Back Roads

Everyone I know, everywhere I go
People need some reason to believe
I don’t know about anyone but me
If it takes all night, that’ll be all right
If I can get you to smile before I leave

“Running on Empty” – Jackson Browne

I was driving that night because I had enough gas in my pea green ’68 Ford Falcon to get us not only to, but back home from a dance at the Oteneagen Town Hall.  The term “designated driver” meant something completely different back then. It was all about the gas.

At any rate, there I was, chugging north on Highway 6 on a sultry Saturday night with a car full of friends I’d picked up along the way.  Dean was one of them.  I remember him climbing into the back seat, slamming the door shut and yelling, “Let’s GO!!!!!!!”

He was one of those guys in our class who was big and loud even in elementary school.  He had a great sense of humor and was mostly full of B.S. but he sure could make us laugh.  He was a guy who lived life out loud. This is what I remember about him.

I haven’t see him in years and hadn’t thought about that night in ages. And then, a couple of nights ago I read his obituary.   When you are in your fifth decade, your reasons for staying connected through the Book of Face change.

Dean was 54. He left a wife, grown children and seven grandchildren.  He lived in Texas, which seems fitting for a guy who was going big instead of going home long before anyone ever said that.  I read his obituary twice, remembering those years of running around on country roads searching for gravel pits and fire towers and campgrounds while listening to bad 70s music blasting from the radio in cars on the summer nights of our shared youth.

When you are from a small town with a small high school, you get to know everyone in your graduating class.  But kids grow up and move away from small towns because there’s a gigantic world with roads to travel all over it. And then every ten years or so, you see the faces of classmates and friends at reunions and play catch-up for an evening over beer and pizza before you get back on the road you’ve chosen.

The next time that happens, we’ll be sure to raise a glass to you, Dean.

Because we are surely going to miss that face of yours.


Moon Shadows

It started with a nightmare.

In the dream, I was taking my glasses off.  And as soon as I did, another pair would materialize on my face.  Frantic, I would take those off, and another pair would be perched on my nose.  Some times, when I pulled the pair off, two would be there, one pair in front of the other.  It was a surreal and helpless feeling not to be free of those glasses.

And then it got really weird.  It ended with me standing on my head in the middle of the living room, struggling mightily to straighten my legs while I grimaced from the pain of doing a headstand on a wood floor.  Each time I thought I had it, I would fall flat on my back.

Maybe it was the two hotdogs I had for dinner.  Or  perhaps the cold dog who had jumped up on the bed between my husband and I and found a spot behind my bent knees to spend the night.   Or maybe it was the very bright, very full moon shining above the river that caused me to jolt wide awake at 2 a.m., the scraps and swatches of the dream still fresh, still scary.  All I know for sure is that I was very awake and very unable to go back to sleep after a dream that would have given old Freud something to chew on for the rest of his career.

What did it mean, this dream of eye glasses and living room acrobatic maneuvers?   Searching for clarity and seeing things as they really are is a good thing. Pushing through pain and finding balance is, too.  Such hard work, this task of being human.  Maybe dreams like this are gentle nudges toward that end.

Before this little nudge,  my partner and I had  spent a great day enjoying the autumn splendor that is Minnesota in September.  Is there anything more glorious than a walk in the woods at this time of year?   Several times during our walk, I stopped to marvel at a particularly regal maple  longer than either my partner or our old dog wanted to.  I took photos, but as with most things, the pictures do not come close to the experience of actually living in the moment.

The trees will lose their leaves within the next month.   Too soon, we will be shutting the cabin door for another season, leaving it to the quite content critters and a winter of drunken mouse orgies.   Minutes and hours…days and weeks…months and years…centuries….will continue to come and then go away, only to be replaced with new minutes, new hours, new years, new moons.

In the meantime of my life,  I will continue to seek both clarity and balance in this life of mine.  Making room for a sleeping dog at the foot of the bed on nights when the moon casts soft lavender shadows across us all.

September Song

She stands a few yards away from her two kids watching them graze on the last of the tall clover on the hill in our back yard every afternoon.  Her body is large and dark brown near her haunches and she is by far one of the biggest Does I’ve ever seen.  Her fawns are goofy, gawky adolescents.  If deer went to school, these two would be sixth grade boys.  They are both kind of scrawny and they seem to have door knobs for knees as they trip over themselves and make their way down the bank, each one determined to beat his sibling to the best, sweetest sprigs before Mama calls them both back into the safety of the woods.  This is their routine.

Our hound, Maggie, often sees them crossing through the woods as she sits on the futon in the screen porch contemplating whatever it is that beagles toward the end of their lives contemplate. Most nights, she stops thinking long enough to go  completely berserk and out of her mind at the sight of the threesome in her woods.  This is Maggie’s routine.  The deer know from experience that the very loud. long-eared creature in the porch is no wolf.  In fact, most evenings they barely even acknowledge the tremendous howling and gnashing of teeth going on just a few feet away from where they are.

The leaves on the maples are just beginning to hint at what’s ahead and all that it will bring for deer, and hound dogs, and the humans who watch the seasons change.  Last week, I traveled west across the state to Moorhead where fields of soybeans and corn are now vast seas of burnished copper and gold. The sunflowers that are left in the fields stand in perfect, brown rows,  heads bent solemnly down toward the earth from which they sprouted just months (and a lifetime) ago. Canada Geese wait in the fields and sloughs for all their relations to gather for the yearly trip southward.

In Minnesota, there are certain months of the year almost too beautiful and fleeting to bear.  May comes to mind.

And then there is September.

Sweet Carolina

Youth is happy because it has the ability to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old. – Franz Kafka

I know a girl who just started the ninth grade last week.  I’ve known her since she was a few days old and aside from the fact that her hair and her legs are a lot longer than they used to be and she isn’t Velcroed to her mom twenty-four hours a day, she really isn’t much different now than she was back then.

I’d love to tell this long-limbed niece of mine what to expect, offer a bit of unsolicited Auntie-type advice but there’s a small problem. I barely remember what I did a week ago.

My amnesia about ninth grade could mean one of two things.  Either the school year was fairly mundane and I sailed through it, or I was so traumatized by the fact that I acquired a baby brother around that time that I managed to block out about 365 days of my life.  It’s probably a little of both.

I can remember some memorable slumber parties and marching band and cheering at football games, and the old high school’s hallways and teachers, but classes? Not so much.   I must have had a lot on my mind. Yep, that must be it.  Either that, or I was 14.

And so, Miss Carrie,  this is all I’ve got:

1.  Right now, high school really is your life. YOUR LIFE.  Adults will tell you many times over the next four years that it isn’t.  When you grow up you will discover that working in an office is a lot like high school.  Same cliques. Same weirdness.  Same cafeteria food. My advice?  Be nice to the nerdy kids. You’ll be working for one some day.

2. No matter how much you hate your hair on any given morning, there are at least five girls in your first period class who hate theirs more.  This is because women are never satisfied with how their hair looks. It is our cross to bear. This never ends. My advice?  Rock that baseball cap of yours on bad hair days.  Nobody does it better than you, Girlfriend.

3. When you are in algebra, please, PLEASE ask your teacher when you are going to need to know what you’re learning and then let me know because I’m still trying to figure that one out.  Of course, if you are planning on becoming a Math teacher, my advice is first, to disregard #3 completely and second, have a serious conversation with your mother about whether you were, in fact, adopted.  Kidding. I’m kidding. Really.

4. Avoid the mean girls like the plague that they are.  Right now they are at the top of that horrible high school food chain, but you will find that Time and Karma generally takes care of that, and them. My advice? Vow to only hang around nice girls.  Being a freshman in high school is dramatic enough just as it is.

5. Be smart and kind to everyone and for heaven’s sake, be interesting.  Do those things every day.   And be brave.  Brave is good.

6. Find the things you love doing and do them well.

7. Read things nobody has made you read.

8. Make snow angels.

9. Be YOU.  All day…..every day.  There are more than  enough of the rest of us and frankly, we aren’t nearly as funny and interesting as you are, so please, keep being YOU.

Oh, and if you get a chance?  Take Woodshop. Best. decision. I. ever. made.

Love, Auntie.