Friday, August 22, 2014

Mary Elinda Ditty Burns

My grandmother Mary-- her beauty delicate, her will strong. I never met her but I can see this in her photograph-- she sits tall, her shoulders squared and ready for whatever was to come,  her eyes penetrating and confident and her mouth, determined.   My mother tells me that she had a glorious singing voice and that she loved falling asleep to her mother playing the piano.  What I would give to hear her melodies. 

Grandmother Mary was also an accomplished milliner with her own shop in Pennsylvania. For the early 1920's having her own business was bold.  I love that she posted quotes and notes on her wall and with my magnifying glass, I have tried to decipher what mattered to her.  I know that beauty mattered , music was essential and her children were everything-- she had four of them and gave her life for one of them...

My Uncle Clair, her youngest son, passed away recently and requested that I be given the cast iron stove that was originally in the corner of her shop.  For many years I have studied this photo and admired this jewel of a stove.  To say that I was happy to receive this generous gift, doesn't say quite enough. 

It arrived today after a 5 day journey across the States in this modest red truck with the Pennsylvania plates.  A real and true Pennsylvania treasure!
And here it sits in our garage.  It will need a gentle acid bath and a loving polish but it will be my greatest pleasure to restore it to its original beauty.  My Uncle Clair will be smiling from afar...

  Seeing it is like finding a piece of the puzzle that was part of her world.  And now, in making it part of my world, she will be in it.  Welcome home Grandmother Mary!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Jill's Super Yummy Banana Bread

As I write this, I am biting into the most glorious, moist, flavorful just out of the oven banana bread. It's Jill's yummy banana bread as she calls it and she said that it is good because it's made with lots of love.  I can tell you that love may have something to do with it, but the ingredients make it sensational! Who is Jill and why is she bringing us banana bread?  Let me tell you the story.

Jill and Maury are our new neighbors, one of many that we are now surrounded and embraced by. I will say that this is a neighborhood unlike any other that I have known except perhaps my childhood one.   What is the definition of Neighbor?  One's fellow human being" "A person who shows kindliness or helpfulness toward fellow human beings." Here,  in the vicinity of Amherst and Fairfax, people live up to that definition!  Like Jill and Maury.  Maury knows everything about the neighborhood as they have lived here for 30 years.  They were invited to a dinner party to honor our arrival when we first moved here in January.  The hosts were John and Jennifer across the street... two other fine people that we have the pleasure to know.  It's interesting to sit down with people that you don't know... you can present yourself starting from now and leave out whatever parts of your history you are so inclined.  Jill and Maury have a daughter who is married to a Frenchman (there is always something French going on anywhere we are!) .  Jill and Maury watch their grandson several times a week and so one day when we saw their daughter picking him up, we brought out a bag of Camille's childhood French books.  They were so happy!  A few days later, Jill thanked us with a loaf of banana bread.  Alain and I took our separate bites of that bread and with our eyes rolling around in our heads,  declared it the best we had ever had!  We told Jill and she modestly replied that she just makes it with love.
On Saturday, we had a garage sale and Jill came over.  She is a quiet person and stays inside her home mostly.  But the garage sale gave us a chance to speak a bit more.  She began to tell me about an event she is dedicated to that holds garage sales for leukemia and lymphoma .  I told her that when our sale was over, whatever we didn't sell I would box up and donate to her cause.  Then she started to talk about the Dream Foundation and her daughter Noel.  I didn't know she had a 2nd daughter and she quickly nodded and explained how Noel was invited to speak at a Dream Foundation event to share her dream.  I quickly realized that Noel must be sick.  I gently asked where she was now and Jill quietly shared that she is in the heavens.  She said she passed at the same time her sister had her baby, Noah.  Noah was named for Noel to come in as she exited.  We stood on the driveway with tears in our eyes and all I could think of was that one never knows what goes on behind someone's smiling eyes.  Jill is always smiling but her eyes are sad.

Today, I was thinking of her as I gathered boxes to bring home to begin our organization of items to be donated to her group.  As I came inside the doorbell rang... it was Jill standing out front with a beautiful , warm from the oven, banana bread loaf and the recipe that I asked for.  I smiled and teared at the same time and expressed my joy at her wonderful good deed.  After we hugged she did a little jump and squeal of joy --an act of kindness completed!   I closed the door and began to cry.  Ever since we moved into this neighborhood, we have experienced nothing but kindness and I will continue to say and believe that kindness is one of the great healers.

A moment later, the church bells began to ring and as I always do, I stood in the garden with my face to the sun and gave thanks to the heavens for all the goodness granted us.

Friday, March 7, 2014


No definite aim, no direction, no rules, no method. Random. Madness. Kindness. Senseless.

If I were defining a writing style, I would say words and phrases thrown together. Scrambled. Hidden messages. Disorder that takes the reader out of his/her comfort zone to see beyond what is written.    

If I were speaking of an act or occurrence, I would say from where I stand it might seem inexplicable/random. Then I might add, that if I could stand somewhere else, I might see the order in it.

On the calendar, February 11th has always recalled the memory of my first important date in high school. It took place at the Pierpont Inn. I was 16. I wore a sweet red and white floral, floor length halter dress with a red collar. My first dance that night was to "You're Still A Young Man" by Tower of Power and it was the first time I would feel a boy's hand on my bare back.

Now, February 11th has added a new memory and one not so pleasant. I was returning from seeing Baryshnikov in a play by Anton Chekhov about a man who is extraordinarily orderly and never makes exceptions to the rules. (Later, the irony of this is not lost on me.) I am now 56. I wore a black pencil skirt and cardigan. The music was playing but I don't remember the song and the hand I felt was Nancy's hand in mine. I remember several loud sounds and then I remember a silence so quiet I wondered if we had been transported far beyond the boundaries of this planet. There was white nothingness and clouds of smoke that choked me into a reality I wasn't ready for. It all happened so fast. Nothing orderly about it. Random.

When our car was hit by the energy/force of the 100 mile an hour impact, it sent us against the wall and then across 5 lanes in a matter of seconds.  We couldn't see anything and in the moment that carried us floating across the lanes of 101, Nancy asked/screamed what she should do.  I said, "Hold my hand."
Feeling her hand in mine was an attempt to find comfort/order. But really, it was the act of letting go while holding on. Every other part of me let go and to a place I had never been.

When we came to a stop, I thought it was over and we were safe. I hurt everywhere and I hoped everything was attached.  But there was still more terror to endure as we were escorted to an unmarked police car and told to get down on the floor. It began to dawn on me that we were innocent pawns in a police chase and that we had stopped the getaway car. My eye glasses had flown into the back seat of Nancy's car so I couldn't see anything in the night. I think that was a blessing... I know it was, for when they were found and given back to me I saw 30 or more rifle carrying policemen running and shouting --chasing the 3 gunmen who were on the loose. I wish I could tell you I was brave, but I was whimpering quietly on the floor of that car and shaking from the shock of it all.  How did we get in the eye of this storm? If we had just left the theatre a bit earlier or a bit later. Random.

Three weeks have passed and I am now standing in a different place, but I do not see order in any of this. My body is working on healing but my mind is still struggling.  Randomness gives meaning and simultaneously, takes it away. I am trying to bring order to everything I do and then I laugh at the absurdity of that. Mostly, I sleep and ice and laugh/cry.
And also, I look a bit longer into the eyes of my loved ones.