Time and Timeless

Monday Morning Musings:

“There is a certain part of all of us that lives outside of time. Perhaps we become aware of our age only at exceptional moments and most of the time we are ageless.”

–Milan Kundera

Art and music travel through our genes, stopping at some destinations longer than at others, like the train our older daughter takes from Washington, D.C. after visiting archives at the Smithsonian. She takes hundreds of photos of sketch books, correspondence, diaries, and newspaper clippings of our artist ancestor, Abraham Hankins. She shows me newspaper articles—how his mapmaking skills saved his life in France during WWI because he was left behind to draw maps when the rest of his unit was sent into battle and killed. He also trained as a singer, until gassed during the war, and apparently, he wrote some poetry, too. But my daughter becomes even more fascinated by his French wife Estelle, called Esther by my family. After Abe’s death, Estelle makes it her mission to get her late husband’s work into major museums. There is still much to learn, and most of the people who lived then are gone. It is my mom’s ninety-sixth birthday.

 

skipping stones hit pond

concentric circles ripple

spring turns to summer

Abraham P. Hankins,
Pocket Full of Dreams,
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Bequest of Mrs. Abraham Peter Hankins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We celebrate my mom’s birthday in sunshine with shades

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

munch on snacks, laughter cascades

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

as we discuss pets and art and politics

with eyes rolling—intermixed–

as my niece describes her “other family,” with their alternate truth—

if only we could blame it on the folly of youth—

but salacious tales about the Clinton’s gleaned from right-wing memes,

treasure troves of garbage carried by the false fact streams

they insist it’s true,

what does one do?

We move on to sandwiches and cake

blow out the candles, make

each moment count, and we laugh, dance, and sing—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

it’s in our genes, so let’s bring

it on in celebration of familial love

rock the ghosts from rafters above

and around, perhaps they watch from some place–

that shadow there, across your face.

 

The weekend is full with movies, puppies, and wine

we dance, laugh, eat, drink—feeling fine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My mom tells us that Abe asked her mother to sing with him at a family gathering. She says her mother had a beautiful voice, but that my uncle, my mom’s baby brother, cried when their mother sang, so she stopped singing. I had forgotten, she says, but now I remember some of those songs she taught me. Songs of the shtetl that crossed the ocean. We, the grandchildren never learned the songs. I like to think though that no song is ever lost. Each note rises. Birds carry some, and others float high into the sky filling the clouds. I think that is why I hear music in the rain, and why rainbows sing, and the moon hums. We are filled with star music, and it returns again and again to us. Music flits like spindrift from the waves of time.

 

Stars sail ink-black seas,

cat against me softly snores,

dreams dance to moon song

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Unknown Recipe: NaPoWriMo

Recipes tossed aside,

and dishes dried

as plumbers make an early call,

drop cloth on the floor,

while they explore

the situation,

simply a clog,

they work and chat

(no cats,

they’ve fled upstairs),

we sit nearby,

and reply

to questions

while we read the Sunday papers

(real news),

the scent of oil and mud

mingles with the aroma of coffee,

in the pot on the counter,

warm, if not exactly hot,

and the sunshine streams through the windows,

early spring.

 

At last they’re done

the kitchen sink repaired

two men with tools,

just past dawn.

If only it were that easy to repair our planet,

turn the wrench to secure the environment,

if only we could thread a snake through the fetid, swamp water,

clear the drains,

flush away the evil.

In my kitchen now,

the appliances hum, beep, and whirl,

the lights are on

the oven is working–

but what is the recipe for world peace?

I wonder,

as I bake a cake,

eggs, butter, chocolate, flour,

blended in a bowl,

vanilla and a hint of cinnamon,

sweetness, with a bit of spice,

the world as it should be,

shared

 

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This poem is for NaPoWriMo—Day 2. The prompt was recipe. Yesterday, Damien Donnelly  told me poetry and cakes are better shared.

 

 

 

 

With Wrinkles and Mirth, Remember it All, Remember it Well

 Monday Morning Musings:

 H: We met at nine

M: We met at eight.

H: I was on time.

M: No, you were late.

H: Ah, yes, I remember it well.

We dined with friends

M: We dined alone

H: A tenor sang

M: A baritone

H: Ah, yes, I remember it well.

–Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, “I Remember It Well, Gigi (1958)

(You can watch the clip here.)

 

“With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”

–William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act 1, Scene 1

 

The weekend began, a cancelled flight

a change in plans, arrival not in morning light

but dinner time instead

the arts and crafts afternoon postponed, but summer roll making takes place

dipping rice paper, filling, and rolling; no art or grace

perhaps,

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but we like to eat and talk and talk and eat

spicy, hot, crunchy, and sweet,

We say L’chaim, and toast with Sangria,

my girls and their spouses here together

we celebrate good news, now in summer weather

with cats under foot and spirits high

we laugh and talk, and so time flies.

 

With mirth and laughter

I remember it well.

 

The next day, for my mom, her birthday party

she’ll be 94, though not as hale, she’s still hearty

coming, too, her cousin S.

They live in the same Philadelphia building, on different floors,

they’ve both lived years, well, let’s say scores.

S. says at her age every birthday is a big one

(She’s just celebrated her 90th, but still ready for more fun.)

My husband and I drive them to my sister’s

our daughters and their spouses are in another car.

We pass a street, and S. recalls, a memory from afar

of a friend of hers that lived there once.

S. says, “They had a drugstore.”

and a husband who thought he was more.

He was not very bright, but rather full of himself,

 

With mirth and laughter

She remembers him well.

 

S.compares him to a current political candidate.

He thought he was so great,

he lost his business, a gambling debt

then became a maître d’ at a fancy restaurant

where he put on a fake British accent, no savant

that accent sometimes came, then went.

We pass an apartment house where S. once resided

my mom jumps in, with a remark, decided

a refrigerator S. mentions is like one they had in France.

 

(Now pause while I digress from rhyme

while Mom and S. discuss this time.)

 

“Where in France?” asks S.

My mom at first does not remember.

But then with triumph, announces, “Paris.”

“We were never in Paris!” says S.

“I don’t like Paris. It’s a big city like New York.”

“It was Paris,” my mother insists.

“You bought dishes,” says she.

“Oh, you’re right,” S. says. “It was Paris. I bought some dessert plates.”

“You bought a whole set of dishes,” my mom says, “You had them sent.”

“No, I bought some small plates. They tied them in a box with strings

and we carried them.”

Ah yes, they remember it well.

 

At my sister’s house, we arrive to celebrate

Generations eat, talk, laugh, debate

(Because we love to eat and talk)

We do so, then there’s cake with candles

My young great nephew expertly handles

this carrying it in with proud aplomb

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so for cakes, there’s more than one

because we need more birthday fun

My young grandnephew eats his—using both his fork and his hand

(because sometimes life is just so grand)

Then it’s time to share some cards and art

signs of affection, from the heart.

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Repeal Hyde Art Project, Megan J. Smith

With mirth and laughter

We remember it well.

 

There’s a movie of S. with a scene from one “real”

She was young, the movie quite “B”, a clip from the reel.

She tells us the story of how she was a director’s assistant

then became the line coach for actresses not gifted

with brains, as much as beauty, and lines they uttered shifted

or could not be recalled at all.

So S. was given a scene and sits at a desk, but she asked for pay first

no more work without being reimbursed.

My daughter-in-law tell of her analysis of a survey of teenage risky behavior

There are more stories that day, of middle school age problems and dramas

It’s the age, we all agree, nodding daughters and mamas,

Oh yes, we all agree, but they outgrow the drama.

 

With mirth and laughter

We remember it well.

 

We head out, S. says it was a lovely party.

(I am glad both my mom and S. are still so hearty)

Then S. says with a laugh

“It makes you want to get another year older, just so you can do it again.”

