Monthly Archives: December 2012

New Year’s Eve with My Dad

Although I rarely go to New Year’s Eve parties any more (cue: one big whine and then a hefty sigh of relief), when I was growing up NYE always meant parties.  My parents went to one or hosted one every year.

In the sixties, my parents held their parties in the basement of our house.  Mom draped a paper tablecloth over the ping-pong table and Dad stocked the bar he’d built in the corner.  He set up table games and placed ashtrays on every available surface.  When he dragged out the box with the hats and noisemakers and boas I scrambled to help.  My favorite was the noisemaker blow out.  When I blew on the pipe end, the little roll of paper unfurled with a sputtery raspberry.  The tin drums which spun on wind-up stems sounded a raucous blare, so Dad would grab one of those and twirl it.

In the kitchen, my mother made canapés and Chex Mix.  She refrigerated 7-Up and washed the “frosted” highball glasses. Gold leaves, which I was sure were 24k gold leaf, decorated the crystal.

These plastic clips identified which drink to refill: rum and Coke, Seven and Seven, etc.

These plastic clips identified which drink to refill: Rum-and-Coke, Seven-and-seven, Gin-and-tonic, Scotch-and-soda.

I’m not saying I was a snoop, but I could hear everything.  I could even see a flash of the neighbor’s shiny bald head or Dad’s hand dealing cards through the register in the floor right near my bed.  I sat on the floor for hours with my legs cramped up underneath me.

While I didn’t hear anything of particular interest, the social interactions between the adults—their jokes, the vibrations in their voices, the sudden bursts of laughter– kept me straining my hearing.  Dad’s loud, excited voice rose above the others.  Everyone else faded into a background buzz in comparison with him.  Dad was the life of the party.

For his 80th birthday I made him a video of his life, and when Dad saw himself on video, he said, “I didn’t know I was so obnoxious!”  I had to laugh to myself at that because it isn’t as if nobody has told him that over the years.  Mostly, though, his enthusiasm for having a good time has been infectious.  At eighty-four he still likes to stir things up.  I suspect he’ll be wearing a hat and sounding his noisemaker at midnight tonight in Michigan.

Dad is ready for the party!

Dad is ready for the party!

I live in the Southwest, but I almost wish I could be there, listening through the register.

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir

A Christmas Photo: 1959

021

In this photo, which was taken in my grandparents’ living room,  I am four (almost 4 1/2).  It is marked with the year 1958, but I believe it must be 1959 because a photo professionally printed with 1958 has my hair shorter.  Also, my darker-haired cousin in this photo is a sitting-up baby, and he was born in December 1958.  This goes to show that it’s important to be careful about assuming that notations on photos are correct, even if the handwriting looks old.

My pretty mother has her eyes closed from the big flash, and I am standing with an opened gift in my hands.  I look a bit overwhelmed from the excitement and the unwinding of anticipation.  My aunt is smiling at me and Grandpa looks at the photographer.  The little boys are my uncle’s two oldest children–the youngest had not yet been born and neither had my brother.  My aunt was still young and unmarried, a college student.

The photo details trigger memories.  Since Grandma watched me while my parents worked (Grandma and the Purple People Eaters), this living room was very familiar to me.  Note the television with family portraits on top.  That’s the TV I watched Grandma’s soap opera with her on week days.  A chair had been moved out to make room for the Christmas tree.  My aunt and I had helped trim it.  Tinsel strands had escaped from the tree and ground into Grandma’s hooked area rug.  I liked to pick them up individually and run my fingers together down the smooth surface.

I could smell dinner in the kitchen.  Ham and Grandma’s special roast beef.  If only I hadn’t eaten so many sugar cookie snowmen decorated with little silver ball bearings and sprinkles.  Grandma and I had made those two days before. She rolled the dough and I cut out the shapes.  When they came out of the oven, I ate all the misshapen pieces.

Without the photo I wouldn’t remember specifics.  I treasure the memories accessible through all my old photos and am grateful that I have them to look at whenever I wish.  I have deep sympathy for those who have lost their mementos in disasters like Hurricane Sandy.  My deepest sympathy and my prayers are with those who have lost their loved ones and only have the photos and memories left.

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If you wish to help the survivors of Sandy Hook, Newtown, this article lists some good ideas.

