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Friday, September 17, 2010

Part II

Confliction incarnate was what sat quietly eating a bowl of kimchi (fermented cabbage soup) on the park bench that day.  Kyung Soon O'Malley...the only child of three generations off-the-boat, town Mayor Ronald O'Malley and his beautiful Korean wife Kyung Mi.  Kyung Soon was a beautiful but volatile creature.  Having inherited her shocking red hair and pale skin from her father and the straight, thick hair texture from her mother along with slightly slanted brown eyes, she was the epitome of all people born Irish-Korean. 

Kyung Soon had been brought up in a strange environment.  Her mother was all quiet--exuding the gentile, peaceful personality of a docile housewife while her father was Irish to the core.  The result was born in Kyung Soon.  She carried herself with a regal shyness born of empires.  However, that composure could fracture and splinter in an instant.  A wicked tempest brewed under her skin and it took merely a hint of provocation to unleash it. 

Kyung Soon, now 22, had recently begun working at the only bank in town.  She was using her lunch hour to both eat her lunch and walk her white miniature poodle named Kashi.  This wasn't a problem as she only lived one town block from the bank.  Dressed in a fancy pale blue linen suit, Kyung Soon was sitting on a park bench in the shade of an oak tree.  She had spread a white linen napkin (embroidered with the O'Malley coat of arms) across her lap and was eating her kimchi from a fancy porcelain crock.  Kashi sat at her heels, barking randomly at the passersby.  First there was the odd jogger, then an old lady with the squeaky walker, followed up by a couple of young mothers pushing their wailing toddlers in strollers.

Kyung Soon ignored her dog as it barked and instead relished every bite of her lunchtime treat.  Kimchi made using her mother's old family recipe was a rare treat.  Most days her mother cooked for the delight and happiness of her father.  So a typical meal in her home was more often Shepherds pie or boiled potatoes with cabbage.

Kyung Soon had inherited a particularly garish piece of jewelry from her Irish grandmother whose tastes had ran somewhat eccentric when she had been alive.  But Kyung Soon loved the heavy silver necklace and it's odd hanging bauble in a way that most couldn't understand.  Since Kyung Soon had a fantastic lineage it also stood to reason she would be allowed to have unusual tastes' in bling.  So, while the long, heavy silver chain strung round her dainty pale neck stood in sharp contrast to her features, it also pointed out her familial diversity.    It contained several faux round emeralds set into the chain at varying intervals and one large, rectangular faux sapphire set in the center of a small wooden pendant-clearly in the shape of an Irish pub sign.  It was as every bit heavy as it looked and though its overall weight and craftsmanship made it solid and strong, the clasp that connected the ends was oddly old and frail.

When Jolly the squirrel spied the jewels as they sparkled in the sporadic dappled sunshine, he knew in an instant he had to have it.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Part I

Jolly was by far one of the most curious and clueless of his kind.  An Eastern Gray squirrel with a penchant for the shiney, he was the first of his litter mates to half-climb, half-fall out of the nest his parents had built high in the arms of a large oak tree.  His mother was the one to save him from the clutches of a large brown dog who was bent on killing him.  While he didn't realize the danger he was in, he was none the less surprised and delighted by his mother's show of enthusiasm when she rescued him.  His litter mates had ran up and down the limbs of their great tree, chirpping and squeaking and making all manner of noises.  They did this in an effort to try and distract the dog, encourage their mother and save their less than intuitive brother.  When she finally managed to get him safely to the tree, just beyond the jaws of the monster, she couldn't decide who needed the chewing out more-her offspring for his unintelligent actions or the dog that had tried to eat him.

When questioned, for he still was unaware he'd done anything wrong, Jolly confessed that it had been a shiney candy wrapper blowing in the wind that had originally caught his attention.  His love of bling had almost been the undoing of both he and his mother.  His mother had gone a little grayer that day-if such a thing was possible.

Within weeks of his first brush with death he'd managed to accumulate quite a few things whose glimmer and sparkle had caught his attention.  Candy wrappers-that smelled just as good as they looked along with a few loose coins and a ladies hair clip.  A small shiney quartz stone with sharp edges that sparkled when the sun hit it just so and a large, silver paper clip he'd discovered near a park bench.  While his littermates learned the art of locating and collecting food, Jolly was absentmindely discovering the joys of trash cans, gutters and the nearby electrical substation.

It was on a beautiful spring day when he and his family were skittering around the park, his parents busily teaching the family ways to survive everything from cat attacks, avoiding flying predators and Papa Squirrels top three reasons to avoid snakes when Jolly's eyes were suddenly caught by the bright glinter of a ladies necklace.  Since his parents had failed to mention humans among the list of "to be feared and avoided" he had no reservations concerning approaching her and appropriating what he thought was a pretty sparkle.   Little did he know that his actions and their unfortunate results would end up turning the world of the local human populace upside down for a time.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

305 Spruce Street

The greeting was nearly always the same, "Hi, Hon!" as any of the grandchildren walked through the door.  We never knocked-we just walked right in.  Through the glass-slatted door that opened in the kitchen and just to the right into the living room where we would all stop and turn to our right long enough to hug our Grandma who sat in her blue recliner.  Sometimes a short line would form and Grandma seemed to be a bottleneck but we'd all take turns hugging her.  She always smiled at us---never a scowl or frown.  Then, as our Paw-paw who sat across the way started teasing us, we would make our way to the other side of the living room.  He would call us each by nickname---never by our given name.  The grandkids would allow the adults to sit in the swan-necked chair or on the stiff red couch.  The kids all sat on the floor Indian style, spread haphazardly around the room.  There we would spend a few minutes answering questions about how we were or what we'd recently learned in school.  After the first few cursory minutes the kids would each begin the inquiry.  Was there anything to eat?  Most often it was cookies-Fudge Stripes, Oreos or chocolate chip...always in the cookie jar in the kitchen.  Paw-paws after-dinner mints, peppermints or lemon drops could be found in the glass candy dish that sat on the stereo in the living room.  On hot summer days there were ice pops, ice cream sandwiches or ice milk.  And on the really good visits there were fresh pecan pies, pound cakes or chocolate cake.  We drank Coca-Cola from glass bottles, fresh homemade lemonade or iced tea. 

It was a good thing that we had plenty of cool drinks and treats around.  Our Paw-paw didn't want an air conditioner installed in his house.  He insisted he couldn't breathe in air conditioned air.  As a result their windows were always full of box fans.  Somedays it was so hot in that little brick house that we would end up moving outside to sit in the shade on the carport in metal lawn chairs.  The kids would fight or take turns (depending on our mood and whether or not there were nearby adults) swinging just behind the house in the swing made from an old ferris wheel seat.  The swing was metal mesh and heavy.  Most often it was cool to the touch since it was situated in the shade of an old gum tree.  It was mounted on large metal pipes that were fitted together and put into the ground in cement, Paw-paw would paint them silver every once in a while to keep them shiney.  The swing was painted whatever color Paw-paw had painted the ceiling of the carport.  We'd beg the adults to push us and the lucky times they did we rode high.  We would all stretch our legs out far and try to touch one of the low-hanging leaves on the gum tree.  When that old swing would start creaking and groaning from use our Grandma would take a swipe of Crisco and put it on the hinges to stop the squeaking.  Our grandparents carport was more than just a place to park the car.  There were chairs sitting out there and visiting was something done on a regular basis.  That was when people still visited each other.  It was nothing to be sitting on the carport having a talk and have a great aunt or uncle pull up for a visit.  Pretty soon the carport would be spilling over with visitors and the adults would be hollaring at the kids to shut the kitchen door because they were letting flies in.

I recall a few times the car being backed out from the carport and setting up the handmade wooden quilting frame for the ladies to work on quilts together.  Aunts and great-Aunts would gather in wooden folding chairs and sit there for hours.  They patiently stitched and talked and us younger girls would sit down long enough to pull through a few perfunctory stitches before running off to play in the yard.  I don't know how many quilts were made on that old quilting frame.  The frame, along with a wonderful old rocking chair and several other neat things at Grandma's house were handmade by my great-grandfather.  It seems that back then there were alot more "things" around a person's house that could tell a story.  Not like today's world where things are purchased on the fly and have no personal connection.  I recall several quilts that those ladies made that were special and very unique.  Crazy quilts and log-cabin quilts made from the old scraps of clothes that were threadbare or ready to retire.  Patches from my Paw-paws Coca-Cola work shirts were sewn into those quilts along with bits and pieces of clothes from other family members.  We could look at those quilts and feel as though we had part ownership in them.  Each of those quilts told a story and they seemed warmer as a result.

My grandparents yard was a good size but I always thought it was huge.  But I suppose that's what a child's eye can see.  The vast expanse of sloping green grass was broken a little over halfway across the back yard by the imposing pecan tree.  The tree was big and had low-growing limbs that we all itched to climb on but we weren't allowed to climb that tree.  Half the yard was fenced in-this was to keep neighborhood kids out or to try and keep grandkids in-maybe a bit of both.  Two mature cherry trees in the far corner of the yard produced unbelievable amounts of cherries and Grandma would bake pies and make cherry preserves.  Grandma's kitchen was always hot and steamy when she canned.  For a number of years there were two plum trees she also made preserves from but I recall hearing adults complain about them.  Apparently the wasps and yellow jackets would hover over the over-ripened fruit that had fallen on the ground.  Eventually those trees were cut down.

During the day if we were outside with her, our Grandma would tell us the names of the birds as they flew through or landed in the yard.  When we were young and didn't know any better she would tell us we could catch a bird if we could put salt on their tail.  There is absolutely no telling how much salt we ended up dumping in that back yard in our bid to catch a bird.  On summer evenings we would wait for the lightening bugs to appear and then we would run around catching them-it was like winning the lottery.  We would fill up a mason jar with those things and watch in amazement as they lit up time and again.

The far left corner of the back yard held a homemade brick pit for cooking barbecue but I don't recall ever seeing it used.  I did hear stories about how my Grandfather's clothes once caught on fire but I'm not sure if the barbeque caused the accident.  Another highlight of the yard was the clothesline and the poles that presented climbing challenges.  I can only speculate the number of times we hung from the ends of those giant "T" poles.   We would take turns shimmying up and down them every chance we got.  Grandma used her clothesline whenever she could because running the clothes dryer was expensive.  It would also heat the kitchen up something aweful.  Add to that the gas stove in the kitchen and you could imagine the heat inside.  Grandma cooked on it every day.  Her kitchen was always full of the smells of a good Southern cook.  Pawpaw would cook breakfast on the weekends-which was always a scream because he would lace up in one of Grandma's old cooking aprons.  He was tall but had a slight belly that the apron would stretch over.  During one such breakfast I remember Grandma loaded up her piece of toast with a huge dollup of her homemade cherry preserves.  I commented that she put too much on her toast and that our mom didn't allow us to eat that much.  Her response was that she liked to taste it on her toast and she didn't skimp on jelly.  Grandma kept a lazy Susan on one end of the table and on it were stored all sorts of condiments along with jelly and jam. 

I remember the day my Grandparents bought a new dining room table to put in their kitchen.  Grandma promptly covered the table with a plastic table cloth to protect it.  I also remember them sitting down to breakfast together and watching as Grandma set out Corelle cups with saucers for them to have their coffee.  I thought it seemed awefully formal to put out a dish to catch runoff coffee when you already had a perfectly handy plastic table cloth to do the job for you.  But I suppose that was something else they had-a set of niceties instilled into them by another era.  Grandma would always pour Paw-paw his coffee and refill it for him while we were sitting at the table.  As a side note, dishes were also washed, dried and put away after every meal and definitely before everyone went to bed (boy would she freak at my house!).

It's strange how some things stick with us.  The little things that we recall.  Like the Reader's Digests magazines sitting on a skinny iron table in the only bathroom they had.  Grandma kept a notepad and a Websters Dictionary in there too.  She would write down any new words she might come across in her reading and look them up-so she could commit them to memory.  That old dictionary had quite a few miles on it.  There was an old metal bell mounted on a plaque that was placed high on the wall outside the bathroom.  It had some poem written on the plaque about using the bathroom.  Ringing the bell was supposedly a nice way to remind the person in the bathroom that there were others that needed to use it.  Ringing it constantly (which is what we kids did) was just plain annoying.  We never had a bell at my house-we just yelled through the bathroom door at whoever was on the other side to hurry up.

When we were allowed to spend the night I always slept in the front guest room.  Grandma had a single bed in her sewing room on the back side of the house but it was usually covered in sewing implements.  So I slept in the front room where there was a double bed situated right beside a window.  At night Grandma would take one of the box fans from the living room and place it in the window beside the bed.  The window sills were wide enough to hold a box fan and the windows themselves were the old crank-out variety.  There were feather pillows on that bed and I always had a devil of a time getting them to fluff up enough.  Occasionally the sharp end of a feather would poke through the pillow casing and I'd pull it out.  I thought that was pretty neat.  We didn't have feather pillows at our house.  That same bedroom had an old picture of Canadian Geese flying low over a marsh on a bright blue day.  It was hung on one wall of that room and I would spend hours gazing at it.  I loved the large fluffy clouds in that picture and I can still remember in my minds eye how it looks to this day. 

On Sundays we sometimes got to visit with our cousins at our Grandparent's house.  We would play hide and seek or tag.  We'd have secret meetings on the steps that led to the basement or we'd get permission to play ball on the basketball court or the tennis court.  We also went to the park just across the way that was in walking distance.  Hours spent on monkey bars or the merry-go-round would wear us out and we'd come home exhausted.

Their home was on Spruce Street.  It was situated just up from a creek that ran through town.  When a sudden summer storm would hit, the creek just below the house would rise quickly and sometimes spill over it's banks.  Heck, it would even cover the road.  After the storm passed Grandma would lead us down to the creek through the rising steam on the street and let us witness how high the water had risen.  She was always cautious...I don't recall there being a time when she didn't warn us all of the dangers of storm runoff.  She would latch on to our hands like vice grips and threaten us if we stepped too close to the rushing water of the creek.  There were times when we all felt like her worry over us was a bit extreme-making us get home by dark and be in bed shortly thereafter when there were still plenty of other neighborhood kids out playing.  Or pulling us into the house when strange cars passed by a little too slowly.  But now I think I understand some of her worry.  It's difficult enough to raise your own children and not over protect them but to have someone else's children in your care makes it even more precarious.  I'm glad she was the way she was.  I'm glad they gave us what freedom they could.   I'm glad for every memory I have of their home and I could probably write many pages still.  But what I've written were some of the highlights from a childhood and grandparents that made a lasting impression.  I miss you guys!

~Love, Gail