Archive for the 'memories' Category
Summer’s finally here. And it is HOT! In the Pacific Northwest we only get two, sometimes three months break from the relentless rain that hammers against us, our towns and our forests. When summer finally arrives we treasure it for about five minutes and then proceed with complaints about how unbearably hot it is.
Which just shows how ungrateful we are. Because really, what’s there to complain of? Hours of doing absolutely nothing other than sitting at an outdoor cafe with our kids or our friends? Picking raspberries, cherries or peaches at the multiple family farms surrounding Portland, which we’ll take home and turn into pies and cobblers? Biking and picnicking in the shade of a tree by the water’s edge? Meeting friends for happy hour and not having to rush home and get the kids to bed? Exploring new hiking trails?
There is really no reason to complain.
So hello, Summer. And welcome!
Yesterday I took my daughter in for her yearly check-up. As she had her vision tested I remembered when I had mine at her age, but not because it was mandatory, but because I was a naughty little girl. Two of my closest friends in my first grade class were wearing glasses. I wanted to be just like them. I wanted glasses too. My friends said that they had headaches from all the squinting they had done. They said their eyes hurt. They said their eyes turned red.
I went home and cried to my dad that my head was killing me, and that my eyes hurt so terribly, I was afraid they’d fall out of the eye sockets. I rubbed and rubbed at them, and my eyes became red and inflamed from all the rubbing I did. I walked around the house squinting and rubbing at my eyes. My parents were worried. Bad eyesight was a common occurrence in my dad’s family. Three of the seven siblings were wearing bifocals.
So my dad took me to see the eye doctor.
The doctor’s sitting room was filled with kids who, no doubt, had the same idea I did. There they all were in their blue and white school uniforms rubbing at their eyes and squinting. And there were the parents slapping the kids hands away from their eyes, looking worried.
I was sure I would come home with a pair of glasses. I was sure I could fool the doctor just as I had fooled my parents. I was sure that all I had to do was just squint and rub at my eyes. No one told me I had to make mistakes reading the eye chart. I was a first grader and proud to be reading already. I wanted the doctor to see how smart I was, and what a good reader I was, and that I was sure to receive a certificate from my teacher claiming that I was the smartest little girl in all of the first grade.
The doctor was impressed. Not with my reading as much as with my vision. My vision was perfect, he said. And (almost) perfect it remains to this day.
My daughter is happy she doesn’t need glasses. They’d only get in the way of soccer and ballet, she says. Sunglasses, on the other hand, she can’t have enough.
When I was a child, every March 8 dawned fresh and glistening. In our country it was a national holiday, a celebration of being a woman, a mother, a wife, and a colleague. Children at school worked on crafts and wrote letters to their mothers. Men brought flowers and chocolates for the women in their lives. Mothers sent children to school with bouquets of spring flowers for the female teachers, and after saying, “I kiss your hand,” the obligatory child to female adult greeting, the flowers would be handed over and the teacher’s desk became a mini flower shop.
In our house, my dad prepared the breakfast on this special day. We usually had a simple one of chunks of homemade bread spread with sweet butter and homemade jams, or clover honey, a boiled egg on the side, and mugs filled with hot milk in which a dark chocolate bar would be broken into several pieces and stirred in until all melted. It was a delicious breakfast made even more so by the anticipation of handing our gifts to our mom, trying to guess whose gift she liked better.
So, many happy years to all of you, my beautiful, amazing females friends and readers, whether you are young or old, single, married, divorced, or widowed. Let’s live our lives fully and with purpose! We have come a long way, and yet, WE HAVE SO MUCH MORE to accomplish. Let’s go forth, and make the world a better place!
Love to you all!
It is dark when mom awakens us from our nap. The rose painted walls are softly lit by the white world outside. Mom comes in and closes the wood shutters, turns on the chandelier overhead. The room is cold, the fire in the tiled corner fireplace, low. We bundle in our itchy woolen sweaters and follow mom into the hall. Dad comes in, snow glistening on his shoulders, dragging behind him a tall evergreen. He positions it into a corner of the square-shaped room where it will keep watch for the next few weeks.
The box of fragile ornaments is brought in from the attic, as well as a box of baked goodies, and one of oranges recently received from the States. I am given permission to select an orange, which dad then peels and hands to us in slices. The citrus taste, so unexpected and refreshing, overtakes my taste buds. I am in love with this taste. In my seven I have never tasted anything this good. Of course I want more. We all do.
But mom counts the oranges, making sure she has enough for the carolers stopping by. She lines them up, threads them and hangs them on the tree. After the oranges comes the ribboned, golden walnuts, then the foil wrapped home-made chocolate, followed by the Christmas candy in its fancy paper, and finally the jewel-toned glass baubles. Mom does all the work. The rest of us are her audience. The last waxy candle is clipped to the branches and lit, and dad turns off the lights. We stare in silence at the enchanting beauty before us.
My dad starts an ancient carol about the holy mother and golden pears and silver apples. When his voice trails off my mother starts one she’s learned at her grandmother’s knee, about lambs, treasure and holy men. We end the carol singing with “Silent Night, Holy Night.”
The candles are extinguished and the light turned on. Even dimmed in its glory, the tree holds us spellbound. In the other room the table is set. The carolers are on their way.
When I was a young child, the summer days stretched endlessly from dawn to dusk. Mornings were always my favorite time: the bright sunshine, the cool air, the quiet. I would fluff up my pillows and open my book. In our overcrowded and busy family house, the best time to read was when everyone else was asleep and no artificial light was needed.
Breakfast was usually a hurried affair of cold cereal and toast, as the day awaited and we all couldn’t wait to get going. The playground awaited. Visits to family friends awaited. Lakes awaited and picnics awaited and barbecues awaited and laughter and fun awaited. There was always something going on. And when there wasn’t, lazy days of reading and sunbathing in the backyard awaited.
No matter how censured I felt as a child and young adult, both by my parents and the church community, my parents did their best to create for us a childhood and youth filled with happy memories and free of financial worry. We weren’t rich. Far from it. My dad worked hard, often three jobs at a time, so that my mom could stay home and take care of us. And it wasn’t easy. I knew it then, and I know it now; being a parent myself, I find myself pulled in all directions. Work. Family. Books. Guilt I’m not at work enough. Guilt I’m not with my family enough. Guilt I’m spending money on books I don’t have time to read. Always on the phone… Or checking my messages… Or sending texts to my employees, reminding them what to do. The list goes on.
Excuses. All of them. I’m sure that on my death bed, the only thing I’ll regret are the days and times I’ve spent away from my kids. These summer days my goal is to be with them as often and as much as I can, and to provide them with a legacy of golden memories. What about for you? What are your goals?
I am sure it wasn’t so, but for some reason I remember all the Easter Sundays of my childhood as sparkling and bright. The long grasses we had picked together with our dad the day before, had been turned before bedtime into fluffy nests, and we found them the following morning to have been visited by the Easter bunny who brought sweets and treats all the way from America. I remember holding hands with my sisters, skipping on the cobblestone sidewalk in front of the house, waiting for our parents to lock up so we could go to church. In my memory, all our Easter dresses were variations of pink or purple, all our Easter eggs were red, and all the hymns sung that early morning in the coolness of the church, sent shivers down my spine.
My family loved keeping to tradition the Friday before Easter, slaughtering the baby lambs we played with and loved, allowing them to silently bleed to death, then turning them into stews and roasts. To this day, none of my siblings like the taste of lamb meat. They had spent too much time chasing a little lamb friend across the yard. We remembered too clearly the horror of their silence as the blood trickled down into the damp spring earth. Children do not recognize the importance of a symbolic ritual, no matter how often they may hear the story repeated.
The family gatherings after church were the best part of Easter Sunday. Uncles and aunts and cousins and close friends, everyone dear, together. The cracking of the colored eggs, the stories told of far away places and long ago days, the silences of stories not dared voiced, the laughter, the desserts. And somehow the sun was always shining and the food was plenty, and the later it got, the greater was the sadness that the day would have to end and Monday would come, and we would miss the togetherness and the memories we had made.
Photo courtesy of hubpages.com
My mother firmly believed in children taking naps. Her day was busy. The two hours we were supposed to be sleeping was the only time she could dedicate to herself without interruption. She would shut the shutters and pull the drapes, making the bedroom as dark as possible, then line each of us in the big bed in order of age. Being the oldest, I was the last to get in.
I hated napping. I didn’t need much sleep. Everything has changed the minute I gave birth, of course. Now I can sleep and sleep, but don’t have the time.
Sometimes my mother would sit in one of the chairs and wait for us to fall asleep, scolding us to close our eyes or we would “get it.” Getting it, probably meant a spanking or a slap. I don’t know. We never actually “got it,” although we always expected to. The rest of my siblings would fall asleep, and I would listen to their gentle snores and pretend that I was asleep as well. Then she’d leave the room and shut the door, turning the key and locking us in. I know. I can hear you all thinking: Inhumane. But back then everyone and their grandmother did it.
The bedroom had a glass door covered by a lace curtain. It looked right into what would be called the living room, but what was actually a fancy sitting room that also doubled as a guest room. My mother would sit and read or sit and entertain her girlfriends who’d come visit. I would get out of bed as quietly as I could and make my way to the door, crouching there, waiting to see what would happen. I wonder if she ever suspected me. If she read, there was nothing to see, as soon enough she’d fall asleep herself, and she was not a light sleeper. That’s when I would explore the bedroom’s every nook and cranny for the stashes of chocolate I knew were hidden. My mother rarely came to check on us once she had locked the door.
If her girlfriends came, she would serve them something sweet, and they’d sit around the table talking and laughing. The mother I observed then was a stranger to me. There was nothing serious about her. She was all smiles. I would study her friends’ shoes and clothes, their mannerism. Some were pretty and I was sure they were nice. The not so attractive ones, I was convinced they weren’t. I believed in fairy tales and that outward beauty equalled inward beauty.
Although she never left us home alone, I knew that some of her friends did leave their children to go to work, or stand in long queues for scarce food items. In different cultures people do different things. I used to have a French neighbor here in the States, who’d leave her three year old napping at home, while she’d run her errands. I wonder if that little girl slept the entire time her mommy was gone or if she woke up crying, terrified. But then I realized that it was the American in me thinking that.
If I would get too lonely during nap time, I would pinch the baby whose wails would wake up the others and send my mother rushing in. I would feign sleep. Surprisingly I was never caught; my brother was too young to tell.
Now I wish I had a designated time of day to nap. My children aren’t nappers. My son stopped napping soon after he turned one. He gets by on less than ten hours of sleep. My daughter napped until she turned three, and then just stopped. But I wish I could turn down the bed in the middle of the day and slip between the cool sheets. The room dark and quiet. Ah. Bliss.
You know how little kids like to get their hands and feet into everything? Well, once when I was about five, my parents visited a relative on a farm who had the pig trough right outside the summer kitchen door. I was a city girl and thought the trough a little wading pool. Sure the water was a little murky, with bits of food and such floating around, but it was a hot day and the air was dry and there was nothing else to play with.
I got in fully dressed and splashed around until I heard my mom’s horrified screams. I knew she wanted to give me a thrashing just from the look on her face and the sounds coming out of her mouth. But lucky me, I was too stinky and dirty for her to touch. A bar of lye soap thrown in my direction, and the ice cold water of the garden hose were punishment enough.
That evening the beds of my fingernails and toenails were surrounded by pus. I was running a temperature, hallucinating, who knows what else. I don’t remember much of it myself. But I do remember the red nails. And the milk baths.
For two weeks after, I had a medication applied to my nails that stained them a rasberry red, besides being forced to bathe daily in a tub-full of goat milk. Where my parents got the goat milk, I have no idea, as we didn’t have a goat. Still, my red toes peeking out of the white milk looked very pretty. The only thing that sucks about this memory, is that to this day I cannot add any red berries to a bowl of cereal and milk, without feeling nauseous.
Only parts of this story are true. For more great reading visit
When my Tante Marie’s husband died, she had him buried in the garden across the dirt road from her house. Every morning, while the valley between the two mountains was still covered by a low mist, she would put on her thick coat, grab a few garden tools and make her way over. Toward the end of that first summer without him, my sister and I were the only ones left to keep her company, the other cousins already returned to their jobs and school.
Waking up in the high bed that her husband had built, under layers of linen quilts and silver-threaded woven rugs, was always a delicious feeling. The room would be warm, on the table in front of the wood stove thick slices of bread, a pot of honey and one of butter, and a pitcher of milk awaited our hungry mouths. We would eat, create a fantasy land of play underneath the bed, and when the mist lifted outside the thick walls of the mud hut, slide our feet in our shoes and run out, careful to close the door behind us, ever mindful of Tante’s warning of wolves and bears coming down the mountain side that was basically in her back yard.
We didn’t like going to the garden across the way. Tante Marie had a habit of laying her body atop the mound of earth that covered her dead husband and crying out, demanding to know why he left her. Sometimes she pulled at her hair, but mostly she just cried until she was spent. If she happened to see my sister and me there, peering out from behind one of the mulberry trees, she’d rouse herself, grab her watering can and call to us to fetch some water from the already filled well bucket, and bring it to her. For the next several hours we’d work silently together, weeding, watering, gathering the onions, the radishes, the garlic, and whatever else was ripe enough to harvest for the following day’s market.
At midday when the sun would beat down harshly on her widow black skirts, we would stop our work and she would take us to the river where we were allowed to wade in and play, and even go across the man-made bridge to the other side. She would watch us and hum a tune of mourning, a tune as old as the mountains themselves, before she remembered that we were growing children and must have something to eat.
That summer, the first summer that we had met our Tante, ended one evening in early September. The light was already changing when our parents showed up to take us home. As we started on our way, Tante Marie and her fragrant garden grew smaller and smaller, and although I had worried of what would happen to her during the cold winter months without her garden and without her husband, when Spring returned and we arrived, I learned that life and hope and love go on.
Sorry, this one’s non-fiction. For more tales please visit Magpie Tales.
A quarter of a mile up the road from our house, the woods begin. On a hot summer day, we grab our water bottles and sweaters, and head out. Within five minutes we’ve left the city behind, with its noise, its traffic, its suffocating heat. We follow the dirt path that meanders through the firs, the jasmine, and the wild blackberry bushes, the only sound that of the gurgling stream, and birds calling to each other.
The deeper in we go, the cooler it gets. We don our sweaters and button them up. The kids race up ahead, my son gathering salmonberries, naming ferns and mushrooms, my daughter picking wildflowers she presents to me, or down to the stream looking for salamanders. They jump from one rock to another, wanting to be the first to get to the opposite shore. I watch, my heart in my throat, and caution them. My husband laughs and tells me to relax. He goes to join them, a protective hand hovering above the little one.
Finally we arrive at remains of the old Stone House. This is our turning point. Husband and I sit on a log, quench our thirst, and the little ones prepare to put on a show. The old stone structure is their castle, the forest their kingdom, their dad and I, their subjects.
On our way back down, I offer up a little prayer of gratitude. For my beautiful family, for the magic of childhood, for the trees, and the flowers, and the sun, and the air we breath. I am amazed and moved to tears. It is in the midst of nature that I feel closest to God.