After more than 200 episodes and nearly five years, Kathryn Eastburn has decided to retire The Middle Distance. It has been a pleasure to work with Kathryn, and we wish her all the best in her future endeavors, whatever they may be. If you've enjoyed reading/hearing her column over the years, we hope you'll join us in thanking her in the comment section below.
This cold January, Mama keeps the heat cranked up to 73 and only goes outside to put out the mail. She’s down to less than 90 pounds, her weight about the same as her age, but she still glides around on her little cat feet from chore to chore, all day long, every day. By the time I get up in the morning she has already unloaded the dishwasher, brought in the newspaper and read it, made the coffee and warmed up the biscuits.
The plan was to fly, but at the last minute I decided to drive instead. I’d set aside a month to visit my mother on the Texas Gulf coast over Christmas and into the new year, and I reasoned it would be good to have my car for the month in Galveston, if the mechanic deemed it roadworthy for the 2,500-mile round trip.
The tree lights twinkle silently on Christmas morning in our Kentucky living room. Beneath the lowest limbs, glassy-eyed baby dolls, circa 1960, lounge among piles of soft new pajamas and socks, awaiting the arms of three little girls.
I believe these are the happiest days of my mother’s life, when she sees us with our new dolls. It’s true that we asked for them, but in a roundabout way.
“What do you want Santa to bring you?” she asks.
“A football and shoulder pads,” says my older sister.
It is nearly mid-December and it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Lights twinkle on wreathes; shiny red bows crown doorways; cartoon reindeer and snowmen and Santas grin cheerfully from festive store windows.
The darkest day of the year approaches, the winter solstice, and candles in windows flicker against the black night.
This week Colorado lost one of its finest native sons, but not really. Kent Haruf — born in Pueblo, raised on the eastern plains, schooled in Canon City and most recently a resident of Salida — died at his home last Sunday, but his legacy remains in the books he left behind.
Nearly every wall of my mother’s house is lined with tables, bookcases, or a chest with drawers. And every time I come for a stay, I go through all of those drawers, one at a time.
Before the sun is up, Mama picks up the morning newspaper from the front porch, then pads down the carpeted hallway and pulls my bedroom door closed so I can sleep a little longer and she can fix her breakfast in peace. She feeds the dog a fried egg and makes a half pot of weak coffee, then reads the Galveston Daily News from front to back, clipping a recipe or a coupon if there’s a good one.
I was reunited with a friend this week. From the time we last parted ways — the fall of 2007 — until now, she has lived in Denver and I have moved from Colorado to south Texas and back.
She exists as a painting, a portrait made some 30 years ago on the frozen plains outside St. Paul, Minnesota, by an artist born in Costa Rica, relocated to the midwest via Los Angeles. Her face betrays her Asian roots — Vietnamese, relocated to the United States after fleeing her homeland in a boat.
This week's Middle Distancemarks the 200th episode. Congratulations and thank you, Kathryn, for all you have done, and continue to do in the community! —Noel Black, Producer, and the KRCC Staff
I get irritated with writers who only write about writing. How can someone who doesn’t write essays or memoir or short stories or poems or novels, or even news stories have anything useful to say to someone who wants to tell a story?
Tomorrow night at the Fine Arts Center, the Youth Documentary Academy will premiere films produced by their first class of local high school students. Podcaster Ryan Lowery sat down and spoke Colorado Springs native and Academy founder Tom Shepard, a documentary filmmaker who now resides in San Francisco, about the school and the films.
Something remarkable happened in Colorado Springs over the last year. It happens all the time but often remains beneath the radar: someone with a dream pursues it with focus and determination and a vision is realized.
A student talked to me recently about his storytelling style. Film is his medium, and though he resists it, he tends naturally toward tightly constructed romantic comedies with snappy dialogue and happy endings. “I think I should just embrace my clichéd self,” he said. I told him that during my newspapering days, my co-workers, hard-nosed reporters, often teased that I covered the tearjerker beat. Sometimes, I said, we just have to admit what we’re good at whether we like it or not.
In her masterpiece, The God of Small Things, Indian novelist Arundhati Roy says this about stories: “The secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen.”
Goodnight tomato vines, gnarly and black, pulled and piled to rot. Goodnight mutilated squash, shriveled eggplant and peppers and beans. It was great while it lasted.
Goodnight lonely beds, stripped and turned, tossed and raked. Quiet now, isn’t it, after all that nourishing? Just relax and let me feed you. I promise a feast of manure and leaves and compost. Your work is done. For now.
It’s the day before the September equinox. Black clouds pile up to the north of Denver and a stiff breeze whips the tablecloths on the patio of a streetside sandwich shop. Diners clutch their newspapers and napkins, and their eyes dart across the busy street toward the approaching storm.
High school students on lunch break wander the sidewalks, deep in a dream of themselves.
When my son died in the summer of 2007, his brother was scheduled to head off to Budapest, Hungary that fall to study math. The idea of him, so far away and on his own in a foreign place so shortly after this family trauma, caused both of his parents enough anxiety that, even though we had been divorced for many years, we decided to make a family visit to Budapest that October.
“Things get bad for all of us, almost continually, and what we do under the constant stress reveals who/what we are.” In his posthumous collection, What Matters Most is How Well You Walk Through the Fire, poet Charles Bukowski encapsulated an all too familiar manifesto for growing old.
What nearly kills us strengthens us. What we lose brings into clear focus what we have. Clichés for living through the middle distance that, like all clichés, have become worn and ubiquitous because they are true.
It’s not unusual out here in the Middle Distance to begin wondering what we will leave behind when we’re gone. I’m not planning on going anywhere any time soon, but if middle age has taught me anything it’s that lives can end gracefully and naturally with time for reflection, or they can end suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving black holes in their wake.
When we were kids, the long, slow crawl of baseball colored our summer afternoons. Red clay dirt. Freshly drawn baselines of powdered white chalk. Little League Cardinals in red and white; Orioles in orange Pirates in green. Fingers stained by Pixi-Stix from the concession stand.
This mid-August morning, the cool air already begins to hint at fall. The light is soft and gray. The only sound is the crunch of gravel as I walk down the alley, green bucket in hand, to the garden I tend, about a block away from where I now live.
Until just a month ago, I lived in the tall house that shades the garden. Now I’m a daily visitor there, slipping through the back gate while everyone in the house is still sleeping, a venture that makes me feel secretive, like a kid spying on her parents.
If aging is letting go of adulthood and entering a whole new phase of life, a visit from an adult child can bring that reality into focus. Last week my daughter and her husband visited, and I experienced another in a long series of identity tweaks out here in the middle distance. I hadn’t yet let go of the mothering role I served with my kids for nearly 40 years, organizing their days and meals together, deciding what we would eat and when. As I watched my daughter, her brother and their significant others arrange their days and their meals, I felt part of myself quietly floating away.
I get up, as usual, brew one strong cup of coffee, grab a bucket and scissors and walk through the half-lighted dawn, down the alley to the garden where I cut flowers, pick herbs, weed a little and check the progress of the squash and tomatoes. Cool nights and wet days have slowed the development of their fruits. Their leaves and vines reach skyward for the sun they crave.
Ours was a show tunes kind of house, at the height of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s great musicals. And though we lived in a small Kentucky town where the idea of seeing a musical theater production onstage wasn’t even a distant dream, from the year I was born until I turned 11, films were made of Oklahoma, Carousel, The King and I, Flower Drum Song and The Sound of Music, and on television we saw the musical Cinderella. Between these and soundtrack releases on LP, we learned the melody and lyrics to most every song in every show.
In the summer of 1972, my big adventure was a trip to Nashville for the Rolling Stones concert. I had just graduated high school in Memphis, and my best friend David had bought tickets as a combination birthday/graduation gift. We had waited with rapt anticipation, following the media storm that accompanied the Stones’ decadent romp across America. Finally, June 29 had arrived.
Once upon a June Saturday there was a yard sale, a very big neighborhood yard sale with over 100 households selling the things they didn’t want or need any more. For weeks families dug through their basements and garages and closets, pulling out furniture and lamps, coats and boots, garden hoses, bicycles, buckets and books for the sale. Then, when Saturday arrived, they got up early in the morning and set their things out, marked with price tags, in their front yards, awaiting the first buyers to arrive.
Ashes, ashes, we all fall down! God, how we loved falling down when we were short and close to the ground. Remember the crash, the exaggerated poses of collapse, legs overhead, torso twisted crazily? Falling down the least gracefully, most dramatically, was the whole point.
Even when a fall was a surprise, when it caused minor injury, a scrape or a cut, the Band-aid was a badge of honor, the scabbed over abrasion a battle scar to be proud of.