The yard is a triangular shape, lots of plants:

basil, rosemary, pansies, and other flowers that look cool, but I don’t know their names. Bird feeders—whimsical ones—scatter the yard. Squirrels eat peanuts from kitchen pans on the picnic tables. The birds chirp, the highway beside the house roars softly, the wind tingles against my skin. I can smell the ocean. Her grandma reminds me of my own. I’m sitting right beside her on the back deck. I hear a buzz. I see trees full of  colorful birds. I hear a car honk. She is reading her devotional book, The Upper Room, and I remember my gram reading the same book. She reads her Bible too. Has both books in her lap. Flips pages in her Bible. Points her finger along the page. Reads. Flips more pages. Reads. Rubs her worn but delicate hands together. Flips more pages. Reads. Rubs her wrist. Peers down at a verse. A blue jay hops really close to me. She looks up.  Throws it a peanut. “Uh oh,” she says as another one flies up, swoops down, snatches the peanut, and flies into a tree. She throws another peanut for the first blue jay. “This house was built in 1990, and we bought it in 1998…” she explains. I nod. “We have been here ever since.” There are doves. They gather on the roof of the house, looks like a conference is happening. “The blackbirds eat up everything!” she says. I breathe in the ocean air, wishing I could lock this moment. Instead I store it away and come back to it whenever I need it. I whisper a Thank you prayer as a blue jay swoops down again, looking for a peanut.

 

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I am from homemade banana bread,

from Clorox and white vinegar,

 

I am from freshly cut grass in July,

green, glistening, clean.

 

I am from the red and yellow tulips

that my little brother cut with scissors

in mom’s flowerbed in front of the house.

 

I am from the bamboo forest and the stream

behind our house

where we weren’t allowed to go,

but still did, of course.

 

I am from homemade chocolate milkshakes with Hershey’s syrup

and Little Ceasar’s pizza on Fridays.

From Hendersons and Crandalls.

I’m from the know-it-alls

and the get-over-its.

From “Get up!” and “Time for bed!”

 

I’m from Amazing Grace how sweet the sound

and the fourteen verses I memorized.

 

I’m from a neighborhood in Memphis.

And “Is Elvis still alive?”

School buses and strong coffee,

yard sales and thrift stores.

 

I’m from the journals under my bed.

Spilling words, memories, feelings, dreams.

I am from those recorded words, written

before I ever came alive.

 

I want to live in a world

much like the this one—

aching, longing, healing

no sugar coating.

coarse, unequal.

 

I can’t breathe in a world of pink ribbons—

where daisies bloom all year,

and truth is thin.

 

I want a world where it storms,

where thick truth swirls and pounds,

and it hurts, but it’s real and enough.

where it rains, and it’s still,

so very still—

before the sun returns,

and it always does,

yet again.

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All I Need

Some winter nights

all I need is the snow

to fall and dance and sparkle

in the moon light,

and my mom to text,

“The roads are bad. Did you make it home?”

and chicken noodle soup

to simmer on the stove top

while my boys wrestle

by the Christmas tree

and shoot each other with Nerf guns

and the dog gets in on the Nerf gun battle,

and when I look at her,

I swear she’s smiling too.

A day of schussing and moguls

We talked about going the past few winters. It’s one of those activities that seem fun but overwhelming. In theory, appealing, but the logistics are scary. Well, we decided this was the year. We were visiting my grandparents in the mountains — Boone, North Carolina.  He woke me up early.

“How much longer? When can we go?”

“David, we can’t go ‘til one.”

“Can we go early?”

“It doesn’t even open until one.”

The time ticked slowly (for David) and around 1 p.m., David and I — in our three layers of clothing, armed with gloves and hats and those knitted ski masks bank robbers wear in the movies — piled into my car.  Up the mountain we drove. My grandparents drove their car, too, to get us checked in. This was their idea, after all.

We peered over the houses on the mountain.  It was snowy, steep, and gorgeous. Like in a jigsaw puzzle or calendar. Scary, too. The wind was ferocious. Halfway up the mountain, the traffic stopped, a foreshadowing of what was to come. We inched our way to the lodge. To say it was packed would be . . . let’s just say it looked like an Uber convention. It was 1/2 off lift tickets day and the world loves a bargain. The whole world. All the times I spent at Walmart nearly having a panic attack from too many people dimmed by comparison. There were three lines that wrapped around halls and swirled around walls. Finding the end of one was the goal. Anxiety built.

Some people were filling out forms and my grandpa left the line to find some for us. These are the forms where you absolve the entire world of responsibility in the event you crush every bone in your body. When grandpa stepped into the madness, I wondered if I would ever see him again. He returned with paperwork for David and me, with an extra set for the red-haired kid in front of us who already had his skis. It was at this point my grandma said, “We are going to go home. Call me before you leave here.” Part of me envied them as they left. It was the part that screamed, “For godsakes, don’t leave me here!” on the inside. We chatted with our line mates. It turned out the redheaded kid was from a town close to Southern Pines.

“Have you skied before?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“Yes, a lot, but this is the first time I have been here. You?”

“I skied when I was his age,” I said, pointing to David. “This is his first time. We are going to need a lesson.”

“Nahhh, we don’t need a lesson,” David chimed in, his phone out as he YouTubed How to Ski. “It’s easy mom.” I could remember nothing of the basics of skiing besides gravity. The red-haired guy said, “I can show you a few things; you probably don’t need a lesson.” I was unconvinced but agreed.

Time passed. Another 30 minutes, then another. David became grouchy, and I reminded him over and over that he was the one who really wanted to come. We helped each other out of our coats as sweat dripped down our faces. Finally, it was time to step up to the counter. A rush filled me. Almost two hours of waiting had ended.

We paid for our lift tickets, skis, helmets, and a locker, and the adventure began.

The actual ski part could be summed up like . . . well, how about I share with you some texts that I found, yes found on my phone later that night. Caren is my best friend from high school, and I had sent her a picture of David and me standing in the forever line. I must have left my phone somewhere and forgotten about it for a while.

Caren: How was your Christmas?

David: Good this is David (smiley face)

Caren: Hey David! Looks like yall went skiing Did you have fun

David: Yes we did my mom fell every few feet though

Caren: Haha! That’s always fun (smiley face)

David: Not for the people in her path

Caren: (2 smiley faces)

David: She just about killed this one guy and took out about 6 others

Caren: (smiley face)  Maybe she’d be better on a snowboard. I did awful on skis.

David: Maybe you should go with us next time.

So, I read through these messages that had been exchanged on my phone. While there is some truth in these texts, they are exaggerated, of course, and David failed to mention that he, too, nearly “killed one guy and took out about 6 others.”  At one point he was just lying in the middle of the slope while others, trying not to use his body as a ski jump, zoomed by. (Don’t tell him I told you . . .  )

Neither of us learned how to stop without falling or even move around without going straight down the hill. Both of us came home with bruises, hurt pride, but lots of laughter.

Next time — and there will be a next time — we won’t pay attention to any red-haired kids.

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I hadn’t seen her for a few days, which was…

weird, since she has been a constant in my life ever since my (now) ex-husband surprised me with her for my birthday 10 or so years ago. Yes, I know that this type of gift may be more functional than fun, but it (she) worked for me. Sometimes, she and I would visit multiple locations in a single day. I confess, there were other times I neglected her, but never for long now that the black hairs from my 65 pound Rottweiler form clumps in the corners of every room in the house.

On this particular day though, I could hear her, which was strange. She was gurgling from my 8-year-old Kevin’s room.

“Bev! Where are you?”

“Life sucks, Renee.” She seemed despondent.

“Bev, that doesn’t sound like you. Besides life is supposed to suck. That’s what you do. It’s who you are.”

“You don’t need me.”

“What the hell, Bev? I always need you! Didn’t I empty you out three times last Saturday? All that dog hair. And remember those Legos?” We both grimaced.

“You used to use me every day.”

“I still use you a lot and you know it. The boys aren’t as messy as they used to be, and Bailey isn’t shedding as much since the weather is cooling off. Plus I’m taking her to get those de-shedding baths, remember?”

“I just don’t feel well, Renee. Not at all. I don’t feel like myself anymore.”

“I’m sorry, Bev. I do need you though, and you know it. You’ve always been there for me.” I searched for the right thing to say. “I thought you would appreciate a break here and there.”

“You shoved me in Kevin’s room last week and left me there.”

“I didn’t mean anything by that, Bev. I have just been a little lax these days. I will work on that. Promise.”

We talked about her and me over the years. Us. She’s been my right hand girl at five different houses in the past 10 years. While others her age have passed on, she hasn’t stopped moving. She’s so strong and I had taken her for granted. I thought she was feeling better, when she coughed another gurgled cough.

“Bev, you don’t sound good. What the . . . ”

“Help me, Renee!”

I mashed down her “off” button but it wouldn’t work. I unplugged her. She groaned and nearly passed out.

I opened her up as I had done thousands of times over the years and other than some dirt and dog hair, the usuals, I saw nothing that would be causing her such distress.

“Further down.” Her voice was weak, almost a whisper.

“Hold on, Bev, hold on.”

I reached down into her and my hand skimmed over a crumpled paper. I pulled gently, and the paper ripped, but I pulled it out in three parts. I pieced together some of the words. “Welcome to the third grade. I am glad to be teaching your child this year . . . ”

Oh great, so here is where that paper went. He needed it signed yesterday and we couldn’t find it.” It was nearly unrecognizable.

“There’s more,” she coughed.

“I moved my hand around some more and felt something else.

“Stay still, Bev. I’ve almost got it.”

I pulled out one . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . five . . . six . . . seven Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup wrappers. A record.

“Bev, how did these get in here?”

“The younger one . . . he . . . did this.”

“Kevin? When was this?”

“Yesterday.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t think I would feel this bad, Renee. And I didn’t want him to get in trouble. He’s kind of cute.”

“Well, you just ate seven Reese’s cup wrappers and a ‘welcome back to school’ form, Bev. That’s not good for anyone.” I pulled something else out of her. Another wrapper.

“Make that eight.”