I do.

Do you remember
how hot it was during
the eternal photographing
(especially having to wear
a black tux with tails
in August)
and how much you hated
that part?

I do.

Do you remember
my going-away outfit
that my mother made
from sky-blue cotton
and how I wore
a big straw hat
with a big white bow
and that just before
we said our good-byes
she took off
her double-strand
pearlescent beads
and put them
around my neck?

I do.

Do you remember
as we drove away
from family and home
and childhood
toward all our new tomorrows
that the rain had stopped
and the sun had come out
and the clouds pillared
up from the horizon before us
like backlit rosettes
on wedding cake
and you said it was
all in celebration of
our just being married?

I do.

I remember it all
nearly four decades
two sons and
two granddaughters
later.
Even the clouds
in their radiant array
seem to remember
today.
While marriage
is sometimes
more blister
than bliss
I can tell you this:
I lift my eyes
to the eternal skies
with a heart
full of wonder
and gratitude
that ours has grown
deeper and richer
each day
since we vowed
I do.

The cover of our wedding album:
“God has created your spirits with wings to fly in the spacious firmament of Love and Freedom.”
—Kahlil Gibran

Excerpt from our wedding album, in a space commemorating the first anniversary.
I wrote, at age twenty-one: “We can’t believe it’s been a year since we’ve been married, but it’s been a happy one and a good one and God has indeed blessed us well – may He bless us for many years to come and let our marriage grow deeper and richer each day.”

—God has.

Milestone

Happy Birthday to the Baby Boy
a gogyoshi

You have been in the world
for twenty-five years
exactly 9131 days
and I am grateful
for every single one

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:12

For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. 
Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.
1 Samuel 1:27-28

On this day

Nine months
since you entered the world
making mine
exponentially beautiful
every single day

Three years
since your Grandpa
had a massive heart attack
while driving
and the deputy sheriff
came to tell
your future dad, uncle,
and me (Franna)
that he’d run off the road
and was being taken
to the hospital
where we were told
he’d been resuscitated

they weren’t sure
he’d make it

he did

Grandpa lived
to see you
love you
and call you
“little angel”

I say
there must be
some mighty ones
all around

Micah, 9 months, looking up at her Grandpa

Raison d’etre

a reverso etheree

Hey
it’s me
I’m trying
can’t you see that
you’re my everything
you center my small world
even if I don’t have words
I adore you beyond measure
I know you’re busy but I am here
believing in you and your love for me

believing in you and your love for me
I know you’re busy but I am here
I adore you beyond measure
even if I don’t have words
you center my small world
you’re my everything
can’t you see that
I’m trying
it’s me
Hey

Micah, 8 1/2 months. How you adore your parents.
How your family loves you so. Franna

In the heart of the tree

with thanks to Margaret Simon for her photo, inspiring “This Photo Wants to Be a Poem” at Reflections on the Teche.

In the forest
stands a tree
bearing a heart
for all to see

how is it so
how can it be
this symbol of love
here on this tree?

When it was young
perhaps it was scarred
some long-ago night
black sky starred

when a bolt of lightning
struck young lovers
there pledging their troth
forsaking all others…

Some things, it seems,
are not meant to be
star-crossed lovers
found dead by the tree

their initials not carved
but their love still marked
by this bounced-lightning
scar in the bark

where life comes anew
with every rain, in turn
see, within the tree-heart
a resurrection fern

took root, where it dies
in the heart of the tree
yet like hope, like love,
returns alive, eternally.

Which is more compelling, the tree-heart or the resurrection fern within it?
Thanks again to Margaret for sharing her photo.

For the record, I like this explanation of the resurrection fern (Polypodium polypodioides) from the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox:

“The Resurrection Fern is an evergreen fern that is typically found growing on trees (especially leaning tree trunks and Live Oak trees), fallen logs, stumps, ledges, and rocks.  It will also grow on fence posts and buildings. Some of its host plants are live oak, elm, magnolia, and cypress.  it is considered an epiphytic plant, which is a plant that grows on another plant and dependent on that plant for support but not nutrition.  An Epiphytic plant gets moisture and nutrients from the air or from small pools of water that collect on the host plant.  It is also epipetric, meaning that it can also grow on rock.

It is a difficult plant to get established.  During dry periods it appears to die but regains normal appearance with rain.