Author Archives: Rebekah Smith

Unexpected Host

Our time together was bookended by torrential rains, lightening and thunder that shook the house.

Drenched in sweat, Brian and I sat on the front step waiting for my sister Ginger to pull up to the curb. Not that car. Not that one. That one? No. It was there that I had finally decided to go to the funeral. I could imagine the car pulling away from the house the next day, leaving me waving good-bye on the sidewalk only to realize my mistake too late. I would change my mind several times again. I imagine this was irritating to anyone who had to witness this almost paralyzing indecision until finally putting a haphazardly packed suitcase into the trunk.

Either choice would have been fine.

The last time there was a family reunion in Michigan, I was sick and didn’t go. I don’t get back there too much, though my Aunt Goldie made an effort to maintain something of a hub after my maternal Grandmother died in 1992. In fact, after she retired she lived in Grandma’s old house on Main Street in Harrisville. Now that she’s gone too, it’s hard to say what will happen although there is still family there. For one thing, there is Aunt Kathleen and Uncle Butch’s “cabin”, apparently now more of a four season house than what I knew as a kid who spent some time there washing my hair in the lake with my sisters and watching my cousins do grown up things like drive speed boats and water ski. I have no idea where this place is. I assume the lake has a name. But I don’t know what it is. Not far from Harrisville? Flint? Go down some winding wooded roads. Take a left. Then a right. That’s all I know.

As the three of us stood in the entryway of my house, sweat rolling down my back, I worried that the fans that we had distributed in the sleeping quarters would not be sufficient. Anyone else would have turned on the air conditioning by now, but we don’t have it.

The next morning Brian and I went a few blocks to pick up some pastries from the grocery store. By the time we got half way home, it started to rain so hard that I thought we ought to pull over. I worried about my parents and my sister Amy who would be arriving by plane. By the time we got home, Ginger had gone around the house closing all of the windows. She says it got pretty wild.

Our first day of driving was marked by rain. From Saint Paul to the Wisconsin to the Upper Peninsula to Escanaba where my Aunt Virginia helped open a bank – for most of the trip it rained. We stayed in the UP somewhere (maybe it was Escanaba?) at a Comfort Inn, my two sisters and I in one room and my parents in the adjoining one. Across the highway from where we stayed was a boardwalk on Lake Michigan, but there wasn’t time to enjoy it. Mom ordered perch at the cafe where we had dinner, something we all should have done as it was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The vegetarian omelet, not so much. Amy abandoned hers pretty quickly and I worried about whether she was getting enough to eat for the rest of the trip. I briefly joined my mom in the fitness room where she was keeping to her treadmill routine. That night she showed me some exercises that keep your back in shape, especially needed on a long road trip. I should have taken notes. I could use them right now!

It’s weird to go to Harrisville without stopping at Grandma’s house. But when my Aunt Goldie moved to be closer to her daughter in Atlanta, they sold the house. I got a glimpse of it from the car. But that was it.

There was a wake.

There were relatives I recognized and some that I didn’t.

When my parents came up to stay with Aunt Goldie to give her a little more time in the house that she did not want to leave, they used to go for drives, have dinner out every night, shop and go down to the harbor. It was there that they saw “One Leg”, the name my aunt gave to a seagull that was sadly missing a leg. He did alright, given the circumstances. But my aunt worried about him. Would he get enough to eat or would he be crowded out by the other birds? Some of them seemed so rude. I was touched by this. She could not remember her sister’s name. But still compassion shown through a thickening fog. She was still in there.

We saw such a bird – a seagull that was missing a foot – at a rest stop on our way to the funeral. Knowing this touched my cousins who had just lost their mother.

I learned that my cousin Jimmy’s son Karl is retiring and starting a flower farm in Michigan with his wife. I was delighted by this! I learned that my cousin Dickie goes by Richard now. His fiance is lovely. I learned that the twins aren’t babies anymore. I learned that Aunt Goldie enjoyed vodkas with lemon.

There was a toast.

There was a nice spread at the banquet hall at Wiltse’s restaurant in Oscoda. “Take a right at the Big Boy.” I never saw a Big Boy restaurant, but we got there just the same.

Where did we stay that night? Escanaba? No. It was Manistique! I remember now because there was some discussion about how to pronounce it. I asked the receptionist at the hotel. I also asked her about the tunnel. “What does ‘We support the tunnel’ mean? We’ve seen some lawn signs.” She didn’t know. In the car this sparked a discussion about the Chunnel. Who would use it? Who would be unsettled by the notion of traveling underneath the English Channel? Who would be unsettled but use it anyway?

It costs four dollars to take the Merrimack Bridge from the UP to the mitten. My dad insisted on paying for this.

