This afternoon neighbor Dennis came over to invite us to his youth choir concert. There were 10 young ladies and 11 fellows, a surprising mix. Often teen girls outnumber boy singers two to one. They had a good sound, on key and confident. Dennis seemed to sing with enjoyment, as they all did.
We left home the same time as Shawn and Bob (Dennis’ foster parents), and we parked next to them at the church. After we settled in a pew, Shawn chatted with the woman next to her. She introduced her to me, saying, “This is Carolyn, our neighbor.”
I was trying to think what house Carolyn lived in when Shawn continued, “She owns the sheep.”
Carolyn asked, “Have you seen our sheep?”
I replied, “Yes, I speak to them every morning.”
I should have said I speak to them sheepishly. I always look around to see if anyone can hear me and say, “Hey! Sheep! How are you today, sheep?” They used to stare, but now they just keep on tearing at the weeds.
There was an unusual instrument accompanying the choir — a square drum. I thought a drum was round by definition, but this one wasn’t. The player beat it with two square sticks. I was surprised that the choir sang a number that David’s college choir had sung – Soon and Very Soon – although it might have been a different arrangement. The teens did a great job, and everyone was busy congratulating them on the way out. We were very glad we had gone.
Before he left this morning, I begged son John to cut my hair. I deemed the timing to be crucial. He reluctantly agreed to do it several weeks ago and did a great job. Since hair grows faster in warmer weather, I was becoming decidedly witch-like when breezes stirred up the curls. Now I’m back to looking like a witch trainee.
The connection to Christmas Trees is this. I think the year was 2011 after some of the young accountants left, the ones who had bought and set up a small artificial tree in the office. I was appointed to do the honors that year. Setting the tree up and tweaking the branches into shape was a breeze, but then I had to look at it every day until January 6. I had been very pleased with the same tree when someone else was in charge, but I found my eyes straying toward it and seeing an ornament askew or a branch dipping too low. That silly Christmas tree haunted me on a daily basis. I couldn’t look at it without finding fault with my work, and it was in my field of vision every time I looked up from my desk. I wanted to shield my son from the same kind of experience. If he had stayed here all day, he might have been critical of his cutting job each time he looked at me. I didn’t want him to chase me around the house with a pair of scissors, trying to get everything just right. I’m happy to say the hair has now been washed, and it arranged itself in a way pleasing to me.
I think I spotted a cultural difference between the North and the South in an article in the Asheville newspaper. The death of a popular high school senior was reported almost a week ago. She was on her way to work when she veered off the road and died at the scene. This morning there was a picture of the pop-up roadside memorial. The article said there were many “flowers, pictures, and sodas” at the site. I could see flowers, teddy bears, and a basketball, but sodas???? Do people here leave soda cans as part of a memorial? Looking again, I saw both a bottle and a can of Coke, as well as a bag of Doritos. I’m sure I never spotted food at a memorial in New York.
There used to be an ad for some super product that claimed it cleaned your home like a white tornado. We had two at our house. Beth and Bob can organize and execute a maintenance plan before others could make a detailed list. They said they would bring their work clothes, but I didn’t realize how much work they would accomplish while wearing them. It all began innocently enough when Beth headed for the garden and Bob looked at our angel fountain.
Beth is a super gardener, and she has a lovely way of accomplishing things. Instead of saying our garden was a mess, she gently asked if I thought it would be a good idea to pull plants back from the defining stones of the path. My original request was much tamer. I wanted an identification of a shrub with lavender flowers, which turned out to be spirea. She also taught me the name of plants beside the back porch, cotoneaster, pronounced ca tony aster. It’s a good thing I heard it first before she spelled it.
The rest of the day was a whirl. Bob cleaned our gutters and eaves, checked the fireplace to show us how to reset the controls, rehung the office closet door which keeps falling off, moved the heavy concrete birdbath to my deck, and tweaked anything else that seemed amiss. He and John looked at our new angel fountain, coming to the conclusion we’d bought a pump that was overkill. Before we quit for the day, we all went to Lowe’s to get a new pump, loppers for heavy pruning, a lightweight birdbath, and more plants.
