The introspective humdrum life of an eccentric hexagenarian.

Visit my other blogs: "Elderberry Bike Rides of Delaware
," organized bicycle rides for families, senior citizens, and anyone interested in getting back into biking; and "Cloister Voices," the collected thoughts of modern and ancient hermits, eccentrics, solitaires, wanderers, mystics, and others who inhabit the monastery within.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Weekday Evenings at the Kirkwood Spa

The Jacuzzi is littered
with amorphous female bodies
too old for mating.
Like beached sea lions,
half-submerged and languid,
we rock against each,
gazing through papyrus eyelids
into effervescent water.

Only our diamonds still sparkle
and have kept their shape.

Displaced by bantering bulls
and the liquid iridescence
of adolescent females,
we ancient ones retire,
single file and silent
to the Desert Room
for a touching ritual
where postulants,
terry-turbaned kneel,
offering a cup of spring water
to the rocky gods of gravity and guilt.

Steaming rising, we are anointed
into the Chrism of Oil of Olay
while twenty feet away
in chlorinated deep waters
a rising, diving youth
arches her back
and breaks the surface.

~Pardes 2006 -

I went back to work after a nine day Christmas Holiday vacation and was greeted by multiple expressions of "my my my but you look rested." It was so frequent a phrase that I wondered how bad I must have appeared before I left. I know that I felt exhausted and wore the dilapidated musculature of a 63 year old in the body of an 83 year old.

However, the other actions of touching my shoulders, or gazing at my form with the other multiple comments of "you have to have lost 10 pounds!" intrigued me. Weight is weight and it never concerned me other than as a curious wonderment how gravity and gluttony can ravage a body on the outside while inside you still feel lithe and young. But this statement puzzled me. For the nine days of my vacation I did nothing but sit in a zazen position on my bed and watch movies, write blogs, answer emails from fellow bloggers, or sleep (not in zazen position). How is it possible that I could lose 8 pounds (verified on the morgue scales) in a mere 9 days of physical inactivity.

It's a mystery.

I used to belong to the Kirkwood Spa and would religiously swim every day and walk for miles around the track littered with other male and female bodies exuding a mixture of testosterone, estrogen, and that astringent odor of fresh sweat. All to no avail in terms of losing weight. I would shrug it off since in the old days when I looked like Twiggy, I felt like me and despite my growth sideways, I still feel like me. Feeling like me is a good thing and I wasn't about to make the chlorinated waters murky with the media's version of what "me" should look like.

Life got complicated with an advancement of work that left only complete exhaustion at the end of the day, certainly no time for a two hour trip to swim and surrepitiously observe the drama, not to mention the lovely forms of others. Then I discovered the joy of riding a bicycle which wasn't experienced as "exercise" but as a joy of remembering the wind in your hair innocence of childhood.

I rode for miles and miles and was transported to another realm of the sheer delight of how a body can perform when left alone, when not picked at with circuit repetitions on sweaty stainless steel machines, but just left alone to ride the wind.

I'm still me. I'm still the shape of a fireplug, just a smaller fireplug these days. I don't swim anymore but if you notice an older lady wearing a gold helmet on a silver bicycle adorned with panniers and flashing lights, that will be me. The real me. The one that will always be me. The one that never ages.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Passion of Trees

What is there to do with a runaway poem that's out of control and refuses to be edited? How do you cover the mistakes in lines that do not scan properly, or how do you define or defend phrases you have no idea as to their meaning?

If chefs can cover their mistakes, their culinary oversights with mayonnaise, then a poet geek can cover her shortcomings with photos and music. It's debatable if I write poetry any better than I cook. (Shrug.) Please allow a bit of time for the video to load .... oh ... and pass the mayonnaise.

text & photos by Pardes

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Alone Under the Mistletoe


On this major Holiday of Christmas typically spent with family and friends, I have to note that once again I am alone by choice. I stand alone under the mistletoe.

Mistletoe grew in the trees of my childhood home in central Florida and inflamed me with its rich mythology I found in the latest stack of books dragged home from the Ocala public library. Prepubescent, I didn't care much for the kissing lore, but learning that it was a hemi-parasitic plant fascinated my budding scientific mind.

The other, more pensive part of my mind that studied the migration of ants and squirrels and flamingos as a secret journey to the truth of their “home” was mystification enough to climb the trees for a sample of this hermetic plant when I also discovered that it was a symbol of immortality and if enemies met under a tree with mistletoe, they laid down their arms and maintained a true. It seemed worth a try to risk standing on the tree's frail limbs to gather mistletoe for my family in great need of immortality and truce.

I do not know or desire the need for the community experience that moves family and acquaintances to gather together. In the past when I have dabbled with mingling in the midst of communal festivities, I’ve always found it to be a mildly pleasant but unmeaningful experience. I seemed to be unable to find any sense of truthful bonding, just pretense and a dramatic effort by everyone that they were living out what it means to be “family.”

This insight, whether true gift or not, was given to me in 1959 when my father died just a few weeks before Christmas. At thirteen years of age, I was already established in the family circle as the quiet, reclusive child who said very little yet seemed to unsettle others with the way I wordlessly studied people and things around me. Each would try in their own individual way to find common ground with me but their attention span seemed short and their eyes and heart would rest instead upon the cousins and grandchildren who fawned for them, sang for them, danced for them, and who would give me a secret nod of superiority at the new game of “family” they had just won.

The death of my father, a pivotal authority figure in the family circle, left everyone at a loss. However, rather than address the angst swirling around us all, like the blue smoke hallucination that I saw as my father's spirit torn between wanting to stay and wanting to go to his final peace, we all, in our grief reverted to the cliché roles we'd been assigned or adopted on our own.

It was a relief for all of us and mostly for me. Viewed as transparent and unimportant to the clan, I had the freedom to watch the dynamics of how a family operates as a finely-honed mechanism of natural selection to protect itself from extinction. The dramas of falsehood that had originally offended me as untruthful suddenly took on new meaning and poignancy. It was just as much a matter of survival for me as it was for them. Playing the role of widowed fragile mother, bad boy brother, jocular uncle, snippy niece, grumpy grandmother, salacious aunt, and half-orphaned pensive daughter became so poignant to me that I could barely bare the intensity of watching it, swirling within it, and hearing my own silent soliloquy in counterpoint time to the practiced lines of others.

All roles in a family have their own psychological pathology if plumbed deeply enough. I've never been able to assess if this “wisdom” I gained at thirteen was a gift or a curse, a fantasy, a hallucination as a way to deal with grief; but nonetheless it was wholly mine and it has colored the remainder of my life, for better or worse.

It is a misplaced emotion to pity others who are “alone at Christmas.” By choice. I do not feel proud of my holiday solitude. It's simply a facet of my life. I am a better me by bowing to this need, embracing this need, and reveling in what it reveals to me as countless gifts from within to within which then are translated into outward gestures of love and compassion to other strangers.

My family seems to be strangers, animals, nature, and words that fly across the page of a book or journal as they follow the river of white space toward ultimate truth. It is the nature of words that they will never quite reach the “end” and that too is part of my choice to be alone. It’s not perfect and it won’t give me the ultimate answer but there is the sure knowledge that the very truth itself is a companion on the journey often disguised as a stranger, a good experience, a bad experience, whatever. If I am alone, I have the time and the quiet privacy to notice the clues, to appreciate the process, and to recognize the journey as a part of the destination.

We are all strangers. We are all family. Gather with me under the Grace of mistletoe as I wish all of you, my family, a very Merry Christmas.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Johannes Kelpius, A Mystic Amid William Penn's Holy Experiment



"For my country, I eyed the Lord, in obtaining it;

And more was I drawn inward to look to him;

And to owe it to his hand and power, than to any other way;

I have so obtained it, and desire to keep it;

That I may not be unworthy of his love;

But do that, which may answer his kind Providence;

And serve his truth and people;

That an example may be set up to the nations;

There may be room there, though not here,

For such an holy experiment."

William Penn

Over a decade ago I became fascinated with a little-known Pietist Mystic, Johannes Kelpius, who settled a band of intellectual monks in the wilderness surrounding Philadelphia in 1694.

I discovered mention of him during a road trip to Ephrata Cloister near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The gigantic egoism of Ephrata’s Conrad Beisell left me cold but the frail, pale, “madness” of Kelpius led me down the path of exploring the mystical settlement of Colonial Pennsylvania amid William Penn’s Holy Experiment that continues to this day….both the Holy Experiment and my exploration of it.

I wanted to understand how such a young man at Kelpius barely in his twenties felt the world was coming to an end soon and he wanted to experience it as “The Woman of the Wilderness” in the brave new world of America.

I wanted to know what he was thinking in his heart of hearts when only a few years later he would die before his Millennialist dream came true. From the fragments of history that I have found, I believe he died in peace and with a greater understanding of his transcendental fevers that still leave their mark today upon American mystics of every stripe.

I feel very protective of his memory and legacy and chafe at the multitude who claim him for themselves from the Rosicrucians to modern Peitists and to every flavor of New Age babes who follow the ley lines of his life with their trembling dowsing rods.

I believe Johannes Kelpius would like to be left in peace with no marker at his cave and only the sound of the river and the bird calls to sing praises with him of their celebration of the union of all things with the architect of the cosmos.



Or painful Kelpius [13] from his hermit den
By Wissahickon, maddest of good men,
Dreamed o'er the Chiliast dreams of Petersen.

Deep in the woods, where the small river slid
Snake-like in shade, the Helmstadt Mystic hid,
Weird as a wizard, over arts forbid,

Reading the books of Daniel and of John,
And Behmen's Morning-Redness, through the Stone
Of Wisdom, vouchsafed to his eyes alone,

Whereby he read what man ne'er read before,
And saw the visions man shall see no more,
Till the great angel, striding sea and shore,

Shall bid all flesh await, on land or ships,
The warning trump of the Apocalypse,
Shattering the heavens before the dread eclipse.

from “The Pennsylvania Pilgrim” by John Greenleaf Whittier

“As early as 1700 there were four hermits living near Germantown -- John Seelig, Kelpius, Bony, and Conrad Mathias. They lived near Wissahiccon and the Ridge. Benjamin Lay lived in a cave near the York Road at Branchtown.
John Kelpius, the hermit, was a German of Sieburgen in Transylvania, of an eminent family (tradition says he was noble) and a student of Dr. John Fabritius at Helmstadt. He was also a correspondent of Maecken, chaplain to the Prince of Denmark in London. He came to this country in 1694 with John Seelig, Barnard Kuster (Coster), Daniel Falkener, and about forty-two others, being generally men of education and learning, to devote themselves, for piety's sake, to a solitary or single life; and receiving the appellation of the "Society of the Woman in the wilderness". They first arrived among the Germans at Germantown, where they shone awhile "as a peculiar light" but they settled chiefly "on the Ridge", then a wilderness. In 1708, Kelpius, who was regarded as their leader, died "in the midst of his days", (said to be 35) -- after his death the members began to fall in with the world around them, and some of them to break their avowed religious intentions by marrying. Thus the society lost it distinctive character and died away; but previous to their dispersion they were joined about the year 1704 by some others among whom was Conrad Mathias (the last of the Ridge hermits) a Switzer, and by Christopher Witt (sometimes called Dr. Witt of Germantown) a professor of medicine, and a "magus" or diviner.
After the death of Kelpius, the faith was continued in the person of John Seelig who had been his companion, and was also a scholar. Seelig lived many years after him as a hermit, and was remarkable for resisting the offers of the world, and for wearing a coarse garment like that of Kelpius. This Seelig records the death of his friend Kelpius in 1708, in a MS. Hymn Book of Kelpius', (set to music) which I have seen -- saying he died in his garden, and attended by all his children, (spiritual ones, and children whom he taught gratis) weeping as for the loss of a father. That Kelpius was a man of learning is tested by some of his writings; a very small-written book of one hundred pages, once in my possession. It contains his writings in Latin, Hebrew, Greek, German and English; and this last (which is very remarkable, he being a foreigner) is very free and pure. The journal of his voyage to this country, in sixteen pages, is all in Latin; some of his letters (of which there are several in German, and two in English) are in Latin; they are all on religious topics, and saving his peculiar religious opinions, reason very acutely and soberly. From venturing with the thousands of his day to give spiritual interpretations to Scripture, where it was not so intended, he fell upon a scheme of religion which drove him and other students from the Universities of Germany, and under the name of Pietists, &c., to seek for some immediate and strange revelations. He and his friends therefore expected the millennium year was close at hand -- so near that he told the first Alex. Mack (the first of the Germantown Tunkers) that he should not die till he saw it ! He believed also that "the woman in the wilderness" mentioned in the Revelations, was prefigurative of the great deliverance that was then soon to be displayed for the church of Christ. As she was "to come up from the wilderness leaning on her beloved," so the beloved in the wilderness, laid aside all other engagements (i.e. being hermits, and trimming their lamps and adorning themselves with holiness, that they may be prepared to meet the same with joy), Therefore they did well to observe the signs of the time, and every new phenomenon(whether moral or preternatural) of meteors, stars, or colours of the skies, if peradventure the harbinger may appear". He argued too, that there was a three-fold wilderness, like state of progression in spiritual holiness : to wit, "the barren, the fruitful and the wilderness state of the elect of God". In the last state, after which he was seeking, as a highest degree of holiness, he believed it very essential to attain it by dwelling in solitude or in the wilderness; therefore he argues Moses' holiness by being prepared forty years in the wilderness -- Christ's being tempted forty days in the wilderness as an epitome of the other -- John the Baptist coming from the wilderness, &c. He thought it thus proved that holy men might be thus qualified to come forth among men again, to convert whole cities, and to work signs and wonders. He was much visited by religious persons. Kelpius professed love and charity with all -- but desired to live without a name or sect. The name they obtained was given by others. There are two of Kelpius' MS Hymn books still extant in Germantown; one of his own composing, in German, is called elegant; they are curious too, because they are all translated into English poetry (line for line) by Dr. C. Witt, the diviner or magus. The titles of some of them may exhibit the mind of the author :
"Of the wilderness -- or Virgin-Cross love"
"The contentment of the God-loving soul"
"Of the power of the new virgin-body wherein the Lord revealeth his mysteries"
"A loving moan of the disconsolate soul"
"Upon `Rest' after he had been wearied with `Labour' in the wilderness"
Although he looked for a qualification to go forth and convert towns and cities in the name of the Lord, it is manifest, that neither he nor his companions were enthusiastic enough to go into the world without such endowment. They often held religious meetings in their hermitage, with people who solicited to come to them for the purpose. Kelpius' hut or house stood on the hill where the widow Phoebe Riter now lives. Her log house has now stood more than forty years on the same cellar foundation which was his; it is on a steep descending grassy hill, well exposed to the sun for warmth in the winter, and has a spring of the hermit's making, half down the hill, shaded by a very stout cedar tree. After Kelpius' hut went down, the foxes used to burrow in his cellar; he called the place the "Burrow of Rocks, or Rocksburrow" -- now Roxborough.”


read more about Kelpius’ voyage to America in “Stories of Pennsylvania….”


