Saturday, November 11, 2017

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

For Dad

My father, Hugh Gowan, passed away on Sunday. Dad and I weren't close - we've only spoken on the phone a few times in the past 40 years - but I believe people should be remembered for the good things they did in life and not for their mistakes.  In that spirit I wanted to share a few of the things about him that I honestly loved.

He was a preacher most of his life and he taught me that Christians can have a sense of humor about their own religion. He was devoted to community and inclusiveness and care for people on the fringes. He was the minister a mixed-race couple could go to when they wanted to get married and he always made a safe places for teens to hang out and be their weirdo teen selves. 

He was a musician and loved to sing. He happened to be born on the same day as Elvis Presley. He claimed they were switched at birth and that he was supposed to be the rock and roll star while Elvis should have been the preacher.

He was an artist and my earliest memories of him are flashes of stained fingers and the smell of turpentine and linseed oil. He loved to paint, which was interesting because he was colorblind. He did pretty well unless he got his palette turned around and then his paintings took on a surreal tone. Every now and again he would ask me to help sort out his colors.

Born in the mountains of North Carolina, he always felt at home there, but as my great-grandmother often said, "Your daddy was born with a flea on his foot, and so it's hard for him to settle down." We moved once a year for much of my childhood and when he finally settled, it was with a different family in different mountains. I'm glad he found peace and happiness there.

Hugh as a young boy

High School

He loved to dress up. Halloween was a favorite,
but he was nuts for the Civil War era.

"Farm at Wright State" 1970

"Pond" 1971

"Reflection"  1971


Dad managed to hang on to my Great-great Grandfather's fiddle. My brother Lon rescued it from storage, had it refurbished, and gave it to me as a birthday present. In this video my husband Bill Quern plays "Sandy Boys" on Granddaddy's Fiddle, keeping the family tradition alive and well.

I went to see Dad before he passed. I got to say to him, "Rest easy, Dad. You are loved," and touch his hand one more time.

A few days later, at the moment of his passing over, this butterfly came to my garden and hung around long enough to bring me a message, "Don't worry, I'm OK. You are loved."

I'm pretty sure he gets to see all the colors, now.

For my dad
Lon Hugh Gowan
Jan 8, 1935 - Oct 15, 2017

Friday, September 8, 2017

Between the Notes

Our love stands as tall as the far away mountains,
Haloed in clouds, toes dug in the earth.
Our love still sparkles like dewdrops and fountains,
Blessings of laughter, a wellspring of mirth.

Arms flung so wide they could wrap round the planet,
Gather me in with a breath and a sigh.
I can’t help but wonder how I could stand it,
If you travelled on and left me behind.

Don’t waste your tears on what hasn’t happened,
There’s sorrow enough to go all around.
No use in borrowing troubles imagined,
Or weeping for heartache you haven’t yet found.

So shake off the shivers and let’s go out dancing,
Music will chase away dark thoughts and gloom.
Between the notes, the balm of silence,
And we’ll turn away fear as we spin round the room.

Sarah Gowan  September 2017

I wrote a tune called "Tilting Summer In" that fits this poem pretty well.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

She's Really Let Her Self Go

“She’s really let herself go”, they laughed-whispered, 
Delight fighting revulsion,
Fingers crossed against misfortune.

“Why yes I have,” I think,
Admiring my rounded belly
Cross-hatched with scars
My double chins wobbling beneath a crooked grin.

I let myself go the moment I became a mother,
Making room in this body for squirming new life full of need and hunger.
Breasts swelling with milk,
Arms thick with a fierce love that could work all day
and hug, and reluctantly open wide to let those babies go
To a life no longer my own.

I let myself go
To swallow your secrets,
Tucking them next to my heart
To keep them safe,
To keep you safe,
Making room for the pain
And joy
Of loving you

Giggling at the wobbly bits
I let my Self go
To become bigger, wilder, fiercer,
And more loving
Than I ever imagined this fragile bit of flesh, this wisp of spirit, could be.

--Sarah Gowan 9/2/17

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Help Me! Help Me!

What you can't see in this photo is that I'm
wearing my favorite black, knee-high riding
boots. I loved those things so much and
wore them for so long I'm pretty sure
my mom had to cut them off me.

Before we were able to video every blessed moment of our children's precious existence with our Dick Tracy watches and Star Trek tricorders, our family made audio recordings on reel-to-reel audio tapes. Some were made just for fun, many were sent to our grandparents who lived in North Carolina and Louisiana. Thanks to my brother Lon, who rescued a bunch of these tapes and had them digitized, I can now expand my social media oversharing by several decades.

Here is an audio clip from 1969 of me singing "In a Cabin In the Woods".  If you know the song, you'll remember it's done with hand gestures gradually replacing the lyrics so by the end of the song you mime the whole verse. This being audio-only I decided to hum the hand-gestures instead and in this ridiculously cute rendition the humming takes on a life of its own; so much so that I clearly felt the need to acknowledge it at the end of the song.

Here are the lyrics so you can sing along... I leave the hand gestures up to you.

In a cabin in the wood, (trace a cabin outline with your index fingers)
Little man by the window stood; (hand to your forehead shading your eyes and look around)
Saw a rabbit going before, (hold two fingers of one hand like rabbit ears, hopping)
Knocking at his door. (knock with fist)

 "Help me! Help me! Help! he said, (raise your hands up like you're surprised on each "help")
"Or the hunter will shoot me dead!" (gun pointing like Elmer Fudd hunting wabbits)
"Little rabbit, come inside, (beckon in)
Safely you'll abide." (Rock the baby in your arms)

I still love dresses with pockets.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Munlochy Clootie Well

One of the most powerful sites we visited in Scotland was the Clootie Well at Munlochy. A Clootie Well is a place, usually at a spring surrounded by trees, where people seeking healing from an illness or woe make an offering of a piece of cloth (cloot). Sometimes the cloth is dipped in the waters, or used to wash the ailing person. Sometimes coins or other offerings are left. These sites are pre-Christian, but often came to be associated with Christian saints. The Clootie Well at Munlochy is associated with St Boniface and dates to before the time he worked as a missionary in Scotland around 620 AD.

My photographs can't convey the overwhelming power of the grove. When you first walk up the path the site seems quirky and odd, or even whimsical. A pair of trainers over a tree limb reminded me of my Philly home with end-of-school-year sneakers tossed over telephone wires. But as we wandered deeper into the wood, the air became still, the birds quieted and a full view of the offerings came into view.

It took my breath away - I don't think I've ever seen anything so human in all my life. Thousands of wishes and prayers for healing tied to every tree and vine. Suddenly I could see the sneakers were no longer thrown on a dare - maybe they represented a teen with leukemia and the bras weren't a drunken afterthought - they were for a mom with breast cancer. Some people left healing prayers for the world, just wanting everything to be better for everyone. I've seen the site described as "creepy" or "weird", but I wasn't spooked; I felt surrounded by longing and a desire for connection and peace. We live in a crazed world filled with suffering and frustration and yet here in this ancient grove people still come as they have for more than a thousand years to say, "I am one of you. I share your pain. Let's ask for help together."   I don't think I'll ever look at a shopping mall wishing fountain the same way.

You can read more about the Clootie Well here:

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Memory - Safety Tom

When I was in elementary school (6th grade maybe?) I wore one of these Safety Badges, along with the white webbing sash/belt - for about 2 days. The other kids hated the Safetys because we were their friends and "Not the boss of me!" It felt ridiculous to stop traffic because we didn't have any really young kids on the route that needed help and we all were going home to play in the middle of the street anyway. (Car! Car!! CAR!!!) I handed in my belt with a "Thanks, but no thanks".

There was a kid named Tom who took over. We teased him terribly for his high-water trousers, thick glasses, and button-tight shirts straight out of the 1950's. He stoically endured our taunts, staring straight ahead and tucking in his chin with the most determination I have ever seen before or since. But man oh man, Tom had the Safety Arm Spread down to a science and I swear the cars would stop just because he willed them to. He was Safety legend.

Tom also played the piano like a dream - we were in the school orchestra together (I played cello) - and with the same fierce determination he used to deflect 2 tons of metal from plowing through our tiny grade school bodies. While the rest of us sawed and bleated our way through barely recognizable Bach, he held us together with his piano, chin tucked in, glasses sliding down his nose, top button straining, but never flying loose. He had our backs, and with his musical safety net, we navigated the score without suffering any orchestral tragedies.

After I moved away, I wrote him a letter apologizing for being so rotten to him and hoping he never stopped playing. I don't know if he ever got it, or if it made any difference. I hope so. Through a little internet sleuthing I know he went on to get married and become a well-liked minister and that he still plays piano and organ, so I take comfort in knowing his life went on after grade school.

Thanks for looking out for us, Tom. We need more Safetys like you.

Sunday, January 8, 2017


Me: Is that...?
BQ: Our snowblower dangling from the clothesline like a butchered hog? Yes. Yes it is.
Me: Intentionally?
BQ: Not this time.

The BHE accidentally got tangled in one of the lead lines we use to take the cats out in the backyard and the blower got sucked right up! I thought my hair in the vacuum brush was bad - this was epic!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Thanks, You've Helped Enough

When you have cancer, there are two really obnoxious ways people try to help. The first by telling you you your cancer was caused by something stupid like childhood trauma, or a vitamin deficiency, or lizard spit. Even if your friend is a hot dog eating, cigarette smoking, alcoholic, telling them what you think caused their cancer DOESN'T HELP, so just keep it to yourself.

The other super annoying thing people do is offer the latest in alternative "cures" and treatments. (My personal favorite was the "Baking Soda Cure".) When I told my brother Lon about this, he started sending me these hilarious texts. He may not have cured my cancer, but he kept me laughing...

This was especially funny because I've been gluten free for about 20 years.

Then when he got injured doing stunt work I got to return the favor....

I love my family.