CONTENTS

SCROLL DOWN TO READ SELECTED AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES; or
click HERE to return to Beginning, or HERE go to my Home Page; or, select one of these individual sketches: My Hospital, Birthday, and Birth Day // When I Stopped Clicking My Cup // Plow Horses // WWII: Faint Memories // First Flight // Photographic Memory // At Grandma Pratt's // Pets // They Had to Build Me a Room // Taught to Bathe // 1 Bathroom, 5 Women, 2 Men // There Were Worlds Under Bushes // I Stole from My Mother // I Saved My House from Burning Down // I Painted My White House Black // Slinky Made Me Do It // Ice Cream Memories // Observing Adults // Snow Tunnels // 1st Day at St. Columba // School Trauma // Second-grade Truth // Bee and Tongue Trauma // Appendicitis & I Love Lucy // Famous Big-Stick Ambush // The Ragman // I Loved to Climb Trees // Play War // My Glider Glided Forever // Front-Porch Marble Races // Knocked Out by a Calf, kind of // Threshing and ... // Riverbed Adventures // Take Me to the Fair // Lump // Bullies // Honeybee Invasion // Circus Watch // I Can't Sing // One-o-Cat // Coca-Cola Crime // Country Kids, City Kids // Flunk into Depression // Spring Break // About Football // Departing Child // Burden of Peace // Planner Defines His Job // Flipflops // Stolen Mayan Artifact // Comfortable Place: Hungary // Nicaragua 2000 // Prospects of Return // Good Day // Shirt-Off-My-Back // Eating Habits // Rubber-Band Boats // Stupidest Act // Followed the Tracks // Mop Misses My Sister // Dad's Helper //Shouting Distance //
You may also click on a theme below to read a group of sketches so labeled.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Shouting Distance



We all shouted a lot when I was a kid. A shout loud enough to cover a city block was my sisters' way of summoning me home: “Bobby, supper!”. My repeated shouts would summon a friend from his house to play, or they brought somebody to the door to tell me he was not home or could not come out.


We had telephones, of course. I believe I memorized our telephone number as early as I knew the world has numbers: Nestor 3679. Perhaps the fact that the first phone connection I remember was a party line (2 families, same phone number) made us conservative about its use, but I was pretty young when we got our own line. I certainly could telephone a friend who did not live within shouting range if I did not wish to walk far enough to put him in range. Usually I walked.


A sister or my mother might call a friend's home if I did not show up in response to a few shouts from the back door. Shouting was first choice, however; they could summon me without knowing my whereabouts.

The shout system worked well for both kids and parents. Yet, it is hard today to believe that we really did all that shouting. Often, I would stand less than 20 feet from a friend's front or back door and shout his name, “Oh, Genie!”--repeatedly. I can't explain why I did not simply walk up to the door and knock. I know I seldom did so. I preferred to shout.


I don't remember that anybody complained about the shouting nor that anybody ever talked about it. Parents did often instruct us to "Stay in shouting distance!” to limit how far we kids could roam when an important event was pending, such as supper or a family departure.


For me, though I hold a few equally correct definitions of "neighborhood" from my youth, it is “Shouting Distance” that defines the most intimate neighborhood beyond the walls of my home. Yet, I still surprise myself each time I remember that, indeed, we shouted a lot when I was a kid.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Dad's Helper

Dad was handy. He was not a craftsman furniture builder.


(Lacking the tools to do precision work even if he aspired to it, he would often curse at something that went wrong and say, “That's what happens when you don't have the right tool!” I don't remember when nor if he got a real chisel; I remember the years when he used a screwdriver ground to a sharp-but-narrow blade.) 

He did carpentry inside and out, concrete work from a walk in the backyard to a basement floor, fence removal and installation, porch jacking-up, stair construction, window cord replacement, glass repair. And he did it not only at home but for friends and relatives, including building a garage for his mother when she returned to Minnesota from Joliett, Illinois with her second husband Charlie (My grandfather had died before I was born.)
On most projects, I was his “helper.” I put that in quotes because, through most of it, I was too young to be a true helper. It was more that holding a tool or retrieving nails and other small tasks kept me from getting bored. 

Dad seemed to enjoy my companionship, and, if I was of little help, he never complained that I was doing too little or doing it poorly. I guess that means that at whatever age I was performing my job as listener and helper in an age-adequate way. 

As I write, several projects come to mind. I pick up a few because the stick in my mind and heart. On two, I am proud that I actually saw a solution, communicated it to Dad, and he readily accepted and implemented it. Those are still a source of pride and a bit of amazement. The other is still an embarrassment to me. I start with it, because I think it happened first.



Incident of embarrassing shyness forever embarrasses me. 

I doubt I was more than five or six years old. At least, I hope I was no older. 

Dad talked as he fixed the side door. I was on the other side listening and holding tools. As, I recall he used a plane to take off those beautiful curls of wood that a plane produces and, in the process, stop the door from binding. This also requires removing and adjusting some hardware. He was into this slow, latter stage. Dad could concentrate and tell a story at the same time. Both require a mental discipline that, for him, seemed complementary. I do not remember of what he spoke. I do know he spoke at length of something about which he had thought a lot. I, being his only son, was his principal listener when he was not working with his partners on the riptrack at the Northern Pacific railway. 

Because of the door, the narrow walk, and the neighbor's hedge and could not see me. He spoke through the door. My assistance in holding the door was no longer needed. I was just standing there listen when a friend walked up behind me. He too was invisible to Dad.
My friend did not want to interrupt Dad so he just indicated his interest in going somewhere to play. Nor did did I have the courage to interrupt Dad. Or, perhaps it is just that I did not know how. It was a beautiful day. Dad was in a good mood. I have no doubt, had no doubt, that he would approve of my running off with a friend, but I didn't know how to ask in this circumstance. I believe I did the classic back and forth head swivel between the door and my friend. Then I just shrugged my shoulders and went off with my friend.

Dad made no mention of this at dinner. Guilty and embarrassed, I had to see if I had upset or embarrassed him. Somehow I managed to mentioned it. Dad just said, “Ya, I noticed you had disappeared and wondered where you went.” He was not upset with what I had done. That seemed to be the end of it. 

Yet, I still feel guilty for my failure to overcome the shyness that left my father alone talking to a door. 





I said, “Why don't you put in two posts to replace the one,” and he did. 

I have a picture of a gathering in our remodeled basement to
celebrate Mom and Dad's 20th wedding anniversary in February, 1955. I believe it was over the two year before that that Dad converted in the basement into a useful space. I had been a dark dank place. In the end, it would have a waterproofing product on the inside of the cement block walls, useful cabinets, an imperfect ping-pong table made by Dad, and a concrete floor throughout. It was before the floor went in that I mad my contribution. Let's guess 1954 when I was 11. 

The smaller furnace opened up space. Dad then removed the fruit cellar in the opposite corner leaving the basement open enough for the huge effort to pour a concrete over dirt floor—a 20-hour marathon project for my dad and a couple of other men who helped him for several hours. This story, however, comes before the floor. 

The house had one post to support the center beam of the floor above. It was obvious to Dad that that post would come right in the middle of the smaller space and passage from the stairway into the open east side of the basement. He acknowledged the problem as an unfortunate something he had to accept. 

I wondered aloud if he could not substitute two posts for the one. One of the two could be the corner of the new furnace, laundry, fruit-cellar, utility space. The other could be near the cabinets he intended to build along the south wall. The result would be to open up the passage between the two spaces. Dad thought about it for a moment and said, “Yes, I suppose I could do that.” And he did.

I remember this tiny incident for my immediate surprise, immense pleasure, and lingering pride that my father so readily accepted my suggestion and implemented it. I don't remember that I was of much help beyond making the suggestion.




I said, “Why don't you cut them in half and. ...” and he did.” 

Dad took out the large west facing window in the kitchen so he could put a counter and cabinets along that wall. Looking at old photographs I can see it happened sometime before 1960 and after Dad's 45th Birthday in 1957. I'll take a guess at summer of 1958 through spring of 1959 and put myself at age 15. After Dad finished the main part of the project, which also included moving the sink and stove he had to do something with the old, open pantry-and-stove and back-door area at the north end of the kitchen. The west side had the house's original cabinets and counter while the east side had cabinets above where the stove had been. Apparently we had enough new cabinets that we could do without the latter, but not those on the west .
… which included my favorite, the flour bin, which tilted outand hold a large bag of “Hungarian” flour. It also held a sack ofstale bread that Mom crumbled for breading and broke into pieces forTurkey stuffing. I raided this bag to feed birds in the winter andtry without success to set traps for them in the summer. The newly installed cabinets had “modern” smooth doors that had stood out slightly from the cabinet surface and had a lip on all sides that hid the crack between the door and the cabinet framework. The original cabinet doors were inset and were also narrow and almost twice as tall as the new cabinet doors.
What to do--to match new with old? I looked at it an suggested he
cut the doors in half and make new fronts for them to match the new cabinets. He said, “yes, good idea.” I believe that may be when he went to Montgomery Wards to buy the small table saw he used for the rest of his life. With it he could cut plywood to size, and make the lip to match (better than he even imagined ) the new cabinets. 

Again, I remember this tiny incident for my immediate surprise, immense pleasure, and lingering pride that my father so readily accepted my suggestion and implemented it. I don't remember that I was of much help beyond making the suggestion. I like to believe that in later years I did tell Dad how 
his show of faith helped his son. I believe I did, but I do not remember.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Failing to Hit My Sister, the Mop I Hurled Went Through the Glass of the Window Behind Her

There's not much to say about this, except, sometimes one can be shocked by his own power. I was about as angry as a little kid can be—at my sister Judy. She was sitting on her bed in the bedroom she shared with Dolores. I don't know how old I was, but I was big enough to pick up a mop (that for some reason was nearby), rush through the bedroom door, and launch the mop like a javelin at Judy who was only five feet in front of me sitting on the bed. She had time to duck. She did, and the mop flew over her and through the shattering glass of the window directly behind her. 

That's where the memory ends. I don't know what consequences followed. All I remember is that this kid--who felt powerless to defend himself from powerful older sisters--was suddenly shocked, terrified, by his own power.





(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins

Thursday, February 7, 2019

We Followed the The Tracks and Came Out in Minneapolis Without Crossing the River.


I start with the end of the autobiographical sketch: There Were Worlds Under Bushes
“ Heading north from the the neighborhood up Snelling avenue the world descended into the ancient stream bed through which ran two railroads and within which gravel pits were large and active throughout my childhood. If we crossed Snelling to the south side, and before the bridge over the first railroad, we left the side walk, we descended into a wild land of bushes and grasses—a neglected place that looked like it should house the hobos we had heard about. We could get lost there in our own world of Tom-Sawyer adventure. Once we extended our adventure west along the railroad tracks toward what we knew might be Minneapolis. But that's another story. “
This is that other story.
One summer day, after descending from Snelling avenue into the wild land of bushes and grasses and arriving at the railroad tracks we decided to wander along the tracks to the west. We had no destination in mind, though we knew Minneapolis was out there somewhere and the tracks seemed to take us in that direction.
I don't recall details of the walk along the tracks. We probably threw rocks, found discarded spikes and such. Eventually, after about 3 miles of walking we found ourselves in a huge railroad yard with numerous tracks and assorted sheds. I don't think I knew then, but I learned later that this was a switching area for the Minnesota Transfer, a company owned collectively by the nine railroads that served the twin cities. That day we would have seen its name on switch engines, sheds and facilities used in the shuttling of cars and cargo among the railroads.
Where the rail yard widened out it was clear we were close again to a major avenue. We wandered off the tracks to University Avenue, the same avenue that marked the south side of our neighborhood. We knew a left turn would take us home, but, despite our mild thirst and hunger, we turned right and then took the obvious “Y” to the left that wandered into the University of Minnesota Campus. I doubt this was my first time in the area; we knew roughly where we were; and we could see ahead an obvious destination for our 4 and half mile walk: a bridge across the river to Minneapolis. We walked to the far side of the bridge to give ourselves a sense of accomplishment. Then we turned to head home—tired and hungry but satisfied. We would walk home along University Avenue home (assuming it to be the shorter way, though a look at a map shows it to be perhaps a bit longer than our journey along the railroad tracks).
As we reached the St. Paul end of the bridge, however, we were thrown into a sudden quandary. Suddenly we were lost! There was a sign at the St. Paul end of the bridge telling us we were in Minneapolis. I'm not sure of its wording. But it clearly told us that we were in Minneapolis. How could that be. Minneapolis was supposed to be on the other side of the river. How could we have gotten there without getting off the bridge on the other side. Jerry and Genie were 2 and 3 years older than I, yet their cluelessness equaled my own.
In an instant we went from feeling total confidence about how to get back home, to profound suspicion that some magic of urban geography had left us without clues as to where we were and how to return to our neighborhood. We knew in our heads that this transformation was ridiculous. But our loss of confidence descended into personal bouts of minor panic. We shared our confusion but hid our sense of panic.
Nevertheless, we ascended as we would have along Washington Avenue through the University. We turned right as we would have onto University Avenue. We started to walk east along this known avenue just as we would have. Yet nothing erased our irrational pangs of fear that we were lost.
And now, it was getting to be evening. We couldn't afford to be lost. It was already likely that we would miss supper with our families and have to eat late, alone. We could accept that. We knew our families would accept that if we were only a little late. Such was expected once in a while from young, wandering boys with no watches nor sense of time. But what if we were more than a little late?

That problem became our solution. We could could talk openly about not wanting to get home too late. A short distance after we turned off Washington Avenue onto University we came to a tower on a hill (a map now tells me this is Prospect Park). I remember that as we arrived there we decided we should call for help--someone to pick us up and get us home in time for supper. I volunteered to call my Dad, figuring he would be home now from work. I was more embarrassed than fearful for calling him. He never seemed upset when one of his kids called without warning from some inconvenient place and asked to be picked up. 

Either somebody had a dime on him or we begged one from a passerby. I calledf from a nearby phone booth . Sure enough, Dad was home and he readily agreed to pick us up “by that tower” which he knew well.
The wait was not long. Almost immediately after getting into the car I confessed our confusion of geography. My timing was convenient because, as we passed by the KSTP radio station on our left, Dad could point out that only there, exactly there, did we return to St. Paul.
As an adult I love to relieve people of the common belief that St. Paul and Minneapolis are separated by the Mississippi river. Indeed, for a few miles the river does divide them. But Minneapolis grew up north of St. Paul. Both cities grew across their stretch of the river before they grew into one urban area. Either nobody had bothered to tell me this or I didn't think it important enough to remember. Genie, Jerry, and I had wandered into Minneapolis well before we got to the river—there are no “welcome to Minneapolis” signs along the railroad tracks. 

I had to learn this truth from the confusion of wandering with friends along railroad tracks into a never-never land where we could feel both lost and not lost at the same time in the same place. Perhaps I take too much pleasure in telling folks who don't know the Twin Cities well the truth about the Mississippi River's relationship with St. Paul and Minneapolis. I like to think I protect them from suffering the embarrassing confusion I remember suffering. But, in telling them the truth, perhaps I only deny them the wonder of wandering into their own never-never land? 


(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Jerry's Arrow: Stupidest Thing I've Ever Done--though I and It Did Nothing.


This remains a difficult story to write:

I feel certain that many would say I am in denial as to what is truly the stupidest thing I have ever done. They may be right, but I am not in denial about a few minutes that took me from Van Buren Avenue near the front of my house on the south side of our block to the front of a house along Minnehaha Avenue that runs along the north side of the block. I think of how those minutes, really an instant, could have radically changed my life.

It was a summer day (probably during a rubber-band-boat summer). Jerry Weiman came by my house with something I had not seen in his hands before: a bow-and-arrow. Not a toy, the bow was small enough for a big kid to use—the kind that was probably used for recreational target shooting. I had never seen anybody shoot arrows at targets, but this bow fit images I had seen in ads and in the sports department of department stores.

Jerry had only one arrow with him. The arrowhead was a simple, metal cylinder wrapping the end of the arrow and finishing in a point. It could easily penetrate a straw bale behind a target. Without knowing, I feared it could also penetrate a person or pet.

I now know that at Agincourt France in 1415, the longbows wielded by English archers commanded by Henry V shot arrows (with arrowheads of lethal intent) that descended with devastating effect upon a numerically superior French army. The longbow and this stunning English victory radically changing the tactics and technology of warfare.

What does one do with a bow-and-arrow on a city block of small yards and no obvious targets? There was the obvious scientific and engineering question: How high and far could the arrow fly? I'd like to write that I voiced my concern for the dangers in conducting any such experiment, but I know I did not. Rather, I fully joined in Jerry's enthusiasm and scientific curiosity, though I was too skittish to vie for the opportunity to be bowman. I would observe.

Jerry tried a preliminary experiment right where we stood. Pulling the bowstring back only a small amount he shot the arrow straight up. Well, not so straight as to force us to scurry for our lives, but straight enough that we watched it ascend, stall, reverse, descend and embed itself in some lawn not distant. Wow! We wondered aloud if it could fly all the way up over the houses on this Van Buren side of the block, over the garages along the alley, over the houses on the far side and land somewhere along Minnehaha.

I know that speculation brought me this thought: I should run over to Minnehaha, make sure nobody is in harm's way, tell Jerry, then try to watch the the arrow come down. Yet, I knew distance and obstacles would make it impossible for me to communicate a shout of “all clear!” or “wait!”. We would need at least third friend to do it right. Jerry probably did the same silent calculation in his head. In any case, with little hesitation, I stood back. Jerry pulled the bowstring back as far as he could, aimed the arrow skyward and nothward, and--in a fate-testing-instant--let go the string.

Scared, excited, scientifically curious? Whichever, we raced through my backyard, across the alley, and through a side yard between houses along Minnehaha. I'd swear (despite knowing myself to be very wrong) that we went so fast and the arrow went so high that we were almost in danger of arriving at the same place and time. I do know that, as I cleared the houses so I could see left-right-and-ahead, my first feeling was profound relief: there was not a person in sight--alive nor dead. After a deep breath we could then look for the arrow.  I think, without saying so, we both had accepted that (absent killing somebody) the arrow's most likely fate was to be forever lost on the roof of a house or in the high branches of an elm tree along Minnehaha.

No. There it was, not 20 steps to our left. The arrow stood straight, embedded a few inches into the sod of the small front yard between house and sidewalk. Able now to toss off unspoken fear, we jumped and revelled at the success of our experiment and Jerry's good aim.

Jerry pulled the arrow from the ground. As we walked back through the side yard of unknowing neighbors we shared excitement and incredulity. We did not linger in the alley. Jerry went home with his bow and his arrow. We would mention the adventure to our friend Genie, but we did not spread the story far. Seldom did we speak of it. I never saw Jerry's bow-and-arrow again.

This remains a difficult story to write:
about an arrow that did nothing more than pierce a lawn;

about friends who did nothing more than a successful experiment

and nothing less than the stupidest thing they might ever do.







(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins

Friday, December 7, 2018

We Made Rubber-Band Boats, Tested Them on Como Lake, and then One Fathers' Day



One summer (perhaps two), my friends Genie Forcier, Jerry Weiman and I got fascinated with the making and launching of rubber-band boats.
Correction: In St. Paul then and perhaps now we called them “binders,” not “rubber-bands.” It wasn't until I was in downtown Chicago walking between train stations on a trip home from from college that I found that nobody outside St. Paul seemed to have a clue as to what what a “binder” or even "rubber binder" was. At a Woolworth's or some store of that ilk, they showed me all kinds of 3-ring and 2-ring binders and notebooks and folders and book covers, but I had to spot my desired binders on my own. They looked at me like I had come in from Mars. “Those are rubber bands! “  In any case, Genie, Jerry and I made “binder boats.” Here I'll call them “rubber-band boats” to ease your confusion.
We each made the boats on our own in our basement or garage. I would take the soft-but-thick-enough wood at the end of an orange or peach crate and cut out a shape that resembled a boat as seen from above. The size varied, but I suppose six by ten inches might have been typical. From the not-pointed end I would cut out a rectangular notch slightly longer and wider than my paddle—a thinner, rectangle cut from the sides of my orange or peach crate. The motor, the rubber band, needs be anchored, so we would pound in a vertical nail half way along each side of the paddle-notch—far enough from each other to accommodate the several twists that would store the motor's potential energy until launch. The paddle would, of course, slide right out of the unwound rubber band—at first. We could ignore that problem however, because after many test windings and unwindings the rubber band had enough of a memory-twist to work with the paddle's natural buoyancy to keep us from losing the paddle when the engine played out.

The boat was now functionally complete. We would sometimes add a little paint, but usually no.
I don't remember how, but by some prearrangement Genie, Jerry and I would meet in the alley to walk the mile-plus to the little peninsula on the east side of Como Lake at Como Park.
On most trips we each had a brand-new boat, certain to work better than those taken on previous trips--or at least to look better in failure. The exception was Jerry's big boat. He made it from a scrap of plywood rather. About three times larger than our boats made from box-wood, with its rubber band cut from a bicycle inner-tube, it so outperformed our other boats that Jerry resisted taking a step backward in performance. He took that craft at least three times to Como.
We would walk onto the peninsula to launch-test our boats back toward the main shore. One of us would wind up his paddle, place his boat in the water, then release it. In typical cooperative-competitive way of friends we would cheer each other's success while quietly relishing every hint of our own boat's victory.
We did not relish the idea of walking into the lake to retrieve a boat dead in the water after its paddle stopped spinning, though I'm sure we risked it a few times. Como was not a swimming lake. Popular wisdom among all ages was that it was not “clean” and had “bloodsuckers” just waiting to feast on us. To avoid that fate, somewhere along the shore we could find a stick we hoped would be long enough to bring the errant boat to our feet.
Then, one day in early June of 1952, one month beyond my ninth birthday, as we prepared to leave Como Lake and walk back to our neighborhood, we and our fathers made it into history. Two clean-dressed adult men, intercepted us by the shore. One carried a writing pad, the other a camera. 

This clipping from the St. Paul Pioneer Press--Fathers' Day, June 21, 1953--tells all:







(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins

Saturday, December 1, 2018

My Hospital, My First Birthday, My Birth



I have always said
(and I think this is true)
if I had an older brother
he would have no younger brother.

So it was
on May 4, 1943
as two of my sisters waited in my home-to-be,
(on Van Buren, six blocks away)
and two in my school-to-be
(Saint Columba, seven blocks away)
I arrived
at the Northern Pacific Benefit Association Hospital
on Charles Avenue,
Saint Paul,
Minnesota--
the hospital I would visit again, again and again
with broken fingers,
evil appendix,
Osgood Slaughter,
gashed wrist,
and the like.

It is the place to which I ran from my front-porch steps
after I saw a terrible lightning bolt strike,
heard its boom.
The hospital chimney!
I ran at my top speed to see this brick giant.
Yes,it had a jagged, open rip from top to bottom.

It is hard to believe this memory,
but I see myself there standing alone,
as if I were first on scene,
mouth open to this destructive miracle by nature.

It is harder to believe another memory,
but I remember standing nearby,
a few years earlier--
propped by my dad's hand on the hood of his car.
My mother was in the hospital,
a patient
waving from a second-floor window.
She had to see her son on his first birthday.

I remember watching my dad disappear
around the front of the hospital.

I remember waiting, waiting
until he came back
to take me out of the car,
stand me on the hood,
and tell me to wave,

wave to that vague figure 
(behind a screen at a second-floor window ).
Dad assured me that was Mom.

:: :: ::

It always seemed normal
(and I know this to be untrue)
that my father’s railroad should put our hospital
where I could run to it,
walk to it,
whenever I needed it.
Once I went with a policeman in his car.
But that must be another story
so that this story can conclude:
I was born.



– – – – – – –



The “She had to see her son on his first birthday” line is, of course, not in the original memory. I was told this years later when I mentioned my memory to Mom. It is she who told me it was my first birthday. (Perhaps this got recorded in one of the Dad-Mom story-telling sessions of which I have audio recordings.) She said something like, “I told Pete I wanted to see my son on his first birthday.” It is easy for me to believe it was a birthday even though I don't remember that. I do wonder, however, if Mom had the number right. It's easier to believe that I would remember a fragment from my second birthday than my first. But, then I ask: if it were a later year, wouldn't she, in quoting herself, have called me “Bobby” rather than “my son.” If I had been two, wouldn't she have been relieved to have a few days away from me if I were in my “terrible-two stage? We shall never know. I know it was not my third birthday, for of that I have a memory that I long thought was my earliest. I burst into the kitchen from the back yard and asked Mom what she was doing. Her response, "I'm making your birthday cake." That is all I remember of that day, but I remember remembering it often.





(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins

Monday, November 19, 2018

Snow Tunnels and Kitchen Chairs: Fantasy of Youth, Practicality of Adulthood



Outside,
for hours
and days
I would tunnel in snow,
carve out a frozen world
of passage way,
shelter,
castle,
fort,
and igloo.
I would shovel snow into a large pile in the back yard, or make use of a pile my father had made as he shoveled out the alley behind our garage. I had friends, but this was my time to play alone. Seldom would those I did invite show necessary enthusiasm and endurance.
Inside,
for lunch,
stiff wool mittens or jersey gloves
to the radiator
where melting balls of snow
turn today's mittens
to limp and wet
and yesterday's
to warm and dry
to wear back out
after bowl of soup
for afternoon tunneling.
A coal shovel was the tool no bigger than I, but big enough to make my work productive. I would do finer work with bare hand or coffee can, but my work was never fine enough.
I never made the perfect tunnel,
nor perfect igloo,
nor finished castle.
Yet,
for so long
as cold and snow and mittens held,
I went out most days to try.
Some days I overworked my quota of dry clothes and mittens. Some days there was too little snow, or the Minnesota cold was too bitter. I did not object when my mother bade me stay in.
Perfection came imagined
during inside days
on bed or living-room rug.
I could play with toy figures
across snowfields visible only to me.
I could make believe my way
to architectural perfection:
snow walls carved thin
to let sun in
to glimmer
like cathedral window.
Outside imagination is different from inside imagination. Snow and cold are quite real. They were my immediate environment for a few months each year. My clumsy skills at tunneling were real but improving. I only need imagine that the world outside my snow tunnel was free of back doors leading to warm kitchens, hot bowls of soup and motherly protection.
During outside daydream time,
alone in a snow tunnel,
I would imagine my life
if real life included the tunnel.
How fun it would be
to be an expert
among people who live in snow.
When I grew big enough to be in fourth grade I found out about children who actually lived in the snow. They were Netsook and Klaya of Baffin Island, north of Canada and west of Greenland. I read about them in Visits In Other Lands, my 4th grade geography book at Saint Columba School. Yes, I had always remembered them, but, yes, I had forgotten the name of their book until my sister found a copy in an antique store during a visit to our home in Colorado. It had been her introduction to the world also, but she gave the book to me, sensing that I would treasure it and even read it again. This time around, I read the Foreword To The Teacher and discovered that these were imaginary children. The brother and sister in each chapter were created by the authors to give us an idea of different environments that challenge peoples of the earth and shape their cultures. In fourth grade I did not know these lofty goals, I only wished I could learn and use what these children knew to do.
However,
I lived among people who look out
to snow, rain, fog, and darkness
from warm, bright kitchens.
In the world of my people, I often became bored with my figures and their perfect snow structures, or found myself satisfied with plans for tomorrow's tunnel. During such days I would spend hours under kitchen furniture.
Inside our kitchen
I became an expert in chairs.
Four wooden, high-back chairs
became cockpit, wings and fuselage.
I would build airplanes
and fly the sky.
My mother seemed content to work around my obstruction. Now, I realize that as long as I was under foot in my airplane she need not worry about what trouble I was making. Back then, I just knew she was patient and kind. Mostly, I did not notice her.
Kitchens require concentrated imagination.
Chairs look nothing like airplanes.
Linoleum floor is neither cloud nor sky.
Nor should there be radio,
hissing pots,
telephone rings,
nor sky-walking,
loud talking
visitor giants.
I am sure I spent more time in my kitchen airplane than in my backyard snow tunnels. The airplane was as good for a rainy day in summer as for a winter day that was too mild or too bitter.
I know I loved my kitchen-chair airplane.
I know I gave piloting more time than tunneling,
yet, I remember snow tunneling better
and miss it more.
When my daughters were four and six years old we lived in a house with a picnic table out back. This was an unusually snowy winter for the island of Martha's Vineyard. As the table became a mound of snow I saw an opportunity. My daughters could experience some of what I had experienced. I wanted to play again.
For my children,
I shoveled snow
on top of snow
on top of table,
a marvelous mound
for a marvelous igloo.
I tunneled part way in
before putting them and friends to tunneling.
I was out of scale
and a damper to fun.
From inside the house,
at a window,
I could watch,
catch a glimpse now and then
of their tunneling and their play.
It was my day for joy and envy.
That day came before our move west, and before rediscovery of Netsook and Klaya. In Colorado I discovered the joy of summer in the back country. For a long while I thought I would also enjoy snow camping. It would be fulfillment of my childhood fantasy. Away from back doors and warm kitchens, I could live for a few days each winter in and around a snow cave a snow tunnel I would make out of necessity in a real world of snow. I held to that fantasy of winter perfection until a friend reminded me that the winter night is fifteen hours of darkness. For Netsook and Klaya a winter day would be all night. Would they if they had a choice choose to spend even fifteen hours, night after night, in their igloo? That is not for me to know, but question alone was enough to make up my mind. I would learn how to make a snow cave for a real emergency, not fulfillment of fantasy.
Today,
a winter day,
inside
among fantasy of youth
and practicality of adulthood,
I look out into cold and snow
wishing dining room chairs to be large enough
to be
for me
a good airplane.



(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins 


Monday, February 12, 2018

My First Day of School at Saint Columba

  
  
The basement of Saint Columba School became the site of parish church services in 1948-49 while the old church was torn down and the new one built. My older sisters took me with them to the youth mass in the gymnasium while adults and their youngest children attended their mass in the auditorium. I presume Sunday mass took me into the building before my my first day of school which came at the end of summer in 1948, but of this gymnasium time I have only the vaguest of memories. The school was built around 1922seven years after the first parish church. I remember people speaking of how the parish built the school in two phases, with the original facing Blair and the addition facing Hamline. Yet, to me it was always one complete school building. I saw nothing obvious to distinguish the newer from the older. Even today, from the outside the facades give no clue to identify the addition. Only as an adult with some training in architecture did it become obvious to me that this two-phase construction created my strongest memory of my first day of school: the short-dark canyon of a passage through which I had to walk to make my passage from little-kid to school-kid.


For all the lifetime I could remember I had watched my sisters leave home and walk to Saint Columba School, three blocks away. From my front porch I had also watched high-school students walk by on their way to Wilson High School, a block away. “School” was an exotic place in the unknown. It seemed like forever till I would go. Then came the day.

I was as scared as I was excited when my sister, Mary, offered to walk me to school the morning of my first day. She was the obvious person to do so because of her close relationship with the kindergarten teacher. In the four years since her kindergarten year Mary had been using free time to assist Sister Agnes. Most days Mary went to school early and helped with tasks to prepare the kindergarten for the day. This first day, too, we left a little earlier than necessary. Mary walked me to school, lead me through the front door into this exotic place, took me by the hand, and lead me toward kindergarten and Sister Agnes.


 The ceilings were high, the hallways wide--wider still in the entry area. I believe Mary gave me a brief introduction to what I was seeing. She might have told me that on the left near the entrance was a fourth-grade classroom. She had been in fourth grade the year before. On the right was  the principal's office and a wide stairway to the second floor where the firth, sixth, seventh, and eighth graders had their classrooms. 


I don't know if it was that moment of entry or in the hours after that I had two ominous thoughts. I realized I had entered a place, Saint Columba, which would require almost two more of my lifetimes before allowing me to leave and go on to high school. I took no consolation in the other thought: it would take only one more lifetime to climb that stairway to fifth grade. 

It must have been an exciting morning for Mary as well. I see now that after she took me to Sister Agnes, Mary would begin her daily climbs to the second floor. She entered fifth grade. I'm sure I was too self-absorbed that day to appreciate the excitement of her passage up to the big-kid-world on the second floor.
 

From the entry, with only a small adjustment to our path, Mary and I were lined up to enter the long hallway leading to the kindergarten which was appended off the far end. That hallway has classrooms only on its western side. Huge windows on the east side of the hallway allow morning sun to stream in. Inviting? Yes! Yet, I suddenly I found myself holding Mary's hand tightly; we had entered an intimidating, dark, canyon of a passage. We had to pass through this to enter the light beyond. The fear part of my morning's emotions swelled up. I felt even smaller than I was; had no words to describe my feelings. I waited until Mary's 80th birthday to tell her this story.

I now know that that dark, narrow passage existed because the school's planners wanted to connect the addition to the original by robbing the connecting hallway from only one classroom rather than two. After all, it was only a short distance. I'm sure the hallway was wide enough to satisfy the fire department and the lighting was adequate in the evening. However, in the morning, because it lead from a broad, bright entry to a corridor bathed in morning light, the windowless passage seemed too long, too narrow, and too dark. It took Mary only a few seconds to lead me through the passage to my new life beyond. Now, those few, anxious seconds are a pleasant memory that calls for humility. 


Had it not been for the dark passage, I might not remember the next moment when I stood hand-in-hand with my big sister as she introduced me to my teacher. I remember the smile in Mary's voice and the smile on Sister Agnes' face. I felt special because of my sister's special relationship with my teacher.  


That relationship got me into another space in the school—not an intimidating space, but rather a place of wonder. I don't know how closely this opportunity ties to my first morning of school. It could have been hours, days, or weeks later. Mary had a task to do for Sister Agnes that required her to work in the supply room; she took me along. The supply room was off limits to most students. It was the northern half of what remained of the classroom that had to be narrowed to create the dark hallway. This room had shelves, books, supplies, phonograph, movie projector, work table, counter, and more. It fascinated me. I believe Mary's task included having to cut up some paper. I know it is the first first time in my life I saw a paper cutter--a marvelous tool made exciting by the obvious risks one takes when using it. 


Being too young to be of much help, I looked around at things I had never seen before. What I most remember is the globe sitting on a table. I remember this because of my embarrassment months (I hope not years) later when I realized how stupid was my interpretation of what I was seeing. Mary told me it was the earth where we live. I couldn't figure it out and was too proud to say so. I fully understood it was just a model of the real thing, but I assumed we lived inside such a globe, not on it. After all, our blue sky does look like the kind of dome I could image if I were inside such a globe.


In short, my education began with safe passage through a dark hallway, a warm introduction to my first teacher, and a privileged entry into the supply room from which education must spring—all of this in the safe hold of my sister's hand.

(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Childhood Pets


There was Nickle, the cat with a hole in his neck.

Nickle lives among my earliest memories. I have less memory of Cookie Roe, the kitten who joined the household after Nickle was gone. I do not know if Nickle arrived to the family before or after I arrived. Nor do I remember him without a gaping hole in his neck. My parents told me a rat had likely bitten Nickle during one of his many tom-cat outings through the night, but nobody knew for sure. For me, Nickle was simply a cat with a hole in his neck. I've asked older sisters, and they remember him more vaguely than I. Perhaps that is because none of them witnessed Nickle's traumatic departure. Only Mom and I were there. It was so traumatic that Mom vowed to never again call the 'pound', or 'humane society', or 'dog catcher', or 'animal rescue', or 'animal control', or MSPCA or whatever we called it at the time in Saint Paul. The only other pet my parents had reluctantly to 'put down' would die quickly by a bullet administered humanely by one of my uncles—and we did not have to witness that. I do not remember which pet that was.

Mom and Dad concluded that Nickle was never going to heal and the humane thing to do was to have him 'put to sleep'. Mom called the animal control people and asked them to pick up Nickle. A scruffy man drove up in a small panel-truck—the kind then used for deliveries of groceries and other small goods. When Mom gently handed Nickle to him at the front door, the man grabbed him roughly by the back of his injured neck and carried the terrified, screaming cat to the truck. The man struggled for several seconds to stuff our fighting, frightened cat into a gunny sack. The man won. He tied a knot (with Nickle now screaming and clawing at the sack from the inside), opened the back door of his panel-truck, threw Nickle in, and drove off down Van Buren Street. That's all I remember, but how can I forget. 


There was Buster, the dog who bit someone. 

We didn't have him long. He came from the farm, I believe, as a tiny pup. We said he was a Collie-Shepherd. Still more pup than dog, he apparently bit one of the Nelson boys who lived on the corner. I remember sitting on the curb with one of my older sisters as we pondered the fate of a dog who had bitten someone. Apparently he and we survived that test, but, not long after, Buster was gone from the household. He died. I believe he was hit by a car

There was Rusty the cat and his goldfish. 

We had goldfish off and on over the years. The ones I remember best, however, were the ones we had when we had a cat named Rusty. Rusty was one of those orange tabbies with some tiger-like markings. He and I spent a lot of time lying on the carpet near and under the table in the dining room. I loved to get my head of hair next to him as he was grooming. Almost always I could get him to give me his raspy-tounge treatment. It was not pleasant because the tongue was so rough, but I loved this bonding experience with Rusty nonetheless. What most endeared Rusty to the family, however, is his sitting up tall for long periods on top of the sewing machine cabinet where our two goldfish had their bowl. Occasionally, Rusty would raise his paw—poised as a statue sculpted in readiness to extract a fish. He never did extract a goldfish nor splash water around in an attempt to do so. We gradually relaxed and decided Rusty was not a competent fisherman. He and his goldfish became a source of fascination and entertainment. 

There was Rusty the dog and another cat.  

We had a fine cat—whose name I do not remember—when Rusty the dog came into our lives. First, A stray, golden cocker-spaniel-type dog showed up and adopted us for several days. Dad was adamantly opposed to our having a dog. (I later learned during the running of errands together around town that Dad had a fear the of dogs.) Also, we all knew the dog might have a real home. So, we got the him to abandon us. Likely we went off for a long weekend to Wisconsin. Problem solved.

A few days later, however, an ad for “found dog” appeared in our newspaper posted by near-neighbors about five blocks away. We got Dad to soften enough for us to go check out the dog. Was he the same dog? We were not 100 percent sure, but those neighbors urged us (the 3 or 4 kids who were our family's investigation committee) to take him home. We did, and Dad finally gave in on the condition there would be no feeding of the dog from the table while we ate. We named him Rusty.

Rusty was a vainglorious, cowardly, blowhard. When he saw our cat perched on the folded-up steps of our kitchen step-stool, he charged and barked angrily until the cat's claw sent him away with a muffled whimper. Rusty was not about to admit that the cat was going to win this contest of primacy in our household, so he would pretend to harass the cat—from a safe distance.

After that cat-dog contest mellowed, there came the question of food from the table. It took six of us several suppers to figure out why Rusty was always begging for food near Dad. The two bluffers had found each other. Dad would slip Rusty some tidbits under the table “while nobody was looking.”

We had Rusty longer than any other pet. His personality did not change. I was a teenager. There was no longer a cat in the family. One summer day, Rusty went out from our back door as a neighbor's cat paraded through our back yard. Rusty roared out at full chase. The cat ran even faster for safety to the top of our 3-foot, wire fence. I presumed the cat was headed for the security of the neighbor's yard. Rusty presumed the same, because he unnecessarily continued charging toward the fence--apparently to flaunt his victory . The cat, however, stopped at the top of the fence and turned around to face Rusty who skidded to a halt as best he good. Then, Rusty apparently wanted to convince me and himself that he had gone blind. With the cat on the fence just a few feet in front of him, he started looking up, down, and around for the cat. Eventually, with the cat still clearly visible sitting on the fence, Rusty turned and walked away seemingly telling himself and me that he had shown that cat, wherever he was, who was boss. After a few more moments, the cat seemed to be bored and crawled down the far side of the fence—in no hurry. 


There was Peepers the parakeet.  

Another pet who always got the best of Rusty was Peepers, the parakeet. He was often free from his cage and would fly from a mirror in the front hall to his cage in the dining room or to my mother's glasses when she was sitting on the couch in the living room. His flight trajectory always took him down to a level where Rusty could jump and try to grab him out of the air with his mouth. We swore that sometimes Peepers actually flew through that mouth. It always ended the same way, Rusty landed unceremoniously on his side or backside on the floor, and Peepers wound up peeping from his next perch.

           I remember Rusty the dog and his Peepers
                as I do
           Rusty the cat and his goldfish
               for their
                    luckily,
                         laughably,
                              fun-and-harmless
                                 rivalry.

Among us kids, Judy was most attached to Peepers. She was with Mom and Dad and me as we drove east across Canada to deliver me to my first year of College at Dartmouth in New Hampshire. From a motel along the way we called home and found out the Peepers had died quietly in his cage. Perhaps because of the timing, I remember well that feeling of loss.



(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Relatives Found in Hungary

Instructions To A Stranger


November 1

At the train station, leaving the city,
buy two long-stem roses.
Get to the graveyard about noon.
Look first for the grave of your grandfather's family.
You found it last year,
when you arrived,
found two graves,
and left —speaking to nobody.
Search for 15 minutes
(watched by curious eyes).
Search, but fail to find.
Then walk to the grave that you know you can find,
the grave of your grandmother's family.
In a crack next to the headstone
leave one rose.
Write a message on your business card;
attach it to the rose.

“ Messe élün. Közel érzünk.”

(We live afar; we feel close.)
From the headstone write down
names, dates of birth, dates of death.
Write them in the notebook
where you carefully copied someone else's research:
your connections
to the residents of both graves,
your possible connections
to unknown, unnamed people
who might reside in town today.
(So many had gone to America.)
Your notebook has what you have copied
but cannot remember.
Hold the notebook and second rose in your left hand
as you walk again to find the other grave.
By now you are much noticed in the graveyard.
It is alive with people tending to graves
—praying over them.
You cannot help but stand out.
Your walking in lost circles
adds to whatever else makes you different.
First one man, then another, tries to help you.
They do not know the grave.
Two women ask if they can help.
After some discussion
(patient with your poor speech)
they cannot.
Walk on.
Walk around.
Now, stop.
Look down
to your left hand.
It holds the rose
—only the rose.
Not only have you lost the grave,
but you have lost your notebook,
and, with it,
all the facts
that connect you to this graveyard
—to this town.
Feel the weight of your heart.
Yet, pause.
Left with no ulterior motive,
look up;
accept, for a moment,
the aesthetic and emotional beauty
of this scene that surrounds you.
You must walk again past those who tried to help.
Feel as incompetent as you are conspicuous.
Confess your loss to them
in words they may or may not understand.
Stop, alone,
to gather your thought.
Feel a tug at your sleeve.
Look down
to your left.
A woman stands there.
She says,

           “ You are looking for the Péterné grave? I can help you. Follow me.”
She walks to where the grave should have been.
How did you miss it?
At the Péterné grave
the woman excuses herself.
She goes to work on one of her family graves.
Make polite introductions to three other women
working at the grave just to the north.
Kneel down
to find the ground freshly tilled,
new flowers planted,
votive candles interspersed.
Stick the rose into the earth
—again, with your card
—again with your message.
The women at the grave to the north speak to you.
They say they know your family.
Go to number 24
on the road to the north.
Talk to Anna.
At least, you think that is what they said.
Why not go?
You have no other plans.

Stop briefly at the town church.
(Your grandparents must have been baptized here.)
As you cross the Ikva River bridge
and turn to walk the road to the north,
notice the house numbers.
They go up one side and down the other
—as if to say,

“ Town will grow no further in this direction!”
Ring the bell at number 24.
The house has no front door.
Through a slot in the iron gate
see a solid woman step onto the side porch
—fifteen feet beyond.
Hear her solid voice ask what you want.
Try to say,

“ I am from America, people in the graveyard say we may be relatives.”
She opens the gate and invites you in.
Sit at her kitchen table to talk.
Without your notebook
you cannot figure out how you might be family,
but you both feel that you must be.
She knows things that you had forgotten
about your grandfather and great uncles in America.
Anna is probably of your father's generation.
Talk, as she bakes cookies and other sweet things.
You understand little of what she says.
Strain to connect bits and pieces
to keep up the pretense of conversation.
She says you should talk with Zoli,
but you are not sure why.
He comes from Budapest tomorrow.
When László appears,
(Anna's husband)
snap a picture.
After ninety minutes,
leave pleased and exhausted.
Leave with their smiles and well-wishes
—a stranger leaving a welcoming home.

From Anna's home
walk back across the Ikva,
past the church,
back to the graveyard.
Try again;
fail again to find your notebook.
Revisit your family graves.
Then,
pause on a walled embankment.
Pause for twenty minutes of reverent silence.
Appreciate the scene before you.
Lighted candles,
they subordinate in beauty to the flowers
as dusk begins;
they dominate the beauty
as night descends.
People become shadows,
kneeling,
standing,
walking among graves.
How did you earn the privilege to be here?
What fortune
that life leads you to this place
for these moments!
Your loss of a notebook,
your loss of facts
seems fair trade
for silent participation in this evening.

You are sleepy,
sure that you walked ten miles today
by the time you get back to your room
in the pensión of the neighboring village.
You neglected to buy food.
After a glass of wine in the bar below the pensión,
go to bed early—
satisfied that you have spent well
the best day you may ever spend
in the town of your grandparents. 



November 2

Morning is cool and overcast
—a good day for a walk.

Walk north.
Trucks come by in the opposite direction
taking sugar beets to the plant near the pensión.
A farmer drives his team into a field,
two beautiful horses,
a load of manure.
After three miles of farm land
see new houses,
the old village,
and finally the Eszterházy palace.
Follow the palace's curved wall to the top of the curve.
See the main gate
and, beyond,
the oval entry yard and grand stairway.
A group of people head into a door near the stairway.
This has to be a tour group,
so hurry forward to join it.
Notice, as you pay for your ticket;
this is a group of very senior citizens.
Some have difficulty walking.
One young woman is along to manage the group.
Tie cloth slippers over your shoes
and shuffle off with your group when a guide appears.
The guide cracks little jokes that make them laugh,
but you do not understand.
A sheet of English-language notes
helps you understand what you see:
old furniture,
ceramic stoves,
paintings,
lifestyle.
Franz Joseph Haydn did much of his work here.
Think that you hear the guide tell a story
about the Nazis who took away a fortune of gold
by removing gilding from walls and ornament.
 

After the tour,
near the gate,
the young woman stands outside the restrooms
weighted down by purses given to her safekeeping.
Trade smiles with her.
Almost stop to attempt a chat,
but go on.

Turn west out of the palace
—away from whence you came.
Then turn south
on the road to your grandparent's town.
When you get to the railroad line,
do not continue past Anna's house;
walk west to the depot
—one stop away from your pensión.
You arrived here last year
and want to walk again from the depot into town.
Last year that walk took you into the heart of a festival
—into the crowd at the mass behind the chapel.
Today at the chapel,
see just one woman raking leaves.
A new pensión-restaurant has opened across the street.
Go in to ask about the prices.
It is almost noon.
Tired and hungry,
be tempted to stay and eat,
but go on.

