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Monday, March 31, 2014

Thomas, Tom, Tommy

Throughout my life I’ve had lovable pets. Two dogs, three cats, two Gouldian finches and three canaries. In between there have been long spaces with no pets too. Now I have one, Tommy, my red canary. As you may know from earlier blogs, Tommy was named after little Tommy Tucker, the fellow in the nursery rhyme who sang for his supper. But he’s also named after my great grandfather, Thomas Pulford, the only great grandparent I really knew. His grandson, my Uncle Tom, was named after him and became a successful farmer in the rolling hills of south-eastern Minnesota where I grew up. His five children were our playmates. Uncle Tom and Aunt Alice always welcomed my brothers and me to their big country home. We took turns riding Fanny, the Shetland pony, feasted on freshly baked bread slices lathered with butter and piled up high with brown sugar and climbed the apple trees when apples were ripe. There was no end to the fun we had at Uncle Tom’s place.

Why should I give a canary a prestigious name like Thomas? Well, my mother started that by naming the first canary in our family after President Herbert Hoover. “Herbie” was a yellow canary like most, and he helped to cheer us up through icy winters and the great Depression with his melodious songs. Of course, “little Tommy Tucker,” who sang for his supper, was a friend of all children in my day. My canary could sing beautifully so, Tommy seemed an appropriate name for my housemate when I got him a couple of years ago. He’s lived up to all three of his names, Thomas, Tom and Tommy.

My appreciation of Tommy was tested when I moved into my new home here at The Willows. He’d had the best view in the house at Quail Creek, a corner window overlooking the creek and park surroundings. His cage took up a large space on my kitchen counter but I let him have it because he deserved to see what might have once been his natural habitat, even if he couldn’t survive there as a bird born in captivity. 

I didn’t know where he would go in my new home. The big picture window that captivated me with its lovely view of the park just had to be kept clear. It was the piece de resistance of my home. Could Tommy’s cage be allowed to occupy the center of that window? I looked and there seemed to be no other option. Besides, Tommy is singing beautifully these days. Might it not be just for his supper but also for the view? We’d try him there a while. Turns out we can see pretty well through the cage rungs. Turns out if we have company and he’s too loud he sings just as nicely in the bedroom. Turns out he’s homesteaded there although I can’t find the paper work. I have much to do getting settled into this house and just sitting in the living room sewing, reading or watching TV has not exactly dominated my days. When I do find a little time to sit there it is fun to watch Tommy as he flits around the cage on his perches and swings, stopping only to sing. 

He doesn’t try to persuade me that this is his spot. He doesn’t speak English so he leaves that up to my own reasoning. “I don’t need to be taken out for walks and picked up after like a puppy dog. I don’t leave contributions in a littler box like a cat would. I don’t ask to be let out of the cage to leave my contributions here and there around the house. (Remember when you left the cage door open all day once and I stayed in?”) Tommy has his advocate in my conscience and I’m agreed. Great Grandfather Thomas, Uncle Tom and Tommy Tucker would say you can have the view. You’ve lived up to your name. I agree. You’ve won me over heart and song!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Souvenirs Can Comfort, and Cry

When you get to be my age and can rustle up enough money to move, as I am doing now, you let others do the heavy stuff. Like today when the last of my storeroom stragglers will be brought in. The last big thing was the piano. A goodly number of boxes, and some odds and ends will come today also. Who’s taking care of all that? My daughter, Robin. She hired a truck and two strong men. She doesn’t need to be told what to do. She’s an expert on her own behalf. She has been taking off time from her painting to help me and she’s doing all this for me cheerfully. 

Moving is an ordeal unlike any other. Since I can’t do much else, what I do best is sort through the keepers and the give-away things. Last night I looked through a huge collection of CD’s, and cassette tapes. These pack away so easily into drawers I rarely think of them.  Now even the titles reach out to grab me. “Remember me? You used to love listening to me. How could you send me to the Good Will?” So, I’ve made a resolution to take out one a day to give it a few minutes of my time. I think that might become special.

When the piano gets here I’ll have it tuned and then maybe I’ll make it a point to sit down and play it for at least a half hour each day. One of my favorite pieces of sheet music is an old song called “Among My Souvenirs.” It always brings up a few tears but I don’t mind. In case you youngsters out there don’t know the words, here they are, but you’ll have to Google it up to hear the tune.

There's nothing left for me
Of days that used to be
They're just a memory
Among my souvenirs

Some letters sad and blue
A photograph or two
I see a rose from you
Among my souvenirs

A few more tokens rest
Within my treasure chest
And, though they do their best
To give me consolation,

I count them all apart
And, as the teardrops start,
I find a broken heart
Among my souvenirs

You can’t give away a broken heart. You either have to mend it or bury it or wrap up the pieces in something nice. 

Moving requires going through everything and deciding how much it means to you. Even Robin, who loves the uncluttered look, is giving in to most of my little loves. We’re finding special places for things. I’d give you a few examples but they wouldn’t mean much to you. You have your own keepers. No doubt they’re tucked away in good places. If you aren’t going through that bottom drawer today, do it. Just for fun. And it’s OK to cry a little too.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

My Eclectic Patio

When you come to see me most of my new home will look quite nicely put together, I hope, but the patio is the space you’ll see first and it may look rather oddly furnished. I’m sitting out here now in the sunshine and thinking how much I love the patio’s brightness and warmth. But the way it is furnished? Well, the word eclectic might be a charitable word for it. The only piece that looks like it belongs on a California patio is the glider bench I bought at Lowe’s a few years back. It has a bright colorful pad on it and when someone puts a shim on the side that tilts down for rain drainage, it will be perfect. The green wicker stand looks OK too with the potted blue flowers on it. (Can’t think of their name.) 

But what’s this beside me? A brown leather swivel chair? Robin put it out here because she thought it seemed somewhat bulky by my computer desk in the dining room. One of the new dinette chairs would do just as well. I may take it back if no one else wants it. It's looking rather embarrassed to be here. 

When I lived in Minnesota a few years ago I bought a hand constructed wooden rocking chair from an old Amish man with long gray hair and a long beard to match. His wife told me, "He makes just one a year in his spare time." I know a lot of love and expertise went into that rocker and you’d recognize it for its “plain” look, but there’s no room inside and I haven’t the heart to paint it yellow or orange or blue to give it a California patio look. That would pain the old man if he knew. Sometime I may put a colorful cushion on it though.

In order to cozy up the patio at my last home I bought an indoor-outdoor rug that is washable and looks rather elegant on the beige cement floor of my new patio. It has an Oriental rug design and is probably as close to the real thing as I’ll ever get. A few minutes ago I got another too-good-for-a-patio piece. The new stand Robin and I picked out for the big flat screen TV at Ashley House furniture store the other day was just delivered and the oak lawyer’s desk it sat on before is now out of that job. What’s more, there’s no room for it inside. “Say, Mom, we haven’t been able to find a place for this so do you mind if it sits out here by the dining room glass doors until we do?”

“No, of course not.” As she turned to go back in the door she stopped. I was about to call her back and we’d both got the same idea. Even if it looked out of place it would be protected under the wide eaves and it might come in quite handy since I have no patio table. There’s a new blue and white checked picnic tablecloth we unpacked the other day that will give it a fitting touch for its new job. It may feel somewhat of a come-down but in time if its Queen Anne legs don't tilt down its toes in shame, I think it will still know I loved it enough to save it from some thrift shop.

You’ll wonder what I’m sitting on. Well, I hesitate to tell you but it’s temporary, (yes, definitely temporary!) A wheelchair. I’m soaking up California sunshine and being ever so grateful I’m not still in Minnesota. Speaking of that I can remember when the word “patio” was not in my vocabulary. We’d moved to Laguna Beach in December of 1937 from our Minnesota home. I was about twelve then and the house we rented had a huge patio with matching white wicker furnishings. I was impressed and I was instantly in love with California sunshine and our patio.

I’m still in love with sunshine and patios. If my new friends take a glance at my patio by the front door and get no farther, they may think the gal who lives here could be a bit loony. I don’t mind. They’ll get to know me better. In the meantime I’ll try to show my new neighbors that I have not been “touched” by the moon. I’ll blame it on the California sunshine. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Pepper Tree Times

Since I signed the pink slip for my car over to Robin in exchange for free taxi rides to places I can’t go on the Willows bus I find myself frequently waiting in the car while Robin runs into a store for something or other. I enjoy those times. There’s such a sense of freedom in getting out on the streets and roads of Orange County. The scenery is always beautiful, the weather always ideal (I’m really not exaggerating, much,) and as a passenger, not a driver, I get to gaze out the window. 

Yesterday I waited while Robin was in her own home doing a few things. The parking space faced a sunlit wall and over the top of it a pepper tree let down some branches.  Now I should explain that pepper trees are favorites of mine. The sight of one stirs up a host of memories along with its pungent perfume. Before Robin left to climb the stairs to her second story home I asked if she’d pick me off a small twig. Just big enough to scratch its stem and hold it to my nose.

As she handed it to me through the car window I said, “Oh, honey, I hate to ask you this but could you get me a pad of lined paper and a pen? I feel a blog coming on.” So, here it goes in second draft. 

I’m thinking of my earliest encounter with a pepper tree. Grandmother Darling was showing me around her little adobe house in Riverside, California and when she opened the back porch door she waved her hand over the landscape. “We can see two mountains from here, Mt. Pachapa and Mt Rubidoux. Below the short stairway lay a tiny back yard with a canopied swing perched under the branches of a large pepper tree. As we descended the steps I said, “What is that deliciously strange scent?”

“Oh, that’s our pepper tree,” she said. Immediately her use of the word “our” made the pepper tree mine too. During the two years I lived with Grandmother we often sat in the swing and somehow we never felt such a thing called "generation gap." When a certain young Marine pilot came a-courting Grandmother discreetly let the two of us occupy the swing. Captain Wallace G.Wethe had come home from the Pacific war zone where Grandmother had been writing to him. The son of former next door neighbors to my grandparents in Minneapolis, Grandmother had known him since he was a toddler. She even had his picture on her mantle when I came. The pepper tree's swing for two fit right in to her plan, no doubt. The tree looked down happily on us and when he asked me to marry him I thought I heard the pepper tree whisper, “OK.”

Skip ahead now about 40+ years. Jenny, my eight year old granddaughter who remembered her grandfather as “Wally G.” is riding home with me from the desert where we’d been to see the Ramona Pageant. We came along a stretch of the road that was lined with beautiful pepper trees. “What are you stopping for, Grandma?” asked Jenny as I slowed down and pulled off to the side of the road. “I want to smell the pepper trees,” I said. Then I told her about Grandmother’s pepper tree and about how her grandfather and I had sat together under it long ago.

“I want to cut a few sprigs off the pepper trees,” I said as I fished a small pair of scissors out of the glove compartment. She helped me gather a little bunch of them as I cut. With each sprig I said, “I’m sorry!” But they all whispered back, “It’s OK.”  After breathing in their fragrance we laid them on the back seat of the car. 

Down the road a few miles I saw something else that made me step on the brakes. “Oh, my! I didn’t know we were going to be near this place!”

“What is this place, Grandma?”

“See that sign, Jenny? It’s a place where service men and women and their wives and husbands are buried. That’s where Wally G. was buried.” She looked up and read, “Riverside Nation-al Cem-it-ary?” 

We stopped for a map and she helped me find the location. When we got out and found the headstone with his name on it we stood for a few minutes remembering. 

“If I’d known we’d be here,” I said, “I’d have bought some flowers in the last town.” 

”We have the pepper tree leaves,” Jenny said.

“Of course! They’re perfect for Wally G.” I said. “He’d love them!” 

Jenny was already running to the car. When she came back we each took a few sprigs and laid them on top of his name. I looked around at the beautiful trees and lawns with the stones nearly hidden in the grass. “Someday...” I started to say. But I didn’t finish. It was no time to tell her my name would be carved on the stone too,- someday. 

Before we left I took one last glance at the pepper tree sprigs and they seemed to say to me, “It’s OK.”  

Friday, March 14, 2014

What Shall I Say?

To begin with I’ll tell anyone who may have been missing my blogs lately:
  1. There was a reason for it, - I was suddenly thrust out of town.
  2. The reason?  No need to relate for you, easier for me to forget. 
  3. Good news: I'm in my new home now and loving it! (e-mail me for the address if you want.)
  4. I’m grateful to God and to all my well-wishers.
Sorry to be so vague, dear fellow bloggers, but you know, too, writers get to edit their own work and I’m trying to edit my own thoughts and life as well.  There are always good lessons to learn from every experience and they may come out in some of my future blogs. 

While I was away I used to dream about coming home, but this time seemed strangely different. One can usually trace in his mind the nooks and crannies, the scents, the sounds, the familiar feelings of a place called home. After all, he’s lived there. In my case I was going home to a place I’d never lived in before, one I had chosen before my departure but one I could not remember as home.

Now I’m here and Robin is with me helping in all kinds of ways. She’s good at  unpacking. “Now do you really need this, Mom? How often do you use it?” And pulling out another small decorative thing I picked out at some thrift shop she’ll say, “Mom, you have so many of these cutesy things, don’t you think someone else might enjoy them now?” And into the box for Good Will they go. I’m here, I’m home, but this will be a more elegantly simple surrounding than I’ve been used to. No more the Old Curiosity Shop look. A new kind of home for a new life.

Tommy, my little red canary, is singing his heart out. I’d like to think he’s gotten his voice back because he’s finished molting or is happy with his new home, but I’m told it’s probably because he’s staking out his territory, telling all the other winged creatures they must keep out of his space now. I love to hear him sing. Like little Tommy Tucker, I expect him to sing for his supper. (Haven’t had a complaint from the neighbors yet.) 

Robin has finished her journal entry now and is back to sorting out the contents of packing boxes. “What on earth is this, Mom?” And, “Do you really need it?” So I’d better go. See you tomorrow!