Friday, October 30, 2009

My Two Moms, Twice The Love

It will be seven years this Halloween. I know I should not reflect on her life by the day she left us, instead I should do this on the day she was born. But sitting here alone in the early morning my defenses are weak and the grief trickles into the edges of my heart. September is always a difficult month for most people as it represents change, growing older and yet for me there’s more. 

In September when the routine of school returned each morning I would say goodbye to my mom and walk through my yard and up to the front porch of my best friend’s house. We had been friends on and off since the first grade but by the fifth grade we were best friends and always went to school together. Always. 

Her dad would just be leaving the house and her mom would greet me at the door with a big smile and sometimes with a sing song, “Good Morning, Christabelle!” and then she’d turn, her half apron tied behind her back, her hair pulled back under a kerchief and return to the kitchen. I would sit by the door on the old radiator and wait.  After a few minutes of me sitting there she’d press a button and send a sing song message up to my best friend via an old intercom system to remind her that I was waiting and to get a move-on.  I could hear my friend return an irritated yell in stereo - both from above my head and from the box in the kitchen, “I knowwww, Mommmm!,” To which my best friend’s mom would react by popping her head out around the kitchen door and look out at me with a wide grin and a glint in her eye and we’d share a secret giggle at my friends expense. Some of those mornings when the radiator would get really hot and I had to get up she would come in or I’d go out to the kitchen and we’d chat, other mornings we would talk at length and some there’d be no time at all. This morning ritual of ours went on for eight years and later our relationship would grow much deeper as she became of my most ardent supporters and I hers. 

I’m not sure why these seemingly insignificant moments now seem so clear and so dear to me. There were a thousand things going on in our lives back then but I’m getting closer to the answer. My mom went to work this same year, when I was in the fifth grade and I would return from school to an empty house, the radio on one of my mom’s stations and as time passed and my brothers left one by one I had the place to myself. I’d have to get the cat fed, the table set, bring in the mail and whatever else was left for me until my mom rushed in the door about 5:30.  Through it all she’d set up what she needed to start dinner on the stove, run upstairs to change her cloths and then sometimes when she came back down we’d chat, other times we’d talk at length and sometimes there’d be no time at all. 

That’s how life is. Those moments however brief when we are standing in the same room are opportunities to touch each other. Listen. Or not. Those moments both young and old seem to take for granted are the ones you grow to miss when the other is gone.

My dad walked in at 6. They’d talk over a cocktail and cheese and crackers then we’d eat at 7. Early on, when my brothers were still living at home, these meals were spent in the dining room and we would have to go around the table and talk about our day.  Later, when it was just the three of us, we moved to eating at the kitchen table so we could watch TV instead of sit in stone silence or come up with forced discussion. These were the years my parents were going through their rough patch. The years I spent more time at my best friend’s house then in my own. When I knew my best friend’s mom had taken my heart in hers and grew to truly become my “other mom.” Not because mine wasn’t there. She was one of those unique people that had so much love to share, enough love to go around and more to spare and I was fortunate to be standing in her shine. And then the entire family, thankfully, took me in as one of theirs. Still do. 

Today, more than forty years later, I am sitting in the quiet of my own house, the mist of another late October morning rolling in with these slivers of memories of her surrounding me. And I think maybe she is showing these details to me, telling me that it’s the simple things in life, the small details that take place without our knowing that become etched so deeply into our hearts because they stood in the shine of those we love. And this is when I tell her that it’s not just that, it is much more. It is because we stood in the all-encompassing shine of her love. 

Thursday, October 29, 2009

All These Words

One of the difficult parts of writing is what to do with the words that come into your head seemingly out of nowhere. The ones where you need to rush to find a pen or your computer and write them down before they are lost. For example, I was sitting on the couch in the living room of my parents house late this summer. I was alone, my husband and daughter had left for home so that I could spend a few more days here. My parents were in their respective chairs in the family room. TV blaring. It was after lunch but not yet time for cocktails so they were in their routine of crossword puzzles and newspapers and TV shows when I slipped into the living room.

It isn’t a large room but it has a large bay window on one wall and two tall windows on another making the room bright. The view is mainly large tree branches and leaves that surround the stone driveway and live on a sidehill of pine needles, a small pond hides behind them. Inside there’s a piano, a grandfather clock, a square table with two captain’s chairs and the fold-out couch where I sleep at night. The perimeter is filled with knickknacks that have cluttered our lives since childhood but are now talisman. 

I was sitting here, relaxing, listening, looking and then the light changed and the words started to write themselves so quickly that I had to use my blackberry to capture them:

The sun appeared to give this dismal day a final kiss of hope. After a dismal, graduated grey of a day filled with drips of rain and drabs of family memories, the low glances of yellow sat on the edges of the wet, dark green trees and lit up against the wall in dance as if to say, “get over it and remember there is still a world out here, outside this house of shallow graves.” The blue seaglass and purple glass paperweights long forgotten, left on dusty window sills are lit now, dancing brightly like nooks and crannies holding secrets only fingers of the blind would find there. I turned my head just in time to see the branches reaching restfully to dry their undersides and drink the yellow beams subtly titling to me in the billowing breeze to sway a rhythm not unlike the slow beating of my heart that rears its simple breaths in grief as I remember a close friend that recently died much too young. But this day now done, this dismal dreary day was a day I had alive and who beg am I to shame this day just because the clouds came and blanketed the hills in rain when so many would yearn to inhale her scents of earth? Raise up my eyes and heart to the tips of the trees and commune as the orchestrated wind plays all bush and branch and brattled boasts of elm!

So what to do with these moments, these words? Edit them down into a poem or expand into a story? I have folders filled with words like these. They represent the release I needed, to get the words out. Sometimes it’s like that. I was upset the other day when I walked through the large cemetery near my house because in my head I was writing and editing what I thought was strong poetry that I felt surely I would not forget. I didn’t have my phone, I didn’t have a notebook and when I got back to the house I was distracted and the next day I tried hard to remember but couldn’t reach them. 

So now I try to carry a pad of paper and pen on my walks. I think it may be easier to get one of those gadgets you talk into and then transcribe when I get back. Or like those days you don’t bring your camera and the world just begs you to take a picture - maybe the words flow better when there is no place to jot them down. Maybe those moments are just moments to enjoy the process of this writing in your brain. I can’t always know when these moments are going to happen but I have left the door open. My good friend Liz says when you are writing that’s when you are listening, when your soul is open to hear. And visa versa. Java!

Monday, October 26, 2009

How I Killed Halloween and Lived to Tell About It

I don’t remember ever enjoying the part of Halloween where you get dressed up. It was so much easier when my mom made my costume and after when I would simply wear the hand-me-down bed sheet with the two holes in it. But after I grew too tall I had to come up with something on my own - something that would pass as a costume and yet not make me look like a complete idiot.  So I put it off until the last minute. Then I scoured the house for articles of clothing and props that I could use and try to hold back the tears. I went through all the closets in the house and determined I could be Robin Hood (tights and a sweatshirt), a Cowboy (use my brothers old stuff), a Indian (paint my face and wear my macrama shirt and belt, both in at the time), a Ghost (oh not the dreaded sheet over my head again), a Witch (oops, no hat) or a,,,Hobo. Hmm. Got the flannel shirt, got the jeans, I could smear dirt on my face and make a bag out of another shirt and cut a limb off of one of the trees in the front yard to tie it to. Done! One year I remember trying to convince myself to go as a scarecrow. I put on a pair of sweat pants and a sweat shirt and tried to fill them both with leaves and attempted to put a stick behind my neck through the arm holes. It wasn't pretty. If I did ever want to go as a Princess I have forgotten it. Or blacked it all out. Even later, in college and after when there were Halloween costume parties I did want to go to I'd still have a tough time with it and either talked myself out of going or was part of a group costume like the Cone Heads or a Six Pack. So finally I declared that I was not a "Halloween Person" and henceforth would never go to another Halloween party, at least not dressed up, and killed Halloween.

That was about thirty years ago. I have recently returned to New York state and just settling into another close-knit community whose streets will soon be filled en mass with trick-or-treaters and I am starting to re-think how to handle this scary tradition, especially after I received an invitation in the mail to a party put on by many members of my husband's extended family here in town. I started to ask my husband whether we need to get dressed up for this event and at the same time I grabbed my phone and sent a text message to our daughter at college asking for dad costume ideas. Her reply was quick and to the point, "Shrek." How perfect! This movie is one of our family favorites and we giggled via our phones about Dad as Shrek and how he could just wear his own cloths and carry a few onions with him and tell everyone that, “Ogre’s are like onions, they have layers!” For me, I just thought I’d wear an old turtle neck I recently found while digging for warmer cloths. This one had pumpkins and witch hats on it so that would be easy and I wouldn’t have to fall into the stress pit again. As the days ran down I knew my husband was not about to wear a costume, at least not this year. And so about an hour before the party was to begin I started to get ready and of course the turtle neck seemed too hot, too confining and just too in-between. I mean you either get into Halloween and come dressed in a costume or you don't. None of this in between stuff but maybe if I toss on my new, black wool cape over a pair of black jeans I could tell people I was the “Caped Crusader.” Except I never told anyone once I got there and apologized for our lack of costumes and said that next year we’d surely come up with something. Argh. 

Then as soon as we entered the large community hall we could tell why this was the party all looked forward to as it was immediately apparent that many had put their heart and soul into making this a memorable event. Every wall, table and ceiling tile was decorated, a dance floor was set up, a DJ was blasting rock and roll, an entire buffet laid before us, and a keg was freely flowing in the back. There were some glorious get-ups as well. Especially memorable were the sisters and their mom that went as The Golden Girls, which was perfect as they are the patriarchs of the family and the main hosts of the event. And another of their sisters had her entire family dress up as the Brady Bunch and their kids performed for us famously the "talent show" episode to the show's theme song. And I must mention the Kardashian Girls were culturally hip and I admired the guts of the young man that came dressed as a women in fish net stockings and noted that he had better legs than many women I know. There were also a few folks that developed their costume ideas from pure puns. I loved the woman who wore a sign around her neck that said, “Go Ceiling!!” I had to ask. A Ceiling Fan. And her husband, Tom, came carrying a small window with a curtain. Peeping Tom. And the man that wore a box of cereal around his neck with a hammer gashing thru it. Cereal Killer. And the woman that attached a number of large, black “P’s” to her cloths and had a black eye. Black Eyed P’s. 

So many amazingly creative families were having so much fun dancing and carrying on that you could almost see the baton being tossed between the generations. As I got up to fill my glass once more I knew that many grand and great grandchildren would be doing this long after we were gone and I sat back and began to rethink Halloween. Maybe, if I could just dig into my sense of humor and get someone to help pull a costume together, like maybe one of those punsters, I could find a way to bring Halloween back to life, relax and have fun with it. I'd have to ease my way in of course, but...oh my God, did I just say I was going to dress up next year? You bet I did. I have a lot of making up to do. 

Monday, October 19, 2009

Staying the Course

 While driving back from Cape Cod yesterday we had two major traffic and weather set backs that turned a usual seven and a half hour trip into a ten hour marathon. During the times when we were sitting in the car inching along towards the Sagamore Bridge we contemplated getting off at the next exit and trying a few detours to get over to the Bourne Bridge. Then an exit would come and go as we watched other cars making the potential escape. But instead we just talked ourselves into staying the course as we were sure whatever decision we made wouldn’t save much time and worse-yet we’d likely find ourselves in another jam that would take us just as long and surely the situation would change soon, right?  So we used the time to take pictures of the snow even though it always looked like rain, talk about a few decisions we needed to make soon and upload our status on facebook by cell phone but that only took about a few of the minutes of the two hours we were sitting there. So I ask you. Were we in the proverbial rabbit and the hare situation? You know...stay the course, plod along, keep your head down and soon you will be crossing the finish line first? Or were we as ignorant as a bunch of lemmings following each other with little thought as to the why other than everyone else was doing it? Hmmm. I’ve been learning first hand how difficult it can be to stay committed. Take this blog for instance. I made the commitment to write a daily blog as a way to start really working at the craft yet almost as soon as I said it I missed a few days and while I couldn’t wait to get back to it a few more days slipped by. Sort of like dieting. You start with grand plans and lots of positive thinking and then you get to a point where you have to decide between the french fries that show up on your plate at the restaurant even though you told the waitress “no fries” or the home made apple crisp offered with ice cream (of course) after a healthy dinner at home with your brother and his significant other or succumbing to more cheese and crackers and a cocktail while entertaining with your family and what do you choose?  The food!?! Sure it’s enjoyable while in “the moment” but a few days of this type of happy eating and you’re back to square one...or worse, you’re dry-docked for repairs. However, instead of beating myself up I chose toe get back at it and here I am writing about it. What did Julie do in the movie Julie and Julia when she missed a day? I still haven’t seen the movie but I think I saw a promo that shows she made up for it by making a lot of meals all on one day so I guess I should try to make up for the days missed by writing as many articles in the next few days instead of just one per day, right? I did read somewhere that the successful dieters are the ones that keep daily food journals so there must be a correlation between writing daily and being healthy. I also remember while taking sailing lessons how difficult it was to learn that I could get to the other side of the lake much faster if I made several ninety-degree turns vs sailing straight across. So I know you can’t wait for the wind and that you have to use the wind you’ve got or create your own but that doesn’t make it easier. So I guess the next few days will be filled with “the three W’s”: Writing, Walking and Writing some more as I know I can get where I’m going more efficiently by staying the course. Java!