Category Archives: Uncategorized

A Family Tree

There it was, covered in salty spray from the waves of the Chesapeake Bay. A tiny pine tree so fragile and insubstantial, enveloped by a formidable mass of vines and branches. It was nothing, dominated by everything.

Just that day the sprout pushed upwards through leaf litter. Its tiny taproot pushed down into sandy loam, gripping rocks as it sought firmer soil. For the next few decades or so the growing pine fought to stake a claim in the thick tangle, finally reaching an opening where it held its own. On that craggy bit of land where forest met beach, the struggling pine withstood seasons of hot, cold, drought, and flood.

Soon enough it merged with the surrounding thicket to become just another part of that coastal snarl of growth. Day after day, year after year, the pine held on in the bad and grew in the good. Raucous seagulls and breezes through needles were the only sounds it knew.   

Until the chainsaw.

It was likely my grandfather, chainsaw in hand, who first pushed his way into dense undergrowth there on the edge of the bay. In the late 1950s, his purchase of a beachfront lot covered in gums, pines, and briary vines was one he was proud of despite its wildness. Surely it took a lot of hard work and hope to get through that first summer of clearing. Eventually he, along with my grandmother and extended family, managed to clear the land and build a summer cottage.

Who can know the decision making employed as they chose which trees to leave, but when all was said and done a handful remained on the mostly cleared plot. Somehow, through chainsaw, truck, and tractor, that scrawny pine at the edge of the beach was left among the standing. Ripped clean of brambles and surrounding scrub, it now stood alone in the open. Watching all.

In those early years the pine watched my grandfather bait hooks. So near the beach, its scant shade probably served as a reasonable place to clean fish. Being a useless pine, it might have been a good place to prop old oars or temporarily tie a small boat. As my grandfather stacked crab pots against its trunk maybe my grandmother handed him the lunch she made, even squinting one eye as she looked up to watch the pine’s boughs wave in the bay breeze.

Taller and a thicker with time, the pine blocked scorching sun from a deck built by the beach. My grandparents sat nonchalantly swatting mosquitoes as their grown children, and by then a few grandchildren, enjoyed the calm bay water. The shading pine watched over splashing cousins as more than one looked up in time to watch an osprey land among its cone laden branches.

But seasons change and later that winter, like every one before, the pine held on through months of biting cold. Blasted by frozen mist and bitter wind, it waited for us. We were oblivious. Last summer was just a memory and next summer was just a dream, so no one thought about the solitary pine. With needles covered in ice and roots holding against squalls, the tree endured the cold.

But summers reappear, and in the warmth, the pine watched familiar faces return. For over sixty years it has witnessed the customs of our extended family as we parade beneath. Many have come and gone, but in their time each walked, sat, or laughed beneath that tree. It has shaded in summer and waited in winter. It has watched old faces no longer return, young faces become older, and little faces join the traditions.

Amidst years of transformations that tree has remained a constant. The people, the surroundings, and the cottage itself have changed. The pine is the same. For years we watched ospreys in its branches and wind in its boughs. We have always watched the pine. Or has it always watched us?

When I last visited the bay it crossed my mind that the pine may not always be there. What if it had already fallen? I parked the car and almost ran past the cottage to look towards the beach. No need to have worried.

There it was, covered in salty spray from the waves of the Chesapeake Bay. A towering pine tree so robust and sturdy, enveloped by blue skies and balmy breezes. It was everything, dominated by nothing.  

Stuart M. Perkins

131 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

The Local Scoop Magazine – It’s What We Do

A little announcement:

I’m excited to let you know that my essay about my family traditions on the Chesapeake Bay appears in the current issue of The Local Scoop Magazine!

This essay has been published elsewhere, but I’m thrilled that The Local Scoop was also interested in using it – along with some old family photos!

It was a thrill to work with the kind folks at the magazine. Having enjoyed time at the bay my whole life, it was especially fun to contribute.

Below is the link to my piece in the online version of The Local Scoop Magazine. They have a space under the essay for comments, so feel free to leave one. We love the feedback!

https://www.localscoopmagazine.com/life/it-s-what-we-do/

Thanks again to all who’ve asked what I’ve been up to lately. Blogging continues to be great fun and has proven to be an exciting pathway to opportunities such as this. Exciting!

