Round yon December

a triolet for my grandmother

Come December, I’m remembering you
in the lights and silent night
—how years, like snow and feathers, flew—
Come December, I’m remembering you
at sight of ruby-red cardinals, too.
On the wings of the morning, all is bright…
come December, I’m remembering you
in the lights and silent night.

December is my grandmother’s month. She was born the day after Christmas, was married in the middle of the month at age 20, and died the day before Christmas Eve, at 90. She loved the season, children, cardinals, and the color red, symbolic of her name: Ruby. “Silent Night” was her favorite carol; whenever I hear it, she is near. Her home place and resting place are in the outskirts of a rural town named for the dawn… “on the wings of the morning” is borrowed from my favorite Psalm, 139, a hymn to the omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence of God.

The cardinal ornament in the photo was a gift from a friend yesterday. I hung it on the tree last night after choir practice with the kids at church. They’re singing “Silent Night” in the worship service on Sunday.

Grandma, you would love it all.

Sleep in heavenly peace.

The givers


Remembering people
across the years
with a mixture
of awe, gratitude,
and humility
for often those who
gave me the most
had the least
to give

materially,
at least

I don’t recall
every gift now
only the bright joy
on the faces
of the givers

there is
no calculating
the vast riches
in their hearts
or the price
of their generosity

only that it lives on
long after them

I still hold
their greatest gold:

sacrificial love

Widow’s Mite – Ancient Roman Bronze Coins. IronRodArt – Royce Bair (‘Star Shooter’). CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Cotton tales

Cotton in the fields
reminds me of Granddaddy,
his recollections…

farm community
in friendly competition
out picking all day

he would pick the most,
winning proud recognition
when his load was weighed

the landowners then
permitted his returning
after the harvest

to strip the remnants
for himself, gleaning enough
to buy shotgun shells

Cotton fields abound this season in eastern Virginia and North Carolina

Modern cotton bales, waiting to be ginned

Harvested cotton field, with remaining bits my grandfather would gather to afford his shotgun shells. He called this “scripping.” When listening to his stories, I could envision him in his youth, strong and determined, never complaining of the laboriousness. His words only radiated nostalgic warmth and pride that he was able. Eventually, he said, the boll weevil forced out cotton and tobacco replaced it as the community’s cash crop. In the Depression, Granddaddy was a sharecropper; my father was born in a tenant farmer house. Eventually my grandfather “couldn’t make a go of it” and would find work in the shipyard three hours away, staying in a boarding house all week and returning to his family on weekends…for ten years, until the oldest children graduated from high school and he moved the family. Farming remained his love, however, for the remainder of his days. After retiring, he and Grandma moved back home where he planted glorious vegetable gardens, one of my own most-loved memories.

Spiritual Journey: Revenants

with thanks to Chris Margocs for hosting October’s Spiritual Journey Thursday. Chris invites our group to write about those who have passed and left something behind in our hearts, in preparation for the upcoming holidays of All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day. She says: “As a person of Celtic heritage, the idea of the thinning of veil between here and the hereafter on these days intrigues me…”

—Me, too, Chris.

*******

The stirrings begin with the first breaths of cooler air.

As September gives way to October, while the trees and grass are still green, before any obvious turnings of yellow, orange, or fiery red, they appear.

I sense them most often at doorways. Portals.

There, on weatherworn sidewalks, a smattering of fragments from dead leaves surreptitiously dropped—I can never tell exactly from where—comes to life just as I approach. A soft rattling, a lifting, a sudden swirling… the upswept pieces begin dancing in a circle.

Fairies, I think.

And then I think, Children.

Small children delight in collecting such things, bits of leaves, tiny twigs, acorn caps, a butterfly’s bright-patterned wing, cicada shells. Nature’s cast-off scraps of life. In the hands of a child, they become treasures, magical objects, if only for a moment, in the mind of the child.

Watching the leaf-bits dancing in a circle, round and round and round again, I wonder if invisible children are at play. I almost want to linger long enough to hear them laughing…for there’s a stab of joy in it that I cannot explain, a piercing longing, a wild freedom…why should I perceive these things?

I wonder, then, about memories, so like the leaf fragments rising anew at the portals as I continue walking through the stations of my life, here to there, there to here…it is real, this revenant of my own childhood, the child that I was, holding onto the treasures that were given to me, reliving the precious bits that remain. As memories swirl round and round, I delight in them, in re-immersing for a moment in long-ago moments with people I loved, who loved me, who sheltered me, sustained me, prepared me…and who are gone but never far away. I see their faces before me, their eyes shining. I remember their stories. I hear their voices: I love you.

People die. Love does not.

