Saturday, December 25, 2010


Back in the sixties I worked on a hometown print shop that handled everything from Chamber of Commerce brochures to Bar Mitzvah invitations. Every December family Christmas letters - complete with Mom, Dad, Dick, Jane, Puff and Spot sitting under the tree - was a large part of our business. The proletariot, such as myself, who worked in the typesetting/proofreading department loved to read these missives outloud, giggling uncontrollably:

"It has been another Merry Madcap Year at the Hollister Homestead. Fenwick was elected to the City Council in March. In June we smiled bravely as we waved off our beloved daughter Honoria who is leaving us for her fellowship at Oxford. Bon Voyage! She has had a good year there, focusing on linguistics during the Pre-Cambrian era. Gabriel made the water polo team at Groton.

If you think Mildred is sitting home with Empty Nest Syndrome - I should be so lucky!.....(I will mercifully spare you the details of Mildred's wonderful year)."

Years later I would occasionally send out a family Christmas letter of my own, to a very select group of recipients:

"We managed to keep the kids off drugs for another year, we think. Freeman's exwife and her boyfriend lived on our screened-in porch for the month of April. We're not sure why, except they seem to be between assignments. etc, etc."

Real memories for real Christmas letters - might be across time and space, a lacy, silvered tapestry of moments floating like an unmoored Constellation through Infinity. (Think I could win the Bullwar Lytton Award for that sentence?)

I remember walking through the Vermont woods with my grandmother. I think it was in March. I was four years old. She took me to the base of a large tree and began diggging the snow. There, maybe four to six inches down, she uncovered the furled leaves and buds of next year's wildflowers. I especially remember the violets - so intensely green and purple against the mulch and soft Spring snow. Then she carefully buried them again.

In retrospect I think this wonderful/terrible Vermont grandmother may have had bipolar disorder. There was also the time she threw the Christmas tree out the front door of our house on Christmas morning. In a town of 1500 people this was Front Page News.

I remember searching through the snow, to find ornaments, and finding an antique, spun-glass, handpainted apricot that had been in our family for more than a hundred years. Miraculously, this enormously fragile ornament was unbroken. I hope that this apricot still decorates a Christmas tree in one of my cousin's living rooms.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Food Pantry Thanksgiving Blues

Come be lost with me.
I have a number ten can of beef ravioli,
a case of Vienna sausages,
forty-four jars of peanut butter,
apples and oranges.

I want that paper mache turkey that
travels from set to set on a
TV soap opera show -
first out at Tent City,
then to St. Augustines Student Center,
then to me -
so fine.

I want my grandmother and my Uncle Seth,
transformed by the company of angels,
to come back from the next world,
carrying side dishes of
cranberries, walnuts and greens.

I want my old cat to come home.

I'm thankful for toilets,
running water,
a bed.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Only Way Out

the leap into Nothingness
for only there
do blueberry frigates drift
through oats and milk

a blue square from a pack of rolling papers



source of all Art that
ever was or ever will be.

Outside the world of
the electrified frog lying on a slab
in high school biology
(back when apple blossom clouds
drifted through the air)

the legs jump
although it's dead!

Just like me
except Now

Sunday, April 25, 2010

1950s Women

In Prunewhip, Vermont in the fifties, children ran in packs, in and out of each other’s houses. One scene I witnessed almost every day, at least once, ran something like this: The father of the family heads out saying, “I’m going to the hardware store.” The mother immediately scoops up the nearest three-year-old and holds her out saying, “Take Baby Snooks with you.”

He’s trapped, since Baby Snooks is clapping her hands in joy. It was decades later when I realized that this was a control mechanism. Baby Snooks was her insurance policy that he would not follow the trip to the hardware store with four hours at a bar watching sports on the little black and white TV that sat on the shelf over every bar in town. Even though he didn’t help with housework or cooking, he was someone else for the kids to interact with while she went about her endless rounds of work. He wouldn’t come home drunk after spending a pile of money. Everywhere you went in Prunewhip, you’d see middle-aged men and three-year-olds traveling together..

Most husbands in the 1950s had total control of household funds. Women were given an allowance, out of which they were expected to buy groceries, clothing and school supplies for the children, and cleaning products. Anything left over they could - whoopee! - spend on themselves. Men often had expensive hobbies involving ham radio equipment, woodworking shops, power boats, fishing rods, guns. They went on weekend hunting and fishing expeditions with their friends.

Women, of course, wanted money. Most women had some kind of home business where they made what was commonly referred to as ‘pin money.” Women sold Tupperware and Avon. Some of them ran chickens in their backyards and sold the eggs. Others gave hair cuts and perms in a one-dryer hair parlor set up in a corner of their kitchens. They also saved Raleigh cigarette coupons and green stamps. They did a lot of dreaming - pouring over the catalog of items one could get for only three thousand cigarette coupons or five books of green stamps. They dreamed of new sewing machines and vacuum cleaners. A vacuum cleaner meant you didn’t have to roll rugs, take them out to the clothesline, and beat on them. Steam irons - that meant you didn’t have to roll and sprinkle the ironing anymore. Money meant you could buy a brand new prom dress for your 16-year-old daughter. She wouldn’t have to go to the prom in her cousin’s hand-me-down orange spaghetti-strap chiffon formal, which would have to be taken in and lengthened and would still be plug ugly.

If these women sound like a bunch of self-sacrifing ‘patient Griselda’s', think again. They were keenly aware of the inequities of their situation, and many of them had enormous contempt for men. I know this because my friend Joanne’s mother had a beauty parlor. We sat in a corner for hours on end listening to the women condemn men and laugh at them. Men were lazy, stupid and mean. Horror stories were met with gasps and lowered voices - we strained to hear, “You mean her arm is in a cast??” Tales of male buffoonery were told out loud, with lots of laughter. As the women warmed to their topics they would forget Joanne and I were there, and share strategies for avoiding sex with men, particularly when they were drunk. I lived in a household that had no men, and counted myself lucky in that regard. As a prepubescent female, I wondered why women ever got involved with these creatures in the first place. I considered the possibility of becoming a nun - it would be three hots and a cot, with no stigma of being an old maid. Furthermore, it would be a ticket to Heaven, and show all those morons in the sixth grade what a special and sanctified person I actually was. Win - win - win! At night I knelt by my bed and told God I was waiting for the call.

This is obviously not a fair and balanced account of gender roles in the fifites. In part, though, this was how it was. Although women have not achieved complete equity with men, we really have come a long way.

Friday, March 12, 2010


In Vermont in the fifties, February was a mean month. Houses had acquired a permanent smell of snowsuits drying behind a kerosene heater in the 'warm room.' The snow in town was gray and the surface of it speckled like a pock-marked face. Small children looked into their mothers' eyes and saw reflected bck themselves upon a platter, their rosebud mouths plugged with withered macintosh from the barrel in the cellar. Linda Kenyon's mother was seen at the post office with one black eye, and her arm in a cast. It was still unremittingly cold.

In school the teacher read a sonnet:
"When Winter Comes, can Spring be far behind?"
We laugh, and she moved on to long division.

Each evening my grandmother sent me down to the root cellar to forage for vegetables. By late February there were only a few carrots, limp as drunken bridegrooms. She would serve them boiled with a little brown sugar and they would still taste bad.

Today, modified by modern conveniences, there is still a pall that hangs over February. Perhaps it is the anniversary depression therapists speak of. People are glad it is the shortest month of the year.

For me, this February lingered on into the first few days of March. I got up this morning and cruised on to Charles Bukowski's homepage. He showed me intimations of mortality in a barbecued potato chip. Then Rufus, Livingston and I walked down to the creek. I waited for them, mentally composing haiku about homelss men and dogs shitting in the park. On the way home, tattered, rain-sodden azaleas flirted with me, like ancient southern belles, and I realized, "February is over."