Things My Mother Gave Me (That I Did Not Ask For)

shoulder pads
a cigarette burn on my left shoulder
her middle name

a battle with me at the middle
second helpings of mashed potatoes
too little pride to succeed, too much to ask for help
how to win Monopoly
how to cheat
how to cheat the system
Nintendo 64
an excuse for asking

“Do you love me?
Do you love me?
Do you love me?
Really, are you so sure?”

love
a crush on David Bowie
crushed ice from the refrigerator
Days With Frog and Toad
days spent on the road

One, two, three, four, five / Everybody in the car, so come on let’s ride

one, two, three, four, five…years of silence
someone to mythologize

Mother Medea in a cropped top
grooves humbly as any green girl through
her ruined lot, taking stock
off shelves at the Stop n’ Shop
just for shits and giggles.

lessons in astrology
enough clairvoyance to see beyond the tip of my nose
lessons in cosmetology

“A girl can always use more _______ .”

scrunchies
and bowls of Cap’n Crunch cereal
[Argh!! she’s a pirate, Halloween 1996]
how to change the mask without changing the costume
how to dance the Macarena
Kraft macaroni and cheese
Fifty bucks in government-subsidized dairy
and bottles of Similac
little-to-no tits, but nice nipples
sensitivity to mosquito bites
the last bite of her dessert
Strawberry Shortcake and Cabbage Patch Kids

Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man / Bake me a cake, as fast as you can
a good man to call Uncle

Pat it, prick it, and mark it with B / Put it in the oven for baby and me

a better man to call Daddy
a promise

“I promise to be better.”
or two
“I promise the zoo.”
or three
“I promise birthday cards.”

a birthday.

Blue Collar, Khaki Pants: The Making of a Wal-Mart Man [Essay]

    My father’s father was born into the callused hands of a vegetable farmer who groomed him for a life of labor. Till the land. Sow the seed. Don’t have me tell you twice. Cuff ‘side the head. In that day and age, wives were bred to capacity; four daughters plus five sons equaled eighteen hands, full.

    My father was born into tar, feathers, and chicken poop, on the cracked-corn floorboards of a coup. His weekends were oriented around the achievement of three objectives: (1) slit the throat;  (2) pluck the feathers; (3) sell sell sell. Kennett boys have always been goal-oriented and strong, but shy, as if handmade cogs for other men’s machines.

   As a young man, Brad had grander aspirations than shoveling shit, so he saved his coins for education and adventure. When his cap hit the ground, he vowed to hit the road and drive, just drive, as many miles from that piss-poor town as his leaking gas tank could stand to propel him. At nineteen, he descended the stairs with an announcement caught in his throat. Mama, I want wings. Let me go to Kitty Hawk. I’ll come back a pilot, a professional, dressed in pleated pants and soot-shined shoes, the works.

   In her solar system, motherhood was the sun; with an empty nest, Patty felt about as useful as a heart singing to an empty chest. But, with four celestial bodies, could she not spare just one? She could and, ten years later, brother and sisters would be scattered, like marbles across an ever-expanding dugout. As mothers know, and youngest sons do not, the baby is precious and rare. Patty refused to barter with her cat’s eye, so Brad stayed home, and made a baby of his own.

   A single father, with a baby on his hip, will take the first job he can get. In 1992, when the machine shop closed its doors for good, Wal-Mart was our godsend. They offered eight dollars an hour, plus benefits, and a whopping 25% discount on edible merchandise. Looking back, I imagine they must have known that we were starving; the frugal fisherman baits with his baseline when the fish have no choice but to bite. In 1992, when formula became the new liquid gold, Wal-Mart was our godsend.

   Like a crop circle, the store seemed to materialize overnight, in a lot that had been empty for ten years, matted over with clover and crab grass. No one had seen them coming, especially to a town so modest but, when the higher-ups issued a press release, they thanked the community for its warm welcome, and insisted that the pleasure was theirs. A wise man once told me: “Never throw your filet into a hot pan without butter.” Looking back, I imagine they must have known that one too.

   The grand opening was an affair of local acclaim, grander even than our town-wide yard sale. When I close my eyes, a void lies where the miniature horse is supposed to be but, at least, we captured it in a snapshot. Upstairs, in the tackle box where photos go, my father and I are posing with four men in fresh-pressed suits. When my father tells this story, he uses m words: meet-and-greet, mingling, mustaches, mind-wash. From the periphery, it appeared a carnival, with popcorn and bouquets of smiling balloons, but that was before he learned how much Wal-Mart spends, and can afford to spend, on maintenance control.

   In his first year of employment, Store #1975 hosted a half-dozen public relations events. As a natural introvert, playing grill master at sidewalk barbeques did not lie within his comfort zone. Yet, Brad was a good ol’ boy and everyone knew it. The customers loved his crooked smile and salty sarcasm but, most of all, loved that he was someone they could imagine grabbing a beer with. He accumulated more sunny ‘hellos’ than could be counted, drafted a mental list of his favorites and, slowly, human interaction became comfortable, even fun. The big boss took notice. In April 1993, one year following Sam Walton’s death in Little Rock, Arkansas, Brad was granted reign over Lawn & Garden. Not bad for the son of a butcher.

   The shark lures the minnow into its mouth by pretending to be a cave, a home. In 1998, Wal-Mart introduced The Neighborhood Market, a small-concept model designed to emulate the experience of shopping in a mom-and-pop grocery store. Ten years later, the corporation began aggressively expanding this division, pitching their growth as an altruistic attempt to increase food access in urban communities. The most rewarding element of working for Wal-Mart, Brad tells me, are the opportunities for employees to “give back.” In the time I have known him, he has shown sympathy for few social movements, but food justice hits where his heart lies. At home. My father was born into a home with cobwebs in the cupboards, raised on peanut butter n’ mustard sandwiches and, sometimes, on nothing. Throughout my childhood, our holidays were spent volunteering at local food banks and soup kitchens, stuffing cavities at the Annual Thanksgiving Turkey Drive and, of course, serving steaks fresh off the sidewalk. Those were sentimental days for the both of us, though he never said as much, his restrained tears told me so. As a boy, the companionship of neighborhood kids helped Brad feel full. As a boy, he promised they would “get out” together but, with only four major employers, steady work does not not come easily. So, as a man, Brad lent his hands, choking up every time he filled the empty mouth of a friend.

   A wise man, my father once told me: “Never bite the hand that feeds you.” Sometimes, when he’s feeling cynical, Brad has to remind himself that Wal-Mart does “good work.” They have become the nation’s largest grocer, stocking more pantries than Stop N Shop, Hannaford or Food Lion. He has to remind himself that they stock his pantry too. There aren’t enough mom-and-pops to feed America and, even if there were, Wal-Mart would drive them into the ground. He has to forget to remember this. When I fled the nest, he accepted the salary position that they had been grooming him for and, as he ascended the ladder, a broader picture came into view. “At the top,” he says, “they do not care about people, they care about demographics, market trends and, most of all, money.” When my father tells this story, he drops “corporate greed” by the dozen. From the inside, he still sees a carnival, with popcorn and smiling balloons but, differently somehow. This year, he will work sixty hour weeks during the holiday season, and make penance at the turkey drive.

Growing Pains [10-Minute Play]

GROWING PAINS

by Kayla Kennett

CHARACTERS

JOSEPH, a middle-aged man of rural upbringing

ALLEGRA, his daughter, early twenties

PLACE

A garden at peak harvest

[Lights up on JOSEPH and ALLEGRA, each seated on individual benches, facing the audience. JOSEPH wears a plaid flannel, blue denim jeans, and work boots. ALLEGRA wears a denim jacket, in a matching shade, over a simple A-line dress. They speak past each other, unaware that they occupy the same space; no eye contact.]

JOSEPH:  (arms folded into a cradle, singing)

 

    The other night dear

     as I lay sleeping

     I dreamed I held you

    in my arms

                  (rocks arms)

    But when I awoke, dear,

    I was mistaken,

    so I bowed my head and I cried.

 

ALLEGRA: (stoic, staring ahead) I was only eight years old when he ascended the stairs to my bedroom, brushed the heartbreak from my eyes, and cooed “Sorry, love, this night will be our last.”

 

JOSEPH: (confident, charismatic) I didn’t give a fuck about Y2K. What could be more terrifying than a daughter’s eighth birthday?

 

ALLEGRA: When it came time to blow the candles, I stole three wishes; two for roller skates,

(pauses to smile) and one for more good-night kisses. But, he said “No, they are too dangerous.”

 

JOSEPH: That year, she hosted her first sleepover party (laughs, and becomes more animated)

. . . and I thought one bottle of nail polish was something to choke on. Six little hens, giggling and carrying on, playing round after round after round of “truth-or-dare.” For the first time, it hit me – I’m growing a woman. (nodding, directing his eyes offstage) And I thought, Joe, what the hell have you gotten yourself into?

 

ALLEGRA: (in a younger voice) Daddy, when I grow up, I want to be just like you – but taller! (returns to natural pitch) After sprouting six inches in three years, I had no reason to believe that I was made of anything but magic beans.

 

JOSEPH: First, she grew up (ALLEGRA stands) and, then, she grew out (ALLEGRA puts hands on hips) but I saved “the talk” for the professionals.

 

ALLEGRA: (dropping hands, planting feet) He planted an acorn in the center of his garden, right between the bell peppers and sugar-snap peas, without considering that, some day, it would become a tree (sits and crosses legs).

 

JOSEPH: Even if I had stopped watering her, I couldn’t have slowed that girl down; she branched out quicker than I could prune her back.

 

ALLEGRA: We used to drive down to Lake Warren every Saturday, armed with boxes of bait and tackle. (almost chanting) Cast-Snag-Reel. Cast-Snag-Reel. He taught me well, but I could never match his skill. (in JOSEPH’S voice, agitated) “I didn’t know we were fishing for rocks!”

 

      (ALLEGRA chuckles.)

 

JOSEPH: The Homecoming Dance fell on a Saturday night; I guess it was my mistake to assume that she had her priorities right.

 

ALLEGRA: My first corsage was made from carnations – not roses, or even chrysanthemums – but I loved it all the same. We were over a mile from my house before Ethan did so much as hold my hand.

 

JOSEPH: (sneering) That fool called me on the telephone to prove himself a man, flaunting all of these fancy words, as if he were asking for her hand! (imitating ETHAN, speech is confident but slightly stuttered) “Hello, sir, this is what’s-his-name, may I please escort Miss Allegra to the semi-formal, it’s happening one fortnight from now?” (shaking his head) To me, she could only ever be my Ally-cat.

 

ALLEGRA: (blushing) Ethan taught me the difference between loving a man, and being in love with a man.

 

JOSEPH: (choking up) She was only eight years old, when I ascended the stairs to her bedroom, wiped the heartbreak from her eyes, and bowed my head to say, “I’ll tuck you in tonight, but not tomorrow – you’re a big girl now.”

 

ALLEGRA: It is said that you cannot pick your family but, at least, you can pick your friends. Someday I will become a tree, but our love will never end; Daddy, I choose you for my friend.

 

JOSEPH: As a father, you want to give your daughter the key to the city, you want her to never want for more. Some days, I kick myself, “Why did you have to do such a damn good job . . . (trailing off)

 

ALLEGRA: I left him in Kentucky, but with plenty of company: twenty chickens, forty acres, and one-hundred baby blueberry bushes. For some men, it’s a second wife and, for others, it’s a shiny sports car, but not my dad. Instead, he bought the farm.

 

JOSEPH: She was born with a green thumb, and flowers in her hair.

(ALLEGRA chooses a flower from the arrangement beside her, and tucks it behind her ear)

                 “I guess she takes after her mother,” they said, and I just shook my head.

    (JOSEPH laughs, slaps his knee)

                   That woman couldn’t keep a cactus alive in Arizona!

ALLEGRA: (almost chanting) If I should die before I wake, I pray they lay me beneath a tree and tuck me into a bed of scruffy moss – to remind me of the first beard I knew and loved.

 

JOSEPH: We haven’t grown apart. We have rooted new traditions. I mail her homegrown sunflower seeds, summer squash, and sweet potatoes; it costs me forty dollars a pop, but my Ally-cat will always remember where she came from.

 

ALLEGRA: In 1992, when autumn first descended upon our sleepy town, Daddy put me on his shoulders and we spun around and ‘round.

                (ALLEGRA stands, spins until dizzy and, then, sits down)

 

JOSEPH: (singing)

  (ALLEGRA reclines on the bench, holding her head in hands)

  (JOSEPH, with apprehension, begins to stand, but remains seated)

                 You are my sunshine, my only sunshine

                 You make me happy, when skies are gray …

JOSEPH and ALLEGRA:

 

           You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you.

            Please, don’t take my sunshine away.

The End.