Monday, May 27, 2013

A sort of memorial

back of the kitchen house

Today is Memorial Day.  To my knowledge I have no immediate blood relatives who have died while serving in the armed forces.  I do, however, have a father and many uncles who served during times of combat.  A friend of my father’s family knows my husband, and she told him that my grandmother once said of her four boys that she had “three under the gun and one at the gates of hell.”  I have no way of proving she actually made that statement (my father said she did NOT),  but it could be true considering she had three sons serving across the globe during WWII ,and one younger one still at home. 

I thought about this family yesterday when I went on a reconnaissance mission to their old homestead to strategize how to move the handmade sandstone front steps from their house to my house.   There’s a certain feeling I get when I step across the property line onto the soil where my father lived the first thirty some-odd years of his life, Army service aside.  It is a feeling of being very small and curious.  It is like being in a time warp where time stands still and nothing ever changes.  Everything feels the same today as it did when I was a child.  The dirt looks the same, the grass looks the same.  The landscape has changed dramatically, but the essence is still the same.

The farm was not a place I knew where family gathered to visit grandparents and uncles and cousins.  In my lifetime it was more like a museum, a home that had been left intact as if the owner would return at any moment and take up where she left off before she went to town to run a quick errand. It is a place rich with stories of hauntings and the supernatural.  My own mother swore she saw the ghost of my grandfather, a baker by trade, standing in the field baking cookies.  My mother never lied.  Nor did she ever get out of the car if she went out there after that day.

Many of my young childhood Saturdays were spent on the farm sitting on the front porch with my grandmother while my father and brothers mowed around the house to keep it clean for the owner who would never return.  I was not allowed to spend any time in the house.  My grandmother would go inside to get the broom to sweep up and pull out her rocking chair.  After her sweep she would sit in her chair waving a fan and rocking while I would lie on the wood planks of the porch, or explore the front steps for the imprint of the chicken feet that walked across them when the cement was still wet.  Sometimes I would venture to the barnyard (my own Secret Garden) or to where the plum trees grew to search for ripe fruit.

inside the kitchen today
 If I was allowed in the house it was under strict supervision.. "Do not kustass” or “ne kutas” was the phrase I heard most often there and at home, the Hungarian way of saying “do not pilfer”.   Nothing could be touched, moved or looked through.  In the separate kitchen house there were pots on the stove, dishes in the cupboards, and Mason jars full of preserves on the shelves.  The calendar on the wall was perpetually stuck in 1959.  My strongest memory of the house comes from that kitchen.  I remember standing next to my father while he lied under the kitchen sink, repairing something.  Why, I don’t know, because no one was there to use it.  When he came out from under the sink he brought with him a long, papery snake skin.  Something was living there, afterall.

Other than the memories of the kitchen I only remember a clock under a glass dome, and a picture of two of my sisters hanging on the wall.  I add this house to my list of things to remember if I am ever hypnotized.

Today the farm is a sad place of ruin.  Everything worth anything was stolen from the house almost forty years ago.  That’s about the same time the Saturdays on the porch stopped.  I’ve spent hours digging through the wreckage and pillaging letters, bottles, broken handmade furniture, and other trinkets I felt worth saving.  Now even that is no longer possible because the house has fallen under the weight of neglect, storm damage, and a tree limb the size of a tree that has crashed into the roof.  The outer walls are falling away from the house, the front porch where I sat with my grandmother has fallen in, and the attic is now home to a nest of buzzards.  I think eventually the house will just shrink away until one day there are only splinters left lying under a pile of rusted tin and a brick chimney pointing to heaven. 

As I walked around the property checking on the caved in out-buildings I called on the ghosts of the former tenants to be with me.  “Grandpa” I whispered, “are you here?”  “Daddy, are you here?” “Grandma?” I wanted them to walk with me and tell me things about their lives on those 60 acres.  

On my way out I found a wooden post with rusted nails hammered into it that was once a piece of a shed, or maybe a fence.  I wanted to take it, even though I could hear “ne kutas” ringing in my ears.  I took it anyway.  My husband heaved it over his shoulder and carried that old weathered piece of worthless wood home because he knows to me it is a treasure.  I turned and waved good-bye to my Grandpa, like I always do, just in case he’s out there in the field, baking cookies like the specter my mother saw so many years ago.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

When other friendships are soon forgot, ours will still be hot


I often speak of my oldest friend and traveling partner, but my mother had one of her own.  Her name was Joyce, Auntie Joyce as I was raised to call her.  It was years before I realized Joyce was not related to me. 
 
