Friday, July 26, 2013

On Norman Bridge Road

written on Wednesday....

About three pm yesterday, it was getting darker as clouds approached and I hurried to get the horses fed in a gentle mist that was being dropped by the leading edge of yet another rumbling afternoon storm.  Back in the house again, the lights, not surprisingly, flickered and went out. The skies opened wide and began dumping more rain on the already water logged ground below. Lightening cracked and thunder rolled in yet another in this summer’s month long pattern, but this one was different.

News got to us that the charming neighborhood in nearby Montgomery, Old Cloverdale had been hit extremely hard by a wind sheer from the storm and that many of the ancient giant oaks had gone down. Roads were blocked, houses totaled, cars smashed, and power lines lay strewn everywhere. Our daughters both live in this neighborhood of charming cottages and oak covered lanes, as does my brother and his wife. They all escaped harm and damage, but  all around them, was devastation. Today I learned that my grandparent’s old house, also in this neighborhood, had been totaled by a fallen massive oak, a tree which had shaded the yard that my father grew up in and where I played in as a little kid. 

Since I haven’t seen the scene, I don’t know which of the oaks it was. It could have been the one by the sidewalk that we walked by each time we came to visit. Or, it might have been the one in the back yard with a thick horizontal branch to which long ropes were tied to hold a simple wooden board swing that my grandfather spent hours pushing me high up into the sky on. There were others in their yard, but these two stand out in my memory as the largest and most stately. 

It makes me incredibly sad to think of this house in ruins and one of the big trees laying atop it with its roots ripped from the ground. There is so much that I remember about that yard, and that house, and the wonderful times I spent there with my family and cousins. It was a tiny house with strange hallways and doorways, but it was full of mystery and charm, and mostly it was filled with the unconditional love of my grandparents.

The yard was my grandfather Bibb’s, pride and joy. It too was tiny but I never knew it until later when I viewed it with adult eyes. It was full of wonderful plants and flowers that Bibb tended like a zen master. A narrow sidewalk of coarse old red brick lay in a cross hatched pattern running from the garage to the back door steps and gave definition to the yard. Red roses grew on the side of the garage and I used to play a game of hopscotch on the bricks, jumping to make my feet echo their pattern. Mature camellias of varying shades of color and shapes were dotted around the yard and I would walk with Bibb as he examined them for bugs and scale, and just to admire them. But always, there was the presence of the towering oak trees passively, shading, cooling, and standing guard.  

The one by the street leaned a bit towards the house and its image is clear when I remember the day we had an urgent call from Miriam that something terrible had happened. Miriam stood crying under that leaning tree as we drove up. Their little white house had caught fire and the contents of the porch/library had all been lost. The crisp white walls of the house were charred and streaked with soot and everything was still dripping with a sickening sound of water from the firemen’s hoses. I had never seen my grandmother cry or be upset by anything and this image of her so distraught frightened me and made me cry from my lack of understanding. 

 I learned later that, having lived through the Great Depression my grandmother held no confidence in banks and that here, all of her saved up money, in cash, had been tucked into the pages of the books in her library, hidden and safe.  In a deja vu moment of earlier times, this money of hers had vanished in a puff of smoke, fire, and water. 

My aunt Mimi, Miriam and Bibb’s daughter and my father’s sister, used to come home from Atlanta and I would go and
spend the night at their house when she came. There were two small bedrooms upstairs and we would sleep in hers, the one on the right with the deep purple wall paper that covered the walls and ran up the slanted form of the roof above. Looking out of her window she taught me “Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are....”, and she taught me to make a wish on a star, the biggest I could find in the dark night sky.

Under the stairway was a dark and narrow closet that I loved exploring when the grownups were busy talking and I was forgotten. It was Bibb’s shoe closet. Bibb wore a suit every day of his life that I know of, and all those suits had to have shoes. Wing tips and spats, formal laced up leather shoes of every style and color rested in this dark seclusion in all of their original boxes. 

There was a drawer that Miriam kept her snap together beads in, white plastic beads to snap together into long flapper style strands, short chokers, or any length desired for the occasion. There were antique toys, wire mesh baskets that could be shaped into different things, a paddle that held a group of wooden chickens that pecked the paddle by string and a pendulum that spun in a circle, making click, click, click as it spun. My favorite was the Pick Up Sticks can filled with
thin colored wooden sticks that one twisted into a bundle and then let them fall into a pile on the floor, with the aim of picking them up one by one without moving any in the pile.

All of the games, the toys, the yard, the swing, the trees, the very mood of the house that sat on the corner of Norman Bridge Road and Park with all of the people who lived there and who enriched my life, simply made time slow down. What a precious ability this was, to make life last by the moment, savoring each delicious second as though it were the only one that mattered. It was a haven for my soul and it taught me how important it is to remember to go there.........

written today...Friday

Today I went to town to see the sad remains of the old house and, to my surprise I drove up to, not only finding it standing, but relatively unscathed. There were workers sitting under the shade of the carport which was covered by a huge blue tarp and there was evidence of huge limbs from trees that had fallen on it but had been cleaned up. The new owner was there and after introducing myself, he happily showed me the remodeling he had done on the place. It was great fun seeing the changes, a hallway closed up and wall taken out to open spaces, newer paint and new bathroom downstairs fixtures, and the old sink that Bibb used to shave at every morning in his sleeveless t-shirt was upstairs. Mostly, though, it was the same. In looking down the stairway that looked exactly the same I half expected to see my grandfather walk through the front door, cigar in
mouth and newspaper in hand.

I was thrilled also to see that the leaning tree was still standing, wider in girth from the years, but the owner said that the tree that had held my swing had been gone before he had bought the house. It did make me happy to see the place again, and it being not too much worse for the possible damage that could have happened. It has been a nice ride down memory lane for the past few days, thinking about it and remembering nice times in connection with this house and these trees.

