Sunday, April 7, 2019

Roller Coaster Ride and Tripping Over Tile

It's been a heck of a week and, as I write this, I am ready to turn in and tune out.  But I promised myself (and whoever follows me on FB), that I would add a post to my blog soon.  So here it is.

My roller coaster ride has not been fun and I have not yet been to the County Fair.  Rather, for a few weeks, I have been up and down inside and out.  And we have been having our two bathrooms updated, including switching out a fall-prone deep tub for a walk in shower in our master bath. 

My primary doctor actually coined the "roller coaster" phrase for me last week and it fits.  Right now I am on a plateau and hope that's where I will stay for awhile.  I don't care for sharing all the grisly details so I won't and, heck, who wants to read that anyway.  But here is a funny (after the fact) story that has come out of it that I will call "Tripping Over Tile."

So, on Tuesday, the tile crew (great guys from Arizona Restoration Experts), left a box of the 1 inch floor tile on the floor by the new shower.  It's important to note that we had Italian tile installed--super heavy and durable.  My husband was preoccupied all evening with the floor and drain.  He had asked (and they complied) to have the drain and part of the floor redone after the first layout had too much of a slope to suit him.  He's a safety professional and tough project manager which is important to the story.

So he's looked at the floor and drain multiple times.  We go to bed.  I am exhausted from two days of stomach pain, the doctor's visit and referral to GI specialist.  (The ending of that episode is pending, but with samples of a medication, I am feeling better).  About 1 a.m., I wake up to go to the bathroom.  To get to it, I have to walk past the shower and then turn into the toilet room which has a separate door.  The door is often closed.  But, on this night, it is open.  Another important detail.

Half asleep, I am walking.  Yes.  And I trip over the tile box.  I am heading headlong forward, on my way to hit our concrete floors when I instinctively grab the toilet room door handle  Good news: it stops me from falling.  Bad news: the force of my falling pulls the handle toward me and into my cheekbone.  The four letter word that starts with an F cascades out of my mouth and I scream in pain and regret, calling out to my husband, "the safety professional".  One hour later, I am nursing my face and around my eye--which barely avoided the impact of the door knob.  Next morning, a bruise (but little swelling) appeared and it's been that kind of a week.

I share this with the post script that, the next day, we went out and bought auto night lights for both bathrooms.  We have lived in this house since 1997 and it's the first time we added night lights.  So, we have the "safer" walk in shower (which we love), the tile box has been removed, and we have more light in the dark.

Here's a question for readers:  when have you ever "tripped on the tiles"?  Did you adjust to the darkness or add more light?  In the spirit of the coming Passover and Easter Season, let's agree to not accept living in the dimmer light and take whatever "steps" we need to take to avoid disasters that are right in front of us...even if they are on the floor.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

More than Obituaries


More than Obituaries from A Local Paper 

Ted de Grazia fresco formerly seen in The Chapel

Everyday I skim most of the newspaper except for the comics and the obituaries.  With the comics, I look for a laugh or a bit of wry wisdom tucked into the images or dialogues.  With the obituaries, I look for the faces of those who have recently died—or sometimes an obituary repost as memoriam.  I know that photos are costly, especially when they are in color.  For my parents, I wrote a simple text with no photo.  They wouldn’t have wanted the expense, so I honored their practicality.  But both my in-laws had photos and long texts which mirrored the dramatic ways they lived their lives compared to my parents’ common-sense frugality.

So maybe I look at the pictures wistfully, wondering who wrote the text and selected the photo that sums up an entire life.  Did siblings argue and deliberate over every word and selection as in my husband’s family?  Or did a friend or one child step up to the task just to get it done, as in my family.  My sister didn’t sit by either of my parent’s deathbed, didn’t deal with the paperwork and arrangements and didn’t attend my mom’s stone placement or my dad’s nearby military funeral.  But, as the eldest, I had the job of doing it all.  When it was done, I was thankful it was simple and didn’t have the complexities of too many cooks in the kitchen, or too many children trying to direct their parents’ denouement.

Thus, I selected these two following obituaries because of a) photos that were posted by their names and b) the terseness of their stories.  I wanted more for them (and maybe from them), so I took bits of truth from their actual obituaries and wove in my imagined mystery of their lives.
***
  
I.                 Gaye Jordan Dixon
Gaye gazed at her face in the mirror before pinning the cream-colored hat on her auburn hair.  “My nose”, she considered for the millionth time, is a bit too round for anyone—except Bill—to call me pretty.  But my nose’s length fits my face and balances the curve of my definitive eyebrows.    I like my smile.  I just need to remember to smile more, especially today.”   Gaye dotted both lips with her newly purchased Helene Curtis cinnamon-red lipstick.  The silver earrings, something borrowed from her Aunt Meg, poked out beneath her curls and the new hat. “There”, she thought, “Aunt Meg’s earrings are the final touch, making me the glowing bride of Hershaw, Virginia. “

Gaye gaily (yes, today the word today fit her like her hat) swirled around her apartment, before leaving to meet Bill.  She was no traditional bride; the war had broken many traditional behaviors which Aunt Meg reminded her often.  “Well, Auntie, times have changed and I am changing, too” was Gaye’s frequent response.  Her job as manager for the Navy’s on base grocery store was a big leap after high school and working at the A&P. As she walked up the concrete steps to City Hall, her navy jacket with silver buttons informed strangers whom she passed that here was a woman who walked to the tune of her own bugle.

Bill was already in the lobby, waiting for her entrance.  Gaye knew the quickened click, click of her leather pumps against the marble floor mirrored the accelerated pace of her heart.  Oh, how she loved him and he was so handsome today.  He didn’t often wear his full Navy uniform when off duty, but today was an exception.  They were finally formalizing their “matched pair” status. They were both children of the depression and brought up with the Methodist values of hard work and duty.  They weren’t youngsters and were frugal with their salaries.  And she knew that Bill had been fidgeting about this day for over a year.  He was tired of trying to keep their shared nights a secret from both families and Gaye agreed that pretending they weren’t already sleeping most nights together was getting complicated.  Particularly, Aunt Meg had a sixth sense about Gaye’s social life and Bill’s Navy Pharmacy Supervisor didn’t approve of any fooling around of his staff. “He runs a tight ship on land and sea and thinks all of his staff should toe the line just as he does,” Bill often complained.  But, once they were married, they could let go of pretenses and Bill would move into Gaye’s two-bedroom apartment.

As she walked down the hall, sunlight piercing the tiled floor, Gaye pictured the years ahead of them, once the war was over.  Maybe a couple of kids.  Raise them in the mountains out west, open a lumber mill like his dad had done in Virginia.  Sure, there would be challenges, but they’d face them together.  After the war, no challenge could beat them.

Even, she thought, in our later years, with the kids grown, she figured they’d find ways to be unretired and stay busy, happy.  With Bill’s strong constitution, matched by Gaye’s intelligence and will power, they would stroll into the western sunset with smiles on their faces, arms entwined.
***
In the local paper announcing Gaye’s death, I saw the photo of the two of them, probably on their wedding day.  Gaye died about six months after Bill, so her time alone in the sunset was blessedly brief.


II.               Ginny Dobbs
Ginny and Tom had a dream and, after the depression was over, ran a motel in Tucson called Dream House. They brought it cheap and it had seen better days in the 1920s when Tucson had its first burst of growth when the train tracks were opened.   Back in the 1940s, their Dream House pulled in a steady stream of day trippers along Miracle Mile.  A few babies were born on the bed sheets Ginny washed and a few lovers hid behind the window curtains she sewed and pressed.

When the freeway was built in the early 1960s, the motel income faded along with the bed sheets and curtains, so Ginny and Tom turned to other enterprises and ran them smart.  Tucson was a growing town and working folks had cars that needed  frequent repairs.  When repairs couldn’t keep cars running, the cars needed to end up somewhere, so Ginny and Tom opened a wrecking yard stocked with broken vehicles, odd pieces of concrete, and multi-colored spooled wire.

Gifted with a mind for figures and facts as well as a bouncy smile and sparkling eyes, Ginny could warm the hearts of disgruntled customers.  To sweeten the mood often experienced at a wrecking yard, she sold freshly baked goods on the side. Irish soda bread was one of her specialties.  After Tom died, Ginny kept occupied with cooking, sewing, and tending their grandchildren.  Never one to be idle, when her kids took over the family business, she became an admissions clerk at St. Mary’s Hospital.  Ginny lived a life of ninety-four years.    
***
As I looked at her newspaper photo, taken some time in her mid-life, she is wearing a dark dress and smiling broadly at the camera.  I consider that Ginny was probably not a remarkable woman in the larger sphere of life, but her face in the obituary column photo pulled me toward the details of the pearls in her ears and pearl strand around her neck.  Maybe Tom had given her that jewelry set for an anniversary gift.  Such a gift would have been precious to her for decades.

