A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

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.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

You and Me

I couldn’t sleep last night so I watched Venus outside my sliding door until she dropped below the horizon. Orion, everyone’s favorite, won’t be visible until right before dawn. It’ll be a while longer before he greets us in the early hours of nightfall and moves across the sky, trailed by the rabbit and the big dog, all chasing the bull.

I replaced one of the garage doors on my remodel with an 8’ sliding glass door. I put my bed right beside that door. I wanted to be able to see the stars at night like I could at the ranch. Winter was our season for stargazing because we always spent more time there then. It was often dark when we got there and Orion was right in front of us when we pulled into the driveway.

We had our bed right beside a window at the ranch also and when the moon was full it was as if a light was on, it was so bright. After Rickie died I listened to this song by Sara Watkins a lot. I don’t listen as much now, it always makes me cry, but it was running through my mind last night. The moon was so bright I couldn’t see many stars but Venus was holding her own.

“I remember the night
I remember the sound
I remember the light
When the moon came round
The night flowers bloomed
The air so sweet
I remember you
I remember me”

Click on the link below to hear the clear voice of Sara Watkins remembering.

Sara Watkins, You and Me

Try to watch the stars sometimes where you are. Teach your kids a few constellations. Watch the moon change as the nights pass. The night sky is a great wonder. Give the gift of these memories.

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Birthday Gift

Today is my birthday, the last year I’ll be sixty-something. Twenty-nine years ago when I turned forty, Rickie told me never to be upset about getting older. He said think of all the people we love who never got to be your age.

I never forgot that and think about these loved ones every year when I add one more to my count. My baby brother who never saw 4 days, my sister who never saw 38, my brother who never saw 68. A brother-in-law who never saw 58 and one who never saw 43. A cousin who never saw 22, another cousin’s daughter who never saw 6, one more cousin whose daughter never saw 23. My son-in-law’s mother who never saw 58. A cousin’s husband who never saw 60. The babies, some my grandchildren, in our family that almost made it, but didn’t survive the last few weeks of their journey to the world.

Rickie who never saw 62.

And a slew of friends over the years, especially these last years, who never made it to my age. So it seems petty and ungrateful to complain about having a birthday.

After Rickie died, I sometimes didn’t much care if I lived or died, as I think all of us who lose someone we love sometimes think in our low times. I wasn’t suicidal, I just didn’t care much one way or the other. But I always came back to Rickie’s statement. That to get another year is not something we are all given. We can’t squander them.

My attitude toward birthdays also comes from my Dad. He was always excited when his birthday rolled around, even in his later years when his health was declining. When he turned 79, the last year he had as it turned out, he called the Houston library to ask them how many people lived to be 79. They researched and got back to him. (Thank you, librarians, for being awesome!) I don’t remember the number but he was one of a small group and he was bursting to tell us all when we came by.

I’ve tried to make the most of these last 4 years I’ve had without Rickie. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of making them count, both for me personally and for my loved ones. And I’ll try to make the most of this next one. It’s a gift we don’t all receive. As Gandalf says, we all have some part yet to play, and I’ll try to play my small part with a grateful heart. For those who didn’t make it.

From Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien -

“Frodo: 'It's a pity Bilbo didn't kill Gollum when he had the chance.'
Gandalf: 'Pity? It's a pity that stayed Bilbo's hand. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play in it, for good or evil, before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.' Frodo: 'I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.'
Gandalf: 'So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides that of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, in which case you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.”

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Father’s Day

It’s been almost 13 years since my dad passed away. He’s still around though because I see him staring back at me from the mirror every morning. I look like my dad though my character comes more from my mom.

I’ve been the carpenter’s helper in my remodel. One day, after a long day of work, as we were unloading some materials from the truck, he remarked that I was a hard worker. Without even thinking I replied that I learned to work from my mom. Whenever I get up and do something I don’t want to do, after already having a long day, it’s because I saw my mom do that over and over. She was the one we all went to if we needed something done.

But my dad was the one we went to if we needed comfort, if we needed to laugh, if we needed to know everything would work out ok, if we needed forgiveness.

However long I live, I hope I can always have a happy spirit like my dad, no matter what life throws at me. It wasn't life that kept him happy, as he had plenty of heartache, including losing two children, and many medical problems. It was his naturally happy and grateful heart. He had a kindness toward people and an acceptance of others faults and shortcomings. If he judged you at all, it was always on the curve.

