Crawford Street Creepiness

Photo by matthewthecoolguy.

Since it’s Halloween, I thought I’d tell you about the creepiest thing(s) that’s ever happened to me. You would think I’d have lots of creepy stories, having grown up in a house that was built in the 1880’s, in a very small, historic town. Perhaps surprisingly, nothing much spooky ever really happened in that house. A couple weird things, but nothing that actually scared me. Maybe that’s a topic for another post.

During the summer of 2013, I moved out of an apartment and into a house, so Birdy could once again have her own back yard. The house was tiny — not much more than 700 sqft — but it had a nice-sized, fenced back yard with good trees, a second bedroom I could use as a craft/sewing room, a storage room plus attic space, and I figured, “How much space does one person really need?” It was built in the 1940’s — a post-war, cookie cutter, white box of a thing. I liked the vintage character and the hardwood floors.

There was trouble from the start.

A month or so after moving in, I got very sick. Sicker than I had been since I could even remember. High fever, chills, body aches, vomiting, sore throat. I was so weak, I could barely walk. My whole body just hurt. I laid in bed for days, thinking periodically, “I am going to have to get up and at least get something to drink so I don’t get dehydrated.” Then I piled my bedside table with bottles of water and Gatorade so I wouldn’t have to get out of bed. I was too weak to drive myself to the doctor’s office, and I kept thinking I would feel better the next day. My friend Camille* came over to check on me a couple times and made me take some essential oil capsules she’d made for me. When I finally made it to the doctor, he said it was flu, strep throat and walking pneumonia. Okay, no wonder I felt so bad. You’re probably thinking, “What does that have to do with the house?” Maybe nothing. Maybe it was just a coincidence. Or, maybe not.

About a month later, the same friend who had brought me the essential oil capsules went through a bitter divorce and needed a place to stay temporarily. So Camille and her cat, Squirt, moved into my second bedroom for a few months while she made preparations for moving to Australia. Camille is a small-statured person, but she is no glass flower. She grew up on hundreds of acres and knows how to hunt and shoot. She’s fiercely independent, strongly principled, and she can run in high heels.

A few weeks after Camille and Squirt moved in, I was at Robbie’s apartment one night. Around 10:00 pm, my cell phone rang. It was Camille. She said, “I think someone just tried to break into the house.”

“What?!” I said. “Are you okay? What happened?”

“I was in my bedroom, and all of a sudden, I heard this noise, like someone was holding the front door knob and violently shaking it in the frame. Birdy went into straight attack-mode, barking and growling, snarling, teeth bared, scratching at the door. I’ve never, ever seen her act like that. I grabbed my pistol and went to look out the peep hole, but I didn’t see anything. So I looked out the front window, and I didn’t see anyone in the yard, or walking down the street, or running away.”

I said, “That’s really strange. Maybe someone was going to break in and decided to see if the door was unlocked first?”

“Yeah, maybe,” she said. “But then why didn’t I see anyone outside? And why would they shake the door like that if they were just trying the lock?”

“I don’t know. Did you call the police?”

“Nah, they wouldn’t be able to do anything. No one actually broke in, and I didn’t even see a person to be able to give a description.”

I said, “Do you want me to come home? Are you scared to be there by yourself?”

“No, it’s okay,” she said. “The door’s locked, I’ve got my gun, and I’ve got Birdy Bodyguard on high alert. I’ll call you if something else happens.”

The next day, I filed a police report, thinking if someone was running around the neighborhood trying doors or breaking in, they might want to know about it and do some additional patroling or something. The officer’s response was, “Why didn’t y’all call the police when it happened? Why’d you wait until the next day?” I said, “Well, I wasn’t home, and my roommate didn’t see anyone, so she didn’t feel she was in any immediate danger.”

The officer said, “And you don’t think maybe it was just the wind?”

“It’s an old house, it has its creaks and cracks. But my roommate is a pretty tough cookie — she knows how to shoot, and she doesn’t scare easily. She definitely believed the noise was caused by a person shaking the door.”

“Okay,” he said. “We’ll assign some additional patrol in that neighborhood. It’s good to know in case anyone else over there starts having problems.”

The door shaking never happened again, but Camille did mention hearing things while she was home alone, like the back door opening and closing, when she knew I was at work, and the door was always locked. Or footsteps overhead in the attic.

A few months later, just before Camille moved to Australia, Robbie moved out of his apartment and into my house. Only a few weeks after moving in, Robbie got very sick. He laid on the couch with a high fever, his hair damp with sweat. It was possibly the only time he has ever missed watching an Alabama football game. It was the sickest he had been at least since I had known him, which at that time was over two years. And it was the sickest he could remember being for longer than that. Once he finally went to the doctor, they diagnosed him with the flu, strep throat, and walking pneumonia — the exact same diagnosis I had received just a few months earlier, when I was the house’s newest resident.

After that, we started hearing things regularly. Tapping on walls. Movement in the storage room. The lamp in the living room would go off by itself, and when someone reached over to turn the switch, it would come back on. One Saturday morning, we had slept late and were laying in bed, fully awake and about to get up, when we heard something sprint across the attic. Loud, heavy steps, like a person on two legs running hard. The house was drafty and poorly insulated, and it wouldn’t have surprised me if a squirrel had gotten into the attic through some small hole. But that was definitely not a noise a creature that small would produce.

One night, Robbie’s friend Roger stopped by to say hello and catch up. Robbie walked Roger to his car as he was about to leave. They stood in the driveway chatting for a little while longer. Roger told Robbie, “I better let you get back inside before Maegan gets mad at you for being out here so long! She’s looking for you.” He pointed at the living room window, where they could clearly see the shadow of a figure pulling a couple blinds apart to peep out.

A little while later, Robbie came back inside and said, “Sorry I was out there so long. You’re not mad are you? We saw you looking out the window.”

“What are you talking about?” I said. “I’ve been in bed since you walked outside.”

A short time later, strange things also began to happen around the neighborhood.

Our next-door neighbor, who was middle-aged and in fine health, died very suddenly after a bout with — you guessed it — pneumonia. Others around us seemed affected by something negative in the air. We witnessed an angry boyfriend-girlfriend argument happening across the street. A family had moved in on the other side of us, into the house on the corner — mom, dad, son, son’s girlfriend, and their infant son/grandson. They had frequent loud arguments and physical altercations that were usually drug-and-alcohol related. Once, Robbie went over to retrieve a tool he had loaned to them, and found the baby in its stroller, alone on the front porch. They police got to know our street very well in a few short months.

That family had constant dark, supernatural experiences in the house. Robbie is the never-met-a-stranger type of guy, and he had spent some time talking to them all and had heard their stories about feeling a negative presence, doors opening and closing, seeing a shadowy figure darting around. Something wasn’t right there. He went over there one night at the grandmother’s request, and he felt it and saw the shadow figure. He left quickly and said he felt like something was chasing him out of there and kept chasing until he got to our property line, then dropped back.

We started to wonder if maybe it wasn’t our house that had the problems, but that something on the corner was affecting not only the house, but also the general physical area. At the corner was a dried-up creek that came from across the other street and wound around behind our house as well, in some very overgrown and spooky woods.

One night I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of children laughing, flute music, and what sounded like someone tapping sticks together. It sounded like it was coming from the space in between our house and the corner house. One of our bedroom windows faced that area. I got out of bed and looked out the window. Nothing.

The next-door neighbor who died from pneumonia left behind a wife and a teenage son with a developmental disability named Ryan. Ryan was beloved by the whole neighborhood. He loved to garden and do yard work for everyone and preferred to get paid with twenty one-dollar bills instead of one twenty because it made him feel like he had more money if there were more pieces of paper. He played the drums in the band at their church and loved playing (and talking about) music. He was a huge Beatles fan, and we gave him a t-shirt for his birthday of the famous Abbey Road album cover photo. He was more excited about that t-shirt than the chocolate cake his mom bought. And he loooooooved chocolate.

When Ryan graduated from high school, our neighbor on the other side of them hosted a graduation party for him, and the whole neighborhood was invited. The whole neighborhood, with the exception of the new family on the corner with all the problems. They had a live band, which Ryan was super excited about, and lots of barbecue. I was sitting in the beautiful back yard garden (the host was a Japanese maple farmer), talking to Ryan about music and what he wanted to do now that he was a big fancy high school grad, when Robbie came barreling out the back door and said, “You need to get in here. It’s the baby.”

I ran inside and saw a group of people in the living room standing around the host, who was performing CPR on the baby from the corner house. The baby was gray. The host’s roommate was on the phone with 911. The baby’s father, Jason, had found the baby not breathing and ran with him up the street to the party because no one was at home — the whole street was there. Jason paced around, frantic, wailing, sobbing. The rest of the famiy arrived around the same time as the ambulance.

Realizing there was nothing we could do, and not wanting to be in the way, we walked back over to our house. The police came around questioning everyone who had been at the party. We told them what Jason had told us. He said the baby was sleeping on the couch, and his mother was in the room. He was in the bedroom, and his girlfriend was taking a shower. His mother called out to him that the baby didn’t look like it was breathing. He tried CPR and then ran with the baby up the street to get help. A few days later we learned that the baby had died. They determined that it was SIDS.

We did a lot of research trying to determine if there was possibly an Indian burial ground in the area but found nothing conclusive. We learned that Creek Indians (the tribe native to this area) established their communities on the banks of creeks, traditionally buried their dead underneath their dwellings, and held a Green Corn celebration around that time of year that might explain the strange noises I heard outside in the middle of the night.

We consulted a couple different people with knowledge and experience in the supernatural. We were given a concoction of herbs to put around the house that was supposed to ward off certain negative influences. We had readings in which we were told there was a dark spirit attached to the corner and to the creek that was affecting the entire area and that we should try to limit our interaction with the family who lived there, especially that we should not go into that house or allow any of them into ours, to stay away from the creek. We were told that there was also a protective spirit with us who would manifest physically if needed, and that we would understand when or if that happened.

One day, no one was at home at the house on the corner. I was at work. Robbie texted me a photo.

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This dog that no one had seen before had appeared on the corner. It laid down in the grass across the street from the house, across from the creek. It crossed the street into the yard of the house (shown in the photo). It laid in that yard for a while. It investigated the yard and the woods behind and beside it. It walked up and down the street around the house, crossed over and went down into the wooded ravine where a portion of the creek bed ran (that’s the dark area in the photo).

Later, we saw Jason from next door at the gas station, and he said a big dog he’d never seen before had chased him on his bicycle. That he couldn’t get home for a while because the dog was in between him and the house.

None of us ever saw that dog before or since.

So, by this point, we had decided to sublease the house and move out. We found a great place on the other side of town, found a subleaser very quickly, and were happy to be getting away from all the negative vibes and bad juju. The day we moved to the new house, we had to make several trips back and forth across town because we didn’t want to rent a moving truck. It was an all-day affair, even with the three friends who volunteered to help, and by the time we had moved all the boxes over and were finishing up cleaning the empty house, it was dark out.

As Robbie was loading up the cleaning supplies, and we were ready to leave for the last time, it occured to me that my box of camping supplies was in the attic. It was the only thing I ever stored up there, because it wouldn’t be affected by temperature or moisture. Robbie said he would go up and get it, even though he hated going up there, and the attic ladder was a little rickety, and he was always afraid it would break on him. “It’s right at the top of the stairs,” I said. “You’ll be fine.” I went to the car and waited for him.

A few minutes later, Robbie came flying out the front door with the box, threw it in the car, jumped in, and said, “We have to get out of here right now. Go! Go!” I sped off towards the new house with Robbie practically hyperventilating beside me. I kept saying, “What’s wrong? What is it?” He couldn’t even speak. He was just like, “Ohmygodohmygodohmygod!”

Once we were safely at the new house, and everyone was a little calmer, I said, “Okay, what freaked you out?”

He said, “I went up to get that box, and I walked to the back part of the attic just to check and make sure we weren’t leaving anything else up there. There were pieces of carpet remnants on the floor, pieces of cardboard with stuff written on it that was not in any language I’m familiar with, and above that was an old-ass, dirty babydoll hanging upside down from a cord. I am not setting foot in that place, ever, ever again.”

The only time I’ve been back there was to clean after the subleasers moved out last month. The landlord’s son was there doing some repairs and yard work, but he left soon after I arrived. I was alone, cleaning in the kitchen. I heard tapping on the ceiling. And I left without finishing.

*Not her real name.

Cheap Craft Projects! Bookshelf Makeover

bookshelf

I found this little white bookshelf on Craigslist for $8 (talked her down to $5)! it was the perfect size to fit into an empty space in the guest bedroom of our new house, but a little too plain on its own. So, I was off to Walmart to procure some supplies to spruce it up a little!

I’ve seen a lot of projects online where people use scrapbook paper or fabric to cover the inside of bookcases and have always wanted to try that. Usually it is decoupaged, but I don’t really have any experience with the Modge Podge, and I am always looking for an easier way to do any kind of project, as long as it doesn’t affect the results.

I was looking for fabric in a color that would coordinate with the Alabama football theme that Robbie wanted for the new guest room. Even though I’m an Auburn fan, and our house is completely divided, I consented to this because it’s the closest thing he has to a man-cave, and also because his mother is our primary overnight guest, and she is just as big of an Alabama fan as he is.

Trust me, I’m not exactly *thrilled* about having a football-themed room, but I figured if I could take control of the decorating, it will at least turn out tastefully. But I’m also trying to choose things Robbie will like, and things that are neither too masculine- or feminine-looking. It’s so hard trying to make everyone happy, especially when it comes to decorating!

For those of you who are not familiar with SEC football, The University of Alabama’s colors are crimson, white, black, and gray. I found this fabric at Walmart. It has varying shades of gray with a white background. The pattern is a little modern, and sort of trippy. I knew Robbie would approve of that, because for some reason he is drawn to psychedelic fabric patterns that look like an acid trip.

The bookshelf is only about 2′ x 3′, and two fat quarters were all the fabric I needed for the back. (A fat quarter is a pre-cut, pre-packaged 1/4 of a yard.) I considered using fabric glue or hot glue to attach it, but I dislike the messiness of both and was afraid it would be hard to get it straight and flat. So I bought some permanent fabric adhesive tape, which is sold in the sewing supplies section. It comes in a small roll, and there are different brands and sizes. Look for something like this:

tape

I laid out both pieces of fabric flat, with the right side down, and taped along each edge of the wrong side. This tape is used like any double-sided tape you might use for paper crafts, where the tape is covered by a waxy strip that you peel away after laying the tape where you want it. But this stuff is much heavier-duty and thicker. And stickier. It helps to press the tape down firmly on whatever it is being applied to, before peeling away the paper strip. If you don’t, sometimes the sticky part comes back up with the paper strip.

Once I had all my tape pieces applied to the first piece of fabric, I laid the bookshelf down flat on its back. I removed the paper strip from only one edge of the fabric, so I could make sure each edge was centered and the fabric was pulled tight without the rest of it sticking down in the wrong spot.

The fabric was about an inch too short in width to cover the entire back of the bookshelf, so I eyeballed it to make sure it was centered and flush with the top edge of the inside back. After pressing down the one taped edge I had removed the backing from, I repeated this process on the other three edges one at a time, carefully pulling the fabric tight and smoothing it while pressing down on the adhesive strip.

With the other piece of fabric, I did the same thing, only starting from the bottom edge. I really could have measured the empty spot and cut the second piece of fabric to exactly match that space. But that was too much trouble, so I just overlapped it in the middle. Since the fabric has a busy pattern, and there will be shelves (and things on the shelves) in front of it, I didn’t figure it would be that noticeable. I just had to make sure that the pattern matched up in the overlapped area, which wasn’t too hard because it wasn’t that complicated of a pattern.

That was it! Covering only the back and not the sides meant that I didn’t have to worry about where the shelf brackets were. I did that on purpose because I didn’t want to measure and cut holes for them in the side fabric. I think it looks just fine with only the back covered.

After reattaching the shelves, I thought it needed just a little something else, so I decided to do a trim. I purchased a pack of 200 silver thumbtacks and used them to create this faux nail-head trim on the front edges of each shelf, and the top and bottom edges of the bookshelf’s frame.

tacks

I just eyeballed the spacing and used a hammer to tap them in securely. So they are not all perfectly spaced or lined up, and the perfectionist and symmetry-lover in me is somewhat bothered by that, but I am trying to accept that it looks pretty good despite not being completely perfect. I think it would also look cool without space in between the “nail heads,” so if you want to eliminate the space in yours and have a more solid-line effect, you will need more than 200 thumbtacks, so purchase the next size up. I didn’t have many left over.

So that was it! And now I have a cute little bookshelf for the guest room! I set those family photos on top just because I didn’t have another place for them, but they may not stay there. And I haven’t really decided if I’ll put books or knick-knacks on it yet. Maybe both. I want to keep it kinda sparsely filled so the fabric still shows.

Supplies:
Thrifted bookshelf from Craigslist: $5.00
2 fat quarters of fabric: $0.97 each
Permanent adhesive fabric tape: $3.97
200 silver thumbtacks: $1.88

Grand total: Approximately $15.00 for a new piece of custom furniture, with only about an hour’s worth of work.

Mimi is coming today for Thanksgiving, so I am super excited that she gets to try out the new guest room for the first time! I think it looks really cozy and cute, and I’ll do another post with more pictures of the other decorations soon.

Life is Weird

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It’s been so long since I’ve updated my blog, I don’t even know how to navigate the new and improved WordPress dashboard. I’ve literally been so consumed with living in each moment for the last three years or so that I have neglected my online diary and left a lot of things forgotten. After reading back through my blog from beginning to end over the last few days, I can say the best thing about having it is all the things I documented that I have by now forgotten about because I don’t retain things. I don’t know why this is. I first became aware of this tendency my junior year of college.

My friend Mandy, who was my best friend in high school that ended up at the same college as me eventually (after we both transferred in) got a crazy idea when I took a basic video production class that allowed me to have a very large, clunky video camera in my possession for the semester. We went back home and videotaped our old stomping grounds and common driving routes. We wandered around the dorm we both lived in, chatting with people on camera about nothing. A few years afterwards, I watched the video and literally had no memory of experiencing anything we captured.

We took the camera with us on spring break to Fort Lauderdale, FL and filmed our group of friends on vacation. Doing nothing special. Blow-drying our hair to get ready to go out to dinner at a cool restaurant on A1A Beachfront Avenue. Preparing for a day on the beach, to go para-sailing, singing along to Ricky Martin videos on MTV. Capturing the view from our penthouse suite overlooking the ocean, secured on the cheap due to Mandy’s work-study job on campus. The dining hall was run by Sodexho, which was owned by Marriott. As a dining hall employee, she was entitled to the corporate perks available to any Marriott employee. So a group of us went to Florida for a week and stayed in a luxury suite on the beach with roof-top pools, all for something like $50 per person. Probably the nicest hotel suite I’ve ever stayed in. And I was only 20. I tried my fake ID at a little beach-side bar down the road — the same one that worked like a charm back home. The server laughed.

I only remember these things because we recorded them, and I watched them multiple times later on. Going back and looking at my blog, I have no memory of so much of my life that I obviously felt important enough to document in some way. I’m so glad I did, because there is a lot of cool shit I forgot about.

Life has changed a lot for me since moving to Alabama. The “new economy” is a different animal, fraught with minimal opportunity and low wages. It took me a couple years, but after working in a restaurant for much longer than desired, I finally found another professional job that is semi-related to my past work experience. Even though I now make less money than I did starting out with no experience ten years ago. Apparently, that is the current state of the economy, and it’s not changing any time soon.

I used to run the marketing department of one of the largest and most successful real estate companies in my city. Now, I work for a property management company in the leasing office of an apartment home community. My immediate supervisor is 12 years younger than I am. I am only a part-time employee, with no paid time off and benefits so crappy I opted for the Affordable Care Act’s offerings instead. But I also work on commission, without which I would not be able to afford all of my living expenses. Things are manageable. There is no room for emergencies or errors or savings.

Sadly, my many years of experience and knowledge and education do not mean anything and are hardly recognized. These days, it’s all about who will do the work of three people for the least amount of money. Skills are actually a drawback now. Skills and experience mean you think you deserve more money, but your company is perfectly willing to hire someone with no skills or experience as long as they will work for less pay/hours/benefits. So you take what you can get, and you just accept the years of setback and get up when your alarm goes off.

But I am doing okay. I am healthy and happy. I have good people in my life. I have someone I love and who loves me. These last two or three years have been some of the most difficult in my life. But I have learned a lot about myself and about other people. And I am very fortunate to have a house with a fenced back yard for the dogs, a boyfriend who tells and shows me every day that he loves me, friends I enjoy spending time with, a boss who is fair and enjoyable to work with, a supportive family.

This is a catching up post, but I promise the future ones will be more positive and hilarious! I’ve got so much to tell you guys.

The Question of Independence

In the first verse of the national anthem, which is the only one we ever sing, these are the last two lines:

“Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

It never occurred to me until this year that we usually stop there, with a question mark. The music at the end of the verses sounds very final and triumphant, and not at all questioning. Maybe that’s because Francis Scott Key wrote a patriotic hymn about a battle and set it to the tune of a popular British drinking song. Fun fact: “The Star-Spangled Banner” was only made the national anthem by congressional resolution in 1931. Before that we used “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” which I can remember having to learn in elementary school, and “Hail, Columbia,” which sounds way more anthem-like and is now used as the Vice President’s official entrance, like “Hail to the Chief” for the President.

But back to that question mark. The question in the song is regarding the outcome of the Battle of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812 — have we won? Does our flag still wave? Today, it seems the question mark has taken on a whole new meaning, when thinking about our country’s place in the world and who we want to be as her citizens. Now, the question seems to (or maybe ought to) be, “Are we really all that brave or all that free?”

In the “home of the brave,” we collectively put actual brave men and women in harm’s way because we’re greedy. Most people are too lazy to recycle. The majority of Americans do not own hybrid vehicles or residential solar panels, myself included because I can’t afford to, because I haven’t had a job in nine months, but that’s another rant altogether. Alternative energy sources are not exactly highly touted by corporate honchos who stand to lose money when their technology is replaced. I don’t care what you say about major petroleum companies’ spun magazine ads of wildflower meadows and ethereally-narrated dream-scape television commercials, where they showcase the best (the one? lol) engineer they’ve put on the job of eco-do-gooding. Show me a year without an oil spill and I might start to give half a crap. As my Maw Maw would say, these are people with “more money than sense.”

So, we’re okay with sending people off to be killed in the name of some vague Medusa-headed terror cabal whose snake tendrils grow back as quickly as they are lopped, when we all know deep down that if it weren’t for the oil, we would not still be occupying the region. To me, this is not brave. This is greed, laziness, ignorant acceptance. Money and convenience before lives.

What about the “land of the free?” “We” have some freedoms. But “we” are not entirely free. Not until all the laws apply to all people equally. Not until the Patriot Act is repealed. Not until the Supreme Court stops making unconstitutional rulings like May’s Kentucky vs. King. Not until our Presidents stop signing executive orders giving themselves powers that our system of checks and balances expressly forbids. Not until you can lobby congress or run for office (realistically, people) without a cent to your name and still be taken seriously. As Georgiana Cavendish, former Duchess of Devonshire once remarked, “One is either free, or one is not. The concept of freedom is an absolute. After all, one cannot be moderately dead, or moderately loved, or moderately free. It must always remain a matter of either-or.”

I wish every year that people would use Independence Day as a time to reflect on where we are, where we are going, where we want to be, as a people. Instead I think it ends up being rote enthusiasm for a system we hate, because it’s tradition, and because we *think* we’ll always be on top, as if it’s our rightful place. I wonder what the first 4th of July will be like after the economy completely collapses (if that happens). Thoughts?

Time to Move All Our Bad Habits Outside

I feel like I’ve really been neglecting my blog lately. I have a lot of updates, but I never remember to blog about stuff anymore. I know hardly anyone reads this anyway, and so it serves as more of a diary with pictures for my own purposes. But even diaries need updating now and then.

1. I got my hair cut! For normal people, this is not a big deal, but when you are like me, and you don’t pay attention to things like hair, this is huge. I got five inches chopped off and a new style. The new style is nothing major — just sort of an update with a side part and long layers — but I feel like a new person. My standard routine for the past many years has been getting three inches cut off the bottom when it got long enough to get stuck in my armpits. Which is annoying. But I now look like I am actually sort of trying to look hip and decent, which is cool. LOL! To be honest, I look more like I did in high school than I have since 1996. But getting carded regularly for cigarettes at my current unmentionable age has convinced me this is, in fact, awesome. Here is a pic:

2. Camping awesomeness. We went camping a few weeks ago right when it started to be warm and springy, with a group of friends in Tuskegee, which I always try to refer to as “Tuckasegee” until someonei reminds me that’s in North Carolina. Weird random fact: Lionel Richie was born in Tuskegee. I’m not sure what other claims to fame it has except that there is a pretty cool national forest there, and it’s only about 20 minutes from here. Every schoolkid growing up in North Carolina learns that the state has three distinct regions: mountains, piedmont, and coastal. Here in Alabama, there are four or five, and all I know so far is that we live in the river region, although learning more about Alabama geography has definitely been on my to-do list for some time now. Apparently it’s called that because there are a lot of rivers here. If you can imagine that logic. The place we went camping in Tuskegee National Forest was by a river, although I have no idea which one. We went with a group of friends to a secluded spot they love and refer to as “Rock Beach” although it doesn’t officially have a name, and the road you take off the main highway to get close to it has no name either, and you just have to know to look for it in the dip in the four-lane, off to the side. This is my kind of camping. The beach is by one of the lower parts of the river with a wide pebble shore, backed by pine forest for about a mile in between the river and the nearest road. But it’s an easy hike in, with just a few hills and valleys and nothing too strenuous. A good thing, since we were carrying gallons of mojitos in Sprite bottles along with us. It will definitely be a place I go back to repeatedly, especially when it gets so hot this summer. Which reminds me, I need to get the rattlesnake vaccine. And no, I didn’t know there was such a thing either until I moved here and started hanging out with outdoorsy people. Evidently, it is only minimally effective — maybe like 4 out of 10 people bitten still die — but better safe than sorry, right?

“Rock Beach.”

All our tents.

Friends by the camp fire.

3. Birdy discovered she can swim!  There is a pretty awesome city park just down the street from us where I take Birdy to hike around. This park has a small lake, which is home to two very pretty mallard ducks. I have named them Ethel and Frances, because they are always together, and they always appear to be chatting as they skim around the lake side by side. Birdy has always been a big fan of creeks, where she enjoys plopping her belly down and just sitting in the cool water while her tail floats. And she has been to the beach once, where she discovered the joys of running on the sand but was a little frightened and perplexed by the water trying to chase her. But I had never seen her try to swim before, until she spied Ethel and Frances one day in the lake at the park, and plunged in to chase them halfway across it. Alas, even slowpoke ducks are still too fast for Birdy to catch them while swimming. So she ends up trailing about two feet behind them and following them around in figure-eights. They don’t seem to pay much attention to her. On days when we don’t see Ethel and Frances, I throw big sticks in the lake from a little sandy beach. While Bird won’t dive in after the sticks, she will wade in carefully and then swim out to retrieve them for me, sometimes returning with bigger ones than what I tossed in. Evidently this is yet another way she has adopted some of my personality traits.

Birdy with Ethel and Frances.

4. My first Deep South music festival!  Last weekend, we drove about 20 minutes away, out to Waverly (population 184) for the 280 Boogie music festival, an annual event held to commemorate the celebration that occurred when the state decided NOT to send the big highway straight through the middle of a tiny little town. This year was the 11th annual Boogie, and it was well worth the ten bucks we paid to spend the day there. (This was also the first year they’ve ever charged admission, so I heard a lot of hemming and hawing about that from people who had been before.) For ten bucks, we spent a glorious spring day, warm and breezy, sitting on a blanket under enormous black walnut trees, drinking mojitos, eating crawfish and barbecue, and listening to several really good bands while chatting with our friends. I wouldn’t really call it a hippie festival, although there were some people wearing slightly hippie-ish clothing there. It was a pretty good cross-section of the population, I think. All ages, all walks of life. At one point, my friend wandered off in search of lunch, and came back with a new pottery coffee mug for me (I collect them) and Nag Champa soap, which I had been looking for recently without his knowledge. Afterward we headed over to Sean and Kalli’s house for more socializing and a cook-out.

The music stage at the Old 280 Boogie.

Aging Family Ties

Lately I’ve been pretty consumed by driving back and forth from Winston to Rutherfordton (and a few trips to Auburn in between). I’ve been cleaning out my grandmother’s house for my mom, because my grandmother has gone into a nursing home and will never live there  again. My parents own the house because of legal arrangements made before my grandfather died 11 years ago.

So, the nursing home arrangement has resulted in a family response that is almost like dealing with a death in the family. Simply because my grandmother’s life in that house is over now, and now my parents are left with the reality of processing the remnants physically. And its fate remains undetermined at this point, although we, as a family, bat around a lot of ideas — renting, selling, remodeling, etc.

It’s been very hard on my mom, as it basically means the dissolution of her childhood home. She has cried a lot, seeing a lot of memories vanish out the door into a truck bound for Goodwill, rooms empty out, and her childhood swept clean. She is the first generation in her family to put anyone in a nursing home. When she was growing up, she never had to go through any type of situation like this, because when a great-grandparent or grandparent became infirm, they came to live with their children, in the family home. She grew up with multiple generations living in a house at a time, as did her parents and grandparents. I don’t know if it was because of a lack of facilities at those times, or a lack of money for paying for said facilities, or a deep-rooted idea that family was to care for family until their dying day in whatever way possible. Whichever reason, that’s just the way things were back then.

My parents married during a recessed economy much like the one we have now, and they lived with my grandparents for a time until they were able to purchase a house cheaply from my great-grandfather, Phin. Phin also lived in my grandparents’ house for the last years of his life, after my parents had married and had a child. He died when I was eight, still living with my grandparents. He never lived in a nursing home or facility. He never lost his mind, either.

There has been familial and other opposition to my mother’s decision to seek professional care for my grandmother. But there is no way either of them would have been able to tolerate living in the same house at this point. And what we’ve all seen since she has moved is that she is much better off in terms of personal safety. Before, when she lived alone, she fell twice, and was not able to take care of normal household maintenance in the way she needed to. Since moving, she’s fallen once and reluctantly uses a walker now. She also spends most days staring out the window in her room, going to bed at 2:00 pm, and declining to participate in any of the social activities provided by the home where she lives now.

It’s not a typical nursing home. It doesn’t smell of urine and despondency. It’s more active than most, more upbeat. There is a live-in dog who makes the rounds visiting and getting love. He is a brindle boxer named Sam. My grandmother calls him Sam-Bo. She tries to introduce us to him every time we visit as if we’ve never seen him before. And she calls to her neighbors passing in the hall, as if this is the first visit, the first opportunity to show off her family. Every visit is like the first visit. Her mind doesn’t retain recent events. She lives internally. She often mentions people who died before I was born, as if I ought to know them. She doesn’t care about making friends or taking part in Everybody Wins Bingo or Banana Split Night or painting Christmas stockings. She doesn’t have Alzheimer’s, as far as anyone can tell. Just dementia. But she has forgotten a lot. And it makes me wonder if that is just what happens.

I keep scrapbooks. I save movie ticket stubs, concert programs, pictures, thank you notes, invitations even to events I don’t attend, any kind of physical reminder of the life I have lived. I do this mainly because I envision a time when I will be in a place like where my grandmother lives now, when I will want to reflect on younger, happier times. The times when I was able to go and do and live. I imagine wanting to pore over those albums, touching ticket stubs and remembering wonderful times I had when I was young, boys I kissed, and trips I took. But my grandmother has no desire for those things, because they are happening in her mind all the time, and she doesn’t need the physical reminders. It’s as if, with time, she regresses farther into the past. I’m not sure this is a bad thing. To want to reflect on young, vibrant years. I imagine I will do the same, while fingering my scrapbooks.

What’s concerning about it is her tendency to discard recent years and recent memories for old ones. Her focus on the distant past has clouded her memory of the recent past. She didn’t know one of my cousins at Christmas Eve until after two explanations. This person married into my family when I was nine. But to my grandmother’s physiology, that’s too recent to merit memory cells. She has introduced me to my own cousins I’ve known since birth, as if we were new acquaintances. She has, at least once, questioned my mother’s explanation of how the two of them are related. How does the brain  become so clouded that someone wouldn’t recognize their own child? How is this evolutionarily beneficial? Is it the brain’s method of severing ties to earthly concerns as a person nears death? Is it allowing them to let go, like the first step in the exit-journey, when they have all but forgotten what ties they still have to an earthly existence? Is it the blessing of old age? Because younger people with terminal illness don’t receive the same “luxury.” They know who is at their bedside, and who they are leaving behind.

What concerns me most is that I don’t know which is better. The situation has made my family have a lot of conversations about death and end-of-life experiences. I know now that both my parents would prefer to be cremated, and that they do not want extraordinary life-saving measures performed on them. Even if I don’t have power of attorney over such things yet, because both are still in good health, these are good things to know. Good things to talk about, however unlikely it seems that it will be relevant any time soon.

I know I want to be cremated, although I don’t think I expressed that to them. I’d like my ashes scattered into some body of water. Whether lake, ocean, or creek, it doesn’t matter to me. I feel equally at home at all of those places. But water is where I feel most naturally calm and peaceful. So if y’all don’t want me haunting your asses, you better dump my silt into some beautiful watery place for all eternity! LOL! I think my spirit would feel trapped if interred either bodily or ashily in one permanent spot.

I’m a wanderer, so I’m probably gonna wander between dimensions after death as much as possible. Don’t be surprised if I show up again on this side now and again. And if there is any way to communicate from the other side, you can bet I’m gonna be seeking out John Edward or whoever in hopes of getting a message across. You know how I am about imparting information.

With all the departed spirits who have connections to my grandmother’s house, the only ones I felt strongly while working there were my grandfather and great-grandfather. My great-grandfather, Phin — pretty sure he was looking over my shoulder while I was cleaning out his dresser in the bedroom he lived during the last years of his life. I found his old harmonica, some brass knuckles, and legal papers. Among other things. But I’ve never felt so plainly like someone was in the room with me, standing behind me, watching me. At one point, I said out loud, “Don’t worry, Grandpa, I’m not getting rid of anything good!” After that point, it eased.

I felt my grandfather more when going through household things, like a bottom shelf of tile and primer, or an old china cup full of dusty nails and screws, rather than his cherished belongings. Since he died 11 years ago, there wasn’t that much of his left, but I did save a bottle of his aftershave, which I think is no longer in production, and which is probably why my grandmother had kept it in his shaving cabinet for so many years. It is amazing how one whiff of something like that can absolutely flood your senses with memories that seem so much more concrete than what you had tried to hazily conjure after a length of time. I found one of his favorite belts with buckle that I’ve adopted as my own. A worn brown leather belt with a large brass buckle that reads, “Old truckers never die, they just get a new Peterbilt.” I’m wearing it now. 🙂 That, and his WWII dog tags are all I have from him. But I think of him every time I see a neatly kept red tip bush, or a particularly pretty bird hanging out near me or a hawk gliding overhead like it’s checking me out. He loved birds, particularly hawks. I saw a red-tailed hawk fly over the house the last time I was down there, surveying the domain. Maybe reassuring me that this is all perfectly okay. What is supposed to happen will happen. We are always exactly where we are meant to be in this moment.

Stress Management for the Unemployed

Being one of the millions of unemployed Americans really sucks. I have been trying to stay positive, even when I have to fend off negativity from other people about my own situation. Today for example, I applied for 27 jobs in 3 different states. And I have not lost hope yet, even though I’ve gotten exactly zero responses to all my applications. But apparently I am not dealing with it appropriately because I’m starting to have physical manifestations of my stress, even though I don’t really feel all that stressed most of the time. Some examples:

My hair is falling out. Like, more than usual. And I don’t think I am old enough to attribute it to aging.

I have no appetite, which is insanely weird for me. I can almost always eat, even if I can’t do anything else. But nothing is appetizing to me now. I’ve lost like ten pounds since I lost my job. This is a good thing, really. I should not be complaining, except for the fact that I enjoy eating, and now that pleasure is gone too.

I itch all over, and I’m breaking out with random itchy spots like bites but not.

My stomach hurts all the time.

I can’t sleep. Well, I can fall asleep with the help of Benadryl or alcohol, but I can’t stay asleep past 3 am. Usually, I wake up itching.

I’m having a really hard time regulating my body temperature. I can’t tell you the number of times a day I switch my thermostat from AC to Heat and back.

My immune system is staging a revolt, and my tonsils have been swollen for a month or more, and I am all sneezy. This could also be related to the fact that I live in a rental house that has mold issues. Sigh.

Even Birdy is having itch issues and is back on allergy medicine. Maybe she is having sympathy stress. Poor girl.

On a happier note, I figured out a way to make her react positively to my loud Auburn football game reactions instead of getting scared and hiding when I yell. I made her a game day shirt that she actually likes, to associate something positive with the event, and I tell her how beautiful she looks wearing it, and she gets all happy when I talk in that voice. And the accompanying treats help too. 🙂 She is the newest War Eagle!

Good Lyrics: Helplessly Hoping

Helplessly Hoping
by Crosby, Stills, Nash (and Young)

Helplessly hoping
Her harlequin hovers nearby
Awaiting a word
Gasping at glimpses
Of gentle true spirit
He runs, wishing he could fly
Only to trip at the sound of good-bye

Wordlessly watching
He waits by the window
And wonders
At the empty place inside
Heartlessly helping himself to her bad dreams
He worries
Did he hear a good-bye? Or even hello?

They are one person
They are two alone
They are three together
They are for each other

Stand by the stairway
You’ll see something
Certain to tell you confusion has its cost
Love isn’t lying
It’s loose in a lady who lingers
Saying she is lost
And choking on hello

They are one person
They are two alone
They are three together
They are for each other

Good Lyrics: Tracks of My Tears

Tracks of My Tears
by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
(One of my all-time favorite songs, which goes without saying if I’m posting it here.)

People say I’m the life of the party
Because I tell a joke or two
Although I might be laughing loud and hearty
Deep inside I’m blue

So take a good look at my face
You’ll see my smile looks out of place
If you look closer, it’s easy to trace
The tracks of my tears
I need you, need you

Since you left me if you see me with another girl
Seeming like I’m having fun
Although she may be cute
She’s just a substitute
Because you’re the permanent one

So take a good look at my face
You’ll see my smile looks out of place
If you look closer, it’s easy to trace
The tracks of my tears
I need you, need you

Outside I’m masquerading
Inside my hope is fading
Just a clown
Since you put me down
My smile is my make up
I wear since my break up with you

So take a good look at my face
You’ll see my smile looks out of place
If you look closer, it’s easy to trace
The tracks of my tears

Birthdays

birthday

It’s my birthday today! I’m not telling the number. This image of too many candles for the cake pretty much sums it up! Every year my parents call me very early in the morning. My dad always says, “Don’t worry. Age is just a number.” And my mom always says, “Well, it was about this time X number of years ago when we headed to the hospital.” I wasn’t actually born until like 16 hours later. And my mom, who was/is a naturalist hippie, had natural childbirth.

I can barely remove a splinter without a few shots of liquor. I once stepped on a rather large piece of broken glass and got it lodged in my big toe, and my boyfriend at the time, who had to come and pluck it out, thought I had been attacked, the way I screamed bloody murder. So, thanks for that, Mom, and everything else you’ve done to be a good parent. Actually, thanks Mom and Dad — I know it’s been a two-person job.

I have the blessing of many good friends who want to celebrate me tonight, so we’re all getting together for a cookout in this awesome, perfect October weather. I’m cooking for the party and listening to reggae on the radio…so I’ll sign off with some words I just heard from Jimmy Cliff.

“I’ve got many rivers to cross, and I merely survive because of my will ….”

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