A Squirrel of a Time: A Stephellaneous Life through a Squirrelticular Lens (Part 2)

So I believe Part 1 left off with mere Attempted Squirrelicide. Today, dear readers. Oh, today we get right into the thick of it. Attempted is for weenies. We’re talkin’ full-on Squirrelicide now. Don’t even bother hiring a detective, because I’m about to confess.

Squirrelicide in the First Degree

I was sixteen or seventeen when I went on my first hunting foray. (I may as well go ahead and tell you it was also my only hunting foray. Consider that a preview on how things went.) I didn’t care about hunting, but being out in the woods early on a weekend morning sounded lovely. So, even though I thought camouflage was stupid (still do – suck it), I donned someone’s spare camo and tagged along with my boyfriend. He wanted to go squirrel hunting, and he wanted me to go with him.

Sure, let’s do this thing.

funnybaby64

We get out into the woods, and he’s being all manly protector and shit. I’m walking along the well-trodden path when Mr. Boy Scout practically unhinges his arm to stop me in my tracks.

Snake. There was a snake. Not a venomous snake, mind you, which he himself acknowledged. No matter, his girlfriend’s life dignity was at stake.

So he murdered the snake.

And I cried.

That was sign number one that we should have turned back.

About halfway through our trek, we come across a deer stand. He told me what it was and who it belonged to. I pointed to the knee-high mound of food and asked what it was. “That’s deer feed,” he said, “to lure the deer.” I’m sure you can guess my reply: “Are you fucking serious? That hillbilly dickwad motherfucker LURES them here?” I even quoted My Cousin Vinny. The part about the happy little deer putting it’s little deer lips to the cool water to drink, and:

BAM

Oh yeah. Then he explained the stench I was smelling came from the deer musk/urine sprayed all around the place to lure them and mask the scent of humans.

I was livid. And though he was highly amused,

That was sign number two that we should have turned back.

But we didn’t turn back. The rest of the trek was pleasant enough. Enjoying the cool autumn weather. The trees. The chirping of the birds. Learning to recognize animal tracks and hiding spots. It was a pretty cool morning, aside from the murder and mayhem.

We finally settled into a thick copse of trees, squatted down with our weapons and listened. Watched. Observed. Felt. So far, so good. I was cool with all of that, and was pretty good at spotting shit, too.

I had done some target practice a week or so prior – but it didn’t take much. I was actually really fucking good at it. I remember he was strangely proud of that – at least he wasn’t one of those weirdos who get jealous about that sort of thing.

So yeah, when I finally spotted a squirrel I deemed close enough, I didn’t even say anything – I just went for it. I was using this little .22, and I think I was too far away. (At least that’s what I was told in attempts to comfort me afterward.) After I shot, the squirrel fell from the limb he was on.

And we never found him.

We searched for hours, because I was insistent and at least mildly hysterical. But we never found him. I cried. Nay, I fucking sobbed. He was beside himself, first laughing and then desperate to calm me down. He swore the shot would have spread, and the squirrel was probably fine or we would have gone straight to him. But I was inconsolable; all that could be done was to leave and let me put it behind me.

But I never really did. Put it behind me, I mean. Though I was done crying by the time we emerged from the woods, I’ve never forgotten that day. And I’ve never believed that squirrel came out unscathed. He either died that day or ended up in hospice care.

southfloridasquirrel

I never forgave myself, and I never went hunting again.

The Three Stooges: A Shot at Redemption Ends in Triple Squirrelicide

That next summer – same boyfriend – he brought three baby squirrels home. The tree they were living in had been cut down, and the mother abandoned them. So he brought them to me. By now, he knew damn well what a bleeding heart I was. I was ecstatic! But I also had no idea how to take care of tiny baby squirrels.

3babysquirrels
Y’all…they looked just like this.

I thought I did the right thing. I really did. I took them to a veterinarian. (I mean, I also used the Internet. What, Alta Vista at the time? Dogpile? But there wasn’t much information available.) The veterinarian sold me some kitten milk and an eye-dropper feeder (and a bottle for when they got bigger) and told me to keep them warm. Feed them every two to three hours, he said, and keep them warm with a rice sock heated in the microwave.

