Little Pleasures Gone Missing

Queen Ann's Lace with BindweedThe daily and weekly routines Stephen and I once had have been lost to the Covid 19 virus. Things we took for granted–trips to the library, going to the movies, eating in restaurants, and more have all been sacrificed to our safety. We must avoid exposing ourselves to a virus that can take a life with one simple breath. Although I have been alive for many years, this is like nothing I have ever experienced. I find it remarkable how my life has changed from what it was a mere few months ago. If you had told me last fall what my life would be like today, I might not have believed you. I certainly could not have imagined it.

I did have peripheral experience with a polio epidemic when I was growing up. I remember summers of rampant polio cases in the 40’s. Prior to the vaccine that eradicated poliomyelitis, many children succumbed to it. There are still adults today with legs crippled from polio as children. One of my sixth-grade classmates caught it. As I recall he was paralyzed and placed in an iron lung. I have a memory of seeing him in it, only his head visible. One parent I knew wouldn’t let her children drink any water that wasn’t bottled. She even made them brush their teeth with bottled water. Children, who were especially vulnerable, were supposed to avoid the beach also, though I am not sure why. Perhaps it was for the same reason we avoid crowds today for fear of Covid 19.

Losing our small pleasures is an insignificant price to pay for staying safe. Wearing a mask in public is a courtesy Stephen and I are glad to practice. It is like saying, “I care about you, stranger, and I want us both to stay safe. How long will it be before Stephen and I go to a movie theater again? I have no idea and I won’t even try to guess. The Spanish flu of 1918 took many lives and lingered even into i920. My own grandfather died from it. My grandmother, as was the custom, wore black for seven years. My mother told me that was the reason my father never wanted her ever to wear black.

It is strange to me that the tenor of our days has so altered. Before the onset of Covid 19, My life held few surprises. I never thought twice about going to the library or to a movie—and suddenly, I no longer could. It was just not there to do. Fortunately for us, Stephen has collected a quantity of videos o all kinds, and we could even make our own popcorn if we wanted. Yet I have come to understand that it’s not the film but the experience: going to the theater, sitting with others laughing or weeping, that I miss. I can get takeout from a restaurant, but I don’t get to hear the other diner’s murmur of conversation or get to chat with the waiter. When the day comes that we can mingle freely, without face coverings or fear, I will rejoice. Until then, while I may mourn my missing enjoyments, I’ll not risk my life for them.

A Memoir of Days Gone By

Tasha's Family 1955010My great Aunt Alice, pictured on the far left,  was a “maiden” aunt. Never having marred, she lived with her mother, and then by herself in the grand home built by her late father. It was set amid the lawns and gardens of an estate on the outskirts of a small seaside town. We lived in a smaller house that had been built for the full-time gardener. A lifelong sportswoman, she had a collection of trophies from horseback riding, as well as her tennis matches. A vigorous woman I remember her saying she always parked her car at a distance from the store she was going to, so she’d get more exercise. I also found her intriguing because she wore socks over her nylons, and never wore trousers.

Aunt Alice also had a beach cottage we went to sometimes on weekends in the summer.  It had once been her Girl Scout camp. She had had a troup once and they still kept in touch. She also for many years had dogs, always small and yappy: Scotties and Sealyhams, and later, Dachshunds. I can also remember as a very young child being held up to pat the nose of a horse she had in a pasture. There was a stable with a horse stall, though I have no memory of ever seeing a horse in it.

Over the fireplace in the hall of her home there were hunting trophies: Fox tails from when she rode to the hunt. There were lots of books, both in her library with the window seat and the plush green velvet sofa and elsewhere. I loved that window seat. Aunt Alice was good enough to pay for two years of wonderful riding lessons for me. She also put me up when my parents went away on business and I had to stay and go to school. That was fun. I enjoyed her company, and she was always kind to me. As I think about her now, I realize that she was a great example of an independent woman. Her sister, my grandmother was also, though she had been married and was now a widow. Aunt Alice worked for various charities and was generous to them.

As we went there often for holiday meals my memories of her home are vivid. Her dining table was always set with beautiful china and silver, together with a flower centerpiece and silver candy dishes, piled with chocolates. When I was small there were cocktails in the large parlor downstairs. I used to enjoy her toy truck with the blocks, and a mechanical rabbit in lettuce that rose up and munched, flicked its ears and sank down again. When I was older, I remember gathering upstairs, where she had a music box like an organ grinder’s that played various tunes when the handle was cranked. The cigarette box was always filled with the brands my parents smoked. Daddy mixed the cocktails, and Ritz crackers with peanut butter were a featured hors d’oeuvre.

Aunt Alice was quieter than my grandmother. She also unlike my grandmother, who gave out checks for Christmas presents, went to the store and bought things. Her choices were notoriously bad. Of course, we never told her that. After I grew up and got married, when I could I’d bring my children to visit her. She enjoyed their antics. By then she was rather absent of mind. Alzheimer’s caused her to fall asleep at odd moments, and make it difficult for her to remember much. The children made her smile and that was reason enough to visit. I will always be grateful for her generosity to me, and of the wonderful example her life provided me.

The Light We See By

Angela's candle for her dad          Were I learning to read today I feel sure my picture books would include children of all skin colors and ethnicity. The closest books about anything outside my everyday experiences of white America that I can remember, was a series about twins of various countries. However, these were not living in my town or even my country. My history lessons were primarily about Europe and even the myths I studied were Greek, Roman or Norse, and all the gods and goddesses had white skin. Black culture or history was not included in my grade school or even High school studies. This in and of itself forms a kind of prejudice against non-whit, non-Europeans.

Prejudice aims at many targets. I remember a comic strip in my youth that featured a white child with a pointed head named Denny Dimwit. As part of the humor he was an object of fun. Today a strip like that would be banned. I also remember there used to be a whole series of jokes about various and sundry ethnic individuals who were portrayed as stupid or in other derogatory ways. Children growing up today may find other targets of prejudice, yet still progress is being made. One thing that may have helped is the integration of all kinds of learners in the classroom.

With the Black lives matter movement in full swing, many of us may be examining our own potential for prejudice, regardless what it may be about. The need for awareness of how it functions today is obvious. The color of a person’s skin is often an occasion for prejudice, usually when we have grown up around those who make derogatory comments about it. However, prejudice comes in many forms and is aimed at many of us. Over time, we have become more aware of this, and now it is more important than ever.

Young children are not naturally prejudiced. They may like or dislike someone, yet their feelings will normally be based on behavior or previous experience than pre judgement. There is a line in a song from South Pacific, a popular musical from 1949 and years afterward, with a line that says: “You’ve got to be taught to hate.” If we really wish to make it real forever that black lives matter, we must begin at an early age to make sure children do not grow up prejudiced about skin color.

The difficulty is that what we believe—black people are…, tints what we perceive. It creates expectations that color what we see and hear. Our perceptions are primarily governed by our beliefs and these are based upon what we have been told as young people. This is a form of “knowledge” we may not be aware we employ to make the decisions that govern our behavior. The light with which we perceive others may distort our view. In addition, the shadows cast by the light may loom large and deceive the eye. If we are mindful, we can often stop the automatic prejudice that may spring to mind. It’s all part of learning and growing. Humanity has an opportunity to take a giant leap forward. May it be so.

How Much Is Enough?

20180829_104856           When I was a young wife in the fifties, my father helped us buy a house in the small town where I had grown up. Just outside my kitchen door was a garbage pail sunk into the ground. I would step on the lid, dump in my orange peels, potato peelings, stale food, etc. and once a week a man would come by with a big truck, pull out the bucket, empty it into his truck, and along with all the other garbage he had collected, take it to feed his pigs.

His piggery was deep in a wooded area and the smell bothered no one because it was quite isolated. I expect that today his pig farm would have been deemed unsanitary and done away with. Then it fitted in with a more appropriate attitude of the time of waste not want not. It made a good thrifty use for what otherwise would go to waste. In those days there was a more sensible attitude toward what we have and what we need, or so it seems to me. The Covid 19 crisis seems to have exacerbated a prevailing need to have more and more.

Not long ago people were treating toilet paper as if it were about to vanish from the earth. One person even spotted a woman loading her SUV with an entire tray of rolls from a Walmart. Other items vanished from shelves as people reacted out of fear of lack. How much I need is one amount. That need springs from a logical, rational approach to having. How much I want may stem from a fear of loss, a desire to own more than I already have, plain greed, or envy driven by a competitive nature.

Need and want are such different conditions. Operating from an awareness of need is different than operating from a feeling of want.   I once read a story told by someone waiting in an airport who overheard a mother and daughter saying goodbye to one another. As they embraced, she overheard one say to the other, “I wish you enough.” The other replied with the same words. At first it seemed a curious thing to say for a farewell. As I reflected, I realized that to have enough is actually an absolutely perfect condition in which to be.

When I have enough, I have the space to put it. When I have more than enough, whether food needing refrigeration or clothing to find room for in our shared closet, I have to become creative about fitting whatever it is in. I may end up shoving things to the back of the refrigerator and losing sight of them, or into the back of the closet and doing the same. Then what I have lost sight of may become either moldy or essentially useless. It is said that much food goes to waste in this country, and no doubt leftovers may be a large part of that food.

Raised in a New England family by a thrifty German mother, I try to be very mindful not only about my leftovers but also my wardrobe. My beloved, however was raised by a mother who enjoyed abundance and showered it on her family. Sometimes we experience minor conflict around our divergent opinions. As the days go by, my refrigerator goes from full to empty and back again. Our closet, too has its moments. What matters to me is that we work out what constitutes enough for each of us, and that we make peace with our different opinions.

 

Comments? Questions? Suggestions? Write me at tashahal@gmail.com

The Flowers in the Garden of my Friends

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My father had two British friends, a married couple, who had at some point taken up residence in the small town where we lived. I remember they had a black, cast iron lion and unicorn on either side of the stone doorstep of their home. In addition, for years I had two small china ornaments they had given me. I don’t know how old I was when I visited with them, perhaps four or five. I can recall only their kindly smiles. When they passed on, they were buried in our local cemetery.

Two pink granite headstones marked their resting place. They were large, highly polished stones, and stood out among the simpler monuments. Every Memorial Day my father would purchase flowers and plant them on their graves. Although I don’t recall his telling me anything about them, they must have been special friends to him. He was one who believed in honoring those who had passed on. His own father died in World War I, when he was only eight years old.

For me especially, Memorial Day brings to mind my dear ones who have passed me on the road to the larger life, where they have their next assignment–whatever it may be. I have pictures of them, both in my mind and in reality, where I can catch a glimpse of them as they once were. Occasionally, though especially when I’m engaged in a task in my kitchen, I catch a whisper from someone I loved dearly and still do. They come into my mind and I see them smile as they used to do when we were together. It is as if they are telling me they are happy and well.

There is a smooth stone on my coffee table inscribed with these words: “My friends are the loveliest flowers in the garden of my life.” I treasure it as a memento from someone special who lit up my life for a time a few years ago. We were near neighbors and saw one another almost very day. A brave and valiant woman, she was a wonderful example of positive aging. Though she had many difficulties and illnesses she scarcely ever complained and did the best she could to carry on in a cheerful fashion.

In my mind, while I am fixing dinner, I often hear another of my late friends with whom I had many phone conversations: “What are you having for dinner that’s good?” she would ask. We would chat about cooking and trade ideas. In my recipe collection I have one of hers written out in her own handwriting. When I make a recipe  I was given by a late friend, it is especially tasty because of my recollection of its origin. How precious are the memories of those we have loved and now lost to time.

