Wednesday’s Words/Flash Fiction: Ice Cream Boss

(Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com)

Chelly was counting the flies: 17 since she’d begun her shift. They careened about the storefront like daredevil mini- planes, dipping and buzzing their tiny energized bodies as if on a mission. Their wings folded a few seconds as they landed on the still-sticky counter. A damp towel was frequently rolled up and snapped at their whizzing bodies but she usually missed. Newspaper made a better weapon but the body count was still unimpressive. She wiped the whole place down all the time–she had a high regard for acceptable hygiene. And no appreciation for stealth bombers.

It was a rare, hour-long respite between clots of customers seeking sugary gratification at Hettie’s Ice Cream Parlor. What a corny name, as if cast and cemented in the early twentieth century, not budging a bit. The tacky nostalgic decor mimicked the name, white wrought iron chairs and tables, baby pink, sea green, peachy cream accents. Pastel prints lined the walls with old-fashioned park scenes, families daintily eating treats. A striped, scalloped awning. Chelly would change it to Heddie’s Icy Sweet Shop, or Main Street Ice Cream Stop, make it black and white decor with splashes of red. If anyone asked her. No one did, of course. And the public flocked to the place.

She got the job when the weather had taken a zigzag and heated up faster than usual in April: more business sprang up. So, one more worker. People had pressed their noses against the window, tongues hanging out even when the line was out the door and it’d be fifteen minutes before they’d get in. That’s how it was with ice cream, the chilliness overtaking the toasty, the icy taunting the sweatiness: it was a hunger, sure, and eagerness for a fresh mixture of happiness. Like in people’s lives, Chelly thought, looking for relief, pleasure.

She checked the big cardboard tubs and found a couple too low, so informed Mike, the ancient store manager, and went to the back to the freezer room.

Once the heavy door was pulled open, she let it close against the daylight and tepid sweet air. It felt like a strong, frigid safe for treasure on the good days. And a prison of doom on bad ones, one that could kill if you overstayed your visit. However long that might be, she hadn’t asked. Today it was a nice place to linger. It calmed her yet woke her right up. She didn’t much love the work though she pretended. Smiled as she stacked another mountain of sugary delight into a cone for reaching hands. It was hard labor, that’s what it was, made her arms and shoulders ache to scoop frozen dessert for hours. Her back whinge. It made her fingers numb sometimes. But she stayed on.

She tapped on each cellophaned, weighty container with gloved hands, counting as if counting was needed, saying aloud each flavor’s name as if she might forget.

“Minty cocoa, peach cobbler, salty-sweet seaweed, mango madness, espresso with sweet cream, vanilla bean harmony, blueberry blast, orange peel fireburst, sesame coconut….” She spoke them with flair, as if showing dessert offerings at a fancy restaurant her parents owned. Until: “Lastly, our great vintage creation… caramel-pecan-chocolate pie.”

She spoke that flavor slowly, words fluttering from her lips, her pulse increasing. Then she counted to seven with each breath in and out until the squirmy feeling passed. Chelly grabbed minty cocoa and blueberry blast, exited and shoved the door hard, pressed shut with her hip.

Three customers had come in. After she switched near-empties for full ones, she started serving. It was weird how some weeks certain flavors ruled, some lagged. Lately it was dark chocolate and blueberry. The week before, bubble gum and Key lime sherbet. Tomorrow, tropical banana with carob sprinkles. Passersby studied the menu on the door.

But Jay…he’d laugh like crazy when she listed how many sherbets there were. He thought sherbert had no business in a real ice cream line up. But she liked it; others did, too.

“Hey, what’s up?” Mike gently elbowed her. She spaced out sometimes.

Chelly blinked at him, put muscle into her scooping motion of the new batch of blueberry blast and plopped two perfect mounds into a waffle cone. Smiled at and checked out the customer. The shop went quiet again, excepting Mike and the new guy, Terrance, talking with another patron, and the overhead fan slowly rotating. Catching at a fly now and then, she imagined, only to fling it into another trajectory.

“We need something to scare off the invasion of flies in here!” she reminded him for the hundredth time. As if he hadn’t waged the war for years.

“A fly strip would scare off the customers. We don’t even have a screen door to keep some at bay. Any new ideas? I personally open the back door now and again to let them go out the back way.” Mike chuckled at this absurdity.

“Maybe an electronic zapper outside by the door–ever try that?”

“Also unappealing-it stuns every flying thing and scatters them by the doorway. We use citronella candles in summer, you know. People put up with this, they want their ice cream.”

Their words halted as she mopped up sticky drips. Then she stared out the window, at taller and wider folks scurrying by, the darker and lighter and young and aging human beings going up and down the sidewalks with easy intention. As if it was another fine day, life a fun parade, and the greatest worry on earth was if enough sunscreen was slathered on to fight off the onslaught of UV rays.

She scrubbed harder. Chelly avoided sunbathing, saw it as irresponsible of her friends. Though she always went with them to the lake. Maybe this year she’d miss out, now she was working. It made her a little sad. But the lake would still be there.

“You do a nice job, Chelly, but what’s up, why are you here? Pocket change?”

Chelly’s spun around and her mouth was about to say something she’d regret but she caught herself in time and shrugged.

“Yeah, pocket change, Terrance, why are you here?”

He smirked. “I actually need pocket change, unlike you.”

“What’s it to you?”

“Your aunt owns this shop, right? I know you could do better stuff at your family’s other places. Didn’t think I’d see you here.”

She wanted to demand why did he think of her at all–and did it matter to her what he imagined? If his tone had been stupidly accusatory or snide with an edge of cruelty she might have smacked him. But she knew Terrance a little. He was 16, a year behind her. He’d arrived in Newton five months ago. He often stayed to himself but somehow had to find her appealing. He was great at math like she was, maybe better. But he apparently lived with dark blinders on and earplugs in his large ears 24/7– because he’d not ask her that if he had any info or good sense.

“Terrance.” Mike said sternly with a sharp motion of his head at Terrance to get back to work.

“Never mind, Mike,” Chelly said, “he’s still a stranger here– he’s just, you know, speculating, got the wrong scenario started.”

MIke shook his head, returned to his desk in back. Terrance glanced at her with cautious anticipation while he straightened chairs.

But she was taken with a woman who hesitated by the door, a little boy tugging at her hand to persuade her to go in despite it being close to dinnertime. Chelly’s face relaxed; her hazel eyes widened at the boy. He half-banged on the door with his balled up fist but just once. She gestured a welcome to him with a smile. Dinnertime be damned. He was a little kid and needed ice cream. She’d get him in if that woman didn’t. Then she was going to give him a huge extra scoop to take home–she’d pay if Mike complained.

She peered at Terrance, noting a flush staining his pallid cheeks. “So Jay, my brother, was an ice cream nut. We made ice cream at home and he wanted to work here when he grew up. Invent one hundred more flavors. But he didn’t get to grow up. He died before you got here, before the ripe old age of ten. So I’m working for him.”

“Oh, I’m sorry…” He hung his head, shuffled off.

“Yeah, now you know something real,” she said and gazed out the window again.

Four more people appeared and got in line behind the stalled duet. The bell on the door rang as mother and son entered, and the kid raced to ogle the beautiful ice cream tubs, eyes glossed with sunshine, shaggy hair stuck this way and that, hands pressed to his round cheeks as he pondered mind boggling choices.

“What can I get you today, boss?” Chelly asked and readied her scoop.

Monday’s Meander: More Peaceable Estate Amble (Pt. 2)

I about skipped posting again today, then considered more colorful, unique places we have been. Still, it seemed reasonable to continue with last week’s meander. It was a satisfying outing despite variable light and chilliness. And the funeral is over for our granddaughter. Marc and I go forward a bit more each day, with the telltale heaviness of sorrow. We hiked-at a snail’s pace-over the week-end, visited at a coffee shop outside with family, played with twin toddler granddaughters at a river park. There are yet blessings noted in the midst of the wrenching away of Krystal from our family. (I suspect she’d demand no more drama or long interruptions; she was tough, frank–and vivacious, bright and adventurous. She would move on, too–and it seems as if she has. I no longer feel her slipping about at odd hours, in various places. I hope that doesn’t unnerve too much–it is a familiar experience for me when people pass on.)

But: our walks… They go a long way toward making life more orderly, inspiring, instructive and sweet. And keep the blood flowing. And keep body, mind and spirit in much better balance.

