Sally’s Cafe and Bookstore – New on the Shelves – Doll God by Luanne Castle

Smorgasbord - Variety is the spice of life

Welcome to the first of the New on the Shelves posts this week and today it is poet Luanne Castle and her debut collection, award winning Doll God that explores the emotion that we invest in inanimate objects, some of which have been created in our own image.

About Doll God

Winner of the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards, Doll God, studies traces of the spirit world in human-made and natural objects–a Japanese doll, a Palo Verde tree, a hummingbird. Her exploration leads the reader between the twin poles of nature and creations of the imagination in dolls, myth, and art.

“Every day the world subtracts from itself,” Luanne Castle observes. Her wonderfully titled collection, Doll God, with its rich and varied mix of poems part memoir, part myth and tale, shimmers as it swims as poetry is meant to, upstream against the loss.
Stuart Dybek, MacArthur Fellow and author…

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Charley’s Tale Part 6

With Cora to champion her and her brothers for company, Charley thrived..  Her father is pleased to see his daughter is smart and active.  When Ellen has been gone a month, he called her.  “Ellen, you need to come home.  Your children need you.  I need you.”

“Oh Charles, I don’t feel well enough yet.  I have been taking the hot baths daily and am just starting to put a little of the weight back on I lost when my nerves were so bad.  The doctor here thinks I would benefit from a longer rest.  He told me today I should plan on another six weeks.  I was going to call tomorrow and let you know.”  Ellen had a tremor in her voice as she bargained for more time.  She hadn’t even asked after the children.

“I am sure that doctor’s pocket would benefit if you stayed.  Ellen, I am your husband and I am telling you.  Come home tomorrow.  A month is time enough to rest up. You have responsibilities.  The baby is sleeping nights and trying to take steps.  The boys need their mother.  You can’t expect Cora and me to manage any longer.  Edna Jones has brought casseroles over twice.  The neighbors have been asking when you are coming home.”  Charles wasn’t leaving her room to argue.

Ellen was miffed at the mention of Edna Jones and the casseroles.  “What business does that hussy, Edna have sniffing around my kitchen?  She claims to be so Christian and she’s after you with her husband not dead a year!  I’ll catch the train tomorrow.”  It was one thing to be a delicate doctor’s wife needing rest and another entirely to have a woman after her husband.

Ellen caught the early train and was home by afternoon.  She dumped the leftover casserole in the trash, dish and all.   Charles and the boys were ecstatic at her return, but Charley clung to Cora, not remembering her mother.  Ellen was not pleased to hear the boys referring to their sister as Charley, but decided to leave that matter for tomorrow.

 

 

Charley’s Tale Part 5

Ellen’s disappointment in her child grew apace with Charlotte.  Charlotte was a big baby, bigger even than her brothers had been.  Ellen had expected a dainty, quiet child, not this bawling, thrashing baby Charlotte became.    She screamed with colic from six in the evening till after three every morning, spitting up till she ruined all her mother’s gowns and wraps.  Neither Ellen nor Charles could console her.  During the worst of her colicky spells, her belly became rigid and thrashed her arms and legs wildly.  By morning, Ellen was exhausted and gladly handed her off to Cora and headed black to bed.  She insisted Cora put the baby on the bottle, saying the crying had spoiled her milk.  Typically, as colicky babies often do, she slept deeply and well, off and on all day.  Finally, in desperation, Charles started giving her a drop or two of paregoric, an opium derivative, to ease her agony.  She developed a tolerance for it and Ellen increased the doses with the unavoidable side-effect of constipation.  Despite intractable colic, she grew like a weed and looked like a short, fat bald man at three months, a fact that did not endear her to her mother. Over time, it reached the point that Charlotte required a daily enema.  Charles told Ellen to  limit paregoric use, but Ellen said she couldn’t bear to see the child in agony, so the dosing continued for months until Cora appealed to Dr Evans on the child’s behalf.  “Dr. Evans, if we don’t get this youngun off that stuff her bowels ain’t ever gonna work.  I don’t believe no nine month old baby still has colic.”

Dr. Evans obviously had left matters regarding the children to his wife.  “I didn’t realize she was still getting it.  I’ll talk to her mother.”  He also told the pharmacist to discontinue its sale to his wife.

