Thank you, Mom for Your Gifts

M

Mama Watering the Roses

My Late Mama Watering the Roses

This week I received a loving card in the mail from one of my three dear daughters. In it she expressed her thanks to me for what I had given her as well as for what I continue to give her. She lives at quite a distance from me so we do not see one another often. We do however do our best to keep in touch with mail and emails. It was a precious card and it was even more precious to read her acknowledgement of the little things I do for her as we continue to communicate and to share our lives together.

Although I cannot write her a letter or call her on the phone, I began thinking about what I might be grateful to my late mother for. There is a long list beginning with how she always insisted on my wearing a hat on the beach and cover up as well to protect my skin from the sun. Today, with the prevalence of skin cancer among my contemporaries and even those younger than I, I am especially grateful for her good advice. It is thought that the early exposure to excess sun is a precursor to skin cancer. She had a permanent tan on her back from her teenage years of sun exposure in Cuba where her German father was in the diplomatic service; later she had numerous bouts with skin cancer.

Though I haven’t thought much about this until recently, I realize that she was an immigrant, and what that meant especially in her early years in the country. Like many others who came here from elsewhere, she cherished her citizenship and was proud to be an American. She also contributed in many ways, from joining in the war effort as a civilian—I remember the brown uniform she wore for some kind of civilian women’s defense organization to the lovely art she created that graces the homes of many even today.

It was the outset of what became WWII that she married my father and came to this country from Germany. As a child I remember seeing a movie taken of part of their honeymoon showing Nazis marching. She had to endure suspicions and even dislike for her nationality, even from her in-laws. Fortunately she spoke perfect English and quickly became a citizen. She was herself very courageous, and she encouraged me to stand up for myself when I was picked on in school for not being athletic or slender. In addition she always supported me when I shared my grief at not being able to fit in.

She encouraged my creativity, keeping the little booklets I made for her even until I was much older and then giving them back to me. She applauded my early efforts to play the guitar and urged me to write my own songs. She pushed originality as a virtue, praising it above all in everything I did. I think of her often and wish her well as she makes her way through whatever is next for us all in the afterlife. I am sure her bright spirit is still learning and growing and perhaps she is in some way practicing the art she did so beautifully in this life to enhance the walls of the angels’ heavenly homes.

The Eyes of Unconditional Love

heart-and-bellsOnce upon a time I wrote a poem about the eyes of love. It began: “consider with the eyes of love.” Though at that time I hadn’t yet learned about the difference that the qualifying word unconditional makes, what I meant by love in the poem actually was unconditional love. My parents and grandmother loved me very much. They were also quite critical of me, as well as of others they loved and otherwise thought well of. Unconditional love means just that—no criticism, no conditions on the love. It also to me means looking at others as well as at myself without a disapproving attitude.

My dear mother had most probably inherited her critical outlook on life from her highly critical mother who made frequent remarks concerning how she well as others looked. In her eyes one’s stomach was not supposed to be anything but flat as a pancake, one’s waist slender, etc. I at one time wondered why, when she was quite thin my mother wore a girdle. Then I learned it was because she believed bulges were not to be tolerated. She used to try with little success to get me to wear one. They were so uncomfortable, I wouldn’t. Eventually she too stopped wearing one.

My father too had his viewpoint. Once I acquired them my eyeglasses became an issue for him, especially when I was dressed up. I can hear him now as he aimed his camera, saying, “Take off your glasses and look pretty.” Thus whenever I was in my party clothes the glasses I wore from the third grade on became an issue for me, making me think I ought to take them off in order to look properly attractive. He was also particular about my hair, which was supposed to look smooth and symmetrical–properly arranged in a tidy manner.

My grandmother had very strong ideas about what it was to act like or to be a “lady.” When I was twelve, inspired by my first experience of being paid for it, I decided to earn money giving the puppet shows I wrote and performed for birthday parties. My grandmother quickly put an end to this. She told me sternly that ladies didn’t work. Then she gave me a twenty-dollar bill and said, “Now you don’t have to earn money.” She had grown up in a household where as she informed me, if a log rolled off the fire she rang for a maid to come in and put it back. While she did volunteer work, she had never earned money.

