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Posts Tagged ‘the things I carry’

DEC SHADE4

Say Goodbye To Tungsten Light, Golden Valley, Minnesota, December 2011, photo © 2011-2012. All rights reserved.


I burn the Christmas lights long after the day has passed. The soft warm glow of tungsten soothes me. I grew up on film photography, old school, and loathed florescent and LED. Say goodbye to tungsten; the last 100 watt bulb rolled off the DEC 2011-12-18 19.40.22assembly line in December 2011. We lost poet Ruth Stone in 2011 and singer-songwriter Phoebe Snow. They leave behind a rich legacy–their poetry. We lost Hope, the world’s most famous black bear, to the long arms of a Minnesota hunting season. Did they choose their lives, or did their lives choose them?

Goodbye December, January awaits. I look forward to the New Year. In setting goals for 2012, I can’t help but think of the things I will leave to 2011. I never heard back from my father, yet I feel glad I wrote the letter. It is one less thing I have to wonder about. Mr. Stripey Pants had surgery on Monday, December 12th. Bone rubbed on bone in his lower jaw when he chewed his food. We tried to be upbeat that morning, saying he was on his way to breakfast at Tiffany’s (the name of his surgeon). A few weeks later he is almost back to normal. The scar tissue that had formed around a puncture wound near a back tooth has been removed; it was not cancerous. I am grateful for good vet care and the resources to pay for it.

Minnesota leaves behind the 86 inches of snow from last Winter, an unfair trade for the tawny grasses and 50 degree days in the Twin Cities last week. I don’t miss the shoveling, but wonder how the Art Shanty Project will take place on Medicine Lake in January. Where is the frozen Minnesota tundra of 2011? I leave behind a broiling sweaty Summer where I did little gardening. The cedars look limp and brown. Fall 2011 was 1323477165415one of the driest on record. Rain, rain, come and play, don’t wait another day. I have grown to miss the rain.

I leave behind a year of no travel, unusual for me. My large extended family lives in Pennsylvania and Georgia, so I often plan vacations around flying back East. I missed visiting with them. In 2011, I attended no out of state writing workshops. I did not take a vacation outside of Minnesota. There was one trip to North Dakota, but not for pleasure (though it had its moments). I leave behind all the angst and sorrow created by the greed and selfishness of others. You sometimes learn the most about people when things go awry. It’s not over yet. The law requires patience, and the resources to carry through over the long haul.

Dear December, there were days you left me nostalgic and somber. But I vow to enter 2012 with optimism and gratitude. Long line for A Christmas Story at Riverview!I will long carry the joy of my brother’s visit to Minnesota the week before Thanksgiving. I carry two healthy cats, Kiev and Mr. Stripey Pants. I carry the love of a caring partner, close friends, and family. I carry excitement at the prospect of celebrating Liz’s birthday in January, and a trip to Wisconsin for a self-propelled writing retreat in February, what used to be the dead of Winter. I leave behind anger, resentment, regret; I release what is no longer helping me be the best person I can be. What people, places or things do you leave behind?

The pantry is stocked. The black-eyed peas soak in the pot, ready to bless the place I call home with good luck and cheer. I am grateful for those who stick with me in times of uncertainty. I am grateful for those who come to the aid of all HOLIDAYsentient beings in this world, not just humans. I am grateful that we do not inhabit this planet alone, that there are ancient burr oaks, Southern live oaks, slithering snakes, hairy spiders, playful black bears and white winter squirrels. I am grateful that the decisions that matter most are not left in the hands of humans.

December, I say goodbye to you tonight with gratitude and anticipation. I am thankful for your rituals. It’s the night before the New Year. What will my yearly practices be? It will be around the last fire of 2011 that I choose goals for 2012. Thank you, December, for having the courage to let go.


-posted on red Ravine, New Year’s Eve, December 31st, 2011

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By Judith Ford


My grandmother, who was Dutch, did an incredible job of spring cleaning, every March, every year she was alive. No object and no surface was spared a scrubbing. Rugs were taken out and beaten within an inch of their threaded lives; walls were washed with a hard brown scrub brush. Curtains taken down and washed. Every closet emptied, every sheet and towel bleached and washed. Everything dried outdoors on a clothesline. In March, Wisconsin is still cold so things froze out there, pillowcases transformed into wrinkled boards. Socks turned into twisted sculptures. She washed every dish and pot and spoon. Then when it was all done and everything set back in its proper place, she’d cover the sofa and chairs and lampshades in the living room with plastic covers. She’d lay a plastic path from doorway to living room couch and into the dining room. When I was around 11, I asked her, finally, who she was keeping everything so clean for and when would she remove the ugly plastic. (I didn’t say the word, ugly, I’m sure). “The plastic keeps everything ready for company,” she replied. “But, “I protested, “Aren’t I company?” I had never once seen her living room without plastic. “You,” she explained, “are family. Not company.” She didn’t need to add that I, being a rather messy child, was one of the reasons she protected her furniture.


My mother didn’t do spring cleaning. She did like to open up all the windows on the first day the temperature rose over 50–to air everything out. I always loved that, coming home from school for lunch and finding the windows all wide open, the house looking like a toothless, eyeless caricature of itself, the air sweet and chilly. My mother hated being a housewife and did not cotton to cooking or cleaning. She did the minimums and stuck to the 50’s schedule that most of her friends observed: Monday clean and do laundry; Tuesday iron; Wednesday, volunteer work; Thursday, groceries; Friday, light cleaning (a lick and a promise, is what she called it); Saturday was the night my dad cooked burgers and Sundays we went to my grandparent’s house for dinner. My mother did what she felt she must but mostly without joy and often with many sighs. She did seem to enjoy ironing (which I so don’t get) and would sing while she ironed, in a voice like Ella Fitzgerald. Singing over the ironing and walking in the mountains – those are the times I remember my mother at her happiest. Not cleaning. Never spring cleaning.


Well, it’s sort of spring now and I am sort of spring cleaning. I’ve been putting hours in every week to clean my attic. It has to be done. We’re selling the house and moving to the country.

I’ve lived in this house for 28 years, married husband #2 after living alone here with my daughter for 5 years, moved that husband and his daughter in, had another baby, raised these kids until each one grew their feathers and flew off. Also raised a cockatiel, a parrot, four dogs and numerous gerbils and hamsters in this house. Can you imagine the debris? My attic had become a combination museum, closet (huge closet), and file cabinet. Treasures and cast-offs that have trickled down to me from three generations and two family lines. The leftover objects include outgrown clothes, games, books, and life directions. My very first poem, written at age 10. A couple of Jessie’s baby teeth, nestled inside the newborn bracelet she wore in the nursery: “Baby girl, Marks-Szedziewski, 2-19-78.” An envelope containing a curling wisp of very blond baby hair, Nic’s first haircut, 1988, a battered and faded pink pair of tiny toe shoes (mine, from 1955, I think; although they might be my aunt Jeanne’s). A hair curling iron (great-grandmother Nettie’s, late 1800’s). Aunt Jeanne’s bracelets from the 30’s. So glad I didn’t throw those away. Hundreds of notes from Jessie and from Nic: I Love You, Mommy. Mommy don’t tell anyone but I love you best. Thank you for being my mommy, You are the best Mommy, Next time you go on a trip, take me too. Mommy, I hate camp. Come and get me out of here, please!please!please! Nic’s version of Jingle Bells, written at age 4 with a few backwards letters, words scrawled across the page, Jingle Bells Jingle Bells Jingle all the way, Oh What Fun on Al’s True Ride, On the One on Holken Slay. Jessie’s school trophies, soccer and swimming, her camp and sports t-shirts, Nic’s academic medals for top scores in the state on the ACT and SAT at age 9 and 10, his IQ testing done at Northwestern U when he was 5.

The way I wept when the tester called me and told me the test results.

I wish I had known more back then how to feed his ravenous brain, his wonderful mind. So much I wish I could do over for him.


I will be 63 in a month. The past is truly the past. There are no do-overs and no time left for holding on. Time, instead, for letting go. For boxing up, and throwing away, for going to UPS to send Jessie her soccer and swim team t-shirts, to send Nic his Pokemon card collection. Handing the keepsakes over to my grown-up kids, handing over to them the job of remembering.

In the process of this sorting and cleaning, I’ve had to remind myself again and again to let go not only of the objects but the feelings. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve longed to have my children back in my arms, on my lap, longed for one more night of reading in bed with Jessie at age 7, one more night of long conversation at bedtime with Nic when he was 10. One more chance to see each of them for one hour during each year of their growing-up – one more chance to drink in the sight of them, their wispy hair, freckled faces, braces and missing teeth, to listen to their piping little voices more intently, memorize each one of them even more completely.

I had expected that cleaning out all this old stuff would help me clear the decks for this next chapter of my life, and yes, I guess that’s happening. I had anticipated reminiscing. I hadn’t anticipated the wave upon wave of memories to be so visceral, so wrenching, so expanding and swooping and full of love. I am not only clearing the decks; I am also rejuvenating both myself and the attic. Am going through some kind of death and resurrection here. Turning myself inside out and right side out again. Right side out and I must admit, a little trembly.

Spring cleaning is a piece of cake compared to this.




About Judith: Judith Ford is a psychotherapist and writer who lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was red Ravine’s very first guest writer, with the piece 25 Reasons I Write. Judith’s other pieces on red Ravine include lang•widge, Mystery E.R., I Write Because, and PRACTICE – Door – 20min. Spring Cleaning is based on a 15 minute Writing Practice on WRITING TOPIC — SPRING CLEANING.

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DRAGONFLY BACKDROP AUTO

Dragonfly Wings, BlackBerry Shots, Golden Valley, Minnesota, July 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


I’ve seen a dragonfly every day since I took this BlackBerry photograph on July 2nd. It landed atop a daylily in the garden on a sweltering afternoon. Earlier that day, I saw two dragonflies mating on the wing, the first time I had spotted the insect all year. Dragonflies, butterflies and fireflies — highlights of Summer. We don’t see the volume of fireflies here in Minnesota that I used to see growing up in the Deep South and in Pennsylvania. So I look to the Dragons for inspiration. If I see enough of them, I start to pay attention.

According to the Minnesota DNR site, dragonflies are prehistoric insects that date back to the dinosaur:


Dragonflies and their close relatives called damselflies are ancient insects and prehistoric reminders of the age of the dinosaurs. Enormous dragonflies with a wingspread up to 30 inches across were part of the Paleozoic landscape about 300 million years ago. The largest insect ever known was a dragonfly called Meganeura monyi. It had a wingspread of 30 inches and a body 18 inches long. It lived until about 250 million years ago and then became extinct.


The last time I wrote about Dragonfly was in May of 2007. The second Canon Powershot photograph on Shadow Of A Dragonfly is one of my favorites, with the recent BlackBerry Dragonfly photo closing in for the tie. There is just something about Dragonflies. I pulled out the Medicine Cards tonight and this is what I read:


Dragonfly medicine is of the dreamtime and the illusionary facade we accept as physical reality. The iridescence of Dragonfly’s wings reminds us of colors not found in our everyday experience. Dragonfly’s shifting of color, energy, form, and movement explodes into the mind of the observer, bringing vague memories of a time or place where magic reigned. Some legends say that Dragonfly was once Dragon, and that Dragon had scales like Dragonfly’s wings.

Dragonfly is the essence of the winds of change, the messages of wisdom and enlightenment, and the communications from the elemental world. This elemental world is made up of the spirits of plants, and the elements Air, Earth, Fire, and Water. On one level, you may need to give thanks to the food you eat for sustaining your body. On a psychological level, it may be time to break down the illusions you have held that restrict your actions or ideas.

Dragonfly medicine always beckons you to seek out the parts of your habits which you need to change. Have you tended to the changes you have wanted to make in your life? If you feel the need for change, call on Dragonfly to guide you through the mists of illusion to the pathway of transformation. See how you can apply the art of illusion to your present question or situation, and remember that things are never completely as they seem.

–excerpt from the Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams & David Carson, published 1988, Bear & Company, Sante Fe, New Mexico


There are over 5000 species of dragonflies and damselflies. Not only do they eat mosquitoes and fly between 19 to 38 m.p.h., they are magic. When we were at a Fourth of July gathering and ritual healing for the Gulf of Mexico, a friend found a Dragonfly wing in her garden. When she heard about my encounters with Dragonfly, she handed the veined, translucent wing to me. I tucked it inside the cover of my writing notebook. The things I carry. Dragonfly secrets. Written in the wind.


-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

-related to posts: What Is Your Totem Animal? and WRITING TOPIC – INSECTS & SPIDERS & BUGS, OH MY! (You haven’t lived until you’ve seen ybonesy’s photograph of a Jerusalem Cricket in the Rio Grande Valley. Check out Child of the Earth and Me at the Insects & Spiders & Bugs Writing Topic link!)

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Pink Cadillac, Hindsight, outside the Pink Cadillac Diner, Natural Bridge, Virginia, October 2009, all photos © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Back in Pennsylvania. I always think I’m going to post more than I do from the road. But at the end of the day, I find myself exhausted. Out as soon as the head hits the pillow. Perhaps it’s the introvert in me. I love traveling West to East, North to South, all the people I see only once a year. I wish there were a dozen of me. Maybe a baker’s dozen.

Yesterday I drove 13 hours back from Georgia with Mom. I spent this October day with my family in Pennsylvania. It’s almost 4am and I find myself wide awake, wanting to write. It’s the best I can do to post a haiku, a note, a few photographs from the Pink Cadillac Diner in Natural Bridge, Virginia. It’s a little off the beaten trail. Mom was finishing up her ice cream cone while I walked out to photograph the Caddy. A young woman strode proudly up behind me with her two daughters, camera in tow.

“My dad took a photo of me in front of this very spot,” she said, “and now I get to take a photo of you.” Snap. I watched her daughters gleaming next to the rusty chrome. “Would you like me to take a photo of all of you together?” I asked. “I’d love that,” she smiled, rushing over to hand me her pocket camera.

Lineage. Family legacies. The things we pass down.

The day was perfect for driving. The light illuminated by Fall. I hung my head out the window and snapped photos of a sunset front over Virginia. There is so much to tell. For the time being, will you settle for the highlights?


  • visiting the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art in Augusta, Georgia with my mother
  • walking with my dad through the Brick Pond Ecological Park in North Augusta, South Carolina
  • dining on my uncle’s chili he’s been making since he was 12
  • riding on the back of my brother’s Harley Softtail
  • driving through Virginia with the mountains framed in gold
  • visiting my paternal grandparents’ graves for the first time with my aunt
  • photographing a historic Sand Oak at Westover Memorial Park Cemetery
  • standing by the Savannah River on the down side of Clarks Hill Dam
  • spending the day on the Georgia side of Clarks Hill Lake working on family history with Mom
  • watching the Vikings/Steelers game with my family
  • grits, sweet tea, barbecue hash, boiled peanuts
  • seeing the faces of my brother and mom at the airport when I land
  • talking to Liz on the new BlackBerry from Sconyer’s Bar-B-Que (she asked for hushpuppies)
  • Twittering across the Mason-Dixon line (and the rest of the 1200 mile round trip to Georgia) with the same said BlackBerry
  • photographing the October Blood Moon rising over Pennsylvania, setting over Georgia and South Carolina
  • writing haiku in the air, Minnesota to Maryland and Pennsylvania
  • watching my sister-in-law tap dance across her living room floor (and later my niece and brother’s fiancee danced across the same floor)
  • The Beatles Rock Band with my niece, nephew, and brother in his living room
  • attending a huge Halloween bash with my aunt at the Julian Smith Casino building where in the 1950’s my mother used to go to dances and work barbecues to raise money to build a local church
  • laughing with my family, North and South
  • stopping at the Pink Cadillac Diner in Virginia with Mom on the way home from Georgia





season to season
hindsight is 20/20
reflecting the past;
future remains uncertain,
jumps hoops through the looking glass




-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, October 25th, 2009

-related to posts: haiku 2 (one-a-day), WRITING TOPIC — MEMORIES OF CARS, WRITING TOPIC– ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS, you can’t go back — 15 haiku, Cassie’s Porch — Then & Now, Excavating Memories

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By Bob Chrisman

 
 
 

BOB FATHER & SON 1958 IMG_1798

Father & Son, circa 1958, St. Joseph, Missouri,
photo © 2009, Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.

 
 
 
On May 3, 1952 I arrived to take part in the family drama. My parents celebrated their twelfth wedding anniversary the week after I was born. Dad had turned 38 in February. My sister would turn ten in September, followed by Mom’s 37th birthday the end of November.

As a child I adored my father, but around the age of five I didn’t want him to touch me. I would scream if he came close. He loved to come home from work and rub his unshaven face against my cheeks until they turned red. I hated that. I hated him.

My father exploded at odd times. Seemingly benign topics of conversation would cause him to yell and pound the table. Although never physically violent, his fits scared me and made conversation with him unpredictably frightening.

Not a particularly outgoing man, he withdrew more from social interactions. At family gatherings he would collect all the reading material in the house, find a comfortable chair, and read and sleep the afternoon away.

My sister left for college when I was nine. My father grew even more distant. His only ally had left the house.

The first craziness that I remember occurred one Sunday afternoon. My sister had come home. My grandmother had come to town from the farm. Our car pulled up in front of the house and I went to the door.

My mother was yelling. My father, half in and half out of the car, shouted at someone. I looked to see who they were screaming at and realized they were arguing. I had never seen them argue like that. “Sis, come here. You gotta see this.”

From behind me I heard, “What the hell?” She nudged me. “Shut the door. We don’t want them to know we saw.” I closed the door.

Five minutes later, Mom walked into the house and threw her purse on the bed. When she noticed us staring at her, she sighed, “Len will join us later. He has something to do right now.”

Twenty minutes passed before he returned home and sat down at the table. No one said a word about what had happened between them.

 
 
 

Years later my mother said, “Your father got scared when you started to first grade. He knew someone wanted to kidnap you kids. They planned to snatch you at the Frosty Treat.” The Frosty Treat was a popular, after-school, ice cream shop. Without any explanation our parents had forbidden us from joining our friends there. I didn’t think much about it. By the time I started school, I had grown used to these commands. The new order was, “Come home directly from school.” I obeyed.

My mother told me that Dad has accused her of moving the pillows on their bed to make him crazy. “We only had two pillows. I never understood what I had done.” Although these episodes continued through my childhood, she never talked about them.

When I asked about the argument on that Sunday afternoon, my mother swore me to silence. “Your dad said an angel descended into the church and stood next to him during the service. It communicated telepathically and told him to watch himself. The man next to him had been sent to see if he played with himself during church. I told him he was crazy. That’s when he yelled at me.”
 
“Mom, that’s nuts. Did you think of going for help?”

“To whom? God? I prayed for your dad night and day.”

“How about a psychiatrist or psychologist?”

“We took care of our own problems.”

 
 
 

BOB FATHER 1968 IMG_1792

My Father, circa 1968, St. Joseph, Missouri, photo © 2009, Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.

 
 

Physical problems plagued Dad during the late 1960’s. The grain dust at work irritated his one good lung and caused severe asthma attacks. I can close my eyes and hear the gasping sound as he struggled to breathe. I can see him sitting at the kitchen table, his mouth wide open and his neck muscles strained, as he inhaled.

My mother walked twelve blocks in the dark to the pharmacy to buy the “breathing medicine.” She never asked me, her teenage son, to go. As soon as she left, I crawled under my bed and hid. I didn’t want to hear any calls for help. I’d fail him. I always did.

He underwent hernia surgery in December 1968 and a re-do in January 1969. He stayed off work until March. Two weeks after he returned to work he suffered his stroke.

Chaos erupted. My mother stopped being a mother and became a devoted wife. I resented his stroke because it hadn’t killed him and because it took my mother away.

Somewhere in the years that followed, he gave up. Not that I blame him. His life beat him down. The stroke and residuals destroyed what little will he had left.

It ended any chance I had to talk with him about what happened between us, to ask him questions, to make my accusations, to hear his side of the story. Even if he hadn’t lost his mind, I couldn’t have talked to him, so great was my hatred. On May 2, 1984, he died of old age. A birthday “present” I can never forget.

I’ve always felt incomplete as a man because he didn’t teach me the secrets that fathers pass to their sons. Even now, after decades of searching for that knowledge, which I doubt exists, I still feel inadequate.

 
 
 

Recently a psychic said, “Your father asks you to forgive him for what he did to you.”

Without hesitation I replied, “I have forgiven him. He needs to forgive himself.”

I joined forces with my mother. I disliked the failure I thought he was. I sometimes treated him with no dignity because I thought he deserved my contempt. Perhaps most importantly, I hated him because he didn’t love me enough. But then, I never gave him a chance. Like my father, I must forgive myself for all the things I did and didn’t do in my relationship with him. Only then can I truly bear witness for my father.

 


About Bob: Bob Chrisman is a Kansas City, Missouri writer who frequently writes memoir about his mother, her three sisters, and their influence on his life. My Life With Dad is Part III in his exploration of a trilogy series about his father. Part I, My Father’s Witness, was published on red Ravine in August, followed in September by Part II, Bearing Witness.

Bob’s other red Ravine posts include Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters, Growing Older, Goat Ranch, Stephenie Bit Me, Too, and The Law Of Threes. He has also published two pieces about the life and death of his mother — Hands and In Memoriam.

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By Bob Chrisman



I possess no physical evidence to offer in defense of my father. Family stories and my own fragmented memories comprise what little I know of him. Fifty-seven years have blurred much of what I remembered, but I will bear witness for him.

At a trial, the court clerk would instruct me to raise my right hand. “Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” I would hesitate before I answered. I don’t know the “truth.” I only know my truth. But the court doesn’t want to hear my doubts. The only answer to the question is, “I do.”


BOB IMG_1781

My Father – 8 Months Old, circa 1914, Missouri, photo © 2009, Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.



On February 28, 1914, my father, Len Chrisman, became the first child of H.T. and Annie Chrisman. In September of that same year, H.T.’s gall bladder ruptured. The resulting infection killed him. My father never knew his father, not even from stories, because his mother didn’t talk about the man.

Several men courted the Widow Chrisman. A local banker, my father’s favorite, asked her several times to marry him, but she refused.

When she remarried in 1920, she chose a widower, William Hecker, who had seven children. By all accounts, including some from his children, he was a very angry man. Mr. Hecker stipulated one condition for the marriage. “You must promise that you’ll never favor your son over my children.” She promised, and she never broke a promise.

BOB IMG_1780

My Father In His Baby Carriage, circa 1914, Missouri, photo © 2009, Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.

My father rarely talked about the mother of his childhood. I remember him saying, “She married him because the children needed a mother. She felt sorry for them.”

The step-daughters resented her. Ruth, the oldest, had already married and left home. Fern and Gladys soon followed their oldest sister’s lead. The remaining daughter, Myrtle, who was my father’s age, loved both her new stepmother and stepbrother. The teenaged stepsons, Ralph and Glenn, took after their father. They hated my dad because he had been an only child with a mother all to himself. The remaining step-son, Everett, died in 1926. My father rarely spoke of him, except to say, “He died too young.”

Early in the marriage they lived in western Nebraska. One day the boys roped my dad and dragged him behind a horse through cactus patches. “I never cried. Mom pulled the needles out of my bottom and back with a pair of pliers. I didn’t cry then either. I never let them have that satisfaction.” His voice remained flat as he told the first part of the story, but cracked when he said. “You know, my own mother didn’t say anything to Dad Hecker or to the boys.”

A high school teacher offered to send him to college and pay his expenses. My father wanted to go. “Mom and Dad Hecker listened politely. The last thing he said was, ‘A brilliant mind like his shouldn’t go to waste.'”

BOB IMG_1782

Widow Chrisman & Her Son, circa early 1900s, Missouri, photo © 2009, Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.


“Mom answered as soon as he finished, didn’t even take time to mull it over. ‘None of the other kids went to college. Len doesn’t need to go either.’ It wouldn’t have cost them anything. I left the room because I was so mad at her.”

Her decision doomed my dad to a lifetime of farm labor and blue collar jobs. He worked at a dairy. He worked in a foundry, a meat packing plant, and finally in a grain mill. He never fit in with his fellow workers. He read too much, thought too much.

My father met my mother in the mid-1930’s. She lived down the street from his parents. The two became friends. In the late 1930’s he traveled to Oregon to pick fruit because local jobs didn’t exist. His traveling companions were his future brothers-in law. He wrote letters to my mother. She saved them, called them “love letters” even though they contained no obvious expressions of love, other than “Love, Len.”


I asked my mother why she married him. At that time, he had been bedridden for five years. “Did you love him?”

She dodged the question. “I promised myself that I would marry someone like my dad.”

“Was Daddy like him?”

“No, he was nothing like my father. I felt sorry for Len. He needed me.” I cringed. My heart hurt. She hadn’t loved my father. I didn’t ask any more questions because I didn’t want to know the answers.


BOB IMG_1787

My Father Dressed For A Tom Thumb Wedding, circa early 1900's, Missouri, photo © 2009, Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.


In 1942, my sister was born. My father loved her. She was his special child.

In 1943 his stepfather died, but not before he secured a promise from his wife to watch over Ralph. My father never understood why she agreed to put up with someone who had treated her so rudely, a man who cussed and swore about everything. Maybe she felt sorry for him because his vision was so severely impaired. Whatever the reason, she took care of him until her death 32 years later in 1975.

In 1952 I arrived. Unexplainably, my mother laid sole claim to me. She excluded my sister and father from taking care of me. I was her child. The possession of my life had begun.

For the first five years I slept next to my parents’ bed in a crib, then on a tiny rollaway bed. Our four-room house didn’t have any extra rooms. My father added two rooms, moved my sister to a new bedroom and moved me into her old room.

He lived his early life abandoned and betrayed by the people who loved him or should have loved him.  He had no protector, no father. Long after he died I complained to my mother about the kind of father he had been. “Don’t be so hard on him. He never learned to be a father because he never had one himself.” My father and I never had a chance to have a normal father-son relationship. That’s all the truth I know for now.




About Bob: Bob Chrisman is a Kansas City, Missouri writer who frequently writes memoir about his mother, her three sisters, and their influence on his life. This is Part II of a series of three about his father. Part I, My Father’s Witness, was published on red Ravine in August. Bob’s other red Ravine posts include Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters, Hands, Growing Older, Goat Ranch, Stephenie Bit Me, Too, The Law Of Threes, and In Memoriam.

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By Bob Chrisman

 
 

May 2, 2009 was the twenty-fifth anniversary of my father’s death. He died physically that day, but he had died to most everyone a long time before that. In March 1969 he punched the time clock as he left work. He felt a numbness speed through his left side. He stumbled to a doorway to brace himself and waited for coworkers to find him.

They brought him home because he told them to take him there, not to the hospital. They carried him from the car, up the three sets of stairs and into the front room where they sat him on the sofa. My mother called an ambulance. “I’m going with your father. You drive up later.”

My world crumbled that day when God answered my prayers and struck my father down. I hated him for a variety of unclear reasons. He didn’t love me. He wanted nothing to do with me. He wasn’t good to my mother. Despite all these vague, but strong reasons, the guilt built inside me. I asked myself repeatedly,  “What have I done?”

The doctors ran tests. They diagnosed a relatively small stroke and couldn’t understand why his physical condition didn’t improve. He had retained his mental faculties.

They transferred him to the university hospital in Columbia. My mother took the bus every weekend to visit him…a four-hour ride each way. He improved a little. I saw him one time there. He took his walker and accompanied me down the hall when I left.

When he came home months later, the ambulance people carried him up the stairs to the house and placed him in a wheelchair in the front room. His entire life centered on the front room and his bedroom. In three years he lost his mind.

 
 
He didn’t know me anymore. His son flew an airplane for a living. One day he said, “My son doesn’t come visit. I think you’d like him.” Even though I hated him, I wish he had remembered me. It hurt that he created another son who he admired.

He thought my mother was his mother. His repressed anger at her burst out. She told me the first time it happened. He screamed at her. “You keep me a prisoner in this bed.”

She bowed her head. “I’m embarrassed to admit that I threw back his covers. ‘If you can walk, then get up and walk.’ I stood where he couldn’t see me and watched as he struggled to sit up. He couldn’t. He couldn’t even roll over.” She started to cry.

“I couldn’t bear it so I covered him up. He had that scared look that people get when they realize how bad things really are. I couldn’t look at him. I ran to the back porch and cried my eyes out.”

 

For several months, he visited the circus in his mind. I would sit on his bed and he would ask, “May I have some cotton candy and peanuts?” He would ramble on and on about the men on the trapeze and the elephant.

Next he moved to his paranoid phase. My mother (who he still thought was his mother) had joined a conspiracy against him. “Get the gun. Shoot her. Get the gun while she’s out of the room.”

“Daddy, we don’t have any guns in the house. Never did.”

“Yes, it’s in the second drawer. Now, go get it.”

I looked in the drawer. I carried the drawer to his bed and dumped its contents. “See, there isn’t any gun. We never had a gun.”

“The bitch hid it. They know I won’t stand for her abuse.”

I put the drawer away and left the room. I never told my mother about that incident.

 
 

People forgot him. He became a fixture to me like a piece of furniture that held painful memories. I avoided him, didn’t talk to him for almost 10 years. Why bother?

The afternoon of May 2, 1984 he died. By the time I made it home, my mother had removed all signs of his illness…15 years boxed up and carried to the basement. The hospital bed disappeared. The commode vanished. I felt like I had entered a twilight zone. “Where is all the stuff?” I asked.

“Your uncle helped me take it all to the basement. Your father’s dead. No use in keeping those things around.”

People who attended the visitation the night before the funeral acted surprised. Some of them had known my mother for years. “We thought she was a widow. We didn’t know that your father was still alive.” In many ways she had become a widow in March of 1969.

 

We laid him to rest at the cemetery in Gower on a gray, cloudy day. The minister conducted a short, graveside service. I waited for someone to lower the casket into the vault. No one appeared. The mourners left for their cars.

The most profound sadness filled me. Once again he had been abandoned by the people who said they loved him. I hadn’t loved him for years, but I couldn’t leave him all alone. I wanted to stay with his coffin until they lowered it and covered it with dirt.

My mother yelled, “Get in the car. The ladies of the church have a lunch waiting for us.”

I looked at the box that held the body of the man who had been my father. The sadness kept me from leaving.

I felt a hand on my shoulder. “What’s wrong with you?” My mother pulled on my arm.

“I don’t want to leave him here by himself. Can’t we wait until they lower the coffin into the grave? He must be lonely.” I could barely speak for the tears.

“Don’t be silly. He isn’t here.” She pulled me to the car.
 
My last memory is this: his gray metal coffin rests on a shiny chrome frame, the canopy of the viewing tent flaps wildly in the wind, clouds move across the gray sky and shadows run over the green grass and tombstones. I wish I could say his death ended our troubled relationship, but it didn’t. More of the story remained to be told. I must recall it now to bear witness for my father.

 
 
 

Bob Parents Gravestone IMG_0942 auto

R.I.P, Gower, Missouri, January 2009, photo © 2009 by Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.

 
 
 

About Bob: Bob Chrisman is a Kansas City, Missouri writer who frequently writes memoir about his mother, her three sisters, and their influence on his life. This is his first piece about his father, Part I of a series of three. Bob’s other red Ravine posts include Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters, Hands, Growing Older, Goat Ranch, Stephenie Bit Me, Too, The Law Of Threes, and In Memoriam.

 

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Tools Of The Trade (On Sale), Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2009, all photos © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 
 

Back-to-school sales are a bonus for writers. Liz came home last night with presents in tow: three full-sized college ruled notebooks for Writing Practice and five colorful 4 1/2 by 3 1/4 Composition notebooks with marble covers (my favorite for carrying around in my pocket). The large notebooks were a penny less than 4 bits; the small ones only 19 cents. (Hint: a bit is 12.5 cents; 2 bits is a quarter.)

Last night I put the small red Composition notebook by my bed. It came in handy when I woke up at 3 a.m. with insomnia. I grabbed it and wrote down these haiku (senryu) floating around in my head. I had hoped the rhythmic counting would help me get back to sleep:

 
 

Insomnia haiku (II)
_____________

crumpled white paper
word remembrances of love
regurgitation
 
10 sleepless monsters
rambling around in my head
flat Insomnia

beyond Milky Way
a random act of kindness
what it takes to love

 
 
 

 
 

I hope everyone is taking advantage of the back-to-school sales to stock up on writing supplies. Paper products are our Tools of the Trade. What kind of notebooks and pens do you love? Where can we get the best deals?

 

-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, August 13th, 2009

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC – TOOLS OF THE TRADE, haiku 2 (one-a-day)

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Gone are the syringes, the pages and pages of charts we logged, the droppers, prescription foods, and red plastic “discarded needle” container with the skull and crossbones. Gone is the hook over the kitchen sink to hang the IV bag; it was made out of an old tent stake. Gone are the alcohol swipes, 15-cent 18 gauge needles, extra towels, warming bowls, and bags of IV hookup tubes.

Expensive medications crammed into limited cupboard space have disappeared. The thick blue folder of Chaco’s veterinary receipts has been filed away. Last week we made a decision to donate the 10 remaining bags of .45 saline IV fluids (from the case we had special ordered to give Chaco’s subcutaneous fluids at home) to the Humane Society. Liz said she would drop the case off after work. She came home on Thursday and handed me a copy of the following letter:


_________________________________________________________________




Chaco S. was born February 22nd, 1996, adopted from the Golden Valley Animal Humane Society in April 1996, and passed away on June 25th, 2009 after a brave battle with kidney disease.

He left a huge hole in our family and will always be remembered dearly for his big purrs and head bumps.

We are donating extra bags of saline in his name. They kept him going near the end and we know how valuable they can be.


Peace, love and purrs,

The S-H Family
Liz, D., Kiev & Mr. Stripey Pants


__________________________________________________________________


This is why I love Liz. She had typed the letter up, added Chaco’s photo, and given it to the woman at the desk of the Humane Society who thanked her profusely for our donation. The intake person was simultaneously talking on the phone to a woman who had lost her cat and advising her of organizations she could contact to help her with her search.

In the short time Liz was there, a woman came in crying because she had to give up her cat. Her husband handed the carrier with their beloved pet over to the intake coordinator. Another man was at the desk to surrender a cat he had taken from a friend because he didn’t want it to be put down; it didn’t work out. He tried to explain. There is no excuse the Humane Society hasn’t already heard.

People desperately trying to find their cats; people desperately needing to get rid of their cats; people grieving the loss of their cats. And I haven’t even gotten to the dogs yet.

The woman at the desk said she would tape Liz’s letter to the box of IV fluids so they would think about Chaco whenever they grabbed a new IV bag for an animal in need. I appreciate the work of caring individuals who volunteer their time to sanctuaries, independent animal shelters, and organizations who care for animals society has tossed aside. There are 81.7 million cats and 71.2 million dogs owned in America. We need to help out wherever we can.


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, August 9th, 2009

-related to posts: Chaco’s Creature Comforts (10 Cat Care Tips), From The Earth, Back To The Earth , Winter Solstice — The Quiet Strength Of Bear, Life Of An American Green Tree Frog, Children Helping Children (And Animals)

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By Louis Robertson

 
 

This list is a work-in-progress and represents some of the lessons life has taught me. I started it as a “gift” to my children and wanted it to be something they could return to again and again to help put things into perspective and to add focus to their lives. QuoinMonkey, whose opinion I have always trusted, encouraged me to share it with a larger audience. I agreed hoping that the readers of red Ravine may find something in this they can use.

 
 
 

Things I Wanted You To Learn

 
 

1 – As long as you remember me I will stay alive in your memories. You are my legacy, my magnum opus.

 
 

2 – I am very proud of the person each of you has become. Although I did not say it as much as I felt it, you are the source of my joy and pride as a father.

 
 

3 – You can achieve anything! If you can imagine it, you can do it, but it will take hard work. It will not come easy, but if you believe in your ability to achieve, know you have the desire to see it through and persevere, then it can happen. Oh, and a good plan helps.

 
 

4 – Everyone has worth! Even the marginalized — especially the marginalized — have something to contribute to your life. You need to work beyond the visceral feelings, put yourself in their place, and look for the lesson.

 
 

5 – You are constantly being presented with opportunities to learn and grow. God doesn’t give things to you, rather he allows opportunities to be presented to you and it is your responsibility to recognize them, learn from them, and grow.

 
 

6 – Don’t get stuck in the past. What happened, happened. No amount of rehashing, bitching, complaining, or wishing will change the fact that it happened. Look for the lesson and move on, but understand that sometimes it may take years for the lesson to present itself to you.

 
 

7 – When someone has the ability to really irritate you, either by their actions or beliefs, step back! Try to identify what is bothersome and put a new face on it. For example, that person who is always butting into your conversations? Ask yourself, What purpose does this serve to them? Are they lonely, feeling marginalized, friendless, or just trying to get noticed? Then wonder what their self worth may be to have to do this to feel alive, noticed, or a part of something. Maybe even wonder how things must be at home for them. Now ask yourself “How can I help them feel better about their life?” But also remember, sometimes people are just jerks.

 
 

8 – Always remember that you are loved and have a large family to fall back on when things are tough. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; it is not a sign of weakness. It took me 43 years to realize that allowing people to step up and take some of the burden from me is often a gift to them.

 
 

9 – Remember the lesson I taught you as a kid about power. You have a reservoir of power that you control. Be stingy with who you give it to. That kid that knows he can make you mad by calling you fat is taking away some of your power. To get it back you need to be aware of your reaction and change it. This will not only help you with your personal interactions but is essential when trying to break a cycle of reactionary behavior. Once you fall into a pattern, the pattern will repeat itself until something changes. Changing your reaction will make the interaction more real and will cause you to look at it from another perspective. Once you change the pattern it will either fall apart or create a new trigger to a new pattern. Listen to that little voice that says, “Why do we always have the same argument over and over?” and use that pause to look for the pattern, and then change it.

 
 

10 – Make at least one person smile every day. Find something to compliment them on. Do something unexpected for them. Tell them they are important to you. Some days it may be the catalyst that changes their lives or the start of a chain reaction of passing the smile on. When you are given the choice, make a positive impact rather than a negative impression.

 
 

11 – Challenge yourself to be the best person you can be! Don’t settle for okay, strive to be great! Do each task to the best of your ability. Make it a game or a challenge. Don’t just do the job to check it off a list, do it so you can stand back and say out loud, “I did that!”

 
 
 
 

∞ ∞ ∞

 
 
 

About Louis: Louis Robertson (R3) is a divorced father of two teenage children who lives in South Central Pennsylvania. His day-to-day life centers on his children and teaching them about responsible living. He earns a living as a computer systems consultant.

Louis has experienced medical challenges since he was a teenager. After his first liver transplant in 1993, his perspective on life became more focused and his appreciation for the little treasures life grants increased. When he learned he needed a second liver transplant, his focus moved to preparing his family and children for a future without him. He now is a candidate for a third liver transplant and lives his life watching for life lessons he can pass on to his children.

 

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Electric Snow Cone, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Electric Snow Cone, Minnesota State Fair, half way between St. Paul & Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



It’s Labor Day weekend and we’re recovering from our second day at the Minnesota State Fair. For me, the Fair is about photography, food, and history. On Wednesday, we checked out the State Fair and Sesquicentennial history exhibits and enjoyed a Gnarls Barkley concert and fireworks in the Grandstand.

There is a JFK Remembered exhibit this year that we wanted to attend (Kennedy’s death had a big impact on me as a child). We passed the building when we arrived, but the lines were too long (the exhibit is drawing 20,000 people a day). We had planned to circle back, but you know how it goes at the Fair. Navigation routes are turned topsy-turvy; we never made it back.

The exhibit is the personal collection of Nick Ciacelli. He started collecting in the 4th grade on the day Kennedy was assassinated. The exhibit contains rare items such as Kennedy’s jewelry box, a gift from his father in 1946, and a pair of gold Texas star cufflinks he never got to wear. The exhibit was featured on WCCO News a few nights ago — ‘JFK Remembered’ Exhibit Drawing Record Fairgoers.



        Icy Spoons, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Icy Spoons, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Icy Spoons, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



On Friday, we returned to the Fair. We did the weave-and-dodge past weary food vendors, and over-full rides, then ate our way through the Food Building, packed with wall-to-wall people (wait until you hear about the Pickle Pop on-a-stick!). We visited the Education, Creative Activity, Horticulture, and HealthCare buildings and picked up a few freebies at the Merchandise Mart.

There are 3 days left to attend the Minnesota State Fair. It’s a beautiful cloudless Saturday: low humidity, sun, slight breeze, blue skies. There must be thousands of people planning to venture around St. Paul’s blocked off roads (for the Republican National Convention) to make their way down the Midway. I thought it might be helpful to have a check-off list of must-haves (in no particular order) to take with you to the Fair.



Hidden Values Of A Casket, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Hidden Values Of A Casket, vintage Minnesota Casket Company booth at the MN State Fair, half way between St. Paul & Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




On-The-Go List Of Must-Haves (MN State Fair)


  • State Fair tickets — easy to forget. slide them in your wallet
  • Blue Ribbon Bargain Book — see details under Ways To Save $$$ in the second link on this post
  • Rain jacket — and rain pants if you have them. It drizzled all through Gnarls Barkley and poured as we were leaving. You never know!
  • Portable umbrella — small enough to fit in a backpack. When it comes to umbrellas, remember, you get what you pay for.
  • Shoes with good arches — flat feet or not, your feet and legs will be tired; they need lots of support.
  • Water bottle — unbreakable and full. Fair food is greasy and salty. You are going to be thirsty for water!
  • $$$ — with attachable wallet ring. The Fair makes you spacy. The right accessories help to keep the right things close to your body.
  • Backpack — comfortable with lots of zippered pockets
  • Sweatshirt — hooded, for cooler evenings at the Grandstand
  • Map of the Fairgrounds — with streets, bathrooms, buildings, and information booths labeled. You can pick this up at any Information booth when you enter the Fair. Believe me, you’re going to need it.
  • Tree Sculptures By Name map — kind of like playing the License Plate Game with your kids on the family vacation. (Details in Comment #43 on the second link in this post.)
  • Deals, Drawings, & Giveaways Guide — this is your guide to everything FREE at the Fair. (Details in Comment #43 on the second link in this post.) 
  • Hat — with a brim to shield direct sun from eyes. August in Minnesota is bright!
  • Sunglasses – any kind, cheap or designer. I saw two kids wearing blue LCD light-up sunglasses at night on the Midway. It’s a strange adaptation, but it works!
  • Suntan lotion – does Rudolph ring a bell?
  • List of 63 foods on-a-stick — and their locations on the Fairgrounds. I marked the ones I wanted to try on the map in highlighter. Well, okay, that’s just me. (More info and a list of all 63 foods in the second link on this post.)
  • List of streets blocked off in St. Paul — for the Republican National Convention. It hasn’t officially started, but already there have been street closings and police raids in St. Paul. Is it the Boy Scout motto that says, “Be Prepared?”
  • Plan for your parking spot — it’s mobbed, friends. You’ll pay $9 for the lots. Make an alternative plan to save money. Have any friends living near the Fairgrounds?
  • Cameras and video cam — don’t forget charged batteries, portable tripod
  • Tickets to Gnarls Barkley & Cloud Cult — these were the tickets we had to remember. Varies with the evening. BTW, Cloud Cult is one of Liz’s favorite bands. They combine art and music beautifully in their concerts. Two painters work on canvas during the concert; then they auction the paintings off at the end. See them if you ever get a chance!
  • Trash bags — large brown plastic ones to cover gear and body if it rains
  • Aluminum foil and baggies — for extra foods on-a-stick that you’re too full to eat or want to cart home. We used quite a few of these!
  • List of Must-Do Pointsdo the things important to you first, before you get worn out. For us it was: History Building, Farmers Union, Public Radio, WCCO, Art Building, Crop Art, chickens, Dairy Barn, Butter Queen sculptures, photographs of carousel, Ferris wheel, roller coaster.
  • List of places where there are seats and shade — you’re going to want to get off your feet and out of the sun once in a while! I had a mini-meltdown last night when my ice cream was melting down my hand, a blister was forming on my right foot, and my camera battery died all at the same time. A 15 minute rest on a nearby bench did the trick.
  • ChapStick — for the dry lips that happen from sun, wind, and all that screaming!
  • Napkins, paper towels, & Wet Ones — need I say more? Yeah, grease, and everything else touchy-feely-sticky imaginable.
  • Flashlight — portable LED that hangs around the neck (with fresh batteries)
  • Pressure point wrist bands — for vertigo from the rides. Liz bought these for her plane trip to Georgia this year (I ended up using them on our car rides). Yesterday, I wore them to the Fair. They really do work!
  • Gratitude — to the 3000+ workers who labor at the Fair to make it all possible. (After all, it is Labor Day weekend!)

 

If you don’t live close enough to make it to the Minnesota State Fair, you can live vicariously by visiting the pieces sprinkled throughout this post. They contain all the links and trivia you’ll ever need to know about the Minnesota State Fair (with the exception of their official website).

Or better yet, plan on attending a local Fair this Fall in the part of the planet you call home and write an essay about your own experiences. It’s good to support the local economy (think global, buy local), and have tons of family fun in the process. Oh, and if you think of anything I should add to the list, feel free to leave it in the comments. I just thought of one other thing I neglected to mention — TUMS!



State Fair Chautauqua (150 Years Of Statehood), Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

State Fair Chautauqua (150 Years Of Statehood), celebrating all people and cultures of Minnesota, Minnesota State Fair, half way between St. Paul & Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, August 30th, 2008

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Atlanta Airport - 1952, Augusta, Georgia, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved

Atlanta Airport – 1952, family postcard, Augusta, Georgia, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



I’ve been thinking about the lost art of writing postcards and letters. A few weeks ago, while staying at my uncle’s place in Georgia, I began the long process of scanning old photographs and historical documents for the family archives. I asked my uncle if he would pull out his collection of memorabilia. He showed up the next day with stacks of old black and white photographs. And a wide, faded brown shoebox containing bundles of newspaper clippings, letters, and postcards.

Most of the postcards were to or from my Great, Great Aunt Cassie. My Great, Great Uncle Claude had worked for the Georgia Railroad and they traveled a lot on their vacations. But there was one in particular that caught my eye – a postcard that Mom’s older brother, Jack, had sent her in high school. The postmark was July 24th, 1952. A postcard stamp was only 1 cent back then. One cent.

My Uncle Jack would have been 16 at the time. He must have been on vacation with relatives. On the front of the postcard, where we might now see a digital photograph, was a 4-color illustration of the Atlanta Municipal Airport, the same airport Liz flew out of on her way back to Minnesota from Georgia in July.

In scratchy, adolescent handwriting, he wrote:



Dear Amelia,

I am having a good time here. I have met a lot of girls here and I have
had 6 dates since I got here. I’ve got another one tomorrow night and
Saturday. We are coming home Sunday. We have an air conditioner
here and it is cool.

Love,

Jack



I called Mom after I got back to Minnesota and asked her if she minded if I posted Jack’s card. She lost her brother in 1954, two years after he sent the postcard, only days before I was born. It was the year he graduated from high school. He had been ill with mono but wanted to go and celebrate with his friends anyway. They went swimming at Clarks Hill. He drowned on what is reported to have been a second swim across the lake. His body, still recovering and weak from the mono, must have given out mid-swim.

Mom said she didn’t have any qualms about me sharing the postcard. “No, I don’t mind if you post it,” she said. “We’re open about things like that.” Then, in one last thought, she sounded a little sad. “What did it say?” she asked.

I told her he wrote about what any teenage boy would write about: girls. But what struck me the most was seeing his handwriting; it was over 50 years old. And that he took the time to write, to send Mom a few lines letting her know he was thinking of her.



Dear Amelia, Augusta, Georgia, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.       Dear Amelia, Augusta, Georgia, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



When we were on St. Simons Island, I looked high and low for postcards to send to friends. I finally found a rack in the corner of a novelty store along the main drag near the lighthouse. It was the same place Liz and I got our soft cotton Georgia T-shirts. But then, there were no stamp machines that sold postcard stamps. And we never made it to the spot on the island where the  post office was located. So I waited until I was back in Augusta to mail them.

Postcards are becoming a thing of the past. But I have one writing friend who sent postcards every week as part of her practice last year. And another who sends herself postcards when she goes out on the road to write. She says she has many insights while traveling, jots them down on a postcard, and mails them to herself. After returning home, it centers her to read them – a gift to her creative self.



I am running into handwritten letters at every turn. Boxes turned up in storage with letters from my mother and grandmother. And I’m midway through the letters of Flannery O’Connor; you wouldn’t believe how much I am learning about this great Southern writer (and the South) from reading her letters. Should I begin writing letters again?

I am getting closer. Last Saturday, Liz went to three garage sales; at one she bought me an antique Royal portable typewriter. I started using it that day. At the same sale (it was run by an artist/photographer; she took me back with her later), we bought some vintage vinyl for a quarter a piece, and three great literature books for 50 cents each. One of them was Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera. It is full of her letters.

Later that day at the studio, I started thumbing through Frida’s biography; sticking out of the middle section, was a faded postcard sent from Colombia. The front of the postcard has a photograph of a Cuna woman in traditional garb. A small 2 was circled at the top; it was the second of a series of three. The title, URABA (ANTIOQUIA) COLOMBIA — India Cuna, was in block print. The handwriting was loopy cursive, written in Spanish. A studio mate read it to me. She recognized the sancocho, a traditional Colombian soup.



I think the postcard is like a letter haiku. Think of everything you’ve learned in brief intervals of 17-syllable haiku from our regulars on haiku (one-a-day). The postcard from my uncle spoke to me; half a century later I gained a glimpse of who he was. I got a postcard from ybonesy that arrived right after I came home from Georgia. Maybe she’ll send me one from Vietnam (smile).

I’m considering a postcard/letter writing practice in the coming months. I want to use the vintage Royal. When is the last time you received a handwritten letter or postcard? If you have insights into the art or practice of postcard and letter writing, please share them with us. All is never as it seems. And life letters only add to the mystery.



Postcard From Uncle Jack, Augusta, Georgia, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Postcard From Uncle Jack, Augusta, Georgia, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



-posted on red Ravine, Monday, August 25th, 2008

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Magnolia, June 3rd, 2007, Augusta, Georgia, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 –Magnolia, June 3rd, 2007, Augusta, Georgia, all photos © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


The magnolias are blooming in Georgia. And the mimosas, wisteria, Spanish moss. I don’t have to dig all that deep. Everything falls into place the minute I ask. My body is tired; I am holding all this in my brain. The 5th Street Bridge, one of the first Coca-Cola bottling plants, the haunted pillar, Richmond Academy.

Broad Street, one of the widest streets in the United States, and Green Street and Reynolds Street. Walking through Magnolia Cemetery where my great, great aunt is buried near her father who was a soldier for the Confederacy; watching my mother walk down the leaf crackling road with a plucked magnolia in her hand, laughing and smiling and content to be back in the South.

Chris Craft, June 3rd, 2007, Clark Hill Dam, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Riding in the Chris Craft along the shores of Clarks Hill Dam. Calling the aunt I haven’t heard from since I was one or two. Hearing her Southern drawl on the other end of the line and knowing she’s related to me, bloodlines, blood kin, though I haven’t seen her in 50 years. It doesn’t matter. Before she hung up, she said she loved me. And I believe her.

My step-dad seems the happiest I have seen him in years. It’s as if he has a new lease on life. I ask the questions, we drive by childhood homes. He calls me Shug and tells me about Audubon Circle and the minute my chubby, two-year-old hands squeezed his cheeks and asked, “Can I call you Daddy?”

Hearing my uncle talk about our ancestors in the Civil War, photographs and relics lining his den, on shelves, and in drawers. Arrowheads and 400 acres of family farmland, and an island near Brunswick that can be traced all the way back to King George the Third; there’s proof on a letter that reads:


GEORGE the Third, by the Grace of God, of Great-Britain, France and Ireland, KING, Defender of the Faith, and fo forth, To All To Whom These Presents Shall Come Greeting: KNOW YE, THAT WE of our Special Grace, certain Knowledge and mere Motion, have given and granted, and by thefe Prefents, for us, our heirs and fucceffuors, DO GIVE AND GRANT unto…

And the letter is signed by the Surveyor General and the Governor in Council and dated April of 1763. Back, back, back. I listen, should not be surprised. All that history and the shape of shovels digging through the mind.

The things I carry are:

a Canon Powershot, an Olympus digital recorder, a trusty wirebound Supergirl notebook, a bag of Sharpies, Dell laptop, LG cell phone, cords to connect and connect and charge, two weeks worth of clothes, a 4 GB memory stick, black Adidas slingpack, camera bag, two sets of bifocals, a rolled family tree, water bottles, maps of Augusta and Georgia and South Carolina, a couple of rabbit fetishes, a lion, a turtle from Wyoming, and questions, yes, all those questions fall from me like curled rain.

Ameila's Magnolia, June 3rd, 2007, Magnolia Cemetery, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

              –Amelia’s Magnolia, June 3rd, 2007, Magnolia Cemetery, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


I carry the scent of magnolia, the purple of the martin, and the energy of all the ancestors, and I want to say I know what I’m doing, but I don’t. I have faith. I follow my nose and my heart and people seem to open to me. I watch generations before smile down on me, and generations to date, heal and let go. Soft kisses to the cheek and hugs all around. I am astounded every moment.

Tomorrow it is another trip to Clarks Hill Dam to meet my aunt who I found out helped her parents build the house I stayed in after I was born (and had photographed only hours before I called her). And I’ve located Mrs. Juarez but do I really want to spill the beans? Or should I save the story for the meet and greet.

Soldier, My Great, Great Grandfather's Grave, June 3rd, 2007, Magnolia Cemetery, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.I step across generations of sandy brown pine needles, past homes of Georgia brick. The land is red iron clay and the memories are mine. There is so much to say and too little time. I wanted to get something on the page, anything.

I wonder how long it will take me to sift the strainer and see what pours on to the page. It will not be everything. Only what is essential. Yet gathering these pieces leads me to feel complete.

It’s hard to explain what it’s like. All I can say is if you get the chance, go back and ask what you need to know. And write it all down. It is healing. It’s like discovering gold in a deserted mine where you thought the canary had sung her last note. But when you take a chance, and risk dropping down, you find the gleaming vein against a backdrop of emeralds. And somehow you know each line uncovers a rough-cut diamond made from thousands of years of lumpy coal, shining just for you.

Monday, June 4th, 2007

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