Eyes for beauty


A beautiful spider in my perennial island circa summer 2004

I first beheld beauty in my mother’s dark eyes. I grew to recognize and trust her voice, smile, and touch. Her scent. She satisfied my hunger, and one remarkable day, she opened her arms and said, “Come to Mommy, Iris. You can do it!”

            And I did, surrounded by a loving father and young uncles who lived with us in the McCoy Homeplace. There, nestled in a lowland Appalachians call a “bottom” sheltered by lush, green mountains, I played with my two sisters.

My father and uncles harnessed Old Jim, our mule, plowed and planted the corn fields. Straight rows of corn grew with my sisters and me. We ran to the barn and back while red bud, rhododendron, and mountain laurel bloomed above us.

One winter night Old Jim died. We cried tears of sorrow for we loved Grandpa’s old mule because our mother and uncles did. They told us stories about Grandpa Floyd following sure-footed Old Jim up and down the hill they planted with corn.

My mother looked upon that hillside as if it was the loveliest place in the world. On the other hand, our father set his eyes upon a barbershop in Detroit, Michigan.

Thus, in the summer of 1954, Sadie and Warren O’Brien left the McCoy farm with their three daughters and earthly possessions. Dad drove winding roads through the mountains and what seemed hundreds of little towns to Yacama Street where not one mountain or hill rose up to shade us.

Mom’s dinner table and spare bed became the harbor for relatives looking for work with Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, and Michigan Bell. And so it was with the Italian, Polish, and German immigrants who also had left what they looked upon as their loveliest place in the world.

The saving grace of Yacama Street that summer was the magnificent Brown’s Creamery soda fountain nearby on Seven Mile Road. The window gave view to a counter where people sat on stools dipping long-handled spoons into tall ice cream dishes. The wonderful thought of scooping a spoon into one of those dishes produced a desire that my mother eventually fulfilled.

Yet, neither she nor I had anticipated my fright when my first day of kindergarten arrived. My older sister who suffered with asthma had entered her Open Window classroom with no hesitation. However, I feared getting lost on my way to school alone. Much worse, I’d never entered the huge doors of the two-story Gabriel Richard Elementary School. Who would find me if I got lost?

No matter how much I trusted and loved my mother, I couldn’t walk to school without her. Rather, I hid behind the large tree in the front yard and fell asleep. I woke with bird doo-doo on my head which provoked a knuckle rubbing from my mother.

Dear Reader, almost a lifetime later, I observe male and female cardinals feeding upon lavender shrubs gone to seed in my backyard.

One of the most beautiful places in the world, as is the perennial island in the front yard.

In the good old summertime


Red currants for compote

“See you in September,” a friend said as our Bible study group parted last week.

            “What? Only two months left of summer!” I replied.

            A hot, humid afternoon, I drove to Cook’s Farm Dairy in Ortonville. There, I filled two coolers with 25 containers of my “special order” Lavender Lemon Honey Ice Cream and packed them in my freezer. My guests anticipate this annual, refreshing treat come July and August.

Unlike many Michiganders who escape suburbia for their lakeside home, I prefer to avoid the Zilwaukee Bridge traffic. Born a fair-skinned Appalachian, the rural landscape with a swing under a shade tree appeals to me.

I almost learned to swim as a high-school sophomore when a friend invited me to join the synchronized swim team. My mother never knew my fellow teammates saved my life several times during those three years as a student of Warren Lincoln High School.

Although my front crawl, backstroke, and breaststroke remain pathetic, I carry watering cans and pull hoses to flower beds and pots like a pro. Yes, it’s a solitary sport, yet nonetheless engaging when I observe birds splashing in their backyard bath—robins the #1 bully.

We’re presently in a drought here in north Addison Township. If sustained, my bathroom scale may fall below 130 pounds for the first time in forty-five years. All I can say is praise God for my golf cart!

Yes, Betsy, my inseparable gardening companion, waits by my side to carry garbage cans of weeds and deadheaded plants to the back forty dump yard. My husband Mel replaces Betsy’s spark plugs and fills her gas tank to keep us going and my gardens growing.

Ah…my window’s open to birdsong and blooming daylilies. Eighty one degrees and thirty-three percent humidity. Wind five miles per hour in this good old summertime.

Hmm…I hear another song in the atmosphere.

            Indeed, this month in 1949, MGM released their romantic musical The Good Old Summertime, the leading stars Judy Garland and Van Johnson.

Five months old then, I now wonder if my father, a film fan, drove my mother to the theater in Williamson, West Virginia, to see and hear Judy sing.

            Wikipedia says MGM’s Technicolor production is a “musical adaptation of the 1940 film, The Shop Around the Corner, starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan.” The plot of a mail romance returned in the 1998 film You’ve Got Mail starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

            I, amongst millions, ran to the theater to see Tom and Meg perform in another artistic rendition of the 1937 play Parfumerie written by Miklos Laszlo. I would set down money for a movie back then.

Dear Reader, I foresee devoting a few winter evenings in 2023 to Jimmy and Margaret in The Shop Around the Corner, and Judy singing, “In the good old summertime, In the good old summertime, Strollin' through the shady lanes…”

Meanwhile, the larkspur need deadheading, the roses and peonies pant for another dose of foliar spray, and I’ve currants to compote.