Category Archives: poem about childhood

Almost Holy

My sister Patti and I, all dressed up for church and told to smile, no doubt! Photo by sister Betty 

 

Almost Holy

I always wanted a set of those panties that had a day of the week embroidered on each one, but I grew up in an era when kids didn’t ask for things.  I know my mom would have bought them for me if she’d known, or my grandma would have ceased her endless activity of sewing sequins on felt butterflies or crocheting the edges of pillow shams long enough to embroider the days of the week onto the baggy white nylon panties jumbled into my underwear drawer. I never asked, though.  Never told.

So it was that on Sunday I’d arise and put on the same old underpants, cotton dress with ruffle, white socks, patent leather shoes. I’d take a little purse no bigger than the makeup case in the suitcase-sized purse I now carry. Into it I’d drop a quarter my dad had given me for the collection, a hanky and the lemon drop my mother always put inside just in case of a cough. I never coughed, but always ate the lemon drop, sucking on it during Sunday School and sometimes asking for another from the larger supply in her purse during church.

Why my mom never sang in the choir I don’t know.  She had a fine true voice.  Both of my older sisters did and so did I, once I was in high school.  I remember when I was little watching the choir in their fine robes that looked like they were graduating every Sunday.  They sat facing us, in three rows to the preacher’s left, as though checking up on us to make sure we didn’t misbehave or yawn or chew gum.  In addition to lemon drops, my mother always carried Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum in her purse.  Sometimes the gum was a bit red  from the rouge she always had on her fingertips on days she applied makeup. It seemed to me like the rouge flavored the gum a bit.  It tasted of clove and flowers.

“Just hold it in your mouth,” my mother instructed, my sister and me; and if we chewed, she would take it away from us. “Just chew it enough to make it soft and then hold it in your mouth.”  This was an almost impossible challenge for a child and actually even for a teenager.  By then, we’d learned to crack the gum and to blow bubbles even when it wasn’t bubble gum.  That fine pop and final sigh of air as the bubble broke–so satisfying. The threat and memory of everything we could be doing with that gum resided in each small wad of it held in our cheeks as we sat lined up like finely dressed chipmunks listening to the minister drone on.

Hymns were like the commercial breaks on television–a chance to move around a bit and look at something other than the preacher–to ponder the curious lyrics such as, “Lettuce gather at the river,” “Bringing in the sheets” and “Let me to his bosom fly.”  (Just what was a bosom fly and what had lettuce and collecting sheets from the clothesline to do with religion? Once again, we didn’t ask.)

Then we’d sit down again for the Apostle’s Creed or a prayer or benediction or the interminable expanse of the sermon–half an hour with no break.  I’d listen to the drone of the flies buzzing in circles at the window, or the sound of cars passing in the summer, when the front and back doors were left open to encourage  breeze where no breeze existed.

Now and then a curious dog would wander in and be ushered out by the man who stood at the door to hand out church programs.  Everyone would hear the scramble of dog toenails on the wooden aisle and turn to watch and laugh.  Even the minister would laugh and say say something like, “All of God’s creatures seek to commune with him upon occasion.”  Then everyone would laugh softly again before he turned his attention back to telling us what was wrong with us and how to remedy it.

That afternoon, Lynnie Brost and I were going to play dress up and have a tea party under the cherry trees and bury a treasure there.  We’d already assembled it: my mom’s old ruby necklace, a handful of her mom’s red plastic cancer badges shaped like little swords with a pin at the back to put on your collar to show you’d given to the campaign,  my crushed penny from the train track, her miniature woven basket from South America that her missionary sister had brought her, a tattered love comic purloined from her older sister. (We’d “read” it first–which at our age meant looking at the pictures.)

I fell asleep thinking of what else we could add to our cache, to be dug up again in ten years or for as long later as we could stand to put off exhuming it. I leaned against my mother as I slept, and if she noticed, she did nothing to awaken me.  She shook me a bit, gently, as the congregation stood after the sermon, singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” as the minister marched down the aisle, smiling and greeting parishioners and the choir followed him, as though they were being let out early for good behavior.  At the door, we greeted the preacher again, standing in line to shake hands and be blessed, then ticked off his mental list of who had been among the faithful on this fine summer day when they could have been out mowing the grass or rolling in the piles of grass emptied from the clipping bag.

Then we drove the block home, for no one ever walked in a small town.  Well done rump roast for dinner, as we called the noon meal. Mashed potatoes, brown gravy, canned string beans, a salad with homemade Russian dressing and ice cream or jelly roll for dessert.  All afternoon to play. Another small town South Dakota Sunday of an endless progression strung out from birth to age eighteen, when I departed for college and the rest of my Agnostic life.

 

This is an essay from almost 5 years ago. Hopefully, you’ve either not been reading my blog for that long or you’ve forgotten it and it will read like new, as it did for me. I missed the boat when it came to religion, but it wasn’t for lack of experience. The prompt today is almost.

White Boots with Tassels

JudyBen1954This is the only photo I have of me wearing the white boots lauded in this poem.  Too bad the tassels aren’t showing! That’s my dad being silly and sporting as a hat a centerpiece brought back from Mexico by our neighbors.


White Boots with Tassels

Hand over hand, hand over hand—
we were a little twirling band—
Sharon, Diane and Meridee,
Jerilyn, Sheila and me.
We felt that we were in cahoots
as we donned our tall white boots
that sported tassels hanging down,
strutting them all over town,
dropping batons we soon retrieved
and we all truly believed
one day we’d be good enough
so we would come to strut our stuff
before the band, wands held on high
then thrown aloft into the sky.

Those dreams, alas, soon became dated
when our high school mentor graduated,
going on to college where
her baton rose to higher air
while ours were relegated to
shelves that sported a single shoe,
old castoff dolls and castoff dreams,
Teddy bears ripped at the seams
and small batons barely abused
because they were so rarely used.

Yet in our dreams, we strutted tall,
the finest majorettes of all—
batons twirling as they rose high
above us far into the sky,
returning safely to each hand
in sync with music from the band
we marched in front of, pert and sassy,
our tasseled boots sexy and classy.
Big girls now grown up from small,
the coolest high schoolers of all.
The truth of this, alas, it seemed,
 to be something we merely dreamed. 

The prompt word today was strut.

CFFC Challenge: The Letter “J”

Judith

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Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week directs us to post a photo of something beginning with the letter “J” that contains at least six letters. Believe it or not, it took me a good ten minutes to come up with such a word!  I was about to resort to the dictionary when I spied this photo on my desktop. I had used it just a few days ago, but earlier, when I went to put it away, my eyes fell on the purse and I started to wonder what I would have carried in a purse when I was three years old. It seemed like a good subject for a poem, so I left the photo there to remind me to try to do so after I did Cee’s “Fun Foto” post. It didn’t occur to me for a long time, that since my name is Judith and it was a photo of me, that I could do both at the same time. 

Cee’s “J” Challenge.

 

Church Purse

What does a three-year-old put in a purse she takes to church?
Held primly on her lap as legs swing freely from their perch.
Feet dangling from the pew above the varnished floorboards where
fifty years of townsfolk have walked enroute to prayer.
Small straw purse grasped tightly in two nail-bitten fists,
too little for a lipstick or store receipts or lists.

If perhaps the sermon stretches on too long,
what can she find inside this purse that she has brought along?
Black plastic strap she’s twisted securely ‘round a finger—
once she has unwound it, how long will the marks linger
pressed into her chubby flesh, like four little rings
she surveys as she unsnaps her purse to view her “things?”

A single piece of Juicy Fruit in case she gets a cough.
A snap bead and a single bud that happened to fall off
the rosebush of that big house as she ran ahead to linger
on their way to church and squeezed it with her finger
(and perhaps her thumbnail) until it finally snapped.
She’d peel off its petals later as she napped.

She knew she shouldn’t do this. They’d told her this before,
but her parents walked so slowly, and those naps were such a bore.
God may have seen even the smallest sparrow fall,
but were single rosebuds seen by him at all?
That lady they belonged to was so bossy and so haughty
that she provoked the saintliest children to be naughty!

A single plastic wrapped-up toy she worries to and fro
from her last night’s Cracker Jacks bought before the show.
She softly rustles cellophane between her restless fingers,
then sniffs them to determine if the caramel smell still lingers.
Mama gently elbows her to say she should desist––
fluttering her hand a bit, loosely from the wrist.

She looks for things much quieter in her little purse.
Her snap pistol is noisier. This marble would be worse,
dropped upon the church floor where it would roll away.
If she caused such a ruckus, what would the preacher say?
Something at the bottom feels so round and sticky.
Probably a Lifesaver gone all soft and icky.

A little lace-edged hanky that Grandma tatted for her.
She said that she would show her how, but she’s sure it would bore her.
A folded piece of paper. Crayons––one blue, one red.
If the sermon goes too long, she can color instead.
Mama will not mind and neither will her Dad.
Sister will be embarrassed, but she cares not a tad.

Later on her Daddy’s eyes will start to close,
but she’s sure her mom will nudge him before he starts to doze.
That’s why she is sitting right there in the middle
to correct his snoozes and her daughter’s every fiddle.
Sister is so perfect she needs no reprimand,
so she sits on the outside, removed from Mama’s hand.

After the sermon’s over, the collection plate
passes here before her, certain of its fate.
She’ll unsnap the little purse and reach down far inside it
to try to find the quarter where she chose to hide it
stuck in her silly putty in a little ball.
Now she wonders whether she can remove it all.

The people farther down the pew look in her direction
to try to see the cause of the collection plate’s deflection,
so her quarter is surrendered to join the coins and bills
piled there around it in green and silver hills.
It is the only quarter blanketed in blue.
It is a nice addition, this unexpected hue.

Sister looks disgusted, but her parents do not see,
That quarter cannot be traced back to her now, luckily.
Church will soon be ended with a prayer and song,
and when the music starts up, she will gladly sing along.
 She still dreads church but she gives thanks, for it could be worse.
She could be forced to live through it without her Sunday purse!

Dental Retaliation

 

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Dental Retaliation

Do you remember toothbrushes lined up on a rack
in the medicine cabinet, at the mirror’s back?
Your father’s brush was ocean blue, your mother’s brush was green,
your sister’s brush the reddest red that you had ever seen,
whereas your brush’s handle had no color at all—
as though it was the ugliest sister at the ball.

How you yearned for color, reaching for your brush
as the first summer’s meadowlark called to break the hush
of the early morning while you were sneaking out
to be the first one out-of-doors to see what was about.
Making that fast decision, your hand fell on the red,
thinking your sister wouldn’t know, for she was still abed.

You put toothpaste upon it, wet it at the tap
and ran the brush over each tooth as well as every gap.
Each toothbrush flavor was different, your older sis had said,
so you thought it would be different brushing your teeth with red.

Your father’s brush was blueberry, your mother’s brush was mint.
Your sister’s luscious cherry—its flavor heaven-sent.

“But because you are adopted,” your sister had the gall
to tell you, “they gave you the brush with no flavor at all.”
You waited to taste cherries, but that taste never came.
That red brush tasted like toothpaste. It tasted just the same
as every other morning when you brushed with yours.
You heard your sister stir upstairs, the squeaking of the floors.

You toweled off her toothbrush and hung it in the rack
and started to run out the door. Then something brought you back.
You opened up the mirror and grabbed her brush again.
A big smile spread across your face—a retaliatory grin.
The dread cod liver oil stood on the tallest shelf.
You were barely big enough to reach it for yourself.

You dipped her toothbrush in it, then quickly blew it dry.
Replaced it, shut the cabinet, and when you chanced to spy
your own reflection in the glass, each of you winked an eye.
Then you ran out to cherry trees to catch the first sunbeam
and brush your teeth with cherries while you listened for her scream.

Yes, we really did have a cherry orchard behind our house. You can see the trees peeking up behind the wild rose bushes directly behind the trellis in the picture above. This is my older sister Patti and I.  Yes, she really did tell me I was adopted. (I wasn’t.) No, I never did smear her toothbrush with cod liver oil. The retaliation part is just a mental one, sixty-some years too late, I’m afraid. She has since redeemed herself.

The prompt today is toothbrush.

Recognition

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Recognition

Filthy little urchin, dirty little boy—
who could tell from looking that you’d be such a joy?
We never would have chosen you by following our nose,
but when we scraped the dirt off and laundered all your clothes,
we recognized you as our own, devoid of dirt and grime,
and now that you are  family and with us all the time,
mud puddles still attract you. Dirt piles call your name.
But now it doesn’t matter. We love you all the same.

 

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

At First

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At First

Days were not over half so soon
when we ate passion with a spoon.
Swirled chocolate at the Frosty Freeze

melting in the prairie breeze
hot and redolent of soil—
chaff of wheat and rattled coil.
Summer days and summer nights,
rolls in grass and water fights
with uncoiled hoses, cooking pans,
rolled up cuffs and soaked white Vans.

Passion then was not so much
a thing of kissing or of  touch
as of smells and sights and taste.
Baking beans and paper paste.
Brand new tablets, pencil shavings.
Summer nights, then autumn cravings.
Cattle lowing, school bells,
Cool spring water from deep wells.
Throats that ached from drinking it,
brought to light from ancient pit.

All these simple remembered things
that thinking about passion brings:
spin-overs on the monkey bars,
rides on bikes and naming stars.
It’s true some passion rides on night
with pressing lips and gentle bite,
or trembles on the fingertips
straying over breasts or hips.

Yet simpler loves bring lesser rations
of what adults consider passions.
Words like passion must be allowed
to be unfettered, like a cloud
and not confined in connotation,
dictionary or denotation.
Sometimes passion can be bright—
A meadowlark or soaring kite.
Sun-chapped lips just touched with mist
long before they’re ever kissed.

The prompt word today was “Passionate.”

God’s Assembly Place

God’s Assembly Place

Leaving the Masons’ Lodge behind,
there was Mrs. Shimer’s cool dark little house
and the grade school slides to pass,
then spirea bushes to pull the petals from
before I reached the mysterious brick church
nestled in trees across from the lumber yard.

The sign said “Assembly of God.”
Everyone else said, “holy rollers and speakers in tongues,”
but they threw the best Bible school of the summer.
My mom let me attend them all: Lutheran,
Community Bible, Seven Day Adventist, Assembly of God
and our own Church––Methodist.

The Community Bible Church called us Jet Cadets
who made progress through the skies
by attendance and memorizing Bible verses.
The Methodists had the best art supplies,
but the Assembly of God
had that aura of mystery–
as though God had assembled us all there for a special purpose.

Because I had heard what went on there
when I wasn’t present,
I was the Nancy Drew of vacation Bible school,
looking fruitlessly for clues
as I made do with Kool Aid,
peanut butter cookies and
mimeographed pictures of Bible stories to color.

Then every day, the short walk home again
through that bridal path of spilled spirea blossoms,
with faith that tomorrow
religion just might turn into that great adventure
that I knew I was born to.

Thanks Whimsygizmo for leading me to this prompt with your wonderful poem. Readers, if you want to participate in the Writer’s Digest prompts, find them here:
Poetic Asides