Summer 1955

Summer 1955

Nothing is moving today.

Neither the trees nor the grass

not the top parts of the ocean

nor the blacks birds over the path.

The heat falls onto us mid morning and

children

lose interest in torturing the dog.

I think I hear

the Good Humor man’s truck,

an echoing television from an open window,

the hiss hiss of the sprinkler whipping

around its three pronged medusa heads,

over the damp, soft grass.

Inside, a white eyelet nightgown’s

rustle, moving metal treasures in my

Grandmother’s drawers while she napped

with her eyes open.

My Mother’s Hair

My Mother’s Hair

My mother’s hair always escaped

from under her red kerchief or the

hairspray

lacquered on  for control and the hair

often went

dancing in a night club in Manhattan

even when she was in labor with

one of us. You can’t control wildness.

My mother lay, legs askew, baby

coming, never having  to push as Dr. Leroy

removed us with forceps while her hair was

dancing at the Stork Club and her waist, so

thin

turning sideways she could have been

an exclamation point or a bent spoon.

Her hair, curled in the heat and the moist

music, was happy as rhythm was the

clef of curl and the smoke, the smoke,

smoothed her out and persuaded her

life could be El Morocco and the possibility

of finding Mr.Rich.

Even after she found him she

worried he wouldn’t stay. He told her to

make

her hair softer. It was always

touch and go but he made the rules.

Older, her hair curled around nurses

who loved her sweetness while her children

longed to hear her truth.

You see, life was a silken tendril and a

Frigidaire,

TV dinners and flowered dresses with waists

cinched by men who knew how to lead.

Scissors hadn’t been invented and music

could anesthetize freedom. Hair could go

anywhere.

Wasp Homelife

WASP- Homelife

I hate Italian families.

When you see them in a group they’re always laughing and eating,

kissing and hugging and touching each other as if they really mean

it and they don’t mind being close.

Don’t they know that they’re not supposed to behave like that?

In the best of WASP families you never touch anything but a cheek

with another cheek.

You have children but they leave the house

young.

To a WASP there can be no answer as

nothing is written down.

It turns out your family will never resemble an Italian family. 

Never.

Wasps require large houses because everyone needs a greater than normal

amount of space in which to sequester themselves from their

childhood memories.

So if they can afford it they move into mansions and most of the

rooms are left empty.

Certainly on holidays there is one long table but it’s like

Covid before Covid.

I’m trying to learn how to be Italian.

I’m a genetic aberration.

I used to have a friend in the mafia who definitely was Italian.

He used to take me to dinner at the Italian club and during the meal

the table would shimmer and shake according to who was shooting what

weapon at the gun range on the floor below.

Having dinner with Vincent made me feel weirdly protected but

also somewhat

apprehensive . Like having indigestion before you even thought

about eating. I asked him to adopt me but that wasn’t what he had

in mind.

I found out a year ago that Vincent had died. I hate that.

People that you keep thinking of for years

and years and then suddenly you hear that you shouldn’t

have been thinking about them because

they were dead.

“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, we bury the upper crust!”

Motto from a WASP funeral company

A Sign

A Sign

My Daughter has been dead for nearly three years and I haven’t heard a word from her until yesterday, that is. You may think that sounds weird, but I was a big believer in communication with the dead.
Before she died, I believed there were all sorts of ghosts, spirits and parents out there who could and did communicate a lot! For the life of me I couldn’t get my Mom out of my head but now I like to hear her. Right after Tina died, I felt her near me, and I felt how worried she was to leave me. She could not get into her orbit and it was up to me to pray for her and to let her go which I did.
Dragon flies were plentiful around the bench she had last sat on in my garden and they stayed for days in the summer sun, something they never do. Reluctantly. They were Tina’s symbol.
She died a painful and terrible death and had quite a few minutes to struggle, to have changed her mind, to face the fact that it was too late, and to realize she would never see anyone here on earth again. I think she died because she didn’t see a way to happiness like many others who choose suicide. I think she had no idea what it would be like.
So, then I lost her and though the silence seemed right in the beginning, after a while it seemed wrong and bitter and empty and very unfair. It was a loud silence as if she had gone so far away that there was no trail to finding her and worse, she had lost the trail back to me.
I would chidingly talk to her photo when passing it in the hallway saying good morning and good night and ask why she was not in touch. I would try very hard to understand what her eyes were telling me. I would think about our time together when she was a child and what she was like and what we did together.
I came to know some of her friends better than I ever had when they were young. I reconnected with a babysitter who had been with us one summer. My way of healing was to keep listening to stories about my daughter and to keep on searching for understanding as to why she had ended out where she did.
I read through all her emails to me over the years both angry and loving. I looked at her artwork. I opened her trunk of childhood and removed dresses, coats, shoes and hats, holding each one in my hands, often pressing it to my face and always asking for a sign that she knew I was waiting to hear from her. That she knew I missed her.
I started to go to church but found many lacking. The expression on the faces of ministers often made me wonder what their diet was composed of. I never felt at home there and hated being greeted by strangers wanting to hug you.
Finally, I went to the church next door where Father Mike, my friend, was the priest. In the cavernous space filled sparsely with young and old, I found some serenity and I remembered how praying had helped me not be afraid of the dark as a kid. I began to pray. At first, it only took a minute before I went to sleep but as time went on there were so many people needing help.
You won’t understand this unless you have lost someone you love very much. Its just what people in mourning do.
Then one day everything changed. I was in the living room looking intently at a photograph of Tina and wishing once again I felt in touch with her. I said it out loud several times. I think I was beginning to cry.

Then my cell phone rang. It was my two-year-old granddaughter Rosemary, wanting to FaceTime with me. Rosemary was born one month after Tina died and my daughter and I think a part of Tina is in her. Rosemary wanted to talk about unicorns. Unicorns were Tina’s spirit animal.

I know I am in touch now and I got my sign

Our Front Hall

Our Front Hall

Our front hall had a very tall grandfather clock at the foot of the stairs keeping watch over the household. No one could wind it but my father and the clock defined the nights in regular chimes reaching everyone’s ears in everyone’s bedroom.There was a front hall table made of lustrous mahogany where mail and packages were placed daily.The legs of the table looked like a young girl with four legs curtseying all at once. I know because I spent a lot of time under there waiting for God knows what. My favorite part however In this wonderful area of our house was the front hall closet which no one could put anything in except for my father. It was his personal closet for his overcoat and his hats and his umbrellas and his galoshes. I don’t remember hearing we weren’t supposed to go in the closet so I went in the closet quite a bit. There was a shelf the hats were on that had a thumbtacked piece of decorative ribbon that was ruched: something I had never seen before. I took some delight in pulling a piece of it off and seeing what it felt like. My father had four or five coats in there and most of the coats were some range of the color gray. There were cashmere coats, and wool coats, and cotton coats, and canvas coats. The coats had a big life and seemed to go out a lot. Sometimes alone, and sometimes in pairs the coats went out in the world: across oceans and in airplanes, office buildings, and houses not ours, down inside boats, outside on sidewalks. They always came back home slightly different than when they had left. I knew this because when I went in the closet I would stand up inside each coat starting with my head going into the bottom because they were buttoned up, you see, and I would shimmy myself up to usually just the lowest button because my father was very tall and I was still short. I would stand there and breathe in the outside world imagining where he had been and who he had seen and the smell of old Spice would anesthetize me against the real world. In the closet I created whatever I wanted sometimes for hours. No one ever looked for me. I stood so still inside a coat I became a part of its life.

Letting Go When There Is No Rope Left

Letting Go When There’s No Rope Left

I have a friend who is trying to get divorced. This has been going on for two years. The marriage was a good length, (ten years), and a good part of it was not unhappy but the divorce has turned into a nightmare of hatred, accusations, bitterness, anger, paranoia and deep despair on the part of both parties.

There were no children involved, several properties purchased together, and a long stream of expenses for their life paid for by my friend who gave his partner free rein to do what she wanted in terms of the household accounts. By the time he realized most of his money was gone it was too late for reason or recompense: his life had become unbearable as daily verbal abuse had escalated to the point of physical pain. There was no surviving the atmosphere in the house, no love left between the two marital participants, and so my friend left.

His partner filed for divorce immediately and thus began the long history of demands for money, property, shares in imagined earnings, financial reports, tax returns, and appearances in court, depositions and more depositions. Interestingly enough, at this point in time my friend’s net worth had diminished to one tenth that of his wife’s yet she continued to threaten, hire new lawyers, fire old accountants, make new lists about what she wanted, hide possessions from my friend, and make her life’s goal destroying her husband.

Now I ask myself “Why?” If I were in the same position would I behave in the same way? Of course not. I am a reasonable person who likes to work things out and find reasonable solutions to problems. I like to have situations that are emotionally complicated solved as smoothly and expediently as possible as drawing them out only serves to upset one’s health and make oneself look like a fool in the community. People that continually fight over nothing and act in irrational ways are usually ostracized by others and find them alone and unloved in their lives. Who would actively make a choice to live like this?

Why am I writing about this today? I think it’s a really good lesson to all of us about how to destroy your life and your Karma. Holding anger, retribution and bitterness inside yourself is a good mechanism to destroy your own life. I think it does more damage than smoking. Imagine inhaling all that rage each day with every breath and then imagine not being able to release it. Imagine getting into arguments with everyone that surrounds you and then not having any real friends left. Imagine acting in a way that is dangerous to you and to others. Then take a breath and wonder why.

I think people get so caught up in their battles they forget why they began them in the first place. Much like all the needless wars we have been involved with we often can’t remember why we started to hate each other. We forget our compassion towards others and towards ourselves. We exist on our own fear and we can’t even see how it is destroying our lives. We lose all reason and all awareness of our own behavior and become fearful individuals who are living solitary lives as it becomes too risky to trust anyone else.

How many stories out there are like that of my friend? How many people hold on to old stuff as its familiar: pain is familiar. It may not be pleasant but sometimes fear makes us choose the familiar rather than the new as the new cannot be predicted.

I am no angel. Believe me I know that and I am aware of my own failings just as others are. I am writing this to make sense of the situation to me as well as to you as it seems so insane. The only thing I do know to be absolutely true is that operating from a fear based self will ultimately ruin your life and leave you with no friends or family to support you. In the end as they say we die alone but I hope when I die there are people who love me all around who can send me on my way to a new plane with love and joy. After all, there is really nothing else worthwhile in life but love.

 

Losing a friend you thought was already lost

Cover of "Gone with the Wind"
Cover of Gone with the Wind

I read the obituaries every morning as many people do. I have no idea why we do this. I look for reasons why people died, how old they were when they died, who survived them, etc. The other morning I saw that my childhood friend had died in February of a long term illness. There was a lovely picture of her taken when she was about 20 I would guess. I have no way of knowing as I last saw her in ninth grade at the graduation of Greenwich Country Day School. She was no longer my best friend having abandoned me for Phyllis and Priscilla and so we barely spoke on that day. I do remember feeling sad I was no longer friends with her and wondering what I had done for her to have lost interest in our friendship.

Betsey befriended me in fifth grade and whatever she told me to do I would do. I went to her house when she still had one (her father later left her mother) and spent the night many times. Her mother had a raspy voice, chain smoked L and M’s, and seemed sharp and unfriendly but stayed out of our way. She had two older sisters who were very glamorous and kind to me. I liked going to Betsey’s house as there was little supervision and we did whatever we wanted. Once in a while we would go bowling, something I never did with my own family.

Betsey told me in fifth grade I needed a bra: not because I was very developed but just because” every fifth grader needed one”. She took one from her sister’s drawer and told me to try it on which I did in the privacy of her bathroom. It was made of a harsh type of cotton and had straps with lengths sticking out which you pinned into place with small gold safety pins. When I wore the bra I felt incredibly sophisticated and old but nervous. What if someone touched my back and felt the strap and knew I was wearing a bra! What a terrifying thought!

In order to wear the bra I had to hide it in my drawer at night and then pack it in my school briefcase, carry it to school, and change into it in the girl’s room under Betsey’s supervision. The whole process seemed so time consuming but worth the excitement and the attention I seemed to get from Betsey for my obedience to her rules.

Betsey also taught me swear words which I did not know at that time. Today this seems startling but in the 60’s it was not surprising. I learned the three swear words that Betsy said were important to learn.  “Shit” “fuck” and “dick”.

I found the words very difficult to define and kept returning to Betsy’s side asking her to let me know once again what they meant. I didn’t dare say them out loud and neither did she but writing them was also out of the question. I remember running back and forth most of that school day so I could remember the words, define them, and someday use them.

Once, about five years later out of the blue, Betsy called me and asked if I wanted to sneak out of my house and meet up with her. She said there would be a boy who could drive. I was really torn by this invitation as I never did anything wrong. It simply wasn’t worth the repercussions but Betsey’s invitation seemed irresistible as the “boy” was incredibly cute. I had seen him around town, he was a bit older than we were, and was considered   really cool and very bad. Having never been in a car driven by anyone under the age of 40, I couldn’t resist.

As it turned out, my parents were out of town and our house was “loosely supervised” when this was the case. We had a nanny but she put my youngest sister to bed and then went to sleep herself by 9. At 9:10 I was downstairs trying to open the door without making a sound convinced I would be caught. I had no idea what I thought would happen but it wouldn’t be good. I finally opened the door and slipped out into the warm night air. It was very dark and I had no flashlight but I could see some outlines of the drive and the road behind it. I walked slowly past the night shrouded house of the Toby’s thinking of Button tucked safely in her bed and thinking to myself I must be really a wild child.

Waiting in the dark at the end of Meadowcroft Lane for Betsy and her crew was endless and by the time their car arrived I was a wreck. For some reason which I will never understand Betsy got out of the car and wanted me to sit next to Peter, the bad boy who was driving. In this position I felt as if I had been kidnapped by a scary witch on one side and an irresistible prince on the other. Hot and cold, yin and yang, good and bad, god knows what was happening but one side felt really good! Peter’s thigh was about as exciting to me as seeing Rhet Butler carry Vivien Leigh up the stairs in ”Gone With The Wind”. I could barely speak I found it so intoxicating. At one point the bad boy took his foot off the accelerator and moved my leg closer telling me to steer and use the gas pedal which of course I did.

Looking back on that night I see how important it was to me in my life of mostly dreams and few actual adventures. Sneaking out of my house at night, being driven by a bad boy around town, feeling the arousal a teenage boy could create, in me: it was an amazing memory for me to take out from time to time and smile over. Nothing happened. No one was hurt. No one even missed me, but it was magic.

So there was an obituary for me to read about my friend who created the memory but was lost to me for the rest of her life. As it turned out, she lived for many years less than five blocks from where I lived with my young family yet I never knew it. She worked cleaning houses for years and had her own small company. She never married or had children and died with her sister and a friend. by her side. I felt sad reading Betsy’s obituary as her life didn’t seem as large as her spirit and I was sorry. I will always be grateful to her for my night of magic.

Saturday Night: 1958

"Il Ballo" (in English "The Dan...
Image via Wikipedia

Saturday Night

So it’s Saturday night and I am at a beach where the waves are still in shock from the thought of a Tsunami. The evening is still and even the sea grass floats more slowly. Nothing could happen or anything could happen and no one really cares.

They say the force of the earthquake in Japan knocked the world off its axis a bit and changed the coast of Japan by 4 inches. Earthquakes can happen anywhere and at any time just like any unpredictable violence yet we go on living our lives as if they could go on without us.

On Saturday nights in Connecticut in the 50’s the evenings were warm and sometimes fragrant with the smell of cut grass  and the families gathered in the muggy evening sitting on iron lawn chairs with small flowered pillows while placing their drinks on iron side tables with tops shaped  like large, flat leaves. The mothers dressed in longer cotton dressed with full skirts and pointy high heel shoes. The fathers had hair slicked back from their high, hardworking foreheads that glistened in the evening light.

My father loved dancing more than anything else and had one of the first outdoor dancing floors built in a private home in Connecticut. He installed outdoor speakers: large white globes that looked like miniature space ships and hung high from the corner of our house. The music came out of the speakers with a faint lisp as if speaking a foreign language from a child’s point of view.

On Saturday nights my parents would occasionally have friends over who would dress in that fifties way and everyone would have cocktails. These cocktails came in tall glasses with fragile stems and frosted sides and were usually a pale pink. By the time dessert was over the cocktails seemed to have melted away any formality and out to the dance floor everyone would go.

My bedroom from the age of nine until I went away to school was right above the dance floor and supplied me a perfect view of these evenings. I saw Mrs. Ewald slither across the floor doing her own version of the snake on her belly, and watched with fascination the antics of Mrs. Dewart and Mr. Green who were throwing leaves onto the dancers from high on top of a wall they had climbed on. Mrs. Simmons danced like a graceful gazelle with almost anyone and Mrs. Gagarin was surely the most elegant, but no one could begin to compare with Olive Cawley Watson.

Ah yes, the beautiful Olive Cawley Watson with her dark curly hair and her deep and ever glistening brown eyes and her bewitching way of looking at men  from a sideways glance and a gently tilted head. There was no one to compare with Olive out on the dance floor. Every man wanted his turn with her and she laughed up into their eyes with her neck tilted back and her tan arms around her partner like a wreath. The music never seemed long enough to her partners and they relinquished her with reluctance to another partner always following her with their eyes as she walked away. It didn’t seem to matter to Olive who she was dancing with, only that she was dancing as the beat of the music kept her heart alive and forced her feet to move and made her mind forget and dream about what never would be.

The night grew late and some people left while others found places in the curves of the terrace to sit and sip their sweet after dinner drinks made by the butler long gone to bed.

The dance floor was silent for a while and I, in my high bed, would almost fall asleep without the soft brush and whoosh sound of the slow dancing feet.

Then I heard it, the sound I always waited for, the sound of soft leather and scrape of shoe from Madame Arpel in New York, the sound of softly counting from a male throat and the warble of a closed throated sparrow in response. I rose from my bed to find my post and watched carefully from behind one curtain. The dancing pair was perfectly orchestrated to the music and each other moving across the floor in tandem with a natural lean and a curve like a soft crescent moon into the letter “K”. The soft sounds of bull frogs and crickets an orchestra to their dance and sometimes there was no one there at all. Sometimes they had no music. My father kept his tongue at the corner of his mouth in concentration while my mother closed her eyes thinking of nights when she was 17 and dancing with a movie star.

My father, concentrating on his dance lessons, may have missed the lightness and grace he had in his arms and my mother, lost in her world of memories, may have ignored the scent of my father’s Old Spice and the feel of his hand pressed firmly into her back. I could only see what was right in front of me and only sense what was real or what was imagined. I watched the float and twist of her dress and the half turn of her face into my father’s chest and squinted to count her breaths taken in to revive her spirit. I thought she was the most beautiful and fragile thing I would ever see and I used all my energy night after night to protect her as it didn’t seem to me anyone else was. You can’t protect anything that doesn’t want to be protected, not even the loveliest woma