Tasty Kisses in January

The last time I visited my mom in Southeastern Indiana, she told me that the Amish had dropped by a few days before and serenaded her with Christmas carols. They’d also left her a container of ambrosia, if I’d like to try some for dessert. Of course, the word ambrosia started spinning through my mind till I couldn’t even decide if I wanted dessert: Ambrosia. Ambrosia. Ambrosia. I liked how it fell from my lips as I pronounced it. Like a kiss. How did I know that word? Seemed like it had something to do with Greek mythology. So, I googled it, and sure enough:

In the ancient Greek myths, ambrosia (/æmˈbroʊʒə/, Ancient Greek:                  ἀμβροσία, “immortality”) is sometimes the food or drink of the Greek gods, often depicted as conferring longevity or immortality upon whoever consumed it. It was brought to the gods in Olympus by doves.  

Mom was still waiting for my answer. “Well, do you want some, or not?” “Sure. Sounds intriguing.” I liked the idea of longevity and immortality; who wouldn’t? But, oh my, I could eat only a very small helping (maybe that’s all it would take for longevity and immortality); it was extremely rich and sweet. The Greek gods (and goddesses, I should hope!) must’ve tolerated sugar and thick cream better than I do. And miniature marshmallows! Perhaps they represented thick clouds, the heavens that seemed to be the dwelling place of gods. I didn’t copy the recipe that Google so helpfully provided, but I felt truly grateful to Mom’s Amish neighbors for their generosity of food and song, and for reminding me of the word ambrosia.

These past couple of weeks, the first days of January 2019, ambrosia has floated through my mind and fallen from my lips several times. Not because I’ve had a change of heart concerning the Amish dessert, but because of my very own pears. I’ve eaten three manifestations of pears from the fifteen-year-old pear tree in our garden since New Year’s Day, and I’m thinking: ambrosia. I’m sighing: ambrosia. I’m eating ambrosia—the food of the gods!

Our pear tree was so overloaded with fruit this year that limbs hung to the ground and a couple snapped from the weight. I forget how many five-gallon buckets of fallen pears we picked up off the ground, but it was so many that we didn’t mind leaving at least two or three buckets for the deer and other critters, and gladly gave two or three buckets to friends and family. Since we hadn’t tried any of the suggested organic treatments to deter the worms that cause rot from stem to stern, the pears were often too far gone to save by the time they were just right for eating. But even with the roadblocks to obtaining our own special ambrosia (they must’ve been thrown up by the demons from the underworld!), we froze, dried, and cooked into jam all the pears we cared to mess with. Believe me, it was a labor of love. Why else would I have worked at peeling, coring, and cutting away the rot of three dozen pears to end up with only two fat quart bags to put in the freezer at Mom’s one day last November? Then again, when she pulled a dish of baked pears out of her oven to share with me the next time I was there, I had no doubt that the labor was worthwhile.

And now here I am, beginning a new year, and still feasting on the fruits of my labor. One morning I put a couple handfuls of dried pears into water and boiled them a few minutes before adding the oats, cooking several minutes longer, then stirring in a little brown sugar and butter. Perfecto! Another morning, I pulled a thick slice of my daughter’s homemade bread from the handy sliced loaf in the freezer, toasted it, and smeared it with butter and, what I call, pear honey. To die for! Yesterday, I thawed out the pear cake I made last fall, and, following my husband’s lead this morning, enjoyed a generous slice with a cup of coffee. Gourmet breakfast! Surely the gods and goddesses didn’t eat any better than this! Surely they would declare our treasure of pears in the midst of winter ambrosia! And whether it increases our longevity or immortality, it certainly satisfies our souls and our taste buds. Ambrosia. Ambrosia. Ambrosia. Like tasty kisses in January.

Glenda Breeden for The Poplar Grove Muse

My Grandmother’s Hands

 

 

You must come back, as your grandmother did,

from “Dandelion Greens” ~Jane Flanders

 

 

My grandmother’s hands raised four children. To me her hands were delicate looking, tiny hands, slim fingers, nails trimmed to a sharp point like her words. Small hands that matched her 4 foot 11 inch frame. But those hands were strong and versatile.

She wore a large straw hat to protect her translucent skin from the hard Indiana sun, her firm grip on a hoe that dealt death blows to arrogant weeds that had the temerity to grow in her garden. The garden that fed her family through the depression.

I watched those hands grab a chicken by the neck and swing it around until its neck broke, fulfilling its destiny to become our dinner.  She showed me how to delicately reach under the laying hens and gently put their eggs in a basket without breaking them.

They ran clothes through a wringer washing machine, pegged clothes on a clothesline, her moistened fingertip tested a hot flat iron, screwed lids on bell jars while canning beans, peas, and tomatoes. She also canned beef, potatoes, and made her own ketchup. All of these jars carefully placed on the shelves that were up against the dirt walls in the cellar to feed them through the winter.

Her fingers flew around her tatting shuttle dripping pearly lace like a creamy waterfall. They sewed a bridal gown and veil for my Terry Lee doll. And showed me how to make my own dolls with bobby pins and holly hock blooms.

When I was around nine-years-old I nearly made her run the sewing machine over her own finger when I came in from an enlightening trip to the outhouse with my cousin, Carol who told me very explicitly how babies were made. It was quite a different version than the one I had been told. Grandma was in her bedroom at her treadle sewing machine that faced the window, her back to me. I flopped down on the bed and asked her what fuck really meant. Her foot made the treadle race and I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had started smoking. I watched the deep pink rise up the back of her neck and disappear into her scalp as she told me to ask my mother.  I did. I should have known Carol was right. She lived on a farm.

I can still see Grandma walking through the woods her head covered with a bandana, carrying a sturdy walking stick, bending down to carefully pick a tiny yellow sponge morel from under a Mayapple leaf.

And I can still see her hands when I look at my own.

Rebekah Spivey for the Poplar Grove Muse

 

 

Stubborn Artifacts of Existence

Not long ago, I noticed a crack in my mother’s Vintage Ekco Chromium Plated Black Handle 11-3/8″ Slotted Spatula Flipper USA, a fissure running out from the pressure point created by one of two steel studs affixing blade to handle. This trusty, well-worn utensil has been showing its age for a while—rust stains left on the counter after washing, a fretwork of indentations melted into the plastic handle where my mom before me, and I, let it perch against the rim of a sizzling skillet in the heat of dinner preparations.

I can replace it on eBay for $7.95 plus shipping, but I won’t. I’ve purchased two possible replacements at GoodWill for $.69 each, but haven’t yet put them into service. Neither seems up to the job, somehow.

A child doesn’t imagine a steel spatula fracturing, the fillings the dentist put into newly emerged grownup teeth failing and leading to cracks and complications and crowns 40 years hence, the hips and knees that toddled, then ran, and carry us through our lives simply wearing out—can’t even conceive that the pale, limp, sliced-bread French toast of the 1960’s served up by the indispensable spatula will be superseded by elaborate recipes for thick, crusty slices of artisanal bread soaked in heady brews of egg, milk, syrups and liqueurs, dredged in exotic sugars and showered with fruits flown in from far fields.  While the foodie French toasts of today surely surpass the humble-yet-special weekend offering of my childhood, dribbled with Vermont Maid syrup containing some token dollop of real maple, the memory of that offering still makes me feel loved, cared for, content.

We live among so many things, are gifted with and acquire so many objects, that tidying up and organizing and decluttering has become an industry, an international obsession. I, too, share a wild desire to live amidst fewer things, to have less stuff encumbering my daily activity, to move fewer piles of paper from table to closet and back when guests come to supper.

And so, my mother’s spatula. Somewhere in the world, it could still be indispensable, and as I pass it on (ideally to a scrapper rather than a landfill), I am humbled by the obstinate existence of this unassuming tool, conveyer of French toast and memory, stubborn artifact of existence, subject, like those who have wielded it, to use and wear and pressure points, to the passage of time.

Mary Peckham for The Poplar Grove Muse

This Winter Moon

This winter moon
pulls back veils of darkness
asks we do the same

I dream a tall house
with many cluttered rooms
full of charmed possibility

On the edge of understanding
I delight in
an Escher-like stair climb

See patterned papers
tattered crazy quilts, dusty
books and bathtubs

Imagine what to keep
–to release, all is
fodder for gratitude

Meanwhile tree shadows
on snow grow long
the moon moves along

Leaves its mark on this
vivid night trailed by
a soft sunrise promise

Dappled awakenings
the callings of my curious interiors
and morning birdsong

 

Beth Lodge-Rigal for the Poplar Grove Muse

Photo Credit: Kumar Ganapathy–unsplash.com

Mary Oliver: You were one of us

“Oliver told NPR that simplicity was important to her. “Poetry, to be understood, must be clear,” she said. “It mustn’t be fancy. I have the feeling that a lot of poets writing now, they sort of tap dance through it. I always feel that whatever isn’t necessary should not be in the poem.”

I know many women who are a part of our writing circles at Women Writing for a Change are mourning the passing of Mary Oliver this week. Sometimes I believe Mary Oliver’s poetry was the grease that moved our collective into being. Circle after circle, we would use a poem by Mary O. to help us write our way through grief and injustice and understanding the human condition. So many of her poems were touchstones that in fact when I heard she had died, it felt like a fellow writing sister had died. This woman had been next to me in many circles and readings, and I didn’t even know her.

But little by little, as you left their voices behind,  through the sheets of clouds, and there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own, that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world,
determined to do the only thing you could do- determined to save the only life you could save. ~ From The Journey

Mary was the poet who taught me that it is okay to like poetry. That poems don’t always have to be so fancy it takes a seminar to understand them. That words, meter, metaphor, allusion and everything that goes into a perfect poem belongs to everyone. It is Mary that first gave me the notion that I might write poetry and that in fact, poetry is the great healer, great uniter, great witness to our love and lives.

When I read her biography, I learn that she spent her life pursuing her two great loves: nature and poetry. What a wonderful life, I think. Not only am I admiring that she was able to live as she loved, but that she so generously shared it with the world. She also wrote so much about death being the natural order of things that I know she is at peace. As sad as I am, I feel that peace welling up in me as well.

“To live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go,” ~ Mary Oliver

I am grateful for her life. I am grateful that she shared her words with the world. Mostly I am grateful to be a part of a humankind (and a local writing program) that would treasure and uplift someone so beautiful. I join my writing sisters and men and women everywhere in lighting a candle for one of the true great writers of my generation. She wasn’t fancy. She didn’t need to be. She just told us the truth in her heart. Thank you for your words Mary Oliver.

“When it’s over, I want to say all my life/ I was a bride married to amazement.”~ Mary Oliver

