Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Barkley Memories - Lessons in Mythology

In classical mythology, Cerberus was the hellhound who guarded the entrance to the underworld, and greeted people at home that wanted to date my teenage daughter.

--Brigid Jr, and Barkley, on one of her many  trips to visit while she was at Boston University and I was living back East.  I met her at age 18, after giving her up for adoption.  She and Barkley became fast friends and she misses him as I do, even as we laugh at some of the photos of him.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Kindred Spirits - SciFiChick

The message came in late Sunday at a time of day when the world lay in shadows even if I felt that nothing could go wrong, after a wonderful weekend with friends, my husband safely home.  It was my friend Kymber, from up in Canada, former military, someone who is brave and gutsy and brilliant, who sees the good in everything around her.

I knew by her tone, it wasn't going to be good news

"I didn't want you to find out on Facebook, but Jodi died, Thursday night--apparent heart attack.   I knew she was a friend of yours..."
I was stunned.  The woman of whom she spoke is known as SciFiChick, one of many friends I've made over the last few years online.  She wasn't what I would think of as "old",  and had not been ill that I knew of, bearing the tactical efficiency of Clauswitz when it came to tending her land and garden, her love for it and her husband, strong. I had even sent her a note of encouragement yesterday as to how much energy she had put into her garden this year, when she'd conveyed a tenebrous message of her frustration earlier in the week that she had so much she still wanted to get done before summer's end.

And she is gone? 

I will let the family and those closest to her decide as to the release of further details as best they see fit, I only want to remember her, here, now.
She was one of many women here who share a love for the land, of the hearth, of preparedness.  Like many of the friends we make online we didn't always know everyone's birthdays or vices, but we were there for each other as we could be, support, friendship, chatting via email, exchanging recipes, and offering prayers, support  and sometimes the occasional funds when a family crises arose. I got to know her a little better when she had a bad accident in the family vehicle on an unstable piece of roadway, participating with others in a little fundraiser to get them a replacement. She immediately contacted me in thanks and we chatted like sisters. I was only happy she was safe, for the vehicle was totaled and all she had was some minor cuts and bruising, and her prescious cargo, her dog, didn't have a scratch. I remember so well, her words afterword, "Once again, I was made to understand that I wasn't quite done here yet."

I was at loss for words for my dear friend K., there in that northeast area of this land mass we call North America. For she was too in tears and hurting, the two of them being quite close, part of a small group of friends with history; with bonds that went much deeper than my own, a bond she could not yet articulate.

"I'm sorry for your loss.", was all I could say, as we waited for more details.

It took me back to the last time I had to speak such words to good people.

The place was small and starting to show its age.

The town itself was nothing more than one small living plant among an acre of weeds, robbed of vitality by the economy, its young eaten by the big cities. As I draw nearer to this modest, neat farm, I notice all the homes around here empty, grass overgrowing. Two have Obama/Biden signs still withering in the wild lawn, others with some children's toys abandoned in the grass as they left in a hurry, the only witness to their departure, the bitten and fruitless stalks of corn from that summers drought.  I noticed the small things, it's what I was trained to do.
A few hours after daylight, I approached the house, a cluster of pines shouldering the fence, drawing the whole walkway into darkness, while in the distance a dog barked futilely, without enough effort to scare away even a lone redhead. When I first pulled in, there was no movement, no light turning on, just the faint, cold and constant illumination of a cold morning. Then, the small movement of a curtain, someone looking out.

They were waiting for me, looking out the front window at the sound of the vehicle. The people who lived here would look as if they'd been born there, with the home somehow built around them, bright eyes in parchment skin, hands roughened by a lifetime of hard work. They would answer the door, not with deliberation but with patiently unassailable and unflinching weariness, for they likely already knew why I was here.
I stepped around a pile of wood at the edge of the driveway, there with a sign "self service firewood" with a pot to put your money in and take what you needed. This was a home of people that trusted.

I did not come for firewood. I had come for something else, to be the confirmation of news that would make any hardship they'd suffered in the past, pale in the light of something much worse. I would stay only as long as I had to, for there were always questions for which the answers I could not yet give. Questions that waited for me, still needing to be asked.

This was never easy. In my heart was a whirl of emotion, tears held in for too long, held in further. I wanted to look them in the eyes and just get it over with.  In an effort to compose, I looked into their home, seeing a simple cross on the wall, a black bound book on the table.  These were people who likely have a belief that honor and promise and salvation lay between the pages of that book. People that believe the vindication of their will and faith would be more than what I was about to tell them.
I then looked past them, out into the acres of a life. Land that they held on for the sole purpose of leaving it to to family, looking into the bright comedy of late Fall that hid laughing beneath the dying green.  But my face did not show this. My face showed only it's own pouched darkness beneath the eyes from being awake for 20 hours, mouth held firm, as if by doing so I could hold in the words, somehow take them back.  But I couldn't.

"I'm sorry for your loss."

You hear the words on TV uttered by people like myself, and no matter where it comes from, it sounds trite. It sounds bad when it's uttered without inflection, a formidable silence hanging over the scene.  It  sounds even worse if the words are uttered for the TV, just before the playful banter of the golf course begins again.  Whether you know the person well or not, they deserve your respect, their remembrance more than the words themselves, words that rush out from the earth, gathering around us in a shadowy embrace; words that have not only a touch in the darkness, but weight.  
It's not always easy, as I have done it myself.  Speaking of a person who's living face you've not seen, and whose name you only learned from a blackened piece of plastic and perhaps a dental record, the words don't seem real. The words are hollow and spoken as if from a cue card. It's not what you wish you could say. For that would be words in which you could somehow articulate the encompassing sense of despair and anger; despair at the loss of someone whose remains forever fly upon the tragic and inescapable sky, their ruin. Anger, because in another life, in another time, he or she might have been a neighbor, a lifetime friend.

There are never proper words, words themselves are deceiving. Taken out of context in a a journalists reports, a hastily written text or email, without the emotion or the eyes, truth becomes lies, and dreams the truth. Words are only that, words. Without the feelings behind them they are only inky blackness. I can only hope that the inadequacy of these five simple words will confirm our humanity and somehow bestow on the trite repetition, its real meaning.

"I'm sorry for your loss". The wrong words, words that should have stayed on a page of a script, hidden from anyone other than their author.

As I bore that burden to that family on that day long ago, I saw it in their eyes, they know this as well, and surprisingly the man reached out to grasp my hand, bearing stoically the fields of their devastation, reaching out to me in mine. It was not a handshake of welcome, for I was not, but it was a handshake that confirmed we were alive, with duties that still must be done.
On that day, I was brief as I could be, and left them in their silence, the only sound an old retriever in his dog run, pacing on whispering soil, his ears bobbing as he went to and fro, sensing as animals do, that something was irretrievably wrong.

There were no words for that either.

Grief is a strange beast, never showing quite the same face twice.  It burns sometimes like a rapacious cauldron flame, sometimes catches us like silent, frozen breath. Even as it fades away it stays with us, leaving scars upon us even as the coldness retreats.

I backed slowly out of the driveway, retreating like a glacier, leaving deep ruts in my wake, marks on a life that would be there til time ceased. Around me, farms, barns, fences, where people built and clawed and grew, raising families, doing what they could to hold back the wall of wilderness and death. It was a battle not without cost in life and property, that lust for life that is not lust, nor even movement, but simply that unfettered stability called freedom.

