THE BOOT WAS….

The boot was made of very fine leather,

Tooled by an ancient Italian craftsman,

who had learned bootmaking from his father,

and his father before him,

generations of Italian bootmakers

who purchased the best leather

and refused to bend to accommodate the times.

A pair of boots might take six months to make

from start to finish,

With intricate carvings worked into the leather.

I was that boot, made of fine brown leather;

with a very dark wooden heel

and a great deal of design carved into the leather;

First I was worn by an Italian clothing designer,

a man quite fussy with his appearance,

Gay, you might say, but he took good care of me,

and I was cleaned and polished once a week

by his manservant.

When the designer changed his “look” I was

discarded but the manservant rescued me and

sold me, and my twin,

to a used clothing store

where a cowboy discovered us

and took us to America;

There I lived on a cattle ranch

and was often scuffed and dirty,

but it was an exciting life and I didn’t mind

the grit and soil.  When my cowboy removed

us from his feet at night, we all sighed with relief.

For a while we could breathe.

Eventually, the cowboy had worn down my heel

and there was a hole in my sole,

that no amount of cardboard could remedy,

the cowboy tossed me and my twin

into a dumpster, where we languished

for a time.

and then–a gardener found me and pulled me

out of the trash;

I do not know what happened to my twin.

The gardener took me to his home

and filled me up with dirt

and then added cacti;

I had a new life;

I was a planter,

willing to stand in the rain

or the sun

protecting the cactus that

happily grew out of the top.

 

Sandra Lee Smith

Originally posted June 5, 2009

Updated October 20, 2018

PLACES IN OUR LIVES (Spring Break, 2012)

What can I write about “places” today?

I’ve witnessed so much and  now I can say

that life in the desert is different from most,

at times it’s a place of which I’d not boast,

but one time we drove, my grandkids and I,

over the desert, under deep, blue  clear skies,

the canyons were green, a myriad of shades,

with creeks and  lakes and deep canyon glades,

In places, we saw golden poppies in bloom,

and wondered if it were not a bit soon….

We came to the ocean and here we were met

with startling sunrises, breathtaking sunsets;

I told them the story of grandpa and me,

and the times we had spent, here by the sea.

Throughout the world there are places like this,

Enchanted places that fill us with bliss,

and all of your life, there’ll be places to love,

the kind you will cherish all others above,

In your heart  you will keep memories like these,

to remember forever, whenever you please;

“remember the time”– you’ll say to your brother,

or sister, or maybe a friend or a lover;

Remember the time we went to the beach?

and recall the memories, all within your reach.

 

Sandra Lee Smith

FOR SAVANNAH &  ETHAN

Originally posted June, 2012

Updated October 17, 2018

MY EMANCIPATION

Now my story  can be told since we got

the emancipation and Mr. Lincoln done

freed all the slaves. He died for that,

you know.  That actor fella up and

shot and killed the President but we

had already been declared free. But

this all happened long ago and that

Great War seemed to go on forever.

afore that war ever got started,

we was slaves.

There was my brother, Moses, and me

and we escaped from Alabama, you

see, with just the clothes on our backs,

but Moses had a knife and I had my

banjo. I couldn’t hardly leave my

banjo behind,  you know.  Moses

laughed at me over that.

We snuck off in the middle of the

night, goin’ through rivers and criks

to throw off the dogs and I can tell

you, I was scared of the water

moccasins and alligators but you

are more scared of the dogs and the

men and their guns and ropes

so you just keep goin’ because  you

know, sure as God made lil’ green

apples that if you get caught you

will be beat to death or wish you had.

We just kept goin’.

I hated to leave Susanna behind like

that but she was a house slave and

a’sides, she was gonna have our

baby.  Moses and me, we made it to

Louisiana but you know, you are

still not safe.  We stole potatoes in

some fields and green corn that is

not too good to eat when you have

to keep moving; we just kept goin’.

Then from New Orleans, we headed

north following the big Mississippi river.

We didn’t always know which way to go

but we just didn’t know any better.

And we had heard tell  that if you

follow the big river long enough,

you will get away from the south

and slavery.  So, that’s what we did.

We hid in the grass and weeds by

day and we trudged forward,

north, by night.

sometimes we could hear the dogs,

from a great distance.  We was both

bit up from the mosquitos.  We

was hungry and we was tired but

we kept going, doing all that we

could to keep from  getting caught.

sometimes we laid down in the river

and breathed through reeds

whenever we heard anybody

getting too close.  It was a

terrible time, let me tell you.

In Springfield, we found refuge

and when a young white feller

said he was going to California

and that there warn’t no slavery

in that place, Moses and I ast

if we could go along with him.

He said we had to pretend we

was his slaves and tho’ Moses

and I didn’t much like the idea

We could see the sense of it.

This fella knew someone who

made up fake papers for us,

and got us some better looking

trousers and shirts so we didnt

look so raggedy, and we

traveled along some more

until we made it to St Joseph

where we joined a wagon train

going to California and we all

worked hard to pay our way

and be allowed to travel

with this group.  and our

friend, he turned out to be

a good feller.

At night there would be fires

around the wagons and I’d

get out my banjo and play

everything I knew and all

the white folks on that

wagon train, you know,

they all liked to hear my

music.

Come hard times, crossing prairie

and mountains and desert,

rivers and all sorts of places

on that trail that you would

not believe unless you saw it,

and those white folk would moan

and complain about how hard it

was, Moses and me, we’d just

smile to our selves ’cause white

folk don’t know nothing about

a hard road.  We could tell them

plenty about a hard road.

Acourse we didn’t try to tell

any of them anything.

Oh, Susanna, don’t you cry

for me. I had a dream and

you were running down the

hill to greet me and when I

had that dream, I told Moses

I knew you were dead.

Moses and me, we done

made it to the promise land.

It is called California. And

that feller who helped us out,

he found gold in California and

got rich.  He gave us our fake

papers and that helped us get by.

Nobody really cares about those

things in California. Everybody is

busy getting rich.

Moses and me, we worked

for a woman who did laundry

and got rich doing that.

Can you picture it?  People

got rich doing every manner

of thing, and at night we went

to the saloons and I played my

banjo for the white folk.  They

clapped their hands and tapped

their feet.  I played  Oh Susanna

don’t you cry for me  I came from

Alabama with my banjo on my knee.

 

Sandra Lee Smith

Originally posted May 26m 2010

Updated October 16, 2018

 

 

 

HAPPY TRAILS & CHARLIE

Happy Trails

It was a song written by Dale Evans

And we happily sang along,

Especially my brother, Bill,

Who wanted to be a cowboy

From the time he could wear

A cowboy hat

And play gun-and-holster outfit;

He never veered far from his dream

And his first horse was

A thoroughbred Arabian Stallion

Named Charlie.

Bill had Charlie for many years

And loved that horse with all his heart,

When Charlie went blind

Bill roped off an area

Of the farm

So that Charlie would know what

His boundaries were.

When Charlie became sick,

Bill slept in the barn with him

For three nights,

Until Charlie passed away

And went to gallop on Happy Trails

In horse heaven.

 

–Sandra Lee Smith

MUSTARD

For some reason that I no longer can recall,

I once bought a big gallon plastic jar of mustard; this

must have been sometime in 1993, perhaps we

had a big BBQ party or I bought it for the 1993

Christmas holidays–or the mustard was on sale

for a good price. It had been opened and being

such a big jar, it was stored in the laundry room

refrigerator in our Arleta home.

Early one morning on January 17, at 4:30 a.m.

we were awakened by an earthquake that shook

the house and, as I stood in the doorway of my

bedroom, I could hear things falling, glass breaking.

When the shaking stopped, I called out to my brother

who had been visiting us and was sleeping in Bob’s

room while Bob shared mine.

There was no electricity and it was before dawn, so

Bob went in search of flashlights and his camping

lantern.

We began to assess the damage while my brother

continued his preparations for a flight out of

Los Angeles to Oakland that morning. He soon left

in his rental car but would discover that Los Angeles

Airport was closed down until it could be inspected

for damage, so Jim–my brother–retrieved his rental

car and drove to John Wayne airport, where he caught

a flight to Oakland and was on time for a business meeting.

