Oddments

In search of story


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January 8.23: Coping, but barely

When I write the first word of something, I have an idea what the last word will be. What a laugh. Writing has its own idea of where it’s going, and it’s rarely where I thought I was steering it.

Ten years ago, when I was 70, I promised myself I would do two things: learn how to bake biscotti, and start a blog. My writing mate Tamara graciously set up the blog for me, and I began, tentatively, intending to write mostly about caregiving, and hoping to learn how to tell a story. In August of 2015 Tamara prodded me to try photos as prompts. I was hooked.

So, as with all my writing, I did not go where I thought I would.

I’ve always been Oddment(s), but the themes have morphed from “Connections” to “Disconnections” to “Coping” to “Coping, but barely,” all reflective of my life and the life around me.

But the subtitled quest remained: In search of story. I can make biscotti, but I still can’t tell a story.

So I ask myself, “What at 80?”

 


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December 24.22: Coping, but barely

The perfect world

isn’t real

except in goo

of warm pinwheel.

Perfection twice:

Christmas then,

and today rich air

savored again.

My wish, dear reader,

whatever your feast:

may memory and hope

be your yeast.

 

The other day I had the privilege of teaching my grandchildren about yeast dough and sticky buns, closely related to the brown sugar rolls Grandma O’Hern used to make, and also the Christmas breakfast of their dad’s childhood. Once again the kitchen was crowded, not just with teenagers, but with ghosts happily looking on. (They were happy because they didn’t have to clean up. Sticky buns are so named because of the state of the kitchen.)

I don’t think I look for a perfect world, though I think I’d like it; I do, however, look for a world with some sanity, and that seems completely elusive most days. Then comes a day to bake with grandchildren and I see perfect order in the universe.

There are many beautiful traditions at this time of year; whichever ones you treasure, dear reader, may they bring a moment of peace and wonder to your heart.


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December 17.22: Coping, but barely

My tree is still in pieces,

the cookies are unbaked,

my cards still in the box,

Christmas mood cannot be faked.

I’m tired and feeling old,

I can’t pretend I’m jolly.

I’d like to arm myself

with Scrooge’s stake of holly.

Crazed, near-sighted drivers,

shoppers all phone-zoned,

news of inhumanities,

life bewailed, bemoaned

tarnish all the tinsel,

make carolers sing flat;

I need to find a rabbit

to pull out of my hat,

something made of magic

that laughs along with me

even though to others

we’re total mystery.

Aha! It’s just the thing

to make the dismals better:

  from my haute couture collection,

 a rousing Christmas sweater!

When I was in junior high, I wanted blue jeans. The in-crowd wore them. My mother would have none of it: blue jeans were not what proper girls wore. Wait. Did I say I wanted to be proper? I wanted to be cool! Mom and I had this divergence of opinion all the time, and thus did I learn to live with not being cool. Therein lies the explanation for my bewilderment at why Christmas sweaters are so much maligned. They are deemed ugly, uncool.  I like my Christmas Duck sweater! It’s my mother’s fault.

One may argue for a goose, and I grudgingly concede this might indeed be a Christmas goose, but you know my feelings about geese, dear reader. Ergo, it’s a duck.

 

With thanks to Susan Rushton for the photo of my mood!

 


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November 29.22: Coping, but barely

January 1983 was a low point in my life. I turned 40 and was starting over. I took a deep breath, went back to grad school, got an assistantship, and was assigned a cubicle.

My cubicle mate had different hours and we started leaving notes for each other. Give an English major a scrap of lined paper and stand back. Thus began our friendship.

A few years later, she developed a brain tumor which was initially misdiagnosed. It was a terrible fight she fought, but she survived. Not only that, but she earned her PhD at the same time.

That was Sandy. Sandra Littleton Uetz.

Almost thirty years later came the second tumor. She fought again but this time it was different.

I have lost a dear friend.

I don’t think I’m the only one who wonders.  When, at some low point in life, we find ourselves sharing a desk with a stranger who becomes a dear friend, what is that? Do we call it the grace of God, the luck of the Irish, random chance, some cosmic plan, serendipity?

And when the dear friend is at her low point, and we can’t do anything, what do we call it?

She had great teaching ideas, baked a mean cherry pie, was seriously conversant with Pogo and Krazy Kat and Mark Twain, collected buttons and handkerchiefs, loved books, the St. Louis Cardinals, cats, little dogs, birds, and, most deeply, her family. She was a woman of faith and fear — to live with the possibility of recurring tumors is to be just that.

One December Sandy and I drove to Valparaiso, where the square around the old courthouse had been developed into little shops. Christmas carols — REAL Christmas carols — were piped outside. We wallowed in happy nostalgia. It was one of our best hobnobbings. I promise to remember it.

One of her favorite poems, and perhaps her most favorite, is this, by Robert Frost:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

 

May the angels lead you, Sandy.

 

 


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November 26.22: Coping, but barely

A few are left

dry bright flutter

soon adrift

each in its oneness

a moment in the arms of air

then slowly down

leaving the shadeless world

to marvel

at the unhidden.

