Tag Archives: memories

Memories of a Patriot

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Summer Vacation….day 11.  I have about another hundred pages to finish Moby Dick.  So far so good.  Lot of details that should I ever have the opportunity to row in a whaleboat, I will be pretty well versed in the responsibilities and strategies.  Don’t laugh, we have three of the world’s last actual  authentic Azorean whaleboats in New Bedford.  People go and row them. I could be on that waiting list.  Perhaps that will be on my list of things to do next summer.

It is the 4th  of July eve, and the neighbors downstairs are rocking the house.  Outside the windows are streams of fireworks over houses and rockets whistling through the air.  Paka the cat is standing sentry at the window should an errant rocket whisk by.  My FHB is fast asleep, unfettered by the noise of the neighbors or the lights and explosions in the distant skies.

Two memories to share, one sixty years old and the other fifteen years ago.  One involves my three year old self and my mother, and the more recent one was also shared by the two of us, both on the 4th of July.  Many, many years ago my parents took me to visit family in New Jersey.  We were there for a barbeque and to see the fireworks.  I actually do have pretty clear memories of being in a field near an elementary school while the fireworks were launched overhead.  I also remember the abject fear that I experienced at the sounds and the worry that the flashes would come down and hurt me.  I also recall being scooped up by mother and brought inside the school building safe from the fireworks. We stood at the door, her arms around my shoulders, and my leaning against her feeling safe from harm.  The July of 2002, after the September of 2001, my mother came to Massachusetts to celebrate my nephew’s birthday on the 3rd and on the 4th I took her to the Esplanade in Boston to hear the Boston Pops.  My mother was a huge fan and her excitement at finally being part of something she only watched on television was infectious. She smiled at everyone and we had to walk through quite a few police barricades to find ourselves a seat.  It was an especially poignant celebration after 9/11 and it seemed as though everyone on both sides of the Charles River recognized that we were all still here, together in celebration of our country’s birthday.  Several jumbotrons were set up along the river for those who were not close to the Hatch Shell to be able to see Keith Lockhart conduct the Pops and  made it possible to hear the music through the sound system.  There was a flyover from the base nearby as part of the celebration.  My mother was awestruck and she grinned so broadly.  There was a childlike delight in her expression.  People brought chairs and sat on the lawns.  We found a spot to sit, on the steps of the MIT library.  My mother chuckled loudly as she stated in her most “refined” tone….” I am going to tell people that my ass went to MIT!”  People around us roared at her pronouncement.  I had long ago given up being embarrassed at her sometimes inappropriate yet effusive comments.

The music was spectacular and as the sun began to set the fireworks were launched and once again, we shared this particular celebration of history and patriotism.  My mother was a fervent patriot.  She would fight and did fight for the right to be a citizen of the United States. She did not take her allegiance lightly.  As I sat close to her and put my arm around her shoulders and we looked skyward, it seemed like it was, in that moment, all right with the world.

Happy 4th of July, America!

Scent-imental

Petrichor….the smell of the rain.  I learned that word recently. With the surfeit of rain we have had here in the northeast, it has become not only a frequent visitor,  but evocative of one of those smells that lingers in my mind.  I also think it is a lovely sounding word.  It’s probably going to come up in the New York Times Sunday crossword at some point, so perhaps you’ll want to remember it as it rolls off your tongue.

My sense of smell is strong, both for the intensely foul things (think driving behind a garbage truck on a hot July day), as well as for smells such as  pine trees in a forest, that you can smell as you step on the needles, and wander into the deepest parts of a wood, the dampness holds the scent close.  The sad part of being able to smell all these scents, is that my FHB can’t smell them along with me.  He apparently, somewhere along the way, lost his ability to smell anything.  It seemed to fade away.  I was baking something quite fragrant, perhaps  cinnamon bread, and I was floating along with the smell as it wafted above me, I made a sound of contentment and delight. I was then asked, “What are you so happy about?” and I said “Inhale and take in the amazing smell!”   It was then, that he turned and said “I don’t smell anything” and we were both confused.  There are a lot of medical reasons he may have lost it, but it seems connected to an  overuse of allergy medicine, which is not a very romantic explanation, but accurate.  Smells are not able to be easily described to another person.  It requires my being a bit less effusive because it is so powerful on my end, but just annoying on his.

Let’s talk about flowers and freshly baked bread, not simultaneously.  There are some flowers, like delphinium, wisteria, and honeysuckle that make me feel nostalgic.  Something in a deep part of my memory responds to those flowers and I have not determined where it may have started, perhaps in another life, because it envelops me with such intensity.  It’s rather comical that most flowers make me sneeze since I stick my nose into the bloom, and yet, it makes me so happy in the moment.  I love lilacs, and lilies, but the strong scent sends me running toward tissues and away from the flowers.  I am highly allergic to bees, so that also creates another set of difficulties  since the smell is better as you get closer.

Food is a marriage of taste and smell.  I think coffee smells better as it is brewing than it actually tastes.   Freshly baked bread is probably fifty percent smell and fifty percent taste.  I am doing my research and will get back to you on that one.  There was a Silvercup bread factory that was situated in Long Island City, Queens and was right next to the No. 7 elevated train that went from Flushing to Times Square. That was the train that we took into “the city” a.k.a. Manhattan.  Silvercup was not a great bread. It was an enriched white bread that slathered with peanut butter and jelly did stick to the roof of your mouth every time.  But in the smell department, as you rode by, it was memorable and we would inhale as the train took a curve heading into the tunnel.  If I was transported back in time, it would be a smell that left a wonderful olfactory memory.  It’s been out of business for a long time but it is something that folks that remember.

Smell is the sense that protects us by warning us of fire before we see it and food spoilage.  When my FHB looks at the date on the milk, I am suddenly volunteered for sniff patrol.  A blessing and a curse.  It reminds me of the balance in the world of nature, which doesn’t seem to exist in the people run world.  The recent rain gives us the water we need and the smell that reminds of the dust that settles after a period of dryness.  Nature is so smart and is to be revered and respected.  Less so the people in the moment.

Lions and Tigers and Tupperware, oh my!

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It’s Monday night at our house.  I served meatloaf for dinner (with broccoli and sweet potatoes).  There were leftovers.  This is where the Tupperware comes into this story.  In an attempt to save the leftovers for tomorrow, my FHB went to the pantry to retrieve a container.  And the baskets that contain the containers all came tumbling down like a waterfall (sans the water) of plastic.  My FHB remarked that picking them up “was a fool’s task”.  I was on it, post haste. You mention my name, I show up.  I looked at the disarray and decided tonight was the night we were going to organize the containers. I use the term “we” loosely, although I did have an assistant, a bit grumbling-ish.  As I picked up what seems to have amounted to at least five hundred tops and bottoms, I walked toward my FHB who was blissfully watching “Antique Roadshow” when he turned and asked “Are you going to be juggling those?” .  My response, without thinking was ” Well the circus is leaving town….so we’d better come up with a gig”.  Then, I stopped and considered what I said, and felt quite sad.

Going to the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus was an annual event in my childhood.  I truly believe that if you blindfolded me (please don’t) and brought me to the sideshow, I would remember the smells and the noise and the tumult that went with the greatest show on earth.  My sister, my one and only first cousin, my mother and I,  would go to the circus during our spring vacation.  It was held at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  We would take the subway and fight the throngs of circusgoers and hold one another’s hands tightly so as not to lose any of us.  My mother, in the early years, did not want to expose us to the “Side Show” since she thought that the bearded lady and the tallest man might traumatize us and give us nightmares. After a lot of cajoling on my cousin and my part, we finally were old enough to see the sights and sounds of the “unusual people” (my mother’s terminology)who made up that part of the circus.  My mother also hated the smell of the animals so she would hurry us through the display and usher us to our seats. Our seats usually were high enough so that we could see all three rings from the peanut gallery.  It was exhilarating, and I remember it as being very, very loud.    As the parade of the animals and performers marched into the rings and the ringmaster welcomed “Ladies and Gentlemen , Children of all ages…” we were mesmerized by the energy and electricity in the air.  As many times as we went, it never got old. The anxiety when we saw the highwire acts and the women on the men’s shoulders and the balancing over the nets made us hold our breath.  When the lion tamer whipped his or her whip at the lions as they opened the mouths and roared, we held one another just in case something terrifying happened. Luckily, it never did, but the feeling and anticipation never let us down.  The crowds were enormous but it felt as though we are all part of the collective magic of the show.  We couldn’t see the expressions on the clowns’ faces but we could see their antics. My favorite part was watching them climb out of the tiny car which seemed to hold an endless supply of clowns.  I love magicians and always thought it would be wonderful to assist him and be the one to pull the scarves out of his sleeve or his hat.  Three rings held our attention and I don’t think any of us minded that we weren’t in the closest seats as we felt safe knowing we were able to watch all the people around us.  The time would fly by and when they would dim the lights, all the people who had those special red lights would swing them from the lanyards, and it would create a light show that was spectacular.  We always coveted a light but my mother reminded us that tickets for the greatest show cost a lot of money so we never were able to have one.  That, however, was not the end of the story.

Many years later when we were all adults, my mother took my cousin’s daughter to the circus, to carry on the tradition.   One evening, my mother called and said that she had taken Jessica, age four or five, to the circus.  I thought that was lovely and said that it was a nice thing for her to do.  She then told me that, Jessica’s mother, had come to pick her up, and Jessica showed her a red light that her “Tante” had bought her at the circus.  My cousin’s reaction was to say “you know, Tante, we all wanted a red light when we were little” and then said  thank you for doing that and hastily took Jessica home.  My mother then told me she had called my sister and told her what had happened.  My sister, according to my mother, said “You bought  Jessica a red light?  We always wanted one and we would have shared it! “.  My mother retorted that she didn’t have the money back then and my sister said she needed to hang up.  I was the last on the list of phone calls and when she told me of her previous conversations, I remarked “You bought Jessica a red light?  We always asked you for a red light! “.  My mother said goodbye and ended the call.

Fast forward to Sarasota, Florida, about ten years later.   My kids and I went to visit my parents who wintered there. It was the home of the circus, THAT circus and there was a museum.  She decided we should visit the museum which was wonderful and brought back some amazing memories.  As we were ready to leave, my mother wandered into the gift shop.  She walked up to the clerk and said “I would like to buy three of the red lights you sell and put them in three bags”.  The woman smiled at her and said “I’m sorry, ma’am.  You will have to go to the circus to get those”.  She looked at me and I smiled and said “Thanks for trying”.  We never did get the lights.

Times change and for lots of reasons, things we have always counted on being around, no longer are.  I understand, from an adult point of view, why they decided to close the show.  But there are three little girls, in the hearts of three adult women, who remember the lights, and the magic, and the day the circus came to town.

 

P.S. The containers are organized and many have been disgarded. Like socks, sometimes either one or the other or the top or the bottom, disappear into the stratosphere. It must be magic.

 

Music Lessons

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I have stopped listening to the news in the morning on my way to work.  It leaves me frazzled, bitter, and anxious, among other feelings.  Not the way to start one’s day. I do wake to the Beatles “Blackbird” instead an alarm and it calms me, but not enough to fall back asleep, gratefully.

I choose now to listen to a classical station that broadcasts from Cape Cod.  It soothes my soul and allows me to be reflective and feel content as I approach work.  A much better antidote to life’s madness.  Music has always been a very important part of my entire life.   Both my mother and father were constantly listening to WQXR, the classical station in New York City and it was somehow imbedded in our every day.  Their relationship with one another was deepened and entwined by their love of music.  My father was a purist and loved the great composers. He developed a skill beyond understanding, and could recognize a piece in a few notes, and often knew the composer, the orchestra and sometimes the conductor.  It was often a dialogue and lesson between my parents as my father would question my mother as to whether she recognized the piece and composer. It was something that evolved over the course of their courtship and was evident through their fifty years together. He was the teacher and she was the attentive student. They had a subscription to the New York Philharmonic  for years.  My mother continued to attend, even after my father’s death.  It brought her a bittersweet joy.

My mother’s taste in music was far more eclectic.  She loved the music of Broadway, Big Bands,  the Beatles, and of course Beethoven.  She would take my sister and me to the Broadway shows.  We saw “Hello Dolly” with Carol Channing, “Mame” with Angela Lansbury, and “My Fair Lady” among others, too numerous to even remember.  Tickets were about $8.00 for the seats in the balcony but the experience was so filled with excitement and magic that it didn’t matter where we sat. We would dress up and it was an event, still unparalleled in many ways.  My father was less enchanted by the shows so he would pass and let us go with our  mother.  He took me to see Gilbert and Sullivan productions at City Center which was a lovely venue.  He liked the social commentary of Gilbert and Sullivan and I learned to recognize the values of the shows and the context of history in the productions.  Nobody really liked opera and to this day, I don’t appreciate the music as I know others do.  My father used to comment that it was a lot of “large women shrieking” and of course, his opinion was planted somewhere in the recesses of my mind.

My mother loved to dance to the music of the 1940s.  She would jitterbug in the foyer of our apartment and would catch me and swing me around.  She would croon with Frank Sinatra and sing along with Doris Day and Dinah Shore.  We learned to love her taste in music and appreciate our father’s lessons on Mozart.  We think he liked Mozart the best because they shared a birthday. Of course, my father would wryly state that Mozart was born on his birthday, rather than the other way around.  Once in a while my mother would grab my father as he came in from work and insist that they dance for a minute.  He would look at her with a weary glance but cooperated for a couple of spins.  I think that also influenced my request to my FHB to dance to music in the kitchen, pretty much from the day we met to now.

They both played piano. My mother learned as a child in Germany and my father took lessons when he was in his forties.  My mother had the ability to find the notes and play by ear without needing a score in front of her.  My father would study the notes and play phrases over and over and over again.  When he practiced, my mother took us out shopping to get away from the constant repetition.  He was disciplined and she was spontaneous.  My sister has the discipline to read music as well as the ability to play by ear.  I can read music but choose to pick out tunes and pass a piano and play some notes. We had a large upright in the apartment we grew up in.  I think it was tuned twice in my memory and as time went by the 88 working keys became fewer and fewer.  We could always find a couple of scales to play Heart and Soul or Chopsticks.

While writing or doing work, I sit in quiet.  All other moments, if possible, are filled with music. I can be home in the loft and never turn on the television.  I would always rather listen to music.  I often hear music in my head beyond the earworms that sometimes take over.  Classical music has become a connection with my childhood and parents, that endures.  My FHB and I attend many of the local symphony performances and there is always a moment that I yearn to be able to have my parents in the seats next to us in order to talk about the program and learn my father’s thoughts on a piece or performance.  I used to see my father tear up as he listened to a particularly moving orchestral piece. I didn’t quite understand the emotional response it evoked.  In recent times, I feel it and know it and finally understand how music teaches us to be present.  It also links us with our memories of where we heard a piece before or a song that is part of our own history.  It is a powerful pull and I like being drawn in.

HOME decorating

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I subscribe to quite a few magazines.  I have tried to reduce the number over the years but somehow new ones replace older ones and the ones I grew up with like the Ladies Home Journal and Life, have been replaced by Real Simple and Country Living (a throw back from the rural life we had before we became city mice).  January is the month that always contains information on sprucing or spicing up your relationship ,  losing that holiday weight or gaining self esteem, reorganizing your closet or your life,  and always  lets you know there is  room for improvement.  I love poring over the articles and rearranging  the rooms in my mind.  I actually spent yesterday and some of today decluttering my brain and at the same time, did a little dusting, vacuuming and sorting through our possessions.  Nothing dramatic, since I really like our  stuff.  I don’t decorate, I coordinate.  Some might say that I am eclectic in my taste and surroundings.  Our loft looks like we live here and that is what we both want to convey.  You’re likely to find a cat curled up on the couch (her couch) and my FHB sitting in his leather chair facing the television, eyes closed (he is not asleep, just resting his eyes).

Every piece of art hanging on the walls  has a story.  Some are gifts, some were painted  by my talented FHB or my very creative sister.  We have found art, three dimensional creations, photographs and a tribal wedding necklace brought back from Africa by a very dear friend.  We have a blueberry  harvest box filled with treasures from the ocean and the land, each piece displayed in just the right way.  Someone might look at it and not see the beauty but they don’t know the story behind each shell or seaglass or feather or tiny pinecone.

There are pieces of furniture that are part of my family’s history. My maternal grandparents were married on May 19th, 1910 and their sideboard was custom built for them. When they left Germany in 1938, it was one of the pieces that travelled to the US and arrived in New York City and lived in my aunt’s home for almost 65 years until it became part of my memories and household.  I dusted it today  and ran my hands along the cracks in the wood and imagined it back 107 years ago when a young couple were starting out, surrounded by something beautiful and enduring.  It is a connection to my past.  My paternal grandparents, who arrived in New York in 1936 travelled with a bentwood chair that was actually a commode from their house in a more country setting near Frankfurt, Germany.  I don’t have the pot but if you lift up the pressed wood cover, you will see a rudimentary “seat” where some relatives did what we still do but in quite a different setting.

There are quite a few pieces of furniture that my FHB built and will become heirlooms (perhaps) somewhere in the future.  Nothing matches, like in the magazines, but everything fits, like a gallery of our lives. We have photos of our children, our grandchildren, our grandparents and parents, our future and our past.    There are slabs of wood, hidden underneath couches and sideboards, furniture to be built. There are bicycles, one for exercise (that’s my FHB’s) and one for decoration (that would be mine).  There are two little chairs from a library that closed and when two little girls we love come and  visit, each will have a chair to sit in and race around with (they have caster wheels)!  We have three large rubber trees, all that started as small plants from a tree that came from  my aunt and uncle’s house in New York from many years ago (perhaps the 1940s).  We have given away the offshoots to our offshoots (children and siblings and a nephew) as an interpretation of our family tree.

When I shut the door, I step inside a place that is familiar, comfortable and filled with contentment and good conversation.  It doesn’t really matter what is on the walls, or what kind of chair you sit in, as long as you don’t sit on the cat.  Things, especially the ones that hold your memories, are wonderful to display and enjoy.  Where you hang your hat, feed your cat and listen to jazz (softly because there are neighbors) is home.

Have a wonderful week.  Don’t rearrange your furniture, just make sure your chair faces someone you like.

My Happy Place

 

I have had a song in my head for the past three days.  It keeps me company and has a beginning phrase, and a short middle passage and then it ends on a happy note that is final, but in a lovely way.   It is not a song you would be familiar with since I created it.  I’ve been trying to distract myself from it, but it’s with me.  It’s what one would probably call a little ditty, if one was around, whoever one is. You know who one is, a cousin of they, them, and everyone.

It is nice to daydream of places that make me happy.  It is easier to imagine the places I have been, rather than consider what it would be like to be in new places that I have never visited. That, to me, is more work and challenges my imagination. When I go to my happy place, I know where everything is, what the weather is like, and who is there and what I am going to do.  It is a vacation of the mind.  This is very different from a being out of my mind, which is somewhat like a virtual voicemail that says “I’m currently out of my mind, so leave a message and the likelihood I will get back to you is as good as winning the lottery without buying a ticket”.  This kind of mental vacation is good for you.  It is a conscious attempt to revisit something that holds you.

In the past, I would have identified my place as somewhere near the ocean.  I like seeing the waves and tide going in and out and knowing what is past the horizon and watching the birds, and sometimes the people who are in my line of sight.  It is calming and constant.  More recently, I travel back to last summer at the goat farm my FHB and I spent some time visiting.  It was oppressively hot and dry and the heat beat down hard as I helped milk the goats and clean up after the horses.  It was hard work and physical labor, which is not something I have ever done, apart from moving fourteen times, and packing and unpacking.  That is about the extent of hard work of a physical kind.  I can smell the hay and the dirt and feel the heat off the animals as they try and flick away the mosquitos and flies.  I sit and watch the farmer tend the goats with care and affection and call them each by name.  In a short time,  I learn their names and personalities.  I want to know them again. I want to be there.  It still has such a strong hold on my heart.  The unfortunate part was that we were the last guests to visit as the farmer was moving his herd to a warmer climate down south.  Vermont was getting far too cold and too hard to make a living , so heading out made sense for him.

This is probably one of the memories that I have held onto for a longer time than others.  It became more than a vacation and turned into an awareness.   We can’t always look past what we have seen, despite trying.  It becomes more of our own fiber, and part of who we now are.  My takeaway is that we are constantly growing and refining what we are about.  This is one of those happy places, I have to build on to understand why it has impacted me to such an extent.  We have to allow these “intrusions” access to  our minds.  Between the goat farm and the song in my head, I feel quite busy and I welcome them both and anticipate that they will evolve into something I will figure out along the way.

This long weekend is always my favorite. It is like Saturday and Sunday and then another Saturday and Sunday.  How great is that!  Hope your weekend is good so far.  Don’t save me any pie. I am so full.

 

 

Looking back to look forward

My birthday looms.  It’s actually next month and the acknowledgement that it is coming soon, is based on the birthdays of close friends and family members, who celebrate  right before I do.  I’m fine with birthdays as a benchmark in my life.  No getting around them and accepting that we are getting older is just a sign of maturity and acknowledgement of what is real.  Of course, 63 is old to lots of people and young to others.  I hold fast to the possibility that I am in the final third of my life and happily consider that if I live to 100, I am not yet at that two thirds marker.

Recently,  I began to research my family tree.  My FHB had given me a kit to get my DNA tested to check whether my European roots were not what I thought they were.  I sent my very unique spit to Ancestry.com, and I kind of forgot that the time had gone by, past the time frame I was given on the website.  I had read that I would be notified within six to eight weeks.  I looked back at the date the company received my sample and did the calculations and found in fact, it had been 11 weeks.  So, there are people ready to help me at all hours of the day and night (depending on the time zone).  It was 9 pm on a Friday and after listening to some fairly innocuous elevator type music, I was connected to a very earnest sounding man, named Josh.  He asked me for all sorts of identification that “only I would know” and after establishing my identity he walked me through the website, told me to scroll up and that I would find…..my ethnic origins.  Tada!!!! I am 100% European Jewish.  I was underwhelmed.   Josh could hear the disappointment in my voice.  He did find something that he felt was important for me to be aware of with the news. He told me that he had been doing this work for a while, and that he had never actually seen results of someone whose DNA was 100%!  He indicated that he had seen  results in the high 90s but that I was the only one who came up with 100.  I felt somewhat like a purebred of something.  I felt slightly better, yet still not very interesting.  I did examine the website for others (this is calculated for you) who have some matching DNA that increases the possibility that we are related. It is complicated.  There were a couple of messages from other folks who were possible relatives looking for my information to see where our tree branch might be intertwined.  It was like falling down the rabbit hole. I was now part of something bigger than just me.

I know quite a bit about my roots.  My father, after retirement, spent an enormous amount of time “digging up old relatives”.  My mother, suffered along with his pronouncements that he had found a new cousin or set of cousins that he added to our family tree.  They would often coordinate vacations with meeting these new folks.  I paid quite a bit of attention at the time. He accumulated lots of photographs and records, and flowcharts and floppy disks, which, when he died, I took , with the eventual intent of looking at everything.  Those floppy disks and 3 1/4 inch disks are part of our archives but of course, technology has gone way past their use.

In the past few weeks I have re-examined photographs for clues of dates (by wardrobe) and who was related to who.  The pictures are fabulous but the clues are not written anywhere so I have to slow down the process and analyze what I do have, and figure out the connections.  I try to make an educated guess as to which side of my family the photos may be from.  I match pictures of younger people with similarly looking older people.  Yesterday I found a golden anniversary party announcement with two pictures, one of a younger couple and one of an older couple.  I found some separate photos of the man and the woman.  I figured out that these were my great-great grandparents.  I used Google translate to understand the text. Small victories.  I attempt to cross check with other sources.  It is arduous at moments and exhilarating at others.  The reality is this….on my mother’s side, my sister,  my only  first cousin, and I are now the matriarchs.  No one else is left.  Some of my father’s first cousins are still around and I hope to reach out to fill in some of the branches.  I think about why I am doing this.

“There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.”
― David Eagleman, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives

We all want to be remembered.  Collecting the branches and leaves of my tree allows me to pass it along to the next generation.  I think we all want to do something and in the moment this is something I will do.  Remembering the past helps anticipate the future.

Look at the fallen leaves of the trees around you and look up at the branches where the leaves remain.  Think good thoughts. Have a good week.