Mexico

When we'd return from our visits to Mexico, I'd cry the whole trip back to the United States. I'd start missing my Abuelitos from the very first hug and kiss goodbye. There were several hugs and kisses before we finally boarded the train or started the drive to the next city or to the airport. The scents, the sounds, the language, all the things I'd see and experience during my weeks there were profoundly different from life in small town Texas. 

I knew then, as a child, that it was all special because it was not what I saw day to day at home. I am still feeling the impact of these early trips. I pine for a beautiful walled garden that had tropical fruit trees and a dirt path that would wind around it. It seemed enormous to me at the time. It was so beautiful to me and I still remember it as a very magical place.

From the moment I'd wake up, the walk to the kitchen would fill my senses. The windows opened to the scent of burned sugar from the sugar cane factory, the high pitched buzzing of mopeds outside, the donkeys pulling carts of fruit and the man calling out. Then there was the smell of coffee, vanilla, papaya and limes in the kitchen giving mornings there a very distinct olfactory memory. The milk and eggs tasted so different from what I was use to. It took time to understand the reasons why things tasted the way they did. Eventually I happily accepted the strong, rich flavors of the foods. Everything was strong and rich. The first few days were overwhelming for me, as a child, but I also felt that I belonged, not only among my family, but to all of Mexico. 

Outside, through the back door I'd go exploring, passing the concrete sink where my Abuelita would wash clothes. When it was wet it smelled like clay. Over the years I had seen large lizards and huge, fleshy spiders, burrow owls and colorful insects. I'd climb the tree with the oranges that tasted like lemons and sit on a branch where I could see over the wall in all directions. I'd sometimes watch the family next door. They lived in a humble home made out of wood, not many Mexican houses were built that way. The littlest children were often bathed in the concrete sinks outside in the morning. From their house came the smokey and delicious, greasy aromas of tortillas and chorizo. I soon made friends with the girl who lived there. She then took me on adventurous walks far from my Abuelito's house.

As the years went by things changed. More of my country came into Mexico. I started hearing more American music as I passed stores while accompanying my Abuelita on mandados. Television shows and movies weren't dubbed in Spanish but played in English...cable eventually brought my living room to my Abuelito's house. The garden became a workspace for my uncle's ironworks business, and my Abuelita didn't need to walk into town anymore, there was a car parked under what I thought was a large covered porch for parties but had always been a carport. 

So much of Mexico changed through the 18 summers that I had. I didn't return once I left home for college and my last visit was in 2007. But when I don't feel I quite understand "The American Way" of doing things or when American culture feels so forced and I grow weary of not knowing what to do in certain social situations, I do feel it's because since I was a child I never felt I fully belonged in the United States. We'd return home from Mexico, to quiet streets, neatness, order, bland fruits, people you had to try to read because you couldn't feel them. I'd cry on and off for weeks finding comfort at my Granmo's house. It was a tiny world where I felt I belonged, with the smell of tortillas, squash growing in the backyard, tall trees and roosters crowing.

Visiting Granmo's house

Several weeks ago, I kept returning to that afternoon spent in my grandparent's enormous front yard flying kites. My grandfather made us the kites out of brown paper bags, they had string that was actually scraps of strings that had all been tied together and real rag tails. They got off the ground and soared so high. I remember the laughter and viewing it all through hair in my eyes. My Granpo's hair was blowing in the wind too. He had a huge smile, a torn shirt and a hole in the knee of his khaki pants.

There are photos of that day and I saw them a few years ago. I wanted so much to have copies. The photos show us all but it's not at all like the memory. I am frozen in time wearing shorts and an over sized shirt, stuck in those awkward years of puberty. But in my memory I am still every bit a child with her heroic Granpo, giggling and laughing. excited about a kite.

Those kites came from a question,"Granpo, what kind of toys did you play with when you were little?" He made us the toys he played with. One afternoon he gave us each a sling shot cut from the trees in his own yard. He had searched for strong forks and sawed them. Then he cut rubber from something he had around the garage. I don't remember what exactly, perhaps it was part of a tire. They worked and our rocks went flying. Some weeks later he made us wooden guns that shot rubber bands. They were made of scrap wood and a clothespin glued on. We'd stretch the rubber bands and see them fly. Then came kites. The first few never got off the ground. I remember his improvements. Finally he took the sticks from old kites that he had found at garage sales and created the brown paper bag diamond shaped kites.

