Longleaf Stories

full circle in the hundred acre wood


I am looking at a window full of the dew of morning. I can hear a wren on the other side warbling, but I cannot see her. Doves are already puttering around on the ground and I just heard the call of a Bob white quail.

I am looking at my red Christmas mug full of lukewarm Stash green and white tea. It is bright red on the outside and white on the inside. All around the inner top, there is black cursive writing. It says: “You better jingle all the way.”

I am looking at the grandchildren and worrying about them. Different worries for the different families, but the questions are the same. Can they make a whole life for themselves? Can they be happy?

I am looking at the cover of Natalie Goldberg’s latest book on writing: Old Friend From far Away. What a gifted teacher. She is so right about writing being physical, and that a writer has to exercise the hand muscles and even to work past the pain of cramps or arthritis.

I hear a loud tree frog just on the other side of the dew damp windowpane.

I am looking at myself, suddenly, as a poet as well as a writer of prose. I am looking at self-conscious strivings. Keep to the words. Keep to the words. Find the memories and the meaning. Love the process. What could be more fun than to live this life I have with my beloved Buck?

I am looking. I am looking at the sunrise brightening and drying the window as I sit here, facing east. Ten minutes is a longer time than one might think. A lot of ink can be spilled in just ten minutes. It is approximately two steno pad pages.


I’m thinking of how weird it was in the half light of dawn, without my glasses on, to look through the study window and see what looked like big black turkeys, or vultures, sitting in the trees like some scary fruit, ready to fall. I rubbed my eyes, always the wrong thing to do, and went to find my glasses, which confirmed it was apparently just my imagination. No birds in trees. Then I heard a bob white. Love that sound.

 I am looking at the hanging Bougainvillea in my little garden patch and find it uplifting. The little Mexican sunflower or Rubdeckia or whatever it is that makes those cheerful yellow flowers is at it again, and the brown eyed susan hanging plant is becoming beloved by the birds who perch in it as they survey the feeder. Yesterday, at dusk, while Buck was mowing the grass, I planted the last of the clutch of herbs and flowers I bought last week: the Greek oregano was the last of the lot and was starting to look a bit bedraggled.

I am looking at the light and realizing how different it is this morning, about an hour later than when I wrote in this notebook yesterday.

I am looking at the red spot, all pushed in, on my index finger, where I have been writing, and I am looking at the Caller ID on the ringing telephone.

I remember eating a peanut butter, honey and smushed up banana sandwich out on hiking trail in the Smokies. I can taste the sweet, peanuty warmth of, and the aftertaste of banana. I remember the first time we took a short hike in the mountains; I believe it was the Thomas Divide Trail. I was quite apprehensive. The incline wasn’t really very steep, but it seemed that way to me, and as my heart began to thud in my chest, I thought about cardiac arrest, my father, and was afraid.  Just about that time, several large partridges that were roosting in a tree just under the switchback we were walking on flushed, flying upward, towards us. I thought they might knock us right off the path.

I remember what I had for lunch today, but I wish I didn’t. It was at The Flame Grill (Buck’s nickname for Ryan’s), an all you can eat type salad and hot bar buffet. It’s an okay place to get a salad and veggies, but you better choose carefully.

Today was the last time I eat any meat there, or fried okra.

————————– p/6———-

1.      I remember my Aunt Clara. She was married to my Daddy’s brother, Raymond. When we would go visit her in their little track home near Clair Mel city in Tampa, FL my brothers and I would eat hard candy from a glass dish sitting on a stiff starched white doily. I guess my aunt decided to put a stop to that after a few visits. One time when one of my brothers grabbed (not me, of course) reflexively for a candy, Aunt Clara’s ugly chihuahua’s eyes narrowed even further, and my brother bit down on a dog treat. “Yuck!”

2.      I pulled the crimson dress of its hanger and laid it out on the bed. It was a perfect match for m vermillion lipstick called “Monsoon Madness.” The stack wedge shoes with their bright cherry straps completed the look I was aiming for: a big smile of a look.

