Monthly Archives: June 2013

Brother, David

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There’s a story in my family that my brother, David, was given nine lives.

Speaking to David about his many misadventures, and later to his friends and other siblings, I would have had to place that number closer to twenty.

There was the sledding accident that broke long bones and left him chair-bound for months.  The fight that resulted in a broken jaw. Riding home at night on a bicycle, David was hit by a car. Once  “road-surfing” on the roof of a van, he took a nasty fall onto the pavement. There was a fall from a roof. There were several near-drowning incidents on Lake Nepessing, in all seasons of the year.

Once, walking home on the side of a narrow road, someone opened a car door as they went by, knocking David into a pole, then into the lagoon. He crawled out of the water covered with cuts, abrasions and bruises…but also with sludge, slime and seaweed. He went door-to-door looking for assistance, terrifying the home-owners with his “Creature from the Black Lagoon” appearance. He walked all the way home. That’s when Mom took care of him. Dad later told how his midnight snack was rendered almost inedible due to the screams coming from the next room as Mom treated David’s wounds with mercurochrome and hydrogen peroxide.

David was one of the youngest in our large family. His brother, most of his other sisters and I have memories that stretch back to his birth. Many of us had turns rocking him to sleep. Amy, the only one younger than David, shared memories and experiences unique to the two of them, as the “babies” in the family.

As an infant, David had tiny dimples in the top of each ear, and eyes so large that his eyelids didn’t quite cover them when he slept. I was appalled when, many years later, I answered the phone at my parents house and the caller asked for “Bug-Eye”…but the reference was obvious. The nick-name didn’t bother David (he laughingly called it his “prison name”), but we didn’t use it. To us he was just Dave, or David.

When David was little, Mom called him “BeetleBomb,” after a horse that was always coming from behind to win a race. She also called him “Boodler,” because he was one. We called him Davey. Grandma Florence called him “Crocket.” I can picture him, still, as that little guy…cowboy hat hanging down his back, shirtless, holster with toy guns riding low on his hips, barefoot, squinting into the sun…

It seems like it was just the blink of an eye, and he was grown.

Busy with my own life, I didn’t see the transition.

David, as an adult, had a toothy grin and a big laugh. He talked too loud and often didn’t know when to “shut up.” He  made all of us cringe with stories of our youth that we’d just as soon forget. He often made us angry with his teasing banter. In fact, when considering his multitude of  “lives”, I should take note of the many times members of his family told him, “David, if you don’t cut it out, I’m gonna kill ya!”

David won the lottery once. Not the millions, but a pretty good sum. He turned it all into cash. No-one saw him for three days! Then he was spotted, his pockets spilling over with bills, coming out of the Eagles tavern. David didn’t go to work for two weeks, but took the whole crew out for steak dinner many nights. He bought drinks all around at every bar he went into. He kept himself pretty well lit until the money ran out.

Though he had little, David bought not one lasting thing with his winnings. He played. I’d like to say it was the time of his life, but I don’t know that to be true. Money – and material things – meant so little to David, winning the lottery was probably not a highlight.

David liked fun. He lived in the moment. He loved the party, the craziness, the giddiness of life. We didn’t have a lot in common in that sense, but we loved each other just the same.

When my father was dying, I flew from Beaver Island to Davison Airport, then ran door-to-door to get to a phone, to get a taxi to take me to the hospital, in hopes of seeing Dad one last time…

When I got to the hospital and walked out of the elevator on my way to Dad’s room, there was my brother, David, passed out asleep in a chair in the hallway. I still smile at the sense of calm and normalcy that vision gave me, at a time when the whole world seemed up-side-down.

Dad’s death changed all of us, for the better.

We came face-to-face with mortality, and so came to be more appreciative of life.

In our usually non-demonstrative family, we have became more generous with hugs, quicker to say, “I love you.” We’ve taken the time to get to know each other better, even when we have little in common.

I grew to know and appreciate David’s wit, intelligence and good-heartedness.

I’m very thankful for that.