The critical eye that I inherited from my family persisted for a long time. It took me years to be aware of it. Then I had to learn to stop the little voice in my head that called attention to whatever deviation from the “norm” of beauty I perceived. To begin with I applied this to my view of others. Gradually I learned to do this for myself as well. The eyes of unconditional love do not see critically but with an understanding that for good reasons, we are all perfect just the way we are. These days the eyes I see through are my own, and I look out upon the world with love. As well, when I look in the mirror now, I smile.

Tasha Halpert

A Saving Nature

Woodenspoon1

As far as I remember my dad wasn’t one to save things, quite the contrary. He was much more inclined to throw things out. On the other hand, I have a tendency to save anything I think might be useful or could be helpful in time of need—like extra food. I believe I inherited my saving nature from my mother. Once when I visited her in their weekend cottage in Maine I helped her clear out a closet. In the process I found at least three irons, and several toasters she had bought at yard sales and stored against future need. I kidded her about it and she told me quite seriously that they might come in handy one day, and she was happy to have them.

Another time, when I visited her in South Carolina where she lived after my father passed on, I was rummaging in her kitchen when I saw she had a number of broken items in her kitchen drawers. I asked her about them and she assured me that they could be fixed one day and used again. There was something even more useful in her bathroom. My parents loved to travel and wherever they went, my mother collected the little bottles of shampoo, conditioner, lotion and whatever else that were provided by the places they stayed. They were all lined up in rows on her bathroom sink, filling the entire flat part around the basin.

Perhaps for her they were souvenirs of her trips with my father because she never did use them. She also had rows of empty toilet paper cardboard tubes stacked next to the toilet. I didn’t ask her why because I am sure she would have had a good reason for why she kept them. A while ago I noticed I had quite a collection of little bottles saved from trips myself, and I decided that rather than purchase shampoo and conditioner I would use them. I didn’t want to be like my mother, hoarding something in case of need and then never getting to make use of it. I have come to realize that as we get older we must be careful not to take on our parents’ habits.

There is nothing wrong in being of a saving nature; however, to save something indefinitely is counter productive. When we were moving to our current apartment I discovered I had quite a lot of canned and boxed food that was out of date on the shelves of my former pantry. Now I realize I need to go through things more often to make sure I use what I have in a timely manner.

My father used to kid my mother because she had kept some linen sheets exactly as she had received them as a wedding present. He would ask her if she was saving them for her next husband. I have been thinking more about my mother’s habit lately and resolving to make use of what I have. After all, what she might not have realized was that once something is gone it may often be replaced by what is even better.

Tasha Halpert

 

 

I Remember Mama

 

Mama and Me Maine 2005          On the TV Screen pages turned in a photograph album as the weekly TV show called I remember Mama opened. Each week the daughter told a story from her growing up years, about her mother and her family. Although the show was set in 1910, the themes were timeless and had much to do with family interactions and behaviors. Though I do not remember any particular episodes, I do remember watching it with pleasure. The mother in the story was resourceful and clever, much like mine.

With the approach of Mother’s Day I find myself thinking about my late mother and remembering little tidbits about our life together. She worked hard to put good, healthy meals on the table–my dad came home every day for lunch, shop economically and keep up with the laundry. I remember her hanging out the clothes almost all year round. She grew vegetables in the garden and canned them for winter consumption. We kept chickens, and while it was my job to take care of them, it was hers to prepare and cook them. Plucking a chicken isn’t much fun, yet she did it without complaining.

She made fairly simple meals. We usually had meat and potatoes for lunch and some kind of a casserole or simpler meal at supper. My kitchen memories are more about being chased out and sent either upstairs or out of doors to play, depending on the season. I remember staying up for radio shows with Mom and Dad. It was a wonderful treat to sit on one of their beds and hear a grownup show. Starting when I was about twelve they took me to the movies with them, although they usually skipped the first of the double features.

My mother was a brave woman who came to this country from Germany knowing almost no one except my dad. Though she spoke excellent English, at the time to be German national was to be suspected of being a spy. I believe she told me that at one point she was even under surveillance. She soon became an American citizen, however, and during the second world war she joined a women’s civilian motor corp. I can see her now in her brown uniform, wearing a smart cap with a brim. Along with some of her friends she did various things to be of help at home.

