Two Years

Dear Chris,

Well, it’s been two years now. I guess on the bright side, when I woke up, it wasn’t the morning of the first snow. Maybe that’s not the bright side, because the first snow will probably make me cry just like this anniversary of your death does.

Chris and Abby, 1972

Chris and Abby, 1972

Chris and Abby, summer 1973

Chris and Abby, summer 1973

You taught me to swim there, and you know there’s nobody for generations in your family who doesn’t know exactly where this photo was taken. There are so many things I meant to ask you about that place. I thought there’d be more time. Why couldn’t there have been more time? Lots of people get more time with their moms. Yeah, I know, there are also people who don’t get as much. None of that is the point, though. It’s like when Ed was dying, and he said it wasn’t as tragic as if it was happening to a young mom with little kids, and I told him he was wrong, because whoever that person might be, and however sad that story might be, it wasn’t about my father. I don’t think he’d thought about it that way. But you had. He saw what I meant, but you already knew.

I want to have a tantrum, like a toddler, like a teenager. It’s not fair. I hate you being dead. Nothing I can say about it is really any more than that. I can say it lots of ways, with lots of words, but they all just mean the same thing.

Chris, Molly, and Ed, 1975

Chris, Molly, and Ed, 1975

I hate that you’re all gone. It’s all too soon. It’s all too sad. It’s all too hard. It makes me cry. I hate crying. You know that. Everybody knows that. So let’s just have a song instead and we can pretend it’s the song we’re crying about.

I know there are so many tragedies so much vaster, and that I am no orphaned baby daughter, but rather, a full-grown woman who oughta be bringing in the crops before they are left standing, rotted, in November. But man, that sure is a wide, muddy river, and if you were still here, we could talk for hours about rivers of tears in cross-cultural symbolism.

I miss you, Chris. Thank you for my life. For everything.

Love always,

Abigail May

How To Make Yarn With A Pencil

Have you been waiting to start learning to spin until you decide what kind of tool or equipment you want? Wait no longer! Now you can make yarn using just a pencil!

Or, you know, any kind of stick, really. Plus, it’s not really “now you can,” because people have been making yarn for at least 34,000 years, so it isn’t really news. I just thought that line sounded cute.

Mother’s Day

I’ve been seeing a thing going around lately that says: Happy Mother’s Day, including to dads who are playing the role. I get that the intent for folks who are sharing that is to be inclusive to all parents in a primary child-raising role, and I love that sentiment, but I have to say: this makes me sad for lots of reasons. The biggest is: so now we’re telling fathers that the only way they can interact parentally with their children is by “playing the role” of mother? That if they are nurturing or caring or take care of the household, now they’re mothers? By the way, what does this make mothers who work outside the home? I could go on and on, but frankly, it still shocks me how far we seem to have regressed in terms of perceived gender role stuff, just in my lifetime.

I’d like to give a shout out to my own mother. She never really went in for Mother’s Day. The year when I was 8, I decided I would make her breakfast in bed, and made sure I was up before either of my parents to do it myself. I was off to a pretty decent start, standing on a chair so I could easily reach the electric frying pan on the counter. Except… there I was cooking bacon when I must have bumped it or something because one of its feet was off the counter and it started to tip and fall. I caught it, and put it firmly back on the counter… then screamed, because in so doing, I burnt the heck out of my hand. My parents came running and ruined everything. They RUINED it! I was making Mother’s Day breakfast because I was going to do it, me, by myself, and then I make one little mistake and yell and they wouldn’t even let me finish. It was actually quite the little scene. And after that my mom always tried to make clear she didn’t wanna do anything for some Hallmark Holiday anyway.

