Tag Archives: favorite memories

Swallowing Truth

Three days ago, I started thinking of an old friend from 43 years and 8,000 miles ago, wondering if there was any way I could locate him. We had known each other in Africa, both having come to the U.S. when Ethiopia fell into its violent civil war, leaving our mutual friend (my lover and his friend since childhood) in Africa. He had worked diligently to get his friend to leave Africa and I had urged him to as well, but he had repeatedly refused to do so.

Half a country apart, we met only once after coming to the States and talked twice on the phone—the last time when he informed me of the assassination of our mutual friend about a year after I’d returned to the States. Since then, I’ve gone on to new loves and new lives, but I’ve written many times about those years in Africa, idealized my lover and imagined him to be the hero in death he’d always been to me in life.

Then, miraculously, two days ago (one day after I’d thought of trying to locate him myself and over forty years since I’d last talked to him on the phone) I received a message from my old friend asking me to friend him on Facebook and yesterday, we shared a two-hour phone call. Much of that phone call was taken up by his telling me the whole truth about my lover’s death in Africa forty-three  years ago.

“He loved you, Judy. He really loved you, and he was a different man with you. Perhaps if we had both stayed in Africa, his story would have turned out differently, but when we both left at once, he was lonely and looking for friends. They saw his charisma and charm and they drew him in. They gave him power.” This was when he told me the part of the story he had not told me so many years ago. This is when the truth of what happened after I left Africa came out. It has been a hard truth to swallow. My sister, who visited me in Africa and who knows more of that story than most, told me I should perhaps not talk to anyone else about what I had just revealed to her—to remain quiet for awhile and think this out for myself. Perhaps to write about it.

It is hard to write about such things without trivializing them, and I have tried for the past 24 hours to avoid doing so just as I’ve tried to avoid thinking about it. Neither plan seems to have worked. It was what I thought about all day, the last thing I thought about before I fell asleep, the first thing I thought about upon awakening when I saw today’s prompt, and it is what I’m thinking about now as I write the introduction to this poem. What do we do with old shattered memories that we’ve held in esteem for more than half our lives?  What do we do with the favorite photographs? How do we write about a love story turned into a horror story? I guess we do the best we can. This is my first attempt to deal with that whole truth.

Swallowing Truth

My life for now grown raw and hollow,
this bitter pill I cannot swallow.

Which path of memory to follow?

That handsome man, arms filled with flowers,
love-filled nights and fun-filled hours 
held fast in each others’ powers.

A small-town girl who lived through books,
twisting on romance’s hooks,

could not resist your charm and looks.

I could not guess the other side—
the violence your looks belied—
that truth that I must now abide.

New truths cast old beliefs asunder
as they gut and rip and plunder
those short years of joy and wonder.

Your truths are painful—sharply tined.
Miscast as hero in my mind,
you chose the other side, I find.

This is what your old friend said.
He said your power went to your head—
so many slaughtered the streets ran red.

How could the one who turned my heart
liquid from the very start
have torn so many lives apart?

These stories spun far in the past
have come together here, at last,
can’t be forgotten, the die is cast.

Beware the truths that you might seek.
Truth has a non-discerning beak
that rips asunder the frail and weak.

Be careful what you ask and do
in opening the past anew.
The truth you swallow may swallow you.


The prompt word today is swallow.

“I Imagine” dVerse Poets, Prose Poetry


I Imagine

I imagine one more holiday.
My mother sits at a large picture window
looking out over a broad beach,
watching dogs fetching sticks.
Then, because she cannot help it,
she takes her shoes off to walk through packed sand.
I imagine her sighting the offshore rock
where puffins nest.
I imagine footprints—hers and mine
and the paw prints of the dog—
someone else’s—
who joins us for the price of a stick thrown
over and over into the waves.

My mother could count her trips to the beach
on one hand,
and most of those times have been with me.
Once, in Wales, we sat on the long sea wall
under Dylan Thomas’s boathouse.
A cat walked the wall out to us,
precise and careful
to get as few grains of sand as possible
between its paw pads.
As it preened and arched under my mother’s smooth hand,
its black hairs caught in her diamond rings.

The other time we went to the beach
was in Australia.
We stayed out all afternoon,
throwing and throwing a stick,
a big black dog running first after,
then in front of it,
my dad sleeping in the car parked at the roadside,
my mother and I playing together
as we had never played before.

My mother and the ocean
have always been so far divided,
with me as the guide rope in between.
I imagine reeling them both in toward each other
and one more trip.
My mother, me, a dog or cat.
Wind to bundle up for and to walk against.
Wind to turn our ears away from.
Sand to pour out of our pockets
to form a small  volcano
with a crab’s claw at the top.

So that years from now,
when I empty one pocket,
I will find sails from by-the-wind sailors
and shark egg casings,
fragile black kelp berries
and polished stones.
The bones of my mother. The dreams of me.

From the other pocket, empty,
I will pull all the reunions I never fought hard enough for—
regrets over trips to the sea we never made.
And I’ll imagine taking me to oceans.
Walks. Treasures hidden in and hiding sand.
Someone walking with me—
someone else’s child, perhaps,
and a dog chasing sticks.

Note: I never took that last trip to the ocean with my mother, but I think of her every year when I come to stay at the beach on my own, and this year in particular, every time I throw the stick for Morrie and every time children come to play with us. Here is a link to my favorite photo of my mother, plus other stories and poems about her.

Written for the dVerse Poets prompt, Prose Poetry.To play along, go HERE.

Smoothing Out Life

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One of my two dearest friends once told me that the two of them thought I had always had an air of entitlement.  This was a shock to me as from the inside out, I’ve always felt like I had to earn every bit of success or recognition I’ve ever received and that I’ve worked hard towards it. In trying to remember the exact conversation that led up to this statement, I have remembered   that I had written an angry letter to my boyfriend who had totally overlooked my birthday, merely jotting his name down on a card someone else had provided for my birthday party.  Luckily, I decided to read the letter to my friend before sending it to my boyfriend, and the statement above was her reaction to my complete disappointment in that. (No, I never did send the letter.)

Let me say first off that I harbor no resentment against my friend for her statement.  I think it is the purpose of friends to occasionally bring these blunt truths  and perceptions to light, and there was no malice in her statement––just a wish to furnish me with some insight into myself and to perhaps stay my action in sending the angry and heartbroken letter. She went on to say she’d never had a birthday party in her life. Now that got me to thinking, because I’m sure if I have ever been with her on her birthday, that I would have thrown some kind of a party, even if it was just for the two of us; but perhaps she meant as a child and if this is so––and if expecting some sort of celebration of one’s existence on earth means one projects an air of entitlement––then she is correct, because I am a great believer in celebrations for whomever and for whatever purpose.

Christmas is a big deal to me, even if it means making a crepe paper tree by twisting streamers from a central place on the ceiling overhead down to the various corners and edges of the tiny desk on an ocean liner–which I did when I happened to be on a boat mid-ocean one year for Christmas.  Another time, when I was on another cruise with my sister and mother for Christmas, I even packed wrapped presents and a tiny foldable tree  in my luggage.

I believe that there are enough days to “rue” in this life, so given any excuse to celebrate, I’m going to take it.  On Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays, Valentines Day, May Day, Halloween, Easter, New years and Day of the Dead––I’m going to use it as a reason to do something creative and something celebratory. Yes, I admit, over the years I’ve forgotten a few birthdays  of friends and relatives not physically present.  One other year, everyone forgot mine–even my mother––but when you are with me on your birthday, believe me, we’re going to celebrate it!

Such events smooth out the choppy seas of life and give us something on which to pin our memories.  Think back.  How many of the best memories of your life involve celebrations of some sort?  If I tried hard enough, I could probably remember more childhood events centering around holidays and celebrations than any other factor.  I vividly remember the costume party my sister had when she turned 13 and the complete southern belle ruffled hoop-skirted  costume  (complete with picture hat) that Kitty Reynolds made for Cheryl Lillibridge to wear to it–out of crepe paper!  My sister went in our older sister’s prom dress, complete with a wrist corsage and dance book (remember those–with a tiny pencil attached for the guys who wanted to dance with you to sign up for a certain place in line on your list?) I went as Alice in Wonderland, accompanied by my sister’s giant yellow “white” rabbit.

The only photo I have of the party shows me, as Alice in Wonderland, in the foreground, but you can see Cheryl in her remarkable southern belle costume in the background as well as Patti in the polka dot prom dress. Perhaps because we have recorded them with photos, we remember these events the best, but so what? if they weren’t memorable enough to take photos, there wouldn’t be any photos to  help us remember. (Now that is a cyclical statement if I ever heard one.) And yes, Patti, I do remember that you are the one who reminded me that dress was made out of crepe paper when I mentioned it in a comment on Murdo Girl’s blog.)

At any rate, I was going to list a number of other examples of memories associated with Christmas and other holidays, but I think I’ve proven my point as clearly as I would have if I were to give twenty more examples, so I won’t.  The point is that life is going to furnish us with countless choppy seas. In the past few months, this has been especially true with friends and friends of friends suffering terrible tragedies. In some cases, it has been almost too much to bear, but in the midst of all this sadness, we continue to plan these special life events:  Easter egg hunts, reunions, summer camps for kids, special dinners with friends, birthday celebrations, writing retreats and trips to far-off places to visit friends we’ve been promising to take for years.  Because life on its own doesn’t furnish us with very many smooth spaces, I think we need to furnish them for ourselves!

Recently I quoted this statement by Will Durant to a  blogger friend in the comments section of his blog.  It is probably one of the quotes I’ve requoted most in life, and forgive me if you’ve heard it before, but I’m gonna do it again:

“Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing things historians usually record, while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry.
The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks. Historians are pessimists because they ignore the banks for the river.”

I think Mr. Durant will forgive me if I add one item to his riverbank list of activities.  The word I would add is “celebrate.” It is one more everyday occurrence between people living their ordinary lives that helps to smooth out the bumps that the “big things” provide.

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Billy Sorenson and I dressed up as characters from fiction for our town’s 50th anniversary parade.  Why Robin Hood looks terrified of Little Bo Peep and why she looks like the cat who has swallowed the canary is lost in the annals of history. If my sisters hadn’t been fond of very large stuffed animals, I would have been limited in my costume props.  The sheep was won for my sister Betty by her boyfriend who spent a lot of quarters and got a sore arm tossing balls to win her favor. The big rabbit in the first photo was my sister Patti’s.

P.S. Remember that little twig in the ground I was sitting next to as a two year old in “Dreams of Flying” ? It is the same tree pictured in the first picture above. It took seven years to grow even that big–which is how slowly trees grow in  the dry climate of South Dakota, even though I’m sure my dad or mom probably watered it daily. It would have been that size in less than a year in Mexico.


Ashes and Dust and : NaPoWriMo 2016, Day 25 and “Whisper,” WordPress Daily Prompt

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“After all our years have settled like dust . . .”
                                           ––okc forgottenman

Ashes and Dust

When that cruel wind
blows against memories
that have settled like dust
on our lives,

what  will remain
sealed in our crevasses
––fine furniture that we are
of a bygone age?

What remaining minutes
of a long life of years
will define us then?
A kiss? A child held in arms?
Regrets? Terrors?

In those storerooms
where people  sit
stacked in silent cubicles,
what zephyrs whisper through
to stir the embers
of their minds?

Is there music in those currents
or are they the sad
whining winds
that curl over headstones
and lament the dust that settles there,

moaning through cracks in attics
and around hanging eaves troughs,
causing them to swing and bump
lonely against the fading
wood of abandoned houses?

LIfe builds us and wears us away
like the mountain.
Like sand on the beach.
We are not above it all.

No matter how much power
we think we gain,
Nature is a wind that breathes
into us at birth,
then blows itself away.

The NaPoWriMo prompt was to write a poem making use of the first line of someone else’s poem.  You can find the poem by okc forgottenman that I drew inspiration from Here. The WordPress prompt was “whisper.”





Passing Time

IMG_1162Detra de las Puertas Cerradas (Behind Closed Doors) One’s own living room can become entirely too comfortable. Shutting the drawers to the past may open the doors to the future. (retablo by Judy Dykstra-Brown)

Passing Time

The means of our escape from life are numerous and various,
and there is nothing wrong with getting thrills that are vicarious.
Movies, sports and novels are fine for entertainment;
but if you’re only viewing, there is no sense of attainment.

Looking back on your own life, like opening a book,
isn’t really living life, but just having a look
at the life of someone who you no longer are.
You aren’t really living life by viewing from afar.

Escape is necessary and our choices for it vast,
but there’s no satisfaction in living in the past.
Life is to be spent, not to be hoarded and rethought.
Better just to live the rest of the time that you’ve got!

Fond memories are something that I’m sure none of us lack,
but there’s no time of life to which I’m yearning to go back.
The only thing to do with time’s to live it and to love it.
I have no wish to turn back time, I only want more of it!

The Prompt: If you could return to the past to relive a part of your life, either to experience the wonderful bits again, or to do something over, which part of you life would you return to? Why?

Best Preteen Memories

Best Pre-teen Memories

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Please post your best ten memories of your life before 10 years old. Mine are:

  1. Going to first grade parties in Mrs. Sandy’s room from the time I was two until I was 6 and old enough to be in the first grade. (I lived across the street and first attended when my sister Patti was in the first grade.)
  2. Decorating the Xmas tree with my mom and sisters and sitting up late with the lights off, admiring the lit Xmas tree. Xmas morning, coming down to find all the presents under the tree.
  3. Going out to the ranch with my dad, sitting in the back of the pickup and hanging my head over the side with my mouth open to let the wind parch the inside of my cheeks until they were like beef jerky, then driving fast over the dam grades and herding cows, getting a long freezing cold drink from the well at the Millay place.
  4. Making May Baskets with my mom.
  5. Going to visit my sister Betty in college and getting to sleep in her dorm room.
  6. Getting to go to my older sister Patti’s birthday parties and playing with the “BIG GIRLS!”
  7. Staying at the “Deer Huts” in the Black Hills and getting to go to the outhouse in the middle of the night.
  8. Getting to participate in my sister Patti’s summer plays in the backyard.
  9. Getting to go to Aunt Mabel and Uncle Herman’s ranch with my older sister Betty and getting to stay with them once when my mom was out of town. Watching Mabel operate the cream separator, feeding the chickens and eating her ever-after-unsurpassed apple crunch!!!!
  10. Swimming in Johannsen’s stock dam during summer afternoons, closely watched by the self-appointed lifeguard, “Pink” Sandy.

Now…please post your ten favorite pre-ten memories to your blog with a link to mine. To form a link, go to that page in your blog and select and copy the URL. Then come to my blog and in the comment box, make a comment if you wish and paste your URL. Then you can see each other’s lists via the hyperlinks on my blog.