The Unfinished Pile

Dear Reader,
Welcome to the unfinished pile. The following is one of many essays I wrote for a working manuscript titled, My Mother the Mediocre Witch. The collection was originally aimed at my son, a random assortment of stories and lessons – something he might refer back to when speaking with his future therapist. Most of the essays are very short, just a brief glance at an unusual life. I’ve plugged away at this project for years with no clear idea of what to do with it. Periodically, I’ll share a bit of it here on my blog. –Tarrant

“Tain! Tain!” and the Simplicity of Joy

I’ve noticed that I have lapsed into giving you profound truths with each journal entry. This gives my musings a preachy, feel-good, warm and fuzzy feeling, the kind of self-absorbed drivel that I detest. This was not my initial intention when I set myself the task of penning my memories, so I should take a moment to apologize to both you and the reader. To elevate the sweetness for all of us, I decided today to rummage in the photo bin for inspiration.

Yes, you heard me correctly. I keep all my precious photos in a plastic storage bin. The baby pictures are mingled with school pictures, which rub up against the horse and automotive pictures, as well as pictures of family gatherings, client portraits, and artsy product photography such as chocolate and rope. You must remember that we were in the photo business for many years. The prints weren’t very important to us because we could reprint copies at will. The truly important stuff was the digital data. Those CD’s are, of course, crammed into another storage bin.

So, there I was sitting on the floor of the hallway with a plethora of images swimming about me when your father happened upon me. I flashed the photo I had chosen at your father and we share a smile.

You are approximately six months old and in your father’s lap behind the office desk at Fotoworks. Around each of your heads is a band of 35mm film. I assume it was something he had shot and developed for a client and no longer needed. We have a storage bin full of rolls of miscellaneous negatives, so your wearing a filmstrip headband or bracelet was not that uncommon. But on this day, your headband has one lone feather sticking out of the back. A nice touch from your father, I think. You are drooling profusely, bubbles cascading down your chin, and both of you are grinning from ear to ear while you try to smash your chubby fingers on the computer keyboard as your father half-heartedly tries to restrain you.

You loved computers from the very beginning. The first trick you learned was that pressing the reboot button on the computer’s tower could send your parents into a panic, and you into a fit of giggles. After we realized you weren’t going to tire of this game anytime soon, we raised the towers onto the desktops to keep them out of your limited reach.

While I’ve been musing, I realize that we thought nothing was wrong with taking you to the lab; a place full of sharp objects, corrosive chemicals, and fumes. Given my confessed shortcomings as a parent thus far, you can see why this is just now dawning on me. But I would not have remained sane for long without my half-days spent at the office. Not to mention, you were good for business. Your fan club rivaled that of your father’s parrot, Kooka, who also inhabited the front of the store.

Kooka came to live at the photo lab because she had begun to mimic the sounds that I made during sex. At first, your father and I thought it was funny, but she gave a repeat performance in the clear light of day and in front of company. Sounds like that are private and I did not want to encourage her panting and moanings, so she was relocated to the lab before the noises became apart of her usual routine. I will say no more on the matter. Just that I was lucky that she soon found the office phone more interesting than me.

The photo lab’s first home was an old gas station located near a train trestle. Every day the train came through town, blowing its horn. This sudden blast of noise scared you at first, but once you understood that it heralded the great metal beast’s daily arrival you were hooked. Shortly after you mastered the words “Mama” and “Dada”, you learned to utter the word “tain”; your best attempt at the word train. Like clockwork, the horn would blow and you would cry at the top of your lungs, “Tain, Tain!” To your delight, one of us would then snatch you up and dash out to the parking lot to watch the train roll slowly past.

Soon our customers caught on to your fascination. They didn’t seem to mind when on more than one occasion they were left to stand, waiting to pay or drop off their film. Don’t get me wrong. We didn’t have to whisk you out to see the trains. Your personality didn’t lend itself to angry tantrums. We were simply motivated by the sight of your joy, as it bloomed fresh each time on your face with the sounding of the train’s air horn. The disruption at work was infinitesimal compared to the reward to us; the gratification of feeling your entire body quiver in excitement while you marveled with a kind of thrilled fascination at the mundane boxcars as they lumbered and clanked down the tracks. As a parent, these are the memories that stay with you.

So, while I sat in the hall this morning, surrounded by old photos, it only took two words to bring a tender smile to my face and tears to my eyes. Similar to a well-rehearsed dance, or a punch line to a favorite joke, your father and I said them at the same time.

There is no point to this entry; at least none that I will endeavor to make. I will simply leave you with two words to ponder.

“Tain, Tain.”

