Month: July 2013

  • Mister The Sam

    It was a beautiful day, so I opened all of the windows.


    As soon as it was open, The Sam went to “his” window; it is the largest window in our apartment, and it faces the side yard. We usually have his cuddler-bed set up on the cabinet in front of the window, but that day it was in the wash. He sat, front paws on the windowsill, the rest of him on top of the cabinet.


    I patted him on the head. “Enjoy the fresh air, my little bubbug-nug (It is a Hungarian word, kind of a cute way of saying “baby”.)”


    My cat lifted his face to a breeze, eyes closed, and I swear it looked like he was grinning. Okay. He is happy. I can write now.


    I came into the kitchen, turned on the MacBook, and then sat staring at the blinking cursor. It’s just because I haven’t been writing on the computer steadily; I’m a little rusty. It will come to me.


    I heard, “meow, meowwwwwww!” It was not The Sam. It was not a cat. As I got up to see what was going on, I heard giggling: Two little-girl giggles and two little-girl meow-meows.


    I stood in the kitchen doorway to observe my cat, sitting up on the cabinet, gently pawing at the window screen. Little-girl cooing followed.


    I stepped closer. I have to see this.


    Two little girls had their faces pressed to the screen. Well, until they saw me. They jumped back a little. I laughed.


    “Hi,” I said, and introduced myself. The girls told me they were visiting their grandma (our neighbor across the side yard).


    “I like your cat,” the light-haired girl said.


    “Ladies, this is The Sam.” I paused. “He doesn’t scratch or bite or anything,” I added. (My cat is a big guy. Sometimes that intimidates people; letting folks know up front that he is a friendly, gentle giant has become automatic for me.)


    More giggling. Totally not intimidated.


    “Hi, Mister The Sam,” the dark-haired one said. He purred. He likes the sound of her voice.


    “His fur is so soft,” Light-haired Girl said. She put a hand to the screen, and a giant paw, spread out so one could see the white tufts between his claws (those bits are even softer than the rest of him!), gently tapped at the screen.


    More giggling. “It tickles!”


    Dark-haired Girl stepped up and pressed her face to the screen. He head-butted her, purring even louder.  


    “Can Mister The Sam come to a tea party?” she asked.


    Light-haired Girl said, “No! He has to come to my tea party!”


    “No. Your tea parties are stupid!”






    This back and forth was not going to end anytime soon, and I really wanted to get back to that blinking cursor.


    I patted my bubbug-nug’s head. Gave it a little kiss. “Good luck, Mister The Sam,” I said as I walked away.


    Little sh*t.





  • Through the Picture Window Part Three of Three

    A blend of truth and fiction in three parts

    Part Two is here.

    Part One is here.





    I sat on the sofa in the parlour, staring at the picture window. I held a pencil just above my pad of paper. I was not sure if I wanted to draw the window, or write a story about it. Maybe both. Cousin Steve was spending the week; whenever he stayed at Grandma’s house, there was art, so I was leaning toward drawing the big window. (He was an artist who liked painting, drawing, sculpting and photography… mostly painting.). My grandmother was his favorite aunt, and almost always had at least one dinner party in his honor; many of the guests were also artists.


    The dinner party was in full swing in the dining room behind me (I was too young to attend; Grandma and I ate hours before any of the guests arrived.). I heard the door open and close, but I didn’t really pay attention; I figured it was probably Grandma (She never sat during a dinner party.).


    It was my mother’s Cousin Steve, the party’s guest of honor. We smiled at one another.


    “You drawing something there, sweetheart?”


    I shrugged. “I don’t know if I want to draw it, or tell a story about it.”


    Cousin Steve sat next to me and looked over my shoulder at the blank page.


    “Hm. What is ‘it’?”


    I pointed with my chin. “The big window.”


    “Oh,” he said. “Why do you want to draw the picture window?”


    “I don’t know,” I said. It was true. I had no idea why I was fixed on it. I think it was because I thought of it as “fancy” with its nine little panes.


    “I think it would be easy to draw,” Steve said, taking my pad and pencil. “Too easy for you, maybe.”


