Monday, June 30, 2008
I am writing this as a way of trying to answer rw's question regarding how I decided to write about parenting as "phases of reading". Or something like that anyway. Well...I borrowed about six or seven Alice Hoffman books from the library, to start with, so that started me thinking of how exciting it is to discover a new author, and what the librarian must think of me. Then...in one of Hoffman's books which I proceeded to read...I think it was "The Ice Queen," yep, it was, the protagonist is a librarian and she tries to understand people through checking up on their library book borrowing. Then one of the books I borrowed had a picture of a baby on its cover (a wee little thing, wrapped in a blanket and sleeping in a dresser drawer!) and so that made me think of my kids as newborns.
Then, another thing which made me write what I did in the last post was the fact that my daughter is learning how to drive. I was very excited and proud of her as she went off with her teacher every week and she was making great progress. Then....it was time for me to sit in the car with her as she drove me around...and I completely freaked out. I shrieked and yelled and grabbed the wheel until she pulled over to the kerb, and parked, and then we both looked at each other and I realised that this business of having teenaged children is far too real for me.
I admitted it to my daughter - I needed to get help. So I signed up for a two-hour workshop for parents teaching their kids how to drive, and it was to be helped (I mean "held", but that is a great typo so I need to keep it in) at my local library. So off I went to the course on Wednesday night, and I walked into the seminar room and twenty heads turned to look at me and the teacher said "Can I help you?" and I asked "Is this the learner-drivers' parents' workshop," and it wasn't. I got the day wrong, it was going to be on Thursday. Tomorrow.
So, it was 6:30pm on a Wednesday night, and I had already arranged for my husband to come home early to do the tennis-training lift scheme thing, and I had already made dinner in neatly labelled tupperware containers, and I had already put on my "going out" trousers and I had even put on some lipstick. So, naturally, I stayed in the library and browsed for a couple of hours. And that's when I discovered another new author - Oh Banana Yoshimoto, I feel that it must have been fate that made me mark the workshop on the Wednesday of my diary, yes, we were meant to have met on that fateful evening. Banana Yoshimoto, you rock!
You see - it seems that whenever I ponder the meaning of child rearing, and whenever I search for a new teacher in this strange art of mothering, I find myself back in the library, holding a new book, and feeling a little better.
I wonder if I unswered your question rw? and yes, that "unswered" is another typo which I just had to keep in, because it's just too good to edit. I suppose, if nothing else, I would like this post to show that my comment boxers mean a great deal to me. So...thank you all, and please keep boxing!
Friday, June 27, 2008
During the infancy of your son or daughter you will discover a fabulous, engrossing, talented author. You will read this author’s work for the first time and you will wonder how it can be that you never heard of this author before.
You’ll go to your local library and borrow every book this author has ever written, which will be quite a few. The librarian will say to you, “Oh, you’re a fan, I see,” and you’ll answer, “Yes, isn’t everybody?” and she’ll respond, “Well...this author...she’s not for everyone...she’s quite popular though, of course. But a difficult read.” This will make you marvel, because these books are the easiest thing in the world for you to read right now. Problem is, you can’t stop reading them, so you’re up all night with your little night-light glowing. Reading newbooks. So many books by one special author, so little time.
As your son or daughter commences preschool you will discover a new literary genre. Fantasy. You will move on in your reading from that one author of infancy to many, many others. These many authors will have one thing in common – magic. You will marvel at how crazy mad exciting reading is for you. You will be amazed that it took you this long to discover these books.
Every day, a different author presents you with a different reality. People sprout fins and fly, animals speak in foreign languages, you dance on a pockmarked moon, a monster takes up residence under your bed, then in the shed, and demands to be fed. Fairies are so plentiful that their presence fills up reams and reams of pages. A blanket becomes a treasured, loving friend. Colours change colour, constantly. Time moves very, very slowly, and then very fast. You spend most of your time reading about the many different gods of many different lands, and hearing the sound of music from faraway places. O, wondrous books.
Upon your child’s entering primary school, that now-familiar fantasy genre of the preschool years will appear a bit old, and used, and frayed around the edges. You will look at your bookshelves and decide that it might be time to lend some of those books to your friend, seeing as she is celebrating her baby’s second birthday next week.
What you are reading these days is most likely catalogued in your local library under Humour. Much of your reading is now light and ephemeral. Nothing can be taken too seriously because, watch out, just turn the page, and everything, each situation, changes in the blink of an eye. Every day is a new book, and every book ends with a funny punch-line and a crazy drum-roll for emphasis, with a laugh-track in the background.
Most of the hysterically funny books you will be reading during these years may also be accompanied by a very heavy dose of nostalgia. This nostalgia will walk hand-in-hand with the humour, and they will soon make everything bittersweet. Prepare yourself for quite a bit of laughter through your tears. No worries, it’s all part of growing up, you know. For during these years, your book memory will become so clear and strong, that on every shelf of every library you will find sticky fingers drawing you back to your yesteryears. You will caress a book cover, in wonder, with a faraway look in your eye. The librarian will now say to you, as she waves her magic wand over each book’s barcode, “Oh, yes, I remember reading this. I didn’t know we still had it.” And you’ll respond, “Oh yes, it was in the stacks... and I can’t believe it’s exactly the same picture on the cover as I remember.” The librarian will look and say “Yes...but also a bit different, don’t you think?” After a bit more thought, you will agree.
As your child enters middle school, you may find that your bookshelf is bare. This may lead to a feeling of utter loss. Do not panic. This is merely a waiting period. You may find that you are able to read only magazines, because, right now, all books are hazy and meaningless. Don’t fret, remember, magazine reading is perfectly acceptable for someone sitting in a waiting room. Which you are.
You will find yourself, at times, surrounded with books which make no sense, and you can’t get past even the first few pages of any of them. It is during these brief years that you will be tempted to skim and skip books. Go ahead, try to jump ahead and read the books’ endings, but it will still make no difference. You will still be unable to find any true satisfaction.
As your child begins high school, your library card will be dusted off and you will re-emerge from your middle school cocoon into the new and confronting world of non-fiction. All of a sudden, everything you read is very very real. Your self, I mean shelf, now runneth over with biographies of all shapes and sizes. You marvel at how many people there are in the world, how many lives they live, and how many opinions there are on the one theme – the me. You are drawn to books which are honest and confronting, so you do a lot of crying and soul-searching as you lie in bed with your stack of many lives piled beside you on your night-table.
At this stage, your bed-side lamp will burn long into the night as you wrestle with the demons of non-fiction. Stay firm and strong in your resolve, for the non-fiction section is as deep as it is wide. I cannot say yet when it will end, but when it does, I think I will know it. I am not certain what I will be reading at that point as I don’t believe those books have been written yet. I do often wonder whether they will all be true, and easy to read, with beautiful covers and rave reviews and intriguing sequels. I can only hope.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
The story began as a strange collection of little odds and ends which came to mind. When they seemed to make sense together I decided to challenge myself by announcing the series. I had the story already written in its entirety (I'm not so reckless as to announce something on my blog and then not be able to deliver), but I found that the time delay allowed me to rethink some ideas, and edit a little. The comments I received also made me realise that I had a responsibility to my readers, something which I have never felt before. Scary. Moving right along....the ending of the tale soon loomed closer and closer and I became more and more agitated. Happy? Sad? Ambiguous? Realistic? Fantasy? Why was I doing this again? etc etc etc.
So, yes, I was not entirely satisfied with the ending. But I decided to leave it at that. My family was complaining about what had become an obsession. "Move on Eleanor!" they said.
But last night I saw the most spectacular, moving production of Hamlet, and it made me rethink the way I had been looking at endings. I had censored myself by not publishing my "bitter end". I had thought it was too distressing and ...ummm...realistic. But then I saw Hamlet dueling with Laertes and I thought that a duel to the death is a PERFECT ending for a tragedy. Oh.
So here is my short and bitter end. For good measure, I am also putting in the very, very first ending I originally wrote for the piece.
I would love to hear what you all think about them. I hope I don't come off sounding really egotistical about my writing. Believe me, I can't believe I'm putting my stuff out there and feel sick even writing this now. But, you know what, I figure that if you couldn't stand the story then...well....you're SURELY not reading this post now!!!
THE BITTER END
They both looked at Baby with horror. “Go back into the house this minute Baby,” he shouted, pointing a shaking, angry finger towards the opposite end of the garden. But Baby didn’t move, he just tilted his head up and looked at him and said in a scared little voice, “But you’re stepping on the jewels Papa.”
She felt her heart miss a beat, and her face flush, but Papa hadn’t heard anything, so he only repeated, “Go back into the house young man! Right this minute!” and then Grandma could be seen running down the lawn. She swept Baby up in her arms and raced back towards the house with him, just as he began to scream and cry and kick his legs and flail his arms. She raced back into the house with him in her arms, and even after she slammed the back door, and took him to his room, and sat on the rocking chair with him, and covered him with a blanket, even after all of that, they could still hear his terrifying howls.
Yet they remained there, the two of them, at the garden’s end, beside the lemon tree, above the cache of jewels. Duelling. To the death.
To the bitter, bitter end.
THE ENDING WHICH DOES NOT FEATURE GRANDMA (well...maybe just a tiny bit)
There was another person now waiting at the front gate, and another rucksack. “Papa’s here, Papa’s here,” rang the chorus as the three children once again ran down the front path and into another pair of loving arms.These arms were wider and longer and stronger than hers, and as she ran towards him, breathless with anticipation, she was very thankful for that. It was an embrace of two, surrounded by three, and watched over by one.
Now,what happened on that day, in that little house, was a lot of laughter, and tears. It was a lot of good food, family conversation, warm beds, and all very very clean and very very comfortable and a soft place to fall. It was what families do every day really, but for this family it was special, and it lasted all day and well into the evening. As night fell, dinner was eaten, children were bathed and dressed in pyjamas, stories were read, and then it was time to be tucked into bed. Mama would tuck in the big children, and Papa would tuck in Baby.
Papa sat on the edge of Baby’s big-boy bed, smoothing down the sheet and the blanket. Then he took Tiny Blanket and slipped it in next to Baby’s cheek, just the way he like it, and then he rested his hand on Baby’s curly-mop head and he said “Good night Big Boy Baby.” Baby smiled up at Papa and blinked a few times, and thought quite a bit, looking a little bit worried, and then he whispered in the tiniest little voice, “Papa, do you want to know a secret?” Papa smiled and feigned excitement, shaking his shoulders and making his eyes go big and scary and saying, “Ooooo....a secret.....I looooove secrets....and you know, I never ever tell!” Baby furrowed his brow and thought some more and said, “Ok, I’ll tell you, but you have to promise not to tell Mama, ok?” “Ok,” answered Papa, leaning forward and moving his ear close to Baby’s ruby-red lips. “Well,” whispered Baby, “we have a jewel treasure buried in our backyard.” “Really now?” said Papa. “Yes, Papa,” said Baby, nodding seriously, “and you know what I think...if you’re a really good Papa...really....really...good....Mama may show it to you one day.” And with that, Baby turned over and closed his eyes and went to sleep.
And Papa? Well, Papa kept sitting on the side of that bed for a very, very long time. And then he stood up, and shut the light, and closed the door, and went looking for Mama.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
...Grandma waiting for them with two towels and warm slippers and one cup of tea and one cup of cocoa (not too hot), and then, the doorbell rang.
He walked up the path, his rucksack slung over his right shoulder, with the children skipping and prancing around him. Standing in front of her, he didn’t smile, but he did look deeply into her eyes. Then he shrugged his shoulders ever so slightly. She took a step back, another to the side, and this allowed him just enough room to manoeuvre himself through the front door and into the house.
This time, the knapsack did contain presents for the little ones, and he handed them out there and then. There were tiny trinkets which only children, or travel-muddled tourists, could enjoy. There was a camel-shaped keyring, a t-shirt with a picture of a tent, a postcard book of picturesque photographs and a plastic packet of strangely-shaped lollies, slightly squashed and leaking a little. The children clapped their hands with delight and took their loot to the kitchen so as to show it to Grandma. As they entered the kitchen, Grandma turned around from where she was standing at the sink, her hands dripping with sudsy water and a strange look in her eyes. Mother-in-law and son-in-law appraised each other at a distance and then their eyes unlocked and they all sat down at the dining table.
“This is for you,” he motioned to her mother, handing her a tiny package wrapped in brown paper. Her mother unwrapped it and discovered a small, soft, square of rainbow colour. It was embroidered in the most delicate and intricate of patterns, and between the threads were tiny beads and sequins arranged in a pattern of leaves and birds. He looked to her mother for a reaction, but she didn’t give him one, she just refolded the present and said “Thank you very much for this. Very thoughtful of you...I shall go put it away in my room before those kids put their sticky fingers all over it.”
Once her mother left, she felt a wave of relief pass over her, but she was still overly aware of herself in her mud-stained nightgown, sitting on the chair with hair still wet and dripping, and the feel of the jewels and the soil still on her fingertips. “I know how much your mother loves that sort of thing,” he said to her quietly, “you know, women’s crafts.” She looked at him a little closer and nodded. She thought to herself that perhaps he was trying very hard to say the right thing. He was trying to say the thing that he thought would make her happy. But he was dead wrong. This was no time for discussing arts and crafts. “Arty crafty talk,” she thought, “huh!” All those years she and her mother had spent finding colours and fabrics, sewing, knitting, crocheting and embroidering. Those patchworking years had long since become their shared ancient history.
Then the foolish, foolish man tried once again. He said, “How is your patchworking going? I couldn’t find it in the tent so I figured you had taken it with you.” Upon hearing this she stood up, pushed the chair back with a loud scrape, and leaned her two arms on the table, pushing down hard. She looked down for a moment, and then she raised her head to look at him hard and long, like the wild animal that she had become. “But I am not a patchworker, you stupid stupid man. I stopped collecting and connecting pretty bits and pieces a long, long time ago.”
His eyes glistened, and the duel was on. “Well, you certainly still like to collect colourful little trinkets, don’t you?” He stood up from the table now, and he leaned in towards her, “trinkets that do not belong to you!” She looked at him and laughed mockingly, “You really honestly believe that I stole someone’s jewels? Who? Who in that godforsaken place has any jewels? It doesn’t even make sense.” “Oh really?” he said, sarcasm dripping from his lips onto the wooden table, “How would you know anything about that? You ran away and left me to deal with it all.” “YOU dealt with it all?” she was now yelling at him. “Yes. I had to deal with it all. The accusations, the malicious gossip, the finger-pointing, the police investigation, the searches, day and night.” She just looked at him and shook her head and rolled her eyes, this stupid stupid man. Was he talking in metaphor? Did he really think that his boring, bland, cliched poetry would move her at this late stage of the game? The answer was no.
"Listen here, you ignorant fool," she said to her husband, "I didn't steal any jewels, but you know what? I am GLAD that I was accused, because if that is what it takes for you to come back home and give your children more than a few seconds of your precious precious time....well...then I will gladly plead guilty to the crime." At this, she thrust her two slim, moonstone-pale wrists towards him, "Here, here you go, handcuff me and lead me to the police-station. Let them sentence me to life. I will gladly spend the rest of my life in a tiny, dark cell if it means my children will have a father."
"You wicked, wicked bitch," he said, his eyes a deep, hurtful emerald glow, his neck muscles flexing, his hands shaking with anger. "You ASKED for a meaningful life, you BEGGED to get out of the house and away from the children." Tears came to her eyes, but she held them back. "Yes you did," he said while watching her eyes, knowing that he was wronging her with his words, and preparing for the next attack. "Yes, who was that woman who would call the surgery every day saying that the children were driving her insane? that being a mother was a life sentence? that she was losing her authentic self?" Her tears were pouring down her cheeks now, thin shiny rivulets of tiny diamonds, and so he went in for the kill, "And who was it you ran to for help? Yep, that's right sweetheart, good ol' Mummy, running back to Mummy, crying on her shoulder because you were born for better things than childcare, because you could save the world."
That was enough. The wound was as precise as it was deep, and with no doctor in the house who could fix it, so all she could do was turn and walk out the of the back door and into the garden. She felt him following her, and so she walked faster and faster across the lawn until she found herself up against the back fence, near the lemon tree. He walked right up to her and they stood there, one against the other, body to body, eye to eye, saying nothing. She blinked once, looked down, and noticed that he was standing on the freshly dug soil which she and Baby had used to rebury their cache. The weight of his body compacted the earth beneath it and pushed the treasure deeper underground. She took a deep breath and then another and yelled right into his face “But I am not a patchworker!!!” He just looked at her as if she was insane and took a step back away from her, bumping into Baby, who had sneaked outside without Grandma’s permission and was now standing with them at the garden’s end.
They both looked at Baby in horror. “Go back into the house this minute Baby!” he shouted, pointing a trembling finger towards the opposite end of the garden. But Baby didn’t move. Baby very bravely tilted his head up and looked at Papa and said in a scared little voice, “But you’re stepping on the jewels Papa.” She felt her heart miss a beat, and her face flush a ruby red, and she watched him as he slowly turned to look at Baby, and then at her, and then at his feet. He knelt down and bent his back until he was Baby's height and he looked directly into his turquoise eyes and he held his two little hands in his own rough large hands, and he said "What jewels am I standing on Baby?" Baby wrinkled his forehead and bit his lower lip and said "Oh no. Oh...It was a secret...Mama said it would be our secret...I'm sorry Mama." He looked up at her with tears in his eyes, and she knelt down as well, and told him that it really didn't matter, and he was a good little boy. But Papa had already stood up by then, and he was already returning from the shed with the shovel. The shovel which was still covered with the damp, dark mud of their morning work.
As Papa shovelled, Mama and Baby stood by, and in a few moments Grandma arrived as well, with the two older children. As expected, the hessian sack was discovered and brought up from the bottom of the pit. He unfolded it and opened it and peered inside. Then he put his hand in the bag and rummaged around. Then he turned it upside down and shook it long and hard. It was empty.
Mama looked at Baby, Baby looked at the sack, Papa looked at Mama, the two older ones craned their necks so as to get a better look at the pit. Then they all turned and looked at Grandma. Grandma stood there, tall and proud, looking at each one of them in turn with love and happiness. She reached into her trouser pocket and took out the delicate square of fabric which her son-in-law had given her earlier that morning, but it was no longer folded neatly, for it now seemed to be bunched around a hard round object. As she opened up the cloth, she held her secret treasure in her cupped hands, and then held it out for every member of the family to see. Baby drew in a breath of surprise and delight, "Oh Grandma, you have Mama's jewels!!!!"
Grandma laughed, and her laughter became infectious, so that one by one, they all started laughing. It felt so good and so right that they almost forgot about the jewels. Almost. Mama turned to Grandma and said "I don't understand." Grandma replied, "That's all right. You can't understand everything. Sometimes only a mother can know. Now...this cache of jewels, my darlings, this is not just any ordinary cache. No, indeed. These are birthstones, one for each month of the year, and they are not precious, nor rare, nor in any way interesting in and of themselves." Grandma took a deep breath, then continued. "They are souvenirs. They serve to remind us of the time when babies are born. These birthstones remind us of the years and months you three were born, and they remind me of the time your beautiful mother was born," and with that Grandma turned and looked at her daughter, "and it also reminds us of the day your wonderful Papa was born, because without those births all of this would be...it would be...it would be as dull as a simple cache of jewels."
With that final observation they all began to walk back towards the house. They left behind them the pit, the shovel and the hessian sack, and they took with them a cache of birthstones, hidden safe and deep in Grandma's pocket.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
“Where did you find this jewel Baby?” she asked, her voice a quaver hanging in the air. “In our backyard Mama,” Baby answered.
They stood near the lemon tree in the right back corner of the garden, barefoot and shivering. There she saw a small hole dug in the ground, no deeper than a fist, and no wider than a foot. She knelt down, pulling her gown up over her knees, and started to dig deeper with both hands. The wet earth was pushed under her fingernails, beads of sweat began to form on her forehead, thunder rumbled, the sky darkened, and thick streams of rain descended. Baby was still standing beside her, watching, with his pudgy little hand still in his pocket, caressing the jewel which was hidden there. But a person can only dig so far with bare hands, so she stood up and ran to the shed, returning with the big metal shovel.
Watching her all this time, framed in the back doorway, was her mother. But she didn’t notice.
She shovelled and shovelled until the hole became a deep pit. Each time the shovel hit the packed earth she heard a thump and a scrape, a thump and a scrape, a thump and a scrape, and then she heard something different. She shovelled again and heard it again - a strange crystal-like clinking. By manoeuvring the shovel slowly and carefully she was able to lift the clinking object up and out of the deep pit. It was a hessian sack folded over itself, and when she lay it on the wet ground and unwrapped it, and turned it upside down, out poured a rainbow of jewels.
Baby’s eyes widened in wonder, and he put out his little hand, to try and feel the colours and see if they were real. But his mother’s hand snapped onto his, “No, Baby, no touching!” She put the sack down on the ground and sorted through her cache of jewels, talking to Baby as she did so. “Now, Baby, see this? This is a garnet, this is an amethyst, and this one is called aquamarine. Now you know this one, don’t you? That’s right, it’s a diamond. Now this is an emerald. Lovely this one, isn’t it? This one is called a moonstone, can you tell how it looks a bit like a moon? Peridot, sapphire, opal, topaz. How many is that Baby? Can you count them all? That’s right, you clever clever boy, that’s ten jewels. Plus here is number eleven, this one is turquoise.” The naming and numbering made them both breathless with anticipation, the rain was still streaming down, and the thunder was still roaring from above, but they had eyes only for each other, and their glittering, glistening cache of jewels.
“But it’s NOT eleven Mama, we almost forgot, I have number twelve. What is mine called?” asked Baby, as he took his treasure out from his little pocket. She looked at his jewel, sparkling in his little hand, and smiled and said “That, my darling little boy, is a ruby.” “A ruby, a ruby,” Baby repeated in a whisper, “I love this ruby Mama. I love you too Mama...here....put it there with yours,” and he placed it gently between the moonstone and the peridot. “Thankyou,” she said to her youngest son, “that makes twelve.”
“Now, baby, do you know what we are going to have to do?” she asked as she eyed the jewels and touched them with her rain-damp fingertips, “We are going to have to put all of the jewels back where they came from. We have to treasure them away,” she said, and she returned the jewels to the sack, folded it over several times, and threw it back into the deep pit. The sack made a soft, thudding sound as it landed, and Baby said to her, “That makes me feel sad.” “Me too sweetie,” she looked down at him with a small, wistful smile, “but it’s what we have to do...this will be our secret treasure...can you keep a secret?” Baby didn’t answer, he just looked at her with his big blue eyes and slowly moved his head up and down.
After burying their cache of jewels they walked back to the house together, and with each step they took through the garden the rain stopped, the clouds blew away and the sun began to shine down on them. When they finally arrived at the house, they pushed open the back door and there was Grandma waiting for them with two towels and warm slippers and one cup of tea and one cup of cocoa (not too hot), and then, the doorbell rang.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
“Why don’t you put them on Mama’s night-table darling boy?” said the grandmother, “and then we’ll have some lunch.”
So she was sent off to her room, and she stood there and just stared for a little bit at the queen-sized bed which had been made up with her beautiful linens, and then covered with one of Great-Grandma’s quilts. Sure enough, Baby really had placed the notebooks on the night-table. She took a deep breath and smelt the scent of her personal history, that scent of the yesterday that she had known and left and then returned to. So that was enough, and she finally knew she had come home.
She undressed, leaving her musty travel-stained clothes in a pile on the bathroom floor, and then she bathed. She lay in a clean bath full of hot, fragrant water and every so often she cried, and then she dunked her head under and stopped breathing for a few seconds. Each time she came up for air she felt a little more cleansed, and a little more real. As real as someone imagining herself could ever feel. Then she dried herself with the large plush towel her mother had left for her, wrapped it around herself, added another smaller one in a knot on her head, and padded softly back to her room.
Again she stopped and stared. Her mother had been in the room in her absence, and had turned down the bed. Her flannel nightgown was laid out for her, and a silver-wrapped chocolate lay on her pillow as a joke. It had been a long time since she had seen as good a joke as this, so it made her laugh out loud, which sounded strange. She put on the nightgown and settled herself under the covers, only worrying a little bit about wetting the pillow with her hair. Footsteps could be heard coming down the corridor towards her room, then the door creaked very very slightly and someone looked in on her, but she was fast asleep by then, so that someone simply turned off the light and shut the door.
The next morning, a few rays of light managed to sneak into the room, and a couple of them began to move ever so slowly along the bed. But it was only after the door handle was slowly turned, and the door was pushed open, and Baby stood in the doorway, that she opened her eyes. Baby walked towards the bed and stood next to her, whispering “Good morning Mama.” She stared up at him and shivered, she felt a bit cold and a bit scared because it was strange to be so clean and so comfortable, and so motherly, once again.
Baby put out his little hand and held hers, and it was then that she noticed that he was dirty. His fingers were covered in a dark, damp soil, his t-shirt and shorts were streaked with mud, and when she leaned over the edge of the bed she could see his two dirty bare feet, and a trail of muddy footprints leading from the door to the bed.
She sat up, moving the pillows back and the blanket away, and remembered a role she had played before, and returned to it, “Baby, what IS that on your hands? Have you been playing in the mud?” Baby shook his head, “No Mama, not playing Mama, finding something for you.” She looked at Baby closer now and said “What have you been finding for Mama my darling?” “I found you a present,” and Baby now brought out his other hand, which until now he had hidden behind his back, and opened his little fist and turned his palm up, and there, for his mama to see, was a large, twinkling jewel, with some mud clinging to it. “Where did you find this jewel Baby?” she asked, her voice a quaver hanging in the air. “In our backyard Mama,” Baby answered.
Monday, June 16, 2008
“I didn’t bring them any presents,” she whispered in her mother’s ear as they embraced in the corridor, “I didn’t have time,” and her mother stroked her hair and patted her back and said “Of course you didn’t, and you weren’t meant to.” A pause, and then her mother broke away from the embrace, “Those children need to learn that returning travellers do not always bring back pretty presents.” They both walked down the corridor, past what was now a living-room mess of clothes, shoes and notebooks, past the three children who were busily unzipping smaller and smaller bags, and into the kitchen.
The children were told that their disappointment was of no consequence, that they needed to take all of the mess and tidy it up. They were to put all of the clothes in the washing machine to start with, but their mother said that it would probably be better to burn those stinky clothes. The children laughed and laughed at this, but their grandmother didn’t laugh. Their grandmother simply raised her eyebrows, only very slightly, and busied herself very carefully with kitchen work. She took out the vegetable soup from the fridge and heated it in a big pot, then she toasted the fresh sourdough bread she’d baked only yesterday. She had the eldest of the children set the table. “It’s lunchtime, and you should all remember that your mother has travelled very very far, for many many hours, and we all need to take care of her now.”
The children could feel that Grandma meant business, so they all got down to it, starting up a load of laundry, setting out the shoes to air in the sunny patch of the back garden, lining up the toiletries in the bathroom. Then the smallest one, Baby, came up to her with a pile of notebooks in his arms, “Where shall I put these Mama?” he asked so sweetly that both mother and grandmother looked at him, and then turned to each other smiling. “Why don’t you put them on Mama’s night-table darling boy?” said the grandmother, “and then we’ll have some lunch.”
Sunday, June 15, 2008
It was her face, framed with a mass of auburn curls, and with a smile that was almost a sneer - a true likeness.
There were fields and fields of these very same posters as far as the eye could see. Most were tacked to the sides of the tents, many were also waving back and forth on makeshift flagpoles, others were blowing around in unexpected gusts of wind. She tried to grab as many of them as she could, but the wind became fierce and, before she knew it, she found herself standing in the middle of the dusty path, surrounded by flurries of jewel thief posters swirling thick and fast. Jewel thief posters became tangled in her hair, slapped her in the face, and paper cut her hands as she desperately tried to beat them away.
It was around this time that the tent-people started to notice her, and a small circle of curious onlookers gathered around. Soon, as crowds tend to do, the circle got bigger and wider, and then one scrawny little man pointed his scrawny little finger at her and yelled “She is the jewel thief, catch her, catch her, jewel thief.”
Now, she may have been naive and silly in the past, but she had learned many lessons during her months in the camp, so she turned on her heels and ran. She ran as fast as she could to her little tent and grabbed her rucksack, gesturing to her neighbour women to remain silent and hide her, please, have mercy, for heaven’s sake, help her hide. Then she sat, a tiny huddled ball of fear, in the back corner of another woman’s tent, listening to the crowds outside racing and yelling and shrieking as they searched for her – the jewel thief.
As night descended, her husband returned home. He found the tent dark and empty, there was no fire, and no dinner. As he stood there, outside the tent, looking around in anticipation of some sign of life, a neighbour woman peaked out of one of the little tents. “Pssst....you....poor little darling’s husband...come here you....” He looked around, curious, until he finally noticed the faint, white glow of the woman’s face peering out at him. He came closer to her, and suddenly a ghostly white arm joined the face and grabbed his hand, pulling him forcefully into the tent.
As the husband’s eyes grew accustomed to the dark, he saw his wife sitting in the back corner, her arms circling her bent legs, her hair a huge mass of curls, and her eyes the colour of blood. As he leaned towards her in an embrace he noticed the pieces of paper strewn throughout, so he stopped, and picked one up, and took a moment to look at it, and read it. “What? A jewel thief? Who wrote this? Who drew this picture? What, in heaven’s name, is going on?” But his wife was unable to speak, she had been shocked into speechlessness. All she could do was reach into her rucksack, take out her passport, and show it to her husband.
