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.
It was at that age
of worrying about others
of feeling not enough
of looking for a pattern that was myself
that I put words down
or if not them, fearing those who read them.
At that age when I didn’t know what I thought,
I was astonished that the hand that wrote
knew more than I did
and taught that I must be brave,
fearless on the page in a way I had not yet learned to be in life
so that I became a writer to teach myself.
To have someone I trusted as a guide.
It was at that age when I wanted to be admired––
that age when I sought to be loved––
that age when I yearned to be thought a thinker,
important, listened to––
that I somehow was led to listening to myself.
There are these times we are led to by life
that become turning points
so long as we continue.
That sentence. That first sentence stretching
into the future, into now.
I found this poem on my desktop, and although I vaguely remember writing it, I can’t find any evidence of having posted it on my blog. For some reason I feel it ties in with today’s prompt and so I’m going to post a second response to the prompt today. Happy 2016 to all. I hope we all come closer to discovering our best selves in the year to come!
Young at Heart
If I walk always looking back,
I only see what I now lack;
but if I look in front of me,
I’m aware of all that I might be.
Staying young? A matter of eye, not heart.
Remembering at the day’s fresh start
to train my eye on what’s to be
and never ever in back of me.
That excitement of the unexpected––
that future formerly undetected––
is what keeps life fresh and new.
Who will deliver your next clue?
Your script in life has not been written.
Life is an apple still unbitten.
Each bite or line is yours to make.
Each day a freshly uncut cake.
Dawn is a gift that’s given us
to start anew with lesser fuss
and more acceptance of what’s there
awaiting us in the open air.
The world unfolds to all who seek,
banishing old and stale and meek.
To spend each day in a world that’s new
is how to keep your youth with you.
The Prompt: What are your thoughts on aging? How will you stay young at heart as you get older?https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/young-at-heart/
When he asked me to marry him
and when we had to bury him–
these times inevitably set
wherein we find that we must let
nature have its way with us.
It does no good to rant and fuss.
Life’s made to reward, then abuse.
Its vagaries we can’t refuse.
All is part and parcel to
the next thing that we’re meant to do.
Good comes from bad and bad from good.
Birth, courtship, marriage, parenthood
fill our lives in marching order,
but every joy must have its border.
Birth leads to death. Love’s often lost.
To release life’s pleasures is the cost
of having and enjoying them.
Coal under pressure becomes a gem.
Remembering this must get you through
the next trial that’s set up for you.
Every day’s an offer you can’t refuse–
another pleasure to gain, then lose.
Life’s losses are also its seeds.
We lose our wants to gain our needs.
The Prompt: Set the timer for ten minutes and then tell us about an offer you couldn’t refuse.
The Prompt: Be the Change—What change, big or small, would you like your blog to make in the world?
I’d like my blog to be Grit magazine, Ann Landers and the funny papers—all rolled in to one. I’d like it to be the first love comic grabbed off the shelf, the thing everyone wants to read, hot off the presses. I want it to be true, uplifting and fun to read. Entertaining. A collection of words that make people feel better after reading. I want it to be the thing you go to after reading of the last cuts to social services for the poor, the latest fool elected to public office, the last school massacre or child who mistakenly shot an adult with a gun provided to him by an adult. The thing you read when you’ve had enough of police brutality, plane wrecks, financial crashes, reverse Robin Hoods, pit bulls attacking humans, humans abusing dogs, cartels, corporations, slanted news agencies, corrupt rulers, crimes against women, drought, Ebola, HIV and dengue.
Yes, all of these ills exist and we need to know about them, but do we need to know about them ad nauseam, day and night, hour after hour? Do we need them served with our morning coffee, our evening meal, our drive to work? Need we dream them, fill our thoughts with them every hour of the day? And need those thoughts be hopeless and without remedy?
It is not that I want to avoid reality, but rather that I’d like to give that reality my twist and I’d like one major strand in that twist to be optimistic, another to be humorous, another to gentle the cruel realities, another, if it is of any influence at all, to be a catalyst to understanding and a feeling that something may be done in this world.
