There wasn’t much talk around the kitchen table when I was growing up. Except for the days we had company, all our meals were eaten there, and before each one we bowed our heads for a prayer, then got down to the eating. What talk there was concerned mainly the work that needed doing that day.
Breakfast was the most uncomfortable meal. Unless we were in some great hurry, my father first passed around a little box of Scripture cards — they were about the size of the fortune in a Chinese cookie — and my sisters and I with our parents took turns reading out verses for the day, which we chose at random from cards grouped by colours of the rainbow. After we’d read, Dad usually was the one who prayed, but sometimes he’d call on one of us instead. These were not to be memorized prayers such as little children repeated, but extemporaneous addresses to God himself. Dad’s own prayers were predictable — bless the missionaries, may they win many souls for Thee; help us be good witnesses today — any of us could have repeated the words for him. Still, I dreaded my turn coming because it felt awkward to pretend being on such familiar terms with Deity when our own family hardly knew what to say to each other when prayers ended and we started on the “eats” — it was less dining than shovelling.
It sounds harsh, but that’s the way it felt.
So I imagine you’ll understand my joy that for sixteen years the Prairie Messenger has offered me a place at the Kitchen Table. Through the editors’ generosity, I’m not even required to quote Scriptures or repeat prayers — though sometimes I may wish to, being the incurably religious animal I am.
Here are some thoughts from the summer past.
1) You, Big Banger, who spewed stars and sent them spinning, what can a little firecracker say to such unfathomableness? Not much. Here we are, making light of each other’s dark. Was there something more to add?
2) Five watches with dead batteries lying on the dresser. Now there’s all that recycling of hazardous waste to do, and still I don’t know the right time. What was so wrong anyway taking five seconds a day to wind a watch, or a minute for grandfather’s clock?
3) Old ump’s belly nearly touches the catcher’s back as he leans over her where she crouches behind home plate in this all-girl ballgame. Strike One! Ball One! Wild swings one and two. A hit with a safe on first and a runner brought home. The catcher squats again, old umpire tucks himself in.
4) I keep asking for their permission to do what they don’t want me to do, so I can hate them when they refuse to indulge me, and hold them responsible for what I never became. Like Hesse, I have increased the anguish and guilt of the world by doing violence to myself. I was taught that bodies interfere with faith and truth, that their allure should be resisted. So I’ve tried to love in dead earnest, implying even that love, being a cross, will draw blood.
5) Take heed when eating your raspberries, or they’ll all taste the same.
6) After 30 years, a re-reading of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Her: “We’re so brave and blowing scorn out of our horn when we’re all well and wailing like a young dog barking at a bear behind a safety fence, but when the fury falls then who’s the first to run away telltale between his legs and who’s the first to grovel dad to pray hail mary mother I want you.”
7) Who ever saw a robin bopping in the treetop all day long? Not enough worms up there to stuff a gizzard, or a nestful of open mouths.
8) Old woman leans into the dumpster like a dabbling duck, rear end in the air, cane for a beak, plastic bag like a white wing on her left arm.
9) An unbroken double rainbow and the beginnings (or ends) of a third hang on the brink of the river. Am I quite certain there are only seven colours? Now the six ends move down to the water, where the pots of gold are buried and we can’t get at them. Pelican floats under the bows, white ark on water. A duck flies by more propeller than wing.
Ratzlaff is the author of three books of literary non-fiction published by Thistledown Press: The Crow Who Tampered With Time (2002), Backwater Mystic Blues (2006), and Bindy’s Moon (2015); and editor of Seeing it Through, an anthology of seniors’ writings published by READ Saskatoon. Formerly a minister, counsellor and university instructor, he now makes his living as a writer in Saskatoon.