*Honing One’s Craft

Hone (v). refine or perfect something over a period of time

My editor and writing consultant suggested that I start a blog to “hone my craft.” I figured she meant that I needed to sharpen my skills. You know learn creative ways to introduce content, like how to begin posts with definitions. Cause you know those definition introductions can be cute and engaging, but beginning a story this way could also be rather trite. I assumed this was the type of thing she wanted me to refine. Don’t judge. It’s the English teacher in me.

Similarly, a couple of writer friends suggested blogging as a way to sell my book. As it turns out, this is a lot more challenging than one can imagine. Especially because I’m not sure if I should do a hard sell, kwotedor an implicit sell. In a way, this too, includes honing one’s craft, as you have to cleverly use words to self-promote. And I’ve decided I don’t wanna necessarily be that blogger. Well, not all the time.

So I joined a couple of Blogging U classes.

Writing 201: Poetry helped me to hone my innovation. It lasted 14 days and I’d promised myself that I would participate each night and finish each challenge. Haikus, sonnets and acrostics got my left brain flowing. Do you know I even wrote a concrete poem shaped like a house that professed love for my toy poodle? Now, that’s some honing. These challenges helped though. I’ve even considered interspersing poetry throughout another book I’m writing. Equally important, Writing 201 introduced me to the blogging community at large and helped me to gain a bit of blogging confidence.

I figured that if I could do Writing 201, then surely Writing 101 would be just as breezy. I was wrong and I misread the directions. Instead of 14 days, this one lasted 21 days and occurred right at the end of my university’s semester. Still, I honed my niche: creative nonfiction. I practiced telling authentic stories without offending the other people who are involved. This is no easy feat. And I’m not entirely sure I’ve done well with this self-imposed task. But it’s something that I have to do well because I’ve only tipped the iceberg describing the people who have impacted my life, both negatively and positively. Again, all of this helped me wiggle a little farther into the blogging community.

Ultimately, I’m grateful that my editor suggested a blog to hone my craft. I’ve not only learned how to improve my writing, but I’ve also become a part of a group of supportive bloggers who seem to genuinely have one another’s best interests at heart.

*This was written as a part of the Creative Blogger nomination from Marquessa.

The Liebster Award: (drum roll please)

I would like to thank Marquessa from http://marquessamatthews.com/ for my nomination.

This was totally unexpected! But I’m excited to participate.

Here are my 11 nominees from the blogs that I am enjoying now due to the Writing 101 Challenge.
If by chance you have been recently nominated for this award, please pass along the kudos to other deserving bloggers. Some of my nominations might echo yours, but that’s cause they’re so awesome! I’ve chosen people who have been both supportive and who have also pushed me to become better writer (explicitly and implicitly).

My answers from Marquessa’s questions immediately follow and my new questions are last.

http://finkelsteinandsons.com/
https://kmcmcurtis7.wordpress.com/
http://allthatchatter.com/author/tolive4u/

http://prayyior.com/

http://pricelessjoy.co/

http://ishmusing.com/

http://mikestacey.com.au/

http://smileyyearwood.com/

http://idonthavethemap.com/

http://afthead.com/

http://dadojodest.com/

Answers to Marquessa’s questions:

Why did you start your blog? Initially, I started this blog because I wrote a book of quotes and my editor suggested that I blog, “not to sell your book, but to hone your craft.” At first, I thought I don’t have time to “hone my craft,” but I did Writing 201 and then 101 and now I understand exactly what she meant.

Besides your children and/or significant other, what has been your greatest accomplishment in life, big or small? Attaining my PhD is by far the greatest accomplishment in life. And it’s not for the reasons that people might think.I learned so much about life, energy, the law of attraction, patience, control, discipline that I don’t think I would have otherwise. It brought many unexpected lessons.
What is the most exotic destination you have been to or plan on going to?
Puerto Vallarta was pretty exotic. My husband and I went for our honeymoon 19 years ago. A few years back, we took a cruise to Jamaica and Grand Cayman. It wasn’t the same as flying to a destination and hanging out there, but it was pretty exotic, still.
Do you believe in love at first sight? Hmmm…I believe in energy at first feel. I think that you can feel as if you’ve known the person your whole life and that you’re supposed to be together and through that feeling, you fall in love…at first sight.

What is the greatest tip you have learned from another blogger? I have learned…from Marquessa – to take your time to tell a story, whether it be fiction or nonfiction.

If you could be the main character of a book or movie, who would you be? I would be Nina in the movie Love Jones.

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be? Be yourself chick! 100% of the time, be yourself. Those who like you, will do so because they actually know you and those who don’t, well, it’ll be okay.
What is the nicest thing that anyone has ever done for you?
My goddaughter expresses her gratitude for me all of the time. There are many times when I’ve returned home from work to find a mailed, thank-you card. It is usually completely filled with all of her thank-yous past and present. Every time I receive one, it warms my heart.
What piece of advice did you receive when you were younger, did not believe and now believe to be 100%e true?
“It’s not what you say. It’s how you say it.” I do believe that people will listen to anyone if their disposition is inviting and they have a bright, sunny smile. I don’t think it’s right, but I do believe that it’s true.

Take-out or home-cooked meal? Depends on the time of year. Holidays…home-cooked meal. Any other day (lol) take-out.

What’s your favorite television show right now? Super Soul Sunday – I’m not particularly religious and it gives me the freedom to believe what I believe without the doctrine associate with it.

OMGosh Marquessa! Thanks again for extending my experience even farther than I would have imagined.

KG’s Questions (first answer that pops into your head and then explain):

  1. Plastic or paper?
  2. Book before movie or movie before book?
  3. Oprah or Ellen?
  4. Writing in public or writing in your home?
  5. Married or single?
  6. Dog or cat?
  7. Healthy lifestyle or who cares?
  8. City or Suburbs?
  9. Limited choice or complete freedom?
  10. Rainy day or snowy day?
  11. Writing on a device or writing by hand?

Treasures

Pictures.

Those are what I treasure most. There’s no one image by itself that makes me tilt my head and utter that one familiar awww. But collectively, pictures are treasure troves.

Photos are so valuable for me that one year I was willing to pay thousands of dollars to retrieve them. It was 2001. Before digital was really a thing. My husband and I had moved from Naperville, Illinois back to Jacksonville, Florida. This time we decided to use a moving company. A moving company was convenient, but the unforeseen event was stressful. The movers held our belongings hostage. They wouldn’t deliver five years’ worth of our combined life unless we sent them extra money! Thousands of extra dollars.

“What are you so upset about?” My Zen-like husband asked.

This was when dropping off my 110 film cartridges to the nearest drug store was common practice. This was when mailing my film to an unknown location and then eagerly awaiting said development saved driving time.

“They have all of our memories,” I cried, “All of my pictures. I can’t get those back.”

In that box, were pictures of my husband and I before we were wife and hubby, before we were engaged to be, and before we even lived together. That clear box held pictures of my little cousins, when they were actually little and not about to graduate high school or have babies of their own. In that crate, were pictures of my own mom and dad on our one and only family trip to Disney World, swimming in pristine pools and foreshadowing my adult life. In that crate is life, immortalized.

How ttreasure1he situation was resolved is a blur. But they did deliver our belongings and all of my photos were among them. Before I knew it, I had my 73 quart clear box full of pictures where they belonged, safe and sound in my care.

Pictures are so important to me that I’ve given photo presents. For one of my cousin’s birthdays, I gifted her with a picture of her and me. It was a collage. On one side she held me as a baby. On the other side, she and I stood hugging when I was over 20. Two spaces and time captured our shared love.

My grannie used to throw elaborate birthday parties for my now, deceased grandfather. Once he died, she continued to give them as more of a commemorative experience. One Christmas, I gifted her with a framed collage of her years of summer gatherings. Pictures can kindle forgotten emotions. And I figured the least I could do for her, after she had put so much energy into each and every one of these celebrations was to honor them with a photo collection.

Pictures are so special that for my 40th birthday, I requested one thing from my husband. Well, I had many requests, but in terms of pictures, there was only one, “I don’t care what else is on the cake, but can you make sure this image of me from my sixth birthday is there?”

He forgot.

We were late to my own party because he had to return to the bakery and drop off the picture. treasure2Sounds a bit prima-donna-ish, but it had to be. Pictures represent tangible memories that remind you of who you were and how you got to be who you are. The self-reflexivity of me enjoying my sixth birthday cake  blowing out my 40th birthday candles, well that’s imagery. A reflection of a reflection.

Now I have children of my own. At first I was really good at taking pictures of them during those very important moments. Birthdays. Halloween. First day of school. Promotions. Then it happened. I think it was around the time that my oldest received her first phone. No longer did she want me to take her picture.

“C’mon,” I would prod. “Let me take a picture!”

The typical pre-teen response was a saddened, f-m-l pose. She was really great at these. Sometimes I thought people would judge my parenting based on these gloomy images. I soon realized that pre-teens and teens all over the globe replicate this very look, unless it’s on Instagram.

“You’re gonna look back on this and hate the fact that you didn’t smile,” I would warn.

She didn’t care.

She had even managed to desecrate the betrothed school picture! Every school picture from 2008 up to this current year reflects an unhappy face.

I digress.

My daughter wasn’t the only one taking cell phone pics. I had begun taking so many photos with my phone that I’d ditched my camera.

While my oldest daughter was repulsed by the idea of my taking pictures of her at any event, my youngest daughter earned the title, my selfie baby. Whenever I wanted to take a picture, she would grab the camera, tilt it a little at a high angle and press something on the side.

“Send that one to me,” she ordered.
“How did you do that?” I asked.
“Mommy. You don’t have to press the button in the middle. And you don’t need that timer thing. Just press here.” She showed me the volume button on the side of the phone.

And I instantly became a cool Gen Xer. In my mind. treasure3

I had ventured down the selfie, cell phone, let’s take a pic right now, right along with the rest of society. My most treasured thing had become everyone’s most treasured thing! Don’t get me wrong. I know I didn’t invent snapping photos or collecting them. That’s why photo albums were created. But this was sign number one for me. I had lost touch with what I loved so much about taking the picture in the first place.

Then one day this happened. “I wanted to make a photo collage for Dad of all of his grandchildren,” my sister-in-law announced. “Do you have any pictures of the girls I can put on there?”

It was 2011.

“They’re all on Facebook,” I answered.
“Are they on a flash drive or card?”
“Nope. Anything you need is on Facebook.”

That was sign number two that what I once treasured had gone amiss. A decade ago, there would be no problem finding and sending her a few photos. But in recent years, social media had turned from a great idea for sharing with so-called friends and intermittent family members to the only place I stored images. One day I printed these pictures. I was updating the photos that decorated our home. I was dismayed. Cell phone pictures are not quite the same as digital camera images, no matter how great the pixels are. Disappointment filled my picture-taking spirit. How would I re-create my daughter’s 12th birthday with fuzzy, pixelated images?

“I need a camera,” I announced to my husband.
“That’s what you want for Christmas?”
“Yep. A camera,” I repeated.

We visited Target. We browsed Best Buy. I found a Canon that I love. Now that everyone’s digital, so too are cameras. But even better, I can sync my camera with my cell phone. From there, I crop, change the lighting and even do fancy tricks, like record a video and then include a picture at the end. The 21st century is merged with the 20th century. And I’m back to collecting what I treasure the most.

Pictures.

To Whom it May Concern

Maybe we should care before the riots. It seems that riots are what cause upheaval and intense emotion. Like this latest one in Baltimore. People seemed concerned because a CVS was set afire. And others were worried about the senior citizen building that was ablaze. Did you see it? How could “they” do such a thing? Those poor buildings burned and it’s clear why this would provoke anger; those apartments were in the making since 2006. Clearly it will take a long time to re-build another structure. But how long will it take Fredericka, Freddie Gray’s twin sister, to re-build a life without her brother?

Maybe we should care before the police brutality. Perhaps before the inexplicable happened to Freddie Gray in the back of a squad car. Or before Mike Brown was executed and left for dead in the hot summer street. Prior to Eric Garner’s video-recorded, police chokehold. Before John Crawford was murdered for allegedly waving a toy gun around in a right-to-carry state. And well before the cop that shot Tamir Rice in front of his sister. After all, he was just a man-child, pre-pubescent. Yes. Maybe we should care before another police officer feels his life is threatened by an unarmed Black man.

Maybe we should care before the poverty. But I’m not quite sure how to accomplish that one. You see 23% of the total population lives below the Baltimore poverty line. That’s an urban city though. It’s typical. Did you know that Ferguson is considered a suburb? And that Missouri community has about 26% living below the poverty line? I know what you’re thinking. Why don’t they just get jobs? Why don’t they just pull themselves up like my dad, mom, grandma, grandpa? Like me? Why don’t they?

I’m sure if they could find employment, then they would. And their minimum wage jobs would prevent them from being killed like the useless parts of society that they seem to represent. But the fact here is, we’ll never know. We’ll never know if Freddie Gray could’ve worked his way out of poverty. Mike Brown’s mother will never realize her son’s community college dreams, which may have lifted him higher. Tamir Rice’s mother and sister won’t even get to see him graduate middle school, high school or college, much less understand how a job would shift his life’s purpose.

So maybe we should care before the riots, before the police brutality and before the poverty. Maybe we should be active, instead of reactive.

Be Grateful for the Experience

Be grateful for the experience
because with the experience comes a lesson.
And with the lesson comes growth.
And with growth, comes a new you.
Kwote #82 K E Garland

One valuable lesson that I’ve steadily learned over the years is that we each have our own unique experiences that make us who we are. Take myself for example. If you’ve read at least one of my posts, then you know by now that my mother died when I was 16. What you might not realize is the resentment that I often felt from simply being adopted by her.

Why would a person with a terminal illness adopt a baby?

This question resurfaced in my mind over and over again. I never wondered why she died. I never felt bitterness because she died. Instead, I wondered why, if she knew she was going to die would she adopt a baby?

My grandmother has retold the story of how my mother always wanted to provide a child with an enriching experience like hers. As it goes, my mom had such a great childhood that she wanted to give the same type of life to someone who might otherwise not have one.

But that never seemed to be a good enough reason. Shallow, I know. It took a bit of introspection, but the answer finally came to me. I had to stop viewing my mom as a person with an illness who adopted a baby. The description is too small. Instead, I began to view her as a caring, self-less person who decided to make love a priority. And because of her personality, I was fortunate enough to have a certain type of experience. Growing up, I never viewed her as dis-abled. My mother, though she lived with kidney disease, never used her illness as a crutch. In between her dialysis treatments, she lived a purposeful life. She was unafraid of people or experiences. In fact, she showed me that I could do whatever I wanted, if I just set my mind to it. This belief embodied my spirit and permeated my entire being. Still. And I’m convinced that my mother’s life and the sixteen years that she shared with me directly shaped who I am today.

My father, on the other hand, provided a different type of experience. With my mother, I felt the presence of unconditional love. With my dad, I felt an unexpected absence of affection and care. I’d always wondered why he didn’t just dig deep and finish raising me. The answer is simple: he couldn’t. And it’s okay. Though it’s a bit of a sad story, I’m grateful for what happened next. You can read about it here. Slowly, the disruption in our relationship led to an accumulation of unconscious feelings. I tried to replace his disaffection with achievements and other more unhealthy behaviors. But these didn’t work. Abandonment. Shame. Low self-worth. These emotions lived with me for two decades. I’ve begun referring to this period as my chrysalis of pain. In a healthy chrysalis, what’s inside is nourished, grows and emerges. Except, mine didn’t. A stilted caterpillar, I fed off of hurtful situations, until I became conscious and worked through each and every one. What I gained was a new perspective of my self. What surfaced was a woman who learned to live purposefully through self-love.

Today, I have equal gratitude for both experiences with my mom and dad. Because with the experiences came lessons. And with the lessons came growth. And with growth, came a new me.

Releasing the Fear of Death

I used to fear death. But not anymore. Today, I fear nothing.

I used to fear death because there was an unknown. I’m a planner. And there’s nothing worse for an agenda carrying, iPhone calendar-syncing girl than the unknown.

Death is about as unknown as you can get. Think about it. Who can really tell us what will happen after death? Sure, if you’re religious, then you’ll re-tell stories based upon what’s written in holy books. But you cannot say, unequivocally what will happen when you die. And it was because of this lack of information that I was afraid.

I used to frequent mediums quite a bit. They claimed they could speak to my spirit mother. I believed them. Not just because I wanted to believe them, but rather, because they would often re-tell information one could only know if they lived with me or in my head. I trusted one in particular, so I decided to ask her opinion.

“So what happens when you die?”
“Well, you float around and visit your loved ones.”

That seemed a bit strange to me. If I were to die tomorrow, the last thing I would want to do is hang around my living family members all day. I think I’d rather go visit places that I didn’t get to when I was alive. Like the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal would be a nice place to visit in spirit form. My great aunt sitting on her couch watching The Price is Right? Not so much.

I feared death so much that I made my husband promise to come back and haunt me should he die first. To be fair, I told him I’d do the same (on my way to the Taj Mahal).

He was confused, yet willing. “What do you want me to do when I come back?”
“Just let me know what’s going on over there. You know…warn me. Do I need to go to church, or is what we did okay? It’s the least you can do, since I’ll be alive and all” I said.

He agreed.

One of my good friends is from South Carolina. When I told her that I was planning to be cremated, she shook her head violently.

“Girlll, that’s against our culture,” she warned.
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“We believe we might need our bodies later. So we have to bury them. We believe that when we’re raised from the dead, then we’ll need our bodies to travel.”
“Well, which body do you get?” I asked.
“What?”
“Do you get the one you died in or do you get to choose? Cause I would want my 23 year-old body,” I joked.
She nodded in agreement and we shared a laugh.

I used to fear death. But not anymore.

I slowly began to release any fear after I heard an Einstein quote. He said that “Energy cannot be created or destroyed; it can only be changed from one form to another.” That’s true, right? Water can freeze, but it’s not destroyed. Even a caterpillar eats milkweed in order to be nourished and complete a metamorphosis; the milkweed isn’t destroyed though. It becomes a part of the caterpillar.

This is what comforts me. Believing that each of us are just energy completing our own life’s cycle. And if this is true, then there’s no need to fear completion because it’s just changing from one form to another.

And if by chance I get to see the Taj Mahal, then that’ll be cool too.

Graduations

I love celebrations of all kinds. Birthdays are my favorite. They honor one person’s special day: the day they were born. Anniversaries are pretty important too. When I was eleven, I gave my parents a surprise anniversary party. Called up family members and even planned for my parents to be away for a few hours. But neither compares to graduations. Graduations are as special as birthdays. To graduate means to have accomplished something, gradually. Bit by bit.

Graduations are integral to me not only because I love celebrations, but also because I’m an educator. I have taught at the university level for five years and before that, high school for ten years. My approach to teaching high school was a little different than other teachers. I believed in building relationships and then maintaining them well beyond the person’s secondary experience. Well, this happened with two of my former students. We remained close throughout their undergraduate careers and ironically, in 2012, they both graduated within a couple of months of one another.

