And I’ll Take it

nanny & terry in '51-tmarotta@comcast.net,LakeWhen I was this little kid and my mom was teaching me the Lord’s Prayer I found one part to be a little ‘off.’

“Give us this day our daily bread”  sounded to me far too bossy a thing to being saying to God. And so I would stop just after that part and add, “and we’ll take it.” I didn’t want God to feel that He was just blindly giving stuff into the void. I wanted him to know I would be there, all set to receive this food and chow down on it.

I was three when I had those thoughts, and on this, the day I turn 68, I find that with each passing year I more vividly remember the child I was then: in this autumn picture above; and in my little sunsuit playing in the grass one early June morning;

Nan & Terry in Hinsdale

I was simple back then. I remember being  simple. I also remember loving absolutely everyone, from my stuffed dog Pinky, to my mom and grandfather, from hero of a big sister to the aunts and the uncles and the cousins. I prayed for them all when I knelt down by the bed each night to say my “God blesses,” as my big sister and I called them.

Today, I see how much I changed as the years passed. For almost a decade, from the age of about 12 to the age of 21, I thought that knowing things was the big goal, because if you knew things you could maybe succeed in life, and also nobody could make you feel dumb at a party. I could habe gone down that road forever had I not found myself, September of my 22nd year, standing before a class of high school kids as their teacher.

The kids were so lively and comical – but inquisitive and serious too. Plus they had such wonderful questions: about God and sex; about an adult world that seemed to them founded entirely on principles of hypocrisy; about the key question of how much a person should or could do for others without spending down his or her own stores. (There’s a question I still struggle with!)

So yes, I changed a lot in those teaching years and then changed even more when my husband and I had a couple of children. My happiness was simply tied to theirs…

the calm before the boy child

…and that was even before that third child arrived. Before the pets arrived. Before our old folks began needing us more and more. And well, after a while, I came to see that life wasn’t about knowing a lot of stuff at all.

So here I am all these years later, just happy to be going for another spin around that old sun. This wonderful Jesse Winchester tune sung by Jimmy Buffet pretty much sums it up for me here.

Forget Perfection

ready for the living rm fun OCSAPeople judge you. There’s no avoiding it.

Example: Fella comes to my house one day, wants to clean a rug that lies on the floor of a room where a zillion dust motes dance in the golden bars of daylong sunlight. But the minute he walks in, his face goes pale. “What have you done here?” he shouts. “Your rugs are all faded!”

I look and he is right: The rug he has come to carry off for cleaning used to be red, tan and navy when we bought it. Now it’s rust, cream and baby blue. “This rug is losing RADIANCE!” he shouts again.

“Hey I’m losing radiance myself,” I say. “It’s OK, it doesn’t hurt.”

“Here’s what you have to do,” he goes on, ignoring me. “Pull down the shades. Draw the drapes.” He bustles around doing this until the room that has dazzled with sunlight a moment before looks ready now for a séance.

“But we love the sun,” I tell him,  feebly adding, “We sit in this window seat here, and…” “Then AT LEAST take a sheet and cover the area of greatest exposure!” he snaps. “You owe it to your carpets!” he adds, scooping up the carpet in question and hurrying out the door.

Since that day I have thought a lot about what this man said. I was sorry to have let him down, but I just can’t run a house his way, keeping the rugs bright by locking the sunlight out. Keeping things perfect under plastic. Pleasant under glass.

I used to visit houses like that when I was little, the kind that made you feel as though silken cords were stretched across the chair arms, and velvet ropes were hung across the doorways. I vowed even then that if I ever did have a house of my own, I would never run it that way.

And I don’t. We LIVE in our house. We live all over those 19th century sofas in the living room, which are only done in velvet because velvet is the toughest fabric there is – well, next to maybe Naugahyde. And I’m proud of that fact.

But now hasn’t the upholstery man just gotten after me too: He came here once for a Victorian sofa that I’d reupholstered myself a decade ago that ended up looking like a lumpy pink bed with a person sewn inside it. He took that old thing out and turned it into a pale blue dream of perfection.

Then this past month, a small visitor set her little bones upon a sofa even older than the Victorian one and blam! one leg — ball, claw and all — shot straight out from under it. The upholsterer was here to perform diagnostics on the break, but his gaze fell first upon the toddler who was clumping quietly around in his little white shoes.

“You let your CHILDREN in this room?” he squeaked, his voice ascending the scale of disbelief.

“Sure,” I answered, as the child in question smiled sweetly and drooled a little onto the velvet.

“On THIS couch!?” He squeaked. “MY couch?!”

“It’s going to lose radiance!” I could all but hear him say next.

He didn’t say that though. Instead he picked up this most recent casualty and started for the door. “Well it’s your house,” he sniffed, washing his hands of us all.

“You bet!” I told him, smiling big. Because really, it’s fine by me if our stuff is too worn out to pass down to our kids one day. What I’d much rather pass down to them is permission to enjoy the beauty of their surroundings; permission to fade, as we all must fade, gloriously, in the sun.

me working

 

 

Once as Alive as You or I

DCIM100GOPROOn the tour of a Norman castle I took last spring, I heard all about the moat and the boiling oil, the outer wall and the inner wall and the poor souls who got tossed over the latter, to fall screaming to their deaths below.

I listened as hard as I could, trying not to be distracted by the vista surrounding us.I found it that fascinating.

at-the-castle

But for all my listening I heard very little of what the daily life in that castle was like, which is what I most yearned to know about. I had to come back home and dig out my copy of T.H White’s The Once and Future King for that; because I had bought a paperback copy of this great tale of the Arthur Legend back when I was young and sure enough, there the tattered volume still stood, on the shelf where I had placed it. I flipped through the pages and there  was the passage I had remembered, outlined and waiting for me all these years later.

In it White describes the great walls surrounding a castle of this same era in England. Then he goes on on to say how things looked from the inside in those far-distant days, and what a spell he does cast with these words:

“So much for the outer defenses. Once you were inside the curtainwall, you find yourself in a kind of wide alleyway, probably full of frightened sheep, with another complete castle in front of you. This was the inner shell ‘keep’ with its eight  enormous round towers which still stand. It is lovely to climb the highest of them and to linger there looking toward the marshes from which all these old dangers came, with nothing but the sun above you and the little tourists trotting about below, quite regardless of boiling oil. 

“Think of how many centuries that unconquerable tower has withstood. It has changed hands by secession often, by siege once, by treachery twice, but never by assault . On this tower the lookout moved. From there, he kept the guard over the blue woods toward Wales. His clean old bones live beneath the floor of the chapel now, so you must keep it for him.

“If you look down and are not frightened of heights (the Society for the Preservation of This and That have put up some excellent railing to preserve you from tumbling over), you can see the whole anatomy of the inner court laid out beneath you like a map. You can see the chapel, now quite open to its God, and the windows of the Great Hall with the solar over it. You can see the shafts of the huge chimneys and how cunningly the little side flues were contrived to enter them, and the little private closets now public, and the enormous  kitchen. If you are a sensible person, you will spend days there, possibly weeks, working out for yourself by detection which were the stables, which the mews,  which were the cow byres, the armory, the lofts, the well, the smithy, the kennel, the soldiers’ quarters, the priest room, and my Lord and Lady’s chamber. Then it will all grow about you again. The little people – they were much smaller than we are and it would be a job for most of us to get inside the few bits of their armor and  gloves that remain – will hurry about in the sunshine, the sheep will baa as they always did, and perhaps from Wales there will come the ffff-putt of the triple-feathered arrow, which looks as if it had never moved.”

I have worked as a professional writer for over 35 years, penning essays and columns and autobiographical pieces and I just know that I would need another 35 years of study to even come close to the verbal artistry of this lonely and complicated man, who took a time 1400 years in the past and brought it to shining life.

 

 

The Spirit of the Weekend

img_2962-1If you separated out the righteous anger we saw yesterday and focused just on the sense of hope and yearning there expressed, you could look to this song to sum that feeling up. I love that the singers are young and that the boy is seen scratching his leg just before the song starts. I love the smooth columnar strength of the darker girl’s thigh and the frail courage of all clear and mortal voices. I love the way a fourth singer  responds to the gesture of beckoning offered part way through the song. I feel beckoned by this well-known round myself. Watch it here –  and see if you don’t find your own self singing along.

 

 

 

 

Got Stuck There for a While

fish-in-a-bowlPersonally, I’m thrilled to have a brand-new aquarium of a year to swim around in. I feel as though for the last two or three months I was moving my little fins through mud instead of water. Put another way, I couldn’t move forward. I mean, I had 95% of my Christmas cards done on December 8th but I simply could NOT finish the rest. I called my husband at work: “I’m going to just throw them all under a bridge somewhere, like that mailman in New York turned out to be doing for months and months.”

He laughed, but I wasn’t joking. I truly I was stuck, the same way I used to get stuck as a kid in various turnstiles and revolving doors, what with my violin case and that bulging book bag over one shoulder. Time simply stopped for me around the first week in November.

Example: I had put a pumpkin on my porch some weeks before Halloween, along with one of those purple kale plants and a pretty sheaf of wheat like they talk about in the Bible when the speaker in The Song of Solomon tells his lady friend that her belly is like a sheaf of wheat.

Well, the kale died the death of most extravagantly colored plants and the stalks became dental floss for the squirrels, but that pretty pale-peach pumpkin I simply could NOT throw on the compost pile, even when neighbors up and down the street were decorating for Christmas.

Instead I set it on the stone wall out back, where still it sits.

img_2871

Even now. Even with that stubborn snowbank sullenly hanging around the edge of my driveway like a schoolyard bully making a silent point about who’s really going to win this battle we’re now joining.

Winter will win it of course, just like the House always wins at the casino. A few more days and we’ll be shin-deep in snow again and quaking like the leaves on an aspen tree. And I know, I know: It’s not as if this is the Yukon, where hardy men send straight strong streams of pee into the frigid air which then freeze into stout shafts for use in their damaged dog sleds. It’s not as if this is even Minnesota, where people’s eyelashes get cemented together while they’re trying to crack open the diamond-hard shell of ice encasing their cars.

Still, it’s winter and winter is cold. And we mind the cold, hothouse tomatoes that we are.

Yet already the days are growing longer and in just eight weeks that old Uniform Time Act will have us all reading the paper in the park until almost 7:00 at night. Until almost 9:00 by the end of June.

Then what? Then the days will start getting short again alas, because Time is a big old ferris wheel that never does stop moving, except ever-so-briefly, to let new little folks on and the rest of us less-than-new folks off, each in our turn.

So what is the universe trying to tell us? Maybe to love the pumpkin for all its beauty and then to let the pumpkin go. Maybe to love what is given today.

It might also be hinting that no matter what bleak, stuck place I find myself in, I should really never throw 200 handwritten, sealed and stamped Christmas cards under a bridge, because does it really matter if they arrive a little late?

Let’s hope not! You guys should be getting mine any day now. 🙂

the cards go out at lastat the post office

Forty Years Ago Now

me and baby carrieForty years ago just about this minute, which is to say at 7:46 on December 31st, I was in the delivery room with my OB/GYN who had decided to induce labor even though I wasn’t even due yet –  so that, as he put it, “he could give Dad here the tax deduction, har-har.” (Oh the sexism in those days! He had also told us two weeks before the birth that while I did my “huffing and puffing,” my husband was welcome to “come in and heckle” if he liked, – as if this were all about HIS brilliant performance!)

When, at 6 o’clock that morning,  we showed up at the hospital as we were told to do, he ordered the full humiliating ‘prep’ done and then personally inserted a kind of knitting needle into me to make my waters break, so of course the child was born with tiny cuts on her head. Then later, when things weren’t moving fast enough for him, he brought on the Pitocin and as the time passed, went on to crank the dose up and up until I was almost levitating off the gurney. Someplace in there came the Epidural, one of life’s great blessings, so everything else was easy. But if my body was blissed out, my mind was as clear as can be and I do remember him telling one nurse to call his wife and say that he’d be at the New Year’s Eve party by 10.

And I guess he was. By 10 the three of us were cozily ensconced in a room. At 11:55 exactly, the nurses on duty brought us a split of champagne and we toasted the future.

Ah memories!

We see backward so clearly. We see ahead so poorly. We didn’t know this baby would be the first of three, or that she would be such a mild philosophical child. She was easy from the start – well, except for that 8th grade year when she was doing the hard work of separating from us.

carrie & katy at the beach

in 9th grade with her cousin Katy at the beach

Today though, she is altogether launched. Today she is 40, thirteen years older than I was when I gave birth to her. Can that even BE?  We had a wonderful winter as I think back on it. I wrote thank-you notes for baby gifts and the three of us napped and napped…

carrie-looks-like-callie…resting up for the excitement of watching that landmark series Roots based on the remarkable book by Alex Haley.

She was too thin at first and then she chubbed up – and before we knew it, Spring came and she crawled down from our laps and away from us, as all babies must.

How blessed we are though, because all these years later we can still get to her in 22 short minutes. Oh Happy birthday Carr! What a joy it has been to watch you grow!

carrie at 6 in a chair

carrie as a mom

 

 

 

7:40 in My Bedroom

img_2745It’s 7:40 in my bedroom. It has been 7:40 in my bedroom for some months now, and a comforting sort of hour that is, whether morning or evening.

The reason it is 7:40 in my bedroom is that for some months I have awakened to the sight of a sweet clock, small and round and newly-broken, but dear to me still, a thing of brass and glass, and fashioned to look like an stop-watch.

This time-stopped clock sits on a bureau which is time-stopped too in its way, as I realize while slowly looking around for a timepiece that’s actually accurate. The bureau once belonged to a very old lady I lived with in my baby days, my Great-Aunt Margaret, who would sit for hours at the whim of us kids, pretending to be a queen, or an ogre, or a conductor on the “train” we made by lining up the empty chairs in the dining room.

Quite near this old bureau sits another, this once belonging to an even more ancient lady, my Great Aunt Mame, who lived with us too. I treasure it because it just feels like the 1860s, the decade when it and Great Aunt Mame came into being. In its slender spare quality, it feels too like that lady, the famous-to-us creator of endless pies and jellies, of moist cookies and plump and steaming biscuits.

As a sort of bachelor brother to these, a third chest of drawers stands over by the window, tall and narrow-shouldered, with a marble top and ebony-colored drawer-pulls as long as the ears of a cocker spaniel. It is the one thing my groom and I ever bought at an estate auction, for the princely sum of $187.50.

Here too stands the knee-high table that my grandfather had built for his “little dearies” as he called them, the four children under six whose blue-eyed mother died in pregnancy at the age of 31. Here as well are the silver hair brushes of that young woman, who left life all too early and took her fifth child with her.

Here in this room, where it is 7:40 always, stands the old bed we found left behind in the attic of our first house, a two-family in the city. At the time, its headboard was black with coats of varnish. I refinished it and we sleep in it still. Three babies got their start in this bed and kept coming back to it, on unquiet nights, with  their blankies and their little afflictions.

My mother died some years ago now. A swan-shaped planter from her last bedroom sits on my night-stand, together with a photo of her at 22, squinting shyly into the sun.

In this room Time is stopped. But outside it, Time, and messy life, have hurried onward, I remember the December that the furnace fainted and cooled, and one of the cats dragged a still-warm squiggle of mouse-life into the kitchen. Around that same time someone spilled soup on the living room sofa. A revolving band of environmentalists kept coming to the door to ask for money. A revolving band of Boy Scouts kept trying to sell us evergreens.

And every day real winter loomed. And every day the Holidays threatened.

When you’re young, you think “Hurry, Time!” You want to be 10 or you want to be 20. You can’t wait for the birthday or the big game to come; you can’t wait for prom night, or for summer vacation.

Then things change and you grow older. Time moves plenty fast enough without your urging, you find. And suddenly a room where it’s always 7:40 is a lovely place in which to wake up, and nicer still when  Mister Sun hoists his own old self high up enough to bring true daylight.

this is our room