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Lazuli Buntings

For a few weeks every spring we are visited by a small group of Lazuli Buntings. Every April I catch a glimpse of their shockingly blue heads as they try to blend in with the sparrows and house finches. They are easily spooked. I barely have time to grab the binoculars, much less ever have the opportunity to snap a picture of one. Not long after I announce, “The Lazulis are here,” they are gone.

On their way from Mexico to wherever north of here they end up, a few of them generally spend their approximate two-week layover in our back yard. And right now that’s where they are. I count a female and two males this time–fewer than usual. But they are spectacular nonetheless.

The Lazuli sighting reminds me that I have lots of seeding and planting to do before the predicted rains. So, I’m off to garden.

…and since I’ll never get a shot of my own, here is a very nice photograph that I found online

 

Today is February 7, 2012

 

 You are getting very sleepy … and when I snap my fingers, you will believe it is February 7, 2012

 

Today would have been the 100th birthday of my aunt and godmother, had she lived a few months longer.

She spent her ninety-nine years, six months, and about two weeks in New Orleans—minus the five months she existed in Arizona, following her narrow escape from hurricane Katrina. She was the second child and the first of five daughters born to Sicilian immigrants—a mere two months before the Titanic went down. As is practically Sicilian law, she was named for her paternal grandmother, Rosalia. The next born daughter was named for her maternal grandmother, whose name happened to be Rosa. So in two years the family had a Rosalie and a Rosa. The daughter after that got her own name, Antoinette. But by the time the fourth daughter came along, Rosa had died—very young, of kidney failure. So the new daughter was about to become the new Rosa. According to my Aunt Toni (the one with her own name, and also the one who knew everything about everything), she and her other less-Sicilian-more-American sister stepped in. They said it would be weird to name the new baby after the sister that had died. They begged their parents to break the law and use a derivative of Rosa. The family settled on Rosemary. Then, a few years later my mom was born. She was named Frances, after her father, Francesco, who believed he would never have another son. He was right.

I was barely a few weeks old the day Aunt Lee and Uncle Jimmy, after whom I was named, dressed in their fineries and accompnaied me to St. Dominic Church in the Lakeview area of New Orleans. I would have been wearing satin slippers that nobody could see because my christening gown extended long past my feet. I actually have those tiny slippers saved, somewhere.

Uncle Jimmy died in the 1970s, and Aunt Lee never really got over it. I’m told that after years of trying to conceive, her mother (again with the Sicilian mandates) discouraged them from adopting, saying that she should instead help her sister raise her daughters. Of course, anyone who has raised children will tell you that there is no such thing as arm’s length child rearing. Lee and Jimmy quickly lost touch with what happens when precious little girls turn into pre-adolescents, teenagers, and then adults. Still Aunt Lee remembered our birthdays when we were younger, and in her later years welcomed our phone calls with great delight. It was never so easy to make someone so happy.

My godmother never forgot our special bond, formed on that chilly November Day. We’d always had a close relationship, but it really blossomed in the last decade or so of her life. Although she didn’t quite make it to one hundred, Mr. Lee and I wanted to do something in honor of her would-be milestone. So we erected a monument.

In December of 2011, a few months after Aunt Lee died, Mr. Lee accompanied me to New Orleans to take care of some business regarding her estate. While I was inside the house trying to ascertain the whereabouts of a number of artifacts (and one heirloom in particular) which had inexplicably disappeared, Mr. Lee stepped outside to admire the humidity. Yes, to us Arizona types, December in New Orleans can feel humid.

When I glanced out the window, I was surprised to see him digging something out of the garden next to the fishpond. I ran outside to ask what on earth he was doing. He was procuring something for me—something he hoped would be a proper reminder of my godmother. No. It was not the vase I’d been assured and whose very existence was now being denied. The rooster weathervane had been a fixture in Aunt Lee’s garden for more than a decade. I don’t quite remember when it first appeared, but I do recall it in various stages of spectacle over the years.

There was nothing country or folk art about Aunt Lee’s decor—or her neighborhood. But somewhere along the way she picked up a rooster weathervane. It persevered through numerous tropical storms, most notably, hurricane Katrina in 2005. In December, 2011 it traveled practically cross country, and went from sea level to an elevation of almost 5400 feet. Three days after it was installed in our backyard it got dumped with several inches of snow, and that much again a week later. It’s a survivor, just like its previous owner.

Happy 100th, Aunt Lee!

Mr. Lee made sure I would be leaving New Orleans with something I didn’t even know I wanted.

Oh, I almost forgot … at the count of three you will no longer believe it is February 7, 2012 … one, two, three

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A New Year, A New Footbed

The first week of the new year, I stopped into the local outfitters to check out some new trail boots. A knowledgable boot fitter helped me determine that it wasn’t so much a new boot I needed, but a better footbed. I knew she was right when she slipped a test pair of insoles into my years-old-well-worn boots, in which I have logged hundreds of miles—they also happen to be my favorite walking shoes. Suddenly, I could feel arch support where there previously was none, and my feet no longer slid around inside. $40 didn’t feel like too much to spend for rejuvenating my old friends.

Dani (we were now on a first name basis) used my dilapidated insoles as a pattern to cut the new insoles. I’m given to having second thoughts about most things. So I winced, as she trimmed and re-trimmed the new insoles to fit snuggly inside my boots, knowing there was no changing my mind. She worked her hands inside my old shoes, her fingers probing all the way to the toes. I felt oddly uncomfortable witnessing such an intimate scene.

By the time I tightened the laces, I knew I was back in love with my old trail boots. I went on about the snug fit in my heel and the way I could actually feel the arch. On the way to the register, Dani said it might take some getting used to and that they needed breaking-in the same way you would a new pair of boots. While I hunted for my debit card she recommended that I wear them for a couple of hours and then go barefoot for a while—just until my feet adjusted to the new fit.

‘That makes sense,’ I agreed. ‘The insole needs to shape to my foot.’

Just then another associate who was already standing behind the counter turned and said, ‘No. your foot has to shape to the insole.’ She added that some customers bring them back the next day, saying they hurt their feet and requesting a refund. ‘Give them two weeks,’ she said.

‘Pfft.’ Who needs two weeks, I love them already. When Dani asked what to do with my old insoles, I said, ‘Toss ’em.’ On the way to the door, she reminded me to ease into wearing them all day.

‘Definitely,’ I say. ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ I think.

Since it was late afternoon, I probably did only wear them for a few hours before donning my slippers. I told Mr. Lee how clever I was, even though he thought $40 was a bit extravagant for insoles I could have had for $8 if I’d gone to CVS instead. But he could see that I was in love.

The next day marked a marathon of errands that started at ten in the morning and didn’t end until I rushed bags of groceries inside to start dinner, all of which I do standing up. Needless to say I was on my footbeds for hours. When I kicked off my boots that evening my feet ached. I complained to Mr. Lee, who I coerced into giving me a foot massage, about the pain. They really hurt, mostly my heels. My first thought was Dani’s advice, which I evidently considered more of a suggestion.

That night I went to bed early. We slept like babies—my feet and me. But in the morning when I tried to get out of bed, I couldn’t walk. I was in unbelievable pain. Of course I blamed the footbeds, and if I could have marched back to the outfitters to demand a full refund I most certainly would have—except for the fact that I knew I would have to face Dani and her associate, who already told me not to do exactly what I did.

I hobbled around for days. I refused to look at my boots. Mr. Lee finally asked me if I was ever going to wear them again. I said I would think about it.

A few weeks later I tried them on and walked around the house but threw them off after thirty minutes. I have since eased back into wearing them for a couple of hours at a time. I’m still a little apprehensive about hiking or taking long walks in my favorite old boots. Even now, if I really think about it, my heels still hurt.

I haven’t yet figured out why sage advice doesn’t apply to me.

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Death Most Fowl

Photos by Mr. Lee

My mother is what one might call an impulse buyer, which would explain why my two sisters and I woke one spring morning to find live, artificially colored chicks in our Easter baskets. As she knew we would, we adored them. The three became two when Gigi, our baby-sweater-wearing French Poodle, killed one. It wasn’t long before the two outgrew their shoebox. I have no doubt my mother thought the green and pink dye was permanent. Instead, their pastel feathers were replaced by boring white ones, and the chirping chicks turned into gangly adolescents. My father, the chief radiologist in our small Arizona town, who knew nothing of farm animals or carpentry, dutifully fashioned an indoor Quonset hut out of chicken wire. As far as I knew, he was never a big fan of raising poultry in the house. So I’m not exactly sure how the coop ended up in his study, but somehow it made perfect sense to my mother.

One day I returned home from school to find the entire operation gone. We were out of the poultry business and it was never discussed. Although the colored chicks were a novelty, their disappearance was a relief. No ten year old wants her classmates to think that she thinks it’s normal for chickens to live in the room across the hall from her bedroom—much less that she has a baby-sweater-wearing French Poodle.

When my interest in chickens was rekindled fifteen years later, I was raising two boys of my own less than a mile from my childhood home and believed in all things natural: natural childbirth, breastfeeding, and taking my turn working at the local food co-op. It was the early 80s when a sign at the co-op announcing the arrival of a batch of ‘layer’ chicks caught my attention. Being the opposite of an impulse buyer, I did a considerable amount of research on feeding, housing, and keeping warm my pair of day-old (additive-free) chicks. Just as I suspected they would, the two grew into full-sized hens that, six months later, started laying eggs. The white Leghorns were enthusiastic layers, each delivering one extra-large beauty per day.

When I decided to expand the operation and needed a decent chicken coop, I enlisted the help of the best carpenter I knew. Ed was our next-door neighbor, probably in his sixties. We were the proud owners of three of his finely crafted bird feeders. Through the chain link fence separating our yards, Ed watched our boys grow. One day he showed up with some scrap lumber and built a grand tree house—just in time for the fifth birthday party of our first-born.

Ed looked at my plans for the new coop, took some measurements, and gave me a list of materials. He constructed the finest chicken house in town. It even had a window that opened. Although we did not live in a rural community, I grew vegetables, canned, made my own bread, and now raised chickens. That spring I placed my order at the local feed store for four Barred Rocks and two Rhode Island Reds. The chicks cost sixty cents apiece, about the price of a dozen eggs. My favorites were the black and white striped Barred Rocks. There exist many photographs of me holding a Barred Rock as thought it were a common house pet, which, despite my unusual upbringing, it wasn’t. The Rhode Island Reds, with their auburn feathers, added color to the flock, but they were skittish as compared with the Barred Rocks. Over the next year, my hens proved to be excellent producers.

The geriatric Leghorns, on the other hand, were carrying a few extra pounds and had developed arthritis. They’d long since stopped laying daily eggs, and eventually eggs all together. I continued to feed them but, for all practical purposes, they were retired. It hadn’t occurred to me that hens don’t necessarily die of old age. Rather they become Sunday dinner.

The morning I found one of them floating in the community water bucket, I suspected suicide. The other one passed away soon after. They were given fitting burials in the furthest corner of the backyard. It was about that time that my two-hen friend, Rhody, and I started talking about what we were going to do when our chickens passed their prime. Rhody was a lot like me. We colored our hair with henna and didn’t mind being photographed wearing plastic vegetable bags on our heads while the color set. She lived in a rustic cabin in the woods and did yard maintenance for a living. She was stronger than I in every sense of the word.

Even though my hens were laying almost three dozen eggs a week, I knew it wouldn’t last forever. Over the next year their demise became a topic of serious discussion between Rhody and me. She suggested that we let them go free in the woods. The coyotes would eat them. It seemed a fitting passage: let nature takes it course, back to the earth, and all that. But when I considered my hens hiding out behind pine trees, frightened and confused, wondering what the hell happened to their deluxe chicken condo, I changed my mind. What if they were maimed and suffered a slow death. Nope, not my Barred Rocks.

One of us, I don’t recall which, submitted that a responsible chicken farmer butchers a batch of chickens every year. That sounds like Rhody. Foolish enough to fall for the responsible chicken farmer propaganda, it’s exactly what we decided to do. We agreed it was the awful part of being a chicken farmer and set the date. It’s here that I should point out that I’ve been known to stop traffic going both directions to rescue a dog who’s been the victim of a hit and run. Killing living creatures is just not my thing.

