Thank you, Mom for Your Gifts

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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.

April Showers and May Flowers

Maple blooming 17 2The forsythia is blooming. Its golden flowers brighten the landscape and provide a kind of sunshine even during April showers. Gardening is present in the thoughts of those who do and in the stores as well. Pansies and other colorful flowers decorate the entrances of supermarkets and other stores that sell them. Gardening supplies are piled up ready to purchase. Even though it’s not yet time to be planting, these and other signs of spring hearten those of us who are weary of winter’s drab browns and blacks, bare limbs and withered weeds.

Gardening runs in my family and in my blood. I wish I could yet I can’t claim the green thumb of my ancestors. My great grandfather planted an orchard of flourishing fruit trees. His apple trees blossomed and bore from the onset of spring until deep into fall. His quince trees produced fuzzy hard fruit that with my mother’s diligent efforts became jelly and preserves. In her garden she grew a variety of vegetables. I can see her still working away in it, her tanned back brown in the sun.

My grandmother had a gardener named Mr. Patch. He was Irish. I remember his nut brown face and his wonderful brogue as he discussed with my grandmother what he needed for the garden. She did some work also, principally with her pruning shears as she picked her magnificent roses. She grew both flowers and vegetables, harvesting and eating from her garden all summer long. What I remember most clearly were her glorious gladiolas, the saucer plate dahlias ranging from deep red to bright orange and yellow, and the colorful zinnias that lined the gravel path leading from her driveway to her door, bounded by a white picket fence and two strips of green grass turf.

My father too grew roses and later brought back some young peach and plum trees from a horticultural show, planted them and then harvested the fruit when they grew old enough to produce it. I did have one experience with a fruit tree. Back when I had my spiral garden I had bought what I thought was a white forsythia to plant there. After three years it hadn’t flowered. Reluctant to discard it, I dug it up, replanted it at the edge and forgot about it. To my great surprise and delight, though now in the shadow of a large spruce, it grew into a white peach tree that produced three peaches its first year and many more after that.

These days my gardening is limited to a few potted plants. Perhaps one day I will have a small garden again, however I couldn’t manage anything very much more than the original three by five foot plot I was given as a child for my own. I grew flowers there, and then weeds by the time August rolled around. But it got me started on many years of garden tending. These days I write poetry about gardens together with other aspects of nature and the world I live in. My gardens have become metaphysical rather than physical, and truth to tell my back is grateful.

After the Gifts Are Unwrapped

gifts-4  In days gone by when my children were small and Christmas was something of a big production, by the evening of the 25th everyone was satisfied to play with his or her toys, eat the festival leftovers and chill out. It was then that I would take my guitar in hand and drive with it to the Beverly hospital to play for the patients. I was a regular volunteer there so I would don my pink volunteer jacket and go around to the wards and private rooms to play Christmas music together with my usual folk tunes.

During my time in Manchester-by-the-Sea I used to play my guitar several times a month and sometimes even more often for the patients who were well enough to be listening. However I did have to be mindful of my lyrics. This being in the days of Pete Seeger and the Weavers, my repertoire consisted mainly of traditional folk songs, some of which had lyrics that might not sound cheerful such as: “Go tell Aunt Rhody the old gray goose is dead,” or one that began “When I’m dead and buried, don’t you weep after me,” a rousing spiritual that was great fun to sing as long as I omitted the first verse and went right into the body of the song.

On Christmas night I felt as though with all the visitors having gone home by then, the patients could use a bit of cheering up. After all, the visitors were returning to their families and friends while the patients were still in their rooms or wards and perhaps more aware of being there than usual. It was heartening to see the welcoming smiles on their faces and to receive their enthusiastic approval. More than once someone who had been relatively comatose would actually clap their hands and manage a smile.

Today my children are grown and gone and my family is for the most part scattered far and wide. Holidays are quieter. Nor do I play my guitar any longer, though next year I hope to have learned some carols on my new harp. However, I don’t expect to be singing them in a hospital. Life brings changes, some welcome, some not so. The happy memories of Holidays past become gifts to cherish with joy, more so perhaps than any other gift beneath the tree.

Now that the presents have been opened and our holiday meal consumed, I find myself reminiscing to myself over past holiday celebrations. I note familiar faces that have moved on from my life. Some still walk this earth others do not. I am reminded of the places where I have lived in the past and see again the rooms as well as the homes that hold the memories of holiday times. Each year holds its blessings. I am grateful for each and every one, and most of all I am grateful to be able to celebrate with joy the love that flows to me from those who each year remember me.

 

The Peddler Woman, Childhood Days A Childhood Reminiscence

Me and mama by Bachrach I was a young child during World War II. As I look back I realize this was a time of great change in American society. Not only were we fighting a large scale war in far away countries, but we were also changing the way things were done at home, especially if one lived in the country as opposed to the city. By living in the country I mean living where if you wanted to purchase anything that was not delivered to the door, you needed a car. Of course there were various catalogs, however for everyday shopping most of what we bought we purchased from the local stores. The internet did not of course exist.

Because like most people we had only one car my mother could not get out to shop all that often. My father worked as a salesman and he usually needed the car to get around. In addition, gas was rationed so no one used it thoughtlessly or took trips just for the fun of it. On Sundays, all the stores were closed. That pretty much left Saturdays and the occasional afternoon when my dad would work at home catching up on paperwork, for my mother to shop anywhere we could not walk to. Living where we did, that would mean a couple of miles trek, and with my short little legs that would have been unrealistic.

Milk was delivered, and ice for the icebox with the pan that accumulated water underneath that had to be emptied regularly. Eventually the milkman added bread to his supplies. In addition there was a woman who walked from town to town lugging a large suitcase with all sorts of small items for sale. She sold what might be termed “dry goods.” The dictionary definition for dry goods is “textiles, ready made clothing, and sundries.” She always stopped at our house. It was exciting for me when she did.

I can still see her coming into our living room and opening her big suitcase. In it were needles and thread, buttons, handkerchiefs and occasionally something rare in those days: nylons. They had seams, and were shear unlike the cotton stockings that were available. My mother would buy thread, pretty hair ribbons for me, and sometimes cotton socks. In the winter the peddler woman sold woolen gloves and hats. In the summer she might have carried the sun bonnets my mother insisted I wear to protect my fair skin.

How different the world is today. The end of WWII brought in a new era in so many ways. How little understanding children growing up today must have of what it is like to buy from a peddler woman, a strap over her shoulder, clutching the handle of her suitcase as she walked from town to town with her notions and dry goods. I don’t remember when she stopped coming and we went instead to the big stores in Beverly to shop. It could have been around the time we got an electric refrigerator to replace the zinc lined icebox by the kitchen door. When one is small, time dissolves into timelessness, and memory delivers images not dates.

 

 

 

Growing Up By Myself

Bed Friends 1

When I was growing up I lived a couple of miles from a small seaside town on a large property that belonged to my Great Aunt Alice. I didn’t have any siblings until I was almost nine. Virtually an only child, I was surrounded by busy adults and often told to stop bothering them and find something to do. A voracious reader, when I wasn’t nose deep in a book, I played games of pretend, making believe I was someone other than a lonely child in an isolated neighborhood with only herself to rely on for amusement.

I had quite a collection of teddy bears, dolls and other stuffed animals. When I was small I was sure they came alive at night. This belief was influenced by Johnny Gruelle’s Raggedy Ann and Andy books. These innocent stories about a group of toys that had adventures were written in the early 1900s and became even more popular in the 30’s and 40’s. In these stories, ice cream cones grew on trees, cupcakes and hot dogs could be plucked from bushes and lemonade and sodas were available in puddles and brooks.

Raggedy Ann’s magical woods full of “fairies and elves and everything” held all sorts of fun inventions that I yearned to experience for myself. I loved the stories and used to watch my toys to see whether they too might have adventures while I was sleeping. Sometimes I thought I spotted them in different positions than I had left them, though I could never be sure.

Later I moved on to books by Robert Louis Stevenson, Alexander Dumas, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Then I wanted to be a pirate or have exciting adventures when I became a grown up. I made bows and arrows out of handy branches and tied string to my father’s hoe and rake to make a hobby horse. If my father needed his rake he knew where to look–in my lilac bush “stable.”

My family believed in fresh air and I spent a lot of time all year round out of doors in nature. Where we lived I was fortunate in having a large open area to play in There were all kinds of trees to climb and large fields of tall grass that I made into my private jungle. My pretend life was much more interesting than my actual one. The world I lived in as a young child was without TV or any form of electronic toy or game. I had to use my imagination to conjure up my entertainment.

I wonder if my childhood led me to grow up looking at the world from a different perspective than most. Steeped in nature and in the creativity of my mind, its sights and sounds enhanced my imaginary life. Today I perceive links and patterns everywhere. I find significance in synchronicity and receive messages from the nature around me. The world was and is alive for me in a way today’s youth may not discover. With the current focus on electronics, most children will not have my opportunities. I learned to listen to and observe nature and found there a sense of companionship and of comfort that is with me still.

Gazing Back, Looking Forward

Waters Farm View 3  Having lived in the town of Grafton for more than twenty five years, I can both remember how things were and see how they have changed. Often as I drive the streets of this town I am aware of places that were once bare of buildings and are now well populated. It is an interesting feeling: In my minds eye I see trees that once shaded sidewalks now vanished, succumbed to blight or old age; I note houses once one color that are now another. I have memories of roads where I used to walk that were near where I once lived. The past and the present mingle in my mind as I pass through the familiar places.

Janus, the Roman god for whom January was named was honored as the guardian of doorways. He is pictured with two faces, one looking forward, one back. It is interesting to note that they are joined. The past, the present and the future are not separate. Looking back on the year now past gives me perspective as well as a sense of continuity, as does looking forward. As I get older the past, the present and the future blend even more into one. I occasionally need to sort things out and the New year is a good time for this.

There is much that I have accomplished over the past year: columns written, manuscript readied for publication, countless meals prepared, recipes tried, new friends made. Some projects I planned did not turn out as I had anticipated; others turned out to be even better than I thought they would. There have also been significant losses for me this year: friends I treasured that have moved on either in this life or to the next. I still feel connected to them, yet they are receding into the past. I am also pleased to have made progress in changing certain negative habits and building others that are more positive.

It is my hope to keep learning and growing for all of the years I have to live in this lifetime. Because I believe this is important to my quality of life, I work at constantly recreating myself. Toward that end I like to try different things I haven’t done. It is also important to me to review and to renew those I have done in the past. If something doesn’t work for me, I’ll set it aside and move on, yet I may return to try it again. Among other planned projects I want to get back into drawing, illustrating one of my earlier tales. I also have a bunch of sorting to do, and a book of poems to put together.

Perhaps this is the year I will finally go through those notebooks I have been keeping from many years past and mine them for gems I have forgotten or left behind. Certainly I know I will write new stories and new columns, and surely publish at least one new book as well. As I look back and forward, for that which is helpful that remains from the past I say thank you, and for that which was stressful and is now over, I say the same. Having looked back with gratitude, I now look forward with optimism and the knowledge that a new year awaits.

Fatherhood, by Tasha Halpert

Dad fishing in fla.We didn’t celebrate Fathers’ Day with a cookout when I was growing up. I don’t remember any cookouts at all. My dad didn’t cook anything much because my mother wouldn’t let him. She said he burnt things. Nor did he help much around the house except to polish the silver. He did that because it was the only way my mother would allow it to be displayed. She felt she had enough to do without polishing it. However for Fathers’ day we usually had a nice roast or some other kind of meat my dad enjoyed.

On the third Sunday in June we celebrate Fathers and acknowledge their importance to us. Since 1908, when the first Fathers’ Day was declared their role in the lives of families has greatly changed. While there were exceptions, most fathers then had little to do with raising their young children. Even in the 50’s it was rare for one to change a diaper, bathe or feed a baby unless mom was not available. Today many young fathers can be seen carrying, cuddling, and playing with their toddlers.

According to Celebrations, The Complete Book of American Holidays by Robert J. Myers, the closest ancestor for Fathers’ Day is an ancient Roman festival called Parentalia. It lasted from the 13th of February to the 22nd. Not for living fathers it was a time for the remembrance of departed parents and kinsfolk. It was celebrated with a family reunion that began at the cemetery with offerings of milk, honey, oil and water at flower decorated graves. Afterward people went home, feasted and visited.

The first observance of both Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day in the US were in 1908. Both took place in churches in West Virginia, one in May and one in June, in two different towns. They were held to honor the fathers of the women who arranged for them. Over time, and with the efforts of a number of different people, the day finally became established. However Fathers’ Day took longer than Mothers’ Day to become official.

By 1911 there was no a state without a Mothers’ day observance. It was even celebrated in many other countries. Fathers’ Day, though celebrated on the third Sunday in June in a number of states did not become officially observed until President Richard Nixon signed a congressional resolution. Prior to that an annual proclamation was required by any state to have one.

Not every parent is able to fulfill his or her role perfectly, yet all do the best they can. Setting a good example is paramount. Young boys need to know that it is just as manly to change a diaper as it is to throw a baseball. The nurturing that comes from a father’s heart is as precious as that from a mother’s. Many young male children today will grow up with a better understanding of what it is to be a parent than they might have in prior generations. More than ever today, fatherhood and fathers deserve celebration.