You are currently browsing the monthly archive for April 2010.

This poem is in honor of Kelsea’s friend Ed at the Balfour Memory Care Center.

Today’s guest poet  —  Billy Collins.

Forgetfulness

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing
village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

When we were coming in the house last night, we were talking about someone she knew, and Kelsea said, “You know, X seems older than us.”  And then she realized what she had just said.  And I realized what she had just said.  And we laughed.  It’s an interesting mix of flattering and worrisome when your 13-year old thinks of you as being her age. 

It’s true, right now, we are close — more sister-like in many ways.  Now before you think what I always think about parents who want to be their kids’ friends, stop right there.  I never set out wanting to be Kelsea’s friend.  That was never a goal.  I’ve always been proud and happy to be her mom.  But somehow, the friend thing has just happened. I still do all the mom-things, like making her do her homework, take a shower, clean up (as best as can be expected), etc.  We still have the required talks about boys, sex, drugs, personal hygiene and just about anything else you can think of.  But at this point, she’s pretty self-disciplined.  She’s got a pretty good moral compass going (she even brought up the concept of the moral compass herself a few weeks ago).

As I rediscover myself as a single person, I am rediscovering a lot of buried treasure – otherwise known as fun.  And Kelsea is fun.  So when you put the two of us together, we have…fun.  It’s just not always the typical mother-daughter fun (whatever that is). 

Last night, for example, we settled in to watch a little TV.  Normal, right?  But what we wound up watching was “RuPaul’s Drag Race”.  Suddenly, the mother-daughter TV time travelled into another dimension. 

As with most kids her age, Kelsea knows a lot more worldly things than I give her credit for.  I have basically given up trying to “shield” her from topics that are overtly sexual or violent or evil.  Between friends, the internet, and her Dad not doing that sort of editing, she seems to know a little about just about everything.  In watching drag queens compete for the ultimate drag queen title, I actually found the opportunity to discuss a variety of topics that don’t come up in ordinary conversation: transvestism, transgender tendencies, make-up, cattiness, fashion.  I had the chance to clarify certain questions that she hadn’t had anyone to ask.  So it wound up being a good thing.

It also wound up being a politically incorrect hoot.  We were calling each other the choice names we learned from JuJuBee, Raven and the new Tyra for the rest of the night.  I was compelled to remind her this morning not to use those terms during her visit to the Alzheimer’s Memory Center today.  But I found it as funny as she did.  As always when we went to bed, even though we were both tired, we spent half an hour talking between our rooms about dreams, boys, travel.  It reminds me of how my Dad used to lay at the foot of my bed, talking with me about anything, as I was going to sleep when I was littler than Kelsea.

This morning, we sat on the kitchen floor eating breakfast and composing new LOLs with the LOL magnets on the refrigerator door, and speculated on how many other mother/daughters eat breakfast on the floor.  Not many, we concluded.

I’ve written recently about how I’ve been warned by almost everybody (except a very kind blog friend) how Kelsea will turn into the seven-headed unrecognizable demon from the black lagoon at any moment, so I should cherish these times.  Well, guess what?  I do cherish these times.  I would cherish these times even if the transformation was not a possiblity in the offing.  (And don’t worry, I’m waiting for that first shoe to drop.)

So maybe I’m not instilling in her the finest table manners, how to fold a hospital corner (okay, I have tried that) or how not to slurp her soup.  But I hope I’m strengthening her base of knowledge.  I hope I’m increasing her trust in her mother as someone she can talk to about absolutely anything, someone who won’t judge her regardless of the topic, her opnions or her actions.  Someone to whom she can reach out if she needs help or feels troubled or confused.

I’d rather be doing that.  And laughing with her.  And just loving her.

One of the humorous, questionable advantages of having an older brother is that he always remembers your “classic” moments.  E-Bro loves to recount the tale of how, one summer morning when I was in my early teens, I asked him how to boil water.  I don’t think he’s stopped laughing yet.

But it’s true.  Although I admit that I learned a lot about how to make bacon and eggs that summer, a dish which became my signature breakfast through senior year of high school, I couldn’t cook anything else.  The kitchen was my Mother’s for dinner and my Father’s for baking.  Mother wasn’t a gourmet cook.  Her cooking was basic, normal, pretty good.  Nothing she was particularly proud of – it was a have-to-do, not a want-to-do.  The repertoire included such things as Spam, pot roast, chicken and dumplings, creamed chipped beef on toast, county-style steak, the ubiquitous canned/frozen veggie, and a hunk of iceberg lettuce with carrots, olives, etc. for salad.  When she wanted to drive me out of the house, she would make sauerkraut and sausages, naturally one of E-Bro’s favorites.

The irony of my first job being that of cook in a restaurant was not lost on me.  I worked the grill/deli side of the restaurant, occasionally venturing into the salad station downstairs in the fancy French part when the need was dire.  But as a grill cook, I learned to make a few things well: grilled cheese, pastrami sandwiches, cole slaw, chicken salad – nothing complicated, but enough to survive on.  And I sliced my hand to the bone on my 18th birthday, while demonstrating (most impressively as it turned out) what NOT to do when the meat slicer was running.

Moving onto college, my first important college boyfriend still stands by his accusation that my chicken-in-wine (one of my Mother’s special recipes) gave him food poisoning.  That was the first time I ever tried cooking for a boyfriend.  Come to think of it, I didn’t risk it again for probably six years.  Really.

I still stayed in the restaurant world for work.  After two and a half years in a pizzeria, I can make a mean pie. And I toss a mean dough.  Always a useful skill.  (I also severely burned my arm on the inside top of the pizza oven during one lunch rush.)  I basically survived on pizza, as I had convinced myself that I couldn’t cook.  At my apartment, I managed to boil artichokes, and eat peanuts out of the shell in bed.  That was pretty much how it was when I met Pat. 

Once we moved in together, he tried to help me understand that I COULD cook, I just WASN’T cooking.  He actually taught me a lot about things like not measuring and not following a recipe exactly.  I guess he taught me to relax in the kitchen, and in our pre-kid years, we enjoyed cooking together.  While I did have some notable failures, such as forgetting the baking soda in the banana bread, I reached a point where I felt confident in the kitchen.  (Though never with baking.)

But after Kelsea was born, and I was working so much, the kitchen became Pat’s domain.  In one of those many bizarre power plays that contributed to the downfall of our marriage, I let him convince me that I was an incompetent cook.  Any confidence that I had gained in the kitchen vanished, along with any joy in cooking.  It was just more work to me, and I didn’t like it.  I still experimented sometimes when things were still okay in our marriage, but the worse our marriage got, the less I wanted to be in the kitchen.  Maybe I’ll take that to the Red Couch for analysis sometime.

Then, I moved out.  And in my own little kitchen, with the basic implements that I remember my Mother having, I am pretty clueless.  I still love my cooking magazines and cookbooks – I like the idea of cooking.  I have limited counter space.  I still lack confidence, even though I now have time.  Being on the Atkins Diet (still working well, by the way), limits my culinary options fairly significantly – perhaps simplifies them would be a better term.  But I do try. 

Honestly, it’s a joke with Kelsea and me.  We reached a peak of lowness last weekend, when I attempted to broil pork chops while boiling water for crab legs.  Sounds like two simple and distinct actions, doesn’t it?  Well, the cottage is equipped with high ceilings and a smoke detector as sensitive as a bipolar woman with severe PMS.  Between some kind of grease build up on the broiler unit (from roasting chicken – and don’t tell me to clean the oven, because the last time I did that, I got a chemical burn on a very delicate body part, and so am gun-shy about repeating the process without body armour) and the steam from the crab legs, the smoke detector went off.  Permanently.  We opened the window in the kitchen, with Kelsea fanning the smoke away from the smoke detector with a full-size flag of Ireland.  We also opened the kitchen door, accidentally loosening the Mexican porcelain sculpture suspended from the kitchen ceiling, which fell with a splendid shattering crash to the tile entryway, spewing little pieces into the lawn.  Kelsea’s arms gave out, just as smoke started belching from the burners on the stove, so I turned everything off, and waved my sweater in front of the smoke detector until it stopped.  The pork chops and crab legs were overdone and Kelsea and I were done in.

I’m not ready to figuratively throw in the towel, but clearly my current strategy is not working.  Wait, I don’t even know what my current strategy is.  But tonight, as the chicken is roasting away, I have defeated one nemesis.  I took the battery out of the smoke detector.  Talk about living dangerously.

Well, everything else being thankfully ruled out, it appears that Kelsea does have a kidney stone.  She was trooper enough to go to school yesterday, but is sleeping in today.  Sleep and liquid, that’s what she needs.  Hopefully, it will pass soon.  At least in my experience, the passing was the easiest part.  And I felt better immediately.

It has been amazingly, freakishly, frustratingly windy here the last few days.  It makes me not want to go outside.  And so, I’m not. I’m watching Rick Steves traipsing through the Mediterranean on public television, experiencing pangs of envy, and wondering if they’ let ME take pictures inside the Mosque of St. Sophia.

The good thing is that it has inspired me to work some more on the Different BVI travel guide.  I will start a pitch letter next week.

It’s amazing how fast money flows out when no money is flowing in.

The Interstate Mullet Toss is this weekend and I am missing it.  If you’re not familiar with this event, the highlight is a competition in which individuals toss a one-pound dead mullet from within a 10-foot circle on a Perdido Key beach in Alabama, across the state line into Florida.  I am determined to go next year.

Gark.  It’s nearing noon.  Maybe it’s time to take a shower and get dressed.  Or maybe it’s time for tequila.

It’s really amusing to watch the dog try to attack the vacuum cleaner attachments.

One of my dearest friends in the world wrote to tell me her cat passed away this week.  She and I had just had a wonderful two-hour talk last weekend.  Talking to her makes me feel like I’m 17 again.  I ache for her.  Losing Tug and JT is as vivid today as it was the day I had to have them put down.  I wasn’t there when my cat of 20 years died of natural causes.  She knew it was coming and said goodbye to me before I left.  I don’t know if I could have borne it.  But of course I could.  One can bear anything if it provides some modicum of comfort to a beloved soul.  RIP, Guido, and peace to you, my dear friend.

There is an abundance of magic in this world.

I hate Rick Steves.  Why can’t I be Rick Steves?

I have been considering trying silk painting.  One of my favorite possessions is a circle of silk with a seascape of Anegada painted on it.  It was made by a British woman who used to come camp on the beach and paint.  It’s a lovely idea and a lovely piece.

Kelsea came out of karate yesterday pale and in pain.  Class hadn’t hurt her – she had been having terrible pain in her right flank, in short stabs, for over an hour.  I quizzed her, took her home, tucked her in, took her temperature, forced fluids, gave her Tylenol, fed her mac and cheese. She rated the pain a 9 on a scale of 1-10, and asked me if this was what it was like to be in labor.  Of course, I remember labor, but I can’t be in her body to tell what she’s feeling.  Regardless, it was bad pain.  I have come to realize that Kelsea has inherited my father’s legendary high-pain threshold, so when she says it hurts, you can believe it hurts like the devil.

It was still bad this morning – she couldn’t move without intense pain.  And she’d had some nausea.  Time to call the doctor!  Dr. R. agreed with my preliminary diagnosis – it sounded like the dreaded kidney stone.  Kidney stones in kids, while still rare, are dramatically on the rise.  But that meant that our next stop was the hospital for an ultrasound.  I’ve been in the hospital with Kelsea when I had her (contrary to the insurance company’s bizarre statement that I had her at home) and when she had her bad shoulder x-rayed.  Pat’s been there with her when she had an MRI on the same shoulder, and when he accidentally let the shopping cart she was sitting in tip forward, resulting in a parking lot faceplant when she was a baby.  (I’m glad I missed that one and glad she has such a hard head – figuratively and literally.)

