I Am Isabel the Storyteller

A topnotch WordPress.com site

Category: Mom and Dad are in the way back seat of my memory says Isabel

#59. Wynton Marsalis plays “I’ve got a nagging feeling” in the sunroom and I think about Arturo’s breakthrough, beaver dams, and the mystery tugging at my mind and heart.

When Arturo looks at me, smiles, and talks, I picture a scene from the Way-back Seat of my memory— back when I lived with Mom and Dad back when, well, back when they lived:

Beavers have dammed the brook that flows through our back lot, causing the yard to flood and water to trickle into our cellar. Not a good thing. I go with Mom or Dad to stand on the dam and pull out sticks. Actually, I stand and teeter and they pull sticks and steady me so I don’t go into the water. Each year, If we get to the dam before the beaver makes it strong and permanent, all we need to do is pull out a few branches, and then the force of the brook disintegrates the dam. And the beaver finds another site. 

Well, that’s what happened with Arturo. The breakthrough was the little book and his determination to tell the story behind the sketches: it’s like his words were dammed up inside him.

Oliver asks him, So, what are you an expert at? Picking books? Drawing?

I look at him like he’s clueless because I already know what Arturo is great at.

Papa.  He points to the smiling Papa. I make him smile; I’m an expert at it.

Oliver tells me later he was going to ask him why Papa was sad, but then the teachers announce, Time to clean up, kids.

I look at Arturo’s first picture, the one with Papa sitting at the kitchen table with his head in his hands. There is something vaguely familiar about this. I can’t put my finger on it though.

cropped-isabelcrossleg22.jpg

ISABEL who’s got that nagging feeling and also loves Wynton Marsales.

#58. Buddy the Beefalo gave the twins the idea to skip town: Foiled runaway plan is juxtaposed with feverish man hatching eggs. I love slapping two ideas together—3 if you include dear Buddy.

Mimi’s hanging out the clothes. I watch her from the dormer window seat in my bedroom where I’m painting my toenails  black. I read in an old Reader’s Digest that the color black represents authority and assertiveness and black nails announce I mean business! I don’t think I’d be mistaken for a Goth  or a Morticia Addams wannabe; but would that be so bad, I wonder? 

But back to my story: what’s the opposite of black nail polish? The sun-bright memories I have of “helping” Mom at the clothesline: I was the socks expert. She taught me how to stretch and drape each sock over the wooden rods of a little drying rack I thought she’d bought just for me. Suddenly I hear the twins calling to Mimi from behind the Trumpet Vine trellis. I lean out the window to see what that’s about.

‘Bye, Mimi! We’re running away now.  They have backpacks full of comics. I can see this because they haven’t secured the openings. Mimi has two clothespins in her mouth and is arranging their favorite “blankies” on the line. Holding the blankies in place, she takes the clothespins out of her mouth, giving the twins her full attention. 

Running away?

Like Buddy the Beefalo?

Of course! Buddy the Beefalo! Mimi chuckles, waiting for them to reveal more.

Many months ago, Buddy—a cattle/bison hybrid raised for his meat—had been brought to a small, organic meat processing business to be slaughtered. But he escaped and went on the lam all around us, with an occasional, tantalizing sighting at the end of pastures or in meadows in the midst of forest. People left food for him, feeding him throughout the winter, and tried to lure him with an especially pretty cow, that sort of thing. When he began wandering out of the woods onto a major thoroughfare, efforts to capture him increased. I don’t think Sam and Clyde know he’s been captured.

Okay, Sam and Clyde, but first do a little job for me, would you? More clothespins? Under the sink in the mudroom?

They slip their packs off their shoulders and trudge into the mudroom. Mimi probably can see them bend over and drag the clothespin bag out from under the utility sink. They go out onto the side stoop where the clothesline starts and hand the bag to Mimi. The blankies catch their attention. Are they dry?  Sam asks. Clyde looks like he’s checking to see if he has room for blankies in his backpack.

Mimi shakes her head no and then says, Boys? One more little job?  She shakes one of their socks. Could you get me the little wooden drying rack? She smiles down at them from over the clothesline. Her face looks like a full moon peeking over a hill.

The twins drop their packs again and march back inside. They know where to find the little rack.

I wonder where they think they’re running away to. Maybe they’ll walk to the end of our road and go to Ye Old Coffee Shoppe. (They wouldn’t hit much traffic if they did that.) They might sit on the stools and spin around, maybe get their favorite sundaes:  ice cream with no cherry and no hot fudge. Silly kids.

