Friday, August 28, 2015

Living Among Ghosts

What it must be like to pass by the bones of your ancestors, day in and day out, on the way to the grocery store, late at night after an evening drinking. Buried on the family plot next to the cottage that has weathered storms and sadness, built by the hands of your grandfather. There is no denying your mortality. Your last name will live on in this place, but you will return to the earth just like those who came before you.

The people there hold on to their accents, a brogue as knobby as the live oak trees that shade the graves of their forefathers. Everything that has withstood is weathered. The beauty is is not bright. It is the hidden sort, found on lichen covered fences. Discovered on deeply lined faces not so quick to smile.

As a child, we would visit. Take the ferry for a day. My mom would drag us down small streets to peer at the headstones and build stories around skeletal facts. A name. A birth date. The year of death. Mothers who lost child after child. Families gone the span of twelve months.

We were children. We did not want to think of death. The roads were hot and the mosquitos plentiful. We wanted to walk on to the lone toy shop. We wanted someone to buy us an ice cream. When the chorus of complaining children reached its crescendo, my mom would finally walk on, but she always looked back. She knew things I did not yet know. She felt things I wouldn't feel for years.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sea People

I am suspicious of people who say that they aren't beach people, in much the same way that animal people are suspicious of me when it comes to my hesitation with dogs and other pets.

Not liking the beach seems akin to not liking fun, not liking objectively good things. It is a sentiment I cannot fathom. The water has always held me captive, the one place I always want to be, regardless of season, but most painfully during the summer. It offers equal measures of entertainment and relaxation. It's the place I feel most at peace.

As a child, I felt sorry for all non-marine animals, the animals who lived their entire lives sweltering on the savannas or in the jungles without the ability to submerge themselves.  The best animals were, without a doubt, marine mammals because living on land gave them the perspective to truly appreciate being in the water, a perspective not enjoyed by fish, who didn't know how lucky they were.

I'm certain I inherited this sense from my mother, who shutters when uttering the phrase "landlocked." She rushed us to the ocean every chance she got and had us swimming in the bay  during all the times in between. She too seems to feel that life was designed to be lived in the place where the elements meet. It's something primordial, felt as deeply within me as the knowledge of God. And so we find our way back there as often as we can, to dig holes and ride waves and chase flocks of seagulls. We wander the island in search of cold beer and ice cream.  The kids explore by bike. Chickens roam through the yard. Figs get collected and turned to cake. The landscape, bleached and salty, home to twisted trees, whispers stories of pirates and sunken submarines. We keep coming back. To listen. To feel. To submerge.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Stretching Summer

It doesn't feel like summer is ever going to end. The days are moving along slowly, stagnating in the humid summer air, leaving skin sticky with a blissful sort of boredom. 

And I don't want it to most days. I don't want to neighborhood kids to return to school. I don't want apples to replace melons. I don't want to pull on jeans or sweaters. I am already anticipating missing the cicadas and fireflies.

Earlier this week we drove to my sister's house, and helped ourselves to her in-laws pool. Tom even joined in after work. The sound of water splashing mixed with children laughing carried through the woods and across the fields, a summer specific melody I miss in other seasons.

I am working to stretch this summer. Another ocean trip. More crab feasts. A school year that might just start later than in years past. I need whatever it is that summer gives, more now than ever, for reasons I hardly understand. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

True Grit

Warning: This post is an unabashed brag about my oldest daughter. 

The two things I admire most about Asenath Rose are that she never gives up and she never complains.

Last winter she went to a friend's birthday party at a roller skating rink. She had never skated before. When Sena came home, she laughed as she told me that she had fallen fifteen times. She exhibited no embarrassed or self-consciousness. She proclaimed the party a complete success. 

Every year for the past three years, Sena has written and submitted a play to a small, local children's playwriting competition.  She eagerly awaits the day they announce the winners. For three years in a row, she has discovered that her play has not been picked. Again. And yet, for the past two weeks she has been hard at work for next year's entry. 

Sena has also auditioned for play's produced by the same local theater. Time and again she has been cast as an extra or in a bit role. This summer, when I told her that she was cast as Student #2, she cried. Another part without even a name. But she stuck it out, went to her rehearsals, and for the sake of the play, even made the decision to stay with my parents when we went on a previously planned camping trip.  Two days before the play opened, a girl with a much larger role dropped out, and Sena got it. I'm not sure if I had ever seen her more excited.

My daughter doesn't have a wall of trophies or medals, plagues or certificates proving how amazing and talented she is. There are times when I wish the world would acknowledge her. But she isn't special because of any accomplishments. She's special because of the person she is, the person deep in her that rises to the surface when she laughs heartily at her own failures. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015


One day, my kids will leave. They will meet people who have never met me. Or their dad. Or their aunts or uncles. Or their oma or poppy. They will meet all new people, who they will have to explain to. It might be on a third date, or while sitting on  a curb late night after a college party. They will have to tell people who they just met about the family that raised them by the edge of the Chesapeake. And I wonder what they will say. I wonder which parts they will include. Which parts they will skip over. The parts they'll exaggerate. The parts they are proud of. The parts that bring them shame.

I've perpetuated a myth, a story about my family that is only tenuously connected reality. I frequently speak and write the truth as I want it to be, rather than the truth that is. Sometimes, speaking it and writing it makes it real. And sometimes it makes me a fraud.

I remember trying to explain my family through writing in the creative writing class I took my freshman year of college. Tom was in the class too, but he was just a quirky guy I sort of had a crush on. The hours of explaining my family to him didn't happen for a few more years.  In that class we had to write a list poem: "ten things you have seen." Everyone's list seemed to include the sun setting or rising on some monument or landmark. We wanted to make sure everyone else knew that we were well traveled. I remember one of my lines was vaguely connected to a kayaking scene, and thinking of it embarrasses me now. These ten lines gave us the chance to define ourselves. I can't believe that made the cut.

Most of the lines were about my family. My mom praying. My dad crying. Even then, I knew that it would be hard to define myself apart from them.

I wonder how my children will define themselves. I wonder if they will think that their parents were eccentric or young or fun or interesting. Or will their parents just be parents. Just like everyone else's. People who tell them not to do things they want to do. People who don't understand them. People who are so painfully disconnected from the world they want to inhabit.