Murphy bit my nose.

I knew it was coming someday, and it was my own fault. She was already in bed, curled up, occupying the space that would hold my feet if that little Punkin’ wasn’t there. I bent down at the foot of the bed to kiss her on the head and she didn’t feel me coming. Bless her, she can’t see, hear nor smell very well,  but most of the time she senses me present. She didn’t hurt me and didn’t growl. It was as close as she could get to biting without biting.

We’ll celebrate Murphy’s fourteenth birthday April 22.

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Jameson Blair Graham, the oldest grandson, will turn fourteen on May 17.  Our little black and white fuzzball Murphy Sweet Punkin’ has been plagued with medical problems, including an autoimmune disease, and has already lived past the average age of demise for a Shih-tzu. In contrast, Jameson is leaned in and fast approaching adulthood. He’s left all pre-teen notions behind and is a bonafide, full-fledged teenager.  He still loves his young cousin, and they think he’s wonderful. He’ll be driving on a learner’s permit in a little over a year.

Yeah, we know what’s coming, and we know it’s coming soon.

We bought a lift chair for Dad yesterday. It is a pretty chair, just the right size for his space, chocolate brown faux suede. LIFT chairDad turns eighty-nine in September. He’s fallen several times since Christmas, the time when his scleroderma started acting out as if on a mission. Some days, he’s needed help to get out of his old favorite recliner–or actually any chair he sits in. His legs won’t hold him up without his Rollator, and several times a day, he can’t even move his feet holding to the walker.

After Sunday Dinner this week, Dave and I made the decision to set the table at the apartment from now on. Mom always writes Sunday Dinner with the two capitals, I think because it’s one of their favorite times at our house.  We set the table with the good silverware and glasses, and we always use cloth napkins–unless we’re eating pasta with red sauce or pork barbecue. Dad was too weak to eat Sunday. It was exhausting to walk those one hundred steps or so to the table, impossible for him to navigate to a chair in the den, and futile to think he could get out of his at-my-house favorite, an old red chenille recliner.

Murphy loved Old Red in her younger years. It’s been a long time since she could jump on and off a chair.Murphy3

Monday morning, he was in the bedroom trying to play Merle Haggard on his new boombox (generously donated on Sunday afternoon by fellow book-clubber Susan) when he fell, punching out the cane back of his sturdy wooden chair. I hurried next door when Mom called. Dave was away from home, but I knew I could call on neighbor Don to help me get him up if necessary.  I found Dad on all fours, trying to crawl across the bedroom to the bathroom. He knew he needed to clean up and change some clothes. With Mom’s help, I convinced him to get his chest against his punched-out chair. It took three tries, but I got him up–and he helped. His voice was so weak I could barely hear him.

Once in the bathroom, he cleaned up as much as he could, holding himself upright by pressing against the clothes dryer. I “polished him off” and then scrubbed down the place, paying particular attention to the washer and dryer that acted as his props. I was reminded to find Mom a dryer since hers quit that very morning.  Later that afternoon, I bought a new dryer at Lowe’s and drove a few miles to Franklin to pick up my newly repaired sewing machine.

The dryer arrived on Tuesday morning.

We moved Dad’s old leather recliner downstairs to his study, a place nobody goes anymore except to water overwintering plants. We got another wooden armchair for Dad’s bedroom and started looking for a sturdy chair for the den, one that might be described as “easy in, easy out.”  Then we put Old Red up for sale, even though it really was the most comfortable seat in the house. It doesn’t match the den colors anyway.

So we’re prepared. We know what’s coming, but we don’t know how soon.


I’m no poet.

Some days I’m not sure I’m even a writer.  Writers are like that.

But Monday I took a small carton of blackberries to my friend and she wrote on a social media post: “Yum. Home grown blackberries with a little cream and raw sugar. Thank you, my sweet fruit fairy…”

Along with the blackberries, I shared a little ditty with her. She is a poet, a real one, but the fruit fairy was unashamed.


His Best Thing


I think blackberries are my dad’s best thing. Better than best, maybe best-est. Perhaps most best.

His briar patch is a twenty-foot arbor on the southwest side of our house.

He built it the spring after we all moved to the new place.

It might be a pergola, or maybe a trellis, but he named it Arbor and it stuck,

The propping place for fruit-heavy branches and gravity-driven berries on tender vine tips.


He stretched galvanized two by four-inch farm fence through its middle and across its top,

Secured in spaces on four-by-fours,

Sunk deep in the ground

To the credit of a post-hole digger he brought from the farm.


He offers them one non-negotiable itinerary–up and out–

And they don’t mind going there,

But old habits of reach and arch point them groundward.

They see by his wire that all they’ll get is a proper path built for their own good.

