Helen Esther Blum ≈ Poem & Story

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Discontent

Discontent with the disconnect?
Disconnect from the discontent.
Pitch your tent in the playing fields
of here and now, now and then.

When did you last lose yourself
in the spin and the grin of the win?

When did you last play so hard
The yard whirled and spun away from
the green and gold,
the cream, the cold cream
of the old dream?

And then you land
somewhere else not planned
somewhere grand
somewhere bold,
somewhere new, not old,
somewhere where you shimmer
where your mind and  heart
don’t part, where you can start
to remake time,
watch it flash and dash,
watch your mind begin a thought
then stop
like a hummingbird hovering
over one red flower.

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DADDY’S LEG

Lilly, Lenny and I sit on the blue chenille bedspread that covers my parents’ double bed. We have found my father’s war medals in a shoe box in the back of his closet. I love the feel of the velvet boxes they come in as we snap open the lids. There are lots of medals. They each have a little bar striped in colours with a clasp attached to a matching ribbon. The medal dangles from the ribbon. My fingers outline the embossed pictures. There are a lot of eagles. My favourite is the Purple Heart with the head of a man on the heart. My mother reads us what is written on each medal.

“This one says ‘For Good Conduct’.”
“What does that mean?” I ask.
“Your Daddy did what he was told really well.”
“This one says ‘For Bravery in Battle. Your Daddy wasn’t afraid when he had to fight.”
“This one is called the Purple Heart. See, it is shaped like a heart.”
“What did he get that one for?
“Your Daddy lost his leg in the war.”

Daddy has only one foot. He left his other foot in Belgium during World War II. My mother says his troop was ordered to go to the top of a hill and disarm a pillbox, which she says is dangerous and could hurt lots of people. He was the only one to follow orders. After he disarmed the pillbox, he ran back down the hill. He stepped on a mine and was blown up.

I don’t exactly understand the story. I know what a mine is. It is a big underground cave where you get gold and coal. But how can it blow up a person? When I ask my Daddy he is silent. He doesn’t like talking about the War and he never looks at his medals.

For his birthday my brother gets a cowboy hat and two pistols in a belt with holsters. We run around pretending to shoot each other with the guns. My Daddy yells at us, “Don’t point guns at people even in play.” So we only play Cowboys when he is away.

Daddy has a wooden leg with a shoe attached to it. He still needs to buy two shoes even though he only has one foot, because they have to match.  He has special socks called stump socks. They are made of boiled wool and are very thick. He washes them by hand and hangs them up to dry on the shower curtain rod. I have seen his stump, scarred and calloused below his knee. It gets itchy and he has to put zinc oxide and powder on it. He says he can feel his lost foot sometimes.

When my Daddy wakes up he sees his leg is gone and he hears us clunking around. “Bring that leg back and leave it alone. It is not a toy,” he shouts.
“Why does Daddy yell so much?” I ask my Mom.
“Your Daddy is in pain sometimes and that makes him crabby.”

Each time my father comes home from the hospital he brings back stuffed animals he has made for us. I have an elephant made of grey felt with embroidery all around the felt blanket sewn on top. The blanket says my name. I know because my mother has traced my fingers along the squiggles and told me it spells ‘Helen’.  My brother gets a long red dachshund dog and my sister gets a woolly sheep. We also have a black and white penguin and a lumpy donkey named Sweet Pea. One day we make up a game with our skipping ropes and the stuffed animals. We tie the animals on the ropes and swing them from the banister in the stairwell going to the first floor flat where our landlord and his family live. We hit each other’s animals and when they bump, we scream with laughter. My father comes out of the kitchen and yells at us to stop. “You’re making too much noise.” So we haul our stuffed animals back up and untie them.

My Mummy says my Daddy is a hero, not just because he fought in the war, but because he is fighting to make war never happen again. He is fighting for human rights for everyone.
“How can he do that?” I ask.
Daddy answers, “There was a lot of killing in the War because some people hated other people that were different from them and treated them badly,”
“Were they bad guys?”
“No,” Daddy says. “People aren’t bad just ignorant and afraid. I am trying to make it a law in Ontario that people can’t discriminate against someone, just because he or she has a different skin colour or religion or accent. Then I am trying to educate the ignorant people so that even if they are prejudiced they still have to respect the law and treat everyone the same. It is hard to change a person’s feelings, but you can teach them to change how they act, especially if it is against the law. So if a man with dark skin wants to get his hair cut, the barber has to cut his hair even if he doesn’t like people with dark skin.”  My Daddy works for human rights in the Union too and teaches workers how to respect each other no matter what.

In our living room we have a record player in a red box. We have a few records to play on it. One record is the story of the little Engine that Could. Another record has lots of songs about getting along with each other, with words like, “Close your eyes and point your finger anywhere and let it linger, anywhere you point your finger to, there’s someone with the same blood type as you.” There is also an album of Union songs sung by Joe Glazer. We sing them in the car when we go on trips.

My Daddy goes back to the hospital for one more operation and when he comes out, he has a plastic bag to collect his poop. He calls it his “zetzer”. He has two of them and every night he washes the spare one out and hangs it on the shower curtain rod with his stump socks. The bathroom smells strange after he comes out. Once, I see his scarred tummy with the hole in it where the bag would go. I can barely look. I have to be careful when I run to hug my Daddy because I might hurt him if I am too wild. Sometimes he winces and tells me stop.

Every day when my Daddy comes home from work he asks each of us, Lilly, Lenny and me, what we did for the benefit of humanity today.
“What does that mean, Daddy?” I ask.
“It means: What did you do that was helping the world? Did you help Mummy?”
“I helped her fold the clothes. I looked after Lilly. I didn’t fight.”

In the summer we go to the lake.  When my father wants to go for a swim I go with him. He places a towel on the sand by the water’s edge and sits to take off his wooden leg. I help him stand up. Then he hops into the cold water and dives under. He swims for a long time. I wait until he wants to come out, then I go into the water so he can hop out using my shoulder as a support. I feel his cool wet hand on my hot skin.  I know everyone is looking at us and seeing that my father has a stump instead of a foot, but he doesn’t care. I am proud of my father.  I think to myself, “This is what I am doing for the benefit of humanity. I am helping my father when he needs me.”

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One thought on “Helen Esther Blum ≈ Poem & Story

  1. Helen — this story makes me cry! it is beautiful, and so moving. I knew a bit about your dad from Lil, but this is a wonderful picture of him, and of your mom and all of you.

    The poem is lovely, too.

    Ellen

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