I remember my Aunt Bertha sitting in the front passenger seat with Nana driving down Whangaparaoa Road in her white Hibiscus Coast Taxi. I was jumping up and down swinging my bottle from side to side in between clenched teeth and a wide grin. “Sit down!” said Nana, but I ignored her deliberately, seeing how long I could get away with it.
I remember the toy helicopter that was my uncle’s pride and joy. I would sit on the top bunk when the lights were turned off and we would all giggle and laugh at the flashing lights and whirring sound of the blades. There was a drum-kit stored underneath the bunks. I used to dream about playing them one day and sneak a peek every now and then. There was a piano too I never heard played once. I often wondered what it sounded like. I was allowed to play the harpsichord and the melodian and I’m sure there was an accordion too. My family used to be in a band called the Hibisca Cats you see.
I remember the old house that Grampop built on Wade River Road with his bare hands after the war. It was made of solid rough-sawn Kauri and painted a rusty-red colour with an iron roof to match. I will never forget the patch of stucco plaster that wouldn’t stick to the ceiling in the front room for years. It ended up turning yellow from all the nicotine. Nana later named the house ‘Banana Court’ after a holiday in the Norfolk Island, and eventually managed to grow some banana palm’s which we all had to try. They were hideously dry and pithy but we still ate them anyway. They were nothing like Nana’s cups of tea that was more like soup! Everyone would give each other sly looks when the teapot arrived with a plate full of pickled onion and cheese sandwich’s. Nana also smuggled a coconut in from Fiji. She would show everyone who turned up…but it always looked dead till one day it had a shoot and so began another excited trip to the garden.
I remember the red telephone, one of those art deco types that you had to dial with your finger or a pencil. It was always too far away and it pained me to watch them move at a snail’s pace trying to reach it in time, complaining all the while. The telephone number evolved over time too. It started off 7289, 47289, 4247289 and ended up 09 4247289 over a period of 30 years or so.
I remember the bright orange berries beside the house before the steps. I was always warned they were poisonous but I still used to pick them and wonder what they tasted like but never dared. It was like they were guarding the drop off into the abyss which was a great big black hole off the side of the landing when the new deck was built.
I remember 99 green bottles sitting on a plank balanced precariously above two large brown swing doors that were recycled. They always looked like they were about to fall. Eventually they done away with the doors but the bottles stayed put.
I remember firewood stacked neatly beside the fire beside the stereogram. Grampop would chop kindling on the newspaper in front of it with the axe. It was an open fire until they upgraded to a Kent but it was still open. Nana and I would listen to Johnny Cash singing “I fell in to a burning ring of fire…” . I loved listening to the Folsom Prison album.
I remember dressing up in Nana’s Mink coat fascinated by its head. I would put curlers in my wet hair the night before and wear Nana’s clothes with oversized sunglasses pretending I was older than I was. I used to play with her fake jewellery and would later wear the pearl necklace at my wedding. It got stolen during one of many random home invasions.
I remember the two chamber pots down beside the bed and I can still hear Nana waking me up saying,“No no”, but it was always a little too late; till I had that dream that finally woke me up in time. I had to use the pink plastic pot then but sometimes I would pee in the porcelain one because it looked special and I wasn’t supposed to…but it was colder.
I remember Grampop’s taxi parked on the brick driveway out front. A 1964, white Chevrolet Belair. It was his pride and joy. You could tell by the photo on the bar of when it was used for a wedding. It was coveted by everyone I knew. I even found a set of white wall tyres for it years later. The taxis formed Hibiscus Coast Taxis which they founded, and is still in operation today. They had a boat too that Grampop named after me called ‘Jodine’. I felt a mixture of pride and shame and wondered what people thought. I don’t think it was well received.
I remember my first bike that Grampop surprised me with for my birthday. He taught me to ride it by sending me off down the hill till I figured out where the brakes were! He later brought me my first car, a bright red Mini he paid $500 to get paneled and painted. He said he thought about having my name written on it…but I’m glad he didn’t.
I remember Hillary in her blue dungaree’s who lived up at the shops. She lived alone like a man and I suspect she was a lesbian by the way they used to talk secretly about her. I found her fascinating and we used to exchange respectful pleasantries whenever we met.
