Post #103: The Riot of Roots

IMG_2690The air is so heavy, so moist I almost feel as if I could grab great fistfuls of it all, smash it together,  and fling them as summer snowballs.

It has been raining, incessantly it seems, but today, miraculously it is not. In truth, I don’t want to go outside but the fact that it’s actually dry is more than little guilt inducing. So I sidle onto the front porch, tentatively blinking into the sunlight like a mole who has just emerged from her subterranean warren.  The heat around me bears down like a heavy woolen blanket and I am absorbing the feeling of flame, my skin almost crackling, sweat beginning to drip like pan juices.

From high up on the porch I can look down on the cars below, their metallic shells gleaming in the harsh sunlight like the brilliantly colored backs of the jewel beetles, suburban scarabs.

The walkway curves in front of me, but I’m dragging, I’m dawdling.  Oh  go, just go for a bit!  And so I do, sluggishly shucking off my lethargy and dipping into the afternoon.

My feet slap awkwardly at the pavement a bass thrum counterpoint to the soft muted blue of the sky.  The grass is uncombed and unruly, having grown bold and swaggering after weeks of rain.  Weeds sprout with insolent abandon, bullying the surrounding flowers. There is no one on the streets, save myself, and even the cars scoot by furtively as if ashamed to be out in this heat.

And yet, the houses look cool, calm, collected. These are proud little city houses, each perched on  tiny intricately formed postage stamp plots, buildings that sprout in proper formation like the petals of a bachelor’s button, their stubby front yards bearded with hedges trimmed so tight and so crisp that I swear you could bounce a quarter off the tops.

The trees that anchor the sidewalks appear isolated,  standoffishly separate. But I know that’s not true. I know they are all linked by an unseen riot of roots reaching deep to the center of the earth, stretching always towards each other, clinging to the soil.

I think about this for a moment because it’s that linkage that I am yearning for this afternoon,  that linkage that I crave.

***

We stumble through our days, all of us so busily patterned, the lines of our anxious movements separately mapped like the intricate tunnels of an ant farm.  The lonely paths seem so separate,  a crisscross such a bitter rarity.

For all of you who are so very far away, I wonder what your days are like, do we sometimes wake at the very same instant, choose the exact same sandwich for lunch, laugh at the same absurd joke, dream the same dreams?

I wonder.

Forget cell phones and texts dinging at us all for just a moment or two.  I love that too, it’s fun and a bit titilating and you bet I love it as much as everyone else does. 

But there is something even better.

Once, a very long time ago, someone I loved very much was very far away.  We made a plan.  Separated by miles and oceans and time zones nonetheless we would think of each other at the very same moment.  Eyes tightly shut, hearts reaching out, a connection that crackled.   It happened, it can happen again and again.

Because of course, below the surface, roots run deep, steadying the trees to grow strong and upright,  but always as well reaching out towards each other, for each other.  Deeply connected. Beyond time and place.

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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 #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

Post #75: Let Us Eat Cake

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And so, Gentle Readers, we’ve come to one of those moments.  If you’ve been counting, as have I,  this is post number seventy-five.   A three year parade of every other Tuesday, posts, ticking around and around  like a baseball card in the spokes of a bike wheel.  One after another after another.  Should there be banners and fireworks and flag waving and please oh please oh please, oh hopefully cake?

Well sure, but if so not because this is anything really extraordinary.    If so only because I happen to like all of those things very much.  Especially so for the cake and most especially for lemon cocoanut cake.

In other words, Ladies and Gentlemen, if this blog is about anything at all it’s about celebrating not markers but moments:  being aware of them and appreciating them. Little moments, small memories, tiny observations.

I found myself on a very long journey yesterday, white knuckled fingers gripping the wheel from the helter skelter suburban sprawl of Orchard Lake Road and the interminable spin around the roundabouts to the the straight shot of Route 80 marking the hours, the milage, the minutes from the ubiquitous Ohio rest stops to  the Delaware Water Gap to the heart stopping Mario Kart swoop through the New Jersey Highway system to the truck-choked George Washington Bridge and finally home.  But it was a good trip.

It’s a five hundred mile road race I would undertake for only the best of reasons.  An important moment and an important number.  I was blessed to help celebrate my parents’ sixtieth wedding anniversary.

Thanks primarily to the efforts of my sisters, the support and love of husbands and grandchildren, the celebration was quietly perfect, as elegant as a flute of Veuve Cliquot.  The evening itself was a simple and special.  This for my quietly remarkable parents, people who love the people they love truly and deeply. They do not focus on special events but rather are concerned with making small moments special.  That, I think is one of their great gifts and perhaps the secret to their many wonderful years together.

For me, anyway, that’s the lesson from my parents.  it’s always been about the moments.  It’s about truly paying attention.

And when I thought about it, as I did as I stared down the straight shot of Route 80, squinting into the sun and trying not to be edged off the road by tandem trucks, I realized that in fact every one of these small bi-weekly missives have in fact been just that:  an effort to pay attention, a collection of moments.

Gathering them all together, whether I’m remembering my five-year old scurry up to the top of a sand dune or stopping to watch a tenacious bee reviving with a proboscis dip into a dot of honey, I’m giving myself a great gift. I’m simply stopping to think. 

When I look back at these seventy-five writings what I find is this phantasmagoria of moments, held together with the bi-weekly thrum of the posts.  If I look at the collection, as I surely will do soon, I’m certain to see patterns that I never knew existed.  And with luck, in those patterns  I’ll be able to see beyond just what I think I’ve been remembering, what I was certain I was seeing. Won’t that be something!

Like a cornucopia of pulsing, luminescent stars spilling across a velvety sky, my parents’ lifetime of connect the dot moments have knit us all together for always. We know how lucky we are.

So as I continue with these posts, I too want to see what’s beautiful, remember what was fizzy and fun, and connect with those that I love and those I’ve yet to meet.  For ultimately what else is there?

Therefore, as far as I’m concerned. celebrate any moments that suit you at any time. And of course, for those of you so inclined, that does in fact mean cake. Champagne, although optional, of course is always good too.

Thanks for coming along with me. As ever, with love, C

“Your One Wild and Precious Life”

FullSizeRender (3)It was really no big deal. Except it was. One heavy, sluggish afternoon I was at home. Alone in the empty kitchen. Alone in the house. Alone. Like an aproned conductor poised on the podium I really knew this melody to my very soul, I’ve played it so many times before. I pulled ingredients from the cupboards, pots and pans from the shelves. Oh please! I could do this with my eyes closed. But I didn’t. When I was finished things were different. There was a plate full of cookies. But not the usual blondie squares. Not the standard oatmeal chocolate chip. Not the ubiquitous rice crispie treats.   I had made poppy seed cookies. No one’s favorite. Except mine.

.***

Before I was born my Great-grandmother Rachel Leah made taiglach, hot honeyed pastry mounded into tiny hills, my mother’s memory so powerful that decades later even I could taste the sweetness on my tongue.

***

With the pride and bearing of a queen, my Grandma “Anne with an e” presided over her kingdom. Her edible coffers emptied upon the white tablecloth and spread before us with the glory of a cornucopia, should a cornucopia be filled with platters of sliced meats and bowls of whipped potatoes. At the end we were awarded tins crammed full of Mandelbrot. Chocolate chip for us. Walnut for her boy, my Dad.

***

“It’s nothing,” my little Gram demurred, “it’s not even baking really!” but still she would casually toss ingredients up into to a bowl. Then with the coiled strength of a Billie Jean King backhand she would use her whisk to serve up perfect Lemon Meringue pies. Love all.

***

Every Sunday morning The Egg Master reverently unwrapped his iron skillet. Do you want your eggs scrambled or boiled, stuffed or shirred? Guaranteed delicious, guaranteed perfectly done, guaranteed done exactly the way he wants them for you.

Later he would pile everyone into the car for a long ride for big scoops of ice cream. We could never finish. And no matter the flavor, be it Bubble Gum or Butter Crunch or Blue Moon, The Egg Master would manfully lick down the excess, no complaints.

***

Tureens of soup from my mother, thick with vegetables and anchored with chunks of flanken bobbing like buoys in a thick pea green ocean. Endless bowls from a never-ending tureen of serve yourself. Full of warmth.

***

My husband is stretched like a long pull of salt-water taffy, all six feet of him. When we walk together he holds my hand and I am practically horizontal as I’m pulled along. Like Miss Clavel rushing to Madeleine, I run fast faster fastest to keep up, my legs in a whirl.

But when I walk by myself I can move more slowly, keep my feet right on the ground. Then there is time then to see. Then there is time to think. So I do.

As I walk, Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day” floats into my mind. That last imploring line sticks fast: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I barely take a breath before I blurt out “anything I want!”

Then I realize that is precisely what I’m doing. That’s just what all the others did. Caring for those they love most. I hope too, like me, they learned to sometimes make their own kind of poppy seed cookies and care for themselves as well. Because the combination, mixed up all  together, is simply sublime.

 

 

A SLOW, VISCOUS SIP

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I can feel them rolling slowly over my tongue like the first slow, viscous sips of The Famous Grouse. (Katharine Hepburn’s favorite tipple.) A pause and then they melt away to a pleasant tingle.

Some caress with the warmth of a beloved companion. Others pelt with the rata tat insistence of a torrent of hail. Either way, I greedily gather them up and hold them close. I want them. Knitted together like a riotous, crazy quilt that’s remade again and again.

Treated honorably and placed with care a single one can remake the world.

They are all mine. My gems, my jewels my Kingdom. But I have been known to share. Some of us do. Everyone should, albeit carefully. Handle lovingly and with care. They are so very powerful.

I know you know what I’m talking about. . A marvelous jumble, a never-ending torrent, a luxuriant cascade of what is arguably our most valuable commodity. Fill your head and your heart and your soul with them.

Words.

They don’t have to be fancy. They just have to be the right ones at the right time.

They deserve to be used for the right reasons: to reach out, to connect, to communicate.

If they are used to obfuscate, then at least let the message behind the mask be honest and kind. Some of us have our reasons.

Long ago at school we memorized list after list of them. Daunting for sure but we were not being handed an arsenal with which to go forth into battle. Instead we were being given the keys to an overflowing treasure chest to constantly draw from and replenish for always.

“Enter to learn. Go forth to serve.”

They are my joy and my path to everything: my understanding of the world, my loves, and my whole life.

There is no greater honor than finding the right one at the right time for the right person.

They are there for the taking and they are there for all of us. They are meant to be savored and they are meant to be used

wisely.

***

Note: This post is dedicated with the greatest humility and deepest thanks to the great La Rouchefoucauld, author of MAXIMS. He spoke volumes with mere handfuls of words.

TANGLED QUILTS

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I don’t really remember the movie. But I do remember this scene.

At the end of Reuben, Reuben, (Tom Conti and Kelly McGillis, 1983) the two lovers are outside in a park and they angrily part ways. It’s over.

But as the woman leaves she turns and looks back tentatively to the man. He’s looking down and misses her vulnerable, longing glance. She turns away. Just as she turns away, the man looks up hopefully but sees only the woman’s back, walking resolutely away from him. And so the relationship irrevocably breaks, lives are forever changed, for want of split second of timing.

I can hardly bear it. So much conveyed in a glance. But the glances were missed. What would have could have happened?

**

I desperately do not want to miss glances. Nor do I want to misconstrue notes or emails or texts. And those looks and notes and calls keep coming at me, they come at all of us, so thick and so fast! I try to keep up—I can’t really keep up. I delay, I phumpher, I make mistakes. I know that I do. Worse, even if I am looking up am I reading that glance or that text the right way? What am I missing? What might I misinterpret? And selfishly, how fearful might misunderstanding make me? Worse still, if I err, how alone?

Interpreting glances, bold attempts to understand the clumsy, truncated haiku of a tweet, text, or an email is an art form, one made of split second timing and the kind of bravery that cliff jumpers possess.

I know it’s a kind of bravery worth cultivating. Bravery worth having.

Even though I’ve placed so much emphasis on the meaning of a fleeting glance, on possibly misinterpreting the off-hand wording of a message, there is something even more important to consider.

If you’ve ever said, “I love you”, you know. Because if one is brave enough to say those words, to feel them, to mean them, one has to be brave enough to fight through the inevitable insecurity and fear—all the missed glances, all half-written thoughts—that will follow.

A relationship is far more than a series of glances—missed or otherwise — haphazardly laid atop one another. Instead I think of relationships as wonderfully tangled quilts —those sewn together steadily, slowly, over time– which we can pull from our bags and wrap ourselves in whenever, however we need to. These are the words and the stories and met glances that knit together to tell the deeper stories of our connection, of our lives and to remind us, as we all need to be reminded sometimes, of our love.

We want our connections to be like a firm, unbroken chains when too often they’re twisted like those little metal conundrum puzzles. The kind that take patience to work through and give such pleasure when they’re completed.

Remember the puzzles. Reach for the quilt when you need it. Much love.