Those old (somewhat) familiar songs

IMG_0114Do you remember old songs with pleasure? Really old songs? One hundred years old or more?

I do. I don’t know why I remember them or where I first heard them. I’ve never been a fan of barbershop quartets and I wasn’t in the school choir. But I’ll sometimes hum that big hit of 1892 — “Bicycle Built for Two.”

My last piano lesson, pre-coronavirus, was February 1, and I have been practicing the same two assigned pieces every morning since then, right after I pull the quilt up over the bed and before breakfast. After weeks of daily exercise, my fingers fall smoothly on the right keys for all the chords, without crashes. The harder piece begins to sound like music. The other piece is a march so even through fumbles, a steady rhythm saves it. 

But I have to practice something besides those two pieces.

Happily for me, a friend, learning I was taking piano lessons, passed along her childhood copy of  The American Song Treasury – 100 Favorites and it was right on top of my piano, staring me in the eye.  Almost every song inside is familiar to me.

But not some of the words. A cheerful tune does not guarantee cheerful verses.

Sure, things are great for Daisy Belle and her anonymous groom on that tandem bike, but what’s really going on in “There is a Tavern in the Town”? Turns out it’s not a jolly drinking song at all. It’s a song of betrayal ending with a grave.

And that haunting waltz, “After the Ball is Over”? It’s the heartbreaking story of a man’s true love, lost to him through his own mistrust, and how she died and he never loved another — as told to his little niece. Now there’s a bedtime story any little child would enjoy!

“The Man on the Flying Trapeze”? The handsome aerialist steals the singer’s girlfriend. “Listen to the Mocking Bird” is a tearjerker. The Sweet Hallie of the song sleeps in the valley and the mocking bird sings over her grave. Oh, also weeping willows (of course). “Camptown Races” glories in the joys of gambling. “Billy Boy” is about a child bride, unsavory (to say the least) from today’s perspective. But the tune is catchy.

Nursery rhymes can be problematic for me, too. Is Bobby Shaftoe trustworthy? What the heck is going on with the Spanish nut tree? Where do I stand on the politics of “Goosey, Goosey Gander”?

Because I never learned to carry a tune, I don’t condone these verses with my own voice. Why wreck a good tune with off-key singing?

If only I could refrain from thinking, the music would sound even better!


You give me reason to live

Chicken clucking about elderberries

Good produce did not grace my childhood.  We had bananas and red delicious apples and two kinds of vegetables: canned or frozen. Mama’s choices were limited. She didn’t keep a garden and she didn’t have a car to search out better grocery stores or summer produce stands. 

There were watermelons, of course, and those were wonderful. And for a few days in the summer ripe pears fell from a tree in a neighbors’ yard. We kids brushed the wasps off and ate around the rotten spots with juice dripping off our chins.

After I married, my in-laws supplied us with bushels (literally) of fresh vegetables. I took up gardening, too, though not on the same scale as my in-laws. Green beans snap louder when you pick them from your own vines. And we live close to a farmers’ market piled high with all the produce I don’t grow. And, oh, the fruit! The glorious fruit.

In our kitchen, right now, there is watermelon, three kinds of peaches, nectarines, small yellow plums, apricots, blackberries, red raspberries, blueberries and sweet, plump cherries.

Spring through fall is a parade of fruits at Lakeside Farmers’ Market, from the first strawberries through the last kinds of apple. The peaches taste better every year. To smell of a ripe white peach is reminiscent of a rose. It is no work at all to eat three of the little donut peaches in a sitting.

Today, in our own back yard, birds are plucking elderberries off the bushes, the figs are fattening, and the persimmon tree sports squat green globes. Egg-shaped fruits ripen on  the passion flower vine, but our June apples are long gone, baked in a pie.

Are you feeling depressed and discouraged from an overdose of The News? Are your brain cells discombobulated from Too Much Screen Time?

Cleanse your mental palate with a peach! Savor a miracle of creation. The right peach can rekindle your appreciation for the world.




Endangered Species or Evolution?


A friend’s email begins: “Thank you for your real mail note sometime ago.”

