The Spirituality of Everyday Life

Chapter One: Growing-up
Stanford J. Searl, Jr.

While I didn’t come to Quakerism until my late twenties, it’s relevant here at the outset of this spiritual autobiography: for many Quakers, potentially, every day is sacred; after all, God is within everyone, what the Quakers name as the Inner Light, so it’s fitting that the Divine might manifest itself through everyday occurrences, emanating from the inside out in daily life. In my case, this everyday spirituality happened, typically, at the center of family life within the kitchen of 100 Main Street, Ludlow, Vermont, where I lived, raised by my father’s parents from just after my birth until I got married and moved to Buffalo, New York.

For me, then, the sources of spirituality – of what religions would refer to as faith or God or ultimate meaning – did not occur in any Church, Mosque or Synagogue or any other place of conventional worship. Instead, there were glimpses of the holy, of the potential for connections with the Divine throughout childhood, but only indirectly, shimmering at times through a dreamlike filter. Thus, this spiritual autobiography explores how the sources of spirituality originated from a boy’s up-bringing in small-town Vermont – directly across from a Baptist Church – but having nothing to do with that – or any other formal religion. This remained a spirituality rooted in place, a distinctive family and within the context of a loss of both mother and father, immediately after birth. It’s a spirituality that rejects the conventional assumption that the spirit – that breath of life – is the opposite of the flesh and the body; rather, this story explores the layered fullness of bodily knowing, particularly connected to remarkable instances about how work and play became integrated and unified at times.

The spiritual roots of this family were located in hard work, remnants of the Great Depression and a fierce commitment to the family name and honor. Thus, my grandmother, for example, was fiercely protective of me, shielding me completely from my mother and her family and telling my father (according to him) that she would fight him in court if he tried to take me back.

Here’s a poem about some of this, particularly from my grandfather’s perspective and my experience of it.


My grandfather had had enough
What with three boys,
Including my father as his middle child
And wanted nothing to do with another boy like me.
End of the story.
Pop couldn’t possibly stand up to his wife
When it came to passion and the heart.
In fact
My father told me that his mother
(Who raised me from birth)
Said to him:
If you try to take back your son,
I’ll fight you in court.

Even in the midst of his stoic resentment,
Pop stepped into the middle of my life,
Sitting at his kitchen chair,
Folding yet another used paper napkin
And secreting it into the drawer,
As I started out the door as a teen-aged boy,
Hundreds of times
Pop called after me
In tones that felt fierce and assertive (quite unlike him),
Saying one of two things:
He would call out to me
The words spit out,
Reaching into my teen-aged body
Pushing at me
As if an invisible hand propelled me out the door.

I told my wife and friends
How neither Nana nor Pop knew a thing
About what I was doing as a teen.
No idea.
These small-town Vermont evocations
Filled me,
Seized me
And entered
The secret places in my heart.

I lived with Nana and Pop at 100 Main Street in Ludlow through High School and College. Reflecting back, it felt like Ludlow’s Grand Central Station but without either the huge clock or the trains. For one thing, of course, everyone who came to our house entered through the kitchen door off the driveway, including Sam, the mailman, Slim, the driver for St. Johnsbury Express who brought my uncle Stewart’s flooring, rugs and tiles and who Pop always paid immediately. Nana seemed genuinely fond of Sam, the Mailman, because in many instances, Sam would sit down and have a cup of coffee and chat about the weather, the news or, mostly, other people. Nana might ask: well, how is Matt Hope (who lived just across the river and whose husband was my dentist)? Furthermore, Sam knew everything about sports, particularly Nana’s beloved Boston Red Sox and, of course, Sam followed Black River High School basketball and offered detailed and furious critiques. At times, Sam’s mail delivery seemed to be incidental to his visit to our kitchen.

The kitchen had one major anchor amid all the comings and goings: Pop sat to the left of the maple kitchen table as if etched into his chair, putting down roots within the flow of Nana’s energy, I suppose. He defined that part of the kitchen and, I would argue, allowed Nana to roam free. Well, I don’t know exactly what this means except to say that such roaming brought Nana to the center of my particular universe for sure. This universe meant a few things, as I recall them from the great distance of time, memory and desire.

