The sky was gray, almost white. Dismal and perfect at the same time. The air was cool and chilly, and the birds were noisy, busy doing whatever birds do in the afternoon. Fluttering around in the bushes now, not high in the trees like they were in the summer.
Every bit of my surroundings shouted (very quietly) ‘late November’.
When I was little, we went to 12 o’clock mass on Sundays. That’s what it was called, 12 o’clock mass. Back then Catholics didn’t sing the same songs as Protestants. I don’t think singing Protestant songs qualified as a sacrilege, but some songs were Catholic songs and some were not. My recollection, anyhow. Like the Catholic Lord’s Prayer was different from the Protestant Lord’s Prayer. Although we called it the Our Father. In the confessional box, the last words from the priest were always, “For your penance, say five Our Fathers and three Hail Marys.”
It so happened that while we were getting ready for 12 o’clock mass on Sundays, there was a cartoon show on TV called Davy and Goliath. Davy was a little boy with a dog, Goliath, and the show had a religious theme of some sort. I liked the show but I never got to see the end because we left for church about fifteen minutes before it was over. The intro music for that show was A Mighty Fortress, and since then I’ve always loved that song. I think as a kid I found the words impressive. Mighty and cruel hate and Sabaoth. Abideth and doth. And the melody was sort of compelling. But I knew it wasn’t a song we ever sang in church.
One Sunday in November, Davy and Goliath was pre-empted, or maybe it was interrupted. It was that weekend when almost all the shows were pre-empted. Back then, breaking news was truly breaking news. As it turned out, that week, the previous Friday, my parents had to go to the funeral home because one of my uncles had died. I suppose I was young enough I didn’t have to go with them. When it came time for my parents to return home, some aunts and uncles were with them. I guess to pick up their kids, my cousins, who stayed at our house too that Friday. With the oldest in charge. When they walked in the house, in their Sunday best funeral home clothes, all the kids, including me, and the cousins, were jumping up and down on the beds. I don’t know how it started. I guess it just looked like fun. The grown ups were so angry. I’m not sure this is important, but it is the context for me that following Sunday.
My memory is that we were getting ready to leave for church on Sunday and the TV was still on. I think we all looked at the screen because they were going to show the guy who killed President Kennedy. We were standing in the living room watching and could see a lot of people in camera view, and they brought a man out in handcuffs. I remember thinking something like, “Is that him?” It seemed seconds later, one of the men on the bottom of the screen moved toward the prisoner, poked a gun into the suspect’s waist, and shot him. Right there, on TV while we watched.
Kennedy was just killed a few days earlier. Now, there we are in our living room, the guy who shot Kennedy was already caught, and some other man walks up to him in the middle of the press and the police, and shoots him dead. It seemed nobody even moved to stop the shooter. It was surreal. I’m sure I didn’t know that word back then. But it was the feeling we’d all had that whole creepy weekend. Surely, someone would come on TV and tell us some story other than Kennedy was dead. I think we expected them to say they got it wrong. It was a practice or a drill maybe, or somebody else was killed and they just thought it was Kennedy. Or they thought Kennedy died, but he was really still alive. Well, that didn’t happen. Now it was two days later, and they were saying this guy we just saw on TV got through the crowd and shot the suspect. The suspect who shot the president. Huh??
I was thinking, “Can we all go back to Davy and Goliath and A Mighty Fortress?”
But no, we turned off the TV that Sunday, piled in the car, and went off to 12 o’clock mass.
The words we write are part of who we are. That was my motivation, I think.
I decided early this year to work on collecting my bits of writing in some sort of permanent way. Not to publish it, but to have it for myself. Also to have it for those in my life who might care to read it, and maybe keep it.
My goal was to assemble it all in a way that would make turning pages a pleasure. Something with sturdy covers, good quality paper, etc. Nice enough to wrap in tissue paper and hand to someone as a gift.
It started old school with printing copies and storing my work in a three-ring binder. Functional, but certainly not gift worthy.
Eventually, I decided to use the formatting from one of those companies that produces photo calendars, photo cards, and photo books. And chose their simplest style 8 inch by 10 inch photo book product, which includes stretchable text boxes.
I selected about 25 of my written pieces and some of my photos, and set to work. It was tedious. There was no ‘cut and paste’, so it took a lot of ‘delete and re-type’. Start overs, and of course, proofing. It was a project to make everything fit and have a sequencing and flow that made sense and looked good. I enjoy that sort of work, but it’s not something you can throw together in a couple of days.
Ta da … I completed one collection in the spring, and I just finished another for the winter. This isn’t an ad for photo companies, but their production and the paper products they use were more than I hoped for. Coffee table book quality materials, glossy pages, attractive covers, and nice binding. It optimized what I had to offer.
The costs were reasonable, and I’m happy to have a personalized keepsake to gift this Christmas.
For me, for myself, I get to leaf through the pages and feel like the words I write matter. And see that they have a little bit of permanence.
I’m no good at transitions. A few days after Christmas, people are ready to move on. They throw out the wrapping paper, they recycle the boxes, they take down the tree. January 23rd, and I’m still trying to squeeze in every moment, every song, every note I missed.
That cricket. That damn cricket. The last cricket.
He had to be in the house. Sometimes I walked in the kitchen, and he’d stop, and then seconds later he’d start back up. That cheep was always good for a tug, or a smile, somewhere back in the emotional part of me. It was the sound of something vaguely reassuring. I don’t know, a warm muggy night? You go outside and it seems the whole neighborhood is asleep. Maybe a lazy pause in the dark, on the cement step at the end of the walk. He sounded like the moment you were alone with the trees and the stars and the balmy air and the sounds of the last bits of summer.
It’s one of those microseconds when you look up with hopeless hope that somehow there’s still some summer left, and that’s all it lasts. A microsecond.
Embers flare and trail to the dark. A darkness thick and quiet.
Intermittent quiet … sporadic cracks flicker and pop. An abrupt smack, and another, and then another, catapult the burning sparks up into the emptiness above.
I look up and follow the trail of random lines and tiny lights. It could have been the smoke hanging above a campfire on a summer night. Or the puffs of smoke at a Christmas tree lot in the middle of December. But this was no campfire, and there was no festive holiday music. The smoky fog hovering around me fills the air with a mood that makes you want to hide, tuck your head, wrap your arms around your legs. Hide.
Heat distorted air around the fire whips into smoky remnants and a transparent film snakes its way up, part of the wind. Higher. And even higher. Past the shadows of the trees and past the yellow crescent form of the new moon.
I could feel the chill in the air, and the damp mist, not freezing yet, but oppressive. A strange fusion of cold and warm. I’m sitting close enough for heat to reach my face, but the rest of me feels pale and sickly. Overheated and chilled at the same time. As if I was getting a fever, first the chills, even as a fever brings a warm flush to the face.
The scent of musty, maybe even acidic. Smoke. An onslaught to my sensors. Sizzling burnt wood and fiery embers.
[Warning: This is about bad dreams and scary spiders, and yes, I really did have this dream.]
I had this dream some time ago, as a teenager, or maybe as a young adult. A dream that I had to kill a spider. I don’t like to step on bugs, while I’m awake and apparently in my dreams, especially if it’s a bug that has some ‘crunch’, that is, any bug bigger than tiny. It gives me a creepy, shuddering feeling. Well, the spider in my dream seemed like the kind of spider that had some crunch. But I also knew, in my dream, I had to kill it. For whatever reason, I had to.
I guess I hoped I could just step on it, and it would die in a negligibly quick painless second. So I lifted my foot and stepped down, fully intending to smash the spider. Unfortunately, I lacked the full-fledged commitment, or fortitude, and it turned out to be almost but not quite a step. When I lifted my shoe back up, I hoped there had been enough pressure applied, the spider would be dead, and that would be the end of that.
Ahh, if dreams could be so kind. Not only was the spider still alive, but it started to grow.
It grew and it grew, this slowly expanding creature in my dream. And this was no daddy long-legs. No. This guy had long, thick, furry legs. I’m sure the dream-like state that was me felt more horrified by those scary legs than whatever threat posed by any other part of its body. It continued to grow, until it was almost as big as me. I sensed the spider was enraged, furious with me, or out of its mind, whatever type of mind it is that spiders have.
Fortunately, the dream ended there.
Just thinking about all this makes me want to shake it off. Get up, get something to eat, take a nap, take a walk.
Take the words I typed here, select them all, and click ‘delete’.