In search of story


The cull of the piled

I’ve been in culling mode for some time now, but mostly first-stage, which for me is conceptual. Second stage is actual. Well, yes, dear reader, that is a way of saying “procrastination,” but I really do have to think about it first. And, as a writer, I have to think about thinking about it.

Why is it so difficult to part with this stuff? I hate the accumulation. I hate piles and stacks. So why do I stand lost in thought about what some thingamabob MIGHT be used for some day? Why, when I haven’t used it in years, does my head invent possibilities for using it EVER? And what if I do need it and don’t have it? Will the world end?

Not only is there the inherited china and silver and photos, but there is an asexually reproducing miscellany from my own life, featuring my collection of pieces. Pieces! They go with something somewhere somehow, so I must keep them until they can be glued back! Never mind the odds against that.

How about the two suits in the back of my closet? Remnants of a professional wardrobe, they are useless. But also evidence of how I used to look. Must I let go of that?

There’s the parody on “The Twelve Days of Christmas” by my 7th-graders in 1968. The autograph book signed by my sixth-graders in 1967. And don’t forget the dumb jokes my dad sent me in college, my kindergarten handprint, and my one baby moccasin, initially preserved by my mother. Old damask table linen, anyone?

The fact is that things have persons attached. Times, places. I guess I answer my own question. That’s why culling is so hard.

Laziness has nothing to do with it.

Seriously: one baby moccasin

Seriously: one baby moccasin



My Uncle George was the dearest man in the world. His first wife, my pretty Aunt Mary, died of breast cancer in 1953. Forty-five years later, dying, he lay still and unaware for days. Except for one day when he was restless and agitated. It was the anniversary of Mary’s death.

My incorrigible Grandma Mauck, 90, was in the hospital apparently comatose. She was unresponsive, removed from time and place. She died on the same date Grandpa Mauck had died 36 years earlier.

How did they know?

Some years ago, I told my wise friend Mary Jo that I felt bad but I didn’t know why. “Don’t you have some anniversaries right now?” she asked. I was astounded. I was the one comatose! I’d been unaware of the time, the late winter months. Same time it is right now.

I’ve been struggling with insomnia for weeks now. It is horrible. I have inventoried several reasons for it, including heredity, but only yesterday did I remember Mary Jo’s words. This is a time of anniversary. Dad’s last months. The memories are insistent, grueling. It isn’t the death; it’s multiple deaths; it’s the dying. The anger, the aloneness, the exhaustion. The rising tide of losses.

Does trauma imbed itself in time so that it comes again and again, revolving with the earth? Are our souls aware when our minds are not?

“This too shall pass” is cruel platitude.


Winter garden

Ring-a-ding-ding, little bells!
What accusing stasimon
your silent chiming tells.

Listen to the scolding of the bells!

Woeful, scrawny, rickety,
impecunious of bloom,
flaccid, fainting, sickly,
you mortified the room.

December’s brassy knell
graveyard cold
sounded for the year
and for you
graveyard old
spindly weary.

In memoriam
I intoned
preparing to bury
your quaggy bones
but —
gardener’s scruples —
turned westward

January window —
portal, shaman —
tickled your wilt
quickened your silt
and crowded yourself
with new life.

Listen to the chiding of the bells!

Pearly bells!
What a din of foliage
its pluck and purple tells.

Humbled water-fetcher,
bowing to graceful
I nod
the error of my ways.
I have learned,
oh, teacher-in-a-pot!
Life is more
than what I see.

Ring away!


(with apologies to Poe)


On being game

One morning when I was a carpooling young mom, I had a carful of well-breakfasted grade-schoolers who had just invented the game “Guess My Favorite Number!” The numbers they guessed were hybrids of decimals and fractions and kazillionbajillions. Each was answered with NOOOOOO! and increased hilarity. It was the longest ride of my life.

I thought that was the dumbest game ever.


Last week my grandchildren taught me “What’s in your milk?” Answer at your peril. Whatever your answer must be the answer to all ensuing questions until you are forced to laugh and thus lose. Oh, no, says I: you lose when you agree to play. Consider:

“What’s in your milk?”
“Old boots.”
“What’s on your head?”
“Old boots.”
“What’s in your sandwich?”
“Old boots.”
“What’s your dad’s name?”
“Old boots.”

Are you ready yet to run screaming from the room? Well, what if you’re driving? Yes, once again trapped in the car with sparring young wits. I actually participated until, in self-defense and in deference to other drivers, I resigned with loud opinions.

From the back seat, they sensed Grandma’s wild eyes, and changed the game to “Ask any question.”

When it was my turn, I asked “What do you think life was like when I was growing up?” (Will I never learn?) The answers were instantaneous: “Boring!” “Dull!”

Talk about a game-changer. Suddenly I was on the defensive. Fortunately for them, I couldn’t stop to bellow about how exciting it was when we read about that first wheel on the daily stone tablet.

So now new game questions: was there multicellular life before the Internet? Am I proof that there was or that there wasn’t?

Do I want to hear their answers?



I look like a shmoo.

It’s a three-robe morning: the cold is in my bones, and all my robes are called to duty.

The first robe is an ancient peachy-pink flannel. I’ve lost count of its years, poor thing. Maybe twenty? It is a favorite — you know, one of those things in your closet that should never wear out. Its zipper and elastic have gone the way of the pyramids. It is threadbare, limp, exhausted. An old friend. I love it.

Then the new robe, an authentic fuzzy pink. A vaguely bubble-gum pink, alas. Incredibly warm everywhere but my ankles, where the draft is wicked.

The top robe used to be Dad’s. A sober, grey, thinning pilled thing, trimmed in black. My sons and I gave it to him for Christmas after Mom died, and, had Dad known how much it cost, he never would have worn it. But wear it he did! When I had the audacity to wash it, Dad, Linus-like, sighed with relief when it was returned to him fresh from the dryer and he could meld with it again.

The night Dad died, in the comfort of Hospice care, I was wearing his robe, curled up in a big chair next to his bed. I’d fallen asleep. The aide came in, looked carefully at Dad and said, “It won’t be long now.” Within a minute I saw Dad’s body let go.

Do I think of that whenever I wear this robe? Pretty much. Sometimes it’s a butterfly memory, passing by lightly. Sometimes it’s Godzilla.

But three-robe cold will come. And I will meet it shmoo-like. That’s how life is.