Oddments

In search of story


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August 22.19

Breathes there the gardener with soul so dead

who never to a friend has said,

“I grew these glorious slices of red!”

 

I’ve been gone, dear reader. Time travel. My dear old high school friends, Donna and Bill, have been visiting, and we had our own private tomato fest. Tomatoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, served with a heaping helping of boast: I GREW THESE! I believe this is my third gardening year not killing tomatoes, and I’ve not one shred of modesty about them.

The tomatoes were highly seasoned with reminiscing, laughing, and reflecting. To be with friends we’ve known since high school is a real privilege at this age, and rightly savored with summer’s bounty. We returned to gardens, tomatoes, and roadside farmers’ stands of the past, as we slathered butter on the hot corn of the present.

It is fitting to pull out the old family heirloom dishes and other eating finery no matter how casual we are. Eating together is a celebration, and a pretty plate seems the only way to go. Besides, what better way to wear a tomato?

Now comes the time of catch-up. (Sorry. I couldn’t resist.)

 

Apologies also to Sir Walter Scott.


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August 4.19

Sometimes

if summer is old enough

and the leaves heavy with heat,

continuo of cicada

tricks me, and,

for so brief an instant,

I am back

in the time of bikes, grass prickles,

summer sleighbells of the ice cream man,

clothespin dolls,

clover braids,

a time when we had not yet heard of

mass shootings.

But it — that time — knew of nooses

of word and of rope.

To go back is to ask —

how could a country of lynchings

not become a country of mass shootings?

There is no perfect then.

 

 


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July 22.19

ELEGY IN A KITCHEN GARDEN

My poor beautiful tomato plant,

victim of its own vitality

lies helpless, hapless,

like my old Christmas tree.

Don’t tell me what I should do

or shouldn’t.

Doing isn’t feeling.

I tried but couldn’t,

and that is everything.

 

 

If you are a gardener, dear reader, you know that lessons grow in the garden, some of them dismal. Yesterday a rambunctious wind announced the coming of today’s blessed, cooling rain. I tried desperately to right my gorgeous Beefsteak, but my two hands and two feet were not enough. And the thunder growled.  It was with real sadness I had to abandon the rescue. If you are a gardener, you understand the feeling. It isn’t about what to DO.


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May 20.19

On Being The Caboose

Do you remember the words spoken of George Washington: “First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen”? With a trifling modification, they could be spoken of me: last at the table, last out the door, last to finish anything. I was considered the dawdler, the slowpoke, the Grand Pooh-Bah of Time Wasting. My father referred to me as “the late Maureen O’Hern.”

What nonsense. I was deliberate. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand the concept of the clock; it was that the clock didn’t understand the concept of me. I was– ahem — unrushed.

And thus did I become the family caboose. Always, always last.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately because now, in a new way, I am last. Of the family I grew up with, I am the only one left. Now no one remembers but me. I am hit hard by this, not least because of my desire to write combined with my amazing inability to tell a story.

Bringing up the rear gives one a certain perspective, perhaps not entirely flattering but in a way whole. Where do I go with that? What words do I give it? I know you understand, dear reader, because you are here. You know about words. We want for permanence; in some pauper’s way, our words give that.

 

PART TWO

 

 


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April 28.19

The news makes me rabid. The endless rain makes me squishy in the head. Aging plagues me. And to make the world an even drearier place, our excellent local art supply store has been bought out and now closed by Michael’s. Another valued small business pulverized.

I dwell in the doldrums. My only hope is cookies. There is no other way to find good in the world.

In my childhood I learned about the good in cookies. Mom and Grandma O’Hern were cookie-bakers. Not that they didn’t bake other things, but they were believers in cookies, and thank goodness. A cookie fits in your hand so much more easily than a piece of pie or cake (though it’s quite possible to eat either from the hand if you aren’t too fussy).

Besides, there was “Raggedy Ann in Cookie Land,” one of my all-time favorite stories. Cookies that walked and talked and lived in a cookie house? You’d think such things would keep me from ever eating another cookie, but it didn’t work like that. It just added to the magic of cookies.

Maybe you also, dear reader, are driven to the doldrums by the news and by trying to deal with losses and worries in your own life. So I offer you my most favorite of favorite cookie recipes, my drug of choice, my portal to Nirvana. It is based on the old (not the current!) recipe for “Vanishing Oatmeal Cookies” on the Quaker Oats lid.

