Namaste

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I have a dear friend named Edna Perry. I  remember the first time we met, back in 1977, when she came to my store in Watertown, Massachusetts. Her son was a close friend of mine from college days, and he had told her about my shop, Amorak, which was full of quilts and toys and fabric creations I made. Edna and her darling husband, Jack, stopped by one day to meet me and  to order some custom made cotton placemats. She was a petite, spirited woman, with a quick smile and an infectious laugh. I loved her immediately!

Over the ensuing years, we became good friends and shared many visits, phone calls, and lots of laughter. She was another of my “surrogate Moms”, as I would call my close friends’ mothers, and she would tell me that I was like another daughter to her. I could share my  plans and projects with her, and she was remarkably supportive of my efforts. Whenever I called her, there was a sweet pause of about two seconds, and then she would say my name in a delighted breathy voice…
“Barbara”. I loved that greeting! It had a smile  and a hug in it each time.

Edna raised five wonderful kids, has lots of terrific grandchildren, and had a long loving marriage with Jack. She practiced Yoga long before I really understood its importance.She would always tell me that I should try it, and we would joke about her standing on her head(which she did, regularly). She believed in taking good care of your body and soul, and lived her convictions. She once told me she had chided a lady friend of hers for smoking, and the woman retorted” Oh, Edna…I’ll probably outlive you!”. Edna’s response was, “Maybe so, but I am going to feel good every day of my life”. I remembered that, and it made sense to me.

About a year ago I started practicing Yoga. Edna was my first phone call. She was so happy that I had finally taken her advice! We talked about it each time we spoke this year, and she continues to encourage me.

Edna will be 94 in another week or so. She is currently in the hospital, and facing some tough medical issues. I spoke with her this morning, heard that glorious laugh, and she told me to say some prayers; that if I did, perhaps she” could feel that energy coming to her”. I did, and she will.

I know that I have been fortunate to know Edna Perry. She has been a shining light of love and support on my journey. Namaste, Edna.

 

 

Wrapping Paper

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Hello. My name is Barbara, and I am a wrapping paper addict.

My addiction started decades ago when I discovered the rush of going into a Hallmark store  where I could feast my eyes on square packages of gaily printed Christmas papers, matching bows, tags, and stickers. As years passed, packages became long rolls, and the assortment of accessories like pre-made bows and adhesive tags  became overwhelming.

Why? Why does any  addiction overtake us? Is it because there is something fundamentally missing in our hearts and souls? Do we feel somehow that the world is too much to bear, and we need something to help us cope with all of it? Is there a causal factor in my DNA…a Hallmark gene that has mutated? I don’t know these answers. I do know that wrapping paper, and the selection, purchase, and, yes, hoarding, of it,makes me feel better. Happier. So, I “collect” it, and use it during the Holidays…but not all of it. Each roll or package must have a scrap saved. Just in case I ….er….want to look at it in the future. Just in case………

Many of my friends have commented on how crazy this addiction is;some have tried to intervene, and stop me. Yet, my desire is strong, my longing unfulfilled. Each year when the calendar turns to November, my search for gift wrap continues.I have tried limiting the number of rolls I purchase. I have tried hard to not get up early December 26th and head out for the 50% off wrapping paper sales. But nothing really works.

I do know that my favorite childhood memories include staring at that magnificent decorated Christmas tree, and dreaming of what those shining packages might hold.The magic of those moments when my family was around, and times were good. All that silvery paper gleaming out from under Nana’s tree.

My name is Barbara, and I am a wrapping paper addict.

Bobby and Albert and Martin

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Trying to make sense of the senseless is exhausting. I am so tired of watching stories about mass killings and incomprehensible violence in America. I am ashamed that the rest of the world views us as the unsafe place we have become. Tired.

What do we do when there seems no answer to this unrelenting evil? Some people suggest prayer and unified thought. Some people suggest more violence. I don’t think the same way as these folks.

My only real Hero was Bobby Kennedy. He was intelligent, articulate, ruthless, funny, and compassionate. Many of the things he said have become my mantras, and have inspired me to action. Bobby read the works of Albert Camus extensively, and was fond of quoting him. I think the most poignant of Camus’ thoughts, paraphrased, is this one: “perhaps this is a world in which Children suffer, but we can lessen the number of suffering Children-and if you do not do this, who will do this?”. I have used that in speeches, and it never fails to move me with its simple power.

So, here it is. We all have to do whatever it is we can do, each day, to promote goodness, caring, and justice. Your part may seem small, but each tiny act contributes to the positive overall effect on the World. Be Kind. Treat others with love and compassion. Do good work. We really have no other way to combat the anxiety of powerlessness we may sometimes feel.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only Light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only Love can do that”.

 

 

 

 

Rosa Louise

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December 1, 1955 was a pivotal day for Rosa Louise. She did not set out to become an icon, a heroine, a household name. She simply could no longer stand to be treated like less than she was. When Mr. Blake demanded that Rosa give up her seat to a White man, she refused to do it. She was not the first Black person to refuse, but she became, with that non-violent act, the image of activism.

I wonder how the early activists in the struggle for Civil Rights were so capable of what seems to me to be remarkable bravery. I have never considered myself very brave, and it is a trait I admire immensely. I know that Courage has been defined as “grace under pressure”. It seems that the accumulated pressure of years of slavery, abuse, humiliation, and degradation resulted in the kind of courage Rosa displayed on that day 60 years ago. She very gracefully told the bus driver to do what he had to do. The ensuing arrest, trial, and problems it created were just part of what she felt she had to endure; she was tired of being treated unjustly.

Rosa Louise MacCauley Parks stood up for what she believed needed to change by not standing up and giving up her seat on a bus. She was a committed and hard-working activist for Civil Rights all her life. Despite death threats and financial woes, she shone her light brightly wherever she was. The kind of integrity that brought her to the forefront of the desegregation movement is a model for all of us. I hope whenever I need to speak up for what I deem an injustice, I will hear her whisper in my ear.

 

 

Comfort and Joy

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The Holidays are fast approaching, and the words of an old Christmas carol are stuck in my head:”Tidings of Comfort and Joy”. I experienced both Comfort and Joy today, and I realized that those unique sensations don’t come as often as we would wish.

One of my friends, whom I have been lucky enough to call  a true friend for over 50 years now, stopped in for a visit. He brought his wonderful wife, and they spent the afternoon with me and my partner. The ease with which we can share time and space is significant to me. I am totally ME. I have no pretense or artifice with them. I laugh out loud, and joke, and tease, and am as obnoxious as I want to be. I do not fear that they will not love me as I am. This is Comfort.

When these friends are with me, I feel the happiness of connection. We are connected by memories, shared experiences, common attitudes, and love. We can talk about everything and nothing. We can rail at the ways of the world, and smugly assert that we have been lucky to have lived during the good old days. We can support each other’s creative ideas, and sympathize with each other’s troubles. There is a timeless quality to our visits; we are on this fragile planet hurtling through Space, yet all we care about is what each is about to say. The words are precious and lift the spirit. This is Joy.

I met my friend in High School. We became friends because we both loved to write. We shared Journalism classes and By-Liners club meetings and Advanced Composition class. We knew we would write great things someday. Later, as adults, we wrote for a small paper and fought the good fight against the large corporate newspapers. We have always been free thinkers and revolutionaries, and we have always tried to change our little corners of the world for the better. Hippies. Non-conformists.Students. Workers. Parents. Creative Artists. We have been all these things, and more. My fervent hope is that we will continue to learn and strive and discuss and share for a long, long time. Thinking that we will is comforting to me. Knowing my dear friend is a real joy.

 

 

 

 

Pie Fixes Everything

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I have a small wooden sign in my kitchen that states” Pie Fixes Everything”. I believe this. Now, we all have to believe in something, right? Well, I believe in Pie.

My favorite memories usually include Pie. Nana Beardsley’s home filled with relatives and laughter on Thanksgiving, for example; on that day you were allowed more than one piece of Pumpkin, Apple, Coconut Cream, Blueberry, or Mince. How about My Mother showing up at my Boston University dorm with a homemade Raspberry pie? Or those times in Los Angeles in the early 1970’s when you could go to “4 and 20” pie shop and buy amazing Texas Pecan or stupendous Dutch Apple. Just call me Greta Carbo!

My Nana Frederick was a great pie maker, as was my Mom. They could both create these stupendous crusts that I have never been able to achieve. Although, I must say that I have become a better pie maker through the years; I think it has to do with getting into a zone of patience and focus. I am better at that now. Practice, confidence, letting go. All part of the pie process.

Today is Thanksgiving Day. My own tradition dictates that I must have Pumpkin Pie with mounds of real whipped cream. It is a spiritual moment when the vanilla-tinged cream is placed in huge dollops on top of the pie, and served to my family. There is silence as the first bites are taken. With the exception of the impatient whimpers of the begging canines at our feet, most of the pie experience is quiet. Communing with something greater than ourselves, we eat the pie with reverence.

I was taught pie making by observing my Grandmothers and my Mother, all experts. Thank you. I live in a place where I can always buy what I need to make any kind of pie I like. Thank you. I have friends  who love my pies. Thank you. I have a beautiful kitchen full of cookbooks and baking equipment. Thank you. I will have my Family with me today, eating Pumpkin pie. Thank you.

 

 

Arlene Ruth

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My Mother’s Birthday is November 30th. She will be 92 years old that day. I have been thinking a lot about her life lately. She is in the last stages of Parkinson’ Disease, and that terrible illness has taken away most of what I knew to be my Mom.

I have chosen today to write about what has been, rather than what is. Perhaps as  a way to cope with the loss of so much of this vibrant woman, I want to remember the strengths and the foibles, the charm and the outrageousness of Arlene Ruth.

My Mother was born in 1923 to Italian immigrants who had come to America around 1910 and had settled in the small farming community of Pittsfield, Maine. My grandmother, who already had three children when my Mother was born, reportedly said” I’m glad that’s over with”, only to be told by the Doctor “It’s not over yet”. That was the moment when my Nana found out she was having twins! My Uncle Bill was then born, and the two of them were forever held fast by that special bond that twins have. My Mother absolutely idolized her brother. He was, according to her, the protector and watchdog until she was a young adult.

Life on a small farm during the Depression years was admittedly not easy, but my Mother always maintained that they did not feel deprived. There was enough food and plenty of love to go around.

World War II loomed on the horizon while Arlene attended High School. She joined the Navy in 1944, and spent her time as a Wave on Naval bases in the States. My favorite story of hers is one that might be material for the Guinness Book of Records. She told me one place where she was stationed had about 5,000 Sailors and only 125 Waves. This pretty girl with the dazzling smile was there for 61 days, and had 59 different dates! (Can you say smorgasbord?) I have always been impressed with those stats. Never broke that record. Well done, Mom.

There was apparently one major form of entertainment back then. Everyone went dancing. Energetic, athletic, exhausting Jitterbug dancing.My Mom joked for years that she would “rather dance than Eat, but you can see what I have been doing more of”. She LOVED to dance. She had a wonderful sense of rhythm, and could “cut a rug” with the best of them. She taught me a few steps early  in my childhood, and we would always jitterbug when the music was right wherever we were, from that day forward.

She met my Dad, they married in 1949, and I was born a year later.When I was less than two years old, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. There was no chemo or radiation back then, so they did a hysterectomy. Remarkably, she was saved. No more children, but she survived.

She went on to raise me, operate her own Floral Shop, work at numerous other Floral jobs, and developed an Estate Sale business. After my parents divorced, she moved to Florida where she had a consignment shop, ran a small counter-service restaurant, and wrote a cookbook and a children’s book. Her boundless energy was almost overwhelming. She never seemed to slow down. If you walked anywhere with her, she was always yards ahead of you. She was, in all ways, a true force to be reckoned with!

My Mom would come to visit for a week, and clean the entire house, rearrange the cupboards, and wash and iron the curtains. I cannot remember her ever sitting still for very long; she seemed in constant motion.

Arlene never measured her words. For better or worse, she was outspoken and opinionated. She was often outrageous, always straightforward, and very assertive by nature. She was also soft-hearted and generous to her friends and family. Her sense of humor was irrepressible, and her love of laughter apparent.She was once waiting for an overdue flight in Antigua. Standing in line at the airport for some time, she noticed just behind her was the famous stylist, Vidal Sassoon. My Mother turned to Mr. Sassoon, and quipped” If I had known we were going to have to wait this long, I ‘d have asked you to do my hair!”. That’s my Mom.

She loved clothes. I mean, she really loved clothes. She was an inveterate shopper, and would always have new outfits to show me whenever we saw each other. Shoes, hats, handbags to match. The original Fashionista.

She cannot hear much now. Those talented artistic hands that created so many floral arrangements, cooked like a chef, and decorated so many homes don’t work well enough to even feed her now. She is safety strapped into a wheel chair, so there is no dancing now. Her pale blue-green eyes are often looking off into places I cannot go. Her voice is garbled by the Parkinson’s Disease, so that it is difficult to even understand what she is trying to say. No more quick punch lines or saucy retorts now.

But I think that somewhere, perhaps on another plane of a parallel universe, some part of each day Arlene Ruth is dancing. Dancing with a handsome Sailor to a Glenn Miller song. In fact,  I am sure that is where she is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birthday Presence

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Today is my 65th Birthday. The morning is sunny and cold, and I am here at my keyboard looking out at the world with renewed gratitude. I am grateful that while the frost sits on the ground in my yard and the steam rises from rooftops, I am cozy and safe in my lovely home. I am grateful that upstairs sleeps a Man who made me a card with funny limericks to go with the stack of gifts I found on the kitchen counter. I am grateful for my Daughter, who arranged to have the day off from work to be with me.I am so thankful that my life is full of friends and family who love me.

I have had all kinds of Birthday celebrations over these past decades. My Mom always threw wonderful parties for me. I can see little girls with patent leather shoes sitting around tables decorated with flowers and gorgeous cakes. I remember when I was 8, I had my first boy/girl party in the basement of our house with records and dancing and little boys in suit jackets. My  Mom created Beatle themed parties when I was a teenager, sent packages in the mail when I moved far away, and always called me on my birth moment wherever I was.

My friends have given me some great parties, too. When I turned 20, my dear college roommate, Cynthia, threw me a real surprise party. She conspired with David, my then boyfriend and later husband, and all my pals, and pulled off a huge party in our apartment on Marlborough Street in Boston. Amazing brownies as I recall. Thanks, Cynth.

Two decades later, a bunch of women friends surprised me at my store in Yarmouth,Maine, with a celebration that included gifts, flowers, and a male stripper who appeared as a Policeman at the door! Now if you have never had a strip tease performed at nine-thirty in the morning by a complete stranger, let me say you are, perhaps… fortunate!

Later parties became more subdued, but were always special and always holding the same thread of caring and love. I have been very lucky. I was given the best Birthday present of all when I was born: both my parents really loved me. I have seen how the certainty of that Love shaped my choices, my reactions, and my path. We are fortunate if we have that great Gift to reopen in our hearts, as often as we need to, along the way. It is the one gift that we can give away again and again without it losing any of its luster. In the final analysis, Love is the first gift and the last gift, and always the best gift. One size fits all.

 

 

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.