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.

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.

Thrifty Ways

clothes-in-closetWhen I was a child a friend of my mother’s gave me the dresses that that her twins had outgrown. Because they were dressed alike, I had to wear two of whatever came my way. In the days when I was growing up, thrift meant making do with what was available. Aside from the fact that while my family had enough, they weren’t exactly wealthy, there was a war on and many things, including clothing and shoes were rationed.

In addition, in the years that followed, my mother had to stretch what my father earned to cover the needs of the three more children born after I turned eight years old. I remember how excited I was when in my sixteenth year I got a pair of Bermuda shorts. They were newly fashionable and I felt very special to have a pair. Although they were wool, I wore them all that summer and for a number of summers after that. For a long time they were my only pair.

Growing up in a thrifty household inclined me toward a thrifty lifestyle as an adult. When I was raising my own family of five children I had to stretch our food dollars to try to nourish as well as please my family. I learned all kinds of tricks to make inexpensive cuts of meat palatable and I baked cookies by the dozen so the children would have treats. Home made was far less expensive than store bought. My sewing machine hummed as I made dresses for my daughters and even some outfits for my sons when they were small.

Judging from the advertisements I see today, thrift is not especially fashionable. Bargains, of course are. However what is considered a bargain by some standards is not by others. When I was growing up the annual church fair rummage sales held in local churches were the best places to find inexpensive, serviceable garments. My mother was a faithful customer.

I do not remember there being consignment shops or other places one could find good second hand clothing when I was a child. When we got together I introduced Stephen to consignment and thrift store shopping, and he embraced it happily. I find it more fun to shop that way because you never know what you will find and the prices are far more reasonable than what other stores charge.

Over the years, I have amassed a wonderful collection of clothing. Much of it has come from consignment or thrift stores, the rest from sales. Certain garments have endured the test of time and I wear them joyfully in the appropriate season. Others get rotated back into the mainstream to be discovered by someone else who enjoys saving money by shopping wisely. What is especially nice for me is that now I can have a number of pairs of shorts for the price I would pay for one bought new, or a cashmere sweater that someone has passed on, at a fraction of the cost in a regular store. Perhaps this is a kind of payback for the days when I wore the twins’ hand me down dresses over and over again.

Tasha Halpert

Hospitality by Tasha Halpert

Deb's party food 2As she does whenever she comes to the States, our friend from Denmark was visiting us. Over a lunch I had enjoyed making for us all, we had fun catching up on our recent activities. She was exclaiming over the food, saying how good it was and how happy she was to be with us. “I love cooking for my friends,” I replied. I do. It is one of my favorite occupations. Stephen and I both enjoy entertaining friends, and making meals for them is a big part of my joy.

She commented that she too enjoyed cooking for her friends. She then went on to say that her experience here in the States was that when they were entertaining, many people seemed to prefer taking people out to eat rather than preparing food for them at home. She said that in Europe it was more common to prepare dinner for their guests at home and less common to take them to a restaurant. I thought this was an interesting commentary, and I wondered what it indicated about Americans.

Around the holidays, the newspapers overflow with advertisements for meals to which you are supposed to bring your whole family. Alternatively, supermarkets and other providers of food advertise “home cooked” meals delivered to your door. My parents would never have considered eating anywhere for the holidays but at the home of a relative. Eating out was only for very special occasions, perhaps to celebrate a victory or a special anniversary.

Thinking back on my childhood years I remember that when my parents entertained it was usually relatively spontaneously and for cocktails before luncheon after church or dinner. Afterward our guests either went home or to a restaurant. My mother did not like to entertain and seldom had people for dinner parties. She had had a lot of that as a young child in her parents home and had been as it were inoculated against it. Her mother had given her all sorts of jobs to do related to making ready for guests, none of which she particularly enjoyed.

Her father had been in he diplomatic service in Germany prior to World War II and they had lived all over the globe. Her mother had entertained at lavish dinner parties with food prepared by a cook or catered. To my mother fell the task of setting the table, arranging flowers and so on. Later she and her two sisters would be called upon to perform musically for the guests. No wonder she disliked parties.

My first husband didn’t care to entertain either. We had one big party a year. it. My cooking was confined to the family. I have found it wonderfully different with Stephen. He has always loved to entertain and there have been many times in our lives together when I never knew how many would be sitting down to dinner. Because I have plenty of supplies on hand, this has never bothered me. To be sure, I enjoy dining out, especially as someone’s guest, however I am very happy to eat loving prepared home cooking.

Keeping My Eyes On theRoad

There is something about New England that is very special to me, and a large part of it has to do with the fall here. I grew up in a town (now) called Manchester by the Sea. Every year I anticipated the joy of the fall leaves and the crisp air that made me feel so good. A brief seven year stay in Virginia only confirmed my love of New England. I thought the weather there was much too bland. Happy to return, I have found this area to be a special place to live.

These days as I drive along Grafton’s scenic roads my eyes are drawn to the brilliant changes in the foliage. The green of summer has faded and grayed the leaves. Now the cool nights and days transform the landscape as the dusty pallor of early fall gives way to fresh reds and yellows. I can’t help ooing and ahing while I work to keep my focus on the road. I am grateful for the speed limit. It is easy to maintain it because I simply cannot drive faster and also gaze at the enthralling color.

I have loved the autumn ever since I was a young child. The smell of burning leaves–no longer common in these days of pollution control, as well as the sharp, damp smell of the brown, fallen leaves after a rain have always warmed my heart. I even enjoyed going back to school because it meant a change from being bored at home. Fall meant new things to learn and new books to read.

There are many reasons fall is my favorite season. I am grateful for the bountiful harvest of fruits and vegetables that it provides. I also enjoy the crisp air, the opportunity to wear a cozy sweater and scarf. Most of all, I love it for its rich palette of color. In some mysterious fashion each fall seems the most beautiful. It seems to me that every year the previous autumn pales in comparison to the one I am entranced by now. In addition as the days grow cooler, my mind grows sharper.

This increase in mental acuity helps me to be more mindful. Being mindful is vitally important, especially at this season, because it helps keep me focused. It is all too easy to be distracted when I am driving along past the colorful autumn vistas as they unfold before me. My attention could be caught and held–dangerous when I am driving a car.

The years Stephen and I have spent meditating have had many benefits, but most especially I value the beneficial impact meditation has had on our minds. Meditation as we practice it is a way of doing exercises for the mind. The time we spend working to stay focused is like lifting weights or doing sit ups, only for mental rather than physical strength. As I drive through the autumnal glory I am grateful not only for the beauty that fills my eyes, but also for the ability I have to keep my eyes on the road.Light Through Leaves