I just returned from a four-day trip to New York. What a city it is! If I was asked to describe it in one word, that word would be “indescribable,” or “alive”, or “BIG”. Okay, okay, so that’s three words, but New York deserves at least that many. It’s a world all its own, and yet, it encompasses the whole world within its massive city limits. People from every corner of every nation on Earth reside there, and you can see it, hear it and smell it on each street and avenue of that glorious town. I talked to people from Ecuador, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Russia, and quite a few native New Yorkers, and they were all warm and wonderful, and only to glad to talk to me and answer my many questions. Those who were immigrants candidly told me how they felt about living there verses their native countries. They told me how they felt about our politics, our freedoms, and our culture. They proudly told me about their families, their children and grandchildren. And they could all clearly recall EXACTLY where they were on 9/11. These strangers shared with me how it has changed them, who they lost, who they helped, who helped them, and what they saw, heard and felt. As they told me, I could see their stories in their eyes; the pain, the fear, the sorrow, and the pride of the people in New York who banded together to help each other through the darkest night. My husband and I went to the new World Trade Center, and the surrounding memorials – yes, memorials plural. You see, New Yorkers don’t just build one memorial; they build a whole system of memorials. There are several buildings (with more being added), at the site of Ground Zero, standing in reverent homage to the memory of the thousands lost, and the thousand more who were heroes trying to save as many as they could. My husband and I stood there gazing into the inverted fountains at the site of the two towers that went down, and I couldn’t help but notice how quiet everyone around us was. It was as though they felt the need to respect those who had perished by standing there in quiet reflection, and as I looked around at the faces of the visitors, it was clear to see how deeply affected everyone still was by that hour in time that reshaped our lives permanently. As we touched the engraved names of those who were lost on that clear and brilliantly bright September morning, I thought about how each name belonged to someone’s mother or father, husband, wife or sister, child, and on and on. We lost so much with each of them, people from all over, including Ecuador, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Russia, and New York, too, of course. We’re all in this thing together, this life of ours, and all things considered, I’m very glad that we are. Meeting our cabbie, David, from Russia, and Abdulzeezee, from Afghanistan, were two of the highlights of my trip, as was interacting with those amazingly resilient New Yorkers. Together they sure make up one BIG, beautiful, indescribable town, and I’m grateful for that tiny moment in time I could be with each of them. God bless them all.
One World Trade Center Memorial, New York City
The News Blues
I don’t watch the news very much anymore. At least I try to avoid it. My husband, on the other hand, is obsessed with it. He even watches it while he’s sleeping. If I walk into the room while he’s taking a nap and find the news blaring away, I tip-toe over to the remote, which is still being held in his vice-like grip, gently pry it away from my husband and turn it off, which wakes him up immediately, of course. “Why don’t you leave the TV off when you’re trying to nap?” I ask him. “Because,” he responds, “I’m still half-listening.” My multi-talented guy! But, as he drifts off again, I switch it from his beloved FOX, to my far-preferred CNN. Yes, he’s one of “those”, and I’m one of “them”. And, yet, somehow, we’ve managed to stay married for over thirty years now. Amazing! No, I try to stay away from the news. It gives me the blues. Besides, I figure I’ll find out if we’re about to be hit with missiles while having lunch with a friend. And I’ll find out if some horrible pandemic is about to eat us all up like Pac-Man while browsing through one of the tabloids in the check-out lane at the grocery store. Heck, I might even get the inside scoop, as I thumb through the pages, that George W. Bush is a Reptilian from some far off galaxy, or that Princess Kate is Barbara Streisand’s love child. One never knows. No matter what channel I might tune into that offers news as one of its services - if not it’s only service - then I’m bound to see some crawler at the bottom of the screen listing all of the day’s breaking news and horrific events while some anchor is dramatically telling us about the biggest one of them all. It’s enough to make those far-sighted doom’s day preppers take a serious inventory on how long their ammunition will hold out and how much canned Spam they have. Personally speaking, I’d rather have an old movie on the tube, or one of the food channels. Yes, ignorance is bliss, but it also allows me to get a good night’s sleep, too. I think I’ll just spend my time enjoying it rather than worrying about how much of it I have left. It does no good. It’s not like I can run outside and catch incoming missiles before they hit the ground. And I’m sure that if UFOs land on the White House lawn, it’s not going to be me they demand to talk to, so I need not know. I’m also quite sure that if we’re having a cataclysmic pole shift, moving all of my furniture to one side of the house and jumping up and down as hard as I can is not going to throw the Earth back into balance again. No, there’s not much I can do about that. But, I can continue to write, and, hopefully, bring some enjoyment to some folks as I distract them from the news for awhile. And I can spend time with my family and friends, doing new things to make new memories which I’d like to think will be talked about for some decades to come. I’ll also enjoy a summer rain storm; the smell of a new puppy; chocolate ice cream; a good steak; the first signs of fall; the first snow; antiquing; cooking Thanksgiving dinner; scary TV shows; Yoga; and the day’s first cup of coffee. If the missiles come streaming down, then they come streaming down. I just ask that they wait until I’ve finished watching the Cubs’ game. All things considered, I think one of the greatest inventions mankind has ever made was the OFF button on the TV’s remote. ‘Night Anderson.
It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and I’ve enjoyed watching how different people celebrate the occasion. Chicago dyed its river green; bars are serving green beer; and shamrocks decorate storefront windows, while the smell of corned beef and cabbage permeates the air in many restaurants and pubs. Another tradition that marks this day of Irish celebration is the practice of wearing green. But, if you’re not, then you’re subject to a sharp pinch without any apology attached. Of course, there are many more largely recognized and celebrated holidays, but there are also lots of obscure ones that we hardly ever hear about. For example: I heard on the radio that this past Tuesday was National Potato Chip Day. Hearing that compelled me to go buy onion dip and then do a search for other strange days where we loosely pay tribute to something or someone that doesn’t really deserve a day, but gets it anyway. And I also wanted to look for days that do deserve to be observed or made a point of, like perhaps a National Kindness Day, or a National Forgiveness Day. What I found amazed me, and, at times, made me shake my head in absolute perplexity that each of these should be given even a moment’s pause, much less a whole day of recognition. Here are some of my favorites:
January 3rd –Festival of Sleep Day. So, what, we sleep through the celebration?! January 7th –Old Rock Day. Whoever thought this one up was as dumb as a…Surely, you can fill in that blank. January 16th –National Nothing Day. No comment. February 1st –Hula in the Coola Day. Really, folks, I couldn’t make this stuff up. February 9th –Toothache Day. Shouldn’t it be Non-Toothache Day we celebrate? March 19th –Corn Dog Day. Okay, I’m in. March 20th –National Aliens Abductions Day. What on Earth!? April 30th –National Honesty Day. So is it all right to lie the other 364 days of the year? May 3th – Lumpy Rug Day. I’m…well… just speechless. May 16th –National Sea Monkey Day. I thought those were little plastic figures in a Milton Bradley game. July 3rd –Compliment Your Mirror Day. Translation: Compliment Yourself Day. July 22nd –Rat-Catcher’s Day. This date happens to be my friend’s birthday. I’d rather drive lit bamboo sticks under my nails than to tell her what she shares her special day with. July 27th –Take Your Plants for a Walk Day. And then walk yourself to the nearest mental health facility. Sept. 5th –Be Late for Something Day. What’s special about that? Most of us celebrate this on a daily basis. Oct. 7th –International – yes, INTERNATIONAL – Moment of Frustration Day. Don’t know about y’all, but my day usually consists of about 20, 000 moments of frustration. Oct. 23rd –National Mole Day. The kind on your skin or the kind in the ground? Nov. 8th –Cook Something Bold and Pungent Day. That oughta keep those pesky neighbors away!