Now it simply stands, cornfield skeletons, stark, broken, flowing away as I left. Places that once seemed vastly impenetrable, diminised as the clouds wept, growing smaller and smaller, swallowed up by tears. I left slowly and as quietly as possible, never looking back, because to do so would be to lose what semblance of control I still had.
As I leave, I look out across the way, to a vacant house, in which someones dreams were foreclosed. We go into life eyes open, running wild. We make it through our teen years, driving like idiots and taking inordinate chances. Still in our 20's we usually don't worry about financial loss, death or even taxes. We vote for the slickest campaign slogan, we scarf down food that's bad for us. We are still young. We have so much time left, the rest of our time, with years ahead, all pretty and shiny and new. We still have dreams; of love and trust and living a wide open life that others will accept. We don't understand.

I didn't at first either, bounding into life and love with a pocket full of primers and a knife large enough for any bad news. There was nothing but being alive, of being in love, of buying that dream of believing in good, even as it left you black and blue.  But with the years comes truth, and soon you know that life isn't always safe, and you take the risks, knowing in the risk that you are truly alive, to do what you are afraid of, to love strongly and free, is to be truly alive.

It's better to be afraid than to cease to breathe.
Those of you that are young, when you are middle aged, you will understand. For just like love, life is a risk, never a possession. With that risk comes loss, with loss comes understanding; that happiness is more than the embracement of that which possesses the possibilities on which you can establish the structure of your life, it is something within yourself.

For our friend Jodi, she had found that, her place, her spot of land.  It now embraces her, as she did it, for each shared the same resilient and passionate soul, the ability to take some hesitant and half -formed resolve and till and weed and shape it with sweat and tears and occasionally blood, into dense, abundant life. She understood, as our friend K. does, what it meant to live life on ones own terms, on one's own homestead; to take counsel with the great solitude that is a plot of earth, the running of fresh water, the whisper of soil and sky that proves to some souls to be an irresistible draw. I hope she carried that place with her Home, as we are called to remember her in what remains.

For her friends that knew her better than I, I offer you my prayers and these words.  For her husband, my deepest condolences, as the shadows of the earth gather around him, and somewhere above, an angel spreads her hands out over the earth.
 - Brigid

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Steam-Punked Sunday

I hit paydirt on fun this weekend.  After Saturdays activities with Partner in Grime, today I got to hang out with someone who was not only partnered up with me at work for five years, back in the day, but was, and is, still like family. Like most folks who work as a team, we have few secrets, which can be good or bad, depending on who is listening :-) and his two sons inherited the collection of Matchbox cars and Hot Wheels that were Big Bro's and mine, as I wanted his youngsters to have them. They're a little young for them yet, but I can't wait until they are old enough to appreciate them.

But other than a few quick coffee meet and greets, when he was visiting the area, we hadn't seen each other like this for a while, his having moved  to take a great opportunity for a different and challenging job far away.  It had been almost 3 years since we just hung around one of our houses, like the old days.  But he moved back at the start of the summer, and life resumed as it had been, just with  an increase in the number of spouses, kids and/or pets.
It was great to have him back full time, with lazy weekend days, like today, to just hang out, the former Marine who could take names and take out a gnat at probably 1000 feet, now married to a beautiful and brilliant woman, with two little ones, a house. . . and a cat?   How times bring change to all of us, I thought,  happy to see him so content, now back home, with his family, just as he was so glad to see me settle down with Partner in Grime.  Catching up, is always good, the conversations today covering sniper gear and in invasion of wild raccoons (a story only for the cone of silence), silencers, bad home repairs, and beer, while the boys played with their boys in the next room.

Today, was just like old times, sharing laughs, sharing some hobbies.
 Lately, it's steam - and not in farm equipment, but as in punk.
I can't quite rock a corset the way his wife can, but we all have some serious fun putting together gear to wear.

Leathers fun to work with as I have learned from my friends. You can make coasters.  You can make holsters.

