My obsession with Picasso continues and deepens. I don't know and don't care why. Trying to organize boxes of stuff from the garage, I discover more books, articles, reproductions, etc. from the past. Maybe time will bring some answers. Or not.
In 1955, I went off to live with my stepmother and half-sister and my dad who attended night school on the GI bill. One night after dropping him off at school, we went to the drive-in to see The Barefoot Contessa. It was a complicated movie involving a dancer who likes to go barefoot then becomes a famous actress and eventually marries an impotent count. He finds out she's been unfaithful when she turns up pregnant so he shoots her. By this time I was pretty confused so I asked Mom why he was so mad at her; she hesitated for a moment then answered, "His pecker was shot off." Oh, I thought, Oh my goodness.
If only I had a pink laptop
I'd write the great american novel
If only I could remember to buy lotto tickets
I'd be rich instead of so darn cute
If only I could find my missing computer disks
I'd be speaking spanish or german or both
If only I lived in a yurt
I'd have buckets of money in the bank
If only I'd been born smart
instead of so damn cute
I'd have the world by the tail
She wants to do it all and do it perfect. She wants to be the one that saves the world and is rewarded with a ticker tape parade down Fifth Avenue. She wants to stay up late and dance all night. She wants love and respect and someone to hold her hand at the movies. But most of all she just wants to quit crying and get on with life.
She quit school and dropped out of sight for a couple of years. We thought she might have gone off with some guy cause she was real pretty, with that red hair and those long legs. A real eye-catcher. Course she didn't stay very long with anybody. Soon as they said "marriage" she was out of there. Most folks thought she was afraid of being tied down but I always thought she just had a hunger for new and exciting. She didn't come around to see her mama very often, but when she did, she brought presents.
The sunbaked rocks soothe her sore muscles. Robert's still climbing, determined to reach the peak before midafternoon so he won't have to descend in darkness. She thinks about taking a nap but isn't comfortable being there alone. Recently a young girl went missing and before that two women were found murdered just outside the park. But in her heart she knows this is not what's really bothering her. The truth: her relationship is on the inevitable slide. Robert will become, like the others, a good friend, but not her real love, her last love, the one that will love her for who she is instead of the person they want her to be.
Faces with open mouths peer from walls; teeth bite into the afternoon. Sunlight creeps through the blinds while dust gathers on the tables, the floor, the walls; she waits for something, anything to break the silence in a world that seldom changes.
I live on the flight path of migrating geese and I don't understand their migration patterns. Here, at the end of summer, they are headed north, not south. Granted, they seem a bit out of control, veering first left then right, then who knows, calling to each other in some personal duck language. But I feel blessed to share in a small part of their journey and imagine for a moment what it would feel like to just take flight.
Washing the breakfast dishes, she stares out the kitchen window, searches the yard for the dog, finds her gnawing on a bone so large it's hard to picture what it might have been attached to. She's a farm dog, loves barking at the horses and digging for gophers in the flower bed when she's not chasing the small grey rabbit that lives under the metal storage shed. Hummingbirds have arrived, the most ever, darting around the feeder, then fleeing quickly back to the safety of the big oak tree. Life is not perfect, but its good. She's thankful and reminds herself to stay hopeful.
Published in 1966, this story captures an era we must never forget. David Champlin is a black man born into poverty in Depression-era New Orleans who makes his way up the ladder of success, only to sacrifice everything to lead his people in the civil rights movement. Sara Kent is the white girl who loves David from the moment she first sees him, and who struggles against his belief that a marriage for them would be wrong in the violent world he has to confront. This book will break your heart but you'll be glad you read it.
She touches his face, holds his hand, waits for the answering nod. She lights the fire under the kettle, places cups on the table, tea in the pot. Waiting for the whistle, she feels the silence in the room, the tension, fear, exhaustion. She understands she can't be sure but is also sure she's lost him for good this time.
She touches his face, searches for signs of sorrow, then holds his hand and waits for the answering nod. She lights the fire under the kettle, places cups on the table, drops tea leaves in the pot, and waits for the whistle. She feels silence in the room: tension, fear, exhaustion; she understands she can't be sure, but is sure, she's lost him for good.
Perfectly alright, or not. Perfectly awful and frightening and intense. Her eyes closing, the floor moving beneath her feet, the morning sun through the kitchen window separating day from night. And all she wants to do is go back to bed and sleep a dreamless sleep.
One way to live is to be part of
two which vanquishes loneliness unless there's
three which is just too many, yet
four is enough to play poker at
five when the sun begins setting and
six will be time for dinner
Suspended in space, above the moon, below the sun, the stars, above the fray, waiting for a sign to move her forward, toward one place, away from another. Holding on, holding her breath, holding her self. Waiting, waiting, waiting.
"More than five decades ago, a 21-year-old Elvis was caught on film giving a playful French kiss to a lovely--and unidentified--young woman. The photo became iconic; but even the photographer, Alfred Wertheimer, didn't know who the girl was. Her name, if not her image, remained unknown for years." Wendy Geller, Stop the Presses
In the late 50's, while visiting family in Dallas, one of my cousins told me that she was having an affair with Elvis. I didn't really believe her but it was a compelling tale complete with details of a dress he bought her, how she slipped out at night after everyone was asleep to be with him, and how he begged her to marry him. She even had a small handkerchief that she said he gave her. She is not the woman in this story but maybe she could have been, if the stars had been just right.
Even if the sheets aren't clean and the cat's been sleeping there for three days and it's too damn hot and there's nothing on television that you haven't already seen and there's dirty laundry in the floor and life's just generally a bitch. But it's your bed and you've made it, so just lie in it.
He goes to the place of his family, to sit in silence and think about their lives, their deaths, what he could have done to make a difference and why he did not. He weeps but he will never taste forgiveness in his tears.
Not enough money to feed the hungry or heal the sick or educate the children or house the poor or provide clean drinking water or build adequate housing or protect the innocent. But always, always too damn much to end the wars.
Her memory is less reliable now but she feels certain she has one of those old manual typewriters somewhere. The kind with the ribbon that had to be threaded just right to keep the ink from getting blotchy. She learned to type in tenth grade. Miss Conklin seemed old then, but of course she wasn't much older than the girls who came to her class, hoping for a chance to work for one of the local doctors or lawyers, at least until they could find a suitable husband. Sometimes Maggie thinks she should have put less time in learning to type and more into finding a kind man to marry, one who wouldn't send his children to bed without their supper or discipline his wife once they left the room. Maybe she could have been a school teacher and spent her life helping other women's children.
She drove a Beetle but always wanted a van. Not just any van but one that would match her inner vision of self. A van big enough to hold all her treasures with room left over for dreams. A van that could take her to far places and new friends, where she could find enough inspiration and energy to make the world a better place and her self a better person. Alas, in the end, she settled, for a big black Chrysler and a 70 hour a week job and children who raised themselves and a sucking feeling of loss.
Stuck in the middle
between who she is
and who she wants to be.
Stuck with those she needs,
those she loves,
but sometimes dislikes.
Stuck with growing old,
haunted by memories,
Lost love, lost chances,
lost opportunities to be
not perfect, not great,
but whole, complete.
Stuck with myself.
Home is love, safety
hot biscuits for breakfast
warm milk at bedtime
a dog who waits each afternoon
for her return from school
a cat who bears litters of kittens
a sunken washtub that catches tadpoles
that become frogs
singing in the cool spring morning
Home is memory
color, smell, sound
block ice that cools the milk
that cools the stomach
on hot summer evenings
bugs that fly around the light
that pushes away the darkness
that hides the path to the unknown
She never imagined that her elderly neighbor would suggest such a thing. Everyone knew that Sweetie was a real beast, flinging himself around on the sofa, shedding wads of hair on anyone who came near. Nevermind that he loved to bite more than anything, more than eating even. But Mrs. Green's garage was overrun with mice and had asked to borrow him for a day or two.
She'd have to take the litter boxes over as well. And his dry food and the special canned food he liked so much and the comb used to curry out as much as she could of the long black hair before it could skitter under the sofa and attach itself to the coffee table legs. And his toys, at least some of them And his down bed with the robins and butterflies on the cover. And maybe Mrs. Green could move her little tv to the garage so Sweetie could watch Wheel of Fortune. Maybe it could be alright, just for a night or two.
She borrowed the seam ripper from Mrs. Deaton and carefully picked out the offending stitches. It wasn't that hard if you didn't count the embarrassment over doing it wrong, not following the careful instructions given out by Carolyn, the high school student who came each Tuesday to help the girls with their projects. She tried to write it down, all those steps being too much for her head to hold at one time, but couldn't seem to write fast enough to get it all down on paper. So, later, it didn't make as much sense as it did when Mrs. Deaton said it.
And then, of course, there was the material she'd picked out for her project, a bright yellow that she thought would look good against the tan she'd have by the end of summer from hoeing cotton beside her step-mom. But no one thought to tell her about cheap yardage and how some would hold a good pressing and some would not, would instead crumple up like a piece of newspaper on a humid day.
There was no money to buy more material and even if there was, surely there was no time. And this was the project that would be graded and put on her final report card. Her step-mom might understand but her daddy was sure to be real unhappy, him not knowing, of course, that sewing just didn't come as easy to her as reading and numbers.
The treadle sewing machine sat in the middle room during the summer, in the green room during the winter when the quilt frames were lowered. I learned to sew on that machine, my legs barely able to reach the treadle, my right hand resting lightly above the wheel, ready to stop it if my feet got carried away. Once I ran the machine needle through the end of my finger as I tried to guide the cloth under the presser foot. Granddaddy held my shoulders while Grandmother inched the flywheel back until the needle pulled out. Blood spurted as they swabbed my hand with kerosene, (poor people's disinfectant). Within a day or so I was back at the machine, stitching doll clothes and blankets for my cats from left over cloth scraps.
I loved to sew and eventually asked to make my own quilt top. Grandmother helped me cut out squares of newspaper and showed me how to stitch cloth scraps to the paper, folding each new piece back to make hidden seams, then folding that piece over to attach to the next scrap. Within a few days I had enough blocks to begin my quilt. Unfortunately, I overheard my grandmother tell the neighbor I was making a crazy quilt. I was devastated. I took the blocks I’d finished and the one I was working on and put them on a high shelf in the closet. I never touched them again. Years later, I would learn that “crazy quilt” was the name for using random pieces of fabric to create a treasured family heirloom. I've often wondered what happened to those abandoned quilt blocks.
I am embarking on an undertaking that I'm hopeful to complete: your 925 page "sober, tender-hearted, very searching history of a family's progress" (Marianne Moore). I trust that it will be a fruitful journey.
She grew up believing in god and angels and the devil (said to be a fallen angel), and hell fire where you went if you sinned, but not if you were saved and dunked in the water tank back behind where the choir sang on Sunday mornings.
Then one hot summer a handsome preacher came from out of town to save souls and she took herself to the front, crying for forgiveness and asking to be saved. And the visiting preacher took her in his strong arms and dunked her in the water. She felt good and safe, and cold since the water wasn't heated and there wasn't a robe or anything to put over her wet clothes.
And everything was good until a while later when she got to thinking about how she felt when she was with boys and the time she drank whiskey at the park with Priscilla and how she let Billy Brown touch her breast (but she did NOT touch his leg where he wanted her to.)
When the visiting preacher came the next summer, she figured it must not have worked the first time so she went up again to the front and told him she needed to be saved again. He either didn't recognize her or he figured you couldn't get saved too many times, so in she went.
Tom strides up to the house each day, slips the envelopes and store ads into the slot, and takes away the letters clipped to the front. Week in, week out his brown muscular calves take him up and down the short streets, bringing pleasure and disappointment to the folks of Bay Village. Many he greets by name. He maintains his own personal mail forwarding system, subverting the six month rule enforced by the post office. Neighbors fret on the couple of weeks each year when Tom's route is taken over young trainees, fillers for the regular carriers.
Mashed potatoes, fried chicken, pecan pie. Old men and women, trailed by an occasional grandchild, slide trays along the line at Luby's, fingering the rolls for freshness, eying the meatloaf and swiss steak, settling most often for the daily special: an open face roast beef sandwich smothered with mashed potatoes and gravy for $3.27. Tall glasses of ice tea sweat at the end of the line next to the urn of Farmer Brothers coffee.
Today I am 51 and my father is treating me to dinner. His refusal to wear his teeth limits his choices to what he can gum down so he gets to choose the place. Trudging along, I pass up salad (I can have that anywhere) and hot entrees (too heavy for this hot day).
I move on to the vegetables where I become 12 again, barefoot, brick red from long hours in the field. It is dinner time and the kitchen table is laden with wilted lettuce, fresh black-eyed peas, summer squash swimming in fresh churned butter, and aluminum tumblers filled with ice cold tea. And my favorite, fried okra, each geometic slice coated with a crispy brown cornmeal crust. We eat until all the dishes sit empty, satiated, rewarded for our day's hard labor in the field.
The amazingly auburn lady behind me slides her tray back and forth, pulling me back to the present, and I lift the small serving dishes from the line: black eyed peas, a big wedge of cornbread, and two servings fried okra.
McBride falls 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup. He’s surprised it was so ordinary, had expected more drama, like in the cinema. Shocked crowds gathering, police cars, an ambulance, fire truck. Instead there’s only the homeless man from the alley between the two apartment buildings who comes to see, reaches first for the cheap wristwatch, then checks both pockets for a wallet. There’s not enough there for a bowl of soup. He takes the watch and scurries away. McBride feels guilty. Poor bugger. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. If a man falls from a building and there’s no one there to see, does it make a sound?
The plane landed in San Juan in the late afternoon. A battered yellow taxi van gathered their bags and shuttled them to a downtown hotel. This was their first trip together, a test of friendship. They planned to spend three days in San Juan and a week cruising the Caribbean. Their budget room at the Hotel Excelsior overlooked the postcard perfect bay. They asked Roberto at the front desk for a restaurant recommendation within walking distance. The Cabana was authentic Puerto Rican, especially the fact that they were the only female diners. The small brightly lit room was filled with painted metal tables where dark men sat smoking cigars and cigarillos. Everyone, even the waiter, seemed to keep their distance. They struggled through the Spanish menu choosing foods they couldn't find at home: fried bananas, black beans, chicken in a rich brown sauce. They ate quickly, left a tip, and headed back to the hotel. All they needed now was a place to dance.
"Ever been bitten by a dog?" She eyed the stranger with his hand on the gate latch. A salesman he looked to be. Cheap suit, shoes run over at the heels, eyes that wouldn't look at you straight on.
"Ella Mae, you know I like dogs, specially big ones." The voice flipped her brain back and back and back until there was a big click.
"Marshall, Marshall Henson. What are you doing round her? We thought you was in jail or dead or living in Los Angeles." She stepped forward and almost touched his sleeve but pulled back at the last moment. What if it wasn't Marshall at all. What if he was some flim-flam man trying to take advantage of an old woman living alone. But then she looked straight on into his eyes, blue as a marble and knew it was him for sure. "Well, don't just stand there for heaven's sakes. Come on in."
"Don't mind if I do, Ella Mae. You wouldn't by any chance have some sweet tea in the refrigerator."
"No I don't but I've got Dr. Pepper or ice water." She turned and headed up the walk. Marshall followed behind.
The old house looked bout the same, except, like everyone and all things, older and in need of a little touch-up. Probably Henry was gone to his maker since most women in these parts outlived their men. Ella Mae looked in pretty good health though that purple pants suit didn't suit her too much. She was a real looker in their day. The first one to be asked to the prom and the last one to leave the dance floor.
Clifford sits on the edge of the bed, a dirty blanket drawn around his legs, the legs that no longer serve him. The legs pulled from the wreckage, shattered, along with the windshield, his plans, his dreams, his determination.
It had been an ordinary Saturday. Mowing the backyard, cleaning up the barbecue for Sunday when his brother-in-law and sister would come with their daughters, Teta and Juana. He'd pulled steaks from the freezer and picked green beans from the vines that crawled through his neighbor's fence. He'd made homemade ice cream in honor of their Mama, long gone from cancer.
All that was left was to get cookies from the bakery in town. What if he'd said never mind to the cookies or called his sister to pick them up on their way over. Or just pulled out his mother's old recipe book and tried to make them himself. What if he'd taken the bike instead of the pickup or just turned off the radio instead of leaning over to change the station.
What if when his family came, so full of love and pity, what if instead of finding him in the wheelchair they saw him on the floor, asleep, forever. No more pain. No more what-ifs.
I can quit checking my email, if I want to
I can quit playing scrabble, if I want to
I can quit buying junk at thrift stores, if I want to
I can quit hanging art on my bedroom walls, if I want to
I can quit listening to NPR, if I want to
I can quit caring about politics, if I want to
I can quit . . .
OK, let's get serious. I can, but I won't. And that's that.
They met when they were only children, fell in love immediately, and committed to a lifelong relationship. They raised a big family, all birthed by George, of course. Mary would diligently lay her eggs in George's pouch where he would fertilize them, then patiently wait for them to hatch. Life was not easy but satisfying.
While she wanted to think she was a born writer, in reality she was a gatherer of people. As a child she’d gather friends on weekends to build circuses or act out plays in her grandparents’ backyard. Later, when she had to go away to the church orphanage, her room was where the other girls would come to do their homework and talk about their secret desires to meet boys. (They only got to see them at the Wednesday night prayer meeting and the Sunday morning worship service so the rest of the week their imaginations would run wild.) When she was old enough to get a job and live on her own, women friends from the coffee shop would come over every Saturday night, bringing bottles of cheap wine and platters of cheese and crackers. And then one day she got up enough courage to go to a workshop on writing and found her true calling: gathering women to write their stories.
Trains, real and imagined, float around in my brain. There's the apocryphal childhood story of a boy who crossed the tracks too late and lost both legs. Or the train that I took with my grandmother to Kansas City to see a doctor who would diagnose her cancer as untreatable. Or the 3:00 AM train that roared past the bedroom window of our small garage apartment in Ft. Worth. Or the train to LA that empties passengers into Union Station with its Dutch Colonial, Moderne, and Mission Revival Style.
Jake left quickly, grabbing his hat, a jerrycan of gasoline, and a handful of matches. He didn't have a plan, just an idea of what needed to go away. The house, the barn, the pickup truck that didn't run anyway. Let the tax man have anything else that was left. There wasn't any insurance so there wouldn't be much of a investigation. If the old man was still alive, he'd be real proud.
In my life I've waited tables, raised sons, taught school, published books, and railed at politicians. I'm building a house, next to my son, where I can spend time with my granddaughter. I read, write, and dream about being immortal.