But, finally, after scrolling through all of these other days that we need not mark on our calendars, I saw it. Hallelujah! November 13th - World – yes, WORLD -Kindness Day. Thank God! However, I did notice that it took us almost the whole year to get around to it, but, at least we finally did! All things considered, I’m delighted to report that my faith in mankind has been restored. I’ll just pretend that Have a Bad Day Day isn’t observed six days later.
The Busyness of Being Busy
Winter is wrapping up, so we’re unwrapping ourselves from thick winter coats, gloves and knitted caps. We’re sweeping out fireplaces, throwing open windows to refreshing spring breezes, and hanging faux flower wreaths on front doors. And we do all of this in great expectation of what the warm weather months ahead will bring in their usual busyness. We plan vacations, pull out the grills in readiness for BBQs with the neighbors, and start ordering seed packets for spring planting. It’s a renewing time of year, a time of rebirth, and a time to let out that pent up breath we seem to hold all winter; Ahhhhhh… To me, however, the busy months ahead can be a bit daunting, too. I think about all that I need to get done, and my calendar is getting covered up like a plate of food left unattended by an ant mound at a picnic. (See, spring really is on my mind!) Why is it that we are always so ready to look ahead? Is it because we’re afraid we won’t be ready? Or are we afraid we’ll miss out on something if we don’t plan for tomorrow today? I looked through my calendar and every month has dates already written in through the end of the year. Crazy. I always hear people talking about how fast time flies, but maybe we help it pick up momentum by looking so far ahead. Just maybe we’re propelling ourselves forward much faster than we otherwise would if we just enjoyed the day at hand; not the days to come, but the day at hand. But, no; we have to plan today what we’ll do ten weeks from tomorrow, and on that date, we’ll be planning what we’ll be doing ten weeks from then. My niece is coming in for a few days’ visit next week, and I already have the dinners planned and activities scheduled. How do I know that the night I’m planning on having blackened chicken salad we might prefer to have pizza? Or the day we’re scheduled to take a hike, we might not feel like being couch potatoes and watching some old black and white movie classic? Now I know where the expression, “the best-laid plans go awry” comes from. It’d be an interesting thing to see how much plans change from those we scheduled in advance. I think we should put a bright blue dot on every day on our calendar where we had something planned but ended up doing something else entirely different. My guess is that a great percentage of those long ago scheduled plans end up being changed after all. Now, don’t get me wrong; in this fast-paced world, I know it’s necessary to schedule things so that we’re all in sync, all on the same page with plans, all end up at the designated place at the designated time so as not to waste each other’s time. But, I think we waste a lot of time trying to ensure that we won’t waste any of it. All things considered, I think we might just be missing some pretty cool things in the here and now when we’re so busy looking ahead.
Home Sweet Home I was asked about my hobbies and interests recently, and I have quite a few, but they all revolve around the same thing: anything old. And I mean OLD. I love to do stained glass work, having been inspired by old church windows, and I enjoy needlework; the same kind the ladies learned to do by working on samplers hundreds of years ago. I also love hunting for antiques. My house is full of them. The older something is - and the more nicks it has it in - the better. I also have a passion for old homes; I’m intrigued by creepy cemeteries; I love Art Deco jewelry, and black and white movies. Heck, when I was a little kid, I really liked old people! Weird, I know. There’s just something about the uniqueness of old things, and the fact that they survived long enough to have gone from being a “new” something to being an “old” something. I wonder about the stories attached to them, and the amount of probable “near misses” they had that nearly prevented them from achieving the venerable rank of old age. As far as I’m concerned, one of the best places to see many wonderful antiquities is in the South. Now, that’s not to say that the North doesn’t have their fair share. I know they do. But since I live in that part of the country where collard greens, chow-chow and peanut butter pie are staples in any respectable household, I guess I’m just a bit partial to that place south of the Mason Dixon Line, with all of its glorious and not-so-glorious history. I love it enough to write stories about it, and many of my characters were inspired by true life characters – both the young and the old. The South is certainly home to me, and has been for many generations of my family. Some have been gone for so long now that they can only be identified by their faded names written in script on the backside of a black and white scallop-edged photo or old tintype. But, even without having known so many of them, I believe they’ve manage to leave their unique marks on my soul somehow. Home, with all of its many old attachments, can be anywhere on God’s green Earth, and, all things considered, I can’t think of a place I’d rather be. Give me my couch and favorite blanket at the end of a long day and, for me, that’s Heaven on Earth – especially if you throw in a good ghost show. Ahhhh…. Our longtime friend from Charleston, Roberta Hoeffecker, made one of the best peanut butter pies I’ve ever eaten. It’s easy to make and even easier to eat, and a big slice of it goes great with a good book. I know a couple that’d go nicely with that pie. ;)
Peanut Butter Pie 8 oz. of cream cheese ½ cup creamy or crunchy peanut butter – your choice 1 cup powdered sugar 8 oz. of cool whip chocolate syrup Beat first three ingredients and fold in cool whip. Pour into graham cracker crust, then sprinkle with chopped nuts. Swirl chocolate syrup on top. Chill overnight, or freeze for later.
