Friday, December 11, 2009


I have spent part of this evening surfing random blogs, peeking in to people's odd little lives, and being struck by the utter banality of craziness.

It's so tiring.

And I think that is why I am so reticent to become a daily blogger.

I don't want to bore myself nor anyone else.

Nor do I want to write endlessly about how I should write more, or write better, or any of the myriad of "should'ves" and self-flagellation that seem to litter the landscape of the blogosphere.

Enough of the should'ves. Do it or don't, but stop incessantly whining about it either way.

Everyone is crazy, everyone is bored, everyone is unique, just like everybody else.


I am not in the camp of thought that somehow the world is sliding down the slippery slope, that everything was somehow better in the past, because one would have to be completely blind to the rise and fall of mighty civilizations, far better and worse than our own, to not know that cycles and waves are at the core of all humanity, of the universe.

And yet, the rise of this nauseating, boring self absorption, or perhaps the ability for people to share this self absorption so easily, is what grates on my last nerve this evening.

So instead here I am complaining about people complaining, silly girl.

In short, I'm healthy, getting healthier, with my sights set on rocking a hot bathing suit poolside at the resort in Phoenix this April. I have dear, intimate friends with whom I can commune both close and far. I live in a place that brings me endless joy. I read, I write (not publicly, as you can tell), I exult in music daily. And best of all, I am madly in love with my family, who loves me, in return, unconditionally. I am blessed.

And none of that bores me in the least.
Thursday, October 22, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

Since I first heard that Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are was being made into a film, I've been deeply ambivalent. As exciting as it might seem to see the Wild Things alive on the screen, it's a 10 sentence picture book, not a film length narrative. And any attempt to turn into one destroys the book.

I dug back through my Children's Literature work to pull out notes I'd taken on the book before our class discussion. Then I went to find my copy and it's disappeared. auuughhhh. I hate it when things go missing on me. Eventually I will track it down and scan the pages to go along with my notes. Until then, use your own copy and follow along...

This reading is just a cursory nod to the issues of size, of thresholds and boundaries that define and defy concepts of the miniature and the gigantic that are inescapable throughout children's literature and Where the Wild Things Are.

Following the illustrations in order:

1. The central focus is tight on Max's destructive capabilities. The while frame around the illustration constrains the narrative as tightly as it will until the final page of the book. The wolf is predatory by nature, as is Max. The hammer and and nail are enormous. Max stands on top of the books, creating his own narrative in his destruction of the wall. What has been knotted together to make the line? Whose sheet has been turned into the tent? Why has the bear been executed by hanging? And why are the bear's eyes wide, his arm in what appears to be a posture of solidarity with his raised arm?

2. Max's face, hungry as a wolf, is centered in the frame. The vitality and momentum of this illustration extends even to his wolf tail. He is leaping from the threshold of the staircase and driving the wary domesticated dog through another threshold, rejecting Max's wildness. Max's artwork is the lone wall decoration. Something about walls and boundaries, mischief and imaginiation and art connects the first picture to this one. It is all interior. Max is stir crazy. Why is one foot always sticking up? Note, too, that he is chasing the dog with a giant fork. This ties itself into the theme of eating, which in this book is tied to love.

3. "I'll eat you up" get Max banished. The threshold of cannibalism, even the hint of this taboo, sends him unwillingly across the threshold of his own room . Both feet are on the ground for the first time. The door knob is above his head, demonstrating his size. But this is not a child's room. Look at the furniture and lack of anything remotely child-like. Out another frame, the window, is the full moon and all it symbolizes. There are no stars. The white frame continues to shrink.

4. The indoor/outdoor threshold begins to blur. Max's eyes appear closed in prayer, one foot slightly raised, as he wills the growth around him. Stars appear.

5. The growth continues, Max's foot rises higher, eyes still closed, and he suppresses a giggle. The beige interiors fade, the greens take over, and the frame is almost gone.

6. The frame has disappeared, the exterior fills up the entire space, spilling over. Max's back is to the viewer now, as he ignores us and howls at the moon in the wildest of all places in children's literature: the forest.

7-9: The Trilogy of the Boat

7. It is suddenly day. An ocean tumbles by, turbulence continuing the vitality of the text. There seems to be a tree in the middle of the ocean and it breaks the boundary of the facing page. Max is now gigantic in his boat. Check out the miniature rigging. The seas are always stormy. Max is smiling directly at the reader.

8. Now the wild sea thing stands on the text side of the boundary, not terribly menacing, just creating a wake that, on the other side of the page, pushes the boat aground. Max appears afraid, arms half raised as if to try and threaten the beast without any conviction. And there is a big pink tree.

9. Now Max is no longer aground (??) and he scowls at his greeting party of wild things from the safety of his boat. There are four wild things all mimicking the posture of Max earlier in the book, arms and feet raised. The girly wild thing (Tzippy, sans horn) is behind all the boys, but she is present.

