Those Days We Didn’t Die

Lingering at the breakfast table, an hour or two of chores already completed, he folds away the newspaper before turning to smile at the small, barefoot disturbance running into his kitchen.

“Are you done, Grandpa?” Glancing toward the over-sized cup resting on the table next to its deep, broad saucer he says, “No, not quite. Do you want a turn?” Not waiting for a reply, he pushes back his chair as I hop from one foot to the other, filled to the brim with impatience.

Carrying his cup to the stove, he fills it with coffee from the dented aluminum pot that’s been keeping on the back burner, then turns to ease into his chair. Carefully, he pours some of the dark, fragrant liquid into the saucer and hands it to me. 

Gently at first, then more confidently, I ripple the muddy, steaming pond with my breath. Daring to take a sip, I find the coffee still too hot for drinking so I continue on, breathing across the bowl until a second sip or a third no longer burns my lips.  Only then do I hand the saucer to my grandfather. “Perfect,” he says with another smile, sipping the cooled coffee from the saucer. Refilling it from the cup he drinks again, pouring and filling and drinking until the last of the coffee is gone.

Saucered and blowed we call this way of taking our coffee, if we call it anything at all. Is it an Old Country custom? Perhaps. Without a doubt it’s our custom, our comfort, a ritual as much a part of our mornings as the reading of the obituaries.

The coffee gone, Grandpa reaches again for the newspaper, unfolds it carefully, looks at me over his glasses and says, “Let’s see if we’re still here.” As it happens, we are. Mrs. Gasparovich isn’t here any longer, having taken a tumble and died of her injuries, and that nice Andersen boy who came through the war without a scratch has been killed in a tractor accident.  Mr. Flanagan, who lived two blocks over and worked at the Black Diamond Mine, has died of lung problems related to the coal dust. They’re gone now, all of them, but we’re still here.

“Well, Sunshine,” Grandpa says, refolding the paper for a third time, ready to get back to his chores, “we’re not goners yet.”  He grins, and I smile right back. It’s a new day, waiting to be lived.

Such a sanguine approach to obituaries made it easy for me to view Death with a certain bemused acceptance, much as I did the ne’er-do-well neighbor who’d moved away to Nebraska. I really didn’t expect him to show up on the doorstep, asking to move into our back bedroom, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had.

That was the way Death arrived in our town – unannounced, unexpected and unremarkable. No axe murderers or arsonists for us. We had slate falls in coal mines and accidents on farms. Now and then a child was thrown from a horse, or a hitchhiker hit by a car. Measles killed some. Others died of scarlet fever, pneumonia or undiagnosed illnesses that surely were cancer. Tuberculosis and polio thrived. As a child, my mother survived smallpox. Some of her classmates weren’t so fortunate.

After the war and during my childhood, things began to improve. The mines became safer. Pencillin was invented, and polio vaccine. Measles became rare, while the number of old folks increased. Over time, even the ringing of the telephone lost its ability to evoke anxiety. Long considered a death knell, it became ordinary and ubiquitous, part of the great cacophony of modern life.

By the time my grandfather’s death knell sounded, life was changing. Rituals I had cherished as a child began giving way to the less delightful routines of adulthood. Constrained by schedules, pressured by obligations, I carried my coffee in saucerless styrofoam and rarely took time to browse the obituaries. Death still wandered the back roads, but I paid him little mind. I was on the highways of life, and I had places to go.

Still, the pull of the back roads remained strong, both for the solace they offered and the mysteries they contained. Preparing for a first foray into the bayous and swamps of southeast Louisiana, I hardly appreciated the depth of those mysteries – how easily beauty conceals the threats of the world or how quickly the distracted and inattentive can be shown the error of their ways.

As we threaded our way through the steaming landscape on narrow, water-lapped roads whose very names – Grand Cailliou, Little Cailliou, Montegut – evoked a sense of mystery, my traveling companion pointed to herons and egrets fishing the bayous and the great, unnamed grasses reaching to the sky.

When the late afternoon sunlight began painting the grasses and birds with a deepening glow, we stopped to walk the narrow, vegetation-choked bank in search of vantage points for a photo. It was then that the grasses parted, roiling and crackling, flailed by some tremendous unseen force. Stunned into silence, we caught only a glimpse of a slapping tail, thick, heavy shadows, ripples streaming out toward the middle of the bayou.

“Oh, Lord,” said my friend. “Was that an alligator?” Probably it was. Perhaps it wasn’t. At the time, it hardly mattered. We backed away from the bayou with pounding hearts and trembling hands, sharply aware of being terribly alone in the midst of a world we barely understood.

Laughing about the experience some months later, I said we’d been street-smart but bayou-stupid. More months passed, and I discovered Mary Oliver had turned to poetry to express similar feelings about her own sweet foolishness with an alligator.

I knelt down
at the edge of the water
and if the white birds standing
in the tops of the trees whistled any warning
I didn’t understand,
I drank up to the very moment it came
crashing toward me,
its tail flailing
like a bundle of swords,
slashing the grass,
and the inside of its cradle-shaped mouth
gaping,
and rimmed with teeth–
and that’s how I almost died
of foolishness
in beautiful Florida.
But I didn’t.
I leaped aside, and fell,
and it streamed past me, crushing everything in its path
as it swept down to the water
and threw itself in,
and, in the end,
this isn’t a poem about foolishness
but about how I rose from the ground and saw the world as if for the second time,
the way it really is…

And that, of course, is the gift – to see the world as it really is. If it takes a second time, a third time or a tenth hardly matters. We finish the coffee, we fold the paper, we rise from the table or the ground and discover the wonderous, unspeakable truth: we’re still here.

Despite our ability to engage in every sort of foolishness, our obituaries aren’t yet written, and the world’s waiting. As Grandpa said, we’re not goners yet – and every day is a new day, waiting to be lived.

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  1. Linda, a marvelously written post as usual. I like your Grandpa’s coffee ritual. My Daddy drank his coffee in the same manner. Poured into a saucer and then savored black with two teaspoons of sugar. I learned to love coffee as a youngster.

    But there was no newspaper since we lived on a farm and there was no extra money to get a paper delivered in the mail.

    About those obits. I think that if anyone has ever thought about their own mortality then reading those daily obits would not make a dent into one’s view of death.

    On the other hand I never did read the obits on a regular basis.I find them rather depressing. But when I awaken in the morning I thank God that I have another day to face- good or bad.

    And getting that “life lesson” with the alligator frightened me just reading about your surprised and potentially deadly experience.

    • Yvonne,

      Recently, I happened across another fellow from central Texas who mentioned his grandmother drinking her coffee this way. I think the practice of “saucered and blowed” probably was generational more than geographical – we were in Iowa, after all – but it certainly was widespread.

      I’m trying to remember where the newspaper Grandpa read came from. I think it probably was published in the larger town that was the county seat. It covered the news of all the tiny towns surrounding it. I still have some clippings that were saved from it – all of them obits! And I do remember it being delivered by a boy on a bicycle who carried the papers in a bag.

      I was much, much older before I learned the phrase “memento mori”, but I think now that’s exactly how Grandpa viewed them – as reminders to live, because death will come. It’s something I think about now from time to time. After all, I probably have only twenty or twenty five good years left. In that context, what I do with each day becomes more important.

      As for that alligator… I’ve since learned a bit about the creatures, and it’s pretty clear we probably scared him as much as he scared us!

      Linda

  2. As always, so very beautiful and real! Thank you, amiga, as I relived my own surprise encounter with a startled gator!

    • Lisa,

      Always, there’s something lurking, isn’t there? Your comment reminds me again of the similarities between your life in Mississippi and the life you’re living now. Sometimes, we don’t realize how well our childhoods are preparing us for what will come, decades down the road.

      Linda

  3. Sometimes when I turn the page and don’t realize I’m as close as I am to the obituaries, I’m taken aback by all those dead faces looking at me. Lately I’ve noticed that the obits inspire me to get back to living. I read the accomplishments and the details of full lives and I think, “I’d better get crackin’.”

    Hearing your stories over coffee would be a most enjoyable experience, as is reading every post you write.

    • Hippie Cahier,

      Interesting to ponder all this in the context of Jeff Bezos purchasing the Washington Post. Just as e-cards moved in on Hallmark, et. al., and e-readers claimed to be better than paper and ink, the slow loss of newspapers means the loss of the printed obituary.

      What’s the female equivalent of an old geezer? I think I am one – while I can search for an online obit, there’s just something about opening the page to read about all those lives that can’t be replicated. Besides, you can’t clip an obit from the web, and then use it as a bookmark for a while, or lose it and rediscover it in your recipe file.

      I still remember our journalism class assignment to write our own obituaries. We were to write three: as if we died that day (sophomore in high school), if we died at age forty, and then again at eighty. I haven’t a clue what I wrote, but I can guarantee that nothing I wrote bore much resemblance to what actually transpired over the years. Now that you mention it, I’m not that far from eighty – I’d better get crackin’, too.

      With my feet up and a cup at hand, I can tell a pretty good story. Learning how to tell a story on a page is the trick. I’m glad you enjoyed this one!