Stuart M. Perkins

42 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

That’s Noody

This is a repost of a piece from a few years ago. I don’t know what it is that causes someone to be on your mind several times throughout several days, but she’s been on mine quite a bit lately. I wanted her to be on yours too.

That’s Noody

Signaling us to quiet down, my ninth grade English teacher rapped a pencil against the top of her desk. She then gave us our next assignment. We were to write a paper about someone we respected. Someone influential to our thinking and whose character we admired. The paper was due the next week and should be three pages long.

She rapped the pencil several more times to silence the groans.

We had the rest of class time to discuss the assignment and choose who we would write about. After deciding, we were to write our choices on the blackboard. Since the person could be anyone, from any point in time, many chose religious, historical, or political figures. After the last student went to the blackboard, the teacher read all of the choices aloud.

She went slowly down the list reading off names of famous figures like George Washington, Mahatma Gandhi, and Neil Armstrong. She paused when she got to my chalk-written choice.

“Margaret Nelson Perkins Lankey?” she frowned and turned to the class, puzzled.

I raised my hand. “That’s Noody.” I said. “She’s my aunt.”

I was never sure why we called her Noody. It didn’t matter. I come from a large family and almost everyone had a nickname. That’s how it was done. Extended family lived all around me but I was lucky having Noody right next door. She and my uncle were as much a part of everyday life as my parents and sisters.

Noody had an old picnic table under her tree where she did everything from shelling butter beans to cleaning fish to cutting watermelon. When I saw her sitting there I’d walk over to visit. If she said “Let’s go sit in the swing.” I knew I was in for a treat. I loved hearing old family stories and she loved telling them. She taught me to remember where I came from while never forgetting where I wanted to go.   

She could drive a pickup, haul firewood, or cut grass all while holding a handful of cookies to snack on. Once, using a hoe, Noody cornered a snake near her shed. Feeling she was perfectly lined up for a quick decapitation, she raised the hoe over her head and came down full force. She missed, leaving a hole in the ground so deep it took a shovel-full of dirt to fill it. She giggled. Do your best and if it doesn’t go as you hoped, laugh it off.

Many snowy winters we cousins took sleds to a nearby hill and Noody would come along for the fun. She took us roller skating on occasion, showing us up by strapping on skates and heading into the rink like a pro. At the family place on the Chesapeake Bay, while other adults sat in the shade, Noody joined us kids in the water. She taught me how to float on my back, and that working hard may be necessary, but playing hard is just as important.

I once stayed with out of town relatives for some summer fun. When I returned home I met Noody in the swing to tell her about it. She asked if I sent them a “bread and butter note”. I told her no but didn’t tell her I had no idea what one was. She went inside and brought back some of her stationery. There at the picnic table she helped me write a proper thank you note. She taught me that and many other lessons over the years.

Not just a mentor, she was also an ally. Before my thirteenth birthday I saw an ad in a magazine for a tiny incubator and six quail eggs. Mama, not thrilled to add to the animals I already had, gave an instant “No”. Logically, I went to see Noody. I told her I wanted to try hatching eggs. Noody read the ad, put her hand on her hip and said, “Run bring me my checkbook.” With help from Noody, my uncle built an enclosure and the quail I hatched were part of my life for the next few years. She always told me if you want something bad enough, you can find a way.  

Many of my relatives are buried at the church near home. The same church most of my extended family attended, and many still do. When my kids were younger I took them for a walk around the cemetery there. As they read a name from each of the family tombstones I would say, “That’s your great grandfather.” or “That’s your great grandmother.” or “That’s your great uncle.” From a spot a little further down than some of the older tombstones, my daughter read a name.

“Margaret Nelson Perkins Lankey?” she called out.

“That’s Noody.” I said.

When I heard her name I remembered the years of good times with my fine aunt. I also remembered what my ninth grade teacher wrote in the upper right hand corner of my paper.

“Please show this writing to Noody.” it said.

I still wish I had.

Stuart M. Perkins

112 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

My Old Stuff

It was a beautiful day in town with so much to see and do. Any outdoor seat could have guaranteed great people watching, but on an early spring day like this, walking and window-shopping were in order.

