Category Archives: Mother

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.

DSC09684

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

DSC08847

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.

DSC08856

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.

DSC08852

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.)

DSC08849

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!!!

Unwrapped Packages

daily life  color008

Unwrapped Packages

It is the difference between that present handed to you
by a person who says, “It’s only a tie,”
and a package under the tree
squeezed and prodded at—perhaps a corner loosened
or a hole poked in through supposed accidental handling,
pondered like a good detective show.

Who wants these mysteries revealed before their time?
What value in the present whose contents you already know for sure?
The magic of Christmas for some is that faith that the girl,
untouched by human lover, gave birth—and it is that sort of faith
that “saved” the world. If we knew the whole truth of that story
would all it prompted fall into the hole covered all these years by mystery?
The whole world seems to be standing more on what we don’t know
than on what we absolutely know empirically—what we can prove.

And so I look at the picture of my young mother
in her cotton housedress and saddle shoes
holding her baby in front of her in her stroller,
whole contraption, child and carrier,
a foot or two above the ground,
and there is mystery in the reveal.
I do not hear what transpired to cause this pose.
I do not know if my father caught her carrying me
from the porch to sidewalk and said,
“Here, Tootie, turn around,” and snapped the picture,
or whether my older sister planned the pose.
Or whether some movie star was snapped in a similar scene
and my mother and sister, like two conspiring fans,
planned the shot to steal the glamor formerly reserved
for “Photoplay” or “Look” or “Life.”

There would be no reel-to-reel
in any normal person’s life for years.
No movie camera to tell me exactly what my mother was like
or my sister or me before my memory took hold and even then,
my mind’s remembrance
more like reflections in a lake that color and change
depending on the clouds or rain,
distorting the light like moods.
My Aunt Peggy’s house,
always remembered as feeling like
the color chartreuse,
and I will never know why.
That smell of a friend’s house that became associated
with her memory more than any concrete proof of reel-to-reel
or spinning film of movie camera.

I do not know my mother’s voice at thirty.
I did not witness myself since birth
by either sound or sight.
There is a different mystery
to a past caught
in boxes of Kodacolor prints
curling and yellowing in a closet
than one documented like a science experiment
with every event taped and filmed.

Where does the mystery of you reside when you see yourself
so clearly, as others have seen you all along?
What does it leave for you to try to discover?
No tapes.
No film.
No Internet.
No Skype.
No YouTube.
No home movies.
All of our pasts were once wrapped up forever.
Only our fingers poking in the edges.
Only our voices asking,
“What was it like the day when I was born?”
What do you remember about the day when. . . .?

The Prompt: Can’t Stand Me—What do you find more unbearable: watching a video of yourself, or listening to a recording of your voice? Why?

Happy Mother’s Day!!!

With everyone posting pictures of their moms, I couldn’t find one on my computer, so this will have to do. The wet hair tells me my mom has just finished washing my hair by having me lie on the counter and put my head in the kitchen sink. I have on my pink chenille bathrobe with brown flowers with yellow centers and I’m sure I’m talking to Lynnie Brost on the phone. Someone on our party line might be listening, but what secrets might two five-year-olds have that the whole neighborhood cannot know? Later my mom will put my hair up in curlers for those awful sausage curls that I thought were the only way I would ever wear my hair. Mom, in an hour and a half, I’ll leave to go read a poem about you at Open Circle. Wish you were there in the audience. Perhaps you will be. oxoxoxooxox to Eunice King Dykstra—remembered by all who knew her as “Pat.”

IMG_0004

NaPoWriMo Day 25: She

She

She was fingers drumming lightly on my arm while I fell asleep,
a box of candy that my dad had to hide or it would be gone by morning,
fingerprints of bright coral rouge staining the top of her powder puff.
She was a girl’s rhymed diary that told of filling the church elders’ hats full of Bon Ami powder.
A fatherless girl sleeping with her sisters on a sun porch in Kansas.
A sister of a girl who wore a nightgown to a ball,
the sister of a man who couldn’t stop drinking,
the sister of a girl who died in the great flu epidemic of 1918
and of a father who died in the great flu epidemic of 1918.
She was the sister of a woman who died in childbirth
and the sister-in-law of a man she did not marry to raise her sister’s child.
A woman who liked radish and onion sandwiches
and cornbread and orange Jello with shredded carrots and pineapple.
She was a girl late to marry who lied about her age until in her nineties.
A woman who never told her real name to daughters
until her daughters were women as well.

She was a good friend who never revealed secrets.
A woman who finished her housework quickly to lie on the divan and read.
A woman with a mangle who ironed the body and arms of shirts
while her daughters ironed the collars and cuffs.
A member of the Progressive Study Club who wrote all the plays for State Conference.
The woman who wrote the play, “The Hillbilly Wedding”
that started out, “Ye critters and Ye varmints, we are are gathered here today
to wed this man and woman in hillbilly sorta way.
H’ebenezer, Hannabella, do ye promise to be true and always love each other?”
“We do, We do.”
She was the mother who played silly tricks on her pre-teenage daughter
and hid in the closet to see if they worked.
The woman who had all her teeth pulled on the same day and nearly bled to death.
A town girl who lived in a tiny trailer with my father on the empty prairies of Dakota
and traveled from dam building site to site with him the first year they were married.
The town girl with no bathroom, so they had to park by service stations to use theirs.
The girl who counted to see how long she could hold her hand in the oven
to determine when the heat was right to bake cakes in her wood-burning oven
and who swam with her mother-in-law in a large stock tank.

