As Only a Mother Can

I sat in the backyard of our house in the darkness and shadows adjacent to the plot of land that we had tilled up and called a garden. The Groundhogs, one of which I had named and raised, would not leave the vegetables alone, rendering all the work nearly useless. I angrily threw my recently re-acquired class ring away into the dimly light patch of weeds and broken fence, then stumbled, sobbing as only a sixteen year old boy whose heart had just been broken could. I had not been hurt like that before. I had never felt so betrayed, exposed, useless and more than anything else, lonely. Not even my Grandmother’s passing the summer before hurt quite as much as this. I could wrap my brain around the fact that she could not continue the pain of living and feared the burden she would cause in years to come on her family more than she feared the brief and instant moment of a bullet passing through her heart. I could not understand why the living could betray one another. I thought I was in love. I thought I would die. My dog whined uneasily and the house that we had worked so hard to build and make a home was dark and silent. Nobody quite dared follow me, not knowing what to say. My little sisters, who were my constant companions, were already inside and in bed, not realizing the drama unfolding just outside. My car sat ticking in the cool night air and the breeze was redolent with peaches.

My mother found me. Silent as only she could be in her bare feet, she often seemed ethereal at night. She was filled with a strength that only a mother could have, bearing seven children in the poverty stricken highlands of the coal country. We took her for granted, as only children can. She was sometimes as silent as she was loving, as filled with mystery as the night sky, yet somehow so fragile in the dim light. Nobody really knew her. Not even her children. I would hear her at night, relentlessly cleaning, with her tears occasionally mingling with the bleach she scrubbed away imaginary germs with.

She didn’t say anything. She rarely did. She just gave away pieces of herself until I wondered if there was anything left. She comforted me as only she could, stealing out of the mist and placing one tender hand on my shoulder as I wept for all that was lost – my childhood, the innocent love without fear, the knowledge that I would soon be leaving for college, leaving behind the only thing that I knew. She cried with me that night and gave away another precious bit of herself.

Nearly a decade later I wept into a pay phone as the light went out of the sky in Apalachicola. The sun painted the sky an ethereal palette of color as I dialed her number from memory. Still the oldest of seven, I was again heartbroken and needed my mother. As the phosphorous in the surf twinkled in the early dark and the moon followed the sun into the sky, I once again wept as only the broken and spent can.

She didn’t say anything. She simply cried with me on the phone as I choked on bitter tears and the hurt and loneliness threatened to sweep me away. She gave another piece of herself so that I could live. Just as she had twenty-five years earlier during a screaming hot night in August of 1973 as she brought me into this world through the ferocity and shear will power that only a mother can possess, she beat my demons into the night with her force of will from her place in deep Appalachia.

Fourteen years later, with a young son and wife of my own, I screamed silently into the tile floor beside a toilet with no lid. I didn’t know where I was. The fluorescent lights beat me like an immortal enemy that would not be driven back. I shook violently, my fever skyrocketing as sweat poured off me in stinking, yellow waves. I shook with withdrawal as my nose bled into the drain in the middle of the pale yellow tile. The steel toilet silently took witness as I chewed my shirt to avoid swallowing my tongue. Slipping and sliding through the mist of the lonely place where most do not survive, I managed to scream out for her into the drain as darkness slid across my throat. Somewhere, the devil laughed. In the midst of all that agony and despair and fear, as I traversed a high place, staring at a near certain death, I felt a hand on my shoulder in the cold of the unblinking light. As I spiraled into darkness, I relaxed. No words were needed.

It was my mother.

Mom

The Danger in Chickens

An old post, but still one of my favorites.

Ramblin Ron

I am currently between jobs. Or, as I prefer to put it, between contracts. This is mostly true, as I hope to obtain a teaching contract by this coming Fall which will give me what is considered to be a paying job and/or gainful employment by most of the masses within America. For isn’t that what we are truly measured by? “What do you do?” is a question that I really no longer have a straight answer for. The reality is that I take care of my four month old son while my wife, who has been named “Best Wedding Photographer” in Virginia two years in a row, works her magic with her camera and computer equipment, making beautiful brides more beautiful, and is there such a thing as an ugly bride? I think not, so her job is mostly enjoyable and very rewarding.

So is mine. I feel productive…

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Wistful Waves and Cooking

I’m not, nor have I ever been, one to really look back and daydream or play the “What if” game. What if I had not gone to college? What if I had not moved to D.C.? What if I had never become an engineer? Today, for some insane reason, I couldn’t help myself.

This picture was taken nearly a decade ago by the girl who became my wife and the mother of my child. That shy girl would likely be unrecognizable in personality to those that know her now. She had the same grit and backbone then that she does today, it had just not yet had the opportunity to manifest itself.

I asked her out on a date when she told me she’d love to see Pitch Black. Since I owned about three copies of it, that wasn’t much of a date, so we went to see Dodgeball instead. How romantic. She was completely confused by me, as I was to myself at that time. I was an engineer for a large and wildly successful firm, was great friends with the CEO and had nowhere to go but up in my career. I’d had my share of adventures, more than some people, less than others and should have been happy.

The thing is, I was never content working in an office or being an engineer/geologist. I didn’t like traffic, didn’t like D.C., didn’t like my ex-girlfriend who was, at the time, constantly trying to worm her way back into my life without letting me into hers. In retrospect, she was actually a good person, we had just simply grown apart over the years and she never really cared very much for my spontaneity and tendency to jump on whatever train was leaving the station in my thought patterns at the time. That likely didn’t make a lot of sense to a lot of people, but some of you will get it.

Side note: Day old biscuits that were baked with duck fat in a cast iron skillet really aren’t all that great cold. They leave a very distinctive duck taste in your mouth that isn’t as good as you would think. I’m debating eating another one. They’re horrible for you, so I’m keeping a careful eye on the sneaky suckers. If they make any sudden moves I’ll eat them.

The only job that I consistently enjoyed was cooking. I loved the camaraderie,  the inherent danger, all the cute waitresses and adoring customers. The pay sucked, especially for someone who put themselves through college by working as an assistant foreman in a coal mine, but I never really cared all that much about money anyway. Chalk it up to never having any, but I found money to be irritating and draining. What to do with it? Do I freeze it? Bury it? I have a pair of camo shorts, a pair of board shorts, a surfboard, a tent, a truck that’s paid for and some t-shirts along with a small grill, duck tape, super glue and a bottle of antibiotics, just in case. Cell phone? What’s that? Rich people have those.

My first real gig cooking was at Southwest Virginia Community College. They were having a catered dinner and the cook/chef didn’t show. Someone finally had the brains to call the jail, where he was sleeping off a three day binge. I was yanked out of the darkroom, where I was happily working by those funky lights that dimly lit the room with a smoking hot underage girl with an astonishing rack. What do you know? Ron can cook! I split my four years of community college between mining and cooking, with either job offering a better than average chance of being blown up by gas build up.

To make a long story shorter, I cooked (nothing ever complicated, more often than not breakfast), deep fried nearly everything under the sun, washed dishes and stored deliveries off an on for years.

Last year, still reeling from a stint in rehab and still in the throes of DT’s, my wife insisted that I interview with Chef Rork at Mountain Lake. I was so out of shape and in so much pain that I had to rest twice going up the steps to the kitchen and ducked into the restroom to catch my breath, wipe the sweat off my face and stop shaking. I did not pretend. For once in my life, I didn’t sugarcoat my abilities, or harp on my so called kitchen experience which was really nothing more than frying frozen shit at various beaches and towns during my wandering years. He asked what I did and I shrugged. A geologist. He hired me on the spot. He didn’t know it, or maybe he did, but he helped save my life. I was so eager to work and so thankful to be in a real kitchen that I lived for a few months in fear that I would screw up. Alcohol never crossed my mind.

So, the morning of this picture, I was actually contemplating not going back to my job. The surf was flat and I had sneaked out of the tent (I thought) to enjoy the sunrise and the peace and thinking – fuck it. I’m not going back. I heard the sound of a camera shutter and my future wife, complete with one hell of a tan, tangled sun bleached hair, dressed in a bikini – grinned at me over the camera with her board stuck in the sand beside her. She is silent as a ghost when she wants to be.

I went back home to D.C. Less than a year later, we set sail to the New River Valley and a life that stretched so far in front of us that we dared not think of it.

If you have a dream, a passion, a desire to DO something else – then for fucks sake, do it. Life is really, really short. Let’s go throw these god-awful biscuits away before I eat another one. Peace.

-R

surfing

P.S. What living at the beach does to you.

couple of rednecks and fire

Stubbs and Cats in General

When we bought our house, we thought that the house and the property were uninhabited, except for wildlife, which flourished on the abandoned peach and pear trees, ran down gardens, native grasses that grew voraciously in our yard, trees full of grubs and termites and swarmed bee trees, lots of acorns from the oak trees, hickory nuts and wild berries. I nearly fell over our first spring here at the astonishing variety of the little biosphere that had developed over the nearly 100 years since there was a sawmill on the ridge.

