Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tragedy in New Orleans – Traveling Kids: Special Segment

I am not the same person that I was before I awoke this morning.

For a while I was writing about ‘Traveling Kids’ and my perspective as the mother of one. It was intended for providing basic information about a rapidly growing culture that many know little of and I will admit, therapeutic for me.

If you followed it at all, you will notice that I stopped writing about this topic. I have a few drafts waiting patiently in a folder, but I have avoided them. I guess it’s because the pain, fear and uncertainty was better off in draft form. I didn’t have the desire to polish my pain. I needed to move ahead in my life and deal with my issues privately and quietly.

This happened around the time I met my daughter’s traveling partner’s mother. On our way out of town, we stopped there for dinner. It’s the first time that I have met another mother of a ‘Traveling Kid’. It was brutal. Looking into her tear filled eyes was looking into my own. Our bond was immediate, powerful and did not require words, although many were exchanged for the mere purpose of release. That blog waits.

Then there is the blog about dropping my daughter off in an abandoned parking lot near a (seemingly) deserted train station in Worcester Massachusetts. That good bye was almost indescribable. That blog waits.

I carried on. I worked on short, effective, articulate prayers each night. I decided that it was best for my overall health and well being to quickly dismiss thoughts that threatened to churn about in my head without any solution. This became my long and short term goal. I knew that I had little or no control over my daughter’s choices at this point in time and that I had talked with her openly, leaving no stone unturned. I had to live with peace in my heart. The turmoil had to go.

This is easier said than done. It requires awareness and diligence. Oftentimes we are tricked by our own unconscious when suggestions trickle in and without knowing, we find ourselves squarely in the middle of negative, fear inducing thoughts.

My daughter was better than ever as far as keeping in touch with me. She hasn’t disappeared off the radar for too long, and when she does, it is because she is keeping her minutes down on her cell phone. She has been keeping me informed of her progress.

Her original goal was to be in New Orleans for Halloween.
Halloween came and went, and she did not make it.

She spent a great deal of time in Asheville North Carolina because of the unsavory practice of the Burlington Violin Shop, who erroneously released her cello to a well intentioned young man, when they were instructed to release it to me. He took it to Asheville as a surprise. That blog waits.

She and her boyfriend traveled back and forth between Knoxville and Asheville until she shipped her cello to her father (because it was closer and cheaper than sending it home). They spent Thanksgiving there and meandered to Chattanooga.

I cannot state with accuracy, where they were until today, but they did spend time in Memphis and then Christmas in Mobile, Alabama.

She called me and told me of her traveling adventures and plans. Sometimes they stayed in a motel and other times with friends and they camped out. She mentioned going to work on a farm in Florida. New Orleans was still in the picture, but hadn’t happened.

She called me on Christmas day. She said that she loved Mobile and that they would leave in a day or two for New Orleans. I always try to talk her out of going there. I went there a few years ago and think it’s a dark, depressing place. Throughout most of my long career as professional trumpet player, I always wanted to go to New Orleans. Many of my older seasoned friends warned me that it was not as romantic as the old days. They were right. When I went to Jazzfest, I loved the music but felt the heavy hand of depression and despair. I wanted out.

When my daughter told me that she was going there last year, fear set in. That was the worst winter of my life.

I tried to talk to her about how things have deteriorated since the BP Oil spill. How much more toxic the air, water and food must be. How much more desperate the people there must be. She agreed. We talked about it at great length.

She told me on Christmas that she wanted to go there to see her friends and play some music before going to work on the farm in Florida.

I prayed for calm, inner peace and focus. I prayed real prayers, not the ones that hit the ceiling and fall on the floor.

I was sad at first when I put the angel on the tree, because she made it when she was four. She told me not to be sad. So, I wasn’t…for her.
I am proud of myself for being so strong and celebrating the holidays with her far away living a life that I try but do not comprehend.

It all changes in an instant.

Sophia shined down on me today...She did so in the most mysterious and almost cruel way...
This morning…cup of coffee in hand…anchor on weather channel, “Horrible Tragedy in New Orleans…”
An abandoned warehouse burned to the ground last night killing eight ‘Traveling Kids.’
It was where my daughter could have been.
By the railroad tracks.
Trying to keep warm.
Burnin’ trash in the barrel.
Even the dogs perished.
She’s traveling with her boyfriend and a dog.
News says that the remains are so charred that it is impossible to determine the sex of the victims.
Calling and calling and calling my daughter. Instant voicemail. Phone is off.
Looking at the atlas, how far is it from Mobile to New Orleans? How fast does the train travel? Which train?
I forgot to pray for her last night. I fell asleep so quickly…did I pray?
Called the mother…whose tears match mine.
Called the brother…another traveler, son of the other mother…
He looked at his crew schedule. Is that what it’s called? The Hobo Cheat Sheet.
Yes. It could have been them.
Called the grounded girl in New Orleans who helped me find my daughter last year.
She’s in Miami.
The train goes to this warehouse.
Why didn’t they wake up?
I told her and I told him not to stay in abandoned buildings. Why is she doing this?
I remembered the necklace that I gave her for her birthday. A, Mother, Integrity, Remember….

I tried to call again.
I tried to call again.
I tried to call again.
Message inbox is full.
There were dogs in the fire too.

They travel with a dog.
I can’t live without her.
Beyond tears. Choking or something weird. Can’t breathe.
Brother tries to be calm but thinks that is where they would be. Could be. Can’t be.

Hit send.
Hit send.
Hit send.
Nothing matters. I might throw up.
The ring tone.
Does that mean that her phone is on?
The brother exclaims…exclaims...and dares to exhale… “It’s okay. Her phone is on now.”

From: Anna
Hey just woke up give me a few minutes.
December 28, 12:07 pm


Almost could not breathe.
Someone’s child
Someone's baby
Died in those flames.

It wasn’t mine.
Coulda’ been.

She called.
My Brown Eyed Girl.
Still in Mobile, Alabama.

I told her.
She knew from all the messages.
I cried hard.
Different, crazy, desperate tears linger into the night.
Visions of one girl…I met her in Burlington two summers ago.
She is there somewhere.


Someone’s baby
Everyone’s baby
Someone’s Momma
Someone’s Pappa
Never the same
Might not know.

Thank you Sophia for shining down on me.
Shining down on you.
Shining down on what coulda been.

My heart breaks in the midst of my own relief.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Glory of Winter

Thick, almost grey clouds wrap anxiously around the ridge like a well worn glove. Chickadees, Nuthatches and Blue Jays flutter back and forth from the boughs of nearby pine trees to the hanging feeders and suet. A handful of woodpeckers of various sizes peck relentlessly on the hollow trees scattered randomly in the woods creating my favorite rhythm section. A plump red squirrel sits beneath the frenzy, nibbling on sunflower seeds that fall to the frozen brown earth. I imagine touching her silken fur but know better.

It’s late December and we have just celebrated a rare but not impossible brown Christmas. Of course it is always better in New Hampshire to absorb the warmth of the fire, sipping hot chocolate while the lights twinkle against the backdrop of a frosted window with perfect geometrical snowflakes floating outside. There is a heightened level of coziness when there is snow on the ground. Otherwise the cracked frozen earth resonates deep in my chest leaving me with a definite longing. A fresh blanket of white snow eases the pain.

Last night it snowed.  Finally.

The birds returned, only this time with a flock of Red Polls and American Tree Sparrows. The Hairy Woodpecker came all the way in to hang on the suet.

As a child, a yard full of snow meant art, especially if the snow was heavy and sticky – favorable sculpting consistency. If the snow was light and fluffy, the medium changed, leading to the creation of flocks of snow angels and huge messages and designs created by dragging my feet while walking or using a stick.

Last night was such a night. I found myself walking in a large circle and making a peace sign even though I knew that the only viewer would be a possible snowy owl or unsuspecting silver fox.

As a home school family, it was typical for me to call my children when it was time for art. You have a field of clay, I told them. We were active potters at the time. I provided them with a wide assortment of shovels, spades, pails, cups and other plastic shaping items, water color paints and sometimes food coloring. From eight foot turtles and cheetahs to two story forts inhabited by our cat Felix, the creatures and structures in our yard were quite impressive. We put Frosty to shame with entire snow families complete with crazy hairdo’s made from hay (we had a farm) and funky clothes.

As important as the ocean is to a Cancerian, I have lived most of my life on farms on mountain tops. (I must have found my water connection to lakes, rivers and ponds to be sufficient). My childhood homes were either perched on a hill or had several good hills within close proximity. Sledding was a daily event in the winter. We had everything from long, wooden, L.L. Bean toboggans to the Flyer runner sleds and metal flying saucers.

