chocolate is a verb

colors, flavors, whims and other growing things

Monthly Archives: March 2013

Easter Happy Look

Easter Happy Look by jik
Blue sky, sunshine, beautiful houses, pink bunny bearing gifts and lots of love… what more could you ask?
. . . . .
undated art © jik

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an indelible…

more…

spring at the Supreme Court…

plum brides

a pair of brides
they stand together
arm in arm
wide skirts
spun outward
above slender ankles
spiky coronets
holding feathery veils

. . . . .
© j.i. kleinberg

drafts…

mending…

DAK self portraitIn diagnosing my mother’s ulcer, the doctor did not use the word hypochondria. But the prevailing knowledge of the condition, and the doctor’s attitude, suggested that, while serious, this was an ailment she had brought upon herself. It was something that happened to nervous people. (Helicobacter pylori would not be identified for another three decades.) Rest and diet were the only known cure.

My father, who wasn’t exactly a happy-go-lucky kind of guy himself, was convinced that, once she came home, my mother would progress in her healing only if she could learn not to fret. To this end, he was determined to teach her to say, “So what!”

He spoke soothingly of how little things, whatever they were, didn’t really matter and how, by just saying, and believing, “So what!” she could exorcise the demons that put her gut in a knot.

We would be sitting at the dinner table, my mother recounting something from her day. As she began to become riled by the recollection, my father would prompt her, quietly: “So what?”

“So what,” Dorothy would parrot, clenching her teeth.

It took a lot of reminding to get her to say it on her own, but my father was a patient man. It took only one slap across my face to teach me that I was not allowed to prompt her.

My mother didn’t usually talk aloud to herself, but sometimes, even years later, I’d hear her exclamation of “So what!!” from the kitchen or her studio.

Eventually my father stopped urging. Still, I don’t think she ever truly believed the words or became less worried or less invested in the things that bothered her. She healed, in a way: a mended teacup with a few porcelain shards glued slightly out of alignment, their raw edges always knife-sharp if you got too close.

among…

consciousness…

horticulture…

Loquats and Mountain BirdBelow the retaining wall that held our back slope in place, my father leveled a narrow terrace where, at my mother’s urging, he planted a trio of small trees. One was an exotic flowering shrub of some sort that never produced flowers. The second was an orange tree that burst into intoxicating bloom each year. Its fragrance would waft up the hill and into the house, the blossoms transform themselves into fruit as round and green as peas, and then fall off. It never yielded an orange larger than a hazelnut.

With my mother standing at the edge of the patio offering suggestions from above, my father tried ministrations of every sort, to no avail. Perhaps it was the slope or the soil or the oily fallout of the adjacent row of eucalyptus, but neither of the trees could deliver on their promise.

After that, each year, my mother invested all of her hope in the third tree, a loquat. This robust individual could do nothing but bear fruit. I was oblivious to its progress, but at some point my mother would start issuing daily instructions for me to descend the hill and “check the loquats.” This I did by giving the fruit a few little squeezes and bringing back a promising sample for her to examine.

loquat - Eriobotrya japonicaI’m not sure what she had in mind — she certainly never made jam — but these were labor-intensive fruits. About the size of a walnut but pear-like in shape, they had tough, slightly furred skin, three, four or five large, slimy, glossy brown seeds, and, in between the skin and the seeds, perhaps an eighth of an inch of flesh that was an astringent cross between an apricot and a pear. (The exemplars in this photo are voluptuous compared to the loquats we grew.)

At any rate, one day the sample I brought up would prove suitable and my mother would set out a large basket for the next morning’s harvest. There were hundreds of loquats on the tree.

The following morning, as directed, I would carry the basket down the steps and across the terrace and, without fail, the tree would be stripped bare, the birds having arisen at dawn to confirm Dorothy’s assessment of ripeness and not paused, as I had, for breakfast cereal. A scattering of shriveling, pecked fruits on the ground were all that remained.

This scenario was repeated annually for perhaps five years until Dorothy gave up and the loquat tree became a sort of family shorthand for referring to things that looked promising but never quite delivered.
. . . . .
Loquat and Mountain Bird painting
Loquat photo

family…

Bobby and OscarMy mother had one sibling, two years older. Bob, and his movie-star-beautiful wife, Helen, and their son, Bobby (shown here in one of a series of annual magazine ads for Bob’s business), who was about my age, lived in an apartment not far from us and were a fairly regular part of our lives. Bob always had a camera in his hand and his shadow looms in the foreground of a number of my childhood photos.

Uncle Bob was big and jolly and a little crude and my mother resented him for so obviously defying the conflated images of cultured refinement, bohemian artiness and intellectualism she cultivated. If she had reasons to hate him — reasons more sinister than childhood hair-pulling and teasing — she never revealed them, but she spoke of him always with a sour face and barely-concealed contempt.

Bobby was a sweet boy and we liked each other and played together as kids. But Bob sent him off to military school and then the three of them moved to Arizona, so our visits became less frequent. At 15, Bobby was a passenger on the back of a motorcycle that was hit by a car. He died three months later. I was still reeling from the recent death of my grandmother, whom I had loved, and who had been a uniting force — socially, if not emotionally — between my mother and her brother. Now the twin losses, and the acrimonious settling of my grandmother’s affairs, meant that my mother could be nearly rid of her brother.

We saw Uncle Bob rarely after that. I exchanged a couple of letters with him, which surely would have angered my mother, had she known. She hated him, so, in her world view, I was supposed to hate him, too. But he had always been kind to me, and fun, and I didn’t see any reason why we couldn’t be friendly, even if they were not.

I was having dinner with my parents one evening much later when my mother said, offhandedly, “Before Robert died….” Pressed, she told me her brother had died “years” earlier and she hadn’t thought it would matter to me.

I guess, after all, it did.

visualize…

the plant…

yuccaThe front door of our house opened into a small space that was meant to be an entry but could hardly be called a room. It was really just a dogleg in the hall, the very short horizontal bar of an L-shaped space that held the coat closet and kept someone outside from seeing straight into the house.

In the crotch of the L, Dorothy had placed a large houseplant. Perhaps three feet in diameter, it was some kind of yucca and with my mother’s careful watering and dusting, and the filtered northern light from the adjacent window, the plant thrived. It had long, dark green, leathery, blade-like leaves that were abundantly edged with small, fierce thorns.

Like a vicious dog, teeth bared, the plant hooked any stray bit of clothing and left red welts on the skin. Each of us had been snagged as we hurried to answer the doorbell or took an accidental stumble on our way down the hall or bent to pick up something dropped on our way in or out of the house.

Dorothy could not be persuaded to move it. The thing sat there for years, waiting hungrily for visitors who might not give it the wide berth it required. When it finally grew unsightly, too many of its leaf-ends clipped off, too many brown edges, my mother replaced it — with another, almost identical but with variegated leaves.

Although Dorothy claimed to enjoy having people in the house, the ferocious houseplant offered a less-welcoming, perhaps truer measure of her attitude. Some years after I left home, my father finally prevailed on her to get rid of the plant. She did, reluctantly and not without ongoing complaint, and for the remaining years of their lives the space was harmlessly occupied by one or another of my father’s wood sculptures.
. . . . .
yucca photo

Why…

fervent…

I’ve seen…

the meticulous…

the work…

outside…

heather in MarchHere in the upper lefthand corner of the U.S., in the early-March garden, spring is mostly a matter of hints and suggestions. The bare wood of the plum twigs and hydrangea stalks now show fattening nubs and leaflets. An inch of red-brown peony pokes up through the soil. The precocious azaleas and rhododendrons seem to gather themselves from their winter bedraggled-ness and ready a crown of tight, yet-colorless buds. Upon the accidental touch, the juniper’s nearly-invisible cones billow forth a cloud of pollen. The cotoneaster, still bearing some of its red berries, pushes out its first tiny, leathery leaves. Hellebores unfurl their shy, downward-facing blooms. But oh, the heather. Nothing shy. Nothing subtle. The garden’s Pied Piper. Just that pure, announcing color that says hang on, don’t despair, spring is almost here and the long, languorous days of summer can’t be far behind.

these…

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