The Big Little Things
I lost a friend last Thursday, though I only found out about it today, which gives you some kind of idea about how close we were. No, I didn’t know Keith very well, and, no, we had not shared an endless list of important times, holidays or similarities, but he was a friend, just the same. I met Keith Woody at his family’s world-renowned chair shop. The Woodys have been incredible chair makers for over a hundred years, and their chairs grace places like the Smithsonian Institute, in Washington, D.C., and the Kennedy Library, in Boston. Keith’s uncle, Arval, who I was fortunate enough to meet, was given the prestigious title of Living National Treasure years ago because of his superb craftsmanship. I met Keith and Arval when I dared venture into their shop to see if they’d be willing to talk to me about furniture making as I was researching my book, BENEATH A THOUSAND APPLE TREES. I almost didn’t stop and nearly drove past their driveway because I’d not called first and was sure they’d have no time for an interview. However, a little voice in my head said “just do it”, and I took a right hand turn off the highway and into a parking spot in front of their shop. As I mentally went over an apology for dropping by unannounced, I pulled open the screened door - with attached bell that charmingly tinkled with each new arrival – and walked into an old-timey shop complete with wood burning stove, aglow with bright red embers. In typical Norman Rockwell style, sitting in one of their beautiful handmade rockers near the stove was a big man with an even bigger smile, who I was sure would lose it once he realized that I wasn’t there to exchange money for a chair, but rather information in exchange for an acknowledgment in my book. The man was Keith Woody, and he couldn’t have been more gracious, warm and welcoming had I told him I’d come in to order a thousand rockers. Keith gave me a tour of the back of the shop where all of the magic happens, then we sat back down as he went through an old picture album full of his great-this, and great-that, parents, aunts, uncles and relatives of all sorts. I learned how the business got started by one of Keith’s ancestors, Charlie Woody, and how Arval, Keith’s elderly uncle, was a dye-in-the-wool Democrat who had graced John Kennedy Jr., and Caroline with the two rockers that now sit in royal splendor in their father’s library. And then, as if on practiced cue, Arval walked through the door. It was his 92 birthday, and he had just come back from lunch with his niece, Jo, who was Keith’s cousin. I was immediately introduced and Arval was delighted I was there. He, too, sat down by the stove and regaled me with stories about his great-greats, and the good ol’ days of furniture making but which he’d given up some years before and let the younger ones take over. Then Mr. Arval Woody invited me up to his lovely home behind the shop where he showed off pictures of his beautiful, long dead and very missed wife, and pictures of our town, Spruce Pine, from way back when, though it really hasn’t changed that much over the years. I was more than touched that this man and his family would open their world to me, but if that wasn’t enough, as I got ready to leave, Arval graced me with a handmade wooden business card holder, superbly crafted, just like his chairs, as well as a wooden bookmark - treasures bestowed upon me by a Living National Treasure. When Arval passed away about a year later, Keith invited my husband and me to join the family for a dinner their church was providing for them before the service. And Keith asked us to sit with the family during the service. We were beyond moved. We were humbled. Keith and I have exchanged Christmas gifts before, though we didn’t last year. I didn’t get to see him – or maybe I just didn’t take the time to see him – and if I’m honest with myself, I’d guess it was the latter. You see, I was “busy”. I never did stop to give Keith a copy of BENEATH A THOUSAND APPLE TREES, even though I acknowledged him and his family in the front of the book. I drove by his shop a hundred times, but was always on my way to some other place, and in too much of a hurry to stop. I told myself I would another day. Now, there won’t be “another day.” During this holiday season, I think it’s important to remember that it’s the big little things that make a difference in people’s lives. All things considered, some of those big little things can be enough to write a blog about, and even a book. It’s a wonderful little irony of life that my home, where I do all of my writing, is on a mountain named Woody’s Knob, and I look down from my deck onto a beautiful winding road named Charlie Woody Mountain Road. It’s one of those big little things, and I’m most grateful for it.
Wishing each of you much happiness, and many big little things this holiday season.
Today, as I was sitting in the middle of my family room, surrounded by Christmas wrapping materials, and the many gifts that needed to be wrapped in them, I thought back to the bomb shelter my dad had built in the fall of 1962, as a direct result of the Cuban Missile Crisis. As crazy as that sounds, every year when I wrap presents, I think back to that time for the bomb shelter had an indirect link to Christmas. Because Miami is at sea level, my father had to build the bomb shelter inside of our garage, as opposed to below ground. Both our home and separate garage were built in the Spanish in style in 1925, and both had withstood tremendous hurricanes, but this type of storm looming on the horizon required an even greater defense than just our strong home could provide. When Daddy and Mama decided that the shelter must be built, Daddy went down to Highway US-1, where, waiting patiently under the shade of an overpass, day laborers sat from early morning until early afternoon hoping that someone would come along and give them employment for the day, week, or longer. Daddy hired three of the biggest men he could find and they worked on our fortress for several days. The shelter had shelves made of simple plank boards and there was a wind-up fan which would be cranked by a handle to bring air into the room. That was the only source of air. I always wondered why the air we’d crank into the room from outside would be any safer than the air that was already outside, but I never asked. Childhood ignorant bliss and acceptance is a wonderful thing, indeed. Mama lined the shelves with cans of Campbell soup, blankets, batteries, flashlights, and other paraphernalia which wasn’t important to a child, however vital it might be in enabling that child to have the opportunity to reach adulthood. My sister, the kids in the neighborhood, and I thought it was the neatest “fort” to hang out, although Mama would chase us out of there, so as not to disturb our emergency supplies. Think about it: We’ve just been slammed by missiles, and while hunkering down in the shelter Mama asks where the hand-held can opener is, to which Kathy or I would have to answer that we used it while playing one day and forgot to return it. The newspaper caption would read: “Family Survives Nuclear Blast but Dies without Can Opener.” Another reason that we didn’t spend much time in the bomb shelter – through our own choice, as well as Mama’s refusal to let us do so – was that it was hotter than Hades in there. Imagine August in Miami, inside of a barely ventilated, solid block and steel, 12 X12 foot room, within a room. The front yard with the big Banyan tree, which offered shade and made for great climbing, was more appealing. But, as kids, we still liked to venture in there, to show it off, for we were the only family on the block that had one. I recall wondering what would happen to our friends and neighbors if the bombs fell, and wondered if we’d let them inside. I think I was too afraid of the answer to ask, so I didn’t. However, I do remember imagining what the aftermath of the “big one” striking us might bring. “The Night of the Living Dead” movie immediately came to mind, and I envisioned our neighbors speaking in death-like monotone voices through our ventilation fan, asking us to let them in. Of course, it was always the adult neighbors who would be disfigured and shuffle along, not my little friends. Somehow, my imagination couldn’t quite get wrapped around that image. I never did think too long or hard about what would happen to them. It was just unthinkable. Perhaps it was because that thought could actually conjure up thoughts of something that awful, devastating and corruptive happening to my sister and me, too. At the eleventh hour, backroom talks between Russia, Cuba and the United States put an end to the immediate nuclear threat. Everyone at the wrong end of the Soviets’ nuclear warheads, as well as at the wrong end of the United States’ arsenal, breathed a collective sigh of relief, and no more so than those of us who were living just 90 miles from the shores of Cuba. Ill winds were once again replaced with gentle breezes off of Miami’s Biscayne Bay, and things returned to normal. However, there was still the one gigantic reminder of how very close we’d come to being no more; our bomb shelter. Although the immediate threat was over, my parents were in no great hurry to tear it down. Why not just stay prepared - just in case, they sensibly thought. And, in the meantime, why not use it for other things? How sensible! With the nuke trouble blessedly behind us in late October of that year, the holidays could now be focused on with great anticipation and a newfound appreciation. I do believe that children’s wish lists grew ever longer with the advent of The Advent. And, to be honest about things, kids always know when to use a situation to their greatest advantage. Knowing that mothers and fathers were overjoyed that their little Billy or Marcy, or themselves, for that matter, as well as their not-yet-paid-for home, and station wagon, local golf course, beauty salon and burger joint weren’t going to be vaporized in a flash, kids feverishly added on to their holiday lists. In an ironic twist, we kids owed a world of thanks to Kennedy, Castro and Khrushchev. Thanks for not blowing us all to kingdom come. And thanks for the unprecedented, unequaled, momentous amount of presents we got during the holidays of ‘62. The bomb shelter took on a whole new purpose and persona. It became the private present-wrapping place. Campbell soup cans were replaced with rolls of ribbon. The folded blankets were replaced with sheets of wrapping paper. The niche for batteries became the nook for Scotch tape. And the ever-important, lifesaving, hand held can opener was happily replaced with a pair of scissors. Deck the halls with boughs of holly. Fa la la la la, the nukes are gone! The Christmas spirit was alive and well because there wasn’t any question that we would be alive and well to celebrate it. The passage of time fades things, even the bad things, so we returned to our everyday lives and gave the fall of ’62 an extra page or two in our scrapbooks. As the years passed, the immediate need of more space in our garage led Daddy back to US-1, to the overpass there, where the day laborers still arrived each morning in the hopes of earning a day’s pay. Once again, Daddy hired three of the biggest guys, (even bigger than the ones he’d hired years before) and the four of them tore into the old bomb shelter with sledge hammers. After a couple of days, they brought the “old fort” down. When Mama and Daddy finally sold the house in 1993, after 33 years of living there, they sold it to a nice young Cuban couple. There they hoped to build a happy life for themselves, in the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” It struck me as rather ironic that the land and the home that they fell in love with, and counted on to provide peace, safety and shelter for them, was, at one time, the place that was most vulnerable and in the direct line of fire from the country who’s Communistic regime had caused the new owners and their families to start a new life elsewhere. Life is stranger than fiction. Ten years ago, we made the physical move to our present home in the Blue Ridge Mountains. For a short while, I dabbled in real estate, and as I did, I realized that the influx of other city people meant bringing some of the fears of today’s America in today’s world with them, no matter how much they might try living a more serene, briefcase-less life. Because of those fears, I was asked by several potential clients for properties that would allow them to build an underground bunker – “just in case.” I knew well what that “just in case” meant, though this was a lesser degree of it, and not the near zero-hour panic kind my family and I had lived. Just recently, at the very top of the mountain we live on, Homeland Security installed a large tower. It was all very mysterious to me as to the reason they chose this out of the way, unassuming little town that wouldn’t seem to hold too much importance to the folks over at Homeland Security. That was until I was told that these mountains contain the mines which provide the most mica and feldspar in the world – materials used to make computer chips and other vital communication components. I figured that just might have something to do with it. Talk about feel like a sitting duck! Again! Even with that revelation, though, my husband and I have decided to just not worry about it. And we’ve opted to not build a bomb shelter. Instead, we’ll worry about garden beetles; whether the church has enough money to get the new roof; and whether my elderly aunt’s chest congestion will turn into anything more serious than a cold, just to name a few things. And, I’ll continue to write, about the past and my hopes for the future. I bet there’ll be one, too - and a good one. Once again, as Christmas season descends upon us, I’m back out in the family room wrapping presents. You’ll never find me in a bomb shelter doing that, or anything else for that matter. Because if this world does blow, or anyway this part of it, I plan on going out with it. All things considered, I don’t want to live in a Mad Max-style world, fighting over a can of Spam. I never did like the stuff, and it’d just be my luck that I wouldn’t be able to find a hand-held can opener anyway.
Looking through Norman Rockwell paintings, one can expect to find one of an ancient country couple, sitting in rockers on the front porch of an old log cabin. I always looked at it as such a mountain cliché, until I moved out to the country and into my own log cabin, and suddenly realized what this picture of such solitude and serenity was inspired by. This morning, I sat bundled up, rocking on my own front porch, and had to smile thinking about old Rockwell. Maybe he had done this a time or two, himself. Or, perhaps he’d been invited to “set a spell” by a weathered mountain couple somewhere along the line. How Americana it felt to me. How Americana I felt I must look. As a native South Floridian, living in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, these mountains and their beauty never cease to amaze me. Starting in mid-summer, I strain my hurricane-blurry eyes to see the first hint of the leaves changing, and now that it’s the first of December, my head swivels around like some out-of-control bobble-head looking for each and every peak that the falling leaves have left exposed. I wait all year for the cool/cold months, though I try to remind myself to live for the moment and enjoy the warm/hot months, too. But, for someone like me, who’s lived in a year ‘round green landscape, this is nothing short of thrilling; it’s a miracle, actually. It’s the little things that are so important to me anymore, and I often find an unexpected muse in them. I suspect that most artists do. Like this fall, I happened to glance out the window and spot a mother deer with her fawn. They leaped and bounded through my yard until they came to the salt licks I had set out for them. (Most people can’t understand why they like those licks, but being an anchovy fan, I do.) I stood there mesmerized, and couldn’t help but wonder if that’s exactly what Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was doing when she was inspired to write The Yearling. I was at the grocery store a few weeks ago, and an older woman let out a loud “Hey darlin’!!” when she spotted me. I didn’t know her from Adam (who’s Adam anyway – and maybe that’s the point), but I reached deep inside of me and brought forth that decent little actress. I didn’t disappoint. I gave her a huge “Hey honey! It’s so good to see you!!” in return. We stood there for several minutes and talked. I let her do most of it, since I didn’t know who the heck she was, but I nodded in just the right places, and even threw in a “bless her heart” where it seemed appropriate. Then I promised to see her soon upon our parting. I smiled the rest of the way through the store, and I didn’t forget her. She became the inspiration for a character in the first book that I’m working on in my new series - A Corner in Glory Land - which will make its debut in December of ‘17. I’m meeting a friend for dinner tonight. She’s a hurricane Katrina survivor from Louisiana. We realize how fortunate we are, having ended up here. For one thing, we know we’ve struck inspirational gold. Our muses are as plentiful as BBQ joints, Baptist churches and breathtaking vistas. And even though I know many of the locals are not thrilled that we’ve increased their traffic, taxes, and new developments, the truth of the matter is us transplants love it here – with a passion. Heck, everyday we’re rocking on our own front porches, appreciating the little things and keeping that old American image alive. Norman Rockwell would be proud. And I hope Marjorie would be, too.
At the Table It was the week before Thanksgiving, and I was rifling through a slew of recipes that were ungraciously jammed inside my Betty Crocker cookbook. That cookbook had been my very first, obtained in my sophomore year of college, when four of us had abandoned the dorm for more sophisticated living in a two bedroom townhouse. The cookbook was a necessary item if we intended on not visiting fast food restaurants for every meal. The four of us sat on Merilee’s bed, reading the choices offered to us through a book club, with the incentive to join being given two books for the purchase of one. Now, “free” is the most sacred word in a college student’s vocabulary. Thus, we poured over the selections and opted for the two we figured we could use the most as life quickly propelled us out into adulthood. We selected Betty Crocker’s Best Recipes and, naturally, The Joy of Sex. I must admit, we did “Joy” proud. We maneuvered our young, lithe bodies into those contortion-like positions - positions which we memorized as thoroughly as we should have our homework. Our boyfriends were wonderfully accommodating and ready and able to help us achieve those “Joy” goals we set out to meet. Many a class went unattended as we home schooled ourselves on another form of art that went beyond any known syllabus offered on campus. Life was good, life was sweet, life was Joy-FULL! Those four years went by quickly, and somewhere between graduation, relationship separations, and moving on to higher expectations, “Joy” was lost in the shuffle. Oddly enough, “Betty” remained in my safekeeping. Maybe it’s a testament of life; that no matter how old we get, we still have to eat. However, with sex...well, you get the point. Now, at the age of 57, with the life and times of FSU just a long ago chapter, I riffled through Betty Crocker’s Best Recipes for the winning combination of dishes to be served at this year’s Thanksgiving. Though the book itself is well worn, it was the loosely stuffed recipes in the back of the book – those uncategorized, un-alphabetized recipes, torn and faded from years of use and handling abuse that were really the golden ones I was after; because those were the ones given to me from various family members over decades. They were handwritten by my loved ones who are no longer with me, except through a multitude of memories, photographs...and recipes. I pulled several of them out; smiling over them as if they were winning lottery tickets. Without so much as lighting a burner on the stove, I could smell my grandmother’s corn pudding, Mama’s squash casserole, and Auntie’s sweet potatoes. My grandmother’s writing for the corn pudding had quite a few abbreviations, which reminded me that she’d been a secretary eighty years ago, and had known short hand. I thought of the rarity of that skill in this day of tablets and smart phones. She had been my grandfather’s secretary before becoming his wife, which told me her shorthand must have been beyond belief! Auntie’s instructions for the sweet potato casserole were written in long, slanted cursive writing, like she’d had the time to take her time writing it. She had; she was childless and lived on my great-uncle’s income. Then I came upon Mama’s recipe for the squash casserole. I heard myself let out a little sigh. Mama passed ten years ago, and the sting of it remains. I guess it always does when you lose a parent, and, in my case, parents, who were as wonderful as mine were. Though the forcefulness of the pain eases over time, it never stops entirely. There are certain moments when it can knock the wind out of you again, especially when a memory of them catches you off guard, such as the case with the squash casserole. Seeing her writing – quick, succinct, to the point – EXACTLY like she was, brought that tiny stinging in the heart. So, I poured a lukewarm cup of coffee, sat down at my dining room table, and looked out at my relatively new view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. My husband and I moved here shortly after Mama’s death, leaving old friends behind, and, as we have for the last decade, we’ll share this Thanksgiving with relatively new ones. Unlike our old friends, these new ones don’t yet know our quirks but love us anyway. And they haven’t gathered much dirt on us, like those longtime friends who have so much of it, they could bury us alive with it, but who guard our secrets as if they were their own. This year’s Thanksgiving friends are the getting-to-know-you kind. The remind-me-how-many-siblings-you-have, and where-you-were-born kind. Though old friends and family are incomparably cherished, new friends who wander into your mid and later life years are deeply appreciated little treasures. They come along when the opportunities for making close friends isn’t as easy as it was in school or when working in a corporate world filled with friendship possibilities in every cubicle. So, these new friends, helping us to make new memories, are a welcomed blessing. When we sit at the candle-lit Thanksgiving table and begin passing around the different side dishes, I will once again think of Grandma, Auntie, and Mama. My new and old worlds will join forces at the table. I will almost hear Auntie’s long and piously delivered blessing, followed by a bawdy joke being whispered from my beautiful grandmother’s mouth. And I will almost be able to hear, feel and see Mama; taking charge, being in charge, and lovingly so, by making sure that everyone has what and all they need at the table. They will all be there; in the memories, in the stories told about them, and in the food that they made dozens of times for dozens of holidays. And I will send gratitude and love to them all. All things considered, I am a very abundantly blessed and thankful legacy.
