Dance Partners

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Talking to my 86-year-old Aunt Phyllis is always a pleasure. She is a smart woman with a great sense of humor, so our conversations are always lively and full of laughter. She is my Mother’s youngest Sister, and my Godmother, which makes her very special to me.

Aunt Phyllis married, at age 18, the love of her life, my dear Uncle John. These two had nothing to start with. They built a comfortable life together and raised three daughters, by working hard and being frugal when they needed to be. They always had good friends and family around them, and they were solid citizens. Their daughters grew up to be good people, hard workers, and had their parents’ fiscal sensibilities.

I remember seeing this video recently, of my Aunt Phyllis and Uncle John dancing together at a reception twenty five years ago. Watching these two Jitterbug seemed to put things in perspective. They danced as if each movement was anticipated by the other so completely, that the motions were seamless. They had probably danced together hundreds of times, and it looked effortless. As I watched, I began to think of this dance in other terms. They had danced through lean times when they were first married. They had danced through weary hours raising children. They had danced through work, play, travel, worry, and joy. When their lovely daughter got cancer and later suffered the result of the assault of treatments on her body, they danced through the death of a child. So many dances. Always with the same partner. The strength and consistency of their love was evident in all these things. No wonder it looked so seamless to me.

Uncle John has developed a type of dementia that has taken away his memory. He is now in a long-term care facility; Aunt Phyllis goes to see him almost every day. She has meals with him and often stays while he naps. He still remembers her, but their whole history is lost to him. He doesn’t remember his daughters when they come to visit. This very bright man with a quick smile and a twinkle in his eye, is now an elderly gentleman with very few words to say.

Aunt Phyllis never complains. She is a strong, resilient lady who remembers every dance she had with her good, strong partner.

 

 

Vintage Earrings

 

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I have been dealing in Vintage and Antique items for the past several years. I had a small Antique shop, which I closed in 2011, and have had an online store since then, selling goods from the 1920’s through the 1970’s. The years of which I am most fond, are the 1940’s and 1950’s. Everything from those years reminds me of my childhood and simpler times.

My Mother was then, and is still, a passionate Fashionista; her obsession with clothes and accessories is at the core of who she is. Clearly, I missed those genes, but I do understand her love of coordinating color and style. She had closets full of clothes, and hats, handbags, and shoes to match each outfit. As I child, I was fascinated by the enormous collection of costume jewelry spilling out of my Mom’s jewelry boxes and resting on trays on her bureau.It was all so sparkly and beautiful to me.

I still love anything with Rhinestones and glitter. Although I have few occasions now to wear my Vintage pieces, I have always been attracted to the glitzy and gaudy stuff. Whenever I see brooches or earrings laden with White Rhinestones, I think of Marilyn and Grace and Audrey, wearing those spectacular gowns and all that great jewelry. There was real glamour back in those days.

My Mom had numerous yard sales over the years, and I am sure most of the fabulous and outrageous costume jewelry was sold during those events. I truly wish I had all those fantastic earrings now!

The television news this morning had a short piece on Happiness Day, which has apparently been ordered up for later this week. People were urged to spread some good will, and “pay it forward”. Good timing, since the World could use some good cheer after the recent Paris terror attacks.

I started thinking about how I learned that doing for others was part of my job as a human being. Where do we get this? How do our parents impart the value of putting aside our childlike selfishness and acting to help someone  else? Do we arrive with this proclivity? I don’t remember my parents talking much about this subject.

Then I remembered an incident from 1959. My Mother was driving us to Boston to visit relatives. She had taken off her costume jewelry earrings and put them in her lap. As we approached the Toll Booth on the Tobin Bridge, my Mother winked at me, and said:”Watch this”. She slowed the car, approaching the booth, and reached into her lap. Then, to my shock and amazement, instead of a dime, she handed the toll taker one of her earrings! What was she thinking? I was both stunned and (being about 9 years old) embarrassed! The gentleman in the booth looked confused, and then his demeanor changed. He broke into a broad grin. “Ma’am, you made a mistake”, he said to my Mom. They both laughed, and my Mother made an apology for the error. She handed him a dime, he laughed some more, and we were on our way.

As we drove forward, I asked “Why did you do that, Mom?”. My Mother smiled. She said, “Honey, do you realize what that man does all day long? He takes dimes from people as they cross the bridge. Imagine how tiring that must be all day. Now, tonight, when he goes home and his wife asks him how his day was, he will be able to say” You know, some crazy lady handed me her earring today!” and they can both have a good laugh.”

I was too young to really understand what a gift this was. Some MTA worker who was probably incredibly bored with his monotonous job had a chance to chuckle the rest of the day. Whatever stories he told himself, and his friends and family, about the scatter-brained lady with the earring were his gift from my Mother. Just a little thing. Unimportant, really. But this teeny act brought a bit of joy into a stranger’s day.

Now I see it. My parents were always doing small things to help other people. My Mom would take me out with her sometimes on Xmas eve to a stranger’s house where I would wait in the car as she dropped off wrapped gifts for some family in need. She would cook and bake for friends who were sick or having a rough time. My Dad would volunteer for various charities to help sick children. He put up lights at the pond across the street and flooded the pond at night to make a skating surface where he would teach kids how to skate and play hockey. He became a Scout troop leader. They really didn’t talk about these things much. They just had a propensity to give because it was the right thing to do. Actions speak louder than words.

Whenever I think of vintage earrings, I remember that moment on Tobin Bridge; and I remember that I can make a difference in someone’s day by simply being aware of what they need.

 

 

 

Allons Enfants de la Patrie

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Patriotism. What do I really think of it? I have thought it to be hypocrisy, at times. I have thought it was some sort of brain-washing. Flag wavers often appear to me to be hiding some larceny behind that flag. Suspicious? You bet. Jaded? Yup.

Yet, I am a Patriot when it comes right down to it. I will defend America anytime someone slams it. I will still maintain, despite my strong disagreements with how things are done, that it is the Best Country. The experiment that began in 1775 is still evolving, but I wouldn’t trade our Freedom to think and speak our minds for any other ideology.

Why do I get a lump in my throat when I hear the “Star Spangled Banner” played? It’s not an easy song to sing, and it speaks of my least favorite topic: War. Nonetheless, whenever it is played, I feel an old stirring that makes me want to stop and be silent, and to pay my respects to all those who have given their lives to defend this place.

National Anthems are strange things. They survive despite the awkwardness of their melodies and lyrics. They become embedded in the consciousness of their countrymen. They start to represent people and places and things we hold dear. We are taught to sing these songs long before they really hold meaning for us. Then, they become meaningful because we sang them.

Last night, as the horrific events unfolded in Paris, I was stunned. Like most of the World, I wanted the outcome to not be what we have come to expect. I watched and waited. I held it together, until there was a montage of photos and videos…and then, there they were…dozens of French people walking together singing La Marseillaise. Then I broke down in tears. Tears for the loss, the anguish, and the grief that will be felt by thousands.

The French National Anthem is a stirring and beautiful song. It is about invaders trying to conquer, and about rising up against those who would do harm. Like our own national song does for Americans,  it binds together the history and the memories of the French people. I think now that these songs are more important than I realized. They link us to our families, our friends, our dreams, our hopes, and our sometimes sad realities. They remind us of our values, and the things we would be willing to fight for.

The sight and sound of those French citizens singing last night was something I won’t forget. The brave voices in that dark, dark night.

Empty Chairs

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Lately I’ve been thinking about divorce. I have been divorced twice, and each time the situation was very different; but the common thread in mine, and those I have observed closely, is the same. It is the breaking of Trust.

When I was married the first time, I trusted that the man I loved would keep his word to me always. There was a Plan, and we would stick to it. When the plan was altered later, I felt betrayed. Perhaps too young to work out how to change and cooperate, we got divorced.

The second time I was married, I trusted my husband to be a certain person that I thought I knew. When I found out later that he was actually someone else that I didn’t know, my Trust was gone.

Now, I think if you really love someone, I mean really, truly love someone, you can forgive a lot. None of us is perfect, and compromise and forgiveness are central to sustaining relationships of any kind.Perhaps when you first met, your partner was charmingly funny, terribly sexy, and capable in so many ways. So, if they aren’t as funny anymore because you’ve already heard their jokes, or they aren’t as sexy anymore with their love handles and receding hairline, you can accept and love them as they are. Forgot to turn down the peas and burned them?(I regularly do this!) No worries. But here’s the thing: if someone breaks your Trust, it is almost impossible to repair it. At the end of the day, we need our partners to be in our corner, no matter what. We have to know that as we face each day’s travails, there is always shelter from the storm in the form of that person with whom we share the most intimate details of our lives.

Trust is a very difficult thing for me. I have so many trust issues based on past experiences, that I have to work hard in relationship contexts to focus on what IS, and not what was. I recognize this, and so I work on it all the time. For those of you who have been deeply hurt, I want you to know that there is light on the other side of this pain.

Divorce and its subsequent lifestyle changes make us vulnerable for a while. We cannot help picturing the future with lots of empty chairs. Holidays. Special life events. Everyday routines. Lots of empty chairs. But I am here to tell you something True: the chairs get filled up with new experiences, new people, new ideas. There is so much waiting on the other side that we never knew existed. Just walk through that door. Trust me.

The Moment of Truth

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It happened February 8, 2006. The Moment of Truth. Undeniable, painful, glaring Truth.

My friend, Richie, had given me a Christmas gift of tickets to a Hall and Oates concert at  Barbara B. Mann Hall in Fort Myers, Florida. I had been waiting to see them for years, and was delighted to be seeing them in a relatively small venue (seating about 1800 people) at last.

So, on a balmy Florida night, we left Sanibel Island, where we lived, and drove across the Causeway to the mainland. We arrived about 30 minutes early and took our eighth row seats. I looked around as people filed into the auditorium; although there were a few young people, most of the faithful appeared to be between 45 and 70. I started remembering the years when Daryl Hall and John Oates had their greatest successes; most of their big hits were in the 1970’s and 1980’s. So, it would follow that most of the fans at this show would be grey-haired Baby Boomers.

Richie and I were chatting about the band, when suddenly I was struck by a strong aroma wafting through the room. It seemed to grow stronger, and it was no longer just me noticing it. I looked at Richie with alarm, and said “Do you smell that?” He smiled, and nodding his head, said “Yeah, I do.”

“Do you know what that is?” I gasped.

“Yes. It’s BEN-GAY”, Richie said. I think he wondered why I was so upset.

“This is IT. We are officially OLD”, I moaned. “We are at a rock concert, and we are not smelling pot, we are smelling BEN-GAY”.

It was a sobering moment. There was no way we could disavow the evidence.Then we looked at each other and started laughing, really long and really hard. We continue to laugh each time we remember that night.

The concert was terrific; Daryl and John were in great form, as was their remarkable band. And my friend Richie and I learned that in order to age gracefully, you have to be able to laugh at yourself.

Job Description

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Motherhood: This job is an unpaid position. The hours are 24/7 for your lifetime. The basic duties include, but are not limited to: every single thing that needs to be done for a child, teenager, young adult, and fully grown adult.

Now, here’s the deal. Your compensation for this job, if done well, is something no one can actually fully describe. The way this work transforms you,from the inside out, is only understood by others who have attempted this job. No matter how you come to it, Motherhood makes you someone other than who you were before. You have been served a miraculous cocktail of obsessive love, protective instincts, sentimental mush, Spartan tenacity, and Herculean strength.

For the first time, you are able to withstand projectile vomiting aimed at your face, smells that Andy Dufresne encountered as he escaped Shawshank, and minor emergency medical treatments for wounds, lacerations, nosebleeds, insect stings, and allergic reactions.(Was any of this in the Manual??)

The love that is inspired by this job changes forever how you see the World. You no longer can turn off news stories about suffering children anywhere. You become outraged when there is bad, neglectful parenting reported, and you rejoice in every sick child’s recovery. You feel a connection with every other Mother, no matter where she lives or how she lives. You know the commonality of the devotion and heartache.

Jackie Kennedy was known to have said that whatever you achieve, if you botch the job of raising your children, nothing else really matters. I think she was right.

I read a quote that said “to have a child is to have your heart walking around outside your body forever”. True. Just ask any Mother.102_3556

Captain Fred

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Today I am wondering about the attraction and fondness I have, and have always had, for the Ocean. I have loved being near it since I was a child. Being born in Portland, I grew up taking it for granted. We lived for many years a mere few hundred feet from the ocean, and I could see it from almost every window in our home. As an adult, I lived in four other States; but where I lived (Boston, San Francisco, Homer, Alaska, and Sanibel Island, Florida) was always near the Sea.

I think sometimes about what it would have been like to grow up in the Midwest, or anywhere so far inland that seeing the Ocean would be impossible. Would I have this same love for it? Is it true that what you don’t know, you don’t miss?

I also wonder if this love is genetic;can something like the deep satisfaction of walking along the shore squishing sand between your toes be in your DNA? My questions brought me to thinking about my Dad’s grandfather, Captain Fred Beardsley, a Sea Captain who migrated from his home in Nova Scotia to Boston. My Father had a close relationship with his Grandpa, being his first grandchild; Dad used to tell me stories of the Depression years when he and Captain Fred would comb the streets of Boston to collect papers to redeem for a few pennies. Times were hard.

Another story that my Dad told me (and you know any of us with a drop of Irish blood love to tell stories), was about a daring rescue in the Caribbean. It seems that my Great-Grandfather was a Rum-runner in the Prohibition days. He sailed to those sultry places where the rum was abundant and smuggled it back to the U.S. Apparently at some point, he was conscripted to help smuggle another item out of the Dominican Republic: its ousted leader! I wish I had taken notes on this, because I am not sure of the year or the Presidente, but it all happened under cover of darkness, and the man who needed rescue was safely whisked away by the intrepid Captain Fred.

The photo above is the only photograph I have of my Great Grandfather. He appears very serious and his face tells some rather sad stories. I wish there were someone left to ask about the personal details of his life…but they are all gone. I can only assume, from what I do know, that he was quite the swashbuckling fellow, and that he had real courage.

So, I could have inherited some of those kelp-laden chromosomes from Captain Fred. I know that the Ocean is always comforting to me, in an inexplicable way. Its mystery and majesty is both soothing and startling; I love the power of it, and I never tire of seeing, smelling, or touching it. I now live farther from the Ocean than I ever have as an adult..about 30 miles. Part of me always misses it, but I am close enough to get there frequently for a “fix”. Perhaps John Masefield summed up my passion in his poem “Sea Fever” when he wrote:”I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide, Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying, and the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying”.102_0936