Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Homespun Nursery Rhymes

     As I was pushing my three-year-old granddaughter in the swing at the park the other day, she urged me to push her higher and higher. “Make me fly, Gramma!” she insisted. So I did. I ignored the arthritis in my elbows and shoulders and gave that little girl wings. As she swung up toward the treetops into the wild blue yonder, a little rhyme bubbled out of me:

Fly high in the sky
Like a rocket

     My granddaughter asked me to repeat the ditty to her over and over and over again, a look of pleasure twinkling in her eyes. I could see it in her face as her imagination soared out ahead of her; she wasn’t swinging anymore, she was flying, speeding through space toward the moon.

     I’ve been making up rhymes and songs to mark the everyday joys and trials of childhood since my own girls were babies. Silly stuff, mostly, but part of the stock that my oldest daughter has included in her own repertoire and passed down to her kids.

     The lullaby for rocking a wee one to sleep:*

I love you baby
Oh, yes I do
I love you baby
And I’ll be true
When you’re not with me
Boo-hoo, I’m blue
Oh, baby
I love you

     A distraction sung while extracting stubborn residue from the nose of a child who has not yet learned how to blow:

I’ve got a great big ugly fat green booger
Up in my nose
Up in my nose
Up in my nose
I’ve got a great big ugly fat green booger
Up in my nose
Up in my nose to stay

I know my mommy doesn’t like it but she
Can’t get it out
Can’t get it out
Can’t get it out
I know my mommy doesn’t like it but she
Can’t get it out
Can’t get it out today

     A verbal embrace before the light is switched off at bedtime. A rhyme half-remembered from my own childhood and re-worked when my memory failed.

Sleep tight
Don’t let the bedbugs bite.

But if they do
Cry boo-hoo
And I’ll come rescue you.

     As you can see for yourself, they are nothing clever like A. A. Milne, Shel Silverstein, or Jack Prelutsky. They are more comparable to some of those nonsense rhymes from Mother Goose. Perhaps that is how many of the nursery rhymes that are so familiar to us began, somebody’s mama or grandma blurting out irrepressible ditties about boogers and bedbugs that have been repeated so often they became lore. Homespun nursery rhymes.

     But if it can make a three-year-old fly, it is poetry.

taken from Bye Bye Birdie

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Mud Ball Buddies

     David and Bobby lived in a brick house next door to us. They had a peach tree in the front yard and a cherry tree in the back. A laurel hedge that grew as tall as trees separated their backyard from the gravel alley that ran between our houses. The alley dead-ended at the house of David and Markie, the neighborhood bullies.

     Bobby and I were both three years old, and he was my best friend. Markie was three years old too, but we were enemies. He threw a rock at me once, hit me in the eye and started a war.

     One afternoon when naptime was over, Bobby and I joined forces with our three older siblings and prepared for battle. First, we built an arsenal of mud balls under the cherry tree in the backyard and stored them in empty coffee cans. Then, the boys ran a garden hose with a spray gun nozzle up a ladder and over the hedge. My sister and I spied through the gaps in the laurel palisade waiting for the enemy to approach, while the boys kept watch on its ramparts.

     I remember the thrill of anticipation and the chill of fear as I imagined David and Markie making mud balls at the other end of the alley. I remember the boldness that possessing a secret weapon inspired. Surely those bullies would turn and run home at the first blast from the water hose. Surely. They were out-manned, out-gunned and our stash of mud balls beneath the cherry tree was impressive.

     We waited a long time, but Markie and David never appeared.

     As dinnertime approached, we could no longer endure the suspense. We worked up the courage to run to the end of the alley and strike first, but when we arrived, no one was there. A few small piles of crumbling mud balls were the only sign that a battle had been imminent. Maybe Markie had been called into the house for a bath. Maybe David had been sent to his room for tracking mud into the kitchen. Maybe our superior numbers and firepower had cowed the boys. I felt both relieved and disappointed that we had avoided the fight. We stomped on the enemy’s mud balls and ran home to dinner.

     I remember feeling a bit like a bully myself.

Sunday, May 12, 2013


     I stood in front of the card rack looking at Mother’s Day cards and feeling like an orphan. No need to choose a card or gift for my mom this year. I swallowed the lump that was forming in my throat and blinked back tears. I don’t cry in public. Not usually.

     It had become challenging these last few years to think of gifts to send Mom when she didn’t need or want much of anything, so I had begun sending her my memories—written recollections of moments we shared or things I cherished about her. So that is what I am giving myself this year since she is no longer here to receive it.

     My mother was interested in a lot of things. She bought books she never read, fabric she never sewed, and craft supplies she couldn’t part with even to use in crafting. Among other things, she collected Barbies, recipes, knitting needles, buttons, rocks, porcelain dolls, and MacDonald’s happy meal toys. She went through a woodcarving phase and acquired all of the necessary tools for the craft. One of the few whittling projects she completed was a letter opener.

     For many years this objet d’art was handily displayed on the windowsill beside her chair in the diningroom where she opened the daily mail. After she died, I slipped the letter opener into my suitcase to take home. It isn’t the most efficient tool, it’s a little too blunt on the cutting edge, but it works better than tearing into an envelope with my fingers. I own a metal opener—it slices through paper like a hot knife through butter—but I like using the one my mom made.

     It is intriguing to me that such a humble, inconsequential item I barely noticed before can suddenly take on so much value and significance. I hold it in my hands, rub my fingers over the smooth, imperfect wooden handle and blade, and think about the hands that shaped it; the same hands that showed me how to tie my shoes, teased my hair into an embarrassing bouffant for the yearbook photo in the seventh grade, typed up a sentimental poem to give me on my wedding day, and labored for six months knitting a sweater for my first baby. It is one of those possessions that cannot be valued in dollars or cents and is, therefore, priceless.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Frogs, Snails, Puppy Dogs' Tails...

     My husband was sitting at the kitchen table with me, each of us absorbed in our laptops, when he started to laugh. It wasn't a chuckle, giggle, chortle or guffaw; it was one of those laughs that grabs my attention because it goes on and on with hardly a pause for breath. I call it his heart attack laugh. Well, anything that funny I have to see for myself, so I scooted my chair closer to his to see what all of the fuss was about. Our oldest daughter had sent him this email:

     I am not completely devoid of a sense of humor so I laughed too, but mostly at my husband who couldn't stop laughing. He immediately emailed the photo to our brother-in-law who telephoned 3 minutes later. Then they were both laughing and tossing puns back and forth across the miles like a couple of boys playing catch in the backyard.

     Now, my husband bends far enough toward the erudite that I consider him cultured. He is educated; well-informed; listens to a variety of music from classical and jazz to Jason Mraz and Train; enjoys Dickens and Austen at the cinema, Shakespeare and musicals at the theater; appreciates a well appointed room and the aesthetics of a garden; and loves woodworking, photography, architecture and cooking gourmet meals.

     However, humor brings out the boy in him. He isn't a fan of blue comedy but a smart fart joke gets him giggling, guffawing or, in this instance, gasping for breath.

     I never raised a son, but I have a grandson, numerous nephews and great-nephews, and I taught 5 and 6 year-old boys in Sunday School for eleven years, so I know their propensity toward blood and guts and potty humor.

     Apparently, they never outgrow it...although it was my daughter who started it.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Dawn Chorus

Oh be joyful! It is Dawn Chorus Day.

Hope is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul
and sings the tune without the words
and never stops at all

                                         ~ Emily Dickinson ~