Honoring my Father on Father’s Day

Even though she didn’t like to cook, my mother would not allow my father to do so. She said he burnt everything. She had a strong fear of wasting food. Later I think he occasionally tended a barbecue, however they were not in vogue when I was little. I have early memories of him polishing the family silver. My mother didn’t do that and didn’t wish to even display it. We had many different pieces. They were family heirlooms, inherited from elders who had passed on. I remember a huge tea set with lots of shiny parts to it that rested on a big silver tray on a large wooden sideboard. My father loved and cherished it.

As it is wisely said, no one is perfect because God isn’t finished with us yet. Perfection may be something to strive for, and attaining it is most likely impossible. People are people and bound to mess up. Fathers can’t be perfect either. Some are cruel, whether consciously or unconsciously. I knew someone once who said that her father used to tell her and her brother to jump of the kitchen table and he’d catch them, only he wouldn’t. He told them he wanted to teach them not to trust what anyone said.

Doubtless he meant well. Perhaps he had suffered from believing, himself. My father would taunt me and my siblings when we made mistakes. He wanted us to toughen up, learn not to care what people thought. Did he succeed? I believe he did, however it took a while to sink in. Meanwhile, I resented his pointing finger and his “ha ha” followed by some negative comment. That was not all; we had a lot of fun together too, and he could be very kind. I once came home to the apartment my young husband and I shared to find him sweeping the rug. I didn’t have a vacuum and hadn’t realized I could sweep it with a broom. He used to give me lovely valentines.

He bought me my first washing machine—it was state of the art for the time, with a rubber tub that squeezed the water out of the clothes. He taught me how to dance, and he was a good dancer. He gave me money for years, an allowance that helped greatly when I was first married. Later on he paid for my health insurance because he wanted to take care of me. No, he wasn’t perfect, and I didn’t care. I loved him faults and all. He lived large and had wonderful charm. He had a lovely smile and he smiled often.

I miss him. Yet I miss most the father of my childhood and youth, when he was strong , energetic and good looking. He was a snappy dresser and loved loud ties and colorful clothing.  Bad habits and ill health took their toll. His later years were not happy and he declined mentally. It was difficult to see him so diminished. Yet once in a while the old smile radiated from his face and sometimes he told a joke or said something cute and funny that recalled the man he had been when I was little, and we used to build sand castles and jump the waves together.

Creating a Memorial to Lost Loved Ones

SimpkinsMy father always made sure to put fresh flowers on the graves of two special friends on Memorial Day. Buried under two pink granite stones, they were an English couple far from home and family. My four year old self remembers them as two elderly people who smiled at me and gave me two porcelain statues of birds. Honoring someone once a year at the site of their grave is a fine act and the traditional way many choose. However, creating an ongoing memorial tribute could be an even better way.

On Memorial Day there is an annual ceremony dedicated to my grandfather in Beverly Farms, the town where he once lived where there is a square named for him. This year will be its hundredth anniversary. As it does every year, the parade will stop there, the band will play, and a wreath will go on the pole with his name. As they always do, my brother and his wife will attend the ceremony. While I once used to go with my dad, and later on with my young children, I no longer live near enough to attend. I am glad he will do the honors for the family.

One day time runs out for each of us. It can’t be helped. It is said there are two sure things in life: Death and Taxes. We come to terms with both as best we can. Memorial Day puts us in mind of the former. While my grandfather perished in World War I, no other members of my family fought and died or had any connection to the military. For me then, Memorial Day is an opportunity to think about my loved ones who have passed out of time and into eternal life. There are more of them each year.

What seems important to me is to create a tangible memorial as a tribute dedicated to the memory of those precious who have passed from this life. It was with the passing of my first son that I initially thought of this. I wanted to honor his life, and because he loved poetry I decided to dedicate my poetry to him. While I’ve always written poetry, my decision then inspired me to look at life with the eyes of a poet and to write about what I see. In the near future I will be bringing out a small book, Poems and Prayers, dedicated to him.

While I wrote an occasional poem prior to his passing, in the nearly thirty years since his death I have written a great number of them, some of which I have published in various newsletters and others in my two books of articles, Heartwings: Love Notes for a Joyous Life and Up to my Neck in Lemons. Writing poetry has become increasingly important to me as an expression of my creativity. I have created other memorials also: My father loved nature, especially trees. My tribute to him is my love of the natural world, often expressed in poetry; mine to my mother is my photography, much of which are also of nature.  I am grateful for the inspiration of the lives of these loved ones, and I honor them as best I can.

Mothers are Everywhere and Always

Family women 1989My mother did not have good training for the task of mothering. Her mother was the wife of a diplomat and spent her days doing what she needed to do to support my mother’s father in his position. Her children were cared for by nursemaids and tutors. I knew her briefly: a proper, formal woman who came to live briefly in the states in the late forties. I was a young teen at the time, not very interested in this elderly person. Now of course I wish I had asked her more about her life. She returned to Germany and passed on soon after. Ill prepared as she was, my mother did the best she could, and I honor her for it.

When I think of the word mother, I envision a womanly figure with her arms around a child, though not necessarily her child.  Many women without children do their share of mothering. One definition of mothering is taking care of or caring for someone. The nature of the caring embraces many actions. A mother cat keeps her kittens close, yet disciplines them as well. A human mother hugs her child and also disciplines that child—hopefully in a loving manner. Mothers of all kinds help children learn limits and learn to respect them.

Growing up, I was fortunate in being given a great deal of unlimited physical freedom. Nobody minded when I climbed trees or played explorer in the marshes behind our home. As long as I stayed on the property I could do as I liked. The few times I ventured off I was punished. However, my punishments were not cruel, only restrictive: being confined to my room for a long period. I’m sure my mother kept an ear out for me while I played, in case I needed her. She was at home with me and my siblings. Today’s mothers are fortunate if they can do that. In some respects not being able to makes mothering harder now.

I went on to have children of my own; all of my girls are now mothers themselves. Sometimes they need me to mother them; sometimes they even mother me. Mothering does not end when the child is an adult. However as many a mother must discover, mothering must be modified if one does not wish to annoy one’s children. There is a fine line between caring for someone you love and overdoing it: smothering versus mothering. Kindness is defined by how it affects the recipient; helicopter parenting, as it is called can have negative results of all kinds. Limits are for parents as well as for children.

Teachers mother students; some animals have been known to mother young ones not of their kind; I was comforted by the trees I spent hours sitting in– reading, and writing poems. Mothering is of the heart–the heart of the receiver as well as the giver. A difficult childhood results when the mother is unhappy or ill prepared for motherhood. It is easier to judge one’s childhood experience as an adult. Also, not only women can mother. Men can as well. I see them, infants on their backs or in a stroller, tending little ones in a loving manner. On this Mothers’ Day In my heart I honor all those who have mothered me, and I am grateful to each and every one.

Hoop Skirts and Test Patterns

I find fashion to be endlessly entertaining. When you live as long as I have, you have seen many trends come and go.  For instance I’m always amused when I see people of every size walking round in tight clothing. Were she still alive my mother would be shocked and making comments. As I was growing up, at most clothing might be tight around the bust and waist, but not anywhere else. Too, as if pregnancy was not quite proper, one wore tent like garments as soon as there was a bulge. Ball gowns were bolstered with stays and wedding gowns were voluminous and relatively modest.

Recently I was looking at a pretty formal gown in a consignment store and it brought back memories of ones I used to wear back in the days when formal dances were a part of my life. I didn’t go to a school that featured proms, however there was an annual series of dances held by a woman who ran a dancing school for grade school boys and girls. These dances were an extension of her classes and held for high school age students in the area.

She had very strict rules for the young ladies who wanted to participate. Gowns had to be of a certain type, and nothing too bare or plunging was permitted. This starchy New England matron who ran the dances was also particular about our weight. My dear mother put me on a diet that summer so I would conform to the ideal held out for those who wished to attend. “I don’t want any wallflowers at my dances,” she was known to say.

The dress I was looking in the consignment store at was a strapless, full length gown. The skirt was fairly narrow. I smiled to myself, remembering the hoop skirt that went under one of my first full skirted formals. How difficult it was to sit down without the darn thing flying up in the air, taking my skirt with it, revealing my gartered stockings to the world. There were other uncomfortable petticoats, starched and stiff that came later. My mother would laugh and say sometimes one must suffer for beauty. Although she wore a girdle for years and tried to get me to wear one, I refused to.

