indian summer

This time of year is beautiful. My mother always called it indian summer. Despite my perpetual questions when I was little, her beatific manner as she answered me made it seem all the more serene, mystic almost. It’s not a common phrase I learned, but people who use it make it seem lovely.

Sassafras leaves

Where I live on the North Carolina coast doesn’t have as well-defined seasons as the mountains. The few maples we have will turn but much later when it begins to get so cold the leaves just fall. So we don’t enjoy the spectacular, dramatic reds, yellows, oranges of the trees that blanket the mountains and foothills. And we have many evergreen trees, not just palms, pines, cedars and magnolia but many oaks that stay green — live oak, blackjack, willow and water oaks. So unless we  have an ice storm, or snow things stay pretty awake through the winter. Their dormancy is not apparent.

Highbush blueberry

It does get cooler here but not consistently. The thing that we do have that other places have is fall pollen. Especially ragweed. Unlike spring pollens this season’s pollen -for me- is almost debilitating. And deceptive. It can seem like a serious cold or even a flu, complete with fever and cough. When I was little it was bad enough to need allergy shots. But only for here. I have lived in New Jersey, South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida and New Mexico. No allergy problems any of those places. And the weird thing, whenever they give those dreadful allergy ‘scratch’ tests where you have a thousand punctures and they cover you with allergens, for me nothing ever shows up. No allergies.

Rescue dogs Lily and Lulu enjoying a sunny autumn afternoon

So every fall I stock up on tissues and antihistamines (thankful both are on store shelves again) and make the best of it. Like with everything some days are better, some days I keep the eyedrops nearby, and always the herbal teas. I swear by these. My sister-in-law thinks they are for sissies and I used to think they were a little too new age-y until I tried a couple. Maybe it’s the hot temperature. Maybe it’s the added honey. Whatever it is, it helps the symptoms.

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My brother had allergies. One year they were especially bad. He doesn’t have the patience with things like this. He did whatever he had to to get rid of the congestion. And whatever he did worked. Not for me. Mine just lasted longer. And my brother had a mortal fear of any sort of injection.

I don’t know what this is. I thought it was pretty.

So these bodies we have. We adapt, change, age, accommodate and take care of it the best we can. It has to last a while.

love people, use things

My elderly across-the-street neighbor recently moved to her daughter’s house. She had gotten to where she could not manage stairs and did not trust herself to drive. I hope I will be so wise to concede to this if I get there.

I did not know this lady well since I have only lived here for three years, but she would call now and then to chat and I enjoyed her calls.

As she prepared for her move she called one afternoon to let me know there would be several trucks coming to her house to pick up various pieces of furniture. She sounded sad and I waited silently as she gathered her thoughts.

“You know, they are just things, but no one in my family wants them.” I could hear her hurt as she spoke and I could sympathize.

I have my mother’s dining room furniture. Neither my son nor my brother wants it. Well, my brother wants the fiddle-back chairs. Our mom had the seats upholstered with needlepointed patterns she had done years ago. But no one wants the side boards, the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner china and casseroles or the silver. No one wants the very old china plates that my mother waited years for Dad to make plate rails for, and he never did. (You can buy them already made I learned)

So I could understand how my neighbor felt. I know these are things but they hold such memories. And they are beautiful pieces of furniture. And the silver no one makes like this anymore. But they are things. Everytime I get to the point where I think I will donate the lot someone (usually my brother) insists I keep it all, as though it is sacrilege to not want it. I am a practical-oriented person. If I don’t use something in, say over 15 years, it’s time to let it go.

I still have the memories. My mother is not a chair. My father is not in a table. Having the things we used when they were still living and we were a family together is not the same as having the people. And things, for me, do not extend to the person. I am grateful to have had such lovely things but, as with the piano that found a better home, wouldn’t it be preferable for a new family to enjoy them?

If I used these things it would make more sense to keep them. I do not entertain. My son especially since this virus, does not visit me and even when he did we never ate a formal meal.

