A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

Monday, February 23, 2015

Like a Coat From the Cold

I don't mean to turn the blog into a sad chronicle of my loss, but one of the reasons I started it was to write things to share with my family. So indulge me today, please, as I talk of grandfathers, grandmothers, and uncles long gone.

Great-grandfather Roberts, a former Justice of the Peace in Illinois, wrote a letter to his daughter Hattie when her 24 year old son Gene was killed in Korea at Heartbreak Ridge. I don't find the majority of it comforting as he mostly just says, don't cry, it's worse when you lose a spouse, god's will, etc. If I ever lost a child, especially to violence, and someone told me it was god's will, they better duck because I'm fixing to punch them in the face. And I mean that sincerely.

But it has a sadness when he talks about losing his wife that I can now understand. He says "you stand alone, your life shattered, with the wreck all around you and you do not know which way to turn. I have had that experience and only I know the loneliness. She is in heaven and there Gene finds her and is gathered with those who have gone before....
I am writing you this sitting by the fire in the kitchen this cold, rainy Sunday, and living over the past 60 years since I first met our Mama. I am an old man, and I have left the rest of my life in the hands of my god, knowing that when I have finished my mission, I will receive my reward, and there is entire peace between us."

While my beliefs on the ways of the universe are different than his, today I find his comments like a big hug from a grandfather that I knew only vaguely when I was a very young girl and he was a very old man.

And as I write this sitting by the fire in my kitchen this cold, icy Monday, and living over the past 34 years since I first met Rickie, I feel a connection with Grandpa Roberts. And it comforts me, as much as I can be comforted today. This "blog post" of his from 1953.

And I marvel at how I've saved this letter all these years since Grandma Hattie gave it to me back in the 1960s. A letter written on his J.P. stationery, with his office phone number of 474 and home phone number of 1008 in the top corners. It's survived every downsizing and move I've made to surface this morning.

Some things can't be explained and people need to stop trying to make up stories to explain them; it's not necessary. Some things just are. I've walked with sadness this morning and Grandpa Roberts has come to walk with me. And it warms and comforts me, as Guy Clark says, like a coat from the cold.

Like A Coat From the Cold by Guy Clark

Friday, February 13, 2015

Prickly Pear - the Good, the Bad, and the Heart of It

People not familiar with the kind of country we live in used to always ask what we were going to do when we retired. I always told them Rickie was going to cut cedar and I was going to dig up prickly pear.

I decided today was a good day to work on my end of that. We have some open areas between the cabin and the road and the prickly pear is out of control there. I like prickly pear. It has beautiful flowers and my favorite jelly is made with the fruit, although you have to work hard for it. It provides food for wildlife and Woodrow and Gus will nibble on it in a pinch. But it's one of those things that if you give it an inch it takes a mile.

I was having a day of rough moments. I really don't have days that are rough; I have moments. I learned many years ago to appreciate the little things and I can have moments of happiness in all but the darkest of days. If you can't find peace and joy in the world around you - in a little crippled doe that keeps on going, the tiny yellow bloom on an indescript cactus, an early morning snowfall, the way the late afternoon sun lights up the hills - then it might be harder for you to find that peace. But it's always there for me. I just have to get out in it.

It got up to 81 degrees today. Perfect for digging prickly pear. I started outside the yard gate and worked for about 3 hours. The boys had nibbled the grass as close to the pear as they could. When pickin's are slim like now they show up with cactus spines in their faces. I freed up some grass where I dug the pear out and they headed straight to that when I left. Then they moved over to the area where I dump the pear out and examined that. Curiosity is a character trait of theirs and they notice anything different in their world.

There's a little bug called a cochineal that lives on prickly pear. You can tell it's there when you see white cottony clumps on the pads. If you smash the bug you'll end up with a bright red color on your fingertips. This is used to make a red dye and it colors food and makeup. It was used by indigenous people in Mexico and by the Spaniards to dye clothes. I like seeing it and knowing its story. I like knowing that people long dead found uses for it in their lives and that it's still around. It's a survivor and I like survivors.

This heart shaped pad was lying on the ground where I was working. The boys had chomped it off recently and left it right where I happened to be today. Their Valentine to me.

I wonder sometimes if they miss Rickie. I'm not sure what they comprehend. They are smart observant animals very aware of their surroundings. If they notice a few prickly pear dug up and moved surely they notice the absence of their friend. The one who stood at the fence and rubbed their noses and horns, speaking softly to them. They know their names and they know their routines and they come when you ring the bell on the shed.

