Pot

Warning: I am sorry for what you are about to read. I was sorry I lived it, at the time.

When my grandparents moved “back home” to the rural countryside after Granddaddy’s retirement, they began converting a bedroom to a bathroom in the house where they raised three children in the 1940s and 50s. I was around six when this particular event occurred. I couldn’t imagine a house without a bathroom (or a phone, but that comes later). My dad told stories of growing up without a bathroom: everyone took turns bathing in a tub by the heater in the living room, behind a blanket hung from a string. So, up to this point, there was an outhouse in use; I have no memory of that, but…

As I said, apologies.

No

I will not go

But you said you had to

I do I MEAN I DID

but not anymore

It’s not good to hold it

I’m not holding it

although

Granddaddy is,

he sets it there on the floor

white enamel pot

with a pretty red rim

it even has 

a matching lid

We’ll go out, says Grandma

you just call us when you’re done,

so Granddaddy can take it outside
and dump it

No!

I don’t have to go!

We did this years ago

Daddy scowls,

stop crying

it’s not going to hurt you

just go

The pot sits waiting

No

I don’t even want to know

what happens after and

I’d rather bust with No. 2, so no

I
will
not 
go

Chamber pot. Marion Doss. CC BY-SA

The perfectly beautiful, modern bathroom was soon finished at my grandparents’ home, although they occasionally referred to the toilet as “the pot” throughout the remainder of their years. I can’t recall seeing the chamber pot ever again. Thank heaven.

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The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 16, I am writing around a word beginning with letter p, which could really have gone in a number of directions here

Special thanks to Kim Johnson for the invitation to write a vivid childhood memory this week on Ethical ELA, inspiring this poem.

Masked

This week, Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog invites writing about masks we’ve encountered or worn, literal or figurative, maybe one from long ago…

Winter morning. In my pajamas on the cold kitchen floor, Onyx and Bagel jumping on me with joy. Half-dachshunds, brothers who look nothing alike. Onyx, black and tan (muddled markings; his whole head is tan) is the stronger of the two. A combination of rubber ball and coiled spring, he can jump high enough to give me a kiss even when I’m standing—if I lean over just a little. It’s a feat; at thirteen I’m growing tall. Bagel, long-haired, red piebald, snowy white chest, coloring that reminds me of Lassie, is the happiest dog on Earth except for when it thunders and he runs to hide behind the commode. My sister sits by the wall on top of the vent, her skinny eleven-year-old body drawn into a tight ball, pajama bottoms ballooning and fluttering in the rush of heated air. She doesn’t want to be up, doesn’t want to go to school, is too grumpy for more than a furtive dog-greeting. She’ll play when she’s ready. I embrace the wriggling, wagging, warm bodies, giggling, when I hear footsteps in the hall…Daddy’s familiar stride on the hardwood, in shoes that he polishes every night with a tin and stained cloth until the glossy surfaces reflect like black mirrors…

Suddenly the dogs shoot to the gate (or what we call the gate: a gray particleboard once used under a twin bed mattress when Mama was recovering from back surgery, we slide it back and forth) in the wide kitchen doorway. Barking, ferocious; I have never heard them—or any dog—make such violent noise. They charge the gate, lunging, sounding ready to attack…

There stands Daddy. His face is gone. Instead, there’s huge, opaque goggle-eyes, a distorted nose, pulled and hanging, elephant-like, no sign of human skin or hair; olive-gray visage, that of an ominous specter…

He’s wearing a gas mask.

I had never heard of a strike, picket lines, or unions before. I couldn’t understand why someone would be called a scab for going to work but it did make sense that people who protect said scabs would be scathingly called “Band-Aids”… I knew police were involved, somehow, but the picture in my mind was as muddled as Onyx’s markings, without defining details.

My father wore the same uniform as police but he wasn’t an officer. He was a company security guard. A protector of the gates. Duty-minded. Responsible. The parent who got up with me at night when I had asthma attacks, who would later co-sign my first college loan with the stern admonishment that I’d better pay it back because he couldn’t (I did).

He would die in uniform, but not for many more years, in an attack waged by his own heart, myocardial infarction, three days before retiring, while on his way to work.

The dogs are going crazy. I stare at the mask and the only word that comes to mind is ‘monster’it isn’t right, it isn’t right, that such things should have to exist because of what people do to each other, that Daddy should need this macabre (newly-learned word) apparatus for his own protection—he removes it. He doesn’t mean to scare. “Gracious,” he says to Onyx and Bagel, chuckling, “what fierce watchdogs.” They cease barking and resume wagging the second his human face is restored. They return, pressing their little bodies against me. I can feel them trembling.

Or maybe that’s me, as Daddy goes about preparing for another day.

Lead photo: Insights Unspoken. CC BY-SA

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History, as we know, repeats itself in infinite ways. I inadvertently stumbled into this historical gas mask hall of horrors…or maybe it’s a hall of mirrors…

Checking rubber faces for gas masks. State Library of Victoria Collection, circa 1941. CC BY

Soldier and horse. Reeve17408. CC BY

I’ve joined an open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join us.