I strolled past the front window of a nearby antique shop. Sunlight reflected in a hundred directions as it struck crystal glasses lined along a shelf. The rainbow of sparkles caught my eye so I stopped to look. My mother has glasses like these, I thought. On a shelf below was a huge punch bowl. Also similar to hers.

Staring at these pieces reminded me of a conversation I once had with a coworker. A pre-virus, in-person discussion, long before Zoom meetings replaced water-cooler chats. My office was just down the hall from Karen’s.

I glanced in her door on my way to the copier and she motioned to me frantically. Hardly looking up from her computer, her hand waved me towards her desk. She was breathing heavily.

“Isn’t this antique Italian walnut burl carved armoire beautiful?” she asked.

What?” I wasn’t even sure what language she was speaking.

She shoved the monitor in my direction, pointed at the screen, and waited for me to be awed.

“Oh.” I said. “A wardrobe.”

You have one?” she asked with a slight smirk.

“No, but I have a cedar wardrobe that was my great-grandmother’s.” I answered.

“Of course.” She frowned as she slid the monitor back towards herself. “I love proper antiques.”

“I like old stuff too.” I left for the copier.

I have plenty of old stuff. Not just old, but meaningful. Each piece belonged to someone in my family and was passed down and down again until landing with me. Most aren’t valuable in dollars, but each has a story. When I look at them, I imagine the person who touched them, used them, and whether they ever imagined that a hundred years later a relative would be grateful to have them.

The fancy Italian armoire that Karen panted over was pretty, but it meant nothing to me. I would rather have my great-grandmother’s simple cedar wardrobe than all of Italy’s armoires. Then again, I don’t know antiques. I only know my old stuff.

Some weeks later, I invited coworkers over for Friday night pizza. Karen was the first to say yes.

“I’ll get to see your armoire!” she squealed.

“It’s a wardrobe.” I reminded.

“Of course.” Karen said.

Friday evening arrived and with plates full of pizza, we launched into small talk and office gossip. Everyone, that is, but Karen. She was only interested in inspecting my wardrobe.

“What a fabulous vintage mid-century cedar wardrobe!” Karen felt obliged to confirm. She smiled her approval, and then suddenly looked down at her feet.

“Wait. This appears to be an American folk art style hooked rug, likely from the 1930s.” She leaned down for a closer look and glanced up at me. “Did you pick it up from a specialty shop?”

“No, I picked it up from my mother’s hallway.” I laughed. “I told my mother I liked it so she rolled it up and gave it to me. It previously belonged to my grandmother who decades earlier rolled it up and gave it to her.”

“Of course.” Karen said.

She eyed the small table in my hallway. “What an absolutely beautiful mahogany telephone table. And matching chair!” she noticed. “Did you find them at an auction?”

“No, I found them in my grandmother’s spare room. She used them for decades and always told us grandkids about the funny things she’d overhear while making phone calls back when party lines were common.”

“Of course.” Karen said.

The show-and-tell process continued as Karen moved from room to room examining my old stuff. She finally stopped in front of the rusty handheld pruning shears I kept on a shelf. This time she didn’t make a guess or even comment. She simply pointed at the shears and waited.

“Oh.” I took my cue. “They were my grandmother’s and I keep them to remember her love of gardening.”

Karen actually smiled. “Does everything have a story?”

“Of course.” I said.

We rejoined the pizza party and later as people began their goodbyes, talk turned to weekend plans. Somewhere in the chatter, Karen was asked if she would hit the antique shops in the morning, her well-known Saturday routine.

“No.” Karen tapped her chin with her forefinger. “I have enough of those.”  

The room fell silent in disbelief.

She looked towards the rusty old pruning shears as she spoke again.

“What I need is some old stuff.”

Stuart M. Perkins

108 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Alexandria Living – “The Future is Up to You”

Just a little announcement:

I’m excited to let you know I have another essay appearing in the current issue of Alexandria Living magazine!

It’s always a thrill to work with the kind folks at the magazine and as an Alexandria, Virginia resident it is especially fun to contribute.

Below is the link to my piece in the online version of Alexandria Living. If you like, please comment on the magazine website in the space they provide just below the essay.

