Little Shiny Things

Glass sea creatures by Leopold & Rudolph Blaschka.

Glass sea creatures by Leopold & Rudolph Blaschka.

Birthdays, for me, are notable for nothing so much as a reminder of how quickly time passes.  And when I start thinking about that, I start thinking the Why are we hereWhat’s the meaning of life? kind of questions that have no definitive answers, and then my head starts to hurt.  I’ve felt this way since I was a kid.  At least there were gifts, then, and a cake to distract me.

I’m not that crazy about cake anymore, and there is nothing I really need, so on my birthday in those first few moments of waking, I generally feel a pang, a longing for something I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps if I had not been born in the dead of winter?  Maybe the longing is simply for sun.

Sunday, the 25th, was my birthday.  This year there happened to be sun.  As well as son of the other kind, and a plan.

And there were Facebook friends to keep me buoyed.

The first Happy Birthday popped up the evening before.  I was surprised. When I checked, it was a Facebook friend from Athens, Greece.  It made me smile and think about this woman who lived so far away, and where, for her, it was officially my birthday.  A few more birthday greetings followed shortly after that.  One was from a woman I adore, who is usually up rather late at night, and who was glad not to miss leaving her good wishes.  I went to bed thinking about that woman — a dear friend of my husband’s late grandmother (another woman I adored).  She’s also known me since I was a little girl.  She gets special props for that.

In the morning over coffee, I checked Facebook again.  There were more birthday wishes. More of me thinking fondly on each person who posted. More smiling going on, inside and out.

The plan for the day was a trip to Boston.  Drive up, pick up the Boy, and drive to the Museum of Science to spend the afternoon.  On the way, I kept checking to see how many more people had wished me a happy birthday.  The number kept growing.  I kept announcing the number to my husband as he drove.

We whiled away a lovely afternoon at the museum.  Later in the day, as I stood scanning the central room in search of Husband and Boy, I thought about all the people there — young and old, grandparents, parents, children, all of them exploring, touching, laughing.  So alive.  As opposed to the army of scientists and mathematicians whose ideas informed the basics of so many of the exhibits.

There is nothing like wandering around a museum to bring home the point of time passing by.

Still, throughout the day–a peek here, a glance there–at the increasing number of people who took a second to say Hey you, Happy Birthday kept me from wading too deeply into the murky musings of mortality.  People were waving and smiling at me from all over the world.

What a strange and wondrous world we live in.

There’s a lot to be said about the pros and cons of social media.  It’s the scourge of our society, a time suck, a spy.  It’s blessing, it’s a curse.

What I will say is this.  I read every single birthday greeting I received.  Time (the greedy bugger) did not allow for me to reply to every one, or even very many, but I liked each one which, for me, at least, serves the purpose of acknowledgment.

I can tell you that with every smile and wave you sent, I pictured each and every one of you.  How I know you, or how long.  Some of you I grew up with, went to school with, worked with, acted with, wrote with, played games with.  Some of you I’ve never met face-to-face. All of you have made me laugh.

I thought about where you are, or what you like, what music you listen to, or what you like to eat.  The words you hate, the games you enjoy.  Some little shiny thing about you that I can hold to the light, that makes you, you, makes you memorable to me so that when you wish me well, I know exactly who to picture.

I know exactly who to thank.

The perfect tree

tree 21013This is not an ordinary Christmas tree.  This tree (though you may not be able to tell at first glance) is perfect.  It is our tree, the one that grew to just the right size and then waited for us to find it.  Every year there is one and only one tree for us, and we always find it, we always do.  And it is perfect.  Every year.

See those little red bows, like the notes of a perfect song, scattered over the branches?  Those bows are from our first Christmas spent in this house, which was newly built with purpose and unfailing energy, and mostly by our own hands.  I made those bows from a fat spool of ribbon and some gold thread that I bought at the Christmas Tree Shops for practically nothing, because we had so little money that year (the house had eaten most of what we had).  And though, they’re hard to pick out in the photo, there are the wicker ornaments, swirled in strands of red and green thread, that we got on our belated Mexican honeymoon just weeks before.

Our life together hangs on that tree.  The Boy’s first dough ornaments; the clay ornaments I made; favorite friends Pikachu and Woody (who still swings his lariat from one of the branches); tiny lockets that hold our Boy’s sweet face with forever smiles at ages two, and five, and seven.  The places we’ve been and the things we’ve seen.  All of them carried home to remember the fun: The Pinocchio and nutcrackers with movable legs; the crowns and the stars and the snowy white owl; a streetcar emblazoned with the year we saw San Francisco.  A clown on a unicycle found in a shop that we’d stepped into to escape the frigid Montreal air.

Our family and our friends, the ones still living, and those who have gone, are there.  In ornaments hand made and store bought, given in love and accepted with gratitude.

Our tree is perfect because it reminds us of what we have and what we’ve shared. When the Boy was small, the bedtime ritual once the tree went up, was to turn off all the lights, save the ones on the tree, and then the three of us sat together and admired the tree.  My husband and I still do this some nights, though the Boy is gone to a place of his own.  We sit sometimes, in the glow of the lights, nostalgic as parents of grown children often are.  And, even in that there is perfection.

We are blessed.

May you all be, as well.

Have you seen my mother?

If you see her, let me know.  There's no money in it for you.  Just knowing you brought me peace of mind is reward enough, right?

I love my mother, but to tell you the truth, I have difficulty keeping track of her.  It’s embarrassing.  Sometimes someone will ask, where’s your mom these days?  To which I often have to answer – I have no idea.  In my defense, she’s a bit of a gad-about.  The Secret Service would be hard-pressed to know where she is all of the time.

For the last several years she has divided her time between a house in Sun Lakes, Arizona, a house in Schenectady, New York, and staying with friends in Akwesasne, the Mohawk reserve that straddles the border of northern New York and Canada, which is where she was born.

For awhile I had four different phone numbers for her on my speed dial, and there have been times when I couldn’t reach her at any of them.  This past spring she sold the Arizona house.  Then my brother took over the Schenectady house, and a couple of weeks ago she settled into a lovely apartment at Akwesasne, on the banks of the St. Lawrence river.  I haven’t heard from or seen her since.

Her schedule is complicated.  On Thursday evenings she goes to someone’s house to play radio Bingo.  Her paramour plays on a horseshoe team and there is always a game going on somewhere.   She is his cheerleader.  Sometimes they have away games.  There are meals out a lot, and until her internet is connected she has to go to the library to check her email.  She has 30 minutes on the library computer and she has a lot of friends.  If there’s a casino nearby she might be there.

Do me a favor and keep an eye out for her:  She is short.  She has nice hair and often wears a ball cap.  (She has a well-shaped head and looks good in caps, which is not a physical trait that she passed on to me.  More’s the pity.) Also, she might be standing on one leg, stork-like, one foot pressed against her thigh.  (She’s taken yoga classes for years, and this pose is good for her balance.  She does it well.  And often.  It must work, because I have never seen her fall over.)

If there is music playing she is apt to be dancing.  (She does a mean jig.)  Or she might be somewhere drinking coffee and staring out a window, deep in thought. She drinks her coffee black, and likes to daydream about solving the problems she thinks her kids have.  (It should be noted that though her kids are middle-age now, in her mind they are still kids.  This may be true for a lot of mothers.)

She answers to various names.  Mom, Mumma, Ista (the Mohawk word for Mother), Tota (pronounced, Du-Da, which means Grandmother in Mohawk), or her given name, Dolores.  Or just whistle.  That works, too.  She is usually friendly and approachable, so don’t be afraid to go right up to her and tell her her daughter is looking for her.  (Unless she thinks you might be trying to sell her something.  Then she will tell you to go to hell.  She is no pushover, my mother.)

If you see her, let me know. There’s no money in it for you, but knowing you   brought me peace of mind is reward enough, right?

Thank you for your help, y’all.  Have a nice day.

P.S.  Here’s your story, Mom.  Now pick up a damn phone and call me.

P.P.S.  I love you.

Verboten (in a manner of speaking)

It started because we all wanted a seat on the couch.

As is often the case in large families, there weren’t always enough places to sit.  The living room in our house had enough space for two large arm chairs and a couch.  My parents got the arm chairs, we kids had to fight for a piece of the sofa.  We could squeeze four of us without touching — a key element to relatively peaceful TV watching.  That left three kids on the floor.

Like all good families we had rules.  Number one rule on TV night:  if you were lucky enough to get a seat on the sofa (first come, first served), you were good.  But, if you got up for anything you HAD to say, “I get this seat when I get back.”  And say it loud enough to be clearly heard.  Otherwise, you lost that prime spot to the quickest kid on the floor.

We were a scrappy, contentious lot, but we were honorable.  As long as you played by the rule, your place would be waiting after you went to the bathroom or got your drink.  If you forgot to say the phrase, though, all bets were off.

Surprisingly, there were plenty of times that one of us would forget, and we would try to wheedle our way back into that still-warm spot, hoping that everyone else had missed the fact that we hadn’t said anything.  But there was always someone who knew you hadn’t and an argument would ensue.

One night my father put his foot down.  He forbade us to say “I get this seat when I get back”.  Never again, he said.  My father always meant what he said.

This was a problem.  We would no longer have a modicum of control over where we sat and for how long.  Without our rule there would be constant seat stealing and chaos.  What were we to do?

. . . . and yet a true creator is necessity, which is the mother of our invention Plato wrote in The Republic.  Plato was a pretty smart guy.

In our case, necessity led to the invention of mongwa.  My brother Jaime its creator.

We slipped that word into the matrix of our family life so smoothly my father didn’t notice at first.  One word is so much shorter, ergo, less noticeable than eight.  By the time he did notice, I think he actually thought it was pretty clever, so the word stayed.  It moved beyond the living room and into the kitchen, the dining room, the porch steps — any situation where there were more people than places to sit.

Decades have rolled by since mongwa entered our lexicon.  Now it’s as much a part of our family as our DNA.  We all still use it, though its necessity is seldom the point.  It’s a secret handshake, a wink, a nod.  An acknowledgement.  We were kids once in a fractious family and we lived to tell the tale.  Most of us.  Two brothers are no longer here.  Still, they were part of it and saying mongwa brings it all back and we are kids again.  We remember.

But every once in awhile it still means the same thing.  I get this seat when I get back.

It’s the rule.

Six of us standing (no need to say mongwa). One sister missing  - she's probably taking the photo.

This was taken about the time mongwa was invented.  Only six of us posing. Our word creator is the last one on the right with blonde wavy hair.  One sister is missing – she’s probably taking the photo.

Filed in: Weekly Writing Challenge: A Manner of Speaking