My friends keep leaving.

By Anita Garner

Several friends died in one recent week and another just received word that she has probably spent her last Christmas here. Those of us of an age are reminded every day with every loss that we’ve used up more of life than is left to us.

Obituaries list accomplishments, relationships, family ties, travels, hobbies and service to the community.  I read them and am proud of the lives they lived but my memories are mostly about everyday conversations, back when we didn’t know what day they’d be leaving.

Every time I say goodbye to a friend the “why” ritual begins.  Why him?  Why her?  Why am I still here? Am I doing what I’m meant to be doing with whatever time is left?  I don’t think we consider purpose often enough in our younger years but now it’s a constant. I move on to prayers of gratitude for every blessing so far.  I commune with those who left.

I remember some of our last encounters. Most of our conversations were about small things, with the exception of Ed who was never anything but intense, therefore there were no small things.

Paulette explained to me repeatedly how she grew the extraordinary hydrangeas in her garden.  She offered pruning tips and feeding tips but remained puzzled that though I tried to follow her advice I was never able to replicate her success. I could manage a couple of plants with a modest number of blossoms.  For Paulette, hydrangeas grew halfway up the side of her house and showed off every time I passed by.

I remember the combination of turmoil and soul and business acumen that was Eddie.  Talented and driven and always swirling around inside some creative vortex, near the end of his life he was awed by the steadfast nature of his wife.  Kathy had passed years before but in every conversation before he left, he still wanted to talk about her, about how he hadn’t been nearly a good enough husband for her.

Memory replays conversations with a friend scheduled for surgery some years back.  Pete was apprehensive about the operation, but because he was so well prepared for the active future he envisioned, we all pushed back those fears. Over glasses of good wine (one of his passions) he held forth about his plans for the near future.  He was excited that he’d done well enough to afford to buy a sweet spot in California’s Gold Country because Sandra loved it and a new home they prepared to occupy at De Silva Island in Mill Valley. He didn’t move into either place. He was gone as soon as surgery began.

Losses remind us to get our own things in order but it’s the nature of the living to believe we have at least this one more day to do it.  We say goodbye to dear ones and also remind ourselves there’s no guilt in celebrating every time we welcome a sunrise. I hope it’s what they’d be doing if they were here.

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Magic Wand

By Anita Garner

Dave Williams and I started this blog when we were both new grandparents.  Mine called me “Hammy” and his called him “Bompah.”  Occasionally I go back to read posts about our grandbabies.  Caedan Ray, the little girl in the picture above, has turned into a sixteen year old. Her latest birthday wish was granted and her hair is short and bright red.

If you visit here often you know I have one daughter and one grandchild.   When the Grand came along in 2004 I commuted between Mill Valley, CA, where I lived, to Woodland Hills, CA, where they lived and we made the most of every visit.

This story below was from this green velvet dress/cool black boots and princess hair period,  when all kinds of magic was in the air and anything could happen.

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My Grand is disappointed with my wishes. She urges me to rethink them. She approaches with her magic wand. She isn’t tired of making that whooshing, wish-granting sound.  She keeps asking and I keep making wishes.  During these repeat performances, it’s hard to keep thinking of new things to want, a nice statement perhaps on how the presence of this child fills up so many places in a heart.

She complains that I haven’t been wishing for really important things, so I choose a wish I know will impress.  “Cake.”  That one brings a big smile. She waves the wand and whooshes. “Yes!  Cake!”  Then I name every toy I’ve heard her speak about.  “You want that?   Me too!”

Every time we go to Target she cruises the $1.00 bins and convinces me there’s something she needs.  We go to Target a lot when we’re together, sometimes just to pick up some of their great popcorn.  She checks the selection of magic wands.  I say, “Let’s get the things on our list first, then we’ll talk about wands.”  Up and down the aisles she keeps up  her sales pitch about why she really needs a new wand, chatting about the many things it can do to improve our future.  I say, “You already have a wand.”  Her response is yes, she has two but her favorite magic wand, the best one,  is broken.

A dollar plus tax and on the way out of Target she’s waving a new wand,  asking me and everyone she encounters to make a wish.  Just close your eyes, she says, and she whooshes.  The new wand goes everywhere.  It goes with her to Charlotte’s house, where the two of them spend time transforming each other.

A bit weary of the wishing, I warn her, this time I have a long list.  That’s okay, she assures me, she can make all of them come true.  I say,

“I wish to be smarter

And healthy

And kinder

And beautiful

And richer”

Then I close my eyes and tell her to go ahead.

