Over the Rainbow

 

Please indulge me while I take a moment or two to share with you what I know is to be found over The Rainbow Bridge. I can see it clearly, almost like I have been there before, many times. I call it The Great Woods.

 

The Bridge goes over a river, with little streams attached, going this way and that. The river and streams are teeming with fishies to watch, to catch, to eat, and/or to play with. The water is never too cold or too hot, and you can swim or run through it, if you want. There are cattails and vast fields of catnip, wildflowers, and of course, tall grass to run through. Those fields are loaded with butterflies, ladybugs, dragonflies, and grasshoppers to chase.

 

In The Great Woods, you can climb and run around every kind of tree and shrub imaginable. In those trees and shrubs, there are tons of critters, like mice, chipmunks, bunnies, and squirrels, and birdies galore to observe and run after.

 

There are packs of sweet, playful puppies roaming The Woods – and they are always willing to share their toys, their treats, and their warm, comfy beds.

 

The sun shines all of the time, but it rains now and then, just enough to make mud to roll around in to your heart’s content.

 

Every day, fresh roasted turkeys magically appear, and everyone gets to eat one – with mashed potatoes and gravy, zucchini marinara, and baked yams wrapped in bacon. Stuffed cabbage rolls grow on trees over The Rainbow Bridge. Same with crab Rangoon. There’s milk and sour cream, cheeses, lobster, steak, and scrambled eggs for everyone, and they can drink/eat as much as they want, whenever they want.

 

In that paradise, there is no such thing as pain. The only tears shed there are the joyful kind, the ones that spring naturally when souls who love one another reunite.

 

Ken and I were with The Sam when he went to The Great Woods this morning. We sent him there with all of the love in our hearts, and we will be there with him when it is time.

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I Lost My Voice

His was probably the first singing voice I ever heard. I don’t know if the story is true, that my brothers were blasting King Crimson when I was brought home from the hospital a few days after my birth. Probably not, but I don’t care. It feels right, and I just plain old like that story.

 

Greg Lake was a well-trained guitarist, a good bassist, and a great musician/songwriter in general, but it was his voice that made him stick out for me. His was one of the voices I heard when I was very young that inspired me, made me want to sing. He made me want to write, too.

 

And of course, I wanted to marry him. (One of my many future husbands… Along with Grover from Sesame Street… What was wrong with Kid Vanessa?)

 

I still have the first Emerson, Lake & Palmer album on vinyl. (I am pretty sure I stole it from one of my brothers.) That whole album is wonderful; Keith Emerson was instantly my favorite keyboardist and Carl Palmer my favorite drummer. I love ELP’s instrumentals. My favorite song on that album, though, is Take A Pebble.

 

 

“Just take a pebble and cast it to the sea,
Then, watch the ripples that unfold into me
My face spills so gently into your eyes
Disturbing the waters of our lives…”

 

I also have Tarkus and Trilogy on vinyl, though they are a bit scratched. I’ve lost my 8-tracks and cassettes, and most of my CDs were lost or destroyed when we moved.

 

I have one of Greg Lake’s solo albums (also vinyl – Isn’t it sad that I no longer own a turntable?), as well. My copy of Manoeuvres was destroyed during our move to Wisconsin (Has it really been seven years?).

 

 

“Shreds of our memories are lying on your grass
Wounded words of laughter are graveyards of the past
Photographs are grey and torn, scattered in your fields
Letters of your memories are not real…”

 

It doesn’t matter what albums I have or whatever, now. He is gone now. Greg Lake passed away (cancer) last Wednesday, December 7th, 2016, and everything feels a little bit different to me.

 

When Keith Emerson died (suicide) earlier this year, I was sad. I could barely listen to ELP for a few months. It was painful to hear their music and know that I was never going to see a reunion tour show or hear a new take on a classical masterpiece, never hear anything new from my favorite band. I was sad for the way Keith Emerson passed away, and sad for his family; I am too familiar with surviving a loved one’s suicide.

 

Greg Lake being gone has affected me a bit differently. I cry, and I remember all of the times in my life that I have cried and his voice comforted me. I think of the first time I saw ELP in concert, and how, after the show, my friend and I wandered around and came face to face with Greg Lake in a corridor – how he smiled, and I could not propel myself forward, even to say, “Thank you.” (Never mind, “Marry me!”)

 

I know that I can listen to Greg Lake’s voice anytime, that he can inspire me anytime, and I am grateful.

