A Letter to My 18 Year Old Self

YouTube sent out an e-mail today where in honor of International Women’s Day, they asked women to make a video letter to their younger self.  Well, I’m still on the upward climb of learning video technology, but I knew I could write that letter. Without further ado, here is the “Letter to my 18 year old self”


chicago peace rose


Dear Me;


I’m writing you nearly two years after a life-altering event and near-death episode. Since it’s been 39 years since I made a monumental decision to join the military instead of attempting to find a way to go to college, I’m writing this so that hopefully, one day, time travel of at least video correspondence is a reality. In November of 1975, I raised my right hand, and had Mom sign an age waiver so I could gain entry into the Texas National Guard. I was so idealistic, so naive, so sure I was doing the right thing.

Yes, going into the military was a good thing; but I seriously needed someone to tell me about homesickness and familial dysfunction and alcoholism and rape. I seriously needed someone to tell me that my spirit was a beautiful, sacred thing and all those empathic impulses I’d been denying were REAL. I needed someone to help me find the beautiful Goddess in Training that I was, to find the self-confidence that the writing voice within should never have been denied over the need to simply survive. I needed the strong guidance that helped me discover I could do this on my own, that I never needed a man to make me complete. I needed someone to teach me by example that a life companion complemented who you are, not changed you to fit their reality. Further, no one had the right to raise a hand to you in rage; no one had the right to define your spirituality, confine you to their definition of Deity.

There was so much of the masterpiece of my being that was so incomplete at 18 that it should have been considered a felony for me to have been sent out into the world of the late 70’s without at least a Master Class in Reality. You are more than pumps, sandals, boots, or bare feet. You are more than jeans, cut-offs and bikini bottoms. You are more than a bra, a halter top or a t-shirt. You are more than the outside accoutrements of clothing, or style. Your spirit is as free as Jonathan Livingston Seagull, never let anyone tell you or try to convince you otherwise. In fact, do yourself a favor – don’t allow anyone who attempts to corral who you are with conventionality to stay in your life.

Education is a passport to freedom, little one. No one can steal the treasures of knowledge you hold between your ears. There is nothing shameful about being intelligent, there is only the shame later that you were never able to develop the bright promise you held. I said it before and I’ll say it again and again – if the guy you want doesn’t comprehend what you love, let him go. Someone will show up that shares your love of the stars, and the planets, and Star Trek and all things geeky. Someone will show up that is as much a hopeless romantic as you are, and if you are willing to let that special someone, they will sweep you off your feet and worship you every day of your lives together.

Don’t allow the bigotry of those around you blind you to the beauty of everyone you meet. Commit the words of Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata to heart and find a way to live/express/develop the intent of that writ every moment that you draw breath. Find a way to play every day, coloring books are not the territory of the very young, neither are finger paints or Play-Doh, or Legos, or Lincoln Logs or even rag dolls and dollhouses. Remember the fun you had in the kitchen with your grandmother, and your nannies, and learn that food is as much a palette as are words and crayons.

Last, learn to grieve as deeply as you loved. Never allow someone to tell you to “get over it.” While the great sages and wise women through the ages affirm that we are never truly separated from those we love, there are those who will share time with you as you dance on this planet that will only share the journey but briefly. They will be the beacons of Light along parts the dimly lit passages as no life is lived in sunlight alone. Never forget to appreciate the Light in your life; taking people for granted should be considered a mortal sin.

When you have children, stick to your guns and your gut. Your intuition as a mother is a far better diagnostic tool than the most schooled pediatrician, the most well-intentioned educator. You KNOW your children. Never deny yourself a moment spent with the extra cuddle, the additional kiss on the forehead, the caress of a silky head. Spending time cuddled together on the ‘mommy/daddy’ bed builds a bond that no one can ever break, and gives them memories of security and love to hold in their hearts forever. Remember that old pots and pans, worn out aprons and wooden spoons are far better toys than those that others spend a fortune on. Teaching them how to build fairy houses out of leaves and sticks encourages imagination, and planting a garden together grounds them to life itself.

Creating things of use and beauty with knitting needle, sewing needle or crochet hook, hands a legacy to all children. There’s nothing wrong with teaching the playmates of your kids how to do it either. Oh yes, one more thing, and it’s the most important. Kids are like that garden you’ll grow together. They need the sunshine, the dirt and the water. Letting them dance naked in the rain allows their spirit that freedom of expression in a memory that will get them through the tough times they will undoubtedly face.

You are an incredible person. You will meet other incredible persons and you will meet people of both great good and horrific evil. When you meet people of evil, walk away. Quickly. Do not attempt to find the good in anyone that greets you with all the ugliness that they are. Accept them as ugly and walk away. The greatest truth that is the saddest lesson you will have to learn, and it is this: Good people attract bad people like ants to a picnic. Ants have the right to be ants, but you do not have to sit there and let them hurt you. They have their place in the scheme of things, and it is up to you if you choose to share your life with anyone who willfully hurts you. Make a different choice.

Life is incredibly short. Dance. Eat with joy. Love with abandon. Appreciate the special people in your life, and allow to pass those who would cause you or yours harm. Grow a garden, love a pet, plant a tree. When it is time to go, you want to look back and laugh with love.

Hug yourself for me – and let go of any regrets – you can always start over, on any given day.



Gut-Level Real

Valentine heart ...wtf_thumb[1]

Hello, my name is Rhae C. and I’m an addict/alcoholic. Bet those of you who read this didn’t know this or maybe vaguely remember something I’d mentioned about it. Well, by the Grace of the Gods and Goddesses of my Ancestors, I’ve been clean and sober since May 23rd, 1988. Sanity is always questionable because not only did I get married to my fifth husband in sobriety, but I gave him children, too. I’ve admitted to being a hopeless romantic; seeing that I’ve done this marriage business 5 times should be proof that sobriety has its’ own rewards. The difference being this one ‘stuck’ for 22 years and we’re still trying to see if it’ll work out.

The short story of how I ended up in an AA meeting room with a bunch of folks just like me is pretty standard. Alcoholics on both sides of the good ol’ oaken cask of a family tree. After all, it is Texas and I was a fifth generation by-product of migratory Cajuns, Scots-Irish, Germans and a couple of wandering Native Americans thrown in because females were few and far between once you got west of the Mississippi before 1830. Add in a family history, again on both sides, of raising Hell because neither TV nor football had been invented yet and you get a tribe of instigators that put the ‘fun’ in dysfunctional. Then, at the ripe of age of 30 I found myself a single mother cross addicted to barbiturates and alcohol after a car wreck smashed my face and my upper jaw. That wasn’t enough to kick my ass into the Abyss; my best friend dies less than 90 days after a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. In truth, I should have died when I decided to swallow 2400mg. of a barbiturate compound and take a 6-pack chaser. Instead, I found myself reading The Big Book while kneeling next to the toilet waiting for the next round of nausea to empty the small intestine; the stomach had been cleared in the first 3 hours. Being unsuccessful in committing chemical suicide, I decided that I needed to ‘get right with God’ before I left my child in a park for CPS to pick up and adopt out while I found an 18-wheeler to jump out in front of. I met a Druid elder on the back patio of a non-denominational church who drug me into my first AA meeting. The rest, as they say, is history.

Lately, it has been an uphill struggle to maintain emotional balance; the college-aged kid is sick, the baby girl is getting married, and the eldest child has been inviting the Gods of Chaos to find her automobile for demolition derby practice. Did I mention that my hubby was interviewing for a management position, and that the disability insurance company managing my LTD payments has a stick up their keisters for more medical information? (Look, dimwits….the brain broke. It ain’t gonna miraculously fix itself any further than its’ been pushed to do. On a good day, I can remember the process to fix oatmeal without counting on my fingers and looking at notes.)

My therapist has been after me to find an AA meeting but bless her precious heart, she knows not what she asks. When my last beloved sponsor died with 24 years of sobriety, a part of my heart died with her. She knew that I could never do the Abrahamic religion ‘thing’ – Hell, SHE was the one who pointed out that I’d never stay sober unless I could admit that my personal integrity wasn’t attenuated to Judeo-Christian. I kept trying to go to meetings and earnestly find another sponsor, but nope; it wasn’t going to happen. Somewhere along the metamorphosis of The Program, the hardcore kick-butt sober folks disappeared. I was and remain eternally grateful to a sponsor that was a black-belt in reality based sobriety; she gave me the tools to keep on looking. What I was never prepared for was the repeated rejection of AA members who couldn’t accept a sober Druid.

While I miss the coffee and the companionship of the fellowship of Bill W. friends, I don’t miss the hostility when I step out of a meeting before The Lord’s Prayer is said at the end of each meeting. Not my faith, not my prayer. If I’m not welcome to step out, then why should I step in? I don’t want that kind of sobriety. I learned early on that staying sober is an all or nothing kind of deal. I prefer to maintain a personal integrity with my own spirituality than to compromise because someone else is uncomfortable with my personal choice in a relationship with a Higher Power.

So, it is a bit of a conundrum that I face. I wish to abide by the wishes of my counselor and therapist, but I have yet to find a place to ‘hang my hat for an hour or so’ in a place of safety with other like-minded folks struggling to stay sober in the face of a world gone mad and getting crazier by the day. Some days, I just stay sober 15 minutes at a time because that’s the best I can do. Some days, it never crosses my mind. That is, until we have insane holidays like Valentine’s come up and trigger all the past memories of pain because a little freckle-faced geeky girl got rocks, cat turds and dirt clods in her Valentine’s mailbox instead of cheesy paper cards in little white envelopes.

For the little girl I used to be, tomorrow I’m going to buy her watercolors and a box of those little valentine candy hearts. I’m going to get her a small chocolate heart and a little stuffed Pepe’ LePew. I’m going to buy a bottle of strawberry milk like they used to serve in school for Valentine’s Day only, and a box of graham crackers. While my beloved husband may have some plans for us tomorrow, I’m going to ask him for a couple of hours so I can give the little girl I used to be an alternative to the remembered pain and instead replace those memories with all the happiness she deserved….and I’ll stay sober because I choose to.

For all of us out there that struggle with this holiday as well, I send you gentle hugs and love and strawberry flavored milk. Happy Valentine’s Day.

A Yuletide Pagan Primer for the non-Pagan



Time and again I’ve posted on Facebook and elsewhere NOT to wish me a “Merry Christmas” please, I’m not Christian. I don’t say it to sound mean or callous or Goddess-forbid engage in some feeble minded attempt to make war on a holiday held sacred by others. I’m simply asking that a level of civility be observed and to please extend to non-Christians the same courtesy extended to Jews, Muslims, and other non-Abrahamic individuals. In return, I’ve been asked “What DO you observe?”

I am only timidly going to stick my toe in the Pagan waters here, because I can only speak for our Druidic tradition and some of the Wiccan and Asatruar traditions that we share hearthkin with. Ah, yes…I can see that some definitions are going to be in order as well.

Shall we jump in? Primarily there are as many Pagan traditions as there are stars in the sky – and probably just as many variations in Druidry, Asatru and Wicca, so this is not gospel. It is a generality and should you have a burning desire to know and question that you just have to have answered, feel free to ask. Likewise, if I don’t have the answer, I can usually point you in a solid direction for where to discover the answer. Witchvox.com is a likely resource, but not the final answer by any means.

Let us start with “community” – this is not as cohesive (although a crap-ton of us wish it were) or as inclusive as the word suggests. “Loose confederation” is closer, more holes that your granny’s doily is a better description. This mutually-agreed upon truce betwixt and between traditions and spiritual paths tends to generate a consensus gathering for most, if not all of the 8 “Holy Days” that revolve around an agricultural/astronomical calendar. Neither are the dates ‘set in stone’ per se. Because of a large amount of religious bigotry still running unleashed and rampant in a good part of America, most Pagani tend to utilize “the weekend closest to” the actual date/day/time for observance.

Let us also add an additional warning here. Because of the aforementioned problems with the distinct lack of general acceptance, if you’ve made an acquaintance of an individual that follows The Old Ways, please keep that information to yourself, unless that individual has acknowledged to you that they are “Out Of The Broom Closet” with regards to their spirituality. It’s a big no-no to expose someone who could very easily lose their job, their home, their children, their school funding or even their lives. No, I’m not going over the top here. It’s happened.

OK, definitions. “Heartkinship” – this is an established relationship between two separate groups of pagani; sometimes, two covens or circles, sometimes Druid and Wicca, sometimes Asatru and Druid. There is an agreed upon joint relationship for observance, prayer, feasting, even extending to informal fosterage of children during the summer months or sometimes during the school year. Yes, my family and I fostered our girls with an Asatruar hearth and likewise accepted their children into our household. It works very well when there are shared values and morals, with shared goals and expectations of the children involved. The benefits are amazing all around; but the trust and ability to compromise required of each side promotes a level of maturity that is admirable. Once upon a time, when there were extended families that knew each other just as well, informal fosterage was simply a given status. Modern America has lost something it could do well to rethink and regain.

‘Ghosti’ or Guestright – this is the set of acceptable behaviors between guest and host that stretches back into time. In a nutshell, it describes what is expected of a good guest; no breaking of the good china, lamps or host’s bones, no wrecking of the house, cars or property, no allowing the remainder of the household to come to harm through action or inaction on your part. In exchange, your host is expected to grant you a meal free from poison, vermin or inordinate gossip, a place to sleep should you require it, and a bath should you need one. Additionally, protection from anyone who would harm you while within the boundaries of their property is also an expectation. It sounds so simple, and yet too many times the members of the pagan community have seen both guests and hosts wreck the parameters of appropriate behavior on the order of a sleazy talk show.

As much as I hate to illumine the single underlying cause of the majority of these rampages, it must be outlined that alcohol can breed just as much antipathy as cheer. Setting firm expectations/boundaries with guests is a welcome foundation that can insure many happy holidays to come – be they Pagan or not. Oh yes. One more item. Set firm boundaries with regard to sex and sexual behavior. If you’re going to have a grown-up party, act grown-up and discuss consensus and protection.

Ah, so you’ve been invited to “circle” or “ritual” – Chances are the person that invited you will inform you of their particular traditions with regards to dress, time to show up, etc. Want to impress the person who invited you or officiates at the ritual? Bring a bottle of mead, or good wine, or something to eat. Clueless as to what would be appropriate? Do a bit of research on the ritual being observed. Many of the Full Moon/Dark Moon observations are closed – which means “no one outside the immediate group unless permission has been given.” So, if you are invited to a Holy Day observation, (one of the Big Eight) you’re going to be there with others who are likewise clueless or are attending their first event. Accommodations should have probably been made for your presence. Relax, keep an open mind and enjoy. Participation in the event is always voluntary, save for a preliminary ‘smudging’ or cleansing. Never be afraid to ask your host/hostess about appropriate attire, what to do once inside circle, if you can ‘sit this one out’ and where, etc.

What is this “Yule” thing anyway? For our hearth, Yule, is an ancient Germano-Celtic tradition that celebrates the return of the Light and is observed from sunset the day before the Winter Solstice to sunset the day of the Solstice. An hourly vigil is kept at the Hearthfire by the Yule Log to insure blessings to one and all that come to observe, offer prayers and seek blessings. There are some that keep an all-night vigil when seeking wisdom of importance. While there is gift-sharing, it is minimal and observes a protocol of “one gift to Share Your Light” (i.e. an artist receives expensive brushes, a chef receives a prized carving knife, etc.) There is often story-telling (the cycle stories of Munster, the Children of Lir, etc.) and there is often a recounting of the year’s events similar to Samhain.

At midnight, every light is turned off, the fire is ritually tamped out, and a new fire re-kindled upon the ashes of the old, with the exception of the Yule Log. Additionally, the Yule Log is never allowed to burn away completely; one piece of the log is saved to use to kindle the next year’s Yule Log, else the family line dissipate never to be spoken of or remembered again. Usually, only “hearthkin” (kindred accepted by rite) are allowed to share Yule as they are familiar with and answer to the traditions of “ghosti” or guestright. (This is a complicated set of traditions that have to do with hospitality – how to behave as a guest and/or host.) We usually roast a ham, a brisket and a salmon to offer on the table for the main feast. There’s baked apples, sometimes a roast goose, it all depends on a.) what we can afford and b.) what we can get at the butcher’s. It’s very different from Christmas, but very family oriented.

By far, this isn’t an in-depth description…because there is so much more. The names of all whom I’ve sent Yule cards to will be recited at the Hearthfire in order that the Exalted Ones extend a Blessing to them. There are bayberry candles that adorn the altar (for prosperity – “A bayberry candle burned down to the socket brings health to the family and gold to the pocket.”) Mistletoe is carefully hung over doors, holly and pine over windows (to honor the Ancestors & the Shining (Fae) Ones) and often the kitchen and pantry is ritually cleansed with salt & mint to keep pests away, the floor cleansed with herbal tinctures and homemade soap….It’s a JOB…but the laughter, the sense of community and the camaraderie makes it so worth the effort!

Yule is probably the one Holy Day wherein we open the hearth and door to any who care to share because we feel it’s only right to Share in the Light. To us, sharing the sacred with others connects us to them in a way that no other form of communion can. When you share a meal, a ritual observance, stories and song, you being to understand another person’s perspective, and their lives begin to have worth and value to you. A common understanding goes a long way towards acceptance and inclusivity.

Blessed Yule, Y’all…..from our Hearth to Yours.

The Home Front


I never intended to raise a house full of girls. In fact, I think I can remember several occasions where I apologized for not giving my husband a boy to carry on his name. His answer was, “Have you SEEN my side of the family? We’re good.”

Be that as it may, just because there were females under the roof does NOT mean that there was a quiet, happy joy within the walls. Nope. No doubt there are Marine barracks full of rowdy males that were QUIETER and more sanitary than our home. From “fairy houses” of sticks, stones and mud to chickens (yes, I said CHICKENS) and the occasional kitten, there was always some sort of Chaos bubbling just under the surface of what appeared to be normalcy.

From birth, my girls were just itching to be into everything. Not a single one of them waited until their first birthday to walk, no run. At about 6 months, the urge to merge into bipedal freedom rose up along with their diapered little backsides. By 9 months of age, it was time to grab onto the curtains and cruise the furniture until “SURPRISE!” balance and locomotion made that little connection and it was time to run Mother ragged with squeals of glee and baby chuckles.

The firstborn had 3 acres and a pecan tree stump to wander over as she toddled into childhood from infancy. Not that she didn’t find enough mischief to get into; but dandelions were so much FUN to blow into her Papaw’s beautifully manicured St. Augustine lawn. A span of 8 years and then she had a sibling to join in on the domestic affairs, but Kat, the middle child, decided that living in the cupboards with the pots and pans was infinitely more enjoyable than just blowing dandelions into the manicured greens of the townhouse community we lived in.

Two years later and the last of the Celtic Warrior Queens Reincarnate came aboard just in time to celebrate with fireworks, watermelon and 100 degree temperatures in a very rural setting. We welcomed our first Great Pyrenees into our lives at the same time and of course he aided and abetted the baby’s first steps. What child could resist all that long white fur and gentle nature?

It appeared that the stage was set then, for all the antics and memorable moments to come. The move back into city life and the tiny apartment that barely managed to contain all the life within. The Yule tree that came with its own Squirrel; which didn’t reveal itself until the Dane was cutting off the 8 inches off the top to make it fit and managed to cut off the tip of his thumb when the squirrel made a panicked attempt at retreat down his body length. It gets better, the squirrel managed to find a way OUT of the apartment under the kitchen sink, but not without disturbing the bat that was sleeping/hibernating in the exit. When the sink door was opened to retrieve the dishwasher detergent, the bat fled the confines of the cabinet and all females of the household ran screaming for the relative safety of the master bedroom. This left Sir Bloody Thumb to capture the menace and expel such from the dwelling, immediately with no further assistance from the royal residents. You could almost HEAR his wish to fly free with the creature as he released it into the clear blue skies of a Texas twilight from the bat capturing shoebox.

The next move came with a backyard, an 8 foot privacy fence and a beautiful willow tree. It also came with the youngest daughters being ever-so-eager to go camping disappearing into the dark of a Yuletide Eve with a laundry bucket, their pillows, cans of food, but “No sharp knives, Mama!” The local constabulary were left with a Christmas story and had them all chuckling into their coffees the next morning as the paperwork was written and filed. There are also pictures of children wallowing in the mud of a drainage ditch where the only way their parent could discern lineage was by the blue of their eyes. Mad posse’s of children on bicycles when they weren’t at the neighborhood elementary also framed these years; as did the first of many sleepovers with children piled into heaps of air mattresses and blankets on my living room floor. This was where the practice of counting heads for pancakes began on those Sunday mornings way back when.

The next move would be marked by fields of bluebonnets accompanied by a little Welsh Corgi that had joined the household before the previous move, but now he was in his true element as the duplex bordered on a cattle holding. Retrieving Gizmo would become a household chore until a sane way of bolstering the fence line could be established.

Then, the eldest child graduated high school and was about to discover college. Time, it seemed had flown by all too quickly. True, there were two more daughters to get through the system, but this event telescoped the eventual happenings for the younger children. Once more, it was time to move. This time, into a house.

We were to lease/purchase a beautiful, two story home on what appeared to be a quiet cul de sac. Never doubt that appearances are deceiving, especially on a deal that seemed too good to be true. But, this was the house where the youngest child would set the sofa on fire with her laptop’s power brick and send her sisters screaming “FIRE” into our once quiet bedroom. This would be the home and final resting place for “Midnight- the Wonder Chicken.” This would be the home for what would become the starting set of kittens that grew into the “Crazy Cat Lady’s Starter Kit” I now know, love, feed and protect. This would be the home wherein I would watch a 20 pound Corgi ‘tree’ a 190 lb. electric meter reader up a 12 ft. oak sapling. This would also be the home that we would lose because of the shiftless, worthless lying greed of a ‘real estate investor’ and his inability to make the mortgage payments we’d been sending him for over 4 years.

I’d planted roses here, raised young girls into young ladies who attended their first proms here. Welcomed with open arms the eldest child back into the fold when a lying consort had beaten her and crushed her dreams. I planted morning glories and moonglow vines. I’d established an herb garden on the front porch, had plans to paint the bedrooms, created our first office, and managed to find a job that I could hang onto during the worst economic environment since the Great Depression. Now, with a single knock at the door and a visit from a confused Wells Fargo representative, it was going to be gone. Where was I going to shelter my daughters?

It all turned out better in the end, in its own way. Cat’s Paw Acres is not much; just 2.5 acres and a singlewide mobile home with a built on addition and a HUGE back porch, all covered by a wonderfully massive tin roof. In the past 5 years, we’ve made incredible memories here; the middle daughter’s High School graduation, but not before that fateful morning one late April afternoon when she received her acceptance letter into Cornell College. Then there was Batu, the wedding anniversary yak (an Anatolian Shepherd/Great Pyrenees puppy) who grew into a 150 lbs of lap dog. And last, the youngest daughter asking to go live with her godfather in California, thinking that he wouldn’t be as restrictive as Mom and Dad.

Before I knew it, the homestead is quiet. I can hear the winds sigh through the ash tree, the crepe myrtles, and the ligustrums. I’ve perfected the art of watching grass grow. I miss the insanity of having children underfoot. I miss waking up to piles of children between the Dane and myself. But I’m beginning to understand the term ‘golden years’ because like the golden light of autumn, while there may be some bad memories back then, they’ve faded with the light of happier times.

Ghosts of Gustatory Gesso

Samhain 2

The seasonal Gods have decided to bless us with unseasonably cooler weather than most native Texans are used to. Yes, it’s a standing joke/sad fact that any weather that takes the temps below 50 degrees Fahrenheit sounds a statewide weather emergency, and ice of any form will shut down Texas completely. To me, it opens the memory vaults where family recipes are stored and comfort foods of every occasion come out begging to be reborn on the table and palate. As the cats of the farm know, when Mama starts building cold weather nooks and crannies, it’s time to look forward to the organ meat rich gravies added to the kitty kibble.

I finally got the time to view the movie “The 100-foot Journey” yesterday. My heart sang when, in the opening there was the reference to the ghosts created in the process. It’s a simple Truth; in order to eat/cook something must die. We honor the spirit of that sacrificed when we appreciate the meal. Let me taste your food, listen to your music and bathe in the laughter of your people. In this way, I will know your people. To those who can appreciate the wine or brewed spirits of an area are reserved the remains of sunnier days, sunshine in a bottle so to speak. If we wish to truly educate our children, we let them taste the happiness of a beloved relative’s home-cooked meal. We must expose them to a pot-luck supper created by close friends. We share the joys of a family reunion with all the legendary dishes and recipes that are guarded as closely as the hand stitched quilts and handmade furniture.

This morning, it was quite chilly and all the cats were gathered in the living room cuddled together on the sofa and the old blanket stretched out there just for their comfort. They sent a spokes cat, Luufy, to cry at the door in order to awaken the Giver of All Things Yummy. I wasn’t going to stir; the hubby was a wonderful radiator of body heat and the delicious luxuriousness of naked skin. Luufy’s insistent cries at the door became more and more plaintive and with a grumble I woke to slide toes into slippers and arms into a robe. The slight breeze carried the scent of woodsmoke, and my mind went instantly back to childhood when that scent was reminiscent of the bacon rashers and ham quarters being readied for the holiday table. The memories of buttermilk drop biscuits being pulled fresh and fluffy from the oven and the jeweled delights of muscadine grape jelly jars being released from the depths of the panty spring from my mind as fresh as the frigid morning they arrived on the breakfast table.

I have a mother’s instinct that tells me that not long from now, I will be hearing from my children. Their requests for Mama’s recipes for dishes that bring them comfort while far from home will make me both happy and sad because I know of the valuable memories created with the sacred ties of an apron’s strings. I remember the magic that begins with the crack of an egg, the careful measurement of ingredients, the steady hand on a whisk, spoon or fork. The sense of accomplishment that is created by the removal of the perfectly done creation just beyond an oven’s door or under the lid of the stew pot on the stove. The incense of love that wafts through the house because of the joy cooking in the kitchen.

It is only apt that the so-called “Holiday Season” is marked by the arrival of a day intended to honor our beloved dead. It is truly their memories we invoke when we recreate their recipes on the canvas of our family’s hearts and memory. Perhaps, in this very simple way we can school our very errant attentions to the importance of “Be ye mindful.”

Gentle hugs, everyone. From my hearth at Cat’s Paw Acres to yours – wherever your heart finds you; may the blessings of happy memories being made and joy-filled feasts grace your life and the lives of those you love.

My Angel

Alberta's hand

Ok, Ana…..my precious friend; I rise to your challenge and give you the following.

In the late 1950’s and early 60’s it was considered acceptable for middle class women to have black domestic help in the form of a nanny/housekeeper. Yes, my family had one, but there was a relationship there that went far, far beyond a ‘hired help’ status.

You see, my beloved great-grandfather made himself ‘persona non-grata’ in a neighboring state because of his habit of acquiring black persons either trapped in an indentured servitude contract or not allowed to be released into parole because no one would hire them. He’d release/acquire/buy out their contract, bring them across the State lines and free them to go on their own. A good many of them followed him to settle on his land, become sharecroppers or find employment that allowed them to buy their own piece of the American Dream. Because of this practice, we never went looking too hard to find help if we needed in home nursing care, housekeeping assistance, etc. There was always a community within gossip distance that was nearby.

When my middle brother was born in the middle of a June heat spell that withered cotton on the plant, Alvesta, our cook/housekeeper took one look at the squalling auburn haired baby and announced, “He’s gonna have trouble with his lungs. He was born too hot.” Sure enough, her words rang true and the smell of menthol and the wisps of the steam treatments infiltrated the small frame house I would come to visit twice a month. As he grew past babyhood, Alvesta told my momma, “It’s time you let little miss meet her baby brother. Or she’s gonna grow up a stranger to her own blood.” At nearly 4 ½ years of age, I came to stay with my momma and daddy; no longer in danger of my own lungs or kidneys collapsing, thanks to Alvesta’s cousin, Alberta taking care of me with my Nana and Papaw’s oversight.

Within a few months, momma and daddy bought a home of their own; it was halfway between being in town and being on the road to ‘the sticks’ as my momma would call it. The heat of that summer producing a hurricane that decided to make it into Central Texas to challenge the integrity of trees, roads and families – we lost the smaller house because of the storm damage….and Alvesta to a stroke.

I grieved in the only way a child knows, my little brother becoming a target of any item I had in my hand if I saw him. One morning, my backside sore from a spanking because yet again I waylaid into the boy child, a familiar voice called to me. “Fey child, you comin’ for your breakfast or you gonna sleep the night away?” It was the voice of Alberta, the calm and steady hands that had wiped away tears, the broad lap that held me while I learned to shell peas, the warmth that had rocked me to sleep when the pain from ear infections left me restless and unable to rest.

Baby brother was forgotten, and I even left my houseshoes and robe at the foot of my bed, forgotten in my rush to see if the voice I heard was a figment of dream. There she stood, one hand on her hip the other stirring the oatmeal made thick and spicy with clove and cinnamon; my personal angel with the dark caramel skin. I think I nearly knocked her over in the flying tackle hug I gave her, my nose almost at waist height. “Ok, baby girl. Slow down. Your mama called me and I needed the job to finish my schooling. Speaking of which, they been letting you grow wild. You’re gonna sit with me this morning and we’re gonna start learnin’ you to read. After all, isn’t that why you ran away?”

I blinked at her in near shock. How did she know that I ran away on the local school bus because I wanted to go to school? Did she also know that I refused to give my name to any one at the police station until my Nana came to claim me with a panicked mother?

A wise, sweet smile nearly split her face in two as she looked at me. “I knew you were gonna give these city folks grief untold, Fey baby. Smart little girls like you need love, and guidance and lots of learning to keep you from doing the Devil’s own mischief. Now here, sit down.” I did, and she served me a huge bowl of creamy spicy goodness in a crockery bowl with butter and sugar.

When I went to go put my bowl in the sink, Alberta quickly grabbed one of my hands to get my attention and announced, “You are going to go get yourself dressed. I need you right back in here after you’ve brushed your teeth, brushed your hair and put some shoes on those bare feet. No flip flops. Sneakers. We’re going to be doing schoolwork and you need to dress for the job.”

I remember being so serious about ‘getting it right’ – I brushed my teeth, I put on my favorite clean t-shirt (it had bunnies on it) and my corduroy pants that made whispering noises as I walked. I even remembered to put on socks before grabbing my sneakers. “Miss Alberta?” I called from the bedroom. “Yes, Fey baby?” “I don’t know how to tie my shoes.”

“Well, come on with yourself. We might as well start this right.”

We did start it right, because I still remember the stories of Jeremiah and the prophets, Joseph and his brothers (she picked that one out after a particularly bad fight with my little brother), and then Ruth. I learned to read sitting in her lap, out of her worn black Bible. I never knew that she was taking night classes for her Master’s degree in education. I never knew that she realized I had dysgraphia and taught me numerous tricks to overcome the problem. What I did know and have long realized is that Alberta was my own personal angel who taught me that education was a precious gift, shared best between kindred souls who understood each other beyond all the bounds that human ignorance can create.

I was in third grade when she matriculated with her Master’s degree. I was crushed when she told me she’d be leaving to go ‘up North’ to marry and to teach. After all these years, somewhere in my heart I know that she’s aware that but for her Grace and Goodness, I’d have been more than just a troubled child who needed her gift. Wherever you are Alberta, Thank you – and I love you.

Quiet Lives of Desperation

Three guesses about what I spent my afternoon watching. Oh Hell, I can’t keep anyone in suspense – which is why I buy Yule gifts at the last minute. I used to claim that it was because I spent so much time finding the perfect gift. Bullshit. Pure and utter bullshit. I simply can’t wait to see the look on their faces when they see what I just had a gut-felt feeling would rock their world the instant it was in their hands.

The husband and I were broke newlyweds of 4 years when “Good Will Hunting” debuted at the theatre. We had three kids, one with the genetic birth defect of PKU and her metabolic needs required weekly trips to a San Antonio hospital to make sure I was “getting it right” with blood tests and frequent adjustments to her diet. Had we been able to afford seeing the movie, perhaps my venture into writing would have occurred earlier and I wouldn’t have had to spend a week in ICU and two months learning to walk without appearing inebriated.

Let’s start with a fairy tale, then. It will start with the frightening little kernel of Truth Robin Williams stated as Sean Maguire when he’s telling Will that he could do anything freakin’ thing he wanted to – “No, you were born with it. So don’t cop out behind “I didn’t ask for this”.

As all good fairy tales begin – Once upon a time, there were twins. Born in the middle of the nastiest coldest sleet storm you can imagine. They were also six weeks premature in an era where preemies just didn’t have good odds of survival. It wouldn’t have mattered to the mother of these children. After all, she didn’t marry the sire of her kids. He was Mormon and a good Southern Baptist girl didn’t do that sort of thing. Then again, neither did she get knocked up on her first Spring Break fling from college. So she lied to the grocery delivery boy after some serious seduction on her part and bada-bing bada-bam, the 4th generation of a Founding Family failed to handle the legacy and instead married a butcher’s apprentice.

The twins, you ask? Ah, yes. One little girl with curly red hair and a little over 4 pounds, one little boy, with dark hair like his momma at about 5 pounds. Neither had good chances of survival, and the attending physician told the anxious husband “Don’t get too attached to the little girl. She’s far too fragile to last the week.” Surprisingly, the little girl did last the week, and the next one and so on until after two months they were told to “come and get her, she’s quite capable of taking on the world now.” Only, they didn’t take their daughter home. No, they took her to the husband’s grandparents in a far flung rural area where the only advances beyond electricity were regular postal delivery and automobiles. They left her there, with aging individuals that had done their share of raising children, 13 to be exact. What energy did they have left for another? Oh, of course the little boy would stay in town. Better access to doctors and all, and he was the heir, right?

Fast forward 18 months, and the spring of that year was delayed by cold and windy weather. The little girl got to see her twin brother about once a month, sometimes twice. They delighted in each other, but the little girl was clearly an instigator if there was trouble to be found, gotten into, and created. She stood up and by virtue of being able to jostle the playpen by sheer tenacity, she was able to reach both the lipstick (Ruby Red) and the dusting powder (My Sin.) It was time to explore creativity with her brother as a canvas, and then herself. This display of mischief was captured by a relative with a camera and the resulting photo would surface many years later after all the lies began to unravel. In the meantime, it meant a bath for both in a house poorly heated, and by a mother who was more about appearance than care or concern for her offspring. After all, she was about to give birth to another child, it was about time that the girl went back to her country home. Then, there was that nagging cough that the little boy had developed. It was the last time the little girl would see her twin, ever.

Time to jump ahead a couple of more years. The little boy had died with complications of pneumonia and the little girl didn’t see her parents for over a year. “It’s far too hard on her mother to see this child when the other didn’t make it. He was such a healthy child, too!” But the little girl didn’t understand the emotional distance, she didn’t know exactly what was missing, and it was just easier to stay with Nanny and Papaw. The farm was her world; the gentle chuckling of the chickens, the earthy smell of the cattle, the warmth of being on the broad mule’s back when Papaw plowed up the garden for Nanny, standing behind Papaw’s shoulder on the rides into town once a month to “take care of business.” It was an easier existence than having to stand still in a starched pinafore and black patent leather shoes and “be good.” Being barefoot in a simple cotton sackcloth shift, having her unruly curls braided into pigtails, and squishing her toes in the warm dirt while looking for the first of the ripe cherry tomatoes was a better fate than anything anywhere else could offer.

All too soon, the big brown leather suitcase came out of the dark recesses of attic and when Nanny opened it up, there was a tiny wristband from the hospital, a small pink receiving blanket and 3 neatly folded tiny diapers. A tear escaped from Nanny’s eye and the little girl didn’t understand why her Nanny’s eye leaked. Papaw gruffly mumbled, “Come on woman, let’s get this done and over with. It’s not like she can go to school out here.” All the little girl’s clothing and possessions were being packed and when Nanny went into the bathroom to get the small toothbrush, the little girl grabbed a small stuffed lamb from the belongings so carefully arranged in the suitcase. Her small sneakered feet took her to the living room where she handed the lamb to her Papaw. “Here Papaw. You said that Nanny always would need a lamb to look after. Give her mine, please.” She turned and went back into the small bedroom she’d always known as hers to help her Nanny finish.

That was when the night terrors began. Every time the little girl saw the suitcase, she’d start crying. When she cried, the spankings, the whippings would start. So she learned to cry silently; to sit up in the horrible metal crib and smell the night air through the zinc screening on the window and sob in silence. She had a younger relative that would often show up and bully her by taking her clothes to wear them, even though he was a boy. She misjudged the ominous click of the gas floor heater and suddenly flames were melting her tiny feet to the metal grid because he’d stolen her slippers and dared her to come get them. Two weeks alone in a hospital burn unit with only nurses to see to her cries because, the husband was too busy working to support his family and the wife was too emotionally fragile to see a child of hers in this setting. There was also the matter of a younger sibling, who was often sick and screaming.

It was there that the little girl heard classical music; her godfather brought her an album and a child’s phonograph to listen to it in her room. The little girl soon learned that it was better to sit still and listen to “Scheherazade.” She could sleep, she could dream happy dreams, and she could heal. When she got home, another album joined the first, and strains of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” could be heard echoing down the hall. Her godfather and her grandmother began to take the little girl to symphonic presentations, much to the jealous dismay of her mother. Soon, all the little girl wanted to do was go to school so she could read and learn all about the music she was hearing, the stories that the music told. She even ran away one bright September morning to get on a school bus that was picking up other neighborhood children. However, 6:30 was really very early to an excited young lady and she fell asleep before they ever made it to the school. Upon being discovered by a bus driver and escorted to the police station to hopefully be reunited with her parents, the little girl steadfastly refused to give her name, her address or any other information that would help in the process.

Eventually, a panicked grandmother verbally sparred with her old school mate, the current Police Chief, and the little girl was returned to her home; but not without some string pulling that resulted in a placement in a private school. Even that day would have some distinct consequence, as the little girl had to be tested for placement. While she couldn’t yet write her name, she could effectively draw a man, anatomically correct of course, but with a hat to keep his ears from sunburn. The docent and school administrator had to walk away from the little girl for a moment to keep from laughing, so serious was the child about the addition of a fedora to her rendering. So, into the first grade went a child 5 ½ years old, but with a wisdom far older about her.

First grade flew by and so did the opportunity to continue in private school. The little girl overheard the heated arguments that resulted in her going to a public school for second grade, but she had to be “tested” again. Again, it was a sultry summer day when she was walked into the nearby elementary school, all her paperwork presented and then the testing commenced. She looked up as she’d completed the last question and saw the others still working. Her confusion must have garnered the attention of the proctor, because a tall blonde lady came and took her small hand into a much larger, cooler one and they walked out of the room with her completed paper. There was a softly spoken conversation and she was told she could go home, they’d be calling her mother later. It was frightening, but she would walk home alone for the first time in her young life. True, it was only a block, but at 6 ½ the world is a pretty big place. She would soon get used to walking home alone; and by then she would learn to love the solitary nature of each step.

Soon, the third grade came around, there was a heated controversy going on about “new math” and how it was going to cripple some children because they simply wouldn’t be able to make the transition from the older methods. German measles was also going around and this time there simply wasn’t a vaccine for this form of the virus. Both the little girl and her younger brother were stricken with the disease and both ended up spending two miserable weeks in a darkened room as the virus had “spread to their eyes” and there was a danger of going blind. Other children in their neighborhood had contracted the disease and one of the neighbor’s children was in the hospital fighting for his life. Three weeks later, short one neighborhood child and 15 days of valuable lesson time, the little girl returned to her classroom. She’d never really liked her teacher, sensing that the woman had favorites, and then overhearing her say “Well, wouldn’t you know that the white trash would survive?” An inner fear that this woman was not going to help her catch up with the lessons she’d missed began to grow and was well founded when she wasn’t promoted to the fourth grade with her classmates.

The teasing and gossip would begin, and it was simply better to turn inwards and read. The little girl, skinny from illness, began to take on some height which resulted in an awkward gawkiness. It was just better to curl up in a corner of the library and read rather than attempt to play kickball or four-square or hopscotch. The librarian appreciated the assistance in re-shelving books, and re-filing reference cards. Things at home turned darker, however and now a young lady beginning to bloom into a young woman at the young age of 9 began to hide her library books. However, there was yet another sibling joining the already crowded nest, and sometimes library books were forgotten in the mad scramble of the mornings. When the late notices began to show up in the mail box, the beatings commenced. When the young lady brought home books for a book report, she had to ask the teacher for a written assignment stating such, else face the inevitable belt whipping.

Somewhere in all of the blur of elementary school, all the children were set down with Stanford Binet IQ tests. It was just another test, the young lady thought; never even comprehending that this would change her life from “get by” to “unbearable” when her parents were contacted by the school. “We don’t have the capability to educate her properly,” her parents were told. “We can’t afford to send her to private school,” came the reply. What had been just a “deal with the child until we can marry her off” attitude, changed overnight to “how do we deal with the freak?” Then came the joys of a Yule where all her dreams of being a scientist came true with a small German microscope, a huge chemistry set, and a telescope all showing up under the Tannenbaum. There was so much to see, to observe, the sheer joy of making a “wet mount” slide and then sharing her finds with anyone she could coerce into looking thru the small oculus. So what if her grandmother was permanently sickened by the sight of chicken fat enlarged 200 times under the lens?

Santa had also brought a bicycle and it was a joy and a danger because the young lady’s mind would wander frequently while riding, thus ensuring many cuts and scrapes along the way. Other neighborhood children would gather in wheeled packs and thus conquer the adjoining streets and driveways on daily rides. Of course, shortening the distance by “cutting across” the corner lawn was a given, but so also was the anger of the lawn’s owner and Mrs. Baum was very likely to take her complaint directly to a parent. The resultant disciplinary correction inspired the creation of smoke bomb with the chemistry set that would ultimately blow a 3 x 4 foot hole in the bedroom wall of the young lady. This explosion ended the gifting of any additional scientific equipment for fear of curiosity levelling the dwelling by flood, fire or some other mishap.

The remainder of her education would pass fairly unremarkably save for the constant impediment of chronic depression. When she would ask for direction, or guidance with where her education should go, there was the stand-by answer of “oh, you’re so bright you can do anything” with never an interest taken to see where her heart might lie, what might make her sigh in the joy of completion. Somewhere in high school, an English literature teacher took an interest and challenged her to write a screenplay for a 5 minute movie. Something ignited and a joy burst forth. While the end result was a cheesy Grade B science fiction 8mm creation, that it was done and a small figment of a germ of an idea sat in the dark shadows of a heart.

It would be a dream denied not because of the young lady’s wishes, but because of parents too self-absorbed to guide their child beyond what was “expected of a young female after high school.” They’d never noticed that she’d turned her back on religion after a playmate’s grandfather molested both of them before either was 12. They’d not given much credence to a letter sent to them by the school counselor stating that their daughter had earned no less than 5 scholarships and would they please consider making an appointment for college placement?

When the young lady brought home all the paperwork from her counselor, her ‘father’ sneered and challenged, “You don’t have the guts to get your education the way I did. You and all your pot smokin’ friends are too lazy to even consider the military.” Something inside the young lady snapped; she’d worked damned hard to master Spanish classical guitar, 6 and 12 string, and spent endless hours researching the correct translations of Chaucer. Lazy? Then, there was her mother who told her that the “most correct path” for her to follow would be for her to attend a junior college and then transfer to the local university to obtain a teaching degree. A correct path? Whatever happened to “you’re so smart you can do anything you put your mind to?”

This young lady instead went to a recruiting office, with a signed age waiver and raised her right hand. Nothing prepared her for basic training, but then nothing prepared them for her intelligence when it came to radio communications. Somewhere in the marching and drill, between the rifle range and personal defense lessons the bookworm found her voice and her spine. Nothing prepared her for the politics and personal gamesmanship that the military foisted upon its cadre, however; she opted to leave when she made an issue of a misplaced hand on her thigh, and the resulting career backslap would have had her on a mountaintop listening to alpine goats take a piss.

All of her training and credentials amounted to nothing on the civilian market when she came back home; it was by happy chance that she landed a technician spot in a naval laboratory….until the funding was cut and she was facing eviction from her first small apartment. This young lady sat in the quiet of her own dining area and thought…numbers had always been difficult for her, but basic maths were nothing. Her grandmother had told her that folks would always need someone to keep their books straight, and she could at least do that. Thus began 30 plus years of taking care of other people’s money, credit cards, bills, and insurance. The dream of writing thus deferred again; sometimes it couldn’t be silenced and came out in strange little poems written in a journal or a diary. Or sometimes in a ballad or two when a guitar found its way back into her hands. Then came an accident, and accidental addiction to the pain pills…and just as quickly, the young lady found a resolution to the addiction, but the pain remained.

The years stretched out; three then four marriages failed and as a single mother, the daily grind for survival and sobriety outpaced her inner muse. Until, one night she fell off the tailgate of a U-Haul truck while helping a friend move. She hamstrung both ankles in the accident, and a sober friend took her to the ER and thence to a couch with a nearby monitor and keyboard attached to a dial-up modem and a BBS bulletin board. There, the young lady met the one, the one who would be there for her through two more babies and 20 years of marriage. He would also be there for her when her old nemesis depression came back with a vengeance and a new angle of horror known as PTSD. Then, in the long shadows of an October afternoon, after a particularly fractious phone call with the insurance company, she would stand up and a blood vessel that had formed a deadly bubble in her brain would burst. He would find her unresponsive and unconscious after coming home because ‘something didn’t feel right.’

Everything she had every taken for granted would be gone within 3 days of bleeding within her skull. Gone was the near instantaneous recall of minutiae required for her job, gone was her sense of balance, gone too was the surety that she could just “move on” when she found her way back from conquering the re-awakened demons of depression. After 10 days in the hospital, she was home – to nothing. She was on total bed rest until they could do a “follow-up” CT scan to determine the nature of a tumor discovered in her stay. Somewhere in the drab grey dullness a friend put a series of books in her hands to read and something stirred to life, something long denied stood up and said “No. Not this time.” Then, her beloved echoed the same words that her heart had been saying. “No. Not this time.”

Behind the eyes of every writer, there is a simple trigger; a switch, if you will. It takes us from those “quiet lives of desperation” that used to echo around me in every morning’s traffic, to a life spent describing the moment that a simple dragonfly landed within the landscape of my inner eye, and I want to share that moment with you. The little girl, the young lady, the single mother of this narrative was me. The story is still unfolding, but like Matt Damon’s character, I have learned my lesson about denying what you love and who you are. Hello, I am a writer.