Her husband understood, but he did not agree. “You can’t run away from this. This,” he picked up one of the offending posters and flicked it across the tent, “this is a very stupid prank, and we need to address it and move on. We have come here, the two of us, because we want to help these people. We do not want to steal anything, only give.” His wife looked at him and wondered to whom he was speaking. Was he speaking to the oil-lamp or the rucksack or maybe to the tent-flap. Then she realised that he was speaking to the woman who owned the tent, the neighbour woman. “Oh well,” she thought, “what does it really matter? He isn’t talking to me.” And so she stopped paying him any attention, and before the sun rose that morning she managed to sneak out of the camp, and find a taxi, and travel to the airport. At the airport she bought a ticket for the very next flight home, and while she waited for the boarding call she sent a brief email to her mother explaining what had happened and when she would return.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
and she remembered for a fraction of a moment the way things used to be, before they had decided to journey, before they had started saving the world.
But she never said this to her husband, because deep deep down in her heart of hearts she knew that he would never fully understand.
After three long months, her new life became routine, and she thought that she might, perhaps, with time, and practice, be able to erase some of her bitter-hearted blood-pumping disappointment. So when she woke up one morning to see that it was a lovely spring day, she decided to go for a walk, by herself, just for the fun of it. One of her favourite pastimes was to walk through the camp and stop every so often to read one or two of the many signs which were tacked onto the sides of the tents. They were mostly in the refugees’ language, which she was not yet able to fully understand, but at least they was decorative, and she liked to imagine what they might mean.
Perhaps this one says “Souls repaired, no job too small or too big,” and this one says “Prophet will tell your fortune for small fee”, or maybe even “Holistic pain-free dentist”. She amused herself this way for almost half an hour until she suddenly came across a small, handwritten poster with English writing on it. It said “JEWEL THIEF – THIS WOMAN IS WANTED, DEAD OR ALIVE” and under these words there was a small sketch of a woman’s face, and it was her face. It was her face, framed with a mass of her auburn curls, and with a smile that was almost a sneer – a true likeness.
Friday, June 13, 2008
I began trying to capture some of my thoughts on the phrase "a cache of jewels" by writing little stories, simply because I was so inspired by these artists' work. Soon, these stories seemed to gather and connect themselves into a series. I have therefore decided to post my cache as a series of daily posts, with the hope that you may be patient and trusting enough to go along on the story journey.
After landing, and collecting their luggage (only two rucksacks, that’s all), they walked out into the muggy heat of the new country, and after a two-hour bus ride they arrived at the refugee camp. A couple of men were waiting for them at the bus-stop, they were embraced and then led to what was to be their new home. It was nothing more than a tent for two, with just enough room for their sleeping-bags, and it was surrounded by a sea of makeshift tents and sheds which were the homes of the others. The two of them had travelled here so as to help these others, and they were full and fresh with hopes and dreams of world peace and love.
Her husband’s eyes sparkled as he grabbed his little black bag of medical supplies and told her that he would return before dark. He went off with the two men, and as she looked after the three figures walking confidently into the mass of tent-people, she (for the very first time) felt that being a woman might effect the way one sees a tent. Maybe the tent meant something different to her, something for which her husband didn’t have a symbol, or a gesture, or a code.
She couldn’t imagine going off with her own little black bag, although that had been the original plan. She could only imagine trying to unpack, then discovering that she couldn’t, looking for a bathroom,and then finding that there wasn’t, and searching for food, and then seeing that it was scarce and difficult. Shelter and food were basic commodities which she had enjoyed her entire life, as had her husband, but he went out for a walk, and she was still at home, in the tent.
Weeks went by. Then months. The oppressive heat of summer made way for for the freezing rains of winter, and needless to say, their flimsy tent-for-two did not hold up very well to these extremes. Having arrived in this strange land under the pollyanna assumption that she would help the poor and needy of the camps, she soon discovered that she was in fact the one who needed, and received, help from the women around her. They started calling her “darling” and “poor little one”, and every day the refugee women taught her something new. They showed her how how to dig a trench around the tent so as to prevent flooding, they shared their flour and spices with her, they taught her how to bake bread on a campfire, and cook soupy beans in a rusty pot overnight on the coals.
When her husband came home he would tell her about the people he met and the places he’d seen and the healing he had done. She showed him her coal-pot, and he laughed and said it was just like her crock-pot at home. She said “I know, I think actually that I am turning into a bit of a crock-pot myself,” and they shared that laugh together and she remembered for a fraction of a moment the way things used to be, before they had decided to journey, before they had started saving the world.
Friday, June 6, 2008
When I was about eight years old and living in Herzliya (Israel) I read a series of books titled "Nilly's Diary" by Maud Frere, illustrated by Nadine Forster. I believe that in the original French it was known as "Le Journal De Veronique." One of my favourites in the series was "An Afternoon At Ricky's Place."
Looking back, I was far too young then to understand why the blurb at the back of "Neighbourhood Nurse" asked "Was she wasting her valuable training in concentrating on being a wife and mother? Did her attractive young husband, so involved in his own busy life as a doctor, really understand?" I just thought that handsome Doctor William Barry was such a dreamboat....ok, I admit it...I may have had a teeny tiny crush on the doctor.
Oh, my apron days, my beautiful apron days. How things have changed.
And thus, Apron Week must come to a close.
Let us untie our aprons, launder then, iron them, fold them, slide them onto the linen-cupboard shelves, and move on.
Then, it hit me, I used to listen to a song called "Apron Strings" (by Everything But The Girl) many years ago. I used to listen to it during the year that I was supporting a dear friend who was trying very hard to fall pregnant. The song made me cry, but in a good and cleansing way, so that I could continue being supportive.
If you like, you can listen to the song below, but it's the second song, so you'll have to fast-forward to 2:55.
Oh, and by the way, regarding the homework assignment from the previous post - many of you will be taking notes back to your parents this weekend. I'm just saying.
Hanging empty crazy things
My body tells me
I want someone to tie to my
Waiting for you pretty things
That I could call you
I want someone to tie to my
Lonely apron strings.
