Thursday, February 1, 2018

To Everything There is a Season...a time for every purpose under heaven

I’ve recently completed a year-long art project in which I photographed the same tree in the
"Spring Tree" by KL Wood
same field from the same angle in each of the four seasons. The project began, quite by accident, as we were traveling to Ahoskie last spring, and came across a magnificent tree standing alone in the middle of a young soybean field. It was so beautiful, standing regally above the new plants, that I asked my husband to stop so I could get out and take its portrait. I was so pleased with the result that I decided to capture it in each of the other seasons, as well. And, so, I did.


Each time I scrambled across the farm ditch and crouched near the earth to get the right viewpoint, I felt something different and, yet, something the same. It occurs to me, now, that the tree and its field are metaphors for time of year, time of day, and time of life.

In the spring of the year, sprays of tender, pastel green leaves covered the tree’s massive, old branches, and the little soybean plants fanned out in orderly rows around it. Spring, with its rebirth and promise of greatness to come. Morning of the year, with its watercolor sky, moist and softly fragrant. Childhood, with its gentle, joyful laughter.

"Summer Tree" by KL Wood
In mid-summer, I returned to discover a deep and verdant sea of green. Emerald clouds floated above the tree’s dark trunk. Not only could I no longer make out the tree’s individual branches, I could no longer see the bottom of the ditch, my feet tripping through a jungle of vines and wildflowers and briars. Snakes? Perhaps. But with camera in hand, I tend to take more risks than is my usual nature. Summer, with its rich dark soil flooded with life. Mid-day of the year, with its buzzing, fertile aliveness. Young adulthood, with its vibrant, boisterous dance.

"Autumn Tree" by KL Wood
In autumn, I found bronze leaves clinging tenaciously to the spreading branches. The freshly harvested field glowed with inner golden light. Autumn, with its time of harvest and gathering in. Afternoon of the year, reaping the fruits of the day’s labor. Middle age, with its toil and satisfaction of work well done.

And with our first snowfall, we braved the icy roads so I could capture my tree in that world of white. A great web of bare branches towered above the wind-smoothed snow field. I could
"Winter Tree" by KL Wood
not see where the bank ended and the ditch began, sinking above my knees into the billowy snowdrift. At least I was certain no snakes hid in those depths. Winter, with its snow-muffled quiet, and glistening crystal reflection of the sun. Evening of the year, with its luminous glow of moonlight and sparkling starlight. Old age, when the light of the soul shines through the fading of the flesh.

“To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven…”

Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back, now.

Kate


Saturday, December 16, 2017

Ghosts of Christmas Past...God bless us, every one

Buttercup Cottage Christmas photo by KL Wood
Our house is haunted. Not the spooky, howling Halloween sort of haunting, but the gentle kind that nudges at your heart and sparkles in the Christmas lights. Living in our little cottage on West Church Street, I feel the spirit of more than one hundred Christmases whispering through the rooms. Lean years, bountiful years, marching in a parade spanning five generations of weddings, funerals, birthdays, and holidays. And Christmases. Especially the Christmases.

When our realtor introduced us to it in the spring of 2012, we felt at home the very first time we crossed the threshold. Despite the fact that the house had stood empty for many years, the spirit of family love was imprinted in its walls, and palpable in the air. This will make a wonderful Christmas House, I thought. And it did. A house with the warmth of Christmas spirit throughout the year, blooming and overflowing with it each December.

Mama and Daddy Christmas Spirits photo by KL Wood
It seems fitting then, that this year our home is sweetly haunted by one spirit in particular. One who loved Christmas with all her heart. My mother. Mama passed away, here in her bedroom, on December 26, 2016. When she returned home to us under hospice care, after a brief hospital stay, we all prepared for the bittersweetness of her final days. Mama had two goals: to celebrate her 93rd birthday on December 16th, and celebrate Christmas with her children, grand and great-
grandchildren. She achieved both.

On her birthday, Mama rallied enough to get dressed and out of
Christmas Tree 2017 photo by KL Wood
bed, donning a party hat and video-chatting on a computer with her great-grandchildren who were still at home in the snows of upstate New York. As she slipped in and out of consciousness during her last days, we overheard her, on more than one occasion, telling my father to wait a little longer. Daddy passed away in 2001.

On Christmas day, she had enough periods of wakefulness that she could interact with all of us, including those two precious great-granddaughters who made it in time to hug their Nana one more time. Then, on the afternoon of the 26th, surrounded by family, she crossed over as gently as the extinguishing of a Christmas candle. As a matter of fact, death at Christmas has become a bit of a family tradition. In addition to Mama’s passing on the 26th, both my father’s oldest sister and my mother’s oldest sister died on December 25th in years past.

Sophie and Minna's Christmas Dream Time photo by KL Wood
In some ways, of course, this makes for a tough holiday season at times. My family is used to me welling up with tears on a pretty regular basis, whether upon hearing a particular Christmas song, hanging ornaments on the tree, or preparing one of Mama’s Christmas staples: collard greens, boiled with ham hocks. So whether this is your first or your fiftieth holiday season without loved ones, welcome those tears as a reminder of the depth of love you share with them and know, in your heart, their spirits are present among the glitter and glow of your decorations and within the notes of the Christmas music you hold dear.



Merry Christmas, everyone. And may the loving Spirits of Christmas, gently haunt you.

Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back, now.
And Warmest Christmas Wishes!

Kate

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Giving Thanks...for dirty feet

For this month's post, during the season of giving thanks, my thoughts turn to gratitude as I realize all that I have to be thankful for. And, as I swept the floors today in preparation for friend and family visits, I got to thinking about all that dirt, where it came from, and what it actually meant to me. Lo, and behold, that dirt spawned unexpected gratitude and this new poem was born!

Giving Thanks
by Kate Louise Wood

Dirt tracked inside
and, as I sweep,
Thanksgiving sings
upon my lips.
For if the source
of my day’s toil
was gone away,
I’d surely weep
and long to grab
my broom and sweep
the muddy trail
of those dear feet.

Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back, now! And Happy Thanksgiving, one and all!

Kate


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Edgar Allan Po-e-try...Nevermore

"Raven" photographed by the author's husband, William F. Ahearn
With Halloween just a few days away, and front porches festooned with all things spooky, my thoughts turn to that creator of creepiness, that hero of horror, that master of macabre, Edgar Allan Poe. Mr. Poe has long embodied the spirit of the season and, so, I salute him this month with one of his most enduring poems, "The Raven."

I invite you to read these lines with new eyes. It's possible that you have not read them (or, at least, not all of them) since you were forced to, back in high school. With years of life experience coloring your interpretation, you may feel a different sense of dread than you did in your younger days. I find it fascinating how his use of a single word, "Nevermore", chills us to the bone. And, so, illustrated by a raven my husband photographed as it sat upon the top of our camper trailer in Yellowstone National Park, I bow to Poe's genius, and present:


The Raven

by Edgar Allan Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—

    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—

            Only this and nothing more.”



    Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;

And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.

    Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow

    From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—

For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—

            Nameless here for evermore.



    And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;

    So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating

    “’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—

Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—

            This it is and nothing more.”



    Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,

“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;

    But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,

    And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,

That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—

            Darkness there and nothing more.



    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,

Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;

    But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,

    And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”

This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—

            Merely this and nothing more.



    Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,

Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.

    “Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;

      Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—

Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—

            ’Tis the wind and nothing more!”



    Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,

In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;

    Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;

    But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—

Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—

            Perched, and sat, and nothing more.



Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,

By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,

“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,

Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—

Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”

            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”



    Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,

Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;

    For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being

    Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—

Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,

            With such name as “Nevermore.”



    But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only

That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.

    Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—

    Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—

On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”

            Then the bird said “Nevermore.”



    Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,

“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store

    Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster

    Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—

Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore

            Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”



    But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,

Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;

    Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking

    Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—

What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore

            Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”



    This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing

To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;

    This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining

    On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,

But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,

            She shall press, ah, nevermore!



    Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer

Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.

    “Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee

    Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;

Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”

            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”



    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—

Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,

    Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—

    On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—

Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”

            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”



    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!

By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—

    Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,

    It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—

Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”

            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”



    “Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—

“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!

    Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!

    Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!

Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”

            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”



    And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting

On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;

    And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,

    And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor

            Shall be lifted—nevermore!


           Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now.  (Happy Halloween!)
        Kate
 






Friday, September 22, 2017

Hope is the thing with feathers...in Pandora's Box

Hope is the thing with feathers, photo by K L Wood, author
In my recently completed Middle Grade novel, Zephyr Stone and the Moon Mist Ghost, I refer to the ancient Greek legend of Pandora's Box. You may remember that Pandora was so overcome by curiosity of a forbidden box that she opened it and let loose all manner of evil upon the world. She slammed it shut but, listening to a sweeter cry from within the box, she opened it again, and out flew Hope. Thank goodness! This set me to pondering about the nature of Hope.

As we witness worldwide disasters, both natural (hurricanes and earthquakes,) and unnatural (the atrocities against the Rohingya people of Myanmar,) I wonder at the resilience of the human spirit. How can people survive such devastation and live on? Is it merely a survival instinct that pushes us forward?

I believe it is the concept of Hope.
Hope, the quality sitting between Faith and Love in 1 Corinthians 13:13.
Hope, as Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick, expresses, “is the struggle of the soul, breaking loose from what is perishable, and attesting her eternity.” And from Miguel de Cervantes, creator of that ever hopeful character, Don Quixote, “The phoenix hope, can wing her way through the desert skies, and still defying fortune's spite; revive from ashes and rise.”
Final Gifts, photo of author's mother and daughter by K L Wood

Of course Hope is empty and fruitless without the inner strength and determination to truly believe in it so much that we do the hard work, be it physical, emotional, or spiritual, to move forward. Facing our own death may seem the ultimate hopeless situation, but I saw Hope in my mother’s eyes as she spent her last earthly days with us last Christmas. She had Hope in her future, even though it was a future for which she had no physical proof. Through a lifetime of experience she had done the hard work of anchoring her Faith in things sometimes unseen. Her Hope had a strong foundation.

How can we find Hope in the televised reports of lives torn apart by the ravages of storms and the person-to-person inhumane treatment of others? When we can help, we help. Volunteering our time, giving of our resources, educating the public. These all give strength to Hope and stir it in our own souls. But there are times we cannot give aid and must look on helplessly. Where is the Hope? One of my favorite quotes on this subject is from Fred Rogers, known for his beloved
Fred Rogers, 1960s, (photo in Public Domain)
children’s television program, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ ” We find Hope in the selfless acts of strangers.


One of my favorite things in life is watching the myriad of birds that flock to our birdfeeders. Birds of all kinds, sharing the sunflower seeds, feeding their young, singing their songs. In the sunlight, in the rain, in the snows of winter, these stalwart little creatures press on with the business of life and I am reminded of a poem by Emily Dickinson:



Hope is the thing with feathers by Emily Dickinson, photo by K L Wood, author
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all,
And sweetest, in the gale, is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,

It asked a crumb of me.

Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now.  
Kate
 


Monday, August 7, 2017

Haint Blue...how to repel evil spirits and spiders too

The next time you go out and sit on your porch, relaxing, rocking, bird and people watching, look up. I mean directly up at the porch ceiling. What color is it? If you live here, in Edenton, or any place in
Author's Front Porch Ceiling photo by KL Wood
the South, it is mostly likely a soft shade of greenish blue, especially if it’s an older home. Huh. Never thought about it, did you? Unless it’s time to repaint that outdoor ceiling, even those of us who grew up kicking our bare legs back and forth on a southern porch swing, often take that color for granted. I mean it’s pretty and it’s obviously what our ancestors preferred so it’s just traditional, right? But why?

The answer comes in the form of its regional name, “Haint Blue.” From the Gullah culture of coastal South Carolina, comes the word “haint,” referring to restless spirits of the not-so-dearly-departed who might bring evil into a home. This particular shade of blue was believed to keep the haints away and, thus, thwart their plans to spirit the residents off or influence them in some negative manner. Why would haints be repelled by such a lovely color? Because, apparently, they are easily fooled. Evil spirits are said to be unable to cross water and this shade of blue mimics the color of water. So since it’s not practical to include a moat around our homes, this paint does the trick. In some places, such as Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA, you will find not only porch ceilings painted Haint Blue, but shutters, trim work, and sometimes entire walls.

Haint Blue is thought to repel, not only evil spirits, but insects, as well. Some theorize that, like the haints, the pesky little critters are also fooled by the color. Not because they think it’s water, but because they think it’s the sky. As with much folklore, there is a kernel of truth there. The original Haint Blue paint was a mixture of indigo, milk and lime. It’s the lime that, most likely, kept the ceiling bug-free. Today’s modern versions of Haint Blue do not contain lime, so keep your fly swatter handy as you lounge beneath that lovely ceiling.

Whether, or not, Haint Blue repels evil spirits or insects, it remains a calming, cooling, peaceful color with which to greet our upward gaze. Coupled with its tie to our past, please consider it when sprucing up your porch. I’m squarely in the “can’t hurt, might help” camp. And besides, it’s so pretty!

Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now.  
Kate
 


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Crepe Myrtle...a most RevolutionaryTree

Backyard Crepe Myrtle Blossoms by KL Wood
When describing Edenton, I often refer to it as “dripping with history and crepe myrtles.” Whether you spell it, “Crape,” or “Crepe,” the Lagerstroemia indica is a gracious and beautifully ubiquitous member of our fair town. It’s a tree found only in warm climes (Hardiness Zones 7 to 9) so, although we tend to take it for granted, our more northern visitors are awestruck with its incredible beauty. Sometimes referred to as “The Four Season Tree,” we enjoy its bodaciously long-lived blossoms each summer, its flame-hued leaves in autumn, its smooth, polished bark and artistically twisting limbs in winter, and its fresh young leaves each spring.

From snowy white, to deepest fuchsia red, and all shades of pink and lavender in between, our exotic “Tree of a Hundred Days” (blooming for about 100 days each year,) is also uniquely appropriate to Edenton’s Revolutionary Spirit. Just as our ladies famously refused to purchase English tea in 1774, the Crepe Myrtle refused to thrive in the cooler English climes, when first imported there in 1759 from its native China. When Andre Michaux, botanist to France’s King Louis XVI, introduced the tree to Charleston, South Carolina around 1786, however, it breathed in the young nation’s warm air and burst into fragrant bloom! And the rest, as they say, is history.

Pardon me while I wax poetic, but such intoxicating beauty inspires me to toss out a few quick lines of verse.

Ode to Crepe Myrtles

Crinkly crinolines of Summer splendor,
they breathe in air and exhale flowers.
Autumn paints their leaves with flame,
while Winter bares their sculpted limbs.
Their delicate leaves of vernal Spring,
a prelude to their hundred-day reign.

In addition to their visual appeal, Crepe Myrtle flowers are a good food source for honey bees and other pollinators. Although they do not produce nectar (bee honey,) they do produce pollen (bee bread,) a necessary form of protein. As a matter of fact, Crepe Myrtles produce two different kinds of pollen. One for reproduction (the brown pad-like anthers,) and one just for the pollinators (the bright yellow anthers.) With the disturbing decline of honey bee populations, we can thank the Crepe Myrtle for doing its part to help keep this important plant pollinator alive.

Old Crepe Myrtle, Edenton by KL Wood
Oh, and one more thing--Please don’t be one of those well meaning but misinformed and misguided gardeners who commit “Crepe Murder” each year! The trend, started years ago, to annually chop off the lovely tree limbs to barren stubs, is unnecessary and just plain ugly. I’m gratified to see that most of Edenton’s trees are properly pruned and have been spared that particular botanical humiliation. If not convinced, please check out this link from an online Southern Living magazine article:

Now, won’t you join me as I go outside to sip a glass of lemonade beneath the inviting shade of the nearest Crepe Myrtle? We won’t have to go far!

Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now.  
Kate
 



Sunday, June 11, 2017

Road Food For Thought...a summer diversion


"1960" photo by author's father, G.C. Wood
August, 1960. The lush strains of “Theme from A Summer Place” drift from the radio of a sleek 1959 Oldsmobile gliding down two-lane Route 17 between Norfolk, Virginia and Swansboro, North Carolina. That balding, middle-aged man--white-knuckled fingers gripping the steering wheel--is my father, and that slender, raven-haired woman--arms crossed tightly across her lap--is my mother. Behind Daddy, my brother’s thirteen-year-old Carolina Blue eyes scan the passing countryside through his open window. Beside him sits a fat little pug named Pam, bulbous eyes lifted skyward above the skinny back of an eight-year-old girl whose hazel-eyed gaze searches the landscape on her side of the car. I’m that girl. The one who hates it when plump aunts shake their heads and tell her if she doesn’t eat more she’ll “dry up and blow away.

Sure is hot. No air conditioning beyond the warm wind blowing through the windows. A farm slides into view, a few cows grazing behind a barbed wire fence. One, two, three, four…five. “Five more cows!”

My brother turns my way, glancing at the field just beyond the farmhouse. “Graveyard.”

Shoot. Lost all my cows…again. Why is it all the cow pastures on my side of the road have graveyards beside them? “How many you got now, Terry?”

“Thirty-one. Nope. There’s a white mule. Thirty-six now.”

I heave a sigh and lean my head back against the seat. “Mama, I’m gettin’ hungry. We gonna eat soon?”

She snaps off the radio and faces my father, cocking one arched eyebrow. “Well?”

Daddy pulls a damp handkerchief from his pocket and wipes the back of his neck. “Like I told you, we could stop at the restaurant near Little Washington. It’s air conditioned,” he says, eyes glued to the road.

“It’s Saturday night,” Mama says through clinched teeth. “You know what that means.”

“It means they’ll be open,” he says.

Mama hugs herself tighter and stares out her window. I don’t think she’s counting cows. I rest my arm on Pam’s pudgy back and look at Terry. His wide eyes brush my way before squinting at our parents. I touch his arm and raise my eyebrows when he looks back at me. Shrugging, he returns his attention to the window.

The hazy sun is lower now, and I have to cup my hands around my eyes to shield them from its western glare. I feel something besides hunger gnawing at my stomach. “Mama? I think I’m gonna be sick.”

“You’re probably too hungry.”

“She’s probably too hot,” adds my father.

I think I’m both too hungry and too hot but verbalizing this seems like a bad idea. My brother reaches down into the jumble beneath his feet and hands me a paper bag. Seeing it makes me even queasier. 

“I don’t think I can hold it in.”

“Pull over,” says Mama and the Olds comes to an abrupt halt off the side of the road.

She opens the door and helps me out into the dry scratchy grass, gently guiding me toward the deep ditch bordering the highway. Her hand presses against my forehead and steadies me as I bend over and empty the purple vestiges of my Nehi Grape Soda into the long shadows of rustling tobacco plants. “I’m sorry, honey. We’ll get you something to eat soon.”

Back inside, I slump into the depths of the seat and stroke Pam’s plush back. Daddy starts the car but doesn’t move us back onto the road.

“The restaurant’s just a couple miles away.”

“It is Saturday night,” repeats Mama as though this means something other than the fact the restaurant’s open for business.

Daddy drapes his freckled arm over the steering wheel and peers at her. “I don’t see the problem.”

“Look at us!” she says.

I look down at my polka-dotted shorts and scuffed sandals and over at my brother’s cut-off jeans and sneakers.

“I am looking at us,” says Daddy. “What’s the problem?”

“You remember what it’s like in Little Washington on Saturday night. We lived there long enough. People get all dressed up and go out to dinner. Dresses, hats, gloves, suits, ties. We’re in shorts and we’re sweaty!”

“But…there’s air conditioning,” says Daddy as though this makes up for our lack of fashionable decorum.

Mama’s shoulders look as though they’ll meet her earlobes any second now. “Let’s stop at the drive-in. They have chili dogs.”
Good. I like chili dogs.

“No air conditioning,” says Daddy as he glances over his left shoulder and pulls back onto 17.

Icy silence chills the front seat. Too bad we can’t tap into its frost. I close my eyes as the hum of the highway and the heat lull me into light sleep. Terry can have all the cows.

I’m jerked awake as the car jolts to a sudden stop. Pushing my knobby elbows against the seat, I rise up and peer out. It’s the drive-in. Without a word, Daddy gets out, slams the door, and marches to the outside order window.

Mama twists around toward the backseat. “Terry, go help your father carry the food.”

My brother heaves an adolescent sigh and hauls himself out of the car. I watch as Daddy exchanges cash for a bag of hot dogs and four Cokes, handing Terry two of the green glass bottles. Returning to the car, Daddy slides back behind the wheel and gives Mama the white bag. As she doles out the chili dogs, each wrapped snugly in waxed paper, Daddy starts up the Olds.

“We could sit here while we eat,” she says.

“Too hot,” says Daddy, his face glowing a violent crimson.

Soon, dusky summer air is flowing once more through the open windows as Terry and I settle back, cold bottles pressed between our thighs, juicy hot dogs dribbling chili through our fingers, Pam accepting her share from both of us. Daddy drives with one hand and fumbles at the chili dog wrapper with the other. After a few unsuccessful tries, he tosses it back into Mama’s lap. She carefully unwraps it and turns toward him, hot dog balanced in her right hand. Without a word of warning, she throws it against the side of his face, chili and onions streaming down, sliding over his ear and down his neck.

The earth stands still for a few heart-stopping moments as Daddy continues to drive, staring silently ahead, the disassembled hot dog resting on his shoulder. This is something new. We’re used to our parents bickering but it’s always limited to verbal sparring. Never anything approaching physical. Terry and I exchange wide-eyed looks of horror. The world as we know it must be over. Pam stands up and places her front paws on the back of the front seat, stretching her scrunchy neck toward Daddy, little pink tongue reaching for the aromatic trails of chili inching down his throat. Terry grabs her back before she makes contact, grasping her tightly against his chest like some kind of canine life preserver.

Then, a quiet ripple of sound breaks the tomb-like silence. I think Mama is crying. Her narrow shoulders twitch rhythmically as the sound grows louder. She turns to Daddy and I see tears spilling from her eyes but…but she’s laughing! Has she lost her mind? Daddy looks at her, wipes a red ribbon of chili from his glasses and bursts into laughter as he slows the car, pulling it to a stop beside the road. Mama removes the sticky glasses from his face as he collapses into a stomach-clutching belly laugh. Terry and I look at each other in disbelief then dissolve into laughter, ourselves. Curly tail wagging against her wiggling hips, Pam barks and slips from my brother’s arms, snatching the stray hot dog as it rolls down Daddy’s back. Reaching across the seat, Daddy gathers Mama into his arms, rocking her from side to side as the precious music of healing laughter fills the car.
Our world hasn’t ended after all. And I’ve learned an important life lesson about the power of good-hearted laughter and self-deprecating humor.

Years later, I hear it summed up in a quote by John Powell, “Blessed is he who has learned to laugh at himself for he shall never cease to be entertained.”

Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now.  
Kate
 


(This essay originally appeared as my contribution to the 2015 visual arts and literary review, Estuaries, published by College of the Albemarle.)