Time and Tides

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Photo Credit: Curt Smith

As autumn is approaching, I offer you the “summer vacation” essay I wrote in 1985. In August of that year, my daughter was 15 and my son was 12.  I thought it might be interesting to others, especially parents whose kids are at any slippery age.  Here it is.

Low Tide

The day was crisp as only a California day could be. The binoculars looped around my neck and the sweatshirt tied at my shoulders reassured me of my youth and vitality.

My husband and children and I were in Point St. Lobos Nature Preserve just south of Carmel, California. We stopped there at my insistence since I’m the “off the beaten path” tour director for my family’s vacations.

We skipped and leaped our way down the slippery sea rocks to the shore. My children were far removed from their worlds of videos, box radios, and computer games as they stopped to examine an orange crab imprisoned in a tide pool.

There were plenty of other tourists around, but the haze of sunshine and shimmers of heated air isolated us from them. The wall of heat locked my family in, together.

We got down on our bellies to examine the tide pool.  My children were oblivious to all but their fascination with the crab. We wondered what other sea animals might have washed over this hole at high tide. Which creatures had escaped and drifted back out to sea on the turbulent waves? This crab was trapped, and its only release would be the next high tide.

I watched my family as the sea water trickled from the tide pool. I watched and I engraved the sight of my children and my husband; the sky, sun, and ocean in my mind. Memories are like waves. They resound around us, and we struggle to hold them just as this tide pool held on to this crab. I didn’t want this precious moment to trickle from my mind.

My family lives the suburban life. We rush from tennis lessons to Little League to computer schools. We strive to improve our bodies, our minds, our lives. My children seem to be growing up so fast. Sometimes I just want to stop the clock and take the time to savor my blessings.

As we examined the tide pool, I thought that just for this brief moment in time and space my family belonged to me. There was no phone, no meetings, no friends to pull them from my grasp. I reveled in the feeling.

It was getting late and the tide was rising. Soon the crab would probably be washed out to sea. It was time to leave. We gathered our cameras and binoculars, and we piled into the car. My children requested the hard rock music station on the car radio. I turned it on. The music resounded in my ears. 

Conservation of Energy

Hello Folks, any of you who might still be left out there…

You might relate to this block if:

  • You talk to yourself
  • You aspire to be a person who is “organized and gets things done.”

As I was staring at the birds at my feeder this morning and talking to myself, this is what I said:

“Rose,  stop it.  If you use up your eyes on the birds now, your eyes will not work for you when it’s time to write.

Rosie, if you look at the birds and think about them now, you will use up your mind and it won’t work when you are trying to plot out the novel.

Girl, if you work on plotting the novel now, you will surely need a nap. Then you won’t be able to start the new project…the one that was going to make you and the family….lots of money.

Doody Head, if you use your energy to write on your sweet dying blog now, you will not be able to do any of the above—so you might as well go back to bed; remember 40 years of going to work; remember traveling there on snowy, rainy, icy mornings; and then snuggle in and sleep late.

Nighty night.”

The Best Frying Pan in the World!

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When I was a child my mother made us blintzes (thin pancakes, crepes or blinis). We usually ate blintzes on summer days, and those were the days we left our third floor apartment door open, and we used a screen door. First, my mother used the frying pan you see here to prepare the thin pancakes that she would later fill with cheese or blueberries. Then after sautéing her filled blintzes in butter in the same frying pan, our family would eat them with dollops of sour cream and/or sugar. Yummy!

On one of those blintze-making days long ago, my mother said to me, “Rowie, someday this frying pan will be yours.” According to her, this amazing frying pan was the only frying pan on all seven continents that could prepare blintzes the right way!

I offer Ma’s frying pan here for your consideration. It’s aluminum and it’s about sixty years old, give or take a decade.

My mother died on December 19, 1988, and I wanted to write about her a few days ago, but nothing I drafted— worked. I posted nothing on December 19th. I was trying to stick with my theme of writing about introversion, solitude, and the effects of too much stim (light, sound,) on my delicate psyche.

Normally, I am calmed by textures that are dull and natural looking. If I could decorate my whole house with driftwood, and soft earth colors, I believe, I could be more serene. Shiny makes me crazy. This whole holiday season with its bright lights, loud music, and the in-your-face commercials makes me as frenetic as the squirrels at my bird feeders when they find the peanut butter. I’m an introvert. I need solitude. I need softness and muted colors.  I need time with my own thoughts.

The other day, I found my mother’s shiny blintze pan on a back shelf in our basement. After she died, I made blintzes at my home, but only once. I stopped making blintzes because Jerome the Great and Good didn’t care for them; they’re a pain in the neck to make; and blintzes are very rich. The word, rich, has become a bad word in foody circles. I know many people who screw up their noses like squirrels and say, “Oh, I couldn’t eat that. It’s too rich.” Then they go eat their kale.

I make kale soup and it is really great—but it’s not blintzes! Blintzes, eaten on a hot day in Apartment 33B on the third floor, with the screen door open and the smells of the vanilla, butter, cream cheeses, and dough wafting into the entire apartment house, is an experience that I will remember, forever.

I stared at the blintze pan a long time. Then I picked it up and kissed it, and I held it close. I was alone.

I’m sure extroverts do things like kissing their mother’s frying pans too, but I’m an introvert, and my moments of solitude sustain me. So I am sharing my holiday thoughts with introverts, extroverts, and everyone.

Once in a while, eat stuff that is rich. Tomorrow there will be plenty of time to diet.

Go off into your little private place; caress your grandma’s old recipes or your ma’s old pots or your dad’s old work clothes…the ones you packed away because you couldn’t bear to part with them.

Find that box where you packed away your kids’ size 3 month undershirts and stretchies. Pick them up, hold them, and let your senses overcome you. Cuddle them, smell them, talk to them, have a good cry, and then come back out and join the party with your best smiling extrovert face!

It’s good to remember and it’s great to be alive!

Merry Christmas! Happy Chanukah! Happy New Year to Everyone!

 

 

 

 

My Search for the Red Phantom

Photo Credit: budandjackie via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: budandjackie via Compfight cc

Sixty years ago I saw my first scarlet tanager. I was ten.

I was sitting outside “in the country,” and I don’t know what made me look up, but there was the most beautiful bird I had ever seen.  I called it a “real bird” because it was different than the plain brown birds I was accustomed to seeing. A “real bird” was the kind of bird I only saw in the Golden Guides my parents bought for me.

The scarlet tanager was in a tulip tree. The tulip tree was a “real tree” which I had also recently identified from my tree books. The days of pouring over those books were finally paying off.

I don’t know how long the gorgeous red bird graced me with his presence, but I do know that at the age of ten, it was one of the most joyous experiences of my life.  It was the day my hobby was born. After that day, and for the next sixty years I searched for another scarlet tanager and another tulip tree. The tulip trees were easy. I saw many of them.

But the scarlet tanager quest was unfulfilled.

The sad part of the story is I admit, “I am the worst birder in the entire world.” On Audubon outings when I am on my best game, and I can see color, I can identify birds that are close up. On outings when I am on my regular game, I can confuse pigeons with bald eagles.  I have learned to laugh at myself and have tried to educate myself. Even though I am “the worst birder,” I love being outdoors, being silent, and absorbing the sights and sounds of nature into my soul.

No scarlet tanager. How can that be? The bird books says he (the bright red male with black wings) is up there, but hard to find. Hard to find! I wonder how many other scarlet tanager searchers have been seeking the red phantom for sixty years? I am supposed to listen for him. Well, I mix up all my bird vocalizations, much as I try to work on improving my sightings.

I’m sure if I asked for help, from the many wonderful birding guides I’ve known over the years, I might have seen my tanager decades ago. But I didn’t. Mine was a private desire, lingering in my psyche for so many years—my tanager was becoming my holy grail.

(Of course, between my cataracts, retina surgery, touch of macular degeneration, hearing problems, perhaps I should be given a bird watching handicap…I don’t know what that is, but I know golfers get one) Oh well, I digress.

So the other morning I’m just sitting at my kitchen table and looking out to my deck where I have a bird bath (a plant saucer with two rocks in it for balance) and guess what! There, sitting on the edge of the plant saucer and leaning in to sip the water, is my scarlet tanager—the bird I have not seen in sixty years!

The last time I saw him, I was wearing plaid Bermuda shorts, a sleeveless shirt, and red or blue Keds sneaks. I probably went into the house and ate a tuna fish sandwich on white Wonder Bread, cut in squares by my mother. Maybe I cooed to my brother sleeping in his crib. If it was a Sunday, maybe my father was there reading the travel section of the paper and eating bread and butter, or maybe borscht.

That’s why, the other day, when I saw the scarlet tanager, I cried, hard.

It took me a long time to recover, and I was glad I was alone. I thought “No one will understand.”

But I do hope you will.

And, my scarlet tanager? I don’t know where he is now. But I am hoping he will drop in again.

Excavating Gums and Memories

Photo Credit: peasap via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: peasap via Compfight cc

 

Don’t you just hate it when the dental hygienist cleans your teeth? I’m not talking about the polishing. I’m talking about that horrible scaling and excavating of your gums.

Liz, my dental hygienist, stopped her scraping long enough to wipe my face, allow me to sit up, rinse my mouth, and spit out.

“You wipe like a mother,” I said.

“I am a mother,” she said quietly.

I sat back in the chair and Liz continued with her cleaning. Liz was a no nonsense hygienist. She continued to probe and scale my gums, I closed my, eyes and probed the reasons for my comment to her.

Liz did wipe like a mother… my mother.

The rasp of the drill was the only sound in the room as Liz worked. She had stopped talking. I worried that I had offended her with my stupid big mouth. She’s a really great hygienist, and when she’s not gouging my gums, I really like her.

I leaned back, and Liz continued her relentless probing. Her drill screeched, but she was silent. She scaled my gums and some of the water sprayed my face, and some of it escaped the little suction thingy in my mouth, and headed south toward my neck. Again she stopped and swiped the paper towel across my face in that same quick back and forth motion. Liz was definitely not tender; she was efficient. Neither one of us spoke.

Her strictly business swipe of my wet face activated long forgotten sensations from my childhood. I closed my eyes and allowed the memories to play out. I was a little girl again, a little girl with chocolate ice cream all over her face. My mother wiped my face just like Liz did.  Swipe, swipe, done! If no water was available, my mother improvised with a quick spit into her tissue. Swipe. Swipe. As I replayed the feeling of my mother’s hand on my dirty little girl’s face, I forgot my discomfort with the whole dental cleaning process. I was in the hands of my mother.

Other mammal females groom their young by gently licking, patting and caressing.  We, female humans, approach our child’s dirty face with ferocity. We do not caress our kids’ dirty faces.  If our kid’s face is dirty from ice cream, snot mixed with sandbox dirt, or drool, or a mixture of all of the above, we, human mothers, dispatch the dirt efficiently, even roughly.

Our kids scrunch up their sticky faces, try to resist, but they don’t even bother to cry.  They endure the rough swipe of our hands because they know they don’t have a choice. It’s the easiest kind of tough love.

As they get older, our  kids will get into dirt much more ominous than snot and sand. They will have to make difficult choices. We parents will pine for the old days when our tough love was instinctive, incontrovertible. We will agonize.

Liz was finished with my cleaning. I sat up and she handed me the cup to sip and rinse. She stood in front of me, instead of behind me, and she smiled. “Thank you, Rose,” she said. “That was one of the nicest compliments I have ever received.”

“You’re welcome,” I said. “I meant it that way. Happy Mother’s Day.”

“Happy Mother’s Day to you too.”

Old People Buying Cakes in the Supermarket Bakery

The woman was in front of me on the bakery line at the supermarket. She was with a man who I assumed was her husband because he was old too.  She was deeply engaged with the bakery salesgirl.

“It needs to be fresh,” she said. “We might have company this week-end.”

“Taste this cupcake,” said the bakery salesgirl as she offered a chocolate cupcake. “It’s got the same inside as the cake.”

The elderly woman broke off a piece of the cupcake and shared it with her companion. The bakery salesgirl smiled at me, because she knew I was patiently waiting to buy my usual two biscotti while the couple were making their decision.

The old woman’s hair had once been layered and colored. Now, its coarse clumps, tangled in dull shades of orange, yellow and gray, lay wherever they had settled when she got out of bed that morning.

She reminded me of the older women who get wheeled into the beauty salon by their children or their care givers because someone thinks a color, a cut and a blow will be just what they need.   Often, it is difficult for them to maneuver into a comfortable position to have their shampoo. I wish that beauty salons had special seats (maybe some do) for elderly arthritic people who need someone else to maintain their hair.

“Mmm, delicious,” she said after tasting the cupcake.  “I’ll take the whole cake.  Thank you so much. You have been so kind.”

As their cake was boxed and tied, I waited in line behind the couple. I’m old, but they were older.

Her hunched shoulders were hidden in the worn collar of what my mother used to call a “spring coat.” It was made of some kind of black wool and they were a few loose threads that stuck out oddly. The pills and naps in it told me that, if it could talk, the coat might have great stories to tell, perhaps about the forties.

I don’t know. It was just a coat worn by an old woman who was with an old man.  They were buying a cake, in case they got some company that weekend.

I hope they did.