Oddments

In search of story


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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.

 

 


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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!