Tag Archives: Family

1. magic marker

“No, no, no!”

That tone of reprimand rang a bell for some reason. Behind me in the check-out line, a young mother wrestled something from her toddler’s tight grip.

“No, no, no!” she repeated. The little boy had grabbed a ball point pen from a display rack near the cash register. Having swiftly removed the cap, he was about to demonstrate his unique brand of artwork across a stack of Washington Posts. He clenched his little fist when his mother tried to take the pen. What child doesn’t like to draw?

I drew constantly as a child. Pens and pencils were my implements of choice and when I could sneak it away I’d use my oldest sister’s fountain pen until it emptied. She always wondered why her ink ran out so quickly and unless she reads this it will remain a decades-old secret. Of course I had a box of Crayola crayons, 64 count with a built-in sharpener. I lived large. One thing I’d never used, but craved greatly, was a magic marker. I didn’t have one, but Mama did.

I’d seen her use it once then toss it into something in the back of the high cabinet above the stove. I was too short then to know the secrets of that cabinet, but one day as Mama backed out of the driveway to go to the grocery store I seized the opportunity to learn. Although home alone, I quietly slid a kitchen chair to the stove, quietly climbed up, and quietly eased open the cabinet door. I saw spices, aspirin, glue, rubber bands, and a deck of playing cards. That was it. Disappointed, I started to close the cabinet, but that’s when I saw it. There, from inside an old coffee mug, wedged between broken pencils and a pair of scissors, it called to me. A black magic marker!

Quietly I reached in and quietly I plucked the marker from the mug. Just as quietly I removed the cap, catching a whiff of that distinct and what I considered beautiful aroma. In slow motion I turned to hop from the chair. I’d been quiet and I’d be quiet as I drew with this marvelous thing. I’d return it to the mug when done and no one would know. Nothing and no one could be as quiet as me and that marker. Except Mama.

“No, no, no!” Mama said, coming in the back door with an armload of groceries.

“You can’t use that. It’ll get everywhere and it will never wash off.” she continued.

Even when I drew with generic pens, pencils, and crayons Mama made it clear I was to sit at the kitchen table, draw only on the paper, and never get near the walls. No surprise that the notion of me with a magic marker made her a bit nervous. I handed Mama the marker, she returned it to the coffee mug, and I headed to my sister’s room to take out my disappointment on the fountain pen.

With Christmas right around the corner at that point, my sisters and I started making our lists for Santa Claus. I noticed that their extensive lists included things like dolls, dresses, games, and make up. I had written down only one thing.

  1. magic marker

Oh, everyone laughed but to me it was serious. I had to know what it was like to draw with a magic marker. Pens and pencils were great, crayons were fun, and fountain pens were nice while the ink lasted, but I had to have a magic marker!

Christmas morning came and in my spot near the tree was the mountain of gifts Santa Claus generously left every year. As my sisters hugged new dolls and compared games and make up, I marveled at my remote control helicopter and a book on dinosaurs. To the left of a new pair of slippers was a small, plain box. There were no words or pictures to provide a clue, but as I lifted the lid the distinct and beautiful aroma gave it away. A brand new magic marker.

Merry Christmas to me!

I stood in a rush. I had to draw immediately! I ran to the kitchen table where I knew it was safe, grabbed my drawing pad and sat down. Mama, on my heels the entire time, pulled me and the entire kitchen table three feet from the wall. She instantly spread a layer of newspaper beneath my drawing pad, handed me several wet paper towels, and reminded me that magic marker ink would never wash off. Daddy stood by calmly, grinning at Mama’s panic. I think I know which half of Santa Claus was behind that particular gift. I happily drew as the distinct and beautiful aroma filled the kitchen.

For a kid who finally got his magic marker, it really was the most wonderful time of the year.

And Mama was incorrect. Magic marker ink will come off, it just takes rubbing alcohol and three good days. When she wasn’t looking that Christmas morning I’d scribbled a test patch across my knee.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Nannie’s Roses

Nannie would do it here, I think.

“Snip”

And probably right here.

“Snip”

This one could use it too.

“Snip”

With new clippers in hand I trimmed spent flower stems from sad looking rose bushes in the backyard. These were nothing like the ones my grandmother used to grow. When I was a child Nannie had dozens of healthy rose bushes vibrantly blooming in the yard around her farmhouse. I don’t think she had purchased a single one of them.

Some may have been given to her by friends, but most she had rooted herself. Usually people admire the gift of a flower arrangement for days until the flowers fade and are thrown away. Not Nannie. Almost upon arrival, flower arrangements of any kind and especially those containing roses were dismantled, clipped, stripped, dipped in rooting powder and plugged into her rooting bed. Some months later and voila! One more rose bush for her yard or to give to someone “down at church”.

As a child it seemed a miracle to me that short thorny sticks with a few wilted leaves could become anything at all. I said so to Nannie, remarking that I thought it a miracle and asking how she could be sure they would grow. She agreed it was a miracle and said she was never sure they would grow; she had faith they would grow.

Nannie’s faith was the backbone of her existence. I’ve never known a more faithful Christian than my grandmother. She didn’t preach about what should be done, she shared her faith showing what could be done. A true teacher by example. Oh sure, she often asked why I hadn’t been in Sunday School the week before, or said if I went to church the next Sunday she’d sit with me, and other guiding comments any grandmother would make but she had a way of weaving her suggestions and lessons into everyday conversations. We had many good and deep conversations while working in her rose beds, most of them about the importance faith and family played in her life.

I’ve never claimed to be a good Christian. Actually she never made that claim about herself either, being a modest woman, but to everyone else she certainly was. All who met her were struck by the love she had for her family and her endless solid faith in God.

Nannie died twenty five years ago. Only twice in my life have I attempted poetry and both pieces were written about her shortly after her death. I reread this poem after all these years and had to smile. Economy of words has never been my forte when writing but I had to get it out, I suppose. With few alterations I’ve included it below.

I’m solid in my own beliefs and thankful that a remarkable woman, who happened to be my own grandmother, was there to guide me in such a way that I learned early on about the power of faith and importance of family. But this poem isn’t about me and my beliefs or love of family as much as it is about Nannie and my respect for the lifelong commitment she showed to hers.

 

 

Nannie’s Roses

 

I loved helping Nannie

With her roses. One day

She tried telling me something

That went sort of this way:

 

“I like watching things bloom,

Not just flowers, you know.

With the right sort of touch

You make anything grow”.

 

People and roses,

She told me that day,

Both need some training

To grow the right way.

 

“Sometimes they ramble

To grow where they could,

But it’s for me to see

That they grow where they should”.

 

And I knew she meant us

For as everyone knows,

Each one in her family

She considered a rose.

 

She rooted us strongly.

We were tended and groomed.

Then she’d smile as she waited,

She knew we would bloom.

 

She said “Family and roses

Were trained by my hand.

The old ones grew tall

And learned how to stand.

 

My younger ones now

Are not quite so tame.

Their blooms may be different

But I love them the same.

 

And I know with some work

And the help of my hands

They’ll grow as the others

And with them they’ll stand”.

 

“But these older ones now,

Still need help today?”

I asked and she said,

“No I’ve shown them the way.

 

I’ve given them love

And plenty of room.

They’re on their own now

To grow and to bloom.

 

For both family and roses

There does come the time

To depend on their own strength

And let go of mine.”

 

Now we and the roses,

Alone we all stand.

Sadly she’s gone

With her strong guiding hand.

 

Each a rose in her garden,

We were guided with love.

Now she’s watching us bloom

From somewhere above.

 

As we bloomed in her garden,

We’re all sure somehow,

That she’s a rose blooming

In His garden now.

