I Have My Mother’s (A Belated Mother’s Day Poem)

I have my mother’s eyes.
I have her temper, too,
and her stubborn streak.
(Just ask my dad.)
I have her joy in reading –
not from inheritance, but habit –
and, I hope, also, her kindness.
My mother taught me to laugh,
and grace and patience.
And she gave me part of herself:
years of time,
of being together,
of lessons,
of hugs and of presents,
and of watching her wild child grow.
She gave a million little moments
to build me up.
I have my mother’s heart,
a lifetime’s worth of love,
the greatest treasure.
And she has mine.

Found Friday #29: Look who’s back!

Back in September, I shared some pictures of a little fox family that had made their home under our barn in the spring. It seems Mama Fox liked that spot, because she came back this year.

We’ve seen her out and about pretty frequently, but we’ve only gotten occasional glimpses of two little kits.

They were out this morning, though, and my goodness, they’re adorable. I feel very lucky that I get a front row seat to watch them grow.

Listen, Step Back, and Trust Your Gut (or: How I Wrote My Latest Story)

I thought it might be fun today to talk a little bit about my creative process, and to show you what my latest short story, “Quiet Neighbors,” looked like when I started writing it. This isn’t something I’ve done before, but as I work to make a better routine for myself and eventually, hopefully finish a novel, I think it might actually be helpful to take a better look at how I’m currently operating.

So, first thing – I never really plan ahead, and I usually don’t know what I’ll write about when I open up my laptop and get started. Sometimes, a setting will come to me first. With “Quiet Neighbors,” it was a suburban neighborhood, newly built, without much space between houses (or privacy between neighbors). Sometimes, I’ll hear a voice first. When this happens, I listen. I always like to write from a character-driven place, and so if I’ve got a strong character from the get go, I feel like I’ve already got a head start on the work to come. When “Quiet Neighbors” started to take shape as what it eventually became, it was the narrator’s voice that compelled me to write. I wanted to know more about that character, and how that character perceived and interacted with the world.

Second thing – I try not to force a story to work. There’s lots of advice – and it’s good advice – about forging ahead and writing past blocks, but I find that if a story isn’t flowing, I’m not telling it the right way. When this happens, I like to take a step back, a few days away, and just give my brain time to think and process. In the case of “Quiet Neighbors,” I actually loved what I was building when I started, but something just wasn’t clicking. And so I started to look at it differently, and pretty quickly, things fell into place, I think as they were always meant to. I don’t mean to say that I never push through, and that every story has to flow easily for me actually finish it, but if my gut tells me it’s not right, I trust it.

And now, because I’m sure (or at least, I hope) I’ve made you curious, here’s what “Quiet Neighbors” looked like when I started it. It became something I’m really proud of, but it certainly didn’t start where it ended up, and I have to say, I couldn’t be more pleased about that.

*************

“The Quiet Neighbors”

There are two things you should know. The first is this: We liked them. They seemed like a bright young couple.

They moved in on a rainy day at the beginning of April, one of those gray, not quite cold days when you can feel the spring in the air. We heard the moving truck before we saw it, clunking down the wet pavement, the hiss of rain-slick tires.

We missed the MacKinnons. They’d lived in the big house at the end of the cul-de-sac for ten years before they moved, raised their children alongside all of ours. They hosted a Christmas party every year, they always put out the best Halloween candy and they could be relied on, you know?

Their house sat on the market for longer than anyone thought it would. Almost ten months ticked by filled with a string of showings and open houses, and a couple of times, the house went under contract. We all offered to help. We landscaped the garden beds over the summer and kept the front porch swept. We shoveled the driveway when it snowed. We all wanted to see the house sell, not only because we knew it make life easier for the MacKinnons – they’d moved in with her mother because of the cancer – but because we wanted the best new neighbors we could get. We wanted someone who’d take pride in the house and the neighborhood, just like the MacKinnons had, and just like we do. That’s what makes a good neighborhood. That’s what makes a home.

