Friday, July 27, 2012

Brothers

The boys have both been away working summer jobs at their college, but they'll be back in town tomorrow, and then we'll all be going on our grand adventure. I have missed them. I can tell how much just by how happy I'm becoming just at the thought of seeing them. The photos are from last summer. These two have been friends since babyhood, having been fortunate enough to be born next door to each other. They must have been twins in a past life, or an old married couple. They never run out of conversation and comfort and humor.
  




Dear New York

As part of her final assignment for a class last year called New York City in Literature, my daughter wrote a series of letters saying goodbye to the city as she stood on the threshold of leaving it to attend college. With her permission, I'm sharing them here because I love the rawness and posturing and testing in these letters, their gathering assurance, profanity and all. (The photos are from an eighth grade trip to Chinatown the spring before my girl entered high school. She refers to that period as her awkward phase as in, "I sure hit that awkward phase HARD." But she didn't really. )

*

Dear New York, 

Let’s talk about us. You know, together. I have to say, the past 17 years have been an experience I will never forget. There’s just so much I want to say about our time together, thoughts I have never known how to genuinely express. I sometimes feel that you thrill at the chance to drag me down. Other moments with you have been breathtaking, full of your effervescence. As I leave you, my veins, so intricately crafted like your endless streets, will perpetually yearn for the mob of people, the smog, the traffic, the noise, like a newborn abruptly separated from its mother. How can anyone get enough of you in one lifetime? I am just getting started, just beginning to understand the endless adventures that exist along your avenues. Hopefully we will reunite one day.


*

Dear New York, 

Fuck you. I know this seems like a sudden change of tone from the last letter to you, but I don’t want to write this shit about you. Actually, it’s not that I don’t want to write about you, I just don’t know how. When I think about you, I inevitably think about myself, and then the doubt trickles in. Because apparently I don’t fucking know New York like I thought I did. I only know Manhattan, and not even all of it. I know the Upper West Side, I know Harlem. And still, I feel like I failed to truly penetrate the amazing vibrant culture that is just waiting to seep out of those gritty streets.

I’m hoping that by going on a stupid fucking rant with a lot of curse words I’ll come up with something genius to say about you. I want my grandkids to be fucking astonished at how well their grandmother portrayed New York in her farewell letter. But mostly New York, I want to do you justice. Of course you’re that amazing bitch who all the other cities are jealous of. I mean shit, I would be jealous of you too. Maybe I am. Because you know who you are New York. There’s just so much diversity, culture, and life within you. People either want to be you, or to be with you. What an amazing opportunity I’ve been given to take your lead and to be myself. Did I just fucking throw that away all these years by being (mostly) unconscious? I guess you never know a good thing till it’s (almost) gone.

No offense, but sometimes I think you’re on the verge of bipolar. Actually no, now that I think about it, you’re just an angry bitch. Who I love. And who has given me everything. When I take a step back and look at you, I can’t help but wish that I saw more of myself in you. I like to dream that I actually am a fast paced, independent go-getter who will be eternally admired. I want to be able to know in my sinew that you are seriously a part of me. That without you, who would I be today? With you, who will I be tomorrow? Am I trying to convince myself that I do need you to feel alive? That without the hustle and bustle of things, and the constant dance of dodging random strangers, I would be naked, a person stripped of all she is? It kind of scares me to think that I might ever not be a city person. Because I’ve lived in the city my whole life, how can I not be?

So you know what? Deuces bitch. I’m outta her come Fall.



*

Dear New York,

So I just wrote a really angry letter to you. And truth is I don’t hate you New York, not in the slightest. I just thought maybe if I could be one of those really raw writers, you know those really urban ones who use the word “fuck” all the time, that I truly would be a New Yorker. A lot of people think I’m a sweet girl. In reality, I swear like a motherfucking sailor. Worse. And I cannot go twenty minutes without (occasionally biting) sarcasm oozing from my words. But now that I have a moment to reflect, I don’t think being a New Yorker is always about being angry and brash. I think a lot of being a New Yorker is about being unafraid to connect with a stranger, because no matter how different we are, we have a common experience. We’re both surviving this crazy bitch of a city, New York.

Early on, Walt Whitman recognized the connection of sharing similar lives within New York. He understood that no matter how much you changed through the generations, New York, we could all feel united just through appreciating your raw electric beauty. Personifying the city in Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, he wrote: "I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence; I project myself—also I return—I am with you, and know how it is.”

New York, you were with me that day. You saw it all. Was it you who worked everything out to the last detail so that this could all occur? I mean, who sent those freshmen to ask me a million and one questions about buying Dance Concert tickets. Then, who made them settle on waiting after all to buy them. Who worked out that I would walk that slowly to the station, and then decide that I would have to sprint to the other end of the platform just to catch my train? These things have a funny way of aligning themselves, you know.

By the time I stepped out onto the outdoor elevated platform, the sun had already retired for the day. At first, I couldn’t quite piece together the situation. The only thing I really saw was two young kids, one boy, one girl. Both of them couldn’t have been older than six. They were slamming their tiny palms on the subway door that had just cruelly shut in their faces. It finally hit me when I saw the pure panic in their eyes; their mom was on that train. These children were lost in Harlem, on a subway platform about a story above a street full of speeding cars. Now that I think about it, how much scarier could New York seem to these two kids? First, an older man walked up, brashly asking what had happened. Clearly, he was not the best person to watch after them. Than another older lady came up, ready to watch over them, but obviously unsympathetic. She didn’t seem to understand why the children were frightened, and told them harshly to stop crying. I couldn’t walk away from these children and leave them with these two. 

It went down like this. 

As soon as I walk up the old guy is like “Alright you got ‘em? Bye!” and peaces out. Fantastic. The little girl is crying that she wants her mommy, while the little boy never utters a word. At first I think he is handling the whole situation oddly well, but then it dawns on me that he is too traumatized to even make a sound. I fear that I don’t have the instinct to care for these kids the way they actually need. At 17, I feel like I’m still growing up myself. I have so much life experience under my belt and know how to make good decisions and all of that, but for a quick moment up on that cold platform, I understand just how young I really am. How do I know that I am really doing the right thing?

I tell the children that their mom will be coming back for them any second, that they should just hold on because she’ll be on the next train. And the train comes. And their mom doesn’t get off. Shit. I feel like a liar. A goddamn dirty liar. The doubt again.

Another woman walks towards us. She is young, maybe in her thirties, and says she has kids of her own. I will always be grateful to this woman, she knows what to do, how to calm things down, what decisions to make. Finally a train pulls up next to us, with a conductor asking for the lost children. We follow his car down the platform, children in hand. He radios to the next station saying, “We have the kids.” I immediately offer to ride with them without really thinking about it, and the younger lady offers to come with me. As soon as the doors slide shut, the conductor starts going off about how he doesn’t know how parents can do something like this, bashing the kids' parents in front of them, implying that they are unloved. I think, classic New York.

We pull up and there the parents are, and about six other family members, just waiting to fold in the kids as soon as the door opens. I still wonder how they knew exactly what door their children would come out of, because literally they are right there. I will never ever forget the tears and the arms. I’ve never seen arms so open. Those arms will forever be stuck in my mind because I can tell, just by that mother’s arms, those children are loved, and mistakes happen, especially in New York on the subway at dusk.

Her arms gave me a sense of relief, if that makes any sense to you, New York. As if I hadn’t been doing the wrong thing after all. The woman and I simply left. We didn’t stick around to hear the mother’s gratitude. Truthfully, were we even supposed to? Sometimes I wonder if they looked up to find no one there, thinking to themselves that New York had left their children to fend for themselves. I seriously hope not, because you’re so much better than that New York. Your city offers up a support system, even among strangers. Nobody can really be left alone in New York.

As I walked up the yellow-lit block towards my house, I remembered a Yiddish word, Mensch, that my teacher Dr. Melman had taught our class. To be a Mensch means to be a person of integrity and honor, and to do a kindness without asking for recognition. A Mensch is the truly selfless person. Had I just been a Mensch? Slowly but surely the feeling began to creep up on me. Yet underneath it all I could still sense something almost petulant, under appreciation. How could I not tell somebody? It wasn’t about getting credit for being there for two lost kids. It was about wanting to tell the world about my real New York experience. Isn’t it a characteristic of a true New Yorker to be able to weave incredible and dramatic stories from everyday experiences? 

Maybe I belong with you after all, New York.

*

Dear New York,

I want to thank you. For making me a tougher person. For showing me the value in being spontaneous. And for allowing me to see the light in everything, even though at first glance you may appear gray, dirty and hard. You will never know how much I truly appreciate you, New York, because even now I’m having trouble putting my gratitude into words. You will always be my first love, the one I’ll never forget, and the one I will never ever truly get over. I would ask you not to forget me, but I know as soon as you finish reading my words, I will become just another one of your eight million, destined to slip into the back of your mind.

I know I am not the only New Yorker to ever feel torn between loving you and leaving you. But as Colson Whitehead wrote in Colossus of New York, "Maybe we become New Yorkers the day we realize that New York will go on without us. To put off the inevitable, we try to fix the city in place, remember it as it was, doing to the city what we would never allow to be done to ourselves." My letters to you are my attempt to preserve our memories, because if I can record our relationship in these pages, we will somehow exist together eternally, at least on paper. You will always be my New York.

Yours truly,
Kai A.








Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Passport


This woman showed up in my passport 
when I was 29 years old. Who is she? 
What is she thinking? Where did she go? 
Time to bring her home.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom


“In the afternoon, they stopped to eat on a rocky outcrop. Perry brushed a kiss on her cheek, and she learned that it was the loveliest thing to be kissed for no reason, even while chewing. It brightened the woods, and the never sky, and everything.” 

―Veronica Rossi, Under the Never Sky 


I saw the movie Moonrise Kingdom on Sunday, took myself to the movies on a fine summer afternoon when everyone else was busy. I used to do that a lot. In my twenties I would spend whole afternoons in the multiplex, going from one movie theater to the next, gorging on fantasy. On Sunday last, I did have a moment or two of wondering about the loners in the theater. An unaccompanied man sat behind me and I actually had the thought, If he pulls out a gun my head is the first one he'll find. In the wake of mass shootings, I'm suggestible like that. I failed to notice till later that I was one of the loners sitting there. The movie was sweet, not what I expected, but it touched me the way those misfit preteens found such acceptance and comfort in one another. Come to think of it, it was exactly the kind of movie that would draw in melancholy loners, but the yearning kind, the ones who ache quietly, not the violent. The photo above made me think of the movie. So did the quote, which is from a book I have never read, but now might.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Bella and Grammy

This is my cousin and her first grandchild, who is the namesake of my daughter. Bella is her nickname. I couldn't not post this. The colors, the perspective, the art, not to mention the two beauties. They are utterly divine. And Grammy might look like a fly young thing playing with Bella on those stairs, but her daughters are both grown, both have finished law school and been called to the bar and are working attorneys in their father's law firm. He was a proud man when he added "& Daughters" to the firm's stationary. In fact my cousin is six years older than me. She and her sister spent a memorable summer in the city with my family when I was 12. They were 18 and 16, and most evenings I would sit on the bed in their room watching them with my mouth hanging open, in awe of their beauty and assurance as they chose outfits and expertly applied makeup for their fabulous evenings out with dreamy boyfriends on whom I had crushes. I though they were so grown and sophisticated, how I idolized them. Now I understand how young they were. But that confidence they had then, they kept for life. In our family, we call them "The Generals."



Sunday, July 22, 2012

Goings and Comings

One friend feels stuck, another feels a twinge at everyone's wonderful vacation plans and I know how they both feel, even though the photos I put up for my last post make it look as if I am going on a fabulous adventure; they don't give any whiff of this being a bittersweet enterprise, the last time we will all be in St. Lucia together like this. When my mom leaves St. Lucia this time, it is unlikely that she will ever come back there. She has become so frail. She will live in Jamaica with my brother now. We all are thinking this St. Lucia trip is the last hurrah, but none of us says it, because who knows? We could be wrong about that. This is my mother we're speaking of, after all.

So those photos I put up were very carefully selected to remind myself that as stuck as I feel, I too can have a grand adventure, even if I am not on a speedboat on the Italian Riviera, or riding a camel and posing with handsome men in a market in Morocco, or dining in sidewalk cafes in Barcelona, or playing a pick up game of soccer on a field in Zimbabwe, or climbing waterfalls in an Argentine national park, all photos I am treated to each time I have logged on to Facebook this month. My friends and acquaintances are having adventures all over the world, and I am in my little maze, to work and home, to work and home, and darn it, I have an adventure coming up too!

So there's that.