If you don’t remember the Grit magazine mentioned earlier in this piece, Google it. You will learn that it was formerly a weekly newspaper popular in the rural US during much of the 20th century. It carried the subtitle “America’s Greatest Family Newspaper.” It was full of human interest stories, usually with an uplifting slant. I can’t remember whether it came in the mail or whether we purchased it in the grocery story or in Mowell’s Drug, but I do remember grabbing it out of Mom’s brown paper bag when she got home from a trip down town and making off with it to my room or a grassy place in the shade of an elm tree to be the first to read it.
Perhaps you will label me as superficial if I admit that the first things I read in The Mitchell Republic—that “real” newspaper actually delivered to our front door—were Ann Landers, the comics (We called them “the funny papers”) and the crossword puzzle. I guess I wanted to be entertained, but I also wanted that assurance that something could be done about the bad things in life. Dick Tracy could solve the crimes. Mary Worth could be of worth in helping out. Ann Landers could find a solution to the ache of love and every puzzle could be eventually solved with hard work and perhaps a peek at the dictionary.
Now Google makes puzzle-solving a snap, so long as one is not shy about cheating and using that larger universal brain to solve the Sunday Cryptic Crossword, but in revealing so much, Google causes bigger problems—mainly, what to do with all of this knowledge of the world. For me, what I do with it is to write about it and within the world of my creation, to try to alter it enough to put a bit of hope into the world—to tinge it with a sense of humor or a sense of creation or a stab at a solution—however fanciful or impossible or romantic or homespun or illogical it may be.
This blog is like the biggest purse in my collection of very big purses indeed. In it lie jumbled together all my memories, dreams, hopes, heartaches, genius, stupidities, foibles, schemes, assurances, doubts, mistakes, successes, affections and affectations. The clasp I leave open for all to dip inside to see what they might find. One day, draw out a ditty, the next a tirade, the next a soggy handkerchief, soaked with my tears or an unused Kleenex to dry your own tears that were soaking your pillow when you woke up.
I want to be that thing you sneak off with before the rest of the family cottons on to its presence and take up to your bedroom to read with your back pressed up against the bolster on your bed or roll up and stick up your sleeve as you make off to the hammock or that shade in the grass beneath the tree.
And when you finish reading, it would be neither the hugest compliment nor the hugest insult you could give if you just thought, “That girl’s got grit!” I think a knowledge that she had prompted that statement would make the little girl or teenage girl who snatched that weekly magazine from the grocery sack very happy.
The Prompt: All Grown Up—When was the first time you really felt like a grown up (if ever)?
It stretches forever in front of me.
There, no future happens until I create it.
And that is the power of words
that rub like pieces of gravel in my shoe.
I become less of a child in bearing them,
grow to adolescence as I pry them from my shoe.
In storing them on the page, I become my own creator—
writing a new world with each decision of word.
On the page, I can, if I so choose,
grow up again and again.
Each page filled or every edit of the last
becomes another part of me
that tells the same story:
that growing enough to fill the space inside of me
When my father died forty years ago, it was in Arizona, where my parents had been spending their winters for the past ten years. They maintained houses in two places, returning to South Dakota for the summers. But after my father died, my mother never again entered that house in the town where I’d grown up.
Our family had scattered like fall leaves by then—my mother to Arizona, one sister to Iowa, another to Wyoming. Both the youngest and the only unmarried one, I had fallen the furthest from the family tree. I had just returned from Africa, and so it fell to me to drive to South Dakota to pack up the house and to decide which pieces of our old life I might choose to build my new life upon and to dispose of the rest.
My father’s accumulations were not ones to fill a house. There were whole barns and fields of him, but none that needed to be dealt with. All had been sold before and so what was to be sorted out was the house. In that house, the drapes and furniture and cushions and cupboards were mainly the remnants of my mother’s life: clothes and nicknacks, pots and pans, spice racks full of those limited flavors known to the family of my youth—salt and pepper and spices necessary for recipes no more exotic than pumpkin pies, sage dressings and beef stews.
Packing up my father was as easy as putting the few work clothes he’d left in South Dakota into boxes and driving them to the dump. It had been years since I had had the pleasure of throwing laden paper bags from the dirt road above over the heaps of garbage below to see how far down they would sail, but I resisted that impulse this one last run to the dump, instead placing the bags full of my father’s work clothes neatly at the top for scavengers to find—the Sioux, or the large families for whom the small-town dump was an open-air Goodwill Store.
It was ten years after my father’s death before my mother ever returned again to South Dakota. By then, that house, rented out for years, had blown away in a tornado. Only the basement, bulldozed over and filled with dirt, contained the leftovers of our lives: the dolls, books, school papers and trophies. I’d left those private things stacked away on shelves—things too valuable to throw away, yet not valuable enough to carry away to our new lives. I’ve been told that people from the town scavenged there, my friend from high school taking my books for her own children, my mother’s friend destroying the private papers. My brother-in-law had taken the safe away years before.
But last year, when I went to clear out my oldest sister’s attic in Minnesota, I found the dolls I thought had been buried long ago–their hair tangled and their dresses torn—as though they had been played with by generations of little girls. Not the neat perfection of how we’d kept them ourselves, lined up on the headboard bookcases of our beds —but hair braided, cheeks streaked with rouge, eyes loose in their sockets, dresses mismatched and torn. Cisette’s bride dress stetched to fit over Jan’s curves. My sister’s doll’s bridesmaid dress on my doll.
It felt a blasphemy to me. First, that my oldest sister would take her younger sisters’ dolls without telling us. Her own dolls neatly preserved on shelves in her attic guest bedroom, ours had been jammed into boxes with their legs sticking out the top. And in her garbage can were the metal sides of my childhood dollhouse, imprinted with curtains and rugs and windows, pried apart like a perfect symbol of my childhood.
Being cast aside as leftovers twice is enough for even inanimate objects. Saved from my sister’s garbage and cut in half, the walls of my childhood fit exactly into an extra suitcase borrowed from a friend for the long trip back to Mexico, where I now live. I’ll figure out a new life for them as room décor or the backgrounds of colossal collages that will include the dolls I’m also taking back with me.
Mexico is the place where lots of us have come to reclaim ourselves and live again. So it is with objects, too. Leftovers and hand-me-downs have a value beyond their price tags. It is all those lives and memories that have soaked up into them. In a way, we are all hand-me-downs. It’s up to us to decide our value, depending upon the meaning that we choose to impart both to our new lives and these old objects. Leftovers make the most delicious meals, sometimes, and in Mexico, we know just how to spice them up.
The prompt: Hand-Me-Downs—Clothes and toys, recipes and jokes, advice and prejudice: we all have to handle all sorts of hand-me-downs every day. Tell us about some of the meaningful hand-me-downs in your life.
The Prompt: Do you — or did you ever — have a Best Friend? Do you believe in the idea of one person whose friendship matters the most? Tell us a story about your BFF (or lack thereof).
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.
Unfortunate hairstyles of the past
I don’t remember, as a child, ever really thinking about what it would be like to be an adult in terms of where I would live or what I would choose as a profession. I do remember, however, two things I worried about.
First of all, I worried about what instrument I would play in the school band. I had two sisters, one eleven years older and the other four years older, who both played saxophone. As a matter of fact, there being 7 years difference in their ages, they both played the same saxophone! When I entered the sixth grade and was old enough to play in the starter band, I knew two things. #1: I had to play in the band because both of them had done so. #2: I had to find a way to be unique in doing exactly what they had done, and so I had to find a different instrument. This resolve was strengthened by the fact that my sister Patti was still using the “family saxophone.” As long as I was being different, I decided to stretch my uniqueness as far as it would go. No one in either the starter or the regular band had ever played a flute. It was exotic and not very heavy to carry. I would play a flute!!! Or rather, I would attempt to play a flute.
