Friday, November 27, 2009

Not a Platonic Dialogue

It happens every year. Eating. Drinking. Stories. Hurt feelings. Forgiveness.

Better remembered as dinner at Dela’s.

But today she had a plan, a catalyst for change. Her family arrived minutes before the meal, and instead of grace, she gave a pep talk. The theme? Love. Though, just as the pilgrims probably advised everyone at their maiden meal on new land, she told the family  to check their fighting implements at the door. 

She sat at the head of the table and gathered the rest of her thoughts. Her family did not wait to hear them.

BROTHER:  Nope, don’t wanna deal with any love business. Just give me D&D. Drinks and debauchery. NOW you’re talking!

Dela frowned. This is not about boozing and one-nighters, she thought. Her brother could do that any time. This is about family and love. 

And stew.

DELA: You guys, just think.  Everything that happens — the good, the bad, and the…well, anything else — are like ingredients.  And, while some things don’t taste that great all alone, mixed together they can add a delicious spicing to the rest of the pot. Right?

SISTER: We’re having stew for dinner?

BROTHER: I don’t like stew!

DELA: No, no, it’s not really about stew.  It’s about how family love is a mix of all the things that happen to us and make our lives rich and bubbly and...

SISTER:  You know perfectly well that I’m a vegetarian, so don’t even think of adding any sodding meat to that pot!

She dated a man from England, so the family made allowances.

DELA: You’re not paying attention.  I’m trying to explain that though we sometimes don’t agree on so many—I mean—a few things, we really love each other and we should celebrate.

BROTHER: I’m not loving the idea of stew. Really.

MOTHER: I want turkey.  I hate it but damn-it-all, it’s tradition. I did not just drive three hours to come and eat vegetable stew!

UNCLE MARYLAND: No problemo.  I bagged a 6-point buck this past weekend. So let’s add it to the pot.  Look! I got me a photo.

He took out his wallet, which was a No. 10 standard white envelope, and passed the picture of him in camouflage attire with his victim. Uncle Maryland is grinning and giving two thumbs up. The deer is not. The family all murmured distress sounds.

UNCLE MARYLAND: Man, what a lucky day. Yeah, it was.  Hey! You can say I got game. That’s right. I got game!

He danced around the table until he had a coughing fit and had to lie down on the sofa.

DELA: Stop. We’re not eating stew. We’re not eating 6 points of deer. We’re going to spend a lovely time eating other things and drinking—God, yes, drinking—and telling wonderful stories and giving thanks for all we have.

SISTER: Actually, my investments are still at the bottom of the toilet. I don’t have all that much. So piss off!

DELA: Oh? On your investments?

BROTHER: O.k. I’m thankful we’re not eating stew.

MOTHER: Oh, good. Though I feel bad for Dela. She does love her stew. Can you imagine? Love and stew on Thanksgiving.  She always was an odd child.

Dela stared at the Spode dinnerware she inherited from Granny Edna and realized there was only one more thing to say to her family. 

In all the earlier planning, she forgot to turn on the oven

UNCLE MARYLAND: So? When do we eat?

〜 〜 〜 〜 〜

About 20 minutes later, the pizzas arrived.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cherie Takes Over

Cherie Davis took her first baby steps in an Amish kitchen on a hot summer Sunday afternoon, hours after the family car shuddered to a stop in front of the Pennsylvania farm. The women of the house took Cherie from her mother’s arms and, deciding that the baby needed nourishment, gave her unpasteurized milk to drink. Her mother tried to stop them. She considered the milk “dirty and full of germs,” but the farmers stored no baby formula. Cherie guzzled the drink all day while the men worked on the car.

Later, whenever she got ill while growing up, her mother always blamed the cow.

As a young adult Cherie took her mother’s gift of caution and anxiety and made it her own. She was a committed creature of habit. For instance, before she drove anywhere unfamiliar, she needed such explicit directions that in one case she wrote: at the third light, make a left turn past the white house with black shutters and wave at Grandpa O’Malley (who’s always rocking on the porch). Don’t worry; he never waves back.

Sometimes, Cherie would make a trial run the day before she drove to a new address, giving herself time to get lost, as she usually did.

