Tag Archives: Family

Southern Roots Magazine – Doing Corn!

Just a little announcement:

I’m excited to let you know I’ve been asked to be a regular contributor to Southern Roots Magazine.

Southern Roots Magazine focuses on “Southern history, heritage, and hospitality through photographs, articles, essays, stories, poetry, and event coverage.”

Please check out their website and leave a comment there, in the space they provide,  if you enjoy my essay which was chosen for them as it captures a bit of what they are about.

Doing Corn

Thanks 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 like this. Exciting!

Stuart M. Perkins

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Forty-Third Ring

Halfway through the tedious count my eyes began to cross. I put a finger on one of the wider rings to mark my place.

“Ninety-seven… ninety-eight… ninety-nine.“ I said to myself as I finished counting. “Wow…”

Ninety-nine clear rings. Taking in to account questionable layers near the bark and several areas made uncertain by chainsaw damage, this oak was easily a hundred years old. But for last week’s ice storm it would still be living. Fallen across the park trail, the city had cut the hefty trunk into several pieces to remove the obstruction.

One hundred years.

That would mean a tiny acorn sprouted and began to form its first ring around the time Woodrow Wilson signed the Treaty of Versailles. Perhaps it emerged just as the Grand Canyon became a national park. Or maybe it struggled towards the light as Congress guaranteed voting rights to all women.

A year passed, a ring formed. Repeat. No matter what… years and rings. Years and rings upon years and rings and Amelia Earhart was flying solo across the Atlantic, Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president, and wind whipped across the growing tree just as it did the flag that flew over the Winter Olympics in 1932.

The same year my father was born.

Passage of more time, formation of more rings. Growth was never deterred. Through the horror of the Boston Marathon bombing or NASA’s breathtaking photos of Saturn, a ring was forming. Even as the extraordinary life of Nelson Mandela came to an end, yet another ring formed, in 2013.

The same year my father died.

From the time it gripped earth as a sprouting acorn until the day heavy ice brought it down, the tree not only survived; it grew. Regardless. This majestic beast existed during years of peace and years of war. From its first to its last, so much happened between the rings.

As a sapling, it was already on its way to grandeur before my father was born and it continued to grow after he was gone. One ring the year of his birth, another the year of his death. All he ever did, and was, happened between those rings.

Touching the center of the cross-section of trunk, I dragged my finger towards the outer edge, moving slowly over each of those circular markers of time. I stopped for a second on the forty-third ring. If my calculations were correct, this one was the year I was born, 1962.

I’m unable to articulate what I felt at that moment. There I sat, straddling the trunk of a fallen tree, deep in the throes of profound thought due to the sight of a jagged circle inside a tree? I pressed my finger tight against that forty-third ring.

It was beautiful, I thought, as I noticed a young sapling growing nearby.

“It’s making rings.”  I said out loud. I glanced back down at the one beneath my finger.

My first.

Somewhere in the sapling will be another.

My last.

But what am I going to do between the rings?

Stuart M. Perkins

 

 

 

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Just Wait

They await me. Even though I’m on vacation, they’re begging me to come back.

And I will.

Back to the harried rush of meetings. Deadlines. Anxiety. Lengthy agendas listing tedious tasks. Obnoxious lights blinking on a phone full of messages. All imperative, all immediate, all demanding. Pushing to answer email, now scrambling to copy. Faxing this, scanning that. Phone ringing again. Dread. The desk is too small. The piles are too big. Paperwork. Staying late, working late, fighting the commute.

Frenzy of the morning crush. Back to the frantic mess. Filing, shredding, phone blaring again. Tension. Late for a conference call. Rules have changed, reworking it all. They need it now. No, never mind. Wasted effort. Stress. This is urgent, get it done. Due date yesterday. Panic. Waiting for the next emergencies. And I know they’re out there even when I can’t see them.

Stop, brain!

I’m on vacation, remember.

Breathe…

Seagulls soared on a balmy breeze and laughed at gentle waves below. Easy rays of morning sun warmed my face as I smiled at the silly birds. Surrounded by the sweet briny smell of ocean air I watched dolphins leap in placid swells as water sparkled and rolled from their backs. I eased my head against the comfortable canvas chair. A slow parade of cheerful white clouds sailed silently overhead.

Pelicans flew in a graceful line, gliding just above the salty surface. Their synchronized wings were mesmerizing. Shorebirds made soft sounds dancing down the beach just ahead of the tide. Tiny crabs shuffled daintily across powdery soft sand and occasionally a fish jumped just offshore. Further in the distance a splash, then the massive fluke of a whale. All of these things were magical. And I know they’re out there even when I can’t see them.

They’ll await me. Even when I’m at work, they’ll be begging me to come back.

And I will.

 

Stuart M. Perkins

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Virginia Living – I’m a “Wrap” Star!

