Time ticks by, with each heartbeat,
Progress stalled, just marking time.
Thwarted dreams, no progression,
Digging trenches with my mind.
Just saw the most amazing thing. In my backyard there was a large white turkey leading a line of 14 deer across the yard. He looked like the Pied Piper of Hamelin without a flute, and me without my camera!
Saw the white turkey again today, without his entourage; perhaps he led them astray?
I have a 2008 photo of what must be the same turkey; he is larger these days but has the same distinctive black beard feathers on his chest (may be Grecian Formula by now). He was probably just a flute student then before being named Pied Piper of our backyard. Just imagine a line of deer of all sizes following him to the Beatle’s lyrics of "Cold turkey has got me on the run."
The turkeys wander through our neighborhood getting snacks along the way; love to hear the gobble-gobble at six in the morning. Just imagine the sun breaking through fog and the sound of turkeys approaching, you look out the window and see a rafter of turkeys emerging from the mist, some hens some toms ... it reminds me of early morning dress rehearsals in NYC - trash truck brakes squealing then gears crunching, and RCMH employees scurrying through Rockefeller Plaza in search of coffee to start the day.
The first morning light
brushes tips of cherries weeping,
their tears glistening, then fall.
Wind chimes echo chaos,
turning blossoms crystalline,
shattering buds like fractals.
Petals commence the ballet,
floating, weaving, collecting,
pale pink drifts of snow.
This last week in New Jersey was especially gray. Maybe it was the promise by weathermen of a nice week for January that never happened or the misty, foggy days that did occur – but as the week progressed it seemed as though New Jersey was desaturating before my eyes. Color was draining away, leaching down in the ground and into culverts to a decolorizing processing center.
Friends sent pictures on Facebook of Florida dawns streaked in reds and oranges over multihued blue skies, of New Hampshire’s pure white snowfall, and of California’s bright blue skies and sparkling beaches. Did they post them to make me less depressed or was it to make me jealous of their beautiful canvases.
Each morning I would wake to the dark, as the hours progressed the sky gradually lightened until 3 o’clock in the afternoon, then darkened again as evening approached. It reminded me of a gray scale value chart, the mid-range color was “Cement,” followed closely by “Oatmeal.”
Driving up and down Route 18 there were wooded areas devastated by Superstorm Sandy. The color of the woods a neutral gray touched in brown, the ground a wet compost black. Even the evergreen firs were stripped of the rich greens associated with Christmas trees and garland. Drab, dirty green next to drab, dirty brown, with the pavement of the road that ran alongside a drab, dirty gray.
February/March gray came early this year. Some people can’t take it and escape to the islands or to the southern states and wear bright colors like tropical birds – yellow greens, turquoise, hot reds and oranges. While back home people trudge through rainy, misty days wearing black, navy, gray and taupe. Even red disappears after the holidays, except for the occasional male cardinal who knows where to perch to show off his fine color.
When the doldrums of winter hit I’m always reminded of Persephone in the underworld. She is in a place so deep that the sun’s light cannot color her surroundings. I remember she will soon begin her journey upward to visit her mother, Demeter. As she ascends color comes back to the earth.
I miss all color in winter when the blue sky leadens in gray overcast. The color I long to see is yellow green. The time I want to witness most is that magical moment when the willow bark changes color and New Jersey transitions from its grayest brown to pin points of yellow green. The forsythias florescence in yellow, the first spring rain washes the winter drab away to reveal lush new green; and before you know for certain that winter is gone, the land is bright in a crescendo of color. But for now, I wait in anticipation of the green.
The hand mirror was so old the silver was degrading. The surface of a new mirror is flat, hard and perfect, the reflection is immediate. An old mirror, however, has depth. There are layers of obfuscation before the image is reflected back. It is as though time becomes revealed in the shadows and craquelure of an old mirror.
The hand mirror was once part of a bureau set. The owner received it as a wedding gift from her husband when she was 20 years old. The mirror was gold and had a long handle. On the reverse side of the mirror the surface was embellished with golden flowers, vines and framed with an intricate filigree trim. On the glass side, at the base of the mirror and just above where the handle was formed was a delicate golden bow. Each day she would hold the mirror and gaze into it, it reflected her own golden beauty. The mirror was perfect and she was too.
One day, several years later, she spilled some perfume on its surface by mistake. She quickly wiped it dry but some of the aroma must have seeped behind the glass. A few days later she noticed a stain of erosion in the mirror. When she held the mirror up the stain affected her reflection, it was as if a jagged line demarked her face. She still used the mirror but now she didn’t smile when she saw the reflection. She tried to avoid the imperfection but the adjustment was not satisfying.
As time passed she noticed the mirror graying. She wanted to whisk away the cobwebbed effect that lay beneath the glass surface, but could not. And yet the hand mirror was still beautiful, just showing a bit of wear.
One day she gazed into the mirror and noticed it was harder to see the details. The mirror had a new layer of smoke curling up and cutting into the reflection, like a cataract clouding a lens.
She still loved the mirror though, and remembered how it once perfectly reflected her image. A friend suggested she have the glass replaced or at least re-silvered to make it perfect again. She said no. The mirror was aging, just as she was, and within all the reflected layers she saw her life revealed.
You can’t go home again, it’s not there anymore. The house still may be standing but what made it home is gone forever.
Home was my room; with the two shelves my father hung that held my favorite books. It’s the window over my bed that looked out on the pear tree. It’s the big armoire with all my clothes in it. It’s my vanity; with a cut piece of pink painted plywood on legs and encircled with a pretty skirt. My mother, who was not a seamstress, made the skirt for me. A round mirror, like in Snow White, hung over the vanity.
Home was our living room; with a painting of a French street scene mounted in a white and gold frame. In our neighborhood, there was only one other family that had a real painting in their home. Ours was placed over our RCA TV/radio/record player console cabinet. We stretched out on the floor to watch our favorite shows. I would stay up late on Friday and Saturday nights to watch old movies. “The Al Jolson Story” was my favorite. Smoke from my dad’s cigarette would waft through the air as he watched the Western’s; Paladin, Gunsmoke, The Rebel and Wanted: Dead or Alive were our favorite Saturday evening shows. There was a desk between two chairs, in the drawers were photos from when my mom and dad were first married, my dad’s photos from World War II and a little tin of cowrie shells from New Guinea, one of the places he was stationed. There was a French provincial sofa that we were told never to plop on, only to sit on quietly. When we had company we would sit together with our hands clasped, like we were in church.
Home was the dining room; with the mahogany table that had fold down leaves and the china cabinet that Uncle Frank had made when he worked at J. B. Van Scivers in Camden, NJ. When we weren’t having holiday dinners at the table, I would set up the Remington Rand manual typewriter to type term papers, or fall asleep sitting-up reading history textbooks. There was a niche in the wall with delicate ceramic statuettes; it held a man and a woman, who looked like French Royalty, the man’s arm was broken and badly repaired – I don’t remember how that happened.
Home was the kitchen; we would all sit around the table and taunt, “He’s looking at me!” My Dad would say, “Eat more, talk less.” When it was just the kids eating dinner, my brother John would swap his steak for my brother Tom’s baked potato. Both thought they had made the best deal. The laundry room was off the kitchen, I would hear my mother in the morning getting our clothes ready for the day, the ironing board was always set up. She would make coffee then start ironing. She always made us breakfast.
Home was holidays and special events; it was waking up at four on Christmas morning and sneaking out to the living room with a flashlight to see what Santa brought, only to hear my parents say from their room, “Go back to bed!”
Home was also the seasons; we braved the storms like the Ides of March winter blizzard the night my brother was born, Hurricane Hazel, and electrical storms on sultry summer nights. Summer was also sitting on the back step eating tomatoes fresh from the garden with a little bit of salt. My Dad worked at Campbell Soup and he always brought home tomato plants during the time he called “tomato season.” My Mom and Dad always had a beautiful garden, each year they planted flowers and had roses, azaleas and Japanese maples. My dad planted a privet hedge and just before he died he looked over at it and said, "it’s coming in nicely.”
But before that day, my brothers and sister and I had all flown off like baby birds from the nest when it was time. Tom went off to the army and Korea, about the same time I went to New York. John and Robin left later, John to Okinawa and Robin off to college. But home was still there for us, even though we weren’t there.
After Mom died too, and the house was emptied and sold, after another family moved in, home became an abstract idea, like ancient Mesopotamia or Egypt. We each had our artifacts. John has the painting and armoire. I have my parents bedroom set and dining room table, Tom has the special eagle $10 gold piece and the cast iron skillet where Mom would make “toad in a hole” just for him. Robin has the Christmas decorations, the china cabinet and the good china that Grandmom had given my parents for a wedding present.
These artifacts would remind us of home, but like Humpty Dumpty’s shell, the pieces couldn’t be brought together again to make home. Home is different for everyone, even among the people who are there with you who make up family. My memories are not my sister’s or brothers’ memories, and they would not have been the same as my mother’s or father’s. We each tell a different story of Home.
Once it is gone, you can’t go home again, it’s not there anymore. All that is left are the memories that are carried within and the comfort of having once known home.
When I was growing up, all I could dream about was moving to New York, being a dancer and living in an apartment. My hometown was in the suburbs of South Jersey near Philadelphia. The house was new in 1953 when we moved in; my dad said the area once was farmland and he had played ball there, baseball. Our relatives – grandmothers, aunts, uncles and cousins – all lived nearby. We had a yard and a garden, neighborhood kids to play with, and in the summer we would leave the house in the morning and not come home until the 6 o’clock whistle blew. During the school year we could walk to school and come home for lunch. There weren’t a lot of cars around, dads who worked during the day took the cars or rode the bus, so kids on bikes ruled the roads.
Sounds idyllic, a place you might never want to leave; some didn’t, but my bags were packed in anticipation of following a dream. Wanderlust infects some people like a virus; others are immune to its effect. In high school, in the summers, I went on tour with a dance group performing throughout Canada and the northern part of the United States. When I was 18 my friends went off to college or in the service, Vietnam was where some of them were assigned. I took a bus to New York, became a Rockette, and lived in an apartment.
My first apartment was in midtown Manhattan, 48th Street and Sixth Avenue. My roommate and I were in an old and small fourth floor walk-up, fully furnished in a residential hotel. It was just two short blocks from Radio City Music Hall; we would cut through the RCA Building to make the journey even shorter. One day I had just finished the second show and was on my way back to the apartment when I ran headlong into Ed McMahon. He was on his way to tape the Tonight Show. I mumbled “Excuse me,” then looked up and said “Oh. Hi!” He laughed that great laugh of his and we quickly went on our way.
The tenants of the apartment building were a mixture of show business people and ladies of the evening. I got my first proposition just two weeks into my arrival. I couldn’t fathom why this guy was following me as I entered the building, until he popped the question ... “How much?” After that I learned to wear sunglasses, even at night, because some men couldn’t tell the difference between stage make-up and hooker make-up.
After about a year of stepping over homeless people who would sneak into the building to sleep, and us sleeping in our coats and fur hats in the winter because the heat didn’t make it to the fourth floor, we had to move. The building was coming down for the Rockefeller Group to expand the Center. The huge steel and glass structure of the McGraw-Hill Building now dominates where the diminutive four-story Elmwood Hotel once stood.
My roommate and I moved all our belongings to the east side in one taxi ride. This time we lived on 56th Street off Third Avenue, right next door to the El Morocco Nightclub. Our apartment had an elevator but we usually took the stairs. We were on the third floor and could generally hit the third floor before the elevator man made it from the basement to the lobby. We didn’t spend much time there, didn’t have a phone or TV; it was too far to come home between shows, we basically slept there. The next spring my roommate got married so I started looking for new digs. A friend had space in a prewar building right off Central Park West in the 80’s. It had a beautiful, large white-tiled bathroom with french doors that overlooked an interior courtyard on the ground floor. After living there a short while, I moved to 888 Eighth Avenue, 16th floor. It was a great address with fast elevators, and my windows overlooked Roseland, the Court Theatre, the Ed Sullivan Theater and the actual wooden water tower that is part of David Letterman's show background view. It's a nice building, and I once rode the elevator with Robert Goulet.
In the four years I lived in New York, I lived east- and west-side, uptown and down, all in apartments and I loved it. It was everything my hometown was not and even more than I had dreamed. I danced at the most beautiful theatre on the most amazing stage, got to see Broadway shows, ballets, museums, shop on Fifth Avenue, ride the subway, take boat rides around the island, eat at fabulous restaurants and meet really interesting people. I would go home to visit my family for a few days now and then, but once I left, from that very first day when I took the Trailways Bus to Port Authority in New York, I knew I would never go back to being a small-town girl again.
