Girl From Goat Pasture Road

Musings of Susan Swicegood Boswell



Late Frost

 My calendar says that it is spring outside but my azaleas beg to differ. Their profusion of pale pink blossoms have withered, shrunken and brown, due to a late- season frost and bout of cold weather that we all knew to anticipate, but somehow hoped could be spared.

I was not here to witness their destruction. My husband, Perry, calls me “lucky” and jokes how I often manage to be out of town when we have the worst weather. Last week was no different. On the two coldest days in March, when Greensboro’s low temperatures dipped into the 20’s, I was visiting a friend in sunny Miami, where the balmy daytime highs reached the upper 70’s and nighttime lows never dipped below the 60’s.

As the plane circled a few thousand feet above the North Carolina soil during our flight’s take-off and landing, the landscape revealed itself in bleak patches of brown and grey. Spring, when viewed from such lofty aspirations, was nowhere to be found.

Back home, I simply can’t rally myself into wanting to garden this year. My heart is heavy and in a state of mourning over matters much more significant than my frost-bit azaleas. Some of these losses are real and others have yet to occur. I find myself bracing internally for the impact. In the inner sanctum of my heart, I am buckling down the hatches- covering the shrubbery with sheets and raking the mulch up over the exposed roots and tender growth of my soul.

It’s not just me. I don’t have to tell you there is a lot of collective suffering out there. The damage is rampant-  look on Facebook; listen to the news. The cold snap that took my spring blossoms took those of my friends and neighbors, too.

I witnessed that. Saw it from the sky.

Logic and common sense tells me that my worries, that reacting to an impending sense of doom is a waste of good time, that what will be, will be. I simply must get on with that.

I keep thinking if I would just get outside and put my hands in the earth, maybe I’d feel differently, yet I am caught up in my inner turmoil, yet to let the dirt collect beneath my nails. As I make my daily walk from the house to the driveway and back again, I see the persistent signs that indicate life will keep coming at us despite an erratic forecast. Pretty clusters of snow drops congregate by the warmth of the retaining wall; white blossoms cling and fall from our two ancient cherry trees; bright green shoots among the beds of perennials poke their heads from the mulch, curious. The weeds and hellebores, on the other hand, are quite resistant; they live in outright denial and laugh at the cold. Like some people, they have simply decided not to give in.

From my vantage point, this morning in my little den, I sit curled up with an afgan strewn across my lap (and a cat overlooking my shoulder) on the vintage sofa my dad purchased for my grandmother in November of 1945, just after he returned from fighting in the South Pacific theatre of World War 2. I’ve been waking up too early these days- too much is on my mind. While the sun has not yet risen, I can hear the birds beginning to sing their songs outside the french doors, excited for the gift of a new day. A few blossoms from my camellias were spared from the cold and I see that Perry has clipped them and placed them on an adjacent table so that spring might find us indoors.

It’s funny, the way things work in life. On these days, when we find ourselves donning jackets and boots in March and April, we must live in a type of suspended belief. The promise of fair weather tomorrow must fight to reveal itself, when our senses would tell us otherwise.

Pets and children innately know how to live in the moment, but for most other living beings, our “nows” are peppered with “yesterdays”.

Memories are one of our greatest gifts but are also the bittersweet reminders of what is no more.

Of all the emotions, grief, in particular, seems to be cumulative. For some folks, a loss is not a single loss. Like a filter, it gathers and hangs on to all the losses that have come before it. Grief keeps score and gathers those losses like stray kittens and locks them down tightly in our hearts. Grief also has its own intuition. Like a trained meteorologist, grief expertly discerns the early warning signs of  change in the weather, that wait for us, just over the horizon. While the condition of PTSD has garnered much attention lately, in regards to our veterans, it is also something that most anyone who has experienced trauma can experience in varying degrees. Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition which causes us to experience all the side- effects of stress, even when the imminent danger of the threat has long been over.

I’ve heard it said that grief is a hole in our hearts that can never be filled and that we must simply allow our love to grow bigger around it. I know this is true and that God is there, almost exclusively, for that purpose. Like the changing of the seasons, we must be patient. We must forgive the cold snaps. We must remember that our growing season takes time and that grief is simply one portion of the price that we all pay for love.

