Peering over my shoulder, looking ahead left, right and behind, I backed up. Slowly. As I swung out of the small handicapped parking place (illegal, I am sure) my attention was on a series of granite coping stones that I would narrowly miss if I cut the wheel just right. In order to avoid the rock wall, the rear of my car swung, hugging the edge of busy Route 1. It was a tight squeeze, yet I negotiated the vehicle away from dangers to the right and left. I had not calculated the fact that someone would place a fire hydrant at the entrance of a parking lot or busy street. The immovable object hugging low to the ground was not visible in my mirrors nor by looking over either shoulder. For the first time since owning “Sue”, I could report damage. Driving to the coffee shop, my intended next stop, I found myself shaking. “It just pierced the bumper,” I thought. It was a tiny scar, but I could not shake my feeling of sadness. Not being particularly materialistic, I started laughing; it was all so absurd. Later, peering into my large cup of latte, my stomach twisted. I didn’t get hurt, but “Sue” did I lamented over and over.
More than a year ago, I purchased “Sue” from a friend. “Sue” Baru was how she introduced me to the vehicle. This car carried her through divorce and bouts with cancer. “Sue” was steady and reliable.
I just bought a brand new car. It is spacious, shiny and runs on battery. I can’t let go of “Sue”. Fielding questions about her mechanical status from Craigslist, I wonder if I can let her go. She is old, and yes she needs some work, but she has plenty of life left. Is this reality or a fabrication of owning a 2001 car named Sue? I feel like I am turning my back on an old reliable friend. Meanwhile “Sue” sits in my yard. Waiting. For her fate.
To have a bad memory is a writer’s curse and perhaps a grand daughter’s curse too. Sometimes I think that if I could step through the threshold of my grandmother’s apartment just once more, it would all come gushing out. All of it. The smells. The words that passed between us. The stories. I remember the cool darkness in the heat of the summer. Windows closed and shades drawn to keep out the heat. My grandmother’s life was orderly and tidy (for the most part) so it was easy to negotiate through dim light.
My grandmother was older than my grandfather, by a few weeks. Sometimes my young mind gave this fact credence to their failed love. They barely shared words. Unspoken, I was my grandmother’s ally. Did this rob me of a deeper relationship with my grandfather? For no good reason I was afraid of him. One of my earliest memories of him or maybe it was the repeated stories I heard were of my grandfather cradling me in his arms and singing, “Ba-Ba Black Sheep” gently in my ear. He was a tender man, but later sadly, I kept my distance.
Together alone, my grandparents' days were dimmed by their silence, as they rambled through rooms on opposite sides of the apartment. There are some things that are hard to forget.
Today marks my grandmother’s 122nd birthday. It is my hope that those accumulated years have helped two souls gain wisdom, understanding and healing to find the peace and love they both deserve.
Over a plate of beans, our eyes met. His hair tousled from an afternoon nap. I felt the corner of my eyes knit together as I smiled. My husband, his plate full of beans before him was in heaven. On our way home from an afternoon of boating, swimming and napping we decided to go to an old fashioned “Comfort Food Church Supper.” Inside a long table held beans in crock pots, a macaroni and cheese casserole and salads. At the far end of the table were homemade yeast rolls tucked inside a linen towel. We sat at a round table draped with red checks and adorned with delicate yellow flowers. We ate; watching the church ladies pass a baby with big cheeks and a hearty cry from arm to arm. Others swiped the tables clean, bringing stacks of dirty dishes to the back kitchen. As I sipped a mug of coffee, I thought of how life orchestrates a great symphony of moments. Who knew Saturday night beans could hold such memories? We’ll be back in a month.
These days it seems like we are perpetually preparing. I guess it comes with age. The deck needs replacing, a new roof here and there, and vegetables need to be harvested. Yet it is not these tasks, but the life altering changes that challenge. Conversations lately include phrases like, “When we retire…” Frankly, retirement is frightening to me. Right now, I feel like I am vital to my workplace and am decades from being ready to retire For over thirty years, I have devoted my life to education and defined myself as teacher. That is all I know.