Just a little announcement:

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

It was a thrill to work with the kind folks at the magazine again (my third essay for them now) 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 piece in the online version of Virginia Living.  Check it out and if you like, please comment on their site in the space just below the essay. I’d love to hear your feedback!

http://www.virginialiving.com/culture/wrap-star/

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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Grand Canyon Inspiration

I’m often asked whether my posts are fact or fiction. All true. The goal of my blog is to highlight meaningful or humorous stories behind everyday scenarios. I don’t always aim for the obvious but I do try to hit on themes we all relate to in some way. Sometimes I’m asked for photos to go along with my posts. Since I often find “inspiration” in little more than an overheard conversation during my work commute, I don’t always have a photo to go along with what I write. But sometimes I do!

My post “Cheesy Sunset” came after a visit to the Grand Canyon. https://storyshucker.wordpress.com/2016/11/22/cheesy-sunset/

We stayed at El Tovar, a hotel literally perched on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. It opened in 1905, is on the National Register of Historic Places, has been declared a National Historic Landmark, and served as a perfect spot from which to explore the area.

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Here are a few photos taken during the actual cheesy sunset, along with the ravens that “rode the winds”…GCsunset1

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And I have to include a few of the helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon. The most exciting, exhilarating, and terrifying thirty minutes of my life. I loved it. I will never do it again…

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You don’t have to see it from the air to be thrilled. Everyday hikes in the Grand Canyon are beyond beautiful.

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I have so many photos from that trip, all of them spectacular in my opinion. How could they not be? You can’t take a bad photograph there.

If you haven’t been to the Grand Canyon, you should go when you can. If you’ve already been, go again and take some cheese puffs.

Stuart M. Perkins

 

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Perfect Fit

“Hopefully I’ll have that again someday.” my son Evan said wistfully over the phone.

“You will!” I encouraged him. “Just give it a while.”

“Best that it’s over but there were still some fun times.” he went on.

“You’ll have that with someone new.” I said. “You’re only nineteen. Plenty of time.”

“Yeah.” he said solemnly. “Just not sure it will happen again or be as good.”

“It will only be better!” I said confidently.

“But how do you know it will be better?” he asked.

Oh no. He wanted an answer.

I’m absolutely no relationship expert. I’ve been in several and calculate I’d have done things differently in every case. I’m just no fountain of good advice. Still, my son’s lamenting after his unpleasant breakup triggered memories and I searched for words of wisdom to help him through this momentary setback.

That strong parental desire to offer profound guidance washed over me. I prepared to launch into weighty philosophical input that would surely embolden him to dismiss his temporary breakup regrets. I took a deep breath and began my lofty speech.

“Well, it’s like this…” I began.

With the spotlight squarely on me and my son listening intently, paying more attention to a parent than any nineteen year old ever has, I went into a panic. Ideas had flashed before me while Evan spoke. Where had they gone? What had I intended to say? What was that clever tidbit again? Gone. All gone. But Evan waited eagerly.

“Well, it’s like this…” I began again. “Relationships are like underwear.”

I had no clue where that came from even as I heard myself say it.

“Ok…?” Evan chuckled in anticipation.

That wasn’t enough? I had to say more?

“You put on a new pair of underwear and it’s great. Feels good, nice change, you like them, and soon find you prefer them over all others. How wonderful life is with this new pair of underwear.”

“Ok…?” Evan chuckled again.

He expected even more? He’s a nineteen year old boy. Time to break it down.

“Well, then one day you realize the new underwear is up your ass.”

Evan chuckled loudly this time. “Ok…?”

“So you say wow, didn’t expect that. You make a few adjustments and you try to move on. It happens again. A few more tries to make things right but it’s just not working. No matter how much you’d loved the new underwear and no matter how many adjustments were made there has now come the point when you realize you need to take them off for good.”

Silence.

“So, unfortunately you say goodbye to that pair but at some point you come across another new pair. You put them on and maybe something about them reminds you too much of the pair that hadn’t worked out so well in the past. You pretty quickly take this pair off having learned from the last just what works for you about underwear and what doesn’t.”

Silence.

“None of us know when or where we might ultimately find underwear with the right fit, but we keep trying with yet another new pair if an old pair fails. So, I know your next pair of underwear will be better than the last because you learn something each time you try one on. Never settle for the wrong fit. Remember, none of this means that you or any of the pairs of underwear were necessarily bad. It simply means the fit wasn’t right.”

Silence.

“One day you’ll put on that next new pair of underwear and they’ll feel pretty nice but  you may hesitate. Ignore the fact that any one pair of underwear, or maybe all underwear, has disappointed you in the past. If this newest pair feels good then enjoy it and see what happens. One day you’ll put on a new pair and the fit will be so nice, so perfect, that you’ll skip along every day for the rest of your life not even realizing you have on underwear at all.”

There, that was all I had. I knew I’d fallen short but I’m just not good with relationship advice. I waited for the dial tone I knew was coming…

That” Evan said through a hearty laugh, “was the dumbest, grossest, and best thing I’ve ever heard! That was awesome.”

Phew! I wiped the sweat from my upper lip.

Evan hadn’t necessarily asked for relationship advice nor had I been eager to give any. What do I know? His angst was serious and my response may not have been, but I recognized his feelings and let him know in the wacky way he probably expected of me that I understood.

Keep trying. The perfect fit is out there.

Stuart M. Perkins

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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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