Archive for January, 2009

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

January 27, 2009


(My beloved hill in autumn. By the way, that satellite dish was there when we came, but we never activated it.  Who needed television in a place like this?)

In my last post, I alluded to neighbors who seemed to find us odd because we were so frequently outside wandering about, open-mouthed with awe.  When we first moved to the mountains five years ago from the flatlands of Raleigh, we woke up every morning and looked out the window and were amazed anew and so grateful to be able to gaze out at green hills and blue ridges and endless sky.  We were like babies seeing the world for the first time.  And, having been through a great deal of hardship, we found comfort  and rest in those ancient hills. 

There was a hill rising up next to the house we used to live in, and I loved to run up to the top where you could see not only mountains stretching out to forever, but the whole bowl of the sky.  I felt like Maria in the Sound of Music but, being shy, I neither sang nor twirled around as I ran, though I sort of did in my heart.  But every day, I climbed that hill and stood at the top and looked up at the expanse of the heavens—the always changing face of the firmament. 

And almost every day, I’d see our closest neighbor driving by in her SUV, and I’d wave.  She not only never waved back, but she’d stare at me, sort of the way you’d stare at a freak show at the circus.  I wish I could say I didn’t care and to heck with her, but I did care.  We had just moved to the area and were eager to meet our neighbors and make new friends.  And the people from whom we bought the house had told us how friendly these neighbors were. So the rejection seemed personal.

The funny thing is, we never did meet them in the three years they lived next door to us.  Lord knows we tried.  The four of us took frequent walks that took us past their house.  When we’d see them out, we’d holler hello and sort of pause in the way you do when you think someone might actually walk the twenty steps toward you and greet their new neighbors.  But they’d usually go back inside or else their golden retrievers would run towards us barking and snarling.  First time I’d ever seen unfriendly golden retrievers. 

But, anyway, I did what I often do when confronted with something painful—I wrote a poem about it.  I’ve hesitated to put it up here because I thought you might find it mean.  But, really, I think it expresses perfectly what I felt at the rejection—sometimes a bewildered hurt and sometimes an acerbic bitterness.  Poems have a way of wrenching the truth from you, I think.  And writing the poem was cleansing and helped me to release my hurt and bitterness.

So here it is.  If you find it too sour or unkind, forgive me.  I’m human. At least, it’s honest.  And if you just plain don’t like it, well…forgive me, too. 🙂

And, by the way, our new neighbors where we live now may find us odd, too.  (Because, after all, I suppose we really are—at least in the eyes of the world).  But they don’t seem to hold it against us.  They not only talk to us, they wave.   And they don’t look at us like a side show at the traveling carnival.  

I really appreciate that.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

We have come to these mountains
From the flatlands,
Pilgrims seeking higher ground,
Seeking refuge from
Our valley of shadow and death.

It is more beautiful
Than our imaginings.
The ancient hills enfold us,
Absorbing our grief.
We are cupped in God’s hands.

I am a tight fist,
Slowly unfolding,
Brought to tears
By the way the sun
Gilds the edges of the clouds.

So we ask forgiveness
From you, our new neighbor,
If we still gawk like tourists,
If we look like babies
Seeing the world for the first time.

I saw you staring from your SUV,
As you drove past me in the field,
Walking with my face skyward, mouth agape.
I waved, you just stared,
Your face wrinkled in…puzzlement? Disgust? 

You seem to find us odd.
But is it strange
To be looking heavenward
In this place where
God seems so near?

Or is it stranger still
That I’ve never seen your feet
Touch the ground.
You, your cell phone, your SUV
Seem inseparable.

Can’t we just see ourselves
As fellow pilgrims–
Supplicants taking
Different paths
On our spiritual journey?

Me, looking upward,
Seeking benediction.
And you, on your cell phone,
Waiting on
A call from God.


The Day I Heard the Bluets Sing and Whisper of the Coming Spring

January 15, 2009


(I wanted to say this is especially for Rick in Florida, in case he’s reading.  Never lose hope, Rick.)

Anita, over at Blue Country Magic  tagged me for a meme.  (Well, actually I should say, she sort of suggested me for a meme). 🙂 The instructions were to choose the fourth picture in the fourth folder on your computer and post it with a description.  I cringed when I read that because I knew that that particular photograph in my case was apt to be lousy since I had just gotten my camera at that time and was still figuring out how to use it.

But after I reluctantly looked and saw which one it was, I decided to post it after all.  Because, as it happens, I remember vividly taking this shot, and it is a happy and welcome memory.  It was April of 2006 and that first sweet blush of spring was beginning to spread across the Appalachians.  And you know how wondrous it is when Spring first begins to whisper in your ear, Hold on to hope—I am coming, I am coming.  Especially in these mountains where Spring comes slowly at first—tip-toeing, lest she re-awaken Winter, who is always reluctant to release his icy grip.  

Anyway, the day I took this picture was one of those spring days where you try really hard to get something productive done, but it’s hopeless, really, because you keep looking out the window and you see that the world is full of promise and you realize that life is too short to sit inside on a day when the birds are singing Hallelujah.  Days like that are made for taking a wander, so you do. At least, I do.  And I did.

And, out in our yard, where the snow had finally melted, I found that the bluets were blooming.  I love bluets—they are such happy little flowers.  I lay down beside them to get a bug’s eye view, not caring if the neighbors shook their heads again and snickered at that weird woman who’s always wandering around like she’s in a daze.  That strange woman who ran up the street in her pajamas once, just to get a picture of a rainbow! 

Yep, I didn’t care.  And even after I’d taken some shots, I kept lying there.  The spring sun was warm on my back and there was the faintest breeze caressing my face, making the bluets bow just slightly, as though they were paying homage to Spring.  I lay there with my ear to the earth, imagining I could hear its heart beating in rhythm to mine.

So, even though it’s not the greatest shot (a little too blurry), I wanted to post it anyway, hoping it might make you smile, as it did me.  Anita had a wonderful green and blue shot, too, of the mountains, and she reminded us that it “won’t be long before we have this lovely color back!”

Indeed.  It won’t be long now.  Hold on to hope—spring is coming, coming

(The meme instructions were to tag four others.  I reckon I’ll pass on that, but I’d be delighted to see you do it.  Yeah, YOU!  Really, it’s kind of fun.)

The True Measure of Wealth

January 8, 2009


Ever since my children were small, we’ve encouraged them to give handmade presents, wanting them to learn early on that time is a far more precious gift than money.   Of course, the truth is, we’ve always had more time than money.  But even if we won the lottery tomorrow, I’d still value most those hours that my children spent creating something just for me.

When Ariel was six, we gave her a potholder loom.  You know—the kind with the loops that you stretch and weave into colorful potholders and trivets. I had one growing up, and my mama always loved the potholders I gave her most every Christmas and birthday when I was small.  I treasure the ones that Ariel has made (and still makes) for me, too.  Even now…fourteen years and many potholders later.     

As Benjamin got older and became a guitar player of considerable skill, he began to offer, as his gift, to learn any song on the guitar we wished him to.  No matter how hard.  We each get to pick a song, and this year, I chose Jingle Bells played like Tuck Andress plays it on one of my favorite Christmas albums—Hymns, Carols, and Songs about Snow.  Of course, one of the songs I love most that Benjamin has learned for me is Ave Maria (by Schubert) played in the style of the late, great Chet Atkins.  It always makes me cry.

When Ariel was eight, she surprised me one Christmas with a pop-up book she’d made just for me.  It was a pop-up book of fairies.  I’ve been fascinated with fairies since I was small, when I could actually see them.  Or, at least, I thought I could.  As I got older (and more cynical), I stopped seeing fairies, but I continue to love and believe in them and hope that one day I’ll be able to see them again.

In the years since, Ariel has made a fairy pop-up book for me about every two Christmases. (They are way too time-consuming to make every year.)  It has been a delight to witness her artistic growth through the fairy books over time.   Of course, I treasure every single one, but I’d have to say that the one she made me last year is probably my favorite.  Below is a spread from it:


This year, for Christmas, she made me a bead fairy.  She designs them herself, and they are different every year.  Here is this year’s fairy:


And here is one she made me for my birthday last year.  This fairy’s wings are made from actual peacock feathers:


For her daddy, Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man, Ariel made a bead flower.  Over the years, she has made him an entire bead garden—daisies, irises, Turk’s Cap lilies, ferns, pansies, Johnny-jump-ups, and columbine.  This year, she made one of his favorites (and mine), the zinnia:


So, despite the melancholy I wrote of earlier, I still had a lovely and most blessed Christmas.  How could I feel otherwise as I gaze at my new bead fairy shimmering in the morning sun and listen to my son playing Ave Maria just for me?

As a lower-income person, I would never be one to romanticize being poor.  It is most often a grim business—struggling to pay your electric bill or buy food or keep a roof over your head.  But, in a society that so often encourages the pursuit of material things, having less money with which to buy those things can free you to focus on what is really important.  To focus on what is true and pure and genuine…and unaffected by economic downturns. 

I can’t say I thank God for being of modest means.  As I said, it’s often been a grievous hardship.  But I do thank Him for the clarity to see that, in so many ways, I am already rich and blessed with abundance.  That, truly, my cup runneth over.

A New Year’s Wish and A Talking Fish

January 1, 2009


(Our Christmas tree)

So…here I am again apologizing for being such a slackard with my blogging.  Truth is, I haven’t felt much like writing lately.  An old injury came back to haunt me again (this happened last Christmas too), and I’ve been in a fair amount of pain for the last month.  Plus, for some reason, I’ve been a bit more melancholy than usual this holiday season—and felt more keenly the pain of my estrangement from some of my extended family.  Lord knows,  I have good reason to be estranged, but still…I feel sad about it.

Nevertheless, as always, I’ve enjoyed having my children home from college.  It’s a wonderful thing to witness their growth—both intellectual and spiritual—and the emergence of their fine adult selves.  And they make me laugh—a lot.  And laughter really is such good medicine.

And like my children, I love to make people laugh.  So I thought I’d share a story with you that I wrote eight years ago—one of my stories that was published.  I’m pretty sure that I retained the rights on it, but I may end up taking it off the blog pretty quickly if I find out otherwise, so you might want to read it soon if you’re interested.

It’s not high-brow literature, but then, you wouldn’t expect that from me anyway, would you?  🙂   I take the advice to “write what you know” very seriously, and the people in my story are the people I grew up with down east, in the country churches my Daddy pastored.  I loved those people and still miss them, so they show up in my writing a lot.  It’s my way of keeping them around.

Anyway, you can find the story on my sidebar under Pages.  Just click on A Fish Story.  It’s not long.  Dostoyevsky it’s not…but, at least maybe it will make you laugh.  And, in my opinion, making people laugh is one of the higher forms of art.  Especially these days.

Oh…and Happy New Year.  May yours be filled with plentiful blessings and wonders.  And lots and lots of laughter.