[the Writing of Kuypers][JanetKuypers.com][Bio][Poems][Prose]




Mom,

I’ve always thought that I’m more like Dad, I host parties, I’m the conversationalist, I’m stubborn and strong-willed. But he gave up music (from when he played the trombone in high school), and he gave up photography (when he used to take and develop black and white pictures, like I did in college) and his love of shoot ‘em up movies when he’s not even concerned about the plot (I usually go to watch maybe one movie a year, if I’m lucky), well, some of his characteristics are not like me. And I look at you and Sandy, doing your crossword puzzles and talking so much, and on the surface I wonder how I don’t fit in so well with you. But I have to think about it, the more I realize that yes, I’m like Dad in a lot of ways, deep down I hope I have the qualities of you.
What do I fill my days with? Running literary magazines and publishing other people’s writing and artwork in magazines, books and CDs (which they are thrilled with). I’ll release stuff of mine at the same time, but not much, and I do these publications for other people. In the next issue of cc&d, I’m printing 24 other people’s writing, and artwork from 11 other people. In the other magazine (that I’m the editor of under a fake name), I never ever publish any of my own work in it until this year (the magazine’s 6th year). I feel stupid talking about my magazines, but I’m trying to say that I do these things for other people, which John reminds me is like you.
But wait... John knows I don’t think I’m like you and Sandy so much, and he says that we are alike in some ways... That I keep silk flowers and fake greens around the house in decorations like you do, and I supposed he’s right (that and I seem to have a greenhouse-worth of plants in the house now, though some didn’t fare well from the bad weather when we left them outside because we were out of town for two weeks). And although I don’t do crossword puzzles, John and I were doing Sudoku (the number puzzle in a box of 9 squares), I was playing that like mad (Sandy was talking about it, how she gets into that too), and two nights ago we were out, and Wheel of Fortune was playing on their television (and no, I never watch the show), but I got two of the puzzles before John (one of them was a puzzle that asked a question and you’d get a bonus if you answered the question, and I got that right), and I just couldn’t believe I was actually watching and interacting so much with the game show you’ve watched for so many years. So who knows, maybe I am more like you than I’m aware of...
My friend Brian (one of the guitarists from Mom’s Favorite Vase, a friend since college), is the first one to tell me that I’m cheap. It doesn’t bother me, though – because my being stingy has allowed me more than most of my friends... I was able to travel and save money while I was working in Chicago because I chose to live in a neighborhood that people didn’t flock to (therefore it cost less) – I could find parking, and my rent was cheaper. And although it sounds like a strange trait, I’m sure I get that from you (saving money away from dad so there would be money for kid’s schooling, for example, when dad thinks with that money he could buy a boat). So fine, call me frugal. It allows me to live debt free, and I think it’s a wonderful trait to have, to not worry about money because you spend wisely.
Even John finds my frugality irritating – but it’s when I do things like say I won’t to a bar with a cover charge (but I’m sorry, I’m not paying $10 or $15 just to go into a place and give them money for beer). But he knows that we are able to make trips live we have done in the past – like visit all 50 of the United States, Puerto Rico, 13 European countries, Russia and China – because I’m cheap. We wouldn’t be able to afford these things if we didn’t buy used cars and pay them off immediately so we don’t have monthly payments on new cars, or... I don’t know what else I do, but my extremism is crazy, like I keep big metal stock pots at the shower to save the water while the shower water heats up, so I don’t have to pay for water to water plants. And although that sounds so eccentric, it works, it saves us money, and it allows us to relax more about finances.
John says I smile with my face (John says he smiles only with his mouth), that I show emotion throughout my face when I smile, and he sees that in your face when you smile too. And if you want to talk about looks, well, I always thought I looked just like Sandy (probably because I grew up with her, and we both have brown hair and brown eyes), but when I looked at the photo of the 4 of us sitting at a table with Ron Antos standing with us in Las Vegas before the Michel Gilley concert, I could look and see how Sandy has dad’s eyes, nose, even smile, in the photo. And I was a dead ringer for you... I’ve got more of the thinner curled nose (Sandy’s nose is rounder like Dad’s), even our eyes, when we smile, both of our eyes get thinner (probably because we’re smiling with our faces, so it even changes out eyes when we smile). People have always commented on my curvy legs (and I think people said things about your legs over the years too...) – I remember once sitting on the stairs near the front door at the old house and looking over to the kitchen, and the refrigerator door was wide open, and I could only see a woman’s legs, and I looked at those curvy legs and I tried to figure out if that was Sandy or you at the fridge... You eventually closed the refrigerator and walked away, and I was so surprised that I never noticed how nice your legs were (seems strange that I’m saying that, but you told me men said you had the legs of a famous actress when you were younger).
