It’s 7:20 p.m. Thursday night, dinner is done and the Moon hasn’t shown its face yet. That’s because it’s a Waning Gibbous.
            The MOONGIANT website says, “The average moonrise for this phase is between 9 a.m. and midnight depending on the age of the phase.”
The Moon rises later each night, reaches its peak at mid-phase around 3 a.m. and sets after sunrise. That explains why I awoke at 3 a.m. Tuesday to bright bedposts and a glowing bathroom floor. I love when that happens.
A Waning Gibbous beamed through my second-story window at 93% illumination and pulled me from under my comforter. The window was alight, my high porthole to my backyard, the rolling landscape below like a swelling sea. The iron pergola resembled a whale’s ribcage afloat. The shadows of our mature maple trees sketched the earth with their long branches.
We planted those trees our first summer after we built the house in 1989. How were we to know those saplings Mel’s father gave us would grow into what arborists and gardeners term noxious?
How did twenty-eight years pass under this faithful light and now I am a senior citizen?
“What a wonderful world,” I whispered to the beautiful moonshadows. I heard Louis Armstrong singing in my memory.
It’s 10:20 p.m. I just stepped outside after a long chat with my sister Patty who lives in Prestonsburg, Kentucky. Still no sign of Mr. Waning Gibbous amongst the constellations. In four hours at 3 a.m. I will resist his alluring radiance of 71%, for I must regenerate a good crop of brain cells for our trip to Lexington, Kentucky, tomorrow morning.
“It should be a good weather weekend to travel,” my friend Sue said today. 
The best hen and cat sitter around these parts, Sue loves animals and takes good care of ours while we’re away. This frees our minds to relax and visit with Uncle Tab and Aunt Alma Leigh.
As February’s Moon passes from the Waning Gibbous to Last Quarter to Waning Crescent, Uncle Tab and my husband will sip their morning cup of coffee while I sip my tea.
“That’s what I enjoy most about company,” my uncle once said.
He’ll tell stories we’ve never heard before, some I know by heart. I’ll make breakfast with our green and blue eggs.
Yes, this lunar phase is good timing for there won’t be any moonshadows following me to Kentucky and staying the night. I won’t be leapin’ and hoppin’ on moonshadows when I should be sleeping.
Dear Reader, it’s 11:20 p.m. and clouding up. There’s no Moon in sight. Just a few faint stars. It’s past bedtime. I’ve plum run out of words and mind.
Oh, one last thing: the Waning Crescent phase is best viewed an hour of two before the sunrise. So, take up your binoculars to see craters and mountains casting long shadows on the bright side of the Moon.
Imagine that—the Sun touching Moon mountains, making moonshadows. Moonshadows.
Is that Cat Stevens singing from way back in 1970?

Our Photo Thief

(Left to right) Kelly, Ruth, and Becky string cranberries for our Christmas tree in our Detroit home

After Sunday’s brunch of quiche and salad, my youngest daughter slipped away from our table’s conversation. She and her father have never abided by the customary, “Excuse me, please.” No method of appeal on my part has reversed this paternal trait. 
I glanced to my husband and son-in-law.  “Excuse me,” I said, and followed my third-born into the living room.
As I thought. There sat my photo thief on the floor before the low credenza at the end of the sofa. She shuffled through snapshots like a card shark. Then she opened another drawer.
I’ve appreciated photography from the day my Uncle Tab and Aunt Alma Leigh gifted me my first camera for high school graduation. I treasure the moments I’ve captured of my abundant life as I do my father’s home movies and the old black and whites I’ve inherited from my mother and in-laws—an endless source of stories in my beloveds’ absence.
“Don’t take any,” I said.
She didn’t meet my eye. “I’m looking for pictures of Becky.”
Of course. She’d asked me for pictures of her late sister a while ago. I’ve attempted to gather some, but I cannot let them go. My youngest will have to wait until I kick the bucket.
“Don’t take them.”
“I won’t.”
She held up her cell phone and snapped pictures of pictures. One was of my three girls, all smiles, stringing cranberries for the Christmas tree.
It is God’s amazing grace that kept me on my feet in that gust of empathy for my living children and the flood of grief for my lost. It’s not a matter of immaturity, but self-preservation that I hold onto what I have left of my firstborn.
After I hugged our daughter and son-in-law good-bye, I returned the pictures to the drawer. I recalled the winter at the onset of my empty nest when I sorted my prints. The chronological order of our family history covered every square inch of the dining room table. 
Then I filled the empty albums my father-in-law had gifted us for Christmases throughout the years. Milton Underwood kept remarkable care of what mattered to him, and I aimed to follow his example. Then Becky left before I finished the project. I stored the remaining photos in the credenza where many others have since gathered.
This week I attended the Organizing Your Family Photos workshop hosted by the Addison Township Library. Women carried in bins and boxes. We shared the same frustration of getting started with this tedious quest. The empty albums I inherited from my father-in-law last spring answered one need.
“Begin chronologically,” the presenter said. “Pitch duplicates, negatives, blurry photos, people you don’t know.”
“The irony is,” one mother said, “my kids will probably trash them once I’m gone.”
Dear Reader, my youngest may not practice the best table manners, but I’m confident she’ll cherish the evidence of her abundant life after I’ve left for Glory.

Then her older sister will deal with the family’s photo thief.

To Rescue Beloved Things

The snow-capped patio table in our backyard glittered, the green vase atop shone like a beacon of light. Sunrise upon fresh snow at last! 
In the sloping garden below, the handle to Poppy Roy’s push mower leaned to the east from winter’s wind. Although the wood connected to the iron rotted long ago, I can’t part with my broken garden ornament.
More than a decade ago my sister Patty spied the antique while we rummaged through Granny’s basement. Poppy Roy, our step-grandfather, had departed before Granny, so his lawnmower was a long-forgotten exile.
Their house, once joyful with Granny’s piano and gospel songs, waited vacant and forlorn for its next resident. Patty and I hoped the people would take good care of the place filled with our beloved memories.
Two years after Grandpa Floyd passed, Granny married Poppy Roy and built the house in Phelps, an Appalachian hamlet not ten minutes from the McCoy Bottom where my grandparents raised their brood. During summer vacations, my sisters and I played in Phelps’ alleys with neighbor kids as Dill did with Scout and Jem in Maycomb, Alabama.
I cannot imagine a more enchanted youth.
How strange, then, to be adults all of a sudden and open the coal bin door without Granny’s permission—more so to take her belongings. I felt like a thief, that same sense of impropriety when my sisters and I emptied Dad’s home of his earthly possessions.
Then our mother’s.
Finally, my in-law’s home.
Patty and I lifted the lawnmower off a heap of coal and from the dark hole.
“I don’t remember Roy mowing the lawn,” I said. “The house has only two tiny patches at the front.”
“Look! Here’s Roy’s coal bucket,” Patty said.
The pail called my name. “It will make a perfect flower pot for my front porch.” I pulled out a ladder back chair from the pit. “I remember this green chair. Was it Mom or Granny who said Grandpa Hunt caned the seat?”
Patty didn’t know. A younger sister, she never heard much about Grandpa Hunt.
Granny’s father, a tall man with large hairy ears, was a German woodcrafter. I remember him in his casket in Granny’s living room. That was in the 50’s before a mortician opened a funeral home in Phelps.
After a brief discussion with my conscience and Patty, I decided to rescue the push mower, coal bucket, and chair.
Someday, I’ll find a woodworker to estimate the cost to repair the chair and cane the seat. Meanwhile, it waits in storage with other odds and ends for service.
The bottom of Poppy’s coal bucket is rusted out and makes a mess on the front porch, so I’ll move it to a garden come spring.
His push mower, dear Reader, remains on the slope, facing south. There it corrodes as the cycle of seasons pass from snowfall to rainfall to leaf fall.
The green vase, another castaway, sits atop the table, a beacon of light when the sun shines.

Of Modest Means and Men

Uncle Mix, Mom, Uncle Tab, Uncle Jim, Granny, and Uncle Herm, the McCoy Bottom 1968

I come from modest means—soup beans and cornbread crumbled into fresh buttermilk. My two surviving McCoy uncles, now in their eighties, still tell stories about frugal times and my Grandpa Floyd. He left for Glory before I was born, so I grew up hearing how clean and fast Grandpa hoed the cornfield with the help of his leg braces.
Thus, Grandpa is as real to me as if I had held his hand. No matter where I stand, there’s Grandpa in my mind, on the hill across the creek from the McCoy Bottom, walking in his braces, his hoe a crutch.
Near the end of his life, Uncle Mix cried when he said, “Honey, I still love Daddy so much I can hardly stand it. I can’t tell you how hard he worked on that hill to feed us children.”
When Mom and Uncle Jim, the two eldest siblings, were called out of high school to Akron, Ohio, to assemble airplanes, Uncle Mix took Uncle Jim’s place behind the plow. He was thirteen.
Whenever family gathered during our summer vacations, Uncle Mix, Herm, and Tab would talk for hours about plowing and sowing seed with Grandpa. I was too busy running the Bottom with my cousins to sit and listen.
A lifetime later, I understand why my mother looked upon Grandpa’s hillside with longing, young trees growing where the corn once did. Each summer the new timber grew taller until they were no longer distinct from the surrounding forest. Every summer when I return to the McCoy Bottom to visit Uncle Herm and his gardens, I look upon Grandpa’s hill and praise God for memory and family. 
When I called Uncle Herm last week he repeated the hoeing story with added detail. “Daddy couldn’t walk fast enough in his leg braces to keep up with the mule, so I took the plow. But he could lean on the hoe and walk just fine.”
            Grandpa Floyd’s mining accident is a central story in our family history. Each telling adds another brushstroke of shadow and light to the disaster and recovery that shaped my mother and uncles into the strong trees they became.
            With characteristic emotion, Uncle Herm spoke a scene I had never heard. “Daddy was so bad off after the accident that Uncle Ferrell came from Huntington and said, ‘Now Floyd, you can’t lay here like this. You’ll die. You can’t get the care you need here, so you’ve got to go home with me.’”
            I ate up Uncle Herm’s words like greasy beans, hoping nothing would interrupt the blessed feast he offered.
            “Daddy was gone, and gone, and gone. We thought he’d never come back. But he did, walking with leg braces and crutches.”
            The triumph and love in Uncle Herm’s voice settles deep into my soul. In my weakness, I draw strength from his everlasting bond with his father, my grandfather.
            Dear Reader, I come from modest men.  On this cold, cloudy January day, I hunger for their homegrown roastin’ ears dripping with butter.
                 Reckon I'll fry some hoecakes for dinner.