Autumn comes with its fiery promises, its contrasts, its losses; trees will soon release their fragile organs in hopeful glory of surviving the winter. They shall sleep until spring, until the reawakening, life made new.

I walk on, remembering, wrapping gratitude round and round me like a hooded cloak, still sheltered, sustained, loved, awed by the beauty that deepens around me every passing year.

The stirrings begin with the first breath of cooler air.

Dancing revenants of what was, hinting at what is to be.

Perhaps they are whispering Allhallowtide.

Slices of life recycled

If the writer
observes the world
then the artist
recreates it
and the poet
preserves it all

Knowing yesterday was a milestone anniversary of my father’s death, a friend created this digital image as a gift. She took lines from one of my blog posts, Fresh-cut grass, written in his memory: Grass, though cut, always heals itself and grows again, and you are always present in that sweet scent. She used pictures in my posts to make the grass…here in these blades are slices of my first Christmas, the cross necklace my father gave me, a portion of his Air Force uniform, and a lamppost like the one that stood in the yard of my childhood home; my father used say that when he turned onto the street he could see the light of home shining straight ahead.

I’m in awe of the gift and its artistry.

A metaphor for life itself.

My father’s presence remains in the scent of fresh-cut grass. Here is Sunday’s poem, marking the twentieth year of his passing: September, When Grass Was Green.

*******

with thanks to E. Johnson for the digital masterpiece and to Two Writing Teachers for the original impetus to start a blog for capturing Slices of Life. I began by writing each Tuesday in April 2016, then every day each March, then for Spiritual Journeys on the first Thursday of each month, and on occasion for other writing communities like SOS— Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog…and every day thus far in the year 2022.

If you are reading…thank you.

We are our stories. Let us write them and live them well. And bring healing to one another.

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.

Memory is…is not

with thanks to Susan Ahlbrand for the invitation to write a “this but not that” poem based on an abstract noun over at Ethical ELA’s Open Write today

Memory is a blanket
of new-falling snow
over barren ground
where nothing would grow

Memory is not static
it is ever-changing
reinventing itself day by day
ever so slightly
around the edges

Memory is sparks
crackling and popping
from the inner fire
in the grate

Memory is not reliable—
it goes its own way,
its own consummation
and consumption,
ashes stirred to life
rolling in the breeze

Memory is a river
life-giving, sustaining, sacred
flowing free until obstructed
necessary and nourishing
yet potential danger for drowning
—you cannot live there, submerged

Memory is not tomorrow
or yesterday

Memory is now

Memory is not a book,
a record carefully preserved

Memory is written in disappearing ink

happy snow. tamaki. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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.

Lingering

with thanks to Ruth for the inspiration at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog:
“Invite the reader to linger and feel unexpected emotions.”

There was a time, before COVID, when we lingered. Not endured, not withdrew, not withstood…lingering did not mean an unshakeable cough, unshakeable fear, unshakeable uncertainty.

We lingered because we wanted to make the moments stretch and last. With purpose, holding onto goldenness before it melted away in lengthening shadows, desiring just to be, to savor, to breathe, without words for naming the why, unaware except in the deepest part of subconscious self that everything is temporal. Everything is always imperceptibly changing. We change, the people and creatures we love change. They leave us, in one way or another. In certain moments before the leaving, be it theirs or our own, we linger, suspending the faint ticking of the clock on the wall of our existence.

Tonight, I lingered.

I discovered that winter lingers even on the cusp of July. Not like the witch’s enchanted Narnia (“Always winter but never Christmas; think of that”). My granddaughter wanted to watch a Christmas movie. Why not? And so we did. The hour was already late but in summer bedtimes do not matter as much (for her, anyway. I fight the good fight). Winter scenes rolled across the screen before us…an era long past, row houses standing dark in the evening, nightfall coming early, deserted streets coated in ice…for a few seconds, I was in that place, feeling the bitter bite of frigid air, the crunching under my feet, the barrenness settling into my bones. I remembered being a child in winter, walking outside, wondering at the stillness, the delicious desolation. Winter has a scent, a taste. A cleanness. A sharpness, unlike the crispness of fall. Both bracing and tiring. A paradox. Winter is halflight, chiaroscuro in gray, white, blue, and black. The stars shine crystal-bright in winter, nearer than ever.

—all this in a few seconds watching a Christmas movie on a lazy, balmy night, the last of June, when rabbits are sneaking from the woods into my yard to nibble their fill of fresh clover.

My granddaughter remained wide-eyed throughout the movie while I lapsed in and out of dreams. Then with the going-to-bed ritual of my reading her a story, she just so happened to choose a book in which the word lingering appears on the last page…

That is the magical way of that word.

Both beckoning and reminding.

For memories linger far longer than moments…

A winter night. Mourner. CC BY 2.0.