Oddments

In search of story


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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.

 


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May 31.22: Coping, but barely

Grit,

ground coal,

ash and lung gravel

paid the bills.

Grandpa wore it home

to match the grit

on windowsills.

His worker’s cap

marked him:

social scrap,

laborer,

tall, thin,

Cassius on the trolley,

morning, evening,

foundry-dusted

with other scraps

hollow, rusted.

Sometimes,

when there was meat,

he would get it

because he wore the cap,

carried the big black lunchbox

with the rounded top

and thick strap.

When we rode past

the fiery black mill,

we said,

Grandpa works there!

with pride.

Not knowing.

He was, I think,

smart.

I wonder what he wondered

in this brown, gritty life.

 

 

Writing is strange business. I had no intention of trying for another entry in Dan Antion’s Thursday Doors Writing Challenge, but this photo, also Dan’s, wouldn’t leave me alone. It is so reminiscent of where I grew up. Beautiful it wasn’t. Looking at this brought to mind my grandpa and his life there.

 

Thanks, Dan, for inspiring and challenging us, and for this photo.

 


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May 30.22 Memorial Day: Coping, but barely

You’d have to be as old as I am, dear reader, to remember the days of packing red geraniums into the trunk of a car and heading out to cemeteries. Every year at the end of May. It was boring. I hated it.

We’d clean winter’s debris off the graves and then plant the flowers. Guess who was sent for water. There were faucets in the cemetery spaced with the express purpose of making kids walk miles with sloshing, heavy watering cans.

There was always a moment of prayer. What videos play in our heads at such moments! I can only imagine the videos that played in my grandparents’ and my parents’ heads: wars, polio and flu epidemics, floods, heart attacks, cancer.

The video in my head had to do with my bike, waiting for me to start summer vacation.

My complaints, registered every five minutes or so, were roundly ignored; it was Decoration Day, after all, and this tedious, bleak trek to the cemetery was non-negotiable, as were many family dicta. Against my young will, I learned that it wasn’t about the geraniums; it was about lives lived. Real lives. It was about remembering.

Decoration Day became Memorial Day and a three-day weekend, honoring real lives lost in service to this country’s ideals. Remembering.

This Memorial Day comes in a bloodbath. Locally and globally we are awash in the blood of real lives. I hope those who lost their lives in service to this country, in service to ideals, aren’t sorry they made the sacrifice. And I wish all kids were thinking only about their bikes.

 

My family served, but none died in service.

I do not pretend to the grief this day renews for many.

But I do think of the graves and the real lives lost.

It becomes harder to remember peace.

 

 


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September 26.21: Coping

When an autumn sky is at your feet

and the low grasses hum,

and the one of you

is the total sum,

and your bike,

faithful steed,

is all the car

you really need,

do you know

this moment’s rite,

this solitary watch,

to hold it tight?

 

 

Thanks yet again to photographer S.W. Berg.

 

 


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September 3.21: Coping

We were green once,

in salad days,

fixed firm to umbilical vine,

slowly orange,

until, soaked in sun brine,

we plumped to red.

All as written by some sightless scribe

ordaining how life seeds,

or maybe

by some deliberate kindness

in back yard dirt

that soul and body feeds.

Gardeners wonder.

 

 

With thanks to Shakespeare

and to my firstborn, Dennis, the backyard gardener.

 


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May 27.21: Coping

EXITS

High school.

Do the words send you running? Or do you wistfully look back and linger?

I am not a reunion person. I go back only in my head, where I can be mid-century instantly, without having to see my senior picture again.

Those were manically formative years; our senior selves bore little resemblance to our freshman selves. Perhaps no other life storm, except a newborn, telescopes so much change into a short time.

My high school was built in 1914. My mother had walked those halls before me. Only the students changed. Then came 1967, the fire and renovations, and everything changed. So it’s a good thing I’ve kept the old school in my head, where time hasn’t touched it.

The main staircase — all three stories of it — was my favorite part. Each stair was worn in two places, where feet went up and where feet went down. Saddle shoes, penny loafers, all stepping to the bells.

This is that staircase, these the main doors. There would come a last opening outward and I couldn’t wait. I was so done with homework! And then, to my astonishment, I cried. At the last concert, the band president presented the traditional senior farewell gift to our saintly director, as I stood off-stage behind the curtains. And suddenly I sobbed. I was totally unprepared for that. To paraphrase a contemporary philosopher: What? Me miss high school?

But dust to dust, yes, dear reader? The building is about to become a parking lot for the educational Acropolis rising next to it.

My old classmate Ann says it was a dump when we were there, but I loved its oldness. Dark wood. Room numbers painted on transoms. Tall windows. Wood desks that never heard of ergonomics.

I find myself clutching certain memories more tightly because memories do reside in things. When the things are gone, will the memories also be gone? While walls stand, a little part of us can say it’s not over. It’s a nice deception. And then it’s a parking lot.

 

With thanks to photographer and classmate Art Lindeman.

Submitted to Dan Antion’s Thursday Doors Writing Challenge.

 

 


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May 9.21: Coping

The world’s a big place,

it can tucker you out

when you’re trying to figure

what it’s about.

That doesn’t change much

as we age through the years,

those grass blades of life

still up to our ears.

We still need a wing

for safe featherbed,

but sometimes we rest

on a memory instead.

 

I’m not a big fan of Mothers’ Day, dear reader. However, I am a fan of mothering because mothering gets us started in life.

There are many who are not biological mothers but are mothers nonetheless. I salute every one, and I wish a happy day to all who mother.

On a more (typical) curmudgeonly note: you know, dear reader, I hate these geese; I do not thrill to see another generation. It is only with pained reluctance I am forced to say this snoozing fuzzball is maybe a little bit cute.