Friday, July 9, 2010

magpie tales: tomatoes, golfballs & wood grain

schuck. schuck. schuck.

there is a slight tension as the blade first presses the skin, then release as it gives way allow smooth transit through the meat to clap on the cutting board. a thin puddle of juice, pocked with seed forms around the base of the thick red slices of tomato, fresh from the garden behind his house.

through the window, i watch him stare through the screen of the porch, watching two squirrels at play. a slight smile crinkles the leathered skin of his face, the sun highlighting the sparse remains on his quicksilver hair. his days are drawing short, but he doesn't seem to notice.

clink. clink. clink.

rattling the knife in the glass jar of creamy mayonnaise, i spread it thick on a slice of white bread, untoasted so as not to bruise his toothless gums. arranging the tomato, i sprinkle them with salt and pepper, then place them on a plate with a folded napkin.

at twelve, i have tasted the sweet acrid smell of death, having watched three of my four grandparents pass beyond this world. i am here to watch his final days, to help him fade gently. we spend days in his wood shop, his long fingers, well calloused, tutoring me the feel of the smooth grained wood, saw dust and machine oil heavy in the air.

placing the plate on the glass table in front of him, we say grace for one more day we have been given and i watch as he draws a sandwich to his mouth. a trickle of juice runs down his chin as he presses his soft flesh through the textures. his joy is a halo around his face.

swock. swock. swock.

in the afternoon, i carry a steel bucket of golf balls to the field and sit in the shade as he peppers the landscape with white polka-dots. wrapping his hands around mine, he shows me the proper way to hold a club, patient as i send balls in every direction until they begin to fly straight into the blue sky.

it is not death he teaches me, but life, and pleasure in the simple things; the satisfying feel of sweat from an hard days work, a ball well struck and the taste of summer in a tomato sandwich.

This is a Magpie Tale.

Some of my long time readers may remember the stories i have told about my time with my great uncle Lawrence. He is the one I think of with each tomato sandwich I make each summer. This is am amalgamation of several of those posts.

108 comments:

Titanium said...

You brought those warm summer days and delightful memories to life with this one, Brian. It's amazing how transparent they become, these folks who stand at the threshold between now and forever. Thanks for sharing your memories and tomato sandwiches...

Chocolate Covered Daydreams said...

My mouth watered from the thought of fresh tomatoes from the garden. For me it would be lightly toasted on sourdough bread.

Beautifully written!

JRM said...

I can't tell you how many people think I'm crazy when I tell them about tomato sandwiches!

Steven Anthony said...

This is beautiful, from the heart....truly, the small things ,,,luv it.

Ocean Girl said...

Your writing was beautiful right from the get go. Your description of your Uncle as you watched him through the window touched me.

I wish a wonderful weekend to you and your family.

tony said...

It Strikes A Chord With My Own Experiences.......As We Watch A Person Fade Away From Us,It Is The Basics Such As Food+Drink That All Concerned Concentrate On.

ds said...

This is lovely, Brian. I can smell the tomato, the sawdust, the oil, taste the mayonnaise & hear the golf balls being swocked.
"It is not death he teaches me, but life." Yes. Thank you.

Karen S said...

What a lovely tale -- I love all the small details.

Felicitas said...

This is lovely Brian. Such a simple story, yet it's message is quite profound.

Mama Zen said...

This is achingly beautiful.

nana_ang_poppaphil said...

This is so lovely Brian. It brought back memories of my Dad, he loved raw tomatoes with a little sugar and salt sprinkled on them..

Tomatoe sandwiches whether on bread or toast, straight from the garden..YUM!!

5thsister said...

"...it is not death he teaches me, but life..."

Beautiful line. I enjoyed this very much.

TALON said...

Your Great Uncle Lawrence would be so proud to have such a wonderful impact on your life, Brian.

So tenderly written.

PattiKen said...

How valuable it is for a child to learn simple things from someone like a grandparent. And how wonderful. So much life, love and wisdom is passed forward.

Beautiful job letting us peek in on these two moving forward together.

Eva Gallant said...

That last paragraph is profound!

TechnoBabe said...

Oh how fortunate to have time with this gentle man. Your words are sweet and pleasant to read.

otin said...

Reminds me of when I was a kid and my mother would make tomato sandwiches. I hated them, myself!

Tom said...

this may be the finest piece yet i've read of yours...still your style, but more so, and finer details. good stuff.

finallygettingtoeven.com said...

How wonderful for your relationship with your uncle as a young child. What beautiful memories you have of the two of you. Thanks for sharing.

Caty said...

tomatoes always make me think of my grandpa...he is very dear to me and still with us for a bit longer. Great story Brian!

The Bug said...

A lovely gentle tale - I really enjoyed reading it.

You know you've made a tomato sandwich right when the bread sticks to the roof of your mouth - yum!

tattytiara said...

I have found that the final days spent with someone you love can be among the happiest days of your life. This post vividly and beautifully reminded me of that.

kathew said...

lovely magpie-I wasn't lucky enough to have a grandfather or uncle. What a wonderful memory you related to us!

Tina said...

I could taste that sandwich with your words. I'm continuing to be amazed at your ability to create mood with your word choices. You are truly gifted.

Tracy said...

That is really sweet, Brian. I can almost taste those tomatoes. Yum, I miss fresh tomatoes. Have a super weekend!

Helen said...

Don't tell anyone ... but yours may be my favorite of all the Magpies!!

kkrige said...

sweet memories Brian

SuziCate said...

mmmmm...can't wait for my tomatoes to be ready, nothing like a tomato sandwich, makes summer complete!!!

Cheryl said...

Beautifully told tale. Makes me think of my dad and my grandfathers. They all taught me well.

Tumblewords: said...

Sweet and gentle - I love the feel of this, the passing of learning to the next group. Absolutely heart reaching!

Suz said...

wonderful writing Brian
and the fact that it is true only makes it better
I loved the sounds

Greyscale Territory said...

I felt peace as we slowly walked their journeys, noticeing the little sensations and savouring them! A beautiful piece of writing!

steveroni said...

I sure like your Uncle Lawrence, Brian--and YOU, too! You were good for one another...and you are good for US!

You have shown me what a really good writer writes, and HOW it is written
...Thanks!

AngelMay said...

Very nicely done, Brian. I loved your description of the tomato... and ...well... the whole thing. :)

signed...bkm said...

Summer has a way of making unquie memories and tomatoes and tomato sandwiches always seem to be a part of them....Wow, I barely finished editing my Magpie and you had it read and commented on -- you are quick.... great Magpie..thank you for sharing Uncle Lawrence...bkm

Magpie said...

Wonderful memories and frame of mind...teaching you life. Have a fantastic weekend.

adeeyoyo said...

Brian, each post of yours that I read touches me to the core! And each time I am amazed at your wonderful talent. You have such a gentle but sure hand. Take care.

Baino said...

Brian, you know me. I don't give compliments or make sycophantic comments but this was wonderful. Definitely steeped in experience and bless your uncle for providing such a great story on a very difficult muse. I was going to have a crack at Magpie Tales until I saw the picture. You've done it a great justice. Just lovely. I have to say, that there's nothing more intense and delicious than home grown tomatoes on white bread, loads of salt and pepper.

Stafford Ray said...

Yep, that's what grandparents are for. Lovely pace and the divisions by sound.. masterful.

RNSANE said...

What an endearing tale. I can taste those fresh tomatoes, shared with a great uncle, beloved, who has taught a young man so many of the finer things in life.

ninotaziz said...

A lovely summer coming to an end... thank you for a heartfelt and real magpie.

Brigid said...

Gorgeous magpie, I love how its the little things in life that can trigger very powerful emotions and memories.

Selina Kingston said...

The way you convey sound and texture is genius

Bernie said...

So love tomatoes off the vine, great story Brian.....:-) Hugs

heatblast said...

It was always about life and all the little things that made it all the more meaningful, like the sandwich you pieced together and the strain of every sinew while hitting golf balls. Nicely written, mate, and thanks for visiting my blog! :)

Brian Miller said...

thank tom and baino...both of your opinions mean much to me, my long time bloggy friends...

its funny how at the time these events seemed so short and isolated but had such an impact in the long run...

Mr. Stupid said...

This was beautiful. All these small things do make a lot of difference. Enjoyed reading this...:)

Deb said...

The detail with which you wrtie never ceases to amaze me. As I read a picture develops in my mind ~ clear and vivid. I often make connections with my own memories and then I get lost within the story. You have a gift ~ thank you for sharing it with us.

