Oddments

In search of story


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May 10.20: Coping

Ten of my mother’s favorite rules:

     Nothing is clean if you do it the easy way.

     If it holds still, iron it.

     Always counter the opposing view with “that’s just dumb.”

     There is no such thing as too many Christmas cookies.

     Always bake with butter.

     Never leave the house without a hankie.

     The punch line is irrelevant.

     Pie is for breakfast.

     Nothing is more beautiful than cows’ eyes.

     Gardening isn’t work.

My resident gremlin has hidden the photo I wanted to post with this. If you, dear reader, have experience with such a gremlin, then you know it is absolutely not my fault that I can’t find it. But I know my mom would love that peony bud.

I am not a big fan of what Mothers’ Day has become here, but I’m a fan of all mothers and fathers and grandparents and foster parents and all others who step up to nurture and protect children. May they all, present and past, be honored. And may we find ways to help them at this time.

 


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Connections: May 13.18

It’s that time again: time to get on my apostrophe soap box. It’s “Mother’s Day” all over the place, but I insist on “Mothers’ Day.” Not only is it a day to celebrate all mothers, but it’s also a day that’s been so homogenized and hysterialized that Mom is what Hallmark has made her. Mothers’ Day hysteria hits hard. Now — heaven help us — there are even pop-up ads to remind us we need to do more.

Back in the day, it was simpler: you snuck someplace and made a heart-rending card out of construction paper and erasures. And you went hanky-shopping with your dad. “Hanky” is short for “handkerchief,” a decorative, often beautiful, piece of cloth we used to blow our noses in. Or for our mothers to spit on and wipe some goo off our chins. Or (we were Catholic) to plop on your head if you were a hatless woman (gasp) entering a church. Hankies were nothing if not versatile.

One year my brother gave Mom the Hope Diamond of hankies, lacy, white, with a very elaborate embroidered “M” on it, much to her bewilderment (her name was Evelyn). What’s the M for? she asked naively. “M for Mom!” he replied, with some exasperation — why did she need to ask?

After Mom died, I threw out many things, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw out her hankies, which now live in a drawer upstairs. Including the one with the flowing regal “M.”

Whatever your memories for the day, dear reader, I hope there is a mom or a grandma in your heart, on the phone, or maybe across the table. Maybe even an old hanky in your pocket.

 

Connections

 

 

 

 


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Connections: May 14.17

Mothers’ Day

ruins May

makes everybody loony.

The malls’ barnyards

Hallmark cards

make every mom cartoony.

Pressure’s on!

Don’t diss your mom!

It’s no time for ambivalence!

It’s worse than December

we forget to remember

our moms taught us common sense.

It’s supposed to be fun

not a grueling run

a marathon test of endurance

it’s not what’s bought

is what was taught

by maternal jurisprudence.

Yes, dear reader, this portrait of ebullient motherhood is my family, circa 1943.

The photo is a bit off-kilter, but then so were we.

Connections


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Question for Mothers’ Day

So it’s Mothers’ Day. Hooray for Hallmark.

Everyone spells it Mother’s Day, as though it is something unique for each mom, but, unless you have a four-year-old turned loose with crayons and glue stick, there is nothing very unique about it at all, and so I spell it Mothers’ Day by way of protest. It’s one-size-fits-all because it markets well. Buy something, anything! Prove you love your mom! I have two wonderful sons. They don’t need to prove anything on Mothers’ Day. They probably wouldn’t agree, but, hey, I’m the mom and it’s Mothers’ Day, so I’m right.

I am busy with my own Mothers’ Day thoughts, which have turned back to my grandmothers. Perhaps you have met them in my blog. One was kind; one was not. Each shaped me.

Both were daughters of immigrants. Both were born into poverty, one in the coal country of Pennsylvania and the other in a back-of-the-yards tenement in South Chicago. Neither finished grade school. One went to work in a box factory, gluing velvet to the insides of boxes; the other went to live with another family as their servant. Both had alcoholic fathers who were not admirable men.

Both worked very hard. Both held staunchly to the faith taught by their own mothers.

Both died at 90, so they weren’t just wispy aproned memories from my childhood; they were flesh-and-blood women who walked firmly in the day-to-day of family. They held my hand and held my babies.

