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The Clutter Project

alphabet        I‘ve been trying to clear the clutter from my life. The other day, I was walking around the house in which I live, the one in which I grew up having returned to care for my parents before they died and I was thinking about those things that I have, things that I own, that I have collected through the years, and the things that have been passed down to me from generations past.

Do they still have meaning to me beyond their memory? Isn’t the memory enough  

I have some beautiful ivory sculpture but I realized that I haven’t even really looked at those pieces in a couple years. They simply exist on a shelf. Why do I keep them when I could pass them on to someone who would enjoy them. I have little things that hold memories for me even if there is no financial value. Why do I keep those when I can just keep the memory.

The attic and the basement are filled with “things” neither useful nor even remembered. They are part of the past but not the present and probably not the future.

I think its time to empty the shelves, the boxes and the trunks and get rid of the superfluous keeping only that which I cannot do without.


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Je me souviens – I Remember

It’s almost Thanksgiving again. For me, there is always a tinge of sadness that surrounds that day of giving thanks because my only sibling, my dearest friend, my brother Raymond died the week before Thanksgiving in 1962. It’s been 47 years and I miss him still, as I do my parents and grandparents. They are all gone now and I am the memory keeper.

I love to cook. I come by it naturally since both my grandmother and my mother were known for their cooking skills, I collect cookbooks, preferably old, but among my favorites are those that have been passed down to me through my family. I have several written in French and dating back to the 1800’s. They were among the few things my great-grandmother brought with her when, as a young widow, she emigrated from France with her teenaged daughter and two sons. It was either a very brave thing to do or an act of desperation – I’ll never know which.

Tonight, I was looking though one of the old books for a recipe that was a family tradition during the holidays, Beignets de Carnavals. In the old books, the cooks always made notes and added their own recipies on the blank pages provided for that purpose. What I noticed tonight is that this book had three generations of recipies added in the handwriting of my great-grand, my grand, and my mom. There is a common thread to their handwriting as well as to their words and I can hear their voices with English and French mixing together. I hear the laughter of women in the kitchen, sharing stories and gossiping. I yearn to be with them but I can only observe and I can only remember. 

I am the memory keeper.

The Old Maple Tree

The old maple tree is probably a couple of hundred years old and stands at least 100 feet tall, maybe more. It has been a constant in my life, part of my earliest memories as well as my most recent, like a thread that weaves all the pieces together, binding them into a single cloth of life. This is the cloth I wear as I face the world head-on and as shelter from the occasionally harsh realities that life presents. It is my persona, my mask, my protection, and it is at once who I was and the person I have become.

My tree has roots in the land that precede those of my family and was already fully grown and mature when my grandfather bought the acreage in 1929, when the road was a mere cow path and the only neighbors were the dairy farmers who’s property abuts ours, or more accurately, mine as it’s current steward.

It is located in the woods between my parents home and that of my grandparents and as a very young child, it was a landmark for me as I raced between the two places I thought of as home, places to eat and sleep and find love and comfort when needed. It was the half way mark on the map of my existence.

There was comfort in the maple as well, a familiar friend in who’s great green foliage I found a hiding place, a vantage point from which I could observe my world, unseen by anyone. Countless tears have fallen on the leaves of that old tree and she has kept just as many secret thoughts that have been whispered into her abundance. As the years went by, I climbed higher and higher, seeing farther and farther, and it became a place for dreaming. When we move into adulthood, we trade the freedom of dreams for carefully thought out plans, more practical maybe, but nowhere near as exciting and boundless.

The old tree is dying now and this makes me incredibly sad. Before long it will become just another one of the memories I am know for keeping. Large branches have been falling for years and this morning I found that the uncharacteristically early October Nor’easter that passed through last night had claimed a large portion of the main trunk. I know that soon, the roots will lose their grip on the earth and I will hear the great crashing sound of another part of my past falling out of my life. The day will come when my fallen friend will rot and return to nourish the soil in which it has grown for these past centuries and when I pass from this life, there will be no one to remember when she stood in beauty, and strength as she was when she was one of the beacons I claimed as my own so many years ago.

Longing for Summer

491975___alone__It’s not been a bad winter by New England standards. We haven’t had deep snow or sub-zero temperatures but rather, occasional spitting storms and days in the 30’s and 40’s with more blue skies they gray. Maybe that’s why the mild cold we’ve had this week seems so bone-chillingly raw that I can’t seem to get warm. 