She doesn’t whoosh.  She’s concerned.

“But don’t you want to be a princess?”

“I guess so.”

Her face is sad so I concede.

“Okay then.  Go ahead. Wave your wand.  I’ll be a princess.”

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I remain “Hammy” still, but as Caedan Ray got older and was concerned with being teased by her peers, when she introduced me, she corrected herself.

“This is Ham… this is my grandmother.

It’s actually “Princess Hambone” if you please. My status was elevated long ago when I received a tiara and a sash from my girls to prove it, but after all these years, at home I’m still “Ham.”

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Plaid & Garden

By Anita Garner

Years ago I moved into  a cottage in Mill Valley with a lush backyard garden planted by the person who lived there before me.  I was grateful every season for the gardener who created the magical retreat.  Every time I looked out a window something new was blooming and that first year I had no idea what would appear next.

My one and only Grand lived in Woodland Hills.  Mill Valley to Woodland Hills on California’s I-5 was a regular road trip every few months.  Between visits, they sent me photos of The Grand and and I sent them photos of whatever grew in the garden.   On my phone are hundreds of pictures of The Grand and many, many photos of flowers.  Am I the only person who saves pictures of tiny bouquets for years?

In these photos, the coffee tables change, the vases change, the blossoms  change, but the one constant is the plaid couch.  I loved that couch.  It was already vintage when I bought it and even more nicely worn in after I had it a while. Finally, the couch sighed its last. That’s when I realized that in all these pictures, lovely as the flowers are, the couch still draws me in. I miss it.

A plaid fan knows it’s not just for fall and winter, and once in love with plaid, you don’t break up.  You might date a few other patterns, but you’ll always go back. Someday another plaid couch will come knocking at my door and I’ll invite it in and take pictures to show you.

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Welcome home.

By Anita Garner

This is my favorite welcome home from anyplace I’ve lived.  It’s Mexican Sage gone wild at the edge of my driveway in Mill Valley, CA.   The sage loved that spot and I loved the sage.

I wonder if I’m the only person who keeps photos of favorite bits and pieces of houses on my phone. Not in a sad way.  I’m just strongly attracted to gates, mailboxes, driveways, front doors, entryways.

Mailboxes.  Old tin ones on a wood post like this one.  Or old wood formed into a little house on a post. I like to visit neighborhoods in any town and soak up all the ways houses say hello.

I’m working on a new  novel and as the chapters unfold, the house details become more important.  While I’ve been telling the story, an old house has become almost the main character, requiring me to learn things about home repair in order to add realistic conversations about what needs fixing.

I have a friend, a music producer by trade, and a builder of everything his home needs.  Last week I drew him a sketch of a repair needed in my fictional home.  Took a picture, texted it to him in Nashville, asking for some HGTV talk, what a construction person might say about the repair.  Back came some sentences that fit perfectly.

I’m now so attached to my fictional house, I want to live in it. By the time the manuscript becomes a book, the front door will be yellow and the driveway will be trimmed in Mexican Sage to match my favorite welcome home above.

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Here come the Naked Ladies.

By Anita Garner

People say Naked Ladies are practically indestructible, but I assumed I’d lost mine. Earlier this year in my yard, a tree had to be removed right next to where the Naked Ladies bloomed last summer, and everything around the tree got uprooted.

I like it best when Naked Ladies show up in unlikely places. At the edge of town there’s a strip of land alongside the road and that patch of earth, unlike the rest of this mostly manicured area  (Mill Valley is a very well kept little village) remains inexplicably overrun with weeds. Last summer, a gorgeous line-up of feisty Naked Ladies popped up in the midst of the weeds. I wonder how they got there. Hope they’re back this year.

Driving in Sonoma County to visit friends in Sebastopol, I turned off the freeway to take a parallel road through the beautiful countryside and Naked Ladies nodded at me all along my route. I arrived at the driveway of my Sebastopol friends and admired the profusion of Naked Ladies along their fence. My friend, the only person I’ve ever heard say a discouraging word about a perfectly harmless pink flower, said, “I don’t like them. Never have.” I asked what does he have against Naked Ladies and he said, “They make me sad. They have no leaves and that’s no way for a flower to be.”

I, on the other hand, applaud their fortitude. Within the last week, the Naked Ladies have started marching all over town, so just now I checked the bare spot in my front yard and sure enough, four of them are poking through. Soon, these little shoots will once again resemble the grownup Ladies in the picture above.

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