I was so careful with those little things. I had them tucked into a small box, with a fluffy towel and the rice sock. I always held it against tender spots of my skin first to make sure I wouldn’t burn the Three Stooges. That’s what I named them: Larry, Curly and Moe. And I fed them carefully and regularly.

Larry died first. First and fast. Almost right away, really. God, I was a wreck. I opened up the little box in the middle of the night, for a nighttime feeding and to re-warm the sock. And he was curled up there, lifeless. I was heartbroken. The boyfriend took care of burying him for me. I insisted Larry be buried.

Moe was next. He lasted a couple of weeks before giving up. He stopped eating, I think. I do remember calling the vet on his account. And he told me that all I could do was keep them warm and feed them regularly. Oh yeah, and I was also wiping them with a warm damp cloth to help them pass waste.

But it wasn’t enough. Moe didn’t make it. But I knew for certain Curly was solid. He made it several weeks. And he even got big enough to ride around in my breast pocket.

pocketsquirrel
This is neither my breast, nor my pocket, nor my squirrel. But they suffice.

It just wasn’t to be. And I was absolutely shattered when I came home from work one day, and the boyfriend told me Curly had died. I know now that I should have sought the advice of another vet. But at the time, I trusted that particular one. He took care of the boyfriend’s dog, so he was like their family vet. But I know now that poor Curly was most certainly malnourished. He wasn’t large, not even fully juvenile. He was still a baby. But he had certainly graduated beyond the basic nutrition found in kitten milk.

I was devastated. And when the boyfriend found yet more baby squirrels some time later, he had the presence of mind to call me first. And I asked him to please not bring them home. I couldn’t go through it again.

So uhm. Yeah. That one wasn’t funny. My bad. But it did result in yet more squirrel funerals. It strikes me that I have a disproportionate amount of squirrel funerals in my life, as compared to…ahem…normal people.

And I can add Serial Squirrel Murderer and Stooge Slaughterer to my rap sheet. Oh hell, I got a rap sheet? Holla!

Additional Squirrellaneous Encounters

Far more recently (that shit happened when I was a teenager, remember?), I tried befriending my squirrels. The ones that live here. In my trees. And I love watching them play and roughhouse with each other. So I tried to befriend them.

Last year (that was last year wasn’t it?), I visited The Peanut Depot while I was checking out Birmingham, Alabama.

store-burlap-bags_0

Seriously, if y’all are ever in Birmingham, you need to hit up the Peanut Depot. (And what the fuck is the matter with you if you’re grown and American and haven’t been to Birmingham? That’s an important city, and you need to go. You been told.)

Aaaanywho, I bought an assload of peanuts. The guy behind the counter flirted with me. I know, because I don’t get flirted with, and homeboy didn’t even try to hide it. But he also wanted to know just what the hell I was gonna do with all those peanuts. I bought a 2 lb. burlap sack of each kind (regular, salted and Cajun). And, he was right. What the fuck was I thinking?

Once I got home and realized the error of my ways – I mean what on earth was I gonna do with sixteen zillion peanuts? I tried to share them at work, but who wants peanuts? Though, I did keep a small nutsack of my own in my drawer. (Hehehe, this woman told me about her nutsack at work. I totally should have called mine that. If you haven’t made her acquaintance, you should. She’s delightful.)

So, I hatched a plot to befriend my squirrels. First I laid peanuts around the trees in the front, like little Easter eggs. It didn’t take long for them to find ’em. I’d peer out my window at them, watching one chow down and the other stuff his furry little cheeks and haul ass up the tree. Probably plotting to use them as soggy, nutty projectiles. No matter.

After a few days of this, I began sprinkling them in the yard. And then leading a path to the porch. I spied the two regulars munching on the porch a couple times. But this didn’t last. Oh no.

