Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ashtrays and Love

This is in response to a prompt on The Red Dress was a photo prompt. The photo showed an ashtray.
Read on to see why I posted my photo.

It was a small little place, holding too many hands and feet within. But I was grateful for a roof, and my mom who opened this space to us, our family of four. At the time, I referred to him as her husband, not my dad. Rough around the edges, as kind, as he was mean. The home was a cacophony of sounds.  Screaming children, television blaring, neighbors in and out, dog barking, leading to conversations loud with Long Island accents.

Always something special being prepared in the kitchen. Onions,garlic, peppers, tomatoes spreading from the frying pan....or bananas, chocolate, and peanut butter rising from the oven.  We were surrounded by each other, and how J, our little explorer on wheels, ever got away from us, I couldn't tell you.

But she would scoot away in her little walker. Pony tail bobbing on top of her head, right arm swinging like a baby gorilla. She had a mission. Her wheels would spin against the hardwood floor...

The rest of us lost in the noise and odors, wouldn't notice her absence immediately. Her older brother was always in the midst of us. Curled up on the belly of his favorite dog. Or sitting at the heels of one of the adults, lost in their conversations.

But not J. She was always on the move. So off to find her I would go. Many times I would find her in the kitchen with Grandma. Banana in her mouth, pasted on her cheeks, sliding down her chin, or wedged in between  her fingers. But Grandma was close by with the cloth to clean her. Other times I would find her stuck in a corner unable to turn herself around. Those times were easiest to locate her, her scream of frustration rang through the house. Followed by, "Would you shut that kid up!" from the head of the household.
I'd spin her around and off she'd go again, as happy as could be.

I wish I could say it only happened once...but I fear it was more. I would search and find her out of everyone's sight. Face black, and tobacco hanging from her lips. Fingers happily digging into one of his ashtrays. She had a look of pleasure and mine was of disgust. No matter how many times I asked and pleaded, he wouldn't keep them out of reach. It was his home and he would live in it as he pleased.

I never understood why she was attracted to those nasty things. But now years later it is one of those stories we share of her childhood with laughter. The image is one we would not forget.

As for my mother's husband, the head of the household. I grew to love that man and I miss him dearly. He never quite smoothed his edges, but I learned to love the roughness that edged his heart that could not have been bigger. There were days that left a bad taste just like his ashtrays...but many more days that I look back at with laughter and of love.

A note from the author: my first few comments I received mentioned this as my childhood memory, and of my sister. This is a story about me as a mom. Do you think I need to do any more revision to make that clear, or do you even think it needs to be clear? Thanks for leaving feedback, I really appreciate it.


  1. Beautiful. I really like that it's a memoir not focused on cigarettes, but on a childhood memory. Nice job!

  2. This is a lovely memory from your childhood - your home, your family, your sister's antics, and your bittersweet memories of your dad. I could picture the scenes in my mind while you were recounting them.

  3. I'd forgotten about those old walkers! They were something, no? I'm glad the ending to this turned out bittersweet--I was worried she'd eat the butts. :(

  4. "Do you think I need to do any more revision to make that clear, or do you even think it needs to be clear? Thanks for leaving feedback, I really appreciate it."

    The confusion probably comes from not introducing J by name the first time you referenced her. The transition from your setting the scene for your reader to not knowing how "she got away from us" needs some sort of expository shift. Maybe something as simple as a new paragraph.

    Whew! First time reader, first time critiquer. Sorry about that. :)

  5. I liked the story and I understood in reading it that you were referring to yourself as a mom.

    I think this is one of those stories that could unfold in a hundred directions; the relationship with him, the stress of living in a small house as a mutlifamily unit, how you got there, how you left. It left me wanting more. Great job!

  6. The thing that made me begin the piece thinking I was reading about you was the reference to the photo as "my picture". In retrospect I get that it is an image you have rather than the smoking image we were given. I thought it meant you were the little girl and so I read as though you were.

    I figured it out as I went along and totally got that it was your baby that was scooting about.

  7. I had to re-read it to understand what you mentioned. Maybe the part "our little explorer on wheels" leaves it kind of vague. I don't remember a point specifically where we are told she's YOUR little explorer. "Our" sort of leaves it open to being everyones. Which is probably why I still see it as a memory. But nicely done anyway :)

  8. I didn't see that as your childhood memory at all. I think in the first paragraph where you say that your mother took in your family of four. I thought the whole time that it was a memory as a mother.


I would love to have some feedback. Let me know what you love...and let me know what you don't.