 

 

“Wear sadness on your shoulders like a worn-out overcoat
In pockets creased and tattered hang the rags of your hopes
The daybreak is your midnight, the colours have all died
Disturbing the waters of our lives,
Of our lives, of our lives, lives, lives, lives… Of our lives.”

 

Thank you, sir.
 

Che Gelida Manina (What A Cold Little Hand)

(A repost from my Vignettery blog)

For Steve, with both hands: Lo manco, cugino.

When Rodolfo sings Che Gelida Manina, I cry

From the first note to the last, I weep

One of my hands clutches the other

As I am transported to long ago,

When the only tragedy I knew

Was Mimi’s death in four acts.

I think of your hand wrapped tight around mine

Your ever-present handkerchief

How many times I found comfort, squeezing those fingers

And found myself glowing on your arm

How many dragons you laid at my feet

How much love you gave me with both hands

When Rodolfo sings Che Gelida Manina, I cry

Because it is that beautiful

Because La Boheme is a tragedy

Because my hands, not so little anymore, are cold.

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Pippi

My mother and her friend Josie took turns driving the boys (my three big brothers and Josie’s three older sons, who were basically my “other brothers” when I was a little girl) to school. When my mother drove, my younger brother (a toddler at the time) and I (about four years old) went along for the ride.

After the older boys were dropped off at their schools, sometimes, we ran errands with my mother. Other times, we went home, and a few of the neighbor-ladies would come over for coffee.

One of those coffee-at-our-place mornings, I was sitting on the floor in a corner, reading Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren. My mother had just given it to me. It wasn’t an E-Z-Reader, like my other books; I needed help with plenty of the words (and there were Swedish words in it, too!). It was exciting to me, a challenge, and I loved the stories.

“Your daughter always has her nose in a book, Vi. Is that good for her?” I don’t recall the name of the neighbor-lady who said it.

“Of course,” my mother replied. “Books are the best thing for anyone.” She paused. “Some of my best friends have been books.”

I smiled to myself. Pippi was my friend. I learned from her that there was nothing wrong with walking along, one foot up on the sidewalk and the other on the road. I could be myself around her.

Pippi went everywhere with me. Oh, I had plenty of other friends (My mother and her sister made sure that my personal library grew steadily!), and I took them with me places, too. Pippi was always with me, though: Grandma’s house, school, the doctor’s office, the dentist’s… Whenever I wanted a quick story, something to pull me out of whatever pain or anxiety I was experiencing, something to make me laugh… there she was.

Since we moved into our own apartment last June, I’ve unboxed a lot of books (Some are mine, some are my husband’s, but most of them were my mother’s old friends.). I don’t have enough shelves for all of them, so many remain in boxes.

The other morning, I went into the “book room”. For a few moments, I just stood in the middle of the tiny room and breathed deeply. I needed something.

This is where my friends are. I didn’t know where the thought came from, but I liked it.

Yes. That’s what I need. A friend.

I made my way to the back of the room, where the closet is. That’s where most of the unpacked boxes of books are stacked. I grabbed one, and pulled it toward me. I opened the box, and who should be waiting at the very top, but Pippi Longstocking! I held the book to my face (I love the smell of old books), and then hugged it to my heart.

“Pippi!” I squealed. I was four years old again, on the floor in a corner of my mother’s kitchen, reading stories about a little girl who lived alone, but was never lonely.

Seconds later, I was a forty-something year old woman, sitting in a corner of my own kitchen floor, spending a morning with a dear old friend, reminiscing.

Remember what it felt like to be unafraid? To hunt for treasure? To climb trees?

Yes, Pippi. I think I remember, now. Thank you.

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One Hundred Little Things

Just sharing a little piece of fiction I wrote a few years ago. Rediscovered it today. I forgot what I used to write like, I guess; I didn’t recognise it at first. Hope you like it. -VEL

One Hundred Little Things

Jane would claim that she did not believe in signs, but a sign was what she was looking for, waiting for. Some way of knowing that her mom was okay. Some small acknowledgment that she’d arrived safely. Some small… something.

She’d been thinking in figure eights over her mother, her mother’s passing, and what lies beyond mortality since just before Thanksgiving last year.

Now it was Spring. The grass was growing in perfectly. The trees greened up. The soil was warm and soft.

Jane’s mother left her The Garden.

