The Beach, a Memory: NaPoWriMo

Dimply in the dapply light,

she danced in joy, my little sprite

the sea breeze tossed her springly hair

while seabirds squawckled in the air

she skipped upon the golden sand

till her father took her by the hand,

together they walked to wavy sea

(tumbling, white-capped, spumey sea)

where in a Jersey summer rite,

she jumped right in, such pure delight

 

Day 18, NaPoWriMo. The prompt was to incorporate neologisms, made-up words.

This poem is based on my memory of the first time our older daughter saw the ocean.

Day and Night, Hope 2017: NaPoWriMo

Monday Morning Musings:

“They lived in narrow streets and lanes obscure,

Ghetto and Judenstrass, in mirk and mire;

Taught in the school of patience to endure

The life of anguish and the death of fire.

 

All their lives long, with the unleavened bread

And bitter herbs of exile and its fears,

The wasting famine of the heart they fed,

And slaked its thirst with marah of their tears.”

From, “The Jewish Cemetery at Newport,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, full text with annotations here.

 

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,

Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,

Here once the embattled farmers stood

And fired the shot heard round the world.

–from “Concord Hymn” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

April came in with showers, dreary and cold

seemingly, spring was stopped, would not unfold

with flowers and green

then, suddenly, it took hold.

 

We took my mother out to lunch

sat on the porch to enjoy the air

watched dogs pull the owners, sniff,

noses in the air, aware

of scents in the air, of food, and treats

of magic there

 

It was a day she thanked us for

to enjoy the sights

(what she can still see)

to have the food

(not her typical fare)

to feel the air

and hear the ducks quack

and the geese honk,

in her ninety-fourth spring,

another voyage around the sun.

 

 

Passover began that night

but in our crazy way,

the family celebration,

(our celebration of family)

was not until five nights later.

Was it just me thinking about freedom

and how Passover seems more relevant this year?

 

My family arrived,

we missed a few,

sisters, a daughter and her wife,

we hug and kissed,

poured the wine, and began,

taking turns reading from a Haggadah

I put together several years ago,

it probably needs to be updated,

but still, one grand-nephew laughed at the jokes,

“Tonight we drink of four glasses of wine—unless you’re driving”

and all took part in the reading of the Passover Play,

 

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rewritten every Passover,

one daughter’s work this year,

with Trump jokes, Hamilton references, and lines about family quirks and neuroses,

 

 

We said,“Dayenu,” and attempted to sing “Go Down Moses”

(not very successfully)

then we ate,

and ate,

and ate some more,

 

 

my great-niece, played her ukulele,

and my daughter sang

(I miss hearing that voice)

and then it was time for dessert,

we took pictures,

 

wrapped up leftovers,

and forgot the Afikomen,

after everyone left,

the cats came out to sniff

noses in the air,

aware of scents in the air,

on the tables

and through the windows,

Was Elijah there?

 

The next morning,

I saw the moon,

her dark half

not quite hidden

darkness and light

opposites,

black and white

good and evil,

April’s changeable moods

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Moon at dawn

In the newspaper,

I read about the new Museum of the American Revolution

to open on April 19th,

the anniversary of the Battles at Lexington and Concord

the shots heard round the world,

it’s the anniversary, too, of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising,

1943,

lasting for almost a month

captive Jews,

desperate,

fighting for their lives

fighting for freedom

 

The first American president,

a slaveholder,

led an army,

fighting for freedom,

he met with the enslaved poet

while he was still a general,

after she had written poetry in his honor,

as president, he met with leaders of the Touro synagogue

in Rhode Island, championing the Bill of Rights

and freedom of religion

 

Another poet would visit that same synagogue in the next century,

he’d write strangely prescient lines of ghettos, starving, and fire,

would write of the Passover meal with its bitter herbs and salty tears

in the twenty-first century,

we would still think of that time,

of all those times,

we thought war would be over

dip spring greens into salty water,

oh brave, new world—

 

We laugh, eat, drink, and sing at Passover,

holding evil at bay,

the table,

charmed circle,

is filled with more non-Jews than Jews,

and more non-believers

than believers,

 

Around us

(Do you hear them?

Do you see them in the shadows?)

ghosts from the past,

echoes,

ghosts of memories,

memories held like ghosts,

flitting at the edge of consciousness

dancing in a ring,

(they all fall down)

ancestors, known and unknown,

the blood of slaves,

the blood of the lamb,

the blood of men, women, and children who cry

who die,

even now

 

My family,

crazy like the April weather,

how I love you,

and love is love is love is love is love

and so, we love,

even as the ghosts hover,

just beyond us

hidden,

the dark side of the moon,

and we laugh,

and we eat,

and we hope

 

 

This is Day 17 of NaPoWriMo. Today’s prompt is to write a nocturne. Perhaps I’ve written half a nocturne.

I am honored to be today’s featured poet for the poem I posted yesterday, “If Only.”

 

 

If Only: NaPoWriMo

 

I sometimes write a letter in my head,

“Dear Dad,” I think,

have you heard, did you see, what do you think–

or perhaps a phone call,

like when I called to tell him I was pregnant,

standing in the kitchen of that apartment in Woodbury,

the first floor of a house,

shaded by oak trees,

old enough to have seen

its former glory,

before multiple pairs, young couples

who, like the seasons,

moved in and moved on,

but that day,

door and windows open

the summer

was warm with promise,

(or so I remember it),

nature—and I–bursting with life,

he tried to speak,

but couldn’t,

overcome,

his voice caught,

words tangled in salty threads of joy.

The baby is grown now,

and so is her sister,

they only got to know him for a short while,

he didn’t own a computer,

died before phones were smart,

but I amuse myself imagining him ranting on social media,

calling out the swamp monsters,

and adding heart emojis to photos of children and pets.

“Dear Dad,” I think

I’d love to talk to you again.

 

Day 16 of NaPoWriMo. The prompt was to write a letter.

 

 

 

 

Between Here and Always

Monday Morning Musings:

The Oracle gave me this poem over the weekend.

 

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Between here and always

is light–

vivid soul-blossoms living wild,

secret garden from dark night,

world was and is

 

In February, this month of birthdays,

time moves backward and forward,

fluid

here and always

what was, what is, and what will be

 

even the weather seems confused,

time and season changing from day to day

light and dark

warm and cold

flowers bloom,

secret gardens amidst leaves

covered as snow falls

 

here

always

 

We celebrate my husband’s birthday with Pakistani food,

the owner remembers him and my son-in-law

they picked up food there on the day my daughter and son-in-law

moved into their house,

yes, they looked tired that day, the man says,

(he is pleased we’ve returned)

the food is delicious,

we eat flaky samosas with yogurt sauce and green chili sauce

then our various entries—slow cooked beef, lamb, chicken,

and vegetarian dishes of eggplant and moong dal with palek,

the chef comes out to meet us,

we tell them we’ll come back

here

 

We have wine and cheesecake afterward at my daughter’s house,

 

 

the house crackles and creaks a bit as the heat of the gas fire warms the room,

ghost sounds,

my daughter-in-law mentions a John McCain poster figure

her father used to hide it around their house to startle people,

I recall the mannequin my sister and a roommate had in their apartment

they used to dress her for different events,

one daughter says she saw a woman on the T carrying the arm of a mannequin–

silence,

there must be a story,

then, other daughter asks, “are you sure it was a mannequin’s arm?”

 

here and always,

food, love, and stories.

 

Later, I pull out tablecloths

they’ve been buried at the bottom of a cedar chest

almost two decades now,

once a special part of our daughters’ birthday parties

years of drawings and comments,

words written by children

now grown

scribbled messages,

ghosts of the past,

each daughter takes a tablecloth

Happy Birthday, I say.

They are always in my heart.

 

 

I make a photo/memory album for my mother-in-law

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I have an assistant.

 

born in 1937,

the middle of the Great Depression,

1937,

Amelia Earhart disappeared, Japan invaded China, the Nanking massacre took place, the Hindenburg exploded,  the Golden Gate Bridge opened,

Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves premiered, and Of Mice and Men was published–

my husband says, yes but the most important thing is that my mother was born

and of course, to her, to him, and to me, it is

without that,

he would not be here

and our children would not be

perhaps there is another timeline,

perhaps there is another always,

ghosts that flicker

just out of sight

another story

but not here

 

We celebrate her 80th birthday

at our house

 

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a friend of hers stops by,

an eightieth birthday party surprise

(“I won’t stay long,” the friend says,

“I’ve just had a heart attack,”

a story I could not make up)

daughters and I have made enough food

to feed twice as many people,

 

 

enough for more surprise people,

or any strangers who might wander in,

we eat and talk

and memories flow–

what was, what is–

my mother-in-law’s wish–

to see my nephew, her grandson, grow up

What will he be?

(What will be?)

At some point, we will look back

at this moment

in snapshots

time frozen

what is now will be then

this warm sunny day,

filled with light,

here and always

our souls blossom

with love

here

always

 

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Banana Chocolate Chip Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

 

If you are in the Sicklerville, NJ area, I highly recommend Mera Khana restaurant. It’s a small, unassuming restaurant in a strip mall–but such delicious food and wonderful people.

 

Dolls, Ghosts, and Memories

Monday Morning Musings:

 “Remember thee!

Ay, thou poor ghost, whiles memory holds a seat

In this distracted globe.”

–William Shakespeare, Hamlet

 

“but with ribbons

it was spinning Fates conjured,

bewitched by the doll mistress

who knew her dreams.

Whose intention they must spin.”

–Luanne Castle, “For the Doll Mistress”

from Doll God (Aldrich Press, 2015)

 

The play began,

the first floor of a bed and breakfast,

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, late November,

every surface is covered with knickknacks,

including American Girl doll Samantha,

and it turns out that Jenny, a guest there,

had a Samantha doll,

who she believed was always angry at her,

maybe is still angry at her,

now that she’s packed away in the basement of Jenny’s parents’ home,

(though Jenny cut out pieces of the cardboard box so the doll could see)

And the innkeeper asks Jenny and her boyfriend,

who are facing problems in their relationship,

she asks them each separately,

if they’ve ever felt that they were watched

as though something watched over them.

(I think of how I don’t like people to watch me

when I sleep. How I’ve been awakened by a gaze.)

The bed and breakfast might be haunted,

(this is Gettysburg, after all)

the Jackson room is sometimes “unreliable,”

(perhaps, so are we all)

Mertis, the innkeeper, mentions

the building was a hospital for Union soldiers,

amputated limbs were tossed out of the windows.

Jenny later meets Genevieve, Mertis’s, blind friend,

Genevieve might be crazy,

she thought she was possessed by the spirit of her ex-husband John,

and John, is also the name of Jenny’s former lover,

(we all know someone named John)

who also has a hold on her,

Genevieve hears rustling sounds that no one else hears—

is it us, the audience?

Mertis admits she’s a bit of a mind reader.

Is she also a witch,

a doll mistress, arranging the scenes for Jenny and Elias?

Mertis winds the clock at the end of each scene,

she closes the curtains at the end of each act, and opens them again.

She lights her “angel chimes,” near the end of the play,

flames cause the angel figures to fly,

there is a final sort of “ah-ha” moment,

did Mertis help bring it about?

Did she know their dreams,

the intentions they must spin?

 

There is much to ponder in this play,

filled with as many details as the B&B’s room,

It is long, punctuated with silences,

but it does not seem long to me.

We sit, drinking coffee,

and discuss it.

 

 

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Customs House Coffee is–of course– across the street from the Customs House Building

 

The next day, I look for my daughters’ American Girls dolls,

I see Molly and Felicity high up on a shelf

(one of each daughter’s dolls)

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Molly and Felicity with Frieda

 

but no Samantha or Josefina,

I wonder if they are in the attic

then I  wonder if they are angry.

Should I find them a new home,

foster parents to take them in?

I think of my son-in-law

who was saved by a couple who took him in,

who became his new parents,

moving behind the scenes,

directing them, providing props,

to make certain he was cared for

before he knew his dreams.

Was it fated,

fated he’d meet his love in a play?

 

We talk about dolls at my younger daughter’s house.

(ghosts and memories)

She remembers–

she didn’t want to send her Molly doll off to be repaired

fearing her doll might be replaced,

another Molly,

so she kept her Molly,

and cared gently for her fractured arm,

holding it on with a rubber band,

battlefield medicine.

 

My son-in-law enters the room,

makes an innocent remark,

daughter and I burst into laughter,

laughter that bring tears,

and simultaneously,

sitting across from one another,

we wipe our eyes,

mirror figures,

mother and daughter.

 

My mother tells us,

when she was a little girl,

sick with diphtheria,

(a ghost disease),

she dropped her doll,

“they” took it away,

wouldn’t let her have it in the hospital,

and she cried for her doll,

and she cried for her parents,

who also were not allowed in her sick room,

when she was finally  home,

there was another doll for her,

It wasn’t the same doll,

but. . .she shrugs.

Did your mother make clothes for your dolls?

(She sewed beautifully, I tell my daughter.)

Yes, until my brother was born when I was six.

He was a handful.

He baby brother, now gone,

gone before her.

Ghosts and memories.

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I have not been good about reviewing the books my friends have written. But with a play in which a doll was a key plot point, and a discussion of dolls, I thought of my doll-loving blogger friend. Poet Luanne Castle’s writes about many different topics on her blog— including family, history, travel, and cats.

Her book of poetry, Doll God   is the 2015 winner of the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award. The poems are thoughtful, thought-provoking, lyrical, and sometimes enigmatic. Do check it out!

We saw John by Annie Baker at the Arden Theater in Philadelphia.

 

A New Home, the Kindness of Strangers

Monday Morning Musings:

“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

–Blanche,  A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

“Thank you, Mr. Rochester, for your great kindness. I am strangely glad to get back again to you: and wherever you are is my home—my only home.”

–Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

 

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After he had served his country,

had been a stranger in more than one strange land,

and was home, if not settled,

he joined a community of strangers

who became friends.

Theater brought the couple together,

in A Streetcar Named Desire,

they sparred with words and movement

(a subtext created)

my daughter said “He’s nothing like Stanley,”

reassuring me,

and she,

my practical dreamer, is nothing like Blanche,

the magic of theater,

bringing something of oneself in playing another,

finding empathy for strangers,

a valuable skill, I’d say.

Perhaps a community brought them together,

these two,

so different,

so similar,

they married,

the English teacher bride with her Jane Eyre message,

“Reader, I married him.”

Every year she meets new students,

strangers, whom she will guide.

The groom, studying to become a nurse,

will care for strangers, too.

And through the kindness of strangers,

they now have a house.

Home is where the heart is,

so the old proverb goes,

but it’s certainly pleasant to have four sturdy walls

and a roof—

with skylights.

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Months ago, the process began,

 I saw something online,

I entered to win a house.

Really? we laughed a bit–

because who wins the lottery?

But they did.

The kindness of strangers,

Operation Homefront,

gave this veteran and his wife a rare opportunity,

a home of their own.

 

They waited,

spring turned to summer, fall,

in winter, they finally saw their new home.

a magical day–

after all, we stood without coats in January

when a few days before snow lay on the ground.

the sun was shining,

a gentle breeze lifted and tangle the flag,

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the veteran lifted his bride

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It brought back memories–

when my husband and I bought our house,

I was pregnant with her sister,

our first child,

the house was dirty and needed work before we could move in,

old, musty carpets pulled out, floors refinished, and walls painted,

we relied, not on strangers, but on friends

who helped us with the tasks

(laboring before I labored)

Their house was renovated by strangers,

a little dream house with a yard for their dog,

 

 

sunny windows for their cat,

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a room for friends to stay in,

space to dream,

and a chocolate cake in the refrigerator.

 

We celebrated that night,

pizza and wine,

the servers, astounded by our tale,

thanked him for his service,

we ordered dessert–

it was a celebration,

and yes, that sopapilla cheesecake

(with butter rum sauce)

was delicious.

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It snowed once again,

briefly, white flakes touched the ground and melted,

then the sun returned for moving day,

a long day of packing, moving, unloading trucks and cars–

and doing it again,

family this time, not strangers.

 

We celebrated again

this time with delicious Pakistani food

from a newly discovered restaurant

in their new neighborhood

where the owner, a stranger,

gave them extra naan.

We ate in the kitchen

on paper plates

drank wine from plastic cups,

boxes still to be unpacked,

but they were home,

settled,

and their cat finally came out from hiding to explore,

and settled down in front of the fire.

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That’s the way life goes

days of sun and days of cold,

but they will be snug in their new home,

a dream house,

a house filled with dreams,

with a fire in their fireplace,

from their bed, they’ll watch the moon,

and maybe even hear it hum a lullaby

as the clouds go dancing by,

 

they’ll sleep and dream sweet dreams

and they will be strangely glad

to be home.

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Photo credit: Sheryl C. Smith, 2017

 

Here is a brief news segment about Sheryl and Eric on the day they received the key to their new home.

And an article

Eric and Sheryl received their house through Operation Homefront, Homes on the Homefront

We ate pizza at Holy Tomato

And delicious Pakistani food at Mera Khana

 

Light in My Heart

Monday Morning Musings

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“I like on the table,

when we’re speaking,

the light of a bottle

of intelligent wine.

Drink it,

and remember in every

drop of gold,

in every topaz glass,

in every purple ladle,

that autumn labored

to fill the vessel with wine.”

Pablo Neruda, “Ode to Wine”

 

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”

Desmond Tutu, New York Times, March 4, 2010

 

“Like Dian’s kiss, unasked, unsought,

Love gives itself, but is not bought:

Her voice, nor sound betrays

Its deep, impassioned gaze.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Endymion”

 

My younger daughter told me it would be a birthday celebration

with her sister and her sister’s wife

(since they couldn’t be here for the one with my sisters)

a girls’ night, they’d devise

with the location to be kept unknown from me

a surprise.

 

We traveled down dark country roads,

my husband the designated driver,

I wondered where we were going,

But when we pulled into the Monroeville Winery driveway

I began to suspect this was going to be something more

than an evening with my daughters.

“Surprise!” my friends shouted,

as we walked through the door.

The tasting room was decorated for the holidays,

and for my birthday celebration, too,

the tables glowed with lights,

made by my daughter

from bottles the winery saved for her.

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I like light on the table,

the light of a bottle

(Intelligent wine?)

Hugs and kisses all around

(I felt like I walked above the ground.)

Greeting from friends–

some I hadn’t seen in quite a while—

and that made me smile,

I felt love

unasked for, unsought,

but freely given

(or so I hope).

There were delicious treats: cheeses and dips,

a huge chocolate, chocolate cake

with chocolate frosting, too,

(Have I mentioned I like chocolate?)

and wine, of course,

poured in the barrel room

where one could schmooze a bit

with the gracious vintner

about the various selections.

I was given my birthday crown,

and daughters performed a song parody–

All of the things I didn’t know they had done

when they were children

and that they were now sorry for

 

We did things we regret, like shaving the heads of our Barbies

Cause we need just one more shot at forgiveness

I know you know that we hid candy maybe once or twice

By once or twice I mean maybe until all the ants arrived

 

So now I know,

light in the darkness

and light in my heart.

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My 60th Birthday part at Monroeville Winery

 

We went to my niece’s house,

our traditional Christmas Eve brunch

my niece, a bit of a stressed-out mess

because we were meeting some of her

her father’s family for the first time

(it’s a long story)

“Classic family” and new family mingled

we ate

so much food

(of course)

and there were light sabers

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and cookies

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I baked a few cookies. This is a sample.

 

a Christmas challah

 

 

presents

 

and love

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and we lit her menorah before we left

and then she put it in her sink

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because she was afraid her house would burn down–

Crazy family,

I love them so much.

There was light in the darkness

and light in my heart.

 

We came home to light our own Hanukkah candles

and to decorate our Christmas tree

Merry, Happy Chrismukkah!

 

 

On Christmas morning,

dark, quiet, and still,

I saw the moon

radiant,

a crescent miracle of light

Jupiter and Saturn nearby,

shining brightly

and I felt hope in the darkness

and light in my heart.

 

We ate our traditional Christmas fondue

with Buffalo wings for the meat eaters.

We opened presents,

lit the Hanukkah candles,

and drank some wine,

drops of gold and sips of purple,

we told fart jokes and laughed

laughter and love

light in the darkness

and light in my heart

 

 

We will go to see my husband’s family

exchange hugs and presents,

and come home to fry latkes,

the house will smell like oil for days

lingering like memories,

but we will light the candles

and we will laugh

and there will be light in the darkness

and light in my heart.

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Fa La La: A Birthday Carol

Monday Morning Musings:

“Looking back, seeing far, landing right where we are

And oh, you’re aging, oh and I am aging,

Oh, aren’t we aging well?”

–Dar Williams, “You’re Aging Well”

 

“I am the ghost of Christmas Present,” said the Spirit. “Look upon me.”

–Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

 

On my sixtieth birthday, I wake,

and I feel fine,

the same as did when I was fifty-nine.

I’m Merril the same as I have always been

with the calm certainty that I am me,

and this is forever who I will be.

 

Celebrations take place over several days,

(like a Jewish holiday, you know)

each one with food and wine,

and I feel fine.

 

First my husband and I go to Monk’s Café

we’re bundled against the cold night

but still I appreciate the Christmas lights

as we scurry from our car to there

breathing bursts of frosty air

till we’re seated at a window table where we watch people

rushing and bustling, walking dogs of every size

we’re in a bit of a hurry,

as we have tickets to a show,

so we forego their famous mussels, but not the fries,

I have a glass of wine, and I feel fine.

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Pommes frite at Monk’s Cafe

 

The show is called The Carols,

set in a VFW Hall in New Jersey,

it’s 1944, the men are gone because of the war,

heartfelt, if not brilliant,

but their voices beautiful

much more than suitable,

there are Yiddish phrases and 1940’s slang.

We laugh though the jokes are old,

it’s kind of sweet, and we are sold,

the retelling of A Christmas Carol

with a Christmas brisket is very funny,

(and well worth the money),

and the Christmas tale, the Yiddish shtick,

the sister love, the examples of

reminds me of my family, too,

and all the silly things we do,

the ghosts of Christmases, past, present, and future

combine in memory,

aged in my mind, and I feel fine.

 

 

The next night, my husband and I see La La Land

like an old-fashioned musical

the stars sing and dance amidst the stars,

there is jazz and heartbreak,

snappy rhythms, and we hear the beat,

not of Forty-Second Street,

but of Los Angeles,

City of Angels, City of Stars

shining just for them.

We discuss the movie over Indian food,

I am in complete movie musical mood,

So when my husband says, “It was a Merril movie,”

he is right, and I feel fine.

(And the onion bhajia are divine.)

 

Another celebration, another day,

with one daughter and sisters,

more food and wine,

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more talk and laughter,

and it could go on forever after.

One sister brings some funny headwear,

and we take photos in the restaurant,

when I try on a hat

another says,

“You look so cute. Like a pirate. A pirate baker.”

We laugh because it’s all so silly,

but in these uncertain times, we run willy-nilly

and seek shelter in our love and family jokes,

these are the people I love, my folks,

and they give me the gift of their time–

and cheese, and chocolate, and some wine,

and yes, indeed, I do feel fine.

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At Tria Cafe Rittenhouse for my 60th birthday celebration.

 

Afterwards, my daughter and I walk to the Christmas Village,

she’s not seen it, and she snaps a selfie

with us in our silly hats–

and I think we’re wealthy,

my daughter and I to share this love and bond

that goes so far, and much beyond,

and later I read the poem she has written me,

cry a bit, at the beauty

of feelings that she has, and lets me see.

 

 

My other daughter sends me a text

that the end of the Sound of Music seems too real,

and it makes me sad to hear such fear,

and though we must fight, and though we ache,

still, there’s much to celebrate,

to climb every mountain and ford every spring

to find our dreams,

yet I think we are right where we are

and we are aging well,

though only time will tell.

And so, with family and friends,

I’ll hold on to love,

I’ll fit it closely like a glove,

and stare defiantly at fate,

raise a glass of blood-red wine

and tell the world, that I feel fine.

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Birthday card

 

It is rumored that more celebrating is on the way, so stay tuned!

Here is Dar Williams singing  “You’re Aging Well.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Singing an American Tune

Monday Morning Musings:

 

“Oh, we come on the ship they call the Mayflower

We come on the ship that sailed the moon

We come in the age’s most uncertain hour

And sing an American tune

Oh, it’s all right, it’s all right

It’s all right, it’s all right

You can’t be forever blessed

Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day

And I’m trying to get some rest

That’s all I’m trying to get some rest.”

–Paul Simon, “An American Tune”

 

“In folks nearest to you finding the sweetest, strongest, lovingest;

Happiness, knowledge, not in another place, but this place—not for another hour, but this hour.”

–Walt Whitman, “Carol of Occupations,” Leaves of GrassPreparation, Anticipation

  1. Preparation, Anticipation:

I don’t feel as organized this year,

distracted by the election, by the news, by work

and this and that,

still, I cook applesauce, bake challah and pumpkin bread,

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placing them in the freezer to wait for the holiday,

I make mushroom gravy,

(which, by the way, is delicious)

while listening to “Hamilton,”

dancing around the kitchen,

grandchild of immigrants,

I sing an American tune,

preparing for this holiday of food and gratefulness.

 

Two days before Thanksgiving

younger daughter comes over to break bread for stuffing,

packages of sliced white bread

(stuff I would never buy to eat),

it’s what we have always used for stuffing

a family tradition for this family holiday.

My sister and I used to break bread while watching

Thanksgiving parades,

then–long ago–my mother made the stuffing,

but time passes the tradition baton to the next generation,

or, perhaps a different metaphor,

a page turned in a book,

the story continues, characters die, new ones appear,

the plot changes, and who knows how it will end?

But we are here in this hour, in this story, happy and grateful.

 

We watch an old episode of Gilmore Girls,

It is Thanksgiving in Stars Hollow,

mother and daughter—them, not us—

eat four Thanksgiving dinners in one day.

We laugh, as we break the bread into small pieces,

letting them fall, filling my huge stock pot

(did I mention we like stuffing?)

and try to imagine eating four Thanksgiving meals.

H. calls later that night,

Did the cranberry sauce jell last year? I’m trying to figure out how long it needs to cook?

Cooking is not an exact science with us,

it’s done by taste and feel,

with sometimes a ghost or two hovering nearby

they whisper in our heads,

You do it like that.

Remember that time?

 

At H’s house, on Thanksgiving Eve, there is a family cranberry sauce making activity.

I have given her the cherished squirrel mold,

and with my 94-year-old mother in attendance,

they cook, strain, and pour the mixture in the mold.

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  1. The Holiday Meal

On Thanksgiving, here at my house,

my sister-in-law unmolds the sauce.

“You do it once, and it becomes your job,” she says,

 

It takes three of us to wrangle the cooked turkey onto the board to carve it.

Wine opening, similarly becomes a joint effort

after the corkscrew breaks and the cork is shredded on two bottles.

But we need wine at Thanksgiving,

and where there’s a will, there’s a way–

with a new corkscrew and bit of muscle.

 

To my mom:”Are you okay, do you need anything?”

Reply, “Life is good, I just finished my wine.”

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Food and conversation flow around the table

(like the wine)

tidbits of both, chewed, swallowed, or scattered like crumbs,

we all say we miss our older daughter and her wife,

but they will be with us next year,

we tease my great-niece about her boyfriend

We’re only in seventh grade!

We laugh when my great nephew exclaims,

“That’s why we’re sisters!”

(and then realizes what he said).

We have discussions about other Thanksgiving meals,

younger daughter has made mashed rutabaga

for her daddy because his grandmother used to make it,

there is mention of carb-free Thanksgivings–

a group shudder, unthinkable.

 

We discuss my mother’s mother’s cooking.

she koshered the meat, salting it till it was too dry to eat,

my older sister says,

but she was a good baker, my sister says,

“She excelled at carbs!”

We eat, we drink, we are more stuffed than the Thanksgiving turkey,

and there is still dessert–

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But it’s all right, it’s all right,

it’s part of the American tune,

songs of many cultures,

songs of immigrants,

songs of many types of love,

because love is love–

I am so grateful for this family.

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Then it’s over, everyone leaves,

the hiding cat reappears

My husband, designated driver and dishwasher, texts me that he’s stuck in traffic

I put “Hamilton” on again

dance around the kitchen while I take care of dishes

And then it’s time to get some rest.

 

  1. The Day After

Younger daughter comes over to watch the NEW Gilmore Girls series.

We are so excited,

we eat Thanksgiving leftovers–and watch the entire series,

Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall.

Gilmore Girls practically demands binge watching and binge eating,

we do our part.

Happiness in this hour,

and the next

and the next

(stopping to make coffee and get some pie)

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Ghosts from the past on the TV screen,

ghosts from our past, too,

before daughters were grown and married.

Time has marched on for both our families—the Gilmore’s and my own,

people lost, and people added to the family,

traditions continue,

traditions evolve,

life comes full circle,

but still

there is happiness in this time,

in this place,

it’s an American tune

and after the holiday is over

it’s time to get some rest.

 

 

 

Following and Leading with Family and Fish

Monday Morning Musings:

“Where you lead, I will follow

Anywhere that you tell me to

If you need, you need me to be with you

I will follow where you lead.”

–Carole King, “Where You Lead “(Gilmore Girls Theme Song)

 

“So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

–The final message of dolphins to humans, as they leave Earth before it’s destroyed. Also, the title of the fourth book of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams.

 

“I sustain myself with the love of family.”

–Maya Angelou (Tweet, on 23 May 2013)

 

After a long, long week,

a very long week

when we are in shock over the leader

many of our fellow citizens want to follow,

my younger daughter suggests we watch The Gilmore Girls*

while we eat Chinese food and chocolate,

so we sit, comfy in PJs and sweatshirts

while my husband goes for the Chinese food

(General Tso’s chicken for him,

the mock version for us)–

followed by chocolate.

Of course.

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No one can eat like the Gilmore Girls,

but we try to get in the spirit,

choosing an episode from Season Two,

we hear this:

Paris: “That’s crazy. People would rather vote for a moronic twink who they liked over someone who could actually do the job?”

“We can’t get away from it,” sighs my daughter.

“Oy with the poodles already,” I reply.

 

The next day we go to my sister’s house.

meant to be a combination birthday-victory celebration

with a fish tray and bagels.

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It is instead, a much needed gathering of family,

the love of family to sustain us.

 

Son-in-law has never eaten lox–or any of the fish on the platter,

he is forced to try them all.

(“It’s my heritage,” his wife says, though she is a vegetarian who doesn’t eat fish.)

He thinks the whitefish is too oily,

the lox too salty,

but the kippered salmon is tolerable—with lots of onion.

Daughter says, “He would have gotten along well with Grandpop.”

We remember my dad’s love of onions–

onion sandwiches

onion and sardine sandwiches

onion and sardine sandwiches on onion rolls

( with extra onions).

Did I mention he liked onions?

My father liked food,

and gatherings,

and gathering over food.

We sustain ourselves with family and family memories.

 

My mother wants coffee,

demands coffee

I want it now she says

with my meal.

She would fit right in with the Gilmore Girls.

 

You don’t argue with a 94-year old woman who wants coffee.

My sister gets her some coffee.

Remembering how we are sustained by family, love, and annoyance.

 

We discuss the current political situation,

daughter worried about how her students will react.

(She has not seen them since the election.)

I say I think she is a good leader,

and hope they will follow her lead.

Her husband, a veteran, deployed three times,

and not happy with the elected leader,

talks to my sister about getting involved in politics.

Sustained, and upheld by family.

 

My mom says she’s lived through many scary times.

I say I remember being terrified during the Cold War–

duck and cover drills and the Cuban Missile Crisis–

“But there were more sane people in control then,” my niece says.

Sigh.

Oy with the poodles already.

Sustained by love of family.

 

My sister and niece say, if we’re going to discuss this

we need to drink–and chocolate.

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drink, drink, drink

 

In truth, we really do not drink,

and then my niece accidentally knocks coffee onto my mom’s lap.

We’re clumsy, but lovable.

And sustained by the love of family.

 

Time for dessert!

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The cake is placed strategically in front of my daughter, so she can pick at it,

and “clean up” the icing.

(Love of family and food sustains us.)

 

My niece, who lives in a divided household

(in a red part of the state)

says she has needed this gathering,

though we’re not celebrating the election,

we are celebrating family.

We’re sustained by family—

and food.

 

We move to other subjects—

Thanksgiving (and food).

I have safely delivered the squirrel mold

(encased in bubble wrap)

to my niece,

the Thanksgiving cranberry sauce tradition

can continue.

We talk of social media

and kids,

and gender identity

and sex education,

a teenage boy taking lotion,

“I don’t understand—why does he want lotion?”

asks my mom.

(She’s so innocent.)

We hear cheers from the next room,

my sister-in-law and husband are watching football.

It is time to go.

We leave, sustained by family,

full from all the food we’ve eaten,

carrying packages of fish and bagels,

bits of love,

like life, delicious and a bit smelly,

So long, and thanks for all the fish,

and all the memories, too.

And though wishing my other daughter was also with us,

I am sustained by love of family,

as we head off into the darkness

where a super moon is rising.

We need light in the darkness

and love always.

 

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*Gilmore Girls was a TV series about single mother Lorelai Gilmore and her daughter Rory. The series opened as Rory was in high school and ended when she graduated from Yale. In between, mother and daughter had many adventures, drank millions of cups of coffee, and eat enormous amounts of take-out food in the fictional town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut. A four-episode follow-up will be on Netflix in about two weeks.