Sunday Morning~ Saying Grace

Sunday Morning ~ Saying Grace

November 25, 2018

Hi Everyone,

I can recall several incidents which evoke a deep and painful cringe. Decades go by and when the memory surfaces I still turn inside out with embarrassment. I tell myself that it’s unlikely anyone else remembers it at all, but the scar still throbs. A notable cringe-worthy event involves Thanksgiving grace.  When I was a senior in college I was working as a nurse’s aide on weekends and offered to work on Thanksgiving Day in order to avoid going home. Holidays at that point were intolerable at home and “working” was a valid excused absence. It was a relief to avoid the unhappiness and rampant criticism that overwhelmed my home life then. I felt remotely guilty for leaving my younger siblings to fend for themselves, (and heard about that later) but was in save-yourself mode by then. My boyfriend and future husband invited me to his house but they ate their dinner at noon and I didn’t get out of work until three. So I planned go there after dinner, eat leftovers, and visit. About a week before the holiday, Joe told me he had a surprise. He said his family was going to wait dinner for me and eat at 3:30. This was huge. I was mortified. It was a big family. They were accustomed to their routines and I thought it would be a huge responsibility to be the one who kept them waiting. But he really thought it was nice and wanted me to accept so I did. He borrowed his aunt’s car to pick me up from work and we got to his house to find the cozy scene I wanted to be part of. I’d brought clothes to change into: woolen pants and a sweater in fall colors, which, I look terrible in. It was the seventies; the fashions should be enough to make me cringe.

I loved going to his house where the fire was merrily burning and everyone seemed to like each other. His brothers and father were very funny. His parents liked me. I loved his sisters. I also loved his aunt (who everyone complained about) and I felt like she liked me, too. She was outspoken and, I thought, hilarious. There was music going (Frank Sinatra, as I recall) and after I’d changed my clothes, Bob, my future father in law, asked me to dance. I accepted, and had a rare grateful thought of my own father who’d taught me how to follow. This made me look good. Aunt Audrey made some snarky remark about how nice it was to see someone of the younger generation who actually knew the steps. I basked in the compliment, not realizing what a put-down it was to the Robinson children. We danced around the living room and I felt special. Joe looked happy and proud of me, and soon after that we were called to the table for the first course. Bob usually didn’t eat with the family not wanting to deal with kids being kids at the dinner table, but on Thanksgiving, he sat at the head and ran the show. We took our seats in front of individual fruit salads in stemmed glasses. “Lovely”, I thought. Bob then turned to me and said, “Linda, would you say grace?” I was not expecting this. I was not prepared. I knew the usual “Bless us Oh Lord and these thy gifts that we are about to receive, Amen.” but thought that wasn’t original enough. Why oh why didn’t I just go with that? I wanted to be creative! I wanted to say something memorable and pithy. Something with a touch of humor, but also poignant. Something that everyone would remember with positivity for years to come. I panicked and even though I’d kissed the Blarney Stone two years earlier, could not think of a single word. I blessed myself: “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”. Everyone followed suit. That was a good start. We were all Catholic. But my mind was completely blank. And I mean blank. Desperate, I said, “Thank you God…” and then, nothing else. Nothing. Everyone waited. There was a long awkward silence. I stared at the fruit salad looking for inspiration and finding none, remained silent. The silence became so long that I was really going to have to say something mind-blowing that would have been worth the wait, but nothing came out of my mouth. Finally, Joe said, “…for the food. Let’s eat.” Which should have been a save, and I should have just said, “Thanks.” But no, I protested! I said, “No! Let me finish!”  And then I went on to NOT SAY ANYTHING! I finally said, “For everyone being together” and incredibly relieved, everyone started eating. I wanted to crawl under the table, curl up, and die. My future was ruined. No one was talking. I was sure everyone thought I was an idiot. I’d disappointed his father! Oh, No! Then Audrey (who’d had three extra hours to drink because of me), took a bite of the fruit salad and screamed about how awful it tasted because someone didn’t take off the grapefruit pith. She spit it back on to her plate wiping her mouth with her napkin saying, “Oh, Caryl, that is really terrible. Ugh!”  This display was a relief to me, but the rest of the family was not amused. We ate the fruit salad mostly in silence and I noted to myself that she was actually right. The grapefruit pith did taste terrible but of course no one should have said anything!  After those glasses were awkwardly cleared, Bob and Caryl carried platters of food from the kitchen into the dining room. and the martinis started talking again. The turkey, carved in the kitchen, was brought to the table ready to serve. Audrey, who didn’t even have fruit salad to soak up some gin, went off on a rampage about how the turkey was supposed to be brought to the table intact and carved in front of everyone! An awkward silence ensued while everyone looked down at their plates, a few of them muttering, “Here we go”. This was definitely not happy family stuff, but still softball compared to my house, and  I was relieved we were building memories to smother the grace. Bob started in on her about how rude she was being then she pushed her chair away from the table and said, “I can’t eat anymore of this! I’m leaving!” The family was silent. I think they might have been there before. As she slammed the front door, one brother asked his mother quietly if he should go drive her home. His mother quietly shook her head “No.” (This was the 70’s and drunk driving was considered funny.) We heard her car start, she pealed out, and superficial conversation consumed the rest of the meal. I sat there, not concerned that she might kill someone or herself, but thankful that the attention was diverted from my humiliating performance. 

I think of this every Thanksgiving and still stress about saying the perfect grace. I want a short statement that doesn’t let the food get cold, is spiritual but not conventional, doesn’t make the atheists uncomfortable, doesn’t sound too schmaltzy, makes guest feel welcome, is sincere and poignant. This year I considered reading a poem that a friend sent, but it was a bit long and seemed a cop out. I actually considered, in my attempt for the perfect holiday, looking on the internet for the perfect grace suggestions, but got too busy and settled for a hybrid grace/ toast and called it good. There was hardly a pause.

Love to all,


Sunday Morning ~ Ephemera

Sunday Morning ~ Ephemera

November 18, 2018

The rains have started in Blantyre. I know that because a friend posted a photo of the rivulets running through her yard. She said the thunder was show-stopping. It made me a little homesick for Malawi. I loved the excitement of the first rains. It’s more dramatic than the first snow here, which we also got this week, because their lives depend on it. We can go a winter without snow. They can’t go a rainy season without rain. For many years I lamented the fact that I couldn’t just sit home and enjoy the snow. I love winter and winter sports. I love tucking in and doing crafts and cooking and a snowy day was the perfect backdrop. I wanted to stay home and cuddle up with the kids, but often I’d be panicked about finding childcare, getting the car cleared off, and leaving my nest. Having to go out during the night in a raging storm made the snow lose a bit of it’s charm. I worried about getting out of my driveway, about getting up McFarland’s Hill, about making it to the hospital in time. So this week, I reveled in the sweet circumstance of not having to go anywhere. I enjoyed the storm from a heated house with plenty of food. George split a load of firewood so we’ve got atmosphere, and knowing the rain arrived in Malawi and there’s the prospect of a decent crop, it’s all a bit sweeter. And to boot, the election results keep getting better and better. It’s been a good week.

I’ve been nesting, a gratifying exercise partly because it distracts me from making decisions about how I’ll support myself for the next decade. Procrastination. My bathrooms were never so clean as when I was writing my thesis. I’ve been clearing out clutter, donating stuff I haven’t used in years and tossing broken stuff that I laughingly told myself I’d fix. I came across the word “ephemera” written on waxed parchment paper. It was a gift from my friend Jack and I loved the paper, shape, and sentiment. I framed it. Ephemera, a Greek word, refers to things that are short lived, or last only one day. They aren’t meant to be preserved. As I decide what to give away and what to keep, I kept this as a reminder. The playbills I’ve uncovered along with tickets, christmas cards, notes, articles, and invitations to events long past are ephemera. They’ve gone into the fire that warmed the colder-than-normal nights, and while feeling virtuous in the letting go, I worried a little about what I’d use now to evoke those memories. I found a pile of photos of strange kids in my house throwing each other into the air. I didn’t see any contraband, but wondered how distracted was I that I didn’t even know this was happening? I probably wasn’t even home. I don’t even know who these kids are! I’m saving those to review when the kids get here for Thanksgiving. 

Which brings me to…holiday fantasies. I never tire of amusing myself with fantasies of how I want the holidays to be, which is the perfect recipe for endless disappointment and resentment. Use at your own risk.

I always loved the song Over the River and Through the Woods, from the minute I first heard it as a child. My grandmothers both died when I was little and we never had those rosy experiences of taking the fun and cheery ride to her house on Thanksgiving Day. In fact, we never went anywhere on Thanksgiving. It was football and my mother slaving away. But I always imagined myself living in an era (and a family) where we’d get in the sleigh and happily travel to loving, fun relatives. I still fantasize. Now I imagine my grandchildren singing this favorite as they travel here with holiday cheer and traffic-free roads trailing behind them. Hmm, I might have to find a recording of it with animation to capture their attention, which would make me upset. I don’t even know if they’ve heard the song (note to self: sing this to them many times when they arrive). When my kids were little we had a picture book with a line of this song on each page and I would study every illustration as if it were really my own family. I loved the coats they wore. I loved the muffs the kids had their hands stuffed into. I loved the smiles on their faces. I imagined the mother and father lovingly helping each other and having in-depth conversations about meaningful matters. I loved that they all dressed formally for dinner. I loved the bows in the little girls’ hair. I loved that the cousins all played together blissfully. Oh, there might have been a slight altercation over one of the wooden toys or handmade dolls, but it was swiftly resolved without resentment or lasting psychological trauma. The parents all agreed on everything. This was a child’s picture book. I was an adult. It makes me a little nervous now to recount how vivid this fantasy was. I read that book to them and was temporarily living there, moving over the snowy fields with healthy horses pulling the sleigh, bells ringing, with a handsome competent husband taking care of all the heavy work. I wore the gorgeous blue coat with the fur collar, cinched at the waist (which accentuated my perfect figure), and the matching fur hat was to die for. My kids were all tucked in to the back seat, no worries of anyone falling out as we merrily sped along. The adorable baby wrapped in a furry blanket on my lap was as happy as can be, and there was never a thought of frostbite on the cherub’s smiling face. Just rosy cheeks for my healthy kids!  And the welcome we received! Loving arms reaching out to take the baby, adoring smiles for the children, warm fire blazing, good cheer and camaraderie as we enter. Yes, and all it takes is a good watercolor artist for you to have this perfect holiday!  Oh, the fifteen minutes of reading that book to the kids was sweet. Then I probably threw a hot dog on their plate for lunch and fought to get them to take a nap so I could do the dishes from the night before, resentful that WE were the ones who had to travel because NO ONE came to OUR house. And then it would snow and we’d be late and everyone would look at us as if we’d ruined the day because someone had to leave for work, and why didn’t we make an effort to get there on time, and I vowed never to read that book again. But the next year I’d forget and play the fantasy again in my mind, and I realize I still do that. It’s just that now I’m the grandmother and it’s my house they come to. God! I just realized I’m the grandmother in that book! I look so much younger than her!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Be safe. Be careful with the fantasies.  

Sunday Morning ~ Ikebana

Sunday Morning ~ Ikebana

November 11, 2018

Ikebana is the ancient Japanese art form of flower arranging. My son made a reference to it and said that Japan’s most accomplished generals had mastered this art, finding it calmed their minds and helped make clear their decisions for field action. I’d never heard of this and looked it up. I didn’t find references to military action, but read that it is a melding of nature and humanity. Preserving life, creating a representation of the spirit of the situation, honoring nature, and respecting humanity are some of the principles. I read that it is believed to foster patience and tolerance. 

I think walking uptown last Sunday night was smart. George offered to hail a cab to spare me the mile or so trek up to 81st where we were staying, but my muscles were stiffening and I needed to move. I had Uggs on my feet, champagne in my queasy stomach, and something close to joy in my soul. I’m convinced exercise is the best treatment for depression, anxiety, and maybe even despair. I see how people get addicted to it. I’m reminded why I wanted to run another marathon, and though I was prepared to pay for it the next day, I think the late walk after the 26.2 mile run was why I felt so good (close to great) on Monday.  Feeling chipper, we had a morning visit with friends, searched for their missing cat, shopped at Zabars, then drove eight hours home to canvas for the election Tuesday. We’d voted early, just in case some calamity prevented us from getting home. I have to admit, each time I’d heard of someone passing away in the weeks before the election my first thought was, “Did they vote early”? 

Tuesday was rainy and dreary. Our team leader said, “This weather is only going to benefit us because our resolve is stronger than their illusion.” Loved that. Felt fired up. We were sent off the island to rural parts of the county. Many people weren’t home, most likely out at their minimum wage jobs, and I was a little worried about people feeling harassed. But most of the people we talked to were grateful we’d made the effort, eager to chat about their concerns for the future, and had already made a plan to get to the polls. One was frustrated that her absentee ballot hadn’t arrived and, being homebound, gave up on being able to vote. We tried to help her find a way to get to the polling place, but that required getting handicap transport which takes 48 hours notice, so we fell short there. We couldn’t get a motorized wheelchair into my mini. Our second shift was in a walkable neighborhood and that was fun until it started pouring rain. Most of the people there also thanked us, had already voted or were about to, and shared mutual hopeful thoughts. It was a good experience. 

