We send two of our loveliest essays to the wider world.Read More
Today at Dead Housekeeping we celebrate Pi Day (it’s 3.14 - π - get it?) with not one but two lovely memorial pie stories.
You really should leave room to try both. If indulging increases your circumference, your diameter should adjust accordingly.
A piece we ran in September, 2015 has been adapted as a short animated film, and we’re so pleased to share it here (links below).
Animation artist Yvonne Haugen says the essay Permanently Pressed by Nicole Chakalis “just triggered my visual imagination - some stories give immediate and strong visuals and Permanently Pressed, in it's delicate and simple style hit home, so to speak.” Watching the completed movie now, it’s amazing to see both the imagery and Peggy’s mood reflected from Nicole’s writing in Yvonne’s work.
Nicole was a good friend as well as a contributor to Dead Housekeeping, and watching this after her death is bittersweet. Noola Laguardia, one of Nicole’s children, told me that her mom loved Claymation, which is just the icing on the cake. I think she would have loved this.
- Meredith Counts
And read the story, by Nicole Chakalis, here.
With great pleasure, we sent in our nominations to be considered for the Pushcart Prize this year. Every essay in the Dead Housekeeping world of advice is special to us. These six exceptional pieces prove how much we can give the reader to know, see and feel in 250 words or less. We thank all of our contributors for sharing your memories and methods with us.
Traveling Pies by Emily DeDakis
How to Make an Introduction by Sarah Grey
How to Name a Daughter by Rowan Beckett Grigsby
How to Make Daal by Saadia Muzaffar
How to Decorate by Jen Selk
If you have a memorial how-to to tell in 250 words or less, read our essays, and check out our submission guidelines.
Even heroes have secret ingredients.
"Not only did she grow up in Alabama at the same time George Washington Carver was doing his work there, but as her niece Deborah Ann Ross told me, "She loved peanut butter. That's probably what made her write this down."
We love this exploration of Rosa Parks' pancake recipe by Dan Pashman for NPR.
Published in Atlas Obscura
A disconnected rotary phone for "calling" lost loved ones offered a unique way of dealing with grief in disaster-stricken Japan.
When Itaru Sasaki lost his cousin in 2010, he decided to build a glass-paneled phone booth in his hilltop garden with a disconnected rotary phone inside for communicating with his lost relative, to help him deal with his grief.
Only a year later, Japan faced the horrors of a triple disaster: an earthquake followed by a tsunami, which caused a nuclear meltdown. Sasaki’s coastal hometown of Otsuchi was hit with 30-foot waves. Ten percent of the town died in the flood.
Sasaki opened his kaze no denwa or “wind phone” to the now huge number of people in the community mourning the loss of loved ones. Eventually word spread and others experiencing grief made the pilgrimage from around the country. It is believed that 10,000 visitors journeyed to this hilltop outside Otsuchi within three years of the disaster.
The phone is, of course, meant as a one-way communication. Visitors dial in their relative’s number and catch them up on their current life or express the feelings necessary to move on. Some find comfort in the hope that their relative might hear them. As the residents of Otsuchi work face the slow progress of rebuilding their city, this little phone booth helps to also slowly rebuild their own lives too.
Other sources (cited in Atlas Obscura):
by Emily DeDakis
"Behind every lie, there is truth deeper than a thousand fathoms, and behind every truth, there is pain. After the pain, there’s pie. Delicious pie." –Stephen DeDakis
"Traveling Pies", a posthumous tribute to my grandfather Hugh, was inspired by these wise words from my little brother Stephen, mined from the snappy genius of his Facebook page, written on 20th September 2009, less than two years before he died. My brother, that is.
Count cards all you want, but you’ll never guess the order they’ll be dealt.
Stephen passed away more than a year before Grampa, at one quarter of his age. Stephen lived eleven years in each century. Hugh’s life started before the great depression in the 20th and arced past another in the 21st. (Like I told my 9th-grade algebra teacher, math is not fair.) Stephen’s life was out-out-brief-candle, Hugh’s was a longform poem. But both were beautiful, and the two of them were proper buddies.
Both of them were cooks, and clowns too. Stevie spent a number of childhood summers with Grampa in upstate New York – staying in the house Hugh built, hanging out with the cousins, and going to clown camp with his grandfather. Hugh’s alter ego was Shuffles the Clown, a visitor to friends in hospital and kids in Sunday school. Stephen was a wicked mimic and a juggling fool. I don’t know if he ever totally mastered playing his trombone while unicycling but, y’know, life goals.
Scraps are infinitely findable, if you’re attentive and gentle with the lost/found items a family accumulates amid the entrances and exits. You can press them together, and eventually roll something resembling a new crust.
Now and then, the three-story house upstate goes on the market. I flick through real estate photos. In those empty times, when there’s space for invisible escapades, I like to think they’re temporary roomies again.
The 22-year-old cooks with chef’s knives and is susceptible to quiet dark funks. The 88-year-old is a retired mechanic, given to stubbornness. Both revel in late-night giggle fits.
There’s baseball on the telly.
Drum solos from the basement.
A unicycle and a half-repaired golf cart in the yard.
A good dog hanging around.
Twilight sing-alongs on the porch.
Grampa smoking his pipe, Stevie smoking everything else.
Future clowning engagements penciled on the calendar.
Artful salads on the table.
Chicken & dumplings on the stove.
One delicious pie in the oven.
The daughter of a musician and a journalist, Emily DeDakis grew up in the Southeast U.S. and emigrated to Belfast, N. Ireland, in 2005. As dramaturg & producer for Accidental Theatre, Emily has developed scripts & run workshops for dozens of playwrights. Dramaturgy credits include: Gordon Osràm’s Funeral (2016); The Lost Martini (2015); The Kitchen, the Bedroom & the Grave – winner of a Stewart Parker Trust script award (2014); & The Dutiful Wife (2013). She founded the Belfast version of Fast & Loose, a 24-hour theatre project now in its 10th year. She received 2014 & ’15 dramaturgy fellowships from the BBC Performing Arts Fund, and is writing her first plays – Shipwrecks & Lighthouses and Stowaway City. Emily’s prose has appeared in The Vacuum, The Yellow Nib, Ulster Tatler, Poetry Proper, and on 2SER (Sydney). In 2012 she collaborated with drummer David Lyttle & pianist Conor Scullion on an improvised musical reading from her novel-in-progress Voicetown.
First published In Reader's Digest in 1966, Paul Villard's simply titled "A True Story" is worth putting other things, uh, on hold to read. As seen all over the Internet, but especially Telephone Tribute:
When I was quite young, my family had one of the first telephones in our neighborhood. I remember well the polished oak case fastened to the wall on the lower stair landing. The shiny receiver hung on the side of the box. I even remembered the number - 105. I was too little to reach the telephone, but used to listen with fascination when my mother talked into it. Once she lifted me up to speak to my father, who was away on business. Magic! Then I discovered that somewhere inside that wonderful device lived an amazing person - her name was "Information Please" and there was nothing that she did not know. My mother could ask her for anybody's number and when our clock ran down, Information Please immediately supplied the correct time.
My first personal experience with this genie-in-the-receiver came one day while my mother was visiting a neighbor. Amusing myself at the toolbench in the basement, I whacked my finger with a hammer. The pain was terrible, but there didn't seem to be of much use crying because there was no one home to offer sympathy. I walked around the house sucking my throbbing finger, finally arriving at the stairway. The telephone! Quickly, I ran for the footstool in the parlor and dragged it to the landing. Climbing up, I unhooked the receiver and held it to my ear. "Information Please," I said into the mouthpiece just above my head. A click or two, and a small clear voice spoke into my ear. "Information." "I hurt my fingerrr-" I wailed into the phone. The tears came readily enough now that I had an audience. "Isn't your mother home?" came the question. "Nobody's at home but me," I blubbered. "Are you bleeding?". "No", I replied. "I hit it with the hammer and it hurts". "Can you open your icebox?" she asked. I said I could. "Then chip off a little piece of ice and hold it on your finger. That will stop the hurt. Be careful when you use the ice pick," she admonished. "And don't cry. You'll be alright".