Beth used the loppers like an artist, removing just the right things to make a pretty picture. That sentence doesn’t convey all the strenuous work involved. Only another born gardener could truly appreciate it. When we relaxed on the porch, we could admire all that she had done. We also saw another result of our labors – totally confused birds. A poor dove landed near where the old birdbath had been and looked around with a bewildered expression. He poked about on the ground, stalked around the stump where the old one had been, and eyed the new glass bath with suspicion. Golly! I never thought of privacy! Birds had begun to bathe in the concrete one after we put stones in it. They could hop below the rim for their ablutions. The glass one simply presents the water flat out with nowhere to hide. We may put a stone in it. Maybe a beach umbrella? in scale, of course.
John became the filling of an emergency sandwich at the hospital. His scheduled catheterization was delayed because of an emergency, and his doctor couldn’t phone after his procedure because of yet another emergency. We didn’t hear anything until John woke up and called us himself.
I’m waiting to see if there will be any hospital stories. John has not spent a night in the hospital since he was five years old and had his tonsils removed. Can you imagine anyone being that inexperienced at age 73?
John was released the next afternoon. He looked about the same as usual except for his hospital jewelry – tape and gauze on one hand, white plastic bracelet above the other.
He talked of only one restriction. He wasn’t angry, but he certainly was disgruntled. He said, “It’s a death sentence! Decaf!!! I can have only four cups of caffeinated coffee a day.”
What a delightful visit we had! John and Ron graduated high school together, so they have a long history. Occasionally Kathy and I left them to chat together, because we never lacked for things to talk and laugh about.
We talked of many things, but I was most fascinated with square dance calling. Ron had joined a square dance group, and when the caller quit, he learned how to do it. He began with records, used tapes and CDs, and ended up with computer music. I wanted to know the mechanics. Being a square dance caller is something like improvising music. You find out how the beats are set up and call accordingly. Some things have 16 beats followed by two 8’s and might end with 4, all multiples of 4. I remember from playing for a ballet studio in Memphis that ballet music was always based on 8 beats. Ron said callers begin by looking at a cheat sheet they’ve set up, but you have to get over that. If the dancers are novices, they mess things up, and you have to use calls to get them back in order. He explained that you have three tracks running in your head, something like knowing where you are, making the call, and planning what comes next. With practice, it becomes instinctive. Well, for him, not me. I’d rather play for a communion service and make the hymn and diddle music finish at the right time.
We sat on the back porch all evening as they enjoyed seeing the mountains and waiting for the horses to come near enough for a photo. The horses didn’t cooperate, but Kathy noticed them near the fence before breakfast. I had just cut up a large apple, so we took two slices for Kathy to feed them. The mare knocked one to the ground. The stallion ate his, and we talked him into eating the other from the ground. Kathy told him that was all, and he let her pet him.
I was idly working a puzzle in the newspaper when my ears, if they moved at all, would have perked up.
“Listen,” I said to myself, “you know that call.”
The bird said, “Bob, Bob White!”
I couldn’t see the quail, but it was very near our back porch. We used to hear them all the time in Stony Brook before the meadow became a development. It’s wonderful to have one here – a welcome party of one, if a bit late.
A bit later I took something over to Amy and Ron, arriving just as his home hospice aide arrived. Amy was climbing the hill to the driveway, making fun of herself for looking like a yard worker. Patricia, the aide, was a bit concerned that Amy was so hot. That’s when Amy told a story on herself.
She said, “I took Ron to the emergency room one time, – don’t remember what for– and I looked about like this. They thought I was the patient!”
Patricia disappeared into the house, and a minute later, she came back to hand Amy a bottle of water. Amy made good use of it – drinking some and poring some on her arms. Yes, gardeners are born, not made. I’d resent anyone making me work that hard. Amy’s yard is a showcase, though.