you should have told me what plan b was

Dear Ma:

Happy Mother’s Day! I hope Rick showed up and is making you laugh. There were a bunch of Dr Peppers at his going away party, so maybe he was able to sneak one in for you. I suspect heaven is one of those hoity toity sparkling water places. Although the Dr Peppers went pretty fast, so he might have just shown up with a moon pie. Texans on a hot day, you know.

Wow. The numbers are dwindling here. I don’t think I’ll ever get over Rick leaving. He was going to be the rock I tied myself onto when the storms hit. And now I find myself floating aimlessly into the abyss, clutching Mike’s ankle.

I can hear you now. Plan B! Go to Plan B! But you didn’t tell me what that is. Mandy is ailing and the cat’s on her 12th life. It’s just us and Mike and Laura and some Oreos, which are sitting way too close to me at work and don’t stand a chance of making it to Mother’s Day Proper. Sorry.

I miss you so much. I want to hear you say HO HO! in that funny way and prank me one more time for April Fool’s Day. I promise I’d fall for it. I want to show up unannounced to see the surprise on your face. I want to give you a little smooch on the forehead. Is that too much to ask?

The cement frog still lives next to the front door, a little reminder of your silliness. Mandy still says “I miss your mom” about 20 times a day. Me too.

For Rick’s party, they assembled a bunch of old photos. Remember the one of us at Six Flags over Texas? What the heck were you thinking when you dressed me in that costume? I suspect you never forgave me for not being a girl. But that’s OK.

And now our little family is littler still.

I hope you’re OK and you don’t mind that my hair got kinda long. If it’s any consolation, I yell at Mandy about wearing jeans with holes in them. People will think we can’t afford nice clothes, I tell her. Just so I can hear your voice echoing back from my childhood. I miss you so much. I might have said that already.

I hope the world survives the next year. If not, maybe I’ll see you soon. I’ll bring another Dr Pepper.

Anyhow, happy Mother’s Day. I love you. Thanks for being my mom.


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all you need to know about mo: a photo essay

Mo is illustrating a story about Little Red Riding Hood for a children’s magazine. She has a very limited timespan for working before her hand starts to hurt too much, so efficiency is critical.

When I look over her shoulder, she’s drawing Little Red Riding Hood as an alligator, which won’t work for the assignment.

I ask Mo why she’s drawing it.

“Because it makes me happy,” she says.

Me too.

And that is all you need to know about Mo.

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things i wish i had said, part 100

“There is no reason why good cannot triumph as often as evil. The triumph of anything is a matter of organization. If there are such things as angels, I hope that they are organized along the lines of the Mafia.”
— the prophet kurt vonnegut

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the quotable mo sheppo, part 36

“If I take drugs, do you think I can paint?”

Funny, I always thought this was a prerequisite for painting.

Still waiting to see if she’ll be able to play piano.

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you had to be there

We said goodbye to Rick on the farm in Ballinger. We admired the little stage he and Mike built, the outhouse with Mo’s artwork, the bridge where June said he took his last stroll, the old car still waiting for him. We left some mementos to join his ashes on the hill, and Kate read a few of his Spur Creek Farm blog posts written under his Badger Bob pseudonym. The secret blog, in which he shared the tales of glorious solitude in a tiny West Texas desert oasis, was lost in the digital abyss (typewriters and paper, kids! typewriters and paper!), but Kate was able to hack up a few of them. As it turns out, along with being a fine farmhand and world-class pingpong hustler, he was also a pretty good writer. Who knew? This one was my favorite.

One of the farm’s best – and worst – features is the lack of “connection.” Out there, you have no land lines, no Wi-Fi and very little cellphone coverage (you have to be standing in exactly the right place at the right time.) If you’re by yourself and break an ankle or pause under a falling limb, you may have a long, lonely wait until someone comes looking.

The upside?

The silence is deafening. The 3-D, widescreen view, even better than Blu-ray, almost seems too much. Too colorful. Too big. Too real.

The farm is small and compact. A few fields, a creek (when it rains), a small hill, pastures filled with mesquites and cactus and rocks. At first glance it’s not much to look at. But it’s full of surprises. Wonderful moments. Moments of grace.

A great blue heron lives on the middle creek. Watching it lift off – slowly, at first, skimming the water, then faster and higher – beats any televised rocket launch.

An armadillo lives farther up the hill. He’s cagey and keeps his distance, but if you’re quiet and patient and lucky, you’ll see him snuffling among the cactus, scratching and rustling.

A small tribe of deer visit the creek for water, then spend the afternoon in a thicket. It’s hard to sneak up on them. Get within 50 yards, and they’re off, bounding across the scrubby pasture, then leaping over the fence, more graceful and lovely than any ballet performance.

The best sights are the rarest.

Only once have I seen a horned toad on the farm.

Only once have I seen a red fox.

Only once have I seen a scrawny bobcat.

Rattlesnakes? A dime a dozen. The most memorable was the one who got caught up in a chicken wire fence, half in, half out. I cautiously approached, afraid he might pop out at any moment. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to a snake outdoors. He knew he was in a bad way, but even so, bravely fought back, writhing and rattling, hissing and twisting, defiant to the end.

For the longest, my most memorable moment at the farm was walking through a cloud of monarch butterflies. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of monarchs had settled in a grove at the top of the hill. Alarmed by me, they took to the air, fluttering all around. I swear I could feel the wind from their wings on my face.

Recently, the farm raised the bar. Chopping mesquite on the hill, I heard a peculiar sound. I have no idea how to describe it. It sounded close. Alarmingly close. I scanned the pasture looking for signs. Nothing. Then I looked up.

An even dozen geese in tight formation flew overhead, making an unforgettable squawking honk sound. It seemed to last forever. An amazing sight. I thought I might never see another like it at the farm.

Then another group, so many I couldn’t count them, flew over. Then another and another and another. Some tightly aligned, others spread out.

My first thought was, “If I had my camera, I could put this on the internet.”

But that wouldn’t be the same.

You had to BE there, feet on ground, feeling the sun, smelling the wind. Hearing the high-pitched hellos as moments of grace fly by, one after another, after another.

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