Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Types of Silence: a collective list compiled between May 1 and May 3, 2020

The silence of a bad internet connection
The silence of waiting for a phone call
The silence of a finished book
The silence of a sleeping cat
The silence of a break in the rain
The silence of new buds blooming
The silence of an antique plate, lying smashed and scattered on the floor
The silence of elves when people pass by
The silence of waiting for bad news
The silence of the world holding its breath

The silence of ignored pain
The silence of a brilliant idea, lost
The silence of confusion
The silence of not saying anything because it would be rude to comment
The silence of predawn
The silence of a text, forgotten and left unread
The silence of two people on a video call, longing for each other
The silence of 174 miles, the distance between you and me
The silence of the coward
The silence of the ache nobody sees

The silence of emptied park
The silence of the house he won’t come back to
The silence of insensate stones
The silence of savoring that first cup of morning coffee
The silence of the just-filled bird feeder waiting for visitors
The silence of waving to others from 6 feet away
The silence of a baseball stadium waiting for the pitch
The silence of contemplating the empty canvas
The silence of writing the dreaded letter
The silence of a sulking child

The silence when a concert ends, just before the applause begins
The silence when your car hits a patch of black ice
The silence of shock — felt in the pit of your stomach
The silence of fear
The silence when you realize you’ve made a terrible mistake
The silence of the naughty child
The silence of disappointment
The silence after meditation
The silence when the phone stops ringing
The silence of snow falling on the ocean

The silence after tears
The silence during joyful memories
The silence of a back alley viewed from a hotel window
The silence of the room around my thoughts at night
The silence of a flat roof
The silence of a crawlspace
The silence of an attic
The silence of a prison cell after the door is closed
The silence on top of Mount Washington that I didn’t know existed
The silence that became my mother’s eyes toward the end

The silence that abides in all trees
The silence that arrives when deep friendship settles into itself
The silence of tears falling inside your heart
The silence of daffodils waving in the breeze
The silence in your car when you're all alone going nowhere in particular
The silence / rest between musical notes without which there would be no melody or rhythm
The silence before telling the truth
The silence of an earring that has lost its mate
The silence of of a loose ring, slipping off my finger
The silence of a tube of lipstick, unused for decades

The silence of a rainbow, fading
The silence after a raucous mental storm
The silence at the completion of my exhale
The silence of a still lake at dawn
The silence of my dull depression
The silence of my own sweet soul
The silence when the Jimi Hendrix song ends
The silence in your smile
The silence of touch
The silence of my deaf dad’s world

The silence of gum inside my pocket after washing my pants
The silence of his final breath
The silence of the platform after a fast moving train has left the station
The silence of morning when the garbage trucks depart
The silence of a searching eye
The silence of summer as I dip my head below the surface of the water
The silence of a deleted email
The silence of defeated desire
The silence of a jet stream drifting above my head
The silence of my 1968 Royal electric typewriter gathering dust in the attic

The silence of a restaurant cocktail shaker awaiting ice and a customer
The silence of the snowblower on a mid-July day
The silence of a raccoon in the tree above my car
The silence of an albino skunk as it scurries between my feet
The silence of the King Fisher just before spotting dinner in the creek below
The silence of a line of industrious leaf-eating ants
The silence of her inaudible voice beneath the protective cloth mask
The silence of a grasshopper cupped in my granddaughter’s hands
The silence of freshly-cut grass
The silence of a heron moving through the rushes

The silence of an echo on the moon
The silence of the last word in an argument
The silence of the printer when it stops
The silence of a sleeping baby
The silence of  a fog horn when the blast ends
The silence of your breath behind a mask
The silence of the clothes hanging in my closet
The silence of the orange glow of a Himalayan salt lamp
The silence of an unplayed piano
The silence of a full moon hiding behind a cloud

The silence of the sun resting on a turtle's back
The silence of the tulip before it opens
The silence of goldfish gleaming in a sunlit pond
The silence once the barking dog is let inside
The silence of pages in a new blank journal
The silence of my childhood doll
The silence of the orchid in a season of non-blooming
The silence of the dove spreading warmth over her babies
The silence of the Muse in a dry season
The silence of dandelions invading the garden

The  silence of a worm as the robin pulls it from wet earth
The silence of deep mud below the river's rushing
The silence after the death of your beloved
The silence before someone leaves
The silence after someone leaves
The silence right before the first glimmer of dawn
The silence of the stars on the coldest night of the year
The silence that tells you something you’ve cooked is delicious
The silence when snow stops falling, a reminder that falling snow makes a sound
The silence when the day is over and the house dark, but for two small reading lights

The silence that gives you goosebumps
The silence that soothes a headache
The silence that opens space for ideas
The silence of seeds as they breach the dark crust of potting soil
The silence of the yellow trout lilies, lightly waving in a low-flying breeze
The silence of the soft, white quilt after I’ve made my bed
The silence of the empty bird feeder
The silence of soggy Rice Krispies
The silence of moss on the roof of the old shed
The silence of the painting when I’ve straightened it on the wall

The silence of my bedroom ceiling at 3 a.m.
The silence when I email my teenage granddaughters
The silence between breathing out, breathing in
The silence of the last straw
The silence of moonlight through a white curtain
The silence of weeds around my mother’s gravestone
The silence of cornstalks on a windless afternoon
The silence of an ice cube melting
The silence of a rocking chair after the children are grown
The silence of thankfulness when there is too much to give thanks for

The silence of the teardrop as it rolls off of her cheek
The silence of the room during deep meditation
The silence of despair after surrender
The silence of the child after an intrusion
The silence of the heart after its last beat
The silence of the earth following a soaking rain
The silence of the fawn under the pine bough
The silence of the woman when all is lost
The silence of the sleeping village at 3 a.m.
The silence from unspoken words that could have made a difference

The silence of the ventilator just after it is turned off
The silence in the synagogue as the last candle is blown out
The silence of a book I’ve been meaning to read for a long time
The silence of a canoe gliding across still water
The silence of a broken pencil
The silence of my inner clown
The silence of an unsent letter
The silence after a terrible thought
The silence of “I can't believe I said that . . .”
The silence of not knowing what to say

The silence in the middle of an argument
The silence of kids playing — a sudden silence that means trouble
The silence of a memory that shuts out the present
The silence in those seconds as you pass from awake to asleep
The silence of midnight in the suburbs
The silence of an unopened pinecone
The silence of one pebble in my pocket
The silence of a spinach seed in the earth, not yet sprouted
The silence of birds as the spring storm descends
The silence of boys, when all goes quiet because they broke something

The silence of all the things we cannot say
The silence after I say too much
The silence of a prayer held deep inside my chest
The silence of houseplants, no judgment from them
The silence of my dog as the sun sets and sleep arrives
The silence inside of me, just before I begin something difficult
The silence of this car packed to the gills, the engine not yet started
The silence of a fawn beside the trail, hidden by its mama
The silence of a poem after it has been read aloud
The silence of a lazy cloud

The silence of trees standing, waiting
The silence of light introducing the dawn
The silence of a mourning heart
The silence of the road ahead
The silence of a woman saying goodbye to her dad
The silence of the past
The silence of a soft kiss
The silence of humility and forgiveness
The silence of true wisdom
The silence of aging

The silence of feeling alone
The silence of an internal prayer
The silence of a lullaby sung by a summer’s sun
The silence of regret
The silence of a lost friendship
The silence of drifting off to sleep while sitting in a cozy chair
The silence of a secret love
The silence of eternity
The silence of the unknown
The silence of seeing oneself in another

The silence at the center of a pause
The silence at the bottom of the swimming pool, near the drain
The silence after we leave
The silence before and the silence after and the silence during
The silence of the frozen sea
The silence between drips after the rain stops
The silence of doing something just a little bit sneaky and not wanting to be found out
The silence of the unreturned wave
The silence of a Sunday morning, very early
The silence after saying the words “I love you”

The silence of fog, filling the crevices between the spruce trees
The silence of no cat
The silence of Quaker meeting
The silence of the setting sun as it slips into the lake without a single splash
The silence of disapproval
The silence of my neighbor’s little boy — two panes of glass between us
The silence of unfurling ferns and purple violets opening
The silence of a hibernating rodent
The silence after the last leaf falls
The silence of the cabin in the dead of winter 

The silence of a cup of tea
The silence of outer space
The silence at the bottom of the ocean
The silence at the end of a song
The silence of fog settling on the hill at midnight
The silence of the dog circling on her bed
The silence of dough rising in my grandmother’s bowl
The silence of the star blazing across the dark horizon just before dawn
The silence of my heartbeat unheard by anyone but me
The silence of lit candles, hoar frost forming on windows, and leaves heavy with dew

The silence of the house as sleep becomes elusive
The silence of lying in bed before I start thinking
The silence before remembering we are in a pandemic
The silence of being alone in my house
The silence just before the coffee kettle whistles
The silence of the bird's nest cradled on my porch
The silence before I turn on the radio or the television
The silence of passing people 6 feet apart, wearing masks
The silence of smiling behind my mask
The silence all day long, just waiting, waiting

The silence before telling the truth
The silence of a strand of origami cranes
The silence before the start of a family Zoom session
The silence of a Little Free Library, empty of books
The silence of turning pages in a book I am reading with the Kindle app
The silence of Tibetan prayer flags on my neighbor’s porch
The silence of my rage, rarely expressed
The silence after the woodpecker flies away
The silence of a locked door
The silence before that last whispered “good-bye”


A great big NOISY “Thank You” to all these wonderful contributors:

Anne Killlian-Russo
Beth Evans
Betty L. Spero
Caroline Gates-Lupton
Ellen Shapiro Wiernicki
Fran Helmstadter
Gary Russo
Ian M. Shapiro
Jai Hari Meyerhoff
Jayne Demakos
Jim Mazza
Judith Sornberger
Kate Halliday
Kathy Kramer
Leslie Howe               
Margaret Dennis
Marty Blue Waters
Maryam Wilson
Peaches Gillette
Saskya van Nouhuys
Sheila Ann Dean
Sue Norvell
Susan Annah Currie
Victoria Jordan
Virginia Fenton
Yvonne Fisher
Zee Zahava

Thursday, September 19, 2019

A Numbers Journal (a collective list)

2 children on scooters block my path across the pedestrian bridge; they giggle and say “password please”

15 minutes to walk to my office each morning and only 4 minutes to return home at night

40 years of friendship with my beloved and we still laugh together every day

12 spiders make their home on our entry porch

9 people pass our house and, happily to my ears, four different languages are spoken

5 egg-soaked slices of bread, topped with cinnamon-sugar, makes a lovely meal of French toast

8 men’s vests in my closet; she calls me “Vest Man”

7 pens  in my backpack but only 1 has ink

1 monarch butterfly has made a home in our garden

22 long-forgotten cherry tomatoes found in the back of the fridge; four are still edible

1500 calories ingested daily and I still can not lose weight

430 bridges make the many little islands of Venice into a single city

9 chopsticks in the drawer but only two matching pairs

3 locust trees slightly yellowing and glowing in the autumn sun

4 bright white moths fluttering among the lavender

5 bright beaded bracelets on my tired typing wrist

1 joyful granddaughter discovering her feet

1 castle ruin and countless Scottish hills etched calmly in my mind forever

2 hours I will never get back . . . damn stupid movie

1cat lying in the sun, she knows winter is coming

3 chrysanthemums on the porch this year, 2 last year, 1 the year before … maybe 4 next year?

7 newly planted daylilies already waiting for spring

3 wheels are best for 1 waterfront trail 

24 mandarin oranges to a 3 pound bag

7880 unread emails

8 emails read and answered

2 pieces of toast with mascarpone and jalapeño raspberry jam, plus one more

2 cups of coffee lingered over while reading about snails

4 books returned to the library; 6 books brought home

3 times my path crossed that of a possible friend, unexpectedly, in the same week

1 perfect hug

5 bowls, 3 spoons, 2 mugs, 1 plate, and 1 knife waiting to be washed

2 minutes less sunlight than yesterday, forgiven in light of the full moon

71 steps over 10,000 just before midnight

19 hours and 40 minutes past deadline

6 negotiations before the wedding invitations can be sent out

17 houses I’ve lived in so far in my lifetime

11:11, 1:11, 10:10 — numbers that come up all too frequently on my iPhone when I look to see the time, making me wonder what lies beyond the reality we live in — it must be something beyond a coincidence but I don't know exactly what it might mean

1 sister, sometimes not enough, sometimes way too many

 2 aunts I never knew as well as I wish I had

3 cousins who have always lived too far away

4 grandparents, all of whom I knew for so many years — I was so lucky

3 sisters-in-law; sadly 2 have died

56 sand dollars lined up on a rail along the dune

327 and its cousin 237 are numbers that frequently show up for me, and have done since childhood

12 pairs of shoes and sandal in my closet

1 new pair of striped Smart Wool socks that I love

2 jars of “peach pour-over” made by my neighbor, waiting to be used as a topping for vanilla ice cream

30 years I’ve been going to the beach in Maine

10 times last week I said to waiters and waitresses “no straw, please”

25 years I’ve been coming to the Thursday morning writing group in Zee’s studio

10 toes that press too tightly in my shoes

38 students to teach

57 pages that need editing

2 eyes that itch

1 nose that needs blowing

33 years a mother

51 years since my mother died

50 nights in 50 states — performances by George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers

320 one-night stands in a single year by the band Three Dog Night

3 keyboardists in The Grateful Dead who died too soon — it was like a curse

5 rings — 3 worn on my left hand, 2 on my right

2 watches —1 was my late father’s and 1 is mine — plus 5 bracelets, all worn on my left wrist

8 bracelets (and 1 scrunchie, if it’s not in my hair) worn on my right wrist

19th of January, my birthday, and I share it with Edgar Allan Poe who was my favorite poet when I was a child, long before I knew when he was born

9 children in a family, four were born in January, four were left-handed

2 sets of parents and children with the same birthdays within the same family

1 brother born with eleven fingers (1 was surgically removed)

1 rocket to be built by the 2 hands of 1 young child

1 Basset Hound, 1 corn snake, 3 salamanders, 1 guinea pig, and 30 gerbils; I had them all at the same time

20 years between me and my son, 20 years between him and his daughter

2 boys and 4 girls as grandchildren

13 windows in my last apartment in Brooklyn

3:47 a.m. is when I have woken up for the last 15 days

48 teaspoons in a measured cup

1 eagle circles two baby ospreys as they sit in their nest

2 pairs of used winter boots lying on the curb next to a “Free” sign

2 baby guppies named Tick and Tock

1 accidental click of the “send” button can change everything

28 raisins in my granola (I didn’t actually count but I’m an amazing guesser)

7 pieces of mail, 5 of them go right into the trash unopened

1 person ahead of me in line at Wegmans but the third person in line in the next aisle beats me

2 people waiting impatiently for the simmering chili and 1 person not really hungry

8 servers at Applebees who always want a hug when I come in

3 people who usually join our Sunday morning coffee chat at Ithaca Bakery

3 inconveniently timed stop lights entering town from Route 89

1 lonely jalapeño pepper hanging onto the stem after a stormy night of  September gusts

3 birds identified by a beginning birder roaming through the woods — a phoebe, a red-tailed hawk, and a vulture

4 digitized photographs (40+ years old) taken by my best friend in Taiwan — a group of friends from college days — so good to be reminded of the young men and women we once were

5 boy toys that used to belong to my son, sold in the garage sale: the Tonka truck, the toy dump truck, the super soaker, the hockey stick, and the soccer ball

6 purple and green lawn chairs, strewn forlornly in my neighbor's manicured yard, waiting for the grandchildren to stop by

7 ingredients are all I need to create a simple, satisfying Chinese stir-fry dish: 1 protein, 1 seasonal veggie, brown sauce (soy sauce, wine, vinegar, sugar, and chili)

5 North Carolina pines, beacons of light in the morning fog, their noble trunks silvery grey

256 silky strands, some sticky, some not — a gossamer web

1 word, a name, separating you from him

4:17 twice each day — once while I’m sleeping and once in the afternoon and if I see the time I whisper “Happy Birthday” to myself

2 refrigerators, 1 just for beer

4 days of solitude

5 folks in my family

55 trips up and down the stairs, carrying stuff into my new apartment 

65 packing cartons used in this move from one home to another

18 buds on my new African violet plant

1 full moon + 1 day at the Jersey shore = effective antidepressant

7 days to practice until Porchfest

6 screws stuck in an odd pocket at the yard sale, miraculously remembered when needed

5 milkweed pods piled on the porch railing — now where are they?

4 friends to visit and I only have to walk 1 mile

3 Bad Things happening in a row, just like my mother would say

2 books placed in the Little Free Library; 1 book taken from the Little Free Library

0 frogs singing at my pond this year

1 person successfully avoided on the street, only to have her turn up again 5 minutes later (and we bump right into one another)

7 grade school children clambering in the creek-bed, on the hunt for crawdads

6 layers of sheets, blankets, and mother-made quilts as autumn approaches

5 trips to the mechanic so far this month

4 times we sing the sacred medicine song

2 dogs dozing in primordial yin-yang formation on their yoga mat

2 beloved beings we are mourning whose birthdays are this month

4 fingers that haven’t touched the frets of a stringed musical instrument in many moons

5 windows and 1 door closed against the cold of night

6 dishes that haven’t been washed

7 directions beyond the visible to call upon for support and guidance on our healing paths

22 people ahead of me in the ticket line for the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra

5 times I went to my closet to get something, forgetting what it was each time

14 pennies, 2 nickels, 5 dimes, and 7 quarters rambling around in my pocket

2 really big worries keeping me awake at 5 a.m.

2 toothbrushes in a glass jar next to the bathroom sink

1 new word I learned this morning and forgot by evening

2 really good ideas before breakfast

3 pairs of eyeglasses on my desk

50 or more (maybe 100?) pens, over my lifetime, that have run out of ink when I didn’t have another pen handy

2 friends I wish I saw more often

15 cherry tomatoes in the blue bowl but only 5 are orange (my favorite)

11 books waiting to be read

1 week since I felt truly at ease

$259.98 — the cost of a new Royal 79120q Classical Manual Typewriter (red)

6 tiny turtle sculptures remaining from the time when I collected turtle sculptures

30 pairs of socks in a canvas basket on the floor of my bedroom; 12 pairs of socks in the sock drawer

54 colored pencils patiently waiting for me to use them; 36 marking pens, also patient; 64 crayons, not that patient

$6 and the Sunday New York Times is mine

0 regrets — I wish!

27 minutes to prepare my lunch; much less time to eat it

16 endless minutes of intermission

37 items of black clothing in my closet (shirts, pants, sweaters, jackets, coats, shoes)

16 times I greeted a stranger with “Good Morning” during my 30 minute walk; 6 responded; the rest didn’t seem to be aware that a person had passed them on the street

69 at my next birthday in a little over 6 months — I find it hard to believe this is true

1 woman I mistake for another woman, resulting in an inappropriate wave

5 equally excellent choices of what to eat for lunch — an embarrassment of culinary riches

1 peaceful day filled with countless moments of contentment and ease


Thank you to all these contributors:

Annie Wexler
Barbara Anger
Barbara Cartwright
Barbara Kane Lewis
Barbara Van Dyk
Denise Horvath
Fran Helmstadter
Gabrielle Vehar
Jenny Marshall
Jim Mazza
Jonathan Plotkin
Judith Andrew
Lyn Staack
Manuela Amzallag
Marty Blue Waters
Mary Louise Church
McCaddens of Honey Sweet Harmony
Peaches Gillette
Reba Dolch
Rob Sullivan
Saskya van Nouhuys
Stacey Murphy
Sue Norvell
Susie C Y Li
Timothy Weber
Yvonne Fisher
Zee Zahava

Friday, June 21, 2019

Summer Memories (the early years): Short-Shorts on a Theme

Mountain laurels thick as a jungle, we push through glossy green branches, searching for the sulphur springs. It’s an old-time resort turned church camp in the mountains of western Virginia, the air heavy and wet. We can drink straight from the stream, fresh water cold and living, but there’s this other water somewhere, piped from underground, famous enough that fancy people once came here to get healed. We’ve been newting, checking in the leaves for bright orange spotted bodies, little tame creatures we can hold in our hands and when it rains, columns of shin-deep water shoot along the gullies, warm and fast. We play as much in the rain as we do in the misty hot not-rain and everything we play is Explore. We adventure to a pond and I’m falling behind the rest when I come upon a coiled copperhead. I go running, lit by terror, faster than I’ve ever moved. I keep peeking behind me, convinced that it’s following me, slithering on my heels, ready to kill me dead and when it hasn’t, when I can’t breathe anymore and I’m safe, a wave of shame takes over. Maybe I made it all up. I can see the snake, burned in my mind, coiled and still. And I can still touch the panic, the strength of my legs, the doubt that comes after. In the woods, pushing back the branches, we doubted too. Why would once-famous springs be hidden like this? No path, not even the hint of one, all swallowed in the trees. But then we found it, a built rock fountain streaked with orange, swathed in moss. We're not not just Explorers now but Discoverers, touching the water that healed people a hundred years ago and then was forgotten by everybody but us.
    - Alison Coluccio

One summer evening — I was alone, as was the case so often. I thought stars were falling, and watched in amazement; then, growing bewilderment. As daylight dimmed and the sky darkened I woke up. Hundreds of fireflies outside my window pointed me toward doubt and the redemption of a formless reality. Last night, seeing only two fireflies outside another window I remembered; this morning, I begin to understand the message.
    - C. Robin Janning

We lived in a house with a pool for five years of my childhood. It was above ground, 4 feet deep and oval shaped with a shoddy wooden deck the previous owners had constructed on their own. After several harsh winters, the boards had warped creating painful tripping hazards. The deck was slippery when wet and splinters were common. Nails protruded. Bees nested below. We always warned guests to be careful on the janky deck. Injuries abounded, despite a strict “no running” rule. One could never fully let their guard down on our death trap of a pool deck. But I didn’t mind. I spent a lot of time in that pool entertaining myself. Goggles on, I’d take a deep breath and dive down to the bottom to examine the pebbly-looking liner in shades of blue and grey. I’d get as close as possible, staring intently, drifting by. It was quiet down there. Every now and then someone would lose an earring or a ring to the pool which would then blend in to the pattern of the liner making it difficult to find. This was always exciting to me. It would become my mission to dive down and comb the depths for the missing jewelry. I’d start close to the suspected drop site, then expand my search radius. I would look for a long time and then it seemed like someone else would inevitably swoop in and find the missing item immediately with fresh eyes while I was off in my own world: mesmerized by silence, pretty patterns, and dreams of glory. This usually ended a day of swimming. Exhausted from the hunt and saturated with chlorine, I’d leave the pool of hard knocks behind and return to solid ground and the familiar boredom of a summer afternoon.
    - J Kuonen