As it turned out, even twenty lives wasn’t enough to keep David with us.

In our last conversation, David hanged his head and said, “I guess I should’ve quit drinking two years ago when the doctor told me to…”

Well, I wish he had.

I would love to have my little brother, David, around driving me crazy today and for many years to come…but the time for recriminations was past. I told him one of my memories from his childhood:

Dad would sit in his chair at the head of the long kitchen table, one leg crossed over the other. David – it was Davey back then – would sit on Dad’s raised foot. Dad would hold both of Davey’s hands in his one big hand, and bounce his foot up and down…a “pony ride.” More like a bucking bronco, when Dad was in charge! Then, Dad’s wicked humor coming into play, the foot would go up, Dad would release his grip on Davey’s hands, and the little boy would go flying. He’d land on his feet, if he was lucky, but just as often on his bottom or his belly or his back. As soon as he recovered his breath, Davey would burst into giggles…and go running right back for more. Again and again and again.

“That’s the problem, David,” I told him, “in your entire life, you never have known when to quit!”

It was a good visit.

Though I was pretty sure it was the last time I’d see him, it had to end.  David was tired; I had a schedule to keep.  Hugs all around, and I was out the door, then back in for one last good-bye. As I turned to leave that last time, I put my hand up to wave. David leaned forward in the recliner, smiled and said, “See ya…”

My brother, David, died three years ago today. I still miss him every day, and can picture that smile as if it was yesterday.

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Thursday Already

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Every week I publish these little sketches with a promise to myself that I’ll do better next week.

Next week I’ll devote a bit more time and thought to what I produce.

Next week my drawings will have more depth…intensity…contrast…or at least more size.

Then suddenly it’s Wednesday night again.

Or Thursday, already.

Intentions are long; time is short.

Last night, too tired for my usual evening walk with the dogs, I loaded them in the car and took them to Fox Lake for a swim. While they waded in the cool water and wandered the woods and beach and camping area, I did a couple quick sketches.

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Not Quite Ready

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This is the front of my garden, looking south.

Eight tomatoes are planted between the cedar posts next to the wildflower bed (right now almost entirely poppies). Each pair of tomato plants shares a gallon milk jug. Each  jug is pierced with pin holes  along the base, and is buried to its neck between the plants. Filled daily from the hose, the water seeps out of the holes at the root zone. As the tomatoes grow, I’ll weave garden twine around them and the cedar posts to keep them upright and supported.

In front of the tomatoes, each bordered with rocks, is a small herb garden and, closest, a peony bed. A squash will grow in that tire near the tomatoes.

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Now, turning to the east, the long daylily bed is in line with the peonies, and separates the vegetable garden (visible here) from the perennial fruit and vegetable beds (not visible in these photos). Each half is made up of three large beds – 4′ wide x 12′ long – running north and south, and three small beds – 3′ wide x 6′ long – running east and west.

Raspberries, asparagus and blueberries each have a large bed to themselves, and strawberries fill the three small beds on the perennial side. Two semi-dwarf cherry trees also have their own space on that side of the garden.

The vegetable garden was a challenge this year. In fact, today – the 23rd of June – I just finished putting the last of my seeds in the ground. Pole beans are in the back bed, planted around the bamboo tepees. Salad greens are planted inside the tepees, for the shade offered there. Peppers – both sweet and hot – share the next bed with one hill of cucumbers and two hills of summer squash. The next bed is potatoes and kale. The closest small bed has Swiss Chard. The other two have zucchini and another type of squash.

Though I love fresh peas from the garden, it’s much too late to start them now. They like to grow when it’s cool. Radishes, too, would be bitter and tough growing in the heat of the summer. It’s also too late to start pumpkins or winter squash here on Beaver Island; the frost would kill them before they had time to ripen.

My garden is kind of a mash-up this year. I’m happy to have it planted, though, and looking forward to watching things grow.

As you can see, there is a lot of work yet to be done. The fence is still in disrepair, and the brush needs to be hauled away. The paths between the beds need to be weeded and raked smooth. I need to clear out the back corner of all the things that have been stored there. It’s really quite a mess. Pretty embarrassing, in fact. Certainly not ready for pictures. Except…

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This little bean plant burst up through the earth and showed herself this morning, in all of her leafy splendor.

I just couldn’t resist showing her off!

Details

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This old shoe is one of a pair that – tied together by their old, worn laces – hang from the knob on my studio door.

By today’s standards, they are pretty simple – though badly worn out – sneakers.

When they were new, back in the summer of 1972, they were glorious!

White canvas with red and blue vinyl accents, thick white laces, rounded toes. When plain white tennis shoes were the norm, these seemed very special to me.

I had recently become a mother, which changed my life and altered my perceptions more than anything else, ever! It filled my head with ideas. It spurred me to become the best person I could possibly be. My little family had moved to a cottage on Lake Pleasant. My husband and I had big plans for remodeling and modernizing it, for using it as our home base as we raised our family and traveled the world, one adventure after another. I had taken over a corner of the front porch as an area to make art.

I saw myself as a young wife, good mother, creative person, all-good-things-await optimist…with a little hippie, flower-child funkiness thrown in for good measure.

These shoes underlined that image.

I wore them with jeans and shorts and sundresses. I wore them as an irreverent touch with dress slacks. I wore them as I walked with my little daughter as she took her first steps…and for many steps afterward. I wore them as I took my first baby-steps into thinking of myself as an artist.

I wore them until the rubber soles lost their tread and cracked, until the canvas was in shreds, until my perfect little life with all of its “happy ever after” had proven itself to be an average life, with normal struggles.

I’ve lost or tossed away many of the plans and dreams I had as that young optimist.

I never could bring myself to throw away the shoes.

In the Garden with Dad

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My father was never an easy man to talk to.

At least for me, that was the case.

If I was going to visit him, I’d make mental notes of things he might find interesting…that might force a grin…that would not be judged “Nonsense!”

When I moved to Beaver Island, my communication with Dad was mostly through letters. I collected tidbits to write to him about.

I do it, still, though he’s been gone fifteen years.

If I count six deer on my way to town, my first thought is that Dad would be glad to hear that.

A good stack of firewood in preparation for the winter, a new building going up in town, the health and well-being of any of the “old-timers” he’d remember…these were all good topics.

The garden was always a welcome subject, with Dad.

He’s not the only one!

I remember a day many summers ago when Peter “Doney” and his wife, Dolores, came to the island. They were late in arriving that year, as their oldest daughter had recently passed away. Throngs of Beaver Islanders were on the dock that day, to greet them, and to offer their sympathy.

Dolores took it all in stride: the hugs and tears and words of comfort.

Peter’s face was set in a grimace, and he seemed to wince at every encounter.

Then Russell Green, the ferryboat captain, strode across the dock. He reached out his arm for a handshake and said, “Peter! Good to see ya! How’re your tomatoes doing?”

Peter’s face broke into a wide smile.

“Well by the god…a damn sight better’n yours, I’ll betcha,” he grinned.

When Dad lay dying, his sister – my Aunt Katie – came to the hospital.

“How’s your garden doing this year?” was his greeting.

That’s what they talked about, in the last hours of his life…the amount of rain, the chance of early frost, and that damned quack grass.

Today, working out in my garden, I kept a running conversation going with Dad, in my head.

He had opinions.

The pole beans I grow – because I like the look of them climbing the tepees – are not the wisest choice, according to Dad. Pole beans spend too much energy putting up their runners, rather than producing beans. On Beaver Island, where I’m fighting a short season anyway, bush beans would be a better guarantee of a good harvest.

As for the flowers, nonsense. If you can’t make a meal out of it, it’s a waste of good garden space.

In Dad’s opinion.

Remembering how bad his knees got, toward the end, my raised beds are not a bad idea.

If I keep jumping on that shovel to force it through the sod, I’ll have bad knees, too.

Dad sure had something to say about the man who promised he’d come back today to finish repairing the fence and clean up the mess he left. He had a few choice comments for me, too, for being foolish enough to pay him before the job was done.

Dad wasn’t very happy with my cousin, Bob, either, when he didn’t show up with the rototiller as he said he would.

I’m getting a pretty good rhubarb bed…the tomatoes are looking fine…that’s a nice little raspberry patch…and why the hell do I have fifty horseradish plants growing if I never use it?

All in all, it was a nice conversation.

I’m working in town on Father’s Day. That’s okay.

I spent this day in the garden with my Dad.

Shadows

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The shadows are the main focus in these little drawings.

Shadows work to define shape and density when working with natural objects.

One assignment that I love for the results is to have students focus on and draw only the shadows. It can be a guessing game, then, to figure out what the subject was.

It seems my life, at this age, is defined more by the shadows than the lights. I wonder if it has always been that way?

I’d Like to Show Off the Garden…

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This is not my garden.

This is the front of my house, showing the snowball, serviceberry and lilac bushes, the seven sisters rose climbing the trellis, and one of my ceramic sculptures with a gazing ball on it.

I’d love to show off the garden…but it’s not ready, yet, for the photo.

Last year about this time, I showed off my garden plan. It was hand drawn on graph paper with extensive notes of what was going where.

Pretty impressive.

It never got much beyond the planning stages, though.

Oh, I cleared out a lot of weeds. I gave away daylilies, raspberries and strawberries. I put in tomato plants and planted radishes and salad greens. I even started framing in my raised beds with cedar boards.

Then, as fast as that, summer was underway, with all the flurry of activity that comes with it.

The strawberries continued to send out runners. The raspberries spread into the paths by way of their strong roots. The sod persisted in moving in from the fields to the south and east, and from the lawn to the north. My pathways were becoming so dense with unwanted growth, I couldn’t even get a shovel through!

An hour a day was not enough to make any headway, yet that was all the time I had to give it.

Though I harvested rhubarb and berries, greens and tomatoes, mostly I was just frustrated with my garden.

When friends came over for a tour in July, I was embarrassed by the lack of order. “A work in progress,” my guests offered, and I kept that thought for the rest of the season.

Snow was a relief, when it came, as it marked an end to the battle.

This year, a fresh start.

This year, new battles.

Spring was uncommonly cold and windy through the month of May.

Everything that had a toe-hold last year settled in even more seriously.

The man I hired to take out three wild cherry trees dropped the last one right through the garden fence, over the rhubarb patch and onto the raspberries. I don’t know if he’s ever coming back. The tree he dropped in the front yard had prevented me from mowing lawn the last time I had an opportunity to do that.

Mosquitoes were threatening to carry us away!

This weekend, with two days off, I faced what seemed like an insurmountable challenge.

Though I usually double-dig my beds employing only shovel, wheelbarrow, hoe and a lot of stamina, I had some help this year. My cousin, Bob, brought his rototiller over yesterday! He earned my undying gratitude by turning that overgrown garden patch under for me.

It seems like something I may be able to manage now!

I still have lots yet to do, but that bit of help was just the boost that I needed.

I’m not yet ready to show the end results, but in the last two days, I’ve got quite a list of accomplishments:

  • Moved more than three dozen logs out of my front yard
  • Mowed the lawn
  • Trimmed around the trees and stonework
  • Divided and replanted chives, lemon balm and sage, and bordered the herb garden with rocks
  • Transplanted four peonies into their new bed, and bordered it with rocks
  • Transplanted two dozen daylilies from the fence line to the central bed I’d prepared for them
  • Raked the newly tilled garden area and hauled away two wheelbarrows full of roots and weeds
  • Weeded the iris bed
  • Dug strawberries for a container garden and to give away

I have tomato and pepper plants still in their pots, ready to be planted very soon. It’s late – but not too late here on Beaver Island – for the things I start from seed.

I may have a photo to show before long!

Meanwhile, I could use a rest!

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