After that, I called Information Please for everything. I asked for help with my Geography and she told me where Philadelphia was, and the Orinco--the romantic river I was going to explore when I grew up. She helped me with my Arithmetic, and she told me that a pet chipmunk--I had caught him in the park just that day before--would eat fruits and nuts. And there was the time that Petey, our pet canary, died. I called Information Please and told her the sad story. She listened, then said the usual things grown-up say to soothe a child. But I was unconsoled. Why was it that birds should sing so beautifully and bring joy to whole families, only to end as a heap of feathers feet up, on the bottom of a cage? She must have sensed my deep concern, for she quietly said, "Paul, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in." Somehow, I felt better.
Another day I was at the telephone. "Information," said the now familiar voice. "How do you spell fix?". F-I-X." At that instant my sister, who took unholy joy in scaring me, jumped off the stairs at me with a banshee shriek-"Yaaaaaaaaaa!" I fell off the stool, pulling the receiver out of the box by its roots. We were both terrified--Information Please was no longer there, and I was not at all sure that I hadn't hurt her when I pulled the receiver out. Minutes later, there was a man on the porch. "I'm a telephone repairman. I was working down the street and the operator said there might be some trouble at this number." He reached for the receiver in my hand. "What happened?" I told him. "Well, we can fix that in a minute or two." He opened the telephone box exposing a maze of wires and coils, and fiddled for a while with the end of the receiver cord, tightened things with a small screwdriver. He jiggled the hook up and down a few times, then spoke into the phone. "Hi, this is Pete. Everything's under control at 105. The kid's sister scared him and he pulled the cord out of the box." He hung up, smiled, gave me a pat on the head and walked out the door.
All this took place in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. Then, when I was nine years old, we moved across the country to Boston-and I missed my mentor acutely. Information Please belonged in that old wooden box back at home, and I somehow never thought if trying the tall, skinny new phone that sat on the small table in the hall. Yet, as I grew into my teens, the memories of those childhood conversation never really left me; often in moments of doubt and perplexity I would recall the serene sense of security I had when I know that I could call Information Please and get the right answer. I appreciated now how very patient, understanding and kind she was to have wasted her time on a little boy.
A few years later, on my way back to college, my plane put down in Seattle. I had about half an hour between plan connections, and I spent 15 minutes or so on the phone with my sister who lived there now, happily mellowed by marriage and motherhood. Then, really without thinking what I was doing, I dialed my hometown operator and said, "Information Please." Miraculously, I heard again the small, clear voice that I know so well:"Information." I hadn't planned this, but I heard myself saying, "Could you tell me, please, how to spell the word 'fix'?" There was a long pause. Then came the softly spoken answer. "I guess," said Information Please, "that your finger must have healed by now." I laughed. "So it's really still you. I wonder if you have any idea how much you meant to me during all that time...." "I wonder," she replied, "if you know how much you meant to me? I never had any children, and I used to look forward to your calls. Silly, wasn't it?" It didn't seem silly, but I didn't say so. Instead I told her how often I had thought of her over the years, and I asked if I could call her again when I come back to visit my sister when the semester was over. "Please do. Just ask for Sally." "Goodbye Sally." It sounded strange for Information Please to have a name. "If I run into any chipmunks, I'll tell them to eat fruits and nuts." "Do that," she said. "And I expect one of these days you'll be off for the Orinoco. Well, good-bye."
Just three months later, I was back again at the Seattle airport. A different voice answered, "Information," and I asked for Sally. "Are you a friend?" "Yes," I said. "An old friend." "Then I'm sorry to have to tell you. Sally had only been working part-time in the last few years because she was ill. She died five weeks ago." But before I could hung up, she said, "Wait a minute. Did you say your name was Villard?" "Yes." "Well, Sally left a message for you. She wrote it down." "What was it?" I asked, almost knowing in advance what it would be. "Here it is, I'll read it-'Tell him I still say there are other worlds to sing in. He'll know what I mean'"
I thanked her and hung up. I did know what Sally meant.
It’s with great pleasure that we announce and re-share the essays we nominated for Pushcart Prizes this year! This writing by our contributors and editorial team, writing that represents the wide scope of memory and memorial and reflects good values for any home.
