Family

Immersed in the Past

ImagesRecently I bought a Groupon to have our old family videos converted to digital. Our VCR has long since broken down and I hadn't seen any of these films in years.

Back in the 1980s, we rented a video camera - a heavy, complicated behemoth of a thing - so we could document our new baby girl. By the 1990s we actually invested in one ourselves. It was very expensive. 

All this, of course, was long before cell phones or the Internet for that matter. 

Anyway the first batch of conversions has arrived and I am absolutely riveted. Who is this young family? Those beautiful children? My husband, with a huge mop of jet-black hair? And was I ever that young myself?! I was in my twenties when my daughter was born. And there I am pregnant with my son, clutching the hand of my three-year-old girl. She is in a pink bathing suit with a little skirt, mine is a navy blue maternity suit that I borrowed from my friend Missy. 

In one way, it's reassuring to watch these old movies. Sure, we were on our best behavior when the camera rolled, but I can see I was a calm and loving mother. (Somehow I'd remembered myself as an emotional wreck, but in the films I look competent and relaxed.) 

But these images also fill me with longing and sadness. That newborn blinking up at that mobile in his crib? He's moving across the country with his wife at the end of the month. That little toddler with the mass of blonde hair singing to herself? She already lives thousands of miles away.

How did this all happen so soon? 

 

 


Kids, Camp and the Moon

Download-4In July of 1969, I was at summer camp in Maine. It was an all-girls "sleep-away" camp and the season was a full eight weeks. 

I loved, loved, loved camp. It was a world away and to me it felt  like a world unto itself. We lived in wooden cabins with no electricity. We used outhouses, and bathed and shampooed in the lake. (This was before people realized that the suds from Breck and Prell shampoos weren't great for the water.) We all wore the same green shorts and white shirts, and we all swam in the freezing cold lake, climbed local mountains, and paddled canoes to go on camping trips.

We girls navigated at night with flashlights, mindful of the tree roots buried in pine needles. Our favorite past time was playing jacks. I wrote home on pieces of birch bark, even though my mom had equipped me with stationery.

One night, after taps had been played and we were all asleep in our cabins, our counselor woke us up. We were all to go to the campfire area. Sleepy and confused, we stumbled our way in the cool, dark Maine night. The whole camp had gathered.

Incredibly, we found a small black and white television set perched on a tree trunk. Multiple extension cords led from the back of the set into the dining area, the only camp building with electricity. Download-2We'd been brought to watch a man walk on the moon. 

We strained at the grainy image.  You could barely make out what was on the screen, a fuzzy grey figure moving in almost slow motion. One of the counselors kept adjusting the antenna.

I don't know what was more shocking - a television at camp - or a man walking on the moon. 

Afterwards, we all headed back to our cabins. The batteries in my flashlight were weak - shedding only the palest light ahead.  I stopped and pointed my flashlight up at the moon, as if that could make what I'd witnessed more comprehensible.

I know that kids at camp now own cell phones with more computing power than Apollo 11 had that day. Yet I feel lucky beyond words that I got to be a child back then.


Maddy (2005-2019)

Maddy   
    Fourteen years ago, a tiny stray kitten wandered into a jewelry store in Annapolis, Maryland. And in one of those weird twists of life, she ended up in our New York home.

    The basics: our daughter's college boyfriend's little sister had a part-time job in that store. She brought the little stray home, but her Mom was allergic to cats. Overnight, that cat somehow became our responsibility. My daughter argued that the kitten was likely to go to a kill shelter unless we took it. "Her death will be on your hands," she told me darkly. (My daughter has a flare for the dramatic.)

    Anyway, we ended up with Maddy.  She was tiny, four months old, very vocal (every hop up and down any surface was accentuated with a quizzical "Meww?" almost as if she wondered what had just happened. Our vet  looked at her and described her as "riding the short bus," a very politically incorrect way of describing what she saw as Maddy's vacuity. 

    It's true that it took Maddy a few years to master her name. And she still struggled to understand that both sliding doors led into the house. But oh, what a sweet girl she was! Full of affection and love. For such a small  cat (she never exceeded 8 lbs at her heaviest) she had a mighty purr, and she wasn't scared of anything or anyone.

    Maddy adored my husband, and followed him around like a puppy. She stretched when he stretched, meditated when he meditated, curled up and watched hockey games with him and slept on his side of the bed.

    Last night our vet (not the one who dissed Maddy but a different and lovely one) came to our house to put Maddy down. The kitty had cancer and it was spreading. Maddy was really sick and had no chance of recovering. She was suffering.

    Maddy curled up in Mike's lap while the vet gave her a sedative. After she was very sleepy, the vet gave her a second shot to put her down. The whole time we were petting Maddy and telling her how much we loved her. It was a peaceful end, and she was carried away in the little blue kitty bed she loved.

    We thanked Maddy repeatedly for all the love she brought into our lives. 

    Who knows how long I will keep waiting for her to round the corner, making her little mewing sound and jump into my lap?


Comfort

ImagesThe second anniversary of my Dad's death is coming up. The deep mourning - that feeling that your heart is actually sinking inside your body - has passed. But I miss him all the time. Some days are harder than others.

When my Dad was in his final days, I got some good advice. Ask for something of his - a sweater, a shirt - just something tangible of his to have and to hold. Now I have several pieces of his clothing, though inevitably they've had to be washed and have gradually lost his smell. But still they give me comfort.

Just last night I felt a sharp need to be with him. I slept in one of his old t-shirts, and thought of it as my Dad giving me a long hug. 

 


A Small Thing

DownloadThis week, I was visiting my daughter. She has "Alexa" - that personal-assistant thing from Amazon. (Yes, I know. I'm ancient.)

Anyway, we were in her apartment making dinner and she asked, "Mom, do you want to listen to some music?" "Sure," I replied. "What do you want to listen to?"  "Whatever you've got," I said. She paused. "How about the Beatles?" "Great!"

After which she simply said, "Alexa, please play the Beatles."

What got me? Not the technology. It was that my daughter has such lovely manners that she says "please" to a machine. A small thing. But sweet. Like my daughter.

 

 


Come Back....

Download-3My dreams are populated with my Dad, my beloved friend Missy, and my little brother, all of whom died in the last two years. 

Dad comes and checks on me as I lay in my childhood bed. He kisses my forehead and listens to my childhood evening prayer: "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep..."

Billy, my brother, is often morphed with my son Paul in my dreams.  He is always young - maybe six - and he's in trouble. I'm trying to help him but I can't.

Missy has been alive all along, her death a prank. I am torn between fury and relief.

In my waking life, I'm reading "The Unwinding of the Miracle" by Julie Yip-Williams, a cancer memoir. The author is dead now, but I just listened to a podcast featuring her husband, sister and best friend. They all believe she has sent them signs from the other world. 

But I don't see any signs. I just long for them.


Then and Now

K and Sal weddingI'm writing this from my bestie's house, where I've been visiting for the week. And what have we done? Nothing. And everything. Cooked together, taken walks, worked on our respective computers, drank copious amounts of wine, danced, and talked, talked, talked and laughed until the tears came.

I know it's a thing now on Facebook to post your first profile photo and your current one. (Those in the know say it's just Facebook's way of improving  facial recognition techniques, but whatever.) I'm not interested in showing how my face has aged in the last 12 years.

But I am interested in how long this treasured friendship has lasted. Sally and I have been friends for almost 45 years. Kate and Sal now

Here's my then and now - first one, obviously, taken at my wedding (when we had already been friends for years) and second, taken yesterday. I would like to get props for posting a photo of myself with out a speck of makeup.

 

 


Love and Hate

DownloadStill struggling with integrating disparate worlds. The Pittsburgh synagogue murders break my heart. I cry whenever I read about it. I hadn't even finished reading about the bombs sent to 14 people before this slaughter happened.

Our country is in deep trouble. Every day it gets worse. 

And then there's my family. Last weekend we spent my son's 30th birthday in upstate New York. My husband and me, our daughter, our son and his wife. I wanted to freeze frame just about every minute - the hikes (all of us in ridiculous matching bright orange wool caps, which I insisted we wear because it's deer hunting season), the laughter, the games, the meals, listening to my daughter and my daughter-in-law compare notes on political canvassing, watching the tender relationship between my son and his wife, watching my husband quietly take care of stoking the fire to keep us warm....

Sheesh - I'm teaching tonight at the place-that-shall-not-be-named, and I was going to focus on run-on sentences. Doctor, heal thyself.

Anyway, I know I am privileged to be able to put some distance between my family and the political nightmare that is our country. Many people, especially those living in war ravaged countries, cannot. And yes, most of us are doing what we can to repair this broken, broken world.

But I'm scared. And you can only hide out in the mountains for so long.

 

 


Full Circle

Sometimes role reversal can be very sweet. Images

My husband and I both spend a lot of time caring for aging parents. (Sorry, Mom, but you are 94, albeit an incredibly feisty and competent 94.) These last few weeks have been particularly difficult for my husband, whose father is very ill.

As of yesterday morning we were still on the fence about visiting our daughter, who has moved to Seattle. But we went ahead and flew across country, knowing that at any moment we might have to return. 

Last night, jet-lagged and emotionally worn out, we sat at on my daughter's couch. She'd put out snacks and was cooking us an early dinner because she knew we'd be tired. The guest room in her apartment was both immaculate and cozy. 

She sent us to bed right after dinner; she and her boyfriend cleaned the kitchen and took care of everything else, including setting up the coffee for the next morning, should we rise on east coast time. 

It's hard to describe how amazing it feels to be taken care of my our daughter. But in a word: wonderful.


Missing You

Images-1I miss everyone I lost last year.

Yesterday, I was longing to tell my friend Missy about a dream I had. She'd have listened, snorted, and then come up with some completely irreverent interpretation that would make me laugh. There are so many things I need to tell her. 

I also really need to talk to my Dad. I have some questions about the Adirondacks that only he can answer. Mostly I want to look into his brown eyes, pat his leg and tell him how much I love him. 

Also,  I keep coming across pictures of my little brother and me. We are often touching - holding hands, or he is hanging off of my arm. With Bill, I want to warn him and protect him from the life he would lead. I want to go back in time, not just to before his death, but back to when we were 12 and 6 respectively, when he was a pale, tow-headed, chubby kid with no shadow of the terrible things to come and I was his alternately annoyed and affectionate big sister.