Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Survival 101

My mother made preparation for disaster, first during the Cold War, then on and on she fretted, certain that America faced national destruction. She must have pictured an apocalypse with an aftermath something like Planet of the Apes.

 Now it makes me smile to remember her hyper-vigilance, the way her face flushed and her eyes widened when she discussed with me our evacuation plans—where to meet, what to do and where we would go—to a mine owned by her friend, Reba.

Oro Amigo, “Friend of Gold,” a walk-in mine not too far from Las Vegas, NV, would house a small colony of intelligent survivors who had prepared well in advance for the coming calamity. In 1960, when I was still in elementary school, we took a yellow, 40-gallon barrel filled with supplies and left it there. We never went back.

From a letter dated November 30, 1975, my mom wrote to her sister, Joyce, still making plans to escape what to her seemed imminent:

“I would like us to find a hideaway somewhere, where we can be together when things get so bad we will have to hide to survive. It won’t be long now. If the economy of NYC can collapse, the U.S. won’t be far behind. The only thing the ______ can think to do about it is to raise taxes, which is why things are as they are in the first place. We are going to have total anarchy … It has already reached the point where you can hardly survive without a S.S. number. It won’t be long before we are required to have a passport to travel from state to state. The political climate is very, very bad now. Unless the people of this country demand a return to our original form of government, soon, it will be too late. I expect that we will be in a war soon, and then the government will invoke ‘emergency powers’ or laws, which means total control over everyone and everything. I am very worried about many things. …

 You can take my advice or laugh, as you please. Forget about TV’s and electrical appliances. Buy what you’ll need when we return to the Dark Ages, and be prepared to fight to keep it, cause you will have to. It will be necessary to hide. We will need some dogs, too. I suggest a Shepherd/Collie cross.

We wouldn’t need all these things if we wanted to live like the Indians used to live. But we want to make the transition gradually. I think the last things we would miss the most are salt and toilet paper. How in the hell did the Indians live without toilet paper? …

[For those inclined to build a fortress, here's the list of supplies copied from my mom's letter.] 

*Salt (table & preserving) + 25 boxes should last you 5 years

Sugar (about 60 lbs. per year x5, 300 lbs) stored in cans or jars

Cooking oil—Gallons





Dry Cereals-

Corn Meal

Dry Beans—Gobs

Medicines—anything you can get, alcohol, cotton, tape, bandages

Vitamins—as much as you can afford

*Seed—Corn, beans, etc. (very important)

Canned good—milk, juices, meats, etc. (beer?)

Dry yeast



Hard Candies stored in cans or jars

Fabrics & thread (needles, denim, wool & cotton)


Guns, knives, shells (knife sharpener)

Socks (wool) extra shoes, rain wear

Rolls of plastic sheeting

Iron pots, the larger the better

Kitchen matches (50 boxes)

Flashlights & batteries

Cig. Lighters, fluid, flints

Kerosene lamps, wicks, kerosene


Axes (have several) Tools & utensils

Rope—buy the best—long

Shovels, hoes, rakes

Sleeping bags

Shoes, boots, (as many as possible)

Snow shoes

Heavy duty clothes


*Toilet Paper—Gobs, tons

Kotex, hand cream, razor & blades

Towels, etc., dishes (of course)

Canned Tobacco & roller, papers

Paper, pens, pencils, children’s school workbooks, crayons, paints

And etc. etc.

You can probably think of many things I can’t.” 

Mom said, “I am very worried about many things.” And that makes me sad. Because today many people are worried about many things, and often the proposed solutions to problems make as much sense as a survival kit stuck in a gold mine.

My mother was a very smart lady but she lived in fear. Her reasons for being afraid were often valid, but I watched her suffer more from what she feared would come upon her as the troubles that actually did occur.

Fear is contagious and I know what it is to be afflicted. These personal recollections balance my own perspective of human history.

Fear and faith cannot occupy the same space at the same time.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fear and Faith: Sort it Out

Setting aside Middlemarch last night, I started reading Alexander Mc Call Smith’s latest book in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective series, Tea Time for the Traditionally Built. Always a surprise to see what wisdom wends it way through this delightful story, a commentary on snakes bit me.

“They have their place, said the official [in a recent plea that people should refrain from doing anything about snakes unless they actually came into the house], and if there were no snakes, then there would be many more rats … That message, though, went against most people’s deepest instincts.”

Further, another paragraph applies to many of the anxiety-causing issues that confront people today, whether they live in Africa or America or on an island in the South Pacific.

            She looked up at her acacia tree. There could be a snake in the tree for all she knew; nature was full of snake-like shapes and colours—long, sinuous twigs and boughs, snake-coloured grass that moved in the wind just as a snake might move. Concealment was easy. So snakes could watch us silently, their tongues flickering in and out to pick up our scent, their tiny, pitch-black eyes bright with evil; they were there, but the best way to deal with snakes was not to deal with them—Mma Ramotswe was sure of that. If we left snakes alone, then they kept away from us. It was only when we intruded on their world that they bit us, and who could blame them for that? It was the same with life in general thought Mma Ramotswe. If we worried away at troublesome issues, we often only ended up making things worse. It was far better to let things sort themselves out.

Yes, many troublesome issues provoke our natural instinct to fear. Note that people who have lived at all times and in all places have faced threats to their safety, fears about their future and perils impossible to forestall.

No amount of vigilance and preparation can protect from every conceivable danger. Enemies real and imagined exist everywhere; many have “pitch-black eyes bright with evil.” 

I see a lot of issue-driven preparation for disaster, hand-wringing worry and social commentators who feed on the palpable anxiety of the populace. The sky is falling.

Buy guns and ammo? Stockpile food? Build a compound? Go Green!

Could it be that the convergence of economic, political, climate and now pandemic flu concerns have their place in human affairs even as snakes have their place in nature?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Sound of Music

Exactly how life should be lived. Bursting into song and dance every once in a while makes for great theatrics, contagious smiles and increased heart rates. 

Watch this video for cause and the effect music has on the faces of onlookers.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Memories Have Holes

Going through pictures last weekend with my husband, my son and daughter-in-law, I came across this one with a hole.

“Look at this. My dad is cut out of the picture,” I said.

But what struck me before I said anything: I didn’t know I had a picture of the doll—the doll they buried with my sister. She died seventeen days after her seventh birthday, four days after this picture was taken.

I wrote about that nebulous memory in one of my Door essays, “The Duck and the Doll,” an inchoate creative writing assignment for a class at DTS. Stunned to see a picture of Renée holding the doll she had gotten for Christmas—the day this picture was taken—the glossy black and white image refreshed my shame. I had asked for her doll when she died because my gift was a cradle without a doll.

But back to the picture with a hole.

A wistful feeling swept over me that my dad was missing. He died, too, not quite three months later. It would have been the only picture I have of the four of us together before they died: my mom, my dad, Renée and me. Unc, on the far right next to me, died in 1992. The two boys are cousins, Joe and Mike. Auntie, my mother’s younger sister, took the picture.

My mother, who died in 1998, said she hated pictures. Few of her pictures have ended up in my possession—these timeless-ageless mementos that root me to a reality lived through while their substance remains as murky and fluid as a river.

My daughter-in-law held the picture in her hand to examine it. “My mom cut my dad out of pictures after their divorce.”

We all agreed that my mom had to have cut my dad out of the picture. 

“Who knows why?” I added. “Maybe Mom blamed him for Renée's death.”

Still the picture itself bore evidence to the memory that caused me to swallow hard and fight the tears. Keep sorting, I told myself. Forget about the doll. Forget about the duck. Forget about the dad.

The next morning, on our way home, my husband and I pulled into a Sonic in Amarillo. The crate full of pictures I had carted on this trip sat behind my seat; I kept thinking about one picture with a hole.

“I cut the picture.”

My husband said, “What are you talking about?”

“I remember a gold-plated locket that I wore. I don’t remember who gave it to me or when, but it’s coming back to me. I cut the picture of my dad’s face out and put it in that locket.” The memory came to me as if I had floated through fog, an unsubstantial spirit seeking rest.

“That makes sense,” he said.

Yes, the sharp angles of the cuts in the picture—it looks like I used a knife instead of scissors—imprecise cuts. The extracted piece would have revealed a tiny image of my handsome dad, a piece of my story to wedge in a cheap locket.

On the back of the picture with the missing daddy, my mother wrote, “Gone so soon!”

And I think, "Gone for so long."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tapestry Blog

I posted on's Tapestry blog my first and fumbling effort, frantic because posting didn't work exactly as this one does. But by golly, I think I've got it. 

