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Girl From Goat Pasture Road

Musings of Susan Swicegood Boswell

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December 2015

Age of Innocence: New Years 2016

wonder years

I was a child of the Wonder Years, coming of age in the South after integration and near the end of the Vietnam War. The insular rural community I called home fostered both innocence and ignorance. My parents’ and their parent’s lives had been mostly hardscrabble; they fought to  support their families and hold onto their small farms through the Depression years. Perhaps it was my growing awareness but the world’s events seemed far away back then and did not begin to infiltrate my world until the late 1960’s.

My mother’s family had grown up working shoulder to shoulder with a black family who sharecropped their land during the depression years; both families needed each other and the black and white children grew up playing in the fields together, retaining a certain degree of color blindness throughout their early lives. As our community had moved from agriculture and as textile and furniture industries began to boom in local small towns, it brought a kind of WASP homogeneity. Old prejudices were revived and reborn, morphed into a communal consciousness which was spread through osmosis. Whites ranked higher than blacks; men ranked higher than women and adults ranked higher than children.

It seems to be human nature that even people who have nothing want to believe they are better than someone.

An undercurrent of fear began to permeate our world in the late’60’s, and it reminds me of the fear that is so prevalent today. Back then, a black and white television with aluminum foil rabbit ears brought tumultuous images into our living room each evening. Our country was losing its young men in the jungles of Vietnam. Assassinations of great leaders became prevalent: Robert Kennedy, President Kennedy, Martin Luther King. We lost countless innocent lives in the turbulent Civil Rights movement and for a purpose that seems so fundamental to the beliefs expressed in our country’s Constitution, it hardly seems worthy of being questioned, much less fought over.

The world seemed to shift on its axis.

I remember one night when I was 5 or 6  riding home in the back seat of the car with my parents. Seat belts were not required back then and I was small enough to nestle into the angled space between the back seat and back window, watching the stars and moon through the glass. We were driving along Jubilee Road, one of the more prominent roads in our community that was paved instead of gravel. We came across a road block, where shapeless forms walked around in white robes with hoods covering their faces. A fire burned in a clearing. It seemed huge, maybe 12-15 feet high on a slight hill with what looked like boards nailed together in the shape of a cross. I crouched behind mama and daddy in the dark as a man came to Daddy’s window, talking to him in a voice I immediately recognized as a prominent man of the  community and a supervisor at The NC Finishing Plant where daddy worked. I had heard this man speak at the Union Hall Meetings, had taken paper sacks of candy and oranges that he distributed from Santa during their annual Christmas Program, heard his clear tenor lead us in jubilant renditions of “Joy to the World.” I’m not sure what my parent’s told me about the event then, but I was practically an adult before I understood this was a cross-burning and this man I knew was part of the Ku Klux Klan. I do remember the curiosity it spiked in me that this grown man would be hiding in a creepy costume in the middle of the night scaring people and I wondered what on earth had happened to cause such a scene. In hindsight, I am glad I knew the whereabouts of my father that night and that he had not chose to participate.

Around this same time or maybe earlier because my memory of this event is fuzzy, there were some curious incidents closer to home. Occasionally items would go missing for no reason: equipment, tools or gasoline would vanish from our gas tanks. People didn’t lock their doors at night then and robbery was uncommon as no one had much of anything worth stealing anyway. One night when all the menfolk were away at the Union Hall meeting, my teenaged sister saw a Peeping Tom through the blinds and recognized it as the face of a black man. Mama loaded us into the car to go down to my grandma’s and on the way, saw the black shadow of what she assumed was the same man now smoking a cigarette across the road in the yard at my Aunt Polly’s house.

All of us kids were stuffed into in the small bathroom at the center of the house and ordered not to come out; this was myself, my older cousins Patty and Bobby and my sister and perhaps my brother, all stuffed into a bathroom the size of a closet. All the women including my grandma were toting shotguns and once in a while we’d hear the boom as the shot blast somewhere into the dark. Later, we’d learn our cousin Jimmy had been at home at his mama’s house that night and with one phone call, he came out with his shotgun blasting in the direction of the cigarette. The man hollered and took for the woods with my cousin in pursuit.

Soon the other men returned from their meeting and followed the commotion with hunting dogs, something I’d only know later through watching movies and reading books as a “posse”. Years later, I asked some of the family about this event because in my mind, it was all being done to simply scare the man, like a bunch of grown men playing cowboys in the woods. I was assured, however,  both the pursuit and the shot were real. It’s hard telling what my kinfolks would have done to that man had they gotten their hands on him. Due to past troubles, they felt fairly certain they knew his identity, and while he was not killed, it’s likely that he was injured or perhaps scared into a few weeks of “bedrest”.

What does this have to do with today?

