three poems, three stories

February 13th, 2010

these three poems inspired stories that follow:
Blessing, Vera, My Irish Grandpa

remember the warm security
when Mama had us kneel beside the bed
and bless each other and the world

remember the excitement
when an aunt read tea leaves
that promised a handsome suitor

remember the fairies
and pots of gold, Grandpa’s
stories, as he smoked his pipe

Blessing

remember the warm security
when Mama had us kneel beside the bed
and bless each other and the worldMom & Dad

Mama taught Joe and me to say our prayers. Every night from the time we could talk she would have us kneel together. She taught us the sign of the cross, very difficult to remember which hand to use and which way to move it. Her childhood prayer, growing up Protestant, had been “Now I lay me down to sleep”; after she and Daddy were married, she became a Catholic, so she taught us to say the Lord’s Prayer and Hail Mary. If we weren’t ready to go to sleep we could keep the “God bless’s” going for a long time. When Daddy ran for a public office in the state of Arizona, she included a prayer that God would help him win. When he lost, Mama had to explain something about God’s will to our very young satisfaction (I was eleven and Joe was nine). I don’t remember what she said to help us understand, but it seemed ok at the time. I don’t remember when she first began to teach us to pray but it became a habit that lasted many years; even now it makes it possible for me to argue with God.

©Patricia Grube
February 12, 2010

Vera

remember the excitement
when an aunt read the tea leaves
that promised a handsome suitor

Actually it wasn’t an aunt but a woman from Boston, who read the tea leaves. Daddy met Vera Miller in the market.  He heard a familiar accent so he introduced himself and brought Vera and her husband, Horace, and Ronnie their son, home for dinner. In this way they became, for a while, part of the family. This didn’t surprise Mama as he had a habit of doing this sort of thing. Amazingly she could create a beautiful dinner even when the refrigerator seemed empty. This was in Long Beach where Daddy had a job as a salesman in an appliance store.

When we moved north the Millers followed soon after. Both families tried to live on the small check Daddy got for his disabilities during WWI and now and then Grandma Alice would send “a some time check”.  When things were especially tough, Mama would write to her for help. Maybe that’s when I learned that families help each other. What I mean is families help other families as well as the members of their own family.

How did we live? First the rent was cheap when we moved into the boarded up restaurant part of a very old motel in South San Francisco. The dining room was a large space for us kids and Bozo, the dog, to play and we had our choice of booths at dinner. We managed to use the community showers during the day when the travelers had left. There was a cabbage patch next door and when the boys played ball they would miss the catch, run into the field and pick up a head of cabbage along with the ball.

The kitchen was large with a big wood burning stove on which Mama could create a meal with practically nothing. A gunny sack of day old bread was practically free and she had a way of baking it to taste like fresh. When money would come, they would buy large bags of beans, potatoes and onions along with cornmeal, oatmeal, sugar, coffee, tea and the large size cans of tomatoes. Wild weeds grew in profusion on the edges of fields and roads; Mama knew which ones were edible; so we always had greens cooked in various ways.

In the warm kitchen, I could sometimes sit at the big table and have tea with Mama and Vera who would read the tea leaves. I would create dreams as she reported fascinating futures for me from the patterns of tea leaves in the bottom of my cup.  I was eager for new possibilities that I hoped were waiting for me in a new high school.

In August when we moved to Chenery Street in the Mission District, Vera discovered that the neighbor’s daughter wanted to learn to play the piano. So Vera would give the neighbor’s daughter a piano lesson and earn 50 cents and that would buy enough meat and vegetables for lamb stew, and a jug of wine. How Mama kept us kids (and Daddy too, I suspect) from despair is more than I can fathom.

©Patricia Grube
September 18, 2009

My Irish Grandfather

remember the fairies
and pots of gold, Grandpa’s
stories, as he smoked his pipe

When I was kid in grammar school in Phoenix, or much later in the sunny living room at Pedro Point, it seems Grandpa was always sitting in a huge chair, a huge chair with a wide armrest to hold his coffee. I wish I could remember the stories he used to tell.

For a while we lived just off Indian School Road in the outskirts of Phoenix. We had a nice house with a barn and my folks were thinking about having some chickens but they never did. There was a tree, maybe cottonwood or ash, where Grandpa would sit and smoke his pipe and dream his dreams. I was a small girl leaning against a big German Shepherd; together we listened to tales of leprechauns and tirades against the English. He praised Irish heroes fighting for freedom. He never tired of telling his stories and now and then he would tap his pipe on the flat arm of the chair. I loved the smell of his tobacco. I could see in my own mind the creatures that seemed to be his familiars.

poemHe came to Boston as a young man and when he married Gazilda he took her on a trip to Ireland. He told me how he convinced her that the little people were true. He said, “Put a bowl of milk by the door, the little people love milk”; and what do you know, it was gone the next morning. There was nary a cat or a dog around so who else could it be but the little people.

I think my grandmother enjoyed the holiday but was anxious to get back to Boston and her new married life. Before they left Manorhamilton, his mother gave Gazilda an item long valued by the family. She didn’t pack it away but carried it herself all the way home on the ship across the Atlantic. It was a large crucifix, hand carved from dark wood found in a bog. All through the years I saw it in a place of honor in her home. Later it was given to my mother and was her special treasure.

We moved many times but wherever we settled, Mama always found a mantle or a niche for the crucifix and a large chair for her father-in-law. Grandpa slept late every morning but when he was up he maneuvered, with his cane, to the living room where he ruled like a king from his throne.

We came to California in the 30’s and eventually to the North, where Daddy bought a cottage on a hill in Pedro Point. The living room was actually a long sun porch closed in with windows and skylights. Soon after we moved there, he brought home a large wooden chair with wide armrests. “Pa is coming from Phoenix. He’ll be here next week.”

My Irish GrandpaMy sister, Mary, and I always looked forward to the boxes of chocolates he would bring to us. But we didn’t look forward to his complaints about our short dresses or long loose hair that he insisted we tuck back behind our ears. He checked our nails for polish and warned us about becoming “painted ladies”. We couldn’t wear lipstick during his stay and he lectured us about manners and how we should insist on respect from young men. This was when I was in high school and no longer fascinated by the little people.

©Patricia Grube
January 25, 2010