Ovaltine while Gramma pours her coffee. I watch her put her face into the steam and I do the same. We are best friends. I want to be just like her when I grow up. Today we will have sweet rolls. They are almost done baking in the wood stove. The kitchen smells of cinnamon and growing things from Grandpa’s garden. The sun turns everything yellow and happy. We keep talking and I listen to Gramma laugh. She likes to laugh. On other mornings, Gramma puts me in charge of the toaster. It is the old-fashioned kind with doors. She teaches me how to turn the bread without burning myself. It’s very tricky but Gramma says that I’m old enough. Next year I’ll be in kindergarten. (I’m pretty sure I’m her favorite.)
    - Jo Balistreri

After church on Sundays, we teenage girls were flushed with money from our part-time jobs. We would meet in front of the candy store wearing our Saturday clothes. We stood grasping towels and bags of sandwiches with wads of money in our pockets. Maybe two dollars each! This was grungiest Brooklyn as we headed to Coney Island. A long subway ride and in-depth discussion of last night’s party passed quickly. Finally we were greeted by salty ocean air as an old blanket was put down to avoid lying on the hot sand. As soon as we arrived, I stripped down to my bathing suit to rush into the water. I loved going past the second set of waves out to the wonderful calm ocean. My two friends fussed over the blanket claiming three gorgeous guys had stopped by. One of them was very tall. I dried off, ate a sandwich and left to soak up the waves again. When I got back, they were bored and admitted gorgeous guys were just mirages. Time to check out the boardwalk and all the amusement rides we could afford. The bumper cars were our favorites as we crashed into each other. The cyclone was a must. With no money left, we paraded up and down the boardwalk, peering into dusty, cool arcades. It was getting late, time for a sleepy ride back on the subway again. Have to go home, take a shower, get all set for the week ahead. Soon I would dream of riding waves with gorgeous guys.
    - Joan McNerney

All the stories of my childhood begin with my father. How could it be otherwise. He was a poet, my hero, and life with him was always a treasure hunt and a laughing fest. There are many little stories contained in the one big story. Little unforgettable stories, like how he looked in the fridge and said it looked like an elephant opened the bread. That was me. That was my style, and his way of responding. So charming. And how he shook the glass under the cold water faucet and made the water taste better than anyone else ever could. All these things made the Big Summer Story better . . . or worse! Independence Day turned into a mystery. It was the summer before college. I was eighteen. The neighborhood party was about to start. I could smell the food cooking on the outdoor grills, and hear firecrackers. I saw the open door and his suitcase in the hall. He left suddenly . . . leaving my loving mom, and the five of us children. He was just gone. After my first year in college I married the one high school boyfriend of mine that my father had liked, and I had my first child when I just turned twenty.
    - Kath Abela Wilson

The Susquehanna River is where we are expected to learn to swim. No contained pool with turquoise-painted walls. No smoothly-paved pool deck. Instead, a rocky bank, a riot of weeds, and a wide expanse of mysterious, moving water. We stand at the edge, barefoot and goose-pimpled, and stare at our goal, the bank on the other side. The river glares back at us, daring us to step into its secret eddies, to feel with little toes for its unseen bottom. We don’t even glance at each other. This is a solitary quest, a rite of passage. We each have to go it alone. Or so we think. Then we see our father, stroking strongly against the current. He glides into the shallows and smiles. “All aboard,” he calls. As the eldest, I know it is up to me to go first, so I step gingerly into the water and climb onto his back, wrapping my arms around his neck. “Not too tight,” he cautions, and I relax my arms a little. He launches us forward then and strikes off for the other side, over the deep part. I rest my chin on his head, dark and wet like a seal’s. The rhythm of his strokes, the sun glinting off the river’s surface, the splash of drops as he reaches forward again and again—all together, a waking dream. And I might have dozed if not for the excitement, the uncertainty, of the other side, coming closer and closer now. But he doesn’t leave me there. Instead, he turns smoothly, and swims back, over the deep part again, while my little brothers and sister dance on the bank, waving.
    - Kathleen Kramer

It was the magical summer of my fifteenth year. I had finally gotten rid of my “coke-bottle” glasses and was wearing contact lenses. I flew to my grandparents’ cottage on a lake outside of Detroit, where a group of their “progressive” (read socialist) friends had built summer cottages way back when, and I knew most of the people who would be summering there. This included a gaggle of teens, who I had reunited with summer after summer. I had a sleek new bathing suit that looked like tiger-skin, nicely displaying my curves, and I was in the prime of young womanhood. A young man came out to the lake to visit a friend, and he only had eyes for me. I had my very first passionate kiss under a full moon, with a white swan placidly gliding on the lake, as I sat embracing Steve under the willow trees. He kissed me again and again, while the frogs were making their music. The whole summer went on that way. Steve came to the lake as often as he could, and when he wasn’t there, I flirted with the others who were willing to be second-best. There were no cell phones back then, and I don’t have a single picture of that mythic summer, but it is emblazoned in my memory, Steve’s dark eyes gazing deeply into mine, no longer hidden behind panes of glass. The lake cottages are mostly year-round houses now, and I haven’t been there in years, but my cousin tells me there are still swans on the lake. Steve went on to become a tennis star, before we lost touch.
    - Katya Sabaroff Taylor

The best thing about summertime was playing softball. I lived for it and took it very seriously. I hated school and couldn’t wait for it to end so I could get down to some interesting activities once our city field opened up for us. There was only one girls team, our town was so small, but we were good. We practiced twice a week and also played two weekly games against nearby towns. We traveled around southwestern Kansas to tournaments and sometimes brought home trophies. I was a runty kid, I was told. I didn’t agree and focussed in to make a better name for myself somehow. I was only seven when I started with the team and was stuck in right field for the first few seasons. I didn’t care that I seldom got a ball hit to me. I still paid attention to every play and taught myself to think about who I should throw the ball back to, if it ever did come my way. I graduated to centerfield when I was nine years old. And that’s where I stayed through my senior year in high school in 1965. Metal bats didn’t exist back then. We only used wooden bats and I learned how to listen closely to the sound of the ball connecting with the bat. It gave me a slight head start in the right direction — especially when it was a hard crack. I would start running toward the sound and often that made a difference in the catch. My favorite thing in the universe was to grab that ball out of the air and feel it lock into the pocket of my glove. And if a runner had assumed the ball wouldn’t be caught and got halfway to the next base, a good throw from me would give my team a second out to add to my catch. What sheer victory for this most excellent runt of a girl.
    - Marty Blue Waters

Childhood summers always started on Memorial Day, when we invited the neighborhood kids over to help clean out the pool behind our garage where we would all subsequently spend our barefoot days. A hand-dug, concrete-walled construction a yard above the ground, as long as the
garage, maybe ten feet wide, and four-to-eight feet deep, this pool had neither drain nor filter. We'd siphon the water out every year at summer's end, but over the winter it would get enough rain to raise families of frogs and algae, and collect wind-blown plant parts which all had to be cleared away before we could fill it again. Sorensons, Morans, Taylors, Bairds, Fitzgeralds, and Follansbees would arrive after breakfast, ready to scoop out the water with sardine tins flattened on one side and take it away in bucket brigades, hand-to-hand. The green algae scent arose as we scrubbed the smooth concrete with stiff brooms and brushes, then hosed it all down to the deep end, thumbs tucked over the nozzle for spraying. Water fights were ubiquitous but we all wore bathing suits, and hosed ourselves off when we were finished. Happily exhausted, our efforts rewarded with barbecued hot dogs, colas, and ice cream, we lounged in the backyard butterfly chairs while my father started running water into the pool from the nearest spigot. All night you could hear the water snaking past the garage, slithering into the pool. Seeping into my dreams. The next day, summer officially began — with a splash!
    - Mimi Foyle

Wet skin on sun-baked pavement. Steam rising from each cheek, pressed in turn against the scratchy hot surface. Seared and scorched, running between the house and the church to cool, shaded, pool-blue water. Sitting on the curb. Shoes and socks off. Sticking toes in hot tar bubbles. Hiding in the neighbor’s tall grass, distracted by clouds and cooling summer breeze, the shouts of “olly olly oxen free” don’t lure me back to the game. Thick, humid West Virginia summers. Tin Can Ally, Kickball and Hide and Seek move me through the suffocating air. Bologna and mustard sandwiches on the back porch with too-tart lemonade and fresh peaches. Red, blistered skin scraping against tangled sheets. Drying sweat on my neck and hair provide small comfort. Jumping from the swing at the highest point. Arms raised in flight, coasting on my bike down the steep Vermont Street hill. Racing the fastest boy on the block for a little power. Propelling myself out and away from the porch onto the hard pavement for a moment of freedom. Summer evenings on trampoline beds, the sweet pause of weightlessness in mid-air. Spitting watermelon seeds from the back porch of my grandmother’s house. Dreaming of the watermelon patch that would grow. Six of us, each taking turns cranking the barrel of the ice cream maker to earn a precious, sweet spoonful. Lazy afternoons, reading on the cool living room floor, lost in The Boxcar ChildrenThe Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and The Wind in the Willows.
    - MJ Richmond

Our family never had summer vacations at the beach when my siblings and I were young. But for some reason my mother always bought a beach ball for us at the start of the summer. It came in a small package, folded up. Flattened out before inflating you could see the brightly-colored segments, like the segments of a peeled orange: white, red, yellow, green, blue, orange. Unrolling it always released that oh so familiar smell: beach ball plastic. We always tried blowing it up ourselves, but we didn't have the breath for it. So it was my father's task to inflate it. Even after it had turned into an almost lighter-than-air ball you could still smell that plastic smell. By late summer we were bored with the ball and tired of having to ask for it to be reinflated. By the time we returned to school it was forgotten in some corner of the porch, flat and spattered with dirt from the yard, quietly exhaling the last scent of summer.
    - Nancy Osborn

I still feel the smooth, cream-colored carpet, the sage-green satin drapes and transparent curtains that hid the street and kept out Atlanta's summer heat. Smell the faint scent of mildew and damp at the back of the house where we slept on cots and polyester sheets. Hear the katydids arguing endlessly all night, and the calm hermit thrush and towhees in the cool, misty morning. I hear my grandmother’s burbling, nonsensical chatter and soft, southern drawl, calling us “Sugar” and asking us to go with her to Sunday School. She was a tiny bird, pencil-thin, with translucent white skin and pale red curled hair. She wore thick, beige hose under floral print crepe dresses and soaked her arthritic hands in hot paraffin. There was a whisper of undergarments as she moved. She talked almost incessantly in a high, soft, and happy voice that drove my father crazy. If Grandmother was a bird, Grandfather was a tree. I knew that he loved me from the glint of his gold-capped teeth and the way he lifted me above his head, just that once when I was very small. They both wore thick glasses that hid their expressions but I felt my grandmother’s longing for us three girls, despite our Yankee lack of southern charm or manners. She showed us a wooden box of toys in the attic, a hot, dusty space under the peaked roof. The best toy in it was a little girl doll with a glazed ceramic head attached to a wooden body clothed in a faded and stained petticoat. Her lips were red, paled by age and handling. Even her hair was ceramic, a curled bob chipped by handling and play. I so wanted to keep the doll, but the answer was no.
    - Patti Witten

Remember the summer we were 17 and we were working at Peacock’s packing sardines? Eugene Greenlaw was our supervisor. We would often take the afternoon off to go to Gardner’s Lake. The summer I started going out with Dana. Eugene would be disappointed in us if we didn’t come back after lunch. It was hard to work when the weather was good. I had mom’s Dodge Dart that summer. Dana had to cut a pair of jeans into shorts to go swimming. I remember waiting outside his house for a long time wondering what was taking so long until he came out with the cutoffs. We were so young. And, I had Amy there that summer, too, and she was only three, so I had to be careful not to get into trouble with Mary and Alvin for skipping out of work to go off with friends. We worked on our tans at the lake and the water felt so good; I always felt clean after we went swimming. The future seemed like it was waiting especially for us. That was also the summer Eddie Rier and you took mom’s car to get more beer for the party and the cops stopped you because you were driving too slowly, without a license. You never did get your license.
    - Peggy Stevens

When I smell gardenias I think of my first kiss, the summer before ninth grade. I met Dwight Harris at band camp and when I got home he called me up to see if he could ride his bike over to see me. We hung out in our back yard. I remember that the gardenias were ripe with scent and that Dwight suddenly leaned forward awkwardly and kissed me on the lips. His lips were cold and slimy. It was disgusting and I was sure I would never want to kiss anyone on the lips ever again. And I didn't, until I shared a seat with Ozzie Smithwick on the band bus to the first out-of town football game later that August. It was dark and quiet on the bus on the way home. We leaned in to each other and kissed — my second kiss — warm and smooth and dreamy. I changed my mind about kissing.
    - Reba Dolch

It was summer camp in the Catskills, and we were having our “color war,” which was a competition organized by the counselors, lasting several days among several groups of boys. There were many activities on the agenda, but the one I remember was the swim meet, because I came from behind and won by one stroke for our team, The Warriors. I was awarded the team banner, a large painted sheet, and I proudly hung it on my basement wall at home, flanking our ping pong table. I was often reminded of what I had done for our team, interestingly spelled on the banner: “The Worriers.”
    - Richie Holtz

My sixth summer is filled with visitors, human and otherwise. Cousins Tim and Nancy have come to visit with their parents. On the Fourth of July, we settle down in the front yard to watch fireworks. During the grand finale, something dashes by, flies under a car. Tim, intrigued, finds a tiny kitten huddled behind one of the wheels, shivering and scared. We name her "Mouse" for her diminutive size and soft gray fur and keep her in the playhouse out back, offering her saucers of milk and table scraps. For two weeks, she survives but never gets much bigger. Her striking blue eyes stare through us. They almost match Nancy's. The day after my relatives drive off, headed back to Texas, Mouse is nowhere to be found. I miss the wisp of a kitten and her cerulean eyes.
    - Theresa A. Cancro

It was a long time ago that the radio warned of possible tornados. On our upstate New York dairy farm that hot summer day I had to take a long walk down the road and then up into the hill pasture to bring the cows in a big semi-circle back to the barn for milking, through the sticky mud hole near the frog pond and down the rocky lane. I was 7. Mom was afraid of the weather — was Dad away? So she made me wear a yellow rain slicker complete with stiff pants and with kind of a pointy hood, way too hot, stifling, but it was the best she could do to calm her fears. When the little herd of cows saw me in that get-up, they panicked, raising their tails and running like crazy, stampeding all the way to the barn. I laughed an awful lot for someone alone in a field but then I dutifully trudged on, wearing the rain suit all the way home.
    - Tina Wright

We drove to the Catskills every summer. My father was an angry driver and yelled 'bastard' out the window to the other drivers. We stayed at the Palace Hotel where all the mothers cooked for their families in the huge communal kitchen. I ran around with the other kids and played in the grass. I felt wild and free. My mother played Canasta, a card game, on the porch with her friends all day. All the fathers drove back to the City to work and came up on weekends.
The other kids and I walked into town to buy penny candy every afternoon. So many different candies. My favorite was the fireball. It got so hot in my mouth that I had to take it out and hold it in my hand until my mouth wasn't so hot anymore. It was like an adventure. There was a young boy selling the candy in the small grocery store. He was different than we were. We were all Jewish from European families and we lived in NYC. This boy lived in Fleischmanns all year round and had dark skin. When I bought my candy I would look at him and he would look at me. I felt something I never felt before. It made me nervous and curious. Nothing ever happened but I never forgot those first feelings, that first look. Somehow, it made me feel like life was filled with excitement and possibility beyond what I could even imagine. That simple exchange was a kind of awakening in those lazy summer days in the Catskills before I knew anything about life and the world.
    - Yvonne Fisher

I’m fifteen, spending two months in the mountains in something called a Work Camp, where I learn how to build cabins. These are meant to be useful skills — using a saw, hammering, painting — but of course after that summer I never do any of those things again. The entire group of us work-campers, about a dozen, drive to the Newport Folk Festival in a VW van. We become instant Richie Havens groupies. I buy a button from a hippie with the car-rental slogan We Try Harder printed in red on a white background. I consider it every bit as profound as that Zen koan about one hand clapping. I wear it all over Newport and every day after, for the rest of the summer, on the collar of my denim work-shirt. When I go home at the end of August my mother throws them both out — the work-shirt and the button. It takes me a couple of days before I realize they’re gone but when I do I throw a very loud and self-righteous fit: “How could you do that to my property, it was my private property, don’t you have any respect for private property?” To which my mother replies, “It was garbage.” “But it was my garbage,” I say. “I didn’t realize you were so bourgeois,” she says. That shuts me up.
    - Zee Zahava

Monday, May 27, 2019

Lots and Lots of Questions: a collective list

Is this a question? How did I get to this age without knowing the name of that early morning bird who performs for me so beautifully? What is your idea of a perfect day? Who do you want to be when you grow up? Why do live performances always make me cry? What is your favorite book? What book are you reading now? What is the last thing you said to the last person you saw today? Are you happy about the last thing you said to the last person you spoke with? What is holding you back? What is moving you forward? What if everything is exactly as it is supposed to be right this very moment? What if you told someone exactly how you feel? Is there something you need to do right now?

Will the sapsucker return to the hole it started making in the aspen tree right outside the kitchen window? Is the wren sitting on eggs yet? Do you see the hole in that old post leaning on the side of barn? Did the chickadee go in there? How many eggs are in the dove’s nest? Will we get a barn swallow in our new barn? Do you remember the robin’s nest in the tractor wheel? How does that robin make such a turquoise blue egg? Was it last year we kept hearing the cheeping of baby birds in your greenhouse and could not find where they were? Will the oriole find a mate? What makes you visible to yourself? Will I ever live at the ocean again? Will my new jade plant recover from sunburn? Will I continue to count my steps in the future? What happened to curiosity?When will people stop rushing? When will people stop adoring their material objects? Will clouds become ice cream in heaven?

Why do I cry every time I see an elephant in the movies, on TV, in a zoo, in photographs, in dreams, and even when I think about them? Do all animals dream? What animal will become extinct next? Why do I hate the sound of lawn mowers and leaf blowers so much, when I don't mind the sound of tractors? Do other people love laughing so hard that it is hard to breathe, the way I do? How long will planet Earth exist? Why do we say “as the crow flies” and not “as the bluebird flies”? Why do I lose brain cells and not fat cells as I age? Why do we waste technology on building weapons when I need a housecleaning robot? Why does a peanut butter and jelly sandwich taste so good after four hours on a hiking trail? “Why,” my mother asks, “do I keep losing friends when I am only telling people the truth about their bad traits”? Why didn’t I keep my poodle skirt from the 1950s? Why do my matzo balls turn out like lead when my grandmother’s were so light and fluffy? Why are some people funnier than others?  Why am I only funny when I don’t put much effort into it?

Do you remember the day we met? Was it raining? What was I thinking? Did I talk too much? What was the name of that Mexican restaurant, remember, the one with the funny names for all the dishes? Wasn’t it hot for May? Were you wearing those sandals with the faded black straps? Did we touch? How did you know? Was it my eyes or my hair? Can you still hear the sound of the water burbling in the creek and the wind swishing the pines? Did I make you laugh? What did we find to talk about in the car? Do you think we could see the future, like a reflection in a blurry photograph?

Where will I be when I die? How many stars can you see in the nighttime sky? Whatever happened to my college friend, Maggie, who used to make me strong, sweet espresso and black beans and rice? Is there a chance I might climb Mt. Everest? Does my birthmother ever think of me? Why do I never consider my birthfather?  Can you ever have enough hugs? Can making art calm my restless mind? Will the scent of lilacs stay in my nose until fall? How can I do more to fight racism, homophobia, and all forms of hate? Can a positive outlook truly heal the body? Is it possible to memorize all the words of every Cole Porter song ever written? Is red wine truly good for the heart? Have I missed this season’s harvesting of ramps? In what ways will I be a better person in the year ahead? Will anybody notice? Will the Great Blue Heron return to our creek soon?  Is there a chance for a late-in-life growth spurt? How many shades of blue can I see? Is there life after death — and if I get to choose, can heaven have a dance party? My mother puts her exceedingly-cold hand in mine, and asks, “Have I died but forgotten to lie down?”

What is the sound of a falling star? Do spiders think while they’re spinning? Do ants need a map after they run through the grass? Why is a mosquito? How does a cabbage feel when it is being boiled? Why did the smoke alarm go off at 4:16 a.m.? What do I learn by simply breathing? When will my hair turn white? Will evolution ever end? May I live in a castle in Scotland, please? Would you mind telling me how that tree got to be so tall? Will I finish what I started? Am I who I think I am? Are the roots of the trees under the park more beautiful than the park above ground? Why does time seem to go so fast? Will I ever catch up with myself? Do trees still grow in Brooklyn? Which crow in the murder is designated as the lookout? Can robots be programmed to iron shirts? How can I reach the “catbird seat”?

How did my mother play the piano so effortlessly? What compels my dog to eat bees? How do I forgive myself? Why can't I sleep? Why do I eat things I don't like? Why do I worry about almost everything, like my mother did? What  makes ants come into the house when it's so nice outside? Why did it take so long to become friends with myself? Why did it take me so long to move away from the people who weren't kind to me? Why does connectivity consume so much time? Why are public bathrooms so much more expensive in Colombia than in Ecuador? Why do brown pelicans always fly north along the Pacific coast? Why do I continue to hope when despair is so easy? Why do intense experiences come in threes? When I read through my old journals, why am I always so surprised and embarrassed by the me that was? Why don’t I ever recognize my own recorded voice? Do we really shed our skins, like snakes, every 7 years? Why is it easier to talk with strangers than with friends about deeply personal  experiences?

Where are the rabbits this spring? What other garden have they chosen for their young? Why did the thyme winter over so poorly? How did the parsley persevere? Why have only four branches of sage come through? When did the wild rose lose hope? Why is there no nest in the corner eave of the porch? When did the old lilacs fall? What will I sow and nurture? Where will I put my work? Who sees what I see, and who doesn’t? What would it feel like, in my body, to be a man instead of a woman? Where does that white fluffy stuff, like polyester pillow stuffing, that is always scattered around the yard, come from? Is the plum tree that flowered bountifully just weeks ago, and now only has a few sickly leaves, dying? What will it feel like to be my mother’s age? What did she feel like at my age? What did I feel like at my daughter’s age? How will she feel at my age? What did my grandfather think about while, as an old man, he did his yoga shoulder stands next to the lake wearing a saggy navy-blue speedo? Why does my cat so often sit mesmerized by the neighbor’s compost bin?

Why does the end of the month arrive before I’ve come to grips with the beginning of the month? At what point in one’s life is it okay just to be yourself and not worry about your reputation, your worldly accomplishments, or your social status? How many times have I reached for my glasses or my keys or the remote control or my slippers or my favorite pen, only to realize that I have not left that object in its “usual” place? Is there anything as glorious as the cottonwood tree gearing up to make it snow cotton puffs in early June? Isn’t it important to say no to someone who is convinced that they, not you, know exactly what is proper for you to do with your life?

Can I count the number of times I've walked up my front steps? Can I remember how my mother's hands looked when she sat holding a book and read after dinner? Will I ever want to give up paper maps for a GPS system? Will I ever have enough time? What was my first question? Who answered that first question? Was my first question to a person or to the universe? What is dawn for? Do I feel differently as the moon moves through its phases? If I lived near the ocean, would I sense when the tide is high? If I lost my sight, would my fingers be able to tell me when my poppies are ready to open? Can I identify my friends by their breathing? When I meditate, do the thoughts which pass through my mind lay around me like cast-off clothes? Why are poetry books always so slim? Do my books know how much I love them?

Why do some people always print while others write in lovely cursive script? Who imagined the idea of ink so writers would have a way to capture their thoughts? Do I have space in my life for more friends? Will it matter to the earth that I tended my few square feet of garden with love and care? What did people see before the color blue? What lies beyond this life? What does fear have to gain? Where is the love? How does one open the cells to healing? Where does inspiration flow from? Can someone please translate the baby dialects? Is active listening more attuned and compassionate? Is the ability to wait a prerequisite for wisdom? Can we all agree to disagree, in kindness? Is a lie made of caustic acid for both the teller and the told? How many heroes are left in the world? Does bravery mean facing one's fears?

Does anyone have an extra ordinary that they might be willing to share? How many good years are still left for me? Why not celebrate this very moment? When will enough be enough? What will anything matter, a century from now? Are we doomed to repeat our mistakes? What are the birds trying to tell us? Are the angels just waiting to be employed? Does a great hug bring harmonic resonance between huggers? If it's all been said before, isn't imitation the sincerest form of flattery? Does the study and understanding of a little known author make them one of the grateful dead? Are perspiration and perseverance prerequisites to publishing? Where are all the cool kids now? Does everyone's opinion have inherent worth? Is winning the lottery really a viable retirement plan?

Is that concrete? Why is there a pipe there? Did you turn the water on? Do we need so many different types of flower and plant spray? Why do Lily of the Valley flowers make me think of the theme music to The Exorcist? Do you think the dog senses storm ions in the air? Do you think moth balls will keep the groundhog from coming into our yard? Do you want more coffee? Did you water the lettuce? Where is the watering can? Is it a watering can if it is made of plastic? Do you think it will rain enough so that we don't have to water? What if it doesn't  rain? Was there a goddess of rain? Who  is the goddess of gardening? Did you see the Wonder Woman and Batman watering cans at Lowe's? Why did the Batman watering can have arms and a head but the Wonder Woman can only has her initials? Does rain make a sound if there is no one there to hear it? What does it feel like when you skim your hand across the top of water? What does the rain sound like when you are in the car and it's pouring?

Is it possible to forgive in reality, not just in theory? Is anyone else haunted by the song “row row row your boat” — wondering if life really IS but a dream? How certain are you that the “true” stories you tell about your life are really true? What does it take to be a really good friend? Who knows where the time goes? Have you ever been looking for something and you can’t find it and then you walk away for a minute and when you come back and look in exactly the same place there it is, the very object that seemed to be lost? Do you feel unbalanced all day if you wear mis-matched socks, or mis-matched earrings? Do you find it challenging to live in the present moment? Do you have tricks you do that help you fall asleep at night? Do you believe in magic? What were you taught in elementary school that you still remember today? Do trees like to be hugged or do they find it intrusive and presumptuous? How do I know if I’m in denial? Was I born bossy? Whose face will be the last face I see on this earth? Am I too enthusiastic? Which is more important to me: the questions or the answers?

Thank you to all these contributors:

Anne Killian-Russo
Annie Campbell
Annie Wexler
Barbara Cartwright
Beth Browne
Chris McNamara
Elizabeth W. McMahon
Ian M. Shapiro
Jim Mazza
Jo Balistreri
Joan McNerney
Joanna M. Weston
Judith Andrew
Kath Abela Wilson
Louise Vignaux
Marian Rogers
Marty Blue Waters
Mary Jane Richmond
Mimi Foyle
Nancy Osborn
Rob Sullivan
Saskya van Nouhuys
Susan Annah Currie
Zee Zahava

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Maybe I Should . . . . a collective list

With Big Thanks to Marilyn Arsem, who provided this phrase as a “spark”

Maybe I should lighten up; take myself less seriously, and also more seriously; sing, with no shame; learn how to bake; sit quietly, longer, first thing every day. Maybe I should read all the books I haven’t gotten to yet before I buy anything new; wear less black; have kinder thoughts about the people I do not think kindly of; fill a new blank notebook with drawings; plan a little vacation. Maybe I should say yes more often; say no more often; have my hearing checked; organize my junk drawer(s); vacuum the rug; live more in the present and less in the future; think big; embrace my contradictions

Maybe I should stop binge watching TV and curl up in bed with a new book. Maybe I should drastically cut down my sugar intake to lead to a healthier body; maybe I should not have been such a pain in the ass as a little kid in Flushing, Queens. Maybe I should become a vegetarian; stop answering 90% of the e-mails I receive; stop answering the telephone since it is hardly ever a real call from a real person who wants to talk to me; stop apologizing for taking afternoon naps.

Maybe I should go for one week without wearing any purple, including purple earrings. Maybe I should be more patient; not expect other people to share my enthusiasms; focus on one thing at a time; not feel guilty about anything; weed my sock drawer; eat a piece of fruit every day. Maybe I should express anger, disappointment, sorrow, fear — instead of pretending not to feel any of those things. Maybe I should stop talking to myself out loud; learn how to drive; sharpen all the knives in the kitchen

Maybe I should get one of those tile things that helps you find your phone when you lose it; believe what I feel more than what I see; be more willing to take risks and be fine no matter the results; stop listening to the news, stop questioning people’s sanity, stop waiting for a change I cannot effect. Maybe I should be satisfied with how I effect the world, not worrying so much about railing at the masses. Maybe I should get a little robot to keep track of my phone, my keys, my sneakers, my purse — just maybe

Maybe I should resume getting up at 4:30 a.m.; just drop everything; leave; stay. Maybe I should leave myself alone. Maybe I should leave teaching; hug my students; accept this ritual I do; not give up sugar; just let love not be a verb but a gracious noun with no edges. Maybe I should not doubt my efficacy; not feel the need to explain myself. Maybe I should just wake up as myself every day

Maybe I should forget about deadlines; be easier on myself; retire sooner; get rid of most of my books; hire someone to clean the entire house; start taking walks again. Maybe I should stop being so productive; listen more; plan a dinner party; run down the trail; walk backwards uphill; revel in snow, rain, clouds; start knitting again

Maybe I should love my older sister better and love my younger sister less; call my mother; become an activist; try again to play guitar; stop thinking about work when I am not at work. Maybe I should try walking a little farther today despite the pain; clean everything; declutter; get a dog. Maybe I should be braver, take a chance, fail, succeed

Maybe I should bake a cake today; drink less coffee and more tea; plan a trip; take up a different hobby each year; go to the movies more often; drink more champagne. Maybe I should stop remembering darker episodes of the past; read philosophy instead of poetry (but maybe not); experiment more with different intensities of chocolate; plant exotic vegetables this summer. Maybe I should plan my costume for Halloween right now

Maybe I should take a moment; breathe; cut myself some slack; speak up; stop overthinking. Maybe I should live in the moment; stop romanticizing memories; try again; stop asking for permission; stop pretending. Maybe I should listen; take ownership; go climbing; stop giving up my power; remember the good things. Maybe I should just get the tattoos.

Maybe I should stay quiet; help more; say that I care; grow up; start all over; grow more flowers. Maybe I should dare more; be less honest; cry; fly away; go with the flow; live more freely; stop listening to others. Maybe I should be fierce; be gentle; buy a dictionary; remember to water my one plant; take myself out for dinner and order anything/everything I desire

Maybe I should stop worrying about what I should do; forgive my sister; move to California; compost; move to New Orleans; learn how to play bridge; never cut my hair again. Maybe I should move to Mexico; say yes to the dress; pick up my camera again; go on a silent retreat; laugh more often. Maybe I should get my charts read at this point in my life; get in the car and keep driving; have people over for dinner more often; go to a sunny beach for a week or a decade; say “I love you” more often

Maybe I should quit my temporary job as a dishwasher; look harder for the croci coming up now since spring bulbs blooming fight depression; contact Ben and see if he wants me to drive tractor this spring; walk on a hiking trail I’ve never known before.

Maybe I should learn Spanish; work on weekends to catch up with everyone else; get comfortable with downhill skiing; get an air filter for my room, change the pillow, ditch the down comforter; sleep more. Maybe I should spend more time cleaning the house; read less news, more literature; volunteer on a campaign, make phone calls, give more money. Maybe I should replace all the plastic with glass — really, all of it.

Maybe I should stir the roux; soak the beans; get on down; punch the clock; give ‘em a break. Maybe I should choose a hobby and become devoted to it, whatever it is; keep fresh flowers in a vase on my desk; only write with purple ink; dust my collection of empty boxes; pat myself on the back more often (literally)

Maybe I should always put my wallet in the same place so I don’t end up leaving home without it; think twice before I speak; climb more flights of stairs; get another cat; knit a sweater or two in a lighter fiber; go through all the books that are piled up by the bed and see if I will ever read some of them. Maybe I should donate the books I won’t read to the library book sale

Maybe I should get a new pen that doesn’t smudge; make decisions about all the choices I’m stumbling over; plant my tomato seeds soon; take up sewing again; drag out the electronic keyboard and try to learn to play; never ever eat another jelly bean

Maybe I should move to India; go to the headstand clinic at Circus Culture; feed my cat canned food instead of dry; wash the salt off my shoes; wash the salt off my car (or maybe I should wait and do that in a few weeks). Maybe I should be less vulnerable at work and more vulnerable at home. Maybe I should have slept more last night; have packed a lunch; have chosen a different book to read today. Maybe I should do my taxes this weekend. Maybe I should have done my taxes last weekend

Maybe I should run away and start a new life; speak French; dye my hair pink. Maybe I should write down all the forbidden thoughts and pin them to my wall so they at least have a place to live; bring home every stray dog I see; make a winter bug, mouse, and squirrel sanctuary and anyone who shows up is welcome, as long as they know they have to leave when spring arrives. Maybe I should go out the front door, leaving it ajar, while I walk until I don’t want to walk anymore — maybe I will make it to an ocean

Maybe I should wash the dishes; walk all day in the woods; visit my old friends in Colorado; replace the light bulbs; finish the paper I started writing 21 years ago; plant an oak between the hickories. Maybe I should trust my intuition; shut off the computer every day at 4 p.m., refrain from gossiping; be more forgiving; write down my dreams; focus on one thing at a time. 

