Category Archives: Story

Quilting Bee

(Click on photos to enlarge and to read the rest of the story.)

Quilting Bee

I chop my life up into bits, incongruous and varied:
struggles, victories, tragic loves, the day that I got married.
Clashes create beauty as pains mix up with cheers,
making a lovely pattern as each new piece appears.

In stories as in patchwork quilts, all bits are not roses.
Part of the beauty comes from the pain that it exposes.
We put our art together, fragment after patch
and no pattern emerges if all the pieces match.

A convenient truth of works of art as well as that of life:
beauty’s found in perfection, but also found in strife.
Sweet berries come with brambles and each rose has its thorn.
Both great passion and great pain predate the time we’re born.

Perhaps pain is the awful price that we have to pay
to experience the pleasure of when it goes away.
So with the ugly fabric that finds a place to fit
when contrasting beauty is stitched in next to it.

Life is a lovely story, but not all of it is writ.
Why were we created if not to add to it?
In taking all the pieces we’re provided with,
We take part in creation by adding to the myth.

 

 

Prompts today are patterns, chop, clashes, cheer, incongruous, convenient and brambles.

Family Reunion

Family Reunion

Thunder crashes, warning that her homecoming will not be ideal. These people know all her dirty little secrets and as is symptomatic of siblings, even those supposed to be mature, they are sure to reveal some of her past sins. She once wrote an award-winning satire based on her family,  but of course the irony was wasted on them. She came from a literal and humorless family. She had actually considered skipping this reunion, but then reconsidered. Once she has sold her newest story to the New Yorker, the trip will be tax-deductible, and where is she likely to find better material?

Prompts today are dirty, symptomatic, waste, satire, thunder and homecoming. Photo by Ben White on Unsplash.

Zippy

I thought I had told this story before and promised to send a link to the story to  Eilene , but looking through my WordPress files, I can’t find it so I’m sharing it here. This story will also be in my upcoming book, The China Bulldog and Other Stories of a Small Town Girl, but I’ll give you a sneak preview here.

Zippy

   We were gathered in groups up and down the broad sidewalk that bordered the church windows. The service was over, and people had lingered to talk away ten minutes or so before climbing into their cars and going home to Sunday dinner.

My mom and older sister had gone on home right after church–my mom to make the gravy, my sister to talk on the phone.  I was talking to Pressie and Tina Ivy, but I could overhear my Dad talking to Babe Reynolds. To tell the truth, someone a half block away could probably overhear my dad and Babe talking. They were swapping stories and laughing and trying to one-up each other in both.

Tina Ivy was lying, as usual–telling Pressie and me about a boy she met at the show in White River. Pressie and I could hardly stand to think about boys, no matter how cute they were. The boys we knew were mean and dumb, and they were Murdo boys. White River boys were, everyone knew, even worse. The thing that made it hardest to believe was that Tina Ivy, like us, was only eight years old. It would be three years before any of the rest of us began to think about wanting to meet up with boys, and five more years beyond that before we started to realize the potential of White River boys. Thinking about boys at the age of eight was crazy. It was gross.

The truth was, nobody could stand Tina Ivy. But since we lived in a very small town with a minimum of kids my age, and since I craved variety at any cost, I kept trying to play with her. But she used to pinch––taking real little pieces of skin between her nails and squeezing hard–so she made marks and even drew blood sometimes. And she lied all the time–everything she said. So liking Tina Ivy wasn’t easy. On this particular day, Tina was telling lies about boys and Pressie was rolling her eyes and looking fed up, so I told Tina we had to go and pulled Pressie toward my dad. Babe was talking when we walked up. He was telling about a coon hunt they’d been on the night before–how the dogs had caught the coon and killed it before they realized that she had babies. How they’d taken the baby coons home–three of them–and had them in a box in the kitchen.

Babe is the dad of Lyle, one of the five boys in my class at school. I told you this was a small town, and ours was the smallest class in the school every year. There were just 15 of us who went all the way from first grade through high school together. In spite of this fact, we weren’t a very close class, because even though we saw a lot of each other, we also fought a lot.

Lyle’s family lived four or five miles out of town on a farm I’d never seen. Farm life to me seemed glamorous­­––the travelling to and from, the animals, and farm kids got to bring their lunch and eat at school while the rest of us all had to go home for lunch. The fact that my dad was a farmer/rancher did little to dispel the glamour, since we lived in town and I only got to visit the farm occasionally for very limited time periods.

But my dad did what he could to bring the farm to us. Every night when he got home, we emptied wheat chaff from his pants cuffs, scraped dried mud off his work boots with a dinner knife, dusted the dust off his broad-brimmed straw work hat or billed khaki cap. Usually, we were rewarded for our efforts, because along with grain and dirt and dust, he brought us stories of the feral cats that built their nests in the fields, of mother birds feigning broken wings to lead him away from their nests, rattlesnakes in haystacks or the tiny mole he had unearthed while plowing.

Some of these stories he illustrated by bringing home their principles: three tiny yellow kittens whose mother had been killed by the plow, a blind mole, jackrabbits too small to survive on their own, goldfish from the stock dam where they had thrived and multiplied after someone dumped a bowl of them into the pond, an injured magpie.

But a raccoon I had never seen.

“Ben, promise me that you’re not going to bring home another animal.”  It was my mother speaking. We were at the dinner table.  I’d beaten my dad to the raccoon story, my words stumbling over each other as I tried to give her all the details.

“And we get to go see them, Mom. We get to go see the baby coons.”

My mother, always a sucker for baby animals, protested every time, “Never again.” Every tiny grave, every shoe box lined with dandelions and worn out silk panties and filled with kittens dead from distemper or limp goldfish, every trip out to the farm to release a now-grown baby rabbit, brought these words.

Of course, she said it again. “No baby animals, Ben. No baby animals. You can go see them, but I’m not going. I don’t want to get attached so I’m not going to look and if you’re going to go look, just remember. No more baby animals.”

Five minutes later, my dad and I were bumping down the rutted dirt road to the Reynolds place. I had my feet propped on his old steel water can. It was wrapped in frayed dirty canvas that he wet to help keep the well water he filled the can with cold. The canvas was all dried out now, but I took a drink of the well water anyway, loving its tinny sharp taste. Whenever we went out to the old Millay place, we stopped to fill the can with that water–the best water any of us had ever tasted.

When we got to the Reynolds’ house, they took us into the kitchen, where the baby coons were nested up to each other in a cardboard grocery box. Lyle’s mother let me hold one, and it wrapped its black little human hands around my finger and sucked on it, like I was a bottle. It was warm and furry and gave off a strong odor of milk and wet fur and wildness. It was the closest thing to a monkey that I ever held and my heart turned over. I loved this little thing. It was better than a baby sister, which I’d been told I’d never get. It was so tiny I could hold it in my hand with only its legs dangling over. Its nose was black and sharp, its fingernails beautifully shaped like it had had a manicure, and the skin on its palms was the softest thing I’d ever felt– smoother than the silk inside my mother’s fur stole, smoother than the chamois powder-choked lining in her compact case, smoother than my mother’s face just after she’d washed off the Lady Esther Face Cream.

My mom’s real name was Eunice, but she always called herself Pat. My dad, however, much to her displeasure, never called her this. He called her “Heifer,” which she hated, or, when he was feeling more tactful, “Tootie.”

“ Toooooootie-Wootie….?” he called out teasingly as we slammed in through the back door.

“What did you do?” My mother accused as we walked into the kitchen.

My dad faced her in his innocence. We were empty-handed.

“You didn’t bring back one of those baby coons, did you?” she said.

“Didn’t you tell us not to?” asked my dad, “You did tell us not to bring home any more baby animals, right?”

“So you didn’t get one, then?” my mom asked.

“Well, you told us not to, didn’t you?” This was my dad again. I was just watching.

There was a little pause then as we all just stood there, looking at each other.

“Were they cute?” asked my mother in a softer voice.

Then I couldn’t be quiet anymore. I told her about their fingernails, their breaths, their soft coats and softer palms. I told her how they fit in my hand with only their legs hanging over. I told her she should have seen them and she said she wished she had, but that she’d just get attached and that it would make it harder not to take one and how she’d decided: NO MORE BABY ANIMALS and so she’d just rather not look.

My dad went out then and came back with the cardboard box. I lifted out the baby coon, whose eyes were closed even though he was waving his body around.

“Oh Ben, you didn’t!” She was holding the baby coon, though, and she was smiling.

She sent me for one of the doll baby bottles and when I came running through the kitchen with it on the way from my upstairs bedroom to the living room, where I’d left them, I ran into her at the kitchen stove, warming milk.

His mouth was so tiny that only a doll bottle nipple was small enough to fit. He made hard sucking noises and drained the bottle very fast, wrapping his hands around my mother’s finger as he nursed. I ran back to funnel more milk into the tiny glass bottle, then worked the rubber nipple on as I ran back to the living room. After another bottle, he fell asleep, his fingers still gripping my mom’s hand. When I bent over him, the hot fusty pee smell of his fur mingled with a slightly rancid milk breath. His mouth made little sucking motions, like he was dreaming about even more to drink. My mother was smiling.

“We can take him back if you want us to, Tootie,” my dad said.

***

We named him Zippy for the way he liked to unzip and zip my dad’s jacket pocket, looking for treats. For the way he moved fast under the beds, up the shelves. For the way his tiny kidskin paws slipped like eels into hidden places. Zippy for the smooth way his mind worked as he figured out solutions to each new puzzle that life presented him with.

My mom used to dress him up in doll clothes and wheel him around in our baby carriage. As he got bigger, he graduated from holding her finger to holding onto her wrist as he nursed. Finally, he got so strong that when she drew the bottle away, he would twine both feet and both hands around her wrist, dragging the bottle back down.

The first week we had him, my sister and I would fight over who got to give him his morning bottle, but after a week, she began to be diverted by the kids swinging in the schoolyard across the street before school started, and she was off like usual to claim the best swing before all the other kids got there. Never having had a baby sister, like she had had, I was not so easily diverted.

Soon he was crawling up the floor-to-ceiling built-in shelves in the living room, maneuvering carefully around Patti’s salt and pepper shaker collection, reaching his hands into the cornflower blue urn on the top shelf.

It was my mother’s pride that every one of her girls had walked by the time she was ten months old and was potty-trained soon after. In like fashion, she had litter-box trained every bunny, puppy or kitten that my dad had carried guiltily home for her to nurse, feed, train, groom, clean up after and love.  Even our parakeet Chipper, the only animal we ever had that was actually purchased in a pet store, had been trained by my mom to fly into his cage whenever nature called.  So it was no surprise that Zippy, from his first week in our presence, was trained to use a litter box.

As he grew, he graduated from doll bottle to baby bottle to milk in a bowl and raisin bran that he mined from “his” box in the row of cereal boxes that stood lined-up on a bottom shelf of one of the kitchen cupboards.  If we didn’t wake up early enough, he knew which of the numerous cereal boxes was his and he would climb up to hang off the side of the box as he reached one arm in to gather raisin bran. At first, he was so tiny that as the level of the cereal went down, he had to reach farther and farther into the box, until finally he was clinging onto the edge of the upright box with his hind legs with most of his body hanging down into the box as he reached for the morsels at the bottom. When we replaced the box, we put his new opened box in the same position–last cereal box on the left–and he proceeded to eat from only it–only the last box on the left and only raisin bran. If we put our own box of raisin bran right next to it, he would not touch it.

When my dad got home from work at night, Zippy would be the first to greet him at the door. Before my dad could get off his overboots or unzip his parka or take off his cap, Zippy would be climbing his pants leg and perching on his shoulder. He’d start tugging at the zipper on the parka, and as my dad took off his coat, he would move to cling from his shirt front as he slid the coat off his shoulders. Then back up to his shoulder he would climb, reaching into his pockets for treats. If the pockets yielded no treasures, he would search ear holes, nostrils, pry open my dad’s mouth and teeth to search even this secret place. Once when my dad squeezed his eyes shut, he even pried open his eyelid.  Always, though, in some hidden place––his zippered coat pocket or the top of his socks, my dad brought some surprise, even if it was a piece of dried cat food picked up from the dish of the outside cat on his way up the backdoor steps. More usually it was candy or gum or, in dire circumstances, a Bisodol antacid tablet.

Every animal that came to our house was my mother’s baby. We had a bunny once who used to hop around under the train of her long robe––a hopping lump of quilted velvet, following her all over the house. Our parakeet learned to speak in her voice, always cued by the school bell which was calling us into the school across the street as consistently as it was drawing my mom with a second cup of coffee and a cornmeal muffin into my dad’s vacant rocking chair––the most comfortable chair in the house––which just happened to be situated right next to the birdcage. Then woman and bird would talk for a half hour or so, using the ever-expanding vocabulary taught to him by my mother.

