A Sister Tree

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The Three sisters are Oak trees and they live in Sugarcreek Reserve, in Bellbrook Ohio.  The sign at the top of the hill reads that they are approximately 550 years old. That’s a lot of storms, and sunny days, and frigid January winters, and early spring freezes. I would bet they have lived some days gone by worth telling stories, and writing songs about.

The tree in this photo is the tree towards the bottom of the hill and nearest to the creek. The bark was crackled and the moss growing, here and there on the tree, was beginning to green. This was the first weekend that I felt it really did feel like spring was here. It was a wonderful day to walk with a friend.

 

 

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Wayward

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There are words for the runaway, the homeless, the seeker, the prayer, the hurting. . . but I can’t always find those words.

I made a mess of the words you are reading. I had them all straight and flowing and making sense and I hit a stride with them that was nearly poetry. Then truth be told, I went back one time too many, and maybe you know how that can go. It didn’t work very well, and I’ve spent an unusually long amount of time trying to get the words back in some order.

Of course, it was an innocent conversation, and I wanted to say something about it. But then again, I didn’t. One might be tempted to call it an internal confliction of sorts, and I don’t mean to make light of it. Mother said, “There are good memories, too.” She was right about that, yet I knew she felt the same pang in her heart that I did. I wanted to stay safe and not talk about it. I just went to bed that night. Let me dream about something else. I had been over these things in my mind a thousand times and dealt with much of it, so I thought it was just fine not to visit it this time around. I wanted a detachment that some say time was supposed to afford.

I am having a hard time figuring out how to begin this, so I’ll just take a little jump into it and hope that you are okay with it: The world that addiction opens is a place I don’t think he wanted to be. I don’t think he woke up one day and thought ‘hey, I will just go ahead and bring all kinds of stuff that has no good in it at all into my life and those close to me.’ I never thought the troubles caused by his addiction were like that. I could tell he felt awful about the things that he could never seem to leave. And then, he went just about as far away as he could. I think he felt like he didn’t know where else to go, or that he was a burden. So, he left. And this is the part that got me this time: we didn’t hear from him for months at a time and though we’ve come a long way from there, the emptiness of those days can visit like a clear shadow, just like it had never left.

It wasn’t like we thought he had this great life, and everything was okay. He was in with some bad people, even though he never had to tell us that. We knew. Bad people don’t care anything at all about you when you stop doing what they want you to do. I am not trying to sound dramatic here, but for those of us who were looking and wondering and worrying, we were heartsick every day. How far away he strayed from his promising self, and how we ached about it is not the thing I want to stress right now. The thing I want to say right now is he could be anybody, related to me, related to you—it doesn’t matter right now that he wasn’t yours, or he might not be mine. That kind of he, or lost she, eventually belongs to all of us, and I believe it’s a collective hurt against the world.

I saw an article in the local paper recently . . .about lost girls in this little gateway town near a state line, where nothing much happens. The photograph showed lonely train tracks and a dusty road, and the writer asked if anyone knew of information of a trafficking ring hiding in this town. Could they write in if they did? They were really trying to help the runaway youth and the hidden clues were difficult to find.

It’s safe to write about other things. I tried. And for two days writing this, I was so frustrated and questioning why I am putting these words on a page. Why? The image of a young girl in a documentary I recently watched, would not let go of me. Good people had followed and investigated and found her just as she was trying to act as unassuming as she could and hiding that she was afraid. They saved her.

The subject of trafficking and lost youth just went down deep. There are youth, young girls, boys, LGBTQ youth, and for whatever reason they are lost and afraid and despairing, and it shakes me to think of it. I once had an officer tell me that spring is a busy time because the weather is kinder and the people who prey “all come out and start lurking around, looking for trouble.” The parking lots, the flowers on the windshield, the unlocked doors that are opened at the gas station while the victim is unaware and then gets back into her car not knowing that she is not alone. The easier route, and they know it, is found in the runaway. The kids who think that leaving their family is better than the unknown they might find somewhere else. They become Lost. Afraid. Despairing. Those words carry lives with them.