    I smiled. Only Cousin Steve would think so. To this day, I can barely draw stick figures. But him? He was a real artist.


    In seconds, he drew the picture window, with the little table in front of it (My father had designed and built that table, with the sides that could be pulled up to make it larger. It was where Grandma served dessert.).


    “See?” Steve returned the pencil and pad. “Just squares.” He paused. “Now, you draw it.”


    “Nah,” I said, still not convinced that I could do it. “Maybe I will write a story, instead.”


    “Want to walk with me first?”


    I flung the pad aside. “Yeah!”


    Cousin Steve liked to take a walk and smoke a cigarette after dinner. I loved walking with him. I could talk all I wanted, and I could ask anything I wanted when we walked.


    We had been walking for about ten seconds when I asked him, “How come you can draw so good?”


    He smiled. “Draw so well,” he corrected.


    “How come you can draw so well?”


    “Well, Sweetheart, I am glad you think I do. I like to think I draw well because I work on it. Practice.”


    “Practice makes perfect?” I skipped in a circle around him.


    Steve nodded. “And I love to draw. It makes me happy. I think that helps.”


    I thought about it for a minute. “Making up stories makes me happy… But I want to do art.”


    He chuckled. “That is art, sweetheart!”


    I stopped. “It is?”


    He stopped, too. “Of course it is. Whenever we make something, it is art.”


    “But that’s a painting or a statue, or when you draw something,” I said.


    “Or make a story,” he added. “You express yourself artistically.”


    “Oh,” I said, hooking my arm through one of his. “I never thought of it that way.”


    “Well!” He said, doing his Jack Benny impression.


    I laughed and hugged his arm a little. “I make art,” I said.


    We resumed walking. “I make art,” I repeated. I still wasn’t sure I believed it, but Steve had never lied to me.


    “Yes, you do,” Cousin Steve said.


    “And if I practice, I could be good at it? Like you?”


    “Absolutely!” he said as we turned into the driveway.


    We headed toward the utility room door, but Steve stopped. He turned to me. “Let’s look in your window, there, and see what’s cookin’.”


    I didn’t really know what he was talking about, but I let Cousin Steve lead me by the hand to the picture window.


    “Now what we do is, we step up on these bricks here,” he showed me. “This way we can’t get into trouble for stepping on the flowers!”


    I climbed up and let go of his hand. Like Steve, I leaned forward, hands on the bottom of the window, forehead pressed to the glass.


    People were coming out of the dining room in back and filling the parlour. Little cakes were arranged on the table before us. I spied a tray of porhanos and nearly fell off of the bricks in my excitement – it was (and still is) my favorite treat!


    We went inside. (Okay. Basically, I dragged Cousin Steve in for some dessert.)


    “Oh! Who is this?” one of the ladies asked, pointing at me.


    After that, I became part of the party, and the story about the picture window was forgotten.





  • Through the Picture Window Part Two of Three

    A blend of truth and fiction in three parts

    Part One is here.



    I was in the back seat with a big smile on my face, watching the familiar buildings go by. We passed the Dairy Queen and Rawley’s up on The Post Road, then took the left turn in between the gas stations. We drove past the church, and then, the beautiful houses: mostly Colonials and Cape Cods, but I imagined a couple of the old Saltboxes in there, too.


    I did not know who was driving. I’m used to that; I don’t even ask anymore.


    I love these dreams.


    The windows would not roll down. It bothered me because I wanted to smell… something. I didn’t know what in the dream, but my guess would be Long Island Sound. I had stopped watching the road while I tried to open the window. Did we pass the 4-way stop yet? There’s only the one stop, and it marks the halfway point to the beach. Just as I thought of it, we came to the stop sign at Oldfield Road.


    “Grandma’s house is just three blocks down, on the right,” I said to the driver’s back. I called out the little roads’ names as we went: “Rita Avenue… Bonney Terrace… South Street!” The car stopped, backed up a bit, and pulled into my grandmother’s driveway. I stepped out onto the pavement and ran my hand over the tiger lilies that lined the drive, making my way to the utility room door. I looked down, beneath the mailbox, and saw the Borden’s milk container. I used to think this was made out of silver.


    I took a deep breath, and I could smell everything at once: The Lilies of the Valley, the Lilacs that grew at the edge of the garden to the right. The swamp somewhere behind me. The beach down the road.


    I put my hand on the doorknob, but changed my mind. I went left, toward the front walkway, where the snowballs were just starting to bud. I avoid the snowballs in these dreams, just like I always did in my childhood; the bees were always there.


    The picture window was there, nine little panes (before it was switched out with a more modern sliding glass model). Tulips and daffodils reached up toward the glass like any spring day since I’ve been alive. I stood on the row of bricks that sheltered the flowers from the rest of the yard so that I could lean forward, forehead to the glass, without killing any of them. Avoiding Grandma’s wrath.


    In the parlour, there was music. Food. People, laughing and dancing.


    It was blurry at first, but as it came into focus, I realized: These were not just any people. Folks I love. People I have lost, alive, and happy.


    The first person that became clear to me was my Uncle Kid. He was in the corner, near the smaller window (they must have moved the television set to another room), playing his violin.


    My father sat near him, smoking a cigarette and talking to Aunt Bertha. Daddy! I waved, just like every other time I dream; Daddy never sees me. I still wave, anyway. Just in case.


    Grandma walked through with a tray of porhanos in one hand and a coffee pot in the other. I waved to her, but she didn’t notice me, either. I would love some porhanos, Grandma.


    Uncle Andy and Cousin Steve sat in two dining room chairs, set against the wall on the right. Steve was drawing something quickly on his pad; Andy was setting up his easel to paint. Steve stopped as Grandma approached. He rose, grabbed her hands (the tray and the coffee pot disappeared) and danced her in a circle, both of them laughing. Is Grandma blushing? I giggled to myself.


    I saw Mom enter the parlour from the back hall and I gasped. She is beautiful. Her dark brown hair (If you say “black” she will get all upset) was up in a ponytail. She wore pedal pushers and an oversized shirt, probably borrowed from her father, who walked behind her. I don’t know how I could know (it was something in her smile), but I did know that she had been horseback riding.


    My mother saw me. She kissed Grandpa on the cheek, then walked up to the picture window and gently tapped one of the glass squares.


    “Hi, Honey.”


    Hearing her voice made my throat tighten. None of the people in these picture window dreams ever notice me. I can’t even get them to wave, but Mom is talking to me.


    I touched the glass where her fingers remained. “Hi, Mom.”


    She smiled. “This is a grown-up party. You stay outside and play.”


    I wanted to stay. I wanted to come in. I wanted to hug her, tell her things, ask her things… and I wanted to see everyone else, too.


    She became a little stern: “Vanessa. I said, stay outside and play. Now, go!”


    “Okay,” I whispered. I began to turn away but stopped. “Are you sure?” I asked.


    Mom nodded. “You go play, now. I’ll save you some porhanos.”


    I tried again: “Or I could just come in and eat some now…”


    She crossed her arms over her chest. She means business. “No. You can’t. Not now.”


    “When?” I felt tears roll over my cheeks, but I didn’t really feel like I was crying.


    My mother touched the glass again. “Someday. Don’t worry about it. You go on, have fun.”


    I came back and touched the pane where her fingers were. “I love you,” I croaked.


    She wiggled her fingers and they came through the glass to touch mine. “You’re the best daughter I ever had,” she said.


    We both giggled at the old joke (I am her only daughter). My feet began to wobble on the bricks. I looked down at them. The bricks were gone.


    I looked up, and the parlour was empty. No people. No furniture. Different window.


    I took a step back. I was standing on Grandma’s old property, where the ugly duplex now stands.


    It was nothing.

                They made it into something.

                Now, it is nothing again.


    I woke up with the thought: I am trespassing here.

  • Through the Picture Window Part One of Three

     A blend of truth and fiction in three parts





    Her eyes caught on the marigold. Really, it was a fraction of a flower; between truck tires and heavy feet, there wasn’t much front yard left. Now, looking out where the small patches of orange and yellow used to line the flagstones, this one tiny piece of a flower slumped.


    This is the house that Pop and Mom built, she thought.


                It was nothing.

                They made it into something.

                Now, it is nothing again.


    She felt her forehead pressing against the glass. “I am a marigold,” she whispered.


    To stay, to re-make what once was… That was a dream. No money. No time. No strength.


    “But I have my memories,” she told the marigold on the other side of the window. It wasn’t a lie yet; her short-term memory was going, she knew, but she still had the old days. For now. She could see it in the panes of the picture window if she concentrated; there were times she’d spent a whole day doing just that, watching those she loved – not dead, not to her, they never would be – doing what they had once done.


    “One more time,” she said to the picture window. Took a step back. Watched.


    In a few minutes, her daughter would take her away to the new place. She prayed.


                I will go, Lord…

                But once more, let me wander

               Through the Picture Window.


  • Dad In the Kitchen

    My father liked to cook. There were a few things that he made really well: Chili, Clam Chowder, Potato Pancakes, and anything grilled.


    Every now and then, Dad would cook up “experiments”… Most of which were inedible. Giant stockpots of inedible… that we would have to eat until it was all gone (“We’re not Rockefellers!”). I don’t know why these horrible creations always showed up in such large amounts; my theory now is that some ingredient was cheap in bulk.


    The black-eyed peas lasted a month. By week four, a Sunday barbecue, I couldn’t eat anymore. Our dog, Bullet, had stopped accepting them; he’d sniff our plates, whimper, and back away.


    My brothers all groaned when they saw the stockpot being placed on the picnic table that Sunday. My mother didn’t make a sound, but I could tell by the look on her face that she wasn’t happy, either.


    As I watched my father mound them onto my paper plate, I burst into tears.


    Black-eyed peas. Again. At a cookout!


    My father turned to Mom and pointed at me. “What’s the matter with her?”


    My mother handed me a napkin. “Dry your eyes.”


    Then she turned to Dad. “What? I feel like crying, too,” she said. “Those… things… are disgusting.”


    I began crying harder. I could see my father’s feelings were hurt. Then his face went angry as he turned back to me.


    “If you don’t eat them, you won’t eat anything else.”


    My younger brother, Tadpole, started crying, too. “No more!” he wailed.


    “Other little kids don’t get anything to eat for dinner,” my father said.


    I looked to my mother, pleading. She took her plate and sat next to me, but spoke to Dad: “This is the last time we will eat them.”


    To this day, no one in my family will eat a black-eyed pea. In fact, when I see them at the market, I feel sick to my stomach.  



    The black-eyed peas had barely been gone when my dad decided to make a three-bean dish. In the stockpot.


    I don’t know what my father put in that dish, but it tasted awful.


    At the table that night, Mom distracted Dad here and there, so that we could feed the beans to Bullet. He seemed to like them. (Poor Bullet. He spent most of the evening in the backyard. Whenever he came back inside, Mom had to let him out again; poor guy had the worst gas in the world!)


    Later, alone in the kitchen with Mom, I whispered, “I hope the beans don’t last as long as the black-eyed peas!”


    “Oh, they won’t,” she said.


    That night, Mom “accidentally” tipped the stockpot over. No more beans.


    About forty years later, whenever I am at a party and someone offers me three-bean salad, my appetite disappears.



    Our family was experiment-free for a while (I think it was an entire year, but I am not sure.). Then came the mackerel… A giant stockpot full of it.


    My mother named it “Unholy Mackerel,” and that seemed about right.


    I do not remember what else was in that dish. I only remember having to open about a case of canned mackerel. Until then, I thought that tuna was the only fish that could be purchased in a tin (and I didn’t even like that!). The smell! Just thinking of it now makes me want to gag!


    We all sat at the table and tried to eat some of this fish that my father had spent hours preparing.


    Bullet wouldn’t take any from me. Our cat, Familiar, sniffed it and ran away.


    That was the last straw for Mom. She slammed her fork down.


    “The fish is bad! Don’t eat any more of it!” She yelled.


    My father started to argue, but Mom won: “The damned cat won’t eat the fish! There is definitely something wrong with it!”


    My mother dumped it all in the trash, and then made hamburgers and French fries for dinner.


    After we all ate, I went into the parlour and sat on the sofa by my father. He looked so hurt.


    “Daddy, don’t feel bad,” I said, hugging his arm.


    “I should just stay out of the kitchen,” he mumbled.


    “Yeah,” I said. “Or… I bet Grandma could teach you how to cook!”


    “You think so?” he asked.


    “I bet if you call her up and ask her, she will teach you how to cook anything!”


    She did, too.



  • Surprise For Mom

    It was the last day of school. My younger brother, Tadpole and I ran to Dad’s car, out front, where he always picked us up.


    We were excited, of course. Summer was the best! It meant no school, lots of cookouts, longer visits to Grandma’s house, the beach, camping, and of course, going out on the boat.


    My father and my oldest brother, Tallboy, had gotten an early start. They had spent that morning out on the boat, fishing.


    As we pulled out onto the street, my father said, “Wait until you see what we brought home today!”


    “Fish” I said.


    Dad and Tallboy laughed.


    “Well, yeah,” Dad said. “But this is something else. Another animal.”


    “Another dog?” I asked.


    “Nope,” Dad said.


    “Another cat?” Tadpole guessed. That was fair. My father was always rescuing strays. We would keep them in our basement until we could find them good homes.


    “Nope. Not a cat.”


    I thought for a minute. “You didn’t bring home an elephant this time, did you?”


    We all laughed. My mother always said that some day, Dad was going to bring home an elephant… and then, she’d kill him (My father rescued the strays, but it seemed like Mom always did all of the actual work that went into looking after them until their adoption.).


    As soon as we were in our driveway, Tadpole checked the backyard from the side of the house. “I don’t see an elephant.”


    There was more giggling as my father opened the front door. “It’s inside. Smart alecs.”


    Our dog, Bullet, and our cat, Familiar gave away the new animal’s location. They sat staring at the closed bathroom door, tails wagging. Bullet gave an excited whimper.


    I screwed up my face. “It’s in the bathroom?” Stray animals were always brought directly to the basement, until Doctor Dave (a veterinarian, and a friend of the family) checked them out.


    Dad and Tallboy nodded. While my big brother picked up the cat and ushered the dog out to the backyard, my father opened the bathroom door.


    There, in a tub full of water from The Sound, swam a baby shark.


    Tadpole and I immediately hushed and knelt by the tub. Dad grabbed our hands as we went to pet our new friend.


    “Don’t touch him! He bites!”


    The shark didn’t seem to notice us. He just swam back and forth.


    “Are you sure he bites?” I asked. “He looks soft.”


    Behind us, my father spoke. “All sharks bite, Little One.”


    I looked at Dad over my shoulder. “Even cute ones?” I really wanted to pet the shark. I had it in my head that he would feel velvety. Maybe even a little squishy.


    “Yep. Even cute little baby ones,” Dad said.


    “Oh.” My younger brother and I exchanged disappointed looks.


    “Come on out, now. Your mother will be home any minute. Want to surprise her, so don’t say anything.”


    Tadpole shook his head. “Mom’s gonna kill you!”


    Minutes later, we were all on the living room floor, looking over Last Day of School Stuff, when Mom came home from the market. After our hellos, we followed her into the kitchen.


    My father offered to put the bag of groceries away. “Go take a bath or something, Babe. I’ll take care of dinner.”


    “Oh, that would be great,” she said, kissing Dad’s cheek.


    My mother saw Familiar, sitting outside of the closed bathroom door, staring up. “What’s with you?” Mom said, gently nudging the cat aside with the side of her foot.


    We all stood outside the bathroom as she walked in and closed the door.


    From inside, we heard: “What the…?” Then, quietly (probably through clenched teeth), “I am going to kill you.”


    We all laughed.


    Tadpole looked up at Dad and shrugged. “Told you.”


    The next day, the baby shark was returned to The Sound, and my father was no longer allowed to bring home strays.