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.