Tamara Jorell

Writing life and the neighborhood

Writing life and the neighborhood

 

The shoes

Images of my friend flicked by on the two large screens at the front of the church. She and her husband in a vineyard in New Zealand. The two of them posing in Africa, an elephant behind them. Her baby propped on her hip at dusk, the ocean their backdrop. Snow falling on the family of three in Victory Memorial Parkway for their last Christmas card. That bright smile of hers; that characteristic tilt of her head. Her forty years now encapsulated in 2-D for some short minutes before a service.

Was Lorna really gone?

Her mother, Debbie, strode up the aisle to the pew where I sat. She reached for my hand, and I squeezed hers.

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

“We were just sitting outside on the patio with her, weren’t we?” Her eyes were clear like a day when the rain has just stopped.

I did some quick math to figure the time since our last visit in June, before cancer snapped Lorna out of the circle. I nodded.

“Can you come over to the house this week and help me go through her clothes?” she said. “You can take anything you want.”

Her beautiful clothes. Sorting through them… So personal. And taking them away… So permanent. “Of course. Thanks for thinking of me.”

Later at my friend’s house, Debbie approached me with a shoe box, a smile stretched across her face. "Here you go.”

I lifted the lid. If Lorna’s life were a pair of shoes, these were it. Exotic, elegant, fun. I slipped off my boot and stepped into one of the high heels. A perfect fit. “I love these.”

I plucked the shoe’s twin from its box and examined them together. Pretty. Then I looked at the bottoms. Scuffed. Lorna had worn these shoes—and not just once. I saw parties, weddings, dances, and galas in the soles. These beauties had been loved.

Lorna’s shoes spoke a good word: Life is fleeting. And stuff is only stuff, so use it. Burn the gift candles, break out the guest towels, eat off the good dishes.

And wear the fancy shoes.

Shoes.jpg

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

The state fair

“When was the last time we came here together?” seventeen-year-old Flicka said as we passed through the entrance to the Minnesota State Fair.

I shrugged. “Well, we had the double stroller, so it’s been a while.”

No stroller this time. We would cover the place with three teenagers who could walk on their own. Who knew the state fair could be this easy?

At the girls’ request, we frittered away time in the livestock barns, shuddering at the largest boar who was slabbed out in his stall looking more like a three-quarter ton rock than an animal. We oohed at the cows who cuddled with their owners while they awaited their show times. We aahed at the sheep and goats who often shoved their heads through the bars to get a scratch behind the ears just like our own creature at home.

We floated through the agriculture building and the global market, the art exhibits and the butterfly room. We breezed through the gathering of humanity like we were riding a bike on a freshly tarred road, unlike the baby days when it seemed we were rollerblading through sand. And we ate many goodies: walleye cakes, fried pickles, multi-flavored cheese curds, poutine, honey ice cream, chocolate chip cookies. No sugar-induced meltdowns this time.

But as we sauntered by food offerings too numerous to conquer in a day, one particular aroma wafted me back to another time.

I was twenty years old again and drifting through the state fair with Boyfriend. We had managed to pay the entrance fee, but we were college students on a suffocating budget. Once inside the gates, we were strapped. Not even a dollar between us.

“That roasted corn sure smells good,” Boyfriend said.

“The best,” I said, eyeing the charred husks and the butter dripping off a patron’s chin after she chomped from a fresh cob.

“Maybe next time.”

But I had an idea. “Or this time.”

I shared my plan, and we strolled the fair with new purpose, our eyes trained on the ground. We most often found pennies, but went ecstatic when we spied silver.

“A dime,” Boyfriend said, his face splitting into a grin. “Lucky break.”

For an hour we were as alert as a dog hanging out under a dinner table. We scoured pay phone change slots. Then the mother of all ideas sparked: the arcade. Why hadn’t we thought of it before? We entered the house of games and searched every coin return.

I was breathless. “Three quarters!”

Finally we had what we needed for one cob. We scurried to the corn stand and dumped our fistful of change into a worker’s hand. We took our first bites. Now our chins were slick with butter. We sighed; roasted corn had never tasted more delicious.

Hardship probably creates the best memories. But visiting the state fair with a few easy teenagers and enough money for a cob of corn is okay too.

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Little things: the lawn

Another rainy day.

The patches of grass in the back yard seem to withdraw from the lawn’s bald spots like they don’t enjoy getting muddy any more than I do. But Lala, our dog, doesn’t share our feelings. She finishes her duties in the drizzle and bounds for the back door, first making certain to gallop through the slimiest section of the yard.  

“Wait,” I tell her when she steps inside.

She knows what I want. She raises one paw at a time as I wipe off her feet with an old towel.

“Okay, go,” I finally say, and she lopes toward my new white couch.

But I didn’t get her feet well enough, and the kitchen is now stamped with her signature. I sigh and wipe down the tile. By now, she and I have memorized our routine.

“Big dog, small yard,” the lawn treatment guy says with a knowledgeable sniff the next time I see him. “Yeah, you can’t have nice grass with all that going on.”

I already knew a lush lawn and a sixty-five pound dog were mutually exclusive. If we didn’t have Lala, we wouldn’t have all the mud in the house on a sodden day either. But we’ve made our (dog) bed, and now we lie in it.

Later, this animal of ours snuggles with the girls while they watch a movie. She repositions a pillow under her head for maximum comfort, opposable thumbs apparently optional. The tip of her tail flicks the air while she snoozes. When she switches her eyes open again, she licks the girls’ toes like they spent the day working barefoot at a meat-packing plant.

And when it’s my turn for bed, Lala plops down next to me, presses her flank against mine, and gazes at me with eyes like the oceans. I know that look.  

“I love you too,” I say.

Fine. We’ll take the scrappy lawn.

lawn dog.jpg

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

 

Little things: colors

I roll to a stop at a traffic light on Lake Street. While I wait, my mind flits a thousand miles away to things that don’t matter—and won’t matter—even tomorrow.

On my left, a woman, holding a sign, stands on the sun-soaked median. The driver of the car in front of me lowers his window and extends a hand to her. A tattoo sleeve decorates his arm; man-made beauty sprawled on God’s skin. And I smile at the gift he gives her too. Maybe it’s just a few coins, but a grin explodes her features, blasting away the darkness around her.

At once, gratefulness and regret needle me. I’m happy I don’t wear monochromatic lenses; the Asian woman squeezes the black man’s hand, and I get to watch the scene in color. But I’m disappointed I didn’t capture the fragile exchange on camera to keep as a reminder for the days when I forget.

That evening, my neighbor sends me a private message. “I have something for you. It was my grandma’s, but it looks like you. I want you to have it.”

She hauls a cardboard box across the alley to my house and unloads its contents onto my dining room table. Delighted, I clap at the sight of it all. She knows me well. A collection of ceramic bowls. Pretty, like her, and in different colors—like the two of us. I feel that familiar pain in my chest that only gets better when I hug her.

The stoplight and the dining room table. The wide range of beauty I see humbles me, and it doesn’t end here. Even heaven needs different colors to be perfect.

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb.

IMG_20170824_091932962-01.jpeg

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

 

Little things: the tendril

I watch the green baby each day as he twines his way up, clutching onto the rungs I’ve provided. He’d grab onto me too, if I stayed still long enough. Then he claws at the air in front of our back door. Maybe he thinks coming inside the house with me is a good idea.

“Oh, you don’t want what’s in there.” I brush him away from the doorway and poke him back into his trellis with Mama Morning Glory. “You’re better off out here.”

But soon I can see he doesn’t believe me.

I think of a little girl who once stayed with us. Her plate was always filled with food at our table, but she still reached for more. At one meal, she scooped up a man-sized serving of chili and circled an arm around the big—and only—bag of corn chips, pulling it to her chest. My family gazed at her scramble to have it all.

“How about eating what’s on your plate?” I said, hoping not to embarrass her, making sure a smile lifted my words. “You can always have seconds. And thirds. I’ll make sure you get full.”

But the look on her face told me she didn’t believe me.

The morning glories’ tendrils grasp for more when they have what they need. The little girl snatches another helping when her plate’s already full. But when I choose to live in the future—in the fear of scarcity—so I can’t even see the enough of today, am I so different?

… Be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

 

Little things: the height pole

Sometimes life is tracked in pen or pencil; sometimes it’s scribbled in Sharpie marker. But no matter what, it’s art. And it shows us we’re growing.

On a supporting beam in our basement is artwork in progress, evidence of lengthening bones and stretching skin. Most days, I’m too busy folding the laundry or shelving new rolls of toilet paper to notice it. But the days I open my eyes, I see its messy beauty, and I wonder about the methods used to draw the lines. I’ve even witnessed the shoddy approach of the artists involved, their markings imprecise and inconsistent. And I’m glad I’ve never made rules around it that could’ve quashed the fun.

We’re not the only ones who have marked the height pole. Our visitors want to see if they’ve grown too, and they have, I exclaim, when they go in for another measurement months—or even years—later. Except for our friend Melissa, who in her thirties has probably topped out at her 5’11”.   

With the height pole, as in other parts of our lives, we compare ourselves to others when it doesn’t matter. “Flicka was taller than Dicka at that age, but not as tall as Ricka.” Who cares anyway? We’re all growing, aren’t we? Even those of us whose inseams have stayed the same.

I think of another mother millennia ago. Did she have a special way to measure her boy who grew outside of space and time? Her measuring tape went in all directions: before and in, over and through. And her son’s purpose made him the tallest of us all.

And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

 

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

National Night Out

I tied the yellow CAUTION tape around the tree at the corner and stretched it across the street to the stop sign on the other side. The other end of the block got the same treatment. But would drivers really obey my flimsy blockade? Or would cars blast through anyway?

“It’s official now,” a neighbor said, eyeing my work as she watered her boulevard garden.

I laughed. “I guess so.”

“I’ll be over soon with my tabbouleh salad.”

My first year as the block leader. My first National Night Out running the thing. We had always enjoyed the annual invitation from the next block, but it was time to host the event on our own street. Now who would come?

We set up the table in the middle of the road and toted out the hotdogs, chips, and rhubarb cake. Over the years, I had seen pictures of the event from other block parties in North Minneapolis: water balloon fights, door prizes, streamers, tables crowded with potluck dishes, and laughing neighbors-turned-friends. But at our place, we had simple food, camp chairs, a bucket of chalk. And room at the table for all of us.

A few neighbors sauntered over, then several more. Our gracious hosts from previous years popped by with hugs and a pan of curried rice. Some kids rolled in. I recognized one boy—no more than thirteen now—who had played basketball in our driveway a couple of years ago. His most recent adventures were captured on our back yard security camera one night in April when he and his buddies rifled through our Jetta, swiping our cell phone charging cords.

“Here you go,” Husband said, handing the kid a hotdog.

More children—minus their adults—swooped in and out. A five-year-old boy lingered to doodle chalk designs on the pavement with our teenage girls.

And then came the stories. One neighbor, now in his sixties, had once been the young guy on the block, surrounded by senior citizens. From inside his house one winter night long ago, he had heard someone call his name. He peered through the window to find an elderly woman splayed out on his front walk. He provided her with company and a warm blanket until the paramedics arrived. One of our girls shared a creepy light rail story from her day, and a neighbor gave her sound public transit advice: when in doubt, hit the emergency call button. Another neighbor’s meal with us was interrupted when she was notified that her fifty-four-year-old brother had died unexpectedly.

We packed up our evening with old and new friends, putting the bocce balls to bed in their case and leaving the chalk art to sing in the dark. There was nothing glamorous about sharing a hotdog with a kid who had ripped us off or with a neighbor whose life was sliced open by sudden loss, but it was real. Like family-real.

Some celebrate National Night Out as a festive event with all the sparkles. But on our block, we don’t get cleaned up for the party. We come as we are.

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

 

The proposal: She said

Husband proposed to me on January 8, 1992. We married on July 18 that same year.

Every story has two sides. This week, I tell mine.

***

“We’re here,” Boyfriend said. “You can look now.”

I peeled off the bandana blindfold. The University of Minnesota, St. Paul campus.  

He hopped out of the driver’s seat and came around to the passenger side to open my door. He guided me through January’s winds into the student center, down the stairs, and into the bowling alley in the basement. Then he plunked down cash for one game and two pairs of shoes. I frowned, eyeing my too-snug dress.

When I had taken the day off from my job at the Marie Sandvik Center at Boyfriend’s request, it was for a visit to a special exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. For some reason, though, the plan had fizzled. Was this the alternative? Bowling?

Boyfriend waved a hand for me to throw the first ball. One, two, three, slide—just like the old 1950s instructional video in gym class, only 100% less impressive. Unable to bend over much in my dress, I squatted awkwardly, and as I released the ball, I remembered my thumb, its skin bubbled from a run-in with a searing pan of curly fries the previous night at Kids’ Club at work. The blister ripped away, and I gasped. Gutter ball.

“No big deal,” Boyfriend said, gazing at my still-standing pins.

“I don’t really care about my score.” I raised my raw thumb for him to see.

He sucked air through his teeth. “Ouch.”

For nine more frames, I tried to bowl without using the finger holes, and he tried to play while walking on eggshells.   

“Let’s go to dinner,” he said, his tone flat.

Our reserved table at Muffuletta in the Park was dim and intimate. Music from a violinist and a cellist soothed my stinging thumb, and the decadent food spirited away the evening’s bumpy start.

I dabbed my mouth and gazed at Boyfriend over the flickering candle. We had talked about marrying in the near future. Would tonight be the night for the proposal? Should I chew more carefully to avoid chomping down on an engagement ring in the dessert?

“Too bad things started out the way they did,” I said.

“You weren’t too happy.”

“I wish I had known about the bowling. I could’ve dressed for it.”

“You told me you wanted to dress up and go bowling sometime.” He set down his glass. “Remember?”

I narrowed my eyes. “When?”

“Forget it.” Boyfriend waved down our server and asked for our check and for a to-go box for the dessert I was too full to finish. “Maybe we call it a night?”

A museum trip canceled in favor of bowling, and now a beautiful dinner that seemed like a precursor to a gift of jewelry, but no proposal? Was he canceling that too?

“Already? It’s too early to go home.”

The server returned with a tinfoil swan that had swallowed my carrot cake.

“So what then? A movie?”

I shrugged. “I guess.”

But on the way to the movie theater, the car filled with old and new thorns, and the more we struggled through them, the more they tore at our attitudes. My thumb throbbed.

At the theater, Boyfriend shoved some cash under the little window. “Two tickets for The Last Boy Scout,” he said, not looking at me.

On the screen, Bruce Willis strutted around with a gun, doing something heroic for almost two hours, but I rewound the mental footage from our date. Maybe Boyfriend’s request that I take the day off from work on a Wednesday for a day full of surprises didn’t have any special meaning attached to it. Maybe it was just a date.

On the ride home, silence blasted us. We pulled into the driveway of my house in Dinkytown. Regret—heavier than my winter coat—settled on my shoulders. The thorns from earlier were really only prickles, and I should’ve seen it then.

Boyfriend came around to my side again and opened the door. He held out a gloved hand, and I took it. He scooped me up into his arms.

“So you won’t ruin your shoes,” he said.

And I thought of his nice shoes as he carried me through the driveway’s slushy snow.

Inside the house, he set me down in the foyer and kissed me. He opened the door to my room, letting me enter first. Candlelight warmed the space. By the window was a painting—of me.

My vision blurred. “You did this?” I spun to face him.

But he was already on one knee, offering me his future.

 

A week before our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, Husband told me not to schedule anything on the big day.

“I have plans. And don’t even try guessing,” he said, “but pick a dress you can move in.”

I tried to nibble away a smile. “I think I know where this is going.”

The morning of our anniversary, we bowled a game at the student center at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul campus. My dress felt good—and so did my thumb. Lunch at Muffuletta was just right, and the movie Lost in Paris made us laugh. We drove by my old place in Dinkytown and asked the renter’s permission to snap a picture in the driveway. Husband scooped me up in his arms again.

When we returned home, Husband kissed me and opened the door to our house, letting me enter first. No candles needed today; our years together warmed the space. On the wall was a new painting—of me.

“I had it commissioned,” he said. “This was the inspiration.”

He showed me a photo on his cell phone. Me in the purple dress from our twenty-fourth wedding anniversary.

My vision blurred. Life was bigger and better than the too-tight skirts, the blisters, the thorns, and the prickles along the way.

I turned to face him. And there he was, still offering me his future.

The anniversary painting. Oil on canvas, 15" x 30", by artist Rachel Orman

The anniversary painting. Oil on canvas, 15" x 30", by artist Rachel Orman

 

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

 

The proposal: He said

Husband proposed to me on January 8, 1992. We married on July 18 that same year.

Every story has two sides. This week, he tells his.

***

“You need to take the day off from work January 8,” I said, “because that’s the last day of a special showing at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.”

Tamara acted like she was excited. I had spent several weeks painting her picture, and I was going to see if the Minneapolis Institute of Art would let me prop it in a corner somewhere, so I would walk by and let her see it, and when she did, I would propose to her. But when I made these plans, I didn’t have permission from the MIA yet. After she had already taken the day off, I found out they wouldn’t let me do it for insurance reasons, so I had to come up with a new plan. Since I had to kill a couple hours before our dinner reservations now and we were already dressed up, and Tamara had told me at one time it would be fun to get dressed up and go bowling, I decided that’s what we would do.

And that’s where everything started to go wrong.

On the big day, I picked Tamara up and explained the special showing was no longer in existence, and that we couldn’t go. She was unhappy because she had taken the day off from work for that specific reason. I told her I had a different surprise. I blindfolded her, and we headed for the bowling alley. But when we got there, she saw where we were, and I could tell this wasn’t going to be a good replacement for the art museum. Even though at one point she said it was something that would’ve been fun, it wasn’t something fun today, because she had a blister and was wearing a really tight skirt. So we bowled one unhappy game. Finally it was time for dinner, and I thought, “Maybe things will be better from here on out.”

It didn’t get better.

“Maybe we end it here and go home,” I said.

“But I took the day off,” she said. “I don’t want to go home this early.”

“What do you want to do?”

“I don’t care. Something.”

“Fine. Let’s go to a movie. What movie?”

“I don’t care,” she said.

Out of spite, I picked Bruce Willis’ The Last Boy Scout.

When the movie was over, our moods were still as dark as the theater. She, because she didn’t like the movie or anything that had happened during the date, and I, because nothing had turned out the way I hoped.

We drove back to her house in Dinkytown. I was trying to decide what to do, because this seemed like a really poor proposal date, but when we got to her house, I saw the painting propped in her window surrounded by candles lit by her brother. She hadn’t noticed it, so I thought I could salvage the date by carrying her through the slush and snow so she didn’t ruin her shoes. I would take her into her room, so she could see the painting, I decided, and then I would ask her to marry me.

She said ‘yes’, and everything’s been better since.

The proposal painting. Oil on canvas, 20" x 26"

The proposal painting. Oil on canvas, 20" x 26"

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

The Good Neighbor Meal

Are you looking for a volunteer activity for a group?

The Good Neighbor Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota, is a building that houses a couple of churches, but the owners also use it to benefit the city through a kids’ tutoring program and a meal program, The Good Neighbor Meal, where volunteers host a meal and feed those in need.

Last Saturday, our family hosted the meal, and the following volunteers served 130 plates of food and/or donated to the cause:

Micara and Todd Baker

Diane Barvels

Elisabeth Blees

Jeff, Sherry, and Bethany Bogenholm

Cindy Brown

Mother Minnie Brown

Lisa Carlson

Joe Courtemanche

Alvaro Domenighi

Deborah McDaniel Dunn and Trevor Dunn

Heidi, Mark, Adeline, and Ilya Edwards

Jon Gordon

Colleen Grewenow

Karyn Hansen

Joan Jacobson

Marie and Greg Johnson

Shelby Lanning

Joe Loftus

Susan, Ryan, Milo, and Lucy MacDonald

Connie Nelson

Jessica and Ava Nielson

Sidney Orchard

Ann Rubin and Sandy Almquist

Lynette and Mike Simser

Sandy and Chris Tutka

Thank you, everyone! And a special thank you to our North Minneapolis friends at The Thirsty Whale Bakery who donated and delivered cupcakes for all.

If you’d like to get involved too, meals are hosted/served the second and last Saturdays of each month. Send me a private message here so I can connect you with the coordinator to reserve your date.

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

More eavesdropping

Last week, I asked you about a time you eavesdropped and what you overheard. Here are some of my readers' responses:

***

On a flight from London to Minneapolis, I sat directly in front of a couple in their sixties. Everything the woman said she would yell to her husband because she had earbuds in.

“ARE YOU GOING TO WATCH THIS MOVIE?” she said. “IT’S A ROMANCE. I DON’T KNOW IF YOU’LL LIKE IT.”

The husband just sat there.

Later, she commented on the flight attendants and how they were really nice. “I THINK I REMEMBER SOME OF THEM FROM THE EARLIER FLIGHT.”

Still no words from the husband.

I had a broken seat, so every time I sat up, the seat would move up. And when I sat back, the seat would lean back.

Halfway through the flight, the woman yelled to her husband. “THIS GUY’S DRIVING ME CRAZY WITH HIS SEAT.”

I didn’t tell her she was driving me crazy with her voice.

 

Scott, Minneapolis, Minnesota

***

A spook haiku or spaiku (haiku for and by Intel people, a term invented by Lee Bishop of the Defense Language Institute.)

long slow night of noise
voices from the other side of good
messages i must hear

 

Joe, St. Paul, Minnesota

***

The fence around our back yard is perfect for eavesdropping. Walkers deep in conversation rarely see me gardening on the other side of the fence. Our neighbor, almost 8 years old walked along the fence. He turned to his 11-year old sister after July 4th boomers were heard in our neighborhood.

“That was shotguns,” he said matter-of-factly.

His sister corrected him. It was fireworks.

The two walked on, flip flops softening their steps.

Those children volunteer in the community garden.  I thank them and hand out popsicles for their work.

Our neighborhood is prone to gunshots. I work to stop it, knowing that we don’t have to live with gun violence.

In the meantime, those young children are living the experience. Gunshots are normal in their everyday lives. They don’t run at the sound of it. They saunter.

That’s a scary thought.

 

Monica, North Minneapolis, Minnesota

***

Not my experience, but my husband and our daughter who were eating at a fairly nice restaurant in Bismarck.  They told me their story of a couple on a date, and the gentleman asked for an item no longer on the menu, and of how the chef could prepare it.  Turns out the main chef was not working that night, but could be called, the dish explained to today's chef, and if that would be acceptable.  It was.  After this intense amount of work, phone calls, and manager's help.  Then, the waiter turned to the lady and asked what she would like to dine on.

"That's for her,” the man replied.  “Nothing for me, I've already eaten."

 

Jen, Grand Forks, North Dakota

***

Board an airplane. Get stuck in the aisle as a middle aged lady struggles to wedge her oversized carryon into a small overhead bin. It has no chance of fitting.

She starts complaining that, "It fit in the last plane." Over and over. She finally yells to the flight attendant, "Why won't my bag fit?!"

Without thinking I decided to stop eavesdropping and accidentally mentioned that she "shouldn't have packed so much crap in it".

Judging by the laughter, turned out everyone else sitting around there was eavesdropping also.

 

Trevor, Hudson, Wisconsin

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Eavesdropping

Today, I want to hear from you.

“There’s nothing like eavesdropping to show you that the world outside your head is different from the world inside your head.” Thornton Wilder

“Any place is good for eavesdropping, if you know how to eavesdrop.” Tom Waits

We’ve all done it. What have you overheard? And where?

Write a note or poem about a time you eavesdropped on someone. Send it to me here (or if you’re a subscriber, simply hit reply to this email.) I will publish your writing in next week’s blog installment. (Please include your first name and location with your submission.)

 *Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Travel stories: the Poconos

We cranked down the car windows, letting the hot summer air blast our faces.

“Ready?” Husband said, glancing in the rear view mirror.

“Yeah!” Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka, ages seven, five, and three, hollered from the back seat.

“On the road again,” we belted out, “Just can’t wait to get on the road again, the life I love is making music with my friends, and I can’t wait to get on the road again.”

We sang the next part of Willie Nelson’s song with Husband’s amended lyrics. “Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway, we’re the best of friends as long as we do things my way, on the highway, on the road again.”

We had already spent a week in New York City at my brother’s place in Queens, venturing out each day to perform our touristy duties of consuming pasta in Little Italy and making Flicka’s wishes for a funky haircut come true in a basement salon somewhere in Greenwich Village. We narrowly escaped the temptation to purchase miniature turtles at a shop in Chinatown, opting instead for paper parasols and silk pajamas. And we took the Staten Island ferry to Lady Liberty’s place to say hi.

The car now gobbled up the miles along I-80 until we caught sight of a chalet, our timeshare for the week, nestled in the Pocono Mountains.

“‘Nobody puts Baby in a corner’,” I quoted Patrick Swayze’s famous line from the 1987 flick. “Fun that the movie was set here.”

“Pretty sure it was the Catskills,” Husband said.

I circled back to the eighties. “I think you’re right.”

We climbed forty-plus steps to our lodging, dumped our luggage on the living room floor, and the girls scattered to their new rooms. But Dicka took a spill, catching her nasal septum on the edge of the coffee table. Blood pulsed from her nose.

“Oh, wonderful.” I darted into the kitchen, grabbed swaths of paper towels, and returned to the scene of the accident where Husband was cupping his hands under the deluge.

The bleeding finally stanched, we tugged on our swimsuits and set out for water. We located the pool, teeming with vacationers, and jumped in. My ducklings, clad in swim wings and goggles, bobbed in the deep end with Husband and me.

New York accents mingled with Southern drawls. And was that German? Italian too? A sampling of the world floated in the pool along with us.

“I’ve never seen a suit like that before,” Flicka said, gazing at a Muslim girl in full-body swimwear.

I nodded. Then I peered at the water and wrinkled my nose. “And I’ve never seen so much hair in a pool before.”

Husband cringed. “Can’t be good for the pool’s filter.”

The next morning in the fitness center, I lowered myself into another pool for aqua aerobics class. My classmates, a handful of older ladies decked in floral swim caps and Long Island accents, chattered amongst themselves, their raspy voices betraying their habit which I had seen them stub out into the ashtray by the door.

We worked our arms using Styrofoam noodles, gripped the edge of the pool for our leg lifts, and hop-twisted—Jack LaLanne style—through a few songs. The women chitchatted again during the cool-down, and I wondered if I could: 1. say ‘Larry’ in a Long Island accent like the woman who so often mentioned her husband, and 2. find a swim cap as cute as any of theirs.

“Let’s run to Blockbuster,” Husband said when I returned to the chalet.

Since the family was ready to go, I slipped on my long grey sweater over my swimsuit and trekked out the door with them. We drove to a nearby town, but as I stepped inside the video store, reality smacked me: we were no longer in a resort, and my attire was utterly inappropriate for the setting. What was I thinking, not getting dressed? I squared my shoulders, closing my sweater tightly around me while we perused movie titles.

We found more than an afternoon’s worth of entertainment and proceeded to the checkout line. A male voice wafted to me from behind.

“Ma’am? Ma’am?” said the voice.

Was he calling me? I turned to face a young man. “Hm?”

“Your dress is up, ma’am,” he said, like he was pleased to save me from embarrassment.

My face heated. I extricated the hem of my sweater from the leg hole of my swimsuit—how had it gotten there anyway?—with a harrumph. “Thanks.”

I whirled to face forward again. ‘Your dress’? It’s a sweater, thank you very much, I felt like saying. To cover my swimsuit, if you don’t mind.

 

We remember our trip to the Poconos in 2007 as one of our favorites. We’ve still never witnessed a nose gusher like Dicka’s. “Ma’am? Ma’am? Your dress is up, ma’am” is a well-worn quote in our house now. And I shudder every time we recount stories of the hairy pool.

But would we go back to that timeshare in the Poconos? In a heartbeat.

 

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Kris

I met her the day Prince died.

My phone pinged the alert of the celebrity’s death as I pulled up a chair at a table in the banquet room of a suburban church. What had happened to the musician whose work marked my teen years? He had collapsed in an elevator in his home, a news source said, but the cause of death was unknown. I slipped my phone into my purse, turning my thoughts back to the luncheon honoring Safe Families for Children host moms.

Kris sat at my table. And other women settled in too. Over lunch, we spoke of the unpredictability of nurturing kids who didn’t belong to us. Advanced cases of head lice, trips to Urgent Care for fungus or urinary tract infections, burs stuck in Afros, cussing two-year-olds. Because the call to be Jesus’ hands on this earth isn’t exactly glamorous business.

We talked about why we did it.

“I grew up in fear,” Kris said. “Fear of violence, but mostly the fear of never knowing what would happen to me and my mom.”

There was no space in her skin for self-pity. But from across the table, I could feel her resolve; over and over again, she gave kids a respite from fear.

“Let’s get together sometime,” she said to me when the event ended.

We exchanged numbers. Between us, ideas swirled. We both had our own older children, but we could arrange play dates for our new ones. And in a pinch, we could do childcare for each other.

We’re out shopping, Kris texted one day, attaching a picture of a tiny sweater dress on a store hanger. Then came a picture of the recipient of the dress—her newest little houseguest—riding in a shopping cart. The toddler, clutching a toy, peered out of the picture with wide brown eyes.

Cutie, I texted back. I want that dress.

I’ll grab you one.

Can I live at your house for a few weeks? And you can buy me toys too?

Well, yeah.

Kris’ place was Noah’s ark. Two retired senior greyhounds, a chubby brown dog, two big-boned cats, and a sassy bunny. And when little ones climbed on board to safety too, she used healthy food and a sensible schedule to turn them into happy kids in two days flat.

Kris and I met for lunches and chats and grew a friendship beyond the kids.

Do you like U2? she texted me one day in May. Her husband had a conflict and couldn’t travel with her to Miami for the concert anymore. All expenses are covered. Wanna go?

I used one full breath to think about it. I’m in! What do I owe you?

Just your life.

But she wouldn’t have had to say it.

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Stuck

I frittered away two hours on the phone last night, struggling to communicate with a customer service person. English was her second language, and I tried to follow the important string of numbers she rattled off. I asked again, but still missed it. Could she repeat it a third time? We were disconnected, and I called back. This time, a new person came on the line. English wasn’t his specialty either.  

Stuck.

Garbage was strewn around the alley this morning again. More bills for co-pays arrived, reminding me we’re healthy in spite of our eight doctor visits in the past six weeks. Today the grocery list by the fridge spilled over, even though I shopped yesterday. A damp bath towel skulked around that one kid’s room—never mind my reminders over the years to not let damp bath towels skulk around her room.

Stuck.

My manuscript has its own special folder for rejections. “You’re an excellent writer, but we’ll have to pass”, “Don’t let this particular ‘no’ discourage you, and please consider us for your future stories”, “Your work is clever and has merit, but it’s not quite what we’re looking for at this time.”

Stuck.

My companion since high school—the pain in my back in that little spot under my right scapula—reminds me I’m made of flesh. And I clench my teeth at night, my dentist says. Probably because I can’t control my life during the day.

Stuck.

For years, I’ve battered the throne room of heaven for certain people I love, begging for their financial freedom, spiritual transformation, physical healing. On this side of eternity, though, I don’t see anything new.

Stuck.

But each new day has new mercies, so I sit with my French Roast now, asking for a reset, a fresh outlook. An unstuck attitude.

And then comes the soft reminder: it’s not what it looks like.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.

 

 

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

The goodbye

“Can I bring over a bottle of wine?” our next door neighbor, Dallas, said on the phone one evening in March. “I have something to tell you guys, and I want to do it in person.”

“Noooooo!” I said. “I know what you’re going to say.”

Husband eyed me, furrowing his brow.

Dallas chuckled. “So now’s good?”

“Of course. Come.”

Dallas came to the front door, his six-foot-six-inch frame towering on our front porch—always a welcome sight. He handed me a Cabernet, and I motioned for him to sit at the dining room table with us. Soon, my fear was confirmed.

Dallas was moving.

The day we brought newborn Dicka home from the hospital in 2004 was the day Dallas moved in next door. He had intended to fix up the house and flip it within two years, but had stayed for thirteen instead.

Husband and I listened to the details of his new house just a mile away in Robbinsdale. It was his dream—another place to renovate, away from the inner city and its intricacies.

Over the following weeks, Dallas painted and repaired and tidied the property. He passed from his garage to the house and back again, and I heard the voices of my little girls from summers past.

“Hi, Dallas!” they called to our neighbor as he emerged from his house and headed for the garage. They scrambled around our back yard in princess costumes, waving wands, or in swimsuits, toting squirt guns.

He hollered hi back and waved, disappearing into his garage. He reappeared with tools or materials, pointed for the house again.

“Hi, Dallas!” they shouted a second time.

He laughed and yelled hello. Into the house and back out for more supplies.

“Hi, Dallas!”

I cringed. “Oh girls.” Would their constant hooting get on his nerves?

Later I found out he hadn’t minded all the attention. He hadn’t minded one bit.

Over the years, Dallas accepted our last-minute invitations for pizza nights or fires in the fire pit. He insisted we snip his tulips or forage his gardens for berries, tomatoes, rhubarb, and more. If his yard was a polished adult, ours was an awkward teenager, but he was patient with us. We played the eternal game of Who Can Get Out and Shovel the Other’s Snow First? with him. He usually won. In 2006, I cried when I told him about Dad dying; in 2014, he cried when he told me about his dad passing away.

After a busy weekend of running loads over to the new place, Dallas phoned me on Monday morning.

“Well, this is it. I’m leaving now.”

“I’ll be right out,” I said. “I need a picture of us.”

We posed in front of his house, and my friend snapped our photo. Behind us, his tulips had finished blooming.

Later, I texted him: The only reason I didn’t cry when you left today was because I know we’ll see you soon.

He texted back: Love you too.

 

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

The piano: Part 2

Flicka perched on the piano bench, squinting at a page of music.

“I can’t do it,” she said, flopping her hands onto the keyboard. She mashed the keys with her forehead. My girl’s drama skills dazzled me. Maybe she was better suited for the stage.

“You can do it,” I said. “But not all at once. Take one measure at a time.”

Four years of instruction were mandatory in our house. And each year, Flicka wrote No more piano lessons on her birthday and Christmas lists. Finally, her wish came true.

“Okay, you’re off the hook,” I announced.

She nearly squeezed out my innards. “Thank you, Mama. Thank you.”

Her sisters shared her opinion. Daily, I encouraged and cajoled and bribed them to practice. And most days, their tears dripped onto the keys. Where was their love of piano? Or their passion for making music?

Safe Families kids we hosted gravitated to the musical antique, and other guests sometimes plinked out melodies or showcased their talents on it too.  

But mostly, the giant sat in silence.

It acted as a shelf for artwork and mail, coffee cups and car keys. It served as a backdrop for photos and a surface for dust. I needed its bench sometimes, which I scooted to the dining room table for extra seating.

“We should get rid of the piano,” Husband said after fifteen years of ownership. “No one’s playing it, and it just takes up space.”

“What?” My eyes widened. “No! Every house needs a piano.”

“Okay.”

But I mulled over Husband’s suggestion as I chauffeured girls to badminton, volleyball, and softball. The thought of the piano’s absence rattled me, but the truth shook me more: We were a sports—and not music—family. My girls had traded scales for serves, chords for courts, and clefs for cleats. And by default, so had I. In spite of all my childhood piano lessons, I neglected the instrument too. It needed love and attention again.

I emailed Clark: We’re ready to let the piano go. Any idea who might want it?

He connected me with my second cousin Lars who lived with his family in a new house on the old homestead once belonging to Lars' grandparents, Chester and Helga, the original owners of the piano. Yes, Lars wanted the piano. Yes, he and his boys could come and get it. And yes, it would once again make a trip the length of Minnesota in an open trailer.

“Ready to make some music?” Husband said to Lars and his boys.

They inched the oak monstrosity through our front door and down the steps.

“Don’tletanyonegetcrushedDon’tletanyonegetcrushed,” I whispered, peeking through my fingers at their progress.

At last, our roommate of fifteen years creaked onto the trailer. The guys swaddled it in blankets and straps, tucking it in for the highway.

Goodbye, sweet tunes. Have a safe trip home.

Left photo: The piano looking on at story time. Right photo: The piano posing behind a masked Clark with a young Lars (the piano's new owner, left) and Maren (right).

 

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

The piano: Part 1

Moorhead, Minnesota; summer of 1988

Clark rubbed a knot out of his neck as he rode shotgun in the Suburban. It had been a long day, culminating in near calamity. He and his buddy Dick had muscled Clark’s childhood piano—a Kingsbury upright, manufactured in 1913—from the Moorhead American Legion’s barmaid’s sister’s house where the piano had stayed for a few years and helped out her kids. But as the two men hefted it out, the eight-hundred pound instrument pinned Clark’s leg to the stairs. Finally free of the weight and minus lasting injuries, he and Dick heaved it outside and onto a snowmobile trailer. They covered it with blankets and tarps and ran three straps lengthwise and two from top to bottom, securing it for the trip.   

Now at 10:30 p.m. on a warm June night, the musical giant was on the move again, headed for Clark’s apartment in the Twin Cities.  

Behind the wheel, Dick flipped through radio stations, clicking past some classical music: Beethoven’s Sonata Pathétique. Clark eased out a breath. Music from his past. After his father Chester passed away in 1975, he moved—at the age of twenty-nine—back to the homestead outside of Thief River Falls, Minnesota, to where his mother Helga lived in the early stages of dementia. Those were the piano years, and the most time Clark had ever spent playing the old Kingsbury.

As a young woman, Helga knew how to chord on the piano to accompany musicians, but she had never learned to read music, so she determined her children would. Now that Clark was home again, music swirled throughout the house. She beamed when her son worked hymns from the piano’s old keys; even when he played scales, Helga smiled. And he learned the first two movements of Sonata Pathétique, especially focusing on the slower one—the part he thought was the most beautiful music ever written.

“Not lookin’ so good back there,” Dick said, squinting into the rearview mirror.

Clark flicked his gaze to the trailer. The piano swayed from side to side. Dick signaled and took the next exit. The men checked their work.

“The straps are still tight,” Clark said.

“Seems so.”

“Let’s just go. If it makes it, it makes it. If not, fine.”

Dick slid behind the wheel again and Clark hopped into his seat. As they traveled along the freeway in the pale moonlight, Dick fiddled with the radio again, and they listened to the Twins playing a game in Oakland until after midnight.

They finished their trek from Moorhead to Minneapolis without another look back.

 

Minneapolis, Minnesota; fall of 2002

The phone rang. I glanced at the display: my dad’s first cousin, Clark. I hushed Ricka and Flicka, ages one and two years old, scampering around my feet.

“You never call me anymore,” I said into the receiver.

Clark’s laugh reverberated across the phone lines. “Say, I have an offer for you.”

“Oh, good.”

“Do you want a piano?”

My eyes pooled. Every house needed a piano, and our new-to-us home in north Minneapolis was no exception. But I had never dreamed I would have one—or at least this soon. “Yes.”

“Come and get it.”

Husband solicited the help of a piano moving company to collect the behemoth beauty from Clark’s place across town. It sprawled the length of one wall in our living room, as if it had been created for the space. As I ran a hand along its oak expanse, I smiled at the piano’s restoration. In the early nineties, Clark had paid to have the keyboard and hammers replaced after a Jerry Lee Lewis wannabe had given the ivories a good pounding.

I settled onto the bench, and my hands hovered above the keys. The first chord.

“Me, me.” Ricka had pulled herself to standing and now smacked the piano bench with her palms.

“Of course,” I said, drawing her into my lap. “This is for you.”

 

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

© 2014 Tamara Jorell. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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