The Flint Girls Go To A Fire


One more poem as we near the end of National Poetry Month.  I wrote this rather prosey poem about my Mother and her family twenty-something years ago.  I just came across it again, and decided to publish it here.  I think it’s a fun story–at least that was always my intent.  I remember my Mom being a little embarrassed that I said my Dad wasn’t a good Catholic.  It’s a long story.  Let’s just say he was a good-enough Catholic, and so am I.  Here’s the poem.  Enjoy!
The Flint Girls Go To a Fire
My aunt Eleanore had a muskrat fur coat.
My aunt Ruth had a skirt that revealed her knees.

She wore it with platform shoes.
They went to speakeasies
on the Sacramento River during prohibition.
They sat on wooden stools at squat wooden tables
and drank gin.  “We weren’t scared,”
Ruth said.  “We were having fun.”
My grandfather made beer in the basement.
He was of English descent
but my Irish grandmother
would not admit this.
She called him “a Yankee.”
He converted to Catholicism
and was an usher at 9 am Sunday Mass
at St. Francis.
Bishop Armstrong like him.
My grandmother gave the nuns
pink divinity and whiskey for Christmas.
She and my grandfather had four daughters.
They lived in a brick house
across the street from McKinley Park.
There was a road through the middle of the park.
The road was lined with palm trees.
When my mother was ten
she sat on the front porch one Saturday night
with her older sisters Grace and Ruth.
Ma and Pa had gone to the double feature
at the Alhambra.
The theater gave everyone a blue china plate
with the price of adult admission.
Next week they would give out tea cups.
From the front porch of the brick house
my mother saw blue black smoke
billowing into the southwest twilight sky.
“The theater is over there!” declared Ruth.
She was seventeen and knew how to drive a car.
She hastened my aunt Grace and my mother,
whom everyone called “Baby,”
into the red and white chevy
and they sped between the palm trees
through the park.
They turned in front of the theater;
but there was no fire there.
So they followed the smoke
ten blocks down and ten blocks over.
There were police officers
in sweaty blue uniforms
at 20th and W
waving the cars away from the fire.
One of the police officers was the brother
of a boy Ruth went to school with.
“We want to see the fire,” Ruth told him.
He agreed to let them through.
“Not yet!” she said.
she drove to the snack bar
next to the Senator Hotel
on L Street
and bought buttered popcorn
in red and white striped sacks.
She drove back through the police lines
and parked the chevy at the corner
of 19th and W Streets.
The three girls sat in the front seat
eating popcorn and watching
orange flames lick the wooden frame
of the Bethel Temple Christian Church.
My grandmother played the organ at Sunday mass.
At home she played ragtime on a baby grand piano.
She gave bridge parties and served
ham and pickle sandwiches
and high balls.
On summer evenings
my grandfather walked
to the drug store with a tin bucket
and they filled the bucket
with chocolate ice cream.
Some nights the family
piled into the red and white chevy
and drove over the bridge
across the American River
past the trellised hops
to the asparagus fields.
They drove between the irrigated rows
and felt the breeze
blowing cool across the wet ferns.
After my mother graduated from Business College
She worked in a building on N Street
across the street from the State Capitol.
A state policeman picked flowers for her
from the Capitol rose garden.
He presented them to her
as she walked through the park
with her friend Mary.
Mary and my mother ate lunch
at Weinstock’s counter on 12th Street.
On Fridays they ate fish at Robert’s.
My mother learned to knit casting string onto #2 yellow
Ticondaroga pencils.
Her friend Doris taught her and Mary
on a coffee break.
Mary later became my godmother
but they learned to knit
before my mother met my father.
My father was in Germany
at the Battle of the Bulge.
My mother stood in line on K Street
an hour and 15 minutes
to buy a 2 pound box
Sugar was rationed during World War II.
But there was always ice cream
at the USO dances.
My mother and Grace volunteered
at the soda fountain.
The USO had a spring form dance floor.
My mother wore cat’s eye glasses
and open toed shoes.
Grace met the man she would marry
when he was stationed at McClellan Air Force Base.
He was from Montana.
He was a good Catholic.
My mother did not meet my father
until after the was  over.
He was not a good Catholic
but Ma and Pa liked him anyway.
My mother stopped accepting
flowers from the state policeman.
My father liked to watch
the Sacramento Solons play
at Edmunds’ Field.
Julius, who owned
a Men’s Clothing Store on K Street,
had box seats.
He gave my father the tickets
when he wasn’t using them.
My father took my mother
and her nieces and nephews
to the game.
Before my mother got married
she went to Europe
with her friends Mary and Olwen.
They sailed from New York to London
on the Queen Elizabeth.
They were gone three months.
They went to Lourdes and the Vatican.
My mother bought rosaries
that were blessed by the pope
and gave them to her sisters
and brothers-in-law and her nieces
and her nephews.
She also brought back water
from St. Bernadette’s grotto.
My grandmother would put a teaspoon of it
in her coffee every morning
at breakfast.
When my mother married my father
they built a house in the south elbow
of the American River on land
that was once apricot and peach orchards.
And so I chose to be born into this family.
They lived on the flood plain,
in a state of grace.

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