Who can fault a month that celebrates a day of LOVE and a long weekend for PRESIDENTS? Not me, at least not this year, while we are being inundated with snow storms and snow flurries and even more snow showers. Ode to February indeed!! Along with all that white bluster, there is poetry to read while curled up sipping hot chocolate, inspiring us through this short and lovely month.
I have been thinking about the 12th night of Christmas, that moment when following the Star of Bethlehem the Three Kings arrived at the stable bearing gifts for the baby Jesus; and this Epiphany has left me pondering not only the event, but the word itself. I recall biblical stories as interesting tales whose metaphorical interpretations can lead to spiritual growth. The word epiphany originally referred to insight through the divine, which sounds truly vital to me right now, as I look forward to this 2017, and try, with all my might, not to imbue it with a mountain of fear and river of dread. Instead, I’m calling upon the divine, shifting attention to the upcoming Feast of the Epiphany and creating a list of my own guiding stars.
A course more promising
Than a wild dedication of yourselves
To unpathed waters, undreamed shores; most certain,
To miseries enough: no hope to help you;
But, as you shake off one, to take another:
Nothing so certain as your anchors; who
Do their best office, if they can but stay you
Where you’ll be loth to be: besides, you know,
Prosperity’s the very bond of love,
Whose fresh complexion and whose heart together
Affliction alters. (“Winter’s Tale” Shakespeare)
All the thanks in the world for tuning in every week,
for letting me know when my writing touches you,
for reaching out when it’s so easy not to.
I so so so appreciate each and every one of you!
I was thinking about what a devote Nine Cent Girl reader recently said to me, something like, I wish you were less of an English teacher. As he went on to explain, I think either he faulted or I stopped listening or we were both distracted, regardless, after reflection, I came to my own assumption that sometimes I need to rant more. Get a bit crazy. After Hillary’s “Basket of Deplorables” comment about the supporters of The Businessman I thought, what better time than this?
Sure many folks live in the same town as their grandparents and a parcel of aunts uncles and cousins, but we weren’t that family for my parents decided to cross both the Brooklyn and George Washington Bridge to raise us up in New Jersey. Sure, we made the journey back over those bridges, back to Flatbush, back to their old neighborhood on Christmas and Easter. But corralling us six wasn’t a spontaneous occurrence. It took the grandeur of a holiday to make it happen.
Summer was a different story, however, for there was a history that went back generations, before even my parents, that anchored us to the north shore of Long Island, inside the gates of Belle Terre. My great-grandfather built his three story Victorian on a bluff overlooking the bay. From his vantage he could see all that came through the breakwaters, including his fleet of working tugs. His ten summered under this roof, and many made sure, once married, to continue the tradition by bringing their children there; and so it was for me summering there too. Sandy roads zigzagged between colossal homes each holding various generations of relatives, and children wandered with much freedom between them all.
The rocky beach was the constant. At any time of day, one could find a relative there to chat it up. My generation arrived into this well-established summer community without missing a beat. In my deepest memory I barely remember seeing an parent the whole of August as I ran about in that sanctuary. My mother was finally within walking distance of both her parents and her best friend and stole away with all the freedom we too enjoyed.
The two, Eileen McAllister and Barbara Rice, met while in elementary school in Brooklyn, and soon became fast friends. Friends who became related when Barbara married my mother’s cousin. Throughout my childhood, I knew she was my godmother, and my Aunt, but Barbara’s role as my mother’s best friend took precedence over any other. Those two would hide away in each others’ bedrooms, speaking their special invented language if we children drifted within earshot, and for the entirety of their years, this special relationship never altered. Children? Between the two they had 14: Barbara had 8, while my modern mother only 6. But the responsibilities we 14 brought into their lives never stopped them from laughing up a storm year after year. In my memory, the only time my mother did close her bedroom door was when Aunt Barbara arrived.
And so we drifted from house to house, until we were summoned. Corrine wasn’t a fan of our August retreat. Not a fan of bugs or beaches or being removed from all her friends back in New Jersey, but she endured with a few rituals of her own.
One such ritual had become a practice, an event that we squealed for: to ride on top the big station wagon back from the strip of rocky Long Island Sound beach that held our August afternoons to the wooden cottage where she swore she saw the ghost of Mr. Crystal rock in the big pine rocker next to the fireplace.
Flying flat on the rooftop I lay pinned between the cool luggage rack metal and my second cousin once removed, who even more importantly than that, was my mother’s best friend’s daughter. From our youth we watched with envy our mother’s retreat behind closed doors, a flurry of secrets being shared, none of which we were privy to but we too bared our darkest corners till long after childhood ended. As Corrine drove the car tree branches whipped and tickled our arms and legs while the early evening air shot cool on our sunburned skin.
The sandy windy roads were narrow and overgrown with lush vines twisted around the dense trees which we somehow memorized from our horizontal perspective and could calculate the precise location on our speeding wagon. Corrine was our ferry our shuttle our only retreat from walking as she piloted my mother’s station wagon back and forth between the wooden houses in this summer community filled with family at every turn. Days were spent making food for the galloping hordes while mothers laughed and fathers disappeared with golf clubs and children wandered along windy narrow tree lined sandy roads only called home by their own growling stomachs.
Sometimes we would wedge my sister between Lizzie and me to keep her from flying off the top of the wagon and into the thick growth that harbored ticks. We ran along those overgrown paths during the day on our way to the rocky beach, but ticks hid at the end of many a pointed finger and we were checked from head to toe before our evening baths. Our Yorkshire terrier, who ran always on our heels, seemed to attract more of those blood sucking bugs than we could keep track of, but our Corrine pulled them off like a skilled surgeon and while it was frightening to see the blown-up blood-filled bodies, it didn’t stop us from lying in the soft leafy beds deep in the dark undergrowth and along the sandy narrow paths we cut with our bare hands and constant wanderings.
There is no denying that at the center of memoir is an unreliable narrator. As I wrote yesterday,”Working with memory is even less faithful than fiction. There is nothing to google or investigate. Sure I can ask a brother or two, but I don’t remember any of them standing with me in that short hallway between the kitchen and my father’s den.” In memoir you stand alone, even if the subject of your work is the whole lot of you, you have only yourself to corroborate with.
As I plunge further into my own murky and dark past I have only my instinct to rely on; here the tenants of fiction and non-fiction collide, for they are both born of the creative spark that ignites my fingers across the keyboard. Beyond that they deviate.