A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

Monday, December 19, 2016

Walking The Line

We're in a holding pattern out here at the Rockin' RS, waiting on the contract to sale to be finalized. We've found a place we like in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, a cabin in keeping with what we've loved all these years here, and the only thing it's waiting on is for the ranch sale to close. I'll share more about that later. Today our daughter Sarah is writing the blog post below. The photos are hers also. When I saw them I was struck by what she chose to photograph, the tiny things that so many people overlook, the beautiful textures even in the dead days of late Fall. She is her father's daughter. She came back from her walk with her backpack and pockets loaded with all the variety of rocks on our place. Here's her thoughts on that day -  

“You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home. People talk to you a great deal about your education, but some good, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education. If a man carries many such memories with him into life, he is safe to the end of his days, and if one has only one good memory left in one's heart, even that may sometime be the means of saving us.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
Yesterday I walked the line to "Shotgun Ridge," where we scattered my dad's ashes. Even in the gloom of winter there were so many beautiful textures and patterns. Here are a few.

Barring help for my mom's move, this was my last visit to the Rockin' RS Ranch, a place that's been my second home for nearly 30 years. Because of this I felt obligated to take a million pictures and pocket every bit of natural ephemera I came across, but it wasn't necessary. I have so many strongly visceral memories of this place that it will stay with me as long as I live, even if I never see it again. Anxiety disorders really jack with your memory, but my memories from here are so happy and stand out vibrantly in my mind, too many to describe, ones for all seasons, ones quickly resilient with sights, smells, and sounds.
My dad was a great naturalist, always pointing out types of plants, bird calls, easily missed signs of animal life. He taught me a lot about the Texas Hill Country, about this parcel of 54 acres in particular, but the nice thing is these skills travel well. He took them with him from the piney woods of Mississippi, shared them everywhere we went on family trips - including the Four Corners - and I plan to take them with me to Colorado, as Bixby trades the life of a ranch hand for that of a mountain man.
See you in the Rockies, dad. <3 span="">

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Business of Living

I don't cover my refrigerator with photos, notes, reminders, etc. The clutter on the fridge drives me crazy. Rickie was surprised one day when I put some Ikea magnetic spice containers on the side because he knows how I am. In a tiny cabin I figured I could live with that space saving decision.

Since Rick died I have added two things to the front of the fridge. One is a post-it note where I wrote a Craig Johnson, author of the Longmire series, quote - "Stay calm, have courage, and wait for signs". I put that there the day after Rickie died and have used it as my guiding light these two years.

Another is a photo of Elizabeth Taylor that I got off someone's post on Facebook. It has a quote of hers that I have found guidance and strength in also.

"You just do it. You force yourself to get up. You force yourself to put one foot in front of the other, and God damn it, you refuse to let it get to you. You fight. You cry. You curse. Then you go about the business of living. That's how I've done it. There's no other way."

After a false start, well, several false starts to be honest, I've begun the process of selling the ranch. It's not easy and I'm under no illusion that it will be easy. None of us that love this place are going to get out of here without a lot of tears shed and hearts broken. But our hearts were already broken and the ranch, though we still love it, has lost its heart with Rickie gone. I can no longer live with the daily reminder of how it's changed. 

I've done everything Rickie and I wanted to do to finish making this place the way we wanted it. I've done for him what he didn't have the opportunity to do. I've had his back, as he always had mine.

And now it needs some life, some laughter, some hunters, some gardeners, some people to walk the woods and sit by the fire and look at the stars, some activity and joy that I can't give it. It needs another Rick and Sue with the same dream we had. 

A lot of these things I still do. But they have to be shared to bring joy on a continued basis. For two years I've done them alone and at first it was a comfort. Now it's a reminder of my loss and loneliness.

So. It's time to get up, to force myself to put one foot in front of the other. To fight, to curse.

And to go about the business of living.

Here's the link to the ranch listing in case any of you are interested or know anyone who might be. The realtor took some drone photos of the place and some great interior photos also. They really show off the place.

Rockin' RS Listing

For myself, I've modified my search for a new place and changed the hunt from Durango to Pagosa Springs. I couldn't find anything in Durango that made me happy that I could afford. I'll keep y'all posted on my new adventure and as always, thank you for following the blog.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Mountains Are Calling, But.................