Yeah, I guess I have a lot of physical traits you have. I see other women who are Lithuanian, and thought their chest should have given it away for me (well, at least John notices that... figures). And I guess of your three daughters I’ve got the large chest too, and no, that’s not the best thing... When we went to visit you in Florida when you found out you had breast cancer, Lorrie turned to me (not Sandy) and asked, “Are you worried?” and all I could think was that I was 25, and if I have to worry, I don’t think I have to worry yet. But I went for my first mammogram this year, and the woman doing the test tried to make sure it wasn’t too painful for me. I asked her why she was so worried, and she said that some woman, if it’s too painful for them, they won’t get a mammogram again. And I said that even if it was really painful, it’s something I have to do, so like it or not I’ll do it. It wasn’t bad, really, and it was nice to receive a generic letter in the mail a week later says my test was normal (as I expected, but it’s still nice to see). But yeah, I’ll do it, because I’ve got a family history for it. And yeah, that scares me.
There I go, making your problems about me now, what am I thinking. Well, I’m probably trying to not think about what you’re going through right now.
But the thing is, I can think about how we look alike (I look so much like Lorrie too, she has the same facial traits as you), but I wonder why we haven’t been as close as you and Sandy – and I don’t hold that against Sandy, we’re just different people, and Sandy chose to stay at home with you for so many years before she moves out on her own. And I can laugh and talk with Sandy (since she was around so much when I was little), I get along well with her hen I still her, and you... well, I’ve always wanted to talk with you more, but as I grew up, you often told Sandy to deal with me while raising me (Sheri attests to how many time Sandy was the instiller of rule when she was over). I even remember writing a poem where I was crying in my bedroom, and you eventually came in after I told Sandy (the one sent to deal with me) she couldn’t come in. When you said it was you at the other side of the door, my heart just sank, and I couldn’t push you away, because you never came to me like this. You came in and talked to me, and you cried, saying you weren’t good at this, but it was nice that you had emotion for me, when you usually would send Sandy along to try to calm me down.
And now that I’ve been an adult, I still feel like I can’t talk as comfortably with you, and now is when I need to talk with you. Now is when I ask John is he can bring one of his tyvek suits home, I even wondered about extra surgical mask they have at Abbott, so I could cover myself up so I could hug you for a very long time. But I’ve never been able to be that close to you; the most we have now is when we both sit together outside in chairs at the end of your driveway, so you could have your 15 minutes in the sun. And you know, I really like those times, when we’re just sitting there. You’ll sit there with your eyes closed, and every once in a while I’ll look over to see you there, just laying, and it’s nice to see you there with me, even if we’re both just sitting in the sunlight in silence for a few minutes.
Remember when you took me to the beach a few years ago and I photographed the pier, and since there were so many birds around I recorded video so I could get the sound of the beach and all of the birds squawking? Then the birds started flying overhead, and you put your arms over your head... I seriously was remember that you don’t like birds, I think it’s because of the Hitchcock movie The Birds, so inside I was really freaking out for you, because I was thinking that you were thinking this was the worst nightmarish experience ever... Then you said that you just want to make sure the birds didn’t crap on your hair, so I hoped that if we just got the birds away from you everything would be fine. It sounds silly, but I was at first really worried about how you were handling the birds flying around us... I know it’s silly, and I knew better quickly, but... Oh, I don’t know, I’m just letting you know what I was thinking then...
Now I’m just trying to remember moments we’ve had together in the past, like when you came with John and I years before to the beach and we were going to record us playing songs with my little video camera. And at one point you sat on John’s guitar case and held the recorder and we played a song. I think I felt terrible because we decided to play a punk-like song called “wave of mutilation,” and I was singing the words “drive my car into the ocean...” shortly after I almost died in the car accident. I don’t know if you were listening to the words (or if you could hear them), but a part of me was mortified about what you might think after you heard me sing those words while John played guitar, with the camera facing us, with the Gulf of Mexico in the background.