You can make Steampunk Goggles.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Tri State Gas Engine and Tractor Show

And you thought I was going to be at home blogging?  :-)
 Not a chance. 
 There is just something about old machinery, things that have served a purpose, that still do, even if it's just maintaining the values of a past generation.
You go to these events and there's hundreds of people. There's no trash laying on the ground;  everyone picking up after themselves.  Everyone is polite.  No one's pants are hanging down to their knees with their underwear on show. 
 Items from the past are on display and for sale, many with their own stories to tell.
The language spoken is English and the only flags you see are those of the United States.  No one is using the F-Bomb as a verb as family relaxed, played, laughed with their Dads and said Grace over a giant Pork Tenderloin sandwich.
 It's the hard won, and hard worked for, respect of those that understand a way of life that may be in the past, but can still be the benchmark of how they live their life today.
This is the world's largest antique engine and tractor show. Featuring Minneapolis Moline tractors and Illinois built engines, this show has about every type of tractor I've ever seen.

Tri State Gas Engine and Tractor Show, in Portland, Indiana.
I loved this one which I called the Craftmatic Adjustable Tractor.
And then there were the more unusual ones.
Gas engines are like roaches you get one and they multiply.History, here in your backyard
With temps in the low 80's, some clouds and lots of trees for shade,  it was a great day to wander around. 
I just spotted a bike! A bicyle built for two.
OK, who is actually steering? (At which point, I saw this couple in their 80's on a golf cart.  The wife was driving.  She had red hair.)
Indiana manufactured steam engine.
I don't have a clue who this is, but he wanted his picture taken by the redhead.  We met some really fun people here today.
Indiana's own Heck-icopter.  It flew once, briefly in 1962 after the original Chrysler engine was removed so it would be a little lighter.  It's made out of mostly housing supplies and is probably the motor from a Cuisinart, I think.  I did not offer to take it around the patch.
Murphy's Law - no, you don't' want to buy one.  Though it might make a dandy greenhouse.
The area had 7 inches of rain the other night, a lot of the fairgrounds was so muddy it was impassable, and unfortunately, there were some lanes of tractors we couldn't walk to.
Say, another car is stuck.  Too bad we don't have something to pull it out .

Oh wait...
But we did see some unique ways to get around.  Vehicles of every shape, kind and size, and for all ages.
The King Midget Micro Car.  First on the cover of Popular Mechanics in 1951, it was advertised as the "500 pound vehicle for $500" you could build in your garage.

Paint flames on the side and you're good to go!
 A classic, even today.
This one is for Keads and Larry.
I remember this beauty from previous years. 

A warm but happy yellow Lab, enjoying some time in the shade. I packed us a picnic, ham sandwiches on homemade bread with watermelon and cookies.  But the Fest had all kinds of food from Indiana's famous tenderloin sandwiches to giant baked potatoes with everything but the kitchen sink on them.
For PA State Cop
And for Old NFO - the "Grey Man" Tractor
I could just watch this all day.
People had so many little creative tools, using the force of gas, motion and steam.

Yes, that's a tiny working cement mixer in the center.
You don't learn to do make things like this playing video games all day.
 (a miniature opposed  cylinder engine)

The  Maytag repairman is still standing around.
 That would be a "no"
Break time!  Partner In Grime is reconsidering his iced tea and is eyeing  my blue raspberry shaved ice.
You dispose of the trash, I'll meet you over by the "one armed man" bathrooms.
Then, it's time to head back to the crash pad in Indy after we wash up.  I know a little dog who will ready to see us, even if she got a nice walk today.
I think this day calls for an All American supper once we get back.
Cheeseburgers with grilled onions and home made fries.

We did bring home some of the  incredible "kettle korn" from Indiana Veteran owned  Mom N' Pops Kettle Korn, (momnpopskettlekornllc@gmailcom to bring some to your church, school, fundraiser, fair or fest.)  Not only was it the best I've ever had, the folks making it were so nice, making me a fresh hot bag, even though there were other bags pre-made on the table for those looking to grab-and-go. 
Best snack ever!
Thanks for sharing the day, but it's time to say goodnight.  Right now I have a sunburned nose,
 wild hair and "tractor butt",  but also a whole bunch of good memories.