The kitchen represented quintessential home, the essential identity of our family. We lived in that kitchen as if it were a sacred place, meaning that one’s inner, physical energy fed on that kitchen, amplifying the drive in order to be one, unified and whole, in an almost mystical manner at times, particularly in connection with my grandmother’s fierce energy. As it happened, our kitchen faced due west, looking out over the Black River and up Main Street, with Okemo Mountain framing the background. Thus, it would be, especially at the longer days of the year in mid-summer when the sun would be quite high, of course and then set, first, behind the Mountain out the large kitchen window to the west. So, there would be, Nana, standing (never sitting) in the middle of the kitchen next to the table, gazing out of the western window and murmuring to herself so that we could barely hear.

“Isn’t it so lovely, so beautiful,” Nana would say, nearly in a swoon, looking out at how the late afternoon sunlight glanced off the river and slanted into the kitchen, filling her face with a brightness of reflected light. She started to cry, mainly because she felt so filled up with happiness, looking out at the river and mountain as the red and orange glow filled up the room, the colors and the fading light poured into the kitchen from the west, flooding all of us with light, opening up the kitchen with diffused and slanting rays of different colored light. And she would cry and mumble something about “how beautiful” and Pop would shake his head and say, “oh, Dickie” and I would just sit there, switching my gaze back and forth between the view out the window and over to her.

I wrote a poem about this, “Standing in the Light.”

Standing in the Light

“A Divine and Supernatural Light, Immediately Imparted to the Soul By the Spirit of God, Shown to Be Both a Scriptural, and Rational Doctrine” Jonathan Edwards, 1734.

 It must be a joke
To in any way link
The intellectual, scholarly genius of the great Jonathan Edwards
With my Vermont grandmother
Who barely finished the third grade
And didn’t read a thing.
My grandmother had not a single idea
About any divine or supernatural light
As she absorbed
The fading, reflective light of the setting sun
That streamed into our kitchen
And that would soon disappear
Behind Okemo Mountain
To the west up Main Street.

As she drank in the myriad refractions of light
From the Black River
That flowed
Into the kitchen at 100 Main Street,
Standing in a daze
As this light entered
Into the kitchen,
Filling up
She murmured
Barely audible phrases
That came out
Oh how beautiful
And oh how lovely
As my grandfather turned away,

All of the writing from Edwards
About how the light came immediately
And without impediment,
How it was totally from the Divine
Demonstrated something about the power
Of the waning afternoon light,
Or maybe it was the extra vodka
And cranberry juice
That pushed the light
Into my grandmother,
So that she rocked
Back and forth in the kitchen,
Leaning over to the west
Toward the river,
Filled up with oddly mirrored shafts of sunlight,
Rocking back and forth,
Clutching herself
As the fading streaming rays
Bounced off the river
And into the kitchen
For a moment
Finding its way
Into my grandmother’s entire body
As she shook
And spun around
In the midst of that light.

I can see a transparent glow filling up the kitchen, emanating around her, the sunset getting redder, folding over into purples, streaming through her white, somewhat frizzy hair as she wiped the tears from her face and eyes, continuing to pulse and glow in the setting sun’s flaming.

At times, Nana could be filled with light, with energy really; but, it wasn’t the energy of the mind or soul or some kind of transcendental experience. Rather, as with other kinds of mystical experiences, this one came on unanticipated, totally embodied and certainly, as indicated in his Varieties of Religious Experience lectures, meeting many of the mystical criteria according to William James. James argued that mystical experiences could be understood through a number of key categories, including how such an experience would be ineffable, not available through words, a new experience somehow and one that represented a shift in one’s consciousness and perspective. Nana felt joy and delight; she experienced these feelings in the midst of the afternoon light of the setting sun, standing in the middle of the kitchen, entranced by the colors and intensity of the fading light from over Okemo Mountain. Furthermore, she cried, paradoxically, as a participant in that momentary elation of perfection in that simple, yet sacred moment of ecstasy. She streamed love and its consequential power and authority.

Reflecting back from memory, desire and the imagination, really caught up into that dreaming of the penetrating light, it struck me that Nana had entered into a zone of harmony, a mystical place in which the Divine, through metaphor of this afternoon light, simple and unified, flowed through her body and soul and out into the kitchen with Pop and myself.

Yet, looking back, also, contemplating this Nana high, I know, also, that this experience of the mystic light, this version of inner and outer harmony, the at oneness and the fading of the setting sun and its multicolored light, all of this was simply one more daily practice, after all, here akin to Nana’s cleaning, gardening and cooking. I would argue, in fact, that this experience of the afternoon’s light, both physical and deeply inward after all, represents a direct analogy to how Nana made her special Vermont baked beans. Thus, this experience of the light and the experience of making baked beans are connected and may produce a similar force and power, as it were.

For some years, I felt upset by Nana’s baked beans, mainly because, even though OK as a cook, I could never make baked beans that were even somewhat close to hers. After all, I had lived with Nana for more than twenty years, staying totally at home from the early 1940’s through the entire decade of the 1950’s and into the next decade at least in the summers. For as long as I can remember, during all of these years, actually every single week of those twenty or more years, we had Nana’s baked beans on Saturday night. Did this vary? No. Was it every Saturday night? Yes. However, I didn’t know really much of anything about how Nana made the beans. As I took on the role of household cook in my marriage and as I wanted to serve Nana’s baked beans once and a while, this took on certain urgency. Here’s a poem about the beans.

Baked Beans

Those Phaseolus Vulgaris,
Common beans
Used for acne, bladder, cardiac, diarrhea, rheumatism
And what ails you too, Nana.
This evening
I remember
Those yellow-eye beans
Mustard oval,
Coming into the kitchen at 100 Main Street
Every Saturday for fifty years,
As you stoop to the oven
Over and over,
Tasting those bubbling beans
With your old wooden spoon.

I see you
Scuttling across the kitchen floor,
Opening the oven
A hot mess of darkening beans
From that spoon
As you turn the fatty salt pork piece
From McCann’s Freeze Locker
To brown it
As dark as those molasses-infused beans.

The entire kitchen
Became a baked bean factory
As we watched you
Glide around the kitchen
In a trance,
Opening up the oven
For the baking beans,
Stirring up the beans and salt pork
And the onion with the old wooden spoon,
As the savory simmering beans
Filled up the kitchen
With their delights.

Looking back,
I feel a grace
That surprised me
As if I had entered a drama
Of beans,
From the steep fields
And streams of the South Hill farm,
Out of some underground rivulets
Down the hillside of the mountain
And spewing into
The bean infused kitchen.

This poem found a channel through memory to flow into my heart and soul, bringing my grandmother and her baked beans into the present, celebrating, resonant with inner meaning. This represents a passageway into the past, an exploratory journey into the heart, soul and body of meanings about my life. In reflection, I consider this poem – and many of the other poems in my book, Homage to the Lady with the Dirty Feet and other Vermont Poems, to be building blocks of my “`holistic autobiography,’” (Wakefield, p. 8). This poem and others in the collection illustrate a quest for spiritually integrated expressions that explore beneath the surface of memory in order to gain some access – however partial – to the deeper currents of my up-bringing.

It should be noted as well that these fabulous baked beans reached back rather deeply into the 1930’s and before, probably, to the Great Depression and its consequences in our family. This was real good food and cheap, when accompanied by the cheapest hot dogs (they shriveled up to nothing when cooked because they had so much water), along with a cabbage salad and maybe brown bread from a can. How much, then, would the ingredients of the baked beans cost? Not much. The beans needed dry mustard, molasses, brown sugar, a fat piece of salt pork and that’s it. Besides, typically, we could have the left-over baked beans for a couple of additional days.

In any case, I had maybe thirty years of Vermont baked beans every Saturday. At some point, when I was in my 30’s, I had asked Nana for a recipe for these baked beans. As I recall it, Nana turned away, shook her head and slid out of the room.

Hence, some years later, after thinking about things and consulting with my wife and family, I decided on another approach to Nana’s Vermont baked beans, hopefully one that would be effective. Thus, one Friday night and, actually, into the following Saturday, when Nana put together the baked beans, I followed her around the kitchen and took notes upon what she actually did to make these beans. It was a wonderful thing, mainly because I could observe the details of what she did.

Here’s the recipe that I wrote down by following Nana around the kitchen:

  • Start on Friday night by soaking about one pound of pea beans and another (somewhat less I think) of yellow-eyed beans. Note: do not substitute other beans! If you cannot seem to find the yellow-eyed beans, go to the computer and find them in Maine. So, dump the two kinds of beans into a large pot and cover with water and soak overnight.
  • The next morning – for Nana, of course, it was always Saturday morning – parboil the beans much longer than you would think. It’s more than 30 minutes; it may be an hour; it might be a little more than an hour. It’s this part of the process that gives the unique texture to these baked beans. You parboil them, adding a little baking soda (then pouring off the foam during cooking) until the bean skins turn down and start to slide off. This is the key to the beans: the extra parboiling seems to be the ticket. If you are not sure, then parboil a littler longer.
  • Then, it’s rather simple: bake the beans all day under low heat (maybe 300-325 f) for say 6-8 hours, stirring and fussing with them from time-to-time. At the beginning, add some dry mustard, salt and pepper, at least one whole, peeled onion, a rind of salt pork (or if a vegetarian, omit this), a small jar of black molasses as well as some brown sugar and cover with water.
  • Keep stirring the beans every hour or so, bringing up the beans from the bottom, adding water if needed to keep them moist and juicy.

For Nana’s baked beans, I just loved the crusty blackness of them, probably due to the effect of the molasses and near the end, she would have a neat crust on the top of them. Typically, she would add hot dogs near the end, even though she had cooked the hot dogs previously, usually, in fact, in an old-fashioned pressure-cooker. About the hot dogs, she would bury them underneath the beans and comment about “just for a little flavor.”

As it happened, the key and index to getting wonderfully flavorful, somewhat mushy and totally unique baked beans a la my grandmother originated out of the parboiling. When I tried it, the boiling on top of the stove might take up to an hour. Because I wasn’t as expert as Nana about how the bean skins needed to roll over and practically fall off the bean, I left them a little too long at times. But, once I got the trick about the rolling off of the bean skins, all became well and the beans were almost as wonderful as my grandmother’s version.

Granted, the beans required various other ingredients such as a whole, peeled onion during baking as well as a large piece of salt port, bought by my Grandfather from McCann’s Freeze Locker around the corner of the Baptist Church and up the hill on High Street. She turned both of these ingredients during the very low and long (possibly 8 hours) of baking at 300 to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. All day she fussed with the beans dozens of times, stirring them, uncovering the onion (now in pieces), and bringing the salt pork to the top so that it could brown, adding water and tasting, tasting, always tasting and letting the steamy aroma out into the kitchen, filling it up with its delights. The molasses were the darker kind and she had dribbled in some dry mustard as well as brown sugar and salt and pepper.

In particular, however, I remember the beans on Sunday mornings as Pop stood at the stove, quite unlike him to even boil water, frying up his favorite breakfast of baked beans fried in bacon fat. He turned them only once as they cooked along at a medium high heat and the beans were lifted onto his plate like a pancake, succulent and squishy inside, crisp on the outside, shimmering up on his breakfast plate.

These Saturday baked beans carried an essence of small-town, side-hill dairy farming Vermont. Because they cooked all day long and because we spent most of our time in the kitchen with them, the smells of the baking beans permeated everything, even the kitchen table and chairs, penetrating our bodies with the aromatic, complex flavors of molasses, brown sugar, salt pork and onion, all mixed-up together in some potent, somewhat indefinable concoction. So, in effect, even before we tasted them at all, we had just spent some hours immersed in Vermont baked beaness, succulent and sweet, recalling other Saturday nights with the crusty outside and dripping innards of the beans. Funny, but the bean pot was really nothing special in itself, certainly no Le Cruset and nothing from Williams Sonoma; rather, it seemed to be a thin tin pot, deep enough and rimmed with yellow, fading paint on the outside.

No matter the number of family, whether only the three of us or with four to eight sisters and their husbands, the bean pot seemed deep and inexhaustible, at least on the one Saturday night. While we didn’t really compete about it, Pop and I made damn sure that we got bits of the onion and salt pork as accompanying delights to the beans and their deep brown, reddish colorings and juices. Besides, Nana was really good at creating a top crust for the beans and we needed some of that as well. Thus, it was crucial to get a helping of beans oneself, opening the oven, to stick in one’s head and nose and mouth closer, sliding out the bubbling mess of Nana’s baked beans. I associate them in particular with the fall of the year, with the reddish orange maple leaves blazing away out the kitchen windows and the beans oozing out into the room and our mouths, mixed up with those leaves, piles of leaves that smoldered like aromatic wood smoke. It seemed as if these baked beans encapsulated Nana’s up-bringing on the Godfrey farm on South Hill, outside Ludlow. Eating them, they spoke to me of hard work, strength and determination, what — at the end of her life — Nana mumbled as the “energy deal,” carrying over that Godfrey family energy right into our mouths and noses and stomachs. Funny, but we never had any additional condiments with the baked beans, not mustard, ketchup, relish or anything else except the beans themselves, carried along with the salt pork and onions of course. Also, even though I may have blanked out this part, I don’t recall a lot of gas either.

Even today, at home in Culver City, California and looking out the kitchen window towards the northeast and seeing the San Gabriel mountains rear up behind downtown Los Angeles, when I make Nana’s baked beans, I find myself transported to 100 Main Street and feel some of the spirit-informed presence of my grandmother.