      Linda

  4. I browse those obits in the a.m. with my morning cup of tea. Just to see if a name jumps out at me and to make sure my name isn’t the one that does.

    Once I’m assured that I’m still here (and relieved to find that I am), I get on with my morning routine, whether it be getting ready for work or starting the weekend laundry.

    • Gué,

      Sometimes I think the simple existence of a routine’s the important thing, no matter what it is. Tea and obituaries, coffee and headlines, coffee and cat brushing (!) – it’s the repetition that helps to hold things together.

      And sometimes, the ritual still exists, only in a different form. My grandfather and my dad often closed out the day with a hand or two of solitaire. Today, I’m just as likely to play a game or two of Freecell as a way of winding down.

      Of course, right now the morning routine begins with Dixie yowling for breakfast at 4:45 a.m. She knows that she’s still here, and she intends for me to know it, too!

      Linda

  5. Love this post.

    A strong and able 84 year old man once told me that he would “live until I die”. So simple, yet for me it gave me pause. Similar to “Get busy living or get busy dying”.

    But I never take death casually- my childhood was nothing like yours. I knew death as something violent or cruel. At the very least I make a conscious effort to (as Robert Lowell wrote) “give each figure in the photograph his living name.”

    • Martha,

      Lowell’s “Epilogue” is a wonderful poem. That line you quote reminds me of the hours I’ve spent with various family members, looking at old photos and trying to figure out the identities of the people staring back at us. Of course, just remembering their given name isn’t quite the same as giving them their “living name”. That’s more difficult, and more satisfying.

      As for your 84-year-old friend, I wonder if he sometimes sang the song that was so popular from the mid-50’s forward. When Sinatra died, he was remembered most often with “I Did It My Way”, but he started out with another pure affirmation – “I’m Gonna Live, Live, Live Until I Die”.

      Linda

  6. Delicious writing. I loved the image of you and your grandfather reading the obits. He gave you a sweet gift. I was afraid of death; it was common, but tragic and frightening when I was growing up. I felt nothing but angst and wanted to distance myself.

    Now I read obits as history and in wonderment at the lives people have lived. And then give thanks that I’m still here.
    I interviewed a woman when I worked at the newspaper who had compiled 2000 obituaries in notebooks by the time she died. They were the obits of people who had lived in the valley community where she had lived all her life. The notebooks were wisely donated to the local museum.
    Nicely done, Linda.

    • Martha,

      There’s a little museum that’s been started in the coal town where my grandparents lived and raised their families. As I’ve slowly sorted through papers and identified people in photos, I’ve mounted and notated and duplicated. One day, I’ll take all of it – even things like my mother’s autograph books and report cards – to the museum. With no future generations to care for them, better they should go into the collections.

      The woman who compiled those obituaries was a wonder, herself. Who cares that much for history these days? Far fewer, I’m afraid.

      I think my mother wanted to protect me from death. Because her mother died when Mom was only sixteen, her experiences were quite different than my dad’s. In fact, I’m fairly certain Mom would have been displeased with some of the things that went on when I visited my paternal grandparents each summer. She wanted to keep me a child, and my grandfather, especially, wanted to help me grow up.

      I love that you chose “delicious” to describe the post. And I do hope we’re going to see at least a few more photos from Alaska!

      Linda

  7. An amazing story, you had me at “he folds away the newspaper before turning to smile at the small, barefoot disturbance running into his kitchen.” Grandpa…..

    • CheyAnne,

      There was a lot of barefoot in my childhood, a lot of running, and a lot of time spent just hanging around the kitchen, the gardens or the porches with big people. In fact, there was a lot about my childhood that resembles your life – I’m glad my recollections called up some memories for you.

      Linda

  8. I love the title, and the invitation it gives us to ponder the possibility that some days we do die: perhaps these are the styrofoam cup days when life is racing around us so quickly we can’t or won’t or don’t get on with life. If we are lucky, we have fortuitous alligator encounters that shake us awake. Lovely post, thanks! Allen

    • Allen,

      It tickles me that you mention both days that we do die, and encounters that shake us awake. As someone pointed out to a crowd of mourners some centuries ago, they needed to stop with the wailing, already – the little girl they were grieving over wasn’t dead, she just was sleeping. It’s a great story – I know you know where to find it. ;)

      Sometimes, it takes the smallest encounter to shake people awake. Looking for ways to enable those encounters can be a whole lot of fun. Thanks for your kind words – glad you enjoyed the post.

      Linda

  9. For more than 40 years — spent in the newsroom — obituaries were an essential part of my daily life. It was an odd feeling to hope that there had been enough deaths to make the page presentable but not so many that we’d have to find a place for the “runover.” Oh, to have “runover” be one of the last terms applied to you in this world!

    But before newspapers became calloused enough to charge folks to publish obituaries, we treated them with kid gloves. A staff member could get into more trouble making an error in an obit than making most any other kind of mistake. We were keenly aware of the relationship, however brief, we had with the families and friends of those who had so recently died. If there ever was a right time to treat them poorly, this wasn’t it.

    • Charles,

      Well, at least the term was “runover” and not “leftover”. “Runover” seems more polite, more neutral, not quite so mundane (or terrible, depending on the quality of leftovers in the fridge).

      As for errors in obituaries, we can’t forget another wreaker of havoc: the prematurely published obit. I went looking to see if anyone had written about the history of such things, and discovered this delightful piece in “The Guardian”. They even acknowledge in the piece that Twain’s famous quotation about rumors of his death being greatly exaggerated is, itself, a bit of an error.

      I’ll say this – my mother never forgot the care our hometown newspaper took after my dad died. Granted, it was a fairly small town, but the person responsible for including his obituary in the paper actually called her and offered to come by the house so she could see it before it was printed. It was a wonderful gesture.

      Linda

  10. A wonderfully evocative picture from a bygone age.
    You write beautifully.

    • friko,

      Sometimes it does seem as though it’s that age that’s the “goner”, but I certainly hope not. While some still disparage the 40’s and 50’s, there was much to cherish about those days, and I see occasional glimmers of hope that at least a few, today, are longing for a little more simple, a little slower, a little closer.

      So good to see you! And I appreciate those kind words.

      Linda

  11. I half remember a quote from Pogo about life being tough; nobody gets out of it alive. You were lucky to have your grandfather. My dad’s dad died before he could make it back from the war, my mom’s dad died when she was 3. She did have a stepfather who raised her (and did a bang up job of it, too.) He and her mama were legendary both individually and as a team. Remind me to tell you about his home grown palomino peppers.

    Miz Beaver, Mam’zelle Hepzibah, Miz Groundhog, Miss Sis Boombah, and the other genteel ladies of the Okeefenokee drank their tea from saucers. I think they had pie with theirs, if there were any left unlobbed. I seem to remember Beauregard sipping from a saucer.

    You can tell the “real” tea services by the shape of the saucer. Pouring your tea into it was an art and took steady hands. One didn’t want to dribble it down the side of the teacup and get tea on the table cloth. Ladies blew gently and silently, but if you were a man, you fanned yours with your boater.

    I have a set of “flow blue” cups and saucers with lids on the cups and dessert plates to match. The saucers are the right kind, too. I’ve got a set of 4-seasons Brambley Hedge teacups, saucers and dessert plates as well. Your choice. The teapot will be willow ware, though. Only one I got. (I usually make tea in a stainless steel coffee carafe.) I’ll make a batch of “shortcake” biscuits (taller and bigger around than “regular” biscuits). We can have them hot out of the oven with honey or I’ve got a jar of Bon Maman cherry jelly in the dugout and some Bama peach preserves in the on-deck circle. (Remember when Bama jams and jellies came in glasses with the lid you had to pop off with a church key?) Now that I think about it, I’ve got a receipt for raspberry scones I’d like to try ….

    • WOL,

      It’s interesting. I know most about my mother’s side of the family, generations back, but I grew up with my father’s side. Always, there are reasons – some of which I’m still learning. But it was my dad’s folks who were most important to me, and with whom I spent so much time.

      Honestly, I just have to get some of those old Pogo books. If it’s this hot again tomorrow afternoon (and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be) I’m going to make a run over to Half-Price Books and see what they have.

      At one point, I had a mini-collection of assorted mush cups from the Ohio Valley Potters – Laughlin, Knowles, East Liverpool, etc. I kept one set and sold the rest. I still regret that, just a bit, but there’s a time to collect and a time to disperse. I’ve never played the stock market, but back in the very early days of eBay I was able to buy low. The chance to sell high was hard to resist.

      My goodness, that tea sounds delicious, especially the shortcake biscuits. Those truly are the best. Tell you what. I’ll bring along a jar of fig preserves from Froberg’s – a little bit of home!

      Linda

  12. I so enjoyed your piece with my morning coffee (grind beans, boil kettle, fill cafetiere to the silver line, same cup, fill three times) and realise in London town we/I don’t read the obits whereas in Wellington (NZ) where I grew up there was exactly that morning ritual (births and deaths).
    Lovely writing thank you.

