graphic image of clasped hands in multiple colors
graphic image of clasped hands in multiple colors

Our Time is Now

The other night I got to witness our town matriarch, LaVern Johnson howl.

I’m attaching a video to prove this 93 year olds ability to claim her primal place here, in Lyons and beyond. Our oldest kiddo, Sunny is 14. The same age LaVern was when she learned to sew from Minnie Hutchinson, whose husband built our home in the 1940s. Sunny sure can howl as well. Though they sound different. Both howls are coming from a voice we rarely use. A deeper place of longing. A “I’m here!” and “I hear you” voice.

I imagine we may have sent out a song or invitation to the local wildlife.  Even snakes and mice are feeling the echo. Foxes and bears must feel a kinship, as they’ve become more comfortable in the fluid boundaries these days. 

That concept of a boundary is almost like growing a green thumb. It’s a practice that involves exercise and tending. These COVID-19 days are offering opportunities to gauge how comfortable or uncomfortable I feel at socially distant gatherings, in stores, making choices regarding schooling and travel. Really everything. What books, podcasts and documentaries will help keep me “woke” with responsibility and motivation to keep untangling my own patternIng? Especially in the face of Black Lives Matter. As I ache to understand how much work is needed to forge a new way, I am reminded we are not alone. Every question my children ask, every uncomfortable discussion with a friend or family member is more charged. And with every choice is a reminder of the privileges adding just enough salt to ask for attention in healing the wounds. Growing up in Georgia, I thought I had an advantage of being “color blind”. I’ve come to understand this is more of a curse than a blessing. 

Here’s a great podcast between two well respected authors in a helpful dialogue discussing the spectrum of experiences. Krista Tippet does a careful job supporting and guiding the conversation. Both books are full of incredible material, as well as options to further study in online groups or using workbooks as guides:

Our family began our re-education by watching The infamous Hamilton on Disney+. Have you witnessed this greatness yet? What a timely gift to our culture (thank you Lin-Manuel Miranda)! It is a supplementary curriculum in itself! The music, the POC cast, and the same story we seem to be looping for eons. It’s like political déjà vu. I’ve been indoctrinating my family with the soundtrack and doing my best to pace myself. The arts continue to explode with expression and creativity that feels like a huge helping of soul food! Somehow, I got hooked. What I fear is this. Often with movements and marches, there’s a wave of momentum. A call to action, then something distracts the momentum and sooner than later we are onto something else. 

However, this torch feels important to keep well lit. Like the Goonies said, “Down here it’s our time, our time down here!” May this song by the newly renamed “The Chicks” fuel your fire too.

Speaking of strong flames…my grandma had a twin sister, Aunty Pauli. They were born such tiny beings, they shared a shoebox that was warmed by the oven until they eventually grew to fit into a drawer. She died a couple weeks ago. 103 years of a life so full she complained “The angel of death is going to get a butt kicking from me! They won’t even visit for a piss stop”. One week she chose to stop eating and will herself to die. She was able to be at home with two of her four children and a grandchild to play cards with until she broke even. 

It was the second Zoom funeral I attended in a week. Many gathered to share stories of her rich life.The call lasted for hours. Lots of tears and laughter. The beauty of the Zoom experience was that everyone was able to attend and participate wherever they were. I realize this is not across the board, and hope this story brings those of you experiencing losses during the pandemic, some sense of comfort. 

I only wish Aunt Pauli could’ve been present at her own funeral to witness her vast following of fans and community. She was the most passionate advocate and accepting, motivated, and determined human I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. She volunteered, taught dancing, crafts, led book clubs, and never stopped well into her final century. Our family is a huge melting pot of various identities, colors, religions, and ethnicities. Pauli’s ability to educate herself was beyond just understanding but her ability of relating was extraordinary. She welcomed everyone home in her heart calling us “delicious”. One of my favorite stories was one told by her son-in-law. They were driving to visit a friend at a nursing home and later going to perform at an open mic stand up club. Pauli asked Marty “got any good jokes to tell tonight?”. He shared his joke thinking she could share it with her friend at the senior center. When they arrived they were asked to wait for 30 min in the hallway while her friend finished her appointment. Pauli saw a patient sitting near the window in a catatonic state. They were just beside the Alzheimer’s wing of the joint. She went over to the woman and sat beside her. She asked, “could you use a friend?” Then offered, “I could be your friend!” Pauli began telling her stories, asking her questions and eventually this woman began to engage! Upon leaving the nursing home, Pauli and Marty made their way to the comedy evening. She asked to go up on stage first as the opening act, and sure enough got up there and told the joke she snaked from Marty!

We have a family rugelach recipe. For their entire life, it seems like those twins couldn’t help but burn the darn cookies. Pauli claims it was her sister’s oven that was the culprit. So, if I share this recipe, and you make them, burn the edges a little, k? It’ll help keep that taste in your mouth. Like a reminder to pay attention. A communion toward friendship. Symbolically breaking bread and asking someone, “could you use a friend?”

Cotton Candy On A Rainy Day

Don’t look now
I’m fading away
Into the gray of my mornings
Or the blues of every night
Is it that my nails
keep breaking
Or maybe the corn
on my second little piggy
Things keep popping out
on my face or of my life
It seems no matter how
I try I become more difficult
to hold
I am not an easy woman
to want
They have asked
the psychiatrists . . . psychologists . . .
politicians and social workers
What this decade will be
known for
There is no doubt . . . it is
loneliness

~ Nikki Giovanni

I understand connection to be a critical lifeline during these strange times of disconnection and isolation. We hold more boundaries than hands. In this spirit, I would love to offer this: there’s nothing like receiving a handwritten letter, note, postcard. 

Therefore, if you desire to give and receive a letter/poem/drawing, please send a letter in a stamped envelope with your return address. I will address and match it with another. 

You are also welcome to write a letter to yourself (if you can request it to be mailed to yourself at a later date on the pre-addressed stamped envelope), I’d be happy to. Place this envelope with your letter sealed inside (with just your return address) inside another stamped envelope addressed to me. 

Erin Witbeck
PO Box 638
Lyons, CO 80540