Because those fucking bastard assholes tore up my yard!

squirrelholes
This is not my yard, but it’s exactly what it was like after those ingrates tore the shit out of it. They took my peanuts and they mocked me with them. Tearing up the yard and burying them for winter!

I told those motherfuckers I had enough peanuts to last a lifetime of winters. But nooooooooo, they had to dig! And you wanna know how I found out? Hmm? I couldn’t see the holes because of the copious amounts of pinestraw. But I was out there one day, feeding the sons of bitches and twisted my ankle in a squirrelhole!

So, like the Soup Nazi, I shouted (seriously, I shouted) NO PEANUTS FOR YOU! (I’m sure my neighbors find me positively delightful.) Then I called them bastards. No good dirty rotten scoundrels. I shook my fists at them up in the trees. They didn’t dare mock me, not til I went inside. But never again would I spoil those little bastards. Now they’ll have to be content with munching on acorns and my roof. Assholes.

Let’s see. Aside from that? I’ve already talked about how the squirrels laid siege to the Veggie Patch. I’m certain, now, that it’s in retaliation for me cutting off the peanut supply line. It’s all starting to come together now.

I’ve had lovely encounters with the mountain squirrels of Washington, Montana, Wyoming…they liked to climb on me and check my pockets. You know what? That does it! Fuck these local squirrels. I’m moving! I know, I know…it’s only a matter of time before even the mountain squirrels turn on me.

It’s time for me to bust out the water hose and tear some ass up.

Oh my gosh, this is how it all began. Mr. Smith’s struggles were real. I see it all so clearly now. I’ll fight them in your honor, Mr. Smith! I’ll take no prisoners!

take no prisoners
Take No Prisoners! (This photo makes me craugh. (Cry + Laugh = Craugh, remember? Gah!) But it’s too perfect!) (Also, double parenthesis bitch!)

The End. Or has it only just begun?

My Neighbor Queen Elizabeth

Have I told y’all I’m royalty? I hope not, because it’s bullshit. But. Have I told you that I grew up on a manor? Well, that’s also kinda bullshit. But! I did grow up across the street from Queen Elizabeth. Fact. And we had conversations on the regular. Also fact.

true lies

Okay, but fo’ real, yo. I grew up on the South Side. That’s another fact, bitches. And Queen Elizabeth was my homegirl. Put that in your factpipe and smoke it. (Please don’t smoke Queen Elizabeth. That would be weird. And grody. And also kinda cannibalistic. And probably racist. And you know who likes cannibalistic racists? Nobody.)

SOUTH SIDE REPRESENT

I should probably stop vomiting crazy at you and get to the point, hm? Fine. Fuddy duddy. (Warning: I may have over-caffeinated just prior to writing this post. And since my coworkers already consider me the resident loony, I thought I’d take out my hyper on you instead of them.) (You’re welcome.) (Say thank you, damnit. It’s impolite to be ungrateful around the crazies.) (Why isn’t it ingrateful? I mean it’s “ingrate” not “ungrate,” hello.)

And now, boys and girls, for a rare happy tale from childhood. Grab your milk and cookies and gather round. Or your bong and soda. I’ll take the bong and cookies for $200, Alex. Anyway. Gather round, peoplleaneous.

Where was I? Oh yeah, I grew up on the South Side, in the ghetto. That’s not really relevant, except to give you a feel for the place. And our landlord was a total slum lord piece of shit. But this post isn’t about him, even though he was a giant walking turd. (Did you picture it? I hope you did, cuz that’s some funny shit. Literally.) The little ramshackle two-bedroom single family rental was situated immediately behind a nursing home/assisted living facility, “Southside Manor” or some shit. (See? I fucking told you I lived on the manor. Or at least manor-adjacent.)

There was this tiny strip of wannabe road stretching between our ditch and theirs. (Seriously, it was a sad little road. Kids flying into ditches when cars tried to go both directions at once. That may be an exaggeration. But only because kids don’t have wings. Unless they chug Redbull. Yeah.)

