When We First Met

Last night’s post made me remember this.

Red's Wrap

Jan and Joe Nicaragua

I still have those earrings. And the son. But not the t-shirt or white skirt, sad because the white skirt was part of my fancy wedding ensemble when my husband and I were married in the local courthouse a few years before. In Nicaragua in the 80’s, women never wore pants or short, only skirts. So I was instructed and I complied.

This picture was taken at the doctor’s office where we were waiting for my new son to be examined so he could get the okay to leave the country and enter the United States. We were to take the results of the exam to the U.S. Embassy to finish the paperwork to allow me to bring him home to Milwaukee. That day when I picked him up from the orphanage, helped by my good friend Christina and with a couple from New Hampshire who adopted a brother and…

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Straight with Many Limes

Flor de Cana is Nicaraguan rum.

I’m not a connoisseur of rum. I only drink this rum. Because it is Nicaraguan.

I remember being in Managua, sitting in the courtyard of Casa Bolonia, a squat, sprawling hotel where plywood had been used to make two rooms out of one. In the room where I was staying, half the air conditioner was in my room and the other half, with the controls, was in the room next door.

It was 1988.

I had traveled to Managua with my 15-year old daughter to fetch a little boy who would become my son and her brother. We traveled with a small group who had come to Nicaragua for other reasons but we were together like relatives there because it was foreign and risky. At night, the city was dark and walking was dangerous, not because of people but because of massive holes in the pavement. You never knew where they were, the holes.

It was very hot, thick hot, dripping all the time, and it rained hard every afternoon. By the time night came, we only wanted to drink so we would sit in the courtyard with our friends and the new boy on our laps, and we would talk and laugh about the day and gaze at the new bottle of Flor de Cana on the wrought iron table.

We had tried to find Coke all day but there seemed to be none in the city. In days prior, we’d bought Coke from vendors who gave it to us in plastic bags tied at the top with a twist tie. This is how the Coke came, I don’t remember why.

The trick was to bite a small hole in the corner of the bag and drink the Coke that way. It was chancy, the Coke being likely to run down one’s arm, but the heat made trying worth the effort. So we yearned for a bag of Coke to have with our rum since drinking rum straight seemed extreme or at least something one wouldn’t do in front of one’s daughter, especially with a new son. It appeared all was lost for our rum drinking.

While we puzzled over this, the Nicaraguan boyfriend of a woman in our group, a man who had been a soldier in the Sandinista Army, fought in the jungles up in the mountains, and often carried his knife in his teeth to keep his hands free, stood up and announced we would have limes for our rum! And he pointed to the lime tree in the middle of the courtyard, smiling with glee at the dozens of limes hanging ripe. He picked dozens of limes, slashing each one open on the ceramic tile of the table top.

So we squeezed lime after lime in our plastic cups and poured in the Flor de Cana and the drink was tart, so tart it made our eyes water, but better than anything I had ever drunk. So I think of that every time I unscrew the lid of my bottle of Flor de Cana – that night thirty years ago with the heat and the rum and the limes. All the limes.

Making Jewelry

The woman who sits next to me at my writing workshop wrote eight lines of poetry about taking down Christmas lights that were so exquisite and gleaming that I wanted to steal her poem, put it in my pocket and pretend I’d written it, but I had to hand it back to her with my comments.

It is rare for me to covet someone else’s words.

There was another instance today. In what was otherwise a very hard to follow chapter from a fellow writer’s many-charactered story involving talking creatures and mysterious wars, there was an enchanting scene of a water nymph calming an hysterical fish by carrying him in her arms encased in a bubble.

I didn’t want to steal that one but it was probably worthy of theft. But where would I use an hysterical fish?

I get transfixed by what is called a turn of phrase, an elegant phrase, a perfect image. So I become bored by long, gray narratives that move stories along like traffic on the Illinois Tollway, this toll booth, that toll booth, now and then a stop at an oasis for coffee. A blur, the whole trip becomes a blur.

The fewer words the better for me, three beads on a necklace instead of fifty. When there are only three beads, they have to be perfect on their own and with each other.

It is my aim to be a great beader.

The Frosty Limits of Love

So what would you do for love? Walk across the country? Swim the English Channel? Sit on a metal bench at Lambeau Field with 80,000 football zealots in -30 wind chill? For four hours while the sun went down and the wind kicked up and then, afterward, walk the 10 blocks back to your car and sit huddled and mute under blankets for the two hour drive home listening to Sports Talk Radio and looking forward to a stop at a gas station with bright lights and heat blasted from a huge blower mounted on the wall?

Not a question you usually need to answer? Good for you. You see, I’m married to this person. He regards Lambeau Field as a holy place. He doesn’t joke about this.

Howie in Lambeau

I’ve gone to a zero degree game at Lambeau Field. To keep warm, I carried in what we call the German Army sleeping bag which we bought years ago at an army surplus store in Wyoming. Anyway, the sleeping bag looks sort of normal except that it has two sleeves and a hood. Basically, once in the sleeping bag, you’re not going anywhere without hopping although you can still hold a beer or your head if sobbing about your fate.

The delight of seeing the Packers get into the play-offs after a long season of star quarterback Aaron Rodgers watching from the sidelines nursing his broken collarbone was swiftly replaced by my growing dread that we would end up going to the game. Each day, the weather predictions about Sunday’s game became more dire and the lure of cheap Packer tickets more electric.

“If it’s something you really want to do, I’ll do it.” I stood in the kitchen, Topper’s stylish ghosts, George and Marion, sitting on the counter next to me.

“Seriously?” Marion said, her arms folded, swinging her leg back and forth. “You are going to sit outside in insanely freezing weather in a German Army sleeping bag? Why would you do that?”

“Her husband loves football, Marion. It’s obvious. She loves him so she’s offering to go.” George tapped a cigarette on his lighter. “It’s a nice thing. Any man would appreciate it.”

“It’s absurd. Utterly and totally absurd and outrageous. My dear, you have to have been brainwashed. What has become of you?” Her disdain dripped on the counter and formed an awful puddle. This really stung coming from a female ghost from the fifties.

I slapped them both away. There’s no place for harsh judgments in my kitchen.

But really, what was I thinking? Going to Lambeau Field on Sunday to watch the Packers and 49’ers in the 2nd Ice Bowl was like the first episode of a new reality show – Extreme Good Sports – where I guarantee the stars would all be women doing crazy stuff to make somebody else happy. And usually when they weren’t even asked or begged. Just thinking that’s what a good sport would do.

Then this afternoon, the local school system announced they were closing on Monday because of the severe cold that was starting Sunday (Game Day as we call it here), life threatening they called it, and then this text arrived:

“I can get 2 tickets at the 50 yd. line”

“How much?”

“Face value. $125”

“Is this something you really want to do?”


No? Well, I would’ve done it.  Already had the German Army sleeping bag out of the attic, fumigated it, made sure no mice homesteaded, wouldn’t want them running amok at Lambeau and now, you say, it’s all for naught? We’ll just sit in the living room with pizza and beer and you’ll smoke a cigar? Which is fine with me, cigar smoke, love it, reminds me of Dad.

Besides, you know me. I’m a really good sport.

Republished for Howard on the last night of the 2019-2020 football season for fans of the Green Bay Packers. Next year!

Tell Me Your Story So I Can Make It Mine

If a person hears a story
from someone who, say, was just talking
and then tells that story to others
I’m wondering who owns the story

If the story is about being afraid, so afraid
that one sits terrified, looking out the window
for a car that might drive up in the dark,
does the fear become the teller’s in the telling

At lunch, the man tells me his story
his gone wife, their nameless children, all angry
mistakes, what his name used to be, grief
which I pack in a bag with a sandwich to take home

His words stick, thick rubber bands in a drawer,
wound around each other to be picked apart
and set on the table, the gist refigured, reconjured,
stitched together for my telling to you

Use the Big Ladle Friday Roundup

I took control of my hair this week. The realization that my hair was accelerating my fade into oblivion had me texting my hairdresser late Monday night. Short, very short, and color, and my brows, my brows are a mess. And when I got there on Wednesday, she looked at me like a therapist would for about five seconds and then she started mixing up the paint. I felt like you do when you take a beloved car to a good mechanic and he props open the hood and you sit behind the wheel and think, “Man, my car’s gonna be fine.

Punchy got a certificate. Which is pretty remarkable especially for an old dog. It was for bravery under anesthesia. Yes, Punchy has kind of lost his punch. But he didn’t need it anyway. That ship has sailed as they say in the mushing world. Maybe he already has descendants, I don’t know, Punchy Juniors who are also tough dogs but don’t know what they’re doing. I would love all of their little scrappy, confused selves. But, oh well.

My day started off with reading about how Trump called the Joint Chiefs of Staff “dopes and babies.” Great writing from Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker of the Washington Post about a meeting planned by Defense Secretary Mattis and Secretary of State Tillerson early in the administration, the goal being to tactfully fill some of the lacunae in Trump’s brain where knowledge about countries and history ought to be. Tillerson turns out to be a hero for standing up for everyone because, of course, military people can’t talk back to the Commander in Chief. So there it is, the most powerful generals in the country hung their heads and kept their mouths shut. Confidence inspiring.

I am writing two federal grant proposals at the same time. This is something I’ve not done before but it seems to be working out okay. There are both benefits and drawbacks to being an extremely linear thinker and I’m discovering all of them right now. This is what my desk looks like.

The most impressive thing I witnessed this week was this giant pan of scalloped potatoes and ham. I have kind of an unusual fascination with the preparation of big food, how to make food for a lot of people that tastes good and smells amazing. This was just one of five pans of scalloped potatoes and ham that were put together using canned potatoes and cheese donated by a food bank, ham left over from a banquet, and mushroom soup from God’s stash, all put together to make 140 meals for homeless people who are visited on Street Angels’ outreach. I was the scalloped potatoes and ham slinger, putting a huge helping into each Styrofoam container. It was the most useful thing I did all week.