For decades my mother had a full-length mirror that she hung on the back of one door or another everywhere she and Daddy–and later just she–lived. Somebody in the family also had a label maker, and one of her grandkids punched this one out for her and put it on the mirror.

Before we got rid of the mirror, either she or I snagged it and stuck it on this pack of labels, which I later absorbed into my own office supplies. My bet is that either Sarah or Gina made it. I thought they might like knowing she held on to it through all those years and moves.

All I ever wanted was to know that you were dreaming

I have a passion for home, but I long ago accepted that I have no passion for house cleaning. One of the things I don’t mind doing, especially if I have a window, is washing dishes. This is why I rarely used a dishwasher, even when I had one. Debby and I used to argue over who had to do the dishes–I think that’s a natural teenage sibling thing. I remember those arguments best from the house we lived in just before she was married and moved out. (David and my father rarely did the dishes. Different times…)

After I became the only kid left at home, dishwashing was left mainly to Mother and me. I remember lots of evenings staring out the kitchen window of the last house I lived in with my parents, watching the street, the main road through our little town, and smiling when my friends or boyfriend drove by and blew their horns.

Now both my sister and I are content to be in suds up to our elbows, as my mother always was (she also rarely used a dishwasher other than her kids). I do a lot of thinking at the kitchen sink, and looking at this photo, I realize why my thoughts so often turn to people I care about. Just the items on the shelf over the sink and on the fence seen through the window evoke reminiscences of Tom, Lynne, Lisa S, Timmy, Paul, James, Tim, Jeff, my parents, Debby, Jess, Laura, Lindsey, and Rhonda–and Margot and Guinness. It’s a place of friends and family, as homes should be.

Last year during this time, Aaron and I were trading texts about his coming to stay here a few days during spring break. Tom and I were so happy he wanted to spend time with us, Tim, and the dogs, and I wouldn’t trade those days for anything.

So many memories…

Today is Riley’s birthday. How I’d love to call him and wish him a happy one. He’s another of the people I think about and miss deeply. The year 1980 was one of the most significant in our long history of friendship. I can remember the house I was living in then, and all the time he spent there, and how Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” LP stayed on my turntable almost constantly. There are so many pieces of Stevie Nicks’s “Sara” that tell a story of Riley and me. I’m sure lots of people feel the same way about the song for many different reasons–true of all the best songs, I think.

For Riley…

February Photo A Day: Your Name

I received this from my parents as a ‘tween for my bicycle. Clearly I never left my bike out in the rain because the tag isn’t much weathered. From the time of my first bike (and I remember the training wheels!) when I was a youngster, my bikes meant freedom. I try to believe that in small towns or at least suburbs somewhere, children still fly out the door in the mornings and grab their bikes, only to come home if they’re hungry or when dusk sets in.

Of course, back then, there were no helmets and lots of wrecks and crashes. In our family, my brother’s bike catastrophe was breaking his arm. I remember I was too young to be allowed in the hospital to see him when he had to stay overnight, but because I was a worrier, my mother let me stand on the grass outside and pointed out the window where he stood, waving his casted arm at me. My sister’s catastrophe: wrecking her bike on a hill. She and the bike slid down together, its pedal stabbing her in her leg, which had to be stitched. My mother said the resident putting in her sutures had shaking hands and wasn’t doing a great job. She was worried what kind of scar it would leave and gave the attending physician an anxious look. He tactfully asked the resident if he wasn’t long overdue for a break and offered to finish. Once the resident was gone, he removed the stitches and started over, making a tidy job of it.

There are only a few of my own accidents that I remember. My training wheel slipped off the sidewalk once and I was thrown into a ditch. I remember screaming all the way home and sitting on the kitchen counter, feet in the sink, while my mother washed my wounds and applied iodine (that hurt worse than the wreck). One time I found an iron rod, probably a piece of rebar, and was dragging it behind me as I rode. I stupidly let it get ahead of me and pole vaulted myself over the handlebars, landing in the middle of the street on my back and, as they say, getting the wind knocked out of me. The only witness was a woman standing in her kitchen window. She ran out to make sure I was okay and helped me and the bike to the curb. After a few minutes, I was on my way. She kept the rebar. Another time my foot slipped off the pedal and I scraped the top of it on the asphalt (it was the South; I was barefooted). For years, I had four little circular scars at the base of my toes, but those are long gone.

Then there was the time my bike and its tag betrayed me. It was probably ninth grade, and my boyfriend (Tim) wasn’t delighted when I spent lots of time with just Riley. But Riley had taught himself new songs on the guitar and begged me to come over after school one afternoon to listen. Riley lived several blocks from me, but right around the corner from Lynne, so I told Tim I was going to Lynne’s that afternoon, then pedaled straight to Riley’s. We were in the basement–where his drums, piano, and guitars were–when the doorbell rang. Riley went to answer it, and I heard Tim’s voice ask, “Is Becky here?”

“No,” Riley lied.

“Her bike’s outside.”

“Oh, yeah. She and Lynne went somewhere and asked if they could leave it in my yard. If you want to hang out here, you can probably catch her when she comes by to get it.”

By that time, I was out the garage door, grabbing my bike and hauling butt to Lynne’s. When Tim drove by later, Lynne and I were innocently sitting in her front yard, my bike next to us, making dandelion chains. Was he fooled? Who knows. But it gave Riley a favorite story to tell on me long after Tim and I were a distant memory.

Prompt from FMS Photo A Day.

February Photo A Day: Fork

This month I’ll attempt to do each day’s challenge as provided on the FMS Photo A Day site. Today I chose the fork from my parents’ cutlery set, another of the things (besides me!) they brought back from Germany. We still use it. Tim usually says, “This knife is dull,” then I say, “But it’s pretty,” which now that I think about it, makes it like a few people I know.

Here, from Christmas when I was elevenish, Daddy is using the fork and knife to carve the turkey.

I see that because Mother set the table for our feast with her finest china, she removed the humble Tupperware salt and pepper shakers to shoot the photo. Yet there they sit, nestled among the plants in the corner, undercutting her fancy intentions.

If you don’t like the weather, wait twenty minutes

Our weather has been so crazy in Houston lately. There’ve been days when I wake up and turn up the heat because the house is so cold. By mid afternoon, I have to switch to air conditioning because it’s hot. That night, a cold front will move in behind rain, and it’s back to the heater. Houston has multiple weather personality disorder.

Friday morning was gorgeous, but I’d checked my weather app and knew it was predicted to cloud up later and possibly rain. Since I wanted to grill burgers for Craft Night, I did it early in the day.

As I was coming through the back door, plate of burgers and spatula in hand, I flashed back to the March when my mother was in New Jersey with Debby for Josh’s birth. My pal Rhonda F–the one who pierced my ears during that same time (something my mother had forbidden, mwahaha)–was over at our house. Daddy was grilling burgers. Whenever he manned the grill, we had to keep an eye on him because he tended to burn things. But on this day, he took the burgers off at just the right time. As he was coming through the back door, the plate tilted, burgers slid from it to the floor, and he blasted, “Shit. SHIT. SHIT!” Since Rhonda knew him best as her assistant principal, this was very shocking to her. Not to me, though. I just whipped those things back onto the plate after giving them a cursory inspection, knowing that my mother LITERALLY had a kitchen floor so clean you could eat off of it.

That would not have been true in my house had that happened to me on Friday; I’m not the housekeeper Dorothy was. But don’t worry, Tom, Tim, Current Day Rhonda, and Lindsey. Your burgers suffered no mishaps at any step along the way.

Little mysteries

Cousins Alan and Elenore with Papa. I don’t know the date of this badly damaged photo, but research on the style and width of Alan’s tie tells me that it, at least, is probably from the 1950s. (It would look at home again in the 1970s, I think.) Elenore’s dress reminds me of this 1954 pattern:

In comments to my previous post about My Ideal Bookshelf, Steve B mentioned author Paul Gallico. This reminded me that I have an old copy of The Snow Goose that was a gift to Mother from Daddy, as noted in an inscription:

But I have another Paul Gallico book given to my parents from Elenore.

I have no idea what her inscription means, but guesses are part of the fun. I’m wondering if that was the third time he and Mother lived in Alabama, and Elenore was hoping it meant they’d stay. They didn’t, though they were living there again when he died.

Legacy Writing 365:365

“The Family Detectives,” from Austin Kleon‘s book Newspaper Blackout. Copyright Austin Kleon, 2010.

