Judith Moore on her past

Washington State small town, Arkansas farm, the dad who read Babar, the gay uncle

  • Image by Greg High

A Memory of Summer

We circled idly, swayed around the campfire. I had one hand around Don’s waist, up under his jacket, and the other on Arlene’s shoulder. Sparks flew up from the wet wood. The paper cups we’d tossed were burning, turning blue in the flame. I looked around. Flames lit the faces. Eyes met across the circle. I smiled into faces opened up by liquor and cool air and fire and long, complex, unspoken knowledge of one another.

Oct. 13, 1983 | Read full article

When I put in my first gardens I was young and green enough myself to believe I could be a creator of dominion everywhere I poked my hoe.

When I put in my first gardens I was young and green enough myself to believe I could be a creator of dominion everywhere I poked my hoe.

The Gardener’s Art

Mr. Downe brought me a bundle of first cuttings from his asparagus bed. When I thanked him for the thin, crisp spears, he replied, “Well, I guess you’ll be lonesome now.” He got out his 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, handing me Volume 13, HAR-HUR, to “read up on horticulture.” This edition’s article on gardening, if one allows for some recent improvements in home gardening, remains one of the most thorough how-tos in the English language.

March 8, 1984 | Read full article

In my day (I am getting close to forty-five), girls were schooled to catch a man. When he was caught, he was congratulated. “Never,” etiquette manuals warned, “congratulate the bride.”

In my day (I am getting close to forty-five), girls were schooled to catch a man. When he was caught, he was congratulated. “Never,” etiquette manuals warned, “congratulate the bride.”

Missed Connections

Marxists and conservatives, both the far left and far right, criticize the Rogers and Marys, the Davids and Hannahs. The Marxist analyzes this class as ruthless and degenerate offspring of capitalist robber barons, hypnotized by consumer goods, reveling in their class privileges, cynically indifferent toward the underclass and Third World. Conservatives see these Rogers and Marys as narcissists. They diagnose this generation of the single, affluent, technologically elite as spoiled by Dr. Spock.

April 5, 1984 | Read full article

Perhaps by keeping me, Grammy was trying, in part, to make amends to my mother for leaving her behind.

Perhaps by keeping me, Grammy was trying, in part, to make amends to my mother for leaving her behind.

The Farm Goes on Forever

Her biceps are the size of a man’s; she is incredibly strong. I watch as she sticks, dresses out, and butchers a series of struggling, squealing behemoth hogs. A hog, I learn, is a pig that weighs more than 120 pounds, and Grammy estimates that three hogs weigh half a ton. Both of them straining, she and one of the hired men will hoist a carcass onto an ancient tree limb reinforced with two-by-fours.

June 20, 1985 | Read full article

Its population maybe 12,000 when college is in session, the town curls into a valley oval in shape, twenty-five miles long and twenty miles wide.

Its population maybe 12,000 when college is in session, the town curls into a valley oval in shape, twenty-five miles long and twenty miles wide.

Town and Country

My parents moved every year or so. This is difficult for me to understand: my husband has not suffered “identity crisis.” He is indifferent to dislike. He casts for trout in streams into which his great-grandfather cast. In the eighth grade, he used a desk into whose wood his father had carved initials. Nights, under a lamp that was his grandfather’s, he ties deer hair and rooster neck feathers into Joe’s Hoppers and Royal Wulffs.

Nov. 5, 1987 | Read full article

To myself, I am as much mystery as is my mother, my absent father, my piano teacher. I believe they know more than they let on.

To myself, I am as much mystery as is my mother, my absent father, my piano teacher. I believe they know more than they let on.

There Are No Secrets

Under my bed, in a paper sack, I hide the pigtails. I pull out the sack, kneel on the stool by my dressing table mirror, and hold pigtails against my shorn head, clipped by Selma into a “poodle cut.” Blowing out candles on my twelfth birthday, I wish: “Let me go see Morrie.” I wish: “Let me be loved.” Sunday afternoon. Baking chicken aroma drifts through the living room, where on the Steinway I play.

