Thursday, November 26, 2015

“Three Years Ago”


            As I watch my fingers tear into the white squares of bread, time and memory shift into the past. Gradually, my hands shrink down to the size of an eight-year-old, still ripping bread into tiny pieces. At the stove, my mother sauté’s onions and celery in butter as she instructs me on how much parsley, thyme, and rubbed sage I should add onto the bread. Not a single measuring spoon in sight. I eyeball every herb to determine if I’ve added enough. Three eggs cracked and mixed into the bowl add moisture. Mom tips her pan into the dish, “Hot, hot, hot!” she warns my fingers away. I massage the doughy blend as she adds chicken broth. Every step done by sight and feel until the dressing molds “just so” within my hands.
           
Now, I break and separate eggs, carefully placing the yolks into a large glass bowl. These I mix by hand. Again, my thoughts drift back to another Thanksgiving where I stand on a stepstool to see over the counter as my Aunt Nellie and Mom laugh together, each of them balancing a bowl with a dozen egg  yolks, their hands whipping forks in syncopation. From a huge canister, they carelessly measure out flour with an old coffee mug. They stir, add more flour, and gossip about friends and family. I barely contain my excitement as I watch their magic. Mom signals for me to move to the flour dusted kitchen table. My eyes never leave her hands as she sets the dough onto the table and kneads it few more times before handing me a rolling pin. I clumsily begin to press it all out. I sensed, even then, that the tradition would pass from them to me.

            Today, my hands skillfully work the same flour and egg mix. My rolling pin never once flounders. The ritual brings me comfort. Three years ago today, Mom died. So I tap into her strength as I prepare her special side dishes. Frequently, I catch myself wanting to share some small part of my day with her because it’s all of those little moments that hold a family together. Thankfulness fills me because my grief’s moved into that gentle stage where I find myself remembering Mom more and more without the horrors of Huntington’s disease.     
 
Copyright 2015 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman  

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

"Veteran's Day"


           “Is that Daddy?” queried four-year-old Lizzy as she pointed her finger at a man dressed in green fatigues.
         The young mother squeezed her daughter’s hand tighter as she answered, “No. I’ll tell you what you need to do. Look at the caps the men are wearing. Your daddy’s cap is dirty.”
         Ten-year-old Paula nodded in affirmation. “Dad needs a new hat.”
         Restlessly, the two children watched as airmen purposefully strode across the tarmac. Suddenly, Lizzy tugged free of her mother’s grasp and dashed toward a man wearing a dirty hat. She wrapped her arms tightly around his legs in the tightest bear hug her little arms could muster. The young man attempted to disengage himself from the small child, his face growing red as he scanned the area.
         “Elizabeth Anne,” the girl’s mother dashed forward. “This man isn’t your daddy!”
         “But his cap is really dirty!” Lizzy exclaimed earnestly.
         The airman pulled his cap into his hands, embarrassed by the child’s observation and confusion.
         “My husband’s been on a long TDY,” the mother explained.
         “I understand completely,” the man said as he sidestepped the little family and continued on his way.
         Hand on hip and head shaking in disapproval of her little sister’s faux pas, Paula pointed to another cluster of men approaching the fence line. “There he is!”
        And there he was! Dad with a brand new cap cocked on his head. He jogged away from the other men and scooped his girls into his arms.



Karl F. Abrams--circa 1948
         For years, my family teased me about the time I flung my arms around the man with the dirtiest cap, converting the story into a running joke that I threw myself at men. As an adult, though, I realize how much that childish mistake must have stung both of my parents. My mother did her best to talk about Dad when he left on long trips, but keeping his image strong in the mind of a four-year-old proved an almost impossible task. Tight on money, my parents didn’t have many photographs of each other around the house. After my mistake, my father gave me dashing picture of himself from when he first joined the Air Force to keep in my room.
         For Veterans Day, we pause to honor the men and women who serve in our military, but we should also reflect upon the sacrifice the families make. When a young man or woman decides to serve our country, his or her entire family becomes a military member. The soldier misses birthdays, Christmases, and anniversaries. The soldier misses that first step, the lost front tooth, the touchdown, and the first broken heart. Every moment of every day, the families of these men and women ache for the lost moments. Our tributes to these veterans must recognize the full scope of their sacrifices.


copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Sunday, September 27, 2015

"First Impressions"


David, my husband, didn’t make a good first impression on my parents. As a matter of fact, he dressed so shabbily the first time he came over to their home in League City that I almost didn’t let him into the house.
His shoulder length light brown hair, streaked with blonde highlights from exposure to the summer sun, formed a tangled and windswept halo around his head. His t-shirt, yellowed with age, had no arms and had a chewed collar. I wondered if David had chewed the mangled fabric himself, or if one of his Westies had mistaken the shirt for a dead animal and mauled it.
I almost didn’t want to check out the rest of David’s attire, but my eyes shifted downward on their own accord. His shirt perfectly matched the condition of the bleached cut-offs he wore. Below the ragged hems of his shorts hung frayed front pockets. The back of his cut-offs had no pockets at all, and I fleetingly wondered where he kept his wallet and keys. However, a look at his hands answered that question. He carried a pair of relatively new Converse high tops in his hands, the wallet and keys stuffed inside. In horror, I looked at his bare feet.
 
As my mind wrapped itself around the image David would present to my parents, I heard my mother come up behind me and say, “Well, Lizzy, let him in!”

Over the years, David took quite a bit of teasing about his appearance on that first meeting with my parents. Being gracious and loving people, they set aside their misgivings and looked beyond the rags to find the richness of David’s character.

To this day, David always manages to find his favorite black and orange flower print shirt no matter how deeply I bury it in the back of his closet (I’m thankful he’s up-graded from the tattered white t-shirt). I do manage to keep him in respectable shorts most of the time, but I suspect he’s just humoring me. Although David does wear shoes now, he kicks them off as soon as he crosses the threshold!



David at 58! September 26, 2015

Copyright 2005 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman
 



David didn't change his "look" for the first few years of marriage!

 
 
This is the way I think David would like to dress every day! Oh well . . .




I'll admit, I like garb, too!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

“Forgiveness”



I wanted to blanket you in gentle warmth,  
            swaddle  you, protect you  
Never dreaming that you suffocated  
            under the weight of my attention  
I longed for you to mirror my heart  
            —mimic my words  
            —morph into my Mini-Me  
And I snipped away your identity  
And shaped you into a paper doll  
            that no one else can love  
When convenient—  
I mended your heartbreaks  
And fought your monsters  
I also shared our intimacies  
            —in gossip  
            stripping you to bare bones  
My love— 
            So wrong in intensity—  
whipped between over-indulgence and neglect  
On and off  
And on again  
            Leaving you heartless  

Copyright 2015 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

 

 

 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

“No Shame”


See this world  
            Revolving around you   
            ‘Cause you’re sooooo SPECIAL?   
                        A Disney Princess   
                                    Twisted on the inside    
                                    By your Hypocrisy 
            Your venomous spittle sprays 
                        And you shout your righteous indignation
                               Against those who sustain you, clothe you,      
                                     nurture you  
You—The Beggar—   
            Who bites up to the elbow   
                        Your ravenous maw congealed with  
                                    the flesh of the hands that feed you  
You carry No Shame  
                        For badgering, and belittling, and bullying  
                 No Shame   
                        For the lives you taint with your poison 
                 No Shame  
                        For the pain you reap  
            ‘Cause you’re sooooo SPECIAL— 
With this world  
            Revolving around you  

 
Copyright 2015 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

 

Monday, August 3, 2015

"Bracken"

