Oddments

In search of story


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January 17.20

You are right, dear reader: you have seen this little sighing bird before. In my last post.

He has been with me in a singular way. Allow me to take you back to the late 1940s, when I was in kindergarten and my mother was lobbying the highly-respected (read: tyrannical) piano teacher in our area, who didn’t take students before they could read. I was not consulted.

Mom won. I couldn’t read but I started lessons, and I spent the next several years in tearful plea to be allowed to quit. I hated my lessons and I hated practicing. Mom said I could quit after ten years. I remember the moment because one remembers when one’s blood runs cold.

At that ten-year mark everything changed because I had my first Liszt étude: Gnomenreigen. It was the beginning of my suspicion that Liszt had fifteen fingers. Two years later, my next Liszt étude: Un Sospiro, The Sigh. I played it well. Not brilliantly, but well.

I had two dreams as a pianist: to play the original Rhapsody in Blue and to play La Campanella, The Bells, another Liszt étude. I never accomplished the first. I could only approximate the second. Alas.

But I think about the eloquence of those études. A sigh. The bells. They are there in those magical acrobatics. And I marvel at the transcendent power of a grey image, a D flat, and, yes, a tyrannical piano teacher.


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December 19.19

Language isn’t always words —

it’s far more complicated;

not everything in life

can be articulated.

That’s why the things of Christmas

assemble every year,

preserving time and place

we won’t let disappear.

Each family has a history,

hero, legend, fiend;

words fall short, but things

keep them evergreened.

 

There is nothing in this photo, dear reader, that doesn’t tell a story, including the chunk of mid-century furniture that belonged to my parents. Not everyone celebrates Christmas: I get that. But most people understand how things tell a story, and we probably all have at least one thing tucked away somewhere that says more than words alone can say.

For me to put into words everything said here would require an epic. There are things from my Grandma O’Hern’s house. From my sons’ childhoods. From my bachelor days. From friends, from family. Then to now.

Sometimes meaning is better told without words.


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December 12.19

Many the Christmas

has faded away,

but here are a couple

preserved for today.

The curly-haired toddler,

a bit knobby of knee,

recalls the first Christmas

for cute little me.

The other, my parents,

with some of their caucus,

a nefarious bunch,

unruly and raucous.

A time to be serious

about four-in-hand,

and to mutter at tinsel

hung strand by strand.

Life wasn’t perfect then,

but still I hold dear

the Christmases seen

in life’s rearview mirror.

 

That’s my dad in the middle, and my mom is the one looking down at him; I can’t tell if she’s thinking what a great guy he is or his collar needs more starch. You will notice, dear reader, the Christmas tree in the far right of the photo. If you can remember the insanity of hanging tinsel strand by maddening strand, then you also remember the days when ties were what you could always get your dad for Christmas.

 

 


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November 26.19

The road to here

from distant there

is mapped as

greasy thoroughfare.

‘Mid stain and splotch,

old gizzard drip,

evolution in

encrypted scrip.

Notes to self

in mishmashed order

chase themselves

around the border,

not merely scrap,

timepiece instead,

the years piled up

like cubes of bread.

From my neatnik Mom

through freeform me

the family stuffing

legacy,

preserved in splat

of butter, sage,

for, I hope,

another age.

 

There was nothing like it: the smell on Thanksgiving morning. No, not coffee and bacon. Onion and celery and butter! Smells to float on. Dad would go to Mass and some years I went with him, but usually I stayed home to help. OK, so it should be “help.” I was very good at putting things away just before they were needed, and I was very good at reminding my mother how I disliked pumpkin pie. What a model child I was!

I hope your Thanksgiving memories are good ones, dear reader, and that, amid the bleakness of our times, we can give thanks for the things and people we know to be true and good.

I thank all of you who have stopped by my blog and left an encouraging word or like. Writing is ever on the edge of not-writing, and your kindnesses have kept me going many times.

A very happy Thanksgiving to you, dear reader!

If there is travel, may you and yours come and go in safety.

 


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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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September 1.19

The porch, the porch!

What marvel, it!

Wordless greeting:

“Come and sit!”

In rocker, swing,

or wicker chair,

we bask inside

in outside air.

Gossip, cookie,

sip of tea,

a honk, a wave,

reverie —

we pretend to read,

shaded from sun,

but the book falls away

and we fool no one.

Unwalled parlor

mooring the ‘hood,

big bear hug

from painted wood,

any porch is

fine by me,

but melon-bedecked

especially!

 

Many thanks to photographer S.W. Berg.

 

What is it about this image, dear reader, that seems to be a most splendid greeting for Labor Day? Is it the hoorah of the watermelon red? The thick, disciplined hedge? The leafiness of late summer? The invitation to rest? The certainty that somewhere unseen is a sweating glass pitcher of iced tea with Wyler’s lemonade mix (and lots of sugar)?

I pass it along to all of you in hopes that you too can look at it and think of porches and late summers you have known. I wish you a relaxing Labor Day, dear reader, and a good harvest. May all be safe from Dorian.

 

 

 

 


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August 22.19

Breathes there the gardener with soul so dead

who never to a friend has said,

“I grew these glorious slices of red!”

 

I’ve been gone, dear reader. Time travel. My dear old high school friends, Donna and Bill, have been visiting, and we had our own private tomato fest. Tomatoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, served with a heaping helping of boast: I GREW THESE! I believe this is my third gardening year not killing tomatoes, and I’ve not one shred of modesty about them.

The tomatoes were highly seasoned with reminiscing, laughing, and reflecting. To be with friends we’ve known since high school is a real privilege at this age, and rightly savored with summer’s bounty. We returned to gardens, tomatoes, and roadside farmers’ stands of the past, as we slathered butter on the hot corn of the present.

It is fitting to pull out the old family heirloom dishes and other eating finery no matter how casual we are. Eating together is a celebration, and a pretty plate seems the only way to go. Besides, what better way to wear a tomato?

Now comes the time of catch-up. (Sorry. I couldn’t resist.)

 

Apologies also to Sir Walter Scott.