it’s an octave. though it is not obvious to most and though it is difficult to see, it is an octave. well, slightly more than an octave, actually. d to d and then e and f. f# too. there are still 88 keys, even aged. still 88 keys, even devoid of their black and whiteness. still 88 keys, even in their new patina. still 88 keys, even though some may now be missing. it is still a piano. its soul is intact.
my sweet momma has been gone seven years today. seven.
the other day, in a group text with some dear friends, i read one friend’s response to a question from another about whether she was home. “not home yet,” she wrote. “went to visit mom.” it stopped me in my tracks and i stood still for a moment. those words – “went to visit mom” – were powerful moment-freezers. time suspended just for a few seconds as i pondered what it would be like to be able to write those words – “went to visit mom”.
i know that i was fortunate. my sweet momma was almost-94 when she died. and i was 56, so almost six decades of me sharing the same plane of existence. her life was inspiring and i was lucky to have her cheering for me in every success, in every travail. she was steady and a rock who was always there, whether or not, in different phases of my life, i recognized it. it was true for me that there was no one who was a bigger cheerleader for me – she had pompoms out the moment i was born and never hesitated to use them. and, as is true for most of us, i’m quite certain there were times i took that for granted, took her for granted.
“went to visit mom.” wow. what i would give to have minutes, hours, days with her. to seek her wisdom, watch her enthusiasm, see the glint in her eyes and hear her laugh, coffeesit with her, have a giant bowl of pasta fagioli or a big slab of crumbcake or some silly adventure. to feel enormous unconditional love. to hug her. to be hugged by her.
“neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.” (desiderata)
barney will reside in our backyard for a long time to come. this gorgeous instrument will continue to be worn by weather and the elements. its keys will fall off, the wood laminate will peel. it will still be a piano and each octave will still be an octave.
my sweet momma, i know, is the same. she is still there, as perennial as the grass. i know her love supersedes my loss of her.
maybe sometime today i’ll go out by barney. i’ll take a candle and light it. and i’ll text d, upstairs in the office working, “went to visit mom”.
10.5 x 15. the size of my sweet momma’s crumb cake.
back in the 90s, her crumb cake preceded her. everyone knew about her crumb cake. and everyone loved it. “beaky’s crumb cake,” they’d anticipate it.
based on the beloved new york entenmann’s crumb cake, she took crumb cake to another level. she’d, very specifically, tell you about how to make crumbs, that you MUST mix with your hands. she’d tell you how to sprinkle the confectionary sugar on top. and she’d proudly march it into the school, the hangar, the state attorney’s office, the church, the party. her recipe is dated 10/87; she didn’t start making her own crumbs until almost a decade into living in florida.
the other day – the day i was writing last monday’s blogpost – i was craving her crumb cake. i just wanted to sit down with a huge slab o’ cake and a piping-hot cup of coffee and chat with her. i wanted to hear her voice, her laugh, see her raised eyebrow and piercing blue-hazel eyes. i wanted to tell her stories. i wanted to ask her questions. i wanted to hug her tightly. i wanted her to hug me.
i wanted crumb cake.
we went to woodman’s and looked for the entenmann’s display. sure enough, it was there, this brooklyn-based bakery from way-back-when.
if entenmann’s crumb cake tastes like anything, it tastes like long island and the table in the kitchen by the window overlooking the patio where you could look out and see the dog run and the woods and clay pitts park in the distance and, at different times, different years, the above-ground pool or the vegetable garden and the grove with the big stump where we’d place the metal picnic sticks in the ground to hold brightly colored aluminum tumblers. it tastes like family gathered around a table with placemats labeled in the corner with initials that spell out shabaeawaka. it tastes like after-school and sunday-brunch. it tastes like saturday morning. it tastes like my dad, whistling, and pouring coffee from the percolator. it tastes like early spring and forsythia, salty breezes and bike hikes.
we bought the crumb cake.
and each day, for a few days, i made us a nespresso and placed each tiny mug on a clear glass plate with a piece of crumb cake. i savored each bite, each sip, getting lost in thought as only taste and scent can evoke.
and each day, my sweet momma and my poppo smiled from just-on-the-other-side. i could hear my dad whistling and my mom ask, “another piece?”
one of my most rewarding moments will soon have an anniversary. in three days SHAYNE will be six and the moment of unveiling her first published book to my sweet momma will be starting its new trek around the sun. in the way that life makes things complicated and that stuff gets in the way, we have not yet released the third book of the trilogy.
a little background stolen from a previous post:
back when my momma was 93 and facing down stage four breast cancer having had a double mastectomy a few months prior, she told us she felt like she had accomplished little in her life. there could be little farther from the truth. she died shortly before her 94th birthday but remains a force in the world. her kindness and her zealous belief in kindness continue to ripple outward. i heard beaky firsthand when My Girl was talking about the world and its issues and said, “the best thing i can do is to be kind to people.” i’ve seen beaky firsthand when My Boy has stood firm in raising pride awareness.
but she insisted she had no title (“engineer”, “architect” etc) to put after her name. we knew she had, however, three manuscripts she had written decades prior – stories about the family dachshund named shayne – stories she had tried to have published with no success back in the day. stories told from shayne’s point of view and simply wholesome and delightful, we searched for – and found – the manuscripts. and immediately got to work.
my amazing husband david illustrated the first of the trilogy, named SHAYNE. i laid out the text and the graphics of the book itself, designed merchandise like an “author” shirt, banners and a shayne iphone case for momma, built a website, contacted newspapers and we hastened to put together a release party with a reading and press and a celebration with brownies and asti spumanti at her assisted living facility in florida. when we told her – on MY birthday in march (for what could be a better thank-you-for-my-birthday than this?) what was happening on april 11th, she squealed like a school girl and started practicing signing her name with a sharpie. it was BY FAR one of the pinnacle moments of my life to see my mom – the AUTHOR- hold her book, read aloud to the dozens of people who attended and sign “BEAKY” on her books as her fans lined up to purchase the earliest copies. eighteen days later, my sweet momma was no longer on this earth.
in the way that lists-in-your-head nag at you (or possibly my momma from heaven, that traffic-stopping look in her eye) i know that it is time to develop that third book. it is time to re-tell this story. this world – these times – with so much loss, so many undreamed dreams. on a scrap of paper on august 4 in the year 2012, a calendar date that holds significance for my mom who gave birth to and lost her first baby girl on that day in the 1940s, i wrote down that momma said to me, “enjoy life. start living.” don’t put it off. just do it. the words of self-helpers everywhere.
maybe that’s why the woven-wicker-paper-plate-holder-end-cap-display was so riveting. maybe that’s why the giant piles of peeps and peeps cereal made me stop and laugh. maybe that’s why it feels like momma is saying, “hello!” maybe it’s not just “hello”; maybe it’s “what are you waiting for?” or a gentle prod, a “rise and shine, sweet potato!”
procrastinating runs rampant. in all of humanity. we put off things until we feel deserving. we can’t go out until we clean. we can’t travel until we’ve finished schooling. we can’t give up security until we are secure. i’m guessing momma would not necessarily agree with all this. her wisdom was to support going and doing. she did not counsel that one must have guarantee of success first. “try it, you’ll like it,” she’d echo my poppo.
momma had funny quirks, like everyone i suppose. and now, because DNA is a thing, i see those quirks up-close-and-personal in the mirror. i see them in my sister and my nieces. i see them in my daughter. marvelous tiny snippets of beaky walking in the world.
momma had some lighthearted superstitions too. she’d take an umbrella with her places because she believed that -then- it was less likely to rain. she wouldn’t take a shopping bag because she believed that -then- she would have the joy of juggling many parcels at the end of a shopping excursion. she knocked wood.
momma had a sensibility that she undeniably passed down. she made soap socks and never threw out a bottle of shampoo if she hadn’t already stood it upside down for days. she didn’t use or wear or hang up or sometimes even take out of the bag new things. there was some unwritten rule that she had to save it for “special”, a waiting period for anything new. she generously handed this strange little behavior to me somewhere along the line in the same way that she passed the love of cold french fries to me. she would make mounds of homemade french fries ahead of time when i was coming for a visit. not because she was going to re-heat them, but because, with big glasses of iced tea, we would sit and talk and eat them cold. together. as much as i still love cold french fries, it was never really about the fries.
and still, in all her amazing beaky-ness, after living an extraordinary life and setting an example of kindness and simple joy, she had this sense of nothing after the comma after her name. how could this be? easy enough to answer, i suppose, in a world of expectation and measurement, a society of commas – the ones after your name, the ones after dollar signs.
SHAYNE was on-deck in her life for over five decades, waiting. yes. it was one of the most rewarding moments of my life to see her face as she looked at her first book. her glee! elation. there are no words.
now i wonder if she might advise us all to start practicing with a sharpie. “you just never know,” she’d add.
