Posts Tagged ‘nostalgia’

petunias in the garden

I photographed the petunias in the garden today but I don’t have any petunia stories except that my mother used to plant them in the raised beds my father built for her in Virginia. Beds maybe 1′ or 2′ by 4′ or 5′. Nothing fancy. Plants purchased from the farmers market in downtown Lynchburg. Straightforward colors of red, purple and white come to mind. Although I do remember in later years when I returned home after college the selections had expanded and there were striped and maybe spotted petunias in the beds. As a child, in the early evening hours when the sun (and therefore heat) was low, I remember my mom and I would go out and pick the dead flowers to encourage new growth. It came across as something calming for my mother. My dad’s domain was the vegetable garden. The flowers were my mother’s and I think she cherished it.

Even after I moved from home I often managed to garden though I was not drawn to petunias. I have a growing fondness for them and an appreciation of how they fill in a container and complement other plants. As a child I didn’t appreciate them at all except as an opportunity to stick my hands in the dirt to help plant them and an opportunity to hang out with my mom as she took care of them. I was completely clueless as she included me in this process of caretaking and nurturing. I’m still not great at it with petunias. I try to find new varieties that need no deadheading. I seek out colors that complement the “main” plants I have growing in a container. And yet as seasons continue to pass I find myself planting more of those things from my childhood that I took for granted like petunias, scarlet sage and sweet william. Spring is near done and summer approaches. We’ll see what growing opportunities, prompted by the past or by the current moment, present themselves.

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Pinto beans simmering in a pot with a ham hock and bay leaf. To my young mind, those beans seemed to cook all day. Then we ate it served over white rice. My father and I had sweet tooths. We spooned sugar on top of our beans and rice. It is the only dry bean I remember my mother cooking. I heard about red beans but she only cooked pinto (except, I forgot, for the black eyed peas you have to cook to ring in the New Year). I don’t remember if there was a particular day of the week for cooking beans and rice. For instance, pot roast, baked chicken, baked rice pudding, for example, they were Sunday foods, something special. I suspect beans were a weekday food because she could put the pot on the stove on a low flame and do all those other household tasks. Kale or collard greens might be served on the side. Probably mustard greens, too, but I didn’t like her mustard greens (another dish where my father would sprinkle some sugar). I remember the taste of kale seasoned with pork and spooning the potlikker that was left in the bottom of the pan. Once my younger brother was banished from the table for doing something rude and so I had the potlikker all to myself. That little hellion came up behind me and tossed in a handful of food scraps meant for Fuzzy, our dog. I was furious but I stilled loved him afterwards. That was in Virginia. Forty years later living in New England I’ve learned to play with my beans, making bean salads, mixing the colors and textures, sometimes getting so caught up in “painting” with the colors — red, white, black, green — that I lose sight of taste. But I have not done a thing with pinto beans. Until now. Why now? Because the Whole Foods shopper substituted a can of pinto beans for my requested can of white beans. The can is sitting on the kitchen counter. It makes me smile when I look at it. Soon I’ll open it. Served on the side will likely be kale cooked with olive oil and garlic. Brown rice most likely. No sugar anymore. Just good food and good memories to share.



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This is a ramble with no meaning except I felt a need to put fingers to the keyboard and share an experience from this day.  I’ve been saving watermelon rind trying to decide if I will try to make some watermelon pickles. Now, I have never eaten such a pickle in my life though when I was little I used to admire their beauty in big jars on store counters. As a child I ate plenty of the fruit itself. My oldest brother still reminisces about the big ones with the big black seeds. I think I remember watermelons so big I could sit on them. Those are hard to find. Small, round, seedless (and in my humble opinion oftentimes tasteless) has become the store norm. I’ve lost my taste for watermelon flesh though I’ve been buying watermelon slices of late. Not for me but for a certain person in my life who needs to drink more water but doesn’t and so I simply place saucers of sliced cold watermelon in front of him. Hydration is hydration.

