Aging

One Earring

EarringsI love earrings.I feel undressed if I go out with my lobes bare.I don’t wear large earrings nor fake emeralds nothing gaudy,just simple pearls or silver or gold buttons.Earrings complete a costume.Well about eight months ago I was getting ready to go out. I dressed my left ear with one pearl but I could not insert the other pearl in my right ear.I pushed and twisted but to no avail.Well that is that I said to myself and so for eight months I lived with bare lobes.It bothered me and every so often I tried pushing and twisting .

Then last week I decided to buy a pair of clip-ons. Since I am quite blind, although I do see shadows,the idea of walking into a jewelry shop and feeling around the jewelry counter and buying something that  feels right or to ask my aide Ferida to select a pair of earrings for me doesn’t appeal to me.I had spent enough time  trying to push an earring through my right ear, I had drawn enough blood,my earlobe was red and sore, I decided to call this nonsense quits.

I am ninty five years old what the hell am I doing?But I couldn’t let go and this morning I said to Ferida’’Get my coat we are going out’’where she asked, its only ten o'clock “never mind”I said. I knew exactly where but I knew she would give me an argument. Ferida has been with me too long for me to tell her to stop  acting like she is my nanny . I’m not as sharp as I was or I would have figured out what to do eight months ago.

Riding down the elevator to the lobby I said good morning to the doorman he responded “good morning Mrs Frank”adding “isn’t this rather early for you”. His was a valid question as no one in this building has ever seen me befor noon in the forty years I’ve lived here.When Ferida and I were on the street I said to her “ we are going to a little jewelry store next to my hair dresser. There is a sign in the window that says we pierce ears. I am so angry I never noticed it and that’s where we are going.”What she said, her voice rising to a squiek, “what woman of 95 has her ears pierced? It’s dangerous it’s cutting into your skin.” “Ferida,shut up.”I took her arm,lets go I said  practically dragging her as I do my dog Molly when she won’t budge.”Ok” she said somewath mollified by my explanation.”But let’s call your doctor for his permission”I din’t respond but yanked her arm and we walked two blocks to the little jewelry shop next to my hairdresser.

We entered the little shop. A man behind the counter looked at Ferida ,smiled and asked her if he could be of help.I did not give her a chance to answer by now I was revved up. “I would like to have my right ear pierced,it closed.” “That’s not unusual Madam” he said, “it can close overnight it happens when one is past fifty.”I felt better when he said that and so he pierced my ear inserted a sweet tiny gold trial post and placed one in my left ear for balance telling me I must wear it for one month.”Now you are all set Madam” he said. “Thank you sir” I said, paying him the forty dollars. I took Ferida’s arm and as we were leaving the shop I smiled I was happy and I felt rather pretty.

 


Another Day

Sun 4Another Day is one of my essays from my book From My Vintage which is a collection of sixteen creative essays, ruminations on love, life and loss told in an unpretentious conversational tone. I hope you enjoy it. Order From My Vintage from Amazon.

 

 

Another Day

 

It was a lovely day, I hope I remember it. When I woke up the sun after four days of solid rain, was strong. I could feel my body soaking up the sun. Ferida and I walked a few blocks to Tal Bagel for an early breakfast of bagel and coffee. The bagels are made on the premises and are crunchy warm and delicious. We took a table outside ordered a cream cheese filled bagel and coffee and leisurely ate while watching the rest of our pass by.

I watch through severely diminished eyesight. My world is one of various shades of grey I can see shapes and movement faces  can’t delineate each feature and on a cloudy or rainy day it all looks to me like Paris on a rainy or cloudy day.  I imagine I’m seeing the Champs Elysee or the narrow streets of London. I really feel I’m there.

When we finished our breakfast I decided I looked a mess and Ferida walked to the hair salon Had my hair washed .Some If her hair looks ok she usually feels whatever else she is wearing is ok.


From My Vintage

WaterFrom My Vintage is one of my essays from my book From My Vintage which is a collection of sixteen creative essays, ruminations on love, life and loss told in an unpretentious conversational tone. I hope you enjoy it. Order From My Vintage from Amazon.

 

From My Vintage

                       

Gustave Flaubert in one of his many letters to Louise Colet counseled her to, “Seek out what is truly your nature and be in harmony with it.” For years now, I’ve returned to that sentence again and again. It is as if Flaubert’s counsel was written not only for Colet but for me and perhaps for all of us who are getting on in years as well.  For the past fifteen years, since I turned sixty five, I’ve been curious about who I am beneath the layers of façade I’ve built up. Now, at eighty, I’m trying to piece together the disparate parts in my nature and to reach some harmony within myself.  

Different pieces appear from nowhere: a collage including faintly tinted photographs of my parents with their arms around one another, my brother Bob and I laughing over some joke until we couldn’t catch our breath. There are also the vague memories of angora sweaters and fashionably dirty saddle shoes, a prom dress, a boy named Delbert, a quick burning rush of sexuality, images from long ago that wander through my head when I recall the hundreds of journals I filled for thirty years buried in drawers or hidden in the back of a closet. I think the date of the last entry was ten or twelve years ago. I closed the book and never opened another. I don’t know why.   

The journals remained hidden, forgotten, until one morning  I received a letter  from my insurance company informing me that I was now a senior citizen and client of our government’s health program.  It was then I learned, at sixty-five, I was a senior citizen.  Before that letter arrived I was eternal. I had no idea that the President of the United States is a client of our health program. 

Within the month my mailbox was stuffed with enticements from real estate firms with fully-colored pages offering me the option to rent or buy a condominium in Tampa, Miami, Naples and Palm Beach, Florida. The envelopes also contained photographs of the setting sun, community get-togethers and Bingo parties.  In small print a sentence stated, “We have a fine facility in case of illness.” It seemed they had every convenience to ease me comfortably into my grave. 

With thoughts of my eventual demise, I began to wonder what to do about those hundreds of unread journals.  Did I want my children to find them among my earthly remains? They might enjoy reading about some family gossip, such as when our stuttering cousin, Louie, was thrown out of the neighborhood movie house for masturbating in the theatre, or when Aunt Jane spent a weekend with a black man at a motel during the Second World War, while her husband was overseas and the papers got wind of it.  Since her father was a judge and civil rights was a long mist away, the war was the second headline for a few days in our Milwaukee paper.

Tom and Barb, my children, might also be amused by my philosophical musings, my left wing politics and my experience of being jeered at when I wore a Wallace for President button in 1948.  One thing was certain; they were not going to discover a Madison County Bridge romance. But what else did I fear their discovering? Did I want them to know that their mother was petrified of heights for fear that she might be impelled to jump, that occasionally she flirted with the idea of suicide?  How would they react reading that their mother lusted after the contractor who built the family room?  How would they feel if they read that their mother often fantasized their father dead and herself a weeping but happy widow? 

No, it was wiser I finally decided, to get rid of my journals, destroy the evidence of unspoken longings and absurd musings. What I did was to soak each journal in water till the ink ran, blurring the words, then I deposited them, a few at a time, in various trash bins up and down the upper east side of Madison Avenue. I didn’t want to chance that the porter who collected the trash in our building might pick them out and possibly read them.  This project taken care of, I reasoned my children could keep or invent whatever memories they chose to have of me.

A few years ago, before I destroyed them, I decided I had to have one last look at my journals.  It was a cold gray winter afternoon. I cleared the dining room table of the bowl of flowers, the candelabra and spread the lot of them on the table. Some books were five by eight inch school notebooks; others I had carefully selected for their cover design, often with a small reproduction of a painting by one of my favorite artists.  

They were all sizes and shapes, and surprisingly, in good condition. I poured myself a scotch on the rocks and, one by one, read or picked through sentences, paragraphs and pages.  A few catalogued the events of my day. Most poured out what I was feeling at the moment: anxiety, panic or whatever I happened to be obsessing over, which was usually something I said that might have been misinterpreted.

I wrote six pages extolling One World.   “I believe it should be mandatory for all people in all countries to learn Esperanto in first grade. Only then will the world be unified. Only then will there be peace. “

“Romain Rolland is the greatest writer of his time. Jean Christophe will become my bible.” 

My God, I was opinionated. Yet today when I look back at how I felt over fifty years ago I’m pleased I believed so powerfully in my time and my life. Then there were phrases that were so abstract they seemed to have no relationship to me and there were passages where the feelings were still too painful to touch. Certain passages took me back to the memory of my first serious boyfriend, Richard, and how I told him I didn’t love him. I also recalled how it was Mother who convinced me not to marry him by ridiculing him for his unsociability, his lack of sophistication, and telling me how unhappy I would be.  Writing this today I realize, from my clenched teeth and rapid heartbeat, my anger hasn’t dulled.

After eight decades of walking the earth, it’s strange to recall the ideals I told myself I would live up to: following the golden rule was to be my religion; my fundamental belief was in the perfection of all human beings if they had enough food, clothing and shelter.  Looking back, how trusting, how dear that young woman was.

I tore out pages, cut up paragraphs and packed them into folders before I destroyed the journals, thinking perhaps I might want to read particular entries again one day.

All I know today is that the distance between my nature, then and now, is the distance between our planet and Mars. Monsieur Flaubert, when and if one ever reaches harmony with oneself, I find it does come awfully late.

