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Thursday, February 03, 2011

Stormy

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Snow clogs the air, ominously and thrillingly. It neutralizes time and blows into mind the Big Blizzard of ‘67 when I was smaller by a drift or two.

You were already a windswept woman in 1967, my raven sister, fruited in a peach twinset and slim wool pants, accentuating your hourglass. By the fire you styled my adolescent hair like Twiggy’s. You, a lover of storms. I could feel your excitement in the comb and clicking scissors as the skies emptied themselves, like feathers falling from seam-ripped pillows around the black oak trees outside our windows. My head was safe in your hands. You took such care with me.

You were wild. Like a restless, exotic bird, kept indoors. Not angry, though once in a while you cried out -– your energy misunderstood, sometimes dark, as complex and giving as thunderhead clouds -- sky-filling, gleaming, powerful and beautiful. But we of the minister’s clan must be quiet, controlled, stable. You were a little dangerous and unpredictable, with an immense, soft, roiling heart. Romantic, impassioned, with boundless vigor for design and fun that had to be somehow channeled through the church: Youth Group parties, bridal showers, champagneless-danceless weddings!

On that day in ‘67 it was as if you required a storm in your flesh, its turbulence a counterweight to restore and calm what bled in you like a red sky. You needed it. You greeted it, unafraid. When Mom said we were out of milk, it was your chance! You escaped the house-pocketed air for a staple from the grocery store, miles away, on foot. We barely understood, and you were gone! -- slogging with booted piston feet in knee-deep drifts, black hair flying like a crow leaning into the wind and stinging seeds of snow. You needed the storm’s blinding fury to temper and protect your wildness.

How could I know if you’d return? So many hours the blizzard howled on. I distracted myself with games of Sorry, Scrabble, Chinese Checkers. Lunch. Lying face first on the bamboo toboggan skimming down the hill between scores of oaks on the way to the iced lake. More games and staring into orange fireplace flames. On the snow fell. The light changed, the sky grew gray around black tree branches that bordered the deep, empty driveway.

Before nightfall, your stomping feet at the back door! Your crimson face as saturated as a morning sky -- Warning! The raven woman is back, and her black hair is shining blue! She carries milk in her brown paper bag -- triumphant! I wanted to dance a wild dance, like birds among the oak branches, the sky dumping confetti all around!



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69 comments:

amuse me said...

What a lovely, take-me-back-to-1967, post and pictures. I remember that storm well, and found time to play even if we were in high school!

Lorenzo — Alchemist's Pillow said...

Wow, this is wonderful. You had me at the "I was smaller by a drift or two", not knowing how much memory-furies this storm would unleash and shake the reader before setting us down so gently. The descriptions of the storm and sister are perfectly pitched, harmonize and merge. This prose poem unpacks such a strong epic-feeling emotional thrust that I find it astonishing to contemplate when it is finished that the only thing that has happened here is a walk for a jug of milk. But, I guess, such are the minds and moods of little girls as conjured up by a passion-seasoned and talented poetess a drift or two later.

Shari Sunday said...

I loved your story and I understood the drama. I miss it sometimes here in mostly endless moderate comfort. I do remember the times when just surviving seemed a great accomplishment and added zest to life. I have never experienced a storm such as you describe, but part of me would like to.

Andrew said...

Hello Neighbor! I like that and I love this story. Thank you for sharing it with us.

VioletSky said...

I have seen such fury. A good battle won, methinks!

kkrige said...

I love the emotions that you evoke with this piece. Being able to explode out of one's restrained harness is a blessing at times. Retreating into the crispness of the falling snow sounds magnificent and tempting to me.

Jane Lancaster said...

I love this Ruth... it's my kind of passion...Bronte passion...

cathyswatercolors said...

Ruth this a really beautiful. A tribute to your sister? Wonderful, you are brilliant.
That photo of the barn, ahhh.

Off today too, no heat in the school. I have been painting like a wild woman and eating lots of stir fried veggies:)
Solitude:)

Maureen said...

What a delicious gift for prose you have!

deb colarossi said...

I wanted to turn the page for more.

and more.

(and I used dance in my writing last night, btw )

Babs-beetle said...

A lovely glimpse of your sister ;)

I loved walking in a heavy downpour of rain (with no coat on) when I was a young girl. Very invigorating.

Julie said...

