Author Archives: sammozart

Zinfandel

I hope you enjoy this excerpt from my upcoming book, Leftover Bridges. I originally posted this story on my blog in 2016.

I have come to my blog this afternoon. I haven’t been here in a while. Maybe you noticed. The place is incredibly dusty. Moriarty, the Phantom of My Blog, does not dust. He sweeps up after parties, hangs new headers, and cooks borscht, but he does not dust.

I walk over to the round table. Even the orange candle in the bottle we keep in the center of the table is dusty. Someone has scrawled “Dusty Destry rides again” in the dust on the table surface, and, “Meet us at Bottleneck.” “Oh, so funny,” I think, dryly. “Moriarty.”

I open the windows and let in the light and air. I go into the kitchen. Fingerprints pepper the dust all over the black stovetop, and a stippling of dots, like someone has sneezed. There are a couple of corks on the stove, but no companion bottles. A pot of leftover chili sits on a burner, still warm, the handle of the big spoon sticking out at the rim of the lid. Moriarty must be here. I go into the back kitchen. Fingerprints are in the dust all over the old black stove here, too, and paw prints on the top front edge. And bird claw prints. Odd. I find a couple of rags in a drawer, dampen them and begin dusting. I climb to the catwalk. While dusting the apparatus, ropes and wires along the open spaces, I hear music – Moriarty’s banjo – and then peals of macabre laughter reverberate through the beams and railings. I stop. No … that’s not Moriarty. He doesn’t laugh that way. Silence ensues. A chill runs up my spine. Goosebumps rise on my forearms. This is my blog. I welcome visitors. But this – who else is creeping around in here…? A stranger listening for me? I’ll never get done dusting if I stop and wonder. I certainly do not want to be in here till midnight. I continue dusting. Once or twice I hear a dog bark – Moriarty’s black, fluffy dog, Dickens?

Now I am hungry and the chili back there on the stove smelled good. I come down to the kitchen, rinse out the rags and take a break. I reheat the chili, sit at the round table and eat what is left. In the gathering gloom I think I hear again the evil laughter. I listen; then, stillness unbroken. I look around. I see no one. I get up, go into the kitchen and wash the dishes, chili pot, and the stoves in both rooms. I stay at my blog until well after dark, dusting. Finally I am done. I close the windows. I am ready to go home.

I think I hear Dickens barking. They must be in the cupola. I am tired and want to sit and relax with a glass of wine and good conversation. In the kitchen I find a wine glass but no wine, just bottle corks, and no cheese and crackers. The cupboard is bare. Unusual. I should visit my blog more often.

I climb the creaking, winding staircase, carrying my empty glass, and, brushing peeling yellowing paint off my sleeve, remember that I must get Moriarty to put a fresh coat of paint on these walls.

At the top, the cupola door is shut. Beyond the door I hear muffled voices. The door sticks a little, but I push it open wide. Dickens rushes to me, all wiggly, nuzzling me. He sniffs my hands, to see if I am bringing food, and my clothes. I probably smell like moldering rags. He sneezes.

Moriarty lolls in one chair and across the space, in the half-light, I see a dark-haired scrawny man sprawled in another. The man’s face is sallow, bony and crumpled, uneven, like whoever planned this face hadn’t laid out the parts on a grid first. He has a small mustache and random curls drop over his high forehead. His eyes are sunken, yet bright and beady, like small black grapes. He is dressed all in black, a black turtle neck sweater, with a scarf wound tight and tied about his neck, and jeans. He wears black loafers but no socks, the mark of a Southern man, or one who has lived for some time in the South.

“Samantha, this is my friend, Poe,” says Moriarty.

“Poe? As in Edgar Allan?” I ask, still standing just inside the door, staring at the pair. Poe fixes his eyes on me. They shine with dark intent – mysterious glinting blades. I reach to the doorframe for support.

“Poe is my first name,” he answers. “Edgar Allan Poe is my ancestor. My mother named me after him. He is my ancestor on my sister’s side.”

“…What? Your sister…?” I ask.

“Yeah. Paula,” he says.

I don’t pursue the conundrum. He seems a bit wacky to me. And he is creepy looking. I hear a whirring. Suddenly, a large bird swoops down, close in front of my face, and perches on Poe’s shoulder. I start. It is a raven, having apparently been perched on the frame over the doorway, right above my head: the explanation for the bird claw prints on the stove.

“Come in. Sit,” says Moriarty, waving his arm toward the remaining empty chair. “I see you found my message.”

“The one in the dust about meeting you at Bottleneck?” I say.

“That one,” says Moriarty. His banjo stands against his chair.

“Where’s the wine?” I ask. “I’ve been dusting all afternoon and I’m ready to near-drown in a glass of Zinfandel armed with cheese and crackers serving as floaties. Where’s the wine?”

The two gaze at me blankly. No, sheepishly. Then I spot over in the corner, and lining one wall, even in the gauzy light of the few candles Moriarty has brought up to the cupola with him, a contingent of Zinfandel bottles. They are empty. All of them.

My eyes widen. “You drank all the wine?!”

“We’re having a frightfully good time,” says Poe.

“We’re telling each other spooky stories,” adds Moriarty, “and then singing them.” He sniggers.

I don’t find these two boys particularly amusing. I’ve been scrubbing prickly cactus on a dusty desert all afternoon, reaching precariously over the edge of the catwalk, filling my lungs with dust and my ears with reverberating peals of macabre laughter seemingly out of the ethers, I am moldering and thirsty, and I want at least one glass of wine, a large one. Filled to the rim.

“There’s no more wine anywhere?” I say.

“It was a faulty case,” says Moriarty.

“Now, wait a minute,” says Poe, indignant. “I didn’t think the case in my detective story I just told you was faulty.”

“No, the case of wine,” says Moriarty. “The bottles all had leaks.”

“We should have brought a cask,” says Poe.

“I’m sure,” I say, flatly. “And, no cheese and crackers?”

“Nothing more,” says Poe.

Dickens walks over and sniffs the empty plate on the floor next to the bottles. There isn’t even a crumb for him to lick up.

The raven burps. Dickens trots over to the bird and begins barking up at it, still perched on Poe’s shoulder, Dickens commanding, as if to say, “You ate ‘em all. Cough ‘em up, buddy.”

But, I suspect it was Moriarty and Poe who ate the greater balance of them.

The candle flames flicker in the bare draft whispering through the open window. The curtain rustles lightly. We sit in silence. Poe stares down at the shapeshifting shadow specters dancing a fantastic fandango across the candlelit floor. The raven blinks. Moriarty watches Dickens settle onto the worn red Oriental rug, against my chair. A distant bell tolls.

