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.