The Cinderblocks

Vitamin H Deficiencies Among the Wahnknechts

 

flamingo jeep

If Armin Wahnknecht were alive today, would he be building art cars? Might the building of an art car lead to an increase in Vitamin H?

The writer is young.  She names places and characters after the ones she loves.  In some cases, she mashes their names together.

Armin Wahnknecht did that with his boat.  The boat was a home-made affair.  He christened it with the mashed-together names of his children: the Su-Ma-Ba-Ma, shorthand for Susanne-Marie-Barbara-Matt.

The bread truck work was slowly killing him.  Armin packaged and delivered bread for his father-in-law, the baker.  Breathing in all that flour brought on the asthma.

An Everett paper mill saved Armin.  There he found his niche, working in the great hall of clanking machinery and moving parts.

The happiness allotted to Armin and Anna, his wife, and the happiness they scrounged up in addition to that allotment are unknown.  Evidence suggests they suffered a deficit of Vitamin H.  Witness their children’s largely unhappy lives.  The children, whose names were immemorialized? im-moralized? Oh, yes,—memorialized—on the prow of Armin’s boat.

Armin could be counted on to summon laughter when recalling his youthful exploits.  But was this done merely to entertain the grandchildren? Was the laughter a cover for the Vitamin H deficiency?

Circumstances and events of Armin’s youth that might account for a diminished ability to manufacture Vitamin H:

  1. The alcoholic, largely absentee, father.  (Both these descriptors may be true, but one or both could be subjected to further, more rigorous, verification.  This is difficult.  Armin’s father and all those who knew him have been dead for several decades.  Written records are scant, perhaps non-existent.  All who remain at present are Armin’s children and his nieces and nephews.  The bulk of the nieces and nephews reside in far away Germany.  To ask what the real story was pertaining to Armin’s father is not a question well-suited for the Internet.  Skype would be more ideal, but with the exception of Susanne Fabian, who wholeheartedly embraces her role as family matriarch, Armin and Anna’s descendents haven’t kept in very good contact with the family’s German branch.)
  2. Food scarcity during Armin’s youth.
  3. Inadequate clothing. Certainly he lacked mittens in winter.  His coat may have had roomy pockets into which, at least occasionally, hot potatoes found their way.  This wouldn’t have happened often (the food scarcity thing) but perhaps, say, on Christmas.  A side note: family lore has it that Armin and his several siblings were often given an oven-heated brick at bed-time.
  4. A burdensome childhood. He went to work at a young age (second grade, third grade?) caring for a neighboring farmer’s children. Thenceforward, hands-on, muscle-exhausting, get-your-back-into-it, work-your-fingers-to-the-bone work was a given.  Is it sacrilegious to conjecture that for Armin, the virtue of work surpassed the virtue of honoring and loving God above all else, and that Armin’s conception of an anvil-hammering, metal-shaping, worker god reigned supreme?
  5. Other scars.

a.  War and the older brother who died in the war.

b.  Being mistaken for a corpse. During the influenza pandemic of 1918 he was tossed  in with the dead.

Let’s consider Anna, Armin’s wife.  On the surface, the circumstances of her youth were happier.  Her immigrant parents had established firm footholds in America prior to their nuptials and Anna’s entry into the world.  Indeed, the bride and groom were gifted with a set of silver by Anna’s mother’s employer.  These utensils are now in the caretakership of the family’s Twenty-first Century matriarch, Susanne.

To the best of our knowledge, Anna never went without food.  She didn’t know what it was to live in a country defeated in war.  She lacked Armin’s Lazarus experience.

But, we mustn’t overlook Anna’s sister, a nerve-addled woman with tumbleweed-dry hair; puckered, nicotine-stained mouth out of which complaints and deprecations flew; and a soft spot for cigarettes, cats, and chocolate-covered cherries.  She assaulted Armin and Anna’s many grandchildren with declarations such as: “I sleep on a mattress on the floor!” These declarations had a particularly deleterious effect on Armin and Anna’s impressionable grandchild Emma.  Young Emma felt responsible for the great aunt’s predicament.  She was glad her parents spared her visits to the great aunt’s home.  It was purported to be crowded with stacks of yellowing newspapers and Winston Cigarette boxes.  Several cats daintily and undaintily stepped through the detritus on their comings and goings to their dishes of Whiskas and the cat litter box.

