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Archive for February, 2011

By Bob Chrisman


The idea of spring cleaning stayed with me through the night, but vanished this morning, when outside, sleet peppered the streets. My tax appointment required me to catch the bus to go downtown. I rushed around and all thoughts about the meaning of spring cleaning disappeared.

As I pulled the front door closed behind me. The sound of sleet hitting the grass and trees sounded like the dry, clacking bones of dancing skeletons. What an odd association. I played with that idea as I walked.

Monday, February 28, would have been my father’s 97th birthday (and the third anniversary of my mother’s death). Perhaps they returned as dancing skeletons to remind me.

My relationship with my father has troubled me for years. I’ve written about it and published the pieces on red Ravine. The troubled times between us and the difficult life he lived aren’t all I remember about him. Perhaps the idea of the skeleton came to me as a spring cleaning of sorts, a chance to pull out the good memories I hold of him and air them.

From my dad I received a curiosity about the world and the people who inhabit the planet. My father observed the goings on around him. He liked to see how people acted in different situations and could predict what they would do. He frustrated me with that ability when he would say, “I can read you like a book.” And he could too, which made me mad.

My father read voraciously: books, magazines, newspapers, whatever printed words he could find. When he attended family gatherings he would collect reading material and retire to a chair where he would spend the time reading.

His greatest pleasure came when he found a box of books for sale. He bought it, carried it home and searched for reading treasures. The contents of those boxes rarely disappointed him because he liked books about any subject. Really he just liked books in general. He passed on that love to me.

He instilled in me the importance of questioning everything, especially religion. We had the Bible in various editions, which the late 1950’s required in the fight against godless communism, but we also had The Book of Mormon and the Quran. Although a Presbyterian, he didn’t believe that one denomination, or Christianity itself, had an inside edge over other religions or spiritual practices.

He knew how to fix cars and kept our used cars in working order. We never owned a new car, only different ones. He bought odd cars like the brown, streamlined Hudson with the plush interior when the cars of the time favored extravagant fins over aerodynamic design.

He brought home a Simca, a tiny French car, and probably the only French car in the entire city. Unlike most American cars, the gearshift stuck up out of the floor rather than off the steering column. When the shaft broke off one afternoon, Dad welded a metal bar in place and would have driven the car forever had the giant hole in the rusted floor board on my mother’s side not allowed water from a giant puddle to gush up and soak my mother’s favorite pair of Sunday shoes.

The last car he purchased before his stroke was a Corvair, the Nader deathtrap. I learned to drive in that car.

He loved the outdoors and took us on long drives through the countryside to see how the land was doing. Despite my hatred of those drives and my frequently voiced wish for Indians to scalp us, I learned to love the landscape around me. Seemingly pointless drives in the countryside bring me peace nowadays.

He helped out the neighbors. The elderly man next door spent a lot of time at a bar. He sang and shouted as staggered up the sidewalk. He fell. My mother would say, “Len, go help him. He won’t make it up those stairs to his house without hurting himself.”

Although Dad left for work at 5:30 a.m. and the neighbor returned home well after midnight, my father pulled on his pants and went outside to help the man home. Frequently my father assisted the wife in putting her drunk husband to bed. He never judged the man and never complained about the loss of sleep.

My funniest memory of Dad involves a Sunday morning church service. As an elder, he introduced applicants who, as a part of the hiring process for ministers, preached a sermon. During the weeks prior to that Sunday, Dad had worked many long hours and not had much sleep. He introduced the minister and then sat down in one of the plush, red velvet cushioned chairs on the platform and promptly fell asleep. My father snored like an approaching tornado.

Aunt Annie, director of the adult choir, motioned for someone to wake him up. Despite a variety of hand signals, no one moved. My father snored his way through a rather lengthy sermon. When the guest minister finished, he waited for Dad to announce the final hymn, but my dad had died to the world.

My aunt asked the choir and congregation to stand and sing. Dad slept on. When the ministerial candidate realized that my father wouldn’t say any final words, the young man approached the podium. “I hope I’m not responsible for Mr. Chrisman’s sound sleep.” My father remained oblivious to the world and to the congregation’s laughter. The minister shrugged his shoulders and walked down the aisle alone to the main door to shake hands with members of the congregation. That incident became a church and a family legend.

