Tears

Beowulf_Cotton_MS_Vitellius_A_XV_f._132rIn college I had an English professor who cried every time he read Beowulf.  Every semester, he stood in front of his young students and translated the story from its original Old English text, and then read the entire version in Old English, weeping profusely when he reached the part where Beowulf succumbed to the wounds incurred in his fight with the dragon, Grendel.  It was a song.  A dramatic performance. A delightful, poetic presentation.  Once finished, he would pull a handkerchief from his pocket, wipe his eyes, blow his nose, and continue with the next assignment.

I have a similar response when listening to choirs- especially when the musicians are children. Every December, I listen to Pavarotti’s version of Panus Angelicus wiping the tears as they stream down my cheeks.  The beauty of Pavarotti’s rich tenor voice melding with the boys from Les Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal reduces me to a puddle before they end the first stanza.

This is nothing new.  One afternoon when I was a small child, my mother played Tennessee Ernie Ford’s version of Old Rugged Cross on the living room hi-fi.  I remember the lump in my throat growing until I began to weep.  When my mother asked me why I was crying, I couldn’t explain it, but she knew, and quietly stroked my head, reassured me that shedding a tear when music touched me was perfectly acceptable.

When I became an adult, my husband and I sang on our church’s worship team.  We practiced in the sanctuary on Saturday mornings while our children played hide-and-seek under the pews.  Rehearsals were generally light-hearted sessions where we concentrated more on form than content, but one morning as we practiced “Be Thou Glorified,” we hit a golden triad that hung suspended in the air for what seemed like an eternity.  I was overwhelmed and I turned to the others on the team to see that they too shared the same reaction. Tears abounded. Some people knelt. Our souls were so touched we had to stop for a short time to gather ourselves. It was a moment I will never forget.

gabe tux 2My two oldest children were avid participants in their school choruses. At their middle school Christmas concerts they looked like red-cheeked cherubs in black pants, white shirts and bow ties. Their renditions of multi-cultural holiday music melted my heart, and the tears flowed.  By the time they were in high school, they both sang in the “Chamber Choir” and performed complicated, sophisticated pieces in several languages.  At one such concert as I sat in the audience and prepared for them to begin, I could see Gabe nudge his friends to lay bets on how long it would be before I had to bring out a tissue.  He was never disappointed. I cried at that concert.  I cried when he sang at Carnegie Hall with the National Youth Choir.  And at the end of Abby’s senior year when the band and chorus performed an extravaganza of Carmina Burana. I sobbed through the entire performance.

Now that my children are grown, you would think this malady would no longer affect me.  But that is not the case. Every time the children from a neighboring school visit my workplace for a seasonal lobby concert, I tear up so badly that I have decided to remain in my office instead of attending the performance.  And when my grandsons sing to me, it takes seconds before I dissolve into a puddle.

In an article in Psychology Today, R. Douglas Fields, PhD says that people who have a tearful response to music are experiencing one of two emotions; sadness or awe.  He makes a strong case for this, and while most music doesn’t make me feel sad, I do believe I often experience awe. To me, music is often a spiritual experience and the innocence of children’s voices coupled with the magic that happens when harmony and dissonance are created the result is incredibly inspiring. When music happens, my soul is touched.  In one measure, I am reminded of the mystery of our creator, as it is an amazement to me that we were designed in such a way that we can fashion tones that bend and weave together in a ballet of sound.

I suspect that Professor Atwater’s response to Beowulf was much the same.  Awe of the creation. Awe of the Creator.  Awe that we can live in a world with people who create beauty that can be passed through the ages by college professors, tenors, and little children.

imagesIt’s December.  The snow is falling. I’ve been hunting for the perfect Christmas gifts for my loved ones. The tree is trimmed and plans are made for reunions and celebration. Time to turn on Panus Angelicus and let the tears begin!

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Golden Chances

This morning while I got ready for work, I listened to Josh Groban’s “Stages” albumI grew up listening to Broadway musicals on my mother’s hi-fi, and knew most of the words to every Rogers and Hammerstein’s show so when “If I Loved You” began, I put down my mascara and paused to remember.

Carousel_theatrical_film_poster_1956One summer night when I was a child, my parents allowed me to stay up late and watch the original version of “Carousel” on our black and white television.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with this musical, the original show debuted on Broadway in 1945, and was made into a movie starring Shirley Jones and Gordon Macrae in 1956.  It is a sweet and sad story of a jaded carousel barker and an innocent young millworker who fall in love at a Maine carnival.  The fake New England accents are atrocious.  The acting is stiff. But the dancing and music are stupendous.  It is worth an afternoon on the couch just to watch the choreography.

The real treasures in this movie are the songs.  I distinctly remember trying to hide my tears from my father during “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” He noticed that I was crying, gathered me up in his lap, and told me I should never be afraid of letting my feelings show.  Whenever I recall that moment, my throat tightens and my eyes fill up.  He had no idea how his kindness affected me.

I love all the music to “Carousel,” but for me, the true show-stopper is “If I Loved You.”  Oscar Hammerstein’s simple phrases woven through Richard Rogers’ melodic passages are poignant and speak straight to the soul:

“If I loved you,
Time and again I would try to say
All I’d want you to know.

If I loved you,
Words wouldn’t come in an easy way
Round in circles I’d go!

Longin’ to tell you,
But afraid and shy,
I’d let my golden chances pass me by!

Soon you’d leave me,
Off you would go in the mist of day,
Never, never to know how I loved you
If I loved you.”

 So this morning, when Groban and MacDonald hit the phrase “I’d let my golden chances pass me by!” my eyes began to smart and tear, and it wasn’t from my eye makeup.  Perhaps it is the blending of their two voices; a crystal harmony that hangs midair for a split second before falling to earth.  Or perhaps the sadness of the song brings me back to my childhood memory with my father.  Actually, I think it is influenced by all of the above, but mostly it is the theme of the song- the thought of letting one’s golden chances pass by- that cuts deep into my soul.

Golden chances are everywhere.  They are there when the crickets hush their dance before the thunder of a summer storm splits the sky. They are when we inhale the scent of freshly mown grass.  It’s a golden chance when we take late afternoon stroll with a loved one and watch our shadows stretch across the sidewalk.  Or when we bite into a freshly picked strawberry while it is still warm from the sun. And for sure, it is a golden chance to drowse by the ocean on a sizzling afternoon, drifting to the cadence of the surf and the calling of distant sea gulls.

It is so easy to get caught up in the spinning of our lives’ carousels and so easy to allow golden chances slip through our fingers. How easy it is to be too busy to listen to a first grader stumble through the pages of his reading assignment?  Or too tired to listen to a thirteen year old recount every detail of who danced with whom during her middle school mixer?  Or in too much of a rush to let the elderly person who only has five items in his basket go through the checkout before us?  When was the last time we put down our phone, closed our computer and shut off our TV in favor of listening with an open heart to a loved one?

Thinking about golden chances has changed my life.  I cherish those rare moments when I am with my siblings.  I linger over dinner with a friend.  I look for a chance to be a little kinder.  A bit more thoughtful.  A lot more attentive.

judahLast Saturday while Abby and John did errands, I took care of my two little grandsons.  Judah is four now and Abram fifteen months.  We played with blocks and cars, ate peanut butter sandwiches, and hunted dinosaurs in the dark corners of my apartment.  After lunch I looked at the crumbs on the floor and the half-finished milk warming in Judah’s cup.  I usually don’t sit down until everything is cleaned up and stowed neatly away.  But not this time.  Instead, I captured both wiggly little boys and squished the three of us into my rocker.  I rocked and started to sing old folk songs that my mother had taught me when I was Judah’s age.  The boys snuggled close and relaxed into my arms, their heads swaying gently on my shoulders as we rocked and sang.  Between verses of Bobby Shafto and Lavender Blue, I drank in the scent of these little ones, relishing every breath.  Abram fell asleep. Judah sucked his thumb.  It was thirty minutes of heaven- a golden chance that I will cherish forever. abram

I will probably always tear up when I hear “If I Loved You.”  Too many golden chances have already passed me by.  But we have today, and God willing, tomorrow.  The carousel is turning, the golden ring is just ahead, and my arm is stretched to grab it and never let it go.

Beating the Heat

heat-strokeIt’s 90 degrees outside, and the temperature is still rising.  This is the second day of this heat; certainly not typical of June in New Hampshire, but sweltering none the less.  Earlier in the week my daughter Abby mentioned that her downstairs air conditioner was not working.

I am by nature a problem solver.  I immediately checked my bank account, while calculating what I believed to be an accurate guess of the square footage of Abby’s and John’s house.   I looked up a chart to find out what size unit was needed to cool the first floor.

And then I stopped.

Abby never asked me to help her.  In fact, she stated that by keeping the shades drawn, the downstairs was quite comfortable, and the family could always escape to an air conditioned bedroom.

This gave me pause to think about summers when I was a child.  When I was growing up, people rarely had home air conditioning.  In fact, many stores weren’t air conditioned.  When I was very young, my family had only one small table top fan that whirred like an airplane and threatened little fingers with menacing metal blades.  My older sister and I took turns sitting in front of it on hot nights when our beds were too tangled and we were too sweaty for sleep.  As I grew older,  I discovered that by moving my pillow to the floor underneath the windowsill, I could catch a cool breeze and read by the streetlight at the same time.  I felt as if I had won the lottery.

PopsicleWe children found relief from the heat in many ways. We hiked up Academy Hill to the town library, and sat inside the cool granite walls, turning the pages to lose ourselves in adventures of exotic people in far-off lands.  We sat beneath the shade of the catalpa tree, drawing tic-tac-toes in the earth below the eaves on the north end of the house on Green Street.  We checked the pay phone at the corner of Main and Lincoln Streets for spare dimes and bought Popsicles to split and share.  And on rare occasions, ended the day with a swim at a lake, hanging our bare feet from the back of the station wagon on the ride home.

As a teen I watched my mother orchestrate a daily game of hide and seek with the summer sun.  Early in the morning she opened the shades on the west side of the house and shut the blinds on the east side.  She turned newly purchased window fans to the highest setting to bring in the cool morning air, and then as the sun rose high in the sky, shut them off and pulled the blinds, keeping the house as dark and cool as possible. Housework was done in the early hours, and the evening meal was not cooked until the sun began to dip, making for leisurely dinners savored well after dark.

judah 6.13Certainly reminiscences of the Days-Before-Air-Conditioning are more pleasurable done in the comfort of my apartment, where central air is included in the rent, and window fans are forbidden.  However, I do believe that given uncomfortable circumstances, most people will find creative solutions.  As I learned from my mother, Abby learned from me how drawing the shades and keeping the house neat, clean and calm lends itself to a cooler environment for her little boys.  Yesterday she filled a wading pool for Judah and let him splash until his toes looked like prunes and his hair formed spikes that dripped pool water over his face.  She took him out for sorbet…before lunch! She found a spot in the shade for Abram, who undisturbed by the sound of traffic and his brother’s happy shrieks, turned his face toward the breeze and settled into a relaxed summer snooze.abram

Tomorrow a cold front is supposed to move in, and by Wednesday night the temperatures are supposed to drop to the high 40s.  But for today, the fans are whirring, the cicadas are humming, and I hear an ice cream cone calling my name.

Ten Optimistic Ways to Look at Aging…Or How to Find a Nugget of Gold in a Pile of Sh*t

Warning: Momma G is feeling snarky.  If you faint at the sound of cuss words and think that life is a Disney movie, you may want to close the page and pick up Reader’s Digest instead.

My sister Robin is having a landmark birthday soon. I know she’s dreading it, because I went through the same thing a couple of years ago.  I’m not sure why we freak out at ten year intervals, but we do. When we hit 30 we mourn the loss of our youth and the days of being carefree twenty-something.  At 40 we ignore the fact that our careers are firmly anchored and our kids are becoming more self-sufficient, and instead concentrate on the crow’s feet around our eyes and gray that appears at the temples.  50 should be a celebration of living half a century.  Often instead of reveling and toasting, we wistfully look back, and wonder why we squandered our youth on things that really never mattered.  And now, another decade has passed and the reality sinks in.  We are never going to be young again.  Ever.

But those of you who read Momma G’s posts know that I am an eternal optimist who believes that in every situation we must find the golden nugget, even if we have to dig a bit to find it.  Here are ten such nuggets.

  1. When we turn 60 people stop telling us what to do. They either think we are older and wiser than they (we are) or old and set in our ways (we are) or it’s just a waste of time since we are old enough to do what we want anyway (and we will.)
  2. photoshoppedWhen we turn 60 people stop remarking that we look tired, and start saying things like “she looks good for her age.” This means we can spend less time on our hair, or makeup.  We can finally let go of the Wall Street myth that tells us we should look like the photo-shopped model who is really only 17 but is playing the part of a 35-year-old who runs a successful business, raises genius children who don’t get messy and has a husband who washes dishes and put his smelly socks in the hamper.
  3. When we turn 60 and buy alcohol we don’t get carded by the kid at the checkout who is young enough to be our grandchild. And if we get a little tipsy (just a little) our kids think we are “cute.”
  4. When we turn 60 people think we are wise, even though we don’t know shit about Snapchat, Vimeo and Twitter.
  5. When we turn 60 our kids think we are hilarious if we swear. Especially if we use the F-bomb.
  6. When we turn 60 our kids think of us as frail and start doing chores like taking the trash out and making sure they don’t leave our cars on empty. My advice? Ride the wave!  Ride the wave!
  7. When we turn 60 it no longer matters who was popular or cool in high school and college. We are all creaky, pudgy, and gray now. The barriers are down and it’s amazing how much easier it is to like each other.
  8. When we turn 60 it doesn’t matter if we dance well or badly. We all look silly on the dance floor, but we don’t care, because we are 60 and life is for dancing.
  9. ladies on the beachWhen we turn 60 we may look like fat old ladies on the beach but nobody judges us, because we are fat old ladies on the beach.
  10. stock-illustration-17749637-gold-minerWhen we turn 60 we realize that most of what we thought were of value- career, money, fame, notoriety didn’t really bring us the happiness promised. But the people we touched- family, friends, strangers in need- they are the jewels of our lives.  The jewels were always there.  We just forgot to look for them.  But the good news is there’s still time to go mining.

Confessions of a Makeup Addict

My name is Garrie, and I’m an addict.

This morning, as I do every morning, I leaned into the mirror on my bathroom medicine cabinet to put a contact lens into my right eye.  It is a struggle, as I cannot see the lens and have to fish around the little well of soaking solution with fumbling fingers.  However, without this lens, I cannot see to apply my makeup, and without makeup, I cannot go to work.  It’s as simple as that.

I began my love affair with cosmetics as a young girl.  My mother used very little makeup; Mabelline cake mascara that mascara jpgcame with a tiny application brush, a compact of pressed powder, and a tube of red Helena Rubenstein lipstick.  When she was busy in the kitchen, I would lock myself in the bathroom, examine each item, smell its contents, and dream of the day I would be old enough to apply small touches like my mother.  On rare occasions, I would try her lipstick, slowly twisting the base, but not too far, least I break the stick or wear down the point.  I carefully applied the ruby-red to my little girl lips, admiring myself in the bathroom mirror while my little brothers and sisters complained from outside the door that they had to pee.  Knowing my mother would never allow her seven-year-old to emerge from the house like a painted lady, I scrubbed at my lips until they resembled swollen strawberries before stealing out the door and skipping off to see if my sisters would notice how sophisticated I looked.

My sisters were not as captivated by the world of cosmetics as I, although Martha-Jean once reported for breakfast with bright blue eye shadow on her lids.  It was the latest fad- all the girls were wearing it- and my older sister bravely and unapologetically brushed it on and sat down to eat her oatmeal, until my mother caught a glimpse of her.  Mom promptly sent Martha-Jean upstairs to wash her face, sputtering “No child of mine is going to leave the house looking like a lady of the evening!”  I didn’t really know what a “lady of the evening” was, but it sounded intriguing.  I would have asked my mother for an explanation, but her face was a bit purple and distorted, and it didn’t seem like the right time for questions.

As I approached my teens, I heard the call from the drugstore counters and began saving my money for lipstick and mascara.  My first purchase was a tube of clear lip gloss that hung from a cardboard display on the drugstore wall.  It cost one whole dollar and it took me weeks to collect enough abandoned change from the floor of the phone booth by the Monson Inn.  1954-EraceWhen the clerk took the tube off the display and placed it into a neatly folded white bag, I thought my heart would burst.  My hands shook as I removed the top of the tube and breathed in its waxy aroma.  From the first application, I was hooked, and the next years were filled with small purchases; Bonnie Bell Blushing Gel, Max Factor Lash Maker, pale Yardley London Look lipsticks, and a wonderful product called Erase, that made my teenage blemishes less visible.  My mother finally realized that her daughters would not be doomed to a life of walking the streets and allowed us to wear eye shadow, as long as we applied it sparingly and avoided very bright colors.

During college I rarely wore makeup- probably because I was always running late for class.  I’d sleep through two alarms, rising with just enough time to pull on my jeans and sweater, brush my teeth, and run from the dorms to the classroom, arriving just in time to slip into the back row.   It was the early seventies and those of us who chose jeans and t-shirts over disco polyester didn’t bother with much jewelry and makeup.  During the years that followed college I became so busy juggling kids and work, that I only swiped on a small amount of makeup when I dressed for church, or to go out for a rare dinner date with my husband.

One day a coworker remarked on how tired and pale I looked.  I went home that night and took a long look in the mirror.  My coworker was right, but it wasn’t a good night’s sleep I lacked.  I knew what to do, and headed for the closest drug store.  I stocked up on blush, mascara and lipstick, and as I opened the packages the next morning, I caught the familiar scents and gently caressed the smooth surfaces with a virgin applicator. I knew my addiction had returned.  It wasn’t long before I graduated from drug stores to department store and Sephora counters.  I discovered mineral foundation and blush, and began collecting various brushes and fancy sponge applicators.  I traded my zipper makeup pouch for a makeup box that is nearly as big as a suitcase.

While I know that my makeup addiction feeds Wall Street’s Barbie doll version of how a woman is supposed to look, I can’t 1950s-red-lipstick-ad1help but feel that dressing one’s face is also an art form and an opportunity for self-expression.  I like to experiment with different shades and techniques, and although the end product looks pretty much the same day-to-day, it’s fun.   It’s an affinity I share with my daughters and some of my nieces, who carefully line their eyes and apply red lipstick that would make their Grammie proud.  Also-and don’t underestimate the value of this- it makes me feel a bit better about the way I look before I face the world, and people are less inclined to remark on how tired I look.

Besides, I’ll never get over the thrill of opening a new product, gazing at the fresh, untouched surface, and drinking in its delightful aroma.  I’m an addict, and I’m not ashamed.

I’m Watching You

Dear young man who lives down the hall from me,

I don’t know your name, but I want you to know I’m watching you.  I watch you as we leave for work at the same time every day.  You smoke your cigarette while your car warms up and nod to me as I get into mine.  We exchange “good mornings” as we shiver in the morning cold.  We smile as we scrape the ice from our windshields, and wave as we leave the parking lot.

15I watched you this morning when the plow left sixteen inches of snow between the apartment house door and the parking lot.  I watched as you kicked out a path before me, so I could walk through without sinking in deeper than the tops of my boots.  I watched as I discovered that my car was plowed in- the third time this week- and you offered to shovel it out, even though you were busy cleaning off your car and your wife’s.

I watched as you sat in your idling car to make sure I was able to pull out of the space where my car was snowed in on all sides.  You didn’t leave for work until you knew that I was able to get to mine.

When I was growing up on Green Street, my parents taught my siblings and me to care about others.  They insisted that we shovel out our elderly neighbors.  They offered our services to run errands.  They called upon us to carry heavy items, care for babies, mow lawns and move furniture.  And they never allowed us to take a penny in return for our efforts.  In doing so, helping out became part of our nature.

But sometimes it seems that helping out is a lost art.  Many would have us believe that the only way to make it through life is to ramrod one’s way, eyes on the prize, never knowing that like Mr. Magoo we leave a trail of chaos in our wake.

Every man for himself.

Just do it.

Failure is not an option.

Life is all about trying to get somewhere first.

Pedal to the metal.

But you, young man who lives down the hall, are different.  Your parents must have been like mine, pathteaching you to help out.  Now that you are grown, it is part of your nature.  Your eyes have strayed from your goal and focused on those around you.   And although you may never have a penthouse apartment or the corner office, you have something far more valuable.  You have heart.

I’m watching you.  I say a little prayer for your success.  And I say thank you.

Touchdown!

$(KGrHqN,!p8FIM6+Fs-3BSI7UbdNlQ~~60_1My father had a love/hate relationship with football.  He loved the game and talked about playing when he was in college, although I never knew if he was a member of the school team or if his career was limited to pickup games on the campus fields.  At any rate, he watched game after game on the television during fall and winter weekends.  The family only owned one television set, and my dad hogged, dictated, directed the programming.  Weekends were devoted to sports, and most often that meant football.

My dad sat in his easy chair and alternately cheered for and yelled at the quarterback.  When his team was down, he stomped from the living room to the kitchen, swearing off football forever, and then returned to his chair to watch the rest of the game.  He yelled if my mother’s sewing machine created static on the screen during a play.  He yelled if we kids walked between him and the set.  He yelled because his team was ahead.  He yelled because his team was behind.

Once, in an attempt to bond with him, I asked him to explain the game.  Thirty minute later, my eyes glazed over, I stumbled from the living room more confused than ever.  I was convinced that I would never understand the game and decided that I would spend my weekend afternoons doing something more interesting.

53-4294-coffee-1375134029To fully grasp this, you need to understand that I was brought up in a generation that valued women one notch below the family dog.  If you don’t believe this, take a look at the advertisements that were popular when I was in my formative years.  53-4312-blender-1375143694When I was a kid, girls were taught that they could grow up to be housewives (really? married to a house?) nurses, teachers or secretaries.  Always a bit of a rebel, I was the first girl to ever ask to take high school shop.  I thought the principal was going to have apoplexy, but after several meetings, permission was reluctantly granted.  Oh the times they were a-changing.

For the next few decades, I was content to avoid football games.  My son and his father often watched games on TV, but I busied myself with other activities.  When my kids were part of the high school band, I went to football games, but mostly concentrated on what the band was playing rather than how the team was doing.  I never felt that I was missing anything.  Until last winter.

At the end of football season I was channel surfing on a Sunday afternoon and fell upon a Patriot’s game.  I had noticed that many of my women friends watch football, so I thought I might give it a few minutes.  Something strange happened- I rather enjoyed it.   When the season ended, I thought nothing of it, but when this season began, I started to keep track of the Patriots wins and losses.  I went to the NFL website and read the rules of the game.  By the play- offs, I was watching from my sofa, yelling and cheering.   Dad would have been proud.

I noticed small changes in how TV land regards women.  Commercials shown during half-time are no longer as demeaning toward women.  Women reporters are interviewing players on the field.   According to a September 2014 in the Washington Post, women account for 45% of the NFL’s fan base.  I found that astounding.  And encouraging.

My children were raised to believe that their desires should not be dictated by their gender.  My daughters embrace their femininity, but have never been afraid to try something because it has been branded as a “boy” activity.  My son respects women and regards them as different in substance but equal in value.

Will I ever turn down dinner and a performance of “La Boheme” so I can watch a football game?  Not on your life.  But will I be tuning in to see if the Patriots win the Super Bowl?  You bet your life.

We’ve come a long way, baby.  Rottenecards_2437311_p4tztdknk8

Payback’s a …

Last weekend, my daughter Elizabeth was in town to do some Christmas errands.  When she was finished, she returned to my apartment to relax and have dinner.  She burst through the door and as she hung up her coat, she exclaimed, “You wouldn’t believe what happened to me!”

I was washing dishes at the kitchen sink.  Stealing a quick glance at her, I noticed she wasn’t smiling.  “What?” I said aloud, although I was thinking, “Oh no…now what?”

“Well, I was on South Willow Street and decided to stop at Starbucks…”
mochaI smiled, remembering how she recently introduced me to the evils of Iced Peppermint Mocha.  Such a delightfully decadent drink!

“And I went to take a left hand turn into the drive up.  A woman zoomed up on my right hand side and tried to cut me off.  I could see her yelling at me through the windshield.”

Holiday traffic on South Willow Street is a nightmare.  I’ve been on that road theroadrage2 weekends preceding Christmas when it’s taken thirty minutes to travel a quarter mile.  Like any city driving, there are times when you have to be fairly assertive, if not aggressive, least you become caught in the middle of a catastrophe.  However, I’ve always encouraged my children to be polite drivers and not allow themselves to be dragged into a situation where hot tempers and poor judgment prevail.

Elizabeth went on. “She didn’t succeed in cutting me off, but she ended up in back of me in the Starbucks queue.  I was furious.”

I nodded understandingly.

“But I got her back.”

I surveyed my youngest child’s face. She is strikingly beautiful; tall and willowy with huge eyes fringed by thick lashes.  Elizabeth is a free spirit- artistic, brilliant… and a bit impulsive.  She is usually soft-hearted and thoughtful.  I have often thought that she couldn’t be intentionally mean if she wanted to.  Still, the holidays can bring out the best, and the worst in all of us.

“Lizza!  What did you do?” I asked, fearful of the answer.

A smile played at her lips.  In an instant, memories of my child flashed through my mind.  Elizabeth elbowing an opponent twice her size during a basketball game.  Elizabeth throwing a rubber spider at a nurse in the Pediatric ICU and making her scream.  Elizabeth and her brother stuffing seaweed into Abby’s back pack before leaving the beach.

I have to admit that although my daughter looks angelic, she does not always make heavenly choices.

She hesitated a moment.  My stomach began to tighten.lizza beach_n

She broke out in a full faced grin.

My stomach tightened more, anticipating the worst.

“I paid for her drink.”

Merry Christmas to all.

Footprints

christmas_tree_decorations_200943It is December and Christmas magic is rolling in like fog across the ocean.  Secrets are whispered behind loved ones’ backs, bells and ribbons are pulled from the attic, and the aroma of pine and cinnamon send shivers down the spine.  The brown soil that November left behind is covered with fresh snow.  It is a time of peace, good tidings and joy.  Everyone is happy.  

Almost.

I came across my nephew’s post on Facebook tonight;

“The world has grown cold now that you’ve gone away, Constance Madison.”

It was followed by comments from my niece, my sister, and my daughter.  They shared the same sentiments.  As I read, the lump that I keep stuffed deep in my throat reminded me that it still lives.  My eyes threatened to spill the hot tears that I blink back whenever my heart longs for my mother, and I thought, “It has been almost four years.”  

It has only been four years.

Almost immediately, I thought of a Christmas carol I learned long ago.

When I was a child, my mother had a beautiful book of Christmas sheet music.  Each carol was meticulously illustrated with angelic children with blushing cheeks and curls gilded with glittering gold.  The pages were as much a delight to peruse as the strains of the noels it contained.

It was from this book that I learned all the traditional carols, from “Silent Night” to “Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella.”  My mother pounded the keys of our old upright piano, while we children clustered around her, eagerly chorusing for yet another favorite.   Some of the keys stuck. Some didn’t play at all, but to us it was music of the gods.

One of Mom’s favorite carols was “Good King Wenceslas.”  It’s not one of the more commonly sung carols, and I’ve never understood why, but I know why Mom loved it so.  

Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, tho’ the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gath’ring winter fuel.

“Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know’st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I shall see him dine, when we bear them thither. “
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together;
Through the rude wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.

I remember my mother wearing the same old coat every winter.  She lived in a house with threadbare rugs and holes in the plaster walls.  But she never hesitated to give a portion of what she had to someone who was in need.

“Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, good my page. Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage freeze thy blood less coldly.”

I remember putting my small feet into my mother’s slippers when I was a child.  They were big and flopped from my feet.

“Mark my footsteps, good my page. Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage freeze thy blood less coldly.”

“In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.

The slippers still held the heat from my mother, and warmed my icy toes.

Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.”

I think it is time to walk where my mother stepped.  To take up where she left off- to christmasmirror her love, and kindness. To give a little more and hold on to a little less. 

I close my eyes, and remember her smile, and the world is a bit warmer once again.

Hello in There

“Ya know old trees just grow stronger

Old rivers run wilder every day

But old people, they just grow lonesome

Waiting for someone to say “Hello in there, hello”

~John Prine

Sometimes the smallest things can touch my heart in the strongest way.  This is especially true when it comes to lonely people.

When I was a little girl it was not unusual to travel with my parents to the nearby town of Palmer, Massachusetts.  In those days my hometown of Monson only had a few stores, but Palmer was a larger community with bigger stores.  We frequently visited PD Shoes and the Five and Dime store on Main Street, and my mother often shopped for groceries at Palmer’s A&P.

Trips to Palmer were an adventure.  My mother piled all eight of us into the station wagon, where we elbowed each other ancar seatd fought over who got to ride in the front or the “way back.”  There were no seat belts and the baby car seat was an invitation to disaster.  But by the grace of God and St. Christopher, we always reached our destination without disaster, with the exception of the time my brother Scott barfed all over the back seat.

On these road trips I usually watched the scenery- pedestrians crossing in front of the Monson Bowling Alley, mourners at Hillside Cemetery, sheep and horses on Palmer Flats.  Each five mile trip was pretty much the same as all the others.

But one day my mother took an alternate route and passed by the A&W Root Beer stand in Palmer, and the next ten seconds changed me forever. As we drove by, I saw a man in a business suit sitting alone at a picnic table, his lunch in front of him.  He looked entirely ordinary- like any other businessman who might have stopped for a quick lunch on his way to an appointment.  But as I watched him from our passing car, a lump formed in my throat and a great sadness filled my heart.  My eyes filled with tears that I could not understand or explain, so I quickly wiped them away and pretended to be engrossed in looking out the window.  I didn’t dare tell my mother or my siblings.  I could only ponder the moment and try to figure out what would evoke such a strong response in my deepest soul.  The only interpretation I could come up with was the man was lonely.

This was the beginning of a sensitivity I have toward people- especially strangers- who seem to have no one.   I would love to say that I always am kind and conscious of other people’s feelings, but this simply is not the truth. There are many times when I get so caught up in my own life’s events that I fail to recognize the needs in others.  But every once in a while something pricks my heart and without warning, my eyes become hot with tears.

This week was one of those occasions.  I was reviewing a medical chart at work and came across the sentence, “The patient lives alone. She reports that she has not had a visit from her only daughter in over a year.”

These words cut straight to my heart, and that old familiar lump rose in my throat.  I have never met this woman but I think she must ache with loneliness.  Although I am aware that we often make our own unhappy situations, I cannot imagine how painful it is to not get a call or email or visit from a loved one-  to not share a funny story, or talk over a problem, or cry over a lost friend.

I think that loneliness is a silent illness.  Those who suffer from it hide their malady, afraid that they will become the accused if they cry aloud.  Our culture chastises those who are lonely, telling them to join a group, donate time to a charity, give of themselves.  And while this can alleviate some symptoms, there are those people who spend their lives doing and donating, and still crawl between the sheets at night feeling cold and unloved.

So what do we do?

elevatorHere’s one idea.  At work I often ride the elevator, mostly because I am lazy.   But it affords me the opportunity to chat with others on the ride. Most people, lonely or not, board the elevator, look at the door and wait to reach their floor.  I have a habit of breaking the silence.  I ask them what the weather is like outside.  I ask them if they know where they are going when they exit the car.  I look them in the eye and smile at them.  I wish them well when we part.  It’s a small thing- tiny actually- but for just one moment, and it might be the only moment that day, someone stopped long enough to say, “ hello.”

I might not be able to change the world,  but if each reader of this post took one step to alleviate loneliness, and shared it  so others could follow suit,  we could certainly impact those around us.  I invite you- challenge you- to come up with a suggestion and share it in the comments below.  Let’s see how far the ripple travels.

 “So if you’re walking down the street sometime

And spot some hollow ancient eyes

Please don’t just pass ‘em by and stare

As if you didn’t care.  Say “Hello in there, hello.”

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