Tag Archives: Essays

Love Letters to Bad Men by Gloria Palazzo

I love this piece written by my friend Gloria Palazzo, pictured above.  She doesn’t have a blog but has given me permission to present it here:

 

Love Letters to Bad Men

I love Bill because he tried his best to be a good father. He worked long hours to bring home money. He taught me how to ride a two wheeler. It was an old green one with fat tires and the boy who owned it got killed in the war. Bill  called me, “Hatface.”  He said I looked good in the ladies hats he made in his factory.

I love my mother’s second husband, Albert, because even though he was not a nice person he took good care of my mother while she was sick with Alzheimer’s.

I love my half brother Ted because he is very kind, He is also very big and even though he is so much younger than me, because of his size and teddy bear gentleness, I can make believe that he is the older brother I always wished I had.

I love my first boyfriend Ronnie Unger because his parents brought him to Rockaway and he used to keep me company while I baby sat. I was twelve and he was thirteen. When the family returned the following summer, he still liked me. I was surprised.

I love Henry Nellon because he used to sit on the railing on the boardwalk and smoke Lucky Strike cigarettes. He was seventeen and looked like James Dean. I was fourteen and taught myself to smoke just so that I could ask him to light my cigarette. I still loved him even after he told me that he loved this red head who I thought was ugly.

I love Jimmy Corrigan because his sister introduced us and he became our high school president. We were so popular that the kids on the bus saved seats for us. His parents did not approve of me and so he stopped coming around. I went to his house on Halloween and they didn’t know it was me behind that silly mask.

I love Robert Hutter because he was the smartest student in his class and he was studying to be a brain surgeon. He bought me a dictionary for my birthday, I once sneaked out of my dormitory to go with him to watch Syracuse and Cornell play football. He slipped out of my life but surfaced in my thoughts every day for eleven years.

I love Jules Schussler because he is the father of my children and because his mother was a great cook. He helped me to escape my home because I did not have the guts to run away. He was a good dancer and taught me to dance the Mambo. He also had an infectious laugh.

I love Steve because he was my first baby. He is very handsome. When he started to walk he looked so cute waddling around with my big old coffee pot. He didn’t like toys. Only the coffee pot. I once heard his brother say he was a chrome magnum. I do not know what that is.

I love Robert because he was a beautiful baby with big blue eyes and curly blond hair. He looked like an angel, but the devil got into him for a while. It was in the form of beer, marijuana and pretty girls. Later he became the best driver that UPS ever had. My grandson Jason calls him dad.

I love John because he was my last baby. He was such a good baby. His dedication to his studies and his devotion to me were a treasure. His affection and loyalty kept me on a sane course when everything around me seemed to be falling apart.

I love Fred Hollis because he taught me how to drive long distances in a big truck carrying heavy machinery. He also taught me how to put a worm on a hook, catch a fish, unhook it, clean it, and then fry it up right there on the beach and savor the solitude of togetherness in nature.

I love Jim Palazzo for all the right reasons. He adored women. He also liked them. I carried acres of sadness and anger when we met and he taught me to love and trust with truth and honesty. Thank you, Jim. And thanks too for the name, PALAZZO.

I love Dell Krietel because he lifted me right out of Walmart’s where I was demonstrating Kodak cameras. We made love the way it is described in steamy novels. That was one hell of an awakening. The affair lasted 3 months, but the residual lingers on.

I love Perry Frankland because he was funny and very rich. We met by chance in Bimini where we enjoyed a three day love affair. It was supposed to end there, but it didn’t and we hop scotched in Tampa society for two years. Fate separated us when he didn’t recover from surgery. His death shattered my dreams but be continues to visit me every time I see a butterfly.

I love Archie because his wagging tail and loving eyes never faltered even though he was often scolded for messes and spills. He pawed his way into our hearts and barked dutifully to protect us.

My last great love leaves a trail of smoking dust and jagged tears as this broken heart tiptoes, ever searching for just one more “bad” man.

 

Love that this piece pretty much becomes Gloria’s autobiography.  I challenge anyone who might be interested to write their own piece of this type—a love letter to bad anything: food, pets, relatives, hats, choices—you name it.  If you do, please post a link in the comments below.

Controlled Chaos

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The other day in a comment to another blogger, I said something on the order of how I think life is cyclical.  We go from the intuitive state of children to the increasingly rational world of the adult and then, as we retire and age (or age and retire, depending on how anxious we are to do so) and get on to the next stage, we start evolving back into the state we were in as children.  We perhaps start to forget details of the present in favor of remembering vividly details of our past. Our present seems to fall into an increasing sense of disorder as our past comes back with a strange clarity.  In the farther stages of dementia, this seems to be true as well.

Judging by the fragmented comments made by my sister who is experiencing the journey of Alzheimer’s, she seems to be going backwards through her life.  In her mind, she was for awhile once again married to a husband from whom she had been divorced for twenty-five years.  A year later, she was talking about her high school boyfriend as though he was waiting for her; and this year, when given a baby doll, she sat rocking it and calling it Judy.  Eleven years older than me, I’m sure she was remembering me as a baby.  More proof of my theory, because she has had three children and five grandchildren since she rocked me in that long-ago rocking chair, most of whom she doesn’t remember.

All of this speculating is a roundabout method of preparing you for what I really want to talk about, and that is the topic of “chaos.”  As we age, our rational mind seems to give way to intuition–forgetting details like what we are driving to town to do or what we came from the bedroom to the living room to find. Instead, we wander from task to task as we get distracted by whatever our eye falls upon, much as we did as children.

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In a similar fashion,  objects collect on the table-like headboard of my bed and on my night tables. Have you ever seen the room of  a teenager?  A perfect example of chaos.  Dirty clothes and caked ice cream dishes are swept under the bed, dirty clothes are in piles mixed in with the clean ones delivered by mom a week earlier, magazines, electrical equipment, soccer balls and school books all seem to be placed in the same category and spread evenly over the surfaces of the room.

The bedroom or playroom of a toddler or child seems to follow the same organizational plan:  Leggos, the detached limbs of G.I. Joes or Barbies, coloring books, plastic kid-sized furniture, trikes, blocks, kiddie computer games, unmatched socks, clothes outgrown months ago, plastic trucks and assorted game pieces from kiddie games cover the floor as though organized by a tornado into the perfect organizational plan of a child: chaos.

So it was in the house of my oldest sister.  Every year, more piles appeared in her bedroom.  Her kitchen drawers were a jumble of knives, jewelry, old electrical receipts, diamond rings, half full medicine bottles, plastic lids to butter tubs, photographs, drawings her children had done twenty years before, unused postal stamps and corroded batteries.

When I visited a few months before she went into a managed care facility, hoping  I could facilitate her staying in her house for at least another year, I reorganized her house–– putting labels on all her drawers.  In the bedroom, I sorted out a tangle of necklaces, rings, earrings and bracelets.  In doing so,  I discovered  23 watches–all dysfunctional.

“Betty, why do you have so many watches?”

“Oh, they all stopped working.”

“Did you exchange the batteries?”

“Oh, you can do that?”

Now I look at the boxes of slides and photos of the art work of my husband and me–sorted and condensed from four boxes  into two boxes, then abandoned unfinished when I needed to use the dining room table to entertain guests. Now the unresolved mess resides between the bed and the closet in my bedroom. Sigh.

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There are junk drawers I’ve been shoving things into for 15 years thinking one day I’ll sort them.  Boxes of miscellaneous papers I packed up 15 years ago to bring to Mexico still sit untouched in my garage.

Like the rest of the universe, having come from the chaos of childhood, I seem to be returning to it and I wonder what the solution will be.  Perhaps, as many of my friends have, I will start shedding the accumulations of a lifetime and simplify my life so there is less in it to be transformed into chaos.  Or, perhaps as has been my pattern for the past 15 years, since divesting myself of most of my possessions to move to Mexico, I will continue to collect thousands of little items for my art collages, dozens of bracelets, rings, necklaces, earrings–even though I wear only a few favorites.

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Perhaps I’ll continue to buy the books of friends, the paintings of talented Mexican artists, huipiles from the market, woven purses and alebrijes from beach vendors, gelato makers from the garage sales of friends.

I have a special fondness for one basket vendor who sells the lovely baskets made by his family in Guerrero. I have them in every shape–square, obelisk, round, rectangular–as well as every size from coin purse to three feet tall.  Yet I keep buying them because I admire his perseverance.  For the fifteen years I’ve been here, he has traversed the carretera from Chapala to Jocotepec, laden front, back and to each side with these baskets.  He wears five straw hats piled neatly one on top of the other on his head.  Baskets nest within other baskets or are threaded onto a long cord and worn diagonally over his chest.

