Friday, January 11, 2008

Come on home

I met Tim not long after the stray pitbull ended up bleeding down the road a bit, and anxious streetfolk showed up just as the storm was breaking at the southern hills, to ask what should be done.

Well, I took in the dog. Just for the night, mind you. Just until his home could be found. When a dog is hit by a truck and thrown to the ground, bewildered and broken, it just seems to me you can’t stroll on and pretend nothing has happened.

Tim showed up a few months later. Champ, the pitbull, had found life as a bookstore critter pretty good. His injuries were healing, but his nerve torn leg needed constant tending and his bandages brought sympathy.

Tim was tall, young, slow spoken in the way of southern folk. He loved dogs, having grown up with hounds. He was an artist, a wanderer, a seeker. He liked old books and philosophic discussions.

Was he here months, a year? I no longer recall. What I do remember is looking at each new carving in wood or stone and listening to his stories.

In these carvings women turned into birds, the wise people of the forest walked under the stars, a dog prowled, an owl spread her wings, a fern unfolded, a baby’s eyes sought the light for the first time.

They were magic.

Tim slept rough. I might have helped him with a blanket or two, with a coat, or a sandwich now and then—I don’t really remember. What I do remember is the photos of the little girl feeding the ducks. The daughter he fathered, and gave up to a nice adoptive couple. The new father was a doctor. They had money. The pretty child looked happy and well cared for in those dog eared photographs.

And I recall the times the dark and lack of food and loneliness and stress brought him to my door and he sobbed in my arms. Because, damn, the world is beautiful and the world is broken.

He didn’t talk about his time in Iraq.

When he came to tell me he was moving on, 3 years ago or so, he gave me an old book he’d carried with him since he’d cut out on his own. Had been his granddad’s. He thought maybe I could sell it for a lot, and help Champ a little more.

I didn’t tell him it wasn’t a book of great monetary value. I took it gently into my hands as though it were, as it is, a gift of much preciousness, much rarity. I thanked him.

And the months, the years, passed. Yesterday the phone rang and that slow southern voice came over the line, a bit hesitant. He’s been in another state, where he is living in his 8 mile to the gallon old van, and doing gardening work. Yeah, he’s still carving. No, he doesn’t know where his path is really taking him.

The nights are hard. He no longer hears from the couple raising his little girl. His choice. “Tore me up too bad, I couldn’t take it.”

He said he’d just been feeling homesick, remembering the dog, and the bookstore, and our talks. He asked that I pray for him.

In an ideal world maybe I could have said “come on home” and there would have been space for him, with the injured pitbull and the rescued cats, with my children and my partner and all the piles of books.

Because walking by the broken and bewildered, the ones slammed by life and left by the roadside, isn’t good.

Pat Champ for me, he said.

I said I would.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Two Dinosaurs and a Pig

Two dinosaurs and a pig are making their quiet way towards the Nativity.

Well, they are supposed to be Wise Men (or, as we have sometimes said, Wise People). And one year the Nativity was of dinosaurs, as I recall, since my partner put it together. During the 12 days of Christmas they search and wander, and I move them ever closer to their goal.

Yes, we celebrate all the 12 days of Christmas. While others are stripping down the ornaments and piling tinsel in boxes, we are barely started. We celebrate other things as well; this time of year I am game for just about any moment that brings light and delight into my space, but I am fondest of these 12 days.

It takes that long for me to start to come to terms with a sense of return and birth and light; I'm slow on the uptake. It also eases the push to Do Everything!!! Only So Many Days to Buy!! Our Christmas Day was always simple as our children grew; yes, Santa would bring trinkets, and created gifts would be exchanged. I'd be seeking a bit of joy and light; we'd light more candles and sing (badly). Sometimes we'd festoon the dogs and cats a bit; my now departed yellow lab would put up with red hats or bows and glitter fairly well; just another human folly.

And, the evening before, baking.

I've been careful to avoid most vows in my life. I take them too seriously to give them away freely; no piecrust promises, no easily sworn and forsworn words. But when my partner and I got together lo these many decades back I did promise him I'd bake his traditional bread. At Christmas, at Easter, and sometimes for his January birthday. Somewhere I still have a stained index card in his mother's handwriting with the original recipe for the nut filled Slovenian bread, potica. (the "c" has a funny curl at the bottom when properly written). It's a typical traditional recipe, in which the instructions are vague: you put in "enough flour for a soft dough"; you grind "enough nuts to make a filling".

This Christmas Eve we were busy; partner had places to be and a radio show; I had things to do as well. We didn't connect in the same space until it was coming on 10 that night, and my youngest had already fallen asleep, talking of angels.

I told Paul "I don't see how I'm going to make potica this year--maybe for new year's or something". He was kind of willing to compromise "you made that great Finnish bread last year" he said wistfully. I pointed out that the baking of a yeast raised bread is not a quick task, and our space was cold; the bread would rise so slowly.

And I thought "really, how unrealistic, how stupidly demanding". Oh, yeah, Christmas. Merry merry.

Champ woke me at 3 in the morning. Gabriel was awake. Gabe was persuaded to not venture near our Christmas twig (well decorated, a bit of a fir tree from the land) until, as I said, the sun was up. I plugged in the little heater and the hot plate and made some tea for both of us. Gabe was still talking of angels.

"Want to help me with the bread?" I asked him. Yeah, that sounded okay. I helped him pour some rice milk into a pan with a chunk of butter and some brown sugar. We heated it. We folded in some finely ground whole wheat flour mixed with a bit of white. We added yeast dissolved in a bit of warm water and put it all aside and played with some toys a while. I realized after the first rising that the eggs were supposed to already be in the dough. Well, okay. We separated a bunch of eggs (the recipe takes 8 of them). Yolks into the dough. Squish. More flour. A bit of salt. The fun of kneading (Gabe is good at this). More rising.

Beating the eggwhites takes a long time, especially if it is still dark and you are thinking probably you have lost your mind. We did it, added ground almonds and sugar and a bit of cinnamon. The cinnamon is heresy, but that's how I like it. For that matter, the almonds are heretical too--walnuts are the proper nut, according to the original recipe.

Couldn't find the bread board. Well, who needs a bread board. We kind of stretched out dough in mid air and tried very hard not to drop it on the dog or the cats; really it is supposed to be stretched paper thin, but I've never had the patience.

Balancing it on plates we spread the filling, rolled it up, put it in bread pans (two loaf pans, one bundt pan). To the circular loaf's filling I added cut up apples and raisins. More heresy. Let it rise yet again.

And...into the toaster oven, the only "oven" I have at the shop. The tops burnt, but the loaves were delicious.

When Paul got up Christmas morn, when our daughter and her love joined us, when my eldest son and his girlfriend stopped by--yes, there was, as promised, potica.

A miracle, I think. We still have one slightly stale loaf left; Paul is dunking it in his tea with much pleasure.

But I was talking of the dinosaurs and the pig, wasn't I? I figure they wander around a bunch. They've heard of something amazing. They've seen signs. But it takes a while to get there. A while to take it in.

As when we fall in love--so quickly--and take decades to let the truth of partnerships grow in our stubborn hearts.

Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. A thousand blessings.

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