Gran's Apple Butter Blog

February 14, 2012

Going Home, Excerpt: The Big Front Porch (8VIII)

Chapter 8 ~ The Big Front Porch

One home-coming Gran and I often discussed was death. No surprise, she had her own ideas about our final destination, and being Gran, once again, they were all about love. She used to say she reckoned that after death we probably go somewhere kind of like her front porch. You know, a happy place with loving faces and the feeling of being home again, like you’ve been there before. And maybe there will be your own Nanna or big brother or favorite uncle. Just sitting there, waiting like Gran in her rocker, big smile on her face, big hug in her arms, and that special hairspray smell only your grandma had.

When it’s time for this trip, you’ll know, Gran said. Lessons complete, pencils put away, lunchbox ready. The bell has rung, the little yellow bus is waiting outside. It’s time. This doesn’t mean that just for a moment you won’t wrap your feet around your chair legs and stubbornly hang on. After all, some of us like school. Then again, who’s to say we won’t be back tomorrow anyway? And what about third grade?

But for now, it’s time to go home, take a nice long nap and spoil your dinner. If you’re not partial to sweets, this might involve a fishing pole or a hammock and the world’s Best Book Ever. Whatever you need to feel like you again, ‘cause by the time we reach that final front porch, we’re just all in.

First things first: Milk’n’cookies. There will be plenty of time to do your homework. For now, just listen to the crickets sing you to sleep, waiting for sunrise when it all begins again.

The next morning, after you’ve had a good long rest, maybe you’ll head back to that front porch again, in a completely different state of mind, fresh and whole, chapter complete, remembering Who You Really Are and what you’re all about. You’ll be ready to look back at your day, your life, and to chat with some good friends about the whole thing.

You see, Gran thought our lives are kind of like projects, based on her dream, with tasks and milestones and objectives that all contribute to the whole. As any good project planner will tell you, the success of a project depends on having a good team behind you, pulling the same way on the rope. And sometimes the most valuable part of a project is the evaluation that comes at the end.  

So when you go Home that last time, Gran thought you’d have another project meeting, this time on that front porch, rockers circled ‘round, lemonade for all. The whole team would come in, including Grandma, Uncle Joe, and your kindergarten bus driver, and you’d all take a look at the master plan you designed so long ago. You’d look at how things went, and do some Serious Thinking.

How did it go? Did you break a new record? Find some new way of doing things that no one ever thought of before? Or did you slip up here or there? Miss a deadline? Forget some piece entirely? It’s all learning – or it can be. As long as you’re learning, Gran thought that was the important part. There’s nothing like personal experience to drive a lesson home, that’s for sure.

Once all the cookies and team members are gone (that’s usually closely related), when it’s just you and the Great Grandmother on the porch again, you can have a real heart to heart. You know, the kind you only have with your grandma. Maybe you’ll talk about what you wanted to accomplish, and She of the Greatest White Rocking Chair might ask if you were happy with what you’d learned, or if you’d like to give it another go ‘round, a do-over.

After your big talk is done and you’ve all but overdosed on cookies, maybe you’ll head to the backyard, looking for the tire swing or Snoopy the Beagle. Maybe you’ll just hang out on the steps for a while, passing the time, content to be close to Gran once again.

Maybe Gran was right with her ideas. Maybe she was totally off. But somehow the idea of a big front porch and a great white rocking chair really resonates with me. Or maybe it’s just ‘cause I miss Gran so much. Who knows.



One thing Gran said about that front porch: The whole do-over idea was quite different from what she’d been raised to believe. It stretched her mind a wee bit past her comfort zone, but she was kind of hopeful, as that would greatly ease the pressure of getting all her ducks in a row in just one go-round. She had a lot of ducks, she said, and some of them were pretty unruly and disinclined to cooperate.

Besides, even those who are sure about do-overs don’t agree on all the details, she said. She’d decided it didn’t matter if it was true or not, at least not to her. When it came down to it, Gran thought what mattered was whether this idea helped us understand more about ourselves and the lessons we’ve chosen. Any tool that helps with this is worth keeping polished and handy in our little tool boxes.

It’s like dreams, Gran said. Some people put a lot of stock in recalling their dreams, analyzing them, learning from them. Others say that’s just a bunch of unrelated hogwash, bits and pieces of memories and day-to-day life that come together in a Hungarian goulash, more likely a mishmash of one’s favorite sitcoms than anything meaningful.

Here again, Gran looked at dreams like any other tool, be it a screwdriver or a pair of pliers. She’d ask herself, was this useful? Was there anything she could get out of this, whether it was real or not? If so, her dream was helping her learn about herself and her life, maybe why things were the way they were, or why she did or didn’t do this or that, or even whether she should lay off the late night spaghetti binges.

As long as we were letting our imagination run free, why not follow and see where it goes? True to her mystery-loving roots, Gran’s imagination led her to the idea that perhaps our dreams are doorways into other worlds. What if, while our bodies sleep at night, we go visiting these other places, like channel surfing during commercial breaks? We might as well keep things entertaining, she said.

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that Gran never quite bought the idea of living happily ever after. Sure, you’re home. That’s great – enjoy it! Stay a while, hang out, eat some fresh pickles and try the cornbread, but don’t start thinking this is It. Life doesn’t work that way. Have a nice visit, ‘cause soon it will be time to journey on to your next home, wherever that may be.

I know what you’re thinking: I just got here! It’s not that we don’t want you to stay (although that three-day rule for guests and fish might have some crossover application), but if you sit in one spot too long, you’ll get bored and probably develop bad breath.

Besides, Gran didn’t think we were meant to sit any one place indefinitely. Our legs are too long for that, she said, and even our bodies tell us this – too much sitting leads to stiff joints and wide margins. And no matter how great home is, sooner or later we’ll feel the need to remodel, or maybe just see the other side of the world.

When that day came, Gran said, it would be time to start looking at those 3 P’s again, and time to say “Aloha.” You know, that word that means both hello and goodbye and all kinds of other nice things? It’s perfect for this, because the same road that takes you in your front door may be the very first step on someone else’s big adventure.

That’s why Gran said to never try to make someone else take the same exit you’re on. It may not be their time or place, and we don’t want to make such an important decision for another person. It goes against free will, Gran said, and focusing too hard on someone else’s road is a good way to not notice we’re headed down the wrong one ourselves.

So for now, back to the road. The sunset is calling, and sunrise to follow, and I can see Gran, far up ahead, the tail lights of her little hot rod twinkling in the distance.

Aloha, Gran, sweet friend. Travel well.

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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January 3, 2012

Going Home, Excerpt: Welcome Home! (8II)

Chapter 8 ~ Welcome Home!

Once you’re sure you’re in the right place, what’s next? Per Gran, be ready to party! If you don’t have your happy hat on, better get it quick.

After all, you’ve come home to love, to yourself, to all the good things you can hardly imagine, they’re so great, and all the wonderful people you’ve ever known in your whole existence! There is nothing to fear, Gran said. In fact, we should toss that idea out the window right now, ‘cause it’s getting in her way and she’s ready to feel the looovvve. You ever tried to have a party and carry around a suitcase full of fear at the same time? Doesn’t work very well, does it?

So if any sneaky little pieces of fear managed to make it past all your inspections along the road, now is the time to leave them at the door. We don’t need ‘em anymore. Only room in here for me and my party hat.

The best part of any trip is the welcome home party, right? With balloons and streamers and cake and punch and a big “SURPRISE!” as you walk in the door. Oh, and look at all the beautiful leis. Aloha, sweet friend! It’s so good to see you. My heart has missed you.

Wow. How did all these people know I was coming? Someone must have called ahead… I wonder if Gran had anything to do with that.

Fair warning: You better be prepared for a few tears. These welcoming parties can be pretty emotional, ya know. And while your arrival is definitely something to celebrate, it comes with its own set of emotions to process, like everything else in life. Maybe we start with some sad tears as we say goodbye to the road behind and close the door. Then there are all the happy tears we cry next. You know, when you feel so good you can’t keep it all inside and it starts leaking out the corners of yours eyes.

Personally, I like those tears, and a few makeup stains never hurt anybody.