So the moving truck pulled into the driveway in the middle of an early spring downpour. We’d heard about the new owners from the realtor. A young married couple with no children (yet). They both worked in the city but wanted the space to grow. They had one dog, no cats, and oddly, only one car.

“How do they commute to the city?” That was Mr. Grayson to the realtor.

“They drive in together,” the realtor answered, “and they both get to work from home on Friday.”

“Must be nice.”

Quiet Neighbors (A Short Story)

There were seven of us in the beginning. Ada, with her gray hair and storm cloud eyes, and June, who loved to laugh and to sing. There were Tilson and Thomas, the stoic farmer brothers, and Clancy, withered and whiskered, always with a flask in his jacket pocket. And then little Marie, a freckled thing with bright gold ringlets and a toothy grin. And of course, me.

It took me a little while to get used to things, but I’ve got a knack for making quick adjustments.

“You could save the whole world with a toothpick and some twine,” my mother always told me. “If only you’d keep you head out of the clouds.”

Yes, there was that. I’ve always been practical, but a dreamer. There never really was a good place for me, and so this new place was as good as any, and over the years, I became the storyteller, the collector, in a way, for all of us. I figured somebody should keep it all straight, and maybe embellish it a little, because what would that hurt, really. We weren’t going anywhere, that was for sure.

In the early days, we sometimes had visitors. They never stayed long, and eventually, they stopped coming altogether. It was just us, and we settled into the way things were.

Some nights, June and I waltzed under the moon and sang ballads for the stars.

“You crooner,” she purred, and flipped her long dark hair over her shoulder. It waved down her back, an obsidian river. “Some theater sure is missing its main attraction.”

I agreed.

And Marie. Marie, all of six and proud of it. Ada tried to tame her curls every day, and in the evenings, June sang her old lullabies. She liked to chase the lizards in the spring. She liked their bright blue tails. And she liked the bluebells. Every April, we’d find ourselves surrounded by the bluebells, growing in every direction.

“Blue’s my favorite, like the sky,” Marie always said, as she touched each cluster of flowers one by one.

Over the years, our number grew, though never by much at a time and ultimately not by much at all. We added Dorothy, a baker with red-tipped fingers, and Joseph, tall and proud with his chest covered in military medals.

“That little girl needs discipline,” he said once, not long after he’d arrived, as we watched Marie chase the fireflies.

“She needs more than she’ll ever have,” Clancy told him. “Reminds me of my own little girl.”

Then came the married couple, Henry and Abigail, who sniped at each other constantly but always held hands.

There were a few others, but they stayed away. If we saw them at all, which we rarely did, they’d seldom even tilt their heads in greeting. Ada didn’t much care for that. She called them rude. I told her they had every right to keep to themselves. “It’s not easy for everyone,” I said.

They were good years, and eventually we came to understand that the world had mostly forgotten us. But we had each other, our own makeshift family, and if you have a family, you have a home. And if you have a home, then you have a whole world right where you are. Though I won’t lie. It always irked me a little that I’d never see the ocean, or the Eiffel Tower.

I suppose things had been changing for a long time before we noticed. I imagine that the fields got smaller, that the houses got larger and people built more of them, and we just didn’t give it much thought. What did it matter to us, after all, if someone built a new house or cut down a tree? We were apart from all of that.

“It’s not our place to worry,” Dorothy said. “I did enough of that for three lifetimes, and I’m not about to give in to an old bad habit when I’ve earned a modicum of peace and quiet.”

It was the noise that changed things. It got to all of us, eventually. The constant hum of motors, the banging of a hundred hammers, the whir of drills and the scrape of saws. It started to drive us crazy, especially Dorothy.

“All that racket!” She stomped and seethed. “Damn it, I earned my peace! I earned it!”

And just as quickly as it seemed to have started, it was over.

And things were different.

“Do you suppose they forgot we’re here?” Ada shook her head. “Surely not.”

“I reckon they don’t care,” said Thomas.