Though the Jenkins Estate buildings were closed due to the pandemic, it was pleasing to explore what we could. The main house architecture seems quintessential Pacific Northwestern, unassuming with simple lines, sturdy and well designed, a lodge-like feel to it–and blends with nature’s palette. My kind of style. It certainly would have been an impressive home and acreage in 1912. Several outbuildings were homey and well built. It is a loss that so many Dutch elms have gone, as noted below, but there are plenty of other NW trees.

We wound out way around the immediate landscapes, enjoyed rhododendrons, azaleas, and other assorted flowers here and there. There were not as many blooms as expected but spring has been fitful, and not enough rain for April/May yet–a surprise in Oregon.

From here, we mosied over to the Gate House of the estate, a lovely place. Please click to view the slideshow.

Though grief stills everything inside and out, it also leaves room for beauty that remains of our earth– and of those we have loved and lost to a far greater mystery than we comprehend.

Blessings on you all.

Monday Meander: Grief as Companion for a Birthday at Jenkins Estate

It has been 11 days since our family’s loss. I keep walking, communing with nature. It is the only place I get real relief that means anything, something tangibly good and cohesive, fascinating and reassuring. Something powerful that does not unduly distort or painfully challenge, usually, what arrives with each day. Someone somewhere wrote that beauty is in itself a wonder but in the end it means nothing much. Not so for me. Nature’s offerings–even homelier parts–reflect the strange, abundant and always numinous to me. A walk or a hike, and explorations via boat ride, train ride or flight, even a drive in the car, a spin on a bike…these open my view and mind, and instruct me in more collaborative thinking, allow me to reach far beyond those sharp borders of ego-centered self.

I like to move and see and find things out.

Today, then, because I awakened again with tears and because it is my birthday, Marc and I visited the Jenkins Estate which is on the National Registry of Historic Places, built in the early 20th century on 68 acres. There are several outbuildings as well as the house (which is only partially visible here) in a style common to the NW for country gentry. We saw only a little of the grounds–rain threatened–and we will return. But today there were brightly greened trees and plants with scattered flowers abloom in the redolent, damp April dirt. I had wanted to see a garden today, but I am in love with the woods; it was a good walk.

And I took with me the weariness of loss; my husband walked slowly, as well. Often we are silent these days.

Grief is collective over time. And at times–especially since the pandemic– it seems to vibrate under the surface of all. I have felt it all my life, everywhere and in everyone, within all tableaus of life. As a therapist once pointed out to me, I carry grief for all life even as I celebrate living. How can it be otherwise? I truly haven’t always felt it frightening or depressing or damaging–and not endlessly. I feel it as part of intense, continuous currents of life. It has made me scream out or has sent me to my knees. But it also echoes a song so ancient, so profound that its ethereal yet earthy call evokes recognition not only of inevitable dying but of the potency of living and mysteriousness of becoming…from the moment we arrive until the moment we take our leave. So we are ever in the process of gathering close and letting go. I know this. We all know this. It doesn’t get easier, really, each death. It gets more familiar, a visitor we recognize and so let in, if reluctantly and with eyes cast down at first. But looking at it in its center becomes perhaps less daunting, less unsettling. Perhaps. It is a reminder: the transitoriness, evolution of beginning to ending to secret beginnings. For we know what was, what is now, and only guess at the years, the vistas to come.

I am 71 today. Every day I live is valued and lived in tested faith and a shimmering hope. I live inside this blood and bone, and deep within the spirit of Love, despite my paucity of wisdom and unnecessary desires.

Our granddaughter was 28 ; she knew loss before passing on, and such vivacious life.

Next time I return I will share more photos, offer other experiences. I only wanted to put down a few words, say a small hello to my fellow bloggers and readers. I wanted to say Krystal Joy’s name, to honor her being. The funeral is very soon. I am as grey shadow with marrow deep sadness but, too, I know she is free of a myriad burdens of humanness. The tricky ache of it.

We have so much invested in life’s ongoing and often random travels–even as we know all is temporal in this world. It is so worth it to me. May it also be worth the effort to you.

The Gate House, my favorite spot so far.

Friday’s Poem on Saturday: Life Undone

It’s life within a life of life cycles,

an identity of layers like nesting dolls

not always expertly fitted,

a change from this day to night to next.

It’s being on the job always, feet swollen,

pressing their ache against the floor,

eyes lit with congeniality, banish any pain with

that long-trained endurance,

and easy tolerance meant to welcome.

At home, time to mother-father,

kids whipped up with more need of love,

cat and dog taking turns begging,

all the dishes empty, then fuller, then empty.

When the home is still and the worker

leans into weariness, a bottle comes out.

Or maybe a lone soul is in search of more,

or less, so a corner stop, and the way

back home is easier.

The bottle of brilliance, glass brimming amber gold,

a luxury and necessity, dreamy, devastating.

That drug that frees, a harsh magic.

Cat and dog watch, eyes pretending sleep,

wary, bored, puzzled. The way drink lights up

a human, pills a dessert, powder sifted in…how this

softens then creases a face and a self into parts

like a map, pleasure to oblivion to dangerous lands

all in the span of unfolding.

They sleep, fitful.

They all slip under a deep sky that harbors

music strange and known,

and elegant branches capture stars

then part to release them to velvet belly of night,

and the beginnings of dawn just a shiver,

a pointed call in the distance,

as if calling to a beloved softly, urgently.

*****************************************

(So strangely, as I was writing the last lines last night, we got a terrible call.

I could not have known in the usual way. .So I am not revising again.

A granddaughter has died too young and hard. So I leave the poem as I wrote it.

I may not be writing next week. Though writing often saves me.

Grief cannot be spoken in this language today. Hold close those you love.)

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: My Mother’s China

It is a peculiar habit– to possess objects that are excellent, perhaps even valuable, but unnecessary, and thus are shuttered away. I had forgotten about it, this certain thing, like most items I don’t use. I am utilitarian in my habits, I greatly admire fine creative design and enjoy holding a piece of art in my hand, or wearing it at my neck or seeing it upon a gold-lit shelf. But when an object is impractical or secretly disliked or in need of major repair, it is quite promptly forgotten.

My mother’s china pieces fall within the “impractical” category. And then a subcategory I might name “awkward.” What does one do with china that has no real place in one’s ordinary abode? And yet I have kept it, though hidden away.

I have only a distant–often unnoticeable- attachment to most of what I own. I may well like much quite a lot but a thing oddly matters very little if and when ruined or disappeared. The initial bite of loss is felt but after a bit, it seems upon reflection that it held far less meaning in my scheme of life than previously and often dramatically noted. I feel it is all easy come, easy go in the end. It’s good I am this way, and that I don’t have buckets of money. If I see something something magnetically exotic or thrillingly original that I might love, a feeling comes over me that I am not fond of having: a sudden desire to place it into my realm–and covetousness may pounce inside me. So unattractive a characteristic. I don’t mean to want things like that, even the best things. It takes such energy and attention when I need those for other activities. I’ve never even bothered to putting time or cash into properly decorating wherever I live. Nonchalant might be a good description of my style, ad-hoc and eclectic….. If it’s comfortable and has some color with a bit of pattern tossed about, I’m good. No, I am less about details that look good, more about moments that can live well in real life.

But right, my mother’s china. (Or a portion of it–yes, I’m coming to it.) It’s not the sort of item that fits well into this way of doing things, I suggest. It requires the appropriate display and use. It requires a certain kind of event. So I have left it in a box or on high dark shelves ever since she died in 2001. A sleeping stack, gathering colonies of dust mites.

The truth is, it is quite enough to manage what I have. I’m well pleased with small tokens of artistic renderings or gifted lovelies. I can get excited about simple handcrafted items or occasional treasures in a second hand store but I can walk away with no longing, too. Maybe it has been all the practice I’ve had; one feeds and clothes the children, one doesn’t buy art or jewelry. One needs orderly rooms to move about, not extra piles to stumble over. (Alright, I have bought books, too many.) The few artistic pieces that are spread about my home required a lifetime of modest acquisition– none of it would impress anyone. They are not pricey. (I have also been known to cut out inspiring pictures from magazines and tape them to a wall.) Many have been given to me. But they’re cared about for one good reason or another. Usually the experience of finding it, the person attached to it.

Yes, that’s what gets us most of all–by whom or just how an object comes to be in our lives. It resonates of these every time we use it or walk by it or try not to think on it too long. That odd energy of things imbued with an essence of place or time or person–how alluring to mind and senses.

And so this comes around to my mother’s Rosenthal china. The twelve person place settings she bought and had shipped when my parents went to Germany. She had other china, and everyday ware (Franciscan Desert Rose, which I use daily). But this was the one she used to dress the most gracious table, along with crystal water goblets and silver. The dinner plates are pure white and embossed with a faintly, to me, architectural design. Yet I don’t have those with me. The fruit bowls that I have, and love and avoid are decorated with delicate flowers of deep pink, yellow and periwinkle, arrayed atop the raised pattern.

I happened upon them again recently. I stood tiptoe on a kitchen step stool, rummaging on the top cupboard shelf for something else. My hand reached behind a front row, and barely touched the rims of the delicate fruit bowls. That sound they make when moved against one another–a soft, bright noise. I took down two more ordinary bone china tea mugs my mother-in-law gave us long ago (that we use often); a few colored or etched glass candy dishes (a couple from my mother); and a diminutive vase that looks like an old-fashioned gentlewoman with an open-top hat made for tiny blooms. (This I happened to buy in a hospital gift shop after I completed cardiac rehab 20 years ago–it made me feel even better.)

I touched the bowls gently once more, hesitant.

I didn’t attempt to bring the them all down. I counted them: twelve, as meant to be. And then–because I suddenly wanted to hold it in my hands–I took the top one off the stack gingerly and stepped down from the stool. I proceeded to wash it with my fingertips and a spot of dish detergent under running water. I grabbed a tea towel. I decided I wanted to use one, perhaps just once. Applesauce, perhaps. Blueberries. Chocolate covered raisins. I visualized a vivid mound of raspberries against the white hollow in the bowl, rinsing it clean.

And then I dropped the china bowl. It lightly struck the quartz countertop, delicate against rock-hard. Only a bare inch from my hand to surface. I snatched it back up. But too late, though it somehow held together in my wretched hands.

You can imagine the bad words I said. How my heart plummeted. Eighteen years well sequestered and then, when once in two years I take one down to clean it, I drop it? Why was I not ever more careful? (My hands are notorious for dropping things. I suffered severe myalgias and weakness after taking statins 13 years; some days grasping strength is still impacted.) I ought to have called Marc to help. And so on.

I examined the bowl more closely in the light. The thinnest telltale line crossed from the smooth edge of rim and continued two thirds to the other side. I expected it to split apart but it did not, so I firmly pressed it tight together so that the line of fracture disappeared, then set it far back from counter’s edge. And then, after showing it to Marc, I thought once more how often my favorite things have been damaged or destroyed. It has happened again and again–and most often it is an accident not even of my doing. (I have come to see it as a further lesson to not hold tightly to things of this world.) I fussed a bit more, then decided if it sat there safely it might be useful, afterall, until I found the correct glue to fix it. If I dared to fix it. I put raisins in it and plucked them one at a time. The next day I put two pieces of chocolate in it and delicately lifted one piece and the other. The next day, a few crackers. It was being used just fine, but I was wary of moving it. I watched it as if it might.

I know I need to fix it soon, and fix it right. I am the caretaker.

The truth is, these fruit bowls are not mine, but are for my daughter, Naomi. The artist. She was originally to inherit the whole set, twelve of everything imaginable. This is what my mother had told me, and what she told Naomi so long ago. My daughter has been to Germany, also, and she appreciates beautiful, well made and interesting objects. She is my oldest child, was close to my mother dearly (so adored, that woman), visiting her and helping her off and on the last few years. My mother’s children had long gone from Michigan. But her granddaughter Naomi stayed with and worked with her father and his side of her family–construction and plant nursery work– many summers when she had time off from university and later from teaching jobs. Gladwin, a rural area where her paternal kin lived, was not far from Midland where my parents, then only my mother, resided. Mom looked forward to Naomi’s visits greatly. They gabbed, watched television and read, walked, did errands. They both loved to sew, to cook. They enjoyed classical music and much more. Later, when it was needed, my daughter helped with more personal needs. I recall feeling burdensome guilt that I had moved far away, that I could not visit Mom often since I lived in Oregon. And feeling deep gratitude that Naomi could, and without any prompting. She loved her dearly. And was appreciated and loved by Mom.

So the Rosenthal china was to go to Naomi, among other things. But things are open to interpretation when an estate comes into question–if some intentions are not signed and sealed. My oldest sister was the executor of the estate and told me after our mother’s death that it was not going to happen. Apparently, Marinell understood things differently; that Naomi got it was not explicit. She suggested that her daughter would like the china at first but in the end, she determined it would be shipped to her home state of WA. And then, to my surprise and for an unknown reason, I was t old the whole lot was ultimately sold.

Yes, I was aghast. Why did that happen, I wondered. It was entirely uncharacteristic of kind, fair-minded Marinell (now deceased or I wouldn’t write of it), the whole thing. She hadn’t taken my word as the truth. It was very disappointing–and she’d not even thought it might hurt us. Maybe because she had many fine things, herself, it didn’t impact her much in the general view of things. But there it was–the china was gone. Naomi and I simply let it go, as one must–it wasn’t worth holding any grudge.

Except. I had the fruit bowls.

I barely recall it–perhaps such details matter yet they’re blurred–but they were separate from the rest as we sorted things after the funeral. Or they ended up being sent to me accidentally with a box of other things; either may be the case… But Mom likely used them as she loved a small snack of fruit, cottage cheese, carrots and so on. She had left them out, then boxed them up at some point. But I chose to keep them for Naomi as the vast bulk of china slipped away. I knew she would be happy to eat a little yogurt or ice cream or pear slices or strawberries from them one day. My sister never mentioned missing anything. I felt it was justified, even that it was meant to be. They stayed with me and have remained here– until Naomi can use them.

It is about time, I sense. I am not getting any younger. And I don’t want to break one more. They are a meaningful remnant of a time, place and person for her to keep close.

How much do things matter? Things that may not be used as one hopes or imagines? My mother entertained, happily if modestly, and pulled out all the stops when friends or visitors from the arts and education and church worlds came for dinners and lunches. I was a shadow part of that as a teen. I helped prepare food, set the table just so, laid the silver and the place settings. I served others with a smile and a nod. I sat with them at those extraordinary tables–the loveliness of her centerpieces, the light slipping over crystal and silver– and talked about books and music and a mix of ideas. Nothin earth shaking, but good topics. Music played always in the background. I easily crossed over from inquisitive child to a seeking and also forlorn young adult at that table. Such rituals held us all together.

So, that Rosenthal–“All food tastes better when eaten from it” Mom said, and it was true– was partly mine, perhaps, long after my older siblings departed from home, and still when I came around a few more years when attaining adulthood. I never once needed it for myself–I am a mix-and-match person, a casual meal person. I have a cupboard full of handmade mugs, ones from special places; I hold on to chipped pieces. I had a couple of pretty goblets but they–of course–broke. Mom had a different passion for beautiful things, and worked them well into my parents’ middle class, educated, well travelled lifestyle, the pleasing china cabinet brimming with perfect, shining pieces. Ones she used with ease and often, as if it was always so. She, a farmer’s daughter, with an eye for more diverse beauty.

So that was in my mind when I pulled down one bowl–that I ought to use one now and again until Naomi has them for fond use in her own life. I had rarely done so before. I’ve regularly used her bone china teacups sets and those doomed goblets and many other culinary-related items. I have her LLadro figurines in a cabinet. I wear a couple pieces of her good jewelry. But those bowls… Maybe I felt a niggling guilt for having them, though it’s unlikely as the years rolled by and they weren’t missed–who used fruit bowls, anymore? Mostly I wanted them to stay safe.

You never know what means the most until faced with it’s possible loss. I was mad at myself last week and sad, but it didn’t make me weep. I have blinked back a few leaks over few possessions badly ruined. But full tears come easily for me only when it is a true matter of heart. Like when I awakened the other morning with cheeks wet and I thought to myself, Oh yes, it is April, then comes May, June. These times are full of losing a sister, a brother, my mother. Then, after that, my father. And all this has no shape but fills an amorphous realm of bittersweetness, and not one sharp memory to stun me but a tender and brazen moving picture of long, mysterious, amazing lives, and no heft in my hand or within my arms but the silken air and the puzzling ether beyond.

But inside there is resounding love, far more valued and useful than a fine white and floral china bowl meant for berries. Still, I gaze at and touch that broken bowl with a private tenderness. The line remains invisible, but it is there in the center.