Tribute to an old dog…

robbie-and-shredder I realized this morning, as I find myself awake hours before the sun comes up, how am I going to sleep without you here to wake me up at 3 AM? It’s been so many years that we have risen together- you first, me second- for our middle of the night romps for water and bathroom breaks.

I am looking at the disarray around the house, for what seems like the first time in days. I guess it’s time to put things in order and to get things back to “normal”, not that our house has ever been “normal” by most people’s standards. We are eccentric, some folks have said, which I think simply means we are not afraid to embrace our own uniqueness.

But really, it has never occurred to me that there is any other way to live…

All my scatter rugs and runners from the kitchen, the hall, the bathroom- even the little door mats I bought for getting dirt and mud off our feet when we walk in from the back yard (because of course, my “eccentric” little house has nothing so practical as a mud room)- all these rugs have been placed on top of every slick surface in my house, creating little paths so you could travel safely from the den to the kitchen, the kitchen to the living room and from the den into the hall to our bedroom without losing your footing that became so precarious in the last week since you became really sick.

The sofa pillows have all been removed from the sofa and chairs and placed under tables and along the wall to prevent you from becoming trapped in the crevices and inaccessible areas of the house where you might get hurt or where I might have trouble getting you out. I came home from work yesterday to find you’d wiggled yourself under the cocktail table. I know it’s instinct for you to want to hide when you are feeling so bad. I’m sorry, but it was for my own peace of mind, I couldn’t simply leave you there.

All of the small ceramic bowls seem to be dirty, filled with bits of water and melted ice cubes that I placed around the room recently, should you need them at your disposal. You were not able to get up and use the stainless doggie bowls but a cereal bowl fit right between your paws and you really did not have to raise your head too much to drink from them. I’ve gathered them and up and placed them in the sink to be washed. (If anyone is afraid of dog germs, know that I will wash these bowls but if you are really afraid of doggie germs, you have your fair warning. You may not want to come and eat here again.)

My summer robe is laying in the floor. I put it there beside you the last night you slept here, just in case you got cold. Also so that in case you woke up feeling lost and confused and couldn’t remember where you were, you’d smell me in the cotton fibers and feel a bit of comfort.

My winter robe is also dirty because I’d done this same thing another night and it became soiled. I guess it’s a good thing it is warm this morning and I do not need a robe.

I also need to clean the floors because I’ve brought in so many leaves, the floor is a mess. The walk off mats were not there to do their job because I’d removed them and placed then winding helter skelter all over the house. Since I’ve had to carry you in and out to use the bathroom these last few days, my slippers are lying there too, along with the leaves. They have been there since a week ago, when I heard you outside yelping, as you had a seizure the morning before Valentine’s Day. That was really scary and I ran out in my bare feet and scooped you off the ground that was wet with rain (or was it a heavy coat of morning dew?) and laid you down on these same rugs to recover.

Later, I gave you a bath, so most of the towels in the house are dirty, too. I was so glad you relaxed and seemed to enjoy as much that, as much as you were able. But as you know, I have been less concerned about the floor. My point is that now that you are gone, I guess I will have to keep up the cleaning a little better.

Oh, I see another spot on the kitchen floor that needs cleaning too. I found you there one morning over the weekend. You’d gotten down and couldn’t get up and so I picked you up and added a few more mats. I cleaned those spots up at the time but it looks like I missed a few areas.

There’s the meds, of course. Still out on the kitchen counter. I placed them in the cabinet this morning with the other doggie and kitty meds that we always save but never usually reuse again.

The refrigerator needs to be cleaned out too. The pot of chicken and rice I cooked for you that you wouldn’t eat. The special items I purchased for you, the sliced American cheese, the deli lunch meat, the special dogfood. There is the jar of peanut butter, still out. All the tricks of the trade I used for hiding pills and trying to get you to eat that just didn’t work.

Yesterday after work, I needed to run an errand to Costco. Brennen, had called a few times during the day and I had missed his calls. But really, I guess I was a lot like you trying to hide under that cocktail table; I didn’t really want to see or talk to anyone. Even my own son.

As fate would have it, I passed him driving up Wendover Avenue. A good-looking guy in his pretty blue sports car with a scruffy beard that his mama says “hides his handsomeness”. We were literally side by side on that stretch of road but unable to speak to one another. I waved and drove on, but do you know he followed me to the Costco parking lot? He said that he was headed out to pick up dinner and to get me flowers but because of our chance meeting, he told me to get into his car. “I’m going to buy you a milk shake instead, ” he announced.

That boy knows his mother’s heart…

“Mom, you need to get a new dog,” he said. “Now that I’m gone, you need a reason to be at home more.” I assured him that I was fine and that there would be a time in the future for another dog but this was not it. Getting the wrong dog or even getting the right dog at the wrong time in your life is a recipe for disaster that I planned to avoid.

Such a sound and practical response, I thought. “Besides,” I said,” We have Milly and the cat. It’s not like there are no more fur babies to love in the house.”

But I know what he means. I have to admit, the house feels very lonely this morning without you here for my 3 AM bathroom and water break. The slice of pizza I bought at Costco last night must have been really salty. Or maybe it’s the tears? I’ve cried a few, more for me than for you.

Brennen is right. I am sure there will be another doggie in our future, but just not now. This lifespan thing of 15-20 years for you and 75-80 years for me really sucks. At the moment, I’m just not ready to commit to that kind of discrepancy again.

When I went to bed last night, I remembered how before you became sick, you slept on the floor beside my side of the bed most nights, right between me and the door. It was sad to think of you not being there anymore. You were such a sweet and beautiful boy. Everyone knew that you wouldn’t think to hurt anyone.

I realized then that I never thought of you as my fierce protector but I think I was wrong about that.

Fortune Teller

angels1  When our old friends Kimberly and Chris decided to throw a big Halloween Party for their two boys a few years ago, I was their go- to person to portray the role of the fortune teller. Always up for a new adventure, I eagerly donned a long flowing skirt, ruffled blouse and layered all the bling I could find around my neck. I tied a colorful silk scarf, peasant style, around my forehead. Dramatic kohl black eyeliner and a long dark wig masked my blue- eyed blond. As I gazed into the mirror, I hardly recognized myself.

Miraculously, I found my old Ouija Board and its plastic controller. A relic from my teenaged years, the Ouija Board had been a big hit at slumber parties where giddy fourteen year olds boldly called forth the spirit of Elvis and other long lost celebrities during impromptu séances. I packed a deck of cards and the iridescent gazing ball from my garden. Voila! My outfit and props were complete.

After the hotdog dinner, I placed my wares inside the tent which had been set up in a dark and remote corner of their big backyard. The wind whispered through the tall pines and broad oaks as shadows danced like ghosts across the precision- cut lawn. We placed a candle in the middle of the table to illuminate my face and that of my young patrons. Miss Susannah was ready for her first customer.

One by one, Kimberly escorted the kids inside. They approached me tentatively, their eyes filled with excitement and apprehension. I played the role to the hilt. When I read the children’s’ palms, everyone had long life lines that showed happy marriages and beautiful children. With dramatic flair, I fanned the cards across the top of the table; a three of spades could foretell the same future as the Queen of Hearts. I sprinkled tea leaves into a cup of water where their black amorphous shapes revealed only to me, the shape of their future. I gazed into the crystal ball, pretending to see what they could not. I worked in tidbits of information that I had been told about the kids, details about sports or summer camps or their latest crush. It all went off without a hitch until Kimberly brought in my last customer.

At first, I did not recognize the boy. Even when Kimberly said his name, I could not recall anything significant about the boy. “This is Kyle’s friend Ryan,” she said. “He and his mom got here late. He’d like to talk to you.”

“Ah, come in Ryan” I said with a heavy accent and motioned for him to have a seat.

I read his palm. I sought his fortune in the tea leaves. Unlike the other boys, I could tell my words had failed to impress him. Ryan chewed on his lip; something else was obviously on his mind. “I wanted to ask you about my dad…” the boy whispered softly.

Suddenly, I remembered what Kimberly had told me about this boy.
Ryan’s father passed away a few weeks prior, suddenly and unexpectedly. Kimberly and Chris had not expected him or his mother to come to the party. My heart skipped a beat; for a moment, I did not know what to do. Across from me was a vulnerable real-life boy and I was a fake fortune teller. The boy’s eyes looked at me for some kind of reassurance; I have never felt so small or so embarrassed at perpetuating such a sham. I started to confess, to explain the truth. I wanted to tell him I was not really a fortune teller and that I didn’t know anything about his dad.

Then, I remembered my own experience. It wasn’t long ago that I, too had lost a father. In a chance and singular encounter with a fortune teller in Key West, I too had asked a stranger about my own father. I hadn’t cared so much about the number of children I would have or the length of my lifeline. All I wanted and needed to know in that instant was that my dad was ok. For a minute, I connected to this boy’s pain and told him what I thought he needed to hear. I told him what a kind person had told me almost ten years before.

“Oh Ryan,” I began, disregarding my props and my accent and speaking straight from my heart. I told him what I hoped someone would tell my own son, should the tables ever be turned. “You know, your father loves you so very much. He is so happy that you have asked about him! I know your heart is heavy and that you miss him so much. Always remember, that even though you don’t see him, his spirit is always with you, looking over you and your mom.”

I’m not sure if my answer was the right one or if it gave this boy any comfort. I’m not sure if I should have continued to act the part or if I should have come clean to the poor innocent and injured boy sitting across from me. I hadn’t meant to play a cruel joke. I guess I felt that it was important that Ryan believe in something at that moment of feeling so very lost and alone.

Ryan is a grown man now. I’ve lost track, forgotten to ask about him over the years. Still, I hope he has remembered my words and that he has known the loving and continued presence of his father in his life along the road to adulthood. I hope for his sake, that my prediction came true.


big heart Out of the blue, my friend Mr. Edmund would ask “Susan, what is this thing called love?” He was 93 years old at the time, which was still very young for him as opposed to some folks who are dry and crumbled at 40. His question alluded to a song made famous by Frank Sinatra and Cole Porter. Even after so many years of friendship, I knew his query was primarily rhetorical and one that he liked to answer himself. “It’s a mystery!” he said brightly and indeed, even after his passing, it still is.

I have a pretty bouquet of roses on the table from my sweetie and a belly full of chocolates. I made Perry his favorite cake Sunday night and showered my kids with Starbuck’s coupons. Both Valentine’s Day and my friend Mr. Edmund have come and gone while I am left pondering  “what is this thing called love?”

I recently told a friend a story about Perry’s and my honeymoon. It was 1985 and we travelled from North Carolina to Maine and Cape Cod, two fresh-faced little college kids who dared go where not many Southerners had gone before us- across the Mason Dixon line. After two weeks on the road we were broke and homesick and stopped for a night’s stay at a little motel on the New Jersey Turnpike. The place was one step above a truck stop, hell it may have been a truck stop for all I knew, and I remember the woman at the registration desk looked scary with her frizzy bleached blonde hair. The cloud of smoke that surrounded her did not look like a halo. Our room had a broken window and some plumbing problems. I shored up the door with a chair; I’m still not sure it wasn’t a front for a brothel.

It turned out that our questionable surroundings were not our biggest problem. It was time for dinner and Perry suggested we go to McDonalds. We’d only been married just a few short weeks and I didn’t want to burst his bubble but the truth was I’d never been a fan of McDonalds in the first place. We’d eaten at McDonalds with increasing incident due to our decreasing funds and I was sick of it. I simply could not stomach another Big Mac. Now, I’m not a person prone to hissy fits or at least I wasn’t then but for reasons unbeknownst to me, I threw my husband down on the bed and began screaming dramatically “I am NOT going to McDonalds. I HATE it! I HATE McDonalds!.” I still recall the look of surprise on his face and my clenched fists.

After that, we didn’t go to a McDonalds for a very long time…

It’s been nearly thirty two years since that day and in that time, my husband and I have weathered our share of ups and downs over things much more challenging than a hamburger. We’ve spent our fair share of time being both the bug and the windshield. These experiences have taught me that love is not for sissies and that it requires a generous dose of patience. You learn that even when you know someone for most of your life, there are always new things to discover about them. Most of those things you will find endearing but there are the occasional things that will drive you as crazy and unmercilessly as a dripping faucet. I’ve learned that for love to last it needs plenty of space to breathe in and how laughter can be the saving grace that stops you from killing the person who seems put on this earth just to drive you ape-shit, particularly if hormones are involved on one or the other’s part.

During those early years of our relationship, I remember how our love- just like life itself- seemed simple. Over time, it became as weighted down as that mattress in the truck stop and more complex with a growing family, mortgages, careers and the things that hurt us that can be hard to forget, even when they’ve been forgiven.

We travelled a long way from home in those early years but we have come further today than I would have ever imagined. Love changes a lot over time as it trades in the sharp corners of its youth for something more rounded and flexible and less prone to breakage over something as simple as a piece of charbroiled meat on a white bun.

