Post #91: “Let Us Choose Those Pearls”

IMG_1510Ah! Cocooned, nutshelled, encased, enrobed. I’m here, I’m here, I’m home at lingeringly long last. Fortressed, buttressed, I move tentatively from room to room reacquainting myself, finding myself. The Bibendum ashtray, the Trumpet Call harmonica, the tiny pile of stubby Blackwings. Each object, though odd and unassuming in and of itself, is an essential key, a part of my own soul, my own secrets and my own story, transporting me back in time and place in the wunderkammern of my own little world. I can feel myself unclench as I finally am looking at, connecting to what my eyes should be seeing every day. But please no recriminations. I am looking now. Remembering.

The open arms of my day stretch expansively before me. But then the must dos, should dos, could dos lists start to fulminate and burble in my head. I can feel my heart tighten and my breath quicken. Damn! Must we always be doing something important? Can we sometimes drift, to meld into the world without a thought or a care? Can I be brave enough to allow the world to warm me once again, to nourish me as a steaming cup of hot chocolate?

Like soft caramel, the strands lingering, I pull away.

I bundle into my coat, hat pulled firmly down to my ears, a scarf securely wrapped round and round my neck, a tightly tied up package. Each pocket is carefully checked and filled with emergency rations and supplies: ginger candies and peppermints to the left, notepad and extra pencils in the right, spare change, dried cherries, a collection of acorn tops. All the essentials for survival. My hands are deep in my pockets lightly fingering, checking, rechecking.

The Magellan of the North, I set sail for places unknown.

In a few moments I am standing on the train platform, my feet feeling the bumps and nodules of the edge. In the distance I can see a tangle of bare branches, the limbs reaching upward, a silent trembling yearning for spring and warmth and nuanced greenery. The pigeons swoop in unison, arching towards the overpass as the train itself, sinuous and massive, hums into the station. As if responding to my silent command, the doors slide wide open.

I corner myself next to a window as we set off. The buildings blur before me but my eyes are on the clouds. Today they knot and roil in the sky, softly pummeling the air above, truly an Ice Capades of the air.

As we draw into the terminal, I am buffeted in with the others, unconsciously falling into step, all of us strangely solitary amidst the crowd in our rhythmic march. And yet, when one of our number, a woman with her arms burdened with packages, unknowingly drops a bill from her pocket, a boy leaps forward out of formation to snatch it up, to quickly press it into her hand, then retreat back to continue his path. The day begins.

The streets are still damp from the snows, glowing with a winter garden of neon reflection, the cerulean, the sage, the magenta curling and bursting forth with riotous electric bloom. My feet splashing, I make my way to the library, cosseted safely between the twin lions, Patience and Fortitude. Up the marbled staircase through the carved doors to find a seat at the table, a warm corner. My hands smooth to the polished wood of the chairs. Heads bent over wide open volumes, bathed in the light of the golden reading lamps, thoughts seem to twist and promenade though the air itself, sentences cavort, the words hover and float. It is a joy to join the dance.

Later, an old couple sits together at their luncheon table. He wears a beige sweater, she a beige scarf. She serves him the best portions from the platter. He generously pours out the wine. There is little talk but then really, how much is needed? When it’s time for dessert each digs deep into the sweetness.

Soon enough I find my way downtown, drawn to this place as always. If my eyes lovingly caress the bookshelves, the unruly piles and jumbled stacks that form the essential cartography of my home, this place, this temple to what I love best forms a magnetic bond to my soul. I am at The Strand, home to miles and miles of books. There they are. Shelved shoulder to shoulder in their tattered jackets, brave and stalwart. These second hand volumes, each with a story beyond the story between the covers, are what Virginia Woolf calls “the wild books, the homeless books.” As always, they fairly leap into my arms, grateful once again to be remembered and repeated and most of all read. They are rescued. I am revived.

This is what the day has brought. Marvel upon marvel. Joy upon joy. But I wonder, do I only wish to see what’s beautiful before me? If so, is that wrong? Do I, can I, recreate the world each time I interact with it?

“Let us choose those pearls,” writes Virginia Woolf in Street Hauntings. Quite so. Find what gives you joy, cling to what gives you comfort, spot beauty in unexpected places.

