Finding You

I looked everywhere, but I could not find my great-grandmother’s wedding ring. Sentimentality skates dangerously close to hoarding, too close for me to get overly involved with ‘things,’ but this was different. This is part of who I am.

Edward and Louisa Deaton, ca. who knows?

It’s a little sad that I don’t know more about these people, but they are my forbears, part of the genetic pool from which I sprang upon an unsuspecting world.

Louisa (called ‘Loo-eye-zer’) Deaton is my mother’s father’s mother. Say that three times real fast. She had eight children, a conservative number for turn-of-the-century Arkansas. You know you come from the impoverished, rural South when all the old family pictures are of frowning people standing in a dirt yard. Compared to the people in the rest of my old picture  collection, these two actually look uptown. I guess they were headed to church–or a funeral.

The realization hit me, something like a year ago, that I hadn’t seen the ring in a while. I was sure I had put it in an old, old jewelry box. I have two of them. Again, the history on these two objects is a mystery to me, as well.

I know, I KNOW I emptied BOTH jewelry boxes, went through old bags and purses, and anything else that might hold my little treasures, but nada. I grieved in my heart and moved on.

Sigh.

Look at them, the ghosts of country people past; look how disgusted and disappointed they are:

What’s up with all the white shoes? It must have been a thing. Apparently, bras were out of style.

Nah, they looked like that, anyway. Hey! I see some grass, there.

You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friends’ noses. No, that’s not how it goes. Wait, okay, you can pick your friends, and you can pick your family, hang on, you can’t pick your family . . .

Nevermind.

What I’m trying to say is, your family is your family. Love ’em or leave ’em, they’re a part of you, whether you like it, or not. Maybe they embarrass you. Maybe they don’t like you, very much. Maybe they wear white shoes and go freestyle. If you don’t love those people, you stand a giant chance of wandering around for the rest of your life, trying to figure out who you are. To me, that’s a lot of time wasted, time that could be spent loving and living and learning and giving. I made a little rhyme.

Of course, these people were long gone before I was even born, but I have pieces of them: keepsakes, stories, pictures, and DNA.

Two nights ago, I remembered the lost ring, so I thought I would look one more time. Guess what?

I don’t know how I overlooked it, but it was right there in that jewelry box, all along. Go figure. It’s a beat up little number, a poor woman’s ring, but it means the world to me. It’s thin and worn and misshapen from plowing, sewing, scrubbing, and raising eight children on practically nothing. It was a part of her, and she is a part of me. Sure, it’s just a ‘thing,’ but it connects me to who I am, and where I came from. I’m an American writer, straight from the dirt-yard, white-shoes, no-bra-wearing South.

Who are you?

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Sleepy Time

Remember sleep? I do.

As a small child, I had nightmares. The world was big and scary, and I was a very little girl; monsters were everywhere. Like all little kids, I didn’t want to go to bed. This changed when I hit puberty.

For many of us, sleeping past noon during the teenage years is far from unusual. Medical experts tell us that teens need at least nine hours of sleep because generating strange, new body hair, engaging in extreme risk-taking behaviors, and interacting with peers through painful insecurity is exhausting.

The child-rearing years are especially brutal. During the reproductive moment, we love sleep; we pray for sleep; we crave rest, but there is none. I remember telling my mother, around this time, about a dream I had in which I was sooo tired, but there was nowhere to lie down, except a broken lawn chair in the middle of a crowded room. She laughed before telling me that my dream probably meant I had no rest and no privacy. She was right.

Then the kids grow up, the circus leaves town, and bedtime comes back for the weary, but guess what? Now I’m in my late forties and sleep becomes a myth. No worries; I’ll just go to college. Nobody sleeps in college. I can make this work. Sure, sure, but when college is over and grad school becomes a no-go, then what?

Most mornings, I wake up around three a.m., give or take thirty minutes. Maybe I’ll go the bathroom . . . again. Maybe I’ll lie there thinking of blog posts, work pitches, family, sewing, or any of the thousand-and-one things marching around, tossing beads to the crowd from the guilt parade in my head.

This is not insomnia. I know people with insomnia; this is different. This is not me stumbling around from lack of sleep. This is me becoming an old woman who doesn’t need the same amount of sleep she once needed, long ago. I seem to operate just fine on about five to six hours. Weird.

