Oddments

In search of story


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November 24.21: Coping

In the kitchen

live the ghosts

that waft with air

of pies and roasts.

Abiding still

in towel and platter,

in recipe card

with ancient splatter,

they hover close

and scrutinize

with furrowed brow

and x-ray eyes

my every move,

my chops and pares,

as I use things

that once were theirs.

And then they squeeze around

to eat,

they watch our manners

heads to feet,

then, with a wink

to everyone,

salute themselves

for job well done.

 

 

Here is the crowd in my kitchen this week: my mother’s recipe for stuffing in her handwriting, the towel my Grandma Mauck would wet and wrap over the turkey to keep it cozy, their baster and meat thermometer, the platter my Grandma O’Hern’s turkeys came to the table on. Three women at my elbows.

You will note the towel is linen. My mother and her mother insisted on linen dishtowels, and, yes, my dear incredulous reader, they had to be ironed. Ironed damp, no less. In my generation, the technical term for such things was “flatwork,” and it was how we served our ironing apprenticeships. Handkerchiefs, pillowcases and sheets, linen towels…flatwork. Yes, we ironed sheets and pillowcases. And underwear. As I hear it, young women today wouldn’t know which side of the iron gets hot. (They’re smarter than we were.)

But I digress.

It’s a difficult time no matter where you live, dear reader; I wish I could make things better for you, for all of us. You might not celebrate Thanksgiving Day this week, but you can know that I am giving thanks for you because you have helped me write, and that has been a huge gift to me. Thank you!

 

 


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September 26.21: Coping

When an autumn sky is at your feet

and the low grasses hum,

and the one of you

is the total sum,

and your bike,

faithful steed,

is all the car

you really need,

do you know

this moment’s rite,

this solitary watch,

to hold it tight?

 

 

Thanks yet again to photographer S.W. Berg.

 

 


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September 11.21: Coping

In a sigh’s time the sand tells of the living,

imprints

of those who once were.

In the mist,

dreams,

refusing death,

live on.

A constant horizon

commands our sight,

offering nothing but a beyond

to lift our eyes,

or maybe that is everything.

 

 

Remembrance Day 2021

9/11

More thanks to photographer S.W. Berg

for another poignant image.

 


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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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August 14.21: Coping

Does one zinnia a summer make?

This is my one and only zinnia flower. The seedlings that lived with me in the kitchen months ago, transplanted into the garden where they would be the yippee colors of summer, were almost all destroyed by the rabbits. Except for a few which I triaged into pots and then transplanted yet again, desperate for them to make a showing.

The results:

And one flower.

I plant tomatoes to remember Grandpa Mauck, moss roses to remember Grandma O’Hern, and marigolds to remember Dad. Mom is in the whole garden. So, as all gardeners know, the garden is not just expensive, it’s personal. The rabbits tried to take it all from me, and right now on this planet every loss is part of a huge rolling snowball of loss — and helplessness.

If there’s anything I hate, it’s feeling helpless. Life demands at times that we resign ourselves to it, but I can get pretty mad about that. I have lived to wage war this summer. I have potted and repotted and have fought the good fight with Irish Spring soap, rubbing it on flowerpots and shaving it around plants. And I have installed rose canes, which do seem to have some persuasive powers.

I have ultimately saved a small garden corner where my one surviving clump of gaura now thrives, the rabbit-scorned geraniums blaze away, and, in sheer defiance, some marigolds and salvia, once tattered, bloom insanely. Several of those triaged potted things have made a brilliant, if root-bound, showing.

I salute Farmer McGregor, the Grand Pooh-Bah of Rabbit Rage. I aspire to his greatness.

 


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May 31.21: Coping

I was born during World War II and do not pretend to remember the horrors. I do vaguely remember Tip Top.

My dad had a critical skills deferment because he worked for American Steel Foundries, which manufactured train parts, essential to the war effort. Those men worked long, long hours. With a purpose. He had two sisters, one in the Marines, the other in the WAVES; they had the same purpose.