“Baaaaaaad Benny,” one would say to the other.

To which the other would answer, “Hi, Chipper.  Pretty bird. Gee you’re cute. Gimmee a kiss!” This line was always followed by five kissing sounds.

“ Hello, Betty Jo.”

Would be answered by, “Patti Adair: or “Judy Kay, Judy Kay.”

But Zippy was a baby not only to my mother, but to each of us. He entered my Dad’s stories every day as he took coffee with other farmers and ranchers at Mack’s cafe. His was the first story that was told to each arriving family member at night.

“Know what Zippy did?”

“So, how’s Zippy?”

“Where’s Zippy?”

“Zip? Where are you boy. Here Zip.”

He was only a story to my sister Betty Jo, away at college in a state so far away that she only came home for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Summer Vacations. And by the time she finally saw him, he had grown so big that he scared her and we had to lock him in the basement whenever she was around. To tell the truth, it was kind of a relief when she went back to school so Zippy could come be a regular member of the family again. He was friendlier than my sister and more fun since she’d taken on college airs.

When Zippy was a few months old, I came home itching from school. Within the hour, I’d broken into livid red spots which my mom said were measles and which she told me not to scratch. She put me in the only downstairs bedroom—which was my parents’ room––so she could more easily care for me. It was agony as I lay in that dark room so my eyes, made vulnerable by the measles, wouldn’t be damaged and with my arms on top of the covers so I wouldn’t be tempted to itch. Bored and miserable, I begged my mom for constant company––begged her to read to me outside the bedroom door––out in the kitchen, where there was light. This was in a time before television––a time when the only radio was a huge console in the living room––but my mother brought in Zippy, bathed and powdered, and he immediately climbed under the blankets and under the sheets, pushing up tunnels of covers like a mole pushing up dirt. He’d run from one side of the bed to the other, jump down, run under the bed, back up under the covers on the other side, across the bed again, in an ever more frantic cycle. Then he’d poke his head out and cuddle up to my sore face with his soft hair. Reach up to my forehead with a graceful black delicate hand. Touch one red berry on my brow, then another. Then he was under the covers, locating each new red patch on my legs. Itching first one, and then the next, delicately, softly, exquisitely quenching the itching that no amount of calamine could cure. All afternoon long and all the next day, he stayed with me, itching my itches under the covers where my mother couldn’t see. Me with my arms folded on top, as she had directed. She’d bathe and powder him three times a day to keep him fresh, then sponge my legs and chest and arms with water and baking soda. She’d read to me outside the door, or my sister Patti would read. But Zippy was my most indulgent nurse. His hands, ever gentle and curious, ever vigilant, knew where I itched. His soft fur knew where to place itself against my neck and face.  His energetic body knew how to entertain a bored eight-year-old. Outside the door, it was my sister Patti reading to us “The Little Prince,” but under the covers, it was Zippy and me. Our secrets.

When my sister Betty Jo came home for Christmas vacation, Zippy was again relegated to the basement. And this time when I’d go down to look for him, I couldn’t always find him. He’d climb the water pipes and wedge himself into corner spaces between merging pipes right up against the basement ceiling. And even when my sister left, we couldn’t get him to come up again, except for food every once in a while, and then he’d return to the pipes in the basement. My dad explained that he was hibernating, but I was sure that he was miffed. My sister, barely a relative any more, had been placed before him––my ever-vigilant friend. I couldn’t blame him for having his feelings hurt, but I missed him and wanted him back.

In mid-January, we all drove in the car to Pierre and went to a big store that had a room filled with toilets and tubs and sinks and hot water heaters. My mom picked out a creamy yellow bathtub and toilet and sink, and the next week Mr. Chambers came to rip out our old bathroom and put these modern fixtures in. My dad and our hired man, Wes, helped him carry the old tub out and the new beautiful yellow tub in. We were relieved that the new tub fit in the old space–snugly, but it fit. Then we all left as Mr. Chambers climbed into the tub to frame and caulk and tile. Next came the chrome around the drain. I imagine him now as he was then in his pillow-ticking overalls, bending over the drain.

“Jeeeeeesus Christ!” screamed Mr. Chambers, hitting the door full face, then bouncing off it to open it, running through the kitchen and out the front door.

All of us ran from every part of the house we’d wandered to. My mom from the bedroom, me from the front porch, where I was playing jewelry store, my sister from in front of the radio in the living room, my dad from the kitchen where he was sizing up prospects for a snack.

Into the bathroom we streamed, scanning the room with our eyes before focusing on the drain hole in the new tub. Up through it was poking a small black hand–like a devil hand–carefully feeling around the edge of the drain hole, then reaching up to pat the cool enamel–moving in concentric circles: pat, pat, pat. Never the small demon that Mr. Chambers imagined, Zippy had been perched in his pipe maze “tree” when he had seen the light shining from above through the unconnected pipe hole and reached up to investigate.

We found Mr. Chambers in his truck outside. We explained and even brought Zippy out to meet him. Later, he pretended that he was just pretending to be scared of Zippy, but in our stories, every time we told this story, he ran farther, ran faster, yelled louder. Until finally, he never came back.

When Zippy came out of hibernation, he was the same as ever except for the fact that he was very very big. When my sister came home for summer vacation, he scared her so much that she could not even stand to be around him on a leash. This was ridiculous, but not as ridiculous as the letters she’d been getting from boys––letters that she kept in a shoebox-sized locked cedar box that I knew how to find the key for and that I’d begun to be able to decipher, even though they were written in cursive.

When we took her back to school in late August, my mom decided that Zippy was old enough to look after himself. We left him on our enclosed back porch with three loaves of bread, a box of raisin bran and a roasting pan full of water. From the porch, he had access to the basement down the L-shaped basement stairs. We’d be back in three days. Aunt Stella would check on him every day to replenish his food supply. After electing to hibernate for months the past winter, how could he object to a few days absence on our part?

We were ten minutes down the road when my mom remembered something she’d forgotten. This was a family tradition, so there was no question that we wouldn’t simply turn around and go back for it. My dad drove up to the garage, which was behind our house, and she ran into the backyard and up the back steps. Three minutes later, she was back again.

