Saturday, December 3, 2022
Saturday, November 26, 2022
It only took me ten seconds to know the bird, but what to write about it had me stumped. To me, a true poem wrenches something from within that hasn't necessarily ever been articulated before. Not only does it convey something to others, but it helps identify within something that maybe hasn't ever been considered or realized by the person who creates the work.
So while I knew the bird, I didn't know how to write the poem. Until Thanksgiving morning. Something triggered the phrase, "snooping is my cup-o-tea," and I began to write. Often when I write a poem I revise and revise. This one, not so much. In fact, I changed only a couple of words. Only occasionally do I write silly poems, but that's the compelling reason to share it. Smile away, please. The verses spilled out; the rhymes flowed; it pretty wrote itself. Enjoy!
WHO AM I?
Helping, oh, how I adore it
And snooping is my cup-o-tea
Nothing is more fun than teasing
Except for counting . . . beyond just 3.
Finding treats upon the streets
Bumping friends up in the air
Yowling, calling, chatting, brawling
My mama taught me how to share.
I love crowds and I love herds
Safety comes in lotsa ways
Loud sometimes, sneaky others
My life is filled with raucous days.
But nighttime is the best there is
Scuffle, shuffle, trade jokes and tease
We laugh and chat comparing notes
Then settle into night with ease.
You think I’m evil scavenging
Berate me for my taste in food
But shame on you for all your scorn
My cleaning up does lotsa good.
We get movies made about us
We get stories written, too,
Yeah, we are a part of Poe-land
Ravens are our cousins, too.
So flap away your nasty thoughts
Caw your blessings when we flock
Murder may be how we gather
But never, never, do us mock.
|This drawing I did at an art session a few months|
ago at my retirement community based on a
photo provided. I drew the foot from a photo online.
Monday, November 21, 2022
Today's episode is what triggered this post. I had occasion to shop at a grocery store I'd never been in before. I thought it would be easy because I needed just three things: butter, whipping cream, and a ready-to-bake pie crust. Yes, you know the reason. I'm going to be the (butterscotch--yummy) pie maker for Thanksgiving.
I made my way to the dairy wall, but could not find whipping cream in the section where logically I thought it would be. After looking for what was probably one minute (but felt like five), I stopped a young man who'd burst his way through the 'back room' double doors with a cart loaded with produce. First he pointed to the shelf, then scurried ahead of me to the area . . . and noticed himself there didn't seem to be whipping cream in the case. Excusing himself, he returned to the 'back room' to ask, and reappeared a couple minutes later to help me again. We had both been looking for the wrong thing. Seems there were no cartons this year, just tiny plastic bottles instead, an incognito look for whipping cream.
After thanking him for his help, I rounded the corner to get butter, but then became stymied at where to find the pie-crust. The same young man was unloading his cart in the next area over, and I apologetically interrupted him again. He smiled and marched over to the area--within sight of where I was standing.
"What is your name?" I asked. "Dante," he replied. "Well, Dante, if you don't mind, I'm going to find your manager and tell him how helpful you are." Do I need to say that he broke out in a wide, melting smile? The manager was at lunch, so I called when I got home and left a message for him. The person who answered was smiling through the phone and sounded upbeat and happy at the reason for the call.
Last week I did the same thing for a man at a nearby hospital where my sister was having surgery. Her husband and I were having a tough time finding her status on the board where patients are listed by initials and medical case-numbers only. An incredibly gracious man, Paul, solved our problem. I called his manager the next day to commend Paul as an employee who went out of his way to help people. Even though Paul's job was to assist from behind the 'Surgical Information Desk,' I saw him came out from behind his desk repeatedly whenever he noticed someone in any state of confusion regarding the information published on the status board. When I asked him for his manager's name in order to commend his diligence, he couldn't stop smiling.
I am making a point of letting the people know who help me just how much I appreciate them by telling their manager-boss. Even though simple a 'thank you' is appreciated, to have a boss hear about an employee can make a difference. I can recall from my own manager days how happy I was when a customer made the effort to tell me one of my employees had gone above and beyond. Once at a grocery store when I asked to speak to the manager, I learned that the employee I had commended had been on probation because of some less-than-skillful ways he interacted with customers. The manager told me it meant more to him than I'd ever know because it meant his extensive coaching of the employee was successful.
I hope I will never take for granted receiving help in its many forms. It is so easy to take a minute to tell a 'higher-up' about a good interaction. I hope everyone will try it.
Monday, October 31, 2022
|stump with sprout|
Wednesday, October 19, 2022
The gist of this little book is how important it is to live in the moment and not be mired down into the past or future. It's the verbatim publication of a speech made to Yale students, April 20, 1913, by Osler--a medical doctor whom Yale hired to deliver the Silliman Lectures. He called the advice a 'lay sermon' and apparently it was mostly written on the steamer he took to America from Great Britain where he was employed by Oxford. I still find much to admire about this speech--even after I looked at information about him on Wikipedia to discover some of his personal views repellant--and I find much to cling to in his advice:
"Now the way of life that I preach is a habit to be acquired gradually by long and steady repetition. It is the practice of living for the day only, and for the day's work, Life in day-tight compartments." He goes on to say,
The quiet life in day-tight compartments will help you to bear your own and others' burdens with a light heart. . . . .
Touch a button and hear, at every level of your life, the iron doors shutting out the Past--the dead yesterdays. Touch another and shut off, with a metal curtain, the Future--the unborn tomorrows. Then you are safe--safe for today! . . .
The load of tomorrow added to that of yesterday, carried today, makes the strongest falter. . . . .
Shut off the future as tightly as the past. No dreams, no visions, no delicious fantasies, no castles in the air . . .. The future is today--there is no tomorrow. Let the limit of your horizon be a twenty-four-hour circle. . . .
Look heavenward, if you wish, but never to the horizon--that way danger lies. . . .
You get the gist. I've just copied these phrases from various parts of his essay that continue to resonate for me. I underlined them in 1959 and again in 2005. Osler's approach to living in the 'now,' the 'moment,' the 'present' are all are rooted in good mental health practice. From Mindfulness Meditation to the adages about the futility of reliving the past or the anxiety brought about by worrying about unknown events of the future, no one is going to argue the wisdom of staying in the present moment.
Especially I love the imagery of the phrase, "day-tight compartment." It's OK to look up to the heavens, and occasionally glance at the horizon, but so healthy to pull back into the moment and enjoy the only thing we know we have: this day. I circled today on the calendar as a visual of the compartment. Envisioning a red circle drawn around today help me figuratively 'stay put.'
Personally, I have discovered how much less anxiety I feel when I can let go of future angst and worry. That's one BIG plus for moving to a retirement community. I'm much more apt to enjoy the moment when I have no looming home ownership issues or even have to think about what's for dinner. Day-tight compartments are easier to come by in my new situation.
Saturday, September 24, 2022
|Swedish Hospital Construction|
|St. James Cathedral|
But there are lots of things to engage the mind and a variety of activities and sights available when I'm walking in my new neighborhood, things never seen on a suburban bike/walking trail in Bothell.
For instance, a huge construction project that is currently a deconstruction site. The scale of this picture isn't graspable in this photo--it needs a human standing in front of it. The height of the chunks of concrete is well over two stories!
The gathering of what appeared to be many bridesmaids at the side door of Seattle's cathedral is something I would never see on the Burke Gilman Trail. And just one block away, I noticed something I don't remember seeing before, even as a long-time patron of the Frye Museum. The plaque explains this was a hitching post once positioned in front of the Frye family residence just a short distance from the museum.
from a century earlier
|Driver was unloading, gave|
me permission to photo,
but stepped out of the picture
All of these items mark the interesting contrast of my daily walks from a few months ago and my life today.Please excuse the reversed order of photos. My host for BTTM, Google's blogger, isn't being cooperative today. Oh, and there's one more picture I'll include. Who says there aren't flowers on dense city streets? These were being unloaded for the event happening in the Cathedral.
Thursday, September 1, 2022
|After the unwrapping ordeal, |
I needed a break before I
removed the inner covers.
It's one thing to protect flat items, i.e., relatively small framed pictures, with a layer or two of bubble wrap, and it's one thing to fill the crevices between them, as well as the spaces between them and the carboard shipping box with something to prevent shifting in transit. Crumbled newsprint or brown paper works GREAT and needs very little tape.
In my opinion, the package I received today could have been dropped from the top of my twenty-four story building and the contents would have survived (although it could have fatally injured a pedestrian walking below). After cutting through thick tape to open the cardboard box, it took me forty-five minutes to cut and break apart the tape and bubble wrap just to get down to the newsprint covering the five frames so I could finally unwrap them. When the person who sent them to me presented them to the clerk at the UPS store, each ktem was wrapped in paper (see the photo above). When I received them, each picture was encased in plastic--layers of bubble wrap then wrapped by tape and more tape and more tape. AND cushioned in Styrofoam peanuts.
|I ended up rolling the salvageable bubble |
wrap, which I will return to a UPS store.
Yes, you read that right. It took 45 MINUTES to cut/tear/pull apart the tape from the bubble wrap to release the items from their UPS wrapping. It's a good thing I'm not a troll or a nasty person who loves making negative comments on social media. Hey, I'm being nice by merely posting this snarky commentary on my blog. Maybe everyone who reads this could challenge UPS when asking it to pack something for shipping by inquiring:
What's wrong with using newsprint (recycled newspapers would be fine once a layer of clean paper protects the item to be shipped)? What's wrong with using just enough tape to hold the wrapping in place?
PS There's an ugly ending to this tale, which occurred Sunday, September 4: UPS refused to accept the bubble wrap and the Styrofoam peanuts for reuse. When I asked incredulously how I could dispose of them responsibly if they wouldn't reuse them, the shrugged response with its implied 'duh' was simply, "in the garbage." Whether it was the words themselves or the 'who cares' tone of voice, something inside me ignited, and once the fire took over a few minutes later while transacting a withdrawal at a nearby ATM, I came up with what I thought was the ideal solution. I would simply pay to ship the packing materials back to the California UPS store that packaged the items shipped to me. My rationale was that these items are all completely reusable, they weighed practically nothing and would require no additional packing materials.
Will I ever use UPS again? I hope not.
PPS On Thursday, September 8, I received a phone call from the originating UPS store in Marin County, inquiring why I had sent it a large box filled only with packing materials. (Obviously, I hadn't enclosed a gift card.) When I told the caller I was hoping it would be recycled, the response was, "Oh, that's great! We are happy to reuse clean packaging materials, yes. Thank you." From this hoped-for response I must conclude that not all UPS stores are as unwilling to accept packing materials for reuse as the one I patronized until last week in the Seattle area.
Monday, August 15, 2022
I was struck at what an apt metaphor for good parenting the imagery is. Here is a parent standing guard, while his child explores something new and wonderful on her own. On closer look, we see the child enchanted at a clear jelly fish she has found in the tidal pool. The parent is neither interfering nor narrating the adventure, but rather is allowing his child to discover the mysterious creature she is holding. The parent is watchful, but not engaged in a separate activity, such as texting or chatting with anyone. He casts a shadow across the tidal pool, but the child is not in it. She is in the dazzling light. The parent could easily perceive the child to be in a spotlight as sparkles of reflection dance around her back.
The boomerang in the parent's hand struck me as a metaphor, as well. Something we all want when we send our children into the world is for them to return to us in love the way a boomerang does (and not lose their way because of an unforeseen influence or a poorly prepped throw). The parent in silhouette--backlit--also seems symbolic. The child is in the radiant light, enveloped and partaking in nature's gifts, while the parent appears to be allowing the moment to belong entirely to the child.
I'm a typical smart-phone photographer, but sometimes I can be surprised with what I've captured digitally. This photo impressed me with its wise and beautiful message for all of us who are parents. Thanks, OneDrive, for this unexpected surprise.
Monday, August 1, 2022
|May 22, 2022|
At my house for the last five or more years I've been reluctant to knowingly make a mess because, yup, I have to clean it up. But an art class here? There's no clean up required!
|August 2022 week 1|
When I stayed at this community for two nights back in May (the sales' department's recommendation to avoid making a hasty decision about such a huge life-change), I attended the art session taught by an amazing and gifted artist, Everett, a young man I know only by his first name. He offers meaningful instruction and gentle guidance to everyone who joins his weekly sessions, finding a way to genuinely and sincerely praise everyone's best effort. Today we drew hands after warm up exercises of figure poses by Everett himself. For the main subject, we could either choose to copy pictures he provided or draw our own hands. I chose the latter.
|August 2022 week 2|
Friday, July 29, 2022
Tuesday, July 26, 2022
It's been awhile since my last post, and the month is running out. Some of you may recall I've held to the commitment of a minimum of two posts a month. If I can't do that, I should give up my blog. So here I am on countdown, but what a crazy month it's been since my last entry on Saturday, June 25!
That day was supposed to have been my first Open House on what I was anticipating to be the long and laborious trek of selling my house. Instead, I received an offer the day before (June 24) that was too good to pass up. I accepted it, so the June 25 Open House was canceled, as well as all subsequent ones. Today the sale was recorded and, for the first time since 1987, I am no longer a homeowner!
I'm exhausted as I write this. In this past month I've discarded, donated, and offered up hundreds (maybe thousands) of items. Multiple trips to Goodwill have been made and ultimately a junk service arrived at the house to cart off everything that wasn't packed up or disposed of in all those various ways. I've unpacked most of what was moved into my new apartment at a retirement community in urban Seattle on July 19. Three of my offspring sprang into helping action, so I had help of at least two of them for an entire week. Lucky, lucky me.
I admit I'm proud of downsizing and getting into a space more appropriate for an old woman. I also admit I'm regretting some of my decisions about what to get rid of and wishing I'd ridded myself of some of the things I moved. Several dozen boxes of 'stuff' and a few pieces of furniture are stashed in a rented storage unit for further review as soon as I'm able to step away from settling in. I hope to have disposed of everything in storage by year-end. Undoubtedly I'll be writing about that agony in future posts.
As happy as I am to have made the decision to move to a retirement community before I need assistance, I'm also nostalgic about the natural beauty I left behind. I shall never forgot the fragrance of evergreens and scents emitting from the abundance of beauty our earth's covering supports. The beauty of the Sammamish River as it flowed nearby never failed to move me.
I'll be writing lots about my new urban environment in future posts; today I'm sharing a tiny bit of that beauty I left behind.
Saturday, June 25, 2022
Almost thirty years ago I was reminiscing with my sister, Judy, about shopping with our mother for our 'good' clothing, quality-wear from an upscale women's clothing store where we had help of Miss Miller, the equivalent of a personal shopper. Miss Miller would present garments she'd selected for us to try on, responding to Mother's phone call a day or two ahead, but Mother would be the tie-breaker if differing opinions arose over which garment to buy. It was she who ultimately determined what was age appropriate and becoming to her daughters. If she didn't approve, it was unlikely we would be getting it, although sometimes Miss Miller, the personal shopper, could gently change her mind.
Because Judy and I were having trouble remembering each other's favorite items during our conversation, we decided to make renderings of them from memory to show each other. I made these twelve little watercolor sketches of my favorite items; she did the the same of her favorite outfits, and we gave them to each other as birthday gifts in 1993. A dozen years later, we traded them back so we each had a visual record of our own favorite clothes. Recently I rediscovered mine tucked away in the back of a drawer. I'm sharing them here because they may not make the 'cut' during my giant downsize endeavor.
Saturday, June 11, 2022
I was not alone in the years of older teen-hood and early twenties as I searched for my signature fragrance. Every department store had multiple sales women walking around with sample scents to try. Most of the college-age women I knew wanted to have a gentle fragrance that would be associated with us and unique in our circle of friends. Did we really want others to know we were around the corner? or had arrived at a party? I hope not . . . but I digress. Fine perfumeries and cosmetics companies still create and market fragrances, but thankfully, patronizing public spaces while doused in your personal scent is no longer an acceptable norm.
I was twenty years old --1960-- when I found my scent, a French perfume called Visa by Robert Piguet. I was in Paris with my parents and tried a sample at a Parisian perfumery. It was so beguiling (both Mother and Dad said it was a lovely fragrance, as wafted from my wrist to their nostrils) that I bought a small bottle and began to wear it. It was entirely mine. No one I knew had ever smelled it, heard of it, or noticed it for sale before. Months later when I had used up the small bottle, I had to research where I could buy it in the USA; it was tricky to find. Nevertheless, there was a distributor somewhere in New Jersey, as I recall, that put me in touch with a Seattle specialty shop carrying it. Eventually I had to order it from a perfumery in New York.
As the years went on, it began to be more and more difficult to find. I'll spare you the details and perhaps you've already figured out why my favorite perfume either had to be discontinued or renamed. Yup, my lovely scent had become a brand-name of a new concept and EXTREMELY popular product called the 'universal charge card.' Gulp.
And who wanted to smell like a credit card? Was there any market for a perfume with that name? I'm sure sales plummeted and eventually Visa by Robert Piguet was no longer to be found even at the New York perfumery. I kept hoping Robert Piguet would rename it and market it under a new moniker, but no. The scent was retired forever in the early '80s.
This tiny bottle in the photo goes back, I believe, to my first purchase in Paris. Of course, these sixty-plus years later, opening the cap releases the putrid stink that only perfume-gone-bad can exude, but I've kept the empty bottle tightly closed as a reminder of an aspect of the person I once was. I am tossing it away today as I begin a giant downsize for a giant move I'll be making. More about that to come. I thought it only fitting the the first thing to throw out would be the smallest thing I own. The photo and this post will help me remember those long ago days and my personal scent called Visa!
Tuesday, May 24, 2022
No doubt you've heard the expression "She (he) casts a long shadow" as many times over as I have. It's trite but an effective visual, often meant in the most complimentary way. Most of us would take pride in hearing that said about about themselves.
And . . . it can also be used in a detrimental way to describe how someone has negatively affected a discipline or enterprise. It's all about context.
On May 20 slightly before 8 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time, I turned away from the blinding sun rays coming at me from the western sky. I was out for a short fresh-air jaunt before settling into an evening of streaming a Seattle Symphony concert in my living room. I looked down and was amazed at what I saw.
Really? I have THAT much influence? OR . . . am I that big a pain in the you-know-what? Don't answer!
Friday, May 20, 2022
Monday, April 25, 2022
The space ceased being Jay's office and became just a bare room, and the shut door was a way of not missing him so much. Within a few weeks I began to refer to the room as "the Bare Den," as a way of having a little fun with words. That's when it occurred to me: MY BEAR COLLECTION could live there! Multiple stuffed bears were currently stored in boxes in a closet. I wasn't quite ready to give them away, but I didn't want them cluttering our condominium, either.
Friday, April 8, 2022
So you heat the skillet, slice the cheese, spread butter on the bread, and start the sandwich, while you wash an apple, set the table with a napkin and placemat, and pour a glass of water. Is it time to turn the sandwich? Probably.
This is what happens when you cook without a sense of smell.
Sunday, March 27, 2022
In the Poetry Potluck sponsored by the local YMCA we write poems to semi-monthly prompts given to us by our poetry facilitator or his designee. We meet over Zoom for an hour twice a month to read aloud and chat. Through our poetry prompts and the resulting poems, we've become what feels like friends, yet most of us have not (and may never) meet in person. It's been a lovely perk during the other 'P' even we've all experienced in the past two years. Thank you, Y!
The most recent prompt for a poem was "advice/words of wisdom received." Instead of writing about a specific gift, I wrote a poem about one of my favorite notions--something a person hears inadvertently that becomes advice and can even be profoundly helpful. Nine years ago I wrote a post on the topic and published it on this blog, which I reference in this link .
Here is my poem written last week on the same topic.
THE UNWITTING GIFT
Anyone can give you an unwitting gift,
and that anyone will likely never know it.
Offhand or sloppy is how the gift is wrapped,
its ribbon like a crumb stuck on a sleeve
that draws you in, but goes unnoticed by another.
It’s a gulp of truth spoken in passing,
expelled like breath and enveloping you
with an ah-ha, and unravels a knot of
worries and concerns or questions inside
that helps dissolve an undigested mental lump.
Maybe you hear something on the radio
and as your ears swallow the phrase, you realize
how starved you were for this very thing,
word-food which silences an unknown craving
that soothes your insides from the inside out.
You might receive an unwitting gift in a checkout line,
or as anecdotal sharing in a good-friend chat,
even from a person you don’t much care for,
but someone has brushed past you with the dustpan
that holds the puzzle piece you didn’t know was lost.
Saturday, March 12, 2022
It very much looks its age--a century plus, but I don't know its exact provenance. Not only is its finish badly worn and marred, but its legs were chewed on by our family dog in the late '50s. Our English bulldog, Winston, apparently found comfort in gnawing away at the claw-like legs when we'd leave him alone too long. The desk resided in the part of the house that Winston was confined to when alone, so there wasn't much we could do but scold him when we noticed the increasing damage. Of course, it never happened when we were home.
|The decorative cupboard door|
I intended to get out my old-fashioned paper tickets (you know the kind, maybe 1.5" x 4") for an event this weekend. I pushed aside several folded, home-printed tickets for other events, saw the little envelope I was looking for and went to grab it. But, wait . . . I had just seen it, but it was gone! The small envelope seemingly vanished, which I substantiated by taking everything out of the compartment and reexamining the contents of several envelopes, flyers and pamphlets. What the f - - k!
Probing around with a flashlight helped me realize there was a small gap in the back of the little cupboard. I concluded the tickets must have somehow slipped through to the back of the writing surface underneath the cupboard. But even scraping a ruler underneath that area, I found no tickets! (I did find several rubber bands, a paper clip, a bookmark and a museum guest pass lying there, though.) Next, I opened the top main desk drawer, wondering if the tickets had fallen through to that drawer, but--no--still no tickets!
Next I removed the drawer where, sure enough, the ticket envelope was lying on its supporting wooden shelf that separates it from the next large drawer. In addition to the tickets were several other larger pieces of paper, two with dates on them that put them back to 2012 and 2013! The two dated sheets were too big and unimportant to ever have put in the locked cupboard, so I have no idea how they got there.
I can't remember ever taking out the drawers except when preparing the desk for a move. The last time that happened was 2010. But I'd never dreamed an item in the little locked cupboard could make its way into hiding in an instant, a poof! My point in writing this? For me it's a smack-in-the-face lesson: Never, ever, take anything for granted. For you, it might be a lesson in how aging brings on a recalibration of what's exciting enough to spend time writing about it. (EEK!)
Monday, February 14, 2022
greedy retailers had wrecked it for most
by marking up candy and jewelry and cards.
“Just tell me you love me on Valentine’s Day
I do not need roses at ten times their worth!"
After running some errands and returning back home
I entered my office, then gasped and stopped short
A vase of red roses had been set on my desk
and my anger erupted in the rudest of yells
“What the . . . you know what I think of flowers this day!”
“Yes, I do,” he said as he rounded the corner
to yank up the vase and toss out its contents.
“Dollar Store!” he grinned, then hooted in glee.
It took me a second to fathom the scene. Uh,
no water was spilled and . . . Oh, the roses were fake!
I gulped and I gasped, then I snorted a laugh
and he grinned and extended his arms in a hug.
We chuckled all day at how I fell for his joke.
All these years later I still have those roses
sweet keepsake forever of his laughter and love.
Tuesday, February 1, 2022
Madame Sylvia Part 3And that began periodic visits from Madame Sylvia, always happening around the children’s bedtime. I’d hastily overlay Madame Sylvia’s outfit on top of my housewife garb, kicking off my shoes and squeezing into green high heels as I tied the kimono shut with its sash, and slap on the headscarf and earrings while running around the side of the house to ring the front doorbell. I got very good at this quick change, and made a point of mentioning to the children their dad would get them ready for bed that night because I had to go to the store. Madame Sylvia arrived several times that first year, then tapered off to maybe once every couple of months for three more years. The children always were on best behavior the minute she entered the living room.
Madame Sylvia’s final appearance was in Santa Fe at a family reunion in 2002. She wore different earrings (one had been lost) and she no longer fit into her green high-heeled shoes, donated to a thrift shop many years prior. But she knocked on the door of the rented casita where everyone was gathered after supper and entered the room in her purple silk kimono and blue headscarf. Only her husband knew anything of her plan to join them. He graciously and formally introduced her to the people she didn’t know— the grown children’s spouses, all of whom had heard about her. She seemed as delighted to meet them as they were her and shared with each of the women her positive first-hand impressions of them. After a few minutes of conversation, she said goodbye to everyone and excused herself. “Don’t see me out,” she said. “I know the way zee vay.” She has not made an appearance since.
I still have the kimono and sash. A few years ago I asked my neighbor who’s a native of Japan if she would like to see the garment crafted from beautiful silk and dyes from the early-to-mid 1930s. She admired the quality of workmanship with its intense color and pattern. She laid the kimono out and showed me the proper way to fold it, which I did and then wrapped it in acid-free tissue. I didn’t share with her how many times I’d worn it as Madame Sylvia, lest it sounded irreverent and foolish. Only my closest friends have heard about my foray in this avatar who triggered my children’s best behavior. As I tucked the precious tissue packet into a drawer, I could hear Madame Sylvia’s phony-accented voice addressing me. “I am vun of the best ideas you effer had.” I nodded in agreement as if she had spoken aloud.
Sunday, January 30, 2022
Madame Sylvia Part 2
“I am Muh-dahm Seal-vee-a. I haff come from fahr avay to read to your shield-rehn. I haff heard zay are very vell-behafed. Faht ah zeir names?)
With a perfectly straight face, he introduced them each by name. “Say hello to Madame Sylvia, children,” then excused himself (by now he was nearly shaking with laughter) to leave the four small people in the living room with Madame Sylvia. She ordered them to sit in a circle at her feet, which they promptly did. After asking a few questions—without once dropping her thick accent, an essential part of her disguise—about what they had done that day, she accepted the storybook from the oldest child and opened it. “I can see you are good children and would never make an interruption.” She read aloud in a blissfully silent room.
After she finished the book, she closed it and asked one to tell their father she was leaving. When he reappeared, she walked to the door. “You have such polite children, but I must leave now. It was lovely to meet you all.” ( . . . It vuz luffly to meet you all.)
“Will you come again, Madame Sylvia?”
“Perhaps . . . we’ll see. Goodbye.”
I waited until I rounded the corner of the house to take off the costume, knowing that the children were being escorted upstairs to bed and would not be looking out the window. In just a couple minutes I tiptoed through the back door looking exactly the way I had looked before my transformation. I rushed upstairs to kiss everyone goodnight.
“Oh, good! I got back in time to kiss you goodnight.”
“Mommy, guess what happened!” the three year-old began.
The four year old interrupted. “This lady came and read to us.”
“Really? Why?” I asked.
“She travels to houses . . . it was our turn . . . she only reads to good children . . . we were good.
“Well, I’m glad you were good! Do you remember what her name was?”
“Madame Sylvia,” answered the four-year old, imitating her accent perfectly. “She talked funny . . ..”
“. . . but she was nice.” The six year old, who had been standing in her brother's bedroom doorway, finished his sentence. “I sat right next to her . . . she let me turn the pages.”
I was surprised no one had yet asked the obvious question. I quickly explained my absence. “It’s too bad I had to run to the store. I would have enjoyed meeting her”
“She looked a little bit like you, but . . ..”
“It wasn’t you . . .you don’t have clothes like that.”
“Can you describe what she looked like?” I asked, to divert the sting of a direct fib.
Everyone talked at once—even the eighteen-month-old repeated words from his crib across the hall. “Purple and long . . . purpo . . . bathrobe and blue hat . . . she talked loud. . . sparkly earwings . . . floppy scarf. . . and green shoes, too. Yeah, . . . Mommy doesn’t have green shoes, so it couldn’t be Mommy . . . but she looked kinda like her . . . sort of . . . ‘cept Mommy doesn’t talk like that . . . nah, it wasn’t Mommy cuz Daddy would have recognized her.”
“She sounds like an interesting woman. I hope I can meet her someday. Now, let’s get to sleep, everyone!” I kissed my four now-well-behaved children, closed all three bedroom-doors and descended the stairs to the family room.
“What on earth made you think of that?” my husband asked, chuckling. And was it possible I’d really fooled them? Maybe we all needed a little magic now—especially now—after their Nana’s death.
Saturday, January 29, 2022
I wrote this a few years ago for myself, mostly, but I've decided to share this real life event that happened long-ago in my family. I've split the continuous narrative into three parts so the length isn't daunting. The other two sections will appear on this blog within the next few days.
Madame Sylvia—Part 1
August, but with four children under the age of seven I barely had time to weep, let alone reminisce and tenderly recall the happy parts of my mother’s life—the kinds of things that help a twenty-nine-year-old woman process a profound and personal loss. Other than occasionally excusing myself from child-tending for a minute or two to bury my face in my pillow and cry behind the closed bedroom door, my life continued uninterrupted as a homemaker, mother, and wife.
Only in the evenings, after the children were tucked in for the night, could my sister and I attend to the business of sorting through our deceased mother’s belongings. The two of us were the sole remaining members of our family of origin, and Sis, too, was rearing a young family. Gradually we sorted through Mother’s household effects so we could relinquish her rental house to the landlord. After each work session, we’d take things to our respective homes—kitchen utensils and foodstuffs, artwork, and clothing. Records and books and china and silver. Furniture. Photo albums. Bed and table linens, shoes, jewelry, and gift items purchased for birthdays yet to happen. Piles for friends and thrift shops, piles for us, too.
On one of those nights, I broke down weeping as I unfolded Mother’s glamorous dressing gown with flowing sleeves, a deep purply-blue kimono accented with a floral pattern. The garment, along with a delicately tie-dyed sash of saffron yellow and rust, had been a wedding gift in 1934 to Mother from an honorary member of my dad’s family, a Japanese man who—as a student—had been employed by my grandparents. Mother only wore the robe when she was getting ready to go out for a gala evening with our father. She’d bathe and put on her best lingerie, then wrap herself in the kimono to fix her hair, put on jewelry, apply lipstick, and perfume. Neither my sister nor I could imagine giving away the kimono. Although I couldn’t visualize myself wearing it (I am not the type to put on a glamorous cover-up while getting ready for a dressy evening), I was happy to take it to my house.
Naturally, our house with its six occupants was not long on storage space, so I rolled it up in a paper bag and put it in a box in the basement. One of these days, I thought, I’ll show the robe to my children and tell them about the happy times when their Nana wore it—then I’ll find a place to permanently store it. Little did I know that in just a few weeks the kimono would become intrinsically woven into my own family’s history.
On that particular blustery, rainy November evening, my husband was exhausted and trying to read the newspaper to relax from the stresses of his workday. I had bathed, pajamaed, and tooth-brushed the children so they were ready for their nightly story. They often got silly before bed, but this night they were wilder than usual, pushing and shoving and sticking out tongues and belching in each other’s faces. Although they were just overtired and over-stimulated, in my head they were momentarily monsters. I thought about the praise of strangers whenever we’d go anywhere in public. “You have the sweetest, best-behaved children,” they would say in many variations. Whenever I took my children anywhere, it was as if I were tending four cherubs. But in my own home that night, I was tending fiends!
“Quiet, children! I am not going to read to you if you don’t stop this now!” I might as well have been talking to a wall. They were pushing and tickling each other, wildly racing around the living room. Why are they so rude to their mother when they’re so nice for strangers? I wondered. Why would anyone read to them when they are this horrible? I wanted to scream in frustration.
Suddenly I had an idea. Leaving the children in the living room, I rushed into the family room where their dad was dozing off behind his newspaper. “Keep an eye on the children—they’re absolutely wild. I’m in the midst of an idea,” I said as I started down the basement stairs, “and answer the doorbell when it rings!” I grabbed the paper bag with the kimono and sash, then tore back upstairs, darting into our bedroom to rummage through my dresser drawers and the closet. I grabbed green linen high heeled shoes I’d not worn in six years, a flowing scarf sitting idle since college, and wild dangly earrings I’d bought for a part in a college, then rushed to the back door and stepped outside.
Under the cover of the patio roof, I pulled off my clogs, stepped into the heels, pinched on the earrings, and tied the colorful scarf over my hair. I pulled the kimono over my clothes, tying it with two wraps on the saffron-colored sash. I sprinted through the rain by the side of the house, and breathlessly climbed the four steps to the front porch where I reached for the doorbell.
I could hear instant quiet from within. “Daddy, someone’s at the door,” called the oldest, her voice was muffled but I knew exactly what she was saying. I had drilled into my children’s heads that only an adult could open the front door if we weren’t expecting company. As I waited for the door to open, I hurriedly put together my opening lines. The door bolt turned and the door opened, sucking the storm door into the doorjamb with a snap. Behind the glass storm door all four children crowded, their dad behind them. I introduced myself as he unlatched the storm door but before he could open his mouth to say anything.
“Good evening, children” I said in a thick, faked accent, mostly French, a little-bit Czech and German. I looked at each of them as I continued. “I am Madame Sylvia (Muh-dahm Seal-via) and I am a traveling storyteller (traffelling storytelleer). I read to children (shield-wren) before their bedtime (zehr bedtime).” I directly eyeballed my husband. “May I come in, sir?”