We were given closure. It’s strange to see myself type the last sentence. One of the kindest, strongest souls I have ever known kept telling me, “You are brave. You are brave, you are brave,” as she knew my heart was breaking into pieces over a grave. We were able to grieve the things that we learned to be true. We were able to mourn the loss. That is the strength of a scar, isn’t it? In that at least there is some healing. That what was unfinished gifted us with answers and in unexpected ways, becomes your friend and you don’t want anything from it, you are not even fighting it anymore. If you are reading this and suffering, you need to hear that you are brave. There are a lot of people who need to hear that they are brave. We don’t come to empty and barren places alone; others feel this jumble of words and feelings right alongside you.
And then there are what I like to call champions of lost people. Those who are constantly looking, and trying to be helpful: the truckers who notice things, the caring woman who stops to ask, the person who makes a call of interest because something just looks off, the people who notice the wounds nervously unexplained, the person who notices the prepaid phones, the trained volunteer on the other end of a phone, and on and on.

These stories don’t really belong to other people. I would like to make the case that they belong to all of us. It’s an awful thing to see these things happen and not have answers. Answers can hide sometimes almost in front of us. It’s an awful thing to think. . .and here I go jumbling words again. Along the way with this jumble of words I asked a few friends about resources. I was able to speak to a volunteer at the National Runaway Safeline and I would like to say that she was a wonderful, caring person with a lot of resources at her fingertips. And also their website included a lot of information.

Here are a few resources:

National Runaway Safeline
1-800-786-2929
Text 66008
http://www.1800runaway.org/National-Run-/Away-Safeline

Human Trafficking Hotline 1-888-373-7888

Maslow’s Army (is a Cincinnati non-profit with dedicated people helping the homeless and addicted) http://www.maslowsarmy.org  or 859-491-2769

 

 

The Weight of Ink, and appreciation

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Our local book store helped me out with obtaining this read, and my friend I might start calling the book whisperer, suggested it. Mulberry St. Books, in Lebanon, Ohio, specializes in gently used books. It’s so nice to have a bookstore in town, again.

Last night I finished reading The Weight of Ink. I also read the acknowledgement and author’s note. The research and assimilation of puzzle pieces that make up this novel must’ve taken hours upon hours to fit together in just the right way.

Like in the title, it’s weighty.  The attention to detail, plus imagination, plus historical accuracy leaves me unable to find the right words for it except, Wow. I can only imagine that this must’ve been a labor of love artists talk about, where some of life flies out the window while you are zoned in to the keyboard, huddling in the libraries, on the phone talking historical accuracy, and thinking that those paragraphs need to be looked over, again, and maybe again after that.

Kadish writes about “years” in writing this which makes me admire the effort and result even more. In her acknowledgements she thanks an editor who “believed” in her and the book. I didn’t realize the gravity of all of this until I finished the book. Reminders of Julia Cameron’s thoughts came to mind regarding effort, in Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, that it’s easier to criticize when you are not trying to exert the same effort as someone else. The thought is that if you are working as hard you won’t be as critical as you will be impressed and inspired. The Weight of Ink and its creation must’ve been like moving a mountain.

The Weight of Ink is substantial in pages and depth. Kadish delivered. The heroine unapologetically goes against the grain because things around her are not sustainable in any kind of moral way. The characters all have a place and they, along with historical events move the book forward. Among them, Ester Velasquez, and Rivka, show the reader the struggles, and absurdities of the convention in which they live, and their intelligence and patient servitude that rebel against it. You will also meet Helen Watt, who is a champion in her own way of justice, and Aaron. Together they do a lot of uncovering, peeling back layers and I won’t say much more than that. No spoilers here.

The nearly 600 pages are worth it. It took me a while, to read and absorb, and do some more reading and absorbing. It took several weeks of quiet evenings to read this book at a pace that I could really take it in. I appreciated it. I can also say that I loved it, but more than that I appreciated the herculean effort and teamwork, and focus of mind this writing must’ve taken.

