In the mornings, as I am getting ready, I listen to audiobooks -the classics. Between writing, work, family and daily reading… it’s just something I need. I’ve been listening to John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra. This morning I had to turn it off.
You see, the need to roam is cutting deep.
The women of my family always taught to mix both work and pleasure into my day. Both, because they each provide the soul with something it needs -accomplishment, pleasure, appreciation.
So today, I will work on a query letter for the novel I’ve just completed. I will find something in the house that needs organizing and cleaning. I will read a little, take a walk between storms if possible, watch an old movie.
And, I will dream about returning to Key West, soaking up the hot sun and sounds of happy people. I will read about the lobstering towns along the coast in Maine and make notes for ‘someday’.
I will hear John Muir’s wistful words, his reverence and love of the Sierras in my mind!
I hope this day finds you all happy and healthy. And, I hope you find joy in it as well.
As I walked in the rain this early morning, I paused, looked about appreciatively at the gray skies, raised my face to the cool breeze. Everything was fresh and clean. And as so often happens, with each step my mind held to the places I still long to see- Japan, France.
Immediately, within my mind I saw the places of my reading; how sadly the pragmatic in me pushed against my dominant romantic self, reminding that things are not as they once were.
And yet, I wonder.
When I visit these places – because you see, I am sure I will -will I find the glimmer of times past, old ideals lingering there?
Often these days I look about filled with disdain and long to seclude myself and wander alone, hold tight to my peace and appreciation of what beauty in the world remains.
I know that just as places must change, so too must the people. We are not the same as we were 10, 30 years ago. Individuals have changed; society has changed.
While I know this, my romantic heart longs for truth in man, loyalty -the soul which holds tightly to ideals of family and home. But, I am afraid these things are like spent leaves of last season, clinging to the relenting branch.
Yet, I must believe we can take heart, thank God that the time will come again -the seasons will change and the green of youth, the unfurling of the bud and leaf, admirable ideals -all will be reborn and flourish again.
This morning, I dropped my granddaughter, Bug, off in Gadsden. She was with me for two evenings and a day. I am specific about the time, because the time is so precious –Every Minute Counts.
Our first evening, as we sat on the front porch together, I asked: “What do you want to talk about?”
“Well, let’s listen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and talk about what we are gonna cook tomorrow!”
I listened. And realized that when Bug said she wanted to cook dinner, and wanted to bake a pumpkin pie that that was exactly what she meant. It was really how she wanted to spend our time together.
Though we have often baked together, we have never prepared and cooked an entire meal. So, I explained it would take up a great deal of our day. Bug said she didn’t care and got busy creating the menu: BBQ chicken, (No surprise there. I remember when she was four and decided it was to be breakfast; and it was.), mashed potatoes, fresh green beans, and garlic/cheese biscuits. And, let’s not forget the pumpkin pie.
And you see, it was with the pumpkin pie that I almost messed up. I almost acted like an adult and suggest a more seasonally appropriate dessert. You know –lemon icebox, key lime or a cobbler. Thank goodness I paused and realized this was not about food, this was all about her –and she had suggested pumpkin because it was what she had set her heart on!
The kid knocked dinner out of the park! It was amazing. But, it was the time we spent together snapping the beans, peeling the potatoes, and baking the pie that I will never forget. I hope she doesn’t either. It was simple, and it was sweet -a summer memory wrapped up in preparing and enjoying a meal together.
The second part of the Romania lecture on WE SHARE THE SAME SKY was to expound how WE tie our memories to emotions; emotions that are most often linked to people, places and food. Because I’ve opened by sharing the recent cooking experience with Bug, I will skip the introduction and jump to the excerpt.
From WE SHARE THE SAME SKY, a memoir NYC 2007
Last year, when I began planning this trip, I purchased three guide books of the city. While mapping out Chinatown, I was surprised to find that there are almost 300 restaurants within the neighborhood’s boundaries. Some sounded better than others, and although I had my list of wants written out well before I left home, I have found that once I get into an area several things tend to dictate choice. The first two are my mood, and the prolific bragging of locals. Often as not, however, I choose a place to dine based on nothing more than the way a place feels.
Today, I am looking for an eatery called Sweet-n-Tart Cafe. My new friend Karen suggested I try the congee, a type of rice porridge. In the South, there is a particular fondness for a dessert that is also considered a staple. In our home that staple was rice pudding. It ranked right up there with the various biscuit topped cobblers: blackberry, peach or sweet potato. Rice pudding even held its own at the table when presented along with butter pound cake. All these family recipes were handed down over the years. Along the way, others crept in. Some were come across accidently and yet others long searched for -like the recipe for Lillian Carter’s Peanut Butter Pound Cake.
Rice pudding back home is a buttery, dense pudding loaded with vanilla, sugar and a pinch of cinnamon. The overall consistency can be described as velvety. Usually it arrives at the table crusted with a browned sugar and butter topping. It is wonderful hot from the oven, at room temperature and even straight from the fridge, ice cold. Like banana nut bread, rice pudding is a staple breakfast food as often as it is dessert.
During my childhood, rice pudding appeared most often when times were lean. Those were the days when a summer evening meal consisted of fresh scrubbed vegetables from the garden and fish from the trotline. Lean dinners in the winter were often bowls of pintos and cornbread or skillet fried potatoes with onions. As the seasons changed, fish gave way to game: fried dove or quail with gravy, braised rabbit, smoked turkey or venison. All of these could be taken within a five-mile radius of our home. The variety may not have been great, but there was usually plenty. Biscuits with butter, cornbread with sorghum, molasses or honey -these were present at almost every meal. Other times, they were the meal. More staples. How often I sat at the kitchen table during the late evening with Grandpa, feasting on only this and black coffee. I wish I could remember the things we talked about and the stories he told as clearly as I remember the food. Just as there was always Grace before dinner in one grandparent’s house, there were always stories in the other. Rice pudding, however, was common at both dinner tables.
Cash Only is posted on the door to the tiny restaurant. As of yet, this has been the hardest adjustment I’ve had to make in the city. Thank goodness the guidebooks warn tourist up-front. If not, it would probably be as close as you could get to having a Southern woman in true distress. At the counter, I order the Congee with Hong Dou. “Good for you,” says the man nodding his approval and making a circular motion with his hand around the stomach.
“Thank you,” I tell him. It is all I know to say.
Congee is made by cooking rice with water until it breaks down into a porridge- like consistency. It is usually flavored one of two ways: salty and robust with flavorful meat, or glutinous and sweet with red beans, dates and palm sugar. I am in want of the latter.
The congee arrives and the serving is more than I anticipated. It is a meal and has the wet consistency of porridge rather than the thickness I associate with rice or bread pudding which, when scooped, holds together. I have to admit to being somewhat put-off by the addition of beans. Trying it though, I am pleased and notice a chewiness that regular rice pudding does not have. It is warm, sweet and heavy, very much a comfort food. Admittedly, it is probably healthier than the rice pudding I grew up on because it is cooked without butter and cream.
Rice and water- potato and water-
Pasta and water-
These were the things of their dinners on
Nights when I was not well.
My dinner was the water-
Not rich, nor thick; not warm nor cold.
“It will make you better,” they said.
“Drink it. Drink it.”
All those smells -the aroma of the feast-
Filled the air and the sounds of their
Happy voices and excited fragments of
Floated down to my room
And under my door
Where I sat propped upon pillows,
Muscles filled with intangible aches
From lack of work or movement in play
And I listened idly to a word here or
Hoping for some form
To be a part of things -their thing again.
I knew when I wrote the scene in CENTIPEDE where Willie runs through the tall grass along the waters of Muscle Shoals that this would be the song the air carried!
Excerpt from CENTIPEDE:
In the following weeks, Willie found there was something mystical about Florence and Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Here, further north, she found the mountains more craggy, the Tennessee River powerful and strong, streams teamed with wildlife. Green grasses grew in clumps along the river banks; in the surrounding fields the grass blades were so fat they had to be double the size of any she had ever seen. And, the breeze that lifted, drifted out across the river brought back strange exotic smells that played rich upon the nose, an odd scent that smelled both dirty and clean at the same time.
Willie paused in her walk, noticing that she felt something similar to how she had felt before losing her family. At first she couldn’t put her finger on it. But, as she moved through the tall grasses and raised her face to the gentle breeze, she understood it was the feeling of being part of nature. For this, she was thankful. She knew she would never be the same again but at least she didn’t feel as broken. Just lonesome and sorry that she no longer had Cotton and her mother. Missing them was the hardest part. But the deep, restless worry that had plagued her was losing its hold on her mind and she was learning to once again see the things around her, appreciate nature and the comfort it contained.
Slowing, she tilted her head, listening intently. The low melodic winds blowing across the river blended with the sound of its gurgling urgency; together they seemed to sing. Willie took flight, running through the woods before her, beneath the tall pines and evergreens, over the mounds of deep, tall grass, trailing her fingers against the blades. The faster she ran, the louder the music and enchanted singing hummed against her ears.
There is magic here, she realized.
At the middle of the field almost hidden from the tall razor edged grass, Willie came to a sudden halt and squatted down on her haunches. She gazed steadily toward the wood line and listened intently to the katydids clattering in the distance. They seemed to rise and draw closer as if they were moving toward her. She closed her eyes and heard them draw nearer. Opening her eyes she noticed the dense growth of trees around her. They too had come closer! A sly smile spread across her face. Indians are here, shiftin’ on quiet feet behind the trees as they watch me, the blonde girl, interloper in their woods!
A gathering of crows, their dark bodies frenetically moving, flying among the uppermost branches suddenly lit and began their raucous squawking. She stood very still and sniffed the air, sucking in the clean freshness of it. Like fuel, it lit her from within and she set off running again, her movement liquid like a too-full creek, like water forced between smooth stones, movement tunneled too long and then freed to rush up and outward, directionless.
