Relateable Me

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The Smell of Lemons February 19, 2010

Filed under: Vignettes,Writings — relateableme @ 6:12 am

She sat on the steps smelling the lemon. As she’d lean her nose against the rind, she’d slowly close her eyes and blush. She was all brown and pink and strength.

“Mom, smell it. It smells so good.”

“Roll it between your hand and the step and then smell it. It will smell even better.”

She rolled it against the cement and the oils began to spatter slightly and stain the step. I wondered how many people had sat on this step. Ten kids and sixty years was my answer. Countless. As I looked at my daughter she smelled the lemon again and her eyes widened and her smile creeped across her pinkness, “You’re right, mom” That didn’t happen often. “It smells even better.”

She continued to roll the lemon and I thought about all the women inside her; all the women who lived to make her exist. Everyone says she looks like me, which isn’t  true, it’s our coloring that gives that impression, but with the big brown eyes and her daddy’s nose, and the ability to crush me with a word, she is his, inside and out.

I had a hard time with her when she was born; she broke me in five minutes. Granted there wasn’t much to break, I’m a much quieter soul. She took all I had left. I tried to stand tall and she bent me and broke me with everything she is. When she was a year old, she’d call for me by my first name and yell it over and over until I came, tired and broken.

Now I love her strength; I hope she’ll be everything that I’m not. She already is. She has the quiet strength of my husband’s side; every woman in his family has the ability to handle, balance and survive heartache and do it with an unspoken beauty. Their hearts are like statues, poised to withstand anything. She also has the outspoken strength of my side; something that ricocheted off me and landed on my younger cousins. She is my mother, which has caused enough trials in itself. I gave birth to my mother, before I could appreciate everything about her. My daughter taught me to love my mom and more importantly, to understand her.  My girl was born to conquer, she conquered me but didn’t leave me vanquished, I arose stronger.

We sat on the steps and listened to the women talk. They’d laugh about times and memories.

“My mom died in that room, my dad too. I guess that’s where I’m gonna die,” said my mother-in-law’s sister, between laughter.

It would be nice not to take life so seriously. After over seventy years they know what matters and that everything else is a waste of strength, as if they had none to spare. They wield this strength in ways that they never seem to regret; they considered strength, what I was taught is weakness; To marry men they didn’t love and stay with the unfaithful drunkards. Knowing them now, I see the strength; it’s something so inherent in them that my daughter has it without knowing what it’s like to be like the rest of us.

I see the strength in their mother, who birthed eleven children and buried one, while ten of them buried her twenty yeas ago and still wait to be buried. She spent more time pregnant or breastfeeding or both than she did without a child contained within. The nurses were so cruel to her when she would deliver her babies. She was nothing to them but another dark-skinned woman with too many children who was unable to speak their language. She only left her house to cross the street to attend mass every morning in the tiny church where my husband was baptized.  She never went to the store; her husband brought home bags of beans, rice and flour. She lived for Sundays when her seven daughters would bring their kids over for the day. She always had popsicles ready after the grandkids kissed her soft cheek. My husband said that she would sit at the table with small pot of beans, and like the widow in the Book of Kings, it multiplied; everyone ate with enough left over for her to eat in the kitchen alone, after everyone left.

The quiet strength that flows through my girl’s veins, I don’t fight it anymore, but try to shape it, to make it beautiful and noble. I just read “Taming of the Shrew” to her and she loved it until the end, when Kate is tamed. She was puzzled and quiet, two adjectives I never apply to her. I knew she was thinking that Kate was amazing until she was quiet.

“Stop rolling the lemon, it’s going to split and be good for nothing,” I insisted absent-mindedly.

“But I love the way it smells.”

I wonder about the life she’ll lead and if the world is big enough to contain her.

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Sunflowers December 18, 2009

Filed under: Vignettes,Writings — relateableme @ 9:14 pm
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In southern Hungary, the sun’s rays glow a deeper yellow to reflect upon the acres on sunflowers.  July tattoos a permanent smile upon the mouth and joy in the eyes as the fields literally dance in yellow.  The afternoons were hot, but inviting. I would take my bike or grandma’s bike, if that were the only available one, and start for the fields.  The dust trail would swell behind me and fill my pores with its grains.  I could never bathe away the scent of the country; it became an inseparable part of me.  The sunflowers loomed in stately joy above me and around me.  I loved to look into their faces.  There was nothing around but the yellow horizon and the chirping of birds who loved sharing their flowers with appreciative onlookers.

My Hungarian sister and I would go together; even the simple life had its moments of complexity when nothing but communion with God in the sunflower fields could cure. We always returned home with full hearts bearing our secret.

