On a beach walk I saw a sailboat in the distance on the gulf of Mexico. From the shore it loomed nearer, although not in a morose way. It was big and sturdy and coasted easily on the calm, December water. Its sail was brown like dry earth, with writing I could not make out. All alone out there, no other boats crowding it as they usually do on a sunny, Saturday afternoon.
The boat made me think about people in my life. How some are just a long view away. Some are gliding along the shore, some so far away you can barely feel their presence. Others are lapping at the shoreline, either in happy rest or wanton attention. Some do not cast their nets. Some are long gone, or shipwrecked at the bottom of the sea.
There are the boats I try to hail and bring to me, to sit and take comfort in. Those I do not want to sail away. But sometimes they do, or will. And this brings a terror in me I cannot cultivate. It will end the peaceful stature I’ve tried so hard to bring forth and maintain.
Living in the present moment and letting things be as they may is not always simple. The past tries to spin me into its tormenting monsoon. Sometimes I want to moor the hailed boat on my shore and anchor it there forever. But the more I try, the more the boat wants to cast away to sail other blue waters.
If I let it go, will it come back?
If so, will it be solo or bring along a fleet of its own?
. . . . .
A sailboat glided along the distant shoreline
its stately stature coasting on blue December waters
The sail the color of dry earth with writing I could not make out
Is there a secret, a recipe, a manual for getting older? Or do we inherently know how, like a mother instinctually knows to pick up and nurture her child and the child to nourish from his mother?
I don’t know why I ask this question as I don’t particularly feel old but my left knee has been in a bit of pain lately. This reminds me I’m not 25 anymore. Not that I have any desire to go back. Except to just spend an hour with my then-self and tell her to chill out with the worry and the self-consciousness and inhale life. Oh yeah and stop eating all the simple carbs and put down the damn cigarettes.
But we cannot go back in time. Or at least not right now. And when we do drift on thoughts of the past many of those memories are sad or regretful, so what is the point in the torture? Unless it is to remind ourselves why we shouldn’t make the same mistakes. And to be grateful for all the roads that lead us to the positives in our life.
I find it unbearable to think back to when my son was a baby. Or when he was 4. Or even 10. Those days are forever a wind off the crest of a wave, a photograph tucked neatly in an album. I love the boy he is and the man to become. But this child rearing thing is so fleeting it’s preposterous. Everyone warns you. Then your kid is a teenager and you’re divorced and you’re all trying to do the best you can peacefully with the choices and circumstances from within or thrust upon.
I can handle a Saturday night alone. I can marginally handle an entire week alone. But I cannot and will not handle growing older, alone. My grandparents slept in separate rooms but at least they had each other. But then they also drove each other nuts. I understand the women I know who are older and single. However they also have hobbies and friends and family so I suppose they are not really alone.
But the loneliness that engulfs when the moon is high or the lovers are kissing on the beach or the old couple is holding hands or the child is dancing and calling for Mommy does not absolve. No one is exempt.
I look to my stuffed animal Snuggles for cuddles and warmth when the proverbial cold night is present. Yes I still sleep with a lovey.
Point is I don’t want to grow old alone. I don’t think anybody really does. I believe we are here to connect with each other. And from that connection, love within and throughout.
Tonight I look to the almost full moon, its bright vanilla glow rising stately and calmly above the pines and palms. And in this moment I think of hope. Because that is all we can really do. For the goodness of our lonely souls.
We stood next to the dining room table, a 1920’s Art Deco antique passed down from my great-grandmother Nanny. Decades-old scratches laced its corners but a fresh coat of furniture polish and a sprinkling of orange and brown Thanksgiving-themed decor, carefully placed earlier before they arrived, brought it into modern festivity.
“How many meals have been eaten at this table over the generations?” my dad observed with a hint of nostalgia as he scanned the room, his grey-white hair neatly combed and a crisp flannel button-up clothing his smallish frame.
I eyed the antique buffet cupboard next to the table. “I thought about taking all that stuff off and putting the desserts on top,” I replied. It was strategically covered with recipe books and photographs and trinkets and candles. It was always covered with coconut pies and chocolate cakes during holidays at Nanny’s house.
This Thanksgiving it was just the four of us- my mom, dad, and teenage son. It still feels weird to say that, ‘teenage’. In so many ways he is still just a boy. His dark-blond hair tousled and his imagination still intact. Although his appetite is one of a teenager. His meat-eating is making up for all the mammals he did not consume the first several years of his life.
I’d also set the table before my parents arrived, arranging the crystal glasses and beautiful black and silver bone china plates on the brown and gold place-mats. The plates were as flawless as they’d been when they arrived in packages at the doorstep as wedding gifts for me and my soon-to-be husband. He did not ask for any of the china when we separated or officially divorced. I would have shared it with him, of course. It took a year or so afterwards for me to even look at the china. Now I wash and dry them carefully after holiday meals, tracing the raised etchings with my fingers.
My mom and I shared a bottle of wine, perfectly chilled and light and brisk, just as I imagine the vines in Washington, from where it came. Back in the small and warmly-lit kitchen our appetizer spread was a gorgeous mingling of banana bread, fine cheeses, fresh fruit, honey, and my mom’s amazing deviled eggs, sprinkled with paprika. We ate and drank and chatted while the teenager napped peacefully on the couch. The main course just an hour from ready to devour.
When the yeast rolls were browned and the salad tossed with olive oil and white balsamic vinegar, it was time. We filled our stately plates with an assortment of both mine and my parent’s favorite holiday dishes. The light and crunchy salad paired well with the warm green bean casserole and fluffy potatoes. Tart and sweet cranberry sauce made the perfect coupling with the savory, chicken casserole (we do that instead of the traditional turkey, it is a hundred times better). Baked sweet potatoes sprinkled with cinnamon and a touch of butter is good any time of year.
We enjoyed the dinner back at the dining room table, my dad at the head and my son on the other end, my mom across from me. We filled our bellies and mused and laughed. The pumpkin-scented candles flickered on the dark wood. The open window left a cool breeze to gently cascade in as the squirrels played around the big oak tree. Frank Sinatra and the like serenaded through the stereo speakers. No phones buzzing or ringing.
The table was cleared and an engaging game of “Heads Up” began. Then we slipped into a family traditional card game of “Oh Heck” which brings out the competitive nature in even me and my mom. I finally won! After all these years!
Dessert followed, still on bone china, although these plates smaller and more delicate. Home-made creamy, spiced pumpkin pie from my mom, and Coke-cola chocolate cake made by me and my son. A perfectly sweet ending.
There were times when we had sort of a house full on Thanksgiving. Various friends and family over the years and in several different dining rooms or lanais. Although this one not a house full, it felt full in the way it does when company has encased you with good energy and love and you are left smiling and dancing as you clean the remnants of a Thanksgiving feast, intimate.
As per request (and writing prompt) from one of my dear readers and a fellow music devouter, I’d like to share 5 amazing songs that build up emotion in my chest, take me to happy and far away places, or just leave me whirlishly dancing on the chipped-tiled kitchen floor.
Don’t You Forget About Me by Simple Minds
This song of course is married to the ever-universal teen angst classic The Breakfast Club, making it even that much more endearing. That last scene when the song smacks in and John Bender gives a requited fist pump in a freeze frame forever is one of the best movie endings.
Don’t You Forget About Me reminds me of precious 80’s nostalgia, the innocence and simplicity there regarding music and hand-written letters and Walkmans and trips to the mall sans security personnel.
And the meaning: Don’t you forget about me. We all want to be remembered. We cannot let time or circumstance or distance allow the brain to turn us into static and the heart unforgiving or worse, ignored.
This one is for belting out fearlessly and dancing feverishly. My students have seen me do this. On my fortieth birthday this is the song I boldly requested at the skating rink among all the preteens and their Taylor Swift enthusiasm. I’ll be singing and dancing to this one when I’m an old, old lady.
Don’t you forget about me. I’ll be alone, dancing, you know it, baby…
Us and Them by Pink Floyd
I listened to The Dark Side of the Moon on a constant loop along with The Cure’s Disintegration on a summer stint in Italy in my early teens. I know Roger Waters was talking about war in his lyrics but to me the “us” and “them” represented both the subtle and not-so-subtle differences I experienced between Americans and Italians. We spoke different languages, ate at different times of the day, looked different, but in the way we were different we were also the same. Just people trying to make it in the world, experience life, try not to trip on pebbles.
To this day, every time I hear that keyboard intro I feel the welling up in my chest. I am completely transported back to that balcony in Sardinia, back to that innocent 15 year old taking in everything never witnessed back in Antioch, Tennessee. I’m reminded of all the people I met and their cultural and nurturing influence on me.
Us, and them. And after all, we’re only ordinary men…
The Fool on the Hill by The Beatles
The Beatles were a big part of my growing up. They were not forced on me but rather gently introduced as my parent’s record collections included many Beatles albums and 45s. My brother and I would sit on the shaggy carpeted floor of our basement-turned-playroom and listen to them on our Fisher-price turntable. We fashioned ourselves as rock singers, belting out tunes as the grated vinyl spun round and round.
But when Fool on the Hill rolled along and into the tiny speaker, we would quietly sing together. Never looking up, frozen in that moment with lyrics and melody I swear brought welling up in my goofy sibling’s eyes.
That is one of my strongest and most fond memories of us together as children. Later in our teens we traveled to Lexington, Kentucky with a group of like-minded friends to see Paul McCartney in concert. I was enthralled to be in the presence of a Great. And to enjoy it with my bro at my side.
But the fool on the hill, sees the sun going down, and the eyes in his head, see the world spinning round…
A Forest by The Cure
This haunting song is one of the reasons I will forever be a Cure fan and Classic Alternative junkie. I was first introduced to the Cure when Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me came out. During this era I was blown away by this sound which at the time never reached the local radio airwaves.
A Forest mirrored my teen angst, depression, and need for creative inspiration as sheets of rain seemed to fall endlessly in the grey, Tennessee winter. This dirge didn’t exasperate my feelings as my parents agonized. Instead it encapsulated and provided solace. I wasn’t alone in my fervor.
And just the word forest. It conjures images of lush foliage where mystery hides and escape is possible.
A few summers ago I was driving alone in North Florida on a windy road away from friends and family with whom I’d just spent an unforgettable week. As soon as I entered Tate’s Hell State Forest, an unforgiving ominous expanse of swampy woodland, my GPS fell silent and A Forest shuffled on my auxiliary. I don’t know if there’s ever been more perfect timing between song and circumstance.
Come closer and see, see into the trees…
The Dead Heart by Midnight Oil
I could write an entire blog post about songs by Midnight Oil but for the purpose of not turning this into a biography I’ll sample this one.
I was introduced to Midnight Oil via the video for Bed’s Are Burning, seen on MTV’s Friday Night Videos. This unique sound from Australia fronted by a bald, passionate giant literally left me gasping in its strum guitar and water tank drum beats. I was instantly transformed. Life would never be the same. And then began a life-long love and adoration for the band, their extensive collection of songs throughout the decades, and their messages about equality and the environment.
The Dead Heart evokes singing and whirling, and to the tune of aboriginal rights in Australia. It’s as serious as it is heartfelt and in the end a hopeful dance. The Oils do a fantastic job of informing while entertaining and this song is no exception. When I hear it I’m in the Outback as well as on my old friend’s balcony (what’s with me and balconies) back in ’87 when all this alternative rock hoopla began voluntarily infiltrating my soul.
Midnight Oil will forever be my favorite band of all time. And The Dead Heart is just one of many that fill me with emotion, the need to research, to help bring about change, and yes, to belt it out and move.
These 5 songs helped shape who I am. What are yours?