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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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

 

 

 

 

 


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Connections: December 12.17

My last two kitchens had islands

the ultimate luxury

the kitchen I live with now

is bestowed more modestly.

So I follow the ways of my grandmas

and my mother, apt and able,

enlisting our four-legged friend,

the enduring kitchen table.

But I have a homey bauble

with which they weren’t stuck

a low-hanging ceiling lamp

which I cannot remember to duck.

Hovering over the table

at just the exact right spot

it clunks against my head

and elicits descriptive bon mot.

Some day I’ll explain to my neighbors

the reverberant mystery

the gong heard ’round the ‘hood

it isn’t Big Ben — it’s me.

 

Yes, I know, dear reader. I took liberties with my French. It was too awful not to use.

 

Connections


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Connections: October 18.17

I call this Still Life With Mess.

Not that life ever stands still, though at times it seems to. But there is ever a mess. That is, unless we’re sitting around on our…umm…hands.

These three artifacts just happened to end up together as the movers plied their art, and of course I couldn’t help noticing the serendipity. The wonderful pine cone and seed wreath was made years ago by my dear friend Donna, and is one of my favorite things. The assembly-line autumn wreath has been fabulous on my front door here, if I do say so. The decrepit, ancient suitcase was my Aunt Edna’s and holds her academic cap and hood (the heavy velvet and gold of Ph.D.). To the left, the back of a print procured for me at a condo swap by my son and daughter-in-law because my son knew it was my favorite Ansel Adams.

What a mishmash life is.

Today I will leave this place that has been Grandma’s House for seven years. There is some melancholy. But another, smaller Grandma’s House awaits, and both grandchildren have given it a thumbs-up (as have I). So bear with me, dear reader, as I launch myself (albeit, it must be said, a trifle arthritically) into whatever comes next.

 

 

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