“There aren’t all that many of us, and the weeds cover most everything. Wish I had my garden hoe,” added Tilson.

“Wouldn’t do much good,” Thomas said. “The weeds are too thick for that.”

I looked around, and realized he was right. Green Virginia creeper snaked all around us, blanketed the ground and rested over every gray stone surface.

“They’re awfully close together.” This from Joseph, sharp eyes forward and focused.

“I suppose it makes for fast friends,” offered June, with a small smile.

“More like enemies,” answered Clancy. “Won’t be any secrets kept, packed in that way. Like animals in a cage. No way to live.”

“What does it mean for us?” June looked over at me. “Will things change?”

“Things don’t change for us,” I told her.

I looked out ahead of us. Over the years, we’d seen young trees grow old, seasons and seasons of bluebells and snowstorms. We’d seen children play, and later return to play with their own children. That had been hardest for Marie. We’d watched, we’d witnessed, and no one knew. Now, we’d watch this, this seemingly endless sea of houses, and all of the people who lived in them. I didn’t know what we’d see, but we’d watch, as we always had, and we’d be here, and just like always, no one would ever know.

“Things don’t change for us,” I repeated, “and we’ll certainly be here longer than they will.” I thought for a moment, remembered the early days and the days after, and added, “Hopefully they’ll at least be quiet neighbors.”

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Thank you for reading! This is the fourth of twelve stories I’ll write as part of my 2021 Short Story Challenge. Twelve months, twelve stories, and the theme this year is: Home.

Here are the first three stories, if you’d like to read them: 

The Roads

This Place

Talk Out the Fire

And if you want to join in the fun, here’s more information. I hope you do! But just reading is good, too, and I’m glad you’re here!

The next story will be posted at the end of May.

More (A Poem)

This we know
deep down
in our bones and blood.
Even buried under our worst moments,
tucked into the corners
of our own lives,
we know it:
We are made for more
than work
and worry.

How do you make time for writing?

This is something I’ve been struggling with lately. My days have been filled with meetings and phone calls, my evenings with emails, and my competing priorities – all important, all very loved and in some cases personal projects – have been keeping me busy. In the middle of all of it, I’m finding it hard to carve out real, significant time to write.

Case in point: I’m writing this on a Sunday night and scheduling it for Monday morning, when I’ll be on the road for several hours.

What to do?

I’ve played with schedules, with different ways of making and looking at to-do lists. I’ve tried mornings and evenings. I’m sort of at a loss, and while I AM getting my writing done, I’d just really like to get my arms around it better.

So, readers and writers, I’m curious. How do you make time to write? How do you balance life’s busy-ness and actually get words on the page? I’d love to hear your techniques, your ideas, your advice…

I’m not pleading for help or anything, but, you know, never hurts to have good tools in the toolbox. 😊

Found Friday #28: Redbud in Bloom

Are you tired of my posts about spring and blooms and blossoms yet? Because I’m not! I just can’t seem to get enough of the spring.

Today, I thought I’d share some pictures of our redbud tree.

They grow all around the village, but I’m really happy to have one right in my front yard. And it’s putting on quite a show this year.

I grew up seeing the redbuds bloom every spring in southwest Virginia, so it almost feels like having a little piece of home here in the NOVA.

And, fun fact! A couple of years ago, I learned that there are white redbuds trees, too!

Beautiful in every color.

Memories of School Picture Day(s) (A Poem)

“Smile,” they said,
and I did,
crooked.
“Your eyes are closed.”
Unsurprising.
“We’ll try again,” they offered,
which was kind
all things considered,
especially the line that day.
What can I say?
I’ve never been what they call
photogenic.
I’m good with it.
I hear a picture’s worth a thousand words,
and well,
pictures of me
will certainly
get you talking.

The Garden Path (A Poem)

There’s something magic,

isn’t there,

about a garden path in spring?

Always worth the following,

I think,

if only to see where it leads.

Or even just the slant of the light

along the way,

just right to make

the everyday

extraordinary,

and the ordinary

enchanting.