My Christmas Eve was not untouched by this sort of prejudice when a family member cited Donald Trump’s business success as an endorsement for his presidency and another family member chimed in how “Trump says what everyone is thinking.”  I know you’re not supposed to talk religion or politics in social situations and especially at Christmastime but I wasn’t going to sit there and let anyone believe Trump is talking for me. Trump reminds me of that man behind the white mask I witnessed as a child. He clothes his prejudice behind a mask of success and bravado, spewing ignorance and fear from his lips and through his actions. This person does not speak for me and I shudder to think the negative impact someone like that could cause in our relationships with the world. I’m not a political spokesperson and I am not savvy enough to present my viewpoints in any sort of debate, but as I told my relatives that night, just because someone thinks something doesn’t mean they should say it. Even as a red-neck hillbilly, I know enough about the world to know that is not what I want in a leader.

I apologize if any of you reading this disagree with my political leanings; I don’t want to get into the pros and cons here about any particular candidate or party system. This is my blog and I’m free to express my viewpoints and insist on a respectful dialogue. But I’d be lying if I did not confess that I long so for that age of innocence, even if it was imagined and not as innocent as I remember.

It’s nearly impossible to approach the New Year without some form of hope or another and I believe joint hopes work like prayers and assume their own kind of power. It is my hope that in 2016, we all look within ourselves and others and realize that when fear is leading our thoughts and actions, God is likely absent. God lives with faith and light and compassion to our neighbors; God would not have us live in fear but rather in love. I hope you remember here in the shadow cast by the Christmas season that Jesus came to us, himself a helpless refugee and how he suffered at the hands of those who feared and ridiculed him. I hope we can all find the courage to speak out for what it is that we believe in and have respectful dialogue with those with whom we disagree. I hope we do not blindly follow propaganda that is untrue or does not align with our hearts. I hope we always remember the value of a human life, the value of all human lives. No one should wear the smug crown of righteousness; those who choose to live rigidly in their convictions leave no room for the light to seep in.

I wish you health, love, peace of mind and happiness in the New Year. I’ll see you in 2016!

 

Love,

The Girl From Goat Pasture road

 

 

 

Imperfect…The Christmas Leak/ The Christmas Heap: 2 Days of Christmas Blogs

cookies  I am literally writing this blog between baking batches of Chocolate Chip Cookies. If I were not to bake these cookies at Christmastime, according to my nieces and nephews, the world might end. This cookie-baking is serious business and the most important ingredienr ingredient in them is love.

I have 8 minutes between batches, less time if you allow for putting them in and out of the pan, and even less time if I am baking 2 batches at a time in my crappy old oven that bakes hot on top and cool near the bottom. Then it’s about 7.5 minutes for the top and 9 for the bottom. It’s Christmas Eve and baking is what I do. It’s what I love and what I give.

I’ll tell you in advance, this blog is not going to be perfect. There will be type-os and I’m just goimg to leave whatever comes out as it is. This is my day today and I’m just going to do the best I can and let you see that, without glossing this ll over like a Christmas Card.

Oh shit, I just baked a single pan on the top rack and it got too brown.

I mixed all my batter last night before falling into bed around midnight. There are 3 batches of chocolate chip cookies with nuts and 3 batches wiyhout without, all in my fridge awaking waiting to be baked.  . I made a double recipe of my Glazed Almond Cookies which are beautiful and delicious but a pain in the ass to make because they have to be iced and decorated. The chocolate chips cookies are production cookies for me at this time and my countertops already look like a bakery.

Ok so that’s all the ones with nuts, now I’m on to the nutless ones, ppreferred by I think Melissa and most of the little kids…

So I’ll confess, there are a few things bothering me today. One is that my old dog Robbie is 15 and has arthritis and the beginning of dementia .He also had something akin to a stroke about a month ago and has an upset stomach off and on… I thought due to medication  He barks and wants in. He barks and wants out. I took him to my friend Corinne yesterday to groom him. He had the butt cooties… so much poop around his but hole he has something like diaper rash. Maybe that’s why he’s barking. I need to get some Vaseline for his butt. That’s what I put on my own butt when it itches.

Shit, I baked another batch on the top rack and it’s too brown. Let me turn the oven down a bit…

So

oopds there goes the timer.

False alarm, it was for the cookies I just took out of the oven that were about to burn before the times timer went off. Ribbie Robbie is barking again but let me get this out… It has rained here like cats and dogs and we have a leak in our kitchen. We called the guy about fixing the roof, he’s going to have to put something called an ice guard where two sections of roof of meet. We’ve had enough rain to float an arl ark right out of here and water is dripping through my chandelier into a bowl a large bowl on the kitchen table. I can hear the drip-drip over the holiday music and even Robbie’s whining. It’s a bit annoying.

I’m back… I accidently turned the oven off when I was adjusting the temperature I guess…Now I am starting to bake the nutless cookies. These are not my favorite; they are a bit like vanilla and I’m a rocky road kind of girl. But that’s ok. I love you Melissa, I really do. And your kids. But you should really encourahe encourage them to eat nuts…

Let me let Robbie out again…

The rug in the den is filthy where the dogs have tramped wet mud abd and dirt in during this monsoon. So the other thing that is bothering me is the heaps. There are heaps of food in my refrigerator; it’s so tight I cannot fit anything in it. Perry has a cold and the trash is not being emptied often enough. There are boxes and wrapping…

Timer

No, that was beep for the temperature change… dog is whining again…

Had to et him in Had to let him in

As I was saying, there are boxes and wrapping paper piled up on the trash can. The floor around the leak is heaped with towels because it is also dripping off the little Christmas bows I had tied on the arms of the chandelier before the leak started. The kitchen table is heaped with the giant bowl, towels and placemats acting as towels, the Sunday paper and assi assorted items that just need to be away. We’re drowning in here and I am not sure if it’s from the leaks or the heaps.

And then yesterday, we received some very disturbing news. A family member

Dan Damn… the timer afgain again.

Not done yet. I’m going to have to cook them longer I guess since the oven cooled off. So anyway, disturbing news that a family member just received some bad news on Tuesday. Carcinoma of the prostate. Less than 1% of the prostate cancers in the world are this type. It’s small cell and it spreads, I guess the word is metastasizes (I hope I don’t have to get used to that word) . So we find out next week where we go from here. I’m in shock. I’m sad. But all I really know to do is to keep baking these cookiws. cookies.

Timer again…dog is barking. Let me give him a bone, even though it will probably give him diarreah again. He has a sensitive tummy.

I gave him two for good measure.

 

PS I just saw a misspelled diarreah diareah diarrhea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Merry Mags: 3 Days of Christmas Blogs

 

Mags Circa 1975 and 2015
Mags Circa 1975 and 2015

Four friends, forty years…

The gift of friendship has got to be one of the most life-affirming, sustaining and positive forces in anyone’s life. Forty years ago, these three girls and I were inseparable, the terror of Tyro Junior High School. After college, careers, children, illness, marriage and divorce, broken hearts, second chances, getting skinny and then getting fat again, we reconnected with each other about five years ago deeming ourselves “Steel Magnolias” as an ode to our Southerness and our ability to persevere through the ups and downs life.

Some days, I feel so, well old… but when we are together, it’s like the years simply melt away. I surprised them last night with this picture I found among some old family photos. After much analysis of our clothing and hairstyles, we believe this was taken around Christmas, 1975. If you look closely you can see Marilyn (who went by the nickname Ralph) seated, posing as Santa dressed in an impromptu Santa outfit: toilet paper beard, toboggan and Christmas bow hat. Vick’s the child on Santa’s lap while Tracy and I look on. Then just as now,  you can see I was the  daydreamer off in my own little world and Tracy, the beautiful blond continues to tower over everyone else’s head.

After several bottles of wine, crackers and cheese, pizza and two variety packs of pizza, we attempted to re-create the original photo. Trying to coerce the cooperation of the cell phone, the props and all parties involved was a bit like herding cats. Tracy sent me the photos and I’m like, “Are you serious, this is the best one? You’ve got to be kidding me…”

On sure, on the outside, we’ve gained the weight- equivalent of another middle-aged woman; everyone’s fatter and our boobs have migrated impossibly south. We’re using night serums on our face and waxing our chins. The irony is that if you asked any of us the most surprising thing about a friendship spanning more than forty years, is how little we have changed.

The four of us are as different as night and day. We’re teachers and CPA’s, hospital administrators and creative types, preppies and earth puppies, direct and evasive, sex kittens and hermits. There’s several tattoos in very strategic places among the group. Who and where, my lips are sealed. Today, we’re still there for each other in all the old ways, but more so. We laugh harder and cry more easily. We listen more carefully and we’re not afraid to ask the hard questions or disagree. We hug harder and hang on longer. They are my “go to girls” and I’ve no doubt they would love me through anything. They’d help me hide a body, break me out of jail or at least hide a key in my cheesecake.

Because if we’re together, you bet there will be dessert!

If you have friends like these, thank God for that gift. They will go with you through hell and back. If you don’t have, make a phone call or look up your old friends on Facebook. Time leaves it mark on all of us but good friends and laughter are truly the best antidote for aging.

Merry Christmas Mags!!!

 

 

 

My page for the family memory book... 2015
My page for the family memory book… 2015

Ya’ll know I herald from an eccentric and big ole Southern family… My husband Perry tells folks my maiden name was Faulkner but that is not true. My father was a Swicegood and mama was a Young. My family tree has so many branches, I recently met a distant cousin online and discovered we’re kin three or four different ways before we reach 6th cousins.

When I was a kid, like most kids, I took my family for granted. Mom and dad really sacrificed so we could have things. We were able to go to college, have our own car to drive, take vacations. Despite my parents’ problems with each other, they really loved and supported their three kids.  Still, as I grew up I couldn’t wait to move away from Goat Pasture Road and leave the crazy ways of my family behind. It took me becoming an adult to fully appreciate my family. It took me becoming a grown up to realize family is something “in you” even more than it is people or a place. I couldn’t leave it behind any more than I could leave behind an arm or a leg. No matter where I went, my crazy family with all its stories, and dramas and conflicts seemed to go with me. It took me til middle age to really begin to accept who I am. That’s when all these stories began to pour out of me. I discovered part of me was a writer and decided to call that part of me “The Girl From Goat Pasture Road.”

It’s the truest thing I’ve ever done and I felt like when I began to embrace that, the whole world began to open up and something in my spirit as well.

As an adult, “family” means so much more than it did when I was young. We’ve lost so many family members the last ten years but we’ve also been blessed with new ones. I’ve lost my parents, aunts, uncles and cousins but I’ve gained nieces, great nieces and nephews, cousins, a grand-dog and a daughter in law in September. Growing older is such a privilege because the depth of our living is so much greater. We know life is tenuous and if we are wise, we will live each day with that in mind.

Perry decided last year that my side of the family needed to start a book of our family history, including recipes and photos. He bought each family a large notebook, put their initial on it and we asked that everyone or every family contribute a page each Christmas. This year, I decided to give my page a theme. It centers around my relationship with my three awesome nephews, and how we forged bonds through Christmas memories and traditions that have kept us close to this day. I’m so proud of each of them, their lovely wives and their children. I want them to know and remember me and continue to keep the bonds of love strong and connected in their own families.

 

I thank you all for your support of my 12 Days of Christmas Blogs. It is a tradition I look forward to every years and I am honored to receive the gift of your time.

No Room at the “Inn-terstate”: 5 Days of Christmas Blogs

street lamp 2  It was Christmas Eve and our little SUV made its journey home slicing a light in the darkness. This was just before the years of 24 hour Wal-Marts and fast-food restaurants. Possibly just before teenagers began staying up all night texting their friends. It was Christmas Eve and we were somewhere along a faceless highway, in the no man’s land between the small towns and communities of central North Carolina. There was no snow, no reindeer, no Santa Claus, no sign of sleigh or reindeer. It seemed all the world was sound asleep except for three travelers chatting merrily over the hum of Christmas Carols on the FM radio.

My husband Perry cannot see well to drive at night, or so he says, and he often uses this as a license to engage in much merriment and a liberal consumption of libations at Christmas parties and social events. I often find myself, therefore, as the Designated Driver, which isn’t usually a problem since my overconsumption tends to center upon the dessert table and not at the bar. I commuted to my job in the city for many years and I’m nearly as at home driving as I am sitting on my own sofa.

With me at the wheel, Aunt Carole riding shot gun and my husband in the back seat, our little Dodge Caliber purred across the hills and valleys of the NC countryside. We were headed home from a family Christmas Eve dinner at my sister’s.  All was well til Aunt Carole announced she had to go to the bathroom. The black of night engulfed us. We were far from home, miles from any towns; there were no rest stations and everything, if there was anything, was closed. Aunt Carole began to squirm in her seat as I scanned the horizon frantically for signs of life. “I don’t see anywhere to stop Aunt Carole,” I uttered helplessly and drove on for a few miles. “I’ve got to go to the bathroom NOW!” orderd Aunt Carole.

As we topped the next hill, I could see the faint glow of a street lamp, it’s phos-fluorescent glow creating a sort of halo in the moist night air. Aunt Carole began furiously removing her long winter coat and unfastening her britches as I pulled the car off the highway and into a small paved entrance just off the highway. The street lamp marked the entry to a parking lot of a small business with a very large gate. The gate was locked and we could travel no further.

“I’m so sorry Aunt Carole,” I uttered helplessly.

I may not have known what to do at that moment but that didn’t stop Aunt Carole. Nothing had stopped Aunt Carole, for that matter, for most of her eighty odd years of life and she refused to be undone by a bout of IBS, a locked gate and the lack of restroom facilities. She hopped out of the car, shot around to the front side of the passenger door and began to do her business.

I glanced in the rearview mirror at my husband. His face had assumed a familiar position: his mouth beneath the moustache was stretched wide and flat into an uncomfortable fake smile; one eyebrow arched nervously as his eyes darted around everywhere except the front passenger side where poor Aunt Carole was hanging on to the car door for dear life.