Meantime, we discovered that thousands of books and

jars of jelly had fallen in the spare bedroom and would

take hours to clean up.  Bob brought in a trash can and

we began sweeping up broken glass.

We were dumbstruck to discover that none of my cookie

jars had broken–with the exception of two cookie jar lids that had

jumped off a bookshelf and crashed to the floor.

It was not until much later that I opened the door

to the laundry room refrigerator and the gallon jar

of mustard (along with other things) fell out and

landed on the floor.  The mustard fell with such

force that the lid to the mustard flew off and

sprayed, with, great velocity, all over the laundry

room–the walls and ceiling and floor were covered

with mustard.  It took a great deal of time to clean

it all up but the stains on the ceiling would never

come off.  In the pantry (which adjoined the laundry

room) jars and cans had fallen.  Anything made of

glass had broken, including jars of liqueurs I was

brewing–it was an overwhelming smell

but nothing–no nothing could compared with

yellow mustard on floor, ceiling, and walls.

I have never even liked mustard very much

but now I liked it even less.  I never bought

a gallon of mustard ever again

 

Sandra Lee Smith

Remembering January 17, 1994

Updated October 5, 2018

Sandra’s footnote: the damage from the Northridge Earthquake was widespread and entire buildings collapsed in Northridge, about 12 miles west of us.  We soon had electricity, never lost our gas and water and for about a week, friends and friends’ adult children would call to ask if they could take a shower at my place. They would bring their own soap and towels and we had a steady parade of shower-takers until their own utilities were restored.

There was damage to a freeway overpass and a motorcycle policeman was killed where the overpass had separated. It had not even occurred to me or my brother that the 405 freeway might not have been safe to drive on but he continued on his way and along with other would-be travelers planning to fly out of LAX, went to another airport that was unaffected by the earthquake.  I was reminded of the mustard for years afterwards–until Bob finally repainted the ceiling and  walls to the laundry room.

 

THE OLD COUNTRY

They came from the old country, Germany and Hungary,

With a detour to Rumania where they lived for a while,

and family folklore has it that

they bought–and kept–a house there;

Perhaps they never fully intended

to put down roots

in this country,

But they immigrated to the United States

and from Ellis Island they traveled to

Cincinnati, Ohio.

I don’t know why they chose Cincinnati,

but I remember that they had many friends

who spoke their language,

Immigrants themselves,

so perhaps they had friends who cajoled them

to join them in Cincinnati,

Where many of the residents of this city

by the Ohio River

Were also German and Hungarian,

Where you could find German meat markets

and there was a neighborhood called

Over the Rhine,

where displaced Germans and Hungarians

could drink beer

and talk about the old country.

My father was born in a part of downtown Cincinnati

in 1915 followed by a brother, two years later,

and a sister in 1920.

Whatever their original intentions

Along came World War II

and even though I have no memories

of anyone ostracizing us because

our grandparents were German and Hungarian,

I think the end result of World War II

was that they could never go back

to the old country again.

It was a subject my grandmother

preferred not to discuss—

and whatever she thought

or felt about the old country,

she took with her to the grave in 1959.

 

Originally posted June 21, 2010

Updated September 29, 2018

A VIRTUOUS WOMAN

She was, she believed, a virtuous woman,

Why, she went to church every day!

And she sat in full view in the very first pew,

So everyone would see how she prayed!

 

With her, she carried a bible and rosary,

Where ever she went, in her purse,

Whatever the date, she’d step up to the plate,

Quoting for everyone, chapter and verse;

 

She went to the funerals of all the church members,

And she’d stand with the mourners, lamenting,

and prayed out loud to the heavens above,

for the soul of the one they were sending;

 

She saved all her pennies to give to the missions,

for those pagan souls some where over the sea,

She gave old clothes to the Salvation Army,

and she worked in the soup kitchen, for free.

 

But her own soul was tight, like a hard little ball,

Resisting the freedom of giving,

This virtuous woman, who had so much to give,

Had nothing of love in her living.

 

She died as she lived, a pauper at heart,

As if giving love would make her soul break,

The priest who said mass the day of her funeral,

was puzzled no one came to her wake.

 

Sandra Lee Smith

originally posted June 19, 2010

Updated September 28, 2018