it charmed me to think that the tool that was used on our sidewalk when the latest iteration of it was poured – decades ago – probably in the 1960s – was the same tool that they used last week.
he said, “i think i still have the tool my dad used. i was a little kid, but i remember this house. i remember the sidewalk and how he scribed in the concrete. i think i know exactly where it is!” a full circle story.
there was one sidewalk square left after the world’s longest water line get-the-lead-out replacement project, which literally started in november 2021. nevertheless, it is now completed, merely a year later. these things take time, i have learned. and nothing moves fast when the city is involved. and no one wanted to pour this last square. until them.
we loved the sidewalk-square-concrete-contractors. full of stories and some parallel experiences, david shared how his dad was also a concrete guy – in colorado – and g, one of the two gentlemen pouring and shaping and scribing and finessing our front walk, knew his company. d and fb, the owner of the company and just the nicest guy dedicated to good work, chatted together about – well – cement and stuff and fb clearly was eager to scribe the lines his dad had scribed way back when. the torch had passed and it was easy to see that his dad would be proud.
now, these guys clearly live by my own sweet poppo’s rule: don’t get rid of anything; you might need it later. my poppo always wanted a big ole barn to be out back so that he could put everything in it till it came ’round again.
maybe the concrete guys have one. a big ole barn or workshop. someplace where this tool sat on a shelf or in a toolbox – unused for decades – until one day when it made all the difference on our front walk. a piece of history coming back to be used for our home – again. something about that is truly heartwarming.
we have sat at this table countless times now. it’s the table at which duke and eileen sat for decades of their marriage, sipping coffee, listening to the radio, reading the paper. there have been infinite conversations at this table, much laughter, maybe even an argument or two. this table, clothed in worn, yet sturdy, has seen many meals and some good life.
two days ago i spent some significant time at this table with 20, duke and eileen’s son. we helped him when it was time to clean out their house; duke had moved on to a different dimension and eileen was moving into assisted living. he asked us to put the old table into big red and take it as a donation to one of the resale shops in town. we brought it to st. vincent de paul and they refused it. the guy at the furniture donation door said that it showed wear on the top and that it wasn’t acceptable under their guidelines. we didn’t have time to take it elsewhere so we left it in the back of big red, for a very long time, waiting for another day to donate it somewhere.
looking out onto our deck and backyard, our sunroom is one of our favorite rooms. we stood in the sunroom one day in the early pandemic and did some re-imagining. an old door horizontal on a couple horses spanned the length on the east side of the room and an antique drafting table was smack in the center looking out back. we moved the drafting table upstairs to the office. and stood there, pondering. we thought it might be nice to have a table in front of the window, perhaps one we could sit at with coffee or lunch. we went downstairs into the storage room looking for perhaps another old door, a surface we could use. we couldn’t find just what we wanted, so we thought that we might go look for a table somewhere. it was one of those forehead-smacking-moments when we remembered we had such a table in the back of big red. we unloaded it and the duke-and-eileen table had itself a new home.
we have written at this table. david has drawn cartoons and sketched sketches at this table. i have laid out, added font, finessed, colorized, photoshopped at this table. we have created at this table. it is the easel in our sunroom, a room we adore. amid happy lights, succulents and plants with names like KC, snakeinthegrass, leticia, ralph surround us. the gentle sound of a tiny fountain is soothing and the whir of the small wine-fridge-from-the-boy reminds us not to forget snack-time-happy-hour. we can see the birds at the feeder and know that magic is sunning on a rock in the pond. this table is happy and we are happy the secondhand store turned it away.
so on tuesday, 20 and i sat working on some things he needed to get done. a couple of times he said, “wow. we are sitting at the table duke and eileen sat at all those years…” yes. that’s how we feel each day.
the specific history of this table is a mystery, for we will never know the love expressed at this table, never know the decisions made at this table, never know the tears shed at this table. we just know that it has comforted us through this whole time of pandemic.
like duke and eileen, we have sipped coffee at it, listened to music, read news apps. we have had conversations and much laughter and have argued at this table. this table continues to wear, continues to age, continues to be a place of many meals, and continues to see some good life.
i hope there is chocolate ganache cake and asti spumante. today is my sweet momma’s 100th birthday and, wherever she is roaming in that other plane of existence, i want there to be an enormous celebration of this day she was born back in 1921. there is not a moment i don’t miss her. there is not a moment that i am unaware of her presence.