After school, we’d go outside. I didn’t do very well outside. I was a total bookwormy homebody. I just wanted to hide in some quiet corner and read. But when mom was home, she didn’t like having us inside. Underfoot. Talking. Needing. Being. The sister would fairly readily find something to occupy her time. As for me? I’d just kinda…stand there…bored and confused and wanting to go back inside and hide. Being, admittedly, really sad and also kinda pathetic. Shifting my weight from one foot to the other. Looking around. Totally out-of-place and not really knowing how to be a kid. Like, at all. (Unless I was making the sister eat a worm or something. That was kidlike. And disgusting. And fun. Ooo new word: fungusting! Except that sounds like you’re trying to suck fungus up a dirtbuster. Whatever. Let’s see you do better. Hmph.)

It was on a day such as this that I met Queen Elizabeth. There I was, shifting my weight back and forth, this side of the ditch. Just kinda staring. At nothing. At everything. At the road. At my crush’s house – is Mario home yet? At the nursing home. And here she came. Little did I know I was about to become a princess and marry a handsome prince who would whisk me away from every…wait. That’s definitely not true. Where was I?

All Hail the Queen!

Oh yes, there I am: standing on the edge of the ditch, facing the road and the back of the nursing home. And here she came. There were no trumpets, no royal cavalcade, no retinue. She was quite demure and down to earth. And she was beautiful. This plump woman in her late forties (that’s the best estimate I can give, looking back now) with warm brown skin and billowing skirts. But what she wore better than anything was that huge, friendly smile. She grinned and waved, waved and grinned, free hand tugging at her skirts.

“Hey, y’all! I’m not supposed to talk to strangers. So what’s your names?,” she called. The sister came rushing over, looking between me and our new friend. None of us crossing the street.

We volleyed our names across, and she volleyed back:

“Well, I am Queen Elizabeth, and you suppose ta bow.”

I can still feel the grin spreading across my face. “You mean, THE Queen Elizabeth? Of England?”

“Yes, the Queen Elizabeth. I had to sell my castle, but that’s okay!”

“It’s nice to meet you, Queen Elizabeth!” I bowed and smacked my sister on the arm, whispering furiously for her to bow, too. “But she’s NOT a queen…is she?” To which I replied, “Of course she is.” “How do you know?,” my sister asked.

“Because she said so.”

Queen Elizabeth was so tickled when we bowed. She even did that thing where you hold a hand over your mouth to giggle. Then she told us she wasn’t allowed to cross the street, but honey she had that royal wave down pat. So we stood there, on opposite sides of the road..of life..and waved regally to each other and taking turns bowing and curtsying.

After a short while, one of her guards (an orderly) would come out and take her by the elbow. “Now, Queen Elizabeth, you know you ain’t supposed to be out here.” And Queen Elizabeth would say something about having to greet her subjects. I don’t remember much about the orderlies, except they seemed nice. Frustrated but friendly. We’d wave goodbye, with the royal wave of course.

And suddenly, I found myself looking forward to the first few minutes outside after school. I wanted needed to see Queen Elizabeth. She would ask about my day, and I would ask about hers. Sometimes she would complain that people weren’t letting the Queen eat what she wanted or watch what she wanted.

“But Queens are supposed to make the rules,” she’d lament.

And sometimes I would complain, too, about someone making fun of me at school. And she would say nice things to me, that I was pretty or sweet or smart.

“Stay in school,” she’d admonish. “Be a good girl.”

She was always smiling. Always. Those pearly whites exposed in a giant happy grin.

One day we said something at the same time, and I laughed and called over: “Pinch, poke, you owe me a coke!” Oh my goodness, that threw her into a tizzy. “What?! What happened?! Oh no. Oh no.” So I explained to her what the little saying meant and told her I wasn’t serious. She was quite perplexed, so I tried really hard to convince her that it was just in fun. It didn’t really mean anything. But the next day, out she came, holding her skirt in one hand and a can of Cherry Coke in the other. She couldn’t even wave; that’s how important it was.

“Queens always keep their promises! But…I’m sorry I couldn’t get two. They wouldn’t let me get two. But y’all can share!”

Boy, did I feel guilty. I tried to protest, but she started getting upset. So I knew her feelings would be hurt if I didn’t accept.

None of us was supposed to cross the street. And I knew mom wouldn’t approve of me talking to the woman at all – I always worried about her catching us. But Queen Elizabeth wouldn’t dare consider breaking the rules, so I darted across the street for the soda. “Now Queen Elizabeth doesn’t owe you anymore!” Oh, that grin. How infectious it was. I remember she touched my hand. Just a fleeting touch, perhaps accidental, perhaps not. But I remember.¬† (And I also don’t remember saying “pinch poke, you owe me a coke” after that. I didn’t want anyone feeling obligated. It made me sad that Queen Elizabeth might have thought she was in trouble.)

I loved her, best I could. I loved her. And I thought about her a lot.

One day, Queen Elizabeth stopped coming outside. I started to worry, and I tried to explain to mom that I needed to check on Queen Elizabeth. She had unkind words to say about a woman she’d never met. Because of the color of her skin. Because of her mental illness. I begged. I pleaded. Please let me check on her. Or maybe you can check on her for me! But my pleas fell on deaf ears. I don’t know if they’d put my friend on lockdown so she’d stop going outside, but I imagined the worst.

I missed Queen Elizabeth so much. And I cried and mourned her absence for a long time. More than anything, I hope she knew she was loved. Truly loved. I’ll never forget her. And I wish I could fashion her a crown and tell her,

You may not be the Queen Elizabeth, but you’ll always be my Queen Elizabeth. And I hope that was enough.

Letters from a Happy Asshole

Dear Mom,

Did you know it was you who taught me? I bet you don’t know that, even though I told you so. You taught me so much:

  • how to smile through abuse
  • how to laugh in spite of pain
  • how to remain gentle in stormy seas

You sent me out into the world believing that it was worth enduring misfortune and pain, poverty and abuse. And so I smiled. I was such a happy child, even when my heart was heavy and I was stricken with fear and doubt. I had such a gentle and giving spirit, a ready smile for anyone. Everyone. You remember, don’t you? How I had such a hard time steering clear of strangers? It took me a little while to learn that people don’t mean well after all.

But wait, you didn’t teach me any of that, did you? When did you smile? When did any smile ever reach your eyes? When were you ever playful or joyful or ebullient? You weren’t, were you? And I forever battled your demons because you wouldn’t. No, you gave up ages ago. Before you even had us, I suspect. You know what you taught me?

  • how to keep it all in
  • how to withdraw from the world
  • how to lose faith
  • how to criticize myself and everyone else
  • how to hide my ideas, my mind
  • how to deny myself
  • how to submit
  • how to give up

Why are you so damn happy all the time?

Mom?

Stop smiling so much. There’s nothing to smile about.

But we’re alive, aren’t we?

Who cares if we’re alive? Everything hurts. My back hurts. My feet hurt.

At least you have feet. (I meant it so sincerely when I said things like that to you. But you you hated it. You said it was cruel. That I was being intentionally cruel. That it’s useless to try cheering you up. Remember?)

Whatever. I’m sick to death of cleaning up after you people. I sacrifice Everything, and Nobody cares.

I care.

Whatever. Leave me alone. I’m going to bed.

whatever

I followed you to bed, putting my sister on my lap. I’m a ventriloquist now, and she’s my dummy. I used your eyeliner and lipstick to draw on her face to make her look the part.

We put on a show for you. I’m in full form now, laughing, cutting up, being a smartass. Telling jokes and making faces.

You’re laughing! It’s working! You’re crying… Oh no, now you’re crying again.

You’re so sweet. You were always so sweet. And funny. How’d you get to be so funny?
Leave me alone now. I’ll be okay. Don’t worry.

You better not have ruined my makeup. And wash your sister’s face.
(Rolling over in bed now, facing the wall.) Goodnight.

I hugged you and kissed you, anyway. And I begged you to be okay. Please cheer up, mom. We love you. Doesn’t that matter more than anything?

I’m sorry.
But I did tell you to leave me alone.
Wash your sister’s face.
Goodnight.

How many days and nights did we repeat some variation of this until I gave up? I couldn’t fight your demons alone. I needed your help. How many times did you watch me sobbing for you, begging you to talk to me. Play with me. Read with me. You said I’d be better off just forgetting about you. How could you say that?

And how dare you for getting angry when I did give up trying to fix you. And how dare you for abandoning me. Yes, you taught me much.

I was such a happy little asshole. That’s what I was to you, wasn’t it? The little asshole thorn in your side who just wouldn’t quit fucking smiling no matter what life threw at her. Did you ever stop to think that I smiled for you? It doesn’t matter anymore. I was always the happy little asshole to you. The one who had the nerve to smile in the face of adversity. The one who dared ask you to be a mother.

Just do me a favor, would ya? Don’t come back. Don’t. I can’t do it again.

~

Dear Classmates,

To the little girl that broke my heart and my nerve: do you know how long it took for me to work up the nerve to approach you? You looked so lonely and sad. And I was so shy. But we were both alone at recess, and I wanted to help you. I needed to make you smile.

Do you know how long it took for me to work up the nerve? How difficult it was? How my heart lodged in my throat as I approached you? How much courage it took for me to ask five little words of you in the softest voice? Will you be my friend?

Do you know what it did to me when you replied,

No.

and walked away?

My little soul was crushed. I cried so very much. Do you want to know something else?

That was the last time I ever approached anyone. That was the last time I ever made the first move.

I know, now, that you were probably hurting at least as much as I was, if not more. But my little heart couldn’t see past the pain then.

To Marshall: I’m sorry I never worked up the nerve to approach you. To tell you that I knew it was you. I recognized your handwriting. On the Secret Admirer card. But I had already lost trust and faith in people. I thought it was a joke, you see. A scam. I learned later that I hurt your feelings, ignoring your gesture.

To the boy at the dance: I didn’t even want to be there. I had been forced to go. People were starting to worry…at my lack of friends and growing social anxiety. I had been made fun of far too much by now, and I couldn’t. I wanted to trust you, when you asked me to dance. But I couldn’t. I just knew it was a joke. So I went inside and stuffed my face until the party was over. That’s the first time I remember medicating with food.

~

Dear Marie,

Why did you ask me why I smile? Every day, at least once a day? You were a grownass woman in her forties. Why do you feel a need to rob a teenager of her smile?

Every day I smiled and greeted you with a happy countenance and hope for a good day. And every day, you shot me down. Confronting me in angry tones,

Why are you so happy?
I mean, really. Look at you. What do you have to be so happy about, anyway?

I woke up this morning.

Ugh.

Would you rather I told you, “This is my mask, and it helps me get through the day”? I suspect you would have liked that, to know that I shared a fraction of your misery. But no, I was too busy trying.

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It took me a couple of years, but I finally stopped. Smiling at you. You didn’t deserve my smiles. But then, one day, I started smiling at you again. Out of spite. Because fuck you, that’s why.

And again, I was the Happy Asshole.

Thanks, Marie. For reminding me of her.

~

Dear James and Everyone Else I hurt in Jr. High & High School,

You told me one day, later on in high school, that I had been a bitch to you. I’m sorry. I really am.

I was afraid of you. I didn’t trust you. I never did. And I still didn’t. Hell, I still wouldn’t. Even now. I had been bitten so many times by then, that I used meanness as a defense mechanism. To keep people as far away from me as possible.

But at least I started smiling again. Greeting you. Refusing to take my pain and inner turmoil out on you and everyone else.

Thank you, for being so honest with me that day. I needed that dose of awareness. It hurt to know that I’d been hurtful. I’ll never forget it.

~

Dear You,

Please allow me – and anyone else – the right to be down sometimes. Please don’t beat me with your happy stick and try to force your idea of happiness on me.

