Angels Passing

Arrayed across the page, the words evoke memories, pluck at threads of emotion as though determined to unravel their mystery.

If you do not believe in the ginn, you have only to look at the heavens for proof. That “shooting star”, as you call it, what is it but the stone thrown by one of the angels in heaven when an evil ginn approaches too near in order to try to overhear the conversation of Paradise and thus learn the secrets of the future?
Another custom is the way they mark one of those pauses in conversation which in England is sometimes denoted by the declaration that “an angel is passing”. After a moment of dead silence, one of the company will say, “Wahed dhu!” (“God is One”), and the whole company in a low murmur will repeat, “La ilah ilia Allah!” (“There is no God but one God”), and conversation will be resumed.
I made a note of all the proverbs I heard in these talks, for all conversation in the East is enriched with unending proverbs, as with a wonderful power of expression in poetic form and idiom.

Reading on in S.H. Leeder’s Veiled Mysteries of Egypt and the Religion of Islam, I realize I’ve encountered source material for Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet. The diplomat Mountolive, whose name provides the title for the third volume of Durrell’s series, reflects on the customs of Egypt using remarkably similar language. Continue reading

Even Cats Crave Christmas!

Laugh at the antlers if you will, but laugh at your peril. That business-like look in the eyes of my beautiful calico is very real. Dixie Rose (short for Dixie-Rose-Center-of-the-Universe-and-Queen-of-all-She-Surveys) loves Christmas, and she intends to be ready when it arrives. Do not stand in her way.

Dixie arrived at my door as an unloved, four-month-old stray who became my first real pet. As a child I did receive a small painted turtle, but the poor thing met a most unfortunate end. My birthday puppy lasted only hours. A tiny but exceedingly enthusiastic black Cocker Spaniel, the pup terrified me and was sent packing by disconsolate adults.

Later, I raised a fox squirrel and laughed my way through four years with a prairie dog, but my relationship with Dixie Rose is of a different order entirely. I believe her to be the most beautiful and most clever creature on four paws. I don’t think she’s the most spoiled creature in the world, but we’re working on it – diligently. Continue reading

Looking East

Christmas comes differently to the country.

Twisted and threaded around and through twin pieces of rusted rebar that serve as mailbox supports, the plastic pine garland is older than several of the children who tumble from the school bus. Still, its shabbiness is apparent only to the mail carrier, or to the slippered woman trudging down the lane from her house, hoping against hope to find greetings in her box.  From the road, the garland appears perfect, full and fresh.  From a distance, even plastic communicates the determination and joy pulsing in the woman’s heart.  In this house, she thinks, we will celebrate. We will mark the season. We will share our joy with you, the passer-by.

Farther down the road,  a wreath made of vines adorns a gate propped against a fence. Its ribbon flutters in the wind, attracting attention, drawing the eye over the gate and into a pasture.  There’s a brush pile, and some uncleared mesquite. A few trees, pushed over and left to die, wait to be added to the pile.  No cattle roam, no stock tank or pond offers refreshment – not even a piece of rusted, broken-down machinery resists the despondent wind sighing across the field. Continue reading

Lying Fallow

Call me old-fashioned if you will, but I prefer to exclude violence, mayhem and murder from my personal holiday traditions. Granted, there was that memorable exchange over a lavender cashmere sweater at Von Maur’s department store in Kansas City, and a sudden, stubborn insistence on my first and only trip to Bloomingdale’s that I did so have it first, but nothing in my life compares to the headlines emerging from the beginning of this holiday season.

“Woman Pepper Sprays Shoppers to Gain Advantage” in her quest for a discounted Xbox, reads one report.  “North Carolina Police Use Pepper Spray to Calm Black Friday Crowd”, reads another.  There was looting reported in New York, and a beating near Phoenix. Shootings in San Leandro, California and Fayetteville, North Carolina competed for ink with a stabbing in Sacramento. Instances of opportunistic petty thievery among midnight shoppers walking to their cars were too widespread and frequent even to detail.

“The difference this year is that instead of a nice sweater you need a bullet-proof vest and goggles,” said Betty Thomas, 52, shopping with her sisters and a niece at Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh, N.C. She did go on to suggest that the sale prices on merchandise had been over-hyped, and the shopping wasn’t as good as she’d hoped. “If I’m going to get shot,” said Thomas, “at least let me get a good deal.” Continue reading

The Advent of Wisdom

The key sits loosely in its lock, unturned, unnecessary.  In a neighborhood where children drift from one house to the next with the freedom of wind-tossed leaves and women freely borrow milk or sugar from unattended kitchens, no one locks a closet.

In this neighborhood, closets hold no treasure – no jewels, no gold, no banded stacks of bills.  They overflow with life’s necessities: shoes tidied into original boxes, purses and shirts, a wardrobe of ties. Now and then, two closets nestle side by side. Hers is obvious, all ajumble with boxes of quilting scraps, extra pillows, photographs and report cards. His, more intentional, arranged with more precision, is a purposeful array of hunting vests, stamp paraphernalia, drafting tools and gun cases. It’s a perfect marriage of closets.

Dimly lit and cave-like, the closets are mysterious, compelling and sancrosanct.  Few children dare enter them without permission, but in these weeks before Christmas a child might be tempted to cross the bounds of caution by the merest whisper of possibility: “There might be presents…”  

It’s a special kind of hide-and-seek, this business of children seeking out what parents have hidden  –  under the bed, in the basement, on those out-of-the-way shelves behind the washer.  And always, the list of potential gift caches is crowned by the best hiding-place of all –  a parent’s bedroom closet. Continue reading