Friday, October 30, 2015

Call of the Wild?


Late every afternoon I drive my standard poodle, George, to the Outback, an off leash dog park of over 100 acres. It makes my heart happy to drive down the boulevard with George. He hangs his head out the back window and sniffs the breeze like a wine connoisseur testing the latest batch from a favorite vineyard.

The time we spend at the Outback is therapeutic for us both. It’s good for me to walk outside in the fresh air while George “visits” with the other dogs. “Visit” is my euphemism for all the sniffing of sensitive areas the dogs do. It’s fascinating in an anthropological sort of way. What in the world do they actually learn about each other? Does one breed smell different from another? 

George has simple pleasures. All he wants to do at the park is run. Nothing pleases him more than to find another fleet of foot pooch willing to chase and growl with him. The growling is essential. The two usually run long spurts and then make a tight circle back to their owners. That’s when they growl at each other. It reminds me of little boys in the back yard playing cowboy and Indians and making shooting noises at each other.

My dog doesn’t want to chase a ball or stick or frolic in the water. We’ve been visiting this park daily for almost a year ago, and in all this time, not once on even the hottest most humid day has he offered to join the others in one of the three shallow ponds on the property.

We are not fair weather attendees. Two days ago we were there almost by ourselves to walk the paths in cool, softly drizzling rain. We took our usual route through the park with George leading the way. As we headed back to the entrance, George took a detour and walked straight into a pond. Standard poodles have a delightful prance which was totally absent on this occasion. It was more like he was headed to the guillotine. He stopped with the water at chest level and turned back to look at me with an expression that seemed to say, “Now what?”

I don’t do water. As a child growing up on a secluded piece of property with open stock tanks, Mother taught me to fear the water. She knew I was likely to wander away from the house and wanted to avoid the need to drag the two open bodies of stagnant water if I went missing. I signed up for swimming lessons at university but had so many ear infections, I was given a medical release from the class.

 I do sort of know how to swim. Well, I can float and my dog paddle isn’t bad but not in boots and a rain coat. George and I stood staring at each other in the misty rain. No amount of cajoling or whistles would make him budge. He seemed frozen with fright. 

There was no choice. I set my handbag on the bank and waded in praying all the while that any water moccasins residing in that particular pond were busy gathering their supper on the other side. I had to drag my beloved hound out by his collar.

We were back at the park yesterday. George resumed his usual routine. My dog friends laughed about our adventure and reminded me poodles are water dogs. They know it and I know it, but did anyone think to tell George?

The Christmas Tree

 
We're empty nesters, and this Christmas was the first time I was left to decorate our tree by myself. The tree  is always a challenge in our household. My husband isn't handy or enthusiastic about sentimental holiday traditions.

Securing the tree in the stand is always a tremendous challenge for me. One year around 1985 or '86, it fell down during Christmas dinner. We removed all the ornaments and had it out on the curb immediately after lunch. I had all the children stand out on the curb the next morning and took their picture with the naked tree.

The next year I used the same stand and put the tree in the same spot close to a window in the living room. I then hammered a small nail into the top of the window facing and tautly tied heavy weight fishing line from the nail to the top of the tree. The line looked like a spider web. Every few days, I would forget what it was and make a mad dash for something to clear it away.

It was also about this time that our neighborhood completed a cycle in its development. Many of the original owners became empty nesters and sold out for smaller places. The Orthodox Temple had moved from mid-town to a couple of streets over from us. Our neighbor changed to approximately half Catholic and half  Jewish.

The Orthodox children living close to us played with our children. On more than one occasion, I was aware one of my little ones was conducting a tour of Orthodox children through our house decorated for Christmas. I considered it a cultural exchange and ignored them.

Fast forward ten years.We were unpacking in our new house in Jersey when I read an newspaper article about making the holidays a bit easier. One of the options was to order the tree directly from a grower who would deliver it and put it in the stand.

The first delivery was made by a young man wearing specially insulated coveralls. He brought the tree in the house and painstakingly installed it. There was only one problem. The front of his coverall was brown with tree sap that smeared all over my white carpet as he wiggled around under the tree securing it in the stand.

I could hardly wait to get him out of the house before the sap became a stain. He went on his way with a tip and a small pound cake and a puzzled expression. He knew something was amiss, but I didn't want to embarass him. Once the sap was wiped away, I phoned the planter to explain. A young couple neatly dressed and clearly in love made the next year's delivery.

The grower delivered and installed our tree for ten years or so. Every time I called to place the order, the person on the other end would always respond, "Yes, we were talking about you the other day and wondered when you would call." My purchase had become a pleasant holiday experience for all concerned.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Way Deep In the Heart of Texas

 

The creation of Raiders and Horse Thieves began when my eldest grandchild was born. At the next gifting holiday, his mother presented me with a Grandma’s Memory Book. Much like an album devoted to the first twelve years of a child’s life, the pages of Grandma’s Memory Book were mostly empty and topped with headings like Education and Favorite Pet and Best Friends.

As I leafed through the empty album, I realized I did have a story to tell, and this album was woefully inadequate. It also came to me that if I didn’t record my story, the memories I hold of the kin who preceded me would be lost. The age bracket or two ahead of mine would be reduced to mere names and dates on tombstones for my descendants.
 
My first editor was a friend. She grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn to become a newspaper reporter. After reading the first chapter, she suggested a cultural anthropologist specializing in the study of remote tribal customs would be better equipped to work with me. She couldn’t relate to the lack of running water and having to share the phone line with five other families.
 
The professor in a day-long writing seminar at Ole Miss suggested hanging a long piece of butcher paper on the wall and constructing a time line. This became the outline for a non-fiction writing class I took over the internet. The classes ran out before the project was completed. By word of mouth, I found an editor in Texas to help me complete the project.
 
It was his idea to submit it to Sam Houston State for publication. Publication is a slow and frustrating process. It was seven months before my work was accepted.
 
My brother and sister have been carefully consulted through-out the writing process. The concept of memory has been a major topic among us. Each of us has slightly different recollections. The basic story remains the same, but the details vary from one to another.
 
It is one thing to privately publish a limited number of copies for immediate family and quite another to submit it to public scrutiny. Raiders and Horse Thieves is not a pretty story. It wasn’t easy to record how we lived and what happened to us. As an adult, I understand so much more about the actions of my relatives and have tremendous sympathy for them.

Raiders and Horse Thieves, Memoir of a Central Texas Baby Boomer is the first writing challenge I set for myself. It lead me to tackle fiction. The rough draft of my first novel is complete. Please check back with me here now and again and follow me as I struggle to develop my craft.