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Vermont: Heart, Soul, Past, Present, Future: The Collapsing Barn.

8 Jun

Vermont: Heart, Soul, Past, Present, Future: The Collapsing Barn..

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Reunion Communion: A Homecoming Go Around, Come Around (Jiggity Jig)

8 Aug

My house and yard

“Home again, home again, jiggity jig.” That’s what my mom would say when we pulled into the 208 Pennsylvania Avenue driveway–returning from Chicago, or camping in the Indiana Dunes or, more exotically, Mexico and Europe. It was Mom’s way of saying that was so much fun and NOW: back to real life. Landing in the Champaign-Urbana airport, I said the phrase under my breath with a question: Been away from home a long time, what will this be?  Last time I’d been to Central Illinois was five years ago– to attend a high school reunion, which I was doing again. Back in 1999,  I’d driven down from Chicago with Suz, a friend I’ve known since Kindergarten. This time I was flying from LAX alone, and–needless to say–landing in the airport alone.

The last time I was in the Central Illinois airport alone was fifteen years ago. I was flying in to visit my mom, who’d not been feeling well. She said she’d be there to pick me up, but she wasn’t. And that was because, it turned out, she’d died. At home, in the kitchen. I found that out right here, when my mom’s friend Sherry called the airport information desk, trying to reach me:

reunion willard information deskI’m guessing the information desk staff  doesn’t too often have to deliver the kind of information that Sherry had for me, so they didn’t know what to do with me–sobbing and wailing and so forth. I didn’t know what to do with me. A nice woman put me in a back office, watched me shake,  gave me a glass of water. Then Sherry picked me up and explained that that afternoon she’d stopped by 208 Pennsylvania to say hello to my mother Audrey, and found her body; Audrey had had a heart attack. If Sherry hadn’t happened to stop by, I’d have been the one to find my mom. Sherry saved me from that. Fifteen years later I still grieve and feel some disbelief. Without  Goodbye, it’s hard to be convinced someone is really gone.

After landing, I made my way through the tiny deserted airport, trying to not remember. Friends were picking me up; they’d be there soon. But I got a text saying they were delayed. I didn’t want to wait even the half an hour that would bring their arrival. This is not an airport with cabs waiting outside. This is an airport with soybean fields waiting outside, the air sweet with manure and prairie grass, buzzing with locusts.

Prarie taken from Willard AirportI found the number of a cab company and called it; they said they’d  be there in twenty. I didn’t even want to wait that long. My eyes were already hot and brimming. Then another text: HOWIE AND SUE ARE ON THEIR WAY! These were other dear friends  driving down to reunion from Chicago. My original ride friends must have called Howie and Sue to see if they were close to the airport. Next text: KIR, HOLD ON, IT’S HOWIE AND SUE. WE’RE FIVE MINUTES AWAY. And then these dear people pulled up and we sped away. “You saved me!” I exclaimed. To Howie and Sue that might have seemed like overstatement,  but  I’m not known for understatement (Like mother, like daughter).

First stop was Timpone’s, a restaurant that’s been around for two decades at least. Here are some people I’ve known for a long time:

reunion dinner at Timpone'sYep, that’s Natasha, my Beverly Hills neighbor. . .what’s she doing there?! Well, it’s time to let the cat out of the bag. Natasha of my blog is Nicolle of my actual life. There’s a shocker.

Next stop, Bunny’s–a Dive bar, where Howie held court with the ladies.

reunion Howard, Laura, Sue, EdithAnd Sue and I held our own court. reunion me pointing finger at SueSue tolerates my dictatorial approach by laughing in my face. Works for both of us. We once spent a weekend at a Restore Yourself kind of spa where we smuggled in Fritos and vodka. But that’s another story.

I spent the night with Nicolle at her brother-in-law’s house. Rusty’s home is beautiful, his backyard is beautiful, and he’s starting a new life, bravely and beautifully. He and Howie and Sue and Nicolle and I had breakfast on his back porch. What’s with the hat, Howie?reunion Sue, Howard, Rusty on porchI felt incredibly peaceful. Later, I walked around town to remind myself where I came from. It didn’t take long. Here’s my photo poem, entitled, “Home Again, Home Again, Ode to Central Illinois”:

reunion silosreunion round barnreunion seaboat mac n cheeseAnd then, the final stanza of the poem, “208 Pennsylvania” where I lived for 18 years:reunion my house porchI walked up the driveway and snapped this shot of the porch. The bannisters were new,  but it looked like the same porch swing that my mom and I had sat on many a night, swinging slowly back and forth, our feet sliding on the planks of wood as we listened to the locusts whirring and considered the good, bad, and ugly in our lives.  A man came out the side door. I had sold him the house; he seemed to remember me. “Hi,” I said, “I’m Audrey’s daughter. Is that her swing?” “Yeah. It’s funny you are here tonight because we are replacing it tomorrow.”

Then I went back to Rusty’s house, and Nicolle and I prepped for the reunion dinner/ dance as if we were 14 again. Oh God, really?!  I’d like to think that the stakes weren’t like they were when we were 14 when we were desperately in need of confirmation that we were desirable and dateable. We’ve learned by now that neither of those categories matter as much  as we had thought. . .nevertheless, we primped. So much so, that we walked in late. We conformed to what one might say about Midwestern girls who move to L.A. and love glamour a little too much. (Oh well!)

The night was filled with nostalgia, hilarity, dancing, warm re-connections.  Best of all, it included my mom’s friend Sherry, who was being honored by our class, as she was also a teacher at Urbana High School for many years. This is me, Sherry, Suz:

reunion me, Sherry, Suz

And then the night got wild and crazy in the way that middle-aged Midwesterners  get crazy. Here’s my photo collage (REO Speedwagon as background):

reunion suz and Jeff at table, Mark and Matt behindreunion Jim, Tyke, Andyreunion Annette and Andysuz and Andy at Houlihan'sYeah, that guy with the lavender tie gets around, but he’s allowed to because he makes the whole reunion happen. Without Andy, there’d be about twenty of us wearing overalls sitting in a cornfield drinking moonshine and singing Kansas songs. Kudos, Andy!!! And Suz–well there’s a woman who has it all because she does it all: a doctor who is internationally known in her field, a great mother, wife, friend. (And she rocks the key lime dress like nobody’s business.) She and I share a birthday…once upon a time we had our 18th together and it went from a 35-person guest list to a turn out of well o ver a hundred. At 208 Pennsylvania. This didn’t go over well with my mom. But that’s another story.

I finally got back to Rusty’s house  at 4 am, feeling like a teenager except that I am SO not. The next day I spent with Sherry, driving around and seeing the sights, including a garden in Busey Woods, where my mom used to birdwatch. There is a bench commemorating her–Audrey Wasson Curley (middle column, about six names down.)

reunion mom's bench placard

Sherry told me that my mom would be proud of me. I don’t  know if that’s right, but it doesn’t matter because I loved hearing it from Sherry, whom I’ve known since I was ten. And back when I was a student in her Senior English class, Sherry said that my journal entries were fun to read. This is a woman I love and respect, and who sits on a couch with the elegance of Dorothy Parker.

reunion Sherry in hotel

Around noon, Sherry dropped me off at the airport, just as she’d once picked me up there. What goes around, comes around. This is a new phase, I thought.

So that, Dear Reader, is my recount of the recent return home. Framed by  a fifteen-year cycle of loss, reunion, and being alone in the airport of my prairie heart.

Prarie taken from Willard AirportJiggity jig.

Remembering My Mother: “Poems And Photographs Not Needed.”

11 May

Some people will remember my mother as a young beautiful woman with a jaw line suggesting determination and more than a little resistance to rules. They might remember her Sexy Eyes Downcast–a refusal to look at the camera. Introspection.
mom so young

Many will remember her as a passionate reader and teacher. (All the while looking like Lena Horne.)
mom reading to me

I am afraid that not many will remember Audrey Dohmeyer Wasson Curley as a poet. That’s because she almost never talked about writing, publishing, her craft. I thought of her craft as the cigarette smoke after dinner, and the tap tap tap I heard on the typewriter late at night. If I couldn’t sleep (often) I’d come down and she’d make me a tuna sandwich and ask what was worrying me. Her being at the dining room table typing, crumpled paper at her feet, the scratchings on pages she’d placed on the kitchen counter–these things were just part of our life together. Mom and Kir on Pennsylvania Ave.

mom poem

Fifteen years ago she died unexpectedly. I was on a plane coming to see her because she’d not been feeling well, but Mom was hardly seriously ill–as far as we knew. She’d collapsed in her kitchen and then, barely conscious, called an ambulance. Emergency room for one night and then they let her out; she called a cab to get home. Something wrong with her heart. By then I was on my way. She died at home-hours before I got there.

When I decided to change my life a year and a half ago, one of the few things I threw into the Prius was a folder of Audrey’s poems that I’d found while packing up. I didn’t really know what the folder was. I mean, I’d read some of her poems, and knew she’d published a little bit… But last week I looked more closely. I never knew she had a poem published in Art Journal.

Mom's published poem
And the folder was jam-packed full of poems, one onion skin sheet after another. One about the marriage to my dad, and the cat “Fatty” that survived that relationship:
“Lean, tough and nasty. How we respected her violence,/learned ornithology and swooped in/to save her victims/And by the time we killed/the marriage she was slow, striking/out from a secret place under the table/ to rake any thighs available…”

Poems about her romantic life after my dad–one about being on a picnic with a new lover (Dan,who would become my stepfather):
“As I scuttle for shelter/from irony in the scrubby grove,/history that wets the world/and fear of love/he shows me a place/stripped dry enough for hunger,/ wonder sharp as a new small stone.”
Mom and Dan
Poems about art, teaching, birdwatching. One of her later poems is about the grandson with whom she fell in love, entitled, “Noah Daniel, First Birthday”:
“Our dearest men/are ageless. Look at you, Noah….Your pose prefigures,/(time runs both its ways)/Dan’s restive stance/face reflective in the mirror…”
Noah was six when she died. The last line of this poem is:
“I see you, Noah,/not so many birthdays hence/hand on jutted teenaged hip/checking out the water/looking to step in.”

Noah looks a lot like Audrey.
Noah older headshot better version

I knew Audrey was an amazing mother, teacher, single woman (in 1969? Not Easy), and someone who wrote poetry. I just didn’t realize that she was a serious artist. I’m pretty sure that she didn’t either. That wasn’t her style.

So, as they say: IN CONCLUSION. My mom ended a poem called “Aesthetics” with this:

“The Earth itself remembers./Poems and photographs/will not be needed as monuments/to moments we have been.”
Poems and photos not needed? I am so grateful for both her photos and poems.

I haven’t quoted lines from the poems that my mom wrote about me. I can hear her: “Oh God no, Kir! For a mother’s day piece? Hideously tacky.” Audrey still guides me. Away from self-indulgence.

But please allow me to quote a few lines from one of the many poems I’ve written about her:

(I had a dream while selling my Ithaca house; Audrey appeared, wanted to take a walk. She was annoyed that I was aging.)

“My tall mother, dead and impatient in turtleneck
and short skirt, hiking the marsh while I try to sell
an old house. She’s speaking of melting, the ground soft:
‘Almost everything takes forever, you know.’ Then
she spots a green shoot, a white bud: ‘A snowdrop. Look.'”

As I know her, Audrey is on the look out. She’s got her eye on art, birds, the word, and love.
She’s “checking out the water/looking to step in.”

mom in seattle
Here: a month before she died.
Happy Mother’s Day, Dear Reader. In some way or other-Honor your mom!