Remembering Agnes Remembering: a Zuihitsu
6. Simple Bits - Tiny Pieces
Hello, and a good Super Bowl Sunday to you!
Today’s entry is a bonus — or maybe the one I sent yesterday was the bonus — I’ve been aiming for one a week. While I learn how, and in what way Substack works for me, I'm thrilled to be attracting new readers! In Roots and Branches, I write to the adoptee community, and anyone else who considers loss, search, and rediscovery. And, since I tend to be introspective, there is a crossover between Roots and Branches and Memoir-ish Musings (and the series Simple Bits and Tiny Pieces — of which this is the sixth.)
Reading a Writer’s Writer
I’ve been enjoying audio and Kindle literary short stories and essays this winter, and the star has been Lydia Davis, her language magic, among those from whom she says she has drawn inspiration for her stories and poems, for their description, concision, fragments, awkward prose, and lengthy sentences... I hope a fraction seeps into my subconscious. I’m enthralled. Do read Lydia Davis - Essays One and Two.
A version of this Zuihitsu appeared first in Atlas Poetica a Journal of Poetry of Place in Contemporary Tanka ed. by M. Kei.
Remembering Agnes Remembering: A Zuihitsu
Agnes, my adoptive mother, the only one I had, was 97 when she died in a Bethlehem, Pennsylvania nursing home in July of 2020. The eldest of 3 adopted daughters, each of us significantly separated in years, it fell to me to keep the connection between us, extended family, and the staff. I was up to the task of managing her affairs in her last years. It was my way of saying thank you.
I recorded her on her 94th birthday.
Tape clip 1.
“Dad’s family had a dairy farm in Saltillo, PA. I remember a cave in the hillside where they stored milk and jarred goods. A stream ran through the cave.”
I remember Agnes…
sat on the floor and played picture card games with me - Old Maid and Go Fish, when I was aged 6 through 8.
sewed clothes in fine fabric for me and my dolls.
was a child at heart who loved the flora and fauna — even exotic insects, like preying mantids, and the rhinoceros beetles she fed jam and bread when we lived in Japan. She even tolerated the tadpoles I raised in pond water on my dresser and helped me locate the escaped mini frogs when they scattered, some found behind doors. Fetid little malnourished turtles, and the sad grey mouse. She was particularly fond of dogs and took in many mutts over the years.
Tape clip 2.
“Mom, Dad, my brother, Vincent, and I lived in Orbisonia. Vincent was afraid of Dad's horse. He had a nightmare the horse was down in the yard eating the dog. Once, Dad brought the horse into the house as a joke, and it scared Vince to death. My mom canned peaches in Orbisonia. We lived in the country until I finished 1st grade. I remember at least once riding to school in a horse-drawn sleigh.”
I remember Agnes…
4. gave up her nursing career to be an Air Force officer’s wife and adopt me.
5. going ice skating with me in the marshy pond behind the Food Fair, and roller skating with me (ball bearings, metal key hung around the neck by a chain) on smooth school parking lots.
6. used a flyswatter on my backside when I was 6.
Tape clip 3.
“My diary is falling apart. Kept it from 1939-1941 when I was sweet on Al, and when we were courting. Not easy to love a seminarian. He left the Paulist Brothers in Baltimore to marry me. His mother pushed him to be a priest. You have no idea what a vamp I was! I went down to DC to visit Cousin Elsie and we took him out to dinner. But I never kept him from doing what he wanted to do. We married after the war, and then he enlisted in the Air Force.”
I remember Agnes…
7. was lonely when Dad went away on duty. She could be volatile.
8. played the Stromberg-Carlson radio in the kitchen, and often sang along. How I knew so many pop and cowboy tunes.
9. laughed out loud at T.V. comedy — loved Art Carney (The Honeymooners), Phil Silver’s eponymous show (Sgt. Bilko), and Allan Alda (Mash).
Tape clip 4.
“We moved to New York City on West Broadway in the Village when the coal mines closed in 1928. I went to school near Washington Square Park, jumped rope in the street, and played on the roof of Dad’s auto repair shop across the street. When I started high school, we moved to W. 58th Street, across from Roosevelt Hospital. It was nice to live so close to Central Park."
I remember Agnes…
10. told me she’d never understand me. I was a mystery to her, and nothing like her. Her adopted daughter. Said cruel things. Biting wit.
had trouble adjusting to our many transitions and transfers, and so did I. Not easy being an Air Force wife (or daughter). I think she gave it her all, but it wasn’t easy.
As I sip a chocolate shake in Florida, I wonder what she had for lunch in Pennsylvania. I’ll soon visit her for 2 weeks. I used to wonder about my mystery family. My ghost family. Who my real family was. I searched for my birth mother when I was 40. Found her when I was 43, one year before she died at 67. It was a relief to be over the wondering.
she had little patience to teach me
and dreaded cooking and gardening
so I learned both from her mother.
never a good listener, she couldn't hear
“Don’t forget to call me!”
but she rarely picked up the phone.
Mary Ellen Gambutti
Sarasota, FL, Bethlehem, PA, Lewes, DE
Wiki: Zuihitsu https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zuihitsu is a genre of Japanese literature consisting of loosely connected personal essays and fragmented ideas that typically respond to the author's surroundings […] Thus works of the genre should be considered not as traditionally planned literary pieces but rather as casual or randomly recorded thoughts by the authors.
To finish the zuihitsu, my sedoka is in contemporary English language style, and somewhat inverted, or 7-5-5 not adhering to 5-7-7 in the six-line poem described in PoemAnalysis. https://poemanalysis.com/poetic-form/sedoka/#:~:text=A%20sedoka%20is%20a%20form%20of%20Japanese%20poetry,tortured%20city%22%20from%20%27War%20Path%27%20by%20Christian%20Ugalde.
Roots and Branches is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.