I can envision the scene after Ginny’s last heaving breath in hospice care--with a resigned shrug, her daughter puts the treasured pearls in a green velvet jewelry box.  She covers the box with one of Ginny’s pressed handkerchiefs and shuts the drawer.  The hospice nurse closes Ginny’s eyes and wraps a blanket up to her chin.  Ginny is no longer able to see the blooming yellow mesquite tree outside her window.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

From a photograph at Mariann and Jim's house

In my last blog, I wrote about our lovely memories of times at Mariann and Jim Laue's home.  I also shared the recipe for her casserole.

Today, I am looking at a photograph Mariann sent me several months ago.  Taken around 1988-89, it shows me, my son and the Laue's dog, Spicer, standing in front of their Virginia home.  Aron is around six-seven years old and I am not quite or just forty-years old.  It's before Instagram or cell phone photos and the photograph paper still has a shiny sheen . 

There is a porch light on by the front door so I am guessing it is after dinner--or maybe Mariann's casserole is still bubbling in the oven.  I am wearing a white sweater draped over white pants and blue t-shirt.  Aron is in black basketball shorts (he was already mastering those skills thanks to being a part of the Tucson fan base for UA Wildcats),  white t-shirt with a colorful "love the Earth" design and green/pink fanny-pack hanging from his waist.  Spicer is in his last years, full-bodied and panting after what was probably a short walk.

My right hand is on my son's shoulder and left is holding the dog's leash.  Aron is looking at Spicer, left arm outstretched to pat the dog.

There is nothing particularly special in this moment, except there we are.  A young mother and son enjoying hospitality from friends, relaxed and happy in Virginia.









Sunday, February 3, 2019

Mariann's Casserole

Mariann's Casserole (response to Poets & Writers Week #52 Creative Non-Fiction Prompt).



I came to know Mariann Laue and her late husband, Jim, through my 1980's work with the Kettering Foundation.  One of their staff members introduced me to Jim and his social justice work.  Jim Laue was appointed by the U.S. Justice Dept. to join MLK's Civil Rights events.  He was with Rev. King when he was shot.  In the historic photo of the shooting on a hotel patio, it is Jim's handkerchief that is covering Martin Luther King's face.  Jim Laue worked with the Kettering Foundation as he transitioned from social justice research to the specific field of peace and conflict studies.

Jim's academic role was at George Mason University where he established their Peace Studies Program.  As a consultant with Kettering's National Issues Forum research on peace, I was sent to Washington D.C. periodically.  One time, I extended my working visit a few days after being invited by Jim to stay as his residence in Virginia.  I felt as if I had a found a second family with him, his wife, Mariann, and their still-at-home son, Ron.  For the following three or so years, their home became my second home and a couple of times I brought my husband and our young son with me to stay with Jim, Mariann, and Ron.

Enjoying Mariann's "Methodist" casserole on a late summer evening was one of our quiet treats.  She often set the stage for dinner by playing a few hymns and pop tunes on the piano.  Our son would pet their German Shepherd, Spicer, or throw tennis balls to this gentle four-legged giant tennis as they played on the Laue's rolling backyard lawn.  The casserole, served on the Laue's screened-in porch, would be accompanied by Pepperidge Farm French Bread, fresh from the oven.

Dessert was light---such as sugar free peach ice cream because Jim was an insulin dependent diabetic.  I add this detail because Jim usually had to give himself an insulin shot before we were served dessert.  The disease took him too soon.  Mariann, who is a two time breast cancer survivor, eventually remarried. We stay in touch during Christmas and she and her blended family are growing with their children's spouses and children.  I hope Mariann continues to serve her casserole when the grandchildren come to visit and plays her songs on her piano as the bread and casserole bake.

Even though our son grew up to be a professional chef, this simple recipe is still one of his "comfort food favorites."

Brown a pound of ground beef (can substitute ground turkey) with 1 tsp of ground oregano in oil.  
Boil two cups of egg noodles.
In an oven-proof bowl, mix the cooked noodles and browned ground meat with 1/3 cup of water and 1 can of tomato soup.
Top the mixture with 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese.
Bake uncovered in the oven at 350 degrees until cheese is thoroughly melted and mixture bubbles. (10-15 mins.)

Serve with warm bread.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Domestic Apologies

(Note: format is attributed to "The Domestic Apologies" by Dustin Parsons found in 1/27/19 Sunday Shorts, Creative Nonfiction.org)

Apology to my indoor succulent plant

You have roots curling in brown water and need to be potted.  But I enjoy the way western sunlight shines on your petals and even the brown water glistens.

Apology to my cat

I have to step over you or around you and often I trip on the red rug I crocheted for you.  I am clumsy sometimes and need to practice my balance.

Apology to my office

You serve a purpose and yet I often ignore you because the computer beckons me to write and do bills.

Apology to my rocking chair

You comforted me in my teen years and I took you to my college dorm.  I brought you to Arizona and you warmed me as I rocked my young son into sleep.  Yet now, I use you to hold my scarves and haven't sat on your cushion in years.

Renoir





Sunday, January 20, 2019

My memory of bedtime stories

(response to Poets & Writers Prompt "The Time is Now" 1/20/19)

My memory of bedtime stories begins with my Grandmother Dice (my mom's mom), reciting "Little Orphant Annie" and "The Raggedy Man" (by James Whitcomb Riley).  My sister, cousin and I cuddled under woolen blankets in the attic bedroom at my grandparents' farmhouse on Randall Road in Elgin, Illinois.  I didn't learn until years later than my grandmother and my mom grew up entertaining other farming families by poetry and dramatic reading recitations.  One of  mom's childhood favorites (also by JWR) was "Our Hired Girl". 

Grandmother would perform her stories on the side of the bed and end with "Had a little calf; that's half.  Put him in a stall; that's all."  Those lines meant: no more stories, no more trips downstairs to go the to the bathroom; it's time for bed.  And she meant it.  A couple of time I tried tiptoeing down the creaking stairs and she'd be waiting for me at the bottom.  "March right back up young lady!" was her command. Sometimes a hard swat would follow if I tried to resist.

Mom's nighttime routine included hand gestures, voice inflections, and tolerance for "just one more."  She never seemed to tire of sharing her performances.  Later, when my sister and I became early readers, we had the "Big Big Story Book" and illustrated fairy tales.  Sitting on each side of her on one of our twin beds, my sister and I would lean in and look at the pictures as she read in her mesmerizing dramatic voice.  I loved "The Wild Swans" and "Beauty and the Beast" because both stories were long and mom never stopped a story before the ending. 

Mom continued this tradition with her grandson and two granddaughters--but not as often as she would have liked.  She made sure I understood that moving from Illinois to Arizona meant she expected more grandchildren sleepovers than what she experienced.  I think our son (being the first born) benefited most from her talents and she expanded her performances with him to include silly songs such as "On Top of Spaghetti" (sung to the song "On Top of Old Smokey") and "How much is that Doggie in the Window?". 

I started reading to her grandson when he was a month or so old.  The family tradition continued (I only needed a quick "read me a story" anytime of the day) until he was 12 years old.  I read all of the C.S. Lewis  books twice and several books by Brian Jacques--along with Pooh stories and fairy tales, of course. 

In my late 50's, I began to volunteer read at elementary schools and the public library.  The last story I read aloud to 5th graders was "The Little Prince" which had been published as a pop-up book.  We learned about astronomy, love, adventure, and death from that amazing story.

Entering my 7th decade now, I occasionally still read children's stories to myself.  I hear the harmonic voices of my mom and my grandmother in my head.  Sometimes I see my mom's gestures in the moonlight.  These memories create a sweet bedtime song I hope to sing for many more nights.



Saturday, November 3, 2018

The Blue Scarf draft preview



The Blue Scarf

Nora Bergatti wore the teal blue and gold scarf around her shoulders.  An early autumn wind off Lake Michigan picked up the silk  fabric, stroking her cheek as Mama used to do.  Seeing her husband, Hugh, depart for the airport that morning, Nora knew that being alone for a week was an opportunity to explore the unpacked art files in her office.  She removed the scarf from her shoulders and rolled it into a ball, tucking it into her satchel. As she walked up the steps to the museum, she patted one of the two marble lions on his head--a gesture of habit since she and Mama visited the exhibits every month in thirty-five of Nora’s forty years.  Even with Mama gone, the habitual gesture recalled those visits. 

But Nora was unaware that when Hugh returned, she would not be the same woman.  The blue scarf in the satchel knew this.  Since 1885, it carried all its memories between its threads of blue and gold--

My story is an old one, but not as old as the scarves made before me.  Each of them as a story, too.  But this is mine.  My makers weren’t weavers.  They were textile workers who came from farms in disarray.  The centuries old feudal system in Italy, as in most of Europe, was gone.  Peasant farmers were free, but as poor as ever.  They had land, but no tools to work the land.  Their former masters now could enslave them in debts for tools, for housing, for food.  So many of them left the hills, such as my textile workers.  They came from the Abruzzo region and entered Roma, looking for jobs in the newly built factories that were close to water and land transportation.  The trains came in the late 1880s so workers could live in the cities, work, earn some money, and return back to the farms to work their land.  

These workers didn’t bend and weave the silk threads.  The threads continued to come to Europe over the Silk Road from Asia.  The workers learned how to operate the silk through the steam-powered Jacquard mechanisms.  These machines cut textile labor by half and so costs could be reduced.  There was a new middle class emerging that wanted the finer goods that only the rich used to be able to purchase.  The new machines changed everything and transportation also became less hazardous and more efficient. 

A new style of design for patterns came from France, called Art Nouveau.  In Italy, it was called Arte Nouva or Stile Foral.  The designs were made in sinuous lines, whiplash curves, flowing lines, expressing a new freedom and release from traditional textile designs.  This design style affected the visual imagination of women who felt the flowing lines in their hands.  The sense of energy for a new life for women slowly came into the daily life of those who could afford the fabrics.

Such is the story of my first owner, a woman named Maria Fontevilla who lived in Fiesole.  Fiesole was an ancient Etruscan village, but Maria was from Roma.  She had married Raphael ten years before the blue scarf entered her life.  Then, Raphael had completed his legal studies.  Now, he was the Mayor of Fiesole and he bought me from a shop in Rome while finishing a legal case in the city.  It was the eve of his tenth anniversary to Maria.  Lately, she had been more subdued than usual.  In these ten years, the third baby was a fussy one and the other two boys were at an active age.  So sleep for his wife was a rare visitor.  Raphael saw the silk scarf and thought, with its golden threads woven like a river around its edges, Maria would be reminded of Roma and happier times in their marriage.  

So I was wrapped in parchment paper, rolled into a bundle that could fit in the carriage behind Raphael’s work papers and we went up the steep hill to Fiesole. My long life as an accessory to three women and one man’s stories had begun.  Like her great-niece Nora, Maria was unaware how my presence would change her forever.

“Here you are, my lovely.  You might have thought I forgot our anniversary, but I did not.”  Raphael offered the paper bundle to the woman sitting at the table who held a baby nursing at her breast. The baby sniffled and Maria pushed it away and wiped its milky lips with a cloth.  She looked up at Raphael with a slight smile.

“Well, you are forgiven then.  For forgetting to say as much to me before you left.  So busy you were with your life in the city.”  Maria sighed and placed the baby in a cradle next to the table.  “Now you are fed, Claudia, please be content for a few moments.”

She took the rolled bundle from her husband and untied the raffia string, slowly unwinding the parchment paper.  A hint of blue like the ocean appeared.

“What is this, Raphael?”  Maria's smile widened.

“Something new I saw today.  I liked the colors as they shone in the window.”

“Oh, my."  Maria unwrapped the scarf and the glints of gold caught in the setting sun, the blue fabric rippling like liquid in her hands.

“It is so beautiful.  So fine.  Too fine for a weary mother like me.”

“No.  It is perfect for you,  For a new mayor’s wife.  You will wear it to the next town meeting to show everyone you are a lady of this village.”  Raphael picked up the scarf and looped it gently around his wife’s long neck like a bracelet.  It fell across her full breasts and his eyes lingered.

Maria touched the silk and a current of energy from it flowed into her fingers.  Then the energy flowed into her quickening heart.  Her eyes opened up to see the sun in the window and, for the first time in months, her legs felt strong again.  “I am a lady of this village.  I am more than a milk cow, cook, cleaner, and nurse to little boys’ colds and knee scrapes,”  she murmured.

Yes, I whispered into her blood as it flowed throughout her body.  I was made of silk from China, tended in a silkworm farm by a Chinese farm girl.  She blessed the silk with her pure heart and mind and now her soul is mixed with yours.  My magic has begun.