Ripples in Time

On Saturday morning, my husband suggests we go to an out-of-the-way farmer’s market. We get there before they open, but he says “there are things to look at” and we continue down the road. I smile and nod. I’m along for the ride.

He points out a trap shooting place where he went as a kid and reminds me of the restaurant that burned to the ground. Several miles later we pull in to a conservation area where he used to fish.

“We came here even in winter because the water was always open.”

I ask, “Why didn’t it ice over?”

“They have bubblers,” he tells me. “You’ll see.

We park and walk down a gravel road along the “ditches” as the signs call them. He gestures to a row of wooden posts sticking out of the water.

“There were docks on those where we could stand and fish on all sides.”

Bubblers, like tiny fountains, send rings of ripples out around them. “See?” He points.

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We come to a patch of soft ground and spot paw prints.

“Looks like a big dog,” he says.

“Or a cougar,” I guess.

Another set of prints is clearly a racoon.

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He spots a fish making its own set of smaller ripples at the surface, but it’s the only one he sees. No one is here fishing on a Saturday morning, a sure sign that the catfish and crappie are gone. Further on, the ditches open into the Illinois River, where Asian Carp have taken over, dangerously lowering the native species.

A concrete boat ramp sits partially out of the water, skewed at an angle.

“I think this is where we used to launch our boat.”

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As we walk back, he kicks the gravel. “We used to find arrow heads along here, but they’ve probably built this road up with trucks of gravel several times since then.”

As he leans over to point to a tiny frog, it takes off with a powerful foot-long leap into the weeds.

We pull out and head down the road. Looking back, he says, “I must have fished here a hundred times, even though it’s a long drive.”

My childhood home is a city, hours away, so I don’t often run across people and places that bring back those early memories. The manmade landscape has changed many times over in urban renewal. I tend to reminisce about people, their words and how they felt.

His stories are activities: a neighborhood wiffle golf ball tournament, playing baseball where the library is now, and burying treasure in a friend’s backyard. The locations surround us as we live mere miles from where he grew up.

My recollections are moments pinned to a timeline of my life, emotional events that shaped me, as the lead, and the other roles in my story. There are moments of precious friendship, heartbreak, grief, joy, and loss, each one complete with characters and plot, even if the setting’s space is a little fuzzy.

His stories are fixed in place, literally the locations where they occurred. Each adventure is a spot on a map of his childhood, with episodes reoccurring to him as we drive past them in the present.

Our memories of our time together are parallel. He knows when the furnace was put in, when the trees were planted, when our daughters’ cars might need service, even though they live in different states. Mine is a memory of important events: first declarations of love, our daughters’ births and milestones, vacations, graduations, life lessons. He can find spots visited only once. I can find items others have lost in the house. Together we keep the structure of our home and lives in place.

The memories link like the water to the river, endless ripples flowing on.

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The Change

I had a major insight last week. I’m in old lady puberty.

I imagine you don’t believe me. Just hear me out.

Once upon a time I was a child. Then puberty hit with acne, greasy hair and a sleep shift. Parts of my body got wider, others got smaller, but I didn’t get much taller. My little girl’s body was transformed into a functional woman. Maybe not mentally, but when it was over I was physically a grown-up. It took me awhile, but I was comfortable in my own skin.

This round is not so different. I’m ending that period (so to speak) of child-bearing womanhood and entering my advancing years. Again, my body is changing to fit the role. Besides the sagging even in places that never would have occurred to me, I have the classic tummy that every fiftyish woman I know complains about. Who knew fat could migrate? My genes are allowing my hair to gray very slowly and the wrinkles to show up mainly around my eyes. This time around, my skin and hair are dry, but sleep is again an issue.

If I could adjust to the changes of adolescence, I’m betting I can do it again. After all, I’m short. So that means I’ll be a little old lady. I’ll bet at some point you looked at a little old lady and thought she was adorable. Hopefully it was out of affection and not belittlement, but either way, I’m going to say cuteness is a plus.

Think of it as metamorphosis. Childhood is like the egg, making adulthood the caterpillar. Guess who gets to be the butterfly?

More evidence that this transformation is happening is that wherever I go, there is widespread chivalry. Men leap to open doors for me. And not just men my age. Young men too. So it’s not my sex appeal here. Apparently, I look like I need help.

I’m not really helpless. I plan to head into my “golden years” active and vibrant. There’s nothing that says old people can’t be in shape. I already eat well. I just need to up my activity. But then puberty didn’t make me into a completely different person the first time.

I’ve known elderly women who were cheerful do-gooders, organizers of the community. Others were bitter snipes or skittish mice, everybody’s grandma or the life of the party. Each of them was just a stronger version of their more youthful selves. My out-spoken self is becoming more assertive with the years. I doubt my little old lady persona will be quiet.

