Do You Suppose She’s a Wildflower?

img_1520I grew up amongst wild flowers that rose up to my waist. My small fingers ran down their stems and picked the very best ones to bring to my Mother. I touched their leaves and
hummed as the wind blew my brown hair across my freckled cheeks.

I danced in the rain, sometimes with an umbrella but usually without one. I would let the rain pour over me and soak my hair as I jumped barefoot into puddles. I would sing while I danced, in the rain amongst the wildflowers. Today I still stand at the very edge of my porch when it rains, so that I can feel the splashes of the drops against my arms.

Smells always take us back to specific moments, specific memories. Things we hadn’t thought of in years, suddenly so present. I walked into a  bookstore in Nashville and suddenly I was in my Grandmother’s living room in California. The smell of fresh wood makes me think of my Dad – the first carpenter I ever knew – and the smell of dirt takes me home. To my backyard. To dirt under my small fingernails and my Mother’s whistles from the door, letting me know it was time to come in.

I made fairy homes out of branches and bark and leaves and cloth from old shirts while the  sweet smell of gardenias encircled me. We planted sunflowers that grew past my head and I thought they were the most beautiful things I had ever seen. I ran through them pretending I was Pocahontas and sang “Just Around The Riverbend” with the kind of abandon only little kids have.

I live in a city now, but I grew up with room to run. I grew up with trees and gardens and quiet. Quiet that was filled with my singing as I ran and planted and made bouquets. I plant my hyacinth bulbs and succulents and sweet potato vines because the dirt reminds me of home. It reminds me of when I didn’t feel bogged down by mean politics or when life didn’t feel really heavy on my small shoulders. It makes me feel connected to my parents who have always worked with their hands.

I pull on the stained and worn green gardening gloves that my husband bought me long before he was my husband and think about the children I hope I have one day. I’ll tell them they are wildflowers: free and beautiful and a little magic.

Thursday Morning, 9am

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Random thoughts on a coffee shop:

The fabric on the chairs is different but my salted caramel latte, which I got the first time we came – and still get today – tastes the same. I suppose that over four years enough spills and blunders and stains collect that the chairs need to be reupholstered. They used to be a mustard yellow, now they’re blue like the sea. The chairs are the kind that go up past your head and almost form a cocoon around your conversation. Though you’re in the middle of a crowded coffee shop, you feel like all your words are safe.

We sat every Thursday morning in those chairs. It was so routine we didn’t have to confirm it with one another, we just both showed up. Thursday morning, 9am. You did forget a few times, arriving an hour late with sleepy eyes. I always waited. I made you buy me breakfast to make up for it, but I always waited. We sat and talked about God, but like the fabric of the chairs, that conversation has changed too. The ebb and flow of relationship; the letting go of dead things. Sarah Bessey wrote “If our theology doesn’t shift and change over our lifetimes, then I have to wonder if we’re paying attention.”

We don’t meet anymore, but whenever I find myself drinking a salted caramel latte on a Thursday I think of how much I needed those conversations in that strange season.

The mugs are the same, though, still white and warm. In four years they’ve been held by so many hands and like the chairs, heard so many conversations. A dear friend told me she was moving while sipping from those mugs. I fixated my eyes on the mug in my lap because I needed to concentrate on not crying and if I looked at her, sincere face tears would have been inevitable, even though I had known what she was going to tell me from the moment she asked me to meet. She had never really been home here. I can still recall the sweet smell of her mango tea as she sighed and said, “I knew you’d be the hardest person to tell”. I don’t think she said this because I was her dearest friend in Tampa, but rather I think she knew how much I had always needed her.

I’m seeing her get married this December which is unfathomable, beautiful proof that four years is a long time, and four years can change things.

Our book club met there once. We were reading “Persuasion” by Jane Austen and it felt an appropriate setting for our discussion on feminism and love and the words of Captain Wentworth.

You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant.

Last month I was there too and I sat and watched my favorite little girl, Jo, walk her determined, new steps across the room. The same room that her mother and I sat in years prior, when her marriage was new and this little girl wasn’t yet a thought. Jo’s curls bounced along as she walked and I thought about how her presence – her very existence – has changed so many lives for the better. The girl I was four years ago sitting in that same coffee shop had no idea what it meant to a love a little person.

Jo walked up and down the staircase which is lined with portraits. Faces frozen in time by photographers and artists, still stationed in the same spot on the wall since opening day. They look out over a marble kingdom and I wonder if they would have come here if they were still alive. Would they have liked the local Tampa coffee culture, or would they have thought that the people here were snobs? It doesn’t much matter because here they are, in the background of a thousand staircase selfies.

I’ve written here, wrestled with God’s word here, cried here and laughed here. This room is a time capsule with memories scribbled on every wall. Today doesn’t look like four years ago, but the latte tastes the same.

Blankets Made by Your Grandmother Warm You Twice

Today I was helping at our church and I needed to grab something from the kitchen. The building our church is in was built back in the 60’s and the kitchen has some of the original cabinets and countertops. The moment I stepped foot in the room, I was in my Grandmother’s home in West Covina, California. That room smelled exactly like the small cozy home I would visit once a year as a child. Suddenly my brain flooded with memories. I love that smells can do that. Smells and songs and outfits and movies and tastes. I love the consequences of sentiment. The memory lanes we walk down. The involuntary smile that comes across your face as you remember.

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Hand Knitted Colorful Blankets copy

The air was always crisper and the grass was a lot squishier there at my Grandmother’s house in West Covina, California. California had real grass, not the pokey crab grass we have here in Florida. It was a small house with big pink rose bushes in the front yard and it was just down the street from a small neighborhood playground I called “Barney Park”. My reasoning is not clear, as Barney the dinosaur was not the theme of the playground. Every year when we arrived she would come down the three front steps as quickly as her age allowed and hugged me up. She was my mam-maw (sometimes cute little kid names for things like “grandma” are difficult to spell).

Everything in her home was old – the white kitchen cabinets, the dark brown carpet, the curtains; her home was the epitome of a grandparent’s home. Shelves were filled with trinkets and old mugs (whenever we visited my mother would always use a white mug that said EGBOK in red letters. It stood for “everything’s gonna be o.k” and my grandmother won it from a radio contest. Now it sits in the china cabinet in my parent’s home). I thought her home was a museum full of wonders. In her kitchen she kept a chart of my height; little lines all up the side marking my growth and the passing of sweet time. Every morning she would cook up giant plates of crispy bacon because she thought I loved it. In reality I like bacon right in the middle – a little crisp and a little bendy. But I loved that she found such joy in doing something kind for me, so I never said anything. The sweetness won me over.

The room that my father had spent his childhood in was then filled with shelves and shelves of yarn and bingo stampers and porcelain dolls. From all that yarn she made me the most beautiful multicolored blanket, which I shall keep forever. Blankets made by your grandmother warm you twice.

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In the living room she would set up a TV tray and a 1970’s vanity stool that I thought was glamorous (which you can see in the background of this photo) and we’d eat chocolate ice cream cups together. But never on the coffee table. I wasn’t allowed to scratch her lovely coffee table. Her voice was raspy from far too many years of smoking and she called me “doll”. My grandmother was a sassy Italian and I am certain that if she were still alive we would be the best of friends and our sarcasm would be borderline offensive to others. She was so patient with me. While I am sure my parents would give her breaks from me on our visits, I just remember spending time with her. Sitting together and talking. Sometimes even talking a little too much. She did not realize that my parents had told me the story of my birth – that my mother could not have a baby so I was “outsourced”, but the day that I started talking about it, she figured it out. And she was horrified.

“Mam-maw, let’s talk.”

“Okay doll, you first.”

“Okay. Once upon a time, there were two people who wanted to have a baby. And they asked God to put a baby in the mommy’s tummy but he didn’t. So they got a baby from noonie’s tummy. And do you know who that baby was, mam-maw? ME!”

“…”

One of my favorite activities with her was playing Bingo. Not real Bingo, we would just sit at the dining room table for hours playing with her colorful bingo stampers. I would stamp pictures of trees and cars and Barney Park and all the while I believed that was how you played Bingo: you just painted things with the stampers. I can remember telling my friends at home about playing bingo with my mam-maw in California and I felt very adult about it.

She kept a bike for me in her garage: my own special bike with pink and purple shimmery ribbons. It was a grand event to pull it out on the first day of our visits. Every year the ribbons were more lovely than I had remembered. I would breath in the crisp air and ride my beautiful bike down the sidewalk to Barney Park and to this day I am certain those were the most peaceful and joyous moments I have ever had. Just being outside in the magical land of California with a pretty bike and a pretty grandmother.

Back home, I had a yellow California state magnet on our fridge and every time I saw it I thought of my mam-maw and my young heart would flutter thinking of the next time we would get to fly on the airplane to see my buddy. Because I would only see her once a year, she was like Christmas to me. Something special that I only got to savor for a short time. I loved my grandmother so very much. I still love my grandmother so very much. I love the son that she raised, I love the photographs of her I have, I love the last name that I share with her, I love every single memory I have of that woman. I shall never allow another person to call me “doll” – that term of endearment is forever hers and hers alone.

