Monthly Archives: April 2012

Wings

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The yellow finch has come back to visit our back yard feeder and brought his mate. At least, I think they are a couple since they seem to be compatible as they dine. Considerate of our pleasure, they have come to call during our dinner hour so that we can admire them— along with the cardinal family that lodges in our holly tree and my favorite, the perky chickadee.

Little chickadee

Perches on a swaying branch

To say ‘good morning.’

The butterflies will be back soon, monarchs striking in orange and black, debonair swallowtails in formal attire, and those tiny whites and yellows who will dance around the lavender.

From such small things come my epiphanies. I have a dear friend who believes that angels interact with us, and though I have had no celestial visitations, my very ordinary life has also felt the brush of wings.

That bumblebee, for instance, with the pollen-dusted legs—I watch one as it hovers about a rosebud on the new red climber. Darkest red, the bud is unfurling slowly, taking its time. The bee is in no hurry, either, for the garden is full of spring flowers.

Then there is the drift of petals from the clematis vine. Pure white are these flower-wings, each a miracle of form and balance. The clematis is even whiter today because the sky is slightly overcast. Translucent gray above—and below, at my feet spreads the dusty miller, an early ladybird napping amongst the folds of a long, silvered leaf.

Hiding from the world…

Rocked in a silver cradle

Wings folded, at rest.

The mockingbird has started to sing by the mailbox. He is an industrious fellow who makes his rounds each morning, afternoon and evening, singing at top volume to make sure we know who rules the world. I have great affection for this noisy potentate for when I wake in the dusk just before dawn, he is singing under my window as if to offer me the gift of a new day. Because the mockingbird welcomes each dawn, I do, also.

In the mailbox where the mockingbird now struts his stiff lies a letter I have just written to an old friend.  Our letters and e-mails often cross, and we laugh about ESP, but it really is not a joke. This connection of minds is as much as treasure as are the jewel colors of the finches and cardinals and the graceful dance between bee and flower. It is an understanding forged between women through long, unhurried years, a testament to shared joys and sorrows and growth.

These—garden, birdsong, friendship—are to me no less wondrous because they do not come on angel’s wings.

"Birds Eye View Of the Rain Forest"

           

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Meeting Uncle Mortimer (a Polly, Molly& Jolly story)

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Some of you suggested that I post one of the stories I used to tell my grandchildren. Here is the adventure in which the Intrepid Three meet a new monster…

           The three cousins, Ben, Kate and Alex, were busy with homework one Saturday afternoon (they had to finish all their homework before they could go off and do things that really mattered). As Ben was careening through his math, he noticed that a pink Volkswagen had pulled up near the back door.

“Guess who’s come to see us?” He said. Kate and Alex raised their heads. “That’s got to be Rolly!”

Rolly was Polly, Molly, and Jolly’s nice cousin. Since he was a decent person, the awful three stayed away from him, and since he was the most intelligent of the four,  he used to find out what his creepy cousins were up to and often warned our Intrepid Three.

“What’s happening, Rolly?” Ben called.

Rolly got out of his Volkswagen and sighed. “I regret to tell you,” he said, “that my reprehensible and disgusting cousins have a houseguest.”

“So?” Alex asked. “Maybe they’ll have a party and stay away from us.”

“What’s that got to do with us?” Kate wondered.

“A great deal, I’m afraid,” Rolly continued. “Uncle Mortimer is coming to visit you.”

“Is he anything like your cousins?” Kate asked.

Rolly sighed so deeply that he actually quivered from head to foot. “Worse,” he announced. “Much, much, much worse.” He got back in his car. “I just wanted to warn you.”

“So… what should we do?” Ben asked.

“There is nothing you can do against Uncle Mortimer,” declared Rolly. “He is big, he is strong, he is meaner than an alligator with a sore tooth. Just… hide till he leaves.”

And with that, Rolly started his car. Before he could ride off, Alex ran to the window. “Isn’t there something else you can tell us?” she shouted.

Rolly’s answer was muffled by the Volkswagen taking off. “What did he say?” Kate asked. Alex looked bewildered.

“Cockroach juice.” Her cousins stared at her. “Honest, that’s what he said. Cockroach juice.”

As she spoke, a huge, roaring sound shook the house. “Thunder?” Kate asked. She looked up at the clear, blue sky. “I don’t see any clouds…”

Another roar… closer this time…  made the house stagger on its foundations. Ben started running around closing windows and locking doors. “Uncle Mortimer,” he gasped. “Quick… shut everything down. It’ll give us some time to figure this out.”

Kate was already flipping open the main computer. Its screen flicked on lazily. “Good afternoon, Kate,” the computer said.

“Computer,” Kate said, “Uncle Mortimer…” she was interrupted by a huge bellow outside. She glanced through the window and saw an enormous, ugly, mean-looking creature clumping toward the house. It was almost as large as a tree. “Oh, my goodness,” she gasped.
“Computer, tell us how to get rid of Uncle Mortimer!”

“Working.” The computer whirred. Then it said, “Cockroach juice.”

Kate just stared. Alex cried, “No way! I refuse to squish cockroaches!”

“There is a formula,” said the computer. “It requires these ingredients…” and on the screen flashed a long list. Ben read it aloud.

“Moldy Bread, stinky cheese, cobwebs, toenail clippings….we have most of those things except tree fungus,” he muttered. “Moldy bread. Do we have any moldy bread around?”

The house shook. Uncle Mortimer had grabbed the house and was shaking it. “He has yellow eyes,” Alex said in a small voice. “Like a cat’s, only meaner. And… and look at those teeth.”

Kate didn’t want to think at Uncle Mortimer’s teeth. “He’s talking,” she whispered. “At least… it sounds as if he’s talking…”

Indeed, Uncle Mortimer was saying, “Come out, now, nice kiddies. Uncle Mortimer would like to shake your hands.” And he laughed a huge, horrible, mean laugh.

“Ben,” Kate wailed, “do something!”

Ben had gone a little pale, but he was thinking hard. “I have my magic net, and we have that shrinking powder. If we get the net over him, we can shrink him.”

“How will you get the net over him?” Kate asked. “Maybe if you drop the net from the window upstairs…”

“His head is higher than the upstairs window,” Alex said, dismally.

“Okay,” Ben said, “ Plan B. We make cockroach juice. I don’t know what it’s supposed to do, but both Rolly and the Computer seem to think it’ll do the trick. You two find moldy bread. I will get stinky cheese from that grilled cheese sandwich I had last night.  It’s in the compost bin. And… and we have to find toenails.”

Alex tucked her feet under her. Kate shook her head.  “Come on, Kate,” Ben pleaded. “You need your toenails clipped, anyway!”

Sighing, Kate snipped off some of her toenails. Alex went to the breadbox and luckily found a piece of old bread that somehow had been forgotten. All the while, Uncle Mortimer kept shaking the house. He also pounded on the door, rattled the windows, and gnashed his teeth at them.  “Come on out,” he roared. “You can’t escape! No one can escape me!”

Soon, all the ingredients for the potion were assembled… all but the tree fungus. “One of us has to run outside and find a tree with fungus on it,” Ben said. “I’ll do it,” he added, bravely.

“No, I will,” Kate said. She was pale, and her teeth were chattering, but she held herself straigh. “You have to get your net ready, Ben. And… and Alex has to stir the potion.”

“I’ll stir it later,” Alex said. “I’m coming with you. Two can find this stupid tree fungus better than one.”

“Go on,” Ben said. “I’ll cover you!”

Cautiously, the girls slipped out of the house. They could hear Uncle Mortimer shrieking and howling with laughter, and they guessed Ben was keeping the awful creature busy at the other end of the house. After a lot of rummaging around in the wood, they found something that looked nasty enough to be tree fungus.

Back to the house they ran. They threw what they hoped was tree fungus into the potion and, as the computer directed, heated it in the microwave. “Ph-ew!”  Alex gasped. “This smells dis-gusting!”

“Okay, we all know what has to be done.” Ben drew a deep breath. “Alex, crack open the door. I’ll hold the magic net ready and drop it over him as soon as Kate gets some of the shrinking powder going. Okay?”

Holding his nose, Ben poured the potion into a bottle and carried it to the front door. He set it on the step and slammed the door shut just as Uncle Mortimer came stomping toward them. “He’s stopping,” Kate breathed.

“He’s sniffing. He’s… I think he’s smiling!” Alex exclaimed. “Yuck. He looks meaner when he smiles.”

“Yum!” Bellowed Uncle Mortimer. “Cockroach Juice!” He reached out a huge paw and scooped up the bottle.

Ben snatched up his magic net.  “Quick, girls!” he shouted.

As Alex cracked open the door, Kate managed to sprinkle some of the magic powder over Uncle Mortimer’s foot. Instantly, the fearsome creature began to shrink. At once Ben flung the net over the shrinking monster, who was shouting and shaking his fists. Soon Uncle Mortimer was no bigger than a pinecone!

“Now, what?” Alex asked, eyeing the struggling Uncle Mortimer. “How long till he gets big again?” Ben estimated a few hours. “Let’s dump him far, far away,” Alex suggested.

“I have a better idea.”

Ben pulled out his magic boomerang and whispered to it. Then, he sent Uncle Mortimer careening far, far into space. “I thought the boomerang was supposed to bring something back,” Kate protested. “We don’t want HIM back!”

Ben shrugged, modestly. “I programmed It to drop Uncle Mortimer off in some far off desert,” he said. Look… here comes the boomerang without Uncle M.”

The three drew sighs of relief. “He’ll stay small for a while,” Alex said, hopefully. “Maybe an iguana will eat him.”

“Poor iguana.” Kate murmured. “What shall we do with the remains of the cockroach juice?”

“Keep it,” Alex said, firmly. “Bottle it and hide it someplace. You never know when we might meet that old cuss again.”

“No,” her cousins agreed. “you NEVER know.”

“Once Upon a Time…”

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Once upon a time, long, long ago…” Don’t you remember those magical words? We greeted them with wide eyes and bated breath, welcoming the invitation into mystery and enchantment, a foray into kingdoms of wonder or adventure to encounter … what? Ah, that was the magic!

Let’s walk together

            Once more down those well known paths

            And meet Magic there!

Oh, those wonderful tales! For me there were the Japanese folk stories that my aunts told me, the Hans Christian Anderson book from which my father read to me, the Arthurian Legends told and re-told by my Uncle Harry. Hungrily, I absorbed them all, hugging myself with anticipation. It didn’t matter that I had heard the same story a hundred times… each telling offered possibilities. What if the black knight knocked Sir Lancelot off his horse this time? Supposing the prince (fool that he was!) realized that he really loved the Little Mermaid? Perhaps now Urashima Taro would stay in the undersea kingdom?

What if, supposing, perhaps—these words are the stock in trade of writers, but not just of writers. Artists use those prompts every day, as do scientists and engineers and astrophysicists whose thinking beyond the box have changed the way we see the world. Perhaps as children all of us have held our breath when swans flew overhead or walked the sea shore (as I have!) hoping that this time I might see the little mermaid rising from the waves.  We can read a library full of books, but the stories that stay with us are most likely the ones that we met when we were very young.

This is why I began to compile the Polly, Molly, and Jolly stories. To explain—I had told these stories for over 8 years to our grandchildren, told them over dinner or during car rides, the latest calculation being that over 468 stories were related to rapt audiences. In the stories (a new one each week!) the inept and villainous trio, Polly, Molly and Jolly, were always up to No Good but were always vanquished by Ben, Kate, and Alex—the heroic grandchildren.

The stories were never very long, and I admit that sometimes they made little sense. Often, they were composed on demand: Grammy, tell a story about that glass squirrel and make it be magic!  Weekly the grandchildren traveled by magic carpet or space ship to places like the Planet Xiron, where people walked backward  in order to go forward, or to jungles where they met up with their pal, Sam, the pink dinosaur. They matched wits with such characters as Cousin Phoebe who chomped up old sneakers, and Uncle Mortimer, a ferocious villain whose favorite tipple was cockroach juice. The grandchildren had allies, too—the garrulous dictionary who had answers to everything; the hip computer who called everybody ‘Dude’; the humble rubber band who could turn itself into anything at all. In fact, it was the rubber band that saved the world from Hortensia, the Ultimate Evil…

As the years passed, the children changed plots and outcomes, added people, and suggested scenarios which became more and more complex. But eventually the glamour of the stories began to fade, and PM&J roamed no more. Did the stories leave an imprint? I don’t know, but I note with glee that all three grandchildren write well— with verve and humor and imagination.

So I decided to put on paper what I remembered of the stories. After all, Polly, Molly and Jolly were a part of the grandchildren’s childhood. So far, the reviews have been kind. It has even been reported that my readership of three laughed out loud while reading the stories that usually began: “Once, not long ago, Ben, Kate and Alex were reading peacefully on the back porch when suddenly…”

 

"The Tree Of Life"

"The Tree Of Life"

 

Another Kind of Writing

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Today while rifling through my desk drawer I found in my desk a letter from my uncle dated 1963. More than a half century ago—but when I smoothed it out, Harry’s bold script danced out of the page as if it had been written yesterday. It spoke of everyday things and then—being Harry—he included a favorite quote and the news that he had begun to study astronomy. “As I become older,” my uncle wrote, “I feel the need to journey among about the stars.”

We are voyagers

Between distances or years…

Does it matter which?

When, I asked myself, did I stop writing letters? I used to love the process—finding a beautiful sheet of paper, a smooth-flowing pen, and a few moments to think and dream. Moments in which the recipient of the letter stood at my elbow, a space in time when we could talk and laugh about things inconsequential and matters of grave importance. All this—and when I folded the paper and sealed the envelope, I always felt a sense of happy anticipation.

Now, of course, there is the internet. So much  more convenient… and so easy to use. A few lines jotted down, bits of information, a joke or two, and off my message would go arriving (at least so I hoped) through the technological magic I could never understand, in someone’s e-mailbox. Task completed. Problem solved.

But looking at Harry’s letter touched chords that an e-mail message never could, and I wanted more. I searched again and here was another letter—this time from my other uncle, Joe.  This was the uncle with whom I had bicycled around Mt. Fuji’s largest lake. He had been a keen sportsman who had played rugby, tennis and soccer in his time and was always a passionate golfer. He had even tried to teach me the game, but hadn’t succeeded very well as I always lost balls, ended up in sand traps, or lost my temper. “Dear Hopeless,” his letter began—his pet name for me after the golfing fiascos– and I laughed and felt young again as I read the cheerful words he had dashed off.

Every letter that I had kept sang with the personality of the writer. My Dad’s letters were always to the point. Did I need money? Were things going well? And—“Study, but not too hard. Have fun, too.” My mother wrote of daily happenings, and her letters were mines of practical information dosed with humor. “Scandalized my very proper lady students today,” she once wrote. “The old rag-picker lady sauntered by as the ladies were leaving, and she hailed me… and of course I went over and shook hands and made sure she and her dog were doing well. One of my students gave me a funny look and said, ‘You have some odd friends, Mrs. Crane.’ And I said, ‘I choose my friends for who they are, not what they do.’”

Then, there were letters from friends. Some lost to death, some very much alive, they seemed to cluster around me as I opened the envelopes I’d tucked away. Some letters were funny and made me laugh anew; a few were poignant and took me to that place of sharing where only good friends can visit.  I re-read letters recoding births and marriages and the ones that spoke somberly of disease and trouble. Dark days, bright days… all were crystallized in words that cut across time. Then I came to the note that a friend had sent before her operation. “ I loved your last letter,” she began. “It gave me energy, so write again soon!”

I re-read all the old letters and then put the envelopes away, determined.  It was time that I looked for my favorite box of stationary again.

Plain sheet of paper

Filled with talk, tears, laughter…

A bit of myself.