A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Things We Keep

When I moved all my stuff to the garage while I did the conversion, this lamp ended up behind things on the work counter that I hadn’t found a place for yet. Cleared most of that out yesterday and found the perfect place for it. For some reason Rickie loved this lamp and had told me he hoped we had a place for it when he retired to the cabin. 

His collection of Texas history books are in the cabinet along with some of his little things. An owl feather, rattlesnake rattles, the Buck knife he always carried in his truck for cutting up jerky and sausage on trips, some porcupine quills, a piece of pottery made by a man from Mexico whose aunt owned the Mexican restaurant in Junction. A jar of dirt from Shotgun Ridge and a jar of Texas caliche. A dead mummified hummingbird I found, and a jar with the shotgun shell from the Ridge with its name and shell casings the hunters left in the Knight blind over the years. A baseball from a game he played in 1970. 

A quilt Elizabeth made from his shirts and a cabin quilting she made for me when I moved here, a fox skin from before he decided no one should shoot a fox at the ranch, some blackbuck antelope antlers a friend of his took from a dead blackbuck he found by a Texas ranch gate, an old jar Natalie bought me with ski lift tickets from the kids that come over, and some family photos of grandkids Jeremy, Emily, Bixby, and great-grandson Anthony. On the side is a scarf Sarah and Justin brought me from Italy and a wrap my friend of 40 years Deborah gave me when I moved here. 

I love this little corner. It tells a lot of our life. ❤️ I hope y’all have a corner like this with some of your treasures. When you downsize these are the things you keep. They tell your story. Not the expensive things you bought that have no value except money. My carpenter came over after I was moved in and as I showed him around he said “everything you have has a story, Sue.” And so it does. ❤️

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Will the Circle Be Unbroken

Yesterday morning my 7 year old grandson Bixby came over. He only stayed about 5 minutes. We looked out the window and chatted about what we’d do that day. Then he said he was going back home. I asked him if he wanted some breakfast. He said no, he only came over to check on me. 

When I was a little girl we lived in a duplex, our family on one side and my grandparents on the other. We were connected by a small front porch. Every evening after supper I’d go to my grandparents’ side to watch TV with them. Together we watched Ed Sullivan, Red Skelton, Lawrence Welk, Dragnet, The Wizard of Oz, and the country music shows that were on Saturday night. My chair was the one by the door and I’d lay back crossways on it with my head on one arm and my feet hanging over the other arm. The chair was in a corner by the front door and my Papa would often have to tell me to keep my feet off the wall. We didn’t talk much on those evenings, just quietly watched TV. 

Our side of the house was chaos, as you’d expect with 7 kids. It was a small two bedroom home with a small addition that functioned as my parents’ bedroom on one end and our dining area on the other end. A sofa separated the areas and there was a place for our washer and dryer also. The back wall was all windows that looked out over the backyard. All four of us girls plus our baby brother shared one bedroom and our other two brothers shared the smaller bedroom. 

I longed for quiet and calmness, even as a child, and was drawn to my grandparents’ side. Nothing was ever out of place there and it was quiet. In their bedroom my grandparents had a chest of drawers with two little doors that opened to a shelf on the top. A wooden sailboat was embossed on each door and the whole chest was stained a medium maple color. Behind those doors my grandmother kept treasures like tiny gold safety pins, antiseptics, and bandaids. Whenever we needed those she’d open the little doors and take them out. Sometimes we needed Mercurochrome or Merthiolate on our cuts and scrapes. These came in little brown bottles with glass droppers. One of them burned like crazy and one not so much. One turned your skin red but I can’t remember if both did. They contained mercury and aren’t sold in the US any more, as far as I know. We were always in hopes we’d get the one that burned the least when we had a cut! The choice was in the hands of the grandparent treating us and the one that burned the most was considered the most effective. Naturally. 

My grandparents had a second bedroom that no one ever slept in except one time I can remember. Uncle Justin and Aunt Sweetie Mae, my grandmother’s brother and sister-in-law, came to visit one time. But most of the time it was just my Mamaw and my Papa, and in the evenings me. I loved my grandparents’ side. The beds were always made, nothing was where it shouldn’t be, no toothpaste in the bathroom sink, no muddy footprints on the floor. There were rules to follow that kept it this way but I was willing to accept them for the orderliness of the home. It was an escape for me from the loud, bustling side of the duplex where I resided most of the time. I loved being with my family but I’ve always needed to be alone sometimes. Rickie and I were each the same way and we understood that and were never offended by it as some people might be. 

We didn’t watch scary shows at my grandparents’ house like so many shows are today. The Wizard of Oz was the scariest thing I remember seeing. After it was over I was afraid to walk back to our side of the duplex and hurried across the tiny porch to our door, afraid the flying monkeys would be lurking overhead to get me!

With the garage conversion here in Colorado, I’m now the Mamaw on the quiet orderly side of the duplex. Bixby’s side is where all the action takes place. Though he’s only one child, not seven, he has dogs and cats and video games and working parents and the disarray that accompanies all that. I don’t have a chest of drawers with two little doors with sailboats on the top. My brother has my grandparents’ dresser. But from time to time Bix comes over to get a bandaid from the little shelf in the pantry. I don’t subject him to red staining medicines that burn and maybe poison him but sometimes I’ll get the triple antibiotic gel out. 

Sometimes in the evening he’ll come over for a while. He’ll tell me he’s just coming over to hang out with me. He’ll climb up on the bed and lean back against all my pillows and watch TV or play a game on the iPad. Sometimes he’ll tell me things that happened or things he’s learned. Last night he came over with his big plastic popcorn container with 4 small ones. They all look like the boxes you get popcorn in at the movies. I keep two kinds of popcorn here, the butter one he likes and the kettle corn I like. He gets his out and pops it. We decide where to store the large popcorn bowl and he leaves me with two small ones and takes two back home. He tells me not to forget where we decided to keep them. 

Went I went to my grandparents’ house each evening, I never wondered if they wanted me there or if they’d rather be alone. It never occurred to me to wonder. We had our system and our rules and we each gave a little in order to have the bond. I didn’t know it at the time but those evenings formed me into the person I am. They gave me a break from the hustle and bustle of my family and taught me to respect how my grandparents lived. I sometimes wonder if they recognized the introvert that craved order in me and knew how much I needed to be there, that while I loved them and being with them, it was also something I needed. The calm, the quiet, the order. I don’t think I could have verbalized it myself at the time. 

And now that the circle of our family’s life continues, and I’m the Mamaw with the orderly little house, I don’t have to wonder how they felt when I came over. I know. Bixby and I have our way of doing things, our own rules we follow, much as the little boy and his elderly aunt in Truman Capote’s A Christmas Miracle. He never overstays and he doesn’t come every day. And I have rules that are modified a little to fit a 7 year old that’s a bit more outgoing than I was. One late afternoon I came home from helping out at a garden club event and found him on the bed watching TV and having a snack. He knows how to find his shows on the Apple TV and he knows where the snacks are. And he never has to wonder if I want him here or if I’d rather be alone. He knows it’s his home too and we each give a little to have the bond. And I wonder if he’ll be formed by that as I was. 

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Boats to Build

A couple of weeks ago some of my Texas kids and grandkids and I were eating lunch at Steamworks Brewing in Durango. As I walked back to the table from the restroom I looked around at the industrial style room full of people smiling and laughing and talking. Everyone with vests or jackets, snow or hiking boots, some with knit caps. I slowed down to take it all in. And I thought to myself “I’m in frigging Colorado; never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be here, a local now. With all these people that love it here as I do, even with the challenges of the snow, and maybe because of the challenges loving it even more. And sharing the adventure with my family.” And I am once again grateful for the life I live and the choices, if not the circumstances, that brought me to this place.

This morning some photos of our house in Katy, Texas showed up in a website email I received. We lived there for 7 years while we worked in Houston and went to the ranch every chance we got. We were never crazy about Katy. It was a boring generic Houston subdivision. But we spent a lot of time turning our backyard into a beautiful garden. We had a few vegetables and lots of flowers! We tried to make it our own and every weeekend we weren’t at the ranch we were at the nurseries picking out new plants to try. 

At one time we had a little fish pond until a feral cat destroyed it. We replaced it with a bubbly fountain made from a tall ceramic pot. It was a peaceful yard and we spent many afternoons grilling and having a drink on the patio.

When I looked at the photos showing up this morning I thought if we had been different people, I might still be in that house in Katy. If we hadn’t fallen in love with central Texas, if Rickie hadn’t been the kind of person that wasn’t afraid to take a risk, if he hadn’t taught me not to settle but to go for a better life, a better place. To ignore the people who thought we were crazy, that I was crazy to leave everything we had worked for behind to try and find joy and adventure. 

If not for all that I might still be there in that little house, in that subdivision, with the beautiful yard we had created. And not walking through Steamworks Brewing in Durango, Colorado, feeling a kinship with everyone else in that room. And returning to a table full of kids and grandkids that have had adventures we never thought we’d have. 

Life can be predictable and safe. And that’s not all bad. But every choice we have made has led us to where we are in this moment. Make sure some of your choices are unpredictable. Build yourself a boat and sail out of your safe harbor. Learn to embrace the challenges. The highs are never as high if you’ve not had the lows, or had to work a little harder for them. 

That being said, us Texans are sure ready for some more Spring weather and the end of this crazy Winter! And we’ll love it all the more because of those times we were stuck in the snowbanks! 

Boats to Build by Guy Clark

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land

I moved to Texas when I was 14. I was glad to be there and had begged my dad to move us there for years. For 53 years I lived there. All of my kids were born there and most of my grandkids and great grandkids. 

I owned horses and learned to ride them and care for them. I groomed them, cleaned their stalls, fed them, saddled them, cleaned their hoofs, and taught my sons about them. I raised 2 longhorns from babies and was their chief caretaker for 8 years. I hauled hay and feed, set up stock tanks, and mended fences. 

With a couple of exceptions, I know more about Texas history than most people I know. I know the names of many native Texas plants and trees and planted native plants in my planting beds and landscape. I protected them on my property. I made prickly pear and agarita jelly. I’ve cut and burned piles of cedar as big as a house. I’ve cut live oaks for firewood. 

I know the habits of native Texas whitetail deer and turkeys. I can talk to turkeys and ravens well enough that they talk back to me. I’ve hauled tons of corn and milo and filled feeders. I’ve helped haul and unload and set up a deer blind and I’ve painted and maintained blinds. 

I’ve lived in a cedar cabin in the middle of Texas and owned 54 acres there for 28 years. I have a jar of caliche and one of soil from there on my bookcase. For years I kept a jar of caliche on my desk at work and I was the only person I ever ran into at the huge Houston area school district that knew what caliche was. I can tell it by smell blindfolded. I hauled a mesquite mantel from Texas to Colorado and moved it around for 2 years until it’s finally on my wall here. 

I made window curtains with material with Texas quotes. I made a fire pit with native Texas stone I gathered on my property. I know the way the constellations move across the Texas sky. I’ve traveled to just about every part of Texas there is. I have a library of Texas history books and I’ve read them all. I’ve seen just about every Texas singer songwriter except the very young new ones from the last few years. My walls are full of photographs of native plants and animals, photos we took. 

I can protect my family from rattlesnakes and skunks, though I always lost the war with raccoons. But I fought that war anyway. I’ve eaten more than my share of BBQ, Tex-Mex, and Texas chili. I’ve consumed many a margarita, and sat on the porch with a cold Corona and my boots propped on a cedar post after a hard day’s work outside in the Texas heat. 

I went into debt to send my daughter to the University of Texas at Austin and I’ve taken my grandkids to Barton Springs, the capital building, the tower at UT, to Del Rio and Cuidad Acuna. We’ve been floating down the Llano River, I’ve tubed down the Frio, and swam in the Guadalupe and the Gulf of Mexico. I spent a summer in Brownsville and made weekly trips to Matamoros. I’ve attended many an Astros and Oilers game, back in the day.

I’ve lived my life in jeans and boots and a pickup truck is my preferred method of travel. 

In other words, you can find some people that are more Texan than me - after all, I don’t have boots with a Texas flag on them - but you’ll find a whole lot more that are no where near as Texan as me. 

And yet people born in Texas do not not consider me a “real” Texan. I used to know a co-worker one generation removed from Italy that lived to remind me weekly that I wasn’t a real Texan. I was forced to be petty and tell her my grandfather fought in the American Revolution or she wouldn’t have a country to live in. I tell her Davy Crockett and Colonel Travis weren’t born here either. 

This morning I had breakfast with some of the dog walkers. One couple used to have a dairy farm in Wisconsin. Another couple came from Minnesota. The young waitress lived in Alaska for two years. One woman is from Missouri. One vet tech spend an internship in Oregon. One woman lived in New Mexico for 35 years. One woman is from Arizona. Missing was the woman from Washington DC and the one from California. Last week at the auto shop the tech was from New York. On a previous visit the man helping me was from Tennessee. 

No one here has ever told me I wasn’t a “real” anything. They say they are glad I came here. Even the fella at the post office, who I only know from there, told me yesterday it was good to see me again. There are some people born here that are mad about everyone else that wasn’t born here, same as the “real” Texans. But I haven’t run into those people. And for that I’m thankful. 

It was a beautiful day here in my new home, spent with interesting people. The sun was shining in a clear blue sky, the dogs were happy to be out and about, and I felt like a “real” human. 

This land is your land and this land is my land but it never really belongs to any of us, we just have the use of it while we are here. Enjoy your time. 

Monday, January 7, 2019


It’s snowing again this morning. We had 4 inches yesterday, after the 2 feet we got last week. We’re not expected to get much today, maybe an inch, but who knows. Colorado weather forecasting is apparently difficult. 

There’s a lone raven flying high above the hills around me, flying toward and over my place, snow falling softly around him. It’s a beautiful sight and I’m privileged to see it. 

Bixby and I went to the grocery store a couple of days ago and as we were getting in the car, he heard a squawking and asked me what that bird was. I looked up and a raven was perched on the top of a light pole. They’re a huge bird and unless you see one close, sometimes hard to tell from crows. Strangely to me, a group of crows is called a murder but a group of ravens is called a kindness. 

We had ravens at the ranch in Texas and I’ve written about them before. They sometimes nested on the ridge behind the cabin and we named all the males Edgar and all the females Lenore. Along with wild turkeys, they were our favorite birds, intelligent and loyal. And if you talked to them, they would talk back. We would sometimes be in the cabin and hear them and go outside to talk with them. 

When Sarah and I were driving over so I could close on the house and move in, ravens met us on the road to Santa Fe, as we turned off the interstate, and we saw them all along the trail, each group of 2 or 3 passing us on to the next. As if they were saying “come on, we’ll stay with you until you’re safely home, don’t be afraid. We’ve been waiting and watching for you.”

And maybe that’s why they’re called a kindness. 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Last Entry

A dear friend is burying her husband of many years this weekend. He passed away two days before Thanksgiving. The same as Rick. In the same way, having a heart attack. She found him on their property, a rural area where they made their home. 

She’s a writer and in fact wrote a book about tiny houses that included our Texas cabin. My heart has been heavy for her. And the similarities of the life they led and the way and timing he died has me searching back to the early days of my loss. Trying to find some words to comfort her. Though there are not really any, not when it’s so fresh and your life, your dreams, your plans, are dissolving in the blink of an eye. 

When Rickie died, my niece Alison sent me a little leather journal with parchment pages. She said she thought I might like it to write some thoughts maybe I wouldn’t want to put in the blog. I decided to use it to write to Rickie. To speak to him as if he was still there. When you lose the person it’s most easiest to talk to and know you’re never likely to have anyone else like that, it’s one of the biggest losses in the whole sorry deal. The journal was the best thing anyone gave me then because it gave me the ability to still talk to Rickie. 

