Triskadeckaphilia or Phobia, You Choose

My DeskMythology has fascinated me ever since I first encountered it in school. Until I discovered Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces I was not conversant with much more of it than the Norse myths and those of Greece and Rome. I highly recommend this very special book to anyone who enjoys folk and fairy tale as well as learning more about the myths we all grew up with. The stories and tales of the heroes and heroines of yore are part of our cultural heritage and an important key to how we behave. Among the tales are also smaller, more prevalent myths embodied in our superstitions.

“Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” Growing up, how many sidewalks did I hop and skip along to avoid their seams and cracks? Ladders? Never walked under them though I didn’t know why then. Pick up a penny? Well of course! How about Friday the 13th? Make you nervous? Not me, I always liked both the number and the day. Stephen and I used to give a party any time it came up on the calendar. We called it a celebration of the Triskadeckaphilia Society: Lovers of the number thirteen.

In the seventh grade I wrote a paper on the origins of superstitions. Always fascinated by superstitions, I have been reading and studying them for a long time. Certain societies and groups are more superstitious than others. For instance, the Irish used to clothe their baby boys in dresses so they would not be stolen away by the fairies. They also felt it was bad luck to praise a child. The Italians, as well as numerous other nationalities have strong feelings about the “evil eye.” They may make a gesture called a “fig” to ward it off. Eastern countries, among others have amulets one can wear or hang in one’s home. You may have seen one, a hand, called the Hand of Fatima.

While it might make sense not to walk under a ladder, another reason is that a leaning ladder forms a triangle, symbol of the trinity. Walking through it is a sign of disrespect, bringing bad luck. From the Internet I discovered that this superstition and a good many others actually date back to ancient Egypt, where the triangle was also considered a sacred symbol. I was surprised to discover a good many of our common superstitions actually date back that far.

Other common superstitions originated in Greece and Rome. Whether we subscribe to any given belief or not it seems as though these are an important part of every culture and incorporated into the human psyche. We may believe we are beyond such superstitions nonsense, or is it really non sense? Often the so called superstition was logical behavior. Touching wood for instance, to invoke good fortune was thought to insure the help of the spirits residing in the trees the wood came from. Do you throw salt over your shoulder if you accidentally spill it? Say “God bless you when someone sneezes? Many do, and why not? A little extra insurance never hurts.

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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.

 

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.

What will you Harvest from this Year

onions-on-display

I remember my mother cutting up fruits and vegetables and filling her large canning kettle with jars. The kettle steamed away, filling the kitchen with warmth and making my mother perspire. The jars were later stored against the cold winter months on shelves in a kind of rough closet in our cellar. There was also a small barrel of potatoes there and one of my tasks was to go down occasionally and pick off their sprouts.

Too, my mother made wonderful jellies from the fruit that grew on my great aunt Alice’s trees. A lawyer, my great grandfather was also an amateur student of horticulture. He planted all sorts of fruit trees as well as grape vines, vegetables and flowers all of which were tended to by a gardener. He would bring fruit to my mother that she processed to make the clear jellies we ate with our Sunday meals.

I think of my mom and her tasks at this time of year when fruits and vegetables reach their peak and are harvested. Long ago Pilgrims and Native peoples dried food to preserve it. Later on many housewives filled glass jars, heating them until the food within could be kept for use in the winter. Today the same people who might in the past have canned and preserved it will freeze the extra produce that they cannot use right away. People with gardens are putting food by in order to have healthy, homegrown meals for the winter months. We who live where the seasons prevail have always done this.

These days to be sure food of all kinds is plentiful in every season year round, and if we do not have a garden from which to harvest, we are less likely to preserve the fall harvest against the winter. However, there is more than one kind of harvest to be made at this time. If we have planted ideas in the spring, and tended them during the summer, they may have matured enough by the fall to be gathered in and made use of during the rest of the year. If we have projects we have worked on, ideas we have been developing, stories or poetry we have been evolving; now is the time to get them out there for the final testing, checking or editing.

We no longer live in an agrarian society, and yet the seasons are still a part of us. Their energy need not be confined to the actual planting, tending and gathering of food. For while we may not plant actual seeds to grow, tend, harvest and preserve, we can use the energy of the seasons to generate what we need to nourish our own lives and the lives of others. The seeds of our efforts whether edible, useful, or otherwise productive can be sown in the spring for our eventual harvest and use in the fall. Then during the winter months they can supply what we need to sustain us and keep us from the cold.

Tasha Halpert

 

 

 

GPS Adventures and Misadventures

Red TracatorLong ago when I first used to drive myself places I hadn’t been before, following directions I had been given, I used to get lost three or four times until I found my way. Later on I would try to use a map, however having issues with right and left and getting them mixed up, I often just had to rely on asking wayward strangers for help. Then the GPS came along and it seemed miraculous to simply plug in my destination and tell the kindly machine to take me to it. Alas sometimes it works differently than one might expect. Which is what happened to me and some friends on our way to a performance in Medfield.

That evening I climbed into their car with my friends and we set off with time to spare to our destination. “Isn’t it wonderful to have a GPS,” I said, “I never get lost any more.” My friends agreed and as the driver plugged the address of the performance we were going to into the GPS, we settled back for the ride. Chatting amiably, we drove down 495. I pointed out a highway sign indicating the town of our intended destination, however the GPS took us past it, so we obeyed and proceeded to follow the directions as they unfolded.

They continued to unfold at length until we found ourselves passing a sign that said “Welcome to Rhode Island.” That can’t be right,” the driver said. We all agreed that certainly something was wrong. We turned around, and headed back the way we had come. The GPS continued to direct us. As it chattered on we found ourselves laughing harder and harder. Eventually we found our way to our intended destination. However, although we had originally allowed plenty of time to get there, we were half an hour late for the performance and all the seats were taken. There was standing room only.

Two of us, including me had hips that would not allow us to stand for a long period of time. Reluctantly we turned around and headed back to my apartment. Fortuitously the GPS was able to find us an ice cream stand on the way and we stopped for a treat. “I think we cursed ourselves by praising the GPS,” one of my companions remarked. “And we could have taken the route you pointed out,” said my other friend. We all agreed that it was probably wise to follow a map as well as the GPS, and returned home.

We could have been more upset but it really was quite funny the way the GPS kept saying things like, “Your destination is in X number of miles,” as it led us farther and farther away. At the time we turned around it was still insisting we only had three miles to go. Why it chose to take us somewhere that was clearly not where we intended to go is still a mystery. However, while we didn’t get where we were going in time to do what we intended, we had a lot of fun riding around laughing hysterically as the GPS attempted to do what it clearly did best, direct us where it wanted us to go.

 

Perspective Makes All the Difference

Cherry Blossoms on a rainy dayAt the time I was born my mother was newly come to the US, a bride of less than a year. Except for my father, she was very much alone in a big city, and I was her only companion for quite a while. I have often thought that my persistently positive perspective on life may have had its roots in my trying to cheer her up when she was sad and missing her family and friends back in her home country. Over the years since I have come to understand the power of a positive perspective on a potentially negative situation or experience.

This has become essential to my work. When I tell people I am a writer, they often ask me what I write. If I say I write essays, it sounds as though I am writing from a scholarly point of view. If I say I do inspirational writing, it sounds as though I am coming from a religious perspective. In truth, what I am doing in my columns is to simply present a different or alternative point of view from that which some might take about any given situation or experience. I write to be helpful, but it is self help I write about. Helping others to help themselves is my intention and my goal.

There is little we can do about circumstances. Daily life presents us with issues and difficulties we must deal with. The school of experience is our ever-present teacher, one we cannot escape no matter what we do. I’ve often felt that maturity or adulthood truly begins when we’re willing to learn from this teacher rather than moan, groan and feel as though we are victims of fate, circumstance or those who might perpetrate it. It is a lot easier to complain than it is to “bite the bullet” and admit there might be something to learn from any given situation.

I believe the expression “bite the bullet” comes from battlefield medicine when in the days gone by the surgeon had to amputate or otherwise operate without anesthesia. After whiskey was poured liberally into the patient, a bullet was put between his jaws to bite down on as a way to keep from crying out. Whether this is actually true or not it makes a good metaphor. When our focus is put not on complaint or disappointment but on what can be gained from whatever is happening to us, coping becomes easier and wisdom more accessible.

In my own life right now I am dealing with a change in lifestyle and a need to take better care of myself. I have learned that much of what I used to take for granted, I no longer can. Exercise is not an option it is a necessity. I need to do additional work on my body to restore it to better working order. I could complain, or even bemoan my fate. Instead I rejoice that I now have a good way to lose weight, that I can become stronger and healthier with effort and that it is good and helpful to be made to do that. Therefore I bless these circumstances and state firmly that I am exceedingly grateful for them.

When Less is More

My mother was born in 1913 in Germany at the outset of World War I. Times were very difficult for German civilians, and there was often little to nothing to eat. She told me members of the family had to stand in line for hours to get simple items like bread and milk. As a result she had a horror of wasting food. I grew up feeling like it was important to have plenty of it on hand and to make sure there was enough for all. I did my best.

Lily and garlic bud067However, with my large family and my small budget I had to make sure everyone got enough and my children still remember how they had to cross off each fruit or cookie on their list whenever they took one. That was how I made sure no one felt cheated. These days with just me and Stephen to feed, I don’t have to ration treats. However, my recent diagnosis of diabetes means I cannot indulge my taste for sweets or for fruit the way I would like.

Now that the local summer fruit is available, this is daunting. Recently I slowly savored the taste of a delicious white peach from our local farm stand. I had peeled and cut up several and mixed them with a few native blueberries and a little almond creamer for Stephen and me to have for dessert. As I ate another spoonful I thought about the special quality of white peaches and the brevity of their season. I realized that eating this locally grown fruit is to be cherished. I took my time tasting this wonderful treat. “Less is truly more,” I said.

Stephen nodded and replied, “like fillet mignon.” I asked him to explain. “Well it is expensive so I don’t have it very often,” he began, “and it’s usually served in smallish portions, so you don’t get as much. I suppose because it is so rich. Then,” he went on after a pause, “there’s the idea that beef of any kind is not as good for me as fish or chicken, and I am aiming for longevity. So less is more, just like your peaches.”

I nodded; together we gathered up the dishes, put them in the sink and went on with our day. I continued to think about less being more. For instance, eating less means more room in the clothes as I lose weight, and because I can’t eat as much sweet fruit as I would like to, the small amount I allow myself becomes even more special. This can be applied to other aspects of life too. For instance we recently had a rare visit with a dear friend we seldom see. We made the most of our short time together and enjoyed every moment.

One theory for losing weight is to eat only three bites of any treat. I have noticed that the first few bites of anything do tend to be the best. Perhaps the tongue gets used to the flavor and no longer notices it. Once when I went to Italy to visit my daughter she gave me a small piece of chocolate candy from a very old and prestigious maker. It was wonderful. Having such a small piece was actually perfect, better than having a large one. We cut it into even smaller pieces and enjoyed them slowly, letting the taste linger on our tongues.