 

Stuart M. Perkins

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Thanks Alice

I sipped the watery coffee and unwrapped my egg biscuit. Hitting the highway early and with another hour ahead of me, I’d pulled off to go through the drive-thru window of a lone fast-food place surrounded by woods. Nice, I thought. I’ve always found eating in my car preferable to the noisy interiors of those restaurants. It was quiet and peaceful with no kids screaming.

“Mommy!” the kid screamed.

It was a little girl. She and two other kids stood with their backs flat against an old beat up car parked a few spaces away.

“Mommy!” she screamed again. A little more panic in her voice this time. All three kids looked around in different directions but never moved from their spots. Puzzled, I stopped eating and watched for a minute as I tried to understand. That’s when Mommy appeared from the woods with a baby on her hip and a long thin stick in her hand.

“But where’s Daddy?” the screaming little girl asked, still in a panic.

Daddy appeared from the woods holding a toddler’s hand. He, too, carried a long thin stick.

When Daddy fumbled around the edges of the driver’s side window I realized they were locked out of their car. Mommy and kids stood by while Daddy tried with first one long stick and then the other to get into the window. The first stick was too thick and the second broke just as he seemed on the verge of success.

They need to find someone with a coat hanger, I thought. I’ve seen people get into locked cars using those. But it was so early in the morning and with no one else in the parking lot I wasn’t sure who might have one.

Oh wait. I did.

I popped my trunk from inside and got out of the car. It only took seconds to go into my luggage and grab the one wire coat hanger I had among several plastic ones. I heard an odd rattle, but in a hurry I paid no attention and shut the trunk. Daddy’s eyes lit up as I approached with the coat hanger and Mommy herded the kids aside so he could try again. The screaming little girl was now crying. Mommy had her hands full with the other four so I squatted down beside the little girl.

“Don’t worry. It will be ok.” I said, patting her on the arm. She seemed to be taking this whole incident very seriously!

“My name is Alice.” she said, voice cracking.

“Well Alice, don’t worry. It will be ok.” Her Daddy contorted himself in attempts to maneuver the coat hanger into the window. I hoped it would work quickly so Alice wouldn’t give up and panic again.

Pop!

“And there you go!” I said to her when we heard the door unlock.

Sighs of relief from Mommy and Daddy who thanked me profusely as they packed the five kids back into the old beat up car. Daddy joked saying the worst thing of all was that his coffee was now cold. We laughed and I waved as they drove off.

Bang! Bang! As they left, their old car backfired twice, maybe in celebration. Heading back to my own car I reached for the keys in my pocket.

They weren’t in my pocket.

They were in the trunk.

I’d dropped them into the trunk while getting the coat hanger. That was the odd rattle I’d heard. I could pop the trunk from inside of the car though, simple enough.

The car was locked.

I looked around. It was still very early, dead quiet, and I was the only car in the lot. Not sure how long it would take to get into my car, or have someone get into my car there in the middle of nowhere, I just leaned against the door with my head in my hands.

Bang! Bang!

From around the fast-food place came the old beat up car. As it turned out, Daddy just couldn’t keep driving with cold coffee and he’d circled back for more. By the look on his face when he saw me standing there I could tell he knew exactly what had happened. He pulled up beside my car, coat hanger in hand, and set to work.

I watched him struggle a bit. It didn’t seem to be working as easily with my car as it had with his. He bent the coat hanger several ways, trying each new bend to see if it was the right one. His family watched eagerly but everyone stayed in the car.

Everyone, apparently, except Alice. I looked down to see what was tugging at my shirt.

“It will be ok.” she said.

I smiled at her but I wasn’t so sure. Daddy seemed to be struggling with the coat hanger and had worked up a slight sweat. He tried to unlock it, I tried to unlock it, and he was trying again when I decided to stop wasting their time and call someone to get into my car. I guessed it was time to give up but Daddy kept at it.

“It will be ok.” Alice said again as she patted my arm.

Pop!

And there you go!

Stuart M. Perkins

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It’s What We Do

While out walking yesterday evening I smelled sunscreen as someone passed by. In an instant I was mentally back on the beach waiting for cousins to come down from the house so we could get in the water together. I was also reminded of something I once wrote about years of our family’s summer traditions:

It’s a rustic, waterfront cottage on the Chesapeake Bay in an isolated cluster of other old cottages a mile or so off the main road. It’s been added on to over the last fifty-plus years and is filled with second-hand furniture, hand-me-down linens, and old pots and pans. To do anything from use the kitchen stove to turning on the water pump requires knowledge of idiosyncrasies so specific that they’re passed down like family history. There’s sand on the floor, the smell of salt water in the air, and to me it’s perfect.

The actual owner is my uncle but we in the extended family like to call it “ours”. My grandfather and uncle purchased the overgrown waterfront lot in the late 1950’s and family at the time helped clear the land and build the original cottage. My great-grandmother even spent time there, so starting with her and moving down the line to my own two children means five generations of my family have enjoyed good times there. It became, and has remained for close to 60 years now, a fantastic escape for the entire extended Perkins family.

As kids we couldn’t wait to swim in the gentle waves of the bay. Over the years various combinations of extended family have stayed there together. By day we swam, played on floats, and walked to the marina counting ospreys and bald eagles along the way. By night we filled beds and arranged cots so that everyone had a place to sleep. Most nights as we slept in the crowded cottage one cousin’s sandy feet were in another cousin’s sunburned face, but no one could have been happier. We were family and we embraced the unity. It’s what we always did.

Old morning routines continued as adults cooked bacon and whispered over coffee so as not to wake us kids. I’ve often wondered just how many in our family, for decades, have watched the same sun rise over the same spot on the same horizon while the same scene of boats pulling in crab pots played out just off the beach. Over time, family who never knew their relatives who had passed away years earlier slept in the same rooms, same beds, and spent days on the same beach as those before them. We learned to appreciate the family history of that place. I hoped when I had kids they would appreciate that history and recognize this cottage as a place where most of the people in our huge extended family had gathered at some point. I hoped they would “get it”.

There was a satisfying comfort in growing up watching simple family patterns repeat as part of the experience at the bay. We’d stop at the same seafood shop for the same deviled crabs. A bushel of oysters or a dozen soft-shelled crabs for dinner was routine. Fishing from the beach and walks to the marina through tangled marsh grass and sun-bleached driftwood were part of us. At the same time every day we’d come in out of the sun for lunch. After some time back on the beach we’d all come in for supper. Our parents had done those things, and so had theirs. It’s what we did. I really hoped my kids would get it.

Sitting in the shade of a pine near the beach, older family members spoke often of the fun they’d had there when they were our ages. Many of their conversations began with “You’re too young to remember but…” or “Back in the old days…” Their spoken memories became part of our overall experience. And so did Rummy.

Granddaddy loved to play Rummy. He didn’t just enjoy it, he was a fiend. From an early age we were required, it seemed, to learn to play Rummy so that Granddaddy would have someone else to beat. He would play anywhere, anytime, but breezy evenings after a day of fishing and swimming were prime Rummy times at the bay. He played, my parents, aunts, and uncles played, and we cousins learned to play.

Years later as adults ourselves, my sisters and I started staying at the cottage together with our own kids. Decades old scenarios were now played out by our children. They swam with their cousins, walked to the marina, slept on the same sandy cots we had used as kids, and they learned to play Rummy. I found myself saying “You’re too young to remember but…” or “Back in the old days…” I wanted them to learn family things I had learned. We buy bait here because Granddaddy always did, we get groceries from that little store in town because we always have, or after supper we’ll walk to the marina like we always do. Simple familiar patterns became part of the good times there. It’s just what we did.

One evening after a day of swimming, my kids and I played Rummy. While we played we talked about the number of dolphins we’d seen that day, who had found the biggest horseshoe crab, and the other important bay things always discussed at the end of the day. I remembered as a kid having similar conversations with my parents as we played Rummy after a day in the sun. Simple times spent with family had come to mean so much and I really did appreciate and honestly cherish them. But would my own kids feel the same? So many things we did while at the bay we did “just because” everyone in our family had done them for years before us. There was satisfaction in that. Simple, decades-old traditions helped keep our long family history intact. Would my own kids feel that?

We continued our Rummy game and at one point my son shuffled the cards and said, “Funny how even if we never play Rummy any other time, we always play down here at the bay. Why is that?”

My daughter dealt the cards and said nonchalantly without looking up, “We’re Perkins. It’s what we do.”

“Yep.” My son responded casually as he looked over his cards. “We’re awesome.”

I never again wondered if they would understand and appreciate the simple but powerful patterns established over decades by a huge, close-knit family.

They got it.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Mitzi

We’d been lying in the shade together for quite a while. I was on my back, hands cupped behind my head, she on her side facing me. I talked about things bothering me at the time while she stared intently into my eyes. I was just a kid but I remember knowing how lucky I was to have her by my side. I noticed her long eyelashes each time she blinked, but I didn’t love her for her long eyelashes, didn’t love her for her perfectly white teeth, and didn’t even love her for the way she seemed to adore me.

She was still looking directly into my eyes when she burped in my face, wagged her tail twice, and continued chewing on a stick.

I loved her because I was a boy and she was a dog.

Mitzi was a collie. I was only nine when we went as a family to meet the litter. I don’t remember which one of us picked her, or whether she picked us, but in short order we were on our way home. Mama and Daddy in the front seat while my sisters and I in the back fought over whose lap the fuzzy puppy should ride home on.

It would take a lifetime to tell about her lifetime and anyone who’s loved a dog knows the telling doesn’t do it justice. You have to have felt it. As a puppy she was hugged and kissed constantly. As she grew up she was naturally our best friend. As she aged she earned the respect of family and friends as an intelligent, faithful old girl. We treated her like any other member of the family.

Because that’s exactly what she was.

During those years Mitzi made hundreds of trips to the pasture, ran countless miles behind our bikes, refereed dodgeball games, gave us away during hide-and-seek, and waited patiently while we worked in the garden. She was a happy constant when we returned from school and she didn’t just wag her tail; her entire backside swayed when she saw us coming. Many families have several dogs over the years, my family did too and we loved them all, but as a nine year old boy that collie puppy was the dog. Thirteen years into her life, I was twenty-two and that happy old collie was still the dog.

When she fell ill it happened fast. I went to work but called home later to check on her. Mama hesitated but told me poor old Mitzi had died. Back in those days, in spite of regular vet trips starting with her spaying and continuing with regular vaccinations, heartworm prevention was not what it is today and sadly she was a victim.

I hung up with Mama and went to tell my boss that I needed to go home. When she asked why, I said there had been a death in the family. My phrasing had nothing to do with dishonesty. It was to me the genuine reason. I’d heard she had a dog at home so surely she would understand.

She expressed her condolences and asked who had died. When I said “my dog” there was a pause before she giggled slightly and said she just couldn’t let me go home for that reason. With no one who could easily cover for me, I’d have to stay. I left her office and talked to my coworkers who agreed to cover for me, no problem. I then let my boss know I’d made arrangements for coverage but she repeated to me that no, I needed to stay.

I left.

There was nothing I could do when I got home; Daddy and one of my sisters had already buried Mitzi there in the same pasture where she’d played all her life. Nothing I could do, but to stay at work with that load of grief would have been pointless for me. It was Friday and on Monday I’d talk to my boss about it again. If I still had a job.

It was a sad weekend. We cried, laughed, talked about Mitzi and talked to Mitzi. Family and friends called to say they were sorry. They treated her death as though she’d been a real member of the family.

