Summer morning in Echo Park

Hot kitchen, hot coffee, hot flashes.

Don’t eat the apple pie for breakfast.

Eat the apple pie for breakfast.

Visiting brother coughs in the next room in his sleep on the couch.

He’s too thin.

I am not too thin. I am not even close to being too thin.

I eat the apple pie for breakfast.

Sometimes.

Today.

Younger daughter sleeps upstairs bathed in direct sunlight where the morning sun sets her windows ablaze. She’s under instruction from Alabama friends to find crystals and coffee in Silver Lake today, and it turns out these items are located near the middle school big sister attended.

(King Middle School – Not Martin Luther King, but Thomas Starr King – who was he? I never knew. Here he is: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Starr_King)

I used to pick up a crowd of Thomas Starr King sixth graders near the gnarled ficus trees by the school with the now-upstairs-sleeping-daughter then in her fairy wings in her carseat. She would smile and blow the big kids a kiss as they climbed into the van, but if they got too close, she’d lick one or two  on the cheek or arm or ear and laugh when they screamed, “Yuck!”

Big sister, who now lives in Chicago, would protest.

“No licking! Tell her to stop licking! Tell her Mom!”

“Stop licking back there!”

Slurrrrpppp!

Once when the carpool kids were fighting and criticizing shoes or socks or something that I found cruel and pointless and hurt tears had become a daily thing, I seethed and copied a Mother Teresa quote and hung it above the driver’s seat for them to read.

This is what they read:

“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” 

Why did I hang that sign? Did the word ‘paradox’ trip up the sixth grade girls?

Why didn’t I hang something more accessible?

But what?

Why did I hang anything?

Stop licking back there!

Why did I think I could control the emotional temperature of sixth grade girls?

Big sister climbed into the van the day I was trying like an idiot to control the carpool, read Mother Teresa’s words and yanked down the sign but not before the other carpool kids saw it.

“Mom!”

“What?”

“MOM!”

She sat shotgun and stared out the window in silence while the carpool kids whispered in the back over the meaning of the sign, and the child in fairy wings leaned from her carseat to lick them.

“Yuck!”

“Mom!”

“No licking back there!”

In those days, I occasionally (often) drowned out the world of carpool with Loretta or Lucinda or Emmylou or Steve Earle or Patsy or the soundtrack from “Talk to Her” and then the kids began to insist on Modest Mouse or Franz Ferdinand or Oasis or Elvis or Bowie or Avril Lavinge.

Talk to Her

Clearly, I’m collapsing years.

But sometimes I played “Chuck Cecil and the Swinging Years” and pretended I could drive back decades in my brown mini-van to Hollywood in the 40’s and 50’s. Sometimes when they were babies I danced with them in my arms to “Chuck Cecil and the Swinging Years” and imagined I was dancing with babies in my 1940’s Hollywood apartment on Valentino Place or Silver Lake Boulevard or Dillon or Elevado Street – a more cheerful, upbeat version of Julianne Moore in THE HOURS.

We always had fresh flowers and a dirty kitchen floor.

The Swinging Years

The Hours

**

Today my husband, Kiffen, sleeps upstairs after waking early to close the curtains but morning in Echo Park is loud for light sleepers and loud thoughts come stomping in too.

What are you doing with your life?

Where are you going to live? Deep South? West Coast?

Put your phone down.

Take a walk.

Where is the cat?

A big baby balloon floats over London and the dog wants breakfast but gives up because I’m finally writing after the long haul of a ten-day family trip South to a wedding, 4th of July, and a reunion (the works) and so the sweet dog senses that breakfast will have to wait a few minutes.

The cat would not have waited. The cat would not have been deterred from breakfast and yowling for it, no matter how fast one attempted to feed her.

Where is the cat?

Gone three days now.

Such an old cat.

Daisy.

She greeted us from the mountains on Tuesday night and had a big supper and slept nearby on the floor, old and skinny on Tuesday night.

She didn’t show up for breakfast Wednesday morning.

It’s now Friday.

Where did she go?

This 1910 Cerro Gordo house is a sadder place without the cat yowling for breakfast.

The cat has lived with us a long time.

At least eleven or twelve years, maybe a little longer…

Where are you, Daisy?

Daisy, the cat, belonged to the twins, who were close friends with our daughter, Lucy, and then the twins’ mother died of cancer. She was lovely, and her name was Crystal. She had a clothing business and she loved Emily Dickinson. It was tragic for radiant twin girls to lose their mother at fifteen, and then, after the funeral, the twins’ father said they could not keep their animals.

He was Crystal’s ex-husband, but how could he do that?

I never asked him, but in our messy house we had two dogs, three finches, a mighty hermit crab, and one cat, and then another cat, Daisy, came to live, too.

Our daughter begged us. “The twins can’t keep her. Their father said no way. We have to take Daisy. Please.”

I didn’t really want Daisy, but Daisy came to live with us anyway. She was a fat cat then whose glorious belly swung from side to side when she walked. She acclimated though disdained both dogs and the other cat, Atticus.

The twins would visit her over the years.

Daisy!

But Daisy loved Kiffen best.

Most people (and animals) love Kiffen best because he knows how to make the food taste good and look beautiful on a plate, and he’s also kind, genuinely kind and a listener, and he’s funny. He will also listen for hours to people who don’t know how to listen and only know how to talk. I flee those people or pretend to listen and then seek an escape route.

My mother says, “I’ve always said when I’m old I want Kiffen to take care of me. He’s the one.”

Where is Daisy? 

The twins grew up and did well in spite of everything. One is a principal of a private school in Chicago, and the other has a wonderful Etsy business making soaps, bath salts, and creams that smell so good. She sent me a mother’s day gift just this year with Lucy and thanked us for taking in Daisy all those years ago.

***

It’s no longer a quiet summer morning in a hot kitchen in a 1910 house in Echo Park.

Brother is up dancing flamenco outside on the front porch.

Kiffen is up making more coffee.

The younger daughter is probably still sleeping through no longer drenched in direct sunlight.

The dog has been fed and now naps beside me.

We saw “The Humans” last night – took brother, Duffy, for his birthday.

It was incredibly real and familiar and wonderful on all things family, especially in all things Irish Catholic too.

***

Who lived in this house once upon a time?

Who sat at a table and drank hot coffee and waited for the day to begin?

Did they look out the window and wait for the cat to appear and listen to wafer-thin chimes in a small ficus tree in the front yard?

Did they eat apple pie for breakfast?

Did they look up at the Cooper’s hawk sitting atop the telephone pole or palm tree?

Did they mind the families of skunks and raccoons living in the bushes behind the fence?

Did they listen to Chuck Cecil and the Swinging Years?

Mom!

Stop licking back there!

Did they fill the house with fresh flowers and grow tomato plants outside with names like Paul Robeson?

Our kitchen floor is a little cleaner these days but not immaculate by any means.

Who knew there were Paul Robeson tomatoes?

Where is that cat?

Where is Daisy?

 

IMG_8333Lucy and one of the twins, Toni, in another lifetime. xo

***

Talk to Her

 

“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” Mother Teresa

***

Paul Robeson

Emily Dickinson

I dwell in Possibility – (466)

I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –
Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –
Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –
***
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