The Benefits of College in my Thirties

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As I drove across town to my Heath Care Law class the other day, I realized I’m enjoying college more the second time around, even though I’m not immersed in the “college experience”.  I don’t live on campus, I don’t participate in any of the activities, and I only attend one class, once a week for two hours in the evening (my other two classes are online).

There are many reasons for this.  For starters, I am less shy and more at ease with making new friends.  I’m not as self-conscious as I used to be.  I feel more confident talking to my professors; I don’t feel I have to “stay under the radar”.  I believe it’s important to make an impression, and that is how I live my life.  Cashiers tend to remember me, as well as former co-workers and customers.  I don’t treat anyone as if they are “just there”.

There was an article that was shared on Facebook by a friend awhile back about how people are happier if they don’t just have good relationships with those closest to them, but also seek to be friendly and engage with people they have casual contact with, even if they only see them once in their life.

Back to school.  I love the technological advances that have come about in education during my fifteen year hiatus, like the convenience of online classes.  Though there is quite a bit more homework when you take an online class (in my experience so far), the games and interactive activities help me remember the material so much more than reading textbooks alone.

However, I still take at least one class on campus, for the on-campus experience alone–it’s like getting the best of both worlds.

Another advantage I have that I didn’t have when I was seventeen was fifteen years of teaching myself the writing craft, which has made writing college papers a snap.  (To tell the truth, I’d rather write five papers than study for one test.  I retain the information better because I apply it, rather than just memorize it.)

The life experience I’ve accumulated has helped me see the bigger picture–that I need a degree to get where I want to go (I grew up in a household where college wasn’t encouraged, where my parents and grandparents had done just fine without a college degree).  When I was graduated from high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do beyond becoming a best-selling author; as long as I could still do what I loved, I didn’t really care how I spent the rest of my time working.  That has changed.  Knowing what I want a career in (until I do become a bestselling author) has given me the purpose and direction I didn’t have before.

I have inner peace in knowing I am doing the right thing at the right time.

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The Memory Trees

I wrote this for a “tree-themed” poetry contest awhile back, but it was too long.  Adult poetry doesn’t sell, and I wrote this before I started writing poetry for children (which does sell).  However, I think it is one of my best poems, and I choose to share it today, as I believe that, due to its length, it would be a hard sell to publishers.

Enjoy!

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The Memory Trees

Whose house this is now,
I do not know,
but through the trees, I see,
a little girl in pants–
just as I used to be.

Circling the ring of dirt round the crab apple tree,
she treads the path I once did.
Bow and arrow poised,
she shoots at the fruit,
bagging her inedible loot.

The sweet gum tree my twin brother once climbed,
has now been carved into a London Night Watchman–
a sentinel amongst the imported palm trees–
a memorial of happier times,
happier memories.

The dying tree, given another chance at life,
has reached its prime, for it will grow no more;
like the cedar chest where I keep my daughter’s baby clothes,
the mahogany coffee table where I drew as a little girl,
looking much distressed,
the cherry hutch where my grandmother’s Wedgwood china is kept,
the corners as chipped as the teacups it holds.

These trees, unrecognizable from their natural state,
will live on as objects of beauty,
for as long as those who love them live.

Like me, these trees were,
growing until they branched out on their own,
flourishing until they were cut down.
Never, was I grounded like the trunk,
its roots running deep;
I am the scatters, the chippings,
pressed and formed into my present state.

The noises of the children break me from my reverie,
and I am in the present once more,
the twilight deepening.

Three little boys are gathered under the oak tree,
acorns peppering the ground like tiny pumpkins,
where the leaves of fall form a carpet like a peppercorn mélange.
They are playing in the dirt patch in the shade,
wearing holes in the knees of their jeans,
while a lady in Capris brings them lemonade.

A boy and girl play on the tire swing,
looking so much like my brother and me,
my heart catches, and memories come back in snatches;
I remember this–this was the swing my father built for me,
with an expired tire from Lila, Daddy’s old Caddy.
Twirling in midair like marionettes,
their skinny legs dangle like loose shoestrings;
their arms are stretched taut,
their fingers clutching the rusty, twisting chains,
chains that will surely leave behind a metallic residue.
They’re looking up at the sky–
an inky canvas with pinholes punched through–
screaming in dizzy, giddy delight.

The tree house where my brothers stashed their baseball cards,
stands at the edge of the woodland–
a reminder of what once was,
of the kind of magic only children understand.

Twas these living trees that nourished me,
in ways chopped down it could not–
the apples, too sour to eat,
were balls to throw for Halliday,
our German shepherd of fifteen years and so many days;
the apples had often been tossed into Mrs. Smith’s backyard orchard,
where a good many of her cats were interred.

The gum tree had been our Tree of Knowledge,
to keep away the evil fay that lurked in the forest,
waiting to steal our clothes that we left to sun on the rock
while we swam in the lake to a crickety, ribbety chorus.

The maple tree had been my canopy in spring,
like a green parasol to keep the sun off my shoulders.
Tea parties had been held under there,
with I, as mast’ress of ceremonies,
serving apple juice with newtons made of fruit.

The tire swing had been my way to weightlessness,
the treehouse–a special place for the boys to go,
whilst my friend Kippie and I skipped rope–
ponytails bouncing to and fro.

The years have all run together,
for so swiftly did we move from the city to the country,
away from it all, my parents had said,
though all had been everything to me.

I can still hear our laughter ringing in the hollow,
the lure of yesteryear pulling at my heartstrings–
memories of sweeter summers, of warmer springs.

The family tree hasn’t thinned,
for its leaves are waxing full–
the older leaves becoming thinner as they age,
like the skin that covers our bones.
Its branches have reached far from this place,
but I go back to my roots,
in remembrance of my childhood trees.

A Long Good-bye to the Slowly Waning Summer

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It is mid-September, and I am supine on my beach chair, soaking up the rays of late afternoon.  The chair is the aquamarine color of the bikini I always look for, but can never find in my size.  Half the problem is finding one of the two halves in my size.

My daughter is playing in her pink kiddie pool–her precursor to a bath.  Her menagerie of colorful bath toys make me think of sprinkles on a pink iced cupcake.  A cool zephyr blows through the tree behind our fence, stirring the tiny leaves.  She looks up, transfixed.  She is content.

If we had an outdoor shower, I would be taking all my showers outside, for everything is better outside during the summer, eating especially.  Every day of summer feels like a holiday, which is why it almost seems strange to be inside working.

I live in my flip-flops; I can be heard slip-slap-slopping down the shiny corridors at college.  When I leave and the warmth rushes in through the heavy door (a respite from the chilly building), I am flip-flop-flapping my way down the stairs.  My bikini top is a comfortable, makeshift bra, and my hair is still wet from the shower, but I don’t get sick in the summer.  Barefaced and barelegged, I am ready to go.  There is no having to warm Lila (our almost 25-year-old Cadillac), or putting on socks or hose, or using the hairdryer.  A swipe of lipstick and I am ready to go.  I will never understand women who will apply a full face where the humidity is about a hundred percent.  I choose to let my skin breathe; the sun is nature’s foundation.

Though my freckles become more pronounced, I have no desire to cover them (a la Jan Brady).  They make me look younger.

The inflatable pool we got on clearance from Target (they still think summer ends in July) is filled with water as clear as vodka, and I get in to cool off my skin, feeling that faint tightness that relaxes as soon as it hits the water.  I rest my head on the edge and close my eyes for a bit, listening to my daughter splash.  She loves the warmth and the water as much as I do.

I decide I want to plant some honeysuckle next year, maybe some ivy.   Once I have dipped my head in the water, cooling my scalp, I lay back on my chair as the sun lightly browns me once more like a piece of French toast, giving me that vitamin D and mood boost I need before I spend half the night studying.

As I lay there with my face in the hole facing the grass, the pool water long having evaporated, I brainstorm about the collection of nursery rhymes I am working on.  I have shelved my adult writing for a time.  As it says in the Bible, there is a time and a season for everything.  I don’t have the time.  I close my eyes once more, dreaming of Campbell, Missouri peaches.  I am unusual in that I don’t like watermelon (something about the gritty texture turns me off), so I opt for a refreshing mint iced tea, the glass of which I keep under my chair, in the shade.

Hannah starts to let me know she’s getting tired, and I go to bathe her, the water warmer now (hopefully not with pee) than when she was put in.  I make a game of naming each animal (I have to make it interesting somehow):  There’s Escargot the Snail, Soup the Turtle, Gucci the Alligator, Cracker the Goldfish, Jonah the Whale, Prince Frog, Plucky Ducky, Hannah Swan, and so on.  Of course, I change up the names a bit each time (I love naming things, probably because I love to create characters) to keep it fresh, and I teach her the colors (as each has a “color mate”), but what really delights her is when I toss them up in the air and call out, “One little, two little, three little animals”, etc.

Tomorrow is the thirteenth–I will be thirty-three.  I remember reading somewhere long ago that that is considered one’s prime (I daresay, Miss Jean Brodie was well past that age!), because Jesus was at His prime when He made the sacrifice.  It has been tradition that every year on my birthday, we go to the Cactus Flower Café.  (We started dining at their beach location last year.)

We always choose to sit outside, away from the noise of the diners and the overhead music, with the breeze blowing in from the sound side of Pensacola Beach.  I always get a sangria and a chicken-stuffed chili relleno, topping it off with a homemade flan for my free birthday dessert–creamy and caramelly, smooth and cool to the mouthfeel (texture and temperature in food is as important to me as taste).  The material of whatever flowing dress I’m wearing feels wonderful against my exfoliated, shaved and lotioned legs.  I slide off my flip-flop and rub the bottom of my foot, smoother now, on the rough, unfinished boardwalk beneath us.  I am already feeling the effects of the sangria; I feel like laughing.

The food is fresh, abundant in color–thick, verdant lettuce, spicy, chili pepper red tomatoes, and beans and rice perfectly seasoned.  I close my eyes to savor, just like I can hear better when I close my eyes.  Dull one sense, another heightens.  I’ve heard that eating in the dark can enhance the dining experience, but I have never done so.  I want to see what I’m being served before I eat it, as I eat with my eyes first.

On other days, days when I am alone, towards late afternoon, I can roll down the windows and leave them down, not at all worried about my hair getting messed up, as it’s always in a ponytail.  For this reason, I never have a bad hair day during summer.  The rushing air cools any perspiration that collects on my scalp.  I will be listening to Dave Ramsey or Branden Rathert on the radio as I cruise over the Three Mile Bridge into Gulf Breeze, the water the color between sapphires and emeralds.  The boats and the rocks below are picturesque.

Twilight has always been my favorite time of day–a time to settle down, but not turn in.  I’ve always associated periwinkle as being the color of twilight; thus, it was always my favorite color in the Crayola 64 pack.  Periwinkle, besides its whimsical name, was always the stars, the sun and the moon–all in one, a celestial hue.

Summer is wonderful at night, too.  The surfside beach is still warm, and the sand sparkles pristine, like tiny, ground pearls, moonstones, and stardust sprinkled with salt, luminescent in the silvery moonlight.  The view is otherworldly.  The sand is cool beneath my toes; I think of Abraham’s descendants.  I dip my feet into the water, the salt burning the open pores on my legs.  The sand beneath me is squishy now.  I bend to pick up a broken sand dollar, skipping it a few times in the water.  We walk for a bit, hand in hand, the different colored beach houses visible, but seemingly so far away.

The drive home is subdued, but the silences don’t stretch too long.  The radio is off.  Somehow, turning it on would break the spell of the magic of the evening.

Once we’re settled in for the night and get into our house clothes, I return to my beach chair to unwind, squeezing the last drops of enjoyment from the remains of the day.  I pick up the beach read I was reading.  The light from our patio gives just enough of a glow for me to see, but it still dim enough to feel private.  The next door neighbor’s sprinklers come on, spraying the exposed bottom halves of my calves; I let my foot just graze the tops of the moist, cool blades of grass.  I feel myself drifting off for a catnap, until I hear thunder rumbling in the distance.  The air suddenly smells sweeter; the atmosphere is breathless with expectation.  I put the book down and lounge a bit longer, just being, and then go inside when I feel the first raindrop on my head.

There is a gritty film noir on our DVR, and as it starts to pour (summer rainstorms are the best), the raindrops like a drumbeat on Hannah’s pool, I curl up on our couch with the fleece-tie blanket one of the ladies at Grace Lutheran made for Hannah.  As my husband sits in his recliner and I curl up on the sofa, the black-and-white images shadowing my rosy face, I can already feel my eyelids getting heavy.  It has been that kind of a day.