Category Archives: Family

Stay

When it’s cold and dark next winter, I will wish
for summer, crave it more than sugar, more
than sleep. When I start to feel bone-chilled, I’ll push
my memory buttons hard, hunting for
a night just like last night. Until the sun
went down, it was truly hot, still 90 at six
on our way to the park, sunglasses on,
multiple water bottles filled to the max.
When the sun finally hid behind a barn,
it was suddenly cool. My son’s team lost again
(they often do). It’s hard when you’re 12 to lose
and learn from it, to lose and not feel blue
all night. But he spent the ride home cheering for heat
lightning along the horizon, big and fast and pink.

______
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A simpler time in the dirt

It’s my cousin Jodie’s birthday today (she’s a year older than me and we’re old enough that her age is starting to startle me) and I was trying to think of a childhood memory to share.  Here’s the one I decided on:

Growing up out in the country, there weren’t a lot of people around and the people who were around were mostly family. My Gran’ma Roane (great-grandmother) lived right behind us, my Aunt Becky kitty-cornered to her, and in the other direction, Gran’mommy and Gran’daddy and then just a little past them, my cousins Jodie & Rob and their parents. We rode our bikes back and forth A LOT.

One early spring day when we were 10 and 11 or so, which means Rob was around five, we pulled an old shower curtain out into the middle of a soy bean field.  It was just dirt and dried up remains of soy bean plants–too early for anything to be planted. We tromped across the field to a place where it dipped down some. You can see where in the picture, about halfway down–east of the road, there’s a curving green stripe that I think was a creek.  We were on the west side of the road, and on that side, it only resembled a creek when there was too much rain for a long time. I remember we wanted to be where no one could see us.  But this is the flat part of Southern Illinois, before you get into the driftless region with the Shawnee National Forest and other gorgeous variations of height in the landscape.  So however hidden we thought we were, I’m sure Gran’mommy could see us from the north, and Mom and Dad could see us from the south.

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Jodie & Rob’s house is the green square. Gran’mommy and Gran’daddy to the left of that. My house was down where the road curved. See what I mean about not very many people?

But we felt unseen, and saw ourselves as explorers. A ship on a sea? I think so, but it might’ve been a wagon. Not a spaceship, I don’t think.  Our main spaceship adventures happened in my closet.

I don’t remember anything happening. We just tromped in a field, pretended something for a while, then tromped home.

But wow–what a sweet time that was, to be able to amuse ourselves with an old shower curtain in a bare dirt field for probably hours.

Love ya, Jode! Happy Birthday!

Totally on top of things! Oh, except for

I’ve done something today that I have almost never done in almost 30 years of teaching. I finished grading a set of skill check assignments for my Creativity & Problem-Solving class, and the moment I finished them–BAM!  I am 100% caught up with grading.  There is nothing for me to grade, not even if I wanted to (which I almost never do, which is why this almost never happens).

Here’s how the rest of the day was supposed to go–I’d finish grading, work on my to do list for next week and do a Sunday meeting a day early, take a hot bath (it’s a nice, chilly October day here in Wisco), and then eat some supper and head to American Players Theatre to see Beckett’s Endgame, with some of my absolute favorite APT actors.

Except, when I bothered to actually look at my calendar, and then the actual ticket–it was a matinee. And of course the matinee had already begun.  I suppose I could’ve rushed out & gotten seated, but wow did I not want to do that in the very small, very intimate Touchstone Theater.

So, oh well.   The nice thing is that I got results yesterday from the battery of cognitive tests I took in September to get a baseline of my functioning.  My dad has Alzheimer’s, so I wanted to know what my baseline was, but I was also curious about various brain-farts and space-outs I had over the last couple of years.  The doctor I talked to yesterday said all of those could be attributed to being a middle-aged working mother who has a stressful job. He further said that almost all my test results were superior. Only one where I was on the low end of average.

Here’s the test I didn’t ace. It’s called Trail Making, and you have to draw a line from number to number, in order.  I remember not liking the test.  I remember feeling kind of dumb.  And bored. The visual part of it is part of what makes it make sense to me I was slower–I just don’t process things visually that well. But here’s a weird twist–the next test is harder because you have to do letters and numbers in order: 1-A, 2-B, 3-C, etc., and I did better on that one, apparently. It doesn’t surprise me, really–more challenging = more interesting to me.

And yes, now that I’ve found it online, I want to try it again and see if I get a better score.

Still, overall–very glad of the timing of the consult with the psychiatrist yesterday, so  I can, with confidence, attribute today’s space-out to just spacing out. It’s not a sign of any kind of decline. It’s only the second time in all my years of going to APT that I forgot I had matinee tix.

So no reason to freak out. And also, I’m really, really blissed out about being caught up with my grading. This bliss will last until Monday when I get two sets of essays and another skill check assignment.

Good news and bad news.  Like the rose below.  I dug it up when they redid the  street in front of my house and I really thought I had totally killed it, but n0–there’s a scraggly bit of rose that’s alive. The bad news is how sad my garage looks.  And yet–I’m caught up with grading.

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Foreground: mostly dead rose. One skinny living bit. And a sad garage.

And also I look like Bernie Sanders

Even with my super-short, super-straight bangs, I was an adorable child:

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Kindergarten Cute

Whatever body-image issues I’ve developed since then, there’s no question in my mind I was cute then.  When I was a baby, one or two of my uncles (depends on who’s telling the story) said there should be a “Marnie Doll” because I was cuter than a Kewpie Doll.

When I was a baby, my parents and brother and I got one of the two good pictures of the four of us we’ve ever managed to get:

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There’s also a picture of us in the 80s that’s pretty good. But in general, the four of us don’t photograph well together.

Recently, my Great-Uncle Logan passed away, and my cousin Jewell is going through his photo albums to divide up the pictures. She’ll give the originals to my mother, but she scanned this one and sent it to me:

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This is generally how it goes when the four of us have our picture taken. The looking in different directions. The some of us all swanky and others not so much. In this one, the squinting. Still, I’m loving this picture. First, my mother looks remarkably like one of my younger cousins & I always find those resemblance moments compelling.

And also I look like Bernie Sanders. When I posted this on Facebook, a few people tried to tell me I was actually cute, but I said, no, no–I was a cute child, but this is not a cute picture of me.

Thus, my thoughts when I saw it were “I look like Bernie Sanders” and “Mom looks like Jamie” and also “Mom looks so cool!”

When my Mom saw the picture, she was trying to figure out what year it was.

When my brother saw the picture, he agreed that I looked like Bernie Sanders, but pointed out it was before Dad went to Vietnam–he knew because Dad didn’t have much of  a tan.

Dad agreed it was before Vietnam because he came back from that war with a higher rank and medals.

The Bernie Sanders pic made us all remember the following picture, the first one of all of us when Dad came back from Vietnam (Mom’s standing behind Dad–you can see her hair a little–again, challenging to get a good pic of all four of us).

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I don’t know if the four of us were ever happier than we were in that picture. In that moment.

After that, we would have two adolescences and career challenges and the ordinary life stresses of keeping it all together as adults and then weathering deaths in the family and now my father’s memory is so spotty that he’s confabulating–remembering things that didn’t happen. When he saw the Bernie Sanders pic, he talked about remembering seeing it before, but Mom and I are pretty sure we never saw it. That Uncle Logan snapped it, and it went in their photo albums, and we’re just now seeing it.

That’s the thing about confabulation–it’s hard to know if I should play along (at which point I almost feel like I’m gaslighting myself) or challenge Dad (which is troubling, since the confabulated memory seems as real to him as any other). And in this case, does it really matter? Probably not.

But if we skip to the end of the war and focus on the picture of Dad holding Brian and me, Mom right behind, that white car in the drive–we’re on Gran’mommy and Gran’daddy’s back porch, in their old house on the farm (before the new house, before they had to sell the farm).

If we focus on that picture, well, it’s just pure bliss. I’m sure of it.

What’s Waiting on the Other Side of Turmoil?

–a Thanksgiving poem in a difficult time,
ending with a paraphrase of Julian of Norwich
which also contains a reference to Husker Du

 

What’s waiting on the other side of turmoil?
We can hope, but the ugly truth is we don’t know
if all will be well and every everything will be well.

We’re partial to our own peculiar ordeal.
Our depth of field’s so shallow it can’t show
what’s waiting on the other side of turmoil.

It’s hard to line up the practical with the theological.
Would Julian say, if she got her car stuck in the snow,
“all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well?”

I bet she sometimes just muttered “oh well.”
I bet she had her doubts a mothering God controlled
what’s waiting on the other side of turmoil,

the gruesome news, the shit at work, the hell
through which we make each other go and go and go.
If all will be well and every everything will be well,

the obvious question is when? Does anyone know?
Could one tiny seed of calm actually grow?
What’s waiting on the other side of turmoil?
When will all be well? Will every everything be well?

_____

It does seem to me the setting on turmoil is turned way up lately.  But this Thanksgiving I am trying to nurture little seeds of calm where I can.

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Vanessa Quivertail when she was a baby kitteh.

 

 

The Noble Gases (continued)

1
No wonder I can never remember all eight—
there are only six. I have a place mat
with the periodic table of the elements on it—
I guess it’s time to get it out again.
The ones I never forget are neon
and radon—bar signs and killers in the basement.
I usually remember Superman’s Achille’s heel,
thus krypton, and if I think of Jason, I might
think of Argonauts and thus argon, but
usually I don’t. Almost never will
I think of helium, the most famous one,
the silly voice, the birthday balloon,
the one that can overfill your lungs
and kill you, leeching all your oxygen.

2
There are so many things I can’t remember
all at once. Did I lock the door or not?
Trying to cover up for a name I forgot,
I always introduced myself to my friend’s mother.
I wanted her to say her name back to me.
She never did, but one time said through her teeth,
“I know who you are, god damn it.”
I know her name now, but she’s dead. I don’t need it.
I forget whole poems I’ve written. And other names,
of course, of people I ought to know, and students,
within weeks (or days) of turning in final grades.
I forgot how to start the Lord’s Prayer more than once.
My father’s early Alzheimer’s makes this shit
fraught so I try to console myself with lists.

3
The boys sat in the back, playing chess in their heads.
My friend Beckie and I decided we had too many plots
of Gilligan’s Island in our bright enough heads
to do what they did, several turns in before someone forgot
where some piece was and they argued and then they were done.
I rear-ended a Jeep that same trip, having forgotten
to keep far enough back, forgetting to count
one thousand one, one thousand—ouch.

The noble gases are noble because they’re inert,
unchanging, unlike those brains with the tangles and plaques.
And which noble gas is it inside a laser can fix your eyesight?
Which one makes the IMAX movies so bright?
It’s xenon, which, until a friend pointed it out,
I’d forgotten. I can never remember what all I lack.

With thanks to Max Garland,

and Beckie Hendrick,

and John Heasley (who did remember xenon)

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I can’t not love the Cardinals

I will always be a St. Louis Cardinals fan, but I’m not as big a baseball fan as I used to be. Less time for television viewing. No cable television. No reliable free radio coverage until recently when I got a smart phone (we’ll see how next season goes).

And also, steroids.

I sometimes think the last 20 years should have a big, fat asterisk next to it. It’s hard for me to get swept away by a game when I think so many of the players are gaming the system. Thus, Albert Pujols with his bigness always made me nervous (though as far as I know, he’s not on the lists of “guys we’re pretty sure are juiced.”)

Plus I never liked Tony LaRussa’s hair. (And I never forgave him for the way George Will gave LaRussa credit for some of what Whitey Herzog did with the Cardinals.)

But I can’t not love the Cardinals, even when they’re stinking up the field the way they did Monday night against Boston. Once I start, I can’t stop watching this moment during which I am fairly certain Wainwright was jinxed.

But even if they hadn’t won last night (whoo hoo!), I’d still love them.

Basically, here’s why:

Seriously.

Seriously.

Watching the gods: these aren’t really normal people. We’re watching them do things we could not do.

Literary nature of the game: lots of people have written about this. It’s true. Bull Durham is my favorite movie, partly because of this.

Geographical identity: I don’t know when I’ll ever live in Southern Illinois again, but being a Cardinals fan is part of how I remind myself I’m from there.

Lust and objectification: Can I help it that I first REALLY noticed the Cardinals in 1982, when they won the Series, when I was 17, in the flush of my first waves of womanly hormone energy and girlfriends of mine pointed out things like “Tommy Herr has a great butt.” Objectification is bad, of course. But wow, are these guys fun to watch. Some more than others.

Family Ties: whatever else makes us different, the vast majority of my Southern Illinois family and I are Cardinals fans, and we can always share that. I love it that my Gran’daddy, who’s been gone for two years now, was a HUGE Yadier Molina fan. (I never told Gran’daddy my theories about Yadi waxing his eyebrows.)

Links to my past: I was such a huge fan in the late 80s. I remember sitting on the deck of one of many trailers I lived in while a grad student in Carbondale, listening to KMOX, drinking a Budweiser, sweating like crazy because birds had built a next in the a.c. and I didn’t want to bother them. I don’t want to ever forget that part of myself.

History and tradition: I never got to see Stan Musial or Lou Brock play, but I have a #6 cap and I would love, love, love to own a Brock-a-brella. St. Louis has been so dominant the last few years, it almost seems it’s cool now to hate them (NOTE:  they were NOT dominant in the late 80s and early 90s when I spent the most time actively following them), but it’s an awesome club with a rich tradition and I’m so, so happy to see them relying on their farm clubs again.

I tend to cheer for the underdogs, nonetheless. I would love to see the Cubs dominate, head to the World Series and win, win, win.  The last time the Brewers were threatening, I actually cheered for them against the Cards in the playoffs. I didn’t really mind when Boston won in 2004 (but I do feel like it’s our turn now, regardless of the arguments made by the Red Sox fan I’m married to).

But when it comes down to it, if the Cards are playing, I’m on their side. I can’t not love them.