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there, especially the ones I love. If you still have your dad and grandpas, I hope you take the chance this week to get in touch with them. One day when they are gone, you’ll wish you could sit down and talk about things. I’d love to laugh with my dad again and be comforted, hear another gardening idea from my Papa, or another carpentry tip from my Pop. And what I wouldn’t give to still have the man who spent most of his life being the father to my children.

The world needs people like my mom who get things done or else we couldn’t function. But sometimes we need people who make you laugh even more. We need joy. Be sure and seek out that joy when it’s missing. If my dad taught me one thing it was that you can still have joy even after heartbreak.

Miss you, Daddy. Thanks for teaching me to be kind, and to not only carry on but to carry on with a joyful heart.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Listen, Sarah, Take Care of Your Mom

Back in August of 2007, Sarah and I went to see Rufus Wainwright at Stubb’s BBQ in Austin. It was a sweltering Texas night, the temp not much lower than the 100+ it had been during the day. Stubbs is an outdoor venue, mostly standing only. We got there early and were close to the stage. 

We hadn’t had anything alcoholic to drink that day and we bought a few bottles of water. As more and more people came in and crowded around I began to get the feeling I couldn’t breath. I went back and found a place to sit on some steps near the dressing rooms and a kind employee gave me a bottle of water, as ours were all gone. I got back up but it wasn’t but a few minutes and I felt dizzy again. Sarah said, let’s leave; I fainted on the way out. The night ended with an ambulance ride to the hospital and two liters of fluids. Dehydration was the diagnosis. The humorous part was everyone, from the ambulance EMS tech, to the nurses, to the doctor, all had the same first question. “So, who’s playing at Stubbs tonight?” 

Sarah watched over me that night through it all. Before we left home, Rickie had told her in as stern a voice as he could muster, which is pretty stern, “Listen, Sarah, keep an eye on your mom and take care of her. I mean it, now.” I’m sure Sarah thought, heck, mom can take care of herself! When people have always done a lot and are pretty self sufficient, everyone tends to think they don’t need watching out for. But we all do at times. 

Rickie always looked out for me, whatever we were doing. I was his first concern and I always felt safe. I knew without a doubt he had my back. My friend Deb and I were talking the other day about how the loss of our husbands meant the only person in the world that we were number one with was gone. To our children, it’s as it should be - their children and spouses, then us. Maybe. Haha! We’re somewhere in there toward the top anyway. 

But Rickie gave Sarah a directive that night. And she and my son-in-law Justin (and Bixby!) are one week away from continuing to honor his request. They will be moving here to the cabin then. It’ll be an arrangement beneficial to us all in many ways, and there will naturally be some adjustments for us all. But for me, I’ll have someone watching over me again. Justin has always been my backup while far away, the one I text when I hike alone or get on the ladder, letting him know what trail I’m on, when I return, or get off the 10’ ladder in a precarious situation. Now they will be close enough to holler at! For all this I have a grateful heart.

My mother’s parents lived with us all my life until they passed away. Once time in a duplex, other times in added on quarters, and sometimes in the same house. So multi-generational life is not new to me. I’ve been alone for a number of years now, and a young family needs privacy, so we are all fortunate with this house to have an opportunity for our own space.  I’m renovating part of the shop/garage area for space for me. And my two shelter cats! It’s coming along great and I’m excited about it but it won’t be finished for a few more weeks. More on that later. 

Mother’s Day is fast approaching. I’d sure like to see my mom and my grandmothers but they’re all gone now. My siblings and I always took a lot of time and traveled many a mile to help look after our parents. But I always wish I had done more, had stayed a little bit longer, had listened to one more story they had to tell. 

Y’all take care of each other out there, have some fun, and be kind. Try to overlook the annoying things because believe me, they disappear when times really get tough. I know. 

“Mother's love is peace. It need not be acquired, it need not be deserved.”  Erich Fromm

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Playing the Hand You’re Dealt

A day or two after Rickie died his best friend, next to me, came by. John and Susie lived in Houston near us and also had a place in the Hill Country. They were South Texas natives and ranchers. We had known them since our days in Lafayette many years ago. John said to me as they left “Sue, it’s a bad hand you’ve been dealt but if anyone can handle it, you can.”