Love on the other side never fails to amaze me at it’s vastness, how it comes to permeate your home and your closet and your outlook on life. How it scatters on the floor like the toenail clippings I know my husband did not vacuum up last week and how it spreads out your front door and into the neighborhoods and lives of your friends and co-workers. How it’s like travelling on a trip where you need one person to drive and another to read the road map.

The Life, Love and Folly of a 90 Year Old Man

IMG_1435 “Susan, are you writing this down? It’s going to be a bestseller,” he says emphatically. “I’ve got the name all picked out. It’s called The Life, Love and Folly of a 90 Year Old Man.” He pauses to observe my reaction. Edmund Koury, Chairman of the Board of Koury Corporation and Edmund Koury, my good friend announced this to me several years ago around the time of his ninetieth birthday. He has decided I need to write his life’s story and by the looks of things, I’d better get on it. He smiles a mischievous smile and chuckles, obviously amused with himself.

If it were not for a birthday cake indicating otherwise, you’d swear he was younger than he was by a decade or more.

In wintertime, he dresses in layers. The blood thinner he takes tends to make him feel cold all the time and gives him the appearance of having perennially bruised hands. Mr. Edmund often wears brown corduroys and a sweater vest over a blue shirt. He is colorblind and blue is one of the few colors he can easily discern. His hair is thick and white and his eyebrows often unruly, but on this day both have been trimmed by Gilbert Hutchins of Hutchins Barber Shop on Clifton Road. At Mr. Edmund’s recommendation and penchant for value, Mr. Hutchins now cuts my husband and son’s hair as well. “Now, Gilbert charges 9 dollars but tip him 3 bucks and no more,” he told my husband firmly. So that is what they do.

Mr. Edmund has the olive complexion of his Lebanese and Syrian forbearers combined with some French on his maternal side. While he bears an air of distinction, in his younger days he looked like a movie star. Today, deep lines crinkle out from his brown eyes like sunshine but they darken with remembrance. “We’ll get to the “love” part later, “ he says and begins dictating. I scramble to find an envelope or something to write on because you could never tell when he would start telling a story. “Now here’s the “life” part…It was my mother’s prayers that brought me back from the war…”

I never wrote that book about him but every year he’d add another number to its name. The Life, Love and Folly of a 90 Year Old Man became “a 91 Year Old Man”, then “a 92 Year Old Man” and so forth.

All I can think is how he would have turned 94 in October…

The Koury family is synonymous with the development of Greensboro. I’ve been fortunate to be an employee of the company for nearly 20 years and a design consultant for much longer than that. Mr. Edmund’s father immigrated to Greensboro from Lebanon around the turn of the century along with various cousins and brothers. They initially came to escape Muslim persecution of the Koury family’s Christian sons. His father was a peddler who sold cloth and housewares to farmers and country folk in the area. Eventually, the business grew into a dress store in nearby Burlington which Edmund would later manage for his father when he became ill.

Edmund was popular at school, becoming class president, yet he mostly kept to himself preferring not to socialize much with his classmates. His family’s dark skin and middle eastern customs didn’t fit so well among a WASP North Carolina textile town. Later, he served his country by fighting in the infantry division of the Battle of the Bulge. At the end of the war, appendicitis kept him from leaving Germany with the rest of his battalion. He stayed behind to work as a prison warden in a Mannheim POW camp where he met a German widow and unexpectedly fell in love. Less than a year later he waved goodbye to Hilde Kohl. She waved and blew kisses to him from a second floor balcony, accompanied by her young daughter Dagmar and mother who was severely crippled by arthritis. Back home, he finished college and partnered with his brother Joe in several successful businesses including a small textile company and Kirkman Koury, a residential construction company, which eventually  morphed into Koury Corporation, one of the most successful commercial real estate development companies in the state.