Our grand daughter stayed with us last night and I watched her in a new reflection of my own surge of memories jogged by the storm, as she played and explored her grandparents house. I wonder what she will remember of this house and what it felt like to be here, years from now when she is older and we are perhaps gone. If she is lucky she will have wonderful memories if they are half as good as mine. I hope so.

Thursday, July 11, 2013


It is nice to have had a break from my past posts of eulogies and tributes to the fallen animals in my life. In that time since, summer has rolled along, soggy, heavy, and hot and seems to be locked into a weird pattern of continual rain, and have been so for nearly a month now. The vegetation has responded and the world outside looks like an emerald tropical rain forrest. Grass in the pasture is so lush that it has needed to be cut just so the horses don’t gorge on it and founder, and the grass in the yard begs for mowing daily. Moss, mildew, and algea abound on every surface and a walk to the barn in this humidity, even if it’s not raining at the time, results in soaked clothing that must be removed and replaced. On Monday I decided to take advantage of a few hours of what looked to be clear skies for a minute and so headed out the front door with a glass of iced tea to go ride some horses. I got to our front steps and started down.

Our front steps are wooden and have been there since we built the house in ’94. They are now shaded by very large pink blooming crape myrtles whose limbs are draped with strands of Spanish Moss making for a nice dark entrance way. They are also under the drip line from the roof and have seen no dry moments in a long time. They are glazed with a green slick slime and they are scary slippery. I knew that, but being anxious to get to the barn I took them anyway. And yup, right at the third from the bottom, being super careful, I found my left foot suddenly leaving me and I went down the remaining three steps sliding in the wet mess, and landed with a not so graceful thud.

I had been very careful in my fall to make sure my tea did not spill. Time does funny things in moments like that. I had time to think about the tea and whether or not Gracie, the Yorkie, was behind me or not. I thought about how hurt I was really going to be after this dumb move. My right arm shot out to block some of my fall and it also slipped on the slime and banged hard into the edge of another step. I sat at the bottom to assess the damage, and drank some tea.

As I assessed, no broken bones, no arteries severed, a major bruise was forming on right arm, left hip area yes, banged up quite nicely, it occurred to me that if one was to take a tumble, and bust one’s butt that to do so on a day that one had already had an appointment with a chiropractor was a silver lining. My appointment had been made at my last visit weeks back but how fortuitous it was that my busting my rear happened a few hours before I was due to get my normal getting put back together. This visit she would have something new to work on. I got up and headed on off to the barn and decided not to press my luck further by riding the horses lest I have even more for my chiro to work on by getting dumped by one of them. 

Barn world is always full of visitors, some by day like the cat who cleans up the spilled horse food and the geese who drop their feathers and copious amounts of poop at the pond’s edge. Then there are the sneakers who come in the dark and maraud and steal, leaving few clues as to who and when. Lately we have been the target of a pair of resourceful raccoons that have found one of my feed cans to be easy to raid and have done so despite my continued attempts to get the lid to stay on. It has become clear that they are better at getting it off than I am in thinking about how to keep it on, and they are eating a lot of my horse feed.

At first I suspected coons but could not imagine how one might get the heavy weights off the lid that I put on after feeding each afternoon. So one night last week Mark snuck quietly down to the barn late at night armed with the southern basics, a flashlight and a gun. As he came around the corner to the feed room he saw the lid was open, again, and to his surprise up popped the masked faces of two of these thieves from inside the can. I was not a witness but he claims to have shot and wounded them both, one he left for dead in the wash stall, the other took off into the darkness. Confident of his success he was sure they would not return. Not. The next morning the dead one was gone, and the can lid was open. Short of putting an anvil on there to keep them out, I am perplexed at their ingenuity and persistence. They are definitely ahead of me on this one.

These are also probably the culprits who stole the entire crop of sweet corn out the garden too. I had hot wired the area about the time the rainy season began with a solar charger that Mark had picked up to power it. The problem there was that the charger needed a full day of sunshine to get a good charge, and we haven’t gotten a full day of sun, the charger didn’t get the power, so the coons just waltzed through the wires and got fat on the tender corn. 

Between the Asian stink bugs that ate my beans and the coons that got my corn and  horse feed, not to mention the unknown predators who robbed my Martin nests, I feel like I have been at war with nature, and am losing. The one saving thing this summer is the tomatoes. They, thankfully, are thriving.

After two years of disappointment of the vines wilting from viruses and zero tomatoes from the garden, this year I tried a new tactic. I wanted them close to the house so we could watch them carefully, and to get them out of the contaminated soil, so we pulled up the shrubs that lined the walkway up to the previously mentioned slime covered steps, tilled up the soil and threw some plants in, and waited.

They are all a mixed variety of heirlooms with the idea that maybe these old types would  be more resistant to the evils of growing. While not in as much sun as they might have needed, (but this summer what is?) they have grown tall and have begun to put out delicious fruit of varying colors, shapes, and flavors. We had a brief battle with a few horned worms who nearly devoured an entire plant in a day, but beyond that they have been a redeeming reward for the anguish of the coon infestation and no summer corn. There are few things better in life than a still warm, sliced tomato, right off the vine, arranged on a slice of white bread that’s been slathered with mayonnaise. A shake of salt and pepper, and covered with a top slice of mayo covered bread and that is sheer perfection. One a day, is not too many.

Tomatoes are the real reason summer exists and why I can tolerate evan a little of it. Sadly, the sun will move on and summer will end and tomato season will be gone for another year. But for now, they are at their peak and I am seriously enjoying this part.