The walk back to the car, by road construction, was muddy and wet. The car was steamy, the windows foggy and we were tired. I worried George didn’t think our efforts were worthwhile. He wondered aloud if we’d even garnered one extra vote out of the entire day we’d spent finding houses and knocking on doors. I said it didn’t matter to me. I just felt if I didn’t do this and the results weren’t good, I’d have blamed myself for not getting out there and doing SOMETHING. I thought it was worth it if only to make me feel better. 

We’d invited friends for dinner and to listen to the early returns. It felt important to be among like-minded souls in case the news wasn’t good. I’d prepared for disappointment before, but this time it would be like watching the country burn to the ground. We ate and talked. We drank wine. George hitched up his computer to stream live coverage. The talking heads were driving me crazy. The early results were not looking good. We disbanded early, myself heading into denial. I really did not want to look. I went to bed, turned off my phone, and in the morning, laid there pretending to sleep long after I’d ordinarily be up. I though about spending the day in my sewing room, avoiding the world. It’s where I instinctively go when I am upset. I take a pile of scraps and arrange them to make something useful. I mindlessly sew things together until it becomes something pretty. I was sure the news was bad.

George gave up on me and went to do errands. I finally got up and did mindless tasks in the silence normally occupied by NPR. I went to my cluttered desk to answer a few emails. It was nearly 10 a.m. and ordinarily I would have been listening to the news for almost five hours by then. I thought as long as I didn’t turn it on my world was still intact. Then a Move On email flashed across my computer screen that said, “We did it!” I thought,  “We did? I’ve been hiding for nothing?!”  And as I read the Maine results I got back some of that post-marathon glow. There is hope. When we gathered on the pier Thursday night to take a stand for justice, I thought again, there is hope. I’m glad to be part of this group of humans looking out for each other. I listened to the speakers and was grateful for intelligence and reason among us. I realize again, there are more of us. There is hope.

So time now to quiet the mind and be thoughtful about actions. Ikebana. I’m thinking about how to do this with minimal foliage and artful expression. It seems like good exercise.

Sunday Morning~ New York, New York

Sunday Morning ~ Twenty-six point two in New York

November 5, 2018

Hi Everyone!

This will be quick and unedited as I need to move the car from a gorgeous parking spot on 84th before street cleaning happens in an hour.

It’s Monday, not Sunday; I didn’t even try to do this yesterday. We were up before dawn to get the metro to the ferry to the bus to the starting line on Staten Island. One of the runners who’d done the Chicago marathon a few weeks before said it was easier to fly to Chicago, get a hotel room, and run that marathon than it was to get to the starting line in New York! But it was so worth it!  After all my anxiety about being too old to do this, just being at the starting line was fantastic and worth the entrance fee and effort. To see how it is all organized and how friendly and diverse everyone is, the helpfulness, the canon going off as runners start off across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge as Frank Sinatra sings New York New York, was inspiring. The race starts in waves (I was in the last slow-poke wave) and watching thousands upon thousands of people move along with the structure looming against the skyline was fantastic. I didn’t even try to take a photo of it all, just wanting to take it all in. Plus, I didn’t want to carry my phone with me. The day was perfect, cool and sunny, and I felt like the universe was telling me we’d all be ok. That was a good feeling the Sunday before the most important election in our history.

People had told me how fun this marathon was to run, and they weren’t kidding. Just the signs people were holding were enough to entertain me for five hours. “You’re running better than our government”, “Run like a supreme court justice to an open bar”, “I’ve been training all week to hold this sign”, “Pain is just bread in French”, were a few of my favorites, but there were hundreds. Little kids held out their Halloween candy. Fabulous musicians played all along the way. Strangers cheering for strangers. It highlighted how good most humans are, how much we can endure when we think we can’t go any further, and how willing others are to get you to the finish line. Dear Ruth fed and cheered for us, opened up her home for showers and champagne, and made us feel like superheroes. And so many sent well wishes and cheered from afar and that was so loving and encouraging. Crossing that finish line in Central Park has been a longtime fantasy of mine and thank you to everyone who helped me get there. Hopefully we can ride this wave though Wednesday!

Love to all,