I am not at all in a humor for writing. I must write on till I am.
I love this quote by English writer Jane Austen. I appreciate this glimpse into what must often have been her frame of mind. I read somewhere that writing only when you feel inspired would be wonderful, but you probably wouldn’t get much writing done. If you want to be a writer, you have to write regularly. Butt in the chair, etc.
I think Ms. Austen’s quote is also excellent guidance for life. Want to be a writer, write. Want to have a satisfying relationship, tend to it. Want to have a beautiful home, take care of it. I don’t know anyone who achieved their goals by wishing. A few years back when my sister was going through a challenging time, I found a card that said, “I find I get further in life with backbone than wishbone.” We are both of that mind and agree that the best gift we received from our mother is a backbone.
There have been many difficult and trying days, weeks, even months in our decades on earth. Times when we just dreamed of swaying quietly in a tree swing on top of a wildflower covered hill or relaxing on a warm sunny beach with a tall umbrellaed drink and a vista that never ends. Those are the silent dreams tucked behind all the constant demands of living our day to day lives and tackling our day to day challenges.
To create an existence that we find fulfilling, we must do the work and answer the challenges. We can dream about the future, but then we have to put one foot in front of the other towards that future. So, thanks Jane Austen. I am not at all in a humor to write today, but I will sit and do the work.
When my COVID 19 quarantine days began to melt one into the other to the point I didn’t even realize Memorial Day Weekend was upon us, I needed to find a new diversion. There are only so many blog posts you can write about at-home beauty treatments, cleaning your closet and other ways to pass the time. Since I loved reading serial stories growing up, I decided to give it a try. As always, I don’t pretend to be writing great literature, just a small diversion from our crazy daily life. Thanks for reading.
A Mother’s Gift – Part One
It was Friday morning, 9:00 o’clock. Libby was sitting in the empty attorney’s office in hopes of concluding the final paperwork of her mother’s death. She had sat in the same chair over five years ago when her father passed away. Her father had cared for Libby all his life and he cared for her in his death, leaving her money to purchase her beloved flower shop, Fleur de Lis. Now her mother had passed and she had spent the last two weeks taking care of the multitude of details that come with a parent’s death. Luckily the family home had been sold two years earlier when her mother moved into an assisted-living facility so Libby didn’t have to deal with packing up an entire household and selling a house. As soon as she finished today, she planned to leave this town where she grew up and start the drive back to West Grove. She was eager for life to get back to normal but wondering how her life could ever seem normal without her beloved mother. They usually spoke on the phone several times a week and Libby knew she would grab her phone to call her mom before realizing she was no longer there to answer
Brian Carter had been her mother’s lawyer since before Libby was born. His hair was white, his suits old fashioned, and his oxblood brogues were always freshly polished. He shuffled into the office and gave her a kind smile. “Just a couple more things and you can get on the road.” Looking down for a moment, he seemed distracted. “Elaine, um, your mother, left you a letter.” Not looking up into Libby’s eyes, he handed her the letter. Libby opened it slowly and began to read.
My Darling Daughter, Please read this letter with the knowledge that I loved you from the first day we met. I’ve held a secret that I should have shared with you a long time ago. Even though I knew in my heart I should talk with you, I never found a way to tell you this, but you were adopted. You came to your father and me when you were three days old. We were never able to have a child of our own, so we were elated. I’ll always be grateful to the woman who gave birth to you, but in my mind and in my heart, I was always your mother,even more so after your father passed. I think I was afraid if you knew it would change things between us and somehow I would lose you. Please forgive me.My attorney has information regarding your adoption, including some information about your birth parents that he will give you.Please don’t hate me, I just loved you too much to share you. Your Mom
Libby sat frozen. After a few moments, she carefully refolded the letter and put it back in the envelope. She muttered a thank you to the attorney and left the office.