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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December 19, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Stronger Shoulders (7XII)

Chapter 7 – Stronger Shoulders

Like everyone else, Gran had made some tough decisions along her journey, ones she’d just as soon have avoided. Eventually, each fork in the road we ignore reappears, no matter how many times we think we snuck past it undetected. Gran noticed that whenever she took the easy road, the one that seemed to lead downhill, before long she’d find herself right back at that same fork, or at least one that looked suspiciously like it.

She could keep going ‘round in circles – that was her favorite option for a while. After all, we get to pick our trail. We can drive uphill or down, on steep, rocky terrain or a smooth, dirt-packed road. But when we keep choosing the same leg at that fork, we grow tired of the slant of the hillside, and the ruts in the road grow deeper until just making it around that circle becomes an unbelievable struggle. When Gran reached the point she could no longer bear the idea of the same old road, she’d chosen the unknown.

Yes, that path led uphill. It also went through some long, dark tunnels that were almost more than she could bear. All the stale air in those tunnels must have messed up her odometer, Gran said, or at least her depth perception, ‘cause somehow she felt like each mile in that darkness took her much further than it measured in the light of day. That more than made up for the few times she’d thrown ‘er in reverse, ‘cause in her bones she could feel it – with each turn of those wheels, she was nearing home.

Now and then as Gran ascended this new road, she’d come around a corner to find the most beautiful view spread across the valley below. A chance to breathe and soak in the splendor: Just what she needed after that long, steep grade. She’d pull over and stretch her legs, maybe peel an orange or a chocolate or just relax for a bit.

Sometimes she’d sneak in a little hike, just for the fun of it. Over time she noticed her body was responding to all this exercise, legs and lungs growing strong, back and shoulders widening for the pack she always carried. She realized she could carry more, walk further, faster, climb steeper grades than ever before, without even getting winded. That’s how she knew she was growing.

She thought her mind had grown the most. She’d gotten a little wiser along the way. She’d learned to pack her bag well, leaving everything but necessities behind. The further she traveled, the less she needed. That toothbrush handle, why, that’s an extra three ounces… forget that!

She’d also learned how valuable the rules of the hiking road were: “If you can’t pack it out, don’t pack it in!” She’d learned to quit asking others to carry her pack for her, and to stop saying yes when others asked her to carry theirs. In the end this only exhausted her and weakened them, until she’d realized it was best to focus on her own journey, her own pack.

At first when others had asked Gran to carry their bags, eagerly eyeing her broad shoulders, she’d complied, feeling a little flattered. Even after she stopped that, she’d tried sharing what she’d learned on all those trails, but that never seemed to work well either, so she finally gave it up. She felt a little sad about that, but she knew it was highest good.

What she didn’t know, what I could see from a distance, was that several hikers were watching her, how she packed her bag, trimming weight here and there, heaviest stuff in the bottom for balance, light things on top, water bottle handy, and a rain cover over the outside. They were watching how she picked her trail, how she sighted her line of travel. And they began to do the same thing, at least when no one was looking. 

Gran just kept doing her thing, following her own path. When she had the chance for an overnighter, she’d build a fire, pitching her tent when rain threatened, gazing at the stars when it didn’t. In the morning she’d break camp quickly and methodically, minding her own business, unaware that eyes were following her movements, hands rolling and zipping to mirror her own.

Somewhere down the path she’d look up and smile, surprised to see a familiar face. She’d nod respectfully, then turn back to her trail as this new friend passed, moving quickly along his way, just like it was meant to be.

Every now and then Gran would strike out into virgin wilderness, to test new ideas, new equipment. It didn’t always go well, she was the first to admit. But again, as always: stronger shoulders, stronger back, stronger legs… and so it went.

Starting next week – Chapter 8: You Have Reached Your Destination!
© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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December 13, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Home Stretch (7XI)

Chapter 7 – Home Stretch

So, where were we? Oh yes, coming into the home stretch. At this point we tend to punch the gas a wee bit, eager to pull in and put ‘er in park.

But there’s one home stretch we tend to dawdle on. Our final trip to that Big Rocking Chair in the Sky sparks mixed emotions, ‘cause this going home means saying “see ya later” to all the homes we’ve had here – the ones we shared with friends and family, the ones that held our hopes and dreams. No matter how much we want to go, it can be hard to say goodbye.