That is, until her grandfather came to live with the family. Poppy was a retired merchant marine and worried about Cherie’s reluctance to change her routines. One midnight, while sharing milk, cake, and conversation, he asked her, “What do you think will happen if you get lost? Nothing. You’ll find another way. It’ll be an adventure.”

“Just because you loved being on the high sea doesn’t mean I inherited your pirate blood,” she retorted.

Poppy walked over to Cherie, gently pulled her face upward and kissed her forehead goodnight. At the door he turned and smiled. “I want you to be happy, you know? Be happy while you’re living, hon, for you’re a long time dead.”

“For goodness sake, why are you telling her that?” Cherie’s mother yelled from her bedroom.

“It’s just a Scottish proverb.”

“You’re not Scottish!”

* * *
Despite any maternal attempts to stop it, the day arrived some months later when Cherie left home. She was offered an internship in Washington, D.C. and Poppy convinced the family to let her go. Cherie was going to drive herself there. On a beautiful cloudless day, the family’s goodbye involved much hugging, kissing, and crying – all of it on Cherie’s part. Surprisingly, her mother was calm and accepting.

When she first left the driveway and headed south, after giving the family a smile and a thumbs up, Cherie thought about how she felt. Worried? Yes. Frightened? Yes. Ready, willing and able? Yes, yes, yes.

* * *
A few hours later, a two-mile long line of drivers on the interstate sat in their cars waiting. The helicopter, ambulances, and police cars kept everything at a standstill.

No one could have survived this crash.

* * *
Of course, Cherie missed an important turn not long after leaving her home. But remembering Poppy’s words, she stopped at a fast food joint and ate something to calm her nerves. She asked for directions from a man gassing up his car. They were simple and concise and the man assured her his way was easier and, more importantly, toll-free. Cherie soon found herself not on the interstate as the detailed note from her family advised, but on a parallel road.

She turned on the radio. She felt happy.

“Just a detour. Just another way to get there,” she encouraged herself out loud, and sang along with the music.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Mojo Mama

Later, after the woman had worked two lodestones and some magnetic sand together in her hands all the while intoning feeding the he, feeding the she, Gina would remember the waxing moon.  She also would not forget her embarrassment at being in the woods, shivering and crouching at the foot of a tree with this woman who was her aunt’s friend.

A friend who believed that magic would bind Auntie’s husband and stop him from straying.

Gina was living in Argentina with her paternal relatives for a year. Her family wanted her to learn Spanish and to travel before she began high school, or so they said. But Gina believed that her mother’s new marriage to a much younger man was closer to the familial truth of the matter.

While Buenos Aires was a very beautiful capital city with many areas of old worldly charm and new sections of posterity and modernity, Gina felt lost. Everything was strange. Wonderfully strange. But at that time, she was a girl who preferred the familiar. At her home away from home she liked to stay in her room reading or playing online games. Her aunt, however, would open Gina’s bedroom door with a “This is not a hotel. We do not stay hidden away from each other. We share la vida!”

Because Auntie had many friends, there was always an event to attend, a dinner to eat, afternoon teas to consume. It was at one of these teas where the plot was hatched.

After the other guests left, Auntie’s best friend Mirta stayed to talk. Gina’s Spanish was still rudimentary but she understood that Auntie worried her husband might be swayed to have an affair with his secretary. Mirta said she knew a very good love spell.

Gina was clearing the table and caught a teacup before it fell from her hands, her shoulders shaking, not with shock, but mirth. Her uncle? Never. She may not be experienced in la vida de amor but she knew that her uncle’s little everyday courtesies and the happiness carved on his face when he came home and kissed her aunt hello showed he was besotted with her.

Oh, he was tall and trim with salty peppered hair and he did have a beautiful smile and mesmerizing green eyes. He was very rich, and very charming –  maybe too charming for his own good. But cheating? Love spell? 

She made a mental note to ask her aunt to stop watching those silly telenovelas.

Mirta walked over to Gina and grabbed her arm and her attention. “I need your help tonight.”

“Mine? Don’t you mean Auntie?”