*** ***

To explore more sides of my writing, check out Beyond the Books where I share some of my older Medium posts.

The Unfinished Pile

Dear Reader,
Welcome to the unfinished pile. The following is one of many essays I wrote for a working manuscript titled, My Mother the Mediocre Witch. The collection was originally aimed at my son, a random assortment of stories and lessons – something he might refer back to when speaking with his future therapist. Most of the essays are very short, just a brief glance at an unusual life. I’ve plugged away at this project for years with no clear idea of what to do with it. Periodically, I’ll share a bit of it here on my blog. –Tarrant

The Butt Smelling Incident; Imperfection

Son, you may have noticed by now that these memories aren’t in chronological order but instead an embarrassing compilation that I have stored away and am retrieving in my usual chaotic manner. Unlike you and your father, who were blessed with linear computer-like brains, my strength and curse have forever been the unconventional workings of my mind. At times my thoughts can be mapped along a circular or spiral path, but more often than not I’m simply awarded with a collision of completely erroneous thoughts coming together or passing close to one other like celestial bodies in the night sky. I find myself abandoning one thought and leaping unannounced onto a bright new topic much to the surprise of my bemused audience.

Though I never thought it a bad way to go through life, I can only hope you have gained some small benefit from having such an unconventional mother. But then, maybe have did not.

Let me stop myself here before I spin too far from my original purpose and find my way back to the memory I had intended to discuss. I must say I’m sorry for relaying such an embarrassing story repeatedly to friends and family but you need to understand that it was more a statement of our lack of parenting skills than any breach of manners on your part. Truly, you were not more than four, on the cusp of kindergarten, and not acquainted with the ways of humans.

For the first formidable years of your life, your closest companions were dogs. You spoke a language all your own that they understood, and in turn, they felt obliged to teach you theirs. A child’s brain is extraordinarily quick. By age three you had mastered ‘dog’ and were as well behaved as both Greta and Fox. We didn’t see the problem in this dynamic until that day at the Presbyterian Church.

It was the beginning of summer, a last summer before you’d begin kindergarten. Wanting to be good parents on the first day of school, we thought it prudent to enroll you in the week-long bible camps offered by the local churches. This would ease you into interacts with other children, a testing of the waters to socially prepare you for your official schooling in the fall.

Yes, I know, it was bible camp. No need to side-track me with facts. At four, how much could you remember — really? You were enamored with baby Jesus for that single summer. Thankfully, it wore off and we have since made a concerted effort to exposes you to many different world religions. However, I must confess that your Catholic great Aunt Gigi clapped with enthusiasm and not a small amount of relief when you sang Jesus Loves Me while your baffled pagan parents looked on.

It now occurs to me that if we, your parents, hadn’t retold this story and made it a permanent part of your history, it would have faded naturally along with the infant god that marked the beginnings of that summer.

Anyway, on that first day of our great socialization experiment, namely you, we arrived hopeful but full of nervous concern for it was the first time you were to be left with strangers. And, as we mingled with other stressed-out parents you did what all children are apt to do; you tried to make a friend.

I don’t remember the mother I was conversing with. Her name escapes me. I was half-watching you approach her son and half-trying to carry on small talk which you know is not easy for me. I find most people to be false in their interactions and strangely unwilling to delve into meaningful conversation. I do remember that this mother seemed determined to compare potty-training stories instead of engaging in an honest discourse on the when and how social conformity might take root in various potty-training methods. Not unexpectedly, I found myself bored and smiling too broadly at her earnest face.

You didn’t feel the pressures of that day. Instead, you had set a goal of forging a friendship that would see you through the coming hours. And because ‘dog’ was as much a native tongue for you as English, you immediately presented a non-threatening posture and proceeded to sniff her son’s bottom in greeting.

Sadly, I was not the first to notice your intentions. Instead, it was my talkative companion who alerted me to your social misstep. Her pretty face shifted from proud to merely pleasantly distant, then to shocked, until finally I witness a look of horror bloom as understanding dawned. Following her gaze downward, I witnessed you slowly orbiting around her child as he continued to maneuverer his bottom out of your line of inhalation.

I admit that I nervously laughed, which earned me a look of scorn from the humorousness mother. Placing a hand on your shoulder to end your pursuit of the other child’s derriere, I simply said, “His best friends are dogs.” This explanation didn’t help her opinion of us for she promptly removed her son and herself from our immediate vicinity.

Her abandonment of us, more than anything else told me that your father and I had made a serious miscalculation. Gretta and Fox had been allowed too large a role thus far in your upbringing. Acknowledging this, I hastily rectified the error. I knelt and hugged you tightly. Then I told you not to sniff people bottoms when in public. I have always been of the opinion that what people do in private is their own business.

You looked a little confused but cheerily answered, “Okay, Mommy.” You then dashed off to try to find a different potential friend. I stood uncomfortably alone in the crowded room, my mothering skills now in question. Finally, the appointed authority figures in the room assured the lingering parents that they could leave. I was the first parent through the door.

The sniffing incident didn’t follow us to the Baptist Church, nor did it resurface at the Methodist Church. And to your credit, you quickly assimilated into the mysterious workings of the pre-K toddler social calendar without any further awkwardness.

If there is a point to all this memory, it is that you are not solely the sum of your past — nor is life necessarily a serious endeavor. Lighten up. Lose the baggage and live imperfectly.

*** ***

To explore more sides of my writing, check out Beyond the Books where I share some of my older Medium posts.

The Unfinished Pile

Dear Reader,
Welcome to the unfinished pile. The following is one of many essays I wrote for a working manuscript titled, My Mother the Mediocre Witch. The collection was originally aimed at my son, a random assortment of stories and lessons – something he might refer back to when speaking with his future therapist. Most of the essays are very short, just a brief glance at an unusual life. I’ve plugged away at this project for years with no clear idea of what to do with it. Periodically, I’ll share a bit of it here on my blog. –Tarrant

Wild Child: Raised by Dogs; A Charmed Life

I will be the first to admit we had no idea how to raise a child, so we let the dogs help. Unlike myself, they seemed to immediately understand the meaning behind each squeak or cry made by you. At that time we lived on a large farm and more often than not it was just the four of us: you, the two dogs, and me. Your father departed each morning to work at our photo lab and I stayed home at first because I was trying to be a good mother, which means I was following a lot of confusing advice from a variety of child-rearing books. It was much harder than I had anticipated, having you all to myself; this small bundle that was entirely dependent on me alone. I was full of self-doubt. Out of sheer desperation, I allowed Greta and Fox to become your nannies/sitters/play companions.

To be raised by dogs is not as bad or as farfetched as one may believe. They were quite capable guardians and were a great help to me from the onset. When you needed changing, they informed me. When you were tired and cranky, they provided a soft warm cushion to curl up with that I didn’t have to wash. When you spit up, they’d lick you clean. When you began to crawl, they traveled over miles of carpet with you, keeping you entertained when I could not see the delight nor the point in traversing repeatedly up and down the short hallway or circling incessantly around the coffee table in our double-wide. They ignored your pulling of hair and drool. When you began to walk, they provided support and encouragement by hesitantly walking forward, but never leaving you too far behind, else you become frustrated. And when you were older and steadier on your pudgy legs, they explored the farm with you securely gripping their nylon collars. You became adept at maneuvering under the lowest of fence boards with your hand clutching Fox, as well as taking your first frantic running steps next to his massive body as he trotted from the barn down the grassy hillside toward home.

As sweet a picture as my memory has painted, I will now confess the disaster that arose from trusting those dogs. I misplaced you. More than once, but let’s not focus on that fact. If you recall, I was at one point in charge of a horse breeding and training operation. This is where we lived during your first eight years of childhood. I will refer to it as simply ‘the farm’. It was a beautiful setting and the land was full of its own magick. The fact that this happy place became a dark quagmire is another story. Suffice to say, it has no bearing on this memory.

Where was I? Yes, the farm and the training/breeding operation. Please understand this dream of mine took a lot of my time and energy. I was a professional horseman, or woman, and worked long hours for the owners. So while I rode, or mucked stalls, or groomed, you were in the capable care of Greta and Fox. This arrangement worked well for us and for quite some length of time, but then Fox taught you to run and that’s when the problems began to occur.

I panicked the first time I lost you. I am not proud of that weakness of character. I always imagined myself made of sterner stuff, the type of person you’d want to have next to you in a crisis. But, I am not entirely level headed where you are concerned. Yes, I panicked, and I don’t mean a sudden short-lived fear soon replaced by logic and action. I mean a pervasive terror followed quickly by mindless screaming and decidedly fatalistic imaginings.

I had been exercising a two-year-old mare, Grace, on the lounge-line and had just put her away in her stall when I scanned the grassy barn lot to find you and the dogs were gone. I swear my heart stopped beating. I then began screaming for the dogs and Greta dutifully reappeared. But there was no answer from Fox.

Remember, we were alone on the farm. It wasn’t like a stranger had kidnapped you. No, I had trusted Fox with your welfare, and he had absconded with you or worse — he left you alone somewhere on the three hundred acres we were charged with managing.

I searched the immediate area: the barn, stalls, tack room, the rusty horse trailer, and the well-house — though the door was locked and you couldn’t possibly have gained entry. Finally, I headed to the house to call for reinforcements knowing the first few hours after a kidnapping are the most crucial. I had to get your father home to help me search the woods and possibly your grandparents to make up the initial rescue taskforce before I called in the sheriff’s department.

As I approached our double-wide at a half run and scanned the tree-line, I spotted the evildoer lying on the porch. He was alone and napping. I bore down on Fox. I was so angry I thought myself capable of separating his spotted pelt from his body. But as I drew near, I spied you playing in the dirt of the flower garden. You were happily oblivious to my terror or Fox’s future as an exotic rug. With your sudden reappearance, my heart began beating anew and I sank to the ground, my legs too weak to hold me.

You saw me then; giggled and scampered over to throw your toddler arms around my neck. I, of course, hugged you too tightly and you squirmed until I let go. Too distracted by the hidden joys of mulch and the bugs living just underfoot, you didn’t notice my tears.

And though I thought your guardian to be asleep, he had not stopped watching your every movement. I learned several hard lessons that day. Firstly, as a mother, I have the awesome power to exist after my heart stops beating in order to avenge you. And secondly, that despite my shoddy parenting skills or maybe because of it, the universe was going to keep you safe for me —atleast  for the time being.

After that day, I caged you in a portable playpen while working in the barn. I also never told your father that I had momentarily misplaced you. And as a precaution, I bribed Fox with extra rations that night for keeping my secret. By your startled face, I can see he was true to his word.

If there is a lesson here, I’m not sure it was for you to learn. It was mine. Yet one more reminder that your mother, the mediocre witch, has led a charmed life. I can only hope that yours, son, will be just as magickal.

Oh, and don’t always trust the dog.

*** ***

To explore more sides of my writing, check out Beyond the Books where I share some of my older Medium posts.

The Unfinished Pile

Dear Reader,
Welcome to the unfinished pile. The following is one of many essays I wrote for a working manuscript titled, My Mother the Mediocre Witch. The collection was originally aimed at my son, a random assortment of stories and lessons – something he might refer back to when speaking with his future therapist. Most of the essays are very short, just a brief glance at an unusual life. I’ve plugged away at this project for years with no clear idea of what to do with it. Periodically, I’ll share a bit of it here on my blog. –Tarrant

Chemicals in the Kitchen; Taking Risks

If you don’t mind, son, I would like to point out few threads I discovered as I mapped out this series of essays. The first trend I reveal to you must be laid at your father’s feet. From your earliest memory, you have heard him accuse me of painting in a ball gown and boots, but here I will set the record straight and tell you that I learned how to be possessed by an idea to the point of insanity from him. He was the initiator; I simply followed his example. My first exposure to this all-consuming phenomenon was chemicals in the kitchen.

If you recall, your father owned a small café on Main Street named the Horse and Hound. He was the chef and me, one of the waitresses. We had a loyal following and did a decent business; enough to pay our paltry bills. At that time, I had no idea how quickly your juggernaut father could switch directions. So, when he and I began developing black and white photographs in the kitchen after hours as a hobby, I had no inkling it would lead to the hastily conceived photo lab.

As I recall, your father was snap-happy for two solid weeks. This coincided with the Atlanta Olympic Games where he burned through fifty rolls of film in just two days of dressage competition. We didn’t have the option of using a digital camera back then. They were cost prohibitive and the technology still too new for the masses. We also didn’t own a cell phone, but that’s another story.

As a trusted member of the newly forged team we had become, I helped him set-up the equipment, select negatives, pour chemicals, crop, and time the developing prints. The chemicals were corrosive at best and the fumes were intense. We slept very little during those frenzied days. And to my memory, he lived and breathed photography for no more than three weeks before he showed me an ad for a minilab. Two weeks later, we bought Bertha, rented an old gas station, and set ourselves up in business.

Bertha, the photo processor, was two generations removed from the latest technology. She required constant care and your father rebuilt her more than once. No one in his or her right mind would attempt to turn a hobby into a business overnight, but we were riding high on his enthusiasm and persuasive talent, and I was too blissfully happy and high on developer fumes to think to suggest caution.

Saddled now with two businesses, we worked Fotoworks during the day and the café at night. Our only concern at the time was that I had become pregnant with you. Your father’s cousins had been raised during the years Aunt Pat owned and ran a restaurant on St. Simons and your father didn’t think his cousins had turned out for the better for the experience. So, when my pregnancy became pronounced, he wanted to avoid his Aunt’s past mistakes. Nearly overnight your father abandoned his culinary skills as a source of income and closed the café. Fotowerks would have to sink or swim. And for a time, it did manage to float precariously.

