Crawdads and Roses

Mom's Roses
Mom’s Roses

My parent’s house was on the south side of Fort Worth, Texas, a city of about almost 800,000 today, but back in 1969, when I was 13, it was about half that. Point was, Fort Worth didn’t seem like a big city then; the neighbors we had were friendly and their kids wandered the small streets without fear. Not so much today.

I remember mom telling me that they bought the small L-shaped ranch-style house because of its location right next to Kellis park, which touched the west side of the house. “You kids needed space to play.” The small back yard was chain-link fenced. The front had split-rail fencing that was covered in mounds of climbing roses. A long concrete driveway ran up the front of the house ending in the attached two car garage. The driveway was framed on the left by the same split-rail fencing sunk in a flowerbed, with the same sprawling rose bushes. My mother loved roses. My dad didn’t want anyone using the driveway or front yard as a bicycle ramp into the park so the rose fence was beautiful and to my practical, retired air force master-sergeant father, served a good purpose. Secretly, I believe he loved the roses as much as mom.

The house was big enough for three kids, but not spacious. Four bedrooms, one used to be a den at the front of the house; a large living room with a white brick fireplace and a large kitchen on the back with a door that connected to the garage. My brother had a basketball goal mounted on a pole just at the corner of the garage and practiced incessantly when he wasn’t hitting tennis balls against the garage doors.

It was true that the best feature about that house for us the was the park. My sister was three years older and my brother nine years younger than me, and we all loved the park for different reasons. It had a ramshackle tennis court and playground equipment (swings, teeter-totters) and a city swimming pool! We all learned to swim there, in chlorine-laced water that brought us home disinfected, pruney and red-eyed in the summer.

The park had another attraction, a sort of combo creek and city rainwater drainage system. Now being a country girl from Jacksboro, Texas, my mother told us that there were probably crawdads in the creek and told us how to catch them. We would steal bacon fat from the refrigerator and armed with a safety-pin and string, would regularly yank the ONE lone crawdad that we managed to find under the rocks at the edge of the creek. He was a big sucker with ancient blue claws that could pinch a blood blister anywhere he latched on to.  That poor crawdad got hauled out of the creek over and over while we laughed and watched him furiously try to seek his revenge before we tossed him back in.  There were even a few spotted sun perch and tons of minnows in the creek that my small brown terrier Ginger would try to catch; blowing bubbles through her nose while in hot pursuit of a fishy snack. The back yard had a sand box built primarily for my brother Billy. Many a fort and imaginary off-road track were built in that sand box, while he wasn’t burying our dogs up to there noses in the cool sand. The dogs loved it during the hot Texas summers.

We also waded through the pond by the child-sized concrete drainage pipe to get golf balls out of the water for my father. He would pay us for all we dredged up. I actually think it was ransom to get us out of the house for a while. My father did not play golf. It makes me shudder now to think of it, but I regularly used to crawl through the drainage pipe under the Trail Lake intersection to the other side of the park. It was a time in childhood where you know nothing bad could ever happen and you would be home by dark for supper.

Great memories live in that house. My parents are dead now and my brother, but the house is still there. I have only driven by the outside one time. Hopefully the family that lives there has children who laugh as much as we did there.  And I hope the grandchildren of that poor crawdad are still putting up a good fight.

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Internal Flight

blue 1

In my dreams, I don’t have to fight gravity, I only have to flex some hidden internal muscle to lift off from the ground. I don’t even stretch out my arms (thank God, that would look so silly!), and just float effortlessly up to the heights over the trees where I can see the earth below me. There is no sensation of movement or speed, just a presence over the earth. I guess I would describe it most like rising up to the surface and floating in water, but upside down, where you can see everything under you. Thrilling. Don’t start with me about Freudian interpretations, I think Freud had way bigger problems than I do.

Strangely enough, my awake-self is afraid of heights. I have a recurring nightmare of falling off a bridge. Riding in the car with my parents, looking out the window at the concrete barrier posts of the bridge flashing by, my father inexplicably pulls off to the side of the bridge and stops. I get out, climb the railing (who knows why) and teeter on the edge for some sweat-soaking, scream-inspiring moments before  falling towards the water below. Waking up before I hit, I’m still alive to redream that terror again and again. Hitchcock made Vertigo for a reason.

I’ve made an intense hobby of watching the wing-flap position in every phase of flight to ease my horror in commercial aircraft. My father, an Air Force Senior Master-Sergeant taught me the correct positions to calm me down. Like there would be anything I could do if they were not in the right position. Not that I have avoided heights or flying, I simply recognize my fear and plan for it. On planes,  mostly with wine.

I did however, almost brain an pimply-faced teenager over the Swiss glacier “Les Diablerets”, when  he announced it might be funny if we all bounced up and down in the Volkswagen-sized gondola to …” see what would happen”. I tell you what happened, I froze him in his tracks with one look and he trailed off to contemplate how many times he might bounce if I threw him out the window of the gondola.

He did not know I could fly in my dreams.

The Next Word

HandsIt’s a funny thing about people. As I have gotten older, I’ve come to realize that very few people keep their word. I don’t mean a sacred promise, like a marriage vow,  or a “I solemnly swear to…” kind of promise that politicians seem to love saying, then go scuttling off to do whatever it is they are doing up there.

I mean just things ordinary people say they’ll do.  Like a commitment from people you do business with.

I’m writing this after watching my husband suffer through five months of the worst real estate deal in the history of mankind trying to sell a home for a relative. Before that it was negotiating the Medicaid system through a forest of questionable advice from Medicaid consultants talking through their ass.  Before that it was the purchase of a new car, which went along just great until the little ferret of a salesman realized we were not going to purchase an extended service contract. My husband asked him if the product he was selling was not manufactured well enough to hold up for the three-year, 36,000 mile warranty that came with the purchase. Crickets chirped for a moment and then we left with the car.

When I do business I try to look at the person talking and think if I can trust what they are saying. I fall into that trap every time.  Something in me knows that they are just spouting the memorized company marketing line, but I still naively try to believe.

But now more and more doing business with any company has become an arduous process. I try to research the company beforehand and look at what they have done. Always better to look at what they have done than listen to what they say they will do. I look at their Better Business Bureau file. I find out what my options are if the company does not do what they say they will. What are similar companies?

It’s exhausting, not being able to trust. What happened to the handshake and giving your word? Silly girl, that world is disappearing.

As he was making our tea this morning my husband asked me if I thought he was always going to be cynical now. I responded “Probably, but I beat you to it.”

So, very few people keep their word.

But it sure makes you value those who do.

photo CCO creative commons image

 

Little Kitten

 

My husband. George. We’ve been married thirty-nine years and he still surprises me, astonishes me. We have history, we went to the same high school, started dating right out of high school, went to TCU together, got married right after I graduated in 1978. We know each other.

So last weekend, Labor Day weekend, we are sitting at the kitchen table drinking our morning tea and George says ” I have something to tell you.” “Okay”, says I, not expecting anything earth shattering, but we do have a project pending (the sale of my mother-in-law’s house for her). I was expecting a problem with that.

“Do you remember the story of Ferdinand the Bull?”, he asks. “Yes.”….I said slowly. “Did he have a friend?” “No”, I said, “He was rather solitary, he just like sitting and smelling the flowers.” “Well,  I need you to see something down at K.J.’s pasture.” Now, I’m slightly alarmed. K.J. is our thirty-year-old horse. He had been really ill last year but has recovered and is fat as a pig and doing great. Then it hit me. “You’ve adopted a cow?” I asked, thinking I’m in a scene from City Slickers. Our neighbor’s cows have broken through the fence before. “No.” he said, looking down.

“What?” I looked at him. “K.J. has a friend.” ” WHAT IS IT?”, I ask. “A cat.” he says. ” A black cat.”

I laughed. I laughed until I cried. You see my husband is really allergic to cats. We live in a country house that we bought from my dear Aunt, who had thirty-five cats. She was the cat lady you read about. Thirty-five. Twelve in the house, seventeen in the garage and six in a pen in a corral. She loved them to a fault. Enough said. George took a year off from work when we bought this house, completely gutted, repainted and refurbished it before we could live in it. He’s really allergic to cats. We can’t have a house cat.

We’ve been through this scenario before, by the way. The twenty acres where K.J. is pastured is separated from the acreage our house is on. It’s a short drive down the county road from our home, but isolated enough that people dump things on the road. Like cats. There is a particular brand of cretin that thinks it is ok to dump defenseless kittens or old dogs in the country and that somehow they will survive. Or they just don’t give a damn and they think starving defenseless animals is a thing that people do. There is a hell waiting for folks like that. My husband is not one of those people. The last time it was a box of four kittens that someone left in the drive to K.J.’s corral. They were weaned, but just barely. They stayed in our garage until we could get them built up enough to stay around the yard. We vetted them, neutered and spayed them and kept each one as safe as we could. Our population of coyotes and owls got them one by one. It is heartbreaking, but they had a happy, well-fed cat life while they were here as loved country cats, catching field mice and our pond frogs and the occasional lizard. I started feeding another stray cat that presented us with two kittens and years of love, so I’m guilty too.

But at the moment we were a cat-free family. Until now.

“How long has he been down there?” “Three months.” This what I mean about my husband surprising me. He has been feeding this kitten on the sly for three months because he didn’t want to tell me. After I could catch my breath from laughing again I asked, “What’s his name?” “Little Kitten.” he says.

We’re going to have to work on that. I think Ferdinand. Welcome Ferdinand.

 

 

 

 

Today

teacup

There seems to be no end to the trouble in my teacup this day. A cherished family member is seriously weakened. A beloved pet is sick. Several friends have ones that are struggling either with their health or in their heart. A long term goal keeps slipping out of my husband’s reach. He has worked so hard and is so tired from this struggle. But he is strong and will see it through.

I know there are far worse problems and broken dreams than those little eddies in my teacup. So I am sitting looking at the stars tonight and remembering what a tiny blip in the vastness of time this day has been and it will soon be past. And that peace is my strength and understanding is a blessing that always comes through time.

 

July in Texas

I love July in north Texas. Sure it’s hot, but there is B-B-Q and the garden is picking up steam. I like getting up early to take my walk in the summer. So after dousing myself with repellent to keep away the hummingbird-size mosquitos and the chiggers lurking in the grass, I walk up and down my country road for my requisite thirty minutes. I am serenaded by my four donkeys as soon as I walk out the front door; our built–in intruder alert system. This morning when I got back Indy came up for a little snuggle time and to see if he could finagle a treat.

Pretty Boy Indy
Indy

God had a good day when he made donkeys. These little miniatures are loyal, affectionate; they keep away coyotes and kill the bad snakes before they get into the yard. Indy is a little stud donkey we keep on our back pasture. He is by himself (not counting the deer) on about four acres, we keep the Jennys fenced on another pasture (we have four miniature donkeys and that’s enough) and his sire, Poco in the pasture up front. Where have you been momIndy has a thing about smelling my shoes. His version of asking “Where have you been?” So after he investigates my shoes, he gets his scratch and poses majestically for pictures.

Bette Davis eyeI think donkey eyes are beautiful; rimmed with black and with the longest eyelashes! Donkeys are perfectly adapted for the rocky, cedar-covered hills that surround our home.

Just one inch more
If I could just reach that piece of grass.

This summer I have been trying to get the back garden going again. We have a few tomato and green pepper plants in our garden berm that has fencing around it to keep the deer out. I have not done much else but plant a beautiful Purple Fountain Grass plant (my new favorite plant) yarrow (which the rabbits are eating) and Moonflowers.

Purple Fountain Grass
Purple Fountain Grass

 

 

 

Moonflowers
Moonflower Vine

The Moonflowers have made it so far I think only because they are poisonous and the animals know that. They will have large white flowers that bloom in the afternoon and smell wonderful. The rabbits or deer ate all but three of my sunflowers as soon as they sprouted. But those three are the colossal kind so they will be enough. On the other side of the patio is a huge berm where the trick is to pick plants that like partial to heavy shade, hot weather and resist grasshoppers and hungry rabbits. So far, the dianthus, zinnias, coleus, begonias and cosmos have done the best. There is a large red oak tree over this spot that shades these plants.

 

Zinnas
Zinnias
Cosmos
Cosmos
Coleus Beauty
Coleus
Begomia
Begonias

I’m especially enjoying today because my sweet husband of almost forty years is smoking ribs and a roast in the smoker today. He is a talented and passionate griller/smoker and from the looks of things I won’t have to cook meat for a while.

Green salad and potatoes to go with, plus I baked a two-person size red velvet cake for dessert. Yum. I’ll have to walk for an hour tomorrow.

Uniform

sagegreenshirtShe used to iron his uniform, I think he called them fatigues, late at night. I watched her from the floor, sitting under the kitchen table. Sounds like a strange place to sit, but from there I could see the small black and white television on the breakfast bar in the kitchen and talk to my mother while she did her work.  Mom colored at night at that kitchen table, hand-tinting black and white photographs with oil paints before the relentless advent of digital photography. She worked at the photography studio during the day but her real world seemed always at night. I watched all the old horror movies holding onto my mother’s legs under that table, secure in their strength. The scent of turpentine, linseed oil and thermos-glass instant coffee was her uniform.

The old metal frame of the ironing board would squeak as she pressed the creases into the khaki, the hiss of spray starch punctuating between creaks. Serious work, those uniforms. He had been wearing them since he was fifteen, when my father lied about his age and joined the Navy. In the Air Force now, Dad worked on the radios of the B-52 bombers. I watched him polish his heavy brogans in that kitchen too, ebony black. Dad’s real world always seemed to be the morning. Up at the literal crack of dawn, whistling, always rushing, packing. Dad worked. I watched him walk back to us from the flight line, his distinctive walk helping me pick him out from all the others. The smell of boot polish, starch and the Brilcreem in his hair was his uniform.