Only recently have I expanded the definition of myself. I am a daughter, sister, aunt, teacher, wife, mother. Now, with a bit of reluctance and hesitation I define myself as a creator; that is I am a photographer, writer and artist. With the years have come the wisdom that springs from knowing that the essence of who I am is so much deeper and larger than merely my occupation. Cultivating my creative side has given me voice and purpose.
There are days when I wonder what I will do. What will I do when the house is quiet with Jerry and I roaming through the house alone hearing the dog’s nails as they click on the hardwood floor. We will eat, in silence. (A comfortable silence that comes with living with someone for most of your life.) Now our conversations are mostly about our children. We will have time to read the piles of books that have made their way into our house and not have to consciously schedule time to read amongst busy-ness. We will approach each day with a quiet that comes with retirement. It will be alright.
While I roam the forest, I will be absorb energy that comes with captivating the wonder of the world; preserving the emotion and tone of the moment on film. I will go home and the words that have been tumbling gently in my head will spill out on paper. I will feel whole. Fulfilled that the days in preparation have been well spent; sifting through the years of responsibility to find the authenticity of who I really am and the essence of who I am meant to be.
My hand shifts position and my finger presses the delete button, a few too many times. I am nervous. Worried that the words won’t come to express what emotions are prompted by the image of my daughter writing; writing under the shade of a tree with the full sun leaving a wavy patch of light on the street. For weeks she has been writing song lyrics.
We pushed through the door, stepping over the cement step and into the classroom. It was summer. A great day to cool ourselves on the ledges of Echo Lake or the rough waters of Sand Beach, instead we both stood in the middle of a classroom ready for Summer School. That first year, I remember the feeling of dread that settled in the pit of my stomach. As a teacher I had a good idea of just how far behind my daughter was in her learning. I was concerned. She had a rough start and since coming to our family she had spent more hours with Developmental Therapists, Speech Clinicians and other professionals in the square little rooms cooled by fans than she did building castles in the sand and blowing bubbles in the lake. The commitment to support her early on, I hoped would pay off engaging her in a life fulfilled as a reader and a writer.
She used to carry around heavy chapter books that were way beyond her abilities. I thought then that maybe this was a way of belonging in her peer group, but now I tend to think that this was a reminder of the pact that she made to herself; to not settle, to keep working hard. She has worked her way out. It is only because of her grit and determination that she is where she is today. This girl is tenacious. Now she carries thick heavy books with her when we go out to eat, when we go to sporting events and when we travel. She reads on the couch, while floating in a pool, and in the middle of busy restaurants.
My daughter is a reader and a writer. This is the summer that we have traveled, spent long hours at camp and floated in the pond together. This summer we have sat side by side and read and we have also sat side by side and written. We have sat in cafes together sipping oversized cups of chai and coffee which fueled our creation.
Yes. This image is magnificent and stretches beyond my earlier imaginings. It makes me happy. Very happy.
"Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough."
This morning my niece and I sat quietly in her backyard. A warm breeze brushing against us, birds perched awaiting their turn to feed and our ears opened to their joyous song. After breakfast we meditated. The focus of our meditation was finding inspiration.
This routine has helped ground me and reconnect with joy. There is little responsibility here while visiting. I am at peace. How can I find inspiration and joy when I return bombarded by stress and responsibility? It is the inspiration that feeds my connection with Spirit. It is indeed my lifeblood.
I have been reading some essays by Andre Dubus. He speaks of Sacrament. He writes of his little kitchen. He is making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for his daughters from the confines of his wheelchair. He has mastered maneuvering this tiny space. Clearly, he struggles with the fact that he can no longer walk, but throughout the book he discovers all that he can do to prove that he is living. This is Sacrament. Could it be called Grace?
Life is a gift; nonetheless I must remind myself of this everyday. I find joy in the inspiration that comes from creating. I must remember that I too am a Divine creation.
These days we are all seeking comfort. Early this morning as I crept down the hall, I noticed nestled in the crook of the tree just outside the window, a squirrel. His torso hugged low to the tree, his front legs outstretched with his chin resting. Peaceful, that is until moments after I noticed him; he sensed potential danger. From the slumbering perch, he was ready to leap, ears twitching and it appeared he was trembling. I watched him leap to a nearby tree trunk, pause and leap again. The leaves quaked under his weight. I turned and went about my day wondering if he was really ever fully at ease or in a state of comfort.
Soon after the squirrel incident, I made my way through the house and outside to be near the birds and foliage. The sun still in that in-between state of warmth and heat filled the backyard with light. In this place, I find comfort. Closing my eyes I say a prayer, notice my breath and then begin to draw.
Next door, I hear someone yelling commands in Spanish. The John Deer is zipping through the small patch of green. Someone else revs up the grass trimmer, then a leaf blower. The succession of noise assaults the quiet. My comfort is disturbed. Like the squirrel I must be ready for disturbances that may prick my state of calm. Isn’t it all about strategizing a balance of inner peace and inner strength? In this day, both are important.
I wonder. How do I routinely embody the powers of collective creativity when alone? For a few years now I have been cultivating my creative self through word and image while harnessing the energies of others when I have the opportunity. Sometimes when I am alone, I have the mindset that I am alone. Alone, struggling at times to faithfully put myself through the paces of writing something worthy. Seems like I am knotted up a bit binding me tightly in twisted thinking. Am I ever really alone? Isn’t it through the pairing of the Divine and art that I have something going? And is it not the Divine that I am accessing when I create in the company of others?
There is a slight breeze that runs across my bare arms. Shadows dance on the patio floor. My niece Erin nearby is sketching while I write and contemplate the creative spirit. This is a gift for which I am forever grateful.
As a child my daily routine included long walks along the brook that led me deep into the woods near my house. There was a constancy in the forest. While the level of the brook changed with the rains, a fat log, smoothed through years bridged Shaw’s hill where we sledded in the winter with the path that led to Indian Cliff. Once on the opposite bank, I held my arms up and shimmied through a thorny stand of bushes thinking that maybe this time I would emerge unscathed. This opened into a field with a defined path that may have once been a gravel road. Likely it served purpose to the one lone farm house within my vision; an intrusion that seemed to loom over me, as I turned my face toward the woods. Indian Cliff afforded an exhilarating rush of water, a near waterfall, more woods that if you walked far enough led to encroaching housing developments. Most time was spent near the water or exploring woods nearby.
As a child I listened. I listened to the birds, to the crickets and to the rush of water. But most importantly, I listened to myself. I listened to the nudges. I listened to the urgings. Go to the woods. Feed yourself with the earth. Inhale the intoxicating powers that surround you. I need to find that freedom to listen again. To go. Be.
“Are you ever coming back?” my father asked after I told him that I got a teaching job in Bar Harbor. I felt pretty lucky really. Most of my friends who graduated with degrees in education were working in retail or banks. Jobs in the field were scarce. It was either move to Virginia to teach or move within my own state.
“Course, I’ll be back. ‘Teach for a couple of years and then apply down here. Ya, I’ll be back.” I replied.
My parents visited me in Bar Harbor. I had been there only a few weeks, but somehow everywhere we went one of the twelve people I knew surfaced. It gave the illusion that I knew everyone. Truthfully, my world was two compacted spheres: school and home. Home had become a third floor apartment. A one bedroom. Upon first glance it was all I needed.
I became lonely except for the times that I ventured down the steep set of stairs and into the living room to watch TV with the landlord and his family. Soon I was apple picking at Merrill’s or eating a burger at Jordan’s. Slowly, my life expanded. Bar Harbor became home.
Today I sit in my mother’s kitchen. I can venture into the living room where my father and I watched countless Red Sox games. I can stand in the exact spot when I told him I would be back. Regrets? I have none. Living in the same state bestowed me with the gift of coming home and caring for my parents when they really needed me.
I love my husband. I love my children. My job. The island where we live. Most of all, I love the fact that there are two places that I can call home. I am blessed to return to both.
This is just a little piece of fiction springing from real camping experience. I think I could go on...
Within the sweltering shelter of the down mummy sleeping bag, she heard nothing. Silence. For the first time in what seemed like hours there was silence. She didn’t dare to expose herself. Not yet anyway. It wasn’t safe. Motionless, she wondered how she got to this place; alone in the woods. Pushing that thought elsewhere, she closed her eyes, shut off her brain, just to listen and not think. Could she hear it? She didn’t think so, but just in case, she listened a little longer. Nothing.