    • mrscarmichael,

      That’s interesting. Do you think the change in your habits has to do with the fact that London’s larger and you don’t know so many people? Perhaps in London it’s much like it is here in Houston – only the “important people” show up in the wedding and birth announcements, and the obits. I suppose part of that’s because of the cost – something that never was an issue in the earlier days.

      In our small towns, people often subscribed to the papers just for the obituaries, the police reports, the birth announcements and so on. I still have a clipping of my own birth from the paper. They never were much – “Mr. & Mrs. So-and-So announce the birth of a baby (boy or girl)”, and then baby’s weight and the date.

      Of course, those were the days when every proper lady had a box of assorted greeting cards at her desk. We’d read the paper, and if there had been a birth, death or illness among our acquaintances, we’d pull an appropriate card from the box, pen a short note and send it on its way.

      Times have changed, but I do thank you for your kind words here!

      Linda

  13. “…street-smart but bayou-stupid.” I love that phrase. And is the condition at all avoidable, at least in a life worth living?

    I watched a movie last night about mountain climbers attempting a rescue on K2. Many of the scenes depicted harrowing falls and avalanches, and I found myself thinking, “Not for me.” But there has to be something between here and the summit — or here and the bayou — that’s worth the risk. We all began “terribly alone in the midst of a world we barely understood.” And from there, we select our adventures. I always enjoy reading about yours.

    • Charles,

      I just noticed that the street/bayou phrase is a variant of a much older saying: “penny wise and pound foolish”. I heard about pennies and pounds a good bit during childhood since my grandmother liked to use the phrase when she felt the need to be snarky about one of her friends.

      Speaking of K2, and precipices, and the loneliness of starting out, you’ve reminded me of my very first post here at WordPress. The title was “Dazed and Confused”, and I certainly was. But blogging was an adventure I’d selected, just as you did. It’s clearly been worth it for both of us.

      Linda

  14. You write so beautifully. The story pulls me along and I am always filled with delight and awe when I have finished reading. You make it appear so effortless, this memory sharing and story making. I know it’s not without work and talent and revision. I envy the smooth perfection of the tales you weave.

    • Carol,

      I like to post once a week, but it stretched to ten days with this one precisely because it was so, so difficult to write.

      The process did illustrate for me something Annie Dillard says in her book, “The Writing Life”. I’d started out with the title and some odd paragraphs, thinking I was going in one direction. By the time I finished the section about my grandfather, I was headed in another. I pared and rearranged and rewrote and pared some more, and finally realized everything I’d started with was no good.

      What to do? I deleted everything I’d started with! Here’s what Dillard has to say about the experience:

      “The part you must jettison is not only the best-written part, it is also, oddly, that part which was to have been the very point. It is the original key passage, the passage on which the rest was to hang, and from which you yourself drew the courage to begin.”

      I swear. That woman nails it, every time. Anyway – it did come to be everything I’d hoped for it, and I’m glad it felt smooth and effortless for you, my reader.

      Just so you know – WordPress now keeps numerical track of our revision process. There were 254 revisions. ;)

      Linda

      • Linda, I remember that quote from The Writing Life and I haven’t read the book in years. Yes, she does nail it. But then, so do you. In my earlier comment I almost said, “Your writing reminds me of Annie Dillard’s writing,” but I didn’t because yours is your own unique voice. But of the same caliber as hers.

  15. If I can switch from the individual to the group and from animal predators to human ones, I’ll mention a Jewish meme that has been known to come up at the beginning of a meal, especially at Passover, and that goes something like: “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat.” Sean Altman and Rob Tannenbaum turned that into a song with a variable refrain, one version of which is:

    “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat.
    They tried to kill us, we were faster on our feet.
    So they chase us to the border,
    There’s a parting of the water,
    Tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat.”

    You can watch Sean Altman singing the song at

    and follow along with the lyrics at Jewmongous.com

    • Steve,

      Jewish hipster comedy? Who knew? I know Jon Stewart and Sarah Silverman, but I didn’t know they’re considered Jewish hipsters. I’d never heard of Altman, for that matter. Maybe I’m too old and too far west and south, or too disconnected from the East Coast.

      In any event, I laughed all the way through the song. Certainly, humor and survival go hand in hand. Humor can get us through a lot, and once a threat’s over, humor can function as a wonderful release.

      I was delighted to see that Altman participates in the Musicians on Call program. There’s no chapter in Houston, but there are similar programs at Methodist and in the Medical Center at large. Eventually I found his work with Kol Zimra (wonderful) and Rockapella.
      That’s good, too, but those guys are never going to overtake the Kingston Trio when it comes to Zombie Jamboree!

      Thanks for opening a new door!

      Linda

  16. I also have fond memories of hanging out with my grandpa (and grandma) over coffee @ their place. Thanks for the trip down memory lane, and giving me pause before I head out into this day. :-) DM

    • DM,

      Anytime I can rouse some good memories or give someone pause, I’m happy. If I do both, I’m really happy! My dad’s family was Swedish, and came to this country post-1900. They kept many traditions, including egg coffee. If you’ve never had it and have the chance, take it. It’s better than our French Roast – truly!

      Linda

  17. During the winter months on weekends that didn’t find us sailing, Daddy would propose a game of canasta which also prompted a cup of tea. He would bring the water to just the right temp, pour some into the pewter pot he always used, swish the hot water to acclimate the pot, then he would place the tea leaves in the tea caddy and hook it over the pot rim. “It’s too hot,” we would sometimes whine. Then he would pour the tea into our saucer, tell us to blow, pour it back into our cup, repeat the process until it was right. I sometimes wondered if this really worked…of course, it did. He was an air systems and cooling specialist for the space industry…but then all that pouring certainly took time, the time needed to cool things down. You remind me that I loved that little ritual, so HIM, his logical and methodical science.

    Like a previous commenter wrote, you had me at ” he folds away the newspaper before turning to smile at the small, barefoot disturbance running into his kitchen.”

    On reading the obits. I rarely read them. But once about ten years ago, I read one that caught my attention. Oh, I’m glad that for whatever reason I read them that Sunday, to share with my husband who made it a point to attend the related services. It was the one for my FIL’s best friend from the oilfield days.

    Beautiful writing on so many levels.

    • Georgette,

      I’m just so tickled by the juxtaposition here. Your well-educated father worked in the space industry and my immigrant, coal-mining grandfather never graduated eighth grade, but both men used the same basic process to cool their coffee and tea. Beyond that, both of them took the time to care for their children and grandchildren, and teach them – in even the smallest ways – about coping with life’s problems.

      I loved it when that phrase “barefoot disturbance” popped up. Sometimes, I haven’t a clue where these phrases come from, but now and then they just appear, and they’re sheer perfection. I did spend a little time trying to figure out: “barefoot” or “barefooted”? There are so many decisions to be made! “Who” or “whom” always stops me. Words I’ve spelled properly for years suddenly don’t look right.Should there be a comma there, or not? I’m getting educated, don’t you know?!

      As for that obituary you found, sometimes I wonder if we’re not somehow led to things we need to know. It could be serendipity, of course, or pure accident for all that. But it’s good that you found it, and the experience is another reminder to keep our eyes open.

      Linda

  18. What a perfect Mary Oliver poem, another way to look at your parallel universes.

    My sister and I would spend a summer week at my Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Retired farmers, they had moved off the farm and into town. Every afternoon they would sit down for coffee, and they poured a small cup for my sister and me. The coffee was way too hot for my virgin tongue, and each time I sipped, I would jerk, giving my sister the giggles. My Grandmother caught me struggling, and she then poured some of my coffee into a saucer so that it would cool faster. And then I could sip with a smooth inhalation — no more jerking. Thanks for bringing this special memory back to me this morning.

    So glad you’re not a goner yet. I would miss your storytelling.

    • Rosemary,

      I’ve yet to read an Oliver poem I don’t enjoy. I’ve not read any collections. I simply find them here and there, in blogs or websites, quoted or reprinted in full. To be frank, I’m not even sure where I came across this one. I just copied it and tucked it into my files, sure I could find a use for it.

      My weeks with Grandma and Grandpa were special, too. I wish I’d had a sibling to share them with – at least I think I do. Only children always long for a brother or sister, even if they’d only giggle at us.

      One thread runs through all these stories – the loving attention of the grandparents, the kind of attentiveness that noticed even the smallest thing, like too-hot coffee causing pain. What a blessing that attention was – I wish every child could have it.

      I’m glad I’m not a goner, too. I’ve got a lot of stories left to tell!

      Linda

  19. I love how you always have something to say — and you say it so well! I especially liked the beginning — the coffee. I didn’t do that — never have — but the times with my grands were indeed special. Nowadays it seems as though it is frowned upon to give a child coffee — at least here in the north, although in the south, I think it’s more prevalent. But you didn’t die. None of us did by doing the daring — well, most of us didn’t! These days I read the obits — and find I’m turning into my parents a little bit. Some good, some bad. All worth contemplating!

    I’m so glad I have this lovely spot to visit with your eloquent writing, thoughts and sharing (the Oliver is wonderful!)