The Stone Catchers When I was in the fifth grade, in 1969, my school in Miami, FL, was integrated. I remember standing in front of the school on that first day and seeing parents picket with signs that read “GO HOME!”, and “GO BACK TO YOUR OWN NEIGHBORHOODS”. These signs were referring to the African American children who had been bussed in just that morning to “our” neighborhood. I remember feeling confused about why the Cuban parents, among the whites in that picket line, were telling the black Americans to go home. They were home. It was the Cubans who were on foreign turf. My mind had a lot to process at ten years old. But one thing I was sure about was the fact that the angry parents – both Cuban and white American – were the ones scaring the peewally out of the children. Us kids weren’t frightened of each other. Earlier in that decade, about five hundred miles north, in Jacksonville, FL, a teenaged African American girl named Eloise Oliver (a.k.a. Kitty Oliver), cleaned a teacher’s house on the weekends in order to save enough money to see the Beatles in concert. The only problem, though, was the town council (all white, of course), said that the “colored folks” weren’t allowed to attend. HOWEVER, the Beatles put their very influential foot down and said that either African Americans could attend or there’d be no concert at all Thus, the concert took place, much to the delight of Kitty Oliver. She was an only child, used to doing things alone, and going to that historic concert was one of those things. She said that after all of the brouhaha about the integration of the concert, she saw only two other black kids there. I think it’s a reasonable guess to say that there weren’t more because of fear of retaliation from the whites. Imagine the ENORMOUS courage that those few African American kids must have had to go to that concert, risking God only knew what just to see four long-haired British boys twist and shout. Fast-forward twenty-five years, and that little white girl – yours truly, who stood in front of that newly integrated, picketed school – met that courageous teenager of yesteryear, who had braved dirty toilets and backward-thinking prejudiced white folks to attend the Beatles concert. Kitty and I met through mutual friends and we hit it off immediately. The very next week, we went out on what we laughingly call “our first date”, which was to a museum and lunch, and we’ve never looked back. She’s been my best friend for over twenty-five years now. And she’s far more than that: Kitty is now Doctor Kitty Oliver, and a journalist, book author, professor and singer. But, the impacts of those turbulent years of her childhood instilled an undeniable cause in Kitty: She became an oral historian, earning a Ph.D. that focused on race and ethnic communication. Among all of her credits, accolades and accomplishments, CNN chronicled her innovative cross-cultural intergenerational race and ethnic relations dialogue work in their series,”Black in America”. Funny thing how life can bring things full circle. It just so happened that one of the articles Kitty wrote about seeing the Beatles caught the attention of a friend of a friend of a friend of producer and director Ron Howard (a.k.a. Opie, of The Andy of Mayberry Show, in the 1960’s). Mr. Howard was producing a movie about the fifty years of the Beatles, and Ron’s “people” contacted Kitty, and asked her to come to L.A., to be interviewed as part of the documentary film. She is now an integral part of the movie, “Eight Days a Week”. Kitty just returned from London, where the movie premiered, and she hobnobbed with the likes of Ringo Starr, and Paul McCartney. (Who’s laughing now, you 1960’s town council good ol’ boys?!) Kitty is successful. Kitty is glorious. And Kitty is a stone catcher. This morning at church, our very hip, compassionate and wise young minister, Jeremy Troxler, was courageous enough to talk about the racial tensions that are causing such upheaval, discord and division in our country. More fuel was poured onto this ongoing fire when another young black man, Keith Scott, was killed by a police officer a few days ago. This time, it hit even closer to home; in Charlotte, NC, just two hours from here. Our little town, Spruce Pine, has seen its fair share of racial divide, as well. Just ask any old timer if they remember how the blacks were beaten and run out of town after a black man assaulted a white woman in this community in the 1920’s. We’re still hard-pressed to see many African Americans in these parts, and that saddens me. Reverend Troxler told the story of an old African American woman who hung around a courthouse everyday. A black lawyer, who was Harvard educated, was beckoned over to her one day. She told the attorney that he looked like he needed a hug. The attorney took her up on her offer. In talking to her, he learned that her son was killed years before and she was at court everyday during the trial of the young man who’d killed her child. Even though she was overcome with grief, she was still able to see that the perpetrator’s family was overcome with grief, as well. They hurt, she realized, just as badly as she did. She said she decided then not to cast stones at others anymore. No more judging them. No more hating them. Instead, she’d do what she could for them. After all, we’re ALL just human beings, she said, suffering our own injustices, pain, trials and tribulations. So, she “quit throwing stones and started catching them instead”. Maybe by doing so, she’d make a difference in people’s lives, she thought. And, so, she’s at that courthouse everyday to offer hugs to anyone – ANYONE – who might need one. At the end of Reverend Troxler’s sermon, I looked around. People in the congregation were in tears. Most, if not all, had heard his message loud and clear: Let’s stop throwing those stones and pick up that catcher’s mitt instead. The way of doing that may not always be clear. But, stepping out of our comfort zone might be a beginning. Instead of shouting negatives at protestors in protest lines, maybe we should serve on a soup line instead, offering words of compassion and hope, or just a simple smile to someone who desperately needs one. Perhaps we might help with a reading program for those who are trying to learn English as a second language, or help bring supplies to storm-ravaged areas. In these ways, there are many opportunities to meet a wide variety of people, people from all walks of life, and from all parts of the world. People who seem so very different from us. But, we just might realize that they’re really not. We might actually find that we have more things in common than we ever thought possible. I’d be willing to bet the last dollar in my pocket that the majority of them love their friends and families just as much as we do. And that they know what heartbreak is, and exhilarating joy, disappointment and insecurity, frustration, and… All things considered, we still have a long road to travel, and many bridges to build. Perhaps our best hope of doing so is to understand that fear is the cause of most of the bad in this world. And, sometimes, you just have to say the heck with it, I’m not going to let fear stand in the way of something that might be really good, perhaps great, amazing even. Taking the risk might be VERY well worth it, indeed. Just ask Kitty, and the Beatles. If you ask me, they need to start a new band: The Stone Catchers.
