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.

 

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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.

What’s Your Elephant’s Name?

This afternoon, while watching tv with my father, the subject of elephants came up. He was watching a nature show of some sort and saw something about an elephant harness. “That’s what we need,” he said, “an elephant harness!” “Then we would just need an elephant.” I replied. “Not necessarily…” was his responce. Immeadiately the conversation turned to what a person could do with an elephant harness. Stand outside shopping malls holding the elephant harness and tell people you had lost your elephant, we thought. See if you could get anyone to help you look for your elephant. Drag the elephant harness to the office of the local newspaper and try to get them to include an ad for your missing pet. My dad began reciting a description of the elephant (grey, about ‘so’ high, big ears, etc), suddenly I chimed in with, “Answers to the name name Packy. If I had an elephant I would name him ‘Packy, or maybe ‘Ethyl’.” We laughed and the conversation died down, but I began to wonder what it says about you if you know instantly what you would name an elephant if you suddenly aquired one.

A lot of my conversations with my father are like this any more. Eliptical and strange, tangental flights of fancy. He watches considerable television and we talk about that, sometimes rather normally, about old movies and the names of various actors or our favorite John Wayne western. Other times however, we stray into things like, what color the dinasauers were, or why advanced alien species would mess around helping us build pyramids, or how the collapse of the sasquatch hunting industry might effect the economy if they ever find him, and of course, what you would name your elephant. My mother mostly stays out of these philosophical dicussions, only rarely succumbing to the impulse to tell us that she cannot see what possible difference it makes. Sometimes she does leave the room though. Usually to go grumble in the kitchen. She thinks we are quite mad I know, but oddly enough, somehow these conversations of conjecture have caused me to know my father much better than I ever have before. These sorts of speculations would never have happened when we were younger. In some fashion, by playing, “let’s pretend” it is possible to slip behind the mask and get to know the man on the other side. And I find that there is a mind much like my own, belonging to a person who, after a couple of minutes, also knows exactly what he would name his elephant. It’s entirely possible I may end up liking the old boy yet.

Oh, and by the way, Dad says he would name his elephant, “Fella”.

My Mother’s Faces

Such a lovely woman

smiling

happy

watching her daughters

going out into the world

facing challenges

overcoming obstacles

in pursuit of goals

she never imagined.

Such an angry woman

seething

enraged

watching her daughters

going about in the world

unconstrained by her conventions

freed from her social mores

in pursuit of goals

she never dared dream.

 

Reba Lenore’s Riff

It’s here again. The tenth of August. Every year I think, “maybe next year it will just fly by and I won’t notice”. Every year that turns out to be untrue. On this day 23 years ago, some of my dreams died, some of my hopes died, some of my joy died. On this day 23 years ago all of my innocence died and I began learning the true nature of pain.
Maybe next year I won’t notice.

Why Kansas?

2013-06-30 naomis copy2

Are You Serious?

Seriously. The recent holiday and my preceding vacation spent in the company of my grands have given me cause to seriously wonder about the fate of the word ‘seriously’. It seems to be in serious crisis. Seriously. All the serious youngsters are seriously stressing the poor overworked word out. Seriously. I can’t believe that you seriously don’t know how serious the situation is for poor old serious. It’s really serious. Seriously. Are you seriously asking me to define the seriousness of the serious situation? Seriously? I mean, be serious. Seriously.
I am seriously glad I got that out of my system. It was becoming serious. Seriously.

Fighting

Mothers. Daughters. It’s so complicated. I just finished having a huge fight with my daughter, well, one of my daughters (and the fact that I feel I must mention that to avoid slighting anyone says much). Anyway, back to the daughter I have been fighting with. About what, you ask? I don’t know. I was there the whole time, but I swear, I’m really not sure. My feelings are very hurt though. Right now I’m not sure things will ever be the same. It was that kind of a fight. A world changer, wherein at least one of the combatants is so damaged that they cannot return to their previous state of being. We are actually very close. Sometimes I think we are so tuned in to each others’ emotional temperature that we read signals that aren’t even there and take personally things that are really directed toward the larger world, rather than at each other. I watch all this take place between her and her daughter also (her daughter is 12, a prime age for fighting) unable to interject anything that does not act as gas sprayed into an open flame. Due to this recent confrontation, I don’t feel I’ve even the right to offer advice, since I, obviously, have no insight into the prevention of such conflagurations.
So, here I am, more than 700 miles from home, having just fought with my daughter who I am suppossed to be helping recover from minor surgery. Watching her fight with my granddaughter, and feeling as if I am bleeding to death from millions of tiny paper cuts and one lage stab wound to the heart…

At Wal-Mart

I saw my son today, looking so brave and forlorn on a bench in front of the Wal-Mart pharmacy. He’s 18 you know. Tall, thin, blond. Brave, funny and scared. He sat on the bench beside his father’s girlfriend and talked to me about how long it had been since he shaved last and the girl he met on his way into the store that he has a date with later. He told me what they had said at the doctors’ office.

You see, his Dad was supposed to take him to the Dr. today, for a check up on his recent bout of viral pericarditis. He was to go with me yesterday, but then his Dad called and said that they had to go in there today and he would take my son. I had reservations, but the boy really wanted to spend time with the father who so rarely sees him. So I called the office and they said it would be OK.  Unfortunately his Dad decided at the last minute to stay home and watch his girlfriend’s father deer hunt. He can see the deer stand from the back porch. Next to the beer cooler.

The Dr. said the pain in my son’s heart is resolving and that he is doing well. Really. I wonder. I want to continue to protect him from life’s agonies. It was easy when he was small. There were so many inventible reasons to cover broken promises. Now he is man high, shaving and chasing girls. And I have no answers for the ache behind his eyes as he sits on the Wal-Mart pharmacy bench next to a woman he’s only met twice.

My son talked to me today. He told me nothing that was in his heart, and broke mine.

G-Baby

I had the great good fortune to have one of my grandchildren live very close to me when she was quite small. In fact, for a time, they lived in my house. G-baby and I were happy with that, but I don’t think anybody else was thrilled. When she was around everyday I was unable to refrain from mentioning her on whatever “social” site I was inhabiting in cyber-space. Obviously that hasn’t changed.
During that time though, when she was always underfoot, what to call her, when referring to her on the internet, was a question. I have always had the sense that the internet is, not only a public place, but a permanent place, where words are “searchable” forever. My personal privacy imperative has caused me to retain an alias that came from the early days of chat rooms and cyber communication. Back then, like CB “handles,” everybody had them. Sometimes they were their CB handles. So, of course, her name was out of the question. What I called her in private wasn’t good either. I called her “Frog Lips”. She called me “Grandma Toad”. Even I can realize how mortifying that would be if it got around school, especially when she’s older. So G-Baby was born.
G-Baby is woman high now and beginning to garner a woman’s shape. Too old for grandma’s lap. Too young to realize how young she is. She doesn’t like G-Baby anymore. She’s asked me not to call her that. Feeling too tired to think up a new name I said, “Ok, we can go back to ‘Frog Lips’.” A resounding “NO!” greeted that proposal.  She hasn’t brought it up again, so far. She will though. Sigh. It’s not my first time around this track. I miss the kind of fun we used to have when she was little.
One summer when she was about 4 we got two pairs of those giant sunglasses. You remember, like those ones that you can win at the carnival? They stick out 3 inches on either side of you head and the lenses cover your face from above your eyebrows nearly to your chin. We wore them in the car. Heck, G-Baby wore hers everywhere she went. We’d roll the car windows down, put on our giant glasses and sing along loudly to the cd of kiddie songs that stayed in the player. We pretty much went everywhere by ourselves that summer. Rarely did anyone want to ride with us. A friend of mine nearly called the paramedics on me at a stoplight one day. It seems that the motions that go to “I’m a Little Teapot” look very similar to a seizure, if a person cannot hear the music or see the child in the car.
G-Baby and her family no longer live nearby. 700 miles away, in fact. This year G-Baby is 12. We are planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, to walk on the Skywalk, a giant, horseshoe-shaped piece of glass that sticks out over the canyon wall. The idea of doing this scares me spitless. Adding insult to injury, the tribe that owns the Skywalk wants the grand sum of $70….EACH, to walk on it. Seems like a lot of money to do something scary. However, it is important to me to make this trip before G-Baby completely outgrows me. It is beginning to look like that will be next year.
G-baby has a little brother. He turned 2 last month. Next summer I’m buying him a pair of giant sunglasses and we’re going on a road trip. I still have mine…… B
-)

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