Mark Twain wrote, “There’s no accounting for human beings.” I, for instance, when mildly perplexed, go earring shopping. Somehow it steadies me. Another quirk: I had my Big Thicket Association editor’s earrings on today, figuratively speaking, and was enjoying a sprightly email conversation with someone about the pitfalls of getting people’s names right, in person and print. Eventually I turned from that to another task, only to find a poem about name-confusion struggling to organize itself in the rhyming room of my brain. I tried in vain to ignore the shouting and scuffling. Finally I caved, and entered that well-beloved room, and took charge. I mean, like new earrings, why not?

Once upon a cruise

Upon the open sea

I chanced to hear some news

It was a novelty!

“At sundown in the Book Room

A Sabbath group will meet

For prayer and fellowship”

Well, this gave wings to my feet!

I’m Methodist not Jewish

But research is my game

To pass on this, far be it from me,

When it clearly bears my name!

I got there early and took my post

With a view of the setting sun

And just when I was wondering

If I’d be the only one

Six Jewish people entered

And confusion soon ensued

Are you the rabbi? quoth they,

And I didn’t want to be rude

So I explained my presence

My full name gave to them

And then confusion swirled some more

Till it overflowed the brim

Fishman! Fishman! they cried out

We know your family well!

But are you the New York Fishmans?

Or the ones from Phila-del?

Well, we finally got things straight

And no harm at all was done

Of all the stories of that cruise

This is my favorite one.

An Interesting Few Days

Super Bowl Sunday and cold outside

Warm greetings I do send

In the form of a poem and please forgive

The rhyming rules I bend

In writing this brief account

Of a week not according to plan

But could have been worse and I’m grateful for that –

Here’s how it all began:

Across my path a zooming speck

Its aim was all too clear

It sensed my human warmth and O!

It took a little veer

Like the pretty snake of old

Twas looking for a home

It lodged within my cells and then

I fell into the gloam

Not very sick but ostracized

From healthy company

To ‘not very sick’ I lift my glass:

Moderna! One two three!

Ostracized? Or Sabbath rest?

What shall we call this week?

Some shows I watched, some books I read

Some deskwork I did seek

A travelog I did create

Of a recent expedition

Sat in the sun, turned off my brain

And reveled in no obligation

Except to bask one day at a time

Beloved and on the mend

And smile at the gift this morning brought

Zooming around the bend

No speck this time but an elegant bird

Chestnut brown her wing

Streaks on her breast and golden eye

Doing her breakfast thing

Turning the leaves at the edge of the hedge

A vigorous thrashing she made

My mouth turned up in simple delight

At the angel in my glade

And so this frosty Sunday

I send you from my home

Smiles and joy and gratitude

And from my heart: Shalom.

It’s Electrifying!

I’ve been gathering examples of resilience — people rising from languishing to new confidence and energy. One would think this would fortify me, and it has. But then my iPod conked out at the gym. One trivial setback, and I hardly had the energy to continue. On the other hand, neither did I have the energy to leave. So, I smiled at my feeble self, and kept going. One reward (?) was a song on the communal sound system that went something like this: “I see your lipstick / Whoop! / I want to kiss it / Whoop!”

The clock crept along. Finally reaching “good enough” on the workout meter, I departed. The gym, not my life. Trudging out to my car, I beheld a miracle from heaven, parked beside me.

I texted the image to certain ones in my circle of care. Merriment ensued.

Which brings to mind a quote from St. Paul, a resilient fellow if ever there was one: “May Jesus himself and God our Father, who reached out in love and surprised you with gifts of unending help and confidence, put a fresh heart in you, invigorate your work, enliven your speech.”


Abiding Joy

Clear morning, 28 degrees. Sun pouring through my kitchen window. Running water indicates pipes okay. What will I do with the next few hours of my “wild and precious life”?

As I drink coffee in the quiet, I’ll remember and give thanks for our granddaughter’s visit yesterday. Amelia, such good company, so adorable, so wise for one new to the world. She misses nothing. Looking up at the bead board ceiling of our kitchen, she wondered why the “top of this room” looked “scraped.” So I got to teach (and wonder about) the word ceiling, and talk about narrow strips of wood laid close together then painted white, as I glowed in new appreciation for this good house.

I’ll remember and give thanks for opening night of Beaumont Community Players’ “Pride and Prejudice,” its sprightly casting and delightful antics. My husband had to be coached a little on exactly what was going on, and why. But the voluptuous Miss Bingley’s low-cut gown needed no explaining!

I’ll look forward to the mail. 50-year high school class reunion is afoot. Save-the-date cards went out this week. Returns will come to my house. You have moved, you have remarried, you’re in hiding … we still want you to have a card. All the more that my son designed it.

I will practice yoga, and maybe brave the cold to the gym. And drip the water again tonight.

Praise That Which Is, from whom all blessings flow.

Bless all dear creatures here below.

Warm Wishes for Midwinter

It’s forty-eight degrees this January morning in Southeast Texas. Wind chimes thrumming, sky of leaden gray. Supposed to freeze the next three nights. I’m grateful for a warm house, and words to write. The words that want to be said are about color. Specifically, red. Red is warm and full of cheer. Hurray for red in January!

Two friends gave me amaryllis bulbs for Christmas. Up sprang the promise: Happy vermillion, and wine-dark sea. Since this picture the velvety wine blooms have turned dark indeed, in places almost black. Two faces of red. Enchanting!

More red: When I put away Christmas January 6, I left the small red ornaments in the biscuit barrel. I call it my sparkle jar. To warm the rest of winter, to welcome spring, to smile at summer, to rejoice in autumn …. And I thank the sister who during a pre-Christmas bridal shower whirl of decorating added the sparkle, which I would have never thought to do.

Blessings, and stay warm.

Read My Lips

January 7, 2022

Warning to the sensitive: Mother Nature in a gory mood

Early this morning, on the grass at the curb, I saw a red-shouldered hawk crouched over its freshly killed prey. By the evidence of the feather-pile, the prey was a white-winged dove. For the hawk, breakfast. For me, no tragedy.

Re this rather strange-looking crouching: As a hawk tears into its victim, it tries to hide the process with dome-like spread of tail and wings. This shielding of the meal is the hawk’s version of a private dining room.

As soon as the hawk spied me, it gave me a fierce ‘you’re not getting this’ look, and carried the carcass to a yard across the street. As it re-domed and resumed its meal, it gave me a grim-jawed nasty glare. Later I told this tale to my husband, who asserted that hawks don’t have expressions. Just beaks, and eyes, which are permanently set. However, I know what I know.

Hawk to Phoebe: “Read my lips. Stand back. Oh wait, I don’t have lips…”

Gertrude’s Begonia

I have tried to recall the church business that brought me to Gertrude’s house. What I do remember is a handsome white-haired lady who bestowed friendly attention on me even as her husband moved uncertainly in the shadows. After awhile, making sure he was situated, she led me to her backyard so I could see her pass-along flowerbeds, a sprawl of seeming disarray. But not to her! She knew every plant, told me stories of the givers.  She gave me cuttings of wild begonia, guaranteed to grow. I dutifully planted them in my tidier garden, didn’t think much of it when winter came and a freeze got them. The disappearance of her gift and the tyranny of trivia kept the lady from my mind.  In time her husband died and later she moved away. One year, I noticed something coming up. Gertrude’s begonia!  It thrives for a while, subsides, rises again in random places.  This summer there’s an up-thrust I’ve been trying to tame by trimming the shoots and rooting them in some kind of order. What part of “wild” do I still not understand? One thing I do understand better every year is the quiet blessing of Gertrude, a lady I didn’t know well but whose gift took root. Of all things, I’ve just read a fine pass-along book called Suzanne and Gertrude. And I’m relishing an old series about a widowed detective whose beloved wife was named Trudy. Also, having just looked it up I can tell you that Gertrude is a name of Germanic derivation, and it means strength.  Do you think maybe it’s all connected? “The Spirit bloweth wild, high-surging where it will…” If anyone can track down that quote for me I’ll give you a cutting of wild begonia.

Ducks May Safely Graze

I was on the phone this morning, gazing out my rain-spattered kitchen window, when I saw something unusual. Just past the driveway, in a corner where two fences meet, were two ducks. Black-bellied whistling ducks, to be exact. The pair looked calm and companionable, not a care in the world. I tried to photograph them through the window but the raindrops made them “illegible.” So I went out the front door, eased casually up the driveway, introduced myself, and started snapping pics. When they rose to their feet I could see that Mr. and Mrs. Duck were not alone. Far from it! The general drift seemed to be to get the children away from me, though they weren’t frantic about it. No idea where they are now but it was a lovely encounter.

Goodbye to a Great Beauty

Phoebe H. Dishman

April 23, 2021

She was the spirit of spring. She was my summer shade, my morning song. She was more than a tree to me.

She had that certain something. Centerpiece of our small back yard, she was a lacebark elm, arms outflung in wide embrace, to the fullness of her height.

Springtime dropped over those arms a shimmering frock of palest green, by which she captured hearts as surely as any Southern belle.

In summer her greenery darkened. Her trunk and branches swelled with vitality, flinging off gray curls of bark to reveal mahogany smoothness beneath.

In the fall she set seeds; they flew from her hands on brown-paper wings.

In winter she composed herself to rest. Her poise was a dancer’s, balanced, strong, her inclined stillness enlivened by a supple turn where she widened to meet the earth. A bonsai master could not have posed her more charmingly.

Trouble was, as my beauty grew she interfered with power lines. The tree crews, having been threatened in other yards, were grateful for my stoic silence as they worked. After their most recent visit I wrote,

“My beautiful, stricken tree. In spite of her proven resilience to pruning, ice storms, and hurricanes, I’m a little uneasy about her health. Next time my yard chores took me to her vicinity, I put down my tools, put my cheek against her bark, and held her. How silly. But how warm I found her, how fragrant, how solid, how full of life. I had thought to offer comfort. It was she who comforted me.”

She soldiered on, as best she could, kept me company through the long months of 2020. Mid February 2021, just as she was greening for spring, there came a killing freeze. With shock then grief I’ve watched what it did to her. Did I think such a Great Beauty would last forever, because she had so far? I was wrong.

Next week a kind man will come and take her. To every thing, a season. And a time to every purpose under heaven. The author of Ecclesiastes is correct. So is my breaking heart.

So, come with me, my heart, to where a Great Beauty stands for now. Put your hands on her ravaged bark. Put your arms around forty years of beauty, shade, and joy. Whisper my bereavement. I adored her. Yes, I adored a tree.