Oct. 6, 1988 | Read full article

When the flag is hoisted up the flagpole, we idealize these little towns.

When the flag is hoisted up the flagpole, we idealize these little towns.

Memories of Main Street

“Sometimes I would see kids my age, girls with makeup and clothes like girls I’d see on American Bandstand. I’d stare at and study them and when we got home they’d still be on my mind.” She laughed. “That was 20 years ago, and I can still remember what some of those girls were wearing, and how they lined their eyes like Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra and wore their hair teased out.”

Sept. 28, 1989 | Read full article

I want when I ring in the new year to be a better person.

I want when I ring in the new year to be a better person.

Solitary Holidays

“The logic of prose narrative in English is inextricably bound to the family.... For to have a narrative to tell at all one needs the continuity of relations, the stake in the future and the Fixed point of moral certitude which the family provides. The novel does not thrive on one-night stands.... Some lives are simply too random, too accidental, too lacking in moral or historical direction, for novels to make much sense of them.”

Nov. 22, 1989 | Read full article

Shutting the book, my father sighs a big enough sigh that I go up in his lap and then down.

Shutting the book, my father sighs a big enough sigh that I go up in his lap and then down.

In My Father’s Voice

Tears stream from Babar’s eyes. My father touches Babar’s tears, runs their course with a fingertip. My father's mother died when he was six, and Black Mary who by this time is readying the kitchen for tomorrow morning’s breakfast, took care of him when he was a boy as she takes care of me now. “ ... and Babar cried." My father’s hand wipes an imaginary tear (I know without looking) from his own eye.

Nov. 30, 1989 | Read full article

“Summer’s over,” my friend said matter-of-factly as she wrapped the squash in newspaper.

“Summer’s over,” my friend said matter-of-factly as she wrapped the squash in newspaper.

What Was Wild in Me Loved Summer

I dreaded sitting cramped behind a school desk, dreaded memorizing for piano lessons. I worried about who I would get for teachers. I flinched against being bossed about and made to stand in lines and ask permission to use the bathroom. Gym mats’ soured sweat smell came back to me. I worried about bullies. I mourned (with vast sighs) the lost hour after school that would be given over to scales and dull, horrid compositions.

Oct. 15, 1992 | Read full article

We were not wild girls. We lay propped up on Joanna’s father’s fat pillows and polished our toenails with Revlon’s Fire and Ice.

We were not wild girls. We lay propped up on Joanna’s father’s fat pillows and polished our toenails with Revlon’s Fire and Ice.

Unendurable Summer

I watched As the World Turns the other day, now shown in bright color for an hour rather than 30 minutes. Oakdale has gone from small town to big city and boasts a yacht casino. While Joanna went on with her real life, and I with mine, many people we watched during our high school summers still populate Oakdale. Lisa, one of the wild girls Mrs. Hughes disapproved, has bleached her hair a postmenopausal pale blonde.

Aug. 26, 1993 | Read full article

Chartreuse Evenings

While Uncle Carl carried on with his garlic smearing onto steaks and French bread and the salad bowl, Jon cut limes and squeezed lime juice and sang with Edith Piaf. They talked about their menu and in what order to do things. They listed the menu aloud — the crackers with cream cheese and chives, the Green Goddess dressing for the green salad, the green beans, the Chartreuse to pour over the ice cream.

March 16, 2000 | Read full article

Spring’s Hero

I think of my father’s body underground. He always said he wanted his body to be worm food, and he’d left a letter of instruction, ordering that no autopsy be performed nor any embalming. His doctor, a close friend, took him out of the gardening clothes he died in and dressed him for burial. He was buried in a pine box. By now worms and beetles will have eaten his fine features down to bone.

April 1, 2004 | Read full article

For more stories by Judith Moore, visit her staff page

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