A superb presentation, “Bacon’s “Secret Society”: The Ephrata Connection, A Slide-Show Tour of Esoteric History” put together by Linda S. Santucci that links the Ephrata Cloister to Kelpius

Joe Tyson, an even more serious Kelpius buff has written a succinct and intriguing biography of Kelpius and his band of “The Monks of the Ridge”

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Skirting the Fringes of Copyright

An advertisement for copyright and patent prep...Image via WikipediaI have a bulging folder of my favorite poems written by famous and not so famous poets. I have been wanting to add a periodic blog of these poems but I still haven’t figured out how to handle the copyright issues.

After finding yet another favorite poem today, this time William Meredith’s poem, “A Vision of Good Secrets,” the urge to post it was strong. Why not? After all, the author is dead and besides that I found it on someone else’s blog! Yet it still didn’t seem right.

So I did a little more research on copyright infringement on the internet and added those pages to yet another bulging folder to try and find a definitive answer. The issue to me is wondering how bloggers rationalize posting the creative work of others on their blog. I’m not pointing fingers as much as I’m curious about how blogging has stretched the limits of what used to be taken for granted as an unbreakable rule, an honor code punishable by heaps of shame and shunning if not by judicial process.

Rose DesRochers at “World Outside my Window” offers straightforward wisdom on the topic in her blog, “Copyright Infringement: Request Permission,” while Bobby Revell at “Revellian dot com” takes a more humorous (and completely ethical) approach in his blog, “How to Steal Blog Content: Ethically.”

However, neither of their thoughtful posts were on target with my dilemma: how can I post my favorite poems without spending eons tracking down permission to use them? I’m waiting for a reply from the Special Collections Librarian at Connecticut College where they host a website of William Meredith poetry. Perhaps they have some sage advice since they had to tackle it themselves a few years ago when posting a tribute to William Meredith.

Meanwhile, to pacify myself I’ll post two poems from two of my favorite mystical poets Emily Dickinson and Rainer Maria Rilke where copyright infringement isn’t an issue…at least I don’t think so…..oh great, now I have myself wondering…….

Hopefully I’ll have an answer soon and will be able to share the gems written by William Meredith with you.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Nearly every writer has at least heard of Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet” if not own a copy of it. It’s a gem of a book, thin, yet rich with his love of writing and his compassion for others. However, his mystical poetry shares the searching of his spirit for union with the divine through sublime imagery that is timeless.

Image via Wikipedia

Falling Stars

Do you remember still the falling stars
that like swift horses through the heavens raced
and suddenly leaped across the hurdles
of our wishes--do you recall? And we
did make so many! For there were countless numbers
of stars: each time we looked above we were
astounded by the swiftness of their daring play,
while in our hearts we felt safe and secure
watching these brilliant bodies disintegrate,

knowing somehow we
had survived their fall.

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson often gets dismissed as an eccentric agoraphobic poetess until you take a few minutes or hours or days to study the precision with which she articulates her world of ideas. Take a look yourself at her work as an audio or text file at Project Gutenberg.Supposedly one of only two known daguerreotype...

You’ll know it – as you know ‘tis noon

By intuition, Mighty Things
Assert themselves – and not by terms –
“I”m Midnight” – need the Midnight say –
“I”m Sunrise” – Need the Majesty?
Omnipotence – had not a Tongue –
His lisp – is lightning – and the sun –
His Conversation– with Sea –
“How shall you know”?
Consult your eye!

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Wales of Corduroy

I am delighted to have connected with a dear friend temporarily lost in the dust and discover that he has a blog! A Solipsist with a blog is a thing to behold. A Solipsist who I could make blush is also a thing to behold. Since this has been a day of memories, I will pull out another one, a poem I wrote about him a few decades ago to make him blush again today.

Visit his blog. (William Cushman Littlewood's Blog) See if you can make him blush too!

Holographic Man-1

Wales of Corduroy

His jeans, smooth and reliable, speak more of the undeniable
than a chorus of pedantic Solipsists gone begging for lyrics
as melodic and deep as the corduroy pockets
that holds the hands, the hands
I still can feel pressed warmly against my back.

Pant legs with a scraping washboard beat
keep counterpoint time to the trimly neat
A capella lines I practice in my sleep:
“Answers aren’t nearly as interesting as questions.”
“Love is where you find it.”
“Only the self exists?”
“I have no promises to keep.”

I have not the words or logic to debate
what is existent and to whom.
I can only relate the wales of corduroy
and how they bend to fit against me as I stretch and unwind
like a primitive cat too long asleep to understand her dreams
of heavy-footed Neanderthals
casting shadows on burnt sienna painted walls
of fire and lightning, darkness and hands

and echoes in a cavern from a time,
from a place now inaccessible to the modern race
where pots of paint were stirred,
where points of arrows were honed
as finely as the prey was prayed upon a wall
and near the ritual throne where man and woman groaned
their progeny into a life that sadly would sing
A capella lines still practiced in our sleep:
“I have no memories or promises to keep.”

I have not the words or logic to debate
what is existent and to whom.
I can only relate memories from the deep,
Where only I will reap the sounds of breath,
The taste of claiming, the joy of naming
The sound of the wales of corduroy
and the touch of the hands,
the hands I still can feel
pressed warmly against my back.

Christmas Gifts

Memories large and small have come home to visit like a flock of children winging their way home for Christmas. Some come in the form of poems written decades ago and some are mere flashes of images that take my breath away with their beauty and clarity.

I used to smile at the idea of becoming old and taking on the wisdom of the “Golden Years.” I was so sure that I would never age, nor did I think wisdom came without great effort; but I was wrong on both counts. Age I did. And wisdom did come as memories on the wings of angels. Pure gift. Pure Grace. And then I remembered a certain look in my parent's eyes when wisdom came to them as a gift. I had mistaken that look for wisdom coming from within them when in fact, for them too, it was a gift.

This is what I think about at Christmas; the real gifts that when bestowed upon us moves us to give to others. A cashmere sweater wrapped up in tissue and red ribbons or a tin of home-made cookies iced with Christmas trees and ringing bells is our attempt, at its finest, to share the light, the beauty, the clarity of what we have received.

Our parents gave us the gift of life, a primal gift that we spend the rest of our lives attempting to return to them in kind, something wholly of our own making as proof or validation of our worth. Sometimes that gift is rebuffed; sometimes it is taken to heart. Either way, it leads us to wisdom, it leads us back through memories to a state of pure Grace.

Both of my parents have passed from their mortal lives and gone on to another realm. One thing they worried about most in leaving me behind was that I would be alone without children to remember me. Just now I realized that was yet another gift they gave me. They had cherished how I loved and “remembered” them while still alive and mourned the fact that I would have no offspring to do the same for me. Parents, it seems, never stop teaching their children. Even after death they continue to give gifts of Grace.

You Played Hearts

I couldn’t swim, afraid of the water
and even the bream that gasped for air
and were hung from the stringer
on the side of the boat as we fished all day
on the lake curdled with water hyacinths.

You drank from the thermos,
the coffee I was too young to drink.
You cursed the sheared pin and turned to pee
over the side of the boat as I set free the dazed minnows.
From the bucket of bait and watched you row
and pause to rub your tightened chest
as rain pounded the lily pads
like your fingers drumming the edge of the table
when you played Hearts and held me in your lap.

Half a mile to shore where cypress trees
groaned and rubbed against each other
like you and mother outside the doctor’s office
when you couldn’t tell me about angina
but I knew you sickness from the number of times
you opened the aspirin tin, yellow paint worn thin.

Twenty pearly beads that took the grayness
from your face: three to walk our acre yard,
one to eat your diner, ten to argue with my brother
but never enough to keep you from growing thinner.

You taught me long division and how to spell separate
we’d argue if there was a God, quickly trying to communicate
all we had to say to one another without the other knowing why.

Eight nitros left to get us safely to the dock:
we sat in the rain and counted.


My mother walked the ridge of Roaring Creek
in search of trailing arbutus and claimed
that when she knelt down to shell pink petals
hidden under the leaves of winter rubbish,
she felt me quicken in her belly.

She'd tell the story over and over again
when I couldn't sleep or was sick,
of many years of searching and never finding
that perfect fragrance of discovery,
the waxy delicacy of shy native blossoms
said to have greeted the Pilgrims of May.

Before I could read or write
and matched words not by meaning
or understanding but their Braille taste on my tongue,
I would sing myself to sleep with visions
of Indian maidens walking the ledge of Raving Waters
in search of flowers to quicken love in their belly
and braid in the hair of booted Pilgrims
with twinkling quicksilver eyes.

I never walked the edge of Rolling Rivers
in search of what so few have found.
Nothing has ever quickened in my belly,
but once, in a sleepless dream,
there was that unmistakable aroma
of Winter giving way
to the Pilgrims of May.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Driving Home
(a journal entry*)

It’s odd, but it’s never at Thanksgiving or Christmas that I think about going home, a home that no longer exists in time and space but only in my memory.
The home of my innocence. The home of my childhood. It’s when the first hint of Spring fills the air with the promise of things blossoming that I find myself getting in the car and driving. And driving. Searching for home.

A few years ago, one of these drives led me through the back roads of North Carolina. I wandered for several days amidst woods and streams and barefoot walks on the new shoots of chartreuse green grass and when I’d had my fill and felt almost comforted again, I pointed the car north and headed home, to the home that currently exists, sometimes just as much as a memory or an illusion as the home of my memory.

It was on this trip that the two most profound gatekeepers of my journey quest stepped into my path. Royal Amberline and Jimmy. They still live in my mind as friends, mentors, keepers of the secret and I wonder if they ever think of me.

I had pulled into the parking lot of “Royal Amberline's Gemstone and Rock Shop” housed in the long strip of a converted 1950's motor court on North Carolina's wide and quiet State Road 29. Once a going concern that feed, entertained and housed tourists on the only good road through North Carolina’s humid summers, the newer superhighways and large vacation theme parks had left it uncommonly quiet and isolated as the last bit of Americana where you could still buy a Coca Cola in its signature hour-glass bottle, postcards for twenty-five cents, and be entertained by Royal Amberline, the area's resident quarter-Choctaw native who told stories of his childhood spent with a grandmother who passed on to him her secrets of herbal healing and the mysteries of gemstones.

The motel rooms had been renovated into one long thin ten foot wide bleached gray wood plank building of dusty displays of rocks, gems, and geodes split open to reveal circles of sparkling amethyst. In nearby bins, leather moccasins, faux coonskin caps, rubber tomahawks, stale boxes of hard candy all lay as they had for years under the watchful eyes of two women clerks who seemed to be at odds with one another, a state they'd apparently been in for many years. Their anger had that shop-worn feel to it that was capable of erupting any minute into a long rehearsed dialogue of arguments now filed down to a shorthand of sidelong glances, subtle smirks, and appraising expressions that spoke volumes.

I was the only customer in the shop and felt drawn into their long-standing differences. They both eyed me suspiciously and tried to draw me into their conversation of edgy words. I busied myself with choosing a perfectly round piece of hematite and several postcards of the North Carolina's countryside. I paid for my purchases without comment and hurried out the door to my car.

"Find what you want, young lady?" a male voice said.

I turned to face the man who had been sitting in a rusty lawn chair tipped back against the edge of the doorway to the shop. He looked to be in his late sixties, had a slight paunch that hung over his belt, and wore a baseball cap with the insignia, "Just Say Yes!"

"Yes, thanks," I replied noncommittally.

"Could I see the stone you bought?" he asked. "I'll tell you the secret about it. And you."

"Then it wouldn't be a secret any longer," I said and smiled at him. "Now would it?” I continued on to my car.

"Suit yourself," he said. "But it's going to take more than a piece of hematite to keep you grounded.”

"What makes you say that,” I asked.

“Doesn't take a magician to read the signs. Or even a quarter Choctaw, like myself.” He smiled.

"Come with me,” he said. He turned and walked to the last door of the long building and disappeared inside as if there was no chance I wouldn't follow him. Such actions by men used to annoy me; but once I’d learned to ignore or sidestep the power struggle aspects of it, it became something amusing and almost endearing about them.

The room he entered was paneled in oak that was stained a pale amber and varnished till it glowed with the reflected light of the setting sun. In the center of the room was a long padded massage table. I stood tentatively in the doorway and glanced at the row of large gemstones and bottles of yellow, green, and blue liquids displayed on the shelves of the wall. He slid his baseball cap back on his forehead revealing a birthmark on his forehead the size and shape of an arrowhead.

"Name's Royal Amberline," he said reaching for my hand which I had not offered him.

"This is my crystal reading room. People still come from all over for a life reading.” He pointed his chin at the table. "Or a massage. Smell this," he said, squirting a liquid from a crystal bottle onto my hand before I could protest.

His touch was uninvited but did not feel intrusive. I raised the back of my hand to my nose and inhaled. "Not bad," I said. "Lemon? Chamomile?"

He nodded. "Lots of ladies come here. Nurses, waitresses, women on their feet all day. I massage their legs for them."

I sighed loudly. I wondered what had gone wrong between men and women that would force sad middle-aged women who no one wanted to touch anymore to seek out this man just to feel a connected again to another human being. I shuddered at the thought of ever being that desperate, that sad.

Royal, reading my body language, took a step backward, giving me more space. He reached into a tray filled with sand and holding several pieces of clear crystal gemstones. He remained silent and took some time selecting one of them. He finally chose one with pointed facets in the shape of an obelisk, rubbed it between his hands then handed it to me.

"Put this in your bra, next to your heart. It will help."

It was a pleasingly-shape piece of crystal that rested easily in the palm of my hand but it did not override the rising aversion I felt toward this man at invading my space, my privacy with his masculine fantasies.

"Women actually fall for that line?" I asked and smiled at him.

"Just the smart ones," he replied evenly though the taunt had clearly hit the mark and sunk deep.

For a split second I regretted my remark. He was an old man, past his prime and probably pining for the day when his now faded charisma had commanded attention from most women. Men were so predictable and so unprepared for the day when they had to rely on something other than their sexual prowess. I wondered when was the last time he had made love with someone who had touched him by choice and of their own free will.

"That was rude of me," I said. "I'm sorry. It is a nice piece of crystal and I thank you for it."

He smiled at me but did not attempt to close the gap between us. Instead, he took a framed newspaper clipping from the wall and handed it to me. The yellowed clipping showed a much younger Royal Amberline peering into a crystal ball with the headline, "Local Choctaw Native Reads Future of the World and Predicts DISASTER.” He'd once been a handsome man with a confident expression. I focused on his face in the photograph rather than the words of the article and could envision his prime years with a steady stream of lonely women coming to him for comfort and kind words. A gentle touch.

"Go ahead," he said. "Put it in your bra. Now.” His voice still had a remnant of the bravado of a man lucky enough and used to most women doing his sexual bidding, sometimes against their will or at least against their better judgment.

I lowered my eyes at him and handed him the framed clipping. "If you really are psychic, you can probably predict right now where I'd really like to tell you to put the rock.” I tossed the rock in the air and he caught it without missing a beat.

He shrugged one shoulder. "Never hurts to ask," he replied.

"Yes, it does," I said.

He conceded with a nod. "So, you're not impressed with a broken down old body of a Choctaw.”But I ask you," he said with his mahogany brown eyes finally devoid of complicity, "just where are you going to find what you are looking for? And how will you recognize it?"

It was a question I pondered for the next several hour on the road as the road wound through the blue highways of bypassed rural North Carolina.

Many hours later In Flagler, North Carolina, a small town that boasted of being "the home of the best barbecue pork in the universe," traffic piled up at the only street light in the center of town. Highway patrol cars blocked the intersection and state troopers were diverting traffic down a side street into a U-turn back south again. I sighed and slipped out of the line of obedient cars and turned onto another even smaller side street hoping to bypass the accident and continue traveling north.

With a few twists and turns I reached the main street again and was astonished at what I saw. A derailed passenger train was scattered into accordion pleats of twisted metal. An over-turned Club car rested against the side of the Flagler National Bank.

I got out of the car and walked to the corner where a small group of people stood staring at the wreckage. "Was anyone hurt," I asked a woman holding a bag with a loaf of bread compressed so tight that it was flat.

"Everyone's already been taken to the hospital," the woman replied without taking her eyes off the grotesque scene.

"Or the morgue," a man added. He was dressed in a tan workman's uniform. His forearms, smudged with grease, were roped with bulging veins still at attention from a day of strenuous lifting. Unlike the woman, he looked directly at me with interest and open friendliness. "If you're headed north, you can forget it. It's going to take a while to clear the road." He glanced at the over-turned Club car. "We just don't want to realize how fragile our life really is."

I nodded. Something about the man fascinated me, comforted me the same way my uncles and father had as they included me as a child in their bantering with one another after a hard day at their blue-collar jobs. By the time I was eight years old, I knew about the secret world of men, how gentle and funny and disclosive they could be when not pushed or prodded by women.

"Is there a phone I can use?" I asked,

"Sure is," he said. "That's where I'm headed." He pointed to two public phones outside a convenience store. "Mary probably has dinner on the table and I know the kids are watching the TV news and will be upset about the train wreck."

I smiled to myself. It was exactly the kind of statement I’d heard my father say as he hurried me home from one of my hideouts. "Your mother will have dinner on the table and I know she'll be worried."

I looked at the man again and realized he was the same age as my father was then. They were two men with a hard common labor job and a deep love for their family. At the time my father had appeared old to me but seeing this man standing before me made me realize how young my father had been to have so much responsibility on his shoulders with a wife, two kids, a mortgage, a serious heart condition, and future plans for his children that a minimum wage salary could not support.

When we reached the public phones a line had formed of others calling to reassure their family that they were safe and would be home late. "Do they know what caused the wreck?" I asked.

He shook his head and pulled a thin aluminum pressure gauge from his shirt pocket and held it out to me. "Something this small can bring down an eight thousand ton train without a problem." His words had no edge and held no bitterness about a life so fragile that it could be wiped out in an instant.

When he put the pressure gauge back in his shirt pocket, I stared at the name tag embroidered above the pocket. Instead of seeing "Ralph" or "Eddie" or some other name that many workers wore on their uniforms, this man's name tag read, "Romans 8:28."

The man laughed when he saw me looking at it. "Mama made me promise to get an education and never have to wear a shirt with my name on it. But I was never a good student. I like working with my hands. I'm good at it. Mama understood, and God love her, on my first day of work fifteen years ago, she sewed this on one of my shirts. By the way, my name's James. But my friends call me Jimmy."

"I'm Caroline," I said. "And your mother sounds like quite a woman."

Jimmy nodded as a TV news helicopter circled above our heads drowning out some of his words. He looked at me and winked. "The eye is upon us." His words had an ominous tone that made me shudder.

I studied the face of the man who was so young but who seemed to already know more about life than I did, yet the lines in his forehead were not deep, the wrinkles around his eyes not frozen into the inability to soften with hope and wonder and humor. They relaxed into a pliant and open smile when I commented about the women who were still typing up the only two pay phones for miles. "How is it that they can think of so much to say at a pay phone in the middle of a train wreck?" I asked.

He shrugged his shoulders conspiratorially. "My beeper has been going nuts for the last half hour. I need to return these calls as soon as possible," he said loudly enough for the women to hear.

His joking nature reminded me even more of my father. I felt a longing for his company that I hadn't felt for years.

"What kind of work do you do," I asked as his beeper went off again.

"Air-conditioning and refrigeration," he replied. "Warehouses, hospitals, that kind of thing." There was deep pride in his voice.

I wondered about his home and family. Did he live in a double-wide trailer on a large rural lot that required a riding lawn mower to keep the grass under control or had he gone on to a larger mortgage and a smaller lot in the suburbs so that his children could attend a better school system? Did he have a hunting dog or did he spend hours in his basement tinkering with an engine like my father had?

Jimmy, with his kind face, a spring to his step, and a relaxed sense of ease did not study me the way I studied him. I did not pose an oddity to him as he did to me as a mirror to the way my father had been when I was a child, how easy-going he was with strangers, how secure and content he seemed with his life. These were things I never knew about my father and the realization took my breath away.

I fantasized for a minute what my life would have been like if I had stayed in Orangeville, married and had children. I would have friends and relatives like Jimmy. He would drop off his children for me to watch while he and his wife had a night out alone and if my plumbing ever failed he would come at any hour of the day or night with his tools and only ask for a cup of coffee in return. A cup of coffee and a thankful recognition that he knew how to take care of his own because that is how he defined himself and took sustenance from the knowledge that he was needed and wanted and loved.

As a teenager I had dated men like Jimmy. They smelled like their father's bottle of Old Spice Cologne and hung the tassels from their high school graduation cap from the rear view mirrors of their tinkered and finely tuned Ford and Chevrolet cars. They didn't dance very well but their arms were warm and strong and they asked little of me in return but to surrender to them on a moonlit night. In return they offered a Wednesday night Prayer Meeting kind of honesty and a house full of children who would grow up just like them. Something deep within me had called me to this kind of life that other women were happy to have but something just as deep had repelled me from it just as strongly. It wasn't where I was meant to be.

For a minute I longed for the fantasy to be true but in the next second realized that it wasn't what I had ever really wanted. It would never have given me the contentment that I needed. I'd found a profession I like, unique avocations to fill in the nights and weekends and now faced a comfortable unique future …. but I also knew that I’d lost something as well. Lost it forever and there was no turning back.

The line moved forward. We were one person away from the phone. Jimmy looked down at my camera bag.

"You know about cameras?" he asked.

"Yes. I’m currently obsessing digitally."

"Great!" he said. "Maybe you can give me some advice. Karen, that's my youngest, is a real artist. Must get it from my wife's side," he said and grinned. "Anyway, her birthday is next month and I want to get her a camera but I don't know which one would be best for her.”

"What grade is she in?" I asked.

"Third," he replied, "but she's in a gifted student program and I don't want to buy something that will be too simple for her in a year." He rubbed his forehead, the first sign that weariness was setting in. "I've been working an extra job or two and have enough money to get a good one but I don't have a clue about cameras." He smiled a little shyly. "Karen can really make something of herself. I want to give her that chance."

I lowered my head to stall for time. A wave of emotion had overtaken me unbidden. All I could think about was my father working two extra jobs to finance my art classes as a kid. I’d come home to show him my latest drawing or experiment in collage techniques and he’d be sound asleep in his reclining chair to catch an hour of rest before he left for the midnight job that would keep him away from us for the rest of the night. As a kid I had never given it a second thought but now seeing it recreated with Jimmy and his daughter Karen, I realized how much it had cost my father, not so much in money, or physical exhaustion but in the knowledge that by providing a new opportunity outside of our rural world, he was exposing me to the possibility of an ever-widening chasm that might one day separate us forever.

I flipped through my wallet and handed Jimmy a business card. "This is a small photo supply company in Philadelphia that gave me a good price. The owner knows me. Tell him I sent you and explain what you want. He’ll take care of you.”

Jimmy squinted his eyes and studied the card as if it was a rare gift and then slipped it in his shirt pocket and patted his "Roman 8:28" name tag. "Mama was right. “Everything does work together for good.'" He reached for the telephone, inserted two coins and dialed a number. “Say, you wouldn’t like to come home for dinner, would you?”

“Thanks Jimmy. I’d love to meet your family, but I can’t. I’m on my way home too. I was a little lost for a while, but I found my way home again. Thanks for the map.”

I dropped more coins in the phone. Instead of dialing my answering service, my fingers automatically found the number they had not dialed in years.

‘Hello, Dad?” I took a deep breath. “Yes, I’m fine. Really…..I just called to….” I watched as Jimmy pulled away in his truck. We both smiled and waved goodbye. “Dad, I just wanted to tell you about a man I met whose name is Romans 8:28.”

* The events in this journal entry are factual with the exception of names and locations that were changed to protect the privacy of others, and sadly the phone call to my father at the end. He died when I was thirteen and I was never able to make that phone call except in my heart.

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