The Barefoot Heart

adventures & derring-do in the third half of life

Page 2 of 88

91: Muscle Memory, I Suppose


One fine day, Mother left Grandmother and Granddaddy sitting with three-year-old me at our house while she went shopping. As it neared suppertime, Grandmother herded the troops into the kitchen to help get supper on the table. Not used to working in anybody else’s kitchen – and certainly not used to cooking on a gas stove – Grandmother wasn’t aware that it is standard protocol to turn up the gas with one hand while lighting the pilot light with the other. She opted to light the pilot light and worry about turning up the gas later once she had something ready to go on the stove.

Covered in ceiling from head to toe, an excited Little Jeanne met her mother at the door, explaining that the kitchen was rather a mess because Grandmother cooked too fast.

Big Jeanne has never cooked on a gas stove a day in her life, and she doesn’t see that changing. Ever.

90: Collecting Boxes


The Engineer Dances with Aunt Rene

After moving to the assisted living facility, Aunt Rene began to collect empty boxes – and salt packets and bananas and empty envelopes and napkins, but I’m focusing on the boxes right now. A new resident would move in, and Aunt Rene would be a good neighbor and offer to take the empty boxes off their hands. Deliveries were made to the kitchen or housekeeping staff, and Aunt Rene happily took the boxes from the hall to her room.

I asked her once, “Aunt Rene, what do you need all these boxes for?”

“Well, Darlin’, you just never know when you’re going to need a good box,” was her answer.

Like most people who are moved to a nursing home or assisted living facility, Aunt Rene refused to believe it was unsafe for her to live alone. She never came right out and called us liars, but she never believed us when we told her about the stove catching on fire when she forgot to turn it off or how she took her morning tablets after waking up from every nap during the day. Every visit with Aunt Rene was filled with pleas for us to take her home . . . or at least to take her to the liquor store to get some “real good ‘n strong” boxes.

Some people have attics and garages and basements filled with boxes of unfulfilled dreams, unexpressed longings, undisclosed desires, and unresolved issues. Aunt Rene had a corner of her small assisted living apartment filled with empty boxes that weren’t really empty. Every box in her collection was filled with hope.

89: In Our Own Language 17

After beginning in June 2012, Nancy continues to draw.
and I continue to stitch,
though some of her more recent drawings are too line intensive.
But not to worry
cause I have ideas.
We brought home 470 more drawings
after an all too short visit with her last week.

Nancy makes this shape in many of her drawings:


I call it a vessel.


Sometimes she arranges them
in a specific way on the page.


Sometimes they are part of the overall design.


Sometimes she fills them.


And sometimes she spills them.

Most of the time, Nancy’s drawings are non-representational,
an expression of her emotional climate,
an expression of how she’s feeling
and her response to what’s happening around her.
But sometimes
people see shapes they recognize.
I always enjoy hearing what people see
or how Nancy’s drawings make them feel
or what they think about when they gaze upon her drawings.


Usually I like her drawings for the color choices she makes


or the intensity


or the movement.

But two of her most recent drawings made me wonder


if she was drawing a palm tree


perhaps the one that’s at the front door
of the ARC where she spends her days.


And a pumpkin
an artsy pumpkin.


And, well, this one tickles me
because I see an entire story.
Or at least a vignette.
Do you see it, too?

88: Will This Be the Day She Breaks Loose?

IMG 9144

There she is, stalled at the top of the big falls,
relocated during a particularly rainy season
a couple of years ago.

The Engineer plots and plans
how he can cut it up so it will flow on down,
but I tell him No
and point out how she has become much to many:

Surprise plants and mosses now call her home in the summer.
Snowflakes gather on her back in the winter.
And best of all, she is the grand metaphor
for my writing life
as she sits perched, hovering on the edge.

87: No Tricks, Just Treats


Dr. Seuss
a convict
a princess or two
Minnie Mouse
the court jester
Robin Hood
a pumpkin
a leprechaun
Captain America
(who stayed pretty close
to the refreshment table)
attended the party.

Several witches were in attendance.
The one with the green face
and long black nose
kept her candy bucket draped
over her left arm
for safekeeping
while her right hand ate popcorn
without stopping.

Some wore helmets
and knee pads
but not as costumes.
They wear helmets and pads every day
cause they tend to fall a lot.

Nobody surveyed the crowd
making snide comments about how
somebody danced
or what they wore
or who they were sitting beside
or how many bags of popcorn they’d already devoured.
These people just rejoiced in being alive,
dancing with each other
dancing in groups
dancing with themselves,
dancing on their feet
dancing in their seats
dancing in their wheelchairs.
And those whose feet don’t work quite right
danced with their hands.

The music was loud
and the music was constant.
Quicker than the best contestant
who ever won Name That Tune,
partygoers went wild with
excitement and enthusiasm
at the sound of The Lazy Song
by Bruno Mars,
flooding the entire room
with joyful gyrations
and gleeful singing along.
Nancy and Mona
and The Leprechaun
and Robin Hood
and I
and sang
at the top of our lungs,
our arms thrown in the air,
our heads turned up to the sky
as we sang about being one big fat
lazy bum,
(something that obviously
has universal appeal).

Those who can speak
sang the words
(theirs or Bruno’s, no matter)
and those who can’t speak
hummed or moaned
or made whatever sound
that just happened to fall out.

We attended Nancy’s Halloween party today,
The Engineer and I did,
and let me tell you:
it was the happiest,
shortest (time just flew by)
most satisfying party I’ver ever been to.

86: Real Estate in my Heart


Several people asked me to marry them around the same time. Five, to be exact.

I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with The Engineer, but because I’d known him the least amount of time (only two months), I sat with my pen and paper and listed the pros and cons of each young man then compared them to my list of things I was looking for in a husband, a life mate. The Engineer won that competition, hands down.

Forty-two years later, I still love everything about him I listed that day. Plus one very important item I didn’t know to list then: Nancy. Marrying Andy brought Nancy into my life, and I’d’ve married him for that one reason alone.

85: Summer Reading



While spending a week with Aunt Rene
Zayre’s Department Store
Many summers ago

Aunt Rene: Here’s two quarters for you, Darlin’. Don’t they shine pretty? You can almost put your lipstick on looking’ in ’em. With these two quarters, you can buy anything you want in this store . . . as long as it doesn’t cost more than 50 cents.

Jeanne: This is what I want, Aunt Rene.

Aunt Rene: Little Women. You want a book?

Jeanne: Yes ma’am.

Aunt Rene: Sure is a thick book.

Jeanne: Yes ma’am. I like those best. I can read it this week.

Aunt Rene: Don’t you want something else?

Jeanne: No ma’am. This is what I want.

Aunt Rene: You’re sure?

Jeanne: Yes ma’am. Really sure.

As I gave the cashier my two quarters (It took a while ’cause the cashier had to put on her sunglasses to get a good enough look through the shine to tell they were, in fact, quarters.), Aunt Rene’s head went side to side, as though scanning to make sure she didn’t see anybody she knew. Or, more to the point, that nobody she knew saw us.

The cashier rang up the sale, put my book in a bag, and before it touched my eager hands, Aunt Rene intercepted it and asked the cashier, “Would you please double bag that for us, Darlin’?”

Wasn’t long after that shopping trip that Aunt Rene started paying close attention to my bowel moments. Maybe she got “Are you regular?” confused with “You just ain’t right.” I think we can all see how that could happen.

84: How I Spent My Saturday


“If I live to be 100,” he said too many times to count, “I’ll never forget the feel of that cold, metal gun barrel against the back of my head.” Daddy didn’t live to be 100, but I have no doubt he was right: he’d have forgotten his own name before he forgot the bandit holding the gun to his head as he, an adorable little 5 year old boy, woke up and raced to the outhouse, having forgotten that the bad men were there.

Guns are a common thread running through my family history.

On the paternal side of things, I have a way-back relative who was Sheriff, and when his re-election campaign heated up with his opponent closing in, he shot and killed his competition. As you may have guessed, he lost the election.

On the maternal side, my granddaddy was a Revenue Agent and Sheriff, so guns were tools of his career. Granddaddy taught my male cousins about gun safety and how to shoot a gun while we girls were inside with Grandmother, learning to bake a cake.

My only personal experience with guns was when Larry P. and I shot tin cans off rocks, calling it a date. On another date, we shot mistletoe from treetops to use for . . . . um . . . . decorations. Yeah, that’s it: Christmas decorations.

But all this changed on Saturday when I spent eight hours learning about North Carolina’s gun laws, gun safety, and gun proficiency. There was a written test and a shooting proficiency exam. I had to shoot 10 rounds from 3 yards, 10 more rounds from 5 yards, and 10 rounds from 7 yards away from the target. I had to show that I knew how to identify the parts of a gun and demonstrate that I knew how to load, grip, and reload three or four different guns.

The course was taught by a knowledgeable and personable retired South Carolina highway patrolman, and The Engineer and I were the only ones in the class, but I don’t mind telling you that I was scared. I was scared of failing the written test, failing the gun handling demonstration, and ultimately failing the shooting proficiency exam. I was terrified of taking my ear muffs off prematurely.


But I didn’t. I breathed through the written test, muddled through the demonstration part, and once I tuned out the instructor’s talking and took matters into my own hands, heeding what my own body knew to be right for me, passed the shooting proficiency test with flying colors. I stayed in the targeted area, and some of my bullets went through holes previously made, just like on tv. (And I followed the advice of my friend, Francis Cavendar, putting my ear protectors on before getting out at the range and leaving them on till we were back in the truck headed home.)

Saturday, you see, was step one in getting my North Carolina Conceal Carry Permit, and thanks to the instructor and the required course, I know much more about guns than I did on Friday night. During the class, I remembered how, using only my voice and upper body strength, I once saved my purse and The Engineer’s car when a would-be thief attacked me in a bookstore parking lot in Atlanta one night. I hope I never have to use a gun to protect myself or others, but I am now confident that I know the legal definition of deadly force as well as when I can and cannot use it. Said another way: I now have a few rounds in the chamber.

Which may or may not be a metaphor.

83: Barns: Workhorse of the Farm, Grand Ladies of the Field


Granddaddy Hewell feeding the chickens
in one of the many barns he and his sons built

Granddaddy, Daddy, and Uncle Gene built barns – several of them. Before I was born, many barns housed chickens, but barns are versatile through the ages. As a young girl of nesting age, I transformed Uncle Gene’s shop and the center room with the most delicious farm sink you can imagine into my own apartment playhouse. Later, during my horse phase, another barn became home to Pet, my Shetland Pony. Then as I blossomed into my Save Every Living Creature phase, the other side of my playhouse barn became home to rabbits. Two at first, but by day three, I counted 200.

I became acquainted with my first scorpion in the barn farthest away, so that’s all you’ll hear about that barn.

I loved those barns with the gray seasoned wood, the smell of freshly baled hay, earth, and horses, the shop where Uncle Gene made lamps and repaired tractors and his motorbike before he was killed. I lovingly dusted and cleaned everything there, including the jars that screwed into their tops that Uncle Gene had nailed to the bottom of a shelf to hold his nails, screws, and whatnots.

I especially loved sweeping those concrete floors – even the floors under the rabbit cages. I’ve always loved sweeping.

The exteriors of Granddaddy Ballard’s barns, with their pieces of tin and the occasional Pepsi signs painted silver tacked on to cover holes and gaps between the boards, became the outdoor equivalent of Grandmother’s patchwork quilts. Granddaddy Ballard used one barn as his garage, parking his faded red Ford sedan in one side of a barn and his green Chevrolet pick-up truck with a hole in the floorboard in the other side. His mule called the barn behind that barn home, and it had a concrete water trough the size of a claw-foot bathtub with a spigot just the right height for me to turn and fill up the trough with cool, fresh water. A third barn had a place on the side where cows were kept, and a ramp where they walked into the back of a truck. The smokehouse was a dark, aromatic place with slabs of bacon and sides of hams hanging from the ceiling, curing. Granddaddy stored wooden cases of Co-Colas in the smokehouse.

Barns hold much real estate in my heart, and though we had a very specific destination on Friday, nostalgia ruled the day as we drove through bucolic countryside filled with barns and cows and pastures and hills and tractors. I swooned. A lot.











82:Making is Playing is Making


Did you ever iron crayons between sheets of wax paper to make stained glass?
Me, too.

Did you ever carve your initials into a tree?
Me, too.
And the initials of your love du jour – did you carve them into the tree, too?
Yep, raising my hand on that one.

Did you get Highlights magazines delivered to your home? Did you go straight to the Hidden Pictures page
Me, too.

Did you ever melt bars of Gulf Wax paraffin and pour it into milk cartons to make candles?
Me, too.
And ice. Did you ever fill a milk carton with ice then pour melted bars of Gulf Wax paraffin over it to make candles with holes?
Yeah, I did, too.
How ’bout this: did you ever melt bars of Gulf Wax paraffin, whip it with a beater, and “ice” the candles you made from milk cartons?
Me, too.

Did you love to finger paint?
I did, too! And when my chiclets were teensy, I let them finger paint on the tray to their high chairs. (Mostly they painted themselves, though.)

Did you ever order an antiquing kit from the Sears and Roebuck catalog and give your furniture a make-over?
Me, too! And wooden boxes, too, like the one shown here that belonged to my mother when she was a little girl.

Did you ever take a pencil and swoop it back and forth across a blank sheet of paper, filling it with infinity signs then go back and color in the spaces created?
Yeah, I did, too. (Still do sometimes.)

Did you make necklaces from macaroni and shoe strings?
I didn’t . . . but I still have the one my brother Jerry made for me.

How ’bout bird houses made form popsicle sticks – did you make those?
Not birdhouses, but I did make a basket from popsicle sticks. Does that count?

Did you make irises from sheer silk fabric, wire, and glue?
I did. We even held parties to make silk irises. (Mama Helen still has hers.)

Did you watch Captain Kangaroo and make things right along with Mr. Green Jeane and Dancing Bear?
You guessed it – I did, too! AND I stole emptied borrowed a shoebox from Mother’s closet and used it to store my art supplies in so I was always ready.

Did you ever write and stage plays in your living room?
Why, yes I did. There was only one other house on our road, so I cast Carla and Gordon then charged all our parents a nickel to attend the grand opening.

Did you ever use yarn to stitch pretty pictures on burlap?
Yep, me, too.

Did you love to finger paint?
I did, too! And when my chiclets were teensy, I let them finger paint on the tray to their high chairs. (Mostly they painted themselves, though.)

Did you ever pick dandelions and giggle with delight as they flew into the wind?
Yes, I surely did.

Making art and playing really isn’t something you outgrow, you know.

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