Spelling It Out

“A man must be a damned fool, who can’t spell a word more than one way.”  ~ Nyrum Reynolds **

Even tucked into a thicket of dense, interwoven phrases, the word stood out. Spotting it, I circled back for another look, surprised by what I took to be an obvious misspelling.

It was March, 2009, and the blogger known as Aubrey was considering a bit of milkweed fluff.

Walking to work, I saw a very peculiar thing on the sidewalk.  Its color was soft and meek:  a whimsical fluff, a piece of delicate detritus which had somehow lost its way and now lay defenseless on the granite causeway.

The word that captured my attention was detritus. I’d lived for several decades knowing it as detrius, so my initial inclination was to believe that Aubrey had misspelled it.  Clearly, each of us was using it properly, and our spellings were close, but the different spellings meant different pronunciations — perhaps even different words.

I’d been reading Aubrey long enough to recognize her writing skills and admire her attention to detail, so a little exploration seemed in order. I didn’t expect to be the one who was wrong, but I was open to the possibility.
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Heading Home

Given a choice, my mother preferred not to travel. She enjoyed being in new places, visiting family members and taking in the occasional entertainment, but she despised the process of getting from point A to point B. Packing for a trip was agony – so many decisions needed to be made!  Even getting the house cleaned and put in order before leaving created high anxiety, but it had to be done. What if you died on the road? Certainly you wouldn’t want strangers roaming through your bedroom, running their fingers over a dusty night stand and telling one another you were slovenly.

As for those hours in the car, there weren’t enough magazines, knitting projects or books in the world to overcome her impatience. Sometimes she seemed to be thinking, “If only I could close my eyes and discover when I opened them this misery had passed.” Other times, she put her feelings into words: “If I’d known it was going to take this long to get there, I would have stayed home.”

Now and then someone with an inclination to tease would call her “Dorothy”, and everyone understood the reference. She’d just laugh and say,  “If someone gave me a pair of ruby slippers, I’d be out of Oz in a minute. Being able to click my heels and go would make life a whole lot easier.”  Continue reading

Promises Made, Promises Kept

Babies don’t make promises. They live and thrive on the willingness of others to make promises to them – promises that they will be fed, clothed and sheltered, kept warm, given comfort, played with and loved.

 My extraordinary good fortune was to be born into a family more than willing to make and keep promises.  My father took promises especially seriously. The eldest of six children, he was one of those increasingly rare creatures – a man of his word. Whether it was a work colleague, a neighbor, a family member or his tiny daughter coming to him with a request, if he said he would do it, he did.

“Daddy!” I’d ask as he came in from work and settled down to look at the mail. “Will  you color with me?”  “I’ll color with you after dinner,” he’d say. “I’m going to a meeting tonight, but we’ll have time to do a couple of pictures.” “Promise?” I’d ask. “I promise,” he’d say. And the promise always held. Continue reading

Virginia Throws Open the Window


It began quietly enough, with a certain restlessness, a reluctance to re-establish routine, an inability to focus on the tasks at hand.  

I’d been traveling, wheeling across the Mississippi Delta for days, peripatetic as a dream, imbibing the sheer movement, the joys of impulsivity and intense expectation like some heady, intoxicating brew.  Eventually, the party ended and it was time to sober up.  Home again at my desk, I barely could turn to look out the window at the familiar view I love so much.  During our separation it had transformed itself from placid scenery into a token of my discontent, a nagging reminder of how many paths remained to be traveled.  Continue reading