And this. We picked up my sweet girl from camp today, and there were tears and fierce hugs as the goodbyes were said, she has made such good friends there. The first session kids had gone home earlier that morning, and only the counselors in their blue staff shirts were left, along with a handful of kids who stay on between sessions, the eight-weekers. I love how the little kids were right there in the mix, throwing their arms around counselors hugging, one even reaching up at one point to wipe a tear on my daughter's face. Our girl only worked the first session this year, doing a five week stint instead of the usual nine, so she could give herself some time in the city before leaving for college. She slept in the backseat of our car most of the way home, waking up occasionally to slap her forehead about some new thing she remembered that she had forgotten, including her favorite sleeping bag that she uses as a blanket at home and her paycheck (they will mail it).

She missed us bad, I guess because her brother wasn't at camp this year. And she missed the city, I guess because she was missing all the gatherings of friends in this last summer before college and of course there is also the boy. She hugged us tight when she saw us, she literally ran into my arms, her cheek wet against mine, and that pretty much cured the missing us, because as soon as she got home she was making plans to meet up with some of The Six for dinner, and there is also a house party somewhere, which she hadn't planned to attend, but at dinner her friends convinced her to go, even though she wasn't dressed for a party, wearing jean shorts and a hoodie and flip flops. She is still in camp mode dress wise. One of her friends will be coming home with her and sleeping over because they have soooo much to catch up on. Ah, I love this. Here are a couple of snaps I took of the camp goodbye.

My girl is home!






Friday, July 20, 2012

Soon


I'm going to awaken in a bed like this 


and walk through a courtyard like this to the beach 


where I'll spread my blanket under this very tree  


and stay until the sun begins its descent in the sky.

And I'll breathe in the sea scent of my husband and listen to my children laughing and splashing in the water as if they are still young, not full grown as they are, all four of them, the two I birthed and my niece and heart son, and my niece's mom, and when we all get tired we'll gather up the towels and shake the sand from our feet and walk barefoot on the hot asphalt back to the house where my mother will sit down to a meal with her family, and she will look around the table and smile and sigh deeply, happy we are all there again. 



Dark Night

Woke up this morning to news of a massacre at a midnight movie premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado. Twelve dead, 59 injured, some critically. At first, moviegoers thought the man in the SWAT gear who released a tear gas canister before he started shooting, was part of the movie special effects. And then he calmly opened fire. So strange that I mentioned this movie in yesterday's post. I know my daughter's friend, who is so passionate about Batman he wrote his college essay about the character, is heartbroken today. As we all are. I always want to know the motives in cases like this, I gather the details obsessively, trying to work out what provokes such horror, the moment in the life of the shooter where everything went irrevocably wrong. I am never satisfied, because really, it never entirely makes sense. I remember reading about the Columbine boys who committed that massacre at their high school, a whole book on their lives up to that point, including interviews with their parents, and there was nothing there that helped me truly understand, even though one of the boys seemed to have been a sociopath who extremely influenced the other. At this moment, there is a forensic psychiatrist on TV saying this act is "darkness turned inside out." The shooter was a Ph.D. candidate in neuroscience, who was in the process of withdrawing from his doctoral program. And now Colorado, the nation, is once again soaked in sorrow.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Wheeeee!



My baby comes home from camp on Saturday. That's her and her best girl in the top photo taken during the camp 'fifties luncheon. And that's some of her fellow counselors in the second photo. I scrounged these off of Facebook. We drive up to get our girl from camp this weekend and then she's home for the summer until she goes to college next month. We're all going to visit my mom in St. Lucia for a week, and the rest of the time we'll be shopping for dorm room paraphernalia and she'll be hanging out with friends. One of the things I realize about when my kids are gone is that I also miss their friends. Even the ones I don't see all the time. I miss hearing about them. My daughter, for example, would no doubt have been happily counting down to The Dark Knight Rises movie release with her friend who loves Batman, and I would have felt sufficiently connected to what was going on with him. Truth be told, after our girl went to camp, and I was watching the basketball playoff finals with just my husband, I actually sent one of her friends a text saying "It doesn't feel quite right to be watching this without you," because he had watched all the games leading up to that one with us. He sweetly responded that it didn't feel right to him either. Now she's coming home and I'll get to see the five girls she calls her sisters, (some of who I see anyway when she's not here, because the moms are also friends) and also her high school clan, or at least I'll get to hear news of them. Life does shrink a bit when our children grow up and leave home. And then we have to fill it with new things so that it can expand and be rich again. Yes, I was one of those mothers who was endlessly entertained by her kids while they were growing up. There were few things I found more fascinating that their ever evolving selves. (Oh, who am I kidding? There was nothing that involved me more.) I still find them endlessly fascinating, I just don't have a front row seat anymore. Except sometimes. One of those times is coming up in two days. As my girl would say, Wheeeeeeeee!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Happy Birthday, Madiba!


Part of being optimistic is keeping 
one's head pointed toward the sun, 
one's feet moving forward." 

— Nelson Mandela, who is 94 years old today.


The painting, a mural in Cape Town, is made entirely of handprints.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Dream


You can tell I'm dreaming of escaping to somewhere boldly colored and hidden away. It has to be dramatic, almost too much to take in, to infuse my senses with everything that I am imagine I am missing during the endless hours in this glass and steel skyscraper with perfectly beige walls where I spend my days. I'm not complaining really. It's a living. I just need a spell in a magical place. Somewhere with a splendidly painted door and jewel toned chandeliers and a courtyard garden with bright cushions and scented candles under a poetic canopy of trees.




Trusting desire, starting to learn
Walking through fire without a burn
Clinging a shoulder a leap begins
Stinging and older, asleep on pins

—From "I Should Tell You," Rent


I remember now I dreamed of fire the other night. My childhood home was burning, and some of the rooms looked like my childhood school had folded itself into my home, and I was frantic to wake my husband and get him outside where it was safe, and my children, who I somehow knew were already outside, safe from the flames. None of us burned, but the roof of the house was engulfed in tall orange tongues as we stood there watching, the four of us watching at dusk, I seemed to be looking down on us from above the flames, and more people were running to us, and then I woke up. I asked my husband what it might mean. He said, It means you were asleep. I spent the morning looking up the dream interpretation of burning houses, and everything said that if you don't get burned, then it means you are in the midst of a major transformation and that might well be.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Human Mythology

I suspect that I shouldn't be quite so subject to the prevailing winds around me, by which I mean moods, but there you have it, I surely am, and it makes me remember when I was in high school and a boy who came to collect his sister from school every day grew fascinated with me because he said he always wondered where I was headed and it seemed to him that I didn't know myself where I would go but that wherever the wind blew I followed it. One night I climbed over my uncle's gate to go to a party with him on his motorcycle and he told me he had watched me for weeks to come up with this theory about me and the wind. We didn't last long, though he was a cheerful sort and we remained friendly, but his place in my mythology was forever secured because what he told me that night rang truer than true.

Finding Center

About three years ago, my husband started researching and making Anglican rosaries. He thought the tradition behind them and the prayer ritual they guided to be beautiful, and so he made a rosary for me and one for each of his children, and for his nieces, and our two goddaughters, and his mom and my mom. For each one he carefully chose the beads according to his sense of the soul he was making the rosary for. He let the beads speak to him. That green one is mine. He said the pearlescent green made him think of my eyes, and I love the larger beads, which look like miniature worlds, and the cross with the heart at the center of it.

My husband is very much a church man; it feeds his spirit, I suppose like writing feeds mine. The ministry is his path not taken. He's the warden at our church, and people there got wind of his rosaries and began requesting them. Today is the so called Annual Ginormous Flea Market to benefit the church and community, and last night, he sat at the counter meditatively stringing rosaries to sell at the flea market. Each of the seven beads in each grouping represents a prayer, and the four larger beads are to form the points of the cross and there are 33 beads in all, for the number of years Christ walked the earth, and there's much more symbolism that I don't quite know because I haven't researched it the way my love has. If you're interested, you can find more here. I only know that I enjoy seeing my husband sitting there, his drug store-bought reading glasses perched on his nose, his big capable hands delicately stringing those beads, choosing the combinations, snipping and burning the wayward threads, making each one perfect, no two the same. He looks so peaceful when he's working; he exudes an aura that all is well in his world. I drink that in like parched earth drinks water. It centers him, which centers me.




Friday, July 13, 2012

And this

So here's the most real news. My cousin's husband collapsed three nights ago. Turns out he has a very weak heart. Today they catheterize him to see exactly what's going on. They suspect a blockage in the vessels feeding the heart. If it's extensive, they may have to do open heart surgery right away. My cousin thinks the doctors are trying to prepare them. Her husband is a muscular fit guy who goes to the gym every day and doesn't drink or smoke. I hesitate to write this because I haven't asked permission, and this might be violating their privacy. But my heart is in my throat, waiting for news. I feel as if I should be there, with my cousin in Virginia. She is the closest thing I have to a sister, and we both know this is how our mothers would have done it, teleporting themselves to the sister facing trouble at a moment's notice. My cousin is preternaturally calm. She is a woman of deep faith. We're all praying. And yes, it does seem that this sort of medical crisis has been happening a lot lately. But I refuse to add one to the other or draw any larger conclusions, except to note that life is just like this sometimes, especially when you have a large family and large numbers of them have reached a certain age. When there are a lot of people you love, your heart is bound to clutch and ache now and then. Sometimes more now than then.

Update at 4 PM: "No blockage. Pacemaker needed." That is the text I just got from my cousin. In the scheme of things, this is very good news, even though her husband doesn't quite understand all the jubilation. "I have to get a piece of metal implanted in my chest," he says. And since he feels well again, after a week of resting in the hospital, the averted alternative, open heart surgery, is a mere figment to him. The doctors don't actually know why his heart should be so weak. Could be he was just born that way. Now my cousin's worried about how she will convince him not to lift anything for four weeks while things settle with the pacemaker. This is a much better worry than she had two days ago.

News Cycle

I feel as if I am communicating through a thick pane of glass or from the bottom of a clear pool or the far end of an air tunnel. I feel disconnected somehow, not quite real.

The news doesn't help. Here are the stories playing on a loop this morning:

1. A 26-year-old woman from Queens who went missing, whose sister received a chilling text message from her phone saying "The girl whose phone this is is dead," has been found alive in Texas. She boarded a bus away from her home because she said her parents were forcing her into an arranged marriage. Pretty girl. Of course. Otherwise the news would have taken no notice. I'm glad she is safe.

2. A member of Michelle Obama's security detail threatened to shoot her and then used his phone to show a picture of the gun he would use. What the hell? The man has been removed from the First Lady's security detail. I don't understand such hate. But perhaps it is not hate, but deep mental instability.

3. Folks are calling for Joe Paterno's statue at Penn State to be torn down, and for the whole multi-million dollar football program that failed to protect vulnerable little boys to be shuttered. I second that emotion. And third and fourth it too.

4. Steven Tyler is leaving the judging panel of American Idol. JLo and Randy may not be far behind. Is anybody still watching?

5. A New York Senator and others are all in a tizzy that the Ralph Lauren uniforms to be worn by U.S. Olympic athletes all bear "Made in China" labels. Discuss.

There are more grim stories that I don't have the heart to report here, but why am I letting all this in? I'm just bringing myself down. Inside me is a vague hurting place. I know what it is. It's just life really. It's nothing more than the particulars of being alive in this body, looking out at the world with these eyes, connected to the people in my orbit.

And, too, I am missing what was. My children are grown. They are in a good place. I miss the years of raising them more than I ever imagined I would. But all is well with them. Despite the usual challenges life throws up to help us strengthen the muscle for living, they are amazing and wonderful and really okay. May that ever be so.

Here's something sweet from the news cycle. The New York Philharmonic concerts in the park are back. The New York Times carried this photo by Joshua Bright of children enjoying the music in Brooklyn's Prospect Park last night. There's an idea. Maybe I'll go listen to some music under the stars. I hear the Philharmonic will be in Central Park next Monday.

            

Monday, July 9, 2012

Farm Camp!


I just found these photos on a disc. I had thought them lost. This was the crew at Farm Camp in the summer of 2006. All but two of these kids are headed to college or are already there. One of these boys guest starred (with his dad) in Showtime's Nurse Jackie this season. Two others are in a band that has been playing in rather major places lately. And one of these girls, the one on the far right, is planning to own her own food business one of these days. 


They did farm chores in the mornings, planting and tending various organic edible growing things. They also had to clean out the cow stalls, feed and water all the animals, and milk the cows. They cooked and ate what they grew and consumed the milk they collected, the apple cider they pressed, the bread they baked, and poured the maple syrup they tapped from trees on the farm over their morning pancakes.


Rumor had it that they also cleaned up their rooms, but I was never too sure about that. 


In the afternoons, they went to the lake. 


They jumped off the lifeguard post and generally had a ball.


Back at the farmhouse, they experimented with contraband makeup (the girls are 12 here) and put on impromptu plays and performances.


They dried their swim suits and towels on a line strung across the porch. And preened. 


They also built things.


And went camping.


And rocked in hammocks.


And had cosy talks around campfires.


And went to the ballgame.


And painted signs. (There's the kid who grew up to play a green haired teen addict in Nurse Jackie. He did a very fine job.)


And waded in freezing cold rivers when it was getting dark. 


And went bowling.


And played baseball. And laughed.


And fell out exhausted on every bus ride.


And slept in huddles, creating bonds of friendship that would prove when they scattered to different high schools, and now to college, to be loving and generous and sure. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

His daddy was stronger than Spider Man

With my friend who is visiting, I watched the fireworks on TV this year. Or rather, I watched as my friend rolled herself in a blanket on the couch in front of the air conditioner and was soon snoring softly. My thoughts were elsewhere, in Toronto, where my husband's plane was just landing at that hour. He went to attend the funeral of his "baby" cousin, a largely built 39-year-old who used to play pro football, who had retired and bought a house near to his parents, my husband's uncle and aunt, in Mississauga, Ontario.


His cousin's name was Duane and he was the sweetest soul. He and his sister often made me wonder whether my daughter's sunny and optimistic nature might be genetic, a strain running through some of my husband's extended family. My family tends to be more like me and my son: Quick to engage in verbal jousts, anxious underneath the functional exterior, always thinking several steps ahead instead of enjoying the what is-ness of the moment. Duane made my husband's stature, by no means small, look normal-sized. It turned out his young heart was working overtime, it was enlarged, something we only learned when it seized in a massive heart attack last Friday morning while he was on his way to a work meeting. He collapsed and died on the spot.

That night, my husband kept remembering his little cousin at four or five, visiting the family in Antigua. My husband was already a teen then. He remembers being struck by Duane's hero worship of his dad, by the way he insisted with earnest seriousness that his daddy was stronger than Spider Man. What about Superman? his older cousins teased. Yes, his daddy could beat Superman, too. "He sure loved his daddy," my husband said. "I remember thinking that I hope when I have a son, he'll think half as well of me."

Duane and his dad were cohorts to the end. They used to take golfing vacations together, and even worked together after Duane retired from pro football. Now, he's gone, and I cannot even imagine how his parents must feel. Or his sister, who had just touched down in Paris to be a bridesmaid at a friend's wedding, who had to turn around immediately and catch a flight home. There were more than 600 people at the funeral this morning, my husband texted me. And the teens on the football and the basketball teams Duane coached stood along the aisles in full uniform. Across an ocean, the rest of his family, the ones who could not travel to be there, held a simultaneous memorial service in St. John's, Antigua.

Last weekend, as my husband made arrangements to travel to be with his relatives who were gathering in Toronto, he was moved by how gratified his family members were at the news that he would join them. He had forgotten, I think, how much he matters to them, the big cousin, the firstborn nephew, the deeply loving family man. It was good for him to remember. And Duane might have given him yet another parting gift. Perhaps he whispered to him as he passed out of this world, because my husband did go to see a doctor this week. In the midst of sadness, I exhaled.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Men


I can't seem to get good pictures of them. They so seldom accommodate my camera, so I'm putting up this photo of them, even though it's shadowy and blurry, because something about it feels everyday and true. My husband and his sons, by birth and by heart.


Willow

Willow Smith of Whip My Hair fame (and Jada and Will are my mommy and daddy fame) has shaved her mohawk and is rocking a B-boy gender-bending look, and now the 11-year-old is back with this charming vid, I Am Me. She's clearly been receiving some voice training; her tone here is a warm vibrato that she's starting to make her own. I see a star in the making if things go right enough. She's quirky and individualistic for sure, which always appeals to me in humans. And oh my, she looks like her daddy here. Some people grouse that she's precocious and spoiled, that if they had her mama and daddy's money and contacts, they'd be famous too. To them I'd say, don't hate. The child is using her gifts. Why shouldn't she? Love this kid. 


Watch it full screen if you can.
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