Speaking of Oaks

Image result for pictures of oaks trees

An old friend died last week. He was mighty, not yet ready to die, still reaching out to shelter others. He didn’t die from Covid or even a heart attack. Perhaps hubris but that’s hard to measure. I can’t even say he died from old age, although he was old, probably at least 100 years.

The friend I’m writing about was a hug oak tree, and the reason I say “perhaps hubris” was that his roots extended so far they broke into our across the street neighbor’s sewage line and filled their basement with sewage. And so, the city came out, began by cutting off his crown, then a mid-section and another and another, until he was shaved to the ground, at which point they dug out a hole some 15×15 feet, and thus, removed the offending roots. Thee city also filled in the hole and replanted the lawn, in case you’re wondering if neighbors still have a gaping wound in their yard.

Perhaps he mourned his old couple who, about four years ago, sold the house where they had raised their children and moved into an apartment. The new family moved in. They weren’t old, but neither were they really young. Their last child was about 13 years old when they moved in and now in his first year of college. So maybe the tree mourned the boy leaving home. Maybe it thought he could get this couple to leave and bring back the old folks. Who knows how trees think.

The city has also come through over the years to trim up lower branches which is fine. It’s certainly helped my view. And a couple of times, my son has pulled out his trusty electric saw for a branch that was too low and hanging over the cars. The tree seems to recover just fine.

Kansas City has many streets lined with old oaks and occasionally, one needs to come down, for one reason or another. Sometimes they have side branches damaged by storms. Most of these streets, and certainly ours, were build by a particular developer, Edward A. Diebolt in the early 1900s with straight streets and young oaks lining those streets.

When I taught night classes out at the Junior College, I’d breathe a big sigh of relief when I turned off the main road and onto our two block long street, oaks sheltering my last few minutes home, removing me from traffic and giving me shelter all the way. I loved the seeing my headlights reflected from those overhanging leaves.

The squirrels probably mourn the tree, too. We have a lot of squirrels in our neighborhood who love acorns, and there’s always a lot of acorns. They drop, and in a wind it sometimes sounds like hail.

We feed birds and squirrels in our backyard. One day, when I went to buy the 40 pound bag of mixed seeds which we use to produce a backyard full of wildlife, the man helping me said, “You must feed a lot of birds.” “And squirrels,” I said. “They like our backyard., too”

The man looked at me sort of squinty-eyed and said, “I just shoot them.” I avoid his check out when I now buy more seed.

I’m glad the neighbors across the street have a clean basement, and I’m glad the tree in front of our house has survived the hammering and digging that occurred when the city recently replaced the water pipes. But my old friend still leaves a gap in my heart when I look across the street.

and the times, they are a changin’

A cold rain came through two days ago and the temperature dropped from the 90s to the 50s which hardly gave me time to find my sweatshirts, somewhere in one of the the drawers or shelves where I keep such garments. I was not prepared.

In the meantime, fires raged all up and down California, which I assume you know as well as do I. However, this was the first time I’d seen them down in the San Diego area which is where my grandson and his wife live along with my great-grandson and his California grandparents. So I called granddaughter. She assured me that while she could see the smoke, there’s a mountain between where they live and San Diego itself. So for now, they are safe. However, California mountains, large and small, are pretty much covered by trees and brush.

And I won’t even mention all the political chaos other than to say, there’s also a lot of political anger and violence. More fire.

I did, however, clean up my laptop today and deleted a large file-pile of old documents and trash and it’s working again. Maybe the rain helped it.

One of the surprises of the past few days was seeing a decrease of birds at the feeder. Somehow many of them read the signs of the times and took off for the south. What’s remained, for the most part, are the young summer fledglings. Hopefully, some of them will realize their parents didn’t simply desert them but headed in a direction they are also to take.

I could use a little Bob Dylan these days, live rather than recorded, although I do have his albums. I’m not clear on what causes these upheavals in culture every forty years or so although they do seem to happen that way: the 1920s into the 1960s into the 2020s. Which also seem to correspond to the wars the US gets itself into.

I’ve probably written this before, but so often the lines from T.S.Elliot run through my mind: “I am old, I wear my pants legs rolled.” Right now, it’s entirely too chilly to roll up my pants legs or forgo socks, but the line rolls through my head none the less.

And none of us know where this … whatever it is… will go.

Well, I have excuses…

I’ve become entirely too successful in creating an editing business. I am, currently, editing a manuscript of some 300+ pages. It’s taking a lot of focus.

The Coronavirus still rages in Kansas City. I still go not much farther than the backyard to feed the wild critters who love our safe yard. Baby cardinals have discovered the joy of feeding themselves rather than waiting for parents. As with most teenagers, they eat a lot. The squirrels, whom most homeowners disparage and want to get rid of, are a daily delight as they chase each other around the yard. We have baby squirrels, too. And one small family of rabbits who only venture into the yard when no one is about.

What an astonishing world we are living in. Politics are nuts. No one can agree on anything. Mask requirements come and go (I ALWAYS wear a mask when leaving the house as does my husband and son) and our 90+ year old friends celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary. Seventy-five years of marriage! That’s quite an accomplishment. We went to visit for a bit yesterday, wearing masks. They were also wearing masks, at home, as were all their adult kids.

Wasn’t there a masked ball popular in the Middle Ages during another pandemic? The Black Death? I’ve not found anyone dancing around here, but then, I don’t go anywhere, so how would I know?

I watch squirrels and birds and type. One of my memoirs is at the publisher’s. She expects to have it out sometime early 2021. I’ve not had a lot of time for my second memoir in the midst of editing others’ memoirs.

One of the things I have managed to accomplish is to turn over the farm business to my son, Stephen. Not that there’s a lot there to do. Well, that’s not exactly right. I went up to the farm with Stephen a few weeks ago. He had a John Deere riding mower shipped to our farm, which lies six miles from the nearest small town, nine miles from a paved road, a quarter mile from Mission Creek, and a half mile from the Ks/Neb State Line. We also cleaned out Dad’s shop/garage. Now. That was a chore. It hadn’t been cleaned in decades, even since before Dad died, and that was already decades ago. So you can only imagine. Well, imagine rat holes and mud-dobber nests and old and caked oil. But maybe you’d rather not.

Stephen reinforced the garage doors and put heavy duty hasps and locks on it so he could store the mower inside. Dad always bought John Deere equipment. Now another green machine is up on the farm.

Perhaps I’ve written about this before, and if I have, bear with me: The farm is an 1800s land grant farm – a quarter mile wide, and a mile east to west, planted to tallgrass prairie. It’s beautiful, and birds, butterflies, rabbits, and the occasional rattlesnake love it. It was homesteaded by Grandpa Albert’s grandfather so it’s been in the family a long time.

And sky. Forever the sky.

‘Da Trip

I’m sitting here, researching Florida corona virus and trying to find out if there’s a check point on I 75 going into Florida. My son and I are driving to Florida next week to visit second son and daughter-in-law. And why, you may ask, am I driving into Florida with cases surging there? Because my daughter-in-law asked me to come. As did second son. So I’m going, armed with hand sanitizers and masks.

I will also, no doubt, be going to visit my previous husband and his wife, armed with hand sanitizers and mask. Why am I doing that – the visiting part, not the mask/hand sanitizers part? Because I am a good mother who endeavors to keep her family happy. And ex and I have been divorced for longer than we were married, and because it’s a family tradition of sorts. Ex is also nearing 80 and had open-heart surgery a year ago, and, well, maybe this is the last time I’ll get to say hello.

Older son is mostly driving. I’ll take over from time to time, but we’re driving straight through, unless of course, Florida’s borders are again having checkpoints for people entering Florida. But mostly for those coming down from higher on the East Coast, New York, etc. which isn’t us. So maybe we won’t get caught in the backup.

My current husband can’t go as he’s still teaching summer school, but he has, vigorously, reminded me to always wear a mask, especially at ex’s house, and to keep my distance. He doesn’t even let me go grocery shopping with him, and here I am, venturing down to Florida. My most important protection for this journey is my oldest son who is precise and careful and will not let me go astray as much as I’m inclined to do. Actually, second son is careful of me, too, but he hasn’t had as much experience in ordering me about as oldest son.

And all I really want to do is sit here at my computer and work on the Mexico book which is exhaustive with details stored in a variety of journals going back to 1984 when I first went down there to make a movie. And stayed. For three years.

But what else am I going to do? First book is at the publishers. As usual, I’m going backwards. But first book was easier as it detailed just one year. The Mexico book covers at least three or four. I’ve sort of lost count and have tried at various times to write it to no avail. Maybe because there’s so much. Although writing the second-book-time-wise-first taught me a lot about writing, so maybe it was a good idea. Who knows. This writing thing is such a crazy process. I’m planning on taking a couple of the Mexico journals with me to read on the trip and a supply of post-it tabs to mark relevant passages. I suppose that’s useful.

I have, along with journals, several pieces of various things I brought back with me from Mexico and which now sit in three shelves on a corner bookcase in my writing room. I suspect this room was designed as the children’s playroom and perhaps bedroom. The door is a double door, I expect so a mother could open the top section and see what enclosed kids are up to. That door is now securely attached to the bottom door by second son, whom I’m going to visit, by two metal bars so now one only opens one door instead of each section separately which each have a know. He lived here a few years ago and got tired of opening each section. Ergo, bolted them to one.

The corner shelves hold Mexican treasures: a glass box with a door that opens to a glass tube sitting on a cork. Inside the glass tube is a very strange horned creature with a monkey sitting on its head. The glass tube is about two inches tall so you can imagine how small the characters are inside.

Another treasure is an ofrenda table, about 3 inches long and an inch wide and with tiny cups and loaves of bread and and what look like sweet bread and a skull. All in three inches. An ofrenda table (full sized) is set up in homes on October 31st for three days to celebrate the Days of the Dead and the deceased family members. Oh, my. Here I go with another story: when I lived in Mexico, I made friends with an American woman who was on sabbatical from her university job and came to Mexico to do research. She had a car and we drove out to a small village outside Mexico City and walked the street of food vendors and masks and noise etc etc, until we came to the cemetery beside a small stone church. It was silent. I can still see the tall candles at corners of graves and on one grave near the gate, an old woman in black sitting on the raised stone edge with a sleeping child across her lap.

Yeah. I need to write the Mexico book. It haunts me.

I Am Remembering

While I have begun the next book – one about my life in Mexico–while waiting for the first one to be published–I am stuck. Not because I don’t know what comes next in the story, but rather because I don’t know what comes next after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. We have had protests in Kansas City as I’m sure most of you have experienced or at least heard about. I am too old to join them. This is theirs; mine were many years ago.

What I’m particularly remembering is a protest, turning violent with police charging in, in which I was a participant. I was in my late twenties and living in Los Angeles, working at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel as a waiter, and searching for contacts in the film world. I was also lovely, thin, and willowy, but then, most are in their twenties. And I had a mane of blond hair. And blue eyes. I still have blue eyes but the blond hair and willowy figure have gone the way of aging.

So anyway, this was in the middle of the Johnson years when people were protesting the war in Vietnam. There were huge protests in those years, too, and many turned violent. The President was coming to Los Angeles for some dinner at a swanky hotel (not the Roosevelt) and a huge crowd of people came out to protest. I was among them. As the helicopters whirred overhead bringing in the President and others, the protest grew really loud and there was a surge forward. With helicopters whirring overhead and the crowd disoriented in the downdraft, the police moved in.

I began running and dodging sideways through the crowd when I came face to face with a very large policeman holding a billy club aloft and about to swing it. I held up one arm, said, “Please don’t hit me…I’m going.” And he didn’t. I left safely. Many others did not.

My reason for writing this and remembering this in the time of protests over Mr. Floyd’s death is because, while at the time I didn’t think about it, was, rather, simply grateful, now I wonder if the policeman lower his billy club because I said please or because I was a pretty white woman.

I suspect the latter.

I come from a family of six white farm kids from Kansas. But our children have reached into the world: one married a Korean, one a Mexican, one an African American, one a Filipino, and one a Native American. My great-grandson is Filipino/Korean/Caucasian. When my granddaughter said, “I see the Korean part and the Filipino part but I don’t see the Caucasian part,” I said, “Just wait, The white part is the crazy part.” And I hope he grows up as free and crazy as his great-grandma did. I expect he will.