As I said, this was just the beginning. Your father has moved us through many interests and businesses since. Each was successful on some level and each built on an idea or flight of fancy that possessed him. After Fotowerks, I learned to pay attention to his fascinations so as not to be surprised by the business plan that ultimately developed. By following your father’s example, I have learned to commit completely to my chosen interest and trust that the future will take care of itself.

You will note snidely that such a life has not done my retirement fund any favors. But, my only lesson to you is that you will never fly as high as your dreams if you are always aware of how painful the fall can be. Your parents have lived many lifetimes. We have risen and crashed and risen again. Each reinvention of ourselves was sparked by an idea that we invested in and nurtured until it possessed us. In this state of grace, there is no room for fear. You must race and leap forward and reach toward dreams yet to be realized.

Do this and you will avoid a life of regrets — a life of what if’s.

*** ***

To explore more sides of my writing, check out Beyond the Books where I share some of my older Medium posts.

The Unfinished Pile

Dear Reader,
Welcome to the unfinished pile. The following is one of many essays I wrote for a working manuscript titled, My Mother the Mediocre Witch. The collection was originally aimed at my son, a random assortment of stories and lessons – something he might refer back to when speaking with his future therapist. Most of the essays are very short, just a brief glance at an unusual life. I’ve plugged away at this project for years with no clear idea of what to do with it. Periodically, I’ll share a bit of it here on my blog. –Tarrant

Sweeping Chickens off the Porch; Gratitude

A hen pecks near the base of the washing machine, one of two sitting at the edge of our driveway. Both, along with a single two-decade-old dryer, stand like rusting white sentinels at their ill-chosen post. If I am going to be totally honest here, I must confess that the trio irritates the hell out of me, as does the chicken poop dotting the walkway, the steps, and the worn porch. But somehow the discarded machines lined up in the driveway bother me the most. Occasionally, I’ve deposited bags of household trash on top of each washer, a not so subtle hint to your father that the entire lot should be carted off to the dump. Yet the washers remain where he left them. The bags are gone, as are the boxes of collected household recycling. It baffles me that he can’t see it.

I watch the hen for a few more moments. She seems happy in her foraging, her contentment a sharp contrast to my present mood. I stalk back into the house.

Our house. Where do I start? And where are you in this essay? I think at this point, son, you are in middle school and are just now beginning to compare your family’s net worth to other families who homes you visit.

Once grand and with bones that are still sound, the aged Antebellum landmark we reside in is known to everyone who has lived in this area. But appearances are always deceiving. What they don’t know is that we don’t own this grand old house. We rent it. And the rent is cheap for a reason.

The windows rattle on windy days, there’s a good bit of water damage, the wiring is hodge-podge and highly questionable, most of the plumbing in the house is backward, there is little to no insulation, and mysterious critters have now laid claim to the second floor. Thankfully, there is a line of demarcation and it ends at the top of the stairs. The first floor is ours. The entire house is of course too expensive to heat and air-condition, so we have always closed portions of it off. We have learned to ignore the things we don’t have the money to fix. We live shabby chic. It’s a thing. Some people pay big bucks to attain what we have stumbled upon by necessity. But I’m getting ahead of myself. This is about the fact that the proof of the crumbling insides of our house has taken up residence in the driveway. My life does not feel magickal at this moment. I feel like I’ve become the person with the ratty porch couch. You know the ones. The same place that has the rusted car half-overgrown with weeds. Oh yeah, we’ve got one of those too. It was a project that never got finished. Lack of money, if I recall.

Lack of money. Poor to some, but I prefer the term broke. You see poor is a condition and de-moralizing, but broke can be fixed. Broke has hope. Of course, it helps if you can see the world as a Buddhist might, or as a witch might if a Buddhist isn’t around. Did I mention that my husband is one? A Buddhist that is. Which is why the discarded washers and dryer doesn’t bother him. He knows there residence in the driveway is only temporary, for all things are temporary. Perhaps the hen knows this as well. One day the white sentinels will be gone, and the bugs the chickens’ hunt will have to find another place to take refuge.

I think I feel better. I sometimes forget that many years ago I stepped off the path that most would consider normal; college, career, home ownership, and debt. I confess I sometimes lose my gratitude for the things I do have; family, friends, love, humor, health, and fresh eggs.

One day son, you will look back on this big drafty house and smile with gratitude. Or at least I hope so.

*** ***

To explore more sides of my writing, check out Beyond the Books where I share some of my older Medium posts.