I hope I’ll get another chance

We just recently moved into the eleven by eight foot loft of our new addition where we can lie in bed and look out over the Hudson and the Catskills.  There’s not much we can do there but sleep, read, and you know what.  It’s very romantic.

Our kids were up for Thanksgiving – three thirty-ish men with their lovely women.  It was a fabulous weekend for us, the first Thanksgiving with the two families merged.

The last of our children left Sunday afternoon, and the house felt suddenly empty, but it also was once more ours alone.  We decided to pour ourselves each a glass of wine and watch a movie in bed ––

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An hour or two later we awoke.  Lee told me he felt like were in our twenties again.

I told him I forgot to open my eyes.

It wasn’t all roses

Today is Fathers Day and I had a show-stopping conversation with Morgan.  His dad, my husband, passed away in 2006, when Morgan was 22.  We were talking about choosing a partner for marriage.

Mom & Dad at JFK 1990

Morgan said a thoughtful, tender thing to me, at least that’s what I heard.   He said that he and his younger brother Alex have an idea of what a good marriage can be because of the way their parents, Clark and me, stayed together and remained committed to each other for over 25 years.  That’s the model they have in mind, and they are looking for partners with which to do the same.  But oh, my words are so clinical and cliché.  His words were so very much more human, more Morgan.

Clark and I were truly each other’s best friend, there for each other, no question.

Morgan and I spoke about other things too – work, the addition, his cats, air conditioning, July 4th weekend, the cicadas.  And then we hung up.

And then I began to worry.  

In my efforts to make sure my sons are certain that Lee does not mean more to me than their father, have I led them to believe that Clark and I had a fairy-tale marriage?  Will they be endlessly looking for fairy-tale relationships?  As a young girl I believed in fairy-tale romances and marriages.  As an older woman I believe in fairy-tale romances and marriages.  But in-between I learned that it isn’t all lovey-dovey and happy til death do we part. 

There were days during my marriage, and sometimes there were weeks or months when I wondered why or how or when.  Do I really love him?  Would I be happier with someone else?  Am I trapped?

We never fought and I can’t remember ever raising our voices at each other.  I’m pretty sure that is true.  Two of the men I dated after his death, and the one that I am living with now get to that frenetic, shouting state so quickly. 

Arguing with men, with anyone actually except my mother and a few employees (I loathe being in a supervisory position) was new to me, and very uncomfortable, and so I talked about it, trying to understand this hurtful dynamic in a relationship.  One of my “dates” thought that Clark must have been hen-pecked.  How else could he not have gotten angry with me since I was such a controlling, demanding woman?  I don’t see that. 

Clark was level-headed, calm, comforting.  When I totally crashed the computer in our bookstore, leaving us without any inventory or purchase and sales records, he treated me gently and with concern as I walked around constantly crying, mute, and in a shadow for three weeks.  Even when he was hurting with cancer, he found the way to help me through my anxiety and craziness over my mother’s violent and ugly onset of Alzheimer’s and the difficulty of getting her, her friends, and her independent living facility to accept the fact that she needed help.

Another one of my “dates” thought that Clark must have been a saint.  I don’t see that either.

Lee doesn’t analyze.  He just knows that we are both a little bit (hah) high strung, and get frustrated easily.  Of course, I think he is the provocateur, but we won’t go there.  If we’re not laughing at ourselves in an hour, we kiss and make up in the morning.   We know we’ve got a good thing going and we aren’t going to let our big fat egos and our insecurities mess it up.

Clark and I may have talked and discussed, compromised, but I don’t even remember doing that.  We just thought the same way.   We successfully owned and operated two small businesses together.  We built one house and did major improvements on two others.  I guess we were a good match.  

He wasn’t very exciting though. 

When we were courting he had a dream of sailing around the world.  This sounded like heaven to me.  After several years I realized this was definitely just a dream.  He was much too cautious, too responsible, and he had a nightmare of an experience sailing the Marion Bermuda Race in 1979.

Only once did I see him lose it.

That was right after Morgan was born.  He had recently changed jobs, and had given up smoking.  Who knows exactly what brought on the anxiety attack that sent him to the hospital and then to bed for months.  If ever I would have left him, it would have been then.  But somehow both he and I got through it.   Yes, he did get stuck when he was diagnosed, but who wouldn’t, and he soon started looking for answers.

Later on, as he got sicker and weaker with his non-Hodgkins, our life got smaller and smaller, but it was actually a dream.  We were living in a 200 year old home that smiled on us.  We hardly ever left it.  Our children were off on their own. 

It felt to me as if I was getting to know a new Clark.  We spoke of what was happening to him and what would become of me.  We were delving into places that we never had entered before. We were falling in love again. 

Perhaps I have rewritten history for myself and for my boys.  It is hard when you are juggling jobs and children to take the time to love each other.  As I look back now, which I am so lucky to be able to do, I wish we had taken more time for ourselves and were more expressive of our feelings.  At the time I was proud of our stoicism.  It seemed to me that we just understood we were with each other and we didn’t have to prove it to each other over and over.  And I think he felt the same.  We never doubted. 

We were fortunate we had a quiet, close time at the end of Clark’s life.  He made it possible.  He is the one who wanted us to buy that big, rambling house – a bear to maintain – on nine acres which needed constant mowing and care.  I wanted to say “No.  We don’t need an apple orchard.  What are you crazy?   All that spraying, all that work?”

But because I knew I had another life on the way, I would have done anything with him.  

And we did good

Christmas 2012

One night mid-December dinner was meatballs and spaghetti a la Otto’s. My noodle man Lee had been looking for meatballs to satisfy my craving at our favorite grocers. I can’t remember where the craving came from.  We have been watching a lot of Fellini.  Does Marcello’s father eat spaghetti and meatballs in La Dolce Vita?  Lee’s noodles are so good that I often tell him he should open Lo Fan’s Noodle House and finally bring a great Chinese restaurant to the Hudson Valley.  But “meatballs and spaghetti” is not really his thing.  He was also a little turned off because he had just read an article on the unsanitary – disgusting is a better word — conditions surrounding our meatballs on their way to the grocer’s meat counter – any grocer’s meat counter, not Otto’s in particular.  We still ate the meatballs but he has given up his search for tasty ones.  Maybe the craving will come back and I’ll start trying to concoct that meatball of my dreams.

My office is so crammed with stuff we piled into it because of the construction going on at our house, that I moved gift wrapping downstairs to the living room.  After dinner I picked up where I had left off the evening before.

Lee was at the piano and he sounded good.  He was playing Maria – and I realized he had discovered how to separate his two hands and play a single note in the right and accompaniment in the left – something he has been trying to accomplish for a while.  Lee is a self-taught piano player – he needs to reinvent piano theory on his own in order to understand it.  It takes time, but he does it.  While at first it frustrated me, I now admire him for his persistence and success.

The boys and I were celebrating Christmas/Chanukah on the ninth night of Chanukah.  The date is never as important to us as is the occasion.

But it was Christmas that was on my mind as I wrapped presents.  Our Ch/Ch (pronounced chichi) gathering, was also the negative tenth day of Christmas.  Usually wrapping presents brings on conflict of a sort.  I enjoy wrapping presents, although, as my father used to say, not too much: it goes on too long, or there’s not enough scotch tape, or I worry if I’ve overdone, favored one son, or . . .

This year though something was different.  I was having fun wrapping; there was a little scenario unfolding.   I always use posters saved from our children’s bookstore for wrapping paper.  It is getting harder and hard to cut up these posters as I am getting further and further into the collection and pretty soon only my very, very favorites and the signed ones will be left.  I selected the posters so that each package had a full picture on the front – that was something new.

IMG_0704The leftover gift-wrap paper from the store which reads “the most important twenty minutes of your day” is always my choice for wrapping books.   We read together every morning from when my children were babies until they went to school, and then every evening before going to bed.  This year I actually stretched and chose books and other gifts for them on my own, not from their wish list.  This made me feel good about myself as I must be feeling more confident.  I think they liked them, although they are much too kind to their mother to ever say “What were you ever thinking, mom?”  They always choose books for me in return.

I used red rosin paper left over from laying the floors in the addition.  The paper folds so beautifully.  It was a delight to work with, so my pleasure was not only emotional and intellectual, it was also physical

IMG_0701All the gifts to girls had angel tags, and all those to the boys had stars. (Oh my goodness.  Did I really say girls and boys and not women and men?!)   The tags were also left over from the “Giving Tree” that we used to have in the store.  In the past I chose my tags according to color, or if the presents were from Santa, or Mrs. Claus (she always gave the clothes — a tradition carried on from Nanny), or from Mom and Dad, or just one of us, or by how many words I could fit on them, or – you really don’t want to hear any more.  But I’d love to tell you the story about the snowman bags.

I had already been wrapping presents for three nights.  No rushing, everything was well paced.

Being at ease in the living room was a new sensation.  The room had never worked for me.  At Thanksgiving Morgan and I repositioned some of the furniture and that helped. The fireplace always smelled, and above the fireplace is an empty cabinet built for a large flat-screen TV.  That’s another story, which I will spare you, at least for now.  It’s no matter because once television became hi-tech and the news became gossip, TV failed to interest me any more.  And TV is something I always watched in bed, not with guests in the living room.

The fireplace is gas and an ugly one at that.  It was necessary to turn the gas and the fans on full blast to avoid the stench, which meant that it was only on during power outages.  The man where we bought our little gas stove for the tower suggested I take the whole fireplace apart and clean it well.  That helped too.  He also wanted me to remove the firebox completely and get the dust out from behind, but enough is enough.

The living room is starting to be a good space.

IMG_0695Our Ch/Ch gathering was very warm and we didn’t leave until much too late.  Alex and Morgan’s new girlfriends were there and I hoped we did not overwhelm them, or even worse, frighten them away.  When Morgan wrote and told me that he thought “the Ch/Ch that Alex and Sam hosted was wonderful,” I decided we had all done good.

Lee and I went out to a romantic early dinner at Ship to Shore in Kingston two nights before Christmas.  When the food is good (it doesn’t have to even be great) and I can use my fingers to eat, the restaurant is quiet, it has a bit of elegance without pomp, the waiters are polished, personal and yet keep their distance, and we are happy, I consider the dinner romantic.  The waiter asked us if we were all done with our Christmas shopping.  (Perhaps we looked as relaxed as we were.)  There are gifts that the elves didn’t finish on time and there are two in the freezer that I forgot when loading up our sleigh to Brooklyn.  But we were not only done with our shopping, we were done with Christmas and all I had were happy memories.

Perhaps I had none of my usual Christmas angst because there are now so many people speaking out:  we are not a Christian country; there should be real separation between church and state; God does not belong in school, on the dollar bill, or in party platforms.  It was such a breath of fresh air to learn that the Democrats left God out, and such a disappointment to see God put in.  There is even a growing movement ridiculing the so-called War On Christmas.

Last night, Christmas Eve, I worried a little.  Were Morgan and Alex enjoying Christmas Eve and Christmas Day?  Did they and I over-react to my last year’s rant by hardly mentioning the word?  I hope they are enjoying themselves with friends and that we can look forward to many more Merry Christmases together in the future.

Dad on Mother’s Day

We did good —
he whispers to me,
out of sight and hearing from the others
at our Mothers Day dinner —
but who is that sitting next to you?

Oh honey, I’m so glad you’re here –
I smile back.

They are young men with lives —
he continues —
and they love you.

Stay, will you, so we can talk later?
And can you talk to them too?

I don’t know how —
he answers after a while —
Did I ever know how?

And I try to remember
what we spoke of back then.
The four of us at the table.
The two of us in bed.

Christmas 2011

Christmas is not my holiday.  This is my 64th Christmas.  It is there, every year, whether I’m looking for it or not.

I do not remember individual Christmases.  Some passed by as just another day. Some were filled with happy children and good food.  Mostly however, when I think of Christmas the specifics are blurred, and my body reacts to feelings of jealousy, incompetency, guilt, and confusion.  Christmas is always sooo big that it is hard  not to be caught up in it – trying to find a place to fit in even if you don’t believe.

My experiences are not that unusual I’m sure.  I was a bright Jewish girl in a predominantly Catholic grammar school.  Much to my displeasure my mother would not allow me to participate in the annual Christmas pageant.  I sat alone in the auditorium during rehearsals while my classmates practiced walking down the aisles carrying candles and singing carols.  They played bells and made decorations and chatted about their trees and wish lists.

My next door neighbors would invite me over to help them trim their tree and I would return home to unsympathetic parents with my stories of how I helped stick cloves into oranges and sprinkled sugar on cookies.

My parents caved in finally and one year allowed me to put a wooden shoe by the side of my bed before I fell asleep and they filled it with candy.   I also remember going to see the department store windows on Fifth Avenue – full of teddies and snow, and animals, and lights, and I think we also went to Rockefeller Center one year  I wonder if they did this out of love for me, not wanting me to feel so different.

When I moved out on my own and had my own apartment it took me several years before I got up the nerve to put up my own small Christmas tree.  I bought eggnog and exchanged gifts with friends.  I never told my family because some of them would think of this as treason, not standing up to the Christian takeover of the season, not supporting the Jews who chose to not even acknowledge secular Christmas.

Then of course, I fell in love with Clark, a non-Jew, one who’s mother loved Christmas, decorated her home, shopped with fervor, cooked and baked, and brought out the holiday dishes..  The first year we had them at our house for the holiday I was a bundle of nerves.  Do I leave the menorah up?  Do I buy decorations?  What do I cook?

When we had children it was even harder.  I was happy they loved our sons so much that they showered them outrageously with presents, but at the same time, I never knew how to reciprocate or how to balance one set of grandparents’ Chanukah with the other grandparents’ Christmas.

Our little family created our own Christmas traditions.  We’d set up the tree on Christmas Eve – this started mostly from my not wanting to crowd out Chanukah when the two holidays coincided. It made our Christmas Eve very special.  We’d cuddle in our family chair and read Polar Express; we’d open one present.  After a wild morning opening presents on Christmas day, we’d go to a movie – it often was the newest Star Trek – and then we’d return home for a good dinner.

After my husband’s death in 2006, my sons and I continued to get together for Christmas.  It was his holiday, and it is their holiday too.  This is the first year that I am not with them. I am happy that Morgan, my elder son, has a girlfriend who shares her family Christmas with him.  It is a much better Christmas than I could give him now.  My younger son, Alex, spent Christmas with members of his band.  I think he was looking forward to doing this.

Without my boys Christmas has little fascination to me and I feel out of sorts.  It is there, trying to poke itself into my life, but somehow I can skirt around it a lot easier.  Yes, I brought my sons presents and yes, we will get together sometime in January to celebrate our memories of Christmas with Clark.  We will never let the holiday go because of our love for him.