A Family Tree, Nuts, and Poetry

Nothing bubbles the excitement within our house like autumn.

Our calendar explodes with plans and activities for the entire month of October:

Our children pose for a picture on a trail laden with fall leaves.
Our children pose for a picture on a trail laden with fall leaves.
  • Decorating the house for Halloween
  • Fall and Halloween-themed meals
  • Homemade apple pies and other apple treats
  • Walks in nature to surround ourselves the warm colors of fall
  • A visit to a pumpkin patch
  • A night of screaming at “haunted” trails and attractions
  • Pumpkin-carving
  • A fall or Halloween-related craft or art project
  • Costume-shopping and make-up practice
  • Visiting a cemetery or other local places of lore at night to tell ghost stories
  • Bonfires and keeping packet of hot dogs and marshmallows in stock
  • Trick-or-treating wherever and whenever we can fit it in (school, church parking lots, downtown special occasions – we are there)

This year, we were able to spend an afternoon at Bernheim’s ColorFest event. For a five-buck-per-car entry fee, we all enjoyed a $200 time. We launched pumpkins, folks, with a giant slingshot. We ran through a hay maze, made necklaces out of natural things foraged from the forest, made the prettiest mud pies you eva’ did see, played strange-looking instruments, and listened to fantastic live music (not crappy music, but actual sit-down-and-listen type of music).

Our older girls laughing seconds after launching a pumpkin through the air using a giant slingshot.
Our older girls laughing seconds after launching a pumpkin through the air using a giant slingshot.

At  some point while perusing the artists’ booths, we were asked if we wanted to write a poem about our favorite season, trees and the hippies who love them (we kind of fall into that category), or why we love nature. My teens and wife were leery, and hung back.

Our 7-year-old stepped up to take a pencil for a spin with her imagination at the wheel. She chose to write about winter (spelling corrected for easy reading) and is untitled:

Our youngest daughter's poem about winter.
Our youngest daughter’s poem about winter.

Winter

Cold, windy

Holiday, celebrate, no leaves

Santa goes to deliver presents

Mrs. Claus

She sometimes tells me she will be an artist like me, and other times she says she wants to be a writer like me. I tell her she can do both. I tell her she can do many things. I do.

Then I wrote a poem too. Moved by the moment of time with family I was fortunate enough to enjoy, I quickly penned the following (slightly edited from original):

Family Tree

My poem inspired by spending time with family in nature.
My poem inspired by spending time with family in nature.

Never a tree

More precious to me

Than mine, my family tree

Though it also be

Beyond flesh and bone

Its gold leaves

Bark

And nature

Are my home

I forget how much I enjoy writing poetry. I never forget how much I enjoy our Octobers, and that we don’t have too many left to spend like this.

My wife and youngest seconds tag-teaming the launch of their pumpkin.
My wife and youngest seconds tag-teaming the launch of their pumpkin.
Accurate pictorial representation of the wife and me.
Accurate pictorial representation of the wife and me.
Mud pie art.
Mud pie art.
A necklace made with flower petals, seeds, fuzzy leaves, and other items foraged from the forest.
A necklace made with flower petals, seeds, fuzzy leaves, and other items foraged from the forest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Envelope

I always took a walk with my 14-month-old daughter in the afternoons after work. A single mom, I couldn’t afford to do much else.

It was the beginning of October in our small town in Kentucky. The leaves were barely browning, and a few crunched under the wheels of the stroller as I walked the quiet road near our house. Just a few homes dotted the way and all were owned by people long retired.

Upon making our second round, I see a crumbled and dirty paper laying under a rock in the middle of the street. As I neared and my eyes focused, I could see it was a worn and stained envelope; the corners of money bills peeking through the top. I looked around. I had not seen or heard anyone on the street.

A bloody envelope found at the crime scene used as evidence in the OJ Simpson 1995 murder trial.
A bloody envelope found at the crime scene used as evidence in the OJ Simpson 1995 murder trial.

I removed the rock and picked up the envelope. Again my eyes swiveled up and down the street. I suddenly felt exposed and vulnerable. I grabbed the stroller and headed to the safety of our home.

Once inside and behind locked doors, I opened the envelope. It contained $2,000 and a note. It read:

Go to the pharmacy and you’ll find more. Bring the envelope with you.

I looked at my shabby house. I glanced at the pile of bills on the table. My eyes moved further into the kitchen. The sink broke over the summer, and I could not afford to fix it, much less hire a plumber. I was tired of washing dishes in the bathroom. I looked down at my gorgeous sleeping baby. She needed new clothes and a toddler bed.

