Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Dickinson and Dairy Queen

My freshman and sophomore years in college were spent at a small, strict, private college down south. (A college I'm still paying for, I might add...) To say I had a good time would be stretching the truth a little bit.

One of the brightest spots of the whole time there was my friend, Sarah. She was from Texas, but whatever mental image has immediately sprung to mind from that bit of information, erase it. She was diminutive and taciturn and lived down the hall from me. I don't even really remember how we met or why, but I do remember that I instantly loved her. Her appreciation for the absurd surpassed my own and she had the ability to be quietly snarky while still being kind and generous. That is no small feat. She's one of the smartest people I've ever known and I doubt I would have survived those two years without her quiet, intelligent companionship. And, as if all of that was not enough, she had a healthy respect for a good hat.

We spent after-curfew hours doing things like making envelopes out of random magazine pages from old women's magazines. To this day, I still have the one I made of a picture of Angela Lansbury because it brings me such absurd delight and fond memories. One night we got grotesque temporary tattoos and stuck them all over ourselves so we would look like a biker gang. She had funny stories about growing up in a small town in East Texas. She understood feeling apart from things, aghast at things that were accepted without question.

I will always associate her with the poetry of Emily Dickinson. You would think it was because of the small and apart thing, but not so much. One night we were talking about Dickinson for some reason and she calmly said: "Did you know that you can sing all of her poems to the tune of 'The Yellow Rose of Texas'?" (OK, if you click on that link for the video, at about 31 seconds is Big Sam, the world's tallest statue of an American hero. I used to live a few miles from that and have climbed on his face. I am completely obsessed with that statue. I digress.) I am not terribly musically inclined, nor did I learn "The Yellow Rose of Texas" in elementary school (I was learning Robert Frost.) So she demonstrated for me. And there it was - completely sunk in my consciousness forever. You can, in fact, sing the poetry of Emily Dickinson to the tune of "The Yellow Rose of Texas". Now the two can never be un-linked in my brain.

In spite of what you may think, this only increased my appreciation for Dickinson. I will admit that her poems had never really done much for me. I was fascinated by her person - her reclusive life, her unrequited love, her deep and intellectual correspondence with people - but I misjudged her poetry as trite. I think it was the rhyming couplets, honestly. I never really took the time to get inside and look around in her poems because of the rhyme-y-ness of them. My bad. They are such deceptively simple little verses that contain such wit and depth and sadness and ultimately, hope. I find I love them more, the older and more reclusive I get. It is merely a bonus that you can sing them, too.

The other bright spot of that two-year collegiate exile was Dairy Queen. There always seemed to be an endless supply of buy-one-get-one-free Blizzard coupons around and it was sweet release to go and sit on sticky Formica seats and listen to the whir of the blenders and the sizzle of the grease and eat the magical dairy dessert with chunks of hand-selected goodness mixed in. (Pause here and realize that this notion of mixing bits of candy bars into ice cream was relatively new at that time and it was like the whole world of frozen treats busted wide open for us at half price.)

I had not been to Dairy Queen in years until my Hooligan suddenly developed an obsession with it. They sponsor our city's soccer team and he saw the ads during the matches and demanded that we visit this magical place where one can procure not only a cheeseburger, but a Chocolate Xtreme Blizzard for a reasonable price. Now we probably go about once a month. This is how I happen to know that this month's Blizzard of the Month is the Choco Covered Pretzel with Peanut Butter Blizzard. Allow me to inform you that the advertising is true: It's so good, it's riDQulous.

So go pick up a frozen dairy dessert, chock full of chocolate-y, pretzel-y goodness and raise it in a toast for old friends who teach you new things and all the goodness of fond memories and finding a place to fit where none seemed to exist.

It was not Death, for I stoop up

It was not Death, for I stood up, 
And all the Dead, lie down— 
It was not Night, for all the Bells 
Put out their Tongues, for Noon. 

It was not Frost, for on my 
Flesh I felt Sirocos—crawl— 
Nor Fire—for just my Marble feet 
Could keep a Chancel, cool— 

And yet, it tasted, like them all, 
The Figures I have seen 
Set orderly, for Burial, 
Reminded me, of mine— 

As if my life were shaven, 
And fitted to a frame, 
And could not breathe without a key, 
And 'twas like Midnight, some— 

When everything that ticked—has stopped— 
And Space stares all around— 
Or Grisly frosts—first Autumn morns, 
Repeal the Beating Ground—

But, most, like Chaos— Stopless—cool— 
Without a Chance, or Spar— 
Or even a Report of Land— 
To justify—Despair. 

-Emily Dickinson, c.1860


  1. Replies
    1. Yup. Did you know that before? Once you know it, you can't un-know it.

  2. This is one of the premier things I look for in a friend: "...the ability to be quietly snarky while still being kind and generous." If someone is lacking that quality, we can still hang out and have a laugh or two, but they'll probably never own a piece of my heart.

    Oh, and you know that I'm off to brush up on my Dickinson (whom I haven't revisited since high school), just to sing her works, right?

    1. I agree with you on this fine quality in a friend. It is a delicate balance, and one that not many people of my acquaintance can strike. The ones who can? They are my bosom friends.

      My mission is accomplished then, if you are off to sing some Dickinson. That makes me happy all over.

  3. Oh I have so many comments! I'll limit it to two: The Yellow Rose of Texas was my favorite song when I was a kid. I'm stoked at the idea that Emily Dickinson's verse can be sung to that wonderful, stuck in your head, tune! And DQ is wonderful, I love it, but it always brings back memories of my Mom trying to have 'the talk' and picking DQ, thinking eating ice cream would make the whole business easier to listen to. My sister still hates ice cream!

    1. That is such a strange association. I'm not sure I could bear Dairy Queen after that, either. I am dying to know what the rest of your comments are and I am also thrilled that 'The Yellow Rose of Texas' was your favorite childhood song.

  4. I confess as I read, I was a little stuck on this Angela Lansbury envelope thing. I feel that it is something we might all benefit from seeing. ;)

    As for Emily Dickinson--I've known the Yellow Rose thing for a while and you're exactly right that it's impossible to unknow it. I came to my appreciation for her poetry quite late, too, for all the reasons you cited. It's baffling to me now that I realize the power she could pack into a couple of lines how I missed it for so long.

    I read the biography Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds by Lyndall Gordon a few years ago. It's long, but fascinating and so absorbing that when I read it, I felt like I was dreaming Emily Dickinson's dreams, if that makes any sense.


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