I probably could go on with stories, but I think I started to do that with the poems I wrote for you years ago – about how you’d cut an onion for a 4th of July party salad, and we searched high and low for it, and it was wrapped in tin foil in the large salad bowl the whole time. Or how you’d play gin with another couple on the poker table downstairs, you’d switch opponents and play... And John and I play gin while at home (like we did last night) to just spend time together. Or dad threaten us joking by saying that if we didn’t do something, he’d make our mother sing. Or when you’d say if all the kids were leaving you’d either have a party, or say you’d leave town and change the locks (nice sentiment... but as a joke it’s funny). How I think the phrase “two dry martinis, on the rocks, with a twist” is burned in my brain, or how you were the first in Florida to decorate the palm trees with Christmas lights because we had a Kubota (and what the hey, I loved sitting in the bucket when dad would take me for a ride, so why not use it for lighting the palm trees?). Or how I had to act all calm when you were driving home from being out one morning because we had to drive the hospital because dad cut a fingertip off. Or how Tuesday night were usually spaghetti night because dad was out for his Builders Tee Club get-togethers. Speaking of normal food like spaghetti (like noodles milk and butter, which we’re eating tomorrow after I give you this letter), you’d eat the most insane things (and yes, John likes half of those insane things too, but he was in the military and had to eat bugs in training, so I don’t think he’s quite a normal source), like eating pigs feet for breakfast (a nice treat to wake up to when I first walked downstairs for breakfast before going to school), or squid (like when I found a half sink-full of squid in the kitchen when you were downstairs and you said “are their beady little eyes looking at you?” to me, you devil). How you convinced me to try garbanzo beans because you said they tasted just like peanuts (trust me, they don’t). Or how you’d tell Sandy after thinking something tasted bad to try to taste the food (did you want a second opinion on the bad taste?). Or how you’d ask if I broke the driveway cement because I fell while roller-skating when I was little. Or even when we’d just sit in the mornings in Florida on the tennis benches and watch either the women or the men (depending on the day) play tennis together.
Or your hair... You had it done by a hairstylist every week and wouldn’t wash your hair for a week, and after the chemo when you cut your falling hair off (you know, because loose hairs on your pillow or falling in your face drove you nuts), and then when it first started to grow back, your buzz cut made you look just like your brother (it was spooky, but then again Carol when looking for a house in Oak Park swore how much Ed and I look alike, but a part of me thinks the ponytail had something to do with it...). But you’ve been quite excited about your hair growing back, that it might be curly (when I’m trying to straighten my unruly curls on my head, you want the curls for shorter hair), and you’d wash your hair and curl your hair with your hands, meaning you could save yourself from having to get your hair done every week. Even everyone in Florida said your hair looked so cute when you wore your hats (I’ve always loved wearing hats too, maybe looking good wearing hats is one more thing we have in common).
Or how you made both of my prom dresses for me. I know, I know, frugal lady, it costs less to make the dress than to buy one, and this way you could make sure the dress was something you’d think was okay for your daughter to wear. By the time my senior prom was coming along and you were making the dress again (which I still have, and I think wore once or twice when I’d have a formal party at my apartment in Chicago), I said after seeing the pattern that I wanted a dress that was black with ivory accents, and you said you thought an ivory dress with black accents was better. Yes, I liked the dress, but I think my obsession with wearing black all the time now is probably because you thought I was too young (when I was 17, which isn’t too young) to wear black (I didn’t want to wear black from hear to toe, so now I probably overcompensate by wearing black pants and a black jacket with a darker shirt or something).
Or like how I went to the National Honors Society Inductions ceremony by myself because you two couldn’t make it, so everyone’s parents were there, and I had to walk around the edge of the hall (I think this was when I had a lit candle and all the new members of the Honors Society walked around with candles or something) and I saw the two of you there, sitting in the center back seats. I walked up to you after the ceremony ended, and you said what you were doing ended early, so you were able to make it. I still had to drive the station wagon home by myself, but it was nice that you came to see the ceremony.
I remember how I didn’t like milk (rejected the bottle at 6 months, I know), but I complained that the cartons of milk were too chocolaty (what a whiner I was!), so you would tell me to get regular milk, and you put a portion of PDQ chocolate mix in a little tin foil envelope, so I could mix chocolate milk just the way I wanted.
God, I can’t believe I was that finicky.
But then again, I was a child. I didn’t know better.
And I still don’t, I don’t know what to say to you, I don’t know what to do. I don’t have the magic words to make everything better, but hopefully these words can remind you of past times and let you know how I felt when I spent time with you (I apparently liked it if I’d turn my head just to see you sitting in the sun with me on your 15 minute sunning breaks...). Sandy said she wrote you a letter because she’s sure she’d cry so much telling you everything that you wouldn’t understand a word she said. Well, I know I’d cry too, I’d cry an ocean, so all I keep trying to do here is sit here, trying to remember all of the little things that have been a part of my growing up that I can always remember and cherish about you. Just know that I’ll cherish every moment I can remember with you, and my love for you will continue to grow, as it has since I have grown up, learning more and more about how valuable you have always been in my life. I love you.




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Chicago poet Janet Kuypers
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