We love the feedback!

https://alexandrialivingmagazine.com/lifestyle/the-future-is-up-to-you/

Thanks again to all those who’ve asked what I’ve been up to lately. Blogging continues to be great fun and has proven to be an exciting pathway to opportunities such as this. Exciting!

Stuart M. Perkins

42 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

One Man’s Trash

“No, let’s just leave it in there for now.” Mama said over her shoulder as she washed a plate and arranged it with others in the rack.

I was just a kid, so didn’t ask why I couldn’t have it. I dropped the rusty key back into the drawer and watched it disappear between a crushed matchbook and a small ball of frayed string.

When I was little, the drawer by the refrigerator was a forbidden mystery. The clanking sounds made as Mama or Daddy dug around in there were so intriguing. Finally tall enough to open it myself, I spent a few minutes running my hand through the odd assortment of things it contained. If Mama wouldn’t let me have the rusty key, I didn’t dare ask about the torn business card, the bent thumb tack, or the random assortment of colored bread ties. They must really be valuable.

Years passed before I opened the drawer again. Although it was directly beside the refrigerator, which I opened often, the drawer went mostly unnoticed. When I did open it again, I was taller and could peer even further into its mysterious depths. I fished out a cracked cigarette lighter with half a crayon stuck to it, the words “Burnt Umber” still visible on the fragile paper. Tucked behind the microwave’s yellowing owner’s manual was a pair of broken sunglasses. With a questioning look, I held them in the air as Mama came in from the grocery store.

“No, let’s just leave it in there for now.” She maneuvered around me to put milk in the refrigerator.

I looked in the drawer several times over the years, at first to ease my curiosity but later to laugh and wonder how the collection of random items spent decades in that sliding time capsule without becoming trash. I never saw anything missing and rarely saw anything added other than a corroded AAA battery, an occasional rubber band, or the cracked cap of a long-gone ballpoint pen.

I vowed never to have a drawer like that.

Years later in my own home, I hung pictures one afternoon. When done, rather than put away the extra nails, I lazily dropped them into the drawer by my own refrigerator. I giggled when I realized the number of bread ties and shoelaces already taking up space there. Sometime later I lost the key to a small lock. Thinking I’d eventually find it, I put the lock into the drawer for safekeeping. When my daughter’s doll lost a hand, I put it in the drawer along with the tiny tire from one of my son’s toy cars. I knew they’d be safe there with the dried up glue stick and a feather.

As my kids grew older and taller, they discovered my drawer. They caught me off guard the day they asked to play with a broken wristwatch dug from its contents.

“No, let’s just leave it in there for now.” I heard myself say.

I was puzzled by my parents’ junk drawer but more puzzled by my own. Why do we keep odd bits of trash? I had locks with no keys, keys to no locks, and actually struggled one day before throwing away a peppermint I found stuck to a cracked shoehorn.

My kids are grown now and I used to wonder whether they would collect various bits of invaluable debris like the rest of us. I stopped wondering the day I rode in my son’s car. As he drove, I looked in the glove compartment for a napkin. While rifling through crumpled receipts, a lone sock, and several packs of petrified chewing gum, something fell out and hit my leg.

I reached down to pick up the eraser-less end of a broken pencil.

“Well you can definitely throw this away”. I laughed. My son wasn’t laughing, but did have a slight grin as he spoke.

“No, let’s just leave it in there for now.”

Stuart M. Perkins

112 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Motherwell Magazine – “Perfect Fit”

Just a little announcement:

I’m excited to let you know I have another essay appearing in Motherwell Magazine!

Motherwell is an online publication that tells all sides of the parenting story, with original content on family life, culture, obstacles and the process of overcoming them. 

Below is the link to my piece on their Facebook page. If you like, please comment on their Facebook page just below the essay.

We love the feedback!

Thanks again to all those who’ve asked what I’ve been up to lately. Blogging continues to be great fun and has proven to be an exciting pathway to opportunities such as this. Exciting!

Stuart M. Perkins

20 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Motherwell Magazine – “Dumb Little Dish”

Just a little announcement:

I’m excited to let you know I have an essay appearing in Motherwell Magazine!

Motherwell is an online publication that tells all sides of the parenting story, with original content on family life, culture, obstacles and the process of overcoming them. 