But today, when the Hmong ultrasound tech, who mispronounced Kelsea’s name, and scolded me about her having had cereal three hours previously, told me to sit in the corner and watch, it was like an awful movie.  What was playing through my mind was worse. Looking at the complete and total mystery of the ultrasound pictures – is all black bad? or is fuzzy bad? – my mind went everywhere: to her being really sick – like kidney cancer sick, to her being in even more pain, to her having to stay alone in the hospital, to any and all kinds of unknowns that are as bad as they can be.  My thoughts spun out of control.

Despite Ms. Hmong’s protests, I got up and went to stand beside her, to hold her hand, and stroke her hair.  Because that’s all I could do.  That’s all any mother can do sometimes.  It made us both feel better.  Her beautiful blue eyes looked into my hazel ones and we spoke without words.  We both felt that eternally powerful bond of love between us that made us smile.  It was one of the deepest gazes I’ve ever shared with her.  She lay on that table, in that darkened room, looking like a teenager, looking like a woman, looking like my little girl, and being just an amazing, strong human being.

The ultrasound was inconclusive.  We’re waiting for blood work results.  She’s still in pain, but now instead of me, she has her dad and her dogs and cats for comfort. I’m hoping that she’s not an early third-generation victim of the female kidney stone curse that runs through the women in my family.  But if she is, we’ll deal with it.

As a Mom, you never want your child to hurt, to suffer.  You’d do anything to spare your child pain.  And it’s heartbreaking to feel helpless when you can’t fix their pain.  When I can’t fix her pain.

Today’s guest poet  —  perennial favorite Pablo Neruda

Drunk With Pines

Drunk with pines and long kisses,
Like summer I steer the last sail of roses,
Bent towards the death of the thin day,
Stuck into my solid marine madness. 

Pale and lashed to my ravenous water,
I cruise in the sour smell of the naked climate,
Still dressed in grey and bitter sounds
And a sad crest of abandoned spray. 

Hardened by passions, I go mounted on my one wave,
Lunar, solar, burning and cold, all at once,
Becalmed in the throat of fortunate isles
That are white and sweet as cool hips. 

In the moist night my garment of kisses trembles
Charged to insanity with electric currents,
Heroically dividing into dreams
And intoxicating roses practicing on me. 

Upstream, in the midst of the outer waves,
Your parallel body yields to my arms
Like a fish infinitely fastened to my soul,
Quick and slow, in the energy under the sky.

 

I am trying to settle down to write an article about a trip from last summer, but I’m bugged.  My last post received a rather snarky comment, and I know that snarky comments are to be expected from time to time.  But this snarky comment suggested that I was boasting about being attractive, about attracting men.  I thought it was uncalled for. 

Of course it’s flattering for strangers to find you attractive.  But it happens rarely.  It was part of the warm and sunny feeling of the day, just as the warm and sunny feeling I had from the person I’m seeing was part of the day – and it’s nice that he always makes me feel attractive.  He’s done wonders for my self-confidence. 

I am hurt that it was misconstrued.  I guess as has been said to me a thousand times, I need to toughen my skin.

Just had to get that off my chest.

When my lips part for cool green tea, my nose is enveloped in the scent of jasmine.  At first, I can’t tell where it’s coming from.  It wasn’t as strong until the tea had mellowed, the ice melting into the green.  Then, it becomes a transporting walk down a garden path with each sip.

I smell the jasmine in my throat, on the back of my tongue.  The white tulips glow.  The peach tulips glow.  The long-haired, straw-hatted, barefoot ukulele player strums Hawaii into a sunny Colorado afternoon.  He plays for the earth, not for change.

The man at the next table inquires about my book.  He compliments my smile, and spends five minutes trying to sell me on his esoteric spiritual path.  But he uses too many words.  He cannot convey his point because he cannot find the stillness within himself that true spiritual peace requires and rewards.  Every technique has failed him in his search for stillness.  I listen.  For five minutes only.

Tea finished, more books beckon.  Books are always beckoning to me, sirens on shelves, thousands of them.  I explore unchartered volumes with a small smile, finding myself drawn to writers who sound like me.  Is that wrong?  I have no idea. 

My serenity attacts another admirer.  We share coincidental memories of another bookshop, aptly named The Intimate, in a town thousands of miles from here.

I find myself with a joyful longing for a faraway love. 

It has been a luscious afternoon.

I had a visit with my landlady this morning.  We discussed plans for the garden that the Cottage and the Big House share.  Our conversation strayed into positive thinking, diets and the future.  We talked about Kelsea and how awesome she is now, at 13.  My landlady told me that she felt that way about her own daughter at that age.  Then things changed.  You never expect it to happen, but one day that girl who you so like, admire, and enjoy hanging out with becomes a completely different, unrecognizable and noxious person.  I so want to believe that won’t happen to Kelsea.  She and I have talked about it often.  I guess the bottom line is to hope for the best and expect the worst.  And remember, if it happens, that this too shall pass.

What brought tonight’s post to the forefront, aside from this morning’s conversation, was a small thing that happened this afternoon.  Kelsea had a friend over to visit.  The three of us ran around doing errands for a couple of hours and then the two of them had an hour to pass until it was time for her friend to go home.  They played with the Poppy, the Big House pug, for a long while, and hung out on the grass talking.  Then they asked if they could go over to the church side of the fence and visit the playground. 

After about fifteen minutes, I looked out to check on them.  They were soaring high in the sky in their respective swings and the sun was heading down below the trees, casting a soft, hazy light on the scene.  I felt like I was looking at two little girls – two little girls who were fading into the sunset.  The innocence and small joys of being young were being swallowed by the emotions, hormones and pressures of adolescence, just as the sun was being swallowed by the horizon.  But for just that moment, all that mattered was laughing, and swinging as high as they could go.

I wished for a minute (or more) that they didn’t have to lose that, to let it go, to focus on the challenges of growing up.  But you always want your child to grow up – the alternative is unthinkable.  And in my mind, there is a comfort: that when Kelsea becomes a mom, she will regain and relive all that joy and childlike wonder through the eyes and smiles of her own child.

Tobacco is the second largest cash crop in North Carolina.  (Marijuana is the first – similar growing conditions.)  My home state is the largest producer of tobacco in the USA.  Brightleaf tobacco, sweeter and milder than other available tobaccos, was a favorite of Civil War soldiers.  In fact, its popularity was a major contributing factor in the growth and development of the city of Durham, where I was born, with the Bull Durham Tobacco Factory being the first major factory in town in 1874. 

Bull Durham was a consolidation of rival tobacco producers, with the merger being initiated by the Duke family.  (Yes, THAT Duke family.)  This company morphed into American Tobacco, which was split by federal anti-trust laws into five separate companies in 1911.  By the time I came along, three were surviving and thriving in Durham: American Tobacco, Liggett & Myers, and R.J. Reynolds.

When I was very small, my parents took me to the tobacco auction.  I think we went for two years in a row – I must have been two or three for the first one.  I don’t recall that first auction at all, but my Mother told me that they put me up to sit on one of the high bales, and I cried because I was afraid I was going to get cancer from the tobacco.  Now, how bizarre is that, that a child of three would know that tobacco is a cause of cancer?  The second time we went, I remember enjoying myself, and I remember how strong the smell was. I always wanted to go back, but it seemed we couldn’t after that.  I don’t know if they stopped holding the auctions or if they just stopped being open to the public.  It’s funny to see the black and white photos, because my memories of the auction are in color.  Everything seemed sepia-tinged, the color of teeth stained from smoking for fifty years.

Driving to the beach, we would pass miles and miles of tobacco fields.  The leaves were indeed bright and lush and seemed as if they went on forever.  I was always amazed at the endless rows, stretching to the horizon.  I never saw anyone working the fields and wondered how they were tended, how they were harvested.  Tobacco was the first crop I could identify by sight.

In downtown Durham, that scent of tobacco was amazingly rich.  Pungent, sweet, smokey, fresh, it smelled like the color of spring green in the Crayola crayon box.  The yellow-green color of the tobacco in the fields was the color of the smell.  Driving under the L&M bridge walkway on Main Street, there were days when I would hold my nose until the smell was gone.  However, as a teenager, I found I loved the smell, practically basked in it when I was driving to work at the restaurant.

Most of the tobacco factories closed down before I left town.  American Tobacco was still open, and when I headed downtown for work after school, I had to be sure to avoid one particular street during shift change at the factory – so many people were crossing that it delayed me for ten minutes. 

That factory closed in the late 1980s, and was redesigned into offices and shops.  From a distance, I lamented the passing of this industry that gave birth to the town.  On the positive side, several organizations in Durham (and several developers – pardon me while I spit) have been dedicated to keeping the historic facades of the factories and warehouses alive, so that the character of certain parts of downtown have remained the same for nearly a century.  Old Liggett and Myers warehouses were turned into trendy condos, and old American Tobacco warehouses have been developed into Brightleaf Square, a mixed-use complex. 

The South’s devotion to retaining its architectural history is both impressive and pleasing.  Unlike many other areas of the county (the West in particular), the fact that a building is old does not necessarily mean that it needs to be torn down and replaced with something new.  No where else in the country have I seen so many hand-hewn barns and sheds, some canted crazily to one side or another, unused except as a support for rampant kudzu, but still revered for the significance of their past. 

(I suppose some could argue that the owners are just too lazy to tear them down, but I choose not to subscribe to that theory – I like my own better.)

I was living in Colorado by the time the movie “Bull Durham” came out, and I loved it.  I watched wistfully as Kevin Costner walked down Morgan Street in the dark, past the old tobacco barns turned into condos.  Parts of the movie were filmed at the old Durham Bulls Ballpark, which I’ll write about someday.  Talk about a ballpark with character.

Although it seemed as if almost everyone smoked in North Carolina, my parents didn’t.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  My Mother did for a short while before she met my Father, and again during a stressful period when she was in graduate school.  I never saw her smoke, but I discovered cigarettes in her purse one day when I was looking for change or gum or kleenex or something.  I felt as if I had discovered a betraying secret and it disturbed me terribly, so I had to ask her about it.  She wasn’t angry – she was open, but I think she asked me not to tell anyone.  It had been drilled into us that smoking was bad for you and a stupid idea.

I didn’t have my first cigarette until the night I graduated from college.  I smoked a couple of Marlboros as a peace-offering with a woman who had been cheating with my boyfriend.  I actually liked the taste, but I never felt the addictive elements.  (E-Bro is the same way.  He likes the taste, but could take or leave the whole smoking thing.  No nicotine addiction.  I wonder why?)  After that, I would have an occasional bummed cigarette when I was out in a bar.  I only bought one pack in my entire life and my cheating boyfriend smoked most of that.  I still have a pack that I found unopened at a catering event some 10 years ago.  Pat was a respiratory therapist in his youth, and so was an avid anti-smoker, but he would, on very rare occasions, have a puff of a cigarette to cure a severe case of the hiccups.  I have found that a teaspoon of sugar is a better and tastier cure. 

(I did smoke herbal cigarettes in college for a month or so, until I discovered that they were worse for you than regular cigarettes and I was asked to leave the student union because they thought I was smoking pot.)

I can’t remember the last time I smoked a cigarette.  Maybe it was a hit off of Bubba Sue’s a year or two ago.  But my last whole one?  Long, long before Kelsea was born.  I don’t miss it.  The Captain smoked, but that scent was just part of who he was, and I was never tempted when I was with him. 

Now, the occasional cigar…well, it’s been a long time since I had one of those either – mostly because I didn’t like tasting it for two days.  But in my business travelling days, Davidoff was my favorite brand, and I could only find them in a little cigar shop near Rockefeller Center in New York City.  I remember my first cigar.  But that too is a story for another time.

I’ve had North Carolina and Durham at the forefront of my mind lately, so I expect I’ll be writing more about growing up Southern.  It feels good.  And I like things that feel good these days.

April 2010
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