Mama and Joyce grew up together and shared a strong bond of friendship throughout their lives, even though their walks in life took them down very different paths. 

  • Joyce married a man with a successful, prolific career.  My mother married a man who worked as a civil servant and thought he was rich if he had $10 in his pocket.  Both women loved their husbands, and their husbands loved their wives.
  • Mama worked as a telephone operator for 30 years to help support her family.  Joyce did not need to work, but spent countless hours volunteering.  Each woman found fulfillment in what they did.
  • Joyce lived in a modern home in the New Orleans suburbs.  Mama lived in an old, crowded house in an industrial neighborhood in Hattiesburg.
  • Joyce belonged to a supper club and ate at fine restaurants all over New Orleans.  Mama cooked and carried many meals to pot-luck suppers.  Neither woman ever went hungry.
  • Mama found enjoyment playing Bingo.  Joyce found enjoyment playing bridge.
  • Joyce bought new cars.  Mama bought her used ones. 
  • Joyce was tall and slender and refined.  Mama was a little less than average height, not slender, and only dressed up for special occasions.
  • Joyce was well read.  Mama did not go to high school.

With so many differences, how did these two women stay so close all their lives?  I guess it was because they shared the same beginnings, and they saw each other with their hearts and not their eyes.  They saw the souls beyond the bodies and the pocketbooks.

I, for one, am very glad they did remain friends, because through their friendship I learned the value of keeping a lifelong friend.  I also got to go on trips with them, and listen to their teasing and gossip and heartfelt talks.  When they were together it was as if they had never been apart.  Isn’t that the mark of a true friend?

Joyce died earlier this week, and my sister, brother, niece, and I went to her funeral yesterday.  I went because I wanted to go, I loved Auntie Joyce.  But I also went because I knew my mother would be there in spirit, and I always want to share space with her spirit.  

One of Joyce’s daughters was with her constantly in her last days and told us how Joyce began to see and notice things not visible to anyone else.  It reminded me of my daddy’s last hours when he did the same thing.  I can’t help but wonder if Mama was there with her, holding open a curtain to the light and urging her “come on, the car is gassed and ready, let’s go!”

For a moment I think I might have heard them together at the back of the chapel, mocking just a little.  “Mary Ann, can you believe what she’s wearing?”  “Oh, hush Ugly.  I saw you wear the same outfit a week ago”.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

A week


This afternoon my husband asked me if I wanted to walk to the back of our property to take pictures of magnolia blooms.  Of course I wanted to, but that meant I would have to pass through The Gate.  I had a tinge of loathing for a moment, like that feeling you get when you know you unexpectedly see a person who has caused you grief, and you don’t want a confrontation.  But I know if you fall off a bicycle you have to get right back on and keep pedaling, no matter how scraped up your knees are, or your ego bruised.

So I did take that walk, and when I reached through The Gate and pressed the carabiner to pull it out of the latch I looked at the top of The Gate to see if it had suffered as well. There was a small dent, but I don’t if it was made by my mouth or if was already there.

I looked at the ground to see if there was any sign of my blood, but except for the haunting memory of that horrid moment there was no trace of evidence to be found.  Nevertheless, the return to The Scene gave me the chance to face a foe, forgive it, and keep going forward.

I met Lee in the middle pasture and we took our walk.  It was pleasant, but the magnolias are not yet in bloom. And since the grass is more than ankle high I had no desire to dawdle for fear of running across a snake soaking up the hot afternoon sun.

 On the way back Lee returned to his tractor work, and I continued towards the house, going once more through The Gate.  As I pulled it towards me I ran my finger across the dent, and it reminded me of the many casts I’ve made of my teeth when playing with chewing gum.  Maybe my imagination was running a little ahead of me.

This past week has been surreal to me.  The days ran together for the most part – bed, recliner, JELLO, bed, recliner, soup, etc., but I did venture out into the world for a short day of work, and a short visit to a grocery store.  For the most part people were polite and ignored my swollen face and bulging lips.  Some took great pains to not look at me, and some could not stop staring, like looking at a train wreck, I guess. 