I left the baby with my neighbor who was happy to watch her when I picked up extra hours at the diner and drove to the pharmacy.

I realized I was still wearing my uniform dress and apron, and wondered if I should have changed so as to conceal where I worked.

Once parked, I scanned the lot. No one was around. The streets were dark, and the pharmacy closed in ten minutes. On top of a trash can with a heavy, metal lid sat a large, flat rock. I got out, heaved the rock to the ground and opened the large envelope that was underneath.

I pulled out a black ski mask, gun, more cash, and another note:

Take care of the pharmacist or we will take care of you and your daughter. When the job is done, put the first envelope with the cash under the rock at the corner of N. 2nd and E. Beall.

Crime scene photo from millionaire Greg Williams' murder trial. He was killed by his own gun.
Crime scene photo from millionaire Greg Williams’ murder trial. He was killed by his own gun.

I sucked in breath and dropped the note. My thoughts raced.

“What am I doing? Oh God, what am I doing?”

The gun felt strange in my hand. I had never held one before.

I pictured my daughter’s tiny hands and thought of how she reaches to touch my face. I wiped my sweaty palms on my apron, slipped the mask on, and headed into the store.

A note from the author: Freaked out? I hope you enjoyed this work of fiction I penned to celebrate Halloween. The photos are, however, actual crime scene photos. 

Why I’m Never Camping Again

“Mom, camping is not a date; it’s an endurance test. If you can survive camping with someone, you should marry them on the way home.”

― Yvonne Prinz, The Vinyl Princess

I just needed to feel warm again.

We had arrived at the Green River campsite 18 hours earlier. My clothes were soaked with a salty combination of late September rain and sweat.

I trudged in muddy boots up the hill to the restroom that doubled as a shower house. I slipped behind a moldy curtain, an inch of light on each side where the curtain fell short of hiding my shivering body away from the world. I only brought shampoo with me and a roll of paper towels to dry my hair as we forgot to bring towels. I needed the steam and hot from the shower to quicken my blood and release the numb from my limbs. I’d scrub the dirt away later. I didn’t have anything to use anyway, unless I wanted to snap a pinecone from a tree out back.

I tilted my chin up to let the blessed water slip down my back, and opened my eyes. Three of the four corners in my tiny shower stall harbored well-fed spiders. They crouched in their webs watching my naked form.

“Stay there, guys, and no one loses a leg,” I warned them. I watched each of the spindly arachnids to ensure their obedience.

my-family-is-one-tent-away-from-a-full-blown-circus

The spiders were not a big deal, and they were not why I hated camping.

I hate camping because I’ve never had a good camping experience absent of something that makes me declare every single time that I am never going camping again. I’ve now camped four times, and all four times, something horrible happened ranging from a bad sting needing a steroid injection to a campsite take-over by a Mexican Baptist Convention in which the attendees were so excited for Jesus, they sang about it all night long.

You can imagine I wasn’t thrilled by our friends’ suggestions to gather up our children and go camping.

“It’ll be different,” they said. “You’ll be with us, and we always have fun.”

They were right of course. These people, Joe and Robin and their two girls, were our favorite family. We were all best friends – the kids too.

So I relented. My wife wanted to go, and the kids would love it. We set the schedule, divided the expenses, and packed the cars for Green River. Here is a rundown of events that followed:

Friday

  • We arrived at dinner time on Friday. The kids were hungry. We were losing light, and it began to rain a steady pour despite the weather claims for a calm evening. We managed to get our tents up.
  • 45 minutes out of the car, and one of two change of clothes I brought for the weekend were already soaked. I only had one hoodie. I lay shivering in the dark on a weird foam beach bed my mom gave us to use for the trip. My hip ached from laying on the hard surface.I wondered how the kids would do on a diet of chips for supper. We would not be able to light the wet wood in the fire pit to cook for our group of four adults and five children.
  • Our tent leaked. I felt around in the dark, and could feel large areas of wet and cold on our sleeping bags, pillows and blankets. The glow of cell phone lights revealed the tent was indeed leaking in several spots despite the rain protection tarp thing strapped to the top. The old, but expensive tent belonged to my father, who passed away six years ago. I never got the chance to use his camping stuff.
  • We realized at some point we forgot most of what we needed to make dinner. Even the heavy duty aluminum foil rested in the cabinet of our dark house. Not that it mattered. A fire won’t start in the rain.

thank-god-no-one-forgot-the-booze

  • When I informed our friends of our fumble, they realized they also left behind many of the groceries purchased specifically for the trip, including breakfast and cooking utensils.
  • No one forgot the booze.
  • Our first night “camping,” we ended up eating chicken strips and ice cream at a nearby Dairy Queen in our wet clothes. We voted on whether to buy another tent and stay the night or go home. I lost the vote.
  • At Super Walmart, a slippery, half-eaten kiwi slice took down and injured one of us in the produce aisle (identity omitted), but the rest of us got out unscathed. We purchased a new tent, re-purchased all the items both families left at home, then headed back to the soggy campsite.
  • The first night camping closed with my family sleeping on damp bedding in a dry tent wearing wet clothes. The cold ate at my face and hands, but the alcohol lulled me to sleep off and on throughout the evening.

Saturday

  • Saturday opened with pockets of rain that forced us to rush food back and forth from the table to the coolers and chairs back into vehicles throughout the morning.
  • Our 7-year-old girls found most of a large fish skeleton and decided to share their find with the whole family back at our campsite. They brought a trash can lid also assumed a treasure to place over it for protection.
me-with-7-year-olds
Me and the 7-year-olds (dead fish to the left unpictured)
  • The family dog lost her mind every time she saw another dog, which was often. She tried to eat the fish bones too.
  • The rain almost prevented us from cooking hot dogs for lunch, but we managed to get them cooked enough. We dubbed them “acid rain dogs” and ate them plain since we forgot condiments.
  • I took a hot shower with shampoo to thaw my body. I dried my hair with cheap paper towels we purchased from Super Walmart and the hand dryer next to the sink since no one thought to bring a hair dryer.
  • I suggested a walk to the beach to stretch and get away from the camp. The family competed in a rock skipping contest, collected geodes along the shore, and explored. The fun forced my bad attitude back into the corner of my mind for a while. The rain, for once, rested during this brief time, but it began again when we started the walk back.
  • My nerves snapped. I picked a fight with my wife, and we sat up until late talking before she crawled into a tent to try to sleep. Sleep was beyond me.
  • I sat by the embers in the fire pit and stirred them for heat. Midnight had long passed, and the camp was quiet, until I heard what sounded like someone dumping water onto the ground behind me. I turned in my chair to look, only to see my dear friend Joe peeing on a tree. I was grateful for the lack of lighting. I decided it might be best to also retire to the tent lest I witness other men emerging for middle-of-the-night peeing sessions.

Sunday

  • I awoke to a woman yelling at a boy about his clothes. I heard footsteps running away after his final defiant, “No!” The campsites were so compact, it sounded as if they were arguing right outside our tent.
  • I needed coffee and couldn’t find any more cups. So I dug through the trash until I found a used one. A hair clung to the coffee-stained side. A rock and possible bug hung out in the bottom. I used the water pump to rinse away the undesirables, then filled it with hot, brown caffeine. I took a seat by the pile of arranged sticks in the fire pit. Joe attempted to build a fire, but the lighter refused to strike. Joe informs me there were more coffee cups in the car.
file-oct-03-9-07-52-pm
Geode we found on the beach.
  • Not long after, we packed the cars and drove away from what many consider paradise. It definitely was not paradise for me.
  • Finally headed home, I shot my wife a pitiful look. She turned on the heat, took my hand and squeezed it.

I recognize there are no other people in the world whom I’d rather have shared this experience. Our family’s ability to come together, to overcome, and still laugh in the pouring rain spoke of a decade of deep friendship and connection. Between all these moments of feeling like my face would freeze off, we played card games. We light-heartedly poked fun at each other. We watched the kids make friends with other kids. The children got to run around like sprites in the forest and gather wood (since we didn’t bring nearly enough). We sang weird songs around the campfire, likely disturbed our neighbors, and didn’t give any cares. Robin and I snuggled – a lot. We huddled in our tent and shopped for Halloween-themed leggings during a heavy rain. We held deep discussions uninterrupted by the outside world.

take-a-sad-song-and-make-it-better

Then there were those beautiful moments on the beach. We were all dirty. Wet. Hungry. Tired. But we were together. We were one large family playing on a sandy shore brought together by love, not blood, and we were making the best out of a horrible series of unfortunate events. We had a sack-full of incredible memories to add to our trove.

That was the take-away, and it was a gem I’ll treasure far more than our 7-year-olds treasured that dead fish. But I still hate camping, and I still declare I am never going camping again.