I am sorry that my friend feels her email message is somehow Less Than a snail mail note. If an infrequent email is the best way for her to send me news of her life, she can be sure I am happy whenever that email pops up in my inbox.

Of course, “real” mail has the distinct advantage of being tangible.

Real mail can be crushed in anger and lit with a match. It can be ripped up in frustration — used as lining on the bottom of the parakeet’s cage — soaked in tears or treasured for years.

My own emails can take on a cold tone I never intended. My friend of the email above, in contrast, writes in a way that even Comic Sans MS font cannot diffuse the warmth and personality.

Email is great for factual messages — date, time, place — but usually too dry for nuance. A group email to my bookclubs is so much more efficient than individual phone calls.

Text messaging my have the same built in limitations as email but it also has easy-to-use emoticons, the hieroglyphics of the modern age. A smiling cat face humanizes any message (sometimes inappropriately!). And texting is so immediate, so of-the-moment, that it can’t be beat for sending out a “We are running five minutes late” kind of message. Take THAT, snail mail!

It’s nice to live in an age with so many choices, but, I confess, I do like snail mail. A handmade card, a lovely paper, inked script in lavender or orange — snail mail can be a small treat for the senses.

Meditation on updating an address book

Free range rooster.

Who stays in? Who’s left out? And  what painful twinges will bite me when I read some of these names?

These are the questions facing me as I slip a new address book out of its clear cellophane envelope and set it on the desk beside the old, battered address book.

The new address book sports a pristine white cover with large, evenly-space gold dots. It opens flat for easy use. It is larger than the shabby old address book with its worn corners, covers bulging from the scraps of paper tucked between its pages, messy with crossed-out entries and new information glued over the old.

The new address book is appealing, in part, because its holds no entries. Each page waits to be filled in. Like January 1, it’s all new. Anything is possible and there are no mistakes and no regrets. This address book, like anything else new and shiny, promises a fresh start to a small section of my life.  I am lured by this golden mirage, and allow myself to fall into the myth of consumerism: The right purchase can save me!

Of course the new address book is not really a pill for what ails me. I am way behind in my correspondence (procrastination? distraction?) and, about those names and addresses that won’t be transferred, I am sad. But I will have to face the names and addressed in the old address book to fill in the blanks in the new one, even if this is a task fraught with emotion. Each name sparks a response, however fleeting.

There are entries that won’t be transferred because the names that head them have gone home, passed on beyond the reach of even the United States Post Office, as efficient as its mail delivery system is.

My brother recently assumed membership in this group and I miss writing to him, which I did two or three times a month. He never wrote back. In my letters, I wrote about whatever held my interest at the time. Only beside his bed in the hospice wing of the hospital, where he lay comatose, did I learn that he not only read my letters, he also sometimes read them aloud to others. I hoped to brighten up his day with my letters. I guess I did.

No, my brother no longer needs space in my address book. Nor does my baby sister. She is angry at me for undoubtedly appears to her more than sufficient grounds. She moved across the country and sent no forwarding address. I can’t blame her. It’s not her fault. But I miss her wit and sparkling stories. Will I ever see her or my nephew again?  Of all the family traits we would carry through the generations, never-speaking-to-you-again is one I had hoped would drop from our DNA. (Sigh.)

Other old entries memorialize several valiant crusaders for the welfare of mankind. These friends, too, have passed on. If they have found an afterlife, I hope it provides a comforting perspective on the troubles of civilization so they can put down their banners and petitions and put up their feet. They did their best and deserve some rest.

What to do with those addresses of people I haven’t heard from in years? This man was widowed and took up a new life in Seattle. It seems unlikely he’d still be living in the same apartment. I write his name in ink and his address in pencil. Here are good friends from college. We were witnesses at their marriage. Though they are still together and still overseas, this address surely isn’t still current. Again: name in ink, address in pencil.

I work my way through the alphabetized entries, smiling at some names and (a couple times) cringing at other names. At the end of the old book, I toss its pages into recycling. All that remains is a pile of loose notes and clipping that were tucked between its pages. What is all this stuff, anyway?

Mostly, is it the current addresses of inmates whose “housing assignments” may change at any time at the whim of the state. And there are lists of internet pass words. What to do with these?

And here is where I make the happy discovery of a folder attached to the back cover of my spanking new purchase — a perfect place to tuck these loose papers. In this one minuscule way, my new address book delivers on that implied promise of a Better Life through Consumerism.

But wait! Oh no! This new book is too large to fit in the drawer where I kept the old one.

Now I have to clean the drawer out. Once again, I am ensnared by materialism.








Music in the air

img_20190416_080729.jpgWhile waiting in my car for my daughter-n-law to emerge from Kroger’s with her shopping cart, I lifted my head from my book at the sound of whistling. A man with a single bag of groceries swinging from his hand walked across the parking lot under the clear blue sky of a perfect spring morning, whistling a clear and perfect tune. The notes hung in the air, outside of time, creating a clear and perfect moment.

That same evening, as I parked my car in another large parking lot, I was surprised by the sound of a recorder weaving under and over the soft buzz of a light rain. A woman sat under the canopy in front of Barnes & Noble, a music book open on the bench in front of her. She wasn’t as accomplished as the morning’s whistler. Her notes were sometimes sour and the tune was hard to follow. It sounded to my ears as if she were trying the music for the first time. Still — there she was! playing a recorder in front of the book store in the rain.

Could these be the first signs of societal transfiguration, I wondered. If so, what could be next? My neighbor singing along to golden oldies on the radio while he weeds his peas?

Maybe the dog walkers and stroller pushers will leave their phones at home and sing a happy song as they walk down the street past my house. Maybe they will all walk together and sing rounds. The babies will laugh and clap along. The dogs will prance.

Maybe — instead of the harsh racket of lawn mowers, leaf blowers and chain saws — the birdsong of a summer’s day will be over laid with with happy sounds of neighbors on their patios and porches laughing and strumming guitars and dancing to fiddle music. 

What is life for anyway? ear protection, weed killer and uniformly green lawns? or joviality, music and meadows?

My contribution toward this coming transformation? I practice piano with the windows open.

So pull out your trombone or accordion. Pick up your drum sticks or bagpipes. Polish up your flute. Warble with the mocking bird. Be the change I’d like to hear.


Lost in Translation


YouTube found “Havana” by Camila Cabello just for me and I liked it. I listed to it again and again. Havana’s story arch — punctuated with laughter and complete with happy ending — drew me right in. The video switches back and forth, from English to Spanish.

Because I liked “Havana”, YouTube brought me other bi-lingual music videos. I liked those so YouTube presented Spanish only videos, including ones featuring Natalia LaFourcade. Her voice is so pure and her songs so compelling, I was briefly convinced that I must be the last person in the whole world to know about her. Even if you, like me, don’t understand Spanish, surely you know Natalia LaFourcade!

LaFourcado’s “La Llorona” opens with graceful guitar lines and waltzes into a haunting song. A figure draped with an embroidered shawl flits about cemeteries, churches, and streets during Day of the Dead. Candles flicker by tombstones decked with flowers and Marigold petals drift from a child’s hand. Faces in the street are painted like skulls.

When I visited Oaxaca during Day of the Dead, I could feel things happening all around me. But it was like being color blind in front of a peacock. The solemnity passed through me, a sigh of mystery, incomprehensible, foreign.

In a house with the rooms built around an open courtyard, two elderly women sat at a long dining room table, drinking mescal with their late husbands, whose faces smiled from faded photographs decked with flowers. In a cometary after dark, families picnicked on grave sites, sharing food with the dearly departed. Something was happening, but I couldn’t say what.

The song La Llorona was an echo of that feeling. But I thought maybe I could pin it down.

An internet search supplied three different English translations of LaFourcade’s lyrics — different being the key word. At least two of the translations had to be wrong. According to Wikipedia, La Llorona is the legendary Mexican ghost, The Weeping Woman who drowned her own children. The traditional folk-song version has many verses, with multiple interpretations.Death, Life, Loss, and Love are all in there, but they slide around. It is a folksong with a number of meanings. I could forget about pinning it down.