 

If you know me, dear reader, you have surmised that my muse has abandoned me once again. She does not request a leave of absence; she just absconds with inspiration.

I can’t be too hard on her, though. I’ve caught one of the bugs (infectiously speaking) going around and it has not improved my curmudgeon’s disposition. One of my best friends is losing her fight with a brain tumor, and my thoughts probably don’t leave much room for my muse. Maybe the truth is that I’ve abandoned her.

I had to cancel Thanksgiving at the last minute because of this rotten bug. We swapped food so everyone had a full menu, but we didn’t eat together. I had tea and toast — not cheerfully, I assure you.

Thanksgiving is for all of us a memory mishmash, I think, but it’s fitting as the door to the season of memories. I wish us all perspective.

 


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November 13.22: Coping, but barely

“The Last Rose of Summer,”

that plaintive Irish keen,

sang itself inside me,

soaring yet terrene.

This brilliant ruby voice

of color ‘mid the browned

insisted that its smallness

was yet a mighty sound.

November madrigal,

enrobed in regal satins,

sleeps now in quiet earth

awaiting springtime matins.

 

 

Some will tsk and say that a moss rose is not a rose, that Portulaca and Rosa have nary a botanical thing in common. But you know what Shakespeare said, dear reader: “a rose by any other name.” If my grandma called it a moss rose, then it’s a rose. Grandmas rule.

 

With thanks to Irish poet Thomas Moore.


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October 29.22: Coping, but barely

I have googled my grandma’s house from time to time just to see it again. I’d often wondered, if it ever were on the market and there were photos of the inside, would I look? It was, there were, and I did. I know the truth of “you can’t go back,” but I had to try.

I stared in disbelief at the photo of her kitchen, now a jigsawed greasy soulless room with a Dogpatch ambience. But the dark woodwork around the door to the dining room was unchanged. There was the portal. I saw the grate in the floor, a forgotten everyday that I once considered so exotic a part of her home. I held to that and imagined. There was an ache in me that told me I was there.

It was on that very spot that a little-girl me asked Grandma “Don’t you want to live to be a hundred?” She stunned me with “Oh, no! That’s TOO old!” I can today feel that thud inside me: my grandma couldn’t die ever. Only the grate and I remember what Grandma taught me that day.

How many little things in our daily lives do we see to the point of invisibility? What an injustice we do them. The everyday has power.

 

*****

Thanks to my grandson, who nabbed this screenshot for me. If my grandma weren’t already dead, this dirt would kill her.


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October 26.22: Coping, but barely

There was a time

when I would climb,

jump and hang and crawl,

confetti’d leaves

in shoes and sleeves,

telltales of autumn brawl.

With summer old

but not quite cold,

the air a heady brew

of acorn dust

and toadstool must,

the world was strangely new.

The leafless trees,

my youthful knees

together rocked the day;

in nature’s gym

my scuffed-shoe vim

had eternity to play.

I’d like to now,

but, holy cow,

I just can’t make me do it;

if I should try

I fear that I

would very shortly rue it.

 

With more thanks to photographer S.W. Berg

 and Fort Harrison State Park.

I think I can say without fear of (much) contradiction that I am not the only one in this blogging room who would love to kick leaves all the way up to that big old dead branch, climb on it, jump up and down, hang from it, walk it like a tightrope. Nor am I the only one who would decline the temptation. There isn’t enough liniment in the world.

 

 


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September 21.22: Coping, but barely

My mother had a habit —

endearing it was not —

that ended every argument

abruptly on the spot.

“That’s just dumb!” the guillotine,

no gentle, soft word cuddle,

the end, finis, the fortress wall

to onslaught of rebuttal.

To consider rank stupidity,

deserving of disdain,

to her was waste of time

and energy and brain.

I’d messily implode

when she Mommed me in this way,

but I must admit I hear me

quoting her today.

“Don’t cook chicken in Nyquil,”

the headline black and bold,

bewilders and confounds —

is it just because I’m old?

Besides the who-cares? key

that’s lacking on my board,

the that’s-just-dumb key’s missing

and I’d like it underscored.

 

Really, dear reader? Don’t cook chicken in Nyquil? Did you ever wish your parents, grandparents, or others in their generations were around to react to the things that assail us on the computer screen? I do. I think I’d laugh a lot.

 

Cookbook by Betty Crocker, 1940. Which you probably guessed.

I like to keep things that are older than I am, even if squeakingly so.


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July 25.22: Coping, but barely

A garden in a kettle,

what enticement to know more;

no ordinary flowerpot

hints so of family lore.

Kettles are like aprons,

remnants, scraps and shreds

of kitchens gone to dust

except inside our heads.

Replaced by kitchen jewelry

gleaming, digitized,

its plump and stolid air

is yet unbowdlerized.

Something in its roundness

brings noodle dough to mind,

vegetable soup with barley,

doughnuts cinnamon-brined,

children up on tip-toe

to watch and sniff, content,

the world in proper order

as it was surely meant.

Today its storied depths

give rise to happy greenery,

rooted, like our memories,

in distant kitchen scenery.

 

 

More thanks to photographer S.W. Berg,

and to gardener and family preservationist D.J. Berg.