A Memorial Day Remembrance

DSCF0171-1My father’s father died in World War One when my dad was six years old. I can still see the picture of them both that stood on top of our piano in my childhood home. It was in an old fashioned, gold toned frame partnered by one of my Great Grandmother on the other side. Tinted brown, it showed a handsome man in an army officer’s uniform wearing riding boots—he was in the Calvary, standing opposite a small boy in a sailor suit, saluting his father. It may have been the last picture ever taken of him. My grandmother never remarried but raised my father and his brother alone.

My father was a colorful character who dressed as he chose and did things the way he wanted. Although he didn’t care too much what others thought, he was in many ways a traditional person. Every Sunday he attended the Episcopal Church in the neighboring town where he had grown up, and where my grandmother had endowed a stained glass window dedicated to her late husband. On the rare occasions I attended it with him as a child, I would gaze up entranced at the light shining through the image of a knight in armor with a face that seemed to me to resemble the man I’d never met, surrounded with emblems symbolic of his life.

A square in the center of that town was dedicated to my grandfather. He was a decorated hero and had been awarded a medal posthumously. Each Memorial Day the parade of marchers would stop there and a member from the American Legion would place a wreath of Laurel leaves on the hook on the pole beneath the sign that bore his name. My grandmother and later my father would add a big bunch of red carnations. I can remember one year my father lifted me up so I could do it. Each year we went as a family for the ceremony.

My father also decorated the graves of two elderly friends who had come from England to live in our town. Their pink marble gravestones still stand out among the somber gray granite of the rest of the local cemetery. He had been fond of them and I remember his taking me to visit them when I was very small.

My father’s grave is in a family cemetery on Cape Cod where some of his ancestors lived and worked. It is too far for me to travel to easily. His headstone, a simple boulder with a brass plaque, was his unique choice for his grave. It stands out boldly among the more traditional gravestones of his ancestors and the other members of his family. He was an individualist to the end.

On this Memorial Day as always I honor my late father in my heart. When I donate to a charity I know he would have given to, when I pray in my own fashion for the good of others, as well as when I emulate his kind nature and unique sense of fashion, I am honoring his memory. I cannot place flowers on his grave nor can I tend it as I would if I lived nearby; I can honor his memory in my own way by how I live my life and carry on in the way he taught me to do.

Tasha Halpert

 

Full of Thanks and Grateful to Be So

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A Family Gathering several Years Ago

Thanksgiving is a nonsectarian holiday that most of us can celebrate. I remember in school it centered on the Pilgrims. In first grade we made pilgrim hats and talked about how they lived. Today as a result of our treatment of the indigenous peoples since the first US Thanksgiving, the stories I grew up with have changed somewhat. However since time began harvest festivals similar to our Thanksgiving have been universally celebrated. Throughout the history the expression of gratitude for whatever constitutes our abundance endures.

I wasn’t always aware how important it was to be grateful. To be sure, I was brought up to say thank you when given a gift and often to write a letter of acknowledgment to the giver. However, having an actual attitude of gratitude, as the saying goes, was foreign to my thinking. I can remember my mother saying things like: “Finish your liver, there are children starving in China who would be happy to have it.” Of course, the thought that goes with that is, well send it to them then, however that would have been considered a rude remark and would have merited disciplinary action.

As a child, like most I took my safety, my freedom from hunger and cold, and my warm surroundings for granted. I was sheltered from the knowledge of others’ circumstances; then, the only source of outside information besides the newspapers was the radio. I knew much less about the world than children with access to TV and the Internet do today. Whether that makes one more or less apt to be grateful is moot. It might make an interesting study. However most probably even today gratitude is something we become aware of only as adults. It is very easy for children to take their blessings for granted.

My change of heart began with a simple prayer given me by someone I met only briefly yet who had a profound effect on my life. I was complaining about my circumstances when she corrected me. “Rather than bemoan what you don’t have, rejoice over what you do.” She suggested I repeat three times a day, “Beloved Lord I do greatly thank Thee for the abundance that is mine.” The phrasing can be changed to suit those who have a different belief system to honor whatever higher power they may acknowledge–Divine Providence, the Goddess, Mother Earth and so on.

Oddly once I began to do that, my abundance began to grow and has continued to do so. On another occasion I briefly met a wise woman who among other things, told me to take nothing for granted. I took her advice to heart. As I have continued to be grateful even for simple gifts and to acknowledge my little blessings, they have continued to expand. Eventually I even learned to be grateful for difficulties and disappointments because of the opportunities to learn and grow they provided. At this Thanksgiving as always I will sit down at the table with a heart full of gratitude, and for this I am exceedingly grateful.

Tasha Halpert

Summer Through the Years

Diana's Pond ReflectionsAs a child I so looked forward to school vacation and the freedom it brought from discipline, homework and schedules. Whenever weather permitted, my time was spent out doors wandering around the rather large property where my parents and I lived. It belonged to my Great Aunt Alice, whose father had built the grand house she lived in now, as well as the cottage originally intended for the gardener. That was where I, and later on my brothers and sister lived. There was a broad, open field to roam in, trees to climb, and a small marsh bounded by a dyke that kept out most of the distant seawater.

Wildflowers grew in abundance, insects buzzed and birds called. There were trees to climb, and I also spent time high in their branches, reading. I called it my tree house and brought pillows to the platform I had wedged into my favorite tree, a big beech. Summer was a time to play. The property held plenty of room for my imagination to conjure up all kinds of adventures like the ones in the stories I read: Tarzan, Robert Louis Stevenson’s tales, and the legends of Greek heroes.

Time passed and I was a young mother. Summer meant days at a nearby beach watching my children play in the sand and splash in the waves. Fortunate to be able to stay home with my children, I hung the laundry in the sun, worked on my tan, and took the them to the local church fairs, the annual carnival, and whatever other amusement the season offered. We had picnics and explored the highways and byways of surrounding towns. Later there were softball and then baseball games they played in to attend. The work of motherhood became a kind of play in summer.

Fast-forward to a different kind of summer life, with a swimming pool to clean and care for and a large garden that took me almost as much time to look after as the children did. Still it was a delight to share the pool as well as the garden with visitors. I didn’t mind the weeding too much, or pruning the shrubs. It was an adventure to tackle the wild rose vine I planted for its delicious scent, without realizing the consequences of its rampant growth. I never knew how many would be sitting down to any meal, because people came and went as I practiced my hospitality. Summer held a different kind of play.

My summers have changed again. With age comes less tolerance for extreme conditions. My bones enjoy my home’s warmth in the cold but not its heat in the muggy weather. I appreciate air conditioning far more than I used to, and I spend much more time indoors than I did in the past. While the long summer hours of light are enjoyable, the effect of the heat on my mind is not. Labor Day signals summer’s closing. Once I welcomed its beginning with open arms, now each year I am more appreciative of summer’s end.

Pennies from Heaven

Grammy and Emilia 04My grandmother grew up in a time when a penny, not mention a dollar was worth considerably more than it is today. She also grew up in an era when there were few occupations of any status open to women besides marriage. If you were single and not a member of the “working class,” not much was open to you in he way of employment. You could be a school teacher or a companion to a wealthy older woman otherwise, you most likely lived with your parents and or a sibling, or helped care for those in your family.

I used to enjoy the stories she told me about her growing up years in the big house she shared with one sister and one brother. I remember having tea with my great grandmother in that house when I was very young. Like her, even many years later my grandmother had tea every day at four o’clock. When I was with her I was given ginger ale in a very thin glasses etched with a delicate design. I remember how it tickled my nose as I drank it.

While I was growing up, my grandmother and I were very close. She loved me dearly, and one way she showed it was to save all her pennies for me. When she came to visit, she would hold them clasped in her large wrinkled hands. I would place my small hands together just under hers. Then she would glide her closed hands over mine and say aloud, “Hold fast all I give you, hold fast all I give you, hold fast all I give you.” On the third repetition she would open her hands to let the pennies fall out, and I would open mine. The pennies would pour in, filling my small hands to overflowing.

Even today I love it when I find pennies lying about on the ground or even on the floor in stores. To me this is a sign of good luck. The other day I brought some items to a consignment store. One was a purse and I put a penny inside. I have always put a penny into every purse I have ever given away. When I told the person at the counter what I had done, she smiled and told me that when she found pennies it felt to her as though they were a sign from her late husband that he was still with her. “He loved finding them,” she told me, “though they had to be face up. On our wedding anniversary, and on his birthday both I found a lot of pennies all face up the way he liked them.” Pennies are special to her also.

Though they have lost much of their value monetarily today, a penny is more than just a penny to me. However, back a long way in time, a penny was a significant amount of money. There were even coins in common use smaller than a penny. But then life was cheap and for most people times were hard. Now periodically there are movements to get rid of them entirely because it is said they cost more to manufacture than they are worth and they slow down the process of making change. A number of countries have discontinued them, substituting five and ten cents as their lowest denomination.

For me a shiny penny is more than a coin. It is a symbol of my childhood and a way to access memories from that time. Seeing my grandmother in my mind’s eye, hearing her voice as she chanted the magical words, “Hold fast all I give you,” brings up even more memories of my days with her, of the stories she would tell me about her girlhood and what it was like for her growing up. I am older now than she was then, yet the memories have not faded. Like shiny pennies lying on the ground for me to find, they bring me a happy feeling in my heart.

Tasha Halpert

Time is a Strange Accordian

Waters Farm View 3

When I was a child, school and playtime defined my days. My years were divided into summer and other vacations, weeks by weekends and school. My clothing was defined by the weather, although I do remember sometimes having to wear dresses in the winter, which even with knee socks were not as warm as pants would have been. However, pants were not an option then for girls. I also remember corduroy jumpers, and once I had a woolen kilt I dearly loved.

Later when I became a wife and mother, the needs of my husband and children determined the parameters of my life. Schedules were important, the days to do what was necessary, such as laundry and errands, intertwined with doctor’s appointments and school functions. The definitions of my life inspired these parameters, and helped me to maintain a sense of order. Now that my life has become that of a semi retired writer, the parameters and definitions have loosened up, yet even after all these years, they still exist.

The other day as Stephen began stripping the bed I shook my head in amazement. How was it possible that a week had gone by so quickly? It seemed as though we had only just done that. It is true that as I gain in years, time seems to have speeded up. I notice this most when I realize how quickly certain tasks come around again to be done.

I don’t have set days to do the laundry. Except for the day we change the sheets, I do it when it has accumulated to a point that it needs doing. However, the size of our washing machine defines the amount that can be washed at any one time. For instance, it will accommodate two sheets nicely; the pillowcases are better washed with another load of clothing.

Stephen and I write and send in our columns each week. That is another parameter. Whenever we may write them, Sunday is our deadline for submitting them. We don’t have a particular day when we grocery shop. That is done on an as needed basis. Being semi retired writers we have more freedom without the 9 to 5 limitations that people in the workaday world may have.

I get out our supplements once a month and divide them into daily envelopes. I am truly amazed at how quickly it becomes time to do this again. Thinking about the way that time seems to shrink or grow, I once wrote a poem with the line, “Time is a strange accordion.” When I look back the years seem to compress and five seems like two, with twenty becoming five.

Today the laundry, tomorrow the correspondence, my time is defined by doing. While I pursue my life the stars call me to gaze into their burning hearts where time is flame. The routines of my life do in some ways define my days, yet within the parameters of those routines there are poems to write and sunsets to observe, gifts to be given and hugs to be received. Making full use of whatever time I have seems to me to be the best way to enjoy life.

Tasha Halpert

The Dailyness of Doing

Nature's Art 1. 2012-06- While I was growing up, when it came to household chores my mother did not consider me to be capable. This may have been because she expected more of me than I was able to do at a young age, or it may have been that she was so particular that my childish efforts were simply inadequate. She had very high standards. Regardless of the reason, she never encouraged me to do any cleaning or other household tasks even after I was in high school. What this meant was that I never really learned how to clean properly.

I remember the day I came home to the first apartment my young husband and I had and found my father sweeping the rug. I asked him what he was doing. He said he was cleaning the rug. But I don’t have a vacuum, I told him. You don’t need one, he said, and inquired of me where I kept my dustpan and brush. I had never realized you could clean a rug just by sweeping it.

I had to learn how to keep house the hard way, by trial and error and doing it. The other day as I cleaned the sink in the bathroom, I began thinking about household tasks in general. I realized that when I complete some tasks, I give a sigh of contentment and think to myself: good, now that’s accomplished. There are others I complete and with a sigh of resignation wonder how soon I’ll be doing it over again. Much depends on the task in question; some are more satisfying than others. Cooking, for example is my delight and I have no problem making three meals a day.

On the other hand, when I wash the kitchen floor, although it looks very nice, I don’t feel happy because it doesn’t last. Somehow it gets dirty practically immediately. Although small in surface, it is still a chore to keep clean. The stove presents the same issue. It seems that no sooner do I clean the pans under the burners than when I next turn them on, they’ll emit a bit of burning smoke from another stray crumb.

It is hard for me to take much satisfaction when I finish doing something I know I will have to do again practically immediately. Yet when I do not allow myself to take that satisfaction, I do not feel rewarded. If I do not feel rewarded it is much more difficult to do what needs doing again with any promptness. The good feeling I get from completing any task is an important part of what helps motivate me to repeat it, no matter how soon.

There is only one solution I can think of: to do the task as fully as possible in the present moment. What this means is that while I am doing it, rather than thinking of how soon I will have to do it again, or how onerous it is, I focus exclusively on the performance of it. It helps almost any situation to be mindful during it. As I direct my attention and my energy to the activity of the task, I am not only more efficient, but also more able to find pleasure in it.

Tasha Halpert

 

An Easter Basket of Memories

Rabbit in Cabbage 2On Easter my family usually went to dinner with Great Aunt Alice. Until my sister was born when I was 8, I was always the only child present. Aunt Alice had several toys she would bring out to amuse me. One was a little truck loaded with colorful blocks. They had letters, numbers and pictures on them. Even now I can see that red and yellow toy with a string to pull it by. The bed of the truck was loaded with the blocks, and I was always careful to put them back when it was time to go upstairs to dinner.

The other toy was a very special, ancient rabbit that lived inside a head of cloth lettuce. When it was wound–only adults were allowed to do that, and the golden knob on the side was pulled out, the rabbit head would emerge, extend itself and turn. Its ears would rise into the air. Then it would chew on the small piece of cloth lettuce in its mouth. When it finished, it would retract into the cloth lettuce with a little snap as the ears went back against its head.

I thought of that rabbit when I was contemplating what I would write for this column. I wish I had it now. I remember my children being shown it when they were little. Though I don’t know if they remember it the way I do. I loved patting it. It was covered in soft, white actual fur. It did not play music or do anything more than just that. I believe it had been in the family at least since my Great Aunt was a child. when I was contemplating my column and it leapt vividly into my mind as though I had seen it yesterday.

Once we arrived and took off our coats, the adults stood around and drank cocktails, while I had ginger ale. Aunt Alice, who favored simple appetizers, always served a plate of peanut butter on crackers and there were also nuts in a bowl. Too young to read, I sat on the big rug and played with the blocks. Dinner was served upstairs in a large dining room. The oval mahogany table gleamed with silver and cut glass. The platters and bowls of food were brought in by women in black uniforms with white aprons. There was usually soup, then a roast and vegetables, and finally, dessert, followed by fingerbowls to dip fingers into and cloth napkins to dry them with. My treat would be the chocolates for after dinner, something we never had at home. My mother did not think it was healthy to eat candy and never bought it.

Time is a strange accordion. It can compress decades into years, and years into moments. I can see so clearly the large thick rug I sat on to play with the alphabet blocks and watch again the white bunny with the pink glass eyes rising up out of the faded green cloth leaves. It looks so real as it turns its head, the ears rise into the air and it chews on its bit of green cloth. I can feel again the soft fur as I pat the head and the ears, stiff with wire beneath the fur. What was only yesterday has added itself to now creating an Easter basket of memories for me to enjoy.