Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Clock

This is a story I had to write for a class. I thought I would put it up on here and get some feedback. Thanks for the idea, Trav.

When I was small, staying at my Grandma’s house was an adventure. Long before Grandma’s mind was taken by Alzheimer’s and dementia, she was crazy in lots of other ways. A survivor of the Great Depression in a Dust bowl state like Oklahoma, and having lived through the rationing of World War II, Grandma hoarded everything. It was neat. Her cupboards were full mismatched Tupperware, butter bowls and Cool Whip containers with the labels scrubbed cleanly off. Under the flaps of corduroy curtains that covered each shelf in her pantry was a world of food the likes of which most have never seen. Mysterious cans with their labels ripped off, spicy scented packets of homemade soup mix, rows upon rows of homemade jars of jam and jelly and currant with drips of paraffin wax seeping out of the lids were placed too high for me to reach without the aid of a step ladder. But down below, she had stocked the shelves with treats for me to find. I would raise the dusty curtain and my nose would itch with anticipation. There, I could find bags of marshmallows, hard from exposure, jars of Tang, and cut-rate peanut butter with a spoon lying neatly next to it, an invitation to take a bite. There were nuts and salty snacks, cupcakes and breads she had made all waiting for me. Finally, with my belly full and the smell of dinner already hanging in the moist kitchen air, I would wander back to the playroom, her studio.
The walls were covered with half-finished oil paintings. Farmhouses and barns, waterfalls and forests, snow-capped mountains with clumps of pine trees, each with some deliberate portion left unpainted. I knew that later, under her skilled tuition, she would help me to fill in the blanks on some of these dusty canvasses, the smell of turpentine and paint and her big knobby fingers guiding my hands to create art. All around the room, on
every conceivable surface sat the remnants of her hobby, and all around those sat my toys. Broken dolls she had picked up at rummage sales, dainty dresses and roughly hewn sweaters she had sewed and crocheted by hand, wigs she had bought from the beauty college where she had her hair set and curled all sat out in tubs, boxes and crates of various origins. The shelf in the corner was filled with shoeboxes. Each box contained treasures my Grandma collected just for me. Boxes filled with thimbles, and spools, old lotion bottles and empty lipstick tubes. Boxes of paper and magazine cutouts, the leftover deposit slips from the back of her checkbook. The boxes contained shaving cream cans and aftershave bottles that reminded me of my Grandpa’s smell, though he died before I could even remember him. She put back the little orange spreading sticks that came in HandiSnacks cheese and crackers. She saved rocks and pinecones, leaves and pits. Together, we would build cities of bottles and spools that stretched down the long hallway to her bedroom. She was such fun.
She had quite a garden. Well, it was more of a small farm. She had fruit trees and corn and green beans and potatoes and carrots and berries and squash and peppers and every other vegetable under the sun. Her yard was her own little Eden on Pierce Street in the middle of Enid, Oklahoma. She would gather the food in baskets and make breads and jams and other foods and hoard them away in her basement, apparently awaiting nuclear holocaust or drought. Most afternoons, even in the dead of summer, her small hunched frame could be seen toiling away under the shade of the trees, lovingly laboring to see each plant weeded, composted, groomed and finally picked. The food filled her house. Cubbies and cabinets far and near contained some preserved food. She had three deep freezes to keep up with it all. They were as much an adventure as the rest of her house. Carefully moving logs of freezer burned Ziplocs in order to find last year’s blackberries was always an exploration into the unknown. If the Abominable Snowman had once leapt out at me, I would not have feigned surprise.
Her house was never fancy. Most everything she owned was second-hand, salvaged, painted and put back together. She even had used carpet. The knick-knacks were picked up at garage sales or the Dollar General. Her rugs were homemade rag rugs she had tied herself. However, her pride and joy was the clock. It was an original New Haven Clock Company mantle clock, an ornate, heavy mahogany beauty. The original label that still sits slightly adhered to the little door in the back dates it in the 1930’s. She would have been my age when she got it. Maybe it was a wedding present. Regretfully, I never thought to ask. The clock chimed gloriously at every hour and half hour. It resonated throughout her house, and I could know how soon supper was while inside my spool city because of that clock. When we stayed the night at her house and I woke up afraid, not knowing where I was, the clock would chime and I would remember and roll over to snuggle up with Grandma, breathing in her scent of Avon lotion and old lady.
When she died last February, after a desperate battle for her very mind and soul, my family went to clean out the house. What was once a magical land of make-believe was now just boxes and boxes of trash. Well-saved and well-intended fruits and veggies were now laid to waste, for who really wants to eat peaches canned in 1972? Each of us wandered through the house touching and caressing memories of Grandma, opening cabinets and smelling towels, pulling long strings of shiny beads from jewelry boxes and wearing them for no good reason, picking out the things we wanted to take home. My brother took a music box that played Green Sleeves. My sister took the dinette set that had sat so many Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter dinners that you could almost see the reflections of our growing faces in its varnished top. My mother struggled and finally took everything and to this day just has it in storage. I, on the other hand, walked purposefully and dutifully to the clock. I took its little key and wound it tight. It chimed the hour, and I knew that my Grandma was there, teaching me to paint and setting aside new spools and walking with me collecting pinecones and persimmons. I knew that, although in the end, she could not look at my face with the slightest flicker of recognition, in that clock was time. Lost time, wasted time, good time and bad time and in between time all showed at some point on the honest face of that clock. It is my memento, my keepsake of a crazy woman who in the end gave me the best gift of all: time.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

