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Home Planet

Archive for November 2010

The Naked Truth About Tom

 

Dear Ms. Millsap,
Several years ago you wrote an article in the Spokesman Review about your daughter and a picture of a turkey. I thought it was very funny and I gave copies to some of my friends. I even sent one to my 82 year old mother.
This year I lost that clipping and was hoping you could send me a copy.
Happy Turkey Day!
 Lois

It happens every year. Each November somebody sends me a note like the one below. So here's a copy of the piece I'm most requested to read or share. I've come to think of as the Turkey Story:

 
November 23, 2006

Let’s all give thanks for the bird – and the bees

 
 

For most people, Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on what we’ve been given, and savor the scents of crisp autumn days and pumpkin pie.

For me, it’s a little more complicated.

One November afternoon when my daughter was in kindergarten, I picked her up after school. She bobbed out to the car and crawled into the back seat.

“What did you do today?” I asked. She couldn’t wait to tell me.

“We learned that boys are different from girls,” she chirped.

Looking into the rearview mirror, I could just see the top of her head.

“My teacher told us that boys have a thing the girls don’t,” she added.

“Well, yes they do …,” I said cautiously.

I couldn’t think of anything else to say, so we were quiet for a moment. Then she piped up again. “That’s how girls know that boys are boys,” she said. “They see that thing that hangs down and they know that he is a boy.”

I mentally calculated the distance home. Our five-minute commute already felt like an hour.

“Did you know that when the boys see a girl they puff up?” My palms were beginning to sweat. “Um … well ….”

I was still searching for something new to say, to change the subject, when she asked, “Why do the girls like the boys to have those things?” Well I didn’t know what to say. I mean, what woman hasn’t asked herself that question at least once?

“Oh, well … um …,” I stammered.

She didn’t wait for my answer. She had her own. “It’s ‘cause it moves when they walk and then the girls see that and that’s when they know they are boys and that’s when they like them. Then the boy sees the girl and he puffs up, and then the girl knows he likes her, too. And then they get married. And then they get cooked.”

That last part confused me a bit, but on the whole I thought she had a pretty good grasp on things.

As soon as we got home and I pulled into the garage, she hopped out of the car, fishing something out of her school bag.

“I drew a picture,” she said. “Do you want to see?”

I wasn’t sure I did, but I looked at it anyway. I had to sit down.

There, all puffed up, so to speak, looking mighty attractive for the ladies, was a crayon drawing of a great big tom turkey. His snood, the thing that hangs down over his beak, the thing that female turkeys find so irresistible, was magnificent. His tail feathers were standing tall and proud.

She was a little offended that I laughed so hard at her drawing, and I laughed until I cried. But when I told her I loved it – and I did – she got over her pique.

That was the end of that, for her anyway. But I’m not so lucky.

Every year I remember that conversation.

And to be honest, I haven’t looked at a turkey, or a man, the same way since.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

The One Who Was

(photo of George Ohr courtesy Ohr-O'Keefe Museum)

 

 

    Once, over a cup of coffee, late into the evening when confidences are easily shared, a friend leaned close to me and said, “I am meant for something special. I know I am. Since I was a little girl I’ve believed I was meant to do something significant.” She stirred the coffee in her cup, silent for a moment, before adding in a frustrated whisper. “ I just wish to hell I knew what it was.”
    My friend, who spends each day trapped in middle-management purgatory, was worried that she was running out of time. That she might have missed her chance to be whatever it was she was meant to be. It is a uniquely human condition.
    Just the other day, standing in a museum on the sugar white coast of Mississippi, I remembered her words.
    I was in Biloxi for the opening of the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum. A place that will hold, among other treasures, pieces made by Biloxi’s driven and eccentric potter, George Ohr.
    Ohr, in the jargon of the South, was a character. A man who was consumed by his passion for throwing pots and creating one-of-a-kind pieces. Reading about him, I was struck by his description of what happened the first time he put his hands on clay.
    “When I found the potter’s wheel I felt it all over like a wild duck in water,” he wrote.
    It was then that I remembered what my friend had said. Like so many, she’s still looking for that kind of experience.
    Ohr’s story is compelling. Recognizing his fate the moment he touched clay, he was consumed by it. He threw himself into making difficult and unusual pieces. “I had to do lots of work and hard and heavy,” he wrote. “But all is light and easy when the will and love of it is there and when one gets really enthusiastic they will forget to get hungry.”
    Ohr recognized his gift when he held it in his hands. And, he believed in the power of what he’d made. In spite of the constant struggle for financial success, he archived much of his work it, refusing to sell his best pieces, preferring instead to keep his collection intact.  He stored 8,000 pieces, telling his family that the work was to be kept until the time when the collection “may be purchased by the nation.”
    Each of us searches, some throughout an entire lifetime, for the thing that will make us sing. For the passion that will ignite and inspire us. My friend, in her midnight confession, admitted she still longs to find the spark that will light the same kind of flame inside her.
    Reading about George Ohr, I admired his conviction that he was doing what he was meant to do. On a wall just inside the museum, next to the gift shop, there is a large photograph of Ohr. He is upside down, his feet pointed up to the ceiling. Beside the photo, is this quote.
    “This pot is here and I am the potter who was.”
    Change a word or two and it could be the message any of us hopes to leave behind. This painting is here and I am the painter who was. This book is here and I am the writer who was. This symphony. This scientific discovery. This marriage. These children. This love.
    Even Frank Gehry, the great architect who designed the museum could confess to the same desire: This building is here and I am the architect who was.
    I left the museum an admirer of a potter who is long gone, but whose work remains. 
    He was.



Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

  

A circle of friends and writers

(photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 

    Most Monday nights we gather together
    We open the door of the small building that houses the studio of an artist friend and walk into the warmth of a room filled with the all the tools and spirit of creativity.
    There is a kind of homecoming each time we meet. Someone might bring a loaf of fresh bread. Someone else puts cheese and crackers on a plate. On a good night a bottle of wine is opened and shared.
    For the first half-hour we talk. We talk about what has happened since we last met. Catching up with marriages, work and all the other portions of our lives, we strengthen the ties that bind us together. And then, when it’s time, we get to work.
    One by one, safe in the company of kindred spirits, we read the words put down on paper since we last met.
    We are a circle of writers.  Some of us do it professionally, others are more casual. But the one thing in common is that each one of us writes because something inside us won’t rest until we do. Each of us has a story to tell and we want tell it in our own way.
    There is, deep in the center of most people, a strong desire to leave something behind. We want to leave our story. A map to who we were. A chronicle of the things we dreamed and worked for; of the loves we shared and the heartaches we survived.
    In the Monday writing studio we are in turn, survivors, lovers, mothers, wives and sisters. And what we share - besides the bread and wine - is the determination to overcome the barriers of shyness, insecurity, fractured schedules and even, occasionally, the interference of others. We want to write and we’re willing to go to great lengths to find a way to do it.
    Most Monday nights there is a reason not to go to the studio. There is  work to finish before deadline. There is housework. There are family responsibilities that pull at us. But usually, unless we’re out of town, we make it. We open the door to the writer within us. One word, one Monday, at a time.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Ready for what is to come

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 

 

   This winter, if ominous predictions can be trusted, is going to be a big one. That’s what the forecasters say. That’s what was printed in the newspaper. That’s what I keep hearing on the radio.
    They say this winter the wind is going to blow, the temperatures are going to plunge and stay down and the snow is going to fall. And fall. And fall.
    All close friend who skis is celebrating, she’s looking forward to a season of constant powder on the slopes and endless fun on the mountaintops. But I’m chewing my lip.
    I love winter, too. I really do. It’s incredibly beautiful here in the Northwest. The way the evergreen trees catch snowflakes and hold them until their limbs are flocked and heavy is a sight that always arrests me and holds my attention. There is nothing quite as peaceful as the deep silence of a snowy night, as though a blanket of white has been thrown over our heads muffling the noise of the world.
    I love the sting of the wind on my face and the taste of icy air as I lift each snowshoe, following a quiet path in the forest. As I drive around town, I notice the way the snow fills the areas that are normally in shadow, changing the landscape, upending the way we see things on a summer day. Looking out over the valley and across to the mountain tops in the distance, my eye follows hedgerows and fence lines, roads, rivers and streams, lighting on points I never noticed when the grass was green and the leafy trees hid the view.
    I love the winter holidays and the way they make ordinary things decorative; red and green traffic lights and a string of rush-hour traffic headlights on the highway are suddenly beautiful.
    But there is that other side of winter. The icy streets, treacherous roads and unpredictable mountain passes. The slush that turns gray and dirty too quickly, soaking through the toes of my shoes and making the hem of my jeans grimy. The chaotic parking lots and the sodden boots littering the floor by the back door. There’s the worry of frozen pipes and snow load on the roof. Will they close the hill before I make it home? Do I have chains in the car?
    “Oh, that’s just a bunch of little headaches,” my friend said when I brought up the darker side of winter, sweeping away my pedestrian winter worries with a flick of her wrist. “I say let the snow fall so we can go out and play.”


Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

A Letter to the Candidates

 

    There. I voted. I did my part.
    I did the research, marked the little bubbles and dropped the ballot in the box. I listened to what you had to say and I told you what I want for the future. Now, go away and leave me alone for a little while.


    If you made it into office, either returning or for the first time, show some respect for all the people who put you there and get to work. No more negative words.


    If you lost, suck it up. Don’t whine. Don’t sling any more mud. Someone wins and someone has to lose.
    The election is finally over so I don’t want anymore postcards cluttering up my mailbox. I don’t want to hear what a lying, scheming, conniving crook your opponent is. I don’t want to be reminded of what a self-sacrificing saint you are. I don’t care how pretty your wife and kids are or how your husband stands behind you. I’m not interested in where you go to church or how you like to throw a Frisbee to your dog.


    I don’t want to see your signs on the corner, on the empty lot downtown or on the side of a bridge. I don’t want to hear your ads on television or the radio. I don’t want emails and venomous Facebook and Twitter posts from friends telling me how to vote.


    Don’t ring my doorbell. And don’t call me again. I won’t hesitate to hang up on you.


   This country is in a real mess. It’s no time to turn on one another. I voted because it’s the one way I can - linking arms with others who care just as deeply - make a difference. And, yes, I know I'm fortunate to have that power.
    

So, please, no more angry words. No more excuses and accusations. No more dirt. Do us all a favor and just get to work.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

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About this blog

Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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