The first graduation was out of town. Seven hundred miles away. She used to babysit my daughters. She took them to the beach when I had to work. She and I would talk on the phone, text and chat about her life and sometimes my own. We became close. Almost friend like. My relationship with this student had grown to include her family. I knew I could call her mom and visit if necessary and I had become quite familiar with her two brothers. So, it was expected that I would be at her undergrad graduation.

“Should I walk?” she asked.

“Um, yeah…this is what we’ve all been waiting for.”

So my family, including our toy poodle drove from Jacksonville, Florida to Washington, DC to watch her walk across a stage and receive her diploma. It was May. There was no air conditioning. And the ceremony was slightly cramped. But there was no where else I would have rather been than sitting right there next to her older brother, a few seats from her mom, and not far away from her best friends and younger brother.

That night, we ate grilled chicken and enjoyed a few drinks. We listened to music from several decades. One time someone suggested that I might know her mother’s favorite song.

“How old do I look?” I asked.

“About 39-40,” one of them replied.

My husband gave me a side-eye, next-time-you-won’t-ask glance.

“I still don’t know that song,” I mumbled to myself.

We had a good time. The next day we awoke and watched President Clinton give the commencement speech. I was convinced he was speaking directly to me. That evening we had dinner at a relaxed DC lounge. The red décor felt trendy and the food choices even trendier. But again, my family was among hers, dining and celebrating her accomplishments. We had a good time.

My other former student and I have a different bond than the first. This particular girl had grown so fond of me that in high school she began referring to me as her godmother. Other high school students thought we were blood related. After high school, she would occasionally call on me when she needed advice or just an ear. One time we met for “lunch” to catch up. Eight hours later, we had relocated to another restaurant and finished talking and laughing. Her graduation was two months later in Florida.

“Godma,” she started, “I only have one ticket for you.”

“That’s okay. I’ll leave the girls in Jacksonville and D and I will just drive down.”

I could tell she didn’t feel great about it, but my husband isn’t fond of graduations anyway and the girls had already sat through one a couple months back. It was a win-win. Well, sort of.

My husband dropped me off at the graduation. Her sister met me at the arena’s doors. I hadn’t met her in person, ever. Shaped exactly like my student and their mother, I followed her wide hips and skinny waist up the first set of stairs and then to the hall where everyone else was seated. Her mother sat farthest, then her niece, her father, and her sister. I sat down. They each smiled and genuinely greeted me. They knew the role I had played in their daughter’s, sister’s, aunt’s life. No one said a word after that.

I texted my husband. This is different. No one is speaking to me. We continued a conversation until commencement began.

At this institution, summer graduation meant everyone was graduating. Undergraduates. Graduates. Every discipline. The graduation lasted four long, Florida summer hours. At least the air conditioning worked. And at least my smartphone had a signal.

I sat there. First, I played Words with Friends. Then her sister began a conversation about her ex-husband and how she deals with her daughter and school work. After I caught up on all of my games, I posted to Facebook about my ensuing boredom and the inefficiency of college graduations. Really and truly, no graduation needs to be four hours. Her dad went to order some concession stand fries.

“Here, try it,” he first offered.

“Oh. No thank you,” first polite decline.

“No, you should have one,” second offer.

“No. Mr. — I don’t want any fries,” annoyance building.

“Dad,” the sister interjected, “She don’t want none.”

Wow, I thought. He is just as controlling as my former student once described all of these years. Unbelievable.

Eventually, my former student would walk across the stage. Her family and I would scream and holler her name. The graduation would continue for another hour or so. Afterwards, I would awkwardly ride in the mini-van with her family.

“How are the girls?” “Oh, they must be big now.” “In high school?” “That’s awesome.”

My husband would meet me and her family and friends for the cliché, graduation dinner.

But I loved it.

In my eyes, this is what life is all about. Living life. Accomplishing goals. Graduating. The way I see it, whether you attend a formal institution or not, we’re all graduating. Moving on to the next level, whatever that means for each of us. Institutions have just mastered the art of pomp and circumstance. Any of us can graduate from anything, at any time. And any of us can and should celebrate that accomplishment, whether walking across a stage or not.

To Whom it May Concern

Dear Humanity,

When will you return? It seems that you’ve decided to detour away from us in small increments. I’m not sure in what order though. Did you leave when cell phones were invented? I can understand how you might have thought that was a good time to exit. I mean who can blame you? I can barely go to dinner without looking at my phone, especially if the conversation begins to drag and my date excuses herself to the bathroom. It’s seems the most appropriate time to take a selfie or check Facebook.

Did you decide to check out when police officers started getting away with murdering people, instead of serving and protecting citizens? I would have left at that point too. Seemingly, police are now “above the law,” and parts of society feel hopeless. Some even think officers are warranted because they are just protecting themselves. I guess. They’ve asked me what would you do if some frightening, African American male were threatening you with his hands? I can never provide a good enough answer because I’m not licensed to carry a gun and use it for protection.

I’ve thought way too long about this. Perhaps you left when humans began waging war against one another for reasons ranging from religion to territory. But I’ve quickly dismissed this idea. It just couldn’t be. Societies have been going to war for centuries, and that would mean that you’d left us long ago before any of us knew you existed. The logic is slightly flawed.

The answer escapes me. And I suppose it doesn’t matter when you left anyway. All I can do now is beg. Beg for you to return. Please, humanity, come back to our society and replace pockets of inhumane behavior. Please, before it’s too late.

Sincerely,

kg, a concerned citizen

The Red Sweater (fiction)

Ever since I’ve retired, I’ve taken up several hobbies. Crocheting kept me busy in my early 60s. By the time Christmas 1995 rolled around, I was able to crochet everyone in my family a nice scarf. I made a small cute one for the baby. Well, she’s not a baby anymore. Her name is Tina. She’s 20 and in her second year at community college. I made a purple one for Tanya, Tina’s older sister. She’s going on 25. The best one I made, I like to call it “my masterpiece,” was a bright red, two-strand, chunky cowl for my only daughter, Therese. Sixteen rows, a few slip-stitches and half-double crochets later, and there it was, “my masterpiece.” Therese doesn’t know this, but she almost didn’t get it. I was so proud of that thang that I thought long and hard about keeping it for myself.

After I mastered crochet, I settled on learning how to needle point. You know the library gives what they call continuing education classes to anybody in the community. All these years, and I had to wait until I was retired and nearly 70 before I found out. Every Wednesday, Elder Helpers would pick me up at 10 A.M. sharp and take me five miles to the library. I spent two hours a week with the group learning how to work the pattern. All I needed was my different color yarn, a pattern and a needle. By the end of the few weeks, I had made me a nice pink and yellow butterfly. Gave that one to Tanya, so she could hang it up in Tayler’s room; that’s her baby.

Now that I’m almost 80, I decided to take up knitting. The library didn’t have the class, so I signed up at Michael’s. It wasn’t too far. The classes last ‘bout two and a half hours. I guess I took to needle point and crochet so good that knitting didn’t seem to be too hard for me. Learned just in time too cause Tina called the other day and said she’s expecting a little boy. I got so excited I called up Elder Helpers to ride me to the park every Saturday so I can work on this little, red sweater for him. Oh dear, I dropped one of my knitting needles.

“Here, ma’am,” a middle-aged man picked up the fallen knitting needle.
“Thank you, baby,” she replied. “You okay?”
“I’m fine,” he said.
*******************
I wiped away the tear that nestled in the corner of my right eye. I knew if Pam saw it, then it would start a fight. She never understood why certain triggers made me well up with emotion. The sight of the small, red sweater reminded me of the stillborn baby my first wife and I had to bury. His name was Reginald, Reginald Junior. We were going to call him RJ. She had miscarried twice before, but this time there was hope. The doctors promised that if she relaxed and stayed off of her feet, then everything should go well. We were so hopeful.