The dent in the great aunt’s forehead was never fully explained.  It was said to be the result of an operation she’d had while in State care.  That, too, spoke of a Vitamin H deficiency.  Yet, the question remained, had the great aunt’s unhappiness been a germ within her from the start or had life experiences led her there?

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The Cinderblocks, Urban Farming

Stop! That’s Hans!

English: Bath : Charles Street Traffic lights ...

Our Hans is some decades younger than this fellow.

Stop!” the Urban Farmer says. “That’s Hans.”

It’s just after ten on a Sunday morning when the Urban Farmer spies her nephew trucking down Leary Way.  She and the Co-habitator pass him in a flash.  The Urban Farmer knows it’s him by the monster-sized earphones clamped to his ears.
The Urban Farmer grows anxious.  Why hasn’t Co-hab turned the Prius around? “Aren’t we going to give him a ride?” she asks.

Co-hab turns right onto Thirty-ninth, waits for traffic to clear and hangs left back onto Leary.  Sigh.  He was just looking for a good turn-around spot.

Co-hab spins the car around a block further and pulls the car up to the sidewalk.  Hans is dressed up.  He’s wearing a dark charcoal gray suit, albeit one size too big (the younger set seems to favor over-sized clothing), a loud tie (which the Urban Farmer refrains from peering at too closely.  She suspects it may be adorned with cartoon characters), and a colorful shirt.  Altogether Hans presents a package of cheer.

Hans runs up.  Although the mercury has surely ascended past 70, he is not dripping with sweat and is only somewhat winded. The Urban Farmer is impressed.

She swings open her door before Hans has time to side-step the Prius bumper and charge through the intersection. “Hi, Hans. Can we give you a ride?” She and Co-hab don’t see Hans very often.  It will be nice to catch up.  She’ll use this opportunity to get to know him a little better.

“Yeah. Thanks.” Hans hurtles himself into the back seat.

“Are you on your way to work?”

“Yeah.” He arranges his lanky self more comfortably.

“We thought you might be,” she says.  “Although you could be coming from church.”  Mars Hill is near by.  Young people favor it.  She doesn’t really think fundamentalist-leaning but smiley-faced Mars Hill is Hans’ thing, but one never knows.  It could be a girl he’s interested in goes.

MarsHillChurch2012-04-29
“You can drop me off at Kyle’s Pizza.”

“Really?” the Urban Farmer thumbs through her memory bank.  “Weren’t you working for some software company? Something with computers?”

“That’s my brother.”

Brother? Since when did Hans get a brother? As far as the Urban Farmer knows, Hans has only one sibling, a sister.  Did Heidi get a sex change no one told her about? Maybe Hans means a good friend.

Her next question was to ask how his parents are.  She glances more carefully at the individual in the back seat.  “But aren’t you Hans?” she tries to keep her voice upbeat; tries to mask the dawning disappointment.

“No,” Hans says. “I’m Connor.”

The Urban Farmer feels a bit deflated, but decides to make the best of it.  Connor is so cheery, he’ll do for a nephew stand-in.  When she asks Co-hab about the incident later, he’ll tell her he knew right away it wasn’t Hans.  Hans wouldn’t have been able to run like that. True.  Hans would’ve gotten winded.  He would have needed to slow down and walk.
Connor gives them directions to Kyle’s.  They learn that Connor grew up in Yakima.

Yakima, WA, from Lookout Point

The glorious Yakima, WA, from Lookout Point. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Yakima Sundome

The Yakima Sundome. Who says Yak can’t compete with its big city cousin to the west?

“My aunt lives there,” the Urban Farmer says.  “I don’t suppose you know her. Susanne Fabian?” It’s a long shot, but it would be nice to establish a family connection, even in a round-about, six degrees of separation type way.

Connor admits that he does not.

They drop him off across the street from the pizzeria.  The Urban Farmer thinks about asking Connor for his e-mail (maybe she could add him to a faux relatives list), but refrains.

Overall, the encounter was a pleasant one.  They did a young person a good turn and learned a bit more about the folks living in their community.

They agree they’ll have to give Hans rides more often.

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The Cinderblocks

Mike’s Sunset Ride

Mike Glenns Cousin

Not my cousin, but he could be.

 

A road, curving into fields.  Beyond, trees. Oaks.  Horse chestnuts.  A gnomish, corduroy- and Qiana -clad figure—wide lapels, bell bottoms, bow tie, news boy cap—rises from his wheelchair and lopes toward a Yamaha 250.  With each listing, three-legged step he loses frailty.  Strutting now, he tosses the cane aside.