I’ve been reviewing it this morning, rereading some of my thoughts when the loss was so fresh. And reading the last entry, the two pages I saved for the last entry from the ranch. This time of year is hard, not only because it’s the anniversary but because this was Rickie’s favorite time of year at the ranch. Hunting, northers blowing in, campfires, Orion in the night sky. Lots of memories are showing up on Facebook with the kids and siblings out, especially the week of Thanksgiving. The week Rickie died. 

I miss the ranch. I miss everything associated with it. But I have sense enough to know it’s the life I had with Rickie that I miss and that can’t ever be regained, whether I stayed or not. Sometimes, especially this time of year and when I think of the kids, I still wonder and hope I did the right thing. Reading the last entry restores the sense to me that I did, though nothing is ever cut and dried and there’s no perfect option. 

So I thought I’d share that last entry. It has some wise advice from my grandson Larry Michael in it. It’s too early for my friend to even begin to consider what her life will now be like, what difficult decisions will have to be made. But maybe it will give hope that you can one day pick up the pieces and carry on. 

Here it is -

January 15, 2017

Tougher Than Leather's at the feeder tonight. The last time I’ll see her. I’ll be at Martha and Scott’s tomorrow when the feeder goes off. Then Tuesday morning I’ll leave for the last time. Yesterday I went to the ridge, the bench, sat in both blinds, walked the land, watched some turkeys as I sat in the Knight blind. 

Sarah left a tiny Crown bottle at Shotgun Ridge when she was out last and I went to sit awhile. It was gone, maybe carried off by a coon. The little one I left months ago was still there, behind where we sat. The weather was just how you like it - cool and damp, misty. ❤️

I close this book with words from Larry Michael to me - “You carry Rickie and the love you felt for each other wherever you go. I think Colorado would be good for you. Not only because you would enjoy it and it’s a beautiful place. But because people in Colorado would be better for having known you, because in turn they would be able to know the version of yourself that carries Rickie as well.”

So to the best pard a girl could have, let’s hit the trail. It’s time. ❤️❤️

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Home Sweet Home

In 2004 when we built the cabin at the ranch I really wanted a big mesquite mantel we had seen outside of San Antonio at a place that made them. But it was outside our budget and we were running out of money.

We cut an old elm tree down on the ranch but the one we tried turned out to be dying inside. We didn’t have many trees that were straight enough and long enough so we gave up on that idea. Rickie decided to go by the main lumber yard in Austin of the place where we had looked at the mesquite mantels and see if they had a more affordable option. They used a lot of different woods. He happened to catch them when they were unloading unfinished mantels that were returning from being kiln dried. The owner gave him a bargain price on a mesquite one. 

He was headed to the ranch alone that trip and in spite of the mantel being heavy he unloaded it himself. He sanded it and finished it and got it on the two cedar support posts he had bolted to the framing when we were building the cabin. 

And there it set for almost 13 years. I told him several times over the years that if we ever sold the cabin I was taking the mantel. It was my favorite thing about the cabin and you don’t often find a mesquite tree that big anymore. It signified Texas to me and to all the hard work Rickie and I had done over the years to get our place to where it was. It meant home to me.

So in spite of the ordeal it was, the mantel made the trip here. I’m grateful to my neighbor Tim who singlehandedly moved it to the shed for me; to John, Austin, and Natalie who moved it from the shed to the storage unit in Austin; to the movers who moved it to Pagosa; to Natalie and Leslie who loaded it in my car to take to Denver; to Sarah and Justin who unloaded it in Denver and then took it off their wall there for the return trip here; to the movers who brought it from Denver to Pagosa; and finally to Sarah and Justin again who just put it on the brackets I put up this morning. And to the blacksmith in North Carolina who made the brackets for me. 

I don’t have a fireplace in my remodeled space and the cabin fireplace here already has a mantel custom cut to fit it. And it has its own story. So we put the mantel on the wall as a shelf. 

And it feels like home.