Look On My Works, Ye Mighty

Teachers, parents, siblings, mentors of every kind leave their mark upon us.  I was in the fifth grade at Isaac Newton Elementary school in Detroit when my teacher, Mrs. Chapman, had us memorize Ozymandias, a poem composed in 1818 by Percy Bysshe Shelley.  Then we had to recite it to our classmates.

I walked to the front of the room and paused, a dramatic device storytellers employ to command the attention of their audience.  Actually, I was just trying not to throw up: it was my first public solo performance.  I was terrified, but it was also electrifying to be able to convey such a compelling story, such unforgettable imagery.   Not only did I not throw up, but I got an A.  And I never forgot that poem.

My mother used to recite poetry to us, like “Daffodils” by Wordsworth and “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes.  Over the years I’ve shared Ozymandias and other gems (okay, sometimes I sing jingles from the TV commercials I watched as a kid), to a certain captive audience–my children.  Occasionally I recognize my own words reflected back to me from the mouths of my babes.  Sometimes to my chagrin, but most often to my surprise and delight.

My son Eli is home between teaching assignments…

 

…and tonight Bea returns from Stanford on spring break.  It will be so good for us all to be back together again.  My ritual, when the kids depart for school, is to tidy their rooms, change the sheets, and drop a tear or two as I make their rooms ready for them to come home to…and they are always grateful.

The last time Eli left I was tempted to hire a bulldozer…

…but it’s like spending a little quiet time with that absent child.

Last night, in a burst of inspired procrastination (he was tired of reorganizing his own room), Eli decided to surprise Bea by cleaning her room, and not just the sort of tidying I do, but a thorough reorganization, including the mountain of books stacked haphazardly in the corner, that pile of her things parked just inside the door, not to mention the surprise found in a teacup discovered under a pile of stuff on her desk.  It’s either a science experiment or a strange new life form.  It took Eli over five hours.  He found so many new ways and places to shelve books that they almost fit on her shelves now!

But nothing comes without a price tag.  In fact, after Eli was finished, everything had a tag on it.  Oh, yes.  He had made his mark.

I love this one…

But my absolute favorite touch was the greeting on the door.

I howled with laughter. “Oh, good,” said Eli. “I didn’t know if you’d get the reference.”  “Do I get the reference?” I asked, launching into a recitation of Ozymandias.  “How did you think of it?”  He said he remembered it from all the times I’d recited it.  Of course I  ran to find my book of Shelley…

When I opened it up in search of the poem, I saw that someone else had made her mark.  Upon the book…


…and maybe even upon me.

I believe those little things that we pass on from generation to generation, the poetry and the stories, whether silly or sad or sweet and heartfelt, will outlast the Mighty, their monuments to themselves, and, I hope, their wars.

Thanks, Mom.  Thanks, Mrs. Chapman.  Thank you, son.  And welcome home, Bea!

All images and words (except for Mr. Shelley’s, of course)

c2013 Naomi Baltuck

Unidentified Flying Objects

Last year my son Eli and I traveled to Turkey.  One of the highlights was Cappadocia in Eastern Anatolia, a land rich in history and natural wonders, such as ancient underground cities, and fairy chimneys.  And…So. Many. Caves.  Some were natural, but most were carved into the soft stone as houses for the inhabitants, going all the way back to the 6th century B.C.E.  They reminded me of swallows’ nests or anthills, but for people, and they were everywhere.

People are still carving caves into the stone to create habitable space, but most of them are entrepreneurs building hotel rooms for tourists eager for the experience of sleeping in a cave.

Eli and I stayed in just such a hotel, with all its rooms carved into a rocky hillside.
I expected it to be rough, cold, damp and crudely done, but travel is all about the unexpected.  Sometimes we are pleasantly surprised.  The walls had a stone-like pattern beautifully carved into the rock, it was brightly lit and tastefully decorated.  I loved the shelves and nooks carved into the walls.

The interior of this closet is stone, but the wooden frame and doors were fitted to the opening in the rock.

At first Eli and I couldn’t imagine what this nook was for, but then we figured it out.

It must have been a terrific photo op placed there just for us.

Here’s my favorite shot.

Our stay was full of unexpected surprises.  After weeks of washing things out in the sink, we splurged and sent laundry out to be done.  It came back the next day, but all my socks and underwear had gone missing.

Then we had an unexpected opportunity to fly up in a hot air balloon.  I’m uncomfortable with heights and it was expensive, but Eli really wanted to, and both my kids were mostly launched, so I surprised myself and agreed.   But the last place I expected the unexpected was in our spiffy bathroom.

One morning I entertained the notion of a relaxing bath, but quickly changed my mind…

…when I found this in the tub.

I did what anyone would have done.  I took a photo.  Oh, yeah, and then I yelled for Eli to come look.  And then I ran out looking for someone else to come see our scorpion. Terry and Wayne were on the way to breakfast when I accosted them, and dragged them into our bathroom to act as witnesses.

Here’s what we saw.

You know that joke…what’s worse than finding a worm in an apple?  (Finding half a worm.)  Well, worse than finding a scorpion in the cave where you sleep is finding nothing where there was a scorpion just a minute before.  We looked everywhere, but it was gone.  At least I had photo-documentation–stone cold proof we were rooming with a venomous creature.  As for my missing socks and underwear–it all came out in the wash…Terry’s wash, in fact.

But that night you’d better believe I was ready for anything.  I peeked under the bed, and checked my sheets before I got into bed…and I looked up just in time to see something flying through the air straight for me.

Down it came, and…

 All images and words copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Unexpected