Along for the ride

by cheri sabraw

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Today in San Gimignano, an old woman dressed in blue caught my eye. Her nylon stockings, pumps, and oversized purse all stylized her in a elegant fashion as she rested before heading down the tile street.

That such a woman and I would intersect at such an opportune photographic moment is not surprising, not today.

My mother at age 78 was with us the last time we traveled to Italy seven or so years ago. She couldn’t walk by herself or hear but boy could she smile.

On the plane last night with my compression stockings pressing in around my calves like circular wrenches (my mother wore such stockings all the time for her lymphedema) and with a gentleman sitting diagonal to me wearing a cochlear implant (my mother lost her hearing during a serious bought of meningitis and wore a cochlear implant), I had a  strong sense my mother was, once again, with us on our way to Florence and the Tuscan countryside.

Then again this morning when a Lufthansa flight attendant offered me my choice of jam, I reached blindly into the basket and my fingers emerged with apricot, mom’s favorite.

Are these coincidences?

Not really.

I now question my spur-of-the-moment decision to include some of my mother’s ashes in a small vile that sits tucked in a corner of my purse.

Should I have declared her at the security checkpoint?

She is here with us. Now, I must decide where to sprinkle her.

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Morning melodrama

by cheri sabraw

My heart is beating but my pace is offline.

I should be in the shower, the hot water pounding my  muscles into leaner and friskier flesh not unlike tenderizing a brisket.

My coffee is ice cold; the house still shivers in  its early morning chill, unable to heat itself.

The beep-beep-beep of the computer’s battery, purchased to alleviate power-surges, drones on. I stare at it under the desk, gray and mechanical, reminding me in syncopated rhythm how mechanized I have become.

I’m trapped here.

The garage doors will not open.

The generator, in an irony of ironies, has a dead battery. As I fiddled, it winked at me in my robe as I feverishly tried to manipulate its buttons. My god, I can’t check my e-mail!!

Strangely, I feel peaceful, unable to open my gate, dry my hair, and ready myself for the day.

The little creek babbles; the blue jays screech, the bulls across the road growl at their cows; a squirrel darts by my window; the dog snores under my feet.

The power is out.

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The Kentucky Derby

by cheri sabraw

Today in Louisville, Kentucky, the bell will scream and twenty thoroughbreds will free themselves in stunning locomotion from their forced imprisionment in the steel rectangle of the starting gate.

Their chests and forelegs will lurch forward, powered by two of the most powerful hind quarters in the animal kingdom.

Ears pricked, they wait in compressed captivity for the sound of the bell and the rumble of the crowd. Once free to thunder down the soft dirt track in a detonation of fire, they pin their ears back to their tucked heads and flare their nostrils in an effort to suck down the oxygen which must nourish their lungs and lubricate their brains for one mile and a quarter.

Those with blinkers see only what lies ahead. For the one with the most endurance and heart, that view will open like a vast prairie land laden with clover and sweet grass.

For those without blinkers, the sights to their right and left will be a familiar Pavlovian roar of thunder, crash of  leather, jostle of bumps, and rhythm of stride as they settle into a position and feel the strategy on their backs.

The traffic jam of the starting gate will fade and the speedsters will set the pace, some by strategic trainer design in order to burn out the favorites.

In the back stretch they enter a house of mirrors where, to the fans without binoculars, they do indeed stretch and elongate into a Pegasus herd with noses, ears, necks, backs, rider, rumps, and tails on the same horizontal line.

The weaker horses fade back and it is here, at the end of the backstretch, that the trainers’ grand designs and tactics reveal themselves. We see a chestnut torpedo launching itself in the middle of mass: it lurches forward and forward and challenges the black one with heart and courage.

In the end, two or three race horses rush down the home stretch. On one, the bay creature with the blinkers, a thin whip will sting his backside to remind him to stay focused, lengthen his nose, pound the ground, and run for his life, even though his heart is bursting with blood and hormones.

The one–the Swaps, the Carry Backs, the Northern Dancers, the Man o’ Wars, the  Seabiscuits, the Affirmeds, and the greatest of all–the Secretariats, will cross under the wire in a beautiful blur of the Sport of Kings.

Today is the Kentucky Derby.

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Was I in a vortex?

IMG_2617 by cheri

I’ve written about red rocks  here and here on my blog.

In those travelblogs I reflected on the red rock castles, bells, chimneys, and stunning buttes here in the American Southwest. Those entries, descriptive, and at times, melodic, emanated from my own mind without the help of anything artificial.

