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.

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.

More Than One Mother

Me and mama by Bachrach

In my life I have been fortunate to have some remarkable women friends who in certain ways could be considered in the light of mothers. Their age had little to do with it. It was their warmth, their acceptance, their caring and their love that helped to create the part they played in my life. I loved my late mother dearly, however there were aspects of her nature that were difficult for me to deal with, and while she was well meaning and did her best to be a good mother, she could not be everything I would have wished her to be. In my adult life the physical distances between us through the years also created a problem.

The depth of her compassion and acceptance were a special feature of one of the women who served my needs in a way my mother could not. We shared many of the same interests and in a climate where I had little support, she was very encouraging to me in my efforts to learn and to grow. She would frequently invite me to lunch and we would spend many hours in conversation about a variety of subjects. She had a wide range of knowledge and very little prejudice. She was also warm in a way my mother was not.

My own mother was a very good artist and once her family was grown devoted her life to her art. She had her own gallery and her paintings were admired and purchased by people from all over the globe. However, she and I had very little in common in our interests. Our telephone conversations were usually about what she had been doing or what my children were up to.

Another of my mother figures was also an important teacher in my life. Married at eighteen I had no work experience. As a result of studying with this person I gained a way to earn a living as well as a way to be of help to others. She took a personal interest in me and allowed me to assist her in many ways. I found in her a lifelong person to admire and look up to even after she moved away. She was a wonderful teacher and a good friend. My mother, who tried in vain to teach me to knit often said she was too impatient to teach me anything. However I am still thankful she was kind enough to pay a neighbor to give me sewing lessons.

These are only two of the special women who were also maternal figures in my life. It takes nothing from my original mother to think of them in this way because they filled roles that she could not. No single individual can be all things to another whether as a parent, sibling or spouse. Yet we all may play roles in one another’s lives to be of help and to fill in the gaps that our actual mothers might not have been equipped to do. I am always extremely grateful to my mother who worked so hard to raise and in her own way mother me. I am also very thankful to those others who gave of themselves to me with love and acceptance in their hearts.

 

Acceptance of What Is Can Be Learned

Cabbage with holes           I began at an early age to learn my role as a would be peacemaker. My parents were both very special and wonderful people, yet they had a lot of differences and often had trouble bridging them. As the eldest and only child by a number of years I had a good deal of practice as a kind of go between for them when there were difficulties to be dealt with. In addition I often found myself with my hands over my ears while my parents attempted to resolve their differences at the top of their lungs. Loving both of them dearly, I was often at a loss as to how to make things better. Most of all I had to deal with my desire for things to be different, and my inability to make this happen.

Fast forward to the present. I recently found myself in the midst of a situation that was very uncomfortable, yet that I could nothing to change. Like all the other times in my life going back to when I was a small child and this was the case, it felt very similar. So in addition I had to deal with these echoes from the past as well as the experience of the present. My nature as a peacemaker, has always made it difficult for me to deal with conflict. This time, as I often do, instead of facing the situation that I was confronted with squarely, I kept wishing things were different.

To be sure that is a natural reaction. Few among us are willing to face a difficult situation without feeling regret as well as the desire to change it in some way to make things easier on everyone. Yet sometimes even with the best of intentions from all concerned, whatever is going on will continue. If I could have accepted this, I would have been better able to come to terms with what was happening. As it was, I had to work hard just to stay calm and keep from trying to help. I have been reflecting on this ever since.

The best that anyone can gain from dealing with a situation where one can do nothing is to allow for a greater sense of compassion to emerge in the heart. A wise woman once quoted me this ancient Hebrew saying: “If there were no grief to hollow out our hearts, where would there be room for joy?” As I have grown older and experienced more grief as well as regret, which is a precursor to grief, I have recognized that there is a treasure to be gained from it. Yet the treasure must be dug out from beneath the stubborn, unyielding crust of denial.

The denial can only be dealt with by my conscious acceptance of my inability to make anything different. As I accept what is and interweave it with threads of compassion, I can come to terms with my own sense of powerlessness, as well as with the pride that weeps over that, and the need to simply let go. The road cannot always be smooth. If there is no grit under the wheals, they will slip and slide without progress. The sandpaper that smooths the rough wood brings out the beauty of the grain. As I allow it to my heart can surely learn to grow.

The Fruits of Summer

Belfast veggies 12My parents both gardened, but differently. My mother had a vegetable garden; my father grew flowers. She spent her summers growing, harvesting, and putting up what the garden produced. He filled the house with fresh flowers in vases. His roses were lovely. He worked as an arborist and summer was a busy time for him as he helped others plan and tend their property. I always had a little garden of my own. I too grew flowers.

Later as a young wife I grew vegetables, though except for beans, not easily from seed. My children helped some but I did most of the work myself. My tomatoes were successful and appreciated. When I moved to Grafton I enjoyed growing herbs and flowers in my spiral garden, where I learned the virtue of perennials interspersed with annuals here and there. These days I no longer garden, instead I enjoy the fruits others’ efforts.

The farm markets in the surrounding countryside burst with local produce of all kinds. Vegetables and berries gathered daily line shelves and counters, and the freshly picked corn is piled high for the taking. Summer is the perfect time to indulge in this freshness. Between now and harvest time, the hot sun nourishes both roots and leaves. Its warm rays ripen the eventual harvest that people once stored for winter. These days we simply enjoy what grows.

