Category Archives: Excavating

All that’s left

About the time I started middle school (or, as we used to say, “junior high”) I had exasperated my piano teacher to the point where she decided I had to find a new teacher. I still don’t know how I flummoxed my mom so. I suppose it could have been my legendary stubbornness.

(Example: My parents told me I could practice any half-hour of the day I wanted. Could be before school or after school or in the evening; I could manage the time as I pleased. I did not like this edict, even though I liked learning to play piano and was quite good at it. Know how I responded? I set the alarm each morning at 3:30, got up and banged my etudes and sonatas as loudly as I could  until 4 am and went back to bed. My parents, to their credit, didn’t mention it at the time, although I know now that middle-aged people don’t sleep very well and absolutely abhor being awakened 3 hours before the alarm.)

Mom found a new teacher for me, a world- renowned composer and teacher who had been featured in the newspaper for publishing her latest opus. Remarkably, she lived within walking distance of our house, but she was not taking any new students. Somehow my mom finagled an interview and audition for me.

I was really nervous for our meeting. But Mrs D, as her students fondly called her, seemed genuinely charmed by me, earnest girl that I was. Mrs D had not one but TWO grand pianos in her living room (a wall had been knocked out to make room) — talk about impressively intimidating. I played for her my best Für Elise on one of the pianos and poof! Mom was no longer saddled with me as her piano student. Soon both my sisters followed me under Mrs D’s tutelage.

Mrs D was quite a character. She taught us not only the notes but to “sniff the keys” — that is, to feel the music and not be afraid to get demonstrative with the keyboard. She would tape ping-pong balls to our palms to counter our tendency to flatten our hands. She was brilliant, whimsical, odd, unafraid, tough, loving, and the most fascinating person I knew. She was a renaissance woman — she wrote novels, painted paintings, traveled the world with her beloved husband, and composed and played songs that evoked a range of emotions for both the listeners and the players. The first time I ever saw my name in print was when Mrs D dedicated a sonatina to me.

Once as a teen I ran away from home…to Mrs D’s house. She listened to me, opened up a can of black olives to console me (our bonding food — with her I was odd, too), and patted