It may have all been in one summer or carried through the months into the following spring, but I can't recall the frame of time. I remember being seventeen or so and finding one of the old, wood guns outside and thinking back of the fun we had with it. I wish I had picked it up and saved it. I didn't because it belonged at Granmo's house and there would always be Granmo's house. I remember being in bed and wondering how much longer  I had with them in my life and went over favorite memories. It's because of that exercise, going over the day, then going over memories and then thinking of loved ones before bed that I feel I still have so many memories with me. Now I ask August to recall her favorite parts of the day before she goes to bed.

I have his hands, long fingers, big hands, even down to the shape of the nails. I have hands that like to make things, figure things out. I noticed that early on, as a child. I saw him build and make so many things, so many clever things and wanted to be just like him. He fashioned an electric box to light up a party for their anniversary out from things he had in his carport. That was magic.

These days, my tall, strong Granpo with his large strong hands is sleeping almost all day long. He stands as tall as me because of osteoporosis and he is in so much pain because of complications with a recent fall and a seventy year old war wound. My Granmo is his constant. She gives him life, she feeds him, bathes him and fights with doctors to get him the medical care he needs. She has the help of nurses and friends but no one has the stamina and determination that she has. She wakes up every morning in the arm chair next to his bed. When he wakes up he calls out to her,"Nena, donde estas?" She answers."Aqui estoy viejo." She tells me of how must it have been for him those hours when he was left for dead on the side of a mountain in Italy during the war. She has never spoke of this before.

My grandfather received the Purple Heart. My grandmother met him when he returned from the war, she was only sixteen. Their story is a complicated one. They didn't spend much time together as newlyweds because he was away undergoing surgeries for what was thought to be a possibly paralyzing wound. So went the first years of their marriage. For seventy years her priorities have included keeping her husband well fed and always on time for his doctor appointments. The both of them are in the twilight years of their marriage and lives.

However, when I did get to visit, a month ago, I saw that my grandfather was not going to pass any time soon but he is just terribly afraid and depressed that he will. "Granpo, you aren't dying". I said it with a smile and I said it carefully but it was something I had not thought about saying. He looked at me and said,"No?" I gave him a confident and sincere no. I then asked him if he remembered all those toys he made for us that time and the chickens he kept and how I want fruit trees, goats and chickens again one day. He remembered and smiled through my memories and then told me how to start a fig tree. Then we were visited by a strange little bird that came up to the window. It was orange, not red like a cardinal. "Look Granpo, look at that beautiful little bird, look, August, I have never seen a bird like that!" As I reached to take a photo my grandfather told me he visits often. I looked it up and it is a Summer Tanager, a song bird.

My Granpo has recovered from that fall as best he can for 93. He is no longer in great pain and my grandmother has returned to sleeping in her bed. We talk daily and she always tells me how well he is eating. She's been telling me stories I have never heard before. I am asking questions I wouldn't dare ask before. I'm understanding them more, their relationship and it's a story that has always demanded real love very early on. With all the beautiful big band music that was playing at the time of their courtship and early years of marriage, the crooners singing of romantic love, they were thrown into the fires of what it's really all about. At first it seems so sad and unfortunate, so unromantic. Then my grandmother tells me of all the letters she wrote when he was in the hospital hours and hours away. He tells me of  how much he wanted to just be home, a new husband to the prettiest girl he ever met and father to his new baby boy. It took years for them to recover from it all.

When I visited I really was touched by the devotion, trust between them. There were no distractions, no projects, no outings, no yard work, no tending to animals, no business, all that has disappeared. It's the two of them. As I walked across the yard where we once flew kites, back to the truck, I drove off feeling that all the happiness and love I always found in their home came from two very strong people that have always known what real love is and what it takes, no love songs, the real thing.