And apparently they know Valentine's Day is this week.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Happy Birthday, Rickie

Today is Rickie's birthday; he would have been 62. Once again I'm letting him write the post for me. Here's what he had to say about hunting the family home place in Mississippi:

"When I hunted behind our home I would usually sit at the base of the same tree every time in different areas. Over the years I became attached to these trees and areas. I knew them so well; I could walk in and out in the dark with very little help from a flash light. After I left home and was living in Lafayette Louisiana I returned to hunt one season. It had been last year since I had been in the woods. I got in on a Friday night and got up the next morning to walk into the woods before sunrise. I walked through the fields of dew laden ragweed and through the grown up forest and fields. The whole time I was walking, smelling the familiar smells, I couldn't help but think how I should have come a few weekends earlier to scout the property. I finally reached the first rise in the land indicating the beginning of a hill. Then I located the old run down fence; turning left I followed it up the hill looking for one of my favorite trees to sit under. This was a White Oak tree in one of my favorite hunting spots. These old trees over many hunts become your friends. You get attached to them over time. They keep the demands in your mind from approaching you from your back. They shelter you from a soft rain and give your back much needed support. And sometimes you can get a feeling of being attached to the earth through these trees.This is a feeling I can't explain but it exists. When you find these trees walking through the woods at night they are like a lighthouse in the middle of a dark ocean. As I followed the fence line up the hill my heart seemed to stop. The old tree had blown over and was dead. It was if I had lost a friend. The spot was not the same; the feeling of despair was almost indescribable. I never hunted that spot again, sadly the days of hunting the home place were coming to an end.
Before I left home for good, I became quite accomplished at still hunting. I always felt I could take a gun and walk on to a piece of property and find a deer to kill. I felt I was a hunter and not shooters like so many people are today."

Rickie still liked to go to the woods and sit with his back to a tree.  There is a big cedar back on Shotgun Ridge behind the cabin. Under it are some gray boulders just made for sitting and he would often go back there and sit a while. That's were we spread his ashes last Saturday, as family and friends gathered around to honor him and toast him with his beverage of choice, Crown Royal. My brother Andy sang Blue Shadows on the Trail, a song Rickie turned on every time we got on our road, back when we used to drive out together with Sarah on Friday evenings. The big draw is below and when we get a heavy rain water rushes down it past the ridge. There are walnuts, elms, oaks, and cedars there. The wind blows softly and in the Spring birds shelter in the cool branches and sing their love songs and in the Fall the leaves turn red and yellow.

I can't think of a better place or one that would have suited him better. 

Rest in peace, Rickie, and wait for me down the trail.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Where the Women are Strong and the Men are Good Looking

If you piled up all the hardship this group of women has faced, it would make a mountain. We've lost husbands, moms, dads, babies, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers, and friends. We've dealt with Alzheimer's, physical and mental abuse, war, lost jobs, lost homes, bad marriages, divorce, broken hearts, and broken bodies. We've started over more times than we care to admit.

If Bixby could see down the road for us all with those binoculars he's looking through, I shudder to think what he might see ahead for us.

We've survived it all by standing side by side, just as we are in the photo. One leaning on the other. When we need help, all we have to do is place a call to one and all coming running. As they did this weekend, and the past weeks, for me and my kids. Along with a whole group of others that didn't make the photo and a group of men that love strong women.

This group is strong. Rickie knew he could count on them to get us down the road. He was right. He knew a bunch of badasses when he saw them.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Things I Like

Rick was writing what I called "his book" and he called his "observations". He said if anyone ever wanted to know what he really thought they could read it when he was gone. He never shared it with me, just let me know where it was. I'm still going through it and some of it I won't ever share and some will offend some people, I imagine, since he was often more honest than people like. Today he is my guest blogger with the following words he wrote.

Things I like:

I have always liked the evening more than the morning. It is my favorite time of day because it has represented to me relief from the events of the day. The sunrise is a sign that work is about to begin.

I like to smell and taste a fresh peach in the summer. 

I like the taste of a home grown tomato in the summer.

I like to see my children and grandchildren smile.

I like to sip good whiskey at the end of a long day.

I like to get out of my vehicle after a very long drive.

I like to smell the air in the Texas Hill Country.

I like to look at the stars on a cool night at our ranch.  

I like a garden.

I like sitting around a camp fire with good company. 

I like being inside our cabin on a cold and wet winter night.

I like a Texas Hill Country river. 

I like the anticipation of and the beginning of fall and spring.  

I like observing nature.

I like doing things with Sue.

I like looking into Sue’s eyes.

And the following he wrote about our daughter, who has her birthday today. Happy birthday, Sari, with love, from Dad.

She is strong willed, a reader and writer thanks to her mother. She is now a mother as well. She is a lot stronger than she thinks she is. I wish I had spent more time with her. I’m proud of her!

So tonight if you're able, go sit around a campfire or by the fireplace and sip some whiskey. And think about those both here still and those gone from us, the ones you love and the ones that love you, the smiles of your children and grandchildren. It's gonna be a cold and wet winter night here so I'll be inside our cabin. Sipping whiskey and hoping that 2015 is kinder to us than 2014 was.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Since You Went Away

Rickie is home to stay now but it's not the way we wanted, the way we planned, the way we spent years preparing for. He had a heart attack two days before Thanksgiving and he didn't survive. And just that quick, my world crumbled.

I know in my heart that the reason it hurts so much is because I loved him so much but I take little comfort in that.

Hayes Carll says " darlin', don't you cry tonight, the moon is full and the world is right. I've loved more than my share, I took the pain and called it fair."

But the world isn't right and I don't call it fair.

I try to take comfort in the fact that he was here, the place he loved, and that I was with him. That he was doing what he loved. That he had been having a great week with family. But I take little comfort in that.

I know one day I will find comfort in these things. I know from conversations we've had and from our shared outlook on life that we would both rather go quickly than to linger with the pain of a destroyed body or mind, as have some of those we loved. But we didn't want it yet. We wanted more time. More time together here at the ranch. More time with the kids. More time with the grandkids. Just a little more time.

Having been so often alone here, waiting on the day two months from now when Rickie would retire and join me, I can sometimes pretend I'm still waiting. That it's just not his weekend to come out and he'll be here soon.

Then at other times I can't breath and I just want to lie down and stay there until I can go wherever Rickie went.

But I can't. He left things undone that I need to do, things he wanted done out here that we hadn't finished. And there's the littlest ranch hand that needs me to teach him the things I can and to tell him about his Pampaw. He's going to have to depend on his parents, uncles, aunts, and cousins to help him learn the ways of wildlife, longhorns, canoeing, and ranch chores. He had already suffered the loss of his grandmother Miriam to cancer this year, too young at 57 to leave us. He needs everyone that is left. We all do.

A few days before "the moment of impact" (as my friend Deb, who has suffered an identical loss this year, referred to it) Rickie and I stood on the front porch watching the deer in the field. One of the hunters had made a shot and got his deer. All the other deer had scattered from where they were feeding but in a matter of minutes came back. I remarked on how fast they returned after the death of one of their own, how peaceful it looked. He said, yes, a hole is left but the others quickly circle around to fill it and life goes on.

We've been left with a hole that can't be filled but our family and friends quickly circled around us. Life goes on and we have to find that way to go on and do what we've been left to do. 

Life demands a price for happiness and that price is a broken heart when the road ends. I'm grateful for what Rickie and I shared; I do realize some people never have that. Maybe one day what we had won't be overshadowed by what we lost. 

Seems like to me the stars don't shine as bright..........

Since You Went Away by Kris Delmhorst

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Love it or Lose It, Holiday Style

It's a little early but we have family out Thanksgiving week and I like to have it festive, so I'm going through the Christmas decorations. And I'm wondering why I have so many.

When we started downsizing, I donated a lot of decorations I had but as with most things, they start slipping in under the radar. I worked in a soulsucking cubicle for years so I always decorated it for every holiday. Some of these I really liked so they made it to the cabin when I retired. Because I don't have room for day to day accessorizing I would often buy holiday decorations when I went shopping at places like Fredericksburg and Gruene. 

Gradually I accumulated 6 large storage boxes of Christmas decorations plus 3 wreath boxes. That's too much for tiny cabin decorating! Yesterday I interrupted Rick's firewood cutting to get him to hang a wreath in the bunkhouse for me. I told him if I ever had to get rid of most of my decorations the three wreaths would be the only things I kept. They're my favorites.

I've written about them before but in case you missed it, I made these when we first began downsizing some years back. The kids were gone and it wasn't as much fun decorating a tree as it used to be. And of course, we have no room for a tree in the cabin although we do put a little cedar tree on the porch. I had a lot of tree decorations but not all of them were special to me. So I kept my favorite ones, bought some artificial wreaths and made three themed wreaths. I store them with the decorations attached in wreath boxes and just hang them every year. Super easy and I love them! 

One of the storage boxes has outdoor lights so I'm going to keep those. We put them in a different place every year, sometimes on the cabin front porch, sometimes on the bunkhouse, sometimes on the screen porch. This year we have something different planned. I'l show y'all when we get it done! 

Looking at my wreaths, I thought "I'm going to donate the things I don't love, the things I kept just because I like them and I can find a place for them". Let someone else enjoy them. And get back to tiny cabin rules. If you don't love it or need it, let it go.

My mom and my Aunt Carolyn bought artificial Christmas trees when they first came out with the green "realistic" ones. It was before you could just take the tree out of the box, maybe put two parts together and be done, before they came with lights installed. You had to stick the branches in the frame. It was a bit of an ordeal, really, and it looked as realistic as you would expect green plastic to look.

After a few years my aunt upgraded to one of the newer ones but Mama loved her artificial tree! Every year, for at least 25 years, she would put it up with help from some of the kids who were around. Nothing much ever changed about it. Her face would light up, she would smile and say "25 years and it still looks good!" 

So my deciding factor on keeping decorations this year is going to be whether it can put that same look on my face that Mama had on hers when she looked at her tree. 

If it can't, maybe it can give that look to someone else.

(Photo above: Mama and my Mamaw. Two photos of Mama's tree, one with my grandnephew Caleb and granddaughter Natalie, one taken years before that with my Grandma Hattie and son Larry.)