Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Well-worn and Irreplaceable

As I searched through the house for items to sell at my garage sale, I pulled out an old frying pan.  It is scarred and pitted, with a long black wooden handle.  As I held it in my hands, I could almost hear the bacon sizzling; I remembered the hundreds of times I slowly stirred scrambled eggs or dropped zucchini pancakes into hot olive oil.  No, this pan is a keeper. 
Fortunately, my husband's family places great value in preserving family belongings, so through the years I have amassed a small collection of club aluminum which was used by my mother-in-law and her mother-in-law.  I have large, heavy soup pots, and a hefty roasting pan.  The rolling pin I have used for over forty years is another family "heirloom."
I would not trade these for the most expensive cookware on the market now.  Often I walk through the housewares section and covet the beautiful pots and pans on display, but they cannot compare to the treasures I have in my own kitchen.  My old pans, with their well-seasoned surfaces, are perfect for slowly simmering soups, stews and spaghetti sauce.  The handles of my old wooden rolling pin seem molded to my hands -- perfect for rolling out pie or cookie dough.
There are also precious memories associated with these old faithfuls.  I remember Sunday dinners at my in-laws' home.  Such delicious aromas coming from the kitchen, the large roasting pan keeping the sauce and meatballs warm on the stove.  Memories of the annual clambake, with the large soup pots holding clams in the middle of the long picnic tables at camp as we savored the chicken, sausage, potatoes, corn and coleslaw. 
Kitchens now are large and sleek, and the cookware is lovely to behold.  But, my heart is drawn back to my mother-in-law's small kitchen where most of the prep work was done on her kitchen table -- no fancy granite countertop or six-burner stainless steel stove.  The utensils she used were well-worn, her pans old and sturdy.  But, there was warmth in that kitchen, and love, and abundant, delicious food.
Thank you Mom -- for the pots & pans, the recipes, and the love.  They are irreplaceable.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Eclectic Lifestyle

Our garage sale morning could not have been more perfect -- blue skies, sunshine, light breezes.  I positioned a comfortable lawn chair and small table nearby and waited for our customers to arrive.  Unfortunately, they straggled in slowly all day, and the sale itself was not very successful.  However, our conversations were interesting.  Several people commented on my lovely yard, which boosted my spirits because with the hot, humid summer we have experienced, and a knee injury which has me sidelined a bit, the weeds are taking over in my gardens, and I have felt neglectful.  One woman told me she would love nothing better than to sit by my little pond with a glass of wine and enjoy the serenity.
And I thought about my philosophy of gardening -- I plant and weed, but for the most part, I let nature take over.  Some years the phlox will be breathtakingly beautiful, and other years the deer will chomp the tops off before the first buds have a chance to open.  Black raspberry bushes have taken over parts of my back garden and an area beside my garage -- they are thriving, but I did not plant them.  I gently prune bushes, but tend to leave them as naturally flowing as possible, to offer refuge to the birds.  My garden is a hodgepodge, but it is pretty and soothes the soul.

I have never been inclined towards structure and formality in any area of my life.  Coloring between the lines is not my style.  I fell in love with my old Victorian house with its ancient kitchen because something about its long life spoke to me; I saw the possibility of creating a warm haven for my family in this well-worn home.  My home has always been more about function and pleasure than formal Victorian décor.  Most of my furnishings are either estate sale finds or family pieces -- with the scratches and scars that come from being well-used.  My closets and storage areas hold a variety of items that represent my many interests -- sewing, knitting, flower arranging, gardening, holiday decorating.  The kitchen cabinets overflow with old soup pots, cake pans, bowls, wooden spoons -- all of the utensils that have helped me to feed and comfort my family and friends through these long years.
The dining room and its little walk-in china closet hold my beautiful collections of china, tablecloths and napkins.  So many dinners have been served in this room, with its 90-year old table and chairs.  China has always been a passion of mine; I cherish an old friend's set which is complete with butter plates and ramekins.  I use this infrequently, though, because it must be hand-washed.  There are so many memories here of much-loved family and friends gathered around the table, enjoying delicious food and the warmth of togetherness.  My little antique china closet holds family treasures -- the silver champagne goblets from our 25th anniversary party, my mother's miniature tea set, and nativity figurines from my childhood. 

My life itself has been eclectic -- years spent pursuing the things I loved, rather than the most practical or secure.  An earth mother of sorts, my years of mothering my children were my happiest days; there were part-time jobs from home -- typing, crafts, babysitting.  There was always some party to be planned, or costume to be made, or special dress to be created for my daughter.  Long hours were spent in the kitchen -- cooking, baking, sharing coffee and heartfelt conversations.  Reading has been one of my fondest pleasures, and my bedroom is filled with notebooks and journals of my writings.  I love dining in a beautiful restaurant with linen napkins and delicious food, browsing through dusty antique shops or bookstores, touring historic neighborhoods, and walking quietly through a nature preserve.