 

Better-Than-Phoebe’s Oatmeal Cookies

1 C. butter (no substitutes)

1 C. firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 C. granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 t. plus a tiny dribble Penzeys vanilla

1 1/2 C. all-purpose flour

1 t. baking soda

1/2 t. salt

1 t. plus a pinch of Penzeys Korintje cinnamon

a few grinds of fresh nutmeg

3 C. Old-Fashioned Quaker Oatmeal (don’t be generous)

1 C. dark (not golden) Sun-Maid raisins

1/2-1 C. chopped dates (the best are the ones you chop yourself)

1/2 C. Heath toffee bits without chocolate (my grandchildren’s brilliant idea)

Whisk dry ingredients together. Beat butter and sugars, then add eggs and beat some more. Mix in vanilla. Add dry ingredients and mix well, then the oatmeal, raisins, dates and toffee bits. Dough will weigh a ton.

If possible, refrigerate dough at least overnight. Bake at 350 for about five minutes, then turn cookie sheet and bake another four minutes or so, depending on your oven. Cool on wire racks. Makes lots but never enough.

 

These are called “Better-Than-Phoebe’s” because of the episode of “Friends” wherein Phoebe says her oatmeal cookies are the best so she doesn’t bake them very often because it’s not fair to the other cookies.

I mention brand names so you will know exactly what I use.

If you want really chewy cookies, add coconut. Dark chocolate chips are another acceptable addition. However, such additions risk changing the nature of the oatmeal cookie, and that is unseemly to purists.

Wishing you homemade cookies, dear reader,

Maureen


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April 2.19

I’ve been in California. Did I have fun? Was it a good time? Well, it’s complicated.

Both my sons, my daughter-in-law, and my grandchildren stood with me at my brother’s grave near a sun-crazed bloom of osteospermum. It was a beautiful day. As I walked away from the grave, I impulsively turned and said, “Bye, LB.” (He was LB and I was BS.) I felt awful. (Full disclosure: my brother and I spent our childhoods trying to kill each other. I do not wish to give the impression of lifetime sibling bliss.)

Then to his house so I could see it one last time. To our astonishment, the insides were being ripped out; it seemed the new owner had been granted permission to start renovations before closing was official. I think we scared the daylights out of her, a bunch of strangers led by my 6’5″ second-born. But then came explanations and introductions and a heady dose of her infectious excitement. Lots of hugs.

She invited us to go through, but I declined. I didn’t resent the changes but I wanted to remember his home in all its beigeness the way it had been. Everyone else explored the gutted insides. I visited his stalwart rose, that would live, no matter what he didn’t do.

The new owner commented on the sense of peace she felt in the place. The grave was still with me, but now also a happy sense of renewal. Complicated.

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Then legal and financial complications. All confusing to me, but, fortunately, not to my younger son. I leaned on him heavily. And on my new cane. I did not feel young! In the midst of it all, he took me to two art museums. My brain, entangled in the mesh of practicalities, struggled valiantly to adjust to the abstract and erudite. Complicated.

LA traffic was worse than ever. I’ve never been a city person, and the way of the city is but dirty mayhem and claustrophobia to me. It wears me down and depresses me. I felt mechanized.

My son’s friends invited me to dinner. A group of 40-somethings on a rooftop in the hills overlooking Los Angeles with — yes! — Emmy! I got to meet Emmy! I could see that the future is in good hands — and what wonderful calm amid the treetops away from the city!

Late in the week, as we sought the Santa Monica Post Office, I spied the Pig Jig. It hit my funnybone in a most unexpected way. As a usual thing, I am not particularly drawn to pigs, let alone when they’re dancing, but these three seemed to insist that they had a place in my week.

 

Life goes on? No, I don’t think so. We search for words to band-aid the loss, but the loss remains. Each of us feels it and fears it in his or her own way. It’s human. And there’s nothing more complicated than being human.

Our homecoming was marked by a bracing faceful of snowy air. Ah, spring in Indiana! What a finale!

If you have read to this last, dear reader, you have my thanks. This is by far the longest post I’ve ever written. In part, I wanted to explain my absence. But, as you well understand, I also turn to words to help me.

 

With thanks to photographer Patrick Mesterharm for the photo of me in the Kusama sculpture at the Marciano.

And thanks also to photographer Kelley Wilson Mesterharm for the official photo of the stalwart rose.

 


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March 7.19

 

When words die

and lie

lightly in brown piles,

and slatted benches

hold no one

in their arms,

will the stones remember

warmth

of blood and bone,

do they

hearth-like

hold the meaning?

Or does meaning lie too

in the dry brown

awaiting its ride on the scattering wind

leaving the stones to their empty cold?

 

 

Thanks more to photographer S.W. Berg.