Monthly Archives: August 2012




The dog days of summer.




We take our walk early, the dogs and I, before the sun gets too high in the sky. I take a cup of coffee with me these days. No brisk walk for exercise, but rather a leisurely stroll. I watch the dogs chase chipmunks and listen to the birds and chipmunks tease them from the treetops. When my coffee mug is empty, I fill it with wild blackberries. Leaves are already turning color in the woods. Cool mornings make me aware that Fall is just around the corner. Sometimes, back home, I sit in the shade of the maple tree with a book, savoring wild berries for breakfast, enjoying the breeze, slowly getting ready for my day.

The days are busy enough.

Many employees have gone back to other lives on the mainland, so our work force is diminished. Vacationers are looking at the “last chance to get away before the weather turns” so business is still good. I’m still learning and adjusting to new routines, and I’m getting more hours in than I did for most of the summer.

I’ve had company here. Three of my sisters and other family and friends came for a week on Beaver Island, and to help me celebrate my 60th birthday. We had good talks and several excursions, outstanding meals and lots of puzzle and game time. Every spare minute, I wanted to spend with them!

I decided to read Jonathon Kellerman this summer. He’s a good writer of not-too-dark murder mysteries that are written in series with the same cast of characters. Easy to follow, not too heavy, mindless summer reading. Except that I find them hard to put down. And he’s a very prolific writer. Having never read his books before, I’ve been blasting through a book a week, and will still never finish his Alex Delaware series before the summer is over.

Blackberries, as I mentioned, are ripening. It’s easy to start by just looking, fill a hand, then a hat, then rush back to the house for a bowl. A wander ’round the yard turns into a serious walk around the property and before I know it, an afternoon is gone.

In my garden, I’ve been harvesting potatoes and tomatoes and squash. Everything else is finished for the season, and just as well, because I’m weary of it. I had big plans this year that never quite came to fruition, and left me feeling behind and discouraged in the “gardening department”. I’m over it now, and looking forward to next year.

We are all noting the passage of time, here on Beaver Island. Many restaurants and gift shops are seasonal. Fall is in the air. School will be starting soon. Every day I hear someone say “I need to get out there before they close for the season” or “We won’t have many more beach days this year”.

I have a list of things I’m anxious to write about. In anticipation of my birthday, I wrote a list of the sixty most influential women in my life. My sister, Cheryl, and I had a long talk about Life Lessons. I’m planning to elaborate on my visit with my family, my jobs and on turning sixty.

Right now, easily distracted, I’m trying to experience and enjoy all the summer has to offer, before the season is done.

What I Haven’t Been Writing About When I Haven’t Been Writing



Are you familiar with the work of Billy Collins?

Billy Collins is one of my favorite poets. Lately, it seems that he’s gone so far beyond making wonderful words go together that he’s now using poetry to talk about poems. Kind of like “Art for Art’s sake” or, more common, “Art for the sake of other Artists”. Except that his work is so accessible to everyone, often humorous in a sweet way, and delectable in word and phrase.


You can probably guess what it was about.

I thought about that when I titled this bit of writing today.

Kind of puts it all out there, doesn’t it? Except, of course, that I didn’t list the things that I haven’t been writing about. I wouldn’t dare. You may have felt you didn’t have to read any farther. But here they are, now, with apologies for my lapse in publishing.

(1) I have not been writing about work.

It’s too soon. Everyone has welcomed me with open arms, helped me in whatever ways they could. Still, it’s all new. New and different schedules, new responsibilities, new expectations. On the one hand, I can say this is the most relaxing summer with the lightest work schedule I’ve had in nearly thirty years on Beaver Island. On the other hand, doing different things every day can be exhausting.

Working at the hardware store, I’d come home in the summertime tired to the bone after a nine hour day. I knew why. Ordering merchandise and putting away freight, mixing paint, making keys, cutting and threading pipe, re-screening doors and windows, cutting glass and plexiglass and hauling 40 and 50 pound bags of soil, grass seed, dog food or bird seed to vehicles “just down the street” were just some of the jobs that would fill my day. Of course I was tired! Too tired to work in the garden or do any deep cleaning; those thing had to wait for a day off. It was all I could do to stumble through the necessities of laundry, dinner and dog-walking.

Now, I come home from 4 hours of taking care of a small gallery, or 5 hours of answering telephones, booking restaurant and hotel reservations, or three or four hours serving dinner, and I am equally exhausted! Wouldn’t you think I’d have energy to spare?! It would seem that I’d be tackling major renovations…or at least window-washing. But no, those things still wait for a day off. And, because of the nature of my summer’s work, days off are not regular or predictable. Today, for instance, is my day off and I have a long list of chores to fill it. My aunt would like me to stop by, and prepare her upstairs for company (since I have the day off). So, though her request won’t take more than an hour or two of my day, it’s enough to throw off my best intentions.

Soon, we’ll be into autumn, and my schedule will settle into a regular pattern, and I’ll write about the adventures – and misadventures – of up-ending one career path and going down several others…but not yet.

(2) I have not been writing about my mother’s death.

August 11, 2011 was the day my mother died. The month’s leading up to it, and the weeks, and the days…and then these twelve months since have been filled with sadness and poignancy and wonder.

I’ve been putting it into words in my head, on tearful long walks with the dogs, or nights sitting awake in the dark. There is much I want to say.

The way we came together, my brother, sisters and I, and friends that were like family, and strangers that became friends, through all of our differences, to share that hard time. The little dance Mom and I did, going from pot back to bed, with her arms around my neck and my arms around her waist, a quarter turn, and I’d lift her in my arms, whisper, “You’re light as a feather,” and place her on her freshly fluffed bedding…the way Sheila’s boyfriend would come in, staggering and smelling like beer (he was grieving, too, as we all were, for Sheila) place his face two inches in front of Mom’s face, and shout, “MA! MA! HEY, MA!” until she’d flicker an eyelid in what clearly spoke to us of her being “nearly fed up”, and he’d stumble out, saying, “See? She’s still hanging in there.”…the way we grew to be able to accomplish whatever was needed…the way we each took our turn, curling up beside Mom in her bed, for rest and simple closeness, as we knew how precious each moment was…how we poured wine, when it was all over, five daughters and a daughter-in-law, with assorted grandchildren and a couple dogs in attendance, with Sheila and Nita in our hearts, with Mom’s spirit still floating around the room, I’m sure, and toasted our mother, for a life well-lived, and then toasted ourselves, for helping her to a good death, in her home by the water.

The experience was so enormous, it seems to diminish it to reduce it to words on a page. Mom has died. I’ve been living with this reality for over a year now. It comes to me as a wave of sadness at unexpected times, or as a sharp pang of memory, or like a sigh. The anniversary of her death was not worse than every other day. I don’t want to sound as if I’m living in a constant state of mourning or sadness, either. I’m okay; I find joy in life and living. I am enriched by the experiences of last summer. I’m just not yet ready to write about it.

(3) I have not been writing about “The Perfect Pie”

Actually, I have been writing about the perfect pie. It will be my contribution to the second edition of The Beaver Island Reader.

I was asked to contribute to the first edition of The Beaver Island Reader, published this Spring, but the deadline loomed too close, causing time constraints and writer’s block. I don’t want the same problem next time. I’m writing it now. It starts like this:

“In August on Beaver Island, when you run across someone over-dressed for the weather in denim or canvas, with all exposed skin shredded as if it came in contact with a major piece of farm machinery, with burs in the hair and a smile on the face, the appropriate question is, “Where are you finding the berries?”.”

It will – of course – include an actual recipe for the perfect pie.

I’m not sure of the restrictions, having never been published in a real book before, but if it’s possible, I’ll publish it here first. Or second. Or maybe simultaneously. But not now, in any case.

So, that’s it, as promised by the lengthy title, what I haven’t been writing about when I haven’t been writing.





A few conversations that are keeping me smiling:

Patrick: “Yuck, Grandma Cindy, I think I just got mosquito repellent in my mouth!”

Me: “Yuck!”

Patrick: “Will that kill me?”

Me: “No!”

Patrick: “It says don’t get it in your mouth!”

Me: “Well, it tastes nasty, doesn’t it? A little bit is not going to hurt you, though. Any side effects wouldn’t be noticeable until you’re a very old, old man.”

Patrick: “Oh, so Grandma Cindy, you don’t have to even worry about it, right?”

Me: “I guess (thinking, “sure, at my age I could eat the stuff for breakfast!”)”

~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~

Tommy: “Why are those butterflies stuck together?”

Me: “I think they’re having sex.”

Patrick: (with extremely pained expression) “Ugh! Oh, gross, Grandma Cindy, you should just say BREEDING.”

Tommy: “What is BREETING?”

Patrick: “It’s BREEDING. It means they’re having sex.”

~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~

Madeline: (on seeing a photo where Tommy had given her “horns”) “Oh, I wish he hadn’t done that. That’s really unfortunate. I’m going to have to ask my Mom to photo-shop that out of there” *

* Later, when I saw photos my daughter took of the kids on the way here, I noticed that Madeline was giving her little brother, Tommy, “horns” in almost every single picture!

~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~

Madeline: “Well, this is all okay, Grandma Cindy, but I think next year when I visit, I’m going to come all by myself.”

~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~

Tommy: (In the big waves at Iron Ore Bay) “Grandma Cindy, this is AWESOME!!!”

~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~

I agree…the entire week with them was awesome!




Yesterday, I paid attention.

Nothing else was changed.

I watched and listened and focused as I went about my daily activities.

I walked the dogs. I stopped along the path to listen to the crows as they flew up, complaining at my presence. I paused near a patch of St. John’s Wort, to watch the  bees bumbling from flower to flower. I admired the way Clover noticed every movement in the woods, and how Rosa Parks was completely tuned in to whatever Clover was doing. When Rosa found a cool spot for a rest, I waited with her.

I worked in the little gallery in town. I greeted customers, talked about the artists and their work, commented on the weather. I answered questions, had a chat and made a few small sales. In between customers, I read a magazine. Nothing different, really, except for my level of awareness.

I bought some groceries, went to the library and ran a few other errands.

I picked beans and cleaned them and steamed some of them to go with my dinner.

Another walk with the dogs, a few chores, a couple chapters of a book and then bed.

It was an ordinary day, the first of August.

Last year on August first – though she didn’t know it at the time – my sister, Sheila, was living the last day of her life.

Sheila was staying at the family home, taking care of our Mom, who we knew was living her last days. She slept on the living room sofa, just a thin wall and a few steps away from Mom’s bed, so that she’d hear her call if Mom woke in the night.

Sheila’s boyfriend was usually around. He was good for moral support during this hard time. He’d grill Sheila a steak, and insist that she take a break to enjoy her dinner outside in the fresh air. He’d often sleep on a cot in the back room, and have coffee with her in the morning.

My sisters had worked out a detailed schedule, so there would be at least two of us there through most of every day. There were issues of Mom’s care that took more than one person, meals to prepare and medicine to dispense. Mostly, though, it was so that no one would have to be all alone, during such a sad time. The plan was that I would complete my work week, then leave the island to be down there…for the duration.

I called Mom on the first of August. When we lost the connection, I called Sheila’s cell phone to make sure everything was okay. Mom had dozed off, but Sheila and I had a good chat. Because we’d all gotten in the habit of calling or stopping in whenever we could, Sheila spoke to most of her siblings and several nieces and nephews that day. She had several chances to visit with Mom. She had dinner with two other sisters and they took advantage of the opportunity to talk with each other while they ate and tidied up. I think my sister, Cheryl, left the house about 11PM. Sheila sat down at the computer. She wrote a couple e-mails and sent a few friend requests through her “Facebook” account. I’m sure she checked on Mom again before she lay down on the couch.

She never woke up.

When my sister, Robin, arrived early the next morning, Sheila’s boyfriend was on the phone with 911, and desperately trying to revive her. The ambulance was on the way. Calls were made: Brenda waved her husband in from the lake; Amy came to the house; Cheryl arrived in time to follow the ambulance to the hospital. I can only imagine the desperation as the reality of the situation came clear.

Mom, without her hearing aids in, was unaware of the horror that was going on just a few feet from her bed.

When I received the call at work at 9AM, I thought it was about Mom. “It’s not Mom,” Amy said, and I couldn’t think where that information could lead. “Sheila. Sheila died.”

We didn’t learn the cause of her death until later that day. Sheila had a stroke, probably about 2AM, and was gone long before the first attempts to revive her.

Sheila was young – only 55 – and in good health, as far as she knew. She was strong, purposeful and doing important work. She had no warning.  We had no time to prepare.

I mourn Sheila’s death to varying degrees all through the year. Some days it seems sadder, or more poignant than others. I always miss her.

On the first of August, Sheila had no idea that she was living the last day of her life.

Some of us get warning; some do not. I don’t know which is better.

To honor Sheila, I am trying to live each day fully aware, as if it were my last.

Because I can.

And because it could be.