On No You Di'n't!

I just heard the most appalling thing I have ever had the misfortune of entering my head...

I was listening to NPR during dinner, and when I got up to clear the dishes, Philip changed the radio station. The next station over is CSN, a Christian radio station. Just as I was trying to figure out why the NPR commentator's voice had suddenly taken on such an appalling bravado, I heard this "Public Service Announcement."

Pardon while I paraphrase. I did not commit the entirety of this stupidity to memory.

"There has been a lot of talk in the news lately about global warming, and how the earth is being destroyed. Now, I don't know anything about global warming, whether its heating up or cooling down. And I don't know what good it will do me to recycle or ride my bike to work, but I do know THIS. Everyone needs the loving salvation of God. What good will it do to save the planet if we don't save ourselves?"

Are you freaking kidding me? What good will it do to save the creation that Gods has so kindly LENT us to live on? Why should we bother taking care of something that God created, just as he created us? I don't care how you feel about global warming, but if you aren't doing everything you can to take care of this earth that God himself made, then you are being blatantly disrespectful to the Good Lord. He didn't just "GIVE" this world to us to piss away and do with what we will, He has the expectation that we would preserve it for future generations, and care for something that he created. And folks, Global Warming is a reality.

So I ask, what good does it do to disregard God's creation and unmercifully let people die and waste away as we plummet toward self-destruction? Is that a very Christian mind-set? "It's not my problem," was never a very Jesus-like response. Neither was "I don't care." It was also not his way to say incredibly stupid things, masquerading as social commentary, in the name of God. Blehch!

Oh, and check out the website. They have a fantastic section on how to be "Rapture Ready" and a "Prophesy Update" about the end of times. Neat!!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

An Organized Sort of Fun

To my credit, there have been many changes in my behavior since I had children. I am decidedly tidier, sometimes to the point of obsessiveness, but I have let go of a lot of control issues. You have no real control over children. It is all an illusion.

I am a laid back, hippie mom who eats an almost strictly Vegan diet and does Yoga with her kids. We are learning about recycling and go on nature walks when it is warm enough. We spend a lot of time acting out wildly creative and elaborate stories while playing dress-up. We finger paint on old sheets. We build forts with blankets and the furniture. We dance...a lot. I make up songs. I only own one pair of jeans that doesn't have holes in the knees because I spend so much time on the floor with my kids. We have no TV channels. Yep, no cable and we live too far out in the middle of nothing to pick up antenna. We read a lot of books. I am so proud of the mom I have come to be. And yet...

I am compulsively neat. We do each of the above-mentioned activities one at a time. We put everything away exactly where it goes when we are done. And since OCD runs in my family, "exactly where it goes" is pretty severe. I have certain angles I like to prop the toys on the shelves. They are separated by age appropriateness, genre and sometimes, by color. This little bit of OCD has never really bothered me. I actually have found it helpful for keeping a clean house. My own little bit of personal crazy.

Today, however, we were playing on the big dinosaur mat we have with lots of little dinosaurs and a couple of My Little Ponies, Jesus and Noah. I was holding two toys, Jesus and a dinosaur, when Helen says, "No, Mama. One at a time." Apparently I couldn't hold two toys at once. It is against the rules. Then I look over at what she has done... All the dinosaurs and ponies were lined up in a straight horizontal line, in ascending size. One at a time, Helen was picking them up, letting them eat from the pretend tree and then carefully placing them back in line. When Philip came over and promptly destroyed the line (as boys will do), it made Helen cry.

Initially, I thought, my daughter is SO SMART! She lined all those up by size. But then I saw what she had done for what it really was, a mimic of Mommy's crazy. It was in fact, a very organized sort of fun. Not laid back at all, but very structured and rigid. And I felt that for all my hopes and dreams of becoming a big, nasty hippie, I can't let go of my control. For those who know me well, you know that perhaps lines of neatly organized toys is a far better exertion of this need than my many previous habits, but it's still not much better. I have a long, long way to go. But, hey, I haven't shaved in like 8 months, and that's gotta count for something, right?