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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Story of Al and the Bear

     A long time ago this place was busy and well populated. The roads linked the towns together in an unbroken chain of life and living. Now there are only traces of that time left. Homes and schools and churches. stores and mine buildings. The years have turned them all silvery gray. Broken windows and sagging doors have let in the sun, and the snow, and the small animals. From inside and outside, time has polished them until they lean, and slowly crumble and fall. Fallow fields have grown up to brush. Once lush orchards now feed only the deer and the coon. Bears amble where children once played.
     This story happened in that long ago time. There were bears here then, too, and Al had always wanted a bear of his own. He had already made pets of all the farm animals. Horses and cows and pigs and even chickens would do things for Al. Every one knows how uneducated chickens are, so that was saying something about this boy. He had a certain magic in him when it came to animals. Now he had heard about a bear in Calumet. The bear had gotten big and mean, and the man who owned him wanted some one to take him away.
      Al took some marshmallows, and he took his friend Leo. Leo was Als much younger brother, but they were long time pals. Al and Leo put the marshmallows in Als car and they drove off to Calumet. It was a long drive, then, in those early cars, on dirt roads. They drove through small towns, past farms and churches and schools and stores and gas stations and mine buildings. When they got to the place where the bear lived, it was a toss up over who was more excited, Leo or Al.
       Al knocked on the door and explained to the man that he was interested in the bear. The man grumbled and complained and whined as he took them out to see the bear. Leo was feeling sorry for the poor bear, to have to belong to such a wretched man. The man said he had raised the bear from a cub, but now he was so big and wicked that every one was afraid of him. The bear was lying in a forlorn black heap in the dusty disgusting dirt pile. His chain lay slack, and you would have thought you were looking at a bearskin rug. He was that limp and dejected.
       As soon as the man announced "there is the bear", the bear came to life. Bear raised his massive head and looked at them with his squinty little eyes. A low growl came from some where deep in his throat. "You can have 'im", said the man, "if you'll just get 'im away from here". Bear rose quickly to stand on his four feet. He was a huge bear! His eyes followed them, unblinking, angry eyes, and strange threats rolled out from his broad chest. His fur was matted and splashed with bare spots.
        Leo wondered what Al would do now. The bear was such a sorry, angry looking wretch. The bear had stretched his chain out tight. Leo and the man kept edging farther and farther out of his reach. Al kept walking with his usual, unhurried pace. His quiet, steady voice kept talking, a rambling, one sided dialog. He was telling bear that everything was going to be good again. Not that bear was believing. He lunged at his chain and snarled at Al.
         Al offered bear some marshmallows, still talking softly. Bear stopped growling and sniffed. probably he had never had marshmallows before. He hesitated. The calming voice of Al and the curious sweet small were getting the best of him. Al was able to walk around him and unfasten the chain from the bears tree.
        Leo and the man each held his breath as Al confidently walked along with the chain over his shoulder and the huge bear lumbering after him. Bear took quick looks around him, wary and tense, turning his head slowly from side to side, watching them with his angry little eyes.
        Still speaking in the same easy voice, Al told Leo to open the trunk of the car. As soon as Leo had it open, Al spilled the rest of the marshmallows in the trunk. Bear had found some thing good in these small white sweets. He climbed in after them. As he hunkered down to gobble up these, oh, so many goodies placed within his reach, Al threw in the chain and slammed down the trunk.
         There was complete silence and stillness for a moment. With a quick good bye and thank you, Al and Leo hopped in the car and were off for home with a spurt of gravel. Al was in a hurry, for theirs was not an ordinary cargo. They sped along with out saying much. Suddenly Al grinned, his eyes on the rear view mirrror. "Don't turn around, Leo, we have company," he said. Leo didn't need to turn around. He could feel and small the presence of their company.
         Poor bear had not liked the feeling of being shut up in the trunk and had pushed the back seat forward so that he had a little more room.. Now he seemed to enjoy his car ride, his stomach full of marshmallows. Well, Leo couldn't blame him, but he was still glad when they reached home and they could all pile out.
        It didn't take long for Al to work his magic touch of gentle friendship on bear. Al and bear soon were fast friends. Al cleaned him up and fed him and played with him. You would never have known him for the same sorry bear who had been back seat company all the way from Calumet. Bear and Al would wrestle and play rough, loving games.. Games that would leave Al scratched up and happy  and bear happy and fine loooking.
        The old farm is gone now. The mines are no longer working. The years have turned the houses, the schools, the churches, the stores a soft silvery gray. Sagging doors and broken windows have let in the rain and the snow and the small animals. Al is gone, and Leo. They had vagabond feet that carried them all over the land. Where ever Al was he always had a bear to teach, and play with. Where ever Leo was, he told his stories, stories like Al and the Bear.
        It has beeen many years since Leo told me this story. Afterwards, I wrote it down, so it wouldn't be forgotten. When he read it, he sat for a long time, quiet, remembering, lost to me and where we were and what we were doing. When he looked up,his eyes were still far away and dreamy. "You got it exactly right", he said. It has been sitting in my papers for years, fading and gathering dust . I give it to you now, hoping you will chuckle,and set your eyes afar off, dreaming and seeing many things.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


          Boots. Cowboy boots. That was the beginning of life as we know it. We were very young. We didn't know it, we thought we had it all figured out. He says he rescued me from a convent. He was a rebel. A rebel with out a cause. Vietnam was staring him in the face. I was in high school. He came to the west coast in a fast car, with a leather jacket and cowboy boots. He sold his harley to have a nice car to come courting me. (And maybe, to look more respectable to my folks?) He has work boots, and he brings his mason tools, and he has black cowboy boots for sunday go meeting. They are just plain, black cowboy boots, nothing gaudy or fancy. He cares for them. He polishes and oils and brushes them. They do shine. He wears levis and western shirts, too. He has sideburns, and slicked back hair. He's cool, and he's a rebel, and really, it is without a cause. Just because he wears cowboy boots?
          He asks them first, before he gives me a ring. We can't beleive they actually say yes. They say they will sign for me. We pick a date, quite soon, because he's up for the draft. We figure even a little time will be good. They plan the wedding. Quiet. My fathers church. He will marry us. I wear a plain wool suit, creamy white. He wears a suit. And his black cowboy boots. We have no flowers, no music. My sister and his best friend stand for us. Just before the wedding, he gets a letter from the draft board. It grants him a years deferment to finish his apprentiship in the Portland Bricklayers Union. We can't imagine a better wedding present.
          As we are leaving the house to go to the church, my mother suddenly balks. She has noticed the black cowboy boots. No. She says she will not go to a wedding with black cowboy boots. Perhaps she has never heard of such a thing? I don't know that anyone cares about what the groom wears on his feet. It's a moment of horror. She cries. I can see by the look on his face that he will not back down. It will be cowboy boots or no wedding. My father is a very patient man. He sighs, from deep down. He has nine daughters. I am the first one to get married. I think he is seeing some long years ahead. He tells the groom to climb up on the kitchen chair. He walks around the chair, scoping out the situation. There is a stillness in the room. We are, none of us, sure what the verdict will be. He is gentle with my mother. It's fine, he thinks. He can't see any reason for her to be upset. She never argues with him. So we get in the cars, a sober bunch, and head for the church.
       It is fine. We have been married for forty six years. Every day he wears boots. He still takes such good care of them. They last for years. He has many pairs. I wear cowboy boots, too. As soon as the weather cools down, and fall is here, I get out my boots. I wear them for sunday go meeting. They make me feel tall, and graceful, and I like the sound of them on the floor. I like kicking them off, at night, one after the other, and placing them by my bed.
       We have a large family and we don't have much money. We wear hand me downs. Sometimes someone gives us things that don't fit and I take them apart and remake them. Pretty dresses for the girls, wool shirts for the boys. But always they have boots. Once we bought a brand new pair. The little boy laid them proudly near the wood stove at night. In the morning, we see that the puppy has chewed them to shreds. They are taught right a way to take care of their boots, oiling and brushing them, drying them. Our house has lots of boots. One winter he works on a job at the Frye boot factory. He saves and scrimps. He comes home with a pair of brand new boots from the discount room for each of his daughters. They are tall and shiny and stiff. I think he just bought one of every size, maybe. Any way, every little girl has cowboy boots. Do they want cowboy boots? He doesn't think about that. He only feels his heart swell with the joy of this wonderful gift he has given them. They wear them, I think they all get worn out. He still has a few pieces of the boxes that they came in hanging on the sugar house wall. He still cries when he remembers coming home with all those beautiful boots.
         Now we have grandchildren. Some of them love cowboy boots. One of them has already crossed over Jordan. His small worn boots still stand on the mantle. When I go there, I touch them. Feel them worn and warm in my hand. I think in Gods heaven he has on his new boots, for dancing all over Gods heaven. I am always on the look out for cowboy boots at swap shops, yard sales, and thrift shops. If I find some, it always makes somebody happy. The teenage girls wear them, now, even, and feel so chic-y. Brooke shops long and hard to find her perfect pair. Tall, colorful, daring. She sends me pictures.
        In the last couple years, I have met up with so many people. People that I have not seen for a long time. I wonder how many times I have heard, " Oh, Annie, I remember your wedding! Boone wore cowboy boots! I was young, and I wrote it in my diary...Went to Boone and Annies wedding. Boone wore cowboy boots. Why was that so shocking? " And we laugh, and wonder together, why was that so shocking? My mother is old now, and frail and shakey. The last time I went to visit her, she remembers. Why did I act like that? She thinks she was being silly.  She hopes I didn't hold it against her. I love my mother. I pat her hand and we reminisce about my wedding. We only have gay and happy thoughts about that day. She still has never worn boots. No boots of any kind. No work boots, no cowboy boots. She doesn't know what she's missing!
       That was then. This is now. All Gods chillun' got shoes (boots). Gonna walk all over Gods heaven.

Friday, August 17, 2012

August in the Raggedy Garden

        August, when the morning glories are at their best, gracing each morning with glorious blue. I have tried to duplicate this color, with paint, with cloth, with thread, but it can not be duplicated. I think its only made by God. The Raggedy Garden begins to look a little weary, in August. It has been hot and dry for many weeks. The grass is brown, in spots, and leaves are dusty. The humming birds are here, full force, they empty the feeder every couple days. So tiny are they as they dart to and fro, from flower to flower, up to the feeder, over to the lilac bush, then back again.
         See him, there, hovering on his mighty wings? Of course, its blueberry time. Is it really worth sweating over in the wild bluberries, trying to get enough in your bucket to make bluberry jam? And not get too many sticks or leaves, or bugs? Um. Yes! It really is. And sweating in the hot Raggedy Garden kitchen, slaving away with boiling jars and stirring and stirring? And ladleing hot jam into hot jars and turning the lids tight, so they seal? Yes, I know it is. When I slather it on toast , come a cold January morning? I won't remember all that. I'll taste the sweetness of warmth and sunshine on my tongue, and hear the merry voices of children, and the buzz of a bee, and the song of the dove.
         And guess who came to dinner one day? In a large white styrofoam box, all taped up? We gingerly open it. A large orange lobster claw waves at us.  A long feeler reaches up wards. We hold our breath, and stuff them back in, laughing. Will we be like Julie, in Julie and Julia? Not looking when we drop them in the pot, and jumping and crumpling when the cover flies off and that orange claw gives us a good bye wave?
         He is rich and delicious. We have the Persied Meteor showers in August. It rains the first night, so we can't see them, but we need the rain and we are thankful for it. The next night, though, is dark and moonless and we lay in the dewey darkness and watch the stars rain down. They go so quickly, leaving their tail of sparks. Who can know how long they have been out there in the void, only revealing themselves to us as the rush earthward. Beautiful, silent glowing pieces of the universe. There's something about meteor showers, something that makes me feel glad to be alive.
          These weed daisies flock around an old sap bucket, left there by children who used it for some wonderful game. I can't bear to mow them, they are so clean and pure looking, so I leave them to grace the lawn. Its time to cut the lavender. I hang some in bunches, and cut some for potpouri. The bees love lavender, too, you have to work around them. It leaves a lovely soft, clean scent, when you walk by the rafters in the garden house where they hang, but its almost over powering while you are working with it.
         Rumbles of thunder, flickers of light, I lie awake hearing the rain bucket down on the roof. I hear the voice of St. Francis of Assisi say, " Be praised, O Lord, for sister water, the which is so useful, humble, precious and chaste." So long ago this humble man knew, like us, how much we need water. When the earth has been so long dry, then you can smell the way it drinks in the rain. It is scented of mustiness and growth and  greenery and the dryness drinks up the damp, quickly assimilating its wealth of goodness.
         The dill scents the air, when the breeze comes by, when you brush against it. Dill I planted long years back, but every summer it is back again, cropping up all over, anywhere it finds a spot. I love the smell of dill. And you know, dill will keep the bad witches out of your garden, so I might as well be on the safe side! Once by mistake I used dill seed instead of caraway in a batch of bread.....oh, that was a glorious mistake! Imagine the possibilities!
         Oh, garden of August, gone so soon. September will come, after the blue August moon. Lucky are we to have two moons of august. The green corn moon to sing it in, and the blue moon to lullaby us out of summer and into fall. Come back, friends, and sit here with me in the Raggedy Garden in this  last lingering loveliness.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Kindred Spirits

       The Raggedy Garden now has a sweet little space at the Kindred Spirits Shop , Temple Mountain, New Hampshire! I am excited, and have had fun setting it up. If you are an Anne of Green Gables fan, you will know about kindred spirits. If you are a kindred spirit no one needs to explain...
       If you've never stopped in, on your way up or down the mountain, take a few minutes. It's really nice....or you can see it at
           If you go, let me know what you think!