Richette

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Being a Woman “d’un certain age”, as the French would say, brings on reflection and more attention to one’s roots. I have been thinking a lot about my maternal Grandmother, Richette Cianchette Frederick, lately. As I remember her, I marvel at the accomplishments and seemingly endless energy of this wonderful immigrant lady.

Richette was born in Italy, and came to America as a child around 1910. Like most women of that era, she married very young and had a large family. Her six children included my Mother, who is pictured here on the right. On the left is my Mom’s twin brother, Uncle Bill, and holding her twins is the beautiful woman who is my Nana, Richette.

Life in the 1920’s on a small farm in Maine was hard. My grandfather worked on a construction crew, so he was gone all week. This meant that my Nana had to take care of six kids, a farmhouse, and the farm hands that were  needed to help with the animals and crops. So, there must have been daily baking of bread and cooking for all those people. There must have been washing and cleaning and mending and general child care. No dishwasher.No dryer. No freezer. No convenience foods. No air conditioning. Wood heat. The enormity of chores and food preparation is, to modern homemakers, unthinkable.Yet, she, and most of the women of her generation, had no choice but to get up each day and do what needed to be done. If I really think hard about what her days were like, I become tired myself!

In addition to raising all these children, keeping them clean and healthy, managing the farm and its workers, and taking care of a large farmhouse, she seemed to find time to create. She sewed, crocheted, tatted, and embroidered; all those needlework projects that exist from the early part of the Twentieth Century were made by Women like my Nana. She never sat down without something in her hands to work on. She would, in later years, be creating dresses and hats for her grandchildren’s dolls; or embroidering table cloths and crocheting potholders. I cannot remember her ever folding her hands or sitting in a completely relaxed manner. The word “chill” was not part of the vernacular of that era.

After her children were grown, she operated a hot dog stand on the Main Street of tiny Pittsfield, Maine. This small enterprise became well known, and there are still people today who tell me that their childhood memories include going to get a hot dog for a treat (if they had behaved well). I can recall standing by her side while she cooked onions on the grill and prepared the rolls,  mustard, and relish, as the hot dogs steamed. It was all very exciting, and I was at eye-level with the grill as those fabulous onions gave forth the intoxicating aroma that lured in her customers.

My Nana was a World Class Cook. I can remember long tables of clamoring grandkids stuffing themselves with her spaghetti and meatballs, fabulous bread, and Italian cookies.There really weren’t any recipes….she just created everything from scratch and remembered how to do it all.

Richette was beloved by her family, her friends, and just about anyone who knew her. She never gossiped, complained, or indulged in self-pity. She was kind, soft-spoken, full of love and light, and laughed easily. This lady who came from the beautiful Abruzzo region of Italy made a new life in her adopted land. Pettorano and Sulmona were far away, and she insisted that her children speak English, not Italian. (We always knew that the topic was not for our ears if my grandparents spoke Italian around us; that was the only time the grandkids heard it spoken.)

I wish that my Nana had lived a longer life. She died of Cancer at the age of 63, and I was just thirteen. I was lucky to have known her at all, but the memories leave me wanting to have known her even better. She had an indomitable spirit, and extraordinary energy. I remember her singing as she washed dishes; she had a sweet voice and a good musical ear.She loved flowers, decorating for Christmas, Nat “King” Cole, and President Kennedy. She was a creative whirlwind.

Lucky me: I have some of her genes.

 

 

 

Jesse

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My friend Jesse and I were talking yesterday about youthful choices and failure. He was telling me that, upon reflection, he felt he was not kind and loving enough to people in his life when he was younger. I guess we were talking about most Baby Boomers in our comparisons of the qualities we now know to be important, and the ones we ignored as kids.

It seems that the story of Redemption is an essential component of our human experience. We base many religions upon it, and we find it easily in many narratives of the lives of our friends.

Jesse had a very rough childhood. He had abusive and neglectful adoptive parents, lonely days and nights, and few examples of love and compassion. He sought answers, because at his core he is a seeker. What he found as a young man often disappointed and confused him. He carried on, married, had children, divorced, travelled, and kept looking for answers to big questions. For a long time, his life was unfulfilled and without purpose.

Then Jesse got lucky. The stars aligned, things fell into place, and he found some answers. He discovered a philosophy that made sense to him, and met a woman that brought him Love and Family. He worked hard, and built up a lucrative business. He connected with biological relatives, and developed happy relationships with them.

Now was this really Luck? Or did he make it happen? I say, the latter. I think his story is full of determination, sweat, struggle, tears, and joy. It’s the story of the Phoenix, rising up from the ashes. It’s that reclamation of meaning and cause and intention.

