Girl From Goat Pasture Road

Musings of Susan Swicegood Boswell


husbands and wives

11 Days: O Holy Night(The Mt. Olivet Christmas Miracle)

choir-boys-2 So maybe you’ve heard me mention before how my husband, Perry, never sings in church. I don’t know why it is, but this annoys me, to no end. He stands beside me, holding up his end of the hymnal, as stoic as a mute. Nary a “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…” nor  “A-aa- men” can be heard being uttered from his frozen lips. “Honey, why don’t you sing?” I ask. I pester and prod him, but he just shakes his head no. Really, he has such a beautiful voice. I hear him singing sometimes around the house.

Sigh… It’s been this way for most of our 32 years; that’s how long we’ve been married. That’s how long I’ve been nagging him to sing and thus it is precisely how long he’s been ignoring me…

Well, as I’ve said before, it’s nice to be surprised by someone with whom you have spent so many years years together. After 32 years, you think you know everything about the other person. I could tell you about his favorite drink (an Old Fashioned), his steak (well done), his pizza (meat lovers) or his dessert (coconut cream pie.) I could tell you that he’s always going to order a side of sour cream with his enchilada. He insists on potato salad with his ham. I could tell you that when he’s driving and there is an opportunity for a short cut and a long cut, he will take the long cut and swear it’s a short cut. I could tell you he’s forgiven me most transgressions in our marriage except that he still harbors a deep- seeded resentment since I refused to let him bring some old turtle figurine of his childhood (really, that old thing was hideous) into our newly-wedded bliss.

Before he surprised me last year by taking a job as a funeral home attendant after his retirement (Boy, I never saw that one coming…), the last big surprise he gave me was the time he sang in church. Well, it wasn’t exactly church but it was pretty close to it…

Back then, we still lived in Davidson County and attended Mt. Olivet Methodist Church in Arcadia. Our Sunday School Class consisted of most of the choir members and its director… Kathy and Jim Knox, Kathy and Charles Craver, the Bumgarners, our friends Buzz, Christy Chestnut, you name them- if they were in the choir they were probably members of our Sunday School Class. We held the class Christmas Party at the home of Bryan and Katherine Gaye. After our delicious meal, we gathered in a big circle around the room to sing Christmas carols. Jim Knox sang and played his guitar. The heck with Elvis, that man has the most beautiful liquidy- velvet voice you’ve ever heard, bar none. We sang our hearts out, at least most of us did, but not Perry, of course. He just stood there in his usual rigid position like he was waiting for a bus while we decked the halls and rum-pa-pum-pummed.

All was predictable that evening, until we began to sing O Holy Night. I knew this was one of Perry’s favorite hymns and as we zeroed in on the chorus, little did I know that my husband had decided to play a little joke on Kathy Knox and the rest of the class, including his wife.

“Fall… on your knees…”

Perry stepped into the circle, bent down -nearly on one knee- and did this little sweeping motion with his hands. From his lips, there was a a low rumbling vibrato reminiscent of Pavarotti. At the sound of that voice, Kathy Knox did a double take. As the choir director, Kathy was always trying to recruit new talent into the choir. She had surely missed her chance at a new solo artist, sitting right under her nose!

“Oh hear, the an-gels voi- ces…”

With these words, Perry really let it rip. The paintings shook and nearly flung themselves off the wall. Our classmates – and I- stood there dumbfounded.

“Oh ni- ight dee-vine! Oh ho-ly night! When Christ was born…”

Well that was it. The Christmas Miracle came and went. My husband has refused to sing within five miles of a church before or since. Was it a coincidence or a Christmas Miracle that inspired him to sing freely that one special night? I will always remember how my heart swelled with pride to see my honey center stage. I will also always remember the many times over the years we have heard the song come on the radio at Christmastime and giggled to ourselves about the night of the Mt. Olivet Christmas Miracle.

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12 Days: Merry Christmas, Mrs. Bledsoe

jerry-bledsoeI have written this series of “12 Days of Christmas Blogs” for several years now, but I have a confession. Honestly, I’m worried. What if I’m all out of Christmas stories? The major moments of Christmas past, it seems, I’ve already penned. Before a panic attack sets in, I force myself to sit still for a while and try to calm my mind.

When I do, I find there are moments of inspiration floating by all around me. I simply need to take the time to notice and look a little deeper…

In the publishing world it is Tuesday, but in real time, it is the previous Saturday night. (I like to get a head start on these blogs before I get behind.) I am curled up on the old sofa in our little art studio- “Perry’s”Studio-  it is more aptly named, as there is precious little of “me” in this space. Perry’s studio is filled with  all the things he loves: colorful metal signs, old jars and handcrafted boxes, interesting things he’s found at tag sales and flea markets, and me, perhaps. Inside, it’s as warm and cozy as a cinnamon roll. The heck with LED lights and Hallmark, there’s a candle burning on the desk where he sits pasting together homemade Christmas cards. On a nearby table, a kerosene lamp, illuminates the other corner of the room with its neat slit of light. Beyond the confines of the studio, it is 2016, but in Perry’s world, it’s more like 1926. A CD is playing which I rather like, called Christmas on the Range. It is a collection of vintage Christmas carols, sang cowboy style, with my favorite- “Rootin’ Tootin Sandy Clause” – playing on the CD equivalent of what used to be a turntable. My running joke with Perry is that he only listens to dead people’s music and tonight, he does not disappoint.

To lure me into staying out here, my husband has procured a bottle of Peach Brandy. I briefly wonder what else he has out here. He pours me a drink in a vintage 1920’s stemmed shot glass from the bar of our old friend, Al Thomy. Al passed away several years ago, and his family was kind enough to give us a few mementos of which to remember him by.

As if we could forget…

It’s been a difficult day, a day spent at the hospital for a family member who is in a bad place personally but in the best possible place, considering the alternatives. I need to remember to be thankful for that and hand the rest, along with my worries, over to God.

No one wants to spend Christmas in a hospital, but if you must, you appreciate the little kindnesses and the extra touches that give these generic spaces personalization and a sense of peace and joy. There are many folks with loved ones who are sick this Christmas and I am so thankful for our doctors and nurses, EMS workers, the policemen, fireman, ambulance drivers, the folks running the cafeteria and answering the phone… all these folks who help keep our emergency systems operational and among the best in the world.

Done with card-making, Christmas on the Range comes to a screeching stop. He sets up an old television set- one with a built-in DVD player- on a shaky little table about 5 feet away from me, near the closest, accesible electrical outlet. The television screen is about 6” wide and I cannot quite make out the figures. Perry is unfazed regarding the less- than- steller screen quality or the tinny sound. He inserts into the tray one of his favorite Christmas DVD’s, The Angel Doll, by NC author and actor Jerry Bledsoe.

I remember meeting Jerry last year at an event for O.Henry Magazine. That’s a photo of us above with me grinnin’ like a Cheshire Cat. In addition to being a New York Times bestselling author, Jerry once worked for the Greensboro News & Record, as did our friend Al Thomy. I am certain the two of them were probably acquaintances, if not friends. As Perry and I chatted with Jerry that evening, we learned that Jerry’s wife was undergoing treatment for breast cancer at the hospital near our house. We talked about the Christmas lights on our street and about how folks like to drive through this area in the evenings on their way home from the hospital. We also talked about his book (and subsequent movie) The Angel Doll, which Perry showed to his high school students at Christmastime, before his retirement, just a few years back. Jerry told us an interesting story- that he had received a letter from a family who had written to him, saying that they had followed the tradition of The Angel Doll for many years since losing a loved one. Jerry wanted to help, to spread the joy despite the difficult situation he faced within his own family with his wife’s sickness. Jerry had connected with the family’s story and planned to join them for Christmas Dinner.

Remembering, I wonder about Jerry’s wife and her breast cancer. I hope she’s doing alright…

In the quiet of Perry’s studio, I am, for the moment at least, at home. Life moves us in that circle, health and sickness, life and death, joy and sadness, from yesterday to today and on to tomorrow. The magical moments, which are the very heart of Christmastime, are there after all, scattered in the air like pixie dust- so tiny that you’d miss them if you blink. I take a deep breath, inhaling air, heady with kerosene and cinnamon, and focus my sights, past the lantern and the old collectibles before me and on to a place, just a little deeper…

Post Thanksgiving 2015

atumn leaf

The remains of Thanksgiving dinner are still in the fridge. I cannot will myself to throw away the pumpkins on the front porch and replace them with Christmas garlands and lights. On my walk through the neighborhood yesterday, a balmy golden autumn afternoon that didn’t even require a jacket, car after car passed by me with their Christmas trees tied to the top.

Sure, I know Thanksgiving came late this year and there is already less than four weeks til Christmas but at the risk of sounding like Scrooge, I must  ask myself if that really matters. Do we really need to rush from one holiday to the next?

You couldn’t have paid me to fight the crowds at the Black Friday sales events, which of course begins on Thursday these days. “Consumer spending is down,” I hear on the news. Come on people, our cheeks are still salty from the tears spent mourning the lives lost in recent terrorist attacks in France, the downing of the Russian airliner by ISIS and the refugee crisis in Syria. I am distraught that my fellow Americans might actually elect such a pompous fool as Donald Trump to the White House in the most hostile and politically charged time in the history of the world since World War 2. So, tell me again how is it that we are supposed to give a rat’s ass about US consumer spending statistics?

If living well is the best revenge, the point can be argued whether or not we, as a nation, are indeed living well. According to my financial statements and my employer’s CEO, my little corner of the world in Greensboro North Carolina has yet to fully recover from the 2008 recession. And yet, I treat myself to a $5 Iced Chai Latte at Starbucks and fritter away $200 bucks on a single trip to Costco. By world standards the NY Times reports that the bottom 5% of the US inhabitants are still better off than 68% of the world’s population. Despite the heated discussions in our governmental chambers on our acceptance of Syrian refugees, no one can dispute that life here or practically anywhere would be a great deal better from whence they came. ironically while these people clamor for our shores, more Mexicans are migrating out of our country rather than into it. You wouldn’t know that by listening to discussions on “deporting twenty million illegal immigrants”. Why spend so much energy talking about deporting them when things are so bad here they are now practically deporting themselves?

All these things really tell me is that depending on your vantage point, there are mass discrepancies in people’s perception of reality. The world at large seems to be suffering from a mass lunacy. Things are really great or they are really horrible… I’m just not sure which.

It’s been simultaneously a very difficult and very wonderful year for myself and my family, I hardly know whether to laugh or cry. Our family has lost three pets and two close family members even as we are blessed to gain a daughter-in-law this coming September. On the same day recently I received great news from my friend Cindy that she will be a grandma this spring while another friend called to confide that she’s received a bad mammogram and will be undergoing further tests in the next few weeks. My husband woke me up at 4:30 AM this morning to let me know there is a roof leak in our kitchen.

It’s a hard thing for me to do-  to let things just roll off my shoulder like the water  pouring through my kitchen chandelier. It’s human nature, I believe, in difficult times for us to hold on to life even more tightly. It’s hard to put a lot of trust in the world, I think, even in my husband who has begun practicing navigating me backwards in the “fox trot” . We have begun taking ballroom dance lessons at the local Fred Astair Studios. As we move in a counterclockwise motion around the room, he attempts to dodge a deaf sleeping dog and a stray pair of slippers while according to our instructor, I am not supposed to “look down.”  When Perry fumbles, I take control and he says through clenched teeth (because he’s trying not to lose the beat) “Let ME lead”. I wonder if this re balancing marks a new point in our relationship.

We practice at night in our empty living room that is awaiting new furniture because the cat peed on our furniture. Repeadedly. At the end of my rope, I finally booted her outside several weeks ago. It is still painful to think that we lost her this weekend, not only to a viscous dog attack but even more to my own bad judgement. I just want to say again how sorry I am Nala. Other than peeing and scratching my furniture you were a really good kitty and I never meant you any harm. I think about this, talking to this dead cat, as I spin around my living room.

This is a lie; we are not spinning. It is only the leaves outside that spin and dance, along with the world. You can barely even call what we are doing dancing. Still, I hold my husbands hands lightly, look him straight in the eye  and wait for the count to begin.

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