Friday, August 18, 2017

Julie A. Dickson ----- two nonfiction pieces

Torturous Vessel                                                     

A bouquet sat centered on the kitchen table, my eyes studying the lead crystal vase that had belonged to my mother. The etched wide square vase was so heavy, I dared not carry it with one hand. My mother’s voice [long gone] echoed in my head – two hands!

The vase had been a familiar sight, often filled and refilled with garden- cut flowers, roses from my father, even weeds lovingly picked by me and presented to my mother. Pussy willows, golden rod and wild daisies were equally displayed in her favorite vase, no preferential treatment for roses over weeds. We all knew she loved flowers, especially yellow and purple which are also my favorites. Ground violets, too small for the vase often floated in a low dish. She always loved fresh flowers of any variety.

Ironically, the only flowers I received as an adult were presented as a silent apology. Yes, he went too far at times. An acid remark caustically emitted, a hastily hurled comment in my direction as I cringed, closed my eyes or looked down. The words entered my ears, cutting through tissue and bone as though on a direct course to my heart, already scarred and scabbed over from frequent attacks.

Somewhere in the past, perhaps when I was a teen, I felt so utterly diminished and rejected that a trap door slammed shut. My heart was broken, carelessly cast aside and lay covered, protected as beneath a plywood floor, constructed from necessity. You cannot hurt me, my heart seemed to murmur so that only I heard, like a whispered voice in the wind-rustled grasses beneath my feet. It’s too late, the voice spoke – how can harsh words enter now, after that time when I was younger and after previous years of hearing the condescending tones of my father? The current spoken words of my husband were familiar; they spoke of my lack of value, my uselessness.

Instead of a beautiful lead crystal vase that my mother cherished, all I saw before me was a torturous vessel filled with silence. Six red carnations did not speak, but I heard the feeble excuses and promises they represented. They arrived wrapped in green tissue with a packet of nourishment, as if by dropping granules of white powder into water, all could be made right.

Wordlessly, a bunch of flat green ferns with red carnations were left on the table as he passed through the kitchen. I watched him recede into the living room. Unwrapping the flowers felt akin to removing a bandage from a not-yet-healed wound, the red carnations like blood-droplets. I smiled ironically that for over twenty years, he did not remember my favorite flowers – daffodils, yellow tulips and roses. [Carnations were his mother’s favorite flower] Instead, stood before me, blood-red flowers that seemed to call out in horror from the battlefield of my life. The wounded and bleeding hopes were set before me as a reminder.

Impulsively, I tore the carnations from the vase, dripping water across the kitchen floor. I threw them unceremoniously into the sink, stuffing them into the drain and turning on the disposal unit, grinding them into red mush. I stood leaning against the kitchen counter, feeling relief. With the blood washed away, the torturous vessel was restored to the lead crystal vase that my mother loved.

From the living room called a disembodied voice, “What’s for supper?”

Julie A. Dickson

Exeter, NH

Squirrel Arrestor                                                  

In no way did my father think of himself of an inventor. The 50-pound sack of sunflower seeds in a covered metal trash can to protect them from pesky rodent invasions in our garage.

Moving from Western New York State suburbia- a heavily wooded area of New England was appealing to my parents. The bird feeder became of my father’s hobbies. Standing his post at the kitchen window, armed with Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America, he identified nuthatches, woodpeckers and blue jays. Notes were kept, bookmarks saved pages of every newly discovered bird. An LP record of Audubon bird calls sat in the living room console stereo; family sat around the room identifying the songs of cardinals and sparrows with as much enthusiasm as we could muster.

The resident challenger of Ornithology was the common grey squirrel, long of tail and acrobatic in nature. Squirrels could jump through the air from the roof, grasping the feeder while waiting for the violent swaying to subside; and then contorted into impossible positions; they hung upside down to dump the contents to the ground. Flinging themselves below, the seed-fest would begin. All song birds within a mile radius were scared off, much to my father’s dismay.

Knocking on the kitchen window had no effect. Cracking seeds and stuffing them into already fat cheeks, Mr. Squirrel ignored my father. Running out the back door sent the squirrel lunging for the nearest tree until the intruding human disappeared into the house, when he would return to the seed pile persistently. A hanging feeder from tree branches, attached to a window ledge, or set atop a pole – the squirrels found them all.

Captured in a Havahart trap, transported 3 miles away, where my father sprayed a-bit of white paint on each squirrel’s tail-tip resulted only in the knowledge that squirrels traveled farther than 3 miles. My father stared incredulously out the kitchen window at the white-tipped scoundrel eating his bird seed!

The solution to his problem came in the form of a metal trash can lid. A round hole drilled in the center, the lid was affixed to the pole 12 inches below the bird feeder, pole set away from roof and branches. This design worked reasonably well, diverting even the cleverest squirrel from reaching the feed, except for morsels scattered by the messy blue jays. My father was the true- inventor of the squirrel arrestor; he just didn’t apply for a patent. Many years later he purchased a conical squirrel arrestor fashioned from sheet metal and the old trash lid was returned to its can, with duct tape covering the hole.

Julie A. Dickson

Exeter, NH

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