Once the service had concluded at the funeral home, something that was announced by a woman whom I took to be working there, I found the door. Outside I stood in the shade with my sister-in-law who drove up from Virginia with my brother. Patti is a special education teacher and we talked shop. At one point, her attention shifted. Late to pick up on the cue, I turned around to see what was distracting her. Suddenly my own talking seemed loud and inappropriate. For facing us on the other side of the sidewalk was the entire family. We’re doing a group photo? That’s what I thought. It was as if I had been dropped into the scene without any context. I just saw a group that had been roughly positioned by a photographer and everyone was waiting on us to join them so that they could snap a picture. “What’s happening?” I said. Patti explained that they were bringing out the casket. It was only then that I saw the hearse parked in front of us.

The last time I was at that cemetery (Drive down a winding wooded road. Take a right. Then a left…), we buried my grandmother. The service was held at the Presbyterian church. My mother let out a cry from the front pew. My dad put his arm around her shoulders. As we left the graveside service, we passed a couple of guys sitting in the back of a white truck. They had shovels.

Aunt Goldie was buried next to her second husband, Walt, not far from her mother. But it was her first husband, my Uncle Wayne who had given us a croquet set from his hardware store when we were kids, who said a prayer with her right before she died.

The minister didn’t appear to know Aunt Goldie. She was a Lutheran and dressed rather causally. She wore mandles. I liked her. She reminded me of my friend Paul’s wife, Berta. Down to earth.

“We recommend our sister Goldie to God…”

In addition to just being there as a show of support for Aunt Goldie’s immediate family, including my mother, I was glad to be there for this:

“We recommend our sister Goldie…”

There’s something sweet about that. Humbling.

I’d like to think that One Leg would recommend her too and that his commendations would carry more weight than mine.

At the reception I sat at a table in the back with my siblings, Matt, Amy and Ginger and my sister-in-law Patti. Afterwards, there were long good-byes. Then our family went to an ice cream shop. The portions were huge. The prices were crazy cheap. The ice cream was really good. We sat on the picnic tables outside of the shop next to a couple that had a dog. Afterwards, we walked the docks at the harbor, wishing that we could hitch a ride on a boat. Then we went back to the fishing cabins where we stayed (“Please do not put fish in the refrigerator! We have a freezer you can use!” And “Please do your dishes!”) and played a few hands of cards at a picnic table by Lake Huron. Matt and Patti were heading back to Virginia at 3 o’clock in the morning, so it wasn’t a late night. Of course they weren’t staying at these cabins where the bathroom door in our room didn’t completely shut, at least not without some effort. Those lucky dogs were at a bed and breakfast where there was a hot tub, complimentary cake and towels tied up like Christmas packages.

On the way out of town somewhere north of Alpena, we stopped at the cleanest McDonald’s I had ever seen. It appeared to be a hang out for some of the old timers in the area. Tables of old ladies. Tables of old men. It was quite lovely. The employees were lovely. Everything was lovely.

Outside of Wausau, Wisconsin a guy working at a gas station teased us about trying to find a vegetarian meal in the roast beef capitol of the world. Or was it meatloaf?

Amy and Dad playing cards in the back seat. They found a game that didn’t take up too much space.

Mom’s socks. So colorful. So fashionable. So fun!

The rain.

The sun.

The lake.

Ginger’s excellent driving.

My job was to get us out of the airport.

Talking to a motorcyclist outside of the Manistique Comfort Inn and imagining a different life.

My other job was to help watch for deer.

Ginger’s only rule: No driving at night.

The server at the Wausau Green Mill restaurant who looked like she could be Sarah’s daughter.

Breaking Ginger’s only rule.

The last few miles of the trip home were challenging. Dark. Glaring roads. Construction. Pylons. Reflective barrels. Closed exit ramps. Detours into the burbs. Confusion just minutes from my house. What the hell is happening on I94? We should have listened to Maxine.

Apparently I had met Barb long before the funeral. It would have been at one of Aunt Goldie’s infamous parties. She had been Aunt Goldie’s friend for a long time. They met back when my aunt ran a gift shop, post retirement. Barb was a customer.

She did not wear black.

Like Aunt Goldie did, Barb has style. I remember white and pink and a bright green. Flowers. Shoes. A purse. A Scarf. Earrings. Fabulous earrings. A real statement.

Walking to the car, I introduced myself to Barb the way I introduced myself to a lot of people that day. “I am Margie’s daughter, Goldie’s niece.”

“You’re father put in some flower boxes for me! I still use them!” I was impressed with how quick she made this connection, where I can be slow to process such things. She was sharp.

Before leaving the graveside, a number of people approached the casket to touch it. Barb did too. She walked up to it and gave it a good rap with her fist.

“Goldie told me to do that just to make sure.” she said. We laughed. Then tears welled up in her eyes. I don’t know Barb. I’m told that she cusses like a sailor and can be out of step with the changing times, to put it nicely. But in that moment, I just loved her. I loved that my aunt had a good friend – and a loving family of course – into her old age. I can see why they would have been friends.

The plan was to take my mother to see Jeff Lynn’s Electric Light Orchestra. I would finish my painting projects – mainly the stairway and the kitchen. I would clean the house from top to bottom. Plan meals. Prep them. Spiff up the yard. Those chairs need to be scrubbed down. The windows needed to be washed. I could use a haircut. The porch was stuffed with tarps and various painting supplies that would need to be moved.

The news came by text.

There were phone calls.

Thank goodness for Brian.

The storm came.

He attended to a lot in my place.

And I didn’t want to be left behind waving good-bye on the sidewalk.

Who am I trying to impress anyway?

It’s probably a good thing that I did not get around to putting up the handrail before my company arrived. My measurements were wrong and there was a stud that turned out to be very tricky to find. After we got back from Michigan, my dad helped me install it. This is how I learned that if you want a particular screw, go to Ace Hardware. Forget about Menard’s. Ginger and Amy left the next day to pick up Dale in Cedar Rapids. They returned via the airport with a surprise. My niece Kathleen would be joining us for the ELO concert.

Brian said that the absolute best part about the concert was watching my mother watch it. True. Very true.

We went on some shopping excursions and some quick brewery tours for Dale’s benefit. There should have been more time for cards, but it didn’t seem like we played too much. The time went by too fast.

On Sunday, Ginger and Dale and my parents drove back to Rapid City. When Amy said good-bye to my mother who was sitting in the backseat, she put the blanket she crocheted during the trip on her lap. The colors were beautiful, a mix of “green grass” and “lettuce”. When she was a kid, Amy got the waffle pattern from Aunt Marion, Uncle Norman’s wife. Amy worked on the blanket sitting between my parents in the backseat of the car on the way to Aunt Goldie’s funeral. At one point the afghan would be on my mother’s lap, keeping her comfortable with the air conditioning. Then Amy would have to flip the blanket around to continue with another row. This made for comical “Where did my blanket go!” moments.

Anticipating a three-hour flight back to Boise, Amy and I took a walk. We went down to the Mississippi River via the University of Saint Thomas Campus. We thought we had landed in the middle of a movie set. There was some kind of religious youth convention, with various groups identified with matching t-shirts. Lots of crosses. Images of Christ. Nuns where stationed throughout the campus mall greeting people. Clusters gathered in circles on the grass with plates of french toast and sausage and glasses of orange juice. On the way back, a fledgling along the golf course couldn’t quite get out of our path. We had to give him some room else lead him into the street. He worried me the way loose cats do. I’m afraid I’ll get home to find that I have a new cat.

A few hours later, as Amy and her daughter Kathleen and Brian and I sat on the porch, it started to rain so hard that we wondered whether their flight home would be delayed. It was not.

Brian and I and the cat cannot fill up the house so good.

We won’t need the card table for a little while. Put it away. Wash the sheets. Finish painting. Clean the dust out of the bathroom vent.

I miss everyone.

Can we pick up a pizza?

Kathleen’s taco casserole

French toast.

A bagel sandwich.

Coffee by the cup.

Mueller’s testimony.

Leonardo.

Another hole in the wall.

A sturdy rail.

We recommend our sister Goldie to God.

Is this a coincidence?

This post contains spoilers for the movie Once upon a time in Hollywood. I strongly recommend that you see the movie first.

A friend of mine makes more of a coincidence than I usually do. And yet lately I’ve been struck by how there have been themes. Self-compassion seems to be one of them. It wasn’t long after noticing that a friend could use a dose of it when I read an article about procrastination. According to the article, self-compassion is one way to break the cycle of unwanted behavior. It’s how I can show up here now. For I had really intended to post something daily. As I like to say, “Try again tomorrow.”

It was hard to find the time to write while I had company. I’m not sure why that is, but routines just don’t work the same for me when I’m thinking from one meal to the next. Everything is different. Lovely. Needed. Appreciated. Fun. But different.

My mother is a DiCaprio fan so a group went to see the Sharon Tate movie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. A couple days later, after the last shuttle to the airport, Brian and I took a walk around Como Lake and talked about it. He liked it. The fact that he did not doze off is an endorsement. But he ultimately didn’t see the point. However, by the time we got around the lake, we came up with something that was mostly satisfying.

Spoiler Spoiler Spoiler Spoiler Spoiler Spoiler

If you haven’t seen the movie, skip this post. See the movie first.

Brian’s main beef seemed to be the rewriting of history. I liked it. But defending it would take some effort.

When I was a kid, I remember the book Helter Skelter laying around the house. It was thick like a dictionary. Black with red lettering. The pages smelled weird, which I attributed to the contents as opposed to any likely factors such as a bookshelf in a musty basement or the smell of a previous reader’s cologne. I knew who Charles Manson was. I had heard of Squeaky Fromme. I knew that Sharon Tate was pregnant. I knew what happened. I didn’t need to know any of this. I was just a kid. But my older siblings probably told me about it, for I certainly didn’t read the book. And for some reason this horrific story is part of the American psyche.

Let me just call bullshit on myself.

I’m not sure what I mean by that, but it sounds right. And it’s for that reason that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was able to do what it did. We watched this movie, knowing what I knew since I was a kid. And during the entire movie I dreaded the inevitable. My plan was to leave early and to let Brian tell me how it ended.

Spoiler Spoiler Spoiler Spoiler Spoiler Spoiler

If you haven’t seen the movie, skip this post. See the movie first.

Except the inevitable didn’t happen.

A critic made the comment that the movie was forty-five minutes too long. As a movie goer and not as an editor who has to justify every frame, I can’t say that I was bothered by the length. Furthermore, given the necessity of the slow build to the last scene that made every previous second worthwhile, I thought the pace was about right. And again, Brian did not doze. That says a lot.

Plodding toward the inevitable is a political theme too. We are living it. How many times have I heard that our democracy is in peril? Power is being concentrated? There are human rights violations all over the place. Crimes go unpunished. Then there is also the decimation of the environment. Another shooting. Weak leadership. Saber rattling. On Facebook I saw an article where – if I am to believe it – South Dakota, my home state, is requiring schools to prominently post “In God we trust” in the schools. This makes me feel a little sick, because I suspect that it isn’t one’s religious convictions that would compel such a rule, but a sort of bullying. Is that what we really need? Anyway, the list goes on and it feels like there is a certain inevitable fate that will play out. If I were to believe the conspiracy theorist who was my supervisor at Spuds ‘N Stuff at the mall when I was in high school, we are all headed for the concentration camps. That’s pretty bleak.

There is another narrative.

We just have to write it.

There were things about the movie that will take another viewing for me. For example, what was the purpose of making Brad Pitt’s character a Vietnam Veteran and wife killer, assuming he really did kill his wife? Does it matter what I choose to believe? Would it change the story? Was it about help from unlikely places? Redemption? Healing? After all, in his last scene he is shuttled away in an ambulance. He’s going to be okay. Incidentally, Pitt is in a couple of scenes that also play on our expectations, such as the time the camera scans the car when he pulls into Manson’s hippie camp. This scene would not work without a suspicious past. Something tells me that scenes like that were all over the place and I just missed them. I would also have to look at the scenes where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character is on a movie set. Something tells me that I didn’t fully appreciate how they fit. I’m also mildly interested in the woman he marries. It seems like she’s just a plot device, but maybe there’s more to her.

Typically my movie ratings go something like this. I either like a movie right away or I don’t. If I walk out without a feeling one way or the other, I might wake up mad the next day, which means the movie tricked me into sticking with it, but it wasn’t worth it. Or I will like it more and more. I liked this movie. Have to see it again. That’s a new rating for me.

Don’t Be in a Hurry

It’s hot.

The polyurethane on the door frame will have to dry before I can do the next thing.

Except there is always something to clean, like the walls in the hallway where I want to paint. I am resistant today. I’ll do it later. There are weeds. Windows to clean. I just don’t feel like it. Later.

“What’s the hurry?” my mom says. She doesn’t like to see me stressed out.

The cat is circling. She wants me to brush her but for some reason she is being coy. She is hoping for the double brush. If I don’t pick up a brush soon enough, she will try to brush herself, but can’t get the leverage required for satisfaction.

I made some progress on my short story. The pieces don’t quite fit, but I’ve turned over a few more puzzle pieces. I’m still far away from the original idea. I’m stuck in setup. Well, not stuck. It’s just that there’s a lot of work to do before getting to the thing. It’s like my house projects. I don’t really know how that color is going to look on the kitchen wall. I just know that I’m curious and I am anxious for the tah-dah! But there is all of this preparation that is required.

Don’t be in a hurry.

Crystal clear. I can hear my dad telling me this.

Don’t be in a hurry.

There is something really delicious about taking your time in a world full of people who are hell bent on getting there first.

Don’t be in a hurry.

Brian thought we had time to cross the street.

“I’d rather wait.” I said, knowing that he would not like it.

The king of patience thinks I’m a nut, but he concedes and we wait. To be fair, I can’t walk as fast as he can. Shorter stride, right? In the meantime, a woman makes it across with no problem.

“It’s a beautiful night to stand on the corner!” She says before heading for the gas station behind us.

I don’t care. Maybe it’s decision fatigue. Just do what the sign says. I’m fine with that. Sure, there are exceptions. But on one of the busiest corners in the city? This isn’t one of them.

Don’t be in a hurry.

On the one hand, I’m a square following the rules. On the other hand, waiting for the crosswalk sign is a sort of quiet rebellion in a hurry-up world.

I’ll just pretend that I’m Japanese. My friend who has been to Japan told me that they never jaywalk there. A person could be standing at a deserted intersection at three in the morning in a remote town with a population of fifty and wouldn’t cross against the light.

Don’t be in a hurry.

