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Monday, September 28, 2015

Late Blooming

In our little pocket of New England, summer isn’t even close to over before nurseries and supermarkets roll out their displays of fall Chrysanthemums.  Mid-August, we stop short and utter a “You have got to be kidding me,” exclamation upon discovering Halloween candy on store shelves while we’re still savoring the last precious weeks at the beach and sailing.  I mean, kids haven’t even returned to school yet.  Geesh.

Until October arrives, I do my best to ignore these displays, because I know they're just a herald for winter, and, because late in life I’ve discovered the miracle of fertilizer for my potted plants.  This means when the rusts, crimsons, golds and corn-stalk decorations crowd the sidewalks in front of the grocery stores, the impatience and coleus I planted with such hope in May still mound in their patio pots, tall and striking in all their warm-weather glory.

What’s a summer flower lover like me to do? Each September I wonder if this is the year I’ll tear out the pinks and whites and plant the colors of fall.  But I can’t.  It's too much of a betrayal.  My plants are perfectly healthy in spite of the acorn bombs dropping from the oak tree above them.  So, even later, deep into calendar fall, I come home from work each afternoon and water them, finding it impossible to destroy that which I nurtured, just because the seasonal pallet has changed.  Instead, I scurry about with a broom, sweeping up acorns and the early ash leaves covering the patio, while celebrating the scrappy Black-eyed-Susans and the zinnias that remain vibrant in my garden.   
Somewhere mid to late October, the first frost will kill my babies.  About that time, I’ll ponder chrysanthemums for a Thanksgiving display, only to discover stores filled with Christmas decorations.

God help me, because by that time, I'll really need the Halloween candy.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Christmas in August

One of my sisters has lived in Australia for about 40 years.  I’ve never not missed her, but she and her husband visit regularly.  The trip from Australia to the US is long and difficult though, and as a result when they come here, they usually plan an additional trip…often to Europe.  It makes sense given how far they’ve come, to to tack on what they can while they are in this hemisphere.
This sister knew how much my husband I wanted to go to Ireland. We’d tried to plan a trip a year earlier but it didn’t work out.  So last fall, as they scheduled a visit to the US for August 2015, followed by a jaunt to Ireland for a wedding they'd been invited to, they asked if we wanted to come. 

Here’s the thing.  My husband’s work is built on stress and schedules, and there are (many) times of the year he can’t take time off…including about every single school vacation our daughter had growing up.  A long time ago, I got used to not taking vacations when it was convenient for the rest of the world, because he never could. Years ago, I stopped asking, because I knew it added to his stress, and made him feel bad.

But darn it, I really wanted to go to Ireland with my sister.  So I broke my rule.  Last November I said, “I know the answer is probably no, but shame on me for not asking.  Can we go to Ireland with S. and B?”  Now, I KNOW, of all of the bad weeks, the worst two are the last week in August and the first week in September, which is when the proposed trip would occur.  So, when, after hemming and hawing and calendar checking, my husband said, he’d talk to his boss, that in itself was a victory.  I kept my fingers crossed and my mouth shut after that.

By mid-December the subject remained open, and my mouth remained shut.  As long as I didn’t know for sure, there was still hope, but it wasn’t fair to keep my sister hanging, so I gave us a deadline.  I told her if I didn’t say yes to her by Christmas, they should make their plans without us.  Then I told my husband what I’d said.  He said he was waiting for the right time to broach the subject at work. 

Christmas Day came, and I didn’t think of Ireland.  It was a non-issue.  Since my husband had never said yes, I accepted it wasn’t happening.  We had a wonderful dinner at our house with a crowd of family and some later drop-ins.  We sang and danced, and the day went very late.  At 11:45 PM, my husband beckoned to me from across the room.  When I got there, he leaned over and spoke in my ear.  “Merry Christmas.  How would you like to go to Ireland?”  My answer?  Something like Yeee haaaa!   Depending on the time of year, my sister is at a minimum, fourteen hours ahead of us.  I bolted to the computer and emailed her.  “It’s still Christmas here.  We are in!”

I know the poem in my last post was reflective and sad, perhaps even grim.  But our trip was anything but, and three weeks later, I still go to bed picturing what we did and saw and ate, and on top of everything, in love with the man who, 31 years later, can still delight me with a late-Christmas surprise.

Monday, September 7, 2015

My First Ireland

Standing on
the western edge,
walled with rock and green,
the ocean silver patched,
bleeds into
a rain-swelled sky.
Across a blurred sea
there’s Boston.
Ancestors, traveled there
sailing on hope,
knobbed bones,
washboard ribs
steerage passengers
stacked like cordwood,
coffin berths.
Are we not all made of
sinew? Tissue?
Down-covered swells
of sweet tasting flesh?
And yet,
the stench of rotting fields.
An ocean filled with fish,
“our own” forbidden
from casting a net.
Ships packed with export,
but a shilling
for a starving man
to build a needless wall.

Standing in this place,
I think about bellies.
Cold caves of want.
Families. Boys, girls,
babes gone before speech,
a father
faced with non-choice, 
eviction or
“assisted” immigration.
And so, my ancestors,
maybe yours,
crawled onto a boat,
departed desperation,
staggered to a foreign place,
made of themselves,
carried on.

Lifetimes later,
I look out from
this western edge,
stomach full,
and wordless.

This has gnawed at me since I studied the potato famine in 11th grade.  Standing on soil where it actually happened, well, I guess, made an impression...

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Energized - IWSG September

This is my post for the September edition of Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writer's Support Group. On the first Wednesday of every month, members write posts designed to help and inspire other writers, or perhaps seeking support in their own efforts. To read more posts, click here.

As I write this, in some states, school buses rolled weeks ago.  Here they just begin.  It’s the calendar I’ve been used to all my life.  September means back to school. And even though I’m so long past those days they feel like ancient times, my rhythms pick up again, after Labor Day.  Like New Year’s in September, I formulate goals, make plans, eye the future.  My aim now, after a summer slowdown and a mind- altering vacation far away, is to start back on my novel, still in first draft mode, and to get it done by Christmas.  It's been a difficult summer for me, and I've been inching along, trying to make forward progress in every way.  With the novel, I feel like I need to set a time line, as I’ve been scratching it out, like a stick in wet sand, for much longer than it should take.

Now it’s time to inhale, sit myself down and concentrate on this story.

Do you make plans in the fall?  What to do you to focus?