It must have been Sedona’s famous vortices  or vortexes (debate ensues) that electrically beckoned me from a restless sleep at 5:30 am this morning and then compelled me, nay, magnetized me, to blindly put on Nike walking shoes, purple striped yoga pants, and a Stanford tee-shirt, finally swirling me out the front door of my friend’s house without caffeine.

Is this what they meant in 1987 by harmonic convergence?

My location, if you choose to follow the link, was across the rock and valley from Courthouse Butte.

Only the quail, the Gila woodpeckers, and an orange bird in a Palo Verde tree saw me leave, headed up a road whose location was somewhere in the Village of Oak Creek.

Maybe it was the incense I inhaled from a Buddha shop in Tlaquepacque yesterday or maybe it was the hypnotic rotating sculptures in my friend’s backyard (or heck, maybe it was the chardonnay I consumed with the Judge before he had to go to the Courthouse Butte): at any rate, whatever it was, the vortexual energy kept sucking me up the road, further and further, farther and farther until…until…I ran out of energy.

I sat down on a red rock, naturally.

Me, myself, and I regrouped. We had to keep moving, lest someone in the house find us gone. Cheri, up at 5:30? Cheri, out the door before coffee? Cheri, in yoga pants in public?

I am happy to report that I did make it back to the house, but not before the wistful soliloquy of a male quail in search of his honey turned my head.

One lone call, another call…he was so handsome and sweet up there on this perch.

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Where is your wife? I asked.

I’m unsure, he answered. This morning, she awoke early and left the nest, wholly unlike her.

Oh, I see.

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The Audience?

by cheri sabraw

Should my blog be instructional? Entertaining? Philosophic? Revealing? Biographical?

Over the past seven years, I have tried to do it all. Surely, some of my loyal readers want to learn, others want to laugh, some want to wrestle with life’s deepest questions, voyeurs want to look through my windows, and the curious (or the bored) want to know about my life–what animates, bothers, excites me.

At this point in my writing career, I often wonder–with the overflow of writing from all ends of the earth–much of it predictable,  depending from which source it flows–I wonder what most regular people want to read. I realize the italicized  regular will bother some of you out there. My father used to call just salt of the earth people–regular. You know…you say hello and he says, hello.

I now observe men and women reading  what we used to call light reading–magazines, newspapers, romance novels, or  self-help books. Granted, what one reads on her iPad is now protected from wandering eyes by the sleek black screen, framing words that we have downloaded instead of checked-out from the library, but I haven’t observed anyone reading Angle of Repose lately. I did ride on a Southwest Airlines flight Tuesday in which the woman across the aisle was slogging through Donna Tartt’s latest miserable tome The Goldfinch <yawn> <meh!>.

So maybe instead of fluff or sex or horror, people are reading some of the seminal texts of the past on their iPads?

Would reading such texts make our culture better? (yes)

Would burning People Magazine, Men’s Health, or Cosmopolitan change anything?

Is what we read indicative of who we are? (yes)

Should I write about the aging process, women’s fantasies, the benefits of eating arguably the most unsavory green in the produce aisle–kale?

Should I tell you stories of yore, write social commentary, rhapsodize about art, music, and food?

Maybe I should describe the joy I felt today upon seeing my first baby quail?

Or maybe I should add that immediately after seeing this little puff of feathers, sandwiched in between its monogamous mother and father, running across the desert rock  in harmonious syncopation , I worried that the other babies had been eaten. After all, quail usually lay more than one egg.

Perhaps I should write about The Plague by Albert Camus–the book I am reading for a May class. About buboes, fever, quarantine, and fleas? And what is Camus’ point?

Do you read me?

 

 

 

Posted in Education, Life, My childhood, My fiction, On fiction, Parenting, People | Tagged , , , , , | 36 Comments

The Importwance of Being Uhnest

by cheri sabraw

One of my grandsons, the one who is under the age of seven and above the age of five, is quite a card. The only problem is that when I tell him so, he replies,

” Gwam, what’s a cawd?”

No, he is not from Boston or the East Coast in any way. He is a home-grown Californian.

He came to visit last week for the entire weekend, the same weekend that I was hosting a dinner party for six. As he hung around the kitchen table, while I chopped onion and garlic, he tried to tell me a story of his trip to San Francisco’s Exploratorium.

“So, you see, Gwam, when Mom and I went to the Explowatoeum, I saw a schwaak.”

A what?  I inquired.

Having taught English as a Second Language for four years when in my twenties, I have a keen ability to understand anyone of any nationality or age or gender speaking English.

This time, however, I stumbled.

“I saw a schwaak, ” Grandson repeated.

This frustrating cross-examination went on several more times.

