Oddments

In search of story


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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.

 

 


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January 26.21: Coping

As you know, dear reader, I am an introvert. I love quiet. Forever the firstborn, I play by myself contentedly.

However, I do not crave a hut in the desert or a cave hidden by vines. Which is what this COVID thing is beginning to feel like.  After a while, even an introvert feels the tedium of her own company. Then a terrible thing happens: she eats. Why is it that eating is the antidote to tedium? While I ponder the answer to that, I eat some more.

Yesterday I caught myself headed to the kitchen again and gave myself a stern talking-to, made a right turn and headed upstairs, where I plunged into no one’s favorite project: culling the past.

I come from a scrapbooking family, and I followed that tradition, starting in grade school. I am not talking about those tidy, starched, color-coordinated Martha-Stewart types of scrapbooks, but the old-fashioned kind, with real scraps, bits of life as it was lived. Messy, haphazard, in a rag-tag glued chronology. Just like life.

I attacked the scrapbook that held the years from college graduation to marriage, 1966 to 1971. There were strangers in there, but the strangest one of all was me. Have you met your young self recently, dear reader? Did you recognize each other?

If you are now your young self, just file the matter for future reference, when your seasoned self happens upon you. And may you meet in a kinder time.

 

 


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January 8.21: Coping

A reflection, dear reader.

Today I turn 78. One becomes reflective when one turns 78 in a year of chaos and disease, when fear and rage, loneliness and grief dominate the human stage. But I was born into World War II. How can I not ask if anything has changed?

Food was rationed, bloodshed headlined daily newspapers, freight trains crisscrossed our lives carrying tank parts and spewing cinders, radio was high-tech, my mom and grandma walked to the corner store, a can of bacon grease ennobled every kitchen and bobby pins every dresser. Coal shoveled into furnaces. White shoe polish a household staple.

You have met my cell phone, humble flip-top that it is. You know it stopped working last month and then mysteriously started working again. Then, a couple days ago, it developed new problems. You may congratulate me vociferously: this time I did what any kindergartener would have done and googled the wretch. I learned that the trick was to put the phone into Airplane Mode and then toggle it out again.

Dear reader, who in the name of heaven would have the least inkling to do such a thing by way of problem-solving? I was irrationally proud of myself and at the same time miffed that I live in a world in which my life experience and hard-earned education seem useless.

As you know, this week has been hideous here but obviously something this mortally serious doesn’t just happen out of nowhere. And so I become 78 in a country with its principles in tatters. In a world where I need to know about Airplane Mode to have a working phone.

I have decided to look at it this way: 78 candles is a lot of light.

 

 

 


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December 31.20: Coping

A wink, perhaps,

lightly nefarious:

above the noble

“Stradivarius”

the truth is stamped,

hidden slyly —

“Copy” — by luthier

deft and wily.

 

I think it was no coincidence that 2020 was the year I attended to my father’s violin, which I had allowed to fall into disreputable condition. I’d needed some sense of grounding, of continuity, in a year of such cataclysmic instability. I had it repaired and renewed for my grandson this Christmas, and there was indeed grounding. This was the instrument my father played in his grade school orchestra, circa 1925.

 

The one he played in our family Christmas concerts (a merry barnyard kind of sound) and introduced to his grandson circa 1977.

 

The one I rescued from my own shameful neglect and presented — in its well-worn KantKrack case, beribboned and (it seemed to me) proud — to his great-grandson this Christmas.

A violin doesn’t have to be a Stradivarius to be priceless. And 2020 has made us acutely more mindful of the priceless things that ground us.

Thank you, dear reader, for all your encouragement and insights this year. May the new year bring us all the repair, renewal, and tuning we need, may we be grounded in the priceless things of life, may we be mindful of those who grieve and who care for our sick, and may there one day again be real hugs!

 

 


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December 1.20: Coping

Zinnia: thoughts of absent friends

 

Once upon a long-ago 1968, two life paths — mine and Libby’s — crossed in the highly combustible, hilarious, hormone-laden world of a junior/senior high school. She taught music and I was the new English teacher.

We met in the teachers’ workroom in a haze of mimeograph fumes, and quickly established our mutual love of music.  I was enlisted on the spot as official accompanist for her junior-high musical extravaganzas. I do not forget the moment the curtain went up for the ballroom scene in “Die Fledermaus,” with its aluminum foil chandeliers, and the audience exploded into spontaneous applause.

Or when the 8th-grade Josephine ad libbed her lines to the 7th-grade Ralph Rackstraw in “Pinafore” rehearsal.

Or the shivering hours in Libby’s basement as she sewed the angel costumes for “Hansel und Gretel.” Her childhood on a North Dakota farm made her impervious to cold and eventually she kept a blanket just for me because she grew tired of hearing my teeth chatter.

Libby and I had the best time in those bachelor days even though she could never convert me to gin or cats. I held to a firm belief in scotch and catlessness.  But, beyond bachelorhood, many were the years of friendship, many the pastries, many the morning coffees, many the long talks.

I would say now that I am dead to Libby but the fact is that for her today I never lived. She is far into dementia. She was lovely, a world traveler, opera buff, master gardener, idealist, a tolerant, inquisitive, lifelong learner, protective of all life. Cat addict.

She still is all those things; she just doesn’t know it.

I salute her today, her 93rd birthday. I will know for both of us.

 


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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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September 29.20: Coping

Long, long ago,

when I was very young,

there was a folksy ballad

plaintively sung.

“One meatball!”

was the soulful refrain,

and now it recurs,

stuck in my brain.

One rudbeckia

is all that I got,

a full-throated solo

in one flowerpot,

brass grand finale

in luminous ONE

as my garden is close to

officially done.

There’s hint of embrace

in this radiant burst,

a hug for the elders

that all blossomed first,

a farewell to the summer,

and hail to the fall,

singular reminiscence

of one sorry meatball.

 

 

I didn’t ask for this old song to pop into my head,

but my head often does things without my permission.

Besides, for those (few) of you who know this old song,

one ear worm deserves another, yes?