Sarah and I made a fast trip to Durango, Colorado last weekend.  It's a beautiful small town and it didn't disappoint! It was 62 during the day and 45 at night. The air was clear and clean.

The aspens were still holding some color, the spruce, the crabapples, and the ponderosa pines were beautiful. The mountains were amazing. It's a clean, neat town with a lot of history.

Durango is known for the friendliness of its people and they proved that to be true. We shopped in the little stores downtown, in the old historic buildings. They cater to hikers, skiers, and other outdoor enthusiasts. We bought shoes, a jacket, and a plush toy wolf to take back to Bixby. We ate supper at one of the breweries and that night took in a movie, The Magnificent Seven, in keeping with the cowboy history of the area.

Saturday, before we flew back home at noon, we had brunch at an amazing little restaurant downtown. They have a few tables on the sidewalk and we sat out there and ate. It happened to be Cowboy Poetry Gathering weekend and there was a parade that morning. We had a front row seat as the cowboys and cowgirls rode by, some of them singing the songs of the range and of Roy and Dale.

We took in a farmer's market where we found apples, bread, huge beautiful beets and carrots. And more singing. There was a Master Naturalists' booth which brought back my plan of becoming one when I retired, before the reality of all the work I had to do here made me realize I didn't need to add any more work to my day.

Everywhere we went and everything we did, we felt welcome and at home. I felt, as the Navajo say, that we walked in beauty, with a light heart. It was the first time since I lost Rick that I felt a glimmer of happiness and a sense of looking to the future. A joy, planting a seed of hope, that I might one day laugh more than I cry or at least as much. I had plans of hiking the many trails to replace the work I do here at the ranch. Rickie and I, and Sarah when she was at home, vacationed in this part of the country on all our vacations, and on our last trip together Rick and I went to Durango. On every trip we talked about moving that way but we couldn't work out how and we had jobs to consider.

My little town is not this kind of town. I love it and many of the people are very kind and wonderful. They have been kind to me both before and after my loss. But it's not this kind of town and I wasn't born here. That will always make me an outsider. They are steeped in ranching history and they are a solid, conservative, Christian town. I am none of those things, other than I do love ranchers and cowboys and cattle. But I'm not a real rancher; I'm a version of a city girl that loves these things and tries to find a small taste of that life and that history.

My plan for myself after selling the ranch was to move to Durango and try to find some new version of myself, to be some place where Rickie and I had also been happy, to see if I couldn't make a life on my own, to carry him with me but not to be rolled over by the memories of this place we planned to spend our last years on.

We tossed around different options for making this happen, even considering that Sarah and her family would make the move with me and we would find a place for all of us. The high cost of housing in Durango made us face the reality that that wouldn't happen. And there were other things to consider on a move of that size, such as Sarah's job. So we went to what was actually the original plan. That I would sell the ranch, buy a place in Durango for me and for the family to use, and that I would spend my time between there and Austin, staying in the tiny house I had built at Sarah's. This would keep me close to family when I wasn't in Durango. And when I was too frail and old to do this division of time, I would have the tiny house to stay in full time. This would also enable me to keep more of what I've downsized to and carry that part of the ranch with me.

It would require me to go outside my comfort zone. To try and join groups, such as the Naturalists, to be in a place new and a bit different to me. To be farther from family, though it was a short trip by plane if I needed to go quickly. And I could stay in Austin for extended periods to offset this. I probably wouldn't have many visitors, but to be honest, visitors are rare here at the ranch. It was a chance for adventure, something missing from my life these days. And, as my sister Kathy says, we're not so old we aren't up to a new adventure or two.

But added to the hard decision to leave the ranch was the burden I carry of being sure I do what is best for my family in the long run. To be clear, they don't give me this burden. They have been supportive, in varying degrees as the pain of giving up the ranch hits them also, but all clear they support my decision and it should be mine alone. They will continue to support me in whatever decision I make. But, as all you who are parents know, we consider what we leave behind in all things we do. Will they regret not having this place that has had 28 years of our history here. Or will they regret that they had the chance to have a place to go in Colorado, to do some things new to us. That's something I can only guess at and they themselves can only guess at.