I stood back from the edge
            Expert hands
                        direct my legs through the harness
                        check the hooks
                        pull hard against
                                    the rope
The others wait in nonchalance
            Their laughter
                        spilling around me
                        diving into deeper darkness
                        “Test your weight”
I scoot to the ledge
            my hands grasp
                        the rope
                        TIGHT           
My legs sway free
            feet—
                        butting against the cavern wall
                        repelling me
                                    Outward
                                    Into Space
I look down
            my helmet’s light beam
                        bounces—
                                    off rock
                                    disappears—
                                                into the black void
            Suspended in space and time
I feel
            the rope
            make certain the hooks don’t bite my fingers
                        inches
                                    FEET
                                                YARDS
Above me glimmers a pinprick of light
            Shadow embraces me like a long lost lover
I surrender
            to emptiness
            swaying on
                        the rope
                                    I embrace
                                                its braided strength
                                    I accept
                                                its infallibility
                                    I believe
                                                it won’t let me fall
My feet land in moon dust
            expert hands
                        unbuckle the hooks
                        direct my legs through the harness
                        pull hard against
                                    the rope

Copyright 1998 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

"Bracken" describes the first time I entered the bat cave at Braken through the shaft from which guano was mined.          

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

"Summer Games--Red Light, Green Light"


            A game of “Red Light, Green Light” often began with only a few of us scrambling from driveway to “Light”. The call, “green light” accompanied with the varied pause and then the shouted, “red light!” acted like the siren’s call, luring kids from throughout the neighborhood to dash with breakneck speed at the target. It never took long for the game to disintegrate into an endless argument on who got caught in movement by the “Light.” Before chaos descended, the game morphed into “Freeze Tag” or “Statues.” Both games shifted tension into uncontrollable bursts of laughter as bodies and faces contorted into hilarious positions.
            I loved “Statues” because one of the older boys would grab my wrists and spin me mercilessly. The world blurred into the muted colors of dusk as I tried to focus on something. Upon release, I’d soar through the hot summer air, capture a pose in midflight, and freeze into position once I bounced to a halt. Everyone wanted their turn to spin and throw me because of my pixie body and “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” good humor.
            As an adult, I’ve come to believe in the value of play. Not being on a team, coached and hemmed in by adults, but unfettered play within a diverse pack of kids that created its own hierarchy and rules. I didn’t get shuttled to and from structured soccer practices. I didn’t spend hours in lessons after school under more adult supervision. I know my mother listened to our games. I remember seeing her outline through the screen door when she snuck a peek at our antics. However, parental presence stayed in the background and the shadows through most of our evening play, emerging only when there was blood spilled or bones broken. All the fussing and fighting that came about as we struggled with pecking order? We accomplished this without adult input or supervision. This autonomy in play, I believe, is the greatest loss for the generations that followed my own.


Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

"Summer Games--Mother May I"

            By three o’clock each day, the temperature climbed to triple digits, bubbling the street and immobilizing all. Birds searched out bird baths, backyard ponds, or lazy sprinklers to find relief from summer’s relentless broil. In our neighborhood, the kids retreated into our home during the hottest part of the day. We pulled out worn decks of cards and played War or Concentration. Clue and Scrabble filled many hot afternoons. Sometimes, we stretched out limp and liquid on blankets under the sycamore out back, transistors tuned to KTSA, and Mom’s colorful Tupperware glasses topped with cherry Kool-Aid sitting within easy reach. The slightest whiff of a breeze tickled against our skin, carrying a hint of evening’s promised respite from our Texas humidity. Often the Wiggle Worm chased us madly around the yard, or we dared fate with the Slip-n-Slide. Everyone scattered by dinner time with pledges to regroup at seven after the temperature eased from boil to simmer.
            Early evenings found everyone back in our front yard, a melting pot of kids united for the purpose of enjoying evening entertainment. The eldest kids rock-paper-scissored to determine the first leader, and then preformed a second round to establish the game. When “Mother, May I?” rang out, I always danced with pleasure for this contest didn’t rely on physical prowess to win! My slight stature hindered me in many games we played, but in this activity I stood equal to my taller, brawnier, and older peers.
            All of us lined up at the edge of our driveway, facing the leader—“Mother,” who stood across the wide lawn in the palm tree’s shadow. One by one, “Mother” called a name and instructions in a sing-song, “Kelllll—leeeee, give me three giant steps!”
            The expected response in order to move forward? “Mother, may I?”
            Sometimes “Mother” granted the request. One by one the players edged closer with giant steps, scissor cuts, baby steps, or frog leaps. Sometimes, “Mother” denied movement, or kept changing the instructions in an effort to confuse us into forgetting our polite, “Mother, may I?” If you forgot the question, the penalty meant returning to the driveway and starting all over again. The goal, of course, was to reach “Mother” and take control of the game. I learned through the years to keep my movements exact, my voice small, and to creep slowly forward while others diverted “Mother’s” attention with heated debate or bold coup attempts.  Once I sidled close enough to “Mother” to take flight, I tagged my way to victory. Usually, we’d while away the early evening toiling at this game until nightfall provided the cover and coolness we needed for hide-n-seek.

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Monday, June 15, 2015

"Summer Games--Crack the Whip"

 
            The line snakes across the front yard, slithering slowly at first. The leader picks up speed, tugging the line left, pulling suddenly to the right, wrapping quickly into a tight circle and then yanking forward at a full run. Little feet push to keep up the mad pace, fingers painfully vised hand-to-hand, fighting to stay clasped. A whip to the right and feet leave the ground, the last three in line somersaulting into a jumbled dog pile. The leader, powered by an adrenaline rush, darts now. She spins to the second in line, grasps with both of her hands, and twists. She uses her momentum to crack her whip one more time. The tail breaks off with explosive yelps as the leader laps the yard in victory.


Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Saturday, June 13, 2015

"Summer Games--Tug of War"

            As a child, seeing a rope hauled out and white handkerchiefs tied in strategic spots made me want to run for cover. Of all the neighborhood games, this one appealed the least to me. A battle of strength and endurance, Tug of War lured the larger and older boys outside. Even a few fathers joined the teams, staking out territory determined by a line.  My Olive Oyl arms couldn’t begin to handle the powerful pulls of this game. As an adult, I realized that we often play this game at work or in our relationships. 

Tug Of War
Us versus Them
Love overcoming Control
Intellect conquering Emotionalism
Endurance vanquishing Selfishness
Perseverance defeating Indulgence
Us versus Them
Right overcoming Wrongs
Strategy conquering Shallowness
Persistence vanquishing Neglect
Reality defeating Rationalization


Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Friday, June 12, 2015

"Summer Games-Red Rover"

            Our quarters at Dover A.F.B. lent itself to play. Laid out in the pattern of a giant U, base housing had a row of attached houses to the right, center, and left. The front doors and yards of the houses faced outside the U, and we rarely played in that area where the perfectly clipped and edged lawns and pristine white sidewalks reminded us that the families enlisted in the military along with their fathers and mothers. The back doors of our homes dumped into a common play area. Some families, like us, put up fences around their yards for their dogs. Other families kept their back yards open to the field. A huge black topped parking lot filled the cup of the U and provided not only a slot for the family car, but also the perfect roller skating and skate boarding surface. Beyond the parking lot, toward the center was The Field.
            In this field, we played together on endless summer nights. Roaming the area like a pack of stray dogs, all the kids from our section shifted in play from football to baseball to games like “Crack the Whip” and “Mother, May I?” Some evenings, when we gathered a large enough group after dinner, we’d divide into two teams to play “Red Rover.”
            “Red Rover” intimidated me. My pixie sized body rarely broke through the linked hands, meaning I became captured round after round.  The other team never failed to get delight in watching my futile attempt. Every time they sang, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Lizzy right over!” I’d critically analyze the opposing line for the weakest link. My heart pounded, my breathing picked up, and my little scrawny legs pumped furiously as I flew across the distance to fling myself at the selected spot. I tried torqueing my body at the last second to add force to my plunge, but it never mattered.  The hands never broke free. I’d hang like a wet rag, winded and ashamed while guffaws and catcalls erupted from both teams.
            I learned strategy and tenacity from playing “Red Rover” because I didn’t give up. I could have opted out of this game, retreated to the safety of home and a piece of Mom’s fresh baked pound cake. Or I could have pretended I wanted to play on the slides and swings with the other younger kids. Something in my personality drew me into this challenge, and the humiliation of defeat after defeat never swayed me from my desire to play. Perhaps all of these summer games of childhood served more purpose than keeping us out from underfoot at home. I learned teamwork, tactical planning, perseverance, and doggedness. I tasted victory and survived loss—all of these elements necessary in maneuvering through adulthood’s life games.



Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Thursday, June 11, 2015

“Midnight Musings”

 
“We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe- some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they're born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cakes than others- some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of men.
But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal- there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court.”
―Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
 
            I know the difficulty of law enforcement officers. They go, sometimes blindly, into situations that scream danger. However, my father took great pride that he only drew his gun once while on duty--at a distraught, suicidal man who was threatening to kill his entire family. Dad talked him "down" and the man got the help he needed. Dad taught me that his job required the ability to quickly assess a situation and to do his best to reduce the possibility of violence. This skill requires constant training and a mindset that the officer must deescalate a situation.
            I know, first hand, how families of officers feel and deal with the stress of this career. If the phone rang in the middle of the night, I'd bolt out of sleep and say, "Dad's been shot." That was my greatest fear.
            My father went into law enforcement late in his life. He was the oldest man to ever graduate from the sheriff's academy for his county! He honestly liked almost everyone he met, and the people under his care respected and trusted him. Because he maintained the same patrol for many years, he built a personal relationship with the residents and business owners in his area. Maybe our police force needs to revisit the importance of the "cop on the beat," the cop who lives in his or her neighborhood.
            Before he retired, Dad worked at the county jail and taught GED classes. He prided himself on having a high success rate of students getting this diploma. Over and over again, he stressed that many of the inmates with whom he worked came from poverty or had little education.
            Now I know that many, many of my students snubbed their noses at the opportunities offered to them through public education. They were, after all, children; and unfortunately children make mistakes that impact their entire lives. Most of them had parents who also started their pattern of poor decisions early in life. Generational problems weave themselves into the very tapestry of a family history and become the knotted threads that all of us must untangle. People who don’t have this type of family dynamic find it difficult to comprehend and easy to condemn.   
            We have fractures cracking through the structures of our society. What if these foundations fail? What happens if we hold distrust towards those who should protect and serve? What happens when we feel disenfranchised and disillusioned?
            I can spend the rest of my life listing the problems within our society, but solutions begin when we embrace differences and walk in another person’s shoes. We can talk about poverty, drug abuse, and violence in homes and on the streets. We can point our fingers and place blame on almost everyone and everything. But until we learn tolerance, we will continue to disintegrate into fragments.

 
 Copyright 2015 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman          
             
 
 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

"Summer Begins"

 



Summer begins  
shedding stress by    
lusting for Father Ralph  
I become Meggie   
slipping into heartbreak  
reliving my own devotion  
veiling my Catholic guilt under Italian lace 
missal clutched in small, white-gloved hand   
crystal Rosary, blessed by Pius XII,  
soothing my restless fingers  
his Irish brogue a supple song   
his blue eyes like laughter
he kneels before me, eye-to-eye   
proposes a date  
he’ll be my father—  
a surrogate breaking bread 
erasing my disappointment 
drying my tears with his finger tips  
tugging my hand to the crook of his arm 
his brilliance dazzles me
my heart worships him 

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

“Summer Plans”

 

Responsibility drags me from comforting quilts out into the sodden world.    

My shoes, rain soaked by puddles, encase my feet in cold and damp.    

The air conditioner chills my bones.    

My attention drifts to the large wall clock and fixates on the second had tick-tick-tick-ticking away. 

I escape.  

I nurture thoughts from deep within and retell yesterday’s tale with intuitive creativity.        

My first draft practically perfect.    

My thoughts stir up summer’s lazy mornings and conjure long, hot days filled with writing.   

Two months to drench myself under a waterfall of words.     

 
Copyright 2015 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman


Monday, June 8, 2015

“A Sense of Self”



X  
Boldly marks through the problem 
An expression of your autonomy 
You decide which Life complication you’ll solve  
or delete  
or deny  
Your independence gets erased   
Because questions can’t be skipped  
You spin out of control   
Terror and tantrums entwined  
As you scream and run and hide—  
Even from yourself  
 
Copyright 2015 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman