“Halloween, Good and Bad,” Oct. 22, 2019

I have a lover’s quarrel with Halloween. There are things I like about it and things I don’t. Which, come to think of it, is also how I feel about myself and at least half the people I know.

(Note: The above statement does not apply to you. We may never have met, you and I, but if we had the pleasure, I’m sure I’d like everything about you.)

Here are a few things I like about Halloween:

1. I like candy. I’m not proud of it, but there it is. I like having an excuse to buy a monster-size sack of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, presumably to hand out to trick-or-treaters, when I know perfectly well I’m going to eat half those cups myself. I’d eat them all if my husband didn’t hog the other half.

2. I like seeing the costumes people choose to wear when they can wear anything they choose. I like to see little people, like my grandkids, pretend to be big, and big people, like my husband, pretend to be little. It’s fun. And I like fun a lot.

3. I like having neighbors and friends and people I don’t know come knocking on my door with their adorable children, all happy and excited and not trying to sell me something. That doesn’t happen very often except at Halloween. I’ll even share my husband’s half of the Peanut Butter Cups with them.

Here are a few things I don’t like about Halloween:

1. I don’t like tricks. Except the ones I played on my brothers when I was too young to know better, and on my children, when I was old enough to have better sense, but couldn’t resist. Never mind what those tricks were. I don’t like the kind of tricks that hurt people or animals or property, or make somebody clean up a mess. If you’ve ever been egged, or toilet-papered or cherry-bombed, you know what I mean.

2. I don’t like being scared. Life is scary enough without making it scarier. My older sister loved to scare people, especially me. When she was 12, she put a sheet over her head and tried to scare a neighbor boy, who in turn, tried to kill her with an axe. I saw the whole thing and pulled for the neighbor boy to catch her.

3. I don’t like having to come up with a costume. We all have our gifts, and costuming is not one of mine. No matter what I plan to wear, it’s never very clever, not to mention very comfortable. My best ever idea for a costume was one I made my brother wear when I was 10 and he was 6. I put a sheet over his head (possibly the same sheet my sister nearly got killed in) but didn’t tell him he was a ghost. Joe was totally blind. He didn’t know what a ghost looked like. We went trick-or-treating and when people said to him, “You’re a cute little ghost!,” he would shout, “I’m not a ghost, I’m a mattress!” It’s hard to beat a costume like that.

Every Halloween, I think of a story I heard years ago from a friend. She said she was hiding in her kitchen, pretending not to eavesdrop on her teenage daughter, Kim, who was talking with friends in the living room.

“I never know how to talk to boys,” confessed one of the girls. “I always say the wrong thing!”

Kim offered a solution. “Maybe you’re trying too hard,” she said. “Try to relax and just be yourself!”

Then, after a moment, while everyone thought about that girl being herself, Kim added this: “And if that doesn’t work for you, just be somebody else!”

Costumes don’t change who we are or how we talk to each other. Only we can do that. I like to be who I am: A wife, a mom, a nana, a friend. It works for me. But on Halloween, just for fun, I’ll be Nana Medusa with snakes on my head.

On Halloween and every day, we should always be ourselves and allow others to be who they are, as well. Maybe it will help us, together, as one, be the kind of people we’re meant to be.

“Plans Change,” Oct. 15, 2019

My grandmother used to say, “If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans.” As a child, I couldn’t see why God would find that so funny. But that was before I was old enough to make plans.

As an adult, I often think I probably keep God in stitches. But there was nothing funny in our latest change of plans. Recently, my husband and I were looking forward to going to Los Angeles for a few days to see my son and his wife and their, oh, so adorable 6-month-old.

Those plans were put on hold when we realized we might need to stay home and pack the contents of our freezer and fridge on ice in a cooler.

On Wednesday morning, Oct. 9, with weather forecasts in California calling for extreme winds and low humidity — conditions that would dramatically raise an already high risk of wildfires — Pacific Gas & Electric shut off power to some 700,000 homes or businesses in more than 30 counties in Northern California.

We expected Monterey County, where we live, to be included, but the outage only extended as far south as Silicon Valley. Initially, it was thought it might last a week, but power was restored to most by Friday.

With a sigh of relief, we decided to go to LA after all. We planned to leave Saturday for the five-hour drive. But Thursday night, before bed, I saw a news report about a small wildfire burning near Sylmar, 20 miles west of my son’s home. I started to call him, but didn’t want to wake them. And I didn’t want to seem overly protective, which my kids always say I am.

The next morning I woke early to check the news. The fire had exploded overnight, moving west, closing several highways and forcing evacuations. Winds were gusting over 70 mph.

I called my son. No answer. I left a message: “Call me.”

Minutes later, when he called back, I could hear my grandson babbling in the background. My son assured me they were in no danger, and if that changed, they would leave.

I believed him. When it comes to his wife and child, the boy is even more protective than I am. We agreed it was not a good time to visit, and not just because of the fire and the smoke. Traffic in LA is always bad, but with multiple road closures and 100,000 people under mandatory evacuation orders, it would be insane.

“Keep me posted?” I said, and he promised he would.

While people in Los Angeles fled from the fire, I followed news reports online, from the comfort and safety of my home.

At the same time, 1,000 personnel from Los Angeles’ city and county fire departments, along with crews from CalFire, worked past exhaustion — many of them risking their lives — to stop an inferno and save countless lives and homes.

I’ve always been in awe of the kind of person who is willing to risk everything — to run toward danger, rather than away from it — simply for the good of others.

I wanted to thank them, and their families, personally — to hug their necks and feed them pizza and tell them that they are heroes. They probably already know that. I surely hope so.

On Saturday, the weather cooled, the winds calmed, the fire was about 40 percent contained, and the evacuation orders were lifted.

I’ve never been forced to leave my home, but I’ve known others who’ve had to flee from fires or floods or storms. It’s a sobering reminder of how precious life is, and how quickly it can change.

We will go see my son and his family soon, I hope. As my grandmother would say, “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.”

“My Bossy Big Sister,” Oct. 8, 2019

Once a week or so I call my sister and we talk for an hour. We live 3,000 miles and three time zones apart, and don’t get to see each other often. Not nearly often enough. But we stay in touch as best we can.

If I wait too long to call, she’ll leave me a message: “Sissy, where are you? I hope you’re OK. Call me back soon.”

When I get that message, I call her as soon as possible. If I don’t, I’ll get another message within an hour: “OK, now I’m really worried. Call me, dang it.”

Why are Big Sisters so bossy? Are they born that way or do they just pick it up with age? She is five years my elder, and some of my earliest memories are of her telling me what to do, what to think, what to wear and most of all, how to do my hair.

When I was 7, the night before my first day of second grade, she put her hands on her hips and said, “You cannot go to school looking like that!”

I didn’t know what “that” meant, but I could tell by her tone it wasn’t good. I looked the same as I did every day: Short auburn hair chopped off below my ears; brown eyes that could turn green; and a hand-me-down dress that used to be hers and had seen much better days.

“What’s wrong with me?”

She rolled her eyes. “We have to do something with your hair.”

She stuck my head in the sink, washed it, rinsed it and wrapped it in a towel. Then she combed out the tangles and twisted little sections into pin curls that she fastened to my scalp with our mother’s bobby pins.

My sister’s name is Barbara, but I always call her Bobbie. I thought those hair pins were named for her. To this day, when I see one, I picture her. After she pinned the last curl, she counted them: 52, exactly.

“Can I go play now?”

“No! We have to dry it!”

She stuck my head in her prized bouffant hair dryer and made me suffer for an hour. And if that wasn’t enough, she made me sleep on those pins all night. The next morning, she pulled out the pins, one by one, and tried to comb out the curls. But each time she stretched one out, it would spring right back to my scalp.

I looked like a sheep. One that had stuck its hoof in an electrical outlet.

She felt bad, I could tell. But she still refused to sit with me on the bus. I don’t remember much about school that day. But thanks to my sister, I’m certain I made a lasting impression.

I could tell you a hundred stories about her, besides all the ones I’ve already told. She’d be glad to tell you a few about me, but she’d be making them up.

These days, when I call, she doesn’t ask about my hair. We compare aches and pains and medications and the weather and what we ate for supper.

We talk about our blind brother, who lives near her, how he’s feeling, what he’s up to. She asks about my family and I ask about hers. Not much changes in a week, so we repeat a lot. But we’re forgetful, so it seems new.

I listen to what she says, and to what she doesn’t say, and I pay close attention to her tone. Sometimes the way we say something speaks more clearly than the words we use.

I try to make her laugh at least once before we hang up. She does that for me without even trying.

She often asks, “When are you coming home for a visit?”

My answer is usually, “Soon as I can, but not real soon.”

Every call ends the same way. We both say, “Love you, Sissy.”

We come from a long line of storytellers, so our calls often include stories like the pin curl tale. Or how she lost her wig in the bumper cars. Or the time she tried to shoot me because I poured a Pepsi down her pants.

I haven’t reminded her of the pin curl tale in ages. Maybe I’ll call while she’s asleep and leave a message: “Remember when you put 52 pin curls in my hair? It’s still frizzy. Call me, dang it.”

“An Unbelievable Day,” Oct. 1, 2019

Some days are almost too much to believe. You’ve had days like that, right? Let me tell you about mine.

It started out like any other. I woke up, got out of bed and stumbled out to the kitchen to push a button to start the coffee. Luckily, I’d remembered the night before to fill the coffee maker with coffee and water. I forget sometimes, but not this day. I took it as a good sign.

While the coffee was brewing, I sat in the living room and stared out at the mountains.

Six months ago, we sold a house I’d loved for almost 50 years, after I found I no longer loved climbing the stairs. We moved 20 miles out of town into a green valley, to a house half as big as the old one, with a nonstop view of the mountains and no stairs.

I miss the old place, but I like the new one a lot. Here’s a little trick I’ve learned. Maybe it will work for you, too. When life throws me a curve, I try to hit it out of the park.

Sorry, I’ve been watching too much baseball. What I meant to say was this: When a change comes along, as it always does, I try to look for things I like about it, rather than for things I don’t. And I usually find plenty to like.

That hasn’t always been the case, but it has been here. Take, for example, the view. I may tire of it someday, but not in the foreseeable future.

From my seat on the sofa, I look west, up the valley toward the coast. I see no houses, only mountains and trees. Also hawks and buzzards and jays and dragonflies and — on closer examination — lizards and beetles the size of your fist. Twice, we have spotted up close (close enough to give us serious pause) a mountain lion.

But that didn’t happen this day. This day was just the usual, bright sun, blue sky, rolling hills and a small patch of fog sneaking in from the coast.

Then my husband handed me a cup of coffee. If I time it right (and I usually do) he gets to the coffee pot before I do. Somehow it tastes better when he pours it.

Have you ever noticed how the first sip of coffee in the morning can you make you just a little gladder to be alive? I remember, as a child, thinking coffee was nasty. I got over that. Of course I also got over eating mudpies and sticking peas up my nose.

That afternoon, I drove to the village for groceries, dodging on the road the valley’s “rush hour traffic”: A flock of wild turkeys and a herd of mule deer.

It was a warm day, too hot to cook, so I grabbed a ripe avocado, a pint of potato salad, two chunks of grilled salmon and a whole pecan pie.

I love that market, not just for its food, but for the people who work there and the people who shop there, too. They all look happy. No hurries, no worries, no dirty looks for being one item over in the 10 items or less line.

The clerk remembered me and said he liked my new haircut. I plan to shop there more often.

I went home and my husband and I ate dinner on the patio. It was good. Especially the pie.

After dinner, we sat in the glider, gliding to and fro, talking about everything and nothing. The sun set in the west, the moon rose in the east, and the stars filled the heavens like pinpricks on a velvet curtain.

I wish you could’ve seen it.

Then we came inside to watch the baseball game my husband had recorded. We are Giants fans, and this has not been their best year. But they won that game, and a win is a win.

Believe it or not, all those things happened. I’m not making them up. I might have missed them, had I not been paying attention.

I’ve seen days, good and bad. So have you. They aren’t all as pleasant as that one. But it’s worth waking up every morning and taking a look around just to see what will happen next.

“True Colors,” Sept. 24, 2019

Fall has long been my favorite time of year. The air cools. The leaves show their true colors. And I crave comfort food.

Growing up in the Carolinas left its mark on me in many ways. I’ve spent most of my life on the coast of California, but I’ve never lost my love for fall.

One of my earliest memories is of an autumn day when I was 4 or 5, visiting my grandparents on their farm in the mountains of North Carolina. It was raining when I arrived. Clouds filled the valley like smoke from a fire.

My grandmother assured me the rain would stop soon and we could go for a walk and pick flowers. I loved doing both of those things with her. So I sat in the porch swing, gliding to and fro, waiting for the rain to stop.

Just when I thought it would rain forever, the clouds parted, the sun broke through and the mountains lit up like Christmas.

I wish you could’ve seen them.

Suddenly, I noticed something strange. In the distance, near the tops of the ridges, trees had turned a fiery red. I ran inside and told my grandmother, “Come quick! The mountains are on fire!”

She hurried after me to take a look. Then she laughed.

“That’s not fire,” she said. “That’s just God painting the leaves for fall.”

I asked for further clarification.

Basically, she said, in the fall, as days grow shorter and cooler, leaves start to lose their chlorophyll — the stuff that makes them green — and we begin to see their true colors, red and orange and yellow.

“So,” I said, “you mean God doesn’t really paint them?”

“It’s a manner of speaking,” she said. “When God paints, he doesn’t always use a brush.”

We took a long walk, telling stories and jumping puddles. On the way back, we picked flowers from her garden — dahlias as big and golden as a baby’s head and gardenias that smelled better than anything on Earth.

Then we went inside, where she started supper on her old wood stove — cornbread and beans and, yes, peach cobbler — while I arranged the dahlias and gardenias in a jar.

It doesn’t take much to make a child feel special. I doubt I’ve ever felt more special than I did with my grandmother.

Today, I decided to write a column about fall. I had no idea where it would take me. I just knew I wanted to write about it. So I began. And it took me to a place that I left long ago, the mountains where I was born.

Some of us feel a connection to the land where we grew up — to mountains and rivers and lakes and plains — that is as real and as binding as anything we’ll ever feel for flesh and blood.

I found myself missing my grandmother and her kitchen and her dahlias and gardenias. Not to mention, her cornbread and beans and peach cobbler.

Just then, I heard a knock at the door. I thought my husband had locked himself out. He does that sometimes.

Imagine my surprise to open the door to my 7-year-old grandson and his mama. Henry wanted to show me the doorbell they’d bought for Halloween, a skeleton’s face with a sticking-out tongue.

“Push the button, Nana,” he said, grinning. So I did, and the skeleton licked my finger. But the main reason they stopped by was to bring me a gift.

“When I saw these,” said my daughter, “I thought of you and wanted you to have them.”

Dahlias and gardenias. I arranged them in a jar and set them on the table.

I wish you could smell them.

It doesn’t take much to make me feel special. My daughter knows me well.

The best gifts are like the best memories: They remind us that we are known and we are loved. They show us our true colors.

Maybe I’ll make cornbread and beans for supper. And top it off with peach cobbler.

“Ask, Listen, Care,” Sept. 17, 2019

It happened years ago, a chance encounter on an airport escalator that lasted for only a few moments. But I’ve never forgotten it. I hope I never will.

My husband and I had cleared security and were on our way to the gate, leaving Las Vegas, our home at the time, to fly to California to visit family.

He’d gotten ahead of me, as he often does when in a rush, and I was wondering exactly how long it would take him to miss me. Finally, at the top of the escalator, he looked down and saw I was just getting on it.

I waved and called “Meet you at the gate!” Then I turned to smile at a man behind me. He looked like a visitor, not a local.

“Did you have fun in Vegas?” I asked. I like to ask questions of strangers on escalators. The answers are always interesting. But this one broke my heart.

The man looked in my eyes, as if weighing how much to tell me. Then he poured out this story.

He had come to Vegas to visit an old friend he’d not seen since they broke up, just before he left to be a pilot in World War II.

“I’d told her not to wait for me. So she married someone else. I went to see her this week because she’s dying. I should have married her 50 years ago.”

I’m not sure what I said to him. I hugged him, which wasn’t easy on an escalator. Then we went our separate ways.

My husband was watching. I told him the story. He said, “He told you that on an escalator?”

“I think he needed to tell someone,” I said. “And I asked.”

Sometimes one question is all it takes to get a friend or a loved one or a total stranger to open up and tell you what they long to tell someone who will care. Often, “How are you?” is enough. For someone you don’t know, try, “Where are you from and what brings you here?”

Show you’re interested, then leave it up to them. If they want to talk, they probably will.

Why should you bother? Well, you shouldn’t, really, unless you care. If you care, that’s reason enough.

We all have different gifts. My husband, for example, is a great editor, a gifted musician and a really good grandpa. Me? I’m pretty good at getting people to talk. My kids claim I wear a sign on my back that says, “Confess.” I love hearing people’s stories. Maybe you do, too?

