Saturday, May 31, 2008

My Pottery Masterpiece

Last summer while visiting my 78-year-old cousin, Norman, I bugged him to teach me how to make something from clay on his pottery wheel. Norman was a master potter, and I admired all of the lovely pieces that he had sitting around his house. I wanted to learn how to do the same thing. He finally caved in to my begging, and pulled out a blob of clay, placed it on the wheel, and asked me what I wanted to make. A vase would be nice, I suggested, one that I could use and display in a variety of ways to show off my new skill. Norman smiled, probably knowing what lay ahead.

Norman began demonstrating the technique of forming the clay from a sticky gray lump into a lovely shape. He talked as he worked, telling me how to hold my hands and fingers and the importance of keeping a constant pressure on the clay to keep it from collapsing onto itself. It looked easy, and I was ready to try. He knocked down the shape he had formed and once again it was a blob. Trading places at the wheel, I was ready to begin.

As the wheel turned and I clumsily fashioned my vase, Norman coached me, encouraged me, and corrected me, always with a sparkle in his eye. The end result – my lovely vase collapsed! Now what? Maybe it could be a bowl, I ventured. Norman showed me how to cut the rim down, and a bowl began to emerge from the former vase. It wasn’t a pretty bowl – in fact it was asymmetrical and lumpy, thick in some places and dangerously thin in others. It was pretty pathetic looking! Norman finally called a halt to my creative efforts and proclaimed the bowl completed. He also gently advised me that I might want to try hand formed pottery rather than the wheel-turned kind! We laughed about my crazy little bowl and how at the very least, it was unique. I left Norman’s house the following morning with his promise that he’d save my bowl for me – the clay had to dry – and on my next visit I could pick it up.

My next visit to Norman’s house was this past March. Norman had died of a massive heart attack, and I was there for his funeral. Before he died, he told my sister, Molly, who was at his home at the time, about my bowl and asked her to make sure I got it. When I went into the guest bedroom where I was to spend the night, it was on the dresser, waiting for me.

I recognized my little bowl immediately by its funky shape. Indeed, it was unique. But, except for the shape it was not the same bowl I had left drying on Norman’s pottery wheel last summer. Norman had etched a beautiful design on the outside of my bowl and then had glazed and fired it. It was a light green-blue color, shiny and lovely. I held it tenderly in my hands, running my fingers over its imperfections that had skillfully been preserved and enhanced by the master potter for me. Norman was now gone from his house and from my life, but he left me with a gift I’ll hold close to my heart as long as I live. He took my ugly, misshapen attempt of a vase, now a bowl, and transformed it into a work of art.

I miss Norman. But he’ll always be as near to me as my little pottery bowl, and I’ll never forget him.

(Norman, Molly, and me)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Forever and Ever, Amen

This afternoon when I started my car to drive home from work, the song "I'm Gonna Love you Forever" by Randy Travis, was playing on my favorite country music radio station. Listening to the song brought back a recent memory.

Phil and I were driving home one evening, after having dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant. Like today, the car radio was tuned to the country music station. This song came on the air, and we began singing with Randy:

"As long as old men sit and talk about the weather,
As long as old women sit and talk about old men,
I'm gonna love you forever and ever,
Forever and ever, Amen."

We were each lost in our own thoughts as we sang along. I can't tell you what Phil was thinking about, but I know where my mind was taking me, filling me with sentimental thoughts about our relationship.

When the song ended, I turned toward Phil to make some kind of sappy and mushy comment, but I was stopped in my tracks and my voice was silenced. Tears were streaming down his cheeks and he was hastily wiping them with the palm of his hand.

My eyes welled up, and I said nothing. There was no need.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Rockster

Our new kitten, Rocky, has been with us a week, and already he has made a place for himself in our family. He is now seven weeks old, and weighs a whopping 1-1/2 pounds! Tom and Diamond have accepted him as an annoyance that’s probably not going to go away, and they are showing more interest in him. Tom tackles him for a daily bath, and Diamond mothers him by following him around the house and nudging him when she thinks he is heading in the wrong direction. Laughter is now a common sound in our home, as he entertains us with his kitten antics.

We named him Rocky, because we want him to grow up to be tough and to be a fighter. He needs a big name to live up to. It’s a cruel world outside of our barn home, and predators are out there hungry to nab a helpless little animal. It happened to our little Max early one morning last November. He was our sweet and happy little adopted kitty, who, full-grown, only weighed about eight pounds. He wasn’t a fighter. Diamond found him on the side of the road when he was about eight weeks old, and he let her drag him around like a rag doll. He never fought back with her, which I believe was his downfall. When something outside nabbed him in the early morning hours, he probably reacted the way he did when Diamond picked him up in her mouth, and let whatever it was drag him off into the woods. We never saw him again. Both Phil and I mourned for months, and wondered if we would ever want to chance bringing another kitty into our home.

Rocky has changed our minds on this issue in the week that he has been here. Rocky, unlike Max, arches his back like a miniature Halloween cat and gives Diamond a swift jab across her snout when she gets too dominant with him. He is letting her know in his own way that he’s not going to let her push him around! He also is fascinated with Tom’s tail, and has sent him flying to the upper rafters, just to escape his pestering. He is fearless and will attack anything, including our feet and shoes, a plastic bag, or a piece of dust on the floor. He is too busy most of the time to be affectionate, but I am hoping that he will discover that my lap is a good place to take a nap. Right now, he simply crashes in mid-play, and takes his naps wherever he happens to land.

Rocky is home.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Circle in the Sand

"God long ago drew a circle in the sand exactly around the spot where you are standing right now. I was never not coming here. This was never not going to happen." - Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert.

While I was out in my woods this evening with Diamond, picking wild strawberries, I got to thinking about where I am now and how I got here. If you'd asked me 20 years ago where I thought I'd be in my 60th year of life, Social Circle would not have been on my list of places I'd want to visit, much less a place where I thought I might live someday. My mind wandered as we picked berries with a list of what if's for my life.

For example, what if David and I hadn't divorced? What if Phil hadn't come into my circle of life? And, going back further, what if I hadn't gone to Camp Waco the summer of my high school graduation, a summer which changed my life direction dramatically? As I considered choices I've made in my life, the possible circles in the sand grew in my mind to a number I couldn't comprehend. Would the circles have intersected somehow, somewhere, no matter which path I took, causing me to end up where I am today? I don't think they would have, but there's no way for me to know for certain. Looking back, I see both good choices and very bad choices in the roads I've chosen to travel, and I can't help but wonder what my life would be today if I'd made a different choice somewhere along my way.

I am standing in my circle in the sand.... I am where I am now because this is where I am supposed to be. There could have been alternate realities or parallel universes for me, but here I am, living in a barn on five acres of woods with my husband of 14 years, my dog, Diamond, and my cats, Tom and Rocky. I cannot picture myself anywhere else on earth! One thing I can say for myself, and that is that I am content and feel grounded here. I am standing in a circle that God has drawn for me, and there is no other place I'd rather be.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Moon Glow

The moon was full this morning as I left the house at 5:15 am to go to work. In the pre-dawn, with its soft golden glow, it illuminated the path to my car. As I turned from our driveway onto the road, I noticed the Man in the Moon smiling at me from its surface. Then, like one of those optical illusion puzzles, my vision shifted and the man's face disappeared. In its place was the Japanese Rabbit, dancing on the face of the moon.

It's been ten years since I was in Japan, gazing at the full moon with Ryoko, my interpreter and new friend. She pointed out to me the Rabbit on the moon and said that it is a sign of good fortune, and is often symbolized in Japanese art. Ever since that night in Japan, I've been able to see both the Man and the Rabbit, preferring to look for the Rabbit.

This morning I was awed as I always am by the full moon. For me, it was symbol of more than good fortune, but one of a promise - the promise that night would soon be over and a new day would dawn. It reminded me that the sun is shining, now on another part of the world, while most people in Georgia are still sleeping. It promised a glorious sunrise and a bright new day.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Normal Life?

In the movie, "Tombstone" which Phil and I watched recently, the following dialogue takes place between Doc Holliday, who is lying in bed close to death in a sanatorium, and his friend, Wyatt Earp.
"Doc: What is it that you want, Wyatt?
Wyatt: I just want to live a normal life.
Doc: There is no normal life, Wyatt. There's just life."

Such a profound statement to be one so very simple. Is there such a thing as a normal life, or was Doc right? Do we make our lives normal or abnormal by our approach to living? Can anyone achieve normalcy? Does normal equal boring? Uninteresting? Routine? What is normal, anyhow, and is this what I want for my life?

I prefer to think of life as being ordinary or extraordinary, and to me normal fits into the ordinary category. I agree with Doc, there's just life. Life is what we make of it, how we greet each day, our approach to challenges, decisions we make about which direction to take, how we rebound when we take a punch.

When I was young, I guess I thought I'd have a normal life. I'd grow up, get married, have children, live happily ever after. It hasn't quite worked out the way I imagined. Normal? Not in any way if this vision was one of a normal life. But has my life been interesting? Yes! Heartbreaking? Yes! Challenging? Yes! Eventful? Yes! Fascinating? Yes! Eye-opening? Yes!Personally revealing? Yes! Boring, even? Yes, thankfully, on rare occasions! The list of yes's could get much longer with just a little more time and thought.

Sometimes I think of my life as being an ordinary one filled with extraordinary moments (hence the theme of this blog). I've had low points and high points, moments of sheer stupidity and moments of enlightened brilliance, moments I'm proud of and those I regret. With each day comes a surprise, an unexpected encounter, a unique experience.

It's not normal. IT'S LIFE.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Time Travelers

I heard the statement recently on a C-Span book review program that feelings are time travelers. It's taken me some time to digest this, turn it around a bit in my mind, and decide if I agree with the author or not.

The basis for the statement was that as we travel through life, we are able to let go of memories of events, conversations (for the most part), and a lot of the mental junk that would otherwise clutter our brains. But when attached to feelings, they become different and travel with us through life, springing up to our consciousness at the strangest times.

How true. I can remember a specific game of "Red Rover" on the school playground at recess when I was in the third grade. I played this game many times during my childhood, but this one game stands out in my memory because of a specific feeling associated with it. When the team captains took turns selecting team members, I was one of the last ones chosen for a team, probably because I was one of the smallest girls in my class. After the two teams lined up for the game, the first person from the other team to run across the field in an attempt to break through our line selected me and Linda Ham, who like me, was small. We weren't strong enough to stop her, and she plowed right through our locked arms, breaking our line. I was humiliated and felt quite the failure. After that game, I was never confident in my ability to hold the line, and dreaded it whenever "Red Rover" was the selected game for recess.

This is just an example of many memories that bubble to the surface of my brain from time to time. They aren't all painful as this one was, but also joyful ones and sad ones travel through time with me. I like to remember the happy feelings - a special first kiss, holding my new baby for the first time, receiving good news, reuniting with an old friend, reaching a personal goal - the list could go on and on. It is the feelings that keep my memories alive.

Yes, I believe that feelings are time travelers. I'm glad that they are.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Starry Skies

Ever since I was a little girl, there's been something a little spooky about the night sky. I've always been in awe of the vastness of the universe, the stars too numerous to count, the beauty of the moon, and the overall notion of infinity.

One of my first recollections of a starry night is one of a Camp Fire Girl camp out. Our group from Winnona Park Elementary School spent the night at Fernbank Forest, a nature preserve between Decatur and Atlanta. After we built a fire, prepared our dinner of Camp Fire Stew cooked on the open fire, ate it up and then feasted on marshmallows toasted over the dying coals for dessert, we unrolled our bedrolls in a small clearing to spend the night under the stars. I remember lying there in the dark night gazing up into the heavens, and for the first time in my life contemplated eternity. The sky was magnificent, the stars twinkling against the black velvet backdrop of space. I was completely and totally overwhelmed with what I was observing, and then engulfed by an indescribable fear. I didn't know what I was afraid of - perhaps it was the immensity of the entire experience of feeling so very small in a universe that I couldn't comprehend or fathom. I pulled the covers up over my face and didn't peek out again until sunlight filtered through my blankets announcing a new day.

Now that I am older and possess more knowledge about the universe, light years, super novas, galaxies, an expanding universe, and so much more, I still have a little of my old childhood "spookies" when I look up at the night sky. I am in awe of creation and the unending nature of the universe. And although it is absolutely breathtaking, I still feel a twinge of that long-ago little girl fear.

I am so small and the sky is so large.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Opening Day of Jelly Season

This morning bright and early, Steve, Rachael, five little girls, and I headed out into the field for the opening day of jelly season. Each of us armed with a gallon bucket, we hit the field with an enthusiasm only seen on Opening Day. Within an hour, we had filled our buckets with bright red, ripe strawberries. Our shirts stained strawberry red from tasting as we picked, we knew that this was a very special day and our excitement was contagious to those picking berries around us. They were unaware that this was Opening Day of Jelly Season - they were only in the field to pick strawberries to take home to eat on ice cream or shortcake. A few remarked about how brave we three adults were to enter Jelly Season with all these little girls. Undaunted, we laughed and talked about making jelly as we herded the girls into our cars for the caravan trip back to my treehouse kitchen.

Once in the kitchen, the girls set to work crushing berries and squeezing the juice out of them. What a mess! But what fun! We could hardly keep up with them with washed and capped berries ready for squeezing. Once this was accomplished, we had enough juice for several batches. The jars were then prepared, lids dried, and everything was set up for jelly cooking. Five little girls learned how to count cups of sugar and how to measure carefully so that the jelly would be perfect. They also helped stir the juice in the pot, pour the sugar into the pot once it began to boil, and watch as I poured the hot liquid into the jelly jars. Of course, they had to take a taste from the skimmings to announce that the jelly tasted good enough to keep. The first batch was made, and we all waited to hear the pop of the lids telling us that the jelly was sealed securely in the jars.

Rachael prepared sandwiches for everyone, and after eating, the girls lost interest in the activity in the kitchen. Steve, Rachael and I made a few more batches of jelly and jam while they played outdoors and in the toy corner in my living room. They reappeared when it was time to place labels I had made on the jelly jars: "Strawberry Jelly, Spring 2008, Made by Elie, Charleston, Clark, Hadli and Lillie, in Aunt Jennie's Treehouse Kitchen." They each selected several jars to take home with them. With hugs and kisses, they said they wanted to come back some day to make more jelly. I imagine I'll see them again before Jelly Season is over!

As I cleaned up the sugar, spilled juice and jelly, and strawberry pulp from the kitchen counters and floor, I knew that Opening Day of Jelly Season had been a success. After strawberry comes blackberry, then wild plum, followed by scuppernong and muscadine bringing up the rear in the Fall. And who knows? We may try peach, pear, and apple this year, depending on the abundance of summer fruit. In Jelly Season, one has to be open to all possibilities.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Recurring Dream

I had it again last night. I've had this dream on a regular basis ever since I was a little girl. I was flying. I've heard that this is a common dream and one that has psychological meaning. I don't know what it could be, but my sister told me recently that she has a similar dream, so I'm thinking that it must be pretty common.

When I was a child, this dream centered around fairies, Peter Pan, and other make-believe fantasies. The dream always originated in my bedroom, where I would discover that I could float above my bed. I would then use a swimming motion to travel out the window into the outdoors and enjoy a euphoric adventure of flying above the houses and trees of my neighborhood.

As an adult, Peter Pan and fairies are no longer a part of my dream, but in many ways I am still a little girl whenever I dream this dream. It is now more of an awareness of levitating. In my dream, I realize that my feet aren't touching the floor and I slowly begin to drift skyward. It isn't an out-of-body experience - I feel that I am actually floating and I use my childhood swimming strokes to maneuver through the air, change directions and do flips and rolls. The dream is wonderful and freeing, and I always awaken with a let-down feeling of being earthbound once again.

I wish I could fly, but I know that this dream will return on another night. It always does. While gravity holds me to earth, my spirit is able to soar in my dream allowing me to escape the weight and limitations of reality.

Oh! To Fly!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Collecting Things

Recently at lunch with some co-workers, the conversation centered around our collections. As we talked about what we collected, I began thinking about all of the things that I collect. Many of my collections are accidental - things I don't intentionally collect, but things that have found their way into my home and my life. These collections simply happened. I have miniature churches, demitasse cups and saucers, two boxes of picture postcards, shells from every beach I've ever walked, baskets, children's books, pitchers, windchimes. They are all collections, but things I haven't collected on purpose. What is it then that I intentionally collect?

Days! I collect days. Days of my life, days I treasure, remember, hold onto, and write about. Happy days, sad days, fearful days, boring days - they all hold their special place in my memory. I even wrote a book entitled the same as this blog, "A Collection of Days." Many of the days I've already written about will find their way into this collection.

I have a vivid memory, although quite selective at times. I recall particular days of my life as if a photograph had been taken of them. I recall smells and colors, songs and voices, textures and sensations. In my collection of days I can also drum up emotions, conversations, feelings, and memories of the most insignificant moments of my life.

I am a collector of days. And now, as I am sixty years old, I feel drawn to write about these days, to record and share them. The only way I can pass along my collection is through writing, which is exactly what I am beginning - right now!