From the inside of the bag, she gave the zipper pull a slight tug, just enough to expose the tip of her nose and her eyes. The morning light leaked through the nylon. Droplets of morning dew had collected outside the tent. Inside was getting warm. Before making any further movements, she remained still on her back. Listening and watching.
Unzipping she exposed her shoulders and loosened the cap of extra sleeping bag that was designed to cradle her head through the night. Taking a few moments she shifted her body to her side feeling her hip press into the foam backpacking pad. She always felt more relaxed on her side. She made her best decisions in bed; laying on her side. Thoughts drifted to the day ahead, but were interrupted. She heard the buzz. Despite the rising heat, she was back under the down. The bag muffled the sound. She needed a plan. This was war. One smart mosquito versus a mother who found herself in uncomfortable territory. Going it alone. In the wild. Was she really alone?
My mother at 43 gave birth to her last child. My sister Bethany, a feisty sort even at three years old tested my mother’s common sense, at least from the perspective of others. In the dead of winter with fingers stiff and numb, my mother regularly hung the clothes on the line. One particularly cold day, she could not get in the house. Bethany had locked the door. My mother became a negotiator on the frigid side of the door. This was only one incident of many that helped fuel others’ perspective that having a baby in your 40’s and raising a child into your 50’s and 60’s is crazy stuff.
At nearly 60 my youngest is 14. A daughter. I am not so sure that I am approaching late age motherhood as gracefully as my mother did. The world was different when my mother raised her last. War was happening across the expanse of the earth. Far away. News came days later via newsprint or through mail. Today the globe has shrunk. Every little decision made has instantaneous repercussions. The internet is a blessing and a curse. Our lives are no longer private. Boundaries are blurred. There is some real disfunction out there. All these elements, in my mind, puts my daughter at risk. Much of my brain space is spent in my desire to protect, which at times robs me from the joy of mothering.
The mamas of today balance the wonders of the world with the dangers of the world. Did my mother worry as much as I do? She made it look so easy and so much fun.
Thriving through love and faith. Lessons for today.
A journey resumes. The pain in my neck and shoulder remind me of the stress living in today’s world with a house full of teens. When I was a teen, I thought I knew the way too. It is difficult to guide and create structure and watch our children stumble, fall and get in too deep. It is often heart breaking. Truth be told, I eat to stuff the pain.
Approaching the brilliant twilight of my life, I can no longer afford to put off taking care of myself. I cope with stress through words; putting them to paper and escaping through the pages of others’ imaginations. It is not enough to sustain my sanity.
Stepping out the door early this morning my daughter remarked, “Mum, I can smell the sea.” Taking walks along the ocean’s edge, the salt air gently brings me to life. I must resume this practice. Here my eyes become clear and all the bounties in my life are revealed. Each step brings me closer to peace amidst a world that is sometimes hard to take.
I cannot do this alone. I pray for strength, guidance and wisdom. Gratefully, I have a healthcare provider who listens; one who knows me so well that she can talk frankly about my challenging journey.
Borrowing from a musical line, “I will survive.” I don’t want to just exist in survival mode. I want to thrive continuing to discover, grow and move about this world in awe and wonder.
Has the past invaded my brain? Worry makes a commanding appearance as I pour over old photographs. It's past midnight and I'm just too excited to sleep. The images don't so much make me meloncholly anymore, like they did after my parents' died, but now they create a fury of stories. Stories that bind our family together. I forget worry.
These tales never grow old. Despite the fact that the same stories have been retold through the decades-laughter swells and throats ache holding back emotion, realizing change is inevitable with the passage of time. Stories may just be the only constant.
(This photo was certainly taken by my mother, who was the slowest photographer ever. Her care in capturing the shot never translated to quality. My mother had a thing for ceilings! Inevitably intended subjects were cut out of the shots. This photo was taken at my great aunt's house. Auntie and Gene lived on Cumberland Avenue in Portland. We visited nearly every Sunday after church. This image is a New Year's gathering probably between 1963 and 1966. My Aunt Karen has her back to the camera, while my father smokes at the table (acceptable for this era) and my sister laughs distracting her from posing.
This is how I chose to spend my precious moments this morning.
“You’re gonna be old in a shake of a lamb’s tail,” my oldest joked just last night. Maybe, he half joked. My husband just reached the big 6-0 and I am not far behind. Young by today’s standards. I’m not whining, just coming to terms with the fact that time is precious, but I still spend time frivolously.
