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Monday, September 8, 2014

Mama. Oh Mama.

In the grey dark of dawn, gentle hands began to minister to my little mama and with that human touch, she took a breath ... and then she slipped away.

And with that snip the last thread that held her body here on earth was cut. My precious beautiful little mama - who had grown so tiny and so soft - has died. And how I will ever be able to pay tribute to the mama she was to me ... I haven't a clue. This cut is so deep that I'm not sure the words can bubble up through the loss. She left us so gently.  There wasn't any drama to rip away the scab and make grief easier to empty out. With Daddy (see? he is still butting into her story with his drama) there were crises and there were hospitals and sneaking of dogs into rooms and beeping monitors and all that stuff. With Mama there was just a whoosh. And then emptiness.

How to pay tribute to the Importance that was Mama. Mama was the sun around which I orbited. She was my lodestar. She was my mirror. She was even a Wrong Way Sign I heeded, making different choices with my life so that I did not wind up quite where she was. She was the font. She was where the stories came from and the songs. She was the only Druid I ever knew - and not some sort of cute modern day Wicken Druid but a woman who would look at me slightly vaguely and say "I'm sure God can hear our prayers in the woods."

In my two earliest memories, admittedly mostly about me, she is there - on the edge, close enough to pick me up if I fall. In the first she was in a car with the rest of my family listening to my 15 month old self cry. I asked her how long it went on and she said, airily, "Oh - the whole trip" which was from Richmond, VA to Lake Worth FL. 1,000 miles. I asked her how they could stand it and she said "The trip was planned and paid for. You were going to cry that long anyway and we were going to have to listen to you." Which is exactly the sort of Glenda the Good Witch pragmatism she practiced throughout her whole life. What must be endured will be accepted with a shrug and some sort of management procedure will be brought to bear upon it.

What a woman.

I have a-zillion memories of her - and though I shan't fill up this post with them, I have promised myself and LD that I will write them all down into The Story Of Mama - for him and for P and if we are so blessed, any grandchildren that come along. I love those memories. I like to pull them out of the treasure chest of my brain, like so many rubies and emeralds from a jewel box, and look at them, savor them - feel them again.

She and I had a special time together in those early years. By the time I was born, my older sister was in school so I had long days of being her Only Child and yet, because I already had a sister, the New Babies who came along were something she and I shared. There was never any sense of being supplanted. We were a team.

This team had formed before there were New Babies, of course. We did stuff together. She did not know how to drive before I turned 4 so we had to go everywhere by bus. We'd take a county bus to the city line and then walk across the street to a different corner to catch the city bus. Once when we were coming home from downtown - which is where people shopped when I was little - I started to cross the street to catch the county bus. She asked me what I was doing and I told her I was going to the bus stop. I was across the street by then. We argued for a while about which side of the street was the correct one and then she said "When the bus comes to my corner, I'm getting on it."

Well. I knew one thing - nobody was going to let a 3 year old get on a bus without her mother so I walked back across the street. And then the bus came to my corner, paused a moment, and seeing nobody at the stop, drove off and left us.  We had to walk home and we laughed the whole way.

It wasn't long after that, she learned how to drive. Not because public transport was so difficult but because of a near disaster caused by me. Big sister had started school so it was in the fall. Mama was heavily pregnant by then with the first of the New Babies. (those poor girls were still being referred to as TheBabies when they started high school) She was napping in the afternoons then and usually I loved to nap with her because she'd let me sleep in her bed with her. But this particular time I kept thinking about the candy in the bathroom - I must have just gotten over a cold. That candy in the bathroom was so delicious. It was orange flavored. It melted on your tongue. And if you climbed up onto the toilet and from there onto the sink you could get the cabinet open and you could pry the lid off with your bottom teeth. I took a few and let them make my mouth juicy. I went back to bed to try to nap. That candy called my name. I went back for another few. Then back to bed. Then back to the bathroom again. When there was only one candy left I figured I'd get scolded for eating the candy without permission but so long as I hadn't eaten it all it, I would probably not get a spanking. Much of our childhood decision making pivoted around the odds of the spanking. And then I went back to sleep with mama, on the Big Bed.

