Picking Figs

Victoria is our pubtender today. She always comes up with interesting prompts for us – prompts that stretch our writing and creativity. Our poems today are to consist of conversation. Not meaningless, Hi, I’m fine. How are you? chitchat. But conversations that tell a story, set a mood, take us someplace else than here. Mine is a childhood memory. It was brought to mind today while I was at a friend’s picking figs from her beautiful old bushes.  Please come visit us and read the poems for today.   This poem is linked to d’Verse Poetics:  http://dversepoets.com/2015/09/10/whats-that-youre-saying-dverse-meeting-the-bar/

Monday was our premier Haibun Monday feature.  If you enjoy this form or want to learn more, visit that page as well!

Picking Figs
My hand gently cupped the sun warmed fig and tugged downward.
Lifting the fig to my nose, I inhaled the sweet aroma. My grandmother’s voice came.

You want to pick the fig where the green has this rosy collar –  it will fit
in your palm, pull it down gently. See? It comes loose from the bush.
Cup it in your palms. Gently now, give a little squeeze. Soft. Not mushy.
Now, smell. Nice, isn’t it? I’ll take the top branches, Little Honey, you take
The bottom branches….Yes, just like that.
It smells like honey, Ninny. Sweet.
A light hand on my head…Just like you Little Honey.
Ninny. What’s a fig? Why?
It is a fruit that has the flower inside. I’ll cut this one open for you. See?
Ooooooo – pinky. Like a rose. I want to taste, please? Tastes like a peachy strawberry.
It crackles inside….little crackles.
Little seeds from all the little blooms that were inside. Let’s eat this one now. Isn’t that good?
It is going to rain soon so let’s get them in the baskets and inside. Figs and cream for dessert?
Oh yes!….hands work faster. Lay them gently in the basket. Don’t bruise them.
Carefully, like a tiny kitten or a puppy. Very good! You did that just right.
Fig preserves? Fig ice cream? Dried figs?
And fresh. There will be enough to go in the big yellow bowl on the kitchen table.
Ninny, can we do this again tomorrow?
We’ll do this in a few more days when more get ripe to pick.
I like picking figs with you.
The only think I like better than picking figs is picking figs with you, Little Honey.

free public domain image

free public domain image

 

4th Floor Walk-up

artwork by Danny Gregory, used by permission, taken from his Flickr page

artwork by Danny Gregory, used by permission, taken from his Flickr page

This is submitted to dVerse Poetics where we are writing to the art of Danny Gregory.

I remember that summer well,
whenever I see the sun come through
the window at a certain angle,
or smell the sweet smell of old dry wood,
or I hear the first opening bars of
Baba O’Riley.

All the way up those stairs
sweating and taking a rest
on the third flight.
Smelling the meals of other people,
pot from that quiet man on the second floor.

Hot hot summer.
Up on the roof at night
looking down at the crowded streets,
looking up to the sky, a strange
orange from all the lights
and not really a sky, just a…
piece of canvas I guess.

Sitting in someone’s lawn chair,
lugged up there for the purpose
of finding repose.
I remember well that night
I climbed to the roof
with a cold six pack.
I couldn’t face that tiny
apartment full of faded plants,
books waiting to be studied,
and a lethargic shower.
And on the roof,
the young man sitting in the – his
lawnchair. he looked startled
that someone else would come up.
I hesitated.
Then, want to share a six pack?
And he smiled.

So we drank and smoked his
pot and talked…talked…talked…
We both wrote bad poetry and
we didn’t care.
We were tired of studying,
wanted to find a cool patch of green
somewhere…
We stayed up there until sunrise.
We watched the sun climb before
we started down the stairs
to our apartments.

I remember that summer well.
I often wonder,
Do you still write bad poetry?
Do you remember me
and that first morning
you brought me coffee?

Christmas Memories: Cocquito and Friendship

public domain Wiki image

public domain Wiki image

When I was 12 years old, due to financial reasons, I was placed into the public school system. It was a shock to my system and sensibilities and it was at the point, I began to hate going to school. I did not adjust well and that adjustment was not helped by being called Four-eyed Midget, The Snot, and Weirdo by my classmates. Many of them knew my family and knew I had been one of those too-good for their own good society snots. I became outcast and except for a couple of teachers and one of the lunch room ladies, without friends. I walked to school alone and walked home alone; groups of kids passed by me, sometimes knocking my books from my arms, knocking me down, and always calling me names. I’d arrive home and go to my room and alternate cry and rant.

One day, during recess, I had had enough. One of the bigger boys who was taunting me (I see London, I see France. I see Snotty’s underpants) just plucked my last nerve. I looked up at him and challenged him to a fight. He found this most amusing and pushed me down on the ground. I gathered my wits and then launched my small frame full into him, head butting him in his crotch. We both went down rolling, punching, gauging, me biting, scratching. A crowd had gathered cheering him on when he grabbed me and held me up from the ground. I was flailing and sometimes connecting with a good kick. Suddenly, it became silent. Thank God, I said to myself. It is a teacher. I will be expelled and never have to come to this hell hole again.

It was not a teacher. It was Billy Rodriguez. To the bully, this slender boy said, “Son of a whore, put the girl down.” I was thrown down and Billy began to circle the boy. Next thing I knew, the bully was flat with Billy on his chest pounding him. It was a good moment. From that moment, Billy became my protector and his younger sister Therese, my friend as well. Old Southern family meets blended Cuban-Puerto Rican family.

They did more than keep me from a serious beating that day.  Billy, standing between me and harm with all the arrogance, honor, and bravery of a true hidalgo, helped out others who were being bullied.  Billy and Therese also walked home with me that day to explain what had happened so I would not be punished and so my family would know of the bullying I had been subjected to for several months.  The next school year, I was placed back in my old school.  That did not keep us from continuing to be friends.  That afternoon, they walked home with me. I had friends! We talked, laughed and began a walk of friendship that lasted until Billy was killed by a drunken driver and Therese died of uterine cancer a few years ago.

Billy’s mother had fled Cuba bringing her two small sons to America. His father had been murdered in the bloodbath there. Therese was the daughter of a Puerto Rican widower. it was a happy marriage and a wonderful blending of cultures.

That first Christmas of our friendship, his mother came to call on my family. She brought a large pitcher of a holiday drink: Cocquito. She explained it to us; the ingredients, the tradition of serving it at Christmas, the warning that it was lethal and to be sipped and savored. When I make Ida Ortiz recipe for Cocquito, I honor the memory and lives of these precious people who rescued me and became part of my life.

We became three families blended by friendship, food, tradition, love, and honor.  Their pork roast and cocquito have become part of our family celebrations just as their memories have blended in with all the other memories.

I raise my glass of cocquito to the friends who became family and to their memories that bring me joy.  I raise my glass to all of you, friends who have become family.  Blessings to you all and may you always be blessed with friends who become family.

Cocquito
8 oz. half and half or whole milk
4 oz. cream or half and half
1 (14-ounce) can condensed milk
1 can cream of coconut
1 can coconut milk
Pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ ground nutmeg
4 – 8 oz.Puerto Rican white rum
Ground cinnamon – dusting

Directions
Place all ingredients in a blender and process for 3 minutes at high speed until frothy. Store in a glass container in the refrigerator and serve chilled, dusted with a little cinnamon. NOTE: Use a rubber spatula to get all the cream of coconut and sweetened condensed milk from the cans. The egg yolks are optional. Some versions use the egg, some do not. It seems to vary from family to family.

The Smell of Home: A true Christmas story

a slice of sweet potato pie

a slice of sweet potato pie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

NOTE:  I originally posted this in 2012.  We all have stories and memories that are part of the fabric of our lives.  This is one of those stories.  It happened about 10 years ago on a cold, sleety day in December as I was making my way to be with my mama for Christmas.

 

I’m sorry.  This might be a little long for some of you, but I hope you will read.  I was born and raised in the South and except for occasional sojourns on Long Island, Philadelphia, London, Tokyo, and San Francisco, I have lived in the South.  I grew up in a neighborhood close to the Duke east campus.  People had lived there in the same homes for generations.  We knew each other, knew all the stories about each others’ ancestors, who had converted their sleeping porches and when and when finally (we were among the last) who sold their portion of the mews and sent their last horse to live with relatives in the country.

In 1965, the impossible happened – the Pollard family next to us, finally died out.  The house was sold to strangers – maybe even folks from up North!!!  Of course, if they were connected to Duke, it might be okay.  Imagine everyone’s surprise when an African-American family moved in.  Well, nobody moved from the neighborhood or did any nastiness; after all, that Greek family had moved in a couple of streets over and nothing bad had happened.  In fact, they organized block parties and gave away thousands of Christmas cookies!!!

The McGill family consisted of the father Richard, his wife Arlene and sons – Junior (my age) and Bob. Mr. Mc and my dad became instant and best friends.  The two sons kept to themselves and Mrs. Mc considered us all a bunch of jumped up no accounts because after all, she was descended of long standing upper class Creole families in N’awlins, so there!

About three weeks before the McGill’s first Christmas in Trinity Park, the neighborhood was permeated with the most delicious, spicy, mouth watering odor.  It was slightly familiar, but better – richer and headier.  I took it upon myself to go through the hedge and knock on the McGill’s back (kitchen) door.  Mr. Mc himself answered and greeted me with a huge smile and welcome on in.  I looked in amazement – covering every surface in the kitchen and the dining room beyond, were sweet potato pies.  The kitchen was warm from the ovens (like us, he had two stoves – a gas and a wood burner).  My eyes were huge and I looked at him and without having to ask, he said, “Sweet potato pies. Every year, our church has a fund raiser to provide clothing, food, toys, rent, whatever for the needy in our parish.  I bake 100 pies for sale and I do that because I bake the best. I am the king of sweet potato pies.”

“Here’s one that is a little ugly and I was going to cut a slice and have with a cup of coffee. Want some?”  “Yes sir, I surely do.” and we proceeded to sit and eat and chat.  I discovered why my dad just loved him – funny, erudite, gentle, kind, generous….I fell in love with himself.  “That is THE best sweet potato pie I have ever had. How do you make it?”  His eyes twinkled at me and said, “Won’t tell you, it’s a secret.”  And from then until I left for college, sweet potato pie and coffee became a yearly tradition with us.  Sometimes we were joined by Junior who like his dad, was quite a cook.  Like his dad, big, gentle, kind, and funny.

Years later, I was living in Philadelphia.  One morning, I received a call from my mother.  My papa was in hospital and it was not going to be good.  I dropped everything and caught the first flight home.  All the way, I was  truly a wreck.  I jittered in my seat, bit my nails, thought about a future that did not include my father.  I wondered who would pick me up from the airport.  Papa always did.  I came to the baggage area and there was Mr. Mc waiting for me.  when I saw him, I began crying and he folded his big self around me and held me tight.  We grabbed my bag and went to the car.  In the car, as he was driving me home, he handed me his handkerchief and said, “Let me tell you how I make my sweet potato pie. But remember, it’s a secret and you can’t tell.”

My father died. I don’t remember much about the events of the days.  I choose not to.  Hidden in a blur of an unmended heartbreak, those memories will remain that way.

One thing I have learned in past years, is this:  Don’t fight with God. He always wins.  And when he tells you to do something, don’t argue, just do it and save yourself a lot of time, trouble, and stupid. More years later:  I was driving down a lonely stretch of Rt. 360 to go visit my mom.  It was a bleak, wet sleety day.  On the side of the road, a black van was pulled over with the hood up.  Two huge men were standing beside the van looking into the bowels of the vehicle and looked up hopefully as I drove past.  God says “Go back and help them.”  and of course, I argued.  it’s desolate, I don’t know them, they’re big, blahblahblahblah.  God says, “Go back and help them.”  and He said this several times.  About two miles down the road, I pulled over and just gave up.

“Alright already. I’ll do it.  But I’m just going to put my window down a bit and ask if they need help.”  God says, “Whatever. Go back.” I u-turned and headed back.  I pulled beside the van and inched my passenger window down.  The largest man leaned down and looked in the window.  Suddenly, he said, “Kanzen?”   I looked closer – “Junior?”.  Immediately I unlocked my car door and he climbed in.  “We need help. I’m on my way to Clarksville to preach a funeral and the van just stopped.  I can’t get a call through either.”  No good coverage in that area…”I go right past that funeral home. Y’all get in and I’ll have you there shortly.”

As we rode to Clarksville, the associate pastor crammed into my small back seat and Junior with the passenger seat back as far as it would go and our shoulders touching each other like old friends.  We talked about the past years to catch up.  Mr. Mc had died two years earlier. I told Junior how grieved I was to hear this.  “y’know Kanzen.  it’s hard and this time of year, it is just harder.  The house don’t smell right.  I know you understand.”  I nodded.  I did indeed understand.  “I’ve tried to fix those pies, but they aren’t right.  Mom lives with us now and she has talked about how she misses Dad. How she would love to smell one of his pies, just one more time.”

I sat in silence for a couple of miles.  I thought of my papa.  I thought of Mr. Mc and his grieving son beside me.  I smiled and though I had tears in my eyes, I turned to him.  “Junior, I know how to make your dad’s pie.  He told me when papa died.  I’ll tell you, but it’s a secret. You can’t tell anyone.”  and I began to tell him the secret of Mr. Mc’s sweet potato pie.

A couple of weeks later, I received a note in the mail.  “The house smells like home.  The home smells right.  God bless you.  Merry Christmas.”

And no, I’m not going to tell you.  It’s a secret.  Merry Christmas and God bless you. May your home be filled with love and joy and making of memories for your heart.

Groovin’ on A Sunday Afternoon

white-swing-yellow-pillow

It is already getting hot and muggy here in the South and it ain’t even July! I was grilling chicken (thank you to Bernice at Realistic Cooking for Busy People for this recipe and the turn on to Chiavetta’s BBQ Marinade) and just sweatin’….Time to start moving slow. Time to start seeking out shade and places to catch a breeze. Put on my earbuds and pulled up my “Summer Playlist” on the old MP3. First song out of the gate: Groovin’ by the Young Rascals, 1967. Oh yeah.

This song always brings back memories of the beach, shagging (a southern beach dance), newly cut lawns, the grill putting out delicious aromas, kids a few yards down playing, sitting on the front porch in the porch swing slowing rocking back and forth, the chain holding the porch giving out a slo-o-o-o-w creak…Again I say, oh yeah.

Enjoy yourself. Get your groove on….

Throwback Thursday: Smooth ‘n Groove

This song always brings back memories of my good friend John and the many nights we sat on his back porch talking until dawn in the sweet Southern summer nights. The tape deck always was loaded with Boz Scaggs or as my friend called him, Mr. Smooth ‘n Groove. I’ve been a back porch/back step sitter for many years. Few things beat being alone out in the night or with a good friend to share talk and silences with.

My friend John succumbed to AIDS back in ’85 after a long and valiant fight. When I hear this song, I think of those many hours we spent talking, being silent, looking at the stars, singing along with Mr. Smooth ‘n Groove. I think of John’s friendship and loyalty, humor, bravery…The annual Jazz Festival here this year is going to feature Boz Scaggs in the lineup. It will be good to be out again in the summer night, groovin’ and swayin’ to Boz. I wish my friend could be with me but I will remember him that night and hold up a lighter in his memory.

I hope you all enjoy this live cut. I have my ticket and can hardly wait.

Easter Memories and blessings

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Easter was a special day for us. Bright and early, we would all get up and go to Sunrise Service – there to hear the joyous news that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead gave to us the gift of forgiveness of sins and eternal life – that light overcame darkness and sadness changed to joy.

Then we would go to regular services to hear the good news again. Afterwards, we would have a big Sunday dinner and usually, we had company – aunts, uncles, cousins, friends. After feasting and still in our spiffy Easter clothing, we would pile into a couple of cars and go for a walk at the Sarah P. Duke Memorial Gardens attached to Duke University. In the spring, the gardens are incredible in their beauty. The Gardens were about three blocks from our home and often, as a child, I confused it with being “our” gardens because I often ran there to walk among the beautiful flowers, to dream beside huge koi ponds, to slowly walk through the Japanese garden and when it was time, to sniff at the hundreds of rose plants, and later in fall, to stroll among the fall flowers and colored foliage and then in winter, to silently walk among the sleeping garden – often under a blanket of pure snow.

After walking through the gardens with other visitors, we would go to the Royal Ice Cream company. It was take out only. Royal made rich ice cream daily with seasonal favorites. My favorite two were the lemon custard and the cherry blossom – the cherry blossom ice cream was a delicate vanilla ice cream filled with thousands of pieces of maraschino cherries. I have yet to find anything to top Royal ice cream. Maybe it was really that good or maybe it is memories of such happy times. whichever, doesn’t matter.

But I hope your Easter has been filled with many blessings and that you have been able to be and share your love with those you love. the photographs in the slide show are not mine. But please have a walk through a part of happy days in my past. I hope you replay the slideshow while enjoying a bowl of your favorite ice cream.

God Bless You All and Joy to you. Jesus has risen. Jesus has risen indeed!

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