Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Whispered Presence

December 3rd is my maternal grandmother’s birthday. She would have been 95. When I close my eyes I still hear her voice, although she has been gone for 34 years. I was blessed with two lovely grandmothers but I often write about my father’s mother. This grandmother was dear too but in different ways.

Soft spoken and quiet, she loved us unconditionally and expected very little from us in the way of good behavior. Because of that we sometimes ran roughshod over her as children will do. But she took it all in stride and spoiled us and I think she enjoyed it.

As far as the woman goes, she was petite with pretty green eyes, the only ones in a family of browns. Always ladylike, she was well-dressed and told me once buying new clothes gave her “a lift”. She was talking about a lift in spirits because I do think she was sad at times.

With a husband in a TB sanatorium, she had to work during the war. Her only child, my mother, said that because my grandmother did war work full time, she was the original latch key kid. But my grandmother taught her to fend for herself and when she was home from work, she was a great mother who loved her daughter.

She was first generation and at a young age, her father died suddenly, and as was the custom in the old country, her uncle, my great grandfather’s brother, stepped up to the plate and married his sister-in-law. So the last five children in the family had a different father than my grandmother’s. Still, she remained very close to her sisters, all gentle and sweet women like my grandmother.

My grandmother spent several weeks in the summer with us and helped out any way she could. If I went looking for her, she would be in the basement folding clothes and ironing or doing other tasks for my mother. Those weeks were precious to me because no matter what happened in our boisterous household, my grandmother was a leveling influence. She broke up fights, rubbed backs and soothed bruised feelings. She told us over and over that someday we would all be best friends and today we are.

Recently, I found a letter in a box of her old photographs that I wrote to her in 1966. I thanked her for spending her "strike" with us, a bonus month off when her company shut down. She saved every letter and card we ever sent as if they were treasured documents. The real treasure, however, was her. She was never cross or demanding. Just a lovely creature who believed in the good in all of us and did what she could to make us more comfortable. I often think of her as one of life's innocents, a beautiful whispered and wistful presence on the edge of our lives.  She only wanted to help.  Happy Birthday Nana Millie! I think of you with love still…

Thursday, November 15, 2012

What dreams may come...

A man's work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.
~Albert Camus

My dear friend Kay sent me this quote and then we experimented to see which early memories have shaped our lives. I adored one of hers: quietly studying her parents from beneath the dining room table as they washed dishes together in companionable rhythm.

One of mine was seeing the long stretch of our backyard in the moonlight with deep crusty snow sprinkled over with snow dust as our car pulled into the dark driveway late on a winter night.

These are very early memories that become rooted in our hearts and may explain why just one picture on Pinterest will find us softly gasping or sighing with sudden emotion, even if we are not sure why. My sister played along later and I discovered some images of hers I had forgotten. We both recollected the snow dust vista – which speaks to the power and beauty of that image in both our lives.

I love the idea of my heart opening to things now because I bore witness to them once upon a time. Here are a few more images from both Kay, my sister and I:

A lamp in my parent’s bedroom depicting an 18th century couple (Kay’s passion for the American Revolution)

Rubbing my finger across black-as-midnight, velvet Maryjane’s (my sister's love of texture and design)

The Barbie doll box with heart-stopping illustrations of mid-1950’s outfits (Kay’s work as a costumer and image consultant)

The top of my grandmother’s dresser, a jumble of pearls, beads, perfume bottles, handkerchiefs, and gloves (my constant appetite for all things feminine and pretty)

Stained glass windows in church lit from the outside by the sun (my sister’s fever for bright colors and light)

As we draw close to Thanksgiving, recall the images that first opened your heart and please share them in a comment or two.