A Final Bloom Before the Cold

Monday Morning Musings:

“It was a happy thought to bring 
To the dark season’s frost and rime 
This painted memory of spring, 
This dream of summertime. “

–John Greenleaf Whittier, “Flowers in Winter”

 

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A surprising last bloom of the geranium in November.

 

A final bloom,

flowers that were vibrant red

fragrant in the summer heat,

now scentless,

a different hue against autumn’s rusts and gold,

in the cold,

a final bloom,

tired, but heroic,

a reminder,

a last hurrah,

as the nights grow longer

and we must grow stronger,

winter is coming.

 

The skies darken and the winds howl,

we huddle under blankets,

fill the house with the scents of cinnamon, apples, pumpkin,

and freshly baked bread,

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Apples cooking for Thanksgiving applesauce

 

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Artisan-style bread to eat with our soup

 

I think of tea and oranges that come all the way from China,

we eat, sustaining ourselves with hearty soup, a hunk of cheese,

a glass of wine and Netflix,

we smile and dance with the opening credits,

wondering where life is headed,

winter is coming.

 

We go to see Loving

a quiet, unassuming film

about the landmark decision,

Loving v. Virginia,

we watch and listen

two ordinary people,

black and white,

they want to marry, not fight,

but their marriage a crime under Virginia law.

I want to scream at the hypocrisy

the result of the slavocracy

of the state of Virginia, how

centuries of miscegenation,

and the degradation

the rape of black women,

and the suffering of families,

and the telling of lies.

But the heart is not silenced

And love still sings.

I cry at the end,

happy with the result that justice brings,

that our system worked then,

(and I think, too, more money to the ACLU.)

 

We discuss the movie over vegetable pakoras,

vegetable soup, naan

yellow dal tarka

and other delights,

a buffet,

and we eat too much,

but they’re all so delicious,

these Indian dishes,

warm and comforting on this cold day

when we sense that winter is coming.

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Autumn leaves against the wind-swept clouds

 

Winter is coming

will we see another bloom?

The bloodred blossoms of civil rights

fading, turning to dust

causes forgotten, results of long fights,

gone with civility,

(utter imbecility)

social contracts, death of the Great Experiment,

But still we know,

that love is love,

and we must shout what’s in our hearts,

Ask not what you can do for your country

Ask not for whom the bell tolls

It tolls for you and me,

good or evil

we are stronger together,

winter is coming.

 

We laugh and talk

Denial?

Well, life must go on

even when the bloom is gone

even in winter.

From within the darkness

we light the candles

to illuminate the room

to cast the shadows to the corners,

amidst the cold,

amidst the gloom,

we seek warmth

and offer shelter

when the winter comes.

 

We prepare for the long winter,

not to be seduced by the stark beauty of the snow

but noticing the cracks in the ice.

The last bloom, as autumn turns to winter,

and we remember spring

a distant, buried memory,

we remember and hope

for new blooms

after the winter comes—

and goes

and spring returns.

 

We saw the movie, Loving.

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Time for blankets–it’s going to be a long winter.

Love and Marriage–Part 1

Weddings are on my mind. Last month, my husband and I celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary. Like most couples, we’ve had our share of good and bad times, but fortunately more good than bad! Weddings, of course, are merely the start of a marriage. They’re like the first stage-setting paragraph of what one hopes will be a long, enthralling novel—the type that has you turning pages as fast as you can, even while you savor each word and hope it never ends. The wedding is the preface to the book, the overture to the opera.

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During our very own opera semiseria, we’ve raised two wonderful, talented, kind daughters, one of whom is getting married (wearing my gown!) next month—hence my focus on weddings. She is marrying a wonderful woman, and they are deeply in love. Over the weekend, I attended a shower for the two brides, organized by our younger daughter for her adored older sister. Both brides were indeed showered in love and affection.
Throughout much of history, and among many people of many different cultures, marriage was based not on love or even companionship, but instead on economics and politics.
“Your daughter should marry my son so we can join our two clans—or nations.” “What dowry does she bring?”
Or as the song, “Matchmaker” from Fiddler on the Roof explains:
Hodel, oh Hodel,
Have I made a match for you!
He’s handsome, he’s young!
Alright, he’s 62.
But he’s a nice man, a good catch, true?
True. . . . . .

Did you think you’d get a prince?
Well I do the best I can.
With no dowry, no money, no family background
Be glad you got a man!

For those who don’t know the show or movie, Fiddle on the Roof is based on Sholem Aleichem’s tales of Tevye the dairyman in the small shtetl of Anatevka. The three oldest of Teyve and his wife Golde’s five daughters marry for love—unheard of! This prompts a song between the Teyve and Golde who wonder if they love each other? “It’s a new world,” Tevye says.
Around the mid-eighteenth-century, Anglo-Americans began to place more emphasis on “companionate” marriages—and to expect more love and companionship from their partners. This is not to say that loving marriages did not exist before this time.

For example, Puritan poet Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672) wrote the following poem to her husband, Simon:
“To My Dear and Loving Husband”
If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were lov’d by wife, then thee.
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole Mines of gold
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that Rivers cAnneot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee give recompetence.
Thy love is such I can no way repay.
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let’s so persever
That when we live no more, we may live ever.

The rise of a companionate ideal does not mean that all marriages were based on these ideals. Many marriages took place for economic practicality—farms benefit from having men to do heavy agricultural work and women to do the preserving of food, the cooking, laundry, and childbearing. Even urban households needed someone to raise and care for children.

 
Regardless of love or economic necessity, enslaved people were not permitted to marry legally. Slaves were not citizens and had no rights. Some masters permitted their slaves to “marry,” but it was not legal, and all slave relationships were transient because families could be broken up at any time. Race remained a factor in marriage after the Thirteenth Amendment officially prohibited slavery in 1865 because interracial unions were not permitted in many states. Finally, well into the twentieth century, in Loving v. Virginia (1967), the Supreme Court ruled that states could not prohibit interracial marriages. Mildred Jeter, who was black, and Richard Loving, who was white, married in Washington, D.C. in 1958, but they were arrested after they returned to and lived in Virginia, where they were arrested. The court gave the couple a suspended sentence under the condition that they leave Virginia. “Under our Constitution,” wrote Chief Justice Earl Warren, “the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State.”

 
My younger sister is getting married in October to her long-time partner. They love each other, but now that Pennsylvania has permitted same-sex weddings, they also want the legal protection that goes with marriage. Love and the practicalities of life.
So I will be attending two “gay weddings” within a few months. In my mind, however, they are simply weddings—a celebration of and for two people who are deeply in love choosing to publicly declare their love for each other—and wanting to have the same legal safeguards that other wedded couples have. Two couples who are choosing to begin a new chapter in the book of their lives. I am fortunate to be able to share their joy.

Follow Your Star

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“Be brave, young lovers, and follow your star,
Be brave and faithful and true,
Cling very close to each other tonight.
I’ve been in love like you. “

–Oscar Hammerstein II, “Hello Young Lovers,” from The King and I (1951)

Last month my husband and I celebrated our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary. As I looked at our wedding photos (and cringe and laugh a little at the men in the 1970s era powder blue tuxedos. Oh those 70s fashions!), I thought of all the people who were there at our wedding, but who are no longer alive: my father, my husband’s father, my grandfathers, all of his grandparents, and some aunts, uncles, and friends. As I gazed at the photos, I also had an admittedly odd thought–it seemed strange to me that our daughters were not there to celebrate such an important event in our lives.

It was the first big wedding in either of our families, and it was such a day of laughter, tears, and merriment.

We still laugh at the memory of my reserved, non-dancing father-in-law being pulled and spun into the hora circle by an exuberant, dancing friend of my parents.

Our first daughter would not make her entrance for almost a decade after our wedding, and our second daughter three years after that. By that time, I had finished graduate school and published my first book.

I was a different person thirty-five years ago when we married, young and naïve. I had no idea then that my husband and I would have two such incredibly wonderful, talented daughters– young women who are truly good and kind, and who want to make the world a better place.

Parenting is not easy. Like marriage, there are ups and downs. But with my daughters, I can honestly say there have always been many, many more ups than downs.

Thirty-five years ago, I never imagined I would have one daughter about to enter graduate school and another about to begin her first “grown-up job,” even as she juggles what are sometimes competing interests in teaching and acting. I never imagined I would have daughters who were balancing love, careers, and all the issues of young adulthood.

I also never imagined thirty-five years ago at my own wedding that someday my older daughter would be planning her wedding to another woman. Nor how excited I would be about it, and how thrilled I am that she might be wearing my wedding gown. Love is love, and I am so happy that she and her fiancée have found each other.

Thirty-five years ago, “gay marriage” was not something I ever heard mentioned. But times change. My younger daughter recently had a discussion with her young cousins who enthusiastically supported it. (OK, the five-year-old could not quite wrap his mind around the concept, but the older two thought it was wonderful that their cousin was going to marry the woman she loves.)

My daughter’s “gay marriage” will not be legal throughout the United States. But laws change. When my husband and I got married thirty-five years ago in Pennsylvania, we were required to get blood tests proving that we did not have syphilis or other diseases before we could get a marriage license. That law no longer exists. In 1967, the Supreme Court overturned state bans on interracial marriages in Loving v. Virginia. Slowly, too slowly, laws are being written and bans are being overturned. I hope that some day there will not be a distinction between “gay” and “straight” marriage. I hope and believe that someday in the United States there will simply be marriage, marriage without a modifier in front of it, marriage for any two people who love each other. I hope that someday both my daughters and all lovers, young and old, will be able to follow their stars. I’ve been in love like you.

“Love doesn’t make the world go round, love is what makes the ride worthwhile.” – Elizabeth Barrett Browning