I faked it for two years, blowing energetically into the little hole as we sat in the band loft at games or marched along behind the regular band, practicing for parades or football games; but I never really developed much of a tone and my memory of which note was which was limited. It was really easy, though, to carry that little case about as large as a large pencil case the two blocks to the auditorium where our band practice occurred. My band instructor could not afford to be picky as there were only 200 students in the entire school system—grade school and high school combined—so every warm body available was required to flesh out the physical body of the band. If a few were miming, so be it. As long as they could stay in step for the marching band and didn’t play any really loud false notes, who would ever know?
When my sister left for college, she left the sax behind; and when I headed out for my first band practice as a high school freshman, I left that dread flute behind as I took sax in hand to continue the family tradition. I was not a whole lot better at it, but found something held between the lips and teeth was a lot easier than something held sideways and blown across and although the sax was heavier, it was held in a much more sustainable position than the flute, which was an exercise in arm isometrics as I held it aloft!!
The second worry I had about growing up was how I would wear my hair. I would lie awake nights worrying about what hairstyle I would adopt when I could no longer sport the sausage curls my mother formed around her finger each morning. Shirley Temple, who had already grown to adulthood, needed to be replaced! My hair was too long, however, to duplicate Shirley’s bouncy little curls. It hung in fat tubes down beside my cheeks, offsetting my tight little bangs curled up each night in pink rubber curlers. For some reason, both my mom and I thought this made me look real good, and I am not exaggerating when I admit that there were nights when I’d lie in bed, tears streaming down my cheeks, worrying about what I would do when I grew up and could no longer wear curls!!
So now you know why I dropped the saxophone as soon as I graduated high school and why I had to move to Mexico to escape the shame of all those years when I allowed my mother to shape my esthetic sense of hair. I haven’t owned a curler of any type for 20 years. That saxophone was handed on to the next generation of my family and its mouthpiece, at least, met its demise when it snapped in two as my niece tried to grip it with the fourth pair of teeth in three decades. With a new mouthpiece, it survived four more years—hopefully this time with someone with more talent than I. I know not where it ended up. Probably in some second hand store or donated to some child who couldn’t afford an instrument. I hope it wound up with some talented individual who could restore its pride in itself.
Now that I have been an adult for many many years, I have conquered most of its demands. I have found many hairstyles, only a few of them more ridiculous than sausage curls (see my college picture above as an illustration of this fact) and attempted only one additional instrument, the guitar. Having played only solo or in duet with a college friend who tried to mold me into Joan Baez but failed, I did learn about seven chords and learned to adapt a whole succession of seventies songs to fit into those seven chords. I played for sing-alongs with the kids I counseled at summer camp and for groups of little neighbors around the world, who would come to my house on Saturday mornings to sing silly songs. And I have that guitar to this day. But I haven’t played it for years and harbor no illusions about my prowess. It is there for visiting friends who want to play for me and as a big, cumbersome, hard-to-store reminder that I can choose my own failures as surely as my own successes.
I am an adult like other adults—growing more childish year-by-year, but in my regression toward soft food and adult diapers, I will never sink so low as to repeat some mistakes of my youth. Never ever more sausage curls or flutes held aloft like punishment. And never again will I try to be different just to be different. “The Far Side” has shown that this is nothing that really needs to be aimed for. We all grow odd enough just following the path of nature, thereby furnishing the humor for all the generations that follow us.
The Prompt: As a kid, you must have imagined what it was like to be an adult. Now that you’re a grownup (or becoming one), how far off was your idea of adult life?
P.S. Thirty years after high school, when I was doing an art show in Oregon, a man walked by my display and then did an about-face and came back and said, “You’re Judy Dykstra, aren’t you?” I admitted the fact and asked him how he knew me. He said he was 5 years behind me in school in the small South Dakota town where I grew up. He was a country boy and since we’d never been in school together, I didn’t recognize him but did recognize the family name.
“How in the world did you even know what I looked like, let alone recognize me thirty years later?” I asked.
“Well, a bunch of us used to collect in the the school library and look at old annuals,” he said. “I recognize you from your high school picture.” Suddenly, it all came clear.
“You used to look at them to laugh at all the funny hairstyles, didn’t you?” Sheepishly, he laughed and admitted it. I had hit the nail (or the girl?) right on the head!!!!