Saturday, July 30, 2011

Other People's Children

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.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Between the Sun and the Moon

She's caught between, drawn in by the pull of the moon, pushed back by the heat of the sun. It has always been that way. No easy choices, no simple solutions. And she wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Summer of Love

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.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


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,   
growing weak, 
haunted by memories,
sometimes false.
Lost love, lost chances,
lost opportunities to be
not perfect, not great,
but whole, complete.
Stuck with myself.

A House Is Not a Home

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

Monday, July 25, 2011


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.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Borrowed Time

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.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Crazy Quilt

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.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dear Gertrude

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. 
Your faithful fan, Sandra

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Safety Net

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.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Daily Mail

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.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Comfort Food

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.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Bad Idea

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?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

San Juan

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.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th of July

Have a safe and sane day!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Flim-Flam Man

"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. 

(to be continued)