On Renovations, Both Home and Human

It’s a hell of a thing to rip up your flooring to find a sizable joist cracked right in half.

Late in the COVID-19 quarantine, my wife and I decided to start a much-needed home renovation, planning to do the work ourselves with some help from my dad, who’s a lifelong carpenter. After eight weeks of doing as little as we could manage, we opted to begin repairing and replacing the floor in our kitchen, living room, and hallway. Right around the same time, my boss at the coffee shop called me and asked if I’d like to return to work, seeing as the air started to clear and Tennessee began to reopen. Because I love my job, and because I was starting to get fatigued from reading sci-fi books all day, I said yes. Suddenly, and in stark contrast to the week before, I found myself with much to do.

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As the morning light flooded through my bedroom window, I realized today would have been my grandfather’s ninety-first birthday. Though he passed away four years ago, I can still hear his laughter, his deep baritone voice, and see the image of his open Bible resting on his lap. 

When I was growing up we lived nine hours away from my grandparents’ one-stoplight town in Arkansas. My brother and I looked forward to these visits for weeks. Their home was quaint, with a lovely porch and swing. Bright flowers, in shades of pink, purple, and white lined the sidewalk. As soon as we pulled into their gravel drive, we leaped out of the car and met them with big hugs and squeals of excitement. Almost immediately upon our arrival, we climbed up into the back of Papa’s pickup truck to head to the grocery store for what Papa called our Little Debbie Run. He let my brother and I choose our very own box of any Little Debbie snack we wanted.

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Walking the Line

“If you’re going to take a walk, you might as well walk the fence,” he said. “And I know it’ll be down, so better take clips and a hammer and nails, and a spool of barbed wire in the Ranger, and I better come with you.”

I put my book away, switched out my boots, and got a hat and gloves. 

The thing about fencing is you have to keep so everlastingly at it. 

We had saved our trees and money on fence posts by running the fence through the woods. This was what one might call a heart and not a head decision, and we’ve paid for it with our hands. Trees fall, limbs break and you can add barbed wire to the list of things that aren’t what they once were. If we find an old line from a hundred years ago, we can often still use it, but our new lines may not last ten years. The cows walk the fence looking for a weak spot, and when they find it, they lean on it. It is such a peaceful form of undermining–just a weight and a give in the line, day after day until the line sags and the smaller ones get through. Then, all hell breaks loose.

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Out of the Depths

Today began unexpectedly. I was awakened by my own labored breathing and pounding heart as the memories of last year’s Good Friday flooded my mind. 

Exactly one year ago, I had an appointment set for an ultrasound with the high–risk pregnancy clinic. After speaking with my obstetrician and the clinic, I was reassured that this would more than likely be my only visit with them. They were just taking proper precautions due to my age and previous pregnancy, which had resulted in the premature birth of our first son. I was very relaxed. I even told my husband to stay home with our one-year-old so he could eat breakfast and I would be back home in plenty of time for him to make it to work. We had no idea this appointment would turn out to be a matter of life and death. My baby would be delivered via emergency C-section at just twenty-six weeks, weighing less than two pounds.

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Surviving the Pandemic as an Artist

Self Portraits 2020 by Tony Sobota

2020 started off so promising.  Our son had a meltdown-free 1st birthday party, the Titans kept Tom Brady and the Patriots from another Super Bowl, and by March I was having my best year of art sales on record.  A little over two months later, 2020 has been canceled.  Our son now eats adult amounts of food, Tom Brady broke up with Bill Belichick, and like many full-time artists COVID-19 just deleted half my income.  So far.  

While surviving as an artist under normal circumstances invites challenges, the pandemic has multiplied them.  I rely on art, music, and street festivals for a majority of my annual income, so every cancelation brings greater urgency to change my business model.  However, I also need to keep the lights on in the meantime.  I’ve had several commissions come in to help me break even, thankfully,   but since these projects require the bulk of my time I’m currently in a sort of catch-22.  I’m struggling to pivot my business while simultaneously paying the bills—not to mention keeping my “inner artist” from burning out.

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Bird’s Egg

It’s spring and that means periodically coming across empty bird shell fragments as we walk our property looking at the world coming back to life after its winter sleep.  I get excited every time I see one. The thought of the new life fills me with joy and I get a slight thrill. I also hardly ever come across one of these shells when a hazy memory of long ago doesn’t overtake me. 

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