Tag Archives: memory

“L” is for Lucky and Liniment

When we were girls in the early 1970s, my two sisters and I were lucky, so lucky. We lived in Connecticut, in a historic rambling brick and clapboard colonial home painted white with black shutters in the deep woods. Small brown bats slept behind the shutters during the day and a long green sweep of lawn and gardens led to a pond guarded by weeping willows and bullfrogs. It was heaven.

But the luckiest way that we were lucky was to have a horse. Nightmare was a sturdy, glossy, black mare with some draft horse in her unremarkable pedigree. She tolerated everything we did to her, from fawning on her to climbing and jumping from her back to pushing through brambles, to pulling her thick mane and braiding it with brightly colored yarn, to bathing her with blue Dawn detergent under cold water from the hose.

We kept Nightie at a nearby riding stable. She was so sturdy that unlike the touchy thoroughbreds I would ride as an adult, Nightie was never injured, except for one oozing wound of proud flesh on her right hind ankle that didn’t heal for the longest time. Still, we watched the other girls treating their more sophisticated horses with fascinating ointments and liniments for sore muscles and pulled tendons, and we also applied these lotions to Nightie’s legs and practiced bandaging them snugly but not tightly with cotton fleece and wide wraps, even though she did not need them. Such a patient horse.

The liniment everyone used was an alcohol, menthol and who-knows-what concoction that tingled when you tipped it into your hand from the brown glass bottle and rubbed it down her cannon bones and hocks and down the straight-as-saplings tendons at the back of Nightie’s lower legs. We pronounced it ab-zore-bean. Decades later when I mentioned it to other grown-up horsewomen, they laughed and corrected me. The proper pronunciation was ab-zore-bean, they said.

But I still say it the old way in my mind.

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white sand beach shoreline

Poem: April

I’ve been writing and reading a lot of poetry over the past 10 weeks as I recover from surgery for a broken wrist. Marie Howe’s What The Living Do prompted this memory of my father’s last days. He died on April 18, 1995, in Vero Beach, FL.

 

April

I have arrived in this vivid spring: oleanders, hot Florida sun,
strong Atlantic breeze and cumulus towers in the blue-blue sky.

The small hospital is a tidy white concrete low-rise in a trimmed landscape
where shadows race and the wide doors open like airlocks.

Inside my father lies in a bed and I sit in a chair in my summer clothes.
Delirious, he says anything he thinks of and leers at my legs

licking his lips until something occurs to him
and he points at the door, looks me in the eye, and says,

Go to my office and get that book. I say, Maybe later.
Go now, he says and smiles like it’s a game.

He thinks he’s at home, not seeing the hospital around him.
What is it about, I ask, dangerously indulging the hallucination.

Go, he says, commanding. I say, I can’t, not right now.
A moment later he says, You’re having a hard time.

He sees me crying and his kindness breaks me in half.
The doctor and an intern enter and look at the two of us

How are you, the doctor asks me, but he can see perfectly well.
Prepare yourself, he says, and I begin.

I prepare by coming and going, abandoning plans for recovery
swapping vigils with my mother and sister

in the ICU that is a glass cage behind more airlocks
sitting with my father as he becomes quiet, struggles to breathe

watching the heart monitor leaping, the sound mercifully turned off
the oxygen mask pressing into the skin around his nose and mouth.

I prepare by taking an afternoon off as if cutting class or calling in sick
because he is unconscious, because I can’t take it, and that is when he dies

as I lie on the beach close to the restless, mumbling Atlantic
in the salty wind that peppers my skin with stinging sand.