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Posts Tagged ‘meandering around my head some’

When I was small, my paternal grandmother gifted me with a little yellow suitcase. When I left home to see the world at age eighteen, it was one of the things I left behind.

Thinking about it now, that surprises me a bit, but more on that in a minute.


About four years back, my parents decided to sell their house and travel full time until they were too old or infirm to do so. I enthusiastically supported them in this notion, and so I went to help them sort through their things and shuck their household into different directions: Storage, thrift shop, yard sale.

I felt like a disproportionate amount went into my vehicle, but I indulged my mother, because I knew that there were certain things she didn’t necessarily want to keep but couldn’t bear to part with. I went home with several things I felt sort of ‘Meh?’ about, because my Mom is a fucking saint and has been my champion the whole of my life. What’s a little cartage in the face of her mom-heroics?

One of the things we unearthed was the little yellow suitcase that I’d so loved. Mom couldn’t bear to let it go. She could sell the piano I’d gotten for my ninth birthday and parcel out my dolls to my younger cousins, but the little yellow suitcase stayed. It eventually became a place to house certain paperwork so that it bore the title ‘useful’ and had an actual purpose. A purpose meant a reason for being kept.

small blue thing

This is me around the time that the suitcase was gifted to me. I thought that suitcase was brilliant and gorgeous. There is a layered irony now in the fact that it was given to me by my paternal grandmother, but at the time all it represented to me was promise.

A suitcase was a very adult thing to have. It was also a very individual thing to have. It meant that I was seen as a person independent of adults. It meant that my things had to share space with only my things. It meant that I could pack my own bag as I pleased, and I could set off on adventures if it suited me.

So that’s what I did.

It started with me packing the suitcase and going out into the backyard to play. Then I packed the suitcase and went to the end of the driveway. Then I packed the suitcase and went to the neighbor’s house.

Before long, I was toting that bag down the block and around the corner and to the store and to the library (on those excursions I could scarcely carry it home, because I was bringing it back full of books). Over the years I carried my suitcase to my Uncle’s bowling alley to earn a quarter doing small jobs, my Aunt’s bakery for a cream-filled donut, my cousin’s house because I wanted to pet his dog. Sometimes I ended up staying the night with various family members by virtue of the fact that I had a little yellow suitcase that was packed with a pair of pajamas and a set of clean clothes. I was very fortunate in that I was a well-loved and well-regarded child, with multiple sets of ‘parents’ by way of a large extended family.

For as strict as my parents were in many ways, my vagabond tendencies –stoked by my first suitcase– were very indulged. My saddle oxfords got worn slap out.

This early tolerance of my independent streak and my love of finding new things, of seeing new places, set a tone for my life. I’m very thankful to my Mother and Father for this.

I’m thankful, too, to Mary. She is the person who gave me the little yellow suitcase. She didn’t gift me much else in my life (of substance OR of spirit), and I grew to despise her as I crept toward adulthood. I learned a couple of years ago that Mary’s mother left her on the side of a tree-lined gravel road when she was thirteen. Mary had one thing in each hand: The hand of her ten-year-old baby sister and a suitcase. My heart has softened to her some, because I’ve come to know that what I don’t know fills galaxies; they are galaxies that are populated with hard things like want and sorrow and truth and understanding.

The understanding I have teased out of one of those galaxies is this, though: Mary gave me that suitcase, and by doing so she both opened a door inside of me that I stepped through, and she prepared me for my life.

I was a small blue thing with a little universe in a box. Glory hallelujah.


When Lucifer dropped down from Heaven
And yanked a third of it, streaming, behind him,
Babies throughout time startled in their mother’s wombs:
A sudden jolt of a kick to interrupt the outer goings-on.
I’m told this was only a smudged exclamation point
In the unfolding history of Everything That Ever Was:
Emphatic, but blurry.

My Mama once told me that the Devil turns up his ear when I pray,
So, cracking my eyes open just the slightest
(In case things in my room started shaking and
Falling apart through the middle, books leaping off of shelves)
I’d sometimes address him as an aside:
“Hey. Why you so troublesome. Is jealousy worth all your tired anger?
Satan. Do you ever put down your dukes?”

I always did like to poke a bear, and I always dug after answers.
The way I was raised the Devil was the biggest trouble
But there were no answers that weren’t worth troubling even
Ol’ Beelzebub, because ignorance is worse (by far!) than death.
So: If I’ve not avoided challenging The Old Man himself,
Why on Earth would I not hazard to
Also question the way the Church behaves?

|| July 11, 2014 || 12:34 am || Comments (3) ||

I was raised in a sphere wherein things like nosebleeds were dealt with matter-of-factly.

