SUMMER’S LAST HURRAH 

We’ve had an uncommonly mild summer here in Missouri, at least by Texas standards to which we’d become accustomed. The weather was mostly in the seventies or eighties with an occasional foray into the nineties, and for one lone week in July it got into the hundred degree range; even then the air didn’t feel that hot. It was almost always cool at night and pleasant sitting outside…even a little chilly at times. 

Labor Day has traditionally been the official end to summer, with children back in school and thoughts of football games and coming holidays taking precedence over picnics and swimming. Yesterday was Labor Day and summer was back with one last hurrah before giving up the ghost of another summer past. Even though it had been cool it soared to the mid nineties yesterday. The heat was a fleeting thing however as today dawned with crisp cool autumn air in place. I have my window open but I’ve been considering closing it since I sit here shivering. It’s days like this that make one happy to be alive despite ones aches and pains, and for now the cool air feels delicious.

The acorns have been falling fast and furiously for a few weeks and my deck stays covered in them. I swept them off a few times but I finally gave it up as a lost cause. My daughter in law decided to sweep them off yesterday (there was about an inch of them) but the deck is once again covered. I don’t even dare sit out there anymore for fear of being pummeled in the head…the distance some of them fall make them just like missiles. They hit against the windows with such force It seems the windows must surely break; and here a short time ago I was worried about hail breaking my windows! The dogs have taken to eating the acorns. They whine to go out on the deck and then have a hay day of cracking and eating the inside goodie. I knew that native Americans once used them for flour and a nutritious gruel, but had no idea that animals, other than squirrels and such, liked to eat them. The dogs eat them with such gusto and diligence it almost makes me want to try them…almost. The squirrels certainly have an abundance to store away for the winter, which makes me wonder if the amount of acorns produced is in direct proportion to the severity of the coming winter. If so, this one is going to be a duzzie!

We never tire of seeing the deer, sometime fourteen or more at one time, and the wild turkey. I’ve seen three turkey together but I’m sure there must be more. Sometimes the deer come to the top of our waterfall and drink, the mothers waiting patiently for the babies to get the hang of drinking from the running water. Can anything be any sweeter than this simple act of a mother showing and teaching her young by her own example?

The leaves on some of the trees have started changing color and the sumac along the highways are a brilliant red. We haven’t had the leaves start to fall in any large amount yet but it will be a full time job keeping them off the decks once they do. We may have to invest in a blower to do the job. And I’m not even thinking  yet about the appearance of winter weather and what that will mean…

For now it is simply lovely, the weather as well as the view. Living at the top of a hill with a deep valley immediately behind us (our back yard) and our floor to ceiling windows giving the appearance of living in a tree house, nothing could be an improvement. And with summers last hurrah now tentatively behind us we can fully enjoy autum with its colored leaves, cool air, apple cider, popcorn, and many colored chrysanthemums. 

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CHUPACABRA?

Last night a hoot owl was persistently calling, setting the stage for something more mysterious…or sinister. We were all awakened in the dark morning hours by an unusual noise that none of us could quite place. It sounded a little like hard fast breathing with a whistle on the end, or a high whooshing noise. It traveled outdoors from one end of the house to the other. My son got up and tried to see what was making the noise but I cowered in my bed without even looking. I mean there was nothing between my bed and the outdoors but a bank of windows, rather flimsy if you ask me if something sinister was out there.

I blame my cowardice on an aunt that loved telling us young children scary stories each time she visited. We’d beg her for the stories and she willing complied, none of us realizing it was warping our perception of the world around us; or maybe it was only affecting me that way. Anyway, I’ve always halfway believed something would get me in the night so I wisely don’t investigate weird night sounds. 

You’d think by my age I’d have outgrown such childish insecurities, and mostly I have. But I do have a vivid imagination and given the right circumstances my imagination can go wild conjuring up the most outlandish scenarios, which was the case last night. Having open windows didn’t help either, even though my bedroom is way above ground level.

We’ve talked endlessly about that sound and still can’t come to any conclusion about what made it. Was it some sort of bird, was it the buck we saw earlier in the day, maybe a cougar, perhaps a bear, or was it perhaps…CHUPACABRA ? I’m going with the buck just for my peace of mind although it could have been a large bird, perhaps a water bird. Any other answer has ramifications I don’t even want to consider given my imagination, after all I still have to sleep in this portion of the house by myself. 

If it was CHUPACABRA I hope it realized that it’s useless to come around here since we don’t keep goats. The deer population is alive and well however and it might like to feast on deer as well as on goat. But no matter, my mind is not going there. I’m sure, well as sure as I can be, that we heard a buck. If anyone has another explanation let me know…unless it has to do with CHUPACABRA, and in that case just keep it to yourself!

A DEER NAMED FERN

Our new home in Missouri is vastly different from Texas where I lived for the past three years. Instead of flat terrain with a few scrub trees, we have rolling hills and many large fully grown trees. We have our own slice of forest which surrounds our home and since we are at the top of a steep hill it seems we are living in a tree house. Each day we get a birds eye view of the local wildlife. The other morning we watched a group of squirrel play tag in the trees out back. There were about nine of them chasing each other up and down the tree trunks and jumping from tree to tree. It was quite amusing and a little dizzying to watch, especially when they decided my deck was home base. 

Every day we see deer browsing in our back yard, as well as along the road side. There were three fawn for a while but sadly one met its demise. We have one deer that has a special resting place just to the left side of my deck. She has a habit of lying there in the mornings in the dappled sunlight. The first time I saw her there I thought something was wrong because she was still for so long but eventually she got up and started eating. I’ve seen her there in the same place several times since then. My daughter in law named her Fern so that’s what we call her now and our day isn’t complete without seeing her.

There are numerous birds, groundhog, chipmunk and other assorted animals in our Forest. We hear owls and wild turkey at night and we hear and frequently glimpse a hawk as it flies over. The lightning bug population is thriving, unlike many other locations where they are either gone or quickly thinning. I love to look out my bedroom windows when it is fully dark and see those magical twinkling lights flitting through the trees. It brings back childhood memories of carefree summer nights when my brothers and I would catch fire flies and put them in a jar for a lovely living lantern to light our way as we played under the stars.

There is a peacefulness in this spot that fills ones soul and soothes away daily cares and problems. I’m not sure how we managed to get lucky enough to find a place such as this but I think someone was saving it for us and it was meant to be.  The weather has also been wonderful….almost perfect I’d say. My only fear is that it has been too perfect and we will pay the piper this winter with more snow and cold than we’d like. But who knows, maybe that won’t happen, maybe fairy tales really do come true and the perfection will continue…anyway that’s my plan, I’ll let you know later how it works out.

THE RETURN OF GREEN STAMPS?

Gone are the days when one could ‘buy’ things with books of green stamps one had carefully saved for weeks, or months, depending on how often one frequented the grocery store and how much money was spent there. I remember how exciting it was to redeem those stamps after pouring over the catalogue for just the right thing. My mother, being of Scottish descent and very frugal, was an avid collector of those wonderful stamps. She would hoard the filled books until she was short of cash and needed to get something…perhaps a birthday gift, and then she would reluctantly use them.

I remember once my mother and I went to Little Rock to the redemption center just to window shop and perhaps buy something for ourselves if the notion struck us. We saw a lovely pair of cream color pheasant statues which we both coveted so we each got a set. Of course that was a mistake on my part since nothing fragile lasted long in my house full of rambunctious boys. Mine were soon broken and I still feel regret that I used my books of stamps so unwisely.

Mother’s statues remained intact and were always on display when we visited. After she passed, they came to me along with the sweet memory of when we got them. They are nearing fifty years old now and during this last move the head was snapped off one of them. I glued it back on and the break is almost unnoticeable. They are presently standing proudly at watch on my mantel, as pretty and elegant as when we first saw them. I smile each time I see them.

Large grocery stores weren’t the only businesses to give out stamps when one purchased something. I remember my father in law who owned a small grocery store with gas pumps, gave stamps to his gasoline customers. It was a way of assuring return patronage and it made the customer feel as if they were getting a bonus….or something for nothing. He also at one time gave silverware to those who purchased gasoline. I don’t know how many actually acquired a full set of silverware but he did quite a brisk business. When all was said and done we wound up with one or two sets; they had brown plastic handles and, though not particularly attractive, were easy for little hands to hold.

Green stamps weren’t the only stamps given by grocery stores but they are the ones I remember the most clearly. In later years some stores gave out a piece of China or cookware each time so many dollars were spent. My mother, ever the frugal one, acquired a full set of Blue Willow China this way which she kept for years packed away waiting patiently for me to have that elusive daughter for her to give them to. She had to wait twenty years for that to happen, and then another sixteen before she felt the time was right to gift them. My daughter couldn’t have been more pleased if she had been given a set of Stafordshire China.

I realize that the things I’ve spoken of were only gimmicks to assure returning customers but it was fun. In this day of unprecedented high food costs you’d think someone would take a leaf from the past and toss out a few gimmicks to win our business. Instead it seems everyone competes to see who can charge the most and we oblige them by paying top dollar for every morsel we consume especially if it contains an organic or grass fed or free range label. We get such a small amount of food for the money we spend that I think the pot needs to be sweetened a little so….I vote for the return of green stamps! At least then we might not mind so much when we have to take a loan out just to buy groceries knowing that we will be getting a little something extra on down the road. Any body second the idea?

THE STUFF LIFE IS MADE OF

They (whoever they are) say that only two things in life are certain: taxes and death. I’d like to add another to that list, change. Things never remain the same…we can be absolutely certain of that. Each day is different from the last; each week, month, and year is different from those that have gone before. Change is inevitable no matter how much we’d like to freeze certain times or aspects of our lives.

My mood is different each day, my hair acts differently each day, the weather is different each day (which has a real bearing on my hair. …just saying), and our interactions with the same people are different each day. Our tastes change, fashions come and go and what once was obsolete becomes fashionable again. The world around us is changing with new ideas, new inventions, and a lack of regard for time proven ideals and morals. Our families are growing older and in many cases larger in number. Our childhood is but a fleeting moment and at some point we find that our own young children now have children or grandchildren of their own. Yes, change is in the very air and occuring with such increasing speed it’s mind boggling.

I’ve changed so much over the course of my lifetime that I almost don’t recognize myself. Grey hair, wrinkles, saggy rotund body…wait, I don’t need to get started on that downhill spiral. In my minds eye and heart I’m still that spunky young girl I used to be. I’m only brought to a screeching reality check when my body refuses to skip, dance and run as that girl does in my memory, or I catch a frightening glimpse of myself in the mirror. And let me say that more and more frequently I see an old person only to discover, to my chagrin, they are my age. Now that’s a real blow to ones ego

The last three years have been frought with some of the biggest changes I’ve ever experienced and now here I am again, willingly, in the midst of another big change. I think to myself, ‘I’m too old for this, what lunatic would do this? I was just starting to feel somewhat settled here in Texas and now I find myself packing to move to Missouri. Thankfully all I have to do is pack and my son and daughter in law will take care of the rest. However, It’s still a daunting prospect to move across the country at my age.

I’ve enjoyed the Bluebonnets and wild flowers, the sunsets and Tex-mex food, and the kind people who have made my time here memorable. I enjoyed living close to three of my children until that never ending  ‘change’ kicked in again. I’ve enjoyed having stores and restaurants two minutes away, and surprisingly I’ve even enjoyed living totally on my own. By doing so I’ve discovered new things about myself, I now know that an old dog can learn new tricks, but also that there is a limit to how many new things this old dog is actually willing to learn. That’s a good thing to know about oneself.

With this coming change to my life I will be living in a different state (though not a new one since I’ve lived there before) as well as living with one of my children, which will be new. The dynamics are changing and I’ll have to admit this might prove to be quite interesting since I’ll have daily interaction with family members again. Perhaps I’ll have such fun that my meeting with the grim reaper will be postponed indefinitely.

We can’t stop change or even slow it down so we might as well accept it and find joy in each moment we have, holding tightly to the memories we treasure. For good or for bad, change is the stuff life is made of. 

A THING OF THE PAST?

It’s the first day of spring and it doesn’t disappoint; the air is soft and warm, the sun is shining brightly, and the Bluebonnets are in full bloom. It’s a great day to be alive! There are houses being built in the field across the street from my apartment but just a little ways on down the street, the field remains undisturbed and the Bluebonnets are as thick as ever. For that I am grateful since I can see them whenever I come and go from home.

On this beautiful day my thoughts are turned to a recent incident concerning a grandchild that sparked my childhood memories of what I wanted to become when I grew up. I desperately wanted to be a singer or an artist…or both. Alas, I didn’t have what it took to be either. I can’t say that any of my childhood aspirations were fulfilled, except for marrying that curly-haired, blue-eyed boy that I had constant (literal) dreams of. Turns out that was the only thing that really mattered and the best thing that could have happened to me. All my dreams were put to rest with that one act.

My oldest son wanted to be a scientist for a while (the more demented the better) and later, as he got older, he had an all consuming desire to work with computers. He definitely realized his passion and has spent his adult career doing just that and acquiring several patents for programs he has written.

My second son wanted to be ‘a telephone pole’, his words not mine. I think what he meant was a lineman since he had just witnessed the installation of a power pole and electric wires being strung by a man in full gear climbing like a circus performer to the top of said pole. It looked dangerous and exciting to him. He’s become a first class electrician and air conditioning man who has fulfilled several fairly dangerous assignments, maybe more than even he bargained for.

I can’t remember my third son ever saying what he wanted to become but he was always interested in computers too and has achieved his ambition in making his career with them after getting his degree as an electrical engineer.

My fourth son always wanted to be a writer and after going to film school has come full circle and finally made that writing dream come true. His first book has been a great success and the second book in that series is due to come out sometime this summer. I can’t wait!

The fifth son was always a phenomenal artist and I suspected that would be his path in life. When he got his bachelors degree he had a double major, one in art and the other, unlikely as it seemed, in physics. He wound up getting a master’s degree in physics, then got his doctorate as a geophysicist. He’s made headlines in the scientific community several times with his ground breaking work and spot-on predictions.

My youngest son wanted to do nothing but play basketball; he ate, slept, dreamed and talked of nothing else until he was in high school. Then inexplicably he changed course and turned his attention to drama. He double majored in college, one major in drama and the other in Spanish. He got his masters degree in set design and has been gainfully employed in that field ever since.

The only girl in our mix was interested in makeup from an early age (go figure). She was also interested in writing and drama. So…she got a degree in drama, a degree in makeup, a degree in esthetics and one as a massage therapist. She and her husband have their own very successful spa and are now going to school to become family counsellors. I’m not sure if that will be the end, I’m beginning to think she just likes learning too much to quit.

That brings me back to my young grandson who at six wants to be a YouTuber and make videos to entertain others.  That wasn’t an option when I was growing up or even when my children were. I can’t help but wonder if that will remain a passion with him and if it will evolve into some kind of a career as he gets older or just remain a hobby for his own enjoyment.

It seems our futures are only limited by our imagination, and our imagination changes with the progression of our society and times. I wonder if YouTubing will be a thing of the past when he is actually old enough to choose a career?  I wonder what new thing will take its place? I wonder what wonderful exciting thing is on the horizon that we haven’t yet imagined? I wonder, I wonder….

IS THAT HONEYSUCKLE I SMELL?

