Category Archives: Fathers

Wheat

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Wheat

A stalk of it usually extended from between his teeth when he was out inspecting a field come June or July. It collected in his pants cuffs and in the hat band of his broad-brimmed work hat.  Bags of it wintered in a huge pile that filled our garage one year when there had been a good crop and all the barns and silos were full to bursting. The cars stood outside in the gravel driveway just off the alley and behind the garage that winter and our house was strangely empty of mice as they took shelter in the garage instead. Our outside cat grew fat even though he rarely came to the back door to be fed.

Ours was a little ecological system all its own.  Mice feasted on  grain spilled from burst seams in the garage. The cat feasted on the mice and we feasted on the steaks of Black Angus cattle who had eaten the ensilage from wheat stripped of its grains.

If I have always worked hard to furnish the bread and butter of my life, it is wheat that has furnished the dessert–my college education, my first car and, after my dad died and I inherited 1/6 interest in the farm and ranch, my first house.

Our lives were run by wheat and cattle.  During the summer, no time for family vacations. Wheat and cattle were my dad’s alarm clock. He rose before sunrise every morning and was often asleep in his chair before sunset, wheat spilling out of his pants cuffs or high top boots or stuck by the hooked spines of its beards to the fabric footstool in front of his rocker.

He slept hard, my father, and rose early to insure everything worked to the cycle of the nature that had surrounded him from the time, as a three-year-old boy, he had stepped off the Union Pacific train that had brought him and his mother to the little South Dakota town both he and later I grew up in. As they descended the metal steps, my grandmother had held one hand down to grasp the hand of my three-year-old father. The other was extended upward, holding a cage with two canaries. My grandfather and teenaged aunts were there to greet him and my grandmother, who, even though she had been the one who decreed that they should leave their safe security in Iowa to claim a homestead on the Dakota prairie,  had not traveled by wagon, but instead had sent her young girls and husband on ahead to prepare a way for her and her youngest.

My grandfather––a Dutch immigrant who was not a farmer, but rather a baker better suited for working with wheat in its miled state––did what most people did when my grandmother issued demands.  He complied.  It made for a hard life for them all–fighting the harsh South Dakota winters out on the plains as well as prairie fires, plagues of grasshoppers and schizophrenic weather that could furnish either drought, unseasonal rain or hail–all of which could ruin a wheat crop. So that later, when I asked my dad why he never frequented the games parlor where the other men played poker and lofted a beer or two, he said that he had no need for games of chance. His whole life as a rancher and farmer had been the biggest gamble of all.

My grandparents never did learn the correct formula, but my father, surrounded by the prairie from age three to seventy, learned its secrets well. Enough to buy out his parents as well as others who tried and failed. Enough to ensure the comfort of his wife and children and his grandchildren. Enough to die at what, now that I am nearly  69,  seems like the young age of 70.

Year after year, as he tilled the rich South Dakota soil to plant the grains of wheat he’d saved to seed a new crop––he seeded my life as well, along with that of my mother, my sisters, my nieces and nephews–all of our lives growing and prospering from those millions of shafts of grain that he planted and watched over and harvested and stored and replanted over a period  of fifty years.

The WordPress prompt today was “Grain.”

Locked and unlocked

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Locks

Locked up in my bedchamber. More than I can bear.
The beauty of my countenance, the shimmer of my hair
do me no good for no prince charming comes to find me here.
I will go unmarried––for my whole life, I fear.

My father thinks he honors me. I am his special treasure.
He worries not about my fate.  He thinks not of my pleasure.
I am but one more lovely thing he keeps for his collection––
admired for my golden locks, my flawless pale complexion.

I care not for beauty.  I care not for my tresses.
I do not treasure jewels or slippers or my ornate dresses.
A husband and a family are all that I desire.
A simple life’s the sort of life that I most admire.

From my window I look out upon the broad King’s Highway.
All roads must converge here––every path and byway.
And so I see them passing: beggars, countrymen and princes.
Vendors selling mangos, apples, oranges and quinces.

My eye is caught by sunlight flashing from his sword
as he stoops to have a sip from a vendor’s gourd.
He pays her with a small coin and thanks her most politely,
then mounts his horse with one sure leap–graceful, sure and spritely

I see him passing often and his face is full of laughter,
calling out and gesturing to companions, fore and after.
One day I wave my scarf at him as he goes passing by
and every day thereafter, I know I’ve won his eye.