the dining room table is piled with all kinds of finnish glassware and etched crystal and scandinavian birchwood as i empty bins that have been packed for years. i carefully unwrap the end-of-roll-clean-newsprint that layers between these and i’m immediately reminiscent. every here and there there is a tiny note, written by my mom, to explain the origins of this vase or that kissing-couple-wine-stopper. i have many questions and know that they will now go unanswered. i find myself researching and researching, a google-fest of information about these items, some of which have no story i can access.
i am drawn to pieces and carefully clean them. we poured chilled white wine into a pair of chunky goblets, ittala ultima thule glass designed by tapio wirkkala, inspired by melting ice in lapland. yesterday i made strawberry rose sangria and poured it into glasses from a heavy crystal etched pitcher, which i remember was a gift to my parents early in their marriage. the other day we had happy hour snacks out on the deck, olives and crackers and goat cheese on hand-painted japanese china, a post-world-war-two-origin lost to me, served on a glass mid-century hazel atlas boopie berwick party platter (which is actually called a ‘smoke and snack tray’ but i can’t bring myself to call it that.)
the history gathers in our dining room and i can almost feel the cheers of my momma and my dad, my grandmother mama dear and grandfather gramps. they encourage my googling and they also encourage me to sort through and find the things that really resonate with me. i can hear my momma telling me, “pass it on to someone” or “sell it!” as i unpack more bins of things, things, things that would otherwise remain packed. although i still abide by the unspoken ‘beaky rule’ to saaave new things for a bit before using them, keeping all these things packed in bins for years, no, decades – unused – is silliness and it is rewarding time spent opening it all up, seeing what’s there, going through, incorporating these jewels into our daily life. i know that is making my momma smile.
today we will lift our glasses to my momma, our beaky, and celebrate her. her spirit and spunk live on. her stink eye penetrating look, her raised eyebrow “oh?”, her ‘write-a-lettuh’, her sisu, her new-yorkishness. her kindness, her storytelling, her love.
today i will light a candle and gently ring the delicate glass bell she and my dad received as a wedding gift and i will be grateful that this day – 100 years ago – my momma was born on this earth. for that, this world is better.
once upon a time, a long long time ago in a faraway place, something happened. and then, there was A Rift, chasm-like and mysterious to those who followed. members of a family – my family – got hurt and angry and argued and dissed each other and cut off communication. no one really remembers the details but it must have been of gigantic proportion because decades have passed and relationships never regained their footing.
in the aftermath of breaking both my wrists last year, in the beginning of this global pandemic, in a time of upending change, i decided that life was too short for something i really could not remember, for something that had nothing to do with me, for something that represents tear-down instead of build-up. i started to research.
now, with google and all manners of social media, it doesn’t take a private investigator type to find people these days. it was not very hard.
and suddenly, my long-lost first cousins were there. in a tiny family tree, it is hugely significant to find first cousins, part of the constellation. sadly, two of them had passed, though there is open opportunity to be in touch with their families. and, miracle of miracles, the one remaining elder in the family from either side – my mom’s or my dad’s – in that age bracket and generation – my aunt – at almost-99-now – was alive and well. this woman who grew up with my father, who could tell me stories of my daddy when he was little-little, was still on this planet and i had had no idea.
i reached out.
just because i don’t remember, nor care, about The Great Rift didn’t mean that others felt the same way. so i was concerned and had some trepidation. but i was determined to try. for five decades i had lost the opportunity to know these people, my relatives. i had lost the chance to spend time with them, get to know them, laugh and cry with them, love them. i had lost over fifty years of relationship, over fifty years of connection. and that loss, something i’ve thought about on and off for these decades, was worth the risk. there’s way too much of that. loss.
they reached back.
and they didn’t just reach back. they reached back with joy. it was amazing to message and talk with cousin tony and cousin linda. it was thrilling to re-connect, my cousin tony laughing when i asked him to tell me everything, from every day, starting from 1970 or so.
in the middle of a pandemic, it is impossible to have the chance to go and (re)meet them yet, but we have our sights set on it for whenever it is safe. a chance to hug my aunt helen will be a chance to hug my dad once again. a chance to laugh heartily with my cousins and their children will be a chance to touch the heart of budding relationships, to touch dna.
though we have been connected despite our disconnectedness, it is a celebration for me to re-connect the dots. at a time when really nothing is more important than relationships, it is not time to be circumspect about connection. we are related! my cousin linda wrote words of promise i hold dear, “i can’t wait for the day when we just pick up the phone and just call each other without having to think about it.” yes. and cousin tony’s words ring true for me, “let’s not lose this connection again.”
Great Rifts seem to be prevalent. especially in these times of divisiveness. as i think about all the tragedies of even just the last months, i wonder what could be so important, so utterly pivotal, that could destroy connection. there is no doubt. we could exist somewhat without others, without ties. but connectedness feeds us and our souls in ways that nothing else can.
my sweet momma used to remind me of the girl scout song, “make new friends but keep the old. one is silver and the other’s gold.”
thwwwwwwwwwwunk. a distinctive sound. shhhhhhhhhhhhunk. another distinctive sound. the timbre of laundry in the laundry chute.
our old house has a two-story laundry chute: from the bathroom on the second floor through the bathroom on the first floor to the basement wooden trap door. for over three decades i have listened to laundry as it sings its way down the chute. it is likely i can identify – to a pretty close degree – what is traveling down to the land of the washer-dryer. i can tell if it is jeans. i can tell if it is socks. i can tell if it is a wet washcloth or a wet towel. i can tell it in the dark. i can tell it as a lark. oops…got carried away. but that is the truth – i can tell by the sound of the item as it brushes against the metal chute-frame and lands on the little wooden door. having had this highly-technical cutting-edge advantage for the better part of my adult life, i’m not sure what i would do without a laundry chute.
the radiator, in the middle of the night, often makes a thunking sound. it emanates from the sitting room, right off the bedroom and, were you to be easily freaked out by unfamiliar noises, you would sit up in bed, frozen and silent, wondering what critter was in the next room thunking. having heard this sound for thirty-something years, coming from radiators a third again old than i am, i am comforted by it, the single metallic-sounding drum-thump a piece of my audio history.
in the early days of owning this house, the wood-floor-guy asked if i wanted the spaces between the planks filled in or if i wanted him to place screws or shims into the wood from below so as not to hear the floor creaking. i was horrified at both ideas. the patina of the old floor, its stories, its life, and the sound of the old floor are all part of what i love about this house. i can’t imagine not hearing the wood floors creak. i never even wished that even in the middle of the night, what feels like a million years ago, just after my baby girl or my baby boy fell fast asleep, just after i laid her or him back in the crib, as i tiptoed out of the nursery hoping to not wake them, trying to avoid the floorboards that made the most noise. i just memorized the boards that were the greatest offenders and long-jumped them. they are the house speaking, the stories it holds dear.
d says i hear better than he does. the gutter’s funny dripping sound, the click of the ceiling fan, the sound the swinging door in the dining room makes, a little water in the pipes, the back screen door squeak, the vinyl siding expanding in the sunlight, the front door lock latching, the pantry closet closing, the boiler kicking on, the old oven opening, the chain on the basement door, the glass knob from the french door falling off.
i just say that i am listening to the symphony of this old house and i’m just a little more tuned in.
8pm curfew and we can hear car horns and sirens blaring, smoke is in the air.
midnight and we hear gunshots, loud booms, sirens.
4:30am and the sirens continue. a storm arrives; the thunder adds to other unidentifiable sounds and is unnerving. we sit, awake.
early morning and the sun has risen to a stormy day. smoke fills our house from buildings, structures, vehicles burning in downtown and uptown kenosha. it is hard to breathe. but we are very much alive.
the town is shoring up the lakefront. the bedrock is crumbling. every time a storm comes, particularly from the north or northeast, the erosion is profound and feet are lost along the shore. enormous boulders are being brought in to nest next to the smaller granite boulders already in place, to protect lives and property. the theory is that these granite boulders will buffet the shoreline against the raging winds, the elements, the squalls, and the resulting rocks flung westward when those aggressive storms come.
the tempest of social injustice is railing. the coastline between white and black is hot and the fire of anger is raging. jacob blake, an african american man, who is right between the ages of My Girl and My Boy, was shot seven times in the back by a police officer on sunday. he is fighting for his life and the community is fighting to be heard.
what will tonight bring?
as the bedrock of this community crumbles we wonder what seawall will be built to protect all, to guard against inequity, to keep everyone safe from violence, to stop the injustice against black members of our community, our state, our country? what intelligent, articulate conversation will take place? what questions will be asked; what wisdom will be proffered? what compassion and generous action will be offered? how will we buffet against the rocks of hatred and bigotry flung by aggressive hostility? what will the boulders of change look like?
“the wise man built his house upon a rock, house upon a rock, house upon a rock. the wise man built his house upon a rock and the rains came tumbling down.
the rains came down and the floods came up. the rains came down and the floods came up. the rains came down and the floods came up and the house on the rock stood firm.
the foolish man built his house upon the sand, house upon the sand, house upon the sand. the foolish man built his house upon the sand and the rains came tumbling down.
the rains came down and the floods came up. the rains came down and the floods came up. the rains came down and the floods came up and the house on the sand went splat!”
we have some decisions to make. as a community, a state, a country. what will we do? will it be sand? again? or will it be rock?
…this global pandemic is just that – global- and is not discerning of your privilege (or lack thereof). it does not care. it can take anyone. and so we weep.
if there is a painting that depicts the face-holding grief and prayerful yearning for hope, it is this painting WEEPING MAN.
i wonder if he weeps for those who have fallen ill, those who have died. i wonder if he weeps for those who refuse to acknowledge the seriousness of this pandemic. i wonder if he weeps for those on the front lines, helping. i wonder if he weeps for those who have hidden in extravagant bunkers underground in far away countries. i wonder if he weeps for our isolation. i wonder if he weeps watching people intolerant of the isolation that will protect others, people who are selfishly and arrogantly protesting stay-at-home orders. i wonder if he weeps for the unrelenting non-discrimination of this contagion or if he weeps for the divisiveness of responsibility-taking, the it-doesn’t-affect-me attitude. i wonder if he weeps for the continuance of humanity. or if he weeps for the loss of humankind. or, if he weeps for the lack of humaneness. i wonder if he weeps because, in the middle of this trying and profound now, Next will come. i wonder if this painting is tomorrow’s tomorrow and he weeps with relief and hope.
i am outraged.
where have we come since april 23 of that writing? we have been cautioned. we have been advised. we have had the benefit of science, the benefit of research, the benefit of funding, the heart-wrenching benefit of experience.
we have lost 150,000 people.
and we stand to lose many more.
the shifting quicksand of the pandemic threatens to overwhelm our nation, this country fraught with division and a dedication to entitlement. people argue for their “right” to do-what-they-want because, well, they want to. the “we-didn’t-get-to-do-this-so-we-get-to-do-that” mode of thinking. a warped sense of deservedness, i’ve heard it time and again. to hell with masks, with physical distancing. to hell with recommendations about gatherings. to hell with self-sacrifice. to hell with responsibility. to hell with leadership, with facts, with example-setting. to hell with it all. people-living-in-a-community-called-a-country are left-and-right touting their deserved-rights to live as they wish, to gather as they wish, to travel as they wish, to do what they wish. and the overwhelmingly whiny justification-among-justifications is because they didn’t get to do what they originally wished or planned or wanted. wow.
and the pandemic continues.
and the people-living-in-a-community-called-a-country live as individuals more dedicated to their own desires than to the actual good of the country. to hell with all those people dying. to hell with all those sick. to hell with the sanctity of each and every living human being. to hell with all those lasting repercussions of this disease. to hell with a spirit of helping. to hell with a spirit of community. whose idea was that anyway?
and so we continue to destroy ourselves – in so many arenas. and the weeping man watches from the sidelines as the divided people lash it out in the stadium, gladiators of precisely what?
the old file cabinets are in the closet in the studio. at some point i organized all – well, most of – my music, lugged a couple metal cabinets up from the basement and spent a few days filing. there’s overfill in a few cardboard bank boxes on the floor. maybe someday i’ll get to those.
yesterday i was looking for a piece of music i thought i had. i went to the drawer it should be in and starting rifling through the books and sheet music. every title i looked at brought back memories: “moon river” made me think of my uncle allen, who took voice lessons and sang that song beautifully. “all i need” made me think of days at moton school center, comparing ‘general hospital’ notes with lois over lunches of peanuts and diet cokes. “the rose” made me think of earlier years of promise and love.
i forgot about what i was searching for and dragged out a pile of music, sheets spilling out onto the floor as i struggled to pull them from their tightly filled drawer. books – collections of artists or full transcribed albums – called my name, begging to see the light of day. i whispered to them i would be back for them. it has probably been decades since they were opened.
standing at the piano, not another thought in my head, i started shuffling through sheet music and playing. it was no longer 2020, transported instantly back to the 70s, the 60s, the 80s.
had i opened a different drawer i would have found all my old piano books, my old organ music – tools of a student learning her eventual trade. in those drawers are the books my children used for their music lessons, for band and orchestra. in those drawers are the books i used as i attempted junior high oboe and college trumpet lessons. in those drawers are the pieces that kept me on the bench for hours as a child and then as a teenager, practicing, playing, dreaming.
other drawers yield a plethora of more advanced piano and organ music, years of accumulated resources. there are drawers of choir music, both sacred and secular, from years and years of directing and conducting work. and still others house the scores of music i have written, staff paper and pencil, finished in calligraphy pen.
it made me want to just clear a day off. liberate my mind from every worry, every task, every watching-the-time responsibility. brush off the dust of the dark drawers from the lead sheets and scores and play.
i’d love to gather a whole group of friends around the piano and sing through john denver and billy joel songs, through england dan and john ford coley’s “we’ll never have to say goodbye again” and paul mccartney’s “maybe i’m amazed” and david soul’s “don’t give up on us” and the carpenters’ “bless the beasts and the children” and led zeppelin’s “stairway to heaven”, through carole king and james taylor and pablo cruise. through the ‘great songs of the sixties’ book and the ‘sensational 70 for the 70s’ book and fake books from all time. just take a day – a whole day – and sing. and remember together.
in light of the restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic, this would have to be virtual, i suppose. so that might not be such a good idea. but maybe d and i could just take that day. think of nothing else but music and where it has brought us, where it brings us. our long stories.
a few things can instantly place you back in a moment. songs, scents, pictures. a whiff of my sweet momma’s favorite perfume has me immediately missing her. john denver singing anything off any number of albums of his that i owned places me in my room hanging out on my beanbag chairs with my slick 3-in-1 turntable/8-track/cassette stereo or driving my little bug around the island. wings’ “silly love songs” or elton’s “don’t go breaking my heart” and i can feel the hot sand under my beach towel at crab meadow.
there are some fires that water will simply not douse, that regular fire-mitigating won’t choke out. this is one of those.
it rages with hotter heat and more tenacity. it is impervious to deterrents. its flames reach into the souls of those with souls and its ash, always ready to ignite, is never extinguished, never snuffed out, smoldering for more years than we can wrap our heads around.
its destruction has burned more deeply into lives than the magma-chasm of volcanos.
there aren’t enough words to quell the wrenching heartache of inequity – the fire has eaten through them all.
there is silence – staggering, heartbroken, earth-shattering silence – and we must hear it.
there aren’t enough excuses to explain it away – people have turned their backs on this smoldering fire, consensual participants in fanning the blaze, the oppression, the hatred.
there are reasons – a history of inequity that predates us and continues like an undercurrent, always there.
there aren’t enough condolences to offer those burned and scarred – empty thoughts and prayers are issued by people standing in bigot-hydrant vicinity, safely far enough away, not in the fray, not affected or effecting.
there are empty words of solicitousness, of sympathy – the pat on the head and the turn back to your-own-life.
there aren’t solutions ready at the fingertips – the listening, talking, desperately sincere efforts to understand, to have empathy, to stop and put on others’ shoes, the soles of which have been melted by the hot lava of this fire. these are within our grasp; we must step out of complicit complacency. we must acknowledge the chasm between lip service and true comprehension. black lives matter.
there is an imperative – to take action, to make change.
in the middle of peaceful protestors being forcibly removed from the area near the white house with tear gas and rubber bullets, the president of this country haughtily walked across the street and stood before a church holding a bible. it was an empty moment, devoid of positive or constructive meaning, spraying more firestarter onto a fire-lit-for-centuries. an arsonist. shameful.
this is an old woods. while we still can hike in it, we are driving -without stopping- to the woods and, generally without seeing anyone else, taking a hike. it is grounding to be in a woods that is old, a woods that is natural.
around us many trees have fallen. they lay quietly on the ground, nurselogs to others, the white rot fungi that is sharing their space an invitation to symbiosis.
we spend time looking up at the very-mature-trees standing, reaching to the sky, parallel to each other, taking in the sun. they too share their space. they have endured storm and wind, snow and torrential rain; they have endured times of thirst and times of excessive heat. they are still enduring.
i suspect most of these trees are much older than us. their rings of life could tell stories of lack, stories of abundance, stories of challenge and stories of ease. yet, they quietly stand, swaying in the wind like cattails along the curves of a slow river. not one boasts of its steadfastness; not one complains of its fall. the wisdom of the ages seemingly is in the long story. not in the angrily staccato-ed punctuation of a self-indulgent-short-story.
we step into the forest and the community of trees seems to sigh, pleased to see us again. it is not the prettiest of woods. but it is deeply, silently reassuring. life goes on.