Without the paregoric Charlotte, spent a miserable week or two, hardly sleeping and crying continuously.  Ellen pleaded with him, insisting the child needed medicating.  When he refused, she accused her husband of being heartless and fled to spend a few days with a friend in Hot Springs, swearing she couldn’t bear the child’s misery .

Cora moved in to care for the children and run the household for the duration.  Charlotte recovered and woke to the world around her.  She discovered her brothers, doing her best to toddle behind them.  They were delighted with her in turn, dubbing her, “Charley.”

 

Charley’s Tale Part 4

Geneva’s reference to Cousin Jean was the last thing Ellen wanted to hear.  Her cousin had been a frequent presence in Ellen’s young life. Once Ellen was old enough to dread her friends’ criticism, she cringed when her mother championed Cousin Jean at family events, making it clear Cousin Jean was dear to her heart.  A masculine-appearing woman, Cousin Jean wore dark tailored suits with brown oxfords and beige cotton stockings when society demanded at weddings, funerals, and christenings.  Otherwise, she caroused with her young cousins clad in overalls, men’s shirts, and brogans.  Though her own girls were beautifully dressed, Geneva made no reference to Cousin Jean’s unusual wardrobe.

As a young child, Ellen, along with her mother and sisters, spent wonderful times at the farm where Cousin Jean had raised Geneva after she was orphaned.  They fished, did chores, and worked on the farm, right along with Cousin Jean, who farmed as well as any man.  They spent long summer days playing outdoors and balmy summer nights sleeping on her screened back porch. As Ellen approached puberty, she felt embarrassed confusion at Cousin Jean’s differences in the company of her friends, while being torn for her love for her “odd” cousin. She felt so free in her love for Cousin Jean in Jean’s territory, the farm.  It was only when she saw Jean through the eyes of her friends that her affection waivered. She loved and wanted to be a part of Cousin Jean’s life at the farm, was miserable at seeing Jean through her friends’ eyes. Why couldn’t Cousin Jean just try to be more like everyone else?  When questioned about Cousin Jean, Geneva excused her with “That’s just Jean.  She’s the only mother I never knew.  I won’t hear a word against her.  Don’t ever forget that!”

Ellen resented her mother’s excusing Cousin Jean’s eccentricity while diligently pushing her daughters conform to society’s expectations, never realizing her mother must have struggled with the same issues until she eavesdropped on a conversation and learned her mother had rebuked a friend who’d spoken snidely to Cousin Jean.

“I could have slapped her face for that.  There’s no need to be so hateful!” Geneva spewed.

“Geneva, I learned a long time ago not to waste time on small people.  I can’t change who I am for anybody.  If you and the girls love me, that’s enough.  Some people go through their whole lives with nobody.  Don’t concern yourself on my account.”

From this, young Ellen knew Cousin Jean knew how “odd” she was, and resolved to love her, but felt Jean could fit in if she tried a bit harder.  I would have made life so much easier for everyone.

As an adult, she’d conveniently catalogued Cousin Jean as an eccentric, and was genuinely glad to see her on the rare occasions their paths crossed. She was much more comfortable not seeing her on a regular basis.

 

Charley’s Tale Part 3

 

They named the baby Charlotte for her father.  Though Ellen did her best, she didn’t bond with the little girl as she had her two boys, rarely changing or bathing her.  In addition to her concerns about her daughter, she suffered from baby-blues, as post-partum depression was known then.  Her own mother, Geneva, came to stay for a few days and recognized Charlotte’s ambiguous genitalia immediately, having given birth to four girls.  Ellen was appalled when Geneva expressed her concerns.

“Charles said he had to a little growth off her bottom, but she’s fine now.  He said if she has any trouble when she gets older, we will take her to a specialist then.  Charles doesn’t ever want her to know.  I can’t talk any more about it, it gets me so upset.”  Ellen broke off crying.

“Ellen, this might be more than that.  My cousin, Jean……….” Ellen cut her mother off sharply.

“Now, Mother.  Charles is a doctor.  He says there’s no need borrowing trouble.  He’s not going to like it if we discuss this any more.  Please don’t mention Jean ever again, especially to Charles.” Ellen was clearly agitated at the mention of Jean.

“Ellen, I am not about to go around telling your business, but I am going to talk to Charles about this.  There might be a specialist she can see now.  If money is a problem…………….”

            “Mother,  please stay out of this.  Money is definitely NOT a problem.  Don’t you think Charles would move Heaven and Earth if he thought she needed to see another doctor?  How could you bring Jean up to me?   My head is just throbbing.  You and Cora will just have to manage while I rest. Please tell Charles I am going to take something for my headache and will see him when I get up.”

               “Cora, I need you to bring up my tonic and pull the curtains for me.  I feel like I am dying of headache. Dust a little talcum on my sheets and bring me that silk throw before you go.  You have to take the baby downstairs and keep the boys quiet.  Maybe you can take the baby out in the carriage and walk the boys over to play with Mrs. Barnes boys, but don’t let anybody else change her.  Do you understand?”

                “Yes, Miz Evans.  I knows how to take care of things.  You git some rest.”  Cora hurried to get out of the room.  She’d seen lots of headaches and tonic since little Charlotte was born.

Papa Bear, the Young Bear, and the Hearing Aid

Papa Bear doted on his only daughter, Princess Bear, who was not only beautiful, but sweet, gentle, and wise.  He adored her, trying hard to give her all she needed for a good life.  He rocked her, ran behind her on her bicycle to catch her, lest she fall, dried her tears, and brushed her long, curly fur, never tugging at tangles.  He tucked her in at night, dreading the day she’d leave his cave.

One day, his lovely Princess Bear ventured out into the wood.  Young bears started to coming to pay court to her.  Papa Bear asked, “Please bring your friends home to meet me.”  Of course, she didn’t really care for the idea, but since she loved Papa Bear, and he was so kind, she did as he asked.

One evening, she brought yet another young bear to the cave to meet Papa Bear.  “Pleased to meet you, Sir.  I’ll have her home by eleven.”  He said in an extraordinarily nicey, nice bear voice.

“Grrrrr.”  said Papa Bear.  “I’ll be waiting for you at nine-thirty.” They were home at nine-twenty eight.

“I didn’t really like him,” said the Princess Bear the next morning.  “Something about him was a unbearable.”

“Oh, well,” said Papa Bear.  “Sometimes that just happens.”

In a few minutes, there was a knock at the cave door.  “I don’t want to see you again.  Don’t call on me anymore.”  Princess Bear closed the door.

Seconds later, a second knock sounded.  “I told you.  I don’t want to see you again!”  Papa Bear was right behind his little Princess, not the sound of any of it.

He asked her, “Is that young bear bothering you?  At her nod, he stepped from behind her, speaking to the pushy young bear, quite gruffly.  “Princess Bear doesn’t ever want to see you or speak to you again.  Now, if you’re having trouble understanding that, I’ll be happy to meet you in the woods and explain it!”

The young bear understood Papa Bear perfectly.   He had just needed a hearing aid.

Charley’s Tale Part 2

 

Charles was waiting by the bedside when the baby squirmed and cried out to be nursed.  Ellen woke smiling as Cora helped them get settled down to business.  “Have you ever seen a sweeter little girl?” Ellen asked her husband as she stroked the infant’s cheek.  “She is all peaches and cream.  I know all baby’s eyes start out blue, but I believe this one’s eyes will be the color of mine, don’t you, Charles?  I had just about given up on a little girl.”  Cora busied herself spreading up and fluffing the cradle.

“She is a beauty.  Cora, can you leave us alone?  I need to talk to my wife,” Charles told Cora.

“Why shore, Dr. Charles.  I need to see to them boys, anyhow.  No tellin’ what them fellers is up to.  I’ll be downstairs when you needs me.”  Cora scurried out with a laundry basket, clearly happy to be dismissed.

“Ellen, now don’t get upset, but there was a little problem with the baby I had to take care of, but she will be fine.”  Charles tenderly took the baby from Ellen.  “She had a little growth on her privates, and I went ahead and snipped it off.  She’s still so little, she won’t ever have to know.” Charles reassured Ellen.

“Oh dear God!  What is wrong?  Will it ruin her?  Is she normal?  Let me see!”  Ellen was crying by now, frantic to see the problem.

“There’s really not much to see,” Charles told her as he unwrapped the baby and took her diaper off, revealing a tiny bit of bloodied tissue. “This little bit here was bigger than it usually is and I just snipped it off.  Except for this, she looks totally normal.  She will never even need to know.  We don’t want her to feel different. It’s important to keep this ointment on till she heals so infection doesn’t set up.  Babies heal so fast she’ll be fine in no time.  It could be we will need to let a specialist see her later, but we aren’t going to worry about that now.  It’s best if we don’t let word of this out.  Children don’t need to be whispered about.  This is just between you, me, and Cora, of course. Now, I need to get to work and you need to rest.  I’ll let Cora know to listen for the baby and what she needs to do.  The baby should sleep for a while.”  With that, he diapered and wrapped the baby, handing her back to Ellen.  Cora, listening outside the door, heard every word.

Ellen waited till she heard Charles leave, then hastily unwrapped the baby.  Like many girls raised in Victorian times, she’d never even examined her own privates in detail, and having only boys, had no great idea of what to expect.  On inspection, she did see a tiny vagina between the prominent labia, and the small, bloody incision.  She allowed herself to be satisfied with this cursory inspection, though still very troubled.  She called out for Cora to change the baby.  Cora, an experienced mother and care-giver of many children, immediately noted the unexpected in her new charge, though of course said nothing of her observation to Miss Ellen, her employer.

Though Cora was discreet in her inspection, Ellen knew she took longer than expected to diaper the infant.  Ellen pretended sleep so she could avoid Cora’s eyes.  As soon as she heard Cora’s steps on the stairs, Ellen collapsed weeping.  With the little he’d said, and the volumes he hadn’t, Ellen knew something was terribly wrong with the perfect little girl.

Gallery

DO NOT READ ME

Minnie Musings

If you opened this post, I am happy to announce you are human.

Congratulations.

Why is it that, when someone commands us NOT to do something, we are invariably tempted to do it anyway – even if we weren’t interested in doing it in the first place?

I am a law-abiding lady, but a terrible rule-breaker. Who can help it when people with whistles are telling you:

You can’t swim with a face mask in a public pool.

Don’t walk on the grass.

Don’t try to go through a yellow light.

Don’t walk across the street on red, even if there are no cars coming from either direction.

Don’t enter the subway as the doors are closing.

Don’t sit on that wall – it’s dangerous.

Is it that the rules are petty or that we feel bossed around and mildly insulted by the micro-managing of strangers?

Perhaps the most glaring…

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Charley’s Tale

 

Ellen Pendergrass led a charmed life till the day her daughter, Charlotte, was born in 1938.  At Ellen’s birth, her parents celebrated the long hoped-for arrival of a perfect daughter born ten years after the last of their six sons.  Ellen was all any parent could have imagined, dainty, feminine, and delightful.  She was all the more welcome, since her mother had despaired of ever having a daughter.  Both parents doted on her and were well-able to indulge her since her father was from a long line of bankers.

A high-minded young woman, well-aware of her importance, Ellen studied music and art at a notable Southern Women’s College, though she’d never need to earn her own way.  No one was surprised when she accepted the proposal of a wealthy plantation owner’s son.  It was the wedding of the decade.  The father of the bride built the young couple a Victorian mansion in the finest part of town and Ellen’s husband, a doctor, spent his time between his practice and his father’s plantation.  His practice grew so quickly, he had to hire a farm manager when he inherited upon his father’s death.  Ellen, like her mother before her, gave birth to boys, though she yearned for a daughter to follow her in society.

At thirty-nine, Ellen feared she was entering menopause, when to her great joy, she realized she was pregnant.  Surely, she’d have a daughter this time.  Her husband attended the home birth, of course.  Ellen was relieved to hear a healthy squall at delivery, but Charles didn’t meet her eyes as he handed the swaddled infant to Cora, the maid.  “It looks like a healthy girl.”  In minutes, Cora diapered and swaddled the babe and passed her to Ellen to nurse. 

Ellen counted all the little fingers and toes as she admired her little one.  “I do believe this is the prettiest one yet.”

Charles answered, “You always say that,” then whisked the infant away immediately instead of leaving her with her mother, as he had at all the other births. “Get some rest.”

Ellen was glad to rest, but was a little concerned that Charles had taken the baby. 

“Cora, was everything alright with the baby?” she quizzed Cora.

“That baby looked plenty healthy to me,” Cora turned her back as she tidied things up. “Shore had a fine set of lungs on her.  You ain’t as young as you was.  Git you some rest while you can.”

Miffed at the reference to her age, Ellen snapped at Cora. “I am plenty young enough to tend my baby, thank you.  I have the finest skin of any of my friends.”

“Yes’m,” Cora answered.

To be continued.