Coffee and Home

Monday Morning Musings:

 “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

–J.R.R. Tolkien

 

“Coffee is a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup.”

–Gertrude Stein, Selected Writings

This universe must be home

(has always been home)

I wake warm and comfortable

drink coffee

(always coffee)

live mornings of caramel joy

remember a voice

a smile

cats

celebrate a secret sky waking

 

I wake to the smell of coffee

a childhood memory,

an adult reality,

a scent wafting through time

am image, too, coffee cups and morning newspapers

spread across the kitchen table

(now joined by laptops and phones),

the table in my young childhood home

lived in the kitchen-dining-den space—

my mother hated it—the space, not the table–

and when I was teen, she, no longer with my father,

bought a house with a separate dining room,

a large, center-hall house with five bedrooms

that became too much for her to keep up with

but it was the house by which my siblings and I later measured all other houses.

In that dining room, my boyfriend, now husband, learned about Sunday brunches

with lox, blocks of cream cheese, bagels, herring, boiled new potatoes, and crusty rye bread–

and on the little enclosed porch we’d sit before a fire late on Saturday nights and drink coffee and consume the treats, fried and sweet, from Dunkin Donuts, wiping sugar from our faces with paper napkins and kisses.

 

Food and friendship, more valuable than gold,

I eat Vietnamese food with a friend

we laugh and talk

she tells me (I had forgotten) that she dislikes tomatoes

then is surprised to find them in her stir fry,

we laugh and talk

I slurp vermicelli noodles with extra hot sauce

and we sit, chatting and catching up,

her mother’s house, her childhood home, sold

she is pleased that the new owners seem like good people

another family for the house

to imbue it with new dreams,

the old ones will fade from the walls

like night shadows gradually erased by the dawn

 

We don’t order coffee

though we laugh and talk for two hours,

the restaurant owners, mother and daughter, probably eager for us to go,

but we’re enchanted by the little girl, daughter of one, granddaughter of the other,

eighteen months old

she blows kisses and says good-bye.

 

A few days later, my husband and I go to a first communion party

the daughter of a daughter of long-time friends

we sat with them every Friday night in their first house

a TGIF Sabbath meal each week of dollar hoagies and beer

we were there when our friend went into labor with the daughter whose daughter

we’re celebrating at this party

where I sit and talk the entire time with another friend, my twin

though her skin is darker, her hair shorter,

we’re twins of the heart

we wear our matching bracelets

talk about another friend who could not be there

but who is linked to us

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New Year’s Eve, 2016 We are linked, heading into 2017.

 

and catch up on news, share photos, her sons, my daughters,

it’s a miserable day, cold and raining, more like March than May

but warmed by friendship

 

After that, my husband and I travel to my daughter’s house

bringing wine for her and her husband,

we laugh about all the wine we’ve ordered

delivered to our door all in one day in three large boxes

so that the UPS man thinks we’re having a party

we eat Pakistani food with them at a nearby restaurant,

the genial owner recommends dishes,

“We have new items”, he says,

“try the spring rolls, vegetarian.”

They are different from Chinese spring rolls,

delicious, though not as good as the vegetable samosas,

our favorites,

my daughter and I share the platter,

everything is delicious, eggplant, vegetable korma, naan, the goat our husbands have

(I suppose)

“Always a pleasure to see you,” the owner says as we leave,

and we assure him that it’s always a pleasure to visit his restaurant,

and it is, even on a cold and rainy night.

 

In the morning, a package of chocolate covered strawberries arrives,

a special Sunday delivery,

from my other daughter and her wife,

a thoughtful present,

a scrumptious treat for Mother’s Day

even first thing in the morning.

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Later I will talk to her on the phone,

hear about her trip to national parks in Utah

(while they still exist)

learn about her surprising facility for rock climbing

and allergy to Los Vegas

I miss seeing her, but it is good to hear her voice

from across the miles

 

We have lunch at my sister’s house

where we take my mother for Mother’s Day

 

Before lunch H. had made a grand entrance,

“Hi, I have to pee and sprints through the living room.”

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We later talk about the house she and her husband have fixed up to sell.

It was their first home, bought with an inheritance from my father,

her voice breaks a bit as she describes painting over the clouds in her first baby’s room.

The sun is out, and we sit for the garden for a bit

though it gets windy

My family is goofy and wonderful

I love them

 

I’ve baked a flourless chocolate cake

because there must be chocolate

 

 

and my sister buys, rather than brews, coffee

from Dunkin’ Donuts to have with it,

which makes me think again of those long-ago days

I think of all the mothers and daughters

the houses we’ve lived in

the coffee we’ve consumed

and despite all that is wrong in the world

I’m happy to wake in the morning to my coffee, newspapers, and cats,

to my husband saying, “Can I pour you another cup?”

