Category Archives: Grandma

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

 

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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/

Mama Milk My Goat

Mama Milk My Goat

Whenever anyone in my family was feeling sorry for herself and expressing it to a point where it was noticeable, another member of the family could be counted upon to use the family saying for such occasions, “Well, Mama milk my goat,” we would say, and if the person’s nose wasn’t too far out of joint, they might snap out of it.  Or, alternatively, stalk away to seclusion where they could fully feel the full extent of their misery without anyone trying to dissuade them from it. Why did we say this? Because my mother had told us all that it was what my grandmother, her mother-in-law, used to say.

My grandmother, a master at martyrdom, used to say it with a small uptake of breath, in a trembling voice.  I can remember hearing her do so, although it may be that sort of childhood memory that grows out of a family tale being told again and again.  Needless to say, I had no reason to question its frequent usage until I got to college and again and again was met by a blank look when I issued the rejoinder.  Finally, when I reported this strange fact to my folks over the dinner table during a trip home, my dad got a twinkle in his eye and confessed.

What my grandmother, who was Dutch, actually used to mutter when when she was feeling sorry for herself was, “Mama Miet mi Dote!” (Mama might be dead.) Only my mother (her daughter-in-law), who didn’t understand Dutch, thought she was saying “Mama Milk My Goat.”  My dad thought this was funny so never told us differently. So even now, “Mama milk my goat,” is occasionally what I say to anyone who is playing  the martyr, and if they have any curiosity at all and ask me why, I tell them this story.

Note: For those of you who speak Dutch, I know that “Mama miet mi dote” is not how “Mama might be dead” translates into Dutch.  Might might be “machen” and dead might be “dood,” but the whole phrase doesn’t translate into “Mama “machen mi dood,” either. Perhaps it was a local dialect or perhaps my ear heard the words differently, or perhaps it is just one of those family stories half legend, half fact.  At any rate, if you speak more Dutch that I do, I am more than willing to be informed about what it was my grandma really said. (I only know the alphabet, taught to me by my grandma, and “Mama miet mi dote!”)

Here’s another poem I wrote a few years ago about my grandma and her sister Susie:

“Sisterly Squabbles”

A little weep, a little sigh,
a little teardrop in each eye.

Grandma Jane and her sister Sue,
one wanted one hole, the other, two

punched into their can of milk.
(All their squabbles were of this ilk.)

The rest, of course, is family fable.
They sat, chins trembling, at the table.

When my dad entered, we’ve all been told,
their milk-less coffee had grown cold.

The prompt today was “martyr.”

Found Poem

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This morning I woke up as usual and lay in bed writing my poem, rose to take photos to go with it, then opened my front door so my upstairs neighbors could go through to the porch when they got home from breakfast.  When Cathy wandered in, she asked if I realized that I had a friend waiting on the beachfront porch.  Who was it, I asked and she said she didn’t know but she was singing.

I went out in my nightgown to see who it was and found a stranger–a singer/musician who had read my blog and come to meet me.  By the time I’d thrown clothes on, Fred–a slide guitar player who had been walking by  and heard her singing, had come to join her.  As the morning progressed, another woman wandered by on the beach.  Fred recognized her as a musician who lived on the same island as he in Canada, so he invited her to join us.  They ended up ordering breakfast from the cafe next door delivered to my porch.  I made coffee and they spent the morning.  Then Fred stayed to practice my “Ballad of Poor Molly” which he has set to music.  By 3 o’clock, he, too had left and I fell asleep on the couch and passed the rest of the afternoon napping–something I almost never do.  As I was waiting for my upstairs neighbors to come down to leave to meet friends for dinner, I wrote the first few stanzas of this poem.

Found Poem

One and two and three and four.
Four little music makers pounding on my door.
One beats a rhythm, one toots a horn––
wild and sweet––sort of forlorn.
One hums a tune behind her teeth––
a sort of descant underneath
the melody on the steel guitar.
The gulls reel in from near and far
to add their screams to the refrain,
then fan their wings, silent again.

Four musicians at my gate.
I wait for their music to abate.
Then I go and let them in
to add my music to the din.
I sing my lyrics fast and slow
first soft then loud, my lyrics go
up and over the drums and horn–
out into the sandy morn.
Over the rocks and out to sea,
setting all our music free.

When the drummer leaves my porch,
she leaves just three to loft the torch.
Too soon the horn, too, dies away,
but the hummer’s here to stay;
and steel guitar swells out to fill
the morning air until until
the morning bursts into full sun
and our melody comes undone.

Soon guitar and singer fade,
their morning share of music made,
and I fold my songs away.
I’ll bring them out some other day.
With music blown away, I wind
only words around my mind.
They weave their spell with me along.
I lose myself in their noisy throng.
Wander aimless, round and round,
in getting lost, this poem is found.

(You can see my “Ballad of Poor Molly” post HERE.)