Today I chose to find what Woolf calls “a seat in the warm corner, ” refilling the wunderkammern of my heart, my home, my mind. Wander then and go forth to choose your own pearls.

***

Inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Street Hauntings: A London Adventure published in The Art of the Personal Essay,: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. Selected and with an introduction by Phillip Lopate

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Post #90: Skimming the Cream from the Day

IMG_0732Here I am. The ever tenacious scriblerian, attempting once again “to skim the cream from the day.*” It’s a greedy thing to do. But I don’t care. My thoughts have been so jumbled lately, exploding every which way like one of those British Christmas crackers.

It’s time to unjumble them. Snuggle down. Let’s begin.

Unmasked, I stretch yearningly forward into a quiet that soothes me with the thick secure warmth of a down comforter on a frigid night. My fists unclench, my toes uncurl, my chest untightens. I’m breathing? Of course I am. But now each new breath feels like some luxuriant renewing elixir flowing through me. At last.

Had my breathing really been so shallow before? Had I really been so knotted and snarled?

Out in the world, attempting as always to conquer with a smile, to marshal support with a few agonizingly well chosen words, to acquiesce, to admire, to accede. Exhausted, my eyes squint with the effort, my head and my back tense with the oh so necessary shoring up of the facade.

The cream of the day is a balm and a salve, a hidden but oh so necessary respite. For a few private, precious moments I am the person on the other side of the photographs.

But time is almost up. Once again, stack the bricks to the barriers. Snap shut the shutters to the eyes. Soon out the front door and back to the front lines.

The soft sweet nougat center armored in a delicate chocolate shell, I am not who everyone thinks I am. Oh please. But then who of us really is?

*Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Post #89: Cezanne at Dawn

IMG_1224It’s utterly ridiculous. I do it anyway. Although I waken in the thick, viscous blackness of deep night, my glasses are always curled protectively around my eyes. They are my talisman, my mask. It’s so dark that I don’t actually need them. But as always, I do so want them.

I fan out my fingers and lightly caress the wall, my feet moving stealthily with a sure and scuffling rhythm. Out the door and down the stairs, through the kitchen, around the dining room. I feel my way. I know the way.

And I’m here. I don’t move, I don’t even breathe. And just for a moment, I can hear it, an ardent and intense quiet. Through the window, the bare-armed trees are slashed against the puttied, muted sky. Alone and isolated, the heavier branches reach out achingly, the tiny twigs stretch and stretch hard — pawing and clawing at the air. Never static, the scene in front of me pulses almost imperceptibly.

Dawn is coming. I know it but I can’t see it yet. It’s getting lighter, I know it, I’m sure of it. I watch and I watch ravenously. If I squint hard, can I see the images in front of me to their essence as in a Cezanne? If so, what will it look like? What will it feel like?

And there it is. A whisper of time, a gentle sweep of the veil, and I see it. When dawn arrives it isn’t harsh and it doesn’t break. Instead it warms, it caresses. I take off my glasses. The scene before me blends and blurs. For a moment, for me at least, time stops. For a moment, it lingers.

Just then I catch a glimpse of my yearning, unprotected self reflected in the window, the fleeting image frozen in my mind. And I wonder, have I at last glimpsed the essence, at least for the moment?

Post #88: A Thank You Note

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Dearest All,

Welcome to post #88.

Sometimes I think one of the great miracles of my life is just that I’ve been able to put my fingers to keyboard to type out these small essays every other week. Like most of us my life is a convoluted mixture of the mundane and the significant. Even so, I have still jittered out a piece every other Tuesday, with the regular and rhythmic rat-a-tat tat of a Morse code tap, eighty-eight times in a row. I am never sure I can do it. And then somehow I do.

I do because I need to write. I write as a respite, to jump off the merry go round for a bit and actually think, even if I’m never quite sure what I’m going to think about. I write sometimes simply to bash back fears. I write because I’m not terribly brave and in some ways it’s the bravest thing I’ve ever done.

But today’s post is written for a different reason entirely.

Today’s post is to say thank you.

If you’re reading, and especially good at reading between the lines, every single post relates to something that has actually been happening in my life at the very moment in time each piece is written. Most of those connections are a bit obscure. This one however is very straightforward.

It has to do with winter house terrors involving freezing temperatures, freezing pipes and being frozen with fear about the anticipation of what will happen next.