And so we set out then, set out then, driving in the rain

to take them home from this celebration

with food purchased and packaged in the trunk of the car

which I carry upstairs, thankfully not too far.

A day of stories and celebration–

We may not remember it all, but we remember it well.

“With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”

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Sisters

THE Cake

“You had the left side and I had the right
With a line down the middle so we wouldn’t fight
Two sisters sharing a room
With desk in the middle of two twin beds”

Terri Hendrix, “The Sister’s Song”

(Performed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAuLhGHgQoY)

Here is one of my earliest memories: I woke up early in the morning (yes, even as a toddler I was a “morning person”).  I was between two and three years old, and I wanted to wake my little sister. We’re not quite two years apart in age, and she was my first and best friend. At that time, we lived in a big house in Germantown, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia. My room was next to my baby sister’s, and my parents’ bedroom was perpendicular to it on the second floor. (My two older siblings had their bedrooms on the third floor.) My mom saw me heading to my sister’s room, and held her fingers to her lips, gesturing to me to be quiet and to get back in my room. I think I went back to my room, but then snuck out a few minutes later to wake my sister so we could play.

After we moved to Dallas when I was three and she was one, my little sister and I shared a room. There was no line down the middle, at least no real line. I’m certain we fought, but we played more. We had some epic evening bed jumping sessions when we were supposed to be sleeping. As children before and after have done, we pretended the space in the middle between our beds was water or quicksand or held some sort of danger, and we had to jump from one bed to the other to escape the danger.  Then when my mom came to investigate the noise, we quieted down, only to burst out in giggles after she walked away. We thought we were fooling our parents, but I’m sure now we were not.

We made up games; we made up words, imaginary characters, and songs.  We ganged up on our parents and older sister. We shared clothes, friends, and confidences. We were sisters and friends.

When my then-boyfriend, now husband, proposed, my little sister was the first person I told. When she officially “came out,” I was one of the first to know.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I told everyone I didn’t care if I had a boy or a girl. And truly, I’m certain I would have loved and adored a son, but secretly, I did hope for a girl. And then, when I was pregnant for a second time, again I secretly hoped for another daughter because I hoped they would be friends the way my younger sister and I had been. They were, and they are.

My little sister’s birthday is in a few days—on Election Day here in the US. So here are early Happy Birthday wishes to you, my amazing and wonderful sister. I love you.  We don’t see each other enough because of our driving phobias, but I think of you often.  Good luck with your election—and if I lived in your district, I would vote for you, maybe more than once. (Joking!)

***

This is the birthday cake known as THE Cake in our family. It is easy to prepare and easy to transport to gatherings. It does not require icing, but a scoop of ice cream is nice. My perfect choice would be coffee. Over the years, I’ve adapted the recipe, so there is more chocolate than in the original recipe. Really, can you ever have too much chocolate?

The Chocolate Cake

2 cups sugar

2 cups flour

2 cups brewed coffee, cooled

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup cocoa (Plus extra for dusting the pan)

1 cup mayonnaise

2 tsp. baking soda

2 eggs

Chocolate chips (I use Ghiardelli bittersweet—about 1 cup more or less)

Confectioner’s sugar for top, if desired

Grease and flour 13 x 9 pan. I use cocoa instead of flour.

Place all ingredients, except chocolate chips, in a large mixing bowl. With mixer at low speed, beat until well blended. Add chocolate chips—approximately half a bag. They will sink to the bottom. Pour batter into pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes. Leave the cake in the pan. When cooled, you can top it with confectioner’s sugar (add chopped or shaved chocolate to it for a special touch.)

The Taste of Nostalgia

I’ve been thinking about nostalgia for a few months. (Nostalgiazing over nostalgia?) As a historian, my present—and my future, as far as I can see it—is infused with the past. I don’t have a longing for the false past of mythical “good old days;” I’ve read enough to know that despite my longing for a climate-controlled time machine equipped with full amenities, such as running water, a toilet, hot, brewed coffee, and a supply of good chocolate, I do not want to live in the past–even my own past. I have no desire to relive my youth, although I wouldn’t mind having the energy I had as a teen, and I could do without the vague pains of middle age.

Still . . .nostalgia is pleasant. In fact, I’ve discovered it can be good for you. An article in July in the New York Times discussed the study of nostalgia and its effect on people. Nostalgia comes from Greek words meaning to return home and the pain that comes with it. The term was coined by a 17th century Swiss physician who believed it was a serious mental affliction. Now, researchers—and it is something that is actually being studied—believe nostalgia can be useful. Moreover, nostalgia can be found among people all over the world, from all different cultures and backgrounds, and ages. Even children can feel nostalgic.

“Nostalgia serves a crucial existential function,” says Dr. Routledge, a psychologist at North Dakota State University, “It brings to mind cherished experiences that assure us we are valued people who have meaningful lives. Some of our research shows that people who regularly engage in nostalgia are better at coping with concerns about death.” According to the article, nostalgia can make people feel less anxious, and it can even make us feel warmer in a cold room.

In June, when my husband and I celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary, I went through some of our wedding photos and thought about people who were no longer with us. At the same time, we were making plans to bring my wedding gown to our older daughter, who plans to wear it when she gets married next year. Past and future merged in a kaleidoscope of images in my brain—memories of our wedding and thoughts of a wedding yet to come, a wedding gown connecting the two.

So. . .I was nostalgic, and then I started thinking about nostalgia. Naturally, I thought of food. . .because, well, if you’ve read my blog before you know I always think of food. I wake up planning dinners. That’s true—ask my family.

Anyway, I started wondering what nostalgia would taste like. Not simply comfort food. My ultimate nostalgia meal would probably be Thanksgiving—simply because the scent of the onions, turkey, cinnamon, and everything cooking melds together and elicits from me such a strong sense of home, family, and the past– that even thinking about it now makes me feel warm, cozy, and happy.

But what if I had to narrow it down to one item? So I started thinking sweet, bittersweet, cakey—gotta have those carbs—and I came up with this: A sour cream coffee cake with cinnamon, bittersweet chocolate, and a light glaze. The addition of the chocolate doesn’t make it really taste chocolatey, but it adds a depth to the flavor. It’s not too sweet. It’s comforting, and just right. It smelled good, too, while baking.

I don’t know that this cake is actually the taste of nostalgia, but it’s a good cake. To be perfectly honest, the bottom of the cake stuck to the pan, so the cake was kind of lopsided and crumbled. It was delicious though. Still, isn’t that like life? Sometimes you get stuck, sometimes things don’t work out, but then you look back and remember those sweet, spicy, and bittersweet moments? Perhaps some day, I’ll remember making this cake, and I’ll feel nostalgic.

 

A little misshapen, but still delicious

A little misshapen, but still delicious

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Nostalgia Coffee Cake
(adapted from “Coffee Cake Exceptionale” in Coralie Castle and Jacqueline Killeen, Country Inns Cookery.)

¾ cup butter
1 ½ cups graulate sugar
3 eggs
½ tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups flour
½ tablespoon baking powder
½ tablespoon baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
1 ½ cups sour cream

Filling:
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ cups finely chopped walnuts
½ tablespoon cinnamon
finely ground bittersweet chocolate ( I used 2 Ghiradelli squares)

I added a glaze of confectioners sugar, vanilla, and milk

Grease and flour tube pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix butter and sugar until light. One at a time, beat in eggs, then vanilla. Combine dry ingredients, and stir in alternately with sour cream.

Combing filling ingredients. Ladle half of the batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle evenly with filling and spread remaining batter over it. Bake 50 minutes, or until cake pulls slightly away from the sides of the pan and tester comes out clean. Cool at least a bit before adding glaze, if you can resist that long.