The Stolen Things

22154520_793576934155127_1089945089805746456_n

I felt a little ashamed that I hurt over the things that were taken, because they were just things. They were things my grandmother wore, but they were not more important than a life. I also knew good and well that my father was sleeping just one room over and down the hall, behind a closed door. He was older and his post-polio syndrome frequently caused him discomfort. He took a nap daily which helped. He had a noise maker–at least that’s what he called it. And when he took a nap he turned it on to drown out the noise of the house, and the sounds of the rest of us coming and going.

It was chilling news when mother told me that the robbers climbed up the hill, through the thickness of the trees, around the side of the house where the woodchips led to a side door, and came right into the house. She could tell because footprints were embedded in the wood chipped path and the side doors had been left open. The entire time the robbers searched the house, my father was sleeping. Their footsteps went everywhere, into the bedrooms, eyes searching the bookshelves, pulling things down, grabbing and taking as they went through the house.

Words were not easy. I heard the fear in her voice. We couldn’t help but envision scenarios that could have happened, but did not. I thought about the mercy of timing and luck, that their steps did not lead to my father. Grateful, but also terrified of the images that could have been.

Today, I am wearing my grandmother’s initial ring. A little gold ring she was given as a young girl with the letter E engraved in cursive. E for Eva. I am also wearing her wedding band. A slender ring of gold. and I feel connected to her when I wear these things.

In my parents’ bedroom there was a dresser with a marble top. There was an old, blue glass stand placed on the left corner of that marble topped dresser. Mother put almost all of her jewelry in it. Strings of pearls tumbled out and down onto the marble. Rings settled into the center. A lady’s gold watch, pins, and some costume jewelry too. As a child I could have spent hours looking at these colors and finishes, and the way they caught the light. A sky blue glass stand, with pearls and fine things tumbling down into the swirls in the marble that in just the right light made the darker swirls look like liquid.

When I graduated college mother walked up to me after the ceremony. We were all standing in the parking lot. She handed me a little velvet box and said “Because I know how you have loved it.” I opened the box and found my grandmother’s initial ring tucked into the velvet, gleaming with the letter E. I put it on right there.

I am reminded as I write this that there was another time things were taken. I was seven years old. My father bought a cross for me as a Christmas gift. A necklace. I was so excited that I wore it to bed that night. It was taken off of me before the sun came up. They didn’t neglect to take the unwrapped gifts that were left on the living room floor, either. All stolen in the night. When I woke up I felt for the cross and it was gone. I remember sitting up in my bed, the sun rising over the trees. I looked at the nightstand, at the dark wood of the closet doors, on the floor, and nothing. Nothing. I went downstairs and more things were gone. I yelled for Daddy and he came around the corner. We noticed that our TV was gone. There we were, looking for things that we knew just where we had put them. I learned it’s like that when things are taken. You look. You doubt what you knew positively you had done. You doubt the way you shut that door, you doubt where you had put something at the same time knowing good and well that you did shut the door. You did put the box right there. And Oh God it hits you that someone else was right where you are standing.  The look on my father’s face as he realized all of this, that someone had stolen in, quietly, to take things. How special it was to finally have a Christmas like that. And taken. Gone.

My mother was the one to find this house. She had to have it. She said it was a perfect hiding place under the shelter of trees. We loved the woods. It became a relationship. The woods gave us intangible and important things. She and Dad slowly patched the house together until, after a long time, it was a place of beauty.

I couldn’t help but wonder about these takers of other people’s things. Why intrude upon another life with such malicious intent? They see the things, but they don’t see the struggle, the work, the dreaming that created them. They weren’t there when we attached our emotions to these simple things. Did they ever feel cheated? Did they ever want to change someone else? Create insecurity? They take, they shock, they surprise, they rattle the dust from someone else’s foundation. Take a thing, take a life and feel better? Is that how it goes? Did something happen to make them so angry that they take from people they have never known? Did they wear shoes to make footsteps light or were they brazen enough to wear work boots that would announce their intrusion?

When mother told me that someone came up through the woods, along the wood- chipped path to enter our house that took patient years to love into something we could belong to, she said that her jewelry was gone. If you have ever been robbed, or loved someone who has been robbed, you know all of the violation and fear that strikes you–right away. I don’t know how else to explain it to you.

Of course, my father. I could see him in my mind, in his TV room, lying on the couch, and his noise maker covering up the sounds of their footsteps climbing the stairs of the old house. The old wooden stairs creaked and the banister, as solid as it was, had its own sound of belonging. A man who served his country. He was older now, not like when I was seven and the robbers stole in to take our Christmas things, when he was hale and strong. They walked to that same dresser where the marble top gleamed, and the blue glass held colors and gems and pearls tumbling down into a beautiful display. They took it all. When mother told me about it her voice was full of the void, the knowledge of lost things. I heard breaks in her sentences, and those breaks held back tears. Yet how grateful she was that they never discovered my father.

Mother had driven into the long gravel driveway. And always, when the wheels first contact the gravel as the car comes around the corner, making the transition from smooth blacktop of the paved road to the long gravel driveway, there is a noticeable change in sound. Gravel is louder than the smooth, near silence of wheels on blacktop. The garage door opened, and it is heavy and makes a sound of its own. The door to the basement opened, and the old wooden door at the top of those stairs doesn’t fit exactly to its frame and that makes a little noise, and let me mention that my mother was wearing her mother’s wedding ring that day, the robbers ran.  Back down into the woods, leaving a second load of valuables on the couch. The wooden carved swans, the old cricket boxes, stain glass lamps, and more all piled up on the couch. My father was still sleeping. Never waking against the noise. Never encountering those who came to take things that were never theirs.

Not long ago my mother said, “Well it’s time you have this,” and she handed me her mother’s thin gold wedding band. “It was my mother’s and she always told me that she really wore it for good luck. I wore it always when I felt I needed a dose of good luck. I wore it the day the rest of the things were taken. When they missed your father. It should be yours now.”

 

Advertisements

September = Fried Green Tomatoes

IMG_4377the result of a revived garden, photo taken 2017

It is nearly mid-September and the golden rod is just about to bloom. When I open the door off of the kitchen to let the dog out in the morning, the air is getting cooler. The days are getting shorter.

Earlier this spring our family had high hopes of a better plan for our garden, and we set out to begin almost everything from seed. Our kitchen table, that sits centered near two sunny windows became covered by shallow cardboard boxes filled with starter peat-pots. We made homemade biodomes out of the cardboard boxes and plastic wrap, and as much as a fun science novelty as that was I have to admit to you that we needed something, any good solution to prevent a curious cat from digging at the seedlings, and knocking all of the plants over. Biodomes gave us hope that these plants and a cat could live in harmony. Whoever said that the earth could never have been flat because cats would have pushed everything off of it by now, in my estimation, was a pretty smart person. I believe it.

Spring days progressed and for a few weeks we just ate meals where we found space. The small places where the kitchen table was free, in the living room, the back-porch steps. We were going to make this work. Seeds sprouted and looked promising. Eventually, we transferred lush green plants into the garden, and what looked great in the kitchen took about a week to begin looking, well, not so hot. We knew our soil needed some care, but we said we’d work on that with time and the good little compost bin that does a lot of work for us. We’ll get there.

David, my partner in life, reminded me of what my Dad used to say. “Each time you plant a tomato, bury a banana peel with it and it feeds it.” As soon as David said that I saw Dad saying it, and the memory of Dad came back through my mind. It was good. I remembered Dad’s elderly hands, near the end of his life, the arthritic knuckles that had worked mostly, every day of his life. That Great Depression kid was just always going to make it. And what he was to me just visited me for a minute, like the things of September, the month that we said goodbye. Like the Sycamore in the woods that stood tall against the wild honeysuckles and maples as Dad and I looked over the hill in the backyard. And hands that create things. Hands that planted things, and built things. Hands that drove things and trained all of the Dobermans, generally, into the most well-behaved creatures.  And how those creatures loved him. I could see those hands, arthritic after years of life behind him, and a memory of us, standing at the edge of the hill with a garden behind us. “yep, gives it a good start,” voicing itself right into the conversation David and I were having.

So my little family, we went out to our small garden, and I wondered if I could ever teach our Scottie to dig in all the right places. Dad’s dogs never did that, either.  Our little dog sat near us, loyal supervisor. And since we were burying banana peels partly for a memory here, why stop with the tomatoes? We carried that burying on with cucumbers, too, and they were about to tank on us. They had looked great on the kitchen table, but out here they were drying into next to nothing, withering, and not happy. It took a week, but everything came back beautifully. Tomatoes were happy. And we ended up having the best cucumbers we’ve had in a long time. We just had two more, in September, but I am thinking those are the last of them. Summer things in the garden are simply beginning to wind down. It is time for kale, and autumn things to take center stage.

Which brings me back to the tomatoes and that it is nearly mid-September. The tomatoes are green now. A few are turning red, but mostly green tomatoes hang heavily all over the vines, and the leaves on the plants are not yet to a papery stage like when October comes. My southern gene cannot resist. A quick twenty minutes or so, a cast iron skillet, and I fried up as many as I could. The coated tomatoes sizzle as they make contact with the bubbling oil. I had been only the slightest bit torn, wondering if I should have let all of these tomatoes ripen on the windowsill. Pasta is important when there is a runner in the house, but there was no turning myself away from these green tomatoes today. And the kids are getting tired of pasta. They are beginning to say that I make pasta every five minutes. Hyperbole, I promise, but I do heartily appreciate the wit.

The case iron skillet sits on the stove seasoned and ready. Tomatoes provide choices that generally carry no bad consequences and I like that. Different kinds of good. I had also clipped some rosemary, thyme and nasturtium flowers from our garden, just for fun. I mean, the best stuff is made up as we go along, right? So, why not? I take about a half-dozen good sized green tomatoes and leave the rest on the vine. Another day. Soon. A couple of eggs and milk, flour and cornmeal, cracked pepper, whatever suits that day. A few minutes of magic with cast iron and I do believe that this is what the end of summer tastes like. A drizzle of olive oil, goat cheese crumbles, creamy dressing, whatever suits the day there, too.

And then we are into autumn with new things, and I might bury banana peels again next to the kale that is reviving because, “It gives it a good start.”

 

The way I fried the tomatoes

I cut the half dozen green tomatoes I brought in into close to 1/2 inch slices. I took two bowls. In one I put two good sized eggs and about 3/4 cups milk. In the second bowl I put a 1/2 half cup of unbleached flour, 1/2 cup of cornmeal, cracked pepper, rosemary, and thyme, and nasturtium flowers, cut into thin strips. I used as much as I liked, in whatever quantity I liked, it’s fun to make this up as I go along. You’ll get it. You will do what you like.

I took my sliced green tomatoes and dredged them into the flour/cornmeal mixture. Then onto the eggs and milk and coat the tomatoes. I like to keep the oil shallow in the cast iron skillet, no higher than an inch or so. It’s good if the oil bubbles as you put the tomatoes in.  Two to three minutes on each side on medium high heat usually does the trick. Don’t overcrowd the skillet.

If I am frying quite a few of them and I want to keep them hot, an oven on 250 and parchment paper(I love that stuff) lined baking sheets will make this really easy. I place the fried tomatoes singly on the baking sheet while I make the rest of the meal. There are only endless ways to dress fried green tomatoes. A drizzle of olive oil, maybe a little balsamic vinegar, blue cheese crumbles, goat cheese crumbles, did anyone say bacon? Do what you like. You can’t go wrong. It’s your kitchen and there are only rules there if you make them. However you do this, you will have the end of summer on a plate.

And as a little side note, that little cat who likes to push things off of flat surfaces? He helped me edit this. I’ll make corrections soon.

Gardening for writers

21432884_778891482290339_4726042378435187388_nA little garden, a little dog, photo taken 2017

When the world becomes too much a person can always go into a garden and pull weeds, gently tugging them up from damp early hours as they take a little earth with their roots. The creatures make their sounds in the morning, and except for that the garden I tend is mostly quiet. The morning in my garden is not something I can’t feel. It’s not just a time of day or simply the way it looks. It gets into my very nerves and if I am feeling a little jittery, many times it calms me down. All I need to do is pull a weed and start there. Not long after, I’ll find myself pulling another weed and before I know it, I’ve pulled at least a few dozen.

Sometimes if I am out in the garden early enough a mist still lingers from the night. I can watch the sunlight burn the night air off of some things like the tall purple cone flowers and bright orange butterfly weed, and it seems like the flowers are waiting for two hummingbirds to chase each other around the trees. And I might ask myself in the solitude of an early morning how two beautiful birds, not much larger than a human thumb can be so feisty, and how their wings can beat so rapidly it’s nearly impossible for my eyes to keep track of their movements.

I think there are mornings when books are written this way, and revisions are made. Weed by weed, word by word, thought by thought, along with a hyperbole or two found resting in the soil as these weeds are tugged up out of the earth with my hands. The trick is to keep the colors, and not neglect the dead heading of roses. Also, I can’t think about this without mentioning that in my garden I walk to the brush pile with a little dog. I am convinced that he sees purpose in every small task we complete. I say to you, the reader, a writer, and possibly a keeper of creatures, don’t discount that little dog. I think he knows that it takes a lovingly patient time with purpose and observation to get forever from one written page to the next to make a chapter, and another chapter, until what began with one sentence finally, after pulling hundreds of weeds and all that goes with it, to create a book to read.  And somehow, just like that, after all of that slow hard, diligent toiling among the weeds, what began as fiction has matter of fact and just plain undeniably become the honest truth. That is a near miracle lingering from the mist of that early morning.

When the world becomes too much a person can always go into a garden and pull weeds.

Labor Day and the art of a grumpy hippy

21272257_777142432465244_7247959459538453250_nA Grumpy Hippy, an art creation by Herschel Case

A free spirit who works, creates, toils in joys and all of the “not-so-joys,”

gets stuck in traffic with peacemakers and the “not-so-much peacemakers”

A wearer of hats,

A walker of the woods,

A visitor of campfires,

A harvester of tomatoes and summer strawberries.

This grumpy hippy wishes you peace and crimson autumn colors,

And believe it or not, a Happy Labor Day

Voice

IMG_4005artwork created by Herschel Case, just because.

Children create unscripted art. No one has yet told them that there are rules. At least I can tell you, I hope not. Children take pencils, crayons, glue, paper, whatever they can find. And they create. It is that simple. They just do it.

I like to think we all count on that. Anything would kind of be heresy, wouldn’t it? For me, what comes from these free-wheeling minds is a pure truth that I would never want to change.

So there is this subject of “voice.” And that subject is all at once wonderful and odd, to me. We grow and learn that there are all of these pesky things called rules. And there are also critics to justify them. Debates go on about what is right, and what is wrong, and why. And in the end we find that it’s a pretty subjective kind of thing.

So some of us, we begin writing differently, painting differently, moving differently. Maybe even thinking a little differently. Certainly doubting what we ever did have.

Then we begin talking about this whole thing of “finding voice.” And there is a lot of merit in that. Voice is valuable. It’s so often the very thing we started out with before we learned all of those rules. So then, I think we start out on another journey to recover what we lost. That rhythm that flowed effortlessly. That golden stuff.

But when you were really young did you ever, ever even think there was this thing called voice? You were likely, just expressing who you were, what you thought, and not even thinking about it. No doubting, no lamenting if this phrase was better than that phrase, or if this flowed better than that. If your eye went here, instead of there. What color? What does this color sound like, read like, walk like, and where should it go?

And then we are reminded that it’s good to be a kid. To be the free-wheeling possessor of that golden freedom. The colors splattered on the page in just the right order. And it’s like this: the mountain lion slept on the tree limbs, and the pears sliced themselves off perfectly into the water, and the ducks had supper. And look! If you can spot him, a lion mountain went for a swim.

And I will tell you what happened. I asked that very kid who created this, “what were you thinking?” And that kid said to me, “I don’t know, I just drew what came right into my mind, and before I knew it there was a mountain lion resting in a tree, and pears turning into ducks, and then the mountain lion couldn’t stand it anymore, he had to get into the water. ”

I like that voice. That’s a good voice.

 

Pearl

Mom 10photograph of my grandmother, taken a long time ago

The windows are open this morning and I hear the creatures in the garden. The news of the world is difficult. Yet, there have always been days in this world, when the news is difficult to absorb. Today it’s a mess. And I am not trying to normalize anything.

I think about all that is going on in this world. The joys we give each other, the torments we also share. And for some reason, I think of my grandmother and how quiet and steady she always seemed.

In this photo, I see her standing near a fence. And I think that there is not another place, at that moment, that would have done more justice to the life she led, and the movements her hands made, to toil the earth, dark, rich, and fertile. Turn by turn, day after day, how those hands worked to grow things that nourish. I think that, for me, there is not another place in this world that would have been so fitting as to see her standing near a corn field.

My refuge often goes back to what the earth brings us. Maybe that was true for my grandmother, too. I like to think that she also liked the sounds that open windows can bring. Maybe she also liked the things a walk in the woods bring, and the darkness of the night. The songs of the birds, and the sounds of the tree frogs, a flowing stream. The outrage of the screech owl when many other creatures are a sleeping, and how he gets that raucous frustration out of his system, demanding attention, and when he is finally finished with his screeching, how the water flows gently, again.

When I am in the woods near a stream I can hear the water trickling and I watch the path the water takes as it flows over the rocks and moss and the growing things.

I have this photo of my grandmother and she is standing near a corn field.

The Woodblock

20994083_772524746260346_2677210955374443603_nFountain Square, Jean Johnson Shaw

An older, more experienced artist drove to the home of a younger artist. They looked at the paintings the younger artist had created. They studied them together, while the older artist decided which painting she might buy that day.

In came two of the younger artist’s sons. One steadying the other, who was in distress. The rambling of the distressed boy’s mind startled both of the women and the young artist realized what was happening. Feeling very awkward, the younger artist apologized to the older artist. The older artist said, “Don’t worry. You go with them. I’ll stay here and pray, and wait for you. Take all the time you need.”

The younger artist followed her sons and they put the distressed to bed. He was calming down. The younger artist returned. The older artist bought a painting and thanked her for creating such a beautiful work of art.

Years later, the younger artist was honored with an exhibit at a local gallery. Her daughter went to see all of the artwork that her mother, and the other artists at the gallery had created. The older artist who had visited, many years ago, had work at the gallery, too. The daughter, grown now, saw the name on the bottom of the woodblock. She looked at the colors, the representation of fountain square, and it was pleasing. Yet the important thing to the daughter, was the memory. She saw that day long ago, remembered a brother who is now gone. Remembered a brother who is still here. And thought of this day, the day of her mother’s exhibit, where the older artist’s work hung so near the younger artist’s work, and how this day was connected to the years before. She felt the feeling that the old house held, the color of the floor, and the stairs that her mother and brothers climbed.  And that the artist with a good heart visited their home and helped instead of hurt.

The daughter stood before the woodblock so wonderfully made, with its colors light and dark, and decided that there are days when the hands that make the art are just as important as the art itself. And it didn’t matter if she would have recognized the artist if she had crossed her on the street. She would never forget the older artist’s show of compassion and kindness.

Finches

IMG_4327Finches in our small garden, 2017

As soon as the lettuce bolted, and grew seeds, the Finches arrived daily. I did not realize the kind of love they found in bolting, seeding lettuce. A good farmer said to me a few years ago, “Wait to really clean up your garden until spring. Let a few things go, even in a small garden, because that way fall and winter will be a shelter during the wild’s harder months.”

Yes, he did say “wild’s” and I liked that word very much. I’ve taken the farmer’s advice for a few years now, and birds don’t just arrive when the feeders are full. During winter’s cold days they perch on purple cone flowers’ dry papery stalks, the Black eyed Susan’s too, the Sedum, anything that has a seed left at all.

Eclipse, 2017

IMG_4269photograph taken in a small garden, 2017, Rebecca Case

A wise man told me that it was important to watch the shadows and how they made their movements. To watch the ocean, if it was near. And also the sky. Of course, the sky.

But the shadows. The way they moved and slowly swept, and nearly cleansed the earth. The colors of the leaves and grasses and all of the growing things in this little garden, turning with the golden light, like morning and evening at once.

Earlier, in the morning the finches rested on the tall, bolted lettuce, eating the seeds that have grown. The sparrows came to do the same, and how the sparrows weighed the bolting lettuce down, nearly to the ground. The finches were so light that the bolted lettuce hardly swayed under their touch.

Yet, when the  moon met the sun, into the honeysuckles and the leaves of the basswood tree they did fly. To stay quiet. Pray. The shadows are golden now, in a little garden, while the sun and moon embrace.

I don’t remember a creature acting in pride. No Blue Heron flying over. No hawk casting piercing glances at possible prey.  Reverence, I thought. For just a moment.

Art speaks volumes

IMG_4314Art by my children

My daughter drew the hands. My son painted the colors. They were young when they created these works of art. And both of these works of art decorated the walls, for months, until new art from their hands replaced them.

They have both grown, and their art still reflects their young years. Young thoughts. Young expressions. Young hopes.

I was going through the filing cabinet where we keep stacks of art that they created through the years. I found a drawing of hands, and this collection of colors among the pages and dried glue, and canvases that my mother sent. And when she sent the canvases she attached a note, “Do anything! Anything at all. What you feel! That’s art.” She signed it, Love Gran.

And here today, I find two hands reaching, and colors, flung into some sort of composition, the way children do. Effortlessly, with enthusiasm, where the world is just fine to be a free and collective spirit.