They repent, and bow to the farmer’s convenience.


I collect at the bottom. Think I don’t know what they say about low-hanging fruit?

I’ll always pick it first, unimpressed by gossip.

Sometimes, easy-does-it hides big treasures.

Besides, they contradicted themselves when they said

“Don’t step into a briar where a snake might lurk to strike.”

Once I saw one in my dad’s blackberries.

Skinny grass-green Flash tripped over my flip-flop, made me laugh.


To fill my basket takes six passes.

Once each side that-away looking down,

One this-away looking up (which makes four).

Two more trips, one each direction,

Flat-footing a rusted vintage chair, non-wobbly against a thick post.

I figured the top gatherings shouldn’t count for more than two passes,

Although–The twenty-steps afoot do require two moves of the ladder for each side,

Six mounts and dismounts, too.


If I wanted, I could count as trips the shorter jaunts between the makeshift scaffolding.

I could. The truth is these are my berries now.

I decide—to pluck or to leave,

Jam or jelly, canned or frozen, cobbler or double-crust, fresh or later.

Are they sweet this year? I take the largest one, let the taste linger.

No, my berries are tart, not at all like my dad’s, nothing to remind me of him.


Some say to stand on a rusty chair instead of a stepstool is to welcome a fall.

Sometimes, often, I think they’re right.

Picking across the top takes practice and balance,

And vision adapted to a peripheral gaze across a close horizon.

Within my reach waits a sturdy brace,

Sunk deep in the ground

To the credit of a post-hole digger he brought from the farm.



Why They Came

First the black bear walked in. He left the door open behind him. I squatted behind the tan leather sofa while he rummaged through the kitchen cabinets to find some shortbread cookies. Then a white-tail deer trotted in. She stood just a few inches away from my hiding place and watched the bear. I glanced at the dark, shiny wood floors and feared that dear Mrs. Deer would leave hoof marks. The grey squirrel came in talking, tail twitching. “Cashews. Give me cashews. Or popcorn.”

Sometime after that, the dream ended and I opened my eyes and laughed out loud. Dave and I were in our favorite cabin hideaway in Asheville, North Carolina. We’d come to see the roses in bloom at The Biltmore. The night before, while Dave lifted the cooler onto the front porch, I read the laminated sign posted beside the door. “Do not leave your front door open. Bears have been sighted on the grounds.”

Inside, another sign referenced a grey squirrel that might appear on the deck seeking an anticipated snack from new residents. We didn’t see any bears, but the squirrel story was a bit understated. The squirrel stood on his hind legs and knocked on the sliding glass door. We were forced to encourage him by giving him popcorn and peanuts, which we had to partially shell before he would dig in. He was a relentless pest for the three days we were in Dad’s Digs—came inside the living room once and we lured him out with crackers. “Pest,” that’s what they really meant to write on the warning sign, not “pet.”

We did see some deer, but none so brave as to walk into the living room while a bear searched for cookies and a squirrel made demands. Of course, we were careful to keep the doors closed.

So far, no raccoon, fox, nor groundhog has wandered into the house here on the ravine. If any one of them were to visit, he’d probably come into The Cellar, the place where I keep an office and a second kitchen. One reason to appreciate this small efficiency apartment in our walk-out basement is that the dirt comes in here instead of the regular living quarters upstairs. The first landing for hedge trimmers, grimy work gloves, and buckets of whatever vegetable is currently prolific in the garden—today that would be turnip greens—is a counter height table that my dad made for me out of old lumber and four-by-fours. He painted the top turnip-green green.

The garden tools and produce—and dirt—are things that we bring in. And then there are the things that just come in, on their own. Leaves, for instance. Oh, sure, we bring in a few leaves on our shoes, but nothing compared to the brown, orange, and yellow piles that rush with the October wind every time a breeze blows through the opened door.

Some of the smaller critters have already headed indoors, and the entry point of least resistance is The Cellar. We’ve had some cold spells so I guess they’re trying to keep warm. It doesn’t hurt that there are so many good hiding places down here in The Cellar, either.

I don’t mind the occasional box elder bug but the mouse that scurried across the floor in front of the bookcases unnerved me. Dave came downstairs. (I suppose I might have screamed a little, too.) My good husband headed for the hardware store to buy mousetraps. He was gone for maybe ten minutes when I saw something moving from the back door and across the kitchen floor. I squinted my eyes. It was too slow to be a mouse but it was about that size. I eased up from my desk chair and tip-toed around the file cabinets to have a closer peek. A spider. A really big spider. Black, with hairy, meaty legs. On another day, I would find a way to move him outside; I don’t really hate spiders and I rarely kill one. However, my normal self had fled with the mouse so I threw a paper towel over him and stomped. Later I wished I had saved him in one of the fruit jars on the table so that I could show him off.

Dave baited three traps with peanut butter and placed them in various mouse-traffic patterns but for three days, no tell-tale “pop.” I was beginning to think the uninvited guest wanted cashews when Dave informed me on the fourth morning that he had “removed the little friend” and that the exterminator was coming.

Halloween seems to signal “fall-for-sure,” just as Thanksgiving says, “Winter is here.” People, critters, and things come inside. The grandkids and their friends from next door won’t be racing past the window by my desk much longer. Their scooters and bicycles will be tucked into garages and they will draw and paint, read, and watch videos-on-demand. We’ve already brought in the ferns and cactus, and we’ve moved the porch furniture closer to the house. Next frost, I’ll move the potted roses to the storage garage.

Halloween is also the date of my parents’ anniversary. This year, it was their 65th. Sixty. Five. Years. They were young when they took a taxi from the Smith County hills to just over the Georgia state line, just seventeen and fifteen. They looked young at their anniversary gala on Sunday afternoon, an event held in an old mansion that serves as the fellowship hall for Southeast United Methodist Church. Mom dolled up in an ivory embroidered suit with copper and silver accessories. Dad strutted around in his best black suit, an ivory rose tucked into his lapel, and leaned on his cane when he stopped to visit. Mom received most of the guests at a reserved table, but she eased around the room with Dad two or three times, once to pose with the stacked cake and once to receive the short blessing offered by Pastor Ann Cover.

The guests were plentiful and so were the reasons they came. Some came because they’re family; Mom and Dad lived away from Tennessee for most of their married life and every family gathering is a treat. On the memory-video, Aunt Bessie said, “See, now, if you’d stayed in California, I would have missed this.” Some were friends from church; one said, “We are so happy to have you here teaching our Sunday school class.” Some were members of the church Dad retired from; they said they’d never forget Mom and Dad. Heatherly said, “We just love your mama and daddy.” Some were members of a church that Dad pastored when they were teenagers; Jackie Edwards said, “Brother Blair, you’ve been my favorite for over fifty years.” Some worked with Mom when she was a credit manager for a boot company; Bill Black said, “We’ve made the 50th and the 60th and now the 65th and we’ll be here for the 70th—You are going to have another party, aren’t you?”

After the party, Dave and I had to make two trips in the van to bring home the decorations, dishes, and leftover cake. It was a really, really big tiered—no, “stacked”—cake that I carried in my lap on the second trip, the backend of the van full again. We agreed to take the cake in and leave everything else to unload the next morning.

Dave opened the passenger door and I eased out with the cake, being careful to keep it upright. I planned to re-frost the top where we had removed just one tier and take it to the Nashville Rescue Mission where they would serve it as dessert for dinner.

“This cake turned out beautiful,” I said. I had obsessed over the cake, a home creation a friend and I concocted. My friend has decorated a wedding cake. I had not, and until the bouquet of red roses, dogwood, fringe plant, and crape myrtle transformed the monstrosity, I almost would have paid somebody to take it.

Dave told me several times, “People aren’t coming to the party for the cake.” Well, no, that wasn’t the reason they came to Mom and Dad’s anniversary reception, but I was still thrilled—okay, “relieved”—when several ladies said it was the prettiest cake they’d ever seen. They even said it was the best-tasting white cake they’d ever had.

Just as I sat the cake down on the turnip-green table, I remembered the extra hors d’oeuvres I’d brought home. “Oh, shoot, Dave, those leftovers are somewhere in the back of the van, under something.”

It was dark, and we had not turned on the floodlights (switches upstairs) on the back drive and patio. The only light turned on was the motion-detector fixture over The Cellar’s door and we have it set to turn off after sixty seconds.

“Just wave or run around in front of it—and I’ll find the food,” I said.

Dave propped The Cellar door open and stationed himself.

“Well, we may as well take this stuff in if I’m going to have to move it anyway,” I said as I lifted item after item.

“Yeah, no need to move it twice,” Dave said and came for his first load.

While I started to dig again, Dave headed inside, his arms full of candles, dried boughs of fall berries, and tablecloths. As he set his load down, pushing bags under the table, the light clicked off. He hurried back out to wave it back on.

“Hey,” I heard him holler, “Get away from there!”

I jumped. Dave wasn’t talking to me. He was yelling at a raccoon making a run for The Cellar’s open door.

Now, that raccoon wasn’t cold and he didn’t need a place to hide. He did not express admiration for Mom and Dad’s sixty-five years of marriage nor did he claim nostalgia for having known them for so many years.

But he did have a reason. The raccoon came for the cake.


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