Death, Life, Loss, and Love were also the underpinnings of a lengthy phone conversation between my uncle and me the other night. He would ask me, Do you remember your grandparents’ house on Markley Street? Your Great Grandmother Creager? Her mother, Grandma Clark, who saw Abraham Lincoln from her father’s shoulders? Our Grandmother Barnard? I remember them all. I can pick them out in photos and home movies. They are the main characters in family stories.

My father’s and my uncle’s perspectives are different, so even when they tell the same story, it is not exactly the same. But the woman shine. The stories of these strong women nurtured me. It makes sad to know that someday a descendant will pick up a photo of Grandma Clark without knowing who she was or the courage she wielded as a young widow.

Marigolds, candles, and mescal will not summon any of my grandmothers or my father for a visit, even on Day of the Dead. And I wouldn’t know it if they did? It’s outside our tradition and copying the trappings from Day of the Dead won’t bring us into a space where we will know each other again.

But, even in Oaxaca, someone must remember you to put out your photograph. Someday, no one will remember you or put out your photograph and you, and all your stories, will be truly gone from this world.


Brief Comments on Three Books


The Last Days of Night starts not with a bang, but with bright sparks and a POP. What follows is historically accurate and gruesome enough for a zombie flick.

Author Graham Moore shrinks this tale of the patent wars between George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison and hangs it over a coat hanger constructed of the imagined biography of a real couple, a young New York lawyer and a celebrated opera singer. Also, J.P. Morgan, Nikola Tesla, Fisk College, Niagara Falls, a glittering New York City, and Alexandra Graham Bell.

Our hero, Paul the lawyer, on behalf of inventor Westinghouse, tries to counter the machinations of inventor Edison. Paul gets played. Then he gets wise.


This story rattles straight down the tracks like the locomotives pulling one of the many trains Paul boards. Each of the seventy-two (yes, 72!) brief chapters starts with a quote from an inventor or scientist. The narration itself shares this bent toward the contemplative even as it moves right along. Paul’s interior monologue is often insightful. 

Abrupt jumps between chapters/scenes can be distracting. And my pleasure in reading was interrupted by wondering which parts of this historical fiction were real and which parts were invented. (The epilogue clears up this up.) To me, the build-up to the climax  was somewhat mechanical, and the conclusion itself was a bit too feel-good to be true.

That said, it’s a good read: Titans of Industry brawl across the North American continent like Godzilla vs Mothra!



After every mass shooting, the cry goes up: Why does this keep happening? Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment is aimed right at naive gun control advocates.

Roxanne Dumbar-Ortiz packs a powerful explanation into these two hundred pages. You may already be aware of the historical events here, but after this book you will no longer see them as isolated incidents, anomalies outside our country’s march 61MaXbW3GkL._AC_UL436_toward liberty and justice for all. This relentless account is a kick in the solar plexus of that comfortable mythology. The book is one bloody scene of genocide and corpse mutilation after another, with context. [If this blog had sound effects, there would be wails and sobbing here.]

Loaded not only opens your eyes, it rips off your eyelids you can never not see this stuff again. You may not agree with Dumbar-Ortiz’s explanation of how we got where we are — but you won’t forget it.





Any book that can make me see Henry Kissinger as an affectionate friend instead of a comic book villain is a book worth reading! Losing Mum and Pup, A Memoir is that book.81EjHrfOVzL._AC_UL436_

I was no fan of William F. Buckley’s syndicated newspaper column. His over use of five-cylinder words came across as sneering to me and I didn’t understand the underpinnings of his viewpoint. But his son’s novels? Christopher Buckley‘s fiction is funny.

So when I saw the younger Buckley’s name on the spine of this book at Book People, I plucked the book off the shelf. I thought I would enjoy it. I did.

The Buckley’s knew people whose names I know only from the news. Christopher Buckley brings them to life, including his famous father and much-loved mother. Looking back through the lens of this book, I can almost see W.F.B.’s long words as humorous and almost see where he’s coming from.

Losing Mum and Pup is funny. It is touching. It is as real as can be. And it includes one reason the Viet Nam war extended into the Nixon years. All very nice.

Almost restful.






Sparrows Fall

One of our chickens died during the night. She went to roost early the evening before, well before the rest of our tiny flock, and then this morning my husband found her flat on the floor of the coop, as if she’d fallen off the perch in the hours before dawn.

