My mother, over and over again

My mother, over and over again

What irritates me

How my mother can tell the same story

with the exact same detail

over and over as if it is new news.


How even she maintains an interest

for the fifth rendition

of her sister’s ham biscuit recipe


And of her brother’s-in-law white leg

showing because he won’t wear

over-the-calf socks “as every gentleman should.”


How she agonizes over every decision

especially a lie to tell a hostess

why she has to leave the party early

or to tell a man at church

she doesn’t want to go out with him.


How she had a gift of jewelry

from a suitor

appraised so she would know

how thankful and interested she should be.


What astonishes me is

how over my life

she has acquainted me with beauty:

Handel’s Messiah,

narcissus blooming indoors every winter,

angel candles on the mantelpiece

and elves that climb up lamps.


What astonishes me is how

she found hope and new life

in her young son’s death at 20.


And how she dignified

her alcoholic father’s life

by listening to his stories

over and over again.


How she didn’t have a mother

past age 24 to watch over her children,

to bake for her Christmas and

how she didn’t have a mother

to tell her about her life

over and over again.



Our Mothers are Clapping

Our Mothers are Clapping


“But there were still other and more vital practical influences at work” Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Like the height of the steps, how did the mules do it?

The saying should be strong as an ox AND a mule.

Climbing up and down the Grand Canyon Bright Angel Trail. The mules, Claire and I on foot, not on the mules.

As we were going up the hill, an understatement, we got to Indian Gardens, a rest area with shelter, toilets, running water, trees, and picnic benches.

And there was a corral for the mules, a rest area for them too.

The mules’ day starts at the top with their riders/tourists and wranglers and they all head down the 7.5 mile trail to the river then 2 more miles by the river to Phantom Ranch.

There is a corral there and they spend the night and rest a day and head back up with new passengers.  I think they “work” the mules 4 days of the week.

The Indian Garden rest stop was a welcome sight after 3 miles up.

I plopped on a bench, didn’t even take my backpack off yet.

Claire filled my water bottle, which she had carried.

I with my walking sticks in each hand didn’t have a hand for my bottle.  With it in my pack, it was tedious to stop, take off my pack and get my water so she said I will carry it, one more pound for her climb.

The walking sticks were lifesavers like railings on stairs; place them up on a step and then step up.  They sticks were lifesavers and Claire and our guide, David, were angels.  That is why it is called the Bright Angel Trail for them. The namers of the trail way back when must have foreseen the Claire angels and the David angels in the future.

Claire is the childhood best friend/cousin I spent part of the summers with.  We rode horses, ate tomatoes like apples, had talent shows for our parents at 5 cents each where we showed them how we could climb trees and hang upside down.

Our brothers, Buzz and Tommy (now called Lindsay and Tom and also in their 70s) did magic tricks.  Our parents clapped and oohed and ahhed and were enthusiastic about our great shows.

I imagined our mothers clapping for us as we climbed the Bright Angel Trail, a big deal for both of us.

We were at home at each step, each switchback, and another switchback. Claire said look up, there is a rest house we are coming to soon.  I said, I need to look at this next step and love this next step.

I had previously learned a walking meditation from Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk. Walk slowly and be in each place before moving on, saying to yourself, I have arrived, I am home.

Claire and I talked as we walked, Guide David behind us a bit, kindly giving us room to talk to each other on our own. We talked not just about being with the walking but being with any challenge and not hurrying to move away from it, in this case, being with her mother’s decline into dementia and that loss of our dear mother and aunt.

Being with my bad knees, being with our judgmentalness about how we thought other people should be. Laughing at ourselves.

It was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

I will do it again and I will do it with camelbacks, that is, water bags with drinking straws that come from my backpack around to the front.  I will have the walking sticks, I will weigh 20 pounds less so I won’t have that to carry, I will have done more hikes in North Carolina, and I might even have a couple of grandchildren with me.

I will definitely have Claire walking and singing, “We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder” to ourselves and the people who pass us. We did sing a lot and hymns we had learned from our mothers and one time as people walked past us singing, we told them the National Park Service had commissioned us to sing to the hikers on the trail, giving encouragement to continue.

We will do it again.

Our mothers will still be clapping.


Shirley, 2013


Shirley wants to go to the funeral

It is November, 2013.

“Are we going to go to the President’s funeral in Washington tomorrow?”  Shirley asks several times.  We have, after all, spent quite some time watching the memorials to John Kennedy on the 50th anniversary of his death.  Watched his son saluting after his mother leans down and whispers to him.

I am in Virginia, not that far from Washington, visiting my aunt Shirley and her daughter, my cousin Claire.  Her mother used to call us girls Snow White and Rose Red, Claire the blonde and I the brunette.

After Shirley asks about the funeral, I say to Claire, losing her mother bit by bit, “Let it roll, let’s see where this conversation takes us.”


Let’s see where any conversation takes us for that matter.  We are a family of quick and clever and funny commenters, sometimes having a hard time with slow conversations that don’t make immediate sense. Conversations that we can’t yet belong to.

Shirley suits me just fine.

After we exhaust the funeral subject, Shirley asks, “Do you have a beau?”

“Do you want one?”

“What kind of man do you want?”

At 93, she says, “There aren’t that many men around now for me. But for you…”

So we paint a picture of our ideal lovers while I finish knitting my grandchild’s   Christmas stocking, the TV on mute.

“Do you watch television?

How is your love life?

Do you enjoy your pool?  Has it outlived its luster?

How is your love life?

Are you gainfully employed?”

And several times, “How many people are coming to dinner tonight?”

Then she, out of the blue asks, “Do you still feel the death of your brother, Bo?”   My brother died in a car wreck at age 20,  about a year before Kennedy was assassinated.  Shirley knew Bo, she one of the few people in my life now who ever did.

“Can William talk?   Can he walk? Will he ever?”  (William, another story, at 7 ½ doesn’t talk among other things.)

“Do you still work?

Are we going to the funeral?

Do you have a beau?”

“This is the best dessert I have ever had,” eating Claire’s crème caramel she made from scratch.  Then again, “This is the best dessert I have ever had.”  Claire beaming and happy.

“I miss ‘Chick’, my husband.  I didn’t like football, then he taught me to love it.”

And I love football too, watching all those men run around and grab and knock each other down and then help each other up and pat each other on the butt.  She laughs.

“Why do I need to change clothes?   I am not going to.  My clothes are fine.”

Food on her sweater, dog footprints and a little blood from a hurt place on her white pants. 

Because you do.  Because we have company coming.  Because Claire would like it.

Then, the next day, “Why do I need to wash my hair?”

Because you put lotion in your hair, thinking it was hair spray.  And now your hair is all stiff. 

“No, it is not.”

And she does change clothes  and the next day takes a shower.


Somewhere in the middle of this she says, speaking of old age,

“It reaches out and grabs you and takes you down,

and then there are tender moments that I like to see.”

Singing another hymn to her dog in her lap and grinning and clapping her hands together.  

Singing “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.”


Alexander and Haiku

Alexander and Haiku

In my hands a branch of plum-blossoms,

Spoke the greetings

Of the New Year. *

We have regular Friday meetings, some in person, but most on Google Hangouts with everybody spread out over the Southeast.  We are a leadership and organizational transformation consulting company.

That IS a mouthful, not a simple haiku.

Organizations, joy

Listening, collaborating

Making new futures

At the meetings, when things get hot or we hit a dead end or we might have drifted to complacency and looking at our iPhones, I have been reading a simple haiku.  Just to bring the mood of awe and gratitude, or just cause it is there to do for no reason.

Company calls

Dead silence or talking all at once

Read a haiku.

I had a stack of haiku books out on my wrapping table before Christmas and grandson from a wise old universe, Alexander, 9, picked one up and started reading it to me.

So simple, he said, a big meaning in so few words.

So I gave him one of the books and he read to us at the Christmas table.

Reading, wrinkling his brow


Looking up at us.

A little devil and an angel.  Later, he picks up my meditation bowl and hits it with the stick and listens and waits for the end of the ring, vibrating to silence, shaking his head as if he is listening to rock music.

We have a one-minute meditation practice.

His Guardian angels visit

Do I have them too?

His answer his 4th grade test questions.


This book was his favorite gift after his potato shooter and remote control gasoline car.

With both of those, the shooter and the car, they are HIS, HIS turn; the language of mine and your turn is not yet.

With the haiku book, he is eager to share; it belongs to all of us.

As he grows and the shooter and car are long gone, haiku will be here.

By the tree

He reached for the toy

His book tucked under his arm.

The grownups frustrated

Kids are working it out

Generation after generation


Learning to debate and stand up

Learning to agree and make up.

Taunts, teasing and tempers

Doing what kids must do

Grownups sigh and frown.

Disapproving of this behavior, scornful. 

What would be scorned in my behavior?

if I had a big person watching me?

Interrupting, being impatient, overeating, over talking?

I ask the boys about fighting and they explain with great patience and reason and obviousness. That is what boys do.

And what do grownups do?

Talk too long, you and my daddy. 

Explain too much.

You let us do stuff

What stuff?

Put the mattresses on the floor in the living room and make forts and jump and play on them

And the trampoline too.

 Make us French toast

And make a cooking show video

Soak the good bread a long time

Then tell us stories late into the night about what our dad did when he was a boy.



*Peter Washington pocket serie