You see, I’m fighting really hard. No, I mean it. Really fucking hard. To lift myself out of this funk. It’s a daily battle, and a tough one. And while I’m thankful for words of encouragement and positivity, it hurts when you’re dismissive. As though I don’t have the right to be down because it offends you.

I understand now, why it hurt my mother for me to say things like, “well, at least you have legs!” But I was a child, and I didn’t realize it was dismissive of her pain. I thought I was being encouraging, but all she heard was “your pain isn’t valid.”

So be encouraging of each other. Be positive. But try not to be so fucking militant about it. Just as my depression isn’t an attack on you, your positivity shouldn’t be an attack on me.

Live and let live and Kumbaya, and all that.

~

Dear Me,

You’re at risk of no longer being the Happy Asshole, but instead just an asshole. And if that happens, they win. Is that what you want?

So keep smiling at work. Keep saying goodmorning to the world and all its inhabitants. Keep telling off-color jokes and being a raging smartass. It’s fun. It makes people laugh, and it cheers you up to do it.

Don’t let them destroy the last remaining vestiges of you.

Cling to life. Cling to joy, even if you can only find scraps of moments here and there. Those scraps count. Those scraps matter. Those scraps are what keep you coming back for more.

You matter. You probably won’t think so in the morning. Or even an hour from writing this.

So keep reminding yourself. And try to believe people when they say nice things about you.

Don’t be an asshole. It’s no fun without the happy.

~

Signed,
The Happy Asshole

Housekeeping: Finishing up the 3-day quote challenge!

Here goes. Y’all ready for my final quotes for the challenge? I hope so. And I equally hope you’re ready to share more with me!

~

This one is quite special to me. I’ve always loved the poem – look, I know poems aren’t exactly what is meant by “quote.” But fuck it, just look at it as an extra-long quote that’s kinda sorta like a poem. Cuz it’s a fuckin’ poem! – but it became even more special to me in college. One of the best professors in the world would read it – and cry – at least once in every course he taught. For decades. The world is a sadder place with his absence. I hope I can live up to the dream he had for all of his students…to Carry the Message to Garcia (oooo another post idea) and to take the road less traveled by.

The Road Not Taken
~Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

That last part always choked him up, my professor. And he always ended with silent tears weaving down the crevices of his age-worn face. He was so dear to me and to so many others. He certainly took the road less traveled by, and I hope that I will in the end as well.

~

And last, but certainly not least. I know I’ll take the road less traveled by, because:

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And that has made all the difference.

The Velveteen Rabbit

I made brief mention of The Velveteen Rabbit in a previous post. There, I gave you the following quote:

From The Velveteen Rabbit, written by Margery Williams:

“You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

As mentioned before, this is one of my all time favorites. Right up there with The Wind in the Willows, Small Pig, Charlotte’s Web, and the list goes on. I don’t mention¬†The Hobbit, because of course! That’s got to be the most important book to me as a child. So it probably deserves its own post someday. What children’s books am I missing? Which made the biggest impact on you?

After I made that post, I made a serendipitous find. A velveteen rabbit pendant! Ohmygoshohmygosh I had to have it. So I bought it.

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It’s perfect, and I’m wearing it right now. It’s such a sweet little reminder of the joys and sorrows of life and love and belonging. What it means to age gracefully in the company of loved ones. A reminder to embrace our “flaws” and appreciate them for demonstrating the character we’ve earned through the struggles and joys and myriad experiences of life. Embrace them. They’re visual reminders, signposts, of what made us who we are, in the end.

As for The Velveteen Rabbit, you may read the story here. But I encourage you to purchase your own copy, particularly if there are any children in your life that need to be introduced to it. My copy was stolen long ago. One of these days, I’m gonna buy a supernice one. Just for me. Because. Well because maybe I deserve it.

The Veggie Patch

I’ve never been a gardener, unless the kind I am in my imagination counts. Yeah…didn’t think so. I’ve always wanted to be, but I’m easily intimidated by new and (seemingly) complex ventures. Fear of failure? Check. Fear of the unknown? Check. Fear of success? Check. Fear of fear? Check. Fear of judgment and ridicule? Check. Fear of attention? Check. Fear of memories invoked? Check. Whatever. You get the idea.