Rowan Beckett Grigsby's How to Have Nice Things
Ashley Nicole Black's Sleeping Bags for Two or One
Jacqueline Bryant Campbell's 50 Tickets, or How to be a Good Citizen
Stefanie Le Jeunesse's How to Fry an Egg
Laura Lucas' Nine Kinds of Ice Cream
and How to Make the Coffee, written collaboratively by Dead Housekeeping editors.
In other good news, watch our site or our social media for our first foray into merchandise! Gear featuring the lovely new Dead Housekeeping logo by Jenny Poore.
~ Deepam. Deepam. ~
My childhood Summers were spent mostly at my maternal grandmother’s home in Kerala. My Ammamma, my Mothermother, was brilliant, a self-educated soul who read without discrimination. Sharp-witted, insightful, funny, and loving, with little interest in cooking. She would delight in things of beauty, and my mother would secret away small presents that would thrill her. When Ammamma died, we found an almirah full of Avon hand-painted soaps with beautiful flowers on them. She had squirrelled them away, considering them too precious to ever use.
~ Deepam. Deepam. ~
Ammamma held strong religious beliefs and many superstitions. Children shouldn’t cry in the evening because it would bring out the evil eye. If they did, there was a complex ceremony of roasting dried red chilies and other whole spices, which would then be waved in circles in front of the crying child’s face while prayers were incanted. Of course, the crying child immediately stopped, because they’re instantly distracted with how delightful to be made a fuss of, what is that funny smelling stuff, what’s she muttering, is she praying? Perhaps, it really did ward off the evil eye too.
~ Deepam. Deepam. ~
Ammamma staunchly believed that if you handed money to someone through a doorway, you would be forever poor. That money would go out through the doorway, and the remainder of your wealth would obediently follow. She would actively demand that people step one side or the other of the door to conduct their business.
~ Deepam. Deepam. ~
I can’t count the number of times she scolded me for sitting on a threshold with my legs either side of the door. Kerala houses have framed doorways, and on a hot day, there’s nothing so satisfying as sitting on the wide frame of the doorway between the dining room and the garden outside, catching any passing breeze. In Ammamma’s eyes, this was irritatingly indecisive. “You cannot have each foot in a different boat!” she would shout in Malayalam, and the visual image of my feet in different canoes floating on a canal in the backwaters of Kerala, as I valiantly tried to stay upright and not do the splits, would have me in fits of giggles.
~ Deepam. Deepam. ~
The quietest, most precious of her superstitions though, involved light and shooing away the darkness. Every evening, as the sun went down, before a single electric light was turned on in the house, she would light an oil lamp and pace quietly through every room chanting deepam, deepam (light, light). It was a spiritual sweeping away of all the frightening terrors that lurk in darkness and shadow. Her call would ring in every room, and only after she had waved the lit oil lamp, the mystic broom of God, could the lightswitch be flicked on.
When I was there, it was my job. Reverently, silently, conscious of keeping my footfalls soft and cushioned, I would carry the lamp in my hands, my eyes darting between the oil threatening to spill over the lip of the lamp, and the floor ahead of me. I would chant my breathy deepam, imbuing it with as much gravitas and heartfelt wish to banish the unholy as I could. It is a memory of a stillness of spirit, a quiet prayer, edged with terrifying shadows, that I still find sanctuary in.
I don’t carry on that daily tradition, but in every house I’ve ever lived in, before we have spent a single night there, I have been sure to walk through the rooms, padding softly, lit oil lamp in hand, thinking of my Ammamma, and chanting deepam deepam.
Here at Dead Housekeeping we are all volunteers, dedicated to this concept and to the writing we get to share with you, but volunteers nonetheless, each with our own mix of priorities: jobs, studies, kids, international moves (that’s Asha) and our other creative projects.
Here’s the good news and good writing that we keep meaning to share:
Best of the Net nominees Rowan Beckett Grigsby and Laura Lucas!
We’ve nominated two of our favorite piece from the past year: How to Have Nice Things by Rowan Beckett Grigsby and Nine Kinds of Ice Cream by Laura Lucas. Both pieces are stunners, and will be considered for Best of the Net 2016, put together by Sundress Publications.
Artwork by Jenny Poore!
Our talented friend Jenny Poore has given us a gift: a new logo, which we will be unveiling soon! We also owe Jenny for connecting us with her mother Linda, who taught us How to Properly Dry and Fold Cloth Diapers.
Dead Housekeeping reading list!
Some of these we’ve shared on our Facebook page, others we’ve shared amongst our team, all we’ve agreed are worth a read and belong with us, on this site, somewhere at the intersection of death and the home:
- In Indonesia, the Torajan people exhume their dead and continue to care for their bodies in an every-three-years festival.
- We love this essay by Mara Wilson in the NYT, about siblings going through their mother’s things on the anniversary of her death. It’s an excerpt from her new book, Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame.
- Jessica Lowe of Shreveport Louisiana wrote How to Gut a House (in 7 Steps). It’s full of practical post-flood instructions and you’ll need extra hankies.
- The remains of Civil War soldier Private Jewett Williams, 20th Maine Infantry, Company H were recently discovered in Oregon, and travelled to be honored at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park in Virginia on their way to his home state of Maine.
In memory: Contributing editor Jennifer Cumby’s friend Thais who left us 25 years ago, and DH friend Jodie Fletcher’s dad, Roy, who died this week.
Fun news here at the premier internet journal for very short essays about how the dead did things.
We won second place in the National Federation of Press Women's Professional Communications Contest, in the national category "Web site edited or managed by entrant (for profit)."
Thanks to the NFPW, who provided us with some great feedback from contest judges, and who share great resources for writers.
A Q & A with we Dead Housekeeping editors is featured on Jim Harrington's great resource for writers, "Six Questions For..."
To give you a sample, contributing editor Stefanie Le Jeunesse says we're looking for "Something revealing about the departed. Preferably something juicy. The right length, or something that makes me forget there is a right length. A how-to that I didn't already know or know really well and feels suddenly universal."
Check out the whole interview for more details. We explain what we look for in submissions, how we got started, and what this project means to us, as writers, editors, and humans. There's even a link to a playlist we made to get you in that Moody Home Tips mood.
My mother’s sister’s house in Jackson backed up to the junkyard where my Uncle Sam squeezed out what he could of a living during the Depression. Aunt Itkeh cooked three meals a day in the “summer kitchen,” a dark room, shaded from the relentless “fry an egg on the sidewalk” July and August heat of Michigan. She cooked for her six children, cooked for my mother, father and me who had moved in with her, and for any Detroit cousins who might be sent to visit in lieu of summer camp no one could afford in those days.
I remember sitting in that summer kitchen one stifling summer day, half dozing, lulled by the voices of the two sisters: laughing at wry jokes, complaining about their husbands, and always, about the lack of money. At five, what could I know of their tsores? I had a feather bed on the floor to sleep in, enough food to keep my belly full, and cousins to play with. And I had the radio to bring in the world of a reality I couldn’t understand or of fantasies that fed my dreams.
When I raised my head from the linoleum-topped table, snapped awake, I whined, just a little. “’I’m hungry," I said. Above me, yellow fly paper indolently twirled, studded with corpses of flies like black currants.
My Aunt itkeh looked up from the cabbage she was shredding for the soup that would feed us all that evening, and she said in Yiddish, “Mamele, how about some bread and milk?”
Where ever had I found the words to say, “I don’t want bread and milk. Only poor people eat bread and milk!"
I felt my mother’s shame. I can see my Aunt Itkeh now in her cotton housedress, her forehead glistening from the heat, the soup. “Don’t ever say we are poor,” she told me. Her Yiddish was clear, and I have never forgotten her words. “We are not poor,” she said. “Only people who have no hope are poor.”
Faye Moskowitz is the author of Peace in the House (David Godine, 2002); A Leak in the Heart (David Godine, 1985); Whoever Finds This: I Love You (David Godine, 1988); and And the Bridge is Love (Beacon Press, 1991; reissued in 2012 by Feminist Press), among many other volumes. Her columns poems, essays and short stories have been published in The New York Times, Washington Post, Moment Magazine, and the Jerusalem Post. A longtime professor of creative writing at George Washington University, she is the popular instructor behind Jewish Literature Live, a course underwritten by David Bruce Smith and named one of 17 "Hottest Seats in the Classroom" by Time magazine in 2013. She is the recipient of the Alice Goddard Douglas Award for Excellence and two PEN Syndicated Fiction Awards. Read more about her work here.