My family, including extended family, is not one of those families that is open to making big moves and that's how I was raised. We are steady and we put down roots and stay where we are. I used to be like that, even preferring to stay somewhere I hated just to keep from making a change. We don't go far from where we were born and the one time we did, we all went together, all uncles and grandparents, and even some friends, making the move to Houston from Louisiana back in the 1960s. Other than a move on the part of some of us back to Louisiana, we haven't ventured away from even the area in Houston we lived. Some of us travel widely but we don't move. My grandson Jeremy shocked the family by moving to Chicago this past year to go to college and live.

So I have no family history of packing up and heading off to a whole new place. Most of my family and friends have been supportive and some even encouraging. But I've met with a few shocked responses to my decision and a few questioning why I would do this, why I would go so far from the rest of the family and especially go alone. They don't do it to be discouraging; I know they wish only happiness for me. And in their way they want me to be sure I've considered everything and don't regret it later. But it does add to the hardship of my decision. If we were a group of people that said, hell, yeah, let's do this and I may even get there before you do, naturally, it would be easier. Ha!

So it falls on me to make the decision and to hope in the end it was the right one, both for me and for the family I love so much, the family I live for. Even not considering them but only myself I am conflicted as to whether I will be uplifted by a move or destroyed by leaving the link to my life with Rickie that the ranch offers me. I think of all the many times we almost made the decision to sell and didn't. Is this simply one more of those times. Once the ranch is gone, it can't be taken back. Would the happiness I hoped to find in moving to Durango be short lived and I would be right back in the same emotional state but without this link to Rickie.

It's been a rough few months for me, in many ways worse than the first year without Rickie was. I finished the projects and the focus that kept me going. And being here so long by myself alone the last years Rick was alive, I could almost get by pretending it just wasn't his weekend to come out and he would be here soon. But after almost two years, that isn't working any more.

I am also burdened by the question of am I just hitting a rough patch, compounded by this being Rick's favorite time of year and the holidays approaching, and it will pass. I don't know. I can't answer that.

I told Sarah I wish her dad was here. He never had a problem making a decision and when he made it he never looked back. He was a doer, a person that weighed the options, decided the likely outcome, and adjusted as he went if things didn't quite go as he hoped. But he never looked back once he made a decision. I can hear him saying in his stern voice "Look, this is what we're going to do." I wish I could hear him now telling me what to do. All I hear and see is him shaking his head and being exasperated at my indecision, one way or the other.

Last night when it got time for me to actually sign the contract to sell, I could not. I thought I could, but I couldn't. The burden of the decision and the consequences overwhelmed me and I found I wasn't as brave as I thought I was. That disappoints me in a way. I like to think I'm a badass and a doer, not a whiner or a talker. If I made the decision to stay and was content with that I would be ok. But I'm not sure that is the right decision and I wonder how soon I will regret that, or in a few months will I be glad I stayed. All the reasons I had for leaving are still there. Other than the longhorns are moving to a new home in a couple of weeks, another painful but necessary decision, and I'll have freedom to get away and visit family and friends more. 

So, while I wait for some vision that may never come, some clarity that will steady my course one way or the other and make me content with my choice to either stay or go, all I can do is hope it comes soon so I can find peace and move in a direction that will be good for us all, for both me and those I cherish and live for.



Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Leap of Faith

Picture this. The woman sits reading a book, alone in the quiet solitude of the cabin. She hears a truck drive up and before she can get outside the door swings open. The north wind seems to blow the man inside. He's laughing and rubbing his hands together. This is his favorite time of year. He doesn't come alone. With him comes action, fun, laughter, conversations about the events of the world and the family. With him comes life. Chili simmering on the stove, walks in the woods, fences repaired, winter vegetables planted, deer blinds checked, a campfire lit. In the beginning days before the cabin, the campfire was kept going all day on cold days so they could get warm as they worked outside and he could cook biscuits and pinto beans over the fire. The whine of the chain saw often heard, providing wood for the fire. This woman and their daughter Sarah dragging the oak tops over to be used as fire starters, and helping load the oak logs in the truck.

She gives him a hug and they go outside to unload what he's brought with him. He has hay and feed for the longhorns, some corn for the deer. Grocery bags full of things you can't buy at the small grocery in town; steaks to be grilled with fresh vegetables, maybe some salmon to be smoked or some meat for his famous fajitas. Always, a big bottle of Crown and maybe some wine and Bailey's for the upcoming cold nights. He hopes to get neighboring friends Martha and Scott over for supper and wine one night while he's here.

In a few weeks it will be hunting season. Some weekends he will slip out alone before dawn to sit quietly in his stand, watching the sun creep up over the hills, hoping that muy grande buck will let down his guard and come out of the woods. While he waits he watches the other residents either wake up or head back to their dens after a night of hunting; foxes, birds, an occasional bobcat. And some weekends other hunters will come. His son John and grandson Zac, his sister-in-law Kathy and brother-in-law Derald and their grandsons, and in the early years his best friend John C. Hunting weekends filled with family and friends are a whirlwind of activity. Lots of eating, laughing, storytelling about the ones they got and the ones that got away. He teaches the new hunters how to hunt, how to clean a deer, the ways of wild animals, and the responsibility of being a safe and ethical hunter.

During the holidays before the bunkhouse is built, the kids and grandkids will be spread all over the floor sleeping on air mattresses, the furniture pushed back and sometimes moved to the back porch. One giant slumber party, the last embers in the fireplace dying down as everyone quiets down and goes to sleep. In the mornings before everyone is up, he has the bacon frying and she's making homemade biscuits. They slip out to the front porch with their coffee as the kids all wake up. He's cut a small cedar that they've decorated and put on the porch. Lights have been hung, sometimes on the cabin porch, sometimes on the bunkhouse and pumphouse, and the one last time in the trees over the outside kitchen, help often provided by Zac and Cam.

During the hot days of summer, there are different things going on when he's here. Sometimes he'll get the canoe out and he and the woman will go floating down the Llano River, marveling at the clear blue-green water, stopping to rest and wade in the water every so often. Sometimes he and John and Zac will take the canoe and go fishing as they float down the river. A few years he's managed to get the family and extended family together for tubing trips, going to Cuidad Acuna together, and always cooking his fajitas. Sometimes just he and the woman go tubing. He was an athlete when he was younger, even a lifeguard, and she's not the best swimmer, but she always feels safe with him. 

The garden is overflowing with flowers and vegetables he's planted, his grapes to be made into wine and jelly, his peaches for jam and frozen drinks and cobbler. He's an adventurous gardener, always trying new varieties and new fruit trees. In the late afternoon, as the sun heads toward the horizon in the West, he stands by the fence, a glass of whiskey in his hand, and talks to the longhorns.

He teaches grandsons Zac, Larry Michael, and Jeremy the Texas version of horseshoes known as washer pitching. He takes the youngest grandson Bix for rides in the Mule and teaches him not to be afraid of Woodrow and Gus. It was a good life.

And then one evening it all ended. He died as he lived, going out with his boots on, as they say here in Texas. He wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

And I was left alone. 

I've learned to do a lot of the things he did, in a modified way as my abilities required. I've walked alone the trails we walked together. I've tried to find peace and comfort in being where we spent so many happy years together. I've made all the improvements to the ranch he wanted to do and didn't get the chance. I've hoped to spend my last years here where we shared our life.

But the truth is, the life has gone out of the place with Rick's passing. Yes, I have the memories. But I'll have no new memories and the old ones sometimes threaten to roll over me and crush me. I'm not sure I can survive another 10 or 12 years with only his ghost for company.

So I've made a tough decision. It's not been easy to make and it won't be easy to carry out. I've not made it lightly. I've put a lot of thought into it and I've weighed what I'll lose and what I'll gain. If you know me at all, you know my love for this land I live on. And you know my love for the man that loved it too. In my most logical moments I know that he would not have expected me to stay here after he was gone. I've stayed because I couldn't leave. But I'm now where I don't think I can stay without him. It's also hard because I have always believed the place we love and live defines us. As this place defined Rick, it also defines me.

But when Rick left, all the fun left with him. I can do the work, for now anyway, but as the years go by that will be harder to do. But I can't have the fun without Rick. This remote country life is best when you have a partner. And some of the reason I wanted to stay was to keep the place to hand down. But the truth of that is, this was our dream, mine and Rick's. It was what we wanted and what we chose. And that dream has died. The kids and grandkids will have their own dreams and that's how it should be.

