Journal Memories

Potato Gun

A couple weeks back I found a mysterious device while cleaning out the basement: A black pistol grip with a red plastic barrel fused to a full-hand trigger.

I found it on Rich’s workbench, amid a pile of electric drills, flashlights, and hammers. It immediately jogged my memory, but I couldn’t quite remember why. Being there in a mess of tools, my mind went to grease gun… low temperature hot glue gun… maybe a broken soldering gun?

I set it aside and forgot about it.

Until yesterday morning, when I went down into the basement to get a screwdriver and saw the mysterious tool again. It sat alone on the workbench, which Barb and Alli had cleared to make room for the plumbers to work… and this time it clicked.

It is a potato gun.

I haven’t thought of potato guns in at least twenty years. I had one when I was Walker’s age and remember blasting through dozens of potatoes as I ran through the Maine woods with my dog.

When I finished laughing at myself for being struck so suddenly by memories, I went to find a potato… it was time to tell everyone in the house what I had found. Or rather, it was time to show them. It didn’t take long for Barb to start laughing as I shot Alli in the chest and she responded by putting a bit of potato between my eyes.

Eventually, Walker got his hands on the potato gun and spent a good while blasting potato bits into the bay… until he heard that his Daddy was coming to visit. Then Walker found a spot behind a bush and proceeded to sit more still than I have ever seen him, waiting patiently to shoot a wad of potato at his father’s knees.

Journal Maryland

Settling In

It’s been a helluva month.

We’ve spent the last few weeks closing up business in Virginia. Packing, cleaning, doing what we could to see friends and family, within reason given the ongoing pandemic and a few spats which emerged when I announced that I was heading north. The whole process was complicated by my car accident, which has left the truck sitting in a repair lot for a month

We’re trying hard to help the kids feel settled, even as we try to find our pace with the new normal. They’re registered for Scouts and have already gone camping once. They have a lair in the basement where they can play video games and watch TV without drawing agro from adults for giggling with their friends on voice chat or watching the same talking dog movies again and again and again and again. We’re currently debating whether Girlchild gets to live in the basement, a fate which literally gives her grandmother shivers at the thought of waking up with a spider cricket on her head, or has to share space with her brother. If Boychild could choose, he would sleep on the daybed in his grandmother’s room, but we aren’t giving him the choice.

I’m settling in, slowly.

Moving has been on my wishlist for years. I love my friends in Tidewater, but the utterly flat suburban sprawl drained a little bit more of my soul with each indistinct Virginia Beach Norfolk Chesapeake Portsmouth intersection. My favorite place in all of Tidewater was Pipsico Scout Reservation, a Scout camp perched on the southern cliffs of the James River. With paths that meandered from the heights of the cliffs down to the tangled cypress swamps, it was a dynamic landscape filled with good memories.

Now I’m in a new landscape, one that is a good bit more varied. We are still living in a swamp, but it’s one which is stable enough for houses to have basements and where we can reach rolling, rocky foothills within twenty minutes.

Girlchild has already declared that she wants to volunteer at the local nature center. Boychild is beginning to make friends at Scouts. We’re still finding our footing up here, and likely will be until James finishes his latest round of business travel and we settle into a rhythm of visiting one another, but things are finally beginning to look up and slow down after nearly two years of life moving too fast.

I’m looking forward to watching the ospreys hatch their eggs off the dock, repairing the roof of The Mothership, and taking the family for weekend camping trips in the mountains.

It’s time to breathe again.


Heart Full of Sky

Tonight we stood at the bank of Kerr Reservoir and watched in silence the glimmer of the stars reflecting on the water. Dozens of points of light, only occasionally twinkling at the passing of a ripple caused by a fish striking at a water bug.

We looked up, and Alli laughed.

“Go tell Walker he was right,” she whispered.

I stood there a moment longer, captivated by the expanse of stars. It has been a very, very long time since I saw so many stars. Possibly as long as twenty years. When I worked at Scout camp we saw a lot of stars, but with Williamsburg right across the river, much of the brilliance was lost in a pall of city lights rising up to make the horizon glow white. A couple of times I packed blankets into the back of my Honda and tried to take my first wife stargazing, but inevitably my efforts were hampered by cold weather and the even brighter glow of Norfolk, which was visibly anywhere we went within an hour of our house.

For twenty years I haven’t been able to see this many stars.

Eventually, I retrieved Walker from a the Mothership. Together, we stood beside his mother as she pointed upward.

“You were right,” I said.

Walker gasped as he saw, for the second time that night, the faint wash of the Milky Way churning across the night sky. He had claimed to have seen it earlier, but when we walked out to the field at the center of the campground, the western horizon was still faintly awash with the last glow of sunset and, to our aging eyes, the Milky Way was nothing more than a whips of cloud still catching the reflected sun.

But now we couldn’t deny it.

Arching away above our heads and drawing repeated gasps of “wow” from the boy child, we could see stars by the thousands. He sat at our feet for at least a quarter of an hour, searching the sky for constellations, asking his mother questions about mythology, and repeatedly craning his neck back so far that he nearly toppled over in his effort to see more of the Milky Way. I pulled up an astronomy app on my phone and we took turns searching for satellites and planets until the battery ran low.

Life has taken some strange turns in the last couple years, and just when I thought it was settling down 2020 threw a handful of bolts into the gears, but I have never been happier. Standing with my best friend as we look at the stars with her son, I know that I am finally on my way to where I belong.

2020 Journal RV Living

Fear of the Dark

Our three days of adventure in the woods of West Virginia were drawing to an end and it was time to load up The Mothership in preparation for an early departure on Sunday morning. Easier said than done when wrangling two great grandparents, a couple of schnauzers, and a black lab that drooled as much as a Hooch dog eyeing a freshly cracked can of beer. It didn’t help that I was moving a bit slower than usual after putting an inch-long slice across the tip of my middle finger while cooking dinner the night before.

“Walker, I said that I need you to take these bags out to the camper and…” I paused and studied his face, which had taken on a sudden pallor. Not the bored, half-listening expression of a pre-teen meandering through the fog of hormones hammering his brain. Not that particular vacant-eyed look he gets when he doesn’t like what he’s hearing and so retreats into a world of YouTube replays on the back of his corneas.

No. This was fear.

“What are you afraid of?” Alli asked, peering at him over the refrigerator door where she had been sorting through the half dozen mustard bottles trying to find ours.

Walker squirmed, eyes shifting left and right and almost going blank, but then settling on the door. He hinges his shoulders and immediately de-aged a couple years as his chin started to quiver.

“Oh lord, just go on out to the camper!” Alli said, heaving a sigh. “You’ll be fine.”

“But it’s… dark out there.” Walker replied. “I can’t see out past the camper. I don’t know what’s waiting to… to get me.”

“Walker, you’re eleven!” Alli exclaimed. She picked one of the unexpired mustards at random and shut the fridge door. “You don’t need to be afraid anymore.”

Walker scowled, but started to emerge from his turtle pose. “I don’t like how dark it is. I like Chesapeake better because…” he waved his hands vaguely at the oppressive darkness pressing in at the cabin walls. “Chesapeake has street lights.”

“Boy! It’s right outside,” his grandmother called from the stove, where she was spooning leftovers into storage containers. “We have porch lights.”

I slid my battery pack across the kitchen island towards Walker. “Click the side button twice. Just don’t….” but it was too late. Walker had already half blinded himself by pointing the flashlight at his face as he turned it on. “Well, now you know how bright the light is.”

He eyed the door as he played the bright bluish-white beam around the room. “But there could still be bears. There’s a lot of dark out there.”

“That’s why you use a light and make some noise,” Alli said. She picked up a tote bag stuffed with plastic plates and dry goods and held it out to him. “The bears and foxes are more afraid of you. People only get attacked when they surprise a wild animal, or if the animal is protecting its young.”

Walker fidgeted with the flashlight, but didn’t touch the offered bag.

“Think of it this way,” I said. “Do people mostly get hurt by animals or other people?”

“People?” he squeaked.

“Right. So out here there are no other people. Sure you want to make some noise outside so that you don’t startle a bear, but you don’t have to worry about people at all. You could go and sit on a log in the middle of the woods and as long as you shine your light around and make some noise now and then you’ll be totally fine.”

“Just give it a try. You’re a big boy now, you can do this,” Alli said.

And so, with a groan of complaint and the aid of a chunky LED flashlight, Walker summoned the courage to grasp the tote bag and open the portal to his inevitable doom. He made his way down ten feet of haunted deck, around the harrowing corner of the access ramp, and across the Driveway of the Shadow of Death to the camper. As he went he shone the flashlight about him, stomped his feet, and occasionally let out the sort of yip that was probably more likely to attract a coyote than scare away a fox. Inside, us adults followed his progress through the cabin windows and shook our heads, remembering what it was like to be young and jittery about the darkness.

His triumphant return was applauded and rewarded… with a bag of leftovers to carry out into the gloom.

After the second trip, the expeditions into the outer darkness became a nonissue and Walker helped carry several more things to The Mothership as we prepared for making an early exit the next morning. All seemed well and we fall into a comfortable rhythm of packing and cleaning.

Until a sudden bloodcurdling scream heralded a slamming door and Walker stumbling into the cabin with wide eyes and a face as pale as a corpse. For an instant we thought that he might have stumbled across an angry raccoon… until Ellie stumbled into the room after him. She had finished carrying tiki torches down to the basement and snuck around to the deck to stalk her brother. She doubled over with laughter as she stumbled into the cabin, following a still terrified Walker who was now leaning against the kitchen island and breathing heavily.

“Dammit, Eleanor!” Alli shouted. “Now he’ll never go out there again.”

She looked to me, seeking an additional parental tirade, and I quickly rearranged my expression to hide my silent laughter. “Terrible, Girlchild. How could you scare your brother like that.”

We could end the story here, with mother and grandmother scolding the teenager and encouraging the tween while the bonus parent looks on with a bemused grin, but that would not be the path of truth or the way of our family.

The way the story actually ends is that an hour later Alli came rushing back into the cabin, her eyes wide and her face flushed while laughing breathlessly.

“You alright?” I asked as she rested a bundle of clean clothes beside her and leaned on the counter, looking askance at the door.

She bit her lip and grinned sheepishly. “I was going into the camper, and heard some critter up in the woods. Nothing to worry about, I told myself. Then as I started to come back out I heard it again, and it sounded like it was coming around the corner of the camper. So… I panicked. I slipped in my scramble backwards up the stairs and slammed the door.”

A half smile creeped onto my lips and she poked me in the arm, shaking her head.

“Don’t tell Walker that I got spooked. We’ll never get him out there again if he knows there’s actually a fox or raccoon snooping around the camper.”

Fear of the dark never actually goes away, it seems.


morning coffee

I’m usually the first person to wake up in the morning, a result of spending the last ten months stumbling downstairs to stab the cat.

Being the earliest riser, I’m usually in charge of making the coffee in the morning. Andrew doesn’t like coffee, but Alli and I are addicted to the stuff and Boychild will often enjoy a cup as well. After a brief flirtation with a French press, we now use a lovely copper percolator which Alli found on Amazon.

Great coffee. If only I could drink it every day without getting stomach aches and jitters.

This morning was a little different. I woke up to repeated pokes in the shoulder. Prying my eyes open, I found Alli already awake, dressed, and ready to talk over a cup of coffee.

“I’ve been up since five!” she chirped, already sounding like she had downed at least two cups of strong brew. “When are you getting up?”

A bleary-eyed fumble at my phone told me that it was just past six in the morning. “I dunno. Maybe….”

Any statement of delay was interrupted by Bandit landing on my chest, giving me an extremely concerned look, and beginning to lick my chin.

Minutes later, I was dressed and semi-functional, curled up at the dinette booth with a cup of strong coffee from Zeke’s roaster in Baltimore. It was over that cup of coffee that this project finally came together in my head. I’ve been flailing around for a few years, trying to organize my thoughts on how to present my writing online and, thanks to my editor, friend, and tiny-house-mate asking all the right questions, I think I finally have the answers.

Or at least most of them. I’m still trying to figure out the best procedure for making both regular and decaf coffee, since caffeine gives me heartburn. The alternative is to drink chicory coffee which, while delicious in it own right, isn’t quite the same as the traditional beans. I’ve had some success with Pero, which is a blend of chicory and malted grains, but it is a little too reminiscent of hot chocolate for drinking every morning. I need to find something though, because even one cup of coffee is enough to make me jittery now that I don’t drink caffeinated soda.

It was in the midst of our planning for world domination that I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye.

Most mornings since we semi-moved up here, I’ve been in charge of making coffee for Alli’s mother, as well as the two (sometimes three) of us. Today her mom had slept late but now… now it was time for coffee.

The gate clattered and down the driveway strode Barb, imperious in a purple house robe and goldenrod head wrap. In her left hand she clutched with purpose a heavy stoneware coffee cup. She sniffed the air as she approached and, without so much as a rattle or knock, pulled open the door and climbed the steps into the Mothership.

“I smelled coffee,” she said.

“Come on in,” I replied. Waving towards the coffee pot I said, “Creamer’s in the fridge and coffee’s in the pot. You want to sit down and I’ll-“

“Oh, no, hun. I just need my morning cuppa and then I’ll back and work on my list for the day.”

“You sure mom?” Alli asked. “We got plenty left.”

Barb shook her head and began to fill her mug from the steaming brass pot. “No, no. I just came downstairs and said to myself, what’s the point of fighting with the Keurig? They’ll have a pot out in the camper.”

“Can you pour me some?” Boychild asked.

“Have you finished your math?” I replied, talking hurriedly before his grandmother could respond.

He looked back at me over the laptop lid and ever so slowly began to sink lower into the bench seat until only a tuft of blond hair was visible over the keyboard.

“You finish your work and then come inside,” Barb said, mixing creamer into her coffee. She dropped the chromed plastic spoon into the sink and headed towards the door.

“Don’t you wanna stay out here?” Alli asked. “At least until daddy is awake?”

Barb shook her betoweled head and stepped down out of the camper. “I’ll see you inside. I just wanted to get some coffee and say good morning.”

Even as I write this, my eyes heavy from a long day of videoconferences and my stomach discontent at being subjected to a cup of coffee this morning, I’m looking forward to my next cup… and wishing that I could drink it without consequence.