She had a big breakfast, lay down and . . .

Mom, 2009?

Mom, 2009?

My mother died November first. She was 98 years old, though she looked younger. Yesterday her death became one of the stories Lee tells to people — at dinner, parties, breakfast, or whenever they seem appropriate. This telling was at Crafts People in Spillway, according to Lee, or Hurley, according to their business card.

When we walked into the first building — Jewelry, Lamps and Toys — the man sitting at the door, the owner, recognized Lee. We wandered a bit about until we were in different places. I was kneeling at a counter with barrettes and hair ribbons, sticks and such, hoping to find just the thing for my niece for Chanukah, when from the other side of the aisle came the words: “She had a big breakfast, and lay down for a nap, and . . . .”

He may have already told the story to Derrick or Eric or others of his men buddies separate from our life together, but this was the first I heard him tell it and it shook me a bit.

Only those few words. I quickly moved into the little room at the back which held the toys, in order to avoid hearing more. If it becomes part of his repertoire, it may acquire embellishments, and I’m looking forward to them.

But this telling was, like her death, quiet, peaceful, simple. I wasn’t at her death and will never know if she died as peacefully as the woman who sat with her told me. She said it was beautiful and the way she said it and looked at me and cried, there is no reason not to believe her.

I would have liked to have been with her.

She was in her own world these past few years or so. For the most part they seemed comfortable, content, healthy years, although I have no idea at all of what was going on in her mind. Did she know that she was and yet was not the woman she used to be? that she was unable to communicate? that she no longer could walk? that her sister had died? that her grandson got married? that people still loved her? Did she really just exist in the moment and did that moment ever seem much too long or meaningless? What did she do in-between those moments?

Did she recognize me as her daughter, did she recognize me as someone who came to visit every now and then, did she miss me when I wasn’t there?  Did I disappoint her by not doing whatever she might have wanted me to do, or not saying whatever she wanted me to say? Did she want?

redheaded woman illustrationMy presence during these later years may have had no impact on her happiness. My presence at her death may have been the same. Her last thoughts may have been of those who died before her — her mother, father, husband, or maybe no thoughts, only a longing to be finally free of the confines of her wheelchair and her own mind, or maybe no longing but just a blissful nothingness.

Is it a gift to be present at death? My husband Clark told me of how he held his father’s hand and felt his spirit pass on to him as he died. I wanted so much to give Clark the chance to be on the giving end when he died but I made a mistake and I’ve never forgiven myself. The night of his death was a nightmare that still continues to haunt me, all the layers of which I have yet to explore.

Perhaps being at the side of my mom when she died would have helped me.

It’s been written that

            “when Mister Death come, the living couldn’t see him, and wept and wailed,
            but the folks that was dyin’ rose up to greet him, and smiled at him on their way,
            like they knew him for a friend.”

I like to think that is true, but its simplicity makes me cringe when I think of those who lose loved ones, especially young loved ones, to accidents, gun shots, cancer. Who gives a shit about this Mister Death coming and taking our innocents away?

           “Well son,” said granny, “here’s another question she asks of you. Why did you take             away her baby sister from the cradle?”

           Then Death twisted and turned in his sleep again. “She was sick,” he said, “She                  was full of pain. I took her so she need never cry again.”

Life, death — it’s all a burden and a blessing.

*

redheaded woman cover

Mr. Death and the Redheaded Woman, by Helen Eustis, with illustrations by Reinhard Michl. A Star & Elephant Book published by Green Tiger Press, 1983, originally published in The Saturday Evening Post, February 11, 1950 under the title “The Rider on the Pale Horse.”

Love in the Cookie Jar

Back in those crazy years after my husband died and I began dating again, a fellow who intrigued me asked me to bake him cookies in exchange for his affection. He followed a quasi gluten free diet. I bought Gluten-Free Baking with the Culinary Institute of America.  Author Richard Coppedge had formulated four specialized flours that could be blended for breads, cakes, cookies, bagels, pancakes, everything to keep a lover happy.  It was intense, scientific, and required visiting several natural food stores for ingredients. This was 2008, before gluten free baking flours and such were readily available.  I am just a casual baker, and after several attempts at success, was not willing to put in the effort to get it right.

Love in the Cookie JarIn the end the fellow wasn’t worth the effort either, but at this point I was hopelessly smitten. Momma’s Favorite Monster Cookie was perfect. I found it on the internet.  It was simple, forgiving, nutritious, and the recipe produced 48 delicious cookies.

He loved them. They surpassed anything found anywhere, and they still are hard to beat. He encouraged me to market them.

Well he’s gone but the cookie is still a favorite.

Lots of friends and family, one with gluten issues, visited these past few weeks.  I made a double batch, froze them – which they do so well — and served them continually.  Several cookie lovers asked for the recipe.

I went online to send them the link. The url no longer existed. Fourteen million, six hundred thousand results popped up binging “Monster Cookie.” Ah yes, a lot of them were Cookie Monster hits. Forgot about him.

There were countless versions of this oatmeal, peanut butter cookie:  Grandmother  versions, Jewish versions, Amish versions, Nestlé’s version, Pillsbury’s version, Paula Deen’s version which has 447 comments by the way; a modified version for autistic children which uses corn syrup instead of butter or margarine, fully illustrated presentations, utube demonstrations, and some which added flour.   One site honored it as a “modern classic.” And then there was that entirely different blue genre mentioned above.

What is my point?

I’m not sure.

But many caring women, and hopefully some just as caring men have featured this recipe on their blogs or have commented on it suggesting variations, asking for more details, or simply praising it.  And surely, an even greater number of women who have discovered and baked and loved this cookie have their own story they will tell when they share this treat.

Momma Kate’s recipe was originally at recipezaar.com and is now available on food.com.

One of the most recent comments on Paula Deen’s site is “. . .They did not turn out. They were yucky cookie balls. Such a bummer.”

My suggestion to the writer is that she try again.  Practice makes perfect, and mine get better and better every time.

Just like picking fellows.

Stephen, Lee Rubinstein, Jo Hills, Mary Jo @ Beekman Arms (Rhinebeck, NY)

 

Six Novels in Woodcuts by Lynd Ward

2013-11-15 00.53.05It took a while to gain the confidence to approach these books without words, a gift from Alex, and when I finally took the plunge I was mesmerized — both with the content and also with the process.  The six novels can be read and studied and reflected upon by oneself, but they are a fine pick for discussion, many discussions. There is no one interpretation to the string of illustrations.  Love, greed, despair, hope, tyranny, fellowship, passion, hypocrisy, regret — it’s all exploding in the woodcuts.

Historc Trust of NYC Lighthouse

Historic House Trust of New York City

Lynd Ward also illustrated children’s books.  The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge was in the library salvaged from my parents’ home when they sold it.  I have no memory of reading it, yet it seems profoundly familiar.   How did this book find its way to my parents’ bookshelf.  Who bought it and why?  Did I like the book?  Did my parents visit the little red lighthouse by the side of the George Washington Bridge?  Did they take me?  Did they buy it because they were familiar with Ward?

My father’s brother told me that my dad was somewhat of a socialist, not one with a card in his pocket, but one with a heart.  What stories we could have told each other if only . . .

Fourteen joys and a will to be merry

IMG_0067Tuesday morning the flag that flies in the park outside my kitchen window was flying at half-mast. It was important to know why.

Two of my friends had died quietly the day before: one was more like family. Although they lived next door to each other, near the park, neither of them had any clout in town. The flag wasn’t lowered for them. It was eerie.

My friends were in many ways similar.

Both spent a lot of time by themselves. It seemed by choice. They did enjoy socializing, and each of them could be great company.

Both loved the Hudson. One kayaked on it, the other swam in it.

IMG_0062They both spent a lot of time gazing at it from their back porches, and they knew that it was forever changing, and that it would always be revealing more but not all of its secrets.

DucksThey loved the birds – the birds in the air and on the water. They watched each other watch a duck family that crossed through our contingent yards several days in a row on their way to the water. We never did find out where the ducks were coming from. Perhaps they nested at the pond down the road. It seemed a long walk for little ducklings, but one theory is as good as another for the story.

foxBefore&AfterTuckThey both observed the animals that darted out from the lilacs and sumac that bordered the tracks – mostly bunnies, but there were others. One took a picture of the sickly fox that roamed the shore, the other took the fox out of its misery.

They both were survivors. She fought breast cancer and was determined to beat it. She reminded me of my husband Clark who fought until he didn’t have the strength to sit on the tractor and mow the orchard anymore.

My other friend’s body was full of buckshot. We knew it was in his ear, but not until the xrays the day he died did we know that his body was riddled with shot, especially in one leg. He started gagging and gasping for breath on Thursday, and by the weekend Lee and I knew that he deserved a better life than the one he would have if he started the regimen to cure himself.

IMG_0055They both were creative. She maintained beautiful gardens, mostly in large planters. I like to look down on them from my top deck. We talked plants a lot, and also animals, and neighbors, and always the river. Her husband gave me one of her pottery pieces for our “tower toasting” just a few days before she died. It is next to me on my desk. Lee and I knew when she went into the hospital the last time she might not make it to our celebration.

Tuck 2 062013 LeeMy other friend, whom if you haven’t guessed was my dog Tuck, was creative too. He could find a way to get out of anything – almost. She called him Houdini. I think she would have loved to find a way out of her body and run with him.

What does one do when two friends die on the same day? I got into the car and drove to see my mother. She has had to depend upon someone for help in her daily life for the past ten years. She acknowledged me and smiled and I told her the news of the family, and in five – ten minutes she dozed off again. I held her hand drawing in whatever motherly comfort I could.

When in transit, I’m nowhere, a good place to be when you don’t want to be anywhere else. I sing with favorite music or listen to books. This four-hour round trip the book was A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of my Father by Augusten Burroughs. I hurt for the little boy who longed for his father’s love and had created a reality where he and his father shared a special relationship complete with little rituals. Finally Augusten discovered how wrong he was.

The tape kept running. I was no longer listening, but had had my own breakthrough. Life, death, love, loss, yesterday, tomorrow had all come together and I was happy to be alive. The memories of these two friends, whose times were up, were now part of me, along with the memories of others who had touched me in one way or another.

At home I read the blurb on the audiobook cover: “. . .Though harrowing and brutal, [the book] will ultimately leave you buoyed with the profound joy of simply being alive.” Come on, I thought, this is ridiculous.

It’s now Thursday and I’m somehow picking away at this feeling of joy by wondering if I should feel guilty for loving life while others are struggling just to live another day. Every now and then this pesky theme of mine surfaces and Lee, bless his heart, tells me it is good to enjoy life. I always come up with qualifications.

But here’s to a great neighbor and my dog Tuck, and here’s to my neighbor’s husband who shall grieve as long as he needs, and here’s to Lee, my constant companion and our lost spouses, and here’s to my mother, my sons, my friends, my extended family, Tuck’s vet, and here’s to you.

Love,

Spoonbeam

Process #3: I never had a conversation about sex with my sons — Reposted

The following is my post from May 22nd.  It was going to be my last because I       was on my way to finding my voice.  Yeah!  My confidence and purpose would keep me writing without the “views” and “likes” of  wordpress.  After having it up for several days though, being embarrassed by revealing secrets, I took it down in order to censor it.  I also wanted to rewrite it in four separate pieces, as there was much to add to make the story complete.  So far I’ve done nothing, and am putting the post back up just as it was.  

As I push the publish button tonight there are 713 comments on the Times article.

*

AshleyB/BrooklynPaperCo

AshleyB/BrooklynPaperCo

Today’s Times article Unexcited?  There May Be a Pill for That by Daniel Bergner about the research to find a “desire” pill for the many, many women who are unable for whatever reason to enjoy lovemaking although they so badly want to, has me laughing.  Do not quote me out of context.

Laughing because just recently I read another article that hopefully has put an end to my pain as I tried to understand, appreciate and accept my own struggle with my sexuality, and if I had written this last week, perhaps my article would be on the first page of www.nytimes.com.  Probably not!

Laughing because women have been saying “please no, I have a headache” for a very long time.  Others try, others pretend.  What has sparked this current research?  Is there a woman behind it?  We know money is behind it.

Laughing because this article does not mention marijuana, the natural wonder drug, an herb, if that makes any difference.  Marijuana happily is not yet, and hopefully never will be in the hands of big pharma.  One of the more unusual messages to pass through my inbox recently was a proposal that the post office become the sole distributor of marijuana.  Could that be possible?  Just keep it simple, keep it home-grown, keep its quality and diversity, add a tax but keep the price low, and keep it organic and away from agri-business.  No one needs to inhale Monsanto’s poisons.  

Laughing because I wonder if this pill will be available only to women who are married and of childbearing age, do not work for religious organizations, and have sworn to their congressmen that they will only use it if they are trying desperately to have a child.  Making it necessary for husbands to sign these agreements would help keep us women in line.  Filthy rich men could also have signing privileges and receive tax breaks for their purchases. Women who use the pill illegally would be reviled on national television and would be sent to private prisons where they would be sexually harassed and humiliated as part of their rehabilitation. 

Laughing because all we women need is another runaround with religion, superstition, Republicans, the men and unbelievably even some women who think of us as “s—ts” (gosh, I can’t even write the word without shuddering) if we should equate any sort of feminine pleasure with sex.  

Laughing because if there really is an interest in finding a way for women to enjoy lovemaking or just plain sex, why has no drug company jumped on the manufacture of a generic Estring, which makes sex so much more pleasant for post-menopausal women and their partner/s.

Laughing because so many of us women have come to believe through experience and indoctrination that men think sex is dirty, a means of subjugation, a boy’s club prerogative, and then, so do we – think it is dirty, a means of subjugation — and therefore are conflicted about it.

We’ve been brought up to believe some things are good or bad, natural or abhorrent, blessings or sins.  Some of us have had good experiences, good touches, and seen loving relationships to emulate.  Others of us haven’t.  Our introductions and experiences with our sexuality vary immensely.  Our minds and bodies very often don’t work in unison.

I was very happily married for twenty-five years to a man who shared a similar mindset about love and lovemaking.  It was not very liberated.  I was never unfaithful, never even thought about it.  Life was good.  Know though, that I married in my late thirties and didn’t believe in waiting.

Eventually, some time after my husband passed away, I started to think about how nice it would be to be with another good man.   

My first date told me over coffee that he didn’t like women to arch.  It took me a little longer to realize he did not like women at all.  I’m not exactly sure what he liked, except perhaps himself.  That’s not right.  He may have thought himself more important, smarter and better than any one else, and that the world revolved around him, but I can’t believe he actually liked himself.  He also asked me repeatedly what I meant by “a good man.”

Another told me that he did not want to be part of my research — crazy experimentation was what he called it.  He thought everybody else was crazy.  Trying to get along with him could drive anyone to that point.  He taught me not to share all of my ideas about life and to run at the first sign of inconsistency.

And a third wanted me to be a cure for his sexual dysfunction.  No legal or illegal drug helped him, and I wasn’t going to try.

Interesting facts:  all three of these men were divorced at least twice.  None of them could remember marriage ever being happy.  And all three are still looking for the perfect woman, the figment of their imaginations who speak and act on cue to their needs and wishes.

Out of respect for my constant companion (& friend in old age) and my sons and his, I don’t want to comment on our more private moments.  He does however make me smile and giggle.

And how did I finally come to get my head around my struggles with my sexuality?  A great part of my success is due to my cc&fioa.  The ah hah moment however came just a week or two ago when reading The Desires of Margaret Fuller by Judith Thurman in The New Yorker on the publication of Margaret Fuller:  A New American Life, by Megan Marshall:

Her inchoate feelings for [James] Nathan were not merely virginal.  As she herself acknowledged, in forgiving him, they were ‘childish.’  But perhaps they suggest why her writing was never as great as her ambitions for it.  She could love and desire intensely, but rarely at the same moment, and she could think and feel deeply, but not often in the same sentence. . . 

Fuller inevitably fell in love with [Adam] Mickiewicz, and it seems, for once, to have been mutual.  ‘He affected me like music,’ she told Rebecca Spring.  But it also appears, from their letters, that he had recognized what vital element – not only sex but honesty about desire – was missing from Margaret’s life.  ‘The first step in your deliverance,’ he told her,’ ‘is to know if it is permitted to you to remain a virgin.’

Reading more about Margaret Fuller I discovered that in 1845 she wrote in her book Woman in the Nineteenth Century:

There exists in the mind of men a tone of feeling towards women as slaves.

I must read more.

When I first read this morning Times article there were no comments.  As I push the publish button there are 279.  I’m not reading them.

Longfellow, for instance

There’s a pile of books by my bedside.  Usually I’m reading one, sometimes two, and then there are a few books of essays, or short stories for a quick fix.  American Writers at Home by J. D. McClatchy with photographs by Erica Lennard has been on my table for a year or two.   It was a gift from my son Alex, who worked at the Metropolitan Museum for several years, and made good use of his access to the museum’s bookstore.

At first the book frustrated me.  The images of the twenty-one homes featured are moody and often more shadowy than light.  The photographer writes in the forward that she “tried to breathe some soul and life” into the houses and to “capture with my camera fragments of what they might have seen or felt.”  My take is she put too much of her heart and soul in these photos – they are artistic, but the reader can’t see the rooms. The text often speaks of interesting details that are not in the photos.

For instance, let’s hop right to the section of Longfellow, which I read for the first time a few nights ago.  The author mentions a chair that was made from the wood of the village blacksmith’s famous chestnut tree and given as a gift to Longfellow by the children of Cambridge on his seventy-second birthday.  The caption written about the three images of his study also mentions the chair but does not point it out to the reader, and that is quite disappointing.

One of the photos of the study however, shows the desk where Longfellow stood when he wrote.  That interested me, as Hemingway (whose life filled up twelve of my working years)  also wrote standing up, and similarities between the two started popping to mind.  In fact so much in the section on Longfellow intrigued me that my excitement about discovering the man behind the poems has blotted out all the book’s annoyances.

The website of the National Museum of Horse Shoeing Tools and Hall of Honor has a page devoted to the village smithy’s chair.  It states that the tree in front of the blacksmith’s shop down the street from Longfellow’s home “fell victim to progress” when Brattle Street was widened in 1876.  The chair was made by H. Edgar Hartwell of Boston and lines from The Village Blacksmith were etched in around the seat rails.  Longfellow wrote a poem of thanks to the children of Boston and it is published on their page — wish I could show the chair to you, but click here to see.

Opening lines of Longfellow’s poems came swiftly to mind while reading about him and his home.    By the shores . . .   Listen my children . . .  This is the forest primeval. . .   Between the dark and the daylight . . .

But outside of the fact that he stayed at the Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts, where my wedding took place, I knew nothing of his life.

From the few pages of text on Longfellow in American Writers  I learned he was brilliant.  Upon graduation from Bowdoin, he accepted the position of the college’s Professor of Languages.  He went off to Europe and learned eleven to be prepared for the position.  He read profusely and he converted the ballroom of his home into his library of over fourteen thousand books.  He translated Dante’s Inferno. He incorporated his knowledge of language, history, mythology, biography, geography into poetry that was read and equally enjoyed by scholars and the servants at Queen Victoria’s castle.

