The Cave

Ghosts of Clam Chowder

Alone

Alone

Crossing VanBuren

 

We crossed VanBuren Street the other day. We were momentarily in the town I lived in as a small child, just passing thru. On our way to more important events, more salubrious climes. When I was a little kid VanBuren was the busy street a block away from the back water of 13th street, where we lived. 13th was an odd street. It went halfway through town, but only in fits and starts. No stretch of 13th was more than 5 blocks long. It dead-ended a lot, but it would always start up again a block or two past whatever obstruction it encountered. Growing up on 13th taught you the value of perseverance.

Our stretch of 13th was 3 blocks long. We lived on the corner of 13th and some ‘L’ shaped street that didn’t go anywhere and never resurfaced in other parts of town like 13th did. I no longer remember its name. Its function was to cut up the space between VanBuren, our house and Dixie Creek into a square that more houses could be built on. The houses were already there when I was growing up. Van Buren Street defined one edge of my world as a kid. It was a “busy” street, a wide pristine boulevard with white, uncracked, level sidewalks, and we weren’t allowed to cross it. Or even walk along it without the protective presence of a grown-up in tow. The other edge of the world was another “busy” street, but it was not as busy. I walked along it to get to school, carefully staying on my side of it until I reached the sanctity of the crossing guards who provided safe passage to the school on the other side. That street held no mystery for me, although I did see the occasional dinosaur on it while walking to school in the fog.

VanBuren however, was the gateway to the world. The grocery store we shopped at was several blocks down VanBuren. Comic books and candy bars (for a DIME) could be purchased there, which we did anytime we had collected enough pop and beer bottles to pay for them. We were a major force for clean roadsides. Sometimes on Saturday mornings my father would take one of us kids with him and go there to purchase ‘butterhorns’, a giant danish like pastry with a butter-cream center that still makes my mouth water. Apparently it is the only place that ever made those, as I have never had one since. It was walking back from there, pulling a red wagon full of groceries, that my Mother stopped one day and sang me the song about the “one-eyed, one horned flying purple people eater”, in an effort to explain the name of the city bus line (purple buses with “People Eater” in bright yellow letters on the side) to me. Next to that was a drug store that sold eczema cream and where I purchased my first ‘dippity-do”.

We drove down VanBuren when we went “down town”. There you could go to the 5 and dime, the green stamp redemption store, monkey wards (where I got my first bra, a red letter day indeed) and Bob’s 19 cent hamburgers, the height of haute cuisine and only patronized on birthdays and other special occasions. As far as us kids knew there was no inside seating. The movie theater we went to sometimes in the summer (after carefully saving enough bread wrappers or soda caps or whatever was required to comply with the promotion) was down there as was the newspaper office where my mother sometimes purchased the “end rolls” of unused newsprint for us to color on. If you went far enough you came to Averey Park, where there were deer to feed, a retired locomotive to climb on and a small, sad zoo with monkeys that smelled, a mina bird that talked and a kinkajoo, which appeared to be some sort of South American raccoon, but had a very exotic name. VanBuren Street led to all things good and interesting.

Went I reached junior high school I was deemed old enough to cross VanBuren alone. Walking to my new school was going to require it. I was given strict instructions about my route and told which corners I was allowed to cross at, (the ones with lights and cross walks) and turned loose. I felt terribly important and grown up. I passed the grocery store and the drug store every day and was sometimes given money for a small errand. It was on one of these that the dippity-do was acquired. I began to make new friends, some of whom lived quite far from 13th street. Crossing VanBuren had opened the wider world to me.

We moved away at the end of that year and I never really thought about VanBuren again until the other day, when we drove across it in such a cavalier fashion. I wanted to say, “Stop! Go back!” and spend some time hunting up our old house, our old neighborhood, but I was afraid I would no longer be able to find it. Or worse, that I would find it and it would look small and shabby and VanBuren would have become ever so slightly seedy. Or even worse, that it had all been torn down and replaced with something modern and cold in shiny glass and polished concrete. So I said nothing and VanBuren receded into the distance, becoming tiny and vanishing in the rearview mirror relegating itself to some backwater of nostalgia where it can remain untarnished forever in my mind. I have moved on from there, gone many places, accomplished much, become perhaps, an entirely different person, but I will always remember that the start of the journey was, crossing VanBuren.

