Sunday, June 19, 2022

Meet Me on the Corner

I've been thinking of my father lately; one night I was remembering how he used to meet me on the corner when I walked home from my best friend’s house after dark. If I could define the word “safety” it would be that moment when I would spy my father under the street lamp waiting. I would call from Beth’s house just as I was leaving, at nine, ten or maybe 11 o’clock, depending upon my age, and say, “Leaving.”  Then I would scoot out her front door and confront the dark, empty street, either walking or on my bike, and by the time I got to the corner, there Dad would be, often smoking his pipe. Never, ever, did he let me down. 

            Nothing  sinister or dangerous ever happened, and probably never would have, because Schenectady, NY,  in those days was pretty safe, and my street and Beth’s were quiet. But Dad was no fool and being linked into the court system as the director of probation he knew that crimes did occur even in safe neighborhoods where we didn’t even lock our doors (at least, not during the day). 

             No matter what he was doing he dropped it to escort me safely home, and he never told me he couldn’t meet me, or denied me the fun of going to Beth’s house to hang out with my friend, or was too drunk to get to the corner (the man did not drink, except maybe a tiny glass of port or a cold beer on a hot day though I don’t even remember that), or too tired, or too anything, and he never sighed or sounded exasperated or annoyed, and he was always, always there to answer the phone. The message was that I was a VIP. And there is no better, no more important message for a little girl (or a teenaged girl, or maybe a girl of any age) to receive from her father.

This is not to say we didn’t have our issues, particularly during my teen years when I started wearing mini-skirts and white lipstick. My dad didn’t seem to know what to do with my budding sexuality, so he withdrew for a few years, looking a bit disgusted and disgruntled when I’d dress for a date. In due time he relaxed a bit; not only did I acquire a steady boyfriend, but the late sixties and early seventies were a time of baggy painter pants and construction boots. He couldn’t very well disapprove of that, though I’m sure he wasn’t thrilled with the braless part. Ironically, it was my proper and gentlemanly dad who accompanied me to buy my very first bra, standing uncomfortably in the ladies’ loungewear department of our local department store when I was in fourth grade, because my mother was bedridden with a slipped disc just when all the girls in my class were getting their first bras (clearly, few of us actually needed them).  He stood there like a trooper, while I marched up to the counter and bought what I desired; a little piece of stretchy cotton called a training bra. My parents never discussed sex with me, though my mother did hand me a pamphlet about menstruation when I was 12.

            Times were different. I never heard my parents utter a single swear word (my children learned a host of expletives from me early on in life!). I did once hear my father bellow “Son of a B!” as he raced through our house and out the back door in his pajamas (I think there may have been a stray dog or a raccoon in our backyard).  Beth and I had a good laugh over that for years. His code words for caution were simply, “Hey-hey!” Basically that either meant “Watch out!” or “Stop it right now!” The odd little word-combo had power: I never even considered ignoring it.

            It’s decades now since my father passed, and I still miss him. Happy Father’s Day to all fathers; I hope you know how truly important you are. 


Sunday, April 3, 2022

Mysteries of Trees


I’m sure there’s an un-magical explanation for almost everything in the Universe, but sometimes I prefer to conjure up my own meaning. Take the case of five plum trees that mysteriously appeared in my backyard one day. No one planted them. They sprouted in a perfect line, four to five feet apart, along an unattractive green fence that my former neighbor erected 20 years ago when she acquired a tiny, yapping (though adorable) dog.


On this fairly neglected side of my small backyard, there is a pear tree (the newbies do not resemble it). There is also a flowering plum tree I planted; it picked up some sort of illness and hasn’t grown much in 15 years. If I were a botanist I might be able to reveal how the new trees sprang from the elder trees (if that’s the case), or how a bird dropped seeds in a perfect line, or provide some other logical scientific explanation. But for me, the case is more clearly explained by the fact that I never admired that little green fence (also, I harbored a certain annoyance because said neighbor had a habit of ripping down the honeysuckle that grew upon it).


That neighbor (of whom I grew quite fond) has since moved; the fence remains and my new neighbor spends the spring season generously planting flowers all over her yard. Maybe it’s the general attitude on this end of my block now that promotes the growing of things (at the other end of my dead-end street folks seem to prefer to chop down trees and plant cement). Or maybe it’s that the Universe heard my lament about the honeysuckle. Or maybe the powers that be took pity when it was observed that my plum tree was doing poorly, that our pear trees are getting old, or that I still mourn an apple tree that met an untimely demise.


In any case, I somehow missed the appearance of the five saplings for several years (I did mention my neglect of that area), and by the time they caught my eye last spring they were nearly three feet tall, and looked suspiciously promising. So I left them alone. Yesterday, when I looked outside I noticed that one had burst into pink bloom, and the others are readying their blossoms. Yes, they are still small…four feet tall perhaps at this point. But they will one day be taller and fuller, and hopefully will detract from the fence.


Magical things do pop up in life, like ideas for writing, plum (or cherry) trees, friendships, opportunities, shoes that fit perfectly and are on sale, ice cream cones, soul mates etc. and though we want and need to explain many things sometimes it’s better just to open our arms and accept. I’m grateful that I ignored that part of my yard for so long--my neglect allowed the trees to grow to the point where they could be noticed and valued for what they truly are. Had I been puttering about over there I most likely would have thought they were among the scores of stray oak or maple saplings that pop up every year (I can’t nurture them all, I don’t have the space for a forest). Had I pulled them up I would have missed the magic.


So thank you, Universe, elves, fairies, or industrious garden birds or savvy squirrels. Sometimes, tiny miracles sprout when we’re not even paying attention.


Wednesday, April 28, 2021

If Wishes Were Horses...

Though I know that prayer has real power I used to think that wishes were just for fun. That was before Covid-19. Back when this Covid nightmare started, I penned some thoughts about things I wanted to change in my life. Strangely enough, with the “lock down” many of my “wishes” came true. Now that we’re beginning to emerge from this nightmare, I wonder whether I’ll leap back into my “old” life. Maybe you're wondering, too.  Here’s what I wrote about one year ago:

Sometimes, I wonder if maybe my penchant for magical thinking has caused this whole Covid-19 mess, even though it’s crazy to imagine that my secret thoughts would have that much impact. So, how could I possibly pin this on myself? Well, for one thing, I’ve been thinking secretly for months that I am sick and tired of getting pedicures and haircuts. I know many women enjoy the pampering, but it always seemed a waste of time. Teaching yoga, however, one’s feet are constantly on display, so pedicures are kind of de rigueur. Likewise, as much as I love my hairdresser, who’s been trimming my tresses forever, I’ve privately also been thinking that I am just plain tired of going to the salon.  These thoughts have been going out from my brain into the cosmos: “I don’t want to go get a pedicure. I don’t want to get a haircut…” In yoga-speak, co-creating my reality, manifesting if you will. And now, of course, no pedicures or haircuts for months!

Also, my constant mantra has been: ‘I don’t want to drive.’ The two yoga classes I was teaching before the Pandemic required me to get on busy highways in rush hour. I’d pretty much conquered my fear of rush hour driving but in the back of my mind I kept wishing I didn’t have to deal with traffic. Now, I haven’t driven on a major highway in months. My best friend says she may be getting agoraphobic from not going anywhere, and I wonder if that will happen to me, too. I wonder how many people will come out of this afraid to drive or go to a grocery store. Still, it seems like the collective wishing may have brought this on. I mean, no one wished for a Pandemic, but if people all over the planet are secretly bitching the way I was, who knows?

I’ve also wished constantly for more time with my husband. That’s strange because we’ve been living in an empty nest ever since our youngest son went to college, and we should probably be sick of each other. But pre-Pandemic I was always rushing out the door to teach or go to a yoga class or shop or get to some kind of appointment, and he was running around too, since pre-Covid there were Broadway shows and operas for musicians (like my husband) to play. Quite often I just wished we could hang out more together and not have to worry about going anywhere. And now? It’s uncanny. We’re always together, and quite happily so. 

Of course, I also wished for a lot of things I didn’t get  (like $250,000, a trip to Italy, and a cute tiger kitten like the one I had when I was ten) so I guess it doesn’t make sense to self-blame. Nevertheless, I also…

Wished for a nearby falafel shop and one opened at the foot of my street.

Wished that the teacher would open our Zoom yoga class relaxing on our backs instead of with a challenging pose because I was tired, and it happened.

I even wished—long before Covid-19 --that we could do yoga teacher trainings online. And now that’s all there is!

I certainly didn’t wish for all this tragedy and illness. And I sure have been praying it would all go away.  

And it looks like…hopefully… that prayer that we’ve all been praying may one day come true.

Honestly, I know my wishes don’t create reality…but just recently I commented that I’d trade the falafel place for the end of this Pandemic any day.

You guessed it: The falafel place is closing. 

The curious thing is, I really don’t know how many of the things I wished away I do actually want back. This whole wretched (and yet in some ways miraculous) year has certainly made us all get our priorities straight. And I think most of us would agree that giving our loved ones an actual hug is a lot more important than straight bangs or pink toenails. In fact, a year of not doing a lot of things that really didn’t matter very much has brightly illuminated the things that matter quite a lot. 

Thursday, December 24, 2020

An Abundance of Caution

For some strange reason, my pals get a kick out of suggesting titles for my blogs. A few weeks ago, a dear friend offered this one, and I mulled it over for a while. Today, I figured out why it’s the perfect title for my Christmas Eve post.

This year, out of “an abundance of caution” I’m spending Christmas Eve with those in my Pandemic 2020 “bubble”-- my husband, our eldest son, and his wife. Missing are my middle son and his wife, my youngest son, my brother, my sister-in law, my nephew, and on Xmas Day the aforementioned as well as additional aunts, uncles and a niece. For the first time in 20 years—since my mother’s passing—I’m not making all the traditional holiday foods and hosting the extended family. I'm skipping the fruit salad with whipped cream (a hold-over from days of yore), and there will be no sparkling cider or mixed nuts in shells because I plum forgot to order them online. How sad.


And yet we are--knock on wood--still healthy ten months into this mess. And universe willing, we will be here to celebrate next year…because of an abundance of caution that tells us that no matter what we do, or who we spend the holidays with, we want to follow the yogic pledge of ahimsa: non-harming.


But what about…throwing caution to the wind? What about the abandonment of fear, trusting in the Divine, what about just saying, “Eat, drink and be merry….for tomorrow...” Well, you probably know the rest of that quote.


I like to throw caution to the wind sometimes. Kick off my shoes and jump into the deep water. Drive just a tad too fast. Stay up too late. Get on an airplane even though I’m scared to fly. Just say, “Who cares?“ or “Whatever!” Or,


I’ve always been one to err on the side of caution, though, and these times seem perfect for that approach. I feel sorry for folks who are used to throwing caution to the wind, folks who live with wild, untamed abandon, because this is a tough time to be doing that. Not so much because they might get hurt, but because they might cause someone they love to lose their very life.


These are the oddest of times, and the most bizarre and sacred of Christmas seasons, even though many of us are not where we want to be, and not with all--or possibly any--of the people we want to be with. This holiday season, more than perhaps any other, I’m steeped in gratitude. And I’m acutely aware of the blessings I’ve enjoyed most of my life. I’m deeply aware of how much my family means to me and this Christmas, more than any other, I understand that caring for others is the most important act we can do on earth.


And so, out of an abundance of caution, this will be a lonely but quiet, reflective, and responsible Christmas. My heart aches because it’s different, because I can’t be with or hug all my kids (though I'm lucky indeed to have one I can see in person) and because it feels like time is lost, never to be retrieved. But I know time is also gained, in the sense that what really matters to us is now crystal clear, and hopefully after this year of painful lessons we will never "waste" time ever again. 


They say there’s a season for everything, and though it’s not in the Bible or in a song by the Byrds (that I know of) I believe there’s a season for an abundance of caution, as well as a time to throw caution to the wind. For sure, this year has proven that there is, as the scripture says, “...a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.” Nevertheless-- without hugs or kisses--I wish you all a beautiful holiday, and a healthy, triumphant New Year.




Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Year the Ordinary Became Wonderful

The title of this blog was suggested to me by my very best friend. She had no idea what I might write about, but she thought this title sounded like something that might inspire me. It did--and so does she. 

    My friend F and I met many years ago in college in upstate New York. She was my “suite” mate my freshman year, and she was just one year ahead of me. I was in awe of F: She had a pet white rat named Eugene, whom she was babysitting from the psych lab, she had beautiful black hair down to her waist, and a singing voice so deep and lustrous I couldn’t believe it. But most of all, of all her many attributes, was her sense of humor. F could make me laugh like no one else. She was and is the funniest friend I’ve ever had.

     Our friendship has lasted through the deaths of four parents, through the births of four sons (she has one, I have three), through career ups and downs, good moods and bad moods, weight losses and gains, mothering conundrums, and everything else one might expect. In the past we have had many, many meetings, shared vacations together, attended our sons’ weddings (her boy’s on Zoom just this Spring), shared illnesses including breast cancer for both of us, and so much more. There’s little that F doesn’t know about me, and I suspect little that I don’t know about her. We have guarded and treasured our secrets for decades.


    During the Covid-19 Pandemic, F and I have talked weekly on the phone, attended a weekly online chair yoga class together, and kept in touch with emails and text messages. We haven’t been able to meet in person, though, because of Covid worries and our concern for one another’s health and wellbeing. Nearly two hours apart, F has been in her “bubble” and I’ve been in mine, each of us burrowing into our own lives, but keeping our lines of communication open. A few times over the past few months F has mentioned to me that she’s getting worried about not getting out of the house enough. So, when I went on a trip upstate to check in on an elderly relative, I suggested that F and I meet in a parking lot just off the Thru-Way on my drive home. She agreed!


    Last week, we stood six feet apart, no masks, outside, and basked in each other’s laughter. We shared funny stories, disappointments, problems, and triumphs. She showed me how long her now-gray hair has gotten—still thick and beautiful just as it was when she was nineteen years old. Our hearts were full of love as we stood under the sun on a breezy day, gratefully enjoying the real, live, vision of one another. 


    It was in those moments that F came up with the title of this blog: The Year the Ordinary Became Wonderful. In truth, there has never been an “ordinary” moment that I’ve ever spent with F (even grocery shopping with F is an adventure; after all, she taught me how to make onion and mayonnaise sandwiches when the fridge was empty in college and we had the munchies at 3 a.m.). Our moments—and if you have a best friend you know what I mean—are always special.

    In the year 2020, however, nothing is taken for granted. Whether hugging our kids who live in distant cities, having tea with a neighbor, getting a haircut, or shopping in a store… we’ve all become aware of how unique, vital and blessed our no longer “ordinary moments” and human connections truly are. I look forward to the day when F and I can hug in person; in the meantime, I’ll treasure whatever wondrously "ordinary" gifts the Universe sends our way. 



Monday, June 1, 2020

Long, Lost Friend

When my husband and I first bought a small house on a tiny property in New Jersey 30-plus years ago I had two main objectives: To get my hands in the soil and plant tomatoes, and to raise a family. I did both. But over the years I lost touch with the soil.  
          When our three boys were little I spent hours in the backyard before cell phones and video games. The backyard was our refuge along with local parks; we had our own sand box and swing set and a glorious apple tree that succumbed to disease one year and a mulberry tree that fell over in a hurricane. The apple tree was the perfect place to search for a six-year-old who’d gone missing. I could always find him there or on the top of the two-car garage in the rear of the yard which we use to store junk since there is no pavement leading to it (now grown, this particular son likes indoor rock climbing).
            Our yard is less than a quarter of an acre, but from the onset it was filled with treasures, not the least of which was an expansive blackberry patch. When we first moved in from New York City, I had no idea what that pile of bramble was, and considered digging it up. Come May however, it burst into bloom, and every July since the delight of fresh blackberry pie outweighs the aggravation of summer baking.
            Our yard has been home to praying mantises (sadly, I don’t see them any more), cicadas, small snakes, slugs –particularly the year I planted zucchini—cardinals, bluejays, woodpeckers and many other birds. Woodchucks come and go, as does the occasional rabbit. My first year here I called my father wondering if there was a badger in the yard—he laughed at that idea. We’ve also had the occasional skunk and opossum. Deer have come to visit but only twice in 30 years.
            Every year I planted tomatoes (until recently) and one summer I planted lettuce, eggplant, cucumbers, broccoli and a pumpkin or two. We spent hours in the sandbox until the boys grew too big for it and I had a modest deck built instead. We have lilies of the valley, lilacs, violets and wild roses (one would think I live on an estate!). We have four pear trees—each producing a slightly different kind of pear. (One variety is so tiny the squirrels feast on the fruit before fully ripened, mischievously throwing the chewed remnants onto the deck below.) When the kids were little they filled toy wagons with the larger pears to distribute to the neighbors (with the warning to watch out for worms as they were never sprayed).
            For years this yard was my haven, our place to play and swim in a plastic pool, to shoot water guns, blow bubbles, and run through the sprinkler, to dig and get our hands in the earth. And then one day the kids got too big and cool to play outside and their mom—aka me—retreated to my computer…where I’m sad to say, I remained for many, many years, only venturing into the yard from time to time to sit on the deck and sip a coffee, or to pick a few flowering sprigs. My husband mowed the lawn and trimmed the hedges (a bit grudgingly, I might add, since I'd agreed the yard would be my realm and responsibility).
            This year during the pandemic it all changed. I was called by some primal force to return to my yard. I’ve spent hours during this time getting to know this old friend again…lamenting the loss of some of my former companions (the phlox have completely disappeared, and I  detected only one white violet this spring), but miraculously discovering things I didn’t realize were there, like five small wild plum trees in a row that might have been mistaken for weeds had I been paying attention, but instead are now already three or four feet tall. 
            Because I was in my yard this spring, I noticed that the ivy was taking over the blackberries so I cut it back and now will have a bumper crop of berries. I cleared one neglected area behind the deck and ordered packets of wildflower seeds which are now sprouting due to attentive watering. 
            Because I’ve been home and not running about I noticed trees that needed pruning and called an arborist. The removal of dead branches gave way for new growth on the aging pear trees. The tiny sapling (a pine) I planted 30 years ago now towers high into the sky, and the ornamental plum tree I planted after the apple tree was felled has revived after a bout with some fungus. 
            This year, I’ve sat on my deck in the morning, in the afternoon, and in the early evening, listening to birds and watching the buds turn to leaves on the trees. My shoes have been caked with mud, my hands have been blistered from raking, and my back has ached each night as I’ve crawled into bed.
 I’ve reunited with this yard as if it is a long, lost friend I haven’t seen in decades. Indeed, that’s exactly the case. And just like a dear old friend, my yard has welcomed me back into its arms, as if I’d never even left. I hope--as long as I'm on this earth--we will never be parted again.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Peeps, Beans, and Other Surprises

I meant to write this blog on Easter, but in the season of Covid-19 (I wish this was the name of a cocktail combining cognac and vodka instead of what it is) time got away from me. Or should I say there seems to be both a plethora of time and no time at all, apparently the result of following an altered routine that includes too many nights of interrupted sleep as well as too many naps.
            My prose wanders, as the point of this blog was to write about jelly beans. This was the first in many years that I had none in the house on Easter Sunday. My father made a huge deal of having a jelly bean hunt every Easter and this was a tradition I carried on with my kids. He would sprinkle jelly beans up and down the stairs to my bedroom, and all around the house on window sills and chairs (needless to say some were indeed rather dusty). This never mattered to me, nor did it to my three sons who used to race around the house, elbowing and kicking each other to find all the bunny’s hiding places. My dad was famous in the family for this ritual.
            In the Jewish tradition, I’m told, there is also some searching for the hidden prize –a piece of matzo known as the afikomen. 
            Anyway. In the time of Covid-19 I did not think ahead to order or purchase any jelly beans and I found myself not only without my grown sons visiting (they still like a chocolate rabbit and a few beans strewn about), but also with nothing sweet to celebrate with except a package of Peeps (which I detest) that my husband had picked up at Aldi’s the day before the sheltering commenced. I usually dye Easter eggs as well, so in the early morning I scuffled into my basement searching for the plastic bag that contains my Easter decorations. Often, there are a few tablets of dye left over from the year before, but alas, the bag was nowhere to be found. I resorted to taking a gel pen to some brown eggs. The result was not impressive.
            But all was not lost! The point of the jelly bean hunt was not just to fill one’s basket with candy, but also to relish the feeling of surprise and delight when a bean was found in an unexpected place (in a shoe, for instance, or tucked into an empty coffee cup). Instead… Easter morning revealed that unbeknownst to me on a dusty shelf in the rear of my cellar there were three—yes,  three—cans of Lysol. What a gift! This is a product that I would never willingly purchase under normal circumstances, and I have no idea where these cans came from. My hunch, however, is that one of my sons had them at college (have you ever stepped into a young man's dorm room?) and stashed them there on a visit home.
            Lysol! Poison in most circumstances in my opinion, but gold in a Covid crisis. Having no disinfectants in my home—and with the stores depleted of the stuff--this was truly a find.
            Later in the day, my husband and I ventured into our backyard to pull weeds and rake some leaves. We spent several hours in the sun, enjoying the fresh air. Minutes after I came inside to make tea my husband followed, holding another treasure. Under a pine tree on the side of our house he had discovered a small green stone the shape of an egg. Again, my suspicion is that one of our kids had buried it there in bygone years and it had just made it to the surface. So, on Easter Sunday we did find an egg--though not a jelly bean (and certainly not edible). Nevertheless, we experienced the comforting delight of finding something pleasant or useful in an unexpected place.
            Naturally, I segued in my mind from the Lysol cans and egg-shaped stone to other unexpected gifts that this horrid Covid experience has offered. I won’t recount them here, because I'm rather tired of Pollyanna-ish lists when so many are suffering. But I have heard of joy from many unexpected quarters…I have also heard from a number of folks who are  treasuring their time at home with family, and that they are re-thinking many things, and planning for a brighter, more authentic future.
            You never really know where you might find a jelly bean.