 

The joys,

transitory like the flowers that have recently bloomed

 

but no less beautiful for that

timeless in our memories

the sky has cleared in the morning,

there is a half-moon hanging crookedly in the sky humming a song of hope

I go inside and pour a cup of coffee

a cat settles on my lap

this universe must be home

especially if there is coffee

–and love

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Bridges and Puzzles

Monday Morning Musings:

“Then we got into a labyrinth, and, when we thought we were at the end,
came out again at the beginning, having still to see as much as ever.”
–Plato

“From women’s eyes this doctrine I derive:
They sparkle still the right Promethean fire;
They are the books, the arts, the academes,
That show, contain, and nourish all the world.”
—William Shakespeare,  Love’s Labor’s Lost, Act V, scene iii

 

There are bridges that carry us across rivers

And there are bridges that close gaps in time or understanding

But life is a labyrinth

There are no direct routes

It twists and turns

Until it finally ends

Unsolved

 

We took a bridge to my sister’s house,

Our annual Mother’s Day ritual,

Lunch prepared by my sister and her wife

Stuffed shells, meatballs and sausage for the meat eaters,

A great salad brought by my niece

(ten minutes of agonizing about it over

the phone the day before)

because that’s what we do

The women in my family can make

Not simply mountains out of mole hills,

We can make Mt. Everest out of speck on the ground

But oh, we can spin stories, too–

Best done with food and wine,

Enough food for twice the number at the table

Also part of the tradition–

So we sit at my sister’s table

We talk about our pets

The size of our cats

(big and small)

The time my daughter’s dog

“sprint peed” around her apartment

We talk about family

The “art genes” we carry

The ability to write and a love of chocolate

(Must be carried on dominant genes)

Perhaps a love of spicy food, too,

As no one thought the “hot” salsa was particularly hot

And daughter and I had

a little pizza with our hot peppers the night before

My niece discussing family craziness

“If our husbands die do you want to live together

 and we can drink and be crazy together?”

She might have said this to my daughter

That’s perfectly normal, right?

And then it was off to Macy’s

How many women does it take to shop with my mom?

We have our assigned roles,

Dresser

Assistant dressers

Clothing hangers

Hunter and Gatherer of new items

But sometimes it takes a village

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And this year, we also have

The bra hunter

And dressing room bouncer

Do you wonder what it must be like

Or why we laugh?

You hook the bra, and I’ll put the boobs in

And later a whispered aside:

Just put the pillow over my head if I start wearing bras like that

She has great boobs– you have good boob genes

(Is this carried along with the writing and chocolate gene?)

To the dressing room bouncer,

How about if you close the door– I’m sitting here in all my glory.

Finally, the shopping is complete

My mom has quite a haul– dress, pants, shirts—no new bra

What $40? Forget it?

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

We head back to my sister’s,

where my husband, brother, and sister’s wife

have been watching the Phillies

They won!

Time for dessert,

My brownies and daughter’s cannoli dip

We like our chocolate

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Not much left here!

And coffee

What? You don’t make coffee at home?

Back in the car, driving my mom home

We talk of family history

We learn that some of her family lived in a refugee tent city

In England

Caught there between Belarus and the U.S.

Early in the twentieth century

Perhaps during WWI?

My mom doesn’t know

She said her cousin, then a young child

Thought it was fun—the children got to run around and play–

Their mothers probably did not enjoy it as much–

We arrive at my mom’s, but

Just before she gets out of the car

She leaves us with one more family puzzle

Her father left family in Russia who vanished during

“the war,”

That would be WWII.

I have no idea what to make of this.

What people?

How did they vanish?

Life is full of such puzzles

We can never solve all of them

But there’s a quest to try

To work our way through the labyrinth

Not right now though

It’s late

And so we head back over the bridge,

East with the sun at our backs

To home

Where there is more chocolate waiting for me.

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Words

In the dreamworld time

words were born,

they tumbled in waves

through air and sea and

scattered like seashells on the beach

sparkling, sharp, buried, bright,

gathered like mussels,

polished like pearls

to feed minds and souls–

Words of wisdom

(Beat the drum)

Words of joy

(Do not destroy)

Words of sorrow

(Keep for tomorrow)

Words of hate

(Oh, please wait)

and most importantly,

Words of love

(A thousand examples of)

Words resplendent and complete

Words, some bitter and some so sweet

In the dreamtime born uncertainly

But lasting through all eternity.

 

©Merril D. Smith 2016

 

Here in the U.S., it’s Mother’s Day. Happy Mother’s Day to mothers everywhere!

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My mom and I–wine glasses in hand!

 

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Colors of Love

 When we were little

You took us to the library,

our nearby Dallas branch.

My sister and I chose books

in the children’s section,

then wandered through the library,

where we stood over the air vents

and let our skirts fly up as we twirled,

simply because we were young

and it was fun.

I sometimes sat on your bed

and read my books aloud to you,

while you put on your makeup

or brushed your hair—

it was coffee brown then.

You stood in the attached bathroom.

We called it “the pink bathroom.”

But I never realized until just now

how important color was in our lives–

that we labeled rooms by color.

 

You, an artist in your soul,

see color everywhere.

You would liked to have gone to art school,

but your parents thought that was impractical.

And so you chose colors where you could

for your walls,

for your furnishings,

for our clothing.

I remember the blue and gray suede shoes

you saw for me when you worked

at Lord and Taylor’s.

And how fun you thought orange woodwork would be

in the room my sister and I shared

in Havertown.

You collected Chinese ceramics,

the beautiful turquoise hue

adding more color

to your surroundings,

but you didn’t have the time to paint

flowers or landscapes

while we were young.

You were busy working

and driving us to lessons

and taking care of us when we were sick.

But you made certain we knew colors–

and had art—crayons, paper, and homemade clay,

a special treat for rainy days.

And your color-knowledge passed to my daughters.

Our first-born gray-eyed daughter

still a toddler telling her father

she wanted to go to the restaurant

with the green door.

(We had never noticed the door.)

But she always remembered colors,

and taught color names and knowledge to her sister,

before I even had a chance.

What is the opposite of color blindness?

Is it marked on our genes?

 

You and my father,

though you disagreed and parted,

did agree about many things.

You agreed on the importance of art, music,

and books.

I read nearly all of the books

in the built-in bookcase in our family room.

Rows of long shelves filled with books

their spines in shades of brown, blue, red,

green, and white,

bringing random color to the wall.

It didn’t matter what they were,

history, art, the classics—

I read them.

And I found the jumbo-sized

Hershey’s chocolate bar hidden there, too.

I broke off squares for my sister and me–

and then neatly shelved the bar

back into the bookcase,

where it appeared to be just another book.

 

Now your hair is white,

and my tangled brown curls

are gone.

The colors of my childhood have vanished,

but the memories remain.

I didn’t realize that not all households held such treasures—

books, art, and music, I mean.

I didn’t realize

that all families don’t visit museums

or play “the dictionary game” at the dinner table.

I didn’t realize–

how fortunate we were.

There was always love for us.

And books,

And color,

And, chocolate, of course.

 ©Merril D. Smith, May 2014

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At Valley Green, along the Wishahickon.

 

For My Mom: As Time Goes By

“You must remember this
A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh.
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by.”

“As Time Goes By,” Herman Hupfeld

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The song “As Time Goes By” was written in 1931, but most people know it from the movie Casablanca (1942). The song is heard and played throughout the movie by the character, Sam (Dooley Wilson). It is a sort of theme song for the lovers, Ilsa and Rick (Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman) who are parted by war and circumstances, and by the decisions they make. As Rick says, “it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”

The song “As Time Goes By” is about lovers. It seemed particularly apt for wartime lovers. (The British television series by the same name with Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer is about a couple who were separated during the Korean War and meet thirty-eight years later.) My mom was a young woman when the movie Casablanca came out; she and my father married during World War II. It was an era when many people lived as though each moment could be their last, and yet, for many people it was it filled with every day routines and rituals. People still married, had children; they went to school or work (even though it might have been war work). Time went on, and so did people’s lives.

I thought of the song when I was thinking about my mom this morning. We see our parents differently—our children, too—as time goes by. When I was a child, I thought my mom was the most beautiful woman in the world. She was wise and all knowing. She knew when I was sick or upset about something, even if I didn’t talk about it (which was generally the case). I remember when I was in seventh grade in a new school. We had moved to Havertown, PA from Dallas, TX in March. For some reason, after a few weeks, the teachers in the cafeteria where my class ate lunch decided that I could not add an extra chair to the table because it was too crowded. They told me I had to eat in the other cafeteria. When I got to the other cafeteria and asked where I should sit, a mean or thoughtless teacher told me to sit with a table of boys. I think the were “the bad kids.” It was done to humiliate me. I was a shy and quiet child, and I sat there. Even though I don’t remember telling my mom how upset I was, I must have mentioned something to her. After a couple of days, some girls told me I was sitting at their table now. The girls were not in my regular classes, but they were in my “specials,” gym and home ec. My mom had called the guidance counselor and told her what had happened. It was all arranged quietly and efficiently.

Recently my mom moved into an assisted living apartment house. My sisters, brother, and I helped with packing and arrangements. We were the ones sending emails and making calls–without her knowledge sometimes–to make certain that everything was done smoothly and efficiently—so she wouldn’t be left humiliated. Or homeless.

With the years, my tireless mother has become tired, but she still has a great sense of humor—and she can still put my siblings and me in our place. She has seen births and deaths, and amazing technological inventions. When she was child, her family did not have a telephone for several years. She could not have envisioned cell phones and computers, but she has used them. She has lived to see my daughters, her granddaughters grow up to become beautiful and accomplished young women.

Time goes by, and it brings changes, but my mom is still beautiful to me, and I love her.

Oh—and if you’ve never seen Casablanca, round up the usual suspects and watch it. Maybe with your mother.