Oddments

In search of story


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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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January 30.21: Coping

Grandma’s kitchen clock

ticked crisply like a snare drum,

by day blended in the rhythm of work,

by night echoed

through the bedded house

while the rite of springs squeaked under me,

percussive, brassy,

objecting, it seemed,

to my child’s weight.

A bare light bulb

dangling on thick black cord

hovered

over the bed,

beyond my reach

even when I stood

jiggle-kneed

on the jello mattress.

Grandma reached up

and turned it off herself,

then slipper-padded out.

Her bedroom a whole dining room

and kitchen away,

sly-eyed shadows deepened

around me

in borrowed bed

where once my aunts were little girls.

In the sleep breath of her house,

Ivory soap.

Now, as COVID blurs days into nights,

and nights into days,

my clock ticks crisply like a snare drum.

 

 


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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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November 1.19

Apple walnut cinnamon pie,

winter oven, my, oh, my.

Syrup’d slices, cinnamon dust

rise through nose to memory’s must:

oilclothed table, rolling pin,

floured apron, floor and chin,

pigtail peelings, glowing stove,

maybe nutmeg, maybe clove.

Coming in from bitter world,

boots well stomped and scarf unfurled,

amber warmth starts deep within

like radiator through my skin.

Kitchens of the long-ago,

swathed in early evening snow,

hug me still because I spy

apple walnut cinnamon pie.

 

Huzzahs and thanks to photographer S.W. Berg,

and kudos to dessert chefs at McCormick and Schmick’s, Virginia Beach, VA.

What memoried fragrance arises from this photo!

As this hectic season hurls us into next year,

I wish you, dear reader,

some sanity from a warm and spicy kitchen.

 

 

 


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Disconnections: August 20.18

The chase and the catch, continued from yesterday.

You see “In search of story” at the top of my blog.  For me, trying to write a story is like trying to enjoy a root canal. But I listen to others in an effort to learn about story. And this is what bothers me about the machines: they yield the tidy catch, thereby rendering the messy chase obsolete and attendant stories extinct.

My Grandma Mauck and her siblings would fight to the verbal death about who was born when. With them, it was all about the chase. If they’d had Smartphones to consult, our Thanksgivings might have been quieter, but I wouldn’t have learned about their internecine wars and I’d have been deluded into thinking all my relatives were rational.

My Grandma O’Hern would celebrate summer, no matter how icky hot, with a mountain of pierogi; family and chairs would appear magically and morph into a small city around the table. If they’d had iPads, would I have heard the accounts of how Baby Edna had to walk because Grandpa’s hootch rode in the baby carriage?

How can I hope to develop any story-telling abilities at this point in my life when people are nose-dived into their gadgets, and mind only the catch?

It is arguable that if I don’t know how to tell a story by now I never will. I guess I am stuck in my own messy chase, trying to catch the skill of story-telling, dodging the thumbs of the world.

 

 


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Disconnections: July 4.18

In an amazing, death-defying feat of coordination and grace, I balanced colander and bowl and camera as I cleaned beans yesterday evening on the swing. There was a hope of incoming storm — how we need the rain — and as I sat there I felt the change: the breeze rose almost to the level of wind, the underbellies of leaves rolled upward, and a blessed cool-down settled on a hot world.

The colander belonged to my Grandma O’Hern. She too cleaned beans in it. In her cotton summer housedresses, shoulder-to knee apron, Grandma shoes, and, yes, hairnet, she was always cleaning something. Except when chores were done and she’d sit on her swing on her screened porch. On my luckiest days, I sat next to her.

She was the daughter of immigrants. Both my grandmas were daughters of immigrants. Neither finished grade school. I sat for a long time yesterday evening looking at that colander. Of course I was no longer on that deck but was in her kitchen, on her swing.

The 4th of July finds me very introspective this year. From sea to shining sea one vast ad-hominem attack.  Purple-mountained alternative facts. Amber waves of tweets. A fruited plain of party lines.

I guess the colander challenged me to fly the flag today for the right reasons.

It never did rain last night; some things we cannot influence. I choose to think the flag says there are some things we CAN influence.

 


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Disconnections: June 6.18

Summer afflicts me with memories.

Like family vacation. A surfeit of togetherness. Dad’s mother, our beloved Grandma O’Hern, sat between my brother and me in the back seat. Poor Grandma. My brother loved confinement as much as I did and we were not anyone’s first choice of traveling companions.

Our expeditions almost always started with a new comic book, a thing of beauty and a joy for…well…five minutes. After that the only thing it was good for was rolling into a tube and clobbering someone. (But that was only because he clobbered me first.)

There were, of course, no such things as seat belts. We could kneel in the back seat and look out the back window, trying to see if where we’d been were any more interesting than where we were. Nope.

Rolling the windows down (aka air conditioning) had nothing to do with pushing a button and everything to do with grabbing a knob and turning for dear life. Reverse to roll back up. A life skill we’d already acquired. Boring.

The view from the back seat had greatly to do with the back of my mom’s head and the back of my dad’s head. And sameness out the windows. Devoutly did we pray for Burma Shave signs, when there would be respite from sameness. At the end we’d all shout out “Burma Shave!” and then I’d lapse back into a comatose state of childhood on hold.

There were “guessing games,” of course. And singing. And coloring books. For some reason, though, my parents got touchy about melted crayons under the seat. Was it our fault the summer sun was hot?

The years distort, I know, but I’m fairly sure that’s my dad’s voice asking “Are we there yet?”

 

 

 


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Connections: December 23.17

A plate of Christmas cookies

is so much more than that

it’s a serving of family history

forebears’ concordat

it’s Grandma’s recipe card

in her distinctive hand

it’s Mom’s poinsettia plate

generational ampersand

connecting younger fingers

with those gone long before

sweet and sticky memories

toothsome family lore.

 

 

Connections