umrita.

“Umrita” is an Icelandic word for “rewrite”

This seasonally-appropriate (it may be as cold in Manhattan as it is in Iceland) word bestowed by the omnivorous, entrepreneurial, idea-avore @BKGKristen

In the Houston interim between the baseball years and the rest of our lives, two unforeseen events occurred. First, another brother materialized, unceremoniously plopped in a crib wedged into the bedroom Baby Bother and I shared, thus eliminating the space previously occupied by our Lincoln Log fort-building enterprises. The second — and far more momentous — occasion was the appearance of a roll top desk, capped with a cherry-red bow.

Umrita-countyJammed between our all-purpose dining table and the narrow passage to the galley kitchen, the spindly roll top was a thing of wonder, my own space, mine, semi-ambulatory Baby Brother forbidden to touch, a space wide enough to spread my school drawings — those burst of enthusiasm that, upon further reflection, were not quite hitting the mark I initially envisioned but with a smudge-erase-recolor might transform into something fridge-display worthy — and private enough to store my treasures.

For the first few enthralling months, I padded into the kitchen and, before eating my Cheerios, carefully rolled the desk open to discover a small gift from my parents: colored pencils, an assortment of erasers, construction paper of varying size and hue. My desk, where I wrote small stories and drew complicated pictures and performed complex plays with multiple Skipper dolls. Not Barbies, never Barbie, Barbie had breasts and was therefore expressly forbidden, so I made do with Barbie’s younger, flat-chested sister, so lacking in popularity only one version of her was manufactured, I chopped the hair off one and put ponytails on another in an attempt to imbue them with individual personalities.

Writing with wine

Writing with wine

My desk, my stage of wonder, was placed in the boys’ room when we moved to Mississippi, where I had a room of my own at last, my mother’s vision of a young girl’s fantasy bedroom: canopy bed, ruffles, matching white-washed and faux-gilded  furniture. No place for a worn wooden roll top.

The roll top desk became the domain of Baby Brother, scratched by his school studies, nicked by frustrations with his handwritten essays, his ever-enlarging form growing ever more hunched as the books thickened and the subjects increased in difficulty, the roll top carried him through grade school, junior high, high school all the way to his departure for military academy greatness.

Rewriting at Elsewhere Espresso

Rewriting at Elsewhere Espresso

in time, the roll top retired to an unobtrusive corner of the spare bedroom-slash-crafting-room in my parents home, relieved of active duty beyond serving as a catch-all storage space, no longer the springboard for a young person’s dreams.

The now-adult Baby Brother asserts — in tones commensurate with one accustomed to commanding squadrons — his claim, his inheritance intentions toward the roll top. With military-grade deniability, he insists the desk was always his, his alone. He occasionally convinces my mother of this, forcing me to counter with stories of my own to accurately correct her recollections.

Our memories — mine, Baby Brother’s — jockeying for dominance, equally potent, one poised to override the other, erase the other, reduce the other to an ignominious smudge. History to be written by the winner.

“umrita” handwritten on a brisk evening with a Candied Ginger Old Fashioned at locavore dining destination County (grammercy, nyc) and edited just before snowfall with a couple of nutty-rich Americanos at Elsewhere Espresso (east village, nyc).

umrita

WordBowl is an equal-opportunity word lottery. Drop in a word today:

amygdala.

Amygdala are almond-shaped nuclei located deep within the temporal lobes of the brain; Considered part of the limbic system, research shows evidence amygdala perform a primary role in the processing of memory and emotion.

This cerebral, laden word courtesy of the cerebral, complex Mr. Keith Wallace. 

WBamygdala

They found my Nana in a dumpster just off the main drag of the town nearest her modest acre abutting one of her daughter’s farms. The search was over two weeks gone before they called in the dogs, the ones returning from sniffing out bodies amongst the earthquake rubble in Mexico. But it was one of the local deputies who pulled her still-breathing body from the pile of rotting fast food and broken crates, crusted industrial condiment cans with jagged tops clinging to their cylindrical bodies, congealed catsup on ether side of the garroted gash.

My mother did not want to worry us. We were told after Nana was stable, hospitalized where she had no nursing affiliation but my uncle had influence. Bones can be knitted together. Brains, with their myriad of thoughts and memories and knowledge, a more delicate task. Even in the best cases, faulty, like a misaligned joint aching in premonition of weather shifts.

First margarita of 2014, writing amidst the last vestiges of holiday decor

Writing amidst the last vestiges of holiday decor

Nana of my memory: unseemly paperback novels passed to me the moment she finished (Coma, The Other Side of Midnight), chocolate chip waffles topped with ice cream for Friday Night Dinner (her interpretation of classic Catholic dogma), card playing until the wee hours, hushing one another’s giggles so as not to wake my parents.

They mended her body. Her mind remained fractured.

She may have declined into dementia before the event. There were signs, we Monday Morning Quarterbacks agreed: the age-inappropriate garage sale gifts, as though we were not expected to grow or we grandchildren were so voluminous as to be interchangeable. The bag of cash she stashed in her oven and forgot until it caught on fire. Her adamant disremembering of unfavorable card game scores. We did not use the word Alzheimer’s, then.

Years after Nana’s hot-as-Hades funeral, I gleaned occasional tidbits as to what she was like, my Nana, in the twilight between abduction and death.

Apropos of nothing other than a half-glass of Chardonnay, my mother described, tears welling, a rare afternoon outing at a local mall. Nana wailing, “I’ve soiled myself like the babies whose diapers I used to change,” crying until my mother and my aunt maneuvered her back to the hospice, removed her filthy undergarments, fitted her with a diaper.

Winter afternoon view, Cafe Ost

Winter afternoon view, Cafe Ost

In her brief lucid moments, Nana was apparently capable of feeling shame, a cruel cosmic joke played on a woman whose mother ran off with the youngest baby, leaving Nana to raise her remaining brother; a woman whose husband died in a plane crash returning from WWII, or hung himself, or was assassinated for being a spy, depending on the family legend to which one ascribed; a woman who raised five children on her own while perusing her PhD; a woman who took in her estranged mother when she landed destitute on her doorstep.

If she could feel shame, could she also fear? Did she remember, in those feeding tube-fed, adult diaper-swaddled years, what happened to put her there?

The police closed the case, as if to spare us from the trauma of further investigation, as if the tragic results rendered additional facts moot. Nana, the Nana we knew, survived only in our memories.

“amygdala” was handwritten with the first margarita of 2014 at Hecho en Dumbo (bowery, nyc) and edited with a super-caffeinated espresso at Cafe Ost (east village, nyc)

What word tickles your fancy? I would love to include it in the WordBowl word lottery! Fill in the info below:

patience.


Our Word-of-the-Day is one of the very first suggestions submitted to WordBowl, delighted I drew it at last.  From the indomitable (and patient!) Amy Willstatter, media-maven, Moxie-Mom, early-edge entrepreneur.

patience

My mother gave birth to two boys as we idled in Houston waiting for my father — retired from MLB at twenty-seven, in need of a new vocation — to plow through pharmacy school; she gave birth twice again as we settled in Mississippi, waiting for my father to inherit a family business.

Great Uncle Ted and Great Aunt Myrtle instigated this scheme for their retirement, for my father to assume his “rightful” role.  They oversaw the construction of our new home, a symbol of our no-longer-peripatetic, now rooted life.

Weighing options at The Wayland (went with Sazerac)

Weighing options at The Wayland

My parent were no BabyBoomHippieCommuners, but the virgin backyard evoked some dormant bucolic dream, they drew up plans, tilled vegetable beds, planted snap bean bushes instead of hedges along the chain link fence. They selected saplings to supplement the towering, spindly pines, these new trees would grow, they claimed, to shade the bay window in the kitchen, Japanese Maples and Magnolias would in time cast dappled shadows on the terraced walkway, a willow would one day weep majestic in the back yard.

