Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sanctuary

My mom is 90 years old today. Today is her actual birthday although we celebrated last Saturday evening. These are some photos of older vintage that capture moments that mattered as she looked back on her nine decades of life. In a word, family. Oh, and my dad being knighted—she never pretends that wasn't a highlight, too. These photos, and many others of family and friends through the years, ran in a continuous loop on a screen during my mom's birthday dinner in a sumptuously decorated candlelit room with gold taffeta-tied chairs and red raw silk tablecloths and sixty invited guests, one hundred percent of whom showed up to toast the birthday girl. 

My cousin Maureen circled the room with a mic after dinner, after my brother spoke, and after I read a thank you speech my mother had dictated to me that morning, and everyone shared memories of my mother, and my father too, whom my mother had earlier declared to be present and smiling down on us, and of our Paddington Terrace days. More than a few spoke the sentence, "Those Paddington Terrace days were the best of our lives," that exact same sentence, and the street where we lived before I moved to New York became a metaphor for the gathering, a potent memory of our own personal Camelot. 

No wonder, I thought, no wonder when it came time to choose a name for this blog, I conjured the house on that street, because in that place, my parents created a sanctuary where everyone felt welcomed, young and old, the neighbor kids who ran in and out of each others homes barefoot, the grown ups who were a part of my parents circle, the aunts and uncles and cousins and friends, the young ones who moved in with us for months or years at a stretch while their parents worked through hard patches, or completed assignments abroad, or healed from illnesses, and the school friends who roamed through, and everyone was there, everyone, my mother and my father made it so. 

My mother preferred us to bring our friends home, and she made it very appealing for us to do so. She ran her own real estate business with her brother, my uncle, and worked long hours showing houses for rent and for sale. And yet she somehow managed to be there to make sandwiches and stir up pitchers of lemonade when our friends came over, which made them often choose our home when there was a question of where to gather. I took it so for granted then. Now I know better.

The memory that encapsulates that time for me, was the day a new family moved in across the street from us, and there were so many people on our front verandah, and so many children of all ages and descriptions playing soccer on the front lawn, and I noticed a girl at the gate across the street, watching us, and I went to the fence and asked if she had just moved into that house, and she said yes, and she looked over at our yard and asked, "Is that a boarding house?" I was 14 and she was 12, and she would soon become my friend, but that day I recognized in her a kind of yearning because she could see, even at 12, that every person in the place she thought was a boarding house knew what it felt like to be a part of something. My mother and my father made it so. 









23 comments:

  1. wow.
    I just got all teary. Didn't see that coming.
    Aside from all of it , and my congratulations and best wishes and awe,
    that photo of you , smiling just so?
    love. love.

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    1. sweet deb! you were commenting on my blog as i was commenting on yours! blessed synchronicity. i call it love.

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  2. oh, angella: this gave me chills. i am the girl across the street.
    how blessed you were and how much you pass along.

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    1. susan, i am blessed, which is not to say my family is perfect. lord knows we have every kind of character and soul you can imagine, and every outcome too. you have read about some of them here. including the troubled ones. the unquiet ones. including me. but paddington terrace, well, it turns out that must be real, because it has been distilled to a fine essence in so many disparate memories. if you were the girl across the street, i would have liked that. as it was, we became great friends.

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  3. Replies
    1. Lisa, 90! yes indeed, thank you for being here.

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  4. So beautiful, such wonderful photos! It sounds like your dear mother had a celebration worthy of such an impressive woman.

    Happy birthday to your mother :)

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    1. ellen, it was a wonderful evening and she felt gratified by the love expressed, and I know you in particular know how much that filled my heart. love to you, dear friend.

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  5. Beautiful. So glad for you all. And slightly jealous in a very good way.

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    1. Dear Kathleen, can we just be slightly jealous of each other then? in the best possible way. hugs.

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    1. dottie, i felt like such an awkward duck back than, and now, although i am rather prim here, i look perfectly normal to myself, and you know i feel like such an awkward duck now, and isn't self perception destined to always be screwy?

      i loved your post about being friendless for a long time. it made me cry. i hope you come back and read this, because really, it was such a lovely heartfelt love letter to your friend, and even though you dont enable comments, i wanted to let you know.

      xoxo

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  7. Your family is the kind of family that, well, dammit, I wish I'd been from. The kind I've tried to create.
    How incredibly fortunate you all are and how much I admire your parents. And you. How much better of a world we would live in if all families were even a tiny bit more like this one.

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    1. Ms Moon, you have created the sort of family in which your girls and your boy shine with love and goodness and they gather around you, because you are the source of all that love and goodness, and I admire the heck out of you, the way you keep it real, and keep everyone close while letting them be who they are. it's such a delicate mother dance and you do it without even thinking, because its who you are. i love you so.

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  8. I love the pictures of your mother, all of them. She rocked that wedding dress! Thanks for sharing her with us, and for making this 37 Paddington here for us to feel at home in.
    xo

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    1. Mel, as I recall, my mother rocked every outfit she put on while i was growing up. i was the chubby kid tugging at my dress and marveling at her elegance. i loved hiding under her cool arm. thanks for coming here and feeling at home. xo

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  9. Oh, Angella. I listened to some beautiful piano music while I read this and scrolled through the photos. Your writing is so beautiful and visual and powerful. I am just so grateful that you are out there, writing this down, spinning us all into this web of people and history and love.

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    1. elizabeth, posts like this i think i do for my children, so they will know what it was like with their grandparents, who are fine fine people. lucky me. thank you for reading kindly.

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  10. how utterly beautiful. thank you thank you
    xoxodd

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    1. deirdre, my love, thanks for your wide open heart.

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  11. Gasps, all around! At the beauty of your writing, your story, and your gorgeous family.

    I am proud to say that I share the same birthday as your mom. I consider myself in good company! xoxo to you, and to your mom.

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    1. Chrissy, happy birthday!!! i think you share that delicate perception of the world, seeing all things true, and yet in their best most generous light. thank you for reading and commenting! xo

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