Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Things Worth Keeping

I bought these Red Wing boots around 1998. I know this because of where I lived at the time and because around that time our family friend and accountant, Manson, died suddenly. Mother and I went to his funeral in tiny Normangee, Texas, the nearest town to the country place our parents had bought in 1973. I bought the boots at the local Purina feed store. Manson not only did taxes, especially for the people who were involved in agriculture and livestock, he was a farmer and cattleman. He also worked part-time as a funeral director for the local mortuary in Normangee. I guess he wasn't actually directing that day.

My house in Houston—one built by my great grandpa Fuchs around 1900 in a near downtown neighborhood—was where I first broke in these Red Wings. I was learning about gardening then. I sold that home after four years. My new, temporary home was a loft at the old Rice Hotel, circa 1910. In 1836, this same land was the site of the first capitol of the new Republic of Texas. I was out of the garden only a short time. Soon I began developing a native ornamental landscape on the family land outside of Normangee, where I had decided to re-direct the money from my Houston home into converting a good part of our two-story barn into a living space. The boots found purpose again—that is, purpose other than being the bottom dressing for a pair of Wrangler jeans.

I left my professional life behind in early 2001. By this time, I had moved most of my worldly possessions to my barn home in Leon County Texas, including the Red Wing boots, which really got a workout as the garden space in front of the barn took shape. Flying by the seat of my pants—my theme song—I dug, amended soil, planted and mulched, hauled and moved river rock and stones—carving out a landscape laced with paths. I wanted it to look like a place that you could have walked up on unexpectedly—a sanctuary filled with blooms and shade and fragrance. It did and it does, in spite of what it has given up over the last four years of my absence during the seemingly unending hot and dry Texas summers.

Some time in the last year or so, it became apparent to me that my Red Wing boots looked ready to give up the ghost. So I bought a new pair. Alas, the process of breaking in these new boots has been slow, even painful, and I lost interest in wearing these boots. I had removed my old boots to the garage of the place I’ve been living in Albuquerque, realizing only recently that I just couldn’t let go of them. I considered my options. Just give them away in a garage sale. Toss them in the garbage. Try to find someone to do a painting or professional photograph. Do nothing. I decided to take them to the Red Wing store nearby, the one where I had bought the new pair a few months ago, hoping that they could actually bring the boots back to life. “These are frickin’ awesome,” exclaimed the owner of the store when he saw what I had in my hands. He turned them over and over, looking at the numbers inside the tongue, which told him when the boots were made, meanwhile oohing and aahing. I smiled to myself, thinking that he would need to towel off by the time this exchange was finished. Finally, “I think we can do something with these,” he offered. I smile again.

I am attached to these boots, the many miles they’ve walked, the stories, most of which only they remember. Only rarely do I give away shoes. Rarely do I even wear them out. But these Red Wings, like the clothes that I wear over and over, even though I have a closet full of clothes and shoes…I don’t know. This doesn’t bode well for the expensive, still-new pair of lace up boots I bought last fall. It will take conscious work on my part, especially once I have my refurbished boots back from the cobbler. There are new miles to walk and new stories to be experienced. And I smile yet again. And so it is.

Things Worth Keeping—Albuquerque, New Mexico (April 26, 2011)
R. Harold Hollis

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Heaven, much more than a place

"I have found my Heaven on earth, because Heaven is God and God is in my heart." (Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity)

"Contrary to some more literal notions of God, the Godhead dwells within the depths of our inner lives, our subjectivity. So said Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, a mid-twentieth-century Carmelite nun. Equally so, we dwell within the Divine subjectivity. We experience a mutual indwelling in each other. Heaven is much more than a place; it is the utter reality of God. If we are united with the Godhead in this life--the truest definition of the mystical experience--then we are already in Heaven. Let us enter Heaven aright through the realization of God's presence in us."

Quoted from {The Mystic Hours] by Wayne Teasdale, p. 3 [New World Library, Novato, California]. Brother Wayne Teasdale is a lay monk who combines the traditions of Christianity and Hinduism.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Amaryllis by morning

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Spring 2011

Sitting in the midst of a modest garden—that which remains in the spring of 2011 following four years of essentially absent ownership—I see a place different than four years ago. But then, why not? I am different. My life is different. During the eight years I dug and hauled and planted and watered—watched, waited and smiled and sometimes wept—this garden was a place of refuge, joy, regret and catharsis. I have been reminded this early spring—one that opens the door to a Texas summer without having offered thirst-quenching water that is essential to all things living that pretty much rely on nature’s generosity—I have been reminded that my labors take me only so far. The remainder is all about trust and acceptance.

Over the last few years I have become accustomed to hearing that every thought is a prayer—truly, a reminder that we need to pay attention to what we ask for, hope for, wish for, dare for. So I guess that what I write here is one of those prayers. I have come to this place I called home for most of the first decade of this new millennium. Here I have been reminded, once again, of how and why it became my home—understanding the causes and effects, entertaining the regrets that come with loss, hesitantly accepting the truths about the rise and fall of life and our lives. This accepting feels strange.

My generation has grown old. When our Hollis first cousins gathered on April 2nd in the Woodlands north of Houston for what has become a twice-annual event, I felt a little like I was watching our parents. But it would have had to be our parents in their later years. We talked about a little of everything, including health and medicine and vitamins and regular exercise—bad knees and back surgery and bouts with cancer. It is, indeed, our time to talk about these things.

In spite of the realities of growing old—that I am currently finding so beautifully revealed in Ram Dass’s collection of essays titled “Still Here”—we’re really doing okay. Cousin Byron, who had flown from suburban Phoenix to join us, said that he plans to be here for each of our gatherings in the future. This confederation of Hollis babies—all of us a little older than the baby boomers of post WWII notoriety-- was formed when our last blood aunt died two years ago. Aunt Mary, who was a true anchor for all of us, gave us cause to reunite and to realize that we want to see each other regularly. And we are being mindful and faithful to this fledgling confederation.

This week I had the opportunity to visit with the only remaining aunt my two sisters and I have. She was married to our mother’s only sibling. She is it—the end of the line—and these days she takes each day at a time, having chosen 15 months ago not to take any treatments for the liver cancer she was diagnosed with in late January of 2010. Since then, I’ve seen Aunt Edna only one other time. As I drove errands the other day on the eve of this visit with Aunt Edna, I called my middle sister to tell her about my fear that I would start crying when I saw how frail Aunt Edna has become. And then I started crying as I talked about it. “That’s okay,” Sue offered. “Just go on anyway. It’ll be all right.” I told my aunt the next day. Aunt Edna’s not crying, though, in spite of her obvious decline. Using pain medication only sparingly now, she’s still opting to travel to this part of the world, to the home she left 2-1/2 years ago, having decided to move to west Texas with her son and his wife. She told me though that she thinks this will be her last trip. But she also invited me to come see her in west Texas, as I travel between here and my home in New Mexico. Sounds like plans to hang in there for a while more, wouldn’t you say?

As I make preparations to leave for Albuquerque in a few days, I have things to do around here. On the calendar is a trip to my dentist to get the permanent crown the dentist laid the groundwork for last week. I’m grabbing visits here and there with friends and family. This barn home wants to be a little more organized and the tile floors swept and mopped before I lock the door. And the garden—yes the garden that has changed, grown smaller and yet lovely in its maturity—calls to be watered just one more time before I leave. We were delighted by a cool front a couple of days ago—one that unfortunately did not bring any rain to our area. We are, as I was told via email a few weeks ago by the weekend meteorologist in Waco, experiencing drier and warmer conditions than normal at least until June. Whatever water I can give the roses and still-young trees can be surely nothing more than a leg up. The summer will be a tough one, based on certain knowledge of Texas summers. But all 28 of the remaining rose bushes have been fed, as have a few of the younger trees.

And as I write, the sprinkler heads quietly do their work. It takes more than a day to move them around the entire garden. I’ve done just about all I can. Birds and butterflies abound among the blooms. The hummers are here. Chimes placed here and there sound their song, prompted by some nice breezes. I think we’re all doing just about the best we can. The remainder is all about trust and acceptance.

Spring 2011—Normangee, Texas (April 13, 2011)
R. Harold Hollis

Monday, April 4, 2011

Making My Way

If you’re bitten by the collecting bug, let’s say—no one needs to explain to you what it’s all about. I’m not talking about the hoarding of seemingly illogical stuff, although many of the unschooled eye would insist that I should make no fancier claims about my own bent. I haven’t seen much of the television programming where personalities like Oprah Winfrey, Phil McGraw, and others explore for all of the world to see the dysfunction of those who do hoard everything from clothing still bearing a price tag and piled piece upon piece to empty cereal boxes. The various things people bring home that eventually force them to live by maneuvering the paths remaining inside and outside of their dwellings boggles the mind and eye. The prospect is scary, but like so much of what we do and say, the truth is even scarier. Please let it be true that I am not worthy of Oprah and Dr. Phil’s attention. Just a simple lover of the beauty that the human hand is able to raise to the level of art—that am I.

The recently conceived reality series called “American Pickers” finds these two guys regularly visiting places where they excitedly dig through barns and piles looking for that one special treasure they think might make them a buck or two. I’ve watched the show a few times, and though I’m usually not all that interested in the things that ring the chime of these two guys, I get it. Having been bitten by the collecting bug as a child (even though I didn’t know it at the time), I’ve actively pursued my passion for most of my adult life.

I’ve just returned from the spring antiques market in central Texas, where I exhibit at the show that, as they say, started it all in 1968. Originally it was just referred to by collectors as Round Top. If you asked another collector, “are you going to Round Top”, there would have been no misunderstanding of the question. About 10 years ago, the show that began with 25 or so dealers offering some of the best of early Americana in the gun and rifle club hall in the tiny town of Round Top moved down the road to what is known as the Big Red Barn. These days, over 200 dealers of art and antiques from around the U. S. to offer same to an audience, many of whom come from around the U. S., to this twice-annual big deal. And it is a big deal—both for selling and acquiring. And the market has grown beyond imagination to include other shows and people set up selling their wares in fields and in buildings that have been put up for the sole purpose of addressing the market that still is called by many, simply Round Top. Early Americana is now just one of many categories of so-called treasure that draws people by the scores of thousands.

The spring market is now history. In its aftermath, I’m safely home, slowly reabsorbing into the barn I call home here in Texas the treasures that didn’t find a new home this time. Some rubber tubs go straight to the back of the barn, where they will wait silently for their next day in the sunshine. I try to pay attention to the packing so that the special things that came right out of my house can reclaim a place where I can look at them as often as they catch my eye. As I stow storage tubs and unwrap some other things, I wonder—again, at least a little, where did all this stuff come from? I know the answer to that question, and I know that even though I’m not amassing clothes that I don’t intend to wear or cereal boxes with coupons that I won’t ever redeem, I do have a lot of stuff. I wonder about the next time I pack and load the trailer and make my way to the antiques market. A lot of treasures came back home with me—a painting of a Native American papoose painted and given as a gift, inscribed on the back by the artist and friend; a pair of large mid century serapes; a stoneware jar decorated in cobalt with the name of the merchant in post-Civil War Galveston, Texas; more, much more. Yet, it was a successful show—by any measure. As I look at all the treasure that has been offered for sale one time or another—knowing that in anticipation of the fall outing I will be on the hunt for the next golden egg to add to my offering, I could berate myself, for daring to add to my trove. In spite of the success I feel and the modest rewards it has generated this time out, I could berate myself. But I won’t go there. I won’t pay much attention to anyone who would say, “why don’t you try to sell what you already have”.

I began yesterday unloading the trailer and unpacking the back of my 4Runner. I had made up my mind to take my time, unpacking some of the boxes and bags, and finding a place for a 1940s chair upholstered in a Navajo rug of similar vintage. The iron and tile table made in California, loaded at the back of the trailer with the 1940s chair, found a temporary home adjacent to the bathtub/shower. It works dandily for holding a towel or a change of clothes. There’s much more, much more; yet, so much didn’t come back to my barn home in central Texas. Furniture, paintings, pottery, old chaps, a rare game board from Pennsylvania, garden concrete—all gone to new homes.

Late yesterday afternoon I put the sprinkler to work in the garden at the front of my barn. The last 12 months have been dry. Fall and winter rains didn’t come to bless our ground, to fill our stock tanks, to give respite before another long, hot Texas summer. Though tired and uncertain in the aftermath of an intense week offering my share of treasure to collectors—those bitten similarly by the same bug that bit me as a child—I knew that I have some work to do around this place before heading back to New Mexico. And though I have begun to accept that I can only do so much, I feel obliged to give these gardens a couple of more drinks before leaving in mid April. I thought I had heard on the news something about the prospect of another cool front and maybe some rain. Still, early this morning I started moving the sprinkler head from one bed to another. There’s no water like water from sky, even if only for 30 minutes. The front came through, bringing cooler temperatures, and more March winds, even though we are now in April. It didn’t bring much rain, however, and so I continue to move the sprinkler head from bed to bed.

I feel renewed by the cool air. I’m ready to continue working, making plans, taking care of things. And I am oh, so thankful—thankful, by any measure. I’ll make just a little more sense of this home, as I consider one treasure or another that must find at least a temporary place. And my steps will seem just a little lighter as I put my shoulder to the work that needs to be done. It is the work, and sometimes the unexpected respite, that makes sense of this journey. I give thanks for all of these blessings. And so it is.

Making My Way—Normangee, Texas (April 4, 2011)
R. Harold Hollis