The ceremony of innocence is drowned.



The last phone call ever.

by hblume

‘Take it back Annie’
That’s what we called mom.
Her coffee never hot enough.
Take it back;
shoes, blouses, bras, coffee.
Doesn’t fit, don’t like, not hot enough.
Annie, my mom.

Morry, my father,
he’d handled it from there,
gave the waiter a blustering reprimand
over a not so hot cup of coffee.
Annie, my mom, she gave them her kibitz.
The blintz, plain, banana, strawberry
the bowl of borscht soup,
the crowds at Sammy Ashkenaz’s Deli.
Sammy himself.
Annie, my mom, she gave them all the business.
She had to be
one of the best kibitzer
in the business.
She was;
you’d have to see her in action.

If a waiter didn’t respond to Annie,
ignored, misunderstood her,
she pursued that waiter
throughout the course of service,
with digs, asides, looks.
Her intent, a rise, smile better yet a laugh
and the recruitment of the same table
serviced by the same waiter
who from then on out
greeted my mother by name;
“Hey Annie, how you doing today.
Coffee not hot enough. Sure Honey, I’ll get you a fresh cup.”
Mission accomplished, her day was made.

Annie loved to mix it up.
Felt it was her calling.
She’d stop strangers on the street;
a young mother pushing her child in a carriage,
engages her in a five minute chitchat
while my father several feet away waits
impatiently for her to continue on their walk.
“Annie, Annie, we have to go.”
This was also Annie’s method of getting back
at Morry, she victorious, he powerless,
incapable of participation, not his thing.
“Let him wait, I’m luxuriating.”

Annie, my mom had a thing for leopard,
anything leopard,
leopard panty, bra, jacket, scarf, collar, hat
a three foot tall ceramic leopard.
At age nine I found her leopard thing
mysteriously uncomfortable; more so as a teenager.
I’d spot her leopard spotted underwear snaking
its way thru a pile of laundry.

As a nine-year-old movie buff I saw my mother
as a synergy between Carmen Miranda and Rita Hayworth,
consumed in leopard, adorned,
ornamented with plastic fruit bobbing from her head.
She never sang Chica Chica Boom Chic; looked as if
she was about to and that was enough.
Annie, my mom, a lithe, slim, lively mom, quick to laughter,
a red head at that with small slender feet and hands;
one tough smart cookie.

Shout-outs coming from our dinning room.
“2 Bam! 3 Crack! 1 Dragon!”
Annie, my mom, the mah-jongg queen,
also played a serious game of canasta and pinochle.
Annie, my mom, a lithe, slim, lively mom,
quick to laughter, a red head at that with
small slender feet and hands;
one tough smart cookie.

Her girl friends all mah-jongg, canasta sharks
just like my mom.
All with an aggressive competitive wit-mouth
just like my mom.
All wearing leopard panties and bras
just like my mom;
at least back then that’s what I imagined
they wore whenever they got together to play mah-jong
or canasta; it gave them their mojo, their saykhel,
while back then I had no words to describe what
wearing leopard panties and bras gave them,
all I knew/felt was that they were highly energized
denizens at the gaming table in our dinning room,
all wearing leopard panties and bras.
They took their cue from my mom.

My father’s specialty: sudden outbursts of anger.
Can’t remember who threw the first punch.
I think he did.
Grappling at each other, we knocked the kitchen table over.
Annie, my mom grasped a butcher knife in her hand,
screaming she’d kill herself if we didn’t stop
Father and teenage son,
our first and only slugfest.
Memorable, at least for me.
For Morry my dad, don’t know,
never thought to ask him until now.

His thing, “Napkins.” There were never enough napkins.
Whenever they eat out the first thing he did
was to request extra napkins.
Once he had his extra napkins Morry could relax,
settle back, calm down,
unless the potato barley or gilfitafish soup was cold.
What ever the issue he was the one
who waved in the waiter to present our case.

In my late twenties in search of a questionable anima,
in trying to lighten my inner tonnage I went to Esalen
a retreat overlooking the pacific ocean; my first experience
with encounter groups. 
When returning to Chicago
I anticipated making 
up for lost intimacies.
For the first time I greeted my father with
a kiss on his cheek.
From then on out, from that moment,
from that first kiss at every hello goodbye
he’d leaned in for the kiss.
A kiss he came to expect.
And he did kiss back, eagerly;
first time Morry ever-ever kissed his son.
The floodgate opened where there was once
no evidence of flood or gate.

He called about 11pm.
He sounded frighten.
“I’m dying, Howard. I think I’m dying.”

Dying wasn’t a consideration that night.
We had just left my father’s room at the hospital.
My mother, me, my wife Kay, brother Phil, his wife Ginny
had been visiting Morry’s wellbeing.
The nurses skirted down the corridor of doors,
in and out of rooms, verifying vital signs,
putting patient and their family at ease,
all of us grateful, indebted to them
for dispensing peace of mind.
We left dad believing everything was under control,
the nurses had death locked down&out for the night.

I don’t know why I left home.
I imagine, I think to teach my parents a lesson.
“I’ll show em.”
“They’ll be sorry”
for what ever it was
that I can’t recall that might upset
an eight year old.
Convinced Phillip, my 4 year-old brother to leave with me.
We each loaded up a white sheet with our toys and games.
Bundle slung over our shoulder we trudged our way
over to Louie’s house to see if he wanted to join us.
Half way, realized we had nowhere to go,
told my brother we had better return,
don’t want to worry mom and dad.
Sitting outside our apartment door waiting,
looking forward to being found out …

Morry and Annie lived in Century Village
a retirement community in Deerfield Beach, Florida,.
They relished every day of it.
Century Village was their penultimate.
Mom became a passionate artist, took up oil painting,
known throughout Century Village as Annie the artist,
the painter.
Dad became a big macher; recruited to negotiate
the Century Village’s insurance plan, a position
of honor, trust and respect.
He was way overdue for a title,
his first time in the limelight.
And he delivered.
Nice going dad, proud of you.
Not sure I ever told him that, might have,
should have.

Looking through their back screen porch Annie would kvell at a
white heron jabbing its long beak thru the water’s surface.
She’d called me from Florida to tell me about how a gorgeous
white birds flipped fish from the end of its beak into its mouths,
how she’d fed a squawking white swan signaling its hunger
as it waddled from the pond to their back screen door
expecting a slice of bagel or raison toast.

My parents basked in the offerings of the
Florida climate and their amazing life at Century Village.
It was truly a wonderful time for them
where every day time took its own sweet time.
Morry made the coffee every morning.
Annie divided the pink grapefruit into segments.
One argument a week.

A typical day in the life of their sunset years.
My mother’s favorite movie, the Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
She wanted to get the DVD, a job my father took on.
Morry, looking through a Deerfield Beach newspaper
yells out:
“Annie, Annie I found one, an adult bookstore,
they’ll have the Umbrellas of Cherbourg”
My father at the wheel of their 1984 Buick left Century Village
onward to the adult bookstore.
Once inside they were stunned by a well
stocked selection of pornographic DVD’s.
Just as stunned was the clerk when a 90 year old redheaded
woman asked him if they carried the Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

This adult bookstore story was told at my mother’s funeral service.
She always appreciated a good laugh; she left us laughing.

Maxie was one of my father’s closest friends from High School.
He was a hero to my brother Phillip and I.
Drafted into the Marine Corp in his early thirties he fought
in the Battle of Iwo Jima.
After the war he became a fishmonger
Whenever my father return with a chunky bag
of ice and shrimp we had Maxie to thank.
My brother and I lunched with Maxie and my father.
Forty years since we’ve seen him last.
The sparkle in his eyes gone sad; that’s to be expected,
isn’t it? How long can an ex-marine, ex-fish monger
sustain a sparkle or for that matter anybody?
He still had his big smile; as wide as the Joker in Batman.
Yetta his wife gone. He lived alone.
One day my parents were talking to Maxie
on the phone when he stop talking.

They told us Maxie died on the phone while talking to him.
They were matter of fact, unemotional about it, as if people
die over the phone every day.
They never dwelt over their own mortality.
What they did was report:
Ralf Gibs passed. Gloria Star died. Irving Cove. Essie Blumenthal …
a report of subtractions … Gertrude Baker, Bernie Goodman,
Ruth Klein, Bob Siegal … adults my brother and I grew up with,
our childhood legends departed.

One last significant move in an ebbing life span.
Phil and I coerced Annie and Morry to leave their Florida paradise,
so to be closer to us and any immediate medical care
Morry might need; he’s had several spills, legs where getting
shaky, his body giving up on him.
Didn’t take much to convince him to leave;
he was eager to live at a place where it takes
three minute to walk to dinner, where there were waiters with
a decent supply of napkins.

It took some doing to get Annie to agree;
to leave a life style she was still capable of partaking in,
still relished.
Annie wasn’t ready to pack it in;
leaving paradise conceded that she was.
She’s doing it for Morry, wasn’t at all happy about it,
reiterated often, she’s doing it for Morry.
Annie wasn’t ready to be taken.

I’m dying Howard, dying.
Why did he choose to call me?
“Don’t worry Dad, I’ll call Phil.
He’s close to the hospital.
He’ll come by. Don’t worry.”

Phil called me next morning. Dad died.
Phil never went back to the hospital.
Why he didn’t don’t know, said he would.
Why didn’t I call the nurses station?
You know, we assume, I assumed that the monitor
reading his vital signs would
alert a nurse to a patient in the throes of death.
It had to be terribly frightening for my father to know
the moment by moment rush of a gathering death,
while waiting for a promised son to intervene.
Why didn’t Morry wave-in a nurse to his room
as he had waved in a waiter.

He was 94 years old. How much more life do you
want to squeeze out of an altacocker.
He had way more than his predicted share.
What’s a few more days, weeks, months
worth to a 94 years old man;
that’s the sentiment we offer up to the elderly,
what difference would it make,
he’ll not miss that extra day.
We’ll do the missing for him.
Leave him go. Leave him be.

Is that what the nurses did that night he died,
leave him be?
He was contented enough lying in bed reading the newspaper.
He needed nothing else, no music, no radio,
no TV except for the news,
except for a hello and goodbye kiss from his son.
Could he use a few more days of that?
Is that too dull, too pedestrian to warrant a few more days?
Now today this moment I wish I could have been there
to give him a massive bone crushing hug squeeze to to to
drown out his fear of a gathering death to to
drown out the fear of my own.

Bolted in space for one second of eternity
she stopped dead at the sight of
Morry decked out perfectly dead in his casket.
Death always makes an abrupt entrance exit.
Death knows nothing but abrupt.
Annie’s hand fell to her breast
where it remain, her mouth held parted,
a gasp audible.
I was close enough
to hear it leap from her throat,
that’s what it did, leap, saw it leap,
an icy flame,
an icy hand, her hand.
Morry died for Annie once more;
this time groomed, dressed for the occasion,
decked out perfectly dead in his casket.
He beat her to it. She outlived him.
It was close though, a photo finish.
Annie knew that.
She lowered herself onto a chair near
the entrance to the viewing room and distant from Morry.
That’s where she remained until we picked her up on the way out

“Comeback Annie ” another nickname.
In her sixties when they told her she was to be
released from the cardiac unit something didn’t feel right,
She refused to leave, wanted to stay over,
got an extra night.
That extra night she suffered a full-blown heart attack
she wouldn’t have survived if she’d gone home,
would never have participated in the 30 plus years she lived too,
10 years of it — get this — as an active golfer.
My mother always took credit for
having good instincts.
She slammed death to the canvass, pulverized its intention.
Got a pacemaker and another 30 years.

Phil and I flew to Florida to wait it out with dad.
I recall the three of us sitting together at the hospital
waiting to see if Annie survived her heart attack.
This was the first time we saw our father in tears.
Phil and I both made sure to tell mom about his tears.
See mom, dad does care, he’s not a cold fish.

I lost a letter.
Or dreamed that I lost a letter.
Either way I do have a recollection of reading it.
A letter I wrote to my mother when I was 9 years old.
Can’t recall word for word but it left the adult-me with envy
and this epiphany; as a child I felt better about myself
than I feel about my self now.
Where did I go sour? When did I loose it.

So you understand my need to read that letter once more.
So to fill a vague impression with substance;
to read line by line and feel the catalyst;
to see if I can wear a child’s innocence
if only for a minute or two,
to invoke a ceremony of innocence
if at all.

If I ever did possess this letter,
it was given to me possibly by my brother
who got it from my mother’s sacrosanct pile:
a collection of her past; mementoes,
trinkets, milestones, letters, post cards from,
photographs of family, lovers, significant others.
Phil, my brother was in charge of
mom’s sacrosanct pile after she passed away.
He has no recollection of the letter nor giving me a letter.
I’m not trusting his memory or mine;
too much static going on at our age, too many events,
a lifetime of incidents, many begin to feel dream like.

Or I could have got the letter from my daughter
Robin’s sacrosanct pile,
she getting the letter from my mother.

Or its a letter from a dream existing only in my psyche,
a gift not to be open nor read again.

Or a merger of possible truths all possible;
a dream and an entity in tandem delivered the letter.
(I’ll give you a hint; this is the case)

If it did exist I’d most likely laid it to rest in
my sacrosanct pile; that’s where
the dream suggested I’d find it.
After two frenetic quick searches
and not finding the letter, a slow methodical
difficult bittersweet third search found it.
See, always in a rush; hurry hurry hurry.
Slow up, take all the time that’s required,
you’ll find yourself; eventually.

There I was, at the very bottom, light blue paper,
tattered edges, written in pencil, in curser,
buried under my daughter Robin’s collages of images
cut from magazines pasted on construction paper,
buried under her letters to me, mine to her,
under her suicide letter to her mother,
step-father Bob and to her brother Robby,
buried under her step-sibling’s 9 year old drawings
of penis’s and super heroes, under photographs of her
high school friends and family, under her high school
diploma, yearbooks, 
under letters of condolence,
under this haphazard weight of telling words and images,
there I was, now christened the sacrosanct letter.

“Dear sweet Mom.
I miss you.
Are you happy there?
We took our medicine.
The laundry man came.
We made our beds.
Daddy got the ring.
It is pretty. So are you.
Your Loving son, Howard.
P.S. Did you meet any new friends.”

There was I the kid, the loving son,
a referee at the fights watching frighten
determined to survive
my parents from each other
my sweet mother screams at my father
she’s so angry at him
he backs off, contrite apologetic
you’re making a mountain out of a molehill
says my father,
she explodes all over him screaming is that
the all you can come up with
there was I    wanting wanting wanting
this all to stop
she tells him   me she’s leaving
tells him   me she has to get away for awhile
my sweet mother is leaving him   me
she’s going off to South Bend Indiana
my sweet mother is leaving
with her friend Gloria
my sweet mother is leaving
going to Gloria’s summer cottage at the dunes
my sweet mother packs her things
Gloria picks her up they drive off
The next day I write Annie, my sweet mother
a love letter in pencil, in cursive on light blue paper.

Three years later after my father’s passing
it was my mother’s turn.
The last few year of her life was especially rough going.
She came down with shingles.
Take it back Annie, this one tough 93 years old cookie
was in terrible pain.
Betty Davis had it right, old age ain’t for sissies.
My mom, one tough 93 year old cookie was no sissy.
Annie, my mom, a lithe, slim, lively mom, quick to laughter,
a red head at that.
Still all of the above but add in the pain and old.
Annie, my mom, tight to the bone, skin thin, brittle,
bruised at a touch, her hair insane, her eyes burning,
but still the kibitzer, the best in the business. 

When a cardiologist told mom her heart was failing she became irate.
“What are you telling me? I haven’t long to live.”
“He had a lot of nerve, where did he come up with that.”
If Morry was still alive she’d have him tell that doctor
to take it back for a fresh diagnosis.
As it was she enlisted her sons to take on her doctor;
diagnosis the same.

Annie had to enter a nursing home to recoup
from the shingles.
There she fell and cracked her hip sentencing her
to a longer stay than anticipated..
Determine to get out of the nursing home
she haunted the halls on a walker
until she got strong enough to get
the hell of that place.

Not long after leaving the nursing home
she became weak, had trouble catching her breath.
She was rush off to the hospital,
the same one my father died at.

She was in great spirits when we left her.
The nurse asked her if there is any thing else she could get her.
Her answer;
“Yes a martini.”

Later that night I called the hospital to check up on her.
She told me that she felt wonderful.
She became buddies with one of the nurses; knows her life story.
That’s typical Annie; she wheedles her way in there.
“Oh Howie she said. You don’t know how good I feel.
I haven’t felt this good in months.”
I felt awash in her buoyancy.
She had to get off the phone. She felt sleepy.
Our parting routine of many years went as such.
“I love you mom:
And her reply,
“I love you more.”
She passed away in her sleep shortly after our talk.

And look who inherited Annie’s kibitzing DNA.
Not me. Phil did, my little brother. You should see him in action.
He’s good. A kibitzer of the first degree.