I’m longing for days filled with hot sun and warm breezes; nights that hold the sweet smell of my potted gardenia wafting through the windows. I’m anxious to hear the sounds of bumblebees as they warm their bodies and the incessant demands of newly hatched chicks. I want to feel the small beads of sweat that will drip between my breasts and the cool shower that will wash away the grime of working in the garden as it begins to bear the fruit of my labor. I can see myself in a wispy summer skirt, bare legs and feet, feeling the grass with my toes. I will eat berries off the bushes and at night, lay outside on a blanket, watching the night sky and drinking wine from the bottle. I can’t wait until I need to squint a bit and shield my eyes from the sun as I survey my realm. I want to lay on the moss-covered boulders that edge the stream and doze off with sweet dreams filling my mind. I want to stop at a child’s front yard stand, enjoy a slightly warm but still refreshing sip of too-sweet lemonade while dropping my quarter into their hands and seeing their delight. I want to walk in the woods at dawn and smell the aroma of wet rotting wood from the downed trees that are dotted with brightly colored fungi.

I can’t wait to relive all my memories of summers past and make new ones to add to the collection.

blackberries black-eyed_susans bumblebee butterfly2 Lemonade river_rapids skirt_twirling windinherhair

A Temporary Life

Growing up in a military family, life was always temporary, impermanent, and home was where every we happened to be at any given moment. When I gave the eulogy at my mom’s funeral, I said that she was our home. She gave us roots, a sense of permanence, a place to land on our feet and rest without fear or uncertainty.

I learned some valuable life lessons by that existence. I learned to walk into a room of strangers and make a place for myself. I learned that a smile will bring strangers to your side and they will want to be your friend even if their approach is out of nothing more than curiosity. I learned not to become too attached – to anything. That is the only lesson I have allowed myself to cast aside. I learned that you have to rely on yourself first and foremost because, sometimes, that is all you will have. I had to take care of myself, fill my own needs, entertain myself, and find activities that were fulfilling in themselves. Maybe I am a solitary person as an adult because as a child, I had to learn to be.

When I grew up, the thing I wanted most was a permanent home in a small community where I would know everyone and live for 50 or 60 years. I wanted friends with whom I could share memories instead of just pictures of people pasted in an album, their names long forgotten.

I managed to find the home of which I had dreamed only to discover that it too was temporary. It shouldn’t have come as such a surprise. But, as I slide down the far side of the mountain I struggled so hard to climb, I’ve come to enjoy a life of anonymity with the permanent connections reserved for the few souls who reside in my heart rather than brick and mortar. They are our true home, after all, the only one that really matters.

A Legacy from My Mother

When I was about 13 years old, just coming into womanhood, in a very ceremonial atmosphere, my mother presented me with a carefully typed manuscript which she had prepared on her old Royal typewriter. The document was “The Subjugation of Women” by John Stuart Mills which he wrote in 1861. She had bound it in a red satin ribbon and I knew immediately that it had great importance but at the time, I was too young to fully comprehend that she was telling me that the world would not treat me equally unless I was willing to live my life by my own rules and on my own terms.

My mother was raised in a traditional French family where the husband/father was the definer of their lives. Every decision outside of the household was his to make, without questions. I recall that my grandmother never wore a pair of trousers until after my grandfather had died because he disapproved of women in pants as much as he disapproved of dresses that might reveal any part of his wife’s legs beyond her ankle. So, I grew up seeing my grandmother clad in ankle length dresses with long sleeves, no matter the season nor the work she was doing, housework, mucking the barn, working the garden, or milking the cows.

What was most strange to me was that my grandfather seemed to treat my mother as an equal and I never quite understood the dicotomy. He was a carpenter and taught her to use tools to build what she needed. He was a home builder and taught her to roof a house. Together they built stone walls and layed fencing amd they seemed to work in a comfortable partnership.

My father had come from a poor family of Irish immigrants with a father who drank more than socially and a dour mother of six children. I have no memory of every seeing this grandmother smile or speak softly or gently. She was stern, unforgiving, unloving, and I believe, generally disappointed in her life. I never knew her very well so my thoughts about her are supposition rather than fact.

It doesn’t surprise me that my father was taken with the girl with strawberry blond hair, who was always ready to smile; the girl who would fill the surrounding woods with the sound of her beautiful singing voice and the house with the music of her grand piano.

Because of his military career, our home was often without my dad’s physical presence so fathering as well as mothering was what my mother did and there was nothing she couldn’t do.

When they were together, at the drop of a hat they would dance in the kitchen as frequently as they would discuss politics. She filled his life with music and he filled hers with words. They were best friends and intimate lovers, of that there was not doubt. When she died one Christmas Eve, he lost his will to continue his struggle to live and joined her a few short weeks later. I became an orphan with no one left to share my memories.

When I wrote her obituary, I said she was a feminist before it had a name and a feminist after it became a label. She was the model for the woman I wanted to be and hopefully became. She drew me the blueprint for a good life and as I have tried to follow her plan, I have drawn my own little squiggles in the margins.

I’m drawn to these thoughts today because I was cleaning some old boxes this morning and came across those typewritten pages, still bound with the frayed red ribbon, the legacy from my mother.

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