Want to eat at the little cafe up the road.
You ate a warm sandwich there last year.
Walk in.
It is open, but empty
—no customer, no attendant.
Want to sit down and wait,
but go on.

Walk past the chapel and new pensión
toward the center of town.
Cross the Ikva
toward the church and the turn to the graveyard.
But, notice a house along the way.
See the coffee and pastry shop in its basement.
Remember that you have walked by before
—this year and last.
Amico is the name on the sign.
Go slowly on by
—along the railing to the stairway down.
Feel a little sorry for yourself
after this morning's long walk.
Say to yourself,

“ I should eat some good food,
but, after this much exercise,
coffee and sweets won't hurt me.”
The window to the Amico has curtains.
You cannot see
to tell if it is open, or full, or empty,
or what the people inside are like.
You seldom go down into such places;
there is no graceful way to exit
when you find yourself where you do not want to be.
Nevertheless,
stop.
Walk some steps back.
Go down the stairs.
Open the door.
There are only two tables,
each with a young man drinking coffee.
The place looks pleasant.
Pleasant smiles come from women behind the counter
—mother and daughter.
Out loud, remark,

“ There is no free table!”
But go on in.

You are committed
—also tired and hungry.
Order a dobos torta (layered cake) and a coffee.
The two men have moved now to one table.
Thank them kindly and sit at the other.
The older woman leaves into the back room.
The younger woman quickly serves the torta and coffee.
Start to enjoy your treat
when a man appears behind the counter.
He asks,

           “ Do you have something to ask me?”
Quite puzzled, say,
“ No, I am just here to enjoy a torta and coffee.”
He then says,
           “ Well, I have something to ask you. Is this yours?”
He holds up your lost notebook. 

Sit dumbfounded.
He asks if someone sent you to them
and is surprised when you manage to say, no.
At a loss for words and ideas, just say,

“ I don't believe this! I am so fortunate.”
He says,
           “ It is a small world.”
“ I don't believe this! I am so fortunate.”
           “ It is a small world.”
“ I don't believe this! I am so fortunate.”

They found the notebook
while you were still in the graveyard.
They debated;
should they approach you as likely owner?
Now they joke;
the women had been right.
His eighty-year-old widowed mother-in-law appears.
She sits down,
tries to help,
but does not remember your family.
Meanwhile, the man,
his name is Pál,
has called an acquaintance, Gyula.

           “ He expects you in twenty minutes. You must go see him.”
Finish your cake and coffee.

Still dumbfounded,
set off to Gyula's house.
Notice immediately
that you took a picture of this house
last year when you walked by.
Over another cup of coffee
meet two lively people,
now friends,
but, as best you can tell,
unrelated.
He has your last name.
Like you, his father is Péter.
Perhaps his great grandfather is Jozsef or Andras,
son of your ancestors, Péter and Agnes,
but, perhaps more likely, no.
What a pleasant hour!

Things are going so well,
feel strangely at home as you leave Gyula's.
Why not go look for old maps at the town hall?
It sits across from the church.
You won't find any maps,
but find there, by chance,
someone to open an office
to sell you the recently published town history.
He is patient with your stumbling language
and with your vague requests,
though he was obviously in a hurry
when he stopped to help you in the hallway.
Say goodbye,
but feel indebted.
Turn back to ask his name.
He takes your new book and points.
Of course,
today you should expect it;
he is the author.

Completely satisfied with your day,
head toward the store across the Ikva.
This evening you want some food and drink.
Passing the library,
feeling ever more at home,
stop for a haltingly pleasant chat with the librarian.
She happens to be reading her copy of the town history,
impressed that you just spoke with the author.
 

At the ABC store, buy:
      Villanyi merlot,
      oranges,
      kolbász sausage,
     and crackers.

Back across the Ikva,
past the Amico, the church, and graveyard,
your good-day's walk,
(far longer than yesterday's)
ends at the pensión.
The woman at the desk hands you a message.
Anna has called.
The people from Budapest have arrived.
Feel tired, ready to call it a day.
But it would be discourteous to not call back.
Besides,
the woman at the desk shoves the phone at you.
As best you can (coached by the desk clerk),
explain your good day to Anna.
Tell her that you are too tired.
You cannot walk back to her house.

“ But, thanks very much for everything.”
She offers Zoli's phone number.
Hand the phone and your journal to the desk clerk
when she sees you struggle to understand.
When you get the phone back,
begin a final goodbye
—looking at the new name in your journal.
Little bells tingle in your head;
this name is quite different from your own,
yet seems familiar.
Feel neither
the energy to change your mind,
nor the will to open your notebook.

“ Goodbye.”

In your room,
take off your shoes,
open the wine and crackers,
cut the sausage,
sit back to enjoy the end of a good day.
Open your new book.
See what you can understand of the town history
—too lazy to open your dictionary.
Feel pleased with the little you understand
and the more you can guess.
Drink half the bottle of merlot.
Eat most of the salty sausage
and most of the salty crackers.
Take a nap.
It is 4:45.

A little before 6:00,
still sleepy,
open your eyes.
Wake to a strong thirst
and to a feeling that you must peek at your notebook.
Drink three glasses of water
and call Anna.
Say that after a short nap you feel more energetic. 

“ Could I come over now?”
           “ Certainly.”

After a fast walk through the darkness
along now-familiar roads,
by 6:35 be back at Anna's gate.
She takes you to her kitchen
where they are eating cold-cuts
and the goodies that Anna baked yesterday.
Anna introduces you to Zoli.
As you shake hands, you must ask,

“ Were you born October 24, 1923?”
          “ Yes,” he replies.

Respond as quickly as you smile:

“ I am very pleased to meet you. You are my father's cousin.”

They pore over your notebook,
understanding little more than names and dates.
Zoli remembers a visit by your aunt
twenty years ago.
Anna brings her diagram of her own family.
She knows she and Zoli must be related
but is not sure how.
Find the connection
—between her diagram and your notebook.
All the while,
drink glass after glass of water.
Ask one question that you forgot to ask yesterday.
Who takes such good care of the family grave?
It is Anna.
Zoli and his wife make this trip every year
around All Saints Day,
spend a few days with Anna,
and help decorate the grave.
They praise Anna.
She did not know how she is related,
yet she tends your family grave.
Wish also to give praise,
but say only,

“ Thank you!”
More than ever,
your minimal skill in their language
seems a dull pebble
in a river of emotion and experience.
Anna sends you off with a package of her cookies.
Zoli drives you to the pensión.
After a firm hand-to-hand, hand-to-shoulder handshake
your day is over.
 



November 3

As you wait in a cool morning's sun for the 7:10 train,
write instructions to a stranger,
a stranger who must come on the first of November,
who must, after a two-day walk, go on.