10-12 New Reign on the Island Trilogy

10. The four wild things, keeping their exact order, are joined by the Buffalo wild thing who peeks from the forest. The moon is no longer full. Max makes his magic on the Things through eye contact, a threshold of significance. This is the last time we'll see the small goat wild thing.

11. The lead monster in the previous illustration who was closest to Max is now cowering in the forest, as though the boy is too hot to handle. Buffalo Wild Thing (Bernard) is now joined by Eagle Wild Thing (Emil). Max's eyes are again closed as they take turns paying homage to him, his scepter raised, allowing their worship.

12-14 The Trilogy of the Wild Rumpus

12. The frame (inferiority) is completely lost even between pages. The image overflows the entire book altogether. Language is lost as all text disappears. There are four wild things, two new on either side. Their numbers continue to grow as language is lost. They stare at the moon, which is full again. Max however, has closed his eyes again, claw and paw raised in his own worship.

13. Different wild things return, all ones we've already met. It is daylight and they are all suspended from the trees. Again, only Max's eyes are closed, one foot raised very high. The three male monsters look shifty, something is going on with their eyes. Tzippy seems to be listening intently to Bernie and Emil, her legs demurely crossed.

14. The conga line dance adds one of the big nosed wild things of the four from illustration #13. Max is riding Bernie's back and once again, only Max's eyes are closed. His foot and scepter are raised. The two monsters on the left page are arm and arm, as are the three on the right side, and Tzippy is behind all the boys again.

15. The frame reappears, as boundaries return, the rumpus ended. The colors of dawn fill the sky and the wild things are able to sleep. Max is not. He sits at the threshold of his tent, the only figure with his eyes OPEN this time. He has sent the wild things to bed without their supper, for he loves them just a little less. Wanting to be "where someone loved him best of all" is what allows his to connect to the power of scent (the most powerful sense tied to memory) and smell his supper. He is hungry to return home.

16. Compare Max's departure here with his arrival in illustration #9. Now he is smiling and waving goodbye. The monsters' threat, "we'll eat you up -- we love you so!" again connects love and eating, but with much wilder connotations of ingestion and oneness. Tzippy's posture is finally threatening, as Max moves to leave her. The stone cave hasn't been seen until now, perhaps symbolic of the primitive, naturalistic impulses to which Max bids farewell.

17. The illustrations begin to close up in the same manner they opened. Again, there is a lone tree in the ocean that crosses the boundary between the pages. Note that this tree is tropical, whereas the earlier tree in #7 resembled an oak or ash. The return trip is by night, but the sea remains turbulent. The full moon lights the boat, as Max closes his eyes again in prayer.

18. The frame has been restored to the narrative side of the book. The door stands as the threshold between the words and illustration. Unlike. #3, there is no white frame constraining the picture. Max is removing his wolf suit, looking tired but happy as his dinner (love) awaits him.

19. Now the entirety of the book lies as a white field, "and it was still hot" filling up the space. No capitals, no beginning, no thresholds, just completion and closure that wraps up time and space completely.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Glorious Fall

Fall has become my favorite season. There wasn't much Fall to speak of my entire life until I moved to Colorado. You'd get a few days of cool breezes followed by weeks of heat and humidity hanging on, dragging on endlessly. Nothing changed color and very little actually FELL.

Here, though, I am in awe of the colors the trees turn, the crispness of the air, the true sense of change that surrounds me. The photos above are just one tree in my backyard and I could spend hours watching the reds and golds push their way across the leaves. Our early snow this year means everything has sped up and within weeks there will be no more color on the trees, just leftovers sweeping down the street in the breeze.

There's something, too, about endings that I have always adored. I'm the girl who collects slit-your-wrists love songs for her iPod because of their glorious sadness that brings me to my knees, to borrow from Sarah McLachlan. Watching the slow death, the pulling in and hibernation of the world is exhilarating. Let it Fall.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Home Again

Back from Houston and not sure whether my title refers to the coming or going. It was disconcerting to be driving back through streets that are more like a foreign country than a homecoming.

How did I forget about the traffic across Houston, the sprawl of the whole city, when I arranged a flight to arrive at IAH just in time to hit it all. There are patches that remind me so viscerally of the landscape of Idiocracy.

The upside was that Lynne and I had hours to catch up, time to pull over for a diet coke, and then time to pull over and find the bathroom...

I had Lynne take the Edgebrook exit and we drove around the grounds of what was once Easthaven Baptist School. The "yard" where we would play was still green, but the pavilion with the rafters we had swung from was long gone. The brand new building I remembered being opened in 1981 was so small and tired looking. The old chapel, which had always looked old, even when I entered its doors in 1975, didn't look nearly as worn. I tried telling Lynne about the dusty old basement underneath that magnetically drew us down there after school despite threats and warnings from all our teachers. It had creaky wooden floors and the narrowest staircase with rooms that hadn't been used for years, with children's tables and glass eyed naked baby dolls hanging out of play trunks. I told her the memory of the big boy who held the door so I couldn't get out and almost made me miss the bus and scared the crap out of me. I wish I could have broken in and poked around what must by now be exponentially more creepy nowadays.

We made it to the church to meet with Courtney and get the video camera from her so I could play the ideographic for her. Per Cjo's recommendation, we tried Terra del Luna (I think?) off of Bay Area and Saturn. Not a favorite, but since I'd nothing since the Starbuck's Pumpkin Spice Latte that morning and the diet coke on the drive, it was good enough. I'll skip the pumpkin latte next time, too. I'm just waiting for the Peppermint Mocha to hit the stores now.

By that time it was completely dark and we headed for the B&B in Seabrook, which is right off the part of the road that would be Nasa Rd. 1 on the other side of 146. You can't even see the garish lights of the boardwalk, just the dark waters of the bay. Stevie, the Old Parsonage House's owner, had left the keys in the mailbox and the porch lights on. We couldn't take in all the grounds by the time we got there, but the interior was beautiful and we both wanted the dark back bedroom. I took the front. Lynne was paying.

I stayed up late finishing the book I'd bought before my flight. The Good Thief is a quick read, very Dickensian in the vein of Oliver Twist, the drawback being, you don't put it down. I finally finished a little after 2:00 a.m. At 7:30 I was up, Lynne was already out on the porch, and I started taking pictures of the place. If I can get the uploaded to cooperate, I'll get some included.

My room. See the pretty flowers Lynne arranged to have waiting for us?

The foyer looking into my front room.

Looking from the foyer into the sitting room and kitchen.

The back yard.

Looking toward the front door from the back.

I loved the kitchen window.

Front morning in the morning sun.

Lynne still looks like she has a cigarette, even though she hasn't smoked in 4 months now, after a 40 year habit.

Lynne's room

We lounged, read, sipped on coffee, showered, and headed out mid-morning for the tour of the old stomping grounds. We took Hwy 3 up to the corner where the VFW and Pe-te's had been forever, although the old cajun dancing place was now an H&H. We turned and slipped past San Jacinto South and a discussion of playing softball on the Brio toxic site. After a brief stop in Scarsdale whose retail seems to skew entirely Asian, we rolled down Beamer and turned right on Hughes toward Sagemont and Thompson and traced the back road I used to walk home after junior high.

I'd stood before the old house last summer when I was down for the reunion. This time, we didn't slow down. Four trucks, one in semi-disrepair, filled the driveway, with a pitbull roaming about the legs of some very tough looking men who were working on the truck. We headed for the even older house on Kirkdale which looked a hundred times better cared for than the one on Sageville. Up past the old Dobie building, over past Beverly Hills, down Buene Vista to the Wilbanks house, which looks like the best kept place in 20 square miles, albeit nearly unrecognizable from the home where I spent so many hours.

Then it was time to hit Almeda Mall. We were pulling past what was once the Best Store when Lynne revealed her misgivings about even stopping the car. There was a pall about the endless concrete, the building that was once Penney's without any signage, as though the shell was all that remained. Across the way, Almeda West Theater was nothing but a delapidated building waiting for demolition. But the Picadilly sign was exactly the same. We entered through the food court and I started snapping pictures. The locals looked at us a little strangely, partly because we were so clearly not the prevailing demographic, and because I kept taking pictures of things like the glass dome and benches and clocks.

Lynne and I got our pictures taken in the photo booth in front of where Liberace once stood in the Piano Store, across the way from where Doctor's Pet Center once was. Everything is empty there now. I stood in front of the huge empty area that was once Woolworths, the brick wall that was once H&H, and felt empty myself.

That was about all I could take and it was 1:00, so we went in search of sustenance. The Joe's Crab Shack fit the bill and then we returned to the house to nap, refresh, and prettify for the evening wedding.

We got to the church about 5:45 and get up in the balcony, which was where we had to sit in order to film. I was sweating the end, because I hadn't brought in a second tape and I was watching the minutes ticking down. Courtney and Nathan couldn't stop smiling at one another. They are a lovely couple. With 4 minutes left on the tape, Mr. and Mrs. Smith got down the aisle and out of my viewfinder, so we meandered over to the Colloseum (yeah, you really spell it that way) for the reception. We enjoyed a wonderful meal, scrumptious cake, and watching the bride and groom's first dance before deciding we had to call it a night.

We got in after 11:00 and my feet were screaming. I didn't sleep well that night and woke up covered in a cold sweat twice. Not sure what was going on there. I woke around 8:00 and got the coffee and biscuits going before scratching Lynne's back to wake her up which she always gushes about. It was the way my Mom always woke me up and the way I wake everyone else up, too. Who wouldn't want to wake up to a gentle back scratch?

After another lovely morning in the cool breezes and sun, it was time to pack up and hit the road. The weekend ended so quickly, I'm still processing what little time I had. I wish I could have gotten together with more friends, visited longer, soaked up the gorgeous weather a few more days. Of course, that weather is already slipping away down there and up here we're expecting snow tonight. Home again.
Sunday, September 27, 2009


For three years now I've made a little pilgrimage into the mountains each late September to catch the golden color of the aspens before the snow sets in and the color quickly litters the ground as the leaves are swept away. Different years bring different shades and patches of gold, as there seems to be no rhyme or reason why one stand of aspens remains green while the stand across the road has already dropped. Each year brings its own excitement and awe, though, and yesterday was Year #3 of living very close to paradise.




Friday, September 25, 2009

looking forward

I love reading people's blogs, I love writing. Get me wound up on a topic and I can go and go. So why is keeping a regular journal so difficult for me? It occurred to me on the drive home this afternoon that I hadn't checked back in here since my birthday almost two months ago. Why is that?

It's not that I'm ever at a loss for things to ramble about. In fact, perhaps it's the opposite, too many notes, too many melodies, too much to sort out.

So here I am. Pulling out one of the many tunes going on my head and then letting stream of consciousness take over...

Just logged into to hear his first release from Battle Studies, which I've been following on his blog all year. I like where he's going with this album. Less than two months before the full release and if the first single is any indication, I'll be on iTunes buying the whole damn thing on November 17.

That will be exactly one month after Courtney Jo's wedding, which is the event bringing me back to Houston for the weekend. In fact today I found what I hope is actually THE dress, but might not be, because I cannot seem to commit. This is the third "THE" dress, although I'm thinking the third may be the charm. It's a short sleeveless fitted red velvet with some shiny strappy sexy heels. It's velvet, which would work perfectly up here in October, but how hot will it be? Can I get away with velvet? It's sleeveless, that counts right?? I think it becomes a matter of just pulling it off with confidence now, and after trying it on again this afternoon, I'm getting pretty damn confident just typing this.

Think I can pull it off?

Looking at this makes me want to hit the gym this instant, but considering that a year ago I would never even attempt a dress this short, THIS is progress!

I'm a little torn over the weekend. This may be my only chance to get together with old friends. But I don't want to make a production over getting people together, and I don't want to leave Lynne out, who is picking me up from IAH and sharing The Old Parsonage B&B House in Kemah with me. We'll see. Lynne has already told me she's going primarily for me and wants a tour of my childhood/teenagehood through the old neighborhood. Having been back in front of the old home place, with its boarded up windows and all the missing trees, I'm not sure how much worse it will be post-Ike. Sunday, who lived behind me on Sageway and STILL lives in that house tells me the backyard is all filled in and virtually a dump. And yet, part of me is dying to ring the doorbell and ask if I can just walk through one more time.

I don't know why this weekend feels like a chance to reconnect to a place I may never return to. Maybe it's just my melodramatic side, but I seem to want to embrace it.

Now that I think about it, I'm trying to come up with a list of the places I will take her to. What's still there? What can I no longer find? If it were all still there the same way it used to be, I'd like to go on a bike ride along the back roads up to Thompson and along the ditch under the power lines to the 7-11 where I bought cheeseburgers out of the deli case, warmed them up in the microwave, bought gum in the shape of cheeseburgers (even in the styrofoam looking square package) and then consumed said junk food before biking back. We'd eat pizza at Vaudeville, maybe even make our own pies like I did when I was a girl scout. And we'd eat in the dark along those long tables watching the big screen projection screen showing old 3 Stooges episodes and cartoons.

We'd go back to the back of Sagemont, all the way back to Skate Ranch, in view of the strange little HUD building where we had our girl scout meetings, where we'd hang out and skate in an endless circle to late 70s music under the sparkly disco ball, except when it was couples only skate, when we'd eat junk food and talk jealously about all the couples out there holding hands.

We'd go swimming at the pool near Sagemont Baptist Church, when it hadn't abandoned the Baptist part of the name, where I took swimming lessons, even though I really learned everything about swimming from getting thrown in by my grandfather much earlier than that, and I might be brave enough to jump off the high dive with enough encouragement. Then again, I might tiptoe out to the edge and chicken out, which would be a lot more realistic if we're actually going back in time...

Texas Commerce Bank would be there, and the big truck that threw ice out into a congealed pile that we would try to pack into some semblance of a snow ball and then drink watered down hot chocolate and pretend and dream about one day living somewhere where snow was a reality.

Eventually, we'd make our way over to Almeda Mall and it would be bright and shiny and new. The big boat in the shoe store would be there and I'd climb up the rope masts as far as I could go. We'd toss pennies in the center fountain, and wander down to Woolworths for coffee and pie (because I am all grown up in the fantasy, too) and then browse through B. Dalton's bookstore. And since we never get full or fat in this fantasy either, we also hit Farrell's for ice cream.

I now see that the dead center of this entire nostalgic trip down memory lane is food. Can I eat my way back there?

Dobie would still be on Beamer and I'd show her the beloved bandhall, the cafeteria, Mr. Golenko's room, and Mrs. Rayburn's, and Mrs. Bray's. I could trace the path my car took out of that parking lot over to my boyfriend's house behind Beverly Hills junior high, or around to my best friend Marci's house, which were the two destinations almost all of the time when I didn't have to go home. Oh, and Stephanie's house, back over by that little MUD building again, showing her how easy it was to sneak out from her window to the main road.

In reality, we'll probably drive through streets and I'll tell stories, and then we'll get the hell out of there because it will be depressing and there just isn't enough time to bother with that nonsense. Bring on the sexy red dress, and good friends, and good food, and good music and dancing.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Birthday Blog

Today I am 39. No, really. At least this year it's true.

And I'm really digging the coming decade, if I'm lucky enough to get another 10 years. I'm not blind enough to believe I'm guaranteed another day, much less years, and that's really not morbid if you understand I'm quite looking forward to getting to the other side. "Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind."

Nick, who is 6'1 and still growing, and 5 of his football friends came trooping up the stairs to surprise me with a rousing, heavy bass rendition of Happy Birthday to You that made me laugh. These 6 giant guys FILLED my living room, but one look at them, and they're all such sweet kids. Ah, to be 16 again. Nick has recently fallen in love and these guys came over for what they termed "an intervention" because he's been spending all his time with his girlfriend and none with them. I had to tell him tonight, I get it. I remember being so ga-ga that even your friends get disgusted, try to go out on a double date, and just roll their eyes at the two of you because you don't want to do anything but stare goofily at one another. He smiled that sheepish grin and nodded and worked out a compromise. The two of them are going to meet the gang for a couple of rounds of bowling before cutting out on the excuse that it's my birthday. Parenthood just keep delighting me. I am incredibly blessed with two wonderful kids. Their birthdays are infinitely more interesting to me these days. But today was lovely. I still think everyone should get their birthday off each year, but what're ya gonna do? Between presents, sunflowers, hundreds of birthday wishes (thank you Facebook), lunch, and PIE, what more can a girl ask for?
Sunday, July 26, 2009

Memento Mori

Memento mori is the flip side of carpe diem and perhaps more challenging. I was reminded this morning of what is becoming one of the crystalized themes of how I understand life: remembrance is the key problem of being human.

It's been two years since I taught Hamlet, but for the previous 14 I taught the play seemingly nonstop. One ambitious summer when I was hungry for the good pay that comes with summer courses, I had three literature classes back to back to back. Those of you who've taken summer college courses will probably have one defining memory: those suckers are looooong. 2 hours every day for a month. So for 6 hours straight every day for a week I'd cover scenes from Hamlet, rewind, do it again for two more hours, rewind, do it a third time for three more hours. By the end of that week I hated him. I was lobbying for Hamlet to meet Nike and just do it so he wouldn't stand around yammering for so damn long, scene after scene.

Of course, the philosophical side of me prevailed, but I never again did three of the same classes in a 6 hour stretch in any given summer. You just have to protect both sanity and love for Hamlet.

Alright, I've wandered away from the point (again.) and am ready to get back to it: Hamlet, like life, is primarily about remembrance. It's the ghost's last command as he returns to purgatory and it's the command Hamlet struggles with throughout the play and, in the end, ultimately fails quite miserably at.

The Ghost is plain in his description that he is forbidden to share (clever boy) when he speaks of his confinement to fast in flames of fire until his sins are burnt and purged away. He comes up from the depths of the stage in the production, not from on high. That Shakespeare is writing this and having it performed in the midst of a power struggle most unfriendly to any public suggestion that Catholic purgatory exists is quite fantastic. The ghost wants Hamlet to kill his uncle and leave his mother along to her own guilty conscience, but what he wants most is his last command: remember me.

And then Hamlet promptly and repeatedly forgets. In the end, when he's finally managed to kill his uncle and care a bit about his mother, who is collateral damage in the carnage, we don't hear a PEEP from him about his father. It's all about Prince Hamlet, not the King. The Branagh Hamlet version, full-text with all its warts, does a lovely job at the end having the King's statue struck to the ground in pieces to reiterate the final failure.

Hamlet came to me in church this morning, when the young man tasked with leading the communion began to read the familiar passage, This do in remembrance of me. But He knew we wouldn't, couldn't, not for long and never very well. So while I was contemplating this during communion, one of my favorite Memento Mori poems, in its loose terza rima, arrived unbidden but quite welcome:

When I was twelve, I chose Dante's Inferno
in gifted class—an oral presentation
with visual aids. My brother, il miglior fabbro,

said he would draw the tortures. We used ten
red posterboards. That day, for school, I dressed
in pilgrim black, left earlier to hang them

around the class. The students were impressed.
The teacher, too. She acted quite amused
and peered too long at all the punishments.

We knew by reputation she was cruel.
The class could see a hint of twisted forms
and asked to be allowed to round the room

as I went through my final presentation.
We passed the first one, full of poets cut
out of a special issue of Horizon.

The class thought these were such a boring set,
they probably deserved their tedious fates.
They liked the next, though—bodies blown about,

the lovers kept outside the tinfoil gates.
We had a new boy in our class named Paolo
and when I noted Paolo's wind-blown state

and pointed out Francesca, people howled.
I knew that more than one of us not-so-
covertly liked him. It seemed like hours

before we moved on to the gluttons, though,
where they could hold the cool fistfuls of slime
I brought from home. An extra touch. It sold

in canisters at toy stores at the time.
The students recognized the River Styx,
the logo of a favorite band of mine.

We moved downriver to the town of Dis,
which someone loudly re-named Dis and Dat.
And for the looming harpies and the furies,

who shrieked and tore things up, I had clipped out
the shrillest, most deserving teacher's heads
from our school paper, then thought better of it.

At the wood of suicides, we quieted.
Though no one in the room would say a word,
I know we couldn't help but think of Fred.

His name was in the news, though we had heard
he might have just been playing with the gun.
We moved on quickly by that huge, dark bird

and rode the flying monster, Geryon,
to reach the counselors, each wicked face,
again, I had resisted pasting in.

To represent the ice in that last place,
where Satan chewed the traitors' frozen heads,
my mother had insisted that I take

an ice-chest full of popsicles—to end
my gruesome project on a lighter note.
"It is a comedy, isn't it," she said.

She hadn't read the poem, or seen our art,
but asked me what had happened to the sweet,
angelic poems I once read and wrote.

The class, though, was delighted by the treat,
and at the last round, they all pushed to choose
their colors quickly, so they wouldn't melt.

The bell rang. Everyone ran out of school,
as always, yelling at the top of their lungs,
The Inferno fast forgotten, but their howls

showed off their darkened red and purple tongues.

-- Diane Thiel, "Memento Mori in Middle School"

Saturday, July 25, 2009

feet in the water: a quick photo history

The last post got to me to thinking about how long I've been pluging my feet in cold mountain streams over the years. I want to say this was on one of our first trips up to the Rocky Mountains, in 1974, but I already had the drill down.

Mammammy never trusted that I wasn't going to go falling to my death in those streams. I don't guess it helped that she never learned how to swim, but she held on anyway.

I came by it honest. Mom loves doing this too.

One of the last mountain trips we took when I was still at home, in 1984. After that, things got busy with high school, then college, then out on my own, so this was the last time I'd find myself in the Rocky Mountains for two decades. We went early that year and the river was REAAAALLLLY cold, as you can tell by my typically newbie toe touching move here.

Flash forward 20 years and I finally get my feet back in those streams on our trip to Santa Fe in 2004, with the next generation in tow. It was too long a break, for sure. I'm so thankful I get to do this every summer now. It makes my toes tingle to just think about it.

the hike today

Lower Gold Camp road, one of many small trail heads we'd passed on our mountain drives, finally got us to stop and check it out. Now, on normal, smart hikes, you need to start early in the morning if you're going to get there and back again before noon, when the uncertain mountain weather, especially at high altitudes, can kill you. Now, we're not all that high and our trek is just hike til your ready to turn back ones most of the time, so we'd already broken the start early rule and didn't get going until 11:00.

This was my turn back point shot. We'd lost everyone along the way who decided to wait for our descent, except Dad and me. And as it turns out, we'd just followed the dry creek bed, NOT the trail, straight up, instead of what is sure to be a more reasonable hike on a well marked trail. Instead, we were doing grades of 50% in places. Between the thin mountain air and high noon, this hike was a fantastic workout.

Me and my impromptu walking stick pose at the end of the worst of the decent. I wouldn't have made it without him!

Some of my favorite moments are the rest stops in the shade, looking up through those straight, dark trees.

The July colors are not as majestic as the earlier summer blooms, but they are the hardiest of the bunch and are always a joy to discover in the meadows between the rocky terrain.

But my favorite part has always been the streams. After a hard hike there is NOTHING better in this world than to dip your feet snow melted streams and let them go a little numb. Ahhhhh.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Some things never change

Loves naps.

Loves playing in the rain.

Love animals (and always feeds strays).

Loves books (and green grass and shade trees).

And still gives you this look.
Thursday, July 23, 2009

of Saltsmans

This is one of my favorite pictures of my great grandaddy, John, his wife Lessie, my grandfather Pearson, and all his siblings. He's the tall boy, far left. Beside him is Price, who descended into his own private hell and landed in the asylum. John is holding the youngest, Baby Edith who was never well and died at 19. Between his mother and father is Wilson, the only other Saltsman to have descendents. Then there is Lessie, who died of ovarian cancer because John refused to let her have a hysterectomy, is holding Travis, killed at age 11 when a train hit the ice truck his brother Price had been driving before it stalled on the tracks. Price escaped, but never recovered. Far right is my beloved Aunt Laverne, who had only one stillborn child, but doted on me as her great niece. I will never forget firing her pearl handled Colt 45, her cussing, her blind German Shepherd Buddy, bouncing around in the back of her 50s era Ford truck. But I digress. Which is entirely the point of my blog.

of Saltsmans
My great-great-uncle, Dan Saltsman, of Birmingham, Alabama, undertook to sketch out what he knew of the Saltsman line in 1956/1957. What follows is his recounting of my father's family line:

The name "Saltsman" reaches far back in European History. The family of William Saltsman had lived in the Rhine River Valley for generations. William and family came over the Atlantic in the Steamer Edinsburg on Sept. 16, 1751 and settled in Clinton County, Pennsylvania.

His three sons, George, Anthony, and Phillip served in the Army under General George Washington. George was killed in action; Anthony and Phillip survived the Revolution and brought up families in Pennsylvania.
Phillip Saltsman's eldest son, Martin (1781-1849) is buried in New Somerset M.E. Church Cemetary, Jefferson Co. Ohio. His youngest son, Daniel, was born in 1812.

Daniel Saltsman, age 18, took up work as an engineer on the steamboat "Mary Swan" as she put in on the upper Ohio River at Pittsburg in 1830. Her main work was between Mobile and Montgomery on the Alabama river.
During this time a group of Dutch immigrants arrived at the Port of Mobile from Holland. They were seeking earlier Dutch who had established a gold mine and sought passage on the "Mary Swan" to reach it.

One Miss Mary Fables, age 17, of that company elected not to continue on with her family but take up work at a restaurant in Montgomery where one Daniel Saltsman often visited when his boat pulled into port.
"He spent his off days in Montogmery where they spent many happy hours in each other's company. He taught her most all the English that she ever knew."

[One of my favorite descriptions here]"She was efficient, nice, and always dressed immaculately; she was respectful, for she had been brought up as a Catholic in her homeland."

She married Daniel and had two children, Agnes and "Freddie" and continued her work as manager of the restaurant for years. A working mother in such days!

Daniel, however, grew restless with his work aboard the Mary Swan and elected to take up work designing and overseeing the building of a "Mill and Gin" for a wealthy plantation owner in Coneuch (sp?) County. While away from his family, he met and fell in love with a young 15 year old by the name of Miss Haney Kennedy, a member of the county's oldest and most prominent family.

Mary Fables Saltsman was granted a certificate of separation on the grounds of desertion and moved to Shelby County where she and her son Fred owned and operated a Restaurant and General Store for a number of years before selling out at a profit to move closer to her Fables relatives in Tallapoosa Country.

She bought 160 acres and she and Fred planted a vinyard. They made wine "of the very finest vintage. Wine merchants from Montgomery bought every gallon, because it had the European flavor."

Mary and Fred lived quite happily until the "War between the States" broke out in 1861. Louis Frederick Saltsman, born May 9, 1843, had turned 18 that year and thus took up the call from President Jefferson Davis and joined the 14th Alabama Regiment of Volunteers as a private. He was wounded at the Battle of Fredricksburg but survived the war to return home and marry Miss Martha A. Davis who bore him four children and then died.

Left alone with four small children, he soon married again to one Mrs. Mary Gamble Davis, a widow with three small children of her own. Thus the couple started the marriage with seven children and Mary bore Fred another ten children from their union.

The eldest of these ten was John Frederick, born January 22, 1879. His grandmother, Mary Fables Saltsman, died a month after his first birthday on Feb. 17, 1880. Louis Frederick Saltsman died March 4, 1904 when John Frederick was 25 and his mother and 9 younger siblings were left without a breadwinner.

His grandfather, Daniel Saltsman, was buried in Evergreen, Alabama in 1864 where he left his second wife and their ten children. The two Saltsman families, one in Tallapoosa County, the other in Monroe Country, had no knowledge of each other until the Spring of 1929.

John Frederick's birth in 1879 was welcomed by his seven half-siblings and soon John was working hard on the farm alongside them while every two years another Saltsman baby was added to the mouths to feed. His older half-brothers left home very young [hmm, wonder why?] and John put in a full's day work alongside his dad.

When the farm work was done in the fall, John attended school until the beginning of March when corn was planted. "However, it is to be thought commendable of him when he had the opportunity to attend school, though he had to walk miles to school, he never missed a lesson or was tardy a day."

By the time John was 15, his father had hired him out for $5 a month to help supplement the family's meager income. The $15 he earned from his first three months salary purchased the family milk cow, which was a godsend in particular to his frail half-brother Jeff, the only one still at home, who could only have milk and eggs in his diet. When the doctor's collector came to collect for Jeff's medical bills, he was paid with the cow and her calf. He then worked a year for F.M. Nelson at Sanford Bridge for $8 a month, all of which went to his father's farm, and then the next year at $10 a month plus board for John Sassar, again sending every penny home.

The year after, he went to work at a saw mill earning 85 cents a day and was able to finally save a little of his earnings for himself. He and his best friend, L.B. Yates, took a trip to Corsicana, Texas, arriving on December 31, 1902 to work for L.B.'s relative, rancher Wallace Brown, making $15 a month. At age 18, John fell in love with Texas and the freedom from the family farm and he resolved to build his future here. "Alas! In less than a year, chills and fever (malaria) seized him; his health failed; reluctantly, he returned to his home in Alabama."

He continued to work tirelessly for the large Saltsman clan, renting land nearby and producing a large crop. But a tornado ripped through in late summer that year, destroying his hopes. The next spring, working as a sharecropper, word came of his daddy's death, dropping the the fields of a heart attack, leaving no income and no prospects for a crop on the family farm.

