Category Archives: family stories

Christmas Gifts

Click on first photo to increase the size of all and to read captions.

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My mother was the hero of Christmas. Decorated waste paper baskets from the church bazaar, that “Skunk” game I’d been begging for, played once and never again, that one last doll when I was eleven, purchased more for her own nostalgia than my need. The tree went up as the orange and brown of Thanksgiving was disposed of, and the jubilation of Christmas stretched on until New Years, when the tree came down.

For my dad, however, the end of Christmas was never quick enough. The tree lights hurt his eyes, he said, but I always wondered if there was more to it than that: some sparsity of the Christmases of his past that had broken its spirit in the heart of a young boy raised on a South Dakota prairie that furnished few rewards, let alone extravagent Christmases, but still expecting more, perhaps, than an orange in the toe of his sock. A pony, maybe, or a stick of hard candy, a jaunty new blue winter stocking cap or simply a mother  more given to Christmas than his own busy midwife of a mother, always off to somewhere else.

In our mad months of enthusiasm over tinsel, ornaments resurrected from the attic and the mystery of wrapped boxes, we overlooked the remnants of that little boy’s pain, but some part of each of us, detecting it by some subconscious radar, never gave up trying to heal those hurts of former Christmases with tiny Black Hills Gold tie tacks, new wallets and papier-mâché sculptures meant to prod him from his apathy. It never quite worked, except for that sculpture, ugly in its craziness, laughed and pondered over, then left to age and weather on their unroofed patio until its demise, giving one small hope of reviving a small boy’s wonder over Christmas and the unexpected. His forbearance over the years made him, perhaps, another subtler hero of Christmas, just in his putting up with it.

The prompt words for today are orange, game, hero, jubilation and quick.  Here are the links:

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/09/11/rdp-tuesday-prompt-orange/
https://fivedotoh.com/2018/09/11/fowc-with-fandango-game/
https://wordofthedaychallenge.wordpress.com/2018/09/11/hero/
https://dailyaddictions542855004.wordpress.com/2018/09/09/daily-addictions-2018-week-36/jubilation
https://dversepoets.com/2018/09/10/quadrille-64-quickwrite-something/

Family Vacation

 

 

 

Version 6My dad in a slower mode of conveyance.

Family Vacation

My father on vacation was robotic in his thrust.
His modus operandi was to get there or to bust—
another hundred miles or so before we stopped to sup,
and we rarely got a room before the moon was up!

When he hit the highway, he became another man.

No mere roadside attraction could deflect his driving plan.
In those days of two-lane traffic and a speed limit of fifty,
he thought five hundred miles a day sounded rather nifty.

Fathers prone to threaten, who hit and rage and cuss

are, I fear, too often too ubiquitous.
But this was not my father. Rage was not his style.
He simply had addictions to mile after mile!

My dad was generous and fun. He told a story well,
but to take a trip with him was nothing short of Hell.
 His proclivity to “get there,” I fear was never curable,
and so family vacations were just barely endurable!

 

Version 2
My sisters and I with my dad.  He didn’t usually look this grim!

The prompt words today are highway, durable, robot and ubiquitous. Here are the links:

https://fivedotoh.com/2018/09/01/fowc-with-fandango-highway/

https://dailyaddictions542855004.wordpress.com/2018/08/26/daily-addictions-2018-week-34/durable

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/09/01/rdp-saturday-robot/

https://wordofthedaychallenge.wordpress.com/2018/09/01/ubiquitous/

Fact and Fiction

 

Various photos of my Mom, Dad, sisters and me. (Poem follows)

Fact and Fiction

If I had met my parents when we all were sixty-seven,
(before she went on oxygen, before he went to heaven,)
would we have liked each other and found something to say?
As strangers, would we walk on by or pass the time of day?

My father liked to be the one spinning out the tale.
Beside his abundant stories, I think most of mine would pale.
He wasn’t a joke-teller or a purveyor of fictions.
It was true stories of his life that fueled his depictions.

And when his friends had heard them all, he’d tell them all again.
Though they stretched with every telling, still his tales never grew thin.
If fifteen wolves pursued him—a number that is plenty,
the next time that he told the tale, I’ll wager there’d be twenty!

When I returned from Africa with stories of my own,
I found that they weren’t good enough, for all of them had grown
with all my dad’s retellings, so the rhino I had snapped
a photo of, now chased me. (In reality, it napped.)

I think perhaps my mother would like my poems the best.
She’d like the rhyme and meter, the humor and the jest.
For I learned all of it from her when I was very small,
as she was doing rhyming before I learned to crawl.

I grew up with her diaries—all of them in rhyme.
She had them in a notebook and we read them all the time.
The tales of her friend Gussie, who wasn’t allowed beaus;
so they said they went to Bible study, though it was a pose.

Gussie’s mother baked two pies, (for coffee hour, they said.)
Her father said he’d pick them up. They said they’d walk instead.
They took one of her mother’s pies to those within the church,
then took the other with them as they left them in the lurch!

Their beaus were waiting for them in a car with motor running.
Instead of Bible reading, they preferred to do some funning.
To abscond with both the pies was something that they had debated,
but in the end they left one pie–an action that they hated.

Two sisters present were their foes. They were so prim and proper.
To steal one pie was lie enough—but two would be a whopper!
Mom’s entry in her journal is one I can still tell.
(Don’t know why it’s the only one that I remember well.)

Line for line, here’s what she said in metered verse and rhyme,
though it’s been sixty years since I heard it for the first time:
“We left that crowd of greedy Dirks to feast upon our pies.
We were so mad, like Gussie’s Dad—had pitchforks in our eyes!”

My mother burned this journal when I was just a kid.
I wish she hadn’t done so, but alas, it’s true, she did.
Perhaps she didn’t want to see us following her ways.
Instead of what she did, better to follow what she says.

But I am sure if she still lived we’d have a little fun,
sitting down together when every day was done
and writing all our exploits down, relaying all our slips—
saving for posterity the words that pass our lips.

And in the meantime, Dad would tell as long as he was able,
all those stories that he’s told at table after table.
In coffee shops and golf courses, at parties or a dance,
he would go on telling them, whenever there’s a chance.

And if we all were strangers, and none of us were kids,
we could relate our stories without putting on the skids.
Each would outdo the other as we passed around the bend,
with story after story till we all came to The End!!!

Rogershipp’s prompt word for today is: Abundant

She Always Sleeps with the Radio On

My sister Betty, ages three to seventy three


She Always Sleeps with the Radio On

Each night,
      as I negotiate
              the squeaky stairs
                   from her attic guest room
           down to the bathroom
     one more time,
I hear the voices.

I imagine them as her companions,
    drowning out night sounds,
        freeing her mind from its hard task
of remembering.

Tonight, she sits on a lawn chair
on the grass. I sit on the front steps,
listening
   to a friend on the
     steps next to me, strumming, strumming,
as my sister and I sing along
in high school harmony.

The little girls across the street
       are the first to come,
       tiny lawn chairs in arms,
  to plop themselves in front of us
for the concert.

As they settle, my sister says,
“Now, back to the music.”

Moments later, their mother follows,
   bringing initial happy news
       of their upcoming trip
to a lake where last year
a teenage girl had been abducted,
         a segue to more disturbing news
of yesterday’s daylight intruder
flushed from a house a block away.

I’d noticed
    the police car
       circling, puzzled
           by his vigilance as we walked
      the neighborhood today.
 I’d smiled at the man on the bike who didn’t look
      a part of this neighborhood, wondering how he’d fare,

but now I feel the threat of him.

“House of the Rising Sun,” stops dog-walkers in their tracks
  as the litle ones
     sit on the sidewalk
         stringing beads I brought,
capturing this night
to hang around their necks:
gray plastic elephants,
            pink stars,
                   orange hearts,
                           green dolphins strung midleap
on sparkly purple cord.

This night strings us all together:
                  beads, words, music, the night sounds
of insects and frogs,

                                                 happy stories interspersed with fearful ones,
traffic from the busy street one block away.
             Hungry mosquitoes,
                    gathering suddenly,
are what break us apart.

     As we climb the stairs,
             her door
                        next
                            to the only
                                   bathroom
                     in the house
              closes.

For the first time 
    in the week I’ve been here,
          I hear no radio
                on my nightlong explorations
down the stairs.

At ten o’clock, 1:30 and 3,
          the hall outside her bedroom
                         stays silent,
          this evening’s full company
flooding over into the night.

We have exhausted her mind, filled it, worn her out.
           She stlll feels our presence.
                     
                                Four a.m.

A creaking door, and once again,
          silence becomes
        a cup for her to fill.
            Something is needed
to relieve worry—
to leave no room
    for either remembering
  or the lack of it.
I hear them then, insistent, down the stairs and in the hall.

                       Voices all night long.

 

 

The prompt word today is insist.

Unvarnished Truth

The prompt today was “varnish” and whenever I hear that word, I think of a certain lady in my far past. Here is a story from an early blog that will tell you why.

DSC07187

 

First Friends

I am three years old, lying in my Mom’s room taking a nap. I can hear voices in the front room. The world comes slowly back to me as I rouse myself from the deep sleep I swore I didn’t need. I hear my mom’s voice and the voice of a stranger. I slide my legs over the side of the chenille-covered bed, balancing for a moment like a teeter totter before giving in to gravity and letting my feet slide through space to the floor below. I creak open the door, which had been left ajar. My mom’s voice gets louder. I smell coffee brewing and hear the chink of china coffee cups in the living room.

I hear a dull rubbing sound and move toward it—through the kitchen to the dinette, where a very small very skinny girl with brown braids is sitting at the table coloring in one of my coloring books. She is not staying in the lines very well, which is crucial—along with the fact that she is coloring the one last uncolored picture in the book which I’ve been saving for last because it is my favorite and BECAUSE I HAVE IT PLANNED SO THERE IS SOMEWHERE IN THAT PICTURE TO USE EVERY LAST COLOR IN MY BOX OF CRAYOLAS!

I sidle past her, unspeaking, aflame with indignation. Who could have—who would have—given her the authority to color in my book? I stand in the door of the living room. My mom is talking to a mousy gray-haired lady—tall, raw-boned, in a limp gray dress. My mom sees me, and tells me to come over and meet Mrs. Krauss. They are our new neighbors. They are going to live in Aunt Stella and Uncle Werner’s house two houses down. Did I meet their daughter Pressie in the kitchen? She’s just my age and Aunt Stella and Uncle Werner (who are not actually related to us, but just friends of my folks) are her real aunt and uncle.

The gray lady calls Pressie in to meet me. She is quiet and I am quiet. Then we go back to color at the table together. We drink orange juice and eat potato chips. We will be best friends for what seems like a lifetime but what is really only until we approach adolescence. I will have a love-hate relationship with her mother, who will continually set up competitions between Pressie and me to see who will win. She will try to coach Pressie first; but still, I will always win.

Pressie and I will play hollyhock dolls and dress-up. We play, sometimes, with Mary Boone; but her parents are too religious and don’t think we’re nice enough to play with her very much. I want to put on neighborhood plays and circuses, but none of the other kids want to perform. I want to play store and school, but Pressie eventually goes home to help her mother varnish the floors.

Pressie’s house is full of loud brothers and a sulky teenage sister. It is full of high school-aged cousins who tease us unmercifully and old ladies who come to play Scrabble with her mother. It is full of a missionary sister who comes back from South America and married brothers who come from Florida with babies that Pressie and I take charge of.

Pressie’s house is full of slivery floors that are always in the process of being varnished or de-varnished. There is one drawer in the kitchen full of everybody’s toothbrushes, combs, hairpins, hair cream, shampoo tubes, old pennies, crackerjack toys, rubber balls, lint, hairballs, rolled up handkerchiefs and an occasional spoon that falls in from the drain board above it. They have no bathroom—just the kitchen sink and a toilet and shower in the basement, across from the coal bin and the huge coal furnace. Their toilet has a curtain in front of it, but the shower is open to the world.

