Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I did quite a lot of cooking growing up

My mom did not like to cook. She did not like to tend her children or house clean. as the only girl in the family until I was 18, I cooked, cleaned and tended her babies.

Mom also liked to try new recipes, things she considered exotic and I suppose for our South Side Chicago world, many of her 'exotic' ideas were exotic.

Mom would choose a new recipe, like egg foo young (yung?), hand me the recipe and money to buy the ingriedients and order it for supper. This would be, of course, on an evening when my dad not home for dinner. My dad never, ever ate eggs; he was violently allergic to them plus he was a very fussy eater.

My point is from age 7 until I left home for college, I cooked dinner for my family and from about age 13, I did all the grocery shopping with two babies in two in a gigantic double stroller with room for one grocery bag. That meant we had to grocery shop daily but the kids and I both enjoyed being outdoors. I cooked weeknights. Dad covered the weekends.

Our meals were mostly mundane:  meatloaf, potatoes, green beans (never once did fresh green beans enter our meals in those days!); oven fried chicken, potatoes (what can I say, we are Irish Americans!, we ate potatoes at almost every dinner) and maybe corn.  We had desserts when I had the time to make them. I didn't just have to haul kids and groceries after school every day through high school, I had to houseclean. Mom was going to college. How many times did I ask her "why can't the boys do some of this?"  AFter all, I have one brother a year older and one a year younger, old enough and perfectly capable of helping out. all they ever had to do was help with the dishes, which was also one of my chores. I argued, pre-lawyer-advocate, suggesting that since I shopped and fixed dinner, perhaps it would be fair to give me a ps on the dishes.

I vacuumed our house every single day. with six kids, a house needs to be vacuumed that much.  I remember feeeling some trepidation fater halloween, because vacuuming meant vacuuming up candy wrappers and I feared the vacuum cleaner would break down from all the wrappers. What did my siblings do, just throw their trash whever they were, knowing Cinderella sister would tidy up?

Mom did not put me on much laundry duty, something I never pointed out to her. I was afraid that if I asked her why she didn't have me do the laundry, along with everything else while preparing supper*, why did she give me a pass on laundry, that's she say "Now you will do the laundry too."  I still, in a way, can't elie ve I was spared that burden. Not always. Sometimes I did laundry but my mom actually tended to do it on the weekends. During the week, she was gone from dawn to dinner time or even later. Studying is an excuse that covers anything, like the men she dated before she landed her net husband and filed to divorce my dad.

And those awful parents, both of them in this instance, never told their kids they were getting divorced. Later mom said she was afraid I'd stop working for her. And dad said he hoped until the lst minute that she was just trying to get him to shape up (that meant stop gambling).  He never even hired a lawyer, he was so sure the divorce petition was a bluff. but it wasn't.

In court, dad said to the judge "Your Honor, all I care about is that she not take my kids out of state. Could you put that in the divorce?"  Mom was on the stand and the judge asked her to promise, under oath, that she would not remove the kids she was taking out of state.

An hour after the hearing, a big interstate moving truck pulled up and hauled away most of our furniture. In her new life, get this, she tried to pretend her two youngest children were the only children she had so she did not tell her four older children where she lived for a long time. We all missed our babies but they had really been like my babies. I cried about them every single night at college, being a drag to those around me. 

I didn't do everything from scratch cooking when I cooked for my family as I grew up but I did a lot. I rememer that the egg foo young patties in the grease looked like mounds of puke. I had worked long hours to make them chopping everyting, like water chestnuts, chives, and whatever went into them. But I couldn't tate them. They looked, truly, like puke. 

Mom belonged to a ladies club that met at a different member's house each month. When it was her turn, she chose elaborate menus. For egg foo young, she served sake, evening buying  a set of sake cups to impress the ladies. The 'ladies' would all come into the kitchen to rve about my meal, being polite, good mothres themselves. They all said "My daughter would never do this for me."  I was emarassed and proably blushed very red when they thanked me. I knew egg foo young was Chinese and that sake was japanese. I was embarassed about that. I didn't have the heart to tell the women the egg food young looked like puke as it cooked. My mom would have killed me.

But not my dad. He would have taken one look, agreed they looked like puke and thrown the stuff out and made something else.

My dad was not around much in the evenings in my last couple years of h.s. Perhaps in an effort to hang onto my mom, he worked a second job.

Later, much later, my dad said the only regret he had in life was that he had occasionally worked two jobs. he said he should ha ve spent the time he spent on those second jobs just hanging out with his kids, that those jobs stole his kids from him.

We had no parents. I was the closet thing the six of us had to a parent. If someone needed a shirt ironed, I ironed it. As mom ointed out, and this started when I was seven, there was no reason I could not do some ironing once I had dinner started. And this was before permapress. I didn't have to wash clothes but I had to iron six white shirts for each of my four brotheres and my dad:  five for the weekdays and one for Sunday, and five whitte blouses for my uniform. I had to wear a uniform to grade school and coillege. The boys just had to wear white shirts and specific color ties.

I hated ironing the yoke the most. And mom inspected my ironing by checking those cursed yokes.

I have not ironed anything in, maybe, 30 years. I don't think I ever ironed for my kid. I didn't buy anything that needed ironing. I had my fill of ironing before I graduated from grade school and the ironing lsted until college. Then I was done.

Now, I have one nice white dress shirt, one I quite like. it would look much nicer ironed and I think I haev a small a tabletop ironing board and an iron -- somewhere. I have never unpacked the so they ust be in my close fll of unpcked boxes. If they are here.  Like I am going to dig out the ironing board and an iron for one shirt. No way, no frakking way.

Friday, April 25, 2014

mark it on the ice

I miss my dad this evening.

My dad had a gambling problem.  One story will illustrate how serious it was.

In 1958, my parents had a baby born premature.  Mary Ann. Her lungs were not fully developed. Nowadays, Mary Ann's survival would be all but assured but in 1958, modern medicine did not know care as well for premature babies as they do today.  Mary Ann wasn't all that premature, esp. compared to the miracles for very preemie babies these days.  I think she was born half way through the sixth month of her gestation.

They kept her in the hospital for most of her two months life.  She came home for a few days.  One night, our parents awakened all of us -- there were my two brothers and me at the time -- and we all knelt in the dining room, just outside Mary Ann's bedroom, which was also mine, and prayed for her while we awaited the ambulance that took her back to the hospital.

During her short life, after my mom came home from the hospital -- in those days, people stayed in the hospital much longer than they do now.  My folks had great health insurance, as did everyone else we knew. Gosh, health insurance has changed, eh?  My mom stayed with her in the hospital a long time so she could breast feed her. Mary Ann's little life was so precarious that everyone wanted her to have the benefit of mom's breastmilk. When my mom finally came home -- someone had to tend to her other children -- my mom pumped breast milk and my dad took it to the hospital every single day.

During this time, with dad taking several busses across Chicagoland because my folks did not own a car yet,  I often mentally accompanied him on his route. I had always paid close attention to travel, directions, patterns.  At age five, I could have directed most adults better than they directed themselves all over the city. So I knew the route my dad traveled to get to that hospital and I mentally accompanied him, waiting with him when he transferred, noting the darkening afternoons as Mary Ann's live emerged into that fall.  I keen in sadness for my dad's journey, for some reason. He seemed so heroic to me, so loving.  I was sad that he did not have a car, aware, I think, that my dad was ashamed that he could not yet afford one.  I flashed a little anger that my grandfather did not drive my dad on this errand.  I railed at god for making my baby sister sick -- a sister!!! -- and me with two brothers!! -- and for placing this burden on my folks. For some reason, I didn't really see my mom's sorrow, only my dad's.

And I remember longing to meet the baby.  In 1958, at least in Chicago, children were not allowed to visit babies in hospital nurseries.  Only fathers were. No adults could visit the nurseries but the fathers. Adults could visit patients but not the new babies. This has changed.

Once in college, around 1973, a boyfriend had an appendectomy.  I walked all the way to the hospital, which was no where near our campus to visit him. I brought magazines and treats. Bob was full of self pity. Bob was always full of self pity, as I recall.  I don't know what I saw him him. Well, he was not a major boyfriend. But now I have just remembered what I liked about Bob:  Bob had a big crush on me  Don't worry, anyone reading. If the goddesses ever approach me, seeking my help to design a better world, I will repair many of the problems related to romantic love.  There will be no more unrequited loves, no  fairies in the forest sprinkling fairy dust on innocent humans and tricking them into loving someone who does not love them back. Everyone will know love, be loved exactly as they long to be. Although, having said this, I think the universe is already designed this way. I think we humans muck it up.  I think it is always possible to be love. To be love, to be loving, to be loved.  We can blink twice and thus it will be so. Or we can go on struggling.

I digress. This was about Mary Ann. No it wasn't. This is about dad's gambling.

I think the main reason the doctors let Mary Ann come home was to give her siblings a chance to meet her.  How it cut me knowing I had a helpless, sick new baby sister across the city, alone among strangers, literally fighting to take breath.  How I longed to hold her and love her.  I don't remember holding her.  I don't remember seeing her alive. But I must have. She was definitely home for a day or wo. Or maybe I have made that up. Maybe we all got up and prayed in the dining room because the hospital had called to tell us Mary Ann had taken a turn for the worse.

I have no one to ask. My mom's mind is gone.  My brother Chuck the fuck might remember. He was a little older. But he is Chuck the fuck. I won't ask him. His name says it all, right?

During Mary Ann's short life, my grandfather had spent a lot of time with us. He was out back up babysitter with mom in the hospital. And he was also our backup income when dad gambled his paycheck on the ponies.

My dad was a sucker for harness racing.  He took me to the racetrack with him a few times when I was very young, like ages four, five, six.  My mom used to insist that dad only leave the house with one of the kids with him, hoping that having his child with him would shame my dad into not gambling. But this did not work. He just took my brothers to the track and told them to keep quiet. My brothers would keep dad's secrets, too, but dad couldn't hide the missing food money so mom would find out.  My grandpa always stepped up. He would come over and hand money to my mom, making a big show of not giving it to my dad, not risking it to the ponies.

So mom started to send me out with dad. When dad said he wanted to run an errand, visit an old friend, mom knew he wanted to go out to the track. Or at least go to a tavern with bookies. She assumed, wrongly, that our gender solidarity would cause me to rat my dad out. But I loved my dad much more than my mom. We all did. Moms get it hard, don't they?  Kids hate their moms far more often than they hate their dads. It's not fair. But I kinda get it.  Your mom is going to love you no matter how bad you treat her. It is less risky to shit on the mom. That's my theory.

My kid's father all but abandoned her. He paid his child support, although I had to take legal action a few times to enforce it. But my kid only knew that he stepped up, he paid. And the fact that he did not exercise his visitation rights, did not even, sometimes, place a fucking phone call to her on Xmas day, let alone, um, send her a Christmas gift?  That was my fault.  I kept her from him.  In his very rare interactions with her, he would say "I wanted to call you on Christmas but your mom got an unlisted phone number".  Or whatever crap he said.  In order to get my child support, 'the system' always knew where I was. as a lawyer, her father could always find out where I was. Not that he needed to find us.  I kept in contact with him. I sent him countless letters begging him to show up in her life. I wrote letters to all her relatives on his side, begging them to be family to her.

She had a paternal aunt that had moved to Florida. I wrote to that witch and told her that my Katie needed her family, that it was not my wish to keep her from having a relationship with her father's kin.  I offered to fly Katie to visit that auntie, even though the aunt is a very successful medical doctor. This aunt owns several small day-surgery clinics. Her husband manages the businesses. She's not just a prospering doc, she is a wealthy business owner.  The kid's father bragged to the kid about her aunt's wealth, the indoor pool on the oceanfront home her auntie owned.  He sent her a photo of that pool.

Swimming pools were a big deal to all of us. Me, the kid, her dad, we're all lap swimmers. Or were. I don't know if my daughter still swims.

I digress.

I am sad and angry.  I hate my life.  I hate me.  I wish I could hate myself dead.  That probably sounds way crazy, does it?  I tried to hate myself dead. After my big, serious, carefully planned suicide attempt failed in 2003 -- I was determined to not turn fifty without my kid --

My dad stopped gambling when Mary Ann was born and was so sick.  The adults in my world of 1958 never talked openly about dad's gambling. We all pretended he didn't gamble.  A classic elephant in the living room dynamic.  But I heard them talking when they pretended we did not hear them.  I heard my dad promise my mom, over the phone, cause she was in the hospital with our sick, dying baby, that he would never gamble again. And during the two months of her life, he did not gamble.

On the day of Mary Ann's funeral, grandpa came over. He was going to drive us for the funeral. But he also had to give my parents money for the funeral.  He handed the money to my dad. I was only five, just a kid, supposedly clueless, but I knew that wads of cash in my dad's hands were always at risk.  I knew the race track was far away but I knew dad could gamble at the corner tavern.

Do cities still have dingy corner taverns like Chicago had when I was a kid?  I'm talking about dark bars, with one long dark, usually black, bar on one side, a very few tables with very few chairs along the wall opposite the bar/ Mirrors behind the bar. The only light fixtures were beer light fixtures. Or so it seemed to me. For yes, I had been in these taverns in my mom's fruitless attempts to shame dad into not gambling.

It must have hurt wicked hard to see your man gambling away the money you needed to feed his children.  It is so unfair that we loved dad more than mom. But I'll tell you why.

My dad was nicer than my mom.  My mom acted like she begrudged me everything. She sent me the message, seriously, when I was so young that I had not yet figured out how to roll over in my crib, let alone raise my head.  She did not want me to ask her for anything.  She probably did not literally say these things but humans communicate with one another without using their voices. In Madeleine L'Engle's great young adult novel, A Wrinkle in Time, L'Engle describe 'kything' which is people tlaking to one another mind to mind. In the novel, kything unfolds in language but I think that 'in reality', what reality is, people can convey their thoughts to one another and they do. They do it all the time. But science has not yet identified this sense so we don't count it.

My mom told me, kything, when I was brand new, to want nothing and to need less.

I have internalized that stricture my whole life. I am 57 and I still feel like I am not supposed to want anything, not supposed to need anything. Want nothing, need less.  Want nothing, need less. It was practically the goddamned mantra of my childhood.

But as a kid, you love your mom and you don't know different.  You don't know that other moms, maybe, want their kids to come to them and ask for nurture.  In our family, the message was clear:  leave mom alone.

And what did she do?  I used to wonder, long and hard, about what my mom did.  When she had a newborn, sure, she kept the kid alive.  But when my brother Tom was born, when i was 7, my dad sat me down for a private chat in my parents' room, which we were not normally allowed to enter. He used that parent bedroom to give the event more portent. He said as the only girl it was my job to help mom now tht she was preggers again.  He was counting on me to step up, to do whatever i could for mom. And I did And when Tom was born, I did a lot for him. But I was only 7 so I did not completely take over. When Dave was born, I was 10, it was just about summertime, and I had expereince from caring for Tom.  I took care of baby Dave dawn to dusk that whole summer.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Did she say stuffing?

My niece Ruby was nine months old for her first Christmas. My sister, Flannery, and Ruby came over for a Christmas Eve supper with me and my daughter, Rosie.

Rosie and I had a few Christmas traditions. We tried to visit relatives over Thanksgiving because we preferred to spend Christmas in our own home. This had the added benefit of avoiding the Christmas fights. We had Cornish game hens for dinner on Christmas Eve. We went out for Chinese food on Christmas Day. Some years we spent time with friends but we always spent a lot of quiet time together, just the two of us.

My sister had decided that she and Ruby would spend their first Christmas Day alone together so they had come over for Christmas Eve supper. I served stuffed game hens. We probably exchanged gifts that evening but I don't remember presents.

I remember the moments when we sat down to dinner. My daughter, my sister and my niece were like shimmering orbs around my table. I was aglow with my love for them and their love for me. I remember noting that my daughter was more vibrant than usual. I remember noting that Rosie loved having my sister and my niece join us. I loved Flannery and Ruby deeply but I found myself loving them just a little bit more that evening as I noted Rosie's joy to be with them. Sometimes we went to friends' homes for Christmas dinner but I think this was the first time Rosie and I had Christmas company. And what special guests! In my mind's eye, we had candlelight but I don't think we actually did. I think my memories glow because of love, not candlelight. I was happy, full of love, as I sat down to that Christmas Eve dinner with three people I loved so much.

Having a baby around is always bliss. Ruby was at a peak of perfect plumpness. I think of how many nativity paintings have a radiant light focussed on the Christ child. All babies glow like this for me and Ruby was alive with radiant joy. My daughter, now thirty two, still dazzles me with her radiance when I think of her. Come to think of it, all the people I love glow for me.

My sister, of course, was also in a bliss state. How could she be anything else when she had baby Ruby in her arms?

We had dressed up for this dinner. As I write this, I am really having a great time. In my mind's eye, I keep looking from Rosie to Flannery to Ruby, then back to Rosie, around and around, noting the radiance in each of these women as they sat around my table, loving them with all my heart. I had this experience at the time as well, looking loving at each of my beloveds around that table. Rosie, a high school freshman, was doing a spiky thing with mousse in her hair. She was wearing a brown velvet dress. Flannery was a picture perfect madonna, with her thick, blonde hair and red-lipsticked lips. And Ruby. Ruby wore red, a precious jewel in any color but she popped in red.

They were all beautiful. I loved and love all of them so much.

We began eating, all of us chattering happily. The meal was not very fancy. My big flourish had been to place a few tablespoons of stuffing in each of the three birds. We joked about that stuffing. It was delicious but it seemed like such a lot of trouble for such a small return. Digging it out of the tiny birds for such a tiny reward. Two tablespoons, maybe three.  We talked about stuffing recipes. Flannery was partial to stuffing with chestnuts. I was partial to stuffing with walnuts. Rosie was fussy, sliding into her eating disorder but I didn't know that yet, liked her stuffing plain: bread and seasoning, no onions, no celery. The stuffing this night was plain one of my gifts to Rosie. We were all happy to have it the way Annie liked it. Stuffing, stuffing, stuffing. We had a lot to say about stuffing.

Which might explain what happened next. It was a Christmas miracle.

Flannery was feeding Ruby tiny bites of stuffing. Ruby had just begun to eat solid foods. She couldn't eat the poultry. She didn't like the cranberries. Ruby liked that stuffing.

As we laughed and chatted about all things stuffing, Flannery began to exclaim, "Look at Ruby! Look how she likes the stuffing!" We all gazed adoringly at our baby.

"Here," I said, "She can have my stuffing." And I scooped out my tiny portion of stuffing and put it on my sister's plate.

My sister kept feeding the baby stuffing. We were all rapt, joyfully watching Ruby gobble stuffing as fast as my sister could spoon it into her mouth.

"She can have my stuffing, too!" Rosie exclaimed. This was a miracle in itself. Rosie was fussy about sharing her food. She had never been willing to share food, not even when she was a baby herself. She was a little obsessive about it. When Rosie offered her stuffing to Ruby,  we all radiated a joyful vibration. It was so perfect that such a little thing could make us all so happy.

"Stuffing!" Ruby said.

Ruby was not yet talking. She and her mother communicated, of course, but we were not yet thinking of Ruby as someone who could talk.

"Did she just say stuffing?!" my sister cried out.

"Did she just say stuffing?!" my daughter cheered.

"She did, she did. She said stuffing. Ruby say it again. Stuffing. Say 'stuffing! She said stuffing. I know I heard it right."

We all tried to get her to say it again.

"Give her some more stuffing, maybe she'll say it then."

"She's already eaten all of it."

We dug around our poultry carcasses looking for more stuffing. The stuffing was all gone.

"It was not our imagination. That baby said stuffing."All three of us kept exclaiming the same things. We were so thrilled that the baby had finally said a comprehensible word and such a complex one. Stuffing is not a daily vocabulary word. We all nodded meaningfully back and forth, signaling to one another that our baby was a genius if her first word was stuffing.

My daughter's first word, at least the first one I understood, was Snuffleupagus.  She loved Snuffleupagus on Sesame Street. That's a very big first word. When her pediatrician asked me what her first word was, he said I had imagined that Snuffleupagus was her first word. I realize, in hindsight, that my baby must have been using lots of words before I got Snuffleupagus. I also learned that she rolled words together, making them sound different because she was learning not just language but how to use her vocal muscles to imitate the sound of my language. Once I figured out that babies roll their sounds together when first trying to say words, I could understand most babies sooner than their parents. I bet most babies talk much sooner than their parents realize because the parents are listening for how language sounds to them. Babies are experimenting on many levels as they learn to talk.

We had some holiday pie after the stuffing thrill died down. . Cranberry pear pie. Ruby got some smashed up pears, turning up her nose at the berries.

I love my daughter, my sister and my niece so very much.

Friday, April 11, 2014

poetry is not a luxury: Audre Lorde

Civil rights activist and poet Audre Lorde writes in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches
, “For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.”

Lorde was an African American activist and poet.  Here is one of her poems. This one fits the above quote, at least to me.


The difference between poetry and rhetoric
is being ready to kill
instead of your children.

I am trapped on a desert of raw gunshot wounds
and a dead child dragging his shattered black
face off the edge of my sleep
blood from his punctured cheeks and shoulders
is the only liquid for miles
and my stomach
churns at the imagined taste while
my mouth splits into dry lips
without loyalty or reason
thirsting for the wetness of his blood
as it sinks into the whiteness
of the desert where I am lost
without imagery or magic
trying to make power out of hatred and destruction
trying to heal my dying son with kisses
only the sun will bleach his bones quicker.

A policeman who shot down a ten year old in Queens
stood over the boy with his cop shoes in childish blood
and a voice said “Die you little motherfucker” and
there are tapes to prove it. At his trial
this policeman said in his own defense
“I didn't notice the size nor nothing else
only the color”. And
there are tapes to prove that, too.

Today that 37 year old white man
with 13 years of police forcing
was set free
by eleven white men who said they were satisfied
justice had been done
and one Black Woman who said
“They convinced me” meaning
they had dragged her 4'10'' black Woman's frame
over the hot coals
of four centuries of white male approval
until she let go
the first real power she ever had
and lined her own womb with cement
to make a graveyard for our children.

I have not been able to touch the destruction
within me.
But unless I learn to use
the difference between poetry and rhetoric
my power too will run corrupt as poisonous mold
or lie limp and useless as an unconnected wire
and one day I will take my teenaged plug
and connect it to the nearest socket
raping an 85 year old white woman
who is somebody's mother
and as I beat her senseless and set a torch to her bed
a greek chorus will be singing in 3/4 time
“Poor thing. She never hurt a soul. What beasts they are.”

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

do you think you are free?

The description of our perilous times has not been better stated than by Aldous Huxley: "Only a large-scale popular movement toward decentralization and self-help can arrest the present tendency toward statism... A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude. To make them love it is the task assigned, in present-day totalitarian states, to ministries of propaganda, newspaper editors and schoolteachers." - Aldous Huxley - (1894-1963) Author - Source: Forward to 'Brave New World', 1932

Perhaps Goethe put it more succinctly: "None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free."