I am grateful to the book whisperers, and librarians, and bookstore owner on Mulberry Street in my life. They open some of the best reads for me.

International Women’s Day

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Yesterday was International Women’s Day and after a few weeks of those winter bugs circling through our house, I found myself standing at the stove deciding what to make that we felt our bodies could all handle. It came down to biscuits. The old time-honored biscuit. Good, starchy stuff that just about anything tastes good on; there’s comfort in that kind of food. And I thought about the women who raised the women of today. I thought about women all over the world. The lives they must lead, and the things they show, as well as the stories that they have never told.

I thought of this photo of  Mamaw and me.  And how she for a time took a break from her usual rhythm of things to come stay with my family. How she tried to calm my energy and sit with me, in a rocking chair and read. Her voice was like music when she read. Book after book, story after story she would read, and  she’d say my name as she read. “Now Becky” to call my attention to the pages. “Becky, look.” Becky, listen.” Somewhere in the memory of all of those pages, and memories I have heard about her, I have thought Mamaw knew about mighty little girls who grow to turn the world. That she knew just as much as she must’ve known any other important thing, that they too, turned the pages of life, and many times they wrote those pages.

Last night I thought of her as I made a dough for biscuits.  I thought of her strength all wrapped up in that beautiful, delicate-mannered being and the wonderful mind that she had, the things about her that were seen, and the things that she must’ve gone through and triumphed over that I did not see.

Songs of Spring

53068839_2237454786369774_3075691862384705536_nArtist Linda McCoy paints the most beautiful birds. You can find more of her work at the Rowe House in Milford, Ohio and https://lindamccoyart.blogspot.com

 

There were hardwood floors in this old house. This house all of the adults called “ours” but really I think it belonged to the woods. In this old house the wide-planks and the long boards along the floor slanted down a little. A kid never had so much fun running, and  sliding sock-footed to the banister, almost right into it. There was a sturdy, wooden railing, the kind that children would swing from when the adults walked out of the room. But this day, I had the little Mary Jane shoes on and they tapped in click-clack sounds across that hardwood floor. Such was the tapping of life, to get to that banister and hold fast to that railing and listen to the taps of my footsteps.

The fireplace glowed with the crackling fires of winter and there was a rocking chair near, the warmth of books to read, stacked on the table, while outside thinly crystalized ice broke under the weight of nearly anything; winter was now a festering thing, all closed up, and spring was announcing in little pieces like healing, blooming oxygen.

I reached for that banister, with my arms stretched to it and I tapped right up those stairs. I danced to the top as the sunlight beamed upon the dark, shiny steps. Tap, tap, tap sang the souls of my shoes and at the top was the perfect spot waiting near a window. I opened it just a crack. I pivoted this dance of mine, my back against the wall and I slid down to sit on the floor. I listened to shimmering woods waking and winter washing over rocks. Early spring breathed into the small space of the open window.

Through a barely opened window,  I escaped into what happens between the tapping of footsteps. The woods tell stories, with breaks just where they are needed and pauses in just the right places, and happy exclamations. The hushes become dashes that take place on imaginary paper; launching pads and in this way I can see in my mind how stories unfold.

The cardinal calls and tells me he’s a pretty bird. The junco jumps forward and skitters right back. The chickadee flutters wings from tree to tree. I an hear the buds on the trees reaching, opening. And I with closed-eyes, sitting against that wall, near the opening from the window, listen to the birds tell stories of spring.

 

 

Starlings

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At dawn, Starlings flew into the garden struggling to land gracefully upon the bare limbs of the old tree. Some dropped their bodies down to the ground, searching through dried leaves, tugging at grass, and there is really no poetic or elegant way to describe how Starlings make their movements.  They were not but 30 feet from where my dog and I sat on the back steps of the house.

A veil of fog stretched into a thick woven cloth across the far line of trees. It reached towards us, straining to a thin line as it was barely able to cover the edge of the garden, ever thinly as it could. The sun shone more piercing as it rose, and the limbs belonging to that far line of trees became clearer.

It was good to have a dog sit with me and watch how Starlings can take over a thing; a pear tree, a blackberry bush, a birdfeeder or any sort of thing that they go after. The dog’s hunter eyes searched to old tree as it was overwhelmed by these creatures.

We sat silently. We watched the morning grow into day, surrounded as we were by the loudest, squawking birds I think I’ve ever heard. When the fog finally rolled away, the starlings followed.

Small Town

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A traffic light is red at the corner
of Main and Broadway. Two men stand in the doorway
of the local library.

The big, burly man tilts his head back and I hear
a good-natured laugh. The other man is talking and
talking. There is no hurry.

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Tea Cookies

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It’s an easy thing lately to find myself looking back into my family of origin as far as I can remember. Today, I chose good things. We got through the hard things, sometimes with next to nothing, and sometimes barely at all, but we made it and I think that stands for something. The good things mean even more because of that.

I drove to my mother’s home, today, and wondered if the little bakery in her town was still there. The one that sold the tea cookies. It was where I had remembered it. I walked in and there they were, the little round tables, with the chairs with the little round seats, and the back of the chairs woven into a heart in the center. The case at the back of the store was filled with baked goods. I stood there for a moment looking around, taking it all in. And I could nearly see in front of me: a memory of mommy leading me through the door by my small hand when I was a child, right to the little chair with a heart woven into the back of it. She had let go of my hand and walked to the counter to order a Danish with a coffee, and some tea cookies. We then sat at a little round table. She with her Danish and coffee and I with my tea cookies. It all felt so special and important. The dollop of brightly colored icing in top of those cookies.

Today, I stood in the entry way of that bakery and just absorbed that memory again. I went to the counter. My mother needs to gain weight now. She is 87 and recovering, her will and wit as strong as ever. Her body is deciding. Sometimes remembrance is letting go yet wanting to hold on forever. These little things we do when the days get softer, they somehow carry time with them. The carry the knowledge of why it was good, and how happy we felt, and the hope of more. Remembrance carries all kinds of memories and emotions, all at once.

The store was not the same after all this time, but they kept a few familiar things, like the design of the chairs and tables. The bakery case was still in the back of the store. And friendliness, they kept that. In front of me was a woman, young and beautiful, and she was ordering tea cookies. The ones with the sprinkles on top. The line moved and I was now beside her. She greeted me with a smile and I noticed her round belly. I wondered if a day not too far from today, she might bring her child to sit with her, at these little tables.

The woman behind the counter was friendly, and helping a young man who told us that today was his first day on the job. He was weighing orders and placing them into boxes. I wanted to say something about a long time ago, about mommy bringing me here, and how it felt to come through that door so many years later. How mommy and I used to sit at a little table when my feet couldn’t touch the ground, how mommy looked sitting across from me. She held a steaming cup up coffee in a white mug the color of milk, and there was a Danish on a white plate. I remember her brown hair braided and wound neatly into a bun. I wanted to say how good it was to be here now, and remember all of that. And how happy it was to come here, and see tea cookies in the bakery case. And smiling faces and welcoming conversation. I wondered if bakers realize the smiles that they bring to others. The stress they sometimes calm, the spirits they lift, or the memories they recall to others.

I awkwardly said, “My mother used to bring me here and I know that was forever ago.” The pregnant woman smiled at me. The lady behind the counter said that she had photos of the bakery from years ago, would I like to see them? I said that would be great and then we both realized the line of customers forming behind me. I said, “Maybe another time, you look so busy and there are only two of you, today.” But the thought was nice all the same.

I drove to my mother’s home with tea cookies in a chocolate colored box. The birds were chatting in the trees and the daffodils bloomed, in spite of an early morning snow that was melting now. I walked through the living room where oil paintings hung on the walls. These were the works of art that she had painted during winter, almost twenty new works in all. As she would say, she was doing the things that she could do, and isn’t that why we are all here? To do the things that we can do in this world? Her lyrical Appalachian voice and her matter of fact manner spoke that right into my mind as I walked through the hall towards her room. A dab of yellow ochre touched almost every painting. I find myself adopting her colors and loving them like she does. Did I ever think that would happen? We all become pieces of those we love, mixed in with our own journeys.

I found her in her room sitting in her recliner, lookin well today, all things considered. Her mind and wit as sharp as ever, wearing a pale pink cable sweater that spoke hopes of spring. This cool April that has been harsher to the earth to her, more than usual. I gave her the box of tea cookies. We sat together and spoke of remembrances.

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Moss and coffee thoughts

IMG_4064Photo taken in 2017, when Butterfly Weed bloomed.

We had a bit of an ice storm last night, because in the Midwest, March can act like that, even when spring flowers are blooming. This morning when I looked out the kitchen window icicles were hanging from bare branches that just yesterday were seemingly waking from winter and stretching for spring. This morning icicles drip, nature’s irrigation, and the sun is shining so brightly I can nearly see right through the ice. Cold water, drop by drop, onto the greening grass.

There is a stump that we left on purpose as we cut the old Japanese Pine down to knee-high last year. We didn’t want to bring it down, but I had to be done. It ended up feeding a fire that smelled of the earth.

The stump has moss growing on it now. The moss is growing out into the bare area underneath the honeysuckle tree. This is a small garden where we were lucky enough to see the Butterfly Weed grow, last year. It’s fun to try to fit parts of a forest in this small space. So, a bit of moss is important. And I love that. It also makes me think of beer because moss loves a concoction like that.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all of you!

Teachers who know the value of trees

IMG_0840Photograph taken in Ohio, 2010, Rebecca Case

Valentine’s Day came and somewhere among the flowers and chocolates and expressions of love, another school shooting happened. This time in Florida. Soon after, a young survivor, named Emma, had something to say. As I listened to her I felt that I was hearing the anguish and frustration many children all across the country must have felt for a long time. I found her voice powerful. And sad. She was speaking for many in her generation. And I couldn’t help but notice the adults standing near her as she spoke. I imagined that they were mentors, teachers, counselors, staff and community members who wanted to support the voices of the children.

How many times have students felt what Emma was saying? With every report of a shooting, with every “active shooter” drill, with every discussion about gun safety and responsibility. Emma and her peers were determined to be heard. They were also determined to be helpers and ask that steps be taken to help them and all children feel safer at school.

I am a parent who has been asking questions, looking back, and wondering what we have put our children through. I remembered how awful it felt to drop my own children off at school the day after the shooting at Sandy Hook. Sandy Hook was states away but it did not matter. We all felt the shock and the sadness. We grieved for the parents who had lost. At our school the morning after Sand Hook the counselors welcomed phone calls, the staff was willing to talk to anyone to make them feel safe. The discussion went on for a few days, and then it just stopped. Then there was the next shooting that was reported in the news. The conversations began again. The talking, the calming down, and here we were scooting our little ones off towards their lockers and telling them it’s okay. Class begins soon and they should feel safe to focus on school now.

The emotions and experience Emma was talking about were becoming part of our children’s educational experience. They were becoming a part of our children’s psyche, right in front of us. The news reports, the drills, the letters sent to parents, and the repetition of all of it. I saw Emma. I heard Emma. She told me all about it. Her anger, her passion, and her grief. I needed to hear every heartbreaking word she had to say.

As I write this, just this week our school sent out a notification that during the morning there had been a suspected shooter near one of our local schools. THE STUDENTS ARE SAFE, they told us. And thankfully, they were. As a parent, those words have the power to change a day.