I always try to don my rose-colored glasses to look at the flip side of the coin through the half full glass of lemonade.  This week my glass of sweet, rose-colored lemonade was filled to the brim from the outpouring of friendship, favors and well wishes.   I have been truly overwhelmed to know so many people care.  It’s humbling, it’s soul warming, and I am thankful.   

Truly.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Busted



This is difficult for me to write, and I write it more for documentation than anything else.  I also write it so that if you see me in the next few days or weeks, probably even months you will know the truth of the matter, and not make any assumptions.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day.  While my family made it a good weekend for me, I found myself feeling down in the dumps because it made me realize how much I miss my own mother.  I spent the morning pulling weeds for a little while, and resting on the porch swing soaking in the breeze, listening to my wind chimes and thinking about my mother.  But my thoughts turned to my father before the day was done. 
  
When I was little I used to brush my teeth when my Daddy brushed his.  He took exceptional care of his teeth and he imparted that virtue in me.   Brushing was a ritual for him.  Sometimes he used toothpaste, sometimes a tooth powder and sometimes baking soda.  In fact, during his last hospital admission when he was one month away from his 90th birthday his nurse came in and asked him if he needed to take out his dentures.  My sister and I laughed with him as he proudly told the nurse that he did not wear dentures.  The set of teeth in his mouth was all his own.

If you are a Harry Potter fan then you know that anyone who knew Harry’s parents would tell him he was the image of his father but he had his mother’s eyes.  I’ve always thought I look much like my mother but I have my Daddy’s smile.  That changed yesterday afternoon.

Without going into great detail, I volunteered to hold open the metal gate separating two of our pastures so my husband could drive the tractor through.  He was heading to a plot of land to disk it up so he can plant a wildflower habitat for me.  The disker on the back of the tractor did not clear the gate and hit the wooden fence post instead.  Although the speed of the tractor was merely a crawl, for every action there is a reaction, and the energy of that bump traveled through the metal gate and up the bottom of my face. I tasted the metal, and saw the tops of the trees as I was thrust backwards and onto my back.  I knew my mouth was hurt so I grabbed it and rolled onto my stomach.  All I could say, or cry out, was that my teeth were knocked out.

Thank the good God above I have a sister who works for an oral surgeon.  My husband called her immediately, and after trying to assess how many of my teeth were on the ground we were up and headed to her office, bloody shirt, pants and all.

In the end I lost one tooth entirely and another one is very loose, but wired into my mouth.  The bottom of my lip was cut through and is stitched up inside and out.  

Because of a handful of crackers I ate at lunch and three strawberries I ate about an hour before the accident I could not be put to sleep for the medical procedure.  But my sister has skills at nitrous oxide and my doctor numbed me up good, so it was painless.  The worst pain so far is my swollen lip.  Well, my swollen face in general.  Again, if you are a Harry Potter fan think of what Harry looked like in Deathly Hallows Part I when Hermione put the stinger spell on him so the Snatchers would not recognize him.  Yep, that’s me.  (Have you figured out I watched Deathly Hallows last night when I was pumped full of pain medication?)

I know that God has plans, but I’m having a hard time understanding how my teeth fit into them.  Is this meant to be a lesson in vanity, or humility?  Seriously, my vanity disappeared about a hundred pounds ago, or so I thought.  It quickly returns when faced with visible hole in your mouth.  And the fact that losing a tooth cannot even be compared to losing an arm or a leg or a life is not lost on me.  If the fence had hit me five inches higher I would probably be dead.  I understand all this, but at the same time I don’t understand any of it.  Until I do I will be looking for the window opened by the shutting door.

I want to thank my husband for being so kind and helpful to me, and having the sense to call my sister when all of my sensibility was gone. This accident was not his fault even though he is feeling guilty.  I knew better, but I let my guard down and suffered the consequences.  I want to thank my Middle Child sister for being there with a doctor, nitrous oxide, and a suction tube in one hand, and the other hand on my shoulder.  And I want to thank my Pesky Sister for coming over today and making me a mean bowl of chocolate pudding and JELLO.  It’s slurpilicious.  And I can't forget my sons and their contribution of an ice pack, clean kitchen and couch made up for the returning patient.

I’ll get my teeth fixed, and I’m not the least concerned with the scar I might have on my face.  The thing that hurts me the most is that I’ve lost my Daddy’s smile.  “Lisbuss”, I can hear him say, “why did you want to go and do that?”  I can just hear him.

Oh, I almost forgot.  You see, I am convinced that my mother sends me pennies.  I find pennies everywhere.  My husband and I stopped at CVS on the way home to get my prescriptions and some ice cream.  When he came back to the car he opened my door to hand me the bag and bent down and picked up two quarters.  He handed them to me and told me they were from my mother.  I told him she would call that casino money.  As he opened his own door he bent down and picked up something else, and handed it to me, "and here's your penny" he said.  Mama came through.  It was Mother's Day, afterall.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sometimes I ramble


When I was so much younger I read so much more than I do now.  I was often drawn to books about young women who secreted themselves away in a garret to write.  I wished I had one of those garrets, whatever they were, so I, too, could hide myself away and write as I looked out the tiny, yellowed garret-ish window.  I dreamed of filling composition books that I bought for a penny and sharpening my thick, lead pencil with a knife, or dipping my quill in a bottle of ink, and writing feverishly about all those things a garret inspires.  

As of today I have never lived in a house with an attic, so my garret-writing days are nil.  Maybe one day.  Not to change the subject, but once I did go into an attic beyond my wildest dreams.  It was in house on Bay Street owned by the family of my favorite person in history.  There was stuff in there.  I mean s-t-u-f-f!! Things like furniture, books (oh the books!), and everything in between ranging in age from the end of the 19th century to the end of the 20th  were piled high, forming a maze through the space.  The new owners turned it into a modern den/home theater.  They did not seek the treasure.

So I have no attic, but due to my oldest son’s decision to remodel his upstairs space I now have a desk in my bedroom.  When my husband and I first married we had no furniture.  The essential things we did have he built right before and during our engagement so that at least we would have a table at which to eat, a place for our books, and a bed.  The other few pieces we had were toss-away items from our parents’ houses.  This desk was one of those things.  It was painted a ghastly antiqued-green, but that really didn’t matter at the time because nothing we had matched anyway.  He decided to refinish it and spent hours melting and scraping off the paint and sanding and sealing the wood underneath until the finish was as smooth as satin.  He added some accent paint, because that is what you did back in the 1990s, and voilĂ , a piece of furniture worthy of use and display.

This desk has been with us through three moves and has been passed around the family for different purposes.  My son decided it was no longer needed upstairs and wanted it gone.  I told him to give me time to think about where to put it, so one day I came home from work and found it in my bedroom situated in front of my mock-bay window.  I really didn’t want any more furniture in my bedroom, but I make a really good lemonade and this was one of the occasions.

Usually when I write I either sit at the table on my front porch or propped up in my recliner balancing my laptop between my knees.  Today I thought I would give the desk a tryout, to see if it is garret-worthy.  Allow me to describe this experience.

I am sitting on a wooden chair we found in someone's trash.  It was broken, but my handy husband repaired it and painted it a bright blue for our son’s childhood bedroom.  The inner curved piece of the chairback is broken again so I have to sit on the edge so as not to stab myself with the protruding wooden stake.  This desk must have been made for genetically small people because my legs do not fit under it, nor did they even in my skinny years.  Therefore, I am sitting at a slight angle to the right. 
 
The view from my window is pleasant.  The sun is bright, and the sky is cornflower blue; the clouds are billowy and moving at a good pace.  The breeze is making the verdant trees dance a graceful ballet.  However, I have a slight problem with the view.  If I look through the upper windows everything is clear, at least as clear as it gets when the windows haven’t been cleaned all winter.  But when I look through the bottom window I can’t focus my vision past the screen.  All I can see are tiny black squares against a green backdrop.  Even if I try to focus on the background I can still see the screen.  If this desk is going to be my writing desk the screens have to go.  I’m pretty sure garret windows do not have screens.

Instead of tucked up in a cozy dark garret with my paper and pencil, I’m sitting in a bright room on an uncomfortable chair punching letters on a keyboard.  If I look to the right I can see through the kitchen door and see my son eating his lunch.  I’m pretty sure you can’t do that in a dark musty garret.  

All in all I have found enjoyment writing on this old desk that was made to look new but is now looking old again.  Even though my legs are numb from sitting at this odd angle I think I’ll write here again.  A padded stool may be better than a broken chair.  I’ll keep an eye out for one when I’m on the road.  Like this desk, and my writing experiences, one man’s trash is another’s treasure.  It’s all in the way it’s finished in the end.