And this late afternoon, after my nap, I spoke to dear Sarcastic Bastard Beloved and also her Mom, as they were having a drink on her deck in Buttfuck, Ohio and that was lovely. After I spoke with her (that sweet, sweet woman- you have no idea) I sat down and made a new phone list which was a task sorely overdue. Say what you like about the memory on your cell or home phone- there is nothing quite like the paper list on the side of the refrigerator and mine was so old that there were numbers on it of people I will never be able to reach with a phone, either via land-line or cell, again. After I'd made my list and printed it out I folded up the old one and put it in that stack of things beside the microwave where I keep old Virgin of Guadalupe calenders and records of my nursing license and stuff I have no idea where else to keep. How can I just throw away a list that still has the numbers of my Lynn, my Colin? I can't. Not yet. Maybe in a year or so.
And then, as I was watering the front porch plants, I started thinking that I would love to do a memory piece here. When Mr. Moon is out of town, my usual prolific posting schedule becomes even more ridiculous and I don't care. This is my joy and my heart, this place where I set things down in words, part essay, part family chronicle, part connection to the world.
And I flipped through the files in my head and I thought that I wanted to do a happy memory.
It's so hard to find one there.
I think that for some reason, I have stored mostly the sad ones and even the ones that start out happy, end up with darkness. There were wonderful times when my grandfather read books to me and my brother. And when he played checkers with me, teaching me to jump and collect the pieces I'd jumped on my side of the board. And when he'd take us fishing on his dock in Roseland and the time I caught a sting ray and landed it and he stood on its giant flapping wings with his rubber boots and removed the hook from its mouth and sent it back into the water to swim/fly away. My grandfather was a good man and a strong one, intensely sober and he took on the job of helping to raise my brother and me with as much seriousness and sense of responsibility as anyone could have but even all of those memories are tainted with the sadness I felt of missing my old drunk daddy, of my mother being away at school in Gainesville to work on her education in the summers. Having lost my father forever, losing Mother for even six or eight weeks in the summer was like having a pair of dark glasses on and viewing the world through that darkness.
So what, so what and where is my good memory? My pure and joyful one?
Well, there isn't one. There just isn't. There are good moments, for sure. Many of them based around food which was my first feel-good drug. And I sometimes work on a book I started years ago which is written around memories of childhood and food with recipes included. Unfortunately, despair is an ingredient in most of these recipes and frankly, it wasn't until I met Mr. Moon that my memories and my recipes became truly melded into good things.
A metaphor, of course, but a true one.
I always say that Mr. Moon fell in love with me, really and honestly, the first time he saw me shovel horseshit off the back of a truck for a garden and the first time I ever made him biscuits. He saw me measure by the palm of my hand, he saw me pour without use of a measuring cup, he smelled the rising fastbread in the oven, baking powder and soda, buttermilk and flour, and something got triggered in his soul and there we were. And here we are.
But I do have one memory of my real father and a night that he cooked steaks on a grill in the yard of our house in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It's written down in the mostly-abandoned manuscript I've been working on in such a desultory way for so many years and I thought hell, I might as well give it here. I thought of it as I laid a fire for tomorrow's cookout with my girls, Kathleen and Judy and Denise and also Rich and Boone and Kathleen's friend Bob. Judy had called to ask what they should bring, but mostly to tell me that no matter what anyone else is bringing, they are bringing hot dogs to cook.
I can't wait.
And I laid a fire in Mr. Moon's kettle grill in the back yard with paper and cardboard and twigs and sticks and then pieces of magnolia and chinaberry tree branches and it's all set to go, the logs which will make the embers to cook the hotdogs laying right next to the grill.
I often say that it's all about food and frankly, Proust, whom I admit I've never read, got it right with that madeleine, and after I post this, I am going to go cook a garden medley and I wish I had coconut milk to make curried vegetables but I don't. Can you substitute light soy milk for coconut milk? We may find out tonight.
Meanwhile, here's what I wrote about my old drunk daddy, cooking steak on a grill. I hope you enjoy it. It's a good memory, bracketed as it is with so many bad ones.
MY OLD DRUNK DADDY’S GRILLED T-BONE STEAK
Somehow, come upon enough cash money to buy three T-Bone steaks. Make sure they are plenty fat enough and thick enough so that when you get to the bone, there is a lot of good gnawing to be done.
Lay the steaks out on their butcher paper and salt and pepper them generously.
While they are sitting and receiving their salty, peppery goodness, go out into the backyard and with some sharp tool cut a swath in the overgrown grass which you, being an old, drunk daddy, have not cut in months. Make sure the swath is big enough to prevent the fire you are about to build from catching the grass on fire and thus, burning down the neighborhood.
Find some wood somewhere. Perhaps you have a tree which has dropped some branches recently. That will do. Crack the branches on your knee until they are of the correct length. With these and some newspapers, build a small fire. Feed it until it is a nice bed of glowing embers. If it needs encouragement, get some lighter fluid (the kind you use to fuel your Zippo with which you light your Camel-straights) and squeeze a bit on the wood. Make sure to clear the area of children before you do this, especially toddlers or crawling babies.
When you have your bed of glowing embers, set four tin cans (empty!) upside down in a rectangular shape around the fire. If the cans are of varying heights, dig them into the dirt to adjust them so that your cooking surface will be level.
Find either an old oven rack or the grill of a rusted charcoal cooker or the metal shelf from an old refrigerator and place it on the tin cans, adjusting them as necessary.
Call for your woman to bring you the steaks and a beer (beer doesn’t count as alcohol in some forms of AA) and put the steaks on the grill.
While you drink the beer and smoke a few Camel Straights, let the meat cook. Drink that beer pretty fast because you do not want that meat to go beyond medium rare! Believe me!
Turn the meat once or twice while it cooks and spits onto the grill and makes the fire flame high. If you are feeling especially gourmet, splash the cooking meat generously with Worcestershire Sauce.
Call for your woman to bring you a plate and put the steaks on them when they are done. You want them to still bleed a bit when you poke them with the fork.
Serve the steaks with a baked potato, a salad made of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and Roquefort Dressing.
Eat until you must adjust your belt to a different hole.
Set the dishes by the sink and do not worry about them.
Get out the Candy Land board and proceed to make your way down the colorful path, stopping at the Peppermint Stick Forest, the Lollypop Woods and the Ice Cream Floats while trying to avoid the Molasses Swamp.
If you are celebrating a birthday, have some cake and ice cream to top the evening off.
This is a sure-fire family-pleaser which even a rambling, no-good drunk of a daddy can make into a real good memory for some lucky little girl.
In fact, fifty years later she will remember that night and how the unaccustomed richness of beef fat, charred on a wood fire, tasted and the way it greased her lips. She will remember how the pink meat at the bone looked and how it got stuck inbetween her baby teeth. She will remember how happy everyone at the table was and how amazing it was to her, so amazing that she can think back on it and see it as if she were watching the scene from above. A mommy, a daddy, a little girl, their tummies full of steak, all sitting around a kitchen table in a suburban house in Tennessee, moving their candy-colored pieces around a board game, their faces smiling.
There might have even been laughter.
In her memory, there surely is.
Mmmmmm, MerMer, you already had the gift back when you started your book including this memory.ReplyDelete
What a shame you have so many bad memories and so few good ones. I wish you could treat your bad memories like I do.......as fascinating bits of the saga that is your life, without which you wouldn't be who you are. I swear, my bad memories do not hurt any more but provide great illumination. Dammit....if I could only somehow teach you to do the same with yours.....try not to scratch at the scabs....let them heal.
Very poignant and sad. I am so sorry. I wish that little girl had happier times. I really do. I have good memories but then the bad ones tend to overwhelm the good.ReplyDelete
Forgot to say one thing.....a healed scar is a proud sign of a survivor.ReplyDelete
Lo- These memories don't make me bleed at all. I do consider them to be a part of who I am today and as such, recognize them as important and true. I love you.ReplyDelete
Syd- I know. But it's okay. It really is. I still love steaks.
After reading this, my day is complete. Really. What a weird and wonderful surprise it was to read of steak and greased lips and candy-colored game pieces. I stopped at the part where he broke the sticks over his knees -- that struck me, for some reason, that detail.ReplyDelete
I hope you don't take too "desultory" a path to write more of this book.
i wish you would start to write again...really...do it..i know you want to ......
i love the mermaid goddess
about the memories..yours..mine..in general...
its hard sometime sto finde the happy ones...
i ..too..have been in dark places...and most of the time i m busy not to think about these memories...even so..sometimes its just a word, a smell of a certain thing or anything similar and it brings back a wave of things i rather would forget about if i could...some of the memories i have are like stones..weights in my pockets...and while life is like swimming...they tear me down sometimes...i prefer to think about the happyness i had in the last ten or twelve years...of cours ethese arent real memory-memorys...they are still too young...but still...they make me happy...its okay that your real happyness came with mister moon...if there isnt much light in the time before him...so it is...you do very well...they all always say that you are so lucky to have mister moon...but he can be lucky too to have you..and i m very very sure he is...you two really have to enjoy every minute and make that pile of good memories grow on...
Elizabeth- Ah, love. You know...ReplyDelete
Pieces of Me- Danielle- Thank you. That's all. Just thank-you.
Ms Moon, i love the way you wrote this, the voice of it, a story told in the manner of a recipe, the details so rich, the characters bleeding right through. It is startling and original and i hope you finish your book is all i can say. Maybe you will share more of it with us here.ReplyDelete
You truly are a beautiful woman Ms. Moon. You give me hope.ReplyDelete
Mary you have such a way with your words that I am spellbound as I read them. Honest, open, grit and all. I knew the taste of that steak, I knew the game.ReplyDelete
You let out the good and the bad, the memories you would want to wash away and the memories that won't go till you have purged them. I am not there yet and my stories are not yours but as a kindred spirit I have those little nudges that let them out one by one.
My verification word: blush
Angella- Maybe I'll get off my ass...ReplyDelete
Thank you for the encouragement. I mean that so much.
Andrew- Ah, baby. Thanks.
Ellen- And blush I do. What are memories but fodder for our stories? The threads that make up the blanket which lays around us?
I loved your memory. Your writing is so fine. I saw it so clearly in my head. Thank you.ReplyDelete
I love your writing and I love you xxReplyDelete
I want to have your writing on my nightstand.
hugs to you.