The latter were so effective that I have a dim memory of sitting in a silver, dented saucer with my puffy mittens jammed into white canvas handles, careening down a steep hill with my mother and two sisters running after me hollering. I lost them. I was about two years old. Because of ideal conditions, I cruised on and on through the woods, miraculously missing trees, all the way to downtown Plymouth, finally stopping by the edge of a busy parking lot of a grocery store. I remember sitting very still with a peculiar feeling about being there without my mother or the car.

When we weren’t sledding or skating, we were skiing. We had wooden skis and ski boots with laces. The hills were always big enough to bother skiing on. It took a great deal of time and effort to pack down the snow for skiing, but it was well worth it. I used to go to skiing lessons at a small ski area called “Red Hill”. It had a rope tow. It seems that the most important worry at that time was making sure that your mitten didn’t get stuck to the rope when you let go. I learned the basics of real skiing there. Back then we used terms like snow plow and stem christie.

In my middle teens, I started snowshoeing. That became one of my favorite winter activities, which still holds true today. During the stage of my life when I wanted to explore and inhibitions and fears were falling away, I began snowshoeing at night under a full moon. That is when I first discovered the moonfield. The brightness of the moon explodes off of the white snow; the shadows are dark gray and a little suspicious. The silence in the woods in mid winter under a full moon is intoxicating. The atmosphere is quite thin, making everything clearer than usual. I think that the clarity involves all the senses, not only sight.

When the snow is crusty, it shines like glass. After a fresh storm, sometimes the snow sparkles like diamonds and the wind creates wispy, swirly snow devils.

There is a small mountain in Holderness called Rattlesnake. One of my favorite memories is snowshoeing to the top of the mountain and looking out over the snowy landscape of Big and Little Squam Lakes. I’ve been climbing that mountain since girlhood. It has become a huge tourist attraction, so climbing in the winter restores much needed isolation and the magnificence of solitude – distant memory.

My children and I used to snowshoe all over Carter Mountain, where we once lived and had a thriving farm. Often in winter we found ourselves at the top where we enjoyed pastel pink and grey sunsets that complimented a deserted barn in the woods. I think it’s the fact that we can go places on snowshoes that would be otherwise impossible. We marveled at and identified the array of wild animal tracks in the snow, sometimes solving mysteries and always telling stories.

After a warm spell that may involve rain, when a deep freeze returns, the surface of the snow becomes a hard glazed crust. Depending upon your weight and the thickness of the crust, sometimes you can sit without a sled and slide from one place to another. It’s exhilarating, but one must take precautions, as it can be difficult to stop.

We made colossal snowmen by rolling balls in the sticky snow. There is skill required in the rolling process to insure roundness. Some of the greatest snowmen and women in the world have been born in my fields and schoolyards.

Like timpani drums in my tummy, I feel the distant, rumbling snowplows. When I was a little girl, they scared me with their huge orangeness and flashing lights. The howling wind scared me too. I used to make deals with it, or warn that it did not frighten me, at which time it almost always rose in pitch and intensity. You cannot lie to the wind, it knows.

Each time we were promised snow this season, we were disappointed with a mere dusting at best. I spent the past three winters in a tropical climate, enjoying the beaches but longing for snow. When I watched the national weather, I envied the recipients of the great snowstorms that fell in New England.

Now it is my turn again. I was so pleased when it started snowing hard last night. I was like a child when I scrambled out of bed this morning to see how much snow had fallen - to assess the situation. It was okay, a respectable storm, but nothing spectacular. The wind howled and the sun actually threatened to peek out behind a solid wall of clouds. I didn’t want the sun to come out just yet. I needed to feel the storm. I don’t like quickies or instant gratification. It went away. No sun. The winds are increasing and the wind chill factor will trigger my nesting instincts.

I listened to the AP news on the local radio station earlier and was baffled by the terminology and the fact that many states or places have declared a state of emergency. I also heard enough on mainstream television to know that the message being sent out on the airwaves is dramatic as it describes this blizzard pounding the Eastern Seaboard and New England. Are they serious? We have gotten hammered much worse (better) than this in my lifetime. Several times…a thousand times. This is winter.

I conclude that Americans are accustomed to sensationalized stories. If a storm isn’t pounding a region, ravaging neighborhoods, devastating fields or destroying property, it is not newsworthy. Is it so difficult to report that we are having a winter storm? Do we need to feed our insatiable appetite for upheaval and chaos? Perhaps it is the need to keep everyone on the edge of their seats and living in fear and dread. Maybe it is because there is something else going on altogether, and focusing on a typical winter storm in the Eastern United States is a distraction?

Get out your snowshoes, sleds, skis and mittens. Go out and play. Make a snow family and a few snow angels here and there. Bang your feet off before you track all that wonderful fresh snow into the house, and have a cup of hot chocolate and a plate of cookies. Curl up beside the fire or under a patchwork quilt with your favorite book or kindred spirit and be thankful for winter and all her glory.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Angel Out of Her Box

There was a time when you cried for me. When all that was between us was the darkness of night, only to fall away when I came to you and held you to my breast. You were strong yet helpless. Your life depended on me.

Now it is I who cry for you. I am the one who wakes afraid in the night, seeking comfort, hope and soulful nourishment simply from your presence. I fight the urge to curl up in a ball and give in to the ache of unknowing or knowing, unsure of which is which.

It was up to me to kiss that boo boo on your knee, hold your small hand in mine and talk about faeries and princes. I took your belief in magic to heart. Everything was real, whether it truly was or not. I taught you to confront your fears. I assured you that the man with the blue face in the closet was not going to harm you; you would not accept that he wasn’t there; making friends or keeping him in line was the only solution.

We lived in that cold, cold house on Pleasant Street. Every night I climbed into your bed and we read stories together under that thick, pink comforter. I didn’t leave until your Popsicle toes didn’t make me jump when you brushed them against me, when I knew that you were warm enough.

I held you – a smaller version of me – close... simply because I could. Somehow protecting you protected me.

Just now you called me. I was in the middle of writing this. How did you know? I hadn’t heard from you since last Tuesday. A week is a month or more in uncertainty. I tried to call you, but your batteries were dead or you were out of minutes. For me, it’s sort of like music. I can’t play and I can’t not play. With you, I can’t know and I can’t not know.

I tried then to leave the blanks right where they were and not try filling them in with my ever rambling imagination. Thinking and thinking will eventually kill you if you’re not careful.

I was doing very well erasing and chasing away thoughts that have no validity. If I make things up, they are my creations. I don’t know what you are doing, where you are, or why. I gobble up your words like a beggar at a feast.

I now know that you are in Montgomery, Alabama. You laughed a little when you asked me if I knew that it was “Hank Williams Country,” even though you guessed that I could care less about him. There was a very slight chance that I knew something about Hank Williams, and you took that chance. I tried to care right when you mentioned it. I think I did a little. You had your photo taken beside his statue; I need to reexamine my loathing for Country and Western music. I suppose it was a little harsh that every time you and your brothers argued about music in the jeep, I threatened you with the Country music station. We all groaned; it worked.

You think for yourself. Always did. Even when your life depended on me, you were your own person. I liked that. No, I loved that. Still do. I encouraged and insisted upon it. So who can I blame when it comes right down to it? No one and everyone. I do it all the time.

You missed the lunar eclipse because you were on a train that took you to a paper mill in a nowhere town. But at least you didn’t miss the moon altogether.

You said that it wouldn’t work if I was sad, so I sort of promised you that I was winning that battle. It started when I took the angel out of her box. You said that she would watch over me. I’m holding you to that.

Yesterday I told the lady in the magic store that I would be back in the spring. I had no one to buy for this time.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Eye Upon the Donut, Not Upon the Hole: A Birthday Wish

Laughing. Crying.

Rolling into the driveway at sunset.
Chunky, smiling, round, green car.
Boxy, blue pick up truck. Smells like asphalt.
Gold wedding band, dark skin, shiny watch.
Predictable smirk, prelude to a smile…

“You’re a pretty dancer…ya- ha ha.”
Twirling down the aisles of Adams’ Supermarket.

Oh Sock Oh Kid Oh Pal…
Trot trot to where?

Caught in the jaws of the vice…
Where we wanted to be.

Homemade Sunday mornings...copper kitchen…
"Keep your eye upon the donut, not upon the hole."
Burning trash…burning leaves…burning the whole damn field…
Honey bees…orangey hills…making cider at Gill’s….

“Shhhh! Stop shuffling; I can’t sleep.”
Baby, baby.
Chokes on sour, green candy.
World upside down…saves baby girl.

In the lake
World upside down…saves baby girl.

Bad judgment
World upside down…saves young woman.
Always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always there.

The fair.  The fair.
Steam puffs from the corn kettle in the rain and wind ‘til the blue tarp blows clean away…
“Can I have a dollar?” (bought a lot in those days).
The man blows kazoos and a red plastic trumpet. I’m better.

Over the river and through the woods…to grandmother’s house we went. Always.
Beebe, Pemi, Smith, Cold, Bear Camp, Swift…Rivers ran through us.
Three little fishies…
Boom boom dittum datum wadum chew
You ran and you ran right over the dam…
God wanted you then; He didn’t keep you…precious elephants waited in the wings.

The woods by the farm.  The opening in the field.
Point to the spot where you shot the bear. I saw you there last week.
Finding stars through the skylight before they dimmed.
Hot dog ears when fireworks explode. Not then. Not now.

Dipping toothbrushes in wood ash for white teeth…Abenaki custom you didn’t know.

Alley Cat…Samba… Fox Trot…Tango…Cha cha cha…
Organ drumbeats…big fat colored notes…ignore them.
Glenn Miller
Sing along with Mitch
Dancing with my mother…

You showed me the face of the Man and the Moon.
You showed him mine.

“Can I put the nickel in the jukebox?” ‘King of the Road’ and ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain’ at Fausty’s Diner… “I wanna ‘girl cheese’.”

Captain and Toenail…Classic mahogany Chris Craft…glubs and murmurs across the lake…
Will her bright orange life jacket float?…
Red plaid thermos, picnic basket, plastic forks…

Raccoons and sometimes skunks.

"It's just a bad dream."

Saving Thumbelina from the rising tide.

Tea, toast, peanut butter and cheese.

Lap cat and sports on TV. You saw the game; I watched paint dry. Its okay.

Worrying for nothing at the egg, pie plate, glass of water and broom trick.

Listening. Hearing.
Beeping and wishing on Durgin Bridge.

Believe in me? Believe in you.

Always in the audience.
Favorite fan.
O Holy Night.

Loves my mother.
Loves my sisters.
Loves my children.
Loves me.

Smiles in the end when all else fails…
Love born on December 15, 1928.
Departs from this earth… April 6, 2006.

Silent but present in my dreams…nothing left unsaid.

One regret
Shoulda' played
When the Saints Go Marchin in
Before intermission.

Ramsey Wood Pettengill.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Too Cold to Snow

Bare trees swayed and clicked and pointed gnarled icy limbs like long, bony fingers. The crisp north wind mingled with wisps of grayish white wood smoke that curled out of tall brick chimneys from the houses tucked nicely behind white picket fences. My skates – tied together and draped over my shoulder – thumped into my back and side, and my bright red snow pants swished with each step.

Tight fisted clouds refused to let go; the skies ached. My mother said that it was too cold to snow. Familiar shrieks and the sound of scraping blades on ice became more defined, inspiring me to quicken my pace as I neared the small white warming hut. The rink was near a rather large pond, but no one dared to take a chance at falling through the ice.

I pushed the randomly piled boots under the bench to make room for mine, the smallest in the heap. The tightly knit green mittens that my mother made came to a point; I pulled them off and clapped them together to free the clumps of snow. I set them next to the pot bellied woodstove in an attempt to warm them, knowing that they would become soggy and then freeze stiff within minutes of stepping away from the stove.

I untied the knot that held my skates together and loosened the laces. I straightened my socks – also green, pointed and knit by my mother – and pulled my skates on; my toes were already numb. I tugged on the laces as hard as I could; if you don’t, your ankles wobble, and turn inward and you don’t skate well at all. After wrapping the excess lace around the top part of the skate, I tied it in a double knot and started in tying the other.

My sister and her friends were already on the ice playing crack the whip. I knew that if I was allowed to play that I was to be at the end of the whip. Being small and at the tail end of the whip meant being airborne at the mercy of the bigger kids. That’s just the way it went. I learned to like the excitement and hope for the best.

We formed a line with the self proclaimed strongest boy in the lead. My sister grasped my hand. Her mitten – just like mine only blue and a little bigger – came to a point in the middle as well. I learned to be flexible and allow myself to be pulled; fighting the flow caused upset. I closed my eyes and whirled around, trusting the process of gliding upon the ice until the chain broke tossing me safely in the arms of the waiting snow bank.

I decided to skate on my own, working very hard on making a figure eight. I did this for years, thinking that somehow it mattered. I could skate backwards and even jump, twirl and land upright. I knew that my landing would be all the better for wearing the thick, fat snow pants, making a difference in my level of risk taking.

The bitter, gray day began to soften as the skies reluctantly released enough snow flurries to ease the tension. I stopped when the church bell started ringing and counted. Four. It was time to go home. My sister had left earlier with her friend and there were only a few people skating quietly, working on their figure eights.

Taking graceful strides with my long, striped stocking hat flying behind me, I skated towards the warming hut. I sat on the bench resting my blades against the feet of the woodstove, examining my bright red hands and wondering if I had the energy to untie my frozen laces. One by one, the others left. My toes tingled when I tried to wiggle them. I yanked the skates from my feet and stepped into my partially frozen boots. My cheeks were ablaze and a few previously frozen curls that fell from my hat began to melt. I closed my eyes, leaned against the wall and willed myself to be home. I stared through the slats at the dying embers and pulled on my soaking wet mittens one more time. The snow came down hard, quickly covering the ground and all footprints from earlier in the day. I stopped and threw my head back to catch the fat snowflakes on my tongue. It’s not as easy as you think.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Birth of the Maiden Child

Nothing about you is ordinary, mediocre, or typical in any sense.

I awoke just after midnight with the unquestionable beginning pains of childbirth. Since this was the third time, I was fully prepared for the onslaught of God’s revenge against Eve. Damn her for eating fruit from the tree of knowledge. That thought alone is enough to cause any clear thinking person to run and never look back.

The little stuffed piggie – a gift from you for one of your brothers – snorted from inside of my suitcase as I scurried towards the admittance desk causing a stir amongst the janitors. I tightened my grip on the handle and took a cleansing breath as the swelling of another contraction gripped me. “It’s okay; it’s a toy.” I exhaled.

The receptionist glared over the top of her gold rimmed glasses and barked. “Can I help you?”

I wanted to laugh. I handed my suitcase to my husband. It snorted. “Yes. My labor has begun and I am here to have a baby.”

After the usual form filling extravaganza, I was finally admitted. It was curiously quiet in the maternity ward – no screaming moms or wailing babies. It was just before shift change, and the nurse was blatantly displeased to see me. I understand that feeling when nothing eventful has happened, you’ve had a long slow spell, and you’re about to go home when suddenly you are in serious demand. What a drag.

She did not hide her disappointment at having to work. After a quick assessment, she made the decision that I was experiencing false labor and needed to go home. End of discussion.

My husband had a dreadful cold and was more than happy to return to our warm bed. I, on the other hand, was horrified. My contractions were between twelve and fifteen minutes apart. I was returning home to my two and three year old sons, dragging my sniffling, drowsy husband behind me to have a baby? Without warning, I had that needing help in a town with a crooked sheriff sort of feeling.

No one believed me except for my neighbor, Judy, who had dashed over to stay with the boys. My seemingly unaffected, sick husband returned to bed while I sat in my kitchen counting and breathing. I tried to maintain my composure in the midst of knowing that I couldn’t have the baby in the hospital with my attending physician and that I was on my own.

It was after 4:00 in the morning when I was sent home. Within a few hours, I was back at the hospital in hard labor and you were born. As always, between the two of us, we figured it out. It was one of those situations where I had to roar, when in fact roaring is not my favorite thing. We returned to fresh faces, prepared to do the right thing, such as acknowledge a woman (patient) about to give birth.

I was expecting a third boy. I didn’t dare to hope for you. When the doctor told me that you were a girl, I asked him if he was sure.

“Don’t ever question an OB doctor about the sex of a baby.”  He tried unsuccessfully not to snap.

When I held you in my arms for the first time, your father leaned over us; his tears fell on my face. It was a miracle; you are a miracle.

Later that night, when I was in my room, I needed a fresh blanket for you. The nurse brought in a pink one. At that point, all of the hormones exploded into the reality that I really did have a daughter. I started sobbing. “It’s true. I have a daughter. I never used a pink blanket before.”

Somehow the pink blanket was the little nudge that I needed to fall off of that fierce cliff into an unending maternal abyss. My life has never been the same since I gave birth to you. I honor this day and celebrate you. You have proven to be that beautiful flower that thrives in the crack of a broken sidewalk. I anticipate the day when you decide to leave that broken sidewalk behind and honor who you really are. Follow the signs, Anna. I love you.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Whittier and the Corporate Whore

I swore that I would never go back. When I had to go the first time, I cried. I traded in real frogs from the pond for a metal one that I got for a dollar from the huge yellow discount tent at the end of a gravel parking lot. It was a reminder of truth and where I must return.

The mutilated song played in the background and I turned my back on it and me. I had to cut open the tube and scrape out the last bit of toothpaste before I would surrender. Even though the kerosene did not stain, the stench lingered on my shoes; I couldn’t salvage the toes of my pantyhose though and the purple gauze dress didn’t matter anymore.

For three years, I wore a bracelet that had the words “CORPORATE WHORE” engraved on it. I never went there without it. No one ever noticed. No clients, no co-workers, no UPS man, no postal clerk…no one. The damn bracelet went unnoticed.

I cursed the zebra print curtain that hung in front of the stairs that led to a mysterious place that did not interest me at all. I just wanted them to get rid of the curtain. Every time I walked into the lobby at the end of the day, I looked at the mountain and screamed in my head. I know you Whittier and you will set me free. Perhaps if I could see it too, I would set myself free. I saw the ugly side of that mountain with the broken down tramway, cell phone tower and golden arches at the base. I only went in there to pee. No Big Macs for me. I could have peed somewhere else, but it was appropriate to make some kind of connection.

It got dark too soon. I was burning daylight. Each step was a chore but I managed to find a way to walk. The bird’s nest showed up after the leaves fell off of the bush. I didn’t need to see it when the leaves were there, so it worked out well. The nest gave me enough energy to get to the next thing.

When I had to cut the tube again; I had to return. But it isn’t because of the toothpaste. It’s because there is something there beckoning my return. Apparently I missed something. The Zebra curtain still hangs in front of the stairs that lead to nowhere, it stinks in the lobby and even though we are not closed, they turn out the lights to save money on the electric bill. Some of the people are different and some are the same, but nothing has changed at all. I look up at Whittier in silent dismay. My heels echo on the gritty floor. I always wear patchouli and I don’t think I’ll ever go to McDonald's to pee. I didn’t start wearing the “Corporate Whore” bracelet until a few days ago. No one noticed.

I had to write this to liberate all of the words that have been waiting patiently in the sensible corner of my heart.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Too Long (but not really)...

I embrace her and try to focus; her scent is too strong. Pungent, sweet and earthy is the ancient wood from the Black Forest. When I draw the bow across the strings, the vibration flows from her body to mine, concentrating on my breast and just inside my knees. I wiggle towards the edge of the wooden chair and try again to focus on the music. The lion roars.

The light is dim, but not too dim; I can see if I want to. My head wants to do one thing and my heart another. It is natural until I look or think too much. I know it but it looks weird on the page. I waited too long, but not really. I thought of her often, maybe every day. I wanted to hold her close and have that long awaited reunion, but it was always there trying to make me stop. I hated it.

I made excuses and lied to myself. I dreamed of those times when nothing ever got in the way, and then the dreams did what dreams always do. Was that really me?

I ran away from the Bach Cello Suites. Sometimes I put the CD in the player in the car and quickly hit the next button, never hearing beyond the first measure. I refuse to look at what we played.

I found a folder of music today that had familiar handwritten notes penciled in. I remembered the logic, but forgot the reason. When I played, I remembered us playing so many times that we never believed it might not be.

I played until the breath of the memory brought life to the girl, the woman who never knew anything else.

Our essence lingers in fragments on the page. I struggle with the same notes and play the others so well. I quit and rejoin the orchestra every day, remembering faces I want to forget.

My favorite music was composed in the 17th Century, where I should be.
Tomorrow I will embrace her again, where no one will notice and the lion smiles.

Photo Courtesy of http://www.graphicsfairy.blogspot.com/

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Circus Song: Traveling Kids – Part X

The internal conflict raged on as my daughter prepared once again to leave the nest. Because of our open dialogue, however, the conflict was not always internal; we brought everything to the table. For some reason it felt as if there was always unfinished business. It was mine. Perhaps it was my inability to honestly accept her way of life let alone embrace it.

It was obvious; I was a mess. But as always, the appearance of my ability to cope could win me an academy award. I did a great job talking, asking pointed questions, and knowing when to press and when to back off. I was handling it, but no one (including myself) was really handling me. I screamed inside of my head. I wanted her to say, “You’re right, Mom. This is crazy; I’m staying here and building my music career.” Or. “You know I was thinking that I would stay here after all and be still, and think about what lies ahead.” Or maybe even, “I think I like the idea of hot showers, meals and a roof over my head; a gentler way of life.”

I wanted her to be packed, but hated seeing her pack. I wanted them to go; I needed her to stay. She and her traveling partner, Colby, spent a great deal of time sewing, or at least talking about sewing. Did you know that dental floss is better than thread? Anna has always been an industrious seamstress, even more so after becoming a ‘Traveling Kid’. I learned that although she has three times more clothes than the average young woman – many designed and crafted by herself – she prefers to patch and mend the same few items of clothing to take with her.

There is something “bankie-ish” about this. Although, Anna didn’t really have a bankie to speak of. She twisted a curl around her finger and held it over her eye like a monocle while sucking her thumb, or she snuggled with Beatrix, a huge stuffed bunny dressed in a pink floral outfit with lace around the cuffs.

The day before Anna was scheduled to leave; my friends Lisa and Jim came to New Hampshire for a visit. They hadn’t seen Anna for several years, so it was almost as if they were meeting for the first time. We share a strong connection dating back to my original college days where Lisa was my first friend.  Her husband Jim is a music enthusiast. He had his flip camera with him and asked Anna to play or sing for him. She grabbed her guitar and wailed on it singing one of her original pieces, “The Circus Song.” Of course she blew him and everyone else within earshot away. Then she played a Celtic fiddle tune on my cello, simply because she can.

It was beyond difficult to know that she would be leaving the next day without a musical instrument. In my family, leaving your instrument behind is like leaving your head behind; it doesn’t work. I suggested that she call me from New Orleans at Christmastime and I would buy her a used guitar from a pawn shop or something. But it’s all so iffy, blurred and random. She has access to a guitar here, but she can’t take it with her. Colby has a guitar somewhere but it’s really belongs to his brother who might have sold it to his mother who doesn't really play but would need to hang onto it. Her cello is here, well not exactly, it is in a string shop in Northern Vermont waiting for me to finish making payments from recent repairs so that I can bring it home.  It was my cello originally, and I can't let it go. Loose ends are everywhere. Some people live for them. They get tangled and plague me.

I posted her video on facebook. No question that her signature voice, lyrics, guitar playing and look is marketable. She has it. I have not posted the cello video yet. In time.

People’s reaction to her caused a stir. She was used to a different audience from the perspective of a street musician. I have played on many street corners; I honor buskers, minstrels and troubadours. I know how it feels to have your ass frozen to a metal chair, or your toes numb in your boots while you continue to play one more song for the clinking coins in the red metal pot. I remember hoping a gust of wind wouldn’t blow dollar bills out of my black velvet lined case and I carried a silver flask filled with blackberry brandy in my garter under my skirt. Once I laughed and somehow continued playing my horn while a dog barked because he wanted me to throw a hunk of asphalt and play fetch. I have played outdoors for a lifetime. I didn’t play for my supper or a pack of cigarettes.  Not really. It doesn’t matter who plays for what. It matters that the music does not perish.

I could tell that she was wondering about the possibilities, something she must always do. She was getting offers from various agents and promoters to play in Boston. But the reality is that she chose to travel south and whatever happens happens.

The night before her departure, we snuggled. I buried my head into her mass of curls and imprinted her scent. She was different this time. I wasn’t the only one fighting the urge to cling; she was reluctant too. I don’t know if it was because we talked about every possible thing and held it up to the light, her heightened awareness of my unconditional love, or if it was the new recognition of her music at the last moment. Everyone in this part of her world knows her as an accomplished cellist beginning at a very young age; the singer songwriter is new.

I think optimistically that maybe she is beginning to understand that she deserves more than living in survival mode and has a great deal to offer herself and the world.  No need to run.

Brown eyes to brown eyes never lie. I sensed a part of her that wanted to stay. But she wasn’t really there yet.

Photo Compliments of: http://graphicsfairyterms.blogspot.com//

Thursday, November 11, 2010

November Aches

In the heart of the White Mountains of New Hampshire, November is not a month; it is a feeling. Raw. Death. I write this with conviction, drawing upon a lifetime of enduring long, gray Novembers – a time when the final curtain falls on splendid, boastful October.

Damp, blackened leaves – once crisp and artful – curl together in a slimy clump that sticks to the bottom of my hiking boots. The orangey hue that accompanied fresh apple cider, firm pumpkins waiting to be carved and the smell of burning wood, has become grayish and flat. Knowing what lies ahead, jack-o-lanterns stare with menacing distorted smiles on their caved in faces as they rot on the stone wall. The wind and rain rip the remaining, stubborn leaves from the trees, triggering my nesting instincts, making me think that I should have a gray tiger cat to curl up with, but I don’t.

I wonder why the leaves on the ash trees are the last to go and I wonder if the frogs in the little pond have buried themselves in the mud yet, so I look for them beneath the still water. It is too dark to really see anything except for the reflection of bent cat-o-nine-tails.