I never thought a year and a half ago I would say this. But I've decided to sell the ranch. I've got a new idea and a plan that's begun to take shape that will lead me to new adventures and experiences. I wanted now to explain why I made this hard decision. I'll write about my plan later as it is more firmed up. It was decided based on the belief that life is precious and we are at fault if we waste it being sorrowful all the time. I have yet a part to play, as we all do, and I need to go see what that is.  

Rick will be where I am going as it's a place he and I often traveled to. Some memories will be there waiting for me when I arrive. I'll take what I can that was his when I leave, his deer and hog mounts, his hats and boots, the mesquite fireplace mantel he created, his tools, and his memories. 

Keep me in your hearts as I try to find my way down this new road. 

"He's one of those who knows that life is just a leap of faith, spread your arms, and hold your breath, and always trust your cape."

The Cape by Guy Clark

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Cut Your Own Wood and It'll Warm You Twice

Rick always told me to stay away from the chain saw. I'm a clumsy person and both he and I could see plenty of chances for disaster if I tried to use a chain saw. He was practically born with a chain saw in his hand and even he had a near disaster one time when the saw kicked back on him as he fought one of the big many branched cedars. He was untouched but his jeans had a big slash across them. But things change and we have to adjust if we're going to continue on.

The one chore Rickie did that I was afraid I couldn't do was cut firewood. We have a small fireplace in the cabin. Our area is relatively mild most of the time in the Winter. We love a fire and burn one when it's cold but we don't really depend on it for heat. We have central heat but we don't use that a lot either. Usually just for a little bit in the mornings to take the chill off. 

But we both loved a fire and we'd have one inside and a campfire outside whenever we could. After Rickie died a neighbor brought me a trailer load of firewood. Which was such a nice thing to do. It got me through that year, but I didn't want to depend on someone else supplying me. And you could cut half the oak trees down I have and still have an abundance of them so buying firewood seemed kind of ridiculous. 

Sarah and I went to a workshop for ranch women several months after Rick died. One of the things we learned was yes, you can cut firewood. You just probably can't use the biggest chain saw they make or cut a redwood down. We learned how to change the chain and things like that. So I got the Husqvarna cordless chain saw and I love it! I recommend it to anyone that has trouble, like me, starting gasoline equipment! 

One thing I have missed with the addition is being in bed and looking out the window at night and seeing the stars. When the bed was in the original cabin room we could raise the shade and see Orion cross the sky, followed by the bright Dog Star and the moon. Out here where it's dark you see so many stars! There is a group of trees on the side of the addition and the windows are too close to them to see the sky. I'd have to cut them all down to see the same sky we saw from the cabin. And I don't have a window that gives that same view. 

But I can improve the view at night and see some stars. So the last couple of days I've been trimming the trees outside the bedroom window. Because I have plenty of trees and only one bedroom view! A view is as important to me as trees, and maybe more so. I grew up in the piney woods and always felt claustrophobic. You can't see much of the sky under those tall trees! One of my favorite quotes is "the barn's burnt down, now I can see the moon."

The bonus of the tree cutting is that I've got a good start on my firewood now! We only use about a half cord each year in the fireplace, sometimes less, and I've probably got enough already for the year. But I'll cut a bit more as the weeks go by. You never know when you might have a power failure!  Cutting firewood was one of our favorite things to do. Though I have to do it alone now, it brings back a lot of good memories. The smell, the noise of the chain saw, working side by side with Rick, getting something done on our own, being outside. We've been a little cooler and have had a great breeze so it's been pleasant. 

There are a couple of trees in the group I'd like to cut totally down. And I may yet. I have to study on it a bit! Also my chains need sharpening. I don't try to do that myself but take them to the hardware store in town. That was a recommendation from the rancher than taught us at the workshop. Rick sharpened his own but I'm making it work for me. 

We've had some rain lately and things have greened up. The fields are full of grass and wildflowers. I've been able to quit feeding hay to the longhorns and the deer have forbs to eat. The garden, which was a complete failure this year, is full of flowers. And the one pepper plant that didn't die right away was loaded with bell peppers! I've had some deer bedding down about 20' from the house; I love finding the matted down places they've left in the grass and knowing they slept close to me. 

