Mike and Minnie
Time flies and we’re all in it together
BY MIKE NORRIS
I always get a slight feeling of dread and sadness as fall begins to cool the air. I trace this to growing up in McKee, Kentucky, in a home where both parents were teachers. As summer wound down, not only were my days of freedom ending, my parents would be returning to the daily grind.
Not that they didn’t love teaching. They did. But still—6:30 alarm clock clanging, house chilly from a coal furnace that had burned out overnight, car windshields to be scrapped. An unspoken gloom would gradually descend over all three of us as “first-day” inched nearer.
And this year, true to form, that feeling crept in, but with more force than usual. Magnified by Covid maybe? Certainly the virus, whether it’s entered our body or not, infects most of us with a degree of anxiety.
But thinking about it over the last week, I realized that more was going on than just the back-to-school blues and the virus. No, it was a grieving about change, about familiar things going away, the emptiness after their departure, and the newness of the things replacing them.
What were these things? Well, little pieces of painted wood. Now before the men are summoned to bring the white jacket with buckles in back, let me explain: the pieces of painted wood were the 170 carvings that Minnie Adkins did for Ring Around the Moon that have been my constant companions for three years.
These were not just objects fixed on the three tables in my writing/photography/music room (or, as Carmen calls it, “where you live”). No, they were all-in allies in a back-and-forth partnership—the intense period of posing and photographing for Ring; selecting certain carvings for special Facebook projects (for example, using images of various characters to support funding for the University Press of Kentucky); and looking to the flock for ideas and inspiration as I worked on another set of rhymes for the new book.
But maybe even more powerful was simply the daily togetherness, the reliable companionship from morning to night of this Eastern Kentucky crew given life by Minnie’s knife and paintbrush. A presence dependably there regardless of what happened as time ticked on.
And so when I brought out the boxes, newspaper, and sandwich bags to pack them away, it felt almost like laying old friends to rest. Down one by one in the boxes they went to be stored in the shop. Harlie, Mildred, Blind Sam, Old Doc Hale, the wooly worm, and a hundred more. How long would they stay there? What would have changed when they came out again, whenever that was? Who would be taking them out? Me? Maybe, maybe not.
And then the empty tables making the room look bigger and lonelier.
And now the new figures re-populating the tables. Getting to know them as I taped a title and page number to each one and placed them in the order they will appear in the book. Another interesting gang, but different. Exciting, but new friends, not old.
Finally, I realize that the sadness is even deeper than old back-to-school memories, or Covid, or saying goodbye to the familiar and beginning to build a relationship with the new. It’s about us and how time moves on as each generation has to go in the box to be replaced by a still newer generation for which the box is waiting. It’s tough, but it’s the way time works, and the best we can do is accept the cycle and find the good that’s there in whatever time it is—even a time of contagion and lockdown.
Which brings a concluding thought—or really, a fantasy. What if, during a rough time, like the present, for example, we could magically make that period be over, and then, when things are better, bring the time back out, add the span to our allotted days and enjoy it without the trouble that made us want it to be over in the first place?
Doesn’t work that way does it? But that didn’t keep Mommy from imagining it:
Time flies, time drags.
If only we could store it in bags.
Stuff some in to make it past,
And twist the top to make it last.
Then tear time open, letting it flow,
To bring relief when hours run low.
—from Ring Around the Moon)
Time, that rascal, doesn’t behave according to our wishes, but at least we’re all in it together.
Mike Norris is a writer who grew up in McKee. His books are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Wal Mart, many other websites, and in bookstores.
This article also appears on page 10 of the November 2020 print edition of ace magazine lex.
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