Thursday, April 13, 2017

Gifts: A Retrospective

Gifts: A Retrospective
            This morning when I opened my eyes, I saw a bird sitting on the roof of the bodega outside my bedroom window—a beautiful yellow-headed, yellow-breasted, shrill-voiced gray bird with a long curved beak; the beak for, I imagine, digging bugs from bark. “Hello, Bird. Hoy es mi cumpleanos,” I told him in approximately adequate Espanol.

            Today is my birthday. I want for nothing more than this peaceful day. Several hibiscus are gaudy with bloom. My five “dead” trees are in full leaf.  The canna lilies are outdoing themselves. The trim on my casita is freshly painted a deep terra cotta, making my home look like a fairy cottage planted in the midst of a magic garden.

            Okay, so my prose is overblown. I’m allowed. It’s my birthday.

            After coffee I opened my email. A note from Kathy: “Meeting Colin and kids for lunch today to hear about his and Colin’s hike to Machu Picchu in Peru for Noah’s 16th birthday. The stakes are different today. I think I got a pair of shoes on my 16th. How about you?”

            Crotchety old woman that I am, whatever happened to cake and ice cream, a few friends, party favors, modest gifts; party at the celebrant’s home, maybe a simple sleep-over? My grandchildren receive birthday loot that cost more than my kids’ Christmas in total. And the party must be held at an event center—at the least, the bowling alley or skating rink, followed by a restaurant meal for friends and parents. How can the parents afford this? See? I’m crotchety!

            Obviously I failed the birthday party chapter of motherhood. I did not, could not, give my children their every heart’s desire. Therefore, true reactionaries, my children swamp their children with everything they themselves wanted and didn’t get. I’m supposed to feel guilt. And they are supposed to spend thousands in therapy getting over my (inadvertent) abuse. (“But, Mom, you should have known how important the Game Boy and my own television was to me.”)

            I admit we didn’t make a lot of fuss about birthdays in my family. Growing up without a mother, in many ways, I was the mom. I made all the birthday cakes, selected and wrapped all the gifts, even my own.

            One time I had a birthday party, when I turned ten, complete with angel food cake and ice-cream, games I had chosen, such as dropping clothespins into a jar from chair-back height. After games and cake, my girlfriends and I went out to play in the yard. The woods beyond the barn sang a siren’s song. Soon we were playing hide-and-seek among the trees. Meanwhile the parents had arrived to pick up their daughters. The yard was empty.

            We weren’t that far away. We weren’t in danger. We were out of shouting distance. I got into serious trouble. That was my one and only birthday party. My gift was four books.

            By my sixteenth, neither my Dad nor my sister remembered. My Dad wasn’t mean; he just didn’t think of those things. Out of a misbegotten sullenness, I refused to mention my birthday. I made cakes for my Dad’s and sister’s birthdays, with a perverse pleasure, but I didn’t make myself one. To my shame, I carried that behavior on through high school.

            Somewhere along the progression of years, I had a lightbulb “ah-ha” moment. Only one person knows the innermost desires of my heart. Only one person has the impeccable taste to choose what most pleases me. I began buying myself gifts; gifts chosen with love. Then whatever other present I might receive was a delightful bonus, even if the gift was an electric skillet or a ratchet driver set.  

            Yesterday I went to an artisan shop in Teuchitlan, along the street headed to the Guachimontones pyramids. While carrying a selection of tourist items, this shop caters to those who are looking for special items.

            I bought myself two birthday gifts. One is a sculptural rendering of the North Wind. I situated him among my potted plants and re-named him the “Northwest Wind”, According to his direction. The other is a replica of a pre-Hispanic goddess of the corn. She sits among my geraniums.

            By the time my kids hit middle school, their birthday ‘cake” of choice was often pie or even cookies. Today I made myself biscuits, simple ordinary biscuits. I ate them with mango jam and drank coffee laced with milk and chocolate.

            To answer your question, Kathy, for my 16th I didn’t get a blessed thing. But for my birthday today, I have every gift I could want.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

April 13, 2017

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Expect The Unexpected

            Expect The Unexpected
            My days are never what I think they are going to be. No, that doesn’t quite express what I’m trying to say. Life is full of surprises. That’s an inane cliché. My tongue can’t find the right words. I’m not in charge. At times I think I am. The joke always turns on me.

            My life is like my bread baking. I glance at a recipe from time to time. But I know the basic ingredients and about how much flour, yeast, sweetening, salt, and butter to mix. Then I might add dry or fresh herbs, potato, egg, chopped onion.  It may contain a surprise flavor or texture, but it is always good bread.

            I’m learning my garden, becoming intimate with the wants and likes of plants strange to me.  Take those five trees, the ones which will bloom with delicate purple clusters, the ones I planted against my new wall last fall. They died. I tell you, they died. Well, no surprise to me. They sat, roots wrapped in their plastic bags, for two months before the wall was finished so we could plant them. They looked fine, well, a little shocked and stunted, until one day they dropped all their leaves.  
David from Centro Vivero, my garden guru, delivered a batch of new geraniums. I dragged him to the back yard and said, “See, dead.” He examined them closely and said back to me, “Not dead. Winter.”

Around the first of March, David was delivering bougainvillea to my neighbor. I grabbed him for another back-yard examination of my five dead trees. “Are you sure?” I asked. He looked carefully at each naked tree. “Another month,” his reply.

I had a serious chat with said trees. “I’ll give you until April first. If I don’t see life, you’re out of here. I’m not fooling.” Sure enough, one by one, each tree burst into leaf, the last one pushed our leaf buds March 30.  Today all are bushy. What do I know? Not much.  
My social life is much the same pattern. I figured once Pat and Nancie went north for the summer, Crin came and left, I’d be alone, like a monk in the desert. This week, which I was certain would be devoid of activity, I’ve met five new people. I went to a party on the Rancho. I went to another party in town. I accepted invitations to two different dinners with different friends, different days, at a lake near San Juanito Escobedo. Some cloistered life, eh?

Mexico operates on the old Daylight Savings Time schedule.  Saturday night we set our clocks forward. What a joke. Clock time is such an artificial boundary. I’m fortunate. I operate on sun time. Because I can. I have no office, no school, no obligation to be up at a certain hour. Except that I do have obligations, of course. I like to think I don’t.

We meet at 8:30 in my back yard for Qi Gong. Our group has dwindled to three: John and Carol and myself. Nancie and Jim both are back in the cold north. We still meet at 8:30. My yard. The sun is up at 6:45. So am I. But this week 6:45 is 7:45, clock time. My body is geared to get up, get dressed and groomed, watch the sun rise, make my bed, and enjoy coffee with a good book. When 6:45 is 7;45, I get up, get dressed, maybe comb my hair, gulp water, get out the door to the back yard in time to meet John and Carol coming in the gate. Clock time and body time are all a-muddle. 

This morning I was set to scrub the bathroom—spring cleaning, one room at a time. Lani called to see if I wanted to go to San Marcos to pick up the obsidian cap I had designed for my antique Chinese paint brush. Clean bathroom or trip to obsidian craftsman? Is there a choice? Then we drove back into Etzatlan for breakfast at the Cadillac Hotel. Ah, life.

Then comes night and I have to stay up an extra hour before I can go to bed because the sun is still bright and I work on the theory that dark equals sleep. Oh, botheration.

But, you know what? I’m not complaining. That misplaced hour translates to several pages in that book I set down this morning. My body will adjust. Friends will come and go. Plants will flourish or not.

Then in the fall I get to gripe in reverse.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

April 6, 2017