May 8, 2013
Recently, Alice told me the meat grinder story again. She doesn’t tell it often, for reasons you’ll understand after reading it. It’s a story about her and her mother, Martha, and, although Alice thinks it is a story about a daughter’s guilt, it is also a story about a mother’s love. Because this is the week before Mother’s Day, I thought I’d pass it on to you.
March 13, 2012
February 20, 2012
In 1924, when Alice was nine years old, she found herself in front of the jailhouse at the edge of a mob calling for a hanging.
August 19, 2011
When I heard about Yvonne, the runaway Austrian cow, I was reminded of Mattie’s notes about the family cow in her memoir on childhood. Nebba, a black and white Holstein, was named after a mountain in Norway. Such a grand name, according to Mattie, gave the cow an inflated sense of herself.
June 28, 2011
Almost every woman who lives at The Place goes once a week to Marveen, the beauty shop stylist. Marveen cuts, perms, and shapes every head of downy white hair into pretty much exactly the same style—more or less flat on top, ear-length, and fluffed out on the sides, a modified George Washington look.
Alice goes to Marveen too, but she doesn’t appreciate looking like all the other residents, even though once, long ago, she and her five sisters all wore the same cut. Read the rest of this entry »
May 8, 2011
A friend sent an e-mail to Alice asking her to describe her mother. Read the rest of this entry »
April 10, 2011
For the past month, Alice has been listening to her dining room partner, Libby, comment frequently on what’s happening with the flag, viewed from Libby’s position facing the front window: “The flag is waving. It’s windy.” “The flag stopped waving. Wind must have died down.” “The flag has a hole in it. They should replace it.” “The flag is at half-staff. Who died? Wait a minute. No, it’s not. It’s the normal way.” “The flag looks droopy. Must be sad.”
Libby cleans her fingernails with her fork, stares and points at people with palsy, shouts at passersby, and wipes her plate with her napkin when she’s finished eating and then uses the napkin to wrap up food she then places in a pocket she calls “the garbage dump.” She also talks with her mouth full.
March 13, 2011
December 31, 2010
On Christmas day, I brought Alice a fanciful stocking stuffed with good things, thinking it would bring back memories of her childhood Christmases, but it turned out she’d never had such a thing in all her 95 years.
No wonder I’d grown up without one. The things we don’t know about our own mothers. Read the rest of this entry »
November 14, 2010
One winter day when my grandmother, Martha, was twenty-six years old she needed to go outside and get some water from the well. The well wasn’t far from the house, but fetching water on a Dakota farm on such a cold day meant she either had to bundle up her two children–Marie, age four, and LaRue, a baby–and take them with her, or leave them inside. My grandfather was away.
The fireplace warmed only one room of the two-room sod house, so she spread a quilt on the floor, put the children on the quilt, gave them some bread, and placed two dolls she’d made of wooden spools on the edge of the quilt for them to find when they’d finished the bread. She grabbed a woolen shawl and a pail and set out. In a few minutes she’d be back. They’d hardly notice her absence.
She started down the frozen path to the well. Blades of sunlight gleaming off a mower struck her eyes. She raised her right arm to block the glare and hurried on, worried that the children might crawl in the opposite direction from the dolls, toward the fireplace. In her rush she didn’t see the thick wedge of ice around the well’s wooden skirt. When the toe of her boot hit the wedge, she slipped and tumbled headlong into the icy water.
Read the rest of this entry »