Tender Age in Bloom

dafodils

Too soon.

Redbud and plum, a scattering of color along the roadside.  Daffodils in clumps,  revenants in the side-yard where someone once lived.  Red, the ugly cousin of Sugar, right behind.  Sweet yellow jasmine draped over yet-bare limbs, the witch’s apple to awakened bees.  Tender buds swell — buckeye, gum and poplar.  Sap rises, the pump that fuels the engine of life.  Soon muck-bottoms will no longer hold a boot print.

Easy for a man to walk along, whistling Satchmo:

When the red, red robin comes bob, bob, bobbin’ along, along
There’ll be no more sobbin’ when he starts throbbin’ his old sweet song

Wake up, wake up, you sleepy head
Get up, get out of your bed
Cheer up, cheer up; the sun is red
Live, love, laugh, and be happy

Too soon.

February is not the time for these things, even in the Heart of Dixie.  What comes in like a lamb goes out like a lion.

Mother is hard on the tender things.  She entices and devours with the same toss of her head and a crooked smile.

The promise will be broken.

Purple and yellow blossoms scattered on the ground.  .

Irish Eyes

mayme ballentine george

I rather like this old photograph.  A portrait of a young Irish girl taken in the 1880’s.  Something familiar in the expression, especially in the eyes.  A touch of melancholy.

Her name was Mary Ellen Ballentine, but everyone called her “Maime.”

Census records show that her father John and mother Anne Kelly arrived on separate ships during a time the Irish called “The Great Hunger.”  Anne Kelly was only two years old, so her memories of the Emerald Isle were little more than the songs and poems of her homeland:

When Erin first rose from the dark swelling flood,
God bless’d the green island and saw it was good;
The em’rald of Europe, it sparkled and shone,
In the ring of the world the most precious stone.
In her sun, in her soil, in her station thrice blest,
With her back towards Britain, her face to the West,
Erin stands proudly insular, on her steep shore,
And strikes her high harp ‘mid the ocean’s deep roar.

Perhaps Anne passed this lyrical tradition to her daughter, Maime.

The 1880 census shows that John and Anne were married in January of 1869.  They settled in the little town of Whistler, Alabama.  He was 34 and she was 21.

A young bride might make a man whistle on his way to the blacksmith shop in Mobile.

Maime would follow a path much like her mother.  She married a man 15 years her senior, a carpenter named Anguish George (no easy delivery, that one.)  Anguish gave her three children, but didn’t hang around long.  Dropped dead in his yard from a heart attack before they called them heart attacks.

Maime moved across Mobile Bay to Fairhope.  Most Alabamians know the place.  A quaint little tourist town inhabited by writers, artists and those who have more money than God.

But I’m guessing Fairhope wasn’t quite that way in 1920.

Maime was a single-mother with three young children.  Tough row to hoe in any day.  She became a telephone operator with AT&T.  Probably the first on the east side of Mobile Bay.  She continued to raise her little family by herself.  The oldest child would someday graduate from the University of Alabama, an unlikely debutante.   The second daughter died in a horrible accident as a child.  The third, a rather boisterous, mischievous boy, would test her patience.  But he turned-out well, a baker and bread-delivery man with a love for bawdy little songs, poems, and limericks that would make a Baptist openly cringe but secretly smile.

Maime spent her days trying to make ends meet with her day job.  But she liked to write in her free time.  She was a member of a Fairhope ladies’ group, “The Scribbler’s Club.”

I’ve read her journals.  They ramble.  A poem here.  An observation there.  Writing from some undefinable need.  Writing for the writer.  Readers not necessarily the end-game.

You learn a lot about yourself when you start turning over the stones of your past.

Ancestry.com took my DNA and showed me that I’m 48% Irish, and not English as I always presumed.

The story of my great-grandmother Maime showed me why my mother feels a need to write, and I as well.

So here’s another post in a little blog about nothing, indelibly linked to some yellowed journal-pages from the past.

I hope someone out there enjoys the read.

If not, that’s okay.  It’s in my DNA.

*The Emerald Isle, by William Drennan, the first known usage of that phrase to describe Ireland.

Of Barns and Men

barn

Just a barn at sunset.

A barn that once had a purpose.  Four stalls for horse or mule.  Small tack room for saddles, bridles and leads.  Loft up above for square bales.

A poet or an artist might describe it as “weathered” or “rustic.”

I am neither.  I like solid words.  Words with a certain heft that you can hold in your hand or put in your pocket and bring out twenty years from now, meaning intact.

I call it “old.”

The tin roof has stood the test of time.  Poplar sideboards still sound.  But the loft door sags, as does the gate.  Time passes.  “Things fall apart.  The centre cannot hold.”

Someone with skills I cannot fathom built this barn for its purpose.  Probably out of the ether with no written plan.  Visualized and then constructed with hand tools.  Style and method learned from father, who learned it from his father.  Hammer, handsaw, sweat and muscle.

I would like to think he paused after the last nail had been driven.  Admired his work like the Master in His holy book.  But likely as not he had a dipper of water from the well across the road.  Wiped his brow, spit, then headed on down the road to the next little patch of land where a barn was a needful thing.  Rest reserved only on the appointed day.

This day draws to its own close.  Perhaps these lines only the scribbled imaginings of a lonesome pilgrim who walked the land at the close of day.  But one thing holds true.  They don’t make them like they used to.

Barns or men.

 

Fire and Ice

cold

Cold.

Not Yankee cold, but too cold for Alabama cold.  Alabama cold is 30 degrees, and that only for a night or two.  Not two weeks with lows in the 20’s and teens.

I was not prepared for this.

The problem is outside air finding a way inside, instead of staying outside where it belongs.

The old farm-house we moved into a little over a year ago is a little more drafty than our previous dwelling.  Good insulation in the walls and attic.  None in the floor.

In the sunny days of summer not so long ago, the Redhead said “we need to get some insulation under the house.”

“No,” I said.  “Heat rises.  We have good insulation in the attic.  We do not need anything under the floor.”

Quick thinking, that.  Dodged a bullet.  Visions of lying on my back under the house, stapling fiberglass rolls between the joists.  Redhead thwarted by my scientific intellect.  Don’t bother me woman.  I am “Master of Science.”  Got a diploma on the wall right over there from Louisiana State University to prove it.

Turns out cold does rise.  Between every crack and crevice.  Sometimes slips in “on little cat’s feet.”  Sometimes more like 90 psi.

Two weeks and a half-cord of firewood later, I realize that I will be on my back under the house this spring.

Science ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Halloween

IMG_0327

She is Rapunzel.  Her brother, Charlie Brown.

This is the first Halloween that she will likely remember.  Just shy of three.  Still too young to understand the concept.  Strangers.  Candy.  Walking in the dark.

“I want Pops” she says.

She does not want to walk, will have none of it, in spite of constant urging.  She wants to be carried.  Strong familiar arms more valued than promises of candy in a basket.

Endless questions and statements, repeated.  “What’s that?”  “You see that moon?”  “What’s that noise?”  “Where we going?”

I understand.  A little heart more interested in security than candy.  Door bells and “thank you” will come later.  There will be time for that.  No rush.

A day is coming, too soon, when these arms will no longer seem necessary.  Uncool.  Embarrassing.

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.

Until that day, I happily oblige, redeeming the time.

 

 

 

The Subtlety of the Season

IMG_0273(1)

I have written about Fall here before.  My favorite season sometimes leads to metaphor, as it did here.  Sometimes it is what it is.  I write, you decide.

This year, subtle signs without solid substance.  Three weeks ago, my front porch hummingbird feeders  were suddenly occupied by a charm of twenty or so.  A few days later, nary a bird.  Just another stop along the way to southern Mexico.

Not much color yet.  The red of the Sourwood, always faithful to lead.  Faint yellow from the Black Walnut.  Poplar noncommittal.  Some of the oaks with nothing more than brown at the leaf tips.  It has been a hot and dry September.  Rain and cooler temperatures are all that can enrich the Artist’s palette.

Temperature is my gauge.  Not even close to expectations.  Only one night thus far has seen a slight dip into the upper fifties.  No need for a jacket at sunrise.  Long-sleeved shirts on hangers since March.

Even so, there is a certain quality of the light before sunrise and sunset.  A softness that is felt more than seen.  It invokes a sort of sadness in me.  In the Fall of life, waiting for the Fall.  Wishing my life away.  Anxiously waiting for the next day with a limited number of days left.

I took the photo above a few days ago.  The last of the Summer wildflowers.  A bit of mist in the bottom.  That softness of light that I cannot adequately describe.

She comes, but she will make me wait again.

And the waiting is the hardest part.*

 

*Line lifted from Southern singer/songwriter Tom Petty.  Rest in peace.  We sang along with happy hearts.

The Valley of the Shadow

IMG_0100

It is Coleta Valley on the map.

I passed this way a few days ago.  Stopped for a photo and a memory.

Once upon a time three boys wandered into this spot in an old Jeep Scout.  The Scout is no more.  Neither is one of the boys.  The other two are worse for wear.

The day that old Scout clanked into the valley the driver immediately christened it “the back side of heaven.”   It was the most beautiful landscape they had ever seen, and the name stuck, part and parcel of the bond between them.

In their boyhood journeys together it became the end of the line.  The turning-point back toward home.

The mountains in the background are a part of the Talladega National Forest and the Hollins Wildlife Management Area.  The boys spent countless teen-age hours in those mountains, learning to hunt white-tailed deer.  Never any success, as deer were not abundant in Alabama in those days.  They might see less than ten a season between the three of them, and they never managed to kill one.  That was not important.  Still isn’t.

In other seasons they bounced along Bull Gap Road on Friday and Saturday nights, straight through the heart of that country between home and Coleta.  Spot-lighting deer without guns when that pastime was legal in Alabama.  The thrill of eyes reflecting back like stars from the beam of the white light gave hope of success for the next deer season.

Occasionally they brought a girl or two along for the ride.  Jokes told.  Tales of nocturnal killers that roamed those woods, always useful if the girls wouldn’t scoot over a little closer.  Zeppelin, Skynyrd, and “Do you feel like we do?” blaring from the Scout’s tinny speakers.

Conversations eventually turned spiritual.  Always.  What Jesus said here, what He did there.  What it all meant now.  The driver had plans to be a preacher of the Gospel.  In truth, he already was.

A couple of hours later Coleta, then the trip back toward home.

The boys grew up and went their separate ways, as boys do.  Contact became less frequent, then not at all.

The preacher got his flock, but his life unravelled, the thread picked and pulled until the fabric was unrecognizable.  His journey down the road of life ended, leaving a shadow on that valley that blue skies and wispy clouds cannot overcome.

He once reminded us that Jesus said “the road to heaven is narrow, and few find it.”

I know that the road to Coleta is also narrow, but there was a time when three boys travelled all the way to the back side of it.