Tag Archives: gifts of life

She took my mother with her

My mother was of the Moon. Aren’t all women?

Each month, when the moon is full, my mother comes to visit. I know it’s her way of telling me that she’s still with me. And how lovely to know that we’ll see each other every month until I no longer inhabit the earth. Perhaps then I’ll be with her on our infinite journey.

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I usually photograph the rising moon or when it’s high in the sky. But this time, the first full moon after my mother’s death, I awoke early at 5:00 am and looked out the window. The moon was sliding down into her setting, and I said my final goodbye as the she took my mother with her.

The August moon is the most precious as my mom’s birthday is August 19th.

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A Cornerstone No More

It has been a long time since I’ve posted anything. I’ve had serious writer’s block as the past nine months have been challenging, full of emotion, a time to recast and reset patterns that have become destructive, a time to pull up every plant and look at the roots to see if they’re healthy for replanting or need to be tossed away.

I’ve been reading Elena Ferrante’s incredible tome of four books about a friendship that has lasted 60 years. And it’s hitting close to home. My “best” friend and I nearly made it, except that she died last year at 59. And we had had a terrible falling out five years ago. I’ve had a lot to think about and look back upon. A lifetime, in fact.

At 60 now, I finally feel like I can let go of a lot of shit, to put it bluntly. And that includes people who have been toxic for me. I’ve always been a giver, but after giving my entire life, I now know that I’ve chosen takers all too often, and as a giver, it’s time to set some boundaries because the takers won’t. One of the roles I’ve played, and am giving up now, is that of a cornerstone for people.

The problem with being a cornerstone in peoples’ lives is that they come to expect that you’ll always be there, strong and whole without chips or broken pieces, securely in place with cement all around, never worn down smooth from constant use over the years.

I admit I wanted to be a cornerstone for a lot of people. It brought gratification, acceptance, approval, love even. To be there always for someone gave us both strength. But it held huge responsibilities and guilt at times. When we moved to Italy 16 years ago, this same friend sobbed on the phone and said, “How can you move so far away and leave me? You’re my cornerstone.” Talk about guilt.

And when the cornerstone crumbles just a bit, changes position and becomes jumbled among other stones and bits of brick, who’s there to pick up the pieces? Where’s the cornerstone for the cornerstone? Not from the people to whom I’ve been one, apparently.

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My original post as I wrote it was full of details about this person or that, those who had “wronged” me with their selfishness, those who never called me to ask how I’m doing, those who have gotten pissed off at me if I don’t call even when I’m in a difficult phase of my life. Ahem.

I realized that it sounded whiny and that I was feeling sorry for myself. I’m not. On the contrary, after the horrible break with my life-long friend who accused me of all sorts of terrible deeds that I had done to her, it was the kick in the ass I needed to let go and change my behavior. It was actually a gift, though a painful one.

I’ve learned a lot about life from building fires every night in our wood-buring stove. If you keep messing with it, trying to make it light more quickly by fussing and trying to control it, it won’t light. The best thing to do is let it catch by itself and then watch it glow and eventually brighten into a beautiful, roaring fire.

So, the cornerstone has been put away in a safe place where even I can’t get to it. It can crumble on its own, wear down, eventually slip away. And I won’t have to take responsibility any more for making sure it holds.

And I truly appreciate even more the other two wonderful friends I’ve had for over 40 years. One I met in junior high, the other when we worked together in our late teens. We’re always there for each other even if we don’t talk or write for months. I know now it’s because we’ve never considered the other to be a cornerstone, rather we’ve been more like gentle wild grasses that bend in the wind, grow and die with the changing seasons, then come back greener than ever, breathing with life, sometimes with surprising gifts, caressing each others’ hearts with brilliance, color, and love.

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Faded memories no more

August 19, 2014

I’ve just reconnected with my dear friend Russ from 42 years ago. Little did he know what a gift he gave to me today.

ninaMy mother would have been 86 today, and I wish she were alive to see these old photos of me dancing my heart out with abandon, especially since I was ballet-trained and normally very disciplined. (These photos are stills taken from a very old film.)

 

She loved my dancing, supported and encouraged me, and she was there when I fell from grace.

Russ sent me a link to a dance recital from high school back in 1972. Memories of that night flooded back to me. Dance was my life, my breath, my soul. I went professional for one year before realizing the competition was too stiff and the pain too great. I came home from New York a little bit broken, but I knew I had made the right decision to quit. I continued dancing for years and now wonder why I don’t anymore.

Memories fade, what the body could do fades, the desire fades. After enough years, even the belief that one could do this—actually did do this—fades. I never felt good enough, always feared that I wouldn’t live up to expectations, knew that I didn’t have what it took to be a real dancer. Sometimes I wonder if it happened at all, was this person truly me?

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I have photographs of my “dance career”, but even they seem unreal, posed, photos in frames on the wall that became wallpaper that no one ever looked at anymore.

But seeing an actual film of myself dancing with movement, soul, grace, and (gulp, dare I say it?) some talent, I knew it was me and it was real. We can never go back to another time, the past is the past, it’s over and done. I’ll never be that young, lithe body again, I’ll never feel on top of the world again, dancing with such freedom or suspended en pointe holding an arabesque for endless seconds. That chapter is closed.

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And yet. Russ, you gave me back a part of my life today and made it live again inside of me. I can say with all honesty that I’m filled with joy for what had been. Seeing that chapter open for one moment has allowed me to close it once and for all without regrets. I am truly grateful for this gift of my past life, which I can now reintegrate into my present life emotionally, if not physically.

At her finest...

At her finest…

Mom, this is my gift to you today. You did well with your love, and these small moments are a tribute to you. Miss you so much.

Breathing again

The greatest gift this birthday was the full moon, which brought my mother to me in its silvery light. I’m breathing again three years after her death; this is the first birthday I’ve wanted to celebrate since then. It’s just like her to know this and send the full moon to me.

P1010978Two years ago, I posted a piece about the gifts she had given to me on various birthdays (My birthday gift to you). This one tops the charts, for it’s the gift of getting my life back without the black hole that became my heart for too long. Life does go on with its pains and losses, joys and discoveries, and above all, with all the richness of color and living things that surround us if we take the time to look.

To breathe again is to take in the world and realize that this most precious thing we call life has been given to us…not to waste or rage against or try to obliterate. My birthday wish this year is the hope that the millions of people who don’t even come close to having what I have will be able to breathe one day and start to live.

Old notions

The moment I peer into the box, I’m in another time and place. I’m looking at old notions—old friends—that give me immediate comfort. They represent rituals that introduced girls to the world of sewing. Believe me, this seems like ancient history now, repleat with stereotypical roles, and I’m glad the world has changed in so many ways. But, for the moment I’m taken back to the way it was, and I indulge in the memories.

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In sewing class, you had to have a whole array of notions: red pin cushion, a tin box of Sucrets for bobbins, a seam ripper, a thimble, pinking shears and scissors, a button box, snaps, a can of very fine oil for your sewing machine, and of course the obligatory set of needles.

Good lord, I still have them all…from 1967. The Sucrets box has my signature on a piece of adhesive tape! They don’t make tape like that anymore. I take all of these notions for granted because I still use them.

I smile and shake my head at the three “Happy Home Rust Proof Needle Book” ladies!

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And you know what? They ARE rust proof! The needles, not the ladies.

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The buttons are my most precious notions. Who would have thought that so many memories could spill out of a button box? I rummage around the box, pull out a few, and this is what I see:

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M grandmother’s fur cape with the large blue, braided button.

The anchor button: my dad’s heavy knit sweater he always wore sailing.

The tortoise-shell bob button next to the anchor button: my brother’s P-coat.

The yellow button: my mom’s bathrobe that she wore into tatters. The light blue button of my sister’s formal dance dress. And so many others.

I think it’s good to hold onto some old notions, whether a belief, an understanding, an impulse or desire, or even…old sewing stuff.

Why?

Why not?

When I was younger and full of spunk, that was my answer.

But that was before society crashed into my psyche and started asking why I do nearly everything I do. Why do you do that? What were you thinking? What was your motive? What do you suppose happened? What will you do in the future to change?

I’ve apologized for so many things I’ve done, small and large, until I feel like I’m going to break. Self-esteem has hit rock bottom off and on for 50 years. And you know what? I don’t know why I do a lot of things. And I’m tired of explaining, justifying, apologizing.

I finally remembered something my mom said years ago, and it’s my mantra now. “Because it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

This is my philosophy from now on. Why not?

Upside down kitty(Downloaded from FB, photographer unknown but want to credit whoever made this wonderful photo!)

Weekly photo challenge: Escape!

My beautiful neighbors broke through their fence one day…

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The Silk Thread

The point is, so what if I fail? I mean, if Sylvia Plath could feel like a failure at times, so can I, right?

Motivation. Where is it? I sit down to write and the millions of thoughts I have don’t make it to the page. No, scratch that. That’s not what I want to say. Start over.

Feeling out of sorts. Big time. Dreams of cluttered houses, I can’t make it up the stairs, dirt everywhere, doors that don’t open, people invading my space. Creativity gets tangled up in the cobwebs. BEEP! Wrong again. I’m failing to say what I really want to say. Okay, one more time.

What I want to say is, simply, that I miss my mother more than I ever thought possible. I thought my heavy heart had lifted after the two-year anniversary of her death on New Year’s Day. Wrong. I need to put her life and death into perspective and get on with my life. How to do this.

Aha. It’s staring me in the face. Upstairs in my little study, I see it. On the desk stand four photos, four generations of women in my family.

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Looking at these photos, I realize that life passes from one generation to the next with memories that are like a silk thread—shimmering, resilient, supple, but also fragile and bound to disintegrate over time. As these women in my life went before me, so too shall I go one day. It’s inevitable. Okay. Accepted. In the mean time, live life to the fullest (oh how cliché!) and savor a few good memories (at least I got that part right).

mawThis is my great-grandmother at 75, the day she said her life began. Haha! She had a great sense of humor. She wrote a book about her life and the last chapter was entitled, “Life Begins at 75”. That was when Pa died (she and my great-grandfather were just known as Ma and Pa). They were Mormon. She had her 14 children without ever seeing the inside of a hospital. She used to say that she had a baby every other spring whether Pa was there or not! I look at the wonderful sepia-toned photographs in her book and marvel at one photo that shows the whole family stuffed into the covered wagon heading off to church. When Pa died, she sold the farm, and started to travel. She never wanted to see another cow or make soap or cook or beat dozens of sheets into dry submission again. She saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time and held me as a baby on the beach.

lolawThis is my grandmother, Lola, at 25 in 1925. She was the tall one of the children. No one knows where she got her height (5’9″), or her beauty, and it was the stuff of intense jealousy among her sisters. Lola was a contralto, with a honeyed voice that melted hearts. She was the first female soloist in the Tabernacle Choir from 1919-1921. But the grander life pulled at her, and she left Salt Lake City and Mormonism for New York to pursue her singing career. There, she met my grandfather, a banker from Chicago, in a hotel lounge where she was singing. She had known him from Salt Lake City but only from afar. When she saw him walk in and sit down, she sang one of the classics of 1924, “It Had to be You” and never took her eyes off him. The rest, as they say, is history.

jeanwThis is my mother, Jean, at 18, newly engaged to my father. She was a also a singer, a beautiful soprano. She was raised in Chicago in private girls’ schools, but she had a rebellious streak in her. Rather than going off to one of the elite colleges on the east coast, she chose the University of Chicago and was accepted into the Hutchins School there at the age of 16. My grandmother never forgave her…my grandfather was secretly thrilled. I’ve written about my mother on other posts, how she broke the mold and how she spent her last 25 years in San Miguel de Allende surrounded by her three dogs, five cats, and her two beloved horses. There was a full moon last night, she came to visit me.

ninawAnd yours truly at 21 (I will NOT say how long ago, thank you very much). I’m not sure how my life compares with these three women, but I do have some of each within me: my great-grandmother’s humor, my grandmother’s height, my mother’s rebelliousness and willingness to take chances (13 years ago, we left California to start a new life in Italy). I wish the four of us could sit down together and talk about our lives. It’ll just have to do to have the photos close to me, and when I feel a tug at my heart, I know it’s that old silk thread pulling at me with shimmering, resilient, supple memories that are bound to disintegrate over time.

I dunno. Maybe scratch all of this and start over. I’ll try to think of what I really want to say.

The day after La Befana…remembering Vladimir

vlad_bench_wThe day after La Befana will always be the day we put down our beloved Vladimir, who had been gravely ill with intestinal cancer. Five years ago on a sunny January 7th, his time was up and my heart still cries a little.

Vladimir, “so dignified and pure of heart” as our brother-in-law, Eddie, wrote, will be forever etched into my life and soul. Our beginnings here in Italy were made all the more wonderful with his presence.

An excerpt from my book, The Field Stones of Umbria, describes his last two days with us:

He spent the last few days of his life resting in the gardens, in the sunshine. He had stopped eating again, and this time we knew it was the end. The day before we put him down, I sat with him in the Japanese garden for an hour. We listened to the horses in the field, the sheep and their bells in the hills, and he watched the birds with his usual intensity.

A large woodpecker landed near the bamboo, and he leaped off my lap. Even though he couldn’t eat and was down to nine pounds from twenty, his instinct as a great hunter flashed for another moment. He was poetry in motion and I momentarily forgot that he was about to die.

The next day, when it was time to go, I found him in the lower meadow near the stream. I picked him up, his poor skinny body weighing nothing, and he draped himself on my shoulder. We walked all around the grounds, and I talked to him about the fields, the stream, the olive trees, the meadow, the lavender and rosemary, the bamboo and Japanese maples. I told him that all of “his nature” would miss his beautiful presence. He touched his nose to my lips, our secret kiss that we’d coveted for 12 years.

It was time to go. Pavel and I didn’t talk on the way to the vet. What is there to say? You have to do this, and there’s no turning back.

I held him while he was going under, Pavel at my side, both of us crying. The roller coaster of emotion had taken its last uphill climb. Our vet was amazing. Vladimir didn’t feel anything. He died peacefully. She cried with us.

We remember all of his antics, his playing, his purrs in the night. He still kisses me in his secret way. But most of all, we see his beautiful eyes gazing directly at us—questioning, understanding, loving, and connecting as no other animal has ever done.

Vladimir. So dignified and pure of heart.

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I want to be in Italy when I’m 80

A caravan pulls up to our neighbor’s house and the music starts. Bells are ringing, people are singing and shouting joyous greetings. The house is lit up with all the outside lights (which is very special here since electricity is so expensive!) to welcome the local bandwagon of people, gifts, and good cheer.

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This Christmas Eve mission? To visit each and every house in this tiny valley where someone (or more) is at least 80 years old. And there are a lot of them! At least 20 people out of a population of 100 or so.

I stand on the terrace and watch and listen. My heart fills with joy, I smile. And I think to myself, I want to still be here when I’m 80.

Merry Christmas to all.