Clyde sets the rack up in the sun next to Mimi.

How will Mimi nix this plan?

Just as they’re about to leave, she says, One more little job? They slip their thumbs through the backpack straps, just to let her know this better be the last job. Could you hang the socks before you go? 

They shrug and say, Okay, Mimi.

First, they pull the sock right side out; then, shake it so the wrinkles smooth; lastly, they drape the sock over the wooden bar so it hangs evenly.  I’m shocked; Mom taught them the little rack, sock-hanging moves too. While they work, Mimi tells them stories, but I can tell they feel tired and hungry. In fact, Sam yawns as Clyde curves the last sock over the rod.

Mimi says, I know! How about this?  Why don’t we go inside and have a little reading time? With a snack maybe?

Hmmmm, Sam says, but after a little reading time and snack it might be too late.

Too late to run away, explains Clyde, just in case Mimi has forgotten.

Mimi puts the empty basket down. Better yet, she says, taking their hands, let’s go to the coffee shop. We can sit at the counter and get sundaes. Your favorite? No cherry? No hot fudge? 

They perk up like puppets on the same string. And maybe you could read some of these?  Clyde pulls an Unca’ Scrooge out of the backpack.

Mimi catches my eye as I lean out from the dormer; we give each other a wink. I hear her telling them how they actually caught Buddy, did you know, and he lives in a sanctuary in Florida. And we live here, says Sam, our sanctuary!

Mimi is a genius. It reminds me of a story Zia told Oliver and me the other day. She likes to watch us from her little back porch while we “work the cattle” at the end of the day. Here’s the story:

Back in 1949 (do the math, Zia is no Spring chicken) Zia was reading a Scientific American article about chickens and eggs. I forget where the hens were, but this farmer’s wife had 50 eggs that needed to be incubated. Her husband was sick with a fever and lay listless in bed. She wrapped each egg and placed them one by one along his entire body. (I also forget how she ensured he wouldn’t roll on them, but needs must, I have a deadline and can’t go over to the farm for this detail!) After a few days, 49 of them hatched and they were able to go to where she’d prepared bedding and a few willing hens to chicksit them.

Zia came down the porch steps and took Sir Isaac from me at the end of her strange story. Mimi, Pop, and I are like that feverish old man: we’re the warmth and security you kids need to get you where you need to go. Needs must! (Zia and I lovelovelove Agatha Christie’s mysteries, where Miss Marple is always and forever saying this phrase.)

So to pound this point home? Mimi’s ruse with the twins was an action example of brooding the eggs with the feverish man…

Cross that out; my readers aren’t numbskulls.

ISABEL

isabelinchair

 

# 49. I refuse to be charmed, calmed, and kumbaya-ed by the chicken project, no matter how much I love it. To the guy who murdered my parents I say, “Methinks’t thou art a general offense and every man should beat thee.”

I refuse to be charmed, calmed, and kumbaya-ed by the chicken project, no matter how much I love it. Sorry. To the man who murdered my parents I say, “Methinks’t thou art a general offense and every man should beat thee.  (Like my Dad, I quote Shakespeare to keep myself anchored. “Let grief convert to anger” comes to mind now too.)

It’s the evening of the coop-construction day. Pop and Mimi and I are spread out on the couches in the sunroom. I’m sketching the chicken run plans, Pop’s figuring out what supplies we’ll need, and Mimi’s scanning the morning paper. On our old-timey (1968 vintage) TV trays we’ve got hot spice tea and ginormous Morning Glory Muffins left over from morning, but still full of glory. Papers, drafting pencils, clipboards, laptops, and dishes carpet the couch cushions where we aren’t sitting. It’s precarious, but it works. (We can’t do this when Sam and Clyde are around, for obvious reasons.)

Mr Grim and I discussed the chicken run. He was delighted to help. Who knew that chicken runs are a classic in math! When I described what we were trying to figure out, he pulled open a drawer in his old file cabinet where he stores his ancient lessons, his recent work being on his laptop which is connected to the white board. He rummaged for a while and then pulled out a yellowed lesson plan. He read the problem aloud.  The farmer is putting a new chicken run up against a brick wall. He has 20 feet of wire to put around the run. If he makes a rectangular run, how big an area can he enclose?

