My husband and I went out for Thai food not too long ago. The meal was excellent and just before we left, we hit the restrooms. It was a long drive home. As we exited the restaurant, he grinned at me and said, “I’ve done something your mother would do.” I couldn’t have been more perplexed at this comment until he pulled out a tiny pinched off piece of plant.

“It was dying in the mens room so I’m going to bring it home and let it grow in the light.” He laid it tenderly on the dash and we went home where he followed through. It is starting to show strong signs of life as I write this.

As a middle aged woman happily writing from a tiny closet room in her quiet house, I cannot imagine the allure of the Maine Mall. It is enormous, crowded and expensive. A place I avoid at all cost. Well one exception is a Borders on the outskirts. I have been known to dawdle there for hours. But when I was a young teenager, living an hour away from the Maine Mall, I couldn’t imagine a better destination for any given weekend afternoon. It didn’t happen often but I recall one occasion my mother took me to the mall. I’m sure I changed outfits a million times before going, in case I saw someone I knew. You know the drill.

My mother changed her outfit only once. She put on clean clothes replacing those she had worn to milk the goats and savagely squash cabbage worms one warm spring morning. It could be that we were getting glasses. That would require a trip and a visit – pick frames and then wait for them to be made. It guaranteed at least an hour just hanging around, window shopping. We rarely shopped. We found things we liked and then bought them at Reny’s.

My mother, knowing something about young teenage girls, allowed me to go off on my own for a time. We agreed to meet at a central location near an indoor park of sorts. Benches and landscaping created a semblance of outdoors for those poor souls who needed nature’s comfort and renewal amidst concrete and endless displays. I fairly skipped away from her and navigated to some of the favorite hang outs I heard my friends mention. The friends who went often to the Maine Mall.

I may have found someone I knew but normally did not. After wandering around looking for familiar faces, not looking much at anything else, I found my way back to the area where I was to meet my mother. There were escalators near the spot and as I rode down, I noticed a woman perched at the edge of some gardens. She was snipping leggy shoots with her thumb nail and neatly picking off dead petunia blossoms. Passersby turned to watch the woman and a small child stopped, tugging on his mother’s hand and asking a question. I wondered to myself if the woman worked for the mall.

To my surprise and considerable embarrassment, I realized as I approached that the woman was my mother. Clean clothes or not, she was drawn to garden no matter where she went.  “Mom! What are you doing?” I demanded in a forced whisper, hoping no one could hear. I’m sure my eyes were rolling.

“Oh I’m just deadheading dear. These poor things aren’t getting any attention. They’ll be much happier now.”

I love you mum.

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It has been far too long since I posted something. I have been turning the page to a new chapter of my life. For many of my recent co-workers, the relocation of our company to a larger, corporate facility has been painful and tumultuous. But for me, it is a blessing of sorts. Circumstances beyond my control provide an opportunity for me to withdraw from a eight-to-five corporate existence and try my hand at something home grown. Something more organic, farther reaching and closer to the heart and soul of me.

I pledge here in a most public place, to fully utilize this opportunity. Stay tuned.

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In the midst of packing up our house in Ohio, I took a bicycle out of the garage and headed to the candy store in town. My mom let me ride to town by myself as long as I let her know. So I did, and with my pockets full of piggy bank change, I climbed on a bike that was slightly large for me. My bike with its banana seat had a flat tire. Thinking about what sorts of treats I would buy with the riches that steadily pulled my pants down over my hips, I pedaled two blocks and turned right to coast down the hill to the tracks that led into the village. I listened for a car at the bottom of the hill and not hearing one, swung around to the left. A car was right there, and I rode straight into it. I flew from the bike, bounced off the roof of the car and landed on the embankment along the railroad tracks. The bike resembled an accordion.

An ambulance sped me to the hospital. I could hear the siren and a man sitting in the back with me got a plastic pack from a drawer.

“Wanna feel something really cool?” He smiled and touched the pack to my arm. It was as warm as my skin. He whacked the square package against the side of the gurney I lay on and shook it for a moment.

