Monday, June 29, 2009

parents reality check

a parents "reality check" to see how well they're preparing kids for the future.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

76th and Tibbets

Corner of 76th and Tibbets
The boys, their sons,
My dad and his brothers
Called it 76
Always white with green trim
Side view looked like a barn
It was “the house” in my mind
Always, there, always part of our family

The garage was across a walk way
And there was a hidden key
I watched my dad get it, over the years
Later when I was in high school
I’d stop by, knowing they’d be gone
With a friend or two
Get the key and
Hang out inside for a while

In the back yard
Was a plum tree
That we’d pick from each year
And a weeping willow
Great for climbing
And pretending to be
Adventurers or lost children
The Columbus Day Storm
Split its core
It hung limp for years
Until finally cleared away

Two floors and a full basement
Half finished as a party room
Light paneled walls
And a bar by the fireplace
They were cocktail and hard liquor people
We’d sneak sips
With our cousins
When the adults were upstairs
I only knew a few of the people
Whose faces filled party pictures
That covered the walls

On party nights
I’d be upstairs, with my brother
Listening to the music pulse
Through the floors
And when brave
We’d sneak to the top of the stairs
To catch a glimpse
Finally in deep sleep
Dad would get us out
Of bed late at night
And we’d drive home

On the other side of the basement
Was a work bench
Laundry area
And a chest freezer
That always had Eskimo Pies that
I thought grandpa would
Bring them back from Alaska each fall

Grandma was so thin, boney
Dark, permed hair
And flowery dresses
She had a bedroom on the main floor
Next to the bathroom
It all smelled of perfumes and powders
She slept with a mask
Over her eyes
Had a lady-like cigarette case yet
Don’t remember her smoking much

She worked late nights
For the phone company
Connecting voices, lives
From across town and around the world
She’d sleep until almost noon

We’d listen to 45’s in the party room
Hits of the day
And dance with grandma
At Christmastime she’d make us kiss her
Under the mistletoe

Tension, outbursts and distance
Defined the family
Each son quit high school
And joined the service
She’d fight with her son’s
If they talked at all
She said they’d be sorry when she died
Their half-joke response
Was that we’d never know
Because she’d outlive us all
She didn’t, she died
Before grandpa
Before any of her sons
A few months before her
First great-grand child arrived

Grandpa lived upstairs
With the boys
Two bedrooms and a bath
Story was my dad shared
Grandpa’s room while growing up

He would leave every summer
For cannery work in Alaska
May have cherished
The break from grandma

He’d go to bed early
And rise in similar fashion
We’d sleep in the room
Across the hall when our
Parents were away
Get up early with him
He’d make Cream of Wheat
And toast for breakfast
With real butter
Every time
We’d sit at the Formica, kitchen table
Looking at the willow tree
Until it was gone

There was an attic off his bedroom
My older cousin showed us slide pictures
Of topless women
We’d hold them up to
The single, bare light bulb
Hanging from the rafters
Fascinated, afraid, fixated

After grandma got ready
On Saturday
They would go grocery shopping
She in her dress
And he in a white shirt, slacks
And a hat to cover his bald head
Always he drove
Always the same store
Always together

He’d been a cowboy
Working on a ranch in Montana
After coming to the states
As a young boy from Germany

She’d been a school teacher
And enjoyed correcting our grammar

She was embarrassed
He didn’t have a middle name
She gave him an initial
I often wondered why
She didn’t give him the whole name

In her mind all people
Should be Methodists and democrats
And you should never wear blue jeans
Those were for poor people
Who didn’t know better
Or couldn’t afford more

As teenagers we’d be sure to wear
Our oldest jeans when visiting

After grandma died
Grandpa stayed on ten plus years
Heard he started drinking
Finally he went to a nursing home
We visited shortly before he died

My dad’s oldest brother
Lived in the house for a while
I heard the stairs were more than
His joints could handle
I heard he sold 76

Thursday, June 18, 2009

He Didn't Care

She took the kids, left a note. “Don’t call… I filed… get a lawyer…” He read it four, maybe five times.

Went online, “local attorneys.” Started calling, too late, all closed. Hesitated, phoned his folks, mom answered. He almost hung up. She invited him for dinner saying, “You shouldn’t be alone.”

“Maybe tomorrow.” Probably not, he thought.

Rummaged the freezer. Stuck something in the microwave. Turned on ESPN. Burned the hell out of the roof of his mouth. Tossed the empty container in the trash.

Couldn’t sleep. Went driving. By midnight he was lost, within an hour he didn’t care.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I Choose Washing Dishes, Of Course

I have often said,
and only partially in jest,
that when the socialists take over
I’ll choose dishwashing
for my new career
I mean, if we all get paid the same
why not?

It’s so perfect
you can always see
what needs to be done
and easily measure success
clean or not yet clean enough
you can work by yourself
or with a friend
and listen to music,
as loud as you want
others usually leave you alone
for fear of having to get involved
your efforts contribute
to the health and enjoyment of others
and if you break a dish,
it can be easily replaced
they take the money
out of your check

it’s not like messing with
somebody’s head or soul
like teaching or ministry
I’ve done both
what if you set someone up
to believe things,
commit to things,
base their life on things
and it turns out
you were wrong?

I mean, if you really mess up
washing dishes
you might give people
a case of diarrhea
but that’s usually
gone in a few days
and everybody
will soon need more clean dishes
to start eating, again

I firmly believe that manual trumps machine
you are fully there, holding each piece
scrubbing, rinsing, stacking to dry
I know that it’s better to use
the machine, it’s more sanitary
and air drying beats towels
I usually give in to the convenience
yet rejoice when systems are
down or unavailable
like when camping
where we heat the water
fill the tubs
and wash while talking
to others gathered around the fire

one summer at camp
I was a dishwasher
it was the year I met Connie
I was seventeen
and worked with other guys
in the back of a kitchen
that dripped with steam and sweat
we had an old beast of a machine
melmac dishes, at least that’s
what we called them,
passed through
on a conveyer belt
two hundred plus kids
make a lot of mess

some days we’d get assigned pots and pans
didn’t matter
we were young, caught in the moment
away from home
living with the best friends we’d
ever had
even though we’d only known them
a few weeks
a couple of hours after each meal
and we were off to play with campers,
flirt with girl counselors
or wander the woods

back home, senior year
grandpa helps me get a job
at the steak house where he works
he’s day shift and I’m nights
rarely see him
more dishes
cooks come and go
waitresses of twenty-one or twenty-two
seem so old
they toss sexual innuendos focused
on my embarrassment
for their evening’s entertainment
grandpa waits months until he
tells the owner of our family connection
wonder if he was stalling for me
to prove myself

my dad bought a dishwasher
for our family when I was about ten
he’d worked in Alaska for the summer
made a lot of money
was splurging
it was a GE, we were GE people
had to hook the hose to the kitchen sink
if you didn’t get it quite right
water sprayed all over the room
we rolled it under a counter top when
not being used
for a while it was more fun to wash dishes
than to mow the lawn

I remember a fight
with my mom
over dirty dishes
more of an argument
she never could see well
and paid little attention to details
I was tired of dirty dishes
just let me do them
my dad came to her rescue
and that was that

I remember the day a friend’s son died
I went to their house
they lived near
hung around as family gathered
after a while I went into the kitchen
and started washing dishes
there were a lot
I was in there when the grandma arrived
I heard them tell her
she screamed, collapsed
and sobbed on the floor

I do most of the dishes at our house
daily duties or celebrations
there’s a rhythm to it
a sense of accomplishment
no one else seems to like it

on holidays it gets me up from the table
I get restless of sitting on hard chairs
others seem to be able to stay for hours
I need the break

everybody appreciates it
and I’m in my place
it’s a perfect trade-off

Sunday, June 7, 2009


Dad made it happen. June 26 every year. Don’t think he told anyone why, not even Mom. Said it was because I was born the day after Christmas. Usually my birthday felt like something of an afterthought, parental obligation.

We’d go to a game, majors if possible, minors when necessary. If needed he’d take the day off and sometimes we traveled. Even made sure his death didn’t break the rhythm. Got sick in August and was gone by Thanksgiving. Almost twenty years since.

I go each year with my kids. Never told them why. Maybe it’s more for him than me.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I saw it

I saw it. Tried not to, but it was there. That slight, dark red trickle from nose to lip. Soon she’d taste it and we’d both know. Resignation would overtake us. For so long we’d hoped. For so long we’d prayed. She’d done all the doctors asked. We were good people. This wasn’t supposed to happen. She was young, hell we were young. Kids, jobs, friends, dreams. We knew what they’d say. They’d be so sorry. All treatments been exhausted. They’d do all they could to alleviate the pain. I looked at my watch, as if it would make a difference.