                                  


Carapace

Michael borremansCarapace is one of my essays from my book From My Vintage which is a collection of sixteen creative essays, ruminations on love, life and loss told in an unpretentious conversational tone. I hope you enjoy it. Order From My Vintage from Amazon.

 

Carapace

 Rollo May has written that “Human freedom involves our capacity to pause between stimulus and response and in that pause to choose the one response toward which we wish to throw our weight.” Pause, the fraction of a second, the moment of choice that can make a forty-five degree angle change the path our life will take. Lately, I wonder how often over the years I’ve held that pause long enough to ask myself, “Is what I’m saying what I really mean?”

Looking back on it now, I spent decades ignoring the moment, that pause when I might have considered that I had a choice, the privilege of saying “no” or “I don’t think so” or “let me think about it.” I always found it easier to say “yes” to others while saying “no” to myself.  If you had asked me if I knew I had given myself away to the highest bidder, I would have looked at you blankly, puzzled, not knowing what you meant.  Yet, a part of me hidden in the shadow, knew what I was doing, and watched me act the part. 

       Now on becoming eighty, I’m aware of the choices I can make and do enjoy the pause before making a decision.   What has come with my years is a sense of allowing myself to see things as they are, although clarity is often painful.  For example, I know I tried to stand up for my ideals, to rail against injustices in the world, yet, I also know, I changed nothing as I told myself I would.  I’ve paid back only a little of what I’ve been given, written checks to satisfy my conscience, otherwise, for the most part,  I let the world take care of itself.

Still, on the upside, at eighty I do have more time to think and put my uncensored thoughts down on paper in the effort to better understand the life I’ve lived and the world I’m now living in. Perhaps it’s an effort that can never fully succeed, but I do enjoy making the effort.

       What I’d most like  to do is to climb into my mind, my emotions, and find, deep inside, a core that reveals what I might have been like before I sensed and accepted unquestioningly what my mother and then my peers wanted of me. With so many of those I longed to please years ago gone now, perhaps I can finally locate that core which existed before the expectations of others took over and wove a veil  through  which I thought, before the veil of expectations rapped itself around me as closely as an invisible membrane.   

If mother smiled it was approval, if she frowned I knew something was wrong.  Of course, I wanted her approval but then it wasn’t long before I wanted the approval of everyone. As a young girl, I quickly became greedy for approval; it was the elixir I drank up. 

To be fair, when we are young, it’s not easy to calculate the ways of the world. Nevertheless, the lessons I learned on the importance of approval stood me in good stead, and a seed was planted, probably before I could string two sentences together, probably before I was aware I was trying to manipulate responses from others.  And so I developed my façade, my persona, until the veil, over the years, no longer had tiny slits through which I could dimly see.   In the end, (I can’t say exactly when, I only know it happened), the veil stiffened until it more closely resembled the carapace that protects a tortoise, who when he senses danger withdraws into his shell.

I know, of course, that no one can live without a façade, a persona to protect oneself from hurts, ridicule, cowardice. When we are young, raw, sensitive, we need a shell to protect ourselves. How else can we live in society?  But when one becomes the persona, the carapace, what becomes of the genuine self, where is the authentic gem?

      G.E. Moore, a student at Cambridge around 1902, was the dominant member of a discussion group called the Apostles whose members were the intellectuals on campus, some of whom were later to become what was known as the Bloomsbury group. Whatever subject was discussed, when one of the members made a statement, Moore would counter with, “what exactly do you mean by that?” To share Moore’s passion for truth was the only duty the society demanded of its members and a muddled sentence was unacceptable. Leonard Woolf, a member of that group wrote in his autobiography that it was the Apostles who had the greatest influence on his intellect. It taught him to organize his thoughts and respond precisely both verbally and in his writings.

If one were to ask me what exactly do I mean by a verbal statement I’ve made, I often wouldn’t know how to answer.  With writing, reflection is part of the craft, but frequently I don’t really know if I know what I mean when I speak and no one ever asked me. Like many of us, I may have said out loud what I thought others expected to hear rather than what I meant to say.

     I have a recurring day dream that comes by itself when I am alone, sitting in the little library in my apartment, reading. I’m fifteen years old, floating on my back on a windless day in Lake Michigan, while the waves are undulating gently, sensuously.  When I close my eyes I’m cradled by the waves. There is nothing else except the particular fragrance of a lake, which I can still smell. I have no need to navigate, to think, it’s like waltzing with the music. I feel sweet, pure; I see my smile, the carapace thins, the shell softens, the veil floats away and there is no one through whom I need to validate myself. 