He was a professional poet who knew how to promote his work.  His poetry offered a young nation a literary definition and a unifying culture.  Longfellow insisted his works be published as broadsides and in inexpensive editions as well as in leather bound volumes, so that all levels of society could have access to them.  If he lived in our day, he would most likely have been one of the first to have his works out on the internet and on ebooks.

Longfellow was an inspiration to his children.  They went on to be writers, educators, artists, travelers. He was a devoted husband, and outlived two wives.  His first wife, Mary, died during childbirth, his second, Fanny, was the first recipient of ether during childbirth in the United States.  Fanny, died tragically from burns suffered from a dropped match which lit her skirt.  She and her daughters, age five and seven, were applying sealing wax to a gift package of clipped locks of their hair.  Longfellow wrapped her in a rug, to try and save her from the flames, but she died a few days after.  Longfellow grew his beard to hide the scars left by the burns to his face.

In addition this was a poet who had fun.  Longfellow’s home hosted many a social gathering, watered by good wines from his well-stocked cellar.

Googling for some fact that has slipped my mind completely, I found this interesting item that shed an entirely new light on The Song of Hiawatha.  I quote from the Digital History website:

The HUAC [House Un-American Activities Committee] hearings and blacklistings discouraged Hollywood from producing politically controversial films. Fear that a motion picture dealing with the life of Hiawatha might be regarded as communist propaganda led Monogram Studio to shelve the project. As The New York Times explained: “It was Hiawatha’s efforts as a peacemaker among warring Indian tribes that gave Monogram particular concern. These it was decided might cause the picture to be regarded as a message for peace and therefore helpful to present communist designs.”

There’s so much more.  Check the Longfellow Society and the National Park Service websites for bits and pieces, and if you are like me you will be soon looking for more to read.  Mr. McClatchy tells us that Longfellow wrote letters at the large table in his study.  I thought it a good place to start, learning about him in his own words, until I discovered that there are five volumes of these letters.  I’ll have to look for something a bit more realistic.

*****

I have a memory of having a meal at Longfellow’s home in 1969.  The head of the children’s department at the Boston Public Library treated the new hires, including me, to lunch or tea after a meeting of some sort back in 1969.  But this may be something I’ve made up.

That memory reminded me of another meal — a dinner of “book” women at Dandelion in Burlington, Massachusetts.  We met a few times at different places, and once a colleague from the Kennedy Library was there.  The group didn’t gel. I was disappointed, but also relieved, when the gatherings stopped – or perhaps they went on without me.   I look back now and wonder about their purpose.  Was the initiator, whose name is a blank, hoping to start a bluestocking society?  That would have been fun if I were the person I am today back then.  But at the time, I wasn’t comfortable enough with myself to feel anything but awkward at both of these two experiences, and that has been making me feel awkward even now.

It’s a long way from Longfellow to self-doubt but somehow I made the leap.  Strange how the mind works.

The Process #3: Talking to others

My Voyage Through Time

I absolutely adore anything thought provoking. On July 1, 2012, I had a great comment submitted by “spoonbeams.” This woman is a former archivist who had come across my post Whiskey Dreams: Inside the Mind of Hemingway (May 10, 2012). I have included our comment string into this post because it is worth a read.

Whiskey Dreams was my post about Ernest Hemingway and his vast archive called The Hemingway Papers. In that post, I talk about: reading further into signs than I should; digital initiatives with the Hemingway Papers involving over 6,000 personal letters; the mind of Ernest; his death being a tragic loss to the literary world; his escape and submission to a dark fate; and the fact that I could be madly in love with a dead guy. I had a few interesting comments on the post.

There was one from “Rhonda” on May 10…

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