At first he bows politely–a gesture I don’t miss.
and after a few weeks of this, one day he blows a kiss.
I reach out and grab it and press it to my face.
He rears his horse and races off at a faster pace.

The next day he doesn’t come, although I wait and wait.
But finally, I see him turning towards my father’s gate.
In distress, I call out that  he must not tarry here.
My father’s wrath must not be stirred.  It is what I most fear.

He does not see me gesturing. He hears not my distress.
I rue the day I waved at him, although I must confess
I also thrilled to think that he had come in search of me.
I fantasized that he would be the one to set me free.

But my prince never entered, though he tarried long and late.
Until the full moon rose above, he waited at the gate.
Although it had not opened by the time the next sun rose,
the young man sat astride his horse with hoarfrost on his clothes.

‘Twas then that I began my moan and tears sprang from my eyes.
I tore my clothes, scratched at my face.  I’d ruin my father’s prize!
My serving maids, sorely distressed, tried to stay my hand,
while my genteel companion sat with startled eyes and fanned!

When one maid put down the apple she’d begun to pare,
I grabbed the knife and severed one long lock of hair.
Lock after lock, I parted with this prison I had grown.
I’d see if father still wanted a daughter newly mown.

Then outside my chamber, I heard a deafening grate.
I flew back to the window. They were opening the gate!
At the same time, I heard a knock and my door opened wide.
I knew it was my father in the passageway outside.

I feared his consternation, his anger and his wrath,
and yet I chose to put myself squarely in his path.
In one hand I held half my locks, in the other were locks more.
All my other shorn-off glory, around me on the floor.

“I am not your possession,” I tell my father then.
I am no pretty pet that you can lock up in a pen.
You can have my beauty––” (Here I handed him my locks.)
“but you cannot seal me up in your private box.”

My father raised his hand, and I feared that he would strike me––
angered that he’d never again have a treasure like me––
but instead he circled his arm around my shoulder
and said, “This day, I have acquired a daughter who is bolder!

It was never me who kept you sealed  up in this tower.
You always had it within you to unlock your own power.
You must know this unlocking is both metaphor and literal.
The freedom that you’ve won today, both actual and clitoral.”

And that is how this princess, once set upon a shelf,
learned that the price of freedom is to win it for one’s self.
By cutting off my own locks, I opened up the gate.
My reward––the clever prince wise enough to wait!

Helen Meikle sent along this song which she said had a similar theme to my poem.  Can’t believe I’ve never heard it before…but I agree.  Listen to it HERE

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/locked/

http://www.napowrimo.net/day-twenty-one/

Dia de Los Muertos, 2014

Dia de los Muertos, 2014

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This is this year’s minimalist altar for my departed: husband Bob, Mother Pat and Father Ben. I wasn’t going to do one. Then Yolanda (my housekeeper) told me about a friend who didn’t  make a Dia de los Muertos altar for her mother who had recently died. This friend then went to see the elaborate offerings of her brothers and sisters, so she brought a rather poor specimen of a pumpkin and told them they could put that on her mother’s grave. That night she had a dream of walking through the graveyard. Every other grave was elaborately decorated with flowers and sweetly-scented candles and favorite foods of the departed: water, whiskey, tequila. When she got to her mother’s grave, there was no light and there were no offerings—only the one poor pumpkin. As she walked by, people shook their heads, and she left in shame. When she woke up, she went to her mother’s grave and took her fresh water, a candle, sweets, and all of the things her mother loved.

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It worked.  I assembled an altar. Yolanda looked at it and told another story about how the water and candle help to create a breeze that brings the scent of the favorite foods to the departed. I quickly added a candle and a small glass of water with an ice cube—as Bob did hate a lukewarm Coke! When the ice cube melted, I added a small red heart to take its place. If you look closely, you can see it in the bottom of the glass.

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It was my mother’s tradition to tuck a small box of Russell Stover candy into each of our Xmas stockings. One Xmas, we opened them to find only wrappers in each one. Over the course of the weeks before Xmas, our mother had opened each one, unable to resist eating the chocolates. So precedent decreed that I eat hers. You’ll see the empty papers littering the space around the box. (Yolanda, ever-respectful of tradition, helped by eating one piece.)

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Although my father raised black Angus and Hereford cattle, this is Mexico, after all, so I think he’d forgive the long horns. A donut and a 10 peso piece complete his offerings. Last year I put a small glass of milk with cornbread crushed in it—his favorite cocktail. But this year the ants have taken over our part of Mexico, so I didn’t dare.