Freudian Slip

Freudian Slip

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Caught in the tangles of last year’s castoff wreaths in our local cemetery, I found the following words. They were scrawled in  a frenzied adult handwriting in fading purple ink on a curled yellowing slip of lined  paper with one jagged edge, as though it had been ripped from a journal:

Behind the door of my dream, I heard a knocking. I walked down a tree-lined corridor to the door at the end. As I drew nearer, the knocking grew louder and more frenzied. I struggled with the bolt, which would not open, but as I finally drew it back, there was an explosion of sound—organ music playing a dirge in such a joyful manner that it sounded like a celebration instead of the reflection of death.

As the door creaked open, I heard the crash of glass breaking and then the tinkle and scrape of this glass being ground down to shards and powder as the door opened over it. There was such a bright light shining from behind the figure standing on the other side of the door that I could make out only her silhouette—a woman with an elderly stance wearing a long skirt. She was large of bosom and had thin wisps of hair piled untidily on top of her head. In one hand, held down to her side, was a basket. In the other hand was a jar.

I drew closer to the woman, to try to get her body between my eyes and the source of the bright glare—to try to see who she was. When I was but six inches from her, I finally recognized her as my grandmother. She was wearing the same navy dress with pearl buttons and gravy stains down the front that she had been wearing the last time I remember seeing her. In the basket was a mother cat with three kittens nursing. In the jar was chokecherry jelly, if its handwritten label was to be believed.

As I drew up to hug her and kiss her cheek, she started humming a song—some church hymn, perhaps “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” It was hard to recognize because she hummed it under her breath—with little inward gasps at times that made it sound like she was eating the song and then regurgitating it.

Her eyes were vacant as she looked over my shoulder. “Grandma, it’s me!” I said, but she still didn’t look at or acknowledge me.

“Do you want to play Chinese Checkers?” I asked. It was the one activity I could remember that both my grandma and I enjoyed.

She expressed a long intake of breath, shook her head no and held out the basket to me.

“Is this a gift?” I asked.

“No, it is an obligation,” she hissed, and as the basket passed from her hand to mine, she seemed to deflate—whooshing backwards out of sight—until only the basket of cat and kittens and the jar of chokecherry jelly lying sideways on the trail she had vanished down gave testimony to her presence.

“Bye, Grandma,” I called wistfully down the trail she had vanished down. “I love you.”

But I didn’t love her. I had this memory of sleeping with her in her feather bed and almost smothering trapped between the thick feather pillow and comforter. I have an explicit memory of holding the pillow over her face and her struggling to get free. It was a joke and I hadn’t meant to smother her, really, but there was such power in the fact that she could not fight off an 8-year-old girl that it made me hold the pillow over her face for a few seconds longer than I wanted to or should have. She was all right. Just frightened as I had been frightened so often by her stories of poor little Ella and all the wrongs done to her in her lifetime. It was as though I had to choose sides—her side or the side of the people who had done mean things to her. And like the little devil she always made me out to be—I chose the other side.

 

The Prompt: Everything Changes––You encounter a folded slip of paper. You pick it up and read it and immediately, your life has changed. Describe this experience.https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/everything-changes/

Post-Migraine Depression

Disclaimer: Yesterday I suffered my first migraine in sixteen years or so.  I had just been telling a friend how long it had been since I’d had my last one and the best way to overcome them when suddenly, a few days later, when I was standing on a ladder putting away material in my studio, I grew dizzy and would have fallen off the ladder if I hadn’t had a chair back and file cabinet to steady myself on.  Soon after, the migraine descended, along with the nausea and this time with a shortness of breath that was probably psychosomatic but which made me feel as though I was going to suffocate.

What was worse is that there was no one around–no one in my neighborhood–no one I could think to call.  When I tried to think of someone to email or Skype, my mind fogged and I couldn’t figure out how to type the letters or who exactly to call–just to have a sense of presence.  I was too sick to talk and could barely even stand the distraction of calling on Skype.  Nor could I figure out how to actually make the call.  Luckily a friend who was about to leave on a trip to another town and who was already connected to me by Skype, contacted an old friend and she called me and talked me down a bit, poor thing, talking for ten minutes or so without relief.  All I needed was some soft distraction so I did not think about not being able to breathe.

Today just the slight edge of a headache is there. Enough so I dare not bend down or chance seeing a bright light or smelling the odor of Jacaranda, which I am afraid is what caused the problem this time, but I have started thinking about old age and being alone and vulnerable and all of those things I’ve never really thought of seriously before.  When I tried to write something else entirely, what got written was the rather self-indulgent piece below.  My impulse is to put it away and to write something else, but I also have a curiosity about whether others might have the same feelings sometimes so I just might have another look at it and print it with the understanding that when such things are written, they sometimes serve as their own antidote.

Or, perhaps the extreme of what I wrote is simply priming the pump–a surge to get me going.  Well, I’ll have another read and we shall see.  If I do print it, I’d appreciate comments–lots of them–no matter how negative.  My grandmother used to say a Dutch phrase when she was feeling sorry for herself, “Mama Miet mi Dote!” (Mama might be dead.) It became our family’s saying, only my mother (her daughter-in-law), who didn’t understand Dutch, said “Mama Milk My Goat.”  My dad thought this was funny so never told us differently until I went to college and tried to use it and got blank stares from all those who didn’t know the phrase I thought everyone used.  It was then my dad ‘fessed up.  So, “Mama Milk My Goat.” Yes, I am feeling sorry for myself in the ditty below, but it helps to rave sometimes and tomorrow is another day.  For now, I’m lying low for one more day.

Post-Migraine Depression

My life is growing narrower, the walls are closing in.
I don’t care where I’m going or care where I have been.
I never thought life would wear out or that I’d tire of it,
but suddenly the life around me does not seem to fit.
We’re schooled to be cheerful and to make the best of life–
to emphasize our happiness and overlook the strife,
but somehow everything has changed. Perhaps it is the weather,
for suddenly I feel my life is on too short a tether.

I think I’ve worn my old life out but cannot seek a new one.
I’ve simply not the energy to try again to do one.
So I shall lie abed today to contemplate my fate–
to have a look at what I do and what is on my plate.
I need to feed the dogs and then to feed my own self, too–
to dress myself and try to put each shoe in front of shoe.
My grandma was a martyr and perhaps I am the same,
but I don’t try to make this into any other’s blame.

I simply feel that I must stir the pot up once again–
take off on an adventure someplace I’ve never been.
Find a niche and fill it and live a simple life.
Try to find diversion without turmoil or strife.
To inspect the Caribbean or a tiny town in Spain.
Live alone in solitude with nothing to explain.
My family is scattered and has no need of me.
In terms of obligations, I am really fancy free.

So if you do not see me later on this blog,
just know that I have gone away and slipped my usual cog.
Perhaps I’ll be beach combing or traveling out to sea.
Perhaps I’ll be investigating what else I can be.
My life will soon be over and although I’ve had the best,
I feel that I need more of it before my final rest.
Or, I may not stir at all. I guess I must admit,
perhaps my need is satisfied by contemplating it.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/we-built-this-city/

Grandma Steps Out

 

Grandma Steps Out

It is one thing to be born before the age of computers or television, but my grandma lived in an age before flip-flops! So it was that she was reduced to modernizing herself with a pre-flip-flop substitute: a pair of navy blue Keds canvas tennis shoes, stretched out over her bunions to a point near bursting. She wore these Keds daily, whether she was combing the sidewalks and ditches of our little town for lost balls and toys and Cracker Jack prizes or shuffling into church in her best navy blue crepe dress with black glass beads and cake crumbs decorating the bodice.

The prompt: Odd Trio Redux—Time for another Odd Trio prompt: write a post about any topic you want, in whatever form or genre, but make sure it features a slice of cake, a pair of flip-flops, and someone old and wise.

(This is a short one, so I’m also including a longer poem  written about the same grandma:)

Buried Treasure

She always wore a navy dress of heavy crepe
with dozens of small black buttons down the front.
Her jewelry, turned dull black
by some body chemistry that I share,
lay abandoned in her dresser drawer,
the food stains spilling down her front,
her new adornment.

Trunks in her house were filled
with ill-stitched pillowcases,
her handiwork
rendered less carefully year-by-year
as her eyesight failed—
her useless glasses repaired at the bridge
with thick amber glue
she bought by the box to sell
but never did.

Every Christmas, her gift to me
was one more from her cache of dozens
of small plastic lamps powered by batteries—
another failed scheme received in the mail
that had promised to swell her fortune.

Her china cabinet
was crowded to each edge
with 96 years of carnival glass,
milk glass and heavy Dutch beer mugs,
green dishes from soap boxes
and cut glass jelly goblets—
treasures doled out to us
one per visit towards the end,
as though she sensed
the inescapable.

The day of the fire, she didn’t want to leave her things:
canning jars full of Cracker Jack prizes
and other treasures mined from her pockets
after a neighborhood stroll.
They carried her, kicking and screaming, from her house
and put her in our car.
“All right, old girl,” my dad said,
and drove her 50 miles
to the nearest residence for the elderly.

I remember all of this
after a Christmas gathering with friends
as I clean food spills
from my Mexican-embroidered blouse:
how they bulldozed her house
with most of her treasures inside
and built a hospital on the land;
how it, too, now lies abandoned
in the dying town,
its cobwebbed rooms giving no testament
to that which lies below:
trunks filled with yellowing embroidered sheets and pillowcases,
shelf upon shelf of Mason jars
filled with the collection of her lifetime:
buried riches
whose containers have acquired a worth
far beyond the trinkets they contain.

And, why not one more?  If you’ve been reading me for awhile, you may have read this one before, so just skip it if you wish. It’s another one about my grandma and her sister.

“Sisterly Squabbles”

A little weep, a little sigh,
a little teardrop in each eye.

Grandma Jane and her sister Sue,
one wanted one hole, the other, two

punched into their can of milk.
(All their squabbles were of this ilk.)

The rest, of course, is family fable.
They sat, chins trembling, at the table.

When my dad entered, we’ve all been told,
their milk-less coffee had grown cold.