The River

the-riverPeace I ask of thee, O River

Peace, Peace, Peace

When I learn to live serenely

Cares will cease.

From the hills I gather courage

Vision of the day to be.

Strength to lead and faith to follow.

All are given unto me.

Peace, I ask of thee, O River.

Peace, Peace, Peace

 

This day Mullet Bay is placid, the glassy ripples mesmerizing as we drink our coffee by the shore.

Another day the white caps will be churning. Boats will be bobbing. Storm will be brewing.

Each day a mystery on The River.

The big ships come up and down the channel. The flags – of the United States, Canada, countries from afar – unfurling from their masts, evoking thoughts of adventure and exotic places.

Boats and canoes and kayaks stream in front of us. Some to go fishing, some to pull water skiers, some to paddle peacefully along the shore dreaming, meditating – all to revel in the beauty of The River.

Swimmers at the beach. All shapes and sizes, out for a good time. Some floating on rafts, some dog-paddling, some serious stroking. Children venturing out too far. Squeals of laughter, admonitions from Moms and Lifeguards. Sandcastles and tunnels to China created in the sand. Imprints of little feet as they go to fill their pails.

Sunset comes. Kaleidoscopes of colors as they break through the sky. Awesomeness that takes one’s breath away from the beauty of the heavens.

Nighttime comes. Black and deep. Sounds of the crickets, sounds of the big ships sending their messages up or down, sounds of the lapping waters. Sounds of silence.

The River. The River. The River.

                                                     Peace

 

 

 

 

An Early Religious Experience

 

The little church nestle in a cul de sac in the lower village of the hamlet of Taberg, New York. It was brand new because the old one had burned to the ground in the most spectacular fire the town had ever seen, so they say.

I remember as one entered there was a combination of smells: flowers, polished wood, always some kind of a good odor coming from the church kitchen.

The sanctuary perhaps could seat a hundred people. Daddy and the other young men from the village had gone to war. Now the congregation was mostly old men and old women, young wives and young women waiting for their men to come home, some teenagers, very few children. I think I still remember some of their names: Sheila, Clarence, Phil, Audrey. I vaguely remember my uncle home on furlough at one  point, resplendent in his Navy blues, sitting in the pew with us.

I would sit between my mother, who I just knew was the prettiest woman there, and the bulky softness of Grandma, my pillow when I would get sleepy during the long sermon. Momma would always have a notebook with her to  entertain her restless daughter if the need arose. I thought she was a most wonderful artist – of trees and clouds and cows and birds and ——.

A lady named Opal played the organ. How I remember that I do not know. In my mind’s eye I cannot see the organ but I can hear it! I don’t remember a choir but I do remember a tall, skinny lady who sang solos a lot- off key but with fervor. Momma said I shouldn’t giggle when she sang, but I did!

The hymns,, oh the hymns. The best part of going to church. The Old Rugged Cross. The Church in the Wildwood, Onward Christian Soldiers. So many more. But the latter so poignant as sons, brothers, husbands, lovers were fighting far away in places unknown.

The pews  were of hard wood. No cushions. There was a rack in front where the hymnals and bibles were placed, but I would take them out to make a bed for my doll or for my coloring book and crayons.

The pulpit stood high behind the altar with its gold candlesticks, offering plates and the beautiful cross in its center.

But, behind it was a heavy, dark velvet, maroon wall hanging, the length of the wall, falling in folds to the floor. It didn’t seem to have a purpose. I knew, however, that God was behind that hanging. I knew God was spying on us, judging us, checking us all out, one by one.

As I remember there was usually a pot luck dinner after church. (In our little town this day was a social event.)

One Sunday morning I slipped away from the dining room, quietly making my way into the sanctuary, to the altar and then to the maroon wall hanging. My heart was beating. I knew God was going to get me. I knew God was not going to like it if I discovered his secret. I drew back a corner of the soft velvety covering.

It was only a bare wall!

THERE WAS NO GOD.

Momma found me dejectedly sitting in the first pew to the left. Sadness written all over my face. When she heard my story I recall her saying: “Gail, God is everywhere”.

Thus my religious training began.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FLIGHT

Straight up, straight up, turn.

Bitty houses or schools or factories.
“Little boxes, little boxes.
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky.
And they all look the same.”

Slivers of highways or dirt roads or rivers.

Patchwork of crazy quilts of brown, greens, rust.
Squares and rectangles and circles of what?
Farmlands, forests, barren land waiting to be
desecrated by man or bulldozer?

Puffs of cauliflower clouds on a bed of darkening
cerulean blue.

Sudden shards of rain as they pellet the window of this
monstrosity that shouldn’t be able to soar so high.

Sparks of firelight in the distance.

Bump, shudder, rock ——-descent to safe haven.

Then – home.

Homage to Gramma

Dedicated to the Memory of Blanche Anna Brown Eaton

 

I could give you timelines and dates and genealogy but this essay is not about facts. It’s not about the Exacts. It’s about feelings and remembrances. It’s about a grandmother who on some level is thought about every day. It’s about a grandmother who gave me an emotional foundation.

In the day she would have been called stout. I only know that by pictures and the fact that she didn’t have much of a lap. She wasn’t necessarily a pretty woman, but her twinkling eyes and ready smile belied that fact. She was a strong woman, who could chase a chicken, rings its neck, have it butchered and in the pot in the twinkling of an eye. She worked 8-10 hours in the canning factory and come home and prepare a full course dinner for her family. She could go without sleep for days while she nursed a neighbor back to health – while doing all of the above, it was said. She could keep going when there was no money, no wood for the fire, nor little food for the table but managed somehow to keep her family together. She stayed in a marriage to a man who was said have been ‘the salt of the earth’ by his friends but a n’re  thee well by those who knew him. A good man who had the wanderlust, who drank too much and worked too little. She stayed with him until her children were grown and loved him til the day she died.

But those are the facts and I said I wasn’t going to write about those. I am going to write about the Gramma I knew, the Gramma I remember.

I hear her as I sit on the top of the stairs, whimpering that my tummy hurts or that monster is trying to come out of the closet again. I hear her say “Come down and have some peppermint tea and you’ll feel better soon.” She settles me in the big rocker next to the old wood stove and pours the tea into two china cups. Always the same two cups. Special only for her and me. She re-positions me on her lap – what there was of it. We drink the tea, she tells me a story, my eyes become heavy with sleep and she carries me upstairs to bed.

I feel her protective  comfort as we sit on the front porch during the thunder storm. “O, the angels are bowling in heaven”. When the thunder booms she says it’s  the  ball rolling down the alley. When the lighting strikes, its an angel who has knocked down all the pins and they go all over the place.

I smell the smells from the kitchen as she stirs and bakes and roasts. Always with the apron on. I see the two big glass jars she keeps under the sink, one filled with molasses cookies and the other with sugar cookies. I see the door to the cellar and feel the anxiety as I am asked to go down to the dark, dank place to get a jar of pickles. I see shelves and shelves of canned vegetables and jams and jellies and all kinds of pickles. But it is a scary place and I hurry to go up those stairs to a safe haven.

I remember picnics where she was always asked to bring potato salad because she made the best dressing. I remember berry picking and the little tin pail. I remember her cautioning me not to eat too many of those berries – “Leave some for the pie.” I remember shelling the peas and shucking the corn I had helped her pick from her garden.

I remember first the two-holer with the Monkey-Ward catalogue which was used for toilet paper. And then I remember the exciting day that the indoor bathroom was finished with an honest to goodness bathtub. (Gramma was given the honor of taking the first bath.)

I remember the day she took me to pick out my very own kitten. We named her Topsy. I remember Gramma’s  laughter and giggles as she watch us play ‘hide and seek’ or my trying to dress Topsy up in my doll clothes.

I remember how she comforted me when I couldn’t find my Mom. I remember her telling me Momma would be home soon, bringing me a baby sister – and that I would be the Big Sister. I remember her standing beside me by my Momma’s bed when I looked at that little wiggly thing. I was reported as saying  ” Well, she’s not going to be much fun.”

I remember going to church with Gramma every Sunday, singing the hymns even when I didn’t know the tunes. I remember the big velvet drapes behind the altar, and asking Gramma if Jesus lived there. I remember paying much more attention to the pictures Gramma drew on the church bulletin to keep me quiet!

I see her as she is dying. In our own home now, letting Us take care of Her. I smell the musty, close smell of sickness, of incontinency. I feel sadness all around me. I hear her moan but not complain. I see her arms reach out for me as I crawl into her bed to comfort her, as she had comforted me so often.

I see her in her coffin, peaceful, like the Gramma I knew. I place a rose on her chest and kiss her cheek. Cold, leathery.

Even now I see her twinkling eyes. I feel her hugs. I hear her laughter and giggles. I sense her love for me, her pride in me, her hopes for me.

What did she give to me?  Unconditional love.

What lesson did she teach me?  To persevere, to keep going no matter what.

I see her every day.

I saw her in my Mother.

I see her in my Sister.

I see her in my Daughters

I feel her in my heart.

 

My mother, sister and I lived with my Grandmother while my father was in the Army- from 1942 -45. She died when I was eleven. I am writing this for my sister who was too little to remember too much about Gramma, and for my only cousin who was just a baby when she died. I am writing this for my children who I hope will have a sense of who they came from – a woman of grace, of loyalty, of perseverance, of humor, of optimism, of faith, and an indomitable spirit.

The River

the-riverPeace I ask of thee, O River

Peace, Peace, Peace

When I learn to live serenely

Cares will cease.

From the hills I gather courage

Vision of the day to be.

Strength to lead and faith to follow.

All are given unto me.

Peace, I ask of thee, O River.

Peace, Peace, Peace

 

This day Mullet Bay is placid, the glassy ripples mesmerizing as we drink our coffee by the shore.

Another day the white caps will be churning. Boats will be bobbing. Storm will be brewing.

Each day a mystery on The River.

The big ships come up and down the channel. The flags – of the United States, Canada, countries from afar – unfurling from their masts, evoking thoughts of adventure and exotic places.

Boats and canoes and kayaks stream in front of us. Some to go fishing, some to pull water skiers, some to paddle peacefully along the shore dreaming, meditating – all to revel in the beauty of The River.

Swimmers at the beach. All shapes and sizes, out for a good time. Some floating on rafts, some dog-paddling, some serious stroking. Children venturing out too far. Squeals of laughter, admonitions from Moms and Lifeguards. Sandcastles and tunnels to China created in the sand. Imprints of little feet as they go to fill their pails.

Sunset comes. Kaleidoscopes of colors as they break through the sky. Awesomeness that takes one’s breath away from the beauty of the heavens.

Nighttime comes. Black and deep. Sounds of the crickets, sounds of the big ships sending their messages up or down, sounds of the lapping waters. Sounds of silence.

The River. The River. The River.

                                                     Peace

 

 

 

 

The Penny

It  would drive Momma to distraction as she would gaze through my living room, or dining room, or kitchen, or bathroom, or laundry room, or porch, and find coins of all shapes and sizes on the floor!  Even when dementia fogged her memory, she would look down and giggle- finding a nickel or a dime or a penny.

Momma died.

I began to put ‘found’ money in a jar. I became more careful about dropping money on the floor. But then a strange thing began to happen. Every once in a while I would find a penny in the most unexpected places. This has continued for the last ten years.

Let me tell you of the most current sightings.

A few weeks ago I was putting on my make-up before setting out on a venture to Florida- first stop New Jersey. I put my hand in my make-up bag and pulled out a penny.In New Jersey I wandered into my daughter’s kitchen. There was a penny on the floor.

Now in Florida, I put my suitcase down on the floor in the bedroom – on top of a penny. I found a penny on the bathroom sink. Another day there was a penny under the covers of my bed. Later in the week I STEPPED ON A PENNY AT DISNEY!

So ended the Florida adventure.

BUT – when I got home and did my first load of laundry, there was a penny on the washing machine.

Oh and  I have to tell you this. Sitting quietly in its own space in my apartment complex in Utica, not doing nuttin’, my car was totaled! (Long story.Tell you about it sometime.) It was overwhelming to say the least to deal with insurance companies, not to have a vehicle, trying to decide what kind of car to purchase etc, etc, etc. Sad, anxious, depressed — I happened to looked down. There was a penny.

Coincidences? My imagination? A message from above? I like to believe the latter. Momma was saying ‘have a good time’, ‘welcome wherever you land’, everything will be all right’.

Oh no. Guess what. I just saw a penny on the floor!

 

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My Tree

If you were giggling friends, or lost in your own thoughts, or bumbling along with picnic and swimming gear on the path to Grassy Point, you might not ever even see my tree. It was off to the right in a thicket with a lot of other pine trees to be sure. But one had ‘welcome’ spewing from every branch.

Like an opening to Neverland its lower branches reached out,exposing my nest, my refuge, my safety, my dreamworld, my space. Branches enclosed me like the most beautiful tent.A carpet of pine needles, soft to the feet, delicious to lie on.And the smell. Oh the smell. To this day the smell of pine evokes the vision of my tree.

My tree kept me cool on the most sweltering of summer days, warm from the chill. On the rainiest of days I was dry, protected by its dense bough. (Unless it started to thunder. Then I was out of there.) The dampness enhancing the smell of the pine.

For a long time I kept my tree private – my sister allowed to come in by invitation only. It was MY retreat. Momma and Daddy respected that. They never invaded my space, calling from the road if it was a mealtime or I was needed.Hours spent day-dreaming, or reading, or listening to the rain or the sound of the summer folks not far away, but hidden from my retreat. Momma would sometimes peack me a lunch. I don’t remember what. But it doesn’t matter.

At some point I began to invite my friends in. My girlfriends and I would talk of boys and movie stars, gossip about other girls, imagine how it would be when we really grew up. We would talk about the injustices of our families about how old-fashioned they were! My boyfriends – not boy friend – were only allowed in to play games (only if the girls were there too) which eventually evolved into Post Office and Spin the Bottle.

When did it stop being enchanting? I cannot visualize the teen-age Gail sitting underneath the tree. I cannot bring back a picture of bringing the love of my life to this special place

And then it was gone.

In its place a parking lot – cold concrete, impervious to the who or what.

I grieve for may special place. I grieve for the lovely feeling of complete aloneness. I grieve for that part of myself that disappeared into the concrete. I grieve for the enveloping embrace of my tree.

<L