Most of y’all know that I grew up on a small tobacco farm in Southern Kentucky. You’ve read my stories about following my dad around from the time I could walk, jumping from one to another of his footsteps through the snow, trying to fill his much bigger shoes. I lived and worked on that farm for the first twenty years of my life.
I worked with my dad on the farm from the time I was a wee little thing, because I wanted to. I wanted to learn. I wanted to help. And one of the things I now appreciate most about my dad is that the jobs he gave me then were not just distractions to keep the little kid busy and out of the way. He always found some way that I could be of real service. I handed him tools, and had the next tool he needed ready before he asked. This is why, when people say, “he’s too young to learn that,” I often say, hogwash.
I held the ends of things to keep them steady while he hammered or cut. I stood on other things to hold them down. I put my finger in the knot so he could tie it tighter. I ran to fetch things he needed from the truck or the barn or the shed. I picked up the stray tobacco leaves that would otherwise be trampled in the field, and spread them across the barn loft to cure, adding a few pounds of weight when market time came.
That tobacco money is what fed our family. I knew little kids were usually in the way. I wanted to help more than I hindered. That was my goal, even then.
We quit milking when I was tiny, and had only a few beef cows at any one time after that. A big beef farm is a lot of work. But just a few beef cows like we had…well, as long as they’ve got pasture and you’ve got a bull that’s not too ornery, they aren’t particularly demanding. We’d work in the barn in bad weather, but I don’t remember working with my dad outside in the rain very often.
I do remember following my father through the woods hunting Ginseng and Goldenseal–or what we called “yellow root”–or going with him to run his trap lines. We went, no matter the weather.
I think maybe that’s what started my love of rain.
My dad was a skilled woodsman. I don’t know what the woods are like where you are, but in the hills where I grew up, there was no time during the year that the forest floor was not covered in a rustl-ey blanket of hardwood leaves. Oak and Maple mostly. Those are big leaves, and from October to May, there were even more on the ground. When those leaves are dry, walking through them is noisy.
My dad could walk through those woods on a dry day, and if he didn’t want you to hear him, you wouldn’t. I, on the other hand…well, I’m guessing I tried his patience. Compared to a normal six-year-old without my father’s instruction, I was probably quiet, but as hard as I tried, doing my very best to follow his example, I made noise.
Except when it was raining.
Rain softened those leaves. No more rustle.
Rain made me quiet, like my dad.
I grew up in a time when there was less danger, I suppose. Maybe less fear of what could happen to your child if you didn’t lash her to your side until she was eighteen. Maybe it’s because we were in a rural area. I dunno. But my mom was not afraid to let me out of the house without a tracking device. By the time I was eight, I was running all over that farm by myself.
And when it was raining one of those slow, easy showers, I was outside in the woods. I practiced being completely silent and sneaking up on squirrels as they played in the trees or gathered nuts. I’d park myself underneath a tree and sit as still as I could in the slow rainfall, and watch while rabbits and foxes came within touching distance, never knowing I was there.
Sometimes I splashed through the creek at the bottom of the hill, already wet and not caring that I was getting wetter. I watched the rain on rocks and the delicate fronds of a fern. I watched it splatter on mud banks and get lost in swollen streams.
I got drenched of course. But I never got sick or died from it. And my mom, bless her, never complained much about my wet clothes or muddy shoes.
I grew up and went away to college, but I still looked forward to rainy mornings. Not if it was wet and freezing cold, or if the wind was howling. That’s just miserable. But even then it was the slow, easy rain that I loved. Everybody else on my floor was griping about the weather, but I’d leave the dorm with my jacket and umbrella, and as I’d walk up the mile-long hill to class (They didn’t name their team the Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers for nothing), I felt almost as though I were wrapped in a blanket. Protected. Isolated and made invisible by the veil of gentle drops falling around me.
Everyone else was walking to class too, but their heads were down, their steps a little more hurried than usual. Their focus was on getting out of the rain.