My mom felt guilty. I could, I swear, *feel* it. At the time I thought that was stupid. But after I became a mom, I understood new things, viscerally. Like that she didn’t feel guilty that I burned my hand trying to cook bacon for her, she felt accountable and responsible for everything that ever happened to me or that I ever did. And then she spent the rest of her life dancing with that: stepping in, stepping out, turning her back, going around the outside, laughing and smiling more than anything else, until I finally broke free and ran off to be my own woman without her there to run cold water on my hand if I burned myself. And that morning, she could see that coming, and know she could never have stopped me from ever getting burnt, and all those things you think when your kid is hurt. And then there she was, feeling all of that, and I’m arguing with her that she should stop trying to run my hand under the cold water so I could finish breakfast, and she’s staying calm forcibly holding my blistered hand under cold running water and my dad says “Enough about the bacon! It’s fine.” I didn’t understand my mom as much before I was one. I couldn’t empathize with her. I didn’t get it. And I’m sorry. But I know she knew: I truly couldn’t have understood then.

After I became a mother, I would call my mother every year on this day, and apologize for something, like right now, when I’m apologizing for ever having thought, in my childhood and my teens, that she just wanted to control my life and ruin everything. I know she didn’t. She did the most amazing job ever of helping her daughter grow into the woman I am. I am ever in awe. There’s no sufficient gratitude.

There’s also no replacement, and sometimes, no solace for that.

I miss you, Chris. And thank you for all the times you said things to me just like what I said in the first paragraph. Thanks for always making me think. Thanks for encouraging me to just say things. Thanks for teaching me to argue, even if you might have wished I did it less. And thanks for teaching me my life didn’t have to be ruled by anyone else’s notions of what girls or boys, mothers or fathers, men or women, are supposed to do. The least I can do for you (on a day you never set much stock in) is to keep putting those questions out into the world.

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Jensen Tall Castle ISO New Home!

Dear Internet,

Hi! I’m a double treadle 24″ Jensen “Space Saver” tall castle wheel with finials (sometimes called half-spokes). I was lovingly made by Jerry Jensen in 2001, from cherry wood with a walnut stain. I’m signed and numbered — JMJ No 5, 10/24/2001.

jensen01

My specs:

24″ drive wheel Space Saver,24″ x 16″ x 52″, orifice 25″ from floor, double drive and scotch tension, double treadle, ratios 9:1, 10:1, 11:1, 12:1, 14:1. I come with 2 bobbins, and can run double drive, Scotch tension, or Irish tension.

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If you were looking for me new, I’d run $1750 and the wait would be 6-12 months from the date of order.

jensen02

I have spent my life living with, and being maintained by, professional spinning teachers!

jensen03

I can be yours for $1400 plus actual shipping via UPS (or you can pick me up in Lebanon, Ohio). Interested? Just email abby@abbysyarns.com.

Should I Buy This Used Spinning Wheel? (video)

Thinking about buying a used spinning wheel? Doing so can be a great way to save money, but alas, it isn’t always easy to find a used wheel in good condition. If the seller is a spinner, then your odds are pretty good, but sadly, people who don’t spin can’t necessarily even tell if something actually is a spinning wheel or not. So, if you’re looking for your first wheel, my usual recommendation is to not buy a used wheel from someone who isn’t a spinner.

Okay… but what if you really, really want to? That’s where today’s video comes into play. I’ll show you my family’s old great wheel, an antique flax wheel with some issues that aren’t dealbreakers, and a modern wheel in good condition.

Spinner’s Gift Suggestions, 2014

Abby’s Spinning Gift Guide 2014

Do you have a spinner in your life for whom you’d like to buy a gift, but you aren’t sure what he or she would like? I’ve pulled together a list of some favourite items in various price ranges to help, followed by a few tips on shopping for spinners in secret.

UNDER $10

Spinner's Party Tool

The Spinner’s Party Tool from FBN Plastics. Featuring a wraps per inch gauge, angle of twist gauge, and a bottle opener with a keychain ring, this little gadget is incredibly handy. I have several, in various places around the house, my car, and my luggage. Did I mention it’s TSA approved, so I can always measure my yarn AND open my beer, even when I’m on the road? I also keep one hanging from my wheel next to my orifice hook, and one in my spindle bag. $5.

Spinning Wheel Oil Bottle. If you’ve got a wheel, you need oil for it (typical motor oil works great), and you’d rather have it be easy to apply. I really like these Schacht oil bottles because of the long needle tip that lets you get the oil right where you want it. $8-9

UNDER $25:

busy

Orifice Hooks. These are used pretty constantly with most spinning wheels, and most spinners could stand to have more of these. Sometimes the ones you have go rogue, and there you are, bending a paper clip to handle an emergency — if you don’t have a few extras lying around. Some spinners really like to have beautiful ones. They can be made from wood, glass, all manner of things. $2 and up, with a lot in the $10-20 range.

A Pretty Diz. Used to pull prepared fibers into their final pre-spinning state, dizzes are more of a hit-or-miss gift, but they’re usually inexpensive and fun. Many people make them or repurpose household objects like buttons, but you can also find really pretty ones. If your spinner has a drum carder or combs, this could be a win for a small gift. Prettier, fancier ones cost a bit more. You want smooth (so fibers don’t snag) and durable (because fibers are stronger than you might think). Around $20.

Fiber! Dude, there is so much fiber in this price range. Omigod, is there fiber in this price range. Sadly, it’s hard to say there’s one kind of fiber that makes the perfect gift. So instead, here’s a short list of a few of the folks whose fiber I personally always find delightful, and whose stuff I use in classes.

$25-$100

Spindle Spun Cottons

A Nice Spindle. At this price point, you can buy some really nice spindles! Some of my favourites are:
Bosworth
Greensleeves
Wildcraft
Spindlewood
KCL Woods
IST
I have never had a spindle I didn’t really, really like (or more likely, desperately adore) from any of these makers. They’re all unique and individual and worth every penny as workhorse tools that are also beautiful. Even if your spinner doesn’t have a major spindle attraction, these are the spindles that, shall we say, I doubt anybody would kick out of bed for eating crackers.

Hand cards — if your spinner has none, then my choices for all-around hand cards are Schacht curved medium or fine, or Strauch fine, including half-size. Every individual spinner will develop his or her own preferences, so the curved or flat question is pretty much unanswerable. Your spinner won’t know until he or she has used them for a while. So don’t overthink it! If you’ve got a spinner who does not have hand cards, it’s time to remedy that. If your spinner does have hand cards, but only one set, see if you can figure out which set and then call a good fiber shop (like one of the ones linked in various places in this article) and ask for advice on what cards should come next.

Books and Videos! There are so many great resources out there now, many of them free — but I still recommend having an extensive library. The hot new release The Spinner’s Book of Fleece by Beth Smith (you can even get a signed copy). If your spinner doesn’t already have it, he or she probably wants it. Here’s a short list of some other books I recommend:

Take a class! It's fun!

Classes! Nothing helps a spinner get more out of whatever they’ve already got than taking some classes. However, sometimes they can be hard to justify for people, and so they make really great gifts. Contact your local (or most local) fiber shop or weaver’s guild to find out what options exist in your area.