Because that’s exactly what she was.

Early Monday morning I learned from coworkers that my boss had been very unhappy about my leaving on Friday after she’d told me to stay. I started working and waited for my fate, but my boss didn’t come in. On Tuesday she was there.

I tried to read her face as she walked towards me. My boss said nothing as she handed me the envelope and walked away. I looked at it, puzzled she’d said nothing, and ripped it open expecting my dismissal letter. It contained nothing official, just a small card from her to me.

A sympathy card.

I learned later why my boss hadn’t been at work the day before. Sadly, her own dog had been hit by a car over the weekend and in spite of the vet’s efforts, it hadn’t lived. My boss was understandably upset and stayed home that Monday. She had let management know her absence was due to a death in the family.

Because that’s exactly what it was.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Watch For It

He stopped at the curb to press the crosswalk button, casually swinging his briefcase as he checked both ways for traffic. Any second now he’d set the briefcase down to tie a shoe or adjust his jacket. Wait… wait… and there it was. Today he tied a shoe. The light turned green and I drove through the intersection glancing at him one last time as he stood to pick up his briefcase. He nodded slightly as I passed. I raised one hand from the steering wheel.

I leave for work very early in the morning. Almost every weekday for a of couple years now I’ve seen this same lone man at the same empty intersection at the same early time of day. We each wake up to carry out our daily routines unconcerned, and mostly unaware, that the other exists except for that thirty seconds or so each morning at the intersection. He generally approaches the corner about the time I come to a stop at the light.

That early in the morning he’s the only pedestrian and I’m the only car. I forgot who began to wave first, but after months of early morning crossings it just seemed silly not to. He’d become as much a part of the landscape for me as the row of trees by the school, the yellow house with the picket fence, or the bridge over the creek. Their constant presence is an odd reassurance that all is right and routine. On rare days when he wasn’t at the intersection, I wondered where the man might be. He’d reappear the next day and all would be normal again. I laugh at myself for noticing such things but I suppose others do too. It’s not just me?

And it isn’t only the man with the briefcase. A rusty white van pulls out in front of me at the next corner. Further along, two black labs do their early morning romping behind a fence. A man in a red hat hoses off the sidewalk in front of an office building. Over time I began to notice these things and soon actually watched for them.

Each evening going home I walk past a woman smoking a cigarette under a tree out back. The security guard at the parking garage sings loudly to himself. Back in the car and I pass the same food truck along the same stretch of road every day. Closer to home and those two black labs are either lying in the shade or barking at squirrels. Those routine sights in my personal landscape satisfy something, I’m just not sure what. It’s not just me?

A while back, returning to work after a few days of vacation followed by a long weekend, I eagerly checked off my daily landscape markers. The briefcase, the dogs, the sidewalk washer, all there as usual even though I’d been gone a while. That evening on the way home I saw the woman light her cigarette and head towards the tree out back. I laughed again at myself for even noticing, but she was, after all, a part of my daily landscape.

As I neared the tree on my way to the parking garage I wondered if the security guard would still be singing after all of my days away from work. That’s when I heard the woman’s voice.

“Hey.” she said as took a puff of her cigarette. “Haven’t seen you in a while.”

It’s not just me.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Virginia Living!

Just a little announcement:

I’m excited to let you know I have an essay appearing in the June issue of Virginia Living magazine!

It was a thrill to work with the kind folks at the magazine again (I also had an essay published back in their February 2016 issue) and as a native Virginian, like my parents and theirs, it was especially fun to contribute to a publication I’ve had in my own home over the years.

Below is a link to my essay in the online version of Virginia Living.  Check it out and if you like please comment on their site below the essay!

http://www.virginialiving.com/home-garden/a-new-leaf/

Thanks to all those who’ve asked what I’ve been up to lately. Blogging continues to be fun and has proven to be an exciting pathway to some great opportunities.

Stuart M. Perkins

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