Saturday, April 28, 2007

Sunday Scribblings

Because my mother worked and my father didn’t, she had to find places for me to go when she wasn’t at home. When I was young, occasionally on Saturdays she would give me some money and see that I was dropped off at our local theatre for an afternoon double feature. There I decided how real women should look – Doris Day, Susan Hayward, Maureen O’Hara; Jerry Lewis was the funniest guy I’d ever seen [my cousin Richard, also from Hollywood (North, that is) looked just like Jerry but wasn’t ever as funny] and that four hours was too long to sit in one place.Then one Saturday I saw John Wayne in ‘Wings of Eagles’ and I pieced together some idea of what a real man in the late 1950’s might be like – very little about him resembled my dad. I cried when 'Spig' Wead fell down the stairs and was paralyzed; the poignant ending has remained with me, however schmaltzy, these many years since.
Those afternoons in the air conditioned, dark, smelly, big-screened cinema were my best days of summer where I was safe and entertained beyond Milton Berle or anything me and my best friend could come up with. Wrapped in that immense velvet curtain, films were our hovercraft. Neither of us had to endure our separate family dramas but only eat (and throw) popcorn, rest our heads on the prickly seat backs, squirm and feel the freedom that flying above Birch Street
could bring.

Posted on Sunday Scribblings; see more Scribblings.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

For the winter is passed. . .

'The texture, so precious, of any given day is the texture of perception. Anyone's will do.'

This comes from The Love of Impermanent Things by Mary Rose O'Reilley from St. Paul, a book I cannot stop reading. . .you know the kind that causes one to lose track of time, stop, ponder and copy the gems to a journal, and rave and recommend to anyone who will listen? In her midlife 'memoir' she says:

'The mystery of what's remembered and what's forgotten seems either portentous or random. Which is it? I turn over a potsherd here, a fragment there--the archaeology of memory--trying to make a single ancient pot that will hold together and tell me who I am, who anyone is.'

Do check out this title.

Do you ever think of writing a memoir? My family is/was very colorful, these hard-headed Calabrians and Alsatians. I've been reluctant to spill the beans until everyone is gone. . .but I'm not getting any younger myself! How about a fictional account -- my mother's family history would certainly make interesting reading; her dad walking off the farm one day never to return. [Sadly she waited seventy-three more years for the mints he said he'd bring her when he left for town.] . . .her mother's depression, struggling to feed her three children from her garden and the weekly free hog's head from the local slaughterhouse. The workers were told to 'cut a little deeper' because the Miller kids were coming for the head that day. The Italian side was from the other side of the tracks due to hard work and planning, and I guess, different tragedies. Their first born of seven died in his first year. My dad's 'seizures' and propensity for angry tirades with knives against his mother made him the least favorite of these chronically sad immigrant children. You can't make this stuff up!

That's for another day.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Play nice or else!

Yesterday the planets were misaligned. I can usually sense this phenomenon when I repeatedly drop things, step on my own shoelaces, forget my daughters' names, and so on. I should have known better to even get in the car.

So oblivious to the warnings, off I drove to find the perfect pots at a nearby thrift store. Driving through a parking lot I noticed a woman walking behind my car yelling something at me and glaring at me as I passed. Now I hate confrontation probably more than the next person but I really hate not being able to defend myself, not being heard. I went to the aisle where she was shopping and asked her, using my best assertive voice, if anything was wrong. "Yes, you were speeding!" She informed me of the speed limit in a parking lot and that she knew this because she lived in a trailer park that has the same speed limit. Louder she said she could have called the police on me and warned me to slow down next time. I managed to thank her for her concern and wished her a good day but it was obvious she wasn't through. When I was leaving she yelled across the entire store from the checkout line that I better remember to slow down next time. I couldn't help myself when I asked her if I should remember her name (what?) but she fired back with, "I don't have a name but I'll remember your face!"
I was pretty rattled when I got back to my car. Shortly came the tears of embarrassment, shame, anger, criticism for even following her into the store and best of all, heart palpitations. No way was I going to let such a relatively mundane -- and no-win -- situation give me a heart attack.
What I know for sure is: I wasn't speeding, I didn't deserve the to be yelled at but I chose to confront her which always brings consequences, it did reduce me to a fearful, abused 7-year old and her my anger hurt my heart. But the most cogent message for me was that I wear my emotions (pain, fear, guilt, anger) very near to the top of my skin.

Driving away, I went another two miles when the right front tire blew out. Providentially my little car was only three blocks from a Sinclair station. An hour later I had a new tire, $82 less in my pocketbook and this advice from the motorcycle dude with a big tattoo on his forearm of a Harley Panhead who works the front desk : "Life's just too short to let these little things get to you!"

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Sunday Scribblings**. . .Rootedness. . .

Roots signify connectedness as well as stability in trees and human hearts. Taproots run down the deepest into the earth but the tree sends out many smaller roots away from the tree to balance the upward growth.

My taproot was planted in a small town in Idaho living with my grandmother for those first years when roots are most tender. My life’s experiences since have seen the arterial roots pushing out in the darkness, exploring, gobbling up all the good worms and compost, sometimes sidelined by a nick from a lawn mower or sharp spade, but always moving. My roots were probably shallower than some because I was planted near a river like a poplar or willow, nibbling on wild watercress. These shorter roots were easy for me to transplant to various parts of the country. With little effort I could dig up my roots and stay for a short while in the high-water mark of Virginia, rich Pennsylvania Dutch farmland, potato and sugar beet fields in Idaho, urban potholes in Chicago, or most recently in the sandy, pine strewn lake shores of Minnesota. Throughout, my taproot nurtured these smaller vagabond roots, continually whispering, “You belong.”

Sometimes when the wind blows outside my window here in Minnesota, the trees that have grown up very close to each other squeak when they touch. This thrills me to the roots, reminding me that we all belong here, rooted together.

**See more about Sunday Scribblings.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Art imitates life

I have witnessed occupation. I know how people can hate each other. I've been there. They were my friends.

Mikhail Baryshnikov

This quote reminded me of a co-worker at the University of Chicago named Olga who, with her husband and son, had left Czechoslovakia in the late 60's, moving to Chicago. She had grown up in Bohemia and later lived in Prague. Her memories of the Nazi occupation as well Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia were vivid and penetrating to me, a child of the Cold War. Olga was amazingly athletic -- skiing well into her 70's and chic -- wearing hand tailored suits her mother had made for her. She retained her Slavic accent; for instance, she would say ducks were swimming in the pond and I heard dogs were swimming. No matter, she always had my rapt attention which sometimes got us both some managerial glances. Her experiences were truly a world and lifetime away from mine. I gave Olga my copy of My Antonia which opened up more delicious conversation about her own Bohemian childhood. So, one day Olga saw me knitting during lunch which reminded her of the time she was in a rowboat with her son, Jan, paddling around. She had brought her knitting along with her hoping to finish a sweater she had started for herself. Being a curious child, Jan's enthusiasm eventually tipped the little boat. At that moment, she and Jan watched the yarn and needles float away. She laughingly admitted that's why the stylish sweater she was wearing when she told me this story only had three-quarter length sleeves!

P.S. I took this shot of the beautiful sunset across the parking lot, almost missing this silver opportunity due to nodding off in front of the television. Maybe there's a message here. . .

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Location, location. . .

A beautiful pair of white herons were scouting the local real estate Easter Sunday around our lakes. To the right is a Japanese block print called 'White Heron and Irises', circa 1833 from the Victoria & Albert Museum. At left from the Freer/Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian, 'White Heron on a Snowy Willow,' mid 15th century. Below is the best shot I could get.
When I watched my pair through the binoculars the male plumage was incredible, with long wing feathers touching the ground. They were huddled together in the sunshine, casting white shadows on the water. And for a split second they reminded me of a cautious celebrity couple surreptitiously trying to evade the paparazzi. Earlier that morning I heard the unmistakable plaintiff call of loons as two black silhouettes flew above my head. More Minnesota nice!
P.S. In the same family I highly recommend listening to The Crane Wife by the Decemberists. . .and don't pay any attention to Audrey if she tells you otherwise!

Monday, April 9, 2007

I'm a Libra -- what's your sign, Baby?

So, even though Libras are known for their winning smiles and sense of justice, they can be lazy, outspoken and out of kilter at the drop of a hat. I'm pretty sure that Peanuts' Lucy personifies the Libra on a bad day: melancholy, tight-jawed, snarky ("snidely derisive") with a hefty right hook. I tend to think it is maintaining this superior sense of everyone should play nice that drives them to find their blankie and take to bed; not, of course, without having the last word. Throw in a bit of emotional attention deficit and it goes like this: "I feel like crap today -- oh, man, I was just blinded by how yellow that goldfinch is!" or "I hope that cement footed couple in the upstairs apartment falls through my ceiling and then maybe they'll move out once and for all -- wow, there's a dime on the ground!" or "She gave me the donut with the least amount of sprinkles, that selfish dolt -- A Law & Order marathon, how nice!" and so it goes when you're not quite squared. Danae sums it up. Hmm, maybe she's a Libra too.

Antiques Roadshow had a segment on mohair teddy bears and the one stuffed bear a lady presented for inspection was found to be older than anybody imagined. As the expert examined the bear he noted it was in fine condition all except for the bit of mohair missing from its head. There you have it, the real reason this Libra can only tolerate so much idiocy, I'm short some mohair.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Timing and simple pleasures. . .

Easter and springtime greetings! I found these adorable buns at IKEA for the unheard of price of $.33 each. I brought them home in honor of our daughters, Audrey and Erica who are 28 and 26 respectively and who are missed a lot, especially when a holiday rolls around.
Like comedians playing off one another, life seems to teeter on a delicate balance of happy/sad, glory/tragedy, simple/complex and so on. This fine, rich balancing act has been on my mind this week in many subtle circumstances. For instance, as I was walking up the hall of our apartment building I passed the door of a neighbor with a toddler named Tasha. I slowed when I heard a funny noise like her mommy doing horsey whinnies. I knew what would come next: the incredible sound of a baby's uninhibited laughter, starting slowly and raising to cathedral heights. It was a stand-still moment for me and the sound of Tasha's giggling followed me to my door with a smile on my face. Today when I bleary-eyed took my dog outside, I looked up and saw the Big Dipper against a clear black sky and off to the left the north star. It doesn't get much better than that constant. Sun shining through tulips leaves while the temperature might hit 15 degrees is an remarkable example of perseverance as are the lilac buds on slender bare branches, or ducks' rumps sitting on the thin skin of ice on the newly melted lake, not to mention the incredible blue of the many lakes here when the sun shines.
Riding my Zamboni today, cup of coffee in hand, I heard four older gentlemen at a table head to head in conversation, while finishing their breakfast. The talk meandered from who the Republicans will offer in the '08 election to gas prices, the Middle East and the prevailing languages in that part of the world. One old guy asked if the others had seen the television program JAG because the one female lawyer is Farsi. Then another said, "She's not Farsi, Bob, that's a language. You can't be Farsi!" "Well," he replied, "she's from Lebanon and can speak Lebanese also she's been in Iraq, so I guess that's how she knows Farsi." I took another swipe around the ice with the Zamboni to honor these wiseguys.
And, so, all's well and as Harvey Pekar would say, "my life is still total chaos."