Monthly Archives: December 2014

Holiday traditions

IMG_1604

My sister confided in me recently that when we were kids
she never really liked Christmas. It always meant
too much scrubbing and bustle, too much cooking,
too big a mess to be got into and then cleaned up afterwards.
The hardwood floors needed to be stripped and polished
and every nook and cranny got into and cleaned out—
you never know when the priest could drop in (although
truth be known, all that needed was a good liquor cabinet.)
The decorations had to be pulled out, put up, took down,
and every one of grandmother’s dishes and glasses got at,
washed, used, and one (by me, of course, it was always me)
broken each year.

I have grandchildren that age now, but when I speak to her,
I am always, again, that baby boy of the family—I never knew,
I never realized. Being younger (and dodgier) I was useless,
as was dad, who was exhausted and drunk by noon. So my
memory is different: fun yes, but depressed afterwards,
the buildup over, the presents opened, the house put away
and everyone down for a nap, just me awake, wondering
where mom had hidden the chocolates. I still miss those,
even now, when I know just how much they cost.

up

My sister tells me that my mother’s favorite chocolates were Quality Street. It is a question of some debate in our family as to which came first: whether mom was forced to hide them because I would seek them out where ever they were hidden, or whether I had to take to hunting them because mom had secreted them away. It did not matter, though, since ours was a small house and I knew all of her favorite hiding spots.

The photograph was taken of a barn door on a small farm in Pomfret, CT. To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2014 by John Etheridge,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use in any way without the expressed consent of its creator.

Advertisements

16 Comments

Filed under Poetry

He was wearing his regimental tie

regimental tieI remember those cold, consistent Novembers:
the way the damp hung in the air and soaked into you,
the way the outdoors was quieter and indoors louder
and how you could know, but forget, what lay ahead.
Once, I recall, as a boy, I went with my father
to the Legion. There I met his friends, veterans all,
heavy drinkers of course, middle aged by then, and one,
an elderly man, a small, shriveled, gnome of a fellow
grinning in the corner and being plied with drinks.
A survivor of Passchendaele, whispered my father
as he introduced me and gave the man his offering.
The last one. It was years before I knew what that meant.

I am now as old as my father was then,
and he is as old as that little old gnome,
and yes, as shrunk and shriveled and just as alone.
The Novembers too are, in balance, the same,
perhaps milder, perhaps damper, I’m not sure.
But I know this: I never once wanted to go back
to where I was born or to take my sons to a Legion.
Not once.

up

The Royal Canadian Legion is a non-profit Canadian veterans organization founded in 1925. Almost every small town and village in Canada has a ‘Legion hall,’ a social club, attached bar and a display of war memorabilia collected from the members.

Passchendaele was a long and bloody Allied campaign of World War I that took place near the city of Ypres, in Belgium and was a classic battle of the western front of that war: mud, trenches, gas attacks, “up and over” the wire, no mans land, large numbers of men charging head on into machine gun fire, incredible kill rates…total estimates are a half million lives lost. It started in July of 1917 and ended ignominiously in November of the same year, failing to meet any of its strategic goals. Its value or waste as part of that war is still disputed, but one thing is clear: the horrific experience nearly consumed the entire contingent of many Canadian regiments and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment—where the old man of this poem served—in particular.

The photograph was taken at the top of Mount Wachussetts, in Massachussetts at the end of a particularly cold November, 2014. The memory of meeting that old man has been kicking its way into being a poem for some time, but it took 2014, the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, to bring it forth. To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2014 by John Etheridge,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use in any way without the expressed consent of its creator.

13 Comments

Filed under Poetry

Pete Hulme’s “Mary”

IMG_4158I’d creak my way upstairs sometimes and dare
the backroom where my sister, Mary, died
before I was born. ‘Her lungs were putrid
at the end,’ my mother said. ‘I couldn’t bear
to see.’
……..I’d stand there questioning the air
for traces of some meaning it might hide.
On the wall above the iron bedstead,
fading in his photograph, my father,
his broad shoulders stretching his jacket tight,
held a huge bullcalf by a rope, half-stern,
half-smiling, proud: younger then the grim grey
man I knew – and straighter. Then the thought:
a man that to trench-fire did not bow, the burn
of one small child’s loss bent easily.

up

This poem is by Pete Hulme and is posted with his permission. Pete’s original post of this poem is from his Everybody Means Something blog.

Mary is a heartbreaking poem of loss and regret, the more so since the writer, being so young clearly does not yet know how to access or process such grief, and yet is, in his own unique way, bound to it, making the double hurt all that much more poignant. Thus always is the pain of such innocents.

Thank you for reading Pete Hulme’s “Mary”. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

Comments © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. Poem © June, 2012 by Pete Hulme; all rights reserved.

2 Comments

Filed under Poetry