Gorilla Suit

In nothing flat, my mother could tackle a hay bale of nuisance and whip it into strawberry shortcake. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, she was raised on homemade. She cooked and baked, taught herself to knit those brain-cell exploding Irish Fisherman sweaters, quilted Hawaiian quilts, and was always there for babies, teenagers, old folks, and everybody in between without sense enough to reach out and ask. Her name was Elizabeth, and she had many nicknames including Lib, Libby, and Liz.

Since Libby grew up poor, in a way she was always after things she didn’t have early on. Late in her life when she was driving a Mercedes, she was still not over an imperative to accumulate. This situation worked well for us growing up because Mom was bound and determined that my sisters and I would have on our backs—and our feet—everything known to her only in dreams. Like the time we four girls got matching pairs of white go-go boots from her boss, each pair in its own Lord & Taylor box. I remember when I was a freshman in college in the days of peace and love and went through a stage of purging all material possessions. My mother was not quite speechless when she found all my expensive, matching wool skirts and sweaters had walked out my dorm-room on the backs of my friends.

Mom always worked, inside and outside the house. She tried not working one year and her soul almost drowned in the muddy waters of four kids under age five, pulling her down in it when she was only 23. She said while her friends were talking about who was getting pinned to whom, her excitement was climbing Mount Laundry. After her full day as secretary at the local university, Mom came home and cooked dinner every weeknight. Even so, at day’s end all I remember are her smiles. One night, I forgot about something I needed for school the next day, and didn’t open my mouth to say so until 8 o’clock. Without a whiff of hesitation, Mom said, “Okay girls, let’s go!” and piled us in the car headed the drugstore. Ever the mother duck, she had her ducklings in tow every moment she wasn’t at work.

If my mother hadn’t worked, all four daughters never would have known the saving grace of braces. My father came from the thinking that orthodontia was a luxury and refused to pay for it. My mother made a deal with the beloved dentist for forever-time-payment. Thanks to her effort, my buck teeth bucking in opposite directions disappeared, and I was able to date in high school. I ended up marrying a man who told me I was beautiful like a fine quarter horse: beautiful small head and round rump, small feet, and the most gorgeous teeth he’d ever seen. Mom knew romance, and especially any prospect of marriage, required braces.

Over the years, now known as Liz, my mother worked her way up from secretary to Dean Henry Kamphoefner, Dean of North Carolina State University’s School of Design, to executive secretary, administrative assistant, office manager of EDAW, Inc., regional manager, to VP of Human Resources and Data Processing at a San Diego bank. Moving up so high on the ladder was natural for someone so industrious, and who’d never met a stranger. She treated her boss and co-workers like the babies, teens, and old folks she loved so much, and always stayed late to get work done. Along with my mother’s professional growth also flourished her love of practical jokes.

My favorite was the time she went to a board meeting at the bank in a gorilla suit. Since she didn’t tell a soul she was going to do it, she had a good 15 minutes of watching the rest of the board—mystified in the gorilla mist—unable to start the meeting because they were dead set on maintaining confidentiality and couldn’t figure out who was in the suit. Even though Mom was missing, obviously their 60-year-old VP was not on the list of possibilities. Actually, I think the board thought they’d been invaded and the list was blank.

My mother’s spirit sped her along the twisty, pot-hole roads life. If things slowed down, or got too serious for people’s own good, she conspired with whoever was handy to stir the pot of fun and make a little strawberry shortcake. Because of her, my life from the beginning has been dessert first. Oh yeah, and there was one more nickname. When Mom was in high school, everyone called her monkey.

 

I wrote this favorite memory of my mother, Elizabeth Douglas Moran, on June 9, 2009, and edited today to post. Love you Mom. Miss you a lot.

Elizabeth Douglas Moran on Oahu 1967

 

Lie Lazy

my knuckles are raw
scraped against concrete
my glitter heels so high
I stumbled, fell backward
hey, no, I didn’t, I’m
chewing on cheap drama
spitting up pablum
because my year so far
is a hay bale of nuisance
and if I was brave enough
I’d run away, leave my screens
slam the door on the dead air
stuck inside on all the walls
I’d breathe in, the woods
the fragrance of the dry
something in the breeze
lie lazy under a granddaddy tree
in a long, wispy dress
covered with bits of flowers
in lavender, yellow and blue
I’d curl up, wiggle in
the dirt and pine needles,
cold little rocks and sticks
under my thighs and no thoughts
between me and my day
nothing in my head but the buzz
of summer browning my skin
I’d sit still, savor
a sip of cold tea, a bite
of soft bread and cheese
a pickled onion garlic snack
a nap before night drops
and deer appear
to round me up and
shepherd me home

©2014 Hattie Wilcox

Hattie Wilcox 2385-2

Brave Boy

through my rearview window
I see my son’s silhouette
his head framed by headlights
chasing too close behind us
he gazes out the back window
at the freeway night of lights
and I know he is an old soul
and the most innocent possible
12-year-old

I remember the gleam
in his baby eyes
his glittering smile
and how now
his expression is contained
less bright in the pre-teen din
of reflection, caution
and confusion

sitting knees up, he’s camped out
with his blanket and cheeseburger
tucked deep in the well
behind the last row of seats
in the very back of the van
he tells me
“death is not necessary
it’s a state of mind
a person in the 17th Century
lived to age 152…”

“Did you know they say
Britney Spears is half plastic?
Yeah, she had seven
surgeries to look good
and Mom, did you know
Lady Gaga was born
with a penis? oh yeah
she had extra cells”

the school year nears its end
and he continues to lunch alone
then roam
solo until the break ends
he won’t sit with just anyone
he’s proud, has no use
for the art of cool
or any other false barter
for acceptance, he breaks
his own urban trail
his wits his only defense
he scans the horizon
and heads into the depths
of his future

late in the evening
I check him, he’s asleep
with the black wooden
Japanese ninja I gave him
next to his pillow
his hand is on it and
I wonder if the ninja
shows him a way through the mist
a talisman to deliver him
to the base of mountains
to begin the steep climb
to his dreams
dreams, treasures even now
to fly him far from the hostile
ground of middle school
to the secret hiding place
of stealth and strength, to truth
to the home of the fearless
to the reward of courage
to stand, alone, prevail
untrackable prey

Evan & Hattie Wilcox 12-8-09-1

Aladar’s Last Halloween

When he was three years old, my son Evan discovered dinosaurs. By the time he was five, he had watched every BBC dinosaur documentary made to date. He watched each video every day, morning and night, for about four months. Then I would get him the next one. Dinosaur facts and figures effortlessly seeped into his little-boy brain, along with the narrator’s beautiful English accent. Evan became such a dinosaur expert for his age, one October a friend of mine—and huge fan of Evan’s—gave him the costume of Aladar, the orphan dinosaur, star of the animated Disney feature film, Dinosaur (2000).

When he was five, Evan was buried in the costume because it was too big. The precious padded belly pooched out adorably and Evan couldn’t do much more than stand around as the girls in his nursery class rubbed Aladar’s tummy and giggled. When it wasn’t Halloween, Aladar was the half-stuffed friend Evan dragged around the house, always his audience or partner in room-to-room adventures, dinosaur-inspired or otherwise. A noble guest, Aladar was often head-on-the-table for afternoon tea when Evan set up, on top of a cardboard box, his sister’s bunny-and-flowers ceramic tea service.

Fast-forward four years. The costume comes out of the closet for one last Halloween. Even though it is more than a foot short, Evan insists on wearing it to school for a presentation. Evan now knows how to be a dinosaur. He is nine. He gets into the skin of Aladar. The skin is tight, but after so many years of play, Evan knows the body well. He’s decided it’s gonna fit and he’s fully conscious of the power and mystery of Aladar. He stalks, searching for prey. A blinding-white shape flashes in the shadows. He pretends to hunt Joey the cat, but decides he needs to hug the fur ball instead of kill prey.

The night is cold and still, yet, every now and then, loud and squealing with laughter. In his socks, Aladar hits the neighborhood streets. He hunts for treats with a stealth befitting his size, and socks. House to house he lumbers, up and down the big hill leading to his own cul-de-sac. His pillowcase of candy becomes heavy. Eventually, he emerges from the dark and trudges through the front door. He lies down on the floor. For a few minutes, he’s prone. Suddenly, as soon as he’s down, he’s up, ready to sort his candy treasure and get ready to trade.

He turns his pillowcase upside down in the middle of the living room and assesses the size of the pile. He sees a prized piece of chocolate and, in no hurry, unwraps it and tosses it in his mouth. He chews in slow motion and smiles.

