Jilly D.

Archive for July, 2011|Monthly archive page

The Clean Plate Club Card

In Uncategorized on July 23, 2011 at 11:41 pm

After weekday duty as patrol guard at the stoplight in front of Lakeview Elementary School  in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, I’d walk home through the neighborhood, cutting through Wendy Ginther and Cookie Grabowski’s backyards between Grimes and Halifax Avenue.

We never used the front door. Company did. So did door-to-door salesmen, the Avon Lady, peddlars and trick-or-treaters at Halloween.  Family came in the back door. Up two steps and into the kitchen on the left, down to the basement straight ahead, or right to the den with the black and white Zenith television set, loveseat and bookshelves covering an entire wall.

Dad’s arrival home from work marked the hour for family dinner around the formica table in the kitchen. No watching television during dinner; mom made dad sit with his back to the den door. She sat across from dad; and my sister, Barb, and I sat side by side facing the windows to the backyard.

Rocky, our dachshund, sat quietly under the table during all meals. You don’t need a vacuum cleaner if you have a dog, mom argued.

There were certain things I didn’t like to eat that were put on my plate by my mother, and I was expected to eat them. Rocky ate a lot of table scraps. I had to get that milk down myself though.

“Starving children in Korea,” my mother would say and implore me to eat what she served. Canned fruit cocktail, tinny tasting canned peas, hominy, mushrooms, or any of the dishes from her favorite recipe book, 365 Ways to Cook Hamburger, made me gag and pout.

My father ate what was served, but he usually had some say in the decision of what made it to the plate. Not a big Jello man, no bananas or chicken, Dad had set the range of menu options from the get-go. Barb and I balked on occasion.

Dad would pull out his wallet when his plate was clean as a whistle and set it on the table. He’d remove a business card some guy had given him during the course of his day at work, or one of his own, Pearson & Swenson Furniture on West Broadway, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He’d set it down on the table. Barb and I would straighten up in our seats at the sight of the card.

“If you don’t eat what’s there, you aren’t going to get a clean plate club card tonight,” Dad would warn. He’d been doing this since before I could read and I’d gotten hooked on collecting these business cards of men in all walks of life. My little sister, Barb, collected them, too. We played business cards after lights out;, trading them and trying to read them and understand what business and men  were about.

Pearson and Swenson Furniture Store on West Broadway in Minneapolis, Minnesota had always been a family business. Grampa Swenson as long as I knew him alive owned and managed the furniture store. He collapsed of a heart attack at age 59. My father, one of four siblings, took over the business when I was a first grader.

Down at the furniture store in the office, there was a typewriter and a cash register, and Barb and I liked to go to the store to play business. My dad saved muslin bags that contained furniture nails and tacks. He’d put an empty clean bag on Barb’s right hand and one on mine, too.

The Guardsman furniture polish poured from a metal tin into the palms of our mittened right hands. Then Barb and I would take a dry muslin dish towel in our left hand and dust all the wooden furniture: tables, chairs, dressers, china cabinets.  With our right hand we glide the polish over the surfaces and with our left we wipe it dry until it we see our faces reflected in it like a mirror. The couches with wooden legs, the chairs with claw feet, and the grandfather’s clock—all rubbed and polished with our childish play.

If customers came in the door, we’d scurry up the stairs to the next flight and begin dusting furniture up there. If Dad brought customers upstairs to look at dressers or bedroom suites, we girls would walk quietly around the wooden railing of the staircase and then fly down the staircase and run into the backroom and office area.

Sometimes Dad called us up to the third floor, and we raced to get to the top floor. He’d be grinning and standing at the freight elevator door.

“Come on. Get in. Let’s go down to the lower level,” he’d say. Dad pulled the metal accordion bars shut and pushed the button L. When we got off, the washers, , dryers, stoves and refrigerators all needed just the dry towel wipe down. Daddy’s girls did a good job.

Near the back of the showroom floor there was a kitchen table, chairs and a coffeepot. Here’s where the deals were made. When no customers were in the store, mom let us have milk, sugar and a splash of coffee in some hot water. But when the bells chimed as people walked in the door, we’d have to go in the backroom and sit quietly. Mom would always have the soap operas on the TV so we wouldn’t get bored. She hated when a customer came in during As The World Turns.

Sometimes I’d sit at the typewriter and pretend to be writing and typing. Aqpoei aurptepihg h hkfhsahkhsdl. I knew how to hit the carriage return and make the paper go through the rollers. I’d type nonsense. Then I’d try to read aloud what I’d written, and Barb would giggle as my phonetic  pronunciation learning skills paid off in girl goofiness.

In the mid-1960s my parents insisted I wear anklets and saddle shoes through sixth grade; by fourth-grade my outrage over not owning a pair of fishnets marked me at home as a spoiled brat who let Korean children starve for all the food I wasted.

“Filet mignon, medium rare, baked potato with butter, sour cream and chives, house salad with rocquefort dressing, green beans almondine, garlic toast and a Virgin Mary,” I’d tell any waitress at a good restaurant by the age of 10. When my parents took us out to eat, I had my own ideas about food and could order from the menu myself. 

Mom and dad did introduce me to Chinese food early in life. I learned to eat with chopsticks on a dare from Dad. I can eat faster with chopsticks today than with a fork, knife and spoon.  The best meals from my childhood came from a little take-out in a strip mall in Crystal, Minnesota. Nobody had to cook, no dishes, and yummy leftovers. Perfect family meal.

My parents often went to Broadway pizza. They’d get a babysitter for Saturday night and in the morning there’d be cold leftover pizza for breakfast.

Dad went across the street to Mickey’s Diner almost every day he worked at the furniture store for a hamburger with grilled onions. Mickey is more memorable than his burgers. Short, white, stocky guy whose naval travels could be found documented on his arm, if the cap sleeve of his BVD t-shirt crept up as he flipped your burger. If my dad didn’t trust him and talk to him, I would have found him, hmmm, menacing. Sitting on stools at a curved counter with Mickey’s short order grill behind let us girls watch Mickey prepare our lunches. Broadway, then, was a shopping district but at night there was street life and jazz in the clubs. Merwin’s Pharmacy had a coffee shop on the corner of Broadway and France Ave. And we’d drive by the ‘Dirty Bird’—a local grocery chain, the Red Owl.

My Girl Scout troop put up a display in the furniture store window the year I became a Junior Scout. We sold cookies to customers and had to put the flag up and down every business day.

By then I was old enough that my dad only pulled out the clean plate club cards at Grandma Swenson’s when the younger cousins acted spoiled at the dinner table. That roast beef, gravy, mashed potatoes, carrots, onions and fresh baked bread tasted so good I didn’t need threats of Korean babies competing for my plate or bribes of a clean plate club card. I knew good food and good business.


Birthday Gifts of Memories

In Holidays, Mourning, Pictures and memories, Time and seasons on July 14, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Sam didn’t woo me with wine, flowers or expensive jewelry. The look in his eye, the smile upon his lips, his hands touching mine; he gave me his heart. Sam’s idea of a gift involves “building,” or “making” or “doing”; not “buying” something for somebody.  

For my 40th birthday he gave me something I had only dreamed about since I was a little girl: a dinner date with a boyfriend.  He had gotten to know me just well enough in the past six months to know that it wasn’t dinner he was buying that night, it was a feminine fantasy he fulfilled.

“I want to take you out on a date for your birthday,” Sam told me a week in advance. “We’re going out for a prime rib dinner.”

 This was my first real date. Not with Sam. With any guy. Not that I hadn’t hooked up with men, but this was an “official date”  in the sense that 1) he asked me 2) in advance 3) it wasn’t going to be “dutch,” 4) and I was expected to dress up and act like a lady. Dating had not been part of my social repertoire.

When I was in high school I recall the dread that filled my chest when my father would answer the phone in the evenings and it would be a call for me.

“Jill. Jill. Telephone is for you. It’s a BOY…..” my father would mockingly call out. A boy who missed class and needed notes or some dweeb who wanted the answers to tomorrow’s math homework or my gay friend, Mark, who spoke German nearly as well as I did comparing our comprehension of the short story assigned for discussion. The embarrassment my father could induce with that mocking tone in his voice still makes me cringe. Secretly I wished for what my dad wanted all along for me: a man to treat me like a lady. My 40th birthday was an initiation into womanhood. A real romantic date.

I look forward to my birthday like a kid who has never grown up even now that I’m in my 50s. Sam’s gifts didn’t come in a box. One year he built a dock at the other end of the pond. That same year he invited my sister and her family to spend the week. Witnessing Sam teach my nephew, Ben, how to fish at dusk is a memory gift.

Another birthday present was the addition to the southwest side of the cabin. It started out as a two-tiered porch. We grilled steaks there on July 16th. He reminded me of the time we had laid in the grass there in the middle of the afternoon and made wild passionate love.

“Do you remember how hot it was? Must have 95 degrees and we weren’t in the shade,” he said grinning. “Remember how Charlie Fields showed up and caught us butt-naked?” he laughed.

“Your butt is the only one he saw,” I reminded him.

The two-tiered porch became a sunroom when he closed it in later that summer with windows he salvaged from the Trumansburg School renovations.

For my birthday presents, Sam schemed up some project to enrich our homestead life. He planned presents that keep on giving.

One year he transplanted blue corn flowers he’d found in the middle of the corn field. They bloomed through the fall and into December. Bright blue.  My favorite color.

In 2005 Sam fulfilled another fantasy: a surprise birthday party. When your birthday is in the middle of summer there are no classroom celebrations at school for your special day. I was lucky to get a bunch of cousins together with a cake for my childhood parties. My birthday never seemed special when it came around.

I never quite got over that until I hit my mid-40s and realized I didn’t care to have any more disappointments in the getting older category. I’d had years of practicing the “I don’t care” attitude and it had finally sunk deep into my soul. I really didn’t want to observe the “day” of being another year older anymore.   

 After a full day of picking beans and produce in the stifling heat for Farmer’s Market and then standing there for hours waiting on customers, I returned home exhausted. I felt older. Sam wasn’t in the cabin. I walked toward the other end of the pond to find him and see if he’d started a fire to barbecue dinner. There at the pavilion was a big gathering with friends and family. Party decorations, balloons, flowers, catered dinner and a special birthday cake. I never suspected a thing and it was a wonderful 47th birthday. He made my day. I don’t need any more birthdays now. And any gifts pale in comparison to my memories.

Time shifting into mourning

In Anniversary and memorials, Friends, Mourning on July 12, 2011 at 11:34 am

A full moon rises with the cast of a pale cheese. The rind takes its color as aging takes effect. And the moon gathers the silver threads in my hair. Every wrinkle on my face is earned; the smile lines around my eyes and mouth belong to Sam. How long has my face been turned up towards his anticipating a serious whisker rub? Twenty one months. The worry in my brow comes and goes with the everyday challenges. Lines form in the opposite direction of the past decade indelibly on my face.

On June 15, 2011, I woke up crying. Twenty one months.

I escaped back into 1892 as a schoolmistress at the Eight Square Schoolhouse, #5 in Dryden, NY for most of the day. Teaching young scholars about flag etiquette and memorizing a poem we know today as the first version of the pledge of allegiance reminds me of Sam’s patriotism. He liked to be called Uncle Sam and there was a slight resemblance between the WWII comics’ image and Sam Warren; if you replaced his welding cap with a top hat.

Reading, spelling, punctuation and grammar. Now those things make up most of my modern day. And I follow those roots back into 1892 and the instruction and celebration of words and language. It thrills me that I might provide a lasting positive impression on a young person’s mind. Every moment I am there in the schoolhouse I remember how much I enjoy timeshifting and what a kick Sam would get out of me in my hightop boots, long skirts and a straight-laced face.

Operating a pump, writing with slates and pencils, using the outhouses, cursive penmanship lessons with pen and ink, recess playing with hoops, graces, stilts, and the swing in the old pine tree bring me back to the lifestyle Sam and I enjoyed together.

Twenty one months.

Discussion of a work of fiction among six local women keeps me occupied into the evening. I dare not feel sorry for myself. Each woman in this group provides me with a model of being comfortable as themselves in the world.

What lessons can I learn? For me to survive, on the anniversary dates of Sam’s death, I need to fill my day and evening with good friends, good conversations, good times. Not to escape from the pain of his loss, but to remember why I miss him so much; and do so within a buffer zone that can absorb the impact. Keeping busy at what I do best lets me remember why he fell in love with me; with who I am. Keeping busy so I can tell him what is happening in the world that impacts me deeply. What stories I can tell Sam remains a mindset I cannot yet shake as I integrate the reality that he is dead.

I think he might love me more today. He loved me more and more the longer we were together. And so did I love him more every day. Twenty one months and I still can’t accept he is dead.

Hunh. That may be the first time I have acknowledged he is dead. Dead.

So why do I cry to the moon and howl?

“Come back, please Sam. Please come back to me.”

Time to stop that, I know. He comes to me all the time. I know him all around me and inside me. I miss the past. Don’t we all?

The 4th of July and wild black raspberries

In Grief, Holidays, The Farm, Time and seasons on July 4, 2011 at 9:22 pm

Hamburgers, sausage with pepers and onions, potato salad, cole slaw, baked beans, fresh fruit salad, watermelon, chips and raw veggies with dips. Picnic today. An American tradition I decided to observe at the invitation of Sam’s sister, Judy. Driving out west State Route 79 I noticed so many little things have changed along the side of the highway. It’s been weeks since I took my old route “home.”  I started crying when I rounded the curve and down the hill to the left turn onto Buck Hill Road.

Heading south towards On Warren Pond Farm used to make my heart race. I would speed up so I could get back to Sam sooner. Today my tears rushed like a river and my heart sank deep down into the pit of my gut. I can’t go home anymore. Never thought this would be a hard day, the grief just snuck up on me.

Just one joy in walking with great niece Jadyn along the hedgerows and teaching her where the red and black raspberries are hidden along the hedgerows. Jadyn didn’t know there were black cherry trees in her yard. Not quite ripe, we tasted some. Not sure Jadyn will be back to pick those. Too sour.

Tiny fruit with big pits, the black cherries are my favorite fruit to forage. Stains of burgundy on my hands and mouth mark the wild pleasure.

I know this land like the back of my own hand. But now I am estranged and alienated from its terrain. Peeking down the field, the cabin gone and windmill down makes the barn and machine shed look bigger and different. The shimmering blue surface of the pond winked at me. I choked back the tears and Jadyn and I took the trail back to her Gramma Judy’s house.

The sun was hot, the grass was tall, the raspberry bushes pricked us again and again. The price of a berry.