~ Amy for the PGM

Neighbors, Repeated

Welcome to my neighborhood.
Let me introduce you
To my neighbors.
Some you probably know
From my Morning Farm Reports.
First there are my dearest neighbors
Sue and Charlie
Who were my mentors in all things rural
And rescued me from the snakes and raccoons,
Also neighbors,
one loved and one feared.
There are the cows
Those neighbors we call “The Girls”
Who peer over the neighboring fence
Eyeing my delicious begonias
And always greener grass
Or so they believe.
There are the birds of the neighborhood
Too numerous to enumerate
Who come to eat at
What my neighbor Jill
Calls Bev’s Neighborhood MCL.
There is the elementary school
Down the road
The children’s voices echoing
In the neighborhood
At their break times, or
Mixing with the roar of the busses
Come to let them off
Or pick them up
Yellowing our neighborhood
With their colorful bodies.
There is my back pasture
Where the neighbors cross to
Visit the farm,
Or their children take
As a short cut to the school,
Sometimes forgetting to secure the gate
And then the other neighbor horses
Buck and Mare (neighing, of course),
And sometimes some of The Girls,
Come over to try out the
Greener grass.
Occasionally chickens or pigs
Will also come on over,
Considering my home
Just a larger part of their
Own neighborhood.
Wandering around to see what’s what
And, of course, if there is anything
Delicious to eat.
The deer are also neighbors,
My yard and the pastures their
Own fertile neighborhood
Where the small packs
Come to graze and take dessert
On my budding daylilies and
Sue and Charlie’s jonquils.
Coyotes are also neighbors,
Sniffing through the pasture
For moles and shrews,
Delicious dinner,
Especially if a new litter
Of these canine neighbors
Is on its way.
Meet the Amish family
Who lived at The Farm
For a while.
Quiet and fascinating neighbors
Laboring, stooped in their blue and white,
Planting and weeding the garden
They planted to carry food to the Farmer’s Market
Every Saturday in their horse and buggy.
There is Ben, the beautiful big black Percheron,
Who lies buried in the east/west pasture,
Put in that spot by Sue and Charlie
So we all could gaze at him from our windows
As we did when he was alive
And grazing in the pasture,
A very good neighbor still.
And, of course, as every neighborhood
Has its nefarious resident
There is The Worm
(Also named by neighbor Jill)
Who felled a tree without
Checking with the utilities people
And knocked out my electricity
And my internet.
Who cut through my gas line
And claimed he could fix it
(Without an explosion?
I asked him)
Who shoots his guns
Near my backyard
With nary a care for the neighborhood
Endangering my neighbor Jill
And me.
Still, all in all, it’s a wonderful neighborhood
Where most of us live in harmony
And peace.
Good fences; good neighbors.
Bev Hartford

Something New

I came to Women Writing for a Change for the first time 5 years ago.  The Solstice Sampler.  A night just like this, cold and dark, and this room alive with candlelight, and the voices of women, and the invisible thing that lurks in the shadows here that calls us all together.  It had been calling me for a while when I accepted Veda’s invitation to the circle.

“I think it’s something you’ll like,” she said simply.

How right she was.  When Beth invited us to write and set that timer, I slumped into a pile in the corner with my notebook and allowed fevered words to pour from my pen.  Words about fire, and a childhood dream that was suddenly relevant again, and about being set free.  How prophetic they were.  Unknown to me at the time, that was the beginning of the end for me.  The end of a kind of habituated self-loathing that I had been unconscious of, that plagued me into sometimes insincerity and frequent self-doubt.  An unconsciousness that lured me into chasing people and things that didn’t fit me very well, and drove me to project my frustration and anger onto them in response.

Little did I know that, as the path lit up in front of me, and the circle in this room drew me deeper into contemplation held safe and sacred in these conscious practices, riveted together by rituals, little did I know that I was indeed on the brink of freeing myself from the pain of the inauthenticity that had become second nature to me.  Page by raw page, I wrote myself free, slowly but surely coming home to an awareness of my own goodness.  As I became more and more willing to extend goodwill to my sisters in the circle, I became more willing to extend it to others in the world, and finally, even to my own sweet self.  As I became more able to listen deeply to the words of the women sitting beside me, I became more able to listen to others in the world, and yes, even to myself.  To say that this has been transformative sounds trite.  It would be better if I could show you how easily I smile these days and how light my heart feels in the absence of longing.  Longing for what?  For something to fill me, to hold me, to make me feel less alone.  The gift of this community of courageous writers helped to relieve my longing, not by filling that space, no.  But by leading me to the awareness that I fill that space.  I am that space, or rather, it is me.  And life holds me.  Of course it does, as it holds all of us, as it holds the roots of trees, even as they burn.  And in burning, become something else, something new.

DRH for The Poplar Grove Muse

CHRISTMAS EVE 2000

Tis the weekend before Xmas and all through the house
Ginger barks at the door, Turtle chases a mouse
Chuck hides in the loft afraid to come forth
cause he’s on my shit list cause he shat on the floor
and the rug in the bathroom and the rug by the door
and he pissed where he shat and he wants to some more

There is snow on the ground and there’s cold in the air
so Chuck has decided to piss every which where
Denise lies a’resting with hands behind head
hoping her nausea gets lost on a sled
sailing down yonder hillside to valley below
so she can eat garlic and play in the snow

Sean is sitting with family beside Nina’s bed
quietly reading a book he just read
waiting for Nina to rest from her pain
waiting for life to be happy again

Dietrich and Cara have left in the Trooper
to retrieve all the stuff from their car, now a blooper
crushed in the front and crushed in the side
from an Oldsmobile head-on collision last night
Twasn’t their fault and they weren’t hurt too badly
but their Christmas spirit is now sagging quite sadly

Bill is stretched out in the chair by the window
working crossword puzzles and hanging in limbo
“Look at the woodpecker! Look at the dogs!
“Will you bring me some coffee? Will you find me some togs?
“Would you wash ‘tween my toes? Would you please scratch my back?
“Would you fix me some supper?  Would you bring me a snack?”
He’s so mad at himself as on crutches he’s hopping
(I think he just wants to skip Christmas shopping)

Kevin slides around on brakes that don’t work
his grandma just died and his job has no perks
his sweetie is spending the holidays out west
his sons have blue hair and tattoos on their chests

Me? How am I? Mid this season so blest?
Mid this season that sounds like such a damn mess?
I’m thankful for family, for friends, for bean soup
and at least all my children aren’t dying of croup
I’m glad for my teeth and I’m glad for my hair
(I wish Bill still had his but his head’s getting bare)
I’m glad for my Trooper that goes in the snow
I’m glad that a reindeer didn’t step on my toe.
I’m glad for my paycheck even though it’s too small
it’s better than not any paycheck at all

I have presents to wrap and chickens to feed
a daughter to hold when she faints to her knees
(because of that youngun within her, so tiny
so full of new hope, all bright and sunshiney)
A son and his honey to hug cause they’re here
(maybe son will start wearing his seatbelt this year)
A son-in-law to pray for while he sits with his mother
while he waits with his dad
while he waits with his brothers
A husband to love, to pamper, to tease
to bake him some cookies, to check him for fleas

Life can be funny and life can be sad
luck can be good and luck can be bad
and so mid this season of good, bad, and ugly
I sit by my fire and smile rather smugly
The waterline’s not frozen, I have dishes to do
my cat’s not an elephant, Bill’s not broke in two
so I lift up my voice and sing out with delight
“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”

Glenda Breeden for The Poplar Grove Muse

 

 

 

 

Trash or Treasure?

One Sunday, in order to avoid sitting down to write, I spent a couple of hours going through an old, beat-up file box. The items were not organized but were just stacked on one another in this box that was filled to the top. I could almost see me putting those items in the box with the intention to organize it -someday . I had no idea what I would find in there. It reminded me “Storage Wars”, a reality show where they auction an abandoned storage unit to the highest bidder. Sometimes there is trash in the units and sometimes there is treasure.

I approached the contents slowly, lovingly actually. I picked up the folded yellow legal pad of paper, which, if possible, was even more yellow than it had been in its original state. There were about 13 names on the sheet, neatly printed. This paper held names, long forgotten, complete with addresses and phone numbers of the women who lived on my floor in the dorm in 1975 when I returned to IU after a 2 ½ year hiatus. Memories of that year flooded back to me.

The next item in the box was a folder marked “personal” which contained poems that I had written in high school. Some of them were handwritten but most were typed on a typewriter on parchment paper. The darkness of the poetry stunned me. I sipped on my coffee as I digested these words that came from a place I was unable to identify. I was 13 years old when I wrote them. Was it my penchant for drama or did they come from reality?  I set them aside.

Torn out pages of an old journal were next. Naïve, twenty-two year old me, back in college, writing of longing to belong, lost keys at registration, and the dreams I had for this re-start. A newsletter I had created that year was stuffed vertically beside all of the other items. I was the governor of the dormitory floor and the newsletter looked so lame at first glance.  I hadn’t even typed it. The contents of the newsletter, however, were illuminating. Along with articles about happenings around the dorm there was an announcement of an all floor meeting I had planned with a guest speaker from the Political Science Department. The topic she would be speaking about was “The Role of Women in the Workplace”. Hmmm.