3.      At first, I thought there was perfect silence out on the deck overlooking the green valley, but then the whiney drone of a mosquito in my ear signaled the open strains of a chorus of noise. The frogs added their violins warming up sound, then a nearby screech owl’s spiraling flute song distracted me from the mosquito. When a neighbor down below decided sunset was the perfect time to fire up his chain saw, I snapped my book shut and went back inside.


It’s storming outside, really raining like crazy. I am sitting on the Snowporch. Maggie is very unsettled by the thunder and lightning. She is sort of on her mat under the conference table, but can’t stay still. She keeps getting up and putting her face on my knees, all warm dog breath and light hyperventilation. Dogs and people. I heard yesterday that some observant Muslims believe dogs are unclean and they must stay free of dog saliva. I don’t know if this is true. If so, maybe there is some legitimate history behind it (i.e. like so many biblical prohibitions and proscriptions, there is actually a health reason that makes sense.) Nonetheless, a little dog saliva along is fine with me, and the bronze fur ball, all 65 pounds of her, curled around my legs at this moment, comforts me from the storm as well.

Mutual comfort within the circle of protective fire. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Sitting at Skopelos yesterday with the twinkling tiny white lights, a storm raging outside, was lovely. We were there to celebrate Pat and Olivia Emmanuel’s 60th wedding anniversary. They were married at The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, where they are members still.

4. example from Goldberg’s OFFA p.7 (picture of elementary school teacher)

I remember Mrs. Mildred Lastinger, my 4th grade teacher. She had curly medium short strawberry blonde hair. Her husband’s name was Oscar. She taught me to love words, spelling and spelling bees. She was kind and the classes were great fun.

Oscar owned orange groves and us kids would bicycle over to his processing shed and watch the various kinds of citrus roll along slow conveyer belts to be sorted, packed and shipped. Mr. Lastinger would “insist” that we sample the various types and give our opinions. His wife taught me love of words and spelling, and he taught me love of variety in food: tangerines, tangelos, satsumas, oranges (temple, navel), pink or white grapefruit, even kumquats.

4.      My favorite meal as a kid really wasn’t a meal at all in the traditional sense. It was saltine crackers and a glass of cold milk, accompanied by a book to read. I was a neat child, not prone to making messes, and so my mother turned a blind eye when I would slip into the formal living room – normally reserved for visiting with the preacher – curl up in my Daddy’s pale blue feather cushioned chair and read for as many hours as it took to read the book or be summoned by Mother.


1.      Shrimp cooking

2.      Raw oats cooking into oatmeal

3.      Hot asphalt hit by rain

4.      The coffee aisle in the grocery store

5.      Neglected old people

6.      Expensive department store cosmetics/perfume counter

7.      New shoes

8.      Fresh paint

9.      Wet dog

10.  Slow roasted roast beef in red wine and garlic


I don’t remember much of my childhood. I think my adolescence was a holding action, or a search for shelter in a way. The years of studying piano helped me learn how to dig deep, focus and become disciplined.

I don’t remember things that I think I should – so many small and large details of ordinary life that seem to be a part of the normal everyday landscape of  memory of most people.

It makes me wonder why, since as an adult I have an excellent memory, a memory not eidetic, but quite thorough, in terms of names of people, places, the chronology of events matched with geography and emotion. I don’t mean to denigrate myself when I say that it feels like my intentional recording of memory began with the day I met Buck, but this does seem to be true, and so I declare it to be more an elevation of our own relationship and my awareness of its significance (if only subliminally at the very beginning) that my brain decided it was time to turn the recorder back on.

I remember skating on the sidewalk in front of our house when I was a young child of 5 or 6 in Miami Springs. I vaguely remember my sister’s cat, a big gray Persian named Wuffy (like Wuzzie, but Wuffy). I remember repeating that silly rhyme: “Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear. Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair. Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t  very fuzzy, was he?”

What will I miss when I die?