Along with hoop skirts and starched petticoats, no one born today or even many born a while ago know what a test pattern is, nor has seen one. When my parents got our first TV, there were no programs before around 4 o’clock in the afternoon and after around midnight at night.  All that was on the screen otherwise was a black and white test pattern from the different TV stations.

There were no color TVs. Nor was there color programming! Movies were shown on Sunday afternoons and I remember before we got our TV, the joy of watching them at a friend’s home. In those days a comic book was ten cents, and I wasn’t permitted to buy one but I could read hers. Having lived a long life, I can recall much that no longer exists except in the museum of memory. It’s fun to visit there occasionally, though I’d never want to live there all the time.

Gathering Together We Celebrate

Spring is Sprung 19         On Easter after church, we usually went to dinner with my Great Aunt Alice in her big house next door to the cottage my parents rented from her. She would have a beautiful table with gleaning silver, fragile china and sparkling crystal goblets set in the large dining room she used for formal occasions. Once the soup course was done and dishes removed, people brought in to help, carried around platters of meat and dishes of vegetables. These would be followed by dessert and finally, finger bowls with a sprig of green lemon verbena floating in them. The silver candy dishes with chocolates I eagerly eyed all through the meal were finally passed around.

This weekend holds Easter, a Christian Holiday and Pesach or Passover, a Jewish one. Both are important in the tradition of family gatherings.  Both have an element of ritual that is central to the celebration. Carl Jung the eminent psychologist taught us about what he called the collective unconscious. Briefly stated this is a kind of universal memory that underlies all of human consciousness. It is not individual– what we remember for ourselves, but comprised of the memories encoded in symbols, of the whole human race.

The collective unconscious is like a vast rich sea in which each of us is a drop. We swim in it, and thus make our connection to the psychic history of humanity. The symbols and rituals of the holidays are present within it. These provide pathways that we honor with our traditions. For instance, eggs are a universal symbol of fertility. They are found in myths from all over the world. The use of eggs in Easter baskets goes back to Germany. It was brought to this country by settlers in Pennsylvania.

The gathering for the ritual recitation of the history of the Exodus at Passover is another important connection to the past. Known as a Seder, it recreates the connection to Jewish peoples of history. The Easter bunny, actually originally a hare is an ancient symbol associated with the Moon. Both Easter and Pesach are full moon based, rather than on a fixed date. Lilies grow from bulbs, symbolic of regeneration and rebirth.  Spring the season we celebrate Easter and Passover is when new growth, even before the sprouting of last year’s seeds, emerges from bulbs. We wear new clothes to symbolize this newness.

As we come together to celebrate, we are connecting to one another. As well we are expressing humanity’s roots. Our ancient religions and spiritual paths, even those lost to history live again in our minds and hearts. Yes, there are reasons we celebrate linked to historical events, and yes there are links within us to peoples and even to places in our distant past that we are part of through the symbols and rituals we incorporate. The chocolate rabbits, the marshmallow chicks, the flowers and feasts, even the lovely Easter hats are of greater significance to us than we might think, for our celebration is enhanced by these echoes from our shared human history.

Eggs are Delicious, Nutritious and Versatile

Cooking with heart Though I’ve never had it or made it myself, I remember Goldenrod Eggs–a dish made with hard boiled eggs that my mother served at luncheon parties. The eggs were carefully hard cooked—never boiled as this turns the yolks green. The whites were chopped up and stirred into a white cream sauce. This was spread over toast with the crusts cut off and made into triangles. The yolks were then pressed through a sieve and sprinkled over the top of the creamed whites.

This was a pretty dish yet far too labor intensive for me. Besides, I prefer hard boiled eggs cut up and made into egg salad or stuffed—but not by me. I can’t get the whites out of the shells easily. However in the days when I was little there was more time for cooking because life was simpler and less hectic. In addition, women like my mom had luncheons in their homes because her friends were home with their kids too and did not have to go out to work.

Easter brings thoughts of eggs, coloring them, cooking them, eating them. As a child I disliked eggs intensely. They were always served me in an egg cup with the top off the shell. I didn’t care for the taste much. Still, whether I wanted to or not I had to eat them because I couldn’t leave the table until I did. For some reason our egg spoons were silver which quickly tarnished from the yolks of the eggs, and this somehow made the experience even worse. It was many years before I was able to eat eggs with pleasure.

To prepare dishes with eggs requires careful timing. For garlic fried eggs with parsley—our breakfast favorite, slice garlic into butter, break eggs over it, cut parsley over them, wait until they are just set, then turn off the stove and turn the eggs over to finish cooking lightly. This insures that the whites are firm and the yolks cooked yet a little runny. Separating raw yolks from whites, is now simple since I learned the trick of holding the yolk in my hand as the white slips through my fingers. My Lemon Cloud Pudding is easy to make doing this.

I have fond memories of sharing a simple lunch of warm hard boiled eggs peeled and mashed with a little mayonnaise, some salt and maybe some chopped parsley with my best friend as our little ones played together. How tasty the eggs were with some saltine crackers and a cup of tea. In those days I dyed my eggs with pellets of color from the supermarket. Some years ago I tried dying them with onion skins. They turned lovely purple and red colors.

This is an ancient way to do them: Save up your papery onion skins. Tie them around your eggs with string and simmer the eggs for 20 minutes. Very beautiful and fun. To make a tasty egg salad, mash yolks and whites together, add mayonnaise to taste and some of your favorite mustard. Add ground dried garlic, chopped parsley and curry powder if desired. Serve with crackers, toast, bread or just lettuce and a fork.  This is good for any meal, especially for one of after Easter leftover eggs.

Want an autographed copy of my new book Up To My Neck In Lemons? Send me a check for $15 Postage included, to P.O. Box 171, North Grafton, MA 01536,  and learn about lemons–actual, poetical and metaphorical. Make your life’s lemons into lemonade and enjoy my book a sip or so at a time.

Living My Life in a Timely Manner

Dragonfly

Sometimes I wish I could return to the time of my childhood when there seemed to be so much more of it: The long golden days of summer, the wonderful week of school vacation, the stretch of the weekend as I got home from school on Friday. It seemed to me that there was plenty of time to get everything I wished to do done. My days stretched out to be filled with my imagined adventures, the books I loved to read, and my toys.

I don’t remember feeling pressed for time as a child.  I’m sure the grownups were however that didn’t communicate itself to me. I do remember how long it took me to learn to tie my shoes. I was three, or maybe four and my fingers didn’t work as well as they might have. I can still see my small shoes as I bent over them, fumbling with the laces until I got it right. Time wasn’t something I thought about. It wasn’t my job to do that. As an adult, however, it has become so.

One dear friend has accused me of being “time challenged.” She was politely informing me that I was usually late, or at least perhaps often so. I confess it’s true that before leaving my home I may do a few things that seem necessary to me with the result that I leave at the last minute and may actually get where I’m going a little late. This annoys my husband so I work to improve.

You think after the many years we’ve been married he’d know I am apt to shave things close to the bone when it comes to time. He prefers to get to performances, lectures, appointments or church at least a half hour early. He says it’s because in his teen years he was a reporter and liked to get to events early because it was more interesting then and the habit stuck. He says he also likes to get a good choice of seats, which I admit is a good reason.

However the way I see it, that half hour could have been put to so much better use. It always seems to me that there are many things I could have gotten done at home before leaving, while instead I must sit in a waiting room,  pew or theater seat twiddling my thumbs as people come and go, the choir rehearses or I watch the ads on the movie screen. Being on time requires a certain amount of self-discipline, to be sure, and it is also polite. However arriving at a party or someone’s home half a hour early may be inconvenient to the host or hostess.

Because I find it fascinating as a subject, I’ve written a lot of poetry about time. I find it to be a strange accordion, expanding and contracting according to its own rules. Sometimes I look at the clock and think I have a whole hour to get everything done. Then I look again what seems to me fifteen minutes later, only to discover forty five have passed and I didn’t get half of what I planned finished. Perhaps time does challenge me, still, it’s a learning process and I do enjoy learning.

 

Want an autographed copy of my new book Up To My Neck In Lemons? Send me a check for $15 Postage included, to P.O. Box 171, North Grafton, MA 01536,  and learn about lemons–actual, poetical and metaphorical. Make your life’s lemons into lemonade and enjoy my book a sip or so at a time.