Poe sits bolt upright. He peals,

“‘And the people–ah, the people–
 They that dwell up in the steeple,
    All alone,
  And who, tolling, tolling, tolling,
    In that muffled monotone,
  Feel a glory in so rolling
    On the human heart a stone—,’

“I think I’ll write a poem about that,” he muses, “something about bells. It has a nice ring, don’t you think? It just rolls – rolls, rolls, rolls, rolls – rolls lightly off the tongue. A tintinnabulation.”

“You’re making me hungry,” says Moriarty. “Rolls and butter.”

“It’s already been written. By your ancestor on your sister Paula’s side,” I point out. “It’s called ‘The Bells.’”

“Ah, iron bells.” The rusty tone of his voice rises from a deep well within him. There is a peculiar, dark nervousness about this man. He twitches and fidgets and then suddenly he is calm, strangely calm, glassy. Then, I notice his eyes are not black, but light, yet acute, and sad, yes, sad. And, every time he twitches and fidgets, Dickens watches, amused, as the raven puffs its wings, roughs its feathers and shifts its position.

“Has Dickens been fed?” I ask.

“Well, smooth, sweet nepenthe. Of that I must have more,” says Poe. “I must get my hat and depart thee. I must get to the store. Then, I am headed to my chamber. I feel an urge, a pressing urge to write ever more.”

He rises, turns and then stops. He stoops and reaches into one of the bottles, the raven hopping, turning, adjusting its wings and claws on Poe’s shoulder for balance. “Look at this. It’s a message.” He sticks a finger into the bottle neck and coaxes out the paper. “A message in a bottle. Cool.”

He unrolls it. “Uh-oh,” he says upon examining it. “I wrote this.” He hands it to Moriarty. I read it over his shoulder. It is faded and hard to read in the feeble candlelight, but I can make out the title, in large print: “MS. Found in a Bottle.”

“You just gave yourself away,” I say. “You’re the real Edgar Allan Poe, not some descendant on your sister Paula’s side.

“I won a literary award for this,” says Poe, “my only one. In 1833. I entered it in a fiction contest sponsored by the Baltimore Saturday Visiter [sic] newspaper. Fifty dollars, I got for my short story.” He reaches and pulls his black cape off the back of his chair, sweeps it around his shoulders, turns and heads down the winding staircase, the raven teetering as they descend as one. He waves a hand over his shoulder, “Ciao,” he says, and he and his raven vanish into the murkiness of the hour.

I turn to Moriarty. “You, my dear Phantom, have an intriguing menagerie of friends.”

Moriarty smiles.

The scent of fresh, wet earth rises as a soft rain begins to fall. Moriarty pulls the window closed and extinguishes the candles save one. He carries it to light our way as we descend the winding stairs, Dickens leading. Our shadows in the lost light glide alongside us like leviathan grotesques navigating inside a diaphanous wall.

“Remember, I asked you to paint these walls,” I say. “Would you do it soon? Please?”

“They have to be scraped first,” he says, “sanded down, to reveal the bones beneath.”

–Samantha Mozart
October 20, 2016

 

The View from the Cupola

VEvery April writers and bloggers come together to take up the Blogging From A-Z Challenge.  In 2015 and 2016, I took up the challenge, too, along with this annually growing group.

Each day we write a blog post themed on a letter of the alphabet, beginning with the letter A on April 1, continuing to the letter B on April 2, the letter C on April 3 and so on.  We take Sundays off.

This one I published on April 27, 2015 deserves reposting, I think, because Alexandra Streliski’s moving music –which I’ve set as a soundtrack here —  lends such depth to an already poignant piece and for which these accompanying words could serve as a libretto:

The View from the Cupola

There’s a piano piece called “Le Départ,” “The Departure.” by Alexandra Streliski, a pianist and composer from Montreal.

One commenter of the YouTube video I have placed below said, “This music describes eternity.”

When I stand at the window in the cupola of my blog and gaze out over the tall grass meadow down to the stream and the woods beyond, I think of those I have known who have departed this life before me.

When my grandmother was in her sixties, I remember her sitting in a chair in the living room and saying wistfully, “All my friends are dead.” I’ve never forgotten that. It is one of the reasons I value my friendships so closely. I haven’t forgotten my grandmother; I haven’t forgotten either of them, nor any of my family members that have gone on ahead of me.

Often, near the end, the dying enter a process of departure, still here and already there. I often wondered where my mother Emma’s soul or spirit went in her final stage of dementia. Sometimes I actually sensed her hovering around – usually her former bright and cheerful self getting up in the morning, yellow sunshine streaming through her bedroom windows, and having things to attend to around the house, her toy poodles to feed, or clothes to choose and lay out to wear for a luncheon with her friends, or telling me something. It was as if she got up out of her body and came around every now and then. And this I experienced only in the last two weeks of her life. Maybe, too, it was my letting go, a clearing.

Caregiving doesn’t end with the passing of the cared for. Suddenly, there’s this person standing in your midst, and it’s you. It’s like meeting someone who’s departed on a long journey and has now returned unexpectedly. You have to get to know yourself again; for, although caregivers are repeatedly reminded by the observers to take care of ourselves, take time for ourselves, we don’t. There really isn’t time. So, you begin a new relationship with yourself. And, then, of course, there’s the family to contend with, who may have found fault with everything you did caregiving in their absence, and the paperwork and finances — all the fallout. It takes four years to regain normalcy, say most former caregivers. I am finding it so.

Of course, there’s the grieving. There is no set limit to the length of time for grieving. Some say the second year is harder than the first. Thus so in my experience. Realistically, you never stop grieving the departed; the process just changes. You never stop caring.

Some of my friends have passed on. I miss them very much. I wish I could pick up the phone or turn to them and say something. When I think of them, is that like posting a thought on the wall of the universe, and somewhere they’ll pick it up? I miss many friends whom I presume are still living. The winds of change over the years drove us apart. I have forgotten none of them. Some I connect with on Facebook after years gusting by like lifetimes. It’s like, “So, hey, how’re ya doing in this lifetime?” It’s very cool. A happy reconnecting.

–Samantha Mozart
Self-appointed librettist

 

CXL. Time and the Russian Clock

I really do have a problem with time. My father told me—Drat! I can’t get the words out and time is just flying by—OK, chill—that his grandfather had a thing about time, that it was passing by too fast. I happened to have inherited that. My father and stepmom had this beautiful Russian mantel clock that his family picked up in Philadelphia around the turn of the last century, maybe earlier—in other words, it came from czarist Russia. It is rectangular, glass in an ornate gilt case, about a foot high. My great grandfather would not allow anyone to wind that clock. And so it sat until it came into my father’s hands. My father wound it meticulously. That clock, whenever I see it, reminds me that time is running out—and, yet, I know it’s only in my mind.

Our brain, it seems, creates its own time, inner time, not clock time, and this inner time guides our actions, according to this March 7, 2008 New York Times piece, “Time Out of Mind.” We get stressed—time is money—and in our perceived lack of time, we stress and take more time to complete a task—we make mistakes, feeling pressed to rush through things.

One rainy night at closing time I was rushed to leave the retail store where I worked so I could make my ride home. My driver dropped me off in front of my house and drove on. That’s when I realized I didn’t have my keys. It was pouring rain, the time was somewhere around 11 p.m. and I didn’t have a cell phone. My keys were on the store checkout counter where I had laid them when I put on my coat. I live alone and I was locked out.

My hidden key wasn’t where I thought I had hidden it. I don’t know what happened to it. The minutes of all the clocks in China and elsewhere on earth ticked away as I stood on my porch, under the roof out of the rain, pondering my dilemma. I decided to ask my neighbor across the street. He’s a young guy and maybe could help me get in somehow, like forcing a window. I rang the doorbell. The door opened. Thank goodness someone was up. It was his mother. He wasn’t home. He was at work and wouldn’t be home until 5 a.m.

His mother let me use her cell phone. I called a friend. His number is easy and I pulled it out of my mind. He was my assistant manager at the store. He is a close friend and lived close by, two miles from me. He had the night off. He had already gone to bed, but he answered his phone despite his not recognizing the calling number. He was at my house in no time—ten minutes—and drove me to the store, unlocked the door, let me in and I got my keys.

He brought me home. We sat in the car and talked for a few minutes, not long, for it was late, after midnight by now. We are kindred spirits. He was born 55 years after I, yet we feel no sense of the space of time between us. Sometimes I feel we traveled across time to each other so we could meet again. We share a favorite song by Snow Patrol—“Chasing Cars”: “If I lay here, if I just lay here, would you lie with me, and just forget the world?”—no stress about time. We like to drink dark Roman wine, and we like “Dark Roman Wine,” the song, again by Snow Patrol. He is sweeter than the darkest Roman wine. And every time, he beats me at Monopoly.

The Russian clock remains in our family. It has meant a lot to my brother and me over our long lifetimes. It’s in the hands of our generation-younger sister now. The hands of the clock return to twelve o’clock, straight up, every twelve hours. It runs on a routine. It is predictable. Unexpectedly, my friend left one day in January. He texted me that morning: “You should know….” A thing happened and there was a job in another state. He had to go away. Where he is precisely I am not certain; he is out of reach. He’s been gone months. I miss him. He has meant a lot to me over our brief four years together in this lifetime. Like the clock’s hands, like the hours, after a time, will he return? I cannot predict.

I stumbled upon a song Gillian Welch wrote with her partner David Rawlings, “The Revelator,” “Time’s the Revelator.” Isn’t it just.

—Samantha Mozart
May 29, 2022
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This piece will be published in my new book of essays, Leftover Bridges.

 

Leftover Bridges

I see so many directional signs along the road when I travel that say “left over bridge” but I seldom see the leftover bridges. Naturally, I wonder, as I’m sure you may have, why are there so many leftover bridges? Did they order too many? Was there a population decline? Did a river dry up? Was there a drought? Why? Why is there a leftover bridge? Maybe because they ran out of materials when they were building the road, so they couldn’t get the road to go far enough to meet the bridge….  Or, maybe it was just a bridge to nowhere.

“You are so silly,” my friend James told me. “Everyone knows that those signs denote where trolls on diets have dined. They used to eat the whole bridge, but since they started cutting back, now there are plenty of leftovers.”

Coming soon, my new book, Leftover Bridges, a gathering of pieces I have written from my musings on my travels and thoughts, things I see from the corners of my imagination, some published, some not, delivered to you in one tasty serving. While Leftover Bridges is in the editorial process, I will post some samples that I hope you will enjoy. I wish I could tell you I’d offer you a glass of wine with them, but I haven’t figured out how to do that yet. Meanwhile, if you’re hungry for more, I invite you to read my currently published books in print form or ebook. Just follow the cover image links to Amazon and buy now.

The Far Shore

My friend drove me up the long, winding mountainside road through the golden aspens, all the way to the top, nearly 10,000 feet. She stopped her little tan pickup truck and we got out. She kept two beach chairs in the back and we carried them to the sand. On the shore of Rock Creek Lake we sat and talked while the four o’clock sun lingered, warming our bodies and articulating raylets of colored light from the shimmering ripples, like fragments of rainbows refracted from a crystal hanging in a sun-filled window. Little rounded polished pebbles lay in soft pastels at the water’s edge, washed by the crystal clear wavelets. From the waterline on the far shore surged the sheer granite mountain wall rising to meet the sun yet seeming so close I could lay my hand on it in the rarified atmosphere. The sky was the bluest of blues, touched by no cloud. Was I in heaven? Was I alive? Had I been incorporated into a postcard picture? Someone pinch me. Yes, this is real.

Today, though, this picture is a dream, a fragment of a vast spectrum of memories I collected during my many visits to Mammoth Lakes, California. I’ve long dreamed of having a home in Mammoth. One day maybe I will. Mammoth Lakes, Mammoth Mountain: In the heart of the Eastern High Sierra, it is among the most beautiful places on earth––or is it simply heaven?

I lived in Redondo Beach, near Los Angeles, when I visited Mammoth and my friend took me to Rock Creek Lake. Four years later, I had a choice of moving to Mammoth or taking a winter working vacation in Naples, Florida. As autumn approached, I let the cards fall, and Naples floated down on top. “You’re not gonna like that humidity,” my friends said. Granted. It was a choice of opposites: Opposite coasts, opposite ends of the country; Mammoth had single-digit humidity while Naples had––I found out later––quadruple-digit humidity. Mammoth sits at nearly 9,000 feet altitude in the heart of the Long Valley Caldera, where swarms of earthquakes are caused not only by movement along faults, as you might expect, but also by pressure of magma rising beneath the earth’s surface. Naples, on the other hand, lounging in the lightning capital of the world, basks single-digit feet above sea level, where swarms of snakes and turtles slither and crawl up from the swamps ahead of the next flood.

Regardless, in October 1994, I packed up my belongings and moved to Naples. My daughter, 27, helped me pack. If you ever want somebody who is an energetic, organized, efficient packer, with a keen sense of spatial relations and a get-it-done attitude, call her.

Ten years earlier, when I moved from a house to an apartment, my daughter helped me. Our two-car garage was filled with boxes containing the history of my life so far––humorous (well, hilarious, I thought) parodies on commercials I had written as a child and an excellent version of “The Night Before Christmas,” yearbooks, scrapbooks, old photos, personal household objects I wasn’t currently using, and I don’t know what else. I stood there in the garage, exhausted before I began, almost in tears, and said to my daughter, “I don’t know where to start.” “Start at the front,” she said. That seemed logical.

So this time when I moved I engaged my daughter’s help posthaste. “Mom … you have a lot of stuff,” she said, packing up the 9,000th box. As a writer, naturally I need to own a library with every book in print, save all newspaper and magazine clippings––or the whole publication––that might be of research value to me someday, and save every draft (pre-computer) and every note of every story or essay I’ve ever written; and, of course, my journals. Yes, there are a lot of boxes.

Nevertheless, I stuffed my pen, notebooks and flyswatter into my little Hyundai and rode off into the sunrise. I saw my quarter century of life in Redondo Beach roll out behind me in the rear-view mirror. I also saw my daughter standing on the curb alone, waving goodbye. I would be back in a few months.

I lived in Naples seven years. When I lived in Redondo Beach, most of the time I actually lived in the Hollywood Riviera, created in the 1920s as a summer place of distinction for movie stars. It was that part of Redondo on a hillside of the Palos Verdes Peninsula overlooking the Santa Monica Bay, which, just before I moved there, was annexed to neighboring Torrance, but retained it’s Redondo Beach postal status. So I drew the benefits of both cities at once. I frequented Torrance Beach (for my friends who had grown up there and my daughter and her friends it was the local beach hangout). I always said I was from Redondo, though (we all did), unless I was using the superb Torrance library or civic center. I kept a post office box in Redondo for a while after I drove away that final time and I have worn my Redondo Beach Public Library 1892 centennial sweatshirt, sapphire blue with white lettering around the seal, into the millennium.

Naples was sculpted from the mosquito-infested swamp and billed as paradise at about the time the chimneyed, red-turreted Hotel Redondo was razed from the moonstone-invested Redondo seaside in 1926. Built on a bluff overlooking the Santa Monica Bay in 1889, with views of the Santa Monica Mountains along the Malibu coastline to the north, the 1,000-foot altitude Palos Verdes Peninsula to the south, and the vermillion sunsets to the west, the hotel was done in by Prohibition and sold for firewood. Its near twin, the historic Hotel del Coronado, built on Coronado Island off San Diego in 1888, continues to host guests in grand style. The streets above Moonstone Beach where the Hotel Redondo stood bear the names of gemstones—Ruby, Diamond, Sapphire, Emerald, Beryl, Garnet, Topaz, Carnelian…. In the stead of the Hotel Redondo, today jutting out over the harbor, high over the waves in water as green and clear as an emerald, stands the bustling Redondo Pier with its restaurants and shops; the present pier has lasted longer than its predecessors lost in El Niño storms every few years. Naples, at the time I lived there, growing faster than L.A., rang of cachet, and cash, a classy resort town on the Gulf of Mexico, great for golf and raising kids; but in the comfortable corners of my mind I continued to reside in Redondo.

I almost got toasted in Naples when lightning struck the ground, fried my TV, VCR, my electric stove, and shot glowing cinders through my jalousied door across the kitchen to the far wall, mere inches from my right arm as I stood at the stove. It was then that I determined to go home to California. (Well, and there was the palmetto bug that was just too big to squeeze between the slots when I was trying to wash it down the drain because I had heard they smell awful if you squash them.)

I bought a pre-owned white Mercedes, loaded it down and headed north to Delaware to visit family before jogging west to California. All I needed was a strip of tassels hanging from the windshield. In Fort Myers flakes of dried rubber started flying off the tires; I had to stop and buy new ones. The dealer hadn’t mentioned that the car had been sitting a long time. “You can trust me,” he said. I should have known. But, I really wanted that car––sun roof, long wheelbase, red leather upholstery, CD player…. Heading east on Interstate10 from I-75 to Jacksonville, I began hearing a helicopter rotor noise. I turned up the music. By Fayetteville, even the music didn’t drown out the squeaking whirring. I spent five days in a motel having the broken rear axle fixed; that and the gasoline leak in the trunk. The cost and length of the repair drove me to believe I was to become Fayetteville’s newest resident.

I might have been more practical had I leased a galleon and sailed up the Atlantic coast into Delaware Bay. I’m always wishing for my ship to come in. As the captain, I could personally sail it in. Ah, but here I veer off course.

When I finally cruised into Delaware ten years ago (on I-95), I realized that my mother, whose life has spanned nearly a century, needed help. I’m still here. John Updike, in his novel “In the Beauty of the Lilies,” describes Delaware as a low, boggy place where everybody always has a runny nose. Be right back. I need a hanky.

Ah, before you, dear Delawarean reader, start pelting me with chicken beaks, let me point out that I have lived in Delaware off and on since I was a kid––involving crossing a lot of bridges, some of them covered, some of them over the Delaware River to New Jersey, burning as few as possible––over the course of my life and have enjoyed the place. I’ve written and published stories about its history, lore and mysterious stirrings. Is Blackbird Forest really named after Blackbeard, the pirate, thriving so near the Delaware Bay he sailed up, and is his treasure really buried somewhere beneath those tall old trees rising out of the bogs? (Carolina bays, they call them.)

Best of all, I like stopping on a fine November day at a red-brick corner of Sixteenth and something in Wilmington where F. Scott Fitzgerald and his daughter, Scottie, waiting in their car for Zelda, sat and talked and watched the faint movements behind the curtains of a house over the way with the loose, banging shutter where, Scott told Scottie, a Fairy Princess in a yellow dress was kept concealed by an Ogre. The Prince has to find the three stones that will release the Princess, he told her. Fitzgerald published his story “Outside the Cabinet-Maker’s” in 1928. He could remember that world but he knew he would never again see it or touch it for himself.

Yet lingering in the corners of my mind memories come up in ripples shimmering there for a moment on the far shore, magically carrying me to one fine day in autumn where golden leaves, like doubloons, shine with a soft tremulous light in a rarified atmosphere. For me now, California remains a state of mind. The shutter slams shut on the winds of change, but it swings open again.

