Wednesday, September 2, 2015

School Days

It's Back To School time.  What a lousy weather pattern for this.  Hot, humid, dreadful days, tough to get through, to feel productive at home, no less in a hot, stuffy school building.  Is it me or has the climate changed so drastically since my school days?  I remember so well, the first days of the new year as a big fashion occasion.  We shed our shorts and traded them in for knee socks, corduroy jumpers, plaid skirts and Peter Pan collared blouses.  High school years found us back in our uniforms, a lighter weight version that we were to wear until the cooler days of late Fall arrived. But, back to school shopping was an annual event to which we looked forward.  I'm sure this brought tears of joy to the eyes of our parents who welcomed the return of the big yellow bus.  We had grown bored, tired of the lack of structure, and we were accidents about to happen.  Then, magically, we were transformed into obedient school children who went off, thinking that Seventeen magazine had nothing on us, and all of the creativity that we used in entertaining ourselves during July and August, got stripped away into what we learned most during our school days......conformity.

I detested school.  Hated every minute.  Dreaded the first day.  Dreamed about the very last day of the very last year of my education.  I remember that so well.  It wasn't until I reached high school that I had acquired a bit of tolerance for the whole thing and that had so much to do with the friends who I knew would be there, greeting each other on that first day and tearfully hugging each other, clinging to the last vestiges of our school years, our days of innocence, as we seized our diplomas and made our way onto the bigger picture.

I met my best friend in high school.  When we were fifteen.  On a bus.  Together, we made those four years into the finest of our lives.  And, creativity?  Well, I became president of my freshman class, a Student Council member, and a delegate to a special meeting of high school students at the United Nations.  The new idea that we brainstormed......."Pacem in Terris", the Papal encyclical of the sixties.  I also captured the prize for "Religion" that year.  It's one that I am most proud of.  I didn't get it because I knew the Bible or the Catechism so well. I didn't get it because I was pious or "holy" or leafing through "Do You Have a Vocation?" brochures.

I got it because I was bold and outspoken, ready to defend the rights of all people.  I was creative and I stuck to my guns, never one to hide behind the cloak of my faith.  My rewards were many and still are, to this day.  I still have my faith, I've passed it on to others, I still consider myself to be creative and I still have my best friend backing me up whenever I doubt any of the above.

And that woman in Kentucky, the one who works at the Registry Office?  Back to school woman!!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ode to Mrs. Young

 Writing in a hurry.  Sometimes it works.Using my little laptop,  notebook computer to write in a hurry, not so much but it is part of the whole area of change and I am still adapting, making changes in my home environment and eventually, I will learn to save what I have written every few sentences so that I will not do what I usually do, lose it all, never to be retrieved.

I love being a member of a writing group.  Keeps me on my toes, er, makes me "write" something, at least every two weeks.  In a few weeks, that will change again, and I will adapt again, to the practice of writing more often if only to be prepared for a weekly writing class.  Writing to a prompt, not an easy task.  I want to offer the next suggestion.  Mine would be "write about absolutely nothing".  Worked for Seinfeld. But, alas, today it won't work.  Today, I am prompted by another group member to write about a perfect day, one that can be realized, not one that would be only in one's mind, far from reality.  So, I have spent the past two weeks thinking about this, almost penning that a perfect day would be any day that was free of the humidity that has become an unwelcomed guest for the past weeks and weeks and weeks.  Or so, it would seem.   But, this morning, one that is clear and breezy and dry, oh I love you, dry, I am able to see through the trees, once shrouded in billows of moisturized air, and write on prompt.

It's fairly simple.  A perfect day?  One that would start and end without me having to clean or organize one, single thing.  I don't need Tahiti or Bali.  I just need to get up and not feel compelled.  I just need to get out of bed,  stare out the window and resist the temptation to pick anything other than a cup of coffee. It would be utter perfection, starting with that hour of the day, the day on which I do not wipe the counter and mentally start to list everything I've ever seen on Pinterest for cleaning granite.  I'd revel in the morning sun if only I could keep my hands off a sponge or paper towel.  If I could be so fortunate as to leave the damned broom in its place and not sweep the floor.  Oh, what a day if I could refrain from looking at the sun without thinking, "this would be a killer day to hang out the wash".  My life would be complete on this day if I could leave the bottle of Windex under the sink, the dust cloth in it's tidy holder, the soap dish in the tub, filled with the water it caught underneath it's little rubber thingee that prevents the soap from getting mushy.  Oh, what a day!

This compulsion, to be always at the ready, to be forever the cleanest gal on the block?  Ask Mrs. Young, the grade school nurse at Hawthorne Public School.  I actually have a lot to thank her for.
Were it not for her, I might never have become a nurse, determined to use my profession to never, ever make anyone feel dirty or unworthy.  I may never have been as aware of the need for good self-esteem and championed it as I believe I have done in my lifetime.  Without her, I  may have had hundreds of perfect days, really perfect days.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Scopa!





Italian Playing Cards.jpg






There is an Italian card game, one of the two most popular in the country, known as "Scopa".  The word translates as "Sweep" and the game, one that makes almost no sense, involves sweeping cards away from the deck as it gradually gets laid out in the center of the playing surface.  When I think of the word "Scopa", I wander over to another word, one with which I was much more familiar in my post-graduate nursing days, "Scopolomine", the drug that was combined with others to medicate totally unaware and unprepared women as they went through hours of labor.  It was part of a trio of drugs and it was the one responsible for preventing the nausea caused by its partners.  So sweeping and preventing nausea or "side effects" seem to go together.

When we were house hunting last Spring, our realtor found a key phrase for us.  It probably was her way of guiding us down the right path and it did very well to keep us in check as we had a tendency to wander off, switching our objectives rather often.  God bless that woman, for patience was one of her distinct virtues.  Her mantra?  "Five Year Plan".  She reminded us, over and over again, that we probably were not going to be in our current lifestyle for more than five years so when viewing homes, we were to keep that in mind. I only hope she was correct in thinking that we haven't yet begun to live exactly as we wish, that we are in a holding pattern, courtesy of our elder parents.  And so, we bought our condo with that wisdom and knowledge and with the idea that maybe it would survive the plan and would serve us for the happily-ever-after.  We're closing in on seventy.....who are we kidding?  But, I refuse to believe that we'll be anywhere near here forever.  I'm not that kinda gal.  I'm always looking over the rainbow.

So, back to Scopa and drugs and wise realtors.  

I didn't do too much "downsizing" before our move.  Honestly, I had already done a lot of that earlier, due to circumstances that pushed us into smaller and smaller spaces.  The thought of large rooms, big expanses of house, really do terrify me.  I can only trust my decorating skills and budgets so far. But, we haven't had the pleasure of a basement, all to ourselves, for a very long time and now that we do have one, we have lots of room to spread it all out.  Which brings me back to the Five Year Plan.  I don't want to move it ALL again in five years.  So much of it is "stuff", memorabilia, things I thought I HAD to hold on to.  Heavy burdens.  Responsibility for keeping things that nobody else in the entire family wanted or expressed a need for.  And now, as I look ahead to the rest of those five years, I'm feeling a sense of liberation.  I'm finally ready to part with Aunt Mae's dishes and her over-sized lamp, neither of them my taste. I'm going to toss out picture frames, old photos of police cars that my adorable husband thought important as memories of our trips.  Who uses CD's any more?  They're going bye-bye.  Books, they better be relevant and interesting or they don't make the cut.  

As I sift through the vestiges of our former lives, I keep the mental broom at the ready.  Sweep it all aside. Memories do not reside in "stuff".  And, some memories, well, I can live without them, trust me. I'm Italian. I keep hearing about the past, over and over, every time I meet a person who shares my heritage and I want to scream sometimes.  "Yes, I remember the holidays at Grandma's!" but I also remember Grandma telling me that she grew up in a house with dirt floors and maybe she did not want to remember that in the same way that I don't want to remember parts of my childhood or that my babies have grown up and moved away or that we are approaching our seventies.  But I will keep in mind my determination to not move as much out as we moved in.

So, on to the big sweep.....as soon as the damned humidity moves out.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

At the Show



There's a recurring thought that goes through my head, an image, as clear as any could be and it's from a very long time ago. For some reason, I reflect back to a childhood memory and see my grandmother.  She's alone. She's sitting in the dark.  She's swept away, into a world that is so beyond her front door and it's not the first time.  She practices a ritual, one that I have come to find out was not all that unique for her time and place. Her eyes are wide as large images are projected in front of her, allowing her imagination to soar and her heart to be filled with love, perhaps even pure lust at times. Once in a while, she invites me to join her, to accompany her on the short journey, and we board the elevated train together, filled with anticipation as we head toward her afternoon delight, and together, we enter her world of darkness and silence as we wait for the screen to light up and the "coming attractions" which will usher in the new matinee. In Winter, I nestle my head on the sleeve or her muskrat coat. In Summer, we sit up straight, both sleeveless in cotton.  We're at "the show" and for as long as I shall live, I will remember those times.

It wasn't always clear to me, why Grandma went to the show, all by herself, or why she never referred to her forays as "going to the movies". Nor did I always understand the plots and scenes but I will tell you, that watching Lawrence of Arabia with her was a most amazing experience.  I loved every minute and I'm sure she ate it with a spoon.  Wow. Talk about a gorgeous man with an exciting life and the scenery, the desert, the longing......for water of course.  I could not have been more than twelve years old and she was a happily married house wife after all. Worlds apart from the projections on the screen, miles from her home which, coincidentally, was located on Hollywood Avenue in the Bronx.

I often think of my grandparents and the world in which they lived as young people.  I know they came from lives of poverty, from towns in Italy that offered them very little hope for their futures, sending them across the sea after parting with their loved ones, in search of the better life that they eventually did find.  My grandmother made that trip when she was a beautiful fourteen-year-old. Her fate was sealed when she met my grandfather and married as a very young woman.  For the rest of her seventy three years, she lived her life in accordance with his wishes and they took good care of each other. They never relocated from Hollywood Avenue, the home in which they raised their children.  They returned to their birthplaces in Italy only once during that life time and kissed the ground when they returned to the states.

My grandmother's world was a small one, her education incomplete.  Her wisdom, amazing, making me only imagine what kind of a life she might have had were she able to attend school beyond the day she left her home for America, fully developed as a woman.  Self-satisfied and fulfilled.

And, as I grow older, I think more and more about those who went before me, about their lives and wonder what they might have thought about today's world, about technology and the many things we take for granted.  And I wonder if my grandmother was alive today, would she need the weekly escape to "the show" or would she have found a life of her own. Would she have saddled up her camel and ridden off into the desert or would she have returned home, washing Grandpa's socks in the sink, just as she did every morning?  I wish I could sit in the dark with her just one more time, to press my head against her fur sleeve and spend two precious hours with my wonderfully wise grandmother, together, at the show.




Saturday, July 25, 2015

Good Thing

I spent almost a full two hours with my doctor yesterday.  It was my "annual" physical exam plus a follow up to a recent kidney infection that nearly put me over the edge.  My doctor is a wellness person, a brilliant, beautiful woman who has chosen to not allow insurance companies or anything corporate, whatsoever, to dictate how she will practice her profession. And, as a result, she has time to spend with her patients and the whole process of "going to the doctor" reinvents itself into a visit with kindred spirits. Her nurse and receptionist share her philosophy, making the long drive to her office on a Summer morning easy.  Yesterday, two third-year medical students from Boston University were "following" her and it became pay-back time for me, the mother of a B.U. undergrad.
Sure, bring it on, let's have a good time. And that we did. Dr. Patty dished out lots of good advice to her students, gave them the opportunity to participate and to learn and did an extra bit of demonstration when she told us all about a great exercise for balance.  Only in Dr. Patty's office, kids. Your attendings would not be impressed!

Now, in addition to the great medical care, I always get a bonus from my talks with Patty.  She's a good Jew, a convert, but her trust in the metaphysical world and her nod to spirituality, is everywhere. This is a woman who relies heavily on her innate wisdom when she completes the wellness circle and addresses things other than the kidney. And, she listens, so I talk and she never fails to come up with the exact right words.

I have so many random thoughts lately.  Having moved to a new home in the middle of Summer has not allowed me to concentrate on much more than positioning furniture and getting the "basics" done. The need to sit and just "be" has not been met.  I have temporarily lost my own life, the things that served me well as outlets for my creativity.  I'm here, with a blank canvas, waiting for my muse to show up. She does not like heat and humidity and has sent me tiny messages that say that she will be coming, to wait for her arrival and that she will be busy early in the Fall.  Until then, she's advised me to be mindful, to remember who I am and what's important and to allow my body to heal from the assault that it took, most likely as a result of not being mindful enough.

The new home is a few miles away from our last one.  We no longer live a minute away from my father but he does not understand that.  If he was aware of it, by now, he has forgotten it.  I still see him often, perhaps too often and I could do less were I to record my side of the same conversation that we have each and every time I do stop by.  I could have a poster of myself made, or perhaps a blow up version, one that would do just as well filling in for me as a visitor to his home.  When I think of him lately, the words "slot machine" keep coming to mind.  It's that simple. Slot machine. I pull down the lever, the fruits never match up so I never win.  The results?  Always the same. The same trite, meaningless answers.  No emotion.  No sign of caring.  Just a slot machine that doesn't ever pay out.  Good analogy, I think to myself.  Whenever I have been in a casino, I found it very hard to resist playing the slots.  My logic told me that it was highly unlikely that I would win, that the machine would just take my money, add it to the money already in there, and maybe once in a while, spit it out to someone else, but not to me.  But the urge to pull that handle, to maybe get a good response, that was a hard one to resist.

My father is not the father I once knew.  Oh, don't get me wrong, he never, ever was an easy man and always had a way of making me feel small and stupid but I married a man who didn't.  Period.
I finally conclude that the father I was given is dead.  He died a while ago, when my mother started to lose her hold on life.  He slipped away, as if he were hanging onto the edge of a high cliff and slowly, as he let go, he slid to the ground, rolled up into a catatonic ball of a once-person, and rotted away. So the man I so dutifully visit and call every day and take care of, is not even related to me.  I don't know him and frankly folks, I do not like him.

Dr. Patty softly spoke some words of truth to me, as she always does.  She leaned her head towards mine and here is what she said...."It's a good thing when we bury our parents". 

Friday, July 3, 2015

Brain Child

My mother in law and I were discussing an old recipe, one that a friend had given her and she had passed it on to me before I was married.  It was funny that both of us had the recipe on our minds at the same time making me wonder what vibes we each had picked up from the universe.  She had lost her copy so I sent her a fresh one and she called to thank me for doing that.  Neither of us had made the silly thing and my excuse was that I did not have a gelatin mold.

"Yes, you do.  I gave you one." Okay.  That might have been ten years ago. She's one hundred years old. So, she gave it to me when she was a mere ninety. I've moved three times since then and while I may very well still have the item, I'm sure it wasn't on the "priority" list of things to un-earth and find the right place for.  We're still looking for the marble top for a table that we moved four years ago.

The other morning, as I stepped out of the shower, I heard a beeping sound coming from my kitchen. As I went in to investigate, thinking that one of our new-to-us appliances had some kind of an alarm that we had inadvertently set the night before, I discovered that it was my cell phone.  The screen displayed a warning......"Tornado Warning. Take shelter immediately".  Seriously?  So, instead of taking shelter and possibly avoiding death at the prime of my own life, I called my almost ninety-four year old father and advised him, so as to possibly save his life, before setting down to watch the news and get a better idea of how long we all had.  Dutifully, I called him back, not long after the first call, insisting that he also sit down and follow the news.  "Why, is there bad weather coming?".  Who was that other man I had told of the warning only ten minutes earlier I wondered.

I just finished reading Lisa Genova's novel, Still Alice.  It's a wonderful but terrifying story about a woman who falls victim to early -onset Alzheimer's Disease.  Everyone should read it.  It made me so much more aware of how the brain ages, what goes on inside our heads as brain cells go through the intricate maneuvers that they do, on their way to a totally new place.  Why do I not recall the gelatin mold my mother in law did not miss a beat on?  Why did my father not remember having been told that a tornado watch was on?  What made that information shoot through with the ease of water through a colander?  What makes cats think every experience they have is brand new and yet they know if the slightest thing has changed in their environment before their owners do? Why can I know, without a doubt, that one of my kids is not happy? How did my own mother know that, never failing in her instincts, always ready with the exact right answers or advice.

Will my father remember that three years ago, today, he lost the love of his life and the best brain our family has ever known? He could not remember the phone call about the weather but I have a feeling that today he will remember every hour of the seventy years that they spent together.

God's peace, Angelina Ballerina.  We miss you and always will.


At my father's 90th birthday party

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Change?

I was not an easy child.  No, I wasn't "naughty" nor was I a discipline problem, but I was not exactly a dream-come-true of a little girl and so much of that carried me through my developmental years, and into my early adulthood.  I've done so much of the self-analysis stuff and have filtered out the pieces that are no longer important to recall or to further analyze.  What I do carry with me however, is the understanding that change was never an easy task for me and I was not ever allowed to build up resistance to it or to master the skills necessary to come out of the end of a tunnel unscathed.  As soon as the words "I'm not happy" slid off my lips, my mother bailed me out without encouraging me to "give it a try" or "wait it out".  So, to this day, I am not well-equipped for changes and I do continue to wonder what it's all about.  Can't knock a gal for trying.

So much of it has to do with fear.  Fear of the loss of control.  Fear of the inability to manipulate my environment, on the smallest and largest scales. When I taught childbirth classes, many years ago, I carefully explained that it was fear that was at the heart and soul of the perception of child-birthing as a painful process.  While I knew that I could never, ever replace the pain of contractions, I knew that it was possible to mitigate this by breaking up that fear-tension-pain syndrome.  Amazingly, in a lot of cases, it worked. Loss of control.  Huge.  Change.  Huge.

It's been almost a month since we moved into our new home.  We worked together as a team, for weeks before and then, during the time of the actual move, and we're still at it.  We amazed ourselves at how hard we worked and how strong we proved we were, and are.  With only the assistance of a set of strong men who, on the move in day, transported our largest pieces of furniture, we did it all by ourselves and neither of us suffered so much as an ache or pain.  What validation!  We're in now, getting more and more "settled" in what I refer to as our "interim" move.  We have no idea of our future, we're not unique for who does?  But it feels better for me when I look at this new life as maybe not forever.

Each day gets better, feels more like "me" living here.  We're getting to know our new home and we're making friends with it.  The noises coming from our neighbor's and their weekends with friends on the patio adjacent to our bedroom window, are fading from my list of things that are going to rob me of my happiness.  Little did we ever expect that we would be forced into making our bedroom into a "cocoon" with special drapes that block out light and attenuate sound.  It's turning out to be an absolutely lovely place, getting more and more Zen each day and by the time the season is over and the neighbors have returned to Florida for the rest of the year, we will have created a space that would never have been had we not been forced to take control or our environment.

Change.  It's huge. I wish I had known that it was a process, that it required thought and dedication and that it was and always will be, simply a vector, a swift arrow that points to a better place and that control is never lost, it can only be given away.