Archive for June, 2011

#21 The Tutu

What can be more endearing than a two and a half-hour recital of dance students in the local, beautifully renovated, Art Deco theatre?  When the local ballet instructor with 25 students has a theme-driven, personally written storyline to go with classical music at the local VFW hall.

Instead of the beautifully dressed, perfectly coiffed smiling grandmother of last night’s recital, I am the crabby wife who was woken by the smell of coffee brewing by a husband who is leaving the house at 5:30 this morning so that we can attend the 2:00 recital of yet another family tumbler.  Mascara from last night’s event has settled under my eyes, I have bed head and can’t fall back asleep.  I can’t get it out of my mind how much simpler life was in the olden days when I was the mother and not the matriarch.  I can assure you that the same feelings happened to my mother before me and hers before her.  Do you follow my line of thinking?

I believe I am most tired of super-sized flower bouquets for two-year old prima ballerinas.  No matter how much or how little money I’ve had over the years, my children and now grandchildren have always gotten a single white rose neatly tucked into a floral tube of water, that is wrapped with green, waterproof tape and white satin ribbons.  Festooned with white tulle and cascading pink and purple ribbons, I then attach a beautiful pin to the tulle.  Last night’s performance garnered an antique pewter sprite with magical stones on her wand and dress that change colors  as you turn.  An enameled butterfly of bright yellow and blue will cover today’s event.  Cost of all:  my time, white rose from the garden, and $3.50 for the tube and pin from the thrift store.

Shall I mention the costumes.  Yes, I must.  When my girls were on the dance circuit, my sister made the tutus for me;  yards of tulle layered one atop another and gathered by an elastic band.  I bought the rest of the costume from monies saved from grocery shopping in a tin jar, and added sequins if any, by hand.  I had to close my eyes for one routine last night.  Employing a Rockefeller Center routine, the costumes of the 21 pre-adolescent girls bought on temporary vertigo as they tapped and turned, one after another, black, sparkling sequined costumes reflecting throughout the theatre’s darkened space.

Our seats in the theatre were a disaster.  I couldn’t understand how my daughter, one of the back-stage helpers, managed to get us the worst seats.  We were three rows from the rear exit. It wasn’t until my granddaughter dropped her beach ball prop, that we realized we were watching the wrong girl all three minutes of her act.   Nostalgia washed over me, and I yearned for the days in the musty VFW when we sat on folding chairs, holding toddlers in our arms.





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#20 Cousins

Luke and Isaiah are cousins in an extended family.  Luke calls me Mimi and to Isaiah, I am Noni; parts of a whole.

Children do it best.  Love that is.  In a secure environment where basic needs of food and water, shelter and clothing, love and instruction are met, the children thrive and love themselves and intuitively  love others.

My picture today is a tribute to cousins, and to the families who bring them together.

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#19 Sanctuary

“Janie, Ja..nie, J..a..nie,” each time my mother called me, my name sounded different, the pitch changed and the urgency of her call was punctuated by the number of syllables.  I was hidden in the crotch of our old Apple tree, in the midst of perfumed blossoms permeating the junkyard air that May morning.  I had my book, The Boxcar Children, and was trying to concentrate on the story rather than the hum of bees around me.  It was a typical Saturday; all my sisters were helping with chores, and I was living a fantasy.  The boys were already out on the truck with Dad.

I thought about my long talk with Sister Mary Alice after school yesterday, and how she helped me to think of ways that I could get along with my sister, Regina.  So far, none of them had worked.  We share a room, and this morning Regina hung a sheet as a dividing line, saying she could no longer live with my mess.  Dad came running when he heard hammering on the plaster ceiling, and he blamed me.  I get blamed for everything.  My mother says it is my smirk.  I’ve tried to change it into a smile for months now, but it doesn’t work.

If the room incident wasn’t bad enough, at breakfast, my brother Larry told me if I took his bike again, he would murder me.  My mother didn’t even bat an eyelash.  I whined and said that my bike had blown a tire.  Looking him square in the eye over stacks of pancakes, I asked, “Why can’t I use it?  You’re going to be working all day.”  I must have hit a nerve, because that’s when he reached across the pancakes and tried to grab me.  I was a champion runner these days, mostly out of necessity, and I slammed out of the screen door, down the back stairs and disappeared into the adjacent junkyard, climbing into the tree for cover.  My book was already there.  My books were everywhere; always prepared for a hasty retreat.  I was sad, though, I hadn’t eaten any pancakes.

Hunger got the best of me, and when I thought Larry had left with Dad, I picked a bouquet of the apple blossoms, put on what I believed was a contrite face, and walked into the house.  I had forgotten that Regina was setting up the little May altar to the Blessed Virgin, and when she came towards me, I thought it was me and not the flowers she wanted.  Anticipating her wrath, I grit my teeth, holding the look I hoped was not a smirk, and offered her the bouquet.  She accepted, and we both went to the little sanctuary that already held deep purple, French lilacs.  We both knelt in awe and unity; our silence a source of temporary and blessed peace.


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#18 River Stones

Her backyard is terraced with fill and stone.  Concrete, wood and stone walls hold back the dirt, imported at cost, that have helped to create the textures that embrace the luscious, shaded landscape of ferns and hostas, day lilies and others indigenous to deep woods flora and fauna.  There are ponds and a waterfall where she reads with summer’s breeze from the river lulling her to sleep.

Water and the whisper of winds commingle as butterflies and hummingbirds land on scarlet flowers. Redolent white roses and peonies perfume the air as do rosemary and mint when brushed.    Birds of all shape and color and nationality nest in the firs and hemlocks and take turns in their cacophony of sound.

Early morning, when she walks the gardens and lifts her hands in praise, the heron swoops along the riverbed, an ancient bird on a mission to unfettered ponds.  He returns in late afternoon, perhaps the original Phoenix, standing on a log in the river, waiting patiently for his prey.

Her riverbed is filled with stones laid smooth by the force of a surging waterfall above.  Its  sound from the rocks simulate Rachmaninoff in her muse.

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#17 Untitled

He sat in his car at a rest stop near their apartment and saw the van go pass.  He was sure it was her father’s.  She had been silent that morning as she poured their coffee.  Her thin arms were black and blue where he had grabbed her as she tried to run to the children.  Her face had a welt of red like a hand had slapped it again and again.  She moved as though afraid of her shadow, her hand shaking as she lifted the cup to her lips.


That morning, he hid behind the newspaper and was grateful when his son started to cry and she left the room.  All that he remembered about last night was that she wasn’t asleep when he walked through the door.  He hated her when she did that.  He was tired and didn’t want to talk.  She whined and cried.  He hated her cries; they made him unsettled.  She antagonized him with accusations and then walked away; that made him very angry.  She deserved to be hit.  “Bitch.”




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#16 The Swan

Luke and OJ and I have adventures.  Doesn’t everyone with a two and a half-year old grandson and pug have them?  We start out just after Luke’s Mom or Dad leaves, hustling around the house to find my shoes, unearth the car keys, and packing a snack and water.  We often include carrots that all of us like, including the horses,  just in case we visit the stables.

In the hills of Litchfield, we are five minutes from two lakes, a placid river, 4,000 acres of protected forestland with trails and a fantastic museum for naturalists, which we are, all three.  A little further down the road are the stables, two of them, a farm with chickens, pigs, sheep and cattle from Africa.  There are other farms we visit, but none so picturesque as this.  We hike the year round and use walking sticks bleached from the waters of Cape Cod, another favorite place.

One day in May, we took a trail less travelled and found an isolated pond with swans.  Luke said that it was the Mommy and Daddy.  I should have believed him.  Ever the photo journalist, with my Canon 500 around my neck, I secured OJ to a tree, and sat Luke on a rock, near enough to see but away from the marsh land I walked into with my zoom engaged.

Only one swan seemed interested in what we were doing and was swimming towards us.  A second or two of shooting was enough to raise goosebumps when I realized the bird was moving far too fast to be friendly.  Perhaps we disrupted a mating or there was a young one to protect, I thought as I turned tail.  The swan was just beyond the bull rushes with the next stop being shore.

I swooped up Luke and untethered OJ who had not barked at all.  Running down the gravel path to the safety of our car, Luke was weightless in my arms and OJ led the way, sensing my alarm.  As I secured Luke into his car seat, he asked why the swan didn’t have any eyes.    I couldn’t answer.  We went home so that I could look up his question and download the pictures.  We learned that the swan’s eyes are the same color as their beaks, and are barely discerned in the black hood, a protective measure.  The swan could have attacked us that day, but the stars were in alignment to protect us; a typical day with Mimi.

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Mine is not the southern version, but the northern.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Have a “dry” cookie sheet immediately available.

Our biscuits are made with flour, milk and butter and a teaspoon full of baking powder.  Cut the butter into the flour, add a touch of salt and baking powder and make a little pond area in the center for the milk; add it all at once and gently stir until the flour mixture is wet.  Plop a large tablespoon or so of the biscuit mix onto your cookie sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes until golden brown.   Hope that all biscuits will rise to the occasion.

While your biscuits are in the oven, wash and core beautiful, fresh, red strawberries.  Reserve at least four of the berries, quartering them for the tops.  Slice the remaining and then mash them with a potato smasher, add sugar on top, not too much and not too little; run some warm water over them and gently fold them over to create a  juice to go with the berries.  If you have a ripe, but not too ripe banana, slice that up and put it into the strawberries.  The banana adds potassium to the Vitamin C of the berries, making the desert divinely nutritious.  Your biscuits should be ready to take from the oven.