I’ve repeated that to myself many times over these last years alone. I’ve made hard choices and I’ve done things I thought I’d never do. The hardest was giving up the ranch. Not only was it the place Rickie and I had loved for almost 30 years, but we had built it up from bare land to be our home, our place to live out our lives. Truly our blood, sweat, and tears were in it, as well as every penny we could scrape together. We knew every inch of it, every animal that we shared it with, every season and the changes it brought. We loved the smell of it, the caliche and the cedars, the draw flowing after heavy rains. We loved the history of it, the feeling that those who walked it before us still passed by every so often. Unless you have also loved a land, the actual land beneath your feet, you can’t understand this and I can never explain it to you. You either know it or you don’t.

But as y’all know, living there alone consumed me with a sadness that ruled my life. And over a couple of years I contemplated how best to play the hand I’d been dealt. My choices were simple. Live there alone trying to keep our dream on life support, and be sad every day of my life, with the kids and grandkids occasionally coming out and being sad with me, or try to find some joy in the years I had left. The sadness would always be with me but there had to be some joy left for me also.

My overriding guide in decision making was this - my choices were to be made not only based on what I might want but on what would benefit my kids and grandkids. I’d lived 65 years already at that time. What could I do to make life different for them? As I told them, Rickie left us an opportunity and I intended to take it for all of us. I would make the final hard decision for all what would happen.

I have a little moleskin tablet Sarah gave me years ago. I write down quotes I like in it. A few months after Rickie died I ran across it while rearranging a drawer. There was a quote by Muriel Rukeyser that I had written twice. I figured I must have either needed it then or at the time I rediscovered it. “However confused the scene of our life appears, however torn we who do now face that scene, it can be faced, and we can go on to be whole.” It was time to face it and go on.

It’s been a year now since I sold the ranch and moved to Pagosa Springs. It’s been everything I hoped it would be, for me and for the ones I love. It’s been a year of skiing, sledding, horseback riding, rafting, kayaking, hiking, train riding, tubing, cowboy parades, campfire sitting, and hot springs. A year of new friends for me and doing things I’ve been scared to do. A year of adventure. A year of healing.

A few months after I moved Sarah and her family sold their home and left Austin, the city they loved. They decided they wanted a change and new adventures of their own, and also being closer to me factored in. They moved to Denver, because of the job market and the big city opportunities. But they’ve decided they just traded one big city for another and haven’t had the change they hoped for. So, as Sarah puts it, they’ve decided to do a “Waylon, and Willie, and the boys” and sell their home there and move here to Pagosa.

When I decided to come here, my original plan was to buy a place here and be here most of the time but to go back to Austin and stay in my tiny house in the kids back yard some. Then they said hey, let’s all move to Colorado and find a place where we can all be together. Our search for that didn’t pan out. But as it turned out the place I bought here fit that plan better than anything we found then.

So once again we’re changing up our lives a bit. Sarah, Justin, and Bix are selling their house in Denver and moving into the cabin here. I’m in the process of converting some of the big 5 car garage with workroom into a space for me. It’ll be about 500 sq feet, a bit bigger than the original ranch cabin but with a different design. I’ll have a separate living/mini kitchen, a bathroom, and bedroom. I’ve started on it already and more on that later.

When I was a teenager Elvis movies were all the rage. They were as we know, just a way for him to sing his songs! The movies were all the same mostly but we loved them anyway. My favorite was Follow That Dream. I loved the words to the song. “When your heart gets restless, time to move along. When your heart gets weary, time to sing a song. But when a dream is calling you, there’s just one thing that you can do. You’ve gotta follow that dream wherever that dream may lead.”

And so, in playing the hand I was dealt, I’ve also managed to follow a dream. A dream of adventure in a place Rickie and I also loved, a dream of a new life, a dream of finding some joy left to me.

And a year later, I offer thanks to the ranch we loved that provided the funding, to my kids and grandkids for having the nerve and the heart to let go of the ranch for a chance of new adventures, to Colorado for making us welcome, and as always, to Rickie for teaching me to be strong and having the courage to go for it. The hand’s been dealt and played.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Protectors of the Realm, Western Division

It seems the cats have assumed the responsibility of guarding the Rockin’RS since Woodrow and Gus didn’t make the move to the mountains. And although it wasn’t consciously planned that way, the new guardians have the same personalities as the old guardians. 

Heathcliff is the brooding loner Woodrow and Solar is the friendly curious Gus. And just like the longhorns they are the best of buddies. 

This morning Heathcliff and Solar unknowingly mimicked Woodrow and Gus, sitting back to back like the boys often did, keeping an eye out for trouble in each direction.  

Until I saw them this way, it never occurred to me that I’d instinctively sought out a smaller version of the longhorns. But the heart wants what it wants. So says Emily Dickinson and Selena Gomez and I have to agree.