Look at the title of my post. I made it! I committed to doing this for 2012, and I finished it. I had no idea what I was taking on when I chose to delve into my own and my mother’s (and sometimes Lynne’s and other family members’) photo archives and write the memories the pictures inspired. Mostly, I wanted to prove to myself that I could write every day, because I haven’t written anything substantive since finishing A Coventry Wedding just after my mother died in 2008.

I did not write every day, though I did end up with a legacy writing post for every day.

First, I could never have imagined as the year began the blow that would strike my family in April with Aaron’s death. Aaron had always been fascinated by our family’s history–from the mysteries that he, his father before him, and my mother before them, could find by exploring genealogy–a study that is also a part of his Mormon roots. When Aaron visited The Compound in March, we talked about so many things. He persuaded me to sign up at so we could share information. I made him register for selective service, since I’d had no idea up until then that every male is supposed to when he turns eighteen, even though there’s no draft. That whole process cracked us up, and in a comment he left on some later post in this blog, he promised not to tell his mom I made him join the Army. (I didn’t, Lisa!)

Aaron also loved to listen to our family stories, even if he’d heard them before. So when I decided to do the legacy writing, I acknowledged that it was with hope that one day these stories and memories might mean something to my nephews and nieces, and to their children. I wasn’t worried that I might violate anyone’s privacy: I’ve long walked the line in this blog between talking about the people and events in my life and revealing too much. In some ways, that came back to bite me when some readers told me they couldn’t relate to my family because their own experiences were much sadder and seemed less worthy of recounting. My family and friends have never been exempt from pain and loss, but I don’t exploit those things here to get readers or attention. I try to provide a whole picture, and despite deaths and disappointments, I’m not an unhappy person. Even when I write about sad things, sad times, I feel so fortunate for the amazing journey this life has been and for the people who’ve been on that journey with me.

What to do, then, when catastrophe strikes, when a loss is as shocking and as painful as Aaron’s? My first impulse was to shut down this blog completely. I didn’t want to look back. I didn’t want to talk about my family. I wanted to be with my family. I wanted us to gather in a circle and fend off all comers and hurt and heal together. But for me, writing is how I cope. The love I share with my family and my friends is the source of much of my strength. These two things together–art and love–have always been part of how I heal and move forward.

After a few days to breathe, I began to write my way back. I tried very hard not to share anything that would cause any more grief to those who love and lost Aaron. And I continue(d) to try every day to celebrate him, and the wonderful people I know, both in my daily life and in the words I write.

Among the gifts that keep me balanced are the dogs, and Rex always, always made me laugh. His loss and how it would impact us all is another thing I never dreamed would be part of 2012. We also lost the friendship of someone we loved and valued, and that continues to be one of the challenges the year brought us.

But those griefs are not all of our year. We still have friends. We still have family. We still have dogs. There are still children laughing in our lives–and more children to come. There are weddings to be planned, birthdays to celebrate, anniversaries to recognize. There are jobs that make us grateful, our health to cherish. There are books left to edit and write and read. There will be more art.

Another thing that made the legacy writing project difficult is that any writing takes energy. Sometimes it was the act of writing. Sometimes it was looking at photos and just planning what to write. There were times when memories caused me such a sense of loss that I’d put my head on my desk and cry for the people I missed. I don’t live in the past–I never have–so a year of looking back could be draining. I’d skip a day or two and then catch up. It was also frustrating when writing the past seemed to steal my ability to talk about the here and now, which is where my mind and heart and soul actually do live.

I haven’t formulated a project for the coming year. I’m going to try to live as much in the moment as possible, and share whatever those moments compel me to write in my blog. I’ve received a lot of gifts and shared a lot of conversations that I believe will give me plenty to think and talk about. I hope you’ll stick around. I thank you very much for being with me for the past year. In memory of 2012, I’ve collected photos in the video below.

Happy new year to you all. I hope you receive all good things in abundance.

Legacy Writing 365: an extra day for Leap Year

Mother in front of the tree during the last Christmas my parents would spend in this house. So many things were changing–had changed–and I think they were ready for a new adventure. I don’t remember exactly when they put the house up for sale or moved. I don’t know if she knew this was the last Christmas in the house where their first four grandchildren had come as newborns, and later for holidays and birthdays and visits.

First they moved into an apartment in Tuscaloosa, where their married life had essentially begun decades before. Even though they’d downsized, we all still showed up for holidays. Here, Debby, Terri, and I are being goofy.

Later, they rented a house in a nice little neighborhood in Tuscaloosa. My father was volunteering at the library. Mother was still making holidays welcoming for us all. Daniel and Terri were living in North Carolina, so I’m not sure if we saw them that Christmas. Here, Josh is sitting with his Uncle David and his grandfather.

I’ll venture a guess that this is Gina, Debby, and Sarah. But I’ve been wrong before, and it could be Sarah, Debby, and Gina. The Debby part I know I have right!

Since Daniel wasn’t with us the following Christmas, either, when my parents had moved to a small town in Kentucky, I’m putting a summer photo here with the guys: Daniel, Josh, and David with Daddy. Daddy was writing “fictionalized” memoirs for the local paper, and Mother was just loving small town life and the house they were in.

The next Legacy Writing post will be the final one for this project and this year…

Legacy Writing 365:364

In Friday’s post, Uncle Gerald and his family had celebrated Christmas with us in Alabama. Either that Christmas or the next one, we went to Mississippi to celebrate with them.

There are a lot of gifts under Gerald and Lola’s tree. His kids must have been very good that year!

Here’s Cousin Terry in her very cool red leather dress. These are the mod fashion years I still love.

Aunt Verble and Uncle Jim lived in the same town as Gerald and Lola. We went to their house, too, that Christmas. Here’s a photo of Verble’s daughter, Cousin Ruth, on the couch with her mother.

I love that old pole lamp in the corner. As Lynne says, “Everyone had one of those in the Sixties.” I recently found one to put in the workspace I keep in Tim’s apartment.

Legacy Writing 365:363

As I’ve said before, at least the exterior of Dr. Boone’s rock house in A Coventry Christmas comes from the house we lived in when we moved back to Alabama when I was in the sixth grade. Here are some photos from our Christmas in that house, when Uncle Gerald and his family shared the holiday with us.

Cousin Gordon is helping Mother open her new four-slice toaster. So that’s when we got it! We had it forever, until it was just her and Daddy at home. I don’t know if one of us took it or she donated it. Eagle eyes will notice that my reindeer, with his original, uneaten felt antlers, is pulling the cardboard sleigh on the mantel. I think Hallmark sold the sleigh to display your Christmas cards, but Mother always wrapped little fake packages to put in ours. I’m sure it was my idea to add the reindeer, and she went along with it.

In that wooden bucket where she kept her magazines, I see Redbook and Ladies Home Journal, and even better, I see Look with this cover:

Psychedelic Beatle!

You may see a Christmas tree, an unlit fire, and Rudolph pulling that sleigh again. I see a print of a Confederate soldier on the wall and the Declaration of Independence over the fireplace. I can’t count the number of times I read the Declaration of Independence in our former house while I was eating a bowl of Cocoa Puffs in the den. I doubt I ever ate cereal in this living room.

I don’t think Cousin Bruce and David were with us on this Christmas Day. That explains why there are only two, instead of three, identically shaped and wrapped packages under the tree. Those would be Debby’s and my chocolate-covered cherries. Mother always gave each kid his or her own box. Since Mother’s death, I still send them to David and Debby, and Tom gives me a box. I’m not sure any of us actually loves chocolate-covered cherries, but it’s a tradition, dammit!

I’m shocked that I can’t find a photo of the table laid with a Christmas feast. Maybe Debby or David has that photo. But I like the red berries Mother has put in the table arrangement, and I love seeing all the Christmas cards on the hutch and what appears to be an old console television in the dining room.

Our very sweet Aunt Lola. Those Confederate soldiers are still firing at the Yankees on the wall in the background.

Uncle Gerald, Kent cigarette in hand, is watching his daughter Terry open a present. On the table behind him is a brass double student lamp that looks like this one:

I may have this wrong, but I think Gerald and Lola had a similar lamp, and Mother admired it so much that they found one like theirs and gave it to her on some previous Christmas, birthday, or anniversary. I seem to remember that she still had it when she moved back to Houston in 2004, but it needed new globes. I don’t know if we donated it, sold it, or one of my siblings has it.