But now I have these rinds … and I’m in a creative place in my life right now … and so I told him I might try my hand at pickles. And when this person heard my intentions, he remembered words from a poem. “Reflections on a gift of watermelon pickles,” he said. We looked it up, a poem by John Tobias.  As I began to read it out loud, Steve, who has a wicked memory for poetry, stopped me to say, “I don’t think I’ve ever actually read the poem. I just know those few words.” And so I finished reading the poem and he was silent and when I looked up I saw that he had been moved to tears.

I think my big brother who is near Steve’s age would cry too. Not so my 12-year old friend. Her response to reflections on a life lived would be quite different than people five decades older. This is a rambling post with no photographs because there is no photograph that can compare to the rich imagery embedded throughout the poem … except maybe one day I’ll come across one of those big ol’ watermelons and split it open and let the sun shine on the pink flesh, black seeds and white rind … and maybe that would be an appropriate pairing of image with the following words. We’ll see …


Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity

During that summer
When unicorns were still possible;
When the purpose of knees
Was to be skinned;
When shiny horse chestnuts
(Hollowed out
Fitted with straws
Crammed with tobacco
Stolen from butts
In family ashtrays)
Were puffed in green lizard silence
While straddling thick branches
Far above and away
From the softening effects
Of civilization;

During that summer–
Which may never have been at all;
But which has become more real
Than the one that was–
Watermelons ruled.

Thick imperial slices
Melting frigidly on sun-parched tongues
Dribbling from chins;
Leaving the best part,
The black bullet seeds,
To be spit out in rapid fire
Against the wall
Against the wind
Against each other;

And when the ammunition was spent,
There was always another bite:
It was a summer of limitless bites,
Of hungers quickly felt
And quickly forgotten
With the next careless gorging.

The bites are fewer now.
Each one is savored lingeringly,
Swallowed reluctantly.

But in a jar put up by Felicity,
The summer which maybe never was
Has been captured and preserved.
And when we unscrew the lid
And slice off a piece
And let it linger on our tongue:
Unicorns become possible again.

by John Tobias

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Oh, yeah, that’s me.  During this merry month I was born.  While I do not tend to shout that information about, it does give me a unique opportunity to share images of the people who brought me into this complicated, beautiful world.  I still have this dress.  It’s a soft pink, many layered affair, with a pink silk ribbon at the neck.  Of all the outfits I must have worn as a baby, it is the only one my mother kept.  As it hung in her closet until the day she died, it now hangs in my closet on its small white hanger.  I keep contemplating getting it framed.

In this image, my mother sits with one of her sisters.  When this image was taken, I do not know.  Probably early 1950s, well before I was born.  And this is her in the 1960s, I think.

She never dressed this way around me.  I think raising four children can wear a person down.  Thank goodness, she was persistent.

Here’s my dad as a little boy during the 1930s, and then twenty years later serving in the Korean War.

I heard he could have quite the temper as a young man but I only knew of him as a gentle soul and the person who would eat anything I put into his hands, even a Milky Way candy bar where I had licked away all of the chocolate.


When I was little I asked my parents questions about the stars in the sky and never really asked about how they met.  I’ve heard rumors that my mother set sights on him before he set sights on her. He was interested in one of her sisters but somehow my mom managed to be around whenever he came visiting.  Lucky for me.

By the time I came along there were two big brothers who were kind enough to keep an eye on me and the little fellow who followed not quite two years later.

What more is there to share? Well, as an adult I am notorious for finding the bright side, and I think it is in part because I had such a bright childhood with so many good people around me helping me laugh.

I’m grateful to have these photos to share and to help me hold onto the memories.

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Would you believe I was restless this morning?  Probably the two cups of strong coffee.  I could not settle down to work with words or images.  Finally I began picking through a box with writing from years past — letters never mailed, musings, unfinished stories, etc.  I forgot to date the paper, but I expect the following piece was written around Father’s Day nearly fifteen years ago.  I probably wrote it while sitting on the back porch of my childhood home in Virginia.  After reading the words, would you believe I felt grounded?