“No.” She let go of Gina’s sweater. “I have everything I need from her.” Mirta looked at the comb that Auntie gave her earlier.  “And from him.”

A few dark hours later, they were in the cold countryside.

It only took a flash of movement before the spell was cast. When they reached the car, Gina’s uncle stepped out from the driver’s seat and opened the back door for them. He put his hand out, palm up, and smiled. “Adventure over? Let us go home.”

Later, when Gina thought about her year with her paternal relatives, she would remember the waxing moon, Mirta, and her uncle who cared for Auntie so much he would join in whatever nonsense she desired. So wonderfully strange.

They are still married after many years. Gina calls it love.

Mirta says it’s magic.

Friday, November 06, 2009


It was one of the darkest times of her life. The heavy rains added an appropriate dirge to the wintry early morning sounds. While she waited for the bus, Homeless Reggie, towing a toy wagon filled with plastic bottles, came up to her singing and offered a new refrain: You’re like an angel, honey.

Of course she had to pay him, for that was his self-appointed job. Compliments. He walked over to the others -- the usual commuters at that hour -- and said something to each that would lift the spirits. Love your hair, dear. Sir, that tie is a good one! New shoes? Good taste!

It usually cost them a dollar apiece. Not every day, only on Mondays, for Homeless Reggie had other corners and other compliments to bestow. 

It was one of the darkest times of her life, but for the briefest of moments there was light.

A dollar well spent, she always thought.

The bus arrived and she sat by the window in the back row and sniffled as quietly as she could. She had a plan if anyone asked: “Sorry, it’s my allergies.” But the few people seated at the front kept their eyes on their newspapers, and their ears minded their own business.

Her lover’s words to her this morning were as goodbye as they could get, “I’ve got to go away. Sorry, but I can’t come back.”

He looked in the mirror while he dressed, and spoke to her reflection as he knotted the tie she never liked: a pink silk that was as thin as a tongue. “I do want to be here but my wife needs me more.” Oh yes. The tie had been a gift from his family.

But today was their anniversary. One year. 

Apparently, a time misspent.

Later, when she returned to her small empty apartment after a trying day of work and sorrow and scanned the room, her eyes stopped at the slate fireplace in the corner. Her ex-lover’s picture still sat on the mantle next to the one of her as a small child. In her photo she is seated on a dark velvet-covered chair, and is wearing a simple white lacy frock and an antique cap, handed down from some ancient ancestor, no doubt. Though she is smiling widely, one can see tears in her baby brown eyes.

Smiling through her tears. Nothing has changed.

Outside, several cardinal birds perch along the telephone wire that extends to the back of the alley, their garish red plumage appearing as bloody slashes against the grey and cloudy dusk. She turned away. She refused to think about tomorrow.

After all, Homeless Reggie will not be there either.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Dia de los Muertos

My sister is a collector of Day of the Dead tschotskes. She isn't Mexican, and she doesn't have an altar set up in her stylish NYC apartment, with favorite foods and drinks of the departed strewn about. At her office, however, she does have a collection of skeletal icons including a bride and groom calaveras, and a diorama of a Mariachi band with their bony fingers holding onto their instruments. Why? Don't know. She just likes the art.

After reading about the origins of this celebration, I was excited to learn that if one had an altar set up, this might lure the souls of the dead to visit and hear the prayers and comments from the living. I thought of a plan!

ME: Sis! I have a great idea! Why don't we set up an altar and lure Dad to come and hear us out!

SIS: WHAT! Hear us out about what?

ME: Well, you know how he always joked to us that when it was his turn to go to the other side, he would let us know the lottery numbers? Today's our chance!

SIS: Oh. Well, let's see. ARE YOU MAD! That is the most ridiculous thing I have heard from you. Er, so far, because you have many more years to be as ridiculous!

ME: It seemed like a good idea when I first thought it. But I guess you're right. I mean how would he even know the numbers ahead of time...


Well, it seems that the only way I can get richness in her life today is to take granulated sugar, meringue powder, and water. And hope that it turns out like this:

And, maybe a little altar, because --who knows-- Dad might be willing to ...