Childhood, Uncategorized, Writing

My Other Biggest Fan

D14835AB-9C1A-4F7F-99F6-170AA648C87EWhen 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!

 

poetry, Uncategorized, Writing

The Desk Quest

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.

 

Childhood, Uncategorized, Writing

My Biggest Fan

For My Dad on his 78th birthday

When I was born, my father was serving on a Naval ship docked in Boston Harbor. A telegram announced my birth. He ran excitedly around the ship spreading the happy news to his shipmates. Finally, someone asked him “Is it a boy or a girl?” He stopped in his tracks and said, “I don’t know!” He was so excited he didn’t read the telegram completely. He had to return to retrieve it to find out he had a daughter.He was 20 years old.

I love this story, because it is really fun to picture a handsome, dark eyed smiling young sailor hopping with excitement at my arrival on this planet. I also love it because it truly didn’t matter to him which gender I was. He just loved me. He has always loved me for ME.

When I was small, he made up wonderful bedtime stories, starring ME, with a cast of animals in supporting roles. I was the rescuer of baby Robins who fell out of their nests, mending them with nothing more than mercurochrome and a band aid, and sending them back home to mama bird, with a dropper of water and a worm for the road. I couldn’t wait to hear what wonderful things I would do next. Dad would brush my long hair, and tell me I was Pocahontas , his Indian princess. He always had a white hanky handy to dry tears or daub at a scraped knee or elbow.  These are some of my earliest memories.

Dad did what lots of Dads do; he stayed up late on Christmas Eve, putting together an elaborate cardboard house for us kids to inhabit on Christmas morning. Until one day in Summer, when my brother and I discovered if you collapsed the cardboard on the garage floor you could run and leap belly first and slide a long way. This is what poor Dad found us and the neighbor kids doing when he drove in the driveway from a long day’s work. All his hard labor flattened and trod upon by an army of kids, led by me. One day I spied Dad through my bedroom window when I should have been asleep one summer evening. He was walking a battered navy blue bicycle up the driveway and into the garage. On Christmas Day that year, I never connected the shiny, red two wheeler bike equipped with training wheels glistening under the sparkling Christmas tree with that junker he brought home that coincidentally, I never saw again. He pulled us in wagons, on sleds, gave us hundreds of piggy back rides. He once entertained us by chewing an entire pink bubble gum cigar and blowing a bubble as large as his head. We sat with our mouths hanging open in awe, until the bubble burst all over his face, getting stuck in his five o’clock shadow. Pink shreds fluttered from his eyebrows which were raised in arched black and pink caterpillars of disbelief and shock. There was gum in his hair, and on his earlobes. My brother and I burst into hilarious belly laughs that followed him as he ran for the bathroom and a warm wash cloth to clean the sticky mess off. He was a pretty good sport about it all. (We were never allowed to have a whole bubble gum cigar; we were “too little”. After that, we never really wanted to, either.)

He taught me how to read before I started school. I learned to love stories, a gift that has lasted a lifetime. How I loved going to the library, choosing a book, usually about animals, and proudly adding it to my book list every week. My love for reading got me into trouble when I started school. Very often, I finished my lessons early in class, so I could read my latest book choice under the desk. It often appeared I wasn’t paying attention when called upon in class. The truth was, I knew the material, but read the lessons faster than the others, and was deeply engrossed in my stories or daydreams and didn’t hear the question being asked. As a result, a nun accused me of cheating in second grade, when I got a 100% on a test. She was convinced I couldn’t possibly know the answers because I was always daydreaming. I was horrified to take home a paper sporting a giant red F. I tried to erase it in class, and Sister Regina snatched the paper back, and emblazoned it with a larger red F and a note home that my dad had to sign the failed paper. Dad read the note, while I looked down at my shoes in shame. He met my eyes. “Did you cheat?” He asked. I shook my head no. “I believe you,” he said. Three very powerful words. We went to the school and he assured that nun I was perfectly capable of passing that test on the spot, verbally if she would like proof that I did not cheat. I got my 100% and my dignity back. Dad has always believed in me.

Dad encouraged me to achieve. He quizzed me on what I wanted to be when I grew up. He talked at length about his dream of me going to college,  ever since I can remember. This clearly meant the world to him, to give me this wonderful opportunity. I told him I wanted to be a Navy nurse. I wanted to “save the soldiers in Vietnam.” I thought they were “fighting the Germans”  A little confused? Yes. No matter, Dad thought that was just swell.

Dad made everything an adventure. New places were to be explored and enjoyed. We hiked, we boated, we swam the Finger Lakes, and we roamed every corner of each place we lived. He encouraged me to love music, and to sing. I could belt out Patti Page’s “Cross Over the Bridge” like a nightclub singer at age 7. Although, I confess, I always confused the words “fickle past” with “pickerel bass” And I wondered why someone would go fishing and leave their “Pickerel Bass” behind them. Speaking of fishing, Dad also taught me how to fish, something I enjoy to this day. He even forgave me for using up all of his rubber worms, as I could practically hear the real worms screaming in pain as they writhed when put on hooks. I couldn’t bear it, and he understood. (However, for the record, it was my sister, not I, who lost his cherished “Red Eyed Warbler” lure. He forgave her too.)

It wasn’t all sunny days and fishing trips between us. We both have regrets; this I know, because we have since spent many wonderful hours snowshoeing in the woods of Maine, talking everything out amongst the tall pines of what we call The Enchanted Forest.  I am so grateful I had the chance to mature enough to make things right between us! We had our share of differences and angst during my teenage years. I know I broke his heart many times. I quit college after a month. What a bitter disappointment that had to be. And how frightening it must have been for him to watch as I made bad choices and stuck with them long after I should have. There were periods of time I stayed isolated from family trying to figure things out for myself. He never abandoned me. When I needed help the most, he and my mother were always there. After my children were born, things began to change. I righted my ship, and eventually sailed back to home port. Dad was a wonderful role model for my boys. He took them hiking in the White Mountains, and he and my mother took them up Mount Washington. They spent summer days on the Maine shore. They played cutthroat games of Scrabble, (and still do) In Winter, Dad took them to the slopes and taught them how to ski. They went animal tracking in the woods, and identified leaves and plants. He was always there for them as much as he was for me. He taught them things a father would teach. He filled a great void in their lives.

Dad can get me through anything. If I close my eyes, I can feel his hand on my elbow at the graveside of my children’s father; his hand over mine as he got me across the Ridge trail in the White Mountains when my fear of heights had overtaken me and had me frozen in place. When asked, he shared his wise counsel when I had my own issues with the daunting task of parenting two very independent teens. I remember wondering just when he got so darned smart. He shined the light when I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

We always want to please our parents, even when we think we don’t. I will never forget that day in 1979 when I called home, crying, on a pay phone from college, after barely a month in, telling my family I planned to quit. I just wanted to go home. My father tried everything to convince me to stay. He was hurt, angry and probably extremely worried for my future. Nothing he could say would change my mind. So, he came and got me, and brought me home. And spent the next thirty years praying, hoping, watching, most likely at times, crying and worrying, sometimes celebrating and above all, loving me. The proudest moment of my life was the day I finally walked for my college diploma, at age 47. My boys were there, my husband, and my family. But the person I searched for first in the crowd was Dad. There were he and Mom, beaming, as if they always knew this day would come. They had more faith than I did.

What more can a person ask for in a father? Someone who from the start loves you for who you are, who always stood in the wings waiting to catch you, and who always, always is ready to celebrate you. My biggest fan. There is nobody on Earth who could do it better.

Happy, Happy birthday DAD. Thank you for loving me. And by the way you may have noticed I left out a certain story involving you, an umbrella, a herd of rogue cows and a school bus full of kids. This time. 