Walking Through My Mother’s Life

Mom profile by Nina005The medium sized cardboard carton was waiting for me to open and sort through the contents. My mother lived to the age of ninety eight, and it looked as though she never threw anything out that she received in the mail. I had brought it back with me from the storage unit in South Carolina. It contained paper of all sorts, including old photographs, that she had seen fit to keep for many years. Until I opened it I had no idea just how long those years had been.

Now for weeks and then months it had waited for me to go through it. In an effort to motivate myself I kept moving it around. I knew it would take the better part of several days to do, and I was reluctant to set aside other tasks to address one that had no deadline. Finally I put it where I could not ignore it: right under my desk. I had to look at it every time I sat down to do anything. Finally I got tired of looking at it and set to my task.

Some of what I found was reminiscent of my mother’s life in the 40’s and 50’s: bills and sales slips from department stores, electric bills and bills for milk delivery, drycleaning, and so on. The prices of things from those days were interesting. It was both surprising and sad to see what a dollar used to buy.

The names of the stores brought back memories of being with my mother when I was small, taken along on shopping trips. To my young eyes, the department store was a wondrous place holding all sorts of interesting things to look at. She also kept paid bills for expenses related to her art and the galleries she had under her own name. I set these aside for my daughter who is planning a future retrospective exhibit of her grandmother’s art.

The quantities of letters on thin airmail paper were impossible to read. Plus many of them were in German or Spanish. The dates on some envelopes went back to before my mother married my father. It seems she had quite a collection of boyfriends and there were many letters, some I could decipher a little addressed to her in endearing terms. It amazed me that she had managed to keep and haul around that collection for so long. The earliest went back more than 70 years. I had a wonderful walk through her life and times, and I found myself happy to have been able to touch into my own memories of those days..

It seems to me that things were far more innocent then. There were rules to be followed. These had been handed down from generation to generation and applied as long as life was stable and people’s roles mostly well defined. There was more safety in living that way. There are people who wish it were still like that today, however their numbers are dwindling. Once change begins it cannot be stopped or the results will be like a cancer that devours its host. Growth often comes about with pain. However, the freedom of being out from under the rigidity of the life my mother lived with is precious. I am grateful for it.

 

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Making My Own Music

A musician by avocation, from the time I was a young child I was usually involved in some kind of music making. I’ve always loved to sing, and I can remember singing to my mother when I was quite small. At my grade school, weekly music classes the teacher played the piano as we sang British folk songs and music from Gilbert and Sullivan, typed and collected into a loose leaf notebook. Later the same teacher gave me private piano lessons. These ended after two years for two reasons: I found the practice songs to be boring and my mother, an amateur musician and child prodigy on the violin, disliked my fumbling attempts at learning the piano. She didn’t even like it when I played around on the piano keys, making my own music for myself. She would scold me for “making noise” as she called what I thought of as music.

Later I sang in various choruses at various schools and then in my church choir. To my delight one year my then husband bought me a guitar for my birthday. I began teaching myself to play. There followed a number of years playing and singing in coffee house, at hootenannies, and then professionally for parties and special occasions. I even volunteered at the local hospital, playing for the patients every week or so. My mother seemed pleased that I was following in the family musical tradition. Encouraged by her, and a poet by inclination I began to write my own songs. The melodies were simple, reminiscent of the many folk songs and hymns I had sung over the years.

Although I enjoyed playing the guitar, from the time I was a young child the idea of playing the harp had attracted me. However the many strings of the large harps looked difficult compared to the guitar and surely transporting one would be a nightmare. Then I injured my shoulder and because of the position required for me to play it, had to retire my guitar. After reading many articles on the importance of keeping the older brain alive, and disliking the recommended suggestion to do crossword puzzles, I decided to try a smaller folk harp. Searching the internet I discovered a lap harp with a playable nineteen strings and purchased it from the maker along with a book to learn from.

I spent a respectable amount of time teaching myself the initial songs and techniques. As I advanced, the lessons became increasingly difficult. I realized I was losing interest in playing. I felt frustrated and began to neglect my harp, even allowing it to get out of tune. My mother’s former diatribes from the days I used to play on the piano rather than practice my lessons had come back to haunt me. Then one day I realized I didn’t have to play actual songs, I could do ass I liked. I could just enjoy myself, making musical sounds; I could play for fun. I began to do that. Spontaneous tunes emerged in my head and then from my fingers. Now playing my harp has become a treat and the music I make from my heart has become a daily joy.

What will you Harvest from this Year

onions-on-display

I remember my mother cutting up fruits and vegetables and filling her large canning kettle with jars. The kettle steamed away, filling the kitchen with warmth and making my mother perspire. The jars were later stored against the cold winter months on shelves in a kind of rough closet in our cellar. There was also a small barrel of potatoes there and one of my tasks was to go down occasionally and pick off their sprouts.

Too, my mother made wonderful jellies from the fruit that grew on my great aunt Alice’s trees. A lawyer, my great grandfather was also an amateur student of horticulture. He planted all sorts of fruit trees as well as grape vines, vegetables and flowers all of which were tended to by a gardener. He would bring fruit to my mother that she processed to make the clear jellies we ate with our Sunday meals.

I think of my mom and her tasks at this time of year when fruits and vegetables reach their peak and are harvested. Long ago Pilgrims and Native peoples dried food to preserve it. Later on many housewives filled glass jars, heating them until the food within could be kept for use in the winter. Today the same people who might in the past have canned and preserved it will freeze the extra produce that they cannot use right away. People with gardens are putting food by in order to have healthy, homegrown meals for the winter months. We who live where the seasons prevail have always done this.

These days to be sure food of all kinds is plentiful in every season year round, and if we do not have a garden from which to harvest, we are less likely to preserve the fall harvest against the winter. However, there is more than one kind of harvest to be made at this time. If we have planted ideas in the spring, and tended them during the summer, they may have matured enough by the fall to be gathered in and made use of during the rest of the year. If we have projects we have worked on, ideas we have been developing, stories or poetry we have been evolving; now is the time to get them out there for the final testing, checking or editing.

We no longer live in an agrarian society, and yet the seasons are still a part of us. Their energy need not be confined to the actual planting, tending and gathering of food. For while we may not plant actual seeds to grow, tend, harvest and preserve, we can use the energy of the seasons to generate what we need to nourish our own lives and the lives of others. The seeds of our efforts whether edible, useful, or otherwise productive can be sown in the spring for our eventual harvest and use in the fall. Then during the winter months they can supply what we need to sustain us and keep us from the cold.

Tasha Halpert

 

 

 

Memories of a Very Special Neighbor

Laura Dodge's Dancing Dolls        I grew up in the country, and the only neighbor I really knew was my Great Aunt Alice, because we lived in a smaller home on part of her property. There were no children for me to play with except some siblings across the street. My parents did not know theirs and I was not permitted to invite them in or to go to their house. To be fair, they were not a very kind bunch. There were two sisters and their brother, who was rather rough. They went to a different school than I did and I had very little in common with them. It is lovely to have neighbors, and once I had one who was special indeed.

I was recently able to get back in touch with this neighbor of many years ago. Her children and mine were of an age and we lived in a small town on the North Shore of Boston. In our suburban neighborhood our houses were only a few yards apart. Some days when I was upstairs, even without the windows being open I could hear her playing her recorder. A musician and an artist by avocation, she had a dachshund that she had taught to accompany her when she played happy birthday on the piano.

We were able to share only a couple of phone calls in the few months I had rediscovered her. Now has come the news that she has passed on. Memories of our years as neighbors flood back to me. One favorite is the time I was grilling a boned leg of lamb on my charcoal grill in the back yard. To my dismay I looked out and saw her German shepherd running off with it in his mouth. She bravely rescued it from him, cooked it for her family and gave me another leg of lamb that was even then roasting in her oven. Many times after that over cups of tea we laughed together, remembering.

