By Michelle Railey
January 1, 2014: Fourteen for ‘14
Fourteen things for you and for me (for us and for we) for 2014:
Creativity, Wit, and Curiosity
Generosity, Compassion, and Honesty
Comfort and Rest when we need it (here’s hoping those times are rare)
Health, Wisdom, and Laughter
Security (if not Prosperity) and Freedom from Need
Love (include in this fulfillment and peace and happiness)
Here’s to You, and Here’s to Me. Here’s to the end of 2013.
Send us a Lucky, Bright, and Beneficent 2014.
March 20, 2016: Sometimes Things Are Like That
There was a day. It was spring. It was warm, surprisingly warm. A gift of a day, one of those where you knew, you just knew, the chill would return, but the day, like a pop-up shower, was a good eight hours of summertime warmth, square in the middle of early spring, nearly too good to be true – well, probably too good to be true. Good things so often are.
At any rate, it was a day. A Spring Break sort of day when March could be July could be outside of time. And you drive south. On country roads and into the hilly parts of southern Indiana where myths could be real and time becomes a sticky, taffy-like thing. Driving in southern Indiana is like daydreaming by a lake: sure you’re looking at the ribbon of highway, but the damp green shade is overhead and fragrance fills your car and your head; time loses its precision. The morning spins into afternoon, and if you’re lucky, it will hit evening and there will be dew. And there’s the road again: a loop of memory and non-thinking and feeling but mostly leaves and hills and places you’ve never been but know anyway. Southern Indiana can be a gift.
And you drive yourself through- or past- a waterfall and find yourself in an 1820s kind of town: Madison, Indiana. The buildings downtown are brick, multi-story. Brick walks and crumbling brick buildings. And ferns. On a riverbank. And history pulses in the shutters hanging on the walls, in the cement lions which flank every other house. It blinks in the reflections from the river. It glances off pewter and iron and old buildings trying to remain young. Sometimes with ferns.
It’s like visiting the past, for a second, and your car and your clothes are out of place. But you. You fit in, sort of. You are friends with things you have never known but still have met; the moldy bricks, the damp cement, the waved, mouth-blown glass.
So into an antique store you go. You buy a tea cup. But this is a spot for true antiquers and the river is calling. Walk on.
And there, in the unseasonable bright warmth that is this day, is a floating barge, disguising itself as a restaurant. With a white peacock hanging around the dock. Obviously this is the only place to eat. For you. For anyone. For everyone on this day in the languorous bend of the river.
It’s a cross between a pontoon and Gilligan’s Minnow. It’s Steamboat Willie with moldy carpeting and run-down Bingo chairs and leftover Chinese Buffet tables. The tables have ketchup-crusted baskets with Captain’s Wafers and Melba Toasts and Saltines. The menus are sticky and misspelled, the plastic glasses stained with the ghosts of lipsticks past and everything about your order feels like a mistake, like a haunted house you should run from, like possible ptomaine.
Nevertheless, the dip-dyed and raspy-voiced server brings you a plate of “alfredo.” This is a plate of pasta, doused in cold milk, sprinkled with green-can shake-cheese. And it is, there is no other way to put this, inedible.
And you think to yourself, looking at the nearly solid iced tea you couldn’t possibly drink, and at the plate of seriously inedible food, and inhaling the fumes of forty years of neglect and mildew, as the floor of the boat-restaurant rocks with the waves, you think: this is, without doubt, the worst dining experience I’ve ever had.
You don’t eat. You don’t complain. You pay your tab. You do, however, eat a couple stale Melba Toasts— you always had a thing about melba toasts.
And you leave a tip you can’t quite afford, with a growling stomach, and bizarre feeling of bereavement. History is just history. Moldy bricks are just old, not picturesque. And it’s not like you really needed that chipped tea cup.
So, with your tail between your legs, you walk away from the pontoon on a swaying, rotted dock. You spend a couple minutes befriending the albino peacock. He’s not having it. And so you hang your head, drive away, swear off the past, and hit the drive-thru of the first McDonald’s you see.
And twenty-ish (a little more, a little less) years later, you will think of that decrepit barge, with its old crackers and its pet white exotic bird. And that restaurant will attain a luster it doesn’t quite deserve.
Everything falls into place. New ferns and old brick. Cherub heads of stone and reproduction fountains. The smell and sound of a river, which has been there long before you and long before me.
And a barge with stale crackers and really bad food, saved by a peacock, in old days, a symbol of the redeemed and the redeemer. Or of vanity. And maybe, with the past, both apply.
Sometimes things are like that. Bad at first. And redeemed by memory, redeemed by time. Redeemed by an ill-tempered peacock and the capital “E” of “experience.”
April, 2012: Minnie and the Terrapins
If God’s eyes are on the sparrow, well, that’s probably because He knew that Minnie had the terrapins covered.
May 22, 2013
Helpful hint: Replacing “love” and “lover” in ’80s tunes with chores makes chores infinitely faster. For example, Endless “laundry,” that’s what we ha-a-ave or Secret “groceries,” they’re in the ba-a-ack… I’m saving “Take on Fridge” for the weekend, though.
May 27, 2013: No More Frames
On the first floor of the Indiana Government Center in Indianapolis is a wall with five wooden frames. These are the photographs of Indiana service members who have fallen during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Five frames filled with young faces, six by eight in each frame.
21-year-olds from Rossville. 30-year-olds from Columbus. 18-year-olds from Fort Wayne. Haunting and brave, often smiling.
The frames always arrest me when I walk by: they inspire frustration, doubt, sometimes anger. Gratitude. Respect. Humility. Awe. Mostly they are heartbreaking.
A sixth frame was added in March. It wouldn’t fit on the same wall. There wasn’t enough room for more young, lost faces. So they added the sixth on the other side of the hallway, where they face the other five frames, their 240 brothers and sisters.
Our brothers and sisters, our neighbors, our friends, our parents and classmates. Our heroes.
I hope the sixth frame is never filled.
I hope there is no need for another wall, another Operation, another Memorial.
For a moment today, please remember them. Please remember their fellow lost soldiers from other places, other times, other wars. Thank them, hope for them, and their families, too. It’s the least— the very least— we can do for those who gave everything.
July 30, 2016: Traverse City, Michigan
September 1, 2014
October, 1992: Karisma Singers, Kokomo High School, Indiana
North Putnam Color Guard, “Erich!”
November 1995, American Musical and Dramatic Academy, “Salad Days”
(Please note: I was assigned this song. Borrowed the dress. Everything else is my own stupidity.)
November 7, 2013
December 1991: The Red and Blue, Kokomo H.S., Indiana
December 19, 2016: 7:48 PM. A Clear Night. Comfort and Joy
Earlier this evening, at 7:48 in fact, it was 15 degrees Fahrenheit with 64 percent humidity. Visibility registered at 10 miles by people who know these sorts of things.
It was bitterly cold and the sky was black. I was grumbling and feeling stressed and wintery and bleak.
Until I looked up.
A surprise train of those paper lanterns was trailing in the sky.
I had never seen them before, at least not in real life and not an Internet dating commercial on TV. Unless you count that one time I plucked a metal and paper carcass of one from the back yard after the Fourth of July. And, truthfully, I hadn’t had any particular feelings for them except to wonder if they mightn’t be bad for the environment and animals; or to question if there wasn’t something a tad selfish in giving oneself some moments of fiery pleasure at the expense of creating an inconvenience for a stranger who would find the paper and wire remnants and have to pick them up (say, on July 5th, just as an example).
And then tonight happened. It started with five or six gold chrysanthemum-shaped stars dancing across the sky. More followed, gently, maybe a dozen in total. In the black, sub-zero (Celsius) night.
I was less cold. I was, in fact, enchanted. I wanted to linger and watch them. The night was better with them. I was better for seeing them. I have no idea why they were there in the skies over downtown Indianapolis on a winter Monday night. But I am grateful that they were. (To whom it may concern, thank you…)
We shall find peace. We shall hear the angels, we shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.” — Chekhov