Fig Newtons and Café Au Lait

Photo by Katie Moum on Unsplash

Never in a million years, would I have thought I would someday be wrestling a seven-year-old’s hair into an acceptable level of neat confinement. But then I never figured Jen might die before I did. I never expected our daughter Melissa to have a baby by “that guy.” Never dreamed that child would become my day job and one of my only reasons to get up each morning, once I retired.

Yet here I was running a spiky brush through Mimi’s coarse, tightly curled hair, as she wriggled and whined that I hurt her when my brushing would slide and stop with the discovery of yet another snarl.

“I’m sorry, Mimi. I’m trying not to hurt you, but your mother would kill me if I let you out of the house with your hair full of knots,“ I said as I worked the brush with my right hand and held onto my neat harvest of frizzled hair. The hair she inherited from her father, but her sweet little face was a café au lait version of her mother’s at her age.

“I hate my stupid hair, Grandpa,” Mimi said as I finally contained most of the subject of her dismay with four twists of a hair band at the back of her head. 

As I withdrew my finger from that elastic mini-tourniquet, I said, “Now why on the world would you say that?” 

I know, at that moment I wasn’t too fond of her hair either. But it was the perfect crown to her angel face.

“It’s just…just…all over the place. I hate it. I want hair like Taylor’s,” Mimi said.

“Taylor?”

“You know, Taylor. She’s the most beautiful girl in my class. Everybody loves her and she’s really nice and I want long straight, shiny blond hair like Taylor’s,” Mimi said with a defiant stamp of her foot on the floor that I felt through my slippers. Yes, I’m retired, so now I wear slippers, moccasins, around the house.

“Mimi, everybody loves you, too. You’re sweet and smart and musical and you look just like my little girl, which means I think you’re absolutely beautiful,” I said with a touch of my hand on her chin. Which was sticky.

“What the heck is on your face?” I asked her while I went to fetch a wet wipe from the white plastic container on the counter. She smiled. And that’s when I saw the brown stain on her tooth.

“Fig Newtons, Grandpa. I traded with Taylor. She wanted my ‘Nilla Wafers.”

“And when did you eat these Fig Newtons? You took your shower last night. I cleaned up the water after you were done, Miss Squeaky Clean.”

“In bed. I snuck ‘em under my pillow. Some of the crumbs got kinda itchy, but I still slept okay.”

“I see. Well, why don’t we both march to the bathroom and you can brush your teeth,” I said with a gentle hand on her warm little shoulder. Though I could see she was getting bigger every day.

“Okay, but I still hate my hair. I want to be as beautiful as Taylor, beautiful like a flower,” Mimi said.

“You already ARE beautiful. Here, let me load up your toothbrush. Now brush, and listen.”

“Mmm-mummmph”

“I know you think you’re not as ‘beautiful,’ as Taylor,” I said, emphasizing beautiful with air quotes. I’m sure they were wasted on a seven-year-old, but I was out of practice with that age. Boy, with Melissa at work, did I miss Jen (again) right then.

“But sometimes beauty is more than only looks, of which you have plenty, little lady. There’s a city on the other side of the world called Singapore. And in Singapore is this stunningly beautiful park. EVERYBODY says it’s one of the most beautiful parks in the world. Now at the center of this beautiful park are these giant metal frames that look like trees. They’re made of twisted bars of steel that reach way up like redwoods and spread out at the top like another tree I’ll tell you about in a second.”

Mimi spit into the sink and said, “Is this gonna be another long story, Grandpa?”

“Keep brushing and listen. Now on these frames of metal trees, beautiful vines and flowers climb and grow. Just like the grapes do every year on Grandma’s arbor in the yard. But inside these phony trees that everyone says are so beautiful are these concrete towers, just like you’d see in Charlotte or Raleigh or even Washington. They aren’t beautiful but the beautiful phony trees cover that up,. Sometimes outside beauty isn’t the whole story about something. It’s just…outside.” I said, hoping I could get this next part through to her.

“Uh huh.”

“These metal trees branch out at the top something like a fig tree, the kind of tree that made the fruit in the sticky and sweet middle of your Newtons. You have to agree that a fig is a pretty sweet thing, right?”

“Yeah, but…”

“Well, did you know that the fig is the only fruit, sweet as it is, that doesn’t grow from a pretty blossom or flower first? Nope, the fig’s blossoms grow on the inside and help make it sweet and different in a very good way. Just like you. Beautiful, sweet and different from any other girl in the world. Except maybe your Mommy. Now rinse and spit,” I said.

“Thbbbbb… But I don’t want to be different,” Mimi said.

“Are you kidding? Do watch TV? These blond news bunnies all over the air are like dandelions in my crappy lawn. All pretty and yellow when they pop up, then BOOM, they turn into those white floating seed thingies that make you sneeze. And, by the way, dandelions are a weed.”

“Are you saying Taylor’s a weed, Grandpa?  That’s not a nice thing to say. Taylor’s my friend,” Mimi said. And I realized that my half-assed parable had merely served to pass the time that it took for her to focus on what made her my sweet girl.

“Can you call Taylor’s mom and ask her if she can come over today? She’s got this new American Girl doll we can play with. It looks like her,“ Mimi said, half hopeful and a still a little down.

“Of course. You tell her she can bring her doll over to play with yours.”

“But I don’t have one. Mommy said maybe for Christmas.”

“Mommy has yet to learn that Grandpa’s don’t need Christmas to spoil their granddaughters. C’mere,” I said, leading her into my little office space downstairs.”

“Grandpas who don’t have too much to do sometimes just sit around and think what they can do to make their beautiful granddaughters happier. With Grandma gone, I needed help, so I enlisted the aid of Kendall here.” I pulled the box with the slick plastic window on its front from behind my desk and handed it to Mimi. Inside was one of those American Girl dolls, only this one had tight curly hair pulled back in two puffy pigtails and her pretty face was the color of Jen’s coffee, when I got it right. Sure it was for her birthday in two weeks, but now I could get her even more stuff.

“Oh, Grandpa, she’s beautiful,” Mimi squealed.

“Say that again.”

“She’s beautiful, she looks just like…”

“You.”

I think I got it right this time, Jen. 

Another Six Senses, Six Weeks assignment. This one was to center on the sense of touch, which i didn’t do as well as I’d hoped. But I enjoyed writing this little story. It kept revealing more things to me as I went along. That photo was one of the prompts, as was a photo of that park and a halved fig in a glass dish. Used the prompts, just gagged on the theme, unless it touches someone’s heart.

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Somewhere Between Pillar and Post

It’s a cold world, I learned without a teacher,
the lesson taught absent studying books.
When it’s hot, I found it’s not a feature
of sweet life either, just stinging right hooks.

You may have found your Life’s temperate mean,
the average sweet spot twixt cold and hot.
I thought Life’s race took a binary lean,
chill pillar OR scorching post, like as not.

Maybe you’re lucky and found one to care
from the broad spectrum of persons you’ve met.
Life gives no hoots since I chose not to dare
to ask one of them for a hug, and yet…

What? Slow down and sit with you for some rest?
Yes, it’s warm here with your head on my chest.

Love Is Blind

There’ve been a few I always could make smile,
don’t ask me just how, though God knows I tried.
But, just as often, it was I, shy of guile,
who was left without love. In fact I cried.

I know, who cares about the jester, the fool,
when all I hoped to win was their nearness.
Oh, who am I kidding? I’m such a tool.
This fool wished to be their prince, so fearless.

They’d draw me close, but I wanted nigh to,
a proposition always doomed to fail.
In the end, they’d find others to sigh to,
but those ends weren’t The End of my love tale.

Chasing after Princesses, their faults unseen,
love found me, in the blue eyes of my blind Queen.

If I Recall, That’s the Spirit

 

I hope someday you reach that point in your life, as I have, when you recognize Christmas doesn’t march up to you like a balloon-festooned Fifth Avenue parade anymore, one whose colors, sounds and corporate sponsorships you can see from blocks away. Nor does it sneak up on you on little mouse feet in the snow. Christmas has become like old age to me now. One day I’m humming along to the rustle of life’s green leaves, all the while ignoring the gifts of my black hair, firm chin and memory like a 100-terabyte computer. The next blink, I’m shaving silver filings off the lower chin of some barely recognizable guy in the mirror. And suddenly I hear (and need to turn up the volume on) a song I think might be called “Silver Bells.” And that’s OK, because the tree downstairs today is always green, and somewhere inside me a little kid is coiled in bed — quiet as the whispers of angels’ wings — for that sunrise when I can charge into the living room in an explosion of torn paper and cardboard before we three brothers trek to church and back. These days, Christmas just IS. And, should you reach my tinsel-topped, Santa-in-training-bodied and memory-leaking station in life, you might recognize it doesn’t need to come at you but once a year. You can charge into it every sunrise, tearing open the gift of that new day and giving it to all you meet. If I recall, that’s the spirit!

A mid-December rambling. Now back to our regular programming.

In Voce Completa

When I was in my teens, I’d walk home
from my best friend Tom’s house at night,
whistling my way through his good Neighborhood
and then into one which was losing a bit
of its neighborliness — my ‘Hood.
Sometimes, if it was late enough, I’d swivel
my head to see who might be on the street and,
if I discerned my sojourn suitably solitary,
I’d break into song, solo, in sotto voce.
I thought I sounded pretty good in my
circular role as vocalist and audience, though
I could never replicate this level
of musical expression to an audience.

Maybe I was kidding myself, as kids are wont to do,
but even today I find it interesting how great
I sound in the car warbling in mezzo voce
to the vast audience of commuters around me
as the radio bathes my soul in music.
To tell you the truth, since this confession’s
already gone on as long as a Grateful Dead set,
I’ll even break into song while I have
the lawn tractor roaring beneath me. But still,
I can’t sing for you, except like this,
in this full-throttle expression of my soul.
Maybe not full-throated, but quite unafraid.

I’ll bet you think you sound pretty good, too. Don’t ask me to dance, though. That was my Mom’s gig.

I’m Obsessed About This

It’s easy to see, from outside not in,
how these obsessions have propelled my life.
Some have been lovely, others brought me sin,
too many of them have caused my life’s strife.

I admit this aloud, my confession,
since you tell me to move on I’ve gotta.
But isn’t kowtowing just more obsession?
Because I’ve done that for you a lotta.

Maybe fixating on one thing’s just passion,
something most would agree is acceptable.
And maybe my way’s not in your fashion,
but don’t toss it in your receptacle.

Besides, obsession’s just thoughts moving me forward.
It’s my compulsions you’ve found so untoward.

Too true. But it’s why I do this so hard and why I’m here. And yeah, some of these rhymes are R-E-A-L-L-Y stretching the bounds of matching corresponding line-ending sounds, but for once I’m not gonna obsess about it.

Listening to Music Alone in the Dark

Was it really that long ago,
when the music washed over us
like a warm breeze off the ocean?
There in the dark I closed my eyes
so imaginary sand wouldn’t seep into them
and tears would not weep out.
Is it really so long ago that you
“wow’d” and wondered how I knew
so much about this and that,
and nothing about you and I?
I stopped wondering long ago,
after I “why’d” and answered
my own question. I still sit
in the dark and let the music
wash over me, but now with
eyes open and imagination shut.