Normally an easy-going little guy with a wry sense of humor, Grandson became agitated.

Finally, older brother looked up from his Kindle and rescued the day.

” Gramma, he saw a shark.”

” That’s what I said, screamed his brother, schwaaak!!!”

Yesterday, I received a phone call from my daughter. She called to tell me that she had signed said Grandson up for speech therapy. She delicately told her little son that every week for 1/2 an hour, he would be working on his speech, specifically his letter R’s. He crumpled into a writhing mess and screamed at the top of his lungs,

” Mom, you have wooned my life! Wooned it.”

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A Coffee Shop of One’s Own

by cheri block

Yesterday the rain cleansed and cooled the barranca in front of our desert home. The clouds moving east in the turbulent skies wore dark coats with swirling sopped paisley patterns, adorned with bulbous slate buttons of moisture. The scene was gorgeous.

To commemorate a rainstorm in the desert, I prepared a grilled cheese Panini accompanied by a petite bowl of tomato soup with basil. I sat down to eat, watching a small lake form among the cacti. I considered whipping up a strawberry shake, but something way back in the recesses of my mind told me to skip the shake.

Before I knew it, I was no longer in the desert.

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My brother Stevie and I were sitting at a counter in a small coffee shop that hugged the banks of the mouth of the Klamath River in northern California. The year was 1960. I was ordering lunch for us. My father was fishing. Those were the days when two little kids could wander the docks unsupervised, making small talk with the Indians who gutted the salmon on a smelly workbench, sliding the roe and innards into the waiting mouths of mongrel dock dogs, not unlike my Labrador, Dinah’s.

At the coffee shop, I took charge.IMG_0517

We’ll have two grilled cheese sandwiches, two bowls of tomato soup, and two strawberry milk shakes, please. And can you make those shakes really really thick? Thank you.

We were Hugh’s kids and while Hugh was fishing for super-sized Chinook salmon with Oscar Ginsaw, his Yurok Indian guide, we were hanging out with an unadulterated freedom unknown to kids today.

We shot the breeze with the woman behind the counter. I exaggerated from start to finish. When we had sucked the last drip of shake out of the tall and ribbed soda glasses—a grating noise that sounded like bicycle spokes batting my loose jeans—I bragged to all in attendance about how many German Shepherds we owned, how many friends I had, and how many teeth my father had pulled in a week.

What a storyteller you are little miss, said the waitress Lucille, whose name tag, I remember, was stained with a splotch of ketchup on it.

Lucille’s astute observation only added fuel to the bonfire that had started the moment I had climbed up on the red swivel stool and helped hoist Stevie up there next to me.

Well, I continued, we own five German Shepherds, I have 100 friends, and my dad pulls 50 teeth a week. In fact, I continued, one of our German Shepherds, Miss Dickens, is expecting a litter of probably, oh say, 15 puppies next week. One of my 100 friends, Sissy Hill, was California’s Junior Miss, and my dad made me a necklace with all of the teeth he pulled last month, mainly molars with a few bloody incisors for decoration.

 I might have kept the conversation going all day were it not for Stevie, who whispered that he had to go to the bathroom. He wanted to go back to the room at the Requa Inn.111129279

Oh, OK, I said, and we scooted off our stools, full of sandwich and shake, and skipped out the door.

*        *           *           *

Why this memory continues to circulate every now and then, especially when grilled cheese sandwiches rest on my plate, I do not know.

What I do know is that the sense of independence I felt at that time in my making uninhibited and free-ranging food choices and in my grandiose historical inaccuracy without parental correction had a cache that I relish to this very day.

 

 

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Nostalgia at the ballpark

 

by cheri block

1962

I remember the anticipation I felt as my Dad and I drove to Candlestick Park in San Francisco to watch my favorite team, the Giants, play baseball. On the way to our seats, Dad would hurry to the concession stand and buy a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer for himself and a Coke for me. Two plump hotdogs smothered in pickled relish and oozing with mustard rested in my hands. Hurry was our pace because the hotdogs had a warmth shelf- life of about two minutes. Although tucked into their foil blankets, they cooled off fast. After all, the game was in San Francisco.

There in the bleachers overlooking center field where the frigid winds from the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay swirled, sucking papers upward like a centrifuge, and where the pigeons glided overhead in a circular orbit  in preparation for their 9th inning scavenging, we settled in. Dad would unpack the wool blanket we would share on a summer night in one of the coldest stadiums on earth, not counting Rome’s Coliseum, of course. Most out-of-towners attending the game would freeze their fritters off, having forgotten that San Francisco is a beach town where the fog and wind roll in and out as consistently as the tide.

That year, the Giants were hot, unlike we fans at the game. There looking down on center field with my dad and regaled by players like Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal as they dazzled everyone—from old codger to young sprite—I thought that everything about life was happy. What more could a 12-year-old want?

Back at home on Mayfield Drive, where life was good and I was bossy, I wanted to listen to every Giants game on the radio, even though they  usually ended well past my bedtime of 8:30 pm. In 1962—because the Giants were having a killer season (especially against the LA Dodgers), my dad bought me a transistor radio so that when I was supposed to be asleep in preparation for a full day of school, I could turn it on quietly in the room I shared with Stevie, my little brother, and listen to the play-by-play coverage, called by Gil Hodges and Lon Simmons.

In those days, I knew every single player’s name, his batting average, and his other vital statistics—RBI’s, marital status, chosen philanthropies, and blood type. Only my acumen about the horse racing industry exceeded that of my baseball trivia.

When other girls at age twelve were shaving their legs and curling their hair, I was watching the win-loss columns of the Giants and yes, our arch enemy’s—the Los Angeles Dodgers. My grandmother, Rosalie, and my step-grandfather, Harold, lived in Westwood, minutes from Chavez Ravine, the Dodgers’ version of Candlestick Park.

Rosie didn’t know a baseball from a cabbage but Harold, an obstetrician to the stars (he delivered Jamie Lee Curtis and was friends with Tony Curtis and Guy Williams, aka Zorro, but that is another story) would take me to the Dodgers’ game at Chavez Ravine (which made Candlestick Park look like a San Francisco bum) when I visited them in Los Angeles.

As much as I didn’t want to admit it, watching a game there was a warm experience, so comfortable and luxurious. Harold had third base seats, lots of money, and a star’s odd presence. I remember thinking, even in those days, how quirky he was. Those thoughts vanished when I sank into our warmed leather seats and when a waitress came to take our hotdog order.

Even at a young age, I possessed a sense of timing and, if truth be told, a sense of self, so you can bet I never told my dad what a cool person Harold was or how charming Chavez Ravine was. After all, I was a hard-core Giants fan.

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2015

Today, here in Goodyear, Arizona, anticipating my first Spring Training games—the Cleveland Indians vs. the San Diego Padres on Sunday and…..and….and…the Cincinnati Reds vs. the San Francisco Giants on Monday, my thoughts are of the impending 90 degree heat and the intimacy of this cozy ballpark.

Dad, Mom, Rosie, and Harold are long gone (like one of Willie McCovey’s shots out of the park), but their memories will be in the air, on the field, and in those hot seats at Goodyear Ballpark.

I shall report back….

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Turquoise turkey

by cheri sabraw

Something remarkable happened on Tuesday at the Rancho.

Beauty arrived in his mythological chariot and landed among the Beasts.

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Was Flannery O’Connor sending a symbol? A Displaced Person? A Religious symbol? A Jungian sage?

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I could not believe my eyes as they beheld one of the most elegant creatures ever Designed!

IMG_3660Upon His arrival, the usual Turkey Trot was on.

Males fanning, females running for cover, scratching and pecking, strutting and fleeing. What a raucous ruckus on the Rancho!

And then, a child’s scream. A shrill announcement to the Thanksgiving army!

IMG_3663Surely Beauty and the Beast! Elegance par Excellence meets Your Regular Joe Tom.

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Where this peacock came from, I will never know. Ethereal. Gone.

His Beauty made all of the ugliness in the News vanish if only for a moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Star Quality

 

Prague Castle, 2010

Prague Castle, 2010

by cheri block

Much has been written throughout the ages about stars.

Stars figure prominently in art, music, sculpture, and oratory.

Their appeal is their mystery.

Mauna Kea, 2013

Mauna Kea, 2013

And yet, astronomers high atop Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii have demystified much about stars. We know they are intense balls of energy that explode with light and heat. We know they have gravitational pull. We know that they die, eventually, but we here on Earth continue to view their light long after they are gone.

Joan Block, 2014

Joan Block, 2014

All of these thoughts apply to Queen Joan, who for many of us, was the brightest star in the room even as her light in this world began to dim. For those of us who studied the Constellation that was Joan, we sensed an other-worldliness about her.

Where did she come from? How was she able to twinkle when so much had been taken?

This song, Yesh Kochavim ( Kocha is star in Hebrew, vim makes it plural) is an earthly composer’s attempt to capture the light of a lost life. First, listen to the Hebrew and then listen to the English.

If one of your family’s stars has left your orbit, you will be comforted.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQQ18AlMnNk

 

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