Those summer nights of hide and seek where we were willing quarry,
our efforts to make curfew were too often dilatory.
Our neighborhood adventures stretched out under the stars—
those shadowed venturings abroad, hiding behind cars,
in barrow pits or hedges, darting through the dark,
avoiding passing car lights and the dog’s insistent bark.
Bigger kids the kingpins of this nightly sequestering,
lying still as death with our fears of capture festering.
That titillating strain of remaining undetected,
somehow in our memories has made us more connected.
How we so consistently lay spread out on the ground
cowering, but secretly hoping to be found
by that special someone who, in our pre-teen flush
even then, in passing, could bring about our blush.
All this search and parrying that we called summer games
very soon would fill our lives called by other names.
My little nephews were quite the rapscallions,
with tinfoil armor and mop handle stallions
they conquered their foes and made off in their galleons
to sail the wild oceans, and then this wild pair
got into their airplanes to sail through the air.
You barely could tell that the swing set was there.
From morning to night, they were batting or pitching,
expounding on hockey and football and itching
to escape the tame lives that they would be ditching
as soon as they grew up. Then they would be soaring
in airplanes and gliders and missiles less boring.
Their engines fired up, the crowds would be roaring
for the heroes they’d be, taking off into space,
vanishing upwards with barely a trace—
off to adventure, intent on the chase.
They would catch up with life and grab onto its tail.
They’d travel each highway and ride every rail,
pass “go” every round and get out of jail!
Life in short would be anything but dull and tame.
It would be a wild spree—an adventurous game
wherein they’d be heroes, ensconced in their fame.
At least this was their theory when they were young,
when adventure was made up in mind and on tongue
and all of their upcoming conquests were sung!
But childhood dreams often go far astray.
They tend to evaporate as day-to-day
we slowly grow up and enter the fray.
Now one’s an accountant, the other a doc,
and there’s little adventure and even less talk
of being an astronaut, pilot or jock.
Yet who knows in the nighttime what sorties are planned?
With their heads on their pillows, do their wishes expand
to soar off to adventures more wild and grand?
Perhaps in their dreams they go back to their youth
and to pastimes less sane—more reckless and uncouth.
Perhaps in their slumbers, their dreams become truth.
The prompt words today were air, theory, rapscallion and itching. Here are the links:
This post made years ago at the very beginning of my blog answers today’s prompt of “conjure” perfectly, so here it is again after a small edit:
My dialogue takes place between my 7 year old self and my 70 year old self who, ironically, is writing this in Mexico.
of Grandma’s barn
whole lost worlds there.
Our own attic—a door held down
by a gravity never challenged.
I wanted to see
the hanging gardens of Babylon,
Mexico and Africa—
all these places from books,
their pieces jumbled together
like puzzle pieces
in the deep recesses of my closet,
but ready for assembly
when I would
make my future memories
I crouch with myself at seven—
sharing imagined dangers
in deep closets,
trying to conjure the world.
So many small town stories
while I dreamed of living
in those fairy tale places
of Bible stories
that stood on a shelf
the Bobbsey Twins
Some of us spend our lives
trying to be like books,
then spend our old age
trying to remember childhood,
The prompt word today is conjure.
Their creaks were my alarm that kids were on the elementary school playground across the street and if my biggest sister was downstairs or away from home or even sleeping as soundly as she always did after coming home late the night before, I’d sneak into her room to look out onto the playground from above and see who was there. I knew the difference in the sound between the merry-go-round and each set of swings—the little swings next to the little slide, or one of the three big sets directly across from the block my house was on. Higher, with longer and more flexible chains, these swings could be made to loop de loop—pass up so high that you actually went over the top of the frame the swings were suspended from and wound the chain once around the pipe.
Some of the boys could repeat this three or four times until the swing got so high that none of the little kids could get up to it. Then the janitors would have to get their tallest ladder and go up to push the seat over and over the cross pole with one of their big push brooms to straighten it out again and bring the seat down closer to earth.
There were rules forbidding loop de looping, but the boys would come after school when all the teachers had gone home and even our janitors, Mr. and Mrs. Polachek, who lived kitty-corner across from the south end of the playground, were at home in their backroom away from the sounds of kids they had to deal with every day.
The creak I was listening for was the creak of the merry-go-round. Teepee shaped, it had a wooden runner all the way around it a foot up from the ground. There was a handrail about thirty inches above it, so you could stand on the wooden runner, facing the center pole, hold onto the hand rail and enjoy the ride as the big kids ran around in circles around the merry-go-round, pulling it with them to go faster and faster, then stood on four sides of it, grabbing the handrail pipe and pushing it off to make it go faster still. One by one, more onlookers would enroll in the joint effort to get it going fast enough. Then they’d jump on and everyone would pump up and down, sticking their bottoms out into space as they bent their knees to keep up the momentum.
There were other ways to use the Merry-go-round. The bigger girls like Marie Holstedt who lived on the street that faced the opposite side of the playground from the one my house faced, would sit on the foot board with her boyfriend Robert. Their feet side by side on the ground, they would sway to and fro in a kind of two-step movement—two to the right, then one to the left––their knees touching with their swing to the right, their hips touching when they swung to the left. When they did this, the sound of the merry-go-round reminded me of the strange rhythmic creaking I’d hear sometimes late at night in my house.
It was probably the TV antenna on the roof, my mother had said. Or maybe the furnace trying to pump out heat, she had speculated when I pointed out that it had been a windless night.
Life was simple and I believed her. Only now do I make sense of it and of my father’s late night short trips down the hall to the bathroom—the washcloth always draped over the tub faucet the next morning.
It was an innocent age where it was entirely possible to be eleven years old and to never have had the least idea that anything like sex existed in the world. Yet a good deal of what eventually led up to it went on in the playground across from my house. Older girls would sit in the swings, swaying back and forth without ever taking their feet from the ground. Or, take fast running steps forward and backward without really letting go and allowing the lift off. To their side or in front of them would be their crush of the day or the week or the hour. If he was not the boy of choice, sometimes the girls would switch swings. If the boy switched again, too, and the other boy let him, then it was a sign language of sorts that indicated which boy favored which girl, and if the girls went home, a clear message that things had not matched up correctly to their satisfaction.
But at other times—usually during games of ditch ‘em played in the twilight and darkness of summer—courtships could progress toward hunkering down in the ditches around the playground, close up to some culvert where the ditches were their deepest, the girl in front, the boy with his arms around her waist, holding her back from running to try to get to home base when one of the littler kids who was “it” ran past without seeing them. In these junior high years just past childhood, the objects of the games started to shift until finally in high school, the rituals of the old games were left behind entirely and ditch ‘em became merely a starting place––as did the swinging back and forth, the pumping, the dance.
Today, with merry-go-rounds a thing of the past, they are still an appropriate metaphor for what life pushes us toward from our birth. It begins with our rocking in the arms of our mothers, the rocking chairs of our grandmothers, the wild swings through the air locked hand-to-hand with our fathers. It is what slippery slides and swings and merry-go-rounds and dancing move us towards. Everything going around and around and in doing so really going back and forth from generation to generation. Passing the world on and fading away. Now and then doing a loop de loop just because we can.
This is a rewrite of a piece from three years ago. The prompt today is enroll.
I always wanted a set of those panties that had a day of the week embroidered on each one, but I grew up in an era when kids didn’t ask for things. I know my mom would have bought them for me if she’d known, or my grandma would have ceased her endless activity of sewing sequins on felt butterflies or crocheting the edges of pillow shams long enough to embroider the days of the week onto the baggy white nylon panties jumbled into my underwear drawer. I never asked, though. Never told.
So it was that on Sunday I’d arise and put on the same old underpants, cotton dress with ruffle, white socks, patent leather shoes. I’d take a little purse no bigger than the makeup case in the suitcase-sized purse I now carry. Into it I’d drop a quarter my dad had given me for the collection, a hanky and the lemon drop my mother always put inside just in case of a cough. I never coughed, but always ate the lemon drop, sucking on it during Sunday School and sometimes asking for another from the larger supply in her purse during church.
Why my mom never sang in the choir I don’t know. She had a fine true voice. Both of my older sisters did and so did I, once I was in high school. I remember when I was little watching the choir in their fine robes that looked like they were graduating every Sunday. They sat facing us, in three rows to the preacher’s left, as though checking up on us to make sure we didn’t misbehave or yawn or chew gum. In addition to lemon drops, my mother always carried Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum in her purse. Sometimes the gum was a bit red from the rouge she always had on her fingertips on days she applied makeup. It seemed to me like the rouge flavored the gum a bit. It tasted of clove and flowers.
“Just hold it in your mouth,” my mother instructed, my sister and me; and if we chewed, she would take it away from us. “Just chew it enough to make it soft and then hold it in your mouth.” This was an almost impossible challenge for a child and actually even for a teenager. By then, we’d learned to crack the gum and to blow bubbles even when it wasn’t bubble gum. That fine pop and final sigh of air as the bubble broke–so satisfying. The threat and memory of everything we could be doing with that gum resided in each small wad of it held in our cheeks as we sat lined up like finely dressed chipmunks listening to the minister drone on.
Hymns were like the commercial breaks on television–a chance to move around a bit and look at something other than the preacher–to ponder the curious lyrics such as, “Lettuce gather at the river,” “Bringing in the sheets” and “Let me to his bosom fly.” (Just what was a bosom fly and what had lettuce and collecting sheets from the clothesline to do with religion? Once again, we didn’t ask.)
Then we’d sit down again for the Apostle’s Creed or a prayer or benediction or the interminable expanse of the sermon–half an hour with no break. I’d listen to the drone of the flies buzzing in circles at the window, or the sound of cars passing in the summer, when the front and back doors were left open to encourage breeze where no breeze existed.
Now and then a curious dog would wander in and be ushered out by the man who stood at the door to hand out church programs. Everyone would hear the scramble of dog toenails on the wooden aisle and turn to watch and laugh. Even the minister would laugh and say say something like, “All of God’s creatures seek to commune with him upon occasion.” Then everyone would laugh softly again before he turned his attention back to telling us what was wrong with us and how to remedy it.
That afternoon, Lynnie Brost and I were going to play dress up and have a tea party under the cherry trees and bury a treasure there. We’d already assembled it: my mom’s old ruby necklace, a handful of her mom’s red plastic cancer badges shaped like little swords with a pin at the back to put on your collar to show you’d given to the campaign, my crushed penny from the train track, her miniature woven basket from South America that her missionary sister had brought her, a tattered love comic purloined from her older sister. (We’d “read” it first–which at our age meant looking at the pictures.)
I fell asleep thinking of what else we could add to our cache, to be dug up again in ten years or for as long later as we could stand to put off exhuming it. I leaned against my mother as I slept, and if she noticed, she did nothing to awaken me. She shook me a bit, gently, as the congregation stood after the sermon, singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” as the minister marched down the aisle, smiling and greeting parishioners and the choir followed him, as though they were being let out early for good behavior. At the door, we greeted the preacher again, standing in line to shake hands and be blessed, then ticked off his mental list of who had been among the faithful on this fine summer day when they could have been out mowing the grass or rolling in the piles of grass emptied from the clipping bag.
Then we drove the block home, for no one ever walked in a small town. Well done rump roast for dinner, as we called the noon meal. Mashed potatoes, brown gravy, canned string beans, a salad with homemade Russian dressing and ice cream or jelly roll for dessert. All afternoon to play. Another small town South Dakota Sunday of an endless progression strung out from birth to age eighteen, when I departed for college and the rest of my Agnostic life.
This is an essay from almost 5 years ago. Hopefully, you’ve either not been reading my blog for that long or you’ve forgotten it and it will read like new, as it did for me. I missed the boat when it came to religion, but it wasn’t for lack of experience. The prompt today is almost.
This is the only photo I have of me wearing the white boots lauded in this poem. Too bad the tassels aren’t showing! That’s my dad being silly and sporting as a hat a centerpiece brought back from Mexico by our neighbors.
White Boots with Tassels
Hand over hand, hand over hand—
we were a little twirling band—
Sharon, Diane and Meridee,
Jerilyn, Sheila and me.
We felt that we were in cahoots
as we donned our tall white boots
that sported tassels hanging down,
strutting them all over town,
dropping batons we soon retrieved
and we all truly believed
one day we’d be good enough
so we would come to strut our stuff
before the band, wands held on high
then thrown aloft into the sky.
Those dreams, alas, soon became dated
when our high school mentor graduated,
going on to college where
her baton rose to higher air
while ours were relegated to
shelves that sported a single shoe,
old castoff dolls and castoff dreams,
Teddy bears ripped at the seams
and small batons barely abused
because they were so rarely used.
Yet in our dreams, we strutted tall,
the finest majorettes of all—
batons twirling as they rose high
above us far into the sky,
returning safely to each hand
in sync with music from the band
we marched in front of, pert and sassy,
our tasseled boots sexy and classy.
Big girls now grown up from small,
the coolest high schoolers of all.
The truth of this, alas, it seemed,
to be something we merely dreamed.
The prompt word today was strut.
Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week directs us to post a photo of something beginning with the letter “J” that contains at least six letters. Believe it or not, it took me a good ten minutes to come up with such a word! I was about to resort to the dictionary when I spied this photo on my desktop. I had used it just a few days ago, but earlier, when I went to put it away, my eyes fell on the purse and I started to wonder what I would have carried in a purse when I was three years old. It seemed like a good subject for a poem, so I left the photo there to remind me to try to do so after I did Cee’s “Fun Foto” post. It didn’t occur to me for a long time, that since my name is Judith and it was a photo of me, that I could do both at the same time.
What does a three-year-old put in a purse she takes to church?
Held primly on her lap as legs swing freely from their perch.
Feet dangling from the pew above the varnished floorboards where
fifty years of townsfolk have walked enroute to prayer.
Small straw purse grasped tightly in two nail-bitten fists,
too little for a lipstick or store receipts or lists.
If perhaps the sermon stretches on too long,
what can she find inside this purse that she has brought along?
Black plastic strap she’s twisted securely ‘round a finger—
once she has unwound it, how long will the marks linger
pressed into her chubby flesh, like four little rings
she surveys as she unsnaps her purse to view her “things?”
A single piece of Juicy Fruit in case she gets a cough.
A snap bead and a single bud that happened to fall off
the rosebush of that big house as she ran ahead to linger
on their way to church and squeezed it with her finger
(and perhaps her thumbnail) until it finally snapped.
She’d peel off its petals later as she napped.
She knew she shouldn’t do this. They’d told her this before,
but her parents walked so slowly, and those naps were such a bore.
God may have seen even the smallest sparrow fall,
but were single rosebuds seen by him at all?
That lady they belonged to was so bossy and so haughty
that she provoked the saintliest children to be naughty!
A single plastic wrapped-up toy she worries to and fro
from her last night’s Cracker Jacks bought before the show.
She softly rustles cellophane between her restless fingers,
then sniffs them to determine if the caramel smell still lingers.
Mama gently elbows her to say she should desist––
fluttering her hand a bit, loosely from the wrist.
She looks for things much quieter in her little purse.
Her snap pistol is noisier. This marble would be worse,
dropped upon the church floor where it would roll away.
If she caused such a ruckus, what would the preacher say?
Something at the bottom feels so round and sticky.
Probably a Lifesaver gone all soft and icky.
A little lace-edged hanky that Grandma tatted for her.
She said that she would show her how, but she’s sure it would bore her.
A folded piece of paper. Crayons––one blue, one red.
If the sermon goes too long, she can color instead.
Mama will not mind and neither will her Dad.
Sister will be embarrassed, but she cares not a tad.
Later on her Daddy’s eyes will start to close,
but she’s sure her mom will nudge him before he starts to doze.
That’s why she is sitting right there in the middle
to correct his snoozes and her daughter’s every fiddle.
Sister is so perfect she needs no reprimand,
so she sits on the outside, removed from Mama’s hand.
After the sermon’s over, the collection plate
passes here before her, certain of its fate.
She’ll unsnap the little purse and reach down far inside it
to try to find the quarter where she chose to hide it
stuck in her silly putty in a little ball.
Now she wonders whether she can remove it all.
The people farther down the pew look in her direction
to try to see the cause of the collection plate’s deflection,
so her quarter is surrendered to join the coins and bills
piled there around it in green and silver hills.
It is the only quarter blanketed in blue.
It is a nice addition, this unexpected hue.
Sister looks disgusted, but her parents do not see,
That quarter cannot be traced back to her now, luckily.
Church will soon be ended with a prayer and song,
and when the music starts up, she will gladly sing along.
She still dreads church but she gives thanks, for it could be worse.
She could be forced to live through it without her Sunday purse!