And to Think That I Saw It On the Drive to Mount Vernon!

(With apologies for mine  to you know wheuuusss…)

I was driving, on a Sunday,
in my car, down Maple Street,
anticipating conversation
with good friends
I sped to meet,
When I spied a cheery figure,
her magenta hair in rows,
and her boisterous sky-blue tunic
topping vibrantly pink hose.
She clutched a fuzzy puppy;
she had her neon laces loose
And I thought her a creation
from the pages of Doc Seuss.

Girl
It occurred to me
as I sped by
my Hyundai’s wheels a-turnin’
That I never know
what I might see
while driving to Mount Vernon.

Down by the mall
I saw a man
A pullin’ on a cart
emblazoned with a Bible verse
to chill the sinner’s heart.
He pulled the cart
He marched along
Flags, behind, unfurled.
Stared straight ahead,
His visage grim,
A message for the world.

Cart man.jpg

I drove on past
that messenger
his public passion burnin’
There really is a lot to see
While driving to Mount Vernon.

And then I left the busy streets,
Turned onto country roads
All empty but occasional
big trucks with
heavy loads.
In a clearing,
on my left,
old schoolhouse, sagging roof.
A bent-back building where once,
I think,
young scholars sought their truth
Ghosts of teacher, rowdy kids,
wisps:
mischief,
industry,
learnin’,
A bit of history crumbles
on the roadway to
Mount Vernon.

School

I passed an old Impala
that was Pepto-Bismol hued,
and a confederate-flag-decked
pick up truck:
rear-view message, RUDE.
And I passed a sky-blue Prius–
bumper sticker: “Co-Exist.”
And I guessed that Mr. Pick-Up Guy
Would read that,
and be pissed.

Truck better

So I saw a lot of slogans
Presenting varied
bents and turnin’s.
There’s LOTS to notice
if I look
while drivin’ to Mount Vernon.

And I passed some country churches.
Some just humble.
Some, big-steepled.
And it was Sunday morning, after all:
those places were well-peopled.
And I like to read
the signs out front.
One offered,
“Baked steak supper!”
Another told me
Jesus is
The Quicker Picker-Upper.

Sign

Quite unsure
what that
meant to mean,
I hoped
the steak-bakers
had great earnings,
and I pondered different kinds of faith
As I was drivin’ to Mount Vernon.

I rounded a curve, slid windows up:
the air was getting muggy.
And it was getting sort of perfumed, too,
behind an Amish buggy.
The girls and women,
headed for church,
their horse, sedately clopping.
But up ahead,
the men raced fast,–
one on horseback.
They weren’t stopping.

Women

I zigged and I zagged
past horse-propelled folk,
past wooden cart wheels
turnin’…
I saw many different
modes of life
While drivin’ to Mount Vernon.

And so I arrived a little late;
those sights had made me pokey.
I tumbled out to talk about
Michelle Obama’s karaoke
and well-read books
and recipes
and thoughts on faith and living,
About leaky pipes
and petty gripes
(these dear friends are forgiving.)

The talk meandered, rich and deep,
just what I’d been yearnin’;
A wonderful gift,
a great reward,
for drivin’ to Mount Vernon.

Walking in My Neighborhood, Several Stories Deep

Maxie, the newly appointed mayor of the neighborhood...
Maxie, the newly appointed mayor of the neighborhood…

I clip the leash onto the collar of my wacky little dog, Greta, and pull open the back door. Greta stiffens, and I look down to see Maxie, the new mayor of the neighborhood, standing expectantly outside the storm door.

Maxie is a black cat with a priest’s collar; his head is the size and shape of a squashed softball. He is sleek and talkative. He waits in the ivy, under the shrubs that line the drive, when I come home. As soon as I open the car door, he starts his approach, spouting a long line of complaints: Yowlyowlmewwwwrrrryowlyou! MEW.

He always ends decisively, waiting for a response.

I usually give him a little piece of frozen turkey from a baggie in the freezer; he accepts this, but seems none too thrilled.

Max lives with the Next-to-Newest Neighbors across the street–a lovely mom and her just-college age daughter. Max was the daughter’s friend’s cat. When Daughter’s Friend was going off to school, Daughter’s Friend’s Dad calmly informed her he was going to shoot the damned cat.

Apparently he wasn’t kidding; so, Maxie came home with our next-to-newest neighbor.

He’s an outdoor guy, Max: he only goes in when the weather is too cold for cats to sleep au naturel. Meantime, he prowls the neighborhood, making sure everything is safe. He spends a lot of time with Shirley, our elderly, widowed neighbor. He naps in her window well. She provides food and drink in case Max needs a little nosh.

Sometimes I’ll pull up the driveway and see Max sitting outside Sandy’s Florida room next door, staring hungrily through the window at her squawking gray parrot, who is not amused by the visitation. And for a while, Max decided he wanted to check out the Newest Neighbors’ home across the street. He would stand by their front door and warble insistently. From the house, deep ominous barks resounded. Maxie was unfazed, but the Newest Neighbors did not seem inclined to let him in to explore.

Today, Maxie glances at Greta on the leash, then looks at me in disgust. Really? he registers clearly. Walking that stupid dog??? He gives his sleek shoulders a shake and ambles off toward his nest in the ivy. Greta rumbles deep in her throat and pulls me toward the yard and the front walk. Let’s avoid that scary cat, she’s implying.

We head out to the street. Maxie forgotten, Greta settles in to a nice sniffing meander. We don’t get two steps before she finds a fascinating pocket of scent. We stop, and I gaze across the street, at the lights down below, twinkling out this early morning. A walk with the Grets is a stop and start affair.

Our neighborhood traces a ravine; my house is on the firmly planted side. Across the street, where Next-to-Newest and Newest Neighbors have their sparkling white abodes, the houses perch. Front yards are lovely; back yards drop off abruptly.

The ravine is long and steep and wooded, a refuge for a herd of deer who wander up, unabashed, almost daily. We watch the babies grow up during the summer; we watch the wary relationship between Senior Buck and Junior Buck. Greta snuffles up their scent, fascinated, and they obligingly leave lots of it around, sometimes in freshly steaming piles on the pine needle carpets in our backyard.

Woe to my plantings; they’re fast food for deer. But this Spring—hah! I have a recipe from my woods-and-fields-savvy friend Theresa. I’ll be dousing my hosta, my impatiens, my everything, with the Theresa Formula. Take that, you foraging deer.

There are gray squirrels and black squirrels in the neighborhood; they bore Greta, who just ignores them. There are bunnies, too, and chipmunks, — although, come to think of it, not as many sightings occur since Maxie’s moved in.

Having read her olfactory messages, the dog snorts and we move on. Phyllis’s house is the last on the street, ravine-side. It has a lovely side deck, between the house and a little woods. The driveway leads right up to that deck, which overlooks the ravine, and, at night, a beautiful light display: you can see the busy commerce and industry of Linden Avenue just below; off to the southeast, the lights of the city glitter in the night sky.

The way Phyllis’s house is situated, the street at the corner leads right into her driveway.

One night, shortly after we moved in–congratulating ourselves on landing in this quiet neighborhood–(Mark would stand outside at night with his eyes closed and his arms at his side, palms parallel with the ground, murmuring, “It’s so QUIET.” Our vacated neighborhood was NOT.)–I went to bed early, worn out from the strenuous haul of moving and unpacking. I was reading in bed, eyelids drooping, when the sirens began, a low whining that grew closer and closer.

And closer. Soon, one could hear speeding cars, tires on pavement, brakes squealing; that grew rapidly closer, too. And then, very close, a crash!

I heard Mark’s startled exclamation, heard him scuffing into his old shoes, heard the front door open as he ran out to see what was going on. “Oh. BOY!” Jim said; he was, I could tell from the placement of his voice, standing at the front window.

I considered going down, but knew the Markmeister had it under control. He would tell me the story when he came in.

And so he did. Hotly pursued by a police cruiser, a car drove up the street, couldn’t make the turn, and flew right on to Phyllis’s deck. The driver jumped out and ran into the backyard, where he didn’t expect a ravine. He tumbled over the edge.

Mark stood with Phyllis and her husband Terry as the drama unfolded. The hapless driver, thinking to avoid arrest, crawled up the ravine at the other end of the street. The police, who’d been nonchalantly watching his progress, cuffed him and threw him into the cruiser, called for a tow truck, and took all the necessary information from Phyllis and Terry.

Mark, who works for a county government unit and gets all the juice, brought the details home next day.

Seems Driver Man was from a notorious ne’er-do-well family. Needing some weekend drinkin’ cash, he called for a pizza, thinking he’d take the delivery guy’s stash. Driver Man lived in an isolated country locale.

Delivery Guy arrived, got out of the car, and was confronted by Driver Man, wielding a pistol. Delivery Guy was big, and not a man for nonsense. He slapped the pizza box into Driver Man’s face and took his gun away. Then, when the pizza box fell off Driver Man’s face, Delivery Guy popped him a good one.

Down went Driver Man. Delivery Guy pulled out his cell phone and dialed 911. As he was talking to the dispatcher, Driver Man scrambled to his feet. Delivery Man popped him again.

Down, again, went Driver Man.

Now stop hitting him! the dispatcher purportedly said. Get in your car and drive back to work, and an officer will meet you there to pick up the gun and get your report.

O-kay, said Delivery Guy, reluctantly, but when Driver Man got up again, talking some smack, he couldn’t resist knocking him down one last time. By the time the police arrived, Driver Man had wobbled into his own vehicle, and the chase began.

They drove darned near all over the county before Driver Man flew his vehicle onto Phyllis’s deck, decimating it.

By the time the luckless felon crawled up the cliff, he was battered from the repeated poppings, scraped and cut from the fall down the ravine, and ready for medical attention and a comfortable bed in a cell.

The insurance rebuilt Phyllis and Terry’s deck, but it was one of the last times we saw him, that kind, friendly, helpful neighbor. He was hospitalized shortly after the Deck Event. He never came home. Now Phyllis and her sons and daughters-in-law and grandchildren enjoy sitting on that deck, talking softly on starry summer nights. But we know how much they miss Terry.

Greta makes her mandatory sniff-examination of Phyllis’s rose bush; satisfied, we wander across the street and up the long curving driveway of the Helen Purcell Home. Helen Purcell had been the sickly daughter of a local family in the early 1800’s. Since she was puny, anyway, she was designated as the one to stay home and care for Mamaw and Papaw. Her siblings went to school, got married, moved away; Helen learned to sew. And she was pretty [I so want to say ‘darned’] good at it. She took in sewing and made a little extra money.

And then, the parents both died, and there was Helen, suddenly and sadly free. She packed up her sewing stuff and her belongings and she moved herself to Cincinnati, where she set up shop. And she succeeded; she was a sought-after seamstress, and an independent woman.

Until her brother got sick. Then Helen was called home–her role, after all, was to care for the sick ones. She left her beloved independent life. She nursed her brother, but she never forgot her taste of freedom. She, the sickly one, outlived all her family contemporaries. When she died, she left her estate in trust, to establish a place where women in need could recover from whatever vicissitudes plagued them. It was a healing home for independent women needing to get back on their feet.

Now it is a home for the elderly; not so very long ago, they agreed, finally, to admit men, too, and the facility offers independent and assisted living and managed care. The staff is lovely, the residents energetic; there is a van that takes people out and about, although many of the residents park their own vehicles in the long carport that faces our house. In the lovely common area, with its polished paneled walls and massive fireplace, there is always a jigsaw puzzle in progress, and always clusters of people visiting and laughing. Not bad neighbors to have.

We round the expansive driveway, and come out on Norwood Boulevard, near the Mission Oaks Gardens. The park, open to all from dawn to dusk, is reached by crossing the Hendleys’ driveway. The Hendleys had a vision of a winding, meandering park within the city; they bought the house and acquired grounds abutting their property, then acquired more, and the gardens grew. We walk there in the good weather, sometimes sitting in the rustic log tea house; we watch throughout the summer, as the plants shoot up and bloom.

There are rhododendrons, local of root; all kinds of hosta; native flowers and imported flowers; trees and shrubs. There is a vast conifer garden. There are two ponds with tall waterfalls, and there are benches and gazebos and many places where a bride can splendidly pose.

It is not a place for Greta to walk, though. I am not sure, prissy city dog that she is, that she’d even consent to walk down the grassy paths; she’s a sidewalk girl, my Greta. But it doesn’t matter: she’s not invited. The park is home to an aging Scottie dog, who greets all visitors and likes a bit of a scratch. When we moved into the neighborhood, there were a pair of Scotties; now this guy remains, alone. He’s awfully glad to walk a ways with a visitor to the garden.

But it’s cold and muddy January; this is not a Mission Oaks day. We walk the sidewalk by the gracious, Spanish-style home on the property instead. This house, with its lovely upper deck (what a great place for morning coffee, I always think) has a Past. It was the abode of a wealthy businessman’s mistress, who lived brazenly there and entertained her paramour while the respectable wife held court across town.

Deer at the Hendleys

Now the Mistress’s House is the gateway to a great gift to the community. You just never know, I figure.

We start down the street past the Hendleys’, but Greta abruptly changes her mind, turns around, and leads me home. We take the sidewalk, the fast way. We encounter no feline or otherwise furry friends.

It’s not a long walk, but it certainly is a story-filled one. We all know how exhausting stories can be to a tired little hound, one who has to protect a house all day and contend at times with an ornery neighborhood cat.

Greta waits patiently for me to treat her with frozen coins of hot dog once we are safely inside, and then she jumps up on to the couch, paddles down the throw, and snuggles up. I get my book and join her. She puts her heads on my leg and snores; I travel vicariously to Scotland.

We’ll find more neighborhood tales on future days, as we deepen our relations with our neighbors, share their memories, hear their adventures.  It’s one of the perks of coming to such a stopping place: here we can send down our roots, several stories deep.

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

The cover photo on this site shows one of the ponds from Mission Oaks Gardens…

Drive By Sightings

…around the curve and down the hill on Adams Lane

July

Little brown children
–cute as cartoons;
wet as otters;–
inflated wading pool,
rainbow umbrella,
July blue sky
scudded with clouds.

Their father, laughing.

August

Every Saturday at 7:45:
She’s in her scrubs, carrying a solid-looking sack
(Gallon of milk? Carton of juice?
Did she stop at the convenience store
for cereal after working
the graveyard shift
at the old folks’ home?)
Her tiny frame leans tightly, one shoulder up.
Her hair, hacked blunt, is light and clean and flying.
The sun blinds her glasses.
She walks gingerly, as if her feet are tender, on the very edge of the road.
She is always smiling.

September

She opens her car door into traffic
and heaves herself out of the dented SUV.
Slams open the back door
and drags out a brimful basket of folded laundry.
She is large and broad,
tautly T-shirted, and her unrealistic
blonde hair, pulled tight,
hangs in one long hank
down her back.
He jumps out the passenger door,
gleeful, impish,
a leering large-grown leprechaun;
he grabs the crotch of his baggy jeans and jiggles,
dancing as he flaps his lips.
(Oh, very NICE, mutters my disgusted son)
She doesn’t even look at him,
just hefts the basket and trudges.

October

A tiny man with high-belted pants
and a jaunty straw fedora.
She waits, even tinier,
at the passenger door of the giant gleaming
car. He shuffles around to get her door, then takes his time,
getting to the driver’s side.
He opens the door and suddenly, inspired,
he does a happy little dance,
leans in to mention something, listens;
laughs and climbs on in.
The door slams shut and the car ignites
and eases slowly–
oh, so slowly–
down the neatly sealed driveway.

On Seeing James Taylor at the Schottenstein Arena June 2014

 

James Taylor

We are going to a concert

to see our rock icon perform,

cruising in our comfy car–

not too cool, not too warm.

When we get to the campus venue,

rickshaws tote us from where we park:

fifty-somethings at a concert

swaying in the dark.

 

Our clothes are sensible and mid-price.

Yes, this crowd is pretty Docker-ed;

We share tales of concerts long ago,

but they’re hazy; we were snockered.

Now we buy a four dollar water

and a seven-fifty beer:

fifty-somethings at a concert

don’t need inebriants to cheer.

 

The house lights start a-dimmin’,

then the lights come up on stage,

and our icon bounds onto it.

Lord, he really looks his age.

Then:  thick and shiny tresses.

Now: thick and shiny head.

Fifty-somethings at a concert:

Telling tales of Grateful Dead.

 

And the icon starts to singing

as he dances round the stage,

and his voice is clear and true and strong

though his dad jeans mark his age.

We find candle apps on smart phones

but we’re too middle-aged to dance:

fifty somethings at a concert,

our technology’s advanced!

 

We holler for the classics.

We are thoughtful through the new.

A woman yells, “I love you!”

The icon says, “I love you, too!”

The theme here is politeness;

There’s no rudeness in this crowd.

Nothing burning; no one barfing;

Older, calmer,–but we’re loud.

 
We call him back for encores.

The icon’s really touched.

Two is great, but we are tired;

three encores would be too much.

And we pile out to the car lot

and politely let each other out.

Fifty somethings at a concert:

past our bedtimes, there’s no doubt.

 

We drive on home in comfort

reminiscing of concerts past,

Of jeans too tight, behavior too loose,

and how it all went so fast.

But we love our lives, we’re happy now,

though there’s poignancy, of course.

Five somethings home from concert

have no next-day remorse.

Saving Granny From the Speed Police

Surely, this will be the car.
Surely, this will be the car.

I am a graying woman in a gray sedate sedan.

Perhaps this calm gray car will be the vehicle I need
To countermand the tendency to let my lead foot lead.

In this (unlike in other plots) I hope all goes as planned.

I am a graying woman in a gray sedate sedan.

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

This might just be the first ‘Ohio car’ in which I do not earn a speeding ticket.

My cars have not been what you’d call hot models. They’ve had character, though; they’ve been mostly memorable.

I acquired a 1970 Cutlass, for instance, many years after its inaugural flight. It was a blue car with patches of rust. Someone stole the driver’s side door one night; we found a nice green door at the junkyard. The rust matched, anyway.

Someone also stole the ‘Cutl’ from the metal script on the back of the car, so I was riding around in a rusty blue car with a rusty green door that read ‘ass’ on its rear end. This tickled my father to no end. When I came to visit, he would inquire politely whether I had parked my ass on the street or in the driveway.

Cars like that, and like the cute little Tempo that stalled at every stop sign and traffic light, keep one upwardly mobile and propel one to graduate school.

‘Someday,’ one thinks, ‘I will have a job that pays for a car that doesn’t stall AND has heat and a radio!’

And, see: I have that now, after driving many cars I’ve loved: an aquamarine Escort wagon, a wine-colored Pontiac Vibe; an eggplant purple Scion XB that was a great ride except for the big block to visibility on the driver’s side rearview.

None of my cars were bright red or remotely sports car-ish, but I managed, since moving to Ohio, in each of the four cars I’ve owned before now, to get myself a speeding ticket. It’s just sad, really—I’m a sucker for a sunny day, a window rolled down, and a crankable song (which could be many things, from the Grateful Dead to an Irish ballad. I am not picky about that to which I sing along badly.)

On rides like that, the boundaries seep away and the car sprouts wings and my foot presses down…and oh, the beauty and the rhapsody. I’m flying through a perfect world, singing loudly and off-key…until that ‘Oh, bleep’ moment when the flashing lights crest the hill behind me.

And it’s sad, too, that moment when the peace officer, all bustling indignation, stalks up to my window. Double take: ‘Oh, cripes!’ I can see him thinking, ‘it’s an old lady! It’s a nice old lady!’ (I swear the one young woman officer who nabbed me teared up when she gave me the ticket.)

And they always tell me they will work with me and give me the reduced novice speeder’s rate, and I promise,– and I really do mean it,– that I will slow down, stop singing so gawd-awful badly, and pay attention. And I pay the fine and drive like the timid granny that I am for six months or so, until that one day the sun breaks through the clouds and Jerry Garcia nudges me…

Well. THAT was the sordid past. I am older, slower, wiser now.

I have a sensible car.

I am in control.

No more tickets for THIS granny.

I am a graying woman in a gray sedate sedan.