March 23, 2015

The New Sunday Dinner

My uncle was the best storyteller. He’d regale us with Sunday Dinner Stories of his Mama Sara and growing up in Tennessee. Sometimes, it’d just be pure fictional silliness, like the time his frenemy “Blue” had enough of his teasing and bashed his head in with a brick. He was a master of hyperbole and comedy. Somehow, we all ended up in stitches over his stitches.

Other times, my great aunt, a Jehovah’s Witness, would join us after a Kingdom Hall Sunday meeting. Inevitably the doorbell would ring with Jehovah’s Witnesses witnessing. On my way to answering the door, I’d tell my mom “It’s Jehovah’s Witnesses” and just as I’d open the door, my mom would yell “Tell ‘em we got one already!” I’d die a slow embarrassing death looking into the innocent eyes of the witnesses while everyone at the table laughed. Including my great aunt.

After dinner, we’d end up in the living room around the upright Mason piano adorned with our baby pictures and miscellaneous sheet music. My uncle plunked out songs, and my sister led the singing with her soaring soprano. My brothers, mom, dad (on a good day) and me -  ears plugged so I could sing harmony without straying onto the melody -- would join in the chorus.

I never realized I missed those stories, the singing and that time until today. I’m co-producing Milwaukee’s Listen to Your Mother Show, and our rehearsals are, ironically, on Sunday. The cast is seated at a table, not for dinner, but to tell their stories, have their stories be heard, and to bear witness to each other’s stories.

Photo: Alexandra Rosas

Like back in the day of the after church dinners, the Jehovah’s Witness doorbell still rings, but instead of the doorbells, it’s drills and out-of-doors construction; a kindergartner's loud-whisper; a new baby’s coo-singing, and our irrepressible sniffles and giggles in response to each other’s stories and all of the above.

It’s really what my family was doing all those years ago. I just didn't have a clue that that’s what we were doing nor did I have a name for it. I don’t know if I have a name for it now, to tell you the truth.

What I do know is that life is just a narrative that feeds the soul in one way or the other, just like the stories around our Sunday dinner table. Listen to Your Mother is a chance to counter the harsh, frightening narratives of news outlets that feed isolation and hopelessness.

Today, I heard funny, hopeful, sad, joyful, tragic and longing narratives that fed community and togetherness. It was like having Sunday dinner all over again.

And I was hungry for it.

Hungry for something good too? Click here to find a Listen to Your Mother Show in your area.

March 18, 2015

Questions Left By An Open Door

When I walked into the ladies room, I was greeted by oatmeal pasty thighs and blue veiny hands hitching up once-upon-a-time-white grandmaw panties.

They were attached to a woman who didn't seem to care that the open stall door left her exposed to me. I was rolling into work an hour early, half awake, half bitter and in dire need of another ninety minutes of sleep.

Maybe the potty training phase of my now 12 y/o girl is what left me unfazed: for about four months of my adult life, all I saw was panties, hineys and assorted potty poses; so I went on primping, preening and pretending that I was up for the song and dance act required for presenting my report at the monthly board meeting.

Once she had everything hitched, gathered up and zipped up, she exited the open stall and approached. Excuse me, I know a lot of people don’t smoke anymore… I listened to her pitch and noticed her acid-etched face wasn't too many years younger than mine, and her eyes were bright-white-blue, accented by eyeliner. She went on ...but if you smoke, can I buy a cigarette from you?

I rifled through my purse for smokes, assuring her there was no need to buy one, and then apologized when I realized I left them in the car. My new friend assured me it was okay, and explained her release from a four day hospital stint left her with a raging nicotine fit.

We parted ways.

She returned to her heap of belongings parked in front of the suite’s entrance to the nonprofit where I work. She was waiting for the place to open so she could be seen by a substance abuse counselor. She was here early to get help. I was here early because I had no other choice. Maybe we aren't so different, I thought while trekking down the dark hallway toward a back entrance, only accessible by fob.

Minutes later, the board assembled and did its usual business of approving minutes, reviewing financials and conducting due diligence according to Roberts Rules. I tap danced and sang about fundraising attempts and planning. But my bathroom buddy never entered any of our discussions, even though ultimately, we were all gathered to help her and people like her.

The board adjourned and I returned to workday busy-ness.

But she still lingered my mind’s eye. Her face, her eyes, her voice. Even the grandmaw panties. I wondered who she was ten years ago, what led her to that open bathroom stall and our doorstep waiting for help, and who cooed over her when she was a chubby rosy-cheeked baby with beautiful eyes.

I wondered if she knew I was really sorry about leaving the smokes in my car.