Tag Archives: family stories

Grandma’s Last Christmas

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Grandma’s Last Christmas

Something took apart my beanie, ripping seam from seam,
stealing my favorite panel for its evil scheme.
Dad’s boxers and Mom’s flowered blouse likewise disappeared.
Our baby sister’s blankie the next thing commandeered.
Mother’s apron, then a snip from her wedding dress,
taken from an inner seam, so who would ever guess?
And who would even notice Father’s tie now missed an inch?
Was there no sacred item that they were loath to pinch?
Auntie’s favorite hanky. Uncle’s tobacco pouch.
Grandma’s antimacassar that graced her threadbare couch.
Grandpa thought the moths had been at his old red flannels,
and several of our curtains were missing parts of panels.

All of us superstitious about what we’d next lose,
a semi-official inquiry offered no clear clues.
Sister’s last year’s prom dress was the next sacrifice.
Was it a new type of moth? Was it rats or mice
operating with precision, taking a tidy square?
What creature did its robberies with such exquisite care?
A year passed and another year. We began our defections
as our lives led us here and there in various directions.
Home again for Christmas, then off again to lives
involving universities and jobs and kids and wives.
Until that special Christmas, gathered at Grandma’s bed,
with Grandpa at the foot of it and Mother at the head.

We kids gathered around each side, except, that is, for one.
That was the year that Sis had said she could not join the fun.
Our husbands, wives and girlfriends did not quite fill the space.
Not one of all our children quite made up for that face
missing in the middle. That favorite of all.
That special pesky sister, sliding down the hall
on a purloined skate board, or filching Halloween
candy from the sack you’d saved. Center of every scene
that involved tricks or mischief, yet only bent on fun.
No mean bone in her body. Not a single one.
We’d sung Gram’s favorite carol, and, about to sing one more,
we heard a footstep in the hall. A creaking of the door.

A cloth-swathed creature leaped at us, then swirled it overhead.
It settled over Grandma, resting lightly on her bed.
It was a quilt of many fabrics, many colors, many shapes
made of communion dresses, knickers and wedding capes,
prom dresses and baby blankets, doilies, curtain panels,
and right there in the middle were Grandpa’s old red flannels.
I found my purloined beanie and a boy scout badge I’d missed.
I even found a scarf I stole from the first girl I’d kissed.
We all gathered around it, and stories fell like snow
upon this quilt that told them all, and on Grandma below.
We ate our Christmas dinner gathered around that quilt.
Everyone so careful that not a crumb was spilt.

Grandma with her bed tray, fingered now and then
a scrap of cloth that told another story of back when.
We should have known, of course, that our sister was the schemer.
What other one among us was such an inventive dreamer?
She knew the time would come when, scattered far apart,
something would be needed to rejoin our family’s heart.
We had no idea then that what seemed a dereliction
was  a noble enterprise, founded on her conviction
that our family history must somehow be recorded.
She kept her project secret from us, lest it be aborted.
All our buried memories needed to come to light,
so she bound them all together, in stitches neat and tight.

The prompts today are deep, official, light, conviction and bean.

Easy Street

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Easy Street

Her wishful dreams did not include the latest Paris fashions.
Pedicures and facials were not numbered in her passions.
Being a wife and mother was what she loved the best.
It’s said that wild horses couldn’t drag her from the nest.

If they held a World Olympics of mothering and wifery,
she’d excel in matches such as ironing and knifery,
and her family members no doubt would all concur
that she’d capture golden medals in the wash and bake and stir.

If you questioned her contentment, you’d hear her lilting laugh
as she dished up cornmeal muffins, buttering each half,
thawed out frozen orange juice, avoiding the debate
as she hurried us through breakfast, afraid that we’d be late.

When the fifteen minute warning bell was rung across the street
in the school bell tower, we beat a fast retreat.
She drained her cup of coffee, then poured another cup,
put fish food in the goldfish bowl and fed the cat and pup.

She filled the sink with wash water and scrubbed and dried and listened
to her morning radio until the glasses glistened.
She’d make the noontime casserole and put it on slow bake.

Sometimes make a cherry pie or a chocolate cake.

She’d sweep the floors and make the beds, polish, dust and mop
until the noon bell sounded and she had to stop.
She’d make a hasty salad of lettuce and tomatoes
and serve what we called dinner— ham and scalloped potatoes,

meatloaf, hamburgers or a ring of cooked baloney,
Spanish rice or navy beans or cheese and macaroni.
Spaghetti, ham and cabbage, goulash or steamed steak—
whatever she could fry or steam or boil or broil or bake.

My dad would come in from the fields and eat and leave again.
With just an hour for lunch, we kids were always in a spin
to get back to the playground and lay claim to the best swings
or be first in line for tether ball or other schoolyard things.

Then she lay down on the sofa with our little terrier curled
right up close beside her as she learned about the world
through books, papers and magazines, reading there until
the let-out bell was sounded and kids bolted down the hill.

Time enough for supper preparations to be started
as one by one she was rejoined by her dearly departed.

Tales of school spats, teachers’ stories, what our best friends said.
From four to five, our childish raves and rants swirled through her head.

Then my father home again to wash up at the sink,
his mouth up to the faucet for a little drink.
“Use a glass, Ben,” She would say. A rather tardy rule
as he sank into his chair with feet up on a stool.

Supper at six, then radio, or later the T.V.
Dad in his favorite rocking chair, teasing my sis and me.
Mother in her usual place, prone on the divan 
reading “Redbook,” eating stove-popped popcorn from the pan.

Did she wish she’d gone to college and had a different life
than just being a mother and a rancher’s wife?
She would laugh and say to us, seemingly undaunted,
“Girls, basically I’m lazy. I’ve had just the life I wanted!”

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Word prompts for today are horses, wishful, concur, laugh and nest.

 

Shelter: NaPoWriMo 2019, Day 10

 

Shelter

On the prairies of Dakota, 
weather often came with exclamation marks.
My father’s forehead was ringed like an old tree,
white from above his eyebrows to his fast-retreating hairline,
from his hat pulled low to guard from every vagary of weather.
“It’s hot as the hubs of Hell!” he’d exclaim as he sank into his chair at noon,
sweeping his hat from his head to mop his brow.
A nap after lunch, then Mack’s Cafe for coffee with his friends,
then back to work in the field until dark, some days.

Those long Julys, we kids strung tents across the clothes lines in the back yard
or lazed under cherry trees,
no labors more strenuous than wiping the dishes
or dusting the bookshelves in the living room.
Books were our pleasure during those long hot summers:
our mother on the divan, my sisters and I on beds in dormered rooms
with windows open to catch infrequent breezes,
or deep beneath the veils of the weeping willow tree.

“Cold as a witch’s teat in January!” was as close to swearing 
as I ever heard my dad get, November through March, stomping the snow off rubber
overboots in the garage, tracking snow from his cuffs through the mudroom/laundry.
Cold curled like Medusa’s ringlets off his body. We learned to avoid his hands,
red with winter, nearly frozen inside his buckskin gloves.
His broad-brimmed hat, steaming near the fireplace
as we gathered around the big formica table in the dining room.
Huge beef roasts from our own cattle, mashed potatoes and green beans.
Always a lettuce salad and dessert. The noon meal was “dinner”—main meal of the day.
Necessary for a farmer/rancher who had a full day’s work still ahead of him.

Our weather was announced by our father
with more color than the radio weather report.

Spring was declared by his, “Raining cats and dogs out there!” 
We knew, of course, from rain drumming on the roof as we sat, deep in closets,
creating paper doll worlds out of Kleenex boxes for beds and sardine cans for coffee tables, rolled washcloth chairs and jewelry box sofas. 

Only afterwards, now, have I really thought about how we were protected
from the vagaries of weather as from so much else.
A mad dash across the street to school was the extent of it,
or short trip from car to church or store or school auditorium.
It was a though my father bore the brunt of all of it, facing it
for us, easing our way. It was his job.
As my mother’s job was three hot meals a day, a clean house, afternoons spent
over a steaming mangle, ironing sheets and pants and arms and bodices of blouses.
After school, one or the other of us girls at ironing board, pressing the cuffs and collars.

We were sheltered, all of us,
from those extremes of that land I didn’t even know was harsh
until years later, living in milder climates:
Australia, California and Mexico.
Our lives, seen in retrospect,
as though for the first time, clearly.
Remembering the poetry
of how a man who really lived in it
gave us hints of its reality.

The NaPoWriMo prompt is to write a poem making use of a regional phrase describing the weather.

Christmas Gifts

Click on first photo to increase the size of all and to read captions.

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My mother was the hero of Christmas. Decorated waste paper baskets from the church bazaar, that “Skunk” game I’d been begging for, played once and never again, that one last doll when I was eleven, purchased more for her own nostalgia than my need. The tree went up as the orange and brown of Thanksgiving was disposed of, and the jubilation of Christmas stretched on until New Years, when the tree came down.

For my dad, however, the end of Christmas was never quick enough. The tree lights hurt his eyes, he said, but I always wondered if there was more to it than that: some sparsity of the Christmases of his past that had broken its spirit in the heart of a young boy raised on a South Dakota prairie that furnished few rewards, let alone extravagent Christmases, but still expecting more, perhaps, than an orange in the toe of his sock. A pony, maybe, or a stick of hard candy, a jaunty new blue winter stocking cap or simply a mother  more given to Christmas than his own busy midwife of a mother, always off to somewhere else.

In our mad months of enthusiasm over tinsel, ornaments resurrected from the attic and the mystery of wrapped boxes, we overlooked the remnants of that little boy’s pain, but some part of each of us, detecting it by some subconscious radar, never gave up trying to heal those hurts of former Christmases with tiny Black Hills Gold tie tacks, new wallets and papier-mâché sculptures meant to prod him from his apathy. It never quite worked, except for that sculpture, ugly in its craziness, laughed and pondered over, then left to age and weather on their unroofed patio until its demise, giving one small hope of reviving a small boy’s wonder over Christmas and the unexpected. His forbearance over the years made him, perhaps, another subtler hero of Christmas, just in his putting up with it.

The prompt words for today are orange, game, hero, jubilation and quick.  Here are the links:

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/09/11/rdp-tuesday-prompt-orange/
https://fivedotoh.com/2018/09/11/fowc-with-fandango-game/
https://wordofthedaychallenge.wordpress.com/2018/09/11/hero/
https://dailyaddictions542855004.wordpress.com/2018/09/09/daily-addictions-2018-week-36/jubilation
https://dversepoets.com/2018/09/10/quadrille-64-quickwrite-something/

The Recipe

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My vegan concoction

The Recipe

It was not in her nature to follow the dictatorial demands of the recipe. She cared not a piffle that it required a precise list of ingredients. She added a can of 7-up for effervescence and a can of plums for their pure aplomb. When she found a blank spot in the space where she usually kept her vinegar, she added sweet pickle juice instead. She mixed and then blended, added the finely chopped vegetables she’d found in her vegetable tray of the refrigerator, stirred as she cooked until the chunky ingredients were medium soft, the way she liked them.  Now and then, she tasted—a vacant look in her eyes as she tried to decide if it was right or not. A bit of cinnamon. A whiff of curry. A handful of almonds, finely minced, white wine salt. And finally, it was perfect! That night when her dinner guests asked for the recipe, it was not in her realm of possibilities to give it. When she cooked, she entered another world and it was impossible to take anyone else there with her. (By jdb)

The words of the day are effervescent, ingredients, piffle and vacant. The above is fiction based on a reality of my personality re/ cooking. My 22-year-old nephew Ryan arrived yesterday. For the past few days, creating vegan dishes he could eat required some special shopping and a lot of chopping, but it was so much fun and I’m so grateful for these nine wonderful days we are going to have to get to know each other. We were up till 4 a.m. last night, sitting in the hot tub talking talking talking.  When I discovered he kept a journal, I gave him today’s prompts for an assignment and he wrote the below little slice of life in about ten minutes. my piece, given above, took a bit longer.  Here is what Ryan has to say to the prompts:

We woke one morning and the house was vacant.  Trotting around, we made our way downstairs and began to talk, act, and be in a state of piffle.  The energy of the night before rang within the home’s core. Any subtle changes in the air and atmosphere of the home could be noticed as fresh ingredients.  Fresh ingredients that gave the surrounding walls, floor, ceilings and doors an auspicious sparkle and solace. The flow of the home exuded an effervescent and illuminated feeling of comfort and mystery. This home was to us unknown, but it never hid, it was always shown. (Judy’s note: This was written by my nephew Ryan Wilcox on the first morning of his Mexican adventure. Perhaps I’ll persuade him to share more of it as we go along. )

 

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Ryan tucks into vegan Indian food at the Ajijic mall after a long flight with only a packet of cookies to sustain him.

