Wednesday, September 14, 2022

kitchen stories: short-shorts on a theme

I don’t believe you just said that! You must be drunk. Or on your way there. How about a nice cuppa tea? No? I thought you liked tea . . . before we got married I remember your drinking strong black tea, but only with milk, no sugar. I must be mixing you up with someone else. Maybe your sister? Your mother? I distinctly remember sitting in this kitchen at this grey formica table and talking about things, you know, in a casual conversation and whomever I so remember told me how comforting a hot cuppa tea with milk could be. And I remember agreeing. Now wait a second there! Don’t you start making fun of me, my tea drinking. I’ve shared my memories of Dad giving me a nice cuppa tea in the morning when he took me out on the fishing boat collecting specimens for his research. I remember that like his warm palm on my shoulder. Well, okay, I’ll join you for a shot of Irish, but watch out, I don’t want either of us losing our balance and falling onto the floor. Oh no, there you go. You hold your liquor like I do; that is, not at all. Look, we’re both here on the floor. And there you go again, making more fun of me. Oh well, I’ll think of that as your loving me. Like I know you do. Here on the soft linoleum kitchen floor where we lie laughing together.
    - Alan Bern


It’s raining heavily. I’ve just poured a glass of white and I’m sorting the veg for a stir-fry when the announcement comes through that the Queen is dead. We turn the TV up and listen to the past tense. There’s a helicopter shot of people gathering in front of Buckingham palace. We discuss how she’s always been there; how we know more about her than many of our neighbours. We watch as the notice is posted on the palace gates. We leave the TV on and cook dinner.
    - Alan Peat


It wasn’t a kitchen but Madame cooked there. One day she led me down a flight of stairs into an open-air space beneath the house. The four walls were limestone with rounded openings making the space feel like a light-filled cathedral cloister. In the center was a large stone table; on one corner stood a metal trivet with circular bars at the top and beside it a pile of twigs. “These,” Madame said, “are vine twigs.” And she put a few under the trivet, lit them, and as they began to smoke — a sweet/bitter scent — she added more, then took out of her bag a sharp knife, a plate, and a long piece of spicy sausage.  She sliced the sausage into thin rings and put them, a few at a time, on top of the trivet. As they sizzled, she turned them over then slid them onto the plate. “There is nothing, nothing, like sausage cooked over vine twigs. Monsieur loves them.” When the sausage was all cooked, Madame swept the still-glowing embers into a hole in the table. “When we have enough ashes we spread them around the vines,” she said. “Now, come, we get these to the lunch table while they are still hot.”
    - Antonia Matthew


During a visit to the big box store, my husband and I spotted a display of kitchen mixers, professional grade, in bright red enamel. Paul had a knack for cooking intuitively; when he shook a pan with his firm hand, the contents flew up a foot into the air and landed exactly as intended. We unpacked the red object of desire and set it up on the kitchen counter. Over the next months, he didn’t get around to reading the instructions or switching it on. I attributed his seeming lack of interest to the distractions of our busy life and was not especially concerned. Then, he showed increasing signs of difficulty in handling routine tasks, like using the coffeemaker, a sign of his fast-moving dementia. I watched him like a hawk and assisted him in basic “activities of daily living.” Learning something new — how to operate the mixer with its various parts and settings — was no longer possible. We left it in place, too overwhelmed to move it. When Paul died, I decided to return it, unused and re-boxed. After this sad errand, I sat motionless in the car, empty-handed and brokenhearted. Sometimes, when I go into the kitchen for a late night snack, I remember the red mixer that occupied the corner shadows, then disappeared, along with the life and love I cherished.
    - Barrie Levine


Anne, my older sister by 18 months, acted as though the difference in our ages was more like 18 years. She felt she was so much more mature than I was and she hated it when Mom insisted we do anything together. One night Mom wanted us both to clean up the dishes and right away Anne declared she would wash but she would not dry. That was okay with me. I was just happy to be part of the project, which seemed more like a game than a chore. I was too short to reach the sink so I pulled a chair over and climbed up, with a drying towel in my hand. Anne was determined to get the whole job done in a hurry so she could go off and do something more fun. She plunged the dirty dishes into a tub of soapy water, rinsed them quickly under a thin stream of hot water, and roughly passed each dish into my tiny hands, one after another. The plates were still greasy and they slipped away from me, crashing to the floor. Of course we should have stopped immediately, but we just kept on going like that. Mom heard the commotion and came rushing back into the kitchen, ordering us to quit our shenanigans. Anne happily ran off while I looked at the broken plates in horror. Mom knew that our “system” had been devised by my sister so she was not angry with me. She just lifted me off the chair, gave me a hug, and told me to go get the broom out of the pantry.
    - Blue Waters


In the early morning hours, my nana’s kitchen at the Cape house smelled of perking coffee and bacon bubbling on the griddle, while cornbread turned golden brown in the oven. My nostrils can recall the smells even now as I write this. A small, eastern-facing window offered glimpses of the Atlantic in all its glory. Rust-colored knotty pine paneling covered the walls, and the linoleum flooring featured rust and ochre bricks laid at angles. A working water pump sat on the counter to the left of the great farmhouse sink. High above, red-and-white gingham valences softened the light streaming in from the two twelve-paned windows overlooking the shell drive. There was a working fireplace. In the middle of the room, a round pine tilt-top table easily seated six of us at mealtimes. Nana was a stickler about eating well. She had us put our milk glasses out of reach on the lazy Susan in the table’s center. Her theory? If we drank the milk first, we would not clean our plates. As youngsters we earned shimmery stars when we did eat well. My sister hated green beans and would hide the long stringy vegetables under the braided seat mat. How did no one ever notice? Her actions emboldened me. Once, I threw my zucchini down the garbage disposal but got caught in the act. Guess who had cold zucchini for breakfast the next morning?!
    - Deborah Burke Henderson


Recently something terrible happened to me, related to the kitchen. On Tuesdays I regularly go to tennis, but that day my partner had a problem, so I went with my son. Before that, I set out to cook something for the family, something that wouldn't take me too much time — namely chicken livers with mixed vegetables that I had on hand: carrots, zucchini, corn, garlic. It would have been okay to prepare some rice as well, but I had no time and no one to help me, so I gave up. After the livers were ready, I started with the vegetables. Finally, I put everything in the pan to combine the flavors and added the garlic, cooking at low heat. After that, I went to play tennis for about two hours. At one point, my wife asked me if I turned off the stove. I was perplexed and said I don't know. Arriving home, we found the house shrouded in smoke and the food turned to ashes. The good thing was I had left the window wide open, otherwise who knows what would have happened. Maybe the chickens cursed me for my cruelty? Anyway, this madness has left a bad taste in my mouth, and of course I remember that “haste is the devil's work.”
    - Florin C. Ciobica


Gram’s kitchen: she, gray haired, an apron tied tightly around her waist; me, age 7, standing atop a step-stool to reach the counter. My earliest culinary lessons: the importance of soaking beans overnight, ways to keep molasses cookies soft, and the key ingredient for a flavorful raisin sauce (a splash of brandy). Cooking with Gram always included a bit of family history and a full helping of her kitchen wisdom. “I’ve had plenty of time to think about life while waiting for the water to boil,” she’d chuckle. Standing at her side, she told me stories of love and resilience: the tragic loss of her mother to the 1918 pandemic; the excitement of her first job at a seaside inn hundreds of miles from home; the hotel guest she met that summer who, unknown to either of them until that moment, lived in the same faraway hometown; her delight in marrying this summer visitor three months later. She ended these tales with advice for living optimistically: “No matter what goes wrong in life, never give up,” she’d say. “Sometimes the pie dough simply won’t come together. Don’t be afraid to toss it out and start again. Besides, who will know?”
    - Jim Mazza


I am not allowed in the kitchen when he is cooking. If I so much as place a toe over the threshold, he will wave me off in agitation. Cooking is a reverent experience for him, a meditation of chopping onions and carrots, a blessing of oils poured over linguine or fettuccine. I wait impatiently in the living room, catching the occasional whiff of garlic or hearing the sizzle of butter in a saucepan. I think of his signature dishes — pasta primavera, pepper-lime chicken, homemade fettuccine alfredo, caprese salad with basil picked fresh from a little plant on the counter — and marvel at how far he has come in fifteen years. When my son was two, we stopped on a whim at a garage sale and bought him a play kitchen. It has paid dividends ever since.
    - Julie Bloss Kelsey


we renovated the kitchen along with the rest of the condo took out all the cupboards and doors added skylights opened things up some might think we were not practical but we had other ideas the shelves built to the ceiling held books and big empty nut jars we are still filling these 22 years as our museum of broken things adding pieces every day and since then three small beautiful silver blue urns of my mother's ashes not all the family can bear them and the thin flat cardboard box for a favorite artwork by a friend labeled residue of a star exploded oh yes and one small pantry but most is open shelved and the walls covered with the artwork of a beloved departed friend our kitchen is full of life and painted three shades of yellow with pink champagne granite counters we took out walls and put in skylights and on the top shelf a big special cookie tin keeps hope where we can always find it
    - Kath Abela Wilson


 Kitchen and linoleum. The words go together comfortably from many years of use. “New kitchen linoleum,” is a step further, off of the worn and curled linoleum in the little square kitchen of the little square house my family lived in. The little square house, itself, had been living elsewhere until Dad sawed it in half, put it on a flatbed trailer, and repositioned it on the wooded piece of land he’d bought from his dad for a dollar. Four rooms, neat and square. But our growing family was being squeezed in the little square house, so Dad built a new room — a big kitchen — along the side, making it the size of two of the square rooms! It had a window over the sink that looked out on Dean Heil’s cornfield. It had another window that looked down the long driveway at Grandpap and Gramma Caldwell's tall and narrow house. And it had new linoleum! Big squares of gray and red that made for a perfect game of indoor hopscotch. So on rainy days, my little brother Michael and I would hop from square to square. He was only three, though, and not great at hopping yet, so I would pull him along as I hopped. And he never complained about me yanking on his little arm. And our mother, peeling potatoes or washing dishes, never complained, either, as we jolted around the kitchen, laughing.
    - Kathleen Kramer


Oatmeal. Every morning in the blue pot. Because I only use the blue pot for oatmeal. So I don’t have to think. No decision to make. The only question is which spoon will I use to stir the oatmeal? Maybe the little turquoise silicone spoon. Or maybe the little purple silicone spoon. Those are my choices. But once I hear the oatmeal is overflowing then I no longer have a choice. I reach for whichever spoon is closest to me and that’s that. Done.
    - Laura Joy


Sometime in the years before kindergarten, I remember horsing a chair over to where my mother stood at the kitchen sink, which looked out on the road beyond. “How does it feel to be this tall all the time?” I asked. She couldn’t answer. She had had years to get used to it. She did try to teach me other things about how to stay alive once I was on my own, but she always had to drag me out of a book. So these are not skills I learned very well. I have probably never not scorched grilled-cheese sandwiches. Also, I get distracted, and pots boil over. Even now, I am writing this when I should be rescuing the kitchen from a son’s well-meaning definition of keeping up with dishes. My son is taller than I am, and even when I was done growing, my mother, too, was taller than me. But people shrink. Now she’s 93 and I have several inches on her. Sadly, she also developed dementia. Yet if she hadn’t, there is no question she could still put me to shame in the kitchen, these days while I keep one eye on a different road beyond.
    - Laurinda Lind


Kitchens. A single word that conjures a torrent of memories. Kitchens full of life — of sounds, tastes, scents and hours of work. Different kitchens, different cooks, different places all rush through my mind. There is cheese-biscuit dough wrapped in waxed paper. Seven-layer caramel cake in the freezer. A butler’s pantry. The screened porches. The tin of bacon grease on the back of the stove. The schlup-schlop of the butter churn, the wood stove still in the corner, canning jars and rolling pins. Grease popping as chicken fries in the ever-present cast-iron skillet. Real buttermilk and sweet milk straight from the cow. Mama’s radio playing “old-people’s” music. Serrated grapefruit spoons — and the list goes on. But in every real kitchen until my current one the push-pull, slip-slap, flip-flop of kneading dough. Sticky at first, sprinkle more flour, working by feel and sound. Thoughts wandering far from the automatic activity of your hands until suddenly you knew it was right. That your hands, without conscious thought, could form this ball that would, in a few hours, fill the kitchen with the smell of baking bread. I can taste it now.
    Margaret Walker

 
In South Carolina winters, our small den was the only heated room in the house except at meal time. My father had been raised on a farm and believed a big country breakfast was essential before we set out for our day. He rose well before dawn, cooked grits from scratch, fried eggs to runny perfection, baked toast in the oven, and topped it all off with a slice from the sugar-cured ham that hung in the barn part of our garage, protected by a layer of lard. A small pot-bellied stove fueled by coal and kindling was fired up while he cooked. Mother and I, dressed for school (she was a teacher), with blankets slung around our shoulders, rushed down the cold hall to eat our feast. Lunch was at school and only a tiny meal was laid out for supper so the pot-belly did most of the heating then. A haze of steam coated the windows during those special times. I felt like I was in a cocoon, safe and loved. It never occurred to me then that those days would end.
    - Pris Campbell


When spices exceed spice rack capacity, apparently they advance to a random space in a kitchen cupboard next to soup bowls. This is what I learned when it was time for me to clean out my parents’ house in northern Illinois. Sorting through their spices was a definite priority. How many unopened celery salts do two not-so-spicy seniors need? Ditto rosemary. One shelf up — vintage diced pimento. Some of the 14 cans were bulging with age, ready to pop. Four years expired and then some. All things considered, the spices were much newer. Most were only a couple of years out of date. Someone had taken considerable effort to assemble like spices together with rubber bands. My parents seemed to have thought of everything they might wish to shake on their food, but not a dash of pepper was to be found.
    - Roberta Beach Jacobson


I remember how my maternal grandmother got up early each morning when we'd visit her home in west Texas. She no longer lived on the farm, but after she moved to town she still kept the habit of rising before the sun came up. I recall being gently awakened around 6:30 a.m. by the aroma of brewing coffee. I heard her quietly and efficiently preparing a big country breakfast that would load down the table once everyone was up, washed, and gathered in the dining room: pitchers of fresh-squeezed orange juice, a stack of flapjacks, biscuits, piles of golden toast, pots of jam, preserves, and real butter — and, of course, an urn of steaming coffee. When we were comfortably seated, she took orders for whatever style of bacon and eggs we wanted. She was a tiny woman — under five-foot-two by then — but she could stand at the stove for what seemed like hours. Later, for dinner, she’d bring out her signature crispy southern fried chicken, creamed corn, and mashed potatoes, which we topped off with fruit pies made with peaches, blueberries, and rhubarb that my aunt had canned on her nearby farm. Certainly there was lots of love in every bite!
    - Theresa A. Cancro


The kitchen in the farm house where I grew up was my mother’s domain. Grandma Wright, her mother-in-law, had insisted on a new big picture window over the sink when there was finally enough money after World War II. She earned money as a school teacher in a one-room schoolhouse and may have leveraged that when Grandpa wanted to expand the chicken coop. It was surely a dark kitchen until that beautiful window brightened things up. To the west, my mom, Carol, looked out across the fields and woods while she washed dishes, bathed babies in the sink, and chopped vegetables on the counter there. Oh, the sunsets! When she and my stepfather sold the farm and moved nearby, Mom looked out that window wistfully — it was what she would miss most.
    - Tina Wright


Each day begins in the kitchen . . . . boiling water for my two cups of green tea and getting my bowl for shredded wheat with banana and blueberries ready for breakfast. The entire day involves repeat visits to the kitchen for grazing, snacks, lunch, and dinner. On our kitchen counter we have a line of jars that contain items for browsing opportunities for any time of day, and such items seem just right! There are jars with walnuts, almonds, pistachios, peanuts, Triscuits, Saltines, Berta's homemade chocolate chip cookies, graham crackers, ginger snaps,  sunflower and pumpkin seeds. There is a plastic container with a selection of dark chocolate where at least a small square a day is available and, on a shelf above, are Greenstar Organic Chocolate Paradise Chunks of Energy for those moments when a perk to jump-start a shift in mood is needed. On another section of the counter are a couple bowls with apples, oranges, peaches or whatever is in season to help balance the options. Lunch is often a sandwich, soup, and a few kalamata olives. Dinner varies from a major production by Berta to just eating leftovers or something simple. I am the in-house dishwasher and enjoy listening to music on my phone while doing clean-up. It is at our kitchen window that I keep watch on our bird feeders and all the wonderful wildlife that visits and migrates through our back yard & backlot, which is a part of their expansive kitchen. The sightings include deer, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, woodchucks and, less often, skunks, raccoons, and coyotes. The nourishment from the kitchen is sustaining in so many ways and I feel the call to visit off and on, all day, every day!
    - Tom Clausen


Last year I had a kitchen ghost. First I thought it was my imagination but after a while I knew for sure that something funny was going on. At night, before going to bed, I’d lay out all my vitamins and meds for the next day, carefully sorting them into three small dishes for morning, afternoon, and evening consumption. But when I woke up and went into the kitchen those little dishes were moved around on the counter, not even near where I had placed them. And things were missing. Sometimes a tiny golden vitamin D capsule would be gone; other times it would be one of the large white vitamin C tablets. I thought I was losing my mind. Then I decided I was not losing my mind and I just accepted the fact that I was living with a kitchen ghost. But then I decided that if I believed I was living with a kitchen ghost then maybe I really was losing my mind. This whole thing, back and forth with the re-arranged dishes and the missing pills and the wondering/worrying about my mind lasted for quite a few days, maybe a week, maybe more. One morning I noticed little nibbles breaking through the skin of an apple and a chunk was missing from an avocado. “Okay Zee” (when I talk to myself, out loud, I often say my name, so I know that I’m being serious) “you’ve got to do something about this.” I live in a building that employs the most excellent super. He came right up to the apartment with a small cage. Bye-bye kitchen ghost.
    - Zee Zahava

Sunday, August 14, 2022

How We Lived: Friday, August 12, 2022, a Collective List About a Day


I woke up at 2:40 a.m., just me and the moon in my room, but even that felt crowded and I couldn’t return to sleep; felt wonky all day long.

I soap up in the shower, smelling the brackishness of the old farm's well water, water so soft it takes twice as long to remove the suds; watch seven robins hop and play in the backyard while a mockingbird on the clothesline feigns shy, cat-like meows at the small avian gathering below. I walk the inlet shoreline and breathe in the salty afternoon air as thousands of Atlantic Slipper shells crunch under foot.

I looked in on my sleeping daughter and laughed when I noticed she was sleeping upside down — her head was at the foot of the bed and her feet were on her pillow. I changed my outfit twice, ultimately settling on my favorite embroidered Mexican blouse, the black one with multicolored flowers; reposted a Facebook Memory photo of the great white egret that had strolled past our patio on this date last year. I used Google Maps on my way to my doctor’s appointment but I still got lost.

I wrote a poem for my friend in Cairo and wrote to an online contact about the importance of dreams in helping us grow; looked at a photo of my mother when she was younger and I could see myself; spent many housebound hours having conversations in my head with people I loved who are gone now. I watched an iguana make its way to the pond.

I watch a scary mystery in the morning with my wife and wonder what will the rest of the day bring? I listen to an audiobook of Louise Erdrich’s novel The Sentence. I handle a recently sharpened kitchen knife and recall times when I’ve cut myself as well as the several years I cut paper, in my twenties, for two print shops — the blade kept me up at night, I’ve never worked more carefully; I put my knife down gently.

I wake early and put the world in order; 7 a.m. and it’s time to use the new first-time-ever frother — life is lighter and more lovely — latte.

I wrote some haiku bedside before taking my morning shower; paid off a loan on a credit card and closed the account for good; spent three hours pulling all the crabgrass from the brick path to my front door. I collected all my old jewelry for my granddaughters to look through so they could choose what they want; ate a spoonful of peanut butter right out of the jar and drank a cold glass of lemonade mixed with green tea that was left over from breakfast. I filled the watering can to the top to feed the tomato, cucumber, and spearmint plants; took an early evening walk up the street to look through the offerings at the Little Free Library.

I watch squirrels use telephone wires as a highway to reach a hazelnut tree’s highest branches, knocking the ripe fruit to the ground where they then feast as if it is their last meal; pushing through city sounds of a continuous cacophony of sirens, motorcycles, and cars to find the silence within me — only to find incessant internal chatter.

I dreamed that the public library started a Poetry Society but I wasn’t invited to join  — and instead of purchasing poetry books, the money they raised was used to buy fancy new lamps for a room that no one but its members are allowed to go into.

I spent an hour and a half on a narrow massage table while a big gentle man with massive hands pushed, pulled, and deeply tuned my every muscle and sinew. I shuffled through a shoebox of photographs labeled “Me” and had a good laugh at myself as I danced back and forth and in between all the phases of my life from 1947 until now.

I ate a granola bar before doing my boring PT exercises, stacked the dishwasher, fed the cat, and rode my stationary bike. I planted two dozen sunflower seeds even though I never get them to grow. I fed the birds and tried to shoo away the bully-bird blue jays. I read Hard Times and later I wanted to watch a Hamlet DVD but I was too tired.

I woke to early morning anxiety, stomach churning, both my ears aching; made a call to customer service to straighten out a problem with the phone bill, it was easily resolved, I felt tearful with gratitude and wished the customer service representative a blessed day, which is something I don’t ordinarily say; got off the phone and my stomach was no longer hurting but my ears were still ringing.

I went for a low-tide beach walk and was able to save a few of the starfish strewn over the sand. I prepared and froze a batch of pesto — the scent of basil filled my kitchen. I ended the day as usual, waiting for moonrise.

I woke long before day-break to sit quietly with a cup of tea, waiting for the birdsong; discovered my lost “to-do” list and found I could check off each of the 37 items but one. I remembered the childhood joy of sipping honeysuckle. I spoke to a stranger in the waiting room at my doctor’s office and three others joined the conversation — 30 minutes flew by. I ate just one bite of double chocolate 6-layer cake with salted caramel frosting and patted myself on the back for my restraint.

I went to an outdoor art fair and saw 12 people I know, most of them I like very much — none of them know one another — I didn’t get to talk to all of them, but just seeing people I recognize after all these months was very comforting. I met 5 new people at the fair, just brief conversations, but they were uplifting encounters, exactly what I’ve been craving.

I studied the moon before dawn, it isn’t supposed to be full until tonight, but it looked as full as a birthday balloon to me. I counted 2,160 minutes until I will be 80 years old, then worked on my poem titled, Forgive Time. I tried on the two new shirts I ordered online and the one I liked best fit best; read my MRI report, then read it again, but understood only a few words; reconciled my bank statement and didn’t find any mistakes by me or by the bank. 

I started reading the first book in a new-to-me mystery series, chosen solely because I like the name of the heroine: Frieda Klein.

I sliced up overripe peaches for the kids and ate the skins myself — they were delicious (the peaches, not the kids). I attended book club via Zoom, and by the end of the meeting the sun was setting right in my eyes, but my hair glowed like a halo so it was worth it. I went into the basement to turn out the lights, but the fish stared at me until I fed them. I dumped out the dehumidifier — again! I wish I could ship all the water to my family in Utah.