John moved back home to assume the head of household and took a second job at the gold mine. They took in boarders at the house, where his six younger siblings still lived, to pay off the mortgage, and had good crops in 1904 and 1905 so that they could improve the buildings on the farm and invest in better tools for planting. The youngest of the Saltsman 10 was little Dan, age 8, [who would undertake to write this history down some 50 years later.]

John, now aged 26, hired a man named Barker to run the farm so that he could get married to Miss Alma Lessie Pearson, 19, of Bluff Springs in 1905. "They fell hard for each other; he was a handsome young fellow, slightly tall, had dark curly hair, sky blue eyes and a fair complexion. He had a most pleasant smile for everybody. She was slightly tall, dark wavy hair, large blue eyes, and had a fair complexion. She had a most beautiful and pleasant personality."

In 1916, the year war against Germany was declared, the young couple decided to revive John's dream of making a life in Texas, where Lessie's family had already moved. They arrived in Mart, Tx. with $500 in his pocket and six children: Pearson, LaVerne, Wilson, Price, Edith, and Travis. [my grandfather, great-aunts and great-uncles]

John worked as a share-cropper for seven years, finally earning enough to buy a small farm down by the Navasota river above Fort Parker Lake, about five miles from the oil town of Mexia. [My daddy now owns this property.] John ran a fishing camp on his farm "the most famous and popular fishing camp in central Texas from Dallas to Houston. All fishermen, from Ennis to Palestine, Texas come and fish at Saltsman's fishing camp on the Navasota River."

[We now return you to Tori's account of events, as told to her by her dad]

The fishing camp was still going in 1957, when Dan wrote his memoirs of his big brother and father figure, John, and their ancestors. He makes mention at the end of the tragedies of the family, including the death of John's youngest son, Travis, although without many details.

It seems Travis and Price, ages 12 and 17, were hauling ice through the county, selling it as they could, when the truck stalled as it crossed the train tracks. As a train approached, Price, driving, leapt from the truck, but Travis did not. What happened exactly is lost to us, but Travis' death profoundly affected Price, who descended into alcoholism and mental illness. A story my Daddy tells is one of John going to visit his adult son Price who was a patient in the State Hospital. It was the middle of the sweltering summer. John wore a suit, of course, but the suit he owned was made of wool and by and by he decided to take off his pants that were itching and burning intolerably during that long and, of course, unairconditioned, drive. Of course, the car was speeding and was pulled over by an officer who discovered old John in nothing but his underwear.

Edith, the younger of John's girls, was born sickly and died of a heart ailment before she was 21. That left Pearson, LaVerne, and Wilson as the children who would marry. LaVerne devoted herself to taking caring of John in his old age, living in another house on the farm until nearly her 90th birthday. I have many fond memories of visiting her there myself, playing down by the river, of her old, blind German Shepherd Buddy who was my companion. Aunt Laverne let me fire her pearl handeled pistol and ride in the back of the pickup across the land. She didn't take crap from anybody and she's the only family member I can remember hearing cussing. I loved her. She married George Bozeman and they stayed on the farm. Their only child was stillborn and is buried in the Fort Parker cemetary next to them. John, Lessie, Travis, Price, and Edith are all buried alongside them as well.

Dan's memoirs make mention of a late-in-life second marriage by John to another woman. He very delicately suggests she decided soon after that farm life was not for her. The truth is, LaVerne spotted her for a gold-digger and ran her off. Dad also recounts the death of Lessie, his grandmother, was due in large part to John's refusal to allow her to get surgery for her ovarian cancer because he thought it would "ruin" her for him. I try to balance these facts with the glowing portrait Dan paints.

Pearson, the eldest son, is my grandfather, who married Lometa Hayes, and had my aunt, Dorothy, and then, some 12 years later, my father, Frederick Pearson. Wilson is the only other Saltsman from this clan who has descendents out there, although I know little about them, apart from his sons' names: John and Dan, and that they lived in Temple. My Aunt Dot has passed on, as has her son, Walt, which leaves me with one cousin, Christie, who has four beautiful sons and lives in Austin with her husband Thom.

I was the only child of Fred, and have thus ended the Saltsman name at marriage. The only remaining Saltsman names from this genealogy are now through Wilson's two sons.

It is humbling to look back, to know a bit about a family name that is quietly closing after such a long run.

I shall leave you with one last passage from the closing of Dan's memoirs. Apparently his 1955 visit to the family farm before returning to Alabama was capped with a family supper that was attended by all the clan. My father would have been 9 years old:

There was a huge platter of Southern brown fried chicken, at least four in number; a large bowl of brown gravy; a large bowl or boiler full of tender string beans cooked in a pool of hog fat; another large bowl of fresh Irish potatoes emerged [sic] in butterfat; a bowl of potato salad; bowls of green English peas and dried beans; every kind of pickles -- peach cucumbers, both sweet and sour. On top of all, there was a sugar pan of dewberry pie for dessert.