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Casa Domeneche’s vegan dish. Kristina and I decided to go vegan as well and this was what I ordered.  It was incredible.  Maybe Ryan will convert me!  Would be good for my diet.

 

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/08/10/rdp-71-effervescent/

https://fivedotoh.com/2018/08/10/fowc-with-fandango-ingredients/

https://wordofthedaychallenge.wordpress.com/2018/08/10/piffle/

https://dailyaddictions542855004.wordpress.com/Vacant

Fact and Fiction

 

Various photos of my Mom, Dad, sisters and me. (Poem follows)

Fact and Fiction

If I had met my parents when we all were sixty-seven,
(before she went on oxygen, before he went to heaven,)
would we have liked each other and found something to say?
As strangers, would we walk on by or pass the time of day?

My father liked to be the one spinning out the tale.
Beside his abundant stories, I think most of mine would pale.
He wasn’t a joke-teller or a purveyor of fictions.
It was true stories of his life that fueled his depictions.

And when his friends had heard them all, he’d tell them all again.
Though they stretched with every telling, still his tales never grew thin.
If fifteen wolves pursued him—a number that is plenty,
the next time that he told the tale, I’ll wager there’d be twenty!

When I returned from Africa with stories of my own,
I found that they weren’t good enough, for all of them had grown
with all my dad’s retellings, so the rhino I had snapped
a photo of, now chased me. (In reality, it napped.)

I think perhaps my mother would like my poems the best.
She’d like the rhyme and meter, the humor and the jest.
For I learned all of it from her when I was very small,
as she was doing rhyming before I learned to crawl.

I grew up with her diaries—all of them in rhyme.
She had them in a notebook and we read them all the time.
The tales of her friend Gussie, who wasn’t allowed beaus;
so they said they went to Bible study, though it was a pose.

Gussie’s mother baked two pies, (for coffee hour, they said.)
Her father said he’d pick them up. They said they’d walk instead.
They took one of her mother’s pies to those within the church,
then took the other with them as they left them in the lurch!

Their beaus were waiting for them in a car with motor running.
Instead of Bible reading, they preferred to do some funning.
To abscond with both the pies was something that they had debated,
but in the end they left one pie–an action that they hated.

Two sisters present were their foes. They were so prim and proper.
To steal one pie was lie enough—but two would be a whopper!
Mom’s entry in her journal is one I can still tell.
(Don’t know why it’s the only one that I remember well.)

Line for line, here’s what she said in metered verse and rhyme,
though it’s been sixty years since I heard it for the first time:
“We left that crowd of greedy Dirks to feast upon our pies.
We were so mad, like Gussie’s Dad—had pitchforks in our eyes!”

My mother burned this journal when I was just a kid.
I wish she hadn’t done so, but alas, it’s true, she did.
Perhaps she didn’t want to see us following her ways.
Instead of what she did, better to follow what she says.

But I am sure if she still lived we’d have a little fun,
sitting down together when every day was done
and writing all our exploits down, relaying all our slips—
saving for posterity the words that pass our lips.

And in the meantime, Dad would tell as long as he was able,
all those stories that he’s told at table after table.
In coffee shops and golf courses, at parties or a dance,
he would go on telling them, whenever there’s a chance.

And if we all were strangers, and none of us were kids,
we could relate our stories without putting on the skids.
Each would outdo the other as we passed around the bend,
with story after story till we all came to The End!!!

Rogershipp’s prompt word for today is: Abundant

Family Night

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Family Night

Grandma’s tired of pussyfooting, Mama’s tired of tact.
Daddy has lost his silken tongue. I fear that is a fact.
Grandpa has no further wish to sugar coat and pander.
We’ve had an epidemic of hereditary candor! Continue reading