I have known Jesse since 1976, as is evidenced by the photo of us above. We have been friends since we met in Cambridge long ago.

From my perspective, my friend Jesse is a success. He could have chosen resentment, hatred, and revenge, based on his childhood models. Instead, he chose Life, Love, and demonstrating Good. We can prevail over darkness. I have seen it happen.

You might have been lost somewhere down the line long ago, Jesse. But you found your Way.

Squirrel Appreciation Day

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Today is Squirrel Appreciation Day. I did not know that there was a day set aside for the furry little guys, but now that I know, things will change. Next year, we should have a party to celebrate! We can serve all kinds of nutty dishes, and wear acorn party hats.        Too much? O.K., but let’s take a moment to consider the positive characteristics of the Squirrel.

As I watch them race around my yard, I am always amazed at their lifestyle. First of all, they have to be constantly aware of predators, from my large dogs to all the flying and creeping beasties in the ‘hood. Second, while watching their backs, they must forage constantly for food and defend their finds from other squirrels, birds, etc. Third, they have to secure lodging for themselves and their offspring. Last, but most intriguing of all, they seem to have a need to stash their food for safe keeping.

Now I understand their need to stay alive and avoid being eaten. I also understand the need to find food on a daily basis; I, myself, am a Big Fan of food. Finding shelter is also a necessity, particularly if you are a Maine Squirrel: our weather is outrageous (except for the one day in July). So, I  feel you, Mr. or Ms. Squirrel.

That being said….what is with the stashing, or squirreling away of the foodstuff? What makes you bury everything? Are you guys masters of delayed gratification? Why not eat it now? What happens when it snows and freezes on top of the ground you just covered up? How can you get at your stash then?

About three years ago I purchased a “squirrel safe” bird feeder. I bought it online, and paid over $55.00 for a large, heavy silver-domed wire feeder.This feeder is pictured above filled with seeds. Also pictured is a Squirrel about to eat those seeds. Clearly I was sold a dream, and actually knew nothing about the persistence or resolve of Sciurus Carolinensis.

I think I need to take a course in Squirrel Behavior. What would it be called? Rodents 101?Nut-o-philia? Anyway, I want to understand these creatures and get the real answers. For lack of the true information, I tend to anthropomorphize my fur bearing neighbors. I imagine them talking to themselves, and to each other, as they fly through the maples in my backyard.

“Hey, Rocky. Keep away from my nest. I just dragged all those branches over it, and I don’t want you messing it up.”

“Yeah, Yeah. I’ve got bigger problems, you idiot. I can’t remember where I buried that freakin’ pile of sunflower seeds! Now, let’s see..I was over by that birdfeeder…..”

Determined, agile, feisty, tireless, entertaining, clever, adaptable, and amazing. Let’s celebrate the remarkable Squirrel. Peanuts anyone?

 

 

Lolly

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It has been almost a year since my Friend and Cousin, Lolly Susi, passed away. I have wanted to write something meaningful since then, but have not been able to quite put into words what I still feel about this particular loss. I think I need to do it now.

Lolly deserves big words. Multi-Talented.Fabulous. Hilarious. Breathtaking. Inspiring. Brilliant. Perceptive. Complicated. Intuitive. Generous.

We were friends from very early days. Our parents were Cousins, so we played together as young kids. In every birthday photo, Lolly is sitting near me. I have scrapbooks of cards from my childhood….Lolly’s cards are there. We went to the movies, dreamed our dreams, and laughed at the antics of our families together. I really can’t remember a time when we did not know each other.

Lolly had special qualities. She was the kind of person who, while humble and self-effacing, commanded attention when she entered a room. She was so full of Joie de Vivre, that it was contagious. You wanted to be in her presence, because you felt more alive being there. You wanted to elicit a laugh, because there was so much exuberance in her laughter. She made each person feel as if they were the most important and interesting person she had encountered. Her gifts were many, but I am sure all her friends would agree that this ability to connect and really listen to people was extraordinary.

Lolly was destined for a Theater and Film career. She became an Actress, Director, Teacher, Coach, Playwright, and Author. Her accomplishments in her chosen industry are many. Her credits in film and television and theater are lengthy and very impressive. She travelled the globe, worked in Hawaii, and made her home in London.

We connected each time we got together as old friends do: common family stories, common small-town grade school stories, and then, as adults, common Working Women stories. We would always catch up on the personal details of our lives, and laugh outrageously at the madness of it all.

Lolly fought Cancer as a brave Warrior three times. She beat it back twice, and lost the last battle. The way she survived it was always astounding to me. She appreciated everything so much; she was grateful for all that came her way, and never complained or played the suffering patient. I remember her always telling me that she “didn’t want the Party to end”.

In 2000, when I was about to celebrate turning 50, I invited my 9 favorite girlfriends to come to Sanibel Island, where I lived, for a celebration. The 9, being remarkable and successful Women, were all very busy; of these, 3 came to help me celebrate. Lolly came from England, Gail came from Denver, and Donna came from Boston. The three friends had never met one another. My favorite part of the week-long celebration was seeing these three Women that I loved get to know each other; it has always been my dream to have my far-flung pals meet and laugh together. (We could hardly drag Lolly from the gorgeous white sands of Sanibel…she loved the beach!)

Because she was an astute listener, she gave me a lovely birthday gift that week: a journal and a notebook in which to write. I had told her I wanted to write again, and she encouraged me in words and by her thoughtful choice of a present. I believe that if she were here today, she would be reading my blog and sending words of support.

The day before Christmas in 2014, I called her and had a good long chat. She told me how sick she had been, but  she was determined to start another round of tests and trials for a cancer miracle drug. She never let me know how really seriously ill she was that day. Knowing her as I did, I think it was her Christmas gift to me: I was able to hang up and be optimistic that she would be cured in the New Year. The last gift. Hope.

The shock of her death came about seven weeks later. It was like a punch to the gut; it actually physically hurt. How could someone with so much incredible Presence be gone?

I miss my Friend. I miss her warmth and charm. I miss the insights, and the laughter. I miss the beauty of her Spirit and the  affirmation of her Being. I hear her voice telling me to join the Party and seize the day. And that is how I shall honor her.

Love You, Lolly. xoxo.

 

 

 

 

Tenacity

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I have been watching this tree, which stands a few yards from the edge of my property. It is the only deciduous tree around that still has some leaves clinging to it. Why, in the midst of Winter, are these leaves stubbornly holding on?

Today, January 11, is the commemoration of Alice Paul’s birthday. Alice was a leader in the Suffragette Movement in America, and was one of the most determined fighters for Equal Rights. She continued her work long after the 19th Amendment was ratified, and worked tirelessly for the Equal Rights Amendment, which she lived to see enacted. She died in 1977, five years after it became law.

Alice was one of a group of immensely dedicated people who fought for Women’s Rights in the early part of the twentieth century. It is hard to believe, but my own Grandmothers were among those not allowed to vote until 1920. Those of us who have grown up feeling entitled to vote cannot, perhaps, fully imagine or appreciate what it would have been like to have had no voice in our democracy. Yet, less than 100 years ago, men decided what laws would be in effect for the populace, and who would implement the laws.

Alice Paul’s family had a farm. She grew up with Quaker values, and farm work ethics. Her Mother said to her “When you put your hand to the plow, you can’t put it down until you get to the end of the row”. Alice later quoted this as a metaphor for her unwavering commitment to her principles. She never put down the plow. She, like many of the women of the Movement, gave everything to the cause of Equal Rights. Thanks to her, women like me and my friends can enjoy the freedoms we take for granted.

What makes some people heroines or heroes? What is that genetic mixture that brings such remarkable fortitude and strength of purpose to some humans? Why don’t they give up when being beaten and humiliated? Why do they hang on? What kind of rootedness do they possess?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, and I am always fascinated by the power and resilience of the Human Spirit in the face of such adversity. To possess such courage and have such a fervor for one’s convictions is, to me, such an admirable quality. I guess that’s why I continue to stare at those leaves. Like all my heroes and heroines, they just keep hanging on.

 

 

 

 

 

Tech No

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It’s January, and there is snow in my backyard. Life slows down a bit, and I find myself involved in cleaning and organizing projects. There is no significant flurry of activity like the Holiday month of December. Relax. Take time to reflect and renew.

In Las Vegas, however, there is the big Consumer Electronics Show, where huge corporations annually roll out their latest inventions and devices. These newest creations are touted as making our lives easier and making everything more convenient for us. Today I saw cars that park themselves, drive themselves, and warm up themselves. I witnessed refrigerators that can be accessed from your phone while you are away; now you can check to see if you need more milk while you are at the grocery store. There are washers and dryers that can notify you when your laundry is done. The Smart House has everything to make it possible for you to check all issues from wherever you are. Virtual doormen, stoves that turn on and off by phone apps, and freezer doors that open with a wave of your foot(in case you are actually carrying frozen food and your arms are full).

Now I do admire the ingenuity that has devised all this technology, but I  have a couple questions.

  1. What are the folks of the future going to do with all the time these  inventions save them?
  2. Will the future generations ever have to remember anything?

Perhaps the time saved by not making grocery lists will allow people to watch more episodes of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”. Maybe the extra moments garnered from not having to go to the laundry room to check and see if the wash is ready to be put into the dryer will give them time to see how many “likes” they got on their facebook posts. Possibly the minutes they gained from not having to turn on and warm up their vehicle will permit them the opportunity to text more emojis to their friends.

If every detail of daily life is accessible through technology, will there be any reason for anyone to memorize or retain information in the future? Will the parts of the brain that have been traditionally used for remembering just atrophy? What kind of people will the human race become without the need to practice times tables, commit to memory their best friends’ phone numbers, recite Hamlet’s soliloquies, or know the capitals of all 50 States?

Being discontent with the direction of popular culture might be the definition of “old”. Complaining about the way things are done as compared with how they were done might be another definition of “old age”.

9×7=63…8×6=48…239-481-0178….207-892-1670…207-854-1320…818-720-7798.”whether ’til nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”…. Augusta, Jacksonville, Sacramento, Juneau, Boston.

Now I am going to finish putting away the Xmas ornaments and wrap, and get that closet organized. Later I will go to the supermarket with my list.I will probably have to open the refrigerator myself to check and see what we might need.I also have to go to the Bank to deposit some checks and ask a few questions about my account. Doing it old school.

So, all you who agree with me….let’s see a show of hands…c’mon..raise ’em up. Oh, your bursitis is bothering you? I hear you.

 

 

 

 

Mike Smith and Me

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When the British Invasion started in February of 1964, I was on the front lines. My girlfriends and I  ate, breathed, slept, and lived for anything and anyone English.We were desperately in love with the Beatles, The Dave Clark Five, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and all the other musicians from Merry Olde. By the Summer of 1967, I had seen the Beatles on their last(1966) tour, and was awaiting the arrival of the Dave Clark Five in Portland, Maine. They had been to Portland before, and I , with the rest of the Devotedly Faithful, had gone to their concert. This, then, would be the second time I had seen and heard them.

Somehow, the Angels of the Adolescent smiled on me that night.

I LOVED Mike Smith. He was, foremost, a wonderful singer; but he was also completely adorable and sexy and charming. I honestly cannot remember the details of how I got there, but the photo above proves that it happened. Yes, that is actually ME and Mike Smith. In some miraculous unfolding of events, I got backstage and was with Mike Smith. It was more than a dream come true for a sixteen-year-old Anglophile girl!

My friends and I loved the music. The performances were solid, and we went home happily dreaming of our future with the Dave Clark Five. (I am not sure how many times I wrote “Mrs. Michael Smith” in my notebook).

Mike Smith went on to live his life and secure his spot in Rock and Roll History. He lived, and loved, without ever knowing the girl in the photo. I never saw him again, and others wore the crown of Mrs. Smith. Mike died, too young, at 64, in 2008.

Blessedly, considering all we forget as we age, there are some memories that stand out in our minds. I will never forget the incredible excitement of meeting Mike:it was some kind of Magic! Whenever I am riding along and a Dave Clark Five song comes on the radio, I am always transported back in time. I listen, above all else, to the strong, unmistakable voice of Mike Smith….and I remember.

 

 

 

Resolutions

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As another New Year approaches, there is talk of Resolutions. Now it seems to me that there are two kinds of people: those who make Resolutions, and those who don’t.

The folks who don’t make resolutions seem somehow content with the way things are. They don’t want to shake things up, or try to invent a better mousetrap. They see the steady course of daily life as manageable, and they enjoy predictability and routine. These people are happy with themselves and happy with the status quo. They may be oblivious to many of the ills and hardships of the world, but they are blissful in their ignorance. I don’t know what that is like, but I envy them their comfort; their lives must be simpler and less stressful than mine.

The definition of the word “resolve” includes: settle, sort out, solve, find a solution, fix, straighten out, deal with, put right, rectify, determine a course of action, and decide. Those of us who make Resolutions are determined to take a course of action for change.

I have always made New Year’s Resolutions. Read More. Lose Weight. Exercise. Complain Less. Travel. Forgive. Reorganize. Learn. Take Chances. It seems that I have always wanted to improve the original version of ME. Each year taking stock of my shortcomings and trying to upgrade the software and the hardware has been part of my routine.