“Presto-change-o.” He winked and placed the now ice cold pack against my head.
With this movement I realized that my head was hurting and so was my chest and my ankle.

“It hurts.” I said, my voice small against the sound of the siren.

“I know it hurts honey.” The man said. “But you’re gonna be just fine kiddo. We’re on our way to the hospital and your mom and dad are on their way to meet us.”

At the mention of my mom, I started to cry and tasted a bitter lump in my throat. I wanted to be brave and it wasn’t so bad in the ambulance but suddenly I really wanted my mom. I was hurting and my mouth was dry and I could still see the car coming at me when I closed my eyes.

I felt important. My parents came to the hospital in the new, used International truck they had purchased for our move toward Maine. It was a giant truck. I was convinced the contents of our entire house would fit in it. I had crutches for a sprained ankle, a concussion and a cracked rib.

Once home, I spent days healing in a comfy wing back chair in the living room, watching everyone else bustle around, packing and carrying boxes. There was a steady procession out the door of our things. Some were loaded into the new truck, now equipped with tall sides that my dad made to hold things in. Others went into a large U-Haul we were filling with fragile belongings and stuff that absolutely could not get wet. A moving company would store and then deliver the remaining large furniture when we were ready for it.

It felt nice to have everyone worrying over me.


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My pony, Topper, was the equivalent of a extra short, dark hair and skinned, broad shouldered Italian man, who liked his coffee strong and black and switched to blood red wine in the evening. He swore like a sailor and gnawed on the stub of a cigar.

Topper’s dark complexion was matched by his gruff demeanor. His mouth was hardened from years of children riding him and if he spotted a succulent clump of grass, it was best to give him his head. He could easily yank most kids forward into a heap on the ground with a strong tug of his meaty neck.

The Horse Show was a long mile and a half down our road. There were entire fields of grass clumps that would no doubt be undeniably delectable to my fine steed. I wore riding breeches and a home made halter top that tied with a shoelace width ribbon at my neck and around my middle. The sky was overcast and the air muggy. We set off for the show.

The riding was lethargic. We would advance a few paces and then Topper would yank his head down to trim a green nub at the side of the road. He didn’t just pull his head down. He seemed to put his strong neck and head into it and thrust hard just in case an unaware rider might be holding the reins short. He was wicked. We might have covered half a mile when Topper decided that the Reynolds’ fields were in need of trimming and his appetite could accommodate. Before long, I found myself nearly across an acre of pasture, completely at the mercy of my seasoned pony. I pulled my feet out of the stirrups and slid off. He was not moving with me atop. I might as well attempt leading him back to the road. At this rate, we might miss our first class, Junior English Pleasure. I leaned down, grasped his bridle near his muzzle and tugged on it. His head came up but he took no step. I leaned into him, hip hard against his shoulder and tugged at the same time. One leg took a single step. No air moved and my face felt sticky with sweat.

“Come on, you old pig.” I muttered at him, tugging and pushing him to force motion out of his singularly minded body. “You can eat all you want on the way home.”

Begrudgingly, he took some slow steps. This scene of dismounting, tugging, returning to the road and climbing back onto his short squat frame was repeated half a dozen times as we made our way along the road, past farms, fields and gardens to finally reach the riding ring.

Trailers lined the far side of the fence that framed the long oval of the ring. It too was fenced in with large gates at either end. There were all manner of horses and ponies and riders. Some were impeccably dressed, their horses’ manes braided with ribbons matching the color of their riding gear. Others, like myself, had limited accessories although Topper’s black tail and mane were neatly braided and held fast with blue ties. My boots and breeches were of good quality but heavily worn, hand-me-downs from my older sister. I found registration and slipped my number jersey over my halter top. We hadn’t missed our first class and Topper, once in a ring, was obedient and quick to respond. There was no grass within sight so he resigned to the business of being ridden. We came in second and although not as pretty as blue, Topper’s red ribbon stood out against his jet black jaw. He was used to winning ribbons.

The day passed pleasantly. It was humid and the sun never came out. The heat nearly overwhelmed but there were enormous oaks and a few pine trees providing shade along the edges of the paddock surrounding the ring. In between classes, people relaxed on lawn chairs, eating from picnic baskets and visiting while their horses stood in the shade, sipping from buckets of water and munching on leaves of hay doled out for jobs well done regardless of placement. Topper and I didn’t ribbon that day in Junior Flat Hunt Seat but he worked hard for me anyway. The required jacket, that my mother had delivered along with lunch, was scratchy against my back and as soon as I finished the class, I took it back off.

The ride home was a little quicker. Topper knew we were headed back to the barn, his stall, a sweet ration of grain and so only stopped here and there for a mouthful of grass. I was grateful as I was spent and feeling hot and sticky. My skin felt tender and I remember thinking I might be fighting a cold.

Later that night, it became clear it wasn’t a cold but a severe sunburn. My face and back were bright red. My shoulders blistered and burst over the next several days, rendering me bedridden in a dark, cool bunk bed that was standard in the small cubicle rooms my dad had built for the conference center at our farm. I consider the damage still today, and have since always worn appropriate clothing on hot, humid, overcast, seemingly safe, sunless days.

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I had an unusual upbringing. Amidst the daily chores of farm life, we sang madrigals.

Watering the goats and horses was a much despised task. The buckets alone weighed as much as one of my legs if severed above the hip. The thin metal handles would press narrow channels into the half frozen flesh of my hands. After one trip from the spigot to the stalls, the ends of my fingers would be white and numb. It was important to hold the buckets out to the side slightly to avoid slopping water all over my jeans. By the time I finished, my arms would be shivery with exertion.

Ingersoll was our solitary male goat. We had dozens of mamas and babies but only one male. He was disgusting. Goat culture encourages the male to piss on his own head to better his chances of wooing a female. A sort of recycling of body fluids. It must be an acquired taste as I can’t imagine the darling babies thinking of that as they jump around like nature’s pogo sticks. No matter, he was an ornery sort. For all the female attention, he was perennially discontent. It was a two man job to fill his water. The bucket generally could be hooked on the side of his enclosure when full. But during the day, he would practice butting and the emptied bucket would end up somewhere in his large pen. So the trick was for one person to entice and distract him with goodies at the far end of his stall while the other one sneaked in the fence gate, grabbed the water bucket and made a quick exit. If the enticer failed at their mission, the one sneaking might be soundly butted on some part of their body, leaving deep bruises, or worse be slimed by the hairy urine soaked head of our fine specimen of goat he-man-ness. The one and only time I broke a bone was in a panicked attempt to escape Ingersoll’s attentions. I turned my ankle on a rock that stuck above the dirt and broke a tiny bone in my foot. I remember that same night I went to see the movie, Papillon, sitting in the front row with my foot propped up on a crutch.

On some Sunday afternoons, our large extended family would welcome other friends to sit around a long dining table made of cherry by my father. At both ends stood ancient chairs, passed down from my grandparents. Each ornately carved with vivid village scenes. An assortment of straight backed chairs filled the long sides of the table, comfortably seating fourteen although the table had room for twenty plates in a pinch.

Settling in with earmarked song books and a pitch pipe, it was as much fun as anything we did at the farm. Madrigals are medieval songs sung a capella (voices only) in four and five part harmony. We often got to giggling and then laughing hysterically around the table over ridiculous lyrics like:

“Now is the month of Maying, when merry lads are playing” or “Smiling meadows seem to say, ‘Come, ye wantons, here to play!’ ”

I learned to blend my voice with others until it sounded like one. When it was good, the hair on my neck stood up and good bumps swept across my skin. Everyone in my family sang. We sang a French grace at holidays and sometimes for fun. I remember riding in the car someplace with my dad and sister Liza. Probably the whole family was there, but I remember them specifically, maybe because they are no longer alive to sing with me now. We would sing a couple rounds of the grace, and then on a cue, all move up a half step, to continue singing a couple rounds before modulating up again to the next key. We would keep going until we could no longer reach the notes. I miss that kind of singing.

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Unwanted Guests

Unwanted Guests

Izzy could be the most beautiful cat in the world. She is small and lean, with stripes and dots all shades of brown and gray and snowy white. She smiles lovingly and is likely to jump up on my lap no matter where I sit. She presses the top of her head against my chin and leans into my chest. The closest thing to a cat hug I’ve ever felt. If I tilt my head down to kiss her head she smiles more fully and presses up against my lips. Surely the sweetest creature ever to exist.

She sleeps away most days curled up on one of the kids’ vacant beds or ours, sometimes spread out widely on the cool tile floors of the upstairs hall and bathroom. She is short haired but still leaves a trace of sheddings on her favorite spots.

I picked her out at the animal shelter. She had a brother, Senor Guapo. He wasn’t a brother by blood but a brother of common roots at the shelter and shared dual adoption. The two kittens were just what my family needed at the time. A pair of babies to be cared for gently, and adored. Even our giant golden retriever was tender in his curiosity. Izzy was tiny and sick. She developed a cough that took some time to recede. Guapo was typically boyish and crazy. Where Izzy was cautious and skitty, Guapo was bold and stupid. He ultimately met with his demise as a result of his careless nature, simply not returning home one day. We live at the edge of significant wilderness. There are trails and some motorized traffic – four wheelers and dirt bikes. But for a cat, it is deep wilderness filled with prey and predator alike. We were able to keep the kitties confined for the first year but once they started sitting in the window sills and yeowling to be let out, crying to be allowed to follow us outside into the garden and around the yard, we installed a cat door.

They happily came and went, much relieved to bypass the litter box for the great outdoors. This was a sweet smelling benefit for us as well.

Izzy, for all her sweet demeanor and loving ways, is a fierce and successful predator. In her first few years as outside hunter, she would occassionally deliver a variety of goods to the floor of our bedroom, or the kitchen, or the upstiars bathroom, neatly on the bathmat.

This summer, she has graduated to depositing dead animals on all three floors. In addition, she brings live unwanted guests into the house. Squirrels, chipmunks, birds, and bats. I welcome them as I would my child’s friend whom I don’t much like, but out of love for my son or daughter, will smile and feed them a snack and make them feel at home. Long since gone is my sqeamishness at seeing something scurry across the floor. I only feel sympathy for them, knowing that if they were scurrying, it was likely to end soon.

Rodent guests are normally my husband’s domain. Sometimes, when we are awoken at 3am by the spasmodic scratching of a flying squirrel trying to out maneuver our carnivorous kitty, Ed will attempt to capture and free it. Sometimes, we just roll over and go to back to sleep listening to the sounds of the hunt move around us.

I grew angry at Izzy for exercising her birthright when I once arrived home from work to find bird feathers spread from one end of the living room to the other side of the dining room, in essence the entire first floor of the house. I looked around and found behind a closet door, a wounded dove, with featherless patches and obvious injuries, hiding in the dark. I gently picked it up and placed it outside, at the bottom of the yard under a small bush. The following morning, I went and checked the bush. The dove was gone. I hope she escaped the killer I keep in the form of a small, smiling cat.

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Swim Test

The day I took my swimming test, it was cool and overcast. I had followed directions and wore the clothes I would have worn if we were going out on the water. Rather than toss me from a boat, I simply jumped off the dock. I hit the water with sweater and shoes.

I was instructed to swim to the farthest mooring, about 20 yards, touch it and tread water until given a signal, at which time I was to swim to each of three other family moorings, touch them and return to the dock. I made it to the first check point and waited. The water was cold and my body was tingling on the way to numbness. I puffed as I struggled to keep myself and all my saturated clothing above the surface or at least at the surface. I found I couldn’t float without kicking so I held onto the mooring buoy and floated on my back, kicking around in a circle. Several small row boats hovered near by, ready to grab me should I falter.

We grew up summering at the ocean. This was harsh rocky Maine coastline, not sand and surfing. My uncle ran a boys camp during my formative years. He took them and sometimes his collection of nieces and nephews on grand adventures on his large lobster boat. We visited the round smooth rocks of Brimstone, climbed cliffs at Spectacle and endlessly circled tiny Calm Island. We would race each other around the small island in either direction. The going was tougher on the western end, particularly when the tide was high.

My greatest shame the previous summer, my 10th year, was not passing this swimming test and being forced to wear a life jacket for the entire summer. The dreaded orange never-sink was a fat tube of flotation that went around your shoulders like a bloated scarf and cinched in around your waist. It made everything difficult but nearly prohibited entirely the circumnavigation of the western end of Calm Island.

My kicking slowed and I was getting tired. I splashed around a bit regaining buoyancy and looked over where my uncle and the campers and other family members were assembled on the dock and pier.

Brad whistled and I set off swimming. Close to exhausted, I envisioned myself climbing down the narrow ledge on Calm and sidling my way to the bow of the Dirigo without the bulky orange scarf. I imagined myself in the life raft on the roof of the Dirigo’s cabin, just behind the radar, singing James Taylor and Carole King. I imagined laying on my stomach on the bowsprit and watching the boat slice through the water. I could feel the boat’s rumble in my chest. I tagged the dock. I had passed my swim test.

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A Terry Window

My dad was a carpenter with a designer’s eye. Or a designer with woodworking skills. Either way he made his mark on many a house during his long life. In some cases, that mark was the slight curved indentations of a saw blade on trim boards that were never finish sanded, or a bathroom wall that never saw anything beyond a coat of primer.

He would sit at the kitchen table and review his small spiral notebook filled with pages of lists and things to be done, carefully checked off or if not, moved to the next day’s list. He would pick and choose what to do first, often times selecting those tasks that were easy, mindless. Go to the bank. Pick up pencils at the drug store. He was a writer from whom I inherited the tendency to procrastinate by preparing properly. Make sure there is plenty of the right type of paper, that the pencils are sharpened and the dictionary is close at hand. And he will need a drink of water. Perhaps a snack for later. Indeed the crumbs from yesterday’s snacks are all over the floor. Perhaps he should vacuum before he starts writing, to ensure there are no interruptions.

But in those few moments that he did finally sit down to write, or sketch, or pick up a hammer and swing it, he was able to create some magical marks. His final house, where my mother now presides solo, boasts an elegant Russian style chimney that is wide at the base but angles in its climb to the roof line and beyond. The rounded cap sits atop like a handle. My uncle’s house watches the Atlantic currents through a classic Terry window. The sunsets filling the offset windows that secretly spell out “T” for Terry. A quiet statement saying I made this. This is a gift from my creative spirit. You can see the view above….

Thank you daddy. I miss you.

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Trinity Bay – lyrics

The air is warm upon his skin as the balmy breezes blow
He’s often thinking of his kin, t’will soon be time to go.
His eyes see down a list of wares, stored in the holds below.Sugar cane and jugs of rum, good drink when the cold winds blow.

Captain Ned is heading home tonight.
Back to Trinity Bay.
The wind is blowing steady.
A full moon lights his way.

The days at sea are long and hard as they stretch into the night.
High atop the tallest mast, a million stars in sight.
The farther north the boat does sail, the colder turns the sea.A prayer that’s said one time each day is now said two or three.

Captain Ned is heading home tonight.
Back to Trinity Bay.
The wind is blowing steady.
A full moon lights his way.

Eroica, Eroica.

Summertime is cold and raw, north of Kennington Cove.
He leans into a darkening sky, toward the home and kin he loves.
The sun does shine his last day out as he stops to trade his goods. Hold one keg back, unload the rest. A toast to the northern woods.

Captain Ned is heading home tonight.
Back to Trinity Bay.
The wind is blowing steady.
A full moon lights his way.

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Fine Art

I tiptoe down polished pine stairs that end in the corner of an expansive room. Bright fog light floods the narrow stripes of spruce flooring and grayish green wainscoting. Bookshelves hug the windows of a reading alcove and punctuate the larger room like suspenders running from waist to shoulders. Mullioned windows normally frame postcard pictures of island woods, water and shoreline, but today only fingers of spruce and rocky gardens close to the house, can be seen through their lenses.

