Monday, May 15, 2006

mother's day ruminations

it’s funny how subtle the shift is between generations. this mother’s day weekend, i got to visit with both of my wife’s grandmothers - grandma and maw maw. grandma lives in a catholic nursing home. although she has had congestive heart failure for years and is down to 104 pounds, she was having a good day when we saw her. she knew who we were; on some visits she thinks my wife is her sister, doris. grandma and doris have not been on speaking terms for years. maw maw’s 85th birthday bash was on saturday. all the kin folk from all over were present to pay tribute to the matriarch of the maholovitch clan. the teens were now talking of college and career paths. the twenty and thirty-somethings were showing off their new offspring or patting their bellies in anticipation of proving their reproductive viability. the fifty and sixty year olds were talking up retirement plans and maw maw presided over the brood while mixing sprite, fruit juice, and southern comfort with a frozen strawberry jello mold. maw maw is no longer just maw maw. she is great maw maw. the parents have become the grandparents and the kids have become parents. nothing new - the cycle of life as most of us know it. for me, the day was poignant because all of my grandparents are now departed. my folks are not even on the on deck circle of aging - they're at bat. anyway - i began thinking about snookie, my grandmother on my mom’s side. she hasn’t been with us for several years now, but every now and then i catch glimpses of her. usually, i see her in some sort of agrarian manifestation - she was a farmer at heart. sharecropped as a kid. maintained three acres of a garden until the end - always took the harvest to those “little old ladies” in need on a fixed income. never mind that the little old ladies were in their fifties and snook was in her seventies. another place i sometimes find her is in language - specifically, in the country language of the south. this sort of language is becoming more scarce as time passes on. but when the crisp images and memories of snookie start to become blurred or i can’t quite remember how she talked, i read the following two poems and they remind me of who she was.

Snapping Beans
Lisa Parker

I snapped beans into the silver bowl
that sat on the splintering slats
of the porchswing between my grandma and me.
I was home for the weekend,
from school, from the North.
Grandma hummed “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”
as the sun rose, pushing its pink spikes
through the slant of cornstalks,
through the fly-eyed mesh of the screen.
We didn’t speak until the sun overcame
the feathered tips of the cornfield
and Grandma stopped humming. I could feel
the soft gray of her stare
against the side of my face
when she asked, How’s school a-goin’?
I wanted to tell her about my classes,
the revelations by book and lecture,
as real as any shout of faith
and potent as a swig of strychnine.
She reached the leather of her hand
over the bowl and cupped
my quivering chin; the slick smooth of her palm
held my face the way she held tomatoes
under the spigot, careful not to drop them,
and I wanted to tell her
about the nights I cried into the familiar
heartsick panels of the quilt she made me,
wishing myself home on the evening star.
I wanted to tell her
the evening star was a planet,
that my friends wore noserings and wrote poetry
about sex, about alcoholism, about Buddha.
I wanted to tell her how my stomach burned
acidic holes at the thought of speaking in class,
speaking in an accent, speaking out of turn,
how I was tearing, splitting myself apart
with the slow-simmering guilt of being happy
despite it all.
I said, School’s fine.
We snapped beans into the silver bowl between us
and when a hickory leaf, still summer green,
skidded onto the porchfront,
Grandma said,
It’s funny how things blow loose like that.

R. T. Smith

“I’ll get it directly,” she’d say, meaning
soon, meaning when I can, meaning, not
yet, be patient, the world don’t turn upon
your every need and whim.
Or, “the dogs
will be back home directly, I reckon,”
“the preacher will be finished,” “your daddy
will see to you,” “supper will be laid out” --
all “directly,” which never meant the straight
line between two surveyor’s points
an arrow’s flight, but rather, by the curve,
the indirect, the arc of life and breath
and she was right, and when she passed
or was passing, I could not say which,
in a patchwork quilt, the makeshift room,
the sweet hymn notes sung neighborly
across the hall, she whispered, “Learn to tell
what needs doing quick as a bluesnake
and what will take the slow way, full
of care and mulling, be fair in every
dealing with beasts and people and all
else alive, and surely, my dear, He will
come for you in His good time, the way
He comes for all of us, directly.”

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

no, i can't hear you! i've got an agenda in my ear!

the janus project really came about from late hour chats between my brother-in-law and me over pretty much the gamut of what brother-in-laws might cover - careers. politics. movies. religion. cigars. theology. doctrine. beer. our kids. sports. our wives. the future. the past. whatever comes to mind. often thoughts linger, like the hazy cigar smoke that fills the dos flamingoes on a humidly still mississippi night. other times, ideas flit away as quickly as the third beer reflexes that can still miraculously catch a knocked over bottle before a single drop of nectar is spilled. often - our ideas make about as much sense as a paying $10.00 for a stoggie or $5.00 for an imported beer. we each have strong opinions. sometimes we disagree. often we agree but have a different way of arriving at the same end. more than i admit out loud, his ability to perform mental gymnastics far exceeds my abilities to follow along. without fail, i leave our conversations with food for thought - and not just a junk food, but steak and potatoes stuff. usually, i have to take a doggie-bag home with me.

several times by the light of day, my brother-in-law mentioned that some of these thoughts might be worth sharing with folks on a broader scale, and blogging provided a forum from which one could perch from one’s very own soap box or wander around the virtual wide, wide world and hear others’ mental ruminations. so - i jumped in. and i must admit, i’m hooked. i enjoy the idea of a free exchange of ideas and have been, for the most part, having a ball with the give and take in the blogosphere.

however - i am a bit disappointed in some encounters. most recently, i have been putting together a post on the illegal immigration issue, when i ran across another site that was engaging the same sort of stuff i was interested in discussing. however, in less than two post cycles, the tone of the dialogue became shrill and the exchange basically ground to a halt, at least as far as i was concerned. i felt as if there was much fertile ground to plow given the information in the comments, but in response to my comments, rarely were intellectual arguments proffered. so - instead of focusing on the issue of immigration in today’s blog, i thought it might be more instructive, at least for me, to think about the concept of statesmanship - an idea that is certainly rare in politics, but apparently is becoming an endangered species in civil discourse as well.

paraphrased from the old standbys - webster’s and the oed - statesmanship is exhibited by those who exercise political leadership wisely and without narrow partisanship and promotes the public good from the position of disinterest in oneself. lincoln said, “honest statesmanship is the wise employment of individual manners for the public good.” hubert humphrey said, “the essence of statesmanship is not a rigid adherence to the past, but a prudent and probing concern for the future.”

more often than not, i’m convinced that most folks who are not career politicians, regardless of their political ilk, genuinely are interested in the well being of others and our future. what saddens me is that the narrowness of the professional politicians and the shrillness of party politics has spilled over into our public discourse. we the people, CAN and SHOULD have dialogue and disagreements. but after we pull the lever at the ballot box, we should also be able to carry on our conversations via civilized discourse despite how the professionals conduct themselves in the public arena.