“Come on, everybody, you’ve got to come see!”

We trooped after her, up to the back porch, opened the door.

“Don’t go inside!” she warned, “You might slip and fall.”

We peeked inside to find a floor entirely covered with a thick white paste. In less that half an hour since we’d left, Zip had taken each slice of bread out of its wrapper, dragged it through the water in the roasting pan, and plastered it to the floor, grinding it into a thick mush with his talented hands. Three loaves of bread–every piece applied to the linoleum. Almost every inch of the porch covered.

By the time I was in the fourth grade, Zippy was so well “trained” that I could take him to school on a leash. He would lead like a dog. Do dignified tricks. Sit when I told him to sit. I took the cereal boxes so they could see how disciplined he was. His box was empty. He checked it out carefully, upended it., checked it now and then throughout his entire classroom visit, but never touched one of the “family boxes” full of cornflakes and puffed oats and even Raisin Bran.

When I took Zippy home, I put a new Raisin Bran box in his place, returned the other cereal boxes, ate the big noon dinner with my mom and dad and sister, and returned to school. It was when I got home from school that my Mom and Dad told us about the new house. It was to be a ranch-style house, modern and big and just a block away, in the corner lot kitty-corner across from the school. It would have wall-to-wall carpet except for the bathroom, which was yellow-tiled with turquoise tub and sink and toilet. And the kitchen, of course, which was to have linoleum which coved part way up the walls so there’d be no cracks to collect dirt.

First there was the drama about the fact that I couldn’t have linoleum in my room. I loved my green linoleum, which exactly matched the green flowers on my yellow flowered bedspread, curtains and vanity table cover. I had to have green linoleum. I demanded green linoleum. But carpet it was to be.

Then there was the fact that there were to be no second story rooms with dormer windows to climb out of onto a sloping porch roof. No access to the roof. No place to sunbathe or have picnics or to observe baby birds in eavestrough nests. No high perch to torment Bobby Larkin across the street from or to throw water balloons from or to torture Susan Thatcher from by telling her Pressie could come up, but not her.

Fluffy, our outdoor tramp cat, might not find us a block away, I worried, a fact which turned out to be true. When we finally finished the house and moved, he became the cat of the family who bought our old house.

As it turned out, we all loved the new house–which we moved into a year and a few months later. But one aspect of the new house spelled tragedy. Zippy, I was told, would not be moving with us. He was too big, my mother argued. He needed to be in the wild. Dad knew a family out in the country who wanted him, he said. They had big trees he could climb in, or he could live inside with the family. They had three high school or college-aged sons, he said. They would play with him. They came to see him and admired all his tricks. They were excited to have him come live with them.

I didn’t get my green linoleum. Never again did I taunt Bobby Larkin from the roof of a house. I never owned another cat until I was a home-owning adult with all the attendant powers, and, in fact, Zippy never moved to the new house with us.

His adventures continued for many years, but only one of those adventures was to be experienced in our company–and that final adventure was, alas, a sad one. We were at school. Dad had decided to take Zippy out to his new home before we got home, to avoid the drama of that potential heart-wrenching scene. He had come home in the afternoon with one of the Smith boys and with Wes, the hired man. My mom, in the house, did not know that they were there to take Zippy. Wes had come at him with a gunny sack, lunged for him and missed. My dad had tried and missed, chasing Zip once around the outside of the house. Zippy by now was of a formidable size and weight. In his winter coat, he was perhaps a foot and a half wide and two feet long. He was fat–almost too heavy for me to lift. Yet, although he’d outgrown doll clothes long ago, he would still ride around in a doll carriage in my old baby clothes, and he’d still nurse from a baby bottle, play hide and seek, and try to climb my dad’s leg. He’d never shown a vicious side except in mock play, chasing us in tag from the floor to the bed to the floor–growling in make-believe anger, much as my dad did when he was chasing us around the house–playing troll to our three billy goats gruff.

By the time we got home from school, Zippy had taken sanctuary under our large front porch. Two of the men had rakes and hoes, trying to use the handles to prod him out from under the porch. They were calling out, making what must have seemed to Zippy to be threatening movements, and he was cowering in the far corner of the porch, on the foundation side near the trumpet vine. We could see his shining eyes in the darkness. I yelled, my sister cried, and my mom came running out.

“They’re hurting him!” my sister cried.

“They’re killing him!” I screamed, ever the drama queen.

My mother ran down the steps, scolding, “Ben, you’re scaring him to death. He doesn’t know what you’re doing. He doesn’t even know Hank and Wes.“ She was as upset as we were as she moved around behind Zippy, then reached out for him from behind. His eyes still focused at the two unknown attackers with prods, Zippy spun around and attacked, biting my mother severely on her arm. My mother, a bleeder, was spurting blood, my dad was shouting, we were crying. The minute Zippy recognized my mother, he was out from the porch, gentle again. I held him in my arms as my dad rushed my mom up to Doc Murphy’s office for cleaning, ointment and a tetanus shot. When they came home, my mom and dad got in the car and took Zippy out to the Smiths. All of us were sad, but my parents vindicated in their belief that Zippy was a wild animal that should be in the wild.

That was the last time I ever saw Zippy. For some reason, every time I thought to ask to go visit him was a bad time for my Mom and Dad. And the Smiths lived too far out of town to ride my bike out to their place. So Zippy’s final chapters proved to be hearsay, only. On Saturday nights in Mack’s cafe–after the show let out, or around tables filled with farmers and ranchers in for their afternoon break, my dad heard Zippy stories: new tricks the Smiths had taught him, how he lived inside with them just as he had with us, how smart he was, messes he’d made, new games he’d learned.

It was like we had a brother who’d been given away and never seen again. Yet we accepted it, my sister and I. There was, for a long while, the excitement of the new house–first the long months of the construction, then carpets and curtains and new furniture to pick, colors to choose, flowers to plant. In the sixth grade now, I knew what Tina Ivy had been talking about. Thus, Zippy slipped under the surface of our memories–less clear with each passing year so that I can’t remember exactly when the final chapter occurred. When I was in high school, perhaps, or maybe a story told when I was home on vacation from college. How the Smiths left to go to town. How they unintentionally shut Zippy up in the bathroom with no open window to climb out of. How they had looked for him when they came home, “Zip. Here Zippy.” How they finally found him in the bathroom–hunkered in the middle of the floor over a huge pile of tiny tile pieces. How he’d picked every inch of newly-installed bathroom tile off the floor, tearing off the tiles in quarter-sized chunks. How Mister Smith threw a shoe at him and Mrs. Smith opened the bathroom window, which Zippy dived out of into a nearby tree. How Mr. Smith called him that gol-damned coon ever after. How Zippy lived in the tree for a few months, never again gaining access to the house. How one day he was gone. Coon tracks around sometimes, but they never knew for sure that it was him.

All animal stories end more quickly than we would wish them to. With their shorter life span, it is inevitable. Some stories end with a shoebox lined with dandelion chains, some with a dead goldfish flushed down a toilet, others by watching a grown cottontail disappear into an alfalfa field, but Zippy’s story just faded away without an ending. Like the stories of people we lose touch with. Like the stories of people who move up or move on in life. Like the stories of people who pass from being friends into being just another story in our lives.

It is the difference between a present friend and an old one, like the difference between your next-door neighbor and the neighbor who has moved away, like the difference between the child who lives across town and the child who lives cross country. It is the difference between intimacy and familiarity, acquaintance and crony, the difference between pet and wild animal. How the story ends–with what degree of certainty and truth and detail and affection–depends upon this perspective: how long ago, how far away?

 

 

Sue Bee Honey: Wordle 538, Jan 30, 2022

Sue Bee Honey

Once a year, their trucks would leave trails through our fields of sweet clover and my father returned from the fields with  combs of honey still in their wooden frames, dripping rich streams that blackened the dust of  the sidewalk between the back driveway and the porch, where he propped them up against the porch railing to drain into huge clay bowls.

Sue Bee Honey, rich and golden and speckled with tiny corpses of the bees who made it. Those two purloined combs were the price he exacted for allowing them to put their hives onto our land. I swear I could smell that honey on the wind long before he brought it back to share with the family—our year’s supply that we would filter through screens to remove broken bits of wax and bee bodies and pour into bottles to line a foot-long space on the narrow shelves of the pantry.

I remember breaking off a piece of the broken comb to chew like sugared gum—sweet July memories of summer as well as later memories of the silken feel of that honey trailed onto hot buttered corn muffins in the morning. It solved my winter hunger for sweet and fueled me up for a morning of  books and chalkboards and sharpened pencils on blue-lined rough yellow paper.

 

The prompt words  for  The Sunday Whirl, Wordle 538 are: broken silk dust leaving truck family sign hunger wind books honey and black. Two of the images are by  Alisa Reutova and Mariana Ibanez  on Unsplash.

Fernweh

Family trip to Idaho, 1950

 

I’m putting the prompt words first today as they include two obscure words and giving definitions to save you the problem of looking them up if, like me, you don’t already know the meanings. Prompt words today are fernweh (a German word that means the opposite of homesickness–a craving for travel or longing for distant places you have not yet visited), facetious, blanket, vellicate (to pluck, twitch, nip, pinch or cause to twitch), and complex.

Fernweh

I miss it, that feeling of fernweh–a craving for travel or a longing for distant places not yet visited that is one of my very earliest memories. I remember standing by the highway that passed through our town just two blocks south of the house I grew up in and longing to be that child with her nose pressed against the window looking back at me as the car she was in whizzed past. Who were they, these people in the cars that passed in strings through our little town each summer? “They are tourists” my mother told me, and I imagined tourists to be perpetual travelers with no homes of their own. What did I want to be when I grew up? “A tourist,” I would reply. Everyone laughed at what they considered to be a facetious reply. They had no idea that I meant exactly that.

Although I had been on short trips before–at the age of three, to visit relatives in Idaho, at the age of 8, to accompany my parents when they drove my sister to college in Iowa, other one-day trips to drive my sisters to summer camp, when I was 12, my family finally took the long vacation I always begged them to take. They left it up to me to decide where we were going, and I declared that I wanted us to start out and then take turns deciding which way to go. When we came to the first crossroads, I said “Left!” At the next crossroads it was my sister’s turn, then my mother’s and finally my father’s for two glorious weeks. We all agreed that it was a wonderful vacation. Because he never knew where we were going, my father couldn’t press us more quickly toward our destination than we may have chosen to go and so we stopped numerous times along the way and spent as long in each spot as we wished to. We saw cousins we had heard about but never met and visited old neighbors in Minnesota, just “dropping in,” but always being urged to spend the night, and doing so.

We wound up on the shores of Lake Superior–which to me looked like one of the oceans I had always dreamed of visiting. I remember sneaking out at night to collect water and sand from the lake in an empty prescription container—the rush of the waves dashing against the rocks, the blanket of stars overhead, that smell of freedom I had been longing to experience my entire life. It would be eight years more before I actually saw an ocean and at that time I would spend four months on it, sailing around the world. My parents thought it would solve my fernweh, but little did they know. The minute I graduated from college, I was off again.. to Australia, and then to parts more wild for four long years before finally returning home.

Life is complex and I have found that I am rarely able to predict what will happen next. That lust for change that has driven me my whole life to leave friends behind to explore foreign countries, to leave houses and careers I’ve spent years building to take off for the great unknown—that need to be the stranger and to face situations I have been in no way prepared for—has taken me to all but one of the seven continents. It is as though those yearnings for strangeness and change were errant hairs that needed to be vellicated and travel was the only way in which to pluck them.

So how does a person like me deal with the forced isolation that the coronavirus has foisted upon us all? Strangely enough, it has alleviated a guilt that has been creeping up on me for the past few years—a strange feeling of contentment regarding where I am and what I am doing. I am taking an intense pleasure in my own back yard, instigating changes in my house and garden that I’ve been too busy to attend to in my past years of going here and there. I am sorting through pictures of past travel, reading disks from long-dead computers that chronicle the adventures of long ago. I am starting to dread trips away from home, to enjoy days where I see no one, go nowhere. In taking off for longer trips inwards, I am perhaps growing into myself, seeking satisfaction there, perhaps because it is a richer place to be because of a lifetime of venturing out.

Heading out into the Timor Sea on a WWII tank barge, 1973

Cold Snap

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Cold Snap

As she awakened from her afternoon nap, she could see the glow of the lit-up dial of the alarm clock even through her closed eyelids. Everything on her body was thinning out. Her hair hung so limply that all she could do was to push it behind her ears and smooth it back from where it formed fuzzy little swirls on her forehead. Her arms sprouted an archipelago of purplish dry torn bruises—new ones every time she knocked up against a door frame or pruned the thunbergia vines. No one ever mentioned these bruises, although her children were perceptive and must have noticed them on those occasions when they stopped by on their way home from work to bring her groceries or to open the damper in the chimney and check that the gas lines had not clogged up over the summer.

Today it was her son who rang her doorbell to check up on her and accept a fast cup of coffee. It was going to be a cold winter, he lectured, so she needed a fire. Did she want him to light it for her? No, she wasn’t cold, but she would do it herself later, she insisted.  For the hundredth time, he lectured her on being careful to make sure the pilot was working every time, then feigned interest in what sparse news she had to impart. She feared her subscription to life had expired along with most of her friends. What new did she have to say about this week’s installment of Mrs. Maisel or even the weather, now that it had turned gray and unchangeable––much like her life?

After ten minutes, he was off to children and wife and supper, and she was glad for this. She kissed him good-bye. A good boy. She had been fortunate in her life. She moved over to the fireplace. It was cold already, she thought, as she  bent over to close the damper and blow out the standing pilot light on the fireplace, then turned on the gas.

Prompt words today are dial, chimney, expired, perceptive and work.

A Hamburger for Breakfast (by Forgottenman) Reblog

I couldn’t find a reblog button on Forgottenman’s post, but he gave me permission to quote a bit and give a link. This is a fun essay. Check it out!

A Hamburger for Breakfast

–by Forgottenman               

Dad and I were apparently very close when I was a baby, based on the photos my mom took. But the disengagement came later, when I was about three, when Mom took control. Control.

I grew up right here where I type this, in this very house. Playing outside here as a kid there were always summer crickets to be found, to be chased and caught, and to be kindly released. Occasionally, one would make his way inside the house, but his song made it easy for us to track him down, to catch him, and to release him outside. It’s different today.

In the summer of 1960 I was eight years old. I was a smart kid but (therefore?) floundering in what to make of life, of family. One day Dad mentioned he and his buddy Carmack were going fishing Saturday at Duck Creek (not really a creek, but rather a man-made cypress swamp created by the Missouri Conservation Department). Somehow, he gauged me and decided to ask if I’d like to join them on the excursion. I nervously accepted. I had never been fishing before.

I had already disappointed him, and he had disappointed me. When I was four I was thrilled when he promised he’d take me the next day to pick up our new 1955 Chevy Bel Air at the car dealer, but he “let” me sleep in instead. (I still can’t forgive him, though he is ten years gone. I was devastated.) A few years later he would take me to little league baseball sign-up night, but I couldn’t get up the nerve to go inside. A few years after that he stormed out at me when I relayed a message from Mom that made him mad – and she made him apologize to me when he returned. I knew early I wasn’t the son he had hoped for. I know now that I never would be, exactly, although we would eventually, um – accommodate. But Dad invited me to go fishing with him that day in 1960, and that moment was perfect.

….read the rest of the story HERE.

Great Kiskadee

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My friend Andy just published a wonderful shot of a Great Kiskadee that he captured in La Manzanilla, a town on the West Coast of Mexico.  It brought back memories of two different sightings I’ve had of one, both in the town where I live in Mexico, San Juan Cosala.  HERE is a link to my photos of my second sighting and below is a story I wrote about the first one I ever saw and the lady who inspired the story.

“Great Kiskadee”

I think every little girl has crushes on older girls.  Many years ago when I was living in Australia, the little girl who lived next door once said, “When I grow up I’m going to marry you!” When her sister, full of wisdom at age 8, explained that girls didn’t marry girls,  she said, “Oh.  Then when I grow up I’m going to marry my dog.”  It was the first time I was pretty sure that a little girl had a crush on me and it seemed to signal one of those switching-over times when we ourselves become what we have formerly observed.

Since then, a progression of little neighborhood girls have come to bake cookies or to sing along to my horrendous guitar playing or to do art projects.  Now that I’m in Mexico, they come to learn English.  It’s a treat for them to see my house and see what a foreign lady wears and eats, what her friends are like.  But I don’t think they have crushes on me.

That phenomenon of the crush is dependent  not only on the age of the one who bears the crush but also on the age and manner of its recipient.  As a little girl, I had crushes on three neighborhood girls.  One, the eldest, was independent, tomboyish, and friendly to me.  She grew up, married a rancher and moved away. The second was pretty, a talented piano player who lived with her maiden aunt.  She married a bully and grew silent and reclusive.  The third was our neighbor Patty Peck, my sister Patti’s best friend.  She, too, was a talented musician as well as a straight A student.

She was an only child, and I admired the attention her parents seemed to extend to her and to me, too, when once I stayed with them for a few days when my parents left town.  In her home there was more care, more rules.  I felt fragile, as though I might break.  Every time I left the house, I needed to tell them where I went.  This made me feel valuable.  The first day I was there, her mother Elsa gave me a paper upon which was written the day’s menu.  I was to make a check by any food I didn’t like so she could change the menu to meet my likes.  This was astounding to me.  Some of the foods I didn’t really know, since they were vegetables never served by my mother, and mealtime became an adventure.

After dinner, I could go out to play for a few hours until night time.  I decreased my range, proudly boasting to my cohorts that I couldn’t go beyond the school yard block in playing hide and seek because I was being taken care of by the Pecks and they didn’t want me out of calling distance.

This special feeling extended to Patty Peck as well.  She was birdlike–a pretty dark-haired high strung girl.  She had a nervous little laugh that seemed refined.  She paused  a moment before answering, as though she was taking care to think things over before she spoke–a quality rare in our world.

Of course, being four years younger and the little sister of her best friend, I never got to spend as much time with her as I might wish to.  This was mainly due to my own sister’s guarding of her friends.  I was “little” and my presence destroyed some fine balance among her and her friends, who seemed to be more exotic, fun and adventurous than my stay-at-home careful group.  My sister’s gang staged circuses and plays, charging admission.  They played Tarzan, complete with costumes.  My sister was Cheetah, Patty Peck was Jane–the most exotic role.  I could watch if my sister didn’t notice I was watching.  But Patty Peck, who had no sister of her own, was nice to me and seemed to like to have me along.  She never treated me as a pest.  I always had this feeling that if it weren’t for that selfish sister of mine, that we would be friends.