But I will tell you exactly what happened next. A whole series of people who came and helped: Dawn, our broker from Caldwell Banker, a woman who thought to call with cold weather tips that helped protect us in a house she helped us buy over a year ago, our friend Ralph, the apartment superintendent, who dropped everything to stanch a veritable waterfall in my basement and was at my door before I could sharply exhale breath, and the Robison 3 AM boiler fixers who went above and beyond to help us figure out a water piping system in our basement that resembled nothing less than the snarl of most of my knitting efforts.

Leonardo DaVinci said “Water is the driver of Nature.” I completely agree. But I’ll be honest. I would never have argued the point anyway.

So on this scheduled blog day Tuesday I want to thank all of the kind people above who are so very good and so very decent. We are beyond grateful for your help. And I would like to take a moment as well to thank you, Dear Readers, for your kindness reading along with me, for connecting me, for thinking along with me. You’ve created a bit of a miracle yourselves. What you’ve done is make me feel not quite so alone in the world.

Thank you very much. Until next time then.

As ever, C

Photo: Casey and Annie Rose waiting out the weekend storm.

Post #87: Come to the Table

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There is never ever a plan.  But does it matter?

A cavernous, empty pot sits on the stove, it’s gaping mouth almost crying out to be filled.   But, ah, with what? A flash of the knife,  a bloom of blue flame and suddenly it begins!  I’ve a sizzling swirl of mirepoix, fancy French for plain old onions and carrots and celery. A spirited rummage through the cupboard:  Kale or cabbage?   Crushed tomatoes or cubed potatoes?  Barley or farro or pasta or rice?  Zucchini or beans or chicken or beef?   A dollop of hot sauce or sprinkle of cheese? It matters not. No matter what, no matter how, I will stir up my pot to make, as the Mock Turtle blissfully intones, “Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!”

The dreamy scent wafts through the kitchen, curls around the hallway, up the stairs and down. Oh please, let them fly and float through the air to me like the etherial lovers from a Chagall!

I promise there will be enough for everyone.  The door opens.

***

My Great Grandma Rachel Leah, 1962

She comes down the stairs sideways oh so slowly, clutching the railing with both hands, her face contorted with the effort.  It’s so hard for her to walk but she is insistent and determined she will do this, step by laborious step.  Then finally a sigh and a settle into her chair. No one can keep her away.  No one would.  She sees me and her body relaxes, her arms unfurl.  In a moment I am relaxing, melting  into her lap.  As she strokes my hair I can feel the knots in her fingers.   I twist to see her face. She is smiling. Her eyes are the simply softest brown.

***

My Little Gram, 1971

Not a whisper, not a word! We know to tiptoe, how to pull the door  shut with only the tiniest woosh and never a slam.  It’s just us, the early risers!  We creep into the car and drive stealthy, squinting into the early morning sunshine.  We are on a dual mission, to find both the Sunday papers and the bags of hot bagels.  Neither of us knows which we love more, to eat or to read. Don’t make us choose!

***

My Grandpa Lou, 1960

He is tired.  He works so very hard. And it’s been such a long day.  Even so still he walks through the door with the confident  stride of a natural athlete.  Although his dark curls are receding back from his forehead, his jaw is still so strong, his gaze direct and searching.  Before he has his dinner, before he even takes off his coat, he digs into his pockets and pulls up fistfuls of coins: Roosevelt dimes,  Indian Head nickels, Lincoln pennies, some of them still made of World War II steel.  The coins are for me. Every night my Grandpa Lou showers his pocket change into my bank for my future.

***

My Bubbe Slava, 1961

Adored by my Dad, your grandson.  Adored by my Mom, his young wife.  It was said you were beloved by everyone who ever knew you.  So missed by them, and so too then,  by me.

***

My Grandma and Papa, 1968

Chest puffed out proudly, hands on hips, the Superman of Lauder Avenue rises from his chair to greet us.  Calm and controlled, the master of the living room.  Clothes perfectly pressed. A clatter from the kitchen and he is joined by my grandmother, perspiring and wrinkled and aproned, hair flyaway.  He bestows a regal kiss on each of our foreheads. She squeezes us into the tightest of hugs. At dinner he sits at the head of the table and waits to be served. At dinner, she is always on her feet and is constantly serving. And yet when she presents him with his plate, meat, vegetables, potatoes just so, their eyes lock, just for a moment. Did you catch it? They love each other so.

***

My Aunt Bess and My Aunt Rose and My Cousin Marty, 1972

Sit with us, talk with us, be with us! Around the table, around the living room, glance to glance, phrase to phrase, heart to heart. Around and around we are forever warmed.  We never get our fill.

***

My In-Laws, Lillian and David, 1988

It is the most elegant of places, delicate chandeliers giving off a muted, almost viscous light, the silverware arrayed with the precision of a marching band,  flanking a platter of the purest white. Yet in this impressive place I am the one who is meant to impress. You sit beside me eagerly,  your words reaching out yearningly across the table to the almost impassive couple across from us. I feel as if they only have eyes for you, their boy. While my smile is calm my hands are not,  as under the table I am twisting my napkin into a harsh knotty rope. But when I get up for a moment to leave the table, I take a quick glance back.  Your father is grinning.  He gives you two thumbs up. And satisfied,  your mother smiles and nods in agreement.

***

Come back to us, please, come sit at the table!  Of course there is room.  Can you see, can you smell, I have made the soup?   You’ll know us, here are my sisters, one with armloads of daffodils, the other holding aloft a tray of the most exquisite cakes.  Our husbands, strong and kind and good are here with us, as well as all of our funny, kind and wonderful sons and daughters, nephews and nieces.  At the head of the table is our Mother, ever solicitous, chooser of the most perfect presents.  Dad, still the clever jokester, remains at her side.

Waiting expectantly too are  Shayna and Sam, Rorschach and Roscoe, Charlotte and Tina, dearest Golda, sweet Cody and ever so intelligent Jess.  Overseeing it all of course is Big Nick, large, orange and masterfully in charge. They do not wait for scraps.  As befits all of the beloved, full plates for all.

To all those we love, to all we so miss. You are cherished. Come try the soup. Come to the table. There is, and always will be, a place set  for you.

 

Photo: My Little Gram, Ann Venitsky Chudler

Post #86: Transformations

IMG_0209To be honest, I’ve always cared much more than I let on. Sbould I let my limbs swim in oversized sweatshirted significance? Prickle to the starched white splendor of a crisply ironed shirt? Thrill to the chill of an Armani silk?

Enrobed, encased, and otherwised armored: time to dress.

***
Ruffled Socks

I sit tensed, my eyes squinting beneath Buster Brown bangs. The man behind the camera snuffles and grumps and fusses with the lens. I am perched birdlike sitting high on a box. I am so very proud! Not just dressed but so dressed up. A starchy white outfit, my own initials CLA stitched in red right on my dress. White ruffled anklets turned over just so. Ruffles on the socks? But then poof! The camera flashes! My wide smile is frozen, set to be frozen in time. It should be over, but all I can think of is yanking those ruffled socks away from propriety, up up up high to my knees!

***

Plaid

A plaid belted jacket. A plaid pleated skirt. A plaid collared vest. A plaid brimmed hat. Non plaid knee socks, but you know, that’s okay. All the plaid pieces fit together, and fit together just so. I’m ready for school.

But is school ready for me? An outfit so stupendous, I am elevated to the stars! Or at least lofted to the top of a desk. I am the model. My classmates are forced to sketch my outfit. And forced, it seems, to sketch me.

***

The White Shirt

Longed for, dreamed of, I had never had one before. But there it was. Perfectly creased and standing at attention, the uniform of grown ups everywhere. I slid into it and was instantly transformed. A second grade grown up. I surely would wear it every day and forever. But alas! My tightly gripped left-hand drags the pencil led straight through my left cuff! In to the wash instead.

***

lLeather Patches

A handful of dimes. A tiny, shiny pile of quarters. A few creased and crumpled dollar bills. Longed for, scrounged for, scrabbed for and saved. Poured into an old sock and then clutched hard all the way to the store.

All those saved allowances to allow me purchase this this prize all for myself. A rumpled brown sweater. A rumpled brown sweater? Really? But of course!That sweater had leather patches on the elbows. The perfect accompaniment to fit with the pile of books that were always in my arms.

***

Powder Blue

Hair feathered, dress polyestered, feet encased in platforms stacked on high! I am the lead-footed, self-conscious youth queen of the disco! Gyrate, point, and twist through the motions. Perhaps subconsciously dreaming of jazz rhythms yet to be discovered?

***

Wide-Legged Jeans

Worn and worn and worn again. Wide-legged jeans, both tight and loose. Week of salads? Loose and loose. Week of sundaes? Tight and tight. No matter. Worn and worn and worn again.

***

The Very Big Sweater

Home for the holidays, snoozing on the sofa, slowly being consumed into the couch pillows. I am woken by the steady sound of my mother’s knitting needles, clacking away like a set of Carmen Miranda maracas. Did I want to try? I did. And so I find myself beside her trying to match her, stitch by steady stitch, adding on, casting off deep into the night. In the early morning, we have a flecked, turtlenecked sweater, green as the valleys of Ireland, made for me and meant of me.

***

The Silk Blouses

Charge into to the workplace in transformative armor, suits by Donna Karan or Tahari (always dreaming of Dior). Beneath it all, the softening silks, neatly knotted at the neck. Stand proud and tall.

***

The Wedding Dress

Simple and square necked, made all of lace, I am wearing the so longed for dress of my dreams, designed for me, and only me, by sister. A dress I will wear only once. And yet, once I slip it on it doesn’t matter.  My thoughts are only on the tall bespeckled man in the double-breasted tuxedo. The one with the perfectly tied bow tie.

***

Black Stretch Overalls

Like paintings displayed on the walls of a museum, exquisite and distant, I gaze absently into my closet. Were these things truly actually mine? There is my entire hard won wardrobe, sized out of reach. I don’t care. Instead, I am absurdly and proudly wearing a pair of black stretch overalls (the better to match with a variety of t-shirts). Perfect. The babies will be born very soon.

***

Black on Black

A jumble of sweaters, a knot of shirts, a pile of pants. All in black. Unseeing, I grab something, anything and throw it all on. Start running. Then up the stairs and down the stairs then up the stairs again. My arms are always so filled with books. My head so filled with ideas. My mouth so filled with words. I scurry from room to room barely able to catch my breath before diving into the next class. Chalk smudged in black.

But sometimes as I run, something lovely will catch my mind’s eye. A lavender mohair sweater. A silvery beaded jacket. A slim, long jacketed pearl grey suit. And I’m certain soon I’ll slip on a new outfit and transform once again.

 

 

Post #85: The Valley of Deepest Darkness

IMG_0341 (1)Soft and fragile as rose petals, their stems left long in the vase, one stands poised and tensed over the yawning abyss, toes curled just over the edge. Terrified and overwhelmed, a sweet cake pulled too soon from the oven, the center slowly sinking.

A wire severed? A connection lost? But no! Remember!

***

He takes his lunch to sit with a kid he doesn’t much like because the kid is alone at a lunch table.

He insists on saying hello every single day to one who is unable to say hello back.

She listened when nothing said made any sense.

He faces his tormentors, is unexpectedly kind to them, and then walks away.

She made the phone call she didn’t want to make.

He found a few right words and said them out loud.

She stopped what she was doing to fix the copy machine.

She noticed the new haircut.

She said “I love you” when it was least expected and needed most.

He shared the Ring Dings.

He forgave the unexpected outburst.

She said she was sorry. And really was.

He shared the idea.

She stayed up all night to read the poems.

He remembered not just the birthday, but so many other un special special days as well.

He held my hand.

She attempts to understand the heretofore incomprehensible, from football to lyric poetry, simply because the loved people loved these things.

She was the person to mention a weight loss when one thought no one noticed.

He did the dishes. Night after night.

She knew when to say nothing at all.

***

Reaching out and reaching beyond ourselves. We do. These moments float around us like the nearly imperceivable motes from a dandelion. Look up. They are there.

Is being kind the bravest act of all? And if one has been kind, if one has been loved, is the soul then set free?

Psalm 23: The Tanakh (The Hebrew Bible, 1985)
1. The Lord is my shepherd;
I lack nothing.
2. He makes me lie down in green pastures:
He leads me to water in places of repose;
3. He renews my life;
He guides me in right paths
as befits His name.
4. Though I walk through a valley of deepest darkness
I fear no harm, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff — they comfort me.
5. You spread a table before me in full view of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my drink is abundant.
6. Only goodness and steadfast love shall pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
for many long years.

 

For SAB, z”l