Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Chicken Conundrum; or, A Fowl Situation

             Presenting: the tempting guinea fowl. I'm too busy dodging these guys in traffic to actually take their photos. 
                  Photo source: Ellis, Tim. Guinea Fowl. 2013. Photograph. Flickr Commons. 4 Aug. 2013. Web. 27 Aug. 2013

I found myself tonight googling, "how to catch wild guineas" and "how to cook wild guineas." **

Before you think I have lost my mind, things to consider:

1) We can't buy fresh poultry here. All chickens are frozen. And expensive.

2) It takes forever for a chicken that's been in the deep freezer for an indeterminable amount of time to defrost. I'm lazy and too unorganized to set it in the fridge 4 days before I want to cook it.

3) They seem, well, stupid. You know the phrase "bird brain?" There has to be a reason. These guys run in front of my car all the time. We call them the Kamikaze Birds.

4) Look up the cost of free-range guinea fowl, and then consider that I pass dozens every day. For free.

5) I really don't like chicken (really!), but I do love pheasant, and guineas supposedly taste a lot like pheasants.

I just have to figure out how to catch one and kill it (with my bare hands---no guns allowed here!). And then clean it and cook it.

Easy, right?!?!?

I go through phases where I get really down about the grocery situation here. I could write pages about what we don't have, but I won't, because you probably don't want to hear it.

Just know, I'd appreciate if everyone reading this would buy a fresh block of cheese and cut some cheese for me (I couldn't resist). It can be ANY cheese that's not processed. I miss real cheese.

I also miss real milk. I'd rather drink almond milk than that super-homogenized stuff.

I was talking with a few ladies who have been here for quite a while, and they all said that they have gained, on average, 10 lbs a year that they've lived here. Scary, right?

And they are both active---they dive and kayak and hike and spend a lot of time outdoors.

But when your produce rots the day after you bring it home---nothing like paying $7 for strawberries, and then finding them rotten on your counter the next morning---you start to buy more processed products. Living off processed products tends to make most people gain weight.

The food situation is my one biggest complaint about living here. I understand everything has to be barged or flown in, but I didn't realize everything would be so much more expensive than in the States, considering most of it is really not fresh at all by the time it gets here.

I'm going to try my hand at growing peppers, and I do have lots of basil and oregano that are growing like gangbusters. My neighbor grew lettuce and tomatoes last spring. It's very arid here---think desert climate---and it's not as humid as, say, Mississippi, but the sun is much more intense here. Now that our water restrictions have been somewhat lifted,  I think I can make a go at it and perhaps grow a few things.

For two years that we lived in Texas, I had a plot at a community garden and LOVED finding fresh squash or tomatoes or peppers growing. Even when I lost the war with squash bugs, I found it very rewarding.

I've tried googling "gardening in Guantánamo Bay," but you can guess where it focuses on---THAT place. As I mention repeatedly, I am NOT living in that place, I am not associated with it, and it has nothing to do with my mission here. (It's a sore subject for most of us living here. There's been a base here since 1898. We are a Navy base, first and foremost. Despite what you hear in the media, there is MUCH more to Gitmo than that place I won't mention).

At one time, barges from Cuba floated onto the base and vendors sold produce to the Americans here. I don't see the embargo lifting, and desperate times call for desperate measures (like killing a wild bird in your front yard).

So now. . . maybe I will figure out how to have a garden here. And just maybe, I'll grab up some of those feral, suicidal guinea fowl that keep jumping in front of my car---not to eat, but to keep in the yard to eat bugs. They eat tons of bugs (and even small rodents). Instant organic gardening!

Maybe the noisy guineas will scare off the smelly banana rats that have plowed through the (ugly) Mother-in-Law's Tongue, (cute) Portulaca, and (once-prolific) Wandering Jew that no longer reside in my front yard flower beds. I've actually considered catching a boa for banana rat control, except that they are shy and are rarely seen here. Oh, and there's that bit about them being really, really scary snakes.