Shelley made it all the way past 24 weeks. We figured it was safe to start buying things. We painted RJ’s room red and navy blue. Shelley’s dad came over and helped me put together a cherry-wood, four-in-one crib. It was supposed to be one of those beds that stays with him and converts into a toddler bed and then a full-size bed with a headboard. RJ would have it for a long time.

Towards the end of November, Shelley’s best friend gave her a baby shower. The Thomas the Train theme helped to finish the rest of the room’s decorations. RJ had sheets, a blanket, curtains, a nightlight, lamp, and even a carpet. The mini-train set that Shelley’s dad put together was set up on a circular table off to the side. Shelley’s mom had tucked a special gift that she’d been working on deep into her emergency hospital bag. RJ had everything a little boy might want.

Shelley was 30 weeks. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was December 1, 2000. We just knew that we would be bringing RJ home that day. Shelley said she felt different. But I didn’t know what she meant. Her face was so swollen that she was unrecognizable. She couldn’t hold any food down. I grabbed the emergency bag and drove us to the hospital. What happened next is a blur. It began with the doctor admitting her for an emergency C-section and ended with RJ being born, but not breathing.

We more than cried. We held each other close. We held RJ’s lifeless body. We wailed that day. And when Shelley was finally able to rest, I reached into the emergency hospital bag and found the special gift from her mom: a small, knitted, red button-downed sweater, just big enough for RJ. We buried him in it.

“Are you crying?” Pam asked.
“No. It’s my allergies. You know it’s pollen season,” Reginald answered.
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I know he’s lying. Every time we pass by a baby stroller, baby, baby store, or anything baby related, he breaks down in tears. If we’re watching a movie and there’s a baby in it, then he sobs. I told him a dozen times that if he cries one…more…time…I’m out. He told me all about losing the baby, but that was fifteen years ago! Even his wife, what was her name? Sherry or something, even Sherry left him because he couldn’t get over losing their child. That’s what he told me anyway. All I know is as soon as we get back to his condo, I’m packing up all of my stuff and leaving. Six months of his out of control emotions is enough.

Nature’s Rhythm

The smell of rain claims the night air. Thunder rolls away in startling bursts of gentleness. A streak of lightning pierces through clouds low enough to touch. There it is again, the thunder. It booms and crackles first near and then in far-away waves. Lightning follows. This time, outlines of the clouds appear as silvered stencils.

This pond belongs to ducks. On a clear night, they rest close to the stoned wall’s edge that surrounds the water. They sit and fan their tails, warning passerbys of an invisible, yet invaded boundary. Sounding off, reminding residents that this was first their habitat. But not tonight. This evening they are hiding. There is no quacking; the water is still.

When the sun controls the sky, turtles swim in this brown pond. They peek their heads out of the water, leaving trails of air bubbles on their way to the round, broken, fountain’s water spout. That is where they cluster and rest. But no turtles bask at this hour. They too must hear nature’s alarm. Soon it will rain. Where do they go when the realization hits? They must share land space with the crickets whose voices are louder than their combined presence.

Where are the cranes? During the day they swoop in close and land on top of the pond’s surface. They dip their heads under water and return with an unsuspecting fish between their beaks. They dine on the grassy hill just on the other side. All that is visible now is what the lightning permits, which is the thick, green moss blanketing the outer edges of the pond. Among the moss is a motionless black and white soccer ball, just in dangerous enough reach to attempt saving for some saddened child.

Now, it begins. The rain. I feel one drop and see another on my screen. Raindrops appear in rapid succession on the pond’s surface. But I feel and see one drop at a time in slow motion. The next one touches the tip of my nose. The magnolia leaves protect me. Nonetheless, I rush to my home for shelter. I suppose the Florida animals each have their alternate space as well. I forget that the entire outdoors is their home and concepts of safety shift moment to moment. I forget that we are the visitors. We are the ones who have carved out spaces of cohabitation in the midst of their homes. So I’m left to wonder, where did they go?