$100-200

stack_o_yarn_01

Yarn Handling Tools — often overlooked, these tools actually make an enormous difference in the life of a spinner. Eventually, every spinner probably should have a way to make skeins of yarn, a way to hold those skeins to wind them into balls, and a way to easily wind those balls. So, that’s a skein winder or niddy noddy (for making skeins), a swift (for holding skeins), and a ball winder (for, um, winding balls). YES, there exist tools out there that do double duty, but I’m going to tell you the truth: almost none of them do a truly great job, and in the long run, your spinner will probably be happier with great tools that really work reliably for the purposes for which they were made. So here are my faves:
Schacht Niddy Noddy. Like real antique ones, this niddy noddy is extremely lightweight, making it easy to work with when winding skeins. Unlike antique ones, this collapses and folds up small, and can make more than one size skein. $75.
Fricke skeinwinder. I have both a motorized, and non-motorized, version of this winder, equipped with a rotation counter that tracks your revolutions so you know how long your skein is once you’re done winding. These are probably the biggest time savers of any single piece of equipment I own — no exaggeration.
Swift! The umbrella style is terrific and sturdy and usually repairable, unless you get a really chintzy one (they’re out there — if the swift is half the price of most of the others, I would probably give it a pass). You want one that says it can handle 2-yard skeins. You can get them that clamp to a table or surface, that rest on a surface, or that stand on the floor. I have one free-standing and one clamping, because different circumstances call for different things. I’ve been very happy with the decades of hard work I’ve gotten from my Ashford swift and my Glimakra swift. But counter to what I said above regarding multi-tasking tools, I have only had great experiences with the Strauch skeinwinder, so that makes the list as well. One of the things that’s great about the Strauch ones is that you can get table clamps that work even with those newfangled plastic folding tables that have a lip on them — a perpetual irritation for the fiber artist who wants to clamp stuff to stuff!
Ball Winder. I grew up with plastic ball winders that were pretty great, but sometime this century or so I guess the quality really diminished. I think it was 2004 when I went through 3 ball winders in 3 months, and swore off buying the cheap ones, having concluded that for the price of the three cheap ones with broken plastic gears I could have bought one really good one instead. As it happens, I still have that one really good one, which was a Strauch that I initially expected to be overkill for my needs. Turns out it hasn’t been. The other really fabulous one out there is from Nancy’s Knit Knacks — when Nancy says heavy duty, she means it.
Bobbin Winder. My Schacht bobbin winder is my most reliable and dependable. After the skein winder, the bobbin winder is probably my biggest saver of time and money. With it, and an assortment of cheap plastic bobbins, it simply doesn’t matter how many bobbins I have for which spinning wheel.

Combs! Oh, man, where to start with combs? If your spinner has none, then I’d go with either the double-pitch Valkyrie fine hand combs, or St. Blaise combs (designed by master comber and spinning teacher Robin Russo, and made by her husband Pat). These two are actually the ones I use the most, as generalist combs. However, your spinner may have specific wants and needs and if he or she has combs already, there could be another set that are needed in order to perform specific tasks, in which case, refer to the upcoming advice about sneakily finding out what your spinner really wants.

Blending Board. These have been the hot item in fiber prep for the past year or two, and there are lots of designs. I really like the Clemes and Clemes one and the Ashford one, which can sit on your lap but also feature a keel that you can hold between your knees to keep things steady while you play, or set on a table in front of you.

$200-$400

Captive Ring Spindles

This is a tough price range — it represents a price point where you can often find more expensive equipment used in good condition, and where you start to see the most entry-priced higher-end tools and equipment. However, most of the new equipment in this price range doesn’t wow me in terms of fit and finish, durability, and bang for the buck. If this is your budget, I’d put together a bunch of mix and match stuff from lower price ranges, such as a skein winder, swift, ball winder, and bobbin winder. Or a spindle and a lot of fiber. Or lots of extra bobbins for your spinner’s wheel of choice. Or, see if you can get your spinner to divulge a wish for an add-on to his or her wheel, because you can also find a lot of things like that in this price range.

Another good option might be to pick up your spinner a way to use up some of that yarn, and a great option in this price range is a rigid heddle loom with accessories. I’m partial to my Schacht rigid heddle looms because they’re laid out similarly to floor looms, and because of the range of accessories available (one of my faves is the heddle solution that lets you mix and match so you can do a lot of varied things with your warp). One of the great things about giving a spinner a rigid heddle loom is that it’s going to eat up lots of yarn, and it’s easy to mix and match and combine small skeins and leftovers into cohesive finished projects. I realize it’s a whole new slippery slope, but… you never know, you might just want to give your spinner a gentle nudge. You’ll doubtless be repaid in all kinds of new textile goods.

$400-$800

class-of-2008-03

Now we’re in the entry priced spinning wheel price range! You might want to take a stroll through my article on choosing your first wheel to help you think this one through. The brands I most recommend are Ashford, Lendrum, Louet, Majacraft, and Schacht. My two top picks for wheels in this price range are the Schacht Ladybug and the Lendrum folding wheel, but all the brands I mentioned are dependable, excellent performers, and well-supported. I recommend finding the closest dealer you can for these, so you can get local help and support for the new wheel.

This is also the right price range for a drum carder. Myself personally, I have three — a Strauch, a Pat Green, and a Louet Classic. They all do different things, and it’s really no coincidence that these are the three I have: these are the ones that I’ve kept after working with lots of others. The Strauch is my best all-around, the Pat Green is the best for superfine fibers, and the Louet Classic is the best for more medium and wild and crazy fibers. Find whatever’s in your price range from one of those brands, and you pretty much can’t go wrong. If I could only keep one of these carders, though, it would be the Strauch, based on over a decade of extensive drum carding experience. My top pick for an entry-priced drum carder is the Strauch Petite, based on almost a decade of working with them in classes.

As another thought for this price range, sending (or taking) your favourite spinner to a class (these can be pretty cheap and local, or they can be pricier with national instructors and involve travel), retreat, or fiber festival would be the kind of gift they’ll talk about for years.

$800-$1200

Abby and the Pat Green Supercard

At this price point you can either buy a heavier duty drum carder, a higher-end spinning wheel, or put together a spinner’s studio package. My top picks for spinning wheels in this price range are: Schacht Matchless, Majacraft Rose and Suzie, Louet Julia, Ashford Elizabeth, Lendrum Complete package. My top picks for drum carders are Strauch Finest and Pat Green Blender/Carder.

For a package that will give your spinner pretty much everything he or she really needs, here’s what I’d do. This list is ordered by priority, based on my experience.
– spinning wheel
– skein winder or niddy noddy (go for the skeinwinder if budget allows)
– books and videos
– swift
– bobbin winder
– hand cards
– combs

$1200 and up

Okay, I’m going to talk turkey here: if you’ve got this kind of budget for gifts for the spinner in your life, you probably shouldn’t be taking the word of some stranger on the Internet, even if it’s me. Chances are good that your spinner already has a wish list of things he or she really, really wants, and you’re going to have to get that information somehow.

There’s always coming right out and asking, but if you wanted to be less direct (so you can definitely surprise someone), you might consider contacting the fiber or yarn shop that he or she frequents, and asking if they know your spinner and whether or not there’s anything the folks at the shop think he or she wants or needs. That’s also a way to find out what’s new, what’s hot, and that sort of thing. Your spinner also might be a member of public fiber arts groups online, and while I wouldn’t ordinarily suggest stalking someone on the internet, you might well find that a public forum contains posts where your spinner has outright stated what he or she most wishes they had. It’s been known to happen. Lastly, it’s possibly slower to get answers, but watch your spinner doing what he or she does and see if anything seems slow, cumbersome, or awkward. Then ask if there’s something that solves that. For example, “Hey, that niddy noddy thing seems kinda slow. Is there a faster way?” You’ll probably hear “Oh, yeah, there are skein winders, but they’re $100 and up and I can’t warrant spending that.” And then you’ve broken the ice! Then you can simply say things like “Wow, I had no idea there were so many things like that! Tell me more about some other interesting ones!” and there you go, you’ll probably hear more than you ever imagined.

Cardzilla!

Wrapping Up

Believe it or not, I get asked this question pretty regularly: “If you were going to set someone up with a really awesome spinning studio for the best bang for the buck, what would you get?” As with all things spinning, the answer is really “It depends,” but if this were some sort of game show which I’d win by just handling that question, I’d budget $1500-1700 and go this route:

  • Lendrum DT Complete – $790 OR Schacht Ladybug – $650
  • Fricke Skeinwinder – $142
  • Ashford Umbrella Swift – $145
  • Strauch ball winder – $170
  • Schacht curved hand cards – $85
  • Valkyrie fine double pitch combs – $95
  • Start Spinning by Maggie Casey, book and DVD (about $40) if it’s a brand new spinner
  • 5 pounds of assorted fibers – up to $200

That pretty much does it for this by-price-point gift guide! Please leave your comments and let us know if you have suggestions I’ve missed.

2015 Class List!

The fall teaching schedule is always jam-packed and exciting, and when I get home — usually just before Thanksgiving — I tend to have a huge email backlog from being on the road, and a staggering to-do list that I always expect to complete in the relative lull (well, at least it’s a travel lull) of late November to early January. Topping that to-do list is always “update the class list.”

Throughout the year, I keep notes about the things people ask me to teach, and the things I hear people asking. In November, I do outlines and descriptions and materials workups for the new classes, check out all the details and work out pricing, all that sort of thing. I’m always amazed — even though I should know — at how much longer this takes than I expect! But, I’m done for the year! Huzzah! Here it is.

FranquemontClassesPolicies2015

You can also use this permalink, and it’ll always be the most current class list, so even if I add classes halfway through the year, they’ll be in this list:

http://abbysyarns.com/contact/class-list

It’s a PDF and there’s a ton of information in there! So I figured I’d summarize things a bit. My class list allows for three main ways to hire me to teach for you (although there are always unique considerations and special cases). First, in what I call the “hosted model,” you can hire me and pay my flat daily rate, plus travel and lodging, and then I’ll show up and teach while you promote the event, deal with registrations, and fit things into your pre-existing routine. This usually works out well for guilds, shops, and some festivals and retreats. Second, in what I call the “grassroots model,” you can have me handle registrations and collect an all-inclusive per-student fee, while you find a location where you are, do some on-the-ground logistics and advertising (like arranging for the location and telling your friends). This tends to work out well for informal groups or for a group that doesn’t have a pre-existing structure for holding classes. Third, you can come where I am with a small group, and we can put together a retreat with me at the Golden Lamb, where we’ve held Stringtopia retreat events over the past few years. This can be done either paying me the flat rate to have me deal with the logistics at this end and for you to show up with up to 7 of your friends (more by quote), or it can be made into a grassroots model retreat which I host and handle registrations and so forth.

Spinning For A Purpose at SOAR 2008

The hope behind having three ways to do this is to try to have as many ways as possible to be as accessible as I can be to the widest range of people in the widest range of places. Of course, next year I’m going to finally have developed the online automated quote generator system with date scheduler and a robot that handles everything. I say that every year, but somehow, I never seem to do it. So if you’re interested, just email me — abby at abbysyarns.com — and we can go from there! And if you have questions, feel free to leave them in the comments for all to see.

Looking forward to seeing lots of you this coming year — and beyond!

Dear Chris

Dear Chris,

A year ago I got up and, looking out the window, realized that the winter’s first snow had fallen overnight. It wasn’t much, but it was on the early side for southwestern Ohio. I thought about how I wasn’t ready for winter, and about how you were probably, at that very moment, waiting for a flight from Lima to Cusco. I wished I was there, and not only because of snow.

I didn’t know then — wouldn’t for another day — that it would be the last day of your life. That the next time I’d see you, you’d be gone.

Chris and Abby, 1972

Chris and Abby, summer 1972

It isn’t fair.

Chris and Abby, summer 1973

Chris and Abby, summer 1973

Yeah, I know. Nobody ever promised fair. But still. I had this amazing mom. And I’m too young for this shit. I expected at least another 25 to 30 years. All your grandmothers and aunts and great-aunts living well into their nineties led me to believe it was a foregone conclusion that you would, too. How come there are people who don’t even *like* their family that get to keep them until old age, and I gotta be in my early 40s and they’re all gone?

Summer 1975

Summer 1975

I don’t know if you ever fully believed it, but all my life I so desperately wanted to measure up not only to you and all the things you were, but to all the things that in hindsight I realize were your hopes for your firstborn little girl.

Do you remember that one recurring nightmare I used to have? The first one — the one that started when I was five. We all got up in the morning in our house in Chinchero, and set out to go to the other side of Antaquillka, to look at a refrigerator. You said if we could have a refrigerator then we could do lots of things with it and it would help everyone in town. Ed said we had to go look at it because who knew if it would really work, and since there weren’t any refrigerators in town it was a big decision.

Well, when we got to the other side of Antaquillka — I’d never have expected it — everything was all pink and white stripes. The sun was high in the sky and all our feet were covered in dust, except Molly, because you and Ed carried her. But as we went downhill, the pink and white stripes gave way to foliage and the only real dust was on the carretera. You could see the tracks where trucks and buses had gone, and would go. And then just inside a mostly-open courtyard, there was the fridge.

You and Ed opened it up, inspected it, checked it over fully. Some sort of discussion of technicalities happened. There were pros and cons. I wasn’t interested in the discussion, really, until Ed said, “Come on over and take a look, Abby. Whatcha think? Will this do the trick?” I straightened right up then, realizing I had to take this seriously and offer an opinion. I walked around the fridge and looked at the back. It had a cord coming out of it, with a plug. I thought it looked like a plug should look, so I walked back around to the front and opened the door. It was a white door, with rounded edges and a big silver metal handle like a lever. I looked inside. There were shelves, and a small silvery box, like a freezer but with no frosty ice around it. It was all empty, and it wasn’t cold inside it, because fridges are a thing you plug in, to electricity. But it looked like it would work. So I closed the door and turned back to tell you guys I thought it looked okay.

You weren’t there, though. I was shocked to see you were out at the road, about to head away to the left. We’d come in from the right. “Wait!” I hollered, and ran to the carretera. Ed had Molly in a kheparina on his back, and you’d unsnapped your down vest and braided your hair. You both laughed, a friendly happy laugh, and I thought, allright, I’ve gotta run and catch up, then. So I did.

By the time my feet hit the road though, you guys were already running down it, ahead of me. I ran after. You kept going, all three of you. Molly turned around and looked back and waved. You kept getting farther away, and you were laughing and smiling, all of you guys. I kept running but I couldn’t catch up. My legs got tired and my breath came ragged and you never stopped to wait, none of you guys. Molly just waved. It wasn’t funny. I was getting left behind and I couldn’t stop getting left behind, and you guys wouldn’t stop either.

Franquemonts, 1977

Franquemonts, 1977

But when I woke up you would be there. You, and Ed and Molly, and you’d hold me and tell me it was okay. Just a dream. Just a bad dream. It’s not true. It isn’t real. And it wasn’t. It was just a bad dream.

Man.

So, it turns out it is real. You guys are all off and gone now and I’m left behind. I feel like I’m left standing in the road, trying to figure out how best to get a fridge from the road somewhere down the other side of Antaquillka, home to Chinchero, through absurd pink and white stripes all over the side of a mountain, without you guys. And then what? That was always the scary part of that dream — and then what? First I got left behind, and you guys knew I got left behind, but you went anyway, so then what was I supposed to do?

That really does sum up the past year. You wouldn’t believe — actually, you know, you would. You always would. You would believe the outrageous was impossible, and in the best possible ways. You believed all chaos was survivable. You believed in the amazing stories, and you just… did the amazing things, and you took all the rest of us along for the ride. I know a lot of people don’t realize it, but I do.

“Motherless children have a hard time, when the mother is gone”

Your brother’s moving closer to us. That’s a great thing, though the sad thing is, of course, that he can do it now your mother’s gone too. I saw her just this April. Her hands were strong and we talked about knitting sweaters. And then a month later she was gone too.

I guess pretty much everyone figures Molly is gone. I know you’d never give up hope. Not even on the hardest hard scenarios. Somewhere you’d always find hope. So I tell myself, well then, I’ll find some hope. The only thing is it’s hard to figure out what to hope for. So I guess every so often I just… hope random things. Like that someday we’ll know for sure. Or maybe that we never know. I don’t know.

It’s all been one blow after another. It’s been a year of bad dreams that stay bad dreams when I wake up, and the whole year, my mother’s been gone. And you know what really sucks about that? (Yes, I see you rolling your eyes because even after I told you the jazz etymology for ‘sucks’ you don’t like it) What really sucks is, I can’t even call you up and just whine about it.