November aches. Bare trees fade into more bare trees. Shivering dead skeletons of last year’s gardens remind me that I never found out which ones to pull and which ones to cut, so I left them in the disarray of certain death.

I expect the pigs to snort at my presence, but it is eerily silent now that they have been slaughtered. I avoid looking there. I don’t want to see what it looks like with them gone. I curse myself for liking them even though I promised that I would not make eye contact with them. I did make eye contact with them, but only for a few seconds at a time. Does that count? They had blue eyes, which made me look away.

The whey buckets were too heavy; about 50 pounds each when full. Sometimes I carried two at a time. They liked the whey more than the grain. It was sticky, smelled sour and splashed on my feet, but I knew that it was good. I always threw handfuls of mint and mugwort into their pen because I could. Every time I went outside I sang silly songs that I created just for them, improvising on the spot; they were my new audience.

The feasting ends. No more piggie songs. Now they are wrapped up in neat bundles in the freezer. Peanut butter and elderberry jam is my new favorite thing. That’s what happens in November.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Wild Roots, Cheesecake and Flaming Trees: Traveling Kids – Part IX

According to Colby, his mother loves him but doesn’t understand his lifestyle. He called her a few times while he was here and it was apparent that communicating was difficult. I did not eavesdrop nor did I ask questions; he was clearly stressed out after conversing with his mom.

He told me that his brother, one year younger, was also a ‘traveling kid.’ No mother should have to endure that. Her only sons are out there and all she has is that damn school of fish. Why?

Colby told me that his brother planned on living the rest of his life as a traveler and that he told his mother this, which did not go over well. His younger brother also got married a few months ago. Missing the wedding was the least of her problems.

Why should she be okay with this?

Talk of Colby’s brother opened a new line of questioning, nudging our conversation into the realm of the future. Of course no one knows what the future holds. Live in the present.

Would they come in for a landing some day?  How did they feel about being houseless (not homeless); say two, five or ten years down the road? Did they see themselves hopping trains and thumbing around the country indefinitely? I painted images with words like, toothless, wrinkled, prone to disease, etc. Anna quickly told me that she wants to travel now while she is young, before she settles into a career and family. Colby said that he planned on turning an old camper that he had at his mother’s house into a bus, a traveling art studio. He just needs to come up with money somehow for a pick-up truck. After he transforms the pop-up camper into a studio, he will go to festivals and sell his art. He is very talented. I hope that this works.

When Anna was a little girl, I used to keep a large, hot pink, beach pail stocked with craft items – popsicle sticks, glue, pompoms, thread, pipe cleaners, buttons, etc. – her ‘bucket of junk’. She simply made things all the time. She is a creative whirlwind. She also sews and knits. She used to hand make all of her clothes, I am talking stunning dresses, skirts and hats. If she is part of the traveling studio, she will not be at a loss for what to make, however, I hope that she stays on her musical path. If you have heard her music, you will understand.

Enough talk of welding old pop-up campers. My goal at the moment was to enjoy the gift of time that I had with my daughter. I was not thrilled to share her with her traveling buddy for the entire week, but it is what it is. Colby is a nice kid who somehow ended up coming out the other side of things the way my daughter did and they were traveling together. I had to go with it.

In maintaining my true nature, my nesting instincts took over as we did things like carve jack-o- lanterns, sip apple cider and cocoa, snuggle (Anna and I), stack firewood and bake chocolate chip cookies.

I threw a small party for Anna because she would be away on her birthday. No Thanksgiving or Christmas with her either. I’m the kind of Momma who likes to wrap a 24 pound turkey in bacon and roast it in a wood kitchen cook stove. We are not of the Christian faith, however we celebrate Christmas with a traditional family gathering; a time for sharing and celebrating the Yuletide. It’s all about family, music, food (never fail fudge, anatomically correct gingerbread people and tiger butter), twinkling lights and coziness. I am sad that she will not be home.

My sister and her family came over for the birthday party. I placed a few candles on a decadent cheesecake surrounded by cupcakes and we gave her gifts. I told my family that gift cards were good for her, because of the being inside of the backpack thing.

I gave her a charm necklace, seizing the opportunity to express myself on something that she will wear close to her heart. The charm in the middle is a beautiful “A” in calligraphy. There are four silver rings – two on each side of the A – each engraved with a word; Integrity, Wisdom, Remember and Mother. Of course she loved it and put it on immediately.

Later on we sat around the bonfire – a brush pile that seemed like it might burn down the entire forest. It didn’t thanks to my son, the violinist, who came for a short visit before Anna’s departure. With a garden hose, he sprayed the leaves on the trees that had not yet changed color and dropped. Flames and sparks threatened. A chipmunk darted out from beneath the burning brush into the woods. Anna sat on a stump with her guitar and sang her “Circus Song” along with many others.

I love harmonizing with her. Our voices are different, yet there is core equivalence. The roots that run deep, that are twisted and firm and sometimes even frenzied; grow together with a fierceness that is wild and aware as they merge into one.

The last I heard, she was on a Chinatown Bus somewhere between NYC and Philly.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The School of Fish Around Your Head: Traveling Kids – Part VIII

Anna and I have always danced. From pure sweet lullabies to wailing songs like CCR's Bad Moon Rising by cello rocking Rasputina; we connect. When she was four we started dancing wildly to the Andrews Sisters’ Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, Rum and Coca Cola and Don’t Sit under the Apple Tree with Anyone Else but Me. It was more of a conviction when we danced to Rachel Bisex’s, Dancing with My Mother.

With our cellos, our words, in the moonfield…We danced. We still do. She left. She returned. She left. I heard from her and didn’t hear from her. We talked and didn’t talk. I accepted and didn’t accept both the truth and untruth of her world. Our dance is unique, passionate, filled with intrigue, irony and frustration. Today, however, I long for an old fashioned waltz.

My mind wandered to that program on MSNBC – Runaways. Why did they refer to them as ‘runaways’? Many of them were in their twenties. I tossed the question around and decided that the show was not authentic. Too much focus on too few people giving only a slice of the whole pie. Everyone knows that runaways are minors, well, except for those who have been on the streets since they were minors.

The question drifted back into focus. But they are runaways in some way. At least there is the fact that many of these young people are in fact running. From what? Each has his or her own story. Some, like my daughter, will say that they simply want to travel around and see the country. Fair enough. They do not want to be part of this warped out society. But they are. They are whatever piece of it that they choose to be. They are the ones walking along the highway with a large frame backpack, hopping on trains, spanging or busking on the street, bumming cigarettes and washing up in the restroom at a truck stop. They are the ones who cannot imagine stopping and taking stock of where they are and finding a way to contribute to a society that has wronged them in a multitude of ways. Many of them are in survival mode and have been from early childhood, so that is their comfort zone.

I had never shared my feelings with another person who really comprehended my angst. I am thankful for the support that I get from those I honor greatly. These people offer encouragement, but I had not met another mother of a ‘traveling kid’. One can imagine how it feels but must actually walk in my shoes to fully grasp the experience. I presumed that most of the parents of these kids didn’t know or care, or had let their kid go years before. It is convenient to touch up the rough spots and pretend that the package is tidy or erase any and all possible underlying clues that might lead to self blame and loathing.

I wondered about the other parents. Did they worry? Did they play the role of cool friend rather than wise parent? Did they wire them money? Did they call the other (absent) parent and leave messages that went unanswered – a perpetual root of things – and face their fears alone? Did they yell and scream and give ultimatums? Did they lay awake at night, cry and make deals with God? All of the above.

Anna befriended a young man I will call Colby. I have a terrible habit of recognizing the child within a person almost instantly upon meeting. Colby was no exception; his little boy was so present in his face, mannerisms and his eyes mostly, that it was difficult to think of him as a man nearing his mid twenties. Perhaps it is because I have two sons about his age, so it was natural to think in those terms. I wanted to say, “Why are you doing this? Let’s return to the days of Lego’s, trucks and dinosaurs and figure this out.”

Instead, I nurtured him along with my daughter, thinking that there might be a spark reminding him of a gentler life that once was and still is possible. I thought about all of the things that I wanted and needed to discuss with my daughter before she set out on her journey to New Orleans. At first I hesitated because he was there. Then I thought, no way. He is here now and he is going to be my daughter’s traveling partner, he gets the hard questions too.

It worked. I asked him how he thought that his life as a ‘traveling kid’ made his parents feel? He was quite candid. I know from our conversation that his father has cut him off (although he loves me, Colby interjected) and his mother loves him as well, but she cannot relate.

I had to walk a fine line here. What does it mean not relating to your child being a ‘traveling kid?’ Is it so awful to want something else for your child? Such as knowing that she/he has a roof over her head, even a mundane job (as horrible as it might sound to a Bohemian Artist who has learned to busk for meals) would work now and then.

