Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Mystery: Why am I lying Flat on my Back?

(maybe I should file this under "miscellaneous stupidities".)

It was a dark and stormy night . . .

It was a COLD and stormy night last Monday when this little drama begins. And my icy feet just wouldn't warm up, even tucked snugly under our down comforter. Why didn't we just turn up the thermostat? Well, in the interest of not depleting fossil fuels, contributing to global warming or paying the sky-high cost of natural gas, we were no longer depending on our gas-fired central heating. We were using instead small portable electric heaters that we could move from room to room.

"What we need is an electric blanket", Otto said. "With dual controls," he added. So Tuesday he braved the rain and cold (snow on surrounding hills) and brought home a beautiful cream-colored electric blanket.

In deploying its various electric cords to be out of the way under the bed, Otto discovered that the bed had somehow moved several inches to the east, shoving the bedside table eastward several inches until it was denting a closet door when that door was opened.

Why didn't he just roll the bed back again? Because years ago we raised the bed on pyramidal wooden blocks with central depressions for the casters. This enabled us to look out of our western wall of windows to our magnificent view of the bay and San Francisco. Now, however we had the problem of moving the blocks AND the bed with its casters so that casters and block sockets met one another. After much shoving of the elements hither and yon, we had it almost right -- except for one of the wooden blocks that seemed firmly anchored in the carpet.

"Let me just lift the edge of the bed while you move the block," I said to Otto. I curled my fingers under the edge of the bed, lifting it about an inch, and WHAMMO! -- a freight train hit me in the middle of the back. I screamed.

And that is why I am now flat on my back, taking pain pills, being taken care of by my good husband, and why he will (if he can read my handwriting ) post it on my blog.

Moral: stupidity doesn't pay.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Through the Wrong End of a Telescope

This photo from the window of my bedroom
has the same colors as the tiny scene described in the poem -
except for the silver shining sea.

The poem below is 6 years old, but it seemed appropriate to the Sunday Scribblings prompt of "Fellow-travelers". I wouldn't have seen the view I describe if I had not been alerted to it by the passengers in the seat behind me, and, as word spread through the plane, we "oh"ed and "Ah"ed together for the few moments that this vision lasted. No longer were we cocooned in our private thoughts. Our excitement was shared, and for a few minutes we indeed traveled together as a single-minded group. I have never attempted to polish this poem or even to give it a title. Any suggestions?

The poem also refers to an earlier time when my fellow-travelers were my own family, chugging along in our model T. That time is also a precious memory. We always sang as we rode, the melody for the youngest, harmony for my father's rich bass and my mother's and my altos.

Here is my poem about the scene that solidified a random group of fellow-travelers into temporary comradeship:

The great plains lay behind us in the darkness
as our airplane chased the unseen setting sun
obscured by blankets, layer on layer, of cloud.

Still high above Sierra peaks a small rift opened,
a cloud-shored crevasse that pointed west, and through it
a gleaming golden patch, no larger than
a postage stamp (as measured on my window).
Red-gold water reflected hidden sun,
with black cutouts of silhouetted land--
a map of the Bay from delta in the north
to San Jose, Twin Peaks of San Francisco
limned by glint of ocean, all the islands--
Angel, Yerba Buena, Alcatraz--
as clear as letters on a printed page and,
tinier than a mouse’s eyelash, the towers
of the bridges--Bay Bridge, Golden Gate.

As a child I lived within the limits
of that small patch. We drove to San Jose
from Berkeley (in my father’s model T )
almost every Sunday to Grandma’s house
to meet the aunts and uncles, to feast upon
Grandma’s chicken soup with home-made noodles.
We watched the building of the bridges,
took evening picnics to see the cable carriage,
spider-like, spin wire, strand by strand.

Cloud curtains closed our view again, the plane
changed angle, “seat belts fastened, seats upright,
trays in stowed position.” We descended
through billows of blowing mist and saw the runway
only moments before the plane touched down.
Phyllis Sterling Smith, January 13, 2002

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Trip to the "cabins" in Mendocino County

Above is the mossy driveway that we drove up to our house (the "glass" house). That is Lorelei, our beloved 1969 Mercedes, parked next to the deck where we can unload it. There had been a terrific storm in northern California, and the ground was littered with down trees and branches. It was not an ideal time to visit the cabins, the temperature was near freezing, and Otto and I both had bad colds . However, we had promised the contractor who put the new roof on the "fenced" house that we would inspect the finished job and sign off on it. It is an enameled metal roof, and below is one of the photos of it. There is already a fallen branch in a trough of the roof, as you can see.
I was fascinated by the mosses that covered practically every surface.

This is a picture of a little corner of the post fence. It is typical of practically every bit of unprotected wood.

When our children were little, we had a continuing "pretend" that our house and yard were occupied by "itsy-bitsies." These were not fairies. They were merely exceptionally small people who slept in acorn shells, ate the crumbs of our food, and collected wee bits of lint to make bedding. If I had accidentally spattered a drop of batter on the griddle we would sometimes put out a tiny pancake for them. Wouldn't the moss below, growing in a curly piece of wood, be an ideal play-site for itsy-bitsies?