I removed spent blooms from the Marguerite Daisies and was sad to see only a few new buds; sprinkled some cayenne pepper on the top of the bird feeder to discourage the squirrels from prying the top off with their tiny paw-hands. I watched a squirrel as she twirled around the pole to the bird feeder and I smiled, thinking how she might get a job as a pole dancer. What would be her stage name, I wondered. I took an evening walk, heard an Eastern Wood Peewee and an Eastern Kingbird, and wondered if they know they are Eastern birds.


I chat with the motel clerk in Richmond, Indiana — her shift starts at 6 a.m., six days a week — I am 1178 miles from home. I sit beneath the Illinois Welcome Center’s wide-armed maple tree, marigold moss and slate blue lichen inhabit its trunk; I am 1019 miles from home. I wander Casey, Illinois, home to a giant chair, yardstick, mouse trap, and mailbox in which I now sit — where should I send myself? — I am 923 miles from home. I drive toward sunset, which lasts and lasts here in Missouri — pink, plum, and swimming-pool blue. I am 836 miles from home. I drive and drive. Kingdom City is 5 miles ahead. August’s Sturgeon moon rises in my mirror.

I am recovering from a recent car accident and remembering other head injuries I’ve had: older boys rolled me down the large hill every morning on the way to kindergarten — I didn’t tell anyone; I jumped off the roof trying to break something so I could avoid a Junior High party; an oncoming car ran a stop sign on top of the hill and rammed my side of the car when I was driving the candidate for my boss’s job to lunch; another oncoming car failed to stop and hit me in the driver’s side, totaling my favorite black Rav 4; I was bucked off my horse when he spooked at a piece of paper caught in the fence.

I watched a swallowtail butterfly flit through the yard while it flashed its bright yellow wings over green grass, then alit on a dangling sweetgum leaf and merged with the foliage. I opened a new box of Cheerios and the inner bag burst in my hands — a cascade of “Oh, Oh, Ohssss” for breakfast. I slipped a get-well card for an ailing friend into the mailbox, then listened to a snippet of a warbler’s song, his tee-tweet tee-tweet, twirl twirl floating on light breezes.

I like to get out of bed at 7:24 a.m. and will even lie in bed awake some mornings waiting for that exact time; I walk laps around our living room, dining room, and kitchen most mornings while waiting for the tea water to boil; I check the weather on my phone and read a daily poem that is sent each day.

I went on a walk with my wife and our son who is visiting and our little over-reactive dog, Toby. When we see other dogs I pick Toby up and put one hand over his eyes so we can get by the other dog without him seeing it and making a big and loud fuss. The people with the other dogs often notice what I'm doing and give me a knowing smile.

I fixed one stone step leading down to our side yard that had been slumping downwards at a bad angle for over a year — it took about 15 minutes to remove the step, clear out the setting and reset it in place so it is firmly flat and stable. Yes, I wondered why I had not attended to this earlier but today it got done.

I have been spending time each day, for three weeks now, in our garage sorting out and decluttering the “way too much” that has been saved and stored there; it is like doing an archeological dig of the many pieces of my life. It has been easy to just sit out there rereading letters, magazines, newspapers, or books and feeling grateful that I have found them again and can recognize a reason why I saved them to begin with.

I take a walk out into the woods shortly before it is dark, just to be out there in a grove of trees on a slope where I can see the far western horizon where sunset day light lingers. Tonight, I saw four deer in the dusk and said little nothings to them, calling them sweetie and telling them it was okay.

I found a wolf spider in my toilet, scooped it into an old paint dish, then whisked it through the front door and coaxed it onto an azalea branch. I discovered the “z” scrabble tile among many loose puzzle pieces of my latest jigsaw — so that’s where it ended up!

I hugged an old friend and was so happy that I picked her up and spun her around. I ate yellow, orange, and purple carrots glazed with delicious honey.

I laughed out loud at the pigeons who are becoming romantically involved, as they passed a piece of hay back and forth between them — an act of sharing that precedes the building of a nest. I cried when I looked into the face of my beautiful husband, thinking about how I nearly lost him to a massive subdural hematoma.

I reveled in the goosebumps on my arms in the chill of the evening after too many hazy, hot, and humid days — the dreaded triple H. I stressed waaaay too much about having to be an adult. I daydreamed about  my getaway — driving with no destination in mind and sleeping in the back of my car after a day of hiking with my dog, and sitting on the tailgate making art.

I woke feeling heavy with a big decision I have to make, about whether to carry on with plans for organizing a surprise party in September, complicated by some unforeseen circumstances that have recently popped up.

My husband offered a “get your mind off the problem” solution of checking off a few more libraries on my Mid-York Library Road Trip Summer Adventure that already includes 43 libraries visited, in three counties of New York. I dropped a coin on the map and we headed to the library where it landed, where we were greeted (or not) by a disinterested librarian who didn’t even offer any welcome, or care about how many libraries I’ve already visited. Later, in another town, a happy librarian invited us to come back anytime. We visited yet another library and after exiting through the Children’s Section we found ourselves in a small garden — I sat on a bench amid a labyrinth of hedges and black-eyed Susans and echinacea and came to a decision (or a semi-decision) about about what’s been troubling me.

I felt relieved that the day was so sharply sunny and perfect after all the recent heat but I was depressed and watched TV: The Closer, Major Crimes, Murder She Wrote. I did clean my bathroom and it cheered me up to get one thing done. After dark I went outside to see the moon but she had not yet risen so I went back home to watch more Major Crimes and I muted the commercials.

I was social: lunching with a former colleague and, later, celebrating the birthday of a bestie. I bought two new pairs of sunglasses that I absolutely did not need, but I’m glad I did it. I deadheaded the pink petunias and sat quietly awaiting the arrival of the hummingbird at the window box. I watched the kingfisher soar into the creek and emerge with a crayfish.

I read a chapter of Michael Lewis’s book, The Premonition: A Pandemic Story, and then switched gears to a Donna Leon mystery. I considered ironing my shirt, but does anyone still press a shirt anymore? I decided to wear it wrinkled.

I sat on my porch and tried not to worry that I wasn’t accomplishing anything, even though I worry about that all the time, and wish I could stop. I remembered, as I do almost every day, all the friends who have died in the last five years. I kissed my sweetheart’s forehead.

I woke up at 4:45, put the kayak in the lake, and paddled to see the moon set and sun rise. I sat around a campfire and listened to intimate stories from people that I barely know. I found the courage to say no and gave myself permission to say yes. I wondered what the answer would be to a question that I forgot to ask. I arrived home from a camping trip and breathed a long sigh of relief and gratitude for all that is familiar, for all that holds me, for all the tomatoes waiting to be picked.

I tried to write some lyrics about the heat, but because it was too hot I took a beer and shared it with a bee, two wasps, and three flies. I lay down on the almost dry grass and while listening to the crickets' song I started humming an old lullaby. I stopped to talk with a retired teacher who was listening to the music of the artesian fountain and urged him to start writing his memoirs, for he had seen a lot in his life. I watched the sunset drip from a cracked watermelon left on a stall and suddenly remembered that I needed to call my mother and tell her I miss her.

I fall asleep, confidently, with a red flower in my hair.


Contributors:


Alan Bern
Ann Carter
Anne Killian-Russo
Antonia Matthew
Barrie Levine  
Blue Waters
Carole MacRury
Deborah Burke Henderson  
Ellen Orleans
Florin C. Ciobica
Jennifer Marshall
Jim Mazza
Judy Cogan
Julie Bloss Kelsey
Kath Abela Wilson
Kathleen Kramer  
Lou Robinson
Marcie Wessels
Margaret Walker
Pris Campbell
Theresa A. Cancro
Tina Wright
Tom Clausen
Zee Zahava










Thursday, July 14, 2022

Music: short-shorts on a theme


Jim. Sitting on my front porch thinking about you, how you might have died. And where. How do I even know you died? I bet Bruce told me. Or Charlie. We four were part of a group in junior high and played tackle football in the mud, Tilden Regional Park, 1963 or 1964. I wasn’t really in the group, but I did enjoy slipping in the mud, and sliding, trying to block you, Jim. Much later Bruce did try for a PhD, ended up happily enough managing frontline customer service in an academic library. Charlie taught public school math for decades. I taught English for awhile in Community Colleges, then worked in printing and, finally, in public libraries. Maybe my favorite role was disability services. Though I saw you on the streets, Jim, where you lived for years, I saw you in the library too, sometimes on your meds, sometimes not. You always recognized me, greeted me, and I returned your greetings. I thought about how the library could have helped you out more, never figured it out. Makes me sad. After you died, I saw an obit, but all I remember was that a local choral group sang at your funeral, a group you’d been a firm part of. Such a sweet voice you had, the obit author reported.
    - Alan Bern



At the edge of the yard where Gresford colliery once stood, a wheel from the winding gear marks the site where two hundred and sixty six miners died. It was history already when I was a boy, but at “Big Meet,” when brass bands struck up The Miners’ Hymn, old men who worked the blind pit ponies could be seen tearing up. Written as a requiem for all that sorry disaster’s dead I gave it my all on an old Besson cornet. I come from a long line of Durham pitmen. At the end of their shifts, when the vicar falls silent, Gresford is played to send them off.
    - Alan Peat

NOTE: You can hear this hymn played by different bands by Googling the words “Gresford Miners’ Hymn” — highly recommended: the versions played by the Black Dyke Mills Brass Band and by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band. The hymn was composed by Robert Saint.



As an adult, I fell in love with the Metropolitan Opera Chorus. I, too, wanted to sing, dress in gorgeous costumes, openly express love, sorrow, loss. Then I remembered my musical history. In the early grades, singing lessons were informal, everyone singing together in a shouting mode. Then came the real music teacher, the real music room. We practiced scales, echoed back a note she sang to us, sang lines of songs alone. But when I sang, the teacher frowned. She stopped asking me to sing alone. At the end of term was a concert, each class on stage, taking it in turns to sing. At supper, a week before the concert, my mother said, “the music teacher spoke to me. Because you sing out of tune, you will sit on stage with your class, but mouth the words.” I said, “No, I won’t.” My mother looked across the table at my stepfather, “What can I do?” “Keep her singing around the house,” he said, “all the pop singers sing out of tune. She could be famous.” I said, “I’ll sit in the audience. I won’t pretend to sing. If anyone asks, I’ll tell them why.”
    - Antonia Matthew



Music is a constant companion of mine. Sometimes I’m very particular. But other times I just go with the flow and listen to whatever is floating around in the air. My intolerance of noise is downright wicked, however, so I remove myself from those situations as quickly as possible. Like leaf blowers, or beeping construction machines, or blaring sirens, or kids throwing tantrums, or those automatic hand dryers in public bathrooms. Pleasant environmental sounds are soothing — like cats purring, or bees buzzing, or porch chimes gently tolling in a soft breeze. When I’m feeling particular I become absorbed by Bach’s Goldberg Variations or Mozart’s Requiem, or Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Life is full and compelling when I am surrounded by aural beauty. No matter how crazily these present times contort us, music is a gift and a blessing beyond compare.
    - Blue Waters



A beat pulses through wooden risers beneath my feet and the shared breath of exuberant teenagers surrounds me as we sing. We are on stage in the midst of our high school Christmas Choral Concert. The audience is filled with nostalgic alumni who are invited to join us for the grand finale, Handel’s Halleluja Chorus from the Messiah. They pack the stage and the magic begins. No one ever forgets their part. We, members of the the acapella choir, have tingled with anticipation for weeks, practicing four part harmony, every morning in choir class. With a bit of prompting, I can still sing the alto parts of the Halleluja Chorus (totally off key). Singing together bonds us. We breathe the same air, microbes and viruses are shared. Even DNA is shared. When we control breath in unison with others, our heartbeats synchronize with every person in the choir. Endorphins are released in our bodies, as voices swell and ebb and swell again to crescendo after crescendo. We are engulfed in the music. We are the music. This experience is as close to joy as any other in life.
    - Carole Johnston



As a youngster, I’d often “play” piano on the old Ford’s dashboard, synchronizing with the radio. Dad said my long fingers would do me well, but we couldn’t afford lessons or an upright. I couldn’t wait until fourth grade when I would follow my siblings by taking recorder lessons, but a month before finishing third grade, we moved. Instead, I began expressing my creativity in poetry and art. Years later at a party, my husband overheard me share this secret yearning with someone. Soon after, he surprised me with a Casio keyboard. His sweet gesture was heart-warming. We researched local teachers, selected one, and I introduced myself on the call. “Hi Lelia. I’m 64 years old and can’t read music, but I’ve always wanted to play piano. Would you be open to teaching me?” A resounding “yes” came through. I became Lelia’s oldest student, but she loved my passion and enthusiasm. She was wonderfully patient and encouraging, the perfect formula for me. After the first year of instruction, on her birthday, I pulled out three elementary songs for my first recital, including The Old Brown Jug, for a simple duet with her. My fingers trembled, hovering over the keys, but I was ready to make my dream come true.
    - Deborah Burke Henderson



Help me, I think I’m falling . . .  Court and Spark
spins on my sister’s phonograph. Above it, a poster of sand-colored walls, gleaming domes. Jerusalem. I don’t spend much time in Felicia’s room. She’s a senior and I’ve just started sixth grade. But today she doesn’t seem to mind, pasting movie tickets and love notes in her scrapbook. Rob Goldman has curly black hair and wants to live in Israel, where he and Felicia met. Aliyah. I look at Felicia’s books: Shakespeare, Keats, Ariel by Sylvia Plath. Rod McKuen’s Listen to the Warm. I make up my own titles: Smell the DarknessTaste the Noise. Joni Mitchell has stopped singing. Felicia lifts the needle, replaces Joni with Carole. Rhymes and Reason — that’s a good name, almost as good as Listen to the Warm. A napkin from Le Crepe, a playbill from Fiddler. An almost flattened rose. Oh, I’ve been to Canaan and I won’t rest . . . “Carole King went to Canaan?” I ask. “Is she Jewish?” Felicia laughs. I try again. “You’ve been to Canaan.” “Many times.” “I thought only once. In July.” Felicia pastes another photo: she and Rob by the Red Sea. Carole spins round and round.
    - Ellen Orleans



During my growing-up years in the 1940s, it was Beethoven, Mozart, and Puccini that poured from our Zenith stereo console. Later, my older sister introduced me to jitterbug songs like Rock Around the Clock, and in college I got moony over love ballads by Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, and The Four Aces. But country music? Paah! Those whiny songs and twangy banjos? Not for me! When my husband insisted on listening to country music on the car radio, I was horrified. I hated it. He bought albums by Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and Tammy Wynette. How could he like that trashy stuff? Then he hauled me to a Johnny Cash concert in Lansing, Michigan, and I heard Johnny sing Folsom Prison Blues and tell the story of how he came to write it. After that I began to actually listen to the words in songs by Patsy Cline, Hank Snow, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn. I learned how to dance to those songs, and in North Dakota my husband and I often frequented bars that featured country music so we could burn up the dance floor. I was hooked. But that was then. Now it’s back to Rodgers & Hammerstein, 2Cellos, Debussy, and — yes — Beethoven.
    - Emily Rhoads Johnson



In the seventies, when I was a child, there weren't many movies on TV, and the ones that were allowed to air were, unfortunately, in black and white. At the time, a British series, The Onedin Line, was in vogue. For several years in a row, every Sunday afternoon, I gave up other activities just to be able to see this lovely program, which helped me escape to another world. I prayed that the electricity would not be interrupted so as not to miss the meeting with the sailors. That's the only way I could hear the pleasant symphony of the ocean waves. I don't remember much about the action, but the song on the soundtrack stuck so well in my mind that it followed me from an early age. I've always been able to hum some of it. I can still do it. One day I wondered to whom this fascinating work belongs, which enchanted me and which in difficult times helps me to move on, and I found out. The author is Aram Khachaturian, and the piece is called Adagio from Spartacus. If you haven't heard of it yet, take your time, it's worth it. You will immediately fall in love with it.
    - Florin C. Ciobica



After returning home from a long work shift on a busy Saturday, I decided to go for a stroll in the large un-mowed field next to the little cabin that I lived in. I wandered slowly through the brilliantly glowing tall grasses and wildflowers under a blazing July sun being serenaded by crickets and birds. And then I noticed another sound wafting in from beyond the nearby woods. It was the unmistakable sound of bagpipes being played. And they were playing Amazing Grace! I stood still and listened intently to the music from an unseen musician that blended magically with the rustling plants and natural orchestra. I was treated to this lovely afternoon concert on several more occasions during that summer. I asked neighbors and fellow bus passengers if they knew who the anonymous musician might be, and did internet searches as well, but it remained a mystery.
    - Frank Muller



When I was a sophomore at UCLA, I took a class in Music History to satisfy the arts requirement for science majors. The class was in a large lecture hall and, on the first day, Professor Sayers strode to center stage where he announced that the course would survey the history of Western Music from medieval times to the modern period, including atonal composers but not jazz, which he called “a barbaric yawp.” Then he seated himself on a small revolving stool at the piano and, stressing each syllable, intoned: “Jo-hann Se-bas-tian Bach!”  From then on, he began each class in similar fashion, reverently reciting Bach’s name like a priest offering the “body of Christ” at a Mass. One morning, a fire alarm went off just as Professor Sayers was lowering his ample rear end. He missed the stool and landed on the floor with a resounding “yawp!”
    - Jack Goldman



The drive from Auburn, Maine to Elmira, New York is a long one even with today’s extensive network of highways. It must have been excruciating ninety-one years ago, in 1931, driving a Ford Model-A with a young family in tow. For my grandparents, it was a journey of necessity — echoed by millions of Americans during the Great Depression — born of unemployment, babies to feed and, often, diminishing hope. My grandfather, a piano tuner who ran his own business, watched his small practice dry up overnight. Piano tuning was a luxury in Maine’s mill towns, which most could forego. With only one prospect in sight, a job posting clipped from a trade paper, my grandfather decided it was best to apply in person for a piano-tuning position at a music store, in a town he had never seen, where work was sparse but available. Driving six-hundred miles, from the banks of the Androscoggin River to the shores of the Chemung, my grandparents carried two infants, a few keepsakes, and a lone letter of recommendation. The store manager, impressed by my grandfather’s pluck yet sensing his desperation, hired him immediately — an act of humanity forever changing the course of our family’s history.
    - Jim Mazza



The Japanese art of “kintsugi,” using gold to repair a piece of cracked pottery, has become one of the tools I use to soothe the pain of my migraine headaches. When a headache hits me, it’s as if someone has hammered my skull, cracking it. Pain races along the fault lines I feel in my skull and down into my neck. My headache ends only after I fall into a deep sleep and my body resets itself. Years ago, I discovered that drugs did little to bring relief and my system suffered from their side effects. With research and advice from other sufferers — using rolled towels, cooling pads for the forehead, and of course, resting in a dark place —  natural remedies were what I relied on to lessen pain until deep sleep arrived. Then I read someplace that soft music could help. I remembered that the ancients (think of David playing the lyre to soothe King Saul) used music in this way. I found that it worked for me. I tried an inexpensive “Best of Mozart” CD and it acted like that “kintsugi” — repairing the cracks I imagined in my brain — easing the pain. Falling into a deep sleep came more quickly. Mozart’s golden tones are, indeed, my personal kintsugi.
    - Joan Leotta



it was in our shared shower sing-along that it all started when i moved into his condo gilbert and sullivan did too it was a wild time at the top of our voices to hear ourselves through the steamy spray it wasn't long before we were planning the full length concert and wedding with an intermission and my three costume changes poor wandering one he played the flute little miss buttercup I sang all three little maids from school and klezmer too . . . oi mama I'm so in love our harpsichordist married us in the five minute encore thank goodness they clapped
    - Kath Abela Wilson



“Stop listening to the notes and listen to the music.” So said George Ives, father of the famous composer Charles Ives. The story goes that the elder Ives was music director of a small church in Danbury, Connecticut, and when a parishioner complained about the lack of expertise among the singers, George replied with his timeless wisdom and continued to lead his joyful, amateur choir. I consoled myself with this story when, as a young woman in Washington DC, fresh from rural Pennsylvania, a voice teacher found fault with my country voice. “Just sing the notes as they’re written,” he said, stabbing his finger on the sheet music for You’ll Never Walk Alone. “Don’t slide into them like someone from the backwoods.” Well, I was someone from the backwoods. My singing was formed by my mother at the old upright piano, chording to songs like Red River Valley and Silver Haired Daddy. My singing was shaped by my brothers, strumming guitars around a summer bonfire, harmonizing to Seven Bridges Road and He’ll Have To Go. These songs, these people, this way of singing, live deep in my heart. They are my very breath. So I ended my voice lessons and gave a silent thanks to George Ives. When I go home for a visit this summer, we will gather again. And we will sing.
    - Kathleen Kramer



wrapped in a blanket of frogs’ voices i half awaken in darkness and  follow the chorus outside faint stars overhead no moon morning light above the rolling mountains almost  sleepwalking feeling my  way deeper into the chorus the sound wrapped like a cape around me yet calling me calling me rising and falling swelling up from the rice paddies rolling all rising into trees where sensing dawn tree frogs voices join the chorus so swelling up from the rippling paddies punctuated by a deep bass soloist who feels the vibration of footsteps and stops until i am back on my doorstep with the frog symphony embedded in my bones
    - kris moon



Sister Mary Joseph. That was her name. I can picture her so clearly: long black skirt and veil, stiff white collar, wooden cross around her neck. She taught piano lessons at my school on Saturday for one dollar a session. When I was ten, my mother decided I should learn to play the piano. I despised the idea. I was such a shy kid that I hated getting any personal attention, and from a nun! I could hide in a large classroom but this was different. It was a painful half hour each week for both of us. I never really practiced enough. I was supposed to keep track of my practice hours in a little red book. My mother was supposed to sign each entry. Fortunately, Sister didn’t look too closely at the signature, but I’m pretty sure she knew. I would  stumble through the pieces she had assigned, with tears in my eyes because I was so nervous. She never said a critical word, but just encouraged me to keep trying. I finally got permission from my mother to quit. When I told the Sister, I saw a funny look come over her face. Would she miss that dollar a week or was she relieved?
    - Margaret Dennis



Dreamin’ - I’m always dreamin’ — I woke one morning recently with this song running through my mind. Why? I barely remember it. But almost every day I wake with an “earworm.” Today it was Brahm’s Lullaby. Occasionally favorite movie songs  — The Time of My Life. Many are dance tunes from adolescence and young adulthood. Stay. Stand by Me. Rock Me Gently. Some are special. I remember who I was with, where, what I was wearing — and I feel the dance. Some hold few, if any, memories. One was Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song. I’m not a big fan of country music but there it was, playing in my head all day. I can’t carry a tune anymore but if I hear a few bars I can remember most, if not all, of the lyrics. La Marseillaise. Where does this come from in the night — this walk through my past? It doesn’t matter. Even if I have to consciously force it out of my head by mid-day, I have opened a treasure trove of often forgotten memories and I am grateful. But it does make me wonder what I was dreaming.
    - Margaret Walker



When I went on an unwanted blind date my last summer in grad school in 1967 I never expected to meet the man I would end up marrying. We were inseparable after that night. With a low draft number, he had already signed up for OCS in Newport, Rhode Island and I had a job waiting for me in St Louis. A Whiter Shade of Pale was on the radio all summer, becoming “our song” by default.  He went to Vietnam as a junior officer on a Navy Supply ship and I was accepted for a job in Hawaii after St Louis, to be there for his break between tours, and so we could get married. After he left, whenever “our” song came on, I felt tears flow, remembering his arms tight around me, wondering if I would feel them again. Even now, long after our divorce, and his death nine years ago, when I hear the song I’m transported back to that summer — our dreams still ghost-dancing ahead of us.
    - Pris Campbell



