Sometimes I find flowers under my pillow.
Sometimes I am surprised by an animal in my dream, a polar bear or a duck.
Sometimes I wake up laughing.
Sometimes I like to walk with no destination in mind, just to see what might happen and to discover where I might go.
Sometimes I photograph every rock I see on my walk.
Sometimes I wake in the night knowing the solution to a problem and I wonder why I didn't think of it sooner.
Sometimes I feel like I should call my mother even though she is no longer alive.
Sometimes I get bored and behave badly, blowing raspberries at people who think they know everything (and who never stop talking).
Sometimes I write out lengthy, detailed to-do lists, then doggedly ignore them.
Sometimes I am jealous of the shorebirds.
Sometimes I just want to bury my hands in cool soil.
Sometimes I miss people who never existed.
Sometimes my heart beats quickly all night long and I worry about that.
Sometimes I take slow deep calming breaths and sometimes I just hold my breath for no reason at all.
Sometimes I fear I won’t ever do anything creative again.
Sometimes I look at myself in the mirror and give myself a really really really big smile.
Sometimes I wonder where all the time has gone.
Sometimes I need to go for a long walk in order to calm my mind.
Sometimes I am lost in familiar places.
Sometimes the past is more vivid than the here and now.
Sometimes I wonder: what is the point of everything?
Sometimes, just before I wake, I think that I’m falling.
Sometimes I say hello to someone on the street, thinking they are a stranger, but it turns out that I actually know them (or I once knew them).
Sometimes, while walking through the woods, I stoop down to stroke the moss.
Sometimes, if I listen closely, I hear trees whispering poetry.
Sometimes I think I will give up drinking wine. . . and then I laugh.
Sometimes I go to great lengths to avoid running into a person whose energy doesn’t click well with mine.
Sometimes I prefer a meal made up entirely of appetizers.
Sometimes I am so proud of myself.
Sometimes I wish I could be a child again.
Sometimes I try too hard and other times, hardly at all.
Sometimes I forget to proofread.
Sometimes I want to hit people who say mean and awful things, especially about people I love, but then I realize hitting them will not help, so instead I cut them out of my life.
Sometimes I wish I could be as brave and adventurous now (in my 70s) as I was when I was in my 20s.
Sometimes I notice there is no vacuum inside me, no empty time when inspiration could rush in.
Sometimes there is a silent explosion of small green laser lights that recreate the big bang on the porch across the street.
Sometimes I want to give away almost every material possession I own.
Sometimes I want to walk all day around a city I have never been to before.
Sometimes I change the shape of flower beds into curves and half moons.
Sometimes I bring home a basket of jams, ginger cookies, and blueberry muffins from the country store.
Sometimes on Saturdays I change the linens, vacuum the rugs, sweep the floors, and clean out a couple of drawers.
Sometimes I think of my mother and am overcome with tears.
Sometimes I sit in a corner of the couch for the afternoon and write haiku poetry in my spiral notebook.
Sometimes I need to take no medicine at all.
Sometimes at night the moon is too bright to look at directly.
Sometimes I sit in a room full of people and do a crossword puzzle while enjoying all the talk-talk going on around me.
Sometimes the chemo works like magic.
Sometimes the bananas have given up the ghost.
Sometimes rosehip tea gets you a whole winter with no colds.
Sometimes I send love both to the driver and to the cop who pulled the car over.
Sometimes I am Hologram Girl, slipping through key holes, discovering lost poems; sometimes my name is Wind Rider.
Sometimes I am Abuela Luna, Grandmother Spider, or “Wee Sister Strange.”
Sometimes I am “cloud hidden, whereabouts unknown,” living in a mountain hut.
Sometimes I wonder if I will ever be happy again.
Sometimes I can support someone in the best way by not saying a word — just offering love and deep listening.
Sometimes I just want to scream!
Sometimes all I want to do is bundle up in a cozy quilt by the fireplace and be still, as the snow begins to fly.
Sometimes I think I'm right and sometimes I know I'm right.
Sometimes I get lost in thought and turn off my ears.
Sometimes I wake up with a poem in my head that is demanding to be written down.
Sometimes I wonder if loved ones who have died can see and hear us but keep it secret from us most of the time.
Sometimes I wonder if he ever thinks about me and is sorry for what he did.
Sometimes, with the camera in my hand, I have no ideas and I simply point.
Sometimes I want one thing but with a clenched jaw I accept another.
Sometimes my own light is so dim that I am glad for the cloudy day.
Sometimes I am surrounded by the fog in my mind.
Sometimes I wonder if those times were better than these times.
Sometimes I choose to trash all the rules, and do everything my own way.
Sometimes I see a palm tree at sunset and sometimes I see the results of a PET scan.
Sometimes people offer me condolences for having been born.
Sometimes I burn the toast — well, actually, always.
Sometimes I pack up to arrive and sometimes to depart.
Sometimes I miss myself.
Sometimes I watch “Jeopardy!” and know most of the answers but I’m reminded not to get too cocky because I may not know anything on the next episode.
Sometimes I wish my brain could work like a salad spinner so I could pour out excess thoughts.
Sometimes I can sit and eat breakfast for 2-3 hours while listening to NPR.
Sometimes I run out of excuses and need to invent some, which means I can’t be trusted.
Sometimes I turn my hearing aid off to silence the cat's meows.
Sometimes I miss the small greenness of England.
Sometimes American English still surprises me.
Sometimes I wonder what would have been different if my father had come home from the war.
Sometimes I search all morning for my spectacles.
Sometimes I despair of ever having a tidy house.
Sometimes my left shoulder makes a popping sound.
Sometimes I open my box of Susan B. Anthony dollars and just look at them.
Sometimes I want to hide behind a pen name.
Sometimes I feel so confused I don’t know left from right or, for that matter, right from left.
Sometimes I have to remind myself (quite firmly) that it would be better not to have expectations of people and then I would not be disappointed.
Sometimes, like Alice’s queen, I believe six impossible things before breakfast.
Sometimes I wake up with a song I didn’t even remember that I knew running through my head –—with all the lyrics — and I wonder where that was stored in my brain and what I was dreaming to evoke it.
Sometimes I know exactly the words I want to write and then someone speaks to me before I can jot them down — and they are gone forever.
Sometimes I dream I will be healthier again and when that happens I have a list of the truly important things to do.
Sometimes I meet someone and it feels as though I have known them for a very long time.
Sometimes I remember how I used to think I fell in love a lot (it was fun!) — and then I really fell in love and I knew it was very different.
Sometimes I wonder if there will ever be a day I don’t miss you and I wonder why I still can’t cry.
Sometimes I know I need another lifetime because one isn’t enough to do all I want to do.
Sometimes I have a big “come-apart” (and for those who don't know, it is a giant step up from a “hissy fit”) but at least it passes quickly.
Sometimes I sit in the 3 a.m. silence with a cup of hot tea and I don’t think of anything, or maybe I do, but my thoughts are so fleeting that they almost aren’t there at all, and I wonder if this is a kind of daydreaming.
Sometimes I get myself into a situation that I quickly want to get out of.
Sometimes I wish I lived closer to train tracks.
Sometimes living with another person is nearly impossible.
Sometimes the life of a hermit feels appealing to me.
Sometimes I think things will get better.
Sometimes the mountain of stuff I have collected and saved is the treasure I always thought it would be.
Sometimes I'd like to go back in time and revisit my childhood era again.
Sometimes the world tilts ever-so-slightly under my feet.
Sometimes it is nice to be alone.
Sometimes I worry about being alone.
Sometimes I dance to the music inside my head.
Sometimes I regret not setting the oven timer.
Sometimes I can get a little dark.
Sometimes my dog runs and barks in her sleep and I wonder if I ever do that too.
Sometimes my goat looks deeply into my eyes while I am petting him and he lets out a long, satisfying buuuuurrrrrppppp.
Sometimes I play the piano, always when it is a composition by Ludovico Einaudi, and I make myself cry.
Sometimes I want to run away from home.
Sometimes I want to run towards home.
Sometimes my friendships with women make me feel like I have sisters again.
Sometimes I say yes when I want to say no and sometimes I say no when I want to say yes.
Sometimes I’m all about calamity and convince myself of the reality of dire happenings that never have, and never will, actually occur.
Sometimes I get ahead of myself.
Sometimes just getting out of bed in the morning feels like a tremendous hurdle.
Sometimes three amazing species of woodpeckers visit the feeder in the same hour!
Sometimes I have no idea what to do next.
Sometimes I feel small and insignificant.
Sometimes a rainy day can set things right.
Sometimes between the pages of a book is the best place to be.
Sometimes just the vastness of the sky can make my heart swell with gratitude.
Sometimes I hear your voice inside my head.
Sometimes I wish I didn’t leave things up to chance.
Sometimes I can hear my breath above the din.
Sometimes I read a poem that changes the way I see the world.
Sometimes I am so boring I even bore myself.
Sometimes at the New Year I am full of resolutions.
Sometimes I field test a bad habit.
Sometimes I fold myself into a gray day.
Sometimes I wish I would grow up already; 76 years is too long to be a child.
Sometimes I remember the time I woke up early and ran through the cool dewy grass, arms flying, feeling free, just for the sheer joy of it.
Sometimes I’m smarter than I think.
Sometimes I am so dense I cannot believe I have all those degrees.
Sometimes it is simply too late to do anything about what happened back then.
Sometimes I am shocked to realize I am reading the paper and eating ice cream late at night . . . just like my mother did.
Sometimes I forget that I lost my wedding ring 2 years ago and am surprised when I realize that it's still gone.
Sometimes the clouds look like melted marshmallows.
Sometimes even when I resolve very sincerely to be patient, I become cranky over the littlest things.
Sometimes when it snows I step outside in my bare feet just to feel the reality of its coldness.
Sometimes if I write a small poem that feels true to my heart, I am happy for the whole day, sometimes longer.
Sometimes when I close my eyes, I see my mother’s face and she is talking but I can’t hear what she’s saying.
Sometimes I feel a giant sneeze coming on and I hold my breath to get ready for it but then the sneeze disappears and I’m left with only an “ahhhhh” and no “choooo.”
Sometimes I gently stroke the leaves of my house plants and understand they can "feel" my energy because later they look a little perkier in the afternoon sun.
Sometimes I add a little blackberry jam to my scrambled eggs, not just for the taste of sweet with salty, but also for the purple and yellow contrast on my plate.
Sometimes I surprise myself when I hear a French song on the radio or TV and understand every word.
Sometimes when I'm walking on the beach at night I imagine I'm a mermaid and what that would be like, always able to move freely through the ocean depths.
Sometimes I take out my old pink pumps from the back of the closet and put them on, but I always end up putting them back because they pinch my toes too much.
Sometimes the purple martins return to their condos in spring, sometimes they don't, and then I wonder if they decided to stay down in the verdant rainforests of Brazil.
Sometimes I don’t know what to write.
Thank you to all these wonderful contributors:
C. Robin Janning
Deborah Burke Henderson
Ellen Shapiro Wiernicki
Kath Abela Wilson
Roberta Beach Jacobson
Sharon K. Yntema
Terri L. French
Theresa A. Cancro
Collective Writing Projects curated by Zee Zahava
Monday, December 12, 2022
Sometimes: a collective list
Thursday, November 10, 2022
Yesterday — a collective list about Tuesday, November 8, 2022, written on Wednesday, November 9, 2022
Yesterday morning I went outdoors to see the moon’s eclipse at 5:15, dim and red, in and out of the clouds, and then cars started driving into our apartment parking lot and it took me a puzzled minute to remember that this is a polling place and those blessed volunteers were showing up to help us vote.
Yesterday I tuned a nylon-string guitar.
Yesterday I cleaned acorns out of the gutters but I left a few acorns to sprout in the gravel; later I read an article about bread made from acorn flour.
Yesterday I discovered that a shellac record I’d found in a charity shop was 107 years old.
Yesterday I checked the weather repeatedly for news of this oncoming hurricane and I pulled out two storm lanterns in preparation.
Yesterday I worked on a poem to read to medical students about the head-on collision I was in at 15.
Yesterday I thought about my friend recovering from cancer, whom I dreamed about the night before.
Yesterday, without a sideways glance, a female deer bounded across my path and later I saw two bucks grazing silently in the graveyard.
Yesterday my garden Buddha smiled through a dusting of new snow.
Yesterday I forgave myself for eating all of the York Peppermint Patties.
Yesterday I was scorned by a heron who took off with a squawk.
Yesterday I counted my blessings and stalled at number three.
Yesterday I thought I saw a black snake wriggling down the street but when I got closer I could tell it was a beautiful scarf, probably silk, that must have blown off someone’s head.
Yesterday I said the Sh’ma Yisrael.
Yesterday I walked in the neighborhood amid sunflower heads of seed, a drooping Jack-o-lantern, and an abandoned and dirty rabbit costume.
Yesterday I passed a funeral, resplendent with a dozen tow trucks, presumably the profession of the deceased.
Yesterday I called my daughter, whose household has covid.
Yesterday I paid to have a poem translated into Cherokee.
Yesterday I talked to myself sternly about making this a good day, no matter what else was going on.
Yesterday I saw a short video clip of an old friend and at first I didn’t realize it was her, she looked so different to me, but as soon as she started to speak I recognized her voice.
Yesterday I remembered my father again and regretted not being with him in his last moments of life.
Yesterday I had a terrible headache which I treated first with three different half pills and later with a cocktail.
Yesterday I played tennis but not very well and my partner got really angry with me because he's a guy who doesn't know how to lose.
Yesterday autumn made me understand once again how transient we are.
Yesterday I decided my life was far too busy and out of control and the house was too messy and too dirty and everything, even my computer, needed reorganizing and I wondered what I was going to not do so I would have more time to just be.
Yesterday I ordered the boxes of pecan halves — roasted and salted ones, dark chocolate-covered ones, and praline ones — from Young’s Pecan Plantation, just as I have every year and my parents did before me.
Yesterday I searched online for a new audiobook but none seemed as interesting as the ones I have already listened to so many times; they now lull me to sleep each night.
Yesterday I made a quick trip to a local bookstore and could have happily stayed all day.
Yesterday I decided I needed the gift of a daily “something just for fun” — sometimes planned, sometimes not — despite my “to-do” list.
Yesterday I scored higher in my Italian Wordle game than in the English one and I wondered if I should move abroad.
Yesterday I wanted to email my daughter to remind her to schedule important medical tests and I did not — because I thought she might stubbornly put it off more if I nagged.
Yesterday I fell asleep at nine o’clock and realized my battle with the time change is not over.
Yesterday I went into a new bakery in town and tasted a small bite of a pastry that looked good but it didn’t taste good, which is a relief because now I won’t be tempted to go into that bakery ever again.
Yesterday I was awakened by wind chimes at 4 a.m. and was startled by the sight of Orion, leaping over the oak tree.
Yesterday I heard Cat Stevens crooning “Moon Shadow” while watching the total eclipse.
Yesterday I suffered angst and joy while watching election results.
Yesterday at Dunkin’ Donut the manager told a young man to use only 3 pieces of bacon per order, “You are putting 5 pieces on the muffin and it’s killing my inventory, my profits.”
Yesterday I wondered for the zillionth time, why do we vote when the sun is in Scorpio?
Yesterday I made kimchi for the first time — napa cabbage, carrots, and purple watermelon radish — but I don’t know if I got it right.
Yesterday I took even shorter breaks while bicycling since it gets cold now sometimes when I rest.
Yesterday I worried about a friend who I cannot take care of.
Yesterday I went out walking in the dark for the first time in a very very long while.
Yesterday I didn't see the blood red moon again.
Yesterday my cat, Cody, ate nothing.
Yesterday I returned five pairs of pants that didn't fit.
Yesterday I was the Tuesday Cribbage Champion!
Yesterday I did not listen to the news.
Yesterday I wasted time looking for my glasses.
Yesterday I cut open an avocado and — oh no! — too late.
Yesterday I removed an attached tick from my lower abdomen.
Yesterday I went to get a few groceries that ended up costing $117.32.
Yesterday my wife confronted me about whether I have been feeding a rabbit in our yard.
Yesterday I gave extra special attention to my dear cat who has inoperable cancer.
Yesterday I went out to buy the cheapest leaf rake I could find, and along the way brought home a Ficus benghalensis (Audrey).
Yesterday I started painting the moon.
Yesterday I spent time looking at art created by both friends and strangers.
Yesterday I was waylaid by the blue shadow on the wall . . . again.
Yesterday, reluctantly, I talked to the phone company about getting a new cellphone.
Yesterday was bitter cold and we had to cover the plants on our porch with a blanket.
Yesterday I helped my sister-in-law perfect her apple pie recipe by eating a giant slice.
Yesterday I ordered more paper for the printer because I can't see typos unless I hold them in my hand.
Yesterday I lit a candle in the dark.
Yesterday I finished hand-tying my latest comfort quilt for “The Power of the Quilt Project.”
Yesterday my favorite fifteen minutes were spent watching three dark-eyed Juncos, harbingers of winter, join in with the regular crowd at our patio feeder.
Yesterday I crafted a “happy distraction” poem.
Yesterday a friend came to visit and she brought home-baked treats (delicious and also healthy) as well as a jar of pickled carrots; we sat and drank hibiscus tea and talked about everything.
Yesterday I didn't read or send even one email.
Yesterday I shredded fresh ginger into my cup of vanilla yogurt.
Yesterday I arranged kindling and split wood in the fireplace for a cozy evening.
Yesterday I received an invitation from my enthusiastic cousins to attend a family reunion.
Yesterday I enjoyed my second cup of coffee with a piece of Drunken Blonde Fruitcake recently carried home from the Black Cat Bakery in Sharon Springs.
Yesterday my friend and I planned to meet for a late-afternoon beer at The Greenhouse Café and Cocktail Lounge but I ended up canceling because I felt as if I were coming down with something.
Yesterday I took a home-antigen test, discovered it was negative, and realized that anytime I don’t feel well the automatic assumption is a case of COVID-19.
Yesterday I read twenty-two chapters of Orhan Pamuk’s captivating book, “Nights of Plague,” yet still have 550 pages to go.
Yesterday my phone informed me that I walked 6,741 fewer steps than the day before (groan!).
Yesterday I couldn’t afford books in the store so I wrote down titles.
Yesterday gets an asterisk because we slept in the same bed.
Yesterday the back of my neck was itchy again.
Yesterday I held my mother’s wrist so her signature would hit the line.
Yesterday the apple crisp staggered under an inch of sugar topping.
Yesterday I shoved the ugly metal filing cabinet into the bedroom closet.
Yesterday I rearranged all the bookends.
Yesterday I shredded two months of junk mail to recycle.
Yesterday I was woken up by my son laughing in his sleep.
Yesterday I struggled to find a place in my kitchen to fit the leftover birthday candles.
Yesterday I collected pinecones of all sizes and walked carefully home with them in my pockets.
Yesterday I dyed papers with tea bags to “antique” them.
Yesterday I sat in the chilly fall sunshine and basked like a cat with no responsibilities.
Yesterday I stepped in a puddle and regretted wearing flip-flops.
Yesterday I stopped at the grocery store to buy Gatorade, popsicles, and crackers for my daughter who was sick.
Yesterday I watched “Enola Holmes 2” with my daughter and halfway through, she fell asleep.
Yesterday I cancelled my book club meeting for the first time in seven years.
Yesterday it was dark and rainy when I drove my son off for band practice and I was relieved to make it back home safely.
Yesterday I did not do any work and it felt good because I had been feeling burnt out.
Yesterday I tap danced with a happy posse of dried leaves as we clicked our way down the sidewalk, twirling together with each gust of wind.
Yesterday I listened to my heart, not my head, and received and received and received.
Yesterday I awoke without the weight of somewhere to go, after day upon day of going, and by mid-morning going didn’t seem like a weight at all, so I went.
Yesterday my dates for dinner ordered pesto pasta and pasta with butter and then these old souls, of five and seven years, talked of geography, astronomy, relationships, and emotions; I think we’ll date again.
Yesterday I sat with two sweet grandchildren on either side of me, cozy in their pjs, and read to them before bedtime.
Yesterday I gladly touched the smooth wooden bannister walking down the stairs.
Yesterday I imagined winning a prize for . . . any number of possible achievements, and who doesn’t love a prize, yay!
Yesterday I couldn’t imagine that I’d grown so old.
Yesterday I cancelled an obligation just so I could stay home and watch the Tournament of Champions on “Jeopardy!”
Yesterday I ate a small bowl of cereal for breakfast which took just long enough for me to read two poems by Billy Collins.
Yesterday I swept a bushel of rustling leaves off the back porch; some blew back on.
Yesterday I looked around my bedroom and realized that, from the watercolor above the dresser, to the music box that plays “Edelweiss,” to the framed Gary Lawson cartoon on the nightstand, nearly everything I loved was a gift from someone who loved me.
Yesterday as I walked to my car I heard a little whistling sound and laughed to realize it was the wind blowing through my hoop earrings.
Yesterday I listened to the trees full of starlings, all talking excitedly about their upcoming journey.
Yesterday I watched a movie about old people trying to escape from a nursing home; it made me laugh and it also scared me.
Yesterday I cut back the peony which was blocking my view of the red house.
Yesterday I wondered if the geese could see me walking my dog in the field.
Yesterday I bought fresh strawberries at the food co-op, taking a chance at deliciousness.
Yesterday I took a picture of the pink cloud at dawn.
Yesterday I had laser surgery to have a kidney stone removed.
Yesterday at the grocery store, while in the pickle section, I decided to buy a jar of sweet gherkins, which reminded me of how Mom used to tuck them into her tuna salad sandwiches.
Yesterday I carefully pried off eight pups from my mini barrel cactus and planted each in its own tiny planter beside the window.
Yesterday, after googling the history of a tune from the late sixties, I went down a rabbit hole of dozens of songs from my childhood and adolescence, bringing up so many memories.
Yesterday I talked of tree trunks and tree limbs and knotty hefty stumps, and it was not metaphor, it was not poetry, but a fire hazard pile of real trunks, limbs, and stumps that need to go.
Yesterday I looked at the moon, bone white and bright, a different moon and the same, high in the nearly midnight sky.
Yesterday I took a long walk along streets I’ve never walked before, and wrote 20 haiku.
Yesterday I read poetry while listening to the news.
Yesterday I tried to write down everything I did in real time but sometimes I forgot what I was doing.
Yesterday I faced all the cracks in the walls and tried to imagine how to fill them.
Yesterday I decided not to find out.
Yesterday was a day of sunshine, sandpaper, and spinach linguine.
Yesterday I wondered about the future.
Contributors to this text mosaic:
C. Robin Janning
Deborah Burke Henderson
Florin C. Ciobica
Kath Abela Wilson
kris moon kondo
Lorraine A Padden
Roberta Beach Jacobson
Theresa A. Cancro
Thursday, October 13, 2022
clothing (and accessories): short pieces on a theme
Not quite sure why I held on to your ripped red-and-white striped short pjs since you almost died in them over 40 years ago. I kept them in a desiccated brown paper bag. You died not long after that terrible illness, and most of your family is gone now, dead, too, or distant; only our son might want to take a look at them, and it might be one way he could know you differently. Recently I vetoed that. He is just too fragile. Over the years I’ve told him stories, yours and ours, but he’s never quite heard them. And that’s okay: he’s a father now with his own lovely lively son. I dreamed about him, our beautiful son, when he was young, his wisdom, wordless though loud, the night before I burned your candy-striped pjs, godless prayers said over the uneven flames with my wife, our son’s generous stepmother, right alongside me, a truly long goodbye.
- Alan Bern
My granddad has his own drawer. The things that we couldn’t give to the shop for abandoned cats live in it. There’s a monogrammed handkerchief; a pair of aspirational cuff links I never once saw him wear; a paisley cravat. And a tie with a miners’ lamp crest. It’s what they handed him for forty years working in the dark and wet, hand-picking black gold till his lungs filled with the dust that eventually drowned him. A tie. Not a silk tie, a cheap polyester tie that faded fast in the weak northern light.
In 1958 I was in kindergarten at First Presbyterian Church. One of my best friends, Candy Kegareese, was a cute little girl with a bob haircut and sweet smile, who had a LOT of shoes. It seemed like she wore a different pair every day, and the first time I went to her house she opened her closet and on the floor were all the shoes, lined up in neat rows, each pair awaiting their turn to be put on her five-year-old feet. My favorites were the little white ones, soft leather with worn toes, narrow straps, and a little button that fastened on the top of her foot. I’m not so sure that it was Candy’s shoes that ignited my longing, but it was most surely part of it. Ricky Marshall had a lot of shoes too. He was my same age and lived next door to our house, 1301 Don Avenue. With my pleading, he would bring his black snap-tongue shoes and his white bucks over to the side yard between our two houses for me to try on. The snap-tongue shoes slipped easily on my feet, the snap closing with its tinny clicking sound, and I was delighted. Who knows what Ricky thought of my innocent tomboy self coveting his shoes, but he cheerfully went along with it, quietly watching me as I stood up, in stillness, staring down at my small feet, inhabiting a self of dreams.
- Ann Carter
Clothes – wearing apparel. Clothes they were. Apparel, a more dignified word, they were not. England, 1949, girls’ boarding school uniform for ages 11-18. Everyday — green V-neck, knee-length, sleeveless tunic; green and white striped blouse; green and red striped tie; knee-length woolen socks; clunky lace-up walking shoes. A green cloak for walking on the school grounds. Sundays in winter — scratchy, sackcloth-like jacket and skirt, just below the knee; white blouse; green tie; same socks and shoes; add one flat cowpat-like beret. Sundays in summer — one green dress falling just below the knee, with smocking along the top part, a sash, a cream-colored Peter Pan collar; the same socks and shoes (and unplanned-for dark sweat stains under the armpits). A bad imitation of a boys’ school uniform. An attempt to make us “uniform” since it was worn by all: rich/poor, pretty/ugly, etc. But of course, it didn’t make us “uniform.” Some girls could wear anything with a flair, and some of us looked like unmade beds no matter what.
- Antonia Matthew
I became fashion-conscious as a new attorney in the 1970s. This required an investment in a quality wardrobe, on top of payments for school loans. Women attorneys adopted a uniform, usually a tailored suit in a boring neutral color with a pin on the jacket and a silk blouse with a bow tied at the neck. In the 1980s, fashion became more dramatic — shoulder pads and very high heels — and pantsuits found their way into the law office and courtroom. A decade later, sheath dresses with matching jackets appeared, a more glamorous look with the right jewelry. In big city law firms, dress codes remained conservative, except maybe for that silly casual Friday exception. In my smaller local office, fashion loosened up to the point where I wore leggings, ankle boots, and a stylish jacket over a turtle neck sweater. After retiring in 2016, I donated or consigned my entire business wardrobe. I admit that my legal career was inextricably connected to my appearance. I felt it inspired confidence in my clients that their lawyer knew how to make a strong impression not only on them but on adversaries and judges. Now, I am free to suit myself, pun happily intended!
- Barrie Levine
Jeans are my favorite part of my collection of clothes. Wardrobe is too fancy a word for me. All I need is a pair of Levi 501 jeans, a pull-over shirt, plus an overshirt of some nature, with a large pocket or two. Buffalo plaid is mighty fine. I’ve always hated shopping for clothes in the women’s department of a store. Sizes vary with every line. A large here is a medium there. A small over there becomes a petite large here. I get dizzy and bored out of my mind. Thank God I wandered over to the men’s side one day when I was maybe 18. I saw the giant stacks of Levi jeans and I was immediately drawn to them. I almost cried with relief when I realized that all I needed to know, to find the perfect pair, was my waist measurement in simple inches and my inseam length (though rolling up the cuffs was okay too). Way back then I chose a button fly instead of a zipper. This formula has not changed for almost six decades now. It is one of the most consistent aspects of my life.
- Blue Waters
My mother’s ghost pads around the house when I’m trying to write. The soft sound of her white moccasins on hardwood reminds me that I’m more like Mother than I care to admit. I’m wearing blue cotton socks and indigo clogs, lined with cotton fluff that sound like her moccasin shuffle. I change into them one second after coming home. These slippers and their scuffing sound comfort me, and my feet like to squirm and squiggle inside them while I’m playing Wordle. The slippers keep me warm at night while I write the day’s haiku. That’s when I hear her sneaking up behind me, watching me write, and I can feel her thinking, “I always said you should write a book, so what’s that you’re scribbling?” She may or may not not know how many poems I’ve written about her. She wouldn’t understand haiku, but she’s glad she always told me to write a book. I can imagine the cigarette in her mouth and smell the smoke. That’s how I know who she is.
- Carole Johnston
“Wear the clothes, don’t let the clothes wear you,” was the advice given to me upon attending what was referred to as “charm school” for awkward teens like me back in the early ‘60s. I developed a sense of style that suited me, preferring neutrals, with color used only as accents. One night I went against this advice and wore an ice-blue brocade dress to a Christmas party with my first real boyfriend. It had a shimmer. When we arrived my heart sank when I saw all the girls wearing sweater sets and flat shoes. I was overdressed! Worse, I would find out I was brought to the party to be dumped and introduced to his new girlfriend as they cuddled together on a couch. She wore a soft cashmere sweater set. Humiliated, a kind friend drove me home. To this day, I can’t wear patterns or sparkling clothes. I feel they draw attention away from who I am. I would share this deep humiliation with my daughter when she suffered her first heartbreak. It helped. I will never own a sweater set. But, like the Inuit myth of Crow bringing a ball of light to dispel the darkness, a small part of me is still drawn to sparkly things.
- Carole MacRury
Sitting at her trusty Singer Featherweight, Mum carefully chose colorful fabrics to create matching dresses for my sister, Robin, and me. Mum was an identical twin and that powered her passion to dress her daughters alike, even though we were two years apart in age. My favorite were those neon-orange bug dresses we wore to church when I was eight and Rob was ten. The sleeveless bodices were a fiery hue, as lively and cheerful as the floral compositions Mum painted in oils. The full swing skirts and shawl collars, however, were cut from a bolt with larger-than-life insects dangling on a white background. Her love of nature became our own. Even now, a teeny red-and-black ladybug, or a grasshopper, reminds me of those dresses and makes me smile.
- Deborah Burke Henderson
When I was a child, shoe-buying was both an exciting and humiliating experience. I remember heading to Vose’s Shoe Store with my mother to buy a new pair of saddle shoes, all the rage in the mid-forties when I was ten years old. Mr. Vose himself measured my foot and slipped on the shiny brown-and-white shoes with his fancy shoehorn. Then he led me to the fluoroscope machine to check the fit. This machine was made of wood and looked rather like a pulpit. I slid my feet into the opening at the bottom, then looked through a porthole in the top to view the x-ray of my foot bones inside the new shoes. Mr. Vose and my mother looked through their own portholes on either side. When I pointed out that the shoes were at least an inch too long, my mother said, “That’s good because your feet are still growing and these shoes will last you a long time.” “I can’t walk in these clodhoppers! They look like clown shoes!” I protested loudly. “My friends will laugh at me!” We left the store with the shoes in a box under my mother’s arm and feelings of mortification in my heart.
- Emily Johnson
You know how you can’t let yourself get rid of those favorite shirts with all the holes in them? Today I was hanging out with Alan, he was wearing a black T-shirt with big rents in it, one under each arm. And I thought, I wouldn’t wear a shirt like that. For one thing, I would think I was putting my arm through the sleeve and the sleeve would end up perched on my shoulder. Remember that T-shirt I got in the museum in Mexico, the museum where they had the bullet-riddled car Pancho Villa was ambushed in? The T-shirt was posing as a recruiting poster for Pancho Villa’s army. I liked the idea, but the design wasn’t even authentic-looking. I wore it as a pajama shirt for years. When I threw it out yesterday there were several small holes in the back and some picture elements had faded completely away. I could have washed it again, worn it again. I have so many T-shirts, I told myself as I hesitated. It’s time.
- Glenn Ingersoll
I'm a jeans and sweatshirt kinda guy. T-shirt, jeans, and sweatshirt. But I always put on a shirt with a collar on days I see Mom. Something tells me it's one more little piece of order in her days that have a little less order than they used to. Or maybe it's for me. Hard to tell. Hard to tell much of anything these days. Hard to tell.
- Ian M. Shapiro
When I was nine my family moved from the Bronx to a small house in California. It was the first house we had ever lived in. There was a chicken farm across the road and, further down, a small ranch where I got to know a boy named Norm Sargent. The day we moved in, I opened the door of the closet in the bedroom I shared with my younger brother. We couldn’t believe our eyes. The closet was full of cowboy gear left by the former owner — Stetson hats, boots, leather chaps, fringed vests, even a few (empty) holsters. Though the outfits were too large for me, I did my best and swaggered down the road to Norm’s house. He was out back feeding the horses. “Who or what do you think you are?” he asked. “I’m a cowboy,” I said. “Ain’t no such thing as a Jew cowboy,” he snorted. Years later, I thought of Norm when I came across a book at the UCLA library. Bound in fringed calfskin, it was called “The Jewish Gauchos of the Pampas.”
- Jack Goldman
When my father, Joe, died nearly two decades ago, my mailbox overflowed with condolence notes. The volume of cards and warm sentiments should not have surprised me: my father was well liked. What came as a complete shock was a lengthy, handwritten letter from a colleague of mine, long retired, with whom I had worked closely for several years. It began: “Dear Jim, I’m sorry for your loss. Your dad was a great man but, of course, you know this. What you probably don’t know is that Joe was a friend of mine for nearly sixty years. I met your father at Morris’ Menswear in 1948, when he sold me my first blue blazer.” (The blue blazers my father sold to hundreds of young Cornell undergraduates were, in his strongly-held opinion, essential to their future success.) The letter went on to trace a friendship that continued through their simultaneous deployment to Fort Dix during the Korean War and many other, happier events in the years that followed. I knew absolutely none of this. Yet, my father’s love of a good blue blazer resonated. “That blazer looked awfully sharp,” our mutual friend recalled, “I’ve always had Joe to thank for that!”
- Jim Mazza
When I was in fourth grade my school added an over-the-heart pocket to our navy-blue uniform jumpers. In the first week of school, I noticed several friends had started putting linen, lace, or cotton “hankies” in those pockets. The splash of color or design made their uniforms “different.” Individual. I liked that idea. As soon as I got home I asked my fashion-loving mother if I could buy some hankies. Delighted that I was showing even a small interest in fashion, my mother agreed, and also offered “something for right now.” She pulled out a box from her dresser and showed me her handkerchief collection. Many were colored, edged in lace. Mom handed me the box. “They’re yours now.” I was enchanted by these elegant, lovely squares, the first items of clothing I ever really cared about. The next day, Mom helped me fold a green cotton lace-trimmed hankie so it neatly peeked out from my uniform pocket. Although I never became obsessed with fashion, I began to appreciate how clothing can make a person feel wonderful and individual. I no longer wear a uniform, but I still cherish that box of handkerchiefs.
- Joan Leotta
I never wore one, but it was all those days out in the sun selling my jewelry at the art show that did it. My friend lost her patience with me and came to my red-orange-yellow-green-blue-indigo-violet velour-pillowed display with a gift. Handmade by her. Covered with flowers. For goodness sake, she said, you need a display on your head. And that was the start of it all.
- Kath Abela Wilson
It was perfect. Purchased on a whim with no idea where or when I would wear it in those early teaching days. Far more than I should be spending. It called my name. Serendipity. A month later I had to attend a formal dinner with dancing. The perfect dress. Fabric like the softest old tee shirt. A slender crimson column falling from spaghetti straps to my feet. Slit to the knee on one side. Perfect for dancing. A tiny matching jacket for cool nights. High above the streets of Atlanta we danced for hours. (What was his name?) I must have worn it many times between the first and last time. Perhaps to formal weddings. On a hot sultry late summer night I wore it on another dance floor. Stars bright above the sea we headed for the beach, wading into the surf. Last dance to the music of the incoming waves. The damp sandy dress still perfect. Then one fall day, that spill of bright red crimson, the perfect dress, missing — as magically as it had appeared. Never seen again. Still perfect in my mind.
- Margaret Walker
We’re at a wedding reception in an abandoned beachfront mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, the reception ballroom blazing with candles. Torn drapes hang like ghosts from the massive windows. An orchestra has been hired to play waltzes for the duration. My husband’s last two years of land duty after Vietnam are at the base here and a Navy friend of his lives rent free in the caretaker’s apartment in this mansion, the only space with electricity — hence the candles. His job: to keep out intruders and arrange for the football-sized yard to be mowed. He and his now-wife both come from wealth. The room reeks of money. I’m wearing my floppy, wide-brimmed tan hat, my favorite ever, picked up for ten dollars at a discount store. It’s perfect, the way it frames my face, curves down toward my eyes, long hair beneath, brushing my shoulders. It goes with jeans or with a long dress like I’m wearing tonight. I look good and I know it. Partway through, a wealthy friend of the parents walks over and offers to buy the hat for fifty dollars. His wife wants it. I know she thinks it will make her look like me. More hats were there and maybe I could buy another one but if they sold out I’m screwed. I love this hat. I know I can hold out and he’ll give me a hundred. I can tell by his determined look. I think of MY hat dancing away on another woman’s head. I think of my own head with no hat like it to cover it. I say “not for sale.”
- Pris Campbell
After our father's funeral, the family returned to my parents' house. A little later, my sister climbed the stairs to the main bathroom and discovered that the clock there had stopped. She wanted a sign that our Dad was okay by asking him to reactivate the clock, since he had always been our in-house handyman. Sometime later, my sister returned to the bathroom and, mysteriously, the clock had started running again. I wasn't content with the message my sister received. I wanted a sign of my own. A few days later, as I was waiting in the front yard for my partner to get ready to go out to dinner, I spotted a coin caked heavily with dirt. I picked it up and quickly took it to the kitchen and ran it under hot water to clean off the dirt. I discovered that it was not just a quarter but a quarter with the year of my birth: 1954. I burst into tears, knowing that since my dear father was okay, I would be, too. The following day I went to a jewelry store and bought a chain and a bezel to put the precious coin in. That quarter I found is now always around my neck. It goes wherever I go. Sometimes a quarter can become a precious piece of jewelry.
- Robert Epstein
Every August, Mom would take me to a department store to find a new school outfit or two, maybe a pair of shoes, definitely some socks. Every August I rebelled. I didn’t want new clothes. All my girlfriends wore hand-me-downs, and were not forced to wear new clothes. I didn’t want to be an only child anymore. I longed to be like them. I wanted a big sister, or better said, my big sister’s gently-worn clothes. Sometimes I cried in shame because all my outfits came fresh from the store. In my opinion, the only worthwhile lure of department stores was the escalators, the thrill of indoor carnival rides. In sixth grade, a friend and I exchanged mohair sweaters. She got my pink for her blue. I felt empowered after our exchange, but still I longed for an older sister who would provide me with used school attire. In my teen years I discovered the joy of secondhand charity shops, where I could buy jeans and jackets for a few bucks. The racks featured sweatshirts in every color on the planet. To me, it was fashion heaven. To this day, I remain adamant about avoiding new clothes.
- Roberta Beach Jacobson
Dad called it my Sunday-go-to-Meetin' bonnet. I had just turned four. Mom sewed the bonnet of the softest pink corduroy, the pink of a Bonica rose, and lined it with matching pink satin. I stood on the chair behind her, watching as she sewed in the tiny light-filled room off the upstairs hall. The bonnet was a classic Quaker bonnet in shape if not color, with a stiffened brim framing my face and corduroy strings that tied under my chin. Wearing it felt wonderful. The corduroy fabric was deliciously soft. The satin lining slipped easily over my stringy mouse-brown hair. My two pigtails hung down below the bonnet's back. Not very far down — those pigtails were never very long and rarely neat. The past few months hadn’t been easy. We had moved recently and I felt scared of many things. That bonnet, though, with that lovely deep brim, gave me the feeling that I could look out at the world, but the world couldn't see me. I could hide in plain sight. For a shy four year old, it was magical. I hope Mom knew how much I loved it.
- Sue Norvell
Somewhere in the attic there is a bin labeled “baby clothes I want to keep.” Notice the words stop there and don't include an “until” date. Just plain old keep. Maybe forever. The babies in question have grown into agile, lively 5 and 6 year olds now, all limbs and questions. How can I part with the tiny white cardigan she came home from the hospital wearing? Who else could wear the smallest footed pajamas that he wore, all fleece and patterned with baby raccoons? Why do I save them? They’re souvenirs from a place I won’t live again, tokens from a time we’ve moved beyond. Perhaps knowing they’re up there, neatly folded and stowed away, is enough. And when I need proof that these big, beautiful children were once small enough to be carried, I’ll lift off the cover of that bin and see for myself.
- Summer Killian
My mom bought her long fur coat before she and my dad married. By the time I was born, she'd worn it many times over. When I was growing up, she'd toss it on to meet me at the school bus stop or when she took the dog for a walk. She told me it was a “poor person's mink” because it was made of muskrat fur. Still, it was soft and silky, lined in satin, with her initials embroidered inside. I enjoyed drawing it close around me when she left it on the couch. It was certainly a lot less scary than the fox fur stole worn by the woman we usually sat behind in church. I hated the beady eyes of the fox head that bit into its own tail wrapped around the old lady's shoulders. Mom's coat was familiar to me. So familiar that when a piece of it fell off, we decided to make it into something. In her button collection, Mom had a few with owl faces and rhinestone eyes. I sewed a button to the fur, added a safety pin on the back, and called it my “squiggle.” I wore it to the playground where all the kids noticed my new accessory.
- Theresa A. Cancro
Wearing Tingley boots is a real hillbilly look but they’re just the thing to keep your work shoes or hiking shoes dry. Just plain black rubber that stretches as you pull them over your shoes, sometimes you need silicon spray to lubricate the inside or Tingleys are hard to get on. Or you put plastic bags on your shoes to make them slip on. People who grew up on dairy farms sometimes laugh and say “Tingleys!” when they see me wearing those black boots that are commonly found in milking parlors and pastures on the feet of folks caring for cows and calves in mud, manure, and water. The bad thing is the boots can be punctured or torn easily, not boots you can trust around barbed wire. But they last until I wear out the heels now, not farming makes them last longer.
- Tina Wright
In the early 1970s I realized that my childhood love of well-worn clothing that was soft, tattered and not necessarily “clean” was actually becoming fashionable. I took this as a sign that I could, and should, dress down, and wear my same few articles of clothing day after day until they became so worn, dirty, and sporting holes that they were literally falling apart. It became me so happily, and thoroughly the me I wanted to be, but my mother and father were rather distressed at the mess of my appearance and encouraged me to clean up “my act.” Friends at the time were quite accepting and I actually gravitated towards those who were inclined to dress similarly to my own disheveled style. When I graduated from college and got my first job in the library I amazingly found tolerance for my cultivated shabbiness and was very grateful that I had found a job that allowed for an almost “anything goes” attire. Although my first on-the-job performance appraisal noted, in the “room for improvement” section: “Tom dresses, perhaps, too casually for his position in which he interacts with the public.” Soon after this I was given
some specific guidelines about what was okay and what wasn’t, and the slow metamorphosis toward cleaning up a bit began. But throughout the years — 37 years! — I stayed with the library job in large part because I still could dress fairly casually.
- Tom Clausen
Many years ago a woman named Flash Rosenberg wrote a piece called “All the Black Clothes in New York.” She explained that her grandfather, Papa Rosy, a London tailor, bought a lot of black fabric in anticipation of the death of King George, which, he assumed, would be accompanied by a long period of mourning. But then, sooner than expected, the mourning was over, Elizabeth was on the throne, Flash’s grandfather went bankrupt, moved to New York, and sold his black fabric in the Garment District and the Lower East Side. Well, this is my piece, not nearly as poetically written as Flash’s. I am calling it “all the black clothes in my closet.” Here goes: two black winter coats, nearly identical; a black hooded almost-sweatshirt thing except it doesn’t pull over the head, there’s a zipper; a lightweight shiny-material jacket with an extraordinary lining that looks like an abstract painting with lots of yellow, orange, turquoise (the most colorful thing in my closet); a very nice blazer that I have worn on formal occasions because it looks “professional” but now I don’t wear it because it’s missing a button; 5 over-the-head tops made by the women’s clothing company, Habitat — if you look quickly they all seem the same but there are subtle differences; a long-sleeved button-down top made out of some material I can’t identify, a little bit slinky, I’ve had it for about a dozen years, my mother bought it for me, I love it, I hope I have it forever; two short-sleeve and two long-sleeve “bamboo” tops that are called “sleep wear” online but I wear them in the outside world, I’ve never slept in them; five pairs of black pants, some linen and some not, none have zippers, all are pull-on, some have ties at the waist; a very nice sleeveless, long-to-my-knees vest-like thing that looks good over everything else. At the bottom of the closet: shoes, sneakers, and sandals, all black (a total of ten pairs) and a pair of black leather ankle-high boots I’ve never worn but who knows, maybe tomorrow.
- Zee Zahava
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.
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.
Deborah Burke Henderson
Florin C. Ciobica
Julie Bloss Kelsey
Kath Abela Wilson
Theresa A. Cancro
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 Darkness. Taste 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