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He is a a master of organization–and to query about any basket as one sits at at table in the Ajijic plaza  will invite his ceremony as he divests himself of baskets to display them.  Soon the floor around your table will be covered in so many baskets it seems impossible that one man has been carrying them up and down the ten miles between the towns on this side of the lake–all day and for years long before I moved here.  His is an incredible sense of organization that is the opposite of chaos, and in admiration, if I am unable to persuade visiting friends to buy his baskets, I always buy something myself.

Back home, I fill one with outgrown underwear, another with scarves, another with old keys and padlocks I may one day need.  It is as though his organization rubs off on me as I fill baskets, instilling some order into a life potentially chaotic–but at the moment held within the confines of normalcy.

Ten years ago, my other sister opened my junk drawer in my kitchen and declared, “There is no excuse for anyone to have a drawer like this.”  Because I know of no one who does not have a drawer like that, I was somewhat surprised, and was especially surprised because before her visit I had more or less organized my junk drawer.

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But now I look around and realize I have a number of those drawers.  In spite of the basket vendor’s good example, my sense or organization seems to be veering toward having a special drawer to thrust categories of things into: batteries, items of clothing, kitchen tools, jewelry.  Controlled chaos––the way of the universe and certainly the seeming course of our lives. For some of us, at least.

(If you are dying to make out exactly what is in these drawers, clicking on the photos will enlarge your view.  Snoopy!)

 

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

Saved!

The Prompt: Sink or Swim. Tell us about a time when you were left on your own, to fend for yourself in an overwhelming situation — on the job, at home, at school. What was the outcome? For once, I’m going to take the prompt literally.  I wrote about this in January, so I’m going to use a rewrite of the tale I told at that time.

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Saved!

Although I’ve never had a child of my own, I love children; and from a very early age, my eye in any social situation was always drawn to babies. When I was little and my mother would take me along to meetings of her Progressive Study Club, I would always stand in the bedroom to watch the babies spread out on the bed by their mothers, surrounded by their coats.  In a similar fashion, I notice babies in restaurants and on the street––  especially babies who are facing backwards over the shoulders of their parents.  I love seeing what they are looking at––who they are communicating with through their eyes and their smiles.  I love it that babies have a private life even in the company of their parents.

In this modern age of child abductions and pedophiles, parents might find this creepy, no matter how benign one’s motive is in watching their children; but in my case, if they have not forgotten, there are two sets of parents who should feel very grateful for my interest in their children; for although I have never birthed a child, I am responsible for the presence of two children, now grown to adults, who would not be here but for me. In both cases, I saved a baby from drowning.  Both times, although there were other people in the proximity, they were in social situations where no one noticed what was going on as the baby nearly came to harm.

One of the times was at a housewarming party given by my boyfriend’s son in California.  We’d all been given the tour, including the garden and hot tub, which was up on a raised patio out of view of the house.  As we stood in the living room talking and drinking before the meal was served,  I noticed that the toddler of one of the couples was not with his mother. Looking into the other room, I saw he wasn’t with his father, either, and I suddenly had a strong feeling that something was wrong.

I ran out of the house and into the garden just in time to see him at the top of the stairs leading to the hot tub.  He toddled over to the side, fell in and sank like a stone.  I ran up the stairs, jumped into the hot tub and fished him from the bottom before he ever bobbed to the surface.  I remember the entire thing in slow motion and have a very clear memory of the fact that it seemed as though his body had no tendency to float at all, but would have remained at the bottom of the deep hot tub.

The parents’ reaction was shock.  I can’t remember if they left the party or if they really realized how serious it was.  I know they didn’t thank me, which is of no importance other than a measure of either their inability to face the fact that their child had been within seconds of drowning or simply their shock and the fact they were thinking only of their child.

Strangely enough, this had happened before, at a stock pond just outside of the little South Dakota town where I grew up.  Everyone went swimming there, as there was no pool in town.  When I was still in junior high, I’d just arrived when I saw a very tiny girl—really just a baby—fall into the dam (what we called a pond) and sink straight down under the very heavy moss that grew on the top of the water.  Her mother had her back turned, talking to a friend, and no one else noticed.  I jumped in and fished her out, returning her to her mother, who quickly collected her other children and left.  Again, no word of thanks.  It is not that it was required, and I mention it here only because it happened twice and, having not thought about this for so many years, I am wondering if it wasn’t embarrassment and guilt on the part of the parents that made them both react so matter-of-factly.

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/sink-or-swim/

Believe

 

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Believe

I don’t know of anyone who loves Christmas as much as my mother did. She could barely wait for Thanksgiving to be over to put up her tree. Those trees were covered with icicles, bubble lights, angel hair and boxes and boxes of ornaments saved and added to over the years: blue or pink plastic birds whose legs fit over the branches so they seemed to be standing on them, a treetop angel with spun white hair and a face cracked and marbled over with age, strands of large lights and later dozens of strands of miniature ones, homemade ornaments, glass balls, plastic stars, candy canes—each year the number of ornaments grew. The tree was always fresh and the largest she could find, screwed into the Christmas tree holder that held water to keep the needles from falling off for as long as possible.

Under the tree was always a skirt of White pull-apart Christmas “snow,” a plastic church that lit up inside and presents, presents, presents: handmade gifts from the church bazaar, clothes and toys purchased in Pierre, 60 miles away or ordered from the Montgomery Wards or Sears catalogs. The tree went up the day after Thanksgiving and came down only after the new year had arrived, but the pine needles in the carpet crevasses and its borders along the wall remained like hidden memories to be discovered for months afterwards.

The year my mother died, my sister Patti could not bear to think of putting up a tree or celebrating Christmas. I was far away in Mexico and it was the first year in her life that she hadn’t celebrated Christmas with my mother. I knew she was grieving, but I was deep in my own sadness of the past year. In January, I had a hysterectomy and on the day I returned from the hospital, I learned that my mother had gone into the hospital.

My doctor had forbidden air travel but we considered putting a mattress in the back of the van and having my husband drive me from California to Wyoming, but my sister assured me there was no need. It was nothing serious—just a bout of pneumonia. We’d been there for Christmas less than a month before and we could come again once my mother returned home from the hospital.

But that trip was never to be experienced, for within a week, my mother had passed away. In March, my husband Bob flew to Michigan to be with his mother who had gone into the hospital, and after ten days, she, too, passed away. Then in September, two days before we were to drive down to Mexico to move into our new house, Bob discovered he had cancer and lived just three weeks. All-in-all, a sad year that had been moderated by our happiness in looking forward to a new life in Mexico.

A few months after Bob’s death, I went forward into that new life, but my sister was left in the town where she and her husband lived and where my mother had lived for the last six years of her life. Everything around her reminded her of my mother; and with the advent of Christmas, those memories grew more poignant.

The small Wyoming town where my sister lives is two hours south of Billings, Montana, which is her usual shopping town and where she goes to get her hair cut and to the doctor. A few weeks before Christmas, when a friend asked her to accompany her on a shopping trip there, she agreed. Even though her heart was not in it, as they browsed in a local store, she bought a few items, paid for them with her credit card and carried the bag to the car.

It was not until she got home and unpacked the bag that she found the small  package in the bottom of her bag. She unwrapped it, trying to figure out just what it was––nothing, surely, that she had purchased. As she removed the final layer of paper, this is what was revealed:

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Where had it come from? How had it gotten into the bag? She had not purchased it. It was not listed on her receipt. Nor had her friend purchased it, so it wasn’t a case of the clerk putting it in the wrong bag.  Was it the last Christmas miracle provided by a mother who over the years had so faithfully purchased the new boxes of fragile icicles to hang above wrapped boxes that contained dolls, new Christmas dresses, ice skates, princess phones, bottles of bubble bath or miniature formals for our favorite dolls? Skunk games and paper dolls and books, first watches, necklaces, music boxes and drop seat pajamas? With no other explanation, my sister could not help but consider that perhaps it was a little message from my mother, urging her not to give up her faith in and enjoyment of Christmas.

It has been fourteen years since my mother died, and my sister has hung the ornament on her tree every Christmas since. It has been a few years since I spent Christmas with her, and I had forgotten this story, but yesterday, when I arrived in Phoenix to spend Christmas and took pictures of her tree, she repeated the story again.

Her tree is miniature in comparison with my mother’s tree, but it is infused with my mother’s love of Christmas and everything it entails —a childlike sense of wonder that to this very day, my mother encourages us to share. Tonight, as my sister and I fill stockings for each other, her husband Jim and the longtime friends who will arrive tomorrow, I’m sure she feels as I do––both of us “good girls” who are minding our mother by remembering to BELIEVE in the magic of Christmas.

HERE is a link to my favorite photo of my mother, plus other stories about her.

For more Christmas trees around the world, see: http://silverthreading.com/2015/12/06/christmas-trees-around-the-world/

and, consider posting a picture of your tree-topper HERE in Hugh’s blog to provide a meal for a hungry dog.

Crunchy, Soft and Piquant

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                                                Crunchy, Soft and Piquant

Potato chips, ketchup and cottage cheese! I imagine this pairing came about by accident one day at a school or church picnic on a too-small plate, and some flavor memory insists there were baked beans and a hamburger on the same plate; but somehow the vital ingredients came to be the salty-crunchy chips, the creamy-soft cheese and the piquant perfection of Hunts Ketchup. (For the uninitiated, the process is to dip the chip in the ketchup and then scoop up the cheese.)

I don’t usually keep potato chips in the house anymore because I can’t be trusted with them, and cottage cheese is so expensive in Mexico that I don’t usually buy it; but when I make a trip to Costco in Guadalajara, invariably I’ll come home with one of their huge containers of cottage cheese and somehow, magically, potato chips appear (If you buy it, they will come) and the house echoes with the strains of some culinary Indian Love Call coming from the heart of my fridge, “When I’m calling you u u u u u u.” And so it is that the unlikely trio are reunited once again, probably late at night when even the dogs are fast asleep and no one is looking.

(This is a rerun of a posting on the same subject two years ago.) And, in case you missed it, potato chips seem to figure predominantly in my postings about guilty pleasures.  Here is a different one. Potato chips are so versatile, aren’t they? : https://judydykstrabrown.com/2015/11/09/old-sins/ 

The Prompt: Tell us about a guilty pleasure that you hate to love.https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/hate-to-love/

 

Roar

 

Roar

The ceiling fans turn above five women. One holds an almond cookie in her mouth as her hands adjust her notebook and reach for her pen. She moves the rest of the cookie into her mouth with the hand that has finished turning to the correct page, then brushes away the crumbs from the glass table. Another woman sits hunched over a tablet in her lap. She is wearing a black swimsuit and sits on the white canvas cushion of a rattan couch.

A third taps on her computer—a fact that has driven her former sofa neighbor out to the terrace to write––that tapping too distracting. Next door, the crash of chisel on concrete furnishes a counter-tempo to the gentle tapping of the keys. The ocean swells in a continual basso…the notes and words of a plaintive Mexican song straining in over the fence as well. The sparseness of the view––sea dunes, succulent ground cover, crashing ocean and sky–– is augmented by so many sounds that they blend into a cacophony that can be overlooked…or underheard, as the case may be.

I am the fifth woman, and as the other four write about whatever world each is in, their imagined voices fill my thoughts to a point where my own voice is lost. I can only record what I see and hear. It is as though my own imagination has been sucked up by the morning, lost in the profusion of thoughts of others that grow like liana in my mind.

The blades on the fans spin. Tiny upside-down crosses are formed by the bolts that secure the glass globes of the lights below the fans. Like crucifixes the tortured have slipped free from, they stand useless as metaphors but necessary in actuality. All of the crucified have scurried away…survivors of someone else’s bigotry or fears or cruelty.

Some of the survivors climb up the legs of the coffee table and pull themselves onto my computer keys. They jump on keys to say, “We have voices that will not be stilled. We sacrifice that bullies may be overcome. We expect you to resist as we do. Frightening as it is, it is the only way. Life is choice after choice and those choices, if easy, are not worth making.”

I take over. Brush them like crumbs from my keyboard.  I get to choose how profound my life will be, at least on the page, and I don’t want to write about crucifixion, church bombings, the Paris massacre, the San Bernardino shootings. I have six friends who live in San Bernardino. I haven’t checked Facebook. I don’t want to know.

I want my senses filled with tappings and poundings and too-loud strains of music and where the fridge will go in the tiny new sleeping/feeding room I’m having constructed for my dogs. I want another almond cookie, and a sip, two sips of hazelnut coffee. Some of us have to have a happy life. Some need to go on in spite of the slaughter, greed, small-mindedness. We win in this way. Something exists in spite of the horrible chaos some would make of the world.

We win by fighting, but we also win by being. By remaining. By choosing to be happy. The ocean roars and sometimes I must roar, also. But not always.

Note: No, my essay above was not written to the prompt.  I did start a poem on the WordPress  life-line subject of fortune-telling, and I’ll publish it later, but on my way to posting it, I found this snippet written in response to a prompt at the three day women’s writing retreat I went to last week, so I want to publish it, too. (HERE is a link to my poem on the subject of fortune telling.)