Lordy, I felt so bad for Aunt Carole! Of all my aunts, of all the older ladies I knew, Aunt Carole was so elegant and ladylike. That she be forced to such circumstances at the side of the road, no room at the inn-terstate seemed a great travesty. Jingle Bells was playing on the radio and I turned the volume up a bit so I didn’t have to hear anything outside that I didn’t want to hear.

“I think I’m done,” said Aunt Carole finally and I handed her a bunch of napkins from my glove compartment. “Oh no,” she  cried. “It’s all over my slacks! God God, it’s everywhere…”

Perry was squirming in the back seat, audibly, and his restlessness had turned into a twitch.

“Hold on, let me see if I have anything.” I stepped out and made my way to the back of the car, threw open the hatch and scanned the contents of the car. Often, I carry everything but the kitchen sink back there but I had cleaned it out to make room for hauling Christmas items. There were bags of Christmas gifts, left over Sweet potato Casserole and a tray of cookies. No gym clothes or plastic bags or cleaning rags. Aunt Carole had used our complete stash of napkins for the first round of unsuccessful cleaning and the only available item that could help was a tablecloth.

Aunt Carole peered at me helplessly over the top of the passenger door. “I’ve got to take these things off…” she said, matter of fact. “I’ve got to take them ALL off.”

I thought to offer her the tablecloth but I eyed the car’s interior selfishly. “Hold on….” said my husband in the back. I could see him squirming around and in a few seconds he handed me his jeans. I turned around to find him perched in the back seat looking rather sexy with his Christmas sweater, dark socks, loafers and skivvies. I couldn’t help but smile.

“Here you go Aunt Carole,” I said and handed her my husband’s pants. “Oh Perry!” she exclaimed. “Honey you don’t have to do this… oh I am so sorry babies.” Poor sweet Aunt Carole, dirty and half naked, getting dressed by street lamp in the middle of nowhere. Hubby in the backseat was subdued, his nervousness for Aunt Carole now surpassed by his own.

My aunt made her way back into the car. I smoothed the tablecloth over the front seat and she sat down gingerly. “Oh my! I am so sorry,” she continued to murmur. “Perry, you didn’t have to do that, honey, but I thank you so much. So very much my darlings…You’re just my angels!”

I pulled the car back onto the highway. We tried to ignore any new scents that permeated the night air, and I cracked the window for myself even as I turned up the heat for my naked husband in the back seat. After a few miles, we began to laugh and joke, even Aunt Carole. “Did I ever tell you about the time this happened to me in Winston Salem?” I asked. “I left my underwear beside a tree in someone’s yard in Sherwood Forest one evening!” Perry recounted his own incidents of not quite making it to the bathroom as well. It was decided that pretty much the whole family was full of shit and we laughed and joked our way across the rest of the county til we reached Aunt  Carole’s home.

“Don’t bother seeing me to the door.. Want me to get you a blanket or something?” she teased Perry.

“That’s ok,” he said. “We’re ’bout home…”

She peered back into the car, shook her head in amusement at my husband, still seated in the backseat and patted me lovingly on the hand before departing.

“Aunt Carole,’ my husband called from the darkness. “I just want you to know you got me out of my pants faster than any woman I’ve ever known!”

Aunt Carole snorted and we all began to laugh hysterically. My precious witty husband. How his quick thinking and humor had saved quite a humiliating evening for one of our favorite people in the world. It would be a secret shared by my husband and Aunt Carole for the rest of her life.

It’s our custom to give presents for those we love at Christmastime and while that’s okay, always remember the best gifts are spontaneously given from our hearts. You don’t always have to give the shirt off your back or the britches off your bottom but sometimes that’s just what is needed.

Merry Christmas and rest in peace my darling, Aunt Carole. You know who you are. Your secret is safe with me.

 

 

 

 

MIA: 7 Days of Christmas Blogs

viet letr 2 I’ve whispered Merry Christmas to you like a prayer and asked God to bless you and keep you safe wherever you may be. You appear to me often in my dreams like the Ghost of Christmas Past and the memories of so many years gone by still make me smile. But just like the movie, the “you” of the past and the “you” of the present are not the same. I have to wonder, does the person I loved all those years even exist anymore? You’ve lost your way right now and the thought of that makes me very sad.

I found a photo of us the other day. You are 15 and mama and daddy had just brought me home from the hospital. You are in the living room we never used except for company, sitting on our nicest sofa. You are holding me, your brand new baby sister, grinning from ear to ear. If you were hoping for a little brother instead of another sister, I couldn’t tell by the photo. I guess God gave you the next best thing in me, a little girl who played as hard as a boy. Did you have any inkling then that the little bundle you were holding would follow you around like a beagle pup in a few years, running around half naked and barefoot in the summer heat and hanging on to the back of that tractor while you plowed the fields? We sure had some good times then, didn’t we?

I have the letter you sent me shortly after you arrived in Vietnam in 1969. I was 7 years old and I thought it was the best thing ever that my brother had sent me my very own letter from half way around the world. You wrote it on government supplied stationary and used your best handwriting (which is usually lousy by the way) so I could read it myself and show it off. The paper is thin and I can read between the lines now to see what you didn’t say. You were scared and far from the home,  hanging on to the memories, hoping they’d lead you back home one day. You were a good brother to do that, and I want to thank you for remembering me and for reaching out when you were off in the middle of a war.

And then, do you remember when Perry and I got in a fight when our dog died? We woke up to find the dog dead. It was a clear cold Sunday morning just like today. Perry  wanted to have the dog cremated but I was upset, telling him people in my family didn’t do that, we bury our dead. I was mad as a hornet and I wrapped the dog in a towel and brought him with me down to your house. You were going to help me bury him til Perry called later and said he had changed his mind. I got home to find that he had dug a hole in that frozen earth and we buried old Petey in that cold damp earth.

These memories are just a few of the ones I hold, prized possessions that validate the light and the good in you. It nearly ripped my heart out to have to draw that line in the sand with you and say “enough” . As the little sister, it always seemed natural to let you call the shots but I can’t do that anymore. I’ve my own conscious to answer to. I love you so much but there’s nothing I can do to fix this. Your choices are your choices. Still, I’ve lived long enough and lost enough to know that life will simply find a way of going on in that way it does, rolling over those rough patches in life, smoothing them out with time if you give them light and air and don’t let wounds fester.

There is so much joy to be had during this season of love and family and I cannot allow my sadness to overcome my joy. I will bake cookies like I do every year. I’ll keep all the traditions, wrap presents, decorate, spend time with loved ones and friends. I will treasure time spent with your children and your grandchildren and will wish that you, the “old” you that is, could be there to share in that joy. My heart will jump when I see their eyes sparkle at the gifts beneath the tree and I’ll remember how you teased me for being that way too, since I was the baby in the family.

Christmas is a blessed reminder of how we’ll all be reunited again one day when there’s nothing left to forgive about each other.

One of the most painful things about growing up is that you learn some things are just too important to leave it at “agree to disagree”. You reach a place in life you have to take a stand, even when it causes pain. I wish you hadn’t burned so many bridges, but you’d probably say the same about me. Still I wonder, how it is that you came back from the war but over fifty years later you are MIA?

 

Shine…: 9 Days of Christmas Blogs

Hill Street Christmas  I live in one of those neighborhoods where almost everyone decorates the outside of their home for Christmas. From late November to January, the tiny 1100 block of Hill Street in Greensboro puts on a resplendent show of Christmas festivity. Cars inch down the road gawking at the unique and colorful displays.

Last year I wrapped the big cherry tree in my front yard with several thousand twinkling white lights. Large old-fashioned red bulbs spill over the azaleas by the wrought iron railing while oversized Christmas balls float on fishing line above the canopy over my entryway.

The house across the street could rival the Griswold’s. With the help of a professional decorator and a newly added electrical circuit, Christmas lights transform this brick bungalow into an enchanted English cottage. The sloped roof hangs heavy with glistening icicles. Lights strewn on the ground create the illusion of a meandering stream. Dazzling illuminated spheres made from chicken wire are suspended from tree branches like rainbow colored fruit.

Another neighbor’s home resembles something out of Whoville. Trees are wrapped and their branches punctuated with illuminated exclamation marks of color. Columns are striped like crisp red and white peppermint sticks, which melt into pink as their tops spread wide like outstretched fingers over the front porch.

Two houses down, some fifty feet above the ground, a huge star is cradled like a heavenly body between the limbs of an old oak tree. The family who lives here tragically lost their teenage son several years ago. At random times throughout the year, the star is exchanged for a giant red heart. The light serves as a reminder to all of us of loss and love.

I was recently talking with a nurse in the Oncology unit of Cone Hospital. She said her patients often drive down our street following their chemo and radiation treatments. I imagine the sight of the brightly lit decorations lifts their spirits and for a moment, helps them to forget the seriousness of their condition.

On winter evenings, I walk my dogs down the street, pausing to admire decorations that are as colorful and diverse as the personalities who live in each home. I am thankful for the time and effort put forth by my neighbors in a gift that so many of us can enjoy.

From the ancient winter solstice festivals of the Druids to our modern day Christmas, celebrations of light have been observed for centuries by nearly every culture around the world. While many of us are familiar with Hanukkah and Ramadan festivals in the US, less familiar is the Japanese festival of Obon Matsuri. I’ve seen spectacular photographs of hundreds of floating lantern “boats” as they were released onto rivers where it is believed they float downstream to the spirits of their ancestors.

As human beings, I believe we are also meant to shine. By honoring others through acts of service and kindness, we are like candles whose flames are touched end-to-end. We share and amplify the glow of our individual lights, without our own light being diminished. We claim power over the darkness and cast warmth into an otherwise cold world. We shine to let others know they are not alone. We shine to bring comfort and to ease one another’s suffering. We shine in honor of the sacrifice that was paid to give spiritual meaning to our physical lives on earth. Through shining our light, we make manifest the glory of the divine spirit that is present in all living things.

From Hill Street to your street, may you all have a bright and shiny Christmas and a dazzling New Year!

This is a repost of a 2014 Christmas Blog. I liked it so much I wanted to share it again.

The Love of Thousands: 10 Days of Christmas Blogs

angels1 As an avid traveler, interior designer and writer, I spent most of my life feeling like an anomaly. My family consisted mainly of mill workers, farmers and educators who rarely felt called to leave the county they were born in. While researching my ancestry back several hundreds of years, I’ve discovered artists and adventurers with whom I feel a shared and kindred spirit. I have traced my Swicegood lineage back to Lorantz Schweisguth who immigrated from Germany/ Austria into the US by way of Lancaster Pennsylvania. His son John would later change the spelling of his name to “Swisegood” before coming south to literally make a name for himself in my hometown of Davidson County, North Carolina. John was a skilled furniture-maker and carved elaborate pierced tombstones of soapstone in the old Germanic tradition, many of which are still in good condition today. He established the reknowned Swisegood School for Cabinetmaking, creating museum-quality furnishings that are sought by collectors and museums today. No doubt he was part of the movement that helped central North Carolina become in its heyday the “furniture capital of the world”. I  can only guess that John must have shared my love of good craftsmanship and the discriminating eye of an artist. His families’ sense of adventure pushed them onto a boat, into unsafe waters and into a foreign country. It propelled John to the North Carolina backwoods to seek a new life.

Although these people never knew me, I’ve no doubt they passed on some traits to me. Most of all, they loved their families and wanted a better life. They had children who loved their children and so forth until centuries later a child was born that was me. It occurs to me that I am no doubt the result of the love of thousands.

In my travels, I often collect rocks to bring back as souvenirs because they tell the unique story of singular place. I have a beautiful piece of jagged blue slate that I found walking in a meadow in the Swiss Alps that was scattered from the continent of Africa when it drifted across the ocean and collided into Europe millions of years ago. I have pebbles from a beach in Santorini where volcanoes exploded hundreds of thousands of years ago. Marble-like stones were formed when the molten lava mixed with the aggregate seashells, sand and limestone.

It is amazing to realize the immense power of these forces and how although they are invisible, they are actually stronger than what they created and left behind. A human beings’ most primitive sensations are activated through the senses of sound, sight or touch, yet the greatest forces in the world cannot be seen with our own eyes and are only perceived by their effects on other objects. “Reality” as we know it would not exist were it not for the the invisible forces that breathed life into them in the first place. 

Whether you call these forces God or fate or evolution or the luck of the draw makes no difference. Naming it one thing or another does not diminish its power. We must believe that the same process that shapes the earth shapes us as well. Love is the greatest force to leave its mark on human beings and it calls us to procreation and the continuation of life. A forest that has been burned will not stay charred for long before new growth sprouts out of the ashes. I believe the essence of love and God are one and the same. Love is omnipotent, love always trumps hate and love is constantly at work beneath the surface of our world healing hearts and smoothing out the kinks in our spirits.

Christmas exists solely because of this love. It’s why we celebrate the type of deep and selfless love that looks so far into the future, both into us and past us that there is no end.

This world would deny us the reality of this divine connection but try looking across the landscape beyond the surface and for the invisible forces that shape our physical world. Who has not marveled at a cross section of a tree, counting and examining the rings for clues to its past. Lean years, years of abundant rain and nutrition, disease… the story of the tree’s life is told in its inner rings. Gullies and ditches form as water meanders across the landscape; rivers slice deep channels in the earth on their path to the ocean. Our world is a hard and difficult place, especially these days with the 24/ 7 bombardment of depressing news, rampant consumerism and reality television that touts pathetic, offensive behavior as if it is really news-worthy. Turn off your television and cell phone. Have a cup of tea. Have a real conversation with someone and while you’re at it, listen and don’t talk so much. Look outside. Take a walk. Connect to the source. Find some quiet moments in the midst of these busy holidays and be cognizent of the “reason for the season” because I promise you, there really is one.

X-treme Santa: 11 Days of Christmas Blogs

Despite the fact that I am now an eligible member of AARP (I thought the application I received in the mail was a joke) anyone who knows me will attest that I’ve remained a child at heart. Even when I became a mother at age 30, there were not many things I enjoyed more than playing Santa Claus. What I believed to be innocent, spontaneous acts of joy and seasonal celebration caused numerous problems in my household. One issue was that since my husband never enjoyed the shopping and wrapping parts of Christmas as much as I did, he was rarely around to reign me in as he has most of our married life when I’d go overboard. Christmas morning often dawned to reveal surprises for everyone beneath the tree. The other and more serious problem was that while our son liked receiving presents, he was terrified of Santa Claus.

Oh yes, instead of the free-spirited  innocent mini-me I expected to raise, God had other ideas. He planted the soul of a suspicious, anxious old man inside our little boy’s body. Our son didn’t trust Santa Claus or anyone else for that matter prowling about our house at night.  Ever since a workman putting down a plywood subfloor in the attic had fallen through his ceiling, the idea of a huge sleigh and a team of hairy reindeer prancing atop the steep roof just above his second floor bedroom made him uncomfortable. When in late November we began reading “The Night Before Christmas” , Brennen would eye the visible patch in his sheetrock ceiling nervously.

benedrylAs Christmas Eve rolled around and our son was all worked up into a holiday fervor, even drugging him with Benadryl could hardly make him fall asleep. Like most parents my husband and I simply gave up on getting him to sleep in his own bed and allowed him to snuggle with us downstairs where he felt more secure. Once his breaths were deep and regular, I’d roll quietly out of bed and grope my way into the dark living room. As quietly as a mouse, I would pull bags and boxes out of closets and the trunk of the car, arranging the loot around the tree while my husband stayed in our warm and cozy bed on “lookout”. Since hubby was oblivious to most of the gifts being given, he was frequently as surprised as our son on Christmas morning. He was especially taken aback the year Santa brought a live bird. It was after midnight on Christmas Eve when I sneaked into my neighbor’s basement to retrieve the beautiful white cockatiel parrot I’d purchased the day prior. I slipped the birdcage under the tree and covered him with a tablecloth,  praying that he would not burst into song until he was revealed the next morning.

That was the year we learned that gifts from Santa are non-returnable, even with a father’s protest.

Like all parents we forced our son to get his picture made with Santa. We were only able to do this for one year because in subsequent years, he keenly remembered the event as traumatic and wouldn’t get within fifty feet of a man in a red suit.  There is a photograph of our son, arms outstretched, eyes terrified and shrieking “Mama-hold-you!” Long before Elf on the Shelf, the Santa of my generation was like a perverted Peeping Tom who gazed in the windows at night and lurked behind the trees by day. I frequently sang about it, “He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake…” I’d murmur. Like our own parents had done to us, we tried to bribe our children into being good by explaining that Santa was always watching and would bring a lump of coal if he misbehaved. Of course, the simple fact of having gas logs and a heat pump in our 2 level suburban tract home did little to enhance any positive or negative attributes of coal. Also, I staged phone calls with relatives and we wrote letters to Santa addressed to the North Pole. Without fail, we left cookies and milk on the side table near the Christmas tree and scattered reindeer food on the sidewalk on Christmas Eve. One year I tracked talcum powder all over our dark hardwoods so realistically that my husband awoke convinced that Santa himself had been stomping around the living room spreading someone else’ ashes.

In hindsight, I admit I went overboard. I’d like to think rather than being a horrible mother I may have simply done the wrong thing for the right reason? (I’m not sure if that’s any better than doing the right thing for the wrong reason but it sounds good…)We were so fortunate and it was easy to be carried away by it all. We had a beautiful healthy and slightly neurotic son. We had a warm home with dirty hardwood floors to call our own. We had good neighbors who left their basement door unlocked, plenty of food to share and enough money to buy Christmas presents. We had the hole in the ceiling patched. Most importantly, we had our family.

While those days when our son was young were precious, Christmas today in our near-empty nest has become more simple. As I debate the benefits of my submitting that AARP application, I have started to accept that simple is best. They say that when our Christmas list is short it is because the things we want cannot be bought. I’d have to agree.  A sound and discriminating mind, good health, freedom, the continued presence of those we love, safety and world peace… these are things which all human beings long for and cannot be bought at any price.

Today, our formerly terrified toddler is a grown man, working and in college and newly engaged to be married in September. I am so happy that he has chosen the best gift of all this year: a sassy, intelligent, compassionate woman just quirky enough to blend into our weird little family. A young lady who will hopefully be a mother to his children and a partner for life! While my husband and I hope they spend much of their early years simply loving and focusing on their marriage, I must admit I look forward to having grandchildren in and out of the house one day. There’s just something magical about children and Christmas. I need to start reading up about this Elf on the Shelf thing. I’ve got some ideas… 

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