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Posts Tagged ‘family’

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Steve’s been having a good time in the new kitchen and with the fresh herbs. I picked up the salmon but decided it was good exercise for him to go up and down the various flights of stairs to select herbs for the fish and my artistic vision of a caprese salad.

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Only a few weeks ago, maybe even a week ago, he would have placed the salmon on the table and said, “Okay, go ahead. Take a picture and send it to William.”

Somehow my husband and my oldest brother bonded over food. Two very different people who found common ground in cooking. Given how infrequently they met I find it interesting they developed such respect for one another. Given that the two of them were of a certain generation, Steve, looking toward retirement one day, was hoping the two of them could start a little restaurant called The Two Grumpies. My brother, who had run restaurants before having to retire early due to health reasons, was not opposed to the idea and for awhile actively kept an eye open for locations in his hometown of Norfolk. But then Steve took some health hits and so did my brother though I don’t think he ever told me the full story. William could be a rather close-lipped person.

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Steve is staying strong and continues to cook but no more pictures to William. William passed away this week after a recent diagnosis of late stage cancer. One of the things that must have peeved him most was that the disease took away his appetite.

Somewhere I have a picture of him holding me as a toddler. We had a bit of an age difference. In the photo you would see a plump little baby being held tight in the arms of a tall, strong, young Black man with a great smile.

In the past ten months I’ve lost all three of my brothers. I’m not sure people believe me when I say I don’t feel alone. I feel like they are more a part of me than ever. A close friend said, “Cynthia, does this mean when you’re walking in the world, you’ve got the shadows of three six-feet plus black men at your back?” I said, “Well, I suppose.” She remarked, “Oh, goodness. It was hard enough keeping you out of trouble before. Now you’re going to be a real badass!”

Perhaps so. 🙂

 

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me, Keith and Donald, late 1970s

I was looking for the flash fiction story, The Blackest Sheep, that I wrote almost eighteen years ago. It was published in a small online zine and I think I made $5 for it as part of a writing contest. The zine doesn’t exist anymore and the only hard copy I have of the story is in a box at the bottom of a lot of other boxes. In short, it was a story based on truth of a black sheep of the family who, justifiably so, could be judged for all of the bad things he’d done and would likely do … and yet there was so much good that was there too. I wrote the story out of a sense that so many people might never know or remember that goodness once he was gone. And so through the lens of fiction I recounted how my older brother taught me how to bare my fist so that no one would pick on me (or at least never do it again), how, even though I was the “smart one” in the family, he patiently helped me make my way through homework or at least convinced me to keep my behind in the chair and finish what I needed to do.

William and Donald, late 1960s (maybe)

My favorite remembrance was how he, when asked by my mom, to walk my younger brother and I to school in the snow, he had us walk with our backs to the wind so that we would be shielded as he led us forward. And later in life, long after I’d written that story, he still did good things. He would come across archaic tomes of English literature left behind in a rooming house and keep it for me. Knowing my interest in photography, he would find frames at the flea market and other places and keep them for me. Keep in mind he was in Virginia and I am in Massachusetts. I did collect the books and the frames when I visited. He always called on my birthday and every holiday. As his body failed on him, he loved to just sit and watch the cooking channel … he had loved to cook especially for large groups of people … even though he could no longer eat most of what was being prepared. He found great childlike joy in little things. He was quick to laugh … and he could be quick to anger (especially when drinking too much) and quick to feel depressed because eventually even he could look back and see the different forks in the road of his life and the paths taken that perhaps should not have been.

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My brother Donald died just a few days ago with our oldest brother William by his side. He leaves no children but he leaves many friends and family behind who loved him and cherish the memories of his smile and laughter.  It is near incomprehensible to think of him and our youngest brother Keith passing away so closely together. For better and for worse, they tried to look out for each other, and I guess that is all that any of us can do.

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Donald and Keith in later years

P.S. Several years ago, while pondering what more to do, I wrote the following post called tea. The unnamed soul of the drama was Donald. https://wordsandimagesbycynthia.com/2015/08/18/tea/

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This is a ramble with no meaning except I felt a need to put fingers to the keyboard and share an experience from this day.  I’ve been saving watermelon rind trying to decide if I will try to make some watermelon pickles. Now, I have never eaten such a pickle in my life though when I was little I used to admire their beauty in big jars on store counters. As a child I ate plenty of the fruit itself. My oldest brother still reminisces about the big ones with the big black seeds. I think I remember watermelons so big I could sit on them. Those are hard to find. Small, round, seedless (and in my humble opinion oftentimes tasteless) has become the store norm. I’ve lost my taste for watermelon flesh though I’ve been buying watermelon slices of late. Not for me but for a certain person in my life who needs to drink more water but doesn’t and so I simply place saucers of sliced cold watermelon in front of him. Hydration is hydration.

But now I have these rinds … and I’m in a creative place in my life right now … and so I told him I might try my hand at pickles. And when this person heard my intentions, he remembered words from a poem. “Reflections on a gift of watermelon pickles,” he said. We looked it up, a poem by John Tobias.  As I began to read it out loud, Steve, who has a wicked memory for poetry, stopped me to say, “I don’t think I’ve ever actually read the poem. I just know those few words.” And so I finished reading the poem and he was silent and when I looked up I saw that he had been moved to tears.

I think my big brother who is near Steve’s age would cry too. Not so my 12-year old friend. Her response to reflections on a life lived would be quite different than people five decades older. This is a rambling post with no photographs because there is no photograph that can compare to the rich imagery embedded throughout the poem … except maybe one day I’ll come across one of those big ol’ watermelons and split it open and let the sun shine on the pink flesh, black seeds and white rind … and maybe that would be an appropriate pairing of image with the following words. We’ll see …

 

Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity

During that summer
When unicorns were still possible;
When the purpose of knees
Was to be skinned;
When shiny horse chestnuts
(Hollowed out
Fitted with straws
Crammed with tobacco
Stolen from butts
In family ashtrays)
Were puffed in green lizard silence
While straddling thick branches
Far above and away
From the softening effects
Of civilization;

During that summer–
Which may never have been at all;
But which has become more real
Than the one that was–
Watermelons ruled.

Thick imperial slices
Melting frigidly on sun-parched tongues
Dribbling from chins;
Leaving the best part,
The black bullet seeds,
To be spit out in rapid fire
Against the wall
Against the wind
Against each other;

And when the ammunition was spent,
There was always another bite:
It was a summer of limitless bites,
Of hungers quickly felt
And quickly forgotten
With the next careless gorging.

The bites are fewer now.
Each one is savored lingeringly,
Swallowed reluctantly.

But in a jar put up by Felicity,
The summer which maybe never was
Has been captured and preserved.
And when we unscrew the lid
And slice off a piece
And let it linger on our tongue:
Unicorns become possible again.

by John Tobias

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That’s not his name but that’s what he represents. This is one of my littlest cousins, Aiden. His favorite color is red … or at least it used to be. He wrote me a letter (with some loving assistance) asking me about my favorite color. I wrote him back and told him orange … or at least it used to be. When I watch, read and listen to the news, because I have to do that, it can be quite dispiriting to think about the future. But then I can think of this little person with his hands clasped, ready to take on the world. With loving assistance …

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Over sixteen years ago, I made one of those haphazard, following one’s desires versus common sense, maneuvers. I walked away from the world of full-time employment, full-benefits, great office, etc and wandered with rose-colored glasses into a world of mostly self-employment, cobbling together different gigs, and sometimes having no benefits at all, done so that I could indulge in the world of creativity. I’d grown up in a family of storytellers and for a variety of reasons I reached a point in my life where I wanted to spend time writing. I thought I would write a great fantasy masterpiece but what flowed most naturally were stories of the people around me, and occasionally, stories about myself. This was long before I picked up a camera but I have always been visual and so I wielded the pen like a paintbrush, sketching the world around me. I had no idea what I was doing and so every little bit of encouragement was pivotal in keeping me from giving up. As I began to submit my work, one of the first magazines to accept a short piece was the New York-based magazine African Voices. The editors were so encouraging and so supportive, and as I watched videos on its current GoFundMe page, I hear writers and artists expressing that same sentiment today. As Giving Tuesday approaches, please consider giving to an organization like African Voices. You don’t have to wait until tomorrow morning. As you can see on the GoFundMe page, every little bit helps. And meanwhile … it’s dusty … could use some revision perhaps … but here is a variation of what I wrote so long ago …

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my parents in the 1950s

Wait Until Morning

She sits on the edge of the bed, gazing into a large bureau mirror.  She smokes a Pall Mall or perhaps a Winston Salem.  She’s not sure.  She can’t remember if she pulled the cigarette from her purse or his coat pocket.  She can usually taste the difference but not tonight. In her mind’s eye, she sees her youngest son frowning and wrinkling his nose at the smoke.  She shakes her head at his face, then sighs as the image fades to be replaced by the items on the bureau top.  Pictures mostly and pill bottles and knick knacks from her children.  Most of the pictures and their frames are fuzzy with dust.  She is too tired to clean proper.  Only one picture shines clear in the dim light of the lamp – her  mother.

The woman looks at the picture and then at herself in the mirror.  She glances quickly away – she never liked her face – but the image remains.  Hair gray like her mother’s now, wide-rimmed glasses, skin weathered and dry no matter how much lotion she rubs on.  The bed is also reflected.  She stares at the crisp clean covers.  For the first time in 40 years, only on one side are they folded back.  She squeezes her eyes shut and clutches her stomach.  He is gone.

He bought her the scanner that sits near the bed. Fifteen years ago?  Maybe more. She saw it on “Let’s Make a Deal.”  She wanted one and he bought it for her birthday.  He always did his best to get her what she wanted.  A female police dispatcher’s voice barks from the scanner.  Somewhere downtown a tall black male is being chased by the police.  Her stomach knots and the breath catches in her thin chest.  All her sons are tall black males.  She breaths again as she remembers that her sons are at work or with their girlfriends.

Wind blows and the old house creaks.  A draft kisses her bare ankles.  “A small wood frame house” was how the reporter from the local paper described the house in his article about her daughter, on her way to college, the first one.  Her stomach clenches again at the thought of her daughter so many miles away, unreachable if she gets into trouble.

She sighs and puffs more deeply on the cigarette.  The house creaks again, and she smiles.  A junk heap, yes it was.  Their junk heap for 45 years.  Raised four children in it.  Would’ve been five if times had been better.  Two girls instead of the one.

More creaking.  She thinks of grabbing the iron poker by her chair in the living room.  The poker went with the coal stove they had in the 1950’s.  Back then, it was only used to nudge glowing coals.  Now … the neighborhood’s getting bad.  But, as she always told her children, a person might get in, but he sure wouldn’t leave in the same condition.  Hands clench at that thought, hands that have wrung chicken necks on the farm, picked tobacco, cradled babies and caressed the skin of just one man.

She glances at the phone and then the digital clock on the bureau.  Twelve hours until the hospital allows phone calls.  Then she can hear his voice.  Patient, calming, distracted if the TV is on.  She rises briefly from the bed, unaware of the hollow that she’s worn into the mattress over the years.  She turns down the light to a warm glow and then puts out the cigarette.  Sliding into bed, she draws the covers up to her chin and closes her eyes to wait for morning.

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… a little boy with big bottles of bubbles. Photos of one of my littlest cousins taken by his older cousin. Hope that smile and those bubbles brighten your day.  🙂

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Thanks, L!

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Dorcas is one of a set of two windows purchased by William Amory (1808-1888) in memory of his parents Thomas Coffin Amory (1767-1812) and Hannah Rowe Linzee Amory (1775-1845).

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Located in the north transept of Trinity Church in Copley Square, the window was installed between 1877-1878. According to the literature, both the Amory and Linzee families had long been associated with the parish which was found in 1733. Designed and executed by Burlison & Grylls of London, the window depicts the biblical figure of Dorcas, a woman of wealth, who aided those who were in need. In this case the artist shows Dorcas throwing a garment over someone beseeching her for aid.

 

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It is a beautifully rendered window full of drama and rich colorful detail. See for yourself when you have the chance: http://trinitychurchboston.org/visit/tours

Dorcas

 

 

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On my birthday I have to celebrate my parents … the good, the bad and all of the beauty in between.

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From her lovely garden in Brooklyn. These that weren’t eaten on the road back to Boston were sliced up with some cucumbers and celery and tossed with oil and vinegar. Good stuff! 🙂

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I finally found the leaf, curled but not crumbled, at the bottom of a bag. It survived the trip from South Carolina through three states before returning to Massachusetts. It came from a tree in my uncle’s yard originally planted by his wife. One day at the kitchen table she mentioned making a cup of fig tea. I’d never heard of such a thing.

She pointed to the tree outside, wide canopied with dark flat leaves, and said it was too bad we hadn’t been visiting when the branches had been weighted down with fruit and the birds were all about. She sometimes made a jam, she said, but this year she just pulled off some leaves to dry and make tea. As I snapped off my leaf, I promised to photograph it as it dried and then its final journey into tea. She laughed.

I think this leaf has a bit more drying to do and until then makes a fun photographic subject.

 

 

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