Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Dreaming of James

I dreamed last night of my oldest brother, James. My dream took place amidst the bustle of what was once Littletree Orchards, my brother’s kingdom. In my dream, the trees were laden with plums and sweet cherries, some just exactly ripe and some just past. The ground was full of rotting fruit, swarming with bees. Do we smell in dreams? I know that smell anyway: too sweet and sleepy, a little tangy. Rotting fruit is heavy with regret.

In my dream, the trees had not been picked. That was the first thing to understand. The next was that my father was so sad, because someone else owned this orchard now—and the trees had not been picked. “Dad, it’s been sold,” I said to him. He turned away, and I gathered cherries, reaching through the rotting ones for a good, firm cherry. The appearance of bountiful fruit was misleading. I could hardly come up with a decent quart basket of decent cherries, and finally I gave up.

And so I awoke thinking of James. It's been nearly 4 years since his accident. When I was in graduate school, I wrote a creative nonfiction piece about James and my father. That was about seven years ago. I knew that there would be more to the story ultimately, but I never would have imagined this particular event--the utter alteration of James.

In the weeks following James' accident, my brothers and I did a lot of reading about traumatic brain injuries. We knew best-case and worst-case scenarios. When we left James in New York to come back to Tennessee, he had moved from the ICU to a health-care center. I fed him pureed plums and vitamin-enriched shakes.

James, of course, defied all the odds. Four years later, he is living on his own. He lost Littletree Orchards in a lengthy legal battle. He lives now, appropriately, at Bittersweet Farms. His home is a camper. Last summer, he was building a huge cold storage facility and laying water lines from a pond to the facility. He spent an hour teaching Jesse how to operate the back-hoe. For the first 15 minutes, I was unspeakably nervous. My 12-year-old was being guided in a heavy equipment operations by my brain-injured, eccentric brother. But then I could see--through the tilt of his head and his gentle hand motions-- that he was still James, in spite of his triple vision, his halting gait, his monotone speech, his drooping right side.

It's hard to describe what James is like now. Someone who doesn't know him well might not notice anything terribly odd. He may just seem a bit clumsy or distracted. You could even get used to him the way he is now. But truthfully, there is a whole person who was lost in the three short seconds it took for him to lurch off his bike and hit his head on the pavement. There was this brilliant, arrogant, selfish, generous, irritating, gentle, sharp-witted man who was my oldest brother--and now there is this brother who is like a broken statue glued back together.

Friday, May 26, 2006

May 26, 2006: The Need to Create

Dad2Three's blog fit in perfectly with my goals lately. I've had an overwhelming urge to hole myself up in a quiet room and write. Sound-proof doors would be good. I've never been able to write well with any sort of distraction around. Jesse and Randy work best with blaring music. I need perfect peace.

My muse is returning. Perhaps it is, indeed, blogging that has nudged the sluggish beast into action. Perhaps it is Dad2Three's own writing compulsion these past several months that spurs me on. Or my own hypocrisy in telling my writing students to "write every day!" when I fall so, so short. Whatever the reason(s), I have lately felt words come to me in that way they do when I am under the spell. I need to get a collection of poetry finished and published. I remembered just this week that a publisher introduced himself to me and gave me his card a couple of years ago when I did a poetry reading. I can't remember now what he said, other than that he liked my work and wanted to see more. Why didn't I contact him then? But I do still have his card--found it today, in fact. There's no money in publishing a collection of poetry, but as Dad2Three wrote--the creation itself is absolute necessity.

In the five minutes that I've been writing just now, one child has come in for duct-tape and a cork, one has requested two snacks, the dog whines at the door, the neighbor girl knocks at the door, one child insists on reading to me from the newspaper. I wouldn't trade this daily bustle for anything....but I need a few good Saturdays in the house all by myself. It really is that time.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

May 25, 2006: Girls and Horses

There is something inexpressibly perfect about a girl on a horse. Don't we all, even now, fight the urge to bury our faces in their manes? Don't we still imagine ourselves riding off through the woods, or galloping across some flower-laden meadow?

horse-lbucket horse-lriding horse-dandnoah

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

May 24, 2006: Smelling Honeysuckle

Somehow this year, the honeysuckle escaped the pruners. Every other year, my husband and my father have managed to cut out every remnant of this "invasive plant species" that makes Randy's allergies go wild, but this May our yard is soaked in honeysuckle, and I can't stop breathing in summer.

Honeysuckle is the embodiment of summer in Tennessee for me. All those college evenings spent on a honeysuckle-laden campus, slow evenings full of nothing but discovery. Honeysuckle makes me want to stay up all night talking on a park bench, take slow and aimless walks in the moonlight, drink sweet tea.

Friday, May 19, 2006

May 19, 2006: A clear sign that it’s time for summer break…

You know that they’ve just had enough when your Bible study goes like this:
Me (reading from Acts 7, Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin): …And Abraham became the father of…?
Jesse: Um, um, um…
Laurel: Jesse?
Jesse: Um, um, um…
Laurel: Um, um, um…
Jesse: Um, um, um, oh, what was that guy’s name…?
Laurel: Isaac!
Me (smiling weakly and continuing): Later Isaac became the father of…..?
Jesse: Joshua?
Laurel: Joshua, Judges, Ruth?
Me (sighing and continuing): …Jacob, and Jacob became the father of….?
Jesse: Oh, those 12 dudes!
Laurel: The 12 disciples!

I fear their brains have turned to mush. Summer beckons.

Sunday, May 7, 2006

May 7, 2006: Being Someone Else

batman easter

Yesterday Duncan was walking around in the driveway, having an animated conversation with himself. When he looked up at the kitchen window and saw that I was watching him, he called to me: “Mama! I’m someone else!”

He wasn’t anyone in particular, even though he was dressed, as usual, in some sort of a costume. He was just “someone else.” For a five-year-old, it’s so easy to be someone else—and to admit to wanting to be someone else. There have been many times in my adult life when I have been someone else. The summer that I was a telemarketer for the Shriners Circus, I was most certainly someone else. I spent 6 hours each day with folks who were salt-of-the-earth East Tennessee, and me, a bona fide Yankee. But I forgot who I was those hours. Forgot I was a college-educated New Yorker. I was just another girl making phone calls, trying to work up to the Rogersville room, because those folks regularly made $50 pledges.

I was someone else the year Jesse was a first grader in public school. I pretended to be a PTA mom. I attended a few meetings and acted quite interested in the plans for the School Fun Fest or some such thing. Just for awhile I was that someone else, that shiny, happy PTA mom. (I was a much better Shriners gal than a PTA member.)

Those are just a couple of “someone else’s” I’ve been. I can’t even imagine being those people, or that I even was “those people” for a time. There are other someone else’s I’d love to be for awhile. I’d love to be a farm wife, have a big orchard and drive a tractor. I’d love to be a prolific writer, holed up in my writing studio that looks out over the ocean or the one that’s nestled in the mountains. I’d love to be someone who has enough money to travel regularly. I’d love to teach at the from which I graduated. I’d love to be able to sing magnificently, to play guitar and sing at open hoots whenever the mood caught me.

But when it gets right down to it, those times I was “someone else” stick out like a bad hairdo. I’m so glad that I don’t wait tables at Shoneys anymore. I’m so blessed to wake up in the morning and see what’s happening in my own small world. What birds are visiting, what flowers have bloomed, who Duncan will be today.

Saturday, May 6, 2006

May 6, 2006: Gathering in the Kitchen

Randy cooked up a fabulous supper of chicken piccata with pasta and mushroom sauce, broccoli, and garlic bread for supper tonight. I love when he cooks. I love Saturday nights at home. Tonight it was just our family, but I love when we can have friends over to eat with us. Whenever friends come to eat, the kitchen becomes the automatic social center. Why is it that no one ever sits in the living room? Why do we all pull chairs into the kitchen?

So while he’s cooking, Randy imparts fatherly advice to Jesse that goes something like this:
“You need to learn how to cook. Chicks dig guys who can cook.”
He is soooooo right! And I am so glad that this is just one kind of fatherly advice that my children are blessed to receive.

Randy’s Chicken Piccata

3-4 chicken breasts, pounded flat
3 T flour
4 T butter
1/2 lb. Sliced mushrooms (fresh)
1/2 lemon
1/2 cup dry white wine
Lemon slices

Cut breasts into serving pieces, then coat each piece with flour. Heat butter until it sizzles. Add chicken and cook over high heat until lightly browned on both sides. Add sliced mushrooms and sauté until brown. Squeeze lemon over chicken in pan, then add wine. Swoosh everything around in pan and cook 1 minute more. Arrange chicken on serving platter. (Serve the mushroom sauce on the side if your kids are appalled by mushrooms.) Garnish with lemon slices. Serve with linguine with oil, garlic, and parmesan.

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

May 3, 2006: Flowers Abound


I love this week's flowers. As if to make up for the fading of the azaleas, a whole new cast of flowers debut. The columbine are wonderful. I love self-seeders. This year I was surprised and thrilled to find a mysterious yellow columbine right smack up against purple irises. Where did it come from, this lone yellow among columbine, all the rest purple? I hope this one throws seeds far and wide.

The roses are postively loaded, from the climbing red rose over the garden arch to my father's favorite, "Rose Rose." My mother has always had a rose garden, and little by little, I am following in her path. I try to add one new variety each year, but this may be an off year. Perhaps I'll reward myself again next year as those debts disappear.

There is always much to do in the flower beds. Yesterday Duncan and I weeded the front flower bed and planted dwarf irises that Jennifer shared with us. We need loads of nice topsoil and mulch. A trip to Pope's is in this weekend's schedule, if all goes well! I am itching to get the impatiens planted before the hot, dry season starts. This month is perfect for planting.

I love dirt beneath my nails--good red earth.

spring-yellowspring rose rosespring purplespring coreopsis