Musings

Father’s Day

My father was not sure what to do with children, since he had never been allowed to be one.  He spent my childhood bemused by me,  I think. One of the last stories he told my husband, for the nth time, was how, when I was four, I insisted that he was pronouncing maraschino wrong,  and that it was “ma-ra-SKEE-no.” He told my husband that I was a dickens, and my husband assured him I still was. As borne out by the maraschino story,  I was quite the handful, not the most docile child in the world.  He seems comfortable with four-month-old me in the picture above, but then again I couldn’t talk yet.

My grandparents on my father’s side were no role models for how to raise children. They seemed to have no idea of how to relate to children emotionally. My sister remembers our grandfather as a gruff, blustery fellow, and my grandmother was so upset by having a fourth boy, my father, instead of the daughter she wanted, that she ignored him once his sister was born when he was two years old. My father’s stories do not describe warm, fuzzy parents. When I was six, my father was teasing my mother at the breakfast table, telling her how smooth his freshly shaved face was, didn’t she want to feel it? I ran over to him and pressed my cheek to his. He froze as though made of stone. It is only in retrospect that I recognised how odd and sad his reaction is, and how it illuminates how bereft his own childhood must have been of hugs and affection.

As we children got older,  my father found the role of tutor suited him and made him far more comfortable with us. I delighted in his helping me with my Latin homework, and still have his Latin grammar and dictionary from his college courses. Latin was the warmup to get me to do my math.  I never came to like geometry as he did, but with his help, became proficient and even enjoyed trigonometry. My father taught me the love of words, languages, and literature, which eased topics of conversation during my turbulent teenage years. Things became even easier for my father even I became an adult. He found he could talk to me and I found that he could accept it when I told him I loved him and hugged him goodbye after a visit.  He looked shocked for a moment, then said that he loved me, too. It became the closing ritual of our weekly phone call.

I was lucky to see my father for a few days before he passed away, and although he did not speak to me, he looked straight at me when I told him I loved him. What surprised me, but should not have done, was how many people loved him. I was surrounded by people telling me how he had helped them, many just in normal course of knowing him,  but several more through a bereavement group he had unwillingly joined the year before when my mother passed away.  When he talked to me, he claimed that he never had anything to say, but the members of the group told me how eloquent he was about my mother and their 69 years of marriage, and how he had helped them with their grief.

Most notable was a man who was 18 when he met my father, while dating my sister. He told me that my father changed his life, taking him from someone who didn’t have much of a direction, encouraging him to go to college, find a career, and have a family. The man told me simply, “Your father taught me how to be a man.” I think of my father’s upbringing, and am amazed at the adult who raised some good human beings, made a lot of friends, and helped a lot of people in his life. Not a bad epitaph, and not a bad goal. Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.

Garden of Steel Magnolias

Mother’s Day

One of my earliest memories is of going out the back door to the camellia bushes before going to church on Mother’s Day. My mother always cut red camellias for my sisters and me, and another for herself.  I remember the year that she cut a white one for herself. When I asked why, she answered that white was for a mother who had passed away. I remember thinking at her funeral that now I had to wear a white camellia on Mother’s Day.

My mother was an enigma when I was little. She slept from the time my brother and sisters left for school to the time they got home in the afternoon. I didn’t recognize the signs of depression for a few decades, despite being immersed in it myself since my teens. Every so often, I could rouse her to talk to me about the plants she loved, but it often made her yearn for an acre of deep, dark, earth that would respond to her touch, rather than the red clay of our Atlanta back yard. I hated to make her sad.

When I was in college, my mother convinced my father to let her take art courses at the same women’s college I attended. She bloomed there in a way I had never seen before. My mother was intelligent, with an intellectual curiosity and love of learning she passed on to me and my siblings. She excelled in art, enjoying every medium, but falling in love with textiles and pottery. I remember seeing her with her friends in the campus center, laughing and smiling, as she shared some hard-won life lessons with them.

After my mother’s death, my sister found hundreds of pictures that had been kept in the attic for decades, all dating from before my parents’ marriage. Neither she nor I had ever seen them before. The mother we knew was quiet, almost dour. She did not complain, but she did not seem to enjoy her life. These pictures showed a vibrant, laughing young woman having dinner with friends, or shockingly, posing with a young serviceman whose hat she had placed on her own head. The serviceman was not our father, either.  

In them I saw the smile from her college years. I recognized that young woman, confident and smiling with her friends, vibrant and playful. I often wonder what happened to that young woman in the intervening years. My guess is that she was forced to choose between marrying and taking care of a husband and children or staying unmarried and taking care of her parents. I think she would have chosen to live alone until her mid- or late-twenties, something that is no longer unusual. I write about women in the middle ages with limited choices about how to live their lives, yet am surprised at the lack of choices my mother had in the middle of the 20th century. Perhaps I am not the only one born in the wrong century.

 

Music

Autumnal Equinox

I love living in a part of the world where the leaves change, the morning air is clear and crisp, and sitting outside with a cup of tea and a blanket on my lap is meditative.

My parents’ love of classical music was one of their gifts to me, and although I am late for the autumnal equinox, here is Vivaldi’s celebration of the season.

EM

Music

Summer arrives

My father grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts, and blamed being cold all his childhood for his love of summer, even in Atlanta, even without air conditioning.  He also loved classical music, which peopled my childhood with legends and stories. I didn’t even know the titles of much of the music I grew up with until I worked at an NPR station in graduate school, and a piece would throw me back into my parents’ living room, sitting on the floor in front of the record player.

It is going to be in the mid-90’s today in upstate New York, and I know my father would have loved to be in the backyard in the shade with a glass of iced tea.  Today I will play his favorite pieces, from Symphonie Fantastique to Adagio from Spartacus, and strive to enjoy the heat, in his honor.

 

 

EM

Musings, Renegade Reflections

Adirondack Yearnings

Lake Placid Village and Mirror Lake from Crowne Plaza Wednesday

As my father grew more frail in his last few years, I found myself taking on some of his bucket list so that I could at least share my experiences with him, telling him in person with pictures in hand, if I could, or by writing him.  The latter involved pen and paper, as he steadfastly refused to have anything to do with computers.

My father grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts, and his childhood memories of the area gave rise to several of his bucket list items.  Since I now live only an hour and a half away from his childhood home, his bucket list items tied to this area have become mine.

The Berkshires were a favorite topic of my father’s, and familiar to me from story and personal experience. However much my father cherished memories of the Berkshires, revisiting them was not part of his bucket list.  The Adirondacks were. I never learned how my father came to yearn for a chance to spend time in the Adirondacks, but he did visit his brother at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute when he was about ten years old, and may have seen them off in the distance, or traveled through them when he took the train from New Haven to Seattle in 1942 after officer training school. Whatever the genesis, my father always loved mountains. When I was growing up in Atlanta, my family ended up vacationing in Florida, but once we children were older, my father’s preferences were clear. He always drove north when he had time off, to northern Georgia or western North Carolina, drawn to lakes and brooks cradled by mountains.  I share that attraction, fostered by trips to state parks when I was the last child at home, staying in lakeside cabins in the crook of a line of ridges.   

In the summer of 2014, my husband and I planned a small family reunion in the Adirondacks, near Lake George.  We had all four kids, two sons-in-law, and most of the seven grandkids all together for the best part of a week.  My father was delighted that we had revived his practice of small family get-togethers, and listened attentively to my descriptions of the cabin, the beauty of the wilderness in the mountains, and the trip to the “civilization” of Lake George Village, with its visit to Fort William Henry.  

Last October, I attended a conference in Lake Placid, in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks. Driving into Lake Placid, I realized how much my father would have loved the surrounding mountains, the calm lake. Well, he would have loved it in the summertime or in the spectacle of its autumn colors.  My father was no friend to snow, so the snow veiling the high peaks would have detracted from his enjoyment of the view, but I know he would have felt he could relax, breathe deeply, and take in the view stretching miles to the distant mountains.

Although I was four months too late to tell my dad about this part of the Adirondacks, or to show him any of the pictures, I knew why he had always wanted to see the Adirondacks, as clearly as if we had spoken about it. Although more worn than the Rockies, the mountains shake free of the deciduous trees first, then shake the evergreens off their granite shoulders, reaching respectable heights of three thousand to over five thousand feet. Lakes melted from glacial ice reflect the sky, mountains and trees, witnessing the truth of names like Mirror and Placid, while rivers pound through granite gauntlets, frothing white, throwing mist into rainbows above the water.  

At night, the stars spread across the sky, glistening in the clear, crisp, air.  Villages dot the scenery, small lines of lights delineating the streets, but disappearing quickly in the stony, wooded wilderness that marches to the edges of lakes and roads. It seems impossible that one is in the 21st century, especially when night hides the accoutrements of recent civilization.

EM

 

 

From Here to Eventually, WIPpet Wednesday

WIPpet Wednesday Bucket List

 

Lake Placid Village and Mirror Lake from Crowne Plaza Wednesday

I’m not sure what this writing is part of, whether it will lead to a longer piece or just take up a few more pages than it does here.  It is part of a piece on how I have taken on part of my father’ bucket list, left on the list when he passed away in June, two weeks past his 93rd birthday.  I offer 11 sentences for the day, or the month:

Last month, I attended a conference in Lake Placid, further north in the Adirondacks. I am five  months too late to tell my dad about this part of the Adirondacks, or to show him any of the pictures, but I can share them here.  When we were young, he ended up vacationing in Florida, but once we were older, his own preferences were clear. He always drove north when he had time off, to northern Georgia or western North Carolina, drawn to lakes and brooks cradled by mountains.  I share that attraction, fostered by trips to state parks when I was the last child home, staying in lakeside cabins in the crook of a line of ridges. Driving into Lake Placid, I realized how much he would have loved the surrounding mountains, the calm lake. Well, in the summertime or in the spectacle of its autumn colors.  My father was no friend to snow, so the snow veiling the high peaks would have detracted from his enjoyment of the view.

I knew why he had always wanted to see the Adirondacks, as clearly as if we had spoken about it. Although more worn than the Rockies, the mountains shake free of the deciduous trees first, then shake the evergreens off their granite shoulders, reaching respectable heights of three thousand to five thousand feet. Lakes melted from glacial ice reflect the sky, mountains and trees, witnessing the truth of names like Mirror and Placid, while rivers pound through granite gauntlets, frothing white, throwing mist into rainbows above the water.

 

WIPpet Wednesday is the brainchild of K.L. Schwengel and newly hosted by A Keyboard and an Open Mind. If you want to join in, or read other WIPpeteers, go here.

EM

Musings

Veterans’ Day thanks

My parents' wedding
My parents’ wedding

I treasure this picture of my parents’ wedding in December 1945. My father was the first in my immediate family to serve in the military, followed by my brother, my nephew, and my nephew’s wife. My husband’s family has served as well, including his brother, his nephew, and his grandniece.

I thank these members of my family, but I also thank all the veterans, past and present.

EM

 

WIPpet Wednesday

WIPpet Wednesday August 27, 2014

I have to do some magic with math to make this excerpt fit.  If one takes the end numbers from the year 2 + 4, and adds the final digit of the date + 7, one gets 247 words.  Ha!  I pulled that magic off!

My alien sons drew unknown resonances from me as they travelled through childhood.  On an early morning walk, my two-year-old tugged me down to his level, pointing at the grass.  I ended up lying on the wet, cool, grass to see the rainbow displayed in a drop of dew.  My explorations in childhood had been through books, except for pools of water large enough to swim.  The senses were suspect, kept muted and at bay, so that the life of the mind could run unimpeded by the physical body that wrapped it in flesh and bone.

My sons were bold explorers of the life of the senses. The first time my son snuggled next to me, glorying in my touch,  I felt a trespasser in a foreign land, as these ways were not countenanced in my parents’ house.  My father often teased my mother, proclaiming the smoothness of his cheek after a morning shave.  I can’t have been more than six, pressing my cheek to his to feel what he meant.  He turned to stone as if my hair were snakes, pushing me roughly from him. I never touched him again without invitation. He willingly touched me for the first time when I was moving a thousand miles away at age 22.  My sons’ bold assessment of, and joy in, the physical world allowed me to see through the curiosity and somehow right reckoning of my boys, opening my mind and heart to things unknown, unseen, and untasted.

EM

WIPpet Wednesday

Wednesday WIPpet, August 13, 2014

I give you 13 sentences of my memoir for the 13th day of the month.  WIPpet Wednesday is hosted by KL Schwengel.  If you would like to participate, post a date-related (calendar date, not romantic date) snippet of a WIP (hence, WIPpet) here.

My complicated childhood echoed through the years in odd ways. Although family is very important to me, I rarely tell any of my family how important they are to me. My sons encouraged that reticence when they were teenagers, fleeing emotion as if it were hydrofluoric acid. However, those sons also helped me learn how to be a mother to alien creatures, who acted nothing like their sisters. Furthermore, I had met my daughters when they were 5 and 3, so 0 to 3 was unmapped wilderness, filled with snapping wolves and lumbering bears. My sons laid to rest any nature versus nurture discussions I had in my mind; their drive and fearlessness taught me how to take risks, while making my face pale with fear. They put up with my inability to help them with math and physics homework, as well as my crying through nearly every movie I took them to see. Well, not Pokemon.

My daughters, who accepted me as a second mom, weathered my learning how to be a mom. I remember the stark terror I felt when my oldest daughter handed me a Barbie, inviting me to play with her. I had never played dolls with anyone in my life, and I knew nothing about being a child. She was very gentle with me, explaining the rules, “Barbies are plastic, so they can’t talk back to us. We can imagine them talking, though.”

Both girls guided me through playing in the park, swinging and talking, giving me a childhood I had imagined but never lived.

EM

WIPpet Wednesday

WIPpet Wednesday, Memoir

WIPpet Wednesday is a blog hop of excerpts, hosted by the lovely K L Schwengel.  The only rule is that the excerpt have something to do with the date. If you want to join, the link is here.  Feel free to add your link, and please go visit and encourage the participants.  I am continuing to post from my memoir here,  and it is 3 paragraphs in lovely math of 3+0=3.

I will return to other wips, or at least cheerier parts of my memoir next Wednesday, I promise!

In the spring of fourth grade, I started feeling ill and having trouble hearing, so Mrs. B, my wonderful, kind, homeroom teacher moved me to the front row of the class.  She spoke to my parents, who were unconcerned. Every Easter, my father unveiled the camera for ceremonial pictures among the dogwood trees in our front yard.  In my picture, a stick-thin little girl valiantly tries to summon a smile for the lens, not quite hiding the pain in her eyes.  Less than a week later, I reluctantly told my mother I thought something might be wrong with me, since my urine was the color of Coca-Cola.  She thought I was faking, a bid for attention, but I took an old cough medicine bottle andbrought her the proof. After much railing about the expense and bother, my parents took me to the pediatrician, whom I’d seen the previous summer when my eardrums ruptured.  Once the pediatrician verified that I had not contaminated the sample with any foreign substance, she tested it.  When she came back into the room, she was very angry, and I was so afraid I had done something wrong. Her voice was very tight, but she spoke gently, telling me I was very sick and had to go to the hospital.  Palpable frost entered her voice when she turned to my parents. “She has the strain of strep that causes rheumatic fever,  but it has attacked her kidneys instead.” She stopped, shook her head minutely, and continued.  “She has been ill for weeks, if not months. You will take her to the hospital now, and I will meet you there.”

I was in the hospital for over a week, and confined to bed for four months.  My mother stayed in the hospital with me, but seemed angry and distant as always.  My father showed the first crack in his immobile exterior that first day, turning pale and anxious as the doctors explained my illness. I knew I was very ill, perhaps dying, when my parents allowed me to have as many soft drinks and popsicles as I wanted. I found out years later that my father’s best friend had died of the same disease when they were ten years old. I turned ten the week before I entered the hospital.

I took penicillin for a year after being released from the hospital.  My parents had no medical insurance, and were drowning under the expense of my hospital stay, so the veterinarian who lived next door gave us the canine version at cost. I became the invisible invalid, ensconced on a couch moved into the corner of the dining room.  Everyone walked by me, but never stopped to talk or visit. I lived entirely in my head that summer. I planned my life, daydreamed, read books, and decided I was not going to die.

EM