Archive | Past Matters

Share Your Love With Me (Aretha, Forever)

Did you know that Aretha’s version of “Share Your Love With Me”–first recorded by Bobby Band, but no one covered a track like the Queen–has made me cry ever since I was a kid? The loneliness and longing of the lyrics are perfectly matched by Aretha’s musicalit; she always produced her albums when the studios boys didn’t credit her. Just listen to the first chords of her piano; that Atlantic Records horn section; her glorious, churchified sisters thrilling and trilling; and then Lady A swooping us all up–generously, joyfully–in her big beautiful voice, making all of the human condition OK. Yes, even our pain. Especially our pain.

This song. I can’t tell you how many times my heart has been so broken that I’ve barely been able to feed myself, let alone feel myself, but could still listen to this song. Over and over, numbly at first, then with big tears streaming, until I was shored enough to face the world with spine and lipstick straight. This song is my church, and Aretha is forever my minister.

I’d say I miss her and of course that’s true. But it’s also true that she lives on in every one of my scratchy vinyls. The ones I’ve been listening to since I was that kid in dirty braids who saved up to buy them at Skippy White’s in Cambridge’s Central Square. I’m so grateful Aretha Franklin helped raise me even if she didn’t know she was doing it. Raising people up is what she did and she always will. She shares her love with all of us.

Some Splinters Can Be Healed

I woke today thinking of Griswold Salve. I have no idea if anyone else knows this remedy, but when I was a kid my father always kept some around for splinters, which I then and now often got because of my unwillingness to wear shoes and generally take heed.

In my family, my father was the nurturer, which might’ve seemed improbable if you met my parents–my mom, with her soft tones and sympathetic expression, my dad with his booming voice and imperviousness to external stimuli (aka poor listening skills). But when I got hurt, I cried for my daddy, not my mother. He was soothing and methodical. Loving in the most patient of ways.

I almost liked slivers because of Griswold Salve and how my father applied it. Fetched at Nonantum’s Fox Drugstore (is that still there?), the salve resembled a tiny Tootsie Roll, almost obdurate in its lack of apparent purpose. Googling it now I see its ingredients were beeswax, mutton tallow, cedar oil, and something called oil shale (ammonium bituminosulfonate) but I regarded it as tantalizingly alchemical, like pliable petrified wood. Nothing you buy in drugstores now, that’s for sure.

While I was still yelping over the shock of a foreign object jammed in my body, (it’s a wonder I later consented to contacts, let alone tampons, let alone phalluses), my father would disinfect tweezers and a needle and ceremoniously strap on a headlamp to extract whatever part of the splinter he immediately could. To remove the rest, he would light a match to the end of what I thought was called Grisley Sal (lots of mafia in our neighborhood). It smelled like nothing else–pencils and trees and honeycomb, what I associate even now with trustworthy men and benevolent mystery. Smearing a melted bit on a Bandaid, he’d bandage my wound while murmuring sjoosjoosjoosjoo, a sound he said could heal anything. I believed him, because within a few days, the rest of the splinter always emerged. Sometimes I’d even save it–a talisman of my father’s powers.

I don’t know why I woke thinking of Griswold Salve, my unlikely madeleine. It’s hard to believe such an old-timey remedy was regularly used in my childhood; long ago it was taken off the market for high lead content. Also hard to believe I ever so wholly trusted anyone with my ailments–with my body, in general. But on some level, isn’t that what we all crave? The practical magic of simple effective care.

My daddy’s care.

Painting at Audre’s: Part II

This is the second and final installment of an essay that I began earlier this spring. It is a window into my book, to which I’ve been slowly returning as the world is too rapidly opening back up.

NYC has opened back up, and the smell of fresh paint suffuses every block, a top note to the concentration of garbage piling up on sidewalks, weed clouding every corner. For every person fleeing their Covid cave for fresher air and wider horizons, another is claiming a new base for big-city dreams, 16 months delayed.

It all involves an awful lot of fresh paint.

Some associate this scent with toxicity—chemicals, ill health, colonization. For me, it’s a gateway to an autumn four decades ago, when Audre resurfaced and the world first opened up.

Really, it was simple. One day Audre called up, and the following Friday, without disclosing any of the long-awaited details of their conversation, my mother whisked Jennie and me into Cambridge, where Audre had rented a long apartment on a tree-lined block between Central and Inman Square. It didn’t occur to any of us to bring my father because he never strayed from his Friday routine: popcorn, tea, computer manuals, sports radio, and bed at 8:30. Of course now substitute poetry for manuals and 70s film for sports radio and my routine is not that far off, but back then his diurnal rhythms seemed the ultimate in passive domination.

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"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy