Category Archives: Mother

The Emperor of Chocolate

                                                                             image from internet

The Emperor of Chocolate

I am the emperor of chocolate. I conquer every bar.
I can detect its presence in wrappings or in jar.
When there’s no chocolate to be found, I simply can’t abide it.
I can find it anywhere—wherever you might hide it.
My tendency toward chocolate is a tale I hate to tell;
but I cannot help it, for it’s congenital.
My mother abused substances—namely, Russell Stover.
She could not close the box lid until eating them was over.

She couldn’t resist chocolates, though she was not a glutton
when it came to other foods like hamburgers or mutton.
She received a box of chocolates on every holiday—
on her birthday and for Christmas, and for sure on Mother’s Day.
When it came to appreciation, my mother never failed them,
for when it came to chocolates, she always just inhaled them.
One time my dad decided that he would have some fun.
He bought my mom some chocolates to dole out one-by-one.

He hid them underneath the cushion of a chair
to give her one piece daily, but she knew that they were there.
She ate the whole box in two days. It really was disgraceful.
Every time I saw her, it seemed she had a face full.
Only with my father did she manage to save face,
For she bought chocolate-covered cherries and put one in the place
of every chocolate she stole. My father never knew.
She was not tempted by the cherries—a taste she could eschew.

My father always thought he’d pulled one over on my mother,
although I’ve always known that the true jokester was another.
When the box was only cherries, and he offered them to her,
she’d say, “I’ll save it for later,” or sometimes she’d  demur.
To resist chocolate cherries, she was fully able,
and I was fully loyal to preserving mother’s fable.
That’s how my addiction was learned at Mother’s knee,
because the chocolate-covered cherries? She gave them all to me.

The prompt today is conquer.

“I Imagine” dVerse Poets, Prose Poetry

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I Imagine

I imagine one more holiday.
My mother sits at a large picture window
looking out over a broad beach,
watching dogs fetching sticks.
Then, because she cannot help it,
she takes her shoes off to walk through packed sand.
I imagine her sighting the offshore rock
where puffins nest.
I imagine footprints—hers and mine
and the paw prints of the dog—
someone else’s—
who joins us for the price of a stick thrown
over and over into the waves.

My mother could count her trips to the beach
on one hand,
and most of those times have been with me.
Once, in Wales, we sat on the long sea wall
under Dylan Thomas’s boathouse.
A cat walked the wall out to us,
precise and careful
to get as few grains of sand as possible
between its paw pads.
As it preened and arched under my mother’s smooth hand,
its black hairs caught in her diamond rings.

The other time we went to the beach
was in Australia.
We stayed out all afternoon,
throwing and throwing a stick,
a big black dog running first after,
then in front of it,
my dad sleeping in the car parked at the roadside,
my mother and I playing together
as we had never played before.

My mother and the ocean
have always been so far divided,
with me as the guide rope in between.
I imagine reeling them both in toward each other
and one more trip.
My mother, me, a dog or cat.
Wind to bundle up for and to walk against.
Wind to turn our ears away from.
Sand to pour out of our pockets
to form a small  volcano
with a crab’s claw at the top.

So that years from now,
when I empty one pocket,
I will find sails from by-the-wind sailors
and shark egg casings,
fragile black kelp berries
and polished stones.
The bones of my mother. The dreams of me.

From the other pocket, empty,
I will pull all the reunions I never fought hard enough for—
regrets over trips to the sea we never made.
And I’ll imagine taking me to oceans.
Walks. Treasures hidden in and hiding sand.
Someone walking with me—
someone else’s child, perhaps,
and a dog chasing sticks.

Note: I never took that last trip to the ocean with my mother, but I think of her every year when I come to stay at the beach on my own, and this year in particular, every time I throw the stick for Morrie and every time children come to play with us.

Written for the dVerse Poets prompt, Prose Poetry.To play along, go HERE.

Mum’s the Word

If you’ve read my posts on Africa, you already know more about me than my mom ever did.  Once, years later, when I asked my mom if she would like to know the full story about why I stayed in Africa instead of traveling with my sister when she came to visit me and then coming back to the U.S. with her, my mother said, “I never told my mother anything that would make her feel bad.”  Case closed.

There was a whole part of my life my mother never knew about by choice.  She never knew that I was nearly killed twice while I was there, or that I initially stayed because I was in love with an Ethiopian man.  My sister knew all because she was there when the shooting took place, and I had told her about the kidnapping, but she never told my mother.  In many other ways, I am very like my mother, but there are some other genes surging through me, because I always want to know everything and I will almost always ask for the “rest” of the story.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Dear Mom.”: Write a letter to your mom.  Tell her something you’ve always wanted to say, but haven’t been able to.

China Bulldog

China Bulldog

I dreamed last night that we were clearing out my mother’s house.  The front doors of all the kitchen cabinets had been removed and I was puzzled about this.  On the mantelpiece, I found China bulldog after China bulldog that was a replica of one I one my mother had told me to take home with me when I cleared out the house after my father’s death.  “Judy asked for this. You can fight over the rest.” said a note taped to the bottom.  A mayonnaise jar, it was of white glazed ceramic that had a rainbow sheen.  Its head came off as a lid and its bright orange tongue was the handle of a spoon.  The body fit into a depression in its saucer that had the outline of the bulldog’s feet and bottom so it nested a bit.

One of my first memories was seeing it sitting on the small triangular shelf in our kitchen.  My mother never used it and later, in newer houses where it didn’t suit the decor, it always sat within a cupboard.  My mother was too modern for China cabinets or knickknacks that didn’t match the color scheme.  When I was small, her taste went to magenta and chartreuse.  Beige and pink and turquoise marked the seventies, the turquoise and pink traded in for avocado and burnt orange in the eighties and back to a more understated green and beige in the nineties.

Whatever the color scheme, the bulldog never quite fit in, but it was the one object asked about by both of my sisters after the Loma Prieta earthquake.  I I was living in a house near its epicenter, and the bulldog had worked its way from the back of my kitchen cupboard to sit teetering on the edge, but it had not fallen.  It was one of the few things in a house packed full of art and artful objects that I chose to bring with me to Mexico.

I’d like to say that it has assumed a position of importance in my house in Mexico, but sadly, the China bulldog just never quite seems to fit in to the mainstream.  It has sat on a shelf in my studio for the past twelve years, somewhere near the back where it is safe but unseen.  But for some reason, if I were to be able to take one more object from my house, the China bulldog is what my mind falls upon. Perhaps it is time to think about why.

I often dream about a subject that ends up being my blog topic for the next day.  For some reason that topic fits into the prompt and so it is never very difficult for me to begin the day’s writing.  In this case, once I’d settled on the bulldog as my topic, I immediately remembered that in my dream I had found five or six bulldogs on my mother’s mantel.  Some were without bodies, all without their dishes.  Some were smaller than others and lacked the brilliant sheen or bright colors.  One seemed to be almost crumbling, as though it had been under water for a long period.  All were missing their tongues.

In the dream, I imagined my mother combing second hand stores and never being able to resist whenever she found a bulldog in the same shape as the one her older sister had given her when she was a child.  It’s been at least 100 years since she received that strange gift that was the only remaining thing that seemed to have been brought with her when she moved first from Missouri, then to Kansas and then to South Dakota, to marry my father.

She told me no stories about it and as I think about that, I realize she told me few stories at all.  Not about her wedding or my birth.  The stories in my family all centered around my father while her stories seemed safely tucked away on a shelf like the China Bulldog.  Perhaps that is why that one piece of all the pieces of my mother has assumed a center place in our memories. I know that my middle sister, who lived in the same town as my mother for the last six years of her life, has mourned her loss the most over the years.  My oldest sister, who was estranged from Mom for the last twenty years of her life, is in the throes of Alzheimer’s and so never mentions her at all.