She left me a wonderful legacy of courage and curiosity along with a desire to do things right as well as get the details correct. She played card games and Chinese checkers with me. Though she was never one to help me win, she played fairly and enjoyed the competitive aspect of the games. Later on, while she did not believe in interfering in my life, she always did her best to advise me when I asked her to. I miss her presence in my life, yet I know that she is far happier and more comfortable now. With gratitude for all she did for me, in my heart I wish her a happy Mother’s Day.

Tasha Halpert

Dandelion Days

dandilionforwishingThe first flowers I remember picking were dandelions. Proudly I brought them to my mother, who lovingly thanked me. I have memories of making dandelion flower crowns with her. We’d slit the stems, slide a flower through, and repeat until the crown or wreath was large enough to wear. Dandelions are the first flowers many children are allowed to pick. They are such pretty little bright spots, and unbeknownst to many, such good medicine It seems a pity that people feel they have to eliminate them.

Those who want pristine green lawns eradicate dandelions, never realizing that instead of poisoning these cheerful yellow suns, they could pick them and make a wine that tastes of summer, a bread, or other baked goods, or use the leaves in a salad, a stir fry or combined with other greens in a juicer. Dandelion leaves have excellent food value, and are a healthy, desirable spring vegetable. The roasted, ground roots make a coffee like drink.

Children love the yellow flowers; parents faced with eliminating stains from the milky juice, not so much. Homeowners might like to know the long roots actually benefit the lawn: they aerate the soil, keeping it from becoming compacted and unable to absorb nutrients. Susun Weed says there is enough vitamin A in a dandelion leaf to rival store supplements. As well there is vitamin C and many helpful minerals. It is also a mild, effective natural diuretic. If your lawn is away from the road, you can safely use your dandelions many ways.

Here is my recipe for Dandelion Deluxe: Ingredients: ½ cup chopped onion, 4 cloves of garlic minced or chopped fine, 1 small summer squash chopped small, 4 cups dandelion greens, olive oil. Method: Prepare greens while you sauté onion, garlic and summer squash in a olive oil. Remove roots and tough bottom stems. Wash very well. Cut up with scissors. Steam in a small amount of water until they wilt down. Strain water and set aside. Add chopped greens to sautéed vegetables and cook until stems are tender. You serve as is or you can mingle into your food processor for a different taste. Drink the healthy cooking water, your body will thank you.

Dandelion Wine: Age for at least 6 months. It will continue to mellow. Ingredients: 1 Qt Dandelions, yellow part only. 4 Qts. boiling water, 3 Lemons, 3 oranges, 4 Lbs sugar, 1 Pkg. yeast. Method: Pour boiling water over blossoms, set for 24 hours in a warm place. Slice fruit and remove seeds. Cover with sugar; set for 24 hrs also. Then strain blossoms and pour liquid over oranges and lemons. Add 1 package any yeast. Pour into ceramic or stainless steel. Let stand 4 or 5 days. Strain, let stand one more day. Bottle, then cap with small balloons. Leave until the wine stops “working” and balloons collapse. Cork and store 6 months or more. Then sip. It tastes like summer. Recipe makes 5 bottles.

Tasha Halpert

The Three Bite Rule

When I was growing up there was no such thing in my family as not eating what was put before you, or of getting up from the table before you had finished what was on your plate. The “starving children in China” statement was applied whenever I protested. I learned to swallow pieces of liver as if they were pills, with gulps of milk. However I was unable to cope well with the frequent soft boiled eggs, and finally my mother stopped giving them to me. I have memories of sitting at the table staring at the egg in its shell in the egg cup in front of me. That was one battle I won. Not until I was an adult did I learn to like soft boiled eggs and I never did learn to appreciate liver.

My mother built her cooking around my dad’s taste, so much of what we ate was pretty standard. She believed in providing nutritious food, and though plain, it was. Despite the fact that she really didn’t like to cook, she understood that providing nourishment is an important aspect of caring that nature has built into mothers, and she did her best. All too often family members, like me as a child, do not express appreciation for the family cook’s labors in the kitchen. Though it didn’t occur to me as a child, as an adult I personally think they might be grateful someone has taken the trouble to make a meal for them to eat.

