Unwriting The Unwritten Rules

With a set of jacks, a hopscotch marker, and a jump rope in hand, entire afternoons could pass before anyone thought to say, “I’m bored.”

While we envied the skill of the Double-Dutching older girls, we took our turns at the single rope and were content. Pigtails and ponytails flying, we jumped to rhymes still known today: “Teddy Bear,” “Spanish Dancer,” “Cinderella.”

We giggled at verses filled with favorite beaus, kissing, marriage, and baby carriages, but the rhymes weren’t freighted with adult meaning. Their short, easily memorized lines were nothing more than markers for the entrance and exit of jumpers from the ropes. Continue reading

Remembering That Purple Poem

hurivirgaSome years ago,  I published “The Sentinel,” an essay about Florida environmentalist Charles Torrey Simpson and a pair of shells I found washed onto a Texas beach.

The shells, a deep, rich purple, are known in scientific circles as Janthina janthina. Elegant, tiny sea snails, they form great rafts, then float around the world. When Simpson found such a raft in the Florida Keys, he chronicled his experience, and through his notebook entry I was able to identify my own bits of purple.

Soon after I posted about Simpson, one of my readers offered a request.  Her love of all things purple had been stirred by the piece, and she wanted a “purple poem.”  At the time, I didn’t think of myself as a poet, and demurred. As it turned out, she did think of me as a poet, and was convinced  I could produce some verse for her. Continue reading

Followed by a Star

starseeker2

Perhaps she noticed my absence. More likely, she felt a draft from the partly-opened door and came out to investigate. Whatever drew my grandmother onto the porch that cold Christmas night, she discovered a quilt-wrapped, shivering, unhappy litle girl huddled on her front steps.

“Well, for heavens’ sake,” she said.”What’s the matter? What are you doing out here?” “I don’t want to go home,” I said. “Of course you don’t,” she said, sitting down next to me on the step. “It was a nice Christmas. Did you have fun? Did you like your presents?” Unwilling to look at her, I murmured the complaint voiced by generations of children. “I wish it wasn’t over.”
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Life’s Little Imperfections

It began with the left arm. The sweater-in-process, the color of wild young asparagus, lay in pieces on the dining room table: its back, right arm, and cabled, vee-necked front ready to be assembled into the shape of loving, hand-knit warmth. But within that left arm, a fault had been introduced into the pattern — a slight irregularity in the smooth, sweet rhythm of the yarn — and it was causing consternation.

Halfway up the sleeve, it would have nestled into the bend of an elbow, barely detectable and probably unseen even to well-trained eyes.  But the knitter — proficient, quick, and given to knitting in places like darkened movie theatres – spotted it, and felt it looming like an accusation.  “I’ll just unravel that sleeve and do it over,” she said. “It won’t take very much time, and after all – we want it to be perfect.” Continue reading

Auntie T and Anti-T ~ Part II

Cousin Jimmy shares his bicycle with me

I didn’t know my cousin Jimmy’s father, although I knew his name: Red Conrey. He and Aunt T divorced before I was born and, in the way of children, I simply accepted the answer I received when I asked why Jimmy didn’t live with Aunt T and Uncle Harold: “Your aunt was married to Mr. Conrey, but they aren’t married any more. Jimmy lives with his dad.”

Still, the family was close, and there didn’t seem to be any lingering resentments. Each time she arrived from New York, Aunt T made a point of visiting Jimmy at his home in another town, or he came to stay with my grandparents.

Red was working as a house painter when he and Thelma married. Raised in nearby Knoxville, he may have met her there after she graduated from high school and began working at the Marion County Treasurer’s office. When my cousin Jimmy was born, Red was as proud as any father could be. One of the earliest photos of Jimmy, taken in July, 1938, shows him in his father’s arms.

Unfortunately, the photo accompanied a headline that had all of south-central Iowa in an uproar. Continue reading

Auntie T and Anti-T ~ Part I

Julia Child and friends

The familiar voice — an absurd, bird-like trill of enthusiasm — pulled me toward the living room. Irrationally hoping that the doyenne of dough had raised herself from the dead to once again begin unraveling the mysteries of pâte feuilletée or asperges au naturel, I found instead the trailer for Julie and Julia, the charming, if slightly overdone true tale of Julie Powell, a dissatisfied office worker who determined to prepare every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking within the space of a year.

Watching the clip, I wasn’t inspired to go searching for my pastry cloth, but I did remember how closely Julia Child resembled my beloved Aunt T. My father’s younger sister, she seemed both exotic and mysterious. In the course of her occasional visits, she dropped advice, humor, and an alternative view of the universe into my life like so many bouquets garnis: nudging me to look beyond the bland certainties of a 1950’s childhood. Continue reading

The Jingle Bell Boys

For years, the bells remained hidden. Forgotten at the bottom of the cedar chest, buried beneath a red plaid wool stadium blanket, two angora collars, several pieces of handmade lace, and my grandparents’ wedding photo, their silence was ensured.

Because the lid to the chest was kept locked, I needed help each birthday and Christmas to open it, so that I could retrieve the small, beaded bag that held my growing collection of silver dollars.

One year, I asked permission to look through the other treasures hidden away in the depths of the chest. Out they came: the blanket, the lace, the photos. As I moved a small box of jewelry, I heard a faintly musical jingle. Pulling at the sound, I lifted up a cracked leather strap with a dozen or more bells attached. Delighted, I gave the strap a shake, and then another.

Hearing the racket, my mother came to see what I was doing. When she saw the bells, she grew nostalgic. The harness strap and bells had belonged to her grandfather. They didn’t have a sleigh, but they did have a homemade box sled, and they had a horse. During the horse’s respite from field labor, he contributed to winter festivities: pulling children (and the occasional adult) along the roads. Despite the sled’s plain, homespun nature, my mother confessed she felt like the fanciest lady in the world during those rides: transported, for a time, into a world of elegance and beauty.
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