One basis for our unlikely friendship was that Mr. Edmund was a great storyteller. The story of Hilde was one of a few that was tinged with regret but mostly, he had a stoic acceptance of things that were not meant to be. He would often recount war stories which I listened to with fascination, especially since my own father had served in the same war as a marine in the South Pacific. Having lost my father decades prior, I would have given anything to ask him the questions I asked Mr. Edmund. One story he told occurred during a cold winter evening when he and his radio man became separated from the other troops. They had been scouting for places to set mortars. It was bitterly cold and dusk tinged the sky. They spotted a shed on the bleak horizon and headed off to take advantage of any shelter it might offer for the night. Upon arrival, they dropped their heavy packs and surveyed their surroundings. Peering out the back door, they saw three German soldiers approaching the shed wearily in the snow. Mr. Edmund and the other soldier drew their weapons and prepared to blast the door when it swung open. Instead, the German soldiers opened another door which led them to an adjoining side of the barn. Seemingly unaware of the American soldier’s presence just a few feet away, the Germans talked among each other before falling asleep. Mr. Edmund and his companion did not make a sound or sleep a wink that night, afraid they would be discovered. After they heard the Germans snoring, they quietly made their way back to their camp before sunrise. He always ended this story by saying it was his mother’s prayers that brought him back from the war. Years after his mother passed away, her rosary still hangs on the wall in his kitchen.

Mr. Edmund loved Dancing With the Stars. It was an ongoing joke that he only watched the show because of their nice shoes. He was fond of the latin dances, especially the dramatic Argentine Tango. His favorite dancer was Cheryl Burke while mine was Derek Hough. I looked forward to his analysis of the dancers’ performances each Tuesday morning after it had aired the previous Monday night. He loved big band music and remembered seeing Frank Sinatra in Raleigh during the early years. He said he couldn’t believe how the girls went so wild over such a little man. He thought Cole Porter was one of the best songwriters of all times and I would have to agree with him. I have always liked Night and Day but had never heard of Begin the Beguine. “What is this thing called love?” he’d sometimes ask rhetorically and answer himself with “It’s a mystery!” He loved spending Saturday nights in front of the television with Lawrence Welk and watching old movies on the Turner Classic channel.

We also shared a love for Middle Eastern foods. After he discovered how much I loved the food I’d eaten on a trip to Greece, he made it his mission to teach me about Lebanese delicacies such as kibbeh, meat pies, stuffed squash, homemade hummus and baba ganoush. He brought me a cookbook written by his cousin Marie. I’d try out the recipes over the weekend and bring them in for him to sample a bite sometimes on Monday mornings. He taught me to enjoy good olives and a fine Manchego cheese, along with fresh figs and nuts purchased from the Jerusalem Market located a few miles down High Point Road. If you stopped by his office in the morning, you couldn’t leave without a handful of almonds or walnuts which he procured by the bagful from Costco.

I am not sure if he drank Scotch or Whiskey but I know he had a gentleman’s appreciation for a good drink, good-looking cars and good-looking women. I’m also not certain about the order of his preference. He continued driving his “Sunday Car” an ancient Riviera, I believe, that rolled over the roads like a tank along with his SUV (which he called an SOB) well into his 90’s. His driving skills were legendary among my co-workers and despite their warnings, he would occasionally insist I accompany him to some place or another. I always tried to meet him and even begged him to let me drive the car for him but there was no way he would allow a woman to do such a thing. He found my lack of confidence in his driving skills amusing and would often pretend while driving that he couldn’t make out stop lights and road signs ahead. The last time I saw him we joked about riding around together and he referred to me as “white- knuckled” which was true.

He looked forward to birthdays and special celebrations that he could use as an excuse to entertain and share the company of others. Up until last year, he would have me  gather together his nieces, an old friend or a favorite neighbor for the occasional grand luncheon at one of two of our tenant’s restaurants on the other side of town. Sometimes, he would tell me to invite my sister or a girlfriend and he would insist on sending everyone home with to-go boxes filled with enough food for dinner.

He was humble and kind and treated the greatest and least of people with the same consideration. He was especially sympathetic to other immigrant families and went out of his way to give them opportunities to get ahead. He knew his employees and their families by name and expressed special concern about their health and well-being. He believed inhaling salt water up your nose  was good for congestion and in the importance of physical exercise. He could walk circles around most everyone at the mall throughout his late 80’s. If he would see any of us walking to the Post Office or somewhere he’d grab our arm and make us walk laps a few with him.

Last fall, he suffered a major setback when he was in an automobile accident. No one else, thankfully was hurt. Under the careful watch of his brother’s family and dedicated caretakers, he managed to get through several difficult months of rehab and come back home. Last Tuesday, he passed away peacefully at this same home he had shared with his mother. He sensed her presence as he neared the end, asking his caretakers to check on his mother “in the next room.”