    • jeanie,

      Oh, so many things are frowned on these days, and coffee is the least of them. When I think of the things we took for granted as children that have almost disappeared, it makes me sad. We could choose to be barefoot in the summer, even when we rode bicycles.We still could play dodgeball, and run down to the grade school on our own to play on the jungle gyms. There weren’t any organized team sports – we organized games ourselves. We had sparklers and penny candy and lemonade stands and bookmobiles. It was pretty much kid heaven.

      I know the world has changed, but sometimes I wonder if restrictions placed on kids today have less to do with the needs of the kids than with their parents’ neuroticism. This is my particular hot button, which I will now leave alone. ;)

      I think all of us turn into our parents to one degree or another. Or, to put it another way, the qualities of our parents that we’ve taken on begin to reveal themselves over time. Sometimes, i think others see them earlier than we do.

      What I have come to believe is that, if we learn to cope, we can cope with whatever comes along. Not that it’s always easy, but at least it’s possible. Thank goodness!

      Linda

  20. It’s a funny thing about obituaries… I’ve read mine more times than I can remember. Read about lives and families I have not lived. In towns and cities I’ve never visited. And each one has touched me in some way. They were all brought to me by the programmers at Google.

    Way back when, I set up a Google Alert for my own name. Over the years it has brought me links to obituaries, awards, news stories, and yes, even arrests by the multitude of guys out there in the world with the same name I was given at birth.

    When the first obit showed up I was a bit bemused to read about “my” death. But as the years have passed and I’ve read more about “my other lives”, I have come to look forward to the extended families I get to share.

    On the other hand, I too learned to enjoy coffee as teenager by saucer an’ blowing with my own grandparents.

    • Gary,

      What an extraordinary idea. I did a quick check, and it seems my name isn’t so common – only five of us in the US white pages – so I’d not be getting many alerts. But still – what fun to be kept abreast of your “twins” activities in the world. I vaguely remember a club of some sort for people with the same name. Honestly, I think the name is “Fred” or something equally common. It’s interesting how we do feel that strange connection with people we share names with.

      It’s been just as much fun to discover how many people have “saucered and blowed”. One of the best things about the practice is the need for a real cup and saucer – none of these paper-sleeved abominations from McDonalds or Starbucks. And of course, the practice slows us down a bit. I’ve seen a lot on Houston freeways, but I’ve yet to see someone saucer ‘n blow!

      Linda

  21. Sincere congratulations on a brilliant post Linda. I love it when you take us with you down memory lane – you’re such a skillful writer you even managed to include the wonderful Mary Oliver poem.

    Though I didn’t know my grandfathers, and when my mother read the Obits she didn’t share it with me (“not something for children”), my father always drank his breakfast “Postum” out of the saucer. Thank you for reminding me. Tears…

    • rosie,

      The older I get, the more I realize how lucky I am to have so many good memories. Many of them, like this one, aren’t about anything grand (well! except for my grandfather!) but they’re as enduring as any I have.

      I haven’t heard the word “Postum” in years. I didn’t realize it had been discontinued for a while. Now, it’s back. I’ll stick with my coffee, but if I ever need a caffeine-free substitute, it might be worth trying. If it was good enough for your father, it surely would be good enough for me!

      I have to tell you of something related to a place that holds wonderful memories for you. When the terrible Spanish train crash took place, I thought of you immediately because of the crash location in Santiago de Compostela.

      As it turns out, one of the Americans who died, Myrta Fariza, lived here in my area with her family. One of my friends is a member of their parish, and I believe is helping to coordinate some of the details of her service, which will be held next week. You can read about the family here. They had returned to Spain for a religious festival after their daughter’s wedding in Rome, but whether that was associated with the shrine at Compostela I don’t know.

      In any event, their sadness was a reminder of your wonderful pilgrimage there. It’s amazing how we’re so connected – a woman from my town dies in Spain and I think first of you, in California. We just never know.

      Linda

  22. Linda, you never fail to inspire me with your stories, and to make me in awe over the way you phrase them!

    As a former newspaper person (is there really such a thing??), I did my time writing obits. One day when I was working my first job, I made the calling circuit of the local funeral homes. To this day, I can still hear the person at the predominantly black funeral home telling me, “Brother So-and-So was promoted to Glory. . . ” My Yankee upbringing certainly hadn’t prepared me for such an expression!

    Loved the coffee ritual with your granddad. It reminds me of when I was little and would sit with Mom at the kitchen table, a cup of mostly milk and sugar with a tad of coffee splashed in before me. That made me feel so grown up!

    • Debbie,

      I love to be inspired by others’ work, so if I can bring a little of the same to you, I’m happy as can be.

      I laughed at your tale of the Brother who was promoted to glory. There are so many euphemisms for death. “Passed on” was the biggie in our town, but there were others – including “bought the farm”, which I suppose made sense in rural Iowa.

      Just like you, I was surprised a few years ago when I went over to Louisiana for a visit and met a fellow who’s spent most of his life researching the Civil War. He mentioned that someone had fought in “the War of Northern Aggression”. I was so astonished I didn’t even get offended – that was a first for me. Being taught about all that in Yankee schools, it never had crossed my mind that someone might have considered us the aggressor.

      I remember the milk, sugar and coffee concoction, too. One of our neighbors would give that to me when I went to visit. Not Grandpa – he took his black, so I did, too!

      Linda

  23. The alligator story made me smile and think of Crocodile Dundee.

    The bear standing on my chest elicited a similar response. Nature is great with lessons regarding our mortality and the need to live each moment. I always remember the lesson by Don Juan in Castenada where death sits on our left shoulder. Occasionally, if you turn your head fast enough, you can catch a glimpse.

    I had another thought. Your story about your grandfather reminded me of how important we are in the lives of our grandchildren.

    As always, you weave a fascinating tale, Linda, full of lessons for life. –Curt

    • Curt,

      Do you know, I’ve never seen Crocodile Dundee. Its initial release was in 1986, the year I was heading back to Liberia for six weeks, so that explains that. But I’ve never caught up with it. It’s on the list now.

      Speaking of Aussies, have you read Paul Theroux’s “The Happy Isles of Oceania”? It’s his tale of kayaking across the Pacific, albeit with the occasional assist from an airline. You surely have read his books – you travel like him.

      I was thinking about you while I was writing this, so happy you’d be seeing your grandchildren. There are several bloggers I read who sometimes sound just a bit apologetic for talking about their grandkids and the time they spend with them. They shouldn’t – grandparents offer a special and unique relationship to children. They aren’t just babysitters or “old parents” – they’re something else. I can’t quite define it, so I’ll just tell stories about it.

      Speaking of that bear, I’m eager to catch up with you. The last I saw, you were re-telling some life lessons of your own.

      Linda

      • Hi Linda… Paul Theroux has always been one of my favorite authors. Yes, I have read The Happy Isles and now I am reading Dark Star, the story of his return to Africa, where he too had served as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

        I don’t blog about the grandkids a lot, but I do when they are included in our adventures. I struggle a little with the concept of “grandparent” when that is how we are defined. I agree with you it is an important role, but I want the kids to realize it is only one of many.

        Bears and I go way back. :) Except for them getting my food once, all of my encounters have had happy endings.

        –Curt

        • You know what’s funny? When I was a kid, I thought my grandparents were old! Now, I look at the people I know who have grandchildren (or even great-grandchildren) and think, “My gosh, they’re so young!” I suppose that’s my inner thirty-six-year-old speaking. ;)

          • Sometimes I can even hear my inner ten year old speaking if I listen carefully… (grin)

  24. The older I get the more pleased I am that I’m still here. In younger days it was “of course!” but now it’s more “thank goodness!” Ha!

    • The Bug,

      Isn’t it just the truth? And I hope it stays “thank goodness!” forever. I’ve known a few people who lost their taste for living, and it’s not a pretty thing.

      I’ll grant you there are some days when it takes more than a cup of coffee and a browse of the interwebs to be really, truly sure I’m still in the land of the living, but even if all else is faililng, I still have Dixie yowling in my ear to remind me there are things to be done – like fill that food bowl!

      Linda

  25. “to see the world as it really is…”
    That’s the purpose of wilderness. And there’s still time: we are still alive.

    • What a delightful story of your relationship with your grandpa, & your observance of the natural world…having a cavalier attitude towards death sounds like a good example for a child…the whole business perhaps easier to accept when she reaches adulthood?

      • Monica,

        I wouldn’t say Grandpa was cavalier about death. He just wasn’t afraid of it. When we found a baby bird that had fallen from the nest and died, we always buried it in a flower bed rather than throwing it away – and he always gave me the “honor” of picking it up.

        There’s no question that those early experiences contributed to my comfort with keeping Mom’s ashes at home for six months after her death. I tucked her in with her African violets, and from what I could tell she was perfectly happy.

        When I took her ashes to Iowa for burial, her knitting friends created a drawstring bag for the box, and I was comfortable both holding it during the short ceremony, then placing it in the ground. Of course I grieved. Of course the experience was painful – but it felt just as right as burying those baby birds. Ashes to ashes, as they say.

        Linda

    • montucky,

      That’s right. The point of being alive isn’t just to be alive, it’s to do something worthwhile, something creative and productive with the time we’ve been given. Sensitizing people to the beauty and value of the wilderness is just one task – but it’s a hugely important one.