As I enter this last third of my life, I’m much more self-aware and much less self-conscious than I was during the first transition. It’s good to be at a point in my life where I am secure in love, friendship, and self-assurance. I like knowing what I enjoy and what I’m happy to leave behind. This round of puberty may slow me down, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. I have enjoyed every phase of my life, each one bringing new adventures, joy and challenges. This most recent phase was a good one, but bring on the transformation. It’s time for another change.

With Reason

 

My little brother wanted a pair of sandals. Our older sister warned him that none of his friends wore them and they would make fun of him. My mother took him shoe shopping and sure enough, he came home wearing a pair of blue leather sandals.

I was waiting on the porch when they got back. Looking at his blue clad feet, I laughed. “They’ll tease you.”

As he ran to take them off, my mother turned to me, her teeth clenched so tightly she could barely talk. “Think before you speak.”

The nuanced difference of prewarning versus post-laughing was lost on me, but her anger came through. This wasn’t the first or the last time my mom told me that. Sometimes it was said with a sigh. She probably said it daily when I was in my early teens and regularly challenging my dad. Eventually it sunk in.

It’s hardest to curb my tongue with those closest to me. My daughters say I’m brutally honest. But I’ve made progress.

I hear Mom’s voice as I speak to my students. As I stand before a kid who failed his assignment, disrupted the class, and got in a fight at recess, I barely bite back, “What’s wrong with you?”

Instead I take a deep breath. The consequences can come later. Right now, calm is needed. “What’s going on?”

I hear her clearly when I get ready to comment on social media. The post is so slanted I can’t believe anyone would buy it. Yet they have shared it with the rest of us. I want to scream, “Fake news!”

Instead I pause and hit Delete rather than Send and scroll past. Not worth it.

And some of the other things I see? Privacy settings and common sense go a long way. Think before you post. Advice for a new age.

My mother is gone now. I can guess how Mom would see the current political and social climate. In the five years since she died, millions of words have been written that give one side or the other support for what they already believe. It’s become strangely acceptable to shout your opinions, simply getting louder if someone disagrees. The answer to evidence that makes your guy look bad is dissemblance. “Oh yeah? Well, your group is worse,” is not elegant discourse. But I believe the spin masters do think before they speak. Their words are deceptive and hurtful by design, not by thoughtlessness. The rule is not infallible.

Our leader however is a different matter. What comes to his head seems to go straight to his tapping fingers. I know what Mom would say. If I could tell the president just one thing, it would be think before you tweet.

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I entered Super Challenge #5 on Yeahwrite.me. This was my Round One piece and I made it to Round Two! The prompt was to write a personal essay about “a phrase that gets stuck in your head.” Here’s what the judges had to say about my piece.

What the judges really liked about With Reason:

 

  • My favorite scene is the sandal scene; it’s rich in emotion, detail, and it feels real. Well done.
  • You did a good job using the prompt in a consistent way throughout the piece.

 

Where the judges found room for improvement:

  • The essay ends abruptly, and when it veers from personal anecdotes, it seems to lose focus. This is especially true after the line “Advice for a new age.”
  • This essay would benefit from expanding on the detail especially with regard to that last paragraph which makes perfect sense in the context of the essay topic but just kind of lands there at the end with little tie in to what came before.

Plant Chat

This morning I read a Discover magazine article about plant communication and the first thing I wondered was what Mr. D would think of it.

Flashback 40+ years –

“My plants grow better when I talk to them,” my friend M asserted.

Mr. D pursed his lips and peered at her skeptically through his glasses. The eighth-grade enrichment class was called Anthropology and most of the time he kept us on the study of man. But occasional diversions were allowed.

A few of us came to M’s aid.

“Maybe it’s the carbon dioxide in her breath,” I suggested.

“Maybe it’s the vibrations from her voice,” another girl proposed.

Mr. D folded his arms. He said we could test our ideas tomorrow before class.

The next morning M brought in one of her plants and Mr. D, who taught high school chemistry the rest of the day, produced a galvanometer. He attached the two alligator clips to leaves and checked the gauge.

For several minutes three girls stood around the plant, saying whatever came into our heads. The needle didn’t move.

“It might not be a big enough effect,” he allowed. “Try yelling.”

We all started yelling in our high girlish voices. Still nothing.

Suddenly, Mr. D bellowed in his booming voice, “Come on, you ignoramus!”

And the needle twitched.

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Now today I read that plants communicate, telling other plants things that they need to know. There is a drought coming. Look out for the aphids! Just like us, they are more likely to talk to family than strangers, recognizing the difference both chemically and with their light receptors. A Venus Flytrap can even count. Who knew?

There was nothing in the article about interspecies communication. Sadly, Mr. D is gone. But if he were still alive, I’d like to call him.

“Hey Mr. D,” I’d say. “How about another experiment?”

 


 

Unhappy Camper

My mother and I walked the three blocks to the meeting place that Friday afternoon. I wore my usual jeans, sneakers, and a light jacket, all suitable for Girl Scout camping in the spring. My mother, volunteering as a chaperone, wore her light blue trench coat and one of the few pairs of pants she owned. She sniffed and dabbed at her running nose with a tissue in one hand, while the other arm clutched her bedroll and her sack supper that she’d put in a beaded shopping bag made of pink plastic netting, with handles for easy carrying.

My back tensed as we approached the gathering group of girls and our leader, nicknamed Nuke. I was only still in Girl Scouts as a seventh grader because of Nuke. She made meetings fun, took us to camp, was stern when needed, but genuinely seemed to like hanging out with a bunch of adolescent girls. I set my bedroll down next to her daughter, Missy.

“Your mom came,” Missy said.

“Yeah.” My shoulders slumped.

“I love your mom. She’s so nice.” Missy smiled.

I looked toward Mom, standing talking to Nuke, her blond head leaning in toward Nuke’s brown pinned-up braid. I loved my mom too. But at home. Not out camping for the first time in her life, with her pink beaded shopping bag. I sighed. Maybe it would be all right.

It was almost dark by the time the bus dropped us off at camp. We dropped our sack suppers on a picnic table. Then we paired up to head to our tents scattered in the woods and lay out our bedrolls before the last of the light faded. My friend and I brushed leaves and dirt off the wooden floor of the tent and were about to head out to eat when we heard a screech. It sounded an awful lot like my mother.

I rushed toward her voice. There was my mom, looking up in a tree and yelling.

“Hey! Give that back!”

Above her, the pink shopping bag dangled from a branch, while a raccoon reached inside, grabbing bits of her sandwich.

The raccoon won. Nuke and I shared our dinner with Mom and our group settled around picnic tables to eat. We sat around talking, but soon Nuke sent us to bed. The real fun of camping would start early.

The next morning, we started a fire, cooked pancakes for breakfast, cleaned up, and hiked in the woods. Nuke supervised, but the work was ours. One of the girls blared a transistor radio playing top 40’s music as we washed up. I waited for Mom to ask her to turn it down, but she said nothing.

The day flew by. That night I breathed a sigh of relief as we sat beneath the stars around a crackling fire, making s’mores and singing camp songs.

“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me….”

The weekend was almost over and no more Mom catastrophes.

Sunday morning after breakfast we sat in the sun with the radio blaring again, while we waited for the bus to pick us up. Mom cocked her head listening.

“You know, some of this music isn’t bad.”

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Now that I’m well on the other side of being the embarrassing mom, I see that weekend from a different perspective.

I asked my introverted, book-loving Mom once why she went on that camping trip, when she was so clearly out of her element.

She shrugged. “They needed a volunteer.”

Now I look back and see the lilacs blooming that my mother was horribly allergic to. She dressed for the trip the best way she could. These were the clothes she had and money wasn’t plentiful. The goofy pink bag made sense. It was hard to carry everything and blow your nose at the same time.

That weekend she shared a tent with Nuke, who didn’t like the way the bugs clung to the roof for warmth. So, they slept with all four flaps rolled to the top all night and Mom froze.

She had grown up in an era and town where they used an outhouse until midway through her childhood. Mom valued indoor plumbing.

She tolerated an eye-rolling daughter, a crowd of noisy girls, and two bone-chilling nights in a tent, argued with a racoon, and turned a new ear to music. She volunteered because the trip I so wanted to go on would not happen unless a second adult could come along.

Mom camped for the one and only time in her life because she loved me.

Marketing

Recently I strolled through the Saturday Market in Portland, Oregon, dodging crowds and window-shopping my way along the rows of booths. I passed a whirl of color. Shades of brown marked designer cutting boards. Prints and paintings broadcast a rainbow of hues. Jewelry sparkled in silver, bronze and gold. Clothing was displayed in brilliant azure, scarlet, auburn, and emerald green. But the glass! There were bowls, vases, delicate pendants and full stained-glass windows that glowed technicolor in the sun. One vendor hung long brass spirals from a frame on the back of his truck, with a blown glass ball in each that seemed to hold a cloud of colored smoke. If it could have survived my flight home, I wouldn’t even have asked the price.

Except for the unending stream of people, it felt more like a visit to a special museum than a shopping trip. There were kitschy souvenirs too, as well as lotions, oils, and food carts, but so much of what I saw was pure art.

As I walked, I wondered about the artists themselves. Did they make a living at this? Did they have day jobs and pursue their dreams in stolen moments? A few worked at their craft while they waited for customers, but most sat looking out at the crowds, staring down at their phones, or rearranging their creations.

In this age of automation and mass production, I admire the artisans that create these works of art and then wait, as a world of people whirl past their wares. I envy that artistic talent, but writing is a talent, right?

I have a friend that I occasionally show my work to. She reads, then looks up at me with a flattering expression of wonder. “Why aren’t you a writer?”

While I think of myself as a writer who blogs, I know what she’s trying to say. She wonders why writing isn’t how I make my living.

Walking through the Saturday Market, I found an answer for her. Being talented among your peers isn’t the same as standing out among the millions who write every day. But even if your genius is unmatched, writing as creating is only one piece of the puzzle. The other piece is selling your wares. The author equivalent of sitting outside every weekend waiting for customers is doing research, finding your market and maybe an agent, composing queries, sending manuscripts and not hearing for weeks or months whether anyone even read past the first page, and, if you do make a sale, promoting it endlessly on social media.

I like to think I’m a writer, but I’m not fond of sales. I’ll never say never. But in the meantime, I decide when and what I write. My blog gives me the joy without the pain. And you, dear reader, are welcome to window-shop whenever you like.

Reflection

A couple of weeks ago, I went swimsuit shopping. Aside from the horrible dressing room lighting, I wasn’t worried. I planned to get a similar one to my old suit, which looked like a tank top and shorts.

But somehow all the similar suits bared some parts and squeezed others, till all I saw were the faults in my body.

Around this time, my family sent each other photos from a recent family reunion. One picture showed me from the back, sitting on a bench looking over my shoulder. My eye was drawn to the gap between my shirt and shorts, my width on the bench, the odd way my shirt bunched under my arm. I sighed.

I have two lovely adult daughters. In photos, my visually artistic daughter insists on multiple takes, planning each beautiful picture’s composition, pose and background. On the other hand, my high-spirited extrovert wants photos that are authentic and spontaneous. Often her sense of humor comes through in the faces she makes and the poses she strikes.

What do I want photos to say about me?

I have an early memory of being a small child sitting on my grandmother’s lap. I played with the flap of wrinkled skin at the back of her upper arm. I traced the veins on her hands and wiggled her wedding ring, loose on her finger below her larger knuckle. I remember these “faults” with the memory of a child. There was no judgement. These were simply facets of my beloved grandmother.

What I want in photos is to smile like a woman satisfied with herself and life. I want to love my body like a future grandchild. I appreciate my brain that still holds memory, my legs that still propel me forward, my hands that hold the ones I love and record these thoughts. I looked back at the photo. What I missed the first time was my smile. I looked relaxed and happy to be with people I love.

Before I left the store, I took one more suit to the changing room. This one was a one-piece with a skirt. Putting it on, it looked almost like a short sundress, and, miracle of miracles, I still had a waist. I smiled at my reflection. Sold!

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My Human Hard Drive

They say marriage is falling in love and promising till death us do part. It’s being parenting partners and partners in life. My husband has been all of these to me. But the function I’ve been appreciating more and more lately is when he is my human hard drive.

My husband is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to caring for the plants and trees in our yard, when the furnace needs a new filter, and how to get somewhere he drove once ten years ago. But he’s also my go-to for remembering words I can’t. I’ve always had a terrible memory for names. At this stage of my life, specific places and things get misplaced as well.

Just yesterday we went to a movie. In the ads before the movie started, I leaned over and whispered, “That guy looks like he could be the brother of the guy on that show. Josh Somebody, who tries to discover things.”

It was still bugging me when we stopped at a place for lunch. I asked if he knew who I meant.

“Sure, Josh Gates on Expedition Unknown.”

As conversation continued, we were trying to recall the last time we’d been to that restaurant. Was it last Christmas with my family?

“No,” I said. “I think we ate at the one by the airport. What’s the name of it?”

If I can’t remember the name of it, it’s pretty hard to talk about it. But he’s so used to my clues, he usually gets it.

He’s especially useful for celebrity monikers. When we’re choosing a show, he may ask, “Who’s in it?”

My reply is frequently something like, “I can’t think of her name. You know she was in the movie where she and her sister were witches and she used to be married to Tom Hanks – No! Cruise?”

Sometimes he waits to see if it will come to me, but eventually he’ll put me out of my misery and just tell me.

I’m not completely senile. If we met once five years ago and had a good conversation, I can remember that we met at the tire place and you told me about your stepson’s nephew’s gall bladder surgery. Just don’t expect me to recall your name.

If I really do develop dementia someday, it might be hard to tell. But I’ll bet my husband will be the first one who notices.

 

For a mushier view of marriage, read Valentine. If you’re hungry, try A Marriage of Meals.