 

Grow Where You’re Planted

Grow Were You're Planted

I Learned What a Villanelle Is

I watch there while the water waves

water o’er which a seagull jives

There where the dinosaurs did bathe

the sea holds many sailors graves

cradled there an otter thrives

As I watch there while the water waves

the mighty sailing ships were brave

yet for their bones the osprey dives

There where the dinosaurs did bathe

it matters not, good men or knaves

the sea care little as she takes their lives

And I watch there while the water waves

becalmed and mad sometimes they’d rave

or yet made scrimshaw with their knives

There where the dinosaurs did bathe

for fish or treasure their all they gave

leaving behind their grieving wives

Still I watch there while the water waves

There where the dinosaurs did bathe

 

A Closer Look

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Farm Country

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Santa Lives In Arkansas

Once upon a time in Arkansas……It was just after my first divorce. The kids were little. Under five. I was down to one job, my second job having let me go because they no longer needed the help. We had no money. I could barely manage to keep us in bacon and beans. They’d cut the water off a couple of days before. Christmas not only looked bleak, it looked nonexistent. I’d made the kids a paper tree out of some notebook paper and a paper chain, the tree’s star was cut from more notebook paper, all colored with their crayons. Christmas dinner would be cornbread and white beans, flavored with the last of the bacon. I had 3 eggs and thought maybe I could make a cake. No frosting though. We didn’t have any powdered sugar.

Before I went to work on Christmas Eve, I let them hang up their stockings. A couple of my old knee high socks. I figured I could buy a few candy canes out of my tips that night on my way home. My hope was, since they were so young, they wouldn’t realize that there should be more. I dropped them off at the sitter’s, thanking her again for the imposition of caring for them on this holiday eve. Promising, again, to come back for them as soon as I could. I got back in the car. You had to slide over from the passenger side because the drivers side door had been bashed in in a wreck and wouldn’t open. It was that way when I got it. But hey, it had been a free car, given to us by a friend of my ex’s. I ran my stockings on the slide over….sigh.

Work was surprisingly busy. I was a cocktail waitress. You’d think people would go home rather than be there on Christmas eve. Fortunately for me the holiday spirit made them slightly more generous than usual. Tips were pretty good. I was going to be able to buy the kids each a cheap toy maybe, plus candy canes, and still get new stockings! At last it was time to go home. I cleaned the floors and we locked the door. In a fit of generosity my boss told me I didn’t have to come in the next day. I was grateful–the sitter was going to charge me extra for working on Christmas–but nervous about missing a day’s money.

I stopped at a convenience store (in those days that was all that was open at midnight on christmas eve) and bought the kids each a cheap plastic toy and a candy cane. I even got them each a candy bar. What the heck, new stockings could wait. It was christmas. Besides, I thought I had another pair at home that had one good leg left. I could cut a leg off each pair and make do. I hid the kids stuff under the seat of the car and went to get them. The sitter was pleased to hear that we would both get to spend the next day with our families.

I spent the ride home recalculating my finances to take the loss of tomorrows pay into account. It was going to be tight. I shouldn’t have spent that money in the convenience store. A few tears sneaked out. It was SOOO hard. My poor kids. Maybe I couldn’t do this. What was going to become of us? Perhaps I should take them to the Children’s Home and just give up. They certainly deserved better than I was able to provide. Despair sat beside me on the seat and held my hand. Discouragement winked at me from every set of flashing christmas lights that we passed.

When we arrived home I carried sleeping children into the house and laid them on my bed so I could arrange their “christmas” before they woke up. I left their coats on them. It was cold in my room. We only had 2 gas heaters and neither of them was in my room. As I headed outside to get the bag of hidden loot it dawned on me that the living room was not as dark as it should’ve been. I looked down the room and THERE, on the table where our poor paper tree had stood was a 3 foot christmas tree. It had lights! And decorations! There were stockings! Red fuzzy ones. And they were full of stuff! Candy and oranges and peppermint sticks!

I turned on a light and investigated. Not only was that stuff real, there was more! Scarves and mittens and hats for everyone. A coat for the youngest. Secondhand, but nice and warm looking. She’d about outgrown hers. There was a nice toy for each child and in bags, a frozen turkey and all the trimmings for a real christmas dinner to be made. When the kids got up they found me crying over an envelope that had been sitting in the branches of the tree. It had my name on it. Inside was $25 and a receipt where someone had paid my overdue water bill. The water was on. I had checked. We had a wonderful Christmas.

I never did find out who did this. No one ever admitted to it. Therefore, Santa MUST live in Arkansas.

Yoda

Yoda

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