Connecting the Dots
Last night we ate one of my pedestrian suppers of spaghetti and meat sauce. Cooking the meat sauce required cutting an onion. Cleaning up after supper (trust me, this is going somewhere), I turned on the garbage disposal and started carefully jamming the onion skins down the rubber mouth of the scary disposal monster.
As I was listening to the grinding, hoping the crunches I heard were not one of my rings or a spoon or the sponge, I heard my father, who died almost ten years ago, reminding me about the dangers of onions in the garbage disposal. Then I remembered: no, he didn’t mean white onions, he meant green onions.
From there, I faded to my first apartment; I was a newlywed, cooking one of my first dinners. I plunged my hand into a sink full of soapy water and came up with a bloody thumb, my bloody thumb. Bright red drops rained from my hand, pelting the frothy soap bubbles.
Then … I saw myself in a picture taken the night my father surprised my mother with her first (and only) mink stole. Thirty-three years ago. She was the last in her trio of friends to own a mink, and it was, to her, a luxurious article she thought she would never have. They were going out to dinner. In the photograph my father is wearing a suit. My mother is so astonished, she’s actually covering her open mouth with both hands.
Even though she has been dead now for fifteen years, as I stood there at the sink, I heard the echo of my mother saying, “Oh, Johnny. You shouldn’t have.” The unspoken but I am so thrilled you did was conveyed by the lilt in her voice and the delight in her eyes.
I flicked off the disposal. When it stopped, so did the swish of memories; I thought of Ezra Pound’s evocative “In a Station of the Metro,” which offers similar imagery:
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
The poem was thirty lines long, but over the course of a year the poet whittled it down to just fourteen words. To one image of a memory. Pound himself said of his “image poem,”
I dare say it is meaningless unless one has drifted into a certain vein of thought. In a poem of this sort one is trying to record the precise instant when a thing outward and objective transforms itself, or darts into a thing inward and subjective.
Who knew sending onions down a garbage disposal would bring me to my parents? It was a moment; their petal faces on the wet, black bough of memory. And my first thought, as I hurriedly dried my hands, was to look for a pen and my notebook. To capture what I could remember; to not lose my parents and this unexpected gift of them in the midst of the ordinary drudgery of dishwasher loading and towel folding and paper grading.
This, I believe, is why I write. It’s what makes me a writer. It’s what leads me to the keyboard, to the journal, to the notebook. God can set in motion the most mysterious workings to lead me to the most precious thoughts, but I have to show up. I have to pay attention. I have to trust that even onions can lead to joy.
* A true Southern woman who knows any cook worth her gumbo always starts with a roux and who never wears white after Labor Day, Christa Allan is the mother of five, grandmother of three, and a recently retired high school English teacher. She has four books in print; her latest release is Threads of Hope (March 2013). Christa and her husband Ken live in New Orleans in a home older than their combined ages. You can follow her on Twitter (@ChristaAllan).
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”