This time coming up was always our favorite time of year and many days are hard for me when it comes around. Last year I couldn't bring myself to do some of the things we did and some things and traditions I tried to carry on. I'm not sure if that was better or worse. Some things I've decided just maybe have to pass away with Rick. Because they're never the same, no matter how you try. But while time doesn't really heal, it helps you learn to live with the changes. The memories don't always make you cry; they sometimes bring a smile. I'm hoping for more of those moments this year. And wishing the same for all of us who loved Rick. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016


Today I want to say something about gratitude and how I feel it in my life. To say the last 20 months since I lost Rick have been rough is an understatement, as anyone who loses their partner, the one they love the most, their best friend, the one who shares their life, surely knows. I always knew it would be hard but until it happened to me, I had no idea of the depth of the pain, the loneliness, the lost feeling, the despair. And that's as it should be. If a person knew how much it would hurt to lose someone, they may never venture into relationships.

Besides the obviously huge things a person is grateful for, such as not living in a war zone or losing my whole family to a disaster there are many small things that make up the life of a widow/widower that make me realize I have much to be grateful for in my life. The thing I'm most grateful for is the life Rickie and I shared. But even now I have much to be grateful for, both materially and in my spirit.

I have a roof over my head and it's paid for. I had a little money when Rick died, not a lot but what I thought was enough. I'm sure it's not what other people would consider enough and many would probably lose sleep on what I have. But measuring my success by money has never been the way I live my life. I gave a lot of it away. I felt a need I can't quite explain to do that. Some to the kids and grandkids, some to others, a little to a couple of small charities I like, and some to strangers on the street corner. It's never been a goal of mine to die with money in the bank. I feel like Jeff Bridges singing "Maybe I Missed the Point" if I go through life not making things a bit easier for others when I have the power to do so.

I was able to make some arrangements in case something happens to me down the line. If I get too frail to stay out here, if I break a leg, if I live long enough to get the Alzheimer's that took both my mother and her mother. I entered into a joint venture with my daughter and my son-in-law and had a tiny - 280 sq ft - house built in their backyard. We rent in out on Airbnb and it's there if I live long enough to need it. For being able to do this, for the kids allowing me to have their residence as my fall-back safety net, and for the city of Austin regulations allowing tiny houses in some backyards, I am grateful. 

I'm grateful I'm an independent person and that I have my health. I'm grateful I can do most of the things that need done around here. I've had to hire someone to do some things I can't. And I'm grateful that each and every contractor that came out has treated me with respect and kindness. There hasn't been hardly a one that hasn't offered to help me if I need it on projects other than what they came out to do. They've heard my story, they've looked around at how I've kept it together on my own, and they've said call me if you need help with that ceiling, if you need help burning some of this cedar, if you can't get that plumbing connection done. They've told me how to do some of the things I was going to do on my own. I've felt from them a respect and at the risk of sounding too proud, an admiration for how I've carried on and stayed here on my own. They've sometimes shared stories of other strong women they know such as their aunt who at 95 changed the blade on her riding mower. And they've told me of others they know who've also been left alone and I've seen the empathy in their eyes. Sometimes sorrow shared is sorrow eased, if only a little bit.

I've had family and friends that have supported and stood by me. Some that have come out and offered their help and just made a point to stop by have surprised me, as I haven't been in touch for a while. They can't know the love I feel for them doing that. Or maybe they do. I'm the second of my siblings to lose their spouse and the first of my long-time friends. It's somewhat new territory for most people I know. I've made some new friends, one who faced this same nightmare a few months before I did and she helps me as she shares her story and her friendship with me.

Some of my friends are also neighbors and they have stood firm in their kindness to me. They've offered help much more than I've taken it and I know I can call on them. They've proven it, but I knew by the type of people they are even without the proof. 

My family, in both big ways and small, has been the rock on which I stand. The kids both helping me, and encouraging me on when they sense I want to do something on my own. In the immediate aftermath of the event that shook my world my family dropped everything and circled around me in the way some wild animals do when one of their own has been injured. They carried me when I couldn't walk through it on my own. I know still that if I need them, I have but to turn on the Bat-Signal and someone will be here.

We've all been affected by Rickie's death, naturally both the kids and I, but others in ways they sometimes may not even see. One I wanted to mention because it touches my heart. My sister Kathy has always shown her love for her husband Derald, always talking about what a great guy he is. Which he is, by the way. I've noticed the last year and a half that she does this even more than she used to. Her Facebook photos of him are always accompanied with words like "my love, my best buddy, my life". At our age and with the knowledge that it could all be lost in the blink of an eye, she makes an extra effort, unconsciously I'm sure, to express her love. May we all do that in this time we have together.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The House That Built Me

I took a trip back in time this last week, back to see the house I grew up in. My first remembered tiny house! I don't know how old I was when we moved in but the earliest photos I can find show me maybe 6 or 7 years old. A records search gives the construction date as 1955, so this would indicate we probably bought it new. We left Monroe, Louisiana and moved to Houston the summer I turned 15. We returned to Monroe after that to visit family but I don't remember going by the house since then, back in 1964. 

It was a small duplex and my maternal grandparents, Papa and Mamaw, lived on one side. Each side was identical. Two small bedrooms, small - well, it was all small! - living room, kitchen, one bath, and a little hallway with an attic fan. It was an abestos sided house. On the parish property records the square footage is listed at 1000. I think this has to be for both sides of the duplex as there's no way our side alone had 1000 sq ft! It's on almost a 1/4 acre lot in the Ouachita Cotton Mills subdivision. In 1993 it sold for $28,880 but the tax valuation is listed as $12,000.

When there were only 4 of us kids, we all shared one bedroom with two sets of bunk beds. Kathy and I in one, and David and Andy in the other. As our family grew we added an addition across the back of the duplex. On Papa and Mamaw's side this was an eating area, a bit shorter than the addition on our side. We used our side for a dining table (the kitchen really didn't have much room for a table; I can't even remember eating in there), a place for the washer and dryer, and one end was my parents' bedroom, though it was open to the dining/utility area with a small sofa in between. 

By the time we moved, David and Andy had the littlest bedroom that used to be our parents', and we 4 girls had the other bedroom with two double beds, plus our baby brother's crib until he grew out of that. 

Though Monroe has grown a lot and all along the interstate you see every chain store and restaurant as you do anywhere, back in my old neighborhood time has stood still. The streets are just as I remembered. The only difference is our house and the elementary school we went to are showing their age. They need some paint and some trim repair, some love. And our yard that Papa, a farmer before he retired, took such good care of is overgrown and in need of sprucing up. 

The fire station across the street, where we went many a summer day to buy Cokes from their machine, is boarded over and not in use. The Baptist church directly behind that, where we were every Sunday and Wednesday, is now a Methodist church and has expanded. Plum Street Elementary is now Clara Hall Elementary. We walked two blocks to school there, and in the summer we rode our bikes to the recreation center past that to go swimming. Us older kids giving the younger ones a ride on the backs of our bikes. "Hold your feet out so you don't get them caught in the wheel!" 

We sometimes walked downtown from our house, down the street to Texas Avenue (prophetic, considering where I ended up), over the railroad tracks, and a few blocks further to downtown on the banks of the Ouachita River. Our mom worked as a bookkeeper at a shoe store and our Mamaw worked at a printing company and we would go see them. As we drove past the railroad crossing this week it seemed an awful long way for kids to walk! But we were used to walking and we were used to being on our own, the older ones looking out for the little ones. 

The neighborhood streets and most of the houses looked much as they did when we lived there. Tall trees shaded the narrow streets. One of the two pine trees Papa planted, one for me and one for my brother David, was gone and the other was twisted and strange looking from being trimmed off the power lines. Papa's magnolia tree in the corner of the front yard topped off for the same reason.

The chain link fence in the back yard, where we played Cowboys and Indians and Tarzan, was partially torn down, the rest covered with vines. The empty field behind us where Papa planted a big garden has had houses for years. The little store down the street we walked to was still there. Papa always had change in his pockets and he would give us money to go there and for Cokes at the fire station. 

When we left Monroe and came to Houston we had a 4 bedroom house with a living room and den and two bathrooms. We added a room and bath for my grandparents. Our financial situation improved as Daddy went from grading yards for a living to being a master plumber. We moved several times in the early Houston years and all the homes were much bigger and grander than the little duplex in Monroe. 