How much of this parental unrest is self centered – “what about me” – stuff and how much of it is genuine worry about the safety of your grown child? It’s all real, bubbling in the pot. The worry, coping, fear, anger and relief are all just swimming around your head like a school of fish with each emotion taking turns being the leader.

You learn to live with the fish as they become a part of your world, shedding new light on Jacques Cousteau. You’re in a store deciding whether you need coffee cream or not and the fish are right there swimming around you. You pat your pocket, feeling for your cell phone because you can’t hear it in the store if it’s in your pocketbook. When you find it, the anxious fish quickly passes the lead over to the relief fish.

You watch a movie, while the coping fish leads the school when suddenly a change in the scene reminds you (the imaginative creature who fills in the blanks) that your daughter could be in that sort of street alley with the menacing guy closing in on her. The fear fish moves to the front when you recall that the last time you spoke with her she said that she lost her pepper spray.

Colby and I talked freely about his family. I inquired with nurturing confidence, careful not to pry or put him in too tight a spot. Someone has to put aside all of the weirdness and place the appropriate significance on asking these young people how, what, where and why? A vital element in this dilemma stems from elders not taking the time or the initiative to place emphasis on the lives of our children. It might be uncomfortable, unpleasant and even heart wrenching, but we must peel back the layers and get to the core. Looking the other way and bitching or grieving in silence is not beneficial. They need us to have a voice; they need to have a voice; we all need to pay attention and hear. It is important.

I asked him questions pertaining to how his parents would feel should he have an accident on a train and die. I asked him if he considered the toll that his death would take on his family. You may not regard your life in the way of those who gave life to you, yet should it be lost, have you considered how their lives would be changed forever?

He looked down. My daughter and I locked eyes. Brown eyes to brown eyes. No truth hides. My voice was lower pitched than usual and firm, almost as if someone else were speaking. I would never be the same. I cannot describe how difficult it would be to continue living.

He told me that he did think about it. I was not convinced. Really? Truly? You have thought enough about your actions and risk taking that you have imagined what their lives would be like if they found out that you were dead?

He continued looking down at his feet and nodded yes. I knew at that point that if he never really pondered the effect that a possible careless death would have on his family that he did then. Even if he pushes caution to the wind along with thoughts of surviving parents, I know that once, in my presence, both he and my daughter clearly faced that possibility and responsibility to life itself.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Freight Train Blues: Traveling Kids – Part VII

Freight Train Blues
Bob Dylan

I was born in Dixie in a boomer shed
Just a little shanty by the railroad track
Freight train was it taught me how to cry
The holler of the driver was my lullaby
I got the freight train blues
Oh Lord mama, I got them in the bottom of my rambling shoes
And when the whistle blows I gotta go baby, don't you know
Well, it looks like I'm never gonna lose the freight train blues.

Well, my daddy was a fireman and my mama-ha
She was the only daughter of an engineer
My sweetheart was a brakeman and it ain't no joke
Seems a waste to get a good man broke
I got the freight train blues
Oh Lord mama, I got them in the bottom of my rambling shoes
And when the whistle blows I gotta go mama, don't you know
Well, it looks like I'm never gonna lose the freight train blues.

Well, the only thing that makes me laugh again
Is a southbound whistle on a southbound train
Every place I wanna go I never can go
Because you know I got the freight train blues
Oh Lord mama, I got them in the bottom of my rambling shoes.

While Anna was reuniting with her Vermont friends at the Human Carnival and a large event – Gathering – I was learning about what she really meant by taking the train.  At first when she spoke to me on the telephone at the train station in Chicago, I imagined her sitting on a slightly cracked, worn leather seat watching the landscape as she rolled by. I remembered my own days traveling through Europe on the Euro rail. What a way to travel. I have always loved the romance of trains, in America I have a high regard for the Pullman cars and Buffalo china, which I collected over the years. Coffee tastes better in a thick diner china cup.

That whole idealistic image shattered when I heard from my older son that yes, Anna travels on trains, and no, she never purchases a ticket or sits on a passenger car. Up until that point, my father was off the hook, no bartering with God and I was down to a half of a 3 mg of melatonin to sleep, working towards sleeping on my own. The dosage shot back up to a full pill. Okay. She is hopping trains.

There was a little bit of fingernails left to bite, so I bit them all down thinking in awfulness that my hands looked like those of a nervous twelve-year-old. The thought of my daughter chasing after a train and hopping on brought me back to step one – the coping place. I imagined her be bopping around on crutches with one leg, or worse, I will spare you the details. What if there was some sort of disagreement or problem and she was thrown from the train or fell off in the middle of nowhere. Who would find her?

I fought the urge to pick up the phone that had become a permanent attachment, and call her. Instead, I buried myself in the book that I had been reading by Pema Chödrön. I was working hard on getting my life under my fingertips and eliminating the thoughts that were controlling and defining me. I could do this.

I waited until my next visit with Anna before discussing the train issue. As always, I eased into the conversation, enjoying the initial time that we would be spending together. We were sitting together sipping our morning coffee on the front porch when I asked her about the train. “Anna, when you take the train, you don’t buy a ticket and sit with the rest of the passengers, do you?”

She giggled and smirked the way she did when we both knew the answer. “No, not exactly.”

I gulped a huge mouthful of coffee. “Talk to me, Dottie.” Dottie is a nickname that I gave her when she was a baby, its short for daughter. I think I invented this in the middle of the night when she was a few months old and I was having one of those too tired to think straight, silly moments all to myself.

“Well.” She smiled. “We ride on grain cars.” She twirled her hair around her pinky.  "Grainers."

“Oh my God.” I thought that it would be as good a time as any to start smoking again. I thought about the disgusting taste of a cigarette, the possibility of passing out and opted for the fingernails.

“Mom. It’s not what you think.” She whined in a way indicating that we both knew it was exactly what I thought and more.

“Anna, you actually run after a train and jump on it? You risk life and limb for this?” I needed whiskey. That’s what I needed, plain and simple.

“No, it’s not like that at all. I never run and hop on a moving train.” She said it with such conviction, as if it were such a ludicrous statement. She set her coffee down so that she could really examine the curl that she had twisted around her finger.

“So you’re telling me that you hop on a parked train?” I stood up. “I’m getting more coffee; hold that thought.”

I went into the living room and cranked up the volume of the Grateful Dead satellite channel, poured myself another cup and returned to the porch. “Talk to me.”

I sat and watched the hummingbirds go back and forth above my head to the feeder while she explained her method of riding on trains. Apparently, she does not ever chase after a moving train, hop on it or take chances in that way. The first train that she took was from New Orleans heading north. She told me how beautiful it was on Easter morning when they got off a train in Alabama and there were wild cottontail rabbits in the field. A good sign, according to her still wonderful way of viewing certain things.

“What happens if you get caught?” The image of golden whiskey and ice clinking in a glass that had faded a few moments ago returned, only it was just the bottle this time.

“I haven’t gotten caught.” This time it was she who stood up to refill her cup.

“Not yet.” I called after her. “You haven’t gotten caught yet.” I did a power set of those breathing exercises that they teach you in childbirth class.

She returned and explained how it worked. She told me about the “bulls”- the guys who drive around in the yard in white SUV’s – they were the ones to avoid. She went on to say that the men who worked on the trains were actually helpful and showed them which cars would be more comfortable or better for their ride. She only knew of a few people who had told her about getting caught and the worst case scenario for them was to get booted off the train in the middle of nowhere. Yes, by law they could be prosecuted, but I am thinking that as long as they are not causing harm, or doing anything disruptive that they are generally left alone.

She filled me in on the logistics of train travel. Apparently there are maps and schedules in circulation for the purpose of hopping trains. Old road dogs, train bums, hobos or what have you, have gone to the trouble of making these available.

“I carry a compass.” She pulled another curl out of the mass and started in twirling. “I’m on top of my game; I don’t take chances and I assess all situations. When I arrive somewhere, the first thing I do is check my resources.”

“What do you do when you’re on the train?” I didn’t waver.

“I usually sleep.”

“What’s it like? I mean the train. Tell me everything.” I put my feet on the railing.

She told me about little cubbies and spaces to put their stuff. Which cars or grainers are better than others and why. She said that they bring a jar of peanut butter and bread and make sandwiches. According to her, the scenery has been beautiful. Sometimes it rained and it could be cold; another time one of her friends was very sick with a throat abscess.

“What if you have to pee?” I looked at her out of the corner of my eye.

She laughed. “You hold it until the next stop.”

I went through every possible scenario like an examiner making sure that all of her answers met my constantly changing standards. I covered things from what if you get to the station and the train is leaving and it’s the last train for the next 24 hours? To what if your friends hop on a moving train, would you do it too? My stern, not messing around, voice dropping an octave, self emerged. “You never ever drink on or around trains, right?”

