Category Archives: Essays

Play Date

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Play Date

 

My sister’s house has sold and they are cleaning out her attic. My niece and I make one trip more and I find my old dollhouse, collapsed, in the garbage can. I take the pieces out—some of them—and stash them in her trunk. I’d thought them gone forty years ago when the tornado took the roof off my parents’ house, but now, here they are like the leaves of memory blown miraculously back to me.

When she sees I’ve taken them, my niece asks what she should do with the dolls she found in the back recesses of her mother’s attic storage room—the one I hadn’t got to on my last visit—perhaps because of the roofing nails sticking through the wood which made reaching back behind the eaves a physical danger.

I find them where she has stashed them In a suitcase in her garage, and when I open the case and see the first doll staring up at me, I think it is a “find” from some antique store, like the dishes in my sister’s China cabinet or the tiny figures on her shelves. One rubber arm, sticky with age, has burst open and streams kapok like a froth of bleached and fermented blood. Other limbs have decayed to nothing but empty puddles of congealed rubber. Only the torso, held in place by a sagging pink fancy gown; and the face, stained red in places from some surface it’s been pressed against for too long, are still intact. As I lift the first doll from the suitcase, the other doll—the size of a toddler—stares up at me, one eye unhinged, her hair in pigtails sealed with rubber bands. When I lift her by one arm, her head turns, her legs pump and I realize this is my Ideal walking doll. When you raise her arms, one at a time, she walks toward you and her head swings, side-to-side. Hard and beautiful, she was not a doll to cuddle and she would not sit. She stood propped up against one corner of my room, rarely played with. What, I wonder, has happened to the bright blue dress she wore? Then I look closer and see that she’s still wearing it—faded to paleness even in the dark. What is here is original—her hair, her limbs, her dress, her petticoat—but her shoes and socks have been lost to another little girl, perhaps, or have jiggled off in some trunk and been left behind.

I’m 1500 miles away from home, yet I load the child-sized dollies into my boyfriend’s trunk: my sister’s doll in it’s fancy pink floor-length formal, my doll with her eye gone wild in its socket. They won’t make it home to Mexico in my suitcase this time, but it is impossible to leave them there in the suitcase to be thrown away by someone who has no memory of them. They are not collector’s items. They have been too neglected in their lives since they stood propped up in the corners of our rooms, then in the corners of our closets, the basement, my sister’s trunk and then her attic 800 miles from where they called us their owners and stimulated our imaginations to the extent they were able.

They’ll now reside in my boyfriend’s garage in Missouri until the time comes when I can carry them back in an extra suitcase or he can mule them down for me. If they were miniatures, I could include them in a retablo or a memory box, but each head is larger than the largest assemblage I’ve ever made. The closets of my house are full and overflowing, as are the wall-to-ceiling cabinets in my garage and studio and every area of my house where I’ve had room to build a closet. But I must use them. Give them some purpose for still existing other than to fill up room in some box on some cupboard shelf.

I imagine a memory box of gigantic proportions and suddenly, I have to make it, even if it takes up all the work room of my studio, and I start to plan how I could take my own doll back with me and what I’ll have to leave: the case of books that I’ve just had printed or my clothes or all the cartridges for my laser printer? If I wear a baby carrier, will they believe it is my baby, sound asleep? And what sensation will I cause when I try to stuff her into the overhead rack?

When I start to plan what else will go in the memory box with her, I remember the metal dollhouse sides and suddenly, I’m planning another trip back to Missouri, where I will make the mother of memory boxes—four feet square—and I wonder how my boyfriend will react to this and what I’ll do with it when it is finished. But somehow all these practicalities do not matter, because this dolly, relegated to corners for its whole life, is finally going to get played with!!!

This is a reblog from a 2014 piece. Since their prompt was “Play,” I’m reblogging it for the Ragtag Daily Prompt.

This is for Marilyn–not a poem! Written over three years ago, it predated the “Me too” movement, but fits right in with the climate today of”one step forward, one step back.” Which will it be by the end of this political “reign”? Hopefully, if a woman winds up on the moon it will be literally and not figuratively.

For Ragtag’s “Moon” prompt.

lifelessons - a blog by Judy Dykstra-Brown

“To the Moon, Alice!”
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On “The Honeymooners,” Ralph Kramden (played by Jackie Gleason) had a phrase that those of us of a certain age can’t help but remember.  “To the moon, Alice, to the moon!” he would rasp at his wife (played by the inimitable Audrey Meadows) whenever he had no less predictable comeback to her never predictable jibes. Of course, the idea was that this was how far he would knock her.  An upraised fist often accompanied his threat.

The audience, of course, would roar.  So hilarious this empty threat, for America knew that Ralph would never make good on the threat. Even Alice never flinched–supposedly because she, too, knew those words signaled an empty threat.  But underneath those words and the fact that viewers found them to be so hilarious, was the idea that such threatened violence was funny–and, somehow, that such treatment of his wife was a…

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Love Letters to Bad Men by Gloria Palazzo

I love this piece written by my friend Gloria Palazzo, pictured above.  She doesn’t have a blog but has given me permission to present it here:

 

Love Letters to Bad Men

I love Bill because he tried his best to be a good father. He worked long hours to bring home money. He taught me how to ride a two wheeler. It was an old green one with fat tires and the boy who owned it got killed in the war. Bill  called me, “Hatface.”  He said I looked good in the ladies hats he made in his factory.

I love my mother’s second husband, Albert, because even though he was not a nice person he took good care of my mother while she was sick with Alzheimer’s.

I love my half brother Ted because he is very kind, He is also very big and even though he is so much younger than me, because of his size and teddy bear gentleness, I can make believe that he is the older brother I always wished I had.

I love my first boyfriend Ronnie Unger because his parents brought him to Rockaway and he used to keep me company while I baby sat. I was twelve and he was thirteen. When the family returned the following summer, he still liked me. I was surprised.

I love Henry Nellon because he used to sit on the railing on the boardwalk and smoke Lucky Strike cigarettes. He was seventeen and looked like James Dean. I was fourteen and taught myself to smoke just so that I could ask him to light my cigarette. I still loved him even after he told me that he loved this red head who I thought was ugly.

I love Jimmy Corrigan because his sister introduced us and he became our high school president. We were so popular that the kids on the bus saved seats for us. His parents did not approve of me and so he stopped coming around. I went to his house on Halloween and they didn’t know it was me behind that silly mask.

I love Robert Hutter because he was the smartest student in his class and he was studying to be a brain surgeon. He bought me a dictionary for my birthday, I once sneaked out of my dormitory to go with him to watch Syracuse and Cornell play football. He slipped out of my life but surfaced in my thoughts every day for eleven years.

I love Jules Schussler because he is the father of my children and because his mother was a great cook. He helped me to escape my home because I did not have the guts to run away. He was a good dancer and taught me to dance the Mambo. He also had an infectious laugh.

I love Steve because he was my first baby. He is very handsome. When he started to walk he looked so cute waddling around with my big old coffee pot. He didn’t like toys. Only the coffee pot. I once heard his brother say he was a chrome magnum. I do not know what that is.

I love Robert because he was a beautiful baby with big blue eyes and curly blond hair. He looked like an angel, but the devil got into him for a while. It was in the form of beer, marijuana and pretty girls. Later he became the best driver that UPS ever had. My grandson Jason calls him dad.

I love John because he was my last baby. He was such a good baby. His dedication to his studies and his devotion to me were a treasure. His affection and loyalty kept me on a sane course when everything around me seemed to be falling apart.

I love Fred Hollis because he taught me how to drive long distances in a big truck carrying heavy machinery. He also taught me how to put a worm on a hook, catch a fish, unhook it, clean it, and then fry it up right there on the beach and savor the solitude of togetherness in nature.

I love Jim Palazzo for all the right reasons. He adored women. He also liked them. I carried acres of sadness and anger when we met and he taught me to love and trust with truth and honesty. Thank you, Jim. And thanks too for the name, PALAZZO.

I love Dell Krietel because he lifted me right out of Walmart’s where I was demonstrating Kodak cameras. We made love the way it is described in steamy novels. That was one hell of an awakening. The affair lasted 3 months, but the residual lingers on.

I love Perry Frankland because he was funny and very rich. We met by chance in Bimini where we enjoyed a three day love affair. It was supposed to end there, but it didn’t and we hop scotched in Tampa society for two years. Fate separated us when he didn’t recover from surgery. His death shattered my dreams but be continues to visit me every time I see a butterfly.

I love Archie because his wagging tail and loving eyes never faltered even though he was often scolded for messes and spills. He pawed his way into our hearts and barked dutifully to protect us.

My last great love leaves a trail of smoking dust and jagged tears as this broken heart tiptoes, ever searching for just one more “bad” man.

 

Love that this piece pretty much becomes Gloria’s autobiography.  I challenge anyone who might be interested to write their own piece of this type—a love letter to bad anything: food, pets, relatives, hats, choices—you name it.  If you do, please post a link in the comments below.

Wednesday with Yolanda and Yoli

 

Wednesday with Y & Y

I usually get in a good conversation with Yolanda when she is here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but I haven’t spent time with her aside from those days when she’s here to clean since Christmas, when her family joined me for Christmas Eve.  I had noticed earlier that I’d overlooked her birthday on June 3, so when I asked her if she had any other jobs after she left my house on Wednesday and she said no, I asked if she’d like to go on a shopping trip with me to get a belated birthday present and then out for lunch and a good talk.  Happily, she said yes and we decided to ask her daughter Yoli, 6 years old, to go with us since she’s presently on school vacation.

Off we went to pick up Yoli in the village and then off to Walmart, where Yolanda decided she’d like a pair of shoes. I persuaded her to get a cooler pair that the first pair she picked, which looked pretty unappealing.  Yoli was next.  She picked out a ballerina Barbie, clad in her signature pink. She had no need for new shoes, since she already had on the coolest shoes I’ve every seen, complete with bunny ears and tail.

We were then off to the food court at the mall.  Yolanda and I had Trips famous burgers and fries, but Yoli had this rather overwhelming dish of Chinese food.  She ate all the noodles, which she called “Espagetti.”  The rest of the meal went home for her dad to consume, I imagine.

Fun day–away from the computer!  I love talking to Yolanda, who has known me long enough to know how to speak to me according to my limited Spanish vocabulary.  Yoli was much quieter than the last time I’d taken them out to dinner for a celebration.  On that occasion, she sang for most of the meal. When she ran out of songs she knew, she just made up new ones.  I’m sure I have photos of that occasion on my blog.  I’ll see if I can find a link.

The day before I’d planned a different spontaneous outing with my friend Glen.  I’ll tell you all about it in another post. (Yes, I’m trying hard to encourage myself to “step away from the computer!”)

Please click on the photos to enlarge them.

A Letter from My Future Self of 2038: NaPoWriMo, 2018, Day 11

 A Letter from My Future Self of 2038

Dear Remi,

Remember eight years ago, when you took this new name for yourself?  I notice you’ve slipped back into the “old” name (Judy) and the “old” you that you professed just five years before to no longer identify with.  What happened?  Was it merely the resistance of old friends to call you by this new name? Or was it that you slowly slipped back into being that person–more laconic, giving in to the heaviness and inactivity of age?  Did you also give up on romance and change and the excitement of the possibility of forward progress?  Did you decide to stay where it is easier with an established routine, people to clean your house and wash your clothes and mow your grass and clean your pool?

I’m wondering if you are thinking about how that is working out for you. I see you even more tied down than before–five cats instead of one, making plans to start more programs for the young people of your community, but will this be enough?  That sense of urgency and of time passing that has kept you vaulting from your bed and running outside to try to breathe at night—is it caused by any physical condition or is it me, prodding you to be young for as long as you can and to experience more before you sink into that routine that is the reward for doing all that you meant to do in this lifetime? Is it time to retire and to smooth your own pathway, or is it still time to leap over barriers such as this barrier of yourself and go boldly out into the world to see what else is there?

I’m not trying to prod or push you or suggest the way.  I am, after all, a figment of your imagination as surely as your present view of yourself is.  I understand that two foot surgeries in two years slowed you down and changed your exercise patterns as well as the patterns of your day.  I also realize that friends moved away or moved into new lives and that this also made you turn inwards.  There are reasons of one sort or another for everything we do.  We all have excuses.  At 90 years old, I have excuses, too.  I know where you ended up but I also know that there are a limitless number of me’s.

There is the me that succumbed to Alzheimer’s, as your sister did.  There is the me who moved to Italy and moved off into a new life that I only hint at here.  There is the me who has devoted herself for the past 20 years to making her small town a better place to grow up in.  There is the me who finally took off in that boat and went all the remaining places there were to go.  There is the me who grew grumpy and reclusive and eventually became dumber than her Smart TV.

There is even the implausible me who did all the “shoulds” and got her other books published—who maybe even got back on the agent/publisher treadmill and did it the “right” way. There is the me who found more romance, the one who converted her entire house into a dog kennel or cat sanctuary, the one who built the house on the adjoining piece of land and hired a nurse/housekeeper and invited her friends to come grow old with her.  There are so many potential me’s that I hope it is making your head swim and that I hope will make you think about what you want to do with the remaining 30 or so years of your life.

Things are not over.  In the first thirty years of your life, you grew up, went to summer camp, counseled at summer camp, went to University, sailed around the world on a boat and saw all else that life could be, got your masters degree, emigrated to Australia, taught for two years, traveled for four months through southeast Asia and Africa, moved to Africa and had various adventures, good and bad.  Fell in love, taught school in Addis Ababa, moved back to the U.S., taught for 7 more years, fell in love, built a house, edited a creative writing journal for teens, traveled to China and Great Britain and Hawaii.

Then you had a dream that knocked you into a recognition of your subconscious.  You quit your job, moved to Orange County, CA, wrote on the beach, moved to L.A., fell in love, studied film production and screenwriting at UCLA, worked in a Hollywood agency, joined a writer’s workshop, joined an actor’s studio, worked for Bob Hope, gave poetry readings, was co-editor of a poetry journal, fell in love again, married, moved to the Santa Cruz mountains, became an artist, traveled and did art and craft shows for 14 years, became the curator of an art center, lost your husband, moved to Mexico, self-published four books, traveled, taught English and art, fell in love a few more times, started a poetry series.

This is what can be done in thirty years.  So, what are you going to do with the next thirty?

Love, Remi–twenty years older.

The NaPoWriMo prompt today is: a poem that addresses the future, answering the questions “What does y(our) future provide? What is your future state of mind? If you are a citizen of the “union” that is your body, what is your future “state of the union” address?”  This rewrite of a piece written three years ago seems to fill the bill, except it was pointed out to me afterwards that it isn’t a poem!  Can I get by saying it is a prose poem?  If not, this former piece which is a poem also answers the same prompt:  https://judydykstrabrown.com/2018/03/15/provoke/

 

Who Knew?

Who Knew?

When new was new, I was crazy about it. A new friend, new dress, new favorite food. But what I liked best was new places. I yearned to travel, even if it was just to the next town. Strangely enough, as tiny as the towns were in my part of South Dakota, people from neighboring towns did not mix. We went rollerskating in Draper, 7 miles away, but when our eyes chanced to stray to Draper boys, we were taken aside by several of the “popular” Draper girls–the cheerleaders, in fact, and told to stay away from their boys. This really happened. We played their school in sports, went rollerskating every Sunday in their school gym, even went to movies in their tiny theater, but we did not mix. When we tried, we’d been warned.

I think I visited Presho, Vivian and Kennebec–all 20 to 40 miles away–no more than once in the 18 years I lived in Murdo, population 700. White River, 38 miles away, we more regularly visited since they had shows on Mondays as well as weekends, and the movies were just ten cents, whereas ours cost twenty-five cents! But, never did we ever socialize with White River girls. The boys, however, were a different matter.

The first boy I ever kissed was from White River, and we went steady for two years. I think I’ve told the story of that first kiss in another blog posting. Suffice it to say that after putting it off until age 16, it was about time. And, it worked. I was literally dizzy and he had to hold me up for a minute afterwards. He had opened my car door, helped me out, then folded me in his arms and kissed me. I was so discombobulated that instead of walking to my own car, I opened the back door of his car and started to get into the back seat. Not for the reasons you might think. My best friend and a boy who (as I recall) later turned to cattle rustling were already in the back seat. I just did so in utter confusion. And no, I had never had a drink in my life at the time.

At any rate, this story has veered off in a direction unintended, so just suffice it to say that after that, life continued to present new after new and I accepted most of them. I traveled widely, loved a few loves, pursued a few careers and wound up in Mexico. Now, at age 70, I suddenly find that new isn’t as necessary to me. The older I get, the more I realize that everything is everywhere. You just have to look for it closely.

No longer is it necessary for me to travel to far-off third world countries. It is exciting to take the same walk on the same beach day after day since the sea presents new treasures each day. I love getting up each morning and writing first thing, having Pepe come each Wednesday to give me a 1 1/2 hour massage after which I plop into the hot tub. I love spending hours at my desk and sometimes hate having to leave home even for activities I have enjoyed in the past.

The point is, that the older I get, the more I want to spend all my time doing what I love most. Writing. Art. The fact that each endeavor creates a new piece is getting to be enough “new.”

 

This is a rewrite of an essay I wrote so long ago that I only had one viewer.  If it was you, you must be one of my first followers! The prompt today is suddenly.

NOISE!!!

It is 3:24 A.M.  For the past hour, some ASSHOLE on a motorcycle with NO MUFFLER has been ROARING back and forth in front of my house going at least 60 miles an hour.  He seems to be making a U turn around the plaza and roaring back again.  This has happened at least 6 times, which makes 12 passes past my bedroom window which is about 5 feet from the street.  I have an urge to go grab the garbage cans everyone has put out on the curb to make a barricade across the street.  What idiot does this on a main street running through a village where everyone is sleeping?

In 2.5 hours, the tortilla shop across the street will start up its tortilla-making machine with its round of loud rhythmic SQUEAKS that will render sleep impossible.  Forty-five minutes later, the first huge cement trucks will make their inital journeys past my window to begin their continual all-day trips back and forth to Tamarindo, where the Four Seasons is building a huge resort hotel. Why they go out of their way to come through town rather than using the dirt road that leads directly to the resort from the highway, I don’t know.  Possibly it is just to allow them to chew up the new pavers in town…or for the fun of coating all the parked cars along the way with a 1/4 inch thick coat of dust.

In four and a half hours, the usual hum of cars will begin, along with the gas truck singsonging “Zeta, Zeta, Zeta Gass.” or “Ghhhhaaaaaasssssssss,” depending on which company it is.  The water truck will make its distinctive announcement, the knife-sharpener will pedal by sounding his thin piping whistle, vegetable vendors will announce their menu of fresh fruits and veggies via loudspeaker, cars will make passes through town announcing events, and the plastic vendors, bulk soap vendors, scrap metal collectors and general traffic will begin its ritual parade past my window. No chance for motorcycle morons to pass at anything but a fairly normal speed, which detracts from their pure pleasure of speed combined with DEAFENiNG  NOISE!

Ironically, on the other side of my rental is just the pounding of the night surf, relaxing and  lulling.  Oh, that they hadn’t converted the garage that opens directly onto the street into the only bedroom on the ground floor of this beach rental that was years ago split into two rentals…upstairs and down…one of the three bedrooms upstairs converted into a kitchen/dining room/sitting room, while a bedroom was provided for the downstairs rental by the method just described of converting the streetside garage into the only bedroom.  Perhaps the time has come for me to begin sleeping in the hammock on the porch adjoining the beach.

The first month after I moved to Mexico sixteen years ago, I wrote a piece entitled, “In Mexico, There Is Always Music.” It talked about the constant bird calls, mule brays, cattle lowings, dogs barking, fireworks, church bells, parties, fiestas, cocks crowing, generators, air brakes on the highway far below, frogs, cicadas, insects, hummingbird whirrs, rhythms of fully-laden donkeys on cobblestones or shod horses moving at a faster pace past my house in San Juan Cosala.

But here in La Manzanilla, those sounds are augmented and added to by the even more irritating sounds of busy village life. Yes, it is paradise, but here on the road side of my idyllic beach bungalow,   IT CAN BE DAMN HARD TO GET A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP!!!!

                                                                  Ahh.  Much nicer.