Jilly D.

Archive for May, 2012|Monthly archive page

Memory day and family svensk legends

In Pictures and memories on May 28, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Meta Wolertz graduated from high school in 1918 with a major in office studies. Before she met Richard Swenson, Meta worked as a secretary in a legal office in downtown Minneapolis.

She was a popular career girl and her friends nicknamed her Tomato. Her best friend’s mother started it. As her daughter raced out the backdoor, she’d ask where she was going.

“To Meta’s.” Tomato’s.

“Girls back then weren’t expected to work once they got pregnant,” Meta used to start her story. “And they didn’t think it proper to see girls pregnant.” So management decided to implement a new policy to terminate soon-to-be-mothers.

“They made us stand facing the wall. If our toes and our nose could touch the wall, you kept your job. If your tummy touched, you were done. None of us girls lost our jobs. The only ones whose bellies bumped before nose and toes were the partners, those fat rich men.”

Dad told me this story about his mother only Sunday past. My memories of Grandma Swenson are tied up in watching her bake hardtack, make potato sausage with a meat grinder, teach my little hands to knit, and play croquette in the backyard. Every morning she read the Minneapolis-Star Tribune newspaper and worked the crossword over her weak coffee. She almost always finished the puzzle.

The inside of her dresser drawers pulled me into her intimate existence. Gardenia scented paper lined the bottoms. Inside her closet was the secret to sweetness. Soft carpeting and pretty dresses all hung in a row. It smelled grandma. She let us play with all her trinkets. Charms on her bracelet. Bells. Balls of yarn. Delicate china candy dishes filled with ribbon candy. She played phonograph records for us. Her garden bed full of Gloriosa Daisies and across the back alley, Emil and Iris Erickson, who let us in the back door for fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. Grandma Swenson took me to my first movie. Sound of Music. She defined “my favorite things.”

We spent every Sunday with her after Grampa died in 1963. After the incredible melt-in-your-mouth beef roast dinner, the adults would play cards: Zioncheck Rummy for nickels. Dad would drive us home in the Impala station wagon. Mom in the front seat with Barb and me seat-belted in back. CBS Mystery Theater would play on WCCO riding home in the dark. Both of us would nod off.

In the theatre of my mind, I am 9 years old again and go to Lakeview Elementary School.

On Memorial Day morning I got up, dressed, teeth brushed and out the door to hop on my bike. Nobody cared about going to the parade but me and it was more fun alone. I rode 42nd Avenue through Robbinsdale across the Minneapolis City limits at Memorial Drive. Before the parade began I took my blue no-speed Schwinn under the canopy of Elms lining either side of the smooth pavement. I could ride all the way down to West Broadway and watch the parade from any spot along the route. The parade went on for miles. Past the furniture store. But I wanted to watch the cannons go off at the old flagpole for the Memorial Service and raced back north Memorial Drive to 42nd. Taps on the trumpet. Boom.

So how can it be my dad turns 80 years old in less than a month and I won’t be 53 much longer? Memory. What I wouldn’t give now for my dad to take us in the Impala station wagon for a drive by the Schlitz brewery to see the herd of tame fallow deer or down along the banks of the Mississippi River just below Lyndale for some of Joe’s fresh produce.

Dad told me another story about Great Uncle Put Haertel. He earned the nickname of Put because he often used this word as a command. Put that there. Put your tools away. Put attention on task. Put, put, put.

Uncle Put, like most of my family, had eaten lunch many times with Dad and Grampa at Mickey’s Diner across the street from Pearson & Swenson Furniture on West Broadway in North Minneapolis. Mickey wore a white short sleeved T-shirt that didn’t mask his Navy tattoo, and a white kitchen apron as he worked the short-order grill. Known for his hamburgers, the smell of fried onions and sizzling beef lured in all the Wimpies on North Broadway to Mickey’s for lunch. Nora, his waitress, always wore her hairnet over her mousy blonde hair, a brown and yellow checked uniform tunic with a brown Peter Pan collar and matching polyester pants with nurses’ white shoes. Stools at a lunch counter let you watch Mickey cook your hamburger.

When my dad’s dad died, Uncle Put stood in the receiving line at the funeral. As Grampa’s brother-in-law, Put shook everyone’s hands. Even Mickey and Nora came to the funeral. Dressed in church clothes, they honored his life and friendship; they’d served Grampa lunch more times than had Grandma. When Nora took hold of Put’s hand to offer her condolences, he didn’t recognize her.

“I’m Nora. From Mickey’s. The waitress?” she leaned over and whispered into his ear.

“Oh my god. I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on,” Put exclaimed.

Dad likes to tell funny family stories. I used to be so humiliated by my dad telling these family stories in public. The one about the dog with the rubber band sticking out its rear end is downright disgusting. I don’t even have to tell it and you know where it goes. This may explain why Scandinavian humor is rumored to be a myth. Son of Tomato. Svensk legends.


