In kindergarten, we were overwhelmed. In first grade, we forged alliances. By second grade, we were in the middle of the fray, taunting fourth, fifth and even sixth-graders with impunity. “So’s your old man!” “Your mother wears combat boots!” “Cheater, cheater, pumpkin-eater!”
As our vocabularies developed we grew bolder and moved on to true insults. “When they were giving out brains, you thought they said canes and said, ‘I don’t need one!’”
Even at that age, the ability to give and fend off a good insult became the measure of our mettle. We enjoyed participating in a tradition reaching back to Shakespeare and beyond, a tradition marvelously and creatively maintained by sharp-tongued repartee artists closer to our time. (more…)
The guy running the front loader couldn’t have been nicer. “Look at this,” he said to his wife as she wandered up, shovel in hand, trying to shush the dogs. “She’s got the same danged map as that other guy.” Handing the map to the woman, he gave me a look generally reserved for well-intentioned but slightly dim folk. “Around here, we don’t call it a prairie. We call it a hay field.”
“Well,” I said, “whatever you call it, I can’t find it. That map says it’s supposed to be twenty-six miles north of Highway 35. When I got to County Road 18 I knew I’d gone too far, but I sure hadn’t gone twenty-six miles. I decided I’d better stop and ask somebody who’d know.”
That made him smile. It made his wife smile, too. We stood around for a bit, grinning at one another while the dogs snuffled around my ankles and bumblebees trundled through the rising heat. Finally, he pushed back his hat and said, “Tell you what. Go on back down the road a piece, past the old Gibson place. Pass by the goat on the right and keep a-goin’. If you get to the substation, you’ve gone too far.”
Deciphering directions in Texas can take some skill, but there was no questioning the importance of “goat” and “substation” if I wanted to find the prairie. “Down the road a piece” and “over yonder” never translate into miles. If I’d asked enough times about the old Gibson place, I might have discovered it’s the Kutchka place now, or that the columns out front that made it recognizable aren’t there any longer since the Gibsons tore them out when they bought it. But, I might not have discovered any of that, so “goat” and “substation” it would have to be. (more…)
It seems there’s no help for it. Despite last night’s frontal passage, a twenty-degree drop in temperature and cloudy skies, the wisteria continues to bloom. For that matter, some sweet evening primrose are blooming, along with loquats, redbuds and azaleas. Coots are massing to head north, and baby ducks already are waddling about on the grassy banks. It’s an early spring on the Texas Gulf Coast, and winter-lovers are morose. Our last chance for a frosty, freezing blast – perhaps for even a flake or two of snow – has passed.
This is when neighbors come in handy. I was raised to believe it’s perfectly acceptable to knock on a neighbor’s back door, measuring-cup in hand, and ask for sugar or milk. This time, I was a little short on winter, so I went knocking at the door of Gerry Sell’s house up in Torch Lake, Michigan. She and her neighbors just received a good dumping of snow, and I was sure she’d be more than willing to share. She was, and as you can see from the photograph, the view from her Writing Studio and Bait Shop is lovely. I’m sure her woods can be dark and deep at times, but after this storm they were all sunshine and glimmer. (more…)
In the depths of interminable winter, there was no sound. No words schussed across the silence, no song delighted the heart. No voice, mysterious and enthralling, beckoned willing and wary alike into the heart of the fields. Winter crackled with stubble and ice, purified herself with snow, hid away her fields. Dark and loamy, smelling of glaciers and frost, the earth remained empty as a night without stars until the season turned and the earth warmed, and voices returned to the land.
“Here? Is this where it goes?” “Yes, child. That’s where it goes, the seed that will become the corn. Remember the rhyme?”
“In rows long and lovely, in rows long and straight,
in rows that reach out from the house to the gate…”
He wasn’t someone who flattered you with his answer, someone you felt reached out to pull down a word here and a word there like plucking cherries, throwing them into the bucket of your mind just to make you happy. His answers seemed good and wise and true, born of knowledge older than the corn. (more…)