It was much larger than it had been when Jane was a child. When she first took a look at it, she thought, More work. She didn’t think she could do it; she’d been tired for months. Watching someone die is hard work.

Jane went back and forth on forgetting about the garden altogether this year (What’s the big deal if I skip it this one time?), or cutting it in half. “You’re so freaking lazy,” she said to the mirror one morning.

Each day, tired, achy and sad, Jane forced herself out of bed and into the sun. She planted. She watered. She fed. She thought… sometimes, out loud. The circle of thoughts always came back to her need for some kind of reassurance regarding her mother’s safe passage to Heaven… or whatever was out there.

Jane felt emotionally and physically stronger from the gardening. It was the fresh air and exercise. The feeling she got from it reminded her of when she was young –

… And I woke up one morning and the strep throat wasn’t there anymore. The fever broke. I was hungry. I wanted to go outside and play.

She donned her ratty garden gloves, and grabbed a plastic shopping bag on her way outside. Weeding today.

Jane was on her knees, bent over the cucumber patch when a yellow and black butterfly landed on her left hand. She stilled herself and thought, How pretty.

She was wondering how long it would stay when its twin came down from out of nowhere and perched on her right hand. It was a tickling sensation.

Jane bit her bottom lip to keep from giggling. She was afraid to move, now, but slowly lifted her head. Another yellow and black butterfly landed on her forehead. What the –?

Oh, my God, she thought as a large flock of butterflies headed toward her, a fluttering cloud of flame and smoke. They flew about her head and shoulders, and landed all over her, tickling her. Within minutes, the butterflies were gone. Funny, she thought, lightly rubbing her arms. Feels like they are still on me.

She lifted her face to the sky and smiled.

“I just needed one small thing,” Jane said, “and you! You give me a hundred little things.”

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A Christmas Gift

December 25, 2010

 

 

I arrived early for Christmas Day Mass. I was glad I did, too; the parking lot was filling up fast (There are more parishioners present for Christmas and Easter than there are for weekly mass.).

 

My anxiety was threatening; the church was still new to me. Well, everything was still kind of new to me. It was my first Christmas in Wisconsin, after all. So, on top of my usual not-good-at-meeting-people problems, I was homesick.

 

Now, when I say “homesick”, I don’t only mean that I miss Connecticut. The days between my mother’s birthday (December 4th) and Christmas, I was longing for a place that doesn’t exist anymore: Places and things are meaningless without the people with whom you shared them. (My mother was gone over two years.) They are just memories, and while you can replay them in your mind at any time, you can’t really have them back.

 

I was lonely, too. I was never really good at making friends; I’d made exactly one since we moved at the beginning of that year, and I felt that it wasn’t going to last long. No one attended church with me; my husband and his father were raised Catholic, but they are not churchgoers.

 

I wished a merry Christmas to the greeters, took a bulletin, and sat in “my” seat (I like to sit in the right side section). I scanned the bulletin and listened to the choir warm up while the pews filled up.

 

The mass began, and I felt tears coming on. I swallowed them and forced a little smile: It’s Christmas.

 

I rose and sang O Come All Ye Faithful with everyone else. That was when I heard the soprano. Sweet. Clear. Trained. Familiar. All the way down the pew to my right.

 

Forest green check suit. Almost-black hair pulled up in a ponytail. She caught me staring at her as the song ended. She smiled at me, and then mouthed, “Merry Christmas.”

 

I sort of fell back into my seat. I knew that the soprano was not my mother, but she looked just like her, down to the check suit (Mom’s favourite outfit), and her voice… I fought the urge to push past the folks between us and hug her.

 

Whoa, Girl. Take it easy, now. It’s just someone that looks and sounds like Mom. This kind of thing happens all of the time. It’s Christmas, and you are missing her. Now, pull yourself together before they elect you Town Nut-Job.

 

As mass went on, and we sang more Christmas songs, the soprano comforted me. My smile was no longer forced. My anxiety was at nil. I didn’t feel homesick or lonely.

 

I felt joy. I felt her presence, her love. It felt more like Christmas, somehow.

 

Of course, the woman all the way down to my right could not know that just her being there that day made a stranger feel good, and thanking her would just be creepy. I decided that I’d share the sign of peace when the time came.

 

When we were all peace-be-with-you-ing, she was gone.

 

 

 

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Homesick, Too

I originally posted the following on Monday, August 04, 2008. My mom passed away that Friday, the eighth.

My mother loves horses. She always has. Horses (well, ALL animals, really) flock to my mother.

My mother was a little girl during the Great Depression (1929-1939). She was the youngest child of two Hungarian immigrants living in Bridgeport (Historic Black Rock area, or, as it was called then, “Hunktown”), Connecticut. There was hardly any money to do anything fun, no matter how hard my grandparents tried.

The lot across the street from where they lived was used when the carnival or circus came into town. My mom and her friends spent a lot of time playing in the now usually-vacant lot. When my mom was about ten years old, near the end of the Great Depression, the lot was bought by a man who ran stables and gave riding lessons.

Cats and dogs always followed my mother home, and my grandmother always ended up feeding them all.  So she jokingly warned my mother to stay away from the horses, because they could not afford to feed one of those, too!

Nothing could have kept my mom away from those beautiful beasts. She had seen pictures of them, read about them in books, and seen them in the movies. Her curiosity about them had grown, and there was no way that she would pass up an opportunity to meet a horse face to face.

She and her friends went to see the horses the first chance they got.

The owner saw the animals going over to my mom. She didn’t call them to her or entice them with food.  They came to her on their own, sniffing her hair, nuzzling her shoulders and neck, making gentle sounds in her ears. It was like they were as curious about her as she was about them. They liked her.

The man gave her free riding lessons. I don’t know if it was because he knew she was penniless and he felt sorry for her, or if he saw it as a neat way to advertise his business. Maybe it was both? Who knows? I do not think she ever questioned it; she was too excited by the prospect of riding one of these graceful animals to think about it!

This man told my mother and her parents that she was a “natural”. He did not have to actually teach her much. She just “knew” the basics, how to mount, dismount, how to handle the reins. Very instinctive.

When my mother was not in school, she was at the stables. She borrowed my uncle’s dungarees (in school, girls were not allowed to wear pants, let alone jeans!) and one of my grandpa’s shirts and ran across the street right after school. When my mother rode, there was no school, no money, no war… there was only this horse and her.

She had her “own” horse that she rode all of the time, a mare named Brownie. She learned how to take care of her. She fed her, rubbed her down, and cleaned out her stall. She had ridden other horses there, but Brownie was the one she became attached to. She kept newcomers from choosing Brownie because she hated to see anyone else ride her. From what my mom has told me, there had been people who came to the stables drunk or just ignorant and looking for something fun to do. She had seen horses get hurt in some of these situations and was determined that would never happen to her equine friend.

She took care of Brownie until the day that she entered the WACs. Brownie passed away and that stable closed down while my mom was in the army.

She came home when my dad went on his second tour in Korea. My grandparents had moved into Fairfield, to the house close to the beach, and she moved in with them while she waited for my dad to come home. Across the street and down the road, there was a horse farm. Every Saturday and Sunday without fail, my mother would visit the stables and ride for hours. The couple that owned the place let her ride in exchange for helping out, tacking, feeding, cleaning. Eventually, she was giving riding lessons to beginners.

She turned away anyone who smelled like booze. People began talking about her behind her back because she took “colored people” in and taught them to ride. They talked about the way my mom dressed (my mom wore pedal-pushers and tank tops to ride, and for a married woman whose man was “away”, this outfit was too revealing and all wrong). No, Fairfield was not (and still is not) the most open-minded, casual community. My mother didn’t care. My mom never understood why people cared so much about her friends or her clothes or her behaviour. To her, she was just dressing comfortably and being her usual friendly self.

When my dad came back from Korea, he was re-stationed in Georgia and my mother moved back there to be with him. She became a traditional army wife, going to wherever he had to go: Georgia, North Carolina, Texas… and wherever they were stationed, my mother would find stables and she would ride, only slowing down or stopping altogether when she was pregnant with one of my brothers.

Sometimes she would ride with my dad (he was raised on a farm in the mid-west and was practically born on a horse!) and she enjoyed it, of course. But she has told me that her favourite times at those stables were when it was just her and a horse, no money issues, no screaming children, no war…

Once my father was finished with the army and they ended up moving to Connecticut permanently, my mom seldom rode. The two stables that she had known were both gone, and with two boys and one on the way, she didn’t have a lot of time for riding anyway.

Where she and my dad and the boys lived, there were no horses. Same when I was a kid. I did not get to ride a horse until I went to summer camp just before I began high school. I was not exactly a “natural” like my mother had been, but I could appreciate her love of riding and her love of horses in general; they are smart, beautiful and graceful.

After her stroke in the seventies, she no longer rode horses. She could no longer feel parts of her legs, she was now deaf in her left ear, and her balance was off. She said she did not think she should ride anymore, because it could put a horse’s well-being at risk.

After my father died, she very seldom left the house. There were no horses in her life.

When she was at the nursing home a few weeks ago, she found out that there was a horse farm behind the building. The minute my mom saw that there were horses “in the back yard”, she was motivated to go outside in her special wheelchair. The nurses told me that now they were having trouble getting her to come inside.

One horse behind the nursing home, a giant Quarter horse stud (well, he seemed like a giant, next to my little mother), approached her while she sat outside. He let her pat his head and he nuzzled her neck, licked her face. He walked around her, doing little “dance steps” he was learning. He made her smile. He gave her a reason to get out of bed and get some sun on her face.

That horse gave my mother something that no one else could have given her; he brought her home for a little while.

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The Pitching Summer

 In memory of my mother

“Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing.”

-Warren Spahn

June. School was done for the year. On weekdays, the shop across the street let out at 4:30. At 4:35 in the afternoon, the parking lot adjacent to our yard emptied out.

By 5:00, we were all there, most of the neighbourhood kids, two or three of my brothers, and usually, a bunch of their friends. Bases were put out (my older brothers had made those bases years ago). Mitts were distributed. Teams were chosen.

In 1978, the summer before I turned eleven (My birthday is in September), I had been trying everything I could think of to win my mother’s good opinion. I had been at it for about three years. Home life had not been great before my father’s suicide in 1976; afterward, it was sheer hell.

But earlier in 1978, I was inspired, watching my mother as she watched a Mets’ preseason game on channel 9 (WOR). Of course! Baseball!

How did I never think of it before?

My mother loved baseball. She had played stickball and softball as a kid in her old neighbourhood in Black Rock. When my older brothers played in school and Little League, my mother spent hours with them, pitching, throwing, catching, and batting… practicing.

My mom never missed a Mets game (later in her life, she became a Yankees fan, something to do with Mike Piazza and The Mets’ new management… It was weird… But for years and years, she was a hardcore Mets girl). When she was in labour with my younger brother, Tadpole, back in 1969, she disappeared from her room in the hospital. They found her in the TV room, watching the pennant race. When “The Miracle Mets” won the World Series that year, my mother called Tadpole her (and The Mets’) good luck charm.

My mother knew the game better than anyone I’ve ever known. She was knowledgeable when it came to the history of the sport, and she could spit out stats on almost any player that ever lived.

If I played really well, maybe she’d see me? Notice me? Like me (I knew she loved me, and I loved her; we just didn’t like one another much)? I wanted to be good; I wanted her to think I was good.

As soon as it started getting warm out, I approached Brother #3, The Professor.

“I want to be a pitcher,” I told him when we were alone.

I thought he would laugh at me. I was relieved when he nodded and said, “All right. I’ll teach you.”

I am left-handed. Everyone else in my family (and in the old neighbourhood) is right-handed. The years before 1978, I had played outfield and then first base; I was used to holding the glove in my left hand, catching the ball, dropping the mitt, and throwing the ball with my left hand; there were no lefty mitts.

The Professor suggested that I try to pitch right-handed. The first ball I threw with my right hand just missed my oldest brother, Tallboy’s head. He had been sitting on a bench at the picnic table (far, far away from my target), smoking cigarettes and watching.

“Sorry,” I called.

He picked up the ball and walked it back to me. “Why are you pitching right-handed?”

I nodded toward The Professor. “He says it’s easier.”

Tallboy laughed. He turned to The Professor. “Easier for who? She’s gonna kill somebody!”

Brother #3 shrugged. “She said she wanted to be good. There are no good left-handed pitchers.”

“Is that so?” Tallboy said, his arms crossing his chest, cigarette resting in a corner of his mouth (I call that his Billy Badass Pose). He squinted and said, “Warren Spahn.”

I had no idea who that was. Neither did The Professor.

Tallboy looked at me and said (cigarette dangling), “He’s a lefty pitcher. Won a lot of games. One of your top pitchers of all time.“

He lifted his chin toward The Professor and squinted. “Lefties make great pitchers, asshole. Everybody knows that.”

Every sunny afternoon after school, Tallboy, The Professor and I would go out into the back yard. There, they taught me how to pitch. I held a mitt in my right hand and pitched the ball with my left.

I was determined to be good. I went to the library on Saturdays and read any book I could get my hands on: anything to do with baseball and pitching.

I learned through reading and practicing that being a southpaw pitcher in a world of right-handed batters was cool beans.

When the neighbourhood “season” began in June, I was ready.

My mother sat in the window that faced the parking lot, as she usually did during the neighbourhood softball games. She had a comfy chair, a bag of Ruffles potato chips and a cold bottle of Dr Pepper. She was ready… until she saw me approach “the pitcher’s mound”.

“Hey! What’s going on?” She called out.

I smiled up at her. “I’m pitching this year, Mom!”

“Hm.” She seemed surprised, but she did not seem impressed.

Once the game began, she yelled out advice to me.

She had done that with a lot of the kids over the years, but she had never said a word to me. I smiled at her, thanked her, and took her advice.

My first time up at bat, I hit a good one and made it to second. When I looked across toward home base, where my mother sat in the window, she was leaning forward, eyes wide. She smiled and waved at me.

I glowed and waved back.

I barely noticed Tallboy (my captain that day) and The Professor (captain of the opposing team that day) both cheering me on, commenting on how well all of the practice was paying off.

The next time I was up at bat, close to the window, my mother called down pointers and encouragement to me. Again, I smiled up at her, thanked her, and took her advice.

I got tagged out and awaited some kind of… I don’t know, something negative from the window. Instead, as I made my way to the bench behind and to the left of home base, my mother called out, “It’s okay, Van! You’ll get ‘em next time!”

We barely spoke civilly to one another, but that summer, while baseball was “on”, she noticed me. I felt like she even liked me a little.

In August of 2008, my mother passed away (She had dementia; then, she broke her hip on June 28th and developed pneumonia while at the rehabilitation center.).

Cleaning out her apartment, I found her journal: the black binder no one was ever allowed to peek into. I later found out that the black binder kept only her latest diary; I now have seven boxes of my mother’s journals. I put them into chronological order.

Near the bottom of one box, I found a single sheet of yellowed paper. At the top, she’d written: VAN’S STATS 1978

My mother kept track of every strike. Every ball. Every home run (not that there were that many!). Every run batted in. She wrote “highlights” from a couple of games.

I smiled, reading it. Then, I cried a little.

Written at the very bottom of the page, in the left-hand corner, circled and underlined at least a half dozen times: SO PROUD!

I never pitched a no-hitter. Whatever team I was on did not always win. My “career” was cut short by an injury; I never pitched again after 1978.

Who cares? My mom was proud of me.

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Me & Grover

When I was a little Vanessa, and things seemed a little on the bleak side, I would say something silly to my father.

It was an easy thing to do; I always have fifty things to say about something, mostly silly things (just ask my best friend, Jeanne!). Instead of keeping them inside (as my mother often advised… “Ladies don’t blurt!”), I’d just let whatever was running around in my head out into the open. Sometimes, I’d just say whatever I was going to say out loud, for everyone to hear; sometimes, I would lean into my dad and whisper it into his ear, our secret joke (that got me out of punishment twice!).

He would smile, his eyes going from gray to green (it always reminded me of a kaleidoscope), and then, he’d let loose one of the fifty things that were floating around in his mind. I would giggle (he always had something funny to say back to me). He’d laugh, a chuckle with enough changes in volume and pitch to tickle your ears.

Sometimes, there would be laughter and then he and I would move on to whatever we were supposed to be doing that day. Other times, we’d keep going, one crazy sentence for another, faster and faster, both laughing at the other’s remarks, playfully pushing at one another’s shoulders and bumping heads in between lines.

One morning, I walked out from my room directly into the kitchen, carrying my stuffed Grover and a book. Setting my book onto the table, I pulled out a chair next to my father.

As I climbed into the seat with Grover held close to me, I looked over at my dad. No smile. His eyes were gray and red, partly closed. He was still wearing his clothes from the day before.

He did not wish me a good morning. Neither did my mom.

Normally, my mother was a very quiet person in the morning, setting things down on counters gently, speaking softly, and keeping the television off, not wanting to wake anyone. That morning, pans were slammed onto the stove, coffee splashed when she set the cup down in front of my dad, and my toast was practically black.

My father was silent. I watched him while I played with my toast. He barely drank his coffee; mostly, he just looked into the cup and frowned.

I saw his arms tremble. Soon it would run up to his shoulders and out through his eyes. I pictured it and my heart tightened. It did not happen often (at least, not in front of others), but when my father was upset enough to cry, I cried.

I hate crying.

I looked up toward my mother. She was scrambling eggs as loudly as possible, with her back to us. I looked back at my dad. The trembling was still just in his arms.

I reached over, gave his hand a pat. Made my most serious face.

I said, “Daddy? I have to tell you something.”

He looked at me, eyebrows up. “Yes?”

I lifted my stuffed Grover onto the table and sat him next to my father’s coffee cup.

“I’m gonna marry Grover.”

My father’s mouth opened, but no words came out. My mother took the pan off of the stove and made her way to the table.

My father blinked. Small smile. Bigger smile. Eyes turned to green. Giant grin.

“You’ll have… blue, fuzzy babies!”

I smiled: Mission Accomplished.

My mother gave his shoulder a playful swat. “Lloyd!!!”

They both laughed.

And I got FRENCH toast.

Note: Ladies, please don’t judge my taste in men. Grover has a steady job, he loves children, he is into some good tunes, he has an interesting voice, his nose is my favourite colour, and while he may not be the brightest light bulb in the box, he knows the difference between close up and far away. Oh… AND he’s a superhero!

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Selfish Gift

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“I don’t know,” she’d say, “Something practical.”

My mother loved getting gifts, practical or not, but if you asked her what she wanted for her birthday or a holiday, it was practical, practical, practical. Drove me crazy. I hated giving those kinds of presents to my mother. I wanted to give her fun things, pretty things.

I was thirty years old and May was coming. I asked, “Mom. What do you want for Mother’s Day this year?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. Something useful. Maybe something for the kitchen? I don’t know why you get me anything anyway…”

Ugh. Why do I ask? Why, God? Why do I ask? Just tell me why, okay? Please?

“Okay, Mom. Something for the kitchen, then.”

“Yeah. Maybe a new pancake turner? I don’t know. Don’t waste your money.”

She wants a spatula for Mother’s Day. The year before she wanted an electric can opener. Ugh. I give up.

At the time, I was still working in Westport. On my lunch hour, I walked down the hill, onto Main Street. I went into Williams-Sonoma to check out pancake turners. Yawn.

I was about to grab a bunch of spatulas (I thought I would buy a pretty kitchen towel, wrap it around the spatulas like they were a bouquet of flowers, tie it with a big pink ribbon…) when I saw it.

I gasped. Oh, my God, it is perfect!

I grabbed the apple peeler machine without even looking at the price.

It was the perfect gift. My mother was not a cook, like my grandmother. She knew how to cook; I was not forced as a child to endure burned meals or unidentified deep-fried objects. She just didn’t love to cook the way my grandmother did. My mother preferred baking, and she was really good at it. She loved to bake a cake for no reason (oh, but, man, she would make our birthdays perfect with her cakes), or cookies when she was bored. Her brownies were pretty famous in our family and in our neighbourhood. She made some fancy stuff, and made some basic baked stuff seem fancy. All of it was delicious. Cakes, cookies, breads, tarts, donuts, brownies… and pie.

Apple pie.

Macintosh apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, brown sugar, walnuts, and a handful of cornflakes crushed onto the bottom crust (so it wouldn’t be soggy). Other ingredients that I cannot recall at the moment. Perfectly golden, light, flaky crust. Simple. Delicious.

My mother didn’t bake anymore. By that time (late 1990s), my mom had changed; she lost her… well, joy (We did not know then that Dementia had begun; she hid it well at first.). My younger brother, Tadpole (who still lived with her in my grandmother’s old house) now did most of the cooking. Mom would fry herself a burger and onions once in a while; that was about it.

I hated the change in her. I wanted to hear her rattling pans and singing to herself while she baked (my mother had a lovely voice, even if she never thought so). I wanted to visit and have a food fight with her while I helped her peel apples, as we’d done a million times before.

I wanted a slice of apple pie… Mom’s apple pie. I had the recipe and I could make an apple pie well, but never the same. I wanted Ken to taste it and know the Heaven that only my mom could create.

I bought the apple-peeling contraption. I wrapped it in pretty floral paper and a pink ribbon.

She said she loved it.

She never used it.

I have it, now. Still in its box.

Part of me never wants to use it, to keep Mom’s things the way that she left them… but I know she’d only say, “That wouldn’t be practical.”

 

 

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