Summer Snippets

Today, as we made our way home from the playground and the library,* Elder Girleen stooped to the sidewalk.

Look, she whispered as I pushed the stroller with its freight of sleeping younger sister up to her, holding her palm out flat for me to see.  A butterfly’s wing. She gave it a second look.  Or maybe a fairy’s wing. She caught her breath.  Could it really be?

Who am I to tell her otherwise?  And why would I  even want to?  The time for believing tattered bits of insect wings to be magic is as short as a seven-year-old’s summer.

Tonight at dusk, as I  headed out for the circuit of the neighborhood that’s become, this summer, my one unencumbered hour, from the shadowy elms in the vacant lot across  the street an owl called, and paused as if thinking better of it, then called again,

Who -cooks-for-you, who-cooks-for-you?

The musician-who-rents stands outside his apartment, smoking, hand-graffiti’d guitar propped against the building:  tattooed sleeves and skinny pants and Beatle boots and floppy hair.

Hello, ma’am, he says politely as I pass.

And off in the distance is the organ-grinder’s music of the ice-cream truck that idles in the parking lot of the apartment complex labeled derisively by the neighborhood’s gentrifiers as Section Eight. The tune’s almost Do Your Ears Hang Low (aka Turkey in the Straw) but not quite.

According to the neighborhood listserv, any ice cream trucks that might cruise through the neighborhood could really be fronts for drug sales.

Could be, I suppose, could be.

But in the meantime, Turkey in the Straw wends its way through the neighborhood and the cicadas sing out their paen to glorious summer —Hot, hot, too hot — and then begin it all over again.

*our cache of books:  Spoon and Crazy Hair for Younger Girleen, The People in Pineapple Place for the Elder,  Parenting, Inc and Kon-Tiki for me (ruminations on why on earth I might be  Im simultaneously reading parenting polemic and nautical adventure tales being grist to some other mill).

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The Shank of Summer

IMG_2351I admit it:  much of what I know about growing food  (as opposed to the much less trendy purchase of it at the grocery store) was gleaned from reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books (You know, Little House on the Prairie) during my formative years.  On the one hand, you have those charming Garth Williams illustrations of rosy-cheeked girls with pigtails and Rockwellian family life and the strong sense that prairies make lovely backyards in which to run barefoot, but then on the other, you’ve got a steady stream of fire, plagues of grasshoppers, drought and crows decimating the corn crop.  

Give a bookish girl a diet of such books when she’s seven and then fast forward twelve years and what’ve you got?  An undergraduate whose final essay for Spanish 103 answered the question What do you foresee for your future?  (translated to English as, alas, Spanish 103 doesn’t stick with you very long) with a scenario that involved a big white house, lots of land, a fruitful garden outside, and kids tumbling around the family hearth like puppies.  I did envision that there might be a desk somewhere in the picture, where I would be busy writing, but otherwise, my vision of the future contained very little that could be considered a … career.  

Ahh, The Garden!  The first garden I remember was the one my parents planted when I was three, when my idea of helping was to dig up a row of peas soon after they were planted to see if they “were growing yet.”  A true child of the seventies, I absorbed all this earthy-crunchy behavior — composting, organic gardening, etc —  to such an extent that during the above-mentioned undergraduate days I baked bread for potential boyfriends (unfortunately,  22 year old men did not appreciate this gesture as highly as they should’ve) and as soon as I moved from GA to Texas, bought a hoe and packets of seeds and attempted to plant a garden in the hardest, grayest, driest, most infertile dirt known to man.  

But life brought me back in Georgia 10 years ago, and since this is the kind of ground I know how to cultivate, I always have a garden.  Some years are more successful than others.  I’ve battled blossom end rot and squash borers and drought myself, but not until this year have I felt like the stereotypical image of the beleaguered farmer, shaking his fist at the damage done his crops by                        (insert pest name here).  Squash bugs have made lace of the leaves of the zucchini.  Pill bugs  have left the immature summer squash to lie like casualties on a battle field.  The squirrels…  

The squirrels.  They started with the unripe, golf ball sized apples:  were not in the least deterred by the aluminum pie plates tied into the tree (the first unsuccessful internet tip) or homemade anti-squirrel spray concocted from cayenne, chile powder, tabasco sauce and murphy’s oil soap (the second internet suggestion).  One drop of this stuff in your eyes and you’d be blind for life, but does it give the squirrels a second’s pause?  Maybe they’re Mexican squirrels, Elder Girleen suggested, referring to their apparent love of spice, as politically incorrect as such an observation might be.

And now they’ve started in on the tomatoes.  And the figs.  My visions of enough tomatoes to gift extras to the neighbors  are going up in smoke.  The fig preserves I’ve imagined lining the pantry shelf:  no go.  

The internet-ordered netting to throw over the plants will arrive next week, but at the rate we’re going, that might be too late.  

Thank God I don’t have to feed a family of four from this endeavor:  2 summer squash and a handful of beans do not much of a harvest make.

Cloudy Weather

IMG_2337The sunflowers Elder Girleen planted along our side fence have grown as high as an elephant’s eye.* 

The fig that was a mere sprout two years ago now obscures one of the dining room windows, creating a curtain that only lets in filtered green vegetable light.  

If the squirrels don’t best us, we will have a bumper crop of apples this year.**  

All due to rain.  

Rain.  We’d forgotten all about it, the past few years were so parched.  But  now we have… not a surfeit, but enough.  Enough to put on high alert my anxiety level about whether Younger Girleen’s fourth birthday party, the Happy Hour we were hosting, and basically any other social event for the past month or so would be rained  out.  

Yesterday, the forecast was for showers off and on all day, and because of that, the minute there was a boxy window of blue sky amongst the clouds, I hustled the Girleens outside.  We took the camera with us; it took us half an hour to mosey a block.  

It was 11 a.m. on a suddenly sunny summer day.  The magnolia tree at the church a block away was doing its best to surpass the usual southern cliches of such specimens:  creamy white blossoms upturned like open faces to the sudden sun;  lemony perfume, faintly present. 

We walked, we stooped, we looked, we poked and prodded.  And through all that — we didn’t see a soul.  

Yeah, there were cars driving by, but not very many, and as far as folks walking, working in their yards — nada.  Zip.  Zilch.  There wasn’t even, this being the neighborhood it is, a single window open through which we could eavesdrop on the sorts of things I remember from summer mornings in my childhood:  piano scales being practiced, radios tuned to talk stations, voices raised in argument or agreement.  

It was as if the human inhabitants of this neighborhood had been… vaporized.  Scooped up by a giant hand and set down elsewhere.  

As of course they had.  The giant’s hand is called Work,  and because of that, our neighborhood, and yours and yours, are completely empty from 9 -5.  They may look like Mayberry from 7 o’clock at night on (as ours does), when out come the dog walkers and the exercisers, but at 11 a.m. on a balmy summer afternoon, they’re Dead Zones.  

Because once a neighborhood gentrifies, you can’t afford a house there unless you have two incomes.  Because if mom and dad are both working, the kids have to be at what’s now called “camp” (it used to be called babysitting) from 9 -5.  Because the engine that drives our economy is consumer spending, and you can’t go out spending unless you’re working, and if you’re out working, you’re not at home enjoying the blooms on the magnolia tree, big as baby heads, as creamy complected as Scarlett O’Hara.

I know, I know, that’s the way the world works, but as I was walking hand in hand with my offspring, Younger Girleen’s still babyish hand confidingly in mine, Elder Girleen’s brown paw in and out of mine as she gestured broadly, pirouetted — I couldn’t help but think how wrong  this is.  

Wrong???  You hypocrite!  

For, the past few weeks, since school got out and staying home and being … mostly just…mom has been the name of the game for me, I’ve found myself front-and-center in an existential crisis.  Who am I?  What’s my point?  What difference does it make if I am walking hand in hand with my daughters pointing out the hawk that just transversed the sky, when I could be out making money, pursuing fortune if not fame, and my kids could be in day camp like the rest of their peers, which they would probably like more, and which would certainly have them fighting less (since fighting is reserved for mom and home, not structured places  like school and day camp).  

A month ago, I shifted this blog to WordPress, and opened up a whole new pandora’s box of widgets I could entertain myself with.  

My favorite has been the Category Cloud that sits to the right side of each post and so convincingly illustrates one’s preoccupations.  It makes me think of a particular passage in Peter Pan,*** when Wendy’s mother is engaging in “tidying up her children’s minds”:

 I don’t know whether you have ever seen a map of a person’s mind. Doctors sometimes draw maps of other parts of you, and your own map can become intensely interesting, but catch them trying to draw a map of a child’s mind, which is not only confused, but keeps going round all the time. There are zigzag lines on it, just like your temperature on a card, and these are probably roads in the island, for the Neverland is always more or less an island, with astonishing splashes of colour here and there, and coral reefs and rakish-looking craft in the offing, and savages and lonely lairs, and gnomes who are mostly tailors, and caves through which a river runs, and princes with six elder brothers, and a hut fast going to decay, and one very small old lady with a hooked nose. It would be an easy map if that were all, but there is also first day at school, religion, fathers, the round pond, needle-work, murders, hangings, verbs that take the dative, chocolate pudding day, getting into braces, say ninety-nine, three-pence for pulling out your tooth yourself, and so on, and either these are part of the island or they are another map showing through, and it is all rather confusing, especially as nothing will stand still.

Motherhood looms large in the map of my mind, I suppose, as does This Neighborhood, and my Category Cloud does an excellent job of showing this. Writing assumes more priority than….say, Politics, but Pubs, or Publications (mine), is writ in pretty small type.  And for motherhood to take up such a lion’s share.  There are many who would look at that and just say:  lame.   

But oh, whither the magnolias, their petals easily a duvet for the fairies,  if work becomes the be all and the end all?  Wither the confiding handclasp of my younger child?

 

 

 

Or maybe none of this really says much of anything profound about what I consider most important, and more about labels, which are only… labels, after all.  

*if it’s a baby elephant; they’ve passed the Girleens and are taller than me now, though.

**Does synthetic wolf urine repel squirrels?  Does it repel neighbors, passersby, spouses?  Stay tuned for our next episode.

***Probably it makes me think of this passage because Elder Girleen has been listening to Peter Pan on tape.

Going Slow

IMG_2314_1First day of summer — our summer, which is defined not by equinoxes nor the wax and wane of the moon nor extended daylight but by the APS (that’s Atlanta Public Schools to the uninitiated) calendar.  

It’s an odd construct, that calendar:  it has little to do with the natural world, and more to do with … God knows what.  I mean, school starts back up on August 10!  When we will still be limp with heat, enervated.  Sapped. The nine-months-on, three-months-0ff school year may have been conceived of as a helpmeet to a farming society requiring many hands during the harvest months, but now the kids have to go back to school in what was once  high summer, according to a timetable as vestigial as the appendix or the stump of a tail.

But all that is months away and neither here nor there — for now it’s glorious summer.  When we can throw off our fetters and live by a more natural clock.*

First day of summer!  The pole beans twine up the bamboo teepee installed in April, two handfuls already harvested, so crisp and sweet they don’t even make it in the house before they’re gone.

The Chadwick Cherry (a tomato) is already taller than even the elder of the Girleens, flaunts an inkling of the fruit to come.  

Ripen.

My intent this morning — before dawn, when the Girleens are still luxuriating in that first summer lie-a-bed — was to marry the sublime to the mundane and mention the Go Slow Hour we’ve helped organize for the neighborhood from 5 – 6 tonight, the viral call that’s gone out for everyone who lives here to celebrate the start of summer by going outside and visiting with friends and neighbors.  By slowing down.  

It seems like a no-brainer, but here on the south side of the interstate in one of the U.S.’s largest urban areas, if you don’t actively think about such things, the majority  of folks tend to view summer not as a time when neighborhood kids are out riding bikes, playing hopscotch, in short doing exactly those things that we used to do back in those halcyon days of the mid-seventies when we were so often left to our own devices but as one when crime rises and they have to batten down the hatches (ie, lock those windows and stay inside).  

Yes, I planned to talk about how we’re all going to head outside with our chalk and bubbles and balls and just why that might be important — which is delineated much better here —  but all that seems the work of a woman with her head still in the lists and musts and shoulds of  the school-year.  

Instead I will drink coffee in my pajamas.  It’s 6:53 a.m.  The girleens are still abed.  It’s glorious summer.  

Ripen.  

*All of us, that is, except The Husband, who dives back into the mainstream after the unexpected break  from it  that started back in November (you know, that rite of passage for certain levels of worker bees these days called being laid off.)

It goes without saying that we’re all extremely grateful he’s back in the swim.  

I also suspect he may be secretly overjoyed not to have to spend the summer at home with two kids, the eldest of whom started, less than 24 hours after school got out, declaiming that she was already bored.