Nothing. Or, anyway, it depends on where “I” am after I die, if “I” am. The essence that is me, soul if it truly exists, which I hope and most of the time feel like it does, will be off, perhaps on some brand new journey. I don’t know if our souls have a “one to a customer” body, or if we have any capacity for memory in the next life, if there is one. I used to be a lot surer of this stuff than I am now. Now, I call myself “having a spiritual crisis” and it’s not simply a figure of speech.

But if you mean, what will I miss when I die, assuming I am capable of long, then here are the top ten or twenty:

1 – Infinity:   Buck is not only the top of the list, he is the whole list; all there is: making love, kissing, smell, taste, love of and for a dog, love of kids, love.

I haven’t experienced three times clearly when it came to me that I wanted to write a memoir, but that’s what I have been working toward for several years. I already have cheap spiral notebooks as well as expensive Moleskine pocket-size books, and a collection of  other blank books (although they have dwindled of late as I am filling them up and/or passing them on to Andie to fill up). I have retired two blogs and started another: Switched At birth, The Way Home, Too Much Sugar For A Dime (and now returned to Switched At Birth).

Coffee: There’s a new Starbucks in our neighborhood. It just opened last week. I went in yesterday to buy some coffee beans. I got Yukon Gold and something else in a bright package that says it’s “juicy: — it’s a mix of African, Latin American and kona beans. I cleaned out the grinder this morning and now am drinking this juicy coffee (reminds me of SARK and her exhortations to “live juicy.” Coffee is like life. Sometimes it tastes bitter or muddy and dull; stale; beans broken and old straight out of the bag; no sheen. Other times, like this morning, there is an unmistakable, clean fragrance, shiny beans with oil on the surface that tells you they were roasted recently. These beans were roasted right: not burned or over-roasted like some. Nothing acrid or acidic here. When my mother was suffering from dementia and heart problems in the Jacqueth Nursing Home at Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield (where she worked as a young woman when it was still a facility for the criminally insane), even in her weakened, confused condition, she would say to a nurse “If you can’t bring me a hot cup of coffee, then just don’t bring me one at all.” Mother would have loved and savored this coffee: hot and fresh, no cream or sugar needed to tone it down or mask the bitterness. Drinking good coffee is not some addiction. If I don’t have it in the morning, I still wake up just fine, I don’t get jitters with it and I don’t get headaches without it. It’s a solitary pleasure.


Three images come to mind immediately when I think of Jello:

1.      A positive one. Mother would make Popsicles for us kids using fruit cocktail and jello. Once it began to gel, she put sticks in them and stuck them in the freezer. They were made in small paper cups. What a creative, clever treat for a hot day – especially good after we had been playing in the hose or the water sprinkler.

2.      Not too pleasant, when preparing for a colonoscopy. Lemon or lime jello – no red that might show up as blood traces – cups of jello or tea or clear broth for a day before the colonoscopy.

3.      The worst association, however, is the one I always think of fist, is Lois’s hatred of the jiggly stuff. It’s the main reason she wouldn’t go into the Azalea Trace dining room. The one time she did, after the Activities Director and others had cajoled her into trying it, Lois’s sharp eyes saw all those impaired old folks, even in the nice setting, and lost her appetite.  The coup de gras came with desert: jello with a stiff clump of white artificial topping. Her post-stroke tremor failed her as she tried to guide the quivering fork to her mouth and the jello wound up in her lap. Humiliated, she never returned to the communal dining room, and she never again ate that vile concoction.

We are now told that it’s a dastardly lie to say the Jello is made from horse’s hooves, but I still believe it is true and I am not going to eat it even if it will make my fingernails strong.

Washing the dishes

I spent a lot of time washing dishes as a kid. No electric dishwashers then; just kids in the house assigned chores. When Flo was still at home, she and I would wash and dry the dishes and sing songs. It’s the basis of the good feeling I have about Flo to this day. We would sing hymns and also popular songs: “Que Sera Sera’ (Whatever Will Be Will Be, the future’s not ours to see, que sera sera’.

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