I recall that when I dropped in to visit him just after New Years, I asked him how he was doing and he nodded sadly, replying “I’m ready to cross the river.” He had said those same words to me with every setback he’d suffered over the last four or five years and as usual, I refused to placate him. “I’m sorry, Mr. Edmund, it’s just not your time…” I’d say before turning the conversation on a lighter note. “Besides, anyone can see you look too good to cross the river.”

This never failed to bring a smile to his face.

Mr. Edmund was a bright spot in my life and I believe I was the same for him. It has been one of the great joys and privileges of my life to call him my friend. So many people just seem to grow up and grow old but Mr. Edmund retained his youthful spirit and a passionate outlook on life. The Life, Love and Folly of a 93 Year Old Man… This says it all, really. I can attest that he lived a great “life”. He cared deeply for others and was “loved” and respected by both his Koury family and his other family- the employees that worked for him at his company.

“Folly” is not a word one hears used much anymore. It’s impossibly old-fashioned, a throwback to silent movies and vaudeville shows. It’s a word in keeping with an old man who refused to be defined by his age or his position in life. Whether it was folly or something more akin to wisdom, I cannot be certain. It is, however, something I hope to keep with me in my own travels towards the river. It is a reminder that while all of us must age, growing old is entirely optional.

Rest in peace my friend.

Hanging on by a Thread

thread 2

The universe weaves a magnificent tapestry and we are the thread. It’s multi-dimensional and unlike anything we’ve ever seen before on Earth. No two stitches or colors are the same. The shuttle moves in and out, strands overlapping and then moving apart. When one thread runs out, another begins seamlessly in its place. If any part were missing there would be a hole but there are none. The tapestry is perfect; the tapestry is divine. We sacrifice our mortality for being woven into the whole, the strands, equal parts life and death.

This is God’s work and we sense it, we search for it, we believe in it through faith.

John Lennon said life is what happens to us while we are busy making other plans. Cocooned in the fabric of our tiny little lives, it is easy to forget we are part of a divine creation. We live most of our days in the routine of familiar comfort. We get out of bed. We feel stressed about work. We cook dinner. Clean the dishes. Get married. Go to college. Have babies. We think we’re fat. We clean up dog poop. Life goes on and on and on and it can be so distracting,  we forget that life is so fragile until something comes along to shake us from our complacency.

It could be a lump. A diagnosis. An accident. Or simply hearing someone say they are growing weary of this world. Those are the moments our awareness shifts and we hold on by a thread because all we can offer seems so very small. A visit. A card. A hug. Maybe a meal. Such small insignificant things.

My friend Mr. Edmund is 93. Four months ago, he broke his leg, ruptured a disc and went through rehab. The worst of it is not so much these recent setbacks but more that he’s so very tired, just plain worn out. “Susan, I’m ready to cross the river,” he says when I visited him last week. He’s lost nearly all his old friends and family, his parents, his brother and sister. I know this game, we’ve played it before. “I’m so sorry you feel bad, “ I say “but it’s not your time. You look too handsome.” Eventually I get a smile out of him.

Of course, I don’t know this. I want him to feel better and I am so thankful to have him here. These little conversations mean so much to me. I admit, he is looking a little pale this day, sitting in his old recliner with a blanket pulled up to his chin. We talk about regular life stuff, like how my husband and I are taking dancing lessons, about the holidays spent with our families, about my son and his fiancee and my pets. Mr. Edmund swears he wants to come back as one of my pets, in another life, that is. He thinks they have it that good.

Later, I reflect back upon scene. One minute we are talking about dying and the next I’m talking about the Foxtrot. It seems so easy in that moment, like life and death are one and the same. Western culture tends to think of life and death as mortal enemies. We forget life is not the thread anymore than death- they are one human experience twisted into a single strand.

Life and death, are of course inseparable. Not only in a single life but in our connection to all the lives out there. This is the tapestry. I know about everlasting life. I know my name is written on God’s hand but I confess, I can’t help but worry about the details sometimes. It’s hard doing needlework. Maybe like me, God’s eyesight isn’t so good anymore. Does he need a magnifying glass or need to borrow some readers? It’s so difficult to read the directions sometimes and I think sometimes how in my hurry to get to the next thing, I’ve just glossed over it and missed some of the important details.Who knows what is really being written about us there on God’s palm?

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!



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…


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…


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








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.

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