     Looking at the children playing baseball in Central Park last Sunday I saw a child whose parents were obvious in the crowd, calling out and waving to the boy, and I saw him struggling and failing to please his parents, dropping an easy fly ball in the outfield and later striking out when his turn came to bat. Then I noticed another youngster who was simply enjoying the fun of the game without being tormented by the need for approval, oblivious of the parents in the stands.

             Writing this I recall one incident clearly, and still react with anger at my mother who is long dead.  I was not more than ten years old when my mother and her friend, Mary, decided to take me and Mary’s daughter, Lenore, to lunch. I asked for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and Lenore ordered a ham salad sandwich.  When our lunch came, Lenore wouldn’t eat hers and announced that she too wanted a peanut butter sandwich . When her mother said, “you asked for ham salad,” Lenore threw a tantrum and my Mother quickly took over.

     “It’s alright Mary, Jeanne likes both,” she said, as she took my plate and exchanged it with Lenore’s.  I said nothing and recall smiling when my mother’s friend told me what a generous and lovely girl I was.  

If I fast forward from that day I forfeited my peanut butter sandwich at the age of ten, I can recall myself in my last year of high school after I’d auditioned for the main character of Katherine in Taming of the Shrew in the Senior play.  I was in competition with another girl named Doris who was assertive and unfriendly but she had developed earlier than many of us, and succeeded in making me feel awkward and stupid.  Walking through the hall the day before the drama teacher, Miss Curry, was to announce her decision I passed the open door of her room and heard Doris telling Miss Curry, “I want to apply to the Pasadena Play House and to be accepted I need to have performed a lead role in a play and this is my only chance.”

     Without thinking, without pausing to decide what to do, I kept on walking past Miss Curry’s room, told no one of the conversation I overheard, and Doris got the part. Of course, I could have walked into Miss Curry’s room that day, but the choice to do so, that I had that option didn’t occur to me.  It was easier to continue walking down the hall of my high school with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

To this day, when I replay the scene it’s to confront myself.   Why didn’t I walk in the room?  Who in that room did I want to love me? Who was I afraid of confronting?  Why was I so uncomfortable with the possibility of embarrassment?  As an aside, I can’t resist writing, Doris didn’t go to the Pasadena Play House; she married the assistant manager of our neighborhood supermarket and years later when I came home to visit my parents I saw her on the street and she was fat.       

     At the end of that year, having survived the hurt and duplicity of Miss Curry, I graduated from high school and attended a small college in the Midwest where I majored in Art History. My ambition was to live in New York and to get some kind of a job in a museum, dusting, stacking books, any menial job would do as a beginning.  A friend of my parents had a brother in New York who owned an art gallery and for a minimum wage he offered to hire me. With a stipend from my Father, I moved to the city, found a one-room apartment in the Kips Bay area and went to work.  The owner of the gallery, Mr. Fitch, was a jovial sweet man, whom I learned in a short time knew little about art but was rich and liked the idea of owning a gallery.

I bought books, went to lectures, museums, I literally dove head first into the study of modern art and stayed one day ahead of my job.  I loved working in the gallery, talking to people and selling art.  We were a staff of five. After three years of my being there, Mr. Fitch lost some of his interest in the gallery and came in only a few times a week, leaving most of the responsibility to me. He began to take me to auctions, to artists’ studios, to dealers,  and eventually he appointed me director of the gallery.

I went from making minimum wage in l964 to $12,000 a year.  More and more people were beginning to buy art; it was becoming a fashionable hobby and we needed another person on the staff. One Monday morning, after the only man on our staff had left, Mr. Fitch called me into his office and said, “Jeanne, you’re doing a great job, but you need help. Now that Jeb has left, I think it’d be a good idea to hire a man to assist you.  The hanging and re hanging, the physical work is  a heavy job for a girl and there are things he can do that you can’t and, well,” he thought a moment, and continued, “you find him and hire him. You know what you need, and you can offer him $15,000 a year.” 

I stood there thinking $15,000 a year? I only make twelve, and he’ll be my assistant. This was my opportunity to say “Mr. Fitch, if I am the director and he will be my assistant, don’t you think it unfair that he’ll make more than I do?”  But I was tongue tied. Finally I said “Yes, sir, I think it’s a good idea to hire a man; I’ll begin to interview.” 

Again I didn’t pause to state my case to Mr. Fitch.   I didn’t speak.  Instead I tucked my head into my carapace, rationalized that it was ok: men make more money, and went on for four more years to run the gallery with minimum raises that I never questioned.

