Cinderella

It has been two years since we brought our foster daughter her Cinderella costume at the mental health hospital.

She was trapped in the facility where she spent four months being “snowed” (a term insiders use as code for the state of over-medicated kids). Children in foster care have seemingly endless access to facilities, group homes, hospitals and drugs.

M was thrilled by the costume that trailed glitter every time you touched it, but on Halloween when we came to visit her we found her face painted as if in some sick joke. The meds gave M’s pretty face deep, dark circles. The staff exaggerated those circles with paint making her a zombie Cinderella. M was too disturbed to care. Only days before she’d been told her mother had given up her rights and would never see her again and her sisters were going to be adopted.

As a zombie, M spotted my daughter and me from across the sparsely decorated visitors’ wing. She cursed us, called us bitches and told us she never wanted to see us again. When we left we were almost relieved. Maybe she really meant it. Maybe this experiment in foster care was over. M called that night (after processing her anger in the padded room). She apologized and begged for us to return the next day.

So much has changed since those early days when an invisible force kept nudging us to stay connected. So many layers have been peeled back, and, with each layer, new and sometimes ugly revelations and behaviors emerge. Kids who’ve been abused to her extent often take their anger out on the mother figures in their new homes.  Many women report having suicidal thoughts after adopting extremely abused children (not there yet).

Survival for kids who have been hurt before the age of two, before real words to name their abuse, suffer from fears that make no sense—even to them. An Irish fishermen sweater may have the texture of a blanket in a child’s crib. How does a toddler understand the time her mother fractured her tiny sister’s skull and broke her clavicle  before throwing her into your crib? Stress and neglect damage the brain.

This year has been tough. Loving a low-functioning kid with bizarre survival skills is loving a dog who keeps biting you. Yeah, they’re cute but you have to wonder if you’re a little crazy too. Luckily this kid is only verbally abusive—and it’s more a constant need to control me. It’s like being locked in a bubble with a crazy person. She wants help yet she’ll fight for three hours (if you let her) insisting 3+3=7. We have to keep an alarm on her door now because she threatened committing suicide with kitchen knives. Once we got to the hospital (because as foster parents we must bring kids in for evaluation after suicidal talk), M ordered some food, flipped on the TV and admitted she was just angry at me for not letting her date (tests say she’s functioning at between 3 and 7 years old mentally).

While there’s a whole host of more important issues to deal with, the one that drives my husband and I crazy is her Cinderella dress from two years ago. The experts say to pick your battles, so we let her dress in the torn, too small dress over her play clothes after school. She gathers a bunch of toys, rocks and pieces of string into a bag, hops on her bike and parks it a ¼ of a mile down the road where it curves around a neighboring cow farm. She practices cheering imaginary teams with her tiara tilted on her head. On ninety degree days she wears the princess outfit, 7 scarves and a Shrek-like furry vest someone gave her at the group home. M thinks it’s fashionable.

Last week our son’s friend drove to the house. “I almost hit some crazy person in a crown blowing bubbles in the middle of the road!”

“Yeah, that’s my sister,” our son replied.

We’ve considered throwing away this costume so many times but it’s so important to her we haven’t had the heart. We’ve considered keeping her on a tighter rein but she’s finally not afraid to be out in nature on her bicycle. We’ve considered cutting our losses.

This weekend she came to apologize to me yet again for picking a fight. She knows she seriously may not be able to stay with us if she can’t begin to follow our safety rules (children of neglect believe they actually do know best about most things).

M stood before me in the open fields waving her arms with emotion. “Yeah, I do take everything out on you! I’m afraid to go to school tomorrow because the dog ate my paper (true) and here’s why I wear the princess costume. You really wanna know?”

“Okay, I guess so,” I replied, waiting for a lame excuse and not really wanting a discussion about fashion.

“So when I wear it, it’s the only time,” she began, her brown eyes welling with tears. “It’s the only time–when I wear the tiara and the dress—that I don’t feel like who I am for real: the ugliest person alive.”

 

***Photograph Library of Congress

Family Histories: You are EPIGENEIC, and you never knew.

Welcome to Family Histories, a series of guest posts by some of my favorite bloggers in which they explore family . . . and history. The families and the histories are sometimes the writers’ own and sometimes not.

Joining us today to share his fascinating study of genetic memory is the writer PAUL WHITE. Please be sure to read about how his interest in character development leads him along such interesting paths of research at the end of this piece.

You are EPIGENEIC, and you never knew.

I bet you have never even heard this word before, EPIGENEIC. You may not have heard of Epigenetics either… until now.

Do not worry, you are not alone.

It has been generally accepted you are what you are; that the genes you were born with are what dictate your life, your health, intelligence and destiny.

Therefore, you are your DNA, period.

But, new scientific studies are challenging this perception.

Towards the end of the Second World War the allies attempted to relieve the Dutch from Nazi occupation in an operation codenamed ‘Market Garden’. It was a massive failure, leaving the Netherlands to face one of the severest winters on record. For over six months it is estimated over 22,000 people died from malnutrition and thousands of babies were born severely underweight.

Scientific research of these meticulous records in recent years, showed the latent health effects of parental exposure to famine and the infants who survived were also more susceptible to health issues.

But what fascinated the researchers most was finding a curious anomaly; these children’s own children, born many years later, were also significantly underweight. It seemed the wartime famine had ‘scarred’ the victim’s DNA.

We have for decades been told, we are what we eat, we are what we drink, we are how little, or how much, exercise we undertake, and we are whatever toxins we imbibe. Health experts have been constantly telling us we are a product of our own lifestyle.

But now, you may find you might be what your Mother ate, your Farther drank and what your grandparents smoked.

Your own children may well be shaped by you own lifestyle, be it jogging around the block each evening, or pigging out on chocolate each night while lazing on the sofa. It is self-nurture, rather than our nature, which seems to play a far greater part in determining what we are than was ever previously thought.

That brings me nicely to a word that many may not have heard before, Epigenetics, which is a relatively new scientific field.

Ernest research only began in the mid Nineties. However, Epigenetics is already offering explanations of how our diets, stress levels at work, one-off traumatic experiences and exposure to toxins might be subtly altering our genetic legacy; the gene pool we pass on to our children and grandchildren.

Epigenetics is opening new avenues into explaining, solving, and finding cures for illnesses which cannot be explained by genes alone. These range from Autism to Cancers.

As long ago as the Nineteen Fifties, biologists had theorised ‘something’ besides the DNA sequence alone was responsible for ‘expressing’ what came out.

Adrian Bird, Professor of Genetics at the University of Edinburgh, explained, “We knew there are millions of markers on your DNA and on the Proteins that sit on your DNA. What are they doing there? What is their function? How do they help genes work, or stop them working?”

The last few years have revealed, in far greater detail, the vast array of molecular mechanisms affecting the activity of genes. This research also discovered your DNA itself might not be static, but could be modified by these biological markers.

The chief of these markers are called ‘Methyl Groups’, tiny Carbon-Hydrogen instruction packs that bind to a gene and say, ‘Ignore this bit’ or ‘exaggerate this part’. This is termed Methylation, it is how a cell knows it needs to grow into an eyeball of even a toenail.

In addition, there are ’Histones’, these control how tightly the DNA is spooled around its central thread, and therefore how readable the information is. It is these two Epigenetic controls which give the cell its orders, rather like an on/off switch and a volume control.

Except this epigenetic interpretation of your DNA is not fixed, it can alter dramatically. This alteration is not solely subject to dramatic life changes, like puberty or pregnancy. Research has found it can also be altered due to environmental factors, such as stress levels and if we smoke, etc. For example, a bad diet can interfere with Methylation, which means a cell can grow abnormally, this can lead to disease or at worst Cancer.

Previously it was believed these epigenetic instructions would be left off of your DNA before it was passed to your children, when sperm and egg combined the embryo had a ‘clean slate’. Alas, new research has found around one to two percent of our epigenetic tags cling on; Thus, your worst habits, smoking or over-eating, are the ones you can pass on to your offspring, and even further down the hereditary line.

To put it another way, your Grandfather was making lifestyle choices that effect you today.

Marcus Pembrey, emeritus professor of paediatric genetics at the University College London says that “there are social implications to these results. In the sense you don’t live your life just for yourself, but also for your descendants. Although it is important to realise that Trans-generational effects are for better as well as worse”.

New epidemics, such as Auto-immune disorder or diabetes might be tracked back to epigenetic markers left generations ago. This is hugely important and significant for the medical world.

As an example, a study on rats at the University of Texas, suggests the soaring obesity and Autism rates in humans could be due to ‘the chemical revolution of the Forties’, when our grandparents were exposed to new plastics, fertilisers and detergents.

“It is as if the exposure, three generation previous, has programmed the brain” said professor of psychology and zoology David Crews.

There could also be implications to what we eat; already pregnant women are encouraged to take Folic acid, Vitamin B-12 and other nutrients containing Methyl groups, as they decrease the risk of Asthma, and brain/spinal cord defects in their foetuses.

Evidence is increasing that misplaced epigenetic tags are the cause of certain Cancers, so scientists are developing new drugs to silence the bad genes which were meant to be silenced in the first place. It may also be possible to replace traditional chemotherapy with cancer drugs that ‘Re-programme’ cancer cells by reconfiguring the epigenetic markers.

 

However, the area which is causing the biggest excitement and, indeed controversy, surrounds growing research that suggests it is not just be physical characteristics or illnesses we might be passing on to future generations, our DNA may be affecting behaviour too.

Behavioural scientists at Columbia University in New York, have identified changes in genes caused by the most basic psychological influence. Epigeneticists also think socioeconomic factors like poverty might ‘mark’ children’s genes to leave them prone to drug addiction and depression in later life.

Evidence exists that Hongerwinter found children, who were affected in the second trimester of their mother’s pregnancy, had a markedly increased incidence of Schizophrenia and Neurological defects.

Even one-off traumatic experiences could affect later generations too. The attacks of 9/11 offered a key insight. An estimated 530,000 New York City residents suffered symptoms of post-traumatic disorder (PTSD) after witnessing the attacks, of which approximately 1,700 were pregnant women.

Rachel Yehuda, professor of psychiatry and neuro-science at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, found mothers who were in their second of third trimester on the day of the attacks were far more likely to give birth to stressed-out infants – children who reacted with unusual levels of fear and stress when faced with loud noises, unfamiliar people or new foods. Professor Yehuda has obtained similar results in the adult offspring of Holocaust survivors and is currently trying to identify epigenetic markers associated with PTSD in combat veterans.

In the space of two decades, the field of epigenetics has exploded. With it has emerged new strands of data analysis, sociology, pharmaceutical research and medical discovery.

“The enthusiasm in this field is obviously great, but people’s expectations of what this means need to chill out a little bit” Say’s Adrian Bird.

 

Adrienne: Paul, what got you interested in this?

Paul: I am fascinated by what makes people ‘tick’ in general.

I am a writer and build my stories around the things which affect us emotionally, like love, fear, trauma, uncertainty, sadness, joy, distress and so on.

I tend often approach my work from oblique, or alternative angles, many of my stories are not what the reader may first conceive them to be.

Also, character and personality are both important, to know, feel, see in the mind how various people react to certain circumstances.

They help me build ‘real’ people, relative to my storylines and the interaction with other characters within my books.

I research. One protagonist, (in a WiP), who is actually the antagonist, is a psychopathic serial killer. I wanted to share his thoughts and inner mindset with the reader, so researched that subject.

This type of investigation leads me down a myriad of pathways.

I know, in theory at least much about coffee farming in Africa and am learning more. I now have two coffee plants, which are three years old, growing in my conservatory.

Cognitive reasoning, I think that was the subject I was researching, when I came across epigenetics for the first time. I became fascinated, that post was part what I discovered.

I think, at the time, I wrote it as much for my own benefit of comprehension as I did an informative article.

Family Histories: The Musclehead’s Grandparents

Welcome to Family Histories, a series of guest posts by some of my favorite bloggers in which they explore family . . . and history. The families and the histories are sometimes the writers’ own and sometimes not.

Today’s post is from THE MUSCLEHEADED BLOG. Chris never fails to amuse me with his mix of humor, sex and vintage postcards. Here he writes about grandparents:

triangle

Note: this post might
start out sounding
like it’s about Math,
— but it ain’t.

Believe me,
if I really wrote a post
about what I knew about Math,
I’d sound more like this:a1
“2+2= ummmm– 22 ???? ”

Ahem.

 

Do you know the
old story of Pythagoras?

How,
when he figured out that:
” in a right-angled triangle
the area of the square
on funnythe hypotenuse
(the side opposite the right angle)
is equal to the sum of the areas
of the squares of the other two sides” ,
he exclaimed ” Eureka !! “,
which in the Greek language
means ” I’ve Found It ! ” .

( ok…
technically speaking,
he said: ” εὕρηκα “ ,
but that’s all Greek to me )

Anyhoo….

Well, I’ve had some εὕρηκα
moments of my own recently
and I’ve come to realize
a couple things…..

For most of my life,mad-widens-the-generation-gap I thought my grandparents
were kinda crazy.

I mean,
I loved them like nobody’s business —

My Grandfather had a cockeyed sense of humor that would come out at the oddest times —

— especially when things
were really going badly.

My Grandmother was one of
the loveliest women to ever live —
smart, beautiful, and
dare I say it — sensual.

Even well into her 90’s,
long after my Grandfather
had passed, my Grandmother
had male suitors sending her
flowers and gifts in the nursing home.

But it’s only been recently
that I’ve been figuring out,
that they really knew what
the hell they were talking about.

generation_gap

Take Prune Juice, for instance.

I’m not saying I would ever
drink this stuff, despite the marvelous effects that other mature ( ahem ) folks that I know are getting out of it.

Those marvelous effects —

Well, let’s just say
without them, you walk
around feeling sorta outasorts .

I used to think my grandparents
drank the stuff cause they liked the taste of it.

Shows ya what a kid knows.

NADA.

Young people figure icons
they’re hip to the jive,
they’re up to date and groovy —

And that older
people are square,
superstitious,
and old fashioned —-
just to be spiteful.

It’s only when you start walking
around in comfortable clothes,
unbranded sneakers,
and buy yourself a four-door car,

—- do you start to realize there’s
a method to their madness, man.

It’s the truth.

Cooking at home — there’s one.

I always figured why cook at home ,
— when you can go out to eat?

Until you’ve done it
10,000 times or so,
and realize….

record

What Grandmom used
to call ‘junk food’ —
turned out to be just that .

Hey– at home —
everything’s fresh,
the food’s better,
and the service don’t suck.

Have it your way anytime —
by doing it yourself at home.

You knew what was it
in the food, ’cause you made it.

It’s freakin genius, I tell you.

Now, my grandfather
didn’t trust banks.

He had survived the
Great Depression as a young man —

The runs on the banks,
the quick-rich-cum-suddenly-
poor jumping off skyscrapers,
the soup lines,
the whole rotten deal….

genAnd he remembered that banks are basically just a glorified Ponzi scheme.

So, he’d cash his
paycheck each week,
take the cash home,
divide it into little envelopes —
— one for the light bill,
one for the water,
one for the mortgage, etc.

Once he had put the allotted
amount of cash in each envelope,
he knew how much cash he had
left to spend for the rest of
the week on luxuries like
going to the movies, eating out, etc.

He never worried
about bank fees, borgcheck charges, balancing the books,
broken ATM machines,
credit card interest, or any of
the rest of the millarkey
I deal with on a regular basis.

Hey, back in the early 1970’s,
I had one of the first ATM cards ever issued.

The bank I was using
was the first one in Florida
to do the whole ATM thing.

I was really enthusiastic twiceabout the concept–
— cash from a machine —
24 hours a day !

Talk about technology.

But when I told him
about it, he just laughed.

Crazy old geez, I thought.

Stuck in the middle ages, poor guy.

Yeah.

Uh huh.

sexandcoffee

Somehow, over time,
we forgot what
those banks were,
and are about.

But he never did.

 

I remember how they’d
look at each other
with this special sense of ardor —
as if their passion
was what twitdefined them–
as man, and as woman,
when they were together.

I was asked to give her eulogy,
when my grandmother passed at age 95.

I explained that there were
two things that everybody
who ever met her knew about her:

that she loved her family
with all the intensity that
her heart and spirit could generate –

….. and that she loved life
with that same verve
and enthusiasm.

It pains me that I’ll never bond.igf
have the privilege of
knowing anyone like her again.

Yes, I adored the lady,
and I don’t mind telling you that,
or that I have a tear in my eye
as I write about her.

I’ve got a smile,
a smile that I reserve for only very happy times,
and only very special people —
———- and it’s her smile .

She thought that anything was possible,
as long as you had a close knit family.

The family was a necessary part of any meal,
so everybody had to be at the table,
right on time, at 5:00PM each day.

And Grace.

You had to say Grace at every meal.

I always thought
that was kinda hokey, spell
but I went along with it,
cause I loved my Grandmother and didn’t want to upset her.

But really,
I thought, God didn’t care whether I said Grace or not.

It’s only recently that I have realized…

We weren’t saying Grace for God’s sake.

We were saying Grace for our own sakes.

Learning to appreciate your blessings, the importance of family….

……… To understand the vagaries of time.

And I thank God I had them to learn these things from.

.

blondie

 

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Family Histories: Multi-generational Inspiration with Judith Barrow

Welcome to Family Histories, a series of guest posts by some of my favorite bloggers in which they explore family . . . and history. The families and the histories are sometimes the writers’ own and sometimes not.

Today we get a glimpse into JUDITH BARROW‘S inspiration for writing her family trilogy:

Thank you for hosting me here, Adrienne. If it’s all right with you, I’d like to talk about how places and occasions in my life affected the way I wrote my trilogy and then the prequel.

Pattern of Shadows

I think that a strong setting in a novel; one that sets the atmosphere and tone of the narrative, is imperative in creating a convincing story. Ultimately the goal is to persuade the reader to become immersed in the setting to the point of complete familiarity.

The background setting I use in my trilogy, beginning with Pattern of Shadows, is a German Prisoner of War camp during the Second World War.

I was researching for another novel when I came across records of a disused cotton mill, Glen Mill, in Oldham, a town in Lancashire in the North of England, and its history of being one of the first German POW camps in the country. This brought back a personal memory of my childhood and I was side-tracked.

My mother was a winder in a cotton mill (working on a machine that transferred the cotton off large cones onto small reels (bobbins), for the weavers). Well before the days of Health and Safety I would go to wait for her to finish work on my way home from school. I remember the muffled boom of noise as I walked across the yard and the sudden clatter of so many different machines as I stepped through a small door cut into great wooden gates. I remember the rumble of the wheels as I watched men pushing great skips filled with cones alongside the winding frames, or manoeuvring trolleys carrying rolls of material. I remember the women singing and shouting above the noise, of them whistling for more bobbins: the colours of the cotton and cloth – so bright and intricate. But above all I remember the smell: of oil, grease – and in the storage area – the lovely smell of the new material stored in bales and the feel of the cloth against my legs when I sat on them, reading until the siren sounded, announcing the end of the shift.

When I thought of Glen Mill as a German POW camp I wondered what kind of signal would have been used to separate parts of the day for all those men imprisoned there. I realised how different their days must have been from my memories of a mill. There would be no machinery as such, only vehicles coming and going; the sounds would be of men, only men, with a language and dialect so different from the mixture of voices I remembered. I imagined the subdued anger and resignation. The whole situation would be so different, no riot of colour, just an overall drabness. And I realised how different the smells would be – no tang of oil, grease, cotton fibres; all gone – replaced by the reek of ‘living’ smells.

And I knew I wanted to write about that. But I also wanted there to be hope somewhere. I wanted to imagine that something good could have come out of the situation the men were in.

And so the background of the trilogy was set against the camp, the fictional Lancashire town of Ashford, and a small village in Wales, Llamroth.

Living in the Shadows

I was never really part of the Sixties scene but I remember how much everything appeared to be changing during that decade. The old world sat alongside the new emerging world. A supermarket, the first in Lancashire to open was called Payless and was near the well-established Woolworths, with its uneven wooden floors, glass divided counters of anything and everything that was needed for the home, pick and mix sweets and stationery. And always, that certain dusty smell.

Hairstyles went from great backcombed and lacquered bouffants to simpler Mary Quant bobs. Much to my mother’s dismay (and to mine when I wasn’t allowed to play out for a week afterwards) I cut off my plaits in a fit of temper when I wasn’t allowed a fringe.
Music was for teenagers; the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Cliff… and my all-time ‘to swoon over’ Elvis Presley; even though the records (the new 45s) belonged to my sister.
Clothes changed as well. The older girls no longer wore those voluminous layers of nets of underskirts that puffed out the dresses (I remember my sister dipping her underskirts in sugared water and drying them over an open umbrella to retain that shape– I never did find out what happened to them when she went out in the rain but I can guess!) Drainpipe trousers and suits for the boys disappeared and were replaced by flares and flowered shirts; the proper ‘gear’ for open-air concerts. Needless to say, I never went to even one of these. But one of my young characters did …

When Victoria jumped off the platform of the bus she could already hear the music. A group was playing A Groovy Kind of Love and she hummed along with it, studying the long queue at the entrance. Looking around she saw a gap in the fence further along the road and sauntered towards it. She stood, waiting for a couple to pass her, then quickly ducked through.
‘Got you.’ A strong hand held her shoulder. She looked up at whoever had caught her. He didn’t look official; he had a flowered full-sleeved shirt on and feathers stuck in a cotton band around his head.

She took a chance. ‘Get off me.’ Twisting away from him.

‘Whoa.’ He held up his hands in a gesture of submission. ‘I surrender myself to the hip Welsh chick in the red dress.’

Victoria couldn’t help giggling. ‘You’re not a steward or whatever, are you? You’re not anybody in charge.’

‘Only of myself.’ He grinned. He gestured towards the hedge. ‘Actually that’s the way we got in.’

‘We?’

‘Some friends and me.’ He looked around in a vague manner. ‘They’re here somewhere. Some of them wanted to see Hermann’s Hermits. Not my thing but one of them insisted. You like that group?’

Without wavering, Victoria said, ‘Oh no.’ She thought quickly. ‘Joan Baez is more my thing.’

He beamed. ‘And mine too. I knew we were fated to meet.’ He held out his hand, wiggled his fingers. ‘Want to look for my friends with me?’

Victoria took hold of his hand. This was going to be even more exciting than she thought.

A Hundred Tiny Threads

My grandfather was gassed in WW1. I only remember him vaguely as I was a small child when he died but my mother says I always made him laugh however ill he was. I only have one tiny photo of him; he’s standing in the back yard of the terraced house he and my grandmother lived in all their married life, in Lancashire.

I had a strange experience last year at a craft and book fair where, for some reason, there was also a medium. As I passed her she called me over and told me someone was trying to get in touch with me. She said not to tell her anything only to answer yes or no to what she revealed. I’m not a gullible person but I do believe there is more to this life than we know. What followed was an extraordinary ten minutes; she told me things only my mother had mentioned to me about my grandad; things I’d never discussed with anyone. Some details were especially private and important; some were mere trivialities; gestures and habits of his that I’d learned from family chats. At the end of the session (she wouldn’t take any money) she told me she had a feeling of great relief coming from him as though he’d been trying for years to ‘come through’ to me for years and this had been his chance to say how proud he was of me.

At the time of that event I’d been going through a bad patch; my mother, who had Alzheimer’s, had been on end of life care for some months. She lived over two hundred miles away and we’d been travelling to see her every weekend. The session with the medium took place the day before we were due to go to see her again. The last thing the medium told me was that she was getting a strong scent of daffodils even though it was not the season for them. Daffodils were my mother’s favourite flower. When I went home after the fair I was told my mother had passed.

I wrote this poem some years ago.

My Grandad
I look at the photograph.
He smiles and silently
he tells me
his story…

In my backyard I stand,
Hands wrapped around a mug of tea.
Shirt sleeves, rolled back,
Reveal tattoos – slack muscles.

I grin.
All teeth.
Who cares that they’re more black
Than white.
Underneath
That’s my life;
That’s the grin I learned
When burned
By poison
Spreading
Like wild garlic.
That’s the grin I wear
When I look
But don’t see
The dark oil glistening,
Blistering, inside me.
When I hear, but don’t listen
To my lungs closing.

I posture,
Braces fastened for the photo,
Chest puffed out.
Nothing touches me –
Now.
Later I cough my guts up –
Chuck up.

I trod on corpses: dead horses,
Blown up in a field
Where grass had yielded
To strong yellow nashers.
And in the pastures
I shat myself.
But smelled no worse
Than my mate, Henry, next to me
Whose head grinned down from the parapet –

Ten yards away.

He has perfect, white teeth.
Much good they’ve done him,
Except for that last night at home
When the girl smiled back.

© Judith Barrow

judithMy Links:
Blog: https://judithbarrowblog.com/
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COMING SOON from ADRIENNE MORRIS:

forget me not promo

Family Histories: LOSS OF A PATRIARCH

 Welcome to Family Histories, a series of guest posts by some of my favorite bloggers in which they explore family . . . and history. The families and the histories are sometimes the writers’ own and sometimes not.

Today ANNIKA PERRY shares poignant memories of her strong but kind fisherman grandfather.

LOSS OF A PATRIARCH

The humid heat radiates around the room as the bright summer sun glares through the wispy cotton curtains. Sleeping bodies are sprawled on the beds, sheets cast aside or crumpled in a heap. The day has arrived. I lay wide-awake. Just thinking; thinking of the day and trying to feel. Trying to feel anything but hot. How pathetic on this day of all days to concentrate on my own selfish needs. I am alive and can enjoy the beauty of sensation, thought, sight. Yes, I am alive. And where is Morfar?

I remember him alive: his teasing, his laughter, the passionate discussions. The interesting chats about world affairs and events closer to home. The mealtimes that ended up resembling global conferences, punctuated with the occasional clanging thump on the table with his big hand as he emphasised a particular point.

fishingHe’d been hard at work for most of his 92 years. Fingers lately swollen and gnarled, but incredibly strong all the same and once in its vice-like grip, my puny fingers didn’t stand a chance. Rue the day the giant crab took Morfar’s thumb in its claw and held. You never had a chance Mr Crab! Morfar’s patience far outlasted yours and sorry, I am sure you were a most delicious dinner – for those who like crustaceans!

Slowly I stand up and pad about the room, take a quick refreshing shower and by six I am dressed in shorts and T-shirt heading outside. The beauty of the day strikes me immediately; it is so quiet, calm and just the right temperature. Everything is sparkling in the brightest clearest hues. The blue sea is still and peaceful. Walking down to the harbour I see a fishing boat heading back in. On many such mornings and many stormy ones too no doubt, Morfar steered his vessel into the harbour. Once he had off-loaded the catch, sorted the nets and cleaned the boat he’d come home for breakfast. Often I would just be awake and at the table munching away on Mormor’s homemade bread and drinking my chocolate milk. All bright and breezy he would come up via the cellar, washing first before greeting me with a teasing “Good Afternoon!” The conversation would be fast and at times incomprehensible as the morning’s catch was discussed; the number of crabs, other fishes, market price. I kept my fingers crossed hoping it had been a good day. After breakfast, as I sauntered to get dressed and ready, Morfar would be out fixing the nets.

I sit down on a bench looking out to the island where he had lived all his life. The blue bridge, which connects the oasis to the neighbouring island, now brings modern life and its opportunities as well as problems that much closer. On the untouched southerly point the rocks ripple in colours of greys and pinks with yellow flowers taking hold in the tiny cracks whilst heathers grow abundantly in the shallow dips, their purple a delicate and beckoning welcome. The two lighthouses guide the way to ships at night. How many times had I climbed those rocks? The same rocks my Mamma grew up on and the same rocks Morfar and his friends clambered.

Wasn’t Morfar just that? A rock: A patriarch to a large family of five children, 19 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren and increasing. He was infinitely wise, but always humbly so. Praise was only offered at one’s peril; unwelcome and brusquely brushed aside and a new topic quickly introduced.

These thoughts are going through my mind this summer morning, as anything else seems too grim in this tranquil haven.

I recall the smell of Mormor’s fresh bread filling the house, as I’d quickly dash downstairs to see if I could scrounge some before lunch. I shudder at the memory of the fish odour in the boat, the sight of crabs in the wooden boxes scrabbling to escape, the sensation of bile in my throat as the fishing boat bobbed slowly but sickeningly in the waves as Morfar hauled up the nets. Ever so slowly it seemed to me. Please hurry up, I’d mutter. He’d looked at me surprised, amused at the thought of rushing the act of fishing. I know I wasn’t a natural sailor, but thank you for showing me your world.

Thank you God for reuniting Mormor and Morfar; thank you for letting them be together again. A thought I cling to for the rest of the day, a phrase repeated by many and the only possibility that brings any sense to this madness. That Morfar is no longer with us. Even now, in black and white, the words are too nonsensical.

Morfar is here. He is at home, just back from the net-making factory after doing some work and having a good chin-wag with the chaps down there during morning coffee. Often he jokingly referred to these friends as ‘babies, well most of them were 20 years younger! Whilst eating the homemade cakes, Morfar would start discussions with “well, chaps, what arewe going to talk about today?” Later at the funeral, these warm kind friends brought me to tears as they spoke with such love of my Morfar.

Resigned that I could not stop the day, I head back to the hotel to get ready. Mundane life continues as we prepare to say farewell.

Outside the heat blasts like a furnace. At least in dresses and shawls, us women don’t swelter too much, the men in suits do, however no one complains.

In near silence we drive to the island, first across the bridge. This time the usual tummy butterflies of excitement fail to greet me, instead heavy dullness crashes onto my heart. Cope with this minute, then the next; that mantra is how I struggle through the day. 

The changes on the island are more striking than ever. The newly built houses and marina greet us where before the rolling rocks stretched to the water. The hill up and over to the centre of the island remains the same, as is the tree-lined lane up to Morfar’s house. We pass his house and home. We don’t stop. No, this is all wrong. So wrong. After what feels like an eternity, we finally arrive at the cafe by the old harbour. There is his boat. Not that he has been on it for the past year but it was his. The past tense angers me. Clip-clopping on our high heels we meander along the wooden quay. The sailing boats bobbing rhythmically, children running past playfully, a couple sipping coffee in the shade.  

Our dignified group takes a seat in the shade, the choir rehearsing in the cafe adding certain pathos to the day. The café which used to be a net making factory built by my grandmother’s father and where Morfar used to moor the big trawler and off load the nets, all spread along the wooden pier to dry before repair could begin. History, I’m surrounded by living history. Morfar, I know you are no longer with us, but oh, you are so very much all around us, inside us. Never gone.

The silent morning is broken by a few disjointed mournful utterances. Silence dominates. The crying air is deafening. What is there to say? A few practical points are addressed. Toilet stop. Shoes. Where best to sit. Sun? Shade? Then once again silence.

A smart group walks purposefully towards us along the quay and I realise it’s my brother and his family. I see the resolution in my brother’s eyes. I feel it. To get through this day and not to be too emotional or he will crack. I understand. 

Memories of our last visit to Morfar and our goodbye come to mind. Leaning against the kitchen counter Morfar once again said goodbye. Just before he had given my son the biggest longest hug. The two of them squeezing each other like there was no tomorrow. My son engulfed by this huge man and his love for his great-grandchild. My son who loved and respected his great-grandfather so much. His ultimate hero. Their greatness and goodness so alike. Holding him out, Morfar looked at my son and my little man returned the warm thoughtful gaze. A farewell hug to last a lifetime. Morfar hugged with me with strength and depth, yet I sensed his inner weakness, his frailty. It was not commented on, but definitely noticeable; his appetite was near non-existent and he seemed in constant pain. Subconsciously I wondered whether we would we see him again – a thought I immediately dismissed.

It was hard leaving him after our wonderful days together. We all had such fun, joviality and laughter and felt closer than ever. A journey of discovery had been undertaken and completed with a quiet resolution. Everything felt right.

The gleaming white church stands on the hill, towering over the park and gardens. The beautiful gardens created by the fishermen over 50 years ago and tended by them and their wives. A few years ago a moment of insanity drove the local council to rip up the fragrant border of pink wild roses and replace it with a plain white picket fence.

I walk towards my three fishermen cousins, who live on the island with their families and were particularly close to Morfar; they are already red-eyed and totally inconsolable. No words are exchanged. Just hugs. Us grandchildren are self-conscious and self-aware in our grief. Looking around I notice Mamma talking warmly to her siblings, father’s friends, to her cousins, sharing tears and hugs. So natural and right. We have a lot to learn.

The bright light outside throws the foyer into a gloomy darkness. Or is it just my soul? We wait. As always we are early. Then it time and the door to the main church opens.

A glorious warm light strikes us and I spot the beams up to the high vaulted ceilings. White and wood. Wood. There he lays in the light wood coffin surrounded by a variety of flowers with the anchor, designed by Mamma ,in white and blue flowers, resting at its feet. The coffin. The reason we are here and yet again I feel anger and a sense of finality. 

A single angelic voice radiates around the room and tears at our hearts. The first verse is the serene acappella of ‘Amazing Grace’ then the soft tones of instruments are layered with the voice and finally, the soul-wrenching choir comes in; it is heavenly and moving beyond words. Here is our release. Mamma, at last, cries her heart out. Most are moved to tears and beyond. It is as if the song never wants to end. No, don’t stop, I want to cry out. This is enough. Just let us sit here, listen to this ethereal infinity and feel. Alas the song ends, now we are all shaken to the core.

The service ranges from the everyday to the deeply touching. The talk of Morfar ‘going home’ seems fine the first time. I can relate to the imagery here. But the numerous repetitions drive me to distraction. “He had a lovely warm home,” I want to stand up and shout at the top of my lungs. A home built into the hard granite rocks that he helped blow up and haul by hand up the hill, a white wooden house with lots of steps. He had his chair right where it should be, in front of the TV and don’t you dare come and disturb him now, it’s time for the news. A home he lived in for 67 years. It is his home; rock solid, waiting for him, now so lonely and sad.

At one stage people come to the front and say a few words. At this point I collapse in tears as one of his friends recalls Morfar and some of their good times. He paints such a true picture of the man, his life and vitality that I expect Morfar to walk through the door with a funny teasing comment. Even his grand age becomes the subject of his wit as at lunch one day Morfar commented that he had been told he was now officially the oldest person on the island. As silence descended, everyone was unsure what to add, Morfar filled the gap with a sardonic, “And that is not always a good thing!”

 The choir consists mainly of Mamma’s cousins, singing some beautiful songs, some of his favourites and some I remember Mormor singing as she cleaned, baked, cooked.

Suddenly I am at their house, transported away from the church. Mormor bending down to the living room floor and giving it a loud couple of knocks with her knuckles. Ouch, that must have hurt. Morfar downstairs in the cellar, busy with the nets and as usual he’d failed to hear her initial call down the stairs that lunch was ready. She’d asked me to knock on the floor but was unimpressed with my quiet feeble efforts and so had come over to sort the job herself as usual; she was always so efficient and fast in all her actions. After lunch Morfar would lay down on that very same floor, just a cushion under his head and rest for 20 minutes whilst we, the grandchildren, would have fun jumping over him to see if he woke, or reacted at all, but to no avail.

The service is drawing to an end. Despite my earlier inner predictions that someone would faint from heat exhaustion we are all still very much alert.

The night before we had written little notes to place on the coffin. At the time we thought we might feel self-conscious leaving them there, but no, how wrong we were. We walk respectfully past, we all pause for a moment, place our notes carefully under some flowers or ribbons, bid our inner goodbyes.

Soon it is time to leave the church. With resolve my brother and five of my cousins move to the front and take their place by Morfar’s coffin. Eighteen years ago he was one of six to lift Mormor’s coffin onto their shoulders and carry her out to the hearse. Handles this time, but I wonder, what is he feeling? He is never a man to speak easily of emotions, if at all, I am troubled for my brother. He has, literally, had so many burdens to bear.

The bells toll ever so slowly, so mournfully and resonate with sorrow and loss; echoing the moment and all our emotions. Later, we walk towards the grave and see Morfar’s coffin laid out on slats, placed above the hole. My brother once again, along with our cousins, takes the weight of the coffin as the slats are removed and lower it slowly to his final resting place. I know this would soon be it, our final farewell to Morfar.  

A few more words are said by the priest – reiterating once again the phrase of  ‘going home’, a song is sung and people step forward for one last farewell. I have said mine and so remain back. My brother and his family step forward and I hear a gentle clang. Oh yes, the stone from the island picked by my nephew the day before. How perfect to throw it down and leave forever a fragment of the island with Morfar. Perfect cosmic balance.

I lift my head and gaze across the blue sea with its sparkling dance as ripples of diamond light reflect on the water. There you are Morfar. My eyes move to the rocks and trees. I can feel you Morfar. Quickly I glance up at the sunlit sky. Yes, you are there too. Not in that deep dark hole. Most of all, you will live forever in our hearts. Missing you forever, the earthly human contact now gone and mourned, but you are still here. Reunited with your beloved wife and lifetime companion, reunited with your long-lost parents, seeing your brothers and sisters once again. You are with them as well as with us. 

Hope the fishing is good Morfar, catch lots of crabs won’t you and look out for that thumb! Who knows, you might meet your match one day in the form of a very patient huge crab!

 

©Annika Perry

 

Judy Collins – Amazing Grace

 

Hungry for more? Here is a piece about Annika’s GRANDMOTHER

And another about the FISHERMEN of old.

 

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Family Histories: How Family Can Be A Driving Force in Your Writing

Welcome to Family Histories, a series of guest posts by some of my favorite bloggers in which they explore family . . . and history. The families and histories are sometimes their own and sometimes not.

This week JACQUI MURRAY discusses how her children’s military careers inspired her writing.

Family History and It’s Part in My Writing

Jacqui MurrayThank you so much, Adrienne (author of The Tenafly Road Series), for inviting me to participate in this wonderful exploration of families. When I received Adrienne’s invitation, my knee-jerk reaction was it didn’t fit me. My stories about ancient man (the upcoming Born in a Treacherous Time) and my Tech-in-Ed writing didn’t have obvious connections to my family; they were tangential at best.

And then I thought about my novels, in the Rowe-Delamagente series. Lots of you know my daughter is a Naval Officer, my son an Army Sergeant, and my husband a saint, but I don’t say much about my family beyond that. Yet, they have been the driving force behind my writing. Here’s a rundown:

Building a Midshipman

This is a personal how-to on preparing for and applying to the United States Naval Academy.  It’s based on my daughter’s experience in high school where she first thought such a selective school was out of her reach and then was accepted into a life-changing activity that would change her forever. My daughter wasn’t the 4.0 (or 5.0 if you’re an IB school) student, the hardest-working or the one with all the answers but as it turns out, that’s not who USNA wants anyway. They wanted tenacious, never-give-up, critically-thinking applicants who always had another way to solve problems. They might as well have stuck her picture by the profile. I wanted to share her story so other high school girls who might think they could never be good enough for an Ivy League college like USNA would think again.

I wrote Building a Midshipman in about two weeks by replaying in my mind how my daughter had accomplished this feat.

To Hunt a Sub

jacqui murray 3This story comes from time spent with friends of my daughters from the Naval Academy who had served on or were serving in the Silent Service. It is a story of brain vs. brawn, creative thinking, and the importance of family in our lives, but at its core is patriotism. Many of my ancestors were in the military though I wasn’t, and by the time I started writing this book, both my children were committed to their paths. I respect the patriotism, single-mindedness, and stalwartness of our warriors–this story reflects that.

This book took about five years to write. I think being my first fiction book, I had little faith in its success so was afraid to turn it loose.

Twenty-four Days

This story takes place in large part on a US warship, the USS Bunker Hill. This was my daughter’s first ship after graduating from the Naval Academy. She secured amazing access for me during my research to the ship and its people. She put herself way out there to help me. For that I am forever grateful.

It took about three years to publish, slowed down a bit because I had an agent at one point, from whom I parted amicably.

Book 3 of the Rowe-Delamagente Series

This third in the series deals with satellites and the weaponization of space–in a nod toward my Army Signal Corps son. I’ve barely begun the outline so I don’t have a good sense of where it’s going but I do know it will be an action-packed thriller where Otto and a new AI friend Ascii will play a major role.

Born in a Treacherous Time

For this book, I go way back on my family tree, long before man was even man, to 1.8 million years ago. It’s always amazed me how our ancestors survived a world filled with vicious predators, not the least of which was the more improved iteration of man. That’s what I explore in this book, Born in a Treacherous Time.

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and  Twenty-four DaysShe is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

***Please visit next Sunday for the next guest post!

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Family Histories: Kin Types by Luanne Castle

Welcome to Family Histories, a series of guest posts by some of my favorite bloggers in which they explore family . . . and history. The families and the histories are sometimes the writers’ own and sometimes not.

This week Luanne Castle discusses how the exploration of family history has enriched her creative life:

By combining a passion for family history with my creative writing, I felt able to—for a brief moment—inhabit the lives of women and men from previous generations and imagine how their stories felt to them.

Family history as done by genealogy buffs only interested in filling in the dates and places of lineal ancestors miss the point. Everybody has ancestors. What becomes fascinating is that by recreating and listening to the stories of previous generations, we learn from the experiences of those who have lived on Earth before us.

Family history is a messy, complicated, and very loose collection of stories bound together with overlaps and gaps and sharing. Those are all the reasons I love it.

And all the reasons that I keep picking at the loose threads, following clues left in documents and photographs, and searching for information to fill in the empty stretches of time—or so it can appear from this angle—of the people who have come before me.

Researching family history is never ending. I’ve been at this for a long time. New information can refine, surprise, or alter what I think I already know. As a writer, this makes my path difficult. There is no moment where I can say to myself, “OK, my research is done. Now I can write.”

Therefore, research has to be done for the sake of the hunt, the rewards fate doles out to me, and an appreciation for the continuous process. In this way, Kin Types is the slim fruit of years of difficult “gardening,” but not the final fruit or the final say.

The following prose poem from Kin Types explores a moment in the life of my great-great-grandfather’s sister, Jennie DeKorn Culver, the custody battle during her divorce.

What Came Between A Woman and Her Duties

14 May 1897

On this Friday, in our fair city of Kalamazoo, Recreation Park refreshment proprietor, John Culver, has applied to the Circuit Court to gain custody of his two young daughters from his divorced wife. The girls currently reside in the Children’s Home. They were accompanied to court by Miss Bradley, the matron of the home.

Mrs. Culver, the divorcée, and the children were represented by J. W. Adams. The father was represented by F.E. Knappen.  Mrs. Culver, pale and stern-looking, wore a shirtwaist with tightly ruched collar and generous mutton sleeves. The strain of her situation shows clearly on her visage. In the past, Mrs. Culver has been aided and abetted by her female friends in the art of painting, as an article of 6 February 1895 in this very daily can attest.

A large number of friends of both parties were in the courtroom and heard emotional pleadings on both sides. Judge Buck ascertained that Mrs. Culver is engaged in the pursuit of an honest living at this time and so ordered that the children remain in the mother’s care. She was given six months to bring them home from the orphanage or they will go into the care of their father and his mother. Let us hope that Mrs. Culver can stay away from the easel.

I used articles from the Kalamazoo Gazette, as well as legal documents, to recreate Jennie’s fight for custody of her two daughters. The only documentation I can find that Jennie was an artist is a newspaper article commemorating the gift of an easel to Jennie during the term of her marriage by her female friends.

Finishing Line Press has published my chapbook, Kin Types, a collection of lyric poetry, prose poems, and flash nonfiction that interprets the lives of some forgotten women in history—my own ancestors.

 Kin Types can be ordered through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Finishing Line Press.

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BIO

luanne-headshotLuanne has been a Fellow at the Center for Ideas and Society at the University of California, Riverside. She studied English, history, and creative writing at UCR (PhD); Western Michigan University (MFA); and the Stanford University writing certificate program. She taught college English for fifteen years. Her scholarly work has been published in academic journals, and she contributed to Twice-Told Children’s Tales: The Influence of Childhood Reading on Writers for Adults, edited by Betty Greenway. Luanne is an amateur genealogist and publishes some of her family history research on the blog thefamilykalamazoo.com.

Winner of the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, Doll God, Luanne Castle’s first collection of poetry, was published by Aldrich Press. Luanne’s poetry and prose have appeared in Phoebe, Six Hens, Story Shack, The Antigonish Review, Crack the SpineGristTABRiver TeethLunch TicketThe Review Review, and many other journals. Luanne’s 2017 chapbook Kin Types, forthcoming from Finishing Line Press, was a semi-finalist in the Concrete Wolf Chapbook Contest.

She divides her time between California and Arizona, where she shares land with a herd of javelina. Her heart belongs to her six cats and the homeless cats at the animal shelter where she volunteers.

Luanne’s sites: THE FAMILY KALAMAZOO

WRITERSITE

LUANNE CASTLE: WRITER AND POET

 

 

Please come by next Sunday!

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Family Histories: The Jelly Glass

Welcome to Family Histories, a series of guest posts by some of my favorite bloggers in which they explore family . . . and history. The families and the histories are sometimes the writers’ own and sometimes not.

We start off the series with a story by Sharon Bonin-Pratt about an unpleasant trip to Grandma’s house:

Judy often spent the weekends with her paternal grandparents, dropped off by a mother so indifferent to her needs that she never knew where she was going.

Not told to pack a book, a clean pair of panties, or a toothbrush, her mom pulled out of the driveway as soon as the car door slammed. Twenty minutes later, she traipsed into her Bubbie’s kitchen. Bubbie probably said something in her Yiddish-New Jersey accent but Judy never remembered what. It was never, “Mort, look who’s here. Neshomeleh, glad you came.” No, not that. She would remember being called “darling.”

Years later she realized her parents enjoyed adventurous fun with her younger brother and sister on those weekends while she dusted Bubbie’s fragile porcelain tchotchkies and ran the Bissell over the worn rugs. Zaydeh’s accent growled with warning. “Judy, don’t bang the table.” Though she never did while maneuvering the sweeper. At ten, she knew to go slow, to be careful.

Then she sat in the living room, engulfed by Zaydeh’s cigar smoke with its rotting food stink, crossing and uncrossing her legs because there was nothing to do. Her grandparents hadn’t kept kids’ toys or books. Moving from house to house every two years or so required scaling down. Toys would have been an extravagance to cart around. If the weather was warm, she was allowed to walk outside but her grandparents lived in the dying neighborhoods of aging residents, children long grown and moved out. “Don’t wander away, Judith.” As if there was some place wonderful to go. Someone to visit.

So she sat on the steps at one house, in the crab grass of another, on the Southern-style porch of the house she loved most, and watched summer days wander across the sky, as bored as she was. “Judy, don’t touch that.” Either one might have ordered her though other than dusting, she rarely touched anything. But she looked – at clouds meandering toward the horizon, at the elaborate pattern of heavy drapes at the windows, at the splendor of sunlight blazing through the stained glass panel on the stair landing. There was little to touch after all.

Judy was the quiet child who spoke when spoken to, who startled easily, but also laughed hysterically over incidents others found only mildly funny. She was the unwanted one, foolish enough to have been born female at the wrong time to a mother too young, to a father too busy to notice. She was the child who ruined everything, so her mother said.

The oldest in her generation, she watched as newborn cousins were celebrated by the family. “Judy, don’t touch the baby.” That she heard from everyone, though she would have held her cousins lovingly. Had she been allowed.

Zaydeh’s indifference proved a wall she couldn’t breach. She gave up trying. Bubbie at least might show a caring side if Judy worked at being sweet. So she dried the dishes and tried to eat food she could barely swallow. A skinny kid with no appetite, she couldn’t tolerate runny eggs, or anything with mashed potato texture, and meat fat that made her gag. Still, she was stubborn about refusing food.  “Judith, eat your dinner, for crying out loud. Other kids would be happy to eat this.”

“Leave her alone, Mort. She doesn’t want it.”

“Don’t give her anything else, Bassie . She’ll eat what she gets or nothing.”

One of the last weekends she spent with her grandparents was in 1958 when they lived near the train tracks in an apartment that rattled with every pass of the rail cars. She

peered out the kitchen window but was not allowed in the back yard near the tracks. Too dangerous. Side by side in the kitchen, she and Bubbie chatted about school and the little cousins. Bubbie no longer put eggs on her plate, as much to avoid Judy’s tears as Zaydeh’s hollering. She washed dishes, old enough to handle the plates so they didn’t break. Still she heard, “Judy, don’t chip the edges.”

She asked before taking anything, but Bubbie was still probably surprised when she wanted a glass of milk that afternoon. She didn’t like it without chocolate syrup which Bubbie didn’t have, but also didn’t like warm tap water. Her grandmother nodded but as Judy began to pour the milk into a glass, Bubbie yelled.

“Not that one. What are you, meshugeneh?”

She wasn’t crazy but couldn’t figure out what she’d done wrong.

“Now you got to bury it in the yard. Away from the house.”

She held up the jelly glass, saved after the grape jelly was gone. Not wanting to waste the milk, she started to drink it.

Oy gevalt. Don’t drink that.”

Zaydeh stomped into the kitchen to see what tsouris she’d caused, then glared when Bubbie grabbed the glass to pour the milk in the sink. Anger blazed like she’d seen on her mom’s face but never before on Bubbie’s.

“What’s the matter with you? Don’t you know better?” Bubbie’s nostrils flared. Fury from the one who got annoyed but never angry. What had Judy done?

From Zaydeh the dark expression was familiar. He barked, “A broch, don’t you know any better? You don’t put milk in a fleishik glass.”

Judith was Jewish on both sides of her family but they were about as observant as their Protestant neighbor. They weren’t Orthodox, didn’t keep kosher. Though she knew every curse, swear word, and nasty expression in Yiddish, she didn’t know the difference between milchik and fleishik – milk and dairy dishes. They didn’t celebrate Christmas, but was otherwise foggy about what it meant to be Jewish. At Yom Kippur the previous September, the holiest day of the Jewish year, it was a Catholic classmate who told her she should have been in temple with nearly all the rest of the kids. At Judy’s house, they also drank out of saved jelly glasses, but forget milchik or fleishik. Her parents understood little of Jewish faith or customs.

Trembling, she trudged to the back yard of the house near the railroad tracks. They’d given her a large spoon to dig with, and she knelt amidst the Queen Anne’s lace, shoving the spoon in the dirt and thrusting out clods. Tears made it hard to see, and maybe her snuffling blocked the chug of the train as it passed.

Zaydeh poked his head out the back door. “Stop making such a big megillah out of a little work. You’re lazy, just like your mom says.”

How to explain she wasn’t crying over the task of burying the glass, but for the loss of respect by the person she’d grown to love, who she thought loved her? Three weeks the glass would have to stay buried until it could be unearthed and used for the correct meal.

Judy never got the chance to show Bubbie she was a person worth talking to, worth sharing household chores with, worth loving. That was one of the very last weekends she spent with her grandparents.

In a few months Judy’s family moved to Arizona, two years later to California. She visited her grandparents only once more when she was nearly eighteen and her family flew to New Jersey to celebrate her brother’s bar mitzvah. Judy never pulled the jelly glass out of the ground or said the blessing to make it kosher. She wondered if it remained buried under Queen Anne’s Lace.

Now a grandmother herself, she is still trying to figure out why she’s peculiar, a stranger to most people, even those who think they know her well. Still sometimes using the wrong glass.

Sharon Bonin-Pratt, July 2017

***Please stop by next Sunday for the next Family Histories guest post!

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