“Ahh . . . meat!” grunts Aladar

A Ride

their love was a wild thing
the craving whipped him around
every curve in the road and
he was constantly jolted
the snap at the end of a runaway rope
in wind and gravel, his balance
his life, dependent solely
on the stability of his grip
how long could he hold on?

oh how he loved to ride
the silky carpet of passion
the complete surrender of her mouth
the abandon he knew only with her
it was so hard, sometimes barely tolerable
the time without her, he couldn’t
imagine having enough of her
what if he hit a rock
and the music stopped?

the softness of her eyes gazing into his
flew him so high descent would be dangerous
such desire unmanageable so
for the few seconds he could grab
complete control of his body and soul
he summoned the last of his strength
to wrench himself from her and
without looking back
pedaled hard
in the opposite direction
from where she lie waiting

Photo courtesy madcyclelanesofmanchester.blogspot.com

Bake a Salty Cake

for Celia Belle Speak Steward (1897-1992)

I bake a salty cake
of chopped shrimp, jalapenos
mushrooms and cheese
top with a dollop
of olive mayonaise
with ground pepper sprinkles
follow with sweet sticky rice
buttered with raisins
nuts and dried apricot
patted into a spontaneous
dense design

main course complete
my guest Celia Belle
begins to tell
the latest of her Asia
China missionary tales
I pour us cups
of hot spice tea
put a compress on her knee
and we’re ready to start
the business of dessert:
We’re reviewing edible books!
Apple Tart by Erin Maurelli
Dark Chocolate Tablets
by Melissa Morton
Liz Crooks’ sugar cookie book

at evening’s ebb
all books are bitten
pages are missing
contents devoured
we’re plump with ideas
and texts’ temptations
bound by chocolate
and the art of tea
we languish in the silence
of bellies overstuffed
hushed in the sigh
of green apple chapters
and poetry in pastry

a night divine, a night sublime
Celia Belle closes her eyes
I check her 82-year-old face
and before she wakes
I smile to myself
to sing a silent song of praise
for as soon as we stand up
we’re gonna cha-cha for days
all the way back
to the dreams we can taste
all the way home
with leftover salty cake

The Art and Gold in the Heart and Soul of Downtown Hartford

Late one overcast Saturday afternoon, I took a drive down the freeway to Hartford to see what I could see. Sometimes there’s a poem in a picture. 

More photos at availablelightonly.com.

Ever to Cover: A Quilt Eulogy

In the photo below is a handmade quilt for my mother, designed and put together by my sister Sharon Morine. It was the last gift my mother received and, when she opened it, she no longer understood what a present was. Our mother died the night before her seventy-first birthday, lying under what I know to be one of the finest birthday gifts ever. In memory of my mother, and the 10 months we spent together taking care of her after her initial stroke, my sister made me a quilt identical to Mom’s. My memento for my sister is this poem.

Ever to Cover

She made a quilt
to warm her mother
in her deathbed.
Once connected,
the wildest colors
joined together and
razzle-dazzled each other
into the biggest smile
ever to land on anyone

bright, bold, and full of humor
the quilt was a brazen reflection
of her mother’s personality
a custom gift wrap
to wear for her departure
of course the black was there, too
long, skinny pieces
in a happy border background
where random ragged
floaty white dots
sat and played

as trying days passed
somehow the border expanded with them
appeared to grow larger
come forward and take over
creating an absence of light
yet the quilt held tightly
to the vibrance of its colors
and steadfastly sat
on top of less movement
while the bleeding continued
in her mother’s brain
the quilt, in all its brilliance
could not create enough
heat or light to ease pain
or delay dying

the quilt-maker kissed her mother
one last time, and gently pulled
the rumpled pile of colors
away from the stillness
and the odor of sweat and struggle
buried in the cotton pieces
brought her to tears
and her wet face
absorbed the black
so deep in her pores
it seeped into her soul
seared her memories
and left her in ashes
smoldering

broken in, the quilt now sits
folded and a bit faded
on the back of my sister’s sofa
holding up, yet softer
with each passing season
its smile of many colors
patiently waits to cover
and warm another, waits
to brighten, to commemorate
as it did so well
once upon a time
for my mother

Photo used with permission: sewextreme.com
Happy Quilt by Sharon Morine of Las Vegas NV