Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Patio dining for a limited time only

Over the Memorial Day weekend the butterfly plant shot up over a foot, and then bloomed. The plant is next to the little table with the umbrella on my condo patio. A vivid red cardinal flew in, and claimed the table for his holiday picnic and concert. I'm the lucky one who enjoyed the dinner theater.

The blooms of the butterfly plant were at exactly beak level. The cardinal would bite off a bloom, and then promenade in a circle around the umbrella pole. It would sing a little, then march back for another bite looking totally smug. It repeated the show several circuits.

The plant grew another inch today. The cardinal better hurry back. By tomorrow he won't be able to reach his meal. I imagine him with the confusion of a drunk trying to negotiate a barstool. Maybe I should put out a booster seat for him.

In one of my all-time favorite books from childhood, The Twenty-One Balloons, there are dining tables and stools that hydraulically rise from the floor of the dining hall like mushrooms. After a meal, they lower back to floor level so all clean-up can be done with a mop, to the best of my childhood memory. This week's Indonesian earthquake brings that wonderful 1948 Newbery winning book to mind because the fictional dining hall is on the island of Krakatoa:

In this story, a sixty-six-year-old retired arithmetic teacher decides to take a hot-air balloon trip around the world in an effort to get away from everyone. Halfway around the globe, however, he becomes stranded on a volcanic island that is about to experience a massive eruption. The fantasy of The Twenty-One Balloons is built around an actual historic event—the massive volcanic eruption that destroyed the Pacific island of Krakatoa in 1883. But there the connection with history ends. The Professor discovers that the inhabitants of the island have established a unique, Utopian...

I thank enotes for refreshing my memory.

"There are so many greens if you are paying attention," I tell my students often. This week my patio is telling me there are so many reds in nature it takes a cookbook or a lipstick color chart to describe them all. There's a red geranium just like my grandma used to have on her porch. The coleus is that intense unnatural magenta of raspberry Jello. The mimosa tree behind the fence has fluffy blooms of a warm watermelon. The mums are in the colors of barbecue sauce, Gallo Hearty Burgundy, and a thick Tbone ready for the grill. There are a few volunteer strawberries next to the gate. The cannas remind me of boiled shrimp and lobster, but the miniature roses are Snow White's lips!

No wonder the cardinal feels right at home.

Charlotte Spivack. "The Twenty-One Balloons: Overview." Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults. Ed. Kirk H. Beetz. Vol. 4. Beacham-Gale, 1990. eNotes.com. January 2005. 30 May 2006.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Window boxes

Breathing. It's all about breathing. My dad sent me a birthday card last month with words of wisdom from the great guru on the mountaintop. The key to a long life, according to the guru, is to keep breathing. The key to living through loss and grief is the same. So is the key to birthin' babies, enjoying symphonies, waiting for the next call of a hidden owl, and, I swear, the only way to match plaids perfectly when cutting fabric for a garment. Keep breathing.

Butterfly McQueen has been voicing my thoughts for a year and a quarter--"I don't know nuthin' 'bout grieving my mama." Most of the time I needed a slap to the cheek and a direct order to fetch hot water. Tell me what short steps to take on this new journey.

My parents took me to see the rerelease of "Gone With the Wind" at the Cooper Theater on Lincoln's O Street in 1967. It was an official acknowledgement that I was a Big Girl Now, and able to behave myself at a grown-up movie and handle the mature content. I'm thankful my parents kept wise control over my viewing, although I resented it at the time. I wish my students would all have such wise parents.

Fritzi has been a presence at several occasions in the last couple weeks. I could have sworn she was sitting with us around the table at the Albuquerque Outback restaurant two weeks ago to this minute. Her enjoyment of well-behaved young people sharing a delicious meal encircled us as much as the ABQ sunset.

This morning an unidentified owl called about eight times close to my condo. The calls were several minutes apart, in a range similar to a mourning dove's, and about eight notes in length. I had binoculars, but I was in my PJs, and couldn't venture too far out into the parking lot. Remembering Fritzi's excitement when owls were nesting in the maple tree by her patio swept me into the moment, even if I never saw the owl! It was a good day for birds as a cardinal sang alleluia by the front door after the lawn maintenance workers pruned, mowed, and edged.

Living with my mother was not without aggravations. She was a perfectionist extraordinaire. Her standards and expectations were non-negotiable, and controlled her own choices most of all. Last week my sons and I picked out a sofa at IKEA in under an hour. It isn't a perfect sofa, but it is comfortable, affordable, and the covers are washable. Plus, the sofa doesn't have to be perfect, and it doesn't have to last for the next century. Fritzi purchased three sofas in her entire adult life. I was along for the ride on two of those shopping missions (1966 and 1981+ or minus a year), so I know what it means to evaluate sofas for perfection. Bert Parks could not sing about a vision of loveliness so carefully selected. Keep breathing.

I'm more receptive to Fritzi's occasional presence and everyday influence in my life. I'm able to enjoy memories that I would have blocked a year ago. I'm able to channel some of this into my art.

One of the most profound experiences in the time after Fritzi's death was opening her box of costume jewelry with my sister and reminiscing about the pins and earrings. This sense of memory and surprise, compartment and opening, sharing and marvel showed up in my work in unpremeditated fashion.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Oak Tree Gang

Gil Morgan shot a 5-under 66 today to grab the lead after the first round of the 67th Senior PGA Championship at Oak Tree Club in Edmond, Oklahoma. Morgan is one of several touring pro golfers who call Edmond and Oak Tree home. From Thanksgiving Day of 1987 to Memorial Day of 1990, I also called Edmond home.

Dad and I are remembering good times in Edmond tonight. In August of 1988 the Oak Tree Club hosted the 70th PGA Championship*. Dad attended the tournament and my mom soaked up the company of her small grandsons. We celebrated my oldest's sixth birthday on the day of the first round. My gosh, we were all so young!

The "Oak Tree Gang" includes seniors Morgan, Dave Edwards, Mark Hayes, and Doug Tewell playing today. "Gang" youngsters Bob Tway, Willie Wood, and Scott Verplank are still too young for the Champions Tour (and AARP). My little Edmond gang of sons spent a lot of time running through sprinklers, falling into duck ponds, getting cockleburs in their socks, and staining those socks with the red Oklahoma mud.

The next year Mom and I joined Dad at the Southwestern Bell Classic senior tournament** at Quail Creek Golf and Country Club in Oklahoma City. Mom was every bit as enthusiastic about attending as Dad, as long as she was assured plenty of grandson time. This was my first golf tournament, and I can still remember watching Chi Chi Rodriguez and Gary Player, and following tall Al Geiberger for several holes with Dad. That was 1989, the year Callaways unveiled Big Bertha drivers!

Misty-eyed tonight. Since the continuing drought in North Texas requires limited watering of lawns and golf courses, maybe I should go stand on a green!

*Won by Jeff Sluman, in case you are wondering.
**Bobby Nichols.