23 November 2010

Of Sugar and Snow

PROMPT: Write about your associations with a particular food. Here's what I came up with...

Ice cream scoops and churns its cold, creamy sweetness through memories of my family as we grew up together.

“I want to ride with Uncle Jack,” my cousin Beth said on a trip our families took together to Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame, “because whenever you stop at an ice cream stand along the way, Uncle Jack buys you the big cone.” Beth’s mother was only a year behind her brother, my dad, in school, but when it came to ice cream they were an ice age apart.

We had an ice cream snack from a grocery store carton nearly every night growing up. And then wasn’t like now with all the gourmet brands and exotic flavors. Mostly it was vanilla, chocolate or fudge ripple. And it tasted of the freezer’s dull breath before we ate the carton empty, but that never kept us from scraping out every last layer and smear.

I remember...

I remember rides in the country to find farmers’ dairies where they made their own, and dad chattering about how he cranked it for my mom’s dad when they made it down on the farm in Dayton, Pennsylvania. They had to eat the whole freezer-full up in one sitting because the only refrigeration was a spring house. Some problem to have, huh?

I remember how dad always had change for Klondikes all around when we stopped in Joe Roebel’s store for a pound of chipped ham and a loaf of bread and how he was the only dad on the block who’d spot all the kids for a drumstick or a fudge bar or a Bomb when the ice cream truck ambled past our house in Rolling Hills, near Irwin, Pennsylvania.

I remember trips to the shopping center in Pittsford, New York, where dad bought each of us one of those slabs of Neapolitan ice cream stuffed between two waffley cream crackers, like a sandwich. I remember trips in my jammies to the Elmira, New York, Dairy Queen and my first chocolate sundae with Spanish peanuts I wanted because they sounded exotic but loved for the combination of salt and crunch mixed up with the sweet and cold. 

Jewels, jobs and journeys

When my parents decided to invest in a piece of family jewelry, they chose a brooch shaped like a crown. I was the one who came up with the idea for arranging the birthstones: two each for mom, dad, each of my two brothers and myself, which translated to four rubies, four amethysts and two pale blue topaz. Whenever mom wore that crown pinned on her shoulder I thought “Dairy Queen” and my mouth would water and long for creamy coolness.

Not surprising, then, that my first job was at a Dairy Queen in Southport, Indiana. I remember practicing my curls at the ice cream machine when we weren’t busy and cutting the undulations of soft-serve off at the cone lip into a bucket the owner would recycle into more soft-serve. I learned how to make ice cream into Dilly Bars and Buster Bars, Blizzards and sundaes and Brownie Delights.

I also remember going to the Dairy Queen with a neighbor whose daughter was my best friend. He let us order not just the biggest cone, but anything we wanted. I had my first banana split in the back seat of his Thunderbird, with the top down on a hot summer night, and I couldn’t finish it. He was a doctor, a cardiologist, and it was banana splits all around—for me, his daughter Gail, her brother Steven, and his friend Pete. Except for Doc. He got a Dilly Bar. Every time he ever took us, Doc got a Dilly Bar, along with a bag of Dilly Bars in a take-home sack. I thought about this years later, every time I made the Dilly Bars at my part-time job.

When I began to question some of my childhood experiences that were more about cold than sweet, I dreamed I was trapped against a deserted Dairy Queen stand at the edge of a park. I climbed up onto the service counter and huddled against the shut and locked window. A vicious dog barked and snapped at my feet.

I don’t eat ice cream so much anymore—too fattening, too habit-forming, too charged with comfort and with sorrow. But when I do, I sculpt away the melting edges like an artist working in soft clay, and I let the spoon linger in my mouth until all the creaminess has given up the metal and sunk into my tongue. I never stopped loving it.

Ice cream and end times

In the last couple weeks my mom was alive, I tried to entice her to eat by bringing her whatever she wanted. Included in the food order was always a vanilla Frosty from Wendy's. Eventually, she left the solid food untouched, and the Frosty was the only thing that tempted her. When she could no longer feed herself, I spooned the Frosty into her mouth. She had trouble talking, but she managed to get me to understand she wanted bigger spoonfuls. The last couple days, she wasn't allowed anything for fear she'd aspirate it. She seemed hungry, thirsty. It was difficult to see her that way and not be able to do anything about it.

These days, since mom's passing, I sometimes eat lunch or dinner with my dad in the dining room at the assisted living place where he still has an apartment. He always asks for and they always bring him a scoop of ice cream for dessert; usually he asks for butter pecan. And I watch back through the years as the bowl empties, when it empties. Sometimes now he only takes a few bites and leaves the rest to turn to mush, a thing he'd never have done years before. His look is far away. We both miss mom. 

My life has been filled with so much coldness and so much sweetness. What to make of both? Like chocolate and vanilla, each sharpens my taste of the other. Maybe the only answer left is to share dad's scoop with him. We'll do it for mom, who always hated to see anything go to waste. Wish she could join us for one last bite.

08 November 2010


PROMPT: Photos by Diane Arbus. Click on the link to view some. Here's the poem I wrote...

After two photographs by Diane Arbus:
"Self-Portrait, Pregnant, NYC, 1945" and
"Albino Sword Swallower at a Carnival"

When I sit down to write I am
the photographer who has stepped from
behind her camera and
undressed. This is why each time the film
moves forward and the shutter clicks
it is called exposure.

We see in the mirror
on the back of a bedroom door
the bed draped in mid-century chenille
which flows away like the sea and
escapes the blank apartment walls.
She is pregnant with her first child.
She took the photo
to send to her absent husband.
The child will be a girl.

When she snapped the one of
the carnival woman swallowing the sword
was she making a plea for
an unimpeded voice or
watching her own death:
the straight path from heart to mouth
with no sudden woundings?

The woman without color spreads her arms wide
as if in ecstatic praise, as if in bloom.
A weathered tent billows darkly against her back.
Wind tugs at the guy wires. Her tiered
& scalloped skirt sways left as she leans right.
See me, her body seems to say, from a chest so full.
See me   --  Click!
See me open.

PS: Follow the link to find out more about photographer Diane Arbus on Artsy.

31 August 2010

Letting My 'Inner Mowgli' Out For Some Fresh Air

If I could create an ideal world for myself, like I was asked to in a writing group recently, I would be the female equivalent of Mowgli, Rudyard Kipling’s much-loved jungle boy, raised by wolves, friend of most, if not all, animals in The Jungle Book.  I sometimes wish I had been raised by panthers, bears, wolves—my very own Bagheera, Baloo and Akela.

In this world, I'm often tortured by my inability to say the "right" thing and my propensity to blurt out the wrong one. Some acquaintances, reading this post, may say to themselves, Ah yes! That explains it!  But maybe I'm a misfit in this world because there's another one I really belonged to once. Indeed, the places in my childhood where nature and I touched constitute my most clear and vivid memories. My earliest memory, at age 3, is peering into a robin’s nest at a freshly laid, vibrantly turquoise egg. Now, turquoise is the color of my studio walls.

I also remember a thicket...

It separated our yard from a neighbor’s. My mother (yes, I had one, an actual human) called it a gully and tried in vain to keep me out. When she wasn’t looking I wriggled up and down a scrubby apple tree whose fruit was so green and sour it gave me a bellyache every time I ate it, which I did often, on principle. Or, in the deeper part of the thicket, I followed narrow trails mother nature left for me, round and around, in a spiral. I sat cross-legged on the dirt at the center, smashed berries mom said were poisonous into a pretend stew with a stick. I told myself stories. I imagined myself as characters I invented. I became a writer.

Much of this took place in upstate New York, in the Finger Lakes region—lands the Iroquois settled before the Europeans, a far cry from New York City downstate. Seneca, Keuka, Canandaigua, Cayuga were the lakes close by, but I also remember Chatauqua and Otsego, and hearing and seeing Iroquois names everywhere. The lakes spread across the state's middle like slender, outstretched fingers on a pair of open hands. The water was clear, and rounded pebbles carpeted lake floors. I remember steep and rocky cliffs, gorges and waterfalls. Along one cascading stream I found a geode, its homely exterior belying a blaze inside: quartz crystal shards in shades of white and orange. I carried it with me to every place we lived after until we landed in flat, seemingly indistinct Indiana. The Finger Lakes were, to me, like what the Iroquois thought: God’s hands, in this case, rested upon my young life.

Back home again in…where?

Ultimately, it was the geology of New York state I missed more than friends or schools or neighbors when we moved. I often imagine how I might have grown up differently—better—if we'd stayed there. Odd that we ended up in a place named for Native Americans, in Indiana, a place I haven't always appreciated. But Indiana is where I found the man I'll always love. It's the place I came eye-to-eye with a fox in my garden—something he AND I will never forget! It's a place where I've watched saplings grow into shade trees in a yard of my own. And everyday I go on living here, Indiana surprises me. 

A few weeks ago, following one of the covered bridge trails in Parke County, something I saw took my breath away. Our car turned a bend and surprised a white-tailed deer—a doe—eating in a field of tall corn. Only her head was visible, dipping up and down, nibbling on the stalks' tender ears. As we slowed and steered to the shoulder, we saw two smaller heads—noses and ears to be exact. The threesome reminded me of musical notes, their bobbing heads a melody dancing across a page. A page of Indiana: What could be more "right" than a rolling field of corn?

The doe’s velvet ears stiffened at our presence, and before we came to a stop, before I could get my camera out—before I could say, Hey! Wait for me!—she bounded across the road and into a woods. She stood stock still and back far enough so that the forest hid all but her legs. She'd succeeded in calling our attention away from her babies. First one fawn emerged from the corn and crossed clumsily into the darkness, and then another, both still in their spots. My only photo is a blur of the last spotted brown rump being swallowed by the dim, silent forest.

What is silence anyway, and what good is it?

How hard it is in the world we inhabit to find a truly silent place! For even when you’re able to turn down the volume of civilization, something is always making itself heard. For me, silence steps forward when road noise fades—no singing tires, no squealing brakes, no revving engines. When I get there—if I get there—I inventory the multitude of other sounds that heretofore were hidden by everyday life. I hear water sloshing, birdsong, gurgles in the woods I surmise are made by a wild turkey, but I really can’t say because I see nothing in the stillness. If I lived in such a place—had been reared there—I would know the name of every one of those sounds—at least its “forest" name, and knowing would make it truer somehow. Or so I imagine.

How would it change the world, for instance, if we could hear the the prayer of the mouse as the hawk swallows it down? Or the missive of the fish, as it's scooped up by a bear? If only we could give ourselves over to that way of thinking about life, about death! If only I could...

At the least, I want nature to help me understand the hurts I see people inflict on one another, the hurts others do to me, the hurts I cause. But, all in all, spending time in the quiet of a deeper wilderness than my day-to-day one makes me care less about the world of people. How much better a use of my attention to watch a heron make the rounds of coves at Raccoon Lake, wade out into the shallows on straw-like legs, fish for his supper with his beak in the late afternoon breezes, after the skiers and their boats have gone home. Or to count the birds of prey (hawks? eagles? turkey vultures?) overhead—12, no 15!—buoyed on air currents exhaled by the interplay of water and sun. 

My favorite experience of nature, if I must choose just one, is wind. By itself it has no sound and can’t be seen. It depends on impedance—branches swayed, leaves rattled, water lapped against another resistance, the shore—to make its music and its paintings. Resistance is what gives the wind its character. And I know then I’ve come full circle. Resistance—impedance—also defines character in my messy, imperfect day-to-day life. Not only standing against something, but standing with it, bending, being bowled over or merely rattled or untouched.

I doubt I could last a night in a true wilderness, but I can glimpse one sometimes and let it fill me up. We all have an inner Mowgli, and we all need to let it out to breathe in. To breathe in silence and song and an idea of who we were before we "grew up." I'm told (but don't quote me on this) it helps the disposition. Leastways, it does wonders for mine.

24 July 2010

Living Beyond the Landscape: A Parable

PROMPT: Write the story behind and/or associations with a treasured object of yours. Here's what I got...

The woman bought the fan on their first date--an exhibit of art for sale by Li Xing-Bai, a visiting scholar at a nearby university, one of the Communist Republic of China's earliest gifts of cultural exchange with the United States in the 1980s. A mutual friend and coworker of the couple arranged the exhibit in a town hall of a tiny German settlement tucked within a diverse metropolis in the Midwest. Mr. Li was a good friend of the coworker, who was also an artist.

Could she even call this a date? The man had left his wife for her. They made plans both to attend the exhibit so they could spend time together in public before his divorce was final without arousing suspicion. The woman brought along her best girlfriend as additional cover, but also because she wanted her to meet the man. But the hierarchy of friendship was in flux. When the woman was out of earshot, the friend grilled the man about his intentions, for she felt the balance of relationship changing.

While the drama between the man and the friend unfolded, the woman gazed absently at the art and intently at the prices. Even the fan she chose was more than she could afford at the time. As she paid, the coworker introduced her to Mr. Li, who spoke to her in Chinese, which the coworker translated.

"He says you have chosen wisest among all here, for there is first the fan itself, which he made from 300-year-old rice paper, then there is the painting on one side, and finally, there is a poem, in calligraphy, on the other." The coworker turned the fan over to reveal elegant Han characters in swirling black paint and the personal stamps of the artist in red. Mr. Li continued in Chinese as the coworker first listened, then translated. "A loose rendering of the poem is, he says, The plum blossom is the bravest among flowers because it blooms first, sometimes before the snows end, and so it stands alone against the cold."

The coworker turned the fan back over to the landscape side, and the woman looked anew at the branches dotted with purple buds, some blossoms blood-red and others blush-white, only the suggestion of snow. Mr. Li and she exchanged smiles, and he bowed to her as the coworker collapsed the fan and placed it in a protective bag.

The friend passed out of the woman's life even before the wedding took place. The coworker came to the wedding but retired from the workplace the three shared, sick and bitter in his heart. And Mr. Li, when his visa expired, escaped north, at least for a while, with a Canadian graduate student who studied under him in his years at the nearby university, thus leaving his Chinese wife and children to tend his landscapes in Beijing.

The woman's purchase gathered dust and tears, first open on shelves and then folded away in cupboards, until, in the time of the couple's 20th year together, she mounted it on silk two shades darker than the rice paper had become and placed it in a display box.

It hangs now in their living room, where she and the man who ran away to her all those years before see it daily from a room away as they wait for their coffee to brew. Visitors to the home they made together see the landscape side, but the poem on the reverse remains their secret.

28 May 2010

Of Ducks, Daylilies, Life and Death

PROMPT: Think of something you saw recently and what it brought to mind. For a group variation, have everyone write down 1-5 images and share. Other writers can jot down the ones that appeal to them, too, and then choose from their own or someone else's to write about. The image that came to my mind is underlined and in a paragraph near the end. The rest is its back-story. Enjoy!

A mallard made a nest this spring in the corner of a flower bed that surrounds our chimney. The bed is crammed with daylilies I’ve allowed to take over because my persistence is no match for theirs. The mother duck found the one thin spot in the jumbled jungle of clumps where a pussywillow that grew too big used to grow and the stalwart daylily rhizomes have yet to bully their way into.

From the time my husband discovered her, this duck hen was nesting. Bits of down, shed from her underbelly to warm the eggs we assumed incubated beneath her peeked out around her like stuffing from an old pillow.

For a few weeks, every time we walked by her spot, we saw her on her nest. She appeared worn down by her task, but eyed us warily anyway. I wondered if she ever left to eat. Now that the work had begun, the male with his flashy feathers was nowhere to be found. I left a few breadcrusts close by to help her out. She never touched them.

Then one day the mother duck was gone, but there were no ducklings clacking about in a bobbing train behind her, nor did the nest contain any bits of shell as evidence of hatching. Only the circle of down remained, with the shape of her underbody pressed into it. We thought raccoons or a hawk found the eggs—maybe mama duck too? Or the neighbor’s cat or a crow? We were mystified and disappointed.

The daylilies in that bed have since begun to bloom—the yellow ones anyway, which used to be a dwarf, ever-blooming variety but seem to have bred themselves with other larger varieties that bloom for only a few weeks. The wild, orange ones—which eventually all the bed will become, I suppose, because it’s the most aggressive—have sent up their taller, gracefully bending stalks where flowers the color of sunrise will tell me  June is at home in Indiana again. Soon these blooms will be everywhere—in yards and woods, suburban banks and country ditches.

I tried to separate the wild orange ones and another tamer red variety out from the tangle of tubers when I transplanted the yellow ones here—the root stocks actually look different. And I set what I had too much of under the shade of a tree in my front yard with a “FREE” sign; all disappeared by late afternoon the same day. Some turned up soon after planted in small clumps at one of the entrances to our housing addition. Now they fill a thick, deep edge of that large bed.

All this has me wondering: How far away is life? Is it past the next death? 

Each daylily flower blooms just that one day, hence the name. But the plant lives on. Several flowers come and go on each stalk, never more than one per day, each disappearing into the night until the stalk exhausts its bounty, forms its pods, turns brown and waits for me to cut it down. Then next spring it's back again.

Likewise, which moments we live through are the significant ones? In our lives, when do the leaves emerge? When does the bud form, the flower open? Is the wilt in silence and under stars somehow less because we fell into sleep and missed the precise moment of expiration?

Even cancer cells—which every body grows but only some retain—must possess in themselves a certain joy, unbridled perhaps as they culture in a corner their host refuses to turn and live consciously. I’ve read the pathology report on my own tumor. It seemed to me a sort of swirling, exotic plant, attempting to set its blooms in a closet.

How far away is death? Is it at the end of life? Or is it just the beginning?

One of my favorite movies is one I don't quite understand, but it fascinates me nonetheless: The Fountain. In it, an Aztec priest—who is either from a dream or past life or a character in a book, or all three—says, "Death is the road to awe."

The other day I looked out the kitchen window and spied a pair of mallards mating on my patio. Maybe it was the same hen who lost her eggs in my daylily bed. Maybe now she'd have another chance to be a mom this year. The drake climbed onto her back and bit her neck to hold on. She squawked and fussed and flapped. He fell off more than once in the minute or two I stood at the window and stared out. But each time, he climbed back on, and she let him grip again in his bill the back of her neck. For the first time in all the times I’d seen mallard pairs swim or fly or waddle through our neighborhood, I detected hints of lavender in the feathers along the edges of of the wings of both the flashy male and his duller mate.

How far away is life? Is it waiting outside my patio door? Lurking in a dark corner of a chimney flower bed beneath a tangle of lance-like leaves? Or shut in a neglected corner of a locked closet? Is it in my eye or my mind’s eye or my heart? As far away as what I notice or sort out or untangle? Or as close as what I ignore or abandon or give away?

Today my husband found a duck egg "planted" in the asparagus patch some 20 feet or so from the former nest site. This seeming decoy, meant perhaps to fool a potential predator, apparently went untouched while the predator stripped the nest. (A week or so later, it, too, disappeared without a trace.) I haven't any answers, you see, only questions. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke said to live the questions. I say they are all way signs on the road to awe.

27 April 2010

Little Boy Blue, Come Blow Your Horn

The sender line in my e-mail inbox was an address I didn’t recognize. Probably spam, I thought, or worse—porn spam.  I already burden my mail accounts with just about every control available, so how did that get through? 

I clicked on the email haltingly, ever afraid of imploding viruses since that one time when something corrupted all my photo files then emailed itself to everyone in my address book. My husband, the computer guru, made me feel as if I’d had unprotected sex after that encounter. Never again, I swore; once bitten, twice shy—or so the saying goes.

But this email wasn’t spam or a virus. It was from my nephew’s wife—someone I’d never met. She’d been googling my name and found my website. She wanted to say thank you for something I’d sent her months ago—a sort of baby gift—and she hadn’t had time to write. No surprise there. She has two small children to keep her busy.

All this takes on a vastly different character when I explain that I haven’t had much contact with my family of origin for somewhere around five or six years even though my parents live only a few miles away. This lack hasn’t been for lack of trying on their part. I’m the guilty one here—I chose silence and separation. The reasons are many and complex, and I don’t want to discuss them anymore. The sympathies of others and, more particularly, their judgments are irrelevant.

Exceptions and Rules

My nephew has been the only occasional exception to the blackout, though I’m not really sure why. I sent him a gift built around a poem when his daughter was born four years ago. Then last year I sent the gift for his son, who was well on his way to his first birthday by the time I got a letter written and everything packaged up and mailed.  He named that son for his father—my brother—and what I sent him was a baby quilt my mother pieced and embroidered for that brother, her first child, while she awaited his birth.

I don’t know why my mother gave that quilt to me. At the time, I resisted taking it. Not because I didn’t like it, but because it didn’t belong with me. But she was cleaning out dresser drawers, I was there, and she insisted, “Take it,” pushing it into my arms.

The quilt is made of blocks of blue and white, with scenes from nursery rhymes embroidered in blue on the white squares, similar to the one pictured here. I think the motif is called “Little Boy Blue.” I didn’t really know what to do with it. My daughter was beyond the baby quilt stage by then but a long way from having any children of her own, and I saw no babies of any sort on the horizon for me. My brother's kids were still in school and single.

I suppose mom knew I’d take care of it, which I did. It lived those ensuing years zipped into a plastic blanket bag in my hall linen closet. When I got the birth announcement from my nephew, I took the quilt out and put it away any number of times. I knew now where it belonged. In fact, I’d always planned to send it to whichever one of my brother’s children had a son first, but I hesitated because of the letter I needed to write to send along with it.

Eventually I moved the quilt to a suitable mailing box. It sat on a shelf in my office, waiting, waiting for the letter. It was hard to explain my silence without putting innocent parties in the middle of disagreements with other family members. In truth, I’d hoped that my silence (after many attempts to discuss the issues had failed) would motivate the affected parties to understand how deeply the matters we disagreed over impacted me. I thought, perhaps, those who missed me might pressure others to reconcile. But people cling quite stubbornly to their ideas about others, as if they could force them to continue to carry their psychological baggage for them. Be who we insist you are! they seem to say. I tried that route. It nearly ruined me as a writer.

Finally, though, I wrote the letter and mailed the quilt. For months I heard nothing. I figured, oh well, so that’s that. I didn’t regret sending it. The quilt needed a proper home. Theirs was the right one, no matter what they thought of the letter or me.

Then the email came. I answered, she responded, I answered again, she responded again. Then my nephew wrote twice and I answered each time. Then he wrote his cousin, my daughter, and she answered.

With each exchange, more of who I am and what's behind my actions trickles out, little by little. I’m careful because I’m scared. What if I’m rejected or misunderstood—again? What if my feelings are shuffled aside—again? Can I take it? I don't know. It really hurts every time who I am and what matters to me is rejected.

A Misbegotten Legacy

One of the things my nephew and I discussed in our emails was an incident of teasing when he was 6. He said his sister and I ganged up on him and called him a name, over and over. Two things struck me: First of all, I was ashamed of myself. After later raising a child of my own, I understood how teasing children is seldom anything BUT destructive, in spite of how innocuous it seems at the time. Children internalize the frustration it creates differently.

I’ll never forget my young daughter sobbing uncontrollably because one of her uncles (my other brother) insisted her Minnie Mouse pictures and toys were really Mickey Mouse. She was distraught! Every time he visited he teased her along these lines. Every night after he left she cried herself to sleep.

Alongside that picture of her in my head is one of him as a child in a home movie, also sobbing, because one of his uncles took some string he was playing with and tangled it into a nest of knots, just to watch him cry. This is the brother (not my nephew’s father) who would later smack me around whenever my parent’s heads were turned or they were out of the house. It lasted until he got married and moved out. By then, I was a senior in college.

“It never happened,” my father told me when I tried to talk about why it was overlooked, “because I didn’t see it.” That, even though I was never silent about it. I dreamed once that dad looked straight at it and still claimed he saw nothing.

The other thing that struck me about what my nephew shared was that I didn’t remember it. Of course I remembered teasing him and his sister on more than one occasion; I just didn’t remember the specific details of the incident he mentioned. But I don’t doubt his recollection of it at all. He’s younger than me for one thing, and because it happened to him it carries a stronger emotional charge; his memory of it is bound to be clearer. And I felt that charge through the words he wrote. I felt his feelings about it. I know he spoke the truth. And I felt truly sad that I had hurt him and that it stuck with him all these years. 

I apologized, and I meant it with every fiber of my being. He said it wasn’t a big deal. I said it was because we all go on repeating what isn’t pointed out, talked about, analyzed.

Further Along 'The Blind Side'

I have another uncle (the older brother of the string-tangler) who says he doesn’t remember molesting my mother when she was 8. Everyone wants me to shut up about it. Up until now, I didn’t believe he could have forgotten. Maybe, like me, he just forgot the particulars. It’s hard to believe he could wall off the rest completely, though my mother did for more than 70 years. 

As lonely as it feels being the only one to keep harping on the truth, I believe in the importance of remembering—especially the unpleasant things. Anyone can and will remember the good stuff. But all our linens need air and sunshine and the touch of human skin, warm with the blood coursing beneath it. With this in mind, it really doesn't matter if our recollection of events differ; there is an emotional truth that is just as—or, more likely—more real, and that's the truth that bears response.

We strive to preserve obvious heirlooms—things—and pass them down, generation after generation. Who wouldn’t want a mother’s quilt stitched with care and love? But this other stuff—these hurts—well, we need to give them the airing they require now so they aren’t passed down. Little Boy (and Girl) Blue should remain only-ever-always just characters in a nursery rhyme.

Mom, if you ever read this, know that it was you who thrust upon me the role of keeper of the family memories, though neither of us knew then what that would ultimately mean or the toll it would take. But know that the quilt survived, and I delivered it to its rightful home.