Monday, September 10, 2012


When I was 16 we lived in Illinois and that summer I got to go back to Alabama, my home state, and visit -- with a car! While I was driving between my grandmothers' homes, they live about 100 miles apart, I passed my Great-great-aunt Darthuley's home. She was in her 90s and was working out in her garden. I stopped. I had to stop. She was wearing a faded pink "house dress" and a bright blue bonnet.

She knew who I was as soon as I spoke.  I helped her gather her vegetables and among the bounty, I carried a full basket of peppers into her kitchen. Her stove was on the "screened-in" porch and the big white enameled triple bowled sink was in by the stove.  Out in the yard, on a table made of tin roof sheets, she had about a 1000 drying peppers. As I washed the tomatoes and beans and onions and okra and carrots and turnips and peas and peppers, as I was told to do, I watched though the window as she was scurrying around in the yard closing up the barn and tool shed. She called out,"a cloud's a coming!, Come gather up these peppers so they don't get wet." I ran out with a basket and we gathered them up. As soon as we got on the porch, the sky turned black, hail started pounding the house and barn’s tin roof, and the wind rolled in. The table roof sheets flew across the yard and hit the pump house. "Thumb bolt the door!," she cried and I saw a black funnel across an 80 acre field. It was about 40 ft. wide full of dirt, trees, and stuff. A tractor umbrella was floating around it in a pure tilted spiral.

Clinging to “Aunt Darthuley’s” tiny frail body, I watched in amazement as the tornado whipped behind the field and was gone! The rain came and stopped in short time. The Sun was setting and golden rays pierced the scattered clouds behind the storm and made the just passed east bound storm glow an unforgettable green.

Nothing was hurt too much, a tree fell across her drive and the power went off. We hugged in thankfulness and she pulled me to my knees and whispered a beautiful prayer. I couldn’t leave, we had no phone or power, and we had vegetables to tend to.

She got out candles and found a “coal oil” lantern. I was tasked with the peppers and started to thread the dried ones on an upholstery needle and package string. At some point I interrupted my stringing and went back to the basket of fresh peppers and separated the varieties. It wasn’t long until my eyes started burning!, Oh God!, did they burn. As the pump was off we didn’t have water except a plastic pitcher of cold water in the refrigerator. Aunt Darthuley poured the cold water across my eyes and wet a dish cloth and I covered them the rest of the night. We sat in the dark, me in the double dark, and she told me stories. She told me about growing up with my great-grandmother and about my great-great-grandfather and my great-great-great-grandfather that was in “the War,” the Civil War.

In the morning my eyes still burned but I was able to help my uncle clear the trees and soon I was on my way with a precious terrifying memory.

On her death bed, Aunt Darthuley told that story and laughed and laughed about the eye burning part. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

On being a parent and being an idiot...

I wish I could take it back. I wish I could read a little boy's mind like I've been saying I can. Last night I felt about 2" tall.

Mack is ready to learn to roll his kayak. I think I am ready. Carol and I got him a new kayak for Christmas and he's been excited about being a "real kayaker" and learning to roll ever since. I took him to a local pool with his new boat a couple of weeks ago and he loved it. We did some drills, he learned how to put on a skirt, and he repeatedly demonstrated that he could pull the skirt and escape his boat if he flipped over. I beamed with pride as he paddled around the pool showing comfort and good boat control.

I've taught many to roll a kayak, but teaching Mack to roll... well, it just seemed like an invitation to disaster for the Dad and Son to work on something so technical. Of all the things I can give him, a peaceful interest is paramount. I’d love it if he were to love whitewater as I do. The last thing I want to do is to have him associate whitewater with conflict with his father. I thought I'd seek professional help. I talked to Liquid Adventures and they were great. Mack is a little too young for their Juniors class but they would find him a private instructor. I got an email yesterday that they suggested Ashley Nee, the 2010 Women's National Champion and strong contender for the Olympics. Wow! He's a lucky kid.

I talked to Carol and we're all excited. This is great, it's a bit expensive, but for something so critical and for a lifelong skill it was manageable. We called Mack in to tell him and show him the school and Ms. Nee on the Internet.

Dad: "Mack, here's your new kayaking instructor. She's great, the 2010 Women's Champion and hopefully we'll get to watch her in the Olympics this Summer! Isn't that great?"

Mack: (with obvious disappointment) "Yeah, OK. Can I go back to what I was doing?"

Dad: "Aren't you excited? Look at these photos of her running some hard water....

Mack: (silence)...

Dad: "Aren't you excited? Look at this photos of her running a waterfall. See the kids in the school? ...

Mack: (silence)

Dad: (sternly) Are you that spoiled? This is expensive and most kids would die for a chance like this."

Mack: (silence)...

Dad: "You don't have anything to say?"

Mack: (silence, his head is dropped) ... .... ...

Dad: (after a long period of silence) "Ok, you little ungrateful bastard, go on back to your video game or whatever, I just can't believe that you're that spoiled. Maybe you shouldn't even have lessons."

Mack: (in tears, runs into the other room.)

Mom: "Let me see what's going on." (Carol follows Mack into the other room.)

Mom: (coming back to see me.) "You owe him an apology."

Dad: "For what? We've spoiled him rotten. He's not satisfied with the best? I don't know what else to do for him."

Mom: "You want to know what he said?"

Dad: "I hope he has a story."

Mom: "I asked him if he wasn't excited about learning to roll? Mack replied, "Oh yes, Momma, I really want to be a good kayaker. I know that learning to roll is really important." So I said, “what's wrong?” Mack said, "I thought Daddy was going to teach me.""