Sweet Potato Casserole (aka “Leslie’s Camote”)

The holidays are around the corner, and without a doubt, my contribution to Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners will be sweet potato casserole. My family calls it “camote.” I can’t recall a time when this casserole wasn’t part of our family’s holiday tradition, and I’m not sure why I was tagged as sweet potato casserole queen. But, never have I seen an actual recipe. So when my sister-in-law asked me to share it with her, I had to go through the motions in my head and write down each step. I’m sharing this with you along with a few “tips” from my experience. 

INGREDIENTS: 

  • 6-7 small, round, red sweet potatoes – Several years ago, on the night before Thanksgiving, I braved the crowds and lines of last-minute shoppers at my neighborhood grocery store. My shopping basket was piled high with wine bottles, vegie trays, cheese platters, and other starters to the holiday season. On my way to the check-out counter, I passed through the vegetable section and was greeted by a lovely, petite, older African American lady who commented, “I can’t believe there are still some sweet potatoes left! Usually when I wait until the last minute, they’re picked over or sold out.” It wasn’t until then I realized I hadn’t picked up the ingredients for my casserole, so I grabbed a baggie and began looking through the pile of potatoes. “Always choose small, round, red Garnet potatoes. These will cook up nice and tender with no strings,” she said. I never understood the difference between sweet potatoes and yams, but I now know exactly what to use in my recipe. Now, every year when I shop for sweet potatoes, I think about that kind lady who made a difference for me and my casserole.
  • Butter – Real butter (versus margarine) works best, softened – 1 cube or 1/4 lb.
  • Carnation Evaporated Milk – Small can, shake well, open with a church key can opener (seriously, this is what it’s called).
  • Light brown sugar – Soft (if you happen to forget to buy this, regular sugar is okay).
  • Cinnamon, Allspice, Nutmeg, Pecans (diced tiny) – I don’t have measurements for these items. My practice is to sprinkle and taste, using a clean spoon each time, of course.
  • Medium-sized marshmallows –These are a hot commodity at holiday time so shop early. 

RECIPE:

Peel potatoes – Never put peelings into the garbage disposal! I promise, you’ll regret it. 

Cut potatoes into pieces about the size of a ping pong ball – Be careful not to cut yourself.

Boil potatoes for about 30 minutes or until tender when poked with a fork.

Drain potatoes in a colander and return to pan.

Add butter and just enough of the canned milk to achieve smooth consistency when mashed.

Add brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg (to taste); mash by hand until smooth.

Fold in pecan pieces.

Spread mixture into a large casserole dish – 9×11 inch clear dish works well.

Place marshmallows evenly in rows on top of potatoes –Don’t burn the marshmallows! My family has been known to set them on fire!

Bake in 450-degree oven until marshmallows are golden brown. 

Serve and enjoy with lots of love and gratitude!

I’m a Chameleon

Photo by George Lebada on Pexels.com

I scored a nine (out of nine) on the Enneagram test, a personality type indicator. I’m a peacemaker. A chameleon. A lizard with a highly developed ability to change color according to mood or situation. Black when stressed, green or bright blue when happy, and dark red with black stripes if angry. When I’m stressed, I’m so dark you may not notice me. In fact, I might be invisible. When I’m truly happy, I’m usually alone, or with pets and toddlers, and only they can see my shining blue and bright green colors. When I’m angry crimson red, you won’t notice that either because I’m especially good at hiding it.                   

Like a chameleon, I’m anti-social although my friends and family wouldn’t agree. I can blend into any social environment, either as life of the party or quiet and reserved. This was true throughout my career working with doctors and hospital administrators. By day I was a credentialing guru in the corporate board room wearing heels, a suit, and a somber expression. By night, a fun-loving, gregarious dancing machine at medical staff retreats. Blending in becomes a useful skill when it’s necessary to be socially acceptable and included. Chameleon-like people often show their colors in the work environment where they feel it’s important to impress others to achieve success. 

In my most recent work environment, I was black and red with stripes on the inside, bright blue and green on the outside. As a leader, I could empathize with staff and customers, exhibiting admirable qualities by being inclusive, listening to feedback, and keeping my word. But I wasn’t myself. The chameleon-like person is mostly true to herself at home, where there’s no need to be all things to all people all the time. There you’ll find me in my favorite chair, alone, silently reading or writing. And although the social chameleon can get along with most anyone, she doesn’t fare well with polar opposites, and she struggles when it comes to romance. So, you see, I’m clearly a chameleon. 

Generally, chameleons don’t like to be handled with the exception of gentle stroking underneath the chin. That would be just fine with me. A chameleon will let you know if she doesn’t like attention by walking away, gaping her mouth, or turning color. I’ve been known to do all of these things.

My Enneagram report was on the mark in describing my personality. In general, I’m patient, steady, easygoing, receptive, relaxed, agreeable, contented, and comforting. I can get into trouble by being emotionally unavailable, unaware of my own anger, and passive-aggressive, as needed. At my best, I’m self-aware, proactive, contemplative, natural, and passionate. I imagine and desire a world filled with peace and harmony. My theme song could be the jingle from the Coca-Cola commercial (by Bill Backer):

I’d like to build the world a home, and furnish it with love

Grow apple trees and honeybees, and snow-white turtle doves.

I’d like to teach the world to sing, In perfect harmony

I’d like to hold it in my arms and keep it company.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.

Oh, wait, that last part was from John Lennon. But just Imagine

I’m the eternal optimist, hoping for the best and working hard to make the best happen. As a nine, I hold on to my independence and autonomy. And like the chameleon, I don’t want to be “messed with.” I focus on keeping my life pleasant and uncomplicated, avoiding conflict at all costs, and keeping my opinions to myself. 

That is, unless I’m writing or bitching and complaining about people and things in the privacy of my own home. I can be assertive when it comes to protecting my family and pets, but I conceal my anger. And after holding it in for too long, I explode in various shades of red, but you won’t see it. I’ll be invisible to you. 

The most constructive outlet for my suppressed anger is to put my energy into writing. That way I won’t piss anyone off and I can keep the peace. I express myself enthusiastically through music and dancing alone in my kitchen. I’ve heard chameleons perk up with good music. Once the rage is out of my system, the storm blows over and I’m back to bright blue and emerald green.

Latest Book Review: I Need To Tell You, by Cathryn Vogeley

Cathryn Vogeley’s memoir, I Need To Tell You, was my first experience learning of the horrific events in which unwed mothers, in the 60’s, suffered from circumstances of giving birth and giving up their babies. These women were not given a choice. 

To read my review about this mother’s relentless love for her child, visit the Book Review tab from the menu.

A Perfect Day

Photo by Diego Madrigal on Pexels.com

Laundry is put away. Bed made. Floors mopped and house straightened. 

I prepare dinner to an audiobook, Mad Enchantment, on the life of Claude Monet, by Ross King. Monet, my favorite French impressionist, rests in the company of Van Gogh, Vermeer, and Gaugin. Framed prints of the artists’ paintings adorn the walls of my home. 

Apple Goat Cheese Flatbread, with candied walnuts, accompanies a glass of Scott Kelley 2016 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon.

Flavors meld on my tongue as I color a lotus flower. Sweet water lily with history and meaning deep enough to fill an ocean. It blooms on the surface of water, its roots cradled by silt. A symbol of light and emergence from darkness. How serendipitous to color the water lily while traversing Monet’s garden. 

From every space within my home, nature reveals itself through open windows and doors. Grass, trees, flowers, sky, and birds fill my world, inside and out. Patio chimes wrestle with a warm breeze like angels in the wind. 

I retreat to my reading chair, where The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver, awaits my acclaim, having lingered in my library for years. The okapi, a fascinating mammal of the giraffe family, wears zebra-like stripes and inhabits the rainforests of Central Africa.  

Alongside that book is Becoming Grandma by Lesley Stahl, a gift from my cousin when I earned the most gratifying role of my life. Stahl talks about the joys and science of new grandparenting. I’ll write my own book on the subject one day.

My eyes tire from the abundance of beauty in one simple day. Rising from my chair, I glimpse framed images of seventy-six inspiring writers. My perfect day has ended, but words and syllables will dance in my head through the night. 

Delayed Influence, a letter to Grannie:

Today, September 10, is my Grannie’s birthday. She was born in 1895. She’s the one person who influenced me the most. I’m sharing with you this letter to her...

My life is whole, as yours was, Grannie, though gaps show sorrow peeking through, a reminder of grief in an otherwise perfect world. 

My love of books, quotes, and music, even the classical kind, comes from you. If only revealed earlier, I might not have squandered my youth on the corporate ladder, failing to reach the top rung. Trying to be someone I wasn’t and wanting to do it all, while raising my family alone. Emulating others’ looks, behaviors and aspirations isn’t what I learned from you. From you, I learned honesty, integrity, and caring for family. But your greatest gift was love of language. Like you, I write words and ideas on scraps of paper, old envelopes, book covers, or napkins. 

You show up in most of my childhood memories. “Grannie, will you help me with my homework?” I often asked, and you never turned me down. “Go get the encyclopedia,” you’d say. “We can find everything there.” You’d share stories of the Mexican Revolution and your family’s run-ins with Pancho Villa, one of its most prominent figures, to make the story come alive. “The peons admired him for his generosity, but he was feared for his uncontrollable temper and incredible cruelty. To economize on bullets, he lined up three or four men, one behind the other, and killed them all with only one shot. He stole horses, cattle, and robbed banks. He was thirsty for money and for blood.” I listened intently to this and other tales, like when your family hid a little neighbor girl who had come to borrow sugar just as Pancho Villa‘s men were setting her home on fire. 

I loved hearing about you and your sister Carlota being educated in Guadalajara, at El Liseo de Ninas, a school operated by Catholic sisters. You played a piano duet at an elaborate celebration in which Porfirio Diaz, President of Mexico, hosted U.S. President Howard Taft. The occasion welcomed dignitaries with ornate décor and fine food. The presidents shook your hand after the performance. Your life was rich with such stories, yet you remained always humble. How I wish you were here now to tell me those stories over and over again. 

In a photo I cherish, I’m around three years old, sitting at your big dining table, holding a spoon to my mouth hand over top as a child does, my curious brown eyes looking straight toward the camera. You’re gazing at me from behind, standing in your pleasantly plump frame with smiling eyes, wearing a strand of black beads that rests just above the collar of your dress with a floral print. An apron circles around you and ties in back.

The table is carefully set, each place-setting perfectly arranged in the way I’ve always known. In the center of the table, facing me, sits a baby doll with short black hair and big dark eyes. The doll looks new, suggesting it might be Christmas Day. The doll’s profile is soft as she studies the little girl (me), and its white lace dress reveals the slightest bit of baby doll thigh and panties. 

The essence of this photo is powerful. If only I’d stopped to ponder and appreciate the details woven in, yet unnoticed for years. I’d seen only you and me in that photo, Grannie. Now I see a story. A rich, vibrant, lovely story in a black and white photo. And a promise of my future.

Every New Year’s Eve, at midnight, you’d give me a small fancy glass, partly filled with Mogen David Concord wine, and we’d “toast” to the new year. What I wouldn’t give to enjoy a glass of wine with you now, Grannie, while talking about music, poetry, and worldly things. 

You endured but never dwelled upon life’s tragedies—loss of your husband at the age of 48, leaving you with five children to raise—a son in college, three girls in high school, and a baby. You later lost a daughter to breast cancer and then succumbed to the same dreaded disease in later years. But you never let on that you were afraid, sad, or in pain. Your voice was cheerful, every word emanating from your heart, teaching me through your actions to be brave and kind. In one quote, you imparted “Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others.” And you taught me to always make the best of things, reciting, “It takes both rain and sunshine to make a rainbow.” 

People often said you could write a book. You wouldn’t have written a memoir of misfortunes, although there were plenty. No. You would have written a lovely book of inspiring quotes or an anthology of short stories about history, family, and the hope of prosperity.  The very stories I aspire to write. 

Chaco Adventures

Summer Adventures, Part II: Facing My Fears

My lifelong dream is in front of me. Sitting on the beach, in solitude, writing among tropical trees and plants of different varieties in hues of green, rust, yellow and white. Adjacent to Kalapaki Bay, just beyond reach, lush green mountains stand by, while clouds drift above them and float downward, obscuring the space where mountaintop meets the sky. It’s early and the sun hides behind gray clouds. Waves crash, birds sing, and roosters send wake-up calls.

Today, I will face my fear of the unknown. A solo adventure on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. During this challenging seven-mile round trip tour to Secret Falls, I’ll be kayaking down the Wailua River, and hiking unfamiliar terrain with ten people I’ve never met. I break into a sweat thinking about it.

My daughter, Courtney, has equipped me with appropriate gear and mostly encouragement, “Mom, you can do it. Don’t let fear get in the way of fun. Remember our white-water rafting trip? You were terrified, yet we all survived.”

After months of planning and praying about this adventure, the time has come. Alone in my hotel room I feel my heart race, spilling jitters into my stomach as I reassure myself, “I’m going to do this. I’ll start early and give myself plenty of time to prepare. Like Courtney said, everything will be fine.”

Reaching into my bag, I pull out my Chaco sandals, great for water, trail, and everything in between. I can’t help but smile. My heart overflows with gratitude, for these Chacos have traveled with me through smooth sand and rocky terrain. Though well worn, they keep moving. Trekking across the Arizona desert along dusty trails, wading through flowing streams, hiking high in the pines where the air is clear and crisp. 

Perched on the edge of the bed, I lean over to strap on my sandals, reminiscing briefly: These Chacos have seen some ground from Arizona to South Africa, and now the jungles of Kauai. Before making the trip, I’d carefully laundered them in my washer and dryer so they would look brand new. “Okay, here we go!” 

But the right shoe is too tight. “What the hell?” The straps must have shrunk. I spend the next thirty minutes working on one shoe. Desperate, I call Courtney at work, across the Pacific Ocean in Arizona, to ask how to adjust the straps. She quickly texts me the link to a YouTube video: “How to Adjust Chaco Sandals.” 

“After 58 years of life,” I muse, “here I am on a beautiful island, watching a video on how to put on a damn shoe!”

Taking a deep breath, I consider next steps: Okay, now that the Chacos fit, let’s get the water bladder ready.

Since I’d never heard of a water bladder, much less used one, Courtney had set me up with a bladder and demo prior to the trip. As usual, I planned ahead, making sure to have plenty of cold filtered water for the day. All set. Shoes on, water bladder filled, my own bladder emptied, backpack loaded–snacks, sunscreen, towel, iPhone. All the necessities. 

I glance at my watch and realize it’s almost time to meet my cab outside the main lobby. Grabbing my bag off the bed, I see water dripping everywhere. The bed is soaked. The inside of my backpack is soaked. 

The bladder is leaking. Now what do I do? If it keeps leaking, I won’t have water for the trip. But I’ve got to go!

I fling the backpack over my shoulder, race out the door, ride down the elevator, and head toward the entrance. Stepping outside, I feel a sprinkle of rain on my nose. Attempting optimism, I mumble: “Just a few little drops. It won’t last.” Pulling my hood over my head, I ask the bellman if he knows anything about water bladders. Thankfully, he does and fixes the leak. Now, it starts to pour. Rain splashes down so hard, I can’t see through my glasses and can barely catch my breath. 

My cab pulls up to the curb. And all at once, I feel overcome by a warm, wonderful sensation (not from a bladder). I look up to the sky before climbing in and welcome the rain on my face. Fear has left me.

On arriving at the welcome shack, the rain has slowed to a light sprinkle. The river is wide and swift, surrounded by tall thick grass on either side. The sun settles on my shoulders and a gentle breeze calms my nerves as I take the paddle and begin my journey.

