Monthly Archives: June 2013

Hand in Hand

Sadly, three of my good friends all lost family members over the last few months. One lost his grandmother, the second lost her brother, and the third is dealing with the recent death of his father. Naturally these losses caused a great deal of grief, upset, and certainly a lot of reflection on the importance each loved one had in their lives. I’m fortunate that both of my parents are still here, but the death of my grandmother over twenty years ago still has the power to upset me as though it were only yesterday that she passed away.

Luckily, my grandmother wasn’t someone I saw only on holidays or occasional Sunday afternoons. She was my second mother. She lived in her old farmhouse just through the cornfield, behind the tomato rows, and past the walnut tree at the end of the path. If I didn’t actually see her face to face every single day of my life, I still saw her in the backyard when I looked across the field, or I caught a glimpse of her in the thick butterbean rows. She was in my life when I was born and throughout my life helped me in any way she could. In her later years, as much as I could, I tried to help her. When she died I thought about how she had been there for me since my beginning and how as she aged and needed help, it was a natural matter of course that I would do what I could for her at the end.

I’m not much of a writer, and even less of a poet, but when my grandmother died the poem below just came out of me. She was a good, Christian woman and I think she would have liked what this poem says. When she was alive, she was there not just for me, but for my entire extended family and she knew we were there for her. She believed we will all ultimately be together again.

Religious beliefs are tricky, personal things, different for each of us, but it always eased my mind to see how strongly my grandmother held on to hers. She said we’ll all be together again, I believe her, and I find comfort in that. I hope my three friends find the same comfort as they remember how their loved ones cared for them, how they returned that love, and how we’ll be back together again in time, all notions that I tried to express twenty years ago when I wrote this tiny poem about my grandmother:

Hand in Hand

You held me tight in times I might
Not have wanted to stand.
A child so young, life just begun,
You there to hold my hand.

Your years flew past, painfully fast,
Sooner than I had planned.
Effort in talking, weakness in walking,
My turn to hold your hand.

But there’ll come a time, both yours and mine
To see wonderful things, so grand.
We’ll meet in that place, a smile on the face
And we’ll hold each other‘s hand.

Stuart M. Perkins

Advertisements

28 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Weeding Baby Wendell

I walk nearly every evening, rain or shine. Although the area where I live has sidewalks, ball fields, and open spaces where most people do their walking, I prefer to walk in the cemetery across the street. It’s nearly forty acres of rolling land full of mature trees and all manner of wildlife. It’s filled too, with many, many graves. Towards a back corner, just a few feet from a rusted section of chain link fence choked by honeysuckle, is baby Wendell’s grave.

On my daily walks I began to stop now and then to upright a vase, pull a weed, or pick up trash. I don’t always take the same route so I never focused on any grave in particular, just did what little thing needed to be done if I noticed, and kept walking. It was obvious when family or friends would tidy up around a grave and it became clear that some graves never got attention other than the general maintenance by the owners. No one ever visited baby Wendell. The little granite urn on his tombstone would fill with old leaves, grass clippings, and spider webs. The day I noticed wiregrass smothering his tiny tombstone, I decided to make baby Wendell a routine stop.

My daily walks also meant that the many visitors who came regularly on Sunday afternoons or holidays would see me at one place or another on the grounds. I’d often be mistaken for an employee as they stopped to ask, for instance, where section L was, which gate exits where, or the location of the main office.

One Sunday evening two elderly women, who I later realized had seen me there many times, drove up as I was bent over picking a dead wasp out of baby Wendell’s urn. Not wanting them to think I was up to no good, I stood and walked towards them to say hello. They were all smiles and I was surprised as they began to thank me.

“We see you out here real often. How long have you worked here?” the first woman asked as she adjusted the bouquet of artificial flowers she held in her hand.

The second woman added “Yes, and after that last storm you were the first one we saw out here picking up sticks. It’s just so good that you work here.”

I watched the first woman struggle with her bouquet and said “Oh no Ma’am. I don’t work here, I just walk here.”

As it turned out, they were sisters who had come to put flowers on their brother’s grave. His is located just a few sites over from baby Wendell, between a dogwood tree and a very old azalea.

“But you’re here just about every time we come by.” the first woman said, still fighting to get a grip on the bouquet in her hand, and looking puzzled that I didn’t work there.

“And looks to me like every time we’ve seen you, you’ve been working.” the sister added again.

I explained to them how I might randomly pick up a stick now and then, or put some wind blown trash back in the can, but that they only saw me so often because I had one day noticed the wiregrass that nearly covered the tiny tombstone near their brother’s.