When I’d be home from Syracuse University for vacations in the summer, I’d get up from the kitchen table and start to do the dishes – since we never had an automatic dishwasher. Suddenly, I’d feel Nana at my side, pushing a little and putting her hands into the dishwater.

“Nana, what the hell are you doing?”

She’s sputter a little and say that her hands were dirty and that she just needed to wash for a minute and then pushed me out of the way and did the dishes herself.

But, it was the early springtime that was the best to celebrate Nana and the mystical experience of opposites. Once the snow had gone – and this could be into the middle of May after all – one of the first plants to pop up, earlier than most, were the dandelions, spreading vigorously, darkly green and covering part of our lawns as well those next door at the Raymond’s and down over the bank to the edge of the Black River below as well. Sometimes, in early spring mornings in May, just after sunrise and even before breakfast, Nana would be gone, going outside with a large bucket and coming back with a large mess of dandelion greens.

Here’s a poem about this:

Dandelion Greens 

Those bitter
But useful herbs,
Taraxacum officinale,
Infused her whole body with acrid bitterness,
Bringing the earliest spring greens
Into the middle of the kitchen at 100 Main Street,
As the huge pot of steaming greens
Brewed on top of the electric stove
While Nana
(Even though she couldn’t carry a tune),
Prancing around the kitchen
On an early May morning,
Strengthened by that mess of dandelion greens
And imbibing their liquid nectar
As if she had died and gone to heaven.

Her husband,
Read the newspaper
And gazed out the kitchen window to the west
At the river
While she drank the dandelion liquor
As if she had joined that odd Amherst recluse,
Emily Dickinson,
Tasting a liquor never brewed
Or meant for the rest of us,
By the energy of another Vermont springtime
As the dandelion juices infused themselves into her liver,
Flowing into the gall bladder
Touched by the watery, streaming energies,
Provoking the earth itself
To open up
To this early springtime tonic.

While she never hummed or sang at all, still I seemed to have heard an inner singing from her, with her rosy face, more reddish and somewhat flushed, her fingers playing around the kitchen sink, pushing the greens around in the water and getting off sand and dirt, then picking up bunches of the greens into a huge pot and adding fresh water to the mixture. Nana wasn’t the precise type and some of the early dandelion blossoms probably found their way into the pot as well as other grasses and stuff.

Then, the kitchen became suffused with the cooking odors and nearly prancing delight of my grandmother as she danced around that stove, stirring the greens with a large wooden spoon and pouring a little more water on top of them, making sure that she ended up with a layer of cooking water on top of them. The resulting water, here produced by cooking a batch of dandelion greens became divine nectar for her. Only smelling it, she swooned over that nectar, to me so acrid, tangy and really just bitter, even though the greens themselves were remarkably young and fresh because they came from the earliest stages of spring growth.

Nana drank this dandelion juice as in a trance, a state of grace and exultation and sipped at it as it were 20-year-old scotch or a one hundred dollar bottle of Bordeaux wine, flown in specially from a vineyard outside of Paris. She got drunk on it, murmuring, rhapsodic, “oh, such a tonic” and I imagined how that dandelion flavored water poured into her body, filling up her stomach cavity and bringing into her the essence of the flowing energies of the Vermont spring, overpowering everything with its delicious and bitter and irresistible flow. She channeled her up-bringing on that side-hill Vermont farm right there in the kitchen of 100 Main Street as the Godfrey farm juices poured into her. The wet, early dark green dandelion leaves oozed from the slushy ground, the water around them running down the steep hillsides in quick, forceful rivulets. Through those dandelion greens and their bitter essence of Spring greens, she became transported back to the farm kitchen, right into the middle of the eight sisters and four brothers, feeling a rush of energy, delight and family as the juices soaked up the reality of the dairy farm and its smells and tastes, the barn open to the south, reeking of fresh cow shit both inside and out, the shit and urine smell cutting through everything and filling up one’s nose, penetrating right into the lungs as she would be filled up with that bitter dandelion nectar as well, bringing all of this into her, a kind of spillway to the past.

Standing there in her village kitchen, sipping at the dandelion water, Nana pulsated with what an earlier New Englander, Emily Dickinson celebrated as a liquor never brewed, one that simply transported her through the Vermont fields, fresh, raw and alive, pungent with the complex tastes of an early Vermont springtime, discolored, a little gritty and pulsating with intense, ambiguous flavors of the earth itself, its shoots and grasses and the aerated soils of that stony landscape.

Yet, there were other sides of my grandmother as well. For one thing, Nana had nothing to say to me — good, bad or indifferent — about my mother, Stephonia, who had a massive mental breakdown soon after my birth and never really recovered, being in and out of mental hospitals and then trying to kill herself — and failing — in her late 40’s. My mother and her rather large family (6 siblings and her mother and father) simply didn’t exist for me growing up. Yet, three or four times at most, my mother would suddenly walk into the kitchen at 100 Main Street, typically in one of her manic episodes, usually with two large shopping bags full of detritus and spew out hallucinatory fragments about her life and its terrors. We never talked about this or about her up-bringing or her family. Nothing.

When my mother died of complications from a collapsed lung at 57 and I attended her funeral at our local Catholic Church, I met two aunts and one uncle for the first time in my life. In retrospect, it has felt cruel to keep such a corrosive silence about my mother and her family. Even so, after various hospitalizations in both of the Vermont institutions for the mentally ill, at Brattleboro and Waterbury, she ended up right back in the Village and even married for the second time, had a child and lived about a block west of us.

Even though I lived with them from birth and knew them intimately for more than 30 years, I never heard a word about my mother — or her family — from either my grandfather or grandmother. It felt like a dirty secret, an unmentionable, something obscene and moldy. In this family, my mother had disappeared and it was as if she had never even existed. Furthermore, my grandmother’s sisters (8 of them) and their husbands kept the silence as well — not a word about my mother or anyone else in her family. Yet, I did visit my mother all over Vermont, including at the various group homes in Ludlow up near the railroad tracks, the two state institutions as well as in her second husband’s general store in the middle of the Village, just opposite the American Legion Club. It felt as a huge missing piece, an empty space and such a denial of my biological identity in that Polish family.

Looking backwards, it was as if my grandmother lived like an animal at times, maybe a variation of a female house cat, but one that kept a certain wildness and unpredictability about her. Yet, at the same time, she was in charge of everything about the household, including her husband; but, this resonated as an animal as well. There was a fierceness about her, something from the blood, a physicality that defined her identity. She loved to work, to be busy, to act, clean up, do the dishes, sweep up and weed the flowers.

Her husband got so mad at her, really angry and unlike him, in fact, when she insisted upon hanging up wet sheets out back on the clothesline in the middle of winter. The clothesline happened to be half-way down a steep bank about a dozen feet above the Black River. The bank got real icy, full of snow and very treacherous to walk up and down. Nana wouldn’t listen to her husband at all – not for a second.

It was so funny. Nana would pin up the sheets to the line and sometimes it was so cold that the sheets would practically snap frozen, stiff and icy in the sub-zero temperature. She’d dismiss the danger and wouldn’t listen to Pop at all. She loved to be outside like that, doing, working, busy, and full of animal-like energy and drive. As she said herself when in the local nursing home, just days before she died, she had this “energy deal.”

Here’s a poem about this from my collection, Homage to the Lady with the Dirty Feet and other Vermont Poems.

Hanging out Sheets in the Middle of the Winter 

Goddamn it
Get back into the house,
Pop would shout
(Or at least what for him was loud).
My grandmother
Didn’t give a shit
Because the thing was this:
In the backyard,
Pop had rigged up two clothes lines
Over the frightfully steep bank
That ran down to the stonewall
To the Black River,
Treacherous to walk on
And put up clothes
In the best of weather.

Yet my grandmother
Was determined
To air out
And freshen up
The sheets
Hanging them on these clotheslines
In the icy middle
Of those hard winters.

In the winter,
The ice and snow
Filled up this backyard,
Creating a sharp crust
On top of the snow at times;
Ice crystals formed
For inches,
With powdery snow underneath,
What with the thawing and freezing
On this south side behind the house,
Making footing
Nearly impossible
Because one fell
Through the icy crunch,
Extremely uneven,
Tossed over by the steep bank
And the uneven iced surface
Pulling and pushing
At one’s legs.

True to form,
Laundry basket in hands,
My grandmother forced
Open the back door
Ripping at the accumulated ice around the doorframe,
Plunging down the back bank
To pin up the wet white sheets
Using old wooden clothes pins,
Slipping and sliding,
Very much alive.

As soon as she pegged up the sheets
They’d snap frozen solid,
Become ice sculptures
Heavy with frosty crystals
Seized up
By the invisible breath of winter.

When my grandmother brought in the formerly icy sheets,
She’s dance around the kitchen
Urging Pop
To smell the wintry outdoors
Smell of these purified sheets.