She did a good job assuring me that she would never take any of those risks and that if she missed the train, she would wait.

We veered from our even keel. The seas were rough. We had both of our hands together on the rudder. We carried on in our new way of checks and balances, boundaries and having a right to know or not know. I wanted to scream at her and protect her at the same time. The vision of that little girl with apple blossoms in her French braids scolding our tiger cat, Chloe, haunted me; I kept it at a safe distance, embracing the new face of my daughter – the young woman – while quelling the fearful voice of my own inner child and embracing myself, the mother.
(To be continued).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Chicago, New York, Detroit and It’s all On the Same Street: Traveling Kids – Part VI

Getting the text from Anna stating that she was going to a concert in Philly was a bit of a relief. What I didn’t know but soon found out, is that she was heading for Chicago, Detroit and Ann Arbor. I was grateful that she contacted me more than when she was in New Orleans, but then again…knowing that she was back in the traveling mode summoned the dreaded fear monster.

Once again, I was taking melatonin to sleep at night, relying on prayers and trying to avoid making those impossible deals with God. My father was a patient man, so I knew that he would understand if I asked him to watch over her for a few more months.

I found myself watching the weather channel every night to make sure that there were no tornadoes or other natural disasters making their way to her. As if I could do anything should one occur?

First there was the heat wave. Of course when we exchanged a few texts, I mentioned it, again, as if she didn’t know. When we talked on the phone she told me how annoying the heat was and assured me that she was drinking plenty of water.

Then came the rain. Flooding. Okay. The media was all over the flooding thing. I was pushing away images of my daughter sleeping who knows where while water raged through the streets, again, as if she didn’t know. She called me and said that the rain was wonderful and that she was enjoying the relief from the blistering heat. Flooding? Not where she had claimed her stakes.

When she was headed for Detroit was about the time that I started biting my nails, something I never did before except for at the last minute when playing the guitar back in the day. I was watching a documentary about Detroit, and how there are zoning boards and other committees poised to plow down all of the vacant buildings left from the collapsed auto industry that had fallen prey to gangs. That was when she happened to text me and tell me that she was on her way there.

Then I remembered that her destination was Ann Arbor Michigan for Punk Week. She told me this several months prior; it all came back to me. Ann Arbor seemed like a nice place.

I was thankful for the calls and texts. They were random, but anything was better than the previous winter of unknowing in New Orleans. I spent a great deal of time sitting on the porch steps by myself looking at the night sky and listening to the sounds of the woods, remembering when she was there with me, agreeing with me that the mysterious rustling in the trees was a good thing.

I was listening to NPR when the news came that a state of emergency had been declared in southwest Michigan's Kalamazoo County as more than 800,000 gallons of oil released into a creek began making its way downstream in the Kalamazoo River. People were being instructed to drink bottled water and avoid bathing or using the water source. Okay, out with the almanac. Where is Ann Arbor in relation to this?

My son, the violinist, was here for the month of August. I had to be mindful of the possibility of relying on him too much emotionally. I detest neediness and know how it can slip into your psyche almost undetected.

His presence was a positive head change for me. We spoke of Anna from time to time, but I didn’t want to be that desperate mother who was unable to live in the moment, my moment, unclouded with fear and doubt about a situation that was clearly beyond my control. I had an opportunity to enjoy my son, who I had mainly kept in touch with via the telephone while he was going to conservatory and performing in Boston. He visited now and then and I went to some of his performances when I was not on the Gulf of Mexico. Since returning to New Hampshire in a more permanent sense, visits were much easier.

I relished the fact that music filled the house, as it did for so many years raising a highly productive musical family in a home school setting, which means just about every waking hour there were sounds of the violin, cello, piano, guitar, and an assortment of brass. I missed the soundtrack of my life. My son was preparing for auditions and such. Mozart’s 5th Violin Concerto saved me.

Then, Anna happened to hit a low point while out there somewhere and she called my oldest son. She was quite upset, and of course everyone wanted to protect me, so about a week after the dust settled, I got a text from my daughter telling me that her brother is buying her a bus ticket home. Not knowing that the ticket was a bail out rather than a generous offer out of the blue, I was elated on a few different levels. Then I got the call from my son saying that she called him in the wee hours of the morning in distress mode. She also texted my violinist son, who had kept the information confidential, feeling that it was not his place to tell me.

My offspring have a strong bond, and will keep their word to each other. They will also spare me at times, although the truth is always there and comes out when appropriate. It’s all about trust and honor, and we live by that code as a tightly knit unit. At that point for me, the situation went from high to low.

I planned what I would and would not say to Anna, thinking about holding her captive, even though I knew that it was impossible. I thought that somehow I could talk her into staying home where she would be safe and loved. My sons both wanted me to do something, anything.

I couldn’t wait to see her. It took about 24 hours for her to get to Boston on the bus. I drove down in the pouring rain to get her from my older son’s apartment.

She looked okay. She had a deep tan and had lost a little weight. Her eyes were sad. I sat on the couch with my arm around her, her head resting on my chest. We visited my son and his fiancé for a bit and then headed home.

Because she was so happy to see me, I didn’t want to jump into the hard line of questioning right away. I wanted her to feel her joy at being home. We had plenty of time to talk. I had been through it before; we needed to find a comfort zone for our time to be meaningful.

She chatted all the way home. The sadness in her eyes transformed into an ember, soon to be a spark. Somehow I had to let my son who waited for us at home to know that she was truly happy at that moment, and that a tough love stance would be a disastrous mistake and backfire.

She hauled her huge backpack into the house and we entered. She hugged her brother and started talking and filling the room with her infectious laugh. When she went to the bunkroom to drop off her stuff, I quickly pulled my son aside to tell him that we needed to enjoy ourselves and avoid the deep stuff, he quickly agreed, knowing that there was no room in the moment for heavy lecturing and grilling.

This happiness went on for days. We went swimming, hung out by the bonfire, listened to good music and reminisced about days gone by.

The day came when my daughter confided in me. She faced some life altering experiences and shared them with me. I am truly blessed that she opens up to me, and that she knows that I will not judge or harm her in any way on any level. I will only give her love, guidance and maternal wisdom. It is up to her to sift through it and do as she will.

I re-emphasized the need to know of her whereabouts and my hopes for her to consider a different path. I also reinforced my love and all attempts of acceptance. I admire her courage, but believe that she does not have to live in a survival mode, which is how it appears to me.

We have an understanding that I acknowledge that it is her choice to travel around the country with her only belongings stuffed in the backpack. She understands that I need to hear from her with some regularity concerning her well-being and that she will be wise in her choices and carry on with integrity and honor. We both understand that we are not on the same page, but our love is indestructible.

I drove her back to Vermont, where she attended the “Human Powered Carnival” and reunited with her friends.
(To be continued)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Talking, Singing, Trusting and Acceptance: Traveling Kids - Part V

After following Anna’s facebook status every few hours – rooting for her to get out of the cold rain in the woods somewhere in upstate New York – she finally arrived in Vermont. I fought the urge to jump in my car and fetch her, but it is all part of the deal.

She reunited with her friends and gathered her belongings that were scattered about Burlington. I drove to Vermont to get her. All the way there I listened to music and tried to organize my thoughts and file the questions inside of my head in some logical manner.

I drove down the street and immediately saw her standing in the middle of a parking lot filled with piles of various items of clothing that a generous friend had dragged out of his outbuilding. Everything was damp because there was a leak in the roof.

As I walked towards her, I was struck by her exquisite beauty. She approached me with a dazzling smile, a mass of rich curls piled loosely on top of her head, wearing a short corduroy skirt with leggings and hiking boots. She was a combination of an earthy gypsy and Greek Goddess.

When we hugged I wanted to absorb her into me. She felt thinner than I remember her ever being; her muscles were well defined and she had a deep bronze tan. Together we walked into the middle of the piles of stuff. I recognized a few familiar things. I bent over and picked up a sweater from the pavement, “Is this one of the boys’?”

She laughed. “Shelby gave it to me.”

After going around in circles for a bit, we rummaged through the piles, collected her things and stuffed them into the trunk of my car.

I kept looking at her, wanting to lock the car doors and never release her from my sight. She was so happy; I couldn’t start in bitching at her. I couldn’t spoil her joy, but I needed to be an advocate for myself, the mother who was worried sick for months, trying to piece it all together.

After buying coffee and getting on the highway, I decided that I could at least make my intentions known. I needed to get it. After rifling through my CD’s, we agreed on Ingrid Michaelson, O Brother Where Art Thou, Lucinda Williams, Bob Dylan, Brandi Carlile and Paul McCartney’s Ram.

I looked out the window at the puffy art clouds waiting to be identified. I swallowed and carefully chose my words. “Anna, I want you to make me understand. I don’t want to judge you; just make me understand.”