My aunt is moving to hospice care after a traumatic experience at the memory care facility. It has been a while since she would have recognized me. The last time I saw her was at a reunion she hosted several years ago. We rented cabins on a lake in Michigan. She rented tents and roasted meat at the house that used to be my grandmother’s house. Some cousins were doing shots of Jagermeister. I will sip mine.

Don’t be in a hurry.

She cries a lot, something some Alzheimer’s patients apparently do. They give her medicine for this.

Don’t be in a hurry.

Missing the School Bus

We write to remember and for some reason I want to remember this.

I was weeding the flowerbed in the front yard.

Here comes a Somali girl, maybe ten years old, running down the sidewalk to catch the bus. Her mother is yelling only what I can take to be encouragement from behind, near their house. It’s a rental on the corner of a busy street. I wish I can remember everyone who passed through there. A Black family. A little girl who seemed to always be dressed in pink. I big woman with a baby. A teen boy. They often walked by my house. And then they were gone and it was another family. And now this family.

As the girl is running, a school bus is inching behind her. Had it stopped she could have just turned around and got on it. But she is running and it seems like the driver is trying to give her the best chance of making it to the stop at the end of the block on time. So the bus is creeping along side her, encouraging her as her mother was doing. The sound of her shoes hitting the pavement brings to mind a thin sandal. Slap! Slap! Slap! Against the orange-yellow school bus and a pretty blue sky, her pink burka looks like a costume designer picked it out. It’s pretty.

She gets on the bus. I look back at her mother from my crouched position in the yard. She looks relieved.

“She made it!” I yell.

“Yes she did!” the girl’s mother yells back.

My neighbor heads out on his bike. He makes a comment about how I am up early.

“I’m usually up early.” I say.

“Not as early as my wife. Three o’clock.” He says.

Coincidentally, I notice the girl come home that afternoon. A little boy on tricycle and an even smaller girl carrying a doll are rushing down the sidewalk to greet her. They’re excited. Super happy. But once they get to the bus stop at the end the block the crying starts. They’re arguing over who-knows-what – the bike, the doll, who gets to hold whose hand. They’re bugging each other the way siblings do.

The next morning I am in my bedroom where the windows are open.

“Get on the fuck’n bus!” A man down in the street yells.

I imagine that some poor kid is getting in trouble. He doesn’t want to go to school and his asshole father is pissed because he won’t get on the bus. How is he going to have a good day now? I look out the window and see there is a bit of a jam up on the street. I don’t exactly remember the details, but the bus can’t pass to get to the stop and apparently the little girl I saw is boarding the bus mid street. This is not exactly clear to me. What is clear is that there is a guy in a beat up pickup truck with a ladder in the back. He’s headed toward the bus and hanging slightly out the window trying to see what the hold up is. Once things dislodge he roars down the street, clearly mad. Cursing.

We have these peaceful days. Our mother is encouraging us. The bus driver is helping. We look beautiful. The sun is beautiful. The air is fresh. Things are blooming. And then some guy plops down in the middle of it and yells profanity at a child. Who is that guy? Don’t be that guy!

It had been a while since I’ve noted the trips to and from the bus stop. But recently from my room I heard:

Slap! Slap! Slap!

“I love you, mom!”

I have my own “missing the school bus story”, but I actually missed the bus. Long story short, I was standing at the stop and the bus whizzed by without picking me up. My dad was not happy about this. We got in the car and chased the bus down the highway for a bit before we caught up to it and I got on it. This would have been between kindergarten and second grade in Michigan.

Next up? Coffee. Something to eat. Progress on my projects. Petting the cat. Right now she is pestering Brian who just got out of the shower. When she saw that I was busy, she turned and faced the bathroom door and pounced on him the second he emerged. I’ll have to dust myself off earlier than usual tonight. We’re going to go see Patton Oswalt at the State Theater. Brian and I are now arguing about how many times we’ve seen him. I say two. He says once because the only other time he came here, he came to a casino, not my favorite place to see shows. He is so wrong. Forget my plans for the day. I’m going to spend the rest of the day proving that he is wrong, dammit! We saw him twice! I am certain of it, although I will concede that it definitely was not at a casino. In one show he closed with the Doctor Pepper story, which the audience was clamoring for… the other time… I don’t care! It was twice! I do remember passing on Bill Burr because he was at a casino and maybe the same is true of Oswalt. But still… Twice.

Construction Site

It’s hard to pick out the women and even when you do you’re not sure it’s a woman under the hardhat. I’m pretty sure I saw two. The only Black man I saw was servicing the portable toilets, but that is not to say there aren’t other people of color working on the construction site that spans at least two large blocks and goes deep into the Saint Thomas campus. I just don’t see them. The guys on the periphery are white, like the three guys standing on the sidewalk outside of the morning huddle. With that beard the redhead in the middle looks like he could be a member of ZZ Top, except I can’t picture any of them vaping. If anything they would smoke. A photographer with privileges would be in heaven. Everywhere I look there is a picture.

Of course there is old fashioned smoking too, so much that I wonder if there shouldn’t be a quit smoking campaign directed at construction workers (and bartenders and cosmetologists and rock stars). What is it about operating a backhoe that makes a person crave nicotine? Like a mother hen, I wish they wouldn’t. It doesn’t match their strong young bodies. I wish the old timers would give it up too.

I pass a flag man who has a small cooler sitting next to him and think it’s sweet that he didn’t want to be separated from his lunch. On the lid of the cooler there are four empty cup holders molded into the plastic. On the return there is a bottle of water, half full, in of the the holders. Close by three men are having a smoke on a retaining wall in front of an apartment building. I overhear part of a story… “…and then he pulls out in front of me like this…” I imagine that it is a story like the ones my brother-in-law might tell about the guy you should never take on a hunting trip. He’s an idiot and he might kill you.

I imagine living across from the construction site that wakes up by seven o’clock. It’s fun to see whenever I take a walk in that direction. But it would drive me nutty to live with it for an extended period of time. The rest of the summer for sure and maybe into next year?

I stop to watch a man in a bobcat remove part of a sidewalk, while another man on a big hill of recently excavated dirt oversees the operation. A few other men are on the ground watching too. It’s not clear what their roles are, but I assume they will help, point, assist or signal as needed. Before sliding the bucket under a slab of concrete, the machine scrapes the gravel toward itself as if trying to level the ground a bit. Scratching like an animal might. Then it lifts up a piece of cement and if it is too big or awkward to lift, will drop it several times until it breaks. A smart animal, with problem solving skills. And we thought it was just a machine! To be efficient, slabs are neatly stacked before lifted and placed into a larger front end loader that waits there like a hungry chick begging for a worm. At first I am reminded of Edward Scissorhands trying to eat a pea but then come to appreciate that these birds really have the dexterity of a surgeon. Amazing!

Suddenly all of the machinery seems to be animated and it makes me recall how my bicycle feels like a restless horse underneath me. The backhoe is a cat coughing up a hairball. It scoops up the ground in one spot and empties the bucket in another. Because the dirt sticks – like the way the snow sticks to my shovel – it shakes it off with these quick backward jolts that would be unnatural for a person to mimic and hell on the neck. Bam! Bam! Bam! Just like my cat, Ehgh! Ehgh! Ehgh!

And now…

For the next thing on the list!

More work in the kitchen. A few things in the stairway. When Brian comes home, he’ll help me with the ladder so that I can reach up to wipe down the walls.

The To-Do List

Generally, I need to put the thing that must get done first on the list of things to do. It is not this post or making progress on the short story that I am writing or the book in progress that wants to be something other than what I first had in mind. At the moment, it is not even the podcast. The list from yesterday reads:

  • Caulk (stairway)
  • Clean up dining room, kitchen
  • Pick up house
  • Wash walls (stairway)
  • Finish prepping woodwork
  • Take down plastic
  • Clean kitchen walls

I did not get to all of these things and keeping up with a commitment to post here daily (mostly) wasn’t even on the list. By the end of the day, which ended really late last night, I collapsed.

I’ve let the lettuce go to seed, partly because I don’t have enough time to do everything there is to do and partly because I love the way the grassy pods look. It’s full of red headed birds, finches of some kind? I wanted to show the cat the dove that was walking around the upper deck where there is a floor-to-ceiling screen where she likes to sit, but figured that the bird wouldn’t stick around for it.

Our street gets a ridiculous number of delivery trucks every day. Every Amazon truck that pulls up to a house stirs up a low-level anxiety. It doesn’t seem like we can possibly be serious about addressing global warming if we are going to have toilet paper delivered to every individual household. The cheese stands alone as convenience is vehemently defended. Convenience will be the end of us. Whenever I think of convenience, I see the guy in Idiocracy who never had to get up from his chair to shit. In the meantime, try to find a decent choice of fabric or a belt that will last longer than a week or a sturdy rake at a brick-and-mortar shop.

It feels like it is going to rain.

Okay. If I can get the prep done in the kitchen so that I’m ready to paint, then other things can fall into place – the pan rack that I made, the baskets for onions and potatoes… I want to see how my sheep (a print I bought at the farmers market in Boise) will look above the door. I want to see that color. Hopefully it’s right this time.

I want my dining room back. No sooner did I finish it did it become the staging area for other projects.

It is not a short story or a podcast episode. But refinishing the shelves in the dining room built-in cabinets is a form of expression too. All of this is an expression of something. And just like writing a short story, at least for me, it is not easy. Not one bit.

Frances

“What should I write about today?”

“Toenails.”

My mind went to my nephew’s recent wedding in Virginia because it’s the kind of event that forces a woman to consider splurging on a professional pedicure if she isn’t already in the habit of getting them. When did we stop taking care of our own feet?

“I don’t want to write about toenails.”

“How about something from the book I just got for you?”

