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It’s Doctor Seuss’s birthday!

While the man himself was born in 1904, his birthday is celebrated annually as Read Across America Day.

Doctor Seuss was a huge influence on me when I was a child. My parents both read Seuss books to me and my sisters. I have great memories of listening to “The Sneetches and Other Stories” (which we would borrow from the YMCA Camp of the Rockies library whenever we would visit Estes Park). The first book that I read aloud was “The Cat in the Hat Comes Back,” proving to my mother at a very early age that I was capable of reading on my own. That was where my love of books really began, sitting on the couch in the living room, carrying on where she had left off while she took a phone call. To this day, I will randomly quote “Bartholomew and the Oobleck” or any one of a dozen other Seuss titles.

I love books. Three bookstores and two libraries have served as my places of employment over the last ten years, and it all started with a little rhyme. So, though he’s been gone since shortly after I learned to read, I would like to thank Theodore Geisel for all that he’s done for me and for countless other children across the world. Thank you, Doctor Seuss.

Tucker came to live with my family in the summer of 2006. He was found on the side of the road with a small head injury, a stray who looked to have fallen from a passing vehicle, and my sister fell in love with him instantly. It wasn’t hard for her to convince Dad to bring the little orange tabby home.

Though he was ostensibly an outdoor cat, my sisters and I found every reason we could to keep in inside with us. We wanted him to be close to us, and he felt the same way. He would sit outside our back porch door meowing for someone to take pity on him, even on the nicest of summer evenings. I would bring him inside, letting him fall asleep in my bed, curled up against the back of my legs.

He was a smart cat, and took to small-town life fabulously. He didn’t have a litterbox in the house, so he would wake me up with a nip at my eyebrow or wrist so that I could let him out. If I wanted to go get the mail, or pick up a can of Mountain Dew at the local gas station, Tucker would walk with me, or ride on my shoulders, or in the hood of my sweatshirt. At the time, it was the closest I’d ever been to having a pet that was mine. We’d had other cats, dogs, rabbits, etc. but they all belonged either to the family or to one of my sisters. Tucker, though, was my responsibility.

I hated to leave him behind when I went to college. My parents and little sister would give me updates on him when I would call home. On my trips back to my parents’ house, he would be let back inside to spend time with me. During Christmas break, he would spend hours crawling around in the boxes I’d brought home from school.

In short, the little dude was one of my best friends during the years that he spent with us.

Five years ago, I recieved news that Tucker had died. It was a very sudden passing, and we suspect that his head injury as a kitten might have been an underlying cause. Whatever the reason, his death hit me very hard.

Today, I went looking for a writing prompt, and found one that talked about writing a story about an animal. I realized that today was the anniversary of Tucker’s death, and I knew I had to write a little piece about him. I started this blog a couple of weeks after he died, and never really acknowledged that loss here until now, when he’s been gone longer than he was actually with us. So here’s to you, little guy. I miss you like crazy.

Tucker

When I was a child, my older sister invented a world in the garden. I’m not sure if it was more inspired by Narnia or Terabithia, because to me it seemed to be equal parts of both. It’s strange to think of a lush realm in the midst of the Colorado plains, but she managed it somehow. It was hidden away beneath the shade of a plum tree and walled in by a grape vine, and it was there that she established her domain. During the spring, she would pick flowers from the local greenhouse and plant them in her little corner of the back yard. It was a fantastic spot to spend a hot afternoon. With fresh fruit growing overhead (and around the corner in the main part of our parents’ garden) and water from the hose, you could stay out there for hours.

I never said anything to her then, but I was jealous. I wanted something like that, and she’d taken the best spot in the yard for it. I realize now, though, how important having a space of her own was to her. When we were kids, there were four of us sharing two bedrooms, and it was never easy for any of us to get time to ourselves. If I had the bottom bunk of the beds I shared with our youngest sister, I would hang blankets up to turn it into a fort. When we got a new fridge, I asked to keep the box it came in. Some scissor work and marker drawing later, it sat on the top bunk and turned into a Calvin and Hobbes-esque spaceship. Both of these spaces were mine, despite only being partitions within another room.

We would seek out places where our creativity could thrive. I didn’t realize how essential it was then, but the space we could make for ourselves was critical to us. Our imaginations were fueled by the books we read and heard, and the desire to craft something from our own thoughts moved us forward. Today, my big sister is an architect, and I couldn’t be more proud of her. She went to college and poured herself onto canvas and into sculpture, bringing her imagination into reality. Just like she did in the garden back home, she’s making the world a little more like she dreamed it could be, one small space at a time. It’s an incredible bit of inspiration for me. I may use a keyboard or a pen and paper where she used paint and clay (and now wood, concrete, steel), but I like to think that, at least in some small way, I’m following a part of her path.

A great man has left this world, and I need to take a moment to talk about him. His name was Theodore Jerry Baum, and he was my English teacher in my junior year of high school. Mr. Baum died almost a month ago. I’ve been trying to figure out how to memorialize him in a better way than the sadly lackluster obituary our local newspaper provided.

Like most of the kids my age, I met Mr. Baum long before I took a class with him. When you live in a small town, everyone knows everybody else. He taught English and Television Production at Holyoke High School. My first (and sadly only) class with Mr. Baum was my junior year of high school, and I’d been terrified of him. The man was a sort of urban legend, and he had a reputation, at least in my head, of teaching the hardest English class around. No nonsense. Strict, straitlaced. Or so it seemed.

After a while, though, I got to know him a little better. I learned that he loved German food, and that he delighted in playing practical jokes. When my independent study German group decided to have a German meal at school, I made brats and sauerkraut, brought a crock pot full, and let it simmer in my classroom all day. Mrs. Ortner’s room was right across the hall, and she made it quickly known that she HATED the smell of sauerkraut. Naturally, after sharing lunch with us, Mr. Baum took a cup full of sauerkraut and left it hidden in one of Mrs. O’s trashcans for the rest of the day.

He could move far faster than I ever would have thought possible for a man his age. One of his best pranks involved sneaking up on then-counselor Mrs. Vieselmeyer with an air horn, letting it off right next to her head. She spun around and would’ve likely knocked Mr. Baum into the next semester if he hadn’t jumped away.

On another day, I was walking through the library when a book fell from one of the shelves. As I bent to pick it up, another fell. I glanced up in time to see Mr. Baum hiding on the other side of the shelf, chuckling to himself as he pushed the books through onto my side.

As a junior, I participated in the district academic bowl. He was one of our moderators, and at one point in the evening, a question required the phrasing of a line from Oliver. Cue Mr. Baum singing “Consider yourself at home, consider yourself one of the family.”

No tribute to Mr. Baum would be complete without mentioning his cat, Brutus. There were several cats that he owned throughout the years I knew him, and each one, regardless of gender, was named Brutus. I never knew how many of them there were altogether, just that there was always one at a time, a constant companion for him.

He loved to garden during his retirement. He moved into a house down the street from my parents, one that had a lovely garden in the back that had been carefully tended for years by the previous resident. Many afternoons I could go for a walk and find him there, Huskers cap on his head, trowel in hand, continuing the work of maintaining the flowers and vegetables that were growing there.

I’ll never forget him. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I knew him better than most. That would be doing a great disservice to the many people whose lives he touched. I knew him. That was enough.

 

It’s August 12th. Eight years ago today, I attended orientation at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and made one of the biggest decisions of my life. Eight years ago, I decided to move to Colorado Springs. I’m going to come right out and say that my life would not be anywhere nearly as amazing if I hadn’t. Eight years ago, I met people who have stayed by my side through four years of college and four more years of whatever this beautiful mess I call my life. I want to say thank you to everyone who has helped me. The people that I’ve been close to over the last eight years have made me who I am today, and I love you all.

“The Girl Who Smelled Of Pine”

Once, I met a girl who smelled of pine.
I saw you from a distance,
Winged goddess of death and
Beauty, pale, raven-haired,
But baring a smile that belied
The danger behind it, and
So I was drawn irresistibly
To you, heeding no warning.

Your eyes are a distant green
Light across the narrow bay.
Every whisper from your lips
A siren song, beckoning me.
I grew closer to you with each
Passing year, and yet you
Remained elusive, hovering
Just beyond my reach.

I know that I will find you again,
My lover who smells of pine,
No matter how many years or
Lifetimes may pass us by.
And I will never forget the
Scent of you, the brightness
And laughter that has faded
But will return in its time.

“Farewell”
Trifecta.
A wager once,
Now a confluence,
Defined by writers who
Gather to share their stories
With like-minded others and learn
To express themselves, leaving each one
Vulnerable, but stronger. Thanks, and farewell.

 

This piece is my entry for the final Trifecta Writing Challenge, and as per our prompt, is a 33-word free write. I would like to thank everyone who has come to visit my blog since I started the Trifecta entries exactly one year ago today. It’s been a hell of a year. You are all absolutely incredible people, and I hope that we manage to keep in touch with each other even after our weekly writing assignments are no more. Particular thanks must, as almost always, go to V. Without her, I never would’ve discovered the joys of these challenges. It’s a very bittersweet day indeed. I like to think that I’ve grown a great deal as a writer since I started participating in Trifecta, and it’s all thanks to you, dear readers, fellow Trifectans. Thank you. I’ll see you around.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know that this is not
The end of the world,
But now the end holds
No fear for me. For I
Do not fear death,
And I now know the
Pain of losing you.

I know that this is not
The end of the world,
For I know that I
Shall not live to see
It. Nor would I want
To carry on if I would
Do so without you.

I know that this is not
The end of the world,
And I do not believe
In hell, though I
Have survived the tortures
That any hell could
Hold for one such as me.

I know that this is not
The end of the world,
Though I have raged
Against death and sorrow,
And found my only
Comfort in the arms of
Those I hold most dear.

I remember kneeling on the couch, arms resting on the back, staring out the picture window at the frozen landscape. I remember wishing we had a fireplace like my grandparents, so that I wouldn’t have to bundle up under blankets in the middle of a day like this. I would shiver and go to the room that my little sister and I shared, climb up to the top bunk, and shut off the overhead light. A small bedside lamp was all the illumination I would need to lose myself in one of my books, a favorite pulled from one of my many shelves.

After an hour or so, my little sister would inevitably come in and ask me to play outside. I’d reluctantly agree, because I knew it meant getting cold and spending time with her when I could be reading or drawing, but I would agree nonetheless. No matter how much I might have protested, I really did enjoy spending the time with her. I still do. We would get dressed in layers of clothes, including snow pants if we still had a pair that fit us.

We’d finish getting bundled up and wander out into the snow and ice, hoping that the snow was wet enough that it would be packable, allowing us to make snowballs at the very least. Snow angels would be made, should the snowfall be deep enough. If it were a really legendary Colorado blizzard, we’d have enough snow to make forts up against the base of the pine trees in the park. After a few freezing hours, we’d trudge back to the house. Mom would be there, and she’d help us make a couple of mugs of homemade hot chocolate, with marshmallows if we had them.

After that, it would be time for a movie or a game, depending on how tired we were. We would spend the rest of the evening in the living room until it was time to help get dinner ready. All too soon, our day of freedom would come to an end, and it would be time to eat and get things cleaned up before bed. Finally exhausted by our day, we allow sleep to overtake us and dream of the adventures yet to come.

I had something else that I was writing today, but I just learned that it’s going to have to wait. As Somerset Maugham said, “We do not write because we want to; we write because we have to.” I really wish that this were not something I had to say.

Where to start?

On Tuesday night, I lost one of my oldest friends. Kurtis and I had known each other since preschool. We grew up together, or at least got older together. We were good friends all the way through high school. I can’t say that we were best friends, because it’s simply not true, but we always got along, even when we would agree to disagree. In high school, we were part of the local FCCLA chapter, doing community service work, and traveling across the country. We went to Philadelphia, Chicago, San Diego, and Nashville, and came in as one of the top teams in the nation for the Parliamentary Procedure competition as freshmen and as seniors. Nashville was our last big adventure together, and we didn’t talk a lot after we went off to college. An occasional “Hey, how are you?” or “Happy birthday!” was the closest we really got.

Some time later, I heard that Kurtis had been diagnosed with cancer, but he fought it. With help from his wife, Liz, and his friends and family, he fought. And for a while, he won. On Tuesday night, though, after another long bout, Kurtis knew that it was time for him to say goodbye. I wish that I could be that brave, and that strong. I wish that I’d taken the time to talk to him a little more. Others knew him better, I know, but I am proud to have known him.