“I’m just weeding baby Wendell.” I said.

“Why? All that and you don’t work here?” the first woman asked as she lost her grip on part of the bouquet.

I’d never given it that much thought. I walk there nearly every day and it was just part of my walk to upright a geranium now and then. I had occasionally remembered what Nannie, my grandmother, used to tell us kids back home. “If you see a need, fill it, and don’t worry about who gets the credit.” she would say.

“Well we can’t thank you enough for all we’ve seen you do.” the first woman said as a tiny piece of her bouquet fell to the ground.

“Oh it’s just wonderful that you would help for no reason.” the sister added.

They both seemed about to tear up as they walked away. I never thought about needing or getting credit for any of the random things I only sporadically did as I walked, but these two women had noticed and they had thanked me. Those tiny efforts took so little on my part, but to them they meant a lot. They noticed and they appreciated.

I suppose we all do the random nice things that we do because we know it’s right, and it’s kind. Baby Wendell could never thank me, and none of us imagine we’ll ever be thanked for the tiny things we do, and we may not believe anyone even notices. But out there for each of us is the equivalent of those two old ladies, noticing and appreciating.

I reached down and picked up the tiny piece of bouquet the woman had dropped as she thanked me. I finished weeding baby Wendell and put those flowers in his little urn.

“No need to thank me baby Wendell. You’re welcome.” I said.

Stuart M. Perkins

17 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Felony Breath

I spent the better part of my workday in one long meeting, the conference room table so full we were elbow to elbow all the way around. My mind wandered as the chairs wedged on either side of me pinched first an arm, then a hand –  and I caught the occasional smell of an unsavory scent. And as my mind wandered, I reflected on being brought up in the South where a high premium is placed on good manners. Being brought up right meant I was taught to respect my elders, hold the door for those behind me, and be gracious in my dealings with others. Never was I to stray from the path of courtesy. It was imperative to avoid being rude to others at all cost.

So how then was I to tell the man sitting next to me that his breath could bring a bull elephant to its knees?

It’s understandable that most people’s breath can’t constantly maintain the freshness of a spring zephyr, but this man (who shall be referred to as Mr. Malodor) didn’t have breath that fell into the temporary category of “Excuse me, I had garlic at lunch.” He had breath that fell into the category of “Hello, I chewed my way through a dumpster to sit beside you.”

As my eyes watered, and between dry heaves, I scanned the room for another seat. There were none. About that time something gave Mr. Malodor a reason to laugh. The floating blast of filthy stench that came from his mouth had me looking up to watch birds and stars encircle my head. Just as things were going black it was announced we would break for lunch. I came to, hopeful to make an escape.  Mr. Malodor stood to get his box lunch and as he disappeared into the hallway I decided I would stay put. Maybe the table would fill up before he got back and someone else could sit in the midst of his mouth fog, a cloud that could surely melt iron ore.

It was as I finished my lunch that I felt movement to my left. Mr. Malodor was back. He sat down and began to do what I feared most – talk directly to me. Subconsciously, I reached for the peppermint included with my box lunch. It would be no match for his laser breath, but it was my only defense.

“Mint?” I almost pleaded as I pushed it towards him.

“I stay away from sugar.” He said. “It rots the teeth.”

Too late sir.

He continued to assault me with the fetid fog. “How was your weekend?” He asked, with what seemed to be a very breathy “Howwww…”

“Oh I didn’t do much.” I answered curtly, trying to curb the conversation. Courtesy compelled me to ask, “And yours?”

“Great weekend for me. I went hiking for a couple days. Love to see the wildlife.” He puffed.

I had visions of him on the trail, skunks high-fiving as he passed. “Well done!” they’d say. And then I had visions of birds flying… and stars circling… Oh no, it was happening again… I was saved though, by people returning to their seats. Mr. Malodor pivoted to get back in place but left me with one putrid parting shot as he said “Yep, it was a fun trip until I lost my backpack. Not a big deal though. Nothing much in it except another pair of shoes and a map. Oh, and my toothbrush.”

You don’t say.

Stuart M. Perkins

20 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Scent of a Memory

When I finally moved away from my parents’ house I still lived only a few miles away. I moved occasionally over the years but never more than a twenty minute drive or so from their house and the place I grew up.  A couple of years ago when I decided to make a bigger move, Mama clutched her breast at the travesty of my moving so far away. “It’s only two hours from Richmond to D.C. It’s not a big deal”, I tried to console her. To her though, I may as well have been taking part in efforts to colonize the moon. She couldn’t hide her distress when she asked “But won’t you get homesick?” I had never lived far from home maybe, but I had traveled to other countries, for years I went on annual week-long beach trips with old friends, and I’d had countless weekends away over the years. Homesick? Silly Mama, that’s not something to worry about. I’d never felt that way in the past and couldn’t see why I ever would. I made the move and homesickness was never a thought.