Pep Talk for Writers? Okay.”

Before I could finish the first chapter, which was three short pages, I regretted that I never emailed Frances. Frannie? Fran? I think she went by Fran. At the same time, I don’t regret anything. Honestly, I’m not just trying to be above my mistakes and I don’t subscribe to the notion that everything is as always as it should be. I’m just okay with it.

I could email her right now. It has been three years since I saw Fran staring up at a tree. So a message from me would be a surprise and possibly confusing.

“What are you looking at?”

Is there any way to say that without the dangling participle and still sound like a normal person?

“I’m trying to figure out what kind of tree that is. We don’t have those in Vermont.”

And this is how the conversation started. We stood on the sidewalk and talked for at least an hour. It might have been two.

Among other things, Fran told me that your life is a work of art. She said it better than that. I sort of understood and since then I’ve had glimpses of what she meant.

We talked about a number of things. Trees. Art. The Senior Olympics. The 82 year old Fran was a contender. She was a thrower. There was a reason she landed in this sport, but I can’t remember what it was. Shot put, discus, javelin, and the hammer throw. She did them all except for one that wasn’t good for her…back? Something like that.

I told her that I was sorry that I didn’t have my recorder with me. I would have liked to have interviewed her and at the same time can appreciate that a microphone can get in the way.

“You’ll remember what you need to remember.” She said.

Your life is a work of art. I remember that.

I remember how she took an interest in the painting project that I was doing. I was having trouble finding the right trim color for a the basement that I had painted a turquoise. She pointed to different houses on the block as examples of the effects of different color combinations. There is a house on Cleveland Avenue that always makes me think of her:

“See how the trim on that house is a dark brown?”

I remember noticing the contrast between talking to her, a stranger, and the difficulties I was having with some other people who were in my life at the time where I should have expected some level of connection but mostly just felt like an alien in their presence. It’s just nice to be got. To be heard. To be important.

“Do you want so see some old people jump? Come back at 10 o’clock.”

I remember sitting on the bleachers in the sun.

I remember that I was on my way home and she was on her way to find something to eat.

Her name was Francesca. When she was in her sixties she moved back to Vermont from Portland; she wanted to live near her aging mother.

I remember asking her for an email address.

Why Paint Jobs are Bigger than you Think

10. Another trip to the hardware store for the rollers that you forgot the first 50 times you were there.

9. Realizing that you picked the wrong color after you’ve finished the job.

8. Caulking the gaps between the wood molding and the wall.

7. Taping the area to be caulked as to get a clean line.

6. Cleaning up the paint spatters left by the previous painter from ten years ago, something you had never noticed until now that you’re looking at the walls up close with a magnifying glass and a headlamp.

5. Painting the thing next to the thing you just painted because it now looks dingy next to a fresh paint job.

4. Preventing a mess by putting down drop cloths, sealing off areas to be sanded…

3. Cleaning up the mess!

2. Painting.

1. Beer!

I’m plugging away at a few projects. Every day I think, today is the day! Time to paint! Nope! This morning I was taping plastic around and area to be sanded. I figured out this trick when I painted the dining room. You’re supposed to do things in the right order and that will save you some headaches. I tried to do that. But inevitably there would be a step backwards either because I just had to learn something the hard way or because I messed up something. There would be some repair I missed. So I would have to fill in a hole… now I have to do a little sanding… now I have to wipe things down… again. So I finally figured out that I could form a bag around the small area on the wall to be sanded. There’s a little more to it than that, but it essentially contains the mess. Anyway, this morning I was taping a bag to the wall for this purpose. Brian gets up. He needs to get passed me, as I am in the middle of the stairway. He tells me that I’ll be glad to know that while I’ve been industrious this morning, Senator Amy Klobuchar is “speaking truth to power.” We both had a laugh. Someone needs to tell her that she is the power. Has she ever been at a rally where people are shouting stuff like that? Those people aren’t going to vote for her. Not now. Not in 2020.

What will you remember about today?

What will I remember about the July 4, 2019?

I always think I will remember.

You mention a book I should read. Oh, I’ll remember that!

The name of your dog.

Your name!

A joke.

I always think I will remember.

What will I remember about today?

Without my notes?

I’ll need my notes:

1. I woke up before Brian and this essentially makes every day like Christmas Day where you can’t wait for everyone to wake up. Except instead of opening presents, there is breakfast, or a walk or something I have to tell him the minute he opens his eyes. But I don’t. I want to. But I try to give the man a minute.

2. So at 6 a.m. or so, I put another coat of paint on the radiator in the kitchen and listened to a podcast called 1001 Short Stories. This paint job required a lot of preparation. You can learn a lot about life by working on your house like this. I’ll return to this later.

3. Eventually Brian gets up and we go out for breakfast after the usual routine of feeding the cat, cleaning her box, etc.

4. We go for a ride. The Prius compliments Brian for not using the AC. The breeze feels good. I feel happy.

5. I wait in the car while Brian gets a few grocery items. Doing this same thing a little while ago, I got an idea for a movie that would be filmed from the POV of the passenger seat looking into the side mirror. When I went to Boston with Mary Jane last month, I waited in the valet area while she checked into the Westin Hotel. Again, looking into the side mirror at the action behind me… there is a movie here.

6. Brian notes that the yard needs some attention and wants to do some weeding before it rains. I like to imagine that he enjoys tapping into his inner farmer but he doesn’t admit it. He’s just doing what needs to be done.

7. I need to make a chalk line so that I can eventually install a handrail for the stairs. Brian helps me by holding one end of the line. It takes us a few tries, but eventually, we get it. I drill holes where the brackets will go. I think I found the studs. It seems like it. I hope so. It can be hard to tell with these plaster walls.

8. I continue to prepare the stairway for painting.

9. The back door where I am working upstairs is open. I can smell food cooking on grills around the neighborhood. I am reminded of my first night at the dormitory at the U of M – Morris. My dad who drove me there has left. My roommate – a person I have yet to meet – has not arrived yet. Outside I can hear people laughing, roving around campus is groups.

10. Brian is in and out. It starts to rain. It stops. He weeds in between.

11. Brian comes in from the yard covered in dirt. To the shower!

12. Brian lays on the bed. I sit in the chair by the window. The cat is passed out on her new favorite spot on the floor facing the door. Life is good.

13. Brian starts the grill. I wish that you could be here to join us.

14. I figured I better not fall off the wagon on day two…

15. Brian asks me how much corn on the cob I want to eat. He brings the package upstairs to show me how big they are. One.

16. Let’s eat.

17. Post.

18. Edit.

19. Brian watches the Red Sox lose.

20. I work on my short story.

Because I Left the House

Because I Left the House was an idea for a series of blog posts where I would note something that I experienced… well… because I left the house. Whenever I mentioned the idea, people responded positively and so I figured that it must be a good idea. It never went anywhere. In fact, this, my personal blog, has idled for quite some time. Although it remains in my project book, which is my way of tracking… projects. I will tell you more about the project book later.

What inspires me to log into Two People & a Cat now? I need to write. Just write. Indeed I am writing. I’ve been working on a book and a short story. Last night I was reading about how to write a short story and woke up this morning feeling like someone had just told me that Lego’s are only intended to go together in certain ways. Get to the point! Dispense with backstories and descriptions. In other words, everything I’ve written so far (okay, maybe an exaggeration) needs to be cut. Ugh.

So this is… I’m not sure. It’s a place to write some stuff without trying to fit it into any particular form. It’s a place to have some fun. Maybe it will end up being my best writing, although I doubt it. It won’t be so crafted… Not the blog posts. It will be more of a journal. That’s tricky. Because there are things that need to be processed over time. This isn’t a spill your guts kind of thing. And at the same time it does need to be open enough to be human. Honestly, we’ll just have to see. Mainly, it’s just a place to write, especially when I look at my other writing projects and feel stuck.

Okay, so because I left my house today… A moving van takes a turn in front of me. The top of the truck brushes past tree branches and I wonder if they might break. I walked to the end of my block – two blocks actually, over to Cleveland Avenue, and something exploded. Without knowing anything about it, my first thought was that it was a transformer. It was a loud crack that I could feel the vibrations in my chest. It scared me. There is someone sitting in a city truck not too far from me. No response. Another truck pulls up to the stop sign. The driver is texting, unconcerned. No signs of anyone investigating the noise. No curtains pulled. Nobody poking a head out or standing on the porch to see what’s what. It occurs to me that it’s the day before the Fourth of July and that firecrackers might explain the boom. But I quickly dismiss this. I know what I heard. While I am not seriously concerned for my safety, I opt to turn back and take a slightly different route to the coffee shop. This brings me past the moving truck. It appears that my neighbors are moving, but even though I see men loading boxes onto two moving trucks, I don’t quite believe it. The family is something of an institution. The hub of block parties. Organizers of rain garden workshops. They have chickens. They just put up a fence. They’re moving? If I followed the neighborhood email group more closely, I would know the scoop. But I took a break from the alerts and complaints and yes, block party invitations. So now I’m in the dark.

So there you have it. A little bit of a free write. I just need a spot where I can get something on the page without working it too hard. There is the question of why this is a blog versus a notebook stashed away in my closet. This is a good question, but one I’ll have to take up later. Thinking about that too hard right now would just take the fun out of it.

It’s 11:30 a.m. and the neighbor’s lawn service has just kicked in. I wasn’t expecting them today. This summer they’ve been coming on Thursday afternoons. It is quite an ordeal for such a small yard. It’s very noisy and gets on my nerves though I do try to be all zen about it. Suddenly, the noise stops. Is this for real? Will it start again? That was weird. It’s hard to relax when I’m wondering how long the quiet is going to last.