Overstuffed couches and chairs line the walls, pushed back to make room for easels and stools. A large wooden chest draped with a cream colored cloth sits between a massive stone fireplace and the easels.

I pull my robe tightly around me as I join the group, already engaged in the morning workshop session. Polly, the workshop facilitator was talking about logistics.

“All week, Linda will pose in the mornings.” She gestures graciously in my direction. “Afternoons are free to do what you choose.” She continuess to describe a variety of options for the workshop participants.

I tune out, my eyes on the box. The thudding of my heart is disguised by the rumble of a lobster boat heading along the thoroughfare in front of the house. Leaning against the wall, I squeeze my legs together and hold the collar of my robe closely around my neck with one hand. The other grips my thigh through the deep terry cloth pocket.

Earlier in the kitchen, Lenny, the household manager, had teased me relentlessly.

“You know you have to stay perfectly still. ” He said. “No matter what they do.” He pinched me as he moved across the kitchen to the fridge.

“I doubt they’ll be pinching me Len.”

“But you do realize they will be scrutinizing every one of your parts?” He grinned and winked lewdly.

At 16, I had spent plenty of time naked. Skinny dipping was family tradition in my uncle’s quarry. The difference being that at the quarry, everyone was naked and secretly awkward. Being naked on display was a very different thing.

I stuck out my tongue at Lenny, took my coffee mug upstairs and prepared myself. Splashing water on my face, I thought of my dad.

“I don’t have the greatest body.” I had worried aloud to my father over breakfast earlier that spring.

“You are an artist’s dream.” He responded.”Do you know the term Rubinesque?” I shook my head. “You have the kind of figure that was glorified in the Golden Age. Take a look at the classic paintings. The women were curvaceous, not the stick thin creatures you see everywhere today.” I had shrugged, remaining unconvinced.

In the bathroom on the island, wearing nothing but my robe, I clung to his words.

Downstairs, the group spreads out to their easels and settles in. Polly hands me a faded blue book.

“A prop for you. Maybe not for every session but I think it will help everyone ease into this. It’s hard to draw nudes at first. Quite distracting.”

I nod, thinking the book isn’t big enough to ease me at all. Sweat tickles behind my knee as I consider unruly hairs, swollen mosquito bites and excess flab.

I haven’t even started, but already I’m looking forward to the afternoon – cleaning rooms, fully clothed.

“Let’s start this mornng by laying on your side.” Polly said. “The longer lines will be less intimidating than seated poses.” I nod and move to the box. Laying down the book, I take off my robe.

“Oh and take off your glasses OK?” I do and put them on the mantle.

No fear, I think as I sit down, carefully swinging my legs up onto the box. Leaning on my forearm, I lie facing the artists with one knee slightly in front of the other. I adjust and put my head down on my arm and the book. Mousey brown hair falls across my neck and jaw. Everything is a blur. With no glasses, I can see them looking at me but I can’t see them seeing me.

My stomach growls loudly. Lenny is making bread that will be followed with cookies or brownies or some sort of fragrant baking. One cup of coffee does not constitute breakfast. My stomach rumbles again. I close my eyes, swallow and lick dry lips.

It is easy enough to just lie here but I quickly learn how strenuous holding still can be. How difficult to scratch an itch and then return to precisely the position you left. It takes intense concentration and body awareness. At first anxiously aware of my body, as the minutes and hours of near silence continue I find myself relaxing. Wishing I could see their faces. Or rather, the reflection of myself in their faces as they read the lines of my hip and ankle, shoulder, breast and cheekbone. I would discover myself beautiful in their eyes. I would see their gratitude for my fearlessness.

A familiar foghorn sounds down on the water. The ferry passing along the thoroughfare in the pea soup fog.

Polly has been observing, padding silently amongst us.

“Lets take a break.” She said.

Swinging around I stand up.

“I need something to eat.” I said and left the room, my robe still on the floor.

Linda TCooper © 2010
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