It's never ending when you think about it. You need boas to kill the banana rats. You need guinea fowl to kill small rodents and bugs. The circle of life is alive and well in Cuba---even if it's Americans eating produce with a short shelf life and chicken that's been rock-hard frozen, all the while dreaming about blocks of cheese and fresh fruit and vegetables and poultry.

**Disclaimer: Librarians are people, too. And yes, we occasionally Google, but only responsibly. :)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What I didn't do on vacation; or, Back On the Chain Gang

The end is near.

The end of summer vacation, that is.

This, of course, leads to new beginnings.

The ebb and flow of a school year---and the frenzy of summer vacation---are things you never learn about while studying education. You just have to experience it firsthand.

The year is full of ups and downs---especially in a school of military brats who are constantly coming and going. My kids are learning quickly about the transience of our school population, not only their peers, but the staff. They are learning how to make friends fast and deal with the fact they may be gone in a month.

We have a ritual here---when a family leaves, friends come out to the ferry landing to bid them goodbye. As the ferry pulls out for Leeward/the airport, people jump off the ferry and swim after it. The first time I saw this, I really choked up. It was so sweet and like everything else here, unique. My oldest has seen a few of his friends leave from that dock, and he's gotten to the point that he doesn't want to go anymore. It's not that he doesn't respect his friends; it's just difficult for him to say goodbye. It doesn't get any easier. The youngest and I had our first ferry goodbye last Saturday, complete with us jumping off the pier. I can't even imagine what a blubbery, crying mess I will be when I take my last ferry trip to Leeward after saying goodbye to friends.

In just 10 months, each of our kids has lost at least 4-5 kids from his circle of friends. Thinking to my tiny high school and class (89 students), I don't think I had 4-5 friends move away in my entire high school experience (not counting graduation, of course).

Each school will be getting new administrators and new counselors this year. We have a new secretary and a few new teachers. Changes are everywhere.

I am excited about going back tomorrow, and I'm hopeful and optimistic with the new changes, but there is a secret of the profession you may not know---we live with an overwhelming pressure to be über-productive during the summer, and for many of us, summer ends in guilt when we don't get everything done on the summer to-do list.

This started for me in the very beginning years of my career---in fact, I went back to school during my first ever vacation summer as a teacher to finish my graduate degree in English. I've spent a few other summers back to school when I got my librarian certification.

I used to take epic road trips, just me, my two dogs, and my little Jetta crossing the country from Colorado to see friends in family in Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama.  You haven't lived until you've smelled dog breath for hundreds of miles on the road.

Once we moved much further away (and we had a baby), road trips became plane trips. It's just not the same thing.

This summer's travel plans were shorter (and more stressful) than we originally planned, but at least we now know how to navigate the Space A system.

In addition to travel plans, I always have lists of books to read every summer.

I only got through half of these. . . 

That large stack of books next to my bed, including several I wanted to be able to suggest to students? Well. . . I did read a few, but I didn't read nearly as many from the school library as I planned.

I also always have cleaning, sorting, organizing, and purging plans. You know, exciting stuff: closets, the pantry, the laundry room, several cabinets, more closets, and the garage.

We still haven't finished unpacking from our large shipment in December. I got through more boxes, but I didn't get through all of them. I think we are at least a thousand (or more) pounds lighter than when we arrived, if the boxes and boxes and carloads of clothes, toys, and household goods I've given to the charity store are any indication.

I did manage to find more (damn!) shoes in the process of unpacking. I also checked off a few more closets I wanted to clean---but I wasn't nearly as productive as I wanted to be.

It's the summer time guilt of being a teacher.

Other things I kind of did, but not well:

I did manage to keep running, but only 1-2 times a week (it's hot here, people!).

I did cook---just a little. Again, it's hot. Cooking in the heat is so overrated.

