Season Finales

Miss Catherine Lavender in her glory, 2014
Two Fridays ago, a farmhand and I rescued the west lavender plot. Again.
I pruned rows of Royal Velvet and Miss Catherine while Mary Ellen removed wet, trapped leaves that smothered the woody plants. Mediterranean natives, they didn’t stand a chance of survival in those conditions.
On hands and knees, we extracted embedded Queen Anne’s lace and branches with white mold. There’s no better posture to learn the intimacies of the sub-shrub’s anatomy.
As you may imagine, tending geriatric lavandula angustifolia is not fun. In our fields, the average lifespan for these English cultivars is eight years. Royal Velvet and Miss Catherine have bloomed profusely for eleven. A gift for this lavender grower and lover.
Nonetheless, I cannot deny biological signs.
            “I think this is the last season for these shrubs. They’re giving up the ghost,” I said.
            A woman of understanding, my friend nodded. 
            “Remember when the honeybees moved downhill as we harvested the rows?”
            “Yes. And the scent was heavenly.”
We commiserated and worked the field, facing the inevitable. At 4:30 p.m., I left my helper and stowed away the clippers and limped up to the house. An hour later, my husband and I drove south for a night out with the Royal Oak Symphony Orchestra.
Roberta, a fellow writer, had emailed the invitation with program details including Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, Opus 14; Movement 1. The violinist had won her solo by competition with other high school musicians.
“It’s the season finale,” Roberta said. “And I’m playing second oboe.”
Finally, a chance to see her perform!
After a brief discussion about the location of old Dondero High, now Royal Oak Middle School, Mel turned off Washington Street into the parking lot.
Silly me, I thought climbing stairs in two-inch heels would be no problem. Well, I did two years ago.

Lizzy Vojtisek and her violin
Terrazzo halls zoomed us back to our high schools in the 1960’s—Mel’s in Grand Blanc, mine in Warren. We took our seats in the auditorium built in 1927. Someone had vision to restore three murals removed from a wall and forgotten for twenty-five years. That’s another story.
Friends and families of four generations filed down the aisles and into rows. The spirit of celebration and expectation infused the air for the Season Finale.
I spied Roberta in the orchestra between the English horn and first oboe. All I could see was the crown of Roberta’s head, and right fingers on her oboe.
At last, Lizzy Vojtisek, a Southfield Christian junior, lifted her bow to the strings and released the tenderness in Barber’s plaintive call. With each repetition of his lyrical refrain, I rejoiced in the fulfillment of growing beautiful living things that feed honeybees.
At the concert’s end, I searched for Roberta in vain. I wanted to thank her for luring me off the farm to hear her oboe and Lizzy in concert.
Dear Reader, that night I witnessed an extraordinary musical community honor their youth. There, Lizzy’s violin spoke a language older than words—one sympathetic to my biological signs and season finales.

Raincoat with a sunny disposition

L-R: Iris, Jennifer's mother, and Jennifer of Just Delicious Scones in Roseville

Several years ago, while I walked Target’s aisles in search of a flip phone, a patch of yellow on a clothes rack caught my eye.
Spring coats! Just what I needed.
I almost didn’t carry my lovely find to the cashier. As my mother, I don’t like belts on my garments, and doggone it—the waistline sports a cloth belt through loops.
Furthermore, I seldom buy new clothing manufactured in Asia. This explains my thirty-year-old wardrobe. I’d rather buy resale. Yet, the price was right, I found my size, and the tag says “machine wash cold with like colors.” Utility sealed the deal.
The first day I wore my bargain out and about, perfect strangers stopped me to say, “What a cute coat!”
“Target,” I said.
“You’re kidding!”
Repeatedly, fellow grocery shoppers pass with strong declarations. “I love your coat!” for instance.
From Washington D.C. to Mackinac Island, it’s the same tune. “Where did you find that darling coat?”
This popularity borders on embarrassing. At times I’ve been tempted to untie the belt, unbutton the coat, and hand it over to the admirer so I may return to my normal, inconspicuous life.
Then I consider the dreadful experience of shopping for a replacement. Why submit myself to such torment at risk of not finding another attractive bargain that suits me? My yellow raincoat reminds me to trust whatever I need will find me. So I use what I have.
Undeniably, my favorite spring coat of all time possesses a cheerful personality. The designer created a floral pattern and fabric that serves many purposes.
It’s just the right weight, camouflages tea and coffee spills, and machine dries beautifully with little ironing required. What woman wouldn’t adore such benefits?
I’m learning to accept compliments. After all, yellow and I go way back to the early 1960’s on Wagner Street in Warren. There, for one spring and summer, I wore the daffodil linen duster my mother sewed me for Easter.
Yellow and I belong together come springtime.
That’s what Jennifer, owner of Just Delicious Scones said when I dropped in several weeks ago. The Roseville business is a bakery and home of the Royal Treat Tea Room.
The place smelled like my kitchen when I bake mocha pecan scones. Now, I admire a person who can bake a good scone. Jennifer blends dough for upwards of twenty variations.
“I really love your coat. It was made just for you,” Jennifer said.
I’d never heard that comment before. “Thank you.” I asked if she would pose with me for a picture.
“Sure! Why did you stop by?”
“I just left the Roseville Library and would like to buy your toffee chocolate scones.”
One question led to another. I purchased my order and Jennifer bought my novel.
Dear Reader, I’m glad my raincoat with character caught my eye. Its sunny disposition is just what I need on rainy days.
Oh, and I found a flip phone. It’s all I need to communicate when I’m on the road.

Spread the Good News

Jaema Berman, Director of the Addison Township Library, and me with my first novel
In perfect timing, the word processor appeared on the market when I launched my journalism career in 1993. Dyslexic, I’m a miserable typist and correct every line several times before advancing to the next.
While I praised the blessed cursor, the Internet romanced the planet with email and infinite information. The computer replaced my presence in The Oxford Leader newsroom where I previously delivered my column and the editor coached me on writing features and profiles. Instead, I lost sleep over Internet and computer failures.
In conversation with a professional photographer and self proclaimed philosopher, he said, “The Internet is the beginning of the end for libraries and newspapers.”
            I did not believe him. Civilized countries nurture their libraries. Americans honor and preserve our history and editorials in print. Public libraries subscribe to newspapers, magazines, and journals for their patrons. We read, listen, and learn.
The Oxford Leader has since celebrated its 100th anniversary. Last Monday night in the Oxford Library, the artist of my first novel and I presented a book talk highlighting the influence of art in composing and illustrating The Mantle.
I’ve lost contact with my photographer friend. I’d like to tell him about the twenty-eight libraries I’ve visited the past several months—thirteen this past week. Would he appreciate my joy and trepidation when I open doors of the houses where I sow my story?
Eye to eye, I greet the librarian who takes my donation. I scan surrounding stacks. Thousands of stories wait for a warm hand to slide them off the shelf and turn a page so they may speak. I leave one more name, title, and voice to add to the fiction or “local author” collection.
Throughout my life, libraries and librarians have inspired hope and led me in paths to grow personally and professionally. From east to west side of the state, their breed and buildings personify a community’s history and values.
For instance, I began last week’s library tour with the Marguerite de Angeli, Ruth Hughes, and Capac branches in Lapeer County. I arrived in downtown Capac before the library opened at noon. I spied Mr. R’s eatery on a green, well-groomed corner.
I ordered a delicious, chunky chicken, cranberry salad croissant with fresh greens. Jodi Rawlins, founder and executive chef said, “Please spread the news.”
“I will. Is there a bakery in town?”
Jodi pointed to Main Street. “There’s Tracy B’s on the corner.”
First, I carried The Mantle to the library’s circulation desk and introduced myself. “Is Breezy available?”
“I’m Breezy,” said one of the staff and took my book. “Beautiful cover,” she said, touching the dust jacket. “Thank you for your donation.”
I studied the building’s interior before I left for Tracy B’s. With ten more library stops on my tour, I ordered a coffee and box of pastries. For the record, I recommend Tracy’s orange, cranberry scone.
Dear Reader, please spread the good news. Libraries and librarians are alive and well. And Mr. R’s and Tracy B’s are ideal homegrown destinations to quench your hunger and thirst.
Tell them Iris said “hello.”

Morning Routines

Cuddles, our tortoiseshell cat

I hear a meow in my bedroom doorway. Smaller than her Siamese sister, Cuddles has escaped the kitchen gate again while my husband sips his first cup of coffee.
     At 6:45 a.m., amber eyes and white whiskers plead a place on my bed.
     “Come on up.”
     In one leap, Cuddles commences to nuzzle the journal on my lap and pen in my hand. In constant motion, she claims my books, pillows, comforter, and pajamas with her scent. She seizes my fine-point Bic in her jaws. Our tortoiseshell kitten is plum happy to interrupt my morning devotions.
      She attacks my toes under the comforter, stops to lick herself, then pounces again. I recall hot summer mornings when my sisters and me would wake with Toby biting our toes through the sheet. There was no sleeping in with Toby around.
     A lifetime later, I’ve become accustomed to what my mother often referred to as her “routine.”
   After raising five daughters and spoiling sixteen grandchildren, Mom had earned the privilege to rise no earlier than eight o’clock. She brewed her coffee, fetched the newspaper, fed Socks, her cat, and settled into a new day at her own pace.
     What is an empty nest for, but to watch a kitten play? As my mother, I learned too late to leave dirty dishes and laundry behind to allow blissful moments like this with my children.
     Those nights I followed Mom upstairs to our guestroom come to mind. “Iris, don’t ever get old,” she’d say.
     “I’ll do my best.”
     “I love my five babies,” she’d say when I tucked her in.  
     “And we love you.”
     Mel brewed their coffee each morning. He offered Mom the paper before he drove off to work. She could no longer read or remember Socks to miss her companionship. The day came when she mistook hot chocolate for tea. Mind, my mother loved her chocolate.  
     I use my feet to fold the covers over Cuddles. She springs up and bites the comforter again. Lick. Lick. Lick. She paws and chews the ribbon ends that mark pages in my puddle of books
     Two weeks ago, to protect our favorite chicken chair, Mel and I hauled it from the kitchen up to the guest room and brought down the wooden rocker. Next morning, he opened the basement door for Mittens and Cuddles. They darted to the chicken chair corner and stopped short before the rocker.  We’d foiled their morning shredding routine.
     We may solve such simple problems easily enough. Brevity of life, however, is stamped within our flesh.
     At the sound of the sliding kitchen door, Cuddles jumps down from my bed. Mel’s finished his second cup of coffee. Soon, I’ll rise for a fried egg and sourdough toast breakfast.
     Lest our routines become ruts, the season changes. The gardens call and I must go weed and sow seed. We’ll see if Mittens and Cuddles follow—if they earn their keep.
    But for this moment, dear Reader, I reflect; glad Cuddles broke my morning routine and found her place on my bed.