Mom and Dad spoke of the get-togethers for friends who were on their way to serve, and who never came home. No one who remained home would pretend to be in the same situation as those in combat, but the ration books tell of shared purpose, which meant in some cases making meat loaf for six with Knox gelatin and a cup of chopped meat.

There has been copious bloodshed before and since, and it would seem our species is hell-bent on extinguishing itself. So we might grow numb to the dying. Maybe we already are numb.

Therefore, it’s wise to have a day to not be numb and to think deliberately of those who died to protect a way of governing that theoretically we value, and to ask if, here and now, in shared purpose, we would be willing to eat Knox Meat Loaf.

 


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May 27.21: Coping

EXITS

High school.

Do the words send you running? Or do you wistfully look back and linger?

I am not a reunion person. I go back only in my head, where I can be mid-century instantly, without having to see my senior picture again.

Those were manically formative years; our senior selves bore little resemblance to our freshman selves. Perhaps no other life storm, except a newborn, telescopes so much change into a short time.

My high school was built in 1914. My mother had walked those halls before me. Only the students changed. Then came 1967, the fire and renovations, and everything changed. So it’s a good thing I’ve kept the old school in my head, where time hasn’t touched it.

The main staircase — all three stories of it — was my favorite part. Each stair was worn in two places, where feet went up and where feet went down. Saddle shoes, penny loafers, all stepping to the bells.

This is that staircase, these the main doors. There would come a last opening outward and I couldn’t wait. I was so done with homework! And then, to my astonishment, I cried. At the last concert, the band president presented the traditional senior farewell gift to our saintly director, as I stood off-stage behind the curtains. And suddenly I sobbed. I was totally unprepared for that. To paraphrase a contemporary philosopher: What? Me miss high school?

But dust to dust, yes, dear reader? The building is about to become a parking lot for the educational Acropolis rising next to it.

My old classmate Ann says it was a dump when we were there, but I loved its oldness. Dark wood. Room numbers painted on transoms. Tall windows. Wood desks that never heard of ergonomics.

I find myself clutching certain memories more tightly because memories do reside in things. When the things are gone, will the memories also be gone? While walls stand, a little part of us can say it’s not over. It’s a nice deception. And then it’s a parking lot.

 

With thanks to photographer and classmate Art Lindeman.

Submitted to Dan Antion’s Thursday Doors Writing Challenge.

 

 


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May 9.21: Coping

The world’s a big place,

it can tucker you out

when you’re trying to figure

what it’s about.

That doesn’t change much

as we age through the years,

those grass blades of life

still up to our ears.

We still need a wing

for safe featherbed,

but sometimes we rest

on a memory instead.

 

I’m not a big fan of Mothers’ Day, dear reader. However, I am a fan of mothering because mothering gets us started in life.

There are many who are not biological mothers but are mothers nonetheless. I salute every one, and I wish a happy day to all who mother.

On a more (typical) curmudgeonly note: you know, dear reader, I hate these geese; I do not thrill to see another generation. It is only with pained reluctance I am forced to say this snoozing fuzzball is maybe a little bit cute.

 

 

 


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February 22.21: Coping

 

Today, dear reader, is George Washington’s birthday. It makes me think of old friendships. No, I didn’t know George.

There are four of us — Ann, Donna, Bill and I — who have our birthdays in consecutive months starting in November and ending today. I have declared — and therefore it is so — that we don’t turn the next age until the last one does. That would be Bill, the intrepid photographer. We don’t turn until he does, and then we all turn together. There is no way he gets to be the youngest.

Ann and I went to kindergarten, grade school, high school together, and ended up in the same college sorority. Bill and Donna and I have a friendship forged in homeroom and in the high school parking lot at 3:00AM as we gathered for “away meets” for speech and debate. The four of us grew up together. I am beyond grateful that we are growing old together.

So today I think about ancient friendships. Although we often make wonderful friends along life’s way, sometimes we are lucky enough to have friends who knew our parents, who knew the homes we grew up in. I marvel at this often, but particularly on February 22.

I lift a celebratory mug of coffee in salute to ancient friendships, and I wish them for you, dear reader.

 

More thanks to photographer S.W. Berg,

and to Mama Rosa’s, Hampton, VA.


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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.