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

 

Time is a Strange Accordian

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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 Fruits of Summer

Belfast veggies 12My parents both gardened, but differently. My mother had a vegetable garden; my father grew flowers. She spent her summers growing, harvesting, and putting up what the garden produced. He filled the house with fresh flowers in vases. His roses were lovely. He worked as an arborist and summer was a busy time for him as he helped others plan and tend their property. I always had a little garden of my own. I too grew flowers.

Later as a young wife I grew vegetables, though except for beans, not easily from seed. My children helped some but I did most of the work myself. My tomatoes were successful and appreciated. When I moved to Grafton I enjoyed growing herbs and flowers in my spiral garden, where I learned the virtue of perennials interspersed with annuals here and there. These days I no longer garden, instead I enjoy the fruits others’ efforts.

The farm markets in the surrounding countryside burst with local produce of all kinds. Vegetables and berries gathered daily line shelves and counters, and the freshly picked corn is piled high for the taking. Summer is the perfect time to indulge in this freshness. Between now and harvest time, the hot sun nourishes both roots and leaves. Its warm rays ripen the eventual harvest that people once stored for winter. These days we simply enjoy what grows.

Yet summer is also a time for people to take time off and appreciate the opportunity to spend it relaxing. Whether on the beach or in a park, the hot weeks are a time to be in nature, to let the sun bathe our senses and ripen our opportunities to kick back and nourish ourselves in nature and with play. The long daylight hours encourage extra outdoor activity. The relaxed pace allows time to catch up on reading and as well as see friends and family.

Rest is an important part of good health for everyone. Vacations are intended to provide more than just a change of pace. Whether they are taken at home in the form or staycations, or as trips to planned destinations, days off are a real necessity for everyone’s health and well being. One of the fruits of summer that does not grow on a tree or in a garden is time to let go, to set down the list of tasks and let things slide a bit.

Once a busy gardener with summer weeding chores, I find myself now doing more reading, as well as spending more time enjoying and appreciating others gardens. However, aside from weeding and watering, once the hot days of summer begin a well planned garden does not require much of the gardener. The harvest will come later when trees heavy with fruit and bushes with berries demand attention. For now it is time to enjoy a bit of lazy time, to lean on the fence or sit in my easy chair and let the garden grow.

Tasha Halpert

 

A New World to Hear

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I remember my great grandmother’s ear trumpet. It was a long instrument, flared at one end. She held the small end to her ear. I also remember a black box the size and shape of a thick brick that had a cord running from sitting on a table that must have been an early hearing instrument. My grandmother wore a case the sizes of a slim cigarette pack clipped to the front of her dress with a cord connected between it and a button in her ear. There was a dial on the box she could turn on and off.

My dad used to say she turned it off when she didn’t want to hear what was being said. I remember as a child thinking how handy that must be. Aids to hearing have come a very long way since then. As people age, much like the normal need for eyeglasses to address a lessening of vision, so too there is a need for aids to hearing. Unfortunately these are extremely expensive compared to eyeglasses. Hopefully one day this will change.

Because of the deafness that seemed to run in my family, I was not surprised when my own hearing began to diminish. I found I needed to have the TV on louder. It was helpful to watch movies on DVD with subtitles, especially when the actors had British accents. If Stephen spoke to me and I was in the other room I had to get closer to him to hear what he was telling me.

Ambient noise interfered with my understanding of words; parties were less fun. My children noticed and suggested I get hearing aids. Still, I wasn’t sure I really needed them, or so I thought. Then as luck would have it I was gifted with a set. My daughter offered me her late mother-in-law’s hearing aids. I am very glad I said yes. It has been an adventure for me to use them. I find myself marveling at sounds I have not really heard before, or not for a long time.

I remember my mother telling me that when my grandmother put on her new hearing aid and went outdoors she said, “What’s all that noise?” It was the birds chirping. She had not heard birds for many years. My ears have not been that bad. I have been able to hear more or less, just not clearly. I notice the difference with the aids: without them, it’s like I have water in my ears. With them when I turn on the sink faucet, I hear splashes and ripples. When I unwrap paper it crackles. The stove timer sounds shrill. I hear sounds I didn’t before.

In the past when I thought about getting hearing aids I felt somewhat uncomfortable. I expected them to be clumsy, perhaps difficult to manage. None of this has proved true. Today’s aids are quite different from those of my grandmother’s or even of recent times. They are virtually invisible. I am very grateful to my daughter for her thoughtfulness, and I look forward to learning more about the new world I am hearing. As I have come to appreciate the clarity I get from wearing eyeglasses, now I enjoy the adventure of listening to a new and different world.

 

Spring Has Truly Sprung

Spring blossoms, white          When I was a child in grade school, each year our music teacher organized May Day celebrations. Every class participated, and a May Queen was selected from among the girls in the ninth, the topmost grade. The younger children had their own maypole. I found it hopelessly confusing. You had to go over one and under the next as you wound your ribbon around the pole, weaving it into the others until there was only a little left. After rehearsals, much to my relief I wasn’t chosen to do it.

There were dances and songs–I still have a printed paper program from then in a scrapbook made for me by a devoted relative. The songs were of British origin and invoked the days of “lasses and lads” who met and parted though the specifics were a mystery to my young mind. No one talked of the fertility symbols or the meaning behind the rituals centered around the day we were celebrating.

The first of May is the midpoint between the Vernal Equinox and the Summer Solstice. Nature is pushing forward. The increase of the light from now forward reflects the brightness of the days that begin their most obvious decline around the first of August. In the northern hemisphere there are many celebrations associated with this date. They reach far back in the history of humanity, symbolizing our connection with the earth and its fertility.

Most recent is of course the “May Day” workers’ celebrations of the former Soviet Union. My mother and I were in Moscow on that date twenty six years ago. I remember the colorful flags hanging everywhere, and the crowds of people in Red Square. However, from far back in human history, May Day has been one of the great spring celebrations of Europe and the British Isles. It is associated with fertility for both crops and farm animals, promoted through ancient rituals, many of which involved fire.

In these modern times we believe more in fertilizer than in fertility rituals. Few people these days will dance around a maypole–an obvious phallic symbol, or go off into the woods with a partner to insure that the fertility of land and pasture will continue. There is no need. Supermarkets are stocked all year round with almost every seasonal vegetable and fruit–no need to wait until June for strawberries or fall for apples. Those who have never experienced this timing cannot miss it, but in some ways I do.

Yesterday Stephen and I drove along a wooded country road in the sunshine. The light illuminated the unfolding blossoms of the trees clustered around it. The cloudless blue sky above and the sunlight filtering through the branches above us lifted our hearts and filled us with joy. Summer with its own delights is in the wings; spring is on the stage revealing its special beauty now. It seems important to take time to notice this delicate time of unfolding.

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

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My Always Valentine, by Tasha Halpert

Stephen and Flowers People who do not know us sometimes ask Stephen and I how long we have been together. I think this might be because we don’t act like an old married couple. We are often openly affectionate in public and might seem more like young lovers. Yet we have been together for many years now, so many that I am always a bit taken aback when I think of the total. To me there is something odd about how past years seem to accordion. It is as if they compress in some way so that they don’t seem to be nearly as much time as when I contemplate them stretching into the future.

Stephen is my always Valentine and I am his. What that means is that we treat one another with respect. We do not compete nor have we ever done so. We don’t need to. Instead, we cheer one another on, each wanting the best for the other. Neither do we put one another down or make fun of one another. While gentle teasing may be appropriate between couples, mean behavior is absolutely unkind. It is also true that no matter how long we may be together, in order for our relationship to stay strong it has to grow at the same rate we do.

I believe it is vital for individuals to keep growing; whatever does not grow normally begins to decay. For our love to grow along with us we must work to make it do so. In my experience, love grows with appreciation, with honesty, and with the expression of gratitude. We do our best never to take one another for granted. When he washes the dishes, I thank him. When I cook a meal or drive us somewhere, he thanks me. When he sees a book I might like at the library, he points it out. When I see something he might want to eat at the market, I purchase it.

These many small gestures add up. Along with the days of our lives they form a fragrant bouquet that surrounds us with loving kindness. Being kind to one another is an important ingredient in our marriage. Another is sharing feelings with honesty. If something is troubling one of us, we share it, even if it may feel painful to do so. This is something I insisted on when we began our relationship, and over the years it has helped us avoid many problems.

Our years together have gone by so quickly that it is difficult to understand how they could have accumulated the way they have. Yet like leaves piled under a tree in the forest, they have melded into a kind of fertilizer that feeds the ongoing growth of our relationship. I am enormously grateful to have Stephen in my life. He feels the same. We both feel blessed. It is most wonderful to have an always Valentine, and each of us does our best to make sure that as long as we both live, we always will.