Through the Window

Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.
Oliver Wendell Holmes –

yale st

As my parents aged,I had to face the fact that my beloved childhood home would not remain in our family for long.  I dreaded the day I would leave it for the last time.

Now, I keep a photograph of my childhood home in my office  My eyes return to it lovingly every day.  I look at each outside window in the photo and can recreate the look and feel of each room within.

Our 1950 Cape Cod style house was built in the middle of a pretty steep hill that went all the way down to the Connecticut River. Deep woods covered adjacent land.  White birch trees were lovely exclamation points. It was a gentle and protective landscape.

conn. river

My life there was strongly influenced by the seasons. The adjacent woods were home to many migrating birds, who yearly, would announce the arrival of spring. Their enchanting songs awakened me each morning. As the days shortened, loud rhythmic chirp of crickets would announce the approach of autumn. Summers were lush, exploding with greens and patches of colorful wild flowers. The growing season is short in New England and living things made the most of every non frozen day. Winters were mostly grim, too long and very cold. On really cold winters, we’d watch the Connecticut River freeze over, then flood during an early thaw. Occasional snowstorms transformed the landscape as only snow can do.

When it snowed, our street light produced a magical display, lighting up the snow crystals as they made their dizzying, dancing, way to earth.Winters became a lot more interesting for me when snow was in the forecast. My parents would  park our car on the street on top of our hilly driveway so that everyone could get out in the morning. If a storm hit that wasn’t expected. I’d awaken to the noise of my Dad’s delivery truck, struggling mightily to get up the slippery and treacherous driveway slope. It usually took several tries before he was finally able to make it to round the top of the driveway.  We’d stand watching indoors, holding our breath as he neared the top of the hill, only to have to roll down again, pour out some more sand on the snow, rev up the engine again and give it another try.  Ultimately, he always got out.

The den in my house was, above all else, cozy.  It was paneled in dark stained wood from the trees on our property. It had a small fake fireplace.  The focus of the room was the tv, which was my Dad’s pride and joy. These were the earlier years of television, with little selection and often poor, snowy reception.  No matter.  Whenever he could, Dad would rope me into watching a tv western with him.  If he wasn’t watching a Western, he was usually behind a newspaper, except when it became necessary to take a trip to the kitchen to dish out a bowl of ice cream for himself.  Conversations in that room were limited.  Nightly,Dad would fall asleep in his lounge chair with the tv on, long after the rest of the family had gone up to bed. I can still hear my mother calling him to turn off the tv and come upstairs.

gunsmoke

Our small eat -in kitchen was paneled in knotty pine. My Mom painted the kitchen ceiling a cheerful red to match the cheerful red formica counter tops.  We ate meals in the kitchen unless it was a special occasion, in which case, we’d move into the formal dining room.  Dinner was a steady diet of  broiled meat, baked potato and a cooked frozen Bird’s eye vegetable. Rotisserie roast beef and chicken were other standbys. Since my mom worked, dinner had to be prepared quickly.  We switched out to fresh vegetables during the summer when local farms provided outstanding tomatoes and corn for a brief treasured few weeks.  Canned applesauce and jello were year round mainstays. I’m not sure why.

In my young mind, our dining room was beautiful. The windows looked out on the adjacent woods. In the winter, through the large picture window, you could see the winding Connecticut River carving its way through the rural landscape.  White grasscloth covered the walls, a formal table with 8 queen Anne chairs, seats upholstered in pink leather, took up most of the space..  The requisite breakfront held  our “good” dishes.  A few Victorian glass antiques sat regally on the chests of drawers that held the “good” tablecloths, the sterling silver, the candles and all the other requisites for fine middle class dining.

cranberry glass epergne
cranberry glass epergne

Summer times brought us all outside for meals  as soon as the weather was warm enough.We ate either on the back deck or on the screened porch, depending on the number of diners. Sunday suppers, after his Sunday golf game, Dad held forth at the grill with a gin and tonic in one hand, and a steak in the other. Extended family and mosquitoes vied for space around our large picnic table.  Overflowing  baskets  of impatiens along the back deck railings, added lively color to the scene. We’d linger outside, light citronella candles, as evening would turn into night.

impatiens

 

The living room remained off-limits for the most part, unless there was a party or we had company visiting. It had white grasscloth walls, and a very large curved sofa upholstered in white.  A white shag carpet stretched wall to wall.  Curtains were put up in the winter and religiously taken down when the weather warmed up. Boldly flowered slipcovers were put on for the summer and removed in the winter. My Mom was an expert at seasonal transformation.

I loved my all pink bedroom. I slept in a twin bed that had a painted pink headboard with a hand painted flowered garland with my name in the middle of it.  There were two matching pink chests of drawers and a dressing table as well.   My bedroom was always painted pink. the ceiling too. By the time I left for college, I was over pink.   Much to my satisfaction, my bedroom was about 3 times the size of my brother’s. Another distinct advantage I relished  was the control of the air conditioner, which was shared by both rooms.  My brother often complained that the air conditioner should be on, but I liked to sleep with the windows open.  Hey, you take your victories where you find them, even if they might mean that you’ll be a little uncomfortable.

pink drawers

 

The house also had a” playroom” in the front part of the cellar.  It had a built-in bar and was perfect for my parent’s New Years Eve parties as well as for my high school graduation party, held surreptitiously, when my parents were out-of-town. The other side of the basement scared the hell out of me, because once, when I was downstairs, the furnace door blew off.  I wasn’t hurt, but the memory of that incident remained strong.  It required great courage for me to venture down those cellar stairs alone.  Adding to the fear factor, there was a windowed back door into the cellar, which could provide easy entry for anyone wanting to break in or hide out for a while.  In my imagination, someone could be lurking in the darkness just waiting to pounce when I came down the stairs.

I also knew fear and anxiety in that house, probably because  it was in my nature and our house was a bit isolated. For many years, I was afraid of a house fire, sure that I would be trapped in my upstairs bedroom with no viable exit route.   I compulsively checked under my bed skirt each night before I went to bed, to make sure no evil man was waiting to attack.  I also went through a period of being afraid of the “evil eye.”  I can’t tell you what that meant, although I’m sure Freud could have found an explanation.  It did make it necessary, for my own piece of mind, to tack down the side edges of the window shade by my bed, so no one could see in.  When I  baby sat my younger brother, I would try to find ways to induce him to stay awake as long as possible, usually to no avail.  I was left listening alone to the many inexplicable sounds of the house and the night.  I’d finally get into bed and then turn on my radio loud enough so that it canceled out noises that would alarm me. I was always flooded with a sense of relief when I heard my parents voices.

As my parents aged, the maintenance of the house deteriorated.  Once my Mom became seriously ill with Alzheimer’s, its downhill slide accelerated.  Things that needed fixing got fixed as poorly and cheaply as possible, once my father was in charge. Poor man was overwhelmed.  Grime and stains accumulated.The house seemed like a shrunken shell of its former self. It became increasingly painful for me to go home. Sometimes on trips home, I’d devote hours in a futile attempt to clean it up.  It was past redemption. Ultimately the time arrived to move my Dad into a retirement home and put the house up for sale. It was an exhausting ordeal to go through everything, but one that I quickly felt detached from. Our lives there had ended. My kids took only a few things and I found, strangely enough, that I didn’t want much either.  Its time in my life had passed and there was no going back. It was actually a relief.  What remained, minus my parents, was just “stuff.”  I kept a few of my mom’s loved treasures, but to this day, they’re still wrapped up on a high shelf in my closet.

I was able to walk away without a tear shed. It felt like closing the cover of a much-loved book. It was over.  I soon realized that I’d internalized it all.  Anytime, I want to return, it’s all still here, I just have to look in the window.

 

 

 

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT!

Once you’ve gone around the sun 75 times, you’ve accumulated many experiences and lived through many different events .  My recent birthday had me looking over my shoulder more than usual. Although I think I have always had a poor memory, there are certain things I haven’t forgotten.  They’ve shaped my life and I hope, have granted me some perspective. It’s humbling to think I’ve lived so long!

Historical and Political

My first serious confrontation with political reality occurred while I was living in South Florida during the Cuban Missile Crisis with the Soviet Union in 1962. I seriously thought, as I watched tanks maneuver of the streets of Florida, that this just might be the end. I wanted to go home to be with my parents.  My husband to be, assured me that nothing was going to happen.  I believed him and didn’t leave.  Nothing happened.

During the summer, I could not swim in public pools or drink from public fountains because of the fear of polio.  My mother cried for joy when the polio vaccine became available. Growing up, I had the mumps, measles, German measles and a nasty case of chicken pox, all diseases young people don’t contract anymore.

Sputnik hit the skies when I was in high school.  Its launch marked the beginning of the Space Age and intensified the arms race.

sputnik

Duck and Cover drills were a part of the routine in school, ostensibly  in preparation for an atomic bomb attack that could come at any time.

Stalin died when I was twelve years old.   I kept the newspaper clipping thinking that the most evil man alive was now dead and the world would live in peace.

I watched the live murder of Lee Harvey Oswald on television. The days following Kennedy’s assassination  were a like a bad dream.  It marked the end of my youth. That murder was quickly followed by the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.  Dark times.

My feet would be put in an xray fluoroscope machine when I went to buy shoes!

xray

I remember black out drills from WW II. My father left our apartment with a flashlight and helmet on to go I know not where, while my mother and I hovered in the dark as she tried to explain to her 3 year old what was going on.

I thought I liked Ike! i like ikeI know my mother did.

I remember the election of President John F. Kennedy in 1960.

I remember the celebration of the birth of the state of Israel, when I was 7.  Everyone seemed very happy, so I too sang Hatikvah loudly with the congregation of our synagogue. I also remember the Seven Day War, when the possibility that Israel would be destroyed was a very real concern, until it became a rout, changed the course of history, and launched another new set of problems..

I remember segregated drinking fountains at the University of Miami where I went to college.  The sad thing was, I thought it was very strange, but not outrageous.  I had little awareness or concern for the ills of segregation.

drinking fountain

The Interstate highways arrived about the time I got my driver’s license. When I was 16, a friend and I snuck onto the Mass. Turnpike before it had officially opened to go for a joy ride in her father’s convertible.  Good Times.

I watched nuclear tests in the American desert broadcast live on television when I came home from school.

The birth control pill became widely available in the early 1960’s about the time I graduated from college and too late to have made a difference in my life.

Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, took its place as the most important book I’d ever read.

Again, on television, I watched the first man to walk on the moon.

I remember the resignation of General Douglas MacArthur in 1951.  Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.  He became an immediate national hero.

Again, on television, I watched the 1968 Democratic convention erupt in chaos. My parents were convinced the country was going to hell.

I remember the Free Speech Movement, the Black Panthers,the SDS and the Patty Hearst kidnapping. Those were exciting times.

Richard Nixon “opened” Red China, the Berlin Wall went up and came down, many airplanes were regularly hijacked, many astronauts went into space, the Yugoslavia revolution took place and at last real live Russians appeared in the USA.  All on my watch.

The Cuban Revolution happened while I was in college in Miami.  When I returned to MIami after my winter break there was a large billboard on the MacArthur Causeway that proclaimed, “Cuba is free. We welcome our American friends.”  I think it remained there for only a few weeks.  It wasn’t long before we witnessed the transformation of Miami as Cuban refugees poured in and remade the culture.

POP CULTURE

Love that Red was one of my first lipsticks.  Peroxide  and a half a bottle of Light and Bright turned my hair a brassy blonde. Hair styles included the Italian Cut, the Poodle Cut, and the page boy.  I regularly went to bed with my hair in wire rollers.

italian haircut
The Italian Cut

love that red

I “teased” my hair daily for many years.

Earth Angel rocked my world one summer in the early 1950’s when I was at the beach. The sound mesmerized me. We were the first generation of teenagers to live rock and roll. The radio was the main way we listened to new songs. NYC dj’s spread the sound.

I watched Dick Clark’s American Bandstand on tv after school.

The radio was my way of tuning into the outside world.  At night, I would stay up for hours, playing with the dial, trying to draw in far away stations, thrilled when I could pull one in.

I remember the day Elvis Presley died, as well as the day Marilyn Monroe died.

Every Saturday afternoon during my childhood, I watched most of the great MGM musicals.

I suffered my first bout of deep grief when JFK was assassinated. It lasted several months.

Johnny Mathis had us slow dancing and making out to his music.  Wonderful wonderful.

I eagerly awaited the arrival of Life magazine each week.  It told me all I needed to know.

I flew home from college on an Eastern Airlines jet plane.  This was the first jet aircraft available commercially.  It was pure glamour.

eastern

I lived through the civil rights movement and the accompanying national turmoil. I felt oddly detached and have always felt guilty about my lack of involvement..

I marched and protested as a Vietnam anti war protester.  I was another mother for peace.  By this time, I was politically awake.

another

Drive in movies and the first drive- in restaurants were an interesting distraction, if we could get to them.

The only “bad” word I knew until 6th grade was shut-up.  In 6th grade, I saw the word shit drawn on our school playground and had to ask someone what it meant.

Your Show of Shows was a regular part of my childhood, as was Your Hit Parade , The Ed Sullivan Show, The Honeymooners, Omnibus and Maverick.

I remember my Dad taping a sheet of colored vinyl over our black and white tv, to make it appear like a colored television.

Homosexuality was an unknown in my little world, never discussed or spoken of. I began to hear the word “fairy” by the time I was in college.

My one and only movie crush was Yul Brynner.  I watched The King and I sixteen times. I probably would have seen it 16 more times if video or dvd’s were available. I had all the dialogue memorized. It allowed me to escape my grim industrial hometown for a tropical world of explosive color and sizzling but understated sexuality.

yul

The first car I owned was a 1959 DeSoto which I bought from my parents after graduating from college. It had real fins! Soon after I bought it for $500, it broke down and was towed away into oblivion.

1959 blue and white desoto
1959 blue and white desoto

FASHION-WISE

I wore white bucks in junior high. It was not cool for them to be white. At our school, the dirtier the better.  Sneakers, always white, could only be worn in the spring and summer.They too, needed to be worn dirty, much to my Mother’s dismay.

white bucks

In college, I wore an unlined, braless, woolen deep blue Rudi Gernreich bathing suit on the beaches of Miami.  I wore it until it got a moth hole. It probably was the coolest item of clothing I’ve ever owned.

For my “going away” outfit after I was married, I wore a pillbox hat and gloves. (with a dress too) All self respecting women wore hats and gloves when they got dressed up. That odd prim fashion disappeared quickly as the sixties and the counterculture got going.

On one of my first dates, I wore a girdle which became so uncomfortable, I went into the ladies room, pulled it off and threw it in the wastebasket.

 

I excelled at wearing multiple crinoline petticoats at one time, under a circular quilted skirt, preferably worn with a wide cinch belt.

quilted skirt

And then, there was the shift! Not to mention the Vidal Sassoon haircut.

the shift

 

What? Forget my birthday?

 

better cake   Even my childhood dog got into my birthday celebrations .  Since he was considered by my mother to be an “outside dog,” he was always outside in the January cold when it came time for my birthday cake to make its entrance into our dining room. Not to be omitted from the family celebration,  he’d lift himself  onto his hind legs, put his front legs on the frosty dining room window and howl lustily as the birthday song was sung. It was the only song he “sang” for.   My mother knew how to throw a good party, so there was always a beautiful cake with luscious pink frosting roses, always lots of gifts beautifully wrapped, always beautiful Hallmark cards  and always, repeat, ALWAYS, a fuss made.  That’s just how birthdays were, I believed.  birthday card

When I entered marriage, I had high expectations for my first married birthday celebration.  I suffered a quick and brutal fall from my previously enjoyed and exalted status as the Birthday Girl.

Contrary to my experience growing up, my new husband didn’t mention my birthday at all in the days proceeding it.  On my birthday morning, as I got ready to go teach school, my husband still remained mum.  Unable to stand it, I asked him if we’d go out for dinner that night.  He looked mildly surprised and answered unenthusiastically, “If you want to.”  “He’s definitely got something up his sleeve, ” I told myself.  I raced home from school expecting to find a card in the mailbox saying all the right kinds of birthday things. Maybe a present would be waiting too. Nothing.  I then convinced myself that he must have invited our friends to join us for dinner. Nope. Feeling sorrier and sorrier for myself as the evening wore on, I doggedly continued to cling to hope. He must be saving the best for last. There’d be a surprise party after dinner at a friend’s house. After dinner, he drove directly home.  I received nary a card nor nary a present on that long ago day.  I couldn’t bear the let down and burst into tears.

That episode took place 52 years ago.  It has never been forgotten.  Various iterations of it happen from year to year. Some years are a wow, but others, not so much. But never as disheartening as year # one of marriage.

Against my better judgement, my expectations were rekindled as #75 approached. They just rose up!  Guess who said the word “birthday” first?

This morning I came upon a brilliant sketch between Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca that was on youtube.

 Hang in there, when you watch it.  They didn’t rush things in the 50’s. I promise, you’ll be rewarded!  I invited my husband to watch it with me, and we both laughed hard and often!

 

p.s.  Did I mention that I loved the aesthetics of birthdays?  Especially those in pastel colors, with pastel balloons, pastel cakes, and pretty paper plates and napkins and ….

 

 

USE IT OR LOSE IT

bar cookieschampagne

How I got into this mess

The siren song came frequently for the fruit and nut bars I’d baked for our family holidays.  I heard it faintly when I passed the kitchen, regularly after dinner and lunch, occasionally after breakfast, and always after making myself a frequent cup of tea during the day. I convinced myself after baking these tasty morsels that if I wrapped each one in pretty waxed tissue, I’d be less likely to eat more than one at a time.  That was actually true, but as it turned out, I’d eat only one every time.The tissue paper wrapping just added to their allure.   Accompanying the fruit and nut bar melody, I  also heard the festive gurgles of champagne. I needed to drink several glasses to silence that seductive sound.

More pertinent information: I’ve been traveling on and off since mid- November, so any formal exercise, other than walking, was inconvenient and not one of my priorities.  The fine restaurants in the cities of Kyoto and NYC were not to be dismissed.  Why waste an opportunity to eat some of the finest prepared food in the world, especially when it’s at your doorstep?

Use it or lose it

Use it or lose it, silly girl. Use it or lose it.  This morning, that catchy phrase repeated in my mind, as I struggled to get up off the floor after attempting an online yoga class.  I know that phrase very well.  In my 30’s I did a short TV series of exercises for older adults for Georgia Public Television entitled Keep On Movin.  Subtitled, Use it or Lose It. I thought it was a fine title to encourage aging adults to exercise and it proved to be a popular series.  I like to think I motivated a significant number of people to stay physically active.  You would have thought I might have motivated myself, even four decades later!

Now, there’s little question in my mind that I’ve lost it.  Lost flexibility, lost strength, lost endurance. It’s sad.  Is this just a natural result of aging or is it a natural result of laziness? Or, a combination of the two?

use it

The Moment of Truth

When I selected the online yoga class from hundreds of options, I decided to start at Level 1, just to show some humility. Ha. Level 1 was too challenging.  There should be a Level .5 for sluggards like me.  I was sure in a day or so I’d be cruising along at level 2 or 3.  Ha. Ha. Now I’m thinking more realistically.  I’ll try hanging on to Level 1 as best I can, for as long as necessary.

I completed the 60 minute class.  I was unable to kneel on my knees for so many of the familiar yoga poses.  I adapted. Age, be not proud.  The yoga lunges, which I did last about 8 years ago, were no longer effortless and my pride and joy as they used to be.  Then there’s the core stuff.  What core?  The Moment of Truth had  arrived. Soon followed by the inevitable confrontation between ego and reality.

If it sounds as if I’m in a period of self loathing, that’s not quite right.  I’m moving on. I have taken action.  At least I have begun the process. It took unmitigated disgust for me to stop smoking  five decades ago. That same disgust is going to work for my benefit and will provide the motivation to get me in some sort of reasonable shape. Whatever that might mean.

I promise.yoga