To that I am

(taken from a fastwrite exercise prompt from Telling the Truth-Writing as a Path of Self-Awakening at WWF(a)C)mystery

To her I am danger – to him I am irrelevant.  To her I am the first – to him a sunshine.  To them I am curious-to us I am useful- to he I am a student – to him I am an ass.  To that I am an icon – to them I am a voice.  To he I am a groomer – to them I am a nuisance – to her I am a savior – to her I am a demon.  To it I am a lover- to that I am a wizard.

To the experience-I am an architect – to the olive, I am an eater.  To the Bourbon with two cubes of ice, I am a worshipper of time.  To the sweater I am stuffing-to the road I am kin-to the desert I am a pilgrim-to silence I am a devotee.  To hygiene I am a rebel -to the unborn I am a chosen void -to lineage I am an escapist.  To the city I am a virgin-to the mountains I am a beginner-to Love I am food-To God I am, I am.

To her I am danger – to him I am irrelevant.  To her I am the first – to him a sunshine.  To cigarettes I am a quitter – to them, I am curious.

Allison for the Poplar Grove Muse

finding god…

For me, spirituality is a very practical thing.  My grandfather always wanted me to come to church, and I understand that concern, that desire, that lifestyle.  Church can be a beautiful place full of haunting music, lovely woodwork, a chorus of voices and a sea of smiling faces wishing each other well, a community, a place to find god.  But Grandpa, I wanted to say, I find god at the farmers market in the eyes of the man who raised the animals, slaughtered them humanely, and carried the heavy coolers full of them to the lot where I can purchase them to feed my family.  I find god in the smell of that meat cooking in my kitchen, surrounded by a colorful assortment of fresh vegetables that I also carried home in a green cloth bag from the market where I talked with the tan-faced man who, I noticed, still had dirt under his fingernails as he traded his work for my money.  I find god in the hot panting breath of my dog as she comes in tired and happy from a long grass-eating, tree-sniffing, leash-pulling walk.  I find god in the green eyes of my daughter, constantly questioning, seeking, looking to learn.  I find god in the prickle of my lover’s beard along the back of my neck in the quiet dark, his hand on my hip.  I find god in the fullness of my uterus and breasts during part of each month and in the heavy red flow that arrives with heralded predictability.  I find god in my own two bare feet as they meet the cool earth in spring.  I find god in the space between my in-breath, as I reach up for my first sun salutation, and the out-breath that follows as I fold over to meet my knees.  I find god in the trees and hills of this southern Indiana countryside that I was born in, raised in, that I bike through each day and in the sore muscles that wake me after the first long ride of the season.  I find god in the gurgle of cold water making its way over rocks, in the soft cooing of the dove couple that comes to drink from my bird bath, in the smell of fresh cut grass.  More than once I have found god in the gut-wrenching evacuation of my dinner into the cold, wet porcelain of a toilet bowl in the middle of the night and found god again in the sweet relief of my own perfectly rumpled pillow afterwards.  I have found god in the weathered, worn hands of the man on the street corner holding a cardboard sign and in the warmth of those hands as the bag of organic baby carrots passed from mine to them.  And, I find god in the words of other women’s voices that I hear sitting in circle in a charming old school house.   I find god in the still space inside myself that holds them carefully, with care, listening from the depth of my spirit.  It is this spirit, this god, the one I know is seeking me in this myriad of living ways, that I seek with all that I live and breathe and do.

 

DRH for The Poplar Grove Muse

Mornings Must Be the Hardest

He almost always stumbled out of their bedroom well before she did, an urgent call to the bathroom propelling him as fast as his dilapidated knees and metal walker could manage.  Then to the coffeepot to push the start button, confident that she had scooped in the coffee and poured in the water before she’d gone to bed.  Sometimes he’d take a quick nap in his recliner in the little TV room adjoining the kitchen before the bell signaled that the coffee was ready.  Sometimes he’d turn on the lamp and read a chapter in his Western.

She’d pass through the door into the TV room and veer right into the bathroom, squinting in the light.  She told us that she’d come out of the bathroom one morning recently, before he’d been rushed to the closest hospital by ambulance, before he’d spent those last five days in the hospital, and he’d said, “Why don’t you come here and give me a kiss, Polly?” And she did.  She’d kissed him smack on the lips before she went to the kitchen to pour her half cup of coffee and to heat his up a little.  She told us: “He must’ve known something was going on, something wasn’t right.  We really didn’t kiss much anymore—you know, we’re old people.” She kind of laughed and sighed as tears filled her eyes.  “I’m glad I kissed him.  What am I going to do without George?”

They’d drink their first cup of coffee, side by side in their matching recliners, reading their library books, or maybe she would read her Bible, or sometimes they’d talk in the hush of the morning about what they were going to do that day: mow the yard, pick tomatoes, go to the Dutch Discount to pick up a few groceries.  Then she would start breakfast—almost always two sausage patties and two eggs for him, and a bowl of cereal for herself; sometimes toast, buttered then browned under the broiler, and a spoonful of her strawberry preserves.

She said the first morning she walked into their little sitting room, after we’d all gone home and she was there by herself, she’d cried and cried because he wasn’t there in his recliner.  The house was too empty, too quiet. And no one had pushed the button on the coffeepot.

 

Glenda Breeden for The Poplar Grove Muse

 

Rowing to my Own Shore

stock-photo-19887951-a-small-empty-red-row-boat-docked-in-a-lakeWe learn and teach and as we go

each woman sings~ each woman’s hands are

water wings.  From “Water Women”

by Alla Renee Bozarth

I was pushed out of a very rocky and leaky boat twenty-five years ago. I went against my will, as I had only had this one boat for so many years that I was sure I would never feel at home in a new boat. The problem was, I had never even touched the oars in the old boat. They were never offered and up to that point, I had not dared to take them on my own. I knew how to swim, so I thought maybe I would tread water until a lifesaver floated my way. It took a while for me to realize that I was the lifesaver that I could teach myself to walk on water.

The more I treaded, the stronger I became, and I began to rise up out of the water. I spied a shore with a brand new boat bobbing tantalizingly at the water’s edge.

This is my boat, I said loud and clear to myself and to the whole world. The oars fit my hands perfectly. I painted my boat red, my new power color. Passengers in my new boat were by invitation only. No one stayed if they were toxic. I wasn’t the only one who could be pushed out of a boat.

My boat liked its new sheltering boathouse, but it also liked to travel. We’ve been on many journeys, many adventures, my boat and I.

Sometimes it springs a leak and I often surprise myself when I realize I have gathered just the right tools for the task at hand, and they are always ready.

Rebekah Spivey for the Poplar Grove Muse

2016

#firstsevenjobs

  1. Babysitter. My first babysitting gig, aside from helping my mom in the nursery at church from early on, was wataching a newborn across the street in third grade. I was probably really hired as an early warning system for my mom, at home across the street, but I never called her. Throughout high school I babysat an unbelievable number of hours at 50 cents an hour. My regular gigs were mainly with three families: three spoiled preschool daughters of my dad’s racquetball buddy, who underpaid and made it worse by giving the money to the girls to give to me, who then refused to give part of it up; the four kids through the backyard, two older boys who bullied my own brother, and two girls much younger—while I would be getting the littles in bed, the boys would raid the cookie jars and I never knew if I should just let the parents assume I ate a ton of cookies or admit that the boys were not always in my control—to make THIS situation worse, the father would often insist on driving me home around a long block in a dubiously sober condition, when I just wanted to run the 400 yards through our backyards to home; and a family of two sweet boys, and later a little girl, who never had ANYTHING to eat in the house—I sat for every Viking game and a weekly gig I later learned was AA for five long years, got the job when my next-door-neighbor dropped the younger boy off the changing table and broke his arm, but didn’t own up to it. In my junior year, I bought my own $1800 Loree oboe with my earnings. That’s a lot of 50-cent hours.
  2. Substitute Paper Person. The same neighbor who dropped the toddler off the changing table and got me my steadiest babysitting job had a paper route, and would ask me to sub when she went to figure skating competitions out of town. This usually meant a Sunday substitution, which meant heavier papers, more configuring of sections and advertisements, and more unfamiliar delivery addresses, hard to read in the early Minnesota dark by streetlight. Once I learned that I wasn’t getting her full payment for doing the route (which may have been fair due to the horrors of collection my husband describes from his paper route, but didn’t seem so at the time), I was much less inclined to help her out.  I will always be grateful to my wonderful, amazing, always-kind younger brother for helping me out on these mornings, in cheerful, selfless, encouraging spirits.
  3. Toy Factory Line Worker. The summer after my junior year of high school, I applied for jobs all over suburban Minneapolis within the radius I could get to on my beloved red Raleigh Grand Prix. Because my family was moving to Detroit mid-summer, and because I admitted that in applications, all I could get was this miserable factory job at Lakeside Industries. It was a real education. I worked on a line, with almost no bathroom breaks, standing for 8+ hours, snapping open box tops and bottom for Superfection, placing the game into the box at whatever breakneck speed the line was running at. We also made Barrel of Monkeys, Hold the Mustard, Pass the Ketchup. My boss, an alcoholic ex-con, really had it in for me and the only other college-bound high schooler, and made life as uncomfortable as possible, ultimately assigning me to the toy makeup room, where we worked in high heat, our bodies covered in plastic gloves, aprons, hair covers, and booties that melted onto our skin. I became a vegetable for those weeks, couldn’t read, or even watch television in the evenings, couldn’t focus on much of anything. I used to take a slight detour to walk by the woman who had just gotten a pin for working a drill press for 25+ years and gawk.
  4. Bank Data Processing Balance Sheet Checker. I spent the worst summer of my life, after living with friends to finish high school in Minneapolis, in my parents’ new home just north of Detroit. My dad got me a night shift job working in one of the bank data processing centers in his new company, in bombed-out Pontiac, with the wives of men who worked in the auto shops, plus a few unemployable guys who turned out to be drug addicts and thieves. Our job was to scan endless computer printouts of long account balances to find any mistakes and balance the totals. Some of these women were amazing at this surprisingly high-skill task; I was not. I ended up filling in where needed, answering phones (something I’ve never been good at, once accidentally cut off my own father when he called to talk to my boss).  One memorable night a hugely obese co-worker answered the phone to a personal call, and immediately broke into wild wailing and sobbing; she had just had some medical tests, and I assumed a dire cancer diagnosis. In fact, Elvis had died, and half the office packed up and went off to Graceland for the next week.
  5. Work Study Jobs at Northwestern University. My first assignment, as a new music student, was filling in at lunch for the wonderful secretary of the Conductor of Bands. I played in an ensemble under said Conductor, and was scared to death of him, and of displaying ineptitude in managing his office. After I heard him call a couple of classmates on the carpet (literally) for various infractions, seeing their knees trembling above the figured carpet and hearing his stern, subdued voice, all the scarier for being so quiet, I had to get out of there; my unbelievably complicated patchwork of Music “Skills and Ensembles” for a single credit—piano skills, ear training, sight singing, chamber group and large ensemble, legitimated my escape.

My second assignment was in the Music Library, on the second floor of gorgeous, gothic Deering Library, looking out onto Deering Meadow off upper Sheridan Road in Evanston. I fielded patrons’ listening requests, finding the discs they wanted, placing them on a turntable, streaming the music into their study carrel. One night, not long before closing, a skinny student came in, needing to listen to some 15 selections and write up a summary of each for his freshman music theory class.  I was impressed by his ability to make sense of each selection in only a few moments, after which he would ask me to play the next number.  He got through the whole assignment in short order. And then forgot to take his work with him.  I hunted him down the next day and handed off his assignment to him. 13 years later, I married him.
6. Summer Dorm Cleaning at Northwestern University
I had been promised a waitstaff job after sophomore year at a local country club, but when I called back close to my start date, the job had been given to someone else. I managed to find a job cleaning out undergraduate dorms at NU. Most of the middle-aged female staff took the train up from the South Side daily, and I was one of few younger workers. I quickly learned that very little work actually got done, that the expectation among my fellow “workers” was that we would sit around and gab and read discarded magazines, plundering any booty left behind by frazzled students as they departed, leaping up to look busy when a supervisor came around. This was when I learned how much harder and more stressful it is NOT to work than simply to do the task at hand. (And how free stuff can be fun.)
7. The Hut
The Hut was a roach-infested dump of a deli, just down Clark street from my first apartment.  The owner, Burt, was a good guy, if a bit of a shyster.  His “three egg omelets” definitely contained only two, and he made the cook use the old pancake batter until someone complained that the pancakes tasted off.  But he gave jobs to runaway girls down on their luck, and didn’t exploit them.  And he hired me with no waitressing experience, opening my world up to a series of wait staff jobs that eventually took me across the country in railroad dining cars.  I got paid in cash, got to eat a meal during my shift, was largely my own boss, and loved my customers–cabbies and working men and an ever-changing cast of crazies and kooks who liked me for me and appreciated good service. I opened Saturdays and Sundays at 6, and loved coming into the dark diner, turning on the lights, setting out the Bennisons’ pastries and putting on the coffee, filling customers’ cups with coffee and their loneliness with conversation.

 

Mary Peckham for the Poplar Grove Muse

DSC_0012

I am collecting

the gentle buzz of hummingbirds

and big bumble bees resting on fingertips,

dance parties in my living room,

tree swings, heavy rainstorm porch-sitting,

coffee sips well past noon.

 

Long neighborhood walks

and sweat pools at the base of my spine,

fancy cupcake shop outings,

three pairs of icing stained lips curved into smile.

 

I am collecting

books, piled high next to my bed,

stories for when I’m awake, again, at 3 AM,

OnBeing podcasts, the one with Naomi Shihab Nye,

words to settle me back to sleep.

 

Road trips to the prairie, chlorine soaked hair,

lake picnics, light pink shoulders,

the first sip of a cold beer after a long day of work outside,

the piercing, spiky, green, squeaky ball our Annie uses to insist

we must

play now.

 

I am collecting summer and soon I will collect fall,

moments to keep close, pull back out,

like a poem in a pocket,

for when my heavy heart

needs light.

 

~KGS

www.sagetribe02.com

 

The Gift of Vulnerability (an excerpt)

fearIt is Wednesday, it is 1am, it is a time a generally sleep through.  It is a time that instills no fear.  Except tonight.  I pick at my skin, I scratch pre-blood sting.  I fall into night visions of half memories, of being subjected to harsh treatment, held down, screaming out under bright lights and cannot identify – is this me or the ancestral fear of surgery…of death.  Are the bright lights approaching angels, me approaching them…or they me?  Are the stories of my life real or perceptions someone else has told me about how they thought, I was?  Is this what anxiety feels like?

Generalized anxiety, panic.  The quiet family disorder everyone has been afraid everyone else will get and then somehow if someone else doesn’t have….everyone feels anxious about.  That cycle.  I pick my skin.  I remember this.

It is Thursday.  I pick my skin.  I read about how healthy levels of anxiety prepare a system for upcoming danger.  Like battle…or surgery (next Tuesday at noon).  I leave my house with the agenda of vacuuming anything.

It is Thursday, it is 1 am.  I organize my words around last wishes.  When and if I die here are all the good poems-the almost finished memoir-the instructions for cremating my body and throwing the ashes into the high desert.

“No one in this family handles anesthesia well,” mom says.

This is not the story I can afford to believe.

I know my fears:

1.Guns and the sound of gunfire 2. Fast and hasty driving 3.  Free falling from high places 4. Public speaking 5. Needles

But as I compose this list I realize that I’ve another to list.  6.  Being afraid.

Maybe it’s’ the part of the family story, the part colored with family members who took place in some of the awful, ‘innovative’ psychiatric treatments of the old days.  Institutionalization, electric shock, clockwork orangish torment: ‘face all of your fears directly and overwhelmingly at once so that you won’t be afraid of them anymore’ cure.   In fact yes – my nervous system has been programmed directly to mute out and avoid at all cost anything like this to ever happen to me.  Result: never be afraid, never show weakness, never take medication, never….

The trouble with trying to delete fear is that it is a natural, spontaneous and often helpful upwelling of sensation.  And it’s impossible.

It is Friday.  I call my doctor, I call my therapist, I call my friends.  I take a leap (which I am afraid of) and admit that this time the fear is overwhelming.  I hear the internal voices of boo-hissing which sounds something like:

shouldn’t you be able to meditate out of this…what about all your yoga practice….essential oils…spiritual texts….positive affirmations….you’re a health practitioner for gods sake…

All summing up into one belief: You are a failure, especially spiritually, for allowing fear to take hold.

Spiritual materialism has a funny way into unconscious scripting.  My doctor prescribes a low dosage of Xanax, my therapist helps me to allow myself to consider that every once in a while we may need to take some medication to help us through a difficult moment.    I resist.  He replies:

 “You will not lose spiritual points for taking medication prior to surgery.”

It is Tuesday noon.  I arrive to the hospital with meditation music, a bag full of essential oils, a typed wish and resource list (just in case).  I’ve prepared my speech to have the lights low and to admit that I am afraid of needles so please, take it slow.  And, I’ve taken a Xanax

Allison for the PGM

 

 

I am the Carolina Coast

Carolina Coast

I am the Carolina coast,
windswept in winter,
sunny by day,
rich in history
and life
and dreams of men
who tire of the North
with its cold, fast ways
of living.

I am skies full of seagulls.
I am sunrises over
an outstretched sea.
I am the siren song
in your weary heart,
calling you home to
new life.

I will wash you clean
with my salty spray,
tan your bare hide
with my hot sun,
stain your soul
with my legacy
of bondage and brutality,
and I will fulfill your future
promise with an endless
shore of soft sand leading
any direction
you choose.

 

~ Darci Hawxhurst for the Poplar Grove Muse

You Can’t Go Home Again… or Can You?

Connersville Courthouse

Last week when I returned from nearly a week in my hometown of Connersville, a neighbor in my building asked me if I’d been on vacation, I said no, I was in my hometown.

As I rode the elevator to the third floor, I realized that it felt like I had been on vacation, when a vacation does what it’s supposed to do. I was tired, but felt relaxed, refreshed, and happy with how I spent my time there.

Historically, that hasn’t always been the case. Until 2012 I was working and didn’t have as much time to spend there. After I spent equal time with each parent, I needed to get back to Bloomington, which I considered home, having lived there since 1965. Connersville is a small town so most everyone knew both my parents, but they didn’t seem to remember me. I was only spoken to if I went out with one of them. Even after I was introduced as his/her child, I was still looked at suspiciously. When we would walk into a restaurant, I could hear piccolos in the background as if I were in a Clint Eastwood movie when a stranger walked into town

In 2010, I spent a lot of time in Connersville when Dad and my stepmother needed care. I felt isolated from my community and friends here in Bloomington so I began re-connecting with old friends and family members I hadn’t seen in years. I began feeling a sense of place; a sense of this is who and where I came from.

Both parents and my brother are gone now; this means my time is spent differently. While my parents were transitioning, my friend since first grade, Terri Goetz Cochran, opened up her home to me, making it a safe haven where I could rest and recharge. I will never be able to express how much that meant to me and how it got me through some really rough times.

This past week in Connersville was spent with friends from school, my cousin, Connie Smallwood Bright, whom I love spending time with, my aunt by marriage, Barbara Wentz, whose company I enjoy and who I try to help a little when I’m there. It was lovely. For the first time in years, I didn’t feel like, I couldn’t wait to get back home. Another couple of nights spent with my  friend since kindergarten, Sharon Neeriemer Christopher, who after many years of being away, is living in Connersville. We were talking about how the town is changing. Lately, the town is feeling more user friendly. Connersville has been economically depressed for many years now, and I don’t think that has gotten much better. Sharon says the town feels more like it did when we were kids  She is right. So what is the difference? Maybe it’s because the generation before me is almost gone. There is new blood, new ideas. There’s an arts council and open mic nights at Brian’s Bookstore.

On my last morning there, I managed to very cleverly lock myself out of my phone. I went to the AT & T store in Connersville. Their newly appointed 25-year-old manager, Sean Kleany (I believe that’s how he spelled it) couldn’t have been more awesome. I’m sure when he saw an old lady walk in with her iPhone he would have liked to run right out of the building. I told him what I needed and he got on it right away. And because it was taking awhile and I was his only customer we got talking. I think he could tell by our conversation that I wasn’t a total Luddite who could only use her phone with the help of her son, so he relaxed a bit.

Turns out we had writing in common. He’s a composer. He knows Bloomington. We like a lot of the same TV shows because they are well written. It was a wonderful experience, not just because he got my phone updated and unlocked, but because it was a conversation I was meant to have. I left town with a smile on my face, a smile in anticipation of returning to Bloomington and a smile from the enjoyment of a great week.

It turns out you can go home again, not in the old way, but in a new way that feels so right.

Rebekah Spivey for the Poplar Grove Muse

 

Car Talk

stickers for blog 004 white outSome of you know that I grew up in a small Maine village. This village only had one place of worship and almost everybody attended it. There wasn’t a lot to do in such a small town, and teenagers’ activities, if not part of school events, were often connected to the church . In New England, the Congregational Church is a fairly liberal Protestant denomination (although the Unitarians are a breakaway sect because the Congregationalists weren’t liberal enough).  As a consequence of the small size of the village congregation and its social philosophy, members tried very hard to be democratic and follow the ‘all men are created equal’ view of life. This meant that anyone who wanted could sing in the choir and that meant that even I was allowed to be in that choir. The problem was that I can hardly carry a tune. I was what was euphemistically referred to as a ‘second soprano’, which meant I have about a 4-note range and can’t always hit the right note of the four. That did not disqualify me from being a chorister.  I was ‘created equal’, after all, even if not in musical talent, and that lack was not reason enough to ban me. So, the wise choir mistress solved her problem by putting me between my two very talented and loud cousins and telling me to sing softly. I got the message about my musical abilities, but continued to contribute my four notes to the social event.

The result of my early awakening to my limited vocal abilities is that I never sing in the shower; I hardly ever sing. I live alone and don’t talk to myself, either, although when I have cats I talk to them. No singing.  Now, if you like music, you might think that I lead a limited and sorrowful life when it comes to participating in musical events (I don’t really play an instrument, either, except for those early piano lessons we all took). Not true…I have a wonderful musical space where I can and do sing loud, off-key 60s and 70s popular music, especially folk-songs and the songs of all of the rock groups of that era. My studio is my car.  It is the only place where I let loose with my voice and I love it.  I put in a CD and my voice echoes throughout, and nobody cares. I can try harmony, or the melody, I can try changing the beat a little; I can nod my head, make up my own words, even whistle.  I keep the windows rolled up and I sing.  I encourage whatever artist I’m listening to: Go John! Let’s croon Leonard! Joan I hear you! Then I can pretend I’m one of them: cool, talented, and speaking to all of my generation. I can engage in social protest with all of those antiwar songs. I can pretend to partake of illegal chemical substances with the Beatles, the Airplane, and CCRevival. I can get as soppy as I’d like with love songs, and I can cry aloud at the mini-tales of tragedy  of the ballads.  I can indulge in nostalgia, and feel only a little embarrassed when someone in another car looks at me as though I’m nuts. My car is my safe-place.

My car is also a safe place for venting. I have to admit to mild episodes of road rage. I can swear at home (but what at?), and try not to in public places. But in my car, my whole vocabulary can get a great workout (windows still rolled up), and I can even practice some new expressions. What can pull me away from my singing? Just be in front of me and don’t signal a turn: I have some special words for you, buster.  Tailgate me and I have some more. Don’t lower your high beams, or be in one of those over-sized trucks whose dims are still too high…you have a special spot in my lexicon. If you are bicyclist who thinks that the road rules don’t apply to you, or you ride several abreast down my narrow road, oblivious to everything else, you have my full attention and are the object of a set of words that would make my Congregationalist brethren gasp.  However, if you are especially aware of others on the road, pull aside if needed, stop at stop lights, then I have a special smile and wave and nod that goes your way. You benefit from the less-used but equally sincere vocabulary of praise and love.

My car is not always noisy. I have quiet time in it, too.  It is a great place to think, and my ideas for writing and lines for what I write often come when I’m in the car. I rehearse bits over in my mind and mull topics that I want to pursue at some time. It is also a good place to try to solve the weekly Car Talk puzzle after a great session of laughing with The Car Guys and hearing my Massachusetts cousins’ accents, taking me home on a Saturday morning.  I have also wrestled with many a linguistic question while driving to town or from town, wondering why language worked that way, who says it and when and why.  I practice bits of other languages that I have studied, challenging myself to remember how to say certain things (not rage vocabulary, though), thinking about how syntax  works and why word order is so fascinating.

I like to keep things in my car. I grew up having the ‘you never know when you’re going to need it’ approach to life drummed into me. It’s the New England version of the Boy Scout motto. In the winter, I was taught to always have certain things in the car in case of snow storms. That includes a scraper; a small shovel; a bucket of sand (or, nowadays, cat litter) for getting out of snowy or icy places; a warm blanket in case the shovel and sand don’t get you out; a flashlight; maps (no GPS for me); an extra pair of mittens or gloves; an extra hat;  an extra scarf;  a cross-word puzzle book; a travel Scrabble game (largely replaced these days by my iPhone). Then there are the other essentials which are not seasonal: tire-pressure gauge; two umbrellas (in case one gets left somewhere); rain poncho (in case both umbrellas get lost); change for parking meters; packets of Kleenex; cloth grocery bags (which I always forget to bring into the store with me); a bottle of water. You never know when you’re going to need them. I have friends whose cars don’t seem to have anything in them and I have never figured out how that is even possible: what if we’re suddenly required to evacuate? What would they do? I’d survive quite well. Guess I’d have to share.

I have a long driveway (about 1/10th of a mile) and have to haul the trash out every week, so while the barrels don’t live in the car, they ride in it every week. Needless to say, I don’t own sedans, but, rather, station wagons. My friends with their barren sedans and no cargo room are always calling me to take them  to Target to pick up something they’ve purchased that won’t fit into their silly four-door little cars. I snicker and gloat. My car is a perfect size, they also convinced me, for hauling the Meals on Wheels chests, so I was the designated driver for the longest route in Monroe County…someday it might be me that needs that food.

I have never named any of my cars, but they do take on a life-with-me patina. Once I get used to a new car (that takes about a year), I’m very reluctant to let it go. We’ve shared so many songs! I kept one of my cars, a Honda wagon, from 1995 to 2009, and it was four years old when I bought it, and was the first automatic drive that I ever bought.(I needed it because I had broken my left foot and couldn’t clutch ). It was just getting broken in. Now I have had two new ones, both Honda Fits (I got one in April 2009, and after a herd of deer smashed up the passenger side as I was tooling down Bethel Lane, traded for a 2016 model). The 2009 model never did fully settle in, and the 2016 isn’t out of diapers yet. I did sell my old wagon to my neighbor, so I saw it frequently until it finally went to car heaven. It had wonderful bumper stickers on it and she left them on, because, as she said: “You and I agree on all of the important things, Bev; your radio is even tuned to the right station.” My new car didn’t have any stickers on for a while, and I worried that people wouldn’t know that I voted for Obama, or that I support the ACLU, and the Sierra Club, as well as have Buddha eyes watching for good deeds.  The car hadn’t earned its props, and so remained pristine while I remained anonymous. It now has its own stickers to define me: anti-guns; anti-cancer; anti-tailgating; and pro-Sanders, so people now have an idea or two about who I am.

I suppose my life in my car is a bit of a paradox: inside, it is my freest space, yet outside it is my most regulated space. Along with the road rules, I even need governmental permission to drive it, yet can say whatever I like about said government while doing so. I have made it a comfortable ‘home’, yet its job is to take me away from home or back to home: it is not ‘home’ at home. I can decide at any moment to overthrow a plan of travel and take off for somewhere else by a simple  turn of the wheel, yet it is what gets me routinely from place-to-place with great reliability. It gives me my greatest freedom and independence, yet it needs care and relies on me for maintenance; it requires responsibility on my part.  And, finally, while I have always been fascinated by the inner workings of the vehicle of language, I have never been slightly interested in the inner workings of the car. I may no longer be a Congregationalist, but even atheists need some Mystery in life.

Bev Hartford