November 13, 2016
Musing Six: Requiem for Mr. Turtle
We always treated him with great respect, even though we harbored varying degrees of affection. After all, we named him MR. Turtle.
Mr. Turtle lived in a substantial glass bowl containing water, a jagged rock to climb, and a couple of plastic fish for companionship (don’t ask why). He was fed regularly with leafy vegetables, occasionally some pieces of shrimp (when it appeared on our menu), and on special occasions, when anyone swatted a fly, we added it to Mr. Turtles domicile. His glass house was cleaned weekly – granted by the cleaning lady, but he couldn’t possibly have minded who attended to his well-being. Mr. Turtle resided in our recreation room at the back of our house and was taken outside from time to time to bask in the sun, whenever my sons (aged six and eight) played with friends in our back yard. In other words, Mr. Turtle couldn’t complain about his life; he was looked after with due diligence.
Then it happened. During an extremely cold turn in the weather in up-state New York, on the night of some party at our home, Mr. Turtle had to be moved from his place in our rec room (which doubled as our barroom) to the screened porch at the very end of the house.
Some days after the party, Mr. Turtle came to mind and I went out to the porch to reclaim him. There he was sunken to the floor of his glass house, literally frozen to death.
My sons took the news very badly and blamed me for poor party planning and gross irresponsibility toward a member of our family. They spread the news far and wide through the neighborhood. It didn’t take long before my sons’ friends turned their venom on me and, in an act of mature vengeance, took to shunning as my punishment. I was determined to turn them around to what I believed to be their usual state of admiration for all of my personal and professional achievements. So I developed a plan of action.
I announced that there would be a proper funeral for Mr. Turtle (I had drained his bowl but left Mr. Turtle in his glass house replicating, I believed, lying in state). I encouraged my sons to invite any of their friends who cared to attend.
On the day set for Mr. Turtles funeral I provided attendees with little paper umbrellas (obtained at a Chinese restaurant that served Shirley Temples), and spoons to dig Mr. Turtle’s grave, as well as small musical instruments (party horns, triangles, and small harmonicas). As I looked over the scene: my two sons sharing the carrying of Mr. Turtle in his glass house out to the rock garden followed by eight to ten children playing their unrehearsed musical instruments -all followed by his murderer holding paper umbrellas and spoons. I felt I had arrived at a well-earned level of atonement.
So Mr. Turtle was interred with great pomp and ceremony, his grave marked by the gaily decorated umbrellas. Rest in peace Mr. Turtle.
Some days later I heard a great agitated knocking at my door – no bells or shouting. However, the tempo and volume of the sound led me to believe that, if I opened the door, trouble would enter. And so it did in the form of a next door neighbor – the mother of one of my son’s friends and a truly religious woman. In her anger (which was apparent) she had left her house in a rage and a rush. She wore no coat. The only thing that covered her slacks and sweater was an apron. Her face was red with rage.
“You fool!”, she blurted out. “You involved my sons in something so senseless and tried to cover it up with a sham funeral. First you kill a turtle all the children loved. Then you stage a mock ritual that flaunts our religious beliefs.”
“But…”, I managed to sputter, “I didn’t kill Mr. Turtle. He froze to death by accident…and….”
I couldn’t get another word out before she blurted out. “Despite all your fancy, shmansy degrees, what an idiot! Did you ever think about thawing out the turtle?”
“Frozen turtles can be thawed out?” I asked stunned by the realization of how little I knew of turtle cryogenics.
“Idiot! Of course they can. And the funeral sham? Don’t even answer. I never want to see you or your children near my family.” With those words she left.
I rushed out to the rock garden to the area of the Shirley Temple umbrellas and with a large spoon started digging and digging. When my sons returned from school they found me at my task. When I told them what had happened, they joined me in the digging. To our wonderment, we never found Mr. Turtle’s body. It had disappeared from this earth – but how?
To this day, when I think about Mr. Turtle, I send my regrets on high with the words: “I didn’t know – I really didn’t know.” And a voice comes thundering back. “That’s your excuse?”
October 11, 2016
Musing Five: Can You Imagine…
… a time when a business credit card issued to a professional woman would be rejected at most restaurants?
… a time when a professional woman meeting a client for a working lunch would be escorted out of a restaurant by a Maitre D’ to wait for her client in a lobby?
… a time when a woman with a stellar academic record would be refused admission to a graduate program solely on the basis of her sex, and told that if she made a “fuss” about it, she would be seated “under the seminar table?”
… a time when a professional woman was offered less than the pay of her male counterparts because her husband was employed and earning a “living wage?”
If your imagination can not paint the pictures for you, find an octogenarian to help you fill in the imagery. And, if you can’t find an octogenarian, contact me and I’ll gladly provide you with well delineated vivid illustrations.
I look forward to hearing from you.
October 11, 2016
Musing Four: My Grandmother – The Witch
The light blue irises that floated in her watery eyes brought me to thoughts of lily pads floating on a pond, and like the lily pads I had an urge to touch them, or maybe to drop into the water like the fairies do and swim in their depths. She was a small woman who seemed to disappear into small spaces – keeping herself out of sight. Yet, I knew she saw everything and knew everything including things that most people never know. You see, my Grandmother was a witch.
My Grandmother lived in Brooklyn in a brick house, right next door to the boxer Rocky Graziano. On weekend nights, when I stayed with my Grandmother, the noises from Rocky’s parties found its way into Grandmother’s house, Grandmother would stick her head out the window, and strangely her soft voice carried through the night air as she calmly instructed Rocky to simply “Keep Quiet, Rrrrrocky!” The R’s always trilling their way over the driveway to Rocky’s house.