He used the classic chicken run lesson with my class. First we considered how we might approach it. Then we broke up in groups and investigated the problem further. He gave each group string to model what we wanted to do. We used the formula area = length X width and applied our knowledge of parabolas. Then we started thinking about equations. We worked on reducing the number of dependent variables to one. For homework everyone was to figure out my chicken problem. 

The plan is to make it 6’ X 10’, with one end up against the coop door which the chickens will get to via one of the ladders. We don’t want to undersize it or “our girls” would fight and get sick. We’re using hardware cloth which has smaller openings than traditional “chicken wire” so as to better protect them from snakes, possums, raccoon, foxes, hawks, coyote, fisher cats, and bobcats. (Yes! We have these carnivores around here!) Maybe we’ll layer regular chicken wire with the hardware cloth. We need guidance on whether or not to lay wire over the top too. But at least we know to make the width no more than four feet. Factoid: A hawk will not land in such an narrow space even if we decide not to make a wire roof.

I’m so into this, I can’t think on anything else, if you get my meaning. Anything.

Pop clears his throat and closes his laptop.  Isabel? On another topic? Mimi folds the paper she hadn’t gotten to this morning.

I sense a pre-arranged scheme here. 

Hmmmm, Pop?  I’ve been multiplying length and widths to get an idea on how much hardware fabric we want. I’ve got figures scribbled on five sheets of chart paper.

Isabel, we have more information about the preliminary hearing.

And then while one part of my brain spots my math mistake, the other part sees my mistake in allowing myself to be chicken-lulled.  I hate that guy so much, I mutter. 

Isabel, let’s call him by his name. Mimi is stern.

What is it, anyhow?

A. Spinoza Smith. Mr. Smith.

Okay, so, what do you know about what happened in Mister Smith’s preliminary hearing?

Pop opens the laptop. The prosecutor e-mailed me a rundown on how it went.

I interrupt. Olivier said that the police would have pictures of the crime scene and measurements and test results and stuff like that.

Pop looks surprised. Yup, a report was given to the judge. What else did Oliver tell you?

The prosecutors will accuse the guy, er, they’ll accuse Mr. SMITH of breaking a specific law.  He didn’t know what law. Maybe “Murder One.”

Pop and Mimi look shocked when I say Murder One. 

Pop studies the e-mail.  Mr. Smith will be prosecuted based on the law that says he caused a death by being criminally negligent with a motor vehicle.

TWO deaths, Pop. Morning glory muffin crumbs fly out of my mouth. I’d say he’s a CRIMINAL all right.

Well, Pop sweeps the crumbs off my math figures and into his hand, athis hearing, the defendant–Mr. Smith–entered a plea. It was his opportunity to say whether HE thinks he’s guilty or innocent of breaking this particular law.

Mimi elaborates: Mr. Smith entered a plea of not guilty.

I snort. That figures.

Pop nods.  And we agree. We don’t think he’s guilty of being criminally negligent either.

What?!!!  How can you two say this! He killed Mom and Dad. They’re DEADI stomp my feet; I can’t jump up because I have How to Talk Chicken, my iPad, the spice tea mug, half a huge muffin top, and the litter of math computations on my lap.

Stop! Mimi holds my chin between her thumb and pointer finger. LISTEN TO US!

This shuts me up. Immediately.

But not because I want to listen.

It’s because the last time anyone held my chin and told me to listen was this summer.  And it was Mom.

-isabel scheherazade who’s remembering another Dad-Shakespeare quote: “Days of absence, sad and dreary, clothed in sorrow’s dark array, days of absence, I am weary; they I love are far away.”

Isabelcurlyheadfrombackonchair

# “You ain’t nothing but a hound dog” meets up with # “the world will lose its motion love if I prove false to thee.” Court Caper Part 5. (“Chapter” 44)

Freeze-frame.

As the door clicks shut on the dying caper, instead of life flashing in front of my eyes, three visions sparkle like emeralds in the dust.

Vision One:

When the twins were into board books, a favorite was A is for Activist—an apt title for the library of unapologetic activists such as my parents. Frequently we’d all pile into the van for a women’s march or a pick-up-litter morning or a let’s-help-plant-a-trillion trees project: Environmental justice, civil rights, global warming, LGBTQ rights—my parents were involved in making the world a better place. Waving the stiff pages of A is for Activist aloft, while Sam and Clyde stomped their tiny feet and pumped their chubby arms, I’d chant and dance to stanzas like this: “A is for Activist/Advocate/Abolitionist/Ally. Actively Answering A call to Action. Y is for You. Youth/Your planet/Your rights/Your future/Your truth. Y is for Yes. Yes! Yes! Yes!”  

Pretty cool.

I read it so much, I identified AS an activist; but, truthfully? I was still a kid. Aside from those rallies and VoteForward letter campaigns and door to door efforts, on my own I hadn’t done much, certainly not like Greta Thunberg.  But tons of A is for Activist readings gifted me a soaring, mindless, boundless definition of myself as a do-er. And, it gave me enough umph to attempt the court caper.

Vision Two:

After the I-thought-I-was-an-activist image,  meringue-making seeped into my stream of consciousness.

Some things are hard to learn how to do. Like making meringue. Unless you know how, meringues flop. Wait until the egg whites have reached the soft peak stage? Don’t drip yolk in. Don’t use a wet or dirty bowl. Use the right sugar? Wrong whisk? When to add the sugar and beat? Use a electric mixer at a lower speed?  Did I beat too quickly? How did those large air bubbles get there!

I think the Court Caper was doomed from the beginning because I didn’t know what I was doing and what I would do when I got to where I didn’t know what I was doing. My activist persona tractored me up and out of school and emboldened me to lie and sneak. But, ill informed,  I flopped.

Vision Three: (From the Way-Back seat of my memory.)

When my parents got married, they had Dad’s dog, Dusty. Dusty was part beagle and part barker. At the end—he was 17–and this happened when I was four, so I remember it pretty well–at the end, he had this neck problem; his head hung. I had to lie on the floor to talk to him. I loved that dog. I used to sing him the Elvis song “You ain’t nothing but a hound dog” but I’d change the “hound” to “hang.”  Well, anyway, right now, in the courthouse with Mimi and Pop, I’m Doing the Dusty as Mom used to call it. Hanging my head.

End freeze-frame.

The sight of Mimi and Pop’s faces deflates me like one of my merengues. I’m ashamed. That’s the word for it. I am really, really ashamed. And worried. Worried that Mimi and Pop won’t trust me. Or love me.

So, what happens next, you ask. Am I grounded? Punished? Fitted for electronic ankle bracelets?  Sent to the Home for Little Wanderers?

Nope.

First off: They hug me. And Pop channels his inner Ralph Stanley and hum-sings: The storms are on the ocean; the heavens may cease to be; this world may lose its motion love, if we prove false to thee.

Good thing I’m in this Mimi-Pop sandwich because I go all weightless and light-headed when I remember Dad and Mom harmonizing the first part of this song: I’m going away to leave you, love, I’m going away for a while; but I’ll return to you some time if I go 10,000 miles.

O.K. Pop clears his throat for action.  Before we get started on the scolding and such, Isabel, you need to know that we’ll always love you. He’s got his palms on my shoulders, maybe to give me ballast.

No matter, adds Mimi, as she straightens up and pats my arms. No matter what.

I believe them–Oliver’s already told me it’s called unconditional love; he feels it all the time with his Zia and Pop and Mimi. Oliver’s theory is that Mimi and Pop weren’t ready to take on the rearing of  me and Clyde and Sam, like their parenting skills had rusted. He estimated that they were in Phase One of Adjusting to Life with Kids Again. (He, of course, is an expert having watched a few films with titles like: Surrounded with Love: Grandparents Raising Grandchildren and The Face of Kinship Care.)

If he’s right, then this moment is the start of Phase Two.

–Isabel Scheherazade who’s “doing the Dusty”

#36. I learn Oliver’s theory for why Mom and Dad emerge regularly in the Way-Back seat of my memory. (BTW: This blog is for all ages, um, maybe not 5-year olds.)

Oliver reads my blog.

Just so you know, Mimi and Pop read it too. I’m not TOTALLY unsupervised.

Caveat.*  I might decide to delay posting my write-up about an “incident” until it’s all over and done with, so to speak; that is, until it’s “public knowledge.” After making this statement, if I were Sherlock Holmes, I’d tap the side of my nose meaning we all know what I mean, wink wink. It’s our little secret. 

My “when to publish it” protocol is akin to a Mom “incident” back when she was an undergrad. She wanted to explore the personal side of Elvis Presley at Graceland Mansion, maybe even see Lisa Marie, his daughter. It was part of her thesis topic. So, with her roommates, she drove the yellow Volkswagen Bug (it was still functioning as our second car when it got wrecked by the murderer) non-stop from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine to Memphis, Tennessee, where they got the first tour, didn’t see Lisa Marie, but did get to sit in the Jungle Room and shuffle through the green shag carpets. They drove back, also non-stop, munching granola bars and swilling coke and coffee. And gushing and giggling about Elvis and his police badge collection. (I guess you need to be there to appreciate this.) Later that year, she told her Dad. That’s what I mean by “delaying.”

Now back to the “Oliver reading my blog” paragraph:  Oliver is a focuser. He concentrates and studies and researches until he gets a complete “read” on ideas. He’s like the laser beam on the new bar-code scanner at our library. (Sam, Clyde and I love it; Pop and Mimi are terrified of it.)  Here’s an example of the usefulness of his lazer-focus.

I’ll set the scene:  We’re working at opposite ends of Sir Isaac. Oliver is combing thistle from his tail and I’m patting lineament onto a sore spot where his bridle rubbed him the wrong way.

Isabel, I’ve been thinking about when you found the feather and sensed that your Dad was trying to tell you something.

(Not sure I should have shared that with him.)  What about it?

Don’t think you’re losing it when this happens.

Losing it? What are you talking about Oliver? He’s hit a sore spot with the words “losing it.” I might need some of Sir Isaac’s lineament, this comment bridles me so much.  (I adore constructing puns. Adore it. I can distract myself this way even in the midst of being sore and bridled.)

Oliver drops another thistle into his leather apron pocket and looks along Sir Isaac’s flank at me. continuing connection with the deceased loved ones is normal. (Honestly, can you believe it? He actually talks like this.) The connection gives solace.

Solace? I kiss Sir Isaac’s nose and check the underside of the new bridle for roughness.

Comfort. So when your Dad gets you to reread that quote about the tower and another time pushes you to hop into Four Square? He’s maintaining a connection to you, giving support from afar. Or maybe he’s not so far. I dunno. 

And that’s something your Wikipedia experts say is not losing it?  I’m skeptical, but listening. I have no mental files on this; no prior knowledge that would help me get a grasp; no schemata, as Mr. Grim likes to say.

Absolutely! Oliver nods sagely, or in a manner he thinks is sage.  You can move forward. You can get on with your new life. But you don’t need to let go of your Mom and Dad. It’s great that they’re sitting in the Way-Back seat of your memory waiting for you to tune in to them. Maybe it’s like you’re tuning a radio, twisting the dial back and forth.  And, PRESTO! Suddenly you get “Hugh and Miriam”instead of the local weather on WAMC. 

I ponder this while he mostly hums Long Monday, the John Prine song that inspired the way-back seat imagery.

I’m grateful to Oliver for his explanation. And, I’m sure Mimi and Pop will talk with me about it, once I “post” this entry and they read it. That’s okay. It might spread some solace on our sore hearts. Like lineament.

Isabel Scheherazade

*I love the word caveat! It comes from the Latin word for “let a person beware.” Oliver and I found out about it by way of researching the preliminary hearing challenge. Oliver wonders if we could file a “Caveat Petition.”  Caveat Petitions are precautionary measures a person can take if she thinks some case related to her is going to be filed in court. Oliver thinks it might be one way for me to insert myself into the Preliminary Hearing and alter the murderer’s pleas.

But you don’t actually know if petitioning is what I should do, Oliver? I ask him.

He shakes his head no. Sounds promising though.

isabelwithlegupwriting.jpg

 

Read the rest of this entry »

#35. Emotional anguish is anguishing; then a memory from the Way-Back seat helps me deal with a Front-Seat, classroom challenge. Magic again?

Mr Grim asks me to help Joe who somehow didn’t learn long division-with-remainders way back when you’re supposed to. He’s been home-schooled up until this year and, although he can do the “mad minute” drill-and-practice basic division facts sheets in less than a minute, long division is a quagmire for him. This is a problem (pun intended!!) because Joe is going to need it in order to understand our pre-algebra topics such as integer arithmetic, simplifying expressions, and solving equations.

What happens next occurred the morning after Pop told me we were not going to the Preliminary Hearing. I was in turmoil, so much so at first I didn’t think I could push this turmoil aside to focus on Joe.

Suddenly Mom shows up in the Way-Back seat of my memory, or whatever this magic thing is that happens to me now. And I get a crystalline recollection of how she taught me long division:

My teacher’s introductory long-division-with-remainders-lesson was as clear as mud. The whiteboard was a mash-up of arrows and tiny numbers and cross-outs. Her “magic” erase marker ran low on ink early on, causing the digits to get fainter and fainter. And the squeaking! It was deafening. I admit that this squeaky marker distracted me from the lesson. Is the squeakiness from static friction being broken and reestablished as she scribbles more and more feverishly?  I wondered.  Maybe the solvent in the marker tip isn’t working or mixing with the ink so it doesn’t lubricate it enough? Also distracting me was the teacher’s constant calling to us over her shoulder that this was our grand “journey into long division with remainders!” To make matters worse—this is hard to believe because I’m relatively short for my class now—I was the tallest girl in my class that year. (I hope I haven’t had my last growth spurt; you only have 4 in a lifetime.)  My tallness kept me in the back row behind a hefty boy. I couldn’t see very well.

When I get home that day I tell Mom Long division with remainders! I don’t get it!!

No problem, Isabel. She pats the couch cushion next to her and says, Come, sit. I’ll show you a trick. 

She flips to an empty page in her notebook, licks the tip of her pencil, and writes “Dad. Makes. Scrumptious. Brownies.” Remember this sentence she tells me, while underlining the first letter of each word. These first letters will remind you what to do in what order. D for Divide. M for Multiply. S for subtract, and B for bring down. (It’s called a mnemonic.) Watch.

Dromedaries are the main mode of transportation in the desert. (Mom loved exotic places.) They get very thirsty. She pauses to sketch a little pool of water surrounded by Dromedaries and palm trees.  At the oasis, this one-humped animal drinks twenty-six gallons of water in ten minutes, how many gallons can it drink in one minute? This is important for a Dromedary’s driver to know, just in case he needs to jump on his steed after only a minute of drinking.  She points to the words.  Dad. Makes. Scrumptious. Brownies. Divide. Multiply. Subtract. Bring down. She jots the numbers after each word. Answer?  2.6 gallons.

She writes out another problem. She hands me the pencil. Here. You do it. And she sits back and watches me, nodding. 

I write D.M.S.B  on the top of the page, lick my pencil tip, and use it to journey into long division with remainders.

I shake my head to get me out of this Way-Back seat memory into the Front-Seat of my classroom and Joe.

Ahem. Joe. I know a trick that’ll help you. It’s called a mnemonic. I pat the chair next to me. Come sit. He moves over, I begin.

I lick the tip of my pencil and write “Dad Makes Scrumptious Brownies.”  Remember this sentence, Joe.

While I underline D M S and B, Mom’s words flow into my head as if through  invisible Bose Open Earbuds (The MSNBC ad says you can talk with your friends or hear traffic while at the same time listening to music if you use them. Dad used to watch a little Morning Joe before school. This is how I know some current culture.)

These first letters remind you what to do in what order. D for Divide. M for Multiply. S for subtract, and B for bring down. Watch.

Dromedaries are the main mode of transportation in the desert.  They get very thirsty. I pause to sketch a little pool of water surrounded by some one-humped desert creatures and palm trees. At the oasis…

I become Mom. The same script, word for word. Even my voice dips deeper like hers used to when she was being ultra-patient.

My student looks back and forth between me and the paper, putting two and two together, if you know what I mean. Mr. Grim is listening from where he’s perched, helping another student nearby.  So, let’s do another one together, okay? 

A caravan of six Dromedaries  is carrying 348 pounds of exotic rice to Egypt. (I do six stick-figure Dromedaries with bags draped in front of their one hump. As I sketch, to keep it informal, I tell Joe Dromedaries are the Arabian, short-haired camels that withstand the heat better than their two-humped cousins, the Bactrian camels.) The rice has been divided equally. Each animal carries the same amount of rice. What size is each  load? I tilt the paper towards him.

Joe licks his pencil tip, gets a grip, and writes out 348 divided by 6.  He whispers Dad and divides 34 into 6; makes and multiplies 5 times 6;  scrumptious and subtracts 30 from 36; brownies and brings down the 8. He stares at the 48 and says Dad Makes Scrumptious Brownies, and starts the process again. I watch and nod. He writes 58 and looks up, grinning.

