Sunday, May 14, 2006

May, Mabel, Doug and Me: Column for the Bay City Times

I spent a good part of Mother’s Day at the Bay City Players for the second weekend of “Meet Me in St. Louis”. Susan Meade was there - lovely as ever – in her crinkly gold silk blouse, distressed-and-deconstructed-pearl-and-lace-encrusted jeans, and unfaltering smile.

We sat behind a Queen-Anne-legged table chatting and offering season tickets to anyone who glanced our way. Into our triangle drifted an apricot-coated little lady with white hair being led past by her daughter.

They paused in their passing and Little asked of Susan in the slightly tremulous voice that is proof of a full life, “Did you know me?”

Without waiting for any reply beyond our politely interested facial expressions, Little's mouth set into a quietly certain smile and answered herself: “You knew me.". Susan said looking into Little’s eyes with a similar smile, “Yes.”

As the daughter led her away, Little said with an urgency that made me listen very carefully: “My name is May.”

Then she was gone, but my day was altered and I was minded of other little ladies. Other mothers. Other children. Other urgencies. And Mabel.

Mabel was a ninety-something-year-old woman who lived at the same nursing home as my Great Uncle Sol (a cousin, actually) in South Dakota. The main difference between she and he was that, while my family were there to visit him, no one came to visit Mabel.

I passed her in the hall as I set out on a passing-the-time exploration and – for some reason known only to her Alzheimer’s and herself – I was recognized as and assumed to be a boy named Doug.

I never found out if Doug was a nephew, son or grandson, but I did learn a great deal about him as Mabel reminded me of things any self-respecting Doug should have known.

Doug and I apparently had the same ready laugh. Doug played baseball and the piano. Doug loved chasing fireflies and climbing trees. But, most of all, Doug was deeply, wholly unforgettably, unreasonably and lastingly loved of a woman named Mabel who seemed to remember very little beyond that love. For some reason not to be found, I was where he should’ve been, and – for a while – I was alright being a boy named Doug.

I stopped to chew on this for a bit backstage at the Players in Bay City and realized that May, Mabel, Doug and me were linked by time, sympathy, empathy and humanity and that everything living will age, fade, falter and eventually be forgotten, but old is not dead as long as one is remembered.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


First night of Passover tonight. It was snowing last year and raining this. I think I prefer the whiter, colder version.

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

"I am going to beat you with a penny and eat your little dog."

Kendra is one of the irregulars (as in personalities) that frequent the coffee house at 810 Saginaw Street. Kendra is . . . special.

She learned rather abruptly last year that the bubble of my personal space is larger than that of most folks. Large enough to accommodate Glenda, Good Witch of the North. Hoopskirts and all. Kendra also learned that attempting to enter said space without a permit can be dangerous.

She plopped down nearby and announced that she thought her new shampoo made her hair smell like coconut. "Doesn't it smell like coconut? Here, smell," and she leaned forward to let me 'niff.

I said no and attempted to move a way, and she kept offering the top of her head. As she swooped forward again, I thumped her stiffly on the head with a giant English penny (c. 1798) that I usually have in my pocket and happened to have in my hand. She withdrew rapidly with her eyes watering.

Her head may or may not have smelled of coconut, but it certainly sounded like one. Kendra learned that, while most American airspace is still unprotected, some patches are simply not safe to cross unannounced.

She looked at me appalled and asked, "What was that?!" I told her it was a penny for her lack of thought.

I am pleased to state that we have moved beyond issues of smell and space and now chat amiably about the pieces of writing each is working on without incident.

The other day we sat on the stoop of 808 Saginaw Street where we use to when it was my stoop and played with her Chihuahua, Abbie.

While sitting there a biddy in drove up in a minivan named Montana and prompted a discussion on the topic of old ladies named after states. It was surprising how many are out there and interesting what effect being named after a large piece of dirt seems to have on the personality.

Also while sitting there, the UPS guy crossed the street toward the coffee house and us with a package on his shoulder that kept him from seeing that we were there. As he approached the curb he paused, giggled and hopped gleefully into the massive puddle of water caused by the warmth of the day winning out over the snow on the street. Then he went into the coffee house to deliver his package.

I played with a dog, met a minivan named Montana, and witnessed a grown man giggle and hop into a puddle. Such were the gifts of the day.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Eskimo Kisses

Eskimo Kisses

Tuesday, February 21st, 2006, 8:43:03 p.m.

I noticed
as I walked up Washington Avenue
through the night
and toward the old theater
that my neighborhood
was sleepier than usual.
There were few people
and fewer cars
on the street
with it’s thick coating of ice.
An unusual brand of near silence
filled the city's empty spaces
Making things quiet as a "hush"
into personalized declarations.
Every ice-covered branch and twig moved silently
and stiffly
making tiny
crystalline sounds
as they tried to rub together
like a chapped hands in the dry wind.
I was left with the impression
of something between
the tinkling of a music box
and the crackle of glass
just after
an automobile accident.
It began to lightly, very lightly snow
and a single flake
(barely cold enough to exist)
fell on the tip of my nose
and tickled a bit
as it melted.
I looked up into the falling flakes and grinned
that touch
reminded me
of my childhood
and the way
my mom
was so fond of giving
Eskimo kisses
when I was small.