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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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.

 

 


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August 14.21: Coping

Does one zinnia a summer make?

This is my one and only zinnia flower. The seedlings that lived with me in the kitchen months ago, transplanted into the garden where they would be the yippee colors of summer, were almost all destroyed by the rabbits. Except for a few which I triaged into pots and then transplanted yet again, desperate for them to make a showing.

The results:

And one flower.

I plant tomatoes to remember Grandpa Mauck, moss roses to remember Grandma O’Hern, and marigolds to remember Dad. Mom is in the whole garden. So, as all gardeners know, the garden is not just expensive, it’s personal. The rabbits tried to take it all from me, and right now on this planet every loss is part of a huge rolling snowball of loss — and helplessness.

If there’s anything I hate, it’s feeling helpless. Life demands at times that we resign ourselves to it, but I can get pretty mad about that. I have lived to wage war this summer. I have potted and repotted and have fought the good fight with Irish Spring soap, rubbing it on flowerpots and shaving it around plants. And I have installed rose canes, which do seem to have some persuasive powers.

I have ultimately saved a small garden corner where my one surviving clump of gaura now thrives, the rabbit-scorned geraniums blaze away, and, in sheer defiance, some marigolds and salvia, once tattered, bloom insanely. Several of those triaged potted things have made a brilliant, if root-bound, showing.

I salute Farmer McGregor, the Grand Pooh-Bah of Rabbit Rage. I aspire to his greatness.

 


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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.

 

 

 


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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.