Our children played together in our yards and she shared produce from her garden with me. Generous with her time and energy, she taught me a lot about sewing, and helped me whenever I was stuck trying to do something too advanced for my sewing machine skills. She helped me out when my younger children were born, brought food and kept me company. I was sad when she sold her house and moved away. Later after he was grown and on his own she took in my late son and as he helped her with hers, taught him a lot about gardening. I was very grateful to her for her kindness to him.

No matter how long someone you may cherish lives–and she was 92 when she passed on, it is never long enough to do and say all the things you wish you had done and said. I have to be content with what remains of my memories and of the conversations we had before she went to her final rest. She was a very special friend as well as a wonderful neighbor and I am sure many besides me have fond memories of her. A giving, sharing person, she set a good example for everyone who knew her. She lived a kind and caring life and will I am sure continue her loving ways now that she has her angel wings.

Pleasure Can Take Many Forms

As regular readers of my column know by now, my mother really did not like to cook. She did what she had to do to feed her family. However, at least as far as I can remember preparing meals gave her no pleasure. Nor did she want my father to cook because, she said, he burnt everything. Perhaps he was impatient or perhaps he wasn’t watchful. I don’t know because I never saw him in the kitchen except to mix cocktails.

The only household chore I ever knew him to do was to polish the silver. My mother refused to do that and I do not blame her in the least. It is a dirty, tedious job. My father however seemed to enjoy it. I have a memory of him in an apron made from black and white striped mattress ticking material, vigorously polishing some of the lovely silver items he had inherited or been given by family members.

I on the other hand have always derived great pleasure from preparing food, baking, and providing meals for loved ones. For years I collected recipes. In the 80’s I wrote a cookie cookbook as well as a completely refined sugar free general cookbook with many recipes I had created. In those desserts I used only honey or maple syrup. Now even that kind of baking, along with a lot of other recipes I enjoyed making over the years, is history.

Recently I was diagnosed with a medical condition that requires severely restricting my carbohydrate intake. This has resulted in a major upheaval in both my eating and my cooking. In addition to sugars I have had to stop eating rice, pasta and potatoes. Thus I have had to eliminate many favorite comfort food recipes. I can no longer eat the Chinese fried rice I specialized in, the home fried potatoes or the shrimp scampi I enjoyed making as well as eating.

Then along came some difficult news. This caused a reaction I did not expect. I found myself in a depressed state and developed new aches and pains. I kept asking myself why was this happening? Then I realized I had been limiting most of my pleasure to cooking and eating. This is not to say I wasn’t doing fun things or having enjoyable experiences other than with food, however, I had concentrated principally on food related pleasure. I no longer regularly practiced other experiences I found pleasurable, like playing my harp or coloring.

Pleasure can rebalance the body’s ph and help keep us healthy. So now I am working to discover ways besides eating and cooking to give myself pleasure. In so doing I have rediscovered hobbies from the past like embroidery and begun to watch favorite old TV shows we have on DVD. I am spending more time with my harp, simply playing for the pleasure of it rather than working to learn tunes. I got out my coloring books and blank paper pads and began to color and as well as to draw. As time goes by I expect to enjoy new pleasures as well and look forward to discovering them. Meanwhile I already feel better.

The Only Constant is Change

20150911_183519Peace Village Sunflfowers Past Present Future

A wise teacher of mine once said, “The only constant in life is change.” This sounds like an oxymoron, or contradiction in terms, yet it surely has been true for me in my adult life. From the time I left home to be on my own I have had to embrace a sense of flexibility concerning my expectations. It may have helped that to begin with I grew up in New England where the weather can go from a shower to sunshine and back to a shower again in quick succession.

