Hiss and Steam

Earlier this week I stood ironing. My son’s school slacks needed pressing and I had a wrinkled blouse. It was a weekday morning, early enough that everyone else was still in bed and the house was quiet. I dragged out the ironing table and stood it up, plugged in the iron.

I am one of those people who loves to iron. The Virgo in me loves to see the creation of order. The wrinkled made smooth, the limp made crisp.

As I listened to the thump and slide of the iron, my eye fell on the countertop across from me. There stood a green Depression glass bowl filled with oranges. And one green pear.


This morning the warming air hangs on the horizon, softening the view.

I walked by a house being remodeled. I walked into the driveway, into the backyard, hoping to peer into windows. But every window was covered from the inside with brown paper. They’re painting inside, I tell myself.

I look at the new portico, meant, most likely, for wisteria. I look at the new covered deck, meant for drinks and shade. I look at the siding, newly primed and waiting for paint.

I cannot see inside to where, most likely, there is new wood and granite. I cannot see the changes, but I know the builder, know the quality of his work, the excellence of his taste.

And for now, that must be enough.

Roses and Rosemary

It’s gotten cold here again. The sky is gray and the wind is blowing. The yard grows bare. Most of the four o’clocks have died. Only one sturdy plant holds its ground. No blooms to be seen and even the black peppercorn seeds have dropped to the earth below where, come summer, bright fuschia petals will unfurl.

The gardenia bushes are still glossy green, though no fragrant creamy white blossoms are to be expected for months yet.

It is the rose bush in the corner of my front yard which surprises me. Long a shy and reluctant bloomer, now, due no doubt to some combination of cold and deeper roots, it flourishes. A lighter pink than my perfumed Maggies, which anchor the other side of the yard, the small roses run riot. They reach up over and through the fence, brushing the top of the rosemary bush.

On the other side of the fence, the rosemary bush nurtures tiny purple blossoms among the long, flat leaves which, when crushed, leave on my hands the smell of healing and remembrance.

English Weather, English Tea

The chill has returned. I put on my “tete d’artiste” beret and wound my scarf around my neck. Shoving my hands into my pockets, I set off this morning at a brisk pace.

Halfway down my usual path, I noticed an unusual sight: one of the live oaks had been decorated with long strands of red and green beads. Looking more closely, I saw that each strand had a small mirrored disco ball dangling from one end.

On the other side of the driveway, candy canes surrounded a small plastic Santa holding his belly.

Back home, I took my favorite Japanese bowl out of the drainboard, the pink one with a fat cat and tail on its sides, and prepared to pour tea. It wasn’t until I went to lift to the bowl to my lips that I noticed I had serendipitously placed it so that the kitty on the inside of the bowl faced me, its eyes closed in pleasure, a small bell around its neck.

I too closed my eyes while sipping.

Where Doves Rest During the Day

Yesterday I took my time rising. When I went out for my walk, the air had warmed from the cold snap earlier in the week, though the sky was still gray.

On one of the wider streets, I looked up into a tree and found a long slender branch, the thickness of my thumb, had grown from the third lowest branch and meandered its way upward, winding around the tree’s trunk.

As I tried to follow its path, I found the treetop filled with mourning doves. Most swayed with the wind, one fluttered to a new branch.

Later, after I’d returned home, I heard a rushing sound. Going to the door, I discovered a steady rain.

The Respite

This week I went to the country. Two nights and a day on a small ranch near a small town in Texas. It was near dusk when I arrived but still I stopped at the small body of water near the gate and took photographs of the dried reeds, the rippling reflection of tree tops.

The next day I took walks and drank tea, read an old New Yorker and watched home makeovers.

When I left the following day it was still overcast and drizzly. I stopped for coffee but got a peppermint hot chocolate. Back on the road, I turned on the windshield wipers and listened to Christmas carols on the radio.

Bare trees lined the way, limbs bending earthward. Everywhere colors were muted: brown fields and gray skies.