The commitment with which we resolve to change is important. It is optimistic, and fundamentally essential to our growth mentally and spiritually. We, as a species, do need to improve. We need to better understand where we live and how we live. We need to work toward  the resolution of differences. We  need to welcome the kind of changes that make the Planet better for every living being. All this has to start somewhere. Why not with me? Or with You?

I love the people who make New Year’s Resolutions. They are passionate, thoughtful, courageous, and caring. They are outraged, committed, and not satisfied until they have tried their best to fix something.

Albert Camus said: “Not to decide, is to Decide.” Think about it.

 

HollyDaze

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Christmas is a complicated time. The original idea is a solid one: Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Mankind. Today…..not so much. It’s tough to reconcile celebrating this wonderful concept in the climate of terror, hatred, bigotry, self-involvement, and hypocrisy we find surrounding us. Yet, we must find a way. We have to bring Christmas home each year, despite the Grinches and Scrooges we encounter daily in the media, and everywhere else.

So, what are the choices? Denial? Ignorance? Shutting down? None of these will help, and none will make us happy or whole.

We have only one choice, and it is the same one each year. Love. We have to love more, and harder, and deeper, and wider. We have to forgive, forget, and embrace. We have to remember the goal, keep our eyes on the prize, and keep moving forward. The only thing that can save us, is more Love. Love for family, friends, neighbors, and strangers.

Whether you Believe, or not, this Holiday is a real test of your convictions. Can you grow you heart as Mr. Grinch did? Can you honor Christmas as the converted Scrooge vowed to do? What will it take to make a difference in your part of the World?

So, despite the commercialism and craziness, there is an underlying principle that keeps us coming back for more. The Love we seek is always there, within us, every day. We cannot ignore it during this Season. It is accentuated by the ideology and the madness. We need to give Love, and to receive it. Please feel free to distribute as much Love as you can this Christmas.

And while you are at it, Give Peace a Chance.

Charles

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Charles Sperry was a friend of mine since we met in 1978. I haven’t spoken to him for over a decade, so I googled him in the White Pages the other night to find his phone number in Massachusetts. The search revealed an obituary from the Boston Globe dated May, 2015. I sat, dumbfounded, at my computer. Too late.

I have tried to dial the number to speak to his wife, and offer my sympathy for her tremendous loss; but I haven’t been able to call. If I talk to her, it will be Real, and that will never do.

In the Summer of 1978, as I was deciding what I wanted to do next with my life, a boy with blond curls bounded down the stairs of my apartment building  in Belmont, Massachusetts; he gave me  a cheery “hello” on his way out the door. He was lanky and full of energy; his face was freckled and his eyes the blue of a glacier. Irish, for sure. Charles was smart and wickedly sarcastic: two of my favorite attributes. We became friends almost instantly.

That Summer, we had many adventures in my newly  purchased  TR-7.  Charles helped me learn to drive a stick shift and properly maneuver through the rotaries of Cambridge and Boston, and off we went. We swam in Walden Pond on a glorious sunny day. We visited his friends palatial estate on Squam Lake in New Hampshire. Two Scorpios on the loose.

One of my favorite memories of that time was dress up night. We decided to take the town by storm, so we put on our fancy clothes and headed for the revolving restaurant at the top of the Hyatt Regency. I wore a fabulous black top and skirt outfit with black high heels. (Those shoes were the  most amazing shoes I ever owned, and I wish I knew what happened to them. But, like many things in Life’s river, the current pushes stuff away from us, never to be retrieved.) Charles wore black slacks and a yellow dress shirt. We simply owned the City that night.

We stayed friends after I moved back to Maine at the end of that Summer. We called, wrote, and visited each other for many years. Whenever I was in Boston, we got together and had a meal, or just hung out.  Eventually, he found his true love, married her, and moved to Western Massachusetts. I was, by that time, a single Mom, and immersed in the busy details of my life. So the currents pushed us away from each other, as they will.

I remember laughter, and so much crazy stuff. Who else will ever make paper airplanes with me and float them out the windows of the Ritz-Carlton down to Newbury Street? Who else will paddle the Concord River with me in a canoe? Who else will sign his letters to me “Relentlessly, Charles”?

Dear Charles, I regret that I took too long to call you and tell you that I missed talking to you. I regret that you never knew I wrote a fairly decent song about you. I regret that there would be a distance between us, for any reason, when we were once so close.

I hope that you are lazing by a beautiful lake. I hope that you have kittens in your lap. I hope when the radio at your side plays “Miss You”, by the Rolling Stones, that you think of the Summer of 1978.