To this day, I love the soft, hoof to dirt rhythm, of a gallop. Clop clop clop clop, horse and rider, dust flying, in an old western. Clop clop clop clop. It’s sound and picture and smell and dust and dirt and powerful horse, all in a background sound that fills the brain.
When I was little, I played tap dance. With patent leather shoes banging and making as much noise as I could on a linoleum floor. It was silly and noisy, clicking and knocking the heck out of those shoes and that cheap floor. I love. I love that sound too.
But tonight it’s a cold dark winter night, it’s late, and I’m half asleep. Tick tick tick. The slick, scraping sound of icy sleet hitting windows, brushing glass. Tick tick tick. I’m inside, and feeling protected. Safe, I suppose. Yet the sound calls, barely calls, beckoning me from a desperate, a desperately soft floating dreamy winter numbness. Tick tick tick, calling me out from some sad sense of empty waiting. Tick tick tick. Out there in the dark. Tapping at the window. Tapping at the subconscious. It taps me on the shoulder. “Wake up. Listen, girl, listen. Yeah, girl, you. You hear that? Wake up, girl.” I get up and look, I guess hoping to see something in the darkness besides sleet hitting the glass. Out there where you know there’s nothing but dark and cold. What did I hope to see? I think something to make me look, to rouse, to look up and smile. Yeah, something to shake the numbness, to make me look up, and about, and smile.
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.
The words we write are part of who we are. That was my motivation, I think.
I decided early this year to work on collecting my bits of writing in some sort of permanent way. Not to publish it, but to have it for myself. Also to have it for those in my life who might care to read it, and maybe keep it.
My goal was to assemble it all in a way that would make turning pages a pleasure. Something with sturdy covers, good quality paper, etc. Nice enough to wrap in tissue paper and hand to someone as a gift.
It started old school with printing copies and storing my work in a three-ring binder. Functional, but certainly not gift worthy.
Eventually, I decided to use the formatting from one of those companies that produces photo calendars, photo cards, and photo books. And chose their simplest style 8 inch by 10 inch photo book product, which includes stretchable text boxes.
I selected about 25 of my written pieces and some of my photos, and set to work. It was tedious. There was no ‘cut and paste’, so it took a lot of ‘delete and re-type’. Start overs, and of course, proofing. It was a project to make everything fit and have a sequencing and flow that made sense and looked good. I enjoy that sort of work, but it’s not something you can throw together in a couple of days.
Ta da … I completed one collection in the spring, and I just finished another for the winter. This isn’t an ad for photo companies, but their production and the paper products they use were more than I hoped for. Coffee table book quality materials, glossy pages, attractive covers, and nice binding. It optimized what I had to offer.
The costs were reasonable, and I’m happy to have a personalized keepsake to gift this Christmas.
For me, for myself, I get to leaf through the pages and feel like the words I write matter. And see that they have a little bit of permanence.
We were packed in the car with the windows down. I swipe at the mess of hair blowing around in front my eyes and sit up tall so I can see out. A sharp curve takes the car over the hill, and we pass cows out to pasture. A wire fence, tall weeds along the side of the road, and Queen Anne’s Lace.
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.
A couple of years ago, I was impressed enough to take this picture. My Easter breads.
The Saturday before Easter is one of my favorite days. No stress, just anticipation. It’s almost resurrection, the pause before celebration. It’s relaxed, like Thanksgiving back when my mom did all the cooking and I just set the table.
One of my favorite memories is the blessing of the baskets. I was old enough to drive, and I wasn’t too full of myself, not yet. Sure … yeah mom, I’ll take the basket to church. I mostly remember the bread. Yeah, there were the meats and eggs and dairy. But ummmm …. the bread. What smells better than just baked homemade bread?
We put the basket right on the floor, just outside the pew. Pulled back the linen. The special Easter linen. So the bread and other Easter foods could receive the blessing. The priest walked up and down the isle, extended his arm, sprinkled holy water. He always remarked. About the aroma, of course. You can’t beat that aroma. Inevitably, there was a lady two rows up with her hair in curlers. Cause it was the Saturday before Easter.
I guess that’s why I tried to make homemade bread. To be honest, it tasted better than it looks.
New Years Day we’d take down the tree. Always. Like it was required.
But, in a few days, I knew it would be Christmas again.
When I was little…four, five, six years old…I knew we’d celebrate another Christmas after the regular one was done. That’s just the way it worked in our family. My mother’s side of the family celebrated Christmas on the feast of the Epiphany, January 6. For a kid, that’s great. We didn’t get presents again, but we knew after we finished the first Christmas, we’d get to go to my grandparents’ on the 6th and have fun…cousins, aunts, uncles…eat, sing, play.
Our memories from childhood are pictures, aren’t they? That live on in our psyches.
I see me sitting on the stairs off their kitchen, laughing, making noise, playing with my cousins. I see my grandmother bustling around the stove. The kitchen table with lots of people scattered around. The soft butter my grandmother took from her white metal cabinet. Oh, the frivolous details that stay with us.
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 can giggle like little girls. 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.