Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Polishing memory

Yesterday, the Thanksgiving countdown began in earnest. Recipes spread out beside me, I crafted the holiday menu, simultaneously creating a shopping and a "to-do" list, so that turkey day (and the days after!) might find me prepared and ready.  Today's major tasks included (after breakfast with Barabara and Ralph) shopping and polishing the silver.  

Section by section, I clean out the top drawer of my mother's server, heaping its silver contents on the sink next to the pile of soft rags and polish.  And then, I begin--rubbing the tarnish away, fork by fork and spoon by spoon.  I don’t know why I dread this silverware chore so much, but I do.  Until I begin.  Invariably, once I dip the cloth in the paste, the rote and repetitive nature of this mundane job takes me back to  places and people I cherish.

Jumbled together are pieces of mine, my mother's and both my grandmothers.  It is somewhat ironic that I never asked for nor desired sterling silver flatware.  After all, I was a mere 19 years old, a college student, and a bit of a dreamer when I upset the apple cart to marry during the trimester break.  A seamstress family friend sewed my simple wedding dress.  We didn't have a registry, a fancy reception, or really any of the hoopla of today's weddings.  Add to these untraditional nuptials an unplanned pregnancy two months into our young marriage and a drawer of sterling silver was the last thing on my mind.

In August of our honeymoon year, at eight months pregnant I vividly remember sitting in my mother's kitchen when the phone call came telling her that her brother Bobby, my favorite Uncle Bob, was dead. She was so shocked to hear these words, she barely spoke to the woman telling her (my Nana's best friend) before she replaced the phone on the hook.  Almost immediately after she told me Uncle Bob had died, she said, "I don't even know what happened." She had to call back  It was an automobile accident; he never stood a chance in his VW Beetle. My mom and dad almost immediately sold the only cool car we had, our own beloved Bug.  My brother and I completely understood.

About three months later with a new baby in tow, Mom dragged me down to Crabtrees, a hometown, family-owned jewelry store.  She had inherited some money from her brother, and she wanted me to pick out a silver pattern. This was to be a lasting gift to me from Uncle Bob. I thought it totally unnecessary and frankly, a bit weird.  But I did it entirely to please her, selecting seven place settings of a simple pattern of straight lines and smooth surfaces.  She had an old English "C" engraved on the handles.  

I have forever been grateful for her foresight.  I am not overly sentimental about stuff, except for the dishes, china, crystal, and silver passed down to me from the women in my family.  I am who I am today in large part because of those who have gone before me.  My mother, my Grandma Herman, and my Nana Hueston taught me much about being a mother, a woman, a teacher, a grandmother, and a caring contributor to society.  Setting a feast table becomes a reverent act, with soft images and memories of my mother, my Nana, and my grandmother enfolding me.  I imagine them smiling down their approval as new generations eat from their dishes, use their utensils, and dine on a table lined with linens that once were theirs. They and their traditions live on...and for that heritage, among so many other good things, I give thanks.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


There is one thing, and one thing only,
That makes a human life successful.
It is not wealth.
It is not power.
It is wisdom that brings us joy.
Wisdom is the key to life.
Put others above self.
Respect the laws of gods and men.
Be not too proud, or the gods will bring you pain and suffering.
Some find wisdom before they are destroyed for their mistakes,
yet others only find it after being broken.
Sometimes, in old age, after great pain,
men find wisdom.
                                    -the Chorus, Antigone

Two nights ago we sat in a high school auditorium watching a production of Sophocles' classic tragedy Antigone.  The story of a king destroyed by his own pride and power has much to say to a modern audience, and these young thespians delivered a compelling, tight, and riveting performance. 

What made the night even more special for us was that Robert directed this show, adapting the script from multiple public domain versions, casting a talented group of high school students, connecting these players to a text they so obviously internalized, and pulling a performance from them that made this ancient story contemporary and relevant. 

I am in awe of my son… as a teacher, an artist, and a man.  I am glad he finds important stories to tell, and I am proud that he chooses to invite young men and women into the art of telling them.  

Thursday, November 17, 2011

his gaze

he rests on his back
the world condensed
to what appears before him

he studies his moving hand
a glowing light, the swirling fan
a dancing bear, his laughing brother

 he finds joy in each face
courting his gaze, eyes locked,
voice gurgling, cooing delight

 he explores space with stretching limbs
twisting body, grasping fingers
touching the air

he abandons time,
freed to greet each moment
with utter expectation

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Baking Pumpkin Cookies

The news in my hometown is unbearably heavy right now. There is nothing to say that has not been written, reported, tweeted, dissected, blogged, or talked about over and over and over again. And none of it is good--the story is too horrific to comprehend or understand.  We here in a once happy valley are still Penn State, but our hearts are broken and our souls are sickened. 

This morning, after a fitful night of light sleep, an early cup of coffee, and a cursory glance at the newspaper (a rehash of late night ESPN reports), I decided to bake.  Following a spattered recipe, I assembled ingredients and started stirring together pumpkin cookies, a seasonal favorite family sweet.  I thought this recipe may fill better this space than the lament I feel, so here it is--an oldie goodie:

Pumpkin Cookies

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon. salt
1 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped nuts (or raisins)

Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

Cream shortening and sugar.  Add pumpkin and egg. Beat well.  Add sifted flour mixture.  Stir.  Add vanilla and nuts.  Drop by generous teaspoonful on greased  (or parchment covered) baking sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes.  Cool.


3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons milk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup powdered sugar sifted

Combine butter, milk, and brown sugar in saucepan.  Heat to boiling.  Boil 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Cool slightly, stir in powdered sugar and vanilla.  Immediately frost cookies.

And then...sit quietly with a couple cookies, a cup of tea, and while you do, please say a prayer to end all forms of abuse, sending one up especially for all those children who are not protected when they should be.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

In the Low Country

“I stood face to face with the moon and the ocean and the future that spread out with all its bewildering immensity before me.” 
--Pat Conroy

We just returned from spending this past week with my brother and sister-in-law in the Low Country of South Carolina.  The sun shined every day, the skies radiated bright blue, the lush vegetation carpeted the landscape, and the waters rippled in and around the islands.  We boated to Daufuskie Island, the site of the school where Pat Conroy penned The Water is Wide.  A retired vet (as in veterinarian) piloted us through the marshes and lagoons surrounding Hilton Head, while my brother, the photographer, shot amazing film of birds in flight. We  rode bicycles, watched birds, climbed a lighthouse at dusk, and ate enough seafood to satisfy the hunger.  

It was a wonderful week, this first week of November.