For the next several weeks Libby was in a stupor, unable to process this new information. Her world as she knew it had completely exploded. Her parents were both deceased, she had no siblings and almost no extended family. Her mother had one sister, Beth, but she hadn’t been able to attend Elaine’s funeral. Libby only remembered seeing her twice while growing up but to help begin her search for any clues regarding her birth, Libby telephoned her. She read her mother’s letter to her and while her aunt acknowledged that she knew Libby was adopted, she firmly denied having any other information. Beth was ten years younger than her sister and they had lived on opposites coasts for many years.
Several weeks later, back in the flower shop, she received a text from her best friend. Libby – You need to have your lily-white ass at the bar in Café Isabella’s today at 6:00. Carolyn. Her best friend for the past decade, Carolyn never swore so Libby understood she was serious. They originally met waiting in line at a Starbucks soon after Libby moved to West Grove. Both had ducked in from the biting, sleeting rain in search of life sustaining coffee and bonded over the fact that they seemed to be the only two people in the place who saw the absurdity of waiting in line to fork over nearly $5.00 for a pimped up cup of coffee. Libby had just started working at the flower shop, Fleur de Lis, and Carolyn had just started as an associate attorney for Grayson & Thomas. Over the past decade their friendship grew. They had seen each other through professional crises, boyfriend catastrophes and bad haircuts.
Walking through the door at 6:05 that evening, Libby allowed the familiarity of the cafe to wash over her for a moment before heading toward the bar. Even if the bar had been crowded, with her grey linen suit and layer-bob haircut, her friend would have been easy to spot. “So, you are still among the living.” Carolyn’s sarcastic greeting was softened by her comforting hug. Libby’s formal, polite response alluding to work issues didn’t hold any water with Carolyn. “Libs, I know you need to grieve the loss of your mother, but you don’t have to do it alone. I haven’t seen you once since the funeral.”
After weeks of holding in her pain and confusion and getting through each day by focusing on work and putting one foot in front of the other, Libby finally burst into tears, sobbing right in the middle of their favorite bar. Carolyn grabbed her by the shoulders and steered her over to end of the bar, seating herself to shield Libby from the view of others. As Libby’s sobs slowly quieted into intermittent gasps, she rifled through her purse, pulled out her mother’s letter and shoved it into Carolyn’s hands. “I feel so lost. The woman I idolized my entire life isn’t even my mother!!!”
Carolyn quickly read the letter. She sat quietly for a moment still holding the letter and sipping chardonnay, collecting her thoughts. “Elaine may not have given birth to you, but she was certainly your mother. The two of you had a special bond. Of course this came as a shock, but maybe you should try to get more facts.”
“You don’t understand. Growing up, I was never the smartest, the thinnest or the prettiest. I wasn’t a cheerleader or prom queen. I didn’t win any college scholarships. But I was always all right. My mom believed in me and always cheered me on. Now it turns out I was rejected, unwanted and given away.”
Carolyn took a deep breath before responding. “That’s bull crap. You have no idea what the details of the situation are, and you absolutely cannot dispute the fact that you were truly and properly loved. You did ask the attorney for the adoption information. Perhaps it’s time to investigate.”
While afraid of what she might learn, Libby had finally called Brian Carter for the adoption information. She discovered that the adoption agency located in Daniel’s Ferry had been defunct for over 15 years and she wasn’t having any luck accessing her records online. “Other than knowing my birth parents were young and healthy and that my mother is from Pennsylvania, I don’t have anything else. I even called Aunt Beth and she doesn’t know anything. I have hit a brick wall. I would just like to know why. Why didn’t they want me.”
They ordered a glass of sauvignon blanc for Libby and some yummy baked brie to share as their conversation veered onto other subjects. Hot new attorney in the litigation department at work. Men who send $100 bouquets to women whose last name they don’t know. And through all their catching up, Carolyn’s mind had been in high gear, thinking about her friend’s dilemma. “Libby, what about signing up for 23andMe? You may not find your birth mother, but I bet you will find others that share your DNA. I think you should give it a try.”
After devouring all the gooey, delicious brie and a second glass of wine, Libby and Carolyn said good night and headed home. Carolyn grabbed a taxi and Libby walked the short two blocks to her building. Libby was exhausted from the long day at work and emotional evening. After waiving to the doorman and collecting her mail, she took the elevator up to her small tenth-floor one bedroom overlooking the city. The rain had dissipated, but she could still hear the wind blowing. Libby began to relax as she undressed and climbed into her soft pajamas. With a freshly scrubbed face, she slid into her cozy bed and leaned back on her ridiculous mountain of pillows. As tired as she was, she couldn’t resist firing up her laptop to begin checking out 23andMe. Could a simple saliva test really be the key to finding her birth family? After a short pros and cons argument with herself, she entered her credit card information and pushed the “Complete purchase” button. Sleep came quickly and she slept soundly for the first time in weeks.
A few weeks back, my niece out in California forwarded an article to her mother and me that appeared in CNN Business. It’s wrong to use two spaces between sentences, Microsoft Word says. Beth had noticed that Jeanne and I both still use two spaces at the end of sentences and although she figured it wouldn’t sway us to revise our ways, she thought we would find the article interesting.
Microsoft may have made the decree in 2020 that two spaces between sentences is too many, but in my family this debate has been alive and well for many years. In 2001, our youngest son, Adam, was in high school and his oldest brother was editor of the Ball State Daily News at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Adam asked his older, editor brother Emmet to look over a paper he had written before he turned it in to his English teacher. Emmet took Adam to task for having two spaces at the end of each sentence pointing out that the paper was typed on a computer, not Mom’s old typewriter, so Adam changed the spacing. Sadly, his teacher disagreed. Adam’s explanation that “…my brother Emmet said…” didn’t do him any good. “Emmet doesn’t know everything and he’s not teaching this class. Use two spaces.” This was obviously before it was universally known that Emmet knows everything.
I have had it pointed out to me by the younger generation that two spaces are passé, but I have been putting two spaces at the end of sentences for nearly 50 years and I doubt I’m going to change. In discussing with my sister and niece, my sister remembered reading somewhere that two spaces allow for thinking. A short pause, like taking a breath. So while newspapers, magazines and other publications may look at each extra space as wasted money, I look at it as the punctuation traffic signal that gives me time to absorb and reflect.
Being in quarantine week after week has also allowed me extra time for thinking. I have thought about that as much as I love to read, I have had a hard time concentrating on anything too complex. And in my stream of consciousness thinking, I thought about when I was in middle school and the gracious Jones girls next door had a subscription to American Girl Magazine that they were always willing to share. That magazine had nothing to do with American Girl dolls but was a girl scout magazine written for young girls and teens and included fashion articles, hairstyling advice and serial stories. I loved those stories! I would eagerly wait for the next month’s edition so I could devour the next installment.
And so in the ninth week of quarantine, I decided to write my own serial story. On Sunday, you can meet Libby and read the first installment of her story, A Mother’s Gift.
In the early Eighties when my sister and her brood headed to California for her to attend law school, they initially rented a house in a suburb of San Diego. They landed next door to a wonderful multi-generational family who had always lived in the southwest. One day her adorable moonfaced young neighbor leaned over the wooden fence between their properties. She shyly inquired, “I’ve heard people on the east coast have two sets of clothes. One for cold weather and one for hot weather. Is that true?”
I thought about that story this week while changing out the clothes in my closet. I have always lived where two sets of clothing were de rigueur. This year, however, I have found myself reaching for warm sweaters well into May. Despite what has been a cold spring here in the East, I decided it was time to bring out the linen and cotton summery styles and put away my winter layers. Every time I think I have finally curated my closet to perfection, another seasonal organization finds there are still items to donate and a few I really should discard. I purged a several items that no longer fit my non-office lifestyle and made note of a couple of basics I could use to fill in the gaps. I’m keeping an eye out for a long summery skirt or two and some fun linen tee-shirts. With more time to focus on the tasks at hand these days (thank you, quarantine), sorting through my summer wardrobe brought back some sweet memories.
Getting reacquainted with the summer items I purchased last spring, I remembered the sunny shopping day spent with my sister when she took on the role of stylist for me. We plotted our course then trudged shop to shop, broke for our favorite shopping day lunch of lettuce wraps at P. F. Changs, and then shopped some more. We ended with a trip to our favorite bistro for drinks and dinner, celebrating a job well done. It was a fun day.
Yesterday, while ironing my freshly laundered long oatmeal colored linen dress, I remembered wearing it to Mr. Smith’s mother’s 90th birthday party and her smiles and happiness that her large family and friends had gathered to celebrate her special day.
As I pressed my favorite party pants purchased last spring, I smiled at the memory of wearing them for my last day of employment. In a nod to Peggy from Mad Men, I exited a job that was never a good fit for me with a touch of panache.
Although retail is suffering from closure, online bargains have been tough to ignore. I have been fairly restrained, putting thought into my purchases. My closet contains a wardrobe that is an amalgam of neutrals. Perhaps inspired by the new green leaves popping on the trees and colorful spring flowers blooming from my perch, the items I have added have been anything but neutral! There is a ‘pink punch’ linen blazer, a riviera blue linen shirtdress and a pair of golden sun linen pants. I am still loving linen, but now I have colors that make my summer heart happy.
States are starting to lift some restrictions and I long for the day we can lounge in a sunny café with a glass of wine and meet up with family and friends without our ubiquitous masks. It will take some thoughtful transition to go from the many weeks of quarantine to a somewhat normal routine. Not yet, but hopefully soon. And when we do, I’ll have just the outfit for it!
There have been many memorable ad slogans over the years to sell hair color. There was L’Oréal’s “Because you’re worth it” and Clairol’s “Does she or doesn’t she?” In the 1950s, Clairol’s tag line was considered quite risqué for advertising, so they added a sub-head, “Hair color so natural only her hairdresser knows for sure!”
I have been coloring my hair for many years. And for all those years, I’ve been leaving it to my professional, well-paid hairdresser. The only time I ever colored my hair myself was back in high school. I was trying to make my hair color match the description on my fake I.D. In the seventies, driver’s licenses didn’t have your picture, just your height, weight, eye color and hair color. I needed to match my I.D. so I could get into the bars and dance the night away. I certainly had a drink or two, but it was the dancing that was the real draw for me. Well, that and the boys.
But now it is 2020. Hair salons are shuttered and I am quarantined! Like so many others, my roots are showing. When Pennsylvania pushed their shelter-in-place date until June 4, I decided it was finally time to take matters into my own hands. An internet search for the best at-home hair dyes listed several alternatives and I decided to try the one listed as “you can put all of your boxed dye fears at ease.” Many other women must have had a similar plan because the shelves were pretty picked over.
I carefully selected my desired shade from those remaining, light brown with hints of gold. Once home, I read the directions over several times. Despite my novice status as a colorist and my stress with the procedure, I was surprisingly pleased with my outcome.
At the beginning of quarantine, I did wonder if it was time to simply go gray, to let Mother Nature become my colorist. I have played with the idea off and on over the past few years. Why do I color my hair? I am not uncomfortable with my age, so I don’t think it’s about looking younger. In the past before the wide availability of home hair coloring products, women often felt going gray made them look dowdy. Now you can be pink, purple, green or gorgeous gray. Today there is a new appreciation for a stunning mane of silver. Eighty-five year old Dame Judi Dench is on the cover of June’s British Vogue looking fierce and fabulous.
I will muse a bit longer on whether or not to go gray. But in the meantime, I think I will continue to color my own hair. It is more affordable, I don’t need to book an appointment weeks in advance and I don’t have to tip!
