Limited Interests

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TanteLoe — Pixabay

The Ragtag Daily Prompt today: WINDBAG
The Word of the Day Challenge: FUTILE

My response shall be this tale.

The Ornithologist

At the family picnic our cousin Devern’s new bride, Chloe was warmly welcomed by everyone in our extended family circle. At the picnic table I noticed that she sat next to great-uncle Herb, so I sat across from them in case she needed a little help. Uncle Herb wasn’t the greatest conversationalist.

As we all enjoyed our food, I heard Chloe ask Uncle Herb, “So, who do you think will win the presidential election this fall?”

Oh dear.

His noncommittal response was, “I won’t even try to guess.”

She seemed taken aback; nevertheless she made another stab at it. “At this point it’s pretty hard to predict, I guess. Who do you think Joe Biden will choose as his running mate?”

“I doubt it will matter much. Politicians are all about the same.”

Looking a little miffed, Chloe glanced at me and I gave her a sympathetic smile. She didn’t know Uncle Herb yet.

I leaned forward. “Say, Uncle Herb, I saw a bird in our yard yesterday, small and brownish with a lighter breast. It had a short tail that kind of stuck up. A wren, wouldn’t you say?”

“Oh, yes. Very likely, if its tail was short, somewhat blunt, and pointed up. A dusky flycatcher is small and brown, too, but its tail’s longer, more tapered. House wrens and duskies both have a ring around the eye and you may confuse the two by that, but the dusky is slightly larger, 5 3/4”. Also, duskies have a rather yellow belly and clear white wing bars, where the wren’s belly is creamy and its bars, on both wings and tail, are smaller black and brown. Look more like ripples. However, the upright tail will give the wren away every time. And its song, of course.

“Now, as to what kind of a wren… If its back was definitely brown and barred, it was a house wren. A sedge wren is much like a house wren, slightly smaller, only 4 ½”, but it doesn’t have that distinguishing thin ring of white around its eye. Also, a sedge wren’s throat is whiter and the belly more orange. Did you happen to get a good look at its throat or belly?”

“Um.. No. It was in the bushes and…”

“Too bad. Now, marsh wrens are slightly lighter in color and clearly distinguished by a line above the eye, going from the beak to the back of the head. Winter wrens are smaller than a house wren, though; a house wren is 4 3/4″ whereas a winter wren is only four inches. But winter wrens nest in the pine forests of northern Canada, so you’ll rarely see one here, except in migration. They don’t have a clear line above the eye, either.”

“I hope I get another chance to see it.” I also hoped to think of some topic that would stop Uncle Herb’s ornithological flow.

Suddenly he turned back to Chloe. “What kind of birds have you observed?”

She searched for an answer. “Er… Robins. I’ve seen robins.”

“Robins?” Uncle Herb looked puzzled. “Is that all? Surely you’ve seen other birds.”

Chloe got that deer-in-the-headlights look. “Uh… And pigeons. And sparrows. I’ve seen lots of sparrows.”

“Are you referring to native sparrows or English sparrows?” His tone was rather demanding.

Uh-oh! I knew where this was going.

Sadly, poor Chloe had no clue. “Is there a difference,” she asked.

“There certainly is.” The glare Uncle Herb gave her would have frosted the Sahara.

Seeing her wilt under his disapproval, I jumped up and said, “Want to come with me, Chloe? I think Mom’s ready to set the desserts out. I think she’ll need our help.”

“Sure!” She sprang from her chair and hurried to join me. We headed for the food table and stood beside it, since desserts weren’t being set out yet.

Chloe sighed. “I had no idea he’d be so passionate about sparrows?”

“Yeah. You’ll get the cold shoulder talking politics with Uncle Herb, but he’s a real windbag if you get him on the subject of birds. I guess we all know him by now and humor him if we can, or find somewhere else to be if he gets going full throttle. Don’t worry. You’ll catch on.”

Chloe chuckled. “Guess all families have them. Once my Uncle Tim gets started on state versus federal authority he can expound for hours. We’ve tried redirecting him but it’s futile. He has to wind down on his own.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” I gave her a big grin.

Wren in shrub cropped

Whose Uncle?

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning is UNCLE

This word brings to mind an expression I’ve seen from time to time in British novels, “BOB’S YOUR UNCLE.”

As in, “As quick as you can say ‘Bob’s your uncle’, he’ll have it done.”

This expression seems to be — or was once — common in England, but has never crossed the ocean, as far as I know. We say say, “Quick as a wink,” or “In double quick time. And we’ve borrowed the Spanish  “Pronto.” And “In a flash,” is common. But the proverbial Uncle Bob remains a mystery.

My husband, also a Bob, came across an obituary yesterday and showed me, as this was a death in my family circle. Not my uncle, but rather my birth mother’s first cousin Garnet H. He died March 18th at the age of 85. I wish I’d known at the time — not that we could have attended anything with the COVID restrictions in place — but it feels funny to only discover this by chance now, as my husband was checking the obits for some other name.

Garnet was one of those types who kept the extended family together, staying tin touch with us all and letting us know what the others were doing. He was the only one of Mom’s family I really had contact with. They lived in the same city as we did, Saskatoon, back when I was young. He knew my both sets of parents and how I grew up. Now that he’s gone, I may not have much, or any, contact with my birth mother’s family, which is sad in a way, but life goes on and people get involved in their own family circles. Eventually the extended family fades into the background.

Still, I feel rather blue because so many of these ones who were an important part of my young life have passed away. As a dear friend once said, “We’re at the age now where we go to 50th anniversaries and funerals.” She’s been gone a few years; her husband just died this spring.

And we’re planning a family picnic for our 50th wedding anniversary on August 1st. I trust by then things will have opened up enough that we can have our special event. 🙂

The Love of Poetry

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning is CURFEW

Seeing this prompt, one might launch into the latest news in the US, but my thinking goes to that old poem, “Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight,” written by an imaginative sixteen-year-old girl from Michigan in 1867, Rose Hartwick Thorpe.

This story supposedly took place during the English War of the Roses. A young woman’s sweetheart is imprisoned for some fault and sentenced to be shot that night at the ringing of the curfew bell. Our young heroine, trusting General Cromwell will pardon him — but Cromwell may come too late — rushes to the church sexton and begs him not to ring the curfew bell.

The sexton insists on doing his duty and turns her away, so she sneaks into the bell tower and when the sexton pulls the rope to ring the bell, she declares that, “Curfew must not ring tonight,” and grasps the bell clapper. Bashed back and forth, she bravely holds on until the sexton gives up. When Cromwell arrives, hears her story and sees her injuries, his heart is touched and he pardons the young man.

This poem was one of Queen Victoria’s favorites, according to Wiki.

It may seem odd that this old poem instantly comes to me, but the penchant is genetic. I love poetry, my Mom F (nee Vance) loved poetry; apparently her mother and father enjoyed reciting long epic poems; and her Grandmother Smith likewise. My Vance uncles were keen storytellers and cousin Linda is working on her own tales, having written down most of her Dad’s stories. I don’t know if there’s actually such a thing as a poetic gene, but evidence would lean that way.

It used to be that school children were given long poems to memorize; this task was supposed to sharpen young minds. Often the verse came with a dash of humor, like this one by Anon., to sweeten the effort:

“The little boys were awfully strong
when Father was a boy.
They’d weed the cornfields all day long
when Father was a boy.
And when the day at last was o’er
they’d go and do up every chore,
Then come and beg to work some more
when Father was a boy.”

I believe young minds were improved by this exercise. Moreover, the concept in a good poem can ripple for centuries. Writers and speakers still echo the sympathetic wisdom of Bobby Burns in his poem, Ode to a Mouse:

“The best-laid plans of mice and man go oft astray
and leave us not but grief and pain for promised joy.”

The Cooking Adventure

Sue, over at JibberJabber, has issued a mega-challenge: to use as many words as possible from the May daily prompts. So here’s my tale, using most of them:

The Cooking Adventure

Sherry, a lively, active thirteen-year-old, was late coming home from school one day. Her mom was already home from her job at the office when Sherry walked in carrying four large books.

This surprised her mother, who’d never seen Sherry do that much reading before. “Do you have a lot of studying to do this weekend,” her mother asked, eyeing the books. “Or some essay to write?” Then she took a closer look. “Cookbooks?”

“I am going to learn to cook,” Sherry announced.

Mom looked through the stack Sherry set on the counter. “Old Time Favorites. That sounds good. Baking: The Science Behind Success. Explore Mediterranean Cuisine.” Mom’s eyebrows arched. “What brought this on?”

“I got a letter from Marlys yesterday. She said…” Sherry’s tone was frosty…”I’ve never had to anything around the house. She thinks I’m so pampered because we have a housekeeper. She says I’m just like a flower in a greenhouse: if I had to keep house or cook, I wouldn’t know where to start. Well, I’m going to show her. I’m going to create some fabulous dishes and invite her over to try them.”

“I suppose your cousin has to help a lot at home and may be a bit jealous of you, but you shouldn’t let her comments grate on you. Still, it would be good for you to learn. I’ve been so busy with work all, I just haven’t had the energy to give you cooking lessons, but I’m happy that you want to learn. I’ll give you all the support I can. I see you brought A Beginner’s Guide to Cooking. That author has made a name both as a celebrated chef and as a class instructor. I think this is an excellent book to start with.”

Sherry’s first creation was a lemon soufflé. Mom showed her how to break the eggs and separate the yolks from the whites and whip the whites to stiff peaks. Sherry followed the recipe carefully and soon had the smooth batter in the pan, ready for the oven. She slid it in and turned on the timer. Mom gave her a short lesson on how to tell when the pudding was done, then went to do some laundry.

Sherry was delighted with her success thus far. She had to call her friend Heather to relate the story of her new cooking adventure. She was still on the line when the timer went and she didn’t hear it. At one point Mom rushed by and a moment later Sherry smelled something burnt.

Sherry hurried to the kitchen, but the damage was done. The soufflé had risen as it was supposed to, but now it was ruined. Sherry let out a wail of anguish

“There. You’ve just had a free cooking lesson. Distractions can spoil the best food.” Mom put an arm around her shoulder. “Don’t worry. You’ll have better luck next time. Learning to cook is a challenge, but if you stick with it and don’t give up, you may be a great chef someday.”

Prompt words used:
old, time, create, food, line, letter, relate, smooth, story
luck, free, explore, break, light, science, hurry, flower
name, short, carefully, support, book, challenge, happy

Spiralling

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning is LIKE A CIRCLE IN A SPIRAL.

ksenia-k-5ClvdUR-AEU-unsplashI suppose almost every spiral has a circle at its base, like the one in this image posted by KseniaK on Unsplash. But my mind went to another circle: that vice at the bottom of the downward spiral people sometimes find themselves in. Whatever the addiction that entices, when it takes hold, it tries to suck us down.

So here’s my verse, only lightly polished, as my response to today’s prompt:

THE SPIRAL

that first circle
a few young teens giggling
sipping into somebody’s
daddy’s stash of bottles

another whirl, the parties
everybody drinks at them
the high school dances
quick sips in quiet corners
circles spinning her round

somehow, sometime
the bottle reached out
grabbed her by the throat
and wouldn’t let go
fun turned to pain
and the spiral started
pulling her down its dark path

half-sober, she dimly recalls
those coins she once had,
the people she wanted to love
yes, she grabbed for them
wanting desperately to hold on
but one by one they rolled
lost among the empties
the spiral drew her down

the husband who didn’t stay
washed away in the foam,
her children, their eyes round
as they watched their mother
stagger across the house
then downcast, ashamed
when their friends saw her too
they left as soon as they could
and her life was full of empties,
so many circles in her spiral

she sheds a few tears
there in the dark stairway
when she’s sober enough
to remember what she once had
how much those clanking circles
cost as they bottled her

she needs another drink
the blinking neon beckons
across the road she stumbles
not seeing the bright lights
round eyes bearing down
a squeal, and the world spins
the pavement so bruising
perplexingly rises to face her

sirens pierce the night
scream through her brain
colored lights flash
bouncing off the pavement
hurting her eyes – such pain!
gravelly voices rock her mind:
Ma’am? Ma’am can you hear me?
the steady circling, circling
of those flashing lights
wailing, wailing
– or is that her?

Rowing With The Flow

Crispina has issued her latest creative writing challenge: CCC #81

“Every Wednesday I post a photo (this week it’s that one above.)
You respond with something CREATIVE.”
To see the rules and get the image, CLICK HERE.
And here’s the photo that will inspire us this week:

And here’s my response:

ROWING WITH THE FLOW

“Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream…”

“Oh, Mom. You always come up with those silly little songs. No matter what you see, you have to sing about it.”

“That’s because I’m so old. I’ve heard many songs in my life. It’s all about triggers, my girl. When you get to be my age, you’ll understand.”

Melissa rolled her eyes.

“Actually, I wish we were rowing down this stream instead of walking beside it. Wouldn’t that be lovely?”

“Yeah. Let’s rent a paddle-boat and do it sometime. I’d go for an espresso right now, though…and there’s a Coffee Kicks two blocks ahead.” Melissa pointed, then sang the latest Coffee Kicks jingle.

Mom chuckled.

Realizing what she’d done, Melissa wailed, “Oh, no – it’s happening already! I’m becoming just like my mother.”

“And your grandma. Where do you think I got it from?”

Melissa sighed. “I’m doomed.”