The sun shines bright and a cool breeze blows.  Spring has not yet arrived but I feel the change in the air.

Spring arrives and yet my father’s vegetable garden lies fallow.  Let it rest as he now rests.  His long journey has ended.

Let the land rest.  Rest your head, child. Sit still for it is the day of rest.  A verb that is used so often.  What does it mean, to rest?

A rest in music. A rest between words on paper.

To let your heart rest …

Resting seems scary somehow right now.

If one does rest, is it possible to pause for too long?  If so, what will quicken the heart, the spirit?   Will it be the sun’s rays, a cool breeze against bare skin, a lover’s lips?  Perhaps a bird’s song.

What if there is no breeze, no sun, no lover?

There are plenty of birds, though, even in the empty garden.  I suppose there are still seeds there beneath the earth.

What are those seeds doing there?

Well, I suppose my father would say that they are resting.

Yes, resting is what he would say.

The seeds are resting in the arms of the Earth awaiting their chance to grow.


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A little over ten years ago I began telling friends and co-workers that I wanted to go fishing.  For the most part, they’d all gently laugh.  You see, at first glance, most people would not have considered me — a small brown woman often with a book in hand, sipping lattes in Starbucks — as the fishing sort.  Yet something about the concept of fishing suddenly appealed to me.  Perhaps it was romantic idealism based on childhood memories of fishing scenes in old television shows.  Or maybe it was remembered tales told by my dad of his firsthand experiences fishing in the backwoods of Virginia.  Whatever the reason, fishing brought to mind a beautiful calm.  And though I could not articulate it clearly even to myself, a bit of calm was what I needed at that point in my life.  Eventually, a friend in the office, a young man who’d grown up in a coastal city near Boston, looked at me over the lunchroom table and said with a big grin, “Okay, lady.  You take a day off, I’ll take you fishing.”  In short, it was a wonderful day of sitting on a rocky shore with our poles in the dark blue waters of the Atlantic.  Our hooks were baited with squid.  Older gents would share tips with us “youngsters.”  We caught nothing except what I needed most:  calm.  Fast forward to the present …

Recently, Steve offered me the opportunity to fish at a popular spot near Castle Island.  It would be my first time fishing since that desperately needed excursion over a decade ago.  This time around I felt no “need” of anything from the trip.  I simply wanted to share a new experience with a person important in my life, and to try my hand again at an activity I remembered as fun. Heck, I thought, this time around I might even catch a fish.

We used squid as the tasty lure.  Once the hook had been baited, Steve taught me how to cast (last time the fellow did it for me).  As I stood at the rail holding the rod, I was aware of the looks we received from the neighboring fishermen.  As you can see I am still not quite up to speed on fishing attire. A few people came over to chitchat. I let Steve do all the talking.  I stared out into the sea.

I watched the rippling of the water and the gentle rise and fall of the waves.  In the ephemeral light of the cloudy day, every shade of blue appeared on the water’s surface.  For just a moment.  No fish did I see  but I kept imagining them down in the dark depths, nibbling on my squid.  Birds flew overhead.  Sailboats drifted by.  In the end,  I caught nothing except of course that calm.  Unexpected but welcome.  A treat.  As Steve and I walked back to the car, and he outlined our strategy for next time so that we’d actually catch something, I realized I didn’t need to a catch a fish.  It was the journey that mattered to me, not the destination.  When I shared that revelation with Steve, he was quiet for a moment, then said, “I respect your feelings.  But let’s test that theory once you actually have a fish on the line.”

Hmmm.  We’ll see … 😉

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A dear friend used to work in Japan.  On occasion she would send me small treasures, like these small pieces of jade.

I found them as I cleaned out an old jewelry box this weekend.  The friend and I haven’t spoken in many years.  Just different life journeys.  I am thinking that I will turn one of these images into a postcard or even a notecard and send to her with words of thanks.  A good summer project. 😉

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With Father’s Day approaching, I decided to post a “reprint” of a story I wrote that appeared a few years ago on the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature website.  



In elementary school, my younger brother and I participated in an activity where we were given seeds to plant in cups. Over time the seeds sprouted and tiny house plants grew. At home, when my brother discovered that the neighbor’s maple tree helicopters littering our yard were in fact winged seeds, he decided to replicate the school activity.  He planted one seed in a handful of soil in one of the small white Styrofoam cups that our dad liked to use for coffee.

My parents were supportive of his effort, though not at all positive that he was doing anything except making a cup full of mud.  But, green shoots soon sprouted up through the soil. When the sapling outgrew the Styrofoam cup, he planted it in one of Mom’s large clay pots.

My brother was only about seven years old with the attention span of gnat. We all expected him to forget about the tree, to let it wither and die once the joys of watering it faded away. But he didn’t lose interest. He watered it. He moved it around the yard to catch the traveling rays of the sun.  He dragged it under the house during rain storms.  When a branch was accidentally broken, he applied a field dressing of black electrical tape which saved the budding limb.

Dad was fine with the tree until my brother wanted to transplant it from the pot to a fertile area near the vegetable garden. He tried to explain to us that the roots of maple trees spread ferociously. We heard the words but we didn’t really understand. My brother wanted to replant his tree, and I supported him. Mom sided with  us.  “Let him plant the thing. See what happens.”

Over the years we watched the garden shrink as the tree grew magnificently, with a trunk so wide I couldn’t wrap my arms around it, and a canopy so broad that it shaded half the back yard.

One day I saw my father looking up at the tree, lips pursed.  Then he looked at my brother’s head thrown back, face beaming as he looked up at his tree. My father tipped his cap at the tree and sighed.

“Come on,” he said to my brother. “Get inside and wash your hands.”

As my brother dashed by him, my father patted him on the head.

Nearly thirty years later, the tree is gone and so are my parents. My brother is grown and not especially inclined toward gardening.

But recently he did call me. He’d gone to the store to buy gifts for his girlfriend’s two young daughters.

“What did you buy?” I asked.

“Little gardening gloves,” he said.

And I could hear the smile in his voice.

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A gray day in the Boston area.  I am trying very hard to focus on all the writing projects I have due this week.  The only legit excuse I’ve given myself to rise from this chair is for coffee.  Coffee is one of those substances in which as an adult I have at times overindulged.  As a child, I associated coffee with my father.  My mother, by the time I was old enough to notice, drank only hot tea (Lipton’s with a half teaspoon of sugar).  My dad preferred instant coffee.


One teaspoon of the dark brown granules in his orange plastic cup.  The resulting brew liberally lightened with canned  Pet evaporated milk, and sweetened with two heaping teaspoons of sugar.  Sometimes if I sat on his lap he’d let me have a slurp or two.  It wasn’t until I went away to college that I had fresh brewed coffee.  Took me  a while to get used to the complex flavors.  I continued to buy instant, but less for the flavor than for the connection to my dad, especially on Sunday mornings when we would speak by phone.   Years later, after I had moved to Boston and began working for a start-up nonprofit, brewed coffee became manna.  Didn’t hurt that I lived in a Boston neighborhood with a coffee shop at every corner (and that was before Starbucks made inroads).  I always had a coffee cup in hand.  In fact, one year for my birthday, Bert, a good friend and colleague, drew my cup of the moment.

Today I drink from a simple white mug a coffee recently roasted by Steve’s son-in-law.  I had to grind the beans myself before brewing.  I’ve already had two cups.  I think I’ll give myself permission to have one more cup … after I complete a couple of items on my list.  Until then … enough of these coffee musings.  I hope your day goes well! 😉

Kyle's Coffee

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Recently, people have asked me why I chase clouds and why I look up so much?

Have I shared these images of the Blue Ridge Parkway?  The older I grow the more I realize how growing up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge has influenced my behavior and perceptions of the world.






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