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  • Writer's pictureAusten Hayes

In Small Doses

"When love is at its best, one loves so much that (s)he cannot forget."

~ Helen Hunt Jackson

The right words at the right time, said by someone you love, have the power to inspire and strengthen. These, handwritten on the inside cover of a book given to me by my Mother, Christmas, 1982, were reflections of the way she believed life's challenges were to be met - with serenity and grace. At some point I turned a portion of what she wrote into the title for a blog, convinced seeing the sentiment regularly would act as

a kind of support, helping me conquer intrusions of self-doubt accompanying my wish to write...

" be taken in small doses with morning coffee.".

Many posts and a variety of titles later, I've learned it takes more than a name to trust that a story is worth the telling. Stopping and starting - "yes", "no", "I will", "I won't" - change doesn't much care. Whether we hold steady and stay the course, or we don't, it persists, moving us forward or leading us back, u-turns and circles, indecision and uncertainty leaving us with far less progress than hoped for. Might we find more to guide us in the instincts and simplicity of where it all begins?

A look back: another Christmas. I was four - a celebration dinner for naval officers and their families at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. Surrounded by the people I loved most in the world, perceptions heightened by the season's colours and joyful clatter, the details of a most magical night remain clear.

case in hand

I see my mother, beautiful in a pale blue

wool coat and fur hat, my father tall and smiling, cheered by the company of his fellow seamen, my sister and brother in their holiday dress. I don't know how, but sometime in the evening I won the first of three things I've ever won in my life; a luggage-coloured leather case with a snapper of such quality it closed with no 'snap' at all, needing only the barest pressure to secure the treasure it held inside - a dozen newly sharpened pencils. I was very young, but somehow understood the quality of the evening as well as the case and what they both held. Far more than graphite in wooden shafts, these nested pencils would be companions in exploration and discovery. On that night - like the pencils - I was wrapped and secure with the promise of everything I could possibility want.

Forward, just a few years later, I would spend hours at an old mahogany secretary, the quiet pierced only slightly by sudden outbursts of talk and laughter creating vibrations that were the mingling and sharing of my siblings lives, energetic enough to travel up and around, reaching through floors and stairwell into my room. By then we were four. The order of the day, teasing and testing, became the practice and preparation for the life we would grow into. We were learning when to approach, when to retreat, how to squabble and challenge and bruise, win or lose, brood and recover, but never leave, never stop trying. I loved my family more than words can say, but, at ten, knew well the need for something yet unnamed - solitude.

Comforted by these distant sounds of chaos that are the unpredictable made only by children, I was content in a bedroom suited to my temperament; windows shaded by straight, blue linen curtains, a single bed, the old desk, a green blotter, pens, and more sharpened pencils. Order in the company of no more than the necessary allows room for the wandering mind. Imagination was stoked and dependent upon the delightful feel of space and time alone.

The best of both worlds; family nearby while up the stairs in my room by myself I could manage energy carefully, spending hours copying words and sayings and quotes by hand. Things I wanted to understand or remember and ideas worth saving were placed in the desk's slatted 'cubby' openings. With no thoughts of change, life would always be the same and I could go on discovering - Joan of Arc, a common bond with the simplicities of Benjamin Franklin, the lives of cowboys and their horses, the innocence and beauty of animals and nature, the study of grammar and words, all there for the taking - and, we would be family forever - no matter what.

Yes and no. My father died a few years later, when I was 16. My mother left more recently, still beautiful, but ready to rest at the age of 99. My siblings and I are hardly together...separated by miles as well as death. Together, as they say, 'in spirit' while moving to different cities, different parts of the world, or, for my younger brother, to a place we'll all go to one day. The list of addresses, careers, marriages, divorces, children and grandchildren, husbands and ex-husbands, wives and ex-wives, is long.

As time passes, the pace of change quickens. Aging moves slowly for a long time, then in what seems like months, bodies take on a mind and will of their own. Energy less dependable, steps less sure, caution given more thought. Mirrors remind us of our mother's skin, the thin body and protruding bones once belonging to our grandfather have become our own. We finally understand our grandmother's tone of irritation at any suggestion that her faculties might not be what they once were. We recall the angry push to the hand and scolding words, "I don't need your help!", in response to the cupping of an elbow at a busy crossing. Now, it all makes sense.

How precious this time is. Short and precious. Lately I'm thinking more about how and where it will be spent. The where and with whom as important as the how. The crude, the crass, the harsh and the jarring are to be avoided. There must be beauty. I must live close enough to be able to visit the deep green of moss hugging the foot of old trees, nourished under the cool of a wide-spread canopy. No matter how cold, I want to be with the blues and greys and pinks in the dead of winter when the sky opens in invitation to all who will notice. I want to appreciate the blanket of warmth in summer, wrapping us to the point of exhaustion, telling us we're still here.

As memories of family linger, I share my days and intimacies with a beloved four-legged creature who knows nothing of such things. Happily, solitude teaches the power of the non-verbal, and knowing communication can be expressed with eyes and touch and habit as much as with words, our 'conversations' are rich. Awakened at 3am by the morning alarm set off by fresh ideas and her wish for a treat we walk into the kitchen, as comforted by the known and yet to be known as I was on that night when I was four. Pencils sharpened. Loved by those whose words continue to encourage, believing there's more to discover, I try again.


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With warmest wishes,


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Jul 10
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Beautiful. My heart is overflowing……

Jul 12
Replying to

Thank you so very much!!


Jul 10

Lovely, Austen. Thank you. Much to think about. Have a safe and peaceful journey north.

Austen Hayes
Austen Hayes
Jul 12
Replying to

Thank you! I’m so grateful for your support…

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