Saturday, July 19, 2014

regret

A Cache of Words Writer's Group Just Write Challenge
July 14th Prompt: Write a poem about regret





Deep in the night is when the ghosts come out.
Longing and dreaming and crying like babies;
Relentless haunts – no excuses
Of better things that kept me-
Make them go away.
Dreams unrealized;
Joy stillborn;
Victories not realized;
Absolute darkness creeping in –
How can I make it up to you?
Forgive whatever you can...

I have no like-gift for myself.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Argentina

July 8: A Cache of Words Writer's Group writing prompt for July 8th:

Argentina has a rich history and landscape. 
Write a poem or story about it or the recent news coming from there.




Their uniform colors are blue and white; stripes that descend vertically, rather than horizontally, different from their flag.  The horizontal flag stripes are forever etched into my heart.  I still remember painting it on the faces of kids the morning of the Argentina vs. Nigeria match in 2010. My kitchen was alive the morning of the game against Nigeria then; the game was to be held at Ellis Park later in the day and Mario was going with three guys who were given tickets by a group of American nurses. 

Argentina won that game, three to Zero.

Situated in the south-east corner of South America, Argentina is far from a poor third-world country.  Their economy is thriving, their beef is the best in the world and their Spanish is elitist, almost Spanish Spanish and we Mexican Americans see them as our light-skinned second cousins who live worlds away from us.  Still, I hope they defeat Netherlands and crush them deep into the earth and come away cheering in Spanish – the world needs to cheer in Spanish again!


Germany and Argentina.  The only thing they have in common besides two incredible soccer teams is a history of harboring Nazis. hmmm...

Go Argentina!  


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Friday, July 11, 2014

reading



Beatrice


You might be checking out my blog because you think I have new car – I don’t. 

In fact, I drive a 1998 Volvo – a square and boxy one that I used to make fun of when I was younger.  I love my car – her name is Beatrice and I call her my old lady.  Reading is a skill that most Americans are losing slowly but surely.  Their chances of beating the affliction we have named as ADD (or ADHD) increase tremendously if they simply read regularly.  By the time you have reached this sentence, most Americans have already moved on and clicked off this blog post. 

As a writer, my job is to keep you reading.  Here is the challenge: as a writer, I annoy a lot of you.  I write, read and talk a lot about how much I write and read.

How often do you read? What do you read when you do read?  Newspapers and comics count – so be fearless in answering.  Where ever you read this, post your reading habits and what your favorite thing to read is. 


By posting, you are doing even a greater thing than reading: you are connecting.  This is also a skill that Americans are losing, slowly but surely.  Let’s connect and stay connected!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

meteorite

A Meteorite has hit the earth very close to you. What do you see?


Photo Credit


It was Friday the 13th, a day my Grandma told me to stay off the road.

“Mijo,” she said as I left her house.  “I know you drive a truck, but you must call in sick on Friday.  I have a feeling down deep it will be a bad day.”

“Ah, Grandma, I gotta work.”

“No,” she shook her head with such force that the braids at the back of her head shook like the reigns of a horse.  “Call in sick, Jose.”

I couldn't say no to my Grandma, so I told her I would call in sick.  I had no intention of missing work; I had taken a good job that paid good money. I was scheduled to bring a load of portable toilets to Burning Man and I was pretty stoked to do it - it was really good money.  I had no intention of listening to my Grandma’s superstitious warnings.

Friday morning, as I brushed my teeth, I remembered what Grandma said.  I laughed at her perception of what I did.  I was an independent contractor with my own truck; she suggested that I call in sick.  I guess I can call in sick to myself, huh? 

The roads were so clear at four a.m.; I always liked the early start.  My bullet thermos was filled with coffee, and I had two leftover tamales from the night before.  Jane agreed to manage without me for the weekend; soccer tournaments and activities with the kids would have to all be done without me there -again.

I was changing the radio station when I saw it: A flash of light zipped in front of me – like a plane on fire, crash-landing right in front of me.  I slowed down, startled.  Then  (Ba-BOOM!)  an explosion  lifted my cab up and slammed it down again.  My ears stopped working; thank God I had my eyes shut tight because my side window imploded.  Glass flew everywhere and I felt it, like sand in my face.  I breathed in smoke and coughed, which popped my ears.  What were those fumes? I cautiously opened my eyes and saw the road: a horizon in front of me.  My truck had miraculously stayed upright.  I was stalled, but upright.  I looked over my left shoulder to see the field on fire; a ball of fire, as if the sun met the earth.

“What in the hell…?”

