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Words

I try to pinpoint words that when strung together, like beads in a necklace, express something with texture and richness; I hope for the occasional sparkle of a well placed gem. I frequently fail miserably. But on a good day, as with a candid photo, I unexpectedly capture a heartbeat, and it feels as if I've successfully seized fog with my hands.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Bulk Mailing - So Sorry

To my valued subscribers, 

I too am on the Is It Really All Random? subscription feed so I'll know if/when it's working improperly. This afternoon I received a post of seven months ago. I recently received one post twice, then multiple posts on a single email.

I'm researching this -- checking to see whether it's a platform error (Blogger), a Feedburner subscription error (both Google products) or an interface error between the desk chair and the keyboard, if you know whaddimean.

I apologize for this "bulk" mailing episode and appreciate your patience as I explore resolution. 

And while I'm here, allow me to express my gratitude for your subscription which I translate to support for this writer. 

Happy Holidays! On to newly minted 2012 adventures!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I'm the One, And It's Okay

I’m the one who visits my infant daughter’s grave.

Surprise. I found flowers there. And a stuffed toy. A blue Smurf. Wearing a red cap.   

An artificial autumn arrangement of yellow sunflowers and orange leaves. Standing tall in a stick-in-the-grass cemetery cup. Did someone come for her October birthday?

I’m the one who visits my infant daughter’s grave.

Once or twice a year. Always at Christmas. Then sometimes in summer, or maybe on her birthday, or mine on a sunny May morning near to Mother’s Day. 

I bring real flowers. Because she was.

Maybe my parents stopped by her burial place. But if so they would have visited my grandparents. But there were no flowers left with Grandma and Grandpa.

My parents might go to them without seeing her, but never the reverse.

Maybe someone from her father’s family, his other daughter perhaps? Might have gone to her dad’s grave and then to see her half-sister. That happened once on the first birthday or anniversary after he died. But there were no flowers left with him.

My stepdaughter might visit him without seeing her, but never the reverse.

An accident perhaps? The mower men with their tractors might have moved flowers and ornaments to cut the grass and trim around the grave markers. Maybe they replaced the decorations incorrectly. Most likely that was how it went.

I’m the one who visits my infant daughter’s grave.

This time with conflicted emotions. Glad someone remembered her. Curiosity at who it was. Territoriality. An unknown, unauthorized visitor had stood so near. Sadness, it might have been an accident.

Confused. The flowers. The soggy toy. The multiple, simultaneous feelings. I wrote to a friend, ‘without a winner but all squabbling for air time.’ Maybe squabbling wasn’t the right word. More like babbling. Look at me. Each feeling demanded attention.

I was tempted to toss the arrangement away, certain it wasn’t hers. I don't like artificial. And I’m her mother. All that’s left for me to do is mind her grave and keep it neat, and rub the bronze plate with steel wool so her name shines in the sun. The way I imagine she would shine.

But if the toy and flowers belonged elsewhere and a family came to call, they would be denied the chance to reclaim their misplaced love.

Or maybe they would think I’d tried to steal it for my girl.

If someone came and remembered my girl I couldn’t discard a tender hearted offering of flowers and a rain soaked, muddied Smurf. With his dirty red cap. 

I left them both. I placed my wreath, with its silky gilt-edged red Christmas bow, right below her name.

I asked around, those who might have thought of her, if they'd visited her grave. They nodded no, as I surmised would be the case.

And though I’d written to my friend no one emotion clamored to be heard above the din of all the rest, I realized it wasn’t true. I’d wanted a secret someone to remember. Disappointment rose until sadness won the moment.

I knew all along what was most likely true.

It was okay. At Christmas I best understand sadness is a spotlight for our joy.

It was okay. Life moving forward the way it was designed.

For all the families whose children rest under sparse branches of cemetery trees, we still breathe. We live in the rhythms of the carols we sing this time of year, for those are the rhythms of life.

I’m the one who visits my infant daughter’s grave. 

And it really is okay. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Colored Candy Love

My mind wandered while rolling biscotti dough into requisite logs for baking. I sprinkled them with small colored candies as my grandmother did. Nowhere have I seen biscotti decorated as she did. I see them dipped in chocolate, dark or white, but not embedded with colored candy sprinkles.

Grandma made biscotti regularly. But only for special occasions was it decorated. At Easter and Christmas. The confetti party on her cookies always signaled a celebration. They tasted no different but different was in the air.                                                           

I stayed with my grandparents frequently when growing up. I ran away to their home on my bike or on foot, just a mile or two from mine. I was there for a few weeks during summer; we called it my vacation. Some time there, then home, and a final return before school began in September.

