Memories

My father and I were not close.  We didn’t talk much, but I remember…

When he was on the board of a retirement home and purchased overhead projectors for bedridden residents. The projector was demonstrated in our living room for the benefit of my sisters’ dates and friends. All were invited (required) to lie on the floor and watch the overhead show.  My sisters must have been extremely embarrassed. As a much younger member of the family, I considered this good fun.

When Rice-a-Roni first appeared, there was a television ad with the jingle: “Rice-a-Roni. A San Francisco treat.” My father loved that jingle and it echoes in my head every time I notice the Rice-a-Roni display at the supermarket.

An enthusiastic DIY-er, my father often reached that spot where a helper was required to hold something or move something. Pressed into service, I always did it wrong! I dreaded the “Marta, come here” summons and the inevitable barrage of loud criticism sure to follow.

However, the life lesson learned from being his DIY assistant was his frequent admonition to “take your time and figure it out. Don’t force it.”  Good advice for life, in general.

I was a surprise, late-in-life baby and not the boy my father hoped for. He did little to participate in my activities. When I was a young child in Buffalo, I would hang out with him as he shoveled snow (lots of snow) in the late evening. As a teen, I would meet up with him in the kitchen early in the morning, as he enjoyed his morning coffee. Years later, I realized his amazing ability to accomplish whatever he set out to do. I wish I had paid more attention and had learned more from him. I wish I knew more about him, his family, his work, his beliefs.  I remember him with affection and appreciation on this Fathers’ Day.

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HARMONY

HARMONY: A NOVEL by Carolyn Parkhurst left me with a chilling spine tickle. It’s the story of a suburban  family with two tween daughters. Tilly, the older one, has a brilliant mind and close to zero social intelligence. Her sister Iris loves her and is both embarrassed by her behavior and baffled by her need to protect and explain. Chapters are narrated by Iris and their mother Alexandra whose frustration grows day by day. There is a lot of love in this book and a lot of patience. Father Josh has a calming influence, when alarming situations occur.  No extreme Tilly behavior such as licking the floor in a restaurant or shouting out obscene words in public dims the love surrounding this family.

As options diminish and frustrations increase, Alexandra meets Scott who offers hope.  After a few therapy sessions, Scott asks the family to trade in their current life and move to a rural farm in Maine where he is starting Harmony, a camp for families with special children like their Tilly. The family takes on the role of staff and serves as examples for the visiting families at the camp.

As they settle in, there are puzzling signs that Scott may be moving toward a kind of cult leader. He separates families and preempts their usual methods of dealing with each of their “special” children. Each time there are explanations which reassure the group.  Things gradually become more troubling with strange games, punishments and Scott’s unpredictable anger.

Parkhurst frames the story with a prologue of what might have been a very different story and an epilogue that  is deeply poignant. In between, this is a page turner that informs while it touches the heart.

 

Castle memories

Such a challenge to get rid of stuff! Today, I packed up some of the toys taking up needed space in a spare bedroom.  What memories they evoked!

Tyler, my oldest grandson is in his late twenties. One of his favorite items was a plastic castle, complete with two bands of fighting knights and a very scary, big giant whose demise depended on the launch of a fair sized plastic “rock.”  I remember being persuaded to purchase this toy; overcoming my reluctance towards the violent narratives of play. Another grandson, Nathan, now in his late teens, also enjoyed this castle. My middle-aged daughter (Tyler’s mom) still comments on the castle, when she visits and I know she will be disappointed by its absence.

Matchbox cars!  These remind me of hours and hours spent at Toys R Us, while Tyler chose just the right car. During his annual summer visits, our toy store trips tested the patience I believed a grandmother should practice, while he examined aisles of toys for the perfect thing to have.

Legos!  The chunky school bus with the little wooden people! Plastic animals! Puzzles! Raggedy Ann! Most of the toys were used by the boys. Granddaughter Sophie, now in her twenties, was more into art projects and VHS tapes. Busy Town tapes by Richard Scary and the The Incredible Journey (1 & 2) by Sheila Burnford among others were watched over and over. I never did figure out how she absorbed the stories, while talking the entire time she watched.

Now Sophie is staying with me as she prepares for the next chapter in her journey. I have made a little more room for her… and another little advance in the getting- rid- of- stuff part of My journey.

(Those children’s books?  Still here!!)

 

A FOND ADIEU

Just about half way through my 80th (!) decade, I have had one constant in my life. That constant? My piano! Recently, I said goodbye to the 1928 Knabe grand piano that no longer functioned. Releasing this part of my life after 75 years has stirred up many emotions.

For the first half of my life, the treasured instrument belonged to my mother. When I was a child, she taught piano to young people and as I sat and observed, I must have also absorbed, because suddenly I was playing the piano. I do not remember “learning” this. It just happened, as did learning to read and to write. I quickly moved through the piano teachers’ literature to arrive at middle school age with a fairly competent ability to play standard classical adult numbers and popular songs.  These basic piano standards continued to provide playing pleasure for me. The piano was a handy emotional outlet, a way to get the frustration, anger or depression out without actual human interaction or communication. In my childhood home, there was a music room. The piano was placed near a window and I spent many long hours playing to an imaginary audience outside that window, including numbers “composed” as I went along.

Somewhere in my teen years, my repertoire expanded to include more complicated pieces such as the two- and three-part inventions and partitas of Bach which were oh- so- satisfying to play.  I was often pressed into accompanist duties at church and other gatherings. As any musician knows, accompanying requires a slightly different skill set and my anxiety always got in the way of my performance. Suffice it to say – not my favorite thing!

A sudden move to another state was the most traumatic event of my 14-year-old life, but when we arrived at an unfamiliar and temporary home, the piano was there. And I played it often! Practically mute and unable to function in my new environment, I could still discharge my feelings through the music. However, I lacked the discipline to move on to more challenging music and did not find a new piano teacher. My expertise did not really improve, but stalled at the level where it remains today.

During my college years, I rarely played the piano and did not reveal my abilities to the people around me. A secret hiatus. The suite where I lived senior year had a piano and one day I sat down and played, surprising myself and everyone. I knew when I got home, I would return to my piano.

The next chapter was marriage and family. Before our first baby arrived, I informed my husband that owning a piano was essential to our family. Soon a spinet piano became a part of our household goods. I enjoyed playing it, but it never provided the same intensity of expression as that of my mother’s grand. Visits to grandma’s always included some piano playing for me.

Sometimes, I would be startled by a strong emotional connection, whenever I happened to hear one of the pieces my mother often played when I was a child. Years later, I realized that she had stopped playing the piano and I believe that that was one of the symptoms of her longtime depression. When she died, the piano was mine and became the centerpiece of the living/dining area in our home.

So, this large piece of “furniture” grew in significance over the years. I enjoyed playing it always. Getting it tuned was more sporadic than routine and the condition of the instrument deteriorated. Re-building became a common recommendation from piano technicians, but the estimated cost was not possible for me. The piano evolved from instrument to furniture. As I struggled with the emotional significance, my family and friends grew tired of hearing me talk about what to do about the piano.

Now, the piano is gone. A large space has opened in my home and in my psyche where the weight of the piano had become so familiar. The relief is a surprise! Soon, I will accept the loan of my daughter’s piano, a beautiful console mostly unused in her home. She is moving to a smaller house; my care of her piano is a perfect solution for both of us.

And I can’t wait to start playing again!!

Wild Oats

I know many people who have nothing but disdain for Shirley MacLaine and her unusual beliefs. I have always found her very interesting.  Her theories and experiences cannot be proved true or false. (Similar to one’s belief in a supreme being.)

Her new book ABOVE THE LINE is a first person account of movie making. The movie is “Wild Oats” (not yet released here?) Most of it was shot in the Canary Islands in 2012 in an area identified as ancient Atlantis. The movie is grossly underfinanced and the actors salaries are necessarily deferred. That means they are fourth in line to get paid, if the movie makes any profit. Nevertheless, MacLaine feels compelled to participate (along with Jessica Lange & Demi Moore, among others.)

As the adventure of film making unfolds, many parallels between Atlantis and our present world appear to the author. If you can tolerate her commentaries and her outré beliefs, there is much to learn here about how movies are made. The spice of gossip is lively and the mundane details of the work are revealed with MacLaine candor. I enjoyed this book, including the quotations sprinkled throughout and the distinctive MacLaine nudges to think outside the box.

The Nest

Four middle-aged siblings, each with his or her own struggle to “grow up”, are expecting a financial bailout from the trust established by their deceased father. The payout, the “Nest”, is due on the youngest sibling’s 40th birthday. While the father intended the funds to be an extra benefit in his children’s lives, the siblings have “counted their chickens” and are getting more and more anxious. Leo, the eldest has been bailed out of a scandal by his mother, who has used her access to the Nest to help him. Anticipation grows, as the siblings wait for Leo to repay his share of the nest.   He wobbles on the edge of rehab/relapse and his intentions are unclear. This is a source of anger and frustration for the younger siblings.

Author Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney captures the personalities of the family members and their significant others with vivid details and contemporary scenes of NYC life. Subtexts about responsibility, gossip, and same sex relationships give the novel enough heft for a good book club discussion. This is a quick page turner and, I believe, an inevitable and enjoyable movie.

Scary Old Sex

SCARY OLD SEX: STORIES is not for the squeamish. Arlene Heyman is a NYC psychiatrist, who writes with clinical detachment about anatomy, senior sex, and in one story, the demise of laboratory rats. Her characters are sharply drawn and their relationships are deep. The subject is families and the intricacies of working out the inevitable changes in bodies and personalities as time passes.  In “Dancing,” a teen looks out the window of his classroom to see the twin towers fall and then walks to the hospital where his father is being treated for cancer. Heyman strides into the most difficult human conditions and observes with precision. Her characters are unforgettable and each probably echoes some private or hidden part in each of us. This collection etches scenes into the reader’s memory…the sure sign of powerful writing.