September 27, 2009

Concrete Details

I write in abstractions a lot of the time, and think that I need to document realities more. Abstractions are easy enough to recall, after all, but the minute detail of everyday life here tend to swim together in my head until I look back on the seven (?!) weeks I've been living in rural Virginia on an island by myself and it seems like one long, variably-weathered day. So, concrete details:

Granddaddy and Aunt Lynne arrived yesterday to spend the weekend. Aunt Lynne brings Granddaddy down every couple weeks. She likes to give Grandmother a break and likes to spend time with Granddaddy. Yesterday I experienced a burst of cooking energy and made the following: Beef-Ale Stew (one of my stand-by stew recipes, although I've started skipping on the buttermilk dumplings in lieu of biscuits), spoon bread, French green beans, and a cheddar crust apple pie. I wish I could show you delightful pictures of all of this food but I dropped my camera in salt water and sand (not the first time) and it has finally died after years of continual abuse. My parents will be bringing me a new one to destroy next week when they come to visit, and then I can start pretending that I am Deb of smitten kitchen (though with less beautiful photography/cooking skills/new infant). After dinner and dessert Aunt Lynne and I watched The Departed and both agreed that Matt Damon's character is definitely a closeted homosexual (re-watch the film and it will blow your mind). It then stormed aggressively all night, complete with thrashing trees and eerie wind howling.

The weather is always beautiful when I am the only one here. As soon as guests arrive it starts raining miserably, driving armies of fruit flies into the house. Hannah, Alex, Colby, and my entire family can attest to this.

I seem to have fully conquered my reading-block after a full year. Since I've been here I've been devouring books left and right, and it is pleasant. Completed reading: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, Sacred Clowns and Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman, Cavedweller by Dorothy Allison, Renegade by Richard Wolffe, The Spire by Richard North Patterson (awful), and The Shipping News by Annie Proulx (a reread, but a personal favorite). Currently I'm making my way through Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brien. It all makes me want to write, which is shocking, and this want has actually turned into action, which is far more shocking.

I think that was all very concrete. Oh my! Uncle David and Zoe have just arrived to surprise us, and I must go join the general hubbub. I will write again soon, with details (and hopefully pictures) of my continued exploits.

Spoon Bread

1 cup cornmeal 1 tbsp salted butter
4 cups milk 1 tbsp salt
4 eggs, beaten

Cook meal and milk over medium heat until thickened and bubbling. Add eggs, salt, and butter and stir in. Pour into an oiled, flat baking dish. Bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes, until top brown and crispy.

September 20, 2009

New Things

I left Santa Cruz because of the people. They made me feel crazier than I could ever feel by myself. I am someone who likes to start clean, burn bridges, and never look back. My father is the same way, I think. I have friends I don't want to lose, and more still that I already have. I feel pressure from the people I am still in touch with to mend relationships that I have long considered over. Is it strange that I feel more stifled speaking to people than I do by myself? It isn't always that way. Around my family I feel free to inhabit my own skin. They ask me hard questions; they aren't afraid of the answers. They aren't afraid of screaming or crying or pain. They are victims of the loss, and living it with me.

The other evening I was sitting on the porch with Granddaddy, watching the water. He said, "Why do you think Laura did what she did?" It didn't frighten me, or make me angry, or make me cry. I felt like I could breathe. I said, "Because she didn't think she had anything to look forward to." He nodded and smoked his pipe and we sat in silence, watching the fish jump.

I am incredibly happy, and incredibly sad. The experience of emotion, real hard emotion, has eluded me constantly in the past year. I felt numb, and faded, and so unlike myself I could hardly stand it. Maybe it is what I had to do to live, to function, to go to work and talk to customers, to be around my friends. Suddenly, here, I feel like I'm waking up, dust falling from me in sheets. It isn't always pleasant. But it makes me remember who I was before this happened, the hopes I had, the drive. It reminds me that I am alive apart from Laura, even when I feel as if half my body has been removed.

I write and sit on the porch and listen to Blind Willie Johnson. I can read again. I want to live in the South for the rest of my life, be it on that green river in Arkansas or here. Last night I made stew for dinner and smoked too many cigarettes and fought with Colby, and this morning I awoke to a clear blue sky and smooth water and was unspeakably glad to be here. My head is splitting open and stories are spilling out, obvious and good.

September 11, 2009


I have been reading, which in its way is some kind of progress. Before coming here I had managed to finish only one book since October. I've managed two in full in my time here. Almost three. The rain has been keeping me inside, and I find it difficult. Colby left Wednesday morning after a trip I'd describe as hard, leaving me to re-familiarize myself with living in rural-nowhere-land alone. As he put it, he had to get back to the real world. His visit was the first time since Hannah and Alex left since I had spoken face to face with someone my own age.

Trapped inside by the weather with no real tasks or direction has given me moments of anxiety and doubt about my life here. Some days I feel as if I am here hiding out from reality, going out of my way to sever my ties to everything that was my life as of 2 months ago. Other days I feel that I am here to regain my bearings after a traumatic few years, seeking stability and the sense of momentum I felt before my life became too complicated to cope with. Some days I feel everything all at once and just want to go to sleep until I can wake up feeling sane. But I don't nap, so this never actually happens.

The sun just made its first appearance in three days, so I think I will go out on the bike while I still can, tide permitting. The bugs are already humming. I am making braised sausage and lentils for dinner and watching Two Lovers. I hope the weather turns around overnight so I can revisit summer a little bit before the fall really really sets in for good.

September 2, 2009

The Whole Catastrophe

After being by myself so much, the arrival of the whole catastrophe was jarring. Aunt Lynne, Uncle David, Mom, Dad, Grandmother, Granddaddy, Zoe, Mihn... it was a full house. I find myself very tired now that almost everyone has left. I retreated to my room a great deal, which was tolerated. I enjoy everyone being here for the stories it stirs up--stories about the family, about my grandparents' childhoods, about the people they knew and the community feuds. We ate fried chicken, butter beans, fried shrimp, black eyes peas, mashed potatoes, biscuits, pot roast, chocolate pie, clams in white wine, crabmeat norfolk, and all kinds of other White family specialities. The day before my parents arrived it seemed like the house was buzzing. R.C. and his wife, Joyce, arrived to clean up the yard and mow the lawn and deadhead the flowers, and Golores spent 5 hours cleaning the house from top to bottom. It was strange to be here before everyone came, when there seemed to be this upstairs downstairs dynamic and everyone was in such a hurry to get the place in ship shape shape. I didn't really know what to do with myself except make coffee and try not to get underfoot.

Everyone seemed well enough--more emotional, perhaps, then in years past, but I'm realizing more and more that there was probably a wealth of drama constantly going on that I simply could not detect as a child or bother notice as a self-centered teenager. Everyone is happy that I am here, though concerned and maybe a little confused. I guess not all twenty-three year old Californians want to move to rural Virginia just as they're supposed to be striking out on there own in the great wide world.

I haven't seen the raccoon babies since Zoe arrived and am worried about them. I hope they are surviving, adorable little stripe-y softball creatures. Raccoons make sounds like branches creaking, and no one else seems to know what I am talking about when I say that. Maybe I haven't mentioned them before. The babies would come twice a day, morning and dusk, to steal figs from the fig trees in the yard. Grandmother told me to shoot them (she's very protective of her figs) and R.C. said, Put some food scraps out in the dingle. That'll keep the coons out of your figs. As soon as Zoe arrived she chased one of the babies into the water, where it swam around for a good hour before vanishing. The swan family appeared two days ago for the first time in a week and came right up to the yard. They were enormous, and intimidating, and very pretty. The seven swanlings are not very elegant. Their necks are rather woobly, as opposed to graceful. They look like snakes floating in big feathery boats. They wiggle their behinds when they eat.

People are beginning to recognize me on the island, which is comforting. I get a full raised-hand-wave, as opposed to the customary one-finger-who-the-fuck-are-you-wave. Colby is coming to visit. He'll arrive Saturday night. I am trying not to be too ridiculously excited, because it seems like it would be bad luck. I think I may be starting to catch some of the superstition floating around here. According to the grandparents superstition was a huge part of Mathews life when they were children. My personal favorite (of many) superstitions: on New Years day a woman cannot come to your house first. Apparently this was of such grave importance that my Great Grandmother Hudgins would invite a half dozen men over for breakfast at dawn on New Years Day, simply to ensure that no woman would arrived first. My Granddaddys mother would bribe a neighboring boy over at one past midnight with a gift for the exact same purpose. Now does that make any sense at all to you? You have to wonder what awful happening gave rise to this particular ritual in the first place. Black eyed peas, also, were a New Years must.