This came to be true my sophomore year in high school when she asked me to come to Augustana College, all the way across the state, to stay in her dorm for little sisters’ weekend.  I went, thrilled, and was as nervous as if a movie star had asked me over for a few days.  I worried about what I wore.  I tried to be neat and clean.  When we went out to eat, I worried about what to order.  But everything was fine.  She introduced me to her friends, took me to her favorite haunt for cinnamon rolls.  I think there was a banquet or some staged events, but for me the best part of the whole weekend was finally getting to have Patty Peck for my own friend.

After that, we wrote a few times before going off into our individual lives.  I went off to Australia and Africa, she married a handsome outgoing man and moved for awhile into a cabin high in the mountains of Montana.  During the winter, they had to snowshoe in, which I of course found to be exotic.  Also, it was untypical.  I was thrilled that she was living a life so unlike the one I might have imagined for her.  This careful “inside” girl,  studious and musical, chose a life-of-the-party regular Joe and let him carry her off to the wilds.  I loved that.

Later, when she  got her Masters in Microbiology and then went on to get her Ph.D., it seemed a more believable course for her life to take.  Amazed that anyone could maneuver successfully the upper realms of science and math beyond trigonometry and chemistry, I was only amazed–not surprised.  I could picture her in the white lab coat leaning over an electron microscope.  I could imagine her care, her graceful movements transferring the test tube from location to location.

I missed imagining her with Jerry, her ex-husband. When I pictured them together, I always thought of her as being called forth out of herself, giggling perhaps, a bit silly.  Brought to that place by him.  But I knew there was that scholarly alone place in her, too, that place that also needed satisfying.  That person sat on the high stool in the laboratory of my imagination, looking closely, evaluating.

Of my three crushes, she was the only one who remained  in my life.  For years I knew all of the turns of her life through my sister.

During our thirties and forties,  our relationships with former classmates and town mates  survived long distance.  We met at high school all-class reunions every five years or stopped in while passing through each others’ towns.  Then as we got less busy, we took more time to renew the closeness of old relationships.  Patty Peck began to take once yearly visits from Baltimore to Wyoming, where my sister lived.

Once, when I was visiting at the same time, we watched fireworks together and trekked up to the medicine wheel that was miles out of town.  As my sister and another friend walked ahead,   Patty Peck and I fell into walking together. I liked the person she had become or perhaps remained.  Interested in wildflowers, medicine wheels, cloud formations.  The scientific part of her noticed the minute world just as the artistic part of me did.  There seemed to be no difference.  You could go slowly and she understood that it was not out of laziness but out of a need to see it all, notice it all.  Her scientific mind recorded the details that I had to sketch quickly onto paper to remember.

Years later when she was one of three Pattys who came to visit me in Mexico all at the same time, I found that she had not changed.  She devoured my bird books, leaving little stick-it notes jutting out from pages, recording on them which birds she had positively identified.  She’d get up at six and sit on the patio recording the birds.  I, who had recently lost my husband and moved to this country where I knew no one, had quickly fixated on birds and insects with an insatiable interest.  The plot of my past six months had centered almost entirely upon them.  It was as though we had a child in common. I ate up her interest and her contribution to my informal research.  I had wanted that brilliant bird to be a red-breasted sapsucker so badly.  The story I was writing depended upon that exotic bird being in it,  and she had concurred in my opinion.

I took to getting up early and joining her.  It was a special time without distraction when I got to have the extra older sister of my childhood dreams.  Over the years, my relationship to my real sister Patti had augmented and mellowed into the relationship I always yearned for when I was little.  She listened, took care and valued me as much as I valued her.  But I had felt that neighbor Patty had felt that way about me even as a little girl, and it was fun to be on an equal footing, the  difference in our ages having been canceled out by our both passing age 50.   Now our varying interests, careers and life choices had brought us to this same place–my early morning patio overlooking Lake Chapala in Mexico.

I always imagined that trip of the three Pattys–my best friend, my sister and my sister’s best friend, would become a yearly event and I looked forward to it becoming so.  Next year, we wouldn’t float four abreast on the queen-sized air mattress; drinking margaritas and laughing for so long that we’d all get sunburns.  Next year, we’d continue our indexing and notation of the birds in my world.  Next year, we’d find different places to walk now that the lake was full and our former walking grounds covered by water.

Of course, in real life, those next year plans don’t always happen, and so it was for the three Patty reunion.  But on the shelf next to my computer is the vivid blue book titled “Mexican Birds” and sticking out from its pages like bright yellow plumage are the miniature sticky notes embellished with her fine flourished script.  “Vermillion Flycatcher, Violet-crowned Hummingbird, Great Kiskadee” she has written, defining my world for me, leaving me a gift, a communication.

Recently, my sister Patti has gone out to to see her old friend for what will probably be the last time. They say that there is a good likelihood that her stage 4 cancer was brought on by her extensive use of electron microscopes in her work as a microbiologist.  I hope that as those closest to her come near to share her next journey, that they will all find the words they need to find for each other.  So far away, I wish I could comfort her, comfort my sister.  If I could get my emotions enough in check to talk, I’d call, and perhaps will.  But for now, I try to send strength, energy.  As I think of her, I can feel something from inside of me stream out toward her.  She might have a scientific name for what I just experience as healing energy; there might be a theory in physics to explain it.  But for me, I am sending a current composed of all of our short moments together combined with every time I have thought of her, admired her, wished that we were closer friends in proximity and sentiment.  I add my little stream to all of those who love her most.  And on the shelf near my computer, from the pages of the little blue bird book, she speaks back.

Good bye my friend and neighbor.  I’ll miss you.

Love, Judy

Midnight Tryst at the Horticultural Society Ball

Midnight Tryst at the Horticultural Society Ball

In spite of our earlier indecision, when our eyes met in passing on the dance floor, they sealed the tacit agreement that we would slip into the garden at the set hour. Later, we would try but fail to furnish an adequate excuse to our spouses of the reason for our mutual midnight escape. Even our shots of the night-blooming  cereus could not adequately explain our defection. It was as though we carried the scent of our desire-—as heady as the scent of that rare flower-—back to the hall with us. A universal blanket of dispraise settled over the crowd, in spite of the excitement over our viewing of the rare bloom. Everyone knew. Our mutual fate was sealed.

The prompt words for today are garden, tacit, dispraise and desire. I also made use of Cee’s FOTD flower prompt.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/02/19/rdp-tuesday-garden/
https://fivedotoh.com/2019/02/19/fowc-with-fandango-tacit/
https://onedailyprompt.wordpress.com/2019/02/19/your-daily-word-prompt-dispraise-february-19-2019/
https://wordofthedaychallenge.wordpress.com/2019/02/19/desire/
https://ceenphotography.com/2019/02/18/fotd-february-18-2019-crocus-2/

Three Stories Miraculously Bonded into One

Click on the first photo to enlarge all photos and read the captions.  You must do this first to reveal the mystery.  What do all of these things have in common? Can you guess before reading the complete story printed after the photos and captions? Do you even want to?

Annie just peed in my shower––I mean a man-sized stream that arced up from where she was standing on the floor in front of the shower, over the 6 inch ledge and into the shower, where  it ran from a couple of feet away right down the drain. I shouted, “No, no,” but she finished and ran away. Then I remembered that I’d cleaned out her box this morning in the location where it is located in the  guest room shower and had to empty all the sand and wash out the box and under it because there was pee all over the shower floor, probably because all the cats were in yesterday and had used it and it was not pleasant to enter, so she just peed in the shower, or they did.

Anyway, I had sprayed ammonia over all the floor and box, scrubbed them both and then sprayed again with an odor eradicator and stood the box on end to dry while the shower floor dried. Then I closed the door so she didn’t go in there while it was drying. Unfortunately, I then left to drive Yolanda home, do a bit of shopping and stop by the fraccionamiento office to see if I’d paid my special assessment. I then stopped by a couple of neighbor’s houses to apologize for Diego’s barking while I was gone–another story–forgetting that I hadn’t opened the door to her guest room bathroom and set up her litter box again, so she had nowhere to pee. She did it in the easiest place to clean. Good girl.
Phew. Telling about it took as much effort as doing the two cleanups, but now the plot thickens.

Yesterday I knocked a bottle of dark rose-colored nail polish off the counter of my master bedroom bathroom and it dropped and broke on the eggshell-colored ceramic tile of my bathroom, spraying across 8 feet of floor, over the new rug I had just bought in the states, and a bit up the wall. Rapidly drying pools of bright polish and splatters mixed in with shards of glass and tiny pieces of glass made passing through the bathroom to the tub nearly impossible! Damn! How to clean it up without walking through it and cutting my fingers to shreds? I ended up wadding Kleenex and toilet paper and picking up what shards were big enough to see, then used nail polish remover pads to tackle the polish, removing big gobs with Kleenex, then carefully scrubbing with the pads. When I ran out of pads, I put polish remover on wads of Kleenex, but it was a big job.

When I had cleared away most of the bigger puddles and largest shards and removed most of the polish off the wall and rug, I had just the decorative splashes left—about 3 feet of them—it occurred to me then that the first thing forgottenman would say when I told him the story was, “Did you take pictures?” No, I hadn’t. So, now that most of the mess was already cleaned up,  I did.  Secondly, it occurred to me that I should just pour the rest of the bottle of polish remover over the floor and use my foot in my Croc to rub Kleenex over them. I wouldn’t have to worry about glass and could apply more pressure. I finally got it all up and then put more remover down and rubbed over larger areas to remove the stain, as that porous area now sported an overall  pinkish glow.

Finally, coming up to the present and Annie’s peeing in the shower, when I was mopping up her urine with toilet paper so I could flush it, I found a pretty good sized clear shard of glass from the top part of the jar which had no polish on it to make it obvious, jagged end facing up, in the shower just where I would have stepped when I took my next shower. It had flown up and over the edge and into the shower when the nail polish bottle broke! Good Annie! Her foresight (or hindsight?) in peeing in my shower probably saved me a serious injury.

But! Did I really say finally? As I was writing this post, the plot thickened again. Just before I started writing this post and taking the photos to accompany it, I had put a small pan of Brussels sprouts on to steam. Since there were only seven largish sprouts, I used a steamer basket in a small covered saucepan with water up to the bottom of the steamer bottom.  I had cut the tops of each sprout almost through to the bottom in an X pattern, and as I sprinkled them with “No Salt,” pepper, garlic powder and a bit of balsamic vinegar, I was remembering the last Brussels sprouts I’d had when I first got to Sheridan two months ago.  They were served as an appetizer in a restaurant and since both my sister and Jim, her husband, hate them, it was up to my friend Patty, her boyfriend Duffy and me to polish off the whole batch.  That was no problem.  They were delicious—piquant and a bit charred with a wonderful smoky flavor.  I was wondering how I could duplicate that recipe.  Would I steam them first, then char them? What were the spices? For years I’d been using a friend’s recipe which I loved but I liked these even better.

At any rate, the present day Brussels sprouts went on the gas stovetop to steam and I went to the bathroom to survey the scene and to write this story, then to my desk in the bedroom to finish it.  One thing led to another and a half hour had passed before I finished typing the story.  When I came back to the living room to plug in my computer, edit photos and post, I heard a sizzling and rapid rocking sound and smelled a burning smell.  Damn! The Brussels sprouts!  I quickly turned off the gas under the completely waterless smoking saucepan, removed the sprouts with tongs and took the pan to the sink, running hot water over the charred black inside of the pan.  Yes. More hissing and steam, but then, mindlessly, I turned the pan over and ran cold water over the burning hot pan.  Instantly, an explosion of steam so intense that it removed the color from the outside of the enamel pan that was nearest to its bottom. 

Luckily, I had a huge box of baking soda and two partially full bottles of cider vinegar.  Into the pan they went with the expected chemical reaction: rapidly swelling foam and more hissing. I did a rigorous scrubbing with a scrubber sponge and Spongedaddy, using lots of muscle power as well as more soda and vinegar.  Scrub scrub scrub.  Although I got some of the char off the sides, I made little progress with the bottom of the inside of the pan. 

As I left the pan in the sink to soak, I spied the Brussels sprouts neglected on the counter.  I mixed up a bit of stevia in balsamic vinegar and sprinkled it over the sprouts. Swirled them a bit, then decided to taste. I think you’ve guessed the ending.  Yup.  They tasted exactly like the Brussels sprouts appetizer in the restaurant in Sheridan, Wyoming.  So, again, thanks Annie. I’ll think twice before scolding you for any future misdeeds.  But I’m going to have to buy a new pan.  xoxoxo