Today I had a rare day spent in the company of myself. After getting my cholesterol screening (12 hour fast) out of the way, the day was my oyster. I started the migration of my summer writing space from the back porch overlooking the field and barn, to my spare bedroom office with Aunt Mary’s desk and window overlooking the side yard. I brought in half of the plants, and promised the others they would soon follow. It’s cozier, and less of a daydreaming kind of space. Maybe that will be good for my writing.
Then I cleaned the stalls and lingered in the barn, to give the equine kids a good scratch, warm hug and fresh hay. I have not once turned on the television, or a radio. Even the birds are silent, except for the gorgeous hawk I disturbed this morning on my damp walk through the woods and fields next door. The silence of the woods was such a stark contrast to even just a little while ago, when a chorus of birds, crickets and distant lawnmowers serenaded in a buzz of the late summer’s mix tape. Today the silence was only pierced once by the cry of the hawk, and the gentle tap of raindrops as they dripped off the red and gold leaves of the maples and oaks bordering my property line.
Later, I broke my fast with a hearty tomato soup in which I mixed red lentils. What is it about tomato soup that brings me back to the comfort of childhood when my mother served steaming bowls of Campbell’s tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches on toasted white bread? The richness of the butter melted into the golden crisp surface of the bread, the tangy taste of the soup and melted cheese, that first bite when your teeth crunched through to the soft belly of the Wonder Bread. I still remember the cheerful blue and red balloons printed on the Wonder Bread wrapper peeking over the tops of my winter boots. Did all of our mothers use the bread bags to line our winter boots and keep out the dampness? Remember the smell of the plastic , wool and wet boots that emanated from the coat room in school as our winter coats, boots scarves, hats and gloves dried in front of the radiators? We were a community of children who walked to school, in any weather, and who (most of us) came home for lunch to our Mothers, who had a hot lunch waiting on a TV tray in the living room, our favorite tv show tuned (Kimba the White Lion was mine) I know the world was far from perfect, even then, but parts of it sure felt that way. Today was a beautiful escape from the real world where, fortunately, parts of it are still perfect enough for me.
And now I need a tissue, the rain seems to have gotten in my eyes.
One morning, I was just about to rush out the door for work. As usual, I was running late. I kissed my husband good bye, and as I walked past my bird, Finn, on his perch, he called to me with his bright, sassy chirp. I stopped, and made a fuss over him, giving and receiving little kisses and kissing sounds. “Awwww, Good boy!” I said in my little baby bird voice, over and over, then turned to leave.
“What about Smoky?” my husband asked. I followed his gaze and pointing finger. There sat Smoky, on his dog bed, tail wagging his entire body from the back end up, his deep brown eyes shining in adoration at me. He was just quietly waiting for me to notice and say goodbye to him, too. My heart shattered in my chest, and fell to pieces on the floor. I put down my briefcase, my purse, my lunch bag and my mug of coffee, and walked over to hug my dog, scratch his ears, tell him what a good boy he is. He shivered in pleasure at the attention, smiling his dog smile. I could just hear him saying “Ah! She remembered me!”
To think I would have just walked out without a kind word to him. He would have waited until he heard the car leave the driveway, and then, silently laid back down on his dog bed, nose to tail, a little sad, a lot lonely, and waited. How many days has this happened already, how many times has he witnessed my mad rush, my only paying attention to the ones who made the most noise? How many times have I passed him over in his faithful silence? Leaving with nothing on my mind but the full day of work ahead.
And yet. Every night, hours and hours later, when I come wearily through the door with my burdens of the day, he is the first one to greet me at the door, with the same smile, the same shining eyes, helicopter tail whirling, lower body wagging along with it. Waiting for a kind word, a pat on the head, and if he’s really lucky, a scratch of the ears. All is forgiven, or, no, more than that, as far as he is concerned, there is nothing to forgive. How lucky am I to have known the grace of a dog’s love.
When I was born, my dad was serving in the US Navy. One of my earliest memories is of my mom singing to me:
“Bell bottom trousers,
Coat of Navy Blue,
My Dad’s a sailor
And he loves me too.
When you get married
And have a family,
You’ll dress your kiddies in sailor’s dungarees!”
I think I will always be able to conjure up her beautiful voice and those sweet words until the day I die. Mom always claimed she cannot carry a tune, but I think she has the most mellifluous voice in the world. Every day, Mom would wake us up with her sweet greeting; “Rise and shine!” I was a grumpy, moody child. Never a morning person.I would grumble back from under the covers, “I’ll rise but I won’t shine!” I felt wickedly clever for saying that. To her eternal credit, It did not deter her from her daily greeting. Every night at bed she hugged and kissed us and tucked us in saying “Good Night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite!” Always in the same cheerful tone. She could have had the worst day of her life, but would never let it show to us kids. Her love for her children was and still is unconditional, and as consistent as the sunrise.
My early years were spent in a small village in upstate New York. You could walk to school and I did; every day to Kindergarten then home to Mom and peanut butter sandwiches and milk on a TV tray in front of my favorite cartoons. Mom and I and my brother walked downtown and had milkshakes and ice cream sodas at the local lunch counter. Every day in summer I could play outside to my heart’s content and Mom was always there to run to for comfort, food, and hugs and kisses as needed. I had a pretty normal childhood spent running in and out of a slamming squeaky screen door and being told “in or out, one or the other!” We could spend hours buying penny candy and melted popsicles with nothing but a dime at the corner store all summer. I recall ice skating at the local park down the street in winter. Mom stuffed the toes of her own childhood skates with newspaper so I could wear them. We greased the blades with Vaseline and polished the leather with white shoe polish. I remember the pride I felt that I could fit into Mom’s skates.I imagined her laughing and skating with her friends, an image I took with me every time I circled around that iced-over lot at the end of the street. Those ice skates were more valuable to me than any brand new store bought pair of skates could ever have been.
I was never a girly girl who welcomed dresses and pink hair ribbons. If Mom had hoped for that kind of daughter, she sure hid it well. I was the kid who tore up her new winter coat sledding under a barbed wire fence and barely ducking in time to avoid getting clotheslined from it. My buster browns were permanently scuffed, my permed and set hairdos went frizzy, and my clothes never stayed clean very long. When we moved to the country, Mom was the one who set me free to roam the lush pastures and cool, green forests and creeks every single day. I would return home grass stained, sweaty and brown as shoe leather, and happy as a clam. If my dad nurtured my love for adventure and animals, my mom was the one who sent me out into that world, unfettered and free to live out those adventures and loves. I don’t think I ever realized her part in giving me my independence and letting me decide who I was, without judgement or restriction.
Just because she was cheerful and loving does not mean she was or is a pushover. My Dad always said my mother is the best judge of character he knows, and it is entirely true. Woe to those who hurt the ones she loves, and if Mom doesn’t like someone, which is rare, you know that person has a very serious character flaw.
When I was at the lowest point in my life, pregnant, a single mom to a two year old, alone and afraid, not knowing where I would live the very next day, I called her. I hadn’t told her much about my dilemma when she interrupted me with the two most beautiful words I have ever heard: “Come home.” She knew I would never ask. This allowed me to safely prepare for a new life with my two wonderful boys. It probably saved my life. She was a believer in tough love, to my eternal benefit, but she also knew when I truly needed her. No matter where I go, Mom is always home to me.
Mom has done so many things in her lifetime. She worked retail, at a local department store when I was in high school. Her sense of fashion and style sure helped me out, since I had no interest in such things. Thanks to her, I didn’t go to school looking like a bumpkin. I can still remember showing up at the breakfast table dressed for work, barely awake only to have her order me to remove my skirt or dress so she could properly iron it. “You are NOT going out looking like that.” And I wasn’t the most grateful teenager for all her attempts to make me presentable. She also was an aerobics instructor, and ran programs for the YWCA. She wrote grants and obtained funding that benefitted a lot of people. She hiked mountains – she and my dad took my sons to hike up Mount Washington when they were very young. She is an artist – she creates the most beautiful quilts I have ever seen! She is a merciless Scrabble player. All the grandkids know they can truly brag if they can beat their Grammy. Ultimately, I think it is her role as a Grandmother which she cherishes the most. She is the proudest, and most loving grandmother on the planet. Not many Grammies can boast that their teenage grandsons invite themselves to dinner and to play Scrabble. My boys did that, and to this day they travel the 5 hours up to Maine to spend time with their grandparents, as do all of their children and grandchildren.
We are so blessed to have you for our Matriarch, Mom. I love you a bushel and a peck. Happy Mother’s Day!
It is finally spring here in Southern New Hampshire, only a month late, and for all we know the snow may not yet be done with us. But, today dawned glorious, not a cloud in the sky, and no pesky wind to slip its icy fingers down our collars. Nothing but sunshine and (for us) warm temperatures in the high fifties, possibly sixty!
I started my latest chapter of the book based on my childhood experiences living in the country in Upstate New York. It’s rough and unfinished but I feel like sharing it. Let me know, do you think this interesting enough to keep going? I will anyway, because it brings me great joy to pull out memories, dust them off and relive them in my imagination. How fun it is to elaborate and fictionalize them a bit and to use them to entertain myself and hopefully others.
It is the eve before I go for my hysterectomy surgery. The process of opening myself up, with my writing and my thinking and my intentions, somehow seems to have coincided with the advent of the surgery, which is a quite literal way of opening up. Somehow, these two are connected in a profound way I haven’t quite sorted out yet. But, I welcome it all. I have learned that opening up and sharing your deepest thoughts is a requirement if you wish to write truthfully and authentically. I am grateful for the people and the beauty that have come through the doors and windows I have thrown open with complete abandon. Or at least what is for me, complete abandon! With that, I share the unfinished work of Chapter 3. I have six weeks of physical recovery ahead of me, and I think this will generate a lot of writing.
Please send my your healing and positive thoughts as I journey through my surgery in the early morning hours tomorrow, April 23rd. Thank you!
Chapter Three – The “Crick” (unfinished draft)
“Maaaa, I’m BORED!”I hung over the back of a kitchen chair, vulture-like, as my mother sipped coffee and worked a crossword puzzle. The vinyl stuck to my sweaty arms as I dangled them over the back. It was a triple H day in Upstate New York: Hazy, Hot and HUMID. The mild and breezy spring had run smack into a wall of thick, cloistering air that heralded a New York Mohawk Valley summer. It hung in a yellowish haze over the rolling farmland. Cows lolled under shade trees in clusters at the very edge of the pasture, and refused to go home at milking time, prompting the farmer down the road to phone a request that we kids chase them down to the cow paths at dusk. My brother and I were thrilled to oblige, bringing our collie Shepard mix, Poochie to assist. We’d return home panting, our shiny, red faces dripping with grimy sweat mixed with the dust kicked up by the panicked bovines. “I’m surprised those cows could still give milk by the time you kids are done scaring the bejesus out of them,” my mother would remark before she ordered us into the bath tub. We’d had a close call one evening, and it toned down our exuberance just a hair. The second-to-last heifer took acceptance at the unfortunate last in line bovine, who had scrambled up her backside in a panic in an attempt to get away from the deranged,whooping gang of child and pup. The angered cow stopped dead in her tracks and head butted the offending little bossy, resulting in a domino effect of tumbling cow, dog and kids. My brother and I hit the deck and rolled out of the way in the nick of time to avoid a “cow crash” as we came to call it later on. Of course we never told our mother.
“Go watch cartoons with your brother,” she now suggested. From the living room, strains of “Captain Kangaroo” floated into the kitchen and sparking a surge of irritation through my body. My brother and I had just had a fight over which station to watch, and who sat where. Fists had flown, and he had won, and then had triumphantly stretched out with his favorite blanket to watch the babyish show. For a few minutes I sat at the edge of the couch and halfheartedly exchanged kicks with him, but it was too hot to continue the fight.
“Bore-Ring!” I said, in a sing-song voice.
Mom sipped from her mug and without looking up said,”If you’re bored I can give you something to do.”
Ugh, she always said this. Plenty of dishes to wash, tables to dust, rooms to clean. I did my inward eye roll and flounced out of the kitchen before she could assign me any equally boring tasks.
“I’m going outside,” I pushed at the screen door.
“Don’t go any further than you can hear me call you!”