If I fast forward from that day of my  conversation with Mr. Fitch  in the gallery, I can see myself falling in love with a tall, attractive, dark curly haired trial lawyer who, after two months of dating, asked me to marry him.  I said “yes” to his proposal. Raymond was charming, attentive, I’d never met a man as caring and considerate and I was impressed with his decisiveness.  We were going to live in his two bedroom apartment overlooking the East River for a year or two and then buy a house in the suburbs.  Raymond disliked the city as heartily as I loved the city but as much as I loved it I willingly gave into the idea of eventually living in the suburbs and raising a family.

It was about a month before our wedding, we had been engaged for three months, the plans were all in place, when Ray made clear how strongly he felt I should stop working when we married.

“You’ve got to stop dragging your feet about giving notice and leaving the gallery, Jeanne” he said.

We’d just finished dinner at Camiglios, a little Italian restaurant we used to go to in those days, and were leisurely finishing our bottle of Pinot Noir.

 “But I’d like to work until we move- that’s at least a year from now.  What would I do with my time until we get the house and, darling, you know how much I love my work.”

“Jeanne, if you love me,” he responded, “you’d know how much this means to me, that you’d want to be home for me and available if an important client and his wife invite us out, instead of you going to gallery openings or working late.” 

The next day I gave my two weeks notice at the gallery, with a promise to Mr. Fitch that I would stay an extra week if it was necessary to train someone. What I later learned was, “if you love me” was Ray’s mantra.  But we were a perfect match: he needed to be in charge while I needed to please and acquiesce.  Occasionally, a tinge of disloyalty would flit through my consciousness when I questioned what does love have to do with it, but within that tiniest pause the thought was quickly banished.

And so went our life, all the way to the suburbs. We had two children within four years; we lived a model 1950’s life style. I became an active member in the P.T.A., went to all the little league games. When, my son, Tom played quarterback on the high school football team, I went to every game, (not to be the perfect mother,) I just wanted to see him get up from under the pile. It seems so long ago; there were so many years when my memory shut down, but I think I enjoyed my life, the children, the friends, the activities. 

Raymond and I rarely had a disagreement; if I did disagree or argue, I was easily convinced I was wrong.  Life was moving on and  my health was fine, except for  violent headaches, that came on intermittently, and more frequently when I reached my  middle forties and my son went off to college, and the following year my daughter left for her Junior year in Rome.  But, despite the headaches, I was still active in volunteer work and local politics. Occasionally I went to the city in the afternoon, visited galleries and museums, shopped and was back in time for supper.  We seldom went to theatre or concerts or met friends in the city. Raymond preferred meeting friends for dinner locally and going to the movies. In the winter we went to Florida for ten days.

When I ask myself today, what did I think about then, what was my own life all about, I have to answer, (well, I thought about the children and what I was doing.)  I had no idea I wasn’t living my life, or that it was the reverse, life was living me. I didn’t question my relationship with Raymond.

As time passed my headaches increased and I spent an inordinate amount of time visiting Doctors and taking tests.  One Doctor asked if I was depressed, and I looked at him puzzled.  “No” I answered, irritated by his question.  “I’m here because of my headaches.”

   Then one day I bought a diary, I had no plan to write more than daily doings, but after filling the first half with meetings, and nonsense, it became boring and without thought I  began to write about experiences when I was younger, my lost peanut butter sandwich, the Senior play and Miss Curry,  how I felt when Tom went off to college. I wrote anything but never about my marriage. It just didn’t occur to me, although I wrote that each day at 3 p.m. I called Raymond at his office. 

That pattern was sacrosanct, no matter where I was or what I was doing I called Raymond at 3 p.m. This was very important to him, the first time I forgot he said he always wanted to know I was in reach so he wouldn’t worry.  The once or twice when I did forget, in 23 years of marriage, brought on a furious“ if you loved me you would never forget to call,” and was followed by an apology from me.  It seems today, as I write this, that I spent half my life apologizing for misdemeanors I didn’t know I made.   

Then on one Monday in July of 1969, I came home from a swim at our club’s pool, showered and dressed, made a gin and tonic and sat down at my desk to call Raymond. It was 3 p.m. I picked up the phone then very carefully put the receiver down. I waited a minute or two and reached over to pick it up again to make the call, but my hand felt as if it was paralyzed and I could not lift the receiver off the hook.   

I sat at my desk looking out the window at nothing.  At four the phone rang; I let it ring; at 4:10 it rang again. Then again it rang at 4:25, at 4:30, and at 5. Each time I let it ring. At six- thirty a telegram was delivered to the door. 

“If you do not call me within the hour, we’re finished.” 

I didn’t call. I have no reason to, nor do I want to relate further details.  Suffice it to say that was the end of a 23 year old marriage.

I would like to think I made a choice, but if wasn’t a conscious move, did I make a choice?  I still, after all these years, think of it as a mysterious force that took over and paralyzed my hand.  But, whatever else it was, it was my first significant exploration of Rollo May’s “pause,” with my pause lasting three and one half hours, from 3 to 6:30 that afternoon.       

         It didn’t seem like much to me, my not picking up the phone, but it was the beginning. Eventually the veil began to develop tiny holes; as time passed age brought insight and some clarity, the holes got larger, the carapace began to melt, and layers fell away. The need to protect myself or to seek the approval of others left.

I’ve developed a deep respect for Rollo May’s “pause.”   The pause contains thoughts, reflections, memories, a myriad of different actions.  The pause is both my shelter and my companion.  The pause is where I find, (as at this moment), there is often no need for a further word. 


Variations on 3:30 am

Variations at 330aVariations on 3:30am is one of my essays from my book From My Vintage which is a collection of sixteen creative essays, ruminations on love, life and loss told in an unpretentious conversational tone. I hope you enjoy it. Order From My Vintage from Amazon.

 

Variations on 3:30 a.m.

                                                 

This morning I woke up at 4 a.m. with a raging heart beat.  I caught the residue of a dream and saw in it a young image of myself standing above a ravine looking out at the waves whirling over Lake Michigan.  

It’s a god-awful hour to be awake but I wake at that hour two or three times a week.  When this happens I lie in bed, very still, hoping the thumping in my chest will subside as I watch the moon create a pattern of shadows through the half-drawn blinds.   Those few hours before dawn are heavy, deep hours where all my personal shadows and crevices are too clearly defined while I wait for daylight.

Now that I am eighty years old, my nights should be gentle, my sleep peaceful. The storms of my life are over; what was, was; the nights of obsessing over early sins of commission are pretty worn out by now. But it’s the sins of omission that won’t leave me, that torture me, that become a broken record of “what ifs,” “if only I had,” and “why didn’t I?”    

When I was young, my nighttime guilt was relative to my everyday life.  In high school I worked on weekends in a ladies specialty shop where I fancied a paisley scarf that cost the one dollar I couldn’t afford. I never showed it to a customer but kept it in the back of the showcase so I could look at it. One night, before the shop closed, and after my boss had left early, I replaced the scarf with a similar print and took home the paisley one I liked.  I had never stolen anything before, nor since, except maybe an ashtray from a hotel as a momento and a few leaves from a bunch of basil—(I never know what to do with the whole bunch).

I can also recall a night torturing myself for ratting on Julia, my best friend, to her boyfriend, a boy I also had a crush on. I don’t remember today what I said about her to the boy she was dating but that wrong I did my friend, and each and every other sin I committed as an adolescent, kept me awake for hours. In retrospect, so many of the adolescent episodes sound trite but they add up to a myriad of conflicts.

Continue reading "Variations on 3:30 am" »


Lovely Meeting You

Looking at artLovely Meeting You is one of my essays from my book From My Vintage which is a collection of sixteen creative essays, ruminations on love, life and loss told in an unpretentious conversational tone. I hope you enjoy it. Order From My Vintage from Amazon.

 

 Lovely Meeting You

 

Last night I came home from the opening of an art fair at the New York Armory. I left the festivities later than I had intended but instead of the usual fatigue I feel after being with crowds of people, I found I was both exhilarated and relieved.  Exhilarated from an unexpected encounter with a charming and interesting woman, yet, relieved that it didn’t end with a suggestion we meet for lunch.

The opening night of the American Art Dealer’s Fair at the Armory is a benefit that draws the collectors, the dealers and patrons of The Henry Street Settlement House. As always it’s a lively affair. Two or three bars serve everything from hard liquor and wine to freshly squeezed juice and soft drinks. Hors d’oeuvres of all kinds are passed around and there are food stations as well, serving smoked salmon, sushi rolls, roast beef, shrimp on skewers and crackers with various dips.

With my scotch in hand, I wandered around the huge barn of a room stopping at some of the booths to look at the art on display and gossiping with the dealers I knew. The galleries exhibit their most important work at the fair and I saw very fine nineteenth and twentieth century paintings, as well as some contemporary work, most of which I found incomprehensible.  But all in all it was a good show.

At the start of the evening an elegant and rather imperious looking man attached himself to me. He was determined to impress me with a detailed description of his superb acquisitions of post impressionist paintings and his cleverness in acquiring them. I nodded and smiled for a few minutes then excused myself on the pretext of meeting a friend at another booth.

Continue reading "Lovely Meeting You" »


Now That I'm 80

IMG_5791Now That I'm 80 is one of my essays from my book From My Vintage which is a collection of sixteen creative essays, ruminations on love, life and loss told in an unpretentious conversational tone. I hope you enjoy it. Order From My Vintage from Amazon.