I didn't do much yard work (hot as 7 Hells!!!) or unpack all those boxes in the garage (it's hot, hot, hot!).

There are always the surprises of summer, the opportunities that serendipitously seem to fall in my lap, the new people and places I get to experience. Here's what I did do:

I played a lot of card and board games, some with neighbors, some with my kids, some with my neighbors' kids.

I read lots and lots of Roald Dahl with the youngest, and in hopes that he doesn't have a completely off-kilter sense of humor, threw in one of the Little House books, which took me back to my childhood.

I got to hold my youngest niece for the 2nd time! I got to hang out with my oldest niece (as well as my sister) and the kids had a great time playing with their cousins. I got to see Al. Al is my first cousin, and we are 18 months apart. For four years, each of us was an only child, so being the oldest grandkids, we seemed to spend the most time together of the five cousins during our summers. Getting to see him made my heart happy.

And then there was the experience of watching my youngest son and my sister's daughter, who have about the same age difference as Al and me, playing together and getting along like we did.  I can't even tell you how happy that made me. Throw in that his kids were there, too, and it was a good day. Everyone needs a first cousin (or three) to love. My husband doesn't have any; I am happy that my boys have four (and will hopefully get to see the other two this winter). Family time=bliss.

I took advantage of free movies here every week. So what if I'm not into action movies or if a movie gets a bad review? When you are enjoying a free movie on a large screen, kicked back in your fancy lawn chair, eating cheap popcorn, enjoying a breeze and beautiful stars, your expectation is only to have fun.

I didn't get up to 5-10 mile runs, like I wanted, but I have cut my pace considerably on a 3-4 mile run since I got here in October. I couldn't even run 3-4 miles when I got here! I'll start doing the 5 and 10K circuit again in the fall, and will maybe even try for a 1/2 marathon before all is said and done. (Never say never!)

I've met and hung out with people I didn't know before vacation, and I've gotten to know other folks much better. We've met at movies, we've gone to pottery and painting classes, and we've been to parties together. I have been to some crazy, fun parties. What happens in Gitmo. . . you know the rest.

I painted this:

and I'm not totally embarrassed by it. :)

I got activities and programs and displays and contests planned for the entire school year for two libraries (Pinterest! Holla!), which is more than I can say when I got here in October. Each new year brings much uncertainty, but I feel more comfortable with the unknown now that I've gotten a definitive (more or less) plan.

I snuggled with a seven year old on the couch and watched corny cartoons. I threw a ball with the kids. I took the kids to get ice cream and other unhealthy food. I wished my oldest son well as he left the house to go to his first job. Yes, he is growing up too fast. They both are.  Who cares if the laundry isn't all folded and put away or the beds didn't get made every day? I wouldn't trade hanging out on the couch, watching "Adventure Time" or hanging out at the park for being more "productive," whatever that means, anyway.

I spent yesterday morning on my second dive with my oldest. He has grown and matured so much since we've moved here, and I'm in awe of what an amazing kid he is. He took most of these pictures, and he lead our dive. I am so very proud of him!

So tomorrow starts a new year, my 20th year as a teacher, and my second year here. It's the year of our 20th anniversary, my oldest son's 2nd year in high school, and my youngest's 2nd grade year. It's the year of 20 and 2---maybe I should take up roulette? Or play the lottery? I'm betting that this year is bigger and better than last---and last wasn't bad, at all. In fact, it was a fun adventure.

As my oldest said when I told him we were thinking of moving here, "Well, at least it will make a great topic for my college essay: That Time My Parents Moved Us to Cuba." 

Bring on the 2014 school year. I'm ready.

back on the chain gang

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Big beaches, big planes, big flags; or, Dance-off for World Peace

Ahhh. Summer vacation. You know that old joke: "What are the three top reasons to become a teacher? June, July, and August." (or May, June, and July, depending on what part of the country you live in)

Never mind that you don't get paid for those three months, or that it's more like 2 months off work; it's still nice to be able to wind down, spend time with your kids, and do a little traveling before cramming an entire year's worth of work into 180+ contract days. 