Not long ago, I was walking to St. Mary’s School early mornings and visiting my grandmother in the afternoons. She was always there waiting in the yellow apartment house with the long stretch of brick walkway shaded by the “claimed to be” oldest tree in Biddeford. It was a chestnut that threw prickly seed pods.
It seems not long ago, I spent days at the beach with my mother from the cool of early morning, through the hot hours and into the late afternoon when the beach was covered in shadow. We would trudge back to the car, our hair dripping and our skin tight and sandy from the sea and sand. Not long ago, I hunched on the couch, my father and I yelling at the TV, urging the Red Sox to pull through in the ninth. Not long ago.
Those were times of certainty. I hadn’t a care that the minutes were being used up, I was young with years before me. I was certain that my grandmother would always meet me at her door with chocolate chip cookies and stories of her cross country trip or the 1964 World Fair in New York City. I was certain that my mother would always float with me in the salty Atlantic and barefooted walk the beach that seemed to stretch on forever. And one day, my father would surely witness the Red Sox busting through the curse that was said to withhold them from the glory of a World Series. I was certain.
Precious minutes are not certain. They are gifts. Spend them well.
Anxious to make my way; I left Biddeford all those years ago returning only to visit. This past week has allowed me to absorb the richness of my childhood and realize how profound it is to walk where my grandparents and parents worked, lived and raised a family.
My brother is full of stories. He tells me that my grandfather worked here at City Hall in the 1920's as the city auditor. Before that he was the clerk of the common council-a two tier system of government.
My grandparents lived next door in a first floor apartment that also housed Dr. Larochelle's dental office. Sitting on my granmother's stuffed couch, my hands would fly up to my ears to drowned the sound of the drill. Sometimes I couldn't take it and would retreat to the kitchen where my grandmother was making coffee jello or chocolate chip cookies.
When with my grandparents' I was often given the freedom with two quarters pressed into my hand to walk nearby to Woolworth's Department Store. I spent long hours in the toy section listening to cylinders that could be tipped back and forth to make animal sounds. Why a recurring mooo was appealing, I do not know. I guess I felt I was in charge of my world!
Under the canopy, our squeals echoed. The posts outlying the rotunda were "safe" as the cousins played tag, our feet clicking on the flagstone. This while the adults tended to adult things. Every once in awhile I would glance over and see my mother and my Aunt Karen bent over cutting grass with hand shears or lugging water in the heavy galvanized pail we found in our cellar. Uncle George emerged, tall rubbing his back after crouching to plant the red geraniums. Once a year they tended to the past; while we remained in the present piercing the air in delight.
“Think of yourself as an incandescent power, illuminated and perhaps forever talked to by God and his messengers.” ― Brenda Ueland
When I came upon this quote today, it struck me so, that I read it over and over. As a young kid, (wait who am I kidding) even as an adult, writing has not been easy. In 6th grade I wanted to write well. Sitting at the small oak desk in my upstairs bedroom where it was quiet, I wrote a few words on a loose-leaf paper. Dissatisfaction crumpled the paper into a tight ball and hurled it across the room. This was repeated over and over until I collapsed in a heap of despair and anger. With gritted teeth, I tried again only to leave my room defeated, carrying a waste paper basket full of unwritten words.
Only recently have I been able to trust that the words will come. Faith is about the search for truths. Isn’t writing about truth too? No wonder art is worship.
There is a certain measure of responsibility that is passed down to the new owner of a car that comes with a name. For almost a year now Sue-Baru has carried me and my family safely wherever I wanted to go. Gripping her wheel through a downeaster, the roads barely visible or passable as I squint through the blowing snow, I encourage, “Sue, get me home.” I never thought I would talk to a car, but it hold similar weight to talking to plants. They both serve purposes and contribute to filling our lives.
This morning I dropped my brother off to church, parking in a little make-shift can barely be legal for handicapped accessibility. There was little space to back out and avoid the back side of Sue to be exposed to busy Route 1. My head repeatedly swiveled toward all sides to maintain safety. I inched back as to not catch her on the pink coping stone. Inch. Inch. Then I hit something. I looked back, looked in my mirrors, but could not identify what did not budge. With my apparently, not so careful maneuvering, I hit a fire hydrant causing a puncture wound in Sue’s bumper. My heart still aches for Sue. I am so sorry.
I am home. I am home. And I daresay that I am mighty nostalgic about it all. Everywhere I look, from the grate in a sidewalk where my grandmother warned me never to walk to a storefront glittered with trophies where I took baton lessons, I am filled with the wonder of memories. They come at me from all sides. I am sitting in a cafe-writing. Tucked in a stuffed chair, I face the sidewalk. A mother and her daughter, arms loaded with books walk passed, their step light despite their weighty load. They just came from the same library where I sat on the floor and opened book after book and smelled that library smell. Where all whispers echo within the chambers of the MacArthur Library.
Strangers file by. They are all strangers. I recognize no one. This city holds my memories among strangers. Surely a comfort, but am I now the stranger?
There sure is something comforting about coming home. Threads of constancy hold the unravelling through the years of changes. Change can be a bitter pill. My grandmother's house always a pale, soothing yellow is now white. The ancient chestnut tree out front has long been choked by asphalt. Some changes can be helped.
I just wrote this based upon a one word prompt. Run. Not prone to writing fiction; I am attempting to break out. Give it a try.
Ella poked her finger in the hole of her tights and tugged a bit until she heard the material give way. Her mother would yell at her. She was rough on clothes. Last week she wore a through her jeans sliding down Cannon Brook Falls. This morning her mother nearly hog tied her, convincing Ella, a tom boy that dressing up can be magical. She watched the run travel up her leg; the end now a hole made larger by her finger. Dressing up inhibited her movement. The tiny heels she wore made her wobble when she walked. There was no way she could possibly run. However, she was able to hoist her strong lanky legs over the lowest branch of the tree and swing. She viewed the world from upside down. She preferred it that way. That is how the run began. Once it started, it wouldn’t stop.
Ella, holding her one broken high heel shoe in her hand, she untangled her hair that fell over her face, as best as she could. It was a lost cause. Knotted. Ella touched her swollen lip with her tongue and drew in the all too familiar taste. Blood. She sat on the pebble-like asphalt in the middle of the parking lot between two cars. Taking a slow breath in, she looked down and noticed the run. Her finger poked through the hole making it bigger. Once it started, she knew there was no way to stop it.
It has been nearly a decade since my husband held his father’s hand for the last time. His father was an old Mainer set in his ways. “You need a haircut!” were words for every boy and man whether he knew them or not. His thoughts no matter what they were would spill into the air. He was opinionated and stubborn, yet there was a soft side to this burly brisk man.
As soon as the children poured out of the car at camp, he scooped them into his arms and found a place to sit. With food. One of his favorite places to sit was on the porch at camp. His chair an old green plastic one was set at the head of the table. The table and chair situated just so to watch the comings and goings on the pond, affording a long view of water leading to the mountains. With a child or sometimes two settled onto his lap, he sipped water while scooping ice cream or pudding into gaping mouths. The grand babies were assuredly sustained by love, food and camp. Later, the children would line up to be flung into the air by his strong arms, little legs dangling, dragging to and fro through the cool water. The air pierced with squeals of delight beckoning a turn, “Grampy! Grampy!” On some days, the older grandchildren accompanied Grampy down the end of the pond taking turns with the oars. The orange life jacket hiked up beyond their oversized ears. The boat trip often included releasing grumpy, loud bull frogs down to the far end of the pond so there could be some sleep from dusk and into the dawn,at least for one night.
When not by the water or chopping wood, Grampy would sit in his green chair at the grey formica table to sip coffee, whoop Grammy at Yahtzee and eat green pimento olives straight from the jar with a tiny delicate fork.
Even after all these years since he left this world, the table and chair remain. I rub my hand on the surface of the table where he sat. The finish worn and scratched. I feel a lifetime etched into this place, telling of a man who has created a legacy of traditions for generations to come.
The path ahead mottled with light, I go forth; picking my feet up, stepping over roots and boulders from memory. I have walked this before, yet each journey is anew. I slow. I notice. Early I focus on my surroundings, but once I move within, I am hopelessly lost. Really? Maybe it is the journey within that really matters. It shores up the underpinnings. Place carries me.