 

Now That I’m Eighty

 

 

The question, "What do I do with the rest of my life,'' repeats itself like a needle stuck repeating notes on an old phonograph record.  The question never occurred to me until the trees were losing their leaves in the autumn of the year I turned eighty.  At the time, I'd just finished the first essay of this collection of personal essays and a quick rush of adrenaline flowed through me.  The manuscript read better than I'd expected. But very soon my euphoria disappeared followed by the sickening thought, "Oh God, I'll never live long enough to complete the collection.”  

Until now I've never obsessed about being a few miles from the end, although I do think about it occasionally.  Every so often it comes up in conversation with a friend of my decade, mostly in a casual way, like a verbal shrug, such as my friend, Isabel saying, "I'm thinking about going to Paris this fall; who knows how much longer I'll have the strength to travel?"  Or when I talk about taking a three year lease on a small country house, the word “time” flutters through my mind.  But at eighty the process of writing a book forces me to come face to face with the parameters of time, knowing that possibly I am starting something I may not live to finish.

After my eightieth birthday, when such thoughts came to me, I opened my computer, then, instead of working on my manuscript, I spent the morning with Google or sending emails to friends.  Finally, when I could no longer endure my own company, I thought about taking off for England over the Thanksgiving holiday.  Perhaps by spending a long weekend at the country home of my friend Gillian and her husband, Richard, I'd be able to take a break from thinking about writing or dying. I knew I'd be welcome.  Gil and I were room mates in college and, although she later married and moved to London, we've remained dear friends, phoning one another weekly, exchanging news, pouring out the joys and miseries of our lives.  So when I telephoned to check on their agenda, I was not surprised when Gillian practically shouted, "COME, COME."

I made my reservation, boarded my dog, Charley, with a friend and packed a weekend bag.  As the plane lifted off the runway I thought, nothing could suit me more than spending some days with Richard and Gillian in  their great old house with its hidden nooks and alcoves, its floor to ceiling bookshelves in the library, and the whiskey, sherry and gin bottles lining the sideboard, waiting to be drunk at one's pleasure. I loved hearing the logs crackle in the hearth from morning until night when we'd finish our last drink before bed.

Gil and Richard were waiting for me at Heathrow and by the time I got through customs and retrieved my luggage I was already jet-lagged and exhausted.  When we reached their house in Moreton, two hours later, I went straight to bed and fell into a dreamless sleep.

The next morning, after breakfast, the three of us meandered through wooded paths with Posey, their golden retriever. Wandering along the cobbled street of the small village we passed a postbox, a thatched roofed sundries shop and the local pub.  At the end of the road, we found ourselves at the entrance of a church surrounded by a 15th century cemetery.  Reading some of the names and dates on the headstones--Arthur Perry, Ian Armstrong, Elizabeth Eastham-- I tried to imagine what their lives had been like, knowing they had slept beneath these headstones for hundreds of years.

Continue reading "Now That I'm 80" »


Louie's Rose

Louies roseLouie's Rose is one of my essays from my book From My Vintage which is a collection of sixteen creative essays, ruminations on love, life and loss told in an unpretentious conversational tone. I hope you enjoy it. Order From My Vintage from Amazon.

 

Louie’s Rose

 

I followed the usher down the aisle to my seat in the third row center. In my anxiety to be at the concert on time, I’d arrived twenty minutes early, and to pass the time I turned to watch the audience enter the hall.   I find it thrilling to attend a concert at Carnegie Hall.  The Isaac Stern auditorium has led the history of great music, great artists, and spectacular events since 1891, and the space contains an indefinable quality I feel in no other concert hall.  I used to have season’s tickets, but now I come only if there is a special program I want to see.  Tonight’s concert is for me way more than a special event.

I received a letter from my brother, Bob, a few months ago, with a newspaper clipping taped to his letter. When I read the attached clipping I heard myself say aloud, “There really must be a God.”

Dear Sis,

I passed a newspaper stand here in Los Angeles that carries papers from all over the country and, just for the heck of it, thought I’d pick one up to see what goes on in our home town and came across this notice:

Ronald Booker, conductor of the San Francisco Orchestra, a former Milwaukeean, who has gained prominence throughout Europe as well as America, will conduct the London Symphony Orchestra in a Hayden program at Carnegie Hall, in New York City, on March twenty-fifth.

Jeanne, any Booker in Milwaukee must be related to us.  Can you recall, it must be near seventy years ago, when we went with Mom and Dad to Aunt Bess and Uncle John’s house to meet Cousin Louie Booker’s new wife?  I couldn’t have been more than six, which made you around ten.  I remember Mom carrying on, but I don’t remember why?  Could this Ronald be a third or fourth cousin?  One thing does come back to me - I thought it was awesome when Louis opened his mouth and nothing came out but a stutter.  Anyway, all for now – just wanted to send this to you.

Your lovin’ brother.

 

Continue reading "Louie's Rose" »


The Allure of the Obit Page

Obit pageThe Allure of the Obit Page is one of my essays from my book From My Vintage which is a collection of sixteen creative essays, ruminations on love, life and loss. I hope you enjoy it. Please order the complete book From My Vintage from Amazon.

 

The Allure of the Obit Page

 

I can’t recall when I first read an obituary column in the local paper but, it must have been a sensationally juicy column because for the past twenty years I have found myself reaching for that page first before looking at the rest of the paper.  So many names seem vaguely familiar.  Sometimes I think back:  did I know him or her a long time ago, were we in high school together or did we meet at someone’s dinner party or possibly sit on some committee together?  Now at the age of eighty it shouldn’t be a surprise, yet it’s always a bit of a shock when I find a name I do recognize.  I’ve wondered if it’s the thought of my demise that makes it easier knowing – well everyone dies? When I discover the name of a celebrity or a famous person, I settle down and enjoy the half page or more describing his or her life style. It’s like reading a compressed biography minus the hard cover.

Recently I saw a name that was only vaguely familiar but enough to produce a quick catch of breath. Mary Bennet. I tried to recall the name. Mary Bennet, did I know her?

Beneath the headline were two columns describing her life. “Mary Bennet, poet and teacher dies at 77.” The article went on to say she published a dozen books of poetry and, until 1980, was president of an Ivy League college. Of course! We were in Mrs. Olmark’s English Lit. Class together. Odd, I hadn’t seen nor heard of her in fifty-two years, so I wondered what produced the extra heart beat I felt on reading her obituary.

“Ms. Bennet married Augusto Candiotti, an Italian painter after her graduation from Smith and moved to Rome. They divorced two years later, Bennet returned to the States received her Masters at Columbia University in New York City, and married John Bolin, a lawyer from Boston she had known since childhood. They produced two children, Florence, 31, and John Jr., 28”.

I remembered only a tall thin blond girl, a brilliant student, that was already evident by her essays and poetry printed in the school paper. We weren’t close; we didn’t even know each other that well. I may have run into Mary in the cafeteria a few times and had a cup of coffee or a sandwich with her. But maybe just seeing her name was enough to take me back to Mrs. Olmark’s classroom with its tall ceilings, oak walls, the enormous blackboard and Mrs. Olmark holding a candle while she intones Lady Macbeth’s bloody hands soliloquy. Maybe it was all part of my history that caused the extra beat.

Continue reading "The Allure of the Obit Page" »


Charley and Me

CharleyCharley and Me is one of the essays from my book From My Vintage which is a collection of sixteen creative essays, ruminations on love, life and loss. I hope you enjoy it. If you like this essay, please buy my book From My Vintage from Amazon.

 

Charley and Me

 

I never had a dog when I was a child, and except for a neighbor who harbored a huge growling monster that patrolled his yard to keep us kids out, neither did anyone I knew own a dog.  I don’t think dogs were in fashion then, or it may have been the depression and maintaining a dog was an expense one could ill afford.  In any event, it never occurred to me to ask for a dog. I had goldfish and my brother, Bob, had 2 Gerbils.

Years later when I married, moved to the suburbs and had children, having a dog was an important part of the suburban scene.  Everyone within the cul de sac of our twelve houses had a dog, so we bought Jolie and joined the community.  Jolie was a black toy poodle and the only small animal in the area, although on one acre of property it seemed more fitting to have a boxer, a Dalmatian, or a collie.  But never having had any canine experience, the big ones intimidated me, and my husband only tolerated the idea of a dog if it were small—hence Jolie, a three  pound French poodle, moved in.

The reason for us to have a dog was for the children to grow up with an animal.  It was so long ago that I don’t recall if the children were attached to her or not, but I think I was fond of Jolie.   She was no trouble, we just opened the back door and she went out or came in.  She was a sweet and gentle dog, but I didn’t think about her personality then.  She was merely an adjunct to the household.

Many years later when the children went away to school and I was divorced and embarking on a new career, I moved to an apartment in the city and Jolie joined me.  I found a job and Jolie was alone until I came home in the evening.  Her only company during the day was the doorman who walked her at noon.   I was overwhelmed by my life, couldn’t handle the schedule of a walk before going to work in the morning, getting home to feed her before I went out for the evening, and a late night walk when I came home.

I think she was nine or ten years old when she became incontinent and I was forced to put her to sleep.  Only now, when I see a small poodle on the street, do I feel a pang of guilt, and writing this forty years later, I feel tears welling up.

Continue reading "Charley and Me" »