This can be hard on everyone involved – not just the one who’s leaving, who at least has a new adventure to look forward to. For the ones left behind, it can feel hard ‘cause they’re still in the old adventure, and one of their favorite players just left the team. Sometimes that makes it hard to keep going, to finish the race.

It can be hard ‘cause this represents change. Gran said she’d never gotten very good at enjoying that. The thing with change – we don’t know what that means. And we’ve been socialized – oh boy, have we: Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. But is that true? I gotta say, in my life, sometimes what I found around that corner was a whole lot better.

We fight this change so hard we hold on much longer than is good for us. Sometimes because we don’t want to go for ourselves, sometimes because we don’t want to go for the ones we’ll leave behind. We know they’ll be sad and probably have to deal with some darkness until they figure out how to move on with their lives. We want them to move on ‘cause we love them – we may even tell them that. But we also know that most likely they’re going to forget this for a while. Sometimes a long while. And Gran said that was ok. It’s only human.

So we’ll hang around, dragging things out when we know it’s better to rip that bandage off all at once. Sure, it hurts like crazy. But Gran said at least then somehow the pain can seem a bit more bearable. She didn’t say how though. She didn’t always answer my questions, just like she didn’t always answer anybody’s questions. And for the same reason – she knew I’d have to figure out this one on my own.

This can feel especially hard when the person saying goodbye is young. When this happened, Gran would remind me of the saying about good people dying young. She suspected that might not be too far off, ‘cause when we’ve done our work the best we can, we’ll want to go home and take a rest – all this learning wears us out. So when someone makes this trip earlier than we’d like, Gran figured that meant this was just a fast learner – ready to move on, lessons complete. That didn’t make the goodbye much easier, but somehow the idea felt soothing, like a sip of peppermint tea on a hot summer day.

Sometimes we fear this journey so much we get stuck along the way. Halfway home, we can go no further, ‘cause that extension cord we’re hanging on to isn’t long enough. Or maybe someone roped the trailer hitch as we flew past, and there we are, dangling between here and there, lost in the darkness. There’s only one thing to do then, Gran said, and that is to lovingly and gently let go of anything we’re holding on to here, and to do what we can to help those left behind unhitch their end of that rope as well. They may not even be aware they’re holding on, but we’ll know it.

This applies to deaths of other things too – like the end of a relationship or a job, anything that means a lot to us. We go through this process consciously when we give up one thing to make space for another. Sometimes we know we’re doing this. Other times, Gran said, all we know is that something is going away, something has been lost, and we’re just hanging on for dear life.  

That’s when we have to be patient with ourselves and keep plugging away, following our path, even when it leads away from roads that have been a big part of our lives for a long time. Gran said it was very important to ask for guidance in these moments, to pray that highest good be served, and then to listen and watch for the stars that will lead you home. That’s when you learn to see in the dark, when you close your eyes and hold out your hand, trusting that Someone is there to take it, and then, follow your heart.

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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December 6, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Maintenance (7/X)

Filed under: Along the Road,Book Series,Books,Front Porch Rambles,Going Home,Gran,Life Journeys,Maintenance — Mary Batson - FrontPorchRambles @ 10:08 am

Chapter 7 – Maintenance

There are other things involved in traveling – like all the stops. There are expected stops for snacks and bathroom breaks, and sometimes there are a few unexpected stops, too.

In general, the more of the first we make, the fewer of the last pop up. If we stop every so often to stretch a bit and check the tire pressure, we’ll notice if one develops a slow leak. That’s hard to see if we sit strapped in place for twelve hours straight. Even then, we can choose to keep on driving without doing anything about it. We’ll wonder what’s going on later when the car starts pulling to the right, hopefully early enough to prevent a blow-out. Whether we stay alert enough to notice that first tug is up to us, Gran said. Either way, sooner or later, a bald tire will make itself known.

Preventative maintenance stops serve all kinds of purposes. Once pressing needs are taken care of and the gas tank is full, we can take a minute to check our fluid levels and wash our windshield. This is also a good time to make sure we’re still headed in the right direction. We might need to do a little recalculation. Or if our memory’s gotten fuzzy, maybe it’s time to pull out that picture of home for a quick refresher. And since getting there is half the fun, we may want to buy one of those little bobblehead dogs for the dashboard –they’re good company for the road.

If we don’t make enough of these stops, our car may start feeling neglected and demand some attention. And no matter how many stops we make, we still want to be prepared in case of an accident – in case something or someone gets hurt – maybe even ourselves. Depending on what happens, we may be fully prepared or we may be up a creek.

In this case there’s nothing left to do but set up those reflectors and start dialing for help. We can just stand there, holding our pride in our hands, but that won’t get us far if the transmission just fell out. Pride can be a heavy burden to bear, Gran said, and it can get awfully expensive sometimes.

We can treat our wounds while we wait for the tow truck. If they’re not too big, it’s best to leave scrapes and scratches open for sunshine and fresh air. Others we’ll need to cover with a bandage or two, to give ‘em time to heal in a protected space. Gran said this is like when we experience major life changes, when we need time to lick our wounds in private. It’s only natural, and not a process to be rushed. If we push too fast, we may get hurt again, even worse than before.

When it’s time to take those bandages off, we have several options on how to go about that. This being a five-year-old’s field of expertise, I wrote up a list of my favorites, to which Gran added a few thoughts.

  1. Grit your teeth and rip it off as fast as you can. (This hurts like the dickens, but it’s fast if you’re feeling brave. – G)
  2. Ask someone else to pull it off for you. (Like pulling someone’s tooth, this doesn’t always work, and sometimes it hurts even more.)
  3. Pull up the side and poke around ‘til you see blood, then stick it back down. (That’s good for causing infections.)
  4. Pick around the edges ‘til they start peeling up. Keep doing that ‘til the whole thing falls off. (Very creative. This may be the least painful option, but it takes a lot of time and energy.)

Gran had tried each of these herself and a few more I hadn’t thought of – she said pain can spark amazing ingenuity. Each is a valid choice, and each has pros and cons and consequences. We just have to pick which one feels right at that moment. If Technique #3 hasn’t worked well for us in the past, maybe we won’t use it next time.

The neat thing about all these rules is that there’s always an exception or two. For example, if you’re in a full body cast, Gran recommended getting some assistance with its removal – it can be a delicate job and probably requires professional help. Hammers don’t count, and neither does your well-intentioned neighbor with the hacksaw.

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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November 10, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Asking for Directions (7/VIII)

Chapter 7 – Asking for Directions

Getting lost can happen to the best of us. When this happens, we don’t need to be afraid to ask for directions, but we’ll want to be discerning about whose we follow, especially if it arrives unsolicited. When that nice man in a strange city eagerly directs us into an empty parking space directly below a No Parking sign, we may want to keep going.

Some strangers know about going home. They’re worth listening to, although they usually don’t talk much. Sometimes those who speak the least are really those who know the most, Gran said. You can recognize them by the twinkle in their eye. If you’re afraid you’ve gotten off your path, sit down next to one of these twinkly-eyed journeyers. Sit and be for a bit. Soak up those sparkles, like the smell of laundry fresh from home, where Mom has that special fabric softener you can’t find at your store.

Other strangers think they know, and down deep they really do, but their sunglasses may be a little smudged on the surface. Maybe they aren’t really sure, ‘cause they don’t remember enough about their own road. If they can’t find their way, how can they remember yours?

When well-meaning strangers share their directions, you’ll want to consider if what they’ve told you feels right. Again, just like that shortcut, check it against your heart. Does that ping come back with a wide open feeling of love? Or does it feel more like someone just stomped on your foot? If that’s the case, Gran said, it’s probably a good idea to let that advice just fly on by.

What if that person is lost and doesn’t know it? Strangers get lost too, you know. In fact, if this person is lost, maybe you can help him get back on his own path with a few words spoken in love. It never hurts to try, so long as we keep our egos in check. At the same time, you’ll want to pass on Gran’s caution to check whatever directions you share against his own heart. The road you walk may not be his, and it’s best we never forget that.

Sometimes when you’re lost, you may feel drawn to a specific person. This may be someone you can connect with, when others can’t hear you or seem to have any idea what you’re talking about. If you’re feeling this way and a stranger catches your attention, seek her out. She may be a friend sent to help you see the lights of home burning as clearly as you once saw them.

Are her eyes twinkling? Take a good look. That may not be a street light – it may be those home fires shining right on through to you. You’ll know ‘em when you see ‘em, Gran said.

Just remember to keep checking your heart as the road twists and turns, always make your own decisions, and you’ll be just fine.

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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October 25, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Checkers (7/VI)

Chapter 7 – Checkers

Frequently our journeys involve an overnight stop or two. Maybe a tire blows out and has to be special ordered from Wesleyville. Maybe we run out of resources and have to rustle some up before we move on. Gran said this was all part of the trip, although she suggested we avoid hotel-motels with extra large ice chests and lonely male clerks. She never explained that one.

She did explain that our homes-along-the-road reflect who and where we are, just like our starting points and the home we’re headed for. This is easier to see when we’re out and about, ‘cause it’s hard to whitewash walls when you’re on the move, in which case we tend to either ignore the grime or focus on it a little too much. During times of transition, Gran said, people’s homes often reflect a similar split.

This happens because we don’t feel at home when we’re in between. The house or hotel or roadside park we land in reflects this with a general state of disrepair. The place itself is on edge, like the people living in it. Others may create a perfect bubble, with all the right elements in all the right places, clean and quiet, a living, breathing museum. And that may be all it is: An empty bubble, a shell of a home.

Our houses reflect more than we probably want them to. Gran said she’d seen this after bridges had been burned beyond repair and the end result was the big D word – Divorce. Divorce feels just like death, Gran knew, and it can leave us in emotional shambles.  

We may feel like life cheated us, robbed us of a dream. We may feel hurt, guilty, bewildered, furious, sad. We may feel like we didn’t get to say a real goodbye. Maybe we feel things might have turned out differently if we’d had a chance for one last do-over, or if our playing partner would have tried just a little harder, cared just a little more. We may feel angry that this person didn’t want a do-over. We may feel all these things at once, or we may just feel numb. We may even suspect that we may have had more to do with this than we’d like to admit – and we may not be ready to examine this possibility any more closely just yet. Working and learning through those emotions takes time, Gran said, and it takes courage. After all, it’s easier to hold on than it is to let go.

The thing is, whether we were living in a bubble or a grease-pit, it’s hard to wake up someone who’s pretending to be asleep, and it’s hard to notice signs that our egos are determined to ignore. The fairytale ends abruptly and everyone feels cheated, just like when someone gets frustrated while losing at checkers and “accidentally” knocks over the board.

Life can feel pretty crazy as we’re trying to pick up all the pieces while keeping one hand on the wheel and an eye on the road. There’s also the big job of figuring out where our new path leads, ‘cause changes this big tend to have quite an effect on our trajectory.

About that game board: Gran said it really doesn’t serve us to play holier-than-thou, to pretend it was an accident, or to play the victim. Nor does it serve us to pretend we didn’t see the frustration building in our checker-playing partner. These situations can help us realize how desperately we’ve been blocking out things we didn’t want to see, and can help us take a good look at our plays-well-with-others skill set.

If you can’t play nicely, Gran said, you shouldn’t play at all. But then, we already knew that, didn’t we?

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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October 4, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Fog Banks (7/III)

Chapter 7 – Fog Banks

It’s a good thing our hearts have such clear vision, ‘cause sometimes it can be hard for our eyes to see, particularly when the weather turns while we’re out and about. It does that, you know: Weather happens. Like fog. Fog settles on mountains highs and valleys low, and Gran said every road crosses a few of those.

Fog rolls in other places too, usually where the tide and our emotions are running high. In those moments we may feel like we’re lost in that grayness. Sometimes we’re standing way out on a pier, sometimes we’re sitting in a boat, and sometimes that boat has sunk beneath us and we’re floundering in the waves, treading water in soup so thick we can’t tell up from down.

I learned what this felt like, as Gran knew I would. I found myself in those waves not just once or twice, and I didn’t know how to save myself. Not until I ran into someone else who was also lost in that fog. From my vantage point, I could see that all my new friend needed to do was to stop fighting, to simply stand up and step out of the waves, like turning on a light in a dark room.

What my friend couldn’t see was that the water was only waist deep and the clouds were just a paper-thin veil in front of her eyes. She was already on the beach, she could feel the sand if she’d only put her feet down and stand up. Just one step forward would take her through that haze.

But until she could let go of the fear that kept her treading water, terrified that the next wave would be her last, until she could find the trust to put her feet down and know she would be taken care of, like Gran’s sparrows, well, all I could do was watch. All she had to do was straighten her legs and shift her weight to her own two feet. That’s all.

She even had helpers, although she couldn’t see them. Remember the ones who stayed on the other side? I could hear them calling from where they stood in the sunshine – “You’re here, you’re safe. Stand up!” But in her wild thrashing, she couldn’t hear them. They held out branches and threw ropes, but with her eyes closed she didn’t see those lifelines. She almost seemed determined not to see them. And that was all her helpers could do, because they knew these were her waters to conquer.

She had a choice. She could stand up by letting go, which would probably be the hardest, bravest thing she ever did in her life. Or she could stay at the edge of the waves, struggling until she was too exhausted to fight anymore, until the waves of her own emotions would take her under one last time. Even then she had a choice – to relax and float calmly to the surface, or to keep thrashing about until her lungs filled with water. She had a choice.

We always have this choice, Gran would remind me. But it’s up to us to make it. No one else can do this for us. It’s ironic how true that is. Even having seen the other side of my friend’s predicament, in my own fog banks I’d fight to the finish, choking down water and spitting out seaweed. Yet somehow, in the end, I always made it through. Just in time I’d catch hold of a branch or a rock and pull myself to safety, almost in spite of myself. Almost like I had my own helpers.

It’s like driving on a foggy night when your defroster isn’t working. You know what Gran did when that happened? She’d roll down her window, stick out her head and keep going, slowly creeping along. As long as she didn’t drive too fast, she could see each little yellow stripe at the end of her headlights. One stripe at a time, she always got home through the darkness, and bed never felt so good.

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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September 27, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Finding Your Way (7/II)

Filed under: Along the Road,Book Series,Front Porch Rambles,Going Home,Gran,Life Journeys,Listening,maps,On the road,Road Signs — Mary Batson - FrontPorchRambles @ 12:53 pm

Chapter 7 – Finding Your Way

Once we’re in that driver’s seat, when it comes to navigating we have several options. We can start out with our map from the planning stage, we can do like Gran and flip a quarter, or we can rely on our memory of the road, asking for directions when need be and watching for signs along the way.

The thing about maps – whether they’re in print or on some high-tech gadget, most of us know they can be pretty outdated. If you know someone using a particular map, take a peek at their journey, Gran said. If they arrived where they were headed, great! That was a good map, at least for their road. But if they seem to be going in circles, we might want to think twice about following their directions. We’ll also want to check their destination – even good directions won’t help if we aren’t going the same place.

Map or no map, we want to pay attention to road signs, in case anything has changed along the route. Road signs take all shapes and sizes, from those dreams that come bubbling up to whether things around us are working well or if we feel like we’re spinning our wheels. Some signs come in the form of things people say or a line that stands out in a book, or even that little hummingbird of happiness that crosses our path at just the right moment.

The secret to finding your way, Gran said, is to watch for familiar landmarks – buildings, mountains, maybe even a star or two. This is especially important if you live in one of those new fangled settlements where everything looks alike. Gran had lived in one of those, out where the sun shines hotter than most places, and she said it could be awfully confusing.

If you can’t find a landmark, you can always follow your heart. When something feels right, when it rings true, follow it. I know this sounds like something that little guy with the glowing finger would say, but it’s true. You have a homing device inside – inside your heart. It’s your very own built-in navigation system, just like bats and submarines, and it doesn’t even need batteries or a suction cup for the windshield.

You see, when you’re on your way home, your heart sends out little pings into the distance, searching for its way, even when you don’t realize it’s doing it. Sometimes those pings bounce back and say Turn Left or Turn Right or STOP! Other times that little ping will come back with a richness and a glow you recognize. There’s no questioning it, not even for a second, because that ping says This Way Home, and you know to follow it. You just know. Isn’t that cool?

It’s like driving along when you see that great big red barn in the distance, roof caved in from age and too many tornados. You know, because you’ve taken this road before, that when you get to that barn you’ll curve by on the right side, starting up the long hill headed due west, and on the left will be the baseball camp (closed now for the winter) and on the right will be the little row of cottages with their Christmas lights shining. You’ll know exactly how to get home from here, you’ll almost feel like you’re already there, ‘cause you’re on the home stretch. 

It’s like following a trail of bread crumbs we didn’t even know we left behind.

Three things to keep in mind: First, like Gran said before, if you keep switching maps, your trip may take a lot longer. You’ll get so far – maybe to the last corner, almost in sight of the house – then you’ll turn and head off in the opposite direction, ‘cause your new map says “Go Directly To Ventnor Avenue.” Well, if you’re already at Park Place, and you only need snake eyes to win, which map do you follow then?

Second: Like a modern-day GPS, if you miss a turn your heart will recalculate the next best route. That’s a pretty comforting thought, one that’s kept me company on many a dark road when my brake lights were out and only one headlight was working. And even better than GPS, hearts don’t get thrown off by cloud cover or tunnels, and you never have to wait for a satellite.

Third: We can always follow someone else down the highway, but Gran didn’t recommend it. In general, she thought each of us would want to navigate for ourselves. After all, if that driver is like her and prefers to take the scenic route, there’s a good chance we’ll get home more quickly if we head off on our own.

And of course, always pay attention and go with your gut. Don’t worry, if you start heading the wrong direction, your heart will let you know about it pretty darn quick. That is, it will if you’re listening, which is why we have two ears and one mouth.

And if listening is an issue, Gran said, we could always just tape our mouths shut for a while, although she suggested we refrain from offering to do that for anyone else. Gran had quite a sense of humor.

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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June 14, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Traveling Companions (6/I)

Chapter 6 ~ Sharing Our Journey: Traveling Companions
from Going Home, by Mary Batson

     We share our journeys with a wide variety of traveling companions and the occasional hitchhiker – the people in our lives. Some travel with us for the long haul, some we only walk beside for a short time. Others come with the road we choose, whether we like it or not. We may even see a hobo or two out there, but they tend to stick to themselves. That’s just fine, Gran said – we’ve all got a little lonesome cowboy in us.

     When it comes to these companions, one can never be too careful, whatever the destination. Those we journey with can make or break our trip – good or bad, or often times a little bit of both. Sometimes these people can help speed the trip along, help us stay awake on the long straight stretches, even take a turn at the wheel. Other times, they may keep us awake for different reasons, from a gnawing irritation that so-and-so has not yet offered to share the fuel kitty to slightly larger issues, like respecting our personal boundaries.   

     This isn’t to say we shouldn’t share our journeys, which can be a very good thing. But the point is, keep your eyes and ears open, choose carefully, and when in doubt, go with your gut.

     We learn from everyone we’re around, Gran said. Some people encourage us, support us, show us their way, and set a shining example. These are the companions we want to seek out and keep around. This is also the type of companion we want to be. Then there are those in our lives who help by providing us with opportunities to grow – steep grades to climb up and slippery ones to slide down. Either way, we learn, and we can be thankful for these lessons.

     But if you voluntarily agree to travel with one of the latter companions, better make sure you’ve got an emergency bag in the trunk, new tires, and snap-on snow chains. Four-wheel drive isn’t a bad idea either. After all, it’s not where you go, or whom you go with, so much as how you go – and how prepared you are for what you encounter along the way. And if you let someone else navigate, better make sure they can read your map first, and agree on the destination, or you may be in for a big surprise.

     Regardless of who’s in the car, sooner or later you’ll realize you have to steer alone. After all, this is your journey. You can’t drive very well with four or six or twelve hands shifting gears, but one set works just perfect. And eventually we’ll all come to that final split in the road where we have to walk alone. This will be much easier if we’ve been practicing for it along the way.

     Before we move on, let’s look a little more closely at relationships. What’s really happening between those lines?

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010. All rights reserved.
NOW AVAILABLE: Going Home, The E-Book & Going Home: The Tour LIVE – 2 CD set – Mikey and Gran’s story put to music!

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