Summer Colors

001 (3)Colors behind glass in a small corner cabinet.  Orange, and yellow and green and salmon and two shades of blue, one as soft as a cloudless sky, another as electric as an approaching storm.   My favorite has always been the orange, though.  It is red by definition, but orange to my eyes, round and smooth; such a happy color.  I have been collecting these dishes since before Fiesta’s comeback.  Flea markets, yard sales, my mother’s cupboards.  When facsimiles started showing up in magazines and at Target, my heart sank.  The colors weren’t right.  Too pastel.   Not as real.  Forever to be popping up and mixing in and polluting collections of authentic Fiesta.

More than twenty years ago, I paid fifty dollars for a bright orange tea pot a friend had found at a flea market.  I will never forget his excitement when he ran to tell me of the treasure he had found just two tables over.  It was perfect.  Continues to be the centerpiece of my collection.  I’ve seen similar teapots in collectables and antique shops.  Still priced at or about fifty dollars.  Everything has increased in value except Fiesta ware.  It’s too common now.  Too hard to tell the originals from the copies.  And copies are everywhere.  I think you can still buy full place settings on line.

Not that I would ever part with a single piece.  Those plates and cups and bowls mean too much to me.  They are prizes from treasure hunts long ago, when a cobalt blue saucer or bright orange teapot still made my eyes wide with wonder.  I carried those pieces home as precious heirlooms.  Wrapped and packaged them with great care through every move and transition of my life.  Discoveries have since become fewer and so much farther between.  I don’t think I’ve come across an authentic piece for years, at least not since arranging my colors in their current cabinet.

Fiesta ware was, I’ve been told, dinnerware manufactured for and sold to working class folk.  I have tried to imagine unknown sisters long ago bringing home full sets piece by piece.  Purchasing a plate out of this paycheck, a cup out of the next.  I close my eyes, concentrate, see families gathered around tables of color, children changed out of their school clothes, casseroles steaming atop trivets. I over hear conversations about factories and upcoming Fire House dinners and meetings of the PTA.  The sun is always still shining; it is summer.  It is always summer in my imagination, always summer behind the glass in my corner cabinet.

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Today’s free-write will be my final response to the prompts for Writing 101.  I’ve enjoyed them, but it’s time for me to get back to the journey …

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Madness

They said she should go, so she went.  Every move she made had become someone else’s decision.  She tried hard to remember.  How long had it been?  When was the last time she was free to come and go and get angry or sad all by herself?

An unfamiliar landscape whipped past her.  Daunting shadows of memories and dread.  Her thoughts raced as terror seized her.  Escape became more necessary than air.  The car stopped.  Time stood still.  Opportunity pushed opened a door and she hurled herself and into the night.  Running.  Scared.

Briars tore at her clothes as she cleared the woods and stumbled into an open field. Every muscle ached, but she dared not stop for fear of she knew not what.  Freshly plowed furrows led her down to a narrow road where she forced her legs to carry her the full length of its winding.

The smooth sand of a deserted shoreline eventually opened up to welcome her.  She collapsed into its time-worn softness, sucked in the damp salt air.  Sobs broke their silence.  Tears spilled into the sea.  And then, without warning, laughter.  She rolled back on her heels and howled at the absurdity of it all.
turbulent sea

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The above is a fictional response to the Writing 101 prompt:
“What are you scared of?  Address one of your worst fears.”  

Clearing

gray skyThe cursor keeps time on the blank screen.  How many blinks before my next thought?  My next phrase?  This incessant blink blink blink taunts me.  Over these past few days, I have tried to respond to the prompts for Writing 101.  Words simply haven’t come.  I have sat poised and ready.  For long hours. Nothing happened.  Oh, I wrote a sentence fragment here and there.  Ended up deleting each one.  Some writer I am.  No.  I take that back.  I am a writer.  I breathe and think and laugh and cry and wonder and despair and write.  These experiences make up the whole of who I have come to recognize as me.  But I’ve always had difficulty writing on purpose and had hoped the daily challenges might coax me into greater consistency.  I was doing pretty good for the first two weeks.  I guess my enthusiasm waned.  That and I had a lot going on.

I was up and out early two mornings this week.  Off to doctors’ appointments.  One was a simple follow-up with my rheumatologist.  The other was a first time visit with a psychiatrist.  Don’t panic.  I am not crazy.  I did not end up in restraints that morning.  Nor was I carted off by the proverbial men in white coats.  Psychiatry carries a crippling stigma.  I’m not sure which makes my throat seize up more:  having to admit I am an alcoholic, or sharing that I am now seeing a psychiatrist.  My reasons for making the appointment are far from dramatic.  I simply felt an increase in my antidepressant medication would prove helpful and my primary doctor recommended I see a psychiatrist.  So, you see, I was simply acting under my doctor’s advice.  That and I figured one more attending doctor’s statement in support of my disability appeal surely couldn’t hurt.

It was really just a formality.  I’m actually doing quite well.  I celebrated eight months sober on the 21st, was asked to preside at a wedding of friends of a friend, and picked up a handful of preacher supply gigs over the next few months.  The opportunity to again step into the role of ordained minister has probably done more for my sagging spirit than any amount of medication or talk-therapy could ever accomplish.  It now feels like I’ve been having a bizarre out of body experience these past eight months and have finally landed back in my shoes.  Oh yeah, I remember now.  This is who I am.  The wedding was yesterday; a small gathering of family and friends on a lake shore.  It was cold, but sunny and the short ceremony went off without a hitch.  I could barely contain my happiness on my way home.  I was happy for the couple, sure, but I was absolutely ecstatic about my having officiated at a wedding.

And I cannot begin to tell you how excited I am to sit down with Scripture and prayerfully discern a relevant message and then put on my alb and stole and step into a pulpit, let alone having the privilege to preside at communion again.  It has been a long time.  My joy is well off the charts and into the stratosphere.  It’s hard for me to explain, and, I suspect harder still for someone to understand.  But being called upon for these small favors has reignited the pilot light that fires up my passion for living.  All sorts of things seem possible again.  I am well aware caution is called for here.  It is dangerous to define one’s personhood by his or her professional standing.  I know I should be able to feel complete and whole independent of whether or not I’m “working,” but I’m indulging myself the luxury of lingering in this feeling of uncontainable glee for just a while longer.

So, anyway, back that infernal taunting of the cursor on the blank page.  Now that I’m typing full throttle, I may as well catch up my responses to the daily prompts.  I believe I can do that in a single sentence.  Here goes.   “Oh, my beloveds, I have searched the horizon beyond the darkening clouds of storm and night and found there a word for you, a word too enormous to behold and yet so easily captured with five swift strikes of the keys: faith.”  Granted, it is a rather long sentence, but I’m pretty sure it meets the criteria of Days 12, 13, 14, and 15 and, more importantly, is true.  Just beyond a seeming sea of despair, I stumbled again into the presence and love of God.  This pickled pastor might always be a pickle, but she’s always going to be a pastor too, and that realization is making a huge and holy difference.  All of time and space is sacred again.  Blank or otherwise.

I Wish I Knew Everything I Thought I Knew When I Was Twelve

1969The year was 1969 and my corner of the world was a small front bedroom on the second floor of a white-shingled frame farmhouse.  I couldn’t get away with much in those days.  My parents’ slept in the room next to mine.  But I did sometimes open the window and smoke cigarettes over the sloped tin roof of our porch.  That and listen to records on my portable stereo.  Its having a handle on top was about the only thing that made it portable.  I remember the contraption being quite big and boxy.  But it played records.  33s and 45s.  Despite the dire conditions of my isolation, I fancied myself connected to the world beyond the fields.  Music was my conduit.  I may have been too young to hitchhike to Woodstock or protest the war in Vietnam, but I played my music.  Loud.

Our house was anything but soundproof.  Even voices carried.  There were four rooms on the second floor built over four rooms on the first, with a staircase coming up in the middle.  In order to make the house livable, my parents opened up the four downstairs rooms into two and turned one of the upstairs bedrooms into a bath.  The kitchen was on the first floor, off to the side, in an addition built long before we ever moved in.  Most all of my time was spent in my bedroom, though; a bedroom I had originally picked out because of it had the prettiest floral wallpaper.  At least it did when I picked it.  All my pretty flowers got torn down when the walls were scraped clean in my mother’s zealous effort to restore the place to some sort of early American masterpiece.