How I Know I Am No Longer a “Scene Kid”

When I was in high school, I was what one might call a “scene kid”. There are many kinds of scene kids, so to be clear I wasn’t a neon and zebra print and dinosaur scene kid, I was an extra skinny jeans and band shirts every day scene kid. A studded belt and hair dye scene kid. An Anberlin and As I Lay Dying scene kid.

I used the term “scene kid” the other day while out with a friend and apparently they went to high school in a magical land where that term didn’t exist. So in case you, sweet reader, lucked out and didn’t have a myspace (aw, myspace) friend list full to the brim of hXc scene girls, let me explain to the best of my ability. Honestly, I don’t even know if “scene kids” exist anymore. If they do, I have no idea what their deal is. But the 2005-2007 scene kid… that’s another story.

The 2007 scene kid was all about the music: screamo, hXc (that’s “hardcore” for all of you over the age of 28), a little bit of drunkenly slurred love songs accompanied by only an acoustic guitar (I’m looking at you, Bright Eyes)… etc. This was made very obvious by all the band shirts. ALL OF THE BAND SHIRTS. LITERALLY BAND SHIRTS ALL OF THE TIME. Band shirts and skinny jeans. And converse. But dirty converse, not nasty new ones with really white laces. No one would believe you spent all weekend in a mosh pit if your converse were that white. And don’t forget the studded belt. But the thick one from Hot Topic, not the thin one from Pac Sun. Of course, the 2007 scene kid would pretend they didn’t shop at Hot Topic because that was too commonplace, but don’t buy that nonsense for a moment. That black Underoath shirt with the pink X that every single attendee at any given local show was wearing? ImageYeah, I bought that shirt at Hot Topic so I call bologna on that “no shopping at Hot Topic” claim. It’s true, however, that shirts actually bought at shows gave you 17 extra scene points. Those were usually a design that Hot Topic didn’t carry, so winner winner.

Every Friday night — it was the most fascinating thing — FLOCKS of scrawny 17 year olds would gather together in a circle with their arms crossed and looking bored at YMCA’s and churches and a myriad of other buildings across town who for some reason trusted 60 teenagers to not destroy the place. For these, dear reader, were the local shows, and they were the scene.

There were some really talented musicians at these shows, but the shows weren’t really about the bands. They were about being seen at the scene. They were where you went to showcase your new hair color. Black with purple ombre? Zomg, so radd. They were where you wore your coolest band shirts — Story of the Year was okay at school, but you gotta pull out the Norma Jean threads when you’re heading to the Elk Lodge to stand next to people you friended on myspace but never spoke to in real life.

Ladies and gentleman, the scene kid.

I spent most of my high school rotating band shirts and attending local shows and even though it’s incredibly laughable to me now, I loved every moment of it. I loved the friends I awkwardly stood next to at those shows and I love that some of the friends I went to watch are still making music. And I still love Sufjan Stevens because some things from high school never change. But I also love that I am in no way, shape, or form a scene kid any longer (and not just because I have to pay taxes now so being called a “kid” seems a little nonsensical).

HERE’S HOW I KNOW I AM NO LONGER A “SCENE KID”:

1. THEN: When I’d go see Maylene and the Sons of Disastor or The Chariot or Showbread on tour I always had to be as close to the front as possible, even if that meant standing in line several hours. And I had to buy a shirt. And it HAD to be signed. NOW: First, I only go to a show if I really really enjoy the band. The concept of shows in general is no longer fun to me, but if I’m really into the music, I’ll go. But now I arrive right before the performances start. Wait in line? Never. I stand in the back so that I have elbow room – being bumped by strangers is no longer part of the fun. If possible, I’ll go sit in a balcony. I leave as soon as the show is over – heck, once I even left during the encore because I wanted to beat traffic.

2. THEN: Skinny jeans weren’t skinny enough. I would literally sew all of my already skinny jeans to make them even skinner. Pretty simple, just turn them inside out and sew along the seam. One time I was walking to lunch in 11th grade and a girl I barely knew came up to me and, without saying hi or anything before hand, said “HOW DO YOU GET INTO YOUR PANTS?!”. Skinny. NOW: I hate jeans. I think they’re unforgiving and they just don’t cover up my love handles NEARLY as well as I would like them to. My favorite kind of pants are those higher waisted mom jeans. And I’m not sorry about it. I praise the Lord every day that I have a job that allows me to wear yoga pants Monday – Friday.

3. THEN: Even if I was uncomfortable I would wear my scenester uniform. An outdoor music festival in Florida? In August? Sure, let me get my black Chariot shirt and pac sun jeans real quick. I passed out from heat exhaustion and dehydration once at one of these shows and I cut my head pretty badly on cement. Meaning the only time in my life I went to the ER was because I passed out at a show from being too scene. NOW: I tend to dress like a librarian. And I love it. Cardigans and petite wrist watches and brooches. This past July I went to an Anamanaguchi show (CAN YOU EVEN PICTURE ME AT AN 8BIT BAND SHOW?) (Though, I was about to move and wanted to hang out with my people while I had the chance) (and it was actually a pretty fun dance party, so.) and wasn’t the least bit embarrassed to be wearing sneakers with shorts with my camelback water bottle in hand. True, the 14 year old kids that were there and dressed very “cool” looked at me like I was a mom, but I can assure you I was more comfortable temperature-wise than anyone at that show.

4. THEN: Like every other scene kid, the front seat of my car always held my giant black CD binder full to the brim of all the music I was supposed to be listening to. Er, I mean, loved on my own accord. I couldn’t drive to school without blasting my music. I think I was under the impression that the car wouldn’t go unless my music was up impossibly loud. NOW: I genuinely detest loud things. Loud things in general — loud music, loud stores, loud people. If I’m listening to music when driving, it’s slightly under medium loudness. I can’t be all caught up in singing about heartbreak with Jessie Lacey of Brand New so much that I don’t pay attention to what’s around me. If I get into an accident, I have to pay for it. I am no longer 16. I have to pay for repairs and insurance and real life things.

5. THEN: The fact of the matter is, I didn’t even enjoy some of the music that I listened to in my “scene phase”. I don’t think I ever boldly pretended to like some bands that I didn’t, but I never talked much about the fact that most of the time The Devil Wears Prada just gave me a headache. I wasn’t a screamo kid. But I was okay with people thinking I was. Because when you’re in high school, er — because when you’re a human being — you care about what people think. And it makes no sense. NOW: I make no apologies for having Lana Del Rey on the same playlist as The Avett Brothers. And I don’t care if Mumford and Sons is mainstream or whatever it is I’m told they are.

 

I’m not sure what exactly I am these days, but I know with certainty that it isn’t a scene kid. But that’s what high school is for. It’s when you don’t know who you are. It’s a time for finding your niche and having really had hair cuts.

Not So Secret Love Letter [3]

You are beautiful. You are tall and proud and stately. You are loving, you are warm, you are welcoming. I love you for the way you are quirky and pleasantly awkward and gorgeously imperfect. With you we had the most glorious of dance parties (I think you’re quite the fan of Daft Punk, Passion Pit, MGMT, and The Wobble) and the most bitter sweet of pity parties (thank you for always being well stocked with ice cream). You witnessed exciting conversations and heart breaking conversations and you never once butted in and told us to grow up and stop crying. You kept your door wide open to neighbors and friends and all the dogs and I love you for your hospitality and that your arms are big enough to hug all of them at once. Remember last Easter and how we crammed 40+ people and 4 dogs into one big beautiful messy group? It was crowded and lovely and full of laughter and delicious food and you never once complained that there were too many people. You just kept your arms open.

You are the home that I love.

You are still doing all of those things even though your residents have switched around a little bit. Your porch still stands strong, for the most part, and it is still the most wonderful place to sit during a rainy afternoon. Your tree branches are still begging for a swing to be tied to them and who knows, maybe this year will be the year. Your wood floors still carry the echo of the barks and whimpers from the most beautiful dog to ever exist as well as the laughter from some of the most beautiful women to ever exist. Your kitchen still cooks pancakes and cookies and your refrigerator is still displaying funny baby pictures of all who reside within your walls. Thanks for keeping mine up there even though I’m 700 miles away from you. You make me still feel like I’m as much a part of the house as the wood and nails it took to build you.

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If you can’t tell, my shirt says “Sweetest Angel”. Which is still true.

You were just what we were looking for and you became ours right when we needed you.We made a list of things we HAD to have in a home (wood floors made the list but for some reason having more than 1 bathroom didn’t) and you were our perfect fit. We knew it from the moment we first drove down Louisiana Ave and saw you for the first time. We peeked through windows and imagined kickball games in the backyard and figured out how we could get so many cars in your teeny driveway all before the landlord came to show you to us.

“What should we call it?”

“How about The Louisiana Purchase?”

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When I think of Tampa, I think of you. You and the most wonderful friends that still live in your embracing arms. You hold my fondest and heaviest memories and a big goofy doberman that I’m crazy about.