After reaching the trailhead, deep in the jungle of Wailua River Valley, I grab a broken tree limb to use as a walking stick and take my first few steps down a narrow path swallowed up by towering palms, grasses, ferns and wildflowers. As I trek further into this rainforest that tests my physical endurance, I look down and see my faithful Chacos clambering across uneven ground and velvety moss-covered boulders. They embrace the trail like an old friend. Enormous tree roots crisscross along this mud-paved path, and my feet sink deep into the ground until brown water rises to meet my knees. An arduous journey, yet I trust my courage to continue. Each step yields reward and triumph: Made it through that one! And the next, and the next.

A natural stream meanders gracefully alongside the trail and must be crossed several times before arriving at Secret Falls, more formally known as “Uluwehi” Falls, a name that represents flourishing plants. This tropical paradise leads to a 120-foot waterfall cascading down a wall of ivy into a sparkling pool. I take in the spectacular landscape and realize I made it through the mire, wading through streams thigh-high. Braving the jungle.  

But I can’t celebrate just yet. It’s time to leave Utopia and head back. Just as we pull our kayaks onto the dock, I feel a light drizzle on my face. The weather held up, and ten strangers became my friends.

Later, I’ll walk along the beach, drink beer at the poolside bar, lounge on the deck, and take in more sights.

And my Chacos? They can’t wait for our next adventure.

Heroes on the Salt

Summer Adventures, Part I: Facing My Fears

“But I can’t swim. What if I drown and ruin the experience for everyone? I bet the water is freezing cold. And what if I have to use the bathroom?” 

A slight chill crept along my insides as my heart raced. I folded my arms across my chest to protect myself from the threat of dying in that deep, flowing river.

Courtney assured me. “Mom, you’ll wear a life jacket and the wet suit will keep you warm. We’ll find a bathroom on the way.”

Seven of us squished into my jeep, backpacks loaded with water bottles, sunscreen, and cameras. As we drove through Arizona’s Salt River Canyon, excitement filled the car. Fear penetrated my body, so I imagined reclining inside a large raft, floating peacefully down the river, appreciating the beauty of cacti in the desert against golden rock formations.

On the way, we stopped at an outhouse invaded by flies. I held my breath and struggled to keep my swimsuit, tank top, and bike shorts from falling to the grimy floor. 

Nearing the site, warning signs read: “…this activity can be HAZARDOUS, INVOLVING RISK OF PHYSICAL INJURY OR DEATH.”

My stomach churned as I signed a waiver accepting my fate. 

Once aboard the raft, we didn’t sit in it, but on top of it, with only our feet to hold us there. I froze when the guide handed me an oar for maneuvering rocks and rapids as if I knew what to do with it. When an enormous wave washed over us, I quickly understood the meaning of “Class IV.” 

Before I could catch my breath, my family had rescued two men and a woman thrown overboard from another raft. Nick reached out and pulled a man almost twice his size into our raft, while Daniel lifted the woman into the raft where he sat, and our guide helped a third person to safety. The woman bled profusely from colliding with rocks. 

Are we sinking? Is this bleeding lady going to die right here in OUR raft? These thoughts crashed through my head while the others calmed her, used the guide’s first aid kit, and applied bandages to her wounds. Lucky for her, the sight of blood didn’t faze them, and they were able to maintain composure, unlike me. 

The sun’s intense heat smothered me, and claustrophobia started beating against all the layers I’d worn to keep from freezing to death. “Will someone help me get this life jacket off? I’m suffocating,” I heard myself say. Eyes rolled. “Seriously mom? Right now?” But, seeing desperation on my face, Courtney managed to help me out of my distress.  

The next day, I bragged to family and friends that we had rescued three people during our adventure, saying we were heroes on the Salt. The truth is, it was others in that raft who were the true heroes, unselfishly putting a stranger’s needs before their own. 

Yet, in an unfamiliar way, maybe I too was a hero for having the courage to make the trip and do the thing I feared most. 

Distracted

(This year I’m paying tribute to all the “moms” who are “dads” too. Happy Father’s Day to you. And to all the real dads (like mine) and grandpa’s out there who have earned the title.)

A baby wakes his mother at 2:00am, and she’s distracted from a bad dream she wanted to end. 

Her eyes open slightly and she’s suddenly aware of every muscle in her body, a still-swollen belly, and cramps so painful she flinches. The mother takes this baby into her arms and is distracted by the splendor of his ocean blue eyes peering into her own as she feeds him. The baby tugs at her breast and she rocks him gently, singing him back to sleep. 

As the baby grows and discovers his world, he stumbles. He finds amusing objects to fit into his mouth, and he wails when fever hits and he learns about pain though he doesn’t have words to describe it. The mother is distracted with worries and fear, so she reads “Dr. Mom,” asks other mothers for advice, says a few prayers, and soothes him. 

Before long, the child discovers his own way and sees how big the world is. He goes about exploring the rivers and mountains and friends and music. And while he’s creating his future, the mother is distracted with the stress of her job, paying the bills, taking care of her home, and doing her best to be mother of the year for this boy and his sister. She’s so distracted, she loses a sense of herself and then wonders where the time went. Absorbed with school projects, band concerts, and wrestling matches, her life is full. So full she doesn’t see that one day her child will be grown and on his own. 

Now the mother is distracted with new worries and fears. Will he be safe? Will he make good decisions? And will he find love? When the answer to all these questions is “yes” the mother becomes distracted with life-changing events that fill her heart with pride and gratitude—his graduations, a spectacular wedding after finding his love, and the most cherished gift—a new baby. 

A grandchild is the best kind of distraction because now the mother has more to love, and her life is too full for worry. She only has time for silly games, ABC songs, books about dinosaurs, and hide and seek. Her world is all about building forts, playing catch, baking cookies, and sleepover parties.

Then one day the mother realizes her child is a success. He has become the man she hoped he would be–adventurous, caring, and wise. She’s as proud as the day he was born. He’s ready, he says, to explore the big world, and before she has time to worry, the mother is saying goodbye. She can’t wait to visit. And though she’s distracted by miles between them, she knows he is happy. Her heart is full. 

The mother’s distractions don’t end there. She loses sleep about what she’ll do next. She looks around inside her new world, and it seems much smaller, still filled with distractions. A stack of books waiting to be opened. A memoir screaming to be finished. A mind to grow, a body to nourish, a heart to mend. She’ll step into the light and discover that there’s more to learn, more to do, and more to become. 

But she’ll need some distractions. Give her distractions. Her world is nothing without them.

(PS: In case you’re wondering, I did find two beautiful distractions who also love dinosaurs!)

*published by Pure Slush Books, Love Lifespan Anthology, Vol. 4, 2021.

Trash Bin Anxiety

Today, my garage door blew its spring. Snapped clear in half. So that’s what that loud unidentifiable crash was this morning! I didn’t notice it until deciding to take the trash cans out to the curb. Pressing the garage door button on the wall, I could see the door struggling to open, pushing its way up just a tad, making a clicking noise, and then falling back down. The left side is crooked, its bottom not quite reaching the concrete beneath it. I’ve tried manually to help it along, but it won’t budge.

This is a problem for several reasons. First, the garage door company can’t come out to fix it for at least two days. Since my car is in the garage, I feel more sheltered-in-place than in 2020 during the pandemic lockdown. I can’t walk anywhere because of scorching heat here in Phoenix, day and night. And a bike ride is out of the question since my bike is holed up in the garage. The worst part about this is the trash cans can’t be emptied until next week after the garage door is fixed. 

I can’t help but smile, recalling what’s in that can and memories from the past week. Time spent with grandkids, pets, gardening, and cooking. Everything I treasure.

Yesterday, I decided to clean out the tortoise house which hadn’t been cleaned out since Spring. Zulu, my African spurred tortoise, reminded me of this when she started cleaning out her own space, pushing piles of poo out her door and onto the lawn. She weighs over a hundred pounds so you can imagine the size of her poo. It’s like cleaning up after a horse. Yet I can’t stand the thought of not having her, despite all the poo. I filled four trash bags full and had placed them into the large trash bin in the garage along with dirty grandkid diapers, grass clippings, and food discards from the past few days. So, every time I empty trash into the bin, I get a lovely whiff of all that deliciousness marinating inside. 

Never have I longed so desperately to take out the trash.

One afternoon a while back, I rolled my trash bin around to the backyard to collect grass trimmings before setting it on the curb for trash pick-up. I’d unlocked the back gate, and once safely inside, by habit, I latched the gate and secured the combination lock. I proceeded to clean up after mowing and then slumped into my Adirondack chair to admire the fruits of my labor. I tried relaxing but was agitated by a tiny bit of debris settling inside my right eye. With no success at rubbing it out, I was frustrated and popped out both contact lenses. Now I could clearly see the sun sinking low in the sky and gray clouds hovering above me. Time to call it a day. 

Remembering I had a cold beer waiting for me in the fridge, I got my butt up out of the chair, grabbed hold of the trash bin and headed to the gate when I realized it was locked. Since my disposable contacts were shriveling up somewhere in the freshly mowed lawn, I couldn’t see worth a damn. Opening the combination lock was impossible since I couldn’t make out any numbers. 

Well, I’ll just go through the back door of the house and grab my glasses. But it too was locked. So, I’m imprisoned in my own back yard, it’s growing darker by the minute, and I don’t have my phone. I stood on tiptoes, balancing on a bucket near the gate yelling like a lunatic for a neighbor to rescue me. Yet not a soul was around. In the end I managed to hoist my sixty-year-old, tired body up onto the concrete block fence and leap to freedom. I wish someone had witnessed that awesome escape. At last, I was able to go through the garage, into the house, grab my glasses, unlock the back gate, take out the trash, and call it a night. 

Pink Balloons

On my morning walk, I passed a certain house and remembered a short story I’d written Memorial Day weekend, 2020. I’m sharing this now, as a reminder about pool safety. 

Backing out of my driveway, I noticed a sunshine yellow fire truck rounding the cul-de-sac. Could be a heart attack or stroke. Nearing the end of my street, I encountered at least ten police cars and news media invading the area.Yellow tape. Looks more like a crime scene. Maybe a murder, or suicide, or murder-suicide. 

Reports of depression and crime had escalated as lives were disrupted by unemployment, loneliness, sickness, and death due to COVID-19. 

Yet on Memorial Day weekend, parties erupted as if the pandemic was merely a bad dream. 

I was taking my Shih Tzu, Millie, for a drive that afternoon to alleviate our restlessness from three months of isolation. On returning home, I flipped through the local news channels. My heart fell, hearing a three-year old girl had fallen into a swimming pool and drowned, in my neighborhood. The weight of this tragedy was impossible to shake. 

I made salad for dinner but didn’t have much of an appetite, missing my own precious grandchildren. Wanting them safe by my side.

Rocketman on Prime kept my mind occupied for a while. And later, carousing next-door neighbors were so loud I couldn’t sleep. With a queasy stomach, I finally drifted off sometime after midnight. 

The morning came, as it does every day, but my sorrow hadn’t lifted. I strapped on shoes and headed out for a walk when a memory rattled me. Two days prior, I’d walked at a nearby park, snapping photographs of nature and misplaced objects. Strewn several yards apart near the bank of a man-made lake, my camera captured a small pink mitten, one small sparkly pink sandal, and a Little Mermaid beach towel. These findings left me with an uneasy feeling, wondering how the items were lost and if they’d been missed. Had I taken a different route that morning, or walked at a different time of day, I might not have noticed them. The impression weighed on me so much I returned home and journaled about it—my way of unloading.  

My walk this morning was longer than usual, and it was a relief to turn the corner into my development. Nearing my street, I looked up and saw one pink Mylar balloon with a silver ribbon floating high above the houses. Coincidence? Maybe. But then, another pink balloon trailed the first, and three more after that. I broke down, feeling connected to the little girl whose life was cut short, and I grieved for her though I’d never known her.  

Hearing of these tragedies from time to time, my heart breaks. But this was different. Maybe it’s too close to home, or because I’m a grandmother. Either way, I’m holding my grandbabies close and appreciating every second. I pray for the family, one street over, that can no longer do that. 

We’re all responsible for vigilance around water. Parents love and care for their children the best they can. But eyes diverted for just a few seconds can change their lives forever.