We do a few more. Joe’s launched. He thanks me. Mr. Grim thanks me.  And I thank Mom.

isabelwithlegupwriting.jpg(sketches by my friend Ryan)

#33. Mimi and Pop’s Answer to My Question. (Don’t read this if you want to stay calm.)

Isabel. Pop points to the nook bench. Sit down. Now.

I cave.  Okay.

And Pop begins.

He uses his deep, serious lawyer voice. I never saw him during one of his trials (he took early retirement when we came to live here), but I picture him as an Atticus type, as in Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird? That Atticus? (After my school reading group did the book, Pop took me to see the Broadway play last winter.)

He places his hands palm down on the table and smoothes the surface as if flattening invisible documents.  I want to explain what a preliminary hearing is, Isabel.

I give a whatever shrug*. 

Oliver has already described it to me, The preliminary hearing is when the judge listens to the police tell what the guy is accused of doing. While we curried Sir Isaac the other day, he explained how he’d gone to the library and read all the articles about the murder. He looked up preliminary hearings on Google and Wikipedia. He even watched old Court TV shows. Of course he has extensive personal experience from the emancipation court hearings.

But come to find out, Oliver doesn’t know the half of it. I sit straighter and lean forward when Pop says,  During the preliminary hearing the person accused of a crime pleads guilty or not guilty. It’s called “entering a plea.”

A plea, Pop? It sounds like “please,” so I make some guesses. Like he’s going to beg? My voice wears a sharp edge. Like he’ll say, “Please. Please. Don’t put me in jail and throw away the key just because I murdered two people.”

Pop raises his eyebrow. He hasn’t heard me talk tough before. Well, it’s new to me, too, but I’m glad.  It gives me courage,

No, it’s not like that, Isabel. Pop says. It’s when the judge tells him what he’s been charged with, and the man has the opportunity to say whether he’s guilty or not guilty.

Hit me with a brick, why don’t you; I’m that stunned. Like there’s a question? This guy is GUILTY. I grab Pop’s hands and shake them. Mom and Dad are dead, Pop. Or did you forget? 

As soon as I say this, I wish I could hit the delete key.

Isabel Scheherazade, tough-girl in training

isabelcrossleg21.jpg

*PS  This shrugging business? Mom and Dad didn’t like it. They said shrugging is a form of non-verbal violence that doesn’t contribute to the conversation in a positive way. (They talked like that. I miss it. Well, I miss it now.) Mimi and Pop haven’t said anything to me about my shrugging. Yet. We’re still too new with each other.

#28. The sadness table gets set up in an unexpected place: outside Clyde’s Kindergarten room.

When Dad took me to swim lessons at the YMCA, the first week I was fine. But the next week I hold onto the parking meter and bawl my eyes out. I didn’t know that Going-For-Swim-Lessons was something that happened over and over!  Clyde is confused in the same way too.

Well, Clyde, says Pop. You see, it’s like this. You have to go to school EVERY day.

Clyde’s face falls like a popped balloon. He whimpers; but, what he says next breaks my heart. I want Mommy! I want Mommy!

I’m finding out that my family’s sadness meal is a long one. And the table gets set up in unexpected places. I’m pretty sure we kids have never actually said “I want Mommy” out loud since she was murdered.

It gets real quiet in the hallway.

Just then Sam bursts out of the other Kindergarten room with his teacher, Miss Honey.  (I’m not kidding. Her name is Miss HONEY, just like the teacher in Matilda, the teacher we all loved and wanted, the protection from Miss Trunchbull’s Chokey!) I squint my eyes as they approach. There’s something familiar about the way they look racing up to us, hand in hand. I can’t put my finger on it, though.

Sam lets go of Miss Honey and takes Clyde’s hand. They turn to face the rest of us with that we-twins-against-the-world stance. Clyde already seems braver with Sam next to him.

Good. Well, then. Pop stands up and takes charge. Here’s what we need to do. The principal looks like she’s going to say something, but Pop–this guy is so cool, he could calm a barracuda that hasn’t eaten in a week–he just keeps talking. Clyde and Sam need to be in the same room. 

When Mimi and Pop registered us, the principal said that it would be “inadvisable” to have the twins in the same classroom. “Twins need to learn to be on their own,” she lectured, like we were school kids. Well, I AM a school kid, but Pop and Mimi? I mean, really. They’re old!

Pop clears his throat. He’s got an Abraham Lincoln look about him anyway, but right now he’s awesome, more like the Lincoln Memorial. I’m sorry. I should have insisted on this earlier. Someday Sam and Clyde can be in different classrooms.  Right now, however, right now? They need each other.

And that was it.  Miss Honey takes Sam and Clyde by the hand, and they head back to her room.

And, sigh! I head back to mine.

-Isabel Scheherazade

isabelwithlegupwriting.jpg(sketches by my friend Ryan)

#26. Pity party alert: I’ve got two examples of how school makes me feel. And it isn’t good. I mean the examples are good. School isn’t.

The last time we had a family vacation–two months ago–Mom and Dad brought us kids to Cape Cod. We rented a cottage with its own set of dirt and log steps to a sandy beach which, even at low tide, was funfunfun. But it’s what was in the cottage that I want to write about.

That first day, when I walk into the kitchen, I see this droopy, flannel shirt hanging on a hook behind the back door.  Left-over and forgotten.

Like me. (Um, perhaps I’m exaggerating here. I haven’t been forgotten, although I’m definitely part of a left-over family.)

Not that I feel sorry for myself or anything, but, besides the I’m-a-forgotten-shirt comparison I thought of another example of how I feel about school. It comes from the way-back seat too.

Dad says, You need a brother break, Isabel; let’s go fishing! He shows me how to plop my line in the water just behind a rock or a log. This is a favorite spot for trout, he explains. They like to stay out of the fast-moving water. I spy a big, old trout lurking in the shelter of a rock while the water rushes around him.

At school, I’m like that trout.  Kids stream around me, nobody notices; no one steps out of the main flow of people to make me comfortable.

That’s a Mimi word, by the way: comfortable.  She says, “Anyone visiting at our house has to be made to feel comfortable. It’s not enough to be polite; you need to go out of your way to make whoever it is feel at ease.”

Well, I’ll just say this: the kids at my new school haven’t heard of Mimi’s rule.

isabelcrossleg21.jpgISABEL (sketches by my friend, Ryan)

# 25. First day of school blues. “Get through it,” say Mimi and Pop. I’ve got a Way-Back Seat memory of other situations where I used to get through hard stuff.

School started today, sad to say. We registered last week and got a tour. The principal showed our two families around. Mimi, Pop, Zia (we’re all calling her that now), Oliver, me, Clyde and Sam. The principal walks backwards while she faces us and talks, like a college kid giving a tour. She carries a walkie-talkie; I don’t know why we didn’t laugh about this, but, well, we weren’t seeing the silly side of things. She wore a shoulder pad suit and high high heels; I have never had an authority figure who wears such.

This is a K-12 school.  I’m worried. The twins will be out of my sight in the Lower School wing; how will they find me if there’s trouble? I’m in the Middle School. Oliver is part-time in the Upper School and part-time down the street at the vocational-agriculture school. I’m not sure why he’s so far ahead of me when he’s not that much older.

The new school is the one Dad went to, so that’s good. It’s had a few addition, solar panels, and community garden plots since then but it’s still has one of each grade except for the two small kindergarten.

My teacher must have told my classmates about Mom and Dad; everyone’s quiet and acting careful like they’re tiptoeing on glass, even though they’re not. Kids go silent when I come near.

Mimi and Pop told me this new-school startup is something I just have to Get Through.

It’s like the time I hiked with Mom and Dad to the meadow side of the Rock River Spillway. (We wanted to see the stone fish ladder–another story; later, though). To get there, we walk through woods loaded with pricker bushes.  When a thorny tangle blocks the way, Dad or Mom hold the branches up one at a time with as few fingers as possible. Clyde and Sam scoot underneath; we three big people bend over and follow. No one gets snagged, it just takes a looooong time to get to the fun part of the hike where the water rushes over sparkly rocks and the meadow is full of flowers. (And the fish ladder and little pools full of little fish who bypassed the mill!! But, like I said, later for this.)

We expected pricker bushes or obstacles of some sort on our hikes, and I guess Mimi and Pop think I should expect thorny stuff at school, too.

The comparison isn’t exactly the same.

I’m alone at school; no big Dad or Mom to protect me from the thorns.

isabelcrossleg21.jpgIsabel Scheherazade (sketches by my friend, Ryan)

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: