Post #96: A Gallimaufry of Wonders

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If, during the raucous pelter of the day it all gets to be just a bit too too much, there is always a ready respite. Just for a moment, not more than that, I close my eyes. The thoughts come tentatively at first, curling like wisps of steam from a cup of Russian Caravan. Then bit by bit memories begin first to blend and then to break free, my thoughts expanding like a balloon being plumped full of air.

Ah! For a few precious moments I am transported to that joyous jumble. Shoes off at the door, toes curling with pleasure, in my mind I am home!
THE LIVING ROOM

On the mantel, four memorable baseballs, three mementos of dearly beloved cats, two crystal Hershey’s kisses, and one magnificent and eminently playable, Trumpet Call Harmonica. An over large bellboy teapot, a Lester Lanin cap, a Bibendum ashtray (never used). A Waterford crystal vase, artfully filled with Blackwing pencil nibs.

On the coffee table, a game of Clue, in perpetual play!

Yes, there must be a couch, of course there are chairs. I believe there are lamps as well. And when I squinch my eyes tight and concentrate, I’m sure there are a few tables and I’m guessing some curtains as well. No matter!

Because of course, as always, I’m drawn to the books on the shelves like a tenacious ant to a drop of honey on the kitchen counter. English Country House Murders next to Idioms Delight. The Physiology of Taste sidling up to The Ethics of the Sages. Dandelion Wine elbowing for space on a shelf with Meetings with Remarkable Trees, Plotted, Northern Farm, Greeks and Romans Bearing Gifts, and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and Dessert Book all in a temerarious tumble!

To order them would be an affront. There are hidden mysteries, notes, photographs, perhaps the stray two dollar bill, amongst them, slipped surreptitiously between the pages. But which ones? Where? When? The game’s afoot!

The books make this a room for truly living. The living room.

DINING ROOM

Mounds of risottos, sides of salmon, pots of chili!

Meatloafs bricked together with smashed, mashed potatoes, studded with peas of the brightest green.

The occasional briefcase full of White Castle Burgers, a pepper and onion pizza pie, a tub of mint chip, a dish of vanilla, a cone of fudge ripple.

And yet…

While the music of memorable meals past plays upon my tongue, my fingers still reach out. In the corner by the big chair is my violin, my mandolin, my ukulele, my box of harmonicas, my sliding whistle, my finger piano, my kazoo. I’m Beginning to See the Light, How High the Moon? You Made Me Love You, Peg O’My Heart, Ain’t Misbehavin’ , In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening.

The cacophonous, slightly out of key intermezzos to every cooking exploit.

THE KITCHEN

A cupboard creaks open. Next to the stacks of chipped Wedgwood Wild Roses, in front of the teetering towers of teacups, are three small, well used bubble wands. Peek behind a curtain to find Lowly Worm in his Applemoble. In the tea cabinet, a tiny Cracker Jack sailor whistle guards the boxes of Camomile, Earl Grey, and Lemon Lift. Look carefully in one more and find poised between the jars of peanut butter and jelly, a slightly globby, clearly handmade miniature sculpture of a unmistakably oversized orange cat, the whiskers drawn with the proud and unsteady hand of a very small child.
Tiny treasures, placed by me. But no surprise that they surprise and please me each and every time I see them.

THE LOUNGE

Feet up, flat out , completely flopped.

THE PORCH

In the dark the sparkly lights are switched on, outside the stars glint in the night sky. And the music plays. Honky Tonk Piano to Hayden, Fats Waller to the Four Seasons, Bille, Ella, Lena, Sarah. Sousa Marches Frank Sinatra. Barbershop Quartets. The Boswells Sisters. Knit to the rhythm. Jigsaw puzzle to the beat.

***

Too soon, it’s time to leave. Back to work, back to the day at hand. The movie reel trip home has to come to an end.

But I’ve done it. I’ve traveled through my house once again viewing what is surely a gallimaufry of wonders filled to the brim like the cache of nonpareil tiny toys at the dentist.

A  bit more time, and I really will be home for dinner for real!

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Post #95: I Cannot Find the Words

IMG_0078IMG_1965For Joel

When there isn’t much time to say what needs to be said,  or you are here and I am there,  I remember this: that from the beginning, wherever we’ve gone,  you’ve always held my hand.

My heart still soars.  I cannot find the words.  Except to say thank you. And that I love you.

As ever, C

Post #93: Circling Back, Then Forward

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I sit stunned for a moment when I finally make myself subtract out the years. Once upon a time I flew away. All by myself.

Window seat on the plane when I actually cared about such things. Nose pressed to the glass. When the plane curled around Manhattan, my eyes reached out hungrily, greedily for the city that seemed close enough, even soft enough, to wrap my arms around. Just like so many before me. And so many after.

My fingers grip the handle of a prized remnant from my Bat Mitzvah, a nubbled suitcase, my initials stenciled in gold. Once in the cab, the blasts of sound tremble through the glass, an undefinable melange of tumbling squeals with a few muffed, but still alarming screams. We move with a herky jerky stop start through the streets. I am avidly keeping track of all the Gristedes and dry cleaners as we move uptown. Just in case.

At the corner of 92nd and Lexington Avenue we stop. Single sex, single bed, double room, bathroom down the hall. The 92nd Street Y. But a place of welcome, of generosity, of possibility. My new home.

From here I will walk down Lexington all the way to 50th Street in the mornings and back up on Third to 92nd every evenings. I walk not for exercise but to save the bus fare. Each week I will buy a loaf of bread and a jar peanut butter from one of the Gristedes for lunches and dinners. I will hoard my quarters to sip instead the sludgy black coffee at work. But I will work at Knopf, the most sublime of publishing houses. And I will live where John Cheever spoke, where Martha Graham danced, where E.O. Wilson lectured. The 92nd Street Y.

In some ways, this is where I begin.

Yesterday, a lifetime or two away from then, I returned.

We walk together, my son Jared and I, the same streets, the same steps, the same Gristedes. He holds my hand to help me over the curbs, watches for the lights to make sure I stay safe. Back again to the 92nd Street Y. Once again, the welcome is oh so warm. Kind. Generous.

But this time the doors are opening for him. This evening, as we ascend the staircase we rise to listen to renowned poet Laura Kaschiche read from her own work. Her poems are by turns intimate and expansive, heart wrenching and hilarious.

She is his professor, his mentor, his friend. From the stage she calls his name. “Jared.”

My heart skips a beat.

The reading ends. At the first wave of tumultuous applause I squeeze his hand then head for the door. He turns to meet her. The applause continues. His turn, his home. Our joy.

THE BIRDS: ROCK DOVE  by Jared Frank  https://entropymag.org/the-birds-rock-dove/

Post #92: JUST A TASTE

IMG_1781My mouth has been fogged and cottony, the haggard repetition of mundane meals dulling my taste buds and muting my wintery senses. A conveyer belt of tedium: tepid tea and goodforme, mulitgrain toast, neon orange baby carrots dutifully dipped in bland hummus, blanched chicken breasts and burned burgers. Squinch my eyes shut and I’m sure I couldn’t tell one from the other. I root through the cupboards with the crazed abandon of a raccoon foraging through the trash but alas, come up unsated and empty handed.

Enough!

If my taste buds have been in hibernation, rouse them, even at risk of sheer gluttony!
***
Twin Pops

They burst forth from the freezer like the first purple iris of Spring! Rip open the paper with all the anxious abandon of Christmas morning to reveal the magnificent and longed for Twin Pop in all it’s icy double sticked glory. Take a bite to feel the the flavor. Sheer purpilyness. It’s very clear: Two hands deserve two popsicles.

***

Pot of Soup (with Flanken)

Burbling and bottomless, the big pot sits sedately on the stove. Filled to the brim with tube upon tube of Manichewitz Bean and Barley, the soup thickens first to swamp and then to an almost concrete. The heavy wooden spoon moves achingly through the mixture like an paddle through a muddy Mississippi. Hefty chunks of flanken flail into the mire, bobbing like buoys. Is it done? It needs to be done! Dip in the ladle and it’s serve yourself. Again and again, until sadly there is no more.

***

Farmers Chop Suey

Sesame, poppy seed, pumpernickel and plain the hot bagels jam and cram into corner of the table. To the right is a Pike’s Peak of smoked sable, nova, white fish and herring (both creamed and chopped) Across the way the eggs fluff into creamy yellow clouds and the babkas practically are bursting from their pans, patiently await their slicing. Right into the center my mother places a big glass bowl overflowing with Farmer’s Chop Suey, the vegetables sharp and fresh enrobed in cool creaminess. The most memorable, the perfect part of the plate.

***

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A Butterscotch Dip Cone
Once upon a time, when summer afternoons stretched languidly into evening and even the sun didn’t seem to want the day to end, we would head to Dairy Mat on Woodward Avenue. With every ice cream concoction and possibility known humankind — black raspberry, creme de menthe, tutti fruiti and so much more — it was not only possible but quite probable that Dairy Mat actually was the long dreamed of over the rainbow. Complete with sprinkles.

People only spoke in hushed whispers at this Temple, as they solemnly made their choices, the hum of cars providing a curiously gentle counterpoint.

Of course with thousands of choices, there is only one possible choice. That is the longed for and dearly beloved Butterscotch Dip Cone.

Just trust me on this.

***

IMG_0026The Chiapati

Take a salad and chop it fine. Throw it carelessly into a bowl. Squeeze a ridiculous amount of sub sauce on top of everything and toss, while staring moodily into space. Absentmindedly grab a blob of whole wheat dough and fling it into an oven hotter than Dante’s ninth circle of Hell. Listen rapturously while someone lightly hums Hail to the Victors. Take the puffed poof of dough out of the oven, hack of one end and casually stuff with the salad mixture. The never eat anything bigger than your head rule does not apply here. Pizza Bob’s is not a place I would ever consider eating pizza. Oh no never! Not when they make chiapatis.

***

It worked! My tongue tingles once again reminding me that there are sparkles and delights to eat not just to remember but yet to come. Perhaps, if I am very lucky, a black and white cookie from Zaro’s in Grand Central will find it’s way onto my plate tonight. One hopes!

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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 #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 #84: Evanescence

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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!