shiny things.

I’m always amazed by the kinds of things I remember.  Most of the time, I can’t remember the big picture – I just remember one thing that stuck in my mind.

I don’t remember reading Aesop’s Fables the whole way through with grandma, but I remember the Crow and the Fox and Swiss Cheese falling out of a tree.

I can’t remember what we were doing one day when my family walked down the Pump Station lane, but I remember a single Indian Paintbrush growing in the grass.

I remember leaving a ring on the bathroom sink somewhere in Texas, crying because I was six, and going back with mom to find someone had taken it.

I remember reading about Kaya, the Nez Perce American Girl, putting moss in her moccasins; I took a walk to the alfalfa field behind my house, stuffed my moccasins, and laid down in the field at the start of a storm because the start of rain is one of my favorite feelings.

But I’m always amazed how I can read a whole section of a textbook, an entire story, even a research paper – and only remember a silly, fun fact.  Sometimes, only a few sentences out of hundreds stick in my mind.

I still remember Stacey is the brother’s name in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, but I read the book when I was 10 and completely forget what it was about.

I remember the cover of The Giver, and of A Wrinkle in Time, and I completely forget the stories.

I remember the pictures I pained in my head of the Trolls’ cave door when Gandalf opened it, but I hardly remember the story.

I remember the moment Ned sees the one-eyed cat in the book One-Eyed Cat, and that’s all I remember.

I remember My Side of the Mountain and how badly I wanted to live with hawks or in a tree.

I can see the stallions and geldings in my head from the countless Marguerite Henry horse books, stories of Chincoteague wild horses, and other equestrian classics that I would sit under the library skylights and read during free hours in Mr. J’s library.

Okay, enough reminiscing…

The story that stands out time and time again, after all these years, I finally realize is a lesson.  I never saw it as a lesson.  At the time, I was 11, I thought this story was about how stupid raccoons are.  Instead, it’s about how stupid people can be.

The story part I remember is from the book Where the Red Ferns Grow.  That is probably the first time in my life I can remember my entire class at Valley crying together: Mrs. Koza, the assistant Mrs. Dempsey, and all 20 or so of us 5th graders, boys and girls, crying equally.  I forget who was the first one to cry, but it was like flood gates opening.  In fact, it might have been Mrs. Koza reading the part out loud when…well, I won’t give that away.  That’s near the end, when we learn where the red fern grows.

The only parts I remember of the story is the end, the section when I learned what “entrails” are and cried because of how I learned it, and the raccoon.

The boy in the story comes across a trap in the woods.  It’s a log with holes drilled in it.  Some cruel trapper put a shiny object inside, drove nails around the holes, and left it be.  It was to catch raccoons – they would want the object, then not let go to get their hands out even if the hunter was coming along to club them to death.

I thought it was about how raccoons like shiny things and are dumb.  And that’s a little true.  But it’s more about how cruel humans are, and how fickle animals and people alike can be.  How shiny things blind us.  In some ways, the passage is talking about the idea of “sin”.

So you can imagine how a 5th grader latched on to that scene playing in her head, of a raccoon struggling in a log for a cheap, worthless, shiny scrap, maybe starving for some time, and a silly hunter coming along, clubbing it, throwing out the mess and keeping the tail or the skin or something foolish, and letting it happen all over again.

Hunting for weaknesses.

Do you have shiny weaknesses in your life?

saudade.

Nearly the same as the Welsh word “hiwaeth” but without exact English translation, “saudade” is a Portuguese word best described as a deep nostalgia felt for something you kind of know you’ll never have again. Maybe it’s memories of a family member or friend who is gone, or maybe it’s a POW presumably lost to an unknown reason. Today, I feel saudade for something less severe but just as nostalgic: summer.

Growing up, you always had a summer. Even if you had a summer job or summer school, it was still summer. It was like a dam broke and sunshine went everywhere. But when you earn the diploma you finally got after years of struggle and sunshiny summers, you get the reward of a bleak, monotonous, repetitive career of no summer. I used to think summer would feel the same, but it doesn’t. Not when you come home to an empty house, tired, and not even when I played softball this summer. It felt more like a chore. Probably because I had to get myself there on time, remember all my stuff, and pay.

I remember what summer was, that concept that only gets farther from my mind as time passes. To me, summer is humid air, cicadas, baseball, and the tail end of tropical storms whipping across Pennsylvania. My summers began in June and ended in September. June was wet, July was hot, August was smoldering, and September smelled like fall – at least that’s how it stuck in my mind.

Summer was green legs. It was several acres of fresh cut grass in a semi-damp June, my brother and I fresh out of school, throwing our bags on the porch and running into the staining yard before we even changed out of our uniforms. It was long, sunny nights full of catch, ice cream at the Sundae Barn, and jars of lightning bugs. It was letting the dogs run through the yard. It was the sound of air conditioning and the feeling of no bed time.

June was also the Pennsylvania State Shoot. Our camper would be pulled into the parking at our house. We would climb onto the roof from the side of our house and scrub it down with earth-friendly wash. Then we would pack it up – two weeks of clothes, mini packs of mixed cereal, Yoohoo, Gushers, canned peas which I always thought tasted better than fresh (I also used to think it was the trailer water that made them taste that way),… And soon we spent the end of June in Elysburg, my dad shooting, the smell of exploding shells, the campground my brother and I would bike around endlessly. The candy store at the gate where we used all our money to buy candy cigarettes. The campground pool where we met with our friends. The pond where we fished. The speed bumps we did tricks over. Coming in for taco dinner against our will, but then being happy dad won a medal, hang cat lights on the awning, and make s’mores in the fire. Biking to the ice cream shack with Winnie and laughing as kids fed baby comes to our dog. And, of course, Knoebels and fudge shakes.

Then before we knew it we were asleep in the backseat, That Darn Cat or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or Bed Knobs and Broomsticks or whatever playing in the VHS slot of the TV mom bungee corded to the front middle seat. I remember white out rainstorms where we couldn’t even pull over because all we could do was follow dimmed tail lights. And I remember the click clack of the driveway drainage gate as our truck heaved our 5th wheel up our driveway and vacation was over.

But it wasn’t really over.

Summer continued through a hot July. Sometimes we saw fireworks, but usually we just sat on our porch to watch them explode in seven different towns simultaneously. The perks of mountain life. Usually this time of year our grass burned out – and sometimes our well did too. Without water, we had to lug pails up and down the hill to water our corn. The dairy farm next year always had corn twice as high as ours. “Knee high by the Fourth of July”. Well, Dave had his corn to my shoulders and ours was shin high.

By July, the wild berries were either picked clean by birds, trespassing kids from the neighboring trailer court, or fries on the jaggers by the sun. July was the time at home for play, for dirt biking and building tipis with the hides dad had given us the past winter from his deer kills. This was the time to swat Mosquitos from our perch in the tree house, or maybe to hide from the sun in the wicked cool air vents, reading a book or playing games.

We also visited our grandparents. Kyle and I would climb Grandma M’s Catalpa tree and feed birds, or bike up and down the lane, delivering fake newspapers we had typed on her old typewriter. And Grandma D’s, we would play in the barn, making witches’ brew in the rusty cattle trough, balancing on steel beams, searching for cats in the hay loft or spiders in the corn bin, or watching uncle Mike feed pigs. We would also play in the abandoned pump station and “surf hay bales”. We threw rotten apples down the old well and walked down the lane past Indian Paintbrushes to get the mail. At night, we would gaze out over the twinkling lights of Uniontown at the base of the mountain visible from grandma’s bedroom window. At both grandparents’, we would explore the gardens and ride our bikes on trails.

In August, Aunt Jean and Uncle Craig would be picking vegetables in the garden they set up at the bottom of our hill. We used to stand on the porch and blow a silver whistle so they would look up and wave. But August wasn’t spent at home for long. We usually took care of the horses down the road, then handed over our keys to friends and took our own trip away from home. This time, it was the Grand American. Until our last attendance when it was in Sparta, Illinois, we found ourselves sending two weeks in Vandalia, Ohio.

I remember miniature golf games and shopping at Meijer’s or Kroger’s. I remember staying up late because the newest Harry Potter book came out. I remember crossing the road to go to Friendly’s for ice cream sundaes, or to that creepy King-themed restaurant with the hot air balloon inside. I remember miles of trap line and thousands of campers. We watched airplanes leave the airport and dad break birds all day long. We biked endlessly, as always. Some days, I hid under my camper with my Harriet the Spy kit, writing down all the things I saw my neighbor doing. Which was never anything interesting. (“He filled the dog bowl of water. He went back inside. He has been inside for twenty minutes.”). In the evening, the whole family biked or sometimes roller bladed until we were ready to drop. Some nights, we sneaked out and bagged thrown out shells for dad to reload later. Other times, we went to see a demonstration of a guy who would throw watermelons and other fun things into the air and shoot them under the bright lights that showed off hundreds of moths.

I remember running to the score board to see dad’s standings as we walked around all day at the vendors. My favorite vendors included a guy from Australia with an accent and stuff koalas/kangaroos, Uncle Ray who wasn’t my uncle in real life but who sold colorful shooting lenses and squishy modeled ear plugs, the Navajo jewelry tents, and the random guy who gave me and my brother lollipops and our first taste of pistachios. I also remember the bathroom sinks, shaped in a circle with a water pedal and powdered soap.

Then August ends and we are home everything’s slowing down. Trips to the library, summer homework, and the weather changing to a cooler summer – at least until those couple shock weeks when the temperature would shoot back up to the 90s plus.

I miss shucking corn in the yard and picking pattypan squash from the garden. Softball games. Eating on Aunt Jean’s covered patio, licking melting fudgesicles, and turning the Skittle dispenser. Playing Don’t Break the Ice. Playing Monopoly, Sorry!, Uno, and Yahtzee! by candlelight when the power went out……. How can one season hold so many memories?

Well, there’s a taste of my saudade for you. I could go on forever.

you are what you eat – a short story from life.

“The problem with kids these days is they don’t know where their food comes from. If you don’t know your McDonald’s burger is a slaughtered cow, you don’t deserve to eat it.”

Dad grew up on a beef farm. Dad’s a hunter.  Dad knows how to kill, and therefore dad knows how to eat.  He knows where his food comes from.

Once, I was talking in school and I asked a bunch of friends at the lunch table if they knew where their food comes from. “I don’t want to think about it,” said one friend.  A few friends looked sickly at their meatloaf.  “It’s animal muscle, that’s all.  Those cows we pass on the way to school, they just chop them up.  Meat is bloody.  That’s all.”  They looked at me in horror.

I guess they didn’t deserve to eat it. And they didn’t really want to sit with me at lunch anymore, either.  You are what you eat, but they eat lies.  They numbly buy food from the store, don’t ask questions, and tell themselves it’s a burger, not a cow.  They don’t even know where their food comes from, never planted a seed, never shot a gun or drawn an arrow.  They eat lies.  They live lies.  They are lies.

My dad isn’t a lie. My dad is pure truth.  But people hate truth, because truth is only beautiful if you can make poetry from ugly things.

Sometimes truth hits you when you’re at peace and don’t expect it. I remember skipping through the woods one autumn day and coming across my dad.  He was bent over the fire pit.  A small flame was starting in the middle of the stone ring.  He was crouched with a pile of feathers.  I came up behind him and asked what he was doing.  “Turning the kill into cordon bleu,” he said, holding up a pheasant from that morning’s hunt.  I blinked.  I hadn’t realized mom didn’t cook with chicken.  Now it made sense.  We don’t hunt chickens.  If only my friends knew they’d eaten venison tacos last week…

I wanted to continue walking through the woods, to see the wildlife that is easier to see in the fall when the leaves are down and the food is disappearing. But something kept me tied to the fire pit.  I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t.  I had to watch as dad picked up a pheasant, slightly warm because it had died only an hour before.  He opened its wings in his hands.  It was beautiful and helpless.  He took a wing in each hand.  He pulled.  It tore.  It sounded like a bed sheet tearing.  I didn’t know bodies could tear.

I watched my dad tear a bird in half.

I backed away slowly as he threw the useless scraps into the fire, to keep the dogs from rooting through the trash. It wasn’t even the sight, it was the sound.  I hadn’t thought death could have so many sounds.

That night, mom cooked up a plate of dad’s truth. My cordon bleu had never tasted better.

a faltering symbiosis.

As we become more and more disconnected with our foods, we are also more and more disconnected with our world and our culture.

I can remember my storytelling grandma taking me for walks on trails through the woods where she would point out the native plants and the animals.  We would go home to her gardens that were full of native Pennsylvanian perennials.  We’d pick lovage and other vegetables from the salad garden, then rush outside after dinner with some sun tea to watch the 8-o’clock Bloom Primrose open from the gazebo.

Her favorite flower was the trillium, so each April the woods remind me of her more than usual.  Every time a bird flies hardly in sight overhead and I don’t recognize his flight pattern or song, I’m frustrated because I’m sure she’s told me his identity before and that she’d tell me again if she were here.  She’s been gone almost 8 years already and I wish I’d remembered things better when I was younger.  I often wonder how much wisdom is in 8 years, the ones I didn’t get.

Feeling that separation in time makes me really appreciate the 16 years I did get, even the ones I can’t remember at all.  It’s 16 more years than a lot of children ever get with their grandparents, learning from the wisest, being shown the same things that their great-great-grandparents had shown their grandparents.  I might feel inadequate and incomplete, but I’m a lot fuller than most – and that saddens me.

How many kids never really see their grandparents or their parents?  How many kids learn all of their lessons from Dora the Explorer and other TV shows?  While my grandma told me tales about the animals that taught me lessons about how to treat others, children are learning their lessons from cartoons and video games and not even going outside.  My only exception to not being outside was reading, but even then I would often climb into a tree with a bag of birdseed and sometimes fall asleep with a book on a limb.

I remember when grandma taught me how to plant a seed.  It went something like this: “First, dig a little hole.  Gently.  Enough for part of your finger.  Now, drop the seed to the bottom.  Give him a little drink, but not too much – just some encouragement.  Add a little love, maybe a kiss, and pat the dirt back on softly and water again.”  But she especially showed me how to find things that were already growing, and we would observe the patterns of the animals in the woods as they used their own techniques to harvest.  I particularly loved sitting in the woods during the winter for this reason; I could see through the bare trees so clearly, the red berries standing out against the snow, ruffled birds landing on dusted branches, and mouse tracks giving away all of their secret hideouts on the ground.

The Potawatomi and Chippewa used to watched these mouse tracks, too.  Rodent kinds store nuts in the ground where they remain when the weather has stripped most of the harvest from the woods.  The people knew this and, instead of spending exhausting hours harvesting for themselves, they would find the caches and take some of the nut reserves instead.  My favorite example of cache raiding is the Lakota-prairie vole thievery/symbiosis: Prairie voles (mice, as they called them) would hide hog nut (“mouse bean”) seeds in similar caches.  Before modern agricultural techniques and dams raped the Plains states and deterred biodiversity of the ecosystems, Lakota women used to take sticks to poke at these caches and steal from them.  But they didn’t just take, take, take.  This is one of my favorites — they would leave gifts of other things, like animal fat or berries in exchange for taking some of the seeds for their own uses…and they would sing a song.  (‘You have helped sustain my children during this coming winter, and we will not let your children go hungry.’)

And now we have McDonald’s.  And now we take as we need and don’t think about the future.  Now we have separated ourselves and forgotten that everything is a web.  We have forgotten that, although one practice may mean a big harvest this year and for ten years, in one hundred years it may not.  We have forgotten that bad omens aren’t just omens, that less trilliums blooming in April and more birds choosing to not overwinter in the snow are signs because they mean the world is sicker than it was the year before.  And this sickness is only continued when our next generation won’t have any way to relate to those stories about the raven not sharing his box of light with the world because all he cared about was himself, or about the whole world emerging from the earth – symbolic of the planet’s importance and the need for reemergence and rejuvenation every spring.  The more artificial this world becomes, the less biodiverse it will be, and there will no longer be prairie voles to sing songs to or cares and concerns about his children.

ribs.

This dream isn’t feeling sweet
We’re reeling through the midnight streets
And I’ve never felt more alone
It feels so scary getting old

We can talk it so good
We can make it so divine
We can talk it good, how you wish it would be all the time


I want them back (I want them back)
The minds we had (the minds we had)
How all the thoughts (how all the thoughts)
Moved round our heads (move round our heads)

Did you know nostalgia is sometimes just an exaggerated memory, like somewhat of a figment of your imagination mixed with reality?

We make things we remember feel better than they are.

Those summer memories weren’t as sweet as you remember them.

But what makes us? If our bodies are replaced completely every 5 to 7 years with nutrients from the food we have eaten, we aren’t even the same person we were. If you haven’t seen someone for 10 years, they’re literally a new person.

Yet if our brain cells are all rebuilt as well, what are memories made of? How do they stay? Does replacing the material actually cause alterations that lead to those exaggerated feelings, to nostalgia?

I believe we are our memories and experience more than we are ourselves in the physical sense. A little scary. A little invisible, we are, if we are only our imaginations, our minds.

It makes our decisions and choices seem so much heavier if we are what we do and not what we exist as.

And we are getting older. Rebuilding. Elements perpetually changing. How can we cling to what we are? To have a sense of identity which provides belonging and, in turn, purpose?

In other news, I made so much OT money this week that I bought myself a pair of Toms. Many of my shoes have holes in the bottoms or their soles stapled on. And I couldn’t stop thinking about my little ones in Cameroon and their shoeless feet.

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Now someone somewhere will theoretically have shoes and it’s not like it cost me much to buy mine. Besides, it’s all relative. And I’m feeling better giving myself purpose and making a difference, no matter how small.

Remembrance, Emotion, and Human Follies.

I love referring to emotion as the greatest folly of mankind.  I believe that our intellectual capacity increased as a compensation for our physical ineptitude in the realm of survival, thus we tend to “outsmart” other creatures in order to overcome them by means other than one-on-one combat.  It helped us survive up until this point.  However, that intelligence fosters the ability for us to overanalyze, hesitate, and even remember things not crucial to our survival.  This mental clutter, to me, is a flaw rather than a blessing.  I like to think very pragmatically, so I see emotion as being a hinderance to instinct.  Yet that doesn’t keep me from remembering things.

I look at my cats and I wonder how much they remember, think, and feel.  I believe they do feel emotion because they express love and fear and gratitude.  I’m not so self-centered to think that is some superior quality that only humans have, to feel.  I used to think that cats really didn’t remember too much, like they had some kind of short-term memory.  When I moved to Ohio and their crates opened for the first time in my new apartment, they had total fear in their eyes and suspected everything because it was unfamiliar territory.  I expected the same thing to happen after they got used to my place and we visited Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving.  I was wrong.  I opened the crates and they came pouring out and ran to their favorite baskets or scratching posts as if they’d never left months before. I confirmed that cats do remember over at least a span of several months.  However, also I do know that cats have a lack of attachment, and memory is certainly different from emotion.  I’ve seen cats meow after their lost kittens for a few hours, then move on as if nothing happened.  It’s life.  They don’t intend to have another litter because they probably aren’t conscious of how they end up with one, but, when they do have another, it’s the same instincts that take over.  It’s all about survival.

The only creatures not fixated on survival appear to be the humans so enamored with the idea that Mother Earth is living hell, that God will save them, and that they’re only getting by here to reap everything in heaven when they’re done.  Because humans think too much.  Because animals live in the present.  Animals inherently and naturally understand what it takes to be a successful, integral, non-destructive part of this planet. I try to imagine what my life would be like if I could have more animal-like thinking patterns but still live in this artificial human bubble of protection where all it takes is a turn of a dial to change my room to a comfortable temperature setting.  I can confirm that I’d have less personal growth.  I would be less transfixed on intelligence and self-improvement because those would get me nowhere as an animal and somewhere only as a human functioning in a human-made society.  I would essentially live the life of an innocent child who speaks without thinking, tells no lies, and sees things for exactly what they are, albeit everyday murmurs or something completely jaw-droppingly amazing and inexplicable.  I wouldn’t search for reason; I would accept and move on.  I wouldn’t question why I am here, what that moment means to me, or where I should be going.  I wouldn’t contemplate right or wrong because those things would be null to me, completely moot to survival.  I would just live.  Aren’t we all just meant to live? Instead, I am stuck with a crippling ability to feel.  I overanalyze, I dwell, I suffer.  I cry when I am not physically wounded.  I cry just because I haven’t cried for a long time and I feel like my body needs it.  BUT WHO DOES THAT?  Humans, yes, but only humans?  I think only humans.  My cats don’t cry.  My cats don’t miss their family.  My cats don’t go to funerals.

I think that’s when I started thinking the most about remembrance, when my cousin died this week.  It made me start to recall memories of my family and all of the things I’ve done this year and all of the people I may never see again, whether they’re alive at the time I post this or long gone.  I try to think of the “purpose” to all of these moments and then I try to decipher whether or not such things have “purpose”.  What is “purpose”?  Is it only a spiritual thing?  When my agnostic mom tells me things happen for a “reason”, what is the “reason” of which she speaks?

I don’t have many memories from my family outside of my direct line.  My cousins have never played a large part of my life, but I do keep cousins whose families haven’t had common ties with mine since the 1700s – because we are few, far-flung, and in need of someone who understands us.  Too many family quarrels have limited even my most direct ties so that, essentially, I am left with siblings, parents, and grandparents to go to.  That means I have my grandma and little else.  But that wasn’t always the case.  And so in recalling my cousins who I knew less than I’d wished, I start to think about those moments I don’t have any longer, the moments of remembrance that define me as a human.

I can’t imagine who I would be if I didn’t have either houses of my grandparents’ to visit.

On my one side, I used to have both grandparents – and many of their siblings – but that all drastically changed in the course of just one year.  Without those grandparents, I wouldn’t have my grandma’s perspective on religion, my grandpa’s indifference, the obvious love that glued them together, their passion for the outdoors, or even that community spirit where we need to work together to improve ourselves and search for something more.  I would say those grandparents made quite a life out of what they were given.  The gardens, the knowledge of how to live off the land, long bike rides through thickets of trilliums (my grandma’s favorite flowers), singing hymns, watching the 8’o clock flowers bloom, sipping sweet tea on the gazebo with a mason jar of lightning bugs, a day of fishing, making salad from grandma’s homegrown loveage, swinging on the same tree mom swung in, feeding the birds, writing poetry on the typewriter, making crafts in the cellar with the musty smell of dried flowers and moss, putting giant magnetic spots on grandma’s car (because she was, after all, “Lady Bug”), listening to grandma storytell, PapPap grouching when we tell him to leave the football game in the TV room and go mow the lawn, his “jungle” garden and train set, the smell of their air-conditioning in the summer (they were the only elderly people I knew with air-conditioning), trying on grandma’s square dancing dresses, playing Pass the Pigs on the porch, the smell of grandma’s homemade biscuits in the kitchen, imagining my mom, her brother, and her sister living in the same rooms, falling asleep to the sound of distant cars and their headlights flashing on the ceiling (the only house I knew near a road), running out to meet the mail woman when she came down the lane, realizing I never saw the attic, wandering through the greenhouse and trying to remember the outdoor garage when their horse Bootsy lived there, crates of Coke bottles, Christmas and Easter when it actually had a meaning, skiing in the front lawn, the mantel clock that chimed a hymn, all the things that we could have done and they could have seen if only we had had more time…

On the other side, the farm.  Driving until we were in the middle of nowhere, then taking a turn into nothing and driving some more.  The lane that wasn’t a driveway but supposedly a “road”.  That road splits into four, and I still go there when I visit home.  One lane now jogs over to a temporary home for our friends.  Another shoots off into the forest, having once served the oil companies.  A third lane runs along the bottom of grandma’s garden and splits, one side going to her garage, the other continuing past a series of buildings that make up the abandoned pump station she bought years ago.  That lane continues through a cornfield until it dissipates from lack of use.  The last lane also splits again, heading up towards grandma’s house and then going either left to the dog pens or right towards the brick-layed yard that divides grandma’s two large barns.  I remember years ago when grandma still lived with her half-brother and how he was always mixing concrete in a trough between the barns and feeding his pigs.  My brother and I would play on the play set he concreted into the ground, then jump on some old rocks surrounding the chicken coop, toss rotten apples that fell off grandma’s tree into the well beside the house that had a broken plywood cover, chase each other through the pastures catching butterflies (or lightning bugs, at night), go “bale surfing” (when we would run across the tops of hay bales and try to get them to roll), run across steel beams Uncle Mike had laying around the barns for his new construction, chase kittens and stray cats that grandma feeds daily in her barns, climb in the hay loft to look for kitten holes or make “castles”, poke the corn bin in search of a black widow, stir leaves and sand in a giant rain catcher every time it rained, paint any window we could find with a Rose Art kit, draw grandma’s dogs with chalk on the patio, climb a tree that we didn’t realize our great-grandfather had planted in the sixties for our dad, roll down the hill in the front yard, sneak around the abandoned buildings in search of treasure, follow our parents to the open dump and jump on piles of tires and furniture before we realized open dumps are actually illegal, walking food over to our neighbors a few miles down the lane, hearing Joel come over to crank up the tractor or a bailer, listening to the crickets at night, grandma flipping on the lottery at 7 each night so she can interrupt the Wheel of Fortune and write down numbers in a book she keeps in the candy door, the clicking of the fan, the smell of the old rooms with furniture dad used when he still lived here, photos of a grandpa we never knew, pierogies, nut rolls, chicken noodle soup, coco-wheats, coffee with cream and sugar, corn flakes with sugar on top, motorcycle helmets for our toy bikes that we took racing down the gravel lane, grandma’s stash of Coke in the basement, feeding the dogs “dog lasagna”, cooking in both the upstairs and the downstairs ovens, filling buckets of water during hurricane season and lining the halls with them, boiling water in kettles to wash my hair because the heater was broken, stories of all the cool cars grandma bought while she worked the factories, trips out to Uniontown and the mall, those sweet summer nights with dogs and bubbles and a setting sun,…

I even remember the days when I would go to grandma’s sister’s.  It’s not the way it used to be.  Now her husband has died and her son has moved back in and my brother and I no longer play at the baseball field in the summer.  But we used to.  And we used to stay after games, watch our uncle do crosswords, sneak Skittles from his dispenser, watch TV on my aunt’s 4″x4″ black -and-white kitchen screen, eat Fudgesicles from the basement freezer, throw powder in the fireplace that made the flames blue, do puzzles, ride the stationary bike, lay on the tweed couch, play Don’t Break the Ice on the red carpet, poke at the overweight dog, sit on the porch pouring too much pepper on our fresh and local ears of corn, tying up tomatoes in cages in the yard, trimming the bushes by hand while dressed as the Ingall sisters in sunbonnets and dresses, climbing the backyard tree, watering plants out of the rain barrel, doing something that earned a spot on my aunt’s photograph-littered cabinet, pushing wheelbarrows of mulch, sitting at the bottom of the drive with a cardboard sign that said “vegetables for sale” and selling the vegetables, the feeling of the grass when we rolled down the bank just after it was mowed, the hot asphalt (and the only asphalt I knew), playing computer games for the first time (the only old person I knew with a computer!), the squishy toilet seat, packing my “Going to Grandma’s House” suitcase for my aunt’s house and her forgetting that I wasn’t actually her granddaughter, being called my mom’s name, the neighbor kids’ awesome new shed (I had never seen a store-bought shed before, so I would hang out in it with the neighbors and my brother), sloppy kisses, the smell of my aunt’s onion for breakfast, chocolate Nesquick milk, the Clap-On lamps, the Russian doll set, the impossibly white carpets, getting TY Beanie Babies for Christmas, family visiting from Virginia and North Carolina,…

These memories make me remember the little things so that I always appreciate them.  I don’t want a big, glamorous city life.  A small life where I can remember vegetable sales and the way a couch feels is enough for me.  Nothing compares to the feeling of a summer night of playing catch, jarring lightning bugs, and sipping homemade tea.  That’s a good thing, when those memories make me appreciate silly things.  But it’s also bad.  Because now I’m stuck far away, out-of-state, with people who don’t understand my background and who don’t have the same country experiences that I do.  Baking, cooking, farming, gardening,… those are all huge parts of my family time.  A lot of people here, in this drab city, don’t have those things in their past.  They look forward to a much different kind of thrill, the kinds that you don’t get in the woods, on a hunt, just being outside.  I think about that a lot and I convince myself that I cannot stay here, in this urban Ohio.  Not permanently.  But, in the meantime, it will make me appreciate what I left behind.  The mountains, the freedom.  And as for the people, many of them gone, I can’t forget those times – I doubt I can ever forget them.  As much as I could let it bring me down, maybe I can also let it pick me up.  I can hope for a future that will be filled with those same emotions, with people that I can share those times with in another place and another generation.

Memories can bring us so quickly out of the present.  It makes me wonder, where are those people now?  Those times?  It’s so easy to say those people are in heaven and those times are never forgotten but, in reality, I say neigh.  Those people are gone, there is not heaven – that is wishful thinking.  They are gone, and that realization is what makes us appreciate them the most heart-wrenchingly way possible.  You cannot take the present for granted because it is so fleeting.  To think there is redemption, that is foolish naïveté.  To hope for something better when you’re done here is greed and a wholesome lack of appreciation.  Things are meant to be seen simply and fully, like the animals around us see them.  We’ve been granted with the ability to perceive perhaps even more and so we need to use it.  That perception can help us define ourselves and better ourselves whilst we are so transfixed on how we are perceived and how we are changing our own lives. So not everything on this planet feels as much as we do, but we do feel it and we have to learn to live with it.  In the meantime, we can practice remembering those things that we want to carry with us and use them to spark us for the better.

There’s no use in trying to forget an integral part of your past, but dwelling on moments won’t progress you either.  You have to strike a balance.  For that reason, I’ve decided I need to accept what is here and what is gone, take away from it what I can while I can, and then continue to withhold my traditions because that is, in essence withholding a deep part of myself, the static part I want to keep as I continue to grow.

High School Reunions? Uhh…

Lately I’ve seen a lot of posts and pictures about high school reunions.  Many of my friends have reached the five-year mark (’08).  My parents, like all of my family, graduated early and would have celebrated their 37-year (‘78) and 35-year (‘80) reunions.  I can guarantee you they will never hold an interest in any Pennsylvania State University reunion, let alone any reunion with people they don’t care about from their high school who obviously had nothing better to do than stick around.  And I feel exactly the same.

I’m baffled by how many people seem to attend high school reunions.  I attended so many different schools, I don’t even have a loyalty.  Neither does my brother, who attended the Valley School of Ligonier (Pennsylvania), Kiski Preparatory School for Boys (Pennsylvania), and Andrews Osborne Academy (Ohio).  I’ll admit, I still go back every once in awhile to visit Valley.  I’m good friends with many of the teachers there.  But no one my age goes to any of these reunions.  Are you kidding me?  First of all, most Valley kids were from different areas and transferred to boarding schools even farther away as they set themselves up for college.  So who would be left?

I went to a reunion shortly after I graduated high school.  It was winter break, and my private school was just over a few mountains from my home.  I made the drive and was disappointed to find that most of my college-aged friends were away for school still, on vacation in attractive places, or simply disinterested.  I asked my friends how a reunion had gone recently and they told me “no one came”, a completely ordinary response.  Maybe a few recent grads, but everyone else have careers and homes and live far away.  Most boarding school kids don’t even come from America, so why would they come back for a reunion?

Maybe it’s different for public school people who see the same people day in and day out, who keep in touch, and who don’t move away.  But I feel like that kind of person is harder and harder to find these days, what with college and careers leading us to bigger and better things.  All I know is I don’t really keep any friends from high school; I’ve, well, grown out of it.

So here’s to all the people who are sick of sappy get-together photos, who don’t understand reunions or sucking up to people who think they´re something they aren´t, and who would like to think we have moved on to much greater events in our lives than catching up with people who don’t even remember our names and who obviously haven’t had a move on with their small-town lives.