July 25, 2012 § Leave a comment
I am watching an Andy Griffith marathon with Jeff, my kids, and my in-laws. Everybody loves it, except for Cole, who has just spent two weeks reading the ancient Romans and living in a dorm and well, Andy Griffith ain’t that deep. The rest of us find it charming. Even my Mother-in-law can follow it, despite her Alzheimer’s. She looks over at me periodically and says, “They’re crazy!” with a grin. It reminds me of her, the her that I miss, and I’m glad Andy has brought that back, momentarily.
Andy Griffith just died in real life, but he is young and alive here. His hair is unbelievably thick. Ron Howard is an adorable kid, and he has accidentally killed a Mama bird with his slingshot, so he decides to feed its babies. There are three of them. You know what happens: the birds thrive, there’s a moment of regret over letting them leave the nest, and everyone is proud and happy at the end because the right thing has been done.
After the show, we go to the porch, where Art wants us to help him get down an old birds’ nest. Cole gets a ladder, pokes at it with a long stick. It is in the eaves and will make a mess of sticks and bird shit if we leave it there.
Birds’ eggs hatch in the spring, don’t they, not in the late summer heat? We agree that it is fine to take it down. Still, I think I see a little head poke up. Not a peep, though. It’s feathers, Jeff says. Only feathers.
Cole knocks the nest down and of course, there are three baby birds in it. They survive the fall. Still, they don’t make a sound. Surely, there is something wrong with them. Jeff scoops up the nest, forms it back into a circle with his hands, and perches the baby birds back where they were. We wonder where their mother is. And in this town, which is smaller than Mayberry, we want it all to come full circle, to be made right, but the life we miss can only come back for a minute.
When Opie releases the birds, a perfect swoop to the sky, every one, Andy says, “Isn’t it nice to have the trees full again?” That is all we want.
July 9, 2012 § 2 Comments
I can’t find the logbook which would prove I’ve flown a plane, almost to the point of a solo flight, but not quite. I was seventeen, so it might have happened to someone else. I’ve been told those hours would count still, if I could find them. At this point, though, I’m not the same person who clocked them. For example, I remember very little about altimeter readings and lift, and all the things you must know to handle an airplane. What I remember is, it was so much better than driving a car! For one, no traffic. Imagine that. Then, the feeling of exquisite control–power even. Being able to say, “I can fly a god damned plane,” at seventeen just might have saved me. I loved touch and go’s, a tease where you land just long enough to take off again, as if to say, “You can’t catch me.” Flying took being different, odd even, to the sky. Most people couldn’t even imagine. They said so.
It wasn’t like I had a revelation and asked for flying lessons. It started, strangely enough, in my trying to please. My parents flew planes. It was that time in the world, the eighties, where people owned shares of planes if they were trying to seem upper middle class, which was part of the draw for my parents. The other part was much better. It was because of my powerful grandmother, my Gigi. She had learned to fly in the late thirties as part of the civil air patrol. She was in the Women’s Army Air corps in World War II, despite my grandfather’s resistance. She just knew her daughter would fly.
Flying was the one independent thing my mother ever owned in her life. She did it to please, sure. Still, it was proof of what she could be, what she really was to herself, to me. Hell, she could defy gravity, and do math, even though she professed ignorance of algebra. Charts and graphs, pre-personal computer, required a lot of figuring. When she flew, she was fearless.
I was looking for a book the other day, and I came across an old logbook that belonged to my parents. It didn’t say which one. It only listed the last name and the fuel spent. There were six partners in this Cherokee six, N32771. I rode in the back of that plane for more than one spring break. I can remember both my mother and father in the pilot’s seat, in equal measure. This is really the only evidence I have of that kind of equality. I threw up my quickly gobbled Easter candy one year, and my dad surveyed the damage and co-piloted while my mom safely guided us into the Macon, GA airport, where we eventually ate dinner in an old jet made into a diner.
I don’t know how many miles they flew, or if I will ever guide a plane again, but I know, as their favorite poem by John Gillespie Magee, Jr. says, they “have slipped the surly bonds of Earth/And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.” That is something I can truly understand.
July 4, 2012 § 3 Comments
I am sitting at my desk upstairs, looking out the window in the dark, just to give my eyes a break from the computer screen, when I see it. The owl is big and fluffy, a barred owl. It swoops down from the wire in front of my house and comes back up with something—I swear it looks like a garter snake—in its mouth. I open the window quietly to try to get a better look. From here, its wingspan looks to be at least four feet. The owl looks at me and eats what definitely is a snake. Its huge eyes are staring directly at me, as if to say, “What?” I want to tell someone, but I’m home alone, for the first time in a long, long time. I’m alone, except for my dog, Annie, who barks at anything, but is uninterested in the owl.
I’ve always taken owls as signs of something, but not of death, like some people do. To me, they’re protectors. They reassure me that someone or something on the other side of the world, or at least in my imagination, is watching out for me.
“What do you think my spirit animal is?” Jack Henry asks. He has been watching an animated tv show (it’s way too serious to be called a cartoon) where everyone has a spirit animal, and depending on whether you like the earth, sky or ocean best, you have dominion over water, air, fire, or earth. “Some kind of fast cat,” I say. He is strong and lithe for a little boy, and I can imagine him running through the jungle. “Maybe a tiger. “
“What’s yours?” he asks. I don’t even think about it. “A turtle,” I say. Jack Henry knows this will be my answer. The slow, ancient looking creatures who hide in their shells and can withstand anything except maybe a fast moving car are my role models. Slow and steady and all that. Distance runners. Survivors who outlast the speedy ones every time.
I wonder who the owls represent. Not really my mom or dad. They’re too quiet and stealthy for that. My mom might have been some kind of frenetic squirrel, my dad some sort of flightless, but stately bird. Which brings me back to the owl. It’s a sign of something. And with a snake in its mouth. Maybe I am protected, or maybe I am just fine here by myself. Maybe I can withstand anything.
The owl is finished eating. I go out on the porch and look up at it in the streetlight. “Who cooks for you?” It asks. “I do,” I answer.