When I go back in time now and reflect upon my years there, I always go to the sunflower fields; I remember them overflowing in summer between villages. It’s like my life’s sweetest times are outlined or constrained between two blurred lines of yellow on the right and left sides of me. All that was left behind is laced with sunshine and sadness.

 

Autumn in Budapest March 25, 2009

Filed under: Vignettes,Writings — relateableme @ 4:54 am

 I love Autumn and I hate that I am virtually unable to enjoy the season truly in Southern California. This vignette takes me to a beautiful moment in the middle of the busy city to experience autumn’s urban side.

 

                              

                                Autumn in Budapest

 

Autumn had its many faces.  Its approach was ushered in by an occasional Indian summer that treated me to warm nights of star gazing.  Although the city never allows its citizens to enjoy any of the seasons (the heat of summer is cruel with the crowds, the trees’ garment in autumn is unseen between the concrete, winter is miserably long and the flowers of Spring are buried beneath brown slush), Autumn is the season that allows its very personality to be wrought within every living creature.  It steals, and in my opinion, with honors, the carefree nature of summer and quiets the soul.  It is , I believe, ignored, because it breeds a melancholy atmosphere that stirs the memories.  It has a fragrance of an attic long ignored, yet bearing treasures that will only unleash itself to a willing partaker.  Autumn, to be enjoyed, requires a kindred spirit.

There is a street in Budapest, nestled on the edge of the Buda hills behind the homes lining the way to St. Matthew’s church.  It is adorned overhead with trees, trees that bend up, over and down to kiss the heads of those who walk there.  Windows of the on-looking homes open to allow those sitting on the benches or walking to enjoy the sounds of classical music.  The stones that pave the path are multi-colored, faceted together like gaudy jewels. In any season, any moment, this place that still draws me, especially in my absence, is no more beautiful that in Autumn.  To walk this way and not allow your soul to soar is blasphemy, but to lift your nose to the fall breeze and inhale, gaze above to splendidly arrayed treetops, is divine.

I loved to chase the large red and orange leaves as they fell to the winding stone wall and try to catch them before they fell to their doom on the pavement below. The wall was no masterpiece, perhaps even as haphazard an attempt as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Yet, neither accomplishment would have found glory in perfection – it is their flaws that make them charming and curious.  The stones of this particular wall were never filed to smoothness, the rain and wear of hundreds of years has done that.  It curves along the cliff’s edge and winds with a personality of its own.  I admire its independence. I dream of living along this small stretch, yet fear I would some day grow to ignore it and forget the cobbled way beneath my window of wavy glass.  The tread of passersby would perhaps grow to annoy me and so, I long all the more in my fortunate gift of deprivation.  

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In The Trunk February 24, 2009

Filed under: Vignettes — relateableme @ 4:22 pm

This vignette is about some of the driving adventures I had during my first year in Hungary. We only had a small car and being the smallest person in the bunch, my assigned seat was poor in safety, but rich in adventure.

                                                                                      

                                                                   IN THE TRUNK

 

           I once spent six months in the trunk of a car.  Our little red car could only hold so many people, so being the smallest, I was assigned the hatch-back position for every excursion.  To my pleasure, my domain was ceilinged with a window and floored with a giant goose down pillow making our trips more of a delight than anything else.  I looked forward to being separated from everyone to think or pray or just watch the passing, quickly passing, blurred scenery.  I watched the trees turn from orange to lonely, tall sticks bearing naked branches.  I began to sympathize with trees and barren land.  The loneliness I often felt in winter could not match theirs.  What is it like to be held down, perhaps unwillingly, exposing the shame that was covered by nature’s clothing?  Their flaws, nicks and crooked branches for months were hidden, only to be exposed so quickly, with nothing but a few day’s wind of warning.

            Sometimes, I friend joined be in the back.  How we fit, I have no idea, but I still remember the giggling and straining to get comfortable and then resting.  We would find our positions and gaze out the window.  We rarely talked, she was the type, as I who would much rather think and dream then talk.  Talking accomplishes little when the soul is generating its deepest desires.  Sometimes she would turn her head to look at me and share some bit of insight she’d just gained by looking at a tree or a flower or a cloud.  I’d sigh and understand. 

            I loved passing through the villages.  There were five villages, if I remember correctly, between our city and our rural destination.  I had memorized the curves in the road without having to even look where we were.  The houses all stood along the roadside, in a row as if to greet the passersby. The houses were structured the same, but their faded splendor set them apart.  Almost every home was adorned with two windows in the front with a different color around the window than that which was painted on the outside walls.  Although faded and so old, the homes were so cheery and welcoming. Shades were lowered over the windows by the time we passed through on our way home and sometimes one had been left up transforming the house into a face with a winking eye.  I chuckled to myself at the winking faces all throughout town.  In Autumn, bags of drying peppers would hang from the side porches and look so brilliantly against the blue paint of a house I remember along the bend.  The old men would then grind the peppers into fine, spicy paprika.