She was the woman who took her daughter out on summer nights to look for U.F.O.’s.
The woman who never learned how to play the piano
but insisted her daughter take lessons for 8 long years,
and the woman whose daughter never really learned how to play the piano.
She was the trainer of dogs and parakeets and baby bunnies
rescued from the prairie by my dad.
The assembler of Halloween costumes and the decorator of Christmas trees.
She was the woman whose Christmas decorations one year were entirely silver and pink
and who made an elaborate chandelier ornament out of sprayed coat hangers.
The woman who drove her daughters 60 miles to buy saddle shoes
and 150 miles in the opposite direction to see an eye doctor.
She was the woman whose husband loved babies—
the woman who collected spare babies in restaurants
to take them to her husband to hold
while their mothers finished their meals.

She was the woman who showed her daughters how to make
Philippine lanterns to use as May baskets.
The woman who dressed up as a witch for Halloween and was so good in her role
that she sent children screaming down the sidewalk.
The woman who took off her mask for the rest of the night.
She was the woman who made up long rhyming poems about what pieces of the body
were being handed around the circle in a darkened room on Halloween:
a peeled grape, a bowl of spaghetti, a piece of liver.
She was the woman who covered lamps with sheets and pinned on
paper ghost eyes, nose,mouth.
and who collected corn stalks for decorations.
She was the woman who loved Halloween
but loved Christmas even more.
The woman who hid grass nests full of jelly beans and sugar eggs
all over the house every Easter.
The woman who found one of her own nests when decorating for Christmas.

She was the woman who loved to read who could read her daughters like a book.
The woman who could sometimes read her husband like a book—
the woman who said, “What did you do? You brought home another animal, didn’t you?”
the day my dad entered the living room with a sheepish look,
even though he’d left the rubber boot with the tiny puppy inside in the mud room.
She was the woman who had said the same thing
when he brought home the bunnies, the kittens, the tiny mole, the raccoon and the magpie.
She was the woman with the quilted satin robe with the long train
that the baby bunny hopped up on for a ride around the house.
The woman who taught Chipper, the parakeet, to say,
“Hello, Betty Jo. Judy Kay. Judy Kay. Patti Adair. Gee you’re cute!
Gimmee a kiss (kissing sounds). Baaaaaaad Benny!”
She was the woman named Pat whose husband was named Ben.
They were the couple whom later we later learned were really
Eunice Lydia and Gerben Sylvanus.
She was the wife of a rancher but gave him three girls.
They were the ones to insist all three girls go to college.
She was the mother whose travels had extended from Kansas to South Dakota to Iowa
who gave permission for her daughter
to set out to travel around the world
when she was still in her teens.
She was the woman who convinced her husband to move to Arizona
the year her youngest went off to college.
The woman who sold her mangle and became a fashion plate again in her 50’s.
She was a woman with four swimsuits
who did 1,000 exercises in her Arizona pool every day.
A woman who went dancing every Friday night,
who tried to take up golf and failed,
who lay on her chaise on her patio and read books
while her husband went to the corner café to regale his new audience with old stories.
She was the woman who flew to Australia to visit her daughter.
The woman who traded houses every few years
for the fun of buying and decorating a new one.
She was the grieving wife who said, “Ben always hated that clock!”
and watched it fall off the wall.
She was a girl and woman and old woman who believed in ghosts
and who slept near Hadrian’s Wall in the haunted room
of an eleventh century Abbey in Scotland.
She was a woman who played with a cat on Dylan Thomas’s sea wall
and who slept in a room over a pub as well as the Grosvenor House in London,
where she saw Garfunkel walk across the hotel lobby.

She was a woman who liked to sit and look at the decorations in her living room.
An old woman who drank aloe vera and vinegar
and did leg exercises in her bed each morning.
An old woman who got a machine to help her read.
An old woman who listened to the news all day when her eyesight failed.
A woman who bought a breathing machine when her breath failed
and walked around her condo trailing a long rubber oxygen tube.
An old woman who lived to be 91
and who lived alone till the day she died.
A woman who put on makeup and jewelry and who dressed up
every day until the day she died.

I was her collaborator in writing silly rhyming poems to send to my sisters in college.
I was her collaborator the day she dressed like an old woman
and sat in my dad’s chair,
setting him up by saying, “Dad, there’s an old woman here,
and I can’t get her to say anything.”
When she sat hunched over in her white wig,
her shoulders shaking with suppressed laugher,
he said, “We’d better call the sheriff. I think she’s having a fit.”
She was the one who actually never grew old in my father’s eyes.
The one who lived alone for nearly 30 years after he died.
She was the one who wanted a boyfriend to take her dancing whom she didn’t have to kiss.
The one who wore the Evening in Paris perfume
I bought her every mother’s day
until I was in my teens.
The one who fed the baby coon with a doll bottle
and bathed and baby powdered it every day
and put it underneath my covers when I had the measles.
The one who went from matronly house dresses
to wearing my castoff college clothes.
The one who created a whole new life
when her children left and pulled my father after her.

She is the one who has been gone for 13 years.
The one who very rarely passes through my thoughts.
The mother who did what the best mothers always do.
Who released her children into the world and let them go.

Here is a link to the photo of my mother I wanted to use with this poem three years ago when I wrote it but couldn’t find then : https://judydykstrabrown.com/2018/08/01/parental-support/

Today’s prompt was to write a poem using Anaphora–a literary term for the practice of repeating certain words or phrases at the beginning of multiple clauses or, in the case of a poem, multiple lines.