      Linda

  26. Linda; What a charming post and a delightful lead in! Always!

    I had never encountered ‘saucered and blowed’ before…at least that I remember. My husband is a bit of a coffee wimp and so he’ll plunk a cube of ice into his cup if hotter than his liking. This definitely renews thoughts on the importance of grandparents in the lives of their grandchildren. I regret being so far from mine but try to make time together very special. The Mary Oliver poem is perfect and try as I might to have ‘situational awareness’ when shooting; I’ve been surprised by the cool gaze of a gator I didn’t know was so close or a splash a bit too near for not knowing.

    Thanks for putting a little perspective into our harried world.

    • Judy,

      I’ve not thought about the ice cube trick in ages. It’s effective, for sure, but results in weakened coffee. The solution would be to make coffee ice cubes. I used to do that for iced coffee, but for hot I add milk or cream. A bag of “coffee cubes” would be handy to keep around – I should do that again.

      I was thinking this afternoon about the things my grandmother taught me. I learned from her how to embroider and how to can veggies. I’d sit on the front porch and help when she snapped beans or shucked corn with her friends, I still make her pie crust – no recipe needed! – and sew buttons on exactly as she did. Can you imagine? We filled up our days with such things, and every lesson “took”.

      Of course I thought about you, FeyGirl and Phil when I wrote this – especially when I read the Oliver poem. All of you “swamp dwellers” have to learn the habits of gators, and how to recognize their presence. I can’t tell you how many times, in the beginning, someone would point and say, “There! THERE!” and I still couldn’t see the alligator. I’m a little better now.

      Here’s a photo from my last trip. This fellow could put things into perspective in a hurry!

      Linda

      • Even trying to be observant when shooting in swampy areas, it is easy to look around, then get that ethereal egret in your viewfinder, concentrating, then somehow awareness of a pair of golden slitted eyes peering at you from the surface of the pond. Always a startlement!!

        You are reminding me of time with my grandmother in Coral Gables who was such a crafty person with sewing pillows and comforter covers. She had a chest of drawers with little compartments full of ribbons, buttons, fabric samples, angels, birds, and manner of tiny decorative things for Christmas decorating. She could have been a Diamonds store all by herself. I loved going into those drawers and getting the best ribbons and little doodads for decorating wrapped packages. That was fun!! She was also a superb cook. As a general’s wife entertained in ways that can only be described as pre Martha Stewart I guess. She filled lemon skins with jello and sliced them cool, and dyed cabbage in vats for decorations. I personally liked the Boodles Gin enfused with cranberries she did one year. Maybe she knew about saucering a blowing though I do not recollect it coming up. She grew up in Tennessee and did southern breakfasts with fish…who does fish for breakfast? Nice to remember both sets of grand parents!!

        The thing with the obits is actually very interesting and I think healthy…and the more I think about your title the more I think the whole thrust of this post.

        • Actually, Zeebra who comments here has posted about fish for breakfast in South America – Ecuador especially, I think. I like crab for brunch, especially as it’s done at my favorite place in Galveton: English muffin, lump crab, poached egg and a spiced Hollandaise. So good!

          I loved my grandmother’s button boxes and jars. And there were all the cigar boxes filled with bits of lace, and snaps, and bias tape. Who saves any of that any more? Who even knows what bias tape is?

          Just for grins, I went over to Phil’s blog again tonight and looked through his “gator gallery”. My, my. It’s true – some of those photos make very clear that you don’t get to see much more than that pair of eyes looking at you. I wonder how long it takes to get relatively comfortable in that environment? Years, I would think.

  27. How very beautiful, Linda. We all need reminding from time to time that we are still here and the world is fresh if we choose to see it in that light. I have had a few of those moments, when could have happened didn’t. Thrown by a wild horse and kicked in the head by another, hit by a car on my bicycle, falling from a cliff, and others. Lined up here, as these incidents are, I feel like “Pauline”. Yet, I survived and I am still here.

    Thank you for reminding me to see life with new eyes. It is so precious.

    • Lynda,

      You’re so right. We can’t always control what happens to us, but we have a good bit of control over how we respond. Even though some of the events you listed had to be painful and/or frightening, the comparison between your list and mine tickled me.Yours is more “country”, while my list is more “city” – I had a hit-and-run driver, a dude with a crowbar, a mugger, and so on. But just like you, I survived.

      Your mention of Pauline set me to giggling. Did you ever see the silent film about her perils? It’s pretty good, and I always enjoyed the Dudley Do-Right cartoons with Nell and Snidely Whiplash, but the song made famous by the Coasters is still the best take-off, in my opinion. It’s another way of making the point, with a little added humor – life is precious.

      Linda

  28. This post definitely “saucered and blowed” – hadn’t heard that phrase since my dad died.
    This was especially an good comparison that brings us multiple images: ” I ripple the muddy, steaming pond with my breath.” We lived in areas with real muddy ponds that rippled – and had that dented pot on the back burner.
    Justa terrific post (Don’t know what tags you are using, but your posts fit the WPLongform tag – that group has longer posts worth savoring – might be a good fit?)

    • phil,

      Chalk up another midwestern-eastTex connection!

      On the other hand, saucered and blowed isn’t going to make much sense in a society that doesn’t use saucers. I had breakfast with a friend at Skipper’s this morning, and we were noting that our coffee came in mugs, no saucers. The next thing you know, we were talking about the days when it was common to “dress up” to go to town. Who knows? Maybe saucer-loss is the real reason for the decline of Western Civilization!

      What I know for sure is this – those dented pots make darned good coffee. We actually had two. One was a three-piece aluminum drip pot, and the other was a big white enamelware pot for making boiled coffee. Both of them made a better cup than Mr. Coffee.

      I did use #Longform once, when they first introduced it, and then I promptly forgot about it. Good idea – thanks!

      Linda

  29. As per philosophermouseofthehedge, above, your Task at Hand blog deserves to be in a category all its own, “Worth Savoring”. Thank you for this one…

    • Lindy Lee,

      I really do appreciate your comment. Finding something that can be savored is special, and creating something that someone thinks worth savoring is even more special. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      Linda

  30. One of your finest, Linda. What wonderful nostalgia, and your descriptive passages are superb. I was sharing your morning coffee with you and your Grandpa, and wishing those sleepy days could be repeated for you. I saved this post until I had time to savor it, knowing it would again be something special.

    Our childhood memories are life-shapers. Some are more interesting than others, as are our adult lives, but we choose our paths and hope for the best. I check out the obits in our small local paper to see who I know this week, and occasionally a familiar name will pop up. At 85 and 87, I know that some will find our names among the missing sooner rather than later, but there’s still a lot of living to be done, and since I never gave “the passing knell” much thought 20 years ago, why should I do so now?

    • Kayti,

      If you felt as though you were sharing coffee with Grandpa and me, I’m happy. That’s what I wanted to do – bring folks in, show them what it was like for me and help evoke memories of their own special childhood days.

      When we’re children, we don’t realize how deeply we are being shaped. Only later, with the passage of time, are we able to appreciate the routines and crises that helped to make us who we are. It’s a truism for a reason, I suppose: life is lived forward, but understood backward.

      As for all that living still to be done – absolutely. To be frank, I’ve known people who appeared to be dead at forty, even though they were holding down an acceptable job and raising a family. On the other hand, there’s an old (“Don’t you call me elderly, young lady!”)
      woman who lives in the assisted living facility across the road from me who’s out and about in her electrical wheelchair nearly every day.
      She’ll park under a tree and read, or trundle a block down the street to a wooded, brushy area, where she bird-watches.

      As she says, “At 94 my eyesight isn’t quite what it was, but I’ll be danged if I’m going to die watching bad television or an iV drip.”

      Now, that’s a role model.

      Linda

  31. “As Grandpa said, we’re not goners yet – and every day is a new day, waiting to be lived.” Would it were true for us all, but then, the lesson is to grasp fully the days we have.

    • Susan,

      But isn’t it true for all of us? Every time our feet hit the floor we get another whack at it – how we dispose of our time and energy is for us to decide. But of course that’s your point. Moving from carping about life to “carpe diem” is a lifetime project!

      Linda

  32. How easily beauty conceals threats of the world..So very true.. Thank you for sharing your gift with us..

    • Roberta,

      I love that you picked up on that line. It is true, and whether we’re a child looking at a coral snake and saying, “Oh, pretty!” or an adult tempted by the superficial charms of a person who is, in fact, a snake in the grass, there are lessons to be learned.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post – thank you for your comment.

      Linda

  33. Linda,

    My mind is remarkably receptive today, and responsive, too. After having a late breakfast and just-right mug of tea (yes, mug), I sat down in front of my computer, no translations pending. Nothing seemed attractive, but I still chose to sit. The first page I opened was your blog, because I liken you to the relentlessness pursuit of goodness — not perfection, but plain, simple, goodness. What you have written here is a tool I’d like to work with every time the fuzz inside my head lifts up for a bit, and gives me room to see that my obituary, thankfully, is not yet written, and that I can. As long as I let myself, that is.

    Thank you.

    Priya

    • Priya,

      Not so very long ago, a blog friend and I had a back-and-forth about my tagline. Why, she wondered, a search for the “right” word rather than the “perfect” word. I’m still not able to explain my decision about that choice very well, but your comment is like a sideways glance toward my meaning: the pursuit of goodness in writing and remembering always is worthwhile.

      Also: plain and simple resonate deeply for me, especially when it comes to language. That doesn’t mean a two hundred word vocabulary or bad grammar, but there’s no question “fancy” and “complicated” can be used to hide meaning as much as to reveal it.

      I’m beginning to think Flannery O’Connor was right when she said,
      “The fact is that anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days. If you can’t make something out of a little experience, you probably won’t be able to make it out of a lot.”

      There’s a lot we can do, all of us – as long as we let ourselves.

      Linda

  34. Obits as history, yes, that is how I view those I come across in newspapers that provide a small bio for well-known people who’ve died. Of course, I always wonder what others would say of me after I’m gone, but, then, I’m not sure I really care about that!

    I like how some cultures celebrate death by having its very own day and visiting the cemeteries, cleaning up the graves of loved ones, and having a picnic whilst talking to the dear departed! That’s so healthy! Lovely post, linda!

    PS: I too liked to drink from my saucer, as a youngster.

    • janina,

      While growing up, I’d occasionally hear the phrase, “You shouldn’t speak ill of the dead”. I can’t be certain, but I have a feeling the phrase usually popped up after a nice round of “ill-speaking”. I learned the most interesting things about grownups after they were gone! I suppose there’s always a gap between the reality of a person’s life and how it shows up in print, but sometimes the gap was particularly noticeable.

      My mother used to say, “Never mind the flowers and fancy words after I’m gone. Bring me a bouquet now!” That’s a practical woman, don’t you think? Historians and biographers have to wait until a person’s gone to begin their work, but the rest of us? We need to have our say now.

      I love the ceremonies associated with cemeteries, too. For us, it always was a Memorial Day custom to visit family graves and plant flowers, but of course here in Texas it’s Dia de los Muertos/All Souls’ Day that is so culturally important. It’s a lovely, intimate time, binding the living with each other and with the dead – the communion of saints, as the Church has it.

      Linda

  35. So much in this post, it has stayed with me for a few days. I love the unhurriedness of your grandpa and his regular coffee and obit ritual which he included you in. It’s made me think of my grandpa too, at this time of year he grew tomatoes in his greenhouse and my grandma used to fry them up in butter and put them on toast for our breakfast. Then we’d do the same outing as the previous year: pack the lunch, catch the bus and off on a familiar adventure.

    It’s also made me think of a few incredibly foolish things I have done and lived to tell the tale. Phew. I won’t be using the days I have left for anything as risky! But looking at the world anew – I’ll settle for that every day, as much as I can.

    How interesting that a poem was written about exactly the same experience as you had with your friend! I imagine all that watery stillness and quiet lulls you into a false sense of security.

    Really enjoyed it.

    • thinkingcowgirl,

      I’ve never heard of tomatoes and toast for breakfast, but I wouldn’t refuse it! Our favorite summertime supper was bacon and tomato sandwiches on toast, but if we didn’t want to bother with frying up the bacon, we’d just have sliced tomatoes on our toast, with a little mayo. Well, and lettuce for the lettuce-eaters, but that wasn’t me.

      As for all that stillness and quiet – yes. Plus, even an alligator can almost literally disappear into the land/waterscape. Phil Lanoue’s wonderful photo of an alligator at sunset shows how.

      As for foolishness, I suspect some of yours was associated with travel, as was mine. And yet – think of all the people who spend their lives avoiding as much risk as possible, who then meet their end by fluke or freak accident, while going about their ordinary days. When I ran into Jimmy Buffett, I knew he had the right perspective on such things.

      Linda

      • I’d rather die living, than live while I’m dead…hear hear :)

        Yes you’re right it was mostly travelling…though one episode did involve rescuing a cat on the side of a high rise building in London…this one still makes me shudder. For a CAT!!

        It’s all very tame here re animals…no stealthy gators to surprise you like the beautiful one in the picture. The worst thing is probably a wasp sting…though a few people get killed by cows every year!…only people with dogs though.

        Tomatoes on toast is very popular – on every ‘greasy spoon’ cafe menu the breadth of the land. In fact any thing on toast…though the greasy spoon is a somewhat threatened species these days.

        Thanks!

        • And then there are those dedicated researchers in the Dept of Food Science at Leeds, who “spent more than 1,000 hours testing 700 variations on the traditional bacon sandwich.”

          You can see the recipe and such here. They even have a formula. Oh, those scientists.

          But here’s an idle thought. You have tomato sandwiches and bacon butties. We have the bacon and tomato sandwich. Is it possible that way back when, some colonist couldn’t make up his mind which to have, and combined them? It’s a fun thought.

  36. Loved the clutter-free blog theme and blog content. Great to get find this blog…had a peaceful reading :)

    • chinmayi,

      I’m glad you stopped by. Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m glad you like the theme, too. It’s an old one that WordPress doesn’t offer now, but they still support it. I’m glad – I’ve liked it from the beginning.

      Please do feel free to stop by and read and comment again. You’re always welcome!

      Linda

  37. You know how I always enjoy reading you, Linda. With this post you offered us more than words : there were sweet images, the kind that bring back memories, the scent of coffee, how it can burn your tongue as you drink it too hot, the sound of the pages as you read a newspaper, the tender complicity of this ritual… I thoroughly enjoy this post. Thank you.

    • Isa,

      What a wonderfully descriptive phrase you’ve used: “tender complicity”. That’s it, exactly. I can hear my grandmother saying to me, “Now, don’t be bothering Grandpa”, and saying to him, “Now, don’t be giving that child coffee”. Of course I promised not to be a bother, and he promised to keep his coffee to himself, and everyone – including Grandma – knew what was going on.

      I loved those mornings, as much as I enjoyed the evenings, when I’d busy myself catching fireflies while Grandma and Grandpa sat on the porch, not saying a word but perfectly at ease. It took me a few decades before I knew the phrase for that: “companionable silence”.

      I’m glad I stirred some memories for you.

      Linda

  38. I’ve just been to a memorial today for a friend’s father who passed away two weeks ago. Just a small room rented at the Canadian Legion (WWII veterans), and family and friends sat at long tables, talking, taking pictures, eating, two small tables of pictures and letters etc. set up at a corner for viewing, reminiscing, interesting tidbits, b/w pics of historical values of WWII. My friend’s father was in the Battle of Dieppe, a well-known battle with lots of Canadian casualties.

    Anyway, the drop-in type of attendance in that small room was so casual, no service, nothing fearful about the passing, everyone taking it very easily, naturally, chatting away, toddlers crawling on the floor, people introducing themselves among each other… I like that. Somehow, I’m not afraid of death per se, but the dealing with death by the living. All the mourning, the rituals, the ceremonies to me are what make me very uncomfortable. And that’s what give me anxiety even thinking about it.

    • Arti,

      I’ve heard of the Battle of Dieppe but really didn’t know anything about it. I just read a brief summary – what a tragic event. Soon, none of the veterans of those battles will be with us. I found myself pondering the role that our generation will have to take on, if such things are to be remembered.

      Despite my grandfather’s attitude, I grew up where mourning was taken seriously and proper funeral etiquette was observed. There weren’t long periods of mourning. No one draped photos in black, that sort of thing. But it was assumed that everyone would wear black to the funerals, that there would be a visitation prior to the funeral, and that calls would be made on the family to pay respects.

      Today, there have been some changes, and I think most of them are good. I think an open casket for visitation is fine, but I’m happier with a closed casket for the service. More and more people are saying, “Please – no flowers”. A few are fine. Piles of abandoned dead flowers are a waste.

      I’ve had my own times of being uncomfortable at funerals, so I understand your discomfort. On the other hand, I think ritual and ceremony are helpful for some. Maybe this is the best way to say it. When I was growing up, many people assumed there was a “right way” to have a funeral. I think today, there’s for freedom for people to grieve in their own way – and that’s what’s important.

      Linda

  39. I so enjoyed reading this post. it’s interesting about Obits. My mother used to read them in The NY Times every day, a habit I began to imitate at a fairly youthful age. Then, I dropped it when my own life became filled with thoughts of my own death and my feeling that life was too hard, etc. I was 28-almost 29. Then, when I got into a better frame of mind, having spent years working on doing that, I picked up the Obit habit once again, though not quite so religiously.

    I loved the story of your Grandfather and his loving gesture of sharing the blown-on coffee with you..So very dear.
    Your writing is very engaging and truly wonderful, and I also found all the writing of your lovely visitors quite wonderful too!

    Thanks so much for stopping by my blog and your lovely comment about Cacti. I have written a lot about these special plants because my whole Garden is all Cactus and Succulents. So very happy to find a fellow enthusiast! They are very addictive plants!

    • OldOldLady,

      It makes perfect sense to me that you’d drop the obits from your reading list if you were dealing with your own life issues. I have a friend who once said to someone, “I have my own troubles. I don’t need yours!” I think sometimes that’s how it is with Death. We just need to tell him to scoot along and leave us alone – we have other things to do. ;)

      Grandpa was a sweetie. One reason he was around the house so much was that he was injured in a slate fall in the coal mine, and took early retirement. It was to my benefit, that’s for sure.

      Aren’t all these comments wonderful? I’ve always thought that any blog entry should just be a starting point – I love hearing what others think. What’s most fun is that a dozen comments can go in a dozen directions. Everyone seems to pick up on what’s most important to them.

      It’s just such fun having you stop by. As I said, you’re always welcome, and I’m looking forward to learning a lot from you about the cacti!

      Linda

  40. Seeing the world as it really is and loving it more—your putting an insignificance to how many times it takes is very uplifting to this late bloomer!

    My coffee ritual began with my mom giving me a little and explaining why she didn’t put sugar in hers—sugar was for the boys at the front and she never resumed sweetening her coffee after the war. Well, I wanted to be patriotic, too, and drank my 1/8 cup without sugar. To this day, don’t put your spoon where you stirred your sweetened coffee in my cup. I’ll taste it. Yuck!

    • Claudia,

      Oh, believe me – I know whereof I speak when it comes to that business of giving it one more try. Besides – in case you haven’t noticed – the late bloomers still are nodding in the breeze while the early ones have faded and gone to seed!

      Not so long ago I passed on some family memorabilia to my aunt, including ration coupons. Honestly, there are times I’m glad my parents and grandparents aren’t alive today to see some of the foolishness that’s going on. They lived on so little, and sacrificed so much during the Depression and the War. I’ve read the letter my mother’s mother wrote to her sister when Mom was graduating from 8th grade. They were trying to figure out how to afford enough fabric to make her a dress for graduation. Gas rationing, flour and sugar rationing – all of it. People today just don’t have a clue.

      But! I take my coffee black or with just a little cream, so I’ll not threaten your cup. It’s amazing that you’re so sensitive to the taste of sugar – but it was important to you as a child, and what was important to us in those years lingers.

      Linda

  41. I read this to H and he said he’d have to change his pants if he got that close to an alligator. That must have scared the living daylights out of you. It’s true, we need to see the world as it is and do the best we can with it. Better to know where the buggers are than to be eaten.

    Love the part about you and your grandpa. I know he loved those moments with you, and here you are sharing it with us. My dad reads the obits every single day. When he finishes, he always says, “Didn’t see my name. I must still be alive.”

    Thanks, Linda.

    • Bella Rum,

      I just knew it. I knew that you Dad would be one who says, “Didn’t see my name. I must still be here.” Every time I think about that birthday party and that wonderful cake, it just makes me happy. No one knows where things will be a year down the road, but that celebration was wonderful.

      I started thinking about H and alligators and the first thing that came to mind was that old saying: “When you’re up to you a** in alligators, the first thing to do is drain the swamp.” I saw him on that ladder, dealing with the crepe myrtle, de-grubbing the property, toodling off for an AC unit, and so on, and so forth. Tell him again he’s a good man, just in case he’s forgotten.

      But yes – better to know where those critters are. Even if you’ve only got a general sense, it can be helpful. Who wants to pack all that extra underwear? ;-)

      Linda

  42. Your stories of such casual conversations about people moving on conjured up memories of my mom relating stories of her own youth, of a sister who simply slumped over their mother one afternoon and died (aneurysm?) or of young children who simply didn’t survive childhood illnesses.

    That poem! So vivid. I loved the “tail flailing like a bundle of swords”. And that shaking realization of the real world.

    • nikkipolani,

      One of the great revelations to me since I’ve begun prowling cemeteries is the number of graves for infants and young children. We forget that “modern medicine” isn’t all that modern, and only a hundred years ago diseases many of our contemporaries haven’t heard of were decimating populations.

      When I was in Liberia, there was a saying: “Don’t name your children until the measles has passed”. There were a good many two and three year old children running around named for the day of the week on which they were born – until it was certain they had survived one of the worst of the diseases. (The under-fives mortality rate when I was there was around 50%.)

      Isn’t the poem wonderful? I truncated it because the last stanza wasn’t so relevant to my post. Here’s the final section.

      “The water, that circle of shattered glass,
      healed itself with a slow whisper
      and lay back
      with the back-lit light of polished steel,
      and the birds, in the endless waterfalls of the trees,
      shook open the snowy pleats of their wings, and drifted away,
      while, for a keepsake, and to steady myself,
      I reached out,
      I picked the wild flowers from the grass around me—
      blue stars
      and blood-red trumpets
      on long green stems—
      for hours in my trembling hands they glittered
      like fire.”

      Linda

      • Oh, thank you for the rest, Linda. I find myself drifting in and out of reading the words with my eyes and seeing the visions in my mind’s eye.

  43. Your story about your grandfather and the coffee ritual flared an old memory back into life. My father would pour some tea (coffee hadn’t reached Australian life back then) into his saucer to cool it – and I’ve never seen or heard of others doing this until now! I can still see his favourite cup – one of substantial dimensions and a saucer deep enough to contain the fluid but that would still perform the task of cooling it. My mother was not impressed with this behaviour, and I suspect her stuffy English background had much to do with her disapproval.

    I’d like to stand in defence of saucers and mourn their decline in this age of mugs. Saucers were always used when testing the setting of jam, obviously because the jam cooled quickly and that was important to ensure the jam wasn’t overcooked. Yes, some mugs can be found with ‘caps’ but of course the saucer was very useful to put over top of a cup to slow it’s rate of cooling at times.
    I love the stories that come from here :-)

    • eremophila,

      This is pure speculation on my part, but I wonder if the automobile isn’t partly responsible for the loss of the saucer.

      I vaguely remember the beginnings of the “go cup”. Before cup holders were integrated into the design of cars, there were detachable holders that hooked onto this or that. Of course they accepted only a cup or mug – no place for a saucer in a car! And before you could say “regular or decaf?”, folks were pouring a cup and not even sitting down before hitting the road, coffee in hand.

      There were other practicalities involved. We lived across from a family who owned a small restaurant in town. Dad used to go there for coffee in the morning, and I remember when the move was made from cups and saucers to mugs. The reason? Cost! All those saucers filled up the dishwasher and made it necessary to run more loads.

      All of which is to say I agree with you. Matching cups and saucers are one of those little grace notes of life – they deserve a place at the table.

      I love that your grandfather was part of the great saucer n’ blow army! Isn’t it amazing how many customs seem to have developed independently around the world? We know about the Earl of Sandwich – I wonder who the first person was to saucer and blow?

      Thanks for sharing your memories!

      Linda

  44. Delightful reading as always. And full of life’s wisdom. Thank you

    • Désirée,

      How nice to see you! And I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. It’s the little things of life that often teach the largest lessons – and do it with humor and grace.

      Linda

  45. Your writing is lovely, and I’m grateful we found each other. :)

    And the poem you include…
    “this isn’t a poem about foolishness
    but about how I rose from the ground and saw the world as if for the second time,
    the way it really is…”

    This seems a reflection of my journey over the last year and a half. Now I am standing again and see clearly, and now I can look forward instead of back.

    Thanks.

    • Melanie,

      Thanks so much for stopping by – I just happened by your place, and had to smile. While Grandpa and I were having our coffee, it’s entirely likely that Grandma was working her quilts.

      The poem’s not just beautiful, but true. I suppose it’s just as well we don’t keep count of the number of times we have to haul ourselves up off the ground. As long as we have the will and the strength to do it, we’re blessed.

      I tend to be a free associator, and what you said about “seeing clearly” reminded me of one of my favorite songs. Here’s to looking forward!

      Linda

      • Thanks for the song. I do the same — every phrase has a song associated with it! Or some other reference.

        Oh heck, I’m gonna cry…

        • I hope you’re smiling by now! Isn’t it wonderful that we’re capable of emotions – of all sorts?

  46. I’ve been out of town and disconnected, so I’ve savored this piece upon return to everyday life on the bayou this Monday morning.

    I can picture this scene of a little girl called Sunshine and her saucer-sipping grandfather. Pretty sure I recognize that bank in the first photo, but then again, they are all so similar down here. And not to be critical, only curious, as to where you found the spelling of Caillou with a “t”?

    This piece is probably at the top of my list of favorites where your offerings are concerned. Life seems to have become more of a burden to me as of late–more worry-filled, approached with hesitation and anxiety, without hope for today, much less the future. Maybe I need to have a close encounter of the gator kind so that I too can say I’ve risen from the ground to look at life the second time. Except I don’t want to see it how it really is, I want to see life was I want to live it.

    I do love this piece, Linda. You continue to be my favorite writing genius.

    • Bayou Woman,

      I saw where you’ve been, too – nothing wrong with cuising the Atchafalaya. On the other hand – August? Well, sometimes things just have to happen when they have to happen. It sounds like you had a good time.

      I haven’t a clue about that “t” in Caillou. I went back and looked at the captions on my photos, and I had it right, there. Who knows? But I’ve corrected it here, thanks to you.

      I’m not surprised you recognize that bank. I cropped it down a good bit – this photo has a bit of the old deck that was left at what must have been a camp. I just was looking at the map again – we had come over on Falgout Canal Road, then dropped down to Shrimpers’ Row, went back north, and went down Grand Caillou where it parallels Shrimpers’ Row on the other side of the bayou. We went down to 4 Point, too, but I know it wasn’t along that road.

      The next time I come over, I’m going to have to take better notes – or at least tag my photos better. The only thing I’m absolutely sure I could find again is Schmoopy’s!

      Oh, gosh. Don’t we all wish we got a little more of life the way we’d like it to be? Of course, sometimes hesitation and anxiety is just a form of reasonable caution. You’ve had so much on your plate I can imagine deciding where to put your energies and trying to sort out the future could be pretty overwhelming.

      One of these days I’ll get over there, and we’ll pass a good time. Until then, how about this for a little pick-me-up? Never forget what’s worth preserving, cher!

      Linda

  47. Another wonderful read.

    My granddad did the same, but it was cold, stewed tea he drank out of the saucer, not hot, aromatic coffee. He worked nights under ground on the coal face, and his morning ritual was to drink the cold tea that grandma had left in the pot from the night before, stewing on the fire hearth, from a deep saucer.
    I am afraid I never joined him in the ritual. It was thick enough to “put hairs on your chest” as we would say here.

    My other grandma used to read the birth, marriages and obituary pages, calling them ‘hatches, matches and dispatches’!

    As to each day waiting to be lived . Towards the end of my dad’s life, before he got dementia, he would awaken and then thank God for giving him another day to enjoy.

    • Sandi,

      I just love that – “hatches, matches and dispatches”! Honestly, there was so much creativity in language, so much word play going on among our elders. Today? Kids are whizzes when it comes to these electronic gadgets, but creative? Maybe, but it’s different.

      “Stewed tea” is a phrase I’ve never heard, but the idea’s familiar. My mother was capable of drinking leftover cold coffee. I just couldn’t understand how she could bear it. She once said it wasn’t that she liked it so much – it was just easier than brewing a fresh pot. Oh, my. In her latter years she got that problem solved, though. I’d go down in the morning and get the pot ready so all she had to do was push the button when she got up. :-)

      I think we all could profit by following your dad’s example. Sometimes the enjoyment’s a little hard to find, but there’s always something to delight our hearts – like your baby birds that you posted at Pros’s blog. (I was going to give them their proper name, but then I’d be setting myself up for disreputable fellows showing up through their google searches for… well, you know!)

      Linda

      • Linda, you could always call them ‘Cyanistes caeruleus’, their scientific name. I doubt many would be searching for that! lol

        Having something to enjoy each day prevents boredom, then depression, setting in. Even if it is only watching the birds, drinking ‘good’ coffee or having friends to chat to.

        • One of the best changes I’ve seen in nursing homes and assisted living facilities is the substitution of birds for fish. Down here at least, the ubiquitous aquarium is giving way to wonderful installations where birds -usually finches – can be watched through their life cycle: mating, building nests, raising babies. There are people whose business it is to tend to the installations, which are often quite large. They provide so much entertainment to the indoors-bound.

  48. As always, what a sweet and beautiful writing…
    And of course I had to guffaw loudly at the “Was it a gator?” It’s a common fear among my family, for sure, with me — wink.

    • FeyGirl,

      When I was in junior high, a book came out called “Where Did You Go? Out. What Did You Do? Nothing”. Somehow I can imagine you and your folks having that little dialogue over the years – and of course all of you knew the real answers! You’d been “out there” – in the swamp, or the bay, or the gullies – doing what observers do. In a word: observing! (The book’s by Robert Paul Smith, and it’s a wonderful evocation of a much freer time.)

      After the discussion I listened to about bull sharks and tiger sharks on the outdoor show this morning, I might rather explore the swamp than go wade fishing in our bays! I heard some pretty amazing tales of sharks grabbing stringers, dumping kayaks and so on. But it’s the same with alligators and sharks – they were there first!

      Linda

      • So very true…. SO true. :)

  49. We say:
    “I wasn’t born yesterday!”
    To imply that we understand something of our world.
    “I didn’t die yesterday!”
    To me implies something of hope and self awareness.
    There are very few Gators around here
    But stories of bear encounters abound.

    • Ken,

      I’ve been reading the tales of a fellow who’s backpacked extensively in the American West, and traveled a good bit in your part of the county. Alaska, too. In one entry, he was comparing the number of bears in a given area to the number of people, making the point that if you get out and about at all, you’re going to sight a bear. Sometimes, things get even more up-close and personal.

      I’ve been trying to think about my growing up days in Iowa, and what threats we faced. There weren’t many. There were badgers, which could be pretty nasty, and occasional rumors of a bobcat, but that was about it. Now, the buffalo herds are increasing, but you pretty much know when a buffalo is around. They’re not able to lurk with the same efficiency as an alligator!

      Linda

      • We call these encounter stories “Grizzly Bear” stories though very few people I know have actually seen a Grizzly.
        Your mention of Badgers reminded me of the time I did not see nor hear one and was supremely pleased it turned out that way:
        Once upon a time I was a twelve year old boy.
        My closest friend lived about a kilometer away and we spent endless hours on Fortune Creek in the North Okanagan Valley, B.C.
        He was four years older so by this time he had moved on to girl friends and cars and I had the creek pretty much to myself.
        There was (and still is) a fifty foot cliff of clay which the little creek kept steep by hauling any fallen clay away from the base during spring flooding.
        That particular year all the base of the “Clay Bank” had been scoured away and higher sections had fallen exposing the older clay.
        A few feet above the water was the mouth of a tunnel.
        When I climbed up to peer in the tunnel led straight in to the bank and was more than large enough to crawl in so I went back home, found a flashlight and slithered in to the hole face first.
        Eight or ten feet in the tunnel took a right turn and a few feet further on it swung off to the left.
        I was starting to think about what exactly I was slithering toward and inspected the tunnel walls. There were gouges in the clay that implied some fairly large claws.
        Though I wanted badly to see what was around the next bend my ability to slither backward around corners was untried.
        I retreated. When I took my former buddy back to show off the tunnel the clay had slumped again and covered the opening.

        • Well. The first bit of good news is that you didn’t meet the owner of those claws. The second bit of good news is that you got out of there before the clay slumped. I wonder if the critter did? I suppose it wouldn’t have made so much difference to a badger or whatever – but then again, I’ve never really studied up on the conditions that make a badger really happy.

          I read a brief article earlier this week about a young boy who saved a little girl who was tunneling in sand. That’s even more iffy, and the sand bank did collapse on her. The boy got her out and kept up CPR until the grownups & etc. arrived.

          I suppose we don’t have to worry about such things in the intertunnels, although they have their own sort of dangers. ;)

          • Since you have a new post up and running (a fine one too!) I will assume “The Feather” here for a moment:
            The “Clay Bank” is probably what geologists call Kame Terrace:

            http://www.landforms.eu/cairngorms/kame%20terrace.htm

            My take:
            It was laid down as the main glaciation of the valley retreated in the order of 10,000 years ago. Eventually Fortune Creek sculpted the deposit to form the cliff.
            Some time ago something excavated the tunnel which was only noticeable once for less than a month in the 15 or so years I would have played there.
            I don’t think any animal could have built such a den in the time frame so even back then I imagined there would be no current living original inhabitant.
            As I paused at the right turn in the tunnel it did occur to me that if I could crawl in there so could any number of other small creatures.

            • Let’s revise this to “any KNOWN animal”. I listen to overnight AM radio now and then. I know what’s out there. ;-)

  50. That was such a beautiful vivid story with such an interesting yet changing perspective about death. I enjoyed this very much.

    • mythoughts,

      How nice of you to stop by my blog. Thank you for reading, and for your gracious comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I loved my grandfather very much, and am happy to share this story.

      Please do stop by again – you’re always welcome!

      Linda

      • Linda,

        My pleasure! I will most definitely be stopping by again.

        Leah

  51. I just read this piece this morning and have to comment. I’m Australian and grew up here, but we had a similar way of drinking tea. I have fond memories of my grandfather, always in a white shirt, its sleeves secured with armbands, pouring tea onto a saucer for my sister and I to sip. He also used to roll one of his cigarette papers around a match, light one end and blow it out, so that we had our own ‘cigarette’. When he lit up, my sister and I pretended to smoke, too, while we all sipped our tea! Oh, how times have changed. You’d never let anyone do that with kids now …

    • Louise,

      What a delightful memory. All things considered, I’d rather a child of mine smoke a pretend cigarette than do many of the things children and young people do these days.

      We had candy cigarettes. They came in packs, with little pink candy flames. We pretended to smoke them, but we were easily bored and usually ended up eating them in one sitting. Then, we’d head back to the penny candy counters to get really good stuff, like big gum drops.

      What’s important in our stories, of course, is the joining of the generations, the sharing of experience. That’s what I hope for today’s children, too – even if we have to steamroll a few nannies to accomplish it!

      Thanks so much for the lovely comment – it’s so nice of you to stop by.

      Linda


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