Learning to ride a bicycle is a rite of passage…that of leaving behind babyhood and entering the exciting world of real mobility. My second son learned when he was four, my daughter when she was ten, their brothers when they were five. I don’t remember how old I was but I do remember my parents thought I was way to young and small. I had such a burning desire to learn however, that I’d position my brother’s large bicycle alongside our high porch and climb onto the seat from the porch. I’d then have to lean to each side as I pedaled because my legs were so short…and stopping, well, that was more of a crashing scenario. For a time I was black and blue but oh how I reveled in actually being able to ride that big bike. When my father saw the fruits of my determination ( or maybe it was the sight of all my bruises) he quickly rewarded me with my very own bicycle; a beautiful blue girls bike more in keeping with my size.

My brother and I lived on our bicycles, especially in the summer. We frequently rode several miles to a little country store where we redeemed the soda pop bottles we collected from the roadside ditches for candy and gum. Since my bike had a basket where we carried the bottles, my brother rode amicably alongside me to the store but once we had divided our booty he’d ride off and leave me. No matter how hard I pedaled I couldn’t keep up with him, my legs and smaller bicycle just wasn’t up to the task. I’d soon tire from the effort and usually wind up walking and pushing my bike the last distance home where he’d be resting under a shade tree.

My husband on the other hand learned to ride on a girls bike that was left behind at a house their family bought and moved into. He rode it to school every day but was ashamed to be riding a girls bike so he hid it in the bushes just before reaching school, and retrieved it on his way home. He washed dishes every evening after dinner and did other chores to earn money to buy the bike of his choice. He finally did earn enough and ordered the best bicycle Montgomery Ward carried. From then on he always had the best of bikes….until he became old enough to drive and his interest turned to cars. Later in life he once again became enthralled with bicycles and rode one to work a few times a week until he sold his print shop.

My sons and their bikes were inseparable, they rode them all over town. One son became especially good at fixing bikes so their bicycles were always in tip-top shape. Several of my sons are still pretty serious bikers and love to ride on the weekends or take mountain biking vacations. One son, in addition to riding his bike to work and mountain biking whenever he can, is very proficient on a unicycle, riding, to everyone’s amazement, on winding trails through the forest…he has carried his love of cycling to the extreme.

Why this talk about bicycles you might wonder. Well the truth is, when I was young riding a bicycle was strictly for fun and two wheels were better any day than two feet for going long distances in a hurry. As I got older, riding a bike lost its allure and became exercise which I strongly disliked. I’m not sure when exercise and I parted company for good but it was sometime after the television craze of exercising to music and leaving my water aerobics class at the gym. I was just done with it all. My husband and children devised plan after plan to get me exercising again, some of them even adding me to their gym membership. Somehow I managed to stand my ground and refuse to indulge their rabid, and sometimes heated insistence that I do some kind of exercise.

All but one son gave up on me. About two months ago he used a very sneaky approach and bought a state of the art recumbent bicycle and had it sent to my home, afterwhich his son came over and put it together. He also sent me a set of hand weights. Well to make a long story a bit shorter, it was just sitting there making me feel guilty that he had wasted his money on such a thing so I grudgingly decided I’d give it a try. Imagine my surprise when the old thrill of riding a bike returned. Of course it isn’t quite the same, but it’s close enough to be fun and I’m actually getting some much needed exercise. I can also increase the resistance and make it harder to pedal (but why would I want to make it more like exercise?) whenever I wish. The monitor on it tells me how many calories I’ve burned and how far I’ve gone among other things, which is rather fun as well as instant gratification for my effort. I’m also using the weights to increase my upper body strength and oddly enough, that constant nagging pain in my back has disappeared!

Who would have thought the sneaky approach would get me exercising again, and even more importantly, get me to like it. Hats off to you Dan, I’m grateful to you for not giving up on me. I’m grateful too for all the fun memories that spring to mind as I pedal away. Time has a way of sliding backwards as I watch television or listen to music and relive those happy carefree summer days of my youth…oh is that honeysuckle I smell?

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