—from my mother: her measuring tape, golden and waxy, spiraled from storage in her sewing basket. It’s a gangly ten-footer, built for quilts and bridal veils; I wear it like a boa around my neck on rainy days that won’t let up. I wear it like she wore it only not the same. She made our dining room table her sewing station: Elvis on the boom box, measuring tape around her neck, pins between her lips, the old beige Singer humming warm before her. As a child I’d lie on the braided rug below, clutch the cat, feel the pulse of the foot pedal stitching together my clothes.
—from my father: the propensity to eat hot dogs out of the package (cold). The propensity to reheat coffee until it tastes like ash. The propensity to sleep best when the world is awake. The propensity to buy lottery tickets at the grocery store. The propensity to salvage a rickety chair from the side of the road and hope for rehabilitation.
—from my mother: a Bake King pizza pan with waffle bottom, bent lip, rust stains, from her parents’ cabin on Lake Minnewawa: this, our only and occasional vacation spot. Ghosts of Coppertone, chipmunks, marshmallows, Evenrudes, Grape Crush, walleye fillets (thin as envelopes), Seventeen magazine, Dairy Queen Buster Bars, algae (afloat).
—from my father: the ham-it-up gene, amplified after excessive drinking wherein I sing “Hotel California” and impersonate Lily Tomlin and George W. Bush with frightening accuracy. My father, unprompted, giddy-upped in his own front yard: an invisible lasso, the New Ulm polka station, a case of Hamm’s, a cowboy hat, a bad next day.
—from my mother: her paper doll collection. “Don’t laugh,” she said. “These are going to make you rich someday.” A fragile pile of Barbie, Muppets, Princess Diana, Cat Woman, Strawberry Shortcake (scented). Many with yard sale stickers still affixed: 50¢. Some clipped from ladies’ magazines, preserved in Ziploc for a future too far out. In my hands, Barbie’s rough edges help hold a long paisley halter dress in place, the paper tabs hanging on for all they’re worth.
—from my father: TV trays from Wal-Mart. After my mother’s death, these became his bill paying stations, set about the house like an obstacle course. Later, the trays traveled to Autumn Lane Memory Care Center with him. On a visit once, I set a giant tub of roasted peanuts on his TV tray, and watched him eat fistfuls silently. Sometimes, when my husband teaches late, the kids and I set up the trays, watch America’s Funniest Home Videos, eat spaghetti, and call this “dinner theatre.”
—from my mother: hair so thin when the wind blows you can see the mole, just like hers, on my left temple. Hair so thin all the fruity-rich hair care products purchased almost weekly won’t give it lift. Hair so thin that if you cup my head you will mostly get skull.
—from my father: his barber chair, brown leather arms and seat, white ceramic base, silver trim with a pump handle. There’s a tear in the seat, threatening. After its 1,000 mile U-Haul trip, it sits in my living room next to the fireplace. The tear gets worse each day. I called a Harley guy allegedly good with leather, but he resisted. Like my father, I give haircuts in the chair. Unlike my father, I’m not very good at it.
—from my mother: the ability to transform the humble. Old scraps became a Log Cabin quilt (or a story). Dryer lint was warm winter bedding for the birds (or a poem). She turned water into Kool Aid, acorns into Christmas ornaments. Her alchemy everyday, unintentional (metaphors). When she handed me my life, it was already lined with vulnerability and stars.
Anne Panning’s novel, Butter, was published in 2012 by Switchgrass Books. She has published two short story collections: The Price of Eggs and Super America, which won The Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and was selected as a New York Times Editor’s Choice. She has also published short fiction and nonfiction in places such as Beloit Fiction Journal, Bellingham Review, Prairie Schooner, New Letters, The Florida Review, Passages North, Black Warrior Review, The Greensboro Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Kalliope, Quarterly West, The Kenyon Review, The Laurel Review, Five Points, River Teeth, The Hawaii Review, Cimarron Review, West Branch and Brevity (4x). Four of her essays have received notable citations in The Best American Essays series. She has also published poetry in 32 Poems, Hotel Amerika, Fugue, and Room Magazine. She has recently completed a memoir, Dragonfly Notes; her next book project is a novel about a competitive food eater. She lives in upstate New York with her husband, Mark, and two children, Hudson and Lily, and teaches creative writing at SUNY-Brockport.