Tag Archives: family

Holiday traditions

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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.

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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.

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For Phil’s dad

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Sitting in the chair
Replacing death with hope
A chemo I.V.

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Phil Wilke is a dear friend of mine from when I lived in Kansas. And while, sadly, my move to New England has put much mileage between us, no distance has grown to separate us…he is still as dear to me now as he was then.

Phil is wonderfully intelligent, wise, kind, generous and one of the funniest people I have ever met. It was with great sadness that I learned from him recently that his father was ill with cancer. (In fact, I wrote The long wait after hearing about it.)

Although Phil is a journalist and a great prose writer, he has used the terseness of haiku to express himself during the difficult times his family is facing. I am honored to share one of these haiku  with you. I hope you like it and I look forward to your comments.

john

Comments © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. Poem © 2014 by Phil Wilke; all rights reserved. Oddly enough—for me, anyway—it is used by permission of the author.

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The rest is not silence

The greatest jolt that one can bear is the sound of dirt
hitting the casket lid. It lingers long on the air,
echoing the heart’s crescendo and tripping the breath’s staccato.

Listen:
the melody of a life is never sung complete or only in one key,
the end beats are seldom, if ever, in rhythm
and the harmony can be discordant to a degree.
That is why it is left to the rest stops—those blessed little spaces,
those tiny, magical pauses between the major and minor shifts—
where a life beat is best measured and heard aright.
Song is about silence, as death is about life,
or at least, that is what I heard sung that day.

This poem was written for the daughter of very dear friends, who, after a long battle with addiction, lost that fight. She was a dear soul, a generous, kindhearted person and a loving mother, who, like many people caught in her situation, seemed unable to stop or dull an ache that just wouldn’t quit or be denied.

I remember her funeral well. Her mother had written a eulogy that she asked my wife to read on her behalf. It started off, “I remember the first time I looked into your eyes,” and a few minutes later, after recalling many happy and warm times, there was not a dry eye in the room. But when it got to the end and she recalled looking into her daughter’s eyes that very last time as she prepared the body for burial, everyone was bawling. When my wife got back to our seat I asked her how she got through it without breaking down, because I know I couldn’t have done it. “I have no idea,” she said, “Some power came over me to help me.” It was later when she cried.

Reading this you’d think that the entire day was pure tragedy, and I don’t deny that it was sad.  But after reflection it is a sense of redemption that I carry with me now, because that day was also heartwarming. A beloved child, a dear sister, a loving mother was dead; but she was also honored and loved, and that honor and love was poured out in such abundance that day that there was also—or at least there was for me—a sense of understanding, of closure and of letting go with dignity.

Thank you for reading The rest is not silence. 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

© 2012 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2012 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

– 2012.12.01

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There

This do I know:
that there on that spot,
on that blessed, sweet spot,
on that spot of perfect, constant submission—
there does she stand and alone is she there,
she who is known only to those who can see her.
Of her, by her, due her—does she.

As I noted in Lucinda, the second Lenora, the original of that poem I cut into two poems and promised that when I next posted I would post that second poem.

There is that second poem and it is only about, and is all about, her, my wonderful, loving and generous sister.

Thank you for reading There. 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

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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Do you know a gardener?

Good loam to work your hands in,
black dirt under your nails;
back to ache, neck to burn
exhaustion from planting and worrying;
seed to sow, rain to come, life to hold on dear to:
sacred hope, quiet hope—deepest in our hearts,
love, commitment, patience and trust,
troth to those before us.

And life grows, it does, but rarely as we will,
and sometimes, often, it’s the roots that pull you down:
because no matter how you planted them
they just up and walk away,
not caring what they do or say
or how deeply they sow inside you.
So what do you do? You keep your head down
and keep on digging, keep on trying,
keep on watering the fertile ground
with your tears, praying as you go.

Relationships can be hard to grow, nurture and maintain. The point is not that some relationships will hurt you, because at some point they all do; the point is, how do you react when they do?

That is the measure you strive to live by.

Thank you so much for reading Do you know a gardener? 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

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem, either alone or with the notes that accompany it, may be printed and distributed—in part or amalgamated with other works—as long as the copyright notice and the address, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com, are also clearly printed with it and there is no fee charged.

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Tierney Tolar’s “Seasons”

My favorite season is winter and summer.
I like those two seasons because
summer is where you can do anything
and winter is where you can
build a snowman
and you can get into a snowball fight.

Having the greatest family

I’m having the greatest time of my life
and the greatest year, the funnest week ever
with grandma and grandpa and aunt Sasha
and my sisters and brother and parents.
I have the sweetest family ever.
Everyone cares about each other
and everyone even loves each other.
Family is important too.

Christmas trees

Christmas trees are fun to put ornaments on
(and lights of course)
and it’s pretty when you turn the lights on.
Christmas trees are to put presents under.
You can put the Christmas tree anywhere you want to.
I’m following Santa Claus tonight.
Santa is watching you…he loves cookies.

Cupcakes

It’s fun when you make cupcakes.
They are yummy, they are fun and they are cute
if you decorate them.
It’s just fun.
You can decorate them however you like
and you can even make a background too.
If you want.

It is with the greatest of pleasure that I get to introduce you to a singular, new and powerful voice in the world of poetry: my granddaughter, 8 year old Tierney. We, Tierney and I, but also her grandmother, father, mother, aunt, brother and sisters are together this Christmas.

Thank you for reading Seasons and all of Tierney’s poems. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed them and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

© 2012 by Tierney Tolar; all rights reserved. These poems and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.

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Until we’re all together again

I want a Christmas with my mom and dad
and sister home from school.
I want to go out and cut down the Christmas tree
and argue, once again, about putting the decorations up
because—good Lord!—who can ever get enough of that?
I want to go buy the presents that I’ve worried over
and dithered over and saved over and agonized over
(and then agonized over some more)
until I glow with the knowledge that each is perfect
and is exactly what they wanted, or needed,
or will want or will need or at least say that it is so.
But before the new clothes at midnight
and Mass and the choir and the cold,
before cracking the Gordon’s London Dry Gin
(to get the good children to go to bed)
I want to wait, just wait in the darkness
and sit there, looking at the lights
and listening to my mom’s favorite carols,
letting it all float around me
just as it did those many years ago…
every mayhem filled, loud, laughing, wrapping,
poking, hiding, opening, crying, cooking, praying,
yelling (and of course yelling back)
drinking, eating, talking, card playing and arguing
moment of it, joyfully, once more.

I wrote this poem in 2012 as a present to my sister, Cindy, and my father, Jack. Alas, my mother, May, is passed on and is no longer with us.

Christmas was a magical time for my family. What I wanted to capture was the joy and love that I grew up with. Our house was always chaotic but also a place of refuge, security and love. I no longer remember many of the presents that I received back then, but I will always remember the joy of being together.

Everything in the poem, is true: my sister and I arguing over putting up decorations, agonizing over getting the ‘perfect’ gifts, going to midnight mass and singing in the choir, coming home and opening the gin to make a pitcher of Tom Collins, a gin based-drink. For my sister and me it was made sweet and mild, just strong enough to calm excited children down. I was married with children before I realized the purpose of that drink was my parent’s sneaky way of getting us into bed!

But it is the music of the season and the lights on the tree that I remember the most. Well, that and being together. That’s no longer always possible but it is always the best thing I remember in my young life.

Thank you for reading Until we’re all together again. 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

© 2012 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2012 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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