We returned to Berkeley last night. After the long drive we were pretty tired, but when I checked my e-mail and found that Noni had left that wonderful award in the column at right, I revived quickly! Thank you, Mary Anne!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Fourth Birthday (sunday Scribblings prompt: date)

This is my granddaughter Myrtle on her 4th birthday in 1985
even though the story arises from my 4th birthday.
Just goes to show how important that birthday is to little girls!

Fourth Birthday

When I was a four years old, my parents decided that I must have a piano. In those days (1925), pianos were almost as ubiquitous as TVs are today, at least in middle-class households. My parents bought a little honey-colored Baldwin studio upright . As soon as it was delivered and installed in the living room of our four-room (plus sleeping porch) house, Mother sat down to play it. She could read music inexpertly, but she had one “show-off piece”: Ethelbert Nevin’s Welcome, Sweet Springtime, known at that time as an “art song.” She rolled it off with aplomb and many arpeggios, then opened a song book and hesitantly accompanied my father’s rich bass on old college songs.

“But I want to play! It’s my piano,” I reminded them. “And today is MY birthday!

Mother consulted friends as to who might be a good music teacher for such a young child. Mother and I went to my first piano lesson, and I came home with a chart of the staff to prop behind the piano keys and with two whole pages to practice, both limited to three contiguous notes of which Middle C was the central one.

It wasn’t long before I progressed to “Polly, put the kettle on”, but music wasn’t the only attraction of those lessons.

My teacher lived on a steep hillside above the Santa Cruz boardwalk with it’s fancy domed “Casino.” If my Mother and I arrived a little early for a piano lesson - and Mother’s philosophy was that it was only rudimentary politeness to arrive ahead of time - I would be sent to the back garden to play. It sloped steeply from one side of the back fence to the other and even more steeply toward the house. Its stone stairs led upward through ferny banks and mossy terraces and across dry pebbled streams with lacquer-red bridges. Dozens of brightly colored figures lurked throughout the garden: red-hatted elves and winged fairies, raccoons and rabbits and giant green frogs, even flamingos at the edge of a little pond whose goldfish were the only actually living creatures installed in the garden. Paradise for a child!

The Casino at Santa Cruz circa 1900
This building burned down and was replaced
by the domed one I describe.

Then after my lesson, if the morning was bright and the ocean sparkling, I could frequently prevail upon my mother to descend the steep street to the Casino. As far as I know, it had never had the gambling that its name implied. What it contained at that time was a Penny Arcade. The cavernous interior was usually colder than the outside sunlit air, and it had a slightly moldy smell. We were often the only customers in the echoing space, although, perhaps in the afternoon, school children came to play the arcade games, jiggling levers to animate the figures of the baseball team or the pugilists. I begged for pennies to feed into the slots of my favorite machines, each with little wrought-iron steps attached to its iron pedestal to enable people my size to reach the eyepieces or working parts. In the ones my mother most approved, my penny turned on a light that illuminated a stereoptical slide show, with a lever to advance the slides. My mother preferred the educational ones such as those of national parks. The ones I liked best, though, were the “moving pictures.” Mother had to turn the crank for me, and I would glue my eye to the eyepiece to see the silent flickering figures jerk rapidly into motion, distressed maidens with hands clasped to their bosoms remonstrating with mustachioed villains. The whole drama would be over in two to three minutes.

I loved to practice my piano lessons, and, after my required fifteen minutes, to explore the possibilities of the smooth ivory keys. I soon figured out that moving my hands to the right produced higher tones, to the left lower tones. It was only a few weeks before I could use one finger to play the melody of America. “My country, 'this of thee...” My parents were thrilled when I demonstrated it to them. I think they foresaw a future for me as a concert pianist.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

NEW YEAR (Sunday Scribblings prompt)

Granddaughter Daria took the above picture of my hands at our August celebration of Otto's 90th birthday (and of my 86th). It certainly is a reminder that we are no longer spring chickens. (Does that expression even exist any more?) The new year will add to each of our ages. The wedding ring in the photo has been on my finger for 2/3 of a century, except for my rare hospital stays when Otto has worn it on his little finger. I have hopes and fears for the world and for us personally, but this post concerns a personal fear: that inevitably one of us will not be here for the other one.

I wrote this poem several years ago without any specific couple in mind, but it becomes more and more personal as our years speed by.

The Old Lovers
Asleep, their bodies rest as spoon to spoon
or else are pressed together spine to spine.
One of them dreams a night of summer moon
when firm young bodies meet and intertwine.

One dreams they climb a trail in blazing noon,
leap boulders, savor scent of fir or pine,
gaze down on unknown lands they’ll travel soon,
their years before them in an endless line.

They dream apart, but each dreams they’re together.
They drowse then turn and waken face to face,
illusion’s threads unraveling seam by seam.
They touch the dear soft flesh of one another
then almost desperately the two embrace
fearing that one might soon hold only dream.