But I never loved any of those houses like I loved the tiny house. They hold no place in my heart. All the things - the character traits, the empathy for people with less than I have and for those struggling, the value of family, the "make it work" attitude, the sense of a home full of love, the appreciation of a simple life, the love of a garden, the ability to notice the little things and little moments that make up a life - all these were formed in the tiny house and made me the person I became. 

Driving through the pine covered hills of north Louisiana, past names of places and bayous such as Tensas, LaFourche, Delhi, Rayville, and Tallulah, brought back a lot of family memories. Mostly these places and the land brought back to me stories our dad told us of hunting and fishing the area. He loved to roam the woods and hills and bayous. He had moved to Louisiana from Illinois when he was 13 years old. 

My dad and I share a love of the land, the actual physical aspects of our surrounding, though we loved different types of land. I didn't love the piney woods, the humidity, the muddy bayous and rivers. I wanted the dry climate, open skies where I didn't feel fenced in, rocky ground and limestone hills, the clear rippling waters of small rivers and creeks. I have ended up in a place that is the kind of land I love. But it hit me as we drove along on this trip that our dad had left a place that was much prettier than the flat treeless Houston area we went to. And I wondered if he longed for it as I would if I ever have to leave the land I love. And it made me cry to think he left this place, with its own beauty and his history, to go to a place where he could support his family better. Did he dream at night of walking through the pine woods, crossing a creek, checking for deer signs, remembering the smells and the way the air feels on your skin? 

I'm grateful I got to visit my first remembered tiny house - I'm sure wherever we lived before this was tiny also - and glad that my daughter and her family got to see it with me. I'm glad the house that shaped me and led me down the road to where I am now is still standing, though a little worse for wear. 

It's been 11 years today since we lost our dad, and it's my grandson Zac's 19th birthday. Life goes on and we go on with it, taking our memories with us. It's not always the grand memories we carry, sometimes it's just the day to day ones. Sometimes those are the best. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016


It's just a simple little rustic bench that gets more rustic every year. Rick made it 32 years ago from some plans that Southern Living magazine had. It has a design flaw in that it wants to tip over backwards if it's not leaning against something.

It's survived every downsizing and all the many moves - 10 of them before we finally quit hauling it everywhere and moved it out to the ranch. It's been on front porches, back patios, under the trees, and one time it even made it inside for a while. It's got some holes in the back where Rick screwed it to a tree one time to keep it from being knocked over and some more holes on the backside where I attached a 2 x 4 to keep it from tipping when it wasn't next to something it could lean on.

It was country blue for a while, "painted" with Rit dye back in my country decorating phase. Then it was yellow, then gray to fit in with some limestone rocks it was near. Today it got a bright coat of a color called "Peppery". It's going on the little back deck between the screen porch and the addition. I learned a long time ago not to waste time distressing anything I paint out here. The hot summers and the cold winters take care of that for me!

I hope it lasts another 32 years.

I'm trying to get a native South Texas wildflower, Scarlet Sage, growing in the pot next to the bench. Rick dug one up - he was always doing that! - on a hunting trip down south years ago. We had it in a big pot in Houston and elsewhere and it was beautiful all Summer. It filled the pot and it came up every year again from the many seeds it dropped. A few years back he decided to bring it out here and plant it in the ground and see if it would make it.

It did come back every year but it always stayed small and it was only one plant each time. This year I decided I'd move it back into a pot when it came up and see if it would do better. Well, a tiny little plant came up and in trying to dig it up, all the dirt fell off - I should have wet the ground first. I planted it anyway and kept it watered and I thought it might actually make it. But it didn't.

So I went online and found a place to order the seeds. I planted some and I'm waiting to see if they come up. I added a winter savory and a mint to fill out the pot. If the sage doesn't make it I'll look for something else. It has to be deer resistant so that limits things. There's a big native plant nursery in Austin, John Droomgoole's The Natural Gardener. I'm going there in a couple of weeks and they may have a Scarlet Sage plant. I hope so!

Rick came a long way in his carpenter skills from this little bench, and I came a long way from the first bench I built on my own. From there we went to cabins and bunkhouses. You don't start out building an addition; you start with something small. From there your skills improve and you become brave enough (or dumb enough) to tackle something big. I'd say that's pretty much with anything. The main thing is to start.