We go to school and learn that writing is about bridges. It’s a powerful way to connect. It’s a powerful way to meet each other where we have not met before. Writing about a school shooting was not my original plan. Yet after the tragic event on Valentine’s Day how could I not keep going back to these kids who want and need support for their voices? I scratched part of my original essay because I wanted to write about this, about what Emma had to say, and I wanted to write about it as a parent who remembers valuable teachers, and also saw valuable teachers and mentors standing up with Emma. I wanted a bridge; for the students, for parents, for all of us. I needed a connection, a hope that we can meet each other with positive solutions about this like we have never met before.

I have thought a lot about Emma’s peers, and the adults who were standing with her. And how important I feel that is for all of us to see. Emma told me that in her history class she and her peers had had many debates about safety already this year. She told me that she and her peers were challenged. That she and her peers were questioned. She also told me that she and her peers were ready for this debate about safety in their schools. And right there with her were mentors and caring adults, in this time of grief, sorrow, and the outrage there these students were articulating like we had never heard before.

Have you ever had someone stand beside you? Better yet, validate what you are saying? Have you ever had someone tell you that what you are feeling is normal to feel? And that it would be normal for anyone to feel like that? This is what good teachers and mentors do, and they may not realize it, but they help courage grow.

Sometimes they help us leave what we once relied on, even though what he relied on hurts. Whether it’s another person or the way things have been done for a long time. Obligation can keep us going in circles. It has become what we know and somehow those circles seem safe, those circles that go nowhere. Teachers and mentors who facilitate positive change in a student’s life don’t have to do this, yet they do it because they care. That is a kindness. And maybe most of us can agree that after all of the ugliness the world throws our way, that the world cannot turn without the anchors of kindness.

When I remember one of my teachers who showed me kindness, I remember that she took the class the look at the courtyard, in the center of the school, on a cold January day and told us to “write thoughts.” Anything, she said. Just write. I wrote that I saw sequins in the ice that glittered. I found wintry queens and long gowns, and silence.

My peers and I sat on the gray floor with our composition books open and looked upon the snowy  courtyard. Pens moved and feelings ran onto the paper. It felt like fear turning, tears drying, dreams weaving, and I forgot everything painful in this world because there was this magical thing called story, and it had icy windows and a dormant tree with snow-covered branches. Art creates answers.

I am told by talented people that we should place important things on paper, right along with all of the other things we could possible place there. Close your eyes. Reach in that space that is open and tell what we see. What we hear. What we feel. My teacher who walked us to the courtyard, and who still helps people today, helped us push boundaries. We studied Hitchcock and how those birds flew right at us. We studied Twain and his dusty trails demanded we throw pretention away and breathe humanity in. Dickens showed up manners right along with all the soot of the world and told us that actions were more important than possessions. We talked about all of it. We wrote about all of it. We considered how the writers lived more of their story than they might ever admit to us on paper. Writers told us their secrets.

Emma was doing the same thing. She was telling us how she and her peers had lived, and what emotions they had felt for a long time. It was time for her to speak out. Before the time I finished writing this, the students at Douglas High in Florida, have gone back to school. They have put flowers on empty desks.  I am just a parent, who looks at these young students and remembers the struggles of teenage times. I also realize that I did not have the additional reality of frequent gun violence to deal with and all the fear that it carries. I saw her standing with fellow students, teachers, counselors, and mentors. All of these adults supported the students with that brave anchor of kindness.

The photo that you see at the top of the page is of my child, when he was younger. He is playing in the same place I played in as a child. He is learning what trees and the rhythm of natural things teach. To me, this is the best of many things. I looked through a lot of photos as I wrote this and I couldn’t think of a better way to express the feeling of security and freedom that I like to think we all hope to feel. Just like my own teacher walked us to that courtyard and I saw a tree with snow-covered branches, quiet and dormant in winter. These bridges might seem like an irrelevant thing, or the value of looking at a tree, but I do believe these bridges place healing in our hearts and minds. The teacher who walked us to the courtyard knew this. I believe that. And the teachers who stood with Emma as she was speaking brave and difficult words knew the value of bridges and trees. I want to believe that they also know that art creates answers. And that listening follows. To all of the adults who stood with the students, and to my own teacher, thank you.