Looking for publicity pictures, I stumble upon this photo of myself the way I might discover a poem I don’t remember writing. This has happened several times Although I know I wrote the piece in question, I am always left wondering a little about myself as a writer. This picture IS that person I become when sitting at my desk–hair somewhat askew, eyes not focusing on any object at hand. This is the somewhere-else-writer-person, the daydreamer preoccupied with images and thoughts which transport me from the ordinariness of my husband’s plaid shirt, the helter-skelter papers on the credenza, to life as I re-know in words I cannot speak, in words I think and then, by some stretch, can write.
Last year my husband received messages on his Email about his upcoming 50th High School Class Reunion. He sent notes back and forth to some of those classmates who organized the get-together. Although I attended two reunions of my high school class of ’70, the 20th and 40th get-togethers, Jim attended none of his. When I asked why he had not attended any, he mumbled something about “not being that popular.” I knew that school was difficult for him because his mother started him in school at age four. He was always the youngest one in his class which made school challenging both academically and socially. Often, though, he would talk about his teenage hijinks, going to Arnold’s Park in Spirit Lake, Iowa where he grew up, and high school sports. He also played drums with Deenie, his best friend’s wife and high school sweetheart, in band. I encouraged him to go on this hallmark year. He finally agreed. He signed up to meet and mingle with his high school friends.
I have always heard (probably in Dear Abby) how boring it can be attending a spouse’s high school graduation parties. Yet I don’t remember my parents voicing this when they attended one another’s events together. I was prepared to feel out place. I was pleasantly surprised. The best thing the committee did was make name tags with the graduation picture of the classmate on the name tags of both the classmate and his or her spouse. Everyone knew with whom I was attached.
The first night the get-together was a casual event at a bar outside of Spirit Lake. We were dressed in shorts and t-shirts. After a welcome and introductions, Jim talked sports with some of his teammates. When the buffet barbeque dinner was served, we sat down with Jerry and his wife, Linda. Jerry was remembered by Jim’s mom for a mop that was mysteriously broken while Jerry and two other guys were over playing bridge in the basement of Jim’s boyhood home. Jerry replaced the mop, though he swore he never broke it. He wanted to be able to return to play bridge at the Donovan’s.
The next night, while enjoying dinner with three other couples at a fancy restaurant ( instead of attending the reunion picnic) I listened to Jerry’s story of how he was detained for vagrancy and deported from England after roaming around Europe for what he thought might be his only chance to see the world before being drafted. He spent time in Italy living on next to nothing–besides the generosity of strangers. Later, at the home of Deenie and Jim, the high school sweethearts who later married, Jerry was confronted by Deenie for stashing a tape recorder under the car seat when Deenie and Jim (not my husband) planned to park by the fish hatchery. She told him, “We didn’t do anything, Jerry. I was a virgin when we got married. What did you think you would hear?” Jerry denied all charges. His arguments are more convincing since he became a corporate lawyer.
The fun of being a spouse at a high school class reunion is that it is like being a minor character in a reality show. I got to do what I do best: observe others as they interacted and join in the fun as appropriate. Since my husband grew up in the 50s & 60s and I grew up in the 60s & 70s, I enjoyed hearing the difference in stories of my husband’s growing up years. Although my husband’s generation did have to deal with the draft, it wasn’t until after college. Also, there was more innocence about their shenanigans when compared to the trouble my generation got into with drugs and sex.
The biggest bomb of the night was dropped by Deenie’s best friend. Jan, who is divorced from someone she knew in high school. Her new husband accompanied her. After a few drinks she brought up how Deenie’s husband, Jim, “was the first boy who ever kissed me.” She even recalled the street corner where this first kiss occurred trying to get Jim to acknowledge this, Deenie’s husband was speechless, never denying, but now admitting this either. I even chimed in as others gave him a bad time for not acknowledging this since a girl’s first kiss was a very special experience. Another bomb was when Deenie, who drinks, but has never smoked marijuana, said that smoking pot “is on my bucket list.” My husband ’fessed up to his drug use, but both he and I, who are abstainers now due to our past drinking and drug use, discouraged her from doing this. We both talked about addictive substances and how inadvertently harmful mood-altering substances can be to so many people. While the classmates talked among themselves for part of the night, Jerry’s wife Linda and I swapped work and travel stories and also discussed ways to exercise, pamper ourselves and keep our skin from aging too quickly.
On Sunday we attended a luncheon for the All-Class Reunion (comprised of life time members those who were attending their 50th high school graduation or more ). Since my father-in-law graduated from Spirit Lake, my husband’s parents attended this event . Jim’s older brother and his wife also came to this event. This proved to be the perfect time for him to talk to some of his female classmates. I could take pictures and enjoy my husband’s time of high school reminiscence, hear the laughter and catch glimpses of the school boy who grew up to become my husband.
When my nephew read the title of my first collection of poetry, he thought perhaps it would be easier to say “tumble” rather than “tumbled.” But I explained that TUMBLED DRY stems from my experience of tumbling which occurred early in my life, therefore the word needed to be in the past tense. But, tumbled is an active word, a word in which one can picture an object (or person) flip-flopping around while covering a lot of territory in a short amount of time before it lands. That was me. I was lucky to finally land on my feet and in one piece!
In my world, tumbled means to have the rough edges smoothed off—like agates in a tumbler. To throw all reason to the wind, to recklessly toss oneself into the thick of things and not have a clue how circumstances will end. Perhaps you were a “wild-child” once, or have considered embarking down that slippery slope. TUMBLED DRY will give you hope because it describes the change in a person’s life over time. The joy in daily living is evident in the final section, “Cast On/Cast Off” and no, the poem is not about knitting. You’ll have to buy a copy of the book to enjoy the humor in that poem.
TUMBLED DRY was recently nominated for a Northeastern Minnesota Book Award. So let’s hope that it tumbles right into the winners’ circle. Awards will be announced in Duluth on May 17.
While watching The Lawrence Welk Show
our parents called us wet behind the ears
as though we had a condition to be cured,
smoked to smithereens, or hung out to dry.
But, we teenagers were old enough
to know better and too young to care.
Whether the backs of our ears were dry
or not, we dared to tumble carelessly,
rough edges chipped off like agates
within a barrel, or dare devils who slid
down Niagara Falls on a whim. Scratched
and bruised, we usually survived the plunge.
Dryness may have implied a certain oldness,
bones creaking with old-school authority,
a Hee Haw humor we couldn’t swallow,
spit out before its redneck reckoning set in.
Billy Graham=s drive to save our souls
couldn’t save us from the persuasive draw
of the draft, free-love, and mind-blowing drugs.
Tune in, turn on, drop out was our motto—
champagne music and tiny TV bubbles were unreal
compared to acid rock, electrified wine, or keg beer.
We got lucky and had a second chance
to tumble dry, grab hold like drowning
victims seize lifelines, pay a quarter or more,
for what once cost a dime at the Laundromat.