Judy Hogan fall 2011
I am seventy-five today. More importantly, I am healthy and feel in my prime. I grow half my food (most of my fruit, vegetables, and I have eggs and occasionally chicken from my small flock). I walk five or six days a week and do most of my own outdoor chores: weedeating, mowing, and as a small farmer, I use hoe, shovel, and rake to prepare the soil, plant, weed. I harvest, preserve soups, stews, vegetables for the winter, freeze and can fruit, and make jam, preserves, and pickles.
I still work for a living: teaching, editing, and I sell figs, leeks, and eggs, an occasional loaf of bread. I’m finishing up a ten-month self-declared sabbatical from teaching writing, in order to focus more on my own writing, though I did a backyard chicken workshop in April.
I don’t travel much, but the end of April I attended the Malice Domestic mystery convention in Bethesda, drove there in my ’96 pickup and rode the Metro from my friends’ house (Sharon and John Ewing in Alexandria). May 31-June 5 I’m visiting my elder daughter’s family to celebrate, my twin grandchildren's (Megan and Will) graduation from high school. I took care of them when they were babies.
This summer in the spaces I’m writing my tenth mystery novel, Death of a Hell-Razor, the second novel to take place at fictional St. Francis College. The first, Killer Frost, is coming out September 1, and I have a busy fall of bookstore and library readings scheduled, with a book launch at my Hoganvillaea Farm in Moncure on September 22, in the afternoon, the autumn equinox. Everyone invited. It’s pot-luck, bring your own drinks, and buy or pick up a book you’ve already paid for.
I’m at the autumn equinox of my life, too. My body is still up to all that I ask of it, but I pay attention to its signals, rest more, break up my work stints, alternating garden chores and indoor writing and reading time. I usually sleep well.
My body needs more consideration, and my daily walks are necessary for my knees, heart, circulation, digestion, as is my keeping active and engaged, physically, mentally, spiritually. I have most of what I want in this life: good, stimulating work, people to love and be loved by, land to farm, care for, and enjoy.
I love all the birds that flock to the feeder, the way the hens come running from the orchard when I open the back door, the small apples, pears, peaches swelling on the fruit trees; the blueberry bushes crowded with pale blue fruit. The big green figs ripening slowly, the heavy rain, when it finally comes, to give all my growing things a good drenching, all the signs of my work and care over thirteen years of feeding the soil and eating its produce.
Some things I wish for I know now I probably won’t have in this autumn phase, and others I have to wait for. But, as so many elders tell me when I ask how they are: “I can’t complain.” I have a very rich life.
The saddest part of staying healthy and aging well is losing people you love and value, sometimes much younger than you are, so three weeks ago, May 5, I lost Tuddy (Walter Hackney), one of my neighbors, whose life work or “calling” was helping people, though he never said so. He liked to mow my lawn when I wasn’t home. He wasn’t a talkative person, but he was so kind and good. I wrote about him the day I learned he’d been killed. This poem also catches the “place” I am right now, as I turn seventy-five. Enjoy!
The Telling that Changes Everything XIX. May 6, 2012
I dreamt I was alone, at the beginning
and at the end. I joined a big family group
that included young children, and they
ordered me food–fries and a drink. I knew
I couldn’t stay, but when I tried to leave
the restaurant, my arm was held fast. I
had to pay first. I couldn’t remember the
name of the people who had treated me,
and they had left the restaurant. When
I asked help, someone told me they were
outside. Someone else said, “They’re
with the Army, and the Army has a
different system for paying.” I still felt
lost and helpless when I woke up. I
remember that I had my own goals, that my
way was different from that of the big
family I’d been with. Something in me,
though slowed, impeded, baffled, was
determined to reach my own goal. It’s
my life. I’m part of many worlds, including
that of my family and my children’s
families, that of the writers I know and
love, including mystery writers. My poems,
true stories, and novels go their own way,
speak their own truth, as do the doubts
that niggle at me when I’m tired. The fears
I dream at night throw light into my
darkness, but I cope. I replace the bulb
I can barely reach. Two days ago I feared
I’d lose my balance and fall off the chair.
I scolded myself: “You can certainly
change a light bulb. Learn how.” I read
books where the author presents goodness
through a smokescreen of self-doubt,
satire, and dismay. That’s not my way.
Goodness suffers, but I know it wins
in the end. Emma calls to tell me Tuddy
was killed last night, hit by a car while
walking on 15-501. Tuddy, who has
helped me quietly, as if he didn’t want
me to notice, these years I’ve lived here:
mowing the grass outside my fences,
caring for my hens when Robert
got too sick, building me a clothesline
closer to my house. Loving, giving
man, now gone. One year he came
over on Christmas day to give me a
Christmas hug. I gave him token
gifts, but I could never thank him
enough, and now he’s gone. We all
go. I hope, when I’m gone, that some
trail of goodness is visible behind me,
some trace of my solitary quest for
the words that will release the truth
we all need and offer healing.