Long, Long Live the Queen!

King George ImageHe had been hunting,  in the morning and in the afternoon, and by some accounts he bagged nine rabbits and a pigeon.  He gave his new battery-heated jacket a try-out and announced to a friend hunting with him, “I’ve had a thoroughly enjoyable day.”

He has recently had surgery to remove part of a lung, but was making what appeared to be a good recovery, and his wife and two daughters must have felt relief.  He was much loved and not so old, only fifty-six.

That night, after a day outdoors with his mates, George died in his sleep, most likely from thrombosis.QEII

His eldest daughter was out of the country, touring Africa with her husband, when she heard the news—heard the news after some delay, as it was imperative that the delivery of such news be absolutely correct.

It is reported that she broke down in sobs, this woman we have come to think of as stoic and unemotional before the cameras.  But then, there were no cameras there in Kenya as the  young mother moved from the grieving daughter, Lilabet, to Elizabeth II, Queen of the Realm, a role for which she was just beginning to prepare.

While her father saw her off on her three-month tour, it was Winston Churchill who waited on the tarmac to meet her plane when she and Prince Philip returned home.

In addition to her private grieving she had duties of state to attend to, a meeting with the Privy Council, and her father’s funeral to plan.  A king’s funeral.

She was 25.

One headline of the time reads, “ Elizabeth Apt to Upset Tradition,” a small article that makes the claim that she is likely to be the “happiest queen” in British tradition.  She certainly came from a calm, close-knit family, one that gave her a good start in life for the role she assumed.  A life of privilege, sure, but also a life as normal as was possible.  She had loving parents, corgis, and a collection of toy horses.  She was a Girl Guide, a good swimmer and a typical big sister.

At her father’s coronation she is said to have worried that her sister, Margaret, was a bit too young for such a serious occasion.  Margaret, even then, must have been a handful.  Under their ancient and heavy ceremonial velvet robes, both young princesses wore bobby socks.

She raised her children as normally as possible, given the abnormal circumstances of their lives.  When her father died, Prince Charles, aged 3, didn’t know that his grandfather was a king or that his mother was Queen.  Neither did he know he was a prince.  His mother forbid members of the household to call him “Prince” Charles, and nor were they to bow.  Imagine having to instruct your babysitter thus.

Elizabeth is reported to have been a serious young woman, organized and orderly,  and she pledged to her people that she would dedicate the rest of her life to her duty as queen. No wonder she does not turn over the royal scepter to Charles.  She has made a solemn oath to her country and she is unlikely to hand him the keys to Buckingham Palace just because he is getting antsy.

Before Princess Diana took her boys to McDonald’s, the queen and her sister were riding the subway with their nanny.  She and Philip love to dance and even though she was a princess, they often slipped out to a night club where they met friends.  Remind you of her grandchildren at all?

If she has upset any  tradition as queen, it has been as a result of her basic common sense and that the times dictated it.  She saw her parents tour the bombed-out rubble of London and she drove cars and fixed carburetors for the war effort.  It isn’t a stretch, then, to believe that she serves herself food from the sideboard when she is alone with just family, or that she watches TV with her feet tucked up under her, like we all do.

Queen Elizabeth II just celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, sixty years on the throne.  She will continue to celebrate throughout 2012.  So will Great Britain.

She has two more years to beat Queen Victoria’s reign.  To which I say, “Long Live The Queen!”

King George Image

I’d Run a Million Miles…

I had an occasion to run to run a few weeks back.  It has it has bothered me ever since.  

I had left for lunch early, or I wouldn’t have been in that exact spot to witness that exact accident.  I heard it before I saw it, and then I took off running toward it, cell phone in one hand, purse swinging wildly, yelling to whoever might hear to “call 911” while I was attempting it, too, on my dying phone. 

The accident was a good one hundred yards or more away.  I was doing that adrenaline thing, but even so, it came to me that I didn’t think I could actually do it.  

Run, I mean.  It seemed I had forgotten how. 

It was as if my entire body had never run before, not my feet, not my legs and certainly not my lungs.  I am pretty sure I looked like a Kabuki dancer, but without the grace and the white make-up.

A few more steps and it began to come back to me, slowly, and I managed to get all my parts moving in the same direction.  I did this for few yards, still dialing, still yelling.  But I just couldn’t keep it up, couldn’t keep running and speak to the dispatcher, couldn’t get there any faster, couldn’t believe how impotent I felt, because I couldn’t run. 

I used to run.  Never enjoyed it, but I could do it, especially if a game was involved, like tennis.  In college I managed to get up to the requisite two miles of jogging, but after I ran two and a half miles, and only once, on the concourse of Diddle Arena, I decided I had conquered that sport and was ready for new horizons and so I hung up my Adidas for good. 

Now I am wondering if I could–safely–get back to running a mile.  That’s all, just  a mile.  Is that possible?  It seems that it would be a good thing to be able to run at least  that far, to respond to trouble, to save yourself. 

Not that I might be required to run a solid mile, but if I  could run a mile, then clicking off a hundred yards to escape a swarm of bees, say, should be a cinch.  I asked a colleague about this, one who runs.  She is younger than I, and I am now sufficiently old that I don’t even mind if she thinks it’s the stupidest question she’s been asked all day. 

She said, yes, of course, I can.  Start slow.  Start smart, but start.  She even recommended the running program called “Couch to 5K”, and all you have to do is google it.  It’s genius, really.  The program, which is geared to take you from..ahem…,the couch to running a 5K race, takes you through a series of walking/running segments.  

It seems so sensible.  Walk for five minutes to warm up, jog for 60 seconds, walk for 90 seconds, and alternate this for a total of 20 minutes.  If you think about it, this is what we would do anyway, when we get all hyper-excited about undoing years of sloth with an unrealistic goal of running a mini-marathon six weeks from now. 

We warm up, take off like a puma, only to stop about a minute later, holding our sides and all doubled up, gasp and spit for a couple of minutes before we try it again.

This program builds that right into the plan, but without the shame. 

I think I can do this.  

I will confess, though, it scares me a little.  I managed to try this scheme only once, and that was at night, because I didn’t want anyone to see me.  So, please don’t mention that I have told you. 

I am thinking on it, though, you all.  I found a picture on Facebook of a friend who runs…she is finishing a race and she just looks so healthy and fit and cool that I wanted to be her.  Okay, a much older version of her, but still. 

I might could do it.  Run a mile. If I ease up on it, after I ease off the couch. 

Mr. Davis Has Elephant Ears

With spring comes a freshness, a green that won’t appear again until this time next year.  It arrives on the edge of thunder and hail, and even as you are righting all the lawn chairs, flipping the lids back onto the toters, there is that certain whiff in the air.  It is the scent of renewal, hope, forgiveness, even.  It is the scent of spring.

And it smells like mulch. Image

Mulch is the Epcot Center of gardening.  You know what I mean.  At Epcot you can visit the Moroccan and China Pavilions and believe you have traveled to those exotic places. But it’s better.  Everything is just so clean.  And neat. And effortless.

And the best part, you won’t be plagued with those pesky intestinal bugs that the poor slobs who actually go to China and Morocco find so inconvenient and vulgar.

Mulch is like that.  It is nothing more than yard waste, shredded trees and twigs, some dirt and some composted something.  But bag it and stack it on pallets, or store it loose in a giant bin like prized free-range dirt, and it becomes something more than itself, something bigger, something better and we dream of it.  Covet it.  Think we deserve it, because look how hard we have worked, or think about how hard we would work, if only we had some lovely mulch to inspire us.

As strange as this weather has been, you would think we would be bracing for natural disaster, or organizing our bug-out bags, or getting our affairs in order.  But no.

We are not doing any of these things.

We are mowing our yards.Twice a week.

We are out buying plants. Mulch.

We are showing up at work on Monday with sunburned faces and arms, already, here, in mid-March.

Me, I’m buying elephant ears.

Mr. Davis lived next door to my grandmother for as l could remember.  He had a lush green lawn when no one had a lush green lawn.  At a time when yards were mostly clover and Bermuda grass, his was dark and tall and looked like it could hide Easter eggs right past Halloween.

Across the front of his house was a herd of elephant ears.  Gigantic elephant ears.  Ears that he had been nurturing and tending for years.

They are a tropical plant, which  make sense when you think about where elephants live.  The bulbs won’t survive our winters, so every fall Mr. Davis chopped off the foliage and dug up the bulbs.  They must have been immense because the holes they left were impressive.  He dried them, stored them in his basement and in the spring he planted them anew.

What fascinated and sort of disturbed me was the fact that he would plant them, dig them up, plant them, dig them up, year after year.  I had no reference for this kind of care and attention to gardening.   Landscaping at my house consisted of mowing the grass right up to the house, half-heartedly trimming around the sidewalks, and scattering grass seed a few times a year over the spots we rubbed bare with our bicycles and baseball games.

I had gone out to get zinnia seeds because anyone can grow them.   But right there, by my feet in a cardboard bin, were mesh bags of elephant ears.

I must tell you, I have never seen such a thing these. They were easily the size of cantaloupes and I simply had to have them.

I could see the cool dark corner of my yard where I would plant them, could see the small children dressed in  organza playing amongst them as they trip around my garden sanctuary on a dragonfly afternoon.  Could almost hear the crack of the croquet ball, the clinking of ice in the lemonade pitcher, could see the sloping lawn of my estate in the sun gently sets.

All this from a pack of zinnias and three oddly shaped cantaloupes.  That’s right, and so what? I have smelled the mulch.

For Mike

FROM THIS PLACE TO THAT

“Mike Mullins”

Greta McDonough

If you were listening hard on Sunday,  you heard the sound of a thousand hearts breaking.  Appalachia lost a good friend and native son that night.    Hindman Settlement School lost its guiding light.  Writers lost their patron saint.

And of course, his family lost so much more.

Mike Mullins, executive director of the Hindman Settlement School, died suddenly at the age of 63.  He had been director of the school since 1977 and he directed the ship with a keen eye and a kind hand ever since.

I have written in the space about my experiences at the Hindman Writers Workshop.  I am not sure I have written specifically about Mike.  What you need to know is this.  It was Mike who gave the workshop breath, he had the vision for how the week should go, and he was the gruff but lovable camp director that made sure his vision was fulfilled.

Everyone washed dishes.

Everyone.

He said it was to help keep costs down, and I don’t doubt that.  But it also ensured that no one got too big for their britches.  Not the participants, not the important writers who served as faculty for the week.

At least twice during the week everyone donned their flimsy plastic aprons, bused the tables, manned the sprayer and put away hundreds of plates, glasses and flatware.

We took almost as much pride in being the best dishwashing crew as we did being the best writers in class.  Thank you for that, Mike.

He insisted that the faculty, established and famous writers all, sit with the participants at meals.  There was no staff table.  This meant that we each had a chance to eat cobbler with Lee Smith, or soup beans with Robert Morgan, Silas House, or Gurney Norman.

Mike insisted the faculty mingle informally with the participants.  If he heard that wasn’t happening, he got busy fixing it.

He insisted that returning participants befriend and make welcome all the first-timers.  At orientation he told us plainly that he expected that, and he meant it.  It was summer camp all over again, and we loved this little ritual, smiling while he spoke to us sternly.

Then he warned us about the snakes.

Big ones.

Poisonous.

He recounted the places on campus he had seen them, right where we would be stepping, right about this time of night, and we had better be on the lookout.  We loved this little ritual, too.  We waited for it, laughed when he brought it up, but we couldn’t begin a week at Hindman without hearing it.

One orientation  he forgot to mention the snakes and all the old-timers’ heads snapped up, looked around, blinking and disoriented. We teased him about the snake story and he was good-natured about it.  It was one more way in which he took care of his children at the forks of Troublesome Creek for one week every summer.

We aren’t the only ones who feel his loss.  The Daughters of the American Revolution have long supported Hindman Settlement School, and members of almost all chapters know him.  When I shared the news of his passing with friends who are in the DAR, they were as shocked and upset as we were.  He worked with DAR chapters all over the country, and they came to know and love Mike, too.

I thought he belonged to us alone.

Because he was ours, at least for a little bit, in the ways that mattered most.

We speak of our Hindman family, openly and unashamedly.  We call ourselves kin, and so we are.  We are the kin our hearts have chosen.  Mike created the space for that to happen.  We have gathered in. Wept. We have loved each other through his passing as only family can.

Friends have posted so many pictures of Mike these past few days.  Mike, always smiling, his arm around his sweet wife, Frieda, Mike with his children, grand babies in his lap.  A smiling Mike pushed back in his office chair, ready to chat about a new book or just any old thing.

And that was our Mike.  Constant and steady, a happy warrior, a man with a heart big enough for all his family.  A man who stood at the Forks of Troublesome and welcomed his children home.

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