Simple message: I miss you, Sam

In Grief, Mourning, Time and seasons, Uncategorized on May 14, 2012 at 1:05 am

How could almost three years have passed already since your spirit left your body?

Last night, rather early this morning, grief crept up and knocked me out again. Punched me between the eyes.

You’re gone. Your absence continues to pain me like the sensation of a phantom limb in a patch of nettles.

I knew my meltdown was on its way when I saw the blue heron fly over at dusk yesterday.

I’ve missed you, fisherman. Please come home to stay.

Tears cloud my vision. My throat constricts and my neck and shoulder muscles tense up. Why do I still wish he’d walk through that door, waken me and tell me it was all a bad mistake or a dream?

Please come to me in my dreams. I miss you.

Sleep eludes me. I yank the cord out of the alarm clock at 2 a.m. So I read. The Geography of the Heart is a memoir by Fenton Johnson. His sister, a widow, wrote him a letter when his partner died. He quotes her letter: “Grief is never over. The time will come when you control your grief rather than the other way around. You’ll draw upon those memories when you need and want them, rather than having them show up uninvited. But your grief will never go away, which is the way it should be.”

Your love haunts me. I didn’t leave you. I didn’t get to make a decision. It was decided. So I had to invite the feelings in, even those old enemies, and welcome them to your wake. I awake.

I’m still waiting for more days when grief doesn’t hold its grip on my throat, silence my voice, and flood my eyes with tears. I’m still alive. I can’t stop thinking about Sam. And when I do, I feel those blues.

I’ve got cloudy skies on a sunshine-y day. Spent hours this afternoon soaking up some unharnessed solar power, and planting more seeds — peas, beans, cukes, dill, basil –and transplanting tomato, and butternut squash seedlings; gifts from neighbors. Getting into the dirt, planting, and watering my sprouted lettuce bed made me yearn for the life Sam and I built together. From sunup to sundown we spent every possible moment outside working the land. Now it’s a few hours a week and I spend all my time on my butt in front of a computer screen.

Sam, I know you would not approve of all my choices. But you are not here to bitch about it, though I hear you, and disagree.

I miss Sam.

I miss arguing with you. He’s gone and not coming back to me. So I’ve had to make my own arrangements. For 18 months I’ve rented a cottage and kept up the pretense that people might come visit me with the way I arranged furniture. Now I shoved the table Sam made against the window where I best like the view: horse farm and white fence with pastures, rolling hills, barns, and woods. I put the red velvet box chair in front of the table facing the window. Big new desk space. My sofa is situated for best napping position mid-afternoon. It’s my space now. This ain’t the farm. I miss loving you.

But in the darkest hours alone in bed now I remember how we laid together for so many years in our cubbyhole bed in the cabin. How many nights I put healing lotion on his back, neck, shoulders, arms? Massaging in the creme made of arnica and ivy extract, I imagined adding love and the intoxicating glide of good intentions would heal Sam. If I asked him if he wanted his feet massaged, he’d always say no. If I didn’t ask, he’d involuntarily moan in pleasure with my gentle touches of his sole with silky cream. We’d fall into our synchronized breathing in a mess of pillows, dogs, and comforters, until birds awakened us with first light.

Morning is the hardest. It’s when I feel Sam’s absence the most; that preconscious state of liminality, betwixt and between consciousness and dream state. He is with me there. I’d often awaken as he’d laid his arm over my shoulder and wrapped his forearm under my right wrist and entwined his fingers in mine. His bicep would brush my breast and he’d pull tight into a spooning position.

Grief isn’t something you get over. It gets over you. No matter how long it’s been. Sneaks up on you occasionally. Took me by surprise and took me down again.

I miss you so much, Sam.I loved you truly, madly, deeply.

World’s Greatest Pea Shelling Machine

In Anniversary and memorials, New beginnings, The Farm, Time and seasons on May 4, 2012 at 4:11 am

Nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs, I took to the stage when my name was called.

Speaking into the microphone, I said the magic word of the day. Peas.

Way out of my comfort zone, tonight I ventured into Lot 10 for Trampoline, the new local venue for competitive storytelling. The kickoff to Spring Writes Literary Festival in Ithaca this weekend. I don’t like showing up in bars alone on a week night. Still a homebody after all these years. (RIP JD Salinger)

But I made myself go. My friend Laura Reid won last month’s competition hands-down. She showed up with her mom and made me feel at home with old friends. Deirdre Cunningham also came and I forced her to sign up to tell a story. Hers was about galloping on a horse for the first time at age 12; racing against her dad on his horse.

The theme was: world’s greatest.

So what story did I tell? The world’s greatest pea-shelling machine. Sharing my love of sweet peas and fond memories of Uncle Donald and his magical machine made me feel something I hadn’t in a long time: happy.

It’s May and the pea vines grow.