Lately I haven’t been able to shake it off. You know the feeling when something is supposed to be, but isn’t? Oh, it’s there all right. But you can’t see it. You can sorta feel it. Know that’s it watching you, but from somewhere you can’t see.
This morning I tried to shake it off and decided to go to Joe’s and have my regular, a Pumpkin Latte Fallout. It’s not yet fall, but Harry at Joe’s caters to my needs come spring, summer, winter or fall. Harry’s a good man, as my father would say.
I come from Polish stock that settled in the Detroit area around the turn of the twentieth century. The first batch came through Ellis Island. But after that, since family was already here, others had a more direct path. Either way, everyone came through Detroit, whether or not they stayed. Some stayed. But most went on, mostly West. Some landed in Denver to open a shoe shop and radio repair. Some fanned out to Los Angeles where they changed their names and melted into the big pot of stew where no one ever heard from them again.
And then there was my family, the gypsies. They didn’t settle, as a true gypsy would never do that. They traveled for a generation or so not calling themselves gypsies but attaching themselves to the one group who also traveled – Jehovah Witnesses. My great grandmother was one of those women who stood on street corners next to a car with a large bullhorn attached to the top. While the men shouted repentance, she handed out pamphlets hoping to save the world.
I often wondered if her heart was in it, in Jehovah’s that is.
My mom told stories of family gypsies in Poland of which my great grandmother, grandmother, and mom had the heart. In Poland my great grandparents would travel in sunshine and camp and sing and cook over open fires. Even though I grew up in Globeville, I always felt my mom was really elsewhere in her thoughts.
Well, I guess that’s where my heart comes from. Since the time I was born the stories of the Gorniak women echoed in my ears. Even when my grandmother was hospitalized for “being crazy,” I listened in full belief to the stories.
The Blessed Mother Mary appeared to my grandmother telling her that her job was to take care of her six brothers and sisters. She was the youngest and listened. You always listen to the Mother Goddess. Right?
I believe my mom wanted to belong to the gypsies of the sixties and seventies, the hippies. But she was just a hair too young to act on it. And being an only child she never felt brave enough to be her own person and strike out one her own with her gypsy soul bared to the world showing who she truly was.
Then came me, Azalea, the one who watched all of this and just couldn’t stay any longer. When I was sixteen, my mom handed me her gypsy heart and sent me off to Detroit. Yep. Detroit called, if only to see what I could find. Were there any remnants of those first arrivals and did they have something to offer my gypsy self?
I stepped onto the porch. Cool morning air drifted by and I locked the door behind me. Today I ad-libbed my outfit more so than usual. It was going to rain, a bleak day, a grey-cloud day. Factory smoke hung low.
This called for color.
So, with my eyes closed I chose each piece of clothing by feel. Nothing matched and by good luck most pieces added bright color and patterns that would shout at the passerby, “SMILE, BUDDY!!!!! It’s not as bad as you think!”
I decided to take the quick route to Joe’s since it was starting to sprinkle. That meant some shortcuts through a few alleyways.
Umbrella in hand, closed, not opened, I started my trek.
The umbrella belonged to my great grandfather. It had been carefully wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, well knotted so it wouldn’t come lose. It was packed away in an old steamer trunk that sat in the basement of my parents house until it was time to sell after both of my parents died without any notice or my permission.
It was as if my great grandfather was waiting for me to find the umbrella. When the steamer trunk arrived at my apartment, I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. But I was afraid to open it. For days, I just watched it. That’s when the feeling started, you know the one I mentioned earlier, like someone is watching me.
The day I finally opened the trunk, it was raining like crazy. There was a stream of water running down my window so thick I couldn’t tell if someone was looking in even if they were standing nose to nose with the glass.
I made myself a pot of coffee and plopped down on the footstool that I stationed by the trunk when it first arrived. I would spend a few minutes a day sitting on the pouf making up stories of what was inside, using pieces of stories from my mother that her mother had told her from the stories her mother had told her mother.
At this point who knew what was true in their stories. It’s kinda like the bible. Jesus was real. He said beautiful things and did miracles. His words were carried by mouth for a long time before they were written down.
I believe truth is distilled. When the honest soul tells a story, truth thrives even if details wander.
What I had hoped was contained in the trunk was the scarf that once wrapped my great grandmother’s hips. The one with bundles of cascading roses in every shade of red and pink – maroon, scarlet, fuchsia, magenta, and mauve – with touches of green leaves tucked here and there. All sitting on a background of creamy ivory and trimmed, not in black silky fringe, but the deepest blue of midnight one could imagine.
Or the shoes.
Yes, the ones with the pointy toes and delicately carved heels that a princess could dance all night in at the ball with her prince without nary a pinch. The ones my grandfather carved and cobbled for his new bride’s wedding day.
But inside the trunk among the hodgepodge was the umbrella. Black silk tied with a curiously red braided cord from which swung a beautiful tassel of the same color. The handle was made from white willow. It was smooth, golden and very light. It was the point at the other end that gave it presence. A sterling silver tip about four inches long narrowing to a fine end capped with a small wooden knob completed its form.
I carried it closed.
In Detroit I learned quickly that one needs some form of protection.
Back to a bit of fiction.
Our writing group, although there were only two of us at the breakfast table, met to write using Bonnie Neubauer’s Story Spinner. Our setting was Detroit. The beginning line was “Lately I haven’t been able to…”. And we needed to include the words: pumpkin, ad-lib, sunshine, and azalea.
I’ve never start writing my fiction narratives in first person. I’ve always changed it to third. I guess I wanted the distance. But I took the challenge.
This challenge led to using family stories. Now with my parents and most of my immediate relatives deceased, I think I might want to write about a little family history. I might also use this at the beginning of the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge in November.
Lots of pots on the fire right now. Feels good.