I'm in that panicky "Oh no! Vacation's almost over! But I have so much to do!" mode that most teachers go through the week before going back to work. 

In my pursuit for activities that a)we haven't done before; b) don't require too much time in the sun/heat; and c)are preferably FREE lead me to some fun new adventures this week.

First, a friend had the brilliant idea of going to one of the beaches that just opened back up this week (Hurricane Sandy did a number on it). We took 3 of our kids over to the Leeward side of the base on the ferry. A trip to Ferry Landing means searching for sea glass while waiting for the boat, and we spotted a friendly blue heron during our wait. Something as small as a ferry ride across the Bay is a great way to break the summer monotony. I've never be on it in the middle of a weekday, and it was rather deserted. 

We ate lunch at the Galley there (another adventure---we do get tired of the same seven restaurants on this side) and then hiked a small distance to Chapman beach. 

Rounding the corner to the beach was exciting. You'd think we'd get bored of beaches, but no two here are the same. You still need swim shoes---all beaches here are rocky (and this one is full of sea urchins), but there is some sand for the kids to play with, much like Girl Scout Beach. It has a protected rock barrier, much like Cable and Windmill Beaches. It's wide like Windmill, too. 

This means nothing to any of you who haven't been here, so here's the bottom line: if you take some of the best features of our favorite beaches, it's at Chapman Beach.

The beach was COVERED in urchin shells. I took home probably 20, and over half made it. They are very delicate---some are pink/white, others grey and green, and others are every shade in-between. Some still had the spines on them. I don't know what I'm going to do with all of them, but they sure are pretty (and a much needed break from sea glass---it's taking over my house).

Did I mention we were the ONLY people there for most of our afternoon? It was awesome---like coming upon your own secret beach and not having to share it with everyone else. 

Also, as we are swimming/sunning, we hear a loud noise and look up just in time to see an airplane landing on the runway above the beach. You can see the planes from the water---and this was a C5 landing. If you haven't seen a C5 in real life, an 18-wheeler could easily fit in one. They are HUGE.

My favorite shot of the day:

After our Chapman Beach adventure Thursday, H and I went to the Northeast Gate Tour yesterday. It's something everyone who lives here needs to do once (and visitors, too, if you happen to be here the third Friday of the month). Because of that thing I have called a j-o-b, I can't go do fun stuff in the middle of a weekday, so I was excited to catch the last tour opportunity before vacation ends next week (*sniff sniff*).

Back in March, I joined dozens and dozens of kids, colleagues, and parents in the Dr. Seuss Fun Run that takes place for a mile on the fenceline. We got a small version of the tour, but this time, we got the real deal. I can basically sum up the tour---and our entire relationship with Cuba---in a few sentences. First, the gate and fenceline are an archaic symbols of the Cold War of years gone by. Lots of craziness happened between our 2 countries here---including Cubans throwing rocks and shining spotlights on Marine barracks at the fenceline; Americans placing huge patriotic symbols in the way of the Cuban spotlights, causing the Cubans to give up the light idea; Cubans putting coathangers on the fence next to the barracks to make noise; Americans installing a huge flag; Cubans installing a bigger flag; Americans installing an even taller flag; Cubans installing a same size flag but on a higher hill; and Americans cutting a Cuban waterline to prove that Castro lied about the Americans taking his water. 

So that whole "A Few Good Men" speech about eating breakfast 300 yards from 4000 Cubans trained to kill is, well, kind of malarky. I'm sure there's been threats (and when the gate was open, American Marines were even held captive a few weeks in Cuba), but mostly we are all sitting around waiting for the Castros to leave (ie retire or die), and then HOPEFULLY someone will wake up and decide this entire embargo thing is also malarky and the gates will open. 

This was all my inference from the Marine tour guide, by the way. In no way or shape did he actually say these things. But he was very entertaining, and his stories of the war of wills between the Cuban guards and the U.S. Marines were worth the trip.

Our base leaders do a ceremony of sorts when they go to the line between the two countries for monthly meetings and when they work with the Cuban government in granting Cuban refugees asylum. Since we have been here, several Cuban refugees who escaped to our base have been granted asylum in the US and other countries, with the help of the Marines, Coast Guard, and Navy. The Cuban authorities are notified when asylum seekers come over---it's my understanding that it's part of the agreement of us being here---but they are allowed to stay until a decision is made about the reason they are here, the logistics of their leaving Cuba are set, etc. Our tour guide was an active duty Marine. I don't know if he had given the tour before, but he did a great job. I loved how his whole face lit up when he talked about his role in helping asylum seekers. I think that must be a rewarding job.

To give a little levity to the tour, he explained how the Marines are often amused at the antics of their Cuban counterparts.  There is one Cuban guard in particular who is a legend. A truck drives up to one of the Cuban towers and drops him off to report to duty, then he climbs into the tower (theirs are concrete and air conditioned; ours are wooden with no A/C), waits for the truck to get out of sight, and then starts his shift by turning on a radio. They know this because he then dances non-stop for his entire shift, until the truck comes back down the road to pick him up.

Personally, I think that instead of hoisting flags in each other's sight lines, the guards on each side should have a dance-off. Maybe a little Thriller, maybe a little Cuban mambo. Can world diplomacy be found through music and dance? Could we dance until the gate comes down? Who knows.

I don't think, however, our military or government leaders would go for that.  

See the white line? That's the boundary between Us and Them.
Maybe this could be the location for World Peace Dance-Off.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Befuddling, Excruciating, and Maddening; or, No Regrets

It's hard going through the passages of life so far away from your loved ones.

It's not just death I'm talking about. I have dealt with death and grieving since I've been here, but I am talking about the not-so-depressing, just everyday things that most people take for granted when they live near their long-time friends and family. Things like birthdays and anniversary parties, get-togethers with the girlfriends, and spur-of-the-moment phone calls for advice.

My husband is an AF Brat, lived in Europe for a large part of his childhood. He didn't experience monthly or every-two-month visits to the grandparents, yearly family reunions, and summers with the cousins, and he turned out relatively normal. But the thought never occurred to me as a child that I'd be one of those people who sees my parents only once or twice a year. It is what my life has become. It's the one downside to living so far away.

It doesn't mean that you can't still be close to friends and family when you live out of the country. There are emails and letters (and care packages---oh, how I love care packages!). There are the occasional phone calls---although calling here is a real pain. When calling on our calling card (to avoid exorbitant prices), our family members call a 1-800 number, enter a PIN, then our international phone number. All in all, it's like 28 numbers. At least we aren't in the days of rotary dial phones.

It doesn't work, but it's still cool. 

This is the one thing I miss while in the Commissary (well, other than actually having a well-stocked store---Why have we been out of plain yogurt for almost a month?? Why don't we have food coloring AT ALL? Why are the eggs two weeks out of date? How are we almost out of all school supplies? Okay, rant is over): I miss calling my grandmother from the grocery store. I used to call my grandmother at least once or twice a month to ask her how to make something. It would go something like this: "Grammaw, if I'm buying fresh turnip greens, WHAT do I do with these things?" She'd give me a quick run-down on how to pick good ones, how to clean them, and how to prepare and cook them (and when my grandfather was alive, he'd chime in, too).

Our mail doesn't appear to be coming at all---we used to have three mail flights per week, and then it was cut down to two. I haven't gotten mail in over two weeks. Our +4 zip just changed for the second time since I've been here, so I'm hoping that the mail's just a little slow and that it didn't end up in Oman or Europe again.