I heard horns; people honking behind me.  I looked over my left shoulder to see a row of incongruous cars, all upright, but most knocked off the road.  Black smoke billowed from two vehicles in the fast lane; one was on top of the other.

I quickly did a quick inventory of my rig.  Everything seemed to be in order; should I go out?  No cars were moving and I needed to check to see if my tires were popped or…. 

I cautiously opened my door and stepped on to the road.  The field was hypnotic.  Everyone was staring at it.  It was ablaze -  a flaming rock, buried in the dirt at its center.  In front of it, a burnt path was smoking from where it skidded to a halt. 

“A meteorite?” I whispered. 

I looked around.  The impact caused several explosions of windshields;  broken glass covered the highway like confetti.  In addition to the glass, mirrors and plates were on the street; a few, like me had left their vehicles.   We all seemed dumbstruck; my ears were ringing.  In the distance I heard a low roar, the sound of flames. 

Above me, a helicopter appeared and circled above us.  I looked up, observing a machine with greater power than the burning rock.  It hovered, clever and careful, watching us all below; observing the meteorite and all of the victims below it.   The great fuming rock hissed and sputtered, but wasn’t moving.  It nearly killed me.  Now it was stuck in that field, smoking and reminding us all that we weren’t so safe from the greater space that surrounded us. 

I guess Grandma was right.

After the highway was cleared I called my buddy, Jerry, to meet me at the I-5 truck-stop where we used to have coffee.  I asked him if he would consider trading vehicles for the weekend.  He could take the truck to Burning Man for me; I could take his car to use until he returned.  He seemed pretty stoked about taking the job;  it paid really good money. 

Jane was surprised to see me when I showed up at soccer.  “What are you doing here?” she asked, coyly.

When she hugged me, I didn’t want to let go.  I was so happy to be alive; so scared of losing her and the kids.   In a few seconds she realized something had happened. 

“What happened?”

I told her the story, but it occurred to me that it wasn’t a long one.  Even now, as I tell it in words it goes like this:  I was driving and then I saw a flash of light.  It turned out to be  a meteorite that caused a great explosion and even lifted the cab up off the ground; it broke my window.  Jerry took the truck and I took his car, realizing that I couldn’t drive.  I’m pretty sure I’m okay now. 

That’s the story.  It really doesn’t sound so bad, does it? 

Grandma was right; I shouldn’t have gone.  I should have offered the job to Jerry in the first place.  Now when I drive, I feel edgy and hyper-alert.  I wish things would get back to how it was before.  The whole experience left me empty and afraid; I want to know why.


Saturday, July 5, 2014

mother

July 5th Writing Prompt: This picture is one entitled "Migrant Mother" - (Later "Destitute Pea-picking Family in Depression") taken by Dorothea Lange in 1936.It was supposedly taken just outside of Nipomo, California. Write a paragraph of her thoughts. What is she thinking?

Migrant Mother by Dorthea Lange
Public Domain


It’s been four days since we had real bread.  This morning we had rice and beans, but we had to cook em all and now we sit here waitin.  Jim and two of my elder boys went off to town to git the radiator repaired, but I don’t know how they’re gonna fix it without no money.  We gotta have the car.  Without the car, we’ll starve for sure.

 We came here to harvest early peas, but the harvest never came.  What has come is people, and lots of em.  There must be ten thousand families camped here, waitin just like us.  The farmer’s  association decided to send a notice to call for pea pickers all the way to the dust bowl to bring those folk in for cheap labor, but the early freeze came and destroyed all the crop.  

The folk from Oklahoma and Missouri came, all of em with their homes packed up in their trucks.  Those folk aren’t like us; they’re pale and skinny, not used to the fields of California.  Even so, they’re like us;  all of us are in the same boat.  Waitin and starvin together and nobody seems to care. 
 
A girl with a camera come by and says can I take your picture, do you mind? I don’t have the energy not to mind, but the little uns don’t have their faces scrubbed so they look away.  One of em puts her face into my shoulder and hides, she’s so ashamed.  

We all are waitin, just knowin that maybe Jim might get that radiator fixed and maybe someone might give him something to eat for the kids.  We might as well just sleep here tonight.

The girl says thank you missus what’s your name.  I tell her its Florence and she asks me what else.  I can’t tell her Christie, the name I was born with; I can’t tell her Owens cuz that husband of mine died and left me to fend for myself and find Jim.  I can’t tell her Hill because Jim and I aren’t quite married in the church, even if we have three kids including this baby in my arms, so I tell her – Florence Leona.  My middle name is Leona and I won’t be lyin.

