Author Archives: Michele Easley

About Michele Easley

Born and raised in Wyoming, with family roots in West Virginia, life came full-circle when we relocated to the town where my dad was born! The posts here are a way for me to consolidate the experiences and stories that I have been compiling. I promised myself, as well as others, that I would "write it down", but until now have not had the time. So, the time is now and a method to discipline myself is available in the form of a blog. No more excuses - just posts.

Building Friends

I don’t remember exactly when Eldon became my friend. I do, however, remember the first time I saw him grabbing fistfuls of blackberries off of Grandmaw’s shrub in the backyard. He stood there smashing the fruits in his mouth, his faded overalls dangling off one shoulder, feet bare and hair straight up on his head. He jumped in surprise when I yelled. “Y’all get outta my grandmaw’s berries!” Really, I was thinking – get out of MY berries. It made me red-hot mad to see all those yummy fruits going down someone else’s throat. I came off the porch in time to see him run off over the hill blackberries in both fists.

It would be several weeks before I knew his name, and that came after church one Sunday. Leaving from Assembly of God Church was an exercise in frustration for us kids and eternal patience for our parents. The slow procession out was made excruciating by the old folks who normally sat in the front and always were excused first. Their conversations with each other and then with Pastor Norris made the entire line stop and start in hiccupped convulsions. Kids, with a fevered desire to get out in the sun, would dash in as the line began to move only to be stopped short within footsteps from where they left; such was the sudden calamity that I experienced. I found an open spot and ran for it only to find my face smothered by the backside of a rather large-skirted lady.

“Oh, honey, are you alright?” she turned and patted me on the head. I didn’t look up for fear of seeing Grandmaw’s face frowning back, not that I could have seen anything since my eyes were blurry from the knock. As my vision cleared a round cheeked face appeared from the outside of the big skirt. My mouth popped open in surprise. It was that berry swiping kid! I hardly recognized him, his clothes were pressed and clean, and his hair was pressed too, down and to the side. He smelled like Grandpaw’s hair tonic.

Little did I know of the talk taking place above my head until Grandmaw poked me in the back and said, “Mind your manners Dickie, say hello to Eldon.”

“Hhlow.” I sputtered. Eldon just stood there wide-eyed with his mouth open. I knew he was remembering me from the berry bush incident.

By the time we all made it out into the sun, the sting of the backside buffeting including my introduction to Eldon had gone away. The sunshine invited play and Eldon made the first move. “Ya want to see my baseball?” He pulled a shining white ball from the front pocket of his baggy trousers. I thought maybe this kid was not just a berry thief after all and eased up enough to give him a second chance. “Race ya,” I motioned with my head to the vacant lot by the church. We scurried over and played catch while the grown-ups talked.

From then on it seemed like Eldon became part of our family. He was my age and fun to have around, so it was no surprise that everywhere I went he went too. Jimmy and me would make a plan and it couldn’t possibly be complete without Eldon along. Well, mostly, Eldon had lots of good ideas. He was the one who figured out that the broken boards off of Miss Parson’s old fence would be great as bunks in the clubhouse AND he finally came up with the way to get them to stay nailed to the walls – even though we spent half the day picking ourselves and the boards up off of the floor. He also knew where to find the best branches for making really good slingshots.

Soon August was well along and the big kids were starting talk about school. Summer beat down with unbearable heat, Jimmy and me, bound by Grandpaw’s swimming rule needed another place to play. Eldon helped us find a great spot up on the mountain that we could walk to and have a rumpus in the cool shade of the timber. The “hiding spot” was a great place to have adventures. After chores we would band together and make our way up the mountain to play war. Hours were spent searching for and collecting little piles of acorns and other nuts for ammo. After a short time pelting each other with the booty, we would abandon our efforts to get home in time for supper. Sometimes we just gathered up the ammo and would have to high-tail it back home; returning the next day we’d find our ammo eaten up by squirrels and deer. We tried hiding the stacks under twigs and leaves, but it was no use.

“We need a ammo box.” Jimmy sighed after the third try.

“No, we need a hideout!” Eldon exclaimed.

While we set to collecting up our ammo, I imagined a glorious lair in the trees – something like Robin Hood. We could go up and down on rope ladders and swing down to attack our enemies below . . . My imagination was working overtime when Jimmy popped me between the eyes with a walnut. “C’mon, I’m hungry, we’ve gotta get home.”

We spent the next week finding big branches and trying to stack them up between trees for a suitable hideout. Our efforts kept falling down and there wasn’t enough water and dirt to make a good mud pack to stick it all together. It was decided that we would start collecting boards and nails and we would have to haul them up to the site. This was gonna take a while. Since time was at a premium, we also determined that we could salvage a big chunk of the day if we helped each other out with our chores. This was an agreement that nearly led to the demise of me and Eldon’s friendship – but that story is for another day.

Our salvage operation was very successful as by the time school started we had most of the makings of a good hideout. We’d made a few new friends in the meantime and they were really good at scavenging areas that Jimmy, Eldon, and me weren’t familiar with.  Sherm was best at finding nails and Red had a knack for bringing along rope. We worked feverishly every afternoon to gather up the necessary supplies and would spend Saturdays in our building endeavors. By the end of September we pounded in the last nail. Our hideout was complete, or so we thought. We all stood back in admiration. “So, how do ya get in?” Sherm questioned. In our hurry, we forgot to build a door! Thwack, thwack, thwack. Eldon got right on the solution. He took the claw-end of his hammer to the nails on the middle three boards. In no time at all the entrance was made.

We jostled for position to get through the door. I, being rather skinny, slid in first. Inside the hideout was dark, cool and peaceful. The earth was soft under my feet and the air smelled musty and rich, like mushrooms. We all sat inside just looking at each other for a few minutes. All of a sudden Jimmy hopped up and declared war on the rest of us. I was glad since my britches were starting to get wet from my seat on the ground. After a short time pelting nuts at each other, Jimmy jumped back on the idea of an ammo box. We took the wood that was cast off for the door and made a good size box that also made a really great bench seat inside the hideout. By the time we collected a few nuts and put them inside the dinner bell was ringing back home.

Early October brought the first heavy frost and the afternoons didn’t stretch out long enough to allow us back to the hideout on the weekdays. I longed for Saturday when we would run up to the hideout, adventure, stash our nut ammo and other treasure and drag back home giddy and exhausted from play. As the month began to wane, we all knew that we’d soon have to leave the hideout behind for the winter. Eldon came up with another great idea – a camp out. It took Jimmy and me a bit more effort to convince Grandmaw that we could manage ourselves late on the mountain. She allowed it only if we bundled up and agreed that my older sister and cousin would go fetch us up an hour after dark.

On the day of the camp out Jimmy poked me in the ribs before the sun was up. “C’mon, we gotta get our camp gear packed.” I jumped up and pulled on my thermals. I gathered up my gear and turned on Uncle Otto’s headlamp to check the battery. The excitement bubbled in my stomach and I had to eat one of the apples that I packed the night before. We were dashing through the kitchen when Grandmaw stopped us short. “I made you boys some sandwiches, they’re on the table.” I grabbed the grub, kissed Grandmaw on the cheek and raced out the door.

We met Eldon on the top of the hill. “Your light’s on,” he pointed to my head. I felt a sharp smack on the back of my noggin compliments of Jimmy.

“Rats.” Now I would have to conserve the battery until the walk back home.

The trek to the hideout was made a bit slower by the gear, but we were still the first to arrive. Sherm got there soon after and was showing us the Boy Scout kit he borrowed from his brother when Red finally came along.

“How long were you planning on staying?” Sherm asked Red – this was prompted by the enormous rucksack that Red had hauled up.

“I din’t want to get cold, or hungry, besides I brought this.” Red revealed a spread of chocolate, graham crackers and marshmallows – enough to feed all of Miss Lambert’s second-grade class. I liked Red’s thinking.

The day seemed to fly by and I felt a bit heavy as we collected up firewood in the afternoon. I didn’t want to say goodbye to the hideout or the fun we’d had. Before the sun got low we had a good size fire in the pit and were poking marshmallows in. We each took a turn at spooking the others with scary stories. I really liked the one that Jimmy made about crazy Miss Parsons being a witch, but Eldon’s about the miner’s ghost was voted the best. Darkness blanketed the woods. Cold crept into my skin and I didn’t know if my shivers were from the frosty air or the stories that were told. We watched the fire dwindle to white-hot coals as we ate up the last of the graham crackers. I could hear my sister’s voice calling up from the hollow below. We rummaged around in the beam of Sherm’s Boy Scout flashlight to gather our gear.  No one said a word as we covered up and stamped out the last of the fire’s embers.

My gear felt extra heavy on the walk down the trail toward the government road. Sherm and Red left us at the junction. I didn’t have the heart to say goodbye, so I just waved at their shadowy figures as they trudged slowly away. Sis had had enough of our lollygagging and left us at the top of the hill where we were to bid Eldon goodnight. It was there that I realized something and I got to poke Jimmy in the back for a change. “Hey, we didn’t play war all day,” I smiled. I could tell that he didn’t understand by the way he looked at me; but Eldon knew, he smiled too. “See ya tomorrow?” He said.

“Yeah, tomorrow.” The load was lighter the rest of the way home as I carried along visions of the hideout ammo box and the treasure that waited inside.

Out of Hibernation

The sun has come out, briefly. Its light bounces rainbow colors off of the heavy frost that lingers at mid-morning. The snow has left all but the shadiest spots and green grass shoots cower flatly on the still cold ground. It’s not over – yet. Winter holds on as the temperature hovers around 30 degrees and a brisk wind shifts the shivering branches on the trees.
“It feels like Wyoming.” I converse with our mutt as we walk around the block. “Let’s get back home and warm up.” He seems to understand and agree since he doesn’t even look toward the long route we usually take.
I’ve come to enjoy winter less and less. I appreciate the change of season, understanding the need for winter’s sleep, but I can’t recall the last time I felt the childlike excitement in seeing the snowfall. Maybe I know my frosty foibles too well – the thump of pain and humiliation as I fall on the ice; the ache of joints and muscles from what seems like endless shovel loads of snow tossed off the walks and drive; most likely what dampens my enthusiasm is the inability to warm up after even the slightest chill – the cold sticks to my bones.
Winter walloped us this year. I can’t say that I blame him since he has been rather silent for a while. I hesitate to complain too much, relative to the winters I experienced in Wyoming, this has been only average, and fortunately, not nearly as cold. Reports from home have come in with ambient air temperatures way down to minus 20 and that is WITHOUT wind chill factored in! Old Man Winter knows how to consistently sock it to Wyoming.
Winter proves that you have to be strong to reside in Wyoming, physically and mentally. A new local friend spent a week hunting with my husband near Kemmerer in late September. When he returned he commented, “No-one is soft out there.” I agree, Wyoming people are tough and strong, but I’ve never encountered kinder hearts. I think that’s the only way that everyone stays warm.
For the past three months I’ve cowered from the winter like the grasses laying low. I cocooned myself in a blanket by the fireplace and stopped. Maybe it’s better said that I’ve been in hibernation, popping out rarely and only as needed. In that time I’ve allowed something worse than physical hibernation to transpire. The bout with winter turned into total mental stagnation – brain freeze. The imaginative production of words slowed down around Halloween, and finally froze up solid sometime in early December – frustrating.
But the sun has come out again. I am like a grumbling bear waking up, (still a bit foggy from the drowse.) Rubbing my eyes, seeing the light, I brace myself against the still sharp chill. I reach inside for the warm heart of the tough Wyoming girl to awaken. Like the daffodils beginning to reach up out of the soil I need to stretch up to the light. I see the trees have fuzzy buds – I know that West Virginia winter won’t go on much longer. I thaw the ice from my stored ideas and go out into the world of words again.

Autumn

My “winter” coat came out of the closet today; it hides in there the better part of the year since the weather here in Morgantown usually doesn’t require that kind of outerwear. My husband cringes when I wear it; he doesn’t like the color. I, however, love the granny-smith-apple color; it boosts my spirit. So part of me was happy to emancipate it from the closet. My other side was taunting, “You’re just giving in, it’s not winter – yet.”

In West Virginia the seasons roll languidly one into the other and I enjoy the passing. Like a stroll through a familiar field, I walk the hills and valleys of the seasons breathing the change in the air. Each breath from mid-September through November imbibes the soul with an accumulation of chill and damp and scent, the harbingers of nature’s frosty sleep to come.

Autumn has always been at the top of my list, even in Wyoming. The crisp morning air would give way to warm sun-drenched afternoons. The evenings would bring a welcome escape from the Wyoming wind and the chill would settle in again. Although the weather was lovely, the dreaded approach of a long and stern winter would create an anxious haste to gather wood and fell wild game before the first big snow. The seasons didn’t meld quietly into each other in Wyoming. The onset of winter was often more of a slap in the face. So a drawn-out Indian summer would unsettle my spirit to the point that I would crave the true onset of winter just to get it out of the way. Old Man Winter would pounce down in an attack of wind, cold, snow, and ice, usually in late October, and hold the landscape hostage until June. – Yes, really, it would typically last that long.

I have come to realize that life imitates nature. Maybe this is as it should be so that we can take the lessons from nature and weave them into our days before they get away. I hope to gracefully move through my autumn years with vibrant color and warmth then gently glide into the hush of winter. I certainly prefer the way winter settles over West Virginia with a sparkling accumulation of frost and occasional snow. Could I be so blessed to experience this kind of chilly-soft departure into the long winter sleep?

O Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie

The rain stopped just long enough for the family to gather in a tidy half-circle around the hole. The remnant parts of the age-old ceremony were completed with the punctuated thump of dropped handfuls of dirt. We solemnly turned and moved off in different directions and back into the rhythm of individual lives.

So the good-bye is performed over and over again.

Later, I expressed my sentiments to my beloved husband in my usual manner without any sense of decorum, “Don’t plant me up there when I die.” This, of course, was in reference to the local cemetery.

He responded with some indignation, “So, what am I SUPPOSE to do with you?”

“Just put me up by my dog.” This has been my patent request from the day my dear golden dog was buried on the mountain outside of Laramie. However, the U.S. Government would likely frown upon the practice of interring human remains on the same plot of land (no matter how remote.) I did suggest at one time that my cremains could be scattered there, my husband was not a fan of this idea; “But where will we go to visit you?” He is tethered to the idea of visiting a grave marker, flowers in hand, where he can pray and speak, in some way, to the deceased.

This sounds to me much more like an eternity of solitary confinement than spiritual peace. As I told my sister, “If I can actually hear you when I’m in the grave, then I have a lot more problems than being dead.” She swiftly commented, “You have never been a conventional person.”

It’s possible that what bothers me more is considering a stone on a hill the place of memory. Really, what is it that the marker conveys? A few sentimental words, a start and end date, maybe some ornamentation. Most of this depends on finances, and even the best memorials wear away in time. Are the stone and the grave the memory?

Much more, I believe, is all of the life that is signified by the little dash placed in between the dates. That line should be so much more. The line is where the life breathed, smiled, and giggled. The line is where the first words were spoken to the delight of “mama” and “dada”. That tiny line represents everything from an aversion to peas as a child to making pea soup as a poor college student. A tiny line is a life that touched other lives in home and church and school. That little line signifies a life that made new life, nurtured it, and then let it go. The line is uproarious laughter, silliness, sorrow, and tears. It is story after story from countless souls.

So, I don’t really think that a dash between two dates or even a single granite stone on a hill is enough to tell the story. The single location doesn’t account for dust in the pages of human history, but it contains a literary encyclopedia of a life to those whom it touched. What should be the memorial? Where is it kept?

The physical remains all weather away and eventually become something else, soil, a leaf, a goat . . . nature recycles. Remembrance is kept in word and song; this is where the memorial exists.

So when I go on, I want those who’ve known me to take a trek to where we made a memory together, linger there, breathe the air, reflect, and then write it down. If it was a good memory, share it in joy. If it was a hurtful memory, share it in truth and learning or burn it and leave it to be recycled into something beautiful.

Dream House

It all starts with a dream . . .

You or your spouse or both gather the fragments of ideas that when fashioned together build your dream home. In your mind’s eye you can see everything, the setting, the style, the garden and landscaping, even the color of the walls. So it begins, your quest for a dream home – if it could be, the term is tossed around as if any four walls could fulfill the definition. Off you roam, through the for sale listings, wandering the streets for “by owner” signs, searching for the place where you will plant your family and watch it grow.

In a very small rural town like Kemmerer, Wyoming the choices are nearly non-existent. Although the market at the time provided over a dozen properties for consideration, only half were of sufficient size and of these most were highly priced and needing improvements, the others (a couple) were true considerations. After an offer fell through, and other possibilities were looking less desirable, my husband phoned with the following news, “I have a house for us to look at while you’re here this weekend.”

“I thought we had seen everything.”

“This isn’t on the market, the bar owner here said he would like to sell his house outside of town. It has some land.” In the recesses of my mind I thought it odd . . .  it should have set off alarms and flashing lights. WARNING – your beer-buoyed husband is making deals with the local barkeeper. But in my anxiety over having a place to move our family to, I bit, “OK, I’ll look at it on Saturday when I get to town.”

The imagery that I produced for this “place in the country” developed during the four-hour drive to Kemmerer. As I approached town I could “see” the lovely sprawling brick ranch in the pines, or maybe a smart log home surrounded by golden aspen. I have to admit my heart sunk quite a bit when I finally approached the driveway of the dingy cedar-sided saltbox style house that jutted out of a sagebrush covered hill. “OK, maybe just well worn.” I thought. My husband had been waiting, chatting politely with Barkeep in the driveway. His warm smile and sparkling eyes were so missed that I’m sure I looked very happy and excited.

I didn’t get a word in before we were off on the grand tour. I followed in the rear through the back door into the garage, it was bursting with stuff – floor to ceiling, so much that I couldn’t see the walls, but I could smell the oil, grease, and dirt – all of the smells of mechanic work done at home. Up a step raggedly assembled from cinderblocks and two-by-fours to the kitchen door. We squeezed inside between the refrigerator and a too-close cabinet, over a muddy assortment of various sized shoes, and on to the 70’s patterned linoleum.

“Can you believe I have NEVER waxed this floor!?” the lady of the house chirped with pride.

My mind replied – Yes, I can. I kept my lips pressed together, terrified that I would actually blurt out the discourteous retort. She joined as we cruised from room to room, merrily chatting away every scuff and bruise evident in the house.

The tour ended in the master bedroom, where the four of us could barely negotiate our way around the furniture to peek into the bath. By this time my mind was screaming, “NO!” I attempted to move from the back of the room to follow my husband, who was now exiting at a lively pace. Chirpy cut me off at the pass, providing a soliloquy on the wonderfulness to be found in the home. I could feel the panic welling up inside as the men’s heavy footfalls counted down the stairs. Ten, nine, eight . . . I practically trampled over Chirpy getting out the door. Five, four, three . . . I had just topped the stairs when the men turned the corner into the living room. I knew, in my gut, I knew that if my husband shook Barkeep’s hand, the deal would be struck and there would be no turning back. I lunged into the living room, wild-eyed, stumbling, and stopped sharply to be rocked back at the scene.

Sure enough, they were shaking hands – my husband was closing the deal.

War for Words

I’ve been waging war lately. A frustrating internal battle of wit and words that has me quite literally stalled. Words, or more accurately the right words, aren’t flowing out on the keyboard in the normal effortless manner. Sculpting my thoughts feels more like hacking away at marble with a dull ax, everything crashing out in some crude mass – misshapen and not at all consistent with the vision.

I think I’ve identified the source of the conflict. A confrontation between head and heart, training and instinct, I am my own worst enemy. Trained in the hard sciences, I made a long career in crafting concise documents for public consumption. Less was more, and precision critical in an attempt to place complex problems in clear view of a diverse U.S. audience. The expansive, alliterative storyteller had to be packed into the recesses of my mind to allow the organized scientist center stage.

Now, when I need them both, they refuse to play in my literary sandbox together. I’ve trained myself to disregard one or the other and the toys aren’t being shared. The problem is especially pronounced when I attempt to write about topics of substance where there are facts to share. Piled onto the melee are the typical strife, struggle, and stress of everyday life and the pugilists seem surrounded with chaos.

Oh to bring order to this mess!

Relax – the first word of encouragement from my youngest sister appears to be the keyword in the solution. Relax my mind – take a break, quit banging away at the keyboard only to backspace the words into oblivion. Write without documenting, visualize, and let my mind hear what I want to say. Relax my body – take a walk, practice yoga or Tai Chi or just stretch. Relax my conventions – there are no rules for my blog, it is mine and I can combine expansive, alliterative, creative voice with facts and figures to my own delight or demise.

So, with that, I’m off to the outdoors to relax and enjoy what’s left of a beautiful sunshine filled day. From there I will cultivate the energy to quell the combatants and hone the messy edges of my manuscripts.

Porridge

“Malt-O-Meal, Malt-O-Meal . . .” I soon realized that my thoughts were being played out verbally as the lady with the shopping cart beside me hustled away. She looked back as if to confirm my psychosis and nearly took out a crossing shopper at the corner of the cereal aisle. I’m sure the sound of my chant was laced with anxiety and quite unnerving to those within earshot. Other moms probably understand the serious repercussions that can ensue from not being able to find the right breakfast cereal. The specific request from Cereal Lover (my youngest son) was for Malt-O-Meal, “Don’t forget my favorite.” He sang out as I dropped him off at school. Now the tick list of grocery items was going to have a blank spot and the disappointment from Cereal Lover at home was going to be very tough to accept.

My chant carried on in my head since I couldn’t find the box that I was searching for. Looking further, names of the potential replacements played in my mind as each box was read. Grits, grits, quick-cooking grits, old-fashioned grits, grits, Cream of Wheat – yes! That was familiar. As I grabbed the box, I spotted a store clerk near the end of the aisle.

“Hi, can you help me?”

“I’ll certainly try.” The clerk smiled.

“Where’s the Malt-o-Meal?”

“The what?” Now the store clerk was questioning my sanity. “Would you normally find that in the cereal aisle?”

“Yes, but I guess not here.” I felt a little dejected.

I don’t know anything about grits and here in Morgantown there are boxes and boxes of grits. I should probably try them sometime; of course prepared by one of the local experts as my attempt at cooking them would likely not turn out favorably. As I put the cereal in the cart I mused – there are some things that are quite different south of the Mason-Dixon Line and breakfast cereal is one of them.

This incident led to the recall of a summer long before sitting at the kitchen table in my great-grandmother’s house in Parsons, West Virginia.  I wasn’t quite five years old and our family was visiting my dad’s mom and grandmother. My little sister and I wanted oatmeal for breakfast and were served the warm bowls with brown sugar and CREAM. Having not experienced cream in our oats before (only milk), we promptly spit the offensive porridge back out into the bowls. My mother, mortified by our behavior, chastised us vehemently and ordered that we eat the “wonderful oatmeal” that had been made especially for us. At this we both bowed up, and ended up expelled from the table in tears with our stomachs protesting.

There were probably things that my mother could have done to make that memory turn out better. As a mom, I took this thought out of the grocery store and practiced the script to let Cereal Lover down easy. It started with “some things aren’t the same south of the Mason-Dixon Line.”