Friday, December 24, 2010

Misty Seating.

“And there are not many memories in the parlor; everyone would file in there when we had to open gifts; there was the -this giant...the windows were big, they were not quite floor to ceiling, little shorter, like you couldn’t see the bushes outside but probably three-quarters to ceiling; you could see the pool and the entire courtyard and I remember some -some mornings waking up and it would be rainy outside; remember looking out and everything was just gray and foggy...misty, mystical rain creeping onto the pool, watering the really rich dark green grass in the courtyard and seeing it all happen through the blinds; it’s the feeling of a lazy Saturday morning -lazy Saturday morning when you’ve woken up just a little bit too early but the thought of going back to sleep hasn’t even crossed your mind; maybe I’d just finished an episode of Tom and Jerry. Somehow, I’d wander in, I don’t think -I don’t think she would ever -I don’t think she was there at this point, this happened multiple times, she was sitting there with her coffee and her paper; just sit there in the chair, at her normal spot -I had a normal spot at that dining room table; it was to the -to the left; let’s’d walk in -walk in to the dining room and Gaya sat at the head of the table directly when you walked in; Christmas cactus's were lining the breakfast nook behind her near the window looking out, and she would face the parlor and I would sit, not on her right-hand side, but the seat right next to it, I think Seth sat right next to her right-hand side, and sometimes we’d switch off and I’d sit next to her, but for the most part I sat at the far-left, right when you’d walk closest to the parlor, but not at the end of the table; but sometimes I’d sit across from there; I feel like I remember seeing that foggy, misty, peaceful morning from sitting in the far-left corner.”

    It’s interesting how important familiar seating is to us. How integral it is to our comfort. The table sat six people. When you’d enter the dining room from the kitchen, Gaya sat at the head of the table. Clockwise from that, was a seat with a non-specific occupant, and the seat after (closest to the curio shelf) was one of my familiar spots were I could sit opposite the breakfast nook and observe the inlaid square patterns and groves with great interest. The seat directly opposite of me was another that I frequented. From this one I could study the black velvet roses and vases hung on the wall, or peer out on scenes like the misty morning through the unspoken boundary of the parlor. It was from that spot that I remember hearing her scathing tongue for the first time. She was unpleased with my mother’s decision to sport a buzz-cut. A style I loved on her. She happened to be wearing a kerchief that day, and Gaya thought to voice her opinion of it. The air was tense, and unpleasant. Very different from the calm of Sunday mornings. There was no excuse for her behavior. And I remember my mother’s face, in my chair underneath my black velvets, and maybe that’s why we like the same spots in rooms; because things go wrong when we shift.


“So in the parlor they would pull out these bridge tables and let me think, I’m pretty sure it was just the bridge tables and we’d set them up as one long table and one table was always like really shaky and they’d tape the vinyl tablecloths to the sides of them even though they were just bridge tables and we would have Thanksgiving or -I think it was mostly at Thanksgiving, I think one time we celebrated an Easter meal but it wasn’t on Easter, it was just around that time, in there, and we would do that in the parlor and some rickety folding chairs with pink vinyl seats, although the pink had faded more to a tinted beige, made to look like a fake wicker and we’d have meals in there; I’m pretty sure that it was one of those near-Easter days that we had lamb, and she would set up a TV tray in the kitchen right in front of that pantry door beside the sink and that was were she would -it was like a TV tray table, and she would pull out this big wooden carving block and that was were she would cut the meat, or Dad would cut the meat, and they’d put it on platters and the platters would go out to the dining room table; normally, Dad would cut the meat -Dad, or one of the other men; Uncle Pete or Grandpa David and it was always such a fascinating block, don’t know why, all carved from years of use -the giant meat fork and the knife just slicing through the meat.”

    Why do I remember that block of wood? It was thick. Literally a block of wood. Softened edges looked tremulous every time the base of the knife sliced through sinew to knick them. Deep grooves from years upon years of use conveyed the comfort of an object stable enough to have been trusted for so long.
    I’m almost positive that that Easter was when I tasted mint jelly for the first time. Such an odd little concoction, tinted with such a rich green. Placed amid a myriad of dishes on that row of assorted, square table-faces rising and sinking into the knobby carpet to a variety of heights and instability, it was the fantastical element of that meal. Strange how small those blocks of table-pattern compare to the heftiness of a block of a cutting board in the memory.

Liquor Cabinets and Disintegration.

“Sometimes at holiday parties we couldn’t all fit at the -there was no way we could all fit at the dining room table so food would go on the dining room table buffet-style and we would move into the parlor and the parlor was the biggest room in the house but we seldom stayed in it -it was more of an entertaining room because the legitimate front door opened up into the parlor, but we wouldn’t -we wouldn’t go in there much; she had more breakables on the opposite side of that dividing wall that were a little more valuable; in the corner there was a tall black liqueur cabinet full of liquors and all kinds of fancy things from her more glamorous days, I’m guessing her parents were quite wealthy, she was quite wealthy to a certain point, I guess you could say she was wealthy up until her death, another part of that frugality kicking in, she saved up quite a bit to pass on to her son and daughter and a little bit to my mom but the flip side of that was she really didn’t live with it, she didn’t -she could have bought herself a Tupperware set but she didn’t; she could have really just enjoyed what little bit was left of her life but she saved it for us. I’m not sure why she did that. Oh well. Well she could have taken another cruise, but I don’t know why she never did; maybe she felt like she was too old  -she felt like her body couldn’t keep up. Maybe she was worse then I thought, and there was absolutely no way her body could keep, but as a kid -I don’t know...always optimistic.”

    That liquor cabinet was amazing. It looked like something straight out of a smoky lounge room in an adventure movie. Tall, dark, handsome, and dangerous, it may well have been a love interest if it wasn’t furniture. The glamor of it’s contents and the ceramic Buddha placed it farther back in time and wonderfully out of place in that parlor corner. The shelves stocked her various aged drinks, one of which came in a bottle novelly shaped like a monk. Francesca hazelnut time my mother took the cap off and let me smell the wonderful nuttiness within. It lives in the pantry cabinet under our stairs, now. Every now and then I’ll take the lid off, breathe deeply,  and remember that cabinet. 

Strawberry Jam.

“Whenever we’d spend the night, I guess it would normally be a Saturday night, maybe it was Friday, I’m not sure, but there would be some nights when we would stay over, quite often, actually, when we would go up to see Gaya for the weekend and then go off to church; we would stay the night at her place; I think it was a Sunday morning, we would wake up and come into the dining room find her and Mom or Dad, and remnants of a toast breakfast with strawberry jam in front of her, talking. Sunday paper in front of her, Sunday comics out, spread across a mahogany surface; I’d kind of sit there and sleepily listen to them -don’t know what they talked about, but they talked.”

    The first thoughts, when considering Gaya in her dining room, are strawberry jam, black coffee, and newspapers. I’m really not certain why. Toast was a staple for her. Coffee was a must. But the strawberry has always held a strong link to her, even though I don’t know if I have an actual memory of her or just a vague association.Whatever they talked about isn’t even as strong in my thoughts as the crumbs between her plate and her on the vinyl tablecloth. Strawberry crumbs and black newspaper can tell her dining room story.

Vinyl Dominoes.

“And every now and then she’d have a different tablecloth on the big dining room table which we would always have to take off when we wanted to play chicken foot; occasionally she would have a cloth one, which I would always get something on, I don’t know if I ever had a holiday meal there without ever getting something on one of her table cloths but she had these vinyl tablecloths which were on there on a daily basis and we’d always have to take it off and fold it up and put it in that big breakfast side table with the paper plates and napkins whenever we wanted to play Chicken Foot; and Chicken Foot is a Dominos game so for some reason she really like it and we could play it as really little kids and we’d always play Chicken Foot at Gaya’s house and that was fun we did that forever we’d play games with her all the time but mainly it was Chicken Foot; we did a little bit of Uno and much much later we did a little bit of Canasta but for the most part it was Chicken Foot.”

    Flowers and abstract pastels swirled together and across unconscious lines of taste and personal style to form her table’s wardrobe of vinyl tablecloths. Slightly sticky when I folded them in preparation of the games. Chicken Foot put a twinkle in her eye. The box of dominoes sat on a shelf in her den. One of the kids would run and get it. The key she designed in colored pencils to match the colors with the number of dots would be pulled out and handed to Gaya. Then the tin lid would come off and we’d gleefully spill them onto the table and race as fast as we could to flip them all over so their white spines could shine up at us. A loud clatter akin to applause and horse hooves and clacking ceramics drowned conversation in the mad rush to blend the memory of certain tile’s places in the pile into an indecipherable blur. One time, I cheated and kept my fingertips on the best tiles I had flipped. it was great fun getting away with it, but it made it too easy and I never did it again.

Curios: Little Birds and Lobsters.

“And she had this shelf of curios lining the opposite wall it kind of made like a half dividing wall between the parlor and the dining room and these curios were -they were odd; one was like this lobster serving plate which was shaped like a legit giant lobster and I would just stare at it, and another one were these she had like these beautiful little bird place settings and like card holders that would sit in front of your guest’s spot and you would write your guest’s name on the card and stick it in the holder and these beautiful little birds and they were all enameled and their beautiful little wire intricacies, she had some that looked like Wedgwood I don’t think they were but they were similar to Wedgwood they were little blue slabs with little cameo carvings and those were less interesting then the birds but I distinctly remember their presence and then a small variety of salt spoons and little salt holders and there were more spoons then salt holders though, and salt spoons were -it used to be that instead of salt and pepper shakers there would be just salt and it would sit in a little bitty bowl and in this little bowl you would have a little bitty bitty serving spoon to scoop out your salt and put it in and they were so tiny and cute I loved looking at those too but I always had this fear of touching them which I later learned was because apparently I started to touch the lobster as a kid and my Dad smacked my hand; he told me, “No,” and its amazing how something like that sticks with you even when you don’t remember why kind of like how memories work I suppose.”

    I loved those little birds. They were like something out of a fairytale book with the delicate wires spiraling around their little metal bodies to form wings, tails, and feathers. The salt spoons were so tiny and approachable to a child. Almost like toy accessories. The white shelf they sat on was pristine from the lack of visitors capable of swirling up dust. It rose about waist high and served as a dividing wall between the dining room and parlor, topped with a bed of fake English Ivy. The strangeness of having such dainty objects so close to the floor and scooting chairs seemed odd. They did open up a new world to a child who may have never seen such beauty at such a young age if they weren’t on her level. It was a different place to stare at those antiques and imagine the tables they used to sit on. With the exception of the lobster. He became my warning, my source of revulsion among the trinkets. It was because of him I was scolded. It was because of him that I feared I would be caught just looking and held suspect. My fears were probably not valid, but they were tangible nonetheless. He now hangs on our dining room wall where he watches me eat.


“And she would have these plates of food made up sometimes we would bring the food we would bring like a KFC meal or Taco Bell, sometimes Bojangle biscuits; Dad would bring her lunch all the time. He would -he would run out and he’d come back home and talk about his days with Gaya how he saw her and brought her lunch that day; kept her company and it was always really special when he would run out and get Taco Bell and bring it back because suddenly we were on the other side of that story and we were part of the lunches we were always hearing about between him and Gaya. And the rule was always no feet on the chairs her red and blue, the seats of the chairs had red and blue upholstery we couldn’t put our feet on them and I was always really paranoid about doing that I think its cause -I don’t know, I’ve always liked to sit on my feet when I eat at least have one leg underneath me so when I couldn’t do that at Gaya’s house that was kind of awkward but I didn’t; but I did stick one leg under me when I was big enough to have it kind of hanging off the edge.”

    Fast food was exciting. We didn’t have it much, and it’s amazing how infrequency can turn the most common thing into luxury. There’s a particular memory of Dad standing at the table, sorting out a Taco Bell bag. They were so particular about those chairs. And like a good, over-achieving youngster, I was adequately paranoid about breaking the rule of no feet on the upholstery. Now, they line our hallways, fill corners in our living room, and are the “extra” spot for a dinner guest. I spilled water on one, and no one scolded me.

Cabinets and Doilies.

“We would walk in and they’d have us ready to eat in the dining room eventually we’d set the table as kids we’d set the table in the dining room, and it was this big table in it, and I always thought it was kind of square as a little girl cause you’d walk in from the kitchen there was no door on the door frame, it was just that small, and she’d have this big breakfast side table directly opposite you that lined the wall and that held dishes and important stuff and things that to this day I still don’t know directly what went in them I think later I found out they were table decorations and doilies and serving plates and stuff but it was so big and I -I only ever opened one cabinet door and that was to get the paper plates not the fancy serving plates but the paper plates and the napkins and I would set the table and we’d come in to eat and have lunch in there and sometimes we’d come back after church to have lunch and lunch with her after church was always like sandwiches and sandwiches and simple things like that occasionally a bag of chips and we’d come back from lunch and she’d already have plates of cheese and meat and bread arranged on the plates one or two pieces of lettuce and she ate so little that sometimes she’d only put a little bit out which when we became older we were eating more so we would always have to be conscious of that, not to be rude guests.”

    It was the stacks of paper doilies still in plastic that always made me pause when I’d fish out the paper plates. I would question their reason for being in her cabinet in what would be considered “prime real estate” of oft-used space when they were only pulled out to line the Christmas tins of Wedding Cookies and spiced oyster crackers. With reflection, that was her storage space. That’s why the paper plates used when we would visit (to give more time to visiting instead of dishes) were kept there. In a child’s mind, there was no time between visits at Gaya’s. Days were organized by happenings, not a structured time-frame. So whenever we were at Gaya’s, it felt like we were always at Gaya’s. It never occurred that our visits were, at times, infrequent enough to host a place in that cabinet.


“A typical trip to Gaya’s house we would drive in on a Sunday coming over from church to her place and then we’d always go through the back door of her apartment which was rather strange and there was always this big electric -I don’t know what it was, like a generator or it housed breakers or something I’m not sure and it was this big beige square box and when I say big I mean taller then my five year-old self, like it would probably come up mid-chest on an average sized man, and this big box in the front, like right next to our parking space, so bizarre to a young kid, this big box would have all these “Warning,” “Danger,” electrical symbols all over the top of it and all over the sides of it. and I would always skirt it, like give it plenty of wide berth because I didn’t want to touch it because of all the “Caution you could die” sort of stickers and you know that’s scary to a little girl and I would stay far away from it and when I got big enough I realized that it actually  wasn’t going to shoot lightning bolts at me so I stopped being afraid of it.”

    That box was smooth to the touch. But it always made the tips of my fingers tingle with the excitement of explicitly touching the forbidden.

The Project

This blog will chronicle my ruminations and observations and hopefully provide an outlet where I can begin to explore writing as an art form and relaxing medium. I've been scared of writing for too long. Reading has always been enjoyable, but something about filling that white with bodies and ligatures terrifies me. Time for that to change.

My horizons were expanded this year in a Writing Creative Non-Fiction class. The teacher was wonderful and nothing short of a modern-day philosopher who you could easily imagine sitting in a boat and finding a beautiful importance in what we consider the most mundane. However, unlike most brilliant minds, he had a talent in sharing this beauty. Inspiration couldn't help but hit me upside the head.

While exploring memories in the class, I found my notes continually returned to my Great-Grandmother; specifically, her surroundings. My final project pursued memories of her house, belongings, and as they surfaced, remembrances of her.

I discovered through trying to record these memories that writing them didn't suffice. The stories flowed most easily when vocally narrated. I began recording the stories, typing the recordings word-for-word, refining those recordings, and eventually began adding a personal commentary to the typed stories filling in further neglected detail.

These postings are formatted with the audio recordings posted first in quotation marks. The written commentaries expand further on the recordings. Audio recordings of the entire segment and spot illustrations will be added on some day other then Christmas Eve.

I hope you can glean inspiration from these as I found inspiration in a kindly writing teacher's ruminations.