For Enough Time

One hundred five years was a long life. Bertha was quite determined to live longer but one morning she forgot to wake up and so it was over.

She had plenty of warning but that didn’t worry her. The sensation of an elephant sitting on her chest would come once in a while, and the nitro tablets under her tongue would ease it to down to walrus-size, and then to a small gorilla, and then finally to the plump calico cat that purred beside her as she slept. Occasionally the elephant wouldn’t leave, so she would make her obligatory 911 call to the beefy firemen in all their gear, followed by the uniformed paramedics who packed their equipment into her small bedroom and would hook her up and marvel at her steady heart rate. They would greet Bertha as an old friend as she recognized most of them, grilling the ones she didn’t know to make sure they knew what they were doing. Then they would take her into the emergency room where she was on a first name basis with the doctors. A steady stream of nurses, aids, orderlies and housekeepers would come by to rub her arms for good luck, everyone hoping her longevity would transfer magically to them.

Once Bertha was sent back home, she slept as little as possible. There was simply too much life to live and too little time left. There were things she still needed to accomplish– one hundred five years was not long enough. She still drove her Buick around town, sometimes missing a stop sign or two, but everyone knew to watch out for her and give her wide berth. Never missing church, she expected the rapture any moment. There were books to be read, articles to write for her retirement community newsletter, a literature class to teach for a dozen white haired ladies. Occasionally an unsuspecting gentleman, not knowing Bertha’s reputation, would wander into the classroom and sit down, looking for a diversion. If he lasted the entire hour under her piercing gaze and sharp tongue, it was a miracle.

The local schools would send students to interview her every year to learn her secrets about living a long life. Bertha would change her story each time, just to keep things interesting. One year it was because she ate garlic, another year it was because she said her prayers daily, another year it was the glass of port she drank every night. Everyone knew it was likely none of those things but rather her strong willed determination that her heart could not quit beating and her next breath would always come. There was too much left to do.

The night before she died,  Bertha had called each of her three daughters, in their late seventies and eighties and made plans for their next gathering. She had walked down the hall to her favorite neighbor to chat about the next book due to be read for her literature class the following week. She ate a little bit, sipped her port, watched the evening news, got into her nightgown, crawled into bed, said her prayers and turned out the lights. The elephant didn’t wake her up as it usually did. It just simply sat down on her and refused to get back up.

Bertha lived many years, so many more than most. Even so, it wasn’t nearly enough. It never is enough.

November Gratitude–for A Good Book

Scout and Atticus Finch

Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird was published fifty years ago, and has never lost momentum as a life changing book through three generations.  I just finished reading a compendium of individual reactions to the book to mark this anniversary and found a common theme.  Each writer, many of whom are authors themselves, felt that universal appreciation for Lee’s book was largely due to the well drawn characters who inhabit this small Southern town.  Everyone wants to be a Scout, or a big brother Jem, or have a father like Atticus.  Everyone knows a Boo.

The book has larger themes –of prejudice, teaching tolerance for differences and making a commitment to doing the right thing even at great personal cost.  What makes the themes accessible is our connection to Harper Lee’s people.

We readers become Scout, who, with child-like acceptance and trust, looks into the frightened eyes of someone who himself had been feared and misunderstood.

We too can say, “Hey, Boo.”

And mean it.

For Happy Trails

Roy Rogers, Dale Evans and Trigger

The 50’s were a time of good guys and bad guys, all on a small black and white screen.  There was Zorro, The Lone Ranger and Tonto,  Fury, My Friend Flicka.  Values and moral standards seemed clearer then and as a kid reared on TV westerns, I chose my heroes as much for the horses they rode as for their moral character.

Roy Rogers was definitely a good guy because he rode a spectacular golden stallion, Trigger.  Roy had a great tenor singing voice, and he had a devoted wife, Dale Evans,  who sang with him and was a second fiddle to no one.   Just keeping her own last name meant she was a bit of a rebel at the time.

I never saw Roy shoot a bad guy;  he only shot their guns out of their hands, and would tie them up and take them to the sheriff.  Then he and Dale would ride off into the sunset singing Happy Trails To You.

Why be nostalgic over Roy Rogers and Trigger?  The Roy Rogers Museum is closing and the golden palomino Trigger, stuffed and preserved when he died at the ripe old age of 33, is being auctioned off.   I can’t imagine owning a rearing stuffed horse, but this old horse was the stuff of dreams for little girls like me.  He led me to my own golden horses years later.

Happy Trails to you, Trigger.  I hope you land in a home that really treasures what you meant to a whole generation.  There just aren’t many horsey heroes any more.

Roy Rogers and Trigger (doing a fairly decent passage!)

Roy and Dale singing Happy Trails

For A Tender Heart

I first encountered a globe artichoke in my first week at college in California.  I’d never seen one before, much less dismantled and actually eaten one.  The California natives around me in the dining hall were astonished my world view had never before included artichoke leaves and heart.   After all, we were only an hour away from the artichoke capital of the world where the motto for the annual artichoke festival was “Thistle Be Fun!”

My frame of reference growing up on a farm was that thistle-looking plants were noxious weeds and needed to be chopped down before going to seed and reproducing even more noxious weeds.  This spiny looking bud that was about to bloom a purple thistle flower looked highly suspicious to me and not to be trusted.

But then someone showed me how to peel off a leaf, dip the base in mayonnaise or lemon garlic butter and scrape off the soft part with my teeth.  Noxious?  Not even close.  Absolutely delicious!  It was a revelation.

The circumferential peeling of leaves one by one leads deeper to softer petals and fewer prickles, with the flavor becoming less subtle and more distinct.  Once the leaves are all off, there lies uncovered at the base a heart to be scooped out.  The round meaty heart is the point of all this effort.  It is the gold in the buried treasure chest, the pot at the end of the rainbow. It takes work to reach it, but it never disappoints.

How to mentally get past the plainness and prickles?  How to recognize what appears so undesirable as something to preserve and nurture?   There are so many times in my day I walk right past such people or opportunities as not worth the trouble.  Sometimes I myself am the one with the prickles, protective as they seem to me yet cautionary to others, not to be trusted.

How could anyone know the tender heart that dwells within unless the prickles are allowed to be peeled away?