Here’s another story I hope I’ll never forget. I was 21, newly married to a rookie teacher, on our way to a faculty party, where I would know no one but him. I’d spent hours getting ready, doing my hair and makeup, changing my mind on what to wear a dozen times, only to look (I realized going out the door) no better than I ever did.

I would be meeting people who were smarter, richer and better educated than I was. I wanted to make a good impression. I kept asking myself, what on Earth will they think of me?

The answer came moments before I walked into the party. I heard a voice. I think it was God, but it sounded a lot like my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Camp. She often sounded like God.

“You are whole,” it said. “You have all you need. You don’t need to impress. Just be who you are. Ask questions. Listen to the answers. And care.”

Since then, that voice has whispered that same message to me countless times. I tend to forget it, but it always comes back to remind me. The words may vary, but the meaning remains the same:

To be heard, we need first to listen; to be understood, we need first to understand; to be human, we need always to care.

I still talk a lot. Too much sometimes. And I still wonder what people will think of me. But I try to remember that I am whole, and all I need to do is ask and listen and care. If I forget, the voice reminds me.

So. How are you?

“Remembering 9/11,” Sept. 10, 2019

Eighteen years ago, on Sept. 11, 2001, 19 terrorists hijacked and crashed four U.S. passenger planes, killing all on board and nearly 3,000 on the ground. Two flights hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. The third hit the Pentagon. The fourth crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pa., after passengers and crew tried to stop the hijackers.

Most of us who are old enough to remember that day have a personal story to tell about it. This is mine.

Early that morning, my husband’s father awoke at his home in Stockton, Calif., turned on CNN, and immediately phoned us. While my husband stared in horror at the TV, I tried to call my son in New York.

Josh was living in Manhattan, appearing in a TV series called “Ed.” I had visited him often enough to know his apartment was near the World Trade Center. He drove by those towers every day on his way to the set. I needed to hear his voice and know he was OK.

Phone lines were swamped. I couldn’t get through. There was nothing to do but wait and pray.

At noon, when he finally was able to get a call through to me, he was standing on the balcony of his apartment watching smoke billow up from the World Trade Center. He told me he had watched a firetruck pull out of a station that morning.

“It was loaded with big guys like me,” he said, “hanging on the side of that truck, going to risk their lives to save others.”

He later learned that all 15 of the firemen who were on that truck lost their lives that day.

After we said goodbye, I broke down and cried. I was thankful my son was safe. But my heart was broken for the thousands of lives that had been stolen, and for countless others who were grieving for them.

The news became even more personal that evening as I tried to comfort a neighbor who had just received confirmation that her daughter had died in the plane crash at the Pentagon.

Eighteen years is a long time to remember so much grief and pain. But there are things about that day I hope never to forget.

First, I want to remember the victims and those who mourn for them. They are my neighbors and loved ones and friends.

I want to remember, not the terrorists, but the heroes, those who ran toward danger, not from it; the firefighters and police officers and others who risked and lost their lives so that others might live; and the soldiers who have served and continue to serve to ensure it never happens again.

I want to remember how it felt to hear my son’s voice and know that he was safe. I want to feel that kind of gratitude every day.

I want to remember, not the horror of that day, but the grace that came with it — all the good that rose up in the face of such evil. We may never have been stronger as a nation, or better as people, than we were in the wake of 9/11. I want to believe we hold the power to be that strong and that good always.

I want to remember to pray for our country and our world — and for our enemies, because my faith commands it. I don’t know if prayer changes those we pray for, but I’ve seen it change those who pray, including me.

I want to remember that life is short and precious and fragile.

I want to remember the vow I made seeing people on TV jump from a burning building to their death: “I will live every day,” I said, “as if it were my last.”

I don’t always keep that vow, but to honor the victims of 9/11, I want to remember to try.

Most of all I want to remember to be alive. To make decisions based on love, not fear. To live life freely to its fullest.

I want to remember that the opposite of terror is freedom.

“How to Make a Dream Come True,” Sept. 3, 2019

What’s your dream? Lately I’ve been working like a house on fire, trying to finish something I started years ago.

I’m not sure why, after letting it languish for so long, I decided it was time to get back to it.

Oh, wait. I remember. I kept reading obituaries for folks who were younger than I am. It made me realize the time to do it might be now or never. If you don’t read the obits, you might want to start. They’re highly motivating.

This thing I want to finish is, of all things, a novel. Don’t ask me if it’s a good one. I have no idea. But I do think it’s a pretty good story — one worth telling and hearing — and I’m trying my dangdest to tell it well.

The reason I told you about it is not because I want you to buy it. You’ll be welcome to do so when I finish it. But that’s not likely to happen soon. For now, I just want to share with you some things I’ve realized along the way.

I’m probably not the only soul on Earth who wants to finish something sooner, rather than later. Maybe you’d like to finish something, too? A project you’ve been thinking about? A place you’d like to visit? Something you’ve wanted to say to someone you love, but never quite found the time, or the nerve?

Whatever it may be, I feel for you. It’s not easy to make a dream come true. Or even to try. But here, for what it’s worth, are a few things that have helped me get back to work. Maybe you will find them helpful, too.

1. I already mentioned reading obits. But I think the best way to start doing something you keep putting off is by asking yourself why do you want to do it? The reason can be anything. Fame and fortune, or in my case, wanting people to quit nagging you about it. But in the end, the reason that will matter most to you is the realization that you want to do this fine thing for yourself; that you deserve to make your dream come true; and that you are, in fact, the only one who can.

2. Next, tell the people closest to you (or anyone who’ll care) that you’re starting it. Don’t tell them until you mean it, because they will promptly start to ask, “Aren’t you finished yet?” But when you’re truly ready to start, tell them. Listen to their reactions. Ignore negativity. But take great heart in how happy it will make them to hear it.

I wish you could’ve heard the responses from my loved ones. My sister hadn’t hooted that loud since the day I bumped her in the bumper car arena and knocked her wig on the floor.

3. Telling people about it will also give you an excuse to say, “Sorry, I can’t help you now, I’m working on my dream.” Or words to that effect. You’ll know what to say. Just say it. Often.

4. Spend as much as time as possible working on it every possible day. Let go of things that can wait. Stop pretending you can do everything. If you think you can do everything, think again. Ask for help and take it. Work hard on your dream. Keep at it day by day. If you do, you will know that you’ve given it your best. And our best is the best that we can do.

5. Finally, don’t worry about the finished product. Just finish it. Dreams are like life, not a destination so much as a journey. Try to enjoy the ride.

Here’s one last thought: In a novel, the writer gets to choose, more or less, the beginning and the middle and the end. In reality, we can’t choose how the story of our life will start. And most of us won’t choose when or how it will end.

But in the middle there are choices that are ours alone to make. Some of them will lead to one of two ends: Lingering regret, or a dream come true.

What’s your dream? Dust off an old one or dream up a new. Rewrite the story of your life.

“Looking Back and Letting Go,” Aug. 27, 2019

Slowly, we are trying to unpack, in a new house that’s half the size of the old one we moved out of three months ago.

We wanted to downsize. But wanting to do something is not the same as getting it done. Part of the problem is that my husband, bless him, is an incredibly sentimental soul.

OK, fine, we both are.

We’ve been blessed to live full and interesting lives, including the almost 20 years we’ve been together. And we’ve got the stuff to prove it:

Paintings and photos and family keepsakes; cards and drawings our kids made in school; mementos and gifts from friends and loved ones who are gone but not forgotten; posters from concerts we think we attended and souvenirs from places we think we went; awards we won for doing stuff that we don’t remember doing.

We got rid of so much of it before we moved that now, when we look at all those boxes stacked in our new garage, we think maybe the moving company got us mixed up with people who are wondering what happened to all their stuff.

Actually, we don’t think that. We have looked inside most of those boxes. We know that stuff is ours. We just need to do one of three things: (1) Get rid of it; (2) Leave it where it is; or (3) Find some place to put it.

We’ve ruled out options 1 and 2, more or less, and are now scratching our heads on 3.

I swore when we moved here we wouldn’t clutter it up. I need to remember not to swear. This place is filling up fast, floors and walls, cupboards and closets, drawers and shelves, nooks and crannies, even the dark creepy places under the sinks where dark creepy spiders lie in wait.

A few days ago, my husband generously decided to give me any space that’s left in the house (not that there’s much) for my stuff, and he would take the garage — or rather, any garage walls not covered with boxes.

Then he went in the garage and started hammering. He hammered a long time. Finally, he took a break and he yelled for me to come look.

I wish you could’ve seen it.

There were pictures of his boys when they were small. A couple of paintings he did in college. A shot of his dad in the newsroom where he worked. A scorecard from the Giants’ first victory at Pac Bell Park. A poster from a Keb Mo concert. And two lovely photos of happy couples on their wedding day — his folks and us.

“Looks great!” I told him.

“Thanks,” he said, pointing, “but look behind you.”

By the door to the kitchen, in a space that was supposed to have been for his things, he had hung two of my favorite keepsakes:

The first was a painting of the house we moved from, the place where I raised my kids. I had packed it for the move and wasn’t sure I could look at it again. But seeing it hanging there felt good, like running into an old friend and remembering all the good times we’d shared.

The other treasure was a long ago Mother’s Day gift from my daughter: A framed collection of snapshots showing me with her and her two brothers in a span of 25 years from when they were born until they were grown.

In each of those photos, my hair is a different style and a different color. It looks like a catalog for cheap wigs. But the woman in those photos seems happy and content, as if she were meant to be a mother and wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Why did my husband choose to hang those things for me?

I can think of two reasons: First, he likes making me happy. It’s part of why I married him.

Second, he knows me well. That’s also part of why I married him, even when it annoys me.

Letting go is never easy. But it helps somehow to see reminders of where I’ve been and what I’ve done and all the people I have known and loved. It makes me want to wake up each day just to see what will happen next.

“Tell Me a Story,” Aug. 20, 2019

Where do stories come from? Why do they surface in our memories at unexpected times and make us want to tell them to anyone who will listen?

In the Blue Ridge Mountains, where I grew up, storytelling is a part of life, like breathing air and swatting mosquitoes. It originated with the Native Americans, who lived there long before settlers showed up from faraway places and started telling stories of their own.

The storytellers in those mountains were sometimes known as “liars” — not because they were deceitful, but because their stories were often more fabricated than factual. Yet they were cleverly true of the human condition, intended not just to inform, but to entertain and enlighten and inspire.

I come from a family of “liars.” My grandparents and parents, aunts and uncles, dozens of cousins, my blind baby brother, the dogs that slept under the porch, even the fleas that slept on the dogs — we all told stories.

Maybe you do, too. Most of us do. Every place I go, every state, every country, every culture, people will tell me their stories and listen politely to mine.

Why? Stories tell us who we are and how we’re alike. They let us connect and stay connected with one another and ourselves.

I told you all of that to tell you this. My husband I were talking with Henry, our 7-year-old grandson, who is an expert on all things animal. He was telling us about a “tanuki,” a kind of dog that looks like a raccoon.

“It’s one of my favorite animals,” Henry said. “It lives in Japan. Maybe someday I’ll go there and get to see a real one.”

“You will,” I said. “And it will tell you a story that you can come back and tell me!”

He laughed his weasel laugh. It sounds a lot like a weasel.

Suddenly I recalled a day that I never want to forget.

“Wanna hear a story?” I said.

Henry’s eyes lit up. He loves stories almost as much as he loves animals. So I told him how, years ago, while on a speaking trip to Nebraska, I put on everything I had packed in my suitcase and went out in freezing weather at 5 a.m. to stand in a duck blind and watch hundreds of thousands of birds wake up and take wing.

Not just any birds. They were big, graceful, ghostly gray sandhill cranes, 3 to 4 feet tall with a wingspan of 6 feet, and weighing 8 to 12 pounds.

I wish you could’ve seen them.

Every spring, for what some say has been 9 million years, a 60-mile stretch along the Platte River (from Grand Island to Kearney to Overton) becomes a stopover for a half million or so sandhill cranes that take a break from their migration to fatten up in the area’s vast cornfields before the long flight north.

“Henry,” I said, “when those birds took off, all those wings flapping together sounded like a train! Can you imagine looking up at a sky filled with hundreds of thousands of giant birds?”

“Whoa,” he said, “that just sounds amazing, Nana!”

It’s fun to impress a 7 year old. I don’t manage to do it often, but when I do, I like it a lot.

While I was telling Henry that story, my husband found some TV documentaries on sandhill cranes and the three of us watched them together. They were stunning. A picture is, after all, worth a thousand words. But seeing and hearing for yourself is believing. Even in freezing weather at 5 a.m.

Nature is a master storyteller. Birds and valleys and rivers and stars tell tales we need to hear.

Henry said, “Maybe someday I’ll go to Nebraska and get to see those cranes for myself.”

“You will,” I said. “And they will tell you a story that you can come back and tell me!”

He laughed his weasel laugh, adding, “And then I’ll go to Japan and see a tanuki.”