Amulets, Talismans And Charms, Oh My

So I decided it was time to clean out my closet.  This in and of itself is hardly post-worthy.  It was a matter of necessity – I couldn’t walk inside.  I started with the five drawers that are in there – not that this made the path any clearer, rather it was a manageable place from which all other organization could start.  I am nothing if not optimistic.

My top drawer is for underwear.  My own unsubstantiated belief is that most people put their underwear in the first drawer.  Call me crazy, but assuming one has a reasonable level of hygiene, clean underwear is the kind of staple one relies upon regularly, ergo its premier location.  The point is – I go into that drawer a lot.  I know what’s in there – despite the lack of symmetry and color coded rows.  There was a lot to discard – when articles of clothing have lost so much elasticity that they become caricatures of themselves, they need to go.  I will also cop to keeping some jewelry in there (which I will now move if you’re thinking of breaking into my house).  The point which bears repeating – I don’t expect breathless moments that make no sense to present themselves as a result of scrutinizing the contents of my underwear drawer.

To abbreviate this little tale – once the contents were emptied, two things remained that I swear to you I had never seen before.  A sealed envelope from the funeral home that handled the arrangements for my mom and the eulogy I had written.  The words I wrote for my dad were buried with him; I didn’t really want anyone to have those words but him.  I had chosen to keep my mom’s – not sure why.  What I did know was that over the years, I had misplaced it, and had torn apart my ‘spaces’ looking for it.  Could I have put it in the drawer and just never seen it?  Possibly – but the words are written in purple ink – they show up against a white backdrop and would be just about impossible not to see.  In a silence that engulfed my head like a wave, I read it.  I remembered every detail of those days.  In the sealed envelope?  My mother’s wedding ring and the little gold earrings she wore daily. Mommy’s wedding ring.  My sister has dad’s, I had mom’s.  Why did I not see this before?  That I would have it in my possession and not have held it? If I close my eyes, I can see it on her hand.  I can almost feel her skin.  Why did I find this now?

I have no doubt that there are many logical explanations for this, yet I can counter each one of them with a strong conviction that I have been to the bottom of my underwear drawer many many times before, and these things were not there.  Lori reminds me that there are some things that just can’t be explained, and I believe that to be true.  Is this one of those events?  Perhaps.  It begs questions like why now?  What’s the message?  Am I missing something that I should be seeing in these moments of mine?  Is it just the universe’s way of reminding me that there is no talisman that one must hold that is more powerful than love?  Maybe it was just mom giving me a ‘atta girl’ for finally cleaning out my closet.

“Love is the vital essence that pervades and permeates, from the center to the circumference, the graduating circles of all thought and action.  Love is the talisman of human heal and woe — the open sesame to every soul.” –  Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Her wedding ring is now on a chain on which I have a charm from my sister.  I hold them both in my hand until they’re so warmed that their essence travels through my skin, traveling to a space in my heart that is kept for those I miss – guarded and protected by walls I have tried to make impregnable. There is no surprise that my mom would find the one entrance – she was always persistent.

As the sky reluctantly lightens and the air holds this peculiar pre-snow quiet that forces you to listen, two birds alight on a leafless branch.  They are not going to break the spell with chatter and idle conversation.  We hold our respective places until I’m too cold to stay outside and the Sirs are no longer inclined to patiently wait for me to come inside.  I whisper “Hi” and “Thank you”.  I wonder about all I don’t understand and under my breath I add “Please”.   Please let there be so much that defies explanation; let me graced with so much time that I can continue to be amazed.

To Honor A Memory

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If my mom were here to celebrate her birthday, she would be eighty-six years old today.  It seems a bit surreal to think that she has been gone for eight years.  In our eulogies, both my sister and I acknowledged that she was a complicated woman, and arguably a complicated mom.  That was said and is written,  within a far broader context of how deeply she loved us and how much we loved her.   Not a day goes by…

I spoke to my parents everyday.  And when work kept me from my 9AM call, my assistant would call her to tell her I would call later.   It was a simple thing to do;  it made her feel good.  Honestly,  I remember sometimes it felt like a requirement instead of a joy.  She knew I spoke with my dad everyday until he no longer could (often acknowledged with the half-serious comment “you always loved your father better”) and I knew that if I ever curtailed those calls she would be deeply hurt.  Ironically, I still look at the clock at 9AM and feel the incompleteness that comes with a conversation that no longer occurs.

Why do I write something about mom on her birthday?  Because I want her memory to remain as alive to my children as it is to me.  Because I want those who know me to know that she was a remarkable, vibrant, artistic, beautiful woman.  Because some passages take a very long time to find one’s way through, and it’s possible that some  never really end.  Because my beloved niece still wears her grandmother’s gold whistle around her neck.  And because when my sister laughs so hard she ‘strips her gears’ (as my dad used to say), it evokes a delight in my heart that reaches far back to another place and time.  Dad and Deb laughing so hard they’d eventually start to hiccup and mom’s laugh bringing her to tears as she would hug her stomach with a delicious pain.   I was good for a laugh.  Don’t get me wrong – I was also good at causing my share of frustration too.

I re-printed her obituary from the New York Times last year and I will do so again this year.  Perhaps wherever she is, she will know how much she is missed,  how much she is loved and how today each falling leaf seems to echo her name.

“….Dee was the loving mother of daughters Deborah…and Mimi… .  She was the proud grandmother of Matthew…, Aaron…, Tess…, Seth…, Spencer… and Paul…, and generous mother-in-law of Roger … and Andy… .  She was the devoted wife and indispensable partner of the late Jack W. Jerome.  Dee was born and spent her early childhood in Vienna, making her one of that shrinking cohort who experienced and survived the monstrous storm of Nazi violence.  Her father and mother, Michael and Miriam Intrator, took the family out of Austria shortly after the Anschluss, making their way first to Belgium and then through occupied France.  The family made its way to Portugal, where on August 16, 1941, they found passage among the 765 other refugees on the Spanish freighter Navemar – one of the last voyages of escapees from Europe.  Dee’s children and grandchildren bear in their hearts eternal, existential gratitude for her family’s valor and persistence.  Her intelligence, humor and immense energy were a gift to us all.  Our family is particularly gladdened that Dee lived long enough to know of the safe return earlier this month of her eldest grandson Matthew, from Iraq, where for the past year he has served in harm’s way the country that gave his grandmother safe haven.”

My dad died shortly before Matt left for Iraq.  Mom waited for all of her grandchildren to be home and safe.  I refer to that time as the year I didn’t breathe, for all I knew was that I drew breath when I knew Matt was breathing – and we weren’t in touch enough for me to know with certainty that he was ok.  There are some things I’m just not prepared to write about – my heart censors my fingers.  As it should be.  The point is not to return to that time, but to remember that today’s mom’s birthday.  And she would have been feted and celebrated.  As it should be.  So for mom – your birthday is etched in my heart.  I miss you.

 

A Really Good Man

“You don’t raise heroes, you raise sons.  And if you treat them like sons, they’ll turn out to be heroes, even if just in your eyes.” –  Walter Schirra Sr

 

See that gorgeous baby?  Today he turns thirty-one – at around 10:47AM.  As much as he will shake his head with disbelief and some embarrassment that I am writing about him today, he can be comforted with the knowledge that he remains anonymous to most who will read this.  Truth is, it’s his birthday to celebrate; it is mine to remember.

I’ve assumed many hats in my life, and played at many roles.  We all do this – it’s part of growing up.  The one hat that I always wanted to wear was that of  ‘mom’.  I couldn’t wait.  I would admonish my six-year-old peeps if they were rough on their stuffed animals (my theory being that all these toys came to life once we slept, and their retribution would be fierce).   I was a maternal kind of friend before I could spell ‘maternal’  – or even knew what it meant.  Whatever I became professionally was serendipitous; becoming a mom was my touchstone.  If I became nothing else, so be it.

Memory blurs years together which must be why they pass so quickly.  One moment a baby is born and from that point forward time accelerates, making it impossible to isolate and hold each moment.  I can still remember holding and bathing him, the smell of his neck…I thought his baby toes were replaced with ten little pearls.   He squinted like Mr. Magoo, the lights were too bright.  So I’d squint back at him and dim the glare.  When he was nine months old he spent an entire night pulling himself into a standing position and then plopping down on his butt.  The next morning, he held on to a chair as he rose and wobbled into the dining room.  I was on the phone with my mom while I watched in disbelief – he had only crawled for four days!  Where were these days going?

We developed our own language and as awful as it sounds, I reluctantly brought him for speech therapy.  I wanted him to be able to converse with everyone; I wanted him just to talk with me.  He had one of those baby laughs that bubble up from the belly and just erupt into the room.  His grandmother’s toes were a real hit, don’t ask me why.  I couldn’t get enough of this child – I still can’t.

He is of course now a man – a really, really good man.  I respect him tremendously, though I love him more than that.  I love his heart – he will dismiss this publicly and appreciate it privately.  His sense of the greater good, his relentless work ethic.  He’s loyal and highly principled.  I love how much he loves his wife, how close he and his brothers are.  He’s very handsome.   I appreciate that he asks for my opinion though I fully expect him to do what he thinks is best.  I understand that I had to let him go into his life, and he understands that in many ways it is impossibly hard to do.  I keep trying to get that balance right.  My sons have grown into heroes in my eyes – not because of me, but in spite of me.

There are days when I just want to stop time and make cookie pizza, hold one on my lap and the other under my arm and repeat the chorus from “Horton Hatches An Egg”.   I want to watch a high school baseball game and learn secrets that most moms don’t get to hear (I am very very aware that I wasn’t told all of the secrets by any stretch).  It’s okay to want all of this, but time has its foot on the pedal and is driving this train.  So I’ll savor today and celebrate his birthday,  from his first breath to the man he has become.  May each day bring him all that he wishes for and may he wish for all that he has.  I love him all there is – Happy Birthday..