Tribal Lessons

My mother's childhood tribe in front of the McCoy homeplace, Peter Creek, Kentucky (Mom stands second from left)
TRIBE: A group of persons having a common character, occupation, or interest

Coming from Scotch-Irish stock, I’m familiar with tribes and the belonging they bring. As a child, my Kentucky kinfolk were my ‘people’, and each one had their own ‘turn.’ Aunt Eloise was moody. Aunt Dean was playful, and Aunt Alma Leigh was stylish.
When my family moved to Detroit, a few Italian and Polish women called my sisters and me ‘dirty hillbillies.’ I did love playing in dirt. My mother didn’t retaliate. Hers was a forbearing turn.
In eighth grade, my teacher read from an article in a magazine that said Appalachians were poor and clannish. I didn’t know my people were poor. And was clannish a good, or bad thing? In retrospect, the Italians and Polish were clannish too. They gathered on their porches like my family did ours, yet they never waved and said ‘hello.’  
Obviously, my teacher and neighbors didn’t know we came from several remarkable clans, one more infamous than all. Mom was a McCoy, and seldom mentioned the McCoy-Hatfield feud. Her folk wanted to leave that history behind. Rather, Mom told stories about Grandpa Lark that made her eyes sparkle. An O’Brien from West Virginia's Thacker Hollow, Dad lost his accent as a Marine during WWII, erased his homeplace from our family knowledge.
But Mom took us back home to the McCoy Bottom every summer for vacation. Oh the hours my sisters and I wiled away swinging and singing on the front porch with our cousins, running the bottom and turning cartwheels. Praise the blissful, indivisible tribes of childhood!
After my family walked through our door in Warren, I wrote poems about missing my mountains and mailed them to my cousins. Sure wish I’d saved some of that sappy poetry.
Years later, after my husband and I lost our firstborn, we attended an evening poetry workshop sponsored by the Orion Township Library. What evolved was miraculous. The workshop leader and class members took my broken hearted poems seriously, gave gentle and helpful critique. When the session concluded, Karen Renaud offered another workshop in the morning for the women in the group.
We begged for another session, then another. At last Karen resigned. She recommended a poetry workbook and said, “You girls are writing good poetry. You don’t need me anymore.”
One particular morning when we poets gathered around the table eager to share our human condition in beautiful images and metaphors, someone read a poem that shot clear through us. We drummed on the table and hollered, an official poetry tribe in progress.
 We met for several years every Tuesday morning, changing venue when needed. The day came when someone suggested we meet every other Tuesday. My spirit sank. I knew it was the beginning of the end.
Our poetry tribe disbanded four years ago. One member lost her husband, one’s a snowbird, and another is occupied with grandchildren. 

My dear Reader, call it a clan or whatever your people choose. In this entire world, there’s nothing like belonging to a tribe, and knowing it.

A Summer with Jane Austen

Treasures from Jane Austen, published 1817
My Art Buddy chose Pride and Prejudice for our May book discussion. A grandmother of four youngsters, Carol thought Jane Austen a perfect companion on summery days at the lake and baseball games.
I opened my prized volume printed in London, 1817. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” J.A. wit at her best—entirely lost on me when I first read it my senior year in high school.
Now I understand Mr. Darcy’s pride and Elizabeth Bennet’s prejudice as well as my own love story. I thought my husband proud when we first met, discovered he wasn’t rich and didn’t want to marry. The latter half mattered.
Did you know First Impressions was Austen’s working title for Pride and Prejudice? With this story, title defines character. I can’t imagine life without Pride and Prejudice, my favorite literary hero and heroine who overcome flaws and social status to gain true love—all because Elizabeth stands up to Lady Catherine de Bourgh. 
“Austen’s satire makes me laugh,” Carol said. We found Austen’s world a refuge from the verbal warfare of our presidential candidates. “Let’s make this our Austen summer,” Carol suggested.
I’d never read Persuasion, so I lifted it from my J.A. collection for June’s book talk. What pleasure to have met Anne Elliot. Admiral and Mrs. Croft are unaware of Anne’s “sorrowful interest.” They invite him, Captain Wentworth, to her “Kellynch circle” seven years after she was persuaded to refuse his hand. Captain Wentworth and the Crofts speak of British warships and differing views permitting women to sail within the English naval community.  
As our reading life often connects to personal events and affections, I sailed in June with my daughters, watched my youngest raise the sail and thought of Mrs. Croft crossing oceans on warships with her husband. Reading Jane Austen for forty-nine years often expands my spheres in more relevant, affordable, and flexible terms than travel.
In early August, Carol and I discussed Northanger Abbey on our annual drive to Stratford, Ontario. Catherine, Austen’s teenage heroine, is more obsessed with novels than finding the perfect man. This transported Carol back to high school and the beginning of her love affair with reading. My love affair with books began the morning my baby became a kindergartener. Unlike Catherine, I'm a late bloomer.
When Carol sat beside her older grandson during Stratford’s performance of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, she saw a parallel to Catherine’s imaginings of a huge closet in her Northanger Abbey bedroom. Perhaps Jane Austen inspired C.S. Lewis’s magical doorway to The Chronicles of Narnia.
Individually, we had already read Emma and Mansfield Park, so we concluded our Austen reading respite with Sense and Sensibility. Again, title defines characters, two beloved sisters and opposites. 
“This story is more about the relationship between Elinor and Marianne than with the men they love,” Carol summarized. 
Dear Reader, our summer with Jane Austen reflects our friendship colored with the books we love. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a married woman in possession of a good book must be in want of a discussion.                 

The Fixer Returns

Some fun on the farm with Andy

Andy came into my life when I needed him. In 2005, we had both embarked upon vocational transitions. A writer, I had no machinery to develop a lavender farm. A builder retired to handyman, Andy had a tractor, et al.  
           Hannah Stevens, an agricultural agent, connected us through Michigan State University’s program, “Tilling the Soil of Opportunity.” Although Andy was an excellent tiller, he attended the session prior to mine to see what he could learn. Hannah saw our necessities as opportunities to benefit one another. I am forever grateful.
           Often overwhelmed with planning and hosting lavender festivals, Andy’s confident spirit calmed me as we walked the lay of the land. We determined where to till the next lavender field and build structures to best shelter my guests and please the eye.
           My handyman fell ill when it came time to build our pavilion, so my husband and I hired a local company.  On his feet again, Andy and his son finished the interior of the pavilion’s gift shop and installed shelves in the storage area where we dried lavender bundles. I observed how Andy made the most of money, materials, and space.
           He reminded me of Uncle Herm when he worked—slow and sure mechanical minds and movements. Haste makes waste. Unlike Uncle Herm, Andy walked with a clip. The farm and I were happy to see his smiling face and handcrafted toolbox.
           At the conclusion of our 2008 festival, Andy helped me correct my farm plan from a one-weekend festival with hundreds of people to my original dream: u-pick lavender with weekend workshops about growing lavender and the sustainable lifestyle.
           Andy built our darling hen house, gifted me with his own “A Guide to Raising Chickens” by Gail Damerow. Ever the gentleman, he said, “Hens urinate in their droppings.” I’d never noticed. Upon the later occasion of making soup of our hens, Andy came to lead this rite of passage.
           It’s been a year since my brother-by-heart left us. I managed to find an electrician several months ago, but most our outsourced household improvements go undone. The reliable electricians are booked. Now, why can’t people find work?
           Last week, our Andersen sliding door jammed when a piece of broken removable grid fell between the kitchen doors. One repair estimate was $325; another company offered on site estimates only.
Heck, I wasn’t throwing away $325. We had paint to buy for the guest bath and bedroom, and a painter to pay. (Thank God for Cheryl. My husband and I are pathetic painters.)
I brooded over that jammed door, wondered what Andy would do. Where was my confidence? Didn’t I see a technician remove the framework and door when we replaced other windows years ago?
Dear Reader, I spent three hours with a screwdriver, removed the framework, lifted the door with what strength I had. Wood hit the floor. I vacuumed the tracks and washed the windows before I replaced the framework.
“Who fixed the door?” my husband asked.

“Andy,” I replied.


A picture of perseverance, Grand Oak Herb Farm, Bancroft, Michigan
We need guidance in our pursuit of health, home, and happiness. It begins after birth with a nudge of the nipple. It’s a wonder to see a newborn nurse. Loving touch—the primary bond between mother and child.
By sight we learn approval with a smile, disapproval with a frown. The shake and nod of our head may bring joy or sadness. Symbols, sounds, colors, and scents order our world in structures of safety.
When grown, we claim our piece of Earth, bought by the sweat of our brow, groomed to suit our heart’s desire. Be it a high-rise condo or a cottage, we navigate our steps by visual landmarks that lead us home. There, our address signifies what earthly possessions matter most.
As we age, forks in the road appear without an arrow. What are we to do? Stand still, or risk taking the wrong path? Patience is hard-earned virtue that seems to waste time. However, the wait allows us to catch our breath, review where we’ve been and consider where we’re going before the next signal leads us onward.
Such has been my situation this summer. I relate to our cat Mo, his signs of slowing down. I cannot lift a five-gallon bucket of compost onto the back of the golf cart as I did two years ago, so I fill it half full. One of many adaptations.
I also determined to allow more writing time in future summer months. Since I must grow flowers, food, and lavender too, I asked a friend to consider managing the fields. She said yes. A wonderful sign.
With this relief, I scampered off with my Friends of Herbs from Seven Ponds Nature Center to Grand Oak Herb Farm in Bancroft. Beulah, the owner, fresh as a spring pea, greeted us in the stifling morning heat. As we toured her farm, I marveled at her stamina, scale of her vision, and skill for propagating herbs and flowers in a giant greenhouse.
“How do you do all this?” I asked.
“I love my work,” she said. “This is the farm’s 36th year. My sons are a big help with social media.”
Could she spare one?
Within her air-conditioned rescued barn she rebuilt with her sons, Beulah and her staff served a delicious herbal luncheon. Afterward, she leaned against the counter in the gift shop and answered more questions. I wanted to suggest she sit, but didn’t want to offend a woman older than myself.
As we left the grounds, a gray-headed man driving a large tractor approached us. “Do you ladies know where Beulah is?”
“Are you her husband?” I asked.
“Yes ma’am.”
“Nice to meet you. She’s in the gift shop.”
The tractor rolled toward the building, a walker hung on the back.
“That’s the spirit. Never give up!” said one of my herb buddies.
Dear Reader, it’s a wonder see folk who love their work and learn to lean on whatever is at hand. A sign of what is to come.