Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Funny How Things Work Out

I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart: I am, I am, I am.
Sylvia Plath

Nineteen years ago, my oldest child went off to kindergarten followed two years later by his younger brother. Four years after that, his youngest brother joined the ranks of student. On the first day of school, they arrived home with backpacks filled with papers for me to peruse and sign, forms to fill out. I hated the big pink ones - where you filled in health info, social security number, who to call and all the other garbage required. Someday, I said, someday, I won't have to fill out these stupid forms.

Someday has arrived. I bypassed the Back to School ads and the watchful eye to identify locker, book, and schedule pick up days for my kids. The familiar angst that summer is over and my days now dictated by defined schedules and childrens events, didn't elapse. Finally, finally, my days of public school over.

Of course, life isn't complete without irony. I no longer have kids in the public school system, but guess who's still there? That would be me. The substitute teacher.

Gave me a very odd feeling to walk those halls of the high school yesterday. I didn't hear the familiar "Hey, Mrs. Anderson" calls. The most heart stopping, I didn't hear "Hey, Mom." Just as his friends that greeted me so warmly have begun new lives at college, so has my Ian. Gave me pause to consider that he is now so far away.

But the boy is doing well. In an effort to grant him his wings, I've only called twice in more than two weeks. Texted twice. Where a little homesickness invaded his world at the beginning, he now says things are going great. Activities joined, classes attended, new friends met. An adventure well on its way.

Ian and his new roommate, Zach.
The family farewell. Ian and I had driven from Austin to Tuscaloosa after flying back from Green Bay. Bob and Jordan drove in from Green Bay. A little rearranging in the midst of schedules gone awry.

I'm not very good with goodbyes, so our last morning whipped by rather quickly. "See you again sometime," is all I mustered before climbing into the car after a quick hug. Shades of the goodbyes my brothers and I shared with my dad, and one my oldest brother, Jon, so eloquently recalled at my dad's service. Thank you, Jon.

A parting glance.

I thank everyone for your most kind thoughts, prayers, and comments from the past two posts. I appreciate the Fragrant Liar's contribution to this blog in my absence. It totally fits that she would choose the photo where she looks best. Ahem! That other blond in the photo? That's our friend, Carolyn, of Backyard Pearls fame.

Okay, now that I've sent you to three different places in one paragraph, time for a bit of relaxation. After my week of solitude spent raking the lake, I had a few friends join me. For some odd august reason, clouds and cool breezes replaced the heat and allowed us to not spend our days dodging the sun. Our focus of the day became taking turns replenishing the drink and food trays. Lazy day indeed.

Just a bunch of old bitties, slacking off. Swimming with the swans.

Back to work.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Raking the Lake

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Kahlil Gibran

Last Monday, I returned once more to the lake after a two-week leave. Two weeks filled with familiar routes on two uncertain journeys. I know the way to Green Bay, Wisconsin very well. For twenty-two years I’ve driven it -- all 23 hours of it. Rarely have I had the opportunity to fly over I-35, I-44, the Mississippi River, I-55, I-39, and I-43.

In previous trips along this route, I wanted the miles to drift by with quick ease, for at the end of the journey, my parents would greet me. But this trip, I didn’t mind watching each farm go slowly by. In fact, I almost wanted to slow down for I knew when I reached my destination, the familiar embrace of my mom would find me, but an unfamiliar welcome from my dad lay ahead. My dad, dying. I didn’t know how to greet that scene.

I had hoped he might pass before I arrived. My dad, his body and mind devoured by Alzheimer’s disease, had fought this ugly demon for ten years. When I walked into his room at the nursing home, my fear of seeing him completely helpless and on his way out dissipated and diluted itself into the excited air of Packer camp brewing down the road at Lambeau Field. After all, he was just my dad -- whom I loved and I knew loved me.

For four days, a seat in a chair beside his bed became a comfortable place.

After he peacefully passed, my family gathered to honor him and celebrate his life. Within 28 hours of his burial, I was on an airplane, passing over the interstates and Mississippi River to return home to prepare for another trip, a day later.

A mere 12-hour drive this time to take my youngest son to college. With previous campus visits behind us, the road now familiar through towns along HWY 31 in Texas and I-20 all the way to Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

My game face on. Once again across the Mississippi to deposit my boy in his new home and encourage him on the grand adventure before him.

Another Mississippi River crossing, tired beyond words and home again, I retreated to the cabin only to discover during my absence, the silky, sandy bottom of the lake had been invaded. Without our watchful eyes, weeds had annexed every inch of our waterfront. Of course, they didn’t choose only us; my neighbor’s plots covered in the garlic smelling green vegetation also.

The languid heat of summer had crept in with indexes and temperatures in the 100’s encouraging the weed growth. With no one tending the floor of the warm water, the squatters took up residence.

I hate weeds. I hate the way they coil around your feet when walking out to swim. I hate knowing they’re down there when I’m floating above them.

These weeds, for which I’m at a loss of heart to research an accurate name, have shallow roots and tiny tendrils that swish across your toes. Rather unobtrusive for the weed world actually. I can use my toes to roost them easily out of the bottom, but this infestation wasn’t like the sprinkling of past years, easily harvested to restore our sandy bottom.

I turned my back on the heat and the lake and slept for two days, letting the weeds have their way. I watched the first two seasons of Mad Men on my laptop. I made a batch of gumbo and ate the entire pot.

On Wednesday, I wrestled a three-foot wide rake from the shed and tackled the lush weed bed.

I began in a grid-like fashion, following up and down the dock, across to the neighbors and back, collecting the weeds in the talons of the rake. I lifted the full catch up through water and spanked them with a harsh clang into piles on the dock. It was easy to follow my route, like walking up one street and down the next.

I tried to mark off my progress in squares, but every once in a while I’d take a crisscross route, to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, my rake yielding a few recluses here and there.

At times I found myself bored with the section I platted. I’d meander making a new pass, marking new territory, winding this way and that. It reminded me of my father’s hearse, or coach as they call them now, weaving its way through the lovely oak covered cemetery trails, finding its way to his final resting place.

As I worked, the lake was calm, quiet and I was alone. Only an occasional jet ski or fishing boat’s motor droned in the distance. No one mowed their lawn nor arrived to pound hammers into the cabins around us enduring endless updates.

Just me, and a few turtles curious as to my motion. A couple of ducks hoping I might break to feed them while the raking of the lake fed me. The peace of my work, underground. Tearing free the weeds, so when I swim, it will only be the gentle sand cushioning my feet.

After five hours of work, more boats joined the lake creating synchronized waves. A breeze erased any remainder of calm water. My arms ached from sifting through two, three, four feet of water. I climbed the ladder and sat on the dock.

My arms tingling.


Rejoining life.

With sincere gratitude, I thank the Fragrant Liar for hosting during my absence.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

On Leaving Footprints

Some people come into our lives and leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never ever the same.

– Flavia Weedn

Hello, Friends of Midlife Jobhunter,

Julie is away from home for a little while, spending some precious hours in Green Bay, Wisconsin, with her father, who is not doing well. So she's asked me, Fragrant Liar, to guest post. And though she didn't ask me to roast her, I kinda thought it would be fun.

As a writer, one of my favorite subjects is the relationship between friends—particularly women friends, which is sometimes surprisingly hard to come by and therefore all the more valuable and special when you are blessed with it. I couldn't write engaging four-dimensional characters if I didn't have real-life examples to draw from, like Julie.

What I like most about Julie is that she's down to earth, unpretentious, and says what she thinks. This allows us to cut right through the bull I usually like to sling around. Why, in the 9 or 10 years we've been friends, Julie has been known to say the most loving friendship stuff to me. Here are just some of my favorites:
  • Most memorable party invitation: You better show up.

  • Most constructive comment on my manuscript: No.

  • Best cure for boredom: More wine?

  • Best simultaneous activity while star gazing: More wine?

  • Most shared sentiment on a group project: I'm sick of this shit.

  • On raising three sons (vs my 4 daughters): Pink? What's pink?

  • Most dreaded suggestion for joining her at the lake: Don't forget your suit.

  • Most useful advice: So did you dump his ass?

  • When assigned to create a positive affirmation for ME: I hope I get to come see you in Florida.
Real friends leave footprints in your mind and heart -- sometimes on your ego -- always on your character.

Jules, take care of your pops, and treasure the time you have with your family.


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