“How many lifetimes does it take to learn the facts of life? (And how long do you have to live to recover from them…?) Is it fact that helps us recover – or is it metaphor? Is it the hard knowledge of what really happened, like actual botanical material? Or is it the flesh of comparisons between what happened and what that was like, the blooming of explanations?” --Molly Peacock, The Paper Garden: An Artist [Begins Her Life’s Work] at 72
I was cleaning the basement as I wrote this. Or I should say, I was supposed to be.
I had stared at that quote by Molly Peacock off and on for weeks, since the first time I came across it on page 63 of a book I was reading for work. That is how life, and grief, catch you: when doing or supposed to be doing something else, getting on with this flimsy business of living. For the first few weeks of spring 2015, as Dead Housekeeping launched to a stunning response of gratitude and warmth, it happened almost out of the corner of my eye, done mostly with my left hand while my right hand continued….whatever it is a right hand does. In my case, I was reading dozens of books for a client in education, skimming the cream from thousands of years of human culture and serving it up for educational assessment in a dry state a long way from where I sat.
This book of Molly Peacock’s was on an approved, pre-licensed list of materials, and so I checked it out of the library and brought it home. That was all. Just a day in the life of a worker and survivor.
But then it subtly blew my mind.
The story behind The Paper Garden is a story of how housekeeping and care can have a fragile but definitive triumph over loss. Poet Molly Peacock weaves her own story of loss and creative life with that of Mary Delany, the 18th-century British artist who seems to have invented the modern paper collage. That’s sort of our story, too: The story of this website and this human project, this pixel garden, this well-kept House of the Dead.
It started, as many important human events do, late at night, between two people, in the dark.
Meredith Counts and I were shooting the breeze with a host of other shouty humans we like to hang out with on Facebook, leaning hard on our ALLCAPS buttons, when I happened to tell about my first husband’s technique for folding towels. It’s more impressive in caps, really: “MY DEAD HUSBAND TAUGHT ME A TECHNIQUE FOR FOLDING TOWELS I WILL NEVER FORGET.”
Off-list, Meredith came to me with an idea: A literary project devoted to these sacred daily gestures, the preserved and re-enacted memories of the dead through what they did with their hands while they were here. Thus was born Dead Housekeeping.
Which brings me back to The Paper Garden, and to my life as it was when I wrote this: my messy basement full of inherited and broken things, my paying projects beckoning, my sleeping family upstairs, my dead husband relentlessly still dead, my living husband very much alive…And meanwhile, too, the birds in my yard, the friends and colleagues and the contributors who have helped us breathe life into this project, their trust and enormous concentration toward telling the ways and habits of their loved ones, alive despite the unfairness of their loss…even so, sometimes, these we loved who cared for us do live again as we stir at our stoves or plump up a pillow or put on the music…meanwhile the messy, absorbing business of making home and keeping on, even in the face of such loss and such waste.
How? How can we live on? And how can we not?
In my father’s things, I find a paper bag containing hair from my grandmother, from a haircut she received in 1926. I find paperwork from my father’s first stint in rehab, completed just a month before I was conceived, during the holiday season of 1985 and 1986. The doctor had written that Allen’s prognosis was good. He seemed capable of making logical decisions about alcohol.
My oldest sister finds naked photos of our parents, whose divorce--each from their second go-round at nuptials--was finalized on my 21st birthday. Oddly, she insists I have to look at them too, but I refuse, and into the trashbag they go, along with the hair. The discharge paperwork from in-patient treatment goes into the growing pile of things to recycle, along with boxes of documents from the custody battle that won a different sister & I a life not spent in fear & battered women’s shelters, greeting cards, and progress reports from each of my father’s five children. There is a paper figurine in my father’s likeness, with string running from the popsicle stick on his back to the parachute made of coffee filters, made fifteen years ago when we sent him sky-diving for father’s day.
Months and months later, there are still stacks of boxes containing old photographs and scrapbooks in my basement room, pushed up against a wall and semi-hidden behind the futon. I cannot bring myself to sort through them, and only open one enough to see a bag full of dozens and dozens of headshots of my grandmother, some blurry and some in focus. Her hair is curled beautifully. I see my father in her face. On top of this box is also one of my grandmother’s diaries, this one written between May or June of 1938 and January 1939. She writes of opening a gym in Eugene, Oregon, with her first husband named Don--the father of my Auntie Karin who lived in Redondo Beach and liked ice cubes in her glasses of red wine--and of studying massage and kinesiology. She writes of financial worries and losing an oar to their boat in the river on a sunny day. She writes of arguing Hitler late into the night after her shifts at the salmon cannery, and she writes of hearing the War of the Worlds broadcast that Halloween night, thinking it was real and walking to her mother’s house with her husband, carrying what they could.
I think I know her better now than I did when she was alive, when I was seven or eight and she was a terribly old, thin woman who lived in a maze of a house, surrounded by stacks of newspapers and to-go containers. When she stuffed napkins in her sleeves at restaurants, “for later.” I don’t know if this is the case, but I’ve read the thoughts she told only to a page in a notebook, so maybe so. In one of her planners from the early nineties that she saved, and then my father saved after her, I see written on September 1st in her scratchy old woman’s hand, Ashley’s birthday, and then after, celebrated at the Hogranch, the name we Bensons adopted for our Woodinville home. I have no recollection of this celebration, but I think I know a photograph taken that day, of my sister Scarlet & me on Grandma Doris’s lap. Grandma Doris, I know, is smiling. My hair is white-blond. We are just back from Las Vegas, moving home to Washington after a four year absence.
I save my father’s writing, bits of prose tapped out on typewriters and dating from the 70s, the 80s, the early 90s. Less from later. I save his art, an old sketch of a shoe leaving through the Hogranch’s front door, another a self-portrait of an anguish. I can’t read the prose or hang the portrait, but I keep them now. Maybe when he is gone.
- Ashley Benson is a teacher, baker, small-time farmer, and writer from the Pacific Northwest. Her written work has only ever appeared on her own blog and her sister’s refrigerator. She lives in the Frelard neighborhood of Seattle with her cat, Clementine, and her partner, Patrick--although not for long. She can be found online at http://thisisnotreallife.tumblr.com/
We probably talked about this painting, my sister and I. I probably said, “Oh, wow,” rubbing my chin and moving closer to the blurry edges of the faces.
In it, African-American men, women and children – four each – mourn for Mary Lou Pearce, the woman my father hired as our housekeeper but who really kept our soul . The men gather to the upper left, three of the women to the upper right, all against a cerulean blue background; the children – two boys and two girls – peer from the mahogany-hued foreground. Mary Lou, resting in a white casket, her head held by one of the women standing at the casket’s end, is the center of all this near-symmetry. The woman is her sister Margie, helping Mary Lou transition from this world to the Promised Land, singing.
A raised border of wood, painted white with a blue line intersected by hatch marks like barbed wire, surrounds the painting.
We attended the funeral, but we are absent among the mourners. Instead, the painting honors Mary Lou’s family, her choir friends and neighbors, the east side of town. When we were children, they had welcomed us to picnics and church. At the funeral, they placed us in the front pew reserved for family. Our white suburban home never welcomed Mary Lou in the same generous way. It never even occurred to us.
Nine years after she made this, my sister died. How I wish I had called Margie to sit with us and sing.
- Meg Galipault's publishing experience includes serving as managing editor of the Kenyon Review and executive editor of dialogue: voicing the arts, a nonprofit magazine covering the visual arts in the Midwest. She is a contributing editor for yeah write and has a blog called Pigspittle Ohio. Meg earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from Ohio University. She lives with her husband and cats in Mount Vernon, Ohio.
Read her Dead Housekeeping piece about Mary Lou Pearce here.
Particularly good advice: "If the front bell rings, it must be a stranger. Ignore it."
The dead may not be going anywhere but their tips for living sure get around.