I am on the freeway driving east through the brown hills of Martinez, California, near the home of naturalist John Muir, dotted with ambling cows as well as a few horses, while listening to Within You, Without You, a song on the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, sung by the late George Harrison. The sun is shining, the sky is a soft blue fringed by wispy, passing clouds and the sense of being a separate self dissolves, just floats away. Tears are streaming down my face as George sings the last lines of this unforgettable Beatles song. . .
      When you've seen beyond yourself then you may find
      Peace of mind is waiting there
      And the time will come when you see we're all one
      And life flows on within you and without you
For a fleeting moment, who I am is not an “I” but rather an “us.” And this is quite enough.
    - Robert Epstein



Sometimes I try to recall the music playing in the pink jewelry boxes of my childhood. I had a place to store carnival rings and broken beads. Trinkets from gumball machines. Souvenir charms from summer travels. Each box, no matter how simple, featured a plastic ballerina who spun in front of a tiny mirror until I got dizzy. I discovered everything would stop once I closed the lid. When the repetitive tune got to be too much, I longed for silence. Maybe I was an introvert and needed alone time. Shut the lid: That’s a first step to taking control in a young life.
    - Roberta Beach Jacobson



My husband Mike had a rich voice and an ear for picking up local accents, but he couldn’t quite keep a tune. We sang in the Seattle Labor Chorus that accepted all singers eager for justice. It worked because of the skill of Janet, the director. Preparing for a folk festival, we sang Appalachian songs, where Mike and I had interviewed over 100 coal miners. Janet’s ears pricked up when she heard Mike singing “Dark as a dungeon and damp as the dew, where the dangers are double and the pleasures are few . . .” with that stressed West Virginia mountain twang. “Let’s have Mike sing the verses, and we’ll sing the chorus,” announced Janet. “But how will we know what note to come in on?” worried a musically savvy chorus member. “Just pick up the note Mike ends on,” announced Janet. It was powerful. We added freedom songs. Mike had joined the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project, registering Black voters in the Delta and hearing Fannie Lou Hamer sing “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me ‘round.” Mike’s voice slowed down the whole chorus to a deep determined cadence. It brought tears to my eyes then – and now as I write.
    - Ruth Yarrow



When I was very young, my parents played stacks of long-playing records to keep me occupied and lull me to sleep. The wooden console sat just outside my bedroom door. I was weaned on Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker and Swan Lake, Chopin piano etudes and Saint-Saëns' The Swan. But the record I remember most vividly is A Child's Introduction to the Great Composers. My favorite selections were Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld which included music for the can-can, and Bartok's Romanian Folk Dances. I think that's why I was later drawn to various folk dances and studied everything from Hungarian czardas and flamenco to hula, the Balinese welcome dance, and everything in between. Someday, maybe I'll take down my castanets and practice again.
    - Theresa A. Cancro



When Peggy and I hitched south from Milwaukee in the spring of 1971, it seemed like every car or truck that picked us up had the radio on. We were heading for a wilderness area, the Land Between the Lakes in southern Kentucky. Me and Bobby McGee, sung by Janis Joplin, was hot at the time, and I could hear “Na na na na na na” in my head as we lay down in a pasture where curious Hereford cows came close to stare at us and Peggy fell fast asleep. The way personal playlists flow music into people’s ears these days, it’s hard to explain to a youngster just how Top Forty pop radio dominated back then. The same songs over and over, at that time Me and You and a Dog Named Blue (road songs big in the early seventies) and Put Your Hand in the Hand, a gospel pop song . . . . On the way home, a true hillbilly with an old pickup filled with cages of chickens stopped for us and it reeked, but I jumped in so Peggy had to follow, the only vehicle without a radio playing maybe for the whole trip.
    - Tina Wright



My father loved classical music and had a ritual Sunday afternoon time where he would lie on his back on the living room couch with his eyes closed while one of his favorite symphonies was playing at the loudest level our less-than-state-of-the-art phonograph could play it. There was an accepted family understanding that we all should steer clear of the living room and let him enjoy his music without interference. Years later when I became a teenager collecting 45s, and 33 LPs, I would play them on that same old record player and he often repeated instructions to “turn it down.” In some bizarre linkage his enjoying his music imprinted in me a love of “my music,” which was a whole different world apart, but what made it unite us was that it was music. Forty two years ago when I was 28 I sat in Sage Chapel with my family and others who had come to my father's Memorial Service. As part of this gathering my mother had chosen some of my father’s favorite music. As Finlandia was playing I felt my eyes well up and then my tears flowed freely.
    - Tom Clausen



When I was a girl I liked to sit at the low dressing table in my grandmother’s bedroom and rummage through all the bits and bobs that she kept there. Her brush and comb; a single tube of red lipstick; a powder puff tucked tightly into a pink plastic container of face powder. There were always two or three freshly-laundered handkerchiefs folded into small neat squares; a magnifying glass; a hand mirror; and at least one emery board. Scattered across the top of the table were a handful of grey bobby pins and slightly larger hair clips. I would choose one of the clips and hold it up to my mouth, pretending it was a microphone. Then I’d look straight ahead, smile at my reflection in the large mirror that hung on the wall just above the table, and start  singing. Most often I’d sing my favorite song from my favorite movie, The Parent Trap. Hayley Mills played twins. Not everyone could do that. She was very talented. Even my grandmother thought so. “Let’s get together, yeah yeah yeah, why don’t you and I combine?” But I would pronounce it togetha the way she did, and I’d sing ya ya ya. Hayley was English. That’s how English people spoke. I knew that when I became a grown up, and could be anything I wanted to be, I would be English, too.
    - Zee Zahava



Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Vegetable Stories: short-shorts on a theme

 

Of course, we travelled again to Erice in Western Sicilia to enjoy Maria Grammatico's most delicious almond paste candies, hand-painted with edible fruit and vegetable colors, to talk to the amazing rug weavers (my wife has been a weaver), and to revisit the hotel where we had stayed on our honeymoon twenty years before. And, since some things do not change quickly, modern or not, we found that our Hotel Moderno still serves excellent fare, including the freshest fish brought into Trapani harbor, just down the hill and to the southeast. Plus full plates of spinaci all’aglio e olio (spinach with garlic and oil— and plenty of salt, of course). The oldest city in Europe, Erice, always an odd, often silent, town, perhaps for the entire 10,000 years it has sat on its hill. On the clearest days from Eryx, Erice’s ancient name, one can see south all the way to Africa, to Tunisia, and to the east, all the way across the island, perhaps see smoke, amazingly, from the very tip-top of the Vulcano Aetna, the tallest active volcano in all of Europe.
    - Alan Bern



Tomato: fruit or vegetable? However hard my father argues, grandad won’t accept “fruit.” He doesn’t care a jot about the seeds. You wouldn’t pour cream on tomatoes — says grandad. You wouldn’t make a crumble with tomatoes — he continues. They’re not sweet — he concludes. Dad counters with cherry tomatoes. Grandad hesitates but both his crumble and cream arguments hold up so he sticks to his guns. Dad heads off to find the encyclopedia. Grandad scans the entry. He looks my dad in the eye. You shouldn’t believe everything you read — he says and walks off.
    - Alan Peat



The almost forty-year-old asparagus bed is tired. After years of giving me early spring offerings, the plants have simply run out of energy. This year there were maybe two suppers worth of delicate spears, a negligible output, and even those seemed exhausted. At the end of gardening season last year, acknowledging a finality, I dug up the roots in one section of the bed and left it to rest. This year, after adding copious amounts of compost and manure, I sowed kale and chard seeds in their place. The seeds sprouted, though slowly, and now the plants look confused, as if they’ve invaded another’s territory and are not sure how to act. They are not the robust specimens of years past — instead they seem vulnerable and susceptible. And this morning I see there is someone snacking on them. I perceive a lack of confidence and resilience, a disorientation as to place and time. Maybe in the next few weeks they’ll come around. I can’t help but think they’re in mourning, reticent about accepting an ending and embracing a beginning.
    - Ann Carter



I dug alongside the grownups with my little sandbox spade as they turned the square-shaped back lawn into a vegetable garden. I understood this call to Dig for Victory was not to find a person but I didn’t understand how growing vegetables could win the war. Pea and bean seeds were planted here, along with root vegetables. I helped to drop the seeds into the holes. Then we went to the sheltered side lawn where, again, the grass was dug up. I helped make the little holes in the earth where the starters of lettuce, spinach, Brussels sprouts and cabbage were planted. There was still the front of the house where there was no lawn, only rose beds. For a while everyone stood and looked over there, then the grownups, except for my uncle, went into the house, taking us children with them. Curious, I went to the front window and looked out. My uncle was slowly digging up the rose bushes and piling them on the driveway. My aunt came up beside me. “He’s going to be planting potatoes.” We stayed by the window and watched. When all the bushes were dug up my uncle put a match to them, and as they slowly burned, smoke drifting around him, he planted potatoes.
    - Antonia Matthew



I live in a small community north of Boston. The town common consists of a one-window post office, police station, historic town hall, a church, a doll museum, a teahouse, and on a side street, the senior center. Notice recently went out that fruit and vegetables from local farms would be available for weekly pickup at the senior center. There is a food pantry in town, but this offer was for all seniors, regardless of need. At first I was reluctant, as I can afford to buy groceries, but the invitation welcomed all seniors. I overcame my hesitation and surveyed the four tables of cartons filled with produce — onions, sweet potatoes, bright yellow summer squash, Granny Smiths, string beans — and other items contributed by local merchants: gingerbread cookies, small jugs of laundry detergent, Bartlett pears wrapped individually in thin paper. This generous bounty from my community brought to mind my husband, now gone, bringing in armfuls of veggies from the garden and spreading them out proudly on our kitchen counter, his love language to me and our family. Today, emptying the contents of my basket, I felt some of that love, again.
    - Barrie Levine



Mom’s garden was a section of our back yard the size of a tennis court. Every spring she drew up her plans, ordered seeds, and got all excited about growing the vegetables her four kids needed in order to be strong and healthy. She was raised on a farm in western Kansas, helping her older sisters tend big gardens full of good food. She felt this was in her blood. But, year after year, it was really only in her mind. She could imagine rows upon perfect rows of carrots, onions, potatoes, corn, beans, etc. But somehow the seeds never got planted correctly, or watered enough when it didn’t rain for weeks on end. Mom’s dream garden couldn’t exist without her sisters to help and guide her. And her disappointment was palpable every time she reached for a frozen bag of peas or corn. Sadly quiet, she did her best to feel this was still a healthy choice for her family.
    - Blue Waters



Zucchini, like fat baseball bats, grew profusely in my garden in 1972. I had no idea how to cook them. The rural Midwest provided excellent, black soil for growing prize vegetables and perfect tomatoes, but the population was not yet familiar with “exotic “ vegetables. I knew nothing about picking zucchini when it is tiny and tender. I knew a few people who boiled it in water, but that produced a thick greenish mess, like soggy paper. The baseball bat zucchini proved to be useful, however. At that time I had two German Shorthair Pointers who were too wild to stay confined to their kennel. When we made the fences taller, they dug holes under the fences. Every morning, I called them from lounging on our bed, fed them, and locked them up in the useless kennel. Every afternoon, loping free, they bolted down the driveway to meet my car, barking like maniacs. Since farmers are likely to shoot stray dogs, we needed new ideas immediately. Hey, what about ZUCCHINI, I thought! Those overgrown squash fit perfectly into the escape tunnels. On my knees, I stuffed one zucchini into one tunnel. Using a garden spade to modify each subsequent hole, I twisted in more zucchini, until every gap was filled. This brilliant solution worked. The unhappy dogs were thwarted. I eventually learned to cook the small, tender, delicious, thin-sliced, squash. I started with zucchini parmigiana: made from scratch with succulent garlic, onion, and thick chunks of homegrown tomato in the sauce. I added zucchini to stir-fried vegetables and savory ratatouille. Ahh, zucchini and sweet, red, peppers, sautéed in olive oil and garlic, served on a crisp bruschetta — a much superior use of squash than imprisoning dogs.
    - Carole Johnston