Of course, I had forgotten all about the moral dilemma by the time my sister came home from school. Instead, I bragged, "I had some tandy" (Always fun to get one up on the Big Sister) "Where's mine?" big sister demanded and I remember Mama saying "she didn't have any candy" and, completely forgetting the strategical advantage of silence I said "Yes I did. I had the tandy in the bathroom"

After that everything was pandemonium. No car. Couldn't drive anyway. No ambulance service in the county. Call Daddy. Call the neighbors. Most of the women neither drove nor had cars at that time. We were starter families in starter homes during the recession following the Korean War. Finally a neighbor took Mama and me to the hospital and I distinctly remember her saying "Now be a good girl and don't kick" so I asked her to hold my legs, which she did for me .... and then great big men with noisy silver machines did things and I threw up.

Yes. I was the sort of kid that inspired those pesky childproof caps on medicine bottles.  Sorry.

After that Daddy made her learn how to drive, left the car at home while he took the public transportation - for the rest of his working life. He found he liked not having to be bothered with a car during Richmond's modest rush hour.

Oh the memories. Oh the flood of memories. Mama knew more songs and more stories than any other mother in the neighborhood - in the world, I was sure. and I would brag on her and tell my friends they ought to hear my mother sing. And then I'd take them to her and she would sing. And when the ballet teacher wanted wooden milk buckets for her little tap dancing milk maids, it was mama who suggested using contact paper printed like wood to cover old paint cans. It was also mama who sewed our tutus and the milk maid costume. Black and white striped satin over red net tutus. Oh mama. mama mama mama.

and it was Mama who had the faith to drag me to every violin teacher in the city till she finally found one who would take a chance on a 5 year old. This was before Suzuki and the wunderkinds of today. And it was Mama who kept a scrap book of every program I ever played, every newspaper article, every award, certificate and medal. And when all her kids grew up and moved away ... she bought herself a violin and learned how to play it - and even won 2nd place in the Chesterfield County Fair Fiddle competition.

And Mama could draw. And she sewed. Oh she could make anything. She taught me how to make the Seven Dress for my dolls. You say you want to know how to make a Seven Dress?


  1. You fold a square of cloth in half and then in half again 
  2. Snip out the corner where the folds all meet, diagonally opposite the 4 loose points. 
  3. Then cut away those 4 points in the shape of a 7. Open it up and you see a t-shaped garment with the neckline where the first snip was cut away. 

You can leave it like it is to make a pull over or snip it down the center to make a coat. So long as you make the body wide enough to wrap around your doll or teddy bear or G I Joe, you can just tie it at the waist or if you want to get serious you can glue the edges or sew them. I've taught countless little girls how to make the 7 dress but it came first from Mama.

Mama Mama Mama. Oh Mama how could I ever describe all that is you? How to explain that you didn't believe God could only hear you in a church. How to demonstrate the tenderness you showed us when you said "don't come crying to me. I can't help if you're crying" How to tell the pride I felt when you told me "If you need a day off from school, just tell me. I'll write you a note. But never tell me you are sick if you aren't"

How does one describe the utter joy of sipping coffee with the grownups after being invited by Mama into the living room, to sit on the sofa with her in the morning before school. What about the lessons in How To Catch A Man - which was the title of a book she bought and shared with us. "Stare directly into his eyes, then lower your own - twice, swiftly - and say "You are just so cute."

What about the hilarious laughter we shared watching comedy shows together. The way she managed to get us in the summer children's plays, the youth orchestras, the drama classes and the art shows. We were always everywhere doing cool stuff because Mama thought it would fun to try. "I mean, what's the worst that can happen? You had a few hours of trying something new." and the complete freedom in the kitchen - so long as you cleaned up after yourself. Yes. It was Mama who taught me to always have good toys - and to share them with abandon. Just ask any little girl who's spent time at Bess' Girls Camp.

Oh Mama. Mama. How could you go away?

And yet she has been going for a long time. She has been in a skilled nursing home now for almost 3 years - bedridden for the most part - and probably as much by choice as anything else. She no longer drew. She no longer read. She knew us all and remembered the new family members - the grand-daughters in law. The great grandchildren. But she only really roused herself when she talked about the old days. Old photos. Old stories. Old diaries. I had them all and I took them all to her bedroom. We could spend hours with these mementos of decades gone.

But on our last visit things were different. She is right handed but she picked up her diet Pepsi with her left hand and poked her face with the straw. She didn't recognize any of the photos, though I took big ones of her and Daddy and TheBabies. She smiled and did the polite thing but if I asked "recognize her?" she'd say "No. Who is this?"

After a while there were no more pictures. She lay back. She stared at me and said "I love you so"

And I crawled into bed with her and I held her close and I whispered to her all the words of pride and love and tenderness I had. I told her that she was the best mama ever in the whole wide world. I told her I loved her and would always always always love her. And we cuddled till the lunch staff came with her lunch.

And I went away thinking "she's going. She will be gone soon."

And now she is gone. In fact - she may have gone before that nurse gently touched her in the darkness of a Saturday morning. I hope they came for her - the way they did for Daddy. Perhaps it was Daddy himself. However it was, though - I am glad it was gently and I am glad the last words we shared with each other were I Love You.

Mama. Oh Mama. Goodbye.




Monday, September 1, 2014

It's Birthday Month Again!

Yes my friends. It's that time of year again. It's SEPTEMBER - and time for TheQueen to celebrate her BIRTHDAY!
 

I have a lot of stuff I'm thinking about - including some knitting thoughts - and some drawing thoughts and all sorts of Other Good Things - but I've been fooling around on the computer this morning for hours and just now getting around to TheBlog. So I'll just post about my early birthday gift today and put out the rest of my September Plans as the week progresses.

As for the early birthday present - well - there is, as in all good posts from TheQueen - some back story:

I have been longing for More Active Play in my life. I set the goal for Summer 2014 to Find a New Sport.  I knew this would be both fun and enriching. In July I took a long bike trip in a state park and oh my goodness did I ever love it. ThePrince and I actually came home thinking we'd like to buy some bikes but after a day or so reality kicked in.  Since I live at the end of a long dirt lane, at the end of a long dead end paved road - I would either have to bike over the same 8 miles every time I wanted to go someplace or I'd have to load it on a car and take the bike someplace.

Uh. I know this. If it involves getting into a car and going somewhere ... it ain't going to happen.  I wouldn't even go to my beloved gym if I weren't already in town for working or grocery shopping.

I will still go on bike trips but they will be on trails where there are bikes to rent.

So. What else?

Ahh - well, remember, I live on a river. Or rather, I live up a little gut that's up a little creek that's on a river. That means I can walk to the water. WALK; that's important. I will walk almost anywhere. Walking through field and forest ( or city or town, or even shopping mall) is my favorite form of active play. I love the idea of feet as transportation.

Now - we have boats here - even boats that I can handle - with effort. But they're really more Big Strong Guy sized boats.  Our canoe is an 18 foot Grumman aluminum ship - and if I'm the only person in it - the bow comes out of the water and has no steerage. I have to either take dogs - who move around and even jump out - or fill up buckets with water to hold the bow down.  Like Goldilocks, this boat is Too Big.

And there is a kayak - but again - guys have altered it, taking out the seat, so here's another Goldilocks allusion:  It's Too Hard.

And then - there is always the fear that the most darling, wonderful ThePrince in the world, will try to dominate me if I step into his hobby. He's the Boat Guy.  He's extremely bossy.  He has a powerful, intense personality. I love that vividness. I would crush a lesser personality than his. Often his exuberance is funny and I just laugh and make faces and ignore him - but when it comes to his areas of expertise I tend to yield. And loving him as I do - I don't want to resent having yielded my pleasure to his instance.

Still and all there was this little voice inside me that said "You are always sniping about people who live on the water and never go out on the water ... and You Are No Different From Them!"

Yes. There was a spiritual component to all of this. There was almost a spiritual duty to connect with the river. When I go out with Other People - while I love it, love them, love sharing .... I am coming out as a tourist. What about getting to know my water - my marshes - my little birds and dragon flies and marsh roses? When am I going to go out and honor the blessed gift I've been given?

So I began to make kayak murmurs. Then I tried someone else's kayak. Then I talked about kayaks to TheBoatGuy - who immediately leapt into action!  He looked up every dealer in Virginia. He made calls. He read articles. He had a list. He tempted me away from work early on Wednesday so we could go look at a shop. And he took me to Fredericksbug and  the Virginia Outdoor Center where I could try some out.

I had an idea I'd like the Old Town Vapor 10. It was small (important to me) and seemed comfortable enough. Best of all, VOC has some. I tried one and liked it. Very stable. Very easy to paddle - though even an 8 foot paddle knocked against the gunwales. It was good. If one bloomed in my yard I'd probably think it was the best of all. I tried a Heron, another, smaller Old Town Kayak. No thanks - wrong shape for me.

Then the owner brought down an Old Town Loon 11.1

From the moment I stepped into it I knew this was a different experience. Even the launch felt different. It was narrower and slightly tipsier.  I don't really mind tipsy because heck - I go on the water expecting to get wet. But it wasn't very tipsy - just slightly more so. Then I sat down and shoved off. It clove through the water like a fish. The first try to cross the current in the upper Rappahannock was a success. I shot across like an arrow.

This did not feel like a boat. It felt like an extension of my body. It made me think of my sister, a dressage horsewoman. When you see her sitting a horse, you can't tell where she ends and the horse begins. This was what I was dreaming of but hadn't realized I would find.


I had to get back in the original Vapor and then back in the Loon and after that - well - I didn't really need to try any more boats. I thought I ought to, after all, there are other kayaks in my price range, at several different places around VA. This was just my first stop.

We drove all over VA to look at boats. We went to Farmville and the Appomattox River Company where there are scadzillions of kayaks. I didn't have much fun there, though. The staff wasn't very friendly, with the exception of one salesman, who also does the repairs.  Perhaps I ought to say it was just the owner who was the problem. He couldn't believe I wouldn't just pop the $780 for his starter kayak - without ever trying it out!  Sheesh! Even a car dealer lets you take one out for a spin. I'll just say - he's one boat dealer who will never see my $ even if I do end up some day ponying up with the big bucks. I'd go someplace else. Or order on-line. The repair guy salesman, though, was more than helpful. He suggested I go up to James River State Park where I could try out the Wilderness kayaks he was showing me.

Which we did.

But the memory of feeling like I was a boat, instead of I  like was in a boat, sat in the back of my mind whispering "You already know - you already know". So at the end of the day I told ThePrince "Look - I have seen enough boats. I know what I want"

I still had to give Other Good Reasons for not looking any more ... because I was with a man with Boat Fever - On A Quest.

  1. I can borrow one from Bill for a few weeks and see if I reallio trulio want one. 
  2. I can get one used - so I won't be timid about dinging it up
  3. I can save on the boat and spend on a better paddle
  4. I can sell it easily if it turns out I don't really use it 
And So

And so on Sunday we called up our friend who owns one and I borrowed a lime green Old Town Loon 11.1

And doesn't it look like fun?



And don't I have a lovely place to play?


Thursday, August 28, 2014

My Year Without A Summer (with a wee bit about knitting)

No doubt about it, I'm an Autumn Baby. With a birthday is in September (You know I'll start celebrating the whole month in just a few days) and, of course, I live in the south - in the muggy buggy sleepy swampy coastal land of Virginia. Secretly ... well, not really all that secretly ... I am proud that I can endure a tidewater Virginia summer. But most of all I have always been glad to see those mosquitoey days draw to a close. I can't wait for the crisp bite of a north wind, the clear blue of a humidity free sky - I even like the song of the cricket - so long as he stays outside to do his wooing.

It has always been a mystery, why so many of my friends (including ThePrince) prefer the summer and sigh wistfully at it's closing. Till this year. This year we have had AIR CONDITIONING! I have only spent one summer in my life living in a place that was air conditioned and I had a sore throat all that summer. So I have always been a little suspicious of living and especially sleeping in air conditioning. Instead, I've known what the weather is like out there. I have felt the stifling heat of a second floor bedroom, gasping beneath a wet washcloth on my chest as I waited for sleep to take me away from the hotness. I have kicked off the sheet in my sleep. I've gotten the ice pack out of the freezer and wrapped it in a towel so that I could lie on it till my chilled blood circulated through my body to cool it down.

Not This Year.