Just because sometimes life here is slower, with 25 mph speed limits and only once-a-week shipments of groceries (or even mail) on the barge, it doesn't mean life is necessarily slower. Because of the pace of everything, I feel like I do more work than ever. Our painfully slow internet and communication issues make me very impatient and I feel like I'm spinning my wheels, since I'm a "work smarter, not harder" kinda gal. There are days that I have to refrain from banging my head on the wall in frustration because I find taking 15 minutes to check email absolutely excruciating. And don't get me started on the inefficiencies of working for the World's Biggest Bureaucracy---it's maddening what it takes just to get much-needed items, such as book glue (no, not the same as Elmer's or a hot glue gun) so I can do my job the right way.  I know Those People in Washington could care less about how budget sequestration is affecting my ability to salvage damaged books in my little library. I have had my mini-breakdown over our insufficient resources, and once I let go, I really do enjoy my job.

I can truly say that for the first time in my life, I am able to say I'm a "work hard, play harder" person, as well. It's what I've wanted to attain for a long time. I can finally see tangible rewards---not in material items, but even better. I can go to the beach for sea glass hunting, swimming, or diving almost any day. I spend afternoons with my husband and kids. The weather here is fantastic. Less choices for goods and restaurants, less distance for work commutes, and a wardrobe for one season altogether mean more savings in the bank. I spend more time cooking (which I mostly enjoy) and we spend more time sitting around the dinner table as a family. I have time to take art classes and pottery classes, which give me great joy. My oldest gave up cello, but he's spending lots of time playing the guitar (he's now up to 3 of them, 2 electric and an acoustic) and the bass, and I don't believe he'd be practicing so much if he had all the distractions that teens have in the States. My youngest has a spectacular farmer's tan, thanks to spending hours outside instead of in front of a computer or television.

Pie. Yum. H helped me make this apple pie from scratch. 

There are many hardships to living here---some emotional, others a matter of inconvenience---but as we are slowly coming upon our one year anniversary, I can say without any hesitation that we have no regrets.

Oh, and Happy Birthday today to my Daddy. (I know you actually read this---and I thank you for everything, including shaping me into the independent, determined, and stubborn person who does crazy things like uprooting my family on a month's notice and moving to an isolated military base in a Communist country. I really thought it through beforehand and carefully weighed the decision, as you taught me. Thanks for showing me how hard work pays off, and how you must always take pride in your work, even if it's something small like mowing a yard or washing a car. Thanks for not taking it easy on me because I'm a girl. Girls can do anything boys can do--and better. You taught me that. I love you!).

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Goodbye; or, For Todd

This week a cloud has hung gloomily over me, ever since I found out that a former neighbor died last Saturday. He wasn't quite the boy-next-door; he was the boy a few houses down and across the street.

My parents moved to our house on Allen Circle when I was 5 years old. Across the street, a few years later, a family with 4 beautiful boys moved in. In addition to each being absolutely handsome, the boys all displayed freakishly good athletic abilities, and soon decided (without consulting us first) that our yard would make the best football field in the subdivision. Soon kids from all over the neighborhood came and played ball in our yard, which I have to admit was kind of perfect. The yard had no trees save the two spruce trees that stood like bookends to the flat expanse of grass---instant goal posts! A straight brick sidewalk perfectly bisected the yard---a 50 yard line! The little landscaping at that time consisted of mostly juniper bushes under my sister and my windows. 

I should also mention that my parents didn't really approve of the kids playing in our yard. Nobody ever asked permission; it's like one day a gang of boys showed up and it was decided from then on that our yard was the community football field. The kids would do things like knock over flowers or leave the water running after they helped themselves to a drink, creating a mud pit. They were rough, too, on each other as well as the yard---of course, this was the 70s and early 80s, before people worried about parents suing for their kid breaking a leg on your property. 