Until I smelled a cantaloupe.

While growing up, summer days always saw a cantaloupe in Mama’s kitchen. A huge bowl in the refrigerator was always full of a recently sliced melon and another would be waiting in the wings. There could be one in the large kitchen windowsill, maybe one on the floor by the stove, and probably one on the counter sometimes cut in half just waiting for Mama to return to the task. The smell of cantaloupe was always in the kitchen. After hot days riding bikes with cousins or building forts down in the pasture I looked forward to that bowl of cold, sliced cantaloupe that I knew would be waiting.

I would simply walk into the kitchen and smell cantaloupe.

These days I ride a bus to work each morning. The only smells are those of exhaust from passing traffic and bus fumes from the 4A as it picks me up, takes me a few miles away, and drops me off at a Metro station where I catch an equally smelly shuttle to cross the Potomac into Georgetown. One morning as the shuttle neared the university and stopped at a light, the greasy smell of the vehicle combined with the odor from asphalt pavers working on a side street. It wasn’t the best way to start a morning. As we sat on the shuttle waiting for the light to change the woman next to me began to rifle through her tote bag. She momentarily opened a plastic container and the aroma hit me. She had cantaloupe.

I felt a strange feeling come over me and for a minute I closed my eyes, unsure whether it might be the acrid odors of exhaust and asphalt that were finally getting to me. No, that wasn’t it. I was homesick. The smell of the shuttle, exhaust, bus fumes and asphalt disappeared. Instead, the smell of those few small chunks of cantaloupe took me back to Mama’s kitchen, building forts in the pasture among the blackberry bushes, and lazy summer days riding bikes with my cousins.

I had smelled a cantaloupe.

Stuart M. Perkins

17 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

A Pew for You

I had dinner over in D.C. tonight and the agreeable weather made it a great night to sit outside. The restaurant’s patio area was delineated from the hectic sidewalk by a rustic cast iron fence topped with weathered planters full of store-fresh geraniums. Behind this barricade, my table and five others were neatly arranged. Six full tables enjoyed dinner and got in some good people-watching. It seemed we all finished our meals around the same time and reluctant to leave such a cozy place on such a pleasant evening, we six full tables of strangers began to talk amongst ourselves as if we were old friends at a reunion.

At one point, the woman at the table beside me told her husband that she wanted to get some things done around the house Saturday, but on Sunday they were going to church. The look on his face proved church had not factored into his plans. His wife knew that look better than I and she cut him off before he could say anything with  “Ohhh yes. We’re going to church. There’s a pew for you this Sunday!” Then she turned to me to say she asks him every Saturday night if he’s going to church with her on Sunday.

I told her that rang a bell. Growing up “across the field” from Nannie, my grandmother, meant I spent many hours as a teenager at her farmhouse working in the garden, helping in the yard, or sitting on her huge two-story screened porch out back. Nannie was more than a Sunday church-goer. She was involved in everything at church regardless of the day of the week. The fact that the church was less that a quarter mile away and visible from the very porch she sat on every evening underscored its relevance in her life. She didn’t miss a Sunday and she gave her best effort to ensure others followed suit. Unfortunately, as a teenager who preferred to do almost anything else on Sunday mornings, I probably often made the same face that the man at the next table tonight gave his wife. Nannie, just like this man’s wife, would ask every Saturday evening that she saw me whether I would be at church the next day.

One of those Saturday evenings I had been helping Nannie with yardwork. We rested on the porch and as I stood up to leave I winced when she asked, with her always sweet and calm tone, “See you at church tomorrow?” I could never lie and say “yes”, but to say “no” made me feel such guilt that I was always trying to come up with unique responses to divert her attention until I could disappear behind the boxwoods by the porch and head home. Somehow, if I could just make it to the boxwoods I felt I’d dodged the bullet. I froze. “See you in church tomorrow?” she sweetly asked again. I remembered a line I’d heard so I looked her squarely in the face, not even using boxwoods as cover, and said “Sitting in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes you a car.” She simply said “Maybe not, but cars don’t need to be saved.” When I responded with “All of them I ever drove did.” She started a good Nannie chuckle and before she finished I was behind the boxwoods heading home. I hadn’t gotten far when I heard her say again “See you in church tomorrow.” This time not presented as a question…

The woman at the table beside me seemed to enjoyed my recollection of Nannie’s weekly attempts to get me to church. She turned to her husband and said again, sternly, “We’re going to church.” He leaned up to look around her at me and said “I guess I’ll have to. Know any way I can get out of church Sunday?”

“Plant boxwoods on Saturday.” I suggested.

Stuart M. Perkins

84 Comments

Filed under Humor

Honestly Put.

I catch an early morning bus to work from Arlington VA into D.C. each weekday. Generally, I see the same faces riding every morning, each of us zombies of the morning rituals and habits that funnel us to the same vehicle, at the same time, day after day. We read papers, chit-chat with other riders, take quick naps, or pretend to take quick naps so as not to have to chit-chat with other riders.  Primarily the same people, same seats, every day.

One morning, however, in the seat usually occupied by a woman who finds it necessary to read her weekly novel out loud, sat a newcomer. He sat in an aisle seat, the window seat filled with his backpack, a jacket, and what appeared to be one shoe. He leaned forward as much as he could without hitting the seat ahead of him, head in his hands. He would occasionally sit up to look out of the window, glance at the other riders, or stare straight ahead. He talked to himself a little bit, but I could never understand much more than a word or two now and then. He did not appear to be having a good day so far, at that early hour. At most I could hear an occasional sigh, a “Good Lord”, or a curse word now and then.

But towards the end of our commute as we neared the final stop, the man sat bolt upright and loudly and clearly said “Lord, give me Patience today, because if you give me Strength I’m just going to rob that liquor store on the corner of 14th and P.

Now that was an honest, praying man.

Stuart M. Perkins

249 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Doing Corn!

A few years ago I reminisced with coworkers about childhood experiences we longed to relive. One said “Oh, I want to do Italy again! The sights and sounds!” Another said “I want to do Paris again! The shopping!” When asked what summertime fun I wanted to have again I whispered “I want to do corn…!”

Nannie, my grandmother, had a huge garden on her farm which was summer’s focus for my family and my extended family. We anticipated nothing more than CORN. Excitement began when Daddy hooked the planter to the tractor. Weeks later, we pulled suckers in the hot cornfield. “Straighten the stalks up as you go.” Daddy said, wiping his face with a handkerchief. As time passed, Nannie checked corn by pulling shucks back just enough to stick a fingernail into a juice kernel. “If we’d get rain it would go on and make.” Mama predicted. “You could get enough for supper now.” Aunt Noody insisted. Weeks later as the entire field neared “readiness”, Nannie used her skills to decide when timing was right and finally said “Y’all want to do corn Tuesday?”

Tuesday morning aunts started “before it got hot”. Yawning cousins gathered by the barn with lawn chairs, buckets, pans, and knives. In the field, cornstalks jerked and we heard “sca-runch!” each time an ear was pulled. “Lord, it’s snaky in here.” Aunt Helen declared. “Sca-runch!” we heard again. One by one aunts came from the cornfield pushing wheelbarrows filled with corn. They made it to the shade of the giant tree by the barn where chairs had been arranged around bushel baskets to hold the shucks, wiped their sweaty faces, and sat down. Shucking style was important and if we cousins didn’t get all the silks of then “we just as well not shuck”. Wormy ears were passed to aunts who flicked away wriggling offenders and cut damaged kernels away with surgical precision. As each pan filled with shucked corn, one of us cousins ran it up to Nannie’s house to be blanched in huge pots of boiling water.

Nannie hummed hymns as she plopped steaming blanched corn to cool in ice water in the old ceramic kitchen sink while cousins stood at the counter and cut corn off cobs. Aunt Dessie asked “How many pints y’all reckon we’ll get?” as cousins packed corn into freezer cartons. “I still got some from last year so don’t count any out for me.” Aunt Jenny demanded.  We ate mouthfuls of corn as we cut but we didn’t need to because Nannie saved out “pretty” ears for lunch. Cousins ate on the huge porch, leaning forward over plates, butter dripping from chins. After lunch we did more corn until Nannie announced “It’s just too hot.” The steamy kitchen was cleaned, sticky hands washed, and freezer cartons full of corn were divided up. Mama and the aunts stacked the filled freezer cartons onto trays and we all walked home across the field to help put them in our freezers. We had done corn.

My coworkers’ favorite summer memories may be be of Italy and Paris where shopping, sights, and sounds made childhood special, but not mine. A hot summer day with sticky hands, a chin covered with butter, and giggling cousins is what I long for again. I don’t need to go to foreign countries to hear the sounds I want to hear. I want to go home and hear Nannie hum and the “sca-runch!” in the cornfield. I want to do corn…

Stuart M. Perkins

13 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized