Oddments

In search of story


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January 19.23: Coping, but barely

If you were light

and could play on a rose,

would you slide,

do you suppose,

down velvet hill,

where shadow splash

marks your soft plop

with grinned panache?

Then would you climb back up,

find that shy frill,

and pirouette there

in lucent trill?

Would you leap tip-to-tip

with weightless toes,

like drunken sprite

in perfumed throes?

Under, behind

each vale and peak,

would you dodge and dive

in hide-and-seek?

Would you stop perhaps

and oly-oly-ocean-free

to bask in the stillness

of unfurling reverie?

 

There is mystery here, dear reader. Apparently some call “olly-olly-oxen-free.” I was intrigued to see that some people who were kids in the Chicago area called “oly-oly-ocean-free” because that’s where I was a kid and that was our cry. So, oxen or ocean, nobody knows, though I did like the suggestion that olly/oly came from all-ye as a call at the end of the farm day to put everything, including the oxen, away for the night.

I remember it as inviolable. Once called, nobody could be tagged. Non-negotiable.

 

Many thanks to Susan Rushton for the beautiful photo!

 


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December 29.22: Coping, but barely

Jeweled confection —

how dare we bite in? —

so perfect a morsel,

toothmarks would be sin.

The art of the little,

meticulous craft,

we must linger over,

admire, fore and aft.

From various angles

its magnificence savored,

the eyes are the palate

to guess at how flavored.

To taste with the eye

is the manner of some,

while others prefer

to taste with the thumb.

To find telltale hole,

the proof of the borer,

causes mannered among us

to recoil in horror.

What weaselly ways,

what etiquette lack,

to know what’s inside

and then put it back!

 

You may recall, dear reader, the indignities of my youth, with blue jeans not allowed. Not proper, said my mother. And yet — and yet! — there were the Fannie May or Mrs. See’s chocolates all pristine in the aerial view, but — what’s this? — a hole in the bottom? A hole which just happens to be the exact same size as my mother’s thumb? This is proper?

Thus did I learn that proper is a relative concept. My mother being the closest of relatives.

 

More thanks to photographer S.W. Berg.


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December 24.22: Coping, but barely

The perfect world

isn’t real

except in goo

of warm pinwheel.

Perfection twice:

Christmas then,

and today rich air

savored again.

My wish, dear reader,

whatever your feast:

may memory and hope

be your yeast.

 

The other day I had the privilege of teaching my grandchildren about yeast dough and sticky buns, closely related to the brown sugar rolls Grandma O’Hern used to make, and also the Christmas breakfast of their dad’s childhood. Once again the kitchen was crowded, not just with teenagers, but with ghosts happily looking on. (They were happy because they didn’t have to clean up. Sticky buns are so named because of the state of the kitchen.)

I don’t think I look for a perfect world, though I think I’d like it; I do, however, look for a world with some sanity, and that seems completely elusive most days. Then comes a day to bake with grandchildren and I see perfect order in the universe.

There are many beautiful traditions at this time of year; whichever ones you treasure, dear reader, may they bring a moment of peace and wonder to your heart.


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December 17.22: Coping, but barely

My tree is still in pieces,

the cookies are unbaked,

my cards still in the box,

Christmas mood cannot be faked.

I’m tired and feeling old,

I can’t pretend I’m jolly.

I’d like to arm myself

with Scrooge’s stake of holly.

Crazed, near-sighted drivers,

shoppers all phone-zoned,

news of inhumanities,

life bewailed, bemoaned

tarnish all the tinsel,

make carolers sing flat;

I need to find a rabbit

to pull out of my hat,

something made of magic

that laughs along with me

even though to others

we’re total mystery.

Aha! It’s just the thing

to make the dismals better:

  from my haute couture collection,

 a rousing Christmas sweater!

When I was in junior high, I wanted blue jeans. The in-crowd wore them. My mother would have none of it: blue jeans were not what proper girls wore. Wait. Did I say I wanted to be proper? I wanted to be cool! Mom and I had this divergence of opinion all the time, and thus did I learn to live with not being cool. Therein lies the explanation for my bewilderment at why Christmas sweaters are so much maligned. They are deemed ugly, uncool.  I like my Christmas Duck sweater! It’s my mother’s fault.

One may argue for a goose, and I grudgingly concede this might indeed be a Christmas goose, but you know my feelings about geese, dear reader. Ergo, it’s a duck.

 

With thanks to Susan Rushton for the photo of my mood!

 


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December 11.22: Coping, but barely

Those of you who have kindly read along for a few years know that for Christmas I put together scrapbooks for my sons about some aspect of family history. That these scrapbooks hand down to them a history according to me is totally obvious — and satisfying.

This brilliant idea of mine has its flaws, however: it makes an infernal mess.

And it forces a reckoning. One cannot dig through boxes of family flotsam without some creeping sense of clairvoyance in one’s forebears.

Case in point: my mother carefully noted in my baby book that on 30 May 1943 I first stuck my foot in my mouth. How did she know?

 


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November 29.22: Coping, but barely

January 1983 was a low point in my life. I turned 40 and was starting over. I took a deep breath, went back to grad school, got an assistantship, and was assigned a cubicle.

My cubicle mate had different hours and we started leaving notes for each other. Give an English major a scrap of lined paper and stand back. Thus began our friendship.

A few years later, she developed a brain tumor which was initially misdiagnosed. It was a terrible fight she fought, but she survived. Not only that, but she earned her PhD at the same time.

That was Sandy. Sandra Littleton Uetz.

Almost thirty years later came the second tumor. She fought again but this time it was different.

I have lost a dear friend.

I don’t think I’m the only one who wonders.  When, at some low point in life, we find ourselves sharing a desk with a stranger who becomes a dear friend, what is that? Do we call it the grace of God, the luck of the Irish, random chance, some cosmic plan, serendipity?

And when the dear friend is at her low point, and we can’t do anything, what do we call it?

She had great teaching ideas, baked a mean cherry pie, was seriously conversant with Pogo and Krazy Kat and Mark Twain, collected buttons and handkerchiefs, loved books, the St. Louis Cardinals, cats, little dogs, birds, and, most deeply, her family. She was a woman of faith and fear — to live with the possibility of recurring tumors is to be just that.

One December Sandy and I drove to Valparaiso, where the square around the old courthouse had been developed into little shops. Christmas carols — REAL Christmas carols — were piped outside. We wallowed in happy nostalgia. It was one of our best hobnobbings. I promise to remember it.

One of her favorite poems, and perhaps her most favorite, is this, by Robert Frost:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

 

May the angels lead you, Sandy.

 

 


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November 26.22: Coping, but barely

A few are left

dry bright flutter

soon adrift

each in its oneness

a moment in the arms of air

then slowly down

leaving the shadeless world

to marvel

at the unhidden.

 

If you know me, dear reader, you have surmised that my muse has abandoned me once again. She does not request a leave of absence; she just absconds with inspiration.

I can’t be too hard on her, though. I’ve caught one of the bugs (infectiously speaking) going around and it has not improved my curmudgeon’s disposition. One of my best friends is losing her fight with a brain tumor, and my thoughts probably don’t leave much room for my muse. Maybe the truth is that I’ve abandoned her.

I had to cancel Thanksgiving at the last minute because of this rotten bug. We swapped food so everyone had a full menu, but we didn’t eat together. I had tea and toast — not cheerfully, I assure you.

Thanksgiving is for all of us a memory mishmash, I think, but it’s fitting as the door to the season of memories. I wish us all perspective.

 


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October 30.22: Coping, but barely

With enigmatic aspect

of jarring puce-y pinks,

they gaze into unseens,

each vacant penguin sphinx.

Contemplative and placid,

in ignoble habitat,

I seem to hear their mantra:

My kingdom for a hat!

One may quibble about puce and maintain reasonably that puce is in the eye of the beholder; however, puce is also a reference to the Puce Stamps in Walt Kelly’s Pogo. Our intrepid photographer, Bill, named the color.

Many years ago, in the times of antiquity known as The Fifties, Bill and his wife Donna were high school debate partners, and one of their warmest debates was Pogo (Bill) vs Peanuts (Donna). Rowrbazzle! vs Good Grief! I should know: I was there.

Ergo, puce penguins.

I have written before about ancient friendships, and no doubt I will again. They rule!

With thanks to photographer S.W. Berg.

and apologies to Shakespeare.


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October 29.22: Coping, but barely

I have googled my grandma’s house from time to time just to see it again. I’d often wondered, if it ever were on the market and there were photos of the inside, would I look? It was, there were, and I did. I know the truth of “you can’t go back,” but I had to try.

I stared in disbelief at the photo of her kitchen, now a jigsawed greasy soulless room with a Dogpatch ambience. But the dark woodwork around the door to the dining room was unchanged. There was the portal. I saw the grate in the floor, a forgotten everyday that I once considered so exotic a part of her home. I held to that and imagined. There was an ache in me that told me I was there.

It was on that very spot that a little-girl me asked Grandma “Don’t you want to live to be a hundred?” She stunned me with “Oh, no! That’s TOO old!” I can today feel that thud inside me: my grandma couldn’t die ever. Only the grate and I remember what Grandma taught me that day.

How many little things in our daily lives do we see to the point of invisibility? What an injustice we do them. The everyday has power.

 

*****

Thanks to my grandson, who nabbed this screenshot for me. If my grandma weren’t already dead, this dirt would kill her.


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October 26.22: Coping, but barely

There was a time

when I would climb,

jump and hang and crawl,

confetti’d leaves

in shoes and sleeves,

telltales of autumn brawl.

With summer old

but not quite cold,

the air a heady brew

of acorn dust

and toadstool must,

the world was strangely new.

The leafless trees,

my youthful knees

together rocked the day;

in nature’s gym

my scuffed-shoe vim

had eternity to play.

I’d like to now,

but, holy cow,

I just can’t make me do it;

if I should try

I fear that I

would very shortly rue it.

 

With more thanks to photographer S.W. Berg

 and Fort Harrison State Park.

I think I can say without fear of (much) contradiction that I am not the only one in this blogging room who would love to kick leaves all the way up to that big old dead branch, climb on it, jump up and down, hang from it, walk it like a tightrope. Nor am I the only one who would decline the temptation. There isn’t enough liniment in the world.