Time Bubbles

Monday Morning Musings:

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”

–Thornton Wilder, The Woman of Andros

When I was child

My little sister and I broke bread

For stuffing

On Thanksgiving morning

As we watched the parade

On TV.

One Thanksgiving morning,

My father took us out

So my mom could cook

Without interruptions.

We were dressed as pilgrims

Or Indians perhaps,

Me with my hair in two long braids,

And the waitress fawned over us,

Or perhaps she was flirting with my dad.

I can’t be sure now.

The restaurant,

I seem to recall,

Was empty,

Which seems strange

On Thanksgiving, doesn’t it?

And perhaps the whole event

Happened in some other way,

But this is what I remember

On that Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving dinners

For me

As a child,

Meant crumbling slices of white bread

Into a large pot

While watching the televised parade.

I don’t even remember the meals.

And I certainly didn’t appreciate

All of the work

My mother did to prepare them.

Later,

When I was a bit older,

It was my mom making cranberry sauce

In the squirrel mold

That stood out.

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We never understood why

After turning the mold

Onto the platter,

She then raised them together

High in the air

And rested them on her head—

Strange,

But dramatic.

And we looked forward to it

Every year.

My daughters took over

The bread-breaking chore

When they were young.

Crumbling the bread

And

Eating pieces,

Thinking I didn’t see them.

We’d place their hand turkey placemats

On the table,

But as their hands grew larger

The placements no longer appeared.

Where are those placemats now

I wonder?

This year,

My younger daughter,

Hands woman-grown and

With a wedding ring

On one long, slender finger

Tore the bread with me,

Loaves and loaves

Crumbled

Into a large soup kettle,

As we spent the afternoon together,

The day before Thanksgiving,

Watching Netflix

And enjoying tea, cookies,

And companionship.

After she left,

I waited for my

Older daughter and her wife

To arrive.

And I sat with them while they ate

The Wawa hoagies

My husband had bought for them.

(No Wawa stores in Boston!)

And we talked

And I was so happy to have them here

And willing to sleep

On an uncomfortable bed

In my daughter’s childhood room.

I’m profoundly aware

That many throughout the world

Are suffering,

In pain,

Missing loved ones,

Perhaps without a home,

Food, or water.

And I am deeply grateful

For what I have,

Our traditions

And crazy family.

I think of our Thanksgiving dinner—

The ritual unmolding

Of the cranberry squirrel,

Now done by my sister-in-law,

With encouraging advice,

Laughter,

And glasses of wine.

The scurry to get everything to the table,

The fifteen minutes it takes to get everyone

To actually sit down.

(Why does it take so long?

Another mystery.)

What do you want to drink?

Wait, where’s the corkscrew?

Oh, I’m sitting over there.

But the food,

Of course,

Worth the days of cooking.

The Thanksgiving favorites

Prepared every year.

My daughter and I discussing how much

We love stuffing.

“It’s good we don’t have it all the time,”

She says.

“Then it wouldn’t be special,”

I say.

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The various conversations going on

Across the table,

Whispers and glances between couples,

The newlyweds smiling and hugging,

The children restless,

Holding two fingers up behind heads

Preserved forever in photographs

Of this night.

Secrets and stories.

Talk of jobs,

Family,

Gossip.

The under-the-table pokes.

Yes,

More wine–

Please!

And then dessert—

Pies and pumpkin cheesecake

And chocolate port, too.

You know,

In case the wine was not enough.

My mind hovers

Seeing each moment

Frozen,

Stilled

And replayed,

But connected to all the Thanksgivings

Of my life.

Each memory

A little bubble of time

That floats to the surface

To be tasted

And savored.

Sparkling water of the mind.

This holiday is special to me.

Not because it commemorates

A feast shared by

Pilgrim refugees

Who called themselves

Saints

And the Wampanoag

Who lived there.

(Well, those who had survived

Earlier exposure to diseases brought by

Europeans).

And they didn’t have pumpkin pie

And they probably ate venison and shellfish,

And they did not have our cranberry squirrel,

But no matter

No,

For me,

Thanksgiving is beautiful

Because it evokes my past,

The scents,

The taste,

The history,

The love,

And connects it

To the present

And the future.

Each bubble of time

Sparkling,

Glimmering,

Floating

And popping

To make way for the next.

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I am grateful, too, for all of you who read my blog and for the comments you leave. Thank you for your encouragement!

This may interest some who want to give and provide hope to others.

 

 

 

Blog Tour: Tag You’re It, or Hide and Seek?

Marion Beaman of Plain and Fancy graciously invited me to participate in a Blog Tour. Participants are supposed to discuss their own writing and writing techniques and then “tag” others. I am truly honored that Marian asked me, and if you are not familiar with her blog, you should be. Marian is in the midst of writing a memoir, and her blog is filled with wise thoughts, witty and profound quotes, and photos—many of which are from her childhood “Plain” life in Pennsylvania. I’ve never met her offline, but she is kind, gracious, and intelligent, and her blog reflects this. Through her blog, I’ve been recently introduced to the wonderful blogs of Traci Carver, Judy Berman, and Laurie Buchanan.

1. What am I working on now?

I am going to have a busy summer of writing and editing. My current book project is an encyclopedia, The World of the American Revolution: A Daily Life Encyclopedia to be published by ABC-CLIO. My deadline is imminent. The book should be out next spring, assuming I survive the process of getting it finished. The project has proven to be much more exhaustive–and exhausting–than I anticipated. As with other encyclopedia projects, rounding up and keeping track of contributors has been a constant problem—even more so than in other projects I’ve worked on for some reason. As a result, I have had to rewrite several entries, and I’m writing many more than I expected to write.

Any second now, I expect to receive the copyedited manuscript for another encyclopedia project that Marian mentioned, a Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast, which should be out in September.

I also work as a freelance test-writer for ETS (Educational Testing Service), and during the summer, I always have more of this work. Then there is this blog—which I consider my “fun writing.”

2. How does my work differ from others in the genre?

For many reference books, and certainly for the encyclopedias, there are formats and guidelines that have to be followed. I think what might make my work different is the subject matter that I covered in several of them—rape, sexuality, women’s roles, and breasts! Most of the reference books I’ve done, I was asked to do by editors at the various presses. The book formats and subject matter were already approved. For my recent History of American Cooking, I was told what topics should be covered, but what I think made it “me” was the touch of humor and pop culture references I included—at least I hope that comes through. My first book, Breaking the Bonds: Marital Discord in Pennsylvania, 1730-1830, was an original work, and I think groundbreaking for its time. When it came out in 1991, historians had not written very much on the subject, and some of the sources I used had not been explored at all.

One has to follow very specific guidelines in writing test items, but there is some flexibility and creativity in the types of situations one can imagine. I always have little scenes in my head—even if it is only for a fill-in-the-blank grammar sentence. I could probably give you the whole back-story on some person mentioned in the sentence. I don’t know if this is typical. Probably not.

3. Why do I write what I do? 

Well, it’s a combination of love and work. Writing academic works is definitely hard work. On good days, it’s a labor of love. On bad days, it’s just work. The same goes for the test writing. Blogging is just fun.At some point, I’d like to work on something else—perhaps a memoir or novel.

4. How does my writing process work?

It’s kind of controlled chaos. I tend to write from notes scribbled on legal pads and sticky notes (yes, backs of envelops, too—hey, if it worked for Lincoln, why not?), and half-outlines that usually change as I go. I keep various folders on my computer desktop, too. And because I’m usually working on multiple projects, there are many notepads, many books, and many folders. But somehow from all that disorder, I usually manage to submit a decent product.

I usually work at my kitchen table with books and papers all over the place. I don’t like to be closed up in a study, and I like to be able to stir a pot of soup or bake something while I work. That’s my idea of multitasking. My workspace usually looks like this:

My Faithful Companion rests on the morning newspaper

My Faithful Companion rests on the morning newspaper

Coffee is a must--usually in a mug with my older daughter's play logo

Coffee is a must–usually in a mug with my older daughter’s play logo

Sometimes this happens.

 

An additional trick--he also pulls bookmarks out of my books.

An additional trick–he also pulls bookmarks out of my books.

 

Now for the rest of the tour. I should have remembered how bad I am at playing tag. I dutifully contacted several people “behind the scenes” to see if they would like to participate, but all were busy or for various reasons declined. Did I mention that not only am I bad at tag, but I also get bored with games? People are hiding, but I don’t feel like seeking. I tend to just go off to do my own thing–probably why I’m at home writing a blog post, right?

So instead of officially “tagging” people, I’m simply going to mention a few blogs I enjoy, and if the bloggers want to pursue the “tour,” they can, and if not, oh well, I guess the tour stops here. But don’t unfasten your seat belt until we come to a full stop. We’re not there yet.

Cynthia Bertelsen’s blog, Gherkins & Tomatoes is filled with exquisite musings on food and history, along with gorgeous photography. She is the author of Mushroom: A Global History, and is now working on a history of cookbooks, which should be amazing. Her posts always make me think about the history of food in new ways. Shanna Koeningsdorf Ward is not working on a writing project, as far as I know, but her blog, Curls and Carrots, is always filled with photos of delicious dishes she has prepared, often with the help of her two adorable children. I am curious how she pulls it all off—constant cooking and baking, photography, and keeping two children amused and photo-ready—perhaps she’ll tell us how she does it.

OK. Now we’re done. I hope you enjoyed the tour.  Watch your step as you exit–you never know when a crazed blogger might jump out to tag you.