My dad makes magic with wood. My mom tells magnificent stories in paintings and quilts. Jenifer writes Christmas poems, hosts gingerbread house parties, and keeps our visual memories every year in a calendar. Julie is notoriously crafty and makes politically-relevant dolls, among other things, and kept me warm last night with a hand-crocheted afghan. Jill makes the most delicious cookies and macaroni and cheese you have ever tasted.
We are the makers. The creators. The artists. The strivers.
There is an intimate connection between the hand and the heart.
“I made this. For you.”
We always drew our own birthday cards and Valentines, until it became more efficient to buy them. We made Mother’s and Father’s Day cards, handcrafted with crayons and colored pencils, sometimes the morning of, with a sense of verse that was laughable, indiscernible, and poetically, incongruously, and curiously sweet. …
the common woman is as common
as good bread
as common as when you couldn’t go on
For all the world we didn’t know we held in common
the common woman is as common as the best of bread
and will rise
and will become strong — I swear it to you
I swear it to you on my own head
(by Judy Grahn)
Sixteen years ago, when my grandmother Dorothy died, I gave the eulogy at her funeral, along with my cousin Jennie. Dorothy died the week before Thanksgiving. When I wrote the eulogy, I thought of Dorothy and the gifts that she gave us. I thought about breaking bread. Sharing bread. …
“I am not your sweetie or your cutie.”
The response came cold, swift, and fierce.
A man I had never met rejected my affections outright. He resented them.
Still, I persisted. Some days, social media is worth nothing more than a release of aggression, not unlike boxing gyms or the self-contained parlors specifically reserved for smashing dishes.
He was a Trump apologist, spewing all the usual filth about Biden’s canoodling with the Chinese, the specter of socialist horror, and the threats of $6 gas and the destruction of retirement funds.
Usually, I don’t bite on such unsatisfying morsels. As with stress eating, feeding myself on the fried rancid nuggets of untruth and disinformation on social media only leaves me feeling sick and full, never nourished nor sated. I ate this invitation like a double chocolate Milano. …
We chatter in bed before falling asleep. As we arrange our arms and legs into a comfortable tangle, we say things into the darkness. Various scraps and crumbs of the day. Our conversation is cleaning house, holding the dustpan for one another as we sweep away an off-handed comment at dinner, a memorable quote from a movie, or a chafing worry about tomorrow’s news.
By now, after nearly a year, he is accustomed to my late-night musings.
“I smell bullion,” I announce, not looking for confirmation, sympathy, nor an explanation.
He pauses and laughs.
“Bullion?? Beef or chicken?”
“Chicken.” I am sure that it is chicken. …
Helen Reddy: Mingo, Iowa, circa 1976
My grandmother died the other day
Without remembering how I loved her
And danced and cartwheeled
To the stories she sang
This is for both of us
I didn’t know how to love him either
We commiserated about it
I did the splits on the olive carpet
And tried to understand
Were you singing to me
They weren’t danceable songs
But they made me feel something
My seven-year-old body needed to know
About love and being loved
You wanted to be loved
I turned the volume up to hear her
The fighting in the hall scared me
Woke me in the middle of the night
Where the needle…
“Well, we are here…barely!”
Valerie and her troop always arrived late. She made it sound like they had traversed raging rivers and rocky paths in order to get anywhere, though the sun was shining and cool breezes softened the oppressive glare of late Iowa summer. Even with “traffic”, such that there was, it should have been an easy drive from Grimes to Afterlick. Maybe twenty minutes?
Who lives in a place called Grimes and feels good about it? Or Afterlick.
As Kaden trudged behind, in a mask with camouflage print while studiously involved with his iPad, Tom struggled with Krystal who apparently forgot how to walk, despite the fact that she was eight. Valerie marched ahead of the pack like a commander and charged up the steps of the back deck to offer half-hearted apologies and a litany of excuses for their tardiness. …
Humility sells imperfect produce from a roadside stand
Peaches and nectarines with thrip marks
Pears with a bruise below the eye
Apples too small and hard to be considered delicious
I almost drove past but was charmed
By the carefully crafted handpainted sign
My grandfather was a sign painter
Though nothing he painted still exists
These acts of charity of rescue
Make us feel virtuous and thoughtful
But small favors do little
If the rest rot and blister in our uncommon heat
The strawberries seemed puny and misshapen
Until she invited me to taste one
The wild ones are deceptively sweet
Requiring nothing of me except to love…
This time last year, I was in Spain riding a horse on a beach. I went to Spain with the express purpose of riding a horse on a beach. To fulfill some ideal of romance, because I had been told that I wasn’t romantic. I wore a white linen shirt. I wanted to be the kind of person who rode a horse on a beach in Spain while wearing a white linen shirt. Because I knew that I was romantic.
In the fall of 1984, I tried out for the school musical. I got the lead role as Charlie Brown. When they posted the results of the audition, handwritten in marker on a sheet of white paper outside the chorus room, I was terrified. I couldn’t sing. I couldn’t really act, either. …
Fresh figs remind me of the beauty of the seasons.
While standing number six in the queue at the grocery store, I mourned long-lost freedoms and the hedonism of impulsive shopping. The physical distancing made number six feel remote, if not exilic.
“It’s good for me,” I reasoned. “Because of my usual reckless habits, I need structure, discipline, and patience.”
Two “elders” jumped the queue and were immediately ushered inside. Although they were masked, I noticed that their crow’s feet were not any deeper nor more authentic than mine.
“What if I jumped the queue? Would anyone stop me and ask for identification and proof?” …
It is not a pleasantry. Even when well intended, the invitation comes with a pause and a breath. Neither one of us is sure we are sufficiently fortified for this to become a conversation.
How many caveats, allowances, and exceptions can one reasonably provide without turning a breezy and blithe throwaway question into an intervention, a rescue, an assurance, or a lifeline? You want to be available but don’t want to be held emotionally hostage. I don’t want to be jilted, ignored, and dismissed… or too vulnerable and exposed.
“How are you?”
Rarely have I imbued an anodyne question with such meaning and weight. It becomes a calculation of the strength of my relationships + the genuine desire to want to know + the investment of both involved parties in giving a shit. …