The walls throughout the house ended up chalk white.  In all fairness, the paint color was “antique white,” but, antique or not, those walls were white.  The dark ink-stained-to-look-like-wood woodwork created a stark contrast.  The ceilings matched the walls, with a light fixture smack dab in their centers.  Each identical:  a tin plate-like thing with two flame-shaped lightbulbs sticking out.  Cotton draw-back curtains hung at the windows and kept out about zero light.  And the floors were the original boards.  Sanded and stained.  Partially covered downstairs with braided rugs and upstairs with rag.  There was hollowness about the place.  Underscored by my dad’s angry outbursts and the fighting that often kept me awake at night.  Although my childhood was, in most all aspects, quite ordinary, I understood, even then, that my mother had thrown herself into the remodel to keep her mind of the sorry state of her marriage.

For my part, I tacked up posters of Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy.  My mother had a fit about my putting sticky tape on her precious white walls, but I did it anyway.  The pictures added some much needed color to what was otherwise an all-white nearly sterile room.   An old three-drawer dresser with a white marble top.  A twin bed adorned with a you-guessed-it white George Washington bedspread.  And an antique upright fold-down desk completed my mother’s assigned furnishings.  I kept my stereo on a comparably modern end table I salvaged from the stored remnants left over from our first house.  A heavy beveled mirror hung over the dresser and, thanks be to God, a full-length one was screwed into the back of my closet door.

I studied myself in that mirror every morning.  And, every morning, I saw the same face reflected back at me:  that of an awkward young girl who was desperately uncomfortable in her own skin.  I hated living on a farm.  More than anything, I wished we lived in a house in a neighborhood within walking distance of my school.  I wanted to be like other kids.  Instead, for whatever reason, I was exiled to a farm in the middle of nowhere, along a country road with two lonely yellow lines that stretched in either direction for as far as the eye could see.  I rode the bus.  Every day.  Same thing.   I woke up in the same room and checked myself a dozen times in the same mirror, the full length mirror on the inside of my closet door.  The one where I had, at some point, put bright little sticker in the top left corner.  A sticker that would come to symbolize my teenage rebellion against almost everything.  It read, simply, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”

Many years have passed since then.  I don’t so much mind getting old.  Getting old is necessary.  It is the price to be paid for my having been blessed to be alive in 1969.  ‘69 was, indeed, the year that changed America.  Or at least the year that changed me.  1969 was the year of the moon landing.  The Stonewall riots.  The summer of love.  Anti-war protests.   And Woodstock.    The 5th Dimension  promised it was the Age of Aquarius.  Iconic peace signs were everywhere.  And Monty Python’s Flying Circus first aired on BBC.  My father wanted to annihilate North Vietnam.  My mother tried to keep peace at the dinner table.  And I decided once and for all and forever:  I was not going to be like them.  1969 was the year I came into myself.  The year I claimed a future far and away from the farm where I grew up.

Everything made sense to me back then.  The “establishment” had nearly destroyed all that was good about America.  My generation was about to inherit a corrupt and broken society, but we would do so with determination and grit.  Everything was going to get better.  We would undo what was and create a world of love and peace, with a rock and roll soundtrack and Peter Max scenery in every background.  The stars were all lined up.  My generation was going to make a difference.  And I was part of it  Part of change.  Part of a psychedelic wave of wonder that would carry me to freedom.   I knew everything.  Could become anything.  Was poised for adulthood with an energy and eagerness I never experienced before or since.

None of that happened, of course.  I may have escaped the farm, but the world did not get better.  Something went very very wrong.  My generation ended up creating its own establishment.  Tie-die was abandoned in favor of neck ties.  A new cast of characters emerged.  Characters the likes of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.  The same boys who had once been too shy to ask a girl to dance in a school gymnasium, grew into men who sent their own sons and daughters to war.  Not to a jungle, mind you, but right into the eye of a desert storm.  We had our own disaster on our hands.  Terror reigned.  Buildings crumbled.  And public policy was being bought for a price.  Hope somehow got lost along the way and no one ever spoke of peace anymore.  The music may not have died, but something did.