Below is the link to my piece on their Facebook page. If you like, please comment there just below the essay.

We love the feedback!

Thanks again to all those who’ve asked what I’ve been up to lately. Blogging continues to be great fun and has proven to be an exciting pathway to opportunities such as this. Exciting!

Stuart M. Perkins

39 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Just Some Vanilla

Just a little announcement:

I’m excited to let you know I had another essay appear in Alexandria Living magazine!

It’s always a thrill to work with the kind folks at the magazine and as an Alexandria, Virginia resident it is especially fun to contribute.

Below is the link to my piece in the online version of Alexandria Living. If you like, please comment on the magazine website just below the essay itself.

We love the feedback!

https://alexandrialivingmagazine.com/lifestyle/perkins-just-some-vanilla/

Thanks again to all those who’ve asked what I’ve been up to lately. Blogging continues to be great fun and has proven to be an exciting pathway to opportunities such as this. Exciting!

Stuart M. Perkins

51 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Tasty Truth

My daughter is an intelligent, funny, beautiful young lady. Only in her twenties, she already has a husband and a two year old son. On a recent phone call, as we discussed her fast-paced sales job, I was reminded that I wasn’t talking to my little girl anymore. Where did the tiny kid go I used to carry in my arms? I stopped mid-sentence and made a wistful comment about her being so grown up.

“Will you always think of me as a five year old?” she sighed. I could almost hear her rolling her eyes.

“Yes Baby Doll.” I answered, calling her the name I’ve called her since the days I carried her in my arms.

Even as a five year old, she was outgoing and curious. She sometimes asked questions that forced me, I felt, to come up with the tiniest of white lies. I wanted to shield her from the harsher realities of life for as long as I could. How dare anything ruin her happy, innocent world?

For instance, the time she asked why the raccoon was lying, belly-up, on the side of the road. I told her it was napping and I rolled up the window before she questioned the odor. And who could fault me for saying our goldfish was practicing the backstroke the day it floated lifelessly at the top of the tank? Or the time she saw two lewd Labradors lost in the throes of passion. Clearly, they were just playing leapfrog. I ushered her into the house.

I didn’t want her innocent mind tainted by such things and I found myself constantly on guard for realities I might need to filter. However, I was off my game the day the chicken truck pulled up beside us at a red light.

A few miles past where we lived at the time were huge chicken farms. Periodically, trucks loaded with live chickens traveled down a major road near our house. I’d made illegal U-turns several times just to avoid them. I couldn’t imagine what I would say if she ever asked about those trucks full of caged chickens being hauled to their deaths. I was always on watch.

Except that day.

I hadn’t noticed that it was an actual chicken truck when it stopped beside me. I was aware that a vehicle was there, but nothing prompted me to look over until I reached to change the radio station. That’s when something floated down and landed on my windshield. A feather.

Chickens!” I gasped.

As I glanced over, afraid to confirm, I noticed my daughter in the back seat looking intently through her window. Just feet away from her little face were hundreds of white chickens crammed into metal cages. Feathers floated everywhere. I can still see my daughter’s wide eyes as she stared at the sight.

I stopped looking at her, whirled around to face forward, and prayed for a green light. It remained agonizingly red. I thought maybe she wouldn’t ask anything.

Silly me.

“Daddy?” I heard the sweet little voice.

This was it. Please let me think of a good one.

“Yes?” I answered, willing the light to turn green. It didn’t.

“Is that what chicken nuggets look like before we eat them?” She pushed her face against the window for a better look.

I couldn’t think of anything to say. I had no idea she even knew chicken nuggets came from chickens. She obviously didn’t pay attention the day I told her they were made by nugget elves.

Well, she was five. I guessed it was time she started processing some of those realities I’d kept from her. I couldn’t avoid this one. She was staring at a truckload of misery and there was no way I could save her. I nearly teared up as I resigned myself to the answer.

“Yes, Baby Doll.” I said gently. “That’s what chicken nuggets look like before we eat them.” I gripped the steering wheel, stared at the stubborn red light, and waited for her to wail at the awful truth. I kept waiting.

Finally, she spoke.

“Mmmm!” she said with a huge grin. “I love chicken meat!”

The light turned green.

Stuart M. Perkins

125 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized