Meeting A ‘Knight Of The Road’

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We pass him on the road. Sometimes he passes us. Often he is ahead of us when it is raining, and the backwash from his wheels results in an annoying haze.

Often called a ‘knight of the road,’ the truck driver is an ubiquitous presence on our nation’s highways. As we try to peer past his huge rig to see the traffic up ahead or mutter as yet another 6 wheeler pulls up ahead of us, it seldom occurs to us to wonder what he is hauling, never mind who he is.

“I go all over the country,” we are told by ‘Joe,’ a middle aged, wiry man with a pleasant smile. “I’m on the road all week, and then hopefully back home on the weekends.”

“Isn’t that hard on your wife and kids?” Mike asks.

“It’s not an easy life, that’s for sure, but it’s a job and the pay is good. My wife is great about it. Whenever I’m delivering a load not too far from home, I’ll call her, and she packs up the kids and drives out to meet me. We manage.”

His cheerful grin flashes as he explains that the family catches up ovrt dinner and sometimes even spend the night together. Yes, they manage.

According to Joe, the worst menace on the road comes from cars. They cut him off or stop short in front of him or just drive badly. He himself has never had an accident, although once on the TapanZeeBridge near New York he really got scared.

“The wind was so strong. I mean, I was in the center lane, and that sucker grabbed my rig and dragged it all the way to the railing and slammed me against it. Luckily, I got out of it with only two tires ruined. That was a close call.”

We seldom think of the men—and women—who drive the great rigs that carry the goods we need and use from Florida to North Carolina, from California to New York, from port to warehouse.  I would not have thought of them, either, if I had not met Joe. But now the most important resolution that I make for 2014 is that I become more aware.

Aware of the many people who quietly make life easier—the smiling checkout clerks at the grocery store, waitresses who have worked for hours and who can still take an order efficiently and smile, the sanitation truck driver and his helpers who always wave at me when they collect our trash. And there is the man who delivers our newspaper at five thirty in the morning without fail. It is pitch dark at five thirty, but there he is, and there is our paper. Then there are the workers who mend the roads, collect debris—yes, they are paid for their work, but what would any of us do without their service?

So: I  resolve to remember that  beyond the service that they provide there are families who wait anxiously for the homecoming of these men and women—and that some of these families will drive for hours to join them for dinner somewhere on the road.

As the great wheels turn

I see in this morning’s mist

My children’s faces.

'Busy City'

‘Busy City’

On Christmas Eve

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How swiftly the years fly!

So many Twenty Fourths gone by–

So we remember back in time,

Listen and smile by firelight

As little footsteps scurry past…

The children never sleep this night.

 
Outside the snow has fallen deep,

The stars are bright, the wind is harsh

Yet hands are warm to clasp and hold

Here there is no room for cold.

 

 

Fast forward time to some years past;

And watch our baby grandson play

Then pause a while and look again

There are three toddlers round the tree!

 

 

Some gentle shadows whisper names

They are gone, but love remains.

Our family grows  and we grow old,

Life’s a river that carries all;

But our room is warm, the stars are bright

And we still hold hands by the fire light.

 

 

And soon a new tomorrow comes,

With talk and laughter, fun and food

All that is wanted, all that is good,

All that is needed by the heart.

007 (2)

Meeting A Grateful Man

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“May your days,” crooned the store speakers, “be merry and bright…” but I, at least, was not feeling the joy. It was late, and we were in a hurry. It had been a hectic day filled with mailing packages, addressing cards and wrapping gifts, and now we needed to pick out a few last minute purchases before we could go home.

Other people seemed to be in like case. The store was crowded with shoppers who hurried purposefully up and down aisles, heads bent over nearly full shopping carts, muttering as they scanned lists. They looked, as we must have looked, weary and ready to call it a day. But toys, games, packages of perfume, or jewels, or chocolate sat on the shelves seeming to reproach us: “Have you given enough? Shouldn’t you shop for more?”

A woman with a loaded cart strode  past us, turned a corner too sharply and collided with a display of boxed toys. Without a glance at the disarray, she  stalked on. No one seemed to notice.

I had bent to pick up a box of miniature cars that had skittered into our path, when a voice hailed us, and a white-haired man with an employee’s badge came hurrying up.

“Don’t you worry, let me do that. Happens all the time,” he said. I handed him the box I had picked up, and he smiled and thanked me and wished us a merry Christmas.

“And the same to you,” Mike said. “Hope Santa brings you something special.”

“Oh, he already has,” was the beaming reply. “It’s going to be a wonderful Christmas. My wife is with me to share it.”

As he worked, he  explained that his wife was on dialysis awaiting a kidney transplant. “We’re on the list, and we’re hopeful,” he said and then told us that they had met and fell in love in high school and had been married for half a century.  He was working, he said, to help with the medical costs.

“That’s hard,” I said, but he shook his head.

“No, ma’am, I’m glad to be working.” And his smile told me he meant every word he said.

That evening I thought of that smile and how, amidst a sea of shoppers, the white haired man alone had seemed genuinely happy. His wife was sick, he needed to work in his latter years, and still what he had was all that he wanted. No gifts, no promises for tomorrow, only the moment in which he could work and be with the woman he loved.

And perhaps that was the only thing that mattered. I thought of all the Yule-tides I had seen and remembered few of the many gifts I had been given. What I did remember clearly was the laughter and the happiness and the glow of firelight on the faces of family and friends. Some of those friends and many family members were gone, now, but the memory of them still shone so bright—not with the glitter of tinsel but with the enduring beauty of the stars.

I light the candles,

start to unwrap ornaments

and remember you.

007 (5)

What Color Is The Night Sky?

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The other night as I stood outside on the porch and looked upward, I thought of color. Usually we think of the night sky in deep tones… midnight blue, navy blue, ultramarine, with perhaps some velvet black thrown in. But gazing upward I saw the silver pinpricks of stars, and a trace of misty white as clouds floated across a finger clipping of pale moon. And, yes, there was a plane returning from some faraway destination, its lights blinking red.

The English language can be frustrating, contradictory and often peculiar, but it really is a wonderful one in which to describe color. There are so many ways to define any hue—red never has to stay a prosaic red but can morph into scarlet or crimson or ruby or magenta or even, if so inclined, go pink. Green, on the other side of the spectrum, can slide into emerald or lime or fern green, forest green, jade green, hooker’s green, shamrock green, teal, or olive. And so it goes.

Just as an artist uses brush and paint to find the exact color wanted, writers use words to get the same effect, and indeed poets would be at a loss without it. Sylvia Plath’s “Sheep in Fog” and  Robert Browning’s “Meeting at Night” rely on color to create image-filled verse. And those are only a few. I vividly recall Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay” and Basho’s simple but very powerful haiku:

Slender, so slender

Its stalk bends under dew…

Little yellow flower.

            Describing color can be a challenge, too. Take a misty morning like the one that enveloped us at Emerald Isle yesterday. As I walked on the beach, mist hung about sand and ocean giving everything an effect of translucent gray. But amidst the gray there were variations. The breakers cresting near shore were pale, almost silver. A flock of pelicans, flying low, were gunmetal gray shadows, and a lone fisherman was an ash gray silhouette. Sand, always contrary, obstinately clung to beige tones.

After the subtle shades or gray, I returned with some relief to my work in progress, a study of three trees, one of them cut down with a new green shoot to symbolize rebirth. I have collaged the two standing trees in bold colors which probably would never appear on a tree in nature. Yet the colors have blended, strongly suggesting the vigor of the Life Force.

Collages are fascinating things, and the process usually takes me days and many snippets of fabric. There is always that moment when I find the perfect bit of fabric and also when nothing seems to fit. But eventually, the work is done.

Whether we work with brush or with words or camera or simply enjoy the natural world around us, I believe we all, in our own way, are artists. We enjoy the bold or subtle colorations of that world— and we all look up with wonder at the night sky.

Can you taste moonlight?

Does warm  sun shimmer on  leaves?

Magic surrounds us!

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Pleasures (And Pratfalls) Of Dancing

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Since this is the time of year for Sugar Plum fairies, dancing comes to mind. Ballroom dancing, for instance: to watch a pair of dancers who have mastered the craft glide across the floor—well, it’s beautiful. No other word for it. And  Dancing With the Stars notwithstanding, ballroom dancing is something  that everyone can do.

Why else would dancing have been around for a long, long time? Besides, it has another added attraction— romance. Partners dance together. I suspect that romance must have been in the air when Mike and I went dancing on our first date more than a half century ago. To wit—he didn’t step on my feet; I didn’t try to wrestle the lead away from him; and the rest is history. I mention feet because it really is a romantic deal breaker if a dancer treads heavily on the toes of his/her partner.

Yes, romance is palpably in the air when the orchestra plays and couples swirl about the room in each other’s arms. It fosters a moment such as the one we witnessed not long ago: in the middle of a waltz a man dropped to one knee and presented his wife of twenty five years with a diamond ring. The lady was surprised and delighted and everyone on the floor applauded wildly.

Interestingly enough, the waltz was once considered a scandalous dance. What? gasped matrons in 1812 England. A man holds a lady in his arms? What is this world coming to? Eventually, the Victorian code of dancing twelve inches apart came into being and the waltz survived—fortunately for Hollywood, which has introduced swirling couples in some of its iconic films—remember the waltz in Gone With the Wind? And  lucky, too, for our friends married for three score years, who took a solo dance to the ‘Wedding Waltz’ within a ring of happy well wishers.

There’s no question that dancing can be hard work. Just ask anyone, novice or skilled, who has just learned a new step and is trying to commit it to memory. The mind might be willing, but the feet don’t seem to get it. I can tell you from experience that there might be bruises, sore toes, gritted teeth and a hundred sheepish “Oops!” before anything like gliding can be accomplished.

There are hazardous moments, too when dancers forget the line of dance—the counterclockwise motion around the floor—or when they wax too exuberant, throw their arms and legs about, and either collide with another couple, smack an unwary passerby in the face, or deliver a sharp kick to someone else’s shin.  A case in point is the gruesome case of the Dancing Doctor who liked to kick his legs high in every direction and who collapsed and expired one night in the midst of a particularly vigorous kick. For weeks afterward, someone would take ghoulish delight in escorting newcomers to a spot on the floor and whisper, “Right here  is where Doc dropped dead!”

High kicking might not be the best way to go, and there are other potentially dangerous moves—deep dips, for instance. Believe me, those take a lot of practice. The other day we were at a dinner dance when the man seated behind us turned around to say, “Know what? The test of successful dancing is when you manage to remain upright on the floor.”

How so? He was asked. “Well,” he explained, “the other night my wife caught her heel on something and started to fall. I tried hold her up—but then she grabbed hold of my tie and dragged me down to the floor with her!” He shook his head. “I asked her why she did such a fool thing and she said she wasn’t going to be the only one on the floor!”

Which proves my point—dancing is something you do together!

Gracefully they swirl

Around the crowded ball room…

My feet are aching.

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Giving Thanks

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            It always arrives in the heart of November, always comes at a time when we are saying goodbye to the riches of summer and are watching the trees lose the last of their color in preparation for winter.

This year, a year that came with fistfuls of both joy and sorrow, it seems fitting that I ponder the meaning of Thanksgiving.

So, first, I am thankful for family. Family is the bedrock of my life, a source of present joy and future hopes. Not only a comfort and a source of humor and surprise, it is also a keeper of those memories that will last far into the days to come.

Next and very important, are friends. Being an only child, I suspect that I have always yearned for siblings—and in my dearest friends I have found them: friends who are so close to mind and heart that we know each other to the bones; friends who can be called upon in the dead of night in times of need; kindred spirits with whom I can laugh and talk and debate and enjoy the moment to its fullest. Also there are those friends of whom I stand a little in awe—people I admire and appreciate for all the wonderful qualities I wish I had.

Then—wonderful and everywhere is the natural world. Sunrise and sunset, ocean and mountain, moonrise and the great mysteries of space—I give thanks for them all just as I am grateful for each season; spring with its promise of life, exuberant summer, the glories of fall, and the sleepy silence of winter that restores the heart.

Those new buds of spring

Waiting for warmth to open…

The earth is reborn.

But wait—that’s not all.  I am really thankful for the natural world’s unsung heroes. Earthworms for instance, those wriggly, rubbery things that are on top of the  robins’ menu are really superheroes, for they enrich the soil from which all good things grow. I feel (a qualified) gratitude for the caterpillars that devour my parsley because what would we do in a world without butterflies?  I love those cheery crickets that chirp in the autumn and, yes, even the noisy cicadas, because they make the most of their days in the sun and remind me to do the same. And mosquitoes—no, here I draw the line. There are limits to my gratitude.

Most of all I am very thankful for life. As each day of each month of each year passes, the gift of life becomes more precious. So, in this season of giving thanks, I raise my glass high and cry, much as Tevye did in Fiddler On the Roof… To life!

On this festive day

Watching trees bend and dance

And dancing with them.

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Goodbye To An Old Friend

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We are away from home when I get the news.

We have been friends for forty five years, and now in a blur of words on my computer screen, I learn that she has gone. I will never hear her voice again on the phone, never hug her or see her smile. All that, gone.

There are words for the survivors of a death in the family, words that carry the weight of bereavement and loss. For a friend, loved and mourned and missed, there is no formal word to recognize these emotions.

I think about this while I stare at the computer screen. I’m notorious for never having my cell handy or even on, so my friends—all from the same Book Club that has been a strong bond for all those forty years and more—have tracked me down this way. They grieve, too, but they are together up North and have each other, while I am here with my memories.

We were young when we met, strangers, mothers of small children. We were searching for ways to connect to other women through a love of books. Our Book Ckub became a tight knit group, a supportive and caring sisterhood, and friendships grew and flourished.

Forty plus years hold many memories. In the kaleidoscope of hindsight, scenes shift and blur in my mind. I watch babes in arms and see them grew.  I watch again as our group experiences widowhood and marriage and death—laughter and tears that coalesce into a deeper appreciation of each other. Then the memories narrow to us two, my Friend and I with our youngsters at the lake, talking and laughing with the golden sun bright around us.

We watched each other’s children; we met and liked each other’s mothers; we commiserated with problems and laughed at the absurdities of adolescent teens. And we applauded those teens going away to college and beginning their careers.

In forty five years the world has changed and changed again, and we perforce have changed with it. My Friend did not have an easy life, and the hand dealt to her was challenging. In tandem with other problems, ill health dogged her but she faced  that down. In fact, she overcame everything with determination and raw courage. She had a valiant heart and never acknowledged the word ‘defeat.’ And she never lost her smile.

My Friend—how I miss her, writing this.

In due course, our lives shifted. Mike and I moved to North Carolina while she and the rest of my (still ongoing, still much loved) Book Club remained in Massachusetts. Even so, we remained close. We visited. We talked. We laughed. She rejoiced with me  when my boys were married, and she and her husband flew down south for one day to celebrate our golden wedding anniversary with us. And oh, when her son and daughter took their separate marriage vows,  such high jinks! I can still see my sisters of Book Club, holding hands and singing together, all of us happy and full the exuberance of being alive.

Then came grandchildren. My Friend was the quintessential grandmother, basking in those bright new lives as though they were her sun, moon and stars. But, always physically  frail, she grew more fragile still. The last time I saw her was when Mike and I traveled up North this September. She was so thin, but when she smiled, she was radiant. And  as we hugged each other she whispered, “It’s good to have you back again.”

Neither of us were in that moment the young, energetic strangers who had met almost half a century ago, for we had  both been tested and honed and shaped by the passing years. We were both much older, and our youthful dreams had been altered by life and circumstance. But I believe that what was most important was not what we were but what we had become;  two dear friends bound together by memories and realities and an abiding affection.

No blood tie links us together, so there is no formal word for the sorrow I feel. No, no blood line binds us as I say goodbye to you, my Friend—only the lines that lead to the heart.

Homecoming

Homecoming