It has been fourteen years since her death and I don’t think of her daily or even weekly, but every so often, something happens and the thought comes in a flash that I have to be sure to tell Mother about it; and for the past year, most of my poetry has been written in her joking, rhythmic cadence and rhyme.  Perhaps some essence of her that has been steeping in me for over sixty years has suddenly reached its saturation point and must come out.

And the China bulldog?  The dream? It is as though for all these years she has been trying to get it back, never quite replacing it but nonetheless not giving up the search.  And I can’t overlook the irony that it is these less perfect incomplete bulldogs that she chose to put on her mantel.  Is she trying to tell me something about beauty or the adherence to a dream or about giving up perfection to enter back into the quest?

My mind ricochets without finding an answer, but I continue to feel the prompt.  Perhaps there is reason in the name “wordpress.”  I feel that press to find meaning through words as I feel my mother’s gentle prod and communication through genes or memory or dreams, to leave perfect things behind and to get on with my life.

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The Prompt: Burnt—Remember the prompt where your home was on fire and you got to save five items? That means you left a lot of stuff behind. What are the things you wish you could have taken, but had to leave behind?

The Children’s Hour

Okay, I am writing this down by heart, as I remember it.  Then I’ll find a copy and check how well I remember it, putting corrections in parentheses.  Why do I remember this poem that was unfashionable even when I memorized it?  One of her favorites, it was chosen by my mother for me to recite in a contest.  I won with it at school, county and district level and then went to state level where I did not win.  Probably my wrong choice to pronounce “lower” in a manner so as to rhyme with “hour!”

Okay, by heart, mind you, here is the poem:

The Children’s Hour
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Between the dark and the daylight,
when the night is beginning to lower,
comes a pause in the day’s occupations
that is known as the children’s hour.

I hear in the chamber above me,
the patter of little feet,
the sound of a door that is opened
and voices, soft and sweet.

By my lamplight, I see in the darkness (from my study I see in the lamplight)
descending the broad hall stair
grave Alice and laughing Allegra,
and Edith with golden hair.

A whisper and then a silence,
yet I know by their laughing (merry)  eyes
they are plotting and planning together
to take me by surprise.

A sudden rush from the stairway,
a sudden raid from the hall,
by three doors left unguarded,
they enter my chamber wall.

They climb up into my turret,
o’er the arms and back of my chair.
When I try to escape, they surround me.
They seem to be everywhere.

They almost devour me with kisses,
their arms about me entwine,
till I feel like the Bishop of Bingen
in his round tower (mouse-tower) by the Rhine.

Do you think, oh blue-eyed banditos, (banditti)
because you have scaled the wall,
such an old mustache as I am
is not a match for you all?

I have you fast in my fortress
and will not let you depart
but keep you captive forever (But put you down into the dungeon)
in the round-tower of my heart.

And there  will I keep you forever,
yes forever and a day
till the walls have crumbled to ruin
and mouldered, in dust, away.

My mother told me her mother used to read this poem to her and her five sisters.  (Her two brothers were probably off pulling pranks somewhere.)  Whenever her mother would recite the line, “And Edith with golden hair” my mom would cry, because she had a sister named Edith, and my mom wanted golden hair as well.

Although I only met her once, when I was three, I believe my Grandmother was a kind soul and I can’t remember whether my mother told me or I imagined that my Grandmother then altered the line to read, “and Eunice with golden hair” as well.

Now, as to the lines or words I got wrong (after fifty-two years, as I believe I recited this when I was eleven) I am fairly sure that my mother changed that entire line I got wrong, thinking it wasn’t appropriate for a girl of 11 to say the words, “But put you down into the dungeon.” Mother knew best, even over such an illustrious poet as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a fact that probably stunned the judges and led to my eventual upset as South Dakota  poetry champion of outmoded rhyme.

Now, please recite your biggest feat of memory for me in comments!!!

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.

Strangers When We Meet

The Prompt: Delayed Contact—How would you get along with your sibling(s), parent(s), or any other person you’ve known for a long time — if you only met them for the first time today?

Strangers When We Meet

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 vivid 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!!!