Run! Run! Run! The shoals called across the fields. So Willie did, and the shoals rewarded her with a song…
“Well, good moooornin’, Captain. Good moornin’ to you, Sir –Hey heeey yeaah. Oh, do you need another mule skinner, Down on your new mud run? Hey heeey yeah. Yodel –a-eeeee-he-he, He-he-he-he-he-he…”
Willie reached out and grabbed the song as she ran, made it her own. She might not know about mule skinning but she knew all about running free.
Dolly Parton, “Mule Skinner Blues”. https://youtu.be/Fwc1FkkWulc
It is 8:50 a.m. here in Alabama and it is a warm morning with clear blue skies. Up early, I went for a long walk and along the way began working over in my mind exactly what I want to share about growing up here in the southern United States when I get to Romania.
(Excerpt from the memoir, We Share the Same Sky)
I once put the Christmas tree up during July because I wanted to celebrate Christmas again with my children. The year before had been a rough one and I felt we had been cheated.
We dropped the air conditioner down so low the windows fogged over, then closed the blinds, and baked cookies while listening to our favorite carols. That evening we curled up on the couch and watched The Bishop’s Wife, The Bells of St Mary’s and of course It’s a Wonderful Life, classics the children had never seen.
Although I’ve not put the tree up at odd times of the year again, I have begun stretching out my enjoyment of the holiday. Our Christmas this year in Alabama was unseasonably hot. Now that the temps have dropped, I’ve begun taking long drives early in the morning and late at night, listening to my favorite CDs.
Susan Boyle’s rendition of Perfect Day has become worn. As I missed this production of it in 2011, I was shocked to find it filmed in the place it most reminds me of. Always, from the first moment I heard it, the lyrics have made me long for Central Park, a day there, roaming alone.
@ElizabethMozley & @CentipedeYAread
And on Facebook – We Share the Same Sky, author Elizabeth Mozley
We Share the Same Sky, a memoir
Ugh-this weather! Spring in the South is unpredictable at best. Warm temps for weeks, days spent working in the yard and throwing the windows wide to let in the warm breeze while deep cleaning, and now this, a cold streak.
As I load the grandbaby and drive her back to Gadsden, I notice the temperature gauge in my car. It reads 40 degrees. And, it is raining. When I park and walk her in, I realize with a start that this time last year, Isaac and I were in England and Whales. From daybreak until sunset we had walked in the rain, chilled to the bone. This morning looks, smells and feels identical –identically miserable. In Ireland several days later, the rain had tapered off but the persistent chill lingered. I dreamt of luxuriously hot baths and my own bed. With just this brief lapse of time, memories of the trip now hold a golden patina. Until this morning, I’d forgotten the soul-sucking weather.
We could be half-way to a city we have never seen…
This thought brings a smile and a deep yearning for some place warm; for does not warmth sometimes bring with it happiness?
A trip today is impossible. But soon enough there will be time. Today, I can enjoy rural Alabama.
Although it is cold now, I know the Southern sun will burn away the chill quickly.
And it does, almost immediately. The rain stops, the clouds clear.
Perhaps there are minute things about us, as people, that change as we grow but our base –the principal part of us -seems to stay the same. I seek out warmth and comfort when out-of-sorts. And, a book to get lost in.
For me, sublime is defined as a warm place to snuggle in and read, breathe in fresh air and be lulled to sleep by songbirds and sunshine. When I was young, I’d hike Dunnaway Mountain behind my parent’s home in search of the perfect spot. Today, I am wandering along a friend’s pastureland. Happily, I do not know where their property ends and someone else’s begins!
Private Property –what does that mean, exactly?!
God gave me long legs for a reason~
I find a cozy spot with an amazing view and settle in to read. Yet all around I find things that draw the eye.
What is it about the smell of cedar that draws? The smell of the oils that seep within your skin..
I concentrate on the travel book I’ve read a half a dozen times. Frances Mayes writes about old towns, culture and WORK! It is why I return to her writings again and again. When I squint, the sun dances between my lashes. It is so warm.
I awaken to the sound of hooves against hard soil. A massive bull has unknowingly run near me and it is the sound of his hooves -the mighty weight of his hooves slurping against the pull of red Alabama mud-that jolts me completely awake. Jesus, God and Mary! Until this moment, I’d been unaware there was a bull in the pasture!
Walking calms. I gather my things and decide to roam the hills; one more beautiful than the other calls until I am there, looking back across the lake and beyond to another even more glorious field that beacons as well. My darling cousins, the Pentecost clan, lived on a farm. I was always envious of their lolling pastureland that sidled up to Green Valley Mountain.
There are three tiny woodland ducks on the water. They are small enough to be bass bait. Two dive below the glossy surface of the water and I find myself counting. 1, 2, 3, 4… Just as I catch my breath, they resurface and the three swim on. They continue on in this way, two disappear deep down below. And, I wonder –does one always stay atop, afloat as watchman, or does he count his brothers’ time off down below; do they keep score, these animals free to play?
A lone swan swims, seeming not to have a care in the world.
I want to be that swan.
@ElizabethMozley & @CentipedeYAread
And on Facebook – We Share the Same Sky, author Elizabeth Mozley
We Share the Same Sky, a memoir