I felt alone. It was me and God and the wet world around me.
This summer we had a severe drought from May until mid-July. Summer drought is not unusual here, but we haven’t had a drought like this for several years. I realized this summer that it’s not just the land and the crops and the gardens and trees that need rain.
I sat on the deck a few weeks ago, watching the thunderheads build up around me. Watching the glorious light show to the north and the west. Hearing the thunder roll easy across the heavens, like a drumroll before the main act walks on stage. I watched the sky grow heavy and drop lower and lower, darker and darker as it moved in toward me. I and the Earth prayed, as one, for relief.
I sat there in the dry evening, and finally, I heard a drop hit the charcoal grill to my left. Plink. Then another drop on the glass table in front of me. Plonk. Then another on the deck itself. Spluck. Then one on my arm.
I turned my face up to it and waited for a drop to land on my cheek as the cloud moved lower and the drops came faster.
I heard the soft tapping on the leaves in the trees around my house, and I was transported instantly to the woods on my dad’s farm. I was a little girl again. There was gentle rain, noisy at first as it hit the dry leaves on the ground, then softer as everything began to get wet. There was the forest of wet bark around me and the occasional plop of a larger drop from a soaked tree branch. Plip. Plop. Plap.
Then I heard the harder drumming of a few drops on the metal garage roof. Ah. That was then. This is now. The splosh as it hit the water in the birdbath and the water bucket I keep by the back door for the dogs.
Thunder rolled in the distance again..long and low and easy.
Finally, a drop hit my face.
A lot of years have passed since I followed my dad through the woods. Plop. He’s gone now. And though I miss him, I’m no longer that girl. At least, not on the outside. A lot has changed. I’ve got things to do. Plink. Places to go and people to see. Plop, plap.
Weather..it gets in the way. Patterpatterpatterpatterpatter…
Those sounds are still the same.
My face has more wrinkles now. My body is more careworn. Plop plop. But the drops that hit it. They feel the same.
When we writers are learning how to craft good commercial fiction, we’re taught that we are not supposed to start the book with a weather report.
Because nobody cares, really.
A couple of weeks ago I was reading back through my old manuscripts. It’s funny what you notice when you read your old writing. Only one book starts with weather, but at some point in every book I’ve written, it rains. I’m going through those books now, deciding which ones might be worth turning into real books and putting out there for y’all to read.
So what do you think?
Do you have a favorite book where weather played a big part?
Have you read a romance where the couple was stranded in a blizzard? Any tornadoes or ice storms in books you love?
Do you know of a writer who uses weather as a part of setting in a way that makes the book more real?
On the other hand, we all know that if we write what moves us, it’s likely to affect other readers in the same way. As writers, we can never get far from who we really are, or it just won’t work.
What do you think? Should I edit the weather in my stories? Or does the weather affect the mood of the book for you?
And what about your love or hate of certain weather?
It’s prom season. I don’t have kids, so can you guess how I know this?
It’s because I tried to go to dinner last Saturday night with some friends. We pulled into the parking lot of our favorite place, and outside the restaurant door was a crowd of gorgeous young women in ball gowns, mixed with boys looking uncomfortable in tuxedos.
We just turned around and went to another place. More ball gowns. Big poofy ones this year. Seems to be a retro thing happening with poofy dresses for weddings and proms.
Good luck finding a restaurant on Saturday if it’s prom night.That’s just the way it is in the town where we live.
I never know these things in advance. And if we’re there before the “prom crowd” it’s kind of fun to watch the girls arrive in their pretty gowns and the boys looking awkward and awestruck by how great the girls look. *grin* Fun to watch the guys try to use gentlemanly manners and pull the chairs out for the girls and such.
I never went to prom. When I was in high school, I had gigs booked months in advance, to play at places somewhere around the state, and both of the years I could have gone to prom, I realized too late that I’d booked the date.
And I never honestly felt the loss of that. It seemed like a really expensive evening just to be uncomfortable. And pretty much everybody was uncomfortable. Although I love drama in writing, I don’t like it in real life, and when it came to acquiring just the right prom date, there was always drama. Much, much drama.
But apparently prom has changed over the years. Now I see groups of girls going to prom, even without dates, and I see groups of guys dressing up and going to hang out. Or groups of “just friends” going to hang out together. Bunches of girls get out on the floor and dance with each other, and bunches of guys do too…it’s a big, fun party. I think that’s really cool. A fun time with friends.
I never knew of anybody doing that when I was that age. You had to dance with the one that brung ya, mostly.
And see that dress over there on the left? The really beautiful backless purple one? Yeah. That one. I saw girls out at the restaurants in dresses much skimpier than that a couple of years ago–this was before the poofy craze I guess. No way would my folks have let me leave the house in that dress at age 17.
And prom has changed in other ways too. Everybody I hear of gets a limo to the prom, and now instead of the Juniors decorating the high school gym for the Seniors to party, people go out to hotel ballrooms, and the kids have to buy actual tickets. Expensive ones. Like the kind of expensive that would buy tickets to a Broadway show. And I understand they don’t even stay long or dance. That they mostly just go out to eat somewhere expensive, show up for a few minutes to “be seen” and then go driving around in the limo. The bill for dress, flowers, tickets, car and food–oh and hotel afterwards–which, I’ve gotta say, boggles my mind in all kinds of ways that have nothing to do with money–anyway this bill can run in the thousands of dollars.
No way. Nu-uh. although having a photo with my friends as cool as this one above–that might be almost worth it.
But now….Can’t see it happenin’ so it’s probably good that I don’t have kids.
But some of y’all do.
So what about you, Bandits and Buddies?
Did your high school have a prom?
Did you go?
Did you have a date? Or are you young enough that “going as a group” was okay.
Did everybody just get up and dance? Or were you restricted to “one partner at a time?”
Did you like your dress (if you’re a girl) or if you’re a guy, was that the first time you’d worn a tux? Did you hate it?
Did you rent a limo? Or did you drive your dad’s car (what most of the guys did when I was in high school)
Was it at the high school gym? Or was it at a fancier place?
And what was the bottom line? What did it cost to go to your prom, including dress, tickets, and all the fixins?
And if you have kids, have you been through this rite of passage yet? And was it very different from your own?
Oh and I’m late once again…I’m out of town working and I just flat forgot. It’s been so long since my prom that I seem to be getting senile. Sorry, y’all.
Our family lost a friend this week, and thinking of him led me to the idea for this blog. I met Chris during my early days in comic book fandom. We belonged to the same apa (amateur press alliance–kind of like a fat chain letter but with closed circulation), and he invited a bunch of us to stay with him during the Atlanta Fantasy Fair, a forerunner of Dragon*Con. The last day of the con, he and I made an ATM run. The song “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves, their only hit, came on the radio. Chris commented that he loved the song, and so I think of him every time I hear it.
He and I became actual friends instead of just fan buddies, which led to his being our family friend as first the dh and then the boy entered my life. The dh and I were talking about Chris yesterday, and I mentioned “Walking on Sunshine.” This led us to realize there’s no song we consider “ours,” nothing that stands out from the period when we were dating or newly married. But there are songs we associate with particular moments in our lives.
On the rare occasions I hear “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In,” or “The Horse,” which my high school band played a lot, I flash back for a moment to my younger self in the bleachers on a September night, sweating in a wool uniform and tasting the woody clarinet reed.
The summer I studied and traveled in the UK, a group of us sometimes rented a car together. One of the guys had two cassette tapes–one Linda Ronstadt and one Janis Joplin. We listened to them over and over. Every time I hear “Love is a Rose” or “Bobby McGee,” I find myself back in that Ford Fiesta on a narrow road somewhere in England with people I rarely see anymore.
We stopped one day in a small town and bought picnic supplies–bread, cheese, cold cuts, pastries, and a bottle of white wine (which we passed around, except for the designated driver, who had soda) and consumed them in a beautiful forest picnic area on a sunny day. We were young and happy and optimistic, and I feel all that again when I hear those songs.
The processional the dh and I chose for our wedding was a classical piece, light years different in tone from Janis and Linda, Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary. If I hear that now, I remember standing in the back of the church with my dad as the maid of honor took her place and everyone stood. My heart surged into my throat, and I said to my father, “Here we go, Daddy.” He replied, “And you’ll never have a prettier date” and cracked me up. I walked to the altar laughing, not a bad way to start a marriage, and hearing that trumpet piece puts me back in that moment.
The boy’s arrival brought a whole new array of music into our lives. It started with a filk song I wrote for him. A filk song, for those of you not into fandom, is a familiar tune with fannish words set to it. I set lyrics about our baby boy to the tune of “Scotland the Brave.” I sang it to him a lot. But I can’t share specifics because they were sort of nonsensical and he has now reached the age where his parents can embarrass him.
Of course he had his own musical preferences, starting with Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee,” as I’ve mentioned before, when he was a mere infant. In high school, he liked Matchbox Twenty’s “Unwell” (“I’m not crazy, I’m just a little unwell”). He always turned the car radio up when that song came on. After his graduation last May, I told him I’d bought “Unwell” and the “Chattahoochee” video on iTunes so I could play them and think of him when he was away at school. He sort of cringed. “I don’t like ‘Unwell’ or ‘Chattahoochee’ anymore,” he allowed. ”I like to forget I ever did.” I find this mystifying, but I guess it has something to do with growing pains.
The memories aren’t always happy. Sometimes they’re bittersweet. My parents, who died five years apart (my mom after my dad), met when they were both stationed at the naval hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. After my mom died, I was lying in bed one night when the lyrics of Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis” popped into my head. Hearing it now reminds me of my parents. So does the Navy hymn, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” which was the concluding piece at both their funerals.
I’m sure there will be other songs that mark moments in our lives, and I think the way music evokes memory is magical. So I’m going to pull out the iPad, play “Walking on Sunshine,” and think of Chris doing exactly that.
What songs are special to you? Do they bring back particular memories? Is there something else that revives a particular moment for you?
I had a lovely daughter graduate from high school yesterday and it was one of those Significant Milestones that should be Caught On Film. I have a few pictures, most of which I am not in because I was taking the pictures, but I have some. They are now held hostage on my digital camera because I am too…let’s not call it lazy, rather unwilling to take the time to upload all the pictures to my PC (although I did this one time, just to have a picture for this blog post!).
I have masses of picture prints from other Significant Milestones sitting in boxes in my dining room and guest room closet. (My husband would have consigned them to the attic and did not understand they would be ruined by being stored there!) I have no plans for these pictures, except to take them out from time to time and look at them or share them with others in the pictures. “Oh, look how cute they were then!”
I do not scrapbook (which I need to, because I’ll forget this picture was Rachel’s last day of school someday). I don’t make cheesy photo collages to hang on the wall of the stairwell. There are no lines of framed school pictures from kindergarten through graduation on a mantle or wall or dresser in my home. I do have photos I have stuck in frames from time to time, more from shame and fear of being the Worst Mother Ever than any other motivation. I also have a very fragile and changeable collage of photos covering my fridge (ask anyone who has been to the house!) that spans the past couple of decades. I think there is even a baby picture of me up there!
I have great photos that I feel I should do something with, but I realize I probably won’t. I may get them scanned one day – or I may give them to one of my kids to scan one day (seems much more likely). I don’t want to lose them or be without them. I also would love for my kids to do what I still do at my mother’s house: take down the boxes of photos and sift through them, remembering, laughing and smiling. Come to think of it, my mother never made scrapbooks or memory albums either. She tossed packets of photos in a drawer or box and still has them there. Maybe it’s hereditary – or maybe, like me, she’s just not a visually-oriented person. Then again, I’ve never thought she was the Worst Mom Ever, either. I am always thrilled to sift through and unearth the treasures that await me in her precious boxes.
So maybe I’ll upload my photos to a memory stick and take them to Walgreens and have those Significant Milestones turned into pieces of colored paper. Then I’ll stick them in a box, put them in the closet, shut the door and let them age a bit. By the time they are pulled out, sifted through, smiled over, laughed at and remembered, they will be Treasured Memories. I may even be in a few of them!
Do you make memory albums or scrapbooks or do you toss the photos in a box or file or drawer? Any particularly wonderful photos from your own Significant Milestones you would like to tell us about?
I’ve been cleaning again. Y’all know, by now, of my ongoing mission to rid myself of stuff-itis and clear the extraneous junk out of my home and my life. I’ve been tossing out stuff left and right.
Earlier this fall I unpacked a box which had been stored in the garage since we moved into our present home. I tore off the tape, pulled back the flaps and dug through the wadded up newspaper. Inside was an old basket which was so much more than it appeared. It was a treasure box of memories.
It was my grandmother’s button box.
Y’all know how you can spend a gazillion dollars on toys for kids, but at some point they’ll end up making forts out of the boxes because their imaginations can do so much more with plain cardboard than the toy makers can ever do with plastic, lights and bleepy noises? Well, I was that way with buttons, and to some degree, I’m still that way.
Buttons are magical.
Some of my clearest and most tactile memories were of MotherGrant’s button bag. For then, it was not a box, but an old cloth bag, made of flour sack that was probably older than my mother, once white but now stained, so well-worn it was smooth as silk, and with a hem sewn over at the top and a piece of twine run through it as a drawstring to hold it closed. About as humble as a container could get.
But inside? That was a whole ‘nuther world.
There were a lot of things at MotherGrant’s house which I could play with whenever I wanted. The pots and pans were always available for pretend meals. The kitchen chairs could be moved at will and the quilt closet plundered to make a huge fort out of the living room. I was careful, so even the family photo albums or the drawers full of vintage hats were available. But if I wanted to play with the buttons, I always had to ask.
The button bag was kept on a high shelf in the hall closet, and I remember the dull rattle-jangle when MotherGrant or DaddyMike got it down. I remember pulling the drawstring loose through the soft cloth and tipping the bag over and the ssssluice sound as the buttons flooded out of the bag onto the nappy green carpet.
Gold and silver, flashing diamonds, rubbies and sapphires, and single pearls as big as the end of your thumb. Buttons covered in costume jewels. Buttons in every color of the rainbow. Buttons half as big as your palm and buttons so small they could have been for a Barbie doll dress. I’d run my hands through the pile of buttons, feeling them sift through my fingers and searching for certain ones I liked best. There were three enormous buttons, pale pink mother-of-pearl, shaped like big, carved flowers. Those were easy to find in the pile, even with my eyes closed. Then there were my second-favorites. They were about the size of your thumbnail and shaped like half of a small black ball. They were completely encrusted with diamonds. There were only two of the diamond buttons, and each time I had to check to make sure no more had fallen out. A few of the “diamonds” were loose in the bottom of the button bag.
My absolute favorite button was almost two inches across and was one giant flat ruby with a gold rim.
I remember when the flour sack button bag started to tear. The following Christmas, it disappeared and was replaced with the new button box. That same box was the one which has been packed away in my garage for all those years.
It was actually a little old sewing basket of a kind which used to be sold at flea markets and craft fairs. Exactly the kind of thing a little girl might “buy” her grandmother for Christmas. I don’t remember picking it out for her, but yes, it’s possible that I, the Goth Martha Stewart Mini-Me, committed this travesty.
The basket was cheap and stapled together. The blue and white checked cloth wouldn’t have been all that bad except that the cover was padded and made into a puffy pincushion. But the screaming tomato-red pom pom glued to the top for a handle? Yeah. That’s the point at which this goth chick started to scream and run. That’s a picture of it, with some of the contents, there on the left.
So in my quest for Zen I knew the basket had to go. But the buttons?
I sorted them all out and was amazed at what had found its way into the button box over the years. Some of the items, like the buttons made of wood and the I’m A Happy Booster promotional pin, I remember from childhood. Others I don’t remember at all, but they make an interesting collage of who and what my grandparents were. DaddyMike was born in 1905, and MotherGrant in 1908. They lived through two world wars and the Great Depression before I was even born. DaddyMike built his house with his own hands and made the furniture to go inside it, though he never learned to read and write. MotherGrant grew a two-acre garden, the most beautiful flowers in the county and could feed a table full of workhands at the drop of a hat. They were poor in money but rich in love. They saved used aluminum foil and bits of string. Some of that string, wadded up into a little tangle, was now in the button box. There was also a thimble, a small white rock, several safety pins and a hickory nut. There were also some rusty washers, a few bent, rusty nails, a mounting bracket for a curtain rod, now so deformed it took a while to figure out what it was, part of a ticket to something indecipherable and a tiny tube of dubious-smelling ointment which, according to what I could read of the label, would cure dang near anything. There were “straight pins” which were bent and a small piece of white chalk.
It’s interesting what you can notice about people by the bits and pieces of useless stuff they keep and hide away in out-of-the-way places like the kitchen junk drawer, the mason jar under the sink, or, once the kids are grown up and gone away, the button box.
These are pics are of some of the strange stuff that was in MotherGrant’s button box. If you’d grown up like MotherGrant and DaddyMike, barely surviving and saving bits of string, could you throw away those diamond-studded buttons? Even if you knew they were really only cheap sparklies?
I couldn’t. I didn’t. All of my favorite buttons were gone from the basket, perhaps lost a few at a time by a generation or two of younger children as they discovered the magic of buttons. But still, I separated it into a bag of buttons and a bag of other stuff and tossed the decrepit basket. I gave the buttons a new home in a bright-blue silk sewing box.
I don’t understand button magic, but it’s still with me. I go to the fabric store now and then, to get my scissors sharpened or to buy something for a house project, and I always stop to check out the buttons, attached to their little white cards, hanging on the wall in neat rows. I have absolutely no reason to buy cards of buttons, but I admit it. The urge is there.
MotherGrant and DaddyMike have been gone for years now. But the older I get, the more I realize just how much of my grandparents lives on through me. Part of it I “got honest” as they say around here–my love of gardening was born into me and taught to me as I put my hands in the dirt with MotherGrant. My love of the smell of sawdust came from DaddyMike’s shop, as did dexterity and the satisfaction of working with my hands and making something. And I think my artistic abilities came from him too, passed down through my mother. From both of them I got the sense that things are just better if you can do for yourself instead of always relying on other people to fix stuff, or “store bought.”
I also brought from their teachings a tendency to be way too sentimental, which finds its way into all of my writing, from my news articles to my fiction…and as y’all have probably noticed the past three years, to my blogs.
Oh, and the whole “Noooooo! Don’t throw that away! Save it just in case” thing…this may be the last holdout of that early-childhood indoctrination. I toss things in the trash without much thought nowadays, but a few weeks ago I was about to throw away an old, torn-up shirt. I had the scissors out and was cutting off the buttons before I noticed what I was doing, then realized the ridiculous amount of time it was taking, and stopped myself. I threw the whole thing away,
But I felt guilty about it.
I felt my new, pretty blue sewing box mocking me.
And I mean, really, you never know when you might need a button. Right?
Do any of you sew? Even for minor repairs like sewing on a button?
Do you save stuff for “just in case?”
If you toss it immediately, is there a twinge of guilt? A voice from your upbringing that says, “you might need that!”
Did your mother or grandmother have a button box?
And did you like to play with the buttons when you were little?
Do YOU have a button box?
Does anybody else in the lair have a thing for buttons?
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