Between gardening sessions, my father taught me to throw a baseball, insisting I throw from the shoulder, like a boy, none of this girly from-the-wrist business. Hours we spent throwing, pitching balls to imaginary batters, or, one season, to knock slugs off the tomatoes, the year of an infestation no pesticide proved powerful enough to kill. We planted watermelons that year, too, which grew round as bowling balls and tasted just as sweet.

Healthy snap bean plants (in no way indicative of ours)

Healthy snap bean plants (in no way indicative of ours)

One year begat a bumper crop of snap beans, our family jammed around the kitchen table, snapping beans until our fingers reddened, an endless parade of beans at dinner, beans swimming in stewed tomatoes, beans glistening with butter and Morton’s salt, beans slathered with cream of mushroom soup, beans with diced frozen carrots, their uniform color and symmetry in sharp contrast to the beans snapped by fingers of varying sizes and strengths, beans boiled, frozen in plastic bags, thawed, cooked limp.

Trees grow more slowly than children, my city-bred parents discovered, and in order to weep, willows must be planted near water. We had maples only slightly taller than the snap beans or my young brothers, magnolias that bore a single blossom, and what we forever dubbed The Happy Willow, branches reaching uproarious to the sky.

The passion for gardening faded, beans supplanted by proper hedges, tomato beds replaced with flowers, sapling-sprouted trees watered and pruned with more prayerful hope than confidence.

PatienceEditGreat Uncle Ted staved off retirement for another year, and then another, my father his second-in-command. My brothers grew, eager for their presumptive baseball birthright, my father taught them to throw, to hit, to catch, the proper way to slide into third, games in which they took turns as pitcher, batter, catcher, shortstop, The Happy Willow serving as second base.

I graduated from college before my father assumed ownership of the family business, inherited the family home with its stoic, stately trees shading the bay windows, just as my parents once envisioned growing for themselves.

“patience” was handwritten with a Deep South-evoking Sazerac at The Wayland (east village, nyc) and was edited at the NYU branch of Think Coffee (nyc)

Do YOU have a word you think could be a story? Feel free to drop it into WordBowl!

alacrity.

“Alacrity” means “brisk and cheerful readiness; lively, eager” and was the suggestion of DonofallTrades (who claims to be master of none, but I find this statement suspect).

 

Seasonal Negroni at Madam Geneva

Seasonal Negroni at Madam Geneva

Train trip! Road trip! With Dad!

Despite hopping my first flight as a two-week old infant, cross-country road trips, airports awaiting the outcome of another game as our playoff advancement fate rested in the glove of another team, I had never actually traveled with my father.

Our itinerary: Houston to New Orleans via train, an evening with my father’s clan, returning to Houston in a passed-down station wagon too ancient to be considered an inheritance.

I packed appropriate accoutrements: crayons, books, favorite doll du jour. My mother added another suitcase of board games, activity books, horrifying my father who deemed toys unnecessary. In response to my mother’s perplexed query as to what his six-year-old daughter would do on a 10-hour train ride, my startled father replied:

“We’ll sleep, read, and look out the window.”

And thus my father and I embarked on our first — and last — journey together.

imagesWe settled into our facing window seats. I launched into a series of inquires as to what the uniformed conductors did, if they were not actually driving the train.

According to my father, the questions did not stop until we arrived in his hometown.

New Orleans, dinnertime, I ate alongside the adults, raw oysters, shrimp cocktail, cracked crab, me burbling with tales of flat vistas populated by cows and cattle and corn with blithe assumption of Grandmother Marie’s interest. Uncle Johnny — my father’s much older brother, a whole generation of history between them — arrived unannounced, his salesman bulk hovering, grabbed my fork, stabbed my crab, winked-wiggled me off the chair, proceeded to eat my dinner.

Never trusted that man.

Dad did not follow Mom’s road trip embarkation protocols. Puzzling, but I was capable of loading a car and inquiring of Grandmother Marie as to the availability of munch-ables.

Like Mother, like Son.

Judas Cocktail (think Franco-Manhattan) one of my final libations at The Beagle

Judas Cocktail (think Franco-Manhattan) one of my final libations at The Beagle

Resigned to dinner-pilfering relatives and snack-stingy immediate family, I settled into the passenger seat, a good little co-pilot, just as my mother instructed, prepared to initiate rounds of “Little Red Caboose”, “I Spy”, steady streams of spirited landscape commentary.

Driving with dad proved to be a more solitary, contemplative experience.

Attuned to the cadences of wheels, asphalt, window-framed vistas rushing by, I said, “You’re going too fast.”

He glanced at the speedometer, but his innate competitive athlete nature could not be quelled. He launched into a dissertation on Road Rules, including “keeping up with traffic”. I could not believe Mom would keep such secrets from me. I assumed he would appreciate my counsel, as he was accustomed to riding the team bus, while mom and I had driven through most every state in the country.

“Speeders go to jail.”

My father did not look at me in the stretched moments between the sirens, highway patrol pulling us to the shoulder in a spray of gravel, slow ride to the police station, ash-colored dust in our wake.

I cut the chattychatchat, ever my mother’s daughter, accustomed to athletes reliving a bobbled catch, bad throw, unsuccessful slide stealing home.

 Handwritten with enthusiasm at Madam Geneva (noho)  and the dearly departed Beagle  (east village).

Do YOU have a favorite word? A scintillating word? Drop it here:

ameliorate.

WordBowl Word of the Day “ameliorate” submitted by Kate Taylor — she of analytical mind and artistic heart — possessor of the World’s Greatest Laugh. 
ameliorate

My parents were mistaken, victims of malicious rumor mongering.  They told me I was too young to understand, which I dismissed with a wave of my stubby six-going-on-seven year old hand. Obviously, my grandfather could not be dead, as he was in the midst of building me a dollhouse, and PawPaw was not a quitter.

Magic Hour at Bee's Knees Baking Co.

Magic Hour at Bee’s Knees Baking Co.

Later, in the tight rooms of my father’s childhood home I called “Grandmother Marie’s” because I never saw PawPaw there, even though he must have lived there in between restless high seas adventures and unannounced visits to my family, I stared at a coverlet-covered bed PawPaw presumably shared with my Grandmother, a fact more incomprehensible than death.

I wandered into his workshop, tools lining one wall, gleaming lathe, menacing bandsaw, bench-mounted milling machine, pneumatic nailer, a single bed so low to the ground it was more seaman’s bunk, and a massive Royal competing with the more manly apparatuses for attention. I sidled up to the typewriter, half–hidden by plywood that upon closer inspection were cutouts for a dollhouse with three neat rows of windows, just as I described, when he asked what I imagined for my dream home.

My barstool neighbor's Happy Hour cocktail and snack festivities at Gusto

My barstool neighbor’s Happy Hour cocktail and snack festivities at Gusto

I left the cutouts exactly as he had, I hiked up onto the stool, sat at the typewriter and felt him, close, vivid, as though he was present, working, explaining each step as his hands brought life to wood, metal. I sat at the typewriter and willed him to me. I sat at the typewriter as rain hammered like nails, I sat at the typewriter as the afternoon thunderburst crashed, I sat at the typewriter as the storm softened into afternoon, I sat at the typewriter as I heard the drawling murmurs of those people who had attended the funeral arrived, I sat at the typewriter as sounds of china clinking and ice tinkling signaled the real moment of paying homage to PawPaw was to begin, I sat at the typewriter until my parents returned and drew me away with honeyed bribes of soft shell crab Po’ boys, crawfish hushpuppies, black-bottom pie.

The dollhouse never materialized, my father lacking his father’s skills, the wood disappeared in a pile of scrap hauled away by the people who profit in death. The typewriter — King of Royals — came home with us, living in the narrow storage room abutting the carport, spacebar hanging over the edge of the metal cart with one sticky wheel, it took me and a parent to haul it out, cart creaky across carport concrete, up the steps to the back door of our house.

I took over then, solo, rolling rickety on the harvest gold kitchen linoleum, alternately pushing and dragging over the semi-shag of the den, down the hallway, back to my bedroom where I would sit before my prize, memorizing the keys, hands poised as though I were at piano practice, and I would strike, hard, over and over, sometimes actual words but mostly a single letter made meaningful through repetition.

RoastingPlant

Bean-to-Cup Process at the Roasting Plant (west village)

WordBowl Word-of-the-Day “ameliorate” handwritten with a sparkling water at Gusto Ristorante E Bar Americano (west village), a green tea at Bee’s Knees Baking Co. (west village) and a powerful brew at Roasting Plant (west village). Yes, it was a single-village week…

veritable.

WordBowl Word-of-the-Day from media entreprenuer/Yankee fan/data analysis champion, the insatiably curious  K. Nanus

veritableword

In a town populated by blonde Baptists, our family — a dark-haired Catholic multitude — attracted attention, five kids in a land of two (parents)-by-two (progeny), five kids raised yes-ma’am, yes-sir, five kids who dared not contradict our elders, a plethora of politeness.

We were recognizable, interchangeable, a lump sum. Even our camera-exhausted parents passed off photographs of me — as the eldest, my young life was well-documented — as those of my sister, and it was years before Babiest Brother realized what he thought of as his baby photos were mostly his oldest brother’s. We have no Polaroids or Sears Portraits chronicling our collective childhood.

Veritable brainstorm, while writing another WordBowl word

Veritable brainstorm, while writing another WordBowl

There were occasional advantages to the gaggle of us: Blackberry picking in the still-wild adjacent woods, we gathered enough berries for a pie with some left over to top our Cheerios. Christmas mornings — even in the financially hazardous years —we gasped at first glimpse of our den, piled with presents. Later, wading through discarded wrapping paper, we acknowledged our individual hauls as perhaps a bit sparse, but the aggregate was staggering.

Summers — before my bothers reached the collective ages for baseball to dominate the season — we ruled the pool at The Racquet Club, organized raucous games of Marco Polo, Touch-the-Drain, aquatic Red Rover.The only way for someone else to win was to get us fighting amongst ourselves, not too difficult a task given the constant jockeying and scrambling for personal attention within our family itself.

Individual flattery worked, too.

End-of-the-season PORCH SWING (bourbon, house sweet tea, mint) cocktail at the southern-tinged restaurant The Readhead

End-of-the-season PORCH SWING (bourbon, house sweet tea, mint) cocktail at The Readhead

During the inevitable summer storms we would mad-dash to the ramshackle clubhouse, forage for loose change between vinyl seat cushions to feed the vending machines for icy cans of Barq’s Famous Olde Tyme Root Beer and Orange Fanta. We commandeered packs of playing cards from the lifeguards, surly at the interruption of their tanning schedule and, stripped of their high perch and reflective shades, reduced to mere mortal babysitters. We played War and Pounce and our own made-up game we called “poker” to justify penny gambling. We waited out the rain, until our pruned fingers softened to normal, our saggy suites dried in stiff creases.

When the skies cleared, we went right back at it, slip-sliding off the diving board, shouting and squabbling, ganging up on those who opposed us. Courteous with the parents strolling by, racquets swinging, their tennis whites glowing against deep tans, calling out for us to mow their lawns, babysit, tutor, ask our father — the retired major leaguer — to consider private coaching for their baseball-besotted sons. We were responsible in ways smaller-familied children were not. We assumed nothing our due, we were grateful for small kindnesses, we were too young to chafe at largesse. We were humble before adults, our Church, our teachers.

To outsiders there was something special, extraordinary even, about so many children so alike and well-mannered and industrious. Our last name morphed into a modifier, an emphasis. The very repetitiveness of us made us exemplary.

Our collective name defined us even as we grew, and separated ourselves from the herd.

Barqs

“veritable” handwritten at Southern-tinged restaurant The Redhead (east village, nyc) and edited over an iced pour-over coffee at Amor y Amargo (east village, nyc).

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