Monday, September 9, 2013


Blustery Rain. Blistering Sun. Snowy showers.

Nora walked her pup.

Four or five times daily I'd pass her in the neighborhood. Our neighborhood.

Each pass, I'd wave. Nora would smile and wave back.

For years.

Occasionally - rarely - I'd not be hurrying to a lesson, game or event.  I'd spot Nora - with her silver hair and arduous gait - gripping her pup's leash as she walked around the block. I'd slow down, lower the squeaky car window, and call out a greeting as our dogs barked at each other.

How are you?  Such a gorgeous day!  Will it ever start/stop snowing?

Nora would nod. Smile her sweet smile and walk on.

You now know as much about Nora as I did, dear Reader.

I cannot remember the sound of her voice.

I cannot remember the name of her dog.  Because I probably never asked the name of her dog.

Sad truth be told, I only learned that Nora was terminally ill a day or two before she died.

Never made it to the hospital to say goodbye.

REWIND to July: I am driving past Nora's empty house when I discover a tall, slender woman standing in the driveway, unsuccessfully coaxing a giant canine out of her car.  

Think Barbra Stanwyck in skinny jeans and a tee, sunlight glowing all over her gorgeous gray hair.

I step out of my car and Giant Canine no longer needs coaxing. He leaps from car seat, over lawn and onto lap, before I can utter 'hello'.

Barbra Stanwyck rushes over to pull Kujo (I mean Lito - I did ask his name) off me. Fully slobbered but unharmed, I reach for the lady's outstretched hand, feeling suddenly transported to L.A. Boulder. Sedona.

This woman is cool. Bohemian awesome.

"Hey. I'm Carol," she says. "Winnie's cousin from Taos. I'm here for a while to go through the house."

Taos. Makes perfect sense.

But Winnie? Who's Winnie?

Turns out Winnie is Nora, dear Reader, as she was endearingly known to family and friends. I never knew Winnie, because it wasn't until ten months after she died - childless and alone - that I finally met Nora.

REWIND to August: I am stepping over boxes, tools, shovels and ladders in Nora's garage; en route to the dining room where I plan to help Carol pack up the stuff of her cousin's life.

I have never been in this house and feel like an intruder as I walk from kitchen to living room. Tiles are scratched. Furniture is pilled. Oriental rugs are faded. Tables and shelves are laden with dusty china figurines, tea cups and silver.

I scarcely see these things.

I see books. New books. Old Books. Really Old Books. Stacked on rugs, shelves, tables.   

I see walls adorned with faded murals. Dozens of framed paintings and prints resting on couch cushions, rocking chairs and ottomans.

I see a ukulele. A guitar. Tambourines and maracas. Stacks of sheet music and original scores that slip from carpet to floorboards.

And a grand piano baking in frosted streaks of sunshine that pour from two windowed walls behind it.

Nora was a musician.

A reader.

A collector.

For hours, as I listen to Carol's remarkable memories and turn the pages of old books and music, I am utterly overwhelmed at the very idea of Nora.

How is it possible that I passed my neighbor for nine years, offering a pleasantry here and there, while utterly unaware of the incredible richness - and solitude - of her life.

Indulge me for a moment, dear Reader.  I'd like you to meet Nora as I met Nora.

Her library:





Her love of music and all things French:

Her love of Christmas and the Von Trapps! (This is a critical detail, dear Reader, as I am rather fond of Christmas and the Von Trapps. All Great Rulers are.)

FACT:  Just around the corner, in a silent, dusty house where my neighbor lived a lifetime, I learned a few lessons of a lifetime.

Lesson 1:  Neighbors who are simply neighborly may be missing out, majorly.

Say that six times fast.

FACT:  Nora had memories to share, stories to tell. I could have asked. I could have listened. I could have noticed more than her kind smile, silver hair and arduous gait. I could have briefly paused my life, and learned more about the life of my neighbor.

Loaned her my children. For a week.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda.

It's possible that if I'd taken the time to engage Nora, she may not have wanted to be engaged. It's also possible that I might have come to know Nora as Winnie - a bright, interesting, talented woman, who was passionate about literature, music, art, travel.  

And what else?

My chance to know Nora has passed. But I'm grateful that I caught a glimpse of her in the stories Carol shared; in the furniture, artwork, and trinkets she loved. 

Nora's spirit will live on in our neighborhood - in my home, in fact -  whenever I read one of the books she collected or press the old keys of the sun-stained piano she played for decades.

At Nora's estate sale, I purchased that relationship. 

How I wish I had cultivated it years before. In Person. Instead.

QUING Hereby Decrees:  Neighbors who are simply neighborly may be missing out, majorly. 
Stay tuned for Lesson 2....  
  RIP Nora.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


The laborious days before Labor Day.

Sorting, shopping, wash-and-drying, packing, prepping; 'tis college drop-off time.

Miles and states to cross. Flights of stairs to climb and descend.

Directives and hugs to share. Advice to be formulated, then swallowed. 

Miles and states to be crossed once again.

Unhappily solo.

The laborious days before Labor Day.

Hurry home from far away cities to High-Schooler-to-Be, Big Bro, and melancholy mutts who miss their sissies, and know their bros are soon-to-be MIA, too.

There are novels to be read, calculators to find, shorts and tees to be matched, red pens to be purchased. (Note to Target's Back-to-School-supplies buyer: order more red pens before Labor Day next year!)


I miss you.

You're Glorious.

Chock-full of poetry. Empty of cares.

Firefly gazing, strawberry picking, barbecue hazing. Planting, pruning, picking, pickling.  
Meandering bike hikes, base-running till dark. Swimming beneath stars, secret-spilling by a fire pit.

Waltzing on drenched grass beneath sudden, sweet-smelling downpours.  


I love you.

You bid gentle breezes and buzzing insects to lull us to sleep. You season everything with 'sweet'.

Summer kicks Worry to the curb. Tells Concern to take a hike. Sends Anxiety packing from the party.

Labor Day invites them back.

Thirty plus hours in a car over four short days, and I am no longer thinking about hydrangeas to be watered and cantaloupes that must be picked before frost.  

Driving through a landscape shifting from green to gold, I am listening to heated radio talk of Syria, Climate Change, and Cyrus. Learning horrific details of chemical weapons. Contemplating a teenage conversation about the pitfalls of fame. Considering all the change a new school year will bring: will the kids be safe and happy, get inspiring teachers, meet good friends, join the club, make the team, make me nuts?

It's Labor Day, and I am heavy-laden.

How fitting then, that on this close-to-summer's-end afternoon, a poet should challenge all of us who are tired and troubled; his words releasing fear from our fall.  

At today's requiem mass for poet and Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, Michael Heaney told mourners in Dublin that his father's final words were "in a text message he wrote to my mother just minutes before he passed away, in his beloved Latin and they read: 'Noli timere' – 'don't be afraid.'"

Noli timere. Don't be afraid.

Words to live by each day of every season.

Heaney, a brilliant poet - and extraordinary man - labored all his adult life composing words, thoughts, and phrases that will be read and studied for generations to comeIn DIGGING, he reflected on his father and grandfather who worked diligently and expertly, cultivating the earth. Heaney notes that his gift - and labors - would be spent cultivating language that celebrates the earth and its people:   

"....By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man. ....

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog....

...The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it."

Imagine. At the end of a long, distinguished career, just moments before his death, Seamus Heaney wrote five words of comfort and wisdom that may be the most powerful words he would write in his lifetime.

"Noli timere. Don't be afraid."

Words I'll try to to live by each day of every season. 

A poet took his 'pen'. And healed with it.

Au revoir, Summer. Welcome, Fall!

QUING HEREBY DECREES:  I've missed you, dear Reader!  Time, now, to catch up....