Tag Archives: Texas

Tuesday: Exercises in Writing #17




From Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg:

Tell me all you know about Texas.

I know almost nothing about Texas. I almost said I’ve never been there, but then I remembered that I was. Still, I don’t know much.

My sister Brenda knows Texas. When she was in the eighth grade, she chose that state to do a major report about. She wrote to whatever agencies a student would write to to gain information. She received a fat manila envelope filled with maps and brochures. She clipped photos from them to illustrate her project. She added to her knowledge with research from our own encyclopedias, and from books she borrowed from the library. She typed her report and put it all together in a brown duo tang folder. I was intrigued, as I was was always interested in anything Brenda was doing, but I didn’t pay that much attention.

Many years later, my sisters, Sheila and Robin, their husbands and my brother David all moved to Texas. I didn’t pay attention then, either. They went to the gulf, to go swimming. David had an accident at his workplace that – I think – resulted in an injury to his feet. That’s all I know.

When my oldest daughter was a young adult, she moved to Texas with her fiance, who was transferred there for his job. I visited her there. She had a boa constrictor, and a small collection of mice that had started out as live food for the snake, and became pets when he took too long to devour them.

I spent a great deal of time sitting near her pool with a book. My daughter and I were both reading The Clan of the Cave Bear series, by Jean M. Auel. We hadn’t yet gotten tired of the huge swaths of repetitive background information she inserted between every new occurrence, and enjoyed sharing our thoughts on how the story was developing.

One day, we went for a long drive; I don’t remember the reason or the destination. Cities in Texas can annex surrounding lands as long as they are able to provide services for them. Because of this, highways are expanded outward in the most confusing manner, running in ever larger circles around the heart of the city. That’s the only thing I learned about the state while I was there.

Many years after that, my sister Nita moved to San Antonio, Texas. Her grown children lived there, too, during much of the time that she was there. Nita loved the heat, worked – when she could – at a small factory, and lived in a community with many people who spoke mainly Spanish.

Finally, last year, my sisters Brenda and Cheryl, with their partners, went to Texas on vacation. Brenda had a bout of vertigo, and missed some of the side trips. The weather was grand. The food was good.

That, I think, is every single thing I know about the state of Texas!





I woke up early this morning in a fog of sadness and worry.

I assumed it was my job situation. Everyone has been helpful, kind and sympathetic. Still, it’s stressful to change jobs, hours, type of work and method of payment. Today, I had three people to talk to about supplemental work for the summer. I also had to go back to my old place of employment, to pick up my final paycheck. Coming onto the first of the month, bills were coming due.

Sleep was impossible; I got up and made coffee.

I wrote a couple checks, in anticipation of my bank deposit. I looked over my day book, trying to memorize my schedule so far. What I really needed, I decided, was a purse-sized calendar that would show me a full week – or even month – at a time. I know I have at least two…but where? The file drawer – not the one with actual hanging files in it, but the other one…with stacks of miscellaneous papers – was the obvious place to start. I started working through the layers.

The warranty papers for my new phone,  I filed correctly. The stack of hand-made paper samples went to a drawer in the studio. A stack of photos diverted my attention for at least a half- hour. Christmas cards, purchased on sale and never mailed, went into my new correspondence drawer, where they will – I hope – be remembered next winter. A scrap of wrapping paper…the fat, county phone book…a map of Michigan…my page-a-day book from 2010…

I have kept a daily planner for at least twenty years. I keep track of my work schedule, hours worked and tips, if any. I keep track of the medicine dose for my dogs. I used to have a “to-do” list, but it suits me better to jot down jobs as I finish them. I get the sense of accomplishment without the angst. I have a master list of goals in the front, and a wish-list in the back. I keep a Christmas list in there, and write down gifts as I buy them. At times, I’ve kept a food diary. I always keep track of steps and/or miles walked, plus any other exercise I fit in. Letters written, phone calls made, visitors to my home are noted. Book and movie recommendations, and quotes from books and magazines are in there. Photos and letters are sometimes tucked in the pages…”2010,” Now there’s a distraction!

At first glance, nothing much had changed. A couple things could be checked off the wish-list, but the goals were pretty much in tact (note to self: choose easier goals!) I flipped through to today’s date.


I drew in a breath.

My brother, David, died on June 29th, two years ago.

Too young. Too soon.

Ten years younger than me, David and I had little in common…

No, that’s wrong, though I say it all the time. I always have.

It’s true, we had many differences. David was loud. Sometimes crazy. A big tease. He was a party-er and a big drinker. He worked, but not steadily. He never saved. Other than a short stint in Texas with two of my sisters, David always lived in the family home. Dad was generally mad at him: Mom did him no favors by being overly generous and protective of him. I was second to the oldest; David was second to the youngest.

Still, we had the same parents and the same brother and sisters. We grew up in the same big, rambling household. We attended the same church and the same schools. We shared many of the same memories, both tragic and joyful. We shared the same dark sense of humor, that caused us to laugh at the most inopportune times. We were family.

He was born on a Sunday morning in September. Dad came home and gave us the news, then packed us up to go to Mass. In the excitement, he forgot to give us dimes for our collection envelopes. When the basket came around, Dad just dropped in a few dollar bills. I taped the pink collection envelope, stamped with the date, into my scrapbook, as a memento of the day my little brother was born.

I rocked him to sleep, helped to entertain him, babysat for him and helped him with his homework. I watched him grow up.

As adults, David helped me move a couple times. Beyond that, I saw him at holidays or other occasions when I visited my parents. Sometimes we’d have a little chat; sometimes he’d join in board games or cards with the rest of us. He always impressed me with his memory and wealth of knowledge. David was always good for a hug.

David wasn’t a big part of my life when he was alive, so I’ve puzzled over why I miss him so much now that he’s gone. David was pure energy. Like a firecracker – or a lightning bolt – his presence seemed to change even the quality of the air around him. I think sometimes it’s not so much that I miss David – though I do – but that I miss the world the way it was with David in it.

I have a photo – not found this morning – that I took, at age sixteen, with my brand new Kodak Instamatic camera. We were here on Beaver Island, on vacation, on the beach at Iron Ore Bay. David had stripped down to his underwear, and was headed for the water: hands in the air, arms every which way and legs at a dead run. I caught the moment when both of his feet were in mid-air.

That’s the image of David that I hold in my mind.