This poem was published in A Book of the Year 2017, the anthology of first place poems from the Poetry Society of Texas annual contests. Now that it’s July, when we’re steeped in Texas summer, it seems like a good time to share it with you. Plus, I just got home from spending a few days with my wonderful family, so I’m feeling a bit nostalgic. I hope “That Summer” takes you back to some of your favorite summer memories.
I sat on a threadbare pink towel
on top of the ice cream maker
my dad and grandfather
taking turns at the crank
slicing homegrown peaches
my fingers stained
from hammering black walnuts
on the anvil in the backyard
the skin of my palms raw
from gripping the rope swing
in the hackberry tree
my mom in shorts and sandals
a glass of iced tea
sweating in her hand
my brother eating
a smile of watermelon
juice dripping down his chin
lightning bugs blinking
a slow Morse code
hummingbirds in the trumpet vine
bare feet and dirty knees
and the voices of my family
hovering in a comforting cloud
I’d like to reach back
and catch that summer
in an empty pickle jar
poke holes in the lid
and keep it for a while
warm and safe in my hands
Author’s Note: Before I begin, I would like to say that I have nothing but love and respect for the participants in this adventure. They are all kind-hearted, intelligent people, despite how they may appear in this story. You’ll have to trust me on this.
Author’s Note, Part 2: The following story really creates more questions than answers. There’s nothing I can do about that, but I apologize for it in advance.
The Tale of the Christmas Bat
This year, Hubby and I traveled to Maryland to visit his family for Christmas. We arrived at 11pm on the 22nd, hung out with his mom and brother for a bit, then went to bed. At that point, everything in his mom’s beautiful, two-story home seemed perfectly normal.
The next morning, Hubby got up before I did and went downstairs for breakfast, where his mom greeted him by saying, “I lost your bat.”
The following conversation ensued:
Hubby’s Mom: “I lost your bat.”
Hubby’s Mom: “I lost your bat!”
Hubby: “Um… what?”
Hubby’s Mom: “I lost your bat. I poked it with a yard stick and it fell on the floor clicking and hissing but then I lost it.”
Hubby: “You poked… wait, something fell… wait, what?”
Hubby’s Mom: “I LOST YOUR BAT. I took it up to your bathroom to get you back but it flew back down here and I lost it.”
Hubby’s Mom: “I lost your bat.”
Hubby: “Uh, Mom? I think you have a bat in your house.”
Hubby’s Mom: …
Hubby: “Mom! You have a BAT in your HOUSE!”
Hubby’s Mom: …
If you’re confused, you’re not alone. Allow me to back up.
When Hubby’s Mom got up on the 23rd, she saw her cat staring at a bat stuck to the top of her kitchen cabinet, and she automatically jumped to the conclusion that her sons were playing a joke on her. She poked the bat with a yard stick, and it fell on the floor, where it hissed and opened and closed its claws. She still thought it was a toy, so she picked it up with an oven mitt, carried it upstairs, and put it on the toilet in our bathroom. A few minutes later, the bat flew out of the bathroom, flapped its way back downstairs, and made a couple of loops around the dining room before disappearing from sight, and Hubby’s Mom still thought it was a toy.
The woman is no dummy, I assure you. But she can be a bit stubborn. Another Christmas, she gave me an adorable penguin necklace and said, “I got it for you because I know how much you love the movie Happy Feet.” When I confessed that I’d never actually seen Happy Feet, she tried to convince me that I had and that Hubby told her I loved it, until finally Hubby’s Brother chimed in that it was actually his ex-girlfriend who loved the movie, at which point there was an awkward silence, and I said, “Um, well, I love the necklace. Thanks.” Anyway, you can see why it was difficult for Hubby’s Mom to accept the fact that she had a real live bat in her house, especially after she had CARRIED IT AROUND.
By this time, the arguing, screaming, and hysterical laughing had woken both me and Hubby’s Brother, and we joined in the HUNT FOR THE BAT.
Hubby’s Mom’s house is two stories, plus a basement. It has four bedrooms, three bathrooms, two living areas, a dining room, a kitchen, and a sunroom. And a bat. Somewhere. Now that she knew the thing was real, Hubby’s Mom was freaking out about it. She wanted that thing OUT OF HER HOUSE before the rest of the family showed up for Christmas Eve.
While we looked high and low, poking around in every nook and cranny, the conversation went something like this:
Hubby’s Mom: “I CANNOT HAVE A BAT IN MY HOUSE AT CHRISTMAS!”
Hubby’s Brother: “Why didn’t you just throw it outside when you picked it up?”
Hubby’s Mom: “Because I thought it was fake! I thought you all were playing a joke on me!”
Hubby: “Why would you think we would put a fake bat on your kitchen cabinet?”
Hubby’s Mom: “Remember ten years ago and when you and your brother snuck downstairs on Christmas Eve and put that giant nutcracker by the Christmas tree?”
Hubby’s Brother: “THAT’S NOT THE SAME THING AT ALL!”
There was no sign of the bat, which, based on Hubby’s Mom’s description and my Google searches, we concluded was probably a Little Brown Bat. While we all stood around in various states of bafflement (Hubby & Hubby’s Brother), frustration (Hubby’s Mom), and amusement (me) wondering where the bat could be, Hubby’s Mom’s cat calmly walked into the dining room, jumped onto a low wall separating the dining room from the entryway, stood on his hind legs, and stretched his front paws up a decorative column.
Hmm…, we all thought.
A ladder and a flashlight later, and yep, the cat was right. One corner of the hollow column had a hole in it, and the bat was nestled cozily inside.
Now we knew where the bat was, but still didn’t know how to safely escort it from the premises.
Asking it nicely.
Banging on the column.
Bribing it with (false) promises of bags of mosquitoes.
Taping a garbage bag around the hole and waiting for it to fly out into the bag and get stuck there.
Twenty-four hours later, on Christmas Eve, we still had a bat, only now there were five more people in the house to stare it and wonder aloud why it had come and when it might leave. Eventually we read online that the bat might be finding a place to hibernate, and Hubby’s Mom was having none of that. She couldn’t deal with the bat for one more day, much less until spring, so decisions were made, plans were formed, and coat hangers were bent into non-pokey, bat-removing shapes.
Hubby, who had the longest arms of anyone present, climbed up on the ladder, removed the plastic bag, reached into the hole with the coat hanger, and gently nudged the bat. The bat did not move. However, it did squeak, hiss, and bite the coat hanger. Hubby nudged it less gently. There was more hissing and biting and squeaking (but this time the squeaking was from me). Finally, after four attempts, the bat became fed up with Hubby’s poking and decided to leave. He/She flew out of the hole, around the dining room, and into the family room where it landed on the wall above the fire place. We moved the ladder, and Hubby climbed up. Wearing two oven mitts, he grabbed the bat with a towel, carried it outside, and set it free, to much applause from the rest of us (and probably a few curses from the bat). Then we all washed our hands for several minutes.
(P.S. I told you it would leave you with questions. You were warned.)
(P.P.S. Could anyone point me in the direction of a really realistic remote-controlled bat? Asking for a friend…)
Things I am thankful for this holiday season:
I am thankful that Hubby’s Mom’s cats are up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations.
I am thankful that Hubby’s Mom used an oven mitt to pick up the bat even when she thought the bat was a toy.
I am thankful that Hubby’s Mom did not decide to get us back for our “clever prank” by throwing the “toy bat” on us while we were sleeping.
I am thankful that everyone survived the visit from the Christmas bat, including the Christmas bat.
I am thankful that, this Christmas, my husband’s family actually seemed weirder than mine.
********** DISCLAIMER **********
NEVER TOUCH A BAT! Many bats carry rabies, which is a horrible, fatal disease and a terrible Christmas gift. If you find a bat in your house, you should definitely call a professional to deal with it rather than setting up homemade traps and ruining oven mitts. We Juettners were lucky and stayed out of harm’s way, but I do not condone our methods. Please don’t be like us. Stay safe. Also, I’m typing this added disclaimer on my phone, so any typos are most likely the result of clumsy thumbs and not early onset rabies, so please don’t worry.
I recently became a member of Uncommon, a young online community that calls itself “a front porch for the internet.” In creating my Uncommon profile, I was asked to write about some of my favorite things. The first one that came to mind was Halloween. This is what I wrote:
I was born on Halloween. Long before I arrived, my family celebrated this holiday with gusto—costumes, pumpkins, and scares for all ages. As a kid, my birthday parties were always held at home, at our house with its acre-sized backyard full of old sheds and forts and other good places to haunt. When night fell, the costumed party guests had to follow the trail of jack-o-lanterns through the backyard, reading creepy notes and encountering masked ghouls and terrifying traps at every turn. This was my favorite time of the year. After a hiatus when there were no appropriately-aged children in the family, we started the Halloween parties up again, though now I am on the other side of the horror. I set the traps. I wear the masks. I write the notes that lead the new generation of victims down the trail of jack-o-lanterns. I haunt my childhood home with pride. It’s still my favorite time of year.
Despite the fact that I’ve eaten way too much sugar this week, Halloween for me as never been about the candy. And although I like horror movies and ghost stories, it’s not really about those either. What makes this holiday special is the way my family celebrates it.
For me, Halloween is opening up cobwebby crates and breathing in the musty smell of ghosts that haven’t seen the light of day in a year. It’s watching my dad pose a dummy with careful precision, adjusting the gloves and boots just so. It’s listening to my brother brainstorm outlandish schemes for scaring his children. (Don’t worry, they’re fine.) It’s watching my mom hang “the witch’s laundry” on the clothesline and hearing my three-year-old niece quote Bram Stoker. “Beware! The dead travel fast!” (Yes, she really does this.) Halloween is running around the backyard at night with my cousin, wondering why it still creeps us out even though we know who the monsters are. It’s seeing my aunt’s costume for the first time. She never tells us what she’s going to be and it’s always something awesome. Halloween means smiling at my husband as he shakes his head at the rest of us. Sometimes I think he must feel like he married into the Addams Family.
It’s looking out into the dark and seeing the glow of a jack-o-lantern face. It’s pointing my flashlight at a homemade tombstone and saying, “Uh-oh… this one’s for you.” It’s removing our masks at the end of the party and all talking at once, each and every monster and victim sharing his or her story and battle scars.
Halloween, to me, means screams and laughter in equal measure.
October is drawing to a close. My family celebrated early this year, and the party was another one for the record books. Everyone survived despite what their tombstones said. Tomorrow is Halloween, and I’ll be at home, handing out candy to trick-or-treaters, scaring them with my fake spiders and bubble wrap, and hoping that they’re having at least a fraction of the fun I had when I was their age.
Happy Halloween, everyone! And thanks for celebrating with me all month. If you missed any of my October posts, you can catch up here:
Next month I’ll be taking a bit of a break from blogging. I’m sure I won’t be completely silent, but it’s time I buckle down and get some serious work done. When it comes to real fear, ghosts and goblins have got nothing on deadlines and word counts. I’ll miss you though! And I promise to be back soon.