I knew them as mothers of my parents. But who were they before they were mothers?

And that, daughters and sons of mothers, is the question for Mothers’ Day.


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Soap opera

I did it again: I washed a kleenex.

My to-do list for today, the one-week mark before Christmas Eve, stretches from here to Jupiter. Do I really have time to stand there picking kleenex molecules off socks?

Oh, and did I mention the load was darks? I probably didn’t have to because if you, dear reader, have ever done the same thing, you know that Murphy’s statistics favor the darks.

As I stood there pincing tissue seaweed with thumb and forefinger and muttering to myself, my thoughts zoomed back to my mother. But of course: who else to blame for this mess? In our house, nobody moved without a hanky. Hanky. That’s the nickname for handkerchief, an ancient concept involving nose and lace. I grew up with hankies. I carried them daily, matched them to my clothes, dampened and ironed them. I proudly presented them for Mothers’ Day.

I needed them. In our area, gurgling sinuses were universal, so hankies were essential. Of course there were hanky substitutes, such as sleeves, but they were roundly denounced by my mother.

Every morning, after we charged through our one-bathroom four-person prep, Mom would yell as we went out the door “Books? Money? Hanky? Lunch?” Check, check, check, and check, Mom! Eventually it became Booksmoneyhankylunch! and it was our rallying cry for many years after. The hanky, standard of propriety and order: don’t leave home without it.

Ladies’ hankies were pretty. Most were flowered, some embroidered, monogrammed, laced or tatted. Men’s hankies were mostly plain white, though some might have color or pattern. But then everything morphed into the disposable, bland tissue. Hygiene trumped fashion. Thus do I come to wash kleenex.

Hanky wardrobe circa 1960

Hanky wardrobe circa 1960


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When you’ve had enough…

“You’re talking about me! I know you’re talking about me!”

I looked up. There came my mother full tilt down the hall.

Yes, Mom, I’m talking about you! This is the nurses’ station and I am going home for the night! I’m telling them there is no one with you now!

There was no patience in my voice. I’d had enough of her paranoia and enough of not knowing who she was.

A few years later, my father threatened me. I walked out of his hospital room fighting back the tears, to a different nurses’ station, where I told them I was leaving and didn’t give a damn what my father did.

I’d had enough of Dad’s dementia and enough of not knowing who he was.

My mother’s last Mothers’ Day present was chemotherapy. On Dad’s last Fathers’ Day we took a ride and hit a rough patch of road which caused me to exclaim “It’s a good thing we haven’t eaten yet!” He replied, “You mean we ate already?”

A lot about caregiving comes back to me at this time of year. Dad died at the end of March. Mom went into crisis in mid-April and died mid-June. Different years, same season. Same me. Mom’s brain tumors, Dad’s dementia, spring, Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day…it all blends together like muck and mud.

Sometimes you have your parents but you don’t. You see and hear only the look-alikes that disease has left in their stead. They know you, but you don’t know them. Eventually they don’t know you either. So where’s the Hallmark card that says “Happy Mothers’ Day, Whoever You Are,” or “Happy Fathers’ Day from the Daughter You Don’t Know”?

Forget “When you care enough.” It should be “When you’ve had enough.”


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Recitative for Mothers’ Day

Where are you going,
little girl, little boy?
Out of my life
into yours?

Will you take me with you?
Part of me
with part of you
for always?

What will you do,
little girl, little boy?
Will you be happy and
will you tell stories
about me
when you are happy
with people who
never knew me
when you look around
your world
remembering
not quite
remembering —

autumn fruit crescents
Bosc brown
pearbark
over sweet grainy white

Honeycrisp red
popping in your teeth
snappy cold
cheek-bulging

Juicy!
you said.

yellow cheese
scherenschnitte

parades of golden raisins
dotted lines
on peanut butter goo
celery-troughed

glassy green olive oil
dip
and
drip

You forgot crackers!
you said.

soapy foam clouds
rosemarymint
herbed fingers
proof of clean

Smell!
you said.

neon lime popsicle creeks
running in July
bearding your chins
ringing your fingers

Good!
you said.

Clocks ticked
suns climbed the sky
and slid down

time to go

Bye, Grandma!
you said.