August in August #3

























Every year, during the first week of August, my thoughts turn to golden sunsets, humid cornfields along two lane highways and the little motor lodge, room 19. I celebrate the sweetest notion I ever had. I remember the day I took two pregnancy tests, both negative. That evening, I passed on the cocktail at the German restaurant in southern Indiana and when I got back to the motel, phoned and emailed those closest to me to give them the news. It was nothing more than a very strong notion and I told them that I had no actual confirmation. I didn't need it, I knew. I have always trusted the few powerful "knowings" that have come into my life through the years. Not all have been good news or joyous but all ended well because I knew before I should of known.

This is August's, third summer. The tiny movements I caught her doing when she was only two months old, the ones I swore were really tiny nods to the beat of the music are now entire performances. She loves to dance and will turn on the radio then gracefully wave her arms while prancing about. Sometimes she click-clacks into the living room in her new, second hand tap shoes and sings whatever song is in her head while tapping away. All those sounds and babble have turned into words that communicate all sorts of thoughts. There are random streams of consciousness that amaze me and leave me tickled. She can be the most charming company on a road trip with her questions, made up songs and observations.

Three is a very sweet and spontaneous age, so far. My favorite sentence in the world is,"Mommy, I very love you." She values the little things I do for her,"Mommy makes special things for me." Other times she'll show off and say,"Mommy made this special, just for me!" The still tiny hands on my cheeks when she gives me a kiss. The way she calls me when she needs help, the way she calls me when she wants to show me what she can do all by herself, her new discoveries.

Every now and then there are requests that leave me feeling babyhood is lingering comfortably about. There is still nursing at bedtime. The last of the nursing. Every now and then she wants me to do the choo-choo train and feed her the last few bites of food. The last few... It hasn't gone fast, it's been steady but not too fast.

However, the other day, as I was cleaning the toilet, she came in saying, rather alarmed,"The years are coming again, they are coming again, Mommy." I stopped and focused on her face, her eyebrows raised, eyes bright. I asked,"What years are coming?" She then went on to tell me that Halloween, Christmas, New Year's and our birthdays were coming again. Just like that, it seemed so fast. She was not in the same bubble of time I was in. I sat on the floor, looked at her and asked her,
"Are you happy and glad and excited to celebrate everything?" She surprised me with ,"No, Mommy."

 I felt confused that I felt a little relieved that she was somewhat melancholic and sad because she was somewhat melancholic. Shouldn't children be rushing through the days joyfully and happy about growing up without a care about what the passing time is? What was wrong with me that I just didn't cheer,"Yes! the days pass so fast, they will be here soon, it's so exciting!" Why did this stop me dead in my tracks?

I gave her a hug and then she asked me to put up my hand. So I did and she put her hand up to mine and said,"My hand is growing, see, Mommy, your hand is growing too." It made me smile big. It reminded me of that night, after the stories and prayers, the light turned off, my mother walking down the hall away from my bedroom, my hand on the wall next to my bed and me...saying out loud,"One day my hand will be big."I was three or four at the time. I know that songs at the time like Try to Remember  and Jim Croce's If I Could Save Time in a Bottle would leave me sad, pondering the passing of time. I remember wishing I could stay where I was forever and birthdays being bitter sweet. Later, I would keep a journal and it was all about how I felt growing up and the passing of time.

I told August we still had a month before the seasons changed and a month was a long time. We went outside to collect the mail and I noticed some yellow and orange leaves among the dead brown ones. I thought of what my grandmother had just said to me the night before, how she thought it would be an early fall this year. That she could feel this was the last of the heat and the season's changing. My thoughts on the short walk were interrupted by dragonflies. I noticed dragonflies were suddenly circling us. I told August they were inviting her to run and play with them. So off she went running with the dragonflies in the hot sun, getting sweaty and rosy cheeked. A few hovered above me making me feel warmly included.

On the way back from the mailbox August climbed the Crepe Myrtle and I told her,"You know today is the day Mommy first knew about you and that you were coming". She said,"I was a tiny, bitsy-bitsy in your tummy." As we walked back to the apartment she said she wanted to be a ghost for Halloween. I became excited because it would be her first real trick-o-treating Halloween. She got sick last year and couldn't participate in the fun. I started to think of how I'd make her costume. I asked her if she wanted to go see Halloween decorations and make some of our own soon to decorate her room. She said,"Yes, but not today." I asked her why and after a long pause she said she wanted to find bugs and look at them. I asked her if she wanted to go look at decorations after that and she said she wanted to nap and read stories instead. We were back in our bubble of time that doesn't seem to pass as quickly as people say it does. Just like anything, when you run, you get there faster. There is still much in store for the dog days of summer.

Hug your favorite librarian.

Our Tuesday story hour closed with the announcement that Miss Josefina Rodriguez-Gibbs was retiring and wouldn't be returning after the break in September. The library wasn't going to host a Spanish story hour in the fall. My heart sank. She's also the only librarian hosting a Spanish story hour in the city and brought it to several branches during the week.

In a year, August has learned several songs in Spanish and knows her Spanish alphabet, colors and numbers. Miss Josefina was someone she liked to tell the other people in her world about and someone she looked forward to seeing and delivering exciting news too once a week. August and I had both fallen in love with Miss Josefina and her hour of stories, songs, lessons with puppets and activities was something special. I had never experienced or witnessed a richer story hour and felt she was on par with Mr Rogers or Captain Kangaroo.

Once we completed our activity, a summer hat, August rushed to show Miss Josefina her creation and asked for a stamp. I explained to her then, that we wouldn't be seeing Miss Josefina for story hour because she was going to stop working and start relaxing. That we weren't going to see her every Tuesday like we have. I could see it in her eyes that she understood. I was sure of it when she gave Miss Josefina a hug and kiss.

When September arrives we will attend a different story hour and we are excited about that. I am happy that Miss Josefina is embarking on a well deserved retirement. I'm thrilled that August had such a wonderful librarian in her life at such an impressionable age. Librarians are important people.

Birds in bed

We went walking one evening last week, at twilight. It's been so hot and seven o'clock brings little relief from a tired sun and fiery asphalt so we wait until twilight. 

I heard rustling in the trees overhead and when I looked up I counted four cardinals primping and preening on a branch. I started to look up in the trees as we walked and noticed how all the birds were ending their day by finding a branch and settling in for the night together in groups of four or more. I have never caught this happening before, seeing birds cuddling up in trees for the night. I've only caught them...gone for the day.  I made a note of the time to catch them again. 

We stopped under the giant fig tree in the neighborhood, hoping for a snack. The figs were gone, new fruit was on its way and would be ready in three weeks or so. There was a group of blue jays accommodating themselves. I told August if we wanted figs, those birds would be the ones to ask. August told them good night and we went on our way. 

We caught familiar scents in the air, onions sautéing, tomato sauce, bar-b-que. Dog walkers were coming out, joggers going home. We passed the sad park with broken playscapes. The sun finally made its exit but the sidewalk continued its fiery echo. We walked home excited that we saw birds getting into bed.

Corner View: Overgrown

My hair is not straight, it has a tough wave and almost a full curl to it. It is thick and high maintenance. I have always hated it. I have never been good to my hair. I love how ringlets and bountiful tendrils look on someone else. I have never been able to work well with my own coiled coiffure, further complicated with two unfortunate cowlicks. I am tired of braids and buns and tangled tresses.

Maybe, I was happiest with shorter hair? I grew out my hair for a man who claimed to love long hair on women. Long, luscious, straight hair, that is...not what I ever had going on. Even when a compliment was requested, all I received was a general, "I like long hair". I never felt the love. After years of over growing my hair, now just a bad habit, I have decided to really try hard to find a style that fits the texture. It takes talent to make a mane like mine look magnificent. So I am fearlessly seeking out someone skilled with scissors to do the sublime. Lately, I feel everything has just gone on too long.

Corner View: Morning Light

When I think back of all the rentals I have occupied in this city, the first memories that come to mind are the mornings. I remember one garage apartment where the mornings were especially fun. My bedroom had four lace covered windows and the morning light would awaken me in the gentlest way. I would then go to the bathroom and open the shade. In the early summers there would be a bird nest and for awhile baby birds with their high pitched peeps were part of my wake-up call. I could see them right in their nests from my window. I remember feeling incredibly touched by the view. The rest of the house had windows all around and in the spring and summer, the trees colored the sunlight a beautiful shade of green that would create the most enchanting effect indoors, in the mornings.

When we were living in an old duplex in Oklahoma, I loved greeting the morning by opening the French doors in the bedroom that led to the deck outside. It had no porch covering it so you could feel the warmth of the sunrise. August and I had a potted rose plant we loved to pamper and talk too while the sun grew and grew over us.

I must have sunny, morning light. Cloudy days and rainy days do bring a nice break but if they go on too long I slow down, become clumsy. The fall and winter sunlight has a sharpness to it. Sometimes, you get a preview of the season in waiting if you are up early enough on just the right morning. I caught a distinct crispness in the pocket of a cool breeze on a walk last week. I could smell fall.

Oleander and a shade 























Morning trying to enter Mr Gage's living room.

Corner View: Routine

Here is a  checklist I use on routine walks:

Look for birds of prey in the sky 
Search for butterflies or dragonflies
Listen when the breeze is trying to speak using the trees and windchimes
Listen for bird songs or woodpeckers knocking
Smell the air, try to find roses, lavender and sage
See squirrels acting squirrely or having a snack
Visit the biggest tree look for a fig tree
Look at the clouds

August loves looking at the clouds and pointing out what she sees in them. I guess it was on walks in Woodville that I developed this mental checklist. Letting the natural world draw me in is something I look forward to on our walks.

Visits to the community gardens are something else we just have to do. I feel fortunate to have access to the one in our neighborhood. It's important for August to see vegetables growing. So many questions begin there. We observe bees and butterflies, she visits hens and roosters, collects rocks and scents from the many flowers and herbs there. She made me laugh the other day going from plant to plant sniffing them.

The desire for a more natural environment is returning to me. A year ago I was fine living in a city, having lived in small or rural towns for three years. Now, I crave more trees, gardens, space, roosters crowing and lots of good dirt. I have faith that one day we will find the perfect spot, a balance.











July 4th 2015

BOOM! BOOOOM! BOOOOOOOM!
Fiery, colorful chrysanthemums, exploding in the sky above us. A sizzle and a whistle then a boom gives birth to a bright, red dandelion, then a fizzle and fade. August screaming with delight, pointing out the fireworks to those around her..this was July 4th 2015.

We took a blanket and set out, telling August she would hear the symphony, see violins and then watch a real "fireworks show". Once we approached the bridge downtown, on the other side were people, tons of people, a massive collection of bodies, a daunting crowd. We decided to stay just where we were and it turned out to be the perfect spot once the fireworks began. As we waited for the show I heard the different languages that were being spoken around me. I felt embraced by the crowd that was now quickly forming around us, all of them strangers feeling like friends. I don't usually enjoy such crowded events but found myself moved by it all.










Corner View: Path

I remembered and told August, in the middle of dinner, to grab her shoes because we had an appointment with planets. The sun had just gone down. She couldn't find her shoes so I put her in the stroller and out the door we went. Under a Monet sky we set out to look for the Venus and Jupiter conjunction. The full moon filled August with excitement. I traced a path in the sky from the full moon in the east and there to the west appeared our bright planets, nestled among some lacy clouds.
"Look, August, look up look at the only stars in the sky!" She confirmed it with, "I see them, Mommy, I see them." I explained they were the planets Venus and Jupiter. She repeated,"Venus and Jupiter". 

We watched them as they stood still in their dance for us. I told her how special it was to see this with her and with the full moon. We lingered until the light around us dimmed and the mosquitos started to hover. We then turned our backs to Venus and Jupiter and headed back home. Along the way August told people passing that she saw planets and that there was a full moon.

Celestial, astral, stellar, ethereal...some of my favorite words, magic words that bring a peace to my earthly self just saying them. I have been thinking all evening...about the ongoing magic in the sky, the rewards found in twilight. Back in our home the half eaten dinner was just too sobering a sight for eyes that had been searching out the Divine. It's time we get a telescope.