Oddments

In search of story


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November 28.20: Coping

My grandmothers were daughters of immigrants. One grew up in a Chicago tenement; the other grew up in the coal country of Pennsylvania.

What does this have to do with me in a plastic tent? Making do.

Do you know about making do, dear reader? It’s a way of life when you don’t have what you need or want. You make do with what you have. Just ask my grandmas.

Am I saying that making do today is the same as what it was for my great-grandparents? Hardly. But the inventiveness to make do may be the same.

My son, daughter-in-law, and grandkids hosted Thanksgiving most inventively on their deck. The temperature squeaked to 50 with a nip and it could have been cold. But they made do in most remarkable ways: I had a Granny Tent! They tell me this amazing contraption is for watching soccer games. But with one old lady and one heater it is a regal Granny Tent. Add one old arthritic Jack Russell on the arthritic old lady’s lap, and a blanket around both, and you have the perfect toasty throne, the shedding of the Jack Russell not exactly an ermine cape but still a thoughtful contribution to layered warmth.

(The Jack Russell came post-dessert, needless to say. Their two dogs spent the entirety of Thanksgiving dinner making Precious Moments eyes at us. They wanted turkey but had to make do with warm laps.)

Most certainly we cannot make do when it comes to grief and human loss. But for those who tried to celebrate Thanksgiving carefully, there must have been a national make-do movement. Many made do with Zoom. Some made do with soccer tents. Therein, and not in the familiar table, lies tradition.

 

 


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September 10.20: Coping

The recipe,

that work of art,

bequeathed from bubbling

kitchen heart,

with stain and splot

of ancient dough,

bringing to Now

the Long-ago.

Penmanship of

floured hand,

preserved on paper

less than grand,

thus creating

choice giftwrap

of what was once

a lowly scrap.

 

 

More thanks to photographer S.W. Berg,

and to Rose Schloot, owner of Cross River Lodge,

Grand Marais, Minnesota,

where this eloquent old piece of the past is displayed.

 

 


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June 18.20: Coping

I see many references to isolation and aloneness these days. As an introvert, I’m comfortable with aloneness. Usually content with my own company, I do not crave the madding crowd. Aloneness isn’t always loneliness.

But I haven’t been with my family since March 6. No hugs for three months! There’s loneliness in that, as many elderly (and not-so-elderly) know.

It has recently occurred to me that there is another dimension to my aloneness. My close friends vary in age, but all of us have experienced family death in our parents’ generation. However, among my friends, I am the only one to have lost the sibling connection to the past; I’m the first to be The Last. This hit me as a revelation. Unaware, I’ve been grappling with a sense of aloneness among my friends.

I am an old single parent who is also The Last One of the family she grew up with — those are my particular circumstances — but I think most of us are grappling with some kind of aloneness, and maybe loneliness too, at this time. It doesn’t mean we have the same life experiences, only that we are in the same human condition. Human, but dangerously corrosive, all the more so swirled as it is with anger.

As I’ve said before, I think writers write about two things: what is, and what could be. Sometimes we can’t write about what could be until we write about what is. For me, this is what is.

 

 


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May 10.20: Coping

Ten of my mother’s favorite rules:

     Nothing is clean if you do it the easy way.

     If it holds still, iron it.

     Always counter the opposing view with “that’s just dumb.”

     There is no such thing as too many Christmas cookies.

     Always bake with butter.

     Never leave the house without a hankie.

     The punch line is irrelevant.

     Pie is for breakfast.

     Nothing is more beautiful than cows’ eyes.

     Gardening isn’t work.

My resident gremlin has hidden the photo I wanted to post with this. If you, dear reader, have experience with such a gremlin, then you know it is absolutely not my fault that I can’t find it. But I know my mom would love that peony bud.

I am not a big fan of what Mothers’ Day has become here, but I’m a fan of all mothers and fathers and grandparents and foster parents and all others who step up to nurture and protect children. May they all, present and past, be honored. And may we find ways to help them at this time.

 


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April 17.20 Again: Coping

Edna and me (not a recent photo)

Some years ago, I spent Saturday afternoons with my Aunt Edna, who lived in an apartment about half an hour away. I always called ahead for her grocery list so that, on my way to her place, I could do her weekly shopping for her. Then I’d pick up sandwiches for us.

When I would come out of the grocery store, shoving the cart into a driving cold rain, or, better yet, into a faceful of wet snow, and then try to get the bags into the car without dropping my purse into the slush, I must admit I was no saint: I grumbled and groused to myself. What a mess I was, and what a mess everything was. And then in and out for our sandwiches, and then wrestle all of it into her apartment…nope, not a saint.

But, on the side of virtue, I think I got a grip on my lesser self before she opened her door. She’d pour each of us a small glass of white wine, always the perfect complement to my all-time favorite tuna fish sandwich, and we’d settle into some good yacking.

Today we are having a very cold, relentless rain. It is dark and miserable. My wonderful daughter-in-law, hooded and dripping, just deposited multiple bags of groceries at my front door, and laughed a bit as we social distanced.

Am I thinking about the cycle of life? You bet.

 

 

 


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June 16.19: Postcards from Emmy

Eyes up

or dead ahead

full-faced

uncorseted

youthful

 oaken vertebrae

steel-enforced

DNA.

Downcast eyes

will not attend

the future that

these two portend.

Fearless Girl times two

foreseeing

each steadfast

in her own being.

 

To all the dads who have given the world Fearless Girls, a very happy Fathers’ Day!

 

With thanks to the unnamed photographer,

to sculptor Kristen Visbal,

and, of course, to Emmy.

 

 


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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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May 19.19

In matters of parenting

we have to admit

some things beyond

our control and our wit:

whether two or two hundred,

one will get loose,

another will always

be the caboose.

 

 

If you know me, dear reader, you know I do not love these geese.

However, I have to grant they are occasionally hilarious.

 

PART ONE