Cotter, Dalton, and Henderson shared a locker at Boston Latin Middle School, and a certain smell always emanated from there. The boys’ coats, gym clothes, books, even their lunch satchels took on a distinct, permeating aroma. Cotter loved his mother’s eggplant parm sandwiches, and she made sure her boy had his favorite at least three times a week. Dalton didn’t seem to mind much, but the smell turned Henderson’s stomach upside down every day, especially when wearing his gym uniform which stayed in the locker 24/7. Many years later I shared this story about my husband (he is the Henderson) with my older sister, Robin. For Christmas that year she wrapped up a gorgeous, shiny, purple eggplant and handed the present to my husband with a flourish. After opening the gift, he tilted his head to one side in confusion, wondering what he was holding. He started tossing the beauty back and forth like a football, rubbed the smooth surface, even sniffed at the green stem. Flummoxed, he finally asked, “Okay, I give up. What the hell is this?” Robin couldn’t resist laughing before revealing the answer, and when she did, he gently chucked the eggplant at her as she sat on the couch. My sister transitioned to spirit last June, but her sense of humor and mischievousness that Christmas morning will always bring a smile.
    - Deborah Burke Henderson



When I was growing up, my mother mainly served three vegetables: green beans, peas, and corn. Occasionally she might surprise us with broccoli or canned beets. That’s why, on my first day of summer camp in Georgia, at age seven, I was terrified to see on my dinner plate what looked to me like a pile of fat yellow slugs. When I asked a counselor what they were, she said, “They’re butter beans. Eat up!” I speared one of the ghastly things with my fork and brought it tentatively to my mouth. In it went. Yuck! Ugh! Blaah! I gagged, and spit the mushy bean into my napkin. “You have to eat at least one mouthful of everything on your plate,” a counselor reminded me. “That’s the rule. Eat just one and swallow it!” This time I gagged so hard that I vomited on the tablecloth. The girl next to me cried, “Ewww!” and scooted as far down the bench as she could. The counselor took pity on me, and after fetching a towel to clean the table, told me I could skip butter beans for the rest of the summer. Whew! Everything else was delicious — especially the crunchy, juicy Southern fried chicken!
    - Emily Rhoads Johnson



When I was little, sweets were a rare thing.Towards the end of autumn and then in the winter, when we felt like something good to eat, and if we hadn't made any mess of things, we begged my grandmother to bake butternut squash. My brother and I would first go to the barn, where they were stored in a pile, and pick out a nice one, wash it well, then cut it in half and gently eviscerate it. We were sorry to kill him this way, but hunger helped us get over it. Grandma then took it, but she didn't cut it into small pieces, only larger ones, sometimes even quarters, depending on how fat the squash was. We were always glad to have large portions to enjoy. She put them in the oven with some sugar on top, because we still didn't have access to honey. As soon as she took it out of the oven (half an hour was an eternity for us) she sprinkled on a little ground cinnamon. A delight! The best dessert in the world! We were as impatient as kittens and could not wait to receive our soft and tasty gold bar. When I close my eyes, my younger self still winks at me. It was all so yummy!!!
    - Florin C. Ciobica



What’s the first thing a young man from the city decides to do when he moves to a country house in upstate New York? You guessed it. Plant a bed of asparagus. And what does the gardening book he consults recommend for the rocky soil on the hillside behind his house? Right again. Plenty of fertilizer— preferably organic. I called the farm down the road that advertised fresh cow manure. “Just one load?” I said that was probably enough, not realizing that the farmer was talking pickup trucks not wheelbarrows. I told him he could drive over our side lawn to the back of the house. Unfortunately, it had rained that morning and, when I returned from work that afternoon, I saw the deep ruts in the lawn where the truck had bogged down. I also saw the small mountain of manure that the farmer had dumped on our neighbor’s driveway in order to free his truck. Dashing back and forth with my wheelbarrow, I had barely made a dent in the steaming heap before my neighbor and his wife came to a screeching halt at the entrance to what had been their driveway. Two years later, we shared the first crop of tender asparagus along with a bottle of wine and a wheelbarrow of laughs.
    - Jack Goldman



Our holiday rental is a two-story stone cottage nestled in a shadowed hillside above the Ligurian Sea. Built from rough gray-green boulders and dark slate, the small house sits behind a thirteenth-century church tower that holds three out-of-tune bells, devotedly rung before every mass. At the southeast corner of the house, a trickling rivulet runs through a culvert constructed as part of the original medieval walls. Silver-leafed olive trees frame the cottage and soften the midday sun. The setting is magical, made more so by a forest of five-foot-tall fennel plants filling the front yard. Fennel, known in Italian by the playful-sounding word, finocchio, is a favorite vegetable and herb. Growing from a white, spherical base, the upright fennel stems are covered with feathery, green fronds — evocative of dozens of Ziegfeld Follies costumes. I harvest a single plant for tonight’s dinner. With a sharp knife, I remove the sturdy stalks and chop the anise-flavored bulb and fronds. I mix the fennel with peppery arugula, blood-orange segments, torn pieces of radicchio, toasted pine nuts, and a splash of fruity olive oil. Later, sitting on the terrace, we watch a half-moon rise above the clouds like a fennel bulb emerging from soil.
    - Jim Mazza



I was planning to buy an eggplant yesterday for Saturday night, the basis of  an eggplant and lentil dish I had enjoyed in Turkey. But in store after store, produce managers said, “No eggplant today.” Sighing, I drove to one more place — a store where  produce is always at  prices far above those of its neighbors. Walking in, I  immediately spotted among the multi-colored rows of vegetables a splash of purple — eggplants. Reaching out to pick one, I discovered that the wide swath of purple was one single vegetable, the largest eggplant I’d ever seen. I asked the produce man, “Do you have others?” He shook his head. “That’s the only one, my shipment today was absent the eggplants. It’s the last eggplant in Calabash.” I looked at the vegetable shaped like a small blimp. I smiled, bought it, and took it home. Today I cooked it, using several slices for my Turkish lentil dinner, several for fried Neapolitan-style sandwiches later in the week, and boiled some for a Sicilian eggplant appetizer. Travel has been halted recently, but this week an eggplant will be the airship on which we’ll  tour the Mediterranean.
    - Joan Leotta



The garden at my grandpa’s ramshackle cabin — “the club” as we called it — grew wild and untamed. Located on the floodplain of the Meramec River, the soil supported abundant vegetation. Grandma managed to keep the deer out by cordoning the area off with a chain-linked fence, but even she couldn’t control the bunnies. My grandparents planted many tempting vegetables in their small garden, but I set my eyes on their pole beans. Lush and abundant, that corner of the plot contained what looked like neatly spaced miniature teepees, each about 5 feet tall. Thick green vines weighted with beans — and the occasional snake! — wound around the wooden poles, giving the effect of an enchanted fairy village. One year, my grandparents grew gorgeous purple podded pole beans, native to this part of the Ozarks. I felt so cheated when boiling our magical beans turned them as green as all the others!
    - Julie Bloss Kelsey



Oh the flower fairies' feast my invitation a well kept secret the vegetables are blooming ssshhh some see them all shiny and polished on shelves don't tell anybody about the flowers even gardeners forget after they pick the fruits of their labor the secret small blooms on the tomatoes the luscious squash flower omelet they could have had the exotic purple petals on aubergine the artichoke's exotic lavender thistle the okra blooms bluish glow secret scarlet of the emperor runner beans queen anne's crown on the overgrown carrot holding court in the night garden oh the vegetables' flower fairies' feast unseen to most humans squash cucumber watermelon muskmelon and me my love for carrot umbels' lovely, lacy lightly battered and deep fried rare delicacy oh not the wild hemlock ssshhh it never hurts to check
    - Kath Abela Wilson



Mother loved onions. From early spring, when the little green onions were among the first gifts from the garden, she had them by her plate. They were placed carefully, next to the silverware like a necessary part of the meal. They were there for all meals except breakfast. (Though, if she’d made eggs of some kind, the little onions were there, too.) As the onions grew bigger, she loved them in all stages of their development, right up to the time they were big as baseballs — softballs, even. Sometimes, she would hold one of these in her hand and eat it like an apple, one bite at a time. She loved them sliced with sharp cheddar cheese in a sandwich, placing the plate carefully on her lap when she watched “As the Word Turns” at 1:00 every weekday afternoon. Her breath was redolent of onion every day. It became her signature scent. When she eventually had to live at Ridgeview Eldercare, the cooks were trained to place a large slice of onion on Mother’s plate. It seems fitting that she loved onions. Like an onion, Mother could be sharp and biting. But her underlying and overriding love has lingered in memory, just as the fragrance of an onion lingers each time I slice one for a salad, remembering her.    
    - Kathleen Kramer



Hand-lettered signs in front of roadside stands and old country stores throughout the southern U.S. — “Boil P-Nuts.” A post on Facebook last week reminded me that it's the season for fresh peanuts. I miss them. Especially boiled. I’m not sure why but they don’t seem to grow in the Midwest and no stores carry fresh ones. They need to be fresh and "green" — not dried out. But I should explain — peanuts are a vegetable. A legume. And what better way to get another serving or two of veggies than with boiled peanuts. Ladled out of a big cooker of salted water into a small brown paper sack. Best while still wet and warm. The juice dripping from your hands as you pinch the shell and slurp out the briny liquid before giving the shell the final crack and letting the soft nuts slide into your mouth. They are a messy but oh-so-tasty snack food. Veggies don’t get much better — except okra.
    - Margaret Walker



How I long for a plateful of chopped okra, rolled in egg and cornmeal, then fried in a cast iron pan readied with sizzling hot oil. I’ve tried, but can’t replicate that exact flavor or texture my parents and my aunt could cook so flawlessly. Forget finding a restaurant that prepares it the same way, no matter how many claims they make about serving southern style meals. My husband was raised outside of the south, never had okra, and detests it. When I compromise and eat the frozen version of the whole pod he turns up his nose … how can you eat that stuff? I like it just fine, though it's not nearly as good as the garden-grown and southern hand-cooked version, but it is still a little reminder of the food heaven I once inhabited.
    - Pris Campbell



My early days as a dishwasher in a bowling alley eatery taught me a lot about veggies. I formed a deep appreciation for green beans. Green bean pots were the easiest to wash. So little scrubbing. Respect! Asparagus, too. We had no electric dishwasher at that little diner. Only me! I showed the hungry customers to their tables, then rushed to the little kitchen to dish up their pre-prepared meals, then hurried to wash up everything afterwards. Bean soup, ugh. Spinach was tricky, and messed up the sink drain. Fried zucchini, no fun. My glasses would get splattered. The gigantic spaghetti sauce pot was a killer, barely fit in the single sink. Methinks that’s why the secret of our sauce was a faint hint of dish soap.
    - Roberta Beach Jacobson



The first time I encountered an eggplant was probably as a little kid. I really don't recall, but I do remember eating many servings of Grandma's savory eggplant parmigiana — inimitable! Makes my mouth water just thinking about it. I've always been intrigued by the eggplant's brownish purple color. And recently I learned it comes in white, too. Who knew? Technically, it's not a vegetable; it's a fruit of the nightshade family, actually a berry since it has all those seeds. Its French name is a mouthful but seems to fit: “aubergine.” Or perhaps an even fancier moniker: "brinjal," of Indian and Middle Eastern origin via Portugal. Once, a co-worker was repulsed by the thought of eating it. I'd packed left-overs for lunch including a couple of slices of the beloved family dish and proffered a piece. “How can a ‘plant’ be an ‘egg’ too?” she asked, recoiling slightly. “But it's the shape . . .” “Sorry, I'm not touching that thing let alone eating it!” I know better — you'll find me enjoying eggplant in various ways, from baba ganoush, to moussaka, even in Chinese stir fry. I'll take the funky veggie any day!
    - Theresa A. Cancro



Potatoes with red skins are named for Native Americans and it’s not a compliment any more than sports teams called Braves, Seminoles, and the late not so great Washington Redskins themselves. The potatoes I planted last year were Pontiacs and this year my sister Lisa and I put Chieftain seed potatoes in the ground at her place. Last year I got 7 bales of straw mulch stuffed in a jeep, driving all the way to the boonies of Candor to get them and then I went back and got 7 more. They were the perfect mulch for the Pontiacs and the fingerlings I grew at Cornell Community Garden. It took forever to get almost all the straw bits swept and vacuumed from that jeep last year so I wonder if I should warn Lisa when we go get mulch this year in her Honda CR-V.
    - Tina Wright



In my mother’s kitchen there were no fresh vegetables. Only cans where peas or carrots or string beans swam around in murky water. The peas were pale green; the carrots were cut into tiny squares; the string beans were often slimy and definitely too stringy. There were also jars of beets in case Grandpa ever stopped by and needed something borscht-y, even though all of his borscht needs were already being met by my grandmother, in their own kitchen. But the jars were stored high up in the cabinet over the sink, because my mother wanted to be prepared — just in case. Eventually I left that kitchen and went off to college. At the start of my freshman year I made a friend who was a senior; a philosophy major with her own apartment off campus. She talked to me about Plato and Sartre while standing at the stove cooking up delicious meals. She never wanted me to help. That was smart of her because I wasn’t especially skilled with a knife (never having used one at home). In that cramped apartment that smelled strongly of patchouli I became introduced to vegetables that were fresh and alive. Asparagus — long thin stalks of them, drizzled with garlic butter. Broccoli, quickly steamed and slightly crispy, also drizzled with garlic butter. One night we sat across from each other at my friend’s tiny kitchen table and I met an artichoke for the first time. Yes, garlic and butter were also present. I have to wonder, right now, as I write this, did I like the vegetables so much or was it all about the garlic? And the butter? Or maybe I was just enamored of the cook.
    - Zee Zahava


Saturday, May 14, 2022

Water Stories: short-shorts on a theme

 Auntie Ruth was thrilled about the raft, thrilled that I had built the raft. I didn’t build the raft by myself. Auntie Ruth’s daughters, Ellie and Kat, were there: they did so much. So did my sister Lara. We strapped big logs together on a cold pebbly beach: strapping was the main problem. Getting the logs was easy. They were heavy, but were right there on the shore. Auntie Ruth helped us figure out how to do the strapping. We worked all morning. Auntie Ruth brought us some great snacks. Then we began to drag it in. We wished Joe had been there. Joe was Ellie and Kat’s big brother. Joe was tall, and he would have been a lot of help. But he was hiding in the bushes. So we thought. We thought he was watching. We dragged the raft into the water. Pretty still that morning, and it was really exciting. We didn’t think it would float, it was so heavy. We jumped on it. Got our poles and pushed off. We weren’t sure where to go, but the main thing was that it floated. What a victory. We wanted to name it, too. We thought of naming it Joe. Auntie Ruth was thrilled.
    - Alan Bern



Today, if you look up Roker Beach you’ll see miles of golden sand; a promenade; a landscaped seafront; a laughing child with an ice cream cone. In every photograph the sky will be blue. It’s not how I remember it, paddling with my brother in the icy waters of the North Sea coast on a grey September afternoon in the ‘60s. I thought every sea would be just like it; that waves in every ocean would nip at numbing feet. So, that first summer, when Dad towed the caravan down to the south of France, I braced myself for cold water. I’ve forgotten so much of that time, but my first footstep into the Mediterranean, my first giant leap from chilling waters — that’s still as crystal clear as the day I jumped in.
    - Alan Peat



Awake just after dawn, I open my eyes to a most magical sight, a bit of paradise, usually just a setting in a dream. Gentle warmth rests on my exposed arms as I gaze out at a turquoise ocean, a color so radiant and fresh that my eyes fill with tears. Only a day before I was shoveling my way to the car, making my way through a blustery snowfall to get to the airport. Sitting up in bed I marvel at the glistening blue green water, an offering to me in my grief. The water, having absorbed all color except this color, fills me with a calm I haven’t felt in months. Deeply grateful for this gift from friends, I allow a sliver of hope. After coffee I head out for a run that ends in the most delightful sensation, diving into that turquoise water, my whole being released into its liquid embrace. 
    - Ann Carter



I watch my thirty-year-old daughter splashing in the surf with her nephews, on Long Beach, San
Francisco. But in memory I’m seeing her three-year-old self on a Cornish beach in England. It’s the first time for the five children to be by the sea and they stand looking down the beach at the distant waves rolling in, hesitant. But not the three-year-old. With a squeal she is off running towards the water on her stubby legs, waving her hands, squealing. I follow her. There’s no danger, the tide is going out, the waves small. She reaches the shallows where there’s a little foam and the water hardly moves. She runs in, her bare feet splashing the water, sits down with a plop and beats on the waves with her hands, chortling, as they flow around her. In a little while, I crouch down beside her and she turns to me, her face full of delight, “water, splash, splash,” she says, foam and sand running through her fingers, falling back into the water.
     - Antonia Matthew



When I was five, we moved from an old apartment into a brand new house, one of four small Capes on quarter acre lots. The best room in the house was the big bathroom upstairs where the basin, the tiles, even the bathtub, were all the same pretty shade of light green. When I was ten, my parents let me use the stall shower by myself. Besides the showerhead above, there were smaller ones in the wall, two on each side. Our house wasn’t fancy, but no one else I knew had this kind of shower where you could turn the spray on yourself from all different directions. The green bathtub was even better! I poured in bubble bath and let the foam fill to the top, even over the top. I had to clean up the wet floor with a towel but no matter. I hated swimming lessons at the Y because the water was so cold it made my teeth chatter, but at home I could safely sink up to my chin in warm sudsy water the color of a calm sea.
    - Barrie Levine



I remember when I was very little, trying to comprehend the phenomenon of sweat. My dad came home from working all day in our farm’s wheat fields and tending the cattle in our big herd of Black Angus. He was totally soaked to the bone so I asked him why he had taken a shower with his clothes on. He just lifted his shirt a couple of times and said “sweat.” “Okay,” I said, as I jumped onto the porch swing next to him. “Can I sweat like that?” He shrugged his shoulders. “What are the rules?” I really was curious. He grinned a sideways smile and I figured I wasn’t going to get much more of an explanation. We sat in silence. After about ten minutes he said “Hard work in the sun.” “Is it dangerous?” I jumped in with my questions when I could. “Nah,” he said. More silence. Then he ruffled my hair and chuckled. “It’s very stinky,” he added with a wink. Then we had to go inside and get ready for supper. I figured I would learn more about wet sweat sometime later.
    - Blue Waters



I am immersed in cold lake water, hot sun reflecting off my face, about twenty feet from the wooden dock. I stop there, kicking to keep my head above water and take a mental picture of my dog and John D. I want to remember this scene forever. Thirty years later, I can conjure up this picture and still see that black dog and that skinny man who loved her almost as much as I did. They sit on the dock, wet and glistening, smiling in the sun. This world has no divorce or sorrow; only a black dog who jumps in the water after I jump. She cannot tolerate watching me sink beneath the surface. When I disappear, she is compelled to save me. Half Labrador, retrieving is intense in her blood, so she plunges in, splashing after me. I emerge under her until she is sprawled over my shoulders in the water. Laughing, I climb the ladder to the dock and do it all again, as excited as a child. The dog and the water remain a delightful spot in time in my memory . . . a few happy moments from 1970.  
    - Carol Johnston



Water becomes a very special commodity to one living in the desert, and every drop gathered at the well and carried home is precious and welcome, even by a Peace Corps volunteer. Back stateside, running water and hot water spurting from the bath spout are never taken for granted. Monsoons and tsunamis, on the other hand, spark fear and concern. Spring rains invite earthworms and green growth and a cover for tears of grief while August rains refresh the spirit. Standing ankle-deep in Maine’s ocean water quickly turns one’s flesh blue while the turquoise splash of wavelets off Maui sends a different sensation — a calming warmth rippling throughout the body. Fog curling up from pre-dawn meadows can be mesmerizing and mysterious; steam rising from a tea kettle provides a sense of comfort on a cold winter evening. Waterfalls, free-flowing or frozen, are just plain awe-inspiring. Icicles clinging to New England rooflines might be reminders of Gram’s iced layer cakes or perhaps they are holiday light decorations. No matter, for those without clear, clean drinking water, I ask prayers, for there are far too many in need.
    - Deborah Burke Henderson



My father taught me how to swim in the ocean. How to wade forward — ankle-high, knee-high, waist-high — through the rush of water. How to turn sideways against the waves and lift my arms to balance against the undertow. As the water reached chest-high, how to face forward — never turn your back to the waves — then dive into the crash and churn. Breast stroke and kick, kick, kick. Through, then up, then out of the water to grab that imperfect breath. Dive, stroke, kick, surface one more time, maybe twice, maybe three, until — you’ve reached it! You’re beyond the breakers. Here the waves are friendly moving hillsides and we are free to bob and dunk (Under? Over!) as the swells, enchanted, roll in. Soaring uplift. Playful drop. Giddy exhilaration. It never occurred to me, eight years old, not to follow my father. I never considered that I might not be able to do it, to learn the rules and repeat his steps. Beyond the breakers was where I belonged.
    - Ellen Orleans



When I was a child, I used to go swimming in the summer in a pond on the edge of our village. I would go there sometimes with my cousins, sometimes with my classmates. At first I was just splashing around, because I didn't know how to swim. I think I was a little scared. The water wasn't very deep, but I was most afraid of leeches, which I considered a kind of aquatic vampire. I felt like it was possible that I could run out of blood. One day, some older boys, noticing that I was just tickling the water, rushed at me to catch me and “baptize” me. They grabbed my hands and feet and forced me deeper into the water. I swallowed a few mouthfuls, but after that, I don't know how, miraculously, I started to hit the water hard with my hands and feet and so I moved away from those boys who now looked at me in amazement. It was a useful lesson, because after that I was not afraid of water at all.
    - Florin C. Ciobica



This urban creek is the center of my universe. To be in its presence is to be aware of the changing seasons, to feel and to hear the passage of time: fish splashing among the rocks as they move upstream to spawn each spring, the annual return of the King Fisher and the Great Blue Heron, and the sighting of downy-feathered ducklings, a lumbering raccoon, or a water snake hidden among the muddy grasses. It is the near trickle of a rainless summer and the rush following a torrential cloudburst, the drift of red-yellow apples escaping from upstream orchards in the fall, the formation of gray ice in the winter, and the thundering ice flows as temperatures once again moderate toward spring. Here, the creek mimics the sound of rain when it is not raining, and waves, though we are far from the sea. It’s the place where children find joy throwing stones — kerplop! — and launching Poohsticks. It is here where friends and lovers and strangers gather to admire the beauty of the place. To linger. To cherish. This creek is my home. It flows through my heart more strongly than blood. It is part of me.
    - Jim Mazza



“It’s just around the corner, I’m sure. I hear it already.” With a sigh, my husband pushed his walking stick onto the path and propelled himself forward. The winding rocky uphill path proved more difficult than indicated by the park poster at the trailhead. I scampered ahead. Waterfalls have fascinated me since seeing my first picture of Niagara Falls. Power and peacefulness all in one attraction. “Here it is!” I saw it first as we rounded one more stand of mountain laurel. My husband rewarded me with a hug. We stood and watched water cascade over a ledge and fall freely down into a pool below, sending up a fine mist. Power unleashed, running free, then captured below, where after its first furious churnings, it flowed softly out into the woods. We descended along the other trail, where we could keep the water in sight. At bottom, just beyond the pool, on large rocks by that stream, we set up our picnic, looking back at the falls, and enjoyed the stream’s rainbows sparkling in the dappled sunlight that filtered down through the trees.
    - Joan Leotta



A song by REM reminds me of how much I love to go night swimming and how much I love the conflicting feelings it gives me. On the one hand, I feel such freedom . . . weightless and fluid, a ballet dancer like the one I imagine but can never be on land. On the other hand, though, I am terrified. What kind of dark evil could possibly reach up from the depths, drag me under and devour me alive as I gasp for the air that isn’t there? The fear enhances the pleasure . . . a little innocent, platonic S&M between my superwoman  and my scaredy-cat selves.
    - Judy Cogan



It was the sound of water we craved that winter in the frozen northeast coast of our lives. So we put our two little children into the back seat of a VW bug, with books, favorite toys, art pads, and colored pens between them, and we drove west — following the streams and rivers as they flowed, winding through new territory in search of a home where we could hear water sing the rapids through deep woods and open land. Lured by each waterfall, we stoped and gazed and listened, not knowing where we were going or how it would end — immersed in the rush and flow. Even the meandering soothed us. We were looking for home and we kept going, cheerfully, hoping we would know it when we heard it. One night we all fell asleep in a fog and woke in a cloud — ventured out to discover we had reached the other side — the great roar of the Pacific Ocean! We had camped on the edge . . . and we lived here happily ever after.
    - Kath Abela Wilson



A kitchen sink filled with warm water, a soft towel on the drainboard, and in the water, a round-tummied baby. It’s bath time and we give the babies, each in their turn, measuring cups for dipping and pouring, while we suds their hair with Johnson’s No Tears Baby Shampoo. Soon —too soon — the babies are bathing in the tub, where they learn to scrub those not-so-round tummies and shampoo themselves, sometimes fashioning their hair into soapy sculptures. (The unicorn is a favorite.) But as Mom, I still get to enfold them in a towel and hold them, pretending it’s only to help them dry. Many years later, they encounter water in a different way as Hurricane Sandy drives water from New York Bay up Van Brunt Street onto Pioneer Street and into the building where my sons, now grown, live. In moments, the water changes from a trickle to a torrent, rushing down into the basement apartment, bending the heavy door in half and smashing everything inside against the back wall — the new furniture, cherished record and photo collections, the bowls and mugs, the soft towels, folded neatly. Our sons escape, running through the dark streets of Brooklyn in surging, thigh-deep water, urging their two dogs onward to where the car is parked on higher ground. When they call to tell us they’re safe but also what has been lost, our hearts leap and break. And my eyes fill with tears.
    - Kathleen Kramer



I would have spoken suburb, growing up on Continental Drive, a little orchard in the back yard, Twelve Corners Middle School. But my parents were too restless for that, and one Sunday they took a three-hour drive north to look at a lake from a newspaper ad; then they quit their jobs and moved there. I was three months old. So I spoke water instead, and quartz sand, and boat. Each fall the lakeblue would deepen, and muskrats and minks foraged for clams in plain view, with the seasonal people gone. Winters, the cold hard freeze set into the bay. The islands had been vacated, and the ice pulled them closer to us; now they sat in walking distance. Meanwhile, fish still conducted their business near the mucky bottom. In the less-brutal air of spring, the ice became a huge drumskin playing its own funeral song, like a local bomb, like the deepest loud gong, letting go. Freed, the lake climbed stone steps to the underbellies of cabins that stood on stilts for this reason. The summer lake, of course, receded rippling or raging into its basin — the few warm months we had, before it spoke its winter tongue again.
    - Laurinda Lind

 

 

It was all about the minnows. I abandoned my sandwich on our blanket mid-picnic and followed the grass to a short wall rimming the lake. A fallen willow branch, thin like my father’s bamboo fly rod he liked to whip in the backyard, lay at my feet. I used to chase his small yellow training weights flickering in the grass after each cast. The lake that afternoon seemed full of those pale darting fish and I just knew my rod could catch them. By the third stroke of my imagination I’d lost my balance and tumbled into the water, losing the willow and a shoe. The next summer my father gave me a short fly rod for my eighth birthday and a few backyard casting lessons from his end of the line.
    - Lorraine A Padden



Standing on the hump, barely able to see over the seat back, I peer between Mama and Daddy’s heads, waiting, knowing I will see it soon. They told me I have seen it before but I was too little to remember. I see the top of a carousel. Exciting for a three-year old, but not it. Daddy says I will be able to see it over the next small rise in the road. Then, between the dunes, sparkling in the sunlight, there it is — turquoise trimmed in white. Sixty-seven years later and at every first glimpse of the ocean I am three again, seeing it for the first time. No matter its mood or how often I see it, still in love.
    - Margaret Walker


I’m in my mid-twenties, sad and unmoored, but less sad having left the east for California. My current boyfriend takes me to the Yosemite Valley. He, his brothers, and some friends, spend the days bouldering and talking about when they scaled El Capitan. I’m unathletic, and my body is disabled from a bout of swine flu — with surgery and long hospitalization — just a few years before. I don’t even really like camping, but am content to sit in the shade of a great rock and read. We go to admire the historic lodge, the Ahwahnee Hotel. A cool blue swimming pool sits in the middle of the outdoor dining room. “Let’s jump in,” someone suggests. That’s all I need, as I love water so much. I strip, leave my clothes in a pile, and leap in, as do all the guys. In a fast minute, security guards with walkie-talkies chase us off. I grab my clothes, and quickly get dressed. The refreshing water changes everything. I’m no longer a nerd, low-status, unable to climb. I’m bold and fearless, naked and fun. I’ll never see any of these guys again — and the boyfriend and I will part ways soon enough. However, I have impressed the group with my transformation into a water nymph. And there is one person who will remain impressed. Me.
    - Miriam Sagan



I didn’t start out planning to be a thief but it happened on my 1977 boat trip. A 22 foot sailboat allows only sponge baths using a pot of water heated on the kerosene stove. You can stay reasonably clean but not like in a cascading, warm shower. Overnights at a marina were only when the laundry piled up too high to easily row it in and the galley needed a major restocking. Over and over, on short stops for gas and water, I offered to pay for a shower. Every single marina owner lifted his or her nose in disdain and said no. I planned the next step carefully. Most marinas had their shower facilities in with the toilets, which they would let you use. I began to pack clean underpants, shampoo, soap, and a small towel in a tote bag on these stops and managed to take a shower within three or four minutes. A record, I’m sure. With my wet hair tucked into my sailing hat and clean underpants on my bottom, I nonchalantly strolled back to the dock. Once on board I changed my tee shirt and let the sun and fresh air in the cockpit dry my squeaky-clean hair. A sailing couple I traveled with from time to time laughingly dubbed me “the shower thief.” The name stuck.
    - Pris Campbell



Looking back at early childhood, my behavior bordered on juvenile delinquency. Mom insisted on tests to convince teachers advanced classes would challenge a bored and restless mind, and they did. But the supercharged body had a mind and wild spirit of its own. Enter swimming lessons, and competition. Butterfly the stroke of choice. A Mark Spitz poster in the closet. The races became a contest between water and muscles slapping and pulling and thrusting. But then a magical rhythm came together. A dissolution of duality, a melting of muscle and water in a tireless trance, like the harmony of a dolphin breaching the surface for a breath on a straight and purposeful path.     
    - Richard L. Matta



I grabbed a seasonal gig in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, with up-close views of Lake Superior. This is how I repatriated from a far-flung Greek island to the land of my birth. The job ad mentioned bunkhouse accommodations for summer workers. We temp employees only had to show up with sheets and towels. I was adamant about my Greek exit plan. It seemed solid. I booked a one-way ticket (Karpathos-Athens-Istanbul-Chicago-Marquette) and filled my suitcase with hiking boots, active wear, and a set of sheets. My pair of oft-used beach towels would have to double as blankets, and I figured I could probably use a jacket as a pillow. Nothing more would fit in the suitcase. I shared a large, fully-furnished house with eight college interns. During that memorable summer of 2012, a few of them turned 21. I turned 60. There was cake. Our work pace was brisk. Ready to hike, swim, or camp, outdoor enthusiasts showed up in campers, buses, cars, and motorcycles. I loved it, even though Lake Superior felt icy compared to the Aegean Sea. To me, it was worth it not to be worried about jellyfish ever again.
    - Roberta Beach Jacobson



Above me was the silver sheen of the water’s surface. Trapping my ankle against the side of the large rubber raft was a heavy cooler. I struggled to free my leg. That silver sheen felt frighteningly far above me. I gave one more huge wrenching kick — up to air! Gasping, my head above the surface of eastern Oregon’s John Day River, the water rushed me downstream. Joy — Mike’s white head bobbing ahead of me in the white water! Very long moments later, four of us scrambled up the riverbank. Yesterday rafting had been prohibited because of flood water. Today Mike and I had waited until the other rafts with twenty of our friends and cousins were safely launched, then cockily took the oars. We had done this so many times but never in such fast water! Around the bend and not enough time to steer the raft through the arch of the bridge. It snagged a tree rammed up against the bridge and flipped. Safe in the sagebrush my lower leg was numb and multicolored, but I felt euphoric. We were all alive! And the silver sheen of the river — below us now — still beckoned.
    - Ruth Yarrow



Oh, how I hate plumbing. But I know that it's necessary, and I do appreciate the plumbers who have worked on the old fixtures, faucets and such in my apartment, then my house, to stop leaks, clear drains, undo mistakes . . . . Today, the bathroom sink backed up. Completely. No amount of plunging or poking around in the trap could unclog it. The test will come tomorrow when the plumber takes a long, hard look at the situation. I dread the scene but hope the pipes will be fully cleaned out so I can get on with my life. My plea: water flowing, but only where, when, and how we want it.
     - Theresa A. Cancro



When I was three I walked way down back to the creek by myself. Had Mom taken me there once . . . was that how I knew the wonders of water awaiting me? There are Sirens in the sea and Sprites in creeks that call a person beyond reason. What I remember most is my mother calling my name. I was faraway and her voice usually soft was loud with fear but I didn’t emerge from the woods right away. I was deliciously alone and hated to give it up but there was a beginning of a conscience in me which finally sent me up the hill in sight of the adults searching for me and the beginning of a secret life too when I pretended to have “wandered off” and set me off on a life full of wandering.  
    - Tina Wright



My sister and I are missing summer camp, but it is still only October. In the back of our bedroom closet is a cardboard box with the word CAMP written on the side in black magic marker. We are not supposed to open that box. We open that box. It’s Sunday morning, early, our parents are still sleeping in the next room. We don’t make a sound as we pull out our bathing suits and put them on over our pajamas. It’s not easy, but we do it. Then we sit down in the middle of our bedroom, on the hard cold wooden floor, and imagine we are in two row boats, in the middle of the lake, at our sleep-away camp in Bear Mountain. We sing, very softly: “Row Row Row Your Boat.” We sing “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore.” We sing “Deep Blue Sea, Willie, Deep Blue Sea.” “Try not to cry,” I tell Laura, because she always cries when we get to the part “it was Willie what got drownded in the deep blue sea.” Later, when we’re back in our beds, sitting cross-legged the way we sit in camp, my sister asks me to braid her hair and I do, even though it is pixie-short. She asks if we’ll roast marshmallows at the cookout that night. I assure her that we will. Because everything is possible — before our parents wake up.
    - Zee Zahava