To many, my life may seem a bit "provincial" -- very little travelling, residing in the same small town all of my life -- but I have nurtured children, animals and flowers; I have created a warm, welcoming home for friends, and I have had the time to pursue those passions that bring me the greatest pleasure.  I have followed my heart --


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Missing Carol

Four years ago tonight I was waiting for my sister to die -- how sad it was to sit on my quiet porch at nightfall, listening to the sparrows settling into the ivy, with a part of my heart lying in bed across town, slowly dying.

There is a post that circulates on Facebook about sisters being "different flowers from the same garden."   How true that was of my sister and me.  She was born when I was almost six years old - an age difference that separated us throughout childhood.  We didn't play together or share secrets or feel any particular sisterly bond.  Physically, we were opposites.  I was tall, chubby, and somehow could never find a hairstyle that worked.  She was shorter, slim, with long, thick hair and beautiful eyes.  We liked different music, different books, and different people. 

As we reached adulthood, I was naïve, hopeful, and eager to be liked.  She was more worldly, wary, and cautious in her friendships.  We both had strong opinions, but were usually on opposing sides of any issue.   Basically, we drifted further apart, and neither of us really tried to bridge the chasm between us.

When I was 50 and she 44, our mother died. The one thing we did have in common was a deep love for our mother, and we shared the pain of losing her.  And, this loss finally brought us together as sisters.  We started slowly -- each a little wary of the other -- and ended up the best of friends.  How I cherished this new relationship.  We didn't know we would have only eight years left to enjoy our new-found sisterhood. 

She gave me a beautiful journal once, with an inscription that said she regretted all the time we had wasted, and how much she treasured our new friendship.  We shared both good and bad times in those eight years.  We comforted each other as several much-loved family members and friends died.  We celebrated the good times together.  We talked and laughed. We loved our occasional lunches at The Desmond, and our day trips to Saratoga and Stockbridge.  We sent Email jokes to each other to brighten boring days.  We shared secrets, both of happiness and heartbreak.  We sipped wine as we listened to the waves crash to the shore one lovely autumn evening in Gloucester, and talked far into the night.

But, it was too short -- in eight years, how do you possibly compensate for 44 years of remoteness?  And this week, I am reliving the  memory of the last weeks of her life when the pain medications and weakness made it difficult for her to speak above a whisper.  Most of all, I am grieving for the words we didn't speak for so many years of our lives, and for the parts of ourselves we withheld from each other.

And I still have not returned to Stockbridge -- walking those lovely streets and having lunch at our favorite Red Lion Inn are still too painful.  Each year I think, maybe this summer, but the time is not right just yet.  After all, I am not just grieving for the sister I loved so much for those eight short years, I am grieving even more for the first 44 years of indifference.

Rest in peace, Little Sister, and one day we will be together again.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Passing Down

We are on our way across the driveway to the car, and Alivia lingers near the bed of flowers.  She reaches her hand out and gently cups a tiny pink flower.  "What is the name of this flower, Grammy", she says, and I tell her it is a Bleeding Heart.  She wants me to give her a Bleeding Heart plant for her garden at home.  Luke tells his father we shouldn't cut trees down, "because they help us breathe," and my son asks me, "Did you tell him that?"  Of course I did.  Emma sees a red bird and says, "There's a cardinal," because we watch for them at the bird feeder.  We talk about nature all the time.  These little grandchildren of mine soak up knowledge of the world around them. 

In fact, all three of them love to talk -- sometimes the chatter in the car is almost indecipherable as they all talk at the same time.  But these are also the moments when they often surprise me with their deep insights and thoughtful questions.  These are the times when we discuss so much -- feelings, religion, values, family history, fiction vs. reality.  Luke loves to ask what things were like when I was a little girl. 

Last week I prepared egg salad to make sandwiches for lunch.  Alivia wanted to cut them into little triangles as we did last year when we had a tea party with her other grandmother.  We cut them and placed them on a pretty china plate, standing up like sailboats as her great grandfather had done when her grandmother was a little girl.  The next morning as I was making breakfast, Alivia asked if she could get some of the pretty china out for breakfast.  She went into the china closet and carefully picked out small plates and coffee cups to set the table.

My home is filled with lovely old family photos.  All three grandchildren love to look at the photos, learning the faces of their ancestors.  They hear the stories of my grandfather's desk that holds their crayons and paper and of the teddy bears collected by my mother and my sister.  My mother's dressing table is a favorite of them all, with its large mirror, and the perfume bottles, jewelry and little treasures it holds.

While much of each day is spent taking care of my little ones physically -- keeping them safe, clean, dressed, and fed, the most important moments of the day are these times when I am sharing memories and stories -- when I am encouraging them to notice the beauty in the world around them -- when I am showing them that kindness and honesty are still important in our high-tech world.  This "passing down" of their family history and the values of a slower, gentler time will be etched in their hearts forever.