Weird and Getting Weirder

I love my bed. Wait, lemme rephrase: I used to love my bed. Now my bed is a place of sleep fail. The strangest part of this bizarre dynamic is the fact that I start falling asleep around seven-thirty to eight o’clock at night. By eight-thirty, I’m more-or-less gone.

Yet, come three in the morning, all systems are flickering online.

First, the bathroom for the umpteenth time. Then, the hotness; did I mention the hotness? I’m freezing all the way to the bathroom and back, I get under the covers, and now I’m burning in the deepest realms of hormone hell. Anything that touches anything is suddenly coated in sweat. Good times.

Next, the sinus shifting and throat clearing, signalling the arousal of the ventilation system. After honking my nose (and attending to other lovelies), Mission Control is fully operational and the brain is engaged in the day’s to-do list. At this point, it’s over. Might as well fire up the coffee pot and check emails.

Coming Attractions

I begin to wonder how this is going to turn out. Will I wake up earlier and earlier in the mornings, only to fall asleep earlier in the evenings? If this keeps up, I could actually get an extra day, here and there. If my days continue to shorten, why not? I might even gain a whole week every few months, right?

Making lemonade out of life’s lemons (or catching what rest I can get on a broken lawn chair) is what I do. If this isn’t working so well, maybe that will work better. Adaptation is far more productive than ritual. Sure, I would love to sleep a solid eight and work a solid sixteen, but that’s not what’s happening, right now. Life does what it wants, and it’s a lot bigger than me and my sleep schedule.

So, staying up late is not in my skill set, anymore. Nothing good happens after midnight, anyway. Besides, sleeping less is kind of cool. Waking up early gives me time to read, write, and pray. Change isn’t necessarily bad, just different.

Maybe I like it. I can like it, if I want to.

 

Dead Guy

I visited a dead guy this week.

Having graduated to my fifties, I find myself standing next to a casket, remarking on its contents, far more often than I would prefer. Funeral culture: it’s a thing.

My grandmother used to take me with her to many a visitation.  For the funeral novices among us, this is sort of a dead guy open house. The Deceased is pruned and jacketed and put on display so everyone can get a good look at their own futures. The visitation is also a nice venue for catching up with relatives and friends. Thanks to my grandmother’s weird habit of bringing a small child with her for these macabre events, I am now well-equipped to interact with the grieving. I am also adept at casket-side commentary.

When this troubling dynamic first began, I realized I had nothing to wear. No problem. A visit to my local thrift store provided me with the appropriate garb, shoes and all. Strangely, I now own several sets of mourning attire. But nobody really cares what you look like, well, not unless you’re in the casket.

It’s good to visit a dead guy whenever you can, even though most people don’t care for the experience. And why should they? The Dead remind the Living that there’s an epic STOP waiting for all of us. We are finite. Even though we all know this to be true, most of us don’t like being reminded. In the same way that I want to stand in the yard whenever there’s a tornado warning, I tend to navigate toward these functions because I want to know what’s coming, and from which direction.  I want to see it. When I visit a dead guy, everything that tries to dominate my life is put in its proper place and perspective.

I was pondering this in the bathtub, the other day. I was taking a bath in the middle of the day, because a mid-day bath is a wicked luxury. We live near enough to an airport that I can occasionally hear the low rumble of a distant flyover. For the slightly paranoid, this sound can be arguably similar to that of, say, an atomic blast from many miles away. So, I’m in the luxury bath, listening to the Grateful Dead, and The Bomb hits. At that moment, the point of eminent, naked death, Jerry Garcia, tonight’s dinner, and painting the bedroom seem like stupid things to be concerned about.

Visiting a dead guy helps me separate the idiotic from the essential. I wonder what my friend was thinking just before his heart stopped. He definitely wasn’t planning on dropping dead, was he? Having recently moved back to my hometown, I assumed I would run into Jimmy before too long, and we would swap stories and laugh. I certainly didn’t see this coming, and I’m sure he didn’t see it, either. The last story Jimmy Hooper shared with me was the only story a dead guy ever tells: Don’t put off spending time with the people you care about, because the next thing you know, you’ll be shopping for black at Goodwill.