Awesome. I was holding my breath when the raven sister went out into the wild elements. Your images are powerful and beautiful. This description of her is so gorgeous and lyrical:

"...slogging with booted piston feet in knee-deep drifts, black hair flying like a crow leaning into the wind and stinging seeds of snow. You needed the storm’s blinding fury to temper and protect your wildness."

You made me love her!

I also love the immediacy of the writing. Even though it is a memory, it feels as if it is happening now. Wonderful!

Oliag said...

I have been thinking of you and wondering how you were fareing during your midwestern blizzard and I see now that it inspired you and I picture you sitting at your stove writing this. Whether it is fact or fiction doesn't really matter it is a wonderful story...and I rejoiced for your sister and you as she returned from the cold triumphant.

Stay safe and sound and hunkered down...

George said...

Beautiful, Ruth, a wonderful tribute to your sister and your own emergence as a writer. All good writing begins with memory, and you seem to have much of that in store.

Margaret Bednar said...

Bronte, indeed. Wow, Ruth. So much felt and revealed in this tiny glimpse of the past. A fascinating subject, really - the late 60's, large family, father a pastor. I wanted to read and know more ... Just wonderful.

rauf said...

Ruth, i don't know the difference between storms hurricanes and cyclones. Tornadoes are different, i have seen them in the movies. i have experienced none in my 63 years. We get cyclones here. i can say i have seen a half cyclone in my life. Next day i saw huge billboards fallen on the roads. Roof of a local railway station was blown away.

Blizzard yes only once, while i was on a trek through the Himalayas. i nearly lost my life. This was out of my own over confidence and stupidity. i ignored the warnings and went climbing up like an idiot

one more reason why i can't afford a winter like yours is, there is lot of labour involved.

M.L. Gallagher said...

I was so afraid she wouldn't return home. Or turned up, years later, children in tow, hair still wild like raven wings streaked with grey.

Fabulous story. Beautiful. Poetic. provocative.

Lovely.

Amy @ Soul Dipper said...

Poetic prose - what a portrait you painted, Ruth. Makes me want to know the road she chose - how she put all that wild power to work. I would love discovering this as a sister!

Anna said...

Ruth beautiful choice of words for your story. I think I read it with one breath, lol. Thanks for sharing this dramatic yet comforting story. Anna :)

ds said...

Ravens, crows, the smaller (by a drift or two) sister bird waiting. And the colors, from soft peach to violent red and blue-black! Oh, this is a powerful, visual, visceral piece--and such a tribute to your tempestuous (in a good way) sister!
Your versatility never ceases to amaze me.

Ruth said...

Really, Marion? You were in high school? That puts you between my sisters and me (you look very young and beautiful in your avatar, I thought you were younger than me).

Snow days are the best, giving everyone permission to go out and play.

Ruth said...

Lorenzo, thank you so much. Your comment is much in tune with the conversation I had with Inge last night, one that has become a refrain in our ongoing conversation: As we write memoir, how much is factual, and does it matter? I call it imagined memoir, although this piece is all quite factual (though perhaps synthesized a bit). But to get inside a memory, emotionally, and to in a way create the character of a real person by exploring her there, is something I really enjoy. I've been doing it a bit with Grandma Olive, but I have no memories of my own of her, and so that truly is a project for the imagination out of the bits of stories I've heard.

Ruth said...

Shari, there is so much in your comment! Your phrase "endless moderate comfort" is perfect for that Florida climate, and for so much of our American life, at least how I experience it. I do think that is why I love the drama of a storm, as something exciting that punctuates our rather mundane lives.

Ruth said...

Hi, Andrew, thank you for your encouraging visit!

Ruth said...

Violetski, you survived! I think experiences like this now and then are good for the soul, they remind us what fragile beings we are in Nature's power.

Ruth said...

kkrige, to "explode out of one's restrained harness" - - ! What a poetic way to say that. And yes, going into the cocoon of a blizzard is a retreat too. What a revelation. Thank you for your attentive comment.

Susan said...

Ruthie, I couldn't possibly come up with anything to say that hasn't already been said by others, other than you slay me with your stories. I knew that was Nancy at the very beginning. I could picture her cutting your hair...in your complete trust. How she must have cherished your adoration of her. I don't know why, but now I have tears.

Pauline said...

For one awful little moment I was worried your sister would not return - what a relief to have her make it home victorious! And what a brilliant description of her.

erin said...

Ruth, I don't know what to say. This is darned right beautiful to me in the way that I recognize it and it hurts. Funny how beauty is, isn't it? This is rare and important seeing first, and then writing.

thank you for this.

xo
erin

Deborah said...

I'm learning not to be envious, Ruth. But it must be OK to still say that I wish, I wish, I wish I had your way with words. You use them in such unconventional ways, and it makes your prose very fresh and original. As a writer, you are out of any kind of box -do you know what I mean? So many of us are stuck with the commonplace use of language, even if what we have to say or how we say it comes across well. But what you do is like...hmm...I'm looking for an analogy. OK, here's a poor one. You know the reaction you have when you see a woman (Italian, maybe!) who dresses really well, whose sense of style makes your head snap 'round? She could be wearing something really basic, but the cut, the drape, the details are just so. Elegant, striking, very classy.

Friko said...

What a lovely post.
You've made a prose poem out of an everyday memory.

Arti said...

I'd to hold my breath as I read this, Ruth... this is exactly what I was thinking: "How could I know if you’d return?" O, you all who grew up in a Minister's clan, what interesting stories you have... and what fresh memories you've preserved all these years. And that blue is the most beautiful blue: the farm house in your first picture. I just love that photo, unspeakable peace in a time of storm.

Tamara said...

As I look out the kitchen window and watch the windy taking hold of my dehydrated garden, I weep for knowing that in this 41 deg c heat, my garden in being shocked to death. I dont have the courage of the sister of your memories, to head outdoors and see what I can do to salvage - not until the sun sets will I venture out there..... Thank you for your inspiring creativity, your shared memories and a trip to another climate...

Ruth said...

Thank you, Jane. Yes, being lost on the moor, in search of something.

Ruth said...

Cathy, thank you. So, in these blizzarded days you are restoring your soul too. :)

Ruth said...

Maureen, you are so kind!

Ruth said...

Deb, thank you. I have many more with Nancy. I'll write them.

I'm off to reread your poem, and stare at that extraordinary photo of tartan.

Ruth said...

Babs, thank you. Heavy weather pulls the little girl out, in me even now. I remember sitting on the porch watching thunderstorms come and then stomping in the flooded drains in the street when they passed.

Ruth said...

Julie, I'm so grateful for your writerly attention to this piece. There is much love in it, and I rejoice that you felt it, in the present!

Ruth said...

Oliag, I appreciate your concern during the storm. It was the "perfect storm," arriving with drama and beauty, but very little inconvenience, and a couple of days off work for many. I'm glad you didn't get the dangerous ice we feared too. Thank you, I'm glad you liked this reminiscence of my dear sister.

Ruth said...

George, thank you. Your comment reinforces my gratitude for life in a big family, all of whom are pretty interesting characters. :) I hope you're enjoying a beautiful weekend, my friend.

Ruth said...

Margaret, thank you. No doubt you will get your wish and read more stories from our home. You know, I really love that I grew up in the '60s and '70s, such pivotal times.

And thank you again for your kind post with the bluebird painting and tribute poem! I love seeing that he arrived safe and snug there at your place. Yay!

Ruth said...

rauf, I think cyclones are only a different name for hurricanes, but I'm not sure. But is a half cyclone? (Picturing here a funnel cloud cut in half.) Maybe it wasn't blown up into a full one.

So scary that blizzard in the Himalayas, and gratefully you weren't lost. I was fascinated reading Moberg's Emigrant books, and in Minnesota during the winter they tied a rope from the house door to the barn door so they wouldn't lose their way during blizzards.

Ruth said...

Louise, thank you.

I like your imagined ending . . . makes me want to write a fiction about her. There is a book by someone (Dinesen?), in which she created a fiction about the life she had wished her parents had lived. I think that's fascinating. I like to think that if you imagined that, you might actually end up grateful that they lived the one they did.

Ruth said...

Amy, thank you. Nancy is a powerful woman, still going strong. We love each other very much. I will probably write more memory-stories about her and other family members sometime soon.

Ruth said...

Oh hello and thank you, Anna. It's so good to see you back. Big kiss to Matthew.

Ruth said...

ds, thank you, dear friend. Your kind words never cease to amaze me.

Lynda Lehmann said...

Your writing is wonderful! Absolutely stunning and expressive...

I'm glad I've just come across your blog, and will have to visit you again frequently.

I think we have "wildness" in common!

Marcie said...

What a powerful and beautiful memory....and so exceptionally written. I think we all have a 'raven-haired' fearless beauty in each of our childhood families!

Oh said...

THis is no ordinary sister, a wonderful wildness here, right from the fruited twinset and hourglass figure to the long flying dark hair - wonderful.

And I am so intrigued by the Twiggy haircut she rendered - how did it come out? Were you different with that hair? Oh, I was a big Twiggy fan, loved those striped dresses, remember?


Ah, but this sister - indeed, thanks for the intro or rather portrait of her, described by that act of buying milk in the blizzard, poetric and real!

Ruth said...

Susie, thank you, my dear friend. Your heartfelt words and tears mean the world to me.

Ruth said...

Pauline, thank you for reading this piece and for your enthusiastic response, very much.

Ruth said...

Dear Erin, so often when beauty pricks our hearts it hurts some. Thank you for how you see and feel.

Ruth said...

Dear Deborah, your comment is so powerfully and beautifully head swelling that I would like to print it and frame it for my wall. You knock me out. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Friko, thank you so much. This began as a poem that just wasn't working.

We can see power in the mundane, can't we?

Ruth said...

Arti, I had no idea that my life was interesting, until much later. Friends helped me learn to appreciate and even treasure what I had, though at the time I found it annoying at times. :) I guess it's all about how we look at things, isn't it? We are the ones who create our life.

Yes, the winter blue just fills me up. That big old barn on the left in the top photo really is large, and when you stand inside it, it's like a cathedral.

Ruth said...

Tamara, well heat is quite different from a cold blizzard. I would go out into a blizzard in a heartbeat, but into that kind of scalding sun?? Thank you for your kind comment, and I hope you and your dear thyme garden will have relief from the heat soon.

Ruth said...

Welcome and thank you, Lynda! That is a grand and kind entrance. I feel the word "stunning" on my lips as well, looking at your art! I look forward to seeing more of your work as well. On we go, wild and free . . .

Ruth said...

Marcie, thanks, my friend. It's true that there seems to be an archetypal dark beauty in most families. And aren't we fortunate!

Ruth said...

Thank you, Oh.

The Twiggy haircut? I think it came out pretty cute. :) I have one school picture with it, I was wearing a Nehru collared faux leather jumper-dress. :) Twiggy was a doll, those eyes, lips, and mini-skirts. Wow.

J.G. said...

As a real person, I hoped she'd come back safe. As a character, I hoped she'd hopped a bus or a train and disappeared forever into freedom. Such lovely drama!

Jeanie said...

What emotion, love, energy and passion you bring as you share this memory. The raven. Returning with her black hair blue. The games. The waiting. I was with you every single second, every word.

What a glorious tribute to your sister -- Your words bring her to life -- and what a life!

More Than Meets the I said...

It was such a relief to see her coming back... I loved it. I have never experienced a snowstorm, but the vividness and delicacy of your writing helped me visualise it :)

Loring Wirbel said...

I had a picture from the storm of '67 of a snow fort twice as tall as me. Don't know where it is now. We got dodged by the last few storms recently, so I made do with pics from my nephew in Chicago of the Lake Shore Drive car-graveyard. But now, we're getting a dump of six, eight inches every 48 hours, so our drought has been called off for the season.

Terresa said...

And what beautiful confetti it is! This is a beautiful recounting, Ruth. I wasn't around in the blizzard of '67 but through your words, just lived it, thank you!

Ginnie said...

I DO DO DO hope Nancy has seen this, Sister. Please tell me she has. That was the year I graduated from MICHIGAN. Why don't I remember that blizzard? The memories you have...like from a different family altogether. How many times have I said that?!

Montag said...

I am so-o-o-o-o glad this "furious" tale had a happy ending. Going out to get a quart of milk is an iffy propositions at times.

My brother-in-law was living in LA when first married; they had a young baby boy. My brother-in-law went to get some milk at the corner and did not come back for 10 days. He ran into some buddies who were going to the Daytona race... he had ended up in Florida.

He was a Zorba-type character, God bless him!

KathRun said...

This felt to me like a tug on my sleeve drawing me toward an opening you've wiped in the frosted-glass pane of your memory. Your knowing, askance grin inviting me to experience the sister you've known and let it mingle with friend and mother-figure I've known. "Come see..." and I do. Thanks for giving me a glimpse of another layer of this lady whom I love...whom you have always loved...and what makes her so...Nancy.

Peter said...

Great post mom, such a insightful view of your sister. I read it while listening to Radiohead's new song "Feral" and it really set the tone for me. You should check out their new album "The King Of Limbs" when you get a chance.