Thursday, May 23, 2013

On Ophelia and more tales from the neighborhood.

I snuck away to the front porch during bath time, which is always more fun, messy, and loud with daddy.  The darkness that teased of another thunderstorm had passed and the bluest sky was scattered with thick chiaroscuro clouds. 

Four feet away, she was sweeping her front porch and it being the first time we’ve crossed paths in five weeks, I introduced myself.

I wonder at which I point I should use fake names for my neighbors, in case I become wildly famous and one day, they start reading stories about themselves on the world wide web.  Until that point, I’ll call her Ophelia, which may or may not be her real name.  And which allows for the opportunity to say, “Ophelia and Olivia,” in the same sentence, which she thought was pretty spectacular too.  Bonus points to the one who immediately thought of Shakespeare.

Ophelia wore a stylish yet comfortable denim wrap dress and a bright orange tank top underneath with a pair of cute flats.  She’s a single black lady who has lived in the house for 20 years, in her 50’s perhaps?    Upon getting a good look at me as she pulled down her glasses, she asked how we liked the neighborhood.  I felt like it was a trick question.  If I loved it, was I oblivious to its horrors? If I hated it was I an awful and judgmental Northerner?  I went with the truth and responded, “We like it, and we haven’t had any trouble so far.  It seems like it’s an interesting place, but we like it.”  And with that, she stopped judging me.  Apparently, I passed the test.  I noticed her eyes soften during our chat and when she told me that she had been wanting to meet us for a while, but  wasn’t sure if we liked black people, I laughed out loud, at her bold, unhindered honesty and assured her that we did.   I like a person that doesn’t prance around with the small talk. 

And that’s when I learned that Ophelia is full of wisdom and she knows the not-so-secret workings of some of our neighbors, including the ways of the drug culture.   It wouldn’t take Sherlock Holmes to know which section of the street this may or may not be happening and she is tired of the “visitors” parking in front of our houses.   In her words,

“ The drug culture, they don’t care.  They don’t care because they don’t have anything to lose or anything to work towards. And they certainly don’t care about parking in front of people’s homes.  In fact, this guy, (pointing to an SUV), he pulled up here three days ago, with no overnight bag and nothing but a towel on his shoulder and he hasn’t left since.  Now, he doesn’t live here and he only shows up with a towel, he can’t be up to any good.”   

She’s fed up and she’s tired of the drug culture messing up our neighborhood. She’s going to call the cops.

I mentioned that we had only met the neighbors across the street and that we’ve heard some interesting stories, and as I did, I noticed Rose (the cat lady)  rocking on her front porch with her fire red ringlets and company of cats.  Ophelia’s eyes got a little shifty and gave me a knowing smile.

“Honey,” she said, “everyone has stories about everyone and they all think the other person is crazy,”  she narrowed her eyes over the rim of her glasses. “How in the world are we supposed to know the truth?  I’ll tell you. You believe what you know and what you see, that’s how. You trust your instinct and you’ll know the truth.”

And then she remembered that a blue Frisbee landed in her yard a few days ago,  and that she was keeping it safe until she could properly return it to us.  I went to leave my porch to retrieve it, but she stopped me, “Oh no, I haven’t done this in ages,” she laughed with a twinkle in her eye.  “Now stand back, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”  And she tossed that Frisbee into the air hitting the top of my porch and it fell directly two feet from where she was standing.   She nearly fell over laughing and I started and we both just really laughed together.  It was kind of great.

Our conversation came to a close as the family who lives across the street from her came home and she had to talk to them about all this traffic problem.  Ophelia is a woman of action, I tell you.  And she told me not to be a stranger, to knock on her door sometime soon and we’d have coffee.  And that she’s so glad she met me, she’s probably going to bake us a cake.

This neighbor is a gem, a real gem.  Until next time…

Friday, May 17, 2013

on the richness of life

The generous morning sun streams in, casting a halo on the peach and yellow blossoms in the jar, early birthday flowers.   And two little kids who were promised a treat for going to bed early eagerly devour the reward, even though they only kept up 70% of the bargain.  But, when a floppy child with bedhead stumbles into your room and says, I just woke up so that I could have my treat for going to bed,  the many attempts and long delays are forgotten.  
He wants to know where all the people are, because he can’t find a single person who was here, when he came out to use the potty last night, probably just to be sure there were in fact, no kids.
I fell asleep stuffed with delicious sweets and laughter and a heart completely blessed a night of friends new and old; conversations ranging from hilarious and ridiculous all the way to encouraging.   As I walked throughout the house closing windows and twisting shades, gratitude spilled out into the quiet darkness, for a home that is big enough to be filled and for the people to fill it.
I thought of the friends we left in Minnesota and I missed their presence in my home.  I thought about the fantastic contributions they would have added to the table.  Perhaps one of Danielle’s famous flourless cakes? Or the latest new culinary experiment that Elle would have tried.  I wondered what stroke of consistent genius my sister-in-laws would have presented.   And the local girls who couldn’t come because of last minute life.  The friend who would have brought cookies fresh from store bought dough, because no one at all hates cookies and everyone has something to offer that is uniquely them and beautiful.   And the one who recently moved away, but insisted upon telling me what she would bring, anyways.  I love that about her and I can’t wait to taste that Very Berry Coffee Cake.
In the last 11 years, in my winding trail from Michigan to Florida to California to Tennessee to Minnesota and now,  North Carolina, I’ve been fortunate to collect some of the finest people and moments in my vault of life.  And unlike the vault of a banker, the value never decreases, it only grows and memories sweeten with time.
Everyone has something to offer that is uniquely them and beautiful and we’re all better off when we believe it, about each other and ourselves. 
It’s the richness of life, the way the pieces are shaped just so.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

On those who never forget the way

From The Story Girl, L.M. Montgomery,


“I wish there was such a place as fairyland—and a way to get to it,” said Cecily.

