Sunday, July 17, 2011

Apple Trees, Wheelbarrows and Herding Cats

If men were trees, I would consider Mr. Dearborn to be an apple tree. Stooped, honest and unassuming, his crooked limbs turned outward, his trunk although solid, was twisted and thick, and his joints were gnarled and interesting. His grayish face – like aged bark – was lined with experience. He was usually expressionless except for an occasional look of wonder. I do not remember hearing him speak; only murmuring a few sounds that carried an occasional whistle.

The fruit that he bore came in the form of cats. Mr. Dearborn had at least fifty cats if not more, which to a seven year old girl, was much better than apples.

He lived on the road that led to Sandwich Notch, up a ways on the left hand side, across from our long time family friend, Maisey Bloomberg. There wasn’t a Mrs. Dearborn or offspring that we knew about. He was simply an old man who no one bothered to notice, until that summer when my sister Susan, friend Lynn and I discovered his feral barn cats, soon to be the focal point of our very existence.

At first we were a bit skeptical, unsure of how we would be able to play with the fascinating felines without interacting with the old man. We thought about just going into his yard and playing with them but we might get in trouble, and no one in town seemed to say much about Mr. Dearborn. We never saw him at the store or the post office; we only caught glimpses of him in his window or shuffling out to his small, boarded up barn where the cats jumped and played.

Finally Lynn moved ahead with the direct plan, the one that required courage and was obviously the only one that would work. She and Susan stood on the wide granite slab step and Lynn knocked hard on the weathered oak door. I stood on the grassy stoop watching the kitties frolic. I knew that if Mr. Dearborn did something unimaginable, I could run really fast.

The door opened a crack and he leaned forward. “Hmmmmmm?” His oval, gold rimmed glasses were fogged and he had a large tan hearing aide on one ear.

“Can we play with your cats?” Lynn put her hands on her hips; Susan smiled.

“Hmmmm?” He ran his fingertips across the white fuzz on his head.

“Your cats! Can we play with your cats?” Lynn shouted. I was proud and hoped that when I was ten-years-old that I would be so brave.

Susan pointed to the back yard where even more cats were filing out of a crack in the wall of the barn. “Cats.”

It was muggy, too hot for him to be wearing a tattered brown sweater buttoned all the way up to his chin. He looked over his glasses beyond Susan and Lynn and set his sights on me. I shrugged my shoulders just in case we were overstepping our bounds.

He may have smiled; I’m not sure. He scratched his head again. “Yesssss. I ‘spose.” He turned and shut the door.

We dashed through town and on to Lynn’s house and got her Aunt Ginny’s wheelbarrow. Lynn had an elaborate plan, and that was to create a village for the cats. We would name them and assign a family and abode to each cat lucky enough to be selected.

“Hey! Where are you girls going with that wheelbarrow?” Billy rode towards us on his red Stingray bike with a banana seat and slammed on the brakes leaving rubber on the asphalt.

“We’re going to get some cats from Mr. Dearborn’s and bring them down to Ginny’s to play.” Susan always leveled with Billy. Lynn turned her nose up and kept pushing.

“Does Ginny know?” Billy did a wheelie and stood holding his handle bars, front wheel in the air spinning.

“Mind your beeswax.” Lynn rolled her eyes.

Like everyone else who interacted with Lynn, Billy did as he was told. He mounted his bike and rode towards the playground where minding his beeswax would be enjoyable.

When we got to Mr. Dearborn’s house, Lynn brought the wheelbarrow out to the barn. We immediately started chasing cats and putting them in the wheelbarrow. I went after a gray cat; it squirmed and scratched me with its back claws. I tossed him in and wiped the blood from my arm onto my pedal pushers. Susan and Lynn were screeching and trying to keep the cats from escaping. Mr. Dearborn looked out the window, scratching his head.

We came up with a method of transporting the cats. Lynn pushed the wheelbarrow; Susan held the cats down in the cart and when one hopped out, I chased it and returned it to the cart. We managed to transport five cats at a time. It took us hours just to make it less than a quarter of a mile down the road.

This activity required a great deal of time and became our pursuit for a better part of the summer. There were about a dozen cats willing to participate and cooperate as much as felinely possible – they were appropriately named and took their rightful place in the pecking order in the great compound that we created for them.

All of us became accustomed to the drill. Gather the cats, fuss and fumble with them until they are in the wheelbarrow, capture the ones that escape and herd them into the compound.

On my eighth birthday, Susan, Lynn and I were climbing my favorite maple tree (not too far from the compound) when I fell. I dislocated my shoulder and my elbow suffered a compound fracture. I was in the hospital for over a month in traction.

When I came home from the hospital, I was elated when Susan and Lynn presented me with my favorite cat Smokey – a gray short hair with emerald green eyes. Apparently Lynn and Susan told Mr. Dearborn of my accident and asked if they could give me one of the cats as a present. He agreed, which we girls thought was so generous. I preferred Smokey over all the others when we first met and began our cat escapades. He was mellow and seemed unaffected by the antics of the others – both human and feline.

Now I have returned to Sandwich. When I drive through the desolate village I conjure a clear vision of three young girls giggling, scolding and managing fidgety cats hopping in and out of a wheelbarrow. I cannot help but smile hard and even laugh at that memory. I am proud of our determination and the victorious outcome. We did not give up.

When I am on my way towards Sandwich Notch and I pass by Mr. Dearborn’s house – now boarded up – I think I see the shadow of a dead apple tree stooped over the granite step with a cat perched in the crook of the outstretched limb. I hesitate and sometimes almost turn around to see if it will come to me. But I continue on and smile as I recall how herding cats was wicked fun.

From Journal "Marigold"

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Dancing With My Mother – A Story of Mothers, Daughters, Love and Music

I fought back tears and tried to focus on the scenery as we drove down Route 4 in New Hampshire, also known as Antique Alley. I did not embrace ‘having a day off’ as my husband put it. I wanted to celebrate Mother’s Day with my children. The most fantastic omelet in the world and a day of antiquing didn’t make up for their absence.

Based on choices – a career as a professional trumpet player and with my husband’s support – I was able to stay at home with my children. In fact, I was able to home educate them and eventually have a small farm. I was blessed. But like everything in life, there are plusses and minuses. Unfortunately, I was divorced from my children’s father. This proved to be a great hardship.

That weekend in 1995 – like too many other weekends – overflowed with worry and sadness while my children were on visitation with their father. My husband and my ex-husband were all for sticking with the schedule, not making an exception for Mother’s Day. It really didn’t matter what they thought; it was about my children and me. I wanted to be with them on Mother’s Day (everyday for that matter) and they wished the same. However, at that time we did not have a voice like we do now.

I was listening to NPR when the amazing sound of a woman’s earthy and pure voice captured my attention.

My mother stands in the kitchen of my childhood
Slicing and dicing, stirring, white apron on
Drinking cold coffee
Mixing, baking, serving, caring, listening…

She instantly resonated with me. I turned up the volume. Her narrative segued into a beautiful folk song about dancing with her mother. Where are you? Dancing, with my mother… The last line blew me away when a little girl sang sweetly to her mother.

I lost it. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I scrambled for a pen to write down the name of the artist. Rachel Bissex. My pen didn’t work so I recited her name repeatedly in my head until we arrived at the next antiques shop. I rifled through the glove box and found another pen, scribbled her name on a piece of scrap paper and tucked it into my pocketbook.

My mother rocks in the bedroom of my childhood
Her guitar a silhouette against the window
Where the white sheer curtains hang
And the headlights come
And she’s singing to me
And she’s singing to the moon
And she’s singing about lost love…

The words could have come from my own pen. I sang to my children day and night…it was all about the moon and love and longing. We always played music together; it fed our hungry souls.

When I finally purchased a copy of the CD, I listened to it over and over again. I connected with Rachel and especially that song. I took my daughter Anna into my arms and danced. It became a tradition. When I had that maternal melancholy or deep need to bathe in the love shared with my only daughter, we danced. Our dancing was not restricted to this one song; we also enjoyed boogying to the songs of the Andrews Sisters and Lady Marmalade to name a few. However, Dancing with my Mother was “our” song. It defined us, indeed.

My brothers embarrassed
But we didn’t care
Emotions were meant to be shared…

When we danced together my sons also watched and wondered. Sometimes they thought it was silly or trivial but they knew to honor and respect our feminine rituals, which continue to evolve magnificently.

Our bond strengthened through our cello playing; we shared many years of duets and eventually sat side by side in the symphony.  Music forms a powerful union, when added to the strength of the umbilical cord, it is unsurpassable.

A few years later, Anna and I decided that we would dance to this song at her wedding; we would have a mother / daughter dance.

Anna is now a traveling, busking musician and I do not see her as often as I would like, but she is living her life accordingly and I have practiced letting go. We stay in touch via cell phone at least once or twice a week. I watch her music videos on You Tube and peek at her facebook page to follow the steps of her journey (I have sworn to keep concerns and opinions in check, a common rule for many parents and their offspring on facebook).

One day last year when I was missing Anna, I decided to post Dancing with my Mother on her facebook page. I went onto You Tube to search. I was disappointed because I couldn’t find it. I then googled Rachel Bissex and was saddened to read that she passed away. It was such a devastating loss for someone who I had never met.

Last night, well after midnight, I got a text message from Anna, “I know it’s ridiculously late right now, but I have really exciting news for you tomorrow! It has to do with ‘Dancing with my Mother’

Thunder rumbled and shook the house. The rain was coming down so hard that I could hear it over the fan that I had set on high. I thought it couldn’t rain harder, but it did. I rubbed my eyes and sat up. Oh my God. Anna’s getting married. I panicked and played a series of wedding videos written and directed by me through my head. I texted her: “Do not get married yet, please? We need to talk…You are so young to make a lifetime commitment. I am awake if you want to call. Love you.”

Awake? I was buzzing. Anna is twenty two-years-old with her life ahead of her. She clearly indicated that she wasn’t interested in getting married until she was older. What happened? My mind started to fill in the blanks. I glanced at my cell phone on the bedside table in hopes that it would light up, vibrate, or make some sort of annoying sound. Nothing.

I grabbed it and started typing, “I have some really good ideas that honor your love and union…some insight from a wise woman who loves her daughter…all positive and full of love for you both…xx”

I fluffed the pillows and tried to get comfortable. I stared into the darkness and did what I always did when I knew that some things were going to happen whether I liked them or not. I started to pray for strength, clarity and acceptance. I prayed for the ability to let go of that which is not mine. I refused to panic, yet I could not sleep.

How can she text me something like that at 2:00 AM and then leave me hanging? My way of not panicking sometimes includes driving the point home, at least initially. I texted her one more time: “Long engagements are good…I would like that a lot…am smiling…call me in the morning and share…I am glad that you are happy…goodnight sweetheart…”

I didn’t want to be anticipating a response, so the goodnight part was my own license to sleep. Fat chance. I was careful to let Anna know that I loved her and I kept it positive when it was in fact not at all what I hope for her right now. It was a blow.

The rain slowed to a steady rhythm. I finally relaxed and found a comfortable position when my cell phone lit up the room, vibrated and chimed. I reached for it and read the message from Anna: “Ha ha, nooooooo, just wait til morning, its something you would never guess.”

Sigh. I responded: “Okay…xo”

I passed out.

In the morning I sat on the front porch watching humming birds, sipping coffee and wondering what on earth Anna was talking about. She specifically mentioned the song that we have known will be our dance song on her wedding day. What else could it be?

She finally called me at 11:30 and told me the story.

She was sitting at a table at her favorite spot in Burlington, Vermont – the Radio Bean CafĂ©. A girl approached her and complimented her necklace, which is a violin bridge. Anna told her that she was a cellist and someone had given her the bridge and she had no use for it so she crafted it into a necklace.

The girl then told her that she was a violinist. Her name is Emma and she and Anna shared an extraordinary list of all that they had in common. They are both classically trained and have discovered new genres of music. Both have strong maternal connections. Their mothers instilled such a passion for music that they have tattooed symbols of this passion on their bodies, which is what sparked their connection. Emma’s father is a trumpet player. They both have two brothers. Synchronicity.

Anna showed Emma the tattoo of “F holes” on her back, giving the illusion that she is a human cello. Emma then showed Anna the tattoo on her back. It was the music and lyrics of Dancing with my Mother.

Anna started to read it and then realized that it was our song. She exclaimed, “I know that song, that’s my mother’s and my song!”

Emma told her that her mother wrote it. Anna was ecstatic and asked if she was the little girl who sang in the piece. Emma said that she was; she was seven years old at the time. They embraced. Anna told her that she could not believe she was sitting with the little girl whose voice she listened to throughout her life whilst dancing with her own mother.

Emma shared her love and the sorrow of losing her mother to breast cancer six years earlier. The two young women – daughters – shared their stories and both comprehend the significance of their meeting. They plan to stay connected and honor their unique bond which encompasses the profound love that encircles mothers and daughters illuminated in the light of music.

Lyrics - Rachel Bissex, Don't Look Down, 'Dancing with my Mother', alcazar productions, Waterbury VT, 1995.

From Journal: “Periwinkle” [Maternal]

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Attribution – Unlocking the Doors Within

This morning I went to the garden. The daylily appropriately named ‘Attribution’ finally bloomed, bringing with it long anticipated clarity.

My soul is in perpetual training. There are multiple aspects of this way of being. There is the courageous part that seeks newness and takes the road of preparedness for the leap into the unknown. This way I am able to sense those things which would otherwise remain hidden in my so-called safe place.

A part of me chooses to view the world through the eyes of an innocent child, enabling the wonderment of discovery and the awe of life’s small miracles. Often, joy and inspiration are tucked away in these moments; creativity and possibilities are born.

However, the more open I am to what is around me, the more pain and ugliness I must sift through. Awareness. Sometimes this ugliness wraps itself around me like a heavy net, restricting movement, imprisoning me within its scratchy tangles.

Struggling to free myself from the net is exhausting, leaving me without strength to carry on the simplest tasks while greater tasks gather on the edge of the horizon like menacing thunder clouds. Ambition dies.

When I cannot write, when the words chase each other around in mottled chaos inside my head, I am stuck somewhere between black scribbles and vast emptiness. Moving forward is a chore; my feet are heavy with each step. Breathing is no longer automatic. All things are forced.

There is good silence and there is bad silence. The place where I scream and nothing comes out has emerged from my dream state into my consciousness where it does not belong. No one hears, not even me.

The lesson of letting go has been the most significant of late. I have heeded my own advice, which is to be at the helm of that little ship on the rough seas, not tossed about at the mercy of the waves.

Eventually, the helm is impossible to manage. Shift. Change. Trust. Maryjane, just let go.

Okay. It works.

My connection with nature must be maintained. Nature is a major component of the antidote. If I spend too many days locked in the corporate world – this connection is greatly compromised. After a long day at the office, I pull into the driveway and sit in the car mustering the energy to walk into my home. I acknowledge swollen buds about to burst into splendor; I smile weakly as a hummingbird zooms past me to one of the feeders, but the roaring flame usually ignited by these very things is a dim ember. Not ash; there lies hope.

After a day or two of reminding myself to breathe, giving thanks for a multitude of blessings, allowing stillness and being okay with it is; the net begins to dissolve. The damp, clingy mist evaporates and through it I see the magnificence of the simple, deep-green cat-o-nine tails swaying in the pond. The light filtering through the clouds provides a hint of inspiration.

When I finally stop fighting; the net falls away completely. The ember – divine spark – roars within. The torrential rain that woke me in the middle of the night gave way to a perfectly sunny day with a delicate breeze.

Thoughts, words, creativity and possibilities are endless.

When the garden lily brings forth tears, it is a good morning indeed.

From Journal: “Apple Blossoms” [The Writing Life]