If I were to leave this planet I cannot take these things with me. They will remain behind for someone to deal with. Everytime I move I occupy a small portion of a house that is mostly used to shelter the furniture I never enjoy. Just seems wasteful.

I have asked rescue dogs Lily and Lulu who have made it clear that they are only interested in being in whatever room I am in. If I am eating they are at my feet, wherever I am. They have their dog beds in every room, so they can rest on a comfy cushion wherever.

This should not be so difficult. I have books and clipped articles with tips on helping people declutter, downsize or minimize. Even one that I no longer have that was purported to be most authoritative, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning”. Since (so far as I know) I am not on the brink of death this was a little too final. Even if my sister-in-law is Swedish.

glory days

My father was a complex man. He loved his home, Colorado yet held his own in corporate life. He negotiated on national and international levels but did not forget who he was.

One high school summer we drove from our transferred home in New Jersey to see Dad’s boyhood home in Colorado Springs. This was a typical family drive, broken into 3-4 days with the usual insanity caused by boredom and being in close proximity. But we survived and arrived in one piece and with no bloodshed

We drove from Colorado Springs to Aspen, over Independence Pass where I learned my iron-clad, fearless Mom was acrophobic. Hairpin curves, well over 10,000 foot altitude.

Being summer the mountain meadows were dotted with brilliant yellows and reds of Indian paintbrush, cool blues of columbine. We stayed at a small lodge and over the few days there the owners invited me to work there the following summer. Never having been on my own up to that point, I was thrilled.

My brother and some good friends also planned to be there to work at opening an abandoned silver mine on the Pass and we’d see each other on the weekends.

Minimum wage then was barely a dollar an hour. I worked as a maid at this lodge and as a novice employee was not entitled to tips, the other maid was unless it was her day off. Her efforts at training were hopeless. Everything was new to me. She was a party girl, I was not, so I pulled her weight many mornings she dragged in late, once not showing at all. That particular day we had almost 100% checkouts for the day. AAA rating was the highest possible, until that day. Hotel inspections are never announced and that day was the day.

The lodge failed inspection. Not lower. Flat-out failed.

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In all fairness the owners were angry at senior housekeeper. She had no way of knowing the inspection was the day of her massive hangover, but still. I knew how to clean a bathroom, change bed linens. I could not figure out what I’d missed.

As the days crept morbidly on my brother came to town a couple of times. I was given accommodations across the street at a different lodge with housekeepers for that lodge. We ate scant meals to scrimp and save but I really wanted to offer a feast for my brother and his friends so I proudly put select vegetables, potatoes and a sirloin roast in my cart. First time ever buying groceries. 17 years old. No idea the price on the roast was per pound, not $1.70 for the whole roast. My entire paycheck was gone! I was saving not enough to get home.

It so happened brother and friends were also running out of money and decided to fold up their tents and drive home. I went to my employer and explained this looked like my only possible means of getting home so I would be leaving. In the middle of the summer season.

Did I realize I would lose every chance at an opportunity to come back and work there again?

Oh, yes, I did.

Did I understand how inconvenient this was?

Oh yes, I was very sorry but could see no other option.

So I was dismissed.

We did have a bit of fun, the Aspen Music Festival where all the events were, then, free. We had a couple of parties, one of which I frankly do not remember. At all. And that elaborate dinner.

Memories of glory days.

— to my kind readers: I am struggling with this new WP editor. I can’t find where to insert tags! So I hope against hope this is not my last post since I have been writing on this blog for over seven years. But it might be. If it is I want to thank you deeply for your thoughtful comments and for sharing a corner of my life. You have become my friends. Edith

🌹

rites of passage

I often think of the life I grew up in. We drank out of the garden hose in summer, ate cookies we dropped on the floor if we were quicker than the dog, ignored cuts and bruises, had no air conditioning (attic fan… with all the upstairs windows open it was like one giant ceiling fan).

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We spent summer evenings chasing lightning bugs, playing kick the can till well past dark. We occasionally got into mischief, breaking into a neighbor’s paint shed and spattering the paint, catching someone’s goldfish out of a backyard pond or picking flowers from someone’s flower bed. When we got caught we got paddled.

We generally went to church on Sundays and ate a big dinner with family and friends after. Summer reading was Dick and Jane and Dr. Seuss books in elementary school until we were assigned books. We pledged allegiance to the flag in the morning and had bomb drills where we got under our desks and laughed at how silly it was. We said our prayers at night with Mom or Dad and had a long list of people, dogs, friends we asked God to bless. We were allowed to go pretty much anywhere as long as our Moms knew generally where we were. We didn’t need secret passwords for school because we weren’t likely to be kidnapped and we were smart about strangers.

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We knew enough to come inside out of a lightning storm and heard stories about people who got struck by lightning bolts. We ran barefoot almost all the time and our moms made sure tetanus shots were up to date. We told ghost stories, night or day and halfway believed them.

We had jobs cutting lawns or babysitting that paid 50 cents or a dollar an hour and we thought we were rich. An “allowance” meant an exception to punishment, not more money.

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Almost everybody had a dog. Some had cats but if they didn’t have something they didn’t seem quite right. Arguments were settled with “am not!” “are too!” until we got distracted and forgot the fight altogether. We didn’t hold grudges.

Some families had televisions that took a while to warm up, then the picture disappeared to a dot of light when you turned it off. If you were sneaky you could watch really quietly until around 11 p.m. when the channel signed off with the national anthem, a flag waving, and then a test pattern with a really annoying monotone.

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We didn’t have electronic games, PlayStations, Nintendo, iPhones or iPads. No computers. We relied on our energy and imaginations. We didn’t worry about hurting ourselves. We just ran until we either ran out of time or strength. Or both. We played fair and called out anyone who didn’t so they could make it right. We played by rules everybody agreed to and they shouldn’t be broken. Even as little kids we believed there was a right and wrong and we did our best to do things right and hold our friends accountable as they did us.

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When did everything change, and why?

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silent

I honestly have never been at a loss for words. As a child my father called me a chatterbox. I could chat anybody up on almost anything once I got an idea of their interests.

But this strange restriction has got me. I have realized I am fed up with it and am trying to quietly wait it out. I’m at a point where I am certain a doctor will have a universal solution and we will all be free of this.

Freedom is not just movement, but a state of mind. You can have all the money you could ever imagine, access to any form of travel, homes in many countries and still be bound in some way.

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I hear over and over of Christian or prisoners of other faiths, wrongfully imprisoned yet their hearts and minds are unbound by the cell that has become their world. They sing, they accept with joy even the vile or menial tasks they are given and do their very best at it.

This virus is very odd. There seems to be more to it and we are fighting psychological as well as social and emotional bondage from it. I for one am beginning to tire of the same doctors who have been directing us these past several months. But when new doctors begin to tell us of therapies that have proven successful in treating this malady, that could give us immunity and therefore freedom, they are quickly silenced.

Why?

I may never know the answer. I do know that God knows the number of our days. This relieves considerable stress. I no longer worry irrationally about masks or hand sanitizer. I do what I am legally directed, follow sensible advice and leave the rest.

Rescue dogs Lily and Lulu have experienced little change in their routines. We have never been banned from parks so as long as the weather has warranted we go for walks. The summer has begun to be summer hot so we are limited in time of day, but they are older now and do not mind the extra long afternoon nap times.

The beach inn where my family and I vacationed every summer cancelled all existing reservations, then opened to new reservations. This made no sense, since many simply made new reservations. We did not, nor did anyone who shared the inn with us for ‘our’ week.

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So since I did not get to visit my family last year for any holiday at all it’s been a year since I have seen them. Call me foolish but I’m driving to east Texas from coastal NC next week. Packing masks, hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes.

Unless this Isaias storm has other ideas.

(why couldn’t it just be called Isaiah?)

aMusings

I began this blog around 6 or 7 years ago. Back then I idyllically imagined I would use this as a platform for epiphany, revelation or eloquent personal disclosure. Funny maybe, having some depth, but hoping to not become a forum for aging, malady or complaining (whining).

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Maybe leave a trail of insight or hope, or just encouraging words.

There are bumps in everybody’s road. Forks on the pathways. Brick walls. Cliffs. Mountains. Brambles. Woods. Wild animals. Hurdles. Chasms. Insurmountables and unfathomables.

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And then there’s root canals.

I have never liked dental appointments. So moving to a new place too far from a dentist I had come to trust I had to start over again. For someone with serious trust issues in general it isn’t easy. They tell me what needs work. I make an appointment and soon after I cancel it. I am an adult, this is silly.

So when the dentist said he had to send me to an endodontist my brain shut down. I made the appointment and did not cancel it. I went to the appointment. Exactly one hour later, the lower left half of my face in paralysis  they had finished. The most painful part was paying for it.

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The day after an arctic freeze arrived after torrential rains. Thankful rescue dogs Lily and Lulu woke me early to go out or I’d have missed the 5 minutes of snow flurries. The rest of the day was icy cold with brutally cutting winds making walkies a near impossibility.

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But beyond conquering dental fears, bitter cold, I think the hardest thing I faced this week was a cryptic phone call from my son. I have mentioned in posts that his girlfriend does not care for me (it’s the only conclusion I came to based on monosyllabic responses, or no response at all). This incrementally alters the relationship with my son each time I encounter them. They have been together about 10 years, living together for 7. I realize it is expected that children grow up, leave home and begin lives of their own. This exclusion though was hard to accept at first. It does not get easier, but I get better at dealing with it. I cannot say whether this arrangement he lives with is right or wrong, but I am sorry I am not a part of it. To say it’s worse than having a root canal, well, it’s an analogy I did not think I’d ever make.

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time matters

In my brief attempt at a happy marriage I failed miserably in befriending my mother-in-law. After a couple of years my son was born and life for me had more purpose. Then the happy part of the marriage disappeared and so did my son and I. From the marriage at least. He was two and suddenly I was no longer a stay-at-home mom. Working both in and out of the home presented interesting challenges and required more than one calendar. But we managed it, even had a little fun.

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My son’s father had a liberal amount of visitation privileges so I signed my son up for frequent flyer programs. Most of our vacations were driving distance ones, but my brother lived in interesting places, Washington, DC, then New York city and invited us to visit. This way I only had to pay for one round-trip airfare and I felt like a genius. Although one of those visits was by train because, well, trains. They are an experience.

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So yes, some– well, most –of it was hard but my son doesn’t remember those parts. Thankfully he remembers the fun. And he surprised me this year with a Thanksgiving visit. Generally I visit my brother and his family in Houston, which is also where my son happens to live now. But my brother took his family to the Galápagos and my son’s girlfriend’s family were going to be in Houston instead of Colorado this year so my son had plans pretty well set, too. Which is ok, I have been on my own for many years now and don’t mind being by myself.  So when he called a couple of days before Thanksgiving I was delighted. And scrambled. Suddenly I needed a dinner and breakfast food. And everything was accomplished and the day was a great day.IMG_0291.JPG

We walked down by the river, noted little raccoon handprints and other unidentified tracks in the river mud. The wind was brisk which made standing out on the pier a challenge, and cold, so we did not stay out there for long. But Lily and Lulu with their fur coats and the fascinating scents found it hard to leave.

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Rescue dog Lily’s surgeon is concerned about her recent knee operation, that she might be rejecting a component which can happen occasionally and can be remedied, but requires another surgery. So the chances of seeing my family at Christmas don’t appear to be likely. So I was happy to have an opportunity to see my son.

But his life is busy and he works very hard, so his taking a little time to share with me is something for which I am very grateful.

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Happy memories.

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Miss Frances

The inn where my brother and his family stay is over 80 years old. Some sort of record for an ocean front property. We have vacationed there for the past 10 years. The current owners bought it 11 or 12 years ago and have kept things as they have always been with a few modifications to the menu. Three full meals a day are included in reservations. So a lot of walking is required to at least be the same weight when you arrived as when you leave.

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Miss Frances runs the Inn. And has. Forever.

She manages the kitchen, the staff, the laundry and schedules. It is expected that every guest is at every meal when the bells are rung. If there is any deviation it is expected that Miss Frances know in advance to plan the meal. It is an unspoken discourtesy to do otherwise.

Naturally an early riser, the last couple of summers I have quietly crept down the creaky wooden staircase to the kitchen to help set up the dining room for breakfast, brew coffee, move tables according to additional guests, fill cream, sugar, jams, jellies, syrup. And quietly listen as Miss Frances witnesses to me about her faith. A faith we share, but she brings the Gospel to vibrant life in that pre-dawn kitchen. She holds informal Bible studies with interested staff. And I have always loved hearing her lilting Gullah cadence speaking of her love for Jesus.

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So this year rescue dogs Lily and Lulu accompanied me and we stayed in a nearby cottage. I began my day with the distant roar and hush of the ocean, watching the light emerge in faded color as I walked Lily and Lulu toward the beach. The rising rosy glow still holding a dewy chill in the air. My thoughts drifted to Miss Frances moving slowly about her domain, gently polishing the stainless service before setting places at the tables. Glancing occasionally toward the porch overlooking the awakening day.

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I shared those three meals with my brother and his family during our brief stay, then packed us back in the car for our drive home. My brother texted me a day or so later to let me know this year is Miss Frances’ last, she is retiring.

Sad that I was not a part of this, she leaves a legacy. Her larger-than-life presence being absent will leave a strange void. Nature abhors a vacuum, and I cannot think of anyone who could comparably carry on.

But someone will.

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time and tide

I can’t remember who decided to make Mom breakfast in bed but my brother and I would wake early on Mother’s Day morning to prepare a breakfast surprise. Sundays were good days because our parents either attended or hosted a party Saturday (and Friday) nights. So nobody but us ever woke early.

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These breakfasts were generally not messy! No attempts at pancakes a la eggshells, or half-cooked scrambled eggs. Neither of us ever even thought of trying something that involved dangerous appliances like stoves or blenders. No, our breakfast for Mom consisted of carrot strips, burned toast dripping with butter. I don’t even think we tried to make coffee. Back then Mom ground coffee beans every morning. But juice and probably milk or at least water, which sloshed over the tray and the plate making her toast a sodden mess. She always gave us a big bright smile and oohed gratefully.

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And we were so proud of ourselves!

My mother had served her country. She graduated Smith College 1943 and enlisted in the Navy. Her father had served in WW I, Army, in France. Her uncle was Navy, serving again in WW II. Mom was responsible for a psychiatric ward in San Diego. She loved what she did. She was deeply patriotic. She never spoke of her time in service.

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My mother was one of the strongest people I have ever known. She survived my childhood, the loss of a child, life with my difficult Father, and cancer. She kept busy. In addition to raising my surviving brother and me, she volunteered in Junior League building a Nature Museum at a popular park, complete with planetarium, was member of a DAR chapter, even participated in a sit-in with other moms when the local government planned to take part of our elementary school playground away for a nearby college parking lot.

Having worked in advertising where she met my dad she was fashionable and confident. I was shy, and shunned fads and fashion.

She lived for golf, and though she was in a garden club she killed any plant she touched. She was in a book club, and second only to golf was her love for bridge. Something she once told me I wasn’t smart enough to learn. But she was so smart, and very funny, and she had many friends who were so dear to her.

