Sunday, January 30, 2022

Madame Sylvia--Part 2

Madame Sylvia  Part 2

 “Why of course,” he answered, putting his hand up to his mouth to hide his grin. “Uh, what did you say your name was?”

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.

End Part-2        


Saturday, January 29, 2022

Madame Sylvia--Creativity serves Need

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

     Madame Sylvia’s first visit to our house was back in November of 1969. My mother had died in
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?”

End Part-1

Monday, January 24, 2022

Who is that masked man? And why did he toss it?

As a child I loved The Lone Ranger radio program. He did great things but no one knew his identity because he wore a mask. It made him mysterious and particularly admirable--the anonymity of good deeds. But there's nothing admirable about how many of us are with masks.

Yesterday I made a quick car trip to a local shop. As I threaded my way through the relatively small parking lot to the store's door, I counted thirteen (13) trashed masks on the ground! Several were cloth, but most were disposable. Many looked like wadded up and discarded tissues or handkerchiefs on the asphalt. Some may have fallen out of the car or from a sleeve and have not been noticed by their owners, but most were most likely intentionally discarded, ripped off and hurled down by people feeling annoyed or suffocated by them. I totally understand the urge to remove my mask when returning to fresh air, but hope I never even accidentally leave one on the ground. Today I walked on our local bike and walking path and noticed several masks on it, too (although not nearly thirteen in the 1.5 mile loop). I stopped to take this picture and a woman walking toward me said, "Is that your mask?" Her question was appalling. If it were mine, wouldn't I have picked it up? What have we come to that even a question like hers could come to mind?