When I was a child I lived a protected life. Even the living room furniture stayed the same, as did the pictures on the walls. The people around me were the same also. Death was distant and spoken of only in whispers. There were no TV images of soldiers fighting and dying or talk of murders and fires. The war then was a distant rumble, its only evidence being the occasional blackouts’ and my dad in his air raid warden helmet roaming the neighborhood to warn of any light showing through the darkened windows of the inhabitants nearby.

When the war ended there was still not much difference in my life except for the packages my parents sent to their relatives overseas. They were stuffed with clothing and edibles that could travel, tied with bales of twine to keep them from being opened. This stable childhood did not really prepare me for the life of change I have lived as an adult. However, I have no quarrel with my experiences and quite to the contrary I believe they have benefited me in very tangible ways.

My first husband and I did quite a bit of traveling wile he fulfilled his army obligations as an ROTC student. We settled in one house only to find ourselves moving a number of times before our lives again settled down. To be sure, dealing with the energies and aptitudes of five children provided plenty of opportunities for unexpected adventures. As I approached my forties I felt confident that I knew exactly what was going to happen in my life. However, again my expectations were turned around and new adventures began.

After Stephen and I moved to Grafton and founded our center for inner peace I often found myself hosting the conglomeration of people who would drop by for a swim or a chat and of course be invited to stay for supper or even the night. We took in anyone who showed up at the door and needed it some inner peace. I always had plenty of food on hand, and I didn’t mind in the least especially as long as people helped out when we needed them to.

Lately without knowing what or how I have felt that something is going to change in my life. However it seems quite impossible to plan ahead for it because whatever does happen is never quite what I expect. For instance, how could I foresee that Stephen’s acquisition of one pot of a few succulents two years ago would multiply into a garden of pots and many more varieties? I do welcome whatever is next. My only expectation is that as good as it has been in the past so it will be as in the future or perhaps even better.

 

Tidying up the Piles

Tasha's desk 7-17

I remember vowing as a child that I would never have small heaps of stray things around my house the way my parents did. I can clearly remember the way it looked then. My memory of the past has not eroded to the extent my short term memory has, and I have a clear image in my mind.

As I visualize my parents home, I can see the small piles of unread papers here and there, along with the mail that needed to be answered, the notes concerning phone calls on stray bits of paper, as well as other notes about things that were important or that needed to be done. Then too there were the little piles of items that had not yet been put back where they belonged.

Sometimes these various piles would sit for a long time, most probably my parents had gotten used to them being where they were. However, because my father liked to entertain, the house nearly always got picked up just before the guests arrived. That meant the piles would suddenly migrate elsewhere or possibly be distributed somewhere they actually did belong.

It’s only fair to say that my mother had plenty to do with caring for my three siblings and me so it’s no wonder there was little time left for tidying. And of course as they all got older they added to the various piles with their toys, books, and school projects. When I cleaned out my mother’s storage last year I threw away quantities of items that had simply lingered long after their owners had departed the home.

I fear I have no excuse for my piles. I have no little children to attend to and my time is pretty much my own. I do have the time, I think I lack the motivation. I have noticed that one good way, perhaps the best one to get tidied up is to invite someone over—especially someone who may not know us very well and upon whom we wish to make a good impression. This is wonderful motivation to redistribute the piles and get things cleaned up.

It is also true that tidying up may help me to find things that have been lost or misplaced. I really do like to keep things in good order, however, like my parents I fear I have the same attitude that promoted their piles. “I’ll just put it here for the time being until I have time to put it away.”

My desk is a good example of my doing that. For several weeks I have promised myself I will tidy it. The last time I did I found an overdue bill I hadn’t paid. The strange thing is I thought I had, and in fact even had a distinct memory of paying it. But I had not done so.

I suppose I need a better place to put the unpaid bills. Or else I might pay them as soon as they come in. too often something more immediate takes precedence over what I intend to do and things get disorganized. I fully intend to get that desk organized very soon, however, I do have these deadlines to meet and so I’ll do it soon, very soon, but just not right now.