I often think back to that little sticker on the top left corner of the full length mirror on my closet door:  “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”  It’s true.  You can’t.  Don’t do it.  By the time a woman gets to be my age, she’s seen more than one generation surrender the idealism of its youth.   I’m afraid that’s just the way it’s always been.  The Christians of the first century looked to a different future, too.  Christians are still waiting.  We all are.  As much as I wanted out of my twelve-year old world, with its too white walls and warring parents, I so wish I knew as much as I thought I did when I was twelve.  I may have been young and naive and ignorant about many things, but the world made sense to me in a way it never has since.  Back then, all things were still possible.

Happy Birthday To Me!

from Bing.com
I was an odd kid.  My favorite birthday cake was walnut.  With my mom’s incredible vanilla icing slathered all over it and coconut dusted on top.  I loved coconut.  Still do.  I maybe baked one cake in my entire adult life.  And that was from a box.  I am amazed how my mom used to bake.  Really bake.  Stirring up clouds of flour in the kitchen and making cut-out circles of wax paper that fit perfectly into cake pans that were anything but new.  My mom baked often.  And always for my birthday.

I can’t remember the last time I had a birthday cake.  Oh, I’ve had cupcakes and brownies, with a candle stuck in or maybe even a sparkler, most often in restaurants with friends.  But never a whole cake baked from scratch just for me.  Birthdays became decidedly fluid occasions.  Always with the alcohol flowing.  Fancy cocktails with shots mixed in.  Or, in later years, glass after glass of wine, poured from bottles brought as gifts but always emptied by evening’s end.

For about as long as I can remember, birthdays were just another excuse to celebrate.  Any excuse would do: because it was my birthday, your birthday, a holiday, the weekend, vacation, sunny, or pouring rain.  There was always something to celebrate, always a reason to drink.  Until reasons were no longer necessary, of course.  I drank at every meal and after and then alone.  Drank myself to sleep.  Drank myself awake.  Finally realized I was drinking away my life.

Today will be my first sober birthday.  Ever.  At least since I was a kid blowing out the candles and making a wish.  I have no idea what I might have wished for back then.  But I’m sure I didn’t wish to become an alcoholic.  Anyway, I lit a candle this morning.  Just to make a wish and blow it out.  Sorry, I can’t tell you what I wished for.  Then my wish wouldn’t come true.  But I can assure you I didn’t wish for a drink.  Not to celebrate my birthday.  Not ever.

Life is too good.  Today I am a one-year-older sober woman.  With a clear head and coconut dusted dreams.  Thanks be to God!  And happy, happy birthday … to me!

Three Perspectives (and a lot of flowers)

She enjoyed coming to the park.  On quiet days, when no one was around, when she could concentrate.  Just her and her knitting.  Alone.  Gratitude welled up within her.  It was spring.  The afternoon was still and warm.  She saw the couple coming down the path.  Approaching her.  Crowding out her aloneness.  She focused hard on the needles in her lap.  On looping the bright red yarn, as if, by sheer will, she could make any and every interruption evaporate.

The young woman had chosen her favorite khaki jacket to wear to the park that day.  He had complimented her the last time she wore it.  She so wanted things to be as they were.  Something was very wrong, though.  She could sense it.  Even as she stepped out onto the stoop and folded her hand in his, she could feel the distance between them.  They walked together like strangers.  He appeared oblivious to the beauty of this April afternoon, to the brilliant new colors of spring.

He was running late.  Again.  What else could possibly go wrong?  By the time he reached her doorstep, anger and grief were already catching in his throat.  There was so much he had to tell her.  When he was ready.   Certainly not on this otherwise perfect spring day.  He breathed in the air.  He tried to clear his head.  It was the sight of a stranger that tore him wide open.  Just an old woman on a bench blissfully knitting love into a sweater.  But he could not help himself.  He started to cry.


Today’s Writing 101 assignment was an exercise in perspective.  I was less than enthusiastic, but tapped out three short paragraphs, each portraying the assigned scene.  To compensate, I thought I would also share some recent photographs.  For better or worse, since taking Photography 101, I find myself a little picture crazy.  My most recent obsession has been with flowers. Enjoy.