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

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Post #84: Evanescence

IMG_7354It happens when I least expect it. Thoughts of you drift through my mind like the atomized wafts of exquisite scent sprayed and spritzed with abandon through the aisles of Saks Fifth Avenue. Oh the perfume lingers!

Once I knew precisely how many days in a row you’d wear that striped shirt.

That no matter how many strawberries I bought it would never be enough.

That there is no joy as complete as four days off from school with new video games and hanging on to power in a power outage.

That there is no rushing when one is lucky enough to spot a sand wasp.

That pizza is meant to be Pepe’s and carved into strips not slices.

That Red Notebooks are for poetry and just the beginning.

That the joy of the Bach Double redoubled when you played half of it.

That jokes can zing and ping around the room like popcorn from an unending popper.

That breakfast in bed is not just for special occasions.

That bow ties are cool, especially when you wear them.

That we are ever and always outnumbered by cats.

That for you a book in hand is a book in heart.

That Thanksgiving is the perfect holiday, turkeyless and inviolate.

That three is the perfect number except when we are five.

Time, I think, is not torn asunder so much as it is the soft ripping of well worn, well loved flannel. They are missed. They are remembered. They are celebrated. They are so very loved.

They are coming home soon. Diving deep into memory to make memories anew!

 

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

Post #64: From the Tips of My Fingers

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The universe spun from the tips of my fingers. It loomed large in a tiny room at the museum.  All it took was a few cranks to set it in motion!  The solar system itself would start to whirl and swirl  and spin as all the planets would begin their personal pirouettes from speedy Mercury to sluggish Saturn.  All around the sun, calm and gracious, but always and ever unmoving.

I’ve been home for a long time. I wanted to be here. I was lucky to be here.  A loved and lovely slightly tumbled down house.  Lived in and deeply beloved.   Miraculously held together with duct tape and spit, scrambled full of everything from pop-up books to Pokemon cards. A warm cooky smell  always clinging to the air.  If you listened carefully you’d hear an entrancing cascade of crazy rhythms,  the gentle strumming of a mandolin or perhaps the low down sound of the blues.  Enter through the red door to find us all.  You’d know just where to find me.  I’d be at the center of everything, stirring at the stove.

But the planets keep moving, as just they should.  So exquisitely beautiful to watch them all spinning!  But just to watch?

What’s out there to find? What’s out there to see? What’s out there to do?

Open the door, down the steps, around the path. You have to look up. Of course  I look up.  There it  is!   The warm  embrace of the sky. Oh! It’s as if time stretches and pulls itself open before me.

Will it destroy the laws of physics if my heart and mind remain at the center of my private little universe yet still soar on their own?

Perhaps in this case, the sun does in fact move.

For the first time, in a long time I wake up in the light.  And my head, my head is suffused with dreams!

A Taste for Jazz and Lime-Vanilla Ice

img_6499To honor the memory of my cousin Martin Slobin, z”l, I am reposting blog post #14 from February 24, 2015. We lost Marty on December 6, 2001.

With love to Marty and my Aunt Bess, z’l and my Aunt Rose, z’’l.   Cherished.

***

I was one of those precocious little Suzuki violin kids. We were schooled strictly in classical music, that is, as soon as we could scrape through Mississippi River. My first violin was quarter size and our early training involved marching around the room trying to keep the violins tucked under our little chins. Tiny violins bounced everywhere. But music really exploded for me on Sunday afternoons when I got to watch Bill Kennedy at the Movies on WKBD-TV channel 50 in Detroit. Bill Kennedy was the faded, slightly pompous former B movie actor who hosted the show. He had this one great scene as a tennis pro with Bette Davis in Dark Victory, which he referred to often.   It was here that I watched my first musicals: Top Hat, Singin’ in the Rain, Meet me in St. Louis, The Band Wagon. This was the music, these were the songs that I really fell in love with, the ones that stuck in my head.

Someone noticed.

That person was my cousin Marty.

He wasn’t at all the type of person you’d expect to notice things. But he did.

Marty was my mother’s first cousin. He shared an apartment with my two great Aunts. my grandmother’s sisters, Bess and Rose. My grandmother lived alone in the apartment across the way. My sisters and I would always see the Aunts and Marty at holiday dinners or be trooped unwillingly across the parking lot to visit their little apartment. It was hot in there and there wasn’t much to do except answer questions about whatever it was we were doing. The Aunts hung on our every word and beamed at us for even the smallest accomplishments. We should have feasted on this avalanche of praise and affection but we didn’t really. We felt squirmy and uncomfortable.

At some point in the conversation, Marty, Bess’s grown up son, would be summoned from his room to say hello to us. Marty’s room was a great mystery. No one was ever allowed in there. Not even my Aunts. But the door was ajar once and I peeked inside.   What I saw was a fantastic jumble of books and records amidst the whorl of an unmade bed. It was a mess, it was utter comfort, it was a refuge and a fortress. It reminded me a lot of my bedroom at home.

Marty always entered the living room slowly and bashfully even though this was his home, he was the adult and we were just little kids.

He was a heavyset man with dark curly hair. He smiled a lot. He perspired a lot too—the apartment was kept extra warm for my Aunts—so much so that his thick black glasses slid constantly down his nose. But the look of appreciation on his face, no matter if I was talking about whatever old movie I’d just seen, what music I’d played or some song I loved, was real.

I was probably self-importantly talking about some play that I’d been in at camp when he got really excited and went to his room. He returned with Allan Sherman’s My Son, the Nut, which he placed gently on the turntable. Marty was the first person to play “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah “ for me. I got it. It was cool. The albums that were stacked along side were by people like Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and John Coltrane. I wasn’t ready for them yet. Not by a long shot.

At holiday dinners he usually didn’t say much. He would always wear a tie although he always looked like he’d rather take it off. If there were uncomfortable silences he would always talk and talk about how much he loved the spinach.

On the violin I learned how to play Leroy Anderson’s Fiddle Faddle and would have gone crazy with joy if I had somehow heard about jazz violinist Joe Venuti but I didn’t. I was a high octane behind the scenes high school theatre person. I did my best to keep up in chorus class. I was hurt that I wasn’t a part of the revered Madrigals singing group at Kingswood (my sister Lisa was) but I still found that I completely and totally loved harmonic singing.

I overheard that several times a year Marty would take the train to Toronto to go to Jazz clubs or Jazz festivals. I don’t know who he saw up there. Chick Corea? Charlie Mingus? I don’t remember him playing that music for us on those afternoon visits. Was he too shy? Did he feel his connection to that music too private to share? Or did he know that to truly fall in love with something you need to discover it yourself?

I had heard the stories. That he had asthma and terrible allergies. That he was babied by his mother, my Aunt Bess, who coddled and overfed him. That he wasn’t allowed out to play much as a little kid and had a way of running with his flat feet slapping the pavement and his arms flapping wildly in the air. That he hated driving and took the bus, a true anomaly in car crazy Detroit. That he was smart. Really, really smart.

Over the years he never once made one of those cringe worthy comments about “how much I’d grown.” But I knew he noticed when he said that I reminded him of Janis Siegel of the Manhattan Transfer. By then I liked songs like Sing, Sing, Sing, Java Jive, and Dream a Little Dream of Me. Progress.

After college I lived in Brooklyn before Brooklyn was cool. I stretched meager paychecks by buying groceries at Balducci’s with my Dad’s American Express card. But one night I went to the renowned Blue Note all by myself, to hear “The Divine One”, Sarah Vaughan. In that cramped jazzy space, I sat alone at the bar drinking Bloody Marys at nighttime. It was the only drink I knew how to order. But there, on that wonderful night, I actually heard Sassy herself sing Misty.

After that night I knew why Marty went to the Jazz clubs in Toronto.

I was away from home for a long time. I grew up, I worked, I married, I had children. Back in Detroit, my Aunts died. Marty was left alone. He moved to his own apartment.   Alone a lot in New York, I listened to music. On my own I discovered Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald. Peggy Lee. The Boswell Sisters.

Then Marty died as well.

He was only 55. It was from his obituary that I learned that he was a revered and award winning Political Science lecturer at the University of Michigan Dearborn, known for both his bristling intellect and unfailing kindness to his students.

It had never occurred to me to ask what kind of work he did.

Of all the stories in Ray Bradbury’s beautiful Dandelion Wine my favorite is “The Swan”. Drawn together at a soda fountain over the unusual order of “a dish of lime-vanilla ice” young Bill Forrester meets and befriends 95-year-old Helen Loomis. Despite the extreme differences in age the two form a transcendent bond. It’s clear they were meant to be together, but according to Helen, just not in this life. Maybe the next. Or perhaps the next one after that. Ray Bradbury does not leave us with a happy ending in this story but instead with a wistful, open-ended one.

Maybe this is true for lost friendships as well.

But all I know is that I desperately miss someone I never really knew at all.

A MILLION MARVELOUS MOMENTS

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The Conjurer

The almond cookies bitten through, the fortune cookies cracked. Even the egg foo young was done,  each deliciously unctuous, brown-sauced bite forked, savored, swallowed.

There was only one thing left to do. Like a conjurer, my mother gracefully sweeps her hands over the table finishing with fists full of soy sauce packets.  She kicks refrigerator door open wide and shuffles the deck of sauce packets into the side compartment with the finesse and aplomb of a Vegas black jack dealer. 

There are already about hundred sauce packets saved inside. Why so many saved?  She winks and smiles. Because, you know, you never know.

The Sweetest Hour

It was the sweetest hour.  The sky was dim but not dark. The warm scent of lilacs were bursting from their buds, the heady perfume mingling with the verdant clip of newly mown grass.   Too early in the season  for the Dads and the barbeques. But just right for the jump ropes and bikes out on the streets.  Who could be anywhere but outside?  And so we were.  All of us.

The car came from nowhere and it came fast.  No one looked up until the screech of tires. Our sheepdog, Charlotte, had wandered into the middle of the street. When the car came at her she froze, to frightened to move.

But still safe. Because my mother had leapt out of nowhere to throw herself between the oncoming car and her baby, our dog.  The car just missed them both. My mother could leap? She could.  And she did.

Hudson’s Department Store

My mother’s hands, as lithe and as delicate as the wings of a moth, glide over the makeup counter, Tangee or Cherries in the Snow?  A spritz of Evening in Paris on her wrist, the scent envelops me, warms me as she curls her  arm around my shoulders.   Like identically dressed ions the three of us pirouette and skip around her, our focus, our center.  As we journey through the store I run my hand over the highways and byways of raw silk, through the satisfying bumps and  nubbles of Harris Tweed,  down deep through the soft thicket of cashmere.

If we are good —oh we are trying to be good—we will have a special lunch in the Hudson’s Dining Room.  We sit together in a banquette of green leather. Our feet dangle precariously from the seat and our toes stretch to touch the carpet.  We peek: your toes barely touch too!. Peanut butter and jelly, a cookie, a carton of milk, a slightly mashed banana for each of us. Cup after cup of black coffee from a silver pot  poured for you. Our lunch comes in a fancy bag.  There is a prize inside too but it almost doesn’t matter. What we want most is to be here, to  sit right across the table from you.

Your life is a million marvelous little moments. These are just a few. Thank you everything past, thank you for everything yet to come. Happy birthday, Mom.  And many, many more.

Post #55: The Sweetness of Nearness

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“The insect does not aim at so much glory. It confines itself to showing us life in the inexhaustible variety of its manifestations; it helps us to decipher in some small measure the obscurest book of all, the book of ourselves.” Jean-Henri Fabre

They are all surrounded by sweetness. Diligent, caring, and oh so industrious. They burrow and they buzz, their soft fuzzy bodies bely their stingers as they nuzzle and cuddle together. Stacked in hexagonal bunk beds that lock together like legos. All equal: they eat, they rest, they live, they love.

Flying far afield they swoop and swerve, pirouetting from flower to flower. Sated, consumed, exhausted. Even so, they know they always have a hive to come home to. Sweetness at its source. It oozes thick and slow, enrobing and ennobling them, caressing them all. So very, very sweet.

Their hearts and souls beat as one.

***

I buzz busily through my day, day after day. I rattle and I roar from place to place, nervously tapping and thumping and bumping and bungling. Sated, consumed, exhausted. But there are always tiny drops of honey. I guzzle them greedily: a nod, a smile a door held open. But eventually I do come home. If I wait, if I am patient, someday soon we all will all alight here, nipping together at the honeycombs, tasting the sweetness of nearness. We are here, whenever we get here, for each other. We always will be.

No matter how far away any of us fly, the hive remains. It always remains. Welcoming to loved ones, again and again. For always.

But I miss you all. I miss you. I do.

I dream. We are all together, enrobed and ennobled in sweetness.

Soon.