Wait a minute.  I know that guy.  That’s Cousin Mike.

“Mike! You can’t go! You don’t have a helmet. Your head’s not on straight.”

I wait for him to look back; to say something dry or flip or inappropriate. “Hey, beautiful,” was his come-on line to all the ladies. He ogled you with bedroom eyes, clopped his way toward you, and tried to snug his arm around you.  It didn’t matter if you were ten, 27, or 42.  It didn’t matter if you were related.

The truck that scrambled his brains in August of ‘75 didn’t shrink his penile urges.  The truck hit him square; hurled his flyweight off the bike and looped him around a telephone pole.  He shouldn’t have been riding.  He’d broken his arm channeling Bruce Lee in July.

He should have been learning circuit boards at university that fall.  Instead he was doing ICU time.

He came out of the coma in January.  A miracle, everyone said.

He re-learned how to walk, talk, eat.  He partook of little pleasures: loitering, scoring pot, sidling up to women at bus stops.  He dragged around his wrecked half—shriveled arm, lame leg—and made do with half a brain.

In ‘89 he was peg-legging across a four-laner when another truck batted him to the curb.  His scrambled brains went through the shredder this time.  No more cane.  Demoted to wheelchair.  Hello, Depends.

But now, he’d lost the diaper.  He stood tall (for a short guy), his gaze fixed forward.   He hoisted a leg over the machine.  He had somewhere important to go.  He didn’t have time to worry about helmets or not helmets.

He adjusted his cap forward; flexed the handlebars.  Both arms worked now.  The Yamaha putt-putted, but then he kicked it up.  He faded from sight responsibly, at a cruising tempo, aiming for the piece of sky between the trees.

 

1973-Yamaha-factory-portrai

 

 

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Kudos for Neighbors North, The Cinderblocks

Emma’s Sweater-washing Protocols–newer and sharper

 

Sweater, cardigan.

(In a small victory against SEmRo (Send Emma to Her Room), Emma’s guardian and sometime-mentor Kathy McMullen was able to thwart SEmRo and read this newer, sharper version of the “Protocols” at last night’s It’s About Time at Ballard Public Library.)

One might think Emma was doing something illegal the morning she sets out to wash her prized red cardigan.  Knit by Grandma Wahnknecht, the cardigan passed among several cousins until at last falling into Emma’s hands.  Of course Emma also has the Navy blue cardigan, but that is part of her school uniform and hardly prized.

Emma goes about the sweater-washing stealthily and quietly.  Mouse-like.  She closes the bathroom door and considers the soap question.  Dial? Ivory? She reaches boldly for the Head and Shoulders, crossing her fingers it won’t tinge the cardigan blue.  The sink fills with sudsy lukewarm water.  Mom has fortified her with a modicum of sweater-washing know-how and Emma knows proper water temperature is paramount, although she is in the dark as to why.  That is typical. She is often told to do something a particular way but far less often told why.

She scrubs under the arms; the cuffs and elbows.  She rubs Dial to the spot where spaghetti sauce dropped.  She can smell the dirt coming free and a sheepy, meadowy smell.

After washing and rinsing, she scoops the sweater into a ball and presses the ball between her palms.  Hard.  Water streams between her fingers.  She is careful not to twist.  Twisting may cause the sleeves to lengthen or the body to widen or some other sweater malformity. Next she rolls the sweater in a bath towel, and squeezes out remaining water.

Rolling the sweater in additional towels would facilitate drying, but is nothing Emma will countenance.  Using more than one towel would be wasteful.

She considers the drying question next.  Atop the dryer or washing machine would be ideal, but Mom commandeers those spots.  She could ask, but then Mom will sigh and there will be guilt for further complicating Mom’s day.  Or Mom might discover Emma has done the sweater-washing improperly.  Maybe she used soap meant for company.  Maybe she rolled the sweater in a towel not meant for that.  Maybe she left a puddle of water.  Or she wiped up the puddle but used the wrong rag or towel.

She lays her sweater on her bed.  She fails to notice the light piercing the gap between the curtains, striking diagonally down the cardigan’s front.

At bedtime, she re-enters her room and discovers her sweater streaked with pink.  She pushes the sweater aside and crawls into the soggy bed.  She rolls about, seeking a dry spot, shedding tears.  A voice disturbs her crying. Jesus’? Mary’s? “Overcome the glum. Crying for cardigan dumb,” the voice commands.

She wipes her eyes and whispers “thank you,” into the dark.

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The Cinderblocks

“Protocols” Knocked off List

"Art" rumored to be in consideration for the EMWS book cover.

“Art” rumored to be in consideration for the EMWS book cover.

Cinderblocks’ spokeswoman Angie Stutemeyer was jubilant when “Emma’s Sweater-Washing Protocols” was knocked off the It’s About Time open mike list at Ballard Public Library yesterday evening.  “The gods were smiling on us last night,” Ms. Stutemeyer declared, and then, more grimly, “But the battle to keep EMWS (Emma Mulberry’s Whole Story) from publication continues.”

Ms. Stutemeyer then went on to talk about SEmRo (Send Emma To Her Room).  SEmRo is a partnership between Cinderblocks’ and the neighboring community of Pleasant Arms’ real estate and business interests as well as “ordinary folks.”  The group contends that EMWS’s publication will tarnish their communities’ reputations, which could lead to a drop in real estate values as well as make their communities less well-positioned for attracting business and developers going forward.

“This is a community-wide issue.  Our communities’ futures are at stake.  The Cinderblocks and Pleasant Arms have always been special places to live.  Send Emma to Her Room is just trying to ensure that we stay special going forward.  Safeguards are important for our future.  SEmRo just wants to keep our communities attractive.  We’re not exclusionary.  We can still find a way to be friends with her.”  Ms. Stutemeyer smiled.  “Our communities just have certain standards and expectations, that’s all.”

When asked whether someone in SEmRo might have had something to do with “Emma’s Sweater-Washing Protocols” being knocked off the open mike list, Ms. Stutemeyer reddened.  “Absolutely not.  SEmRo has absolutely no control over what happens in communities beyond Neighbors North’s boundaries.  Emma and her spokesperson, Kathy McMullen, were well aware of It’s About Time’s six p.m. start time.  They should have arrived a little earlier if they wanted to ensure their open mike spot.”

She concluded by saying that SEmRo will be kicking off a “Keep Emma off my Yard” campaign soon.  Interested Cinderblocks’ and Pleasant Arms’ residents are encouraged to post the “Keep Emma off my Yard” signs in their yards, cars, and windows.  “Wherever they can be displayed to maximize visibility,” suggests Stutemeyer.

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The Cinderblocks

Emma’s Sweater-washing Protocols

Sweater, cardigan.

A sweater similar to this was once prized by Emma Mulberry.

(Hello all friends of Emma.  I plan to read the following “story-let” at the Ballard Public Library’s It’s About Time next Thursday evening, Mar. 13.  I’ll be in the open-mike queue and have only 3 minutes show time. 

You may find more on Emma in Secret Santa Club.  In the coming months, Emma Mulberry’s Whole Story (a Neighbors North novel) will be available as an e-book.  Neither Sweater-washing Protocol, nor Secret Santa Club, are part of EMWS.  Consider them imbued with a faux-Emma flavor.)

One might think Emma was doing something illegal the morning she sets out to wash her prized red cardigan.  Knit by Grandma Wahnknecht, the cardigan passed among several cousins until at last falling into Emma’s hands.  Of course Emma also has the Navy blue cardigan, but that is part of her school uniform and hardly prized.

Emma goes about the sweater-washing stealthily and quietly.  Mouse-like.  She closes the bathroom door and considers the soap question.  Dial? Ivory? She reaches boldly for the Head and Shoulders, crossing her fingers it won’t tinge the cardigan blue.  The sink fills with sudsy lukewarm water.  Emma will aim for rinse water of similar temperature.  Mom has fortified her with a modicum of sweater-washing know-how.  Proper water temperature is paramount.  She is in the dark as to why, but that is typical.  She is often told to do something a particular way but far less often told why.

She scrubs under the arms; the cuffs and elbows.  She rubs Dial to the spot where spaghetti sauce dropped.  She can smell the dirt coming free and a sheepy, meadowy smell.

After washing and rinsing, she scoops the sweater into a ball and presses the ball between her palms.  Hard.  Water streams between her fingers.  She is careful not to twist.  Twisting may cause the sleeves to lengthen or the body to become elephant-like.  Next she rolls the sweater in a bath towel, and squeezes out remaining water.

Rolling the sweater in a second or even third towel would facilitate drying, but strikes indignation in Emma’s heart.  Using more than one towel would be wasteful.

She considers where to lay the sweater to dry.  Atop the dryer or washing machine would be ideal, but Mom commandeers those spots.

She considers asking, but then Mom will sigh and there will be guilt for further complicating Mom’s day.  Or Mom might discover Emma has done the sweater-washing improperly.  Maybe she  used soap meant for company.  Maybe she rolled the sweater in a towel not meant for that.  Maybe she left a puddle of water.  Or she wiped up the puddle but used the wrong rag or towel.

She lays her sweater on her bed.  She fails to notice the arrow of light piercing the gap between the curtains, striking diagonally down the cardigan’s front.

Hours later, she tiptoes into the room and discovers her sweater streaked with pink.

She crawls into the soggy bed, shedding tears.  She rolls about, seeking a dry spot.  A voice disturbs her rolling.  Jesus’? Mary’s? “Overcome the glum.  Crying for cardigan dumb,” the voice whispers.

She wipes her eyes and whispers “thank you,” into the dark.

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The Cinderblocks

The Excerpt that Sparked Controversy

(Earlier today Neighbors North Editorial Staff decided to post the text which has ignited a firestorm in the Cinderblocks and neighboring community of Pleasant Arms.

Staff decided it was doing readers a disservice to post “Emma Goes Too Far,” which was critical of Cinderblocks’ resident Emma Mulberry’s reading from her Whole Story at Thursday’s It’s About Time reading, without actually posting the offensive text.)

Mom’s dead.  Dead, dead, dead.  Mom’s dead rattles around in my head. Mom’s dead hangs over our bowed heads, bumps into the pink roses waterfalling off the coffin, and streaks through Immaculate’s stained glass windows.  Mom’s dead squeezes through the vacuum cleaner pipe and slides out the FLOORS WALLS attachment and sails out through the jagged-edged hole in the floor-to-ceiling picture window.  Mom’s dead floats into the cedar tree in our back yard and dances around the knife in Petra’s bony fingers and skates the greasy rim of the fish plate.  Mom’s dead blows up into a giant pink bubble gum bubble and traps us inside.

Johnny’s lucky.  He has the Army to go back to.  We have nowhere to go except our house, with the boarded-up hole where the living room window used to be.

Johnny is the one I used to worry over—him and his bad influence friends and what trouble they would get into next.  Now, with their JC Penney polyester suits on, you can’t tell Roger and Big Oatmeal and Greasy used to be troublemakers.

Everything they did was a joke—the pot parties, skipping school, growing marijuana—but as soon as Mom and Dad found out about Petra and Jim it was no laughing matter.  Mom and Dad had to drag us to Holiday Island and make us prisoners.  But if Petra had just gone for Greasy, instead of Jim, Mom and Dad wouldn’t have cared.  Petra and Greasy could have made out all they wanted.  They could have gone on dates and Greasy would have been welcome eating dinner with us and going with us on weekends.  Greasy was allowable.

Father Donnahey goes on and on, praying to the saints.

I think backward and forward, imagining Mom alive and imagining how she’s going to keep getting deader, like the cow that floated onto Holiday Island the summer before last.  It had been dead a long time, with smells and flies buzzing around it.  The crows took what they could peck and flies circled it and fly larvae set up house in it.  The cow bloated up bigger and bigger, its stomach ballooned and stretched thin as plastic wrap.  Every second a little more air crept in and a little more life crept out.  All that was left after a while were its stinky cow bones with pinprick holes.  The cow was too dead to imagine it being alive.  But I can still imagine Mom alive.

Forward her deadening happens, but backward her living happened.  How can a person go from alive and living to dead and never coming back? Oh, God! Give me Mom back.  I promise not to fight with her ever again.

I feel so small, so tiny, tiny, tiny small.  I want to tell Mom I’m sorry and that I love her and it’s too late.  Only the deadening can happen now.

Then my feelings get all mixed up and I’m mad at Mom for making things happen with Petra the way they did.

No matter what anybody says, I didn’t make Petra stop eating.

I wish there were some place to escape to, some other place to live.  I wish I could live in the pinkness of the roses dipping down from Mom’s coffin.  I wish I could live in those rosey rosebuds’ hearts.

I shut my eyes tight and hear the shadow of a song.  I hear the music just barely.  One, two, three.  One, two three.  Stronger on the one than the two three.  Waltzing music.  I heard it when I used to pretend about things.

It was coming from the living room stereo.  The drapes were drawn back from the picture windows and the rain sliced sideways into the cedars and hemlocks with their green-blue-black robes, whispering spells to protect us and stirring their branches along the ground until the whole back yard was a pot of mud.

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