Our chickens look identical to us. Since we can’t tell them apart, we didn’t name them, so our deceased chicken had no name. I am sad about her death because it means fewer eggs and it causes concern for the health of her sisters. (If the other hens even notice her absence, I can’t tell.)

But she is not unmourned. My husband is sad. His little flock is diminished. One less chicken for him to watch in the evenings. One less beady-eyed chicken waits and watches for him to open the door of the pen. One less chicken runs out squawking.

On the wide expanse of green grass and weeds that is our backyard, the hens are the free roaming creatures they were meant to be, if only inside a fenced yard for that hour before twilight. They scurry around and scratch for worms. They squabble over bugs. They flap their wings and briefly lift off the ground. My husband’s pleasure in freeing his chickens and watching them being chickens is reduced by twenty-five percent.

We won’t be getting a replacement hen. A flock has it’s own rules and doesn’t take well to newcomers. And the remaining chickens may be contagious with whatever killed their sister. Plus, a new hen may introduce a new sickness. (Yes, I know there are ways to work around these problems, but we will just let this play out.)

Three healthy hens can supply more eggs than we use. But three hens are not a sure source of eggs to barter.

Does God, the Universe, or Everything care about our chicken’s death?

Today is the the day the World calls Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember those who fell in battle, who died. Yet even as we set out flags and decorate graves, soldiers continue to fall in battle, civilians die in bombings, refugees drown as they flee. Does God/the Universe/Everything care?

Perhaps S/he/It/They takes the long view. A chicken dies; the flock carries on: a tree dies; the forest still stands ; a city is smoking rubble; other cities thrive: a child dies; other children live on. The individual expires but Nature persists.

We humans mourn the peach trees we walked among, scraped from the earth by a bulldozer’s blade. We mourn the childhood friend, dead in uniform beside a far away river. We mourn the child we loved, taken by cancer.

We can be sad about a chicken.

Pleasures of the Storm

We just came through a deluge! Was it a whole week of rain? It seemed like a month! Dark skies and precipitation were constants, a sprinkle serving for a break in the weather, a ferocious downpour an awe inspiring twice daily event.

As creeks rose above roads and runoff formed ponds under highway overpasses, some citizens faced flooding in their yards or homes. Those of us, like me, who didn’t need to drive anywhere and don’t have a creek hard by, could just “go with the flow.”

A storm slows my thinking to a snail’s pace, but, now that I abstain from gluten, the crippling migraines that heralded a barometric change are gone! [To those of you who hold this gluten-free business is a passing fad —  be grateful for your ignorance! May you continue to lack first hand experience with IBS or CFIDS/fibro etc.] So I  have learned to take my pleasure as it comes.

It was restful to sit on the screen porch and watch the rain come down. Leaves on the maple tree trembled as the drops hit and slid off. Swirling, muddy water slid by through the drainage ditches beside the black road, off to swell the might James. The noise of the rain varied with the violence of the storm. Our Lab hung close to my heels as the thunder rumbled around us and the lightened cracked overhead.

An additional pleasure was my delight in the overwhelming green of my immediate world. The grass was lush and the leaves on the trees fresh and vibrant. The vegetables and flowers in our raised beds grew even as I watched them. Looking out the windows, I saw the sunflowers and potatoes stretch still taller from hour to hour.

In between downpours, I’d venture out and do a bit of weeding. A careful tug would bring up a whole dandelion, root and all — always a satisfying accomplishment. My hair and shoulders grew damp and then wet as I lingered between the garden beds until the mist went from sprinkle to steady rain and forced me back inside.

Here’s another pleasure: wading in ankle deep water. I was happy to splash through any shallow puddles between the back door and the hen house. A few more steps, justIMG_20180519_164828 through the back gate, the I found the clover submerged in standing water four inches deep. The ground was soft underfoot, the clover floated around my toes, and the water was cool. A sensory delight!

Such unusual, incredible rain created a new, separate world. During those days, we lived outside of sordid politics and gross injustices against humanity. We could even set aside environmental concerns as we* dealt with more immediate problems likely brought on by man-made climate change.

The Long Rain afforded some relief from our usual anxieties and left us a thriving, blossoming, vining garden set in brilliant green from under our feet to way over heads in up-against-the-blue-sky leafy trees. The fresh morning air fills with bird song and the night begins with the high songs of peepers and the deep calls of bull frogs.

War is another kind of storm that can overflow its banks. Inside my dry island on the sofa, while the drainage ditches gurgled and the rain beat down in sheets, I read The Slaves’ War: The Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves. Now that was a storm a long time coming and still not gone. Long after those cannons quit booming, the poisoned waters still trickle through our lands.

Future times may find others looking back at our recent deluge with an understanding I don’t have, just like those enslaved children marveling at the “thunder” echoing over the Georgia hills — and not a cloud in the sky.


* By “we”, I mean my husband. He was out in the rain attempting to free a blocked culvert across the street. He also dealt with a failing sump pump in the crawl space under our house.






Heroes and chores

Sometimes I wonder where my life went. Most days seem to be a series of chores and enough days in a row adds up to a life.

Take my mission this morning, should I choose to accept it. Yes, today’s chore is to separate the wheat from the chaff, the worthy from the no-longer worthy, the just from the unjust! A task for a True Hero! An assignment for the bold and brave!

Well, not exactly. I am planning to sort the medical bills from my husband’s two week hospital stay and seven week home-bound antibiotic treatment. Also, there is a teetering pile of magazines to go through. Not exactly the fifth labor of Hercules but even Hercules probably wondered why he was spending his life cleaning the Augean stables instead of pursuing frolicking wood nymphs. (I’m not interested in wood nymphs myself but there is an entertaining novel waiting for me.)

Both sections of my assignment have pitfalls.

The medical bills are from individual doctors, two hospitals, three medical suppliers, and  labs. No two medical bills are alike. Each provider uses a different form to itemize services, credits, and charges. There are also reports from three insurance companies. I must review each one for duplications and mistakes (like I can remember what procedures were administered to my husband and when — not only was I not with him every minutes but he himself was not a reliable witness and my always compromised self * was next to depleted at the time). So there are many generous opportunities for confusion.

Figuring out these bills will scramble my poor weakened brain cells until I won’t have the mental energy for anything else today.

Sorting magazines is easier but has its own pitfalls. We have several months’ worth of publications. Usually, I sort them by date and keep the newest, but the New Yorkers are hard to give up. Of course, we’ve read the cartoons and “Shouts and Murmurs” and “Talk of the Town.” But I’m bound to run across an article on Something Fascinating That I Must Learn About but haven’t yet read so maybe I should set that issue aside to read later? But if I haven’t read it after six months am I likely to read it anytime soon?

One must be coldly realistic to sort magazines.

So this paperwork is my assignment this morning. It’s up to me to ensure the bills are addressed in a timely fashion and we aren’t tripping over piles of magazines or mail. (Mail is usually sorted as it comes in — otherwise we’d get lost in our own house.)

Paperwork is a common plague. I like to imagine that universal health care comes without any paperwork to follow the patient home. Maybe that’s a fantasy, but isn’t it a nice one? We’d still have taxes to complain about so life wouldn’t be all roses.

My husband has his own assignments and I don’t want to trade with him, even if I could.  He’s mowing the grass right now. He seems happy enough with his portion of the household burden. But he’s had a meaningful career. There is little status in the homemaking which fell to my lot by default, since I was too sick to do anything else  beyond that. So I am still, in some ways, anticipating a Life and dissatisfied with this Sisyphean procession of chores.

So is this my Life? It seems like I just finished the taxes, which was also a joyless chore, the only satisfaction was the completion of the task. Why is life made up of so much paperwork, record keeping, telephone clarifications, trick questions, excess possessions? Who benefits from all this rigmarole?  I only have a couple of good, clear hours a day. I don’t want to squander them.

Ah, well. Hand me that pitchfork. I’ve got stables to clean.


*Due to a stubborn illness — ME or chronic fatigue or CFIDS/fibromyalgia or SEID or whatever label is attached today — I suffer from post-exertional disability. Thinking hard exhausts me. Thinking hard leaves me only well enough to knit and watch cat-videos on YouTube. Or read a romance novel.