As regular readers of my column know, I have always enjoyed cooking. I find it satisfying as well as enjoyable. One aspect of this is that I prefer to prepare meals from scratch. Some might be surprised to learn I don’t own a microwave, nor do I wish to. I even like chopping food by hand rather than using a machine, peeling my fruit and vegetables, and doing all the hands on work that is required to use completely fresh ingredients rather than prepackaged ones. I do not claim that this is particularly virtuous on my part. It is simply my preference.

This is because putting myself into the meal is part of my joy in the creation of it. My energy goes directly into the chopping, the peeling, the mixing and the stirring. This is my purposeful contribution to the health and welfare of those I love and fix food for. I am fortunate to have an appreciative husband who enjoys whatever I prepare. I had one once who wasn’t and his influence on our younger children made quite a difference in what they were willing to eat. He was a meat and potatoes man and we were on a casserole budget, so complaints were often made. Yet being hungry he still ate whatever it was.

I tried to make interesting meals, and I used to tell my children they had to eat three bites of whatever I served them or I would make them eat the whole thing. Fortunately young children are not logical and none of them ever figured out how if they wouldn’t eat three bites, how could I get them to eat the whole thing? I even did this with their playmates and guests. Today one of my delights is to introduce people to foods they may not have experienced–at least not the way I prepare it. However, I don’t tell them they must eat three bites or I’ll make them eat the whole thing.

Tasha Halpert

Salad and casserole 3

And God Bless the Caterpillars by Tasha Halpert

And God Bless the Caterpillars

LLisa's butterfly My dandelion headed five-year-old is saying his prayers. He includes the caterpillars in their jars on the window sill. We had filled the jar with what we hoped was the appropriate leaves for food and twigs to climb, and each night we prayed for them. The time was 1968, and my son was one of five, active bright friendly loving children.

The caterpillars munched, spun cocoons on the twigs, and were quiet. We waited in vain for butterflies to emerge. Together we concluded that caterpillars did not do well in captivity and perhaps it was better for them to go free. Lessons on many levels were learned from the experience. I don’t know whether my son remembers the caterpillars, but he is now a grown man with a strong sense of curiosity, a fine capacity for observation and a desire to do some good in the world. The eager child lives on in the man.

One day the family visited someone who had guinea pigs. Naturally the children were fascinated and the pet shop that sold us our first pair agreed to buy back progeny. I was delighted at the opportunity to give the children a first hand lesson in biology, and all went well until we elected to do a breeding experiment. Unfortunately our breeding program coincided with a glut of guinea pigs at the pet shop. My living room filled up with boxes holding a total of fifteen furry squeakers and any time the refrigerator door opened, a chorus of squeals filled the house.

In the process my oldest daughters found out first hand that one cannot always rely on original solutions but must plan for contingencies, and of course they had graphic experience in where babies come from! Now that they have had their own children, they have fostered the same sense of adventure in their offspring and have carried on the same love affair with nature.

Nature is a great teacher of many things, and the care with which it is arranged has a significant message for us. We are part of the cycles of emergence, growth, and return to the whole. We circulate life energy the way a tree does. Once we believed we were in charge but this conviction is eroding with our recognition of the results of that belief. Our attunement to the part we play in the natural order of life seems to me to be more important than ever to our growth as healthy, positive human beings.

Parenting seems best learned by experience. Children are resilient. With goodwill, grace and good luck most of us will succeed in raising well adjusted children. Doing what we most enjoyed with our youngsters often results in happiness for all, but observing and participating in the processes of nature can easily and quickly return us to the joys of childhood as well as bring us pleasure in the present.

Looking together at snowflake crystals, searching for seashells, tenderly weeding small gardens—the days of my companionship with my children are cherished memories. I learned as much from them as they did from me. Nature is a great teacher and I am grateful to her for the lessons I learned as well as the beauty I have received. I am proud, too, of my children for their positive attitudes and approach to life, much of which was learned at Mother Nature’s knee. And I say with my son, God bless the caterpillars, God bless them all.