I remember the Loquat tree right down the back past the old Army Hut. They were always big yellow and juicy and the juice would run down my chin into a sticky mess. I would blow-spit the brown slimy pits as far as I could then I would traipse off and investigate the hut. I had to use an old wooden handled screwdriver to open the door. I would often imagine the war. Grampop had to go to Wellington to receive an award one time.
I remember Nana teaching me how to knit holey scarves and Grampop showing me how to stick shells onto bottles. They were quite crafty. I would dig up clay from across the road and we would make sculptures. I learned how to make string patterns on plywood with nails. Grampop also had an old Robert Burns poetry book beside his armchair that I would read occasionally. I didn’t really understand it though. The walls were covered in paintings and prints too.
I remember when we went up to Bayley’s Beach to look for a bach. They finally decided on the one at Omamari Beach just South of the Kai Iwi Lakes just North of Dargaville. I helped Grampop dig out underneath to make room for a basement flat. We would laugh and talk and shift sand like it was normal. God knows it probably wasn’t safe! Like the time he made the septic tank and I nearly fell in. He later went on to build a solid concrete water tank out the back on which he painted a Mexican wearing a huge sombrero. So creative!
I remember the yellow beach buggy that I learned to drive when I was about 8 or 9 and fishing for Kahawai off the rocks. Trying to get the Contiki to go past the waves was alway’s a mission. There were many Toheroa’s and Tua Tua’s dug up and minced into fritters. Nana made the best fritters! The Toheroa’s used to be a foot long and blue at one end with huge tongues, I would dare to bite. My cousin found a fish stranded in a rock pool once and we were nearly stranded at the bottom of huge sandstone cliffs as the tide came in.
I remember the drives up North like it was yesterday. The Ruawai straights and spying the pointy Toka Toka hill which was hardly a mountain but it was as big as a mountain to me. It would always be a distance marker on our journey. “Look Jodie” said Nana, waking me up. “Are we there yet?”. “Not far to go now”, Grampop would say.
I remember Great Nana and Grampop my Grampop’s parents. They lived on Whangaparaoa Road not far from us. They had the most beautiful little cottage with a garden and fruit tree’s. They would give me .50c when I visited with Nana. They were such beautiful old people and I adored them. They came over on a boat from England in 1918 when Grampop was about 1. They have passed away now and I wasn’t there. I don’t know why I wasn’t there to say goodbye. We are supposed to be direct descendants of King Edward the 3rd on the maternal Smith side of the family. I saw it once on a family tree. I wrote all over it in pencil filling in my gaps.
It is memories like these that remind me of where I come from. I feel all of them inside me and beside me. They left me a legacy. I am a poet, a singer, an artist and a lover of adventure and if it hadn’t been for them I wouldn’t be here today. I knew I was loved. I knew they had all the time in the world for me and I loved them back fierce. I will alway’s love them.
© Copyright 2010 Jodine Derena Butler. All Rights Reserved
Talkin’ to Myself ’bout Beets
by Walter Bjorkman
Someone brought up Harvard Beets yesterday,
kinda like Carlin sez
Jumbo Shrimp or Military Intelligence,
the lowly pedestrian source of sustenance to the poor
dressed up for a wedding
sugar to the non-tropical peons,
rough-skinned root, trying to be a flowering ivy
probably got in on a grant
He met up with others in the same situation . . .
they formed an underground covel
and using their contacts in high places
the tubers & roots that had arrived
who had took on proper names
& esteemed positions
The Dartmouth Shallot
The Wellesly Chive
they would secretly meet and put on some music
“Green Onions” by the MGs & Booker T.
plot against the leafy, above-ground powers that be
The esteemed and secretive
So they took over the Bean’s office
and held out for open emissions
which was finally adopted
and caused the need
for college level classes in
The group disbanded and went back underground
The Harvard Beet was found ten years after
In northern New York
On a local committee for better irrigation
The Cornell Carrot went on
to a moderately successful career
as filler for Campbell’s Soups
We all know about Spud’s
humiliating association with Mattel
The others spend the rest of their freshness dates
hangin’ around gumbo joints
listening to Zydeco
There is talk of re-uniting on a concert tour
“Veggies Against Irradiation Degradation”
Parsnip plays a mean gourd on their one hit
“The Root Of The Matter”
This Is Not A George Saunders Story
This is not a George Saunders story. It’s not that story “Pastoralia” where people are living in a simulated theme park cave. No, it’s just me living in a cave, and I’m nowhere near as clever as George Saunders. You might be here looking for something else, something more profound or even biting satire of absurdism but, nope, just me in a cave.
If you come by, which I don’t recommend, I’ll be sitting there, staring at a dim crackling fire, listening to Nirvana feedback with my makeshift stereo system. Call this my navel gazing. Call this my whatever you want. If you reach the end and say, I like the conceit of this, I like how he uses himself and George Saunders and so on, you’ve missed the point. Remember, this is not a George Saunders story. It’s just me. In a cave.
Now, here’s the part where I complain. I need a vacation or, ideally, a paid sabbatical, but I am not getting one. So, this is how I ended up in the cave. I’m burned out. Like the flickering flame in my fake cave, my spark is dying out. You’ll read this and refer back to the previous paragraph and you might also be tempted to make a Kurt Cobain connection but don’t do that. Just remember, it’s me in a cave. I need time off. I need a new perspective.
Now this is where I clumsily stumble toward an ending. I turn down the audio graffiti of “Endless Nameless,” a pointless reaction akin to turning down the car radio when you see a traffic accident. I look up at the cave wall and notice previously unnoticed writing in paint. Someone has lived in this cave before, it seems, and has written a narrative. It’s a story about people living in a simulated theme park cave.
But remember this is not a George Saunders story. This is just me living in a cave. I need a vacation. Cobain screams, silence, hear I am, hear I am, silent. The squeal of guitar drowns out voice. You might be looking for something else.
Nettie is a character and so is her purse. This is a silly short story I wrong a long, long time ago – probably seven years ago.
Nettie has only one purse. It is big and brown and bulges. Nettie keeps some of everything in that purse. It is not a lie.
If James, the always-fixing-things-boy down the street, needed a screwdriver because he didn’t know where his had got to, Nettie would reach down in that magic hat of a purse of hers and pull one out. And if James said, “Naw, wait, I need a wrench,” she’d have that, too!
Nettie has some of everything in that purse and everybody knows it. Sometimes, when she is busy in the pantry or the bathroom, and some neighbor or some relative is sitting in her kitchen, they might ask, “Nettie, you got fifty cent I could use?” and Nettie would holler, “My purse is on the sofa; I know I have some change in there somewhere. Dig through it.”
One time her neighbor asked, “Nettie why do you have a knife in your purse?”
Nettie said, “In case someone has an orange to cut …”
Another time Nettie’s aunt Demetra asked her, “Nettie, why do you have buttons in your purse?”
Nettie just laughed. She has needles and thread (from buttercup yellow to dark green), too, in that big, brown purse.
And what a big (and heavy!) purse it is. When she got on the bus the other day, she knocked a lady over with it and the lady shouted, “You got a sack of flour in that purse or something?”
“She just might,” said a man that Nettie knew (he was drunk at the time. He is always drunk) and the whole bus erupted with laughter. The bus driver was choking from laughing so hard.
“She’s got a radio in there, too,” the drunk man continued, “and the Bible.”
“And a pail of holy water!” the bus driver added.
“She got everything in that purse. She’s going to put Marty’s Supermarket out of business,” a young girl chimed in. Her mother, laughing, tapped her hand and said, “Be quiet!”
“I should have made you pay fare for that purse,” the bus driver laughed.
And all the passengers had tears coming out of their eyes and streaming down their faces from laughter.
“Nettie, now I know you got tissue in that purse,” said the drunk man that knew Nettie.
And Nettie, of course, reached down in her purse and pulled out a new box of tissue. She handed the box to the closest person to her and it was passed around. While the people dried their eyes and blew their noses, Nettie pulled out a magazine and read all the way to her stop.
“That purse is going to kill somebody one day,” another man said after Nettie got off the bus.
“Can you describe the suspect?” the bus driver asked.
Someone in the back yelled out, “Yes, I can, sir. Let’s see, she was, uh, big and, uh, brown!”
The people on the bus roared with laughter as the bus rode on.
“Ah, that purse is going to be famous one day,” the bus driver said, but nobody heard because everybody was laughing so loud.
But laughing doesn’t bother Nettie none.
Everywhere she goes, the purse goes, too. Nettie is always dragging that purse around, lugging it around as though it is a baby too old be carried and should be walking.