Sometimes when I am peeing, someone comes down to put coal in the furnace or to throw dirty clothes in the washtub next to the wringer washer. I pull the curtain tight with my arms and pray that they won’t pull it back and discover me, my panties down to the floor, pee dripping down my leg from my hurried spring from the toilet to secure the curtain. To this day, I have dreams about bathrooms that become public thoroughfares the minute I sit down. To this day, I get constipated every time I leave the security of my own locked bathroom.

Pressie babysits with the minister’s kids for money. I go along for free. She spanks them a lot and yells a lot. I think I can’t wait until I’m old enough to have kids so I can yell at them, but when Pressie is gone and the minister’s wife asks me to babysit, I don’t yell at them.

At Christmas I can’t wait to have Pressie come see my gifts: a Cinderella watch, a doll, a wastebasket painted like a little girl’s face, complete with yarn braids, books and toilet water from aunts, a toy plastic silverware set from my sister, stationery from my other aunt, playing cards, sewing cards, paint by numbers, a new dress. I run over through the snow to Pressie’s house to see her presents: a new pair of pajamas, a coloring book and new crayons, barrettes and a comb. In her family, they draw names. Quickly we run to my house, but she doesn’t pay much attention to my presents. She is funny sometimes, kind of crabby. The more excited I get, the more withdrawn she gets.

Later, I want to make snow angels in the yard and feed leftover cornmeal muffins to the chickadees, but Pressie wants to go home. Pressie always wants to go home. What she does there, I don’t know. She doesn’t like to read. None of us will have television for another five years. She doesn’t much like games or cards. I don’t know what Pressie does when she isn’t with me.

When she is with me, we take baths together and sing the theme music from “Back to the Bible Broadcast,” washing our sins away in the bathtub. We play ranch house in our basement. We pull the army cot against the wall and put old chairs on either side of it for end tables. We upend an old box in front of it for a coffee table. My grandma’s peeling ochre-painted rocking chair faces the army cot couch. We sneak into the hired man’s room and steal his Pall Mall cigarettes and sit talking and smoking. We rip the filters off first, which is what we think you’re supposed to do.

Pressie will always stay longer if we smoke. I blow out on the cigarette, but Pressie inhales. We smoke a whole pack over a few weeks’ time and then go searching for more. When the hired man starts hiding his cigarettes, we discover his hiding place and learn to take no more than four at a time so he doesn’t miss them. When he has a carton, we take a pack and hide it under the mattress on the army cot. My mother wonders where all the filters are coming from that she sweeps from the basement floor, but never guesses our secret.

Pressie spends more time with me than before, drops by almost every morning and always wants to go to the basement to play and smoke. Then the hired man finds another room and moves out and when Mrs. Church’s granddaughters come to visit, I will want to play with them but Pressie won’t. Then we will pair off—Pressie with Sue Anne, the girly one, me with Kate, the boyish one. We have a little war—mainly instigated by the sisters.

When the new farm agent moves in with two daughters—one a year younger than Pressie and me, the other a year younger than my sister Addie—I want to ask the girl our age to play with us, but Pressie won’t. I have a slumber party for everyone—all the girls we know. I invite the new girl, whose name is Molly, but no one talks to her much. She is shy and doesn’t push herself on us. No one else ever wants to include her. I go play with her anyway and spend the night at her house. Her mother is nervous, her dad cocky. Her older sister laughs nervously under her breath a lot, as does her mother.

Many years later, by the time we are in high school, everyone has accepted them. By then, all of those girls have parties where I’m not invited. They are always a little reserved when I come up to speak to them. Maybe they’re always reserved. How would I know how they are when I’m not around? Later, they all got to be pretty good friends. But in the beginning, I was everyone’s first friend.

 

The prompt today is varnish.

Grandma’s Sneakers–Friday Fictioneers, 9/20/17

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 10.09.48 PM.png

My grandmother’s afternoons were written on her shoes––insides rubbed to fine parchment, once shiny trim worn down to dull cowhide, shoelaces loosened for easy ingress and escape, tongues swollen, vamps dusted from her habitual circling of gravel streets in search of treasures. Her pockets told the rest of the story–discarded Cracker Jack prizes, severed limbs of dolls, lost marbles, toy soldiers, single jacks separated from their families. Lined one slightly ahead of the other as though she had just stepped out of them, they told her last story that morning they carried her from her house without them.

 

To participate in this photo prompt, go here: https://rochellewisoff.com/2017/09/20/22-september-2017/

In the Catbird Seat

 

jdbphotos. Click on first photo to enlarge all and read captions.

If you aren’t familiar with the term, “in the catbird seat,” it means to be in a position above the action or perhaps in control.  This is what I am when I’m in my studio, which has one wall entirely comprised of windows looking out on my garden and another window to my right that looks out over my spare lot down below and ultimately at the lake spread out on a lower plane with Mount Garcia and Colima Volcano behind it on the other shore.

In the Catbird Seat

After a year of no time at all in the studio, I’ve spent 4 days there in the past few weeks. It feels wonderful, even though the last day I spent there was entirely spent organizing, sorting, putting away, reorganizing.

My studio is a separate small building I had built in the garden below my house. My dogs, unaccustomed as they are to my being there, followed me down, no doubt remembering I keep a bag of dog biscuits down there. Fortified, they wandered off, but eventually returned to spend the morning outside my door––Morrie plastered horizontally across the base of the locked screen door, Diego perpendicular to him, stretched out along the brick walkway.

The kittens, relegated to the front yard and house, have seen neither the back yard nor my studio. I fear what my dogs, intent on doing away with every soft fuzzy creature that enters my yard, would do to them, even though they’ve been seeing them for almost four months now through the glass, bars and screens that form most of the walls of every room in my house.

That is why I was so distressed when I heard the plaintive meow of one of the kittens coming from the wrong direction. Not from the side of the house where they have a walled-off outside run all their own, but seemingly from the street behind the studio or from the empty lot down below me. I listened closely, hoping it was just my one hearing-impaired ear that was misdirecting the direction from which the sound was coming; but, when I stepped out into the yard, I could hear it clearly.

I called out to Pasiano, telling him I thought one of the kittens had made its way out of its safe zone.

“No, senora,” he insisted.

“Yes! Listen,” I insisted as the loud meow came again––several times.

He shook his head, laughing, and gestured up into the pistachio tree, from which one bird was cawing an insistent bird call, another creature mewing back an insistent interspecies reply. It was a bird, he told me. He led me closer to the tree and as he did, a black bird flew down from that tree to a large castor bean plant in the spare lot. The bird in the tree cawed and chirped. The bird below in the spare lot meowed back,

It was a magpie that had evidently been hanging around the kittens for too long. A mother knows her kids’ voices and this was a perfect replica of my kittens’ bossy demands to be fed.

When I told Yolanda about this strange occurrence, she laughed and said she had done exactly the same thing two days earlier, sure one of the kittens had escaped.

Now this story, as unbelievable as you might find it, has a precedent in my family. When my 11-year-older sister was a tiny girl, she was in the habit of coming to the back door and calling out, “Mommy, Mommy! This occurred so many times during the day that my mother had told her that unless it was an emergency, she should come into the house to find her instead of expecting her to drop whatever household task she was doing to come to the door. Betty heeded this request perhaps one time out of three, which was an improvement, at least.

One day, my mother heard he calling out to her, but when she came to the door, no Betty! She went back to her work on the other side of the house, only to hear he call out again. Once again, she went to the door, but no Betty. This time she called her in from her play, gave her a scolding and told her not to do it again. But Mommy, she hadn’t done it, my sister insisted, but in that way Mommy’s develop, my mom just shook her head and said, well, not to do it again.

Barely had she gotten back to the kitchen however, when she heard my sister demanding her presence again. This time really angry, she stamped back across the house to the screened-in porch to see—absolutely no one standing on the front door stoop. This time, however, the mystery was quickly solved. In a large cage on that screened in porch was a magpie with a damaged wing that my father had brought in from the ranch. Even as my mother entered the porch, he had called out once more in my sister’s voice, demanding her presence.

Most mimics only get themselves in trouble due to inappropriate material. This mimic was most adept at passing the blame. True story, as is the more recent magpie story above.