Below the newsletter was a stack of folded letters on lined note paper. I knew instantly what they were. When I lived in New York City my grandmother wrote me at least once or twice a month and I kept all these letters. The letters were very “newsy” and grandma didn’t waste one square inch of the paper, even writing vertically on the page and filling all of the white space. She kept me up to date on the activities of my family who were clearly grieving about my absence. I was so excited to be on my adventure that I wasn’t sensitive to their feelings.

The next letter I found was from my first born nephew who is in his 40’s now. He and I have always been close.

“Dear Aunt Sherri, I wish you could come out here. I miss you. My parents and I went to New Jersey to the Academy and I hope I get in (I said get in because I’m not sure if it is accepted or excepted and I still don’t know). Jeff and I went to a girl’s house and her parents didn’t know. I asked her if she wanted to go with me and she said yes but she broke up with me and is going with Jeff. I hate his guts. I have to go. This is the longest letter I have ever written! No, actually, this is the only letter I have ever written. I love you!”

I still smile about this.

There was one last worn out folder at the bottom of the box which, from its size, I assumed it contained old tax returns. It wasn’t tax returns. The first item in the folder held a detailed outline of a stage play I had written. I lived in New York at the time and took writing classes at NYU. I had thought that I had lost the folder when my apartment flooded after I moved back to Indiana, but here it was, in my lap, the last item in an old box. Under the stage play was an outline for a novel, complete with character sketches and several chapters of the manuscript written by hand. As I read the detailed sketch of the main character, Amanda, I was stunned to see that I had given her the birthdate of January 9th. Eight years after I had penned this, in 1990, I gave birth to my son on that very date. I still get chills when I think of it. I get nauseous when I think about all of the time I have wasted by not writing. The saddest thing is, that I didn’t believe  that I could or should try to be a writer.

As I placed everything back in the box, I was aware of the treasures this box held. My steps to avoid writing led me back to my writing and to myself. The message was clear.

Time is wasting, keep your hand moving.

Sherri Walker for the Poplar Grove Muse

Waldorf Salad

 

 

 

 

 

Waldorf Salad

 

It’s just a simple cake.

Any fool can make it

except your aunt, I

gave her the recipe

but she never got it right.

From My Mother Gives me her recipe, by Marge Piercy

 There is a Fawlty Towers episode in which an American guest orders a Waldorf Salad in the hotel dining room, but Basil had no idea what a Waldorf Salad is. And I thought, my dad could tell you how to make one because he made the best Waldorf Salad I ever tasted. He was a good cook who could make many delicious dishes, but that salad was my favorite.

I almost enjoyed watching him make it a much as I enjoyed eating it. Dad was six feet tall and had very distinctive hands with long yet thick fingers, not made for dexterity. He did everything precisely. So watching him dice each apple into uniform pieces was like watching a meticulous surgeon at work. I was in awe. The walnuts were always halved, then quartered, not minced. He didn’t want them to lose their crunch, the same with the celery. He chopped the stalks with a rapid-fire motion. Next came the grapes, each purple grape sliced precisely in half through its shiny skin. I believe if those halves could have been measured, they would have been exactly the same size, not even a millimeter off. Which is pretty amazing for a guy with a glass eye and no depth perception. He mixed it all together with Hellman’s mayonnaise. It was a delicious work of art. When I got married the second time I had him make Waldorf Salad for the wedding. And honestly, I was more excited about the salad than the marriage. That should have been a clue about the probable success of that relationship.

I remember lolling about on the couch as a child watching him put the finishing touches on our Christmas tree. It was his job to hang the tinsel, which in those days were made of foil and tore easily when you tried to take them off their cardboard spindle. Dad bit his nails, so watching him try to separate each strand was torture, but he never lost his cool. Each icicle had to be hung evenly, again, surgical precision. It took a long time, but I loved watching him do it. He was focused yet serene. As an adult I think of him trimming the tree and know the true meaning of a labor of love.

Rebekah Spivey for The Poplar Grove Muse