Your baby looks just like you when you were young
And he looks at me with eyes that shine
And I wish that he were mine
Then I go home
Cold and lonely,
For time brings
thoughts that only
Will be quiet when someone clings
to my apron strings.
And I'll be perfect in my own way
When you cry I will be there
I'll sing to you and comb your hair
All your troubles I will share
For apron strings
Can be used for other things
Than what they're meant for
and you'd be happy wrapped in my
You'd be happy wrapped in my
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Now that I have your attention, please admire exhibit A. This is a cookbook I purchased for a couple of dollars from a second-hand bookshop in Tel-Aviv a few years ago. It is dated 1940, and as you can see it is written in both English and German.
If you flip the book over, you can also see that it is written in Hebrew! It's so handy that Hebrew is written from right to left, allowing a book such as this to have two front covers.
Now, can anyone tell me why this book might be appropriate for a post this week? You two girls in the back...are you chewing gum? NO! Please tell me you didn't just stick that gum under that desk. What? Oh yes...quite right...the answer to my question is that the woman pictured on the cover of this book is wearing an APRON. Correct! And that woman is also reading a book, and the woman pictured on her book is also wearing an APRON. Thank you.
Here is the introduction to the book. Yes, girl in the back, you have a question? Oh...this photo is a little blurry and you can't read the print? You think that might be due to the fact that I took the photo after the Trafo celebration? Well. I think you may not be able to read the print because you, young lady, need to sit in the very front row of the class, right here, where I can keep an eye on you. That's better.
Below is a close-up of the introduction. Yes. I know I should have really scanned the damned thing, but I have no time, and I need sleep, and yet I AM COMMITTED TO APRON WEEK.
I am sure that if you all try very, very hard, you will be able to read the print. It will be worth it, I assure you.
The print below doesn't need to be read. It is just an example of how the book has three columns - English, German and Hebrew.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
So I'm in my pyjamas, sitting in front of the computer screen, and I check in with Eurolush...you know...I have to clock in so the boss knows where I am at all times, and that's when I see them. Photos of the most beautiful necklaces, ever, and all hand-crafted by Eurolush herself.
I know. I couldn't get over it either. So I immediately had to write a poem, it is titled "The Euroluscious Necklace":
When you come upon our Eurolush
Sitting on your plane,
Fly it safely and beware
For the cargo you have there
Is as precious as a gemstone
Hanging, beaded in the air.
What is this necklace with a twist?
What is this beaded gem divine?
What is this larger darker oblong
With the tiny mustard eye?
What say you of vintage pearling?
Or of grass-green circles rare?
'Tis the Eurolush of Germany
With her crafting, loving stare.
Yes, we see the purple fretting,
And the night-dark sister love.
Yes, we see the sea-blue twinkling,
And the moonstone up above.
Do you know her deep-red husband love?
Have you seen her two-pearled flair?
Have you giggled at her table
As she shared her pastries there?
Well, indeed, we have,
While many may compare,
It is this euroluscious necklace
And then, I did some research and discovered that it is quite appropriate, and in fact recommended, that a blogging award, especially Swedish awards, be given to two bloggers rather than just one....and....well....I immediately pasted this award right here for Eurolush, and I now say (while gushing, I know, I'm gushing, sorry):
Eurolush, thank you for your creative blogging - you bead your words as you do your gems and pearls, with style, energy, love and infinite wit and grace.
And now let's all wander down to Trafo for a celebratory dinner!!!!
In the early 1930s, perhaps a decade or so before Eurolush’s beautiful pansy-embroidered apron was sewn, my great-uncle Alec made the journey from America to Germany; he was on his way to study medicine. While studying at the German university he met a young German firecracker of a woman who was also studying to be a doctor. Her name was Eva. She was a young Jewish woman with big dreams for the future. Alec and Eva studied day and night, often alongside each other in the large, cold university library, until the day they married, and then they studied day and night at twin desks set up in their tiny new home.
Alec and Eva were still in the midst of their studies when they heard that a man called Adolf Hitler had come to power. They immediately took advantage of an opportunity to move to Berne, Switzerland where they finished their studies. Alec specialised in matters of the heart, he was a cardiologist. Eva also specialised in matters of the heart, but the metaphorical kind, for she was a psychiatrist. Immediately following their twin graduations, around 1936 or 37 (according to my grandpa’s memory) they both travelled to America, where Alec’s loving mother was waiting impatiently to finally meet her new daughter-in-law.
But we all know how difficult in-law relationships can be.
My great-grandma (my grandpa’s mother-in-law) was a strong and powerful woman who held her family together through thick and thin. Much of her strength and power lay in her ability to comfort and nurture the people around her. She was a balabusta – a housewife of the formidable kind, and as you can well imagine, she ALWAYS wore an apron when working in her kitchen.
As my great-grandma waited to meet her new daughter-in-law, she clutched a beautifully-wrapped gift to her chest. This gift was to be my great-grandma’s small token of love and hope, given to the new young wife of her beloved son Alec - a beautiful apron. So Alec and Eva arrived, the gift was presented, and opened, and much like the opening of Pandora’s box, the horrifying ghouls and ghosts and shrieking masses of horror and gore which immediately spun through my family’s life could never be put back in the box ever, ever again.
Eva, for all of her expertise in the matters of the heart and mind, was very very young. She was so young in fact, and so naive, that when she saw that apron (that apron which was probably as divinely beautiful as eurolush’s prized one) she saw only female servitude. Yes, she did. She saw, in her new mother-in-law’s twinkling eyes and thick-armed embrace, a maternal prison consisting of a stove, a sink, a brand-new refrigerator and a pretty little apron. She saw a life sentence which started with the phrase “What’s for dinner darling?” and finished with the phrase “Here lies a doctor’s wife” written on a cold, dark gravestone.
Eva immediately made her views concerning the apron crystal clear. As clear and pure as was her love for Alec, so was her hatred for her mother-in-law, and by association, all other family members, including Alec’s sister –her sister-in-law – my grandma. And all of this, all of this, based solely on the gift of an apron.
Now, here is where I must admit that I am no impartial bystander to this monumental family event, for I am very much my grandmother’s granddaughter. I knew my grandma very well, and I saw, with my own eyes, the terrible scars which Eva’s words had left on my grandma’s soft flesh. My Grandpa sums it up by saying that Eva’s tongue was sharper than any surgeon’s scalpel. My great-aunt-Eva had many years of psychiatric training, and she would sometimes (and this was most unfortunate for my grandma) use her powers for the dark side.
You see, my grandma was a born academic, excelling at university, double-majoring in French and Physics, Phi Beta Kappa. But she had left all of that behind her. She had left it all behind her so as to become a mother of three little children. This meant that she was a 1940s housewife, and like her own mother she ALWAYS wore her apron when working in the kitchen. According to my grandpa, Eva NEVER forgot the “put-down gift” (as he likes to call it), and she never missed an opportunity to torture my grandma with it. My grandpa, indeed, claims that even in old age, Eva and my grandma could hardly be in the same room for more than a minute before the sparks would begin to fly.
Those sparks are still flying around my head as I write this.
I still feel the fire, and I think that my own daughter, Eva’s great-great-niece, may well carry this torch of a story into the dark, unknown future. But, in the meantime, I look at those divine, delicate, domestic works of art - those aprons - and I wish with all my might that Eva had simply said “Thank you very much” and “How kind”, and then put her apron gift away in the back of a drawer.
Just in case someone in the family might need it some day.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
In honour of APRON WEEK I can now officially unveil the apron which I wore while writing last night's superhero post. You can see the apron here. You will, however, have to use your imagination to see me posing in it. Very well, I will give you a little help...I am posing with a very powerful and stern demeanour. And a martini glass in hand.
Monday, June 2, 2008
J was the first one who actually got where I was coming from, she said “Holy smoke, Robin, where’s Batman?” But then I realised this whole group, the entire A through S, had discussed this thing before, and it was, like, so last year. Like, how they had already made action figures of us that had sold like hotcakes in Toys R Us, and how we each had the cutest little hand-sewn limited edition superhero costumes with embroidered letters above our hearts. So maybe I was the only one out of the bunch that had been half-asleep last year when this all happened. They all knew Batman was done to death already.
That’s when T through Z arrived at the table, and we all had to skootch over and give them some goddamn room, and was it just them or was it friggin hot in this friggin tiny, stinky diner? Well, you’ve got some nerve, I said, coming around to my home and taking over my kitchen, and sipping my homely home-brewed java, and complaining. I banged down my number one mum cup and almost raised the dead. I don’t have enough place-settings for 26, Bloomingdales doesn’t give 26 as an option, and in any case, like I would ever have even half a dozen friends sitting in my kitchen. As if.
I wondered if the Russian would be home from work soon, I was getting damned annoyed at this point, what with having 26 Robins, or actually 27, if you reckon I count myself as one. I figured that when the Russian came home he’d at least be able to help me keep them all in line. You know, maybe he might say that they can’t come over unannounced any more, or maybe, like hospital visiting hours, they can only come visiting between the hours of 9 and 11am.
So Z pipes up out of nowhere, somewhere down the line of the dining table which has both extensions in and still feels like playschool furniture, so Z says that she reckons it might be more convenient if we all kind of take the party outside people, because Z can’t breathe in here. So then we’re off, like a flock of flying Robins, floating out to the grass, someone switches on the floodlight, F & G mess around in the shed and jump out victorious with a cricket bat, and S wheels out two garbage bins for the wickets. So now, A through Z are having sporting fun in my backyard, and I’m the cat in the hat, no, no bloody way, I yell at them, I will NOT be a cat. I want to be Batman. I, said, I, want, to, be, Batman. But nobody, absolutely not one body, hears me.
It might also have something to do with the fact that B & Q have fired up some sausages, sizzling away, and I grudgingly admit that, yeah, it might just be that I’m hungry, and yes there’s tomato sauce in the fridge, no, it’s there, I’m sure, on the door of the fridge, and why am I the only one to ever know where anything is in this house. Oh, yeah, that’s right, because A through Z do not live here permanently, they’re only visiting, and no I don’t know any of their names or addresses, and no I couldn’t tell you what any of them really looked like officer. I know it’s hard to believe. I know. But things like this must have happened before, you must have had some similar experience with this sort of thing officer? No? Never in your entire career? Oh, but they did take something of value, officer, they did. What? Well...apart from the cricket bat, and three dozen sausages, and a number one mum mug? Well, they took my mojo officer, my mo.jo.officer. No, this is not a joke. Joke wasn’t here. How do I know? Um...well...no...I don’t have proof that this isn’t a joke. That noise? The door? Oh, of course, yes, yes, no, it’s not them, it’s just the Russian, yeah, he’s cool, you can let him in, he, um, lives here.
Hi honey, what’s for dinner? The Russian says. The Russian walks into the house like a lamb to the slaughter. WHAT did you just say? What’s for dinner? Was that your hello comment for the evening? Yes, officer, of course, I’ll see you out, thank you so much, but are you sure it’s no use checking for prints? Ok.
Now, you Roosky, what is it now? What? I can’t hear you, speak up? I’m not deaf, no, it’s just that A through Z were here and they stole my mojo. What? What are you saying to me? Come closer....the black boots? The black cape? These old things....na,na,na, nyet mate, I didn’t buy them today, are you kidding me? These old things, I’ve had them for years...I just decided to try on some old clothes today...What was that? You think I look cute in this outfit. Oh. Well, gee. Thanks. Yeah, I love you too. What did you say? You missed me today? Yeah...me too. Oh...I thought we’d have a barbecue for dinner actually. The two martinis, how did they get here? Well...I have absolutely no idea...oh, and look, a martini glass with a B engraved on it, well, I never! But what’s that on your collar? Is that a capital “R” in canary-yellow, in a black circle, placed over your heart? Oh.....you’ll do anything to cheer me up!
I am rushing off, thought I might quickly add a song to go with the sketches and with your Monday morning, quickly....