I grunted and let the door slam behind me.
Outside in the blinding morning sunshine, the beauty of the summer day eclipsed any discomfort resulting from the heat. The corn stalks wore their early July dark, green color, and their usual whispering was laid low by the humidity. Whisps of ghostly mist rose in fingers of steamy vapor from the tall grass of the fields. Snowy white Queen Anne’s lace dotted an expanse of mustard yellow goldenrod. I grabbed one of the delicate blooms and examined a lone ladybug clinging to one of the tiny blossoms.My body surged with the realization I was free as the red winged blackbirds sitting on the stalks of milkweed in the field. Their lyrical call “Chereeeeee! Cheereeeeee!”beckoned.I was completely unencumbered by pesky little brothers, blaring television sets, crying baby sisters and irritable adults looking to hand out responsibilities for my own good. My dog, Pooch, looked up briefly from her shady spot where she lay next to the cornfield, then dropped her head in disinterest and closed her eyes. So I was on my own today. The world was my oyster, and I did not have to share it with anyone else. I decided to slip under the barbed wire of the pasture fence and explore the shaded dark cow paths that bordered the edge of the hay field adjacent to our back yard. I always wondered what lay at the end of the paths, which we never really got to see once we chased the cows into the murky depths. That was the point where we usually turned back for home, since it was getting dark and we knew the cows would keep going. Cows were like that; once they started moving, they usually kept going to their next destination, as long as nothing too daunting crossed their path.
Several months ago, I got it in my head I needed a secretary style writing desk. My husband and I searched every antique shop within a 30 mile radius, plus online ads, ad nauseam. I knew I would recognize the right one when I saw it. My requirements were clear – it absolutely must have a drop front, (no, NOT a roll top) it must have drawers, it must be made of real wood, it must have many cubbies. Perfection of condition not required; it had to be old, because it must have a history. I imagined sitting down to write with the ghosts of previous owners pushing my pen and spiritually urging me on. I imagined spending hours wondering who they were, and what interesting or mundane work they produced while bent over the desk. (My capacity for daydreaming really knows no bounds) For a while it was quite an obsession. There are many of these desks, but none of them really spoke to me. After a while, I decided to give up my quest for a bit and set up a table for my writing space in the spare bedroom of my house. It functioned. It really is a nice little table. I got on with life, and with writing. Words don’t care where you sit when you write them. But, I, being a mere human, remained wistful and dreamy about a real desk.
And then – MAGIC! The desk found me. I casually mentioned my search while at Easter dinner at my in laws. They own a huge New England home which sits right on the common in town. It is the home my husband and his 7 siblings grew up in, a charming large old house filled to the brim with history, antiques and memories. My sister in law said, “Oh, we have one of those here, in the apartment.” The in law apartment is the only part of the house I never saw. She brought me over to show me and there it was. A charming little secretary desk, antique, in very good condition, with the requisite drop front, including key, and cubbies and drawers. I was enthralled. “It belonged to great Aunt Mary,” My sister in law said. “Talk to Christopher (my brother in law), I am sure he would let you buy it.”
Christopher immediately said “Oh I would give it to you. It would be nice to keep it in the family.”
I almost swooned. Not only is it a family heirloom, but it belonged to Great Aunt Mary! And, inside it was a black and white old photograph of said Aunt Mary, in her younger days. Not only do I get to imagine the history, I can envision who the previous owner was as I daydream her various tasks, be it as mundane as writing checks ( or were they Cheques back then) or as exciting as writing a letter to a lover, or an overseas soldier husband, or children off to college. Perhaps she wrote poetry she never showed anyone, and locked it up in the cubbies? Or maybe, just maybe, she enjoyed writing her memoirs, or journaled her feelings and observations? Perhaps she dreamed of a life of writing and publication.
I do not know any of those things, and I don’t think I will ever know, as Great Aunt Mary passed away at the age of 89 some thirty years ago. Sadly, nobody around today knows or remembers a whole lot about her. What I DO know is, the Universe pays attention and sometimes, when you let go of something you seek so diligently, it finds you! And, I am willing to bet, Great Aunt Mary will find a way to speak to me and perhaps reveal a little bit about herself through this cherished heirloom.