Under Construction

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It begins with an eye roll and a loud sigh, followed by an excuse for why it can’t be done then an incentive is given to make sure it will be done. Eventually an agreement for a time frame is established, a form is filled out (to keep the lawyers happy) and finally, the alteration is made. I have been in the building business long enough now, to witness many times, the step-by-step process of what is called in the construction business—“The Change Order.” In the beginning, blueprints are drawn up and contracts put into place and then, according to Wikipedia, the average construction project makes 56 changes. In the beginning, God probably said, “Let there be Dark,” but then discovered it was just too hard to get anything done -so a change order was created and He said. “Let there be lighting first—so we can get something accomplished around here!” Change orders are a part of the process, unfortunately blueprints still get all the credit! Self-help gurus love the blueprint metaphor. They love preaching about LifePlanning. “Plan your work, and work your plan.” –until as Mike Tyson says, “you get punched in the face!” Blueprints for Life are no less subject to change orders than blueprints for buildings.

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While some construction changes are minor-changing the color of a wall or moving an outlet, others require tearing down the wall or jack hammering through a newly laid foundation. Even concrete is not always set in stone. In a design-build, changes can happen almost on a daily basis. And once the building is finished, there are certainly changes before the next blueprint comes off the architect’s drafting table. So why do we get all crazy, emotional when our life plan doesn’t take us from beginning to end, when a simple eye roll and loud sigh will suffice.

Everything is subject to change. It is part and parcel of the creative process. Life is a creative process. Therefore, life is subject to change. And that is as far as my philosophy 101 logic can get me. Mistakes happen. Plans go awry. Doors swing out where doors should swing in. Water pools up where water should flow out. Committed relationships simply don’t work out. Child rearing principles crumble under the weight of new technologies. Financial setbacks are followed by financial gains. Shit happens and new pipes must be laid. Walls built of stone can be replaced with glass windows, opening up new vistas. And, entire foundations can be lifted and moved to new locations.

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As a young girl, I watched the London Bridge come falling down, and be rebuilt half way around the world in the desert of Arizona. As an adult, I watched the Berlin Wall tumble down. I have seen the World Trade Center destroyed and I have watched The World Trade Center be rebuilt. Construction followed by destruction followed by construction. And, still, we think a blueprint for life—is for life? How naïve. I have seen dreams dreamed and then dashed and new ones take their place. I have watched mistakes painted over and relationships restored. And within a short lifetime, I have seen entire social constructions leveled and replaced by kinder more equitable structures.

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Change order forms are available at any office supply. They are official. They are legal. They should be kept by every nightstand, along with your life plan. When the tears fall and the stomach churns and the blueprint is no longer adequate for your expanding heart, fill out a change order and submit it to the universe. Decisions cast in iron can still be changed with a cutting torch. Plans set in concrete need only a jackhammer and burly arms. Of course in construction and in life, there is the cost—everything has a price—but knowing that changes are possible is what allows us to risk it all and be design builders of our own lives. And, as with any construction project, eye rolling, deep sighs and four letter words are still allowed on site!

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Change of Seasons

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I hear it before I see it or feel it.
It is the sound that wakes me in the morning now,
Before the sun comes over the mountains,
it’s ahead of schedule, in the same way Christmas music on the radio
the day after Halloween, is still out of place.
It has a haunting feeling to it, as it stirs me from my slumber.
It is a melancholy sound in the evening sky,
sinking into my soul as I close
the windows against the slow chirp of crickets and a cool breeze.
It is the sound of the geese returning and flying in formation overhead,
looking for recently harvested cornfields to glean.
Like the bell on a metro train, cautioning scrambling passengers
that the doors will soon close, the honking of the birds is a warning
of the closing of a season, a reminder that time and tide
wait for no man…or woman.

Then I begin to notice it around me,
the slight chill on early morning walks,
I no longer need “wick away” clothing,
but I don’t need a jacket either.
When I take the dog on an evening walk,
we have to leave earlier,
so we aren’t caught by the dark,
walking home with the bats flying overhead.
Starbucks begins to sell Pumpkin Lattes and the
Snow Shack has not even closed its windows.
Pine needles fall and
clog the pump in the pond outside,
long before I am ready to give up the sound of falling water
next to my favorite reading chair. Besides,
I am only half way through my summer beach book.
The shadows from the house are longer and cover my sun loving zinnias
with a blanket of shade in the afternoon. The hummingbirds have
quit coming to the feeders too.
But there is still sticky red syrup on the deck for the ants.

Jacob got his driver’s license last week,
a little later than the rest of
the kids, seems like it is not quite so important
to have it on your sixteenth birthday anymore.
Still it is a rite of passage. He hasn’t stopped smiling,
and doesn’t seem to mind that I yell
“Drive careful” as he walks out the door—
and then I say a prayer to the Road Gods and hope they are mothers, too.
I calculate once more in my head how much money
I spend each month on insurance, but he is the last child,
the last one I will have to sit at the DMV with,
the last boy I will have to slam on imaginary brakes, while eyes roll and he says, “Mom, chill out.” (I hope the Road Gods eyes are watching as closely as I did!)
They are all independent now, almost anyway.
No more late nights, reading to stay awake so I can
pick someone up from work. I just turn off the lights,
lock the doors and crawl under the covers. I tried watching
Jimmy Fallon for a while, but I get sleepy earlier now, since Jay Leno left.
I still make Jake wake me up, though, when he comes home, so I know
he is safe and sound!

I bought two more hanging baskets, and some flowerpots that were
marked down to next to nothing, yesterday,
a frivolous splurge,
to extend the growing season.
I went to the store to buy school supplies.
No one is left at home that needs school supplies—except me.
Because, when I see yellow busses moving up and down the street,
I crave notebooks and pencils and erasers and a new box of crayons,
but mostly the notebooks, stacks of them,
full of white lined paper, blank pages,
waiting, for something, to be written down.
I am buying possibilities.
I am buying lines to organize chaotic thoughts.
And crayons for the grandkids,
but the smell of the new box is for me.

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I also bought a box of Preference by L’oreal to color my roots.
I think about getting old more lately,
I want to age gracefully, not like the starlets on Entertainment Tonight,
And their “botox gone bad” faces with permanent smiles.
I want to age like Carole King,
who looked so hip sitting cross-legged on the cover of my
Tapestry album, when I got my first stereo, when I was thirteen.
And she still looked so natural on the Grammys singing a song from the Broadway musical Beautiful, forty years later.
Summer is not quite over yet, even though school has started.
Almost fall is beautiful, too.

It is also during these waning days of summer that I shop the
Farmer’s Market. It is at its prime.
I wish I could bottle it and save it for winter.
All the vendors are there with their bounty,
tomatoes, pumpkins, carrots, squash, berries, corn,
I fill my eco-friendly bags to overflowing. Cheese, and loaves
of bread, pour out and over the top. There is a pain between my
shoulder blades as I slowly walk to my car, under the cerulean blue
sky, sunflowers growing between buildings and in parking lots. I stop
For lunch and see my granddaughter,
as I scoop her up, I feel a tug between my should blades,
a reminder of my bounties from earlier growing seasons.

If spring brings new hope, and summer is about growth,
Autumn is for grace, the flowing, simply elegant, refined kind
of grace, not the amazing kind. The grace that allows a leaf to gradually
change from dark green, to light chartreuse to yellow and then
Quietly let go and float gently, effortlessly to the ground. Carpeting the
grass, nourishing the soil. The grace that allows
for the letting go of many things, children and grudges and silly expectations and shoes with too high of a heel, and skinny waistlines….and blooming roses, especially the blooming roses. The grace that sees beauty in everyone and
recognizes the impermanence of all things. The grace that hears the sounds of a flock of geese and senses movement, change, migration and is at peace.

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The Makers

 

 They are most often conceived in that hour between morning and night, between light and dark, between rational and ecstasy. With a soft moan they spring forth from other dimensions where time, money, talent and energy are of no concern. They come from the land of flying boats, winged fairies, feasts, muses, mermaids and poetry, from a faraway place where everything is possible and nothing can stand in your path. They begin to stir and expand, grow and divide as you step in the shower. The water washes away the last traces of fear and trepidation leaving courage, resolution and clarity. You step out, dry off, double check the positive sign, dress for expansion put a secret smile on your face and a bounce in your step. There is an idea growing beneath your heart in your root chakra. Such is the quest of the entrepreneur, such is the joy of an artist, such are the stories of a writer ..and then morning sickness sets in.

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Weeks become months and the incubating idea begins to stir, to quicken, to expand, to show. It keeps you awake at night. You toss and turn and switch on the light. It is harder to conceal. Hastily written post-it notes and embryonic drawings on napkins become paragraphs and blueprints, sketches evolve to renderings, renderings to realities. And the ideas must be fed. A lot. Midnight cravings for capital. Searching the kitchen for words. Heartburn. Friends begin asking about due dates. Worries mount of bringing it to fruition. Showers of advice from relatives. Nesting. Advertising. Hiring. Firing. Deadlines. Rewrites. Redraws. Re-dos. Kicking. Hormonal imbalance. Breakdowns. Building. New life.

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 And then the contractions begin, subtlety at first, just a tightening. Headaches. Backaches. There is no backing out. They become more regular, contractors, contracts, connections, canvases. Call the midwife. Breathe in, breathe out, focus. We are getting nowhere. Permits. Inspections. Revisions. Proofs. We need more money; always more money….it will make the pain go away. What the hell were you thinking? Damn Muses. Nails dig into the flesh. Doulas speaking firmly, you can do this. Critical voices in the background….no you can’t! The pain is much more intense now. Push, push, finally progress, a soft opening, a first printing, an art show. Blood, sweat, tears, one final push. Birth. A company. A restaurant, A book. A painting. Completion. Creation. Smiles. Joy.

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Comfort Food

“What on earth is going on in here?” I felt the words rising in my throat, as I walked through the front door. But at that moment, I didn’t even have the breath to carry them out of my mouth, so quietly they slid back down to where they had come. Besides, I knew exactly what on earth was going on. I had been at this motherhood gig long enough; I didn’t even need to ask the question. I had left three teenage boys in charge of my two grandsons for several days in a row. What was going on was my sons were trying their best to be good uncles. The couch was balancing precariously at an angle, cushions were scattered across the floor, several large inflatable pool toys including a large slide added more obstacles to the course. A rope was thrown over an exposed beam in the ceiling so that young nephews could swing across alligator infested carpet. It was too cold to play outdoors in March, so the outdoors had no choice but to come indoors. My living room was a topsy-turvy playground. All that was missing was the Cat in the Hat!

Surveying the situation, I could see that my living room had become a reflection of my life. Nothing was in the right place. Everything was turned on end. I felt trapped in an obstacle course. Once more I could feel the questions rising from deep within my soul, almost coming to the surface, but with no energy to express them they just floated around inside. “What WAS going on here?”  “Why was everything turned upside down and inside out? Nothing was where it was supposed to be.  Arms that should have been cradling newborn babies were empty. Twins girls that should have been in two separate bodies were born in an embrace, their hearts beating as one, dying while holding tight to each other.  Mother’s milk, full of life sustaining nutrients, now dripped like salty tears from my daughter’s heart, running in rivulets over her stretched out skin.  Two grandmothers gently wrapped pink blankets around cold bodies; their combined love still not enough to absorb the pain for their grown children. Life, in that moment, seemed as out of my control as my living room.

Slowly, I stepped over a mattress and an inner tube, winding my way towards my kitchen where I took off my coat and mindlessly sifted through several days’ worth of mail that had accumulated on the table. It was only then I noticed the steaming dishes on the counter. Even in all the commotion, my first thought was who had seen my house in such chaos. “Where did this food come from?” I ask my son as he ran backwards through the kitchen, sword fighting a five year old with a pool noodle.  “I don’t know, some lady with short hair and glasses left it,” he said as he raced down the hall. “Angels have short hair and glasses these day,” I thought to myself.   Saying a silent prayer that if it was an earthly being that had delivered it, it was someone who had at least seen my home in more stable times. I lifted the lids from the dishes and the smell of a home cooked dinner wafted towards my nostrils. I began to feel some strength return to my limbs. How many nights had it been since my family had eaten a real meal…I wasn’t even sure.

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For several more days, the ritual continued. Women, some in short hair and glasses, some young and some old would ring my doorbell and hand me a casserole dish, a pot of soup, an angel food cake. Women would bring a ham, potatoes, a hug. Sustenance. Salads. Soul food.  As my questions reached out to the universe, my answers were coming from the earth and Kroger. As I ask why, neighbors showed me how. In times of crisis, comfort is often embodied in a casserole. Love is mixed into a batch of cookies and hope rises in a loaf of bread. Friends who do not know what to say, simply stand at the threshold and extend a chocolate cake. My sisters, who know me best, did the dishes. Day by day and bite by bite, strength returns to our bodies and our souls.

In the years that have passed there have been more births, more funerals, more sick days and more celebrations. I have stood on my friend’s doorsteps with potholders and Pyrex and I have smiled graciously as bread and fishes have been left at mine. I have welcomed new granddaughters and wrapped them in pink blankets. Today the couch and chairs are in an orderly U-shaped formation around a fireplace and when life becomes chaotic, I have a little deeper understanding of “what on earth is going on here.”

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect”

–Anais Nin

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Another New Years Day…

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Today is a new moon and a new year, time to let go of the old and bring in the new. My tradition in recent years has been to look back and see what I have learned. This has been more productive than spending the day making too many resolutions, which I am finding more and more, I have very little control over.  I think often of Herman Hesse’s classic novel Siddhartha. Siddhartha finally found peace at a river, where he realized we are carried through this life as the current carries water to the ocean. This past year, I feel like I have been moving a little further downstream, intermingling my voice and story with so many around me.

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Ironically, it is about looking to the future not the past, that has been  my greatest lesson this year. In “bearing another’s burden,” I have watched my son-in-law deal with a life changing event. We have joked that he has no other choice now, but to look forward. In that light-hearted kidding is a powerful truth. Life changes in an instant and when it does you do not have the luxury of asking, “what if” or saying “if only.” You simply deal with the new reality, look forward, not backwards (or up or down) and adjust. Dave has been an example to everyone he has come in contact with and has changed all of us—I learned that no matter how excruciating the pain or how dark the night—we can still dig deep enough to be gracious and gentle to those around us. And Heather, like a gently winding river, has taught us to “go with the flow.”Image

Through this and other challenges, I have felt the love and concern of friends and family and have realized that when someone sends their prayers, thoughts and love, it has been as if they are adding twigs to my nest, to hold and sustain me and my family while we are in a fragile place.

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And speaking of nests… many of my friends are dealing with the “empty nest.” I am also finding that mine has more space these days, but it certainly is not empty and my motherhood days are still demanding. At times, like when I am going to my umpteenth Parent -Teacher conference or helping Andy with his laundry, I feel like Mazie, the lazy bird in Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hatches and Egg!

I’m tired and I’m bored,

And I’ve kinks in my leg,

From sitting just sitting here day after day.

It’s work how I hate it, I’d much rather play,

I’d take a vacation, fly off for a rest,

If I could find someone to stay on my nest!

But, then I remember–I am not done yet and neither are my child-rearing days and like Horton, I remind myself, I meant what I said, and I said what I meant and I will keep at it 100%!

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On a lighter note, I discovered Lemy Shine and Quantum Finish this year. Keeping the nest eggs clean and spot free has been so much easier lately!!

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I also tried on several of those cute SouthWestern motifed sweaters that are so popular this year and learned that I look like a wall hanging in my Mom’s living room!

I rediscovered my love of Art! A love that was dormant for so long has been reawakened and has fed my soul many times this year. One day while making a mosaic table for my patio, Steve asked me, “Why are you doing this?” My mind quickly thought of all the academic reasons given by Ellen Dissananyake in a textbook I read in grad school, “What Is Art For?” and our ensuing discussions. But then, I quickly answered, “Because, there is not going to be another one like it in the entire world.” I love expressing myself. I find joy creating instead of duplicating. And, art helps me to look at people, at nature, at the beauty that surrounds me with a whole new set of eyes.

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While I am on the topic of “one of a kinds”—Katy Perry, cured my fear of spiders, among other things, in her music video Roar! Katy joined Helen Reddy in reminding me that I am a Leo—and you are going to hear me roar.

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I experienced “Poetry in a bottle” during a wine tasting tour in Sonoma and tasted the Food of the Gods at Kendall/Jackson. It is quality not quantity that enlivens the soul…and it must be done with dear friends.

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I went back to my high school reunion—and learned that in 35 years—life imparts wisdom to everyone—all those voices in the same river—(Everyone really needs to read Siddhartha again!!)

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I attended the TED-x conference in Salt Lake City—and partook of a huge dose of Hope for the future.

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I have learned about floor coverings, window covering, paint colors, fabrics, wallpaper, mirrors, lighting design and how they all work together to create “sacred space” for living, working, socializing and eating!!

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I have marveled at the passion of designers, gardeners, architects, teachers, chefs….and one amazing neurosurgeon who share their talents and gifts and devote so many, many years of their lives to studying and learning so they can bless lives!

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I learned that sometimes we must stop seeking God and let God find us. In the words of Meister Eckhart “the ultimate leave taking is the leaving of God for God.” And God has found me, in a sunset, in a frosty morning, in a grand child’s hand, in a flower and in an empty nest—who knew when I bought my Nikkon it would be my window to heaven!

ImageHappy New Year everyone! May 2014 be as much of a growing season as have all the previous years..somehow, I imagine it will!

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If I Could Do It All Again….

My muse finally reappeared this month. She was wearing a red, tailored suit with tennis shoes and holding a cigarette between her fingers in the exact same way my Grandma Bernie always did. Her smile and forthrightness broke down any excuses and her warm encouragement melted away my cowardliness. She let me know in no uncertain terms that I must start writing again.  Then a day later, an offhanded comment to a friend, was returned to me with a question—and my thoughts have been moving towards my fingers ever since.

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What began as a chat room on Facebook in the dead of winter, quickly moved to a ladies luncheon and then a long overdue high school reunion.  This summer, with my sister as my security blanket, I made my way home to Kentucky to reminisce and reunite with people I had not seen in over 35 years. It was a wonderful two days of renewing acquaintances and catching up with friends who had made my five years of living in the Bluegrass state memorable—and recent years on Facebook addicting. As I was leaving, I made the remark, “If we could only know then, what we know now”—it seemed like an intelligent thing to say for no particular reason. And my friend, Randy, shot back, “and if you did, what would you have done differently?”  Busted!! A very long airline ride home and a lot of weeding in my garden and I am still thinking of an answer.

I know I would have worn less polyester and purchased contact lens five years sooner!  I would have spent more time in the art room (did we even have an art room) and less time in the home ec department! I would have listened to Mrs. Stoehr, when she told me to compete in the broadcast journalism category at the State Speech Competition. (And been more grateful to her when she signed me up-without my permission!) I would have embraced those friends who would lead such very short lives after we graduated and tell them how much their friendship had meant to a displaced girl from Phoenix. Most important, I would realize then that life would have a great leveling effect on all of us. I wouldn’t have had to worry who was in the “in” group or who was sitting with the “cool kids.” Together, as the great class of “78, we would face it all– school, kids, death, divorce, jobs, illness, drugs, alcohol, success, failure, money, poverty, happiness and pain. And then we would come out on the other side, slightly heavier and greyer, but much more kind and humble. (I wouldn’t have told them over lunch what they would be up against though—or that John Travolta would go from being Danny Zuko to a middle-aged mom in Hairspray!) And oh the things I could share, if I had one more day in World Civ with Mrs. Simmerman standing at the chalkboard in her cheery voice asking, “What’s New!”  I wish I could have known then, what I know so well now, that encouraging and building someone else never diminishes or takes away from my own self-worth. I could have then walked the halls of Boyd County high school with a little more confidence and a lot more smiles.

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As I swept and pondered, watered flowers and contemplated, I wondered how I would answer the same question about my entire life. If I was to know then, what I know now what would I do differently? ….besides wearing a lot more sunscreen! I would understand that all of life’s experiences make us who we are and teach us to love a little deeper– so I guess I would still just go with them. But, with a little more knowledge I could fear less and trust more. I would follow my kid’s advice and worry less and chill more! I would certainly dance more, sing more, create more, write more and let go of the unimportant and unfulfilling. I would trust my own intuitions a whole lot more and other’s opinions quite a bit less. I would judge my neighbors less harshly (except for the one down the street) and refuse to let others define me. I would be much more concerned with nourishing my soul today and have less anxiety about the temperature of where it might land tomorrow. And, if I knew then what I know now … on cold, snowy days, I would let my father-in-law sit in the house, at my kitchen table and smoke a cigarette and drink a cup of coffee with me, instead of standing in the garage without me—who knows, maybe if I had, my muse would have shown up a lot sooner!!

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Feeling Somber

DSC_0014I often spend time with a thesaurus, the way some people use their scriptures—looking for the right word, the right expression to describe how I am feeling. I look for a particular word to describe a moment or a memory like an artist may look for the right color for a sunrise. I am still searching tonight for exactly what it is I feel, for a way to describe what is in my heart. Is it sadness? Is it melancholy? Pain may be too strong a word and gratitude doesn’t really bring my feelings into focus either—although that is a part of it. This unnamed feeling, has slowed me down (and I have a lot to do), it has kept me looking at the sunset, long after the sun has dropped behind the mountains. It has caused me to look at the birds in our trees and to listen to their song. I stared at the crocus coming up in my garden until I was so cold I had to come inside and wrap up.  I have talked on the phone to every single one of my children.

Today, I sat for the longest time watching out my window as a black, shiny suburban pulled into my neighbors driveway, as police officers came and went to their cars, as my dog paced like he knew something was amiss. I watched two men in black suits load my neighbor’s covered body into a car. I watched his friend making calls on a cell phone. It seemed surreal. Spring is in the air. The trees are budding. The grass which had been snow covered this morning was beginning to green. But my friend was now gone.

Just yesterday, we stood at the fence and talked. We talked about lawn fertilizer and ObamaCare. We talked about my kids going to the new high school and about how he wanted to hitch up his trailer and see the country. We talked about his swollen feet and how he needed to have his pacemaker reset. And, my parting words were, ‘I will see you next week, after your surgery, riding your lawnmower.” John and I had a guarded relationship as neighbors. He did not like my barking dog, but hey, he had the herd of deer living in his backyard. He was a single, quiet-loving bachelor—I had the herd of kids —who often drove too fast down the road. But still we were neighbors. He kept my fence repaired and helped us trim trees and I made sure he had fancy Christmas cookies. Most importantly, he was always kind to my boys and loved to share fishing stories and talk about water-skiing….and we all shared a love of the mountains and rivers and lakes—and rough hewn log cabins.

And tonight, when my son sent a text telling me he felt somber, I knew I found my word. I felt somber. Watching the sun set and the spring rise, I felt like a connection had been cut with a good man, a little gruff on the outside, but in my boy’s words—very kind underneath. John I hope you have found the perfect fishing hole today! I am going to miss my over-the-fence neighbor.

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