In old age, Poppa is losing his words. He searches for familiar sayings and will often settles on one that is close, but not quite what he means. “Mobile home” becomes “truck.” The “dryer” becomes the “machine.” But I know it is not his language that matters most. Nan was the talker, the one who spent hours each day bent over the New York Times, circling typos and filling out the crossword. For Pop, what matters are the things that can be held in the hand.
If his stories can be trusted, I don’t think Pop graduated from middle school. His vocabulary wasn’t stellar to begin with, studded as it is with slang and slanted by a heavy New York accent. Even before dropping out, he skipped school more often than he went and followed his uncles to their jobs on construction sites and the boat docks, studying instead small gears and arching wood beams that he could puzzle apart in a tangible way.
For every birthday and anniversary, Nan composed long poems on her typewriter. She would read them proudly in front of whomever was in earshot while Pop sat by, blushing and shaking his head. Pop searched the aisles for a storebought card that he thought expressed what was on his mind and simply sign, “Love, Artie” at the bottom.
Nana’s hands were small birds. Continue reading
There are places where the menu is written in chalk on the front door. Where we drank coffee in the morning while the garbage collector came to empty the barrels in the piazza, and seagulls dove over the clay rooftops and still-shuttered windows. Continue reading
About two years ago, during a late summer afternoon in the San Francisco Public Library, I went looking for the Collected Works of Amy Hempel.
I found it and sat down in a cubicle between two homeless men to read. But then, wedged in the binding between pages 102 and 103, I found a small envelope: Continue reading
As I write the story of my grandmother, imagining and then retelling in my own words the stories that I have heard her repeat so many times, what I’m noticing are the gaps.
It’s obvious of course, but somehow I didn’t realize before: when someone retells the same stories over and over, there are other stories that are never told at all. Continue reading
As the dark and the cold continue to seep through my leaky windows, I have finally accepted that it will be winter in Colorado for another three months. I’m making the best of it. Sinking into books and soup pots and down comforters and films.
This week, my online and library explorations have uncovered the unusual lives of three women.
I moved for the sixth time in 12 months, last week.
Walking back to my new building, I stumbled upon this lost little house, waiting for someone to come play.
Berlin was cold the way I imagined it would be, the way I wanted it to be: desolate, romantic, vacant, post-Communist. I had so many ideas about the city, so many stories about my birthplace stored up, that my visit began with getting past them to see what was sitting in front of my own frozen nose.
Eating lunch at the bar with a friend last week, I asked if he’d decided which of the many girls he’s been pursuing to take out for Valentine’s Day. I find his situation fascinating, and hilarious. How a winter holiday is threatening to turn one of his flings into something weighted down by the scent of romance. That kind of pressure could either be a blessing for a fickle one like him, or a disaster.
He asked me what my plans were, probably finding it just as strange that I’ve had a boyfriend (though not the same one) every V-day for the past 5 years.”I’m not a big Valentine’s person,” I tried to convince him, “It’s just so much pressure and makes everything feel weird and forced.” The bartender looked up. “You,” he proclaimed, “are the perfect woman.”
I could take Valentine’s Day or leave it. This is true, I swear. Unless… Continue reading
My Nana’s story begins on the shoulders of a clown. On the edge of a diving board, fifty feet above the surface of the Greenpoint Brooklyn public pool.
The way she tells it, her first leap was born from necessity, as I suppose they usually are. My grandmother needed a shower. Her family’s four-room tenement was crammed with ten people, each bed holding three or four bodies, their one bathroom shared with another Italian family across the hall. Sunday was bathing day. My great-grandmother boiled water on the stove, strung up a sheet and converted the large kitchen sink into a bathtub. Father first, then mother, then oldest sibling to youngest—everyone took a turn behind the sheet with a bar of hard soap. Continue reading
We went in search of funnel cake. Lindsey (above, in yellow) grew up in five different states, but it was Illinois that hooked her on county fairs. Cane County, she told us in the car, rivaled Cook County next door. We were driving the diagonal highway that cuts across the plains to Longmont, the mountains to our backs.
I’ve lived in Boulder County for six years and it took Lindsey, then a somewhat new friend from NYC (and five other states) to show me what was in my own backyard. Continue reading