            The roads of Hungary transport more than automobiles; it reminded me of a video game with all its obstacles. We would slow down as we came upon a horse-drawn wagon and sometimes need to stop for oncoming traffic.  As we’d swing around the wagon, I’d come face to face with a red-nosed man and then his horses and stare into their eyes until they were out of sight.  Nothing brings you closer to a land then to stare into the eyes of those who live there.

            Between towns there would be nothing but open, wide open skies to delight me. As a kid, I’d lay on the grass next to my other classmates and tell the teacher what shapes and animals were in the clouds.  I’d play the game alone in the back of the car.  Silent, delighted and content, I’d find lions and girls and giraffes floating in the blue above. I loved being allowed to revert to childhood.  I loved that no one knew my thoughts, no one asked and no one could have understood.

            At night, my view was lost in the dark, but my thoughts were still free to roam.  I don’t remember falling asleep.  I loved to be awake when all others were asleep; for some reason I would think more clearly. Perhaps there were more thoughts to be captured while the others slept.  I knew we were close to home when we stopped for a passing train.  The gates would literally fall three to five minutes before the train passed and remained down long after it had passed; it added much time to travel.  I was never anxious to get home on those nights.

            Our little red car eventually met its end and whatever it was we bought after that, it did not hold my fancy.  I soon learned to love horizontal beauty of the country with its sunflower fields of summer, but the same villages lost the charm they’d held from the back window.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Martha’s House February 6, 2009

Filed under: Vignettes — relateableme @ 6:53 pm
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This is a story I wrote about a woman in our church. There was always a struggle in my heart concerning her; her life was painfully awful but she honestly tried my patience. Here is our story:                                                                  

                                                         MARTHA’S HOUSE

            It was the day everyone empties out their sheds and cellars and puts on the curb everything that would be sold at a garage sale if they existed here.  The Gypsies would come around with wheelbarrows and giant sacks to gather up their findings.  Others drove from street to street and loaded into their failing cars an old cupboard missing a few doors and even more paint, or perhaps a few tires brought out of retirement. Every year I wished I had a truck, and more than that, an excuse to drive around town rummaging through the piles. Such articles were ancient junk to my neighbor, but a commentary on European history to me. Today, most of all, I wished I had a truck.

Martha was sick.  As we approached her house we noticed her pile. She had a few odds and ends, things that only held value in parts, not as a whole. Martha wasn’t old, but tired and her parts had no value, and were barely a whole person. The rusty things she put on the curb were of more use to people than Martha was.  She would have been the hidden treasure, overlooked by the Gypsies and those in their cars and would have waited to be hauled away by the men in trucks. I never actually saw a garbage truck come by; everything seemed to dissolve before it could be collected.  Perhaps Martha would have just sat on the curb, with her hollow eyes, taut skin, emaciated body, and simply died there.

            She lived in a house her family owned, but they only came over to visit her and her daughter when they were drunk, angry and ready to beat her. She talked incessantly, with a conversation made up of apologies, memories and nonsense. This I found far more trying than her squalor. Her house was dark and smelled of cold and poverty.  Her daughter’s toys and books were strewn in the smoky shadows where light barely made its way in through the covered windows.  She was ashamed of her house, as if we had expected more. When someone is just existing, you don’t expect more than four walls and frowns. Her shame had a way of embarrassing me and made me ill at ease and anxious to leave. Had she only been poor, I would have gladly spent the day, but her poverty was that of wits and reason.  She hadn’t been up for a few days and her daughter traipsed around the house in an unmatched outfit and wore the face of a child who had no idea what it meant to be a child.  She wanted to play, but it was late; she was bored and her mother no longer had the energy to answer her. This child had stolen her last fire or whatever smoldering embers she had remaining. She was a woman broken many times over and was now only a shell of God’s intent. The girl had lived with her mom for her few years on earth and saw her dad whenever he found his way back between drinks. Her world was built of sadness, pain and the desire to escape it all. I was certain she would in a few years; when she was old enough to find her own way, she’d escape and avoid her mother on the streets as her older siblings did.  Martha was her scorn, her shame and she’d forget her as soon as she could.

            We sat with her and prayed. It was hard to pray when you knew she was staring at you with the blank stare of vacancy; her soul had moved out years before. I tried to pray, but knew that to her it made no difference; she would start the same conversation all over again once I’d finished. Even in the midst of suffering, I found the despicable ability to shut the door. Had I only met her once, she would have been a tragic memory, but because she was a staple in my life, she was an annoyance. My insincerity sickened me, or perhaps I wished it did. I talked and listened and thought about heading home to my house, to my husband and to sanity: a continent she had perhaps received postcards from, but never dreamed of visiting. After praying she would draw closer and gaze at me with such an invasive stare, I was sure she would take a spoon and dig deep inside me and hallow out a new home for herself.

Somehow the interview ended and I instinctively punched my mental timecard and placed it in my back pocket until another week or so or perhaps until another beating or sickness warranted my necessity to visit her. When we left we carried traces of her with our every part. They stood at the window and waved like two disappearing ghosts, the curtain waving behind them in the breeze. The consolation of the poor is that once they’ve let you into their homes, they’re no longer alone in their suffering.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simplicity and the Stars February 3, 2009

Filed under: Vignettes — relateableme @ 7:19 pm

I finally conquered my dated technology and gained access to my writings.

Most of what I’ve written is about my years in Hungary which also happens to be the exact location of my heart (on most days). The first story I’ll post is “Simplicity and the Stars.” Please feel free to leave feedback. Some are shorter than others, more vignettes or “glimpses” as I like to call them into experience I had. Later, I’ll include short stories, much longer in length than these that are unrelated to my time abroad. thanks.

 

 

                                                         SIMPLICITY AND STARS

 

 

            I think there are two things I miss most.  Both leave a throbbing vacancy in my heart: simplicity and the stars.  Hungary has been showered upon with a magical passing of time – it doesn’t. Somehow, God has held back the ever-proceeding hands of time and kept them at a leisurely pace to please even a city girl.  I often spent my spare hours walking through the woods picking flowers.  The woods contain a clan of spirits that refuse to live anywhere else; they anoint the doors with a drawing curiosity and a lingering mist.  The smell, oh the smell of fresh pines and earth.  Early Spring held the treasure of lily of the valley protected by their almost too-heavy deep green leaves.  The woods embodied a melange of fear and joy.  There was nothing quite as soothing then to walk along with the freedom of thought. Yet, there was nothing quite as frightening as being alone and away from all safety and security.  Perhaps it was my relentless search of adventure and solitude that lead me always to the woods.

            Everything, even life in the capital, seemed to be at a pace slightly more lethargic then elsewhere.  Not to say the Hungarians are prone to laziness, quite the opposite.  They are so diligent and work so hard, they magically get done all that’s necessary and smell the flowers, enjoy a peach or watch a bird. I learned to enjoy the simple pleasures of life and take joy in the simple tasks.  To spend a mid-summer’s afternoon picking apricots for jam or picking and pitting sour cherries for sauce was necessary and therapeutic.

While living in a southern village, my mornings were spent in the kitchen with grandma.  It was months before I was allowed to cook a simple meal in her 6X4 palace of spices and sauce, not for hospitality’s sake, but because she might as well have shared her husband with me as to share her kitchen.  Her cooking was not creative nor daring (and barely Hungarian) but she was appreciated, and that gave her the satisfaction she needed.  Long before the language was second-hand to me, she flourished with words of her past, her losses and successes.  None of her grandchildren had ever listened and although thousands of wasted words fell upon my ignorant ears, her burden of sixty-four years became increasingly lighter. Mornings were simple, lunch was promptly for the lonely two of us and my afternoons, although full, contained the simplest joys of all.

            And the stars.  I had been brought to a time in my life when the only place I looked was down.  There was little life outside myself and no prison greater than my own failures.  A friend directed my eyes again to the sky – the night sky.  He told me stories about the stars – mythology.  The winter sky held treasures that no store could contain.  The air would be so crisp, so clear, I wished it were a drink I could slowly consume and allow to go through every part of my body and remain in my blood stream.  The stars became my companions on long walks home at night through all seasons.  If I found myself waiting at a bus stop, I would gaze to my favorite star and dream of the land it held.  We had randomly chosen a star to bear the name out a book of mythology spoke about.  One day, in amazement we read that the star we had chosen was actually the object of our writer’s fantasy.  It rode high in the sky, forever tolling and pitching on the night waves.  I learned that my world of suffering was so small in the scope of simply one aspect of God’s creation.

            The summer nights wrapped me in its balm to warm me as I’d lay in the grass and stare.  The shooting stars would grasp at my heart and steal me away as it soared and soared long after I’d leave the earth.  Satellites amazed me.  Something man-made could blink its way past my home and visit me tomorrow right on time.  Stars were the only things I’d allow to wake me from my sleep – they were even more brilliant after a late evening washing of rain.  The dark silhouette of clouds would just be departing as the moon once again reigned. Its companions would glimmer and reflect in the puddles of passing rainfall. I was told that nice girls never roamed the streets on any village at night – perhaps not, but a dreaming girl did.