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She and I were close in a love-hate kind of way. I argued about everything. She called me a maverick. I had trust issues. Nobody’s perfect (least of all me), but Mom had one failing  my brother and I still disagree over. There were many nights when Dad was not home (he commuted weekly to New York), where I would help Mom to bed, and lock the house. From the age of about 6. My brother and I called it her mood, but she drank. I once told my father who I suppose confronted Mom, who likely denied it, or maybe he didn’t and just assumed I was being the height of disrespectful. Whatever, I got a spanking I will never forget.

So I never said another word.

And I wish I could forget.

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When Dad’s company finally moved us up north and we spent actual evenings home at the dinner table together everything changed. No more ‘moods’. We all became closer. Well, inasmuch as any dysfunctional family can. We did try to find a church but it was a ‘high’ church and swung incense so we didn’t go back. To any church.

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I don’t remember when I decided that she never liked me much. After my divorce she could not understand why I grieved. She and my father had disliked my ex-husband and could not understand that my sadness was not so much for not being married to him as the death of my marriage which I had wanted so badly to work. The distance became greater when she told me my struggles as a single mom were no different than her raising my brother and me when Dad commuted.

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I guess the real sadness was I never tried to talk with her about any of this. She has been gone for 30 years and, with all the tides that have ebbed and flowed and all the time that’s passed, I still miss her.

Or maybe I miss the relationship I always believed we had because I wished so hard for it. So this is a facet of my brokenness. A critical aspect of who I am, but it stems from who my mother never was. And I do try to focus on the happy memories but they are few.

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Kind of like these two boats rescue dogs Lily, Lulu and I watched coming down the river this week. Mom and I were never quite together on things.

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But I suppose we can find grace in the chinks of light that shine through our brokenness. These flowers greeted me early this morning. They are from my sweet son. He lives several states away. He’s grown now, successful in his work and friendships. I am so proud of him. There are many regrets though that I have from when he was growing up. I had to work so hard to pay bills and buy food. He doesn’t remember it like that, mercifully. He doesn’t remember my frustration, or what I always thought he lacked.

Grace. What we receive and do not deserve. And mercy. What we deserve but do not receive.

God is so good.

To any Moms who may be reading this,  Happy Mother’s Day.

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not handy

My dad could fix anything. Clocks, electricity, cars, jewelry, plumbing, shoes, you name it. I used to follow him around in his work shop peppering him with questions until he sent me back in the house to “help your mother”. So the little I gleaned from watching him isn’t enough to be my own repair person.

It is not easy to find someone to fix things. After the storm I knew it would be near impossible because everybody needed to have something fixed. Fence, roof, I did have repairs for, and very quickly. But there is a list of things I would like to have done, from small things like a crawlspace access door rebuilt, to insulation replaced.

I don’t have my own handyman. My neighbors seem to have their own personal handymen but theirs are all “just so busy”, so I looked up a few on a neighborhood email community I subscribe to. Those I could reach to speak to all said they’d be glad to come take a look around. One did. Said he was very busy but would come look at everything. He said he’d be back next day for gutter repair and send estimates a few days later for everything else.

Never saw or heard another word. From him or anyone.

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My dad and I were close. After he passed away 13 years ago I saw hawks everywhere. On phone wires and poles, in trees, on my back fence. I decided this was a spirit animal sent by Dad to watch over me. I stopped seeing them so often, or maybe just didn’t notice after a few years, but lately I have been hearing them everywhere. I see them sometimes sitting on a fence or a house or flying across my backyard.

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So I tried one last person, who actually did come look at everything and gave me an estimate and a day they will come and do the repairs. I patiently explained that it would be ok if they decide it’s not a big enough job, or something better comes along to just please let me know.

It’s much easier for me to know someone’s not going to make it rather than leave me hanging, knowing nothing.

Maybe I will take a carpentry class. And one for how to replace damaged gutters?

proxy.duckduckgo.jpgRoy T. Bennet, @twitter.com

Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.” –-Isaiah 40:31