“mom’s beloved paper plates,” my son called them. the boy was referring to plain and simple paper plates, the least expensive kind, not the dixie plates or chinet plates or the styrofoam plates that make you cringe when they squeak. just the kind of paper plate that is uncoated and recyclable.
i’m not sure that is a good thing to be remembered for. but in busy times with busy schedules and no dishwasher, paper plates were often a choice. “double them,” my momma would say. or she would hand you one of these woven wicker paper-plate-holders, of which she was a big fan.
and so, walking in the aisle of the grocery store and passing a gigantic display of these was like a gentle ‘hello’ from my sweet momma. since we already own some of these, from our beaky, we didn’t need to stop and buy any. plus, we rarely use paper plates these days. in these times there is more time for dishwashing. and real plates and cloth napkins. but oh, that ‘hello’.
cardinals in the backyard, notecards in the bottom of old purses, paint-by-number paintings in antique shoppes, peeps in easter candy displays, woven paper-plate-holders…they all keep alive memories of my sweet momma. in short order, this month, we will mark six years since she left this plane of living, nine for my poppo. it doesn’t seem possible. the blue metal planters peanuts can that my dad kept in his drawer for a zillion years sits on top of my dresser, the small wooden boxes from his workshop hold our nespresso pods, the ceiling fan chain wraps around our wrists, braceleting a reminder of him.
like you, i notice things, whether antiquing or sitting or cleaning out or grocery shopping. thready and emotional, beyond repair, i will always stop in my tracks. i choose not to see these things as passively there. instead, i choose that somehow, crossing the invisible ‘over’, this tiny gesture is a greeting, a reminder, a reassurance, love itself.
in kindergarten, i watercolor-painted an image of my mom. there was no mistaking her, of course. to my eyes, it looked exactly like her and i was proud as could be when she later turned my masterful painting into a tile to hang on the wall of the kitchen next to the tiled artistic expressions of my big sister and my big brother. now i wonder as i look at the photograph of this artist-sans-maestro image. why did i paint my sweet momma with two distinctly different length arms? was i proportion-inept? was i image-to-paper incapable? was i running out of room on the page in-between all the birds? maybe, oh maybe, i was just not a gifted five-year-old-watercolorist. despite all its shortcomings, my sweet momma carried that tile-painting from one house to the next to the next to the next to the next to the last. as i glance at the art of my children around me – the hand-drawn childhood notes framed on my bedside table, the painted fish-rock on the kitchen windowsill, the handmade signs in my studio – i understand her fierce everlasting dedication.
this snowman seems the snow-replication – at least arm-wise – of my ‘beautiful’ mom-painting. i don’t think i ever painted my mom in a solo piece again after kindergarten. i’m sure i painted my family, my house, my pets, flowers and sky and horses. but i didn’t paint any more portraits. no, it didn’t seem like i was gifted in any way in a depiction of a real person on canvas or paper. but i would hasten to add that i easily have portraited my mom in a million other ways.
she is in music i have written, in photographs i have taken. she is in the branches i have dragged out of the woods and the rocks that have been collected in backpacks. she is in the memories that swirl in antique shoppes and in table coffee-sitting. she is in words i speak and expressions on my face. she is in my mind’s eye, my thready heart and in that little voice in my head. she is in the letters i write and the upside-down shampoo bottles and the homemade chicken soup in my stockpot. she is in the way i push back against inequality, the way i rail against wrongdoing. she is in the merry morning sunshine and the stars that glitter at night, begging attention.
and she is in this tiny snowman we built on a bench in southport park on a snowy day in february, proportionately-inappropriate arms and all.
i wish i could sit with my mom right now. i wish i could be at her kitchen table with a giant bowl of her homemade chicken soup and a big glass of red wine. i wish i could be talking with her, really talking, not merely chit-chatting, but sharing all the stuff that we – very-human human-beings – go through. i wish i could feel that kind of comfort, that kind of never-ending fierce support, that kind of unconditional love, that kind of mothering right now. i wish she were here.
making my own homemade chicken soup will have to suffice. pouring a glass of wine and turning on the happy lights in the sunroom will have to do. sitting with david and pouring out my heart, tears and laughter intermingling, will have to satiate me. looking out over the backyard, staring at the lights strewn up between the trees, will have to be enough.