As I write, sleet continues to fall. The skeletons dance outside my window. In my mind spring cleaning reveals fond memories of the man I called my father. Happy Birthday, Dad!




About Bob: Bob Chrisman is a Kansas City, Missouri writer who frequently writes memoir about his family. His last pieces for red Ravine were Exit The Telephone, Desecration Day, and Uncle Howard At The Cemetery.

Other pieces of Bob’s in which he writes with humor and compassion about his family members include: Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters and The Law Of Threes. He also published these pieces about the life and death of his mother: Hands and In Memoriam. And he produced a trilogy about his father: My Father’s Witness, Bearing Witness, and My Life With Dad. Spring Cleaning In The Attic Of My Mind was inspired by the birthday anniversary of Bob’s father and Writing Topic — Spring Cleaning.

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Waning Moon (Haiga)

Waning Moon (Haiga), 7/52, BlackBerry 52 – WEEK 7, February 19th 2011, photo © 2011 by A~Lotus. All rights reserved. Medium: Digital collage created using MS PowerPoint 2007 & Adobe Photoshop CS2. Photo taken on Canon PowerShot A550.


Waning Moon (Haiga) by Lotus is a response to the BlackBerry 52 Jump-Off Skip Rocks Not Breakfast – 7/52. It is a beautiful testament to the Vietnamese New Year and relates to her piece Lunar New Year Postcard and the comments on Celebrating The Lunar New Year — Postcard From A Friend.

This week I am working on a response to the Jump-Off Never (Found Poem) 8/52 based on words and phrases from Charles Bukowski’s The Continual Condition:

Never (Found Poem)


Lotus and I will continue our call and response by posting a BlackBerry photo for the 52 weeks of 2011. Feel free to join us if you wish (learn about the project’s beginnings at BlackBerry 52 Collaboration). To read more about Lotus, visit her at alotus_poetry on Twitter (where she writes poetry every day in community with other Twitter poets), at Poetry By Lotus, and on her Flickr account.


-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, February 26th, 2011

-related to post: haiku 4 (one-a-day) meets renga 52, BlackBerry 365 Project — White Winter Squirrel

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By Teri Blair

This spring I turn 50.

The cleaning on my mind these days is an internal one. 50 is a significant marker, one that won’t be ignored. I saw Bonnie Raitt in concert the year she turned 50. She was playing the Grandstand at the Minnesota State Fair. She called out to the women in the audience, “Don’t be afraid to turn 50! It’s great!” And I could see she meant it, too—not just trying to buoy herself or us up. That was 11 years ago, and I was still in my 30s. 50 seemed like ages away. But it stuck with me. Her attitude.

I went to a 50th birthday party once for a woman who had a ritual to drop everything in her life that had held her back. It was done with drumming and shouting and people. Powerful stuff. She was brave and she made an announcement to her herself that she was turning a corner. A big one.

I don’t feel bad about turn 50. Mainly. There are things in my life I’m not satisfied with, but I don’t suppose that will every change. There’s some sort of release happening inside. A knowing that I don’t have all the time in the world. And because I don’t, I think about spring cleaning, and what needs to go and what needs to be aired out or left behind or turned over to the garbage heap. I don’t have my internal spring cleaning list completed, but it’s formulating. I don’t turn 50 until May 5th, so I’ve got some time.

I’m not sad about youth being over. That sounds bold and so against the grain of our culture, doesn’t it? I want to be healthy and strong. I want to take care of myself. But I don’t want to be 20 or 30 anymore. Nor do I want to pretend that I am. Nor do I want to watch someone half my age for clues about how I should live my life.

I am watching older women now. Elderly women. They seem far more interesting to me. I met one this month named Gladys—an artist/writer who has made it in the art world. She moves quietly and humbly through life. She listens well. She always seems grounded. Clearly, she had done her spring cleaning.


-Related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC – SPRING CLEANING (HOMEMADE CLEANING REMEDIES). Also related to posts: PRACTICE — Spring Cleaning — 10min by QuoinMonkey, PRACTICE — SPRING CLEANING — 10min by Bob Chrisman, WRITING TOPIC — CLEANLINESS, and Wanda Wooley — The Lean Green Clean Machine.

[NOTE: SPRING CLEANING was a Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Teri Blair joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.]

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By Bob Chrisman

In my mind it’s too early to think of spring cleaning. As I write that sentence my thoughts veer off in another direction. I never clean my house unless company will arrive within a few hours. Those little cleaning spurts only touch the surface dirt and clutter, not at all like spring cleaning, but sufficient to fool guests into thinking I live in a neat, tidy and clean house.

Spring cleaning to me means days of going after the accumulated dirt of the winter. My mother took down all the sheers and curtains and washed them in the wringer washer. She fed them through the rollers to press the water out and then rinsed them before sending them through the wringer and into an empty wash tub. When she finished she hung everything outside on the clothesline to dry in the sun and wind.

As the laundry dried in the fresh air, she donned her rubber gloves and armed with old rags and a bucket of water went after the windows inside and out as my father removed the storm windows and replaced them with the screen windows. He took the screen windows out of storage in the basement, wiped them down and leaned them against the house. He started the removal of the storms at the front of the house and washed and dried them before he took them to the basement to store until fall cleaning.

Mom climbed the step ladder placed next to the house and washed the window panes and window sills. Then she wiped them dry. My sister and I stood inside and pointed out spots that she missed until she handed us a bucket and a sponge and we became her assistants.

Once the window panes sparkled and Dad had installed all of the screens, Mom would open every window in the house to “air out the place.” This airing occurred regardless of the outside temperature and lasted long enough for her to proclaim that the air inside was fresh.

She washed and waxed the wood floors throughout the house in the early years. After we installed linoleum in the kitchen and wall-to-wall carpeting in the living room, she would polish the kitchen floor until it gleamed and take her Kirby upright sweeper to the rug in the living room.

Just writing about it makes me tired. I think I’ll go take a nap and think about spring cleaning on a smaller scale when I wake up. Or, maybe I won’t think about it at all anymore.


-Related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC – SPRING CLEANING (HOMEMADE CLEANING REMEDIES). Also related to posts: PRACTICE — Spring Cleaning — 10min by QuoinMonkey, WRITING TOPIC — CLEANLINESS, WRITING TOPIC — WINDOW, and Wanda Wooley — The Lean Green Clean Machine.

[NOTE: SPRING CLEANING was a Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.]

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Spring cleaning. Where to start. It’s quiet, late in the evening. I’ve barely scratched the surface. I remember window washing, vinegar and newspaper. I remember dusting with Pledge. The smell of Lemon Pledge, etched in the nasal cavity. I remember Johnson Paste Wax, the rotating discs on the buffer. I remember sand and sandspurs, tearing at my toes, clinging to bits of rug. Spring cleaning is symbolic. A ritual of letting go. It doesn’t have to be deep cleaning. Just the letting go.

The rugs that get hauled out to the clothesline. The rug beater, a wooden stick. Puffs of dirt from the prairie. Not my home. A little house somewhere I can’t remember. I don’t think houses are as clean as they were when I was growing up. Times have changed. Roles have changed. Both parents need to work for a living. And still it’s hard to make ends meet. Spring cleaning leads me to a sunny destination after a long Minnesota Winter. Spring cleaning leads me to Spring.

Cleaning the deck windows until they are crystal clear. Power washing the wood. There is something fun about power washing. This year we will need to replace the trim on the south windows. Weather and woodpeckers have stripped them raw and full of holes. I am fond of the woodpeckers. But they can be destructive. Have you ever watched birds do their spring cleaning? Grabbing bits of feather, lint, moss, and making a nest. Preening their young, mites and ticks. Cleaning rituals are not only for humans.

Spring cleaning means tidying up the garden space, uncovering the rosebush, gathering the old brush and weeds from the end of last Fall and tossing them to the back corner. Spring means transplanting the two pines that have sprouted near the coneflowers, watching the dogwood stems turn beet red with sap, waiting, waiting, waiting for the bloom of the peony. A whole year must pass, that’s how long I wait for the next peony to bloom. Underneath the ash, grubs, a few mice and voles. The white winter squirrel, I haven’t seen her this year. What happened? Maybe a hawk or an owl found her to be easy prey.

Another 18 inches of snow last weekend. I shoveled the driveway hill and raked the roof. I am ready for Spring. In a few days, it will drop to 10 degrees again. The wind will kick up from the North; I’ll zip my jacket a little tighter. All that after a day of sunshine at 32. It’s dangerous to wait for Spring, dangerous to wait for the future to arrive at your doorstep. When all you have is right now.


-Related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC – SPRING CLEANING (HOMEMADE CLEANING REMEDIES). Also related to posts: WRITING TOPIC — CLEANLINESS, and Wanda Wooley — The Lean Green Clean Machine.

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OWL FEATHER 2-IMG01800-20110218-1034 AUTO

Owl Feather Study In Blue 2, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



OWL FEATHER 5-IMG01803-20110218-1035 AUTO

Owl Feather Study In Blue 5, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



OWL FEATHER 4-IMG01808-20110218-1037 AUTO

Owl Feather Study In Blue 4, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



OWL FEATHER 3-IMG01802-20110218-1035 AUTO

Owl Feather Study In Blue 3, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



OWL FEATHER 1-IMG01801-20110218-1034 AUTO

Owl Feather Study In Blue 1, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota,
February 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



It was a windy 10 degrees when I found this downy owl feather blowing across a parking lot. I decided to photograph it with my BlackBerry over a break. The bright sun made the shadows pop against the texture of my lunch bucket. Feathers are symbolic. Ordinary as extraordinary.

Yesterday we drove down to Monticello, Minnesota to see the wintering Trumpeter Swans. Again, two downy swan feathers floated across the observation site and landed by my foot. I’ve added them to my feather collection. Hope is the thing with feathers. And, thanks to Yves Klein, I think I’ve entered my Blue Period.


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, February 20th, 2011

-related to post: WRITING TOPIC — LIGHT AS A FEATHER

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IMG01736-20110211-1717 texas white

A Warm Game Of Texas Hold ‘Em (Haiga) – 6/52, BlackBerry 52 – WEEK 6, Golden Valley, Minnesota, February 11th 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Medium: Digital BlackBerry photograph altered in Adobe Photoshop Elements 6.0, Font: Myriad Pro.


After reading the Lunar New Year postcard from Lotus (her BlackBerry52 Jump-Off for Week 6), I started to think about how we don’t know each other in person. We are vulnerable only through our poetry, writing, artwork, the years of conversation that have taken place in this quiet space. There is a long stretch of road, I-35, that connects the landscape between us. Part of her knows this place; her mother once lived in Minnesota. We stare at the same moon, sun, planets and stars.

I was scraping ice dams off the roof last week, and happened to look up behind the blade I was wielding. There between the brilliant blue branches of the oak and ash peered the Bone Moon. The Ancients sometimes called February’s moon the Snow Moon. I reached into my pocket, grabbed the BlackBerry, and snapped off a shot of the sky. It became the backdrop for a haiga, an unbroken expanse of words extending all the way to Texas.

The blue? For Valentine’s Day, Liz asked me on a date to the Walker to see the work of neo-Dada painter Yves Klein — With the Void, Full Powers. I was moved by the architecture of air, the fire paintings, his relationship to the elements, the Anthropométries (human paintbrushes), and the Ex-Voto dedicated to Rita, the Patron Saint of Lost Causes. I walked slowly through a white-walled room of blue monochromes, Klein’s Blue Period. I’ve never seen blue look so beautiful. Blue for the skies of Winter. Blue for communication and expression. Blue for the Blues.


Blue has no dimensions. It is beyond dimensions, while the other colors have some. These are the psychological spaces. Red, for example, presupposes a hearth giving off heat. All colors bring forth associations of concrete, material, and tangible ideas, while blue evokes all the more the sea and sky, which are what is most abstract in tangible and visible nature.

–Yves Klein (1928 – 1962)

Through color I feel the sentiment of complete identification with space; I am truly liberated.

–Yves Klein (1928 – 1962)

_______________


Lotus and I will continue our call and response by posting a BlackBerry photo for the 52 weeks of 2011. Feel free to join us if you wish (learn about the project’s beginnings at BlackBerry 52 Collaboration). To read more about Lotus, visit her at alotus_poetry on Twitter (where she writes poetry every day in community with other Twitter poets), at Poetry By Lotus, and on her Flickr account.


-related to posts: Best Of BlackBerry 365 — First Quarter SlideShow, BlackBerry 365 Project — White Winter Squirrel, Flying Solo — Dragonfly In Yellow Rain, Searching For Stillness, icicle tumbleweed (haiga) — 2/52, The Mirado Black Warrior, The Dying Art Of Letterwriting (Postcards From The Edge)

-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

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