This has been a summer of closed windows, clean floors, bug-less sills. This year there have been no stuck dresser drawers, no mildew spores creeping across leather shoes and no no-see-ums whining in my ear. But this has felt like the year without a summer. This year, since I haven't "felt" summer, I can't really feel like there has even *been* a summer. I know. It's a Right Brain Thing.

And here we are, facing the last weekend of it. (you might think summer lasts till the 21st of September, but ask any 4th grader and she will tell you it's over on the first day of school)  I feel like I've been caught off guard.

And what does this girl do when she is caught off guard?

She pulls out her Notebook and Starts A New List!

First I listed all the wonderful things that have filled the past 10 weeks. Then I wrote down everything I could think of that I want right now. And then I started the list of steps I need to take to get the things I want right now.

And number one on the list - no duh - is to drop the added lbs that an air conditioned summer has allowed to creep back onto this body.

ooooo. Notice how I found SOMETHING ELSE to blame for the weight gain?

No - just joking. The weight gain came from choices made over and over and over again. One more bite; an extra ice cream bar; wine AND dessert at the same meal - two days in a row. Hel-OH-oh.

But there is nothing like a new month, a BIRTHDAY month - heralding in a New Season - to inspire a girl to revamp her could-be-more-healthy lifestyle. First on the agenda is to do a new assessment with my WW ActiveLink activity monitor. I started that on Sunday. The initial assessment was done at a time when I was lifting weights with a personal trainer. I haven't done that since my shoulder problems flared up in December.  I can plug my little monitor in to the website and it will assess my daily activity and suggest ways to improve it.  I'm ready for a fresh start and new challenge.

Second will be to commit to eating in the weight-loss zone.  I know what that needs to be. Time to be like Nike and Just Do It.

Between those two choices runs the golden path to the body I really do want; the body with the energy to do all the other Fresh Start Things on my Autumn 2014 list.

And as a reward for hitting my goal weight I will cast on a new project - no. I will buy yarn!!! and then cast on a new project - in spite of the whining and sighing of all the UFOs tucked here and there about the house. I have chosen Amy Herzog's Telluride Aran pullover:


And since I am as in love with the color as I am with the design I will log onto Webbs and see if its available.

There are some Other Things on my New Things List that I'll share soon but this is my pumped up post for a Thursday morning - at the tail end of August in my Year Without a Summer.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Escape from the Dread Clorox Bottle - a journey into the mountains of Virginia

After a delightful Friday evening with friends, good food and a charming amateur theater production, TheQueen awoke to the news that the painter was coming to prep the house with big bottles of Clorox! 

Now, TheQueen is deathly sensitive to chlorine, so there was nothing for it but to get out of dodge. We decided to head west to the mountains, taking a favorite route down country roads. At Frederick Hall we had lunch at a little spot we'd passed dozens of time without ever having the time to stop. 







It came complete with two porch cats, curious and friendly.











The food was nice, but there was only one poor waitress who had to tend all the guests while getting food from a basement kitchen.


We wound our way over Afton Mountain and took 81 south to Troutville where we stopped at a cute little shop, The Apple Barn II,  that sold several lines of collectable cottages, including The Cat's Meow.

All along the way we were paralleled by the Appalachian Trail and once we'd stopped in Troutville we decided to find the trail and hike it for a little while.




I haven't walked along this trail since I hitch hiked out to Warrenton from D.C., the summer of 1971 with a cute French boyfriend. Oh my that was a long time ago. Pre-ThePrinceConsort!


Most of the trail was through the forest, with a cool green canopy and delicious little wooden bridges crossing stony creeks.





But there were some open fields to climb up and hike down.




And even a railroad track to cross - two different modes of transportation in high contrast.

The flora was lavish - lots of late summer blossoms - here is crownbeard and ironweed - neither of which tempt the cattle - who were, happily - in different fields that day. 


 The vistas were equally spectacular - Virginia at its finest on an August afternoon. 



One unusual sight were these two trees - different species - but growing together. I thought they looked like they were kissing.




We decided to spend the night in Natural Bridge - no - not at the lodge - though it looked very pretty but also very full. Just a little roadside motel south of Lexington. But on the way we stopped in Buchanan - where we discovered this treat: A suspension foot bridge!