One day Rocky appeared at the door begging, “Grandma please, my house is infested with ants. Please come over and get rid of them,” (you see everyone knew of Grandmother’s powers). She filled her bag with things, and took my hand, and over to Rocky’s we went. She took out something that looked like chalk, and she walked around the house in two directions drawing a line around its base and muttering some sounds as I walked beside her. Then she said: “Rrrrrocky, get rid of the ants in your house and none will ever cross your door again, and remember keep the noise down or else…”
Years later, when I announced that I was pregnant, Grandma came to my house, placed a chair in the center of the kitchen, sat me in it, and drew out some objects that looked like gourds. She told me to bite the ends of each to make sure I had a male child. And so I did, and so I had a son. And anyone in the family who didn’t bite the gourd had a female child.
And Grandmother used to strangely disappear. Once my Aunt followed her to a cemetery. Now my Aunt knew that two of Grandmother’s children had died in childhood, and she and my Grandmother had visited the graves together. But this was an unknown cemetery. My Aunt followed Grandmother to two graves where Grandmother stopped and knelt. When she rose my Aunt confronted her. Seems my Grandmother had given birth to twins that died at birth – the umbilical cord wrapped around their necks. Grandmother said it was a family curse. But, luckily she had lifted the curse and had it transferred. Years later a relative on the other side of my family gave birth to stillborn twins, the umbilical cords wrapped around their necks.
And no one in the family has a photo of Grandmother that’s in focus – all show her as if encased in a haze – or is it an aura?
And when I crossed the Pacific to live far away, my Grandmother cautioned me that, if I learned that she was dying I must promise to come to her to receive the Power that was to revert to me. And so I promised.
And when I learned that Grandma was dying I was unable to keep my promise.
And do I believe in all I’ve just written down from memories distorted by time?
Damned if I do and damned if I don’t.
September 3, 2016
Life is made up of discovery and romance. Discovery informs; romance embellishes.
February 14, 2016
Musing Two: My Doll
A long time ago, perhaps it was 1938, in that other world called “childhood,” I had a doll – a Princess Elizabeth doll. My Princess Elizabeth doll had blonde hair like me. She started out with brown eyes, but my mother had them painted blue so Princess Elizabeth would look just like me. And there was a lady who would come to the house and she would sew clothing for me and then copy the clothing for Princess Elizabeth – so that we would look like twins. My mother made me take that doll with me wherever I went because, “You look so adorable together.” And she was right. Wherever we went, that doll and I, people would stop to look and would say, “How cute. You look just like twins.” One day I dragged the doll up to a mirror and stood right next to it. There was no doubt; the doll was prettier.
My days with Princess Elizabeth went on for what seemed like a lifetime, a lifetime in which I learned to detest that doll. After all, what child of five or six has any real concept of time? A child just knows (at least this child did) that she had been waiting for a very long time for her life to change.
I walked through the days with Princess Elizabeth wearing the same dresses and the same Mary Jane shoes until there came a day when a “special outfit” was to be made – a coat and hat to go to some special place. The lady came with some heavy gray cloth and some gray fur. I was told to go out and play. When I was called back into the room, Princess Elizabeth had been fitted with a gray coat with a collar of gray fur, and a tam had been placed on her head with a big fur pom pom on top. The lady then worked on cutting and sewing a hat and coat for me as my mother watched and commented: “The doll is so much easier to fit;” “The outfit really suits the Princess;” “I suppose one has to accept that many people are just born flawed.” I realized with a start that the doll no longer looked like me. I looked like the doll.
Many years passed when, during one of my many moves – to Japan or to the Midwest, I can’t remember – I came upon a long box. Upon opening it I found Princess Elizabeth stretched out, her body as sleek as ever, clothed in white panties and a white shift – her hair slightly matted – white socks on her feet. As I lifted her out of her box, her shuttered eyes opened revealing the blue painted iris of one; the other had been gauged out with the slashes of a knife’s edge surrounding the empty socket. – much like the slashed paintings I inherited when my parents died.
I now look back on those days with a sense of pride in having overcome the pain they evoke – for it isn’t our memories that destroy us, it’s what we allow them to do to us.
January 30, 2016
Musing One: All Fall Down
“When the voices of children are heard on the green,
And whisperings are in the dale:
The days of my youth rise fresh in my mind,
My face turns green and pale.”
Songs of Innocence
Songs of Experience
I once was a little girl living in the Bronx on University Avenue, where there truly was a university. I lived with a physician father who spent his days and nights reading through the Harvard Classics, holding forth on “man’s inhumanity to man,” and labeling the few patients that came to his office in the apartment as “incurable hypochondriacs.” And I had a mother – a beautiful blonde blue-eyed clinically psychotic mother. And I had an older brother who drew my mother’s total attention, and was the star of her version of the demented present and her wildly concocted future. To this day I can feel that little girl and I hear the voices she heard.
The little girl I was lived in a ground floor apartment in a seven story brick building facing the Avenue – where trolleys clanged their way up and down the tracks. She spent a good part of her days conjuring ways to escape what was in that apartment on the Avenue. Her most rewarding ploy was to stand outside, near the front door, hidden in the bushes, her mother’s manicure file in hand, sawing away at the mortar. On and on she filed, day after day with dreams of the six floors above collapsing on the father, the mother – and yes perhaps even the brother. Sometimes a friend, who lived on the other side of building helped as nothing would ever fall on her family. And sometimes the two little girls would stop and try to figure how long this task would take until the great event would take place, but no little girl could be expected to solve a math problem with this level of difficulty.
The little girl never leaves me. How can she, and why would I want her to? For all that followed is a response to her feelings, her vision, her voice.
Today is my birthday. I am 84 years of age today, and as I conjure up that little girl, emery board in hand sawing away with hurt and anger, I can finally smile with contentment and say, “Happy Birthday to me!”