On the death of Desmond Tutu – 12/26/21



tutuI had the pleasure of meeting Bishop Tutu on the morning after his Nobel Peace Prize was announced, in 1984.

He was going to the Washington Post for an interview and I was going to my office next door.

As I am star-struck and given to chatting with strangers, I stopped to congratulate him as we strode past each other.

He clapped his hands and giggled, practically jumped up and down with joy, absolutely adorable.  “How do you know already?” he asked.

“It’s on all the news,” I said, laughing with this hero who helped end apartheid in South Africa. A perfect moment in my cache of memories.

When Nelson Mandela was released from prison a few years later, he too was interviewed by the Post and I was one of many who gathered nearby to watch as he entered the building, surrounded by bodyguards.

Working next door to the Washington Post was very exciting.

 

 

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You Go Girl ca. 1963



I don’t want to hear stupid
Girl you were never stupid, only foolish
Saw the stories in your books
but not the stories all around you
But now it’s done and what I say is
A woman’s place is with her husband
Your husband says go, you go
Don’t say you’ll miss me
Don’t say you’ll miss your mama
You had us all nineteen years of your little life
Now you have a husband
That’s all you have
That’s all you’ll ever have
‘Cept children
You’ll have those too
for a while
I had eight
Children
All gone now, the girls like your mama following their husbands
because I said so
Don’t matter if they slap you around
Make you feel panic like dirt flying off a swept floor
I got thirteen grandchildren
And I’m telling you grandchild
Your place is with your husband
He says go, you go

The Used Violin



The son of impoverished refugees was given a used violin for his tenth birthday which he neither asked for nor wanted.  old violin

After months of attempting to master the instrument, he came to believe that screeching discord would forever be the fruit of his labor. He could not make it resonate with beauty. His heart would never dance when he eyed the thing in its ragged case or plucked its weary strings. And, though always a gentle boy, in a fit of frustration one day he smashed the violin and hid the pieces in his closet.

“Where are you going?” his mother called, as he attempted a nonchalant exit from their little backyard, where she was hanging laundry. “You have to practice.”

Suddenly overcome with remorse, he couldn’t look at her, knowing that she had saved pennies from her tailor’s wages to finally purchase the object he had just destroyed, an object that had been lovingly handled by scores of boys before him.

He never played an instrument again, but he loved his mother dutifully evermore and upon the birth of his first child he purchased a piano as an homage to her. His children became musicians and at each recital, each concert he felt her presence, her pride and her forgiveness.

 

 

Ironing Handkerchiefs



minnie and donna0001

Remembering my mother

It is 1977 and I fold a load of laundry at the kitchen table. The noonday sun suffuses the large airy room and my mood with warm comfort and I reminisce:

It is 1972 and I am folding laundry in my bedroom. The radio is on and a frantic voice says “George Wallace has been shot.” My baser self thinks, “Good,” but my kind side, the one I inherited from my mother, thinks about his wife and children. Does he have parents? I am a mother and daughter, primed to sidestep politics and feel the human side of a story.

I take my husband’s shirts to the ironing board, out of the sun’s reach, and think of the Tillie Olsen story that begins with a woman ironing and musing. I am that woman, musing about my mother sweating over the ironing board in our dark, cramped apartment, teaching me to iron handkerchiefs.

I have a PhD in ironing handkerchiefs.

 

Ocean Air



kids in ocean (2)In the time of corona, I long for the sea.

From Philly, where I grew up, it was only about two hours to Atlantic City. As we approached the coast, the air grew cooler and the humidity of the city faded from memory. A stench of sulfur told us we were passing Egg Harbor. Then salt air breezed in, wiping away all unpleasantness and we knew we were almost there.

I practically hung out the window waiting for the Atlantic City skyline to come into view. This was decades before gambling and glitz took over, and I could pick out each grand old hotel, Steel Pier and Million Dollar Pier, and the spot where Mr. Peanut would bow genteelly to passersby and wave them in to a shop that roared with the frolicking sound of the roaster and teemed with the delectable salt water taffy coveted by visitors each summer.

Once we arrived at our rented flat it would take only a few minutes to toss our stuff into our rooms and head out to the beach. The best moment was climbing the stairs to the boardwalk and then clambering down another set of stairs onto the broad expanse of scorching sand. With burning feet we’d find the perfect spot for our blankets and umbrella and, amid shouted warnings from our exhausted parents, rush into the endless, gray Atlantic. If we were lucky, the jelly fish and stinging flies had not appeared yet and we could float and swim and ride the waves in bliss.

In the lonely time of corona, my mood lifts when I recall those days.

And just as the mood of my parents lifted then, as the sea air enfolded us, my mood lifts with anticipation of a day when I will walk along the water’s edge, my thirsty feet splayed among an array of shells peeking out of the cold mud. I will meet friends for dinner and we will drink a toast to all we have endured and enjoyed, to life.

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