adulthood has its challenges. we race through our younger years at seemingly warp speed, our ever-widening circles further and further away from home. so much presses us. too much sentimentality is rejected; this world does not run on threadiness and success is not deemed reached with a collection of rocks, feathers, branches collected to remember times with beloveds. we are encouraged to push back against emotions that are confusing, that are overwhelming; this world does not reward our angst, our fear, our grief. instead it suggests that teflon hearts, insular, tough, impervious to the outside, will forward us down the road. we give less and less time to nurturing relationships; we are immersed in making a living, in getting by, in our own self-actualization.
and then suddenly, we screech to a stop. and we are there. we are adults. and, despite all the trappings, we are a little bit lost. we look around, we look back, down the disjointed path, and we realize it’s all fleeting and we, struggling, our hearts quivering, the gift of retrospect bright and shining, pine for simple. we wish we could sit and have chicken soup with our mom, or with our children, and listen and share. we wish we could say that we have learned, in all our human-imperfection, that most important of all, just as we might have suspected, are those rocks and feathers and branches. most important of all are those moments spent with beloveds. most important of all is the honest exchange of ideas and thoughts, choices good and bad, learnings and re-learnings. most important of all is the sharing of our emotions, the visceral, the belly laughs, the sobs, the mistakes and the forgiveness of our flawedness, our common denominator. and hopefully, if the world is as full of grace as we are told, most important of all is the giving and receiving of unconditional love.
i wish i could sit with my sweet momma right now and ask her…how did she make it to almost-94 without a broken-heart-from-life-stuff time and again. i wish she could, once again, reassure me that “this too shall pass” and remind me that moments in time are just that – moments in time. i wish she could tell me her coping strategies, the way she found her zen in this big old damaged perfect world.
beaky thought greg norman was pretty, well, handsome, shall we say? she was taken with his tall blondness and, though she didn’t follow golf much back then, she kept an eye on him. she would be proud of him these days as he cautions us all not to take covid-19 lightly. stricken with coronavirus, he urges, “do what is right, not just for you, but your family, friends, co-workers and other people around.” he adds, “i wouldn’t want anyone to experience this hideous virus. please take care.” i imagine she’d write him a letter.
the headlines say it all – a surge upon a surge. choices made during this holiday season will deliver blowback to people’s health and well-being, their very lives, decimating the healthcare system, and there is no one to blame for that but ourselves. every single choice impacts us all in the time of this shared pandemic. disney world and large family gatherings and traveling trips to other parts of the country all play a role; there is no escaping accountability.
i recently read of a discussion about authority and accountability. the open question was this: who has authority and who has accountability? wow. really? this seems, without any undue thought, a no-duh. those who have authority to make decisions are the same as those who are accountable for them. escaping from responsibility-taking is off the table. if you make a decision then you must support that by taking responsibility for it. in any arena. if you travel on an airplane or a train or a car to a different part of our country and you bring covid as luggage, you must take responsibility. if you gather and covid is a silent guest at the long dining table laden with treats, you must take responsibility. if you don’t wear a mask and you are with others who become infected, particularly those at high risk, you must take responsibility. and i wonder – is it worth it? we each have the authority, the liberty, the freedom to make decisions. but that also makes us responsible. it makes us accountable. in any arena.
dogdog, as we rapidly approach the end of 2020, just asks this one thing. with this two-ply cotton fabric mask on his head, he looks up at us and queries, “this? this is what all the hubbub is about? this tiny cloth mask? it can literally save lives?? pshaw!!”
as we watch him looking at us out of the corner of his eye, i imagine him adding, “just WEAR the freaking thing!”
i’m guessing greg norman and my sweet momma agree.
happy-lights. we surround ourselves with these. on the deck, on the headboard, strung on ficus trees, draping the shelf in the kitchen. there are still happy-lights at the littlehouse on island, touches that made it feel like home, tiny torches of happy.
it is astounding to us that through the dead of winter, their glimmer shining through the snows of the season, a rainy spring and a hot, hot summer these little minilights, plugged in and on 24/7, lasted over eight months on our front rail since we put them up in early december for the holiday season.
in true beaky-behavior, i am going to write this happy-light company a letter. because what person, what company, doesn’t need to hear something positive during a time of so much uncertainty.
$2.99 is marked on the box. because i know me, i know that we wouldn’t have purchased them until they were on 50% off sale. even at full price, i have to say, the twinkle of these lights outside as we pulled up in the dark, the twinkle of these lights in our dark sunroom or over the littlehouse sink, is a we-are-home reminder. it gently says to us that we are in a safe place, a place of love, a place we care about, a place of light.
perhaps this country needs to string up some happy lights. 2800 miles across the united states is 14,728,000 feet. our happy lights are 20′ of lighted joy, which means 736,400 strands of this very set. that would end up costing a tad bit over $2.2 million. but….on a 50% off sale we’re only talking $1.1 million. and wouldn’t that be an inexpensive (federal-government-spending-wise) message to all: you are home. you are safe. you are cared for. you are in a place of light. you are loved.
everyone else baked artisan breads in march or april. we baked it in june. well, specifically, david baked bread in june. i merely had to watch the process, savor the wafting of baking-bread through the house, tear off a chunk and devour it.
he’d been talking about it for a while, that he wanted to bake bread. this loaf is gluten free – he adapted it from a rustic bread recipe of bill’s. bill baked bread in april and then moved on to homemade gnocchi. a bit trend-resistant, we picked up the dangling carrot at the tail end of bread baking so posting this picture feels somewhat passe.
we aren’t so much everyone-else-is-doing-it-so-we-have-to-do-it people. we are artists so that’s our first excuse. our second excuse is that we are often not pop-culture-informed. that was much easier for me when my children were right here, keeping me in the loop. if cnn or aarp aren’t talking about it, if it’s not in our itunes or the stacks of cds and records we own, we are swimming upstream. third, we tend to make do. as a child of the infamous soap-sock beaky-beaky, who had a mantra of saving new things “for good” and turned bottles of shampoo upside down for weeks draining the last vestiges out, making do is an inbred way of life.
baking bread was no exception. until june. when we wholeheartedly jumped on the well-vetted train, rice-flour-research in hand. voila. heaven-in-a-loaf-of-bread, we wondered why we hadn’t done it sooner.
everyone else had an iphone. i was one of the last dedicated razor-phone fans. i could text with my eyes closed, even using the phone keypad without an a-z keyboard. and then my children bought me an iphone. a convert, i wondered why i didn’t get one sooner.
everyone else has granite countertops. ok, or marble. our kitchen is old but i’ve made over 11,300 breakfasts and 11,300 dinners in it and this sweet old kitchen has had over 33,000 days nurturing its families. we chop and saute and mix and fry and bake and roast and pour – all successfully – in this old kitchen every day. maybe someday we’ll have different counters. and we’ll wonder why we didn’t change them sooner.
these napkins make me think of jen. it’s the reason we bought them. at every single gathering with jen and brad, jen, who is an amazing creator of festivity, sets out fun napkins. patterns and colors and images and phrases. not the 300-1-ply-approx 6″ square-white-napkins-in-plastic-wrap kind of napkins, but napkins you choose that have some panache. confident napkins. napkins with personality. napkins that celebrate.
i grew up with the other kind of napkins. my sweet momma bought the 1-ply-approx-6″ kind of napkins all my growing-up years. sometime in their retirement, beaky switched to vanity fair napkins, which are a bit more substantial and, in their substantiality, a bit fancier. any sweetly patterned napkins were reserved for special occasions, parties, holidays. because DNA is a powerful thing, our beaky passed all this down to me, and so, i haven’t yet reached the vanity-fair-napkin-stage.
we actually are cloth-napkin people. because tight-budgeting runs through my veins, we seek out two cloth napkins as souvenirs when we travel, instead of chachkies. we can tell you where all our cloth napkins are from and love to pick out which ones to use from the drawer in the dining room.
but there is something to these fun napkins that jen uses. in the basement where we keep party supplies are several packets of fun, patterned, imaged napkins. i’ve been saving them. for company, for special occasions, for a celebration.
the other day i took out a handful and put them on the kitchen table. the last couple of evenings, as we sit with a glass of wine, i have laid one at our spots. this little napkin instantly makes me happier. a simple napkin. our moments of sharing a glass of wine at the kitchen table have become moments of celebration.
so, in this time of waiting and uncertainty, i have decided, even though it will require much pushing-back-against-that-nagging-stingy-voice-in-my-head, that we will use all those napkins. i’ll go downstairs and get all the fun jen-napkins we have, no matter the season to which they are dedicated. we’ll set them out and use them, making each time we are at the table together a celebration.
and i know my sweet momma, our beaky, will be smiling down at us. “wowee!” she’ll say.