Memories of loving friends who have pasted on are such a treasure. They are a bouquet fragrant with the perfume blended from our combined experiences, the times we have shared, the gifts we have given one another. Memorial Day brings to mind many memories of my dear ones no longer within reach of the telephone or email. As I turn them over in my mind, I feel again the love we shared. I see again their smiles and welcoming arms and I have no doubt one day we will meet and share again.

Gone but not Forgotten

SimpkinsMy brother and his wife just moved to Illinois, leaving behind the home we both grew up in on the North Shore In the next town, there is a square dedicated to our grandfather who died in World War One. Every year the parade stops in the street by the square. His name is on a pole in front of the fire station there, and they put a wreath on it each year in his memory. When I was a child my grandmother used to bring a big bunch of carnations to place inside the wreath. In later years my brother always attended the ceremony and participated. Now he will no longer be able to do so. Still he will have many years of memories, dating back to his boyhood.

Memories are wonderful things. I take great pleasure in many of mine, and I can open and enjoy them any time I wish. When I was a little girl living in Manchester by the Sea, my family shopped for our groceries in the village, as well as sundries from a small shop that carried a variety of small useful things we used often. For larger purchases my mother drove to Beverly, where there was a large department store called Almy’s, as well as a Woolworth’s and a Grant’s. However, for fancy goods like wedding presents my parents shopped in Salem, the next town over, at a store that glittered with silver and jewelry, called Daniel Lowe’s.

The Daniel Lowe’s building has transformed and Salem has become a tourist mecca for seekers of magical items and New Age accoutrements. Beverly too is much changed. Almy’s is long gone, as are the 5 and 10 cent stores I enjoyed.  Even the bakery that later on I shopped at with my children, who remember it still for its delicious cookies, is no more. Yet the stores of my childhood live on in my memory, ready for me to walk through and gaze again at their counters holding a mixture of the practical and the precious.

People I have known who have vanished from my active life also remain for me to recall. Those who are amongst the living I can send a Christmas card to. Those who no longer walk the earth occupy a kind of photo album available to my memory. I turn the pages sometimes and think with pleasure of the experiences we shared, and how I enjoyed them. I am grateful for these and for the time we spent: my grandmother with her endless card games and trips in her ancient automobile, dear departed neighbors from an earlier place we lived in Grafton, and more.

As Memorial Day approaches, I think not only of the people but also the places and even possessions of the past. They are gone only from the physical part of life. They live on in my memory as in the memories of others who may have known of them. One of the fun experiences to be had in gathering with family or old friends is the memories to be shared and enjoyed together. Memorial Day encourages me to think not only about my dear departed, or even those who gave their lives that I might be free, but of the sweetness of those memories. As in my mind I see these faces and these places, they seem to me to be like flowers I place upon the granite memorials of that and those who have departed.

 

 

Satisfaction Guaranteed

Flowers at the bank 3Do you take satisfaction in what you may have accomplished? Or do you tell yourself you could have done whatever it was better, or done more? Most of us have a critical voice inside that will not let us be satisfied with what we may have done, even though we may well deserve it. That critical voice can originate early in life from a parent, a teacher, or a boss. Now it has become a part of us as adults, and it robs us of the joy we might take from our satisfaction. To be satisfied may actually take courage, the courage to admit we have done something worthwhile.

It is easier to take satisfaction from small accomplishments. My mother used to find it very satisfying to hang up a basket of laundry on the clothesline in her back yard. When she finished, she’d stand back, sigh, and then smile as she beheld the washing flapping in the breeze. It gave her a feeling of accomplishment. I understand how she felt. When I have done some cleaning, or tidied a bureau drawer, I get a similar feeling. The good thing about these small tasks is that they can be done relatively quickly, providing instant joy. Unfortunately, even they are subject to that critical inner voice.

I have encountered that niggling voice all too often in the past, especially when it was connected to a major accomplishment. I have also learned from it to stop, recollect my effort, and remember to pat myself on the back. When you feel good about what you have accomplished, it is vitally important to pat yourself on the back. That unkind voice might tell you not to. It is not a voice from the heart but one from the past. The person voicing those words may have felt it was unwise to praise you for fear you would rest on your laurels and grow lazy. My mother’s mother passed on that way of thinking to my mother.

Many years ago, I taught myself to play my guitar. Proudly I played my mother a song I had just learned. “That was nice,” she said, ‘Now when will you write your own songs?” To say I was disappointed is an understatement. Though eventually I did write my own songs, it wasn’t because of what she had said, but perhaps in spite of it. Praise by oneself for oneself is an important act of self love. The more we love ourselves, the bigger our heart grows, and more we can love others. The more grateful and appreciative we are of our own efforts, the more we can enjoy those of others.

Taking satisfaction is a conscious decision. It may start with or end with contentment. When I look at my clean kitchen floor, I can be content and satisfied with how it looks, and how it is for me to have made it look this way. Even if I notice a smudge I may have missed, I can still feel satisfaction, because I have done my best, and then I can wipe up that smudge. However, this does not have to change my sense of satisfaction. I can still feel good about my efforts. Were I so inclined, I could criticize myself and say, “Look at you! You missed that spot. See? You didn’t do a good job!” Or I could say to myself, “Because I did such a good job, the floor is so clean that small smudge became obvious. Now I have made it look even better; good for me! I feel satisfied and content.”

 

The Blame Game

Roots and light When I was growing up it was my responsibility to care for the chickens. In the winter what that meant was carrying a heavy bucket of water from our house the thirty or more yards to their coop. The spring I was twelve the wetlands near the coop flooded and there was plenty of water right there. I took advantage of it. However, something then happened to the chickens. They began dying. Apparently, they had somehow caught a disease.

My parents called me into the living room. They were sitting on the sofa looking stern. They asked me if I had been doing anything different for the chickens. “No,” I lied. Then they faced me with the evidence. My great aunt’s gardener had seen me getting the water from the swamp. Uh oh! I don’t remember my punishment—probably a suspension of my allowance. Sadly, I didn’t really learn my lesson then, though eventually I did. I was often too fearful of the consequences to tell the truth.

Many if not most of us are. The vase is broken, the favorite toy ruined, the car dented and we hear: “He/she made me…”  or “I couldn’t help it.” Heard that before? This familiar copout is often every child’s first response—except perhaps for, “I didn’t do it.” How do we teach children to take responsibility for their actions? It isn’t easy and every parent has his or her idea how best to accomplish this. Sometimes they manage to make that happen, and the child grows up to be a responsible adult.

However all too often even as adults we are reluctant to take the responsibility we need to for our own actions. We may be afraid of the results when someone finds out. I know often I was, or we may not want someone to think ill of us, as in “how could I be so stupid as to make that mistake?”  There are as many reasons as there are situations. The bottom line is that we do not like to admit to being ill advised, ignorant, or just plain absent of mind.

Blaming is something many do when they want to get out of a situation where they feel trapped or one that will lower their value in another’s eyes and mind. The problem with playing the blame game is that not only is it dishonest, it is also unkind to the person or persons we may be blaming for our mistake.

I learned to own up to my responsibility only as an adult. My husband Stephen was actually the one to help me to do this. He would not allow me to get away with evading it, and he would make sure I was ultimately honest. I’ve learned that honesty really is the best policy when it comes to admitting to wrongdoing. Feelings of guilt are thereby avoided as well as other consequences that may arise when and if the truth emerges—and all too often it will.

 

Waste Not Want Not

Glittering Glass 2The phrase “waste not want not,” sounds as though it might have come from the Bible, however it did not. It also sounds like old fashioned New England thrift. My mother being German, definitely learned the concept from her experience. I have found it useful in trying to utilize whatever food I might have left over from any meal. In my book, wasting food is not to be done.

It helps to be prepared. I usually cook enough rice to have plenty for extra meals. This saves me cooking time later.  I am always happy to see some leftovers in my refrigerator. One reason is that they help me to fix meals quickly, another is that they help make it less work to do so. I love to cook, and I also love to write poetry and do many other things. Cooking is fun, but not if I have to neglect the rest of my various duties and activities. I usually make enough food for a meal to create another or part of one from what is left over.

It is also true that by utilizing my leftovers, I save not only time but money. My mother, who grew up in war torn Germany, felt food was very precious. I was made aware of this very early on and it stuck. I often use small amounts of vegetables, for instance, or cheese, bread, rice or pasta and so on to incorporate into what I call a “Never Again,” because I will most likely never have just that combination of ingredients to use.

It is important to make sure to blend flavors appropriately. For instance, I’d never combine a curry with an Italian flavored dish. I would blend anything plain into something spicy or tangy. I don’t generally combine a cheese and pasta dish with something involving a strong fish, however you might. One of my favorite tricks is to add shrimp I’ve baked at 425 for 10 minutes to any leftover rice or pasta, then put in herbs to taste, some sautéed onions and any leftover vegetables I might have.

Try spreading leftover chicken or seafood salad on bread, cover it with cheese, and bake in a toaster or regular oven at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Add a salad to make a fast, tasty supper meal. There are several rules I follow in my thrifty ways with leftovers: I never combine pasta and rice leftovers; I usually incorporate some chopped, sautéed onions to freshen the flavor; I try to use most leftovers within a week. Have fun, Leftovers present great opportunities to be creative.

What is there to Fear?

As above so below, pink flowers

The acronym for fear is False Evidence Appearing Real. I learned this a few years ago and I think of it sometimes when I am tempted to be afraid of or afraid for what appears dire. Life presents plenty of scenarios that could give us the shivers if we let it. Right now, the bogeyman is the Coronavirus. Please understand, I am not downplaying the importance of avoiding this virus, what I am concerned about is the climate of fear that surrounds something we are told is not more dangerous than a bad cold to most, though it can kill vulnerable people. Unfortunately, so can many germs, easy to encounter at all times. It is also said that using sanitizers is not helpful and might even make you more vulnerable. Soap and water are always effective.

However, in order to maintain your good health you need to take all the measures you have been told to take ever since you were old enough to care for yourself. Number one, of course is to get enough sleep. I can’t emphasize this enough. Do what it takes for you to get to bed for a restful eight or nine hours of slumber. If you have problems sleeping, check out the effective homeopathic non-addictive, no-side-effects aids to sleep. Your local health food store has them, and they are not expensive. Some mild stretching before bed sends me gently off to slumber, as does alternate nostril breathing. Google this for more information. It works well for me. I learned it, then taught it in my yoga classes some years ago. And of course, wash your hands frequently, especially when out in public.

I wish I had known about this breathing technique when I was between eight and ten, or perhaps even earlier when I suffered what might be called Night Terrors. I would lie in my bed quaking with fear about an imagined tragedy I believed would take my parents from me. One of these waking nightmares stemmed from a radio program I heard when I was in the second grade and home from school with a cold. I still remember the room I was in and the radio that told what was probably a tale of some kind, about the building of a tunnel that collapsed and drowned people. If I had called out to my parents, I would have been scolded, so I just coped as best I could. Perhaps this is how I learned to be courageous later in life.

When my children were small there was plenty that I might have feared, however, I had confidence in their behavior and their choices. I continue to do so. As I grow older, much could cause me to be afraid. Any ache or twinge could turn into a crisis if I let it, but I don’t allow myself to tie into that negative thinking. It’s also true that when I face what seems fearful, it dwindles and becomes much less threatening. When I say to myself, “I am safe now in this moment,” I can realize the truth of that and do whatever is necessary to stay that way. Taking sensible precautions is one thing, hiding under the bed is another. Keeping your immune system strong works best to help you avoid catching any germs. Negative thinking is counter-intuitive to that. I refuse to take fear into my heart or into my thoughts.