On a chilly autumn morning Rhody drove to my house with two confused Rhode Island Reds in her back seat. They joined my past-their-prime hens in a last meal, while we prepared the guillotine, which was a large stump into which I’d hammered two nails, about an inch apart. We reviewed the plan over a cup of coffee, and then a second. We were stalling. I had three times more killings to perform—a mathematical fact that meant, if we were taking turns, I probably had to go first. The butchering instructions came with a diagram—what magazine I subscribed to at the time that would have these particular instructions, I do not recall. We agreed to the following: Don’t pet or otherwise try to soothe the chicken, or tell her that it’s going to be okay—because it’s not. Pick her up by the feet with one hand, slip her neck between the two nails, which served to hold the bewildered head in place, and tug gently to present more neck with which to work. With a swift, forceful and, hopefully, precise swing, chop off her head. We finished our coffee and I wondered why I never asked my mother how she made our Easter chickens disappear so seamlessly.

I half-heartedly tried to catch my first victim, following her all over the yard, making sure she was always just beyond my reach. Maybe letting them go free in the woods wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Finally I picked her up, not by the feet as instructed, flapping and squawking—and tried to soothe her. When I finally wrestled my Barred Rock hen into a position where I could actually grab both feet in one hand, I lost my nerve and decided I needed a drink. We went back inside, and I rummaged around for a bottle of Kahlua—homemade, of course. We prepared two stiff drinks, topping them off with half and half. “I don’t think I can do this,” I admitted as we sipped our White Russians, making them last as long as we could.

Rhody stood up and announced, “Let’s just get it over with.” Her White Russian gave her courage. She agreed to go first. Mine made me queasy. I let her. She marched out to the pen, grabbed one of her hens, and beheaded it while I looked on—wincing. My mouth was still gaping when she handed me the axe and then folded in half, grabbing her ankles, “Uhhhh.” She expelled every last bit of breath.

Seeing her reaction, I said, “I can’t do it,” although I knew it was too late for that. There was no turning back. I was numb as I grabbed one of my unsuspecting hens—by the feet this time. She went limp. There was no squawking, no flapping.

I, on a day I’ll never forget, decapitated a pet. Horrified that I had the capacity to do such a thing, I dropped the axe—and my hen. I’ll resist the urge to say that she ran around the yard like a chicken with its head cut off, but there was a lot of disturbing flopping. I thought I might lose my White Russian as I danced in circles, clutching my head and yelling, “Shit!” and who knows what else. It was horrible. The thought of doing it five more times was unbearable, unthinkable.

We considered mixing two more White Russians when we heard someone laughing. It was Ed.

He asked what we were doing, although he’d been watching the whole thing through the chain link fence. He made us an offer we couldn’t refuse.

“Yes!” we chimed, without hesitation.

Rhody and I watched silently as Ed chopped (and chopped, his axe not as sharp as I would have liked), holding each hen tight against him until all movement ceased. He’d clearly done this before. Relieved that he came to our rescue, I wished I hadn’t killed even one. In a test of butchering endurance that lasted the rest of the day, Rhody and I plucked, cleaned, and even tried to cook our hens. They were most definitely past their prime.

On the kitchen table we performed a simple post-mortem on the entrails. Opening the oviduct of one hen, we were fascinated to find eggs in various stages of development. I’ve learned that it takes up to twenty-six hours for the egg to make its way through the oviduct, the yolk gaining layers of albumen, which becomes the egg white, and finally a hard shell along the way. I guess I made a better biologist than a farmer. I stayed away from the feed store in the spring when the chicks came in, and my prize coop remained vacant until we moved away a few years later. Knowing more than I care to about how boneless, skinless poultry parts end up in those Styrofoam packages, I prefer to buy my chicken at the grocery store. If someone else does the killing, that’s fine with me.

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Escape from New Orleans

{ Archive: the following essay appeared in Java Magazine in 2005 – Photos (except old family photo) by Jon Gipe }

The hurricane victims landed in Phoenix wearing the same clothes they’d been in for five days. I met them at the gate, the last two off the plane. Each hugged a faux leopard skin purse and a carry-on bag—literally a brown paper grocery sack—containing everything they owned. It wasn’t until we got home and laid out the contents of the bags that I learned just what everything they owned was. They wore, by their own admission, their very worst clothes—mismatched and tattered. In contrast they were bedecked in their finest jewels. Their faces were colorless, except for the dark hollows under their eyes. I would hardly have recognized them if it hadn’t been for the ash blonde wig one insisted on wearing—as a hat. They should have been given wheelchairs but, in the grand finale to all they’d been through, they walked the long jetway and collapsed on the first seats they found and began to cry. They looked like they’d been through battle and hadn’t slept in days—in actuality, they had and they hadn’t. One said she had aged 10 years (making her 103) since they evacuated their homes and headed for higher ground: a friend’s second-floor condo a few miles away.

The two sisters, my aunts, were born in New Orleans in the nineteen-teens. They married there, buried husbands there, and expected to die there. That’s not going to happen. They will probably return to New Orleans only to sell their property—or what’s left of it. Both lived in the area claimed by Lake Pontchartrain, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Rosalie is the oldest sister of four, born to Sicilian immigrant parents. Her age has always been a carefully guarded secret, even though everyone in the family knows exactly how old she is. Let’s just say she was alive when the Titanic sank. Although, had she been aboard, she probably would not have survived—most likely traveling as a third-class passenger. Lee had no children, leaving her and an adoring husband free to travel the world. Her home is still decorated with mementos of their many trips abroad to places like Thailand and Fiji. Recalling photographs of her as a young beauty with almost jet-black hair, she was exotic. She lost the love of her life to cancer almost 30 years ago and hasn’t recovered yet. Her second husband, also deceased, owned a plantation home that, thanks to Katrina, now sits nearer the road and catty-corner to its foundation. Lee rarely misses her weekly bridge game, but her favorite pastime, without a doubt, has been her frequent trips to Biloxi to feed coins into a slot machine. She left behind her beloved orange tabby, Minew.

Antoinette is the next born sister. Like Lee, she had no children. Unlike Lee, she traveled Lousiana and surrounding states instead of the world. She worked for the City of New Orleans until retiring in 1978. She could always be counted on when one of us needed an emergency copy of our birth certificate or a room at the sold-out Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter. If you didn’t have a Key to the City of New Orleans, you didn’t know Aunt Toni. The year she retired her husband fell ill with emphysema. Her golden years have been spent tending his poor health and, after he died, her own. Toni considers herself the sensible one, and Lee the lucky one. She’s proud to say that she does for herself and doesn’t mind if you know that she recently turned 90. Since the Superdome opened 31 years ago, unless she was out of town (or in the hospital), she’s occupied the same seat for every Saints game. She left behind soggy season tickets and a brand-new DVD player. Lee and Toni are the two surviving members of a social club that calls themselves the Twenty-Niners.

