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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Take More Than You Need

She opens her hands and says, "Take more than you need. Pass them along. Spread these plants around."


And passers-by on the neighborhood sidewalk stop to contemplate the periwinkle and sweet woodruff and garlic chives loosely pressed into the soil in a cardboard box. They hesitate at first, not wanting to seem greedy, but the gardener insists. Her straw hat shades her eyes, so it's hard to see exactly what her motivation is. Maybe she's motive-less. She wants to get rid of all those weedings, but she can't bear to throw them on the compost heap.


The periwinkle, left on its own, will devour the entire garden, sending out stems that then sink tough, grasping roots wherever they land. Other plant varieties fear the periwinkle. Starting as a single little plant in a bare spot, it spreads down the slope, eating up the space once occupied by the perennial yellow alyssum—which has totally disappeared.


Oh, don't get the gardener started on the rapacious periwinkle! Even its flowers take part in the assault. The periwinkle comes into bloom just as the gardener has steeled herself to the job of ripping it out and reducing it back to its originally planned size. But who can be so heartless as to dig up a flowering plant? Who can consign those pretty blue flowers (she remembers her periwinkle blue cashmere sweater in grade 11) to the compost heap? So because of the flowers she procrastinates, and by the time the flowers have died away the periwinkle's new season is well entrenched, those grasping roots digging into new territory claiming, "Mine, mine, all mine!"


The garlic chives have a totally different strategy. She bought one clump of garlic chives years ago and was pleased to see the pretty white blossoms at the tips of the strong flower-stalks. Each blossom was made up of numerous flowers—somewhat like the botany of the dandelion—and when it was time, the blossom exploded, sending seeds to every part of her garden. She didn't know this, of course, that first year. No one had told her what to expect. But the following spring she found garlic chives everyplace. Still, that year she welcomed the blossoms again: "Oh, how pretty! Any flower is welcome in my garden." But that was the last year for THAT sort of indulgence.


War was declared. This gardener, so loath to do her weeding that she allows the vinca to battle with the other ground covers until a winner declares itself—this gardener set out to control her garlic chives. First, she uprooted most of the garlic chive plants (or so she thought) and ate the pungent stems. Then she attacked the blossoms of the remaining clumps. Whenever a flower stalk appeared, its bulbous tip hinting at its pregnancy, she pulled off the soon-to-flower tip and threw it away. Dozens of times a day, passing this part or that of her little rock garden, she snatched at those flower stalks, removing a dozen a day.


But, like the periwinkle, the garlic chives are still not under control, so every year she offers the superfluous plants to her neighbours: "Take more than you need. Please! I implore you to take more than you need."



Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Crowded Elevator

When my brother lived in New York City years ago, he was desperate to fit in. He wanted to be taken for a New Yorker, not someone from out of town, so all his actions were designed to camouflage his Indiana roots. (Little did he realize that his apparently ineradicable Hoosier accent undermined his every effort. But that's a different story.)


Because my brother's office was in a skyscraper, his workday began and ended with a long elevator ride. It hadn't taken him long to learn the etiquette of the big city elevator: avoid eye contact and maintain silence. At that time (and I doubt that it has changed), a New York elevator experience was a silent one. The strangers in suits and ties faced the front of the box, unspeaking and unmoving.


Enter our irrepressible sister Sari, who had emerged from the womb babbling to the world around her. Sari's idea of a good time was to learn the life story of an airplane seatmate. An outing with Sari took twice as long as you wanted it to because she insisted on long conversations with every clerk, receptionist, and functionary. Sari could talk for 15 minutes on the phone to a wrong number.


During our brother's New York City days, many years ago, Sari flew from Denver to visit him. He was proud to show off to his little sister how well he could navigate the streets and subways of New York and to impress her with his version of a true City Guy. One day he even asked her to accompany him to his office so she could see how respected he was and how well he fit into the world of New York journalists.


It was his own fault. Any embarrassment he experienced was due to his having forgotten just who Sari was.


Together they passed through the lobby of his building and joined the throng of office workers and accountants and lawyers and journalists waiting for one of the elevators to land at their feet. Already Sari was glancing around, eyeing the crowd, beginning to form questions, to wonder who did what, where they were from originally, how long they'd been in the City.


Her brother could see that she was itching to begin eliciting life stories, and he began to sweat.


When the elevator came, they shuffled into the box along with a crowd of men in suits and turned to face the front. Silence was broken only by the humming of the elevator motor.


And Sari couldn't bear it. She probably knew that she shouldn't actually start talking to any (or, God forbid, ALL) of these strangers. But she was unable to stand in a crowd with her wonderful brother and NOT TALK. So she began to talk to HIM. She was going to start a conversation with her brother, in a New York City elevator, and the conversation would reveal to the crowd all the things that he routinely hid from his fellow city dwellers.


"So," she said (and even that one spoken word sent an electric shock through the rigid auras of the men in suits), "so, have you heard any news from Delphi lately?"


Without moving his lips, he muttered, "No." Perhaps Sari would take the hint that he didn't want to continue this conversation. He wanted to send her a dirty look to discourage her, but if he moved his head to look at her (or if he stomped on her foot, which is what he really wanted to do) it would be clear to all that he was the one this chatty woman was addressing.


"Well, I had a letter from the folks and Mother said Indiana's having a real heat wave right now."


Surely she was doing this on purpose. Now everyone knew that she was related to him and that he was not a real New Yorker but a Hoosier. He ignored her questions and exhaled with relief when the elevator reached his floor.


I've always thought that it was a miracle that he didn't murder Sari on that trip. He eventually forgave her (though I don't think he forgot his embarrassment). But Sari remained irrepressible for the rest of her life. She always made connections, she was never embarrassed, and she was determined to give everyone the opportunity to come into the center of her circle.


Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Little Maple Desk and Chair

The slanted top of my little maple desk opens out to make a shelf on which I could, but don't, write.


I don't know where it came from originally. But when I went off to college I needed a desk, and my mother said, "You can take the little maple desk and the little maple chair." So I did.


After college, the desk and the chair both ended up back at my parents' house, but when my first husband and I settled in Alabama, we had room for the desk. The next time we were in Indiana, having driven up there with two babies in our little black Volkswagen bug, we tied the desk to the top of the car and took it south.


Foreseeing the possibility of rain, we wrapped the desk in plastic before we tied it to the car, but the wind made short work of that attempt at preservation. And then the rain started. For ten hours the little desk was bruised by wind and drowned by rain.


When we finally got home, a third of the maple veneer was warped and damaged. That was in 1964.


Today the desk, veneer still missing or loose, sits in a corner of my kitchen. Hidden behind its slanted lid are bankbooks, stamps, a stapler, two pairs of scissors, a receipt book, a ruler, and enough other little items to ensure that something gets jammed beneath the hinges whenever I open the lid. At one point in the last 25 years I honored it by buying pretty new hardware for its three drawers.


But the veneer! I should check the yellow pages, ask around, do some research, and find someone to fix it. Instead, I keep waiting for the moment when, at a party, I will unexpectedly meet the person who will say, "Oh yes. I do furniture. And I specialize in repairing the veneer on little maple desks." I'll hire him in a New York minute.


The little maple chair lives in my multi-purpose room upstairs. When we need extra seating for guests, it is the second chair in line to be pressed into dinner-party service.



Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Sunday, October 9, 2011


--I'll tell your fortune, cookie, if you like.


--Oh do, oh do!


--Okay, here goes. You will take a trip. Does that resonate with you?


--Oh yes, oh yes. I AM going on a trip.


--Good. I'm on a roll. You will meet a man. A man who is tall and dark.


--Oh yay, oh yay. I need to meet a tall, dark man! Tell me more.


--This man has two wooden legs.


--He what?!


--He has two LONG wooden legs. Oh wait, I see it more clearly now. He's on stilts. That's why I thought he was so tall.


--So what does he really look like? Not that looks are at all important.


--Here. Let me sense the spirit a little more deeply. Oh yes. I see. It's just a kid on stilts wearing a dark Batman mask. Sorry.


--Story of my life. And I'm NOT going to pay you!



Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor

Sunday, October 2, 2011


The "little room" of my two-room elementary school was home to the first four grades, its pupils ranging from six to ten years old—quite a handful of an age span. Sister Mary Cecilia was equal to the challenge. She could listen to the times tables, explain the theology of that man on the cross, and clean up the pee from a timid first grader afraid to ask permission to visit the outdoor toilet. She could do all of this with one hand behind her back or—more accurately—one hand fingering the huge black rosary that hung from her waist.


But she couldn't deal with little Jack Anderson's spitballs. How do boys learn to make spitballs? Does Popular Mechanics run a yearly spitball article? Or is the skill passed from older to younger brother ("You want to tee off the teacher? Here's how. You take a bit of paper, chew it up . . .").


I don't know how Jack Anderson learned to make and send a spitball, but he was durned good at it. You'd be sitting at your little desk, one of six in a row nailed to a pair of parallel 1x4s, minding your own business. You might be intent on deciphering the answer to 2 plus 3. Minding your own business, as I said, or thinking about who you would play with at recess. Or looking at Mary Crosby's long black braids in front of you and longing to tug on them. Minding your own business.


And suddenly your little bare neck would be stung. You'd slap the spot, jumping from the shock. And there, on your neck, would be a tiny, sloppy-wet little ball of chewed-up paper.


Jack Anderson strikes again.


Copyright 2011 Ann Tudor