Monday, December 15, 2014

Something Saved

The manila envelope was labeled Photographs. Certainly not unusual in my house, where my father's photographs vie with mine for the title of Most Ubiquitous. After four or five years of scanning my dad's prints and negatives, you wouldn't think I'd find any more photographic surprises, but they still pop up.

The best ones are photos I don't remember ever seeing, and this envelope contained a bunch of them: my late cousin Terry blissfully dancing with Dave at their wedding . . . my stepmother's father's family portrait from Scotland at the turn of the 20th century . . . my dad's older cousin Peggy in a bathing costume that included high button shoes . . . my grandmother with one of her sisters and their mother. And a snapshot of a young woman I didn't recognize. She was attractive, and held a dog on a leash. On the back was a note to Lucky (my grandmother) from Babe (her daughter).

"You're so much like Babe." I heard it most of my life. Babe (whose real name was Esteare) was my father's younger sister. I was very young when she died, and have only two vague and disparate memories of her: One, in her Manhattan apartment, watching some sort of gold metal revolving Christmas display, its movement triggered by a candle flame. Babe was swathed in fur, ready to go out somewhere. In the other, we are at her Patchogue, Long Island, summer house, and she's showing me her tiny vegetable garden, pointing out how carrots grow underground.

We didn't look alike—she inherited her father's black hair—but according to my dad we had the same laugh, the same sense of humor, the same way of talking to dogs, the same tendency to get emotional. I believe it. For one thing, she and my dad were close. For another, I know I inherited some striking personality characteristics from her mother.

Her mother. My grandmother. "Lucky."

Dear Lucky,
Thought you would like to have this—last picture I took of B.J.
Best love,
Babe

Until this morning, I had never seen her daughter B.J. all grown up. The initials stood for Barbara Joan, whom I've written about before. I wrote a poem about her, too. She was 20 years old when she died. My daughter Gillian was 25.

I looked at Babe's note, written with a fountain pen in the red ink she favored . . . the strong, attractive handwriting . . . the painful stumble on the word "last" . . . the "best love." I imagined her effort to make her writing look normal on this occasion. I saw th and g just the way I write them. I felt what she felt. All of it. Everything.



Thursday, November 27, 2014

Conversations With Joey

Occasionally I post on Facebook about interactions with my 3-year-old grandson, Joey. It's usually easy to make them concise (because they usually are concise!). But here's a longer one from today.

We were at the piano, and as usual he knelt on the bench to peer at the sheet music and "read the directions," as he says. Most of the time they instruct him to sing "Old MacDonald" or "I Dropped My Dolly in the Dirt" (black-key song), but this time he said we should play a tune about Jack.

"Who's Jack?" I asked.
He explained that Jack was on the ice and fell.
Ah, I thought. This is a book someone read to him, maybe at the library.
I asked if Jack fell through the ice, and he said yes.
"That's terrible!" I said. "So dangerous."
"Yes," he said gravely. "It's very bad."
"So did someone rescue him?"
"No," he said.
"No??" I wondered what kind of book this could have been.
Then he had second thoughts. "The fireman came."
Whew!
"We have to play Jack on the piano," he reminded me.
"Jack has a song?"
"It's not a song," he said, clearly trying to be patient with ignorant Grammy. "You play it on the piano."
Oh. Okay.
So I played a few bars of Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right."
"Yes," Joey said. "That's the way it goes."

Later, as we sat down to read a book he looked around the living room. "Where's your boss?" he asked.
It sounded like "boss," but I didn't think that could be it. "My ball?" I asked.
"No—your boss," he said.
"My boss?"
He nodded.
"What's a boss?" I asked.
"A boss is a mom or a dad," he explained.

I told my son about this, and he said they had no idea where Joey got the word, but he uses it often.

And then as I posted on FB today, we read the book. Every line (I mean *every* line) prompted a "why" question. After 26 pages of this, I asked, "Why do you ask 'why' so many times?" He thought a moment, and then replied, "Because I need to talk."

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

A Week of Gravestones

As many of you know, I'm a volunteer gravestone photographer, uploading pictures of mostly local cemeteries and graves to FindAGrave.com—over 2,700 photos so far. Because I have Raynaud's Syndrome and can't work with bare hands in the cold, this is seasonal work for me.

Last week I set out to fill one photo request at a relatively small cemetery, and take some random photos at the same time. I told myself this would be the last cemetery outing for the year. FindAGrave had 25 interments recorded, and only five of them had been photographed. When I arrived, I realized many more interments had gone unrecorded. I started taking pictures, all the while keeping my eye out for the requested name. I get in a zone when I do this, stopping only when my back hurts. This, unfortunately, doesn't take very long, but I still arrived home with over 100 gravestone photos.

The usual procedure goes like this:  I put a photo on my monitor and check FindAGrave to see if someone already covered this person. If not, I create a memorial on the site, listing the deceased's name, dates, and any additional information I might have, which usually isn't much. I add the photo—or two photos if I have a shot that shows the whole stone and another that makes the inscription easier to read. If it's obvious that two or more deceased are related, I link them.

This time so many of the stones were so old and worn that I started Googling what I could read of the names and dates to see if someone had included these people on family trees. Because so many people are tracing their family histories, there's a ton of information online now, and I had success in almost every instance.

I found myself learning more than I needed to know, because it was all so interesting. I made another trip to the cemetery, coming home with over 100 more pictures. I found parents of some of the deceased I'd already listed, and children. And siblings. I was inspired to make a third trip. Each trip was followed by a day or evening of photo uploading and research. It consumed my week. I added almost 300 names to FindAGrave, and more than that many pictures, and in the process I learned more about the people buried in this cemetery than I ever thought possible.

Unfortunately, and I suppose predictably, their stories were often sad.

The mother of three who made the noon dinner and then hung herself in the woodshed. Her 14-year-old daughter who found her mother and then died herself a year later. The 3-month-old twin girls who died within five days of each other. The 4-month-old I had to list as "Baby" because she hadn't been named yet. The little boy who died one day before his first birthday. So many other children, lost each time diphtheria or another illness swept through our county.

Sometimes while working on FindAGrave I'd click randomly on one of the little photos honoring someone out of my area. That's how I learned about Permelia Elathae Durfee Clark and her husband, Thomas, of Michigan.

Permelia and Thomas married on Thanksgiving Day 1863. They eventually became the parents of four children. Three of them died in infancy, and their surviving child, Grace, died giving birth to her first baby. A year after that, Permelia died, and 11 months later Thomas wrote this diary entry. It moved me deeply.

"I am writing these closing lines on Christmas Day 1894. I am alone in the house from which they were carried to their final resting place. The dog which my daughter loved lies at my feet. The clock which Aunt Lucy gave my wife ticks on the shelf. The flowers they cared for so tenderly are sitting on the windows. Much of the furniture is arranged as they left it. Their handiwork is around me wherever I turn my eyes. The passing holidays bring again in review all the years we spent together. I had passed my 29th birthday when I married Permelia, I have passed my 60th now, and although it is never safe to say with absolute certainty, if I had my life to live over again I would do this or avoid that, yet I think "yes" I feel "sure", that if I stood again by her side as I stood the morning of my wedding day, and all my life with her had been revealed as it lies now recorded in the memories of the past, I would take her hand in mine and join my life to hers just as gladly as I did then. With the light of that revelation illumining my path I would welcome the joyous experiences as they come. With a clear understanding of the responsibilities which that relationship involved I would strive to discharge them better than I have done. I would accept the pain and disappointment and sorrow as bravely as I might, but my hand should not tremble nor my response be less clear because of that revelation, than it was then ,when all our future was concealed" T.S. Clark 12-25-1894

Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween (a short-short)

The house had seemed so stunningly sophisticated when you first arrived, with its vast spaces, tall white walls and acres of black carpeting. But now, like everything else about this babysitting experience, the house is just so uncomfortably unfamiliar. And noisy! At first you blamed the scratching sounds on trees—it had to be branches scraping against the windows—but later you remember no trees surround this house on top of a bare hill.

And now the hum. A threatening hum, as if too much electricity coursed through the house. It’s beginning to drive you nuts. You need a TV on—any channel—or a stereo, but you don’t see either downstairs. They don’t watch TV, you think, but they must like to talk on the phone. In the living room sit four old-fashioned looking phones, red ones, with the dial on the base.

Thinking about a snack, you head for the kitchen. The refrigerator is stainless steel, huge, expensive, and empty. One small glass jar sits on a shelf, its contents black and forbidding. The rest of the fridge is bare. What do these people eat? you wonder. And how do they afford all this? What do they do?

You realize how little you know about the couple who hired you. When they called, you were grateful for something to do. Your parents were out at a Halloween party. They didn’t want you trick-or-treating because you were getting over a cold. Tonight’s temperature had dropped down to 22 degrees. The woman on the phone said her name was Eva somebody—Brown, maybe?—and her neighbor had given her your name. She didn’t say which neighbor. She didn’t mind that you had a cold.

An unwelcome thought takes root and grows. You didn’t pay attention to the route the couple took to get here, and you don’t even know what they look like. They picked you up wearing Halloween costumes. You thought it was odd they were both dressed as Death. You asked how they could see through those black hoods to drive, but they just chuckled. The man said his name was Dolph.

I can’t stand this place, you think. It’s so weird! You find yourself pacing the downstairs and searching the blank darkness outside the windows for a light, any kind of light. You left a note for your parents, letting them know you were babysitting, but you gave no names, no address. You can’t remember where your parents said they’d be. Your friends are probably all out trick-or-treating.

The baby. You decide to go check on the baby. You can’t remember if they told you if it’s a boy or a girl. Why is it getting hard to remember things? The hum is louder upstairs. Which room is the baby in? The first two doors open to empty darkness. You go on, clinging to the anticipation of baby warmth, little body curled in sleep, blanket-sleepered bottom in the air.

Finally, a room with a night light. A crib stands in the center, a little mound under the blanket. But the room is frigid, the crib rail like ice under your fingers. The hum is so loud you can feel it in your chest. You turn down the blanket to find a pillow underneath. And beneath the pillow . . . there is no baby. There is no body. Just bones.

You tear down the stairs, beginning to sob. A phone! You grab one of those red phones. You’ll call 911 and then run out the door as fast as you can. You put the receiver to your ear, but instead of a dial tone, a voice speaks, deeply pleased and chilling: “I’ve been waiting for you.”

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Other Important Topic: Beauty

Ha! "Beauty" is something I find more amusing than interesting most of the time. An exception was my teens, of course, when I put some effort into mastering the art of wearing three shades of blue eyeshadow. And my twenties, when we lived in Manhattan, and I loved thinking of myself as sexy and sophisticated. But in my thirties and forties, raising children in the country, I had no time for makeup, nor interest in it, and if I did give it half-hearted try, it just looked silly.

This attitude changed in my fifties, but not dramatically. However, by the time my sixties arrived I realized makeup was my friend. And when I had cataract surgery and no longer hid behind glasses, I needed to make the best use of it. (That is, once I got over the post-cataract shock of seeing my aging face in all its HD detail.)

Makeup, especially eye makeup, makes such a difference in how I look that I've had to keep a rein on it, always aware that I don't want to channel my inner clown. (I don't really have an inner clown. I don't like clowns. But you know what I mean.)

This morning I tried Maybelline's new eyebrow mascara (Eyebrow Drama). I like it! My eyebrows have turned into an iffy mix of blonde and grey (like my hair), growing in various directions (not like my hair). I bought the Blonde shade of this product. I was concerned that it might be too light, but it's a good shade for me. Looks very natural, and somewhat tames the direction of the hairs. I filled in here and there with pencil.

I recently tried Bare Escentuals mineral powder, which is not new, but new to me. They offer a matte product, but I bought the original (on eBay, best price) along with a Kabuki brush by e.l.f. A zillion YouTube videos demonstrate how to apply it. Although I've always gone for a matte look (moisturizer plus powder, no foundation), what I like best is that it's not matte. The finish has a subtle glow to it. Doesn't look old. At least it doesn't in my bathroom mirror, which has the best light ever: not even one wrinkle can be detected in this light!

I rarely turn on the TV in the morning anymore, but one day I happened to catch the Today Show when they were talking about John Frieda Luxurious Volume Mousse. They said staff members raved about it. So I bought it on Amazon—cheaper than driving to Walmart. It really is a nice product. It reminds me of stuff they use in salons; never stiff or sticky. The can says "Transforms Fine Hair." My fine hair, once so thick, has become fine and thin. I wish the transformation included hair growth, but one can't have everything.

Oh, and one more: NYX Nude Matte eye shadow in Bare My Soul. It's taupe. Looks blah, a dull brown, in the case. But I love it for daytime because it looks so natural, like an actual shadow. Lavender can have the same effect.

What is it about October? Last October I posted about a bunch of beauty products I tried after reading a magazine article. And now here I am back again to talk about other products I was inspired to try. I hope I'm not getting desperate.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Money, Money . . .

Based on the numbers I heard on the news the other night, credit-card debt is pretty astronomical, and in many cases it's coupled with a complete lack of retirement savings. Scary.

I have a theory that says electronics have seriously messed with people's spending. I'm old enough to remember when not every family could afford a TV. Then VCRs came out, and everyone had to have one. Stores popped up all over the place renting TVs and VCRs. And of course everyone was renting movies, and some were buying them too.

I remember being wheeled to the operating room for some minor surgery I had, and the two orderlies—ignoring the patient completely, of course, engaged in an animated discussion about all the movies they owned. That was at the start of the video revolution.

These days, we've come so far from VCRs. TVs have gotten huge, and often hugely expensive. The smaller ones are relatively cheap, but not many people want smaller ones. We are offered 3D TVs, smart TVs, DVRs, laptops, tablets galore, and smart phones. Of course this is coupled with data plans, DSL charges, and cable bills. This can add up to megabucks, but still there's a prevailing feeling of entitlement. Not only does everyone want to "keep up with the Joneses," as we used to say, but they want their kids to have all this stuff too. It's no wonder so much of the country is in debt.

My own bottom line is that I'm grateful to be frugal. At this point in my life, I don't know how I'd manage otherwise.

Monday, September 01, 2014

As a PS to my Beany Tale.....

Bean Arch #2, erected this year and doing well!