Let your biscuits stand for just about three minutes and slice in the middle.  Take a pat of butter, preferably at room temperature and smother the bottom, returning the top of each biscuit.  Get out your whisk and stainless steel bowl and remove your carton of “heavy” cream from the refrigerator.  Don’t be fooled by the labels; “whipping cream” is not the same.  For your berries, you must use the heavy cream.  Whisk it like hell, get it into good shape and then add some sugar, powdered if you are not using it right away, or granulated.  Then add the pure vanilla, just a capful; it is so expensive.

Time to assemble:  Wash your blueberries.  Remove the top half of your biscuit, and fill it with the berry and banana mixture;  add a dollop of whipped cream.  Add to this your top half of the biscuit and give it a second dollop of whipped cream.  Sprinkle the blueberries generously on top, and in the center, stand a quarter of a strawberry.  Add a small American flag if desired.  Bon Appetit.

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#14 Is it You?

I saw you the other day, or at least I think it was you.  “How would a mother not know her own son?” I thought.  I saw you from the side, and it looked like your profile.  There was a long line of kids separating us, kids waiting to dip their candles into wax again; round and round they went to the station with the melting wax.  Was that my granddaughter with you?  I saw a little blonde girl with a heavy-set woman.  She was standing next to you.  Was that her aunt, your wife’s sister?  I haven’t seen you for six years even though we live in the same town, and don’t know if you would know me.  Have you seen me?

I can remember the day exactly when you stopped talking to me.  You had called to share the news of the pregnancy.  I wasn’t home, and for four days, I called the wrong number, one digit off, and told a machine how happy I was.  I said, “Let’s celebrate with dinner.”  Each day, I called, a little more urgent.  “Hi, why haven’t you returned the call?”  and “Hey, what’s up?  Pop and I want to take you to dinner.”  On the third day, I just said, “I hate this machine, if you’re there, please pick up.”  Waiting a moment, I hung up.  On the fourth day, there was a strange voice on the other end; no machine that sounded just like yours.  The voice said, “I’m sorry but you have been calling a wrong number.  I have your messages, but didn’t have a return number to let you know.”  My heart fell to the pit of my stomach.  I was four days too late to celebrate with you; to rejoice that finally there would be a baby.  I called the right number:  too late, you didn’t answer.  You didn’t return the call even though I apologized.  I called and called, and finally even went to your house, but you weren’t home.  I left a note, but it was too late.  You knew I was sorry, but you didn’t care.

I had been sick that day I didn’t know if it was you.  It was the first time in six years that I thought it was you.  Perhaps you didn’t know me, and that’s why you walked away when I waved across the line of kids waiting to dip their candles.  Or perhaps it was just too late.

Inspired by Susan Gibb “Eye Contact.”

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#13 Cubby Hole

Our house was built on a concrete foundation, all that was left when the fire took the two-story house where one of the men died in the flames.  My mother always hated the house, even though it was the largest in that country neighborhood, and even though it had two acres where we could run and play.

Mom had a needle on a string that she held over each of us when we married, a ritual that some of us would not agree to.  As I remember, if the needle went in a circle, there would be a girl; if the needle went back and forth, it would be a boy.  Twins would be designated by the needle stopping on its own accord and then starting to move again, almost immediately.  We watched her with hawkish eyes to see if she manipulated the needle.  The needle stopped on its own each accord after going round or sideways, determining sex, and she would then begin again to determine the number of children.  Through the years, we found her needle predictions to be correct for each of us.   We often questioned if it was the needle or Mom who had the power.

There were strange things that went on in our house, particularly in the cubby holes that were in the two second-floor bedrooms.  The storage areas were created under the roof; it was dead space that ran the length of the room, one on either side in each bedroom.   Our vivid imaginations told us that the cubby holes were alive; they held the spirit of the man who died, and some nights we would swear we heard his voice, the wind whispering through the eaves, coming through its louvers.  My Mom was very sick one time, and she decided to use our room to sleep instead of her room downstairs.  Three of us slept in the other room for two nights.  I don’t remember what she was sick with, but the second night we heard her scream.  We went running across the hall, and she was standing at the foot of the bed, her finger-pointing to the open cubby.  Its light was on.

Mom had seen her mother, my grandmother, that night; she had seen her bright brown eyes and brilliant white hair.  She insisted that it was not a dream, that her mother was in the room stooped over and then straightening out of the cubby.  Early that morning, we had a call that Grandma had died.

Years later, the idea came to my sister that she could make a rocking chair in the other room rock by using her mind.  When we talked about it, I mentioned that my mother’s lamp in the guest room lit itself whenever I had deep thoughts about her.  We wondered if we should tell the others; if perhaps they, too, had some type of power.  We thought better of it, and decided not to.  We never talk about whether or not she rocks the chair anymore, and I still have Mom’s lamp that lights every now and then.

Inspired by Jonathan Blais “Cooby Hole.”

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