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Yummy Blog Award Treats

Terry1954 is one of the sweetest bloggers writing the sweetest stories in the sweet blogosphere.  Imagine how sweet my surprise to learn that Terry nominated me for the Super Sweet Blogging Award!super-sweet-blogging-award21

To earn my treat, I need to answer some questions:

  1. Cookies or Cake? Always cookies.  I’m a complete and utter cookie freak.  I love those with the white chocolate and macadamia nuts because nobody can ruin them.  And linzer cookies with raspberry jam.  Fresh oatmeal or snickerdoodle or peanut butter.
  2. Chocolate or Vanilla? Vanilla with hints of chocolate (see, I’m not as sweet as Terry thinks).
  3. Favorite sweet treat?  Baklava or pumpkin pie with whipped cream.
  4. When do you crave sweet things the most? Um, am I awake?
  5. If you had a sweet nickname, what would it be?  Almond cherry white chocolate truffle–eclectic and flavorful and sweet, but not overpowering.

The last requirement for receiving the Super Sweet Blogging Award is to name a baker’s dozen (13) of my favorite bloggers (note:  these are just a few of my favorites).

Terry (back atcha girl!)

Blessed With a Star on the Forehead

What If It All Means Something

Falling Into Wonderland

Leaf and Twig

The Green Study

That Idiotic Tractor

Writing Sisters

Copyright 1982

Two Rights Attempting to Make a Left

Passages of Writing

Story and History

The Ashen Apple

Enjoy all these sweet treats!!!

Have the most blessed holidays!

xo

Luanne

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My Daily Creative Writer Interview (part 1)

Elizabeth at The Daily Creative Writer interviewed me and a few other bloggers about the process. This is her first post, focusing on why we started our blogs.

the daily creative writer

ReportersNotebook

Asking questions and uncovering stories, one blog at a time.
By Elizabeth Cutright
(Part 1 of a Series)

When you don’t know, ask.

When you’re wondering, pose a question.

And when you feel like you’re stumbling around in the dark, then – by all means – ask someone to turn on the light.
A few weeks back, I contacted some of my favorite bloggers to get their take on what blogging.  I wanted to know what got them started, what keeps them going, and what new and unexpected perks and challenges they’ve encountered along the way.  I’ll be reporting periodically on their responses – they were all so gracious with their time that I’ve got loads of great material – and my hope is that their experiences and wisdom will help you (and me) keep writing, try out new creative endeavors and realize, once and for all, that we are…

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Grandma and the Purple People Eaters

When I was little I stayed with my grandmother during the day while my parents were at work.  It was just Grandma and me at the house.   Grandpa worked down the block, at his Sunoco filling station.  Every day at noon, Grandma and I brought his lunch to him.  He’d climb up out of the pit where he worked under cars and smile when he saw us with his gray lunch box.

Sometimes I played with the girl up the street and other days I’d pick through the toys and books left behind in their bedrooms upstairs by my mother, Aunt Alice, and Uncle Don.  I found a giant printing set, a potholder loom and loops, and a collection of miniature furniture and animals.  In my aunt’s room, I read my first chapter book, The Bobbsey Twins.   Grandma and I fried donuts and sugared strawberries.  We sang Ethel Merman songs like “Anything You Can Do.”  I could always manage to sing louder and higher than Grandma.

Any note you can reach
I can go higher.
I can sing anything
Higher than you.
No, you can’t. (High)
Yes, I can. (Higher) No, you can’t. (Higher)
Yes, I CAN! (Highest)

Occasionally, we walked “uptown” to the bank, passing the thrift store, which fascinated me. I thought it was a combination antique store and fine dress shop.  Also en route was the home of the Purple People Eaters.  My overweight, matronly grandmother sang the song and danced right there on the sidewalk for me.  It was years before I realized the building was actually a dry cleaning establishment, painted purple.


Grandma carried the filling station’s bank deposit bag in her big pocketbook, which also held mints and pennies for me.   We stopped at the florist to say hi to some relatives and at the bakery for sugar cookies.

With all the fun Grandma orchestrated, I still got bored one time.  I was in “that mood,” the one where it seems that all is wrong with the world.  Grandma knew how to handle the situation.  She put me in an old work shirt of Grandpa’s and handed me a paint brush.

“Come outside,” she said.  On the back stoop, she’d placed an old wooden child’s chair on a spread-out newspaper. “Go to town, Luanne,” she said.  I worked hard for a long time, painting that chair, which seemed so big

When my mother picked me up after work that day, she laughed.  “Mom, you had her do the same thing you made Don do to keep him busy!”  Even today when I feel “at odds,” this example keeps me working, moving forward through the doldrums.

Grandma did her chores while I was at her house.  She cooked and baked and ran errands, which were all on foot or by bus, as she didn’t drive.  I helped her and learned at her elbow.  She ironed my parents’ clothes, too, while I played at the kitchen table and sang with her.   She didn’t waste our time cleaning too much, but everything else got done—and done well.

She devoted a half hour to herself every day, watching As the World Turns while I “napped” beside her on the couch.

Mostly, though, Grandma doted on me and made sure I could learn and use my imagination.  She sat me on her lap and told me stories “from her head.” Her attention wasn’t fragmented by a cell phone or computer.  She limited her telephone and TV usage.  She was completely there in the moment with me each day.

Can we say the same today for our children and grandchildren and the children we babysit?

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Twig

When I was ten, my father planted a Purple Leaf Plum twig in our backyard on Crockett Street. The roots fit in a coffee can. This plum sprig and I were the same height.

At least once a year, for five years, he took a photo of me standing next to the tree. The tree grew much more rapidly than I did. In some photos the tree was leafless, like an upside down rake, in others, the tension in its burgundy leaves apparent, and in at least one, the tree was in full pinkish-white bloom, the only beauty in our backyard.

Next to it, I looked unkempt, my bangs far too long, my hair shiny with oil, and raggedy clothes picked out of my costume trunk. Underneath these superficialities, the face was too thin which made the eyes and nose and mouth look overlarge and vulnerable–the face of a young teen trying to decide in which direction to run.

The plum tree stood in the center of our backyard because it needed full sunlight. After a heavy rainstorm, the tree’s branches hung to the ground in despair from the beating. I lifted the branches up off the wet grass. Next day the branches were directed skyward again.

We moved away from Crockett Street the summer before I entered tenth grade. Since it was in the backyard, I never saw the tree again. It now belonged to someone else. They say plum trees only live a generation or so, but sometimes a new trunk grows up next to the original and takes over, keeps on living. I like to think that’s what happened with our plum tree.

I don’t have the photos of me standing by the tree–only the memory and this one picture of my mother sitting in a lawn chair in front of the tree.

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Black Marks on a White Page

After yesterday . . . .  Today is another “after yesterday.”  Today’s yesterday was the slaughter of babies.  I have no words for what happened.

I have no transition.  Today my mind lacks the glue necessary to form transitions.

In the creative nonfiction writing courses I have taken, I’ve been required to read Jo Ann Beard’s essay “The Fourth State of Matter” at least five times.  It might have been six.  I can’t keep track any more.  That’s the problem when something happens in great quantity.

If you haven’t read her essay and don’t want the “surprise” spoiled, please stop reading here. Instead you can purchase her book of essays The Boys of My Youth and read the piece there.

In Beard’s piece she writes about being the survivor of “workplace violence,” a mass murder which occurred among a small group of coworkers.  At some point after this occurred (where her life shifted into the before and after), she wrote this masterpiece.  The New Yorker published it and then her CNF essay collection containing the piece was published in 1999.

This morning I wanted to know if Beard had any words of wisdom for me in the aftermath.  In an interview by Amy Yelin, Beard said:

As I said, every piece I write is difficult to write. And no, it did not feel healing because I wasn’t wounded. I write in order to make art, not to pursue or banish personal demons. And not to put too fine a point on it, but nobody gets “healed” from a mass murder by putting black marks on a white page and asking strangers to read it.

“Nobody gets ‘healed’ from a mass murder by putting black marks on a white page and asking strangers to read it.”  If only it could be that easy.

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Poetry for Christmas

Before I could read I owned a picture book which looked like a Little Golden Book, but might have been published by a different company.  It was an illustrated version of the lullaby, “All the Pretty Little Horses.”  I begged my mother to read me that book every night, wanting to re-imagine all the different colors of horses.

A couple of years later, my mother gave me my first volume of poetry for Christmas, called Sung Under the Silver Umbrella.  I treasured that book, even through the middle-school years when my friends made fun of poetry.  I still have the book.  For years I felt as if the book were my own little secret–that it had a readership of one, and that I was alone in the world with the poems.IMG_5338

Imagine my surprise to learn that one of Sylvia Plath’s favorite childhood books was the same one I loved This book was first published for children in 1935, when Plath was three years old.  When I got it, the book had been out for a full generation.

The poetry in this book isn’t very edgy by today’s standards.  There isn’t even any Shel Silverstein in it.  But it’s still a great foundation for building a poetic life.  Here’s a sample from the book:

***

GENERAL STORE

Some day I’m going to have a store

With a tinkly bell hung over the door,

With real glass cases and counters wide

And drawers all spilly with things inside.

There’ll be a little of everything;

Bolts of calico; balls of string;

Jars of peppermint; tins of tea;

Pots and kettles and crockery;

Seeds in packets; scissors bright;

Kegs of sugar, brown and white;

Sarsaparilla for picnic lunches,

Bananas and rubber boots in bunches.

I’ll fix the window and dust each shelf,

And take the money in all myself,

It will be my store and I will say:

“What can I do for you to-day?”

Rachel FieldIMG_5341

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Seasons

Happy news greeted me this morning.  A poem I wrote about my experiences arising from a rare tumor in my foot was published this morning in “New Voices” on Poetic Medicine. 

Here is “Seasons.”   I hope you click the link and check it out.

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Pearl Diving on My PC

My writing files are a mess.  Unfinished drafts and scraps which feel as if they are done (for now) cohabit my file drawers and banker boxes and teetering stacks.  I can deal with that kind of disorder.  What’s worse is that my writing files on the computer are a mess.  It’s harder for me to find files lost in computer chaos than in room mess.

So I started the long process of organizing my Word and WordPerfect files.  That’s when I found a folder full of old (really old) poems, some published, most not.  I’d forgotten that I had ever written them, but when I re-read them the old feelings came back and I remembered the complete writing process of many.

I’m not sure if this was a positive or negative event.  It seems somehow outside that sort of experience.  There’s a sense of déjà vu, but I also detect new layers in myself–strata added on in the years since I wrote those poems.

Here is one of my forgotten poems, published almost 200 years ago in 13th Moon.  I wrote it when I was  a grad student, newly moved to California from Michigan, feeling as if I’d left behind a part of my life.

Pearl diver in Japan

Pearl diver in Japan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

***

Pearl Diving Off Mikura Jima

Fingers persuading back wind-beaten hair

under the cotton bonnet

of Puritans and infants and Japanese pearl seekers,

she adjusts her jumpsuit,

arches her naked feet,

and waits for the girl going first.  Then she herself swoops

into the gelatinous,

pulsating ocean,

an entity

immune to the pull of the breeze.

*

Remember that dubbed horror movie we couldn’t shake

off–or wouldn’t?  It was when

we thought the world was fun

in its irritated state.

Last week I found myself asking–

I was thinking of mock

ascensions and the superiority of irony–can we be Virgins

again.

*

I want the miracle.

Torrential murmurs from the primordial conch,

Do you believe in magic?

Saying yes–both at once–we knew

it could happen,

the re-entry, the nacre increasing,

radiant as babyskin.

But the horror movie

is a recurrent rerun–

terrifying and allegedly harmless.

*

The Japanese woman returns from the deep and shakes her head,

swings her open, empty hands,

simple kites in the pull of the breeze.

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Each image in the poem brings back a specific memory for me.  Watching pearl divers on television in my old house.  Reading mock ascensions in Plath.  Finding the spaniel with the ear hematoma.  No, don’t bother going back to look:  he’s there, but you can’t see him.

I’ve asked myself how it’s possible to remember the whole writing process for this poem and some of the others I discovered.  And why it felt important to remember.   I don’t really have an answer, though.

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Thank you thank you thank you to Elizabeth at The Daily Creative Writer, Olivia Wolfe, and Nathan at manoftheword   for nodding back at my blog (the Very Inspiring Blogger award).  You’re all inspirations to me!

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