Crossing a bridge, I glanced down. Mist hovered over the river.

My Mother’s Recipes

This morning I set out to make cookies for my brother. Unable to find my own notes, I went to my cookbook shelves and, for the first time in a long time, pulled out a small wooden box of recipe cards. I had expected my grandmother’s handwriting, but opening it, I began to thumb through card after card in my mother’s hand.

Seeing her familiar writing, I remembered the years this recipe box had stood in one kitchen or another of her houses. I flipped past a recipe for “Trudy’s Bran Muffins” but stopped briefly at “Scripture Cake,” where each ingredient had its own passage from the Bible, and which was written in what was most likely my great-grandmother’s hand, since the notation read “copied 1893.”

I made a mental note to come back and investigate the typewritten letter, from my grandmother, no doubt, nestled in among the cards. “The lawyer said she would be unable to take the strain if Jensen did want to come home,” read the fragment that caught my eye. (On the other side, a recipe, also typed, for rhubarb crisp.)

I put the recipe box back onto the shelf. A small wooden box, now leaking dust, crammed full of instructions on recreating memories.

The Lasting Joy of A Brief Miracle

Two nights ago it snowed. I have lived here for eighteen years and in all that time this is the first time anything I would call “snow” has fallen.

I walked from the lighted house into the already dark evening to find large white flakes floating down from the sky. As I drove, I watched the graceful dance of flakes too numerous to count. An endless falling of an endless curtain.

Watching them, I was taken back to my college apartment, to a time where I would sit and watch this same silent show.

Often I would wrap a scarf around my neck and brave the cold to lift the heavy sash, open the window wide. By listening intently, I could hear the sound of snowflakes as they fell and fell, and then, with a sound like the contented sigh of a child after play, nestle into the bed of flakes that had fallen before them. It was a hushed sound, like listening to the footsteps of God.

Back home from my errands, I push open my front gate. On the top support, snow is piled an inch deep. It has stuck no where else, melting as soon as it hits pavement.

By morning, I know, the fence snow too will be gone.

Black Hole

Last night I took my walk after dark. We emerged from our Thanksgiving cocoon of turkey and television, husband and I, into a night still warm from an Indian summer that had lasted far into autumn. The pavement was damp but no drops stood on our windshield. Less a light rain than a heavy fog, now gone, had passed over us while we, unaware, had dolloped whipped cream and sipped hot Turkish tea.

I stood on the sidewalk, momentarily alone. I looked across to a neighbor, and immediately all her lights snapped off. We walked the empty streets. It’s late November, he murmured to me, his tone low, in keeping with the softness of the evening air.

After a while, I turned to him. That’s the third house that’s gone dark when I passed. He looked up at the nearest street light. It had dimmed at our approach and was now completely spent. Halfway down the block, he turned to look back and chuckled in surprise. I turn around. The light was full bright.

We finish our walk. We cross two women walking a dog. At our porch, I hesitate, one foot on the bottom step.

Under the blind of the next door neighbor, the blue light of a television flickers.


This weekend son the elder had a guest over. Hearing a fearsome noise, I traced the sound to his bedroom. I opened the door to find both boys, musical instruments in hand, in full-throated form.

Son the elder was dressed in a bright green down vest (borrowed for the occasion) and yellow tinted granny glasses. Long hair flying, he had his (new) violin tucked under his chin.

His friend was playing the guitar. His back to me, he took longer to notice my arrival.

There was something in how son the elder looked at me. Violin still in place, bow resting on the strings, he grinned at me.

It was a smile of pleasure and a smile of one caught in the act of cutting loose. And it was, in its own way, a knowing smile. A smile of recognition, a smile of complicity.

I backed out of the room, closing the door gently behind me. I headed down the stairs, a little surprised by what I’d learned about my son, and very grateful for him and for the friend who’d brought out this little known side of him, this part of him that is joyous and is free.