August 8, 1996
Revised November 23, 2010
Naples, Florida

CXXXIX. Konami Moving

SMYRNA, Del.–When I came to Delaware to visit my mother, Emma, I found her in the early stages of dementia. There was no one to care for her but me. I had to stay. I left everything behind in Southern California. I was between apartments, my personal and household belongings were in storage. I thought I was coming for a visit. I hadn’t known I would stay so long. I didn’t even have a winter coat.

For nearly 20 years now I’ve lived in a house with my mother’s glassware, my mother’s dishes and pots and pans, my mother’s table and bath linens, my mother’s color schemes, her furniture, the flowers she chose to plant and her favorite butterfly patterns in wall art, in towels, on clothes. I have lived as a ghost in my own home.

COVID-19 relief plans and the federal stimulus have given me the funds to finally move my things out of storage and have them delivered to me.

I googled, phoned and got moving estimates. I thought I was hiring North American Van Lines to move my belongings. It turns out that this North American is North American Moving, a broker who hired Konami, a moving company I’d never heard of. I only heard of them after I had paid North American Marketing my $789 deposit on November 12, 2020.

Konami Moving picked up my household belongings from a storage unit in El Segundo, California, on November 17. I paid them by credit card half the balance due, $1,157.50, per their contract. They transported my things to a warehouse in Las Vegas where the items languished for 21 days. I didn’t know this would happen. I have moved across country and up and down the East Coast, and the way it worked was that they picked up your stuff one day, put it on a truck and drove as many days as it took to traverse the distance, from door to door and delivered it, carefully placing your individual items in the rooms of your choice. Nobody took it off a truck and left it in a warehouse in a sleezy town in the middle of a desert. Needless to say, I hounded the warehouse over the phone: where are my things? what is the status? On the rare occasions I reached them, your things are in the manifest process, they said. What does this mean? How long does this take? It just depends, they don’t know, they said. The “they” being the young girls of the Tiffany generation: there’s finding a driver without COVID, there are interstate tariffs, there’s the weather, there are other deliveries, there’s….

A week went by, then two. I continually called Konami dispatch. I’d wait sometimes 45 minutes for someone to answer the phone, having to endure four bars of garbled music looping. On the rare occasions someone answered, they exhibited ennui, offhandedly telling me they had no idea where my things were, that they were with the driver and they couldn’t reach the driver because he was driving and would not answer his phone. They kept me in the dark for two months about moving status and delivery date. Over the course, I spoke with Ashley, Destiny, Amber, and one young girl who sounded like she’d just gotten out of bed after the boss’s wife caught her in the act with the boss.

During the course, Konami said they had 21 days from pickup in El Segundo to get my move on the road.

They finally told me they were loading it from the warehouse onto a truck the weekend of December 12-13, it would take five to seven days to deliver it and the driver would call me 24 hours before he arrived here.

What a joy to finally get my things—my essential self—back after all these years and before Christmas.

The driver called me on December 22 and said he’d be at my home at 8 a.m. December 23. He told me I owed a cash balance of $1,157.50. I told him I’d already paid it by credit card on December 11, to Moving Services US, when Konami wanted CASH upon delivery and I insisted I pay only by credit card. He said he’d have to call the office. He never showed. When I called dispatch they said they couldn’t reach him and didn’t know where he was. “Well, he has eight other deliveries to make,” the girl said, “and it could be the weather.” “The weather’s beautiful here and all around us and has been for days,” I told her.

I continually called Konami Moving to find out where my things were and when they would be delivered. At one call, on hearing my name, the young woman on the other end said, “Oh, I’m so sorry your things are broken and lost.” I hadn’t even seen my things, still trying to find out where they were; so, how would I know they were broken, and I hoped they were not lost.

December 28, 2020: I call Konami. Destiny says she has my number and she’s going to text the driver now. These drivers are independent contractors, it turns out, and they can make their own decisions on how long it takes to get to you. She said it could be weather related but she will get back to me today. No rain, no snow, no phone call.

January 14, 2021: Dispatch phones me from Las Vegas and tells me the driver will deliver my things the next day. The driver calls on the afternoon of the 15th and says he will be here that evening at 5:22. He and his helper arrive at 5:45, having driven the truck containing my things down from Secaucus, New Jersey, near New York City, a little over two hours north of my home in central Delaware. Had my precious, long lost belongings sat in his truck in Secaucus for a month, beneath a murky overpass? Is there anything left?

When the two guys arrive they unload my belongings on the sidewalk and grass in the dark. They insist on setting my five pieces of furniture in the living room and dumping my 50-plus cartons of books, phonograph records, china, glassware and clothing in the entrance hall, just inside the front door. The driver says he has another delivery that night, so we have to rush. He refuses to place my items in the designated rooms on all three floors, the third floor being the attic. It doesn’t have lights. He has the contract, he says, producing some crinkled, smudged papers, lays them on the sill and runs his arm over them to smooth them. “Here, this is your contract! This is your signature, right?” He waves it in my face. “It doesn’t say we have to put things in rooms.” “No, this is not my signature,” I say. “This is a copy of the legal document for pickup of my things in El Segundo, that my designated proxy there signed. Here is a copy of the contract I signed,” I say, showing him the copy in my cellphone.

The two then placed my goods in the designated rooms as best I could direct them, for they did not give me time to examine each carton to determine its contents. I instructed them to place and stack the cartons in the center of the rooms, leaving me a path to reach lamps, windows and doors. They stacked items in front of exit doors; they stacked boxes in my living room leaving me no path to get to the lamp in the corner to turn it off. The driver refused to move the boxes. Some were too heavy for me to lift. “Do you want to keep your job?” I asked the driver. “I don’t care,” he said. Finally the helper moved a few boxes to create a path to the lamp. The two were at my home until 7:45 p.m., two hours. They had stacked cartons upside down and cartons of books on top of cartons marked fragile. I have lost count of how many cup handles are broken.

Three pieces of my furniture are missing, one a family heirloom, and a fourth piece, a cabinet, has a leg splintered and broken off. I cannot repair it. My friend Joe and I set it out at the curb. One of those people who drives around in pickups looking for stuff came along and took it. Other items of value are broken or missing. My solid wood bookcase is missing. As a writer, I have a library of books and no place to shelve them. At least I have my books. I bought a new five-shelf bookcase from Amazon. I thought it would be delivered as a solid piece. It wasn’t. It came in a box full of boards and screws and nails with instructions that said to use a number 2 Phillips head screwdriver. I’m more adept at telling you what is a number 2 can of beans than a number 2 Phillips head screwdriver. Fortunately when Emma and my stepfather got divorced in their 70s, he gave her a toolbox. I found a screwdriver in there that fit. Joe is helping me assemble it. It’s taking several sessions because he has a job and other responsibilities and has to do it in his spare time.

I phoned Konami Moving in Las Vegas regarding the missing items. Amber, a young woman I had spoken to previously, upon hearing my name, said, flatly, “Yes. We got your email.” I had not sent an email. When I asked her to send me a copy, she said they couldn’t find it. She told me they do a sweep of their warehouse every Friday and IF they find my things they will call me – not whether or not, just IF. “What if they’re on one of your trucks?” I ask. She does not answer. I have not heard from them.

It happens there’s a class action lawsuit against Konami Moving and Storage with over 100 claimants, all in recent months, as well as an equal number of complaints to the Better Business Bureau, of which Konami is not a member. I have filed with both. One claimant said she actually went to the Konami Las Vegas warehouse to find her things, and found the facility strewn with beer cans and debris.

–Samantha Mozart
March 7, 2021

 

Oranges

The orange is a hybrid of the pomelo and the mandarin. It originated around 314 B.C. in the region comprising southern China, northeast India and Myanmar and traveled to Europe with the Moors. Oranges come in many varieties. Here are the most common.

The Navel orange is a low acid, sweet, large orange. It is seedless and generally easy to peel, easier if it comes from California rather than Florida. The Navel orange season runs from November to January in Florida and in California from January to March.

The Hamlin orange is a nice sweet little Florida orange, somewhat oval in shape and great for juice. The Hamlin orange has a few seeds, though not many. It does not peel easily. Therefore, most people prefer it for juicing rather than eating. Hamlin season is November to January.

Contrary to popular belief, the Florida Pineapple orange is not part pineapple. It does have almost yellow flesh—very light orange—and is very sweet and juicy, like a pineapple. It’s slightly larger and rounder than the Hamlin and is riddled with seeds. It’s not easy to peel. It is considered a juice orange.

The Florida Temple orange is actually a tangor. A tangor is a cross between a tangerine and an orange. The Temple orange is generally small, has a few seeds, resembles a tangerine more so than an orange, and is very sweet and juicy. Because the temple orange is easy to peel and is so juicy, it is good for both eating and juicing. Temple orange season is February and March.

The Minneola tangelo is generally large and bell-shaped, with a small knob on the top (but not always—some are round and quite small), deep orange in color and seedless. Its thick skin makes it easy to peel, and it is super sweet and juicy, especially the Florida Minneola—one fruit makes a whole glass of juice. So, Floridians call them Honeybells. They have a very short season (January in Florida, later in California) and the trees do not always produce well, so they are more expensive than most other citrus. A tangelo is a cross between a grapefruit (hence the bell shape) and a tangerine.

The Valencia orange is the orange you see most commonly sold on the market. It is classified as a seedless orange, although you probably will find a couple of seeds in many of them. It is fairly easy to peel grown in California and difficult to peel grown in Florida. California Valencias are thicker skinned than Florida Valencias. The Valencia orange has a long season—March through August. Valencia oranges are great for juicing or eating.

A tangerine is a mandarin-like citrus; that is, generally with a thin easy-peel skin (zipper fruit) and often seedless, depending on the variety. The name comes from, as you might guess, Tangier, Morocco.

The Satsuma is a mandarin, originating in Japan, typically seedless, easy to peel, sweet and juicy. A must-buy for October to December holiday treats.

Carol Child
for Samantha Mozart
December 12, 2020

Citrus — Selecting and Preparing Oranges

When I lived in California and was used to buying perfectly orange oranges, one day I walked into the produce section of the supermarket and discovered that the oranges were all greenish. “What’s the matter with them?” I asked the produce man, dismayed….

For the answer, click on or tap the magazine cover image below. After my encounter with the greenish oranges, I went to Florida and worked at a farm market, whereupon my boss stationed me in a little outpost just outside the farm stand, next to the citrus display, maybe to get me out of the way, I don’t know. Anyway, I became a citrus expert. The other day, I published a short piece on citrus characteristics and selection in the October issue of this new digital magazine called “The Hip Senior,” on pages 52-53. Check it out. You’ll probably want to read some of the other informative stories in this attractive mag, too.

–Carol Child
for Samantha Mozart
October 3, 2020

 

CXXXVIII. Fugue II

June 28, 1914 — A dustup in Sarajevo. Someone shot dead Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg. That tragedy triggered a Great World War. While the Industrial Revolution had been changing the way we do things, first in Britain and then in America, trains speeding up travel, factory chimneys polluting the air, the changes were gradual. The First World War produced a shock wave, crumbling the cultural towers of society, changing our ways suddenly, unexpectedly and forever.

June 28, 1919 — The signing of the Treaty of Versailles: The Germans were peeved. For some twenty years thereafter they held a grudge. With so many of our faces buried in our smart devices, it might be expected someone will soon start marketing screen savers for our noses. Do we think about the causes and effects of these events leading from one Great War to the next and to the insidious spread of Communism and the Cold War, and on and on and on and on? You know how it goes. Or we should; alas, most of us, no. The interweaving of events of the 20th century and into the 21st has produced one long fugue.

June 28, 2020 — Today a new enemy has ambushed us, one trenchantly parallel to that other, insidious killer of 1918-1919, the Spanish flu pandemic. Our new one is COVID-19. We have to go out in public attired in battle gear – gas masks, pith helmets, gauntlets, germ killers, or something akin to these; at least, that’s what it feels like. And then when we come home, to meticulously shed our attire and shower seems like dismantling a live bomb. In 1918-19 the Spanish flu was spread in large part by the mobilized troops in Europe, and when they returned home, injured, they spread it here in the United States. So many individuals were living young, healthy, vibrant lives; then they got the flu and they died. My grandparents told the stories of their close relatives who died. In 2020, we must be cognizant of history lest we be doomed to repeat the past.

The New York Times published a beautiful and thought-provoking photo essay and story on June 26, 2014: “The War to End All Wars? Hardly. But It Did Change Them Forever.”

My friend R wrote a poem that I want to share here, lest we forget the deeper implications, lest we fail to recognize the profound parallels to our lives today, lest we forget to remain vigilant:

SHADOWS OF WARS

The shadow of war
Revolution, no more
The lesson unlearned
Power, Privilege and Wealth soar
Senate and Congress do hoar
King, Czar, Sultan returned
Tell who’s who and what’s for
 
Observation towers and bunkers
To profits old clunkers
Enslaving the poor
Through to the core
From battlefield to graveyard
The law defines who’s ward
To die on your own
And be buried unknown
 

World War II Observation Towers on the Delaware Bay. From these we watched for German submarines coming up the United States East Coast, from the Atlantic Ocean, up the bay to the chemical plants and refineries lining the Delaware River from Wilmington, Del., to Philadelphia, Pa. Photo by Robert Pennington Price

This poem is thought provoking vis-à-vis the 28 June 1919 signing of the Treaty of Versailles, the 100th anniversary of the First World War; and of the 70th anniversary of the Second World War Western Allies landing on Omaha Beach, D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. Today the battle of COVID.

Poppies grow in the French fields now, shrouding where the unknown soldiers missing in action rest. When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn…?

I watched a 1984 TV series recently, based on the M. M. Kaye novel, The Far Pavilions, set in 1870s India. In the end the Brits crossed the Indian-Afghan border to engage in battle at Kabul to prevent the Russians from taking rule of Afghanistan.  1870s. This 1870s British-Russian standoff was called, not the great war, but The Great Game, a term Rudyard Kipling’s 1901 novel, Kim, made popular, a scenario made even more popular when the Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Where are the poppies of peace in the killing fields of life? Harvested in Afghanistan for opium, one medium of numbing ourselves to events…. How lovely. It’s the human condition. It is as with unresearched declarations on social media, harvested by the masses too lazy to rise from their saddles to research what’s really going on, to ferret out the truth. Rather, let’s educate ourselves, and, then, build our fortifications and defend them.

This fugue interweaving battles and disease plays across the centuries. We cannot flee it. It is never ending. I, for one, am tired of being locked in my cabin. I do go out, but not often, attired in my battle gear, but I don’t do masks well. I can’t breathe, I can’t see over them, so I’m afraid of tripping and falling. At my age I could fracture things and that might even prove fatal. Besides, the mask steams up my glasses.

COVID pandemic, where are the poppies in the fields of wheat? When is VC-Day (victory over COVID)? When will this end? When will this ever end…?

—Samantha Mozart
for June 28, 2014
Revisited & Revised July 25, 2020

CXXXVII. The Gateway

Thursday, April 23, 2020—In the Eastern High Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, the dry air smells of pine sap and granite dust. Hiking up the mountainside, at 9,000 feet altitude and higher, I round a bend, unexpectedly to come upon a waterfall. I stand in awe, mesmerized, watching it shift and lift and change, sonorous, a white lacey veil played by the fingers of the wind. I move on, tripping the light fantastic along the banks of a glacier lake, taking care not to stumble over the plumbing, the pipes running from that lake down to the next and the next, ultimately to supply water for the town of Mammoth Lakes and other California places. The long arm of mankind reaches into the backcountry.

Even so, the place is alive with nature mankind has not touched, yet. It is real, not virtual. All one has to do is be there, be among it. Glaciers, like the one that carved Yosemite Valley where the incense cedars grow along the green Merced, recede, recede. They feed the water that cascades with grace over the sheer cliff face. The ground beneath my feet shifts and even the formidable granite mountain walls grow with every earthquake, and there are many, mostly small, imperceptible tremors.

Unless you’re in a dark closet, be aware of your surroundings. Is your neighbor really cooking dog or does it just smell like that? I don’t know what they were cooking in that California apartment below me, but I didn’t want to eat it. Here, outside my window the vermillion dogwood leaves burnished by golden October sun, against a slate-gray wind cloud backdrop, quiver in the breeze surfeiting a corner of my mind with abundant beauty as I type this, filling the white page with black words in Times typeface.

In the High Sierra, sometimes I hiked with companions; sometimes I hiked alone. Always I listened, felt, watched, sensed, sniffed the air. The pine sap I touched made my fingers swell a little. High above, the sun glinted off an airplane, a silver sliver aloft in the blue, the singular sound of its jet engines in the high dry atmosphere, a sound that carries me back to the Sierra on the rare occasions the humidity is low here on the East Coast and I hear that sound again. Hiking in the Sierra, I didn’t take a cell phone, though always a camera, a bottle of water and a snack. The wildlife was different there from at home in Southern California; there were blue stellar jays, marmots and mule deer. The marmots resemble miniature bears, really miniature; I steered clear of real bears, which at close encounter appear way bigger than portrayed in photographs

Now, here, in middle Delaware, I take a walk on an autumn afternoon. I leave my cell phone home. With my face aglow in the light of the smart phone I’ve buried my nose in, I’d miss my natural surroundings—the golds and reds and browns of the fallen maple leaves and the dry, smoky aroma rising from them as I shuffle through them; the venerable bald cypress incensing my hair and ears and shoulders with exotic fragrance as I walk in the cathedral of its graceful arms and hear the chittering and chirping of the many, busy little lives sheltered deep within.

As I walk, I walk through the gateway joining earth and heaven. As I recall these times, I walk there still.

–Excerpted and developed from CXIV: “A Treat for the Senses,” October 24, 2013

 

Nights at the Round Table — Revisited, and why not…?

Wednesday, April 8, 2020–I just finished offering my Dementia Caregiving Journal ebooks for free for a week on Amazon–“Begins the Night Music, Volume I” (April 8-12) and “To What Green Altar, Volume II” (April 13-17). I’m also in the process … Read more »

Snow Comes Softly

December 2019—Yesterday came cold and blustery. Flurries of Christmas shoppers arrived at the store where I work, and I felt good to be out among the people and greet them. Children, their animation electrified, anticipated Santa Claus’s coming to town. … Read more »

The Scheherazade Chronicles

“… the gap between compassion and surrender is love’s darkest, deepest region.” –Orhan Pamuk, The Museum of Innocence Once upon a time in the faraway land of my childhood, my mother held me on her lap in the rocking chair … Read more »

Fry ‘Em and They Get Tighter

After taking a season off to republish some of my earlier works, I am returning to post a series of excerpts from my upcoming book, Funny Farm Stories. Here’s the next:

I hadn’t been working at the farm market long when this guy came in, real friendly and nearly toothless. We got a lot of them coming into the stand off-season; they rose up out of the woods. Truthfully—that’s where they lived. We grew the best onion I’ve ever tasted, the Florida Sweet onion. The farm hands pull them out of the ground, wash them, peel off the outer, brown layers, trim the tips of the green tops to resemble a fan and that’s how we sell them. So, this guy comes in, picks out a couple of onions and brings them to the counter to purchase, raving to the other cashier, a Miami native, and me about how good they are. “They’re really good when you fry ‘em and get tighter,” I heard him say. We all laughed and agreed and he left.

“What did he mean, fry them and get tighter?” I asked my co-cashier. “What was he saying?” Being a Florida native, she would understand the accent.

“He said they’re really good when you get some potatoes and fry them together,” she translated.

“Oh, fry ’em with some ‘taters,” I said.

During February the weather was pretty much like that in Southern California, dry, low humidity and moderate temperatures. I liked this. Then March came. The bright sun glared so off the sand and pebble parking lot in front of the stand that I could barely keep my eyes open even when wearing sunglasses. The temperature shot up into the high eighties and so did the humidity.

“Does it get any hotter than this?” I asked my Miami coworker.

“Oh, yes,” she said, “a lot hotter.” Naturally, I could not imagine.

I thought she was kidding—until June. The heat and humidity swarmed around me, encased me, while the sun relentlessly poured molten yellow rays everywhere.

Yet, in the peak of July, at noon, I’d see senior citizens out taking their daily walk. “How do they do it?” I wondered.

–Samantha Mozart
for Carolina Gringo

Strawberry Table

Even though we offered a choice of selecting berries individually by the pound from the berry bar in the center of the store or already packaged, priced by the pint or quart, customers would sort through the berries in the baskets, rearranging them within a basket and among the baskets, women especially, looking like they were at a rummage sale for socks. Then they’d bring this quart towering with berries to the register. It reminded me of when I was a little girl and read this fairy tale about “The Village of Cream Puffs,” the place where Wing Tip the Spick lived a little girl with eyes “so blue, such a clear light shining blue, they are the same as cornflowers with blue raindrops shining and dancing on the silver leaves after a sun shower.” (From Rootabaga Stories, by Carl Sandburg.)

The story was illustrated with a picture of a little girl wearing two pronounced beauty marks, freckles, on her creamy white face with the strawberry red lips, and holding onto a tether of floating mountains of cream puffs capped with strawberries and whipped cream, stretching from here to the horizon. The Village of Cream Puffs is so light it must be tethered to a spool so when the wind is done blowing the people of the village come together and wind up the spool to bring the village back where it was before. Wing Tip the Spick’s freckles that her mother has placed on her chin look like two little burnt cream puffs kept in the oven too long, so that when she peers into the looking glass to brush her hair, she will be reminded of where she came from and won’t stay away too long.

Sometimes if the customer’s berry mountain was too tall for a plastic bag to scale and he or she had gotten the berries from the basket display on my checkout counter when I’d stepped away for a moment, I’d say, “Oh, look at this. Somebody sure filled these baskets unequally. Let me just take a few of these and put them in this half-full basket here,” and I’d grab a small handful out of the customer’s basket and replace them in the other basket. The customer never said anything.

–Carolina Gringo
as told to Samantha Mozart

Strawberry Planting

After taking a season off to republish some of my earlier works, I am returning to post a series of excerpts from my upcoming book, Funny Farm Stories. Here’s the next:

STRAWBERRY PLANTING

A customer walked up to my counter one day. “Tell me,” she said, resting her elbow in a quart of strawberries…

I pointed out that she was going to get stains. She removed her elbow and continued her question. I pictured the next customer arriving and saying to her companion, “Oh, these berries on the top are all flat. If they’re flat on top, imagine what they’re like on the bottom.” So when the lady with the elbow left, I examined the berries and picked out the flat ones.

We grew the berries on the farm, in the field right next to the produce stand where I worked. Because in Florida you can’t leave the berry plants in the ground year round, each spring we’d plow them under and in the fall replant. Each October Brad bought 33,000 strawberry plants and it took 12 Mexican guys a day and a half to plant them.

All the produce on the farm was grown in raised beds. So, before the strawberry plants were put into the ground, the Mexican foreman had to come along with the tractor trailing a big fork/tong-like attachment that looked like two long, cupped, many-fingered opposing hands which scooped the earth into mounds. Then he and a co-worker or two would put a roll of plastic on a spindle on the back of the tractor and lay the plastic over the mound. Afterwards, one of the co-workers would roll this huge iron spoked wheel, three or four feet in diameter, having spikes protruding regularly at right angles from its circumference over the plastic, punching holes in it. It looked like a Catherine wheel,

As soon as the holes were punched, the plants were set into the ground. After that, my two Mexican co-workers assembled and laid the sprinkler pipes. The foreman then hooked up the tractor to the well pump, started the engine to power the pump to bring the water from the well and sprinkle the strawberry plants from early morning till sunset for two to three weeks until the roots had grown and taken hold. By mid-December, we’d have strawberries. The berry production cycled in and out throughout the winter season, until April. My two, sometimes three, Mexican co-workers picked the berries for the farm stand or the customers themselves picked them from the field.

Although the farm was much larger, my boss farmed only 13 acres. He is a citrus expert, as I’ve said, and he owns and maintains a grove. He squeezed more work out of fewer workers than anyone for whom I’ve ever been employed. I suppose it’s like marching gladly to the gallows, for the workers produced willingly because he was funny and kind and rewarded us in other ways. We had one cashier, me, and in the busy season, two, to handle hundreds of customers a day. We worked nine to ten hours a day, and when working alone, without even a lunch break. We could eat lunch, but had to eat it in between or while waiting on customers. Two guys, and in the busy season, three, prepared the field, planted and cared for the crops, harvested the fruits and vegetables, washed them and stocked and displayed them in the stand.

In the evenings, just after I closed the stand, I’d see the foreman at the end of his twelve hour day out on the tractor spraying the strawberries and tomatoes and bell peppers and he’d look so tired, gray; I was afraid he’d fall off the tractor. I told Brad. He never fell off the tractor, though, and he sprayed the field from dusk into darkness without using the tractor lights.

For months we lived the farm. We had time for little else. Often we were exhausted. But we were outdoors: we had fresh air, lots of exercise, and fresh fruits and vegetables to pick from the field, free, including baskets and baskets of fresh, round, firm, succulent strawberries. As my real name is Carol, sometimes my two Mexican co-workers called me Carolina. I made up the Gringo part, being not so far from the truth. I also made up recipes from the fresh produce I picked from the field. Since I had neither time nor energy to spend at the stove when I got home from the farm, I kept my recipes simple and quick. I have included some for you at the end of my little book.

Carolina Gringo
as told to Samantha Mozart