In search of story


Connections: January 7


Chin UP!

Chest OUT!

No lay-about!

Nostrils flared!

Oak fangs bared!

Nothing dreaded,


Sears-Roebuck faithful

snarling and wraithful



sentry and friend

to unseen end.

A century’s guard

in service unmarred

to Unkown, then Pauline,

then Catherine, then Maureen.

Generations align

in family sign:

my great-grandma’s

my grandma’s

now mine.


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Connections: November 8

An entire playground!

Does it matter?

Naturally not —

they want the same ladder.

At the same moment.

Because better than play

is sibling foment.

An album opens

in my head —

other siblings,

some long dead.

‘Twas ever thus:

siblings meant to feud and fuss.

Then years go agley

to entropy:

family, home, brain and bone.

One crumpled sibling stands alone

in hospital starkness

sleepless darkness.

Why is one

the caregiver daughter or caregiver son?


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Connections: September 11


My grandchildren can imagine life in a castle,

time travel,

dinosaur clones,

but can they ever imagine

a home with just one phone,

a car without seat belts,

a kitchen without a microwave,

getting up to change a channel,

the awakenings of 9/11?



Question for Mothers’ Day

So it’s Mothers’ Day. Hooray for Hallmark.

Everyone spells it Mother’s Day, as though it is something unique for each mom, but, unless you have a four-year-old turned loose with crayons and glue stick, there is nothing very unique about it at all, and so I spell it Mothers’ Day by way of protest. It’s one-size-fits-all because it markets well. Buy something, anything! Prove you love your mom! I have two wonderful sons. They don’t need to prove anything on Mothers’ Day. They probably wouldn’t agree, but, hey, I’m the mom and it’s Mothers’ Day, so I’m right.

I am busy with my own Mothers’ Day thoughts, which have turned back to my grandmothers. Perhaps you have met them in my blog. One was kind; one was not. Each shaped me.

Both were daughters of immigrants. Both were born into poverty, one in the coal country of Pennsylvania and the other in a back-of-the-yards tenement in South Chicago. Neither finished grade school. One went to work in a box factory, gluing velvet to the insides of boxes; the other went to live with another family as their servant. Both had alcoholic fathers who were not admirable men.

Both worked very hard. Both held staunchly to the faith taught by their own mothers.

Both died at 90, so they weren’t just wispy aproned memories from my childhood; they were flesh-and-blood women who walked firmly in the day-to-day of family. They held my hand and held my babies.

I knew them as mothers of my parents. But who were they before they were mothers?

And that, daughters and sons of mothers, is the question for Mothers’ Day.

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Recitative for Mothers’ Day

Where are you going,
little girl, little boy?
Out of my life
into yours?

Will you take me with you?
Part of me
with part of you
for always?

What will you do,
little girl, little boy?
Will you be happy and
will you tell stories
about me
when you are happy
with people who
never knew me
when you look around
your world
not quite
remembering —

autumn fruit crescents
Bosc brown
over sweet grainy white

Honeycrisp red
popping in your teeth
snappy cold

you said.

yellow cheese

parades of golden raisins
dotted lines
on peanut butter goo

glassy green olive oil

You forgot crackers!
you said.

soapy foam clouds
herbed fingers
proof of clean

you said.

neon lime popsicle creeks
running in July
bearding your chins
ringing your fingers

you said.

Clocks ticked
suns climbed the sky
and slid down

time to go

Bye, Grandma!
you said.



Once upon a time I walked into my grandma’s kitchen and stopped with a gasp, not believing my eyes. There, on the other side of that rolling rumply floor, was a dollhouse unlike any other. I had to touch it to prove to myself it was real. Such a breathless moment of wonder comes rarely in a lifetime and that’s why I remember it.

Grandma had made that dollhouse from a tall cardboard box and fragments of her own house — bits of wallpaper, plastic shelf trim, Christmas tape, fabric. Except for a few pieces of dollhouse furniture that had been dug out from Pompeii, Grandma created everything. Out of nothing, almost. (Grandma and God were quite a team.)

Many years later, Grandma told me that she’d been astonished at the hours I’d spent with that dollhouse, and I was astonished that she was astonished. Had she not seen what she’d made for me? Did she not know what she’d taught me — that cardboard is the building block of the universe, the alpha and omega of childplay? that household flotsam is treasure? that I had to have a closet like this when I became a grandma?


My grandson can look at any discard in this closet and see five hundred things it could be. My granddaughter can see nothing that couldn’t be improved by being pink. Together they build cardboard cities, urban sprawl from here to there in my home. It is every time a salute to that dollhouse, that grandma.

Some day they will be too old for this closet and it will become boring with ordinariness. But they will never be too old to carry on the legacy: life is a pile of scraps; make something out of it.

Pizza oven. With pizza.

Pizza oven. With pizza.

Ballroom. With rose garden.

Ballroom. With rose garden.

City aborning

City aborning

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On bling

My young granddaughter loves sparkles and speaks of bling, and she is becoming concerned about the lack of both on my person so (apparently) feels a missionary’s call to my wardrobe. “Take me to your closet!” says she. I would, of course, follow this adored child to the ends of the earth. But not into my closet.

You think you know bling, child of Now? I’ll tell you about bling. It isn’t skulls and peace signs and hearts that glint and glitter; it’s beanies! Beanies that light up! What’s a beanie? Ah, my bright-eyed descendant, how much you must learn. Beanies were little upside-down bowls we wore on our heads. So where’s the bling, you ask? Well, listen up.

I was a little kid in a neighborhood with few houses. There were vast wild regions known as empty lots — thickets of ragweed for tunneling through, frozen ponds for sliding on, everlasting mud for slipping in, all distant lands in obvious need of exploration.  And there were four of us explorers, intrepid and small. That meant eight parental eyes on watch, and at disadvantage on summer evenings. So our mothers bought us beanies with lights on top! We were four tiny lighthouses, and our bouncing beacons told our parents where we were. But more than that, our heads lit up! Talk about bling!

We blended in perfectly with the lightning bugs, but somehow our mothers were able to spot us and call us in when twilight turned to bedtime, the saddest moment of a summer day. In that way our twinkling heads betrayed us, but in other ways that twinkling was our passport to mosquito-thickened air of pure adventure. THAT was bling.