Another Day in Paradise I was at my Rotary meeting yesterday and talking to a good friend of mine who is also a Floridian by birth but not by heart. Both Bill and I agree; we should have been born in the mountains. He was talking about drinking his coffee in the morning, enjoying the country-quiet, with his dogs sitting on his chair with him (another thing that connected us as friends), and how grateful he was to be in this beautiful place. We both left corporate life behind, including the stresses associated with it, and we couldn't be happier we did. It's a gentler life, this one. And it somehow feels safer. Well, it did until my yard man called me on his cell phone as he was leaving last night and said he killed a good-sized rattler on the road right below my house - the same road my husband was walking our Bassets on just a couple of hours before. Now, for those of you who are a tad (or a lot) heated because he killed that rattler, I offer my deepest apologies. However, I'd have added a bonus onto his check had he killed that deadly viper prior to my writing his check out. Don't get me wrong; I LOVE animals. I just don't love those that can kill me with one bite simply because I get too near it on a dark country road. So much for paradise! I must say, living in the suburbs of Florida, I didn't have to contend with rattlesnakes. Oh, I know they were probably around, as were the water moccasins and alligators, but the roads, sidewalks, condos and shopping malls encouraged them to move on to more secluded places. And I now live in one of those secluded places. In all fairness, it is we who have invaded their space - not vise versa. And while I believe in "live and let live", not all creatures - humans included - do. And that's when a lawn man can become my hero. I have lived through hurricanes Donna, Betsy, Cleo, Irene, Katrina, Andrew and Wilma, to name a few, and after surviving winds of 220 mph (the wind gage at the University of Miami, two miles down the road from my house at the time, registered that wind speed during hurricane Andrew), you'd think a little ol' rattler wouldn't bother me at all. Well, it does - and more so than a category 5 hurricane. At least I've got warning when a storm is going to strike, unlike a snake. Another thing that takes some of that "gentler, kinder place" feeling out of living in the mountains is the fact that in just a few months, I'll be dealing with snow and ice on the road. I'd still take that over a rattler, though. But, to my friends living in non-snowy and icy places, I cannot emphasize enough the terror that is stricken within you when the weather man warns you of black ice during your drive to or from work. Fortunately, my work keeps me safely planted in my brand new office chair at home, but there are still times I have to be out and about in it, and that's when I realize you can take the girl out of Florida, but you can't take the Florida out of the girl. I guess (no, I know), I'm a bit of a control freak, and I do not like the sensation of sliding OUT OF CONTROL on an icy road! No, I do not. I want to control my speed, movement and direction, and there's no chance of that when you hit ice. That's when my praying gets real serious and I making bargains with God that I'm sure He doesn't take too seriously. In the meantime, as I careen down my beloved country roads in January, my friends in Florida will be playing golf in tee-shirts and turning their faces up towards a warm winter sun between shots, thinking to themselves, "Ahhh, now THIS is paradise," especially since some of them are transplanted New Yorkers, who know all too well the dangers of living in those winter dangerlands. Hence, that's why they can be found on the golf course in Florida, in January. The bottom line is this: Most every place has its own kind of paradise, as well as its own set of rules. And we have to accept them and live with them (except if it's a rattler, then it's a fight to the death). We have to conform to the whims and "wilds" of Mother Nature, after all, she's in charge (which just made my toes curl as I typed that fact). If we're wise enough, or brave enough, or old enough, we realize that, and we go with the flow, enjoying the best that nature has to give, and learning how to endure the worst, knowing that it, too, shall pass. It will, it always does, we just have to wait for it. All things considered, there's a little bit of the good, the bad and the ugly threaded throughout life everywhere, and that's what makes it all so interesting. But, just to be on the safe side while trying to convince myself that it's all so interesting, I'm putting snow chains on my tires, loading my shotgun for snakes, and watching the weather man religiously. I'm taking no chances. Even in paradise.
That Not-So-Dry Spell I was thinking today about that 5-year period when nothing of mine was published. It felt like such a dry spell. I’d once read somewhere, “Just keep writing.” So, I kept writing, even when it didn’t seem like it was amounting to much. My agent at the time wasn’t able to get anything of mine picked up, which only confirmed that which I’d started to believe; my writing had hit the doldrums. But, as painful as it was at times, and as monotonous as it had become, I kept going to my computer almost daily, working on those things which I’d started, or I started something all together new, and, still, nothing was published. I honestly felt like none of my work had much color, brightness or substance to it anymore. As with everything in life, all things come to an end – both the good and the bad. And after a 3-year go of it with my agent, it was time to part ways. We did so amicably, and, I have to think, not without a little regret and sadness on both of our parts that maybe, in some way, we’d let each other down. But, it was time, and I walked away with my tediously worked-on, sick-of-looking-at-you manuscripts, and tried to figure out where I should go from there. Almost immediately, I was in touch with a wonderful publisher who wanted to see my work, and, needless to say, it was in her “In Box” that night. She called me a week later and told me she’d like to publish 3 of my children’s stories, as well as my first adult manuscript. Of course, I was elated. After we hung up, I sat back and thought, “Wow! Four books to come out in the next 2 years!” And then it dawned on me: From all of those endless days at the computer (when I felt like my writing was about as interesting as a manual for a new refrigerator), without even realizing it, I’d compiled quite a nice amount of work – work that was good. Good enough to be published. And it seemed to come together without my even realizing it. Today, as my husband gave our 3 Basset Hounds a bath in our yard in sultry, 95-degree weather (yes, even in the Blue Ridge Mtns. of NC!), I noticed our wilting Hydrangea bushes. We’re in the midst of not just a scorching heatwave, but a dry spell, too. And then I saw it: Nestled among some of the brownish-green, parched Hydrangea branches were some very brightly colored, fresh clusters of flowers, bringing great beauty to the bush – and my yard. As a matter of fact, the more I looked, the more lovely ones I saw. My bush was alive and well, and blooming quite nicely, indeed. Standing too close to it, everything seemed to be dried up and fading. But then I stood back, took a good look at the bush again with all of its many glorious blossoms, and realized that, all things considered, this dry spell of ours really wasn’t quite so dry after all … just like those 5 years of my work.
Many Muses In late July, in the town of Spruce Pine, NC, situated along the rambling Estatoe River, with 100 year-old active train tracks weaving along side in perfect harmony, was the Rotary Club’s first annual BBQ & Bluegrass Festival. My job, as a Rotarian, was to sell food tickets, so all day long I briefly chatted with scores of people who packed the tiny town’s main street. It’s an amazing world we live it. And the people we share this world with are an amazing lot. I met all kinds from everywhere: The quintessential nuclear family with mom, dad, and the 2.5 kids. (Yes, there really is a .5 child. You should have seen the teeny tiny ones being maneuvered through the crowds.) There were also plenty of elderly folks with walkers, canes or significant others whom they used as human canes, and I particularly admired them. Advanced age and physical limitations did not limit their presence or fun that day. There were a fair number of good ol’ boys and good ol’ girls, and the not-so-good-boys and the girls who love them. There were tourists with their tell-tale brand new stiff “I Climbed Mt. Mitchell” tee-shirts and mud-free hiking boots. There were people with wads of cash, and those who stood off to the side to count the change they could pool together to buy a ticket for one plate of BBQ to share. There were cloggers (mountain style jig dancing), and musicians on dulcimers, guitars, banjos and fiddles. And there were craft people hawking every kind of art imaginable; from flat work, ironwork and woodwork, to handmade quilts and “Welcome to our cabin!” signs and birdhouses. And, of course, there were the stars of the party; the BBQ cook teams and vendors. All of these many different and wonderful people, with their many different reasons for being at the event, bring me to the point of this blog: I was in the midst of enough material from which to glean a thousand stories. If a writer or artist of any medium is feeling very uninspired, or “flat-lined” as I refer to it, then just go to a festival or fair. There you will find an abundance of muses, for everyone has a story to tell if you just give them a spec of time to tell you a little bit about theirs. Not enough people do that – ask someone what their story is. We’re so self-absorbed. Or maybe we feel like if we ask a question or two, that’s asking one too many questions and we’ll be thought of as being nosey. I’ve rarely ever found that to be the case, though. When I ask someone about what they do, where they’re from, or how they ended up on the same street as I happen to be on that same day, I find that people are only too happy to tell me. Reason: People like to talk about themselves. They think their story is interesting, and the fact is that usually at least some part of it is. Perhaps we ought to spend less time looking inward for creative inspiration, and spend more time looking outward. All things considered, we live in a wonderfully rich world, full of the greatest inspirational resources: each other.
Color My World I love autumn. And it’s not just because of the changing colors or the first chill in the air. It’s all about the joy of settling down, becoming quiet, becoming still. It heralds in that special time – that time between September and February – when I give myself permission to not have to be out and about, doing a million things or be at a dozen different places in a day. It’s a time when my participation in “things” can begin to fade and drop down – just like autumn leaves. During the summer, I get very involved – too involved – with club activities, events, and people. Living in the mountains, we know that the “doing” season doesn’t last all that long, and so we cram as much in as is humanly possible before the “down” time between the months of March and September. Although March is a wishy-washy month. You just never know what it’s going to give you. And being a Capricorn, I prefer that you definitely know how you feel about things, what you’re planning on doing, and how you’re going to go about doing them. I’m not too fond of March’s attitude and behavior, if the truth be known. My husband loves to garden, so this time of year, although beautiful to him (not to mention we’re both glad that football season has started), also marks the beginning of the end of his growing season, “fun in the sun” season, and golf. That is the only fly in the ointment to me; the fact that my husband won’t be outside and out from under my feet as much. When the cold winds blow, he comes inside, just like the ladybugs. I’ve tried to get my husband involved in a hobby, namely pottery making, and though he had great potential, he just couldn’t stop thinking about next year’s garden and staring out the window. His mind wasn’t on pots but potatoes. Ah, well, you can lead a horse to water… The saving grace was the tractor I bought for him several years ago, complete with snow-blade. Now, when the white stuff accumulates, he gets out and clears the roads. Which gives us both a chance to clear our heads. When the smoke is curling from old cabins’ fireplaces, and the fog swirls and mingles with it in a beautiful early morning dance, I grab Mama’s old olive-green sweater and stand out on my deck appreciating it. I play a game of looking for new colored leaves that have changed overnight, and I listen as the squirrels squabble over chestnuts and walnuts in my thick woods. Before long, the leaves will intertwine with the smoke and fog, then they’ll fall gently to the ground and create a magnificent carpet of color. Ahhhh. Who doesn’t love that? All things considered, it was a good “doing” time. I got a lot accomplished. But now it’s that other time. Out on my deck, I sip the remainder of coffee in my oversized mug, and go inside to close out the world. Then I open another world all my own. A world in which I control the board like a chess match: I begin to write.
One Passover Night… There are many horrifically graphic and disturbing specials on TV right now as we mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. As hard as these programs are to watch, we need to, otherwise we won’t learn our lessons from one of the darkest times in history. Instead of sitting comfortably in our warm homes watching the horrors, we may end up living the nightmare again. Let us not kid ourselves; persecution to the point of genocide is still happening far too frequently all around the world. We have yet to learn our lessons. Perhaps it’s because as we freely move through our days and nights, doing most anything we please, eating what we’d like, sleeping warmly in a bed that isn’t crowded with 7 other starving and ill people, it’s easy for us to sweep that unpleasant business of concentration camps and mass extermination right under the rug and out of our minds. I’m guilty of it, I’ll admit. Most days of the year, I don’t give the holocaust much thought, however, there are times when I do. It may be brought on by someone talking about a kosher dinner, or it may be brought to mind when I hear the name Lorraine, and then that Passover night so long ago, when I was just 11, comes to mind. I wrote a piece about it a few years ago, and it seems like the perfect time to add it to my blog. So, in memory of all of those souls who walked into the death camp and helped the place live up to its name, here is the article, Perls of Wisdom. And to Lorraine, and especially her mother, Mrs. Perl; thank you for sharing such a dark time with me, while sitting in the comforts of your modest home, as we shared your wonderful dinner. Your story has lived in my heart for 45 years, where it has been carefully and thoughtfully brought out and looked at from time to time. It touched me beyond words, but because of yours, I write children’s stories today of love, tolerance and respect for each other and each other’s differences. So, all things considered, 2 hours at your dinner table shaped a lifetime of trying to build bridges between people, and for the gift of your story, I shall always be thankful. And the greatest thing I can do to reciprocate is to never forget, and I pray that the article attached may help that be so for others, if only in a small, small way.
A Dog’s Life I lost my dog on Friday. I don’t mean we left the gate open and he wandered away. We lost him because we took him to the vet, held him and cried as the doctor sent him to a place I hope to go someday, too. It has left a hole in our hearts as big as his heart was. Bogart was a Basset Hound. The common characteristics of this wonderful breed are stubbornness, loyalty, kindness and deep, deep love of children, food and family. And this dog was not short on any of those traits. Many years ago, we had a flock of ducks that waited at our fence for their morning bread. One of the ducks was exceptionally tiny and the other ducks pecked and poked at that poor little thing, trying to keep her from having any of the bread. The little duck was a gutsy little thing, though, and would push its way through the flock to the front. Then it would push its way through the slats of the fence and actually come into our yard to eat her bread in peace. And Bogart let her. He didn’t let any of the others come through the fence except for that one tiny duck, who we named Little Bit. If any of the larger, bullying ducks tried coming through, Bogart barked them right back out. He seemed to understand Little Bit’s problem and took up the cause for her. They soon became bosom buddies. Little Bit would swim around in our pool as if it were her own little pond, and Bogart would sit on the pool’s edge and cock his head watching her. Then, after she’d had her morning swim, the two would laze under the palm trees, cooled by the South Florida breeze, and fall into a state of perpetual bliss. Side by side. Eventually, Little Bit became too big, (thanks to many slices of bread) to come through the slats, but that didn’t stop her from coming to our patio. She flew over the fence railing and landed in our pool as if she were a sea plane. Talk about Bogart cocking his head at that! It was quite a feat and he was quite impressed. After a couple of years, Little Bit came around a little bit less and less. Until finally she came no more. I told myself that she’d found her prince and that there were a lot of little little bits swimming around on the other side of the canal. And oddly enough, I noticed Bogart didn’t look for her. I wondered if he knew that she’d not be coming back. I wondered if animals have some universal language that they all understand, no matter the breed. And, if that was indeed the case, I wondered why we humans couldn’t have that same universal understanding of each other even when we do speak the same language. There was much to be learned through the relationship of that unlikely pair. I never saw Little Bit again, just as I’ll never see Bogart again – on this earthly plane, anyway. But, someday, I fully expect to see the two of them sitting together, enjoying a heavenly breeze beneath an exquisite palm tree. Then I’ll know I’ve made it to heaven. All things considered, I had a little bit of heaven with the two of them right here on earth. And all because of an angel named Bogart.