life, memories

1963

When I was little, we went to 12 o’clock mass on Sundays. That’s what it was called, 12 o’clock mass. Back then Catholics didn’t sing the same songs as Protestants. I don’t think singing Protestant songs qualified as a sacrilege, but some songs were Catholic songs and some were not. My recollection, anyhow. Like the Catholic Lord’s Prayer was different from the Protestant Lord’s Prayer. Although we called it the Our Father. In the confessional box, the last words from the priest were always, “For your penance, say five Our Fathers and three Hail Marys.”

It so happened that while we were getting ready for 12 o’clock mass on Sundays, there was a cartoon show on TV called Davy and Goliath. Davy was a little boy with a dog, Goliath, and the show had a religious theme of some sort. I liked the show but I never got to see the end because we left for church about fifteen minutes before it was over. The intro music for that show was A Mighty Fortress, and since then I’ve always loved that song. I think as a kid I found the words impressive. Mighty and cruel hate and Sabaoth. Abideth and doth. And the melody was sort of compelling. But I knew it wasn’t a song we ever sang in church.

One Sunday in November, Davy and Goliath was pre-empted, or maybe it was interrupted. It was that weekend when almost all the shows were pre-empted. Back then, breaking news was truly breaking news. As it turned out, that week, the previous Friday, my parents had to go to the funeral home because one of my uncles had died. I suppose I was young enough I didn’t have to go with them. When it came time for my parents to return home, some aunts and uncles were with them. I guess to pick up their kids, my cousins, who stayed at our house too that Friday. With the oldest in charge. When they walked in the house, in their Sunday best funeral home clothes, all the kids, including me, and the cousins, were jumping up and down on the beds. I don’t know how it started. I guess it just looked like fun. The grown ups were so angry. I’m not sure this is important, but it is the context for me that following Sunday.

My memory is that we were getting ready to leave for church on Sunday and the TV was still on. I think we all looked at the screen because they were going to show the guy who killed President Kennedy. We were standing in the living room watching and could see a lot of people in camera view, and they brought a man out in handcuffs. I remember thinking something like, “Is that him?” It seemed seconds later, one of the men on the bottom of the screen moved toward the prisoner, poked a gun into the suspect’s waist, and shot him. Right there, on TV while we watched.

Kennedy was just killed a few days earlier. Now, there we are in our living room, the guy who shot Kennedy was already caught, and some other man walks up to him in the middle of the press and the police, and shoots him dead. It seemed nobody even moved to stop the shooter. It was surreal. I’m sure I didn’t know that word back then. But it was the feeling we’d all had that whole creepy weekend. Surely, someone would come on TV and tell us some story other than Kennedy was dead. I think we expected them to say they got it wrong. It was a practice or a drill maybe, or somebody else was killed and they just thought it was Kennedy. Or they thought Kennedy died, but he was really still alive. Well, that didn’t happen. Now it was two days later, and they were saying this guy we just saw on TV got through the crowd and shot the suspect. The suspect who shot the president. Huh??

I was thinking, “Can we all go back to Davy and Goliath and A Mighty Fortress?”

But no, we turned off the TV that Sunday, piled in the car, and went off to 12 o’clock mass.

life, memories, rose

rosy

This is about Rose. I knew Rose all my life, minus the first five or so years, which I don’t remember very well. Rose, like her husband, was a second generation American. Their parents came from Italy.

She was small, a little over five feet, and pretty. Even when she was old, almost ninety, she was still pretty. Her hair turned from red to white, but her face was pretty and smiling. I see it now. Rose was probably the sweetest, kindest, nicest, most energetic, hard working, generous, human being I’ve known. I’m thinking, I’m thinking. Yeah, she was all those. You can probably think of some other ‘nice’ adjectives, and those would fit too. Her husband called her Rosy.

In the summer Rose and her husband spent a lot of time in the back yard. They sat there in the evenings with a glass of wine. Sometimes they played cards. It wasn’t a big area, a little bit of grass backed up to a tall hill covered with trees. And nestled at the bottom of the hillside a statue of the Blessed Mother. Everything about the space back there felt old country. It made you feel like you have nothing to do in life but sit, laugh, tell a story, and take it all in. There was a square wooden porch/deck attached to the house, and a screen door that took you right into her kitchen. I know, because I’ve been through that door. The last time was after my mother died and Rose called me in to see her new living room furniture. There are parts of us that just don’t grow up, and I thought at the time if I couldn’t still have my mother, I wanted Rose to be my proxy mother.

Rose was in the middle of making anise flavored cookies. She asked me if I was hungry, if she could get me some pasta. I don’t remember what kind, some gnocchi or whatever. She made her own, of course. There was no Mueller’s in that house. And it seemed to me she whipped up home-made pasta as easily as I whip up a sandwich or bowl of cereal. I’m probably exaggerating, but not too much. Picture the wood block countertop covered with flour, some chopping implements, and bowls and cooking ingredients scattered here and there. Old appliances. That was her kitchen.

Oh, and there’s the flowers. Tall bright colored flowers all around the metal fence in her front yard. Hanging baskets on her tiny front porch. Flowers up and down the side of her house. Flowers on the deck, flowers in the backyard. She loved her flowers, and they loved her back. Rose was well into her eighties and she would weed and fuss with her flowers the same way she did when she was thirty.

I thought about Rose yesterday, and this flower’s for Rose.


photograph from may 19, 2020

life, memories, non-fiction

sound your harks

New Years Day my mom took down the tree. Always, as if it was required. In a few days, though, I knew it would be Christmas again.

When I was little…four, five, six years old…we celebrated a second Christmas after the first one was done. My mother’s side of the family celebrated Christmas on the feast of the Epiphany, January 6, and for a kid, that’s great. We didn’t get presents again, but we knew after we finished the December 25th Christmas, we’d get to go to my grandparents’ on the 6th and celebrate again…cousins, aunts, uncles…eat, sing, play…food and fun!

Our memories from childhood are pictures, aren’t they?

I see me sitting with my cousins on the stairs off my grandparents’ kitchen. Laughing, making noise, keeping an eye on the grown-ups in the kitchen. I see my grandmother bustling around the stove and lots of people scattered around the kitchen table. I see the block of soft yellow butter my grandmother kept in her white metal cabinet…the silly details we hold onto.

Then there’s the boxy living room. Two couches. One against the wall with the TV. A second couch on the opposite wall. And a single small picture hanging over that couch, Jesus knocking on a door.

My five uncles are gathered at the couch by the TV. Four of them sitting, looking up to the uncle who is standing, facing them. Directing them, sort of like their choir director. They’re singing Christmas carols, harmonizing, and the rest of us are on the other side of the room, the audience. Now it’s time for Hark the Herald Angels Sing. They need to get in tune because the song starts strong, with a hark. The uncle who’s directing asks them to sound their harks, and they do. Hark…hark…hark…hark. Again. Hark…hark…hark…hark. That’s when they start giggling. Yes, grown men giggle. So my uncle repeats, a bit sternly, sound your harks! And they go for it, this time with bad, goofy bad, silly harks.

At that point, it all falls apart, and we all laugh til our sides hurt.

January 6…sound your harks.

life, memories, ocean, photo

midnight

I remember the night I took this picture. The sea oats tempted me, and the ocean breeze taunted me. I wanted to see if I could capture something of the magic. The tall sea oak stalks, a soft ivory, bending against the backdrop of the evening sky. When I see this picture now, I see comfy shorts, a baggy cotton tee, vacation hair, and clammy wind. The wood gate swinging open, and a pause to consider if this is a good idea, walking away from the dimly lit planks, down the path to a deserted beach. Stepping away from civilization, alone with the wide stretch of sand and dark ocean. Scary and wonderfully invigorating at the same time. A minute or two when the rest of life was irrelevant. I didn’t wander far, but I tried over and over to catch the stalks in between back and forth. Futile, of course. I couldn’t escape the blur. A little blur for the feel of the ocean breeze. A fair trade.

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etikser

memories

on the go

not far from home
five miles or so

suddenly the car’s hotter
sky’s whiter,
brighter, hazier
like a different kind of summer
a long time ago

like I was ridin’ to work
to my first real job 

like I was in the middle of endin’ somethin’
that ended a long,
long while ago

funny the thoughts that pop in your head
when you’re out there
on the go

on that old familiar 
stretch of road

memories, summer

all in the smell of just cut grass

A sensory rush stocked with the stuff of long-forgotten whims
A second to pause and hold onto the smell of summer and innocence
Rolling down grassy hills
Laying at the bottom, a jumble of limbs
And stupid silly giggles
Dress up play and make believe
Bicycles, grass stains, and skinned knees
Long warm days, staying out til dark
Hide-n-seek and Capture-the-flag
All in the smell of just cut grass