Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Mother Within

 This morning after I fed the horses, I stood at Silk’s stall door and felt Spring in the air. It reminded me of the story of Demeter, the Greek goddess of fertility, whose beautiful daughter, Persephone, was stolen by Hades and taken to the Underworld.  Demeter was devastated, and the world lost all hope for the future, as everything turned dark, frozen and barren. Demeter was able to strike a deal with Hades so that every Spring, Persephone would return to her mother, and the world would be reborn with joy and playfulness and new green sprouts. Throughout the summer, flowers and fruits would flourish and the warmth and love would flow so that there would be a boutiful harvest. Then, in the fall, it would be time for Persephone to return to Hades, and her mother would fall into despair and lose her will to create.  The world would be cold and harsh until it was time for Persephone to appear again.

   As I looked out at the bare cedar trees on the tired, snow covered hill above the frozen, dirty corral, I could feel that Persephone had left the Underworld and that in a week or two, she would reach her mother, and we would be given the gift of renewal again.  Softly, my horse nudged my shoulder with her sweet, velvet nose and breathed on my neck. My mama horse, my spirit guide, reassuring me that when I feel like I’ve lost my creativity or my only daughter leaves for college or the world turns bleak and heartless, this too shall pass. 

   I was reminded of one of my favorite passages from Sue Monk Kidd’s book, “The Secret Life of Bees”: “You have to find a mother inside yourself. We all do. Even if we already have a mother, we still have to find this part of ourselves inside... When you’re unsure of yourself, when you start pulling back into doubt and small living, she’s the one inside saying, ‘ Get up from there and live like the glorious girl you are.’ She’s the power inside you, you understand?”

    It has taken me many years to understand that life is full of cycles, and that the path is a spiral not a straight line.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Some Enchanted Valentine's Evening

It wasn’t the Valentine’s evening that most people would love, but for me, last night was close to perfection. Unexpectedly, my husband demonstrated to me in spades how much he loves me.  I was planning to cook a romantic dinner for the two of us since my daughter is away for the weekend.  Around five o’clock, I asked my dear one if he would mind dumping the wheelbarrow for me so I could finish mucking in the barn.  The horses were tucked in their stalls, enjoying their dinners.

My husband has been away working for several weeks, so he hasn’t had a chance to really see what’s going on around the barn. He arrived home on the night of the big snowstorm, and we’ve spent the last couple of days plowing and digging out. Now, I found him staring at the roof of the barn, which had over a foot of snow piled up on it.  “I’m afraid that might collapse, “ he announced grimly. He went down to the garage and came back with the roof rake.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with this essential piece of equipment, the handle on the rake is about twelve feet long and is attached to a solid shovel thingie that is about a foot wide.

Climbing up on a snowdrift next to Siete’s stall, he began clearing the middle of the barn roof. There was a layer of ice, a filling of snow and another thick layer of ice, so he had to clear it in stages.  Siete was pretty concerned about all that banging and scrapping over her head, so I hung out with her and tried to keep things mellow. I considered putting the horses out in the runway we had plowed in the pasture, but they were already cozy inside. I also thought that it would be good for them to learn to remain calm despite the weird, sort of scary noises and all the snow that came tumbling down off the roof.  Two hours later, we moved over to Silk’s side of the barn.  Silk was less nervous but I’m sure that’s because she got some time having all her favorite itchy spots scratched by me.  My husband’s arms were killing him, but he was determined to clear the middle of the roof so that no horses would be trapped or crushed in the night.

He’s not a horsey-guy, but in these type of equine-related difficult moments, he always proves how much he loves me.  Around eight o’clock, a magnificent full moon emerged over the trees. The light was golden and so bright reflecting on the snow that we had no trouble seeing what we were doing.  I kept suggesting that maybe he had done enough, but my Valentine hero refused to do a half-hearted job.  Finally, around nine, we staggered back up the icy path to the house.

Valentine’s Day dinner was leftover chili in front of the fire with some delicious 25 year old Armagnac while we watched an old black and white “Perry Mason” re-run.  It couldn’t have been more perfect. What a guy!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Preparing for Aloneness

    I’m alone in my house this morning, on a Sunday, which is unusual. Normally, my husband and daughter would still be asleep upstairs, and I would be basking in the glorious solitude of my morning coffee.  Today, both of them are off doing things that they need to do, and I am here with dog, cat and horses, staring at the frozen landscape in the empty silence.  It feels a bit like standing on the edge of a cliff yet not being able to see what lies ahead.

     Recently, as I sit in our family room in the evening, I spend a fair amount of time looking at our daughter, wrapped up in a soft red blanket, wearing her ever-present white headphones as she listens to her music and types on her computer. Her puppy snuggles at her side, getting a scratch on the chin or the ear every once in a while.  I used to try to get my gorgeous lanky child to “do something” whenever I caught her being a couch potato. Now, I cherish the sight, aware that in a few months, there will be an empty space here in the nest.  At night, when I go out to feed the horses, fill water buckets and spread shavings for bedtime, I still have my sidekick with me, complaining that her fingers are frozen and that the tire on the wheelbarrow needs more air.  And suddenly,  I love the sound of her grumbling since I know that soon it will be the exception rather than the rule. Next winter, there will be a different rhythm and a new routine that mostly I will do alone.

    So, I am full of appreciation right now for all of the moments that I have where everyone and everything is fine and here with me and happy.  I have no idea what I will be doing after I’ve cleaned the closets, painted those paintings I’ve been wanting to paint, written the last chapter of my book, taught the dog to walk calmly on a leash and started Life Part 2 next fall. Hopefully, I’ll get all the nostalgia and indulgent snippets of sadness out of the way in the next few months while I still can sneak into my daughter’s room when she’s sleeping and can't get annoyed, while no one sees me tuck the blankets around her and kiss her gently on the forehead.

    One thing I’m sure of, come next September, those two horses are going to get a lot more attention than they are used to, and I know they won’t be complaining one bit.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Tribute to Papa

I've been thinking about my father a lot this week, so I wrote this short tribute to him:
     I write often about my mother, but I have never tried to describe my father. Recently, Jon Katz mentioned that, and I have been mulling over how to capture Papa without writing a whole book about him. Maybe someday, I will, but for now, I’m going to attempt to just offer a few memories.  I always called him “Papa”, never “Dad” or “Daddy”, and we named our daughter, Lee, after her grandfather.  He was a tall man, who always stood up straight and proud, a Jew, son of a tailor, a lawyer and a judge, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army during World War II.  He adored my mother, a wild, Catholic revolutionary, and he loved me as unconditionally as anyone ever has.

    I thought when I was a kid that being a lawyer meant having the phone ring all the time at 2 or 3 am with some distraught person calling for help. There was the lady whose drunken husband was climbing up to her bedroom window on a ladder with a gun in his hand. My father asked her, “Why are you calling me? Call the police!” She wailed, “They won’t do anything! You’re the only one I know who cares!” And he did, for all the waitresses, cops, teachers, garbage collectors and everyday people who lived in our small town in Illinois. He helped them, whether or not they could afford to pay for it. He sat at the bar in the local tavern, drinking coffee each morning in the cozy place he called his “branch office”, listening to their problems. He stopped by again on the way home as the tired businessmen got off the train from Chicago, drank a beer and gave free legal advice. 

   He taught me how to shoot pool and bet on the horses. When I lived in New York City, my parents would come to visit and while my mom went shopping with her best friend, Papa and I would hang out together in some dive bar that I knew he would appreciate and watch football and get to know the locals.  He never talked about himself. My mom told war stories constantly, but my father never revealed that he had gone into France before D-Day and organized the Resistance fighters.  He never mentioned how one lovely summer day, a woman showed up at our house, walked through our unlocked screen door with a gun and threatened to kill him. I remember hiding in the coat closet while Papa convinced her to put down the gun and let him help her with her troubles. Five minutes later, he was making her a cup of coffee and asked me to get the tissue box so she could dry her eyes.

   Papa never thought of himself as a brave man. He left that to my mother. Yet, in his caution and even his fears, he found the strength to do what needed to be done without making a big deal about it. My father always told me that there were two sides to every story.  He said that any time I didn’t get along with someone, I needed to spend some time imagining what it was like to walk in their shoes. He’s been gone from this earth for almost 30 years, but not a day goes by where I don’t think about him.  And each time I say my daughter’s name, I see his face. I can’t help but believe he’s sitting up in Heaven, drinking a beer with his buddies, watching out for all of us.