One time a guy told me he fell in love with me because I didn’t really bat an eye when he sprouted a nosebleed one afternoon. He was impressed that I didn’t panic and wasn’t embarrassed or grossed out. I just tended to him calmly and he was smitten, he said.

“I mean, I knew I wanted to bag you the first time I saw you,” he said, “but Nosebleed at the Mall dropped any negative odds in my book. ”

So that was one of the best and most terrible relationships of my life. I bought him a yellow shirt that day; it was the color of lemon chiffon and he’d never worn yellow before. He kept that shirt for 22 years, he told me. This was a revelation of gigantic proportions to me, coming as it was from someone so afraid of vulnerability.

He stole a snapshot of me and my then-boyfriend from my house three weeks later. He carted that around in his wallet the same amount of time, bobbing around on board ships, marching across deserts, comfortably embracing the role of stranger in a strange land.

“That’s weird,” I told him when I found out.
“I know! I cut him out of it and burned him.” He was proud of that.
“Oh, that one went up in flames, alright!” I said in response.
“One thing about you,” he said, “is that you’ve always had that quick mouth.”

It’s true. My mouth has a built-in quickness and my heart has a long memory. One or the other is always giving me trouble, I swear. Both of them have costs. Who gives a fuck about costs. They’re like nosebleeds: Transient and nothing to panic over.

Life is short, and what’s a little blood, anyway?

|| May 11, 2014 || 11:05 pm || Comments (3) ||

I remember my Mother and her sisters gathering in my grandmother’s kitchen there in the house on Quarles Lane. They always teamed up when it came to food: They canned produce enough for the families of all nine kids or made sausage enough to freeze and last all year. They’d prepare meals for daylong parties where horseshoes would chime a pole the whole afternoon while the the smaller cousins ran around like tiny escaped mental patients, gorging on pie.

The kitchen was small, and each of the six women had a distinct job. The blue- and green-flecked formica table was always laden with a small mountain range of raw foodstuffs and an array of knives and bowls. My Mother and her family moved alongside and around one another with an unselfconscious grace born of repetition. Other than the hours spent dragging cotton sacks, these girls had been in their Mother’s kitchen the whole of their lives, watching this dance, learning it and their individual contributions to it.

They laughed and sweated (“Women do not sweat,” my Mother once told me, “They glisten.”) or they frowned and sweated, and –though I can’t be sure because they’d never let me in to listen– I’m pretty sure there was a bit of ‘polite’ discussion about the goings-on around town. The general air was that the food dictated their mood: When making up quarts and quarts of chowchow, there was laughter and the occasional song would up and bust out of someone.

Sausage, though: Sausage brought with it pursed lips or furrowed brows. (please insert joke about the laydehs of my family taking their sausage seriously, that’s what she said, whatever)

During these food prep marathons I and my (mostly male) cousins were banished to the yard, which usually resulted in some sort of physical contest like a game of football or slingshotting rocks at a series of targets: A tin can, a six-ounce glass Co-Cola bottle, a piece of cardboard with an ‘x’ of black electrical tape marking its center. One at a time and in no particular order each cousin would get called out and heckled by all the other ones. That was a brutal five or ten minutes for the victim, but it served to give us cast iron guts and ready retorts born of practice when someone out in The World would chance to try and torture us later. Those who groused or didn’t have the proper bearing under pressure got a double helping. Those who whined through the screen door at the Mommas got a double helping of the double helping, and sometimes were temporarily shunned.

We loved so hard. We played so hard. We were special and not every family had what we had: Six strong matriarchs to watch over each of us in turns, each seeing some way they could minister to us children.

This week I talked to someone I love very much. He chanced to be included in one of our family gatherings when we were both on the cusp of adulthood. “I’ve never had better food in my life,” he said, and that called up memories about the pride and the effort that went into every one of those dishes. It caused me to spend a couple of days remembering all the mothering I got; that mothering not only came from my mom, I got it from my aunts and even some of my older female cousins. I never wanted for hugs or laughter or even a decent buttwhipping if I was in need of one.

The prevalent feeling of my young childhood was one of being regarded and doted on and well-cared for.  The women in my family are crazy-good at regarding and doting and caring, and also telling you when you need to zip up your face and bring your ass-end back into line.

We would arrive home after those days of food ritual, spent and happy. Mother would hustle me into the tub and scrub my black-bottomed feet hard but wash my long sheet of blonde hair in a gentle manner, rinsing my head carefully while singing or talking to me. Later I’d climb into the bed, my lanky legs brown as a bean against my pale pink nightgown, and my Momma would be waiting there, long and willowy, to tuck me in. She’d lean in, kissing my forehead –my favorite of all the kisses in the world– and murmur or sing to me. I’d catch the subtle leavings of her shampoo, her most recent cigarette, and her Chanel mingling, and feel perfectly at peace while I slid off into sleep.


|| February 17, 2014 || 11:52 pm || Comments (5) ||

Just got off the phone with my father. That call didn’t just elicit a couple of emotional swings, it built a whole damn swingset.

Let’s focus on this one thing, though: I just got off the phone with my father. You know, the guy who two years ago was given a death sentence containing the words “small cell” and “inoperable.”

He’s still here.

Now let’s tease out one more detail from that call: He’s going to Guatemala on a mission trip. This leaves me stunned in about fourteen different ways.

ByGod, it occurs to me that I am still proud of this man. Not thoroughly; not even mostly. But in certain key, important ways that damn near make up for the lack. I call that a win.

“I hope you’re proud / to be my dad.”

Even a decade and a half of estrangement can’t kill certain things.

|| June 19, 2013 || 9:22 pm || Comments (3) ||

You know, for some years now I’ve been trying to ‘get a hold of myself,’ to be even and mild and measured.
I’m thinking that I’ve put in a lot of work that was antithetical to who I’m supposed to be.
I don’t want to be gentle and quiet as a rule.
I want to roar, both in my laughter and my rage.
Supplanting that roar with a Mona Lisa mouth makes me feel all odd angles and unsatisfactory leanings.

I can whisper when I’m dead.
And if I can’t, I won’t know the dang difference anyway.

Tell me about your misplaced work, sugar. I miss your voice.

|| December 11, 2012 || 5:23 am || Comments (11) ||

My father and my dad and my husband –all veterans, two of whom have served extensively in combat situations– all have distinct opinions on the overall accessibility of today’s military from a technology and media standpoint. As a former military brat and service member and wife I understand every argument they make against it.

Each and every one of them, in their own words, has expressed to me the need for a man down range to stay focused on where he’s at and what he’s doing at all times without compounding the heartache of homesickness or being distracted with any pettiness that is going on back home. I fully grok what they are saying. For the most part, I guess I don’t disagree.

As a military mom, though, things like Skype allow me to give my kid encouragement and reminders of who he is. Things like Facebook give me tender tugs telling me that though my son is a man doing a dangerous job, he is still the boy who had me sit down with him and show him how to tune a guitar and teach him about the circle of fifths and hey what key was that in and show me that chord again:

One of my favorite pictures of my father in country is of him sitting in a hut, barefooted and bare chested, pants pegged at the ankles and a harmonica slung around his neck. He’s cradling a guitar in front of him and his mouth is open in song. I own –at minimum– fifty service pictures of him, and that one gets the prized spot in my heart, because it shows something of who he is beyond the haircut and the uniform and the obvious tired that shows up in some of the photographs. It shows him to be a person grounded in something other than camouflage and orders and chasing clever, sadistic men through a wet canopy of trucked-up nerves.

I am forever telling my kids not to wish time away, but if I’m being dead honest with them and everybody else, then at present I am sloppily shoving days behind me like I’m paid to do so or sommat. This next year can’t possibly go fast enough for me. Tiny things like poorly-taped snippets of combat tedium shot in a curtained bunk warm my heart. I have to say, in all honesty, that they’d do so no matter whose kid was in them. And I’ll be damned if my brain can’t help but snag on (during my third or so viewing of that video up there) things like, “I think it would’ve made all the difference if the American public could have seen those nineteen- and twenty-year-olds with ukuleles in their hands, singing folk ditties, before they rolled home from Vietnam, before they disembarked from planes and ships bewildered and worn slap out and overwhelmed.

“America would have remembered that we sent boys in to do the work of men and sometimes the work of men is too much for anybody to fathom, even the men who are doing it.”

My son slings a rifle, my son sings songs that our people brought over to this country, my son loves his job and misses America right now. You miss him back, America, him and all the ones like him.