There was a wonderful sameness to mornings with my grandmother. The sound of her slippers on hardwood floors. Coffee brewing in an aluminum percolator on the burner of an old gas stove. Toast with marmalade and a scrambled egg from a small, duel-handled, white enamel pan with cobalt blue trim.

She took a sponge bath from a white pedestal sink, brushed her teeth with a mixture of tooth powder, salt, and baking soda, gave herself a light dusting of talc, and then rolled her long gray hair into a horizontal coil at the back of her head. “What color was your hair when you were a girl, Gramma?"      

“Chestnut,” she would say and I wondered exactly what color that was. 

“Not as dark as yours, Tatina.”     

My cousins’ names all bore her distinctive Italian accent, as did my brothers’, when she called out for them, but she used an Italian nickname for me. I don’t remember her saying my birth name. Don’t know what Pamela would have sounded like. For I was Tatina. Or Dolly, which I think was accented darling, Im not sure. 
                                                                                                     
As I wiped flour from my countertops I smelled baking anise and almonds wafting through my kitchen, an aroma from my grandmother’s oven, the scent of long ago. It was that fragrance I remember while playing at my spot on the area rug in the front of French doors in the dining room. The late morning and afternoon sun streamed through the windows to land on Barbie and me.

It occurred to me that I was lost in the memories of a 12-year-old girl. I last saw Fanny, my grandmother, in 1964, when I was 12. I had to wonder how reliable those recollections might be so many years later. Perceptions of a child translated by an adult, influenced by time. But when I craned attempting to peer through the fog of years, that which I grasped was clear.

She was the first and perhaps only person I have known about whom I believed I need do nothing to be worthy of her devotion, attention, and uninterrupted flood of love. To be with her was to bathe in the feeling created when a child knows with certainty nothing can happen which will dam that flow. Having been born was enough for her. Id already done all that was required.

The year she died, Fanny went shortly before Christmas after a brief illness. The one event that could prick the bubble of affection that surrounded my life. I was in the seventh grade.

As I placed my colorful biscotti in tins as gifts for family and friends I realized nearly 50 years have passed since her death. I said to my sweetie, I bet if we gathered my family together we couldn’t speak of her for longer than ten minutes without someone beginning to cry. That’s how much she's still missed.

I mentioned that comment to my brother this morning over coffee. He countered with his story of the first time, at age 7 or 8, he understood the depth of her love and its unconditional nature. About 90 seconds passed when his voice tightened and his eyes began to redden. The Fanny Effect

I don’t have huge aspirations or expectations of life. Not because I expect little but because life as been rich and good to me, with grand surprises and abundance. I know how lucky I am. But if I can finagle it, theres something significant I would like to do before I take my leave. I would like to provide what was provided to me.

I want to be an unqualified, unmitigated and complete source of support and affection for a child as Fanny was for me. I want to send a little one into the world believing as I did that he/she is 100% lovable and that breathing is the only compulsory while in my presence.             

I would like to tender that and maybe know that I have done so. Id like to believe that someone’s memory may be tickled from time to time by the shuffle of slippers on the floor, or the smell of baking cookies with colored candy sprinkles. And that 50 years after my exit they’re able to reach through a dusty accumulation of years and hear me calling their name with delight in my voice. Just because they were born. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Holy Honking Holiday Spirit!

Christmas spirit isn’t a constant or so I’ve observed. I think mine fluctuates and I've noticed the ebb and flow in others, too.

Some years I want a big ol’ tree, threatening to roll from the roof of the car, jammed through our front door to graze my front room ceiling. Sometimes no tree at all, or a modest five footer reflecting a mood subdued.

Seems like years I don’t much care, another's house is all tricked out. Neighbors with an animated, blow-up Santa waving from across the street. Down the lane now sits a life-sized, plastic manger scene. It has lights inside and glows. Bring your sunglasses if you plan on going near. Poor folks with a bedroom window facing it can't sleep without their black-out blinds. 

For Christmas I’ve baked for days conjuring cookies Martha Stewart couldn’t match. Held Open House parties for scores. Among tables filled with food I placed exotic cheeses with handmade little elves holding the names of each. 

Whipped up a dozen desserts to make a house full drool. Candy and fudge, bread puddings, pies and cake. Don't forget the cannoli. 

The epitome of a holiday hostess.

Other seasons I haven’t wanted to open a red envelope. No delight in twinkling lights. 

I’ve worn sparkles and sequins and black satin heels that lifted me in towering celebration. I’ve attended Christmas dinner in my jeans only because I couldn’t wear pajamas.

I’ve been quiet and loud, and both in a season that started slow and ended with unexpected cheer. I’ve dined with kin and friends and invited strangers to join in deafening family dinners where we couldn’t all fit at the table. And we four only have sat together closely happy to have each other.

I was thrilled when in honor of my newborn boy a Baby’s First Christmas ornament glimmered from a our stately tree in a home his father and I built for our growing family. I’ve mourned losses on first Christmases without those I never imagined would be gone.

I’ve spilled tears at wrenching lyrics of a favorite Christmas song and sung exuberantly in choruses performing Handel’s Messiah, a wide grin upon my face.

I’m sure of it. Christmas carries a different tone and texture every year it passes. Sometimes it's subtle. A small shift in hue. Other times a sea change.

No matter how I’m feeling, or how involved my circle wants to be, there are those among us who create a special annual gift by decorating right out of their minds. While I attempt to calculate the cost in hours and dollars I know there is no measuring the joy they bring as we travel their streets in awe.

Last night we walked a special avenue not far from our place. Packed with pedestrians, cars and bicycles. Kids squealed and ran ahead to the next electric tableau, adults ooohed and ahhhed. Husbands dutifully nodded as wives suggested, “Maybe next year?”

So this is a shout out to those of you who generously provide gifts of beauty and wonder in our neighborhoods. You endure the traffic, mind the blown out lights, clean up after  messy admirers, spend hours taking displays down in January, store boxes (and boxes) all year, and make it even better for us next time. Thank you for keeping our spirits alive when we do and don’t do it for ourselves. Thanks for your passion and commitment to making the holiday bright.

Thank you, thank you. 


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Friday, December 9, 2011

Junction of Provence & Route 66

Home now and have been for a little while. Not much jet lag after a long journey to the U.S. Multiple plane changes; one barely made it connection followed by a long flight, a protracted wait, and finally the six-hour leg that landed at the beginning. 

Whenever I return I feel emotion well in my throat when the first Customs agent says, “Welcome home.” 

Difficult leaving Joce behind, knowing it will be a while till we see each other again. Hard to leave my French life. The novelty, lack of responsibility. Life without demands. Being with my French sister. That was my expectation and that was all that was expected of me. Merely to be in the country of my heart. I relished each moment.

I wasn’t homesick.

Homesickness sets in my gut even on an overnight.  First time I remember feeling it was at Girl Scout camp. 6th grade. Never went again.

I love being with my sweetie. My son. My cat. My stuff. The land around my house. When I pull into my driveway after a day of work or errands I feel like I’m arriving at a luxurious retreat. Don’t like leaving my corner of the world.

Don’t sleep well when away. Can’t go to the bathroom either, if you know whaddimean. As excited as I was about my nearly month long excursion to France, I worried I’d wreck my own trip with homesickness.

I did miss my peeps. It would have been a wonderful trip with my sweetie. We’d be in it together now, remembering this and that. But it would have been a different trip. I’m still surprised at my lack of homesickness. Sweetie and I talked twice daily. My night, then his. Thank you, Skype, you sure helped. 

There was also my secret homesick-defying weapon. The junction of Provence and Route 66. Joce’s bathroom.

Photos of Monument Valley, Arches, San Francisco (and San Francisco and…), expired and novelty vehicle license plates from the southwest covering every wall. Oh my. La toilette. Not everyone makes a trip home in the W.C.

Back in the Bay Area and I find myself stuck at the junction. Expectations and tasks waiting, piling up at my door. Trying to corral my spirit as it attempts to head east and to hover over the Atlantic. Get back here!

Joce has a solitary streak and so do I. I thought she’d be happy to reclaim her life, kick out her roommate, settle into quiet and pajamas, use her bathroom without waiting for me to exit.

Then I remember we stayed quiet together, side-by-side, ignoring each other’s old pjs and habits, switching between French and English television news, nightly soup for dinner, clinking glasses of French water. Matching quirks.

Now she doesn’t queue for the W.C. or coordinate bath time. Wonder if I had enough to eat or am bored. She probably smokes indoors again, too. I imagine she likes that. Zee leetle French habit.

Even so, she misses me. Her house is emptier than she likes. As I daydream about my next excursion to la belle France, she’s the sole inhabitant of the junction losing herself in the photos she lovingly posted there to remind her of the freedom and wildness of the west she longs to wander, lost in her thoughts and her adopted home.

I’m wriggling back into my life. Happy knowing my sweetie will be the first person I see in the morning, the last at night. Glad to have snagged a delicious just back hug from Boy. Delighted to hear kitty purring when he thought for certain the predators had taken me away. Surprised at the changed landscape a month away has brought to my canyon. And don’t get me started on the joy of my American shower.

But I miss the junction of Provence and Route 66. And I really miss Joce. The kind of missing one can only feel if lucky enough to have a sister and a home away from home.


Ma soeur Française, Joce