Yet summer is also a time for people to take time off and appreciate the opportunity to spend it relaxing. Whether on the beach or in a park, the hot weeks are a time to be in nature, to let the sun bathe our senses and ripen our opportunities to kick back and nourish ourselves in nature and with play. The long daylight hours encourage extra outdoor activity. The relaxed pace allows time to catch up on reading and as well as see friends and family.

Rest is an important part of good health for everyone. Vacations are intended to provide more than just a change of pace. Whether they are taken at home in the form or staycations, or as trips to planned destinations, days off are a real necessity for everyone’s health and well being. One of the fruits of summer that does not grow on a tree or in a garden is time to let go, to set down the list of tasks and let things slide a bit.

Once a busy gardener with summer weeding chores, I find myself now doing more reading, as well as spending more time enjoying and appreciating others gardens. However, aside from weeding and watering, once the hot days of summer begin a well planned garden does not require much of the gardener. The harvest will come later when trees heavy with fruit and bushes with berries demand attention. For now it is time to enjoy a bit of lazy time, to lean on the fence or sit in my easy chair and let the garden grow.

Tasha Halpert

 

Birthdays are for Celebrating, by Tasha Halpert

Flag on Steps, Maine -15  As a child I didn’t like going to birthday parties. They often played a game called musical chairs. I hope no one plays this any more. For those who haven’t, 2 rows of chairs is lined up back to back. The children march around them to music. When it stops everyone grabs a chair and sits. Each time, one chair is removed and someone is “out.” The last person who grabs the last chair wins. I never won and I thought it was a mean game. I loved celebrating my own birthday at home.

On each birthday in the family my mother would put flowers around the breakfast setting of the birthday person. There would be presents, and special food for dinner. I didn’t have many friends so instead of a party I would be taken to the movies or out for some other special treat. I made my presents for my parents’ birthdays, usually little books or a home made puzzle.

July 4th, also called Independence Day, marks the birthday of the United States of America, the day the Declaration of Independence became official. It is celebrated with gatherings, fireworks, parades and other opportunities for fun. Some might say there is too much strife and dismay to be celebrating. Terrorist attacks, murderous rampages by vicious people who take out their rage out on innocent victims, and other dismaying occurrences sadden and frighten them. Yet this is no reason not to celebrate.

When I was growing up there was a polio scare every summer. we were frightened of the beach, or other places where there were crowds. When I was in the 6th grade one of my classmates caught it and lived out his life in an iron lung. There seems always to be something to fear. Plagues in Europe, epidemics in the US, and even savage attacks by hostile tribes. When in history has there not been a threat to survival?

Every birthday reached is to be celebrated. Within the past several years too many friends of ours have died, many much too young. One never knows when there will be no more birthdays. This is all the more reason to mark each and every one as a special occasion. Young children love their birthdays. The child in us, the part that never grows up enjoys every aspect of a birthday celebration no matter how many years we accumulate. There is much to rejoice over and be thankful for in every year of life. We do well to focus on this.

Stephen was born on the 3rd. of July, and we always gather with as many friends as can make it to mark this important day. This year on his special day he will celebrate 75 years of life. A mere hundred years ago this would have been considered an tremendous accomplishment. It is, yet nowadays with good habits and good care he can expect to celebrate many more birthdays. This year when he blows out the candles on his cake he will wish not only for himself but also for his country, a peaceful, prosperous new year of life. May it be so.

Lighting Candles

Light in the Window

The town common in Grafton was alight with candles. I looked around and saw people of all ages gathered for a vigil to honor the victims of the Orlando massacre. It was a collection of many faiths and lifestyles. With the my friends and neighbors I listened to prayers and invocations from a variety of individuals and religious leaders. With them too I lifted my voice in songs that spoke of the need for change as well as the desire for peace. Yet in all my years here on earth little has changed.

During World War II my father was an Air raid warden and had to go around checking to see that the blackout curtains on the neighbors’ windows kept the light from coming through so no targets were visible. I remember he wore a funny looking hat–a sort of helmet to identify him as an official. The windowpanes of the big windows in my school were crosshatched with some brownish tape. We were told that this was to prevent them from shattering in the event of a bomb explosion.

We were also given bomb drills, which were different from fire drills, when we all filed outside and stood in lines with our classmates. Bomb drills took place inside. I seem to remember going down to the basement, but I was small and it was many years ago. Now children are being given drills in the case of an armed person coming into their school and shooting people, and some people want teachers to carry guns.

The last time Stephen and I were at such a vigil was on 9/11, after the twin towers in New York city were destroyed. Since then the climate of violence in this country seems to have accelerated. It grieves me that the children of today have to live in such a conflicted world. I regret that they must be taught what to do in schools or other places if some crazy person arrives with a gun and begins random shooting.

The climate of violence when I was growing up was in some ways the same. The difference was that the war was somewhere else. It had not come home to our cities and towns in the form of gun wielding terrorists It seems so tragic. What can we do? One thing seems clear. We need to see things differently in order to do better. We must start now by setting an example. Perhaps if we begin in small and simple ways we can make big changes happen.

We can begin by lighting candles of love and kindness wherever we are. Let us keep a vigil each hour of each day by shining our light into the darkness of ignorance and fear. Random acts of kindness are good, daily, simple acts of kindness are even better: holding the door for someone, smiling to a weary stranger, donating used items or goods to charity, helping a friend or neighbor. When the intention is made opportunities will manifest, and every candle we light helps dispel darkness and brightens the way for someone to see better.

Tasha Halpert