• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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What’ll I Do With Just a Photograph To Tell My Troubles To

I wanted to write something in my diary today. I took it out of  its hiding place and realized it had been eight months since I’d last written in it. Part of me wanted to abandon it completely and start a new notebook as if the trail had gone cold. As if  it would be easier to blaze a new one, even though I hate how self conscious the first page of a new diary can be as if it’s trying to impress somebody. But then I started flipping through the pages and I came upon a poem. One of two poems I’ve written in the last 25 years. It was terrible, but I loved it. I loved it for bringing me to the exact moment I was in when I wrote it. It was like my small handprint pressed into a plaster of paris mold, spray-painted gold, and hung with a length of white satin ribbon in my mother’s kitchen.

What brings you back?

85 Responses

  1. I have this red glass bottle that looks like something out of which Genie would spring. It’s empty, but it must’ve once held my grandmother’s perfume because when I open it and take a sniff, my whole childhood comes rushing back.

  2. Old songs, familiar or particular smells. The usual things.

  3. Music. Especially in the winter, when I have a cold. Play a song from the mid-80’s and I’m driving to high school and trying to think what I’ll say to that girl in the torn jean jacket.

  4. The Irving Berlin song you quoted in the title of this post reminds me of my Grandpa.

    He told terrible jokes, wore bowties that none of us grandkids could leave tied, and couldn’t sing, but did anyway. And he liked to sing this song to us when we went home after a long visit.

    We rolled our eyes, but we would have waited by the door if he’d ever forgotten. . .

  5. Gifts. I’m a career marryer. On my third. When I come across a gift from one of my weddings I melt into the time, place, husband, degree of love–all the emotions spring forth like rubber band pinging me in the cheek. The chest. The heart.

  6. Notebooks, diaries, journals, sketchpads, I’ve got. Trick to get around 1st page self-consciousness = draw cartoon or doodle. With page 2 you’re on your own.

  7. Betsy,

    I don’t want to be rude, but so be it; if you’re not going to share the poem with us, this post is worthless. It flits upon something without giving any actual insight of value. Tell us a real story again, it can be brief, but there should be an arc. It seems these days you’re just posting thoughts that buzz through your head during the moments you’re in front of the screen. You’re better than that. You should be better than that.

    • What? See the beauty of it is that it’s her blog and she can write whatever the hell she pleases. Brace yourself because I think I won’t be the last to respond on this…


    • Katherine,

      I don’t want to be rude, but you asked for it:

      Jesus, Mary, and Krishna—who died and made you her blog editor? Since when does a blog need an editor? Do you understand the genre? The spontaneity and seeming randomness of it is one of its most attractive qualities. Not every single one of Betsy’s posts pins my meter, but I always get something out of them. I LIKE the thoughts that buzz through her head. She’s lived long enough and well enough that even her half-assed thoughts have some wisdom.

      Visiting Betsy’s blog is like picking a tomato, warm from the garden, and without so much as washing it or even adding a dash of salt, eating it. You then get on with the rest of your day, but the taste lingers, in the mind and on the lips. It’s not puttanesca sauce, but it nourishes and enlivens. And sometimes it is puttanesca sauce.

    • I’m sure Betsy can defend herself, but for what’s it’s worth, Katherine, it’s my experience that when people say “I don’t want to be rude, but…”

      they usually end up being rude.

      And thanks for the update on blog laws. I wasn’t familiar with the one that says a post is not allowed to “flit upon something without giving any actual insight of value.”

      Flit that shit.

    • Hi Katherine, Good to hear from you, it’s been a while. But I thought we covered this already — you know, about being a douchebag on Betsy’s blog (Feb. 16, 2010).

      Isn’t there a longlist that needs you on it? Like, for Asshole of the Month? You should hurry on over there — I think this is one prize you might actually win this time.

    • she did pin the tail on the donkey of what it feels like to be catapulted back into a moment in time. remembrance of things lost. which is why you attacked the post. you thought you nailed it in the manuscript you sent to Betsy. thought you knew betsy and betsy knew you and it would be a match made in heaven. she’d love your words, sign you, sell your book. she’d be right at the top of the list of those you acknowledged. but it didn’t work out. your story wasn’t one she thought she could sell. she wrote you a substantive and personal rejection. told you how you could make it better. even used the word “arc”. the rejection and dejection set in. festered like a sore. infection jumped the fence and seeded your blood. you’re septic. if you don’t have a therapist, sell the goat. get one. you need help.

      • *runs for popcorn*

        Carry on. This is all highly entertaining.

        Also, for Katherine: remember, back in February, when I emailed you because I felt badly because you were at the bottom of a pigpile on the blog? My mistake.

        Anonymous is right. Sell the fucking goat. Troll.

      • I’d be tempted to sing “If I can’t have you, I don’t want nobody, baby,” if Betsy decided not to rep my eventually-to-be-written memoir. But if I were doing as well as KW says she has, I might just forget about Betsy (fickle wench that I am) and pretend that I got exactly what I wanted all along.

    • Who made you the blog police?

    • Yeah Betsy. For Christ’s sake, we pay good money for this blog, Now dance, Monkey, dance !

    • Someone yesterday referred to some writers as ‘inside the gate with the rabble on the outside’ or words to that effect. If you are the writer on the inside of the gate, I think I would prefer to be part of the rabble. Bad form.

  8. Did Molly Bloom write this?

  9. Old family photos–what they captured and what they didn’t.

  10. Mostly my photographs.

  11. I’ve been a liar and didn’t even know it; saying I haven’t written anything for years. In unpacking my recent move I’ve uncovered papers – so many, and a journal! secreted away between medical records and old cable bills. The writing is random, stream of thought but some of the observations are spot on. Almost like a creative person wrote them.

  12. The things that trigger sensory memories – a smell, a taste, music, a photo. But lately I’ve been going back to our old house in Illinois in my dreams.

  13. I don’t think Betsy should have to share the poem–first all of all, she said herself it was bad. No one wants to read a bad poem. Second of all, it would distract from the point of the post, which is what takes YOU back. There was a third of all but I can’t remember it. Oh, that, bad or good, the poem is Betsy’s and making someone share something that personal involuntarily would thwart and disavow the thing itself.
    Having quiet time to journal takes me back –even if I’m writing about the present. You can trigger a memory that you didn’t know you had.

  14. These days, pretty much everything. My kids are growing up too fast, my office is littered with handmade Fathers Day gifts and birthday mugs, even as they now all seem more adult than child. My Dad’s old pipe tobacco pouch – he passed away this time last year. Plaques and awards from work, seems like bullshit now. Stacks of unpublished crap sitting in the corner, mocking me, having eaten up years of my life already. Fuck you too, unpublished crap. I hate looking back, I fall into regrets way too easily.

  15. My father’s old army blanket. He left when I was young and the blanket rested on different beds as we moved from apartment to apartment. Took it with me to college, threw up Sangria all over it (yeah, I cleaned it) and it looked out of place and tiny on double and queen sized beds until my wife complained of its musty odor. It’s folded away in a closet now.

  16. The concept that just because one has a blog they must pander to the masses seems ridiculous. Whenever Betsy peeks out from her agent fedora, there will always be someone to tell her to put it back on and do as she is expected. Or what?
    This is not a reality show, but rather a woman putting herself out there, in a way that suits her mind, her mood, her prerogative. She isn’t selling herself to you, at least not in the manner you suggest.
    Perfume triggers, every love, every hate, every love that became hate.
    And the smell/taste of Big Red gum and a Marlboro red brings me back instantly to high school theater and the group of us, sneaking out during our night practices under the cover of darkness. All of 17, emotions right at the surface…I can think of it and taste it.

  17. I find my old stuff and kinda cringe the same way I do at my sixth grade picture. Thanks for showing me the sweetness.

  18. Being in another country takes me back. I don’t have the familiar around me, so my mind spontaneously tosses out old memories, like a grappling hook seeking purchase in an alien landscape. However, the landscape here, ironically, is somewhat similar to that of my childhood: palm trees, the sea, the humid nights, the dark, thin men with muscles of stone, carrying their daughters like tiny goddesses too precious to touch the ground.

  19. “What brings you back?”

    Pop tunes. El Paso. The hot kiss at the end of a wet fist.

  20. The way Betsy asks the question implies the value of going back. I know most human being feel that way, but I don’t. I like the NOW. My past is done, cooked, baked to whatever it’s baked to. My now is the creative moment?


    • Me too. The past is kind of ooky and out of control.

    • As soon as you start writing about your “now,” haven’t you relegated it to the past? It would seem you can only “be” in the now; I don’t think you can write, paint, photograph, or compose in it. If you have examples that prove otherwise I’d like to see them.

    • Me too. The past feels kind of out of control.

      To paraphrase Ole Golly (of Harriet the Spy) I treasure my memories, but I don’t get in them and lie down.


    • In fact, my blog post of yesterday was about a dead person (it was Thomas Merton’s birthday) and an interaction I “had” with him … in the past (do you believe in ghosts?). So, I’m full of sh*t.

  21. What brings me back? Well, I just flitted over to check out Betsy’s blog and …….. wham! Cat -fight! Brought me right back to high school……miaow.

    My kids make me remember the most random things from my childhood – camp songs, rude jokes, black and white television…otherwise it’s music and photo albums mostly.

    And, as others have said above, writing can trigger memories too.

    • I have retracted my claws. I don’t want Katherine to get scared and go away, but yeah, the occasional hissing match does erupt . . . purr.

      • Actually, I’d really love for Katherine to go away.

      • I don’t get it. She seems very successful. Why doesn’t she just live and let live?

      • hypocrite

      • Sorry you’ve had it. I’ve made my apologies to the parties involved, both on and off Betsy’s blog, and we’re now on friendly terms. It started with an overzealous reaction to what was deemed an insult to Betsy. People make mistakes. And speaking of which, how are your venomous remarks any more justified than those posted here already?

      • You have been making slyly nasty and smug comments for a long time now, based on an apparent case of mistaken identity. No matter who you thought you were slamming, you were being mean. You seemed totally content to engage in constant bullying until the wind changed. Own your behavior!

    • I’m laughing Downith! Yow-za!

      I wasn’t quite ready for that cat fight with my morning coffee, but to Betsy’s point, it took me back. Back to 9th grade when I hid in the 3rd floor bathroom from the wolf pack of mean girls.

  22. I think smellls –if I could smell that distinctive scent of Creepy Crawlers cooking it would bring me right back to a winter like this one when my sons were about 6 and 3 and loved to make bugs out of this gooey plastic stuff…

  23. Old, paint-encrusted spatulas, worn books I read as a teen, dance cards (empty) … good reasons to be a hoarder.

    Sandra Gulland


  24. Playing Monopoly reminds me of how mad my brother used to get when he lost. Sprinkling sugar on sliced tomatoes brings my dad back because that’s what he used to do. The memory of how Mum deodorant and Tabu cologne smelled–my mother. The Platters singing The Great Pretender–that was me slow dancing with the boy I was going to marry. I wonder what happened to him.

  25. When I was about two, my mom invested some of what little we had into a dark pine dining room table and matching buffet. Very seventies. The drawers have these handles that clack, brass against brass, when you release them.

    She sent me that furniture the year I married and moved overseas. I was pregnant with a child on my hip, friendless and Army poor, but that buffet in the hallway made all the difference. Every time I passed it, I’d set the handles clacking and get a hit of home.

    The buffet is in my garage now – poor, neglected old friend – and I found myself sitting cross-legged on it a couple of weeks ago, clacking the handles.

  26. “We may be through with the past but the past ain’t through with us.” –offhand remark from the movie Magnolia

    photos, smells, songs, landscapes

  27. The smell of Tone cocoa butter soap, the 5 degrees of crisp change in the air in October in Los Angeles, Jungle Gardenia perfume (what? I was 13, judgers).

  28. Recently I’ve had to go through all my belongs due to a move. I saved essays, short stories and poems from high school, college and grad school. What has brought me back the most was a file folder full of Smashing Pumpkins clippings that hung on my bedroom wall and love notes from the fellow I was dating at that time that actually reference my Smashing Pumpkins obsession.

    p.s. I’m glad you all have shut down this Katherine lady. We’re not in workshop for goodness sake!