Maybe I should start thinking of aches and pains as friendly reminders; travel more lightly; drink one less glass of wine, occasionally; take up painting; thank my lucky stars

Maybe I should try braiding my thin white hair into tiny little strands all over my head; see if I can locate that old friend I owe a big apology to; try to become a contestant on Jeopardy and hope the categories that day make actual sense to me; make big money by selling my junk on E-bay. Maybe I should sit down at the keyboard and work on a piece by J. S. Bach instead of just thinking about the joy that would bring me; work daily on developing my lip so I can have the chops to play the highest notes on my euphonium. Maybe I should look through my closet and pull out all the shirts and coats and jackets I have not worn for many years and take them to the Thrifty Shopper; take a load of books to the Friends of the Library even though I haven’t gotten around to reading them yet. Maybe I should learn the difference between significant family history and sentimental accumulation

Maybe I should move away to some remote place where the trees stand majestically tall and the sun is forever setting and I can be quiet — no words — no voice — just listening for all those who have suffered and want to tell and retell their stories. Maybe I should count backwards each time I have a birthday, and I will get younger and younger, not because I regret aging, but because I want to play with my child self again. Maybe I should go back into the dream I had last night and try to find my mother; she sounded sad, wanted me to come and be with her, but her voice trailed off into silence before she could tell me where she was

Maybe I should see everyone as Divine Mother, in need; choose with care, then abandon; give back a few of the million-minutes-wasted; see the lesson in each hour of my day. Maybe I should loosen the weight of the world from my shoulders; allow others to be who they are; break down and cry; stop trying a little harder; move in rhythm with the tune my heart is humming; say a little prayer for the ones I hate. Maybe I should rejoice and celebrate; give more than five hugs a day, everyday; mentor, with no malice or forethought; express, in response to inspiration. Maybe I should be very quick to love

Maybe I should get a new life; learn to make furniture; have a real garden again; move to another country; cut my hair. Maybe I should cook something new at least once a week, maybe twice; do something pleasurable at least once a day; take a class and really learn Chinese; give away everything that I have accumulated; move to a new house; get another cat; change my name

Maybe I should plan a surprise getaway for our family for this weekend, just the three of us. Maybe I should pull up Google Maps and randomly pick a location and that is where we will go, whether it turns out to be Budapest, Idaho, or even Owego. Maybe I should pretend I’m a ghost while walking down the street and if someone smiles at me I will put on a concerned face, lean toward them, and whisper “you can see me?” Maybe I should tell my friend Peaches that her earrings remind me of sparkly little peacocks and that I appreciate their twinkle

Maybe I should take a train across America by myself; learn to ice skate; organize a high school reunion; learn German and go to Germany. Maybe I should go into a trance and visit with my mother — I miss her. Maybe I should throw away (recycle) everything in the basement instead of sorting through it all; watch every movie at Regal Cinema this weekend; buy a new wardrobe (but first buy a lottery ticket); play more dance music while I cook. Maybe I should buy a whole new set of Smart Wool socks to replace all of mine which seem to have worn out at once; rent an apartment in Manhattan and get over being scared of large city living; get a reading list of fabulous books from four different people

Maybe I should be quiet sometimes; celebrate every minute when there is nothing hurting in me; call my parents more often; look for a book whose cover I don’t like and read it. Maybe I should try to find all my pair-less socks and make puppets out of them for the children to play with; stop obsessing about using my time well; redefine success in my head; stop telling my kids “I’ll be right there, hold on.” Maybe I should collect more seed pods of trees since I find them so enchanting. Maybe I should decide to grow in new directions, towards ideas or the shimmering light on the surface of the open sea

Maybe I should put together an art installation; make everything I do an artistic endeavor; sing from the rooftops; live big and full for as long as I can; keep painting my fingernails blue; keep the excitement going despite everything. Maybe I should calm myself down; not be so grandiose; take things a bit slower

Maybe I should use perfume again; let my hair grow long again; do all the mending that has piled up for two years; start using a fountain pen again, with some outlandish color of ink; try planting more tulip and daffodil bulbs. Maybe I should get serious about organizing my photos; learn how to live in a smaller space; face the fact that I don't really need all the clothes that hang in my closet; finally get around to finishing that quilt I started in 1980; set up that small portable greenhouse on my back porch so I can grow basil year-round; find a way to enjoy the grayness of an Ithaca winter. Maybe I should express gratitude every day; try watercolor painting again; give away even more books; send more snail mail and fewer emails; try to keep a diary for the last 20 years of my life; give up on my plan to read War and Peace and settle for having read Anna Karenina

Maybe I should take a more vocal stand for the rights of others; apologize more often; apologize less. Maybe I should dye my hair pink or purple or blue; pull out that old ukulele and re-learn those lost chords; polish my tap shoes; sing at the top of my lungs outside of the shower. Maybe I should hold the hand of my sweetheart more frequently; remember to breathe deeply several times a day; stop wearing shoes and let my toes breathe, too. Maybe I should simply toss out those four boxes of papers labeled "to file.” Maybe I should or maybe I shouldn’t


Aino Waller
Chris McNamara
Happy Snyder
James Spitznagel
Jayne Demakos
Jennifer Marshall
Jennifer VanAlstine
Jim Mazza
Laura Joy
Marian Rogers
Marilyn Arsem
Marty Blue Waters
Mary Louise Church
MJ Richmond
Molly Buck
Nancy Osborn
Patti Witten
Peaches Gillette
Reba Dolch
Rob Sullivan
Saskya van Nouhuys
Sheila Dean
Stacey Murphy
Sue Norvell
Susan Currie
Tahera-Rafia Kassam
Tina Wright
Yasmin Kassam
Yvette Rubio
Yvonne Fisher
Zee Zahava

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Kitchen Stories: Short-Shorts on a Theme

With its one tall and narrow window facing North,
this kitchen always has cold light. Through the ample maple crowns beyond the window, flickering patches of light create their shadow-play on the low countertops and on the mint-green cabinetry that only reaches halfway up the wall. White stone walls, white porcelain sink. One long crack in the wall that runs from the corner above the cabinets all the way to the adjacent wall above the door. The worn hardwood floor is covered by a threadbare oriental runner. On the wall next to the entrance hangs a heavy chestnut panel that once chimed calls to the housekeeper. Its oxidized metal bookplates hold paper slips entitled Living Room, Parlour, and Dining Room, all in faded Cormier typeface. An eternity has passed since its little bulbs last lit up, summoning servant to servee (that word seems archaic now; when spoken it draws the corners of your lips far back, too far for comfort). Time stands still here in the faint smell of wall plaster, dust, and floor wax. War-time tea tins repurposed for flour and sugar, plain or adorned with embossed figures of smiling women with red lips and white teeth, aligned neatly on open shelves. This is the kitchen in my father's childhood home.
    - Aino Waller

In the summer I live without a kitchen, just a counter with a hot plate and a small fridge underneath it. In the morning food is prepared and eaten with a view of the lake and sounds of morning; ducks, orioles, and lapping water. Hot cocoa and cold cereal are served up in metal camp cups and bowls. All dishes and silverware are washed outside in cold water, with hopes that the sun has taken off the biting edge. When you live and cook mostly outdoors tasks take on a different meaning. Food is limited, but it tastes sweeter, and the fresh open air takes the place of vitamins. Before breakfast a swim in cold water tingles every nerve and prepares me for my day. After all, breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
    - Barbara Anger

It is a kitchen in flux, without a remodel. Everything in continual motion — around the island, which holds the sink — perhaps, to accommodate its many guests, or to include the cook. Washing the dishes becomes a family event. 100-plus-year-old cook stove still put to work. Winter warmer. Leavener box. Cast iron becomes a fixture. How many times have I heard them say, "This year we'll be moving that old giant out — how many of us will it take?" Homemade pizzas. Late night snacks. Giggling girls. A kitchen of chaos. A kitchen of calm. A kitchen built on love. With rounded corners, like loaves of bread. Warmth. Warmth. Warmth. Pottery through glass panes. Screen door slamming. Hand-woven rug with resting pup, ears poised in hopes of falling casualties during meal prep — the only eager member on the cleanup crew. The clock on the wall runs fast, then behind — we lose all sense of time.
    - Heather Boob

The year Charlie died I had gone to France for the summer and left without a place to come back to. “Who knows maybe I won’t come back." But then Charlie was diagnosed and I came back. Someone found me a little apartment on East Hill with a sad little kitchen. It was long and narrow in an apartment squeezed out of a nothing house like an appendage. The kitchen was so narrow, probably the owner could have been sued for body bias if the wrong size person showed up to rent it. I was desperate and also the right size. Now I get a great deal of therapy in the kitchen. But I have no memory of cooking anything in that kitchen. It was not made for cooking, for inhabiting. The following summer, a year later, I left for France to bring Charlie’s ashes to Plum Village. My life was more messy than ever and bigger than any kitchen therapy could address. It really didn’t matter, the weirdness of the kitchen. Everything was weird, somehow. I couldn’t find the door out. So I got on a plane and ended up in France. I know my mess both followed me and was left behind, like the long tail of a bird in a dream, a tail as long as the journey. I heard of the mold and infestation of ants, alone, from the garbage can I failed to bring out to the curb before I left.
    - Jayne Demakos

We remodeled our house seventeen years ago — all for a Thanksgiving dinner. For more than thirty years, Nancy and I hosted a large "Thanksgiving Weekend" for her family and mine, and for the many found-family members who had become central to our life over the years. To host 20 or 25 people and to prepare an elaborate meal, or meals — as, over time, Thursday dinner grew to be a Friday dinner, a Saturday dinner, and a Sunday brunch — required a larger dining room and something significantly more than our galley-style kitchen. And so, a complete remodel of our home, an eight-month construction project, was underway. Walls were moved, new I-beams and doorways added, plaster completely torn out and replaced, floors refinished, and tiles and bathrooms and new windows installed. The kitchen itself received the most attention. Design and layout took hours of configuration and reconfiguration on the pad of graph paper I used to plan the new space. Where was the sink to go? Was the refrigerator in the recommended place forming the fridge-cooktop-sink triangle? Where would the two ovens that were considered essential to the design fit? It was hours and hours of planning, talking with a professional designer and our builder, and making endless choices of cabinet finishes, tile textures, and countertop colors. Finally, after weeks and months of planning, all of the details came together and, in the end, we had nearly the kitchen we wanted. I say nearly because — while most of the details were right, the finishes gleaming, and the function well thought-through — this larger kitchen . . . was only two-feet longer and one-foot wider than the one it replaced.
    - Jim Mazza

I had just turned seven when we moved to Sasebo, Japan. Our private rental kitchen had one small window looking out into the vacant lot next door. Electricity, cycling off every other day, powered only a few light bulbs. In winter, we used smelly, dangerous kerosene lanterns and heaters, lit only as long as needed. My pregnant mother kept one heater in her bedroom to dress, then carried it to the kitchen to prepare breakfast. We rescheduled our American Thanksgiving dinner as we had electricity on Wednesdays and could use the stove Father bought. A wooden icebox stood in one corner of the kitchen. Blocks of ice delivered twice a week kept food cool. An old man carried a block from his handcart to our icebox using iron tongs. We rescued chunks of ice dropped on the floor immediately to suck on hot summer days. Food waiting to be cooked got stored in the ice box, no leftovers. Mother put all our leftover food in a box outside the front door. Homeless people came by to eat the food every night. They knew our routine as well as I did.
    - Joann Grisetti

I sauté the onions and garlic, glance out my wide windows occasionally, at walnut, maple, douglas fir trees, winter skies, and chickadees at the feeder. Then, in a heart-beat, I’m back in Mother’s kitchen of long ago with its stone sink, small window, narrow view of bleak hop-fields half-obscured by blooming winter jasmine. Here, today, I have counters to work on, a fridge, stainless sinks; she had a scrubbed table, cold “safe” or larder, a small stove, a flagstone floor that was hard to clean, and a stone “copper” for washing sheets. I work in the quiet of my house but in a distant background I hear Mother singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and am content.
    - Joanna M. Weston

One kitchen was not enough for my Italian-American grandparents. In their modest three-bedroom ranch house on 60th Street in Niagara Falls, they needed more than a single stove to cook a proper Sunday dinner. So, my grandfather set up a range across from the washing machine in the basement. On Sundays when I was a child, I would walk into the main entrance to their house around 4 p.m. to join my aunts and cousins for a dish of macaroni. I could hear my grandmother stirring the sauce in the upstairs kitchen, to my left, and my grandfather swearing in Italian as he tried to fit all of the gnocchi into a vat of boiling water in the basement. My grandfather, now 95, still lives in the same house. But after my aunt died of breast cancer in 2008, and then my grandmother died of Alzheimer’s in 2012, we stopped going to his house for Sunday dinners. The basement kitchen fell out of use. There is still a cooking range across from the washing machine, but the large vat that used to boil gnocchi no longer sits on it. It has moved to my parents’ house, who now use it in their own basement kitchen, where they boil pasta for my grandfather and whoever else wants to join them on Sunday afternoons.
    - Julie M. Lind

Probably our last kitchen. And so we let loose. No cabinets, no doors, all open shelves. Everything on display. A museum of broken things. My mother's ashes in two small beautiful etched silver urns on the top shelf. Only the odd and unusual essentials in plain view. The blown glass tiny vases from Florence. My computer on the counter, waking up. My mother's family portrait over the stove when she was five. My grandmother in Alexandria sipping tea a hundred years ago. It keeps getting better and better. First thing in the morning, almost twenty years after the renovation, I throw or give something unnecessary away, and add something new and precious to the mix. Souvenirs. A dessert tray of pink stones from Santa Fe. A finger-shaped stone from the Finger Lakes. The painted tile from Puerto Rico that reads "Do Not Disturb / Poet at Work."
    - Kath Abela Wilson

It might have been a canyon, that dirt road running between our houses. Our kitchen window looked at yours across the divide. Daily, I saw you sweeping yellow dust off your porch. As from a little weather house, your tiny figure emerged mechanically sweeping, then re-entered, the door closing behind you. You came and went about your Baptist life, we about our Catholic. You to prayer meeting, your empty purse on your arm, for fashion’s sake; I to Mass, mother’s lace hanky bobby-pinned to my hair. It wasn’t said aloud, but the exquisite litmus of the young recorded it — you were the Other Grandmother. I have only a handful of memories of you, clinking together like the few coins given a child for the collection basket. Among them, one gleams most brightly: My bike had thrown me on that very dirt road between our houses. I presented myself, bleeding knees, chin, and palms, on your front porch. You opened wide the door, your arms, and took me inside your warm kitchen, that place of my father’s memories —ketchup sandwiches, spoonfuls of sweet condensed milk, endless grace at table. You lifted me to the drainboard by the sink and poured peroxide on my wounds, murmuring words of love. With bent yet gentle fingers you loosened embedded stones and grit. You smiled your sweet baptist smile and with your apron, wiped away my catholic tears.
    - Kathleen Kramer

Thirty years ago, my husband, toddler, and I had four days to find a house in Tallahassee, as Tom had just gotten his dream job there. We hired a rental agent to show us around. I knew for sure I wanted a big kitchen (“big enough to dance in”) with lots of light. Nothing we saw fit that description. One afternoon our realtor dropped us off at the motel, and my husband went for a run. He came back grinning. “There’s a for-sale-by-owner, right on the city park,” he declared. We took our little girl and raced over. It was a darling bungalow set high on a ridge, facing the park. Once inside, we saw huge windows in every room. When we walked into the kitchen it was love at first sight. The room was indeed large enough to dance in, with big windows, a bench with padded cushions where our table would fit perfectly, and a big double sink. All these many years I have made meals in this kitchen, had my morning coffee, written in my journal on the same table where my daughter always did her homework. This well-lived-in room has truly fulfilled its promise.
    - Katya Sabaroff Taylor

I have read that the kitchens of Ireland have couches so that people can hang out and keep the cook company. What a warmhearted custom this is. I also remember Joyce Carol Oates's novel Them where she writes about how people living in poverty were forever hashing things out at their kitchen tables. My great-aunt Florence's kitchen was like that; people rarely went into her living room, but sat around gossiping with her as she circulated endlessly around her kitchen and her mother's antique coal-burning cookstove. My own mother was more of a don't-cramp-my-style cook, and so were all my friends' mothers. In my ex-husband's mother's house, though, you could poke around in her cupboards and refrigerator, and that was among the few things you could do that she wouldn't yell at you for. Who has influenced me the most? Well, I welcome people coming in to listen to NPR with me, and am thrilled when I can get someone else to help me chop vegetables: I must be more of an Aunt Florence. Sometimes, too, a radio story is so good that I'd like to make the whole family come in and listen. So I am damn near Irish, as well.
    - Laurie Petersen

We often said that you could live for years on the food in my mother’s pantry. It was a big walk-in space, with shelves from floor to ceiling, stocked with supplies: cans of soups, all sorts of tomatoes (whole, plum, diced, crushed), hominy, hominy, hominy; boxes of broth, every shape of pasta, brownie, cake, muffin mix; bags of flour and sugar, bins of onions and potatoes; jars of jam, applesauce, condiments; bottles of vanilla (the good kind from Madagascar), olive oil, vinegars; multiples of plastic wrap, wax paper, parchment paper. Towering overhead on the top shelf was the 64-cup coffeemaker with spigot whose brew had driven people home from dinner parties in the 60s and 70s, a tureen or two, a dutch oven, and other random pieces of cookware too big for the kitchen cabinets. The last time I was with my mother in her kitchen, we took a tour of the pantry together. She shuffled to the door, pulled on the light, looked around, up and down. “Where did all this come from?” she asked. I tried to think of the last time she had made a meal, walked into the pantry to get ingredients. It was less than a year, but in her mind long ago. She wondered at the abundance, the forethought of whoever had gathered all that food, made all those meals. “What shall we make?” I asked. “I can’t even start,” she said. And we laughed together. 
    - Marian Rogers

My mother was an excellent cook. When I was a kid growing up in western Kansas, I enjoyed watching her pull a dinner together -- especially if fried chicken was on the menu. She did everything with ease and expertise. But when she got into her '80s, she became a real sucker for kitchen gadgets. For example, she saw a TV commercial for "the amazing Salad Shooter," and was immediately hooked. The idea of being able to chop up a giant bowl of salad just by cranking a handle was really exciting to her. She called up and ordered one for herself. When the Salad Shooter arrived in the mail, she found the instructions very hard to follow and got terribly frustrated that making a big salad with this small white plastic machine wasn't quite as easy as the TV ad had promised. When she realized she needed to chop all the vegetables into smaller sizes so they could fit into the small round feeding hole, she threw up her hands and said "Well I might just as well finish all the chopping myself if I'm going to go to all that trouble first." So the Salad Shooter sat idle on her kitchen counter for many months, getting in the way and constantly taunting her with its grandiose promise of simplicity. Finally, she gave it away to Good Will and stopped expecting any magic from it at all. Every now and then, another gadget was advertised as being a miraculous time saver in the kitchen. Mom would cave in once in a while and put her order in. But, eventually, she always returned to the old fashioned ways and cooked up a storm of deliciousness all by herself from start to finish. Some things just can't be improved upon!
    - Marty Blue Waters

It was a small kitchen, the one from my childhood. It had a miniature, shuttered window used to pass food into the dining room for Easter and Christmas dinner. If I was sure that my father was not around, I would take a risk and climb up on the counter, slide through the small opening on my belly and slide head first down onto the china cabinet. Jumping down to the floor I would hold my breath so I could hear danger approaching. With barely enough time to conjure a story of being chased by pirates or avoiding the snapping jaws of imaginary crocodiles I would run back through the pantry and fly up onto the counter to close the small doors, hiding the evidence of my crime. The light blue enameled kitchen table was usually pushed up against the windowed wall to make room for the crowd of six that marched through each day. Meals were served there unless my father joined us and then my mother would pull the table, with solemn ceremony, into the middle of the room to create a place of honor. There was a low, round infant chair, not high at all, against the other wall. It was a space that had held each of us as we entered the family and before we could sit alone in a chair at the table. My sister Becky was the baby but soon there would be two more, the twins that my mother was carrying inside her. The tiny kitchen was where I could almost always find my mother. She would be on her hands and knees, scrubbing the floor after a full day of teaching first graders, even though a perfectly good mop sat in the kitchen pantry. But usually I would find her with her back to the door, standing over the stove in deep concentration, attempting to create a meal for six, and most importantly to please my father (or to not displease him). I watched. I stood by silently but was never invited to participate. It was too important a task to share and my mother was too tired and too behind in her chores to see me there beside her. I understood as only the oldest can.
    - Mary Jane Richmond

Our kitchen occupies the northwest quadrant of our house, its two half-walls open to the rainforest and main entrance to the north, and overlooking the garden and nursery to the west. We begin and end each day here, attuning ourselves to the world around us. This kitchen is our natural refuge; a welcoming space at the heart of the house, with a bench and small table for guests and helpers along its eastern side. It is also a living organism, an alchemical kitchen where the fire with which we cook and the spring water we drink enter into experiments together with the fruits of the fields, the people present, and whatever creative inspiration comes to hand, to produce pleasurable and nourishing feasts. It's an environment where "inside" and "outside" co-exist peacefully: tiny bell-like fungi and slick algae cycle through their lives on the moist sides of our wooden sink; hummingbirds whizz past our heads; night lights attract spiraling clouds of moths; toads hunt insects and leave wet tongue-prints on the kitchen floor. It is a magical kitchen, filled with the transformative wonder of life in the tropics, and I love it with all my heart.
    - Mimi Foyle

My mother is washing my hair in the kitchen sink, why, I don’t know, but maybe just because it’s a treat. I am nine years old. This is our new house, much larger than our old house, with six doors leading to the outside deep in the woods, a long drive from anywhere. I am leaning over the counter, my head tipped over the porcelain lip. My mother uses the sink sprayer to rinse the suds from my hair and I squeeze my eyes shut. Water bubbles in my ears and I can taste the soap even though I am squeezing my mouth shut as tight as my eyes. Over the sink is a window looking out through a small porch where my mother has hung a bird feeder. She keeps it full of sunflower seeds tight in their little black and white jackets. The birds LOVE the seeds and my mother identifies them for me. Chickadees — black and white like the seeds. Blood-red cardinals and their olive-colored mates. Big blue jays looking very intelligent and knocking a lot of seeds on the ground. Nuthatches — also black and white — hanging upside down from the feeder. Snowbirds — more black and white birds! — who are only there in winter. She says if I stand very, very still, the chickadees will land in my open hand and take a seed. It’s true — and yes, they are light as a feather.
    - Patti Witten

I love kitchens because they remind me of my mother. If my mother were a dancer, the kitchen would have been her stage. Her body built and defined over countless years by the exercise of feeding her family. Her body gracefully moving to the rhythm of the dwindling daylight as she mixed dough and chopped greens. Her hands floating through flour like clouds along the sky, her fingers like a soft rain sprinkling salt and pepper and just the right amount of vinegar into heated pots that sat on the burners of our old, worn-down stove. We, her children, her exuberant audience, eagerly waiting for biscuits to emerge from the oven and the collards and black-eyed peas to simmer down. And while we waited, in the interval of her performance, she would wash her hands and pull the laundry in through the window, the large kitchen window all dressed in yellow curtains, the same window that allowed the setting sun to illuminate her culinary talents. Back then, my mother's cooking was more than utilitarian, it was a way of giving of herself, a way of giving us more than we had, because we had very little. My mother was a woman from another place and time — she was born in 1911, abjectly poor. She was born in a place and time where brilliance was measured by the degree that one knew how to provide for their family, and like a great magician,  she turned a scant amount of ingredients into something that nourished us completely. For her, her strength as a parent was shown by making sure her children did not go hungry, and had a roof over their heads.  She was from another time — an amazing woman who once told us that no matter how little you have, you always have something to give. Yes, a woman from a time wherein your resolve was shown by your ability to simply survive, not just out in the larger world, but within the walls of your home and the warmth of your kitchen.
    - Peaches Gillette

Lately I feel clumsier than I used to be. I came home and while searching for something in the fridge I bumped the door and a plastic jar of iced coffee fell and spilled on the floor. A slowly spreading cold, dark liquid seeped across the grout lines of the large beige tiles and expanded like a shallow layer of viscous mud, spreading under the refrigerator and soaking the edge of a light green scarf hanging over the back of a chair, turning it the color of old, dark wood.  I dashed to grab a handful of dish towels from the drawer and threw them into the pile of muddy liquid, even the stiff one from Hawaii with the fuchsia and orange flowers that my mother-in-law brought me that I never use; even the very soft white one that is only to be used on the gleaming stainless steel of the refrigerator and not meant for mopping the floor, as it may become entwined with tiny specks of grit that can later scratch the surface.
    - Phoebe Jenson

It is true that the kitchen in my home is about to be completely transformed. It’s been a long start-and-stop process of planning, considering, selecting, and learning. I’ve learned more than anyone really wants to, I’m sure, about the edges of countertops or differences in the ways cabinet doors can be built. It’s almost time to pack up our kitchen stuff to make way for the demo team. Time also to get rid of unwanted or unneeded items.  I also want to be mindful of energy to purge from this old kitchen. I didn’t get off on the best foot with it when we moved in 11 ½ years ago. I had loved my old house. Almost every direction I looked in, in that house, I found something to smile about. I have not felt this way much about our current house, especially not the kitchen. I will pack our belongings, and get rid of annoyance about the food being in the too-low cupboard with bad shelving. I will also toss out resentments over all things related to these four walls. I will let go of feeling crowded. Or burdened. And I will look for other things to let go of that I don’t realize are there yet. There will be abundant space, and light, and room for new possibility, and a sense of joy and welcome.
    - Stacey Murphy

I am in love. No, I am in lust! Kitchen lust! In House Beautiful, there are photographs of gorgeous kitchens. You know the ones: “Country Serenity,” with the requisite, exquisite collection of jadeite, blue and white ironstone, or vintage canisters that peep from behind sparkling glass doors in the white-painted custom-built wooden cabinets. A sea-green granite counter gleams, the appliances are state of the art, the white floor is artfully accented with an area rug whose tones pick up the colors of the cabinets’ contents and the sea-green granite. The “City Chic” kitchen sports immaculate white dinnerware on pristine glass open shelves. The walls are deep, saturated purple, blue, or blazing scarlet. The granite counters are white, the floor is reclaimed wood from an 18th century Parisian mansion, of course. What is wrong with these pictures? Where are the photos of our granddaughter, one for each of her 21 years, stuck to the fridge? Where’s the tiny, ancient TV perched on a small ledge for my husband’s morning dose of news? Why no favorite mug, chipped, waiting on the Formica counter? And where did they put my step-stool? Would I dare cook in any one of those kitchen? Perhaps, but I’d make such a mess! On second thought, my lust has evaporated. The affair is over.
    - Sue Norvell

See this photo of me in the kitchen with Teo. It is our first night home from the hospital, the third night of his life. I don’t know what I am warming up in the microwave, can’t remember what I ended up eating. In my face, see the softness, but the new edge, too. This is the face of somebody’s mama. See the pride: I grew him. I pushed him out. See the way he belongs. See the way the wrap I’m using to carry him is tied all wrong, though I practiced and practiced with a stuffed bunny while still pregnant. See how I don’t know it. See how I look like I know what I’m doing. See the way you just can’t know what’s to come. See me standing in the kitchen on Albany Street, believing I can fathom what it means to really love somebody.
    - Summer Killian

My grandmother’s kitchen, in Parchman, Mississippi, had a tiny pantry tucked away in a corner of the room. My grandfather had put in ceiling to floor shelves as well as a pull out counter for extra prep space. The shelves held colorful, beautiful jars of jams, jellies, canned vegetables, and jars of pickled everything. By everything, I mean not just pickles from cucumbers but things like peaches with cinnamon and cloves floating with the peaches, bright pickled corn relish, and green beans. There were big bins in the pantry holding flour, sugar, and cornmeal. She often went to the pantry, pulled out the counter and an enormous blue bowl (that my brother now has after I gave it to him in a sentimental moment) and she began making buttermilk biscuits. She never measured anything but simply spooned flour, baking powder, and salt into the bowl. She added butter or lard, crumbling it all together with her fingers, and then she added buttermilk that had been delivered that morning. Some of the milk she set aside to be churned into butter. She had a glass jar churn with a crank handle and all of us grandchildren clamored to be the one to turn the handle until — magically — butter appeared. She poured off the milk, scooped out the butter, and patted it into a stoneware dish that imprinted a design of a wheat stalk onto the top of the butter as it chilled.
    - Susan Annah Currie

It was a long ago July and I was 12 years old. After several relentless days in the car, my mother, brother, and I had traveled the last 12 miles by boat to install ourselves in a turn-of-the-century summer cottage on the Georgian Bay. My father would join us from our year-round home in Texas on the 1st of August. The dwelling was large and sprawling. The kitchen boasted a four-burner wood-burning stove, a pump handle fixed to the wall just inside the back door for pumping water straight out of the lake, an enamel dishpan, a kettle for heating water, and several drawers of utensils and tea towels. An electric light hung from a high rafter and a string was pulled to turn it on and off. There was a large window made of screening only, covered on the outside by a heavy wooden shutter. The second morning we were there, having breakfasted on bacon, I’m sure—there was always bacon—my mother decided to find out just what was in those drawers under the window. The first one she opened held a collection of ironed and folded tea towels at the front. But it was a deep drawer and she kept pulling it out as I watched. All of a sudden she screamed and snatched the drawer out, dashing it to the floor. My mother jumped up on a chair. I jumped up on another chair, as a clutch of tiny naked baby mice writhed and wriggled on the green linoleum floor. We looked at each other from our perches atop the chairs, my mum and I. And I laughed at her, and she laughed at me, and we stood there for the longest time just laughing atop our perches before we descended warily to the floor. I’m not sure what happened next, but I believe my mother used a broom to sweep the entire mess out the door. By the end of August, I had learned to bake a rather excellent cherry pie in the oven of the wood-burning stove.
    - Susan Lesser

My Italian grandmother was certainly mistress of the kitchen wherever she went. I remember visiting her in Manhattan when I was very little. While she waited for us at the top of the steep staircase to her apartment, my nose filled with the scents of oregano and garlic emanating from above. I'd look up, up, up to see her beaming face as I climbed each step. She'd laden the table in the cramped dining room with many of her specialities: spaghetti with meat balls, braciola, eggplant parmigiana (my favorite), sausage, and various fresh breads. When Grandma moved to New Jersey to be closer to family, she brought her kitchen with her. I remember eating her inimitable thick-crust pizza piping hot from the oven. Once when I was running late to a babysitting job, I put a wedge of veal parmigiana between two slices of her bread, wrapped it in foil and stuffed it into my purse to savor later. I've never quite figured out the exact combination of spices she used. She loved to add bay leaves to all of her sauces as they simmered on the stove. But I'm sure there was something more.
    - Theresa A. Cancro

I love my camping kitchen — enclosed in a big blue rubbermaid container heavy enough to sway the closet shelf, didn’t bring it in from the jeep until almost Christmas. Grills aluminum and cast iron, pot holders and a towel, detergent and sponge in a dish tub, kindling twigs and newspaper, a long lighter, matches and food gloves in a plastic bag, a small first-aid kit, paper plates, towels, and cups, sharp knives and a few utensils for fire and food (also a few plastic utensils in case of guests, you never know), a thin “cutting board” like a placemat, one checkered tablecloth and a nice blackened pot and lid. There’s a box with salt, pepper, sugar and terrible instant expresso that tastes great when I am relaxing at a picnic table near my tent, morning campfire almost ready for a bit of sirloin — first grilled last night — and bread that will toast with black stripes.
    -Tina Wright

His kitchen should have been a dead give-away that our upcoming marriage would not work in the end. Granted, there were high end appliances, copper pots, and Le Creuset cookware. But there were also Flamingo pink cabinets. What man paints his kitchen cabinets bright pink?  Blinded by love and the view of the Pacific ocean from the kitchen window, I took this palette choice as a sign of his rejection of our culture's restrictive social gender constructs. Here’s a man in touch with his feminine side, right? Curiously he spent little time in the kitchen, choosing to eat out whenever he could. His work as a gourmand and wine promoter required that he appeared frequently at restaurants and winery dinners. When he did entertain at home, which was rare, he hired a chef. Over time I came to realize that the kitchen’s pink cabinets were one of many signs of his narcissistic personality disorder. It was in the kitchen that his cruelty and subtle abusive behavior showed up for the first time. It was in the kitchen that one day I realized our marriage was in trouble.
    - Yvette Rubio


Many years ago I lived in London, in a bed-sitter not far from Hampstead Heath. It was a small room with a narrow bed, an over-stuffed chair, and a large clothes cabinet that tilted slightly to the left. There was a bathroom down the hall, and I had access to the back garden, but there was no kitchen — just an electric kettle for boiling water. I drank a lot of tea. I was a Bronx girl doing my best to appear English. Most evenings, on my way home from my job as a library assistant, I’d stop and buy a small bunch of anemones from a woman who called me “Love.” Then I’d pick up a spinach tart for supper, or some bread and cheese. As often as possible I’d eat out with friends, in one cheap restaurant or another. Sometimes a kind co-worker invited me to her flat for a home-cooked meal. I never asked anyone to visit me in my room. Except once. A friend was visiting from the States, spending a week in a posh West End hotel. We went together to museums and parks, saw a play, heard a concert. It seemed only right that I would have her over for a meal. I boiled water in the kettle and made us tea. I picked up Cornish pasties from the local pub. For dessert I made a little concoction with plain yogurt, a handful of cashews, and a few currants. My friend was polite. “Lovely, lovely,” she said, “everything is so lovely.” She was also trying to be English. Later, after she returned to America, she sent me a blue aerogram. “Get the hell out of that room,” she wrote. “Find someplace with a kitchen. Grow up already.” I crumpled the thin blue paper and tossed it in the waste basket. I was perfectly content in my bed-sitter. I didn’t want to cook, anyway. What did I need with a kitchen? 
     - Zee Zahava