 Here are two views from the bridge - I particularly loved the Gothic molding on the supports. And at the Old Town Canoe livery I sat in one of the old town kayaks and it felt like a perfect fit. I am now seriously thinking about a birthday present. 


We ate dinner in Lexington - but at nigh on to 9 o'clock and as rumpled travelers we didn't want to stop at some place fancy. Instead, we were the last customers at a little hamburger joint called Pure Eats. They get a 4.5 from Urban Spoon and a 5+ from this hungry gal. They serve local beef and beer, and simply decadent french fries.


Sunday morning was cloudy and cool up in the mountains and we drove north on 11 along the Blue Ridge Parkway. There were More Vistas, More Wildflowers ....

  
 

and one darling little mountain cabin farmstead museum.
 














Complete with it's own ruminant ranger. 



And so - that is how TheQueen escaped the Dread Clorox Bottle. When I got back to TheCastle it looked so white it hardly needed to be painted. ThePrince has done some brutal landscaping out front so the painter could get his ladders set up. There will be a shocking photo of TheCastle in TheNude - after the gleaming white paint has been spread. This place is getting so much work done on it it hardly feels like my house any more - but fear not. I shall adjust to the clean and the beauty and the cool.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

It's Reunion Time Again

In fact, it's half way through TheReunion - or even 2/3 of the way through if you count the blissful Friday of prep. And while 75% of that Friday was exactly like every preReunion Friday for the past 20 years, the 25% that was new was almost the most fun of all.

We always book a manicure and pedicure for early on that Friday but somehow I screwed up my scheduling so while BH had her toes pampered I swiftly dashed through the store picking up paper products. That's one of my contributions to TheReunion. The other is footing the bill for mailing out invitations. In return? I don't cook a thing. There is always more than enough food (though I do worry about not having enough, that particular anxiety is all about TheQueen's self doubt, not about reality)

Photo: Iunch in CarytownNew this year was a convenient appointment I could schedule in Richmond so that BH and I could have lunch in Carytown.






We dined al fresco because while the food at CanCan is simply beyond delicious - it's a noisy restaurant. Besides, inside the music was piped, outside we were entertained with the real thing.

In addition to dining, there was luxury grocery shopping - one more thing to make TheReunion weekend special.

This has been a particularly cranky summer for TheQueen but Saturday morning there was no anxiety about anything. There was some swift and efficient house cleaning since one never knows if there will be After-Reunion guests. There were not - this year - but that only made coming home at the end of the day particularly nice - a squeaky clean house just for the two of us.

There were already cousins in the church yard when ThePrince and I arrived and we were soon spreading out food and photos to share with all. The oldest among us are a group of first and second and third cousins descended from this union:
J T and Hannah Elizabeth Hoskins
The Cousins
But there are plenty more cousins to go around. Cousins who are even from different Hoskins lines. This year we were blessed with a new Hannah!




And lots of pretty teenage girls to make the Granddaddies smile.


And what looks to me like some hungry cousins wondering when we'll sing our traditional hymn and ask the blessing. 




The food really does surpass expectations. My question here is - why is it the slimmest slightest cousins are the ones that bring platters full of butter-filled deliciousness? I never saw so many ways to use chocolate and there were spiced peaches, pulled mint candies, and banana puddings as well. Oh yes. and Fried Chicken.


This year we didn't have any of the Warner line with us nor were either of the Eastern Shore Eubanks able to come. The Hill line has sadly died out, though Cousin Thomas will live forever in my heart because he welcomed me so warmly at my first Hoskins Reunion. This was the first time in ages that Cousin Elizabeth C couldn't be with us and I felt the loss. But those of us who could come made everything feel warm, welcoming and joy filled.

And once we were replete with deliciousness, there were photographs to be taken in the sanctuary of the old family church and songs to be sung by the musically inclined.




PhotoSo, you'd think we were ready to go home by then, right? Wrong. Groups paired off, drifting in clumps, or headed to family homes. We spent our late afternoon with the H's at Hillsborough. One of these days I'm actually going swimming there. Though I took my suit, I kept getting waylaid by fascinating conversations with cousins. 

Photo


And so, Saturday closed softly with a quiet green drive home through King & Queen and Essex Counties. Today, some of us will drive down to Mathews to visit with More Cousins Some More because, there can never be enough cousins.