Like a lot of folks who survived the Great Depression, my grandmother squirreled things away. When she died two months ago, we found it in her basement, the spoils of a life spent pinching pennies and canning homegrown vegetables: handmade baskets that were used to sell apples on dusty roads in the 1920’s; moldy newspapers announcing the murders of JFK and RFK, the assaults on Pearl Harbor and Manhattan; all the letters and cards that I’d written to her over the years.
The mindset of the hoarder is vastly at odds with the psychology of the Modern Person, which dictates that things should be hastily prepared and consumed, photographed and posted to social media, and then forgotten as a sneeze is forgotten. The Collector’s Disease spreads to those who manically stumble upon it, and in the end it takes someone ruthlessly sober (like my mother) to relegate the memories to the fire pit where they belong. Fortunately, my father and sister were around to salvage the best of the plunder, much of which now sits on the hood of a broken-down Mercedes-Benz in my parents’ garage.
Among the pages and pages of sepia-toned, sentimental swag is this Mothers’ Day card I made for my grandmother as child:
Some beans have some
strings to tie them on things.
but what smells so quer?
Because corn is no less or
more then one enormous ear.
but why could it be that
if potatoes have some eyes
then why could it be?
that they are burid under
dirt where it’s to dark to see?
As you can see, the piece starts out with a delightful bit of nonsense involving beans with strings (“to tie them on things”) which is almost certainly a play on the word “stringbeans,” which was my favorite vegetable at the time. Then, I blow open the nose holes with: “but what smells so quer?” — note the vaguely Middle-English spelling of the word “queer,” channeling Chaucer — only to immediately move on to ears and eyes, reflecting on the irony that stalks of corn, while clearly unable to hear, are called “ears”; and potatoes, blind and buried, nonetheless sprout “eyes.” The poem suffers from an over-reliance on the word “some” for cadence; and the ruminative “why could it be?” — repeated twice, as if for double effect — is a bit hamfisted … Still, the message of the poem is clear: This is a meditation on vegetables, and the angled windows of perception through which we view and experience them.
I am told that I was probably six or seven years old when I created this masterpiece, and that sounds about right, although it seems to me that the sophistication of the poetry is totally incongruous with the crudity of the drawing.
Yes, and what about that drawing? There’s not much to comment on here, unfortunately, aside from the ever-present, ever-horrifying Sun With Teeth. For some reason, I drew my grandmother with a black eye. No explanation for the bunnies. I think the dog is my sister.
ARTISTIC SKILL: C-
FINAL GRADE: B-
* * *
My mother wrote this in the sixth grade — March 22, 1962, to be precise. It reads:
Pitter-patter goes the rain,
Up against my window pane.
Oh! how I would like to stay at home,
And play with my dolls, their hair I would comb.
But today I know I must go to school,
The schoolyard will be like a big swimming pool.
Strong gusts of winds will be blowing about,
And I’m sure my umbrella will turn inside-out.
It would seem my mother’s gift for high-flown language and stock imagery was conferred onto me, perhaps even encoded in my DNA.
* * *
Some twenty-five years later I got it in my head that I should try my hand at poetry and submitted a long narrative poem called “The Preacher of Pumpkin Patch Lane” to New Orleans Review. The poem was about a boy who was once a small-town sensation as a fire-&-brimstone preacher, who returns to town as a college student only to find his “trademark powder blue suit” tucked into a box in his parents’ attic, and his former pulpit — once lit by “baseball stadium lights” — now dark and overgrown with weeds. They sent me this:
Pitter patter, goes the rain.