Claudia said...

He was teaching you life - and pleasure in the small things - wise man!
And helped to make you the man you are now. I can almost smell - in between the tomatoes scent your love and respect for him. Beautiful!

Vicki Lane said...

Beautiful writing and a beautiful memory.

Just Be Real said...

Ahhh Brian, you bring your words to life. Blessings to you and yours.

Lorraine said...

It's beautiful Brian and I'm sure he was ready for the greatest voyage ofhis life, have a wonderful weekend my friend...and is there anything more delicious than a tomato fresh from the garden...hmmmmm

Boonsong said...

Very moving - and delicious too. One of my earliest memories is of eating sliced tomatoes. Thanks for this.

All the best, Boonsong

Pauline said...

"it is not death he teaches me, but life"

it is good when we can recognize this about the elders in our lives

Tabor said...

54 comments...so I was going to pass...but you write so well just had to stop by and say hi again.

Birdie said...

I think your great uncle Lawrence did a great job in teaching you about life and in taking a joy in the simple things ... :-)enjoy your w-e; we're melting down here, waiting for the healing rain ...

Harnett-Hargrove said...

Sweet memories. Te tomatoes are redding up, soon. -J

buffalodick said...

Simple pleasures are the best..

william said...

VERY NICE STORY BRIAN, ITS VERY HOT HERE TODAY I AM GOING TO A BARBECUE, HAVE A GREAT DAY @)

sheila said...

Squirrels ARE very calming aren't they? I love watching them too

Daniel said...

Loved the feel of this one and the message. Oh, how I love my tomato sandwiches (but always with a slice of american cheese). Blessings.

CatLadyLarew said...

Ah... I love Uncle Lawrence already! Brings back my own memories of tomato sandwiches with my grandma!

CM said...

Beautifully sweet and sad all at once. I'm sure the lessons you learned from him are being passed on to your boys now.

Linda said...

A very nice story. A lot learned about life that summer.

Raven said...

This is so touching and sweet, Brian. What lovely memories.

Tracie said...

Oh, that was so beautiful. I'm tearing up thinking about summers spent with my grandmother.

Susan Deborah said...

A liberal dosage of TLC, this post had.

Have a delightful weekend :)

Joy always,
Susan

heartspell said...

"it is not death he teaches me, but life, and pleasure in the simple things...", about as good as it gets, just like that tomato sandwich... Beautiful story :) Thanks for sharing. Heartspell

Mona said...

It is so much about tactile connections with Life. Well Done!

LadyFi said...

Oh, what a lovely lovely tribute to your uncle! And what a valuable lesson you learned - to enjoy the small things in life.

Carrie Burtt said...

Such wonderful memories the garden brings in our lives. Lovely post for Magpie Tales! :-)

Debbie said...

Food always brings to mind memories of those I've loved and days that have passed.

sheri said...

am i mistaken of did i read that it was pawpaws birthday recently?? brian, this is truly magnificent, your words building a story that took a lifetime to live...such compassion for a young man to show...i can only imagine that he will emulate the life of the wonderful man for the rest of his days...

slommler said...

My mouth is still watering as I look at my sad, forlorn tomato plants and dream of possible sandwiches!!
I could feel the juice run down my chin and I could feel that smile...from ear to ear. A halo indeed!!
Hugs
SueAnn

secret agent woman said...

Very sweet memories.

Unknown Mami said...

Makes me wish I had a great uncle Lawrence. I did have a great aunt Magdalena and I have lovely memories of her.

River-Rose said...

Amazing! I do see some weathered soul with crinkly eyes in laughter, wish it was a beloved Uncle, but alas it is me.

Kat_RN said...

Great post and a nice tribute. Do you think he knows how much he influenced you?
Kat

JeffScape said...

Excellent. Of this genre, this is one of your best.

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

Well done. Now, tomato sandwich please...

Catalyst said...

Very nice, Brian.

Joseph Pulikotil said...

Hi Brian:)

I was deeply struck by the philosophical wisdom in these words of yours:

"it is not death he teaches me, but life, and pleasure in the simple things; the satisfying feel of sweat from an hard days work, a ball well struck and the taste of summer in a tomato sandwich."

Yes, life is for living and not for worrying about death. A life well lived enjoying the simple pleasures that are just available each day provided our minds are open and ready to assimilate them with boundless enthusiasm and gladness. Man is not eternal in this world but he is here to enjoy the wonderful world and contribute his mite to improve the beauty of his surroundings and progress of mankind into a more beautiful world in future. Sadly this is not happening with oil spillage, global warming,huge emissions of pollutants etc. Our future generations are at a risk of enjoying the simple pleasures. Take the case of tomatoes-they are filled with fertilisers to make them look lovely and juicy.

Well, I had to do a little bit of reflection on the wisdom contained in those few lines which you have thoughtfully added to this interesting and thought provoking post.

Best wishes Brian:)
Joseph

ethelmaepotter! said...

I think this is my favorite of anything I've read from you. So wise, so poignant, and even uplifting.

And I never would have thought the mere slicing of a tomato could be described so brilliantly!

christine said...

Such wondeful memories, and I too could have eaten that sandwich.

Christine

Valerie said...

Tomato sandwiches ... so refreshing and tasty. I lost myself in this story, Brian ... your Great Uncle made a real impression and you repay him with a very fine tribute.

chiccoreal said...

Dear Brian: Your story is pure poetry in all its essence. In particular, I love how much of a reticient observer taking in every souciant sensation every nuance life has to offer;

"i watch as he draws a sandwich to his mouth. a trickle of juice runs down his chin as he presses his soft flesh through the textures. his joy is a halo around his face."

Is this story perhaps a hybrid poem/short story? Have you single handedly created a new category. Do you see your art as prose, poetry or short story writing?

It is always a pleasure, sometimes bittersweet, but there lays the rub "o life". Thank-you for letting me glimpse the wonder world of life well lived and appreciated, alive with lux sensitivity. Most excellent, and so beautifully rendered each week; Thank-you!
(I am still reeling from last week!) What can I say...talent to the tens! Phenomenal!

soundoffreedom said...

tomato sandwhich one of my favorite summer treats..you have written once again a touching magpie!

Louis la Vache said...

«Louis» has noticed your comments about the natural bridge in Virginia. He would welcome your contribution to Sunday Bridges.

Lyn said...

How lucky you were to have such a treasured relative around to filter life for you...lovely..

Gabriela Abalo said...

Nice, sweet memories!!

great magpie!

Pat said...

This is a beautiful tribute to your Uncle. Great memories not to be forgotten.

Syd said...

Nothing like a tomato sandwich with those tomatoes right from the garden. He sounds like a good fellow. Glad that you were there with him.

only a movie said...

Nice memories. So easy to see the scene(s).

annell said...

That was absolutely beautiful! I loved it and felt I knew him, too.

Mel said...

this is so beautiful.....it's the little things like tomato sandwiches and the sound of golf balls that evoke such deep remembering...

~m.

brenda w said...

Brian, Gorgeous Magpie. Reflective, with generous characters, narrator and old man. A gentle spirit weaves its way through this story. Must be you, eh? Well done.

Jennifer said...

Beautiful Brian. I'm so glad you learned life, and the joy of simple things from him. And I especially adore your last line, because for me, the taste of summer is in a tomato sandwich too.

RA said...

Delisciously written! :)

rel said...

Brian,
I liked this a lot. I enjoyed it with each tear that rolled down my face!
rel

Sue J said...

A beautiful Magpie. Thanks for sharing.

C.M. Jackson said...

Brian--wonderful portrait of a man and an outlook on life--so much love in this piece--love those tomato sandwiches too!

willow said...

I always enjoy your stories about those tomato sandwiches.

willow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
joanny said...

There is a charming Proustian note of nostalgia from your childhood and the people who help shaped your life, a heartfelt story surrounding the ketchup sandwich.

Joanny

susan m hinckley said...

I thought this was so very lovely -- it brought to life sights, sounds, tastes, and most importantly memories. Thanks for sharing.

Selma said...

Your descriptive powers are so good. I also like the cadence in your writing. There is a richness to this vignette similar to the delicious smell and taste of a taste. You are such a brilliant writer!

Goofball said...

what a beautiful tribute. I long for a tomato sandwich now :)


I did think for an instant when seeing your title that you were going to write about goofballs :D

Marla said...

Makes me remember....