Frances, Rosalie, Rosemary, Antoinette

A third sister, Rosemary, did follow the mayor’s order to evacuate New Orleans. She drove to Texas with friends before the hurricane hit. With plans to meet her new great granddaughter in Phoenix a week later, she was all packed for the trip. Unfortunately those bags are sitting on her bed at home, underwater. She’s recently widowed. Even more devastating, she had just decided to sell her home and move to Arizona to be close to her daughter.

My mother Frances is the baby. Even though she left New Orleans 40 years ago, New Orleans hasn’t left her. While most people can’t quite place her accent, her southern eccentricity is unmistakable. I’ve never seen her in the same outfit twice, and we’re no longer surprised when she shows up at family gatherings wearing a hot pink fur vest and matching boots. All four sisters own parasols, dance The Second Line, and know to watch out for flying cabbages when New Orleans puts on its St. Patrick’s Day Parade. They can open, pick, and suck the sweet meat from a boiled crab in record time and know the best places to get a muffuletta, an oyster po-boy, or a Sazerac. They talk loud and laugh a lot.

Because I had loved ones in the direct path of a Category 5 hurricane, on Monday, August 29, 2005, I turned on the TV, expecting news. I switched between CNN, MSNBC and The Weather Channel, at first annoyed and then oddly entertained by the idiotic newscasters, wearing brightly colored rain parkas emblazoned with their network’s insignia, standing under power lines and immense marquees, bracing themselves against 100 mph-plus winds as torrents of rain assaulted them and flying debris whipped past. When Katrina had finished her ravage, we breathed a sigh of relief. Then the levees broke.

While we watched the horrifying updates, Lee and Toni passed the hours in the darkened condo with no running water, no air conditioning, and a dwindling supply of food. Amazingly, we had telephone contact with them. It’s scary to think what would have happened to them if we hadn’t. That’s how I learned that they were clueless about the conditions surrounding them. On Tuesday, the day after the hurricane, they reported the sun was out, the streets were dry, and the few other residents remaining at the complex were enjoying a swim in the community pool—probably taking a bath. It sounded like Shangri-La, except for one thing: their city was flooded, and polluted water was rising rapidly around them. The problem was, they didn’t believe it.

I called the Red Cross, redialing umpteen times before getting through, only to be placed on hold for hours. Their names were put on a list for evacuation, but it was clear they weren’t a priority. They had food, two gallons of drinking water, and they were on dry land. There were thousands that needed rescuing more urgently. I told the aunts that they should be ready to go if and when Red Cross arrived to take them to a shelter. They declined the offer, saying they preferred the condo to a shelter. Lee described it as luxurious and tried to convince me that an elegant gold-framed mirror that practically covered one wall of the living room was worth staying for. Certain they were better off in the artfully decorated condo, they resisted our efforts to see them rescued. Apparently it was no trouble hauling pitchers of water dipped from the swimming pool up more than a dozen steps every time they needed to flush the toilet—a frightening prospect considering that Toni, barely released from physical therapy after a fall fractured her pelvis, walks with a cane. And Lee is prone to dizzy spells.

All day Wednesday nieces and nephews across the country pleaded with them to call for help. It became increasingly difficult for outsiders to reach Red Cross, and when we did, we were told they would be picked up—eventually. We were unable to help them. They were on their fourth day in the condo, two days beyond the sandwich rations they had packed. They subsisted on peanut butter and crackers and still reported having two gallons of water. In an emotional attempt to convince Toni that they wouldn’t survive another day, Mr. Lee ordered her to call 911. She didn’t.

Thursday morning they woke up to find that the last remaining residents of the complex had evacuated during the night, leaving them completely alone. Toni was sleeping on and off all day, hardly eating. It was sweltering inside. The situation, while not considered an emergency by Red Cross, was grave. We were getting desperate. After two days phoning every resource from the Louisiana State Police to the U.S. Coast Guard, one cousin reached the local Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s office and arranged a rescue. Although it was good news, the feeling of helplessness grew. They would likely be dropped off at a shelter somewhere in the city and we would lose what contact we had. They were instructed to gather their belongings and leave with the civil sheriff—no questions asked. When I checked in an hour later I learned Toni was taking a nap. She knew nothing about the escape. Apparently confused, Lee had taken the call and forgot to mention it. They were disoriented and suffering from dehydration. They still had two gallons of water, which meant that they were doing a good job of conserving it by not drinking.

These two nonagenarians are no strangers to hurricanes. They have lived with the threat of one practically every year and survived the furies of Betsy and Camille. They’re accustomed to going days without electricity with nothing but a radio, a flashlight and a bag of batteries. This was the first mandatory evacuation they remember and only the second time they fled their homes. The sisters don’t agree on much, but on this point they emphatically do: ten hours stuffed in a car in bumper-to-bumper traffic to travel 78 miles only to turn around and come back the very next day wasn’t worth it. It’s no doubt why they didn’t bother to follow the lead of their peers who evacuated the city. Even the friend who owns the condo where they were staying left town. Instead they packed up a change of clothes, a few sandwiches, an arsenal of medicine, and all the jewelry they own. They convinced a neighbor to drop them off at the condo on her way to North Carolina.

While they waited for their rescue, I reminded Toni there would be two plane tickets waiting for them, and that their ultimate goal was to get to an airport. I told her to insist on it and made her repeat the mantra, “Get to the airport.” She’s a survivor. Still, that last phone call was difficult. Who knew when—or if—we’d talk again? Late that afternoon a retired officer, temporarily on duty to help with the disaster, showed up in his patrol car, gathered my aunts, their purses and brown paper sacks. They made a last-minute fumble in the dark for things like eyeglasses that unfortunately didn’t make the trip, and a wig that did. Most

important, they went with the officer—no questions asked. They even gave him a parting gift: the infamous two gallons of water and remaining ice cubes from the freezer, which were as good as gold. I did feel a twinge of guilt about unleashing my Aunt Toni on the unsuspecting police officer, but I’m certain it was due to her tenacity that the patrol car zoomed past shelter after shelter before delivering them to the New Orleans airport, where they boarded an unmarked aircraft, landed at a military airfield in Houston, and then got on a bus headed for the Astrodome, a bus on which they waited seven hours to be processed and rerouted when the Fire Marshal declared it full. Armed guards were placed at the bus exits, holding passengers inside. At 3:00 am, 12 hours after being retrieved from the condo, they ended up at the brand-new Reliant Arena just off the Astrodome—plush, as evacuation centers go.

Still, I had no idea if they made it out of New Orleans. Just when it felt like we’d really thrown them to the wolves—two frightened old women huddled in a dark corner of a crowded, smelly shelter clutching their jewels and dreaming longingly of the chic condo they had been forced to evacuate—the phone rang. On the other end of a terrible connection, Lee was elated to report that they made it all the way to Houston. She was giddy—a rare occurrence. Toni managed to raise hell about the seven hours stuck waiting on the bus. This was a good sign that she was fine. I told them to find a Red Cross volunteer with a phone, and call back in half an hour. I bought seats on the next flight to Phoenix and waited for their call. It didn’t come until 4:30 the next morning. A stranger identified himself as a volunteer, and I could hear familiar voices in the background. Chris wasn’t with Red Cross, just a genuinely kind human being who showed up to offer whatever help he could. He said he couldn’t just sit back and watch it on TV anymore. I gave him the flight details and he promised to get them to the airport. The aunts had one question: Did I get the senior citizen discount?

Getting to the airport meant hailing a taxi at the opposite end of the Astrodome from the Reliant Arena. When the aunts refused a lift on a golf cart because they would have to split up, Chris finagled a ride from the Houston Fire Department, which happened to have a vehicle nearby. If Toni and Lee had been keeping track, they could have added a fire truck to their long list of transportation devices used that day. The firemen handed them over to the Houston Police Department, who hailed a cab. When they arrived at the airport they were questioned about having one-way tickets and no evidence of luggage. Toni set them straight and told the agents at security to be careful with her Dorinac’s grocery sack because it was the only one she had.

Meanwhile I fixed up a room and emptied some drawers and a tiny space in the closet. On the way to the airport I stopped for a few groceries and picked up some prunes—just in case. We had a teary reunion at Gate 6A, followed by a loud reunion at my house with all four sisters and assorted nieces. My mother showed up with what she considers some of life’s essentials: palettes of eye-shadow and blush from her days as a Mary Kay consultant.

The aunts have been staying with me temporarily. Of course, we’ve had to set up a few ground rules. No sitting behind me while I’m working—I can hear you sighing. Repeating and reminding: three times max. And what is with all the talcum powder on the bathroom floor and walls? White handprints in the door jambs and footprints on the carpet leading to the bed—it looks like the crime scene of an unfortunate powdered beignet.

On my last visit to New Orleans, ironically only two weeks before Hurricane Katrina was born, Lee and Toni told me they were too old to travel. When I reminded them of that conversation, we laughed. They are strong women, these two. They have been through an incredible ordeal. They’ve lost everything and we’re trying to help them pick up the pieces. We’ll take them back in a few months to salvage what they can, but they’ll likely be settling out west permanently. And when they do, I’m sure we’ll have a parade.

Update September 2005: We just learned that certain areas adjacent to Lake Pontchartrain didn’t receive as severe damage as others. Lee’s house is nearest the levee breach, but it sits on higher ground. Her slightly skinnier cat, Minew, survived. Toni had one comment: “Lee’s so damn lucky!”

Update July 2011: Toni died in November, 2007 without ever making it back to New Orleans, or having closure for her loss. She never recovered, and I count her as one of the casualties of Katrina. In January of 2006, five months after the hurricane, I delivered Lee back to her home in New Orleans, where she has lived ever since. She’s ninety-nine.

Update Final: Lee died at the end of August, 2011. A little more than a week earlier she went to the beauty parlor, had her hair colored, and made a last trip to the casino. When I asked how she did, she replied, “Pitiful! I didn’t win a red nickel.” That makes sense because she was playing the penny slots. The night before she died, I called her and told her I loved her. She couldn’t respond, but I heard her trying. I’m sure she was telling me she loved me too. After that phone call I broke down. I knew it was the end of an era. I would never again hear her say, “You’re crazy, you know that. Just like your daddy.”

These two women loved life. They didn’t have children, but they did a good job of mothering six nieces.

They say that when we lose our parents we lose our biggest fans. I know that I’ve lost two more of mine.

View the series, New Orleans, 1979, and New Orleans, 1986, black and white photographs by Jon Gipe

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Fifty-Two Square Feet

One March day in 2010, Mr. Lee woke up and began turning the dirt on a plot of earth that was once his father’s prized patch of grassy lawn. Adding dozens of shovelfuls of our friend Jerry’s magic manure, he produced two good-sized mounds of regenerated soil.

The very next day we headed to Home Depot, bearing a list of the supplies needed to construct two raised beds and a fence to contain them. For the record, we have javelina—and bunnies and squirrels and chipmunks (and, as we would come to learn, a gourmet deer partial to heirloom tomatoes).
Beds: $197.44

The day after that, our friend Steve showed up with the consummate garden gate, and we started work on our wire fortress. The gate reminded me of the one I imagine Mr. McGregor hoped would keep Peter Rabbit out of his carrot patch. It had clearly been well used and often repaired. The gate, due to the fact that Mr. Lee and I are not the least bit handy, hangs slightly askew. Nevertheless, it became the visual focus for our garden-to-be.
Fence: $139.34

Meticulously following the recipe recommended by Joe, another friend and vegetable-gardener-extraordinaire, we amended the native soil and horse manure mixture with equal parts of mulch, peat moss and vermiculite. After the addition of approximately six pounds of bone meal, we stirred thoroughly and watered generously. It was beginning to look a lot like a garden. I scooped a snackbagful of soil from each of the beds, which had now been named the East Bed and the West Bed, and delivered the samples to the Yavapai County Extension Office where they would be analyzed by a certified Master Gardener. A pH of 6.5 is ideal for vegetables. When the East Bed tested 6.4 and the West Bed 6.6, I rewarded them with a pint of earthworms.
Soil: $170.55

By the middle of April we had sectioned the beds into square-foot plots and commenced planting peas, leafy greens, and broccoli. The remainder of the month was spent sowing a multitude of seeds, protecting vulnerable starts from freeze and snow, and replanting those that didn’t make it. Everything was in the ground by mid-May, even though it meant we rushed out many evenings to cover the most frost tender plants. Having lived here for less than a full year, we were surprised when it snowed in May.
Plants and Seeds: $203.25

Not long after the temperatures had stabilized and I was feeling prematurely victorious, trouble of a different sort discovered our garden. We found a crate of old glass insulators under the house and placed them on top of the fence posts, in hopes that the critters would think we’d installed an electric fence. They didn’t. I ultimately enlisted the help of a plastic owl, a handcrafted whirlybird called Snoopy, and some organic remedies: habanero sauce for the critters; tomato leaf tea and garlic elixir for the pests. It was man against nature for the remainder of the summer, man finally resorting to laying granules of Repels-All around the perimeter of the garden and dusting the beds once a week with blood meal.
Critter Control: $76.76

We learned a thing or two from that first vegetable garden, which came to be known as the $500 tomato. For instance, plant only as many radishes as you will eat. Don’t sow forty seeds that will all come due at the same time. No matter how much you like radishes, forty is too many. Tomato plants need to be tamed. Be tough. Fava beans are much more interesting in the seed catalog than the garden. Basically, plant only what you and your Mr. Lee will consume. Think less is better.

But the most important thing to remember is, you’ll never break even. Don’t even try. In fact, don’t be surprised when improvements the second year end up costing as much as the first.

You have to love gardening for the sake of gardening, and genuinely like getting dirty and sweaty.

On the mornings when Mr. Lee wakes up early he knows right where to find me, usually enjoying a cup of tea while admiring our handiwork.

I’m always amazed at how many individual shades of green can exist in fifty-two square feet of earth.

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Grave Stories

Being from New Orleans, where cemeteries are genuine tourist attractions, doesn’t make me appreciate our western variety any less. Our sometimes ornate gates and occasional elaborate headstones make up for the more plentiful slabs half buried in dead grass. Although each one represents a life lived, the chiseled facts are few. They were born and they died. But what happened in between? For that one can only surmise.

Unless, of course, you drive past the oldest cemetery in town on the very day they hang a sign advertising the first Historic Citizens’ Cemetery Walk.

Luckily, it doesn’t take much cajoling to get Mr. Lee to go along with just about anything on an unseasonably warm October afternoon. As we climbed over the three-foot rock wall at the far back of the old graveyard, I was reminded that it wasn’t the first time we’d hopped this wall. Nobody knows for sure why teenagers hang around dilapidated cemeteries, but I’m betting that anyone who grew up in a small town has wandered into an old cemetery for one reason or another. Back then this one was littered with garbage, broken grave markers, and thigh-high weeds. Today, it is quite the opposite. Besides the refurbished headstones and neatly maintained grounds, there are a number of dead people milling around their own graves.

We were immediately drawn to a woman in mourning dress and a wind-whipped black veil, who sat atop the grave of Charles Baldwin Genung. She’s his widow, Ida. And she’ll tell anyone who’ll listen his story—that he was the first white man to settle in Yavapai County, to own the first cattle ranch here, and to build the first road to Wickenburg, that she bore him ten children, and that he woke up one day and shot himself. It wasn’t clear if the pistol laid out on the table next to her was the one Charles used to end his life or the one she received as a wedding present when they married in 1869. Ida had a hard life and, in the end, isn’t even buried next to her beloved Charles. She resides in Mountain View, the newer cemetery across town.

Judging from the lack of headstones in Citizens’ Cemetery one might wonder why they built a new one at all. I’m prone to asking a lot of questions (the usual reason Mr. Lee ditches me, which he had by this time).

Although mostly unmarked, there are believed to be more than 3,500 graves in Citizens’ Cemetery. The first burial took place in 1864. Then, somewhere in the 1930s, the town mortician, Lester Ruffner, complained about unearthing unexpected remains every time they dug a new grave. Shortly thereafter, the cemetery was officially closed.

Bessie May Caldwell, whose husband slashed her throat from ear to ear because he thought she poisoned his dinner, was one of the last buried in Citizens’ Cemetery. She died in 1933, and couldn’t have been more pleasant when we met her this past October. She told us that her husband, Fulton, was declared insane and lived out his paranoid schizophrenic life in the State Hospital. Bessie May was a seamstress, just like my grandmother, who was also called Bessie May.

Juan Moreno sang and played the ukulele while telling his tale of walking all the way from Mexico to Prescott, Arizona in the early 1900s. He sounded pretty good, considering he’s been dead for more than eighty years.

I learned a bit of trivia too. In potter’s field the good folk are buried with their feet facing east, while the bad guys’ feet face west. And the fences bordering individual graves weren’t just for decoration. They were erected to keep the cattle out—presumably to prevent them from grazing on the gourmet grass fertilized by our dearly departed. Hey, this is the Wild West.

Gussie Palmer was only eleven when, in 1891, his own mother shot and killed him. It was an accident. She’d been cleaning her gun when it went off, killing him instantly. Poor Mrs. Palmer suffered terrible heartache over the incident, until she was finally able to arrange her own demise two and a half years later. Her husband owned a mine and, when he wasn’t paying attention, she stole off with a bottle of Carbolic Acid. Back in her hotel room she swallowed a cup of the cocktail. A weepy Eleanor described her ordeal as being slow and horribly painful, while the ingested acid took several minutes to burn her to death. Eleanor and Gussie are buried side-by-side.

At the end of the tour, I paid my $10 admission (remember I hopped the back wall), in hopes that the Yavapai Cemetery Association will make this an annual event. The actors did an amazing job of bringing these and a few other stories of ‘what happened in between’ to life.

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Homeland Insecurity: Initiations, Pedipalps and Negative Geotaxis

{ Archive: the following essay appeared in Java Magazine, and won Honorable Mention for Feature Writing at the Arizona Press Club in 2005 – Photos by Mr. Lee }

In the master bedroom of our relatively contemporary home one might find the mosquito net hanging above the king-size bed out of place—decoratively speaking. Our bedding is sparse, and gone is the handsome bed skirt that once dangled on the wood floor. The only contact our bed has with the floor anymore are the requisite four legs, which each sits in a glass bowl. No, we are not given to superstition or ritual—unless you count turning off all the lights and methodically running a black light up and down the walls, under the bed, and between the sheets every night a ritual.

After our nightly inspection is completed, I slide under the covers and pull the mosquito net around the perimeter of the bed until the ends meet where, for the next eight hours, I fool myself into thinking I’m sealed off from the enemy. Then, at the first light of dawn, even before lifting my head from the pillow, I once again examine my immediate surroundings to see if any intruders joined me during the night. Only then do I entertain the possibility of leaving the cone of security. I untangle myself from the mosquito netting and step directly into a pair of shoes reserved exclusively for me. I’m pleased that I have survived one more night as a desert dweller, where I guess you could call me the intruder.