“I think there is such a place—in spite of Uncle Edward,” said the Story Girl dreamily, “ and I think there is a way of getting there too, if we could only find it.”

Well, the Story Girl was right. There is such a place as fairyland—but only children can find the way to it.  And they do not know that it is fairyland until they have grown so old that they forget the way.  One bitter day, when they seek it and cannot find it, they realize what they have lost; and that is the tragedy of life.  One day the gates to Eden are shut behind them and the age of gold is over. 

Henceforth, they must dwell in the common light of common day. Only a few, who remain children at heart, can ever find that fair, lost path again; and blessed are they among mortals.  They, and only they, can bring us tidings from that dear country where we once sojourned and from which we must evermore be exiles.  The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and story-tellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

On Otis, Rose the cat lady, and the real neighborhood danger.

“The thing you need to watch out for in this neighborhood, honey,  is the cats,” she told me as we stood in the middle of the street between our houses, meeting for the first time. She looked tired and her cigarette rested in her hand by her side as she tried to keep it from my direct breathing path.

Her skin showed signs of sun and wear and she coughed viciously in between sentences.

We learned about Rose the cat lady who owns half the block (and nearly 50 cats) and how the man who sold them their house left one specific dying wish, whatever you do, do not sell this house to Rose the cat lady. Under no circumstances.

In her yard is something not unlike a small zoo enclosure that houses cats. And one day, as I sat on my porch, I promise I saw three black cats walk out the front door to greet their owner at the end of a work day.  Her hair was fire red and short and the cats walked in single file line down the sidewalk.

They used to live in the country with ten acres and feel like fish out of water here in “this part of town.  So, if you knock on his door after 9pm and he’s not expecting you, he’ll be holding a shotgun. 

Speaking of water, they love the coast, specifically “our coast” and asked us if we’ve ever been to the ocean, like they were the only ones.  They want to move closer to the sea and run a charter fishing company and a boat that would take the women and children searching for shells and mussels in the cape.  Her face lit up when she talked about cooking mussels over a fire on the beach and popping in your mouth.   We were kindred spirits for only a moment when we spoke of the beloved sea. 

We learned about Otis, the block’s self-elected neighborhood watch.  He keeps an eye on things and if there is something to know, ask Otis.  And Pippy, whose name she doesn’t remember, but it might as well be Pippy Longstocking.  And then another neighbor came home and they exchanged passing remarks about car transmissions followed by “that one, she’s buckets of crazy,” to me.

Meanwhile the kids climbed up and down the stairs and went for a walk back and forth in from of our house. A grey cat strolled down the sidewalk and one kid ran away, the other chased it.

And so the story goes of meeting some neighbors and Rose the cat lady, Officer of Safety Otis, Pippy, and the real neighborhood danger, cats.

I almost forgot, the tomatoes. He grows 600 each year in his garden and wondered if we like tomatoes.  Well, sir, if we like tomatoes… You’re all a little bit nuts around here, but you had me at garden fresh tomatoes.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

on the part before anything else

Rain fell softly on a cloudy day in May. The sweet coolness waltzed in through the open windows into the room, creating a delightful little reverie that invited my senses to dance.  Candlelight flickered on the mantel and Perry Como's timeless voice filled the air.

My love for the rain is great, but my fondness of rain and open windows is greater. It makes me feel free and wild, while it calms my heart and gently washes over my soul.

“You know what is great about our front porch?” I said to my husband, sitting in the next chair.
“Everything,” he answered without hesitation.

“Well, yes, but because it's there, we can keep the windows open during the rain and that is marvelous and beautiful.”

He nodded.

Just another piece of evidence.

Life has been intense lately with so much uncertainty about income and jobs and such things of adulthood. But there has been great evidence with every step of the faithfulness and goodness of the one who knows and I'm choosing to rest in that place. Collecting all the pieces along the way that will give us strength and carry us.  Refusing to let go of the one certainty that will always remain. That He is.

Yesterday, I was sketching on the back porch, my hands were blackened with charcoal and my kids covered in paint. I opened to a page dated two months ago and it read,

Only upon hearing the last note can we realize the beauty of the melody that has been created.”

This journey has been amazing, full of adventure and wonder and risk. And in the middle or near the end, or wherever we might be, there is challenge and struggle and the growth that forever changes main characters. But, like a good book or a beautiful song, redemption comes. Unless this is a Shakespearean tragedy, in which we all die, or The Great Gatsby, where nothing of consequence ever happens to boring, lazy, apathetic people, or anything written by Hemingway, where everything is meaningless and depressing, of course.

I've had a hard time writing lately, despite the fact that everyday I've been pouring words into my journal and morning pages as earnestly as I can. The words have been jumbled madness and I had determined they we never worth making known. However, no good story ever consisted of, “Everything is perfect and easy. The end.” Not one.

And I think that at some point, I let the exhaustion quiet my voice, rather than letting this part of the story be heard.  Rather than letting simple words bring peace in the way the writing process does, I gave them permission to roar and howl about in my head, because I thought they were safer there.   Clearly, that’s where they were the most dangerous, like shadows cast on a wall in the dark, when in reality, it’s a stuffed toy on a shelf.

So, today, I'm just going to write about the rain falling and the way the air carried a song and cool breeze, on a Tuesday afternoon.

And that's all.