Oddments

In search of story


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December 29.22: Coping, but barely

Jeweled confection —

how dare we bite in? —

so perfect a morsel,

toothmarks would be sin.

The art of the little,

meticulous craft,

we must linger over,

admire, fore and aft.

From various angles

its magnificence savored,

the eyes are the palate

to guess at how flavored.

To taste with the eye

is the manner of some,

while others prefer

to taste with the thumb.

To find telltale hole,

the proof of the borer,

causes mannered among us

to recoil in horror.

What weaselly ways,

what etiquette lack,

to know what’s inside

and then put it back!

 

You may recall, dear reader, the indignities of my youth, with blue jeans not allowed. Not proper, said my mother. And yet — and yet! — there were the Fannie May or Mrs. See’s chocolates all pristine in the aerial view, but — what’s this? — a hole in the bottom? A hole which just happens to be the exact same size as my mother’s thumb? This is proper?

Thus did I learn that proper is a relative concept. My mother being the closest of relatives.

 

More thanks to photographer S.W. Berg.


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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 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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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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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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June 19.22: Coping, but barely

Back when television was young, as was I, a commercial played this ditty:

“You’ll wonder where the yellow went

when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent,”

which my dad sang as

“You’ll wonder where the yellow went

when you brush your teeth with fresh cement.”

Along in those same years, I asked my dad why we don’t have an A in our last name. We spell it O’Hern but a whole lot of folks spell it O’Hearn and are ever sticking the A in our name as though it belongs there. So what happened to it?

“Our ancestors, “said Dad, “were horse thieves. In an effort to evade the police, they dropped the A from their last name.” The moral of the story being, I assumed, that our ancestors were horse thieves and halfwits.

Apparently slow of wit myself, I asked Dad one day how he felt the first time he held me. “Wet,” he said. So sweetly sentimental.

To dads everywhere, I wish all good things. It isn’t easy to be a dad. But know this: when you see your offspring rolling their eyes and shaking their heads at your stories and jokes, you know you have achieved immortality. Dad jokes never die. Happy Fathers’ Day!

 

The dad in the photo is my son,

whose offspring have indeed been known to roll their eyes.

Good work, Dad!


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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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March 29.22: Coping, but barely

\The 88th day

of a calendar year

is a hooray for the piano,

proud modern clavier.

Eighty-eight keys

to knot up our fingers,

uncountable hours

that put us through wringers.

Lessons and practice

dulling many a day,

but what a delight

to just sit down and play.

From Czerny to Joplin

is an arduous travel

and can make your resolve

and your neurons unravel,

but the family and friends

who won’t whimper or squawk

will help you endure —

they’ll have your Bach!

The time that it takes

to learn the technique

makes thousands of hours

dismal and bleak,

but just when you think

it’s too much to withstand

the mystery of music

flows out of your hand.

Eventually it comes,

a soul satisfaction,

after dragging delay of

gratification.

So whether some Gershwin

or Schubertian lieder,

may a piano today

accompany you, dear reader!

 

 

As some of you know from my blog, I lived through many, many years of piano lessons. I hated my lessons and I hated practicing, but, boy, did I love to play. My piano was my upper and my downer and my go-to for the stress du jour.

As I understood it, my piano teacher was, pedagogically speaking, a descendant of Liszt. This did not work well for me because, as everyone knows, Liszt had three hands. The expectations were hardly realistic for those of us with a mere two.

Nonetheless, like others, I persisted. Persistence and piano go together. Today I salute the teachers of both. Happy Piano Day, dear reader! And thanks to my friends Donna and Bill who tuned me into it!

 

 


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August 18.21: Coping

I’ve planted my person

on many a seat,

but the best was there

on Summer Street.

Grandma’s porch

with swing for two,

where summer breezes

lazied through,

was where I learned

what sages know:

if I want to be quick

I must first be slow.

Back and forth,

I moved unmoving,

Grandma too,

our own kind of grooving.

Words fell away,

we floated as one;

I can still feel her housedress

all cottony spun.

The cricket sang softly,

far ice cream bells jingled

a summon to vespers

with leaf whispers mingled.

So today a swing sighting

is potently rife

with certainties given

to last all my life.

A Coke for the world

was a once wishful sing,

but I’d write new words

and wish it a swing.

 

Yet more thanks to photographer S.W. Berg

for this wonderful portrait of invitation.