Although parts of the U.S. are starting to roll back their shelter in place orders, Mr. Smith and I are still firmly ensconced in the love nest. For me, like so many others, COVID-19 Mothers’ Day is bittersweet. We are living two hours from a grandchild for the first time in our lives and I had anticipated a lovely Mothers’ Day lunch together, watching Eleanor run herself silly at the park, giving her a bubble bath and putting on her pajamas before tucking her into her car seat and throwing kisses as she headed home with her parents. Maybe next year.
For over a decade I worked in a flower shop. Mothers’ Day was one of the busiest holidays. One year I was assisting an acquaintance with her order when she asked me “What did you get for Mothers’ Day?” Instinct told me that this was not idle chit-chat. Either she wanted to tell me about some fabulous gift she had received or simply wanted me to assure her that no matter what she received or did not receive, being a mother was a reward in itself. With retail stores currently shuttered and online shipping presently unpredictable, perhaps this year we can lower our expectations and just enjoy the day, one moment at a time.
With many parents working from home and schools/daycare closed, families are spending more time together than usual. Many weeks ago, I visited my oldest son and his family to try and help them adjust to their new normal. As my son headed for the family room downstairs for another Zoom call, my daughter-in-law grabbed his hand and stopped him to give him a hug. She said, “One benefit of quarantine is more hugs!” As crazy as it has been at their house with two adults trying to keep up with their work responsibilities all while monitoring three active boys with e-learning, my sense is that they have adjusted and it’s not all bad.
We moms may not get to enjoy celebratory spa days, fun brunches out or strolls through parks or museums this year, but we know this too shall pass. Anybody who is a mother knows they are in it for the long haul. We may not be able to spend the day together hugging our children and grandchildren, but that will never stop the love. This year I will demonstrate that love by staying away to keep us all safe. So, we’ll FaceTime, laugh, share stories and blow kisses virtually.
I am the mother of three amazing men. So, Mr. Emerson, today I will pat myself on the back and say job well done. Then I will raise my glass to my equally amazing daughters-in-law, mothers, mothers-in-law, aunts, sisters, daughters and all the caring, nurturing women who have crossed my path. Happy Mothers’ Day and stay safe.
It’s a rainy, gloomy day here in Wilkes Barre. Luckily, my midweek musing from a couple of Wednesdays ago about pen pals and how I love to receive snail mail worked some magic! Since then I’ve received letters from two sons, drawings and letters from three granddaughters and a wonderful card from a friend that made my day.
Today I mailed off notes to my granddaughters and grandsons with some activity sheets. I want to give a big shout out to the New York Public Library. For the second time during quarantine, I received an email with free printouts for kids. There are crosswords, word searches, mazes and a fill in the blank to write your own version of Goodnight Moon. I am including the link so you may also enjoy! My favorite is the Library Logo Lion Mane Maze.
During the Great Depression, Mayor LaGuardia named the beloved lions who guard the 42nd Street library Patience and Fortitude for the qualities he felt New Yorkers needed to get through a difficult time. The lions are still standing strong.
The quarantine continues but the warmer spring weather has allowed Mr. Smith and me to get out walking more often. This past Sunday the skies above were a cornflower blue with giant puffy clouds and a temperature near 80 degrees. Wilkes Barre is the home of Wilkes University and on a late afternoon stroll, we explored much of the campus that normally would be crowded with students. We came across this statue of John Wilkes wearing the appropriate PPE. Wilkes Barre was named in honor of John Wilkes and Col. Isaac Barre, two members of British parliament who heroically defended the American colonies in tumultuous parliamentary debates during the Revolutionary War.
I hope you are all weathering the shelter in place all right. I have my good days and my not so good days. Luckily more good days than not. I am taking great comfort in a routine. I look forward to sharing a morning coffee with Mr. Smith before he braves the outside world. It helps me to have somewhat of a plan for the day. Years ago, I created a chart designating specific chores for each workday. I usually follow it. After a day of cleaning, writing or reading, I look forward to sharing a glass of wine and chatting with Mr. Smith when evening comes. We are lucky people and we know it.