Sunday Morning ~ Making Our Own Dust; A First Communion Thought

Sunday Morning ~ Making Our Own Dust; A First Communion Thought

Pa gule pfumbi ndiwe mwini. ~ At a dance you, yourself, have to produce the dust.

~ Chewa proverb

July 18, 2021

Hi Everyone,

A dance in Malawi is a dusty affair in the dry season. Dances are energetic, passionate, theatrical, and joyful. I love to dance. I love moving to the music and wish I did it more often. I sway in church, tap on the steering wheel, bounce at a concert. Depending on a partner is something I’ve learned not to do. I love this notion of making my own dust. It speaks of self-care and inner spirit. Which brings me to…rosary beads.

Yesterday was Amelia’s First Communion. I sat next to her in the church missing my mom, knowing how important this was to her. My mom, wouldn’t have said that, though. She would never have declared that she had a need or desire. She never articulated how her faith helped her survive or how she cherished the community she gained from it. She’d expect you to know that inherently. In her generation choices were few; rituals and traditions were not questioned. I doubt she would have listed the good she gained from those rituals but they were everything to her. She kept her wisdom sheltered along with her affections. It was survival.

When I learned Amelia’s First Communion would happen this summer, having been postponed a year, I started thinking about a gift for my eight year old granddaughter. I wanted something meaningful but also perhaps, useful. I’d wanted to make her First Communion dress, but she’d already picked one out and my daughter had purchased it. My hand-me-down First Communion dress was a bit of a disappointment. I wanted puffy sleeves and skirt, and veil with a crown. Instead, I wore my cousin’s beautiful straight-sleeved embroidered dress. The veil had a band of   silk flowers, which were also beautiful, but it did feel like my only chance to ever wear a crown was slipping away. I remember feeling beautiful. 

When I was clearing out the space for my summer tenant, I found a box of things I’d moved out of my mother’s apartment after she died. There was a satin lined jewelry box holding a few inexpensive necklaces, lapel pins, and a set of pink plastic rosary beads. There was a lapel pin, a gold butterfly with a body of three pearls. I didn’t think Amelia would wear a lapel pin, but could imagine it settled into Amelia’s golden curls and hoped she’d let me do her hair. I set about creating a beaded barrette with the butterfly perched on top. I looked at the rosary beads and thought, though they weren’t the delicate white First Communion kind, but they were pretty and my mother had saved them. That meant something. I cleaned out the box, and placed them back in the satin covered nook. I don’t know where my mother got them; a gift? Maybe purchased outside a religious site somewhere? The nice ones she used for her own contemplation, comfort, and serenity were buried with her, draped around her once graceful fingers. I wanted to give the pink ones to Amelia, not sure if she’d appreciate their meaning. She never knew my mother, but I wanted to tell her story and explain how much this cord of prayer beads was part of her life. My mother wasn’t a women who knelt alone and said the rosary every day (that I know of), but she would hold them in church and pray when I was young. It comforted me somehow to see her do this. She looked peaceful, a rarity in those years. 

When I was learning to say the rosary around my First Communion, when we traditionally got our own set, it was all about saying the right prayer on the right bead. I remember worrying I might screw that up resulting in some tragedy. The rosary is not part of preparation for this sacrament now and when Amelia opened them up yesterday morning, she held them up not sure what they were. I explained they belonged to her great grandmother, who used them like worry beads. I told her I wanted her to have them because my mother, who Amelia is named after, had a hard life and these beads helped her cope. She would say a prayer on each bead and sometimes just rub them around in her hand. They made her feel better. I told Amelia I wanted her to have them and if she were ever worried or troubled she could hold them and remember someone loved her all the time, no matter what. I said, “It might make you feel better remembering that.” She smiled and rubbed them around in her hand.

Then I started thinking about these beads. Chanting is a part of many cultures, a comfort and tool for reflection and insight. Saying ten Hail Mary’s might be similar. I hadn’t thought of this before. The times I’ve said the rosary in a group my focus was on how my knees hurt. At the mass yesterday the priest asked people to either stand, sit, or kneel, whichever was most comfortable. I thought, how sweet. What progress. We got scolded by nuns for putting our feet on the kneelers because it might dirty our dresses. Our elbows were not allowed on the pew when we prayed. Posture was emphasized. Discipline. Doing it right. I wonder what it would have felt like if someone had said, “Here, rub these if you get scared and you might feel better knowing someone cares about you.” or “Stand, sit, or kneel, whichever is most comfortable for prayer.” 

Amelia liked the barrette. She let me brush and curl her hair. She donned her dress and shoes. We went to the church, where Zack, (her godfather) gave her a nice set of white rosary beads. In the pew, she took them out and held them in her hands, fingering all the beads. A few minutes into the mass, she turned to me and said in the faintest whisper, “I’m afraid to go up there.” meaning the altar, which was imposing, I admit. I told her her parents would be going with her; she would not be alone. I said, “I was afraid at my First Communion, too.” She nodded and rubbed the beads in her hand, let the chain drop down from her fingers, looped around her palm and rubbed the beads one by one between her fingers, just like my mother. She smiled up at me as if she found the secret of them and I choked back a sob. 

I’ve been asking myself why I connected the dancing to this chain of prayer beads. I think it’s because I value having inner strength to go it alone. Having this…tool? Is that the right word?  “Charm” seems too flimsy, but something you can hold, put memory and meaning to, that helps you cope on your own, be less dependent. It feels less lonely when lonely times come. Amelia dances when she wants, all alone, joyful, because no one has told her she shouldn’t. It feels connected somehow. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Change

Sunday Morning ~ Change

Masiku athena ku citseko.~ Days come to an end, a door opens to let things in and let things go.

~ Chewa proverb

July 11, 2021

HI Everyone,

Transition summer: isolation to sociality is more of an adjustment than I anticipated. Change is uncomfortable, even when that change is desired. Entrenched in our groove, the familiar is comforting and derailing is painful, unsettling and confusing. When change is thrust upon us, our choices are to adapt or suffer. It’s been interesting to watch. As Megginson said, “It’s not the strongest or most intelligent who survive, but those most adaptable to change.” At the Mammoth Caves I learned of the fish adapting to the darkness whose eyes gradually disappeared. No need for them. I wonder if our skin will darken as the planet warms, protecting us from the searing sun. 

Until last year, summers here were full of fundraisers, galas, music festivals, art exhibits, craft fairs. I was hardly still for two consecutive hours over the summer. It was a balancing act to fit a job in there. With my guests being on vacation I’d pretend I was on vacation, too, scooting away for a bit to earn a paycheck. When the kids were teenagers I put thousands of miles on the car dropping off and picking them up from summer jobs. Then last year, nothing. Streets were quiet. I hardly entered a grocery store, and when I did it was only to buy milk and leave. I adjusted to the solitude and discovered I liked the peacefulness of it. I painted. I knit. I read. I had my census job that I’d do for a few hours a day, then come home to an empty driveway, house, and garden. It felt so strange. I didn’t set up my porch bed last year because it felt strange to have the house unoccupied at night. It was one less chore to set up and take down in the fall. I thought maybe I’d give that practice up and sleep inside year round. But the early heat wave in June nudged me to make my bed, crawl under my net, and let the night sounds lull me to a sleep that is sound and deep. 

I have always been happy to share my home; there is space for many people and the summers have historically been a constant flow of students, musicians, family, friends, and friends of friends bunking for one night or several. In summer the house is alive. The top floor fills with working students grateful to find a room. They work odd hours, usually more than one job, and I greet them coming and going and see them off with a wave in late August. Last summer was strange having the house to myself. The only slap of the screen door was when I walked through it.

This year, the bodies are back. It was slow at first. Just one person living upstairs, not the usual two or three. I adjusted to footsteps and doors creaking, fans whirring and dryer spinning. Now another guest, a member of the opera cast and there are fresh conversations, cocktail hours, morning coffee. I’m remembering how much I love meeting new people and hearing about their lives. I love hearing their reaction to the nest I’ve created. I love see them settle into it; it’s what I always wanted this to be. That said, it’s an adjustment, just as it was the other way around. My organization is rusty. I am slow to combine following a recipe with carrying on an engaged conversation. But at least I’m cooking again, so that’s something. That had taken a seat way in the back over the past year. Aside from scrambled eggs and corn bread, I did nothing more complicated for the table for one. Now I am trying to remember which serving plate and salad bowl is where. I’m dusting off the steak knives and wine glasses. The toilet paper stockpile in the basement is dwindling.

This moment is making me take a breath and evaluate what activities are worth it to me. How social was enough? Do I need to say “Yes” to everything? How much was obligation and how much desire? I am anxious about carrying on a conversation, something I never used to worry about. The French group meets this evening and I realize I haven’t spoken French since Bastille Day two years ago. Will everyone be as rusty as me? My brain seems slow in response and I can’t remember words or names. I’ll force myself to go. I remember it brought me pleasure and no one judges. I’ll listen more, talk less. Smile more.  Adapt.

Love to all,

Linda  

Apologies of the Road

Sunday Morning ~ Apologies of the Road 

Tapita m’njira adasiya tonse m’khola. ~ Those who say we just follow the road (not branching off to visit the village) have left us all in the kraal.

~Chewa proverb

July 4, 2021

HI Everyone,

Fresh off a girl’s trip to Tennessee, I’m sitting on this rainy Fourth of July morning and considering lessons from the road. I couldn’t write last week; it was the first Sunday I’ve missed in years. I sat at the breakfast table while others drank their morning coffee, my laptop open, pretending to type. It looked like I had a lot to say, and I thought I did. But my brain was fuzzy and confused and nothing made sense. I couldn’t put the trip together in a way that seemed worth reading so just sat, grateful for this group of friends, and decided to stop pushing the blog uphill. 

I’m quite sure there will be eight people reading this week wondering what I’d say about them. Five of us took to the road and three flew to the one who lives there, making perfect attendance for the first time in a while. There were many hilarious moments and a few intense ones. There’s something special about being with people who know your past and accept you for who you are despite the irritations and conflicts. The storytelling and laughing is nearly non stop and seventeen hours in the car flew by. Conversation may lag for a post prandial moment, but it recurs with no effort and I’m constantly amazed at how many unshared details of our lives still exist. We are like a bunch of sisters who assemble and meld our aged experience with adolescent immaturity. It makes us seem simultaneously wise, competent, youthful, and petty and it feels great.

In normal times we get together annually. We alternate locations between my house one year and an alternative destination the next. When the pandemic hit we started doing weekly zoom calls that cut off mid sentence at forty minutes. This trip was planned during one of those sessions when Kathy (“most dramatic” class of ’74) said she was auditioning for a play. Margie said, “Hey, if you get the part we should all go!” and months before we knew that might be possible we eagerly jumped on the train. She got the part (of course) as Nat in Rabbit Hole, an intense play about a family dealing with the loss of a son. Kathy was perfect, lighting up the stage whenever she walked on. I love watching people do what they do well and she was born to act. Though, I thought it a strange choice of shows for post-pandemic entertainment (a comedy maybe?) the portrayal of dealing with grief, feeling heard, making ones own way through, was poignant. Kathy executed the occasional funny moment perfectly, relieving the tension and giving the audience a break. Well done, my friend. 

Now, Kathy wants to write a play about us. She presented this idea as we floated around a neighbor’s pool while the day-drinking wore off. Grand Dame of ideas, Kathy dramatically described how we (meaning she) should write this script, but we all needed to participate in the shaping of the play. We must whittle down the dramas into a plot that can be acted out in two hours. Since it would be complicated to stage our horse back riding calamities in Iceland (one of the funnier stories) there was a thought this theatrical performance should be honed to our first weekend reunion; the stage sets would be more manageable. Considering this idea, I’m really appreciating the skill it takes to portray a story on stage! A lawsuit was threatened by the most private among us, fearing something or other about her life becoming public, while the rest of us hang dirty laundry out without a care. I chuckled at the thought that a) the project would actually get to the point where it might conceivably happen, and b) what great PR a lawsuit would be for the show. I started imagining what I’d wear to the Tony awards, but then Kathy thought nine was too many actors and we’d have to eliminate her part anyway. 

We learned a lot on this trip. Not only at our National Park visits (Harpers Ferry, Mammoth Caves, Abraham Lincoln’s Birthplace), but about how we interact and revert to childhood patterns when we’re together. It’s like going home to mom again and can be both comforting and unsettling. We had ample hours in the car to analyze and discuss this and there was a lot of apologizing. I thought about how much of our lives are sound bites, how misunderstandings fester because we don’t spend enough time hashing things out. It takes patience, investment in friendship, recognizing value in long term relationships, acceptance. I’m learning more about what shapes us and am often dumbstruck at the fact that we are even here to tell our stories. We lived through some crazy shit and not everyone we knew did make it out alive. We’ve got material for more than one show. 

As we start the next phase of our lives with medicare and senior discounts, we are keeping each other young and willing to branch off to visit the villages. I’m grateful.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ On The Road Again

Sunday Morning ~ On The Road Again

Bwenzi ndi mtanthira, mlamba udaolotsa khoswe. ~ Friendship is a bridge; the fish helped the mouse to cross.

~ Chewa proverb

June 20, 2021

Hi Everyone,

It feels strange to sleep in a strange bed. After the year and a half of staying put, roaming from room to room in my own house, waking next to the same lamp and pile of books on my bedside table, performing the rote morning routine, my sense of adventure has been muted. I’ve had the most consistent year of my life: same house, same bed, same cat asking for her breakfast. I haven’t been bored, which honestly, surprised me. I slid in to the routine and created a full day, working on long neglected projects like they were exciting new friends. I found I settled into solitude more easily than I imagined. Opening up again is taking some consideration.

We planned this road trip months ago when Kathy said she was auditioning for the play. From our little zoom corners we said we should do a road trip to see her on stage. Yes! That would be fun! Our first trip in a long time! That was before we knew the vaccinations would be so efficiently distributed. We smugly thought we’d have our own little vaccinated bubble. I’d even planned to make matching masks. And here we are, six months later, trying to remember how to carry on a fully dressed conversation with eye contact. 

I was anxious leaving my nest! That was a new feeling for me. Usually I can’t wait to get onto the road, never fearing the place would collapse without me. But with the every day attention, minute by minute observations of details to attend to, I started thinking it couldn’t survive a day without my fussing. I have created a monster, for sure. Those peonies don’t stake themselves, and what if the clematis blooms when I am away? Who will tell those blossoms they love them? The cat might get depressed. I was feeling rather self-important. Not enough to make me miss a trip with friends, but I can’t deny the anxiety was there. But soon the grand kids will be on my lap and that’s a strong pull.

The first stop is a visit with an old friend where I spent last night. We met when I was just shy of my fourth birthday when I moved into the house on Pomiciticut Ave, a shady dead end road with a yard and a best friend across the street. Her daughter got married yesterday in Oregon and I am in New Hampshire with Barbara, her mom, who was unable to make the long trip out there. We watched the wedding via zoom then had our own little dinner celebration. I’m so grateful for this blessing of long-time friends. This trip will be full of them. We reminisced about growing up in Maynard, We talked about the history of the town and how the mill shaped it’s prosperity and decline. Barbara said she remembered skating on the mill pond as a kid and wondering each time what color the ice would be. I wondered aloud how much that had to do with the high rates of cancer in town. Tuesday I’ll go back for a visit there and enter the mill building for the first time in my life. I walked by there every day growing up, a mysterious chain of enormous brick structures, the iconic clock tower rising from the center. I never appreciated the architecture or the enormity, nor how it shaped so many careers of my friends.

Barbara and I talked about the celebration of Juneteenth and how little racial diversity we had in our town of immigrants: Italian, Polish, and Finnish were the ones I could recall. I knew of only two Jewish families, but Barbara said there were four. There were no black families and only one small group of Puerto Ricans. We had two Finnish steam baths in town! We had two Catholic churches, one just for the Polish, and in a town covering only one square mile, this amazes me now.  We had three dress shops, two men’s clothing stores, a Woolworths, three grocery stores, and a drug store with a real soda fountain in our little downtown area. We were known for being the town with the most bars per capita. 

I’m looking forward to our long car trip to Tennessee. Kathy, (voted most dramatic for senior superlatives) is still at it and I can’t wait to see her on stage. We’ll probably not stop talking for the whole fifteen hours. It’ll be an extended version of our teenage trips to Hampton Beach, but safer since we’ll only have the legal limit of passengers. We’ll have our postponed reunion of the solid bonds created in this town. 

It feels like so many good things are happening now. While still miles to go, our new holiday of Juneteenth makes me joyful. I keep thinking we are not going back to not knowing. I want to follow where this new road leads and discover truths unburied along the way. Learning  is not scary anymore. The guilt and shame is giving way to a more powerful feeling of recognizing how much better we can be. We’re talking about it.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ New Growth

Sunday Morning ~ New Growth

Usamswere thanga m’licero. ~ Do not break the pumpkin in the basket.

~ Chewa proverb

June 13, 2021

Hi Everyone,

The garden is planted, screens are in, outside bedroom is assembled, and the grass has had it’s first mow. I left patches of wild daisies because they make me happy. There is a six week frenzy of working on this charge into summer, and it’s fun to have it be my full time job. I don’t have to plant a garden. I could still have fresh veggies from the farmers markets filling up around here. There are several of them on the island. But I can’t imagine being here in summer without a garden. My garden is a necessity; if it didn’t exist I would starve––emotionally, anyway. My new summer tenant looked out the bedroom window at my garden. “What do you do with all that food?” she asked, rather surprised at the extent of the enterprise. “I eat it.” I told her, “all year.” I used to feed at least ten people each night when the kids were growing up. We had lots of guests, lots of parties, lots of meals. I’d go out to the garden with a basket and pick supper, one of the most satisfying activities I can think of. As the kids were launched and numbers here dwindled, I kept the same garden footprint, even extending it a little to give the pumpkins more room to roam. There is something so sustaining about opening a jar of something you’ve grown and preserved. The nutrients are only a part of the nourishment. I love every step of the way. I love the shape and size of the seeds and the feel of the potting soil. I love their little white roots dangling down as I transplant them. I love giving each one a word of encouragement as they sink into their new home. I love watching the chickens enjoy their little slug treats. I love going out each morning to see who has bloomed, who has decided to reproduce that day. I love that these plants give so much. I love arranging the vegetables on platters, combining them with other ingredients, experiencing new flavors and textures. I love bringing bouquets inside and placing them on paths I walk when going about my day. So much of my life now is outside of the house. I’m grateful to be able to do this full time without the frenzy of running to work, running to work again, then running to work again. I loved that too at the time but I’m more careful now, more strategic, less impulsive about decisions. I don’t need to have everything done RIGHT NOW! I break fewer pumpkins. I keep my basket cleaner.

Are gardens a lot of work? Sure! Does it seem like work? No! In her interview, Angela Davis said, “Self-care is taking joy in the work you do.” I don’t need yoga or a massage. I need my garden. It is such a joy to be able to spend the time now. I feel like a stay-at-home mom attending to every whim of every plant calling to me. And I love it.

My class is finished and this week I need to do the grades before summer officially begins. This is my least favorite part of teaching. I never thought our grading system was fair or in any way a reflection of what we learned. What a strange system we have of measuring the amount of knowledge someone’s mind has absorbed. We cast a judgement based on a subjective gradient which can make or break someone’s career. It’s a powerful position, really. When I was a student I managed to pass some history courses even though I learned nothing about history only about how to pass the course. As I read now about slavery, about the real history of our country, I feel small and ignorant, indulging myself in self pity for wasted years stumbling along in the dark. I got a solid B in those classes and could tell you almost nothing about the American slavery system except that it existed, they picked cotton, got whipped, and Harriet Tubman was very brave. In the antiracism work I’m doing with my organization I lamented not learning the realities sooner. I wonder what difference it would have made in my career or efforts to care for women. I’m immersing myself in it and the work feels good. I want to open myself up to understanding and see where it brings me. I’m lucky to have this time and happy I’m not being graded. It changes how I approach things when judgment is not looming. I’m reading How The Word Is Passed, a book about the author’s travels around this country learning about the history of slavery from the tour guides who teach it. It’s a beautifully written story, sometimes painful to absorb. It’s compelling. I realize I always felt a little superior coming from the north, imagining myself an abolitionist. But I grew up in a mill town. I had not thought before about the mills contributing to the slave culture. We were all part of it. It was not only slave owners profiting from the evil system. There is so much we must face. But I believe the time is right for the work and even though it’s hard and painful, I’m still finding joy in the fact it is happening. We’re not going back to not knowing and that is good. There is no way forward but forward.  

If you break the pumpkin in the basket, it will ruin the basket. Be careful, have patience, take time to get the whole story.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Adding Salt

Sunday Morning ~ Adding Salt

Kangaonde kakoma ndi mcere. ~ It may be small, but it is lovely when you add salt.

~ Chewa proverb

June 6, 2021

Hi Everyone,

It’s opening up more and more around here just when I was thinking I would never socialize again. It felt like I’d forgotten how––like it was some kind of skill one must continually practice, like the piano. I’d started thinking a reclusive life wasn’t all that bad when I was surprised with an impromptu dinner invitation last night and found myself giddy at the thought. I spent the day ruminating about attire. Last year I spent the season in a rotation of three pairs of shorts and four tank tops. Cool evenings I would don a hoody. With this year promising to be a little less isolated, I pulled down the seasonal clothes, vowing to go through the piles and rid my closet of lill fitting, torn, stained, or outdated garments. Never a fashion maven, what to wear has caused some anxiety in the past. In a climate where evenings can be arctic or tropical without warning, one weighs comfort and style equally. The parking limitations in town can require a sizable walk so footwear must also be considered. It’s a fair amount of work! Gazing into the neglected closet, I saw the shelf assigned to Malawian dresses I’d had made there from chitenjes. When packing for my various returns for work I’d simply lift the pile from the shelf into the suitcase and be ready to go. Packing was a breeze. I’ve accepted the fact that I won’t be going back for a while, even though a year ago I thought it might be in a year. Now I am saying the same thing. So the chitenje dresses stay neatly folded waiting for a place to wear them. 

Summer on the Maine coast presents challenges for dressing up. One waits all winter for the chance to show the shoulders and knees only to have to cover the ensemble with a fleece jacket. It really spoils the effect. And shoes! Those sassy little numbers you find for a song at Mardens? The ones from Italy with a price tag of $150 marked down to $7.99? Those little heels will sink into the earth at most gala events which makes taking a step dangerous. I’ve left a shoe behind me many a time, discreetly circling back, slipping my toe in to gently lift and remove the planting without disturbing the roots. It’s another acquired skill. 

The dinner invitation was to meet a newcomer to the Island, someone who comes from Malawi! I’d spoken to her on the phone shortly after she arrived and we’d planned to get together as soon as covid and new work responsibilities allowed. Last evening it came together via a mutual friend and with her sisters visiting here as well, it was a multicultural girls night out on graduation weekend. Challenges included where to park and what to wear, but that aside, I was looking forward to a mask-less meal of my choice served to me on a plate as opposed to my evening “meals” eaten directly from the container while standing at my kitchen counter. Plus, new people! Stories! It seemed like a big adventure.  

I pulled out outfit options. Everything still fits, so that was a good start. The weather prediction was warm and clear but that means nothing around here. It can be eighty degrees at my house and my choice of short skirt, sandals, and flimsy little top seem perfect, only to get to the restaurant near the water with a cold “breeze” making a miserable evening of shivering even with the extra three layers I bring in my bag. You can’t go to dinner with a small purse if you haven’t dressed in layers to begin with. The options are to wear them all and take them off layer by layer, or to wear the outfit you wanted in the first place, then ruin it by adding layer upon layer until you can have a conversation and eat your meal without thinking the whole time about getting home and getting into a hot bath. It’s a full time job. 

Last night I thought I had the perfect number of layers with each one adding a bit of style. I was sure I’d be comfortable in a wide range of temperatures and even wore some jewelry. I was feeling dressed up in my long linen skirt (lined so the extra layer was protection while still looking summery), tank top, cotton summer sweater, jean jacket and tie dyed scarf. I thought I had all the bases covered, and though the shoes were a bit dowdy, they didn’t show much and the walk wouldn’t be an issue. My friend arrived to pick me up in…what’s that?…a convertible?! Are you kidding? Woo hoo! I was set for that ride because, like I said, the night was warm. We drove into town, hair blowing, laughing, happy to be going out. I couldn’t believe I had thought I’d want to give this up! What was I thinking? My friend was decked out in a satin jacket with gorgeous jewelry and bad ass heels. She said the others told her they were going all out and getting dressed up as it was the first night out in over a year. My heart sank a little. I didn’t get that memo. When they arrived at the restaurant, gorgeous in long colorful dresses, walking in smiling, full of life, looking like royalty, I felt like a nun. I did have the perfect dress too but it was sitting on the shelf in my closet!  After hours of laughing, eating, drinking, and storytelling, we closed the place, stopping to take group photos amidst the empty tables. In the photos I look incredibly short and incredibly boring. Time to bust out. Add the salt. Spicy summer here I come.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ The Collective Drumbeat

Sunday Morning ~ The Collective Drumbeat 

Ng’oma ilira ikaona inzace. ~ The drum makes noise when it sees another drum.

~ Chewa proverb

May 30, 2021

Hi Everyone,

Our annual midwifery meeting ended this week with an hour-long fireside chat with Angela Davis. The speakers, always great, were phenomenal this year. The meeting was virtual again and, though I missed being in the midst of all the midwifery energy, it was nice to log on and be part of the event while doing spring chores between sessions. Plus, I didn’t have to miss seeing my lilacs bloom. I’m a little worried I might have to ease back in to socialization, which, concerns me, having been such a part of who I am. I love(d?) being around people but now I find myself a little skittish at the thought of large groups. I hope I get over it.

Preparing for Angela Davis’s talk, I made my tea (happy it did not cost $4.95), got my note pad and pencil, and prepared to be wowed. I sat in my sunny greenhouse and thought about how different it might be sitting in a huge room with 2,000 midwives, seeing her small figure distant on a stage. The energy in the room would have been powerful. Many times she would have been interrupted with applause. But in the pandemic year 2021, she sat comfortably in what looked like a study or office, a frosted glass door behind her, her face filling the screen. Her words seemed perfectly chosen and none were wasted. Occasionally I could see the silhouette of a cat walking by. Having gotten so accustomed to using zoom and having conversations on a screen, it felt familiar.  She looked much younger than I expected. The vice president of our organization asked her questions on a split screen, then as she began to answer, the screen would become fully her again. It was so well thought out, so well orchestrated, so easy to hear, even though the topic wasn’t. She did not disappoint. 

I knew she’d been an activist during the 60’s and 70’s but really hadn’t understand her history or the magnitude of her influence. I knew she’d been arrested but thought it was for protesting. I had not known it was for accomplice in murder (a charge that was dropped after she served 18 months in prison). She talked about the fear of a potential death sentence. Then she talked about overcoming that fear and looking at the prison experience as a gift––“for how can you truly advocate unless you truly understand?” I scribbled down words as she spoke hoping to capture her wisdom, “transform grief into expressions that make new meanings for that grief. Create new futures.” She’s an educator. I think about the power of the position and wonder about a new focus. Her grace was magnetic. Every sentence was a lesson, a branch to hold on to. I stopped trying to write them all down. When asked how she maintains hope when the struggle has been going on so long, she talked about how change is a process; we should not look at it as a specific goal, but to lay the groundwork for the process to continue. She said in her lifetime she never expected to see as much progress as we’re experiencing now. I think that’s what I found most inspirational. That outlook, that recognition of how slow progress should not wear us down, that change is a process not a commodity. I decided to cling to that line, reframe my outlook, and stop the impatient feeling of failure when my goals are still unrealized.

She talked about the force of the collective as opposed to individuals. She said no matter how charismatic or influential a single person is they can never create the desired outcome; only a community can do that. The State of the World’s Midwifery report was recently released from the United Nations Population Fund, WHO, and the International Confederation of Midwives. I had my students read it and was impressed with their insights. We only had one class to discuss it but I wanted them to get a taste of the global perspective. The report also emphasizes the need for collective effort. It’s not only the US with a shortage of midwives, it is a worldwide problem. The educational programs are too small, too few, with too few educators modeling respectful maternity care. I found the report both upsetting and reassuring. Upsetting because this was identified thirty years ago, reassuring because it is now being discussed on a world stage. There are two bills in the US congress now allocating money to midwifery education. That’s a huge step forward. We now have a nurse-midwife in the Maine state senate. That’s another huge step forward. 

So I’ll think of these steps as drumbeats, believing the noise will grow.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Breaking the Taboo

Sunday Morning ~ Breaking the Taboo

Kulaula ndi kuzula m’mera. ~ Breaking a taboo is like uprooting a germinating plant.

~ Chewa proverb

May 23, 2021

Hi Everyone,

I’m nearing the end of the course I’m teaching and find it hard to concentrate. I asked the students if it is the same for them. They nodded. I think about sitting on the balcony of my apartment in May 1978 preparing for a final exam. It was sunny and warm and I had blocked off the day to study. I read my scribbled notes in the spiral notebook, little bunches of illegible facts and phrases, and wondered which of them might be my salvation. Boston was beautiful in May: tulips, swan boats, falling in love, Red Sox. We’d gone through the big blizzard that year and as I tried to memorize all possible malfunctions of the pancreas all I could focus on was whether I was getting evenly tanned. I remember telling my roommate, “I hope it rains tomorrow or I am going to flunk this test.”  Who can concentrate when the lilacs are blooming? 

On Friday my class finished reading the history of Martha Ballard, a midwife in colonial Maine, based on her diary. Every day for twenty-seven years she made a journal entry during an era when few women could read or write. She was the first person in America to keep birth records. Laurel Ulrich took Martha’s daily entries and wove together a story of women’s lives when our country was emerging and at war with England. In her corner of Maine on the Penobscot River, Martha was healer and midwife for her community. It’s remarkable to read how she cared for the settlers with the herbs she cultivated. Her wisdom in attending families safely and with dignity is deeply inspiring. We read each chapter and discussed how it relates to where health care is now, how it evolved, and how women contributed so much with so little recognition or respect. Martha recorded delivering a baby on April 26,1812. She died a few weeks later of an unknown condition at the age of seventy-seven. In that period, elderly women were revered. Ageism was a century away. 

The last month of her diary is mostly about her garden. She describes planting cabbages and turnips, feverfew and tansy. She had a seed bed on the east side of her house where she started the seeds she’d save from the year before. She then transplanted the seedlings into the garden, her families lives dependent on the harvest. She overwintered roots of cabbages in her cellar to plant in the spring, providing fresh greens early in the season. Clever, sustaining, nurturing. I asked the students how she knew which herbs would be helpful? There were no guides to herbal remedies. “Wisdom handed down from generation to generation”, they replied. It’s amazing how we’ve buried and uncovered that wisdom over the years, rejecting, then rediscovering without honoring those who already knew…

Martha’s descendants. were also healers. Clara Barton, who started the American Red Cross, was her great niece. Mary Hobart, one of the first female physicians in America, was her great great granddaughter. We traced how midwives were critical to maternal health care until they were nearly eliminated by our health care system in the 1940s. There were 20,000 midwives in the country in 1920. In 1960 there were 2,000. By the time I graduated from midwifery school in 1987 there were approximately 5,000. I remember our motto was 10,000 by 2000 in the big push to increase our numbers before the turn of the century. In 2019 there were approximately 13,000. Not a lot considering how many women don’t have access to a provider. The elimination of the profession was rooted in racism. The south had thousands of African American midwives, providing safe compassionate care with few resources. But there was money to be made and races to oppress and the male power structure took over maternity care and white supremacists made midwifery a white woman’s profession. None of it was about saving women; it was about enriching a dominant race. The plants were uprooted and everyone has been paying the price. 

The students asked, that given how there are so many similarities with the power structure then and now, did I really think things would change for the better? I said I believed they would. The midwifery profession is recognizing it’s racist past; there is no going back to not facing it. I look at what I learned in history, how slavery was depicted as almost quaint, how heroes were white males and women only occasionally got best supporting actor. I never took a class about the history of women’s health care. My history courses were based on memorizing dates of wars that men started. I scribbled my notes in a flimsy notebook, spent weeks in the library to do literature reviews from books written by the dominant race. We’re not going back to that. I want to share my lessons learned with the next generation, consider midwifery as an option, hand them the baton, and watch them finish the race. I told them, “Just the fact you are in this class gives me hope that things are changing.” I tell the students to write their own stories for future generations. Who tells the story makes a difference. So yes, I do believe our voices can shape a better future.

Love to all,

Linda 

Sunday Morning ~ Understanding, Little by Little

Sunday Morning ~ Understanding, Little by Little

Gwada, umvetse. ~ Kneel down in order to understand. 

~ Chewa proverb

May 16, 2021

Hi Everyone,

When we could only afford to live in cheap rentals I was always miffed when people complained about house maintenance. I’d loved to have had that problem. I was aware even then of how owning property creates wealth and how so many have been excluded from that privilege. While longing for a home to care for I spent years reading everything I could about houses as if they were living beings. I clipped photos from magazines, learned about passive solar, natural materials, tools, and energy flows. I had always wanted to buy an old house and renovate it, but my husband wanted to build new. He had childhood trauma of home maintenance and thought a new house would require less of it. He adamantly refused to consider wallpaper because he’d hated removing it, provoking many an argument. (I think we ended up in marriage counseling over that one.) I relented on the new construction and am so grateful for the home we created, custom for our lifestyle. I like taking care of it and thirty years later I’ve finished painting original woodwork and now it’s time to fix things. I love knowing the bones of this place, watching it grow from the ground up. I love knowing how the water lines travel to each sink, where the electrical wires split, how the windows are situated to catch angles of the sun. I can’t imagine leaving it, though at some point I know it will become too much.  

When we moved here we were eager to become part of a community but found it’s not so easy to make close friends once you are out of school. Spending hours of your day living with others creates a unique intimacy. It’s a time consuming investment. Raising a young family and finishing a house while working full time didn’t allow for nights out at a bar or weekend days carousing with friends. We wondered how to create those kinds of friendships. My sister told me about a barter group they had in western Canada where a few families would alternate helping each other do home chores. For me, this checked every box. We would be productive (something I live for), creative, and build relationships. It rang of an old fashioned barn building and I thought we could make lasting friends. I set about finding a few interested families. It took about a year, but three families from church got caught up in my enthusiasm. They had young kids, a similar life philosophy, and overwhelming home maintenance projects. They loved the idea. We had a couple of meals together to discuss how to set it up. We were all giddy at the prospect of getting a ton of shit done at our houses while making friends. It was brilliant. We planned one Saturday a month, no excuses. We rotated houses so we each got four work days a year, one for each season. The host family provided three meals and unlimited beer. We started at seven a.m. and usually ended around seven p.m. when the kids got whiny and beer ran low. 

We had some harrowing experiences mostly involving ladders and chain saws, but once everyone survived without lasting injuries they became hilarious stories to be told over and over. One project at our house was installing a hot tub. This was a few years into our “Work Day” experiment and we already knew each other well. The guys prepared the site, dug the trench, laid the wire, then laid the cement pad. They carried the large seven-seater tub around the house, set it up, wired it, filled it, and we were soaking in it later that evening. We sat under the stars, drinking beer, talking about what a great group we had and what a great idea this had been. We reviewed all the projects we’d done: built a deck at Jim and Louise’s, built a shed at our house, kitchen renovation at Jeff and Laura’s, and many, many smaller jobs: thresholds, trim, wood clearing, bonfires.

We laughed about all the near catastrophes: falls from ladders, dumb ideas about taking trees down, etc. and someone suggested we write a book about it. It had been such a good idea and we had gotten so much accomplished we thought others might want to know how we did it. It could be a how-to manual! Someone enthusiastically said, “It’d be a best seller!” Then Jim said, “But someone should have an affair. That would make the book so much better.” We laughed about that and made some funny (we thought) remarks about who it should be, etc. etc. Unfortunately, it was my husband who ended up doing that and two years later he was gone. And so was the group. And it wasn’t funny.

I kept the house and the hot tub got a lot of use over the following years. The entire high school track team would be in there after a meet and (I learned much later) plenty of other teenage partiers when I was away. Fortunately, no one drowned (that I am aware of). I read many books in that tub, cried a river, bird watched, and pulled my life back together. It became my haven of relaxation after long days and nights of work. It was a place where friends had long wine-soaked heart to hearts. It was worth the price for all the therapy it provided. It lasted longer than expected but gave out this year and I reluctantly added it’s disposal to the home maintenance list. Instead of hiring someone to take it away I thought I’d rent a dumpster and cut it up. I sat down to YouTube to see how to go about it and was shocked to see how many videos there are of people cutting up hot tubs! And they make it look so simple! Five simple cuts with a reciprocating saw and haul it all away. I couldn’t wait to get to it. I even own the saw!  Hahaha. Very funny. I’m glad no one was filming me. I spent ten minutes trying to cut through the rim, my arms jarring out of their sockets, and barely made a dent. I was about to give up but then thought, wait, I told a bunch of people I was doing this and am reluctant to admit defeat. That won’t work. I knelt down and looked at how I could cut through small sections then thought,  “I can just do it like a cake, piece by piece. I’ve got the dumpster for a whole month, what’s the rush?” So, four days, a twenty dollar blade, and a sore back later, that puppy with all it’s memories is ready to be hauled away along with a couple of mattresses and an old rug. Pangono, pangono as they say in Malawi. Little by little, it can be done.

Love to all,


Linda

Sunday Morning ~ The Way of the Butterfly

Sunday Morning ~ The Way of the Butterfly

“Ndaonera momwemo” mamba wa gulugufe. ~ That is how I have seen it. It is the way of speaking of the butterfly.

~ Chewa proverb

April 9. 2021

Hi Everyone,

The violets have strewn themselves all over the front and side of my house. I don’t remember them in such mass before, but I love them and am grateful for their appearance on this Mother’s Day. They brought me back to little patent leather shoes with slippery soles, special and shiny, worn only for church, weddings, and wakes. I wore them with white ankle socks and chilly legs under my puffy ribbon-waisted dress. Someone had to tie the bow for me in the back. Those shoes would be surrounded by little purple flowers as I picked violets for my mother before we left for Sunday mass. It was always sunny on Mother’s Day but I may be remembering only one or two of those years. I’d carefully hold the little bunch, and place little green leaves around the perimeter, framing the bouquet. What was I, six? Seven maybe? 

The Mother’s Day ritual began with bringing her breakfast in bed on a Japanese motif bamboo tray. The tray was small, only enough room for a cup of instant coffee, glass of orange juice, toast of Pepperidge Farm bread slathered with grape jelly from an oversized jar, and an overcooked scrambled egg. My brother did the cooking. I did the arranging and he carried the tray. I carried the cards my father bought and had us sign, crowded around the kitchen counter. One card read, “Do you remember when I was a wee wee tot, and you took me out of my warm warm cot, and made me sit on a cold cold pot, and made me wee wee, whether I could or not? Happy Mother’s Day” We thought this was the funniest thing we’d ever read. We laughed hysterically in the kitchen as we signed our names in big letters. It was conspiratorial and exciting. My mother obligingly set herself up in bed, propped the pillows behind her and squealed her delighted expressions of surprise and joy at the (nearly inedible) feast before her. The window shades were tugged just so and they’d rise and coil around the wooden rod so the room would fill with morning light. We had to be careful not to pull too hard or the shade would fall flaccid and just hang there. Then my mother would have to get out a fork and wind the spring to tighten it–– miraculously it worked again. I never understood why we needed those shades. For some reason we had to cover our windows at night. It felt like we were hiding. What were we hiding from anyway? Who looked in our windows? And if anyone did, so what?

The violets came after breakfast. The tray was too small for any vase, even a tiny one. So after the merry making and jolliness of the (rather insulting as I look back on it) cards, we’d be urged to hurry up and get ready for church and into the party dress and straw hat. While I waited for the family station wagon to fill up, I’d scout for violets, my offering to a woman who got very few thanks in relationship to how much she gave. 

In later years we’d make her cards. I think this was initiated in art class, our required half hour per week of cutting up construction paper and using the crayons unavailable the rest of the week. We’d fold a piece of spring-colored paper in half and decorate it somehow, usually just a crayon drawing with a offset message inside. Did we get graded on this? I remember getting an A in art but I wonder what metrics they used? The art teacher came into our classroom with a tray full of supplies. I wonder if she hated her job? Was she an artist? If she was, the creativity was quite repressed, though granted, she didn’t have much to work with. We’d take these creations home, hide them until the anointed Sunday and they gradually started replacing the store-bought ones my father provided. Eventually, the breakfasts in bed stopped, too. 

When my mother was dying, we sat with her in those last days, surrounding her bed, talking to her quietly, and reminiscing amongst ourselves when she slept. I’d brought her here when she said she was ready, and by then she had only a few days left. I’d packed up her possessions, which by then, were few. While we sat with her, I pulled out some boxes I’d packed from her apartment.They were full of bits of her past: her father’s birth certificate, her marriage license, a hotel receipt from their wedding night, and bundles of our Mother’s Day cards. We each took a few and read them aloud, barely able to breathe we were laughing so hard. One I’d made said, “It’s Your Day! You won’t have to wash floors! (A stick person bent in half with a rectangle meant to be a sponge in her hand was next to this declaration.)  Wash dishes! (Same stick person holding a circle) Do laundry! (Same stick figure with arms up apparently putting rectangles on a clothes line). And then the large “Happy Mother’s Day!” and the exclamation point had a purple flower at the top, which I’m sure, was meant to be a violet. I’d sobbed realizing these cards were among the few documents she chose to keep.

I’m not sure when I stopped picking the violet bouquets for her. Probably when I stopped wearing the patent leather shoes. This morning when I went out to feed the chickens and saw the violets, I thought of how much I miss my mother. I imagined recounting past Mother’s Days with her. She’d laugh and we’d sip cheap wine and reflect on how it doesn’t seem that long ago. She seemed so content with her meager breakfast and her violets. Like a butterfly satisfied with enough from each flower. 

Happy Mother’s Day to all who have cared for another in a mothering way. It means a lot.

Love to all,

Linda