A Stupid Place

Gram at 70.

Gram at 70.

A Stupid Place

A stupid place to put it,
she says, winding into another rant
about a ceiling fan at the wrong end of the room.
She sits and twists the ring on her finger,
and wonders why she is here.

Because she used to have a house.
Now she has too much furniture,
and a life packed in cardboard boxes,
honey-combed walls wilted by
the heat of how many summers?

Moments flicker and play out
in silent testimony to what came before
this place, this stupid place.
At the window, a curtain lifts like an apparition
in a breeze too flabby to last.

She turns her head and waits for
the next riffle of wind,
for the days that gather and roll
like dust bunnies beneath her bed,
while she sits and twists the ring on her finger

and her mind meanders in a space
too narrow for contentment,
a labyrinth of thoughts
that twists and turns upon itself
crossing the same trail, the same words,

A stupid place to put it, she says.
I don’t know why I’m here.

~~  Mary Pierce, 1995


The woman in the photo is my grandmother, Pearl Crawford Pierce.  She was seventy when the photo was taken, her hair color still hers and not from a box.  She cut her hair herself.  My grandfather had been dead for more than twenty years by then.  In those years, she had learned to drive a car and shop for herself, two things that my grandfather had always done.  She also got a job at the local paper mill, worked for a while, retired, and found a sense of satisfaction selling Avon products because it got her out of her house.  She had style and a snazzy Mustang by then.

A few years after this photo was taken she was mugged on her own front porch.  She stopped selling Avon and was reluctant to go outside.  A couple of years after that, in one of the infrequent times she did leave her house, her car skidded on an icy road and she hit a bank.  The kind you keep your money in.  She broke her jaw and her hip and cracked some ribs.  Eventually, she healed.  Physically.

By the time I wrote the poem, she had given up her house to a daughter and moved to a small one-bedroom apartment in a subsidized development.  Her short-term memory had moved somewhere else.  It clearly was no longer residing with her.  I wrote the poem after a visit.  That year I made many visits, driving from my home in Rhode Island to her stupid place in northern New York with a six-year-old in tow, trying desperately to find a way to keep her in her apartment and out of a nursing home.  Physically, in spite of her run-in with the bank, she was strong and relatively healthy, the one glitch being that she had developed high enough blood pressure to necessitate her taking daily medication.  Which, of course, she could never remember to do.

Twenty years and five months after the photo was taken Gram died in a nursing home after she fell out of bed in the middle of the night.  Had she known what was happening, she would have laughed at what a ridiculous way to go that was.  A few years before that, on one of my visits, she asked me to take her to the area she had been born.  We ended up at the cemetery where her parents and her baby brother, Rosco were all buried.  It was one of those lovely large cemeteries with mature trees and undulating hills, a place with a good view, she said.  We didn’t make it to the Crawford family plot because in our traipsing about, she lost her balance on the spongy ground and rolled down a hill before I could grab her.  When I caught up to her, she was unhurt and doubled over in laughter.  “Well, if I died here, at least I wouldn’t have far to go,” she managed to choke out.  And we both laughed like hell because the whole thing was hilarious, and what else was there to do?  Life is hard.  Sometimes, we end up in a stupid place.

I chart my grandmother’s journey in words and pictures because that is the best way I know to remember who she was.  To me, at any rate.  Others may remember someone else.  Despite the poem, despite the place she ultimately found herself in, it wasn’t the whole story.  I knew her as a woman of passion, of strength and the courage to guide me past a bear.  (Yes, a real bear.  A story for another time.)  But, she was also something more.  Scroll back up to that photo and you’ll see what I mean.  It’s there in her eyes.  Those are the eyes of someone who has always known how to dream.  An asset, because dreams will get you where you need to go.

No matter what place you happen to be.

A fool and his folly

iconic stonehenge pm smaller

This is the photo of Stonehenge that set my grandfather’s heart ablaze.

There are variations of my grandfather’s story, but I prefer this one.  Mostly, because it came from my great-aunt Sophie, and she never said anything that wasn’t true.  Or at least, true enough.  She was the keeper of our stories.  From births to deaths, weddings to wakes; new jobs, new homes, new dreams, if it involved a Webster, Aunt Sophie wrote it down.  That job fell to me a few years ago when, at the age of eighty-two, she fell off her bicycle, hit her head, and died.

(Let that be a lesson for you — You are never too old to wear a helmet.  Aunt Sophie would back me up on this if she could.)

This story began fifty years ago when Grandpa Webster had a dream.  In it he dreamed that his ancestors had been druids, and this pleased him immensely.  The whole wise man, mystical nature thing.  He thought it might be true.  But, when he told others about it, they said — Don’t be daft, you foolIt’s just a dream.  So he shut up about it.

Still.  A wisp of the dream remained.

Shortly after that grandpa bought a box.  He was fond of auctions, and even fonder of bidding on blind boxes – blind in the sense that you had no idea of the contents but were willing to chance that there might be something of value inside.  In this instance, the thing of value was the tinted photo of Stonehenge you see above.

How that photograph took hold of my grandfather.  He kept it on his nightstand.  It was the last thing he looked to before he closed his eyes, and the first thing he saw upon waking, his wife coming in a poor second.  But she was patient because she loved him.  And she knew about his druid wish.  For even a wisp of a dream carries a sweet, smoky odor that a good spouse can smell.  She went to the public library and brought back a book — The Stonehenge Myth — and set it next to the photo on my grandfather’s side of the bed.

My grandparents owned a small farm at the time.  Eighty acres on which they grew corn and wheat and raised chickens, sheep, and some dairy cows.  (My father grew up on this farm and knew before he was eighteen that he wanted something else in life, but that’s another story, for another time.)  Four months after his finding the Stonehenge photo, six months after the druid dream, my grandfather dragged home his first big rock, a four foot by two foot slab of stone that he slid off the back of a flat-bed trailer at the end of the sheep field.  The neighbors wondered what use could be made from a stone that size, but my grandmother had an inkling.

Over the next six months, my grandfather brought home twelve more boulders and stone slabs of various sizes.  He paid his four strapping boys and their friends to help him arrange the stones in a circle.  He borrowed a backhoe and a front end loader.  He carried the Stonehenge photograph in his shirt pocket, and when people asked him what in blue blazes was he trying to build, he pulled out the photo and handed it to them.

This, he said.  I’m building this.  It’s iconic.

Some people thought he said ironic.

Over the years, my grandfather and his folly became legend.  There were stories told that he danced drunken and naked in the moonlight among those stones.  Aunt Sophie said that wasn’t true.  She said that he simply found comfort in sitting in that stone circle while the sun rose or set and he could think about the day ahead of or behind him.  It brought him peace.

For my father and his brothers, it brought them something else.  There were more than a few times when they and their friends dared one another to strip and whoop it up around the rocks.  For them, it was a level of coolness others didn’t have.

We were the only kids with Stonehenge in our back yard.

Fifteen years ago, as my grandparent’s fiftieth wedding anniversary approached, their sons wanted to gift them with a trip to England, to see the real Stonehenge, they said.  My grandparents turned them down.  Why spend all that money, when they were happy with the one they had?

I’m no fool, my grandfather told his boys.

It was the truest thing I ever heard him say.

The Webster family Stonehenge that stands in what used to be a sheep pasture on the farm.  The stones are not as big as they look, not nearly like those at the actual Stonehenge, but they were good enough for dancing around in the moonlight.

The Webster family Stonehenge standing in the sheep pasture on the farm. The stones are not as big as they look, certainly not like those at the actual Stonehenge, but they’re good enough for dancing around in the moonlight.

n.b.  This is not a true story.  It is fiction.  I wanted to see if I had a photo that was iconic to me (for the Weekly WP Writing Challenge), and then make up a story to fit the picture.  Also, I have been to the real Stonehenge.  I wasn’t allowed to dance around the stones, though, naked or otherwise.

My cellluloid dreams. . . .

Most of the time I remember the dreams I have at night. They often follow a storyline that plays out very much like a film. I wake up in the morning and part of me is still in the realm of that dream and it takes me a while to be present to the world of awake.

The first film I ever saw was an animated short of Hansel and Gretel at a tiny theater in Star Lake, NY. I was three. We went to visit my grandmother afterwards, and I screamed when I saw her, because she had morphed, somehow, from my nice grammy into a witchy-looking woman I was convinced wanted to cook me in her oven. Such has been the power of movies on my imagination.

The theater was torn down a little later — not because they played such terrifying fare for children — but because, no longer a thriving summer tourist area, the community could no longer support it. Which left the nearest movie theater a winding 35-minute drive away.

Still, the passion had been ignited and I found ways to sustain it however I could. I’d spend the night at my grandmother’s. (Yes, the one I accused of witchery – I got over it.) She’d let me turn her living room into a pretend theater in which she’d pay me a nickel to watch her own TV. We’d close the curtains and set up all her chairs in a row. I’d make popcorn and put it in sandwich-sized paper bags and sell it to her for another nickel. It served for a time, but a movie on the small screen is not the same experience as a cavernous, dark theater with a giant screen and booming speakers. Where it’s truly possible to imagine yourself into the world you’re watching.

Now we have movies on DVDs and huge TV screens in high definition and when people do go to the theater they seem to think they’re still at home, and it’s not so easy for me to get lost in the film the way I used to. Which is why I prefer to see movies at art house cinemas. In general, I find that the people who frequent these kind of theaters are looking for the same kind of experience I am. They are quiet and reverential and keep their cell phones out of sight.

Tonight I’m headed out to my favorite cinema – The Jane Pickens Theater in Newport – where they are raising funds to convert their projector to digital. On the marquee for one night only: Cinema Paradiso. My favorite film of all time. If any movie so perfectly conveys my deep abiding love of film, it’s this one. I saw it at the theater three times when it came out, and I own the DVD, but this is the first time since 1989 that I will be able to watch it again on a movie screen. The way it should be seen.**

I am so stoked.

** If you’re in the Rhode Island area, or are apt to visit Newport sometime, consider donating the cost of a movie ticket to help Jane Pickens Theater convert to digital.  Hollywood films are going all digital in early 2013, so all theaters will have to have digital projectors.  You can check out their Kickstarter page here.

Not so wordless Wednesday . . . .

. . . . because I so can’t not talk when there’s even the smallest opportunity (my first grade teacher once moved my desk behind her upright piano so I couldn’t gab to anyone).  And the title of my blog has “Words” in the title, after all.

Faerie Dance #22

Faerie Dance #22

Frost-swept dreams begin in black & white

Faerie Dance #22 "percolated"

Faerie Dance #22 “percolated”

Erupt in spasms of color & dance you awake.  Ready or not.