Post #87: Come to the Table

IMG_1839

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

Advertisements

Post #84: Evanescence

IMG_7354

It 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!

HOLIDAY

FullSizeRender

In keeping with my utterly indoorsy nature, I’ve found the best way to stay warm and content in the freezy cold during the holiday season. Beaches are lovely, but sausaged into a bathing suit I am not, ski slopes are inspiring but steep. I’ve been around a while. I know what I am doing. I am happiest and safest basking in the warm glow of the TV. It pays to be picky though. This year I went on holiday with the movie Holiday.

For any of you who aren’t familiar with this 1938 George Cukor directed gem, Holiday is one of the best pairings of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. A quickie synopsis: Cary Grant (Johnny Case in the movie) plays a hardworking young man who meets and falls in love with a woman named Julia Seton, (NOT Katharine Hepburn) on his first ever vacation, is smitten, and immediately proposes. Once back in New York he’s invited to lunch and is stunned to discover that he’s about to marry into one of the wealthiest families in the city. His fiancée Julia, however, is determined to impress her austere and humorless father and propel Johnny into the stratosphere of the family business. It would appear this self-made man is about to hit the jackpot. But here’s the twist: Johnny Case, a man who has been working constantly he says “since he was ten years old” wishes to retire early and work late. He wants to enjoy life while he’s young. He’s amassed a small sum for this purpose. His fiancée is appalled. Luckily for him (and the movie) her sister Linda, played by Katharine Hepburn, is entranced.

Pleasures of watching Grant and Hepburn aside, I’ve nurtured what I thought was the central conceit of this movie–retire early and work late— for a lifetime, ever since first saw it when I was about 14. I mean really, how appealing to retire and enjoy life first and work later? Except that gung ho and hyped up even then, I didn’t do it. Immediately after college I hopped a plane to New York and shoe horned myself into a publishing career. Screeched to an about face to stay at home with my sons. Was grudgingly transformed into a PTA guru. Unexpectedly tripped into a teaching career. Cut forward many years. Here I am. Based on what I thought was the premise of this movie; I’ve been aggressively working through my youth and should be deeply unhappy. But most assuredly I am not.

Here is why. Let’s retell the story.

In college I studied what I loved best, majoring in art history, immersing myself in not just the beauty of the works, but seeing the world through the prism of artistic creation. When it was time, I took those visions, those viewpoints and made them work in the work world helping to create titles involving everything from science books to cookbooks, how-tos to children’s books. It was my choice to stop work and stay at home with my boys. I consider myself lucky to experience the joy of being invited to share rice crispie treats and juice boxes under the secluded sheets of a table fort.  I am proud of (sometimes) saying just the right words to make a roomful of tired and hungry 5th graders reach inside themselves to think things they’ve never thunk before.

So really. Have I been working the whole way through, or have I really been on holiday the whole time without even realizing it? Either way, why stop?

I get to be wrong here. In spite of my longstanding love for this movie, it’s not really about retiring early, working late at all. It’s about doing things that you love, if you are especially lucky, with the person or persons you love. Sometimes it’s about inventing and reinventing yourself if life’s path zigs where you expected it to zag. It’s about perspective.   It’s about finding a way to enjoy life.

An old friend once admonished me: “Do something kind for yourself every day.” Go on. Do it. Happy Holidays and Happy and Healthy New Year to all.

CAVIAR WITH A SOUP SPOON, MINT CHIP WITH A LADLE

FullSizeRender

I’m in deep. Buried. Delighted. Staked my claim to the couch, right next to the mountain of laundry that might be clean, might not be (can’t remember). And it’s only page 254.

If you say you don’t know what I’m talking about I swear I won’t believe you. It’s happened to you. How could anyone miss a feeling this all encompassing delicious? In this case the volume that’s snagged me is a gigantic tome called The Green Treasury crammed with essays by some of the world’s finest natural history writers, from Rachel Carson to Maurice Maeterlinck to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Gorging on a compendium is dangerous business though. Kind of like eating caviar with a soup spoon. Or mint chip with a ladle. I’ve done both—same result. Don’t care.

At any rate, at some point during my reading revelries I was slapped with an uncomfortable realization. I love reading about natural history but find nature itself tempestuous and unnerving. I don’t go out to smell the first roses of spring nor crouch by ponds to watch bullfrogs burrow into mud. It’s cold out there. Possibly wet. Coffee can be distant. Now that I think about it, it’s possible that I am the indoorsiest person on the planet.

But I like it here. I know the terrain. Or at least I think I do. There’s a famous scene from Guys and Dolls where Sky Masterson bets Nathan Detroit that he is so oblivious that he has no idea what color tie he’s put on that morning. I tried the same experiment by closing my eyes and trying to remember which paintings were on the walls of which rooms. Low score, no curve. Do over.

So I decided to look around.

There are first and foremost a lot of books everywhere, in every room, jumbled, piled, stacked, loved. There are people who adore books who take pleasure in keeping them in stunning Dewey Decimal’d glory but I am not one of them. I actually enjoy not finding exactly what book I’m searching for immediately because then I’ll find five or six more on the way that I hadn’t expected to find. I’d never want to deny myself the pleasure of those searches.

It’s that element of surprise that I truly love. Surprise is everywhere here. Over the years I’ve stashed odd bits of tiny amazements squeezed in around and between titles. A folded popcorn container from the Michigan/Ohio State game. A rare “Trumpet Horn” harmonica. A tiny glass case sheltering the Laffy Taffy that pulled out one of my son’s first baby teeth. (Probably should get rid of that one, but not just yet).

If I stop and sniff the kitchen stills smells faintly of risotto experiments and oatmeal cookies, even though with everyone everywhere I don’t make either much any more.  There’s the teapot that was purchased by small people with dimes and dollars saved over a long long time. A big plastic cube that is filled with masses of multi-colored super balls, all purchased from the same cookie cutter Ohio rest stops over so many visits to see loved ones. A framed Blazing Saddles movie poster because I really love my husband. A gallon jug of Tabasco just because.

If there is a nod to both nature and science, it’s seen in the Wild Strawberry Wedgwood dishes in the dish rack. (Charles Darwin’s mother was from the famed Wedgwood family). In spite of their expense and delicacy these are and have always been the everyday dishes simply because they are beautiful.  “A macaroni and cheese by any other name would taste as delicious” on Wild Strawberry.

Even the drawers are crammed full of wonders. The 12 Tribes Trivet, a wedding gift from my childhood violin teacher and in all honesty the only wedding present I can actually remember. A stub of a Blackwing pencil (Half The Pressure, Twice the Speed), jewel of all writing implements. I crave them. The metallic jingle of half a dozen M discs, the kind that the Metropolitan Museum of Art handed out to patrons before succumbing to paper stickers. A Pikachu keychain. Or maybe it’s Charmander. Whatever. It was all still there.

If I felt like paying attention, I’d see dust tumbleweeds and cat snagged curtains and unmade beds. But those things can be taken care of when I choose to. Not yet. Maybe soon.

A comfortably rumpled space once filled with people. It percolates with memories, waiting for the right moment for me to flip the switch. I didn’t look at photographs as I moved through the house. I didn’t need to. I remembered everyone and everything. They’re coming home soon for Thanksgiving. I won’t be reading then. Welcome back. Can’t wait.