She just nods, like she’s done askin questions.  She doesn’t seem like the rest of us; her shoes have no more than two days dirt on em.  She tells me don’t worry mam these’ll never git published anyway.  I ask her why she doesn’t take a bigger picture, one of all the people, sittin and waitin under tents out here.    That way, if a newspaper buys it the people will be forced to look at us, all of us starvin at their doorstep.  If I were you, I tell her, I’d take that kinda picture.  She just thanks me and walks away.  I don’t have too much energy left to care about that picture.   Just one picture of my face isn’t gonna make a big difference to a bunch of out here now, is it?



Dorthea Lange, the photographer who took this picture, sent it and five others that she took of Florence Leona Owens Thompson  to the San Francisco News and the Resettlement Administration in Washington, D.C.  Papers ran the pictures almost immediately, with Lange’s report that 2,500 to 3,500 migrant workers were starving in Nipomo, California.  Within days, the pea-picker camp received 20,000 pounds of food from the federal government.  By the time it arrived, Florence and her nine children had moved on with her common law husband, Jim Hill, in their newly repaired car to  Watsonville, California – where they were working the harvest.   


Migrant Mother, the picture of an era, is one of the most famous portraits in the USA.


Friday, July 4, 2014

fourth




I was thirteen years old on July 4, 1976.  We were in the middle of a family vacation, my parents and four siblings, travelling across the United States in a Station wagon, pulling a pop-up camper.  In retrospect, I think my parents had to be either nuts or unusually optimistic – we lived in California and we were bound for Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

We traveled one or two major states a day in the car, stopping at National parks along the way at about 4:30 or 5 in the afternoon.  There we would set up the camper, explore, swim or “hang out” by the campfire. 

By the 3rd of July we were in Washington D.C. (I think it finally dawned on me that my father had planned it that way.)  There was a major parade in the city (to be televised the following day) and we watched it with hoards of people wearing visors and waving small flags. I don’t remember much about the floats or the bands or the actual parade; what I remember is that my Dad actually let me stand on a wall the whole time and I felt free and easy, like a hippie.

Looking back , it was amazing.  I was part of history.

It was the nation’s Bicentennial celebration, celebrating 200 years free of Tory rule – free and standing tall.  It meant a lot to us as a nation to celebrate this way.  We were all recovering from Watergate and the Viet Nam war – people felt betrayed by their government.  My father and mother were dyed in the wool Democrats and they were ready for some healing... they charged head-first into it.  They were as patriotic about the country's healing as they were about its roots.  

That day standing on the wall, watching the parade, I felt truly American.

I also remember one other thing about that day; boys.  There were so many boys in Washington D.C. and they all looked at me like I was actually cute.  It was the first time I realized I was pretty – for a thirteen year-old girl.

This is probably my favorite memory of Fourth of July – and I have a lot.  It’s always been a great holiday for me.  I hope it has been for you.


Happy Fourth; God bless us, everyone.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

ride

A Cache of Words Writer's Group Picture prompt for July 3 - 
Write a story, poem or song about this picture



The day before she went into the hospital, Aunt Rita asked me to go with her on a bike ride, which I thought as terribly bad timing.  Why ask me?  I thought.  Ask Rachel; she’s your daughter!  And Rachel  doesn’t have three kids … 

I agreed, mainly because she was scheduled for surgery the following day.  I’m her go-to neice that Aunt Rita calls for everything  and I love her, despite her propensity to call at the most inconvenient times.  Since I didn’t have to take her to the hospital (Uncle Bill got a rare day off) I told her I would love to, which actually was only half-true. 

I drove up to her condo at 7:30 a.m., my black Surly thrown in the back of the Wagoneer.  Aunt Rita’s bike, I thought as I pulled into her carport, would have to fit next to mine.  This is going to be tricky, I thought, as I opened the tailgate.  My Steamroller was fully equipped with a basket in front and took up too much space already. 

“Hi, Grace!”  I heard Aunt Rita call and I spun around.  She was walking toward me, pushing an ancient Schwinn 10-speed (complete with curled handlebars).  The “click-click-click” resounded of yesteryear. 

“Is that your bike?” I asked, sounding like a teenage girl.  I quickly corrected my tone.  “Is it fully operational?”

“I just had it serviced last week at the bike shop,” Aunt Rita seemed proud, unfazed by my judgmental question.  “It was my bike when I married your Uncle Bill!”  She was smiling as she looked at it, the expression of a young mother. 

“Okay, then.  Let’s go!”

“Here’s another good thing, honey,” she giggled, looking over my Steamroller .  “My bike is very small and light and won’t be that hard to fit on top of yours.”

+++

Aunt Rita had chosen the river trail for our bike ride; I knew it well from many rides.  Before Gerald and the kids came along, I entered many races and “rode competitively”.  That’s what I liked to say when people asked me what I did for exercise.  “Me?   I cycle; occasionally competitively.”

I never placed in any race; I never even came close.  I just liked saying I was among the competitors.  The feel of pedaling into the wind, straining my quadriceps uphill, was sheer elation.  Nothing was better than the joy of riding.  When I met Gerald, he bought a bike and joined me, but we rode romantically, never too fast.  

I had to go out without him to train; it felt lonely after Gerald.  When the kids came, the bike was stored in our new garage, hanging on special hooks that reminded me that I could get away at any time…

I wasn’t expecting a fast race with Aunt Rita.  She was sixty-five and didn’t even bring a helmet.  She had a Schwinn 10-speed, for crying out loud.  I might have to teach her how to change gears.

“Let’s ride without helmets today, Grace,” Aunt Rita’s face was like my mischievous five-year-old daughter, Caytlyn’s . 

I laughed.  “We have to wear helmets, Aunt Rita.  I brought an extra one for you,  just in case.”

“Why?  Don’t you want to feel the wind in your hair?  Don’t you want to feel eleven years old again?”

“We’re biking on the river trail.  It’s the law.”

Aunt Rita sat back in her seat.  “Not a law; only a suggestion.”

“I’ve been cycling for awhile now, Auntie.  Helmets are a good suggestion; I’ve seen a lot of accidents.”

“Yeah, well.”

We drove in silence until I pulled into the parking lot.  A valley oak tree extended its arms mercifully over a patch of gravel.  “Thank God,” I whispered as I pulled the Jeep under it.  Even after a two-hour ride we would still be in the shade.  July was so hot; riding early would even feel like mid-day.

We started to unload our bikes; Aunt Rita was still upset about the helmets, I could tell.  I didn’t care; if she wanted a bike ride without helmets, she should have asked Rachel to take her. 

Her bike unloaded easily; mine seemed heavy and bulky as I pulled it out.

“You have a beautiful bike!” Aunt Rita marveled.  “And look at that basket!  What a great idea!”

“Yeah, this bike was a gift from Gerald after Michaela learned how to ride.  He thought I could ride around the neighborhood with her on this.”

“Do you?”

“Not really.  She’s got soccer and everything.  We hardly have time.”

I reached in for the helmets and handed her the nice one.  It used to belong to Gerald, dark green and shiny with the orange reflector on the back.  Mine was beat up- a rouch black and white that had seen better days.  As I handed it over, she looked at me with deep sincerity; I thought she was going to argue. 

“Does she know how much it means to you?”

“What?”

“Does Michela know how much riding means to you?”

"Oh, Auntie..." I hoisted the helmet in her direction and she reluctantly took it from me.  “I used to cycle a lot; I don’t know if it still means that much to me.”

“I don’t know how to put this on,” she was fumbling with the straps.  In an instant, I could see confusion, which gave way to frustration.  The thought scared me; Aunt Rita had a brain tumor and I had forgotten how serious the upcoming surgery was. 

I started to show her by putting my own helmet on, but my face grew hot and I felt like crying all of a sudden.

“Know what?” I said, taking the helmet back from her.  “You’re right.  Let’s be eleven and feel the wind in our hair.”

“Really?”  She was overjoyed, gripping on to the handlebars of her Schwinn and beaming in thanksgiving.

++++

I didn’t need to explain how to switch gears to Aunt Rita; she was actually a pretty good rider.  I wondered if she had ridden before.

“Oh yes,” she was keeping up with my pace and the pebbled path beneath us didn’t seem to bother her.  “I rode my bike nearly every day.  I rode to the store, to the library.  In those days, we only had one car.  
Rachel and I used to ride our bikes to school together!”

I smiled. 

“How is Rachel?  I never hear from her.”

“She’s good, honey.  Busy, you know.”

“Yeah.  Is she still working at the bank?”

“You mean is she still an investment banker?” Aunt Rita raised her eyebrows at me, her hair blowing in the wind. “Yes.  You know, you can pick up the phone and give her a call as well, Grace.”

“I know.  I’m pretty busy with the kids, though.”

“Yeah.  Everyone’s busy now.”  Aunt Rita and I pedaled in silence again.  Rachel and I were dramatically different in temper and personality.  Because of this, we had stopped forcing friendship years ago.  Being cousins didn’t mean we had to be friends. 

Aunt Rita was slowing down and I looked over at her to see why.  She was glancing off to the left, eyeing an open field away from the river, one that had a dirt path that led to a tree.  I knew she wanted to go down there. 

She slowed to a stop; I did too.  We looked together at the sight.  In the morning light, it looked like a postcard. 

“Look how green that field is.”

“Yeah,” I reached for our water bottles, nestled under a towel in my basket.  I handed her one and we both took a drink.  She never took her eyes off the field. 

“Don’t you think it’s unusual for the field to be so green in July?”

I smiled.  Aunt Rita always noticed beautiful things, it was one of the reasons I loved her.

“Yeah, I guess it is unusual.”

She looked back at me and gave me the water bottle; I put it back in the basket under the towel.

“Honey, let’s go down there!”

“No, Aunt Rita.  It’s a dirt road and you’re on an ancient bike.”  She pleaded with me, almost begged me with her eyes.  “ Your tires might pop!”

“Please, honey.  Look how smooth the ground is.”

“First no helmets, now a dirt road.  What’s next, Aunt Rita?”  I was a little mad, but she squealed with delight and we left the river trail for the dirt path that was probably reserved for maintenance vehicles. 

There were no shade trees and the sun was hot on the back of my neck.  Aunt Rita was exuberant, shouting, “See, my tires are fine!” 

I nodded at her. I wondered if Rachel had ever ridden a bike in her life, she didn’t strike me as the type; no wonder Aunt Rita couldn’t ask her.  We rode down the dirt path until it came to a small sign that looked almost English, a peg with two wooden arrows, pointing in opposite directions. 

“Look how beautiful this is!”  Aunt Rita was pointing at the sign, which read: “Private drive” pointing ahead; and “recycling station” to the left. 

“Yeah, it’s beautiful.  Let’s turn around and get back on the trail.  We’re not supposed to be over here.”

Aunt Rita nodded and held out her hand to me.  I took it, moved that we shared a moment together.

“I meant give me my water bottle, honey.”  She was laughing, which made me laugh, too.  “But we can hold hands, too!  I love holding hands!”

We drank for a while and then put the bottles back in the basket.  Aunt Rita decided to give me a lesson   on local history.  “This all used to be farmland, honey.” She waved her hand over the fields.  “This used to be cattle fields and corn fields and alfalfa…  Way back when the city was small.”  I wondered if she was stalling; she appeared to be out of breath. 

“How long ago was that?”

“Oh, I guess right before you and Rachel were born.”

I nodded.  “Shall we?”  I motioned back to the river trail. 

Aunt Rita looked a little worried, but she spoke with careful volume.  “If anything goes wrong tomorrow…”  I looked up suddenly,  paying close attention to her.  “Will you promise me that you will look after Rachel?  Check up on her?  She will literally work herself to death and forget she has a family if she’s left alone.”

My eyes filled with tears.

“Nothing will go wrong, Auntie.”

She nodded, then stroked my forearm.  It was like she was comforting me; preparing me.

“Will you promise?”

I nodded.  Then, as if she decided our tender moment was all over, Aunt Rita turned her Schwinn around, pushed down on her pedal and made her way to the river trail.  Before I followed, I took my phone out of the basket and took a picture of that incredibly green field.

 I had to have some reminder of the ride. 

++++

At the funeral, Uncle Bill and Rachel were inconsolable.  We all were shocked and stunned and were trying to get through the day.  Only a week before I had been on the bike trail with her; now we were mourning Aunt Rita's life together. 

There was a cake and coffee reception at the adjoining church hall, where Aunt Rita’s friends from her church treated us like royalty.  One of them asked me if I was the cyclist.  I wondered how she knew.

I approached Rachel and decided to ask her out to lunch the following week.  She was off in a corner, texting something on her phone and I decided to interrupt her before she left. 

“Rachel?” I felt awkward at first, ignoring the buzz of activity behind me to approach her. 

She turned to me, her makeup perfect and her hair still holding its curl.  When she saw my face, instead of stiffening and putting on her usual air, Rachel melted.  Before I could say anything, we embraced and cried in each others' arms like long-lost sisters.  I never asked her to lunch that day, but I vowed to call her in a few days.  Instead, we greeted family members and Aunt Rita's friends together.  

"Thanks for being here," Rachel whispered to me as we held hands. "I would have felt so alone without you."

That day I didn’t tell her about the promise I made to my Auntie.  I don't know if I ever will; I don't know if I'll ever want to.