The house had not been occupied for about five years or so, with the previous owners’ demise being a bit of a sticking point in the sale of the house, along with its location along a dirt road. Laura found the place all on her own and was so proud of what she had discovered. I was a bit dubious, to be honest, a mortgage scared me to death. I have a bit of a commitment phobia, and purchasing a home was downright scary to me.

The wonder of it is, my beautiful, intuitive wife bought the house knowing that I would grow to love it, fast. Isolated, with the sound of the New River in the background and not one outside light anywhere, the night sky is staggering in it’s beauty and the forest is a deep secret, with wonders everywhere you look, especially for a geologist, dendrologist, archaeologist, biologist, writer and cook. Every rock tells a story, the soil lets me know what it needs and the native plants are wonderful indicators of what will and will not grow naturally.

Needless to say, we love the place. We were also relieved to find that there were no mice in the house, moles in the yard, and very few snakes, only a couple of huge black snakes that preferred to be left alone and one big rattler that wasn’t left alone very long at all. All of that remained a bit of a mystery, especially after we moved in during winter and stocked our pantries. Why no mice? Where are they? Is the place haunted? I’d never lived in a rural area that didn’t have its share of field mice, little cute things with big ears that scurry about and tear tiny holes in cereal boxes, eat their fill and then poop all over the place. Something like a cross between a puppy and a koala bear, I never liked to kill them but I didn’t enjoy throwing food away and bleaching cabinets on a daily basis either.

We didn’t have to do either of those things here. No mice. After a few months, I started seeing something small, gray and fleeting out the corner of my eye, then when I would look, it would be gone. At first I thought I was seeing things and decided not to mention it just in case I really was.

One night, just at dusk, I watched a small gray cat stalk a mouse in the remnants of the old orchard on the south side of our house, where the light lingers a bit longer in the evenings and filters through the trees, reminding me of a haunted place, somehow. Beautiful and forbidding. The cat pinned the mouse neatly, and ended its hunt then and there. She ate carefully, then seemed to be contemplating something. Fluffing her fur (we found out later it was a girl), she lifted her dinner and carefully carried it to our front porch, meowed once, and vanished.

I was astonished to see that she was a Manx Cat! I have a deep affinity for those guys. Personable, brave, independent and usually trusting, I found them as a kid to be fascinating and for years one followed me around like a dog, much to my public embarrassment and secret glee. I used to pet him when no one was looking and sneak him food from our table in the winter. Mom would always pretend to not notice.

I scooped away the mouse and left her a piece of a steak. That was the beginning of a wonderful friendship. Laura named her “Kitty Batman” for her habit of peeking through the door with only her ears and eyes showing, watching us to make sure we were ok in her house.

I loved that cat. We hiked together with her trilling in contentment all the way, venturing off to find something to eat and always returning when I thought she was lost. She was a very unwilling participant in a Christmas portrait.

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She met with a terrible end and I was devastated. She would ride on my shoulder in the winter and as long as I kept the window open, go for rides with me in the truck, where she would sit on my arm and stick her head out the window.

I cried off and on for a couple of days after that. Laura felt absolutely terrible, and secretly went through a Manx rescue group to find and adopt a half-grown, completely feral kitten. I was angry and didn’t want another cat. I wanted KB back, not this weird, spooky, sickly thing that insisted on living in a drain, even when it was raining.

Then it happened. He moved from the pipe to the porch, in KB’s old kitty house, where there was a heating blanket, food and water. I was a little mad – who did he think he was, anyway? I started to put food out for him regularly, telling Laura that I just didn’t want him to go hungry. She would roll her eyes and not say anything.

Then he started following me around, content to just sit by me on the porch or supervise while I worked outside. He was never far away.

My son was born and I seriously contemplated finding a home for him, but I was worried no one would understand his checkered past and independence and try to make him a house cat or, the horror, de-claw him. Like a lot of Manx cats, not only is he missing a tail, his front claws don’t retract and he has six toes on his right foot. When I explained my reasoning to Laura, she rolled her eyes again. I said, in my most manly tone, that if he ever bit Nolan I would kill him on the spot. Laura just looked at me. Really, I said. Sure, sweetheart. Anything you want.

Today Nolan was dragging poor Stubbs around by his ears and stub of a tail (Stubbs, get it! Ha!). He wallowed him, laughed at him, and patted his back as only a sixteen month old boy can. The cat meowed at him, play batted at his feet and followed him about as though he was his protector. Laura once again made the best decision ever. She doesn’t really even like cats, but sometimes I see her toss him a piece of fish. It’s ruined of course, she says.

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