Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Weather Aware Day

The meteorologist,
on the news at noon,
says, "It's a day
to stay
weather aware..."
I watch from the porch.
The sky is bone white
and eerily still,
a clean sheet,
a canvas...
Ducks on the creek bank
tuck their beaks
under their wings.
A crow flies over,
silent for a change.
In the distance,
a lawnmower hums, then stops.
Someone thought better of it.
Leaves on the trees wave,
barely revealing their silver undersides.
The hot air closes like a fist,
as summer teeters
from June to July.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Etsy Envy

Etsy is bad for my self-esteem. I can spend hours marveling at the sheer genius of those crafty people who can turn duct tape and bottle caps into jewelry that does not look as if it is made of duct tape and bottle caps.
"Why didn't I think of that?" I ask myself when I see people cleverly covering mason jars with inverted cupcake wrappers. They claim it keeps bugs out of the sweet tea, and it looks adorable! I have only ever used those little cupcake papers for cupcakes. For Heaven's sakes, who comes up with these fantastic ideas? How do they do it?
For as long as I can remember, I have longed to create something unique that others will want to purchase from me. Growing up on Pear Street, I spent my summers manning lemonade stands; but those long afternoons of squeezing lemons and sloshing the sweet and tangy beverage into Dixie cups did not satisfy my entrepreneurial spirit.
After trying a soft pretzel, drizzled with spicy mustard, at an amusement park, I went straight home and grabbed a bag of crispy Rold Gold pretzel twists out of the cupboard and a plastic squirt bottle of French's mustard out of the fridge. I dragged out the card table and the rusted lawn chair and set up my pretzel and mustard stand. I tried to sell each tiny twist, covered neatly in mustard, for a nickel a pretzel; but no one seemed interested. I ended up sharing the mustard-covered pretzels with my best friend who had agreed to keep me company at the pretzel stand instead of riding bikes. She was a good friend.
Burned by the food business, I ventured into art. My teachers always complimented my drawing, and I took special care to make sure all my projects were neat and creative. Perhaps I could make my fortune drawing those funny caricatures that I had seen artists creating on the spot at little booths in Gatlinburg.
I set up my card table and lawn chair and brought out a tablet of white drawing paper, a nice ink pen, and a Christmas cookie tin filled with crayons and colored pencils.
My first customer was a girl who lived down the street. She agreed to pay a quarter for a caricature of her older brother. I knew her brother well; but I suggested that she go and get him to sit for the portrait anyway. I was nervous and suddenly couldn't remember exactly what he looked like. She said he didn't want to sit still that long; so she brought me his most recent school picture instead. I worked hard on the drawing, biting my lower lip in concentration. The neighbor girl looked over my shoulder the whole time. When I handed the completed caricature to her, she shook her head and held onto her quarter.
"My brother's head is not that big," she complained. I guess she'd never been to Gatlinburg.
"It's supposed to look like that," I told her.
"You made him look like he's got a giant's head and a little body. He's not going to like it."
"Sorry," I said.
I felt defeated; but I did not let my failed caricature stand keep me down for long.
Over the years, I kept trying. In high school, I sketched out hand-lettered birthday banners. I ended up making them for free, though. I felt bad charging anyone who was nice enough to surprise a friend for his or her birthday.
In graduate school, I spent a summer sewing adult rompers from an old pattern I'd found. Even though the adult romper was not really in style, I modeled my creations that summer and actually sold one for $15 to my mother's friend.
One autumn, when my husband and I had been married for only a couple years, I actually convinced him to join me in my craftiness. The two of us repurposed logs as Stumpkins! My husband used the power saw to slice one end of the logs at an angle. We stood the logs on their flat ends, and I painted friendly scarecrow faces on their angled tops. We wrapped flannel scarves under their painted faces and topped the Stumpkins with straw hats. We set the Stumpkins next to our porch stoop and added hand-lettered welcome signs that we painted on wooden slats and wrapped around the Stumpkins with a length of wire. We sold several, stashing away our proceeds to use as extra Christmas money. It was a lot of work, and we eventually ran out of logs.The Stumpkin business was short-lived; but I still remember it as the most successful of my mostly unsuccessful crafting projects.
Oh, Etsy! Where were you when I was a kid trying to make my mark as a caricature artist? Where were you when I tried to single-handedly popularize the hand-sewn, adult jumpsuit? Where were you when I was cranking out those crazy Stumpkins? I was a fan of crafting before crafting had a fan base. When I retire, perhaps I will go back to the drawing board. Maybe then one of my crafty ideas will find its way to Etsy; but until then, I will continue to be amazed by all those crafty geniuses.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


I was eight-years-old when I realized I needed glasses. At the time, I was a cheerleader for my elementary school's biddy-league basketball team. I loved being a member of a team, wearing my pleated skirt and short-sleeved sweater. I loved learning the routines and perfecting my crisp arm movements in front of the full-length mirror in my parents' room. I knew, though, that cheerleading would be a short-lived experience for me. My tumbling was awkward at best, and I was not spunky by nature. The thought of soaring through the air as a "butterfly," the term the high school cheerleaders taught us during cheer clinic, terrified me. I would rather be a "base," my K-Swiss cheer shoes firmly rooted to the gym floor. Bases, though, were strong and confident, tossing and catching the "butterflies" as if the smaller girls were weightless. I trembled when the tiniest girl on the squad climbed on my thigh to put one foot on my shoulder and one foot on the other base's shoulder. The rubbery sole of her sneaker dug into my skin. I didn't like it.
On a February night in 1978, I stood at attention on the far sideline of the elementary school gymnasium. I was waiting for the captain to call out a cheer. I could clearly see the action unfolding in front of me...the referee's striped shirt, the boys' gray jerseys with navy numbers, their high-topped Converse.
I glanced across the gym, toward the bleachers, and I realized that I could not find my parents. I knew they were there, watching the game, waiting for our half-time pom-pom routine; but I couldn't see them. I squinted. I couldn't see anyone. All the faces in the stands were like flesh-colored smudges...like eyeless, feature-less, skin-toned ovals floating above our school colors. I suddenly felt scared. Did the fans look the same to the other cheerleaders? I missed the captain's "Ready? Okay!" and hurried to catch up to the other girls.
After the game, my heart thudding in my ears, I told my mother. The next day, we went to see Dr. Wooten, the ancient, kind optometrist who shuffled around his office in his house slippers. His receptionist, Mallie, went to our church. She was probably only in her 30s; but with her tight perm, huge glasses' frames, and silk blouse with a bow at the collar, she looked permanently middle-aged. She giggled nervously at the end of every sentence; and she had to look over the tops of her own large glasses in order to slip the different frames on my face.
I wanted to cry. None of the glasses looked good. None of them would match my cheer uniform. I would never be able to master the back-handspring now. My glasses would go flying right off my face. None of the other girls had glasses.
My mother explained to me that I should wear the glasses most of the time. She said I could probably take them off when I was reading, since I was nearsighted. She explained that nearsighted meant I could clearly see things close up; but I had difficulty seeing things that were far away...like the faces in the stands. Who needed to see those faces, I wondered. I was happy to see only those things closest to me. I hated glasses.
At school, I put them on only to look at the chalkboard. Otherwise, I kept them stuffed in the little quilted glasses' case that I hid just inside the open cubby in my desk. At night, I prayed I would not go blind from failing to wear my glasses as often as I should.
I squinted my way through the next five years, until I was thirteen; and my mother and Dr. Wooten decided I was old enough to wear contact lenses. The world finally came into focus.
* * *
Years later, during graduate school, I was working part time writing copy for a public relations firm when a colleague and I had a conversation about our nearsightedness.
"I'll never forget when I got my first pair of glasses," he said. He said that he, too, had been eight-years-old when he realized his vision was not 20/20.
"Until that day," he said, remembering, "I never realized that trees had individual leaves. I mean, I knew the trees in my yard had leaves; but the trees we passed on the side of the road always looked like big green blobs to me. I never knew that each tree had hundreds, or even thousands, of leaves. It was amazing to me. I was sitting in the backseat, looking out the window, just fascinated by all those leaves. I kept sliding the glasses down my nose. There were the old, familiar, green, tree blobs. Then I would push the glasses back in place; and there were those beautiful leaves. I never wanted to take the glasses off. I never wanted to miss seeing those leaves again."
His story made me smile. I imagined how happy he had been to see each of those lovely, shimmering leaves. I still remember his story, and how I was embarrassed to admit how vain I'd been...how devastated I was by my own glasses. I wished we had been friends when we were eight-years-old...two little friends who were finally seeing the world for the first time. I could have used a friend like him, a friend who could see things clearly, someone who marveled at the uniqueness of every single leaf.