I’ve always wanted to garden. Over the years, I’ve collected a handful of ideas. A handful of books. A handful of implements. A handful of dead plants. An even smaller handful of living plants.

My mamaw was a gardener. It was a real passion for her. She was mostly a flower gardener, and she was an expert with roses. She kept quite a variety of flowers, and she had no small amount of herbs. She was a container and raised bed gardener, and my how green was her thumb. She had the touch, the intuition, the love. It was a joy to see the fruits of her labors. Speaking of fruits, she also had fig trees and plum trees and one lone peach tree. One of the things that delighted me most was how she actually took pleasure in sharing the fruit with birds. She didn’t find it frustrating or maddening when she found eaten fruit decaying on the soft ground beneath her trees. Now she would get angry if she found an otherwise perfect piece with one or two peck-holes in it. That would set her right off, the nerve of those arrogant, thoughtless birds to so selfishly ruin fruit and leave it there to rot. If she could have gotten her hands on one of those little assholes, I don’t believe anyone would have accused her of being the bird lover that she was.

Sigh. I miss her.

This summer, I finally took the plunge and began my first attempt at a raised bed garden – a fall garden. I have a few potted plants on my back deck, but this was to be the real deal. And I had the grand idea of trying veggies. The thing is, I’m not even much of a veggie eater. I can be quite veggie averse, actually. But I finally said, to hell with your analysis paralysis. To hell with your fear of everything. To hell with your apathy. Let’s do this thing.

It started off well. And perhaps I’ll give you a play by play soon. I have some lovely photos of the patch in various stages – from laying out the timbers and filling it with dirt and shit and blocking it out, to my first sprouts and squirrel-dug holes and subsequent attempts to set the taste buds of those cute furry little bastards on fire with cayenne pepper.

Unfortunately, through what I suspect is a combination of things, the garden is about half-dead now. This has been our hottest summer on record. And our driest. And it was impossible to keep the soil watered enough. I also had (have) some sort of bug infestation. I don’t know what they are. I need to figure that shit out. But they’re definitely killing some of the plants that did survive. I’ve also become lazy and ceased daily removal of the copious amounts of pine straw that falls from the tree in my back yard.

Here’s what the poor thing looks like now:

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Pitiful, right? The super healthy ivy-looking thingies are sweet potatoes. The pitiful stalks front and center are what’s left of bush green beans. You can also see dead and dying peas, more dead and dying green beans and regular potato vines. Oh. And the green onions, too. They looked amazing, less so now. Are they ready to harvest? Fucked if I know. I’m still learning. Oh and that was my attempt at okra in the pots. Heh.

I lost three pumpkins. Well, one never sprouted. I lost two pumpkins. I lost two butternut squash plants. (I planted four more seeds yesterday evening. It’s probably too late, but I’m gonna try.) Uhm. What else. Oh! I may yet have a few carrots, radishes and maybe even kale and mesclun. The kale and mesclun have been struggling from the start, but they’re finally starting to show signs of growth.

Behold the radish, showing off his flamboyant stalk and struggling to survive.
Behold the radish, showing off his flamboyant stalk and struggling to survive. And oh my God, I swear to fuck those aren’t teeth in the soil behind him.

So we’ll see. I’m disappointed but proud of myself for remaining optimistic and not allowing myself to beat myself up. This is new to me. I’m learning. I’ve certainly made mistakes. And there were problems this summer that have stricken every small time gardener I know at work. So I’ll keep at it, see what happens with what’s left. And hell, I’ll start planning a spring garden, too.

Is it too late to plant garlic now? That’s supposed to be easy. And it’s one of the few things I do like. Maybe I can put some in one of the empty squares and just see what happens!

Oh gosh, the gnomes! The gnomes totally deserve their own post. But for now, here’s a sample:

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That’s Gnorman. Gnorman Gnomkowsky, guarding a much healthier garden in its early days. Hi Gnorman!