I was having a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit until I made a BLT while listening to Christmas music the other day. It reminded me of a long gone restaurant in the Porter Square section of Cambridge, Massachusetts. I used to have the sandwich there as a kid. The combination of the sandwich, the memory and the music took me back to another time and that place at Christmas. C’mon back (way, way back) with me.
That smell! The smell of the Christmas tree as Mommy dragged it off of our Volkswagen Beetle and into our small apartment, needles dropping everywhere. Big colored lights. Some of the bulbs didn’t work and she had to replace them to make the whole string light up. Round red, green, silver and gold ornaments that my little sister, Sheri, and I had to hold with two hands. We liked the way our faces looked funny when we held the balls up close and looked into them. Our favorite ornaments were the little copper colored bells. They didn’t ring but they were delicate and sweet. My sister and I threw tinsel at the tree branches. Some of it clumped together but it was still beautiful to us.
The white bedsheet that covered the tree’s stand was empty of presents. Sheri and I had a plan. When our mother left the room, the search was on for us to find money for gifts. If we could find enough change, we could buy Mommy the bubble bath from Fox Drug Store. Sheri and I first hit up our piggy banks. Not bad, one dollar each plus some change. Then we went through all the coat pockets in the hall closet. That grossed us another couple of dollars. Next was the best place to find money, the couch! There were always some dimes and pennies under the cushions. But the big coins dropped into the back, in the crack that ran along the whole length. It was a gold mine. Seven quarters had managed to shake loose from grownups pockets and had fallen into the crack during the year. We added them to the other bills and change we’d collected. Over seven dollars! It was more than enough for the bubble bath. We could get something at the Five and Ten for Big Sis too. We went into the kitchen and told Mommy we wanted to go Christmas shopping at Porter Square and asked if we could go. It was only three stops on the trolley down Mass Ave. I was nine and my sister was seven. We took the trolley much farther to school every day anyway. Mommy smiled and said it was ok. Sheri and I grabbed our coats, hats and mittens. We were so excited that we had to go to the bathroom first.
In those days, kids could ride public transportation alone and no one called child protective services. First, Sheri and I got off the trolley a block before the shopping center and stopped at Fox Drugs. We bought the bubble bath, happy the Lavender scented one we wanted was still there. Then we walked down to Porter Square (or Pohta Sq-way-ah” as the locals called it). The shopping center was a long row of local stores anchored at the front by Dunkin’Donuts and at the back by Star Market. Halfway down was the Five and Ten. We stopped there next and bought a pair of one-dollar Christmas earrings for Big Sis. We wondered if we should give them to her early so she could wear them to her bank job.
We still had a couple of dollars left so we decided to have lunch at the deli next door. I ordered sandwiches for both of us; Tuna for Sheri, BLT for me. At the time, kids could order sandwiches alone in a deli and no one called child protective services. The place was retro even for those days. It had red vinyl booths and table side jukeboxes continually playing customer selected tunes. That day it was Christmas music with a couple of rock tunes thrown in. I loved those BLTs. I remember the white bread was always toasted lightly, the way I like it. The mayonnaise was slathered on so as to cause the crispy bacon to slip a little. The lettuce and tomato were always fresh, never limp. Before I’d take the first bite, the smell of it would waft up into my nose.
I enjoyed my BLT, the shopping and the company of my sister. We walked all the way back home because, since we were kids, we had forgotten about bus fare when we ordered lunch. We didn’t mind. It wasn’t such a long walk. it wasn’t that cold and not too much snow was on the ground (for Massachusetts). Little kids could walk four or five blocks back then without worrying about child protective services. Along the way we laughed, sang Christmas songs and talked about what we wished would appear under the Christmas tree for us. ~
I hope you enjoy the season however you choose to celebrate/observe it. Thanks for sharing my Christmas memory and thanks as always, for reading.
I haven’t posted since the end of May? What happened? Where did the time go? Every time I thought about blogging, something would distract me and turn my attention elsewhere. Sometimes it felt as though I was chasing myself…
Right after the last post my family gathered for a birthday celebration in Miami.
It was wonderful but it was a lot; a lot of traveling, a lot of money and a lot of family. I’m always shell-shocked for a while after a lot of family.
Then it was back to Boston in June (with a stop in New York City for my birthday) for two weeks having fun keeping the middle little company again until camp started. I also got to meet the teeny little, the newest addition to my extended family. And I enjoyed can’t-beat-it New England seafood with old friends. Blessings all. Still, it was a lot.
As soon as I returned home I had back to back houseguests visit, the last one for the the 4th of July. See, since I moved to the DMV I’ve had more company than I did in Boston. I get it, Washington DC is a great place to visit. My friends and family have been especially excited to tour the three year old National Museum of African American History and Culture. And who doesn’t want to be in the nation’s capital on the the 4th?
I rounded out the summer with a mini vacay at beautiful Rehoboth Beach in Maryland with my daughter, biggest little and littlest little. Sun, sand, beach food, family and fun.
Before I knew it it was Labor Day. The whole family gathered in Boston for my son and daughter-in-law’s first anniversary. We had a big barbecue. When I say the whole family, I mean the WHOLE family; offspring, their partners, grandkids, my siblings, nieces and nephews and their kids, their Uber drivers…It was a lot. It was a lot of summer.
Here’s the thing, while I was traveling all over, accommodating family and chasing myself I didn’t notice that I wasn’t balancing the whirlwind with self-care. I was enjoying the people and activities but I was neglecting the other things that feed my soul, like writing. I wasn’t working on the revisions to my novel and I wasn’t blogging. I wasn’t going on the nature walks that allow me to access my poetry muse. I know better. A long time ago I committed to taking responsibility for my procrastination and creative blocks. Yes, my family will always come first but I still have time and energy to devote to writing. So, the question is why wasn’t I able to stop in the midst of all the hubbub and center myself so I could balance the two? I did it in Tulum. I guess just because I’ve learned some important life lessons over the years doesn’t necessarily mean I can consistently apply them. But I write because I must so here I go again. In the words of Rainer Maria Relki,
“a new beginning is always possible – who should refuse it?”
So, last Monday I was the victim of the type of scam called “telephone kidnapping”. Although I’m a news hound, for whatever reason I’d never heard of it before. I don’t want to go into too much detail because this post isn’t about the actual experience. I will say it was incredibly frightening. A person called me from what appeared to be a relative’s phone number and said he’d kill her, blow her brains out if I didn’t do exactly what he told me to do. This relative has a job that made the threat credible enough that, although I suspected it was a scam, I couldn’t chance that it wasn’t. It was thirty minutes of hell, but thank God no one was hurt, and law enforcement is investigating. There’s a link at the bottom of this post to a news story about this scam.
What this post is really about is how it feels to deal with fear and vulnerability in the second half of life. In the last two to three years I’ve noticed that sometimes I’m less confident in my abilities than I used to be. I’ve thought about it, and I don’t really know why. Is it simply because I’m older? Am I being sent the message (by my kids, by the culture) that I’m less capable because I’m older? Up until Monday nothing had happened concretely that pointed to a diminishing of my faculties. I haven’t fallen and had a “I can’t get up” moment. I’ve never believed the IRS was going to issue a warrant for my arrest. But the fact that I was scammed and the fact that it scared me as much as it did, at first, left me shaken and filled with self-doubt. I felt very much like a stupid old woman. I spent the next day comfort eating and cowering in my bedroom. But on Wednesday I came out on the other side.
I realized that I haven’t gotten this far in my life to live it in fear. I have too much faith for that. One of the benefits of being in the second part of life is the sheer bulk of experience. I’ve had enough bad things happen through the years to know that I can overcome, survive and thrive. Ok, the scammer scared the sh** out of me but it’s over. I’m not going to look over my shoulder each time I leave my house. I’m not going to jump each time the phone rings fearing it’s the scammer. I refuse to allow him to become a boogie man under my bed every night when I’m alone or trying to sleep. I’ve toughed it out so far and I’m still here. If I look at myself objectively, without listening to the little voices in my head, I know I’m strong and capable. Age hasn’t changed that. And I’m old enough not to let some weasel lessen the appreciation I have for the very good life I’m blessed with. So since Wednesday I’ve been loving life in joy and gratitude. Thank you, Mr. Scammer Man.
So, I’ve been traveling this week. I’m in Boston right now where I lived for many years before moving to the DMV. I still have people here. This past week has been about celebrating birthdays, births and connecting with kin. Coming back to the place that was my home for so long but is no longer my home is challenging. There is a mixed bagful of memories here. Fortunately, after so many years, the memories evoked are more like my mind’s movies than pains in my heart. And I’ve gotta be real, the weather here is challenging too. It’s kinda cold. I’m not used to it anymore. It feels a little more like spring at home where there are buds on some trees. Not so much in Boston.
I’m grateful that I’ve been able to make a little space for writing and reading while still tending to the needs of my family. I can’t work on poetry submissions while I’m away but I can continue working on my new short story, “Perennially”. And I’ve been putting together my next blog post about some changes that come with the second half of life. Hopefully, that will come next week when I’m back home. At night when there are too many of us to all use the wifi, I practice reading as a writer which is wonderful. I borrowed Dr Apelles by David Treuer from the library before I left. It’s an engrossing work that covers territory I know little about which makes it even more interesting. As always, I’m reading my favorite WordPress bloggers.
I’m heading for home soon. Until I get back, I’ll leave you with a few more photos from Boston.
There were a lot of family around here during the holidays. I mean, a lot. My family structure is fluid, the configuration changing rapidly and in interesting combinations. People come and go in different ways, births, deaths, marriages and partnerships, divorces, engagements and estrangements. Relationships morph. Yup, more changes to process.
I’m one step away from the goings on pretty much these days, an observer to the changes, part of the looking forward from back here thing. It’s primarily my offspring, those grown folks, who have to navigate all the transformations, revisions and modifications to our family relationships. (Although there are other members bringing the drama um…involved too.)
When they were young, I lived and breathed for my kids. I loved and nurtured them with everything I had. When they got older they let me know that they would determine how I could love them. Stay in your lane, Mother. My offspring think they decide the level of my involvement in their lives. They don’t really.
My involvement fluctuates. I think about all the stuff they’re dealing with and how they handle it. But I don’t say anything. To them. I mostly keep my mouth shut and do what my mother always advised, I watch and pray. Mostly. I’m trying to understand how to be supportive without making suggestions. I’ve talked to other moms (sorry dads, fewer opportunities to talk to you all) of grown kids about the challenges of older parenting so I know I’m not the only one still trying to figure it out. I wrote a poem a few years back when I realized my son and daughters were adults. If you happen to be a parent to grown people maybe you can relate.
Who Are You?
You think they’re strange now,
wait a few years.
You think those tiny people
who don’t understand anything,
who look to you for everything,
who believe you control it all
Wait until they grow up
and dislike you,
because they are
extensions of you,
an essential you,
themselves, but also you.
When you ask yourself why
you are a parent,
wonder if you created them
so you could give yourself
your own love,
when you cry at both
and present truths
you’ll come to realize
how hard kids really are.
I haven’t posted a gratitude list since 2013. I can’t believe it’s been that long. I feel like I should post one every year day. A lot of the time I choose to bitch and moan instead. But today, Christmas Day, I’m sitting by the fire next to one of my favorite people, Nyla, the middle little person. The day has been filled with laughs, cuddles and love of family. I’m blessed. So here is what I’m grateful for today;
I’m still here
I’m here for another Christmas
My family doesn’t mind being with me
I have the resources to provide Christmas dinner
My grandkids are happy even without gifts
My home is warm
My home is safe
I’m at peace.
So that’s what I’m grateful for this Christmas Day. And as fellow blogger Ann Koplow reminds me in her daily posts which always end in gratitude, I’m also grateful for the folks who read this blog. Thank you. I hope your holiday season has been joyful and peaceful and happy new year to you all.
Btw, do you notice I decorated the snake lamp? The grandkids said the face isn’t very jolly. LOL!
One or two of you might remember this photo. It was the featured image on my post about storage units. This lamp, this six-foot tall, 80 lb bronze snake lamp had been in my storage unit for ten years. That’s right, I said TEN YEARS! You might wonder why. Well, so do I.
It all started twenty years ago on a family trip to Jim Thorpe, PA. We were browsing in an antique shop when my late husband got excited and stopped in his tracks. He said, “Honey, look at that lamp! Man, that’s great looking!” I answered, “What lamp?” There was only one lamp on display in the store but I didn’t want to believe he meant the hideous thing in front of us.
I mean, look at it! It has a red glowing eye. The long tongue is extending out four inches. And it’s looming out of its basket and standing on its tail. So not only is it ugly but it’s a menacing snake lamp. I felt it was impossible for anyone who was serious about decor to work this curious floor lamp into a design concept. But because of B.T.’s attachment and the support of clueless children, we loaded the stupid thing awkwardly into our minivan for the drive back to Massachusetts. (It served those kids right to spend the five-hour trip maneuvering around the tail to reach their snacks. The tongue kept poking the youngest. The oldest spent the trip holding the heavy yellow glass shade which unfortunately didn’t break.) I tried to get B.T. to take it down to his basement man cave but he wanted to see what it’d look like in the family room. He thought it was unique and stylish. If I could have lifted it by myself, I would have taken all that uniqueness downstairs as soon as he next left the house but I couldn’t so there it stood for all the world especially my friends and neighbors to see.
In the following years I had to pretend to be obsessively interested in rearranging the furniture so I could move it farther and farther into the corner of the room. I even tried hiding it behind the curtains. Nothing worked. It’s so big some part of it was always visible. I felt like the mom from A Christmas Story who had to deal with the leg lamp. At least that was small enough to push over.
When I downsized to a condo I had to put some furniture into storage. The snake lamp was the first item in, way in the back. I would have tried to get rid of it then except the offspring were sentimental about it. I kept the unit longer than planned but I disposed of everything over time…except the lamp. Last month while visiting family in Boston, I closed out the storage unit. The lamp was the only thing left. I wanted to sell it and have the buyer pick it up at the storage place. I thought maybe I could get $100 or so for it. I checked online (well you do, don’t you) and my luck, the thing is worth a little coin. I guess the lamp is in the style of Edgar Brandt’s La Tentation. Who knew it was a thing. Apparently there are other people who like the style and can make it work. My serpent isn’t worth the price of an original but it’s worth more than I thought, damn it.
You know where this is going, don’t you? Yup, I loaded up the red-eyed devil lamp for yet another long car ride. This time it was just me and the snake from Boston to Alexandria, Virginia where I now live. There were a couple of times I thought I heard it hiss.
So where is the lamp now? You already know. The Edgar Brandt style, six-foot tall, looming, intimidating viper is taking up valuable real estate in my living room right next to the one window. I can’t believe I’m living with it again. It scares my grandkids so I have to cover the head when they come over. But it’ll stay there until I can unload sell it to a susceptible discerning buyer. How did this happen? I can only assume it’s because I’m in hell.
So here I am on the last day of April trying to stick to my commitment to post at least once a month to this blog. It’s been a challenge to do it since the re-launch. I used to have so much to say and now apparently, I don’t.
Anyway, I’ve been watching some retrospectives on TV commemorating the fifty-year anniversary of the significant events of 1968. The year factors largely in a novel I wrote during my hiatus from blogging. (It’s unpublished which is why I haven’t mentioned it before now but it is copywritten.) In one chapter the main characters talk about how they felt as children witnessing some of what was going on in 1968. I was a child then too and the TV programs reminded me of how I channeled my feelings into those of my characters. It was an impactful time, even for children. Since I can’t think of anything else to write about, I decided I’d share a little of the chapter with you. If you like it, maybe I’ll post more from the novel later.
“I’ll tell you, it was some year, sixty-eight. Crazy. John dying in his crib like that. Mom and Dad both wildin’ out and on top of all of it, half of Baltimore burning up in the Holy War Uprising. Yeah, it was crazy.” As Thomas gestured with his drink in his hand, his eyes filled with long past images. He, Junior and Judi thought back to the Baltimore riots of 1968 and their collective memory was one of fire. Memories of the glow of the TV screen in the living room of the homestead as David Sr. and Ella sat on the sofa, watching the pictures of everything burning. They remembered the way Ella, her pregnant belly touching the cushions, squeezed David’s hand and whispered, “Damn, that’s right where your cousin lives.” The kids had turned and looked at Ella wide-eyed because cussing was their father’s forte, something in which their mother rarely engaged. But it frightened them the most when David said, “It looks like hell.” After a solemn dinner that night, the three siblings had huddled together in the playroom wondering which sins had caused the troubles and whether the hell fires would get them too. The memory faded and the spell was broken by David Jr’s deep voice.
“Ain’t that much different around here now Tom, and um, you’d know if you didn’t live in a gated community.” Thomas was ready for his big brother’s taunts. To him David Jr. was like Baltimore City, still vital but a little rough around the edges. The oldest sibling wasn’t the big, bad brother he’d been when they were younger. He hadn’t been since Thomas entered the meat and potatoes of his adulthood, the years that had brought the reality of negotiating a good career, marriage and parenthood as a middle-class black man. Thomas set down his glass and scratched the hair on his chest through his starched blue business shirt and undershirt.
“Ok, that’s true Dave but back then black folks weren’t just rioting because they were mad like they do now. Everybody in this neighborhood and for that fact in black neighborhoods around the country were talking about Black Power. And it was all over the news so we saw all those pictures of raised fists on the TV when Mom was trying to herd us up to bed after dinner, remember? Matt, we know you and Ruth were too little to remember but I’m telling you it felt like something real would jump off at any minute. Even at five I knew something big was going on. It scared me, it really did,” Thomas said.
It’s been a little while since I posted. I have a few pieces in the pipeline so I hope to post more during the summer. But there’s been a lot going on around here, the best of which was finishing the first draft of my first novella, “Ties That Bind”. I ‘ll talk about that experience on my other blog, BusyWritingLife.
The other stuff is mainly around family, some good, some bad which are the subjects I’ll be sharing this summer. And speaking of which;
Yeah, Disney, about that…..
We’ve been thinking about doing a family vacation this summer. There are young’ens in our clan so, naturally, when I threw out the vacation idea, Disneyland was mentioned by their parents as a possibility. I grew up in the counter-culture days and tend to think of myself as a social reform type so at the Disney suggestion the only response that came to my mind was, as one of the other family members says, “hashtag, I can’t”. But I was pointedly reminded by one daughter that as I was bringing her up, I pushed Disney like a Oxycontin dealer.
I admit it’s true. I enjoyed a lot of Disney movies, both as a child and as an adult. When I became a mother, the memories of feelings I had as a child for Snow White and Cinderella overcame my supposed highly developed social sense. My emotional need was to share those memories with my kids. I wanted them to give them what I thought I’d gotten out of the films. It was a knee-jerk response to parenthood. And, truth be told, I continued to get with the Disney program. As a matter of fact, The Little Mermaid was a special bonding experience for me and that same daughter. Her favorite song was Part of That World and mine was Under the Sea. Some things never change…
…And some things do. So, I changed my mind. Sue me. (Oh that’s right, daughter can because she’s an attorney now. Take that Arial!) It was right around the Aladdin years that I noticed a change in my attitude toward Disney films. I was starting to become bothered by the things like historical contexts and language. Why is a princess using an expression like, “at your service?” And why a princess? Why always a princess?! By the time Pocahontas was released I was suspicious of all the basic Disney themes. (Actually during one point in that movie, in a theater, my sister and I both stood and shouted, ‘Oh c’mon!”) I started questioning what it was I actually did get from those old “classics” in terms of gender roles, class distinctions and cultural perspective. I realized that as an evolved, modern, African-American woman, I needed a new cartoon vision that matched my mood. (Haha.) That’s when I started boring my kids with “responsible” TV shows like Captain Planet. We stopped going to Disney movies and instead I brought home videos like Ferngully, The Last Rainforest”. The only Disney distributed movie I let into the house was The Brave Little Toaster. It scared the shit out of them and began the “reading era” of their childhood. As a result, when they criticize me about that time, as they still do, it’s in very literate terms.
Did I do the right thing by casting a jaundice eye on Disney and sharing my misgivings with my kids or was I the throw back hippie hypocrite they feel I was? I’m not sure but I’m still going to take a pass on dunking the grandkids in the Disney kool-aid as our summertime fun. Maybe I’ll suggest a hiking trip in the mountains instead. Now, please excuse me. We have a birthday party this afternoon and I have to go wrap an Elsa’s Frozen Palace play set.