Also, I was at a fantastic concert. It was one of those things that could happen when you’re a mom, and I know you understand. We’d gotten the tickets to send your grandson and his date to see Trombone Shorty, but then it turned out the two of them had a band competition, so his dad and I went instead. But then they played “St. James Infirmary” and I broke down and couldn’t stop crying.

Let her go, let her go, God bless her, whereever she may be…

And the minor tones like funeral bells. I don’t know when I’ll be able to sing that song again myself, if I can’t even hear it played.

You know your book won an award, right? I can’t believe you died without signing a copy of it for me. The very nerve.

Another good thing is I’ve been catching up with a lot of people, and lots of them with each other too — folks from the farm, folks living all over, you know? I like to imagine you’ve seen all that, been there somehow.

I hope that you are resting well, at the bosom of Our Lord of Earthquakes, sleeping beneath the apus, celebrating September 8 with the Virgin in Chinchero. You have earned a rest. You have done so much for so many. And none of us can really quite believe you’re gone, let alone gone a year. Nilda’s having a mass said, this Friday, so everyone can be there.

I wish I could have made this a better letter. I’ve read a lot of old letters you wrote, since you’ve been gone. I’ve read old letters I wrote to you, too. I don’t know what to say about it all, except to say how badly I miss you, although even there, I can’t find the words.

Rest well, and in good company. I’ll keep putting one foot in front of another, and try to figure out what the fuck I’m doing with this fridge I know you’d have wanted to see handled. And someday, who knows when, I hope I’ll see you again. I miss you.

So very much love,

Abby

So this one time

Tonight there was heat lightning, and that always makes me think of this one time. It was a long time ago but it’s always what goes through my mind.

So this one time, and I haven’t gotten that far in reading old handwritten notebooks yet, but it was 1978. We’d been living in Lircay, Peru, where my parents were doing anthropological work for a mining company, and well, that’s a long story. I was in second grade — I’d passed the test to be there, oral and written, and the phrase I had to write on the blackboard was “Mi mama come sopa.” I had an awesome little patent leather maletin or briefcase, and I felt so grown up. But the job fell apart, the life fell apart, and the country was pretty unsettled too. And so it was that one evening, probably about this time of year, we were in a white Toyota truck getting the hell outta Dodge, as they say.

This, or something similar, was our route. It took a few days.

In Huancayo we found a hotel, and we holed up. Outside in the streets there was gunfire and lots of yelling. There were explosions and stuff. I remember my mother taking her evening pills and insisting I had to eat my vitamin C pill. My dad wrote in his notebook and my sister cried. Nobody slept well.

In the morning we got up and got on the road. We drove all day and after dark. It was slow going, and it was way dark, and there was this one spot where we had to ford a river. We drove through. The water was up past the doors and it seeped in a bit in the footwells but we got through, going fast, going fast, going fast, don’t let the river take us, and we came out the other side.

I was afraid it was going to rain. There was thunder and lightning and some of it was lightning that covered the whole sky. First, it lit up everything, and then there were little tendrils of lightning everywhere. Rayos, pues, in Spanish. Rayos. Heat lightning, my father said. I was alternately kneeling and standing in the middle of the truck’s bench seat, and my sister was on my mother’s lap, because she was barely three and she was always little. She wouldn’t speak English then, just Quechua and sometimes Spanish.

The next day we were in Lima and everything for us was okay. But I was more scared the night there was heat lightning and we forded the river in the white Toyota truck than I was the night we holed up in the hotel in Huancayo. And heat lightning always makes me think of how I thought maybe we’d all be swept away down whatever river that was and just be gone. But that’s not how it went down.

So tonight there was heat lightning, and in half a second watching fingers and tendrils cross the sky and feeling the electric charge that makes your heart hold still a second before it hits, I remembered all that. Just like I always do.

Happy Mother’s Day, Chris. I miss you. You’re such a badass. If I had that second grade written test to do over it would say way more than that you ate soup.