Three-Minute Memoir

November 4, 2016

Making Memories

By Susan Middaugh

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Our trip to California in July of 2016 began many months before that with some friendly negotiating.

“Where would you like to go?” I asked Jasmine.

“Los Angeles,” my granddaughter replied.

“No,” I said. “There’s very little to see and I’d have to rent a car. How about an inter-generational trip with Road Scholar or Sierra Club? I’m open as to the destination. “

“I’d rather it was just the two of us,” Jasmine said. “How about San Francisco?”

“Great, “ I said. In retrospect, this exchange – setting limits, honest communication — was to become a harbinger for our trip.

While I made our travel reservations, Jasmine agreed to draw up a list of places she wanted to visit. At the top of her must-see’s were Alcatraz, Chinatown, and a local burger chain called the In and Out.

Based on advice from travel editors at the Washington Post, we stayed at a B&B near Chinatown that was around the corner from the Powell Street cable car line. Among its attractions were a continental breakfast, afternoon tea, and Pip, the resident cat. Pip also proved to be a catalyst for our connecting with other people. Over tea and cookies that first day, we met an Asian woman who lived in Nob Hill and visited Pip regularly. Could she recommend a Chinese restaurant in the neighborhood? The Golden Dragon, she said. With directions from a helpful nail salon, we finally found the place. And when we did, Jasmine liked the fried rice and I the stir fry beef and cashews.

The B&B’s small dining room and its policy for shared tables also made it easy for us to talk with other tourists (many of them from overseas), a highlight of our trip. Among them was a young woman from Japan, on a four-day excursion to the city by the bay, who planned to do yoga in Golden Gate Park and a British couple who expressed regret about the Brexit vote and were appalled by the content, divisiveness and tone of our national election.

The manager of the B&B, originally from France, was also full of information about what buses to take, about Thai, Italian and Indonesian restaurants within walking distance (we liked the Italian one best) and which neighborhoods to avoid for reasons of personal safety.

Typical tourists in our choice of destinations, we walked across the Golden Gate Bridge on a cool windy day, visited a fortune cookie factory, bought chocolate in Ghirardelli Square and enjoyed a one-man band who fished for donations from the crowd that gathered to listen to him play on Fisherman’s Wharf.

There were also some unexpected (aren’t they always?) surprises: a church with an outdoor labyrinth, a post office in Chinatown where all of the clerks spoke Chinese and three commercial ships docked at a finger pier near the Embarcadero that were open for boarding. My Golden Eagle pass from the National Park Service enabled us to explore the three vessels for free and to learn their history.

Of course, we walked everywhere – down the crookedest street, up to Coit Tower, in search of cable cars and the ferry to Alcatraz. I’m not good at reading maps. Fortunately, Jasmine – with the help of her phone – is. We only got lost once and it was she who found our way. “The Rock” was her favorite destination. She had learned about the former prison at school and knew more about it than I – about the attempted escapes and the infamous inmates. We enjoyed touring the gardens that the prisoners had maintained and learning about the warden and corrections officer’s children who long ago had traveled to the mainland every day by ferry to attend school.

My favorite? The botanical garden which featured 12 grand pianos that anyone could play for up to 15 minutes. After listening to one impromptu concert by an Asian woman, we asked the pianist what had inspired her. She explained that her father had written the piece in 1981. She was playing his composition in tribute to his memory.

Downtime was also part of our trip. We waited – to ride the cable cars (at least 45 minutes each trip), for the ferryboat to Alcatraz and for the planetarium show to begin at the California Academy of Sciences. We waited for our food at the burger joint and at other restaurants that seemed to attract every parent and child within 50 miles. San Francisco in July was definitely fun, the weather was pleasantly cool (50s and 60s), but it was also an exercise in patience.

At one point, though, my usual calm crumbled. It wasn’t the city. It was Jasmine’s ever present phone which she tapped and clicked everywhere we went. At first I hesitated about saying anything. After all, we were on vacation. The problem, I told myself, was generational. I have a very basic cell phone, which I use infrequently. Jasmine was doing what other kids her age do every day of their lives. Still I felt excluded. Finally I told her that. Jasmine was very apologetic. She wasn’t texting, she said, she was taking pictures. Then how about sharing them with me? I said. We can talk about them. So we reached a compromise. Jasmine agreed to keep her phone in her pocket during meals. From then on, we got along fine, the occasional silence included.

At the end of the trip, when I asked her what she had learned about herself, Jasmine said, “I don’t like walking.” I laughed.

And what did she learn about me? “You have more energy than I do.”

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Jasmine is 14. I am 69. That will change of course, but I hope we will always enjoy one another’s company.

Copyright © 2016 Susan Middaugh.

susanhat2Susan Middaugh’s work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Baltimore Sun and on the website New-Works.org. Susan is also a playwright with short and full length works produced in the United States, Canada and England. The One Act Play Depot in Canada has published her short play, Such Good Neighbors. Several of her personal essays have appeared on this blog.

Doodlemeister is looking for first-person observations up to 1,000 words, on any subject, in any style. Note that we tend to favor light humor. If need be, we’ll help you to edit and/or cut your piece. If you’d like to submit a story about something interesting you saw, experienced—or simply thought about—please contact us by e-mail at jimscartoons@aol.com


Today’s Quote

June 7, 2016

Gornick-2“Good conversation is not a matter of mutuality of interests or commonly held ideals, it’s a matter of temperament: the thing that makes someone respond instinctively with an appreciative ‘I know just what you mean,’ rather than the argumentative ‘Whaddaya mean by that?’ In the presence of shared temperament, conversation almost never loses its free, unguarded flow; in its absence one is always walking on eggshells.”

Vivian Gornick, The Odd Woman and the City, a Memoir

(Click image to enlarge.)

Today’s Gag

May 28, 2016
Lives:BlogCopyright © 2016 Jim Sizemore.

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Three-Minute Memoir

October 27, 2014

Another Pittsburgh Romance

By Jo-Ann Pilardi

In memory of Albert “Ab” Logan, 1943-2014

(Click images for larger views.) 
lzjo-ann gradEighth Grade Graduation, Epiphany School, 1955
Three images below: 16th Birthday Party, 1957

Ab Logan’s humorous tale for Baltimore’s “Stoop” storytelling series about his first romantic kiss, in seventh grade during a game of post office at a friend’s birthday party, was evocative of a “post office moment” of my own. Mine happened also in Pittsburgh, but in fifth grade during my tenth birthday party. What follows is a report of the event, as best I can recall it, across these many years.

lzJo-Ann1Setting: On or about June 9, 1951, in the apartment of our family of five (it grew to six later) on Marion Street, in a section of Pittsburgh close to Downtown called Uptown. Our apartment had only three rooms, but as my mother always said, “They’re large rooms.” And they were. A folding screen divided the bedroom into halves; my parents’ territory was on the street side, and the area where my sisters and I slept was in the interior. Regina and I were on a double bed and Sandra on a twin.

lzJo-Ann2Partygoers: At my birthday party that day would have been the usual suspects, no doubt sparkling in their party clothes: my two sisters Sandra and Regina (five and six at the time) and any cousins close in age to me; my neighborhood was cousin-crowded. Cousins Richie, Ronnie, Lanny, Eugene, Tony, and maybe Barbara Ann would have been there, and possibly Tony, Sonny and Doreen. At the time, we all took for granted the physical closeness of our extended family—and ours wasn’t the only one in the neighborhood. It was the sort of urban neighborhood disappearing in America: full of kids who know each other and know, at pretty much every second, where any one of the others is; full of parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents, everyone vigilant—for good or ill—about what the kids are doing and where they are. I miss it deeply, to this day. Also in attendance at the party were my friends from the neighborhood (Monica, Ronnie, Buzzy, Jeepie) and a few from my school, Epiphany Grade School.

I can deduce who the Epiphany School crowd would have been but cannot remember exactly. No photographs remain of the inauspicious day. But with certainty, I remember one person, Joseph C., because I was head over heels nuts about him. He had large, deep-set blue-green eyes spangled with long black lashes, and his hair was jet black. His skin was fair. When I heard the traditional Irish tune, “The Wild Colonial Boy,” I thought of Joseph, for no particular reason except that its high Gaelic beauty—carried by both its melody and lyrics—represented the fair Joseph to me. Herewith its first verse:

There was a wild colonial boy, Jack Duggan was his name
He was born and raised in Ireland, in a place called Castlemaine
He was his father’s only son, his mother’s pride and joy
And dearly did his parents love the wild colonial boy.

lzJo-Ann4But there were a variety of ways in which Joseph didn’t fit the song. Firstly, he was not named “Jack.” Nor was he raised in Ireland, nor was he an only child. But I felt it was entirely possible he lived in a place with royal resonance. Castlemaine. It would have made a good home for this prince among boys. Plus, Joseph was anything but wild. He was solid as a rock: a good student, a sensible kid, not a flirt and not a prude. He even had a whiff of humor about him. Thinking back on it, I also believe I sensed a class difference that appealed to me—he wore white shirts and dark pants (not the usual boy outfit at Epiphany) and just looked classy to my working-class self. (Mea culpa.) Somehow and in some way, he was different. (Diversity is good, right?) Joseph had joined our class during that fifth grade year . . . a very good year because of Joseph’s appearance, but also for some other reasons. The terrors of the two lay teachers we had in third and fourth grade were behind us; they’d taught us the multiplication tables by lining us up against the walls, boys on one side and girls on the other, flaunting and sometimes using their large wooden rulers to force those numbers into our little brains. In their place was Sister Jonathan, a lovely and sweet-natured young nun with a sense of humor and enormous patience. So, it was a very good year.

Post Office Plan: The goal for my birthday party, my fixation and obsession, was to kiss and be kissed by Joseph C., and I hoped the party games would cooperate. So after spin the bottle (no luck there), we started playing post office. In the intervening hour my number was called a few times, and I called the number of others a few times, but I had no luck in making the Joseph C. connection that I desperately sought. Then . . . finally . . . he called my number.

The Moment: The kissing booth (the “post office”) was set up behind the large door separating our living room and the hallway corridor. (The large white door can be seen in some of the photos shown in this article from my 16th birthday party.) Opening the door into the living room created an alcove where the kissing couple could have privacy. At the other side of the living room was the doorway into our large kitchen, from which my mother was managing the party’s food and games. Just as Joseph called my number, and as I started walking to the alcove, my mother charged into the living room: “The party’s over! It’s 5:30—time for everyone to go home.” Both I and my friends (who knew my goal for the day) pleaded with her to let it run for a few more minutes, but to my amazement, she couldn’t be dissuaded. The party was to run from 3:00 to 5:30, and that was it! And so: the party was over. I was to remain unkissed by the beautiful Joseph C. Years later, hearing my plaintive story about that day, my mother said she had no idea of what was happening at that point and certainly no intention to stop the important kiss. She had just decided to stop the party at the time she’d said it would end. I was the victim of the cruelest circumstance.

You’re thinking it couldn’t get worse. I thought so too. But it did. Joseph never re-appeared at Epiphany School that fall. We heard that his parents sent him to a boarding school. I was heartsick but also shocked, because the only people I knew who boarded anywhere were the few boys in our class (the super cool ones) living at St. Joseph’s Protectory, a foster home in the in the adjacent Hill District for kids whose families had “problems.” Joseph was not bound for that kind of boarding, I was sure. His boarding school would be the kind I’d read about in English novels. It might even have a name something like “Castlemaine.”

My disappointment and sadness at losing Joseph (in the party and in the school) continued for a long time. Look at me in my Eighth Grade Graduation picture (in this article—I’m the last on the right, front row) and tell me you don’t see signs of grief over the loss of Joseph C., three years before. (Or maybe it was just that silly hat I was wearing that made me feel so sad.) By my sixteenth birthday party, in 1957 (pictures in this article), there were no more games. I was going steady with Petey, a sweet green-eyed boy from the neighborhood, and we all can be seen conversing and comfortably dancing with each other (probably to an Elvis tune or maybe one by the Four Lads). We were on our way to adulthood, with its own awkwardness, foibles, and loves.

Copyright © 2014 Jo-Ann Pilardi.

Jo-Ann Pilardi is retired from Towson University where she taught Philosophy and Women’s Studies for 38 years.  A working-class Italian from Pittsburgh, she moved to Baltimore in 1969 and was active in women’s movement groups through the 1970s. Currently, she teaches for TU’s Osher Institute, reads and writes, gardens, travels, and studies jazz piano.

Doodlemeister is looking for short memory pieces up to 1,500 words, on any subject, in any style. Whatever the subject, we have a bias for a light tone. We’ll help you to edit and reduce the word count of your piece, if needed. If you’d like to submit a story, please contact us at jimscartoons@aol.com

Scenic Graffiti III

October 12, 2014

I’m often in the Virginia mountains this time of year, on my way to visit relatives in Covington, near the West Virginia line. Following the two-lane Rt. 32 West, which runs from Lexington, Va., through Goshen Pass, on the way to Warm Springs, I pulled off as usual at the waist-high stone wall overlooking the Maury River, some 80 feet below. The view there is beautiful, but it’s hard to photograph scenic images without resorting to visual cliché. So when I visit this spot, rather than feature the natural beauty, I like to foreground the graffiti. New scribbles are added all the time. It has been three or four years since my last visit, so another update is in order. Same place, third time, fresh doodling. (To view the two earlier posts, just type “graffiti” in the window to the right and tap “search,” then scroll down a bit. To make it worth your while, the original post even ends with a little graffiti “punchline.”)

(Click images for larger views.)

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Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.

Personal Essay

September 2, 2014

Provenance

By Florence Newman

FloChildOne summer when my friend Ellie and I were ten years old, we had a secret hiding place behind the trunk of a big oak tree that bordered Tom’s Creek Road, the street where I’d lived all my life. At the time, the road was a rural lane running out from the Blacksburg town limits into the countryside. On the vine-covered embankment beneath the tree, we had cleared a patch of dirt amid the weeds, an elevated alcove where we could crouch, invisible to passersby. If being the sole possessors of a private hide-away were not enough, we were thrilled that our spot lay only a hundred yards or so down from a small family cemetery and that it was backed by a wrought iron fence surrounding the overgrown gardens of the undoubtedly haunted Victorian house at the corner of Tom’s Creek and Price’s Fork Road.

Bones2As we explored our diminutive domain on hands and knees, Ellie and I soon began finding bones: rib bones, vertebrae, even two or three skulls. They belonged to cats, which had long since shed their fur and flesh. We arranged the bones skeleton-style in rough approximation of cat anatomy and gradually added to our collection: fragile leg bones and tiny crania with pointed snouts that must have been mice, bird wings with bits of tendon and feather still attached, big soup bones sawed off at one end. Like good scientists (we fancied ourselves archeologists), we categorized and curated our discoveries on the dusty ground and conferred seriously, in whispers, about what we would do with them.

(Click images for larger versions.)

The fate of the collection was decided for us, and our secret world shattered, one morning when I awoke to the sound of heavy equipment on the road outside. The street was being widened and bulldozers were already gnawing away at the bank where the oak tree stood. I grabbed as many cardboard boxes as I could carry and ran down to the ruin of turned earth and broken branches, no doubt astonishing the county workers who weren’t expecting a small girl to scramble up and disappear into the bushes they were about to uproot. I threw handfuls of bones into my cardboard boxes, heedless of genus, species, or physiology, and hauled them back to my house. By the end of the day, the huge oak had been felled and chopped into pieces, the embankment had been leveled, and the verge had been cleared for a wider expanse of asphalt and, eventually, an actual cement sidewalk.

Throughout my pre-teen and teenage years, the bones remained in boxes in my basement. I’m not sure why Ellie and I never spread them out for display again. Perhaps the mystique was gone (especially after the old lady in the corner Victorian died and Animal Control came to empty her house and yard of dozens of feral and half-feral cats); perhaps my mother forbade it—although it’s a testimony to her tolerance that she let me keep them as long as she did. Even if I didn’t go through the boxes, however, I couldn’t throw the bones away, because I knew their provenance. Not, of course, the precise location where we had found each of them (we weren’t that good scientists), but their origin in that special place under that particular tree during a specific year of my childhood.

“Provenance” is a term usually associated with works of art or bottles of wine. Establishing the provenance of a painting—the artist, the time and place of production—often enhances its monetary value. For oenophiles, provenance has recently become associated with terroir, the idea that the soil, climate, periods of sun and shade, and other indefinable characteristics of the place the grapes were grown gives a wine its unique essence: the wine made from grapes grown on one side of a hill in Bordeaux tastes slightly different from a wine made from grapes grown on the other side. We don’t necessarily need to know the provenance of a painting or a Pinot Noir in order to appreciate them for the pleasure they bring us. But we also don’t doubt that the origin of a thing matters—or that everything comes from somewhere. Nihil ex nihilo, “nothing comes from nothing,” according to the ancient Greek philosophers (and more memorably, Fraulein Maria in The Sound of Music). Every being on earth, living and non-living, came from some preexisting time, place, and substance. Provenance. Terroir. Whether red blood still throbs in its veins (or ever did), whether it has been reduced to bleached bones (or was always inorganic material), each terrestrial creature emerged on and from the earth.

Celestial bodies like the moon, on the other hand, seem suspended outside of time and place, ungrounded, lacking provenance. So we invent stories to explain where they came from. The Chomoru people of Guam, for instance, believed that the sun and moon came into being when Putan, the first man—who dwelt in the ether of space and happened to be omnipotent—felt he was about to die and instructed his sister, Fu’una, on the disposal of his corpse. When the time came, Fu’una, having inherited her brother’s limitless powers, carried out Putan’s last wishes:

With his body, she made the earth;

With his breast, she made the sky;

With his right eye, she made the sun;

With his left eye, she made the moon;

And with his eyebrows, she made the rainbows.

                                                (roland.web.gu)

Medallion2One Aztec creation myth holds that Coyolxauhqui, daughter of the earth goddess, Coatlique, conspired with her four hundred sisters and brothers to kill her mother, but at the last moment Coatlique gave birth to a fully armed warrior, Huitsopochtli, who saved her from her attackers, then cut off Coyolxauhqui’s head and flung it into the sky, where it became the moon. In another tale from Aztec mythology (there can never be too many), the gods held a council at which it was decided that two of their number should sacrifice themselves in order to resurrect as the sun and the moon. Two towers were constructed, fires were lit at their bases, and the chosen ones, wearing crowns and feathered robes, ascended to the platforms. After four days, they cast themselves into the flames and were consumed. The other gods waited beside the towers for another four days, until the sky filled with a terrifying red glow: the blinding sun appeared on one side of the sky, and the moon, equally bright, appeared on the other. To dim the moon’s brightness, one of the gods seized a rabbit and threw it onto the face of the moon, etching its shadow on the luminous sphere.

Modern astronomers and physicists tell their own stories: the moon was blasted from the Earth by the impact of a giant protoplanet; long before that, stars and galaxies were formed when atoms of hydrogen, helium, and lithium coalesced under the force of gravity; some 14 billion years ago, a single point contained all the matter in the universe, until a sudden, violent expansion—the Big Bang—sent primordial bits and pieces spinning into the void.

We have no stories for non-being, for what existed prior to the Beginning: we literally cannot imagine it. In our minds, one body inevitably begets another. Nihil ex nihilo. To everything its provenance. Scientific American recently reported that one of Saturn’s rings has apparently spawned a “moonlet,” as particles on the ring’s outer edge, drawn together by gravitational pull, have congealed into the seed-pearl of a future moon. The moonlet may grow large enough to migrate out of the ring and become a separate satellite of Saturn. Or it may be pulverized by asteroids plowing their oblivious course through the cosmos. Or it may disintegrate on its own into ice crystals that drift slowly apart, like disembodied vertebrae relinquishing their bonds.

Copyright © 2014, Florence Newman

FloHdshot2Florence Newman is professor emerita at Towson University, where she taught in the English Department for 27 years.  A specialist in Middle English literature, she has published and delivered conference papers on Chaucer, the Gawain-Poet, and medieval women writers.  She grew up in Blacksburg, Va., reading books in her parents’ library and eating strawberries from her grandfather’s garden.  She currently lives with her husband in Towson, Md., escapes occasionally to their farm on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, and travels farther afield when time, energy, and finances permit.

Doodlemeister is looking for first-person observations up to 1,500 words on any subject for this series. If need be, we’ll help you to edit and/or cut your piece. If you’d like to submit a story about something interesting you experienced, or simply thought about, please contact us by e-mail at jimscartoons@aol.com


Beach Doodle

May 18, 2014

By Jim Sizemore

On August 26, 1981, I wrote a longish letter to my niece, with whom I’d been corresponding for some time. What follows is an edited draft of the short note in that letter about one of my yearly visits to Ocean City, Maryland. The original draft also includes the doodle, below. (Click image to view a larger version.)

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Dear Sheila,

When we arrived at Ocean City last Saturday the weather was crummy; rain, wind, etc. It was like that all afternoon and evening and it was cold, too. By Sunday morning the rain had stopped but it was still overcast. Mid-morning showed a little sun between the clouds and by the afternoon it was beautiful; bright sun and clear, Kodachrome-blue sky and big white-capped surf. It’s been like that since.

I’m here with some friends and their kids—a boy and girl, ages 14 and 15—who happen to be the same ages as my son and his male friend, who are also here. So everyone has someone to play with. Last night the adults dined and shopped and strolled on the boardwalk at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, just 16 miles north of here. Who knows—or wants to know—what the kids did?

Each weekend the rental units quickly empty out and fill right back up. Pale families arrive and tan families depart. Car doors and trunk lids pop open and suitcases, boxes, bags, coolers, folding chairs, beach towels, are packed in or pulled out. The air is full of greetings and goodbyes. The people leaving seem more relieved than rested. For better or worse, they have survived an intense week of togetherness and are now ready to return to the normal routine of everybody going their own way, doing their own things. Leisure, they have learned, can produce its own kind of pressure and they’ve had enough of it for this year.

The folks arriving, on the other hand, can’t wait for an early morning walk on the beach. Joggers, all sizes and shapes—with few exceptions grim-faced—separate into groups; some run on more or less solid ground, others prefer the shifting sand. Gulls scavenge near the water’s edge and casually turn their backs on human walkers. Surf fishermen, who never seem to catch anything, stand like sentinels with their poles pointing to England.

In the afternoon small airplanes, one every ten or fifteen minutes it seems, fly perhaps a hundred yards beyond the beach and a couple of hundred feet above the ocean, trailing commercial messages. (There’s no escape from the big bad Ad Man!) One banner, reading “MELLOW ROCK,” advertises a local radio station. The phrase seems to me to be a contradiction in terms. An attractive young woman yells to a macho boy in a bikini brief: “The water’s too rough.” He: “Rough, yes, but wonderful, too.” With that, chest out, he struts into the sea.

Now it’s late afternoon, around dinner time. Fewer human bodies still on the beach: some ugly, most average, a few beautiful. As you stand very still at the fringe of the surf, the ebbing water pulls the sand from under your toes and soon you are ankle-deep in the wet grains. Meanwhile, back at the beach house, aggressive black flies hang out at the screen door, demanding entrance.

Your uncle Jim.

Copyright © Jim Sizemore 2014