I remember visual things; my mind is a Rolodex of images. My memory for the written word is not that organized, and for a made-up word chaos rules – especially if combined with numerals. Yes, I am password challenged!
My computer and I have a very good working relationship, sometimes I even adore it, but like all good relationships there is that defining moment when one discovers that the other squeezes the toothpaste from the wrong end. For me that moment occurred as the computer demanded that I select a password. Not just one password, mind you, for the computer's operating system, but a password for every portal I wanted to enter within the world-wide web.
At first I just went to my "go to" word, a one-size, fits-all word that I would remember forever. But lately a little block comes up that reads "weak," or "medium," or the illusive "strong." I'm beginning to believe my computer thinks my choice of password is an Olympic event! Four point five, seven point two, this computer is judging my selection performance! How do I know, really, if this is a biased Russian or Korean judge or even a Cupertino judge? Maybe I like weak passwords because they are easy to remember. Or maybe I just enjoy being hacked because it is counter productive. But no, the computer cautions password protocol "must have at least eight characters, two of which must be numerals."
That is where my problem begins – remembering numbers, or senseless characters with numbers that aren't sequential, or combinations that don't have anything to do with anything that might trigger a memory, or that can’t be so obvious that they might be guessed – because these make the strongest passwords. There are even password-protected sites that have a list of banned passwords, but the list in no way resembles George Carlin's infamous list. A password like 1234ABCD is banned, but interestingly enough, an "expletive-deleted" word or combination of "expletive-deleted" words is strong. Computers apparently appreciate middle-school humor.
There are so many sites with so many passwords that I couldn't keep them straight and my brain turned into the dreaded spinning beach ball of death. My attempts at every combination of words, numbers and letters only resulted in getting me locked out of several sites.
Finally, I did the unforgivable in network security, I wrote all the information down. Red lights flashed, annoying buzzers went off, "Break in Security" "Break in Security" sounded throughout the house. Yes, the evidence was there; on a neatly typed piece of paper appeared numerous site names, user names and passwords. Fearing grave repercussions, and there are always grave repercussions when security is breached, I needed to find a place to hide the paper. It would need to be secreted away to a place that only I would know how to access. Its location could not be predictable or in plain sight, it needed to be someplace esoteric enough that it would remain safe under the ultimate disaster conditions – a zombie invasion! I found that place and it remains there to this day. Now, I just need to remember where that is.
She puts the key in the lock of the front door, turns it to the right and feels the tumbler catch. Turning the knob and pushing forward she hears the door creak as it opens. She steps inside; there is a white marble entryway, her heels click against the smooth surface as she makes her way down the hall. She pauses. The house is silent except for the ticking of the clock.
No one is home; no one has been home for a while. Everything is just as it had been three weeks ago. She walks room-to-room, opening doors, and looking around taking visual inventory and remembering the position of each item before closing the doors again. Soon all will be removed, sold off or thrown away.
The clock in the hall rings the three-quarter hour, it is almost noon; there must be a switch somewhere to stop the interminable bonging before it begins. She can’t take hearing, once more, that constant reminder of the passage of time.
The process begins: where to start – the kitchen, the bathroom, or the bedroom? Should she jump into the direct reminders or the indirect reminders of the life just passed? Armed with a black plastic trash bag she heads to the kitchen to tackle the food. Food is no longer needed as a source of nourishment. The refrigerator is mostly empty anyway; only a few condiments line the door. Into the trash they go. She didn’t pause to rinse out the jars for recycling – that is a level of detail she won’t consider now. A few partial bags of frozen vegetables are in the freezer, and now in the bag. Wipe out the white interior and one chore is complete.
The pantry’s next. Be ruthless. Sure these cans could go to the food bank, but she can’t deal with that level of concern either. She just needs to steel herself to the duty in order to make it through the day. Everything goes into the bag, and then another bag. When she gets to the cabinet of dishes, dishes that they had used everyday, she has to stop. There are too many memories of meals together, laughter filling the house; nothing will get done if she stops to remember. Shift focus quickly.
She enters the bathroom with another black plastic trash bag. In the cabinet over the sink are the bottles of prescriptions: empty them in the toilet and toss the bottles in the bag, next the creams and ointments, shampoos and powders, toothpaste, aspirin and cold medicine. Done.
There is probably a better way to deal with all this stuff, but for the life of her she can’t imagine what that would be. She tells herself, resolutely, everything into the trash bag to be left out by the curb; then there will be no painful reminders ever again.
When she finishes in the bathroom she steps out into the hallway for a moment. The house is silent now that the clock is stopped; in the silence time seems suspended. Of course, it isn’t really. Time moves forward, it doesn’t need the measured ticking of a clock to keep it on its path. She must do the same – forward, always moving forward.
Finally she turns and faces the closed bedroom door. It beckons. She walks into that room and knows she can’t put off any longer confronting the raw emotions she has been holding at bay.
Inside she looks around, she has been in the room numerous times over the years, but something is missing now – it’s essence. She opens the closet; the lingering aroma of Shalimar still clings to the clothes. Another memory awakens then fades quickly as the perfume dissipates through the air. There is nothing remarkable about the garments and shoes and purses, probably nothing worth giving away or recycling; these, too, go into yet another black plastic trash bag.
As she walks to the dresser she notices the wool rug is threadbare in spots, there is a path worn by the occupant's daily traffic pattern from bedside, to closet, to dresser, to door. This is difficult, much more difficult than she ever imagined.
Slowly, almost ceremoniously, she pulls on the handles to open each drawer. Hearing the clink of the pull as it is released, and then it hitting the back plate, brings forward a memory of a sound long forgotten. Looking inside each drawer, she suddenly realizes how disrespectful it would be to rummage through the contents that had been so carefully folded and arranged. The lined and sacheted compartments held undergarments in one drawer, nightgowns in another, sweaters and scarves and seasonal items in the next. The bottom drawer was the largest and it held the memories of a lifetime: albums, framed photos, jewelry boxes, programs and documents. Everything goes in the trash, except the contents of the bottom drawer. Later would be a better time to go through those treasures. Progress ceases as tears begin to flow – not now, not now, later.
Trash pick up is scheduled for the morning. She gathers the full black plastic trash bags, fills the cans and brings them to the curb. She goes back into the house through the garage, turns out lights and makes her way to the entrance. Her heels click across the white marble. She opens the door, noting the creak as it closes. She puts the key in the lock of the front door, turns it to the left and feels the tumbler catch. Undaunted, tomorrow she will return.
In the attic, in the corner, was a toy box filled with childhood memories. The toy box had been unopened since it found it's new home under the attic eaves. It waited year after year for someone, anyone, to open the lid and say, "Ah-h-h" as they picked up a memory that had been packed away.
The owner of the box had grown up and moved away, outgrowing her childhood like a shoe. She had new adventures to pursue, but the toy box still held hope that one day she would return.
At night when the house was still, the toys would rearrange themselves because it was uncomfortable to stay still for decades on end. There was a struggle sometimes to see which toy would place itself on the top in an advantageous position to be adored come the first crack of light.
"I know she liked us best," said the little toy horses, "she called us Pony Pony and Sugar and she always carried us with her in her little pocket."
"No, no," said Dancing Monkey music box. "She loved me most, I would play my little song for her each night before she went to bed and in the morning to wake her up."
"You must be kidding! I was her favorite," said Molly the doll. "I even looked like her with my light brown braids, green eyes and red-rimmed glasses." Molly then boasted, "She even took me on trips. I flew first class to San Diego, now that was a trip!"
The set of colored markers snapped its case open at that remark. "You have to be kidding, I went on that trip too, she put you in the seat pouch when she wanted to draw with me. We went through sheet after sheet of paper with her drawings. I remember when she drew the picture of herself flying over a city on the back of a beautiful bird."
"Oh, please," complained Red Storybook, "I should be on top, I taught her how to read. She loved to be read to and then to read me out loud."
There was Blue Bear-ry at the bottom of the pile, he was always a little grumpy and sad and never tried to move around. "If she loved you all so much, why hasn't she come to play with us, why hasn't she ever looked for us?"
All the toys went still, there was no reason. It made no sense to them at all. If she loved them once surely she must love them now, love doesn't just go away, and yet, and yet ... in the attic, in the corner, was a toy box.
I joined Writers Bloc, a group of writers from Monmouth County, NJ, whose styles are as diverse as their backgrounds and interests. Here are some of my writings from our meetings.