Scorpions have been around for nearly 400 million years and our house has been here for less than twenty-five of them. Naturally they are still trying to figure out where they fit in. As far as I’m concerned they don’t. I’m not interested in sharing my house and especially my bed with an ancient arachnid—it’s bad enough that a sixty-pound Lab is trying to convince me that she should have that privilege.

Of our combined six encounters with the deadly bark scorpion, four have been in the privacy of our sleeping quarters, while we were in our most vulnerable state—sound asleep and happily tucked into a comfy bed. Scorpions are nocturnal and so, while we slumber, there are several hours where they are free to roam the contours of our blanket, investigate our pillows and stroll leisurely across our backsides while deciding who should wake up first. They aren’t really looking for trouble, they’re searching for insects and spiders to eat and to find mates—none of which should be in our bed. They aren’t aggressive and usually sting in self-defense. Therein lies the problem. Even if one is asleep, and one feels something crawling on one’s derrière, one’s instinct is to swat it away. This is perceived as an offending act by the scorpion, who truly believes he or she is minding his or her own business. The hapless homeowner is guaranteed to get a warning sting, which is not at all a warning.  It is in fact a sting.

My premiere sting went just as described—except I didn’t recognize it as being that of a scorpion. I thought there was an ant in the bed and I mumbled something to the effect that there were ants in the bed. The ant stung me again, and again on the lower leg. The more I swatted the more I got stung. I was barely beyond annoyed when it eventually stopped. What can I say, I’m a deep sleeper. I began to stir, probably to rub my leg. I rolled over and was stung several times more on the lower back. Finally, having had it with the persistent hexapod, I got out of bed and turned on the light. To my hideous surprise there was a scorpion curled up in my spot. I ran around the room screaming hysterically, quivering uncontrollably, and acting like a baby. I was so horrified by the reality of what had been crawling all over me that I forgot I’d been stung, probably a dozen times, by the most venomous of our three species of scorpions.

The bark scorpion, as the name would imply, doesn’t bark—and I, for one, wouldn’t mind if it did. Even a rattlesnake gives a complimentary warning rattle. Instead this scorpion gets its name from its favorite hiding place—under the bark of various trees. And trees we have, so scorpions are plentiful in and around our house.

After I composed myself—and made certain the perpetrator was completely and thoroughly dead—I began to experience severe pain and throbbing everywhere I’d been zapped. The pain intensified quickly. I walked-ran downstairs, trying my best to remain calm, and called Poison Control. I was instructed to place an ice-cold compress, but not ice, on the sting—in my case stings. They asked me a series of questions regarding my symptoms. Yes, it hurt. Yes, it was sensitive to the touch. Yes, I had a tingling sensation in my extremities. In addition, I reported a tingling sensation in my lips—and the scorpion and I hadn’t even come close to kissing. I said yes to having blurry vision—even though it probably had more to do with the fact that my glasses were still sitting on the nightstand instead of my nose. It felt like my throat was constricting. These were all consistent with the sting of a bark scorpion and perfectly normal, I was told. What is perfectly normal about a throat constricting, I may never know. I asked if I should take a Benadryl. Yes, I could if I wanted, but it wouldn’t help. The venom is a complex mixture including neurotoxins, which means it affects the nervous system and explains why it felt like electrical volts were coursing through my body. Even though my stings were limited to the lower half of my body, my nerves were not, and every one of them was on heightened alert. The constricting feeling I was experiencing was just a bunch of nerves I didn’t know I had in the back of my throat. The cold compresses and an over-the-counter analgesic helped alleviate the physical suffering, and I tried to go back to sleep. I felt violated. The hardest part was getting in the bed and turning off the lights.

For the next six hours I was restless and anything that touched my stings produced a shooting pain—even the sheet was too heavy. By morning I have to say the throbbing had subsided but the electricity intensified. The best way to describe what it felt like to walk was the ‘pins and needles’ sensation when a limb falls asleep. Every step triggered a surge of electricity that started at that foot and ascended my leg. My fingertips acted as conduits to send similar volts through my arms. I was sure lights flickered as I walked past. This went on for twenty-four hours. Numbness at the sting sites lasted several more days.

A few months later, sound asleep again, I felt a familiar stinging sensation. This time I levitated three feet above the bed, and found myself standing with the light on and my nightgown thrown across the room—all before I was even awake. The culprit scurried away and tried to escape. We had to find out how they were getting in our bed. My research told me that scorpions can’t climb glass. That’s when we installed bowls under each bed leg, got rid of the bed skirt, and put a good six inches between us and the wall. Our bed was now the safest place in the house, despite the ongoing terrorist activity.

We developed our own Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS). Low meant monthly scorpion sightings were less than two and limited to non-sleeping quarters. Guarded meant two or more, and Elevated meant bedroom and/or closet sightings, often inside shoes. An Orange alert meant we were at high risk of terrorist attack because we were seeing three or more a week, in the land of nod. Severe risk, otherwise known as a Red alert, always meant the same thing—I got stinking stung.

Before long I was awakened by the sound of someone screaming hysterically, quivering uncontrollably and acting like a baby. It was Mr. Lee. I rushed to his aid as he had done for me so many times before, and all I could think was that I was glad it wasn’t me. He insisted it was still on his back, even though I assured him it wasn’t. He said he heard something drop from the ceiling, onto the blanket just before he was stung—he’s a much lighter sleeper than I am. I knew that, from the precautions we had already taken, it didn’t climb up from the floor or the wall. It turns out the bark scorpion’s specialty is something called negative geotaxis, which is upside-down walking, such as one would on the ceiling. What next? We performed the familiar pain relief ritual while he carried on about a ‘nail gun.’ The very next day I arrived home to find that the aforementioned mosquito net had been installed and a black light purchased—scorpions fluoresce an eerie greenish-yellow color under a black light. Clearly Mr. Lee was taking this terrorism thing seriously now.

That night the mosquito net proved to be a less than perfect solution. Since I don’t know exactly how it happened I can only surmise that a Centruroides exilicauda, as the bark scorpion is scientifically known, was negative geotaxiing and lost its footing. It dropped five feet and landed safely on the newly installed net, where I imagine it was eager to get inside, and it did. It meandered over to my side of the bed, of course, found my forearm and woke me up. It was clear that, unless we discovered a way to keep them outside, more meetings were likely. I ordered the door leading from our bedroom to an outside porch sealed with gaffer’s tape. Between that and our nightly ritual with the black light we have since managed to avoid encounters of the stinging kind with the arachnid community that shares our home.

There are three of us living in the house and now we’ve all been initiated, as we prefer to call it. There’s a certain sense of pride involved and some relief in no longer fearing the first sting. I currently hold the record for the most. It’s a title I don’t wish to relinquish because it would mean someone dear to me would have to be stung several times more. Mr. Lee, some could say, deserves it more than I do. He is the one performing scientific experiments on the prehistoric arthropods, surgically removing stingers, holding captives, and inciting them to fight in a Tupperware arena. Our adoring Lab certainly doesn’t deserve the title. She was actually the first to be stung—on the lip. No doubt she was trying to eat it. Anyone who owns a Lab knows that there is little else on their minds and she is, in fact, obsessed with catching flies, wasps and bees in mid-flight. She has been stung by bees on numerous occasions, and once her snout swelled to double its size. She looked ridiculous, but that didn’t stopped her. She still considers bees a delicacy. But of the powerful scorpion sting, it took only once. She possesses a healthy respect for the diabolical creatures, and has maintained a 12-inch-away rule with regard to scorpions ever since. A phenomenal thing happened, though. She’s developed a sixth sense and seems to know the moment a scorpion enters our living space, which has earned her the name Scorpion Hound. She sits and stares at the wall or the floor as though in a trance, maintaining her 12-inch-away policy, of course. If we are otherwise engaged she will stay in that position without averting her attention, often for a very long time, until we notice her. Experience tells us that 100% of the time she is staring at a scorpion. We jump into action, do away with the pest and she gets a treat. It’s an arrangement that suits all of us.

Safe sex as practiced in the scorpion community is a must. Each and every mating encounter holds the potential for disaster, even more so than in human courtship. In the scorpion’s case, each could easily become the other’s prey. So they hold pedipalps, or pincers while the male dances his date around and, when she’s not looking, drops a sperm packet in front of her. Then he drags her back and forth over his special delivery, while she pretends she has no idea what’s going on. The female then has the option of using the sperm right away, or storing them for up to a year to be used at her discretion. Gestation is almost as long as ours is and, if all goes well, she delivers a litter of 30 live babies. There’s nothing more adorable than the rare sighting of a devoted mother scorpion, some eight months later; her back piled high with youngsters. The entire litter spends their first three weeks riding on her back and, if one of us is fortunate enough to witness this marvel of nature, one of us is likely to lose his or her dinner.

Starting life in this way, it’s no wonder they travel so well. I once brought a scorpion with me to Portland, where the displaced creature crawled out of my duffel bag only to be squashed on the spot. I didn’t want to be the one responsible for unleashing this unsavory element into a city famous for its roses. The emigrant scorpion was only slightly less upsetting than some of our other traveling companions. The mouse who wanted to get out of New York City so desperately that he left his family at the Gramercy Park bar and hitched a ride in my purse all the way back to Arizona. The snake looking for a drier climate left California in a camera bag with nothing but the scales on his back.

Due to the shear number of stings I received on my first encounter I had red welts, but I would come to learn that a single sting produces no mark at all. That alarming fact makes the prospect of a real baby, not someone acting like a baby, getting stung with no visible evidence and no way to explain what has happened a very dangerous one. If a baby or young child has been stung, the Poison Control recommends that they be seen by a doctor. The same applies to the elderly or the very sick.

We’ve learned to co-habitate, mostly because we like where we live at the base of the mountains. Plus it’s nice to know I’m rubbing shoulders with one of the most successful animals on the planet. Around here we don’t like to use the “S” word because if we do, we are practically guaranteed a sighting. Writing this article has me more than a little spooked. I’d say we’re on Guarded alert. But that can change at any moment.

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In Honor of Two Anniversaries and a Wedding

Mr. Lee and I are celebrating our 33rd anniversary today. He just doesn’t know it yet.

He’s still sleeping, the little darling. And while he slumbers, I’ve mapped out a plan for the day.

  • First, I’ll make him a nice breakfast. He’ll surely wonder why.
  • We’ll follow that with a trip to Method Coffee for a cafe dulce—my favorite.
  • Then, we’ll hit the season’s first yard sales—thank you, spring!
  • We’ll deliver soil samples from the vegetable garden to the Cooperative Extension Office for testing by one of the volunteer Master Gardeners.
  • After that, I’ll suggest we take a drive to Jerome. He still won’t catch on, because every now and then we do take a drive to Jerome.
  • We’ll go to the funky shop where they sell those cheesy light bases for my beautiful (and not-at-all-cheesy) piece of art glass that he bought me back when money was no object. The last time we were in Jerome he wanted to buy the light base, but I said we could find it cheaper online. I was wrong.
  • We’ll have lunch and drive around some more—until Mr. Lee becomes suspicious. Perhaps, I’ll let on then.

Of course a reminder shouldn’t be necessary. Our special date is engraved on the insides of our wedding bands: 5-6-78. Neither of us realized thirty-three years ago that it would become his foolproof method for remembering the event—year after year. If anyone ever asked, Mr. Lee would respond, as if by rote, “Five Six Seven Eight.”

Last year, for the first time ever, his foolproof method failed. But, by some stroke of luck, he just happened to have given me a pair of fabulous earrings, the day before. He was exonerated, and the earrings, made by our friend and talented jeweler Kit Carson, have come to be known as my anniversary earrings.

Now we have two married sons, one extremely newly wed—thirteen days. And the second celebrated his fourth anniversary two days ago. It occurred to me just this morning that all three of our anniversaries fall within a span of two weeks.

Blessed spring marriages. May they always be remembered.

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Jerome

Not long ago I was asked to choose a song for a very special dance.

“It could be a Leonard Cohen song,” he said.

I was just a kid when we first met. He was even younger—and, in every way, perfect. Over the years, I learned some things from him and, in the blink of an eye, he grew up. He left home, learned things of his own, and met a new love.

Today is a snow day. I’m baking bread, cooking soup, and listening to Leonard Cohen—with purpose. I’ve lit candles, and even incense. Mr. Lee, who doesn’t like incense, goes to bed early. It turns out I have quite a few Leonard Cohen records, and I play them all.

Although I haven’t yet found our perfect song, it is with this handsome lad that, in two short weeks, I will be dancing.

Jerome, my first born, is getting married.

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