More memoirs for monday. My writing resolution this week came to me from my sister who asked if I would write a birthday prayer or poem for her daughter’s birthday this next weekend. I have no idea how to recount the life of a two year old, but I’ll give it my best go.
I’ve said before that I don’t remember that far back into my childhood. My mother saved a letter I once wrote to the Eater Bunny in which I made him a friendship bracelet out of sewing floss. In exchange, I asked him for tomato soup. My sister tells me, my niece, Sonja, is fond of asking for apples and butter. To her relief, she learned Sonja meant peanut butter and not just straight up margarine mayhem!
For her birthday, I suggested a simple, dramatic reading of I Like You by Sandol Stoddard Warburg.
But if that won’t do, I guess I’m back to Butt-in-the-Chair Approach and making lists about my crazy family.
Things About Sonja That Make Her Unique
- Say the word ‘bath’ and she’ll run to the bathroom, fill the tub with toys, and begin undressing.
- Applesauce is definitely a hair product.
- The television is meant for toddler’s reflections so they can see themselves dancing in the screen.
- Eat with old people, they love her schtick.
- Singing and shopping go hand in hand.
- Xylophones are to be played with greatest zeal.
- BFF = giraffe head, named Rafi
- Avacado smoothies are delicious.
- When mad, shake your whole body like a maraca
- When happy, smile like a total cheese
I think I could manage a haiku, but a sestina???
Audio Tracked Peacock Noises
Or How My Dad and I Did the Zoo
My boyfriend tells me that I walk too fast. I blame years of quickstepping after my father around town. I had to take four steps to his one just to keep up. I practically ran, panting to keep up, talking the whole time about what happened at school and at home that day.
If you dig straight down to my core, I am most like my father. I share his vulgar sense of humor, to an extent, his enjoyment of going anywhere, even around the corner, his open book heart which will always try to save the world, his irritatingly reliable hardwork ethic, his constant frigid body temperature, and his thumbs.
My father wasn’t around a whole lot when I was growing up. To pay the bills and put food on the table, he worked 18 hour days, 7 days a week, managing and cooking in our family restaurant. But on occasion, he would take me on trips to the zoo.
The drive to the nearest zoo was almost an hour. Nicknamed “Chatterbox,” I had endless stories to regale my father with during our excursion. There were discussions about my friends at school, a new song I learned, and would piercingly sing aloud, and the clever way I got my older brother, Justin, to stop chasing me by spraying mom’s perfume on his hands. Oh, wasn’t I just the bees knees, dad?
The drive was always the same. A sunny day. Me doing all the talking. We’d pull into the parking lot, hop out of the car, and I’d skip over the grass mounds up to the entryway only to find the gates padlocked shut. We took this exact trip together of locked up zoo gates at least three times! Instead of sullenly turning the car around and driving home, my dad replied, “Well, we’re here.”
Dismayed and full of anguish, I was promised wild animals! Instead, I was dragged around the zoo’s perimeter, while my father cried out, “Listen to the peacocks! Do you hear the peacocks?” We would never actually confirm there were any peacocks as we never actually saw peacocks!
Everything was boarded up, fenced in, locked down, and surrounded by Wisconsin foliage. Basically, you couldn’t see a damn thing! Yet again, my father would call out, “Jess, come here! Look through this crack, you can see bears!”
And sure enough, my dad would have me tiptoeing on some unstable rock of a curb, pressing my eye into a rusty old fence hole, blinking past maple leaves that were bouncing in my way to see far off in the distance some brown hairy mammal that was pacing the rock wall of its habitat.
“I see one!” I’d cry out delighted.
“Yah, he’s looking for his dinner. I hope he doesn’t come looking for a tasty, little girl! Oh, Mr. Bear, I’ve got her! Raaaaaaawr! Raaawr!” My dad would scoop me up and pretend to lift me over the fence, growling like a bear and pretending to take big bites out of my arms and legs.
All in all, it wasn’t the worst trip you could take to the zoo, if the zoo was really, really small with only one bear and audio tracked peacock noises. Thanks for the quality time, Pops!
Resolutions for the week include:
- Read more Susan Shapiro, Only as Good as Your Word – in progress
- Read each day for pleasure for one hour – Finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, wonderful!!! Currently reading Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
- Write 3 family memoirs, be brave, post them on your blog – here goes, family memoir #1
Little Sister of Nine Lives
I actually have a hard time remembering my childhood. It wasn’t full of sorrow, it wasn’t maniacally evil, it obviously wasn’t too exciting, either. For some reason, unbeknownst to me, I simply don’t remember as far back as most people claim to. If I had to give you a reason for this, I’d call it Self Preservation from my Deranged Family.
You see, my sister will claim to many days of glad tidings and jolly moments where she took me bike riding with our Cabbage Patch Dolls, playing in the park that was across the street from our house. My brother would sneak candy to me and terrorize the neighbor’s lawns on his bicycle with me squished onto the front seat with him. I recall none of this ever occurring. What I recall is being buried alive or left for dead several times over.
To begin, there is photographic evidence of me as a toddler being buried in our sandbox. My face is red, my jaw open screaming, there are tears on my face. My brother crouches over me with a shovel, and waves to one of my parents who undoubtedly stopped what they were doing to collect this fine, familial moment. I don’t know how I escaped, I’ve clearly recessed this memory.
Example number two. My mother, upon driving home from one of her weekly hair appointments, discovers at the corner stop sign, one of her children, the youngest, tied to the pole with a jump rope, crying. Seemingly left for abandon on one of the busiest streets in town for all to ridicule her pain. Notice no one stopped driving to call for help.
Example number three. My father is supposed to be watching me one winter when I was in elementary school. It was late at night, he was shoveling snow. I thought it was a game at first. He began to put shovel full after shovel full of snow on top of me who was playing in the snow bank. Pretty soon, that snow pile got really heavy. Pretty soon after that, I couldn’t move from underneath it. I called to my father for help, who found said predicament extremely funny. He grew up in a sink or swim household and told me to figure a way out myself. Then he went inside, leaving me trapped in a snowbank under a streetlight. Crying in the dead of winter, I eventually managed to squirm like an earthworm until I was uncovered enough to crawl out.
That about brings us up to speed, and would put me at my fourth life if we’re keeping track. If I were going to give you any sort of moral to the story or insight from my perspective, it would be this: don’t let your children babysit your children. And apparantly, don’t leave them with their father either, at least in winter weather conditions. So for all you youngest children, little sisters and brothers everywhere, good night and good luck! And if it helps, I did sleep with a pocket knife under my pillow for awhile, just in case.
I can have an entire conversation with my mother and never say a word. Hold on, before you get all settled in your cozy chair and starry eyed expecting some mother/daughter tale of the bond eternal, wait. This is not that story. True, my mother and I both like to talk. Growing up, I have countless memories of her singing in the kitchen as she washed the dishes, spying on the neighbors through the windows, acting as her own personal neighborhood crime watch captain; she could talk the hind leg off a mule about anything. There were endless stories of distant cousins I never have, and never will, meet in far away places like Arizona. There were stories that went something like, “Did you ever meet John Hussey, the man that lived down the street from Aunt Judy and Uncle Vern (who weren’t really my aunt or uncle) and used to come to the restaurant all the time?” “No,” I’d answer. “Well, he became terribly ill about six years ago… Was it six? January, February, March, April…yes, it had to be at least six years ago. Suffered from vertigo, but then he got cancer in his liver. Well, he survived and Dad ran into him the other day. Dad had to go shopping in Janesville. He was gone for four hours! I had no idea where he was and all day the phone was ringing. Well, John is moving to Florida! I can’t imagine…” I’d lose interest somewhere after that.
This is how phone calls are with my mother. Only, I get a second edition a day later in print. Yah, first she calls me and tells me all the news she can recall, and then the next day, I get the same news in a letter from her. She likes to peek her audiences’ interest on the phone with lines like “Well, I wrote you about it yesterday, but you’ll never guess who I saw at the grocery store! She was in your class and she had a boy with her, actually I think they’re engaged now…”
The mark of a phone call with my mother is this: sitting down trying to eat or watch a movie with the phone up to your ear. You will not be talking. You will hold the phone up to your ear till your neck aches.
Occasionally, I have placed my mother on speaker phone. She despises this. “Well, I just wanted to ask you what your roommates thought of their Christmas presents, but not if someone’s listening in.” As if it would matter. On speaker, I’ve discerned, my mother can hear nothing from my side of the line. I will ask a question, and she will continue to talk right over me. This will repeat three times until I am yelling something stupid like, “Well, why do you have to take hummus to the dinner party?!”
My in-law siblings have all come to know this phone call ritual. Whenever they see one of us walking around the house trying to multitask, nestling the phone in the crick of our clavacles, they know. We are on a kind of hold, a hold that does not play elevator music, but talks about people we don’t know with great enthusiasm.
What brought on such a rant about the woman who gave me life, you might ask? Well, I can hardly say I’m nothing like her. From childhood, I was nicknamed “Chatterbox.” I have a terrible habit, albeit one I’m workin on, of interrupting people. What inspired me to write about my mother is the new book I’m reading called Only as Good as Your Word: Writing Lessons From My Favorite Literary Gurus by Susan Shapiro.
The book’s introduction begins with a quote from Shapiro’s mother, “You made me sound like a bimbo, and I’m writing a rebuttal about a daughter who lies about her mother all the time.”
Well, this could be me one day. If I ever write about the people I love, inevitably their quirks that make them who they are will come out. And in Shapiro’s words:
That was the message my mother left on my answering machine right after I published my first personal essay, about our close albeit complex relationship, in Cosmopolitan. Getting paid $5oo from a national glossy women’s magazine was a very huge deal for a twenty-three-year-old Midwestern girl who’d dreamt of being a writer from the age of three. I had assumed Mom would be proud and get a kick out of being immortalized. Listening to her less-than-thrilled reaction, I was shattered. Yet what could I do – but steal her line?
“You’re funny, I’m gonna quote you on that,” I called her back to say.
This week’s resolutions for writing on The Happiness Project:
- Definitely read more Shapiro.
- In fact, read for pleasure every day for one hour.
- Write and record at least three family memoirs. Challenge: Be brave enough to post them on your blog.
What are your writing resolutions this week?
Just for fun, check out: