I hope everyone who celebrates has a person or persons to be with tomorrow for Thanksgiving. Here’s a photo of another woman in Kin Types, my paternal grandmother–with her son, my father’s twin brother, at our house for Thanksgiving in the early 70s. She is the one who owned the mailbox marker in A Sign to Remember
This review is very cool in how she interprets so many of the poems. She shows a wonderful sense of what each piece is about.
Then at the end, Jorie inserts what is essentially a caveat, what she calls “Fly in the Ointment: Content Note.” She takes exception to my inclusion of a case of animal cruelty and murder in the poem “Once and Now.”
As you might guess, I really “get” her complaint and her sensitivity to harm to animals. Animals mean the world to me (in a literal sense, as well as figurative).
The poet in me, though, felt a need to not turn away from where the poem simply had to go. It’s a poem about war, in this case WWI. And it’s about zenophobia, a fear of foreigners, which showed itself as cruelty to immigrant Germans. That a dog suffers is typical of how war can work. What happens to the animals, both wild and in homes and zoos, when battles are fought?
But it’s not a poem about the dog. The dog is a very real dog who suffered, and the people are real people who suffered, and the dog is also a metaphor. Ok, that’s my “defense.” But I can truly see her point. It’s kind of like Facebook, who wants to go there and see petition requests with photos and comments about animals being harmed? (guilty)
What is YOUR opinion? Should I have left out the dog?
This is my second response to feeling inspired by Dawn Raffel’s memoir about the “secret life” of objects.
This object is not something I’ve owned for long, carrying from house to house. In fact, I only spotted it in July when we brought my mother home from the hospital.
My mother’s basement has shelves, boxes, and tables overflowing with photo albums and photo boxes. She has little interest in them. They were my father’s treasures. He was the family photographer and tried to hold every memory close to his heart and mind. With him now gone, my mother feels burdened by belongings that she never cherished to begin with. Every time I visit, she encourages me to take as much as I want of our family memories.
Before we flew back to Arizona, I decided to give the photo albums another go-around, taking home as many of the most important photographs as I could pack. I plan to scan them and then email them to other family members. While downstairs, I noticed a metal sign resting on the floor, shoved between two boxes.
This mailbox marker is from the 1960s. My father had it made for his mother’s mailbox when she moved near us from Chicago.
This is how it was attached to the mailbox and what Grandma’s mailbox looked like. If you click on this image, you will discover that there is a company (perhaps) still making these using a machine from the forties. The writer of the article says the company is so old school they don’t even have a website.
Grandma was born in Germany in 1893 and immigrated with her family to Illinois when she was two or three years old. When she was in her early 70s, she decided to leave Chicago for the small town atmosphere of Portage, Michigan, a suburb of Kalamazoo. Dad bought a duplex around the corner from our house, rented out one side, and moved Grandma into the other side. I was ten and could now ride my bike to Grandma’s house.
Not that I liked to visit her. I’m not proud of that fact, but it’s true. When Mom or Dad made me pedal down her street the houses all seemed to be watching me. The nameplate on the mailbox signaled that soon I would be walking in Grandma’s door. I always had either terrified starlings or lake stones in my stomach.
But why? I am not sure, but am trying to figure it out. Grandma was a bit stern, a bit strict, at least more so than my Kalamazoo grandmother who was warm and fun. (Kalamazoo Grandma was 19 years younger than Chicago Grandma). Was it a cultural reflection of Grandma’s semi-German upbringing? I think her father was stern and difficult to know. He might have been domineering and given to punishments. But this is a guess based on my dad’s and uncle’s stories. In old photos, Grandma’s mother looks like a sweetheart–sort of like my maternal grandmother. Was it that I was afraid of my grandmother’s strictness?
If so, that’s odd because my father could be unrelentingly strict. She was an amateur compared with Dad in that way.
I remember Grandma, a talented seamstress and tailor, poking a straight pin in my stomach and warning me that I was getting fat. I wasn’t overweight, although for a period of time my belly protruded a bit. I deeply resented her saying this to me, but she didn’t do it all the time. Would I have held it against her? Maybe, but I think she did it after I already had developed anxiety at visiting her.
Within a year or two, a doctor confirmed that I had “water weight” in my abdomen. Years later I would be diagnosed with lymphedema. Where did I get it? From Grandma who never did get a proper diagnosis. Doctors told her it was caused by congestive heart failure, a disease she developed with age, but the swelling in her legs was visible before she was forty–I can see it in photographs. (I hope you’re seeing the thread here about photographs: they can be important).
Grandma always had a glass bowl of Dum Dum suckers for me to choose from. I didn’t care for those dull little things. Tootsie Pops–or better yet, Slo Pokes–were my lollipops of choice. Did I resent not being offered what I wanted instead of what she wanted to give me? It’s possible that she couldn’t afford Tootsie Pops. The candy was only for us because she couldn’t eat it; she was diabetic. Was I a brat? She seemed to try to make me happy, but her ways were limited and without imagination.
Some of my memories make me wonder if I pitied Grandma. Her age? Her solitary life? Some unexpressed sadness deep within her?
I remember Grandma’s home being so quiet that the clock ticking spooked me like a sudden noise in a horror movie. And still. Every object in the dusty rose living room seemed preternaturally still, the sort of stillness that comes before unexpected movement, as if the contents were waiting for me to leave.
When I left and pedaled as fast as I could down the street, I deeply drew in the outdoor air, thrilled to be headed toward my own street.
Then, all these years later, I saw the heavy metal sign in Mom’s basement and brought it home in my suitcase. The gardener didn’t say anything until I pulled out hammer and picture hangers to hang it on the wall of my study. “You don’t want that there, do you?” Hahaha, yes, I did, and there it is.
Every day I scan a few of the photos I brought home. The other day I found this one of me kissing Grandma, thanking her for the crocheted afghan she made me for my high school graduation (you can see a bit of the pattern in the photo). Proof that Grandma and I loved each other, even if she made me nervous.
A while ago I warned you that I felt inspired by Dawn Raffel’s memoir and might write about the “secret life” of objects I hold dear (or in fear). Here’s the first one that I wanted to explore.
I only now have realized that the four snack bowls, speckled like the linoleum floor in my childhood kitchen, are melamine, not plastic. Maybe that’s why they are at least fifty years old and still have their little handles intact, although cracked.
When my parents moved out of their winter condo south of Tucson a few years ago, they decided to get rid of the majority of their furnishings, rather than cart them back to Kalamazoo. They urged us to take what we could of the wall art, furniture, and Dad’s craft pieces. My mom was amused when I grabbed the stack of dull brown bowls. “What do you want those for?” I wasn’t sure, but I knew I wanted them.
As long as I could remember, we had eaten Be-Mo potato chips, as well as vanilla ice cream and Hershey’s syrup whipped into milkshake consistency, from those bowls. When Mom kept out our hollowed tree branch bowl of nuts long after Christmas, we filled the snack bowls with smooth pecans and bumpy walnuts that gave way to cracked shell fragments.
The bowls were out at parties, but not for individual snacking. Mom filled them with her homemade Chex Mix and placed them around the living room. Her makeup and bouffant hair were already complete, a frilly half-apron tied around her waist, as she spread out party food, paper plates, and napkins. I placed the spoons and forks in angled lines. Lamplight and low music from the hi-fi set the stage.
As he beamed and told me silly jokes, Dad set up a temporary bar with highball and Old Fashioned glasses, cherries, olives, and a bucket of steaming ice. The anticipation of the party made a team of my parents and me, a protective shield against arguing and my father’s sudden mood changes.
At twelve, I was always hungry; my mother said I had a bottomless pit. When we counted up our daily calories in 7th-grade science class, I averaged 10,000/day. My parents were thin people and not big eaters, so meals were just what we needed for nutrition, no more. To fill up my cranky stomach, I would munch cooking walnuts and chocolate chips from a bowl I’d hidden under my bed.
I wonder today what my mother thought was happening to her baking supplies. And the sugar cubes she kept on hand to serve to company that stayed for coffee. Maybe there were other shortfalls in my life that my mother didn’t notice. In my imagination, as is the way of magical objects, the bowls are always brimming with delicious munchies.
Anybody want to play along and write about the secret life of an object? If so, please post the link in the comments here!
On another note, you all (that’s the same thing as y’all without me co-opting southern talk, or “you guys” as we used to say in Michigan) know I love family history. You probably know I have a blog called thefamilykalamazoo.com about my family history. Now I have a new–a second–blog about family history. It’s called enteringthepale.com and is about the gardener’s family history from eastern Europe.
I think this new blog, which follows our search for his ancestors, is important work on a very small scale. I am talking about finding and recording the history of Jewish family branches that were either lost or decimated during the Holocaust. In the case of the gardener’s family, we just don’t know yet what happened to anybody or who or where his family was 100, 150, 200 years ago. That’s what I will be writing about on this new blog. I’d love for you to follow. Right now we have about one follower unless you count my twitter followers.
I read a short memoir recently. It was recommended to me by Charles who blogs at Moore Genealogy when I posted about a couple of family heirlooms on my family history blog.
A big thank you to Charles because The Secret Life of Objects inspired me to want to write about objects as memoir. Not in a hit or miss way, but purposefully. To choose an object with meaning and to write about its “secret life.” #memoir #flashmemoir
I might do that here on this blog, peeps. So consider yourselves forewarned. Today, though, I’m just chattering. And trying to do a little writing as I can. Here. At my laptop.
Or sometimes elsewhere.
This week I was in California for business. I wrote notes for a poem at my favorite cafe in La Canada: Magpie’s Grill. They leave me alone to write, and they refill my iced tea.
On the way home, I saw a bus burning on the 10. The whole backend was engulfed in flames, and the riders were standing off to the side of the freeway. I think it was their luggage that was burning. According to the news story that I later looked up, 49 Korean tourists and their driver had made it out of the bus safely. I can’t help but wonder if their passports were so lucky.
The week was made more difficult because I washed my phone with the laundry. Before this happened, I could have proudly proclaimed that I wasn’t one of those people who get their phone wet. No toilet mishaps. No accidental falls into the pool. No slipping off the edge of the tub. Nope. But I stripped the bedsheets without noticing the phone lying there and just threw them into the washer. It was probably a goner after the waterfall cascade poured over the phone. It was sopping wet inside and already corroding.
But the upside is I now have a new phone. It’s a rose gold iPhone 7. I got a clear case and a glass cover that has a rose gold frame on it. PURTY! Best of all, the camera is much better than that on my iPhone 5s.
Perry is a great big kitten. He grabs Felix in a wrestling hold, almost smothering him, and licks his ear inside and out before Felix can get away. He climbs on Kana’s cat tree with her and walks across her, pretending he just wants to get to the other tree. What a goof. He will be seeing another vet for his fast breathing, though, as I am getting more worried about it. Here is his “this new life is sometimes mysterious, but I am doing my best to figure things out and please be patient with me” look. Or is it his “what are we gonna do now, Mom?” look?
Every family has its stories. The ones that cause us to post links and odd comments on the social media of our family members. Nobody else “gets” it because they don’t know the stories we’ve developed over the years.
One of our private stories (no longer private with this post, I guess) may or may not be apocryphal. I’m going to tell it as I know it, but maybe somebody else might have a different take on it.
Years ago, before I had kids even, it was very special to be able to tour Burbank Studios (now part of Warner Brothers). They only allowed a handful of people to tour each week, and you had to have some sort of connection to the industry. They were private tours.
When the gardener and I visited Los Angeles, I decided I just had to go on the tour. So I had to come up with an occupation that had some involvement in the film biz. I told them that I was a writer. That did the trick. Hahaha, this was before I was a writer. I wanted to be a writer, but if wishin’ were horses, I’d have my own stables.
On the day of the tour, the southern California sky turned a very opaque gray and hurled a deluge at us. The lot at the studio had turned to mud and it splashed at my ankles as I ran from the car to the building. I remember what I was wearing. My good blue and green striped cotton Polo sweater and ivory cords. You know what mud does on the back of ivory cords? Brown spatters up to the knees. It’s a good thing those cords were ruined. Nobody dresses like that anymore. I hope.
My hair was medium length by then, no longer to-the-waist. And I’d gotten a perm to try to replicate marcel waves, a look I’d always loved. My hair had turned a golden color from the perm. OK, it was positively brassy, but shiny and twinkly and not too ugly under a strong overhead light. Because I was young I looked pretty good, but if I had been any older I think the hair and the outfit would have DONE ME IN.
We toured some of the facility by golf cart, but most of our time was spent inside the sound stages because of the rain. They were filming T.J. Hooker, and William Shatner was hamming it up for the cameras. The four of us (a screenwriter and his wife, the gardener and moi) and our tour guide sat on the far side of the sound stage to watch the action. Fifteen minutes into this, a “runner” came to our tour guide and whispered into her ear. She whispered back and the runner ran back to the Hooker set. Our guide caught my eyes and raised her eyebrows, then pursed her mouth in a way that said I’m impressed.
When we left the sound stage, she told me that I had caught Shatner’s eye and he’d sent the runner to find out who I was. Maybe he assumed that I really was a writer, maybe even one cooking up a good story for him to star in.
This blog post is the best I could do for him, I’m sorry to say.
The gardener kept the story going for years, assuring the kids that I could have married the TV star before they were even born. Because the kids grew up with that story, my fate as almost-Shatner’s-wife became family lore.
Perry’s bloodwork came back negative, so his heart must be ok. And I #amwriting, no kidding. Maybe not what I intended (the memoir), but still writing.
Go write one of your family stories, a page out of your family lore. If you post it on your blog, let me know!
As a child, I loved reading about times past. Biographies of famous women like Lucrezia Borgia and Annie Oakley let me experience life in the periods in which they lived. Historical fiction lent a sense of adventure to realistic depictions of old England or the American colonial period. Time travel became my favorite fantasy. But […]