Wind Telephone (Kaze No Denwa)

In 1997, I printed a broadside especially for my dad. It was his birthday, his 71st. Today, in fact, would have been his 91st. It is our first of Dad’s birthdays without him, but we have this thing in my family, by my prodding, I suppose. We celebrate birthdays, even of those who have passed. I’ve told you about it before; it’s a custom I read about in a book called Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years. I liked this idea of remembering and celebrating, and so sometimes we will do as the Delany Sisters did: celebrate birthdays of those who have come and gone by making their favorite meals, or sometimes it will be simple, like a favorite dessert, or sometimes we will simply raise our glasses in tribute. For Dad’s birthday today, we are going to lunch, as many of us as can gather together, at a restaurant he loved to go to, Cosa Duci, a little Italian place in Boca Raton where Silvia and Giovanna come up with a menu each day and what they make is what they bring you, if you order the special, at least. It always tastes like home and the folks there are always wonderful to us. I don’t know exactly how it will go, but the goal is to remember my father and to celebrate him and to bring a little joy of life to this day.

But back to 1997 and the broadside. It’s called “Dad’s Apple.” In it, I describe a dinner table trick that Dad loved to perform, a trick that his Uncle Jack taught him, probably when my dad was a kid. One portion of the text for the broadside was my first attempt at technical writing: not an easy task, let me tell you. In fact, at the end of my instructions, I provide the following disclaimer: If your apple doesn’t pull into 2 equal crazy halves, try another one. Apples are good for you!

So yes, after dinner sometimes, especially in the fall, Dad would pick up a knife in one hand and an apple in the other and he would make four cuts: one from the top, one from the bottom, then two along the middle of the apple. And then he would ask if you wanted to split an apple. He’d hold out the apple, offer it to you, and you’d grab it and pull it away and there in your hand would be this jigsaw puzzle piece of apple, one end going up, one end going sideways, that was, indeed, one half an apple. It is a pretty wonderful trick, the kind that makes kids go, “Whoa!” And that, my friends, is Dad’s Apple.

Last fall, on one of our haircut nights, Seth began as he always does, by tuning into the podcast of This American Life. No doubt the wooden bowl on the kitchen counter was filled with fresh apples as we listened to Episode No. 597: One Last Thing Before I Go. My haircut is always first, and during Act One of this episode, Seth cut my hair as Miki Meek told the story of man in Japan who installed a telephone booth in his garden. There’s a wooden shelf in the phone booth, and on the shelf, a phone, the old-fashioned kind, with a rotary dial. It’s connected to nothing, this phone, but the gardener placed it there so he could sit in the phone booth and talk to his cousin, who had recently died. It just seemed, to him, the natural thing to do. As the years passed, other people began using the gardener’s phone booth to speak to their dead friends and relatives, especially after the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the gardener’s town in 2011. The episode was full of conversations that folks who used the phone booth had had with those who have passed. They gave their permission to be recorded, and they typically start out quite rational, as if they are aware of the recording, talking about what’s new in their lives. Work, school, that kind of stuff. Almost always, though, they let down their guard. The conversations become more emotionally charged.

The haircut turned out just fine; it always does. But I was a blubbering mess through the whole thing. And this was months before I had experienced my own loss. Miki Meek, who led us through the story, gave a name to the gardener’s telephone: kaze no denwa, wind telephone. If the wind telephone was here, I would use it, because I am like that. I celebrate birthdays, like Dad’s birthday today, out of love and out of a wish to keep the channels open. I think Dad was doing the same a few days back when I found the Mother’s Day card that was the subject of the previous Convivio Book of Days chapter. We are all learning and wending our way through uncharted territory, and part of the process, I suppose––of keeping the circle unbroken in our book of days––is being receptive, being open, and learning to communicate in new ways, be it an old card that bubbles up out of a pile of junk, or an apple, or a meal, or a telephone that transmits its signal into the wind.

 

I printed an edition of 95 copies of Dad’s Apple, and gave Dad copy no. 1 for his 71st birthday. It’s in the family kitchen, framed, right above the cabinet where the napkins are kept. The broadside is printed from handset Van Dijck and Franklin Gothic types. I carved the illustration in linoleum and printed it as a monoprint, applying the inks in a painterly fashion with a brush onto the linoleum, so each one is different from all the others. The print hangs in the kitchens of many people I know. It would probably look great in your kitchen, too!

 

Strange Things Sometimes Still Happen

It’s Mother’s Day on Sunday. There is a fascinating story about Anna Jarvis, the founding of the holiday, and its history, but I’ve told it before so I’ll not tell it again here today. (You can type Mother’s Day in the search feature of the blog (down below) and pull up quite a few past chapters to read if you’d like.) No, this Mother’s Day I’m going to focus on the idea, as Angela Carter suggests, that “strange things sometimes still happen,” because they do over and over again in my life. The most recent occasion, impeccably timed, was just a few days ago.

I’ll begin by telling you that I have finally seen my father in a dream, for the first time since he died three months ago. Or at least it’s the first time I woke up and remembered seeing him. I used to think that I didn’t dream, until I read a book about dreaming, some 25 years ago, that challenged that very notion. Keep a pen and a journal at your bedside, the author suggested, and begin writing what you remember as soon as you open your eyes. I did. That first morning I awoke and followed the author’s suggestion; I’ve not forgotten that dream since. My mom and I were at a counter, like a fast food counter. Up on the menu boards, all illuminated, were hairdos you could choose for yourself. They were three dimensional and spinning around slowly, like wigs on rotating mannequin heads, but quite glamorous. My mom chose a bouffant updo. I remember thinking it was all like a B-52’s video. And now, all these years later, this is one of the things taking up valuable memory space in my brain. Not only did I remember details from my dream that morning, but I learnt also that I dream in color, which is neither here nor there in my tale. My point is I do dream, we all do, but I don’t always remember my dreams. Last week, though, I woke up and remembered seeing Dad. We were in a hospital, and he gave me one of those looks he often gave me: a slight shoulder shrug accompanied by raised eyebrows, a knowing glance he would share with me when no one else was looking. I woke up happy, like Dad had finally paid me a visit.

I went to work and my days at work can be a bit frazzled lately. I don’t seem to have the same ability to concentrate on one task sometimes, and so I bounce around from project to project. It was Thursday, so I was getting the gallery where I work ready for a letter writing social we host every First Friday. We call it Real Mail Fridays. We keep most of the supplies in rolling cubbies, so I was rolling the cubbies into the gallery from the closet. But there is, as well, a wooden cabinet in the gallery, an old cabinet from Spain, carved by hand, a lovely piece. It’s got two doors that open at the top, two doors that open at the bottom, a drawer, and a pull-down desk of sorts. That cabinet’s been gathering the clutter of Real Mail Fridays past for years now, to the point that the doors at the bottom half were having trouble staying shut. And though I didn’t want to do it, really, I suddenly felt compelled to stop all else I was doing so I could organize the cabinet.

I got a recycle bin, and once that was filled, I got another one. Into the bins went torn or dented papers, single envelopes that had no notecards to match, those little red papers that no one had used since the first Real Mail Friday four years ago… and then there were cards, some brand new but with very specific categories, like To My Granddaughter on Her First Communion. I knew where these came from: every member of my family was employed by Hallmark at various times in their lives, and this stuff is everywhere. I know that my sister sometimes clears things like this out of the attic and then my mom gives it to my friend Kelly, who loves Real Mail Fridays. She’s like the Real Mail Fridays queen. This stuff, this junk, was here through Mom by way of Kelly. And then there were all these cards that had been written on already, signed by people I had never heard of. These I knew had nothing to do with Mom, but who knows where they came from. I was tearing through all this junk, tossing handfuls at a time into the recycle bin. I could smell the goal ahead of me: clean, crisp organization.

And then I came across a postcard. When we first moved to Florida, my dad had to stay behind in New York for a few months, and my mom sent him a postcard to tease him about the situation. It was a split panel illustration. On the left is a woman in a bikini on the beach, on the right is someone bundled up in a coat and boots with a snowman. They both have shovels. “I’ll shovel sand for you in Florida,” it reads, “if you’ll shovel snow for me up North.” There was no writing on the postcard, but I know this is the card that I had seen for years in a scrapbook. A few other cards followed this, and I stopped at each one and opened them. A card with a car on it was a Father’s Day card to my dad from my nephew John. There were two birthday cards to my dad, signed by cousin Larry. And then there was a Valentine card and a Mother’s Day card, large ones, to “my wife.” I opened them, and there was my dad’s distinctive handwriting. My dad was not a sentimental guy, not by a long shot, and I’d be willing to wager he didn’t even choose these cards for Mom; my sister would’ve bought them and brought them to him to sign. But the Valentine is signed “Love You, Your Husband” and then, “All the words are true.” And the Mother’s Day card is signed, “Love You, JC”––his initials, his completely unsappy way of signing.

To find an old Mother’s Day card to my mom, signed by my dad, on this random day when I had finally seen him in a dream, in this random place, in a cabinet that’s needed cleaning out for years and to finally do it on that same day… all I know is strange things sometimes still happen. To all our mothers: mine and yours, mothers given and mothers chosen, mothers in our midst and mothers long gone: Happy Mother’s Day.

Love You,
JC

 

The Ice Saints & Cold Sophie

It rained here last Friday, the sort of rain we get when a cold front comes through, a wide swath of it coming down diagonally across the peninsula. We won’t be seeing much of this for a while, not while summer is here. Friday’s may very well have been the last cold front we’ll see until next fall. In its wake came perfect weather: cool and dry. It lasted for days and days and still it is pretty pleasant out, to be honest. I like to think it was our brush with Cold Sophie and the Ice Saints. Maybe they came a bit early this year.

May 11, today, is the feast day of St. Mamertus. Tomorrow, the 12th, St. Pancras. On the 13th we remember St. Servatius and on the 14th, St. Boniface, and then on the 15th, Cold Sophie herself: St. Sophia. In old German weather lore, this group of saints, led by Sophia, are known as the Ice Saints, die Eisheiligen. Kalte Sophie or Cold Sophie is their ringleader, and she and the Ice Saints are thought to bring one last blast of cold air before summer finally settles in. And so today they begin to make their entrance on the scene. If you live in a place that is more temperate than ours, you may experience colder temperatures than you have been, and if you do, you can give a nod to Cold Sophie and the Ice Saints. Cold Sophie may have come early to Lake Worth this year, but for all of you in cooler climes, take care. Avoid planting cold-sensitive crops until after the days of Cold Sophie and the Ice Saints have run their course. A good story, and good common sense, too.

Image: A fresco from St. Sophia Church in Ohrid, Macedonia. Circa 11th century. [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.

 

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