Morning Coffee: Memories

Mothers Day 1The senses can bring back a flood of memories. I seem to be particularly susceptible to this in the summer. The distant whine of a lawn mower and, with it, the smell of fresh cut grass. The clean tang in the air after the rain has passed by. The song of the morning dove outside my bedroom window.  The announcer and cheering crowds of the softball games at the nearby school athletic fields reminds me of the sounds of the public swimming pool in my hometown. When I think of summer, I think of the feel of the rubber grip of a golf club in my hands as I focus on that little pink ball taunting me from the grass below. When I think of summer I immediately taste buttery corn on the cob, salted tomato slices fresh from the garden, strawberry shortcake and watermelon. I remember the Fireman’s Picnic, parades, and days at the lake.

One of my strongest childhood summer memories is that of hanging wash on the line to dry. You don’t see that much anymore, even in the small towns. If you want to see clothes flapping in the wind to dry you need to drive the back country roads, past the mid-west farms where many such things are still done the traditional way. Admit it, there’s nothing like the feel and smell of fresh sheets still warm from the sun.

The following poem originally appeared in the Wisconsin Writers’ Association publication, Creative Wisconsin in the summer of 2012.

Hanging Wash On The Line
by Jane Yunker

Wet towels flap, snap, in the hot summer wind.
My mother hums a nameless tune as she carefully
pins them, ends overlapping ends to conserve space,
for row after row to bake in the sun until dry.

My mother has strict rules for hanging wash on the line.
Rules passed down from her mother, and now to me, a code.
Rules my own daughter would only laugh at, if I told her.
Rules that, if broken, would surely incite gossip and shame.

Hang clothing of like sex together.
Never should my father’s underwear hang co-mingled
with my mother’s, nor my brothers’ with my own.
What such a display might suggest was beyond decent explanation.

Hang clothing of like type and size together.
Men’s socks hung neatly from largest to smallest,
pairs matched, of course. Women’s follow, in same.
This orderliness outdoors was proof of a neat orderly home indoors.

Shirts were hung from the bottom, while pants hung from the top.
And, never, not under any circumstances, do you drape…you pin.
We are civilized beings lucky enough to be born in America,
a nation blessed with basic necessities like the clothespin.

But the one rule that, if forgotten, could drive a family from their home,
was to hang all intimate apparel on the inside lines and surround them
with large items to block their view, preferably sheets and towels.
The neighbors should only assume one wears underwear.



Morning Coffee: Family

001Family. Narrowly defined it’s two parents and their biological children; extended it includes grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Now the definition has become much more fluid. The parents could be two men or two women, might be married but could also be living together without the benefit of marriage. A parent might not be biological. A child could easily have more than two parents once you count in the step parents after divorce and remarriage. They could be foster parents or adoptive parents.

Family. Often we think of our pets as family. Many would argue pets are much more reliable, much more loyal, to us than our human family. Pets won’t fight over who gets grandma’s jewelry or the profits from the sale of great-auntie’s house. If a dog gets his feelings hurt all you have to do is smile at him and scratch behind his ears and all is forgiven. When you walk in the door after a hard day’s work, your cat will curl up in your lap and your dog will just about knock you over at the door with happiness. Neither one comes running to tattle on the other.

Family. It’s said our friends are the family we get to choose. In my book Mary Bishop, Mary is alone after the Civil War has decimated the home, the life, she once knew. Her daughter died shortly after birth, her son died at Gettysburg, and her husband later commits suicide. She reaches out to an old friend, Sarah, from her life back in Virginia. She doesn’t know if Sarah is alive or dead, but she has an address where her friend once lived. To Mary’s delight, Sarah still lives at that old address and doesn’t hesitate to drop everything and run to Mary’s side. It’s a long and difficult journey (train from St Paul to Stillwater, steamboat upriver from Stillwater to Taylors Falls, and then a ride with a travelling minister north from Taylors Falls) but she does this without being asked. “Why?” Mary asks. Why is her friend doing everything she can to make her old friend happy again? “Because we are family,” Sarah answers. Something Mary told Sarah years before when Sarah’s husband was killed and Mary refused to leave her side until Sarah could pick herself up again.

Family. These are the people who are there for us no matter what. They might judge us, but only lovingly. They defend us against those who would tear us down. They will sit with us and just listen, all night if need be. They might be biological, they might be steps or halves, or they might be a very good friend.

Morning Coffee: The Power of Solitude

Mothers Day 1Have you ever just sat alone and listened to the world around you? Even in the middle of the night, when everyone is asleep and we think it’s perfectly quiet, it’s not. The house makes little noises as it settles, beams expanding or contracting with the changing temperature, creaking and snapping. Outside tree limbs brush against the house as the wind tosses them, not always so gently. There could be the distant rumble of an approaching storm, or the forlorn wail of a train whistle.

On an early spring evening I can hear the peeper frogs singing in our garden as they look to attract a mate. Come summer, there’s the deep-throated croak of a toad and the chirps of crickets rubbing their legs together in the long grass along the neighboring woods. I can even hear the trucks passing by town on the highway. A heavier footfall in the woods leaves me to wonder, is that a deer, or a bear? I know there are bears in our woods and they like to wander into the neighborhood to raid bird feeders and garbage cans.

These night time sounds can be restful, like the patter of rain on the sky lights of our bedroom and on the leaves of the trees outside. Or, they can be scary, particularly if I’ve spent the evening before watching horror movies. But I tell myself, I am no longer a pretty young co-ed, and I would never dream of investigating a noise in the basement while wearing only my underwear, so I’m probably safe. (For the same reason I’d change from my red uniform shirt to my yellow if Captain Kirk ever asked me to beam down to the planet surface with the away team.) At worst, the noise I think I hear within the house is a mouse and it will soon find its way onto one of the sticky traps set out for that very purpose.

Solitude recharges our batteries. If you concentrate on each little sound and not let the worries of the day intrude, you will feel your heart rate slow, your muscles relax. And if you’re a writer, you might even be able to hear your character’s voice telling you the answer to the plot problem that’s been troubling you all day.

Listen to the silence.

Morning Coffee: Mother’s Day

Mothers Day 1Mothers. We all have one. Most often it’s the woman who gave birth to you, but it might not be. It could be the woman who fostered or adopted you. It could be the aunt or grandmother who raised you when your biological mother could not. Some children have two mothers. Whoever you call your mother, this Sunday is the day set aside to honor her for her love and sacrifices. Of course, we should honor our mothers every minute of every day if only in the simple things like a kiss and I love you when you leave for school in the morning or go to bed at night. Or perhaps by offering to wash the dishes after dinner without having to be asked. How about cleaning your room merely because it’s messy.

While celebrated world-wide, the tradition of setting aside a day to honor our mothers began officially in the United States in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure setting aside the second Sunday in May. Anna Jarvis created the idea for the holiday in 1908 but would later denounce the commercialization of the holiday and spend the rest of her life campaigning to have it removed from the calendar. Her vision was one of a personal holiday between a mother and her family, one where you would wear a white carnation as a badge, visit your mother, and attend church as a family.

It’s a day traditionally celebrated with cards, gifts, flowers, and a family dinner mother presumably does not have to cook or clean up after. Teachers lead school children in the creation of macaroni artwork and hand prints in paint or plaster to bring home to their mother. Some mothers are served a lovingly prepared breakfast in bed of orange juice, cereal with too much milk and sugar, and heavily-buttered burnt toast. If dad helps, breakfast might include a much appreciated cup of coffee to wash it all down.

When my children were small, I remember getting tiny bouquets of violets or dandelions clutched tight in their sweaty little hands and presented with a big smile. Hand-drawn I love you Mommy cards and dandelion bouquets were some of my best Mothers Day gifts. Not to say I don’t appreciate the grown-up gifts of chocolates, wine, spa baskets, books, and the like delivered by post and followed by the I love you Mom phone calls.

Being a mother has been the hardest, and most rewarding, job I’ve ever had to do in my life. It’s made me realize just how much my own mother had to do, had to give up, over the years to raise five children. I was not always perfect, and there may have been times they wished they could fire me and hire someone else, but in the end I have two wonderful happy adult children successful in their jobs and NOT living at home.

Whether you are lucky enough to still have your mother, as I am, or whether your mother has since passed on from this world, take time on Sunday to remember all the wonderful things your mother did for you over the years. Forget any petty arguments or ill-will you may still harbor and give her a call to say I love you, Mom, and I appreciate all the things you’ve done for me.

I love you, Mom, and I appreciate all the things you’ve done for me.