  29. Silence.
    coconut cream pie
    churning seas
    eyes of babies
    too much wine
    road trips
    William Blake
    ee cummings
    stars in winter

  30. I have an old walnut sideboard cupboard that sat in my mother’s, my grandmother’s and my great grandmother’s dining rooms. When I open the door, my past wafts up to meet me. Lovely old wood. I take a deep breath and I’m six again.

    That and the smell of snickerdoodles baking.

  31. I can’t get this out of my head. You know what really bugs me? The word “worthless.” What the fuck FOR? SO unnecessary.

    • Word. And just so you know, when I read *runs for popcorn* (above) I roared laughing. Still chuckling now.

    • I laughed at the popcorn line also. I’m with you on “worthless.” My spiritual master says, “There is nothing worthless; you simply do not know it’s worth.” I try to keep that in mind.

  32. a snippet of an old Johnny Cash song .. . .at Thanksgiving, it shuffled around randomly and my brother said, “I don’t know why, but that makes me think of Grandpa every time I hear it” at the same time I was realizing that our Grandpa used to sing us the bit with different words. Evanescent but so real. It was really beautiful and made me very happy.

  33. I have come to cherish Betsy’s blog, but because I usually read it at work, I don’t have a chance to respond due to restrictions on my computer (imagine that!). Anyway, today I am home sick >cough, cough< , so I respond with abandon . . .

    Both my parents are now dead and my house is littered with doxens of things that bring me back to my childhood — watercolors painted by an uncle, my father's pipe, my mother's recipe cards –the sight of her handwriting sometimes pushes me over the edge. My father's back scratcher.

    Christmas decorations are the worse.

    My books all have the date I bought them on the flyleaf and sometimes where I bought them.

    The smell of chalk. And eucalyptus leaves.

    GTOs. Dark green. Convertibles.


    So much . . . too much.

    Is it too early for vodka?

  34. i have my mom’s recipe box. there’s a whole life worth of drips and spatters in there. i find her handwriting quite comforting.

    there’s a proliferation of hawaiian meatball recipes in there. she had a preoccupation with pineapple.

  35. My diaries are about how no matter what I do or write or spray paint on some block brick wall, in 100 years, or so, or less, no one will know that I existed. My diaries are probably depressing for some and WoWzer for others. But, really, it’s the same old story: Death is bad, pain is sad..That is my problem. That is my writer’s block. Who the fuck cares. It’s been done before. It’s the same old story. Anyway, this at least. And this is not my last statement. Money is good. People are what they are—money is good.

  36. i feel your pain, brother. Yes it’s all been done, but not by you. If you had an idea or concept that was totally original, no one would be able to relate to it, so would hate it. don’t spend 20 years of your life giving yourself reasons why you can’t do it, like i did. write your ass off.
    things that bring me back: patchouli incense, aussie hairspray, and teen spirit deoderant.

  37. Notice my sparkly halo and polite silence, Betsy?

    Yeah, maybe horns hold up my halo, but still, I held my forked tongue. For a few days.

    It isn’t my place to defend you, but I have a soft spot for you (and for all thoughtful, kind people everywhere), and it lives next to a hardened spot of flaming wrath for those who shove their ego and bitterness and judgements down other’s throats.

    I am generally a positive, loving, supportive person and if I have nothing kind to say to or about someone, I keep silent.

    Up until their behavior spews unkindness to another. I hate a bully. I hate a vainglorious, sanctimonious bully most of all.

    I don’t know if this is the same person as ‘before’.
    (in fact, I sincerely hope it is not) (and, for the love of punctuation, just when I thought I could forget about that ‘before’–it’s BAAACK. *sigh*)
    But, whomever THIS K-person is: I think you missed the point of Betsy’s post.
    Or, I suppose not. I suppose you just took it for an opening to spread your odious, toxic fecal matter all over Betsy’s blog.
    ‘Anon’ is right, you need psych help.

    And I am deeply saddened there are people like this spewing their festering shit anywhere they please.

    Because LOVE is the drug. Kindness matters. And a good sense of humor matters most of all.

    Love you, Betsy. Joke ’em if they can’t take a fuck.

    Oh, and shamrock shakes take me back, among many other things.


  38. […] I just need some comic relief to calm my bad-ass […]

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