Click on over and have a read. Lots going on over there. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I Dreamed a Dream

Saw portions of this clip from "Britain Has Talent" on ABC News tonight and it made me cry.

Perfect song choice. Right, Simon?

Keep dreaming.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Raised to Walk in Newness of Life

Today, like their father before them, my son's two youngest children were baptized on Easter Sunday. Mom and sisters, Gran and Poppy, Aunt Rose and her friend Troy witnessed the rite, symbolic of Christ's own burial and resurrection. Oh, glorious morning. 

"He is not here; He has risen just as He said" (Matthew 28:6).

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Audra's Birthday

Today we celebrated my daughter-in-law's birthday. 

James shot the video and incorporating still photos I took as well, I made my second ever movie. 

Instead of the T-shirt that says, "Careful or you'll end up in my novel," I need to get one that says "Careful or I'll put you in my movie." 


Monday, April 6, 2009

Our Dancing Poodle

Today my husband has started copying a few of our favorite 331/3 vinyl records to save as MP3 files. Misty, watercolor memories . . . easy to get side-tracked but we have laughed out loud a lot. 

Our daughter Erin's first dance recital at age four, we can still sing along with the Dancing Poodle: "jump quarter turn, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle." Thank you, Miss Jeanne. 

I added some more recent photos to show how far she has come. And it looks like granddaughter Ava will follow in Mom's tap-dancing, show-stopping, fun-loving shoes.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

She Makes Me Want to Be a Better Blogger

Myriad connections have led me to a website, The Pioneer Woman, aka. Ree Drummond. Cool name, huh?     

This week a friend shared Ree’s recipe for Apple Dumplings. Secret ingredient: Mountain Dew.

I made this recipe when my friend Pat visited. Simple to make, we loved it, but agreed that two apple slices inside the crescent dough would have made it better.

Don’t you just hate to run out of fruit before you run out of dough or juice or vanilla ice cream? The recipe is easy to cut in half, which we did in order to keep from eating the whole pan—to keep from wasting or waist-ing this luscious dessert. 

My daughter-in-law had told me about the Pioneer Woman when I was still in school, buried beneath books and writing assignments, trying to assimilate spiritual rather than necessary food.

Back then I visited the site a few times, seldom cooked and had to go back to the library anyway. Now I have this blog bookmarked for culinary inspiration, dazzling photography and funny stories to boot.

On March 19, I attended a business meeting where a woman I had not met announced that The Pioneer Woman won blog of the year, an annual contest held in Austin. The woman exuded effervescent praise for a blog she has on her Google reader, a blog she reads every day because Ree posts something almost every day.

I don’t know how long this girl Ree has been a blogger, but her blog creates an appetite for whatever she wants to show or tell or sell. Pretty sure it’s G-rated.

Whether photography, recipes or stories, readers appreciate the writer’s wit, creativity and skill. 

She makes me want to be a better blogger.   

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

My Friend Pat

When my husband and I moved from Pampa, Texas to Dallas 5 ½ years ago, my friend Pat told me in the midst of our searing separation about her mother’s friend who when she moved away from Pampa said, “I won’t live long enough to make another friend like Jane.” 

Jane was Pat’s mother who died in 1978. The friend, Miss Kitty—83 on her birthday in May—has lived long enough perhaps to make a friend like Jane, but not in the right place. 

Pampa was a place for growing friendships. The 25 years I lived there established the roots of friendships that still bear fruit, not only in my life, but also in the lives of my children who find themselves dispersed from Pampa, flung throughout Texas from a place that shaped our family's values, views and experiences. Our Town. My town. I miss the people if not the Panhandle wind.

Schools and churches and businesses and houses lined unremarkable streets—from mansions to trailer parks, farms and ranches, oil and industry, old and new money—and a cemetery right across from the town's 4-A High School. I could tell you stories.

If dead people could tell their stories, the way Thornton Wilder in his play Our Town had characters speak from the grave, I like to imagine the dearly departed would want to convey from beyond the headstones and monuments and well-tended graves of Fairview Cemetery the wonder of small-town living. 

Doubtless characters who populated real-life stories would adjure appreciation for the accumulation of ordinary days. Would we pay attention?

My friend Pat went home to Pampa yesterday after spending three days with my husband and me. Never enough time for all the questions and conversations and tangential exploration into personal histories and the trajectory of our futures, she leaves me hungry for her next visit.

Because I realize I won’t live long enough to make another friend like Pat.