2018 Thanksgiving

A daughter texts: “I can’t wait to come home.”

Her mother replies: “Ah, that’s what I always felt about going home, until I got there….”

Response: “Hahaha.”

We come home to the people who raised us, loved us, fed us, and feed us still, in spirit, in memory, in flesh that is aging and weakening before our eyes. We see everything anew and acutely upon returning, with the wide-open vision of having gone ahead and attempted to forge a new way, an onward path. Sometimes the old ways are comforting upon return, often not.

We gather again at our tables, new tables, old tables. We make, or do not make, the foods of our childhood, and if not, we hope that Grandma will, if she sees, accept our loving sacrifice of having swallowed so much that wasn’t to our taste, will perhaps even admire us for making things better for ourselves, in a relatively unfreighted way denied to her.

We talk more freely, younger and older, not just men, but women and more, claiming opinions, beliefs we have worked to forge, to own, wanting to have a say in making a difference. And yet, we are wary, feel we must be, desiring easy community among those who have mattered to us, matter still, yet acknowledging  blistering, blustering cross-currents of misunderstanding, miscommunication, cultural division and disconnection—all fanned by those in power who seek even greater power.

Still, we gather, and give thanks, manifesting the belief that in gathering, sharing food around a table—old or new—talking, celebrating what we have shared, might still share, we can find heartfulness and healing.

In our home, we do not do The Thanksgiving, the roasting of the turkey, the gravy-making. Far from family, we are invited, grateful, to an unimaginably iconic feast, hosted by a dear friend who loves to cook and prepares a sumptuous board with artistry, heart, and great good spirit.  I carry to Newcastle what coals are allowed.

Two days later, I prepare a rump Thanksgiving in my home.  This year, husband off to China for a big gig, mother-in-law newly relocated to town, beloved daughters briefly home, some of us still working off a beautiful food coma, some  more enthusiastic feasters in quest of leftovers than others…, we share an afternoon of communal effort in turning out our favorite Thanksgiving dishes in a lower key, honoring both the effort and the awaited eating.

The calculations for any gathering around a table are many, delicate under best circumstances–a labor of love balanced with available energetic effort, filtered through ready resources and personnel, and, of course, the ultimate constellation of diners.  To be able to choose what to serve, and to whom, to be so blessed that restraint is a choice, a goal even, rather than a constraint born of necessity, is unthinkable to much of the world, and to most of human history.

And I give thanks.

Mary Peckham for The Poplar Grove Muse


The abiding mystery to me is how she wrote so microscopically. How two and a half years, from 1927 – early 1929 can be recorded in daily paragraphs of this, of that in a tiny leather-bound diary. How any of it is only decipherable with a magnifier. Mostly she records the grind of graduate school, boarding house rules, visitations with friends, the agonizing conflict over Chuck and Johnny, and who might make the most suitable choice for the long stretch of unknown life ahead. Chuck won out in the end. Just as I remember wondering as a girl, if I’d even exist if my mother had married her high school boyfriend instead of my Dad, same goes for whether Louise had gone with the swarthy, worldly Johnny instead of her steady guy back home. She went with dependability. She settled, happily it seems, for being a Jr. High School English teacher instead of a Botany Professor.

We’ll be back in her kitchen this Thanksgiving. The same kitchen that was her mother’s and her grandmother’s. We’ll eat with their forks on plates collected for over a hundred years. As the fifth in a line of generations of mothers at our Preble County Farm Table, I’ll ponder the larger questions of our legacy; gratitude for family, the fidelity to the land that shapes us, and the long stretch of unknown life in front of us. I search for a magnifying glass illuminative enough to help me see our unfolding story, the breaking or continuing lines of our lineage, and enough grounding required for going on with grace.

BLR for the Poplar Grove Muse

Random Thoughts in November

Every morning, I leave my home and drive to work. My car rises a small hill, out of our little holler (as we have come to call the place where our home in the woods rests), and I take a left onto the street that will lead me to the main road. That left hand turn brings me to my first glimpse of the sky for the day and it is always, always a beauty. The sky greets me with clouds dappled with sunshine in the most brilliant array of colors and patterns. I was trying to memorize all the different ways the sky greets me but they became too numerous. I simply appreciate my little patch of art every morning.

• My yogi teaches me continually the power of breath. I don’t wanna breathe, I think to myself as he teaches me some new breathing technique: bellows breath and dragon breath and fire breath. Greet the sun with a lion breath. Alternate nostril breath. Diaphragm breathing techniques. Haji breath. He counts for me to breathe in and then counts for me to breathe out. I am so sick of breathing. I am so sick of counting and holding the breath. Do not make me do this yogi. I flutter my eyes open and he is watching me. This is too hard, I think. The breathing is just way too hard. Why can’t I just breathe normally? I’ll breathe because I want to not because you tell me too, and I do a little renegade thing where I breathe out of the same nostril twice. Oh yogi. When will I learn?

• My friend makes maple leaf cookies every year and gives me a little bag. They are flavored with maple syrup and cut in all sizes of maple leaf. I do not share them. When I get my little bag of cookies I cannot wait to open the bag and eat them in one sitting before anyone asks me to share. Love the maple leaf cookies.

• The darkness has finally hit and with that chill in the air, it strikes me that it is good conjuring weather. I find myself wondering if I should google how to cast a spell or better yet, create a voo-doo doll. I think I need a lock of hair to create a real voo-doo doll. Now in the darkness of early night, I plan how to steal a lock of hair so that I might use it to cast a spell and wreak havoc. There is something about the arrival of the night, day of the dead, winter time hibernation, that brings out a need for real magic. If anyone knows any please send it to me. All spells welcome.

• I am guessing our commander in chief keeps his hair trimmings under lock and key.

• In April, I will be participating in National Poetry Writing Month or NAPOWRIMO as we insiders call it. We write a poem a day to a new prompt everyday. A bunch of us will get together at the beginning of the month to have a little lesson about poetic form, and we’ll get together at the end of the month to share what we’ve written. In between we will write and share and write and share and read. This month-long celebration of poetry makes me very happy. I look forward to it as much as I used to look forward to Christmas as a kid. I think it is because of a daily push and daily permission to be creative. It is a cliché to talk about creative juices, but that is exactly what it feels like. Like someone just has fed me joy and it is pulsing in my veins. Every day.

• I still love the end of every yoga class, everywhere in the world, when I bow my head and say “namaste” to the teacher and to myself. I whisper it under my breath with reverence. I love the feeling of hands in prayer position; I love the meanings of the word; I love the subtle bow of the head. One teacher I have now, makes a point of bowing to every student in the class. I love that.

Namaste.  Amy for the PGM

Safe Place

The School Across the Street has had that sign for many years.
You know, the one that assures the children that this is
A Place where they can be
Safe from storms at home and
Safe from storms of nature.
A Place where they do not need to fear the cyclone cloud of an Indiana spring,
where the echoing sirens,
telling them to shelter,
are sending them
to gather, to wait out whatever threat is being hurled at them.

We didn’t have
Safe Places when
I was a child except for our
Desks under
Which we knelt, just
“For Practice’,
in case the Russians bombed us with their nukes.
Then this is where we would be So Safe,
So Safe because our teachers told us so
and we wanted to believe them
and we waited until we heard the all clear
and then we emerged laughing a little nervously
because we didn’t really believe those desks
that kept our books and pencil cases safe would actually keep us safe
from The Bomb.
Still, though we had no Sign that announced this as a Safe Place,
it seemed it just might be one.

The School Across the Street has that sign. Safe Place.
It no longer convinces us that this is true.

Bev Hartford