She smiled a half smile. “I know.” Her smile faded and she looked out the window. She hadn’t faced this straightforward line of questioning for a long time. She knew that I wasn’t going to whine and complain and get lost in my own agenda. She knew that I really expected the truth about her new lifestyle.

We shared intermittent episodes of dialogue. Usually I posed a gentle question; she paused and gave me a well thought out answer. We didn’t move too quickly. She truly wanted me to understand, and it took her a while to formulate her thoughts. The act of articulation was an act of owning. We made every word count.

A few times when we spoke on the telephone during her stay in New Orleans, she mentioned that there were many people who recognized ‘traveling kids’ and offered support and resources. I didn’t know at the time that the term ‘traveling kids’ was an actual name for such a huge and rapidly growing subculture. I didn’t know that she was one of them. I was about to find out who they where, what they stood for and how they lived their lives on a completely alternative plane.

Anna assured me that there was honor amongst them and that – like any culture – there were kids of many factions. As I explained in Part I of this series; they are diverse.

“Where do you fit in?” I sipped my lukewarm coffee.
“I’m not sure.” She smiled.
“Somewhere between the hippies and the old timey musicians?
I remembered that she detests labels and backed off.

She assured me that she never panhandled, that she always played her cello, busking for her money. She also explained that she had to be on top of her game, and that she did not use drugs or take chances that would cause her harm. She noted that there were kids who acted recklessly or in a way that was a vexation to her, and she chose not to be a part of them. She was almost insulted at some of the questions that I asked her.

I kept thinking about how Jack Kerouac was responsible for this. He was and still is one of her heroes, and she re-read his book On the Road when she was last at my house during the holidays. Thinking along those terms was a double edge sword. He lived in different times, yet he was a pioneer who left his distinguishable mark on society. I was all over the place, drifting between frustration, anger, enlightenment and pride for her courage. The fear seems to emerge as the winner every time.

We both knew enough to meter our discussion. We could only give and take so much; we sensed when one of us was drained, therefore we welcomed the silence. Every time one of our songs came on – Brandi Carlile’s The Story, Lucinda Williams’ Can’t Let Go, Carwheels on a Gravel Road, or You Are My Sunshine, I’ll Fly Away from O Brother Where Art Thou – we wailed together, relishing the fact that we still shared the magic of harmonizing. We loved our music so much that we hit replay over and over again as the sun slipped behind the craggy White Mountains.

Anna stayed with me for a little over a week. In between swimming at the Potholes, eating ice cream from ‘The Creamery’ and tickling her arm while watching movies, we sat on the steps of the front porch talking or watching fireflies and the moon in meaningful silence. Sometimes I detected a glimpse of Anna retreating into a world of shadows and solitude and I gauged when to back off and when to nudge her to open up to me.

She was restless at times, but mostly she relished her space in the corner of her bunkroom, curled up with Beatrix – her oversized, stuffed, childhood bunny – and soft pink down quilt. She actually confessed that although she enjoyed visiting with her old friends one night, she secretly regretted that she would be missing a night of sleeping in her own comfortable bed.

I cooked all of her favorite foods, did an insane amount of laundry and listened intently while she told me of her tales on the road, sparing me from some of the more difficult times. I refrained from lecturing her, yet I remained true to my beliefs and reinvented my role as her mother. When we tried to be of the same mind and yet I didn’t understand a particular piece of her story, we would leave it suspended and return to the conversation at a later time. Sometimes it worked and other times we left it as such.

I learned that the most important thing that I could do for both of us is to trust her, to reinforce my love for her and emphasize that I am always here for her under any and all circumstances. It is all reduced to acceptance, love and trust.

A critical lesson that emerged for me is to stop rewinding to the past and trying to find answers. We can learn from the past, but must not wallow in it, but use it as guidance. It is important to understand our history; we can only act in the present. Everyone makes mistakes; they were made once, to continue to dwell on them is empowering them to rule us. Not good. We are where we are now, and we are meant to be here. It is a classroom. Learn and go with it, not against it.

Mainly because of the way that I raised my children – to be strong willed, independent and to follow one’s own compass – Anna lives accordingly. Because of her upbringing, I knew that it was futile to expect that I could change her course. She is firm in her choices and if I reject her, refuse to listen or am hyper-critical, I will lose her. That is not part of the deal.

I promised her that I would not judge, that I would be honest in the way of offering wisdom and support. There are no secrets; what I know and what I will continue to learn is possibly up for debate, but probably will not change.

She spent a great deal of time writing lyrics and preparing for leaving her cello behind for a bit, since it is easier to carry a guitar on the road. She packed and unpacked her backpack and sorted out her things, agonizing over what she could or couldn’t live without.

We were both mentally exhausted, yet spiritually refreshed when I brought her back to Vermont. The sadness grew heavier with each mile, but I knew that it was vital for me to feel it so that I could release it – at least as much of it as possible. It was a combination of knowing, accepting, and separation anxiety.

I respect my daughter for being honest with me, for working so hard to help me to understand. I do and I don’t. I basically understand the lifestyle and the movement, how it works and doesn’t work. I understand why she wants to live on the road, but I don’t necessarily understand the willingness to take risks.

She possesses a different type of courage than I do. I feel safe in the woods and lived in the wild by choice for three months the summer before last. I am comfortable taking a solar shower under the trees, ditching all modern day comforts day in and day out, rain or shine. As Anna so appropriately stated, the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree. I wouldn’t want to head out into the unknown with a backpack and cello or guitar and play for my next hot meal. She said that it is liberating to get rid of “stuff” and to carry with you only what you need. I respect the hell out of that. We live in such a materialistic world where people are comforted by “things.” She is definitely on the right track.

When we arrived at her destination, I reluctantly helped her carry her stuff into the house where she was staying. When we hugged, I inhaled the sweetness of her hair. I had to let go. I drove away, looking at her in the rearview mirror until she was out of sight.

I cranked up the volume on the stereo and sang The Story as loud as I could to keep the tears from flowing, but gave in because I knew that it was the right thing to do. I turned my attention to the road and headed back through the White Mountains, hitting the replay button too many times.

When I got home, I avoided going into the bunk room. I was drawn to it, but the thought of sadness creeping in from the sight of Beatrix and all of Anna's things exactly as she left them, kept me away for a few days.

I finally walked into the room. She tidied up quite well, leaving me with nothing to dwell on or hang onto. I found a hair scrunchie and a pen. I didn’t touch them and left the room, satisfied that I didn’t have to straighten it out or fall into the perpetual and fruitless trap of longing for her.

About a week later, I got a text message telling me that she was on her way to a concert in Philly. Relieved that she was keeping me informed, I chased away all of the possible scenarios that my writer’s imagination tempted to create and carried on with my life. Sleep came easier, although I did rely on brief prayers and a request here and there from my father to keep her safe.

We are on this journey together, learning the boundaries of love and trust between a mother and daughter, knowing that whatever comes up on the road, that we are always together across the miles.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Where the Earth Remembers Me

There are many reasons to come home. The clues are everywhere; in crisp blue skies, lush grassy hills, cool shady woods, clean clear water and the blissful twilight chorus. When I inhale; the sweetness of all that grows wild makes me a bit lightheaded.

Last summer, I spent many nights sitting on the front porch watching fireflies and rapidly floating clouds against a dazzling moon. Now, bundled in a warm fleece jacket, I sit on the steps and wait for winter. Trees creak and sigh in the north wind. Branches – no longer cloaked in soft leaves – click against the other, while remnants of last years garden rattle. Throaty owls and barking coyotes remind me of the plentiful wildlife surrounding me and how I am at ease in their elusive presence.

As I plant, nurture and harvest many flowers, herbs, berries and ground nuts, I am filled with unending gratitude, validating my Abenaki roots. I celebrate each time I spread one of my homemade jams on an English muffin or when I burn candles adorned with vibrant leaves and delicate petals. There is nothing more satisfying than sipping tea made from red clover, rose and mint that I plucked daily and hung from the kitchen beam to dry.

Today, I walked down the footpath in the woods. As the multihued leaves swished beneath my feet, it suddenly occurred to me how significant it is to return to where the earth remembers me. As a child I played and wandered through these woods, playing house within a cluster of tall pine trees and navigating the ‘big rock’ – my ship. Many times I dug my heel into the fresh earth to make a hole for playing marbles, picked daisies for making chains and climbed into the thick, crooked arms of a timeless apple tree, resting and daring to dream while taking bittersweet nourishment.

Until I returned home, I didn’t know that the wild pleasures of my childhood, wonders of keeping it simple, and ways of Our Mother imprinted in my DNA, were lost somewhere deep inside of me. The stillness inside is enough to quiet the chatter, remove me from the chaos and reclaim all that matters then and now. It is so quiet here. Rejoice.