My younger sister and I spent many a day peeking from behind our curtains and over the junipers at the boys playing football. Having just each other as siblings, boys were a foreign species in our house. We studied the mysterious older boys as anthropologists would, watched their moves, eavesdropped on their conversations, and when that got boring, took opportunities to harass them. Sometimes they'd take a break and leave their shoes on our porch, so we'd squish juniper berries in the toes. If they actually noticed, it didn't deter them from coming back. 

Those original football boys eventually grew up and/or moved away. The night before I graduated high school, one of the across the street boys was killed in a car crash. Unbelievably, a few years later, another brother died in a car accident. 

The football tradition was carried on for several years, until one middle school kid showed up drunk and almost aspirated in our front yard, and that was it. Dad and Mom (who ended up taking Puke Boy to the ER) put the kibosh on the games. No more football in our yard. 

Flash forward, many years later. My parents still live on Allen Circle, but most of the families I knew while growing up are gone. Hurricane Katrina took out one spruce, and the other died. My parents ripped up the sidewalk and put considerable time and money into nicely landscaping the yard. The hideous juniper bushes are gone. I still look out the window and think fondly of the boys who played ball, and I get a lump in my throat every time I think about the loss of 2 of the 4 neighbor boys. Then, a few years ago, one of the guys contacted me online---a neighbor Todd, one of the original team, who moved when I was still a geeky, awkward middle schooler and whom I had only seen a few times since their departure from our little town. 

Facebook is a weird thing. It's where the superficial flourishes. It doesn't matter if you hardly know someone; anyone can request to be your "friend," even if they didn't say three words to you growing up. This was different. Instead of that thing people do after a lifetime apart---basically run down your résumé of where you've lived and what you've done---we told each other childhood stories. Funny stories. They started with my family's football field and went from there. The one constant was they all were about things that happened on our little street, and most contained at least a cameo from Tim, the second brother who died. Tim was handsome, smart, and absolutely witty and hilarious. Girls were in love with him. Guys wanted to be his friend. He had that impact on people. Todd and I traded funny childhood stories, and that was the extent of our online "friendship." But in a lot of ways, it was huge. 

It was important to me because it wasn't about how I got contacts and put on some much needed weight and didn't end up as homely as expected, or how I had my heart broken by both so-called friends and boys in our little town, or how I still manage to be somewhat of a geek, but not in a so-sad, pitiful way. It wasn't about reminiscing about high school and college and other experiences we missed out on in each other's life. It was a nice slice of my childhood that he was there for, and few other people can say that. We spoke the language of the kids who grew up in my neighborhood in the 70s and 80s---the Mini Mart, the Icee store, names of people long gone, of swimming holes and creeks. We shared a collective memory and told each other new stories about that time and place that was, to me, much better than trying to impress each other with our lives today. 

Last Saturday Todd suddenly passed away. In light of the world of "friends" and facebook, do I call him my true friend? We hadn't seen each other in over 20 years, and I didn't even know what he did for a living until I read his obituary. But I re-read the chat texts from the last 2 years---late night musings about football games, and who fought whom in the neighbor's yard (now my grandmother's yard), and who talked his daddy into going fishing (without him). Tim, naturally, was a part of these and the rest of the better stories. We talked about grandparents we have lost and how they made us who we are. Ironically, our first conversation was about how we loved our little town that we both had moved away from and never planned on moving back to so much, we both wished to have our ashes scattered in Lawrence County water (him=Cooper's Creek, me=Pearl River). For bringing me back to that time and place, he is definitely a friend. For the loss of someone who was an amazing storyteller, and from all accounts, a great friend to those who have known him since middle school, I feel a huge loss, much more for those folks and his family than for myself. It's also one of those times I have to face the inevitability of being mortal. He was only 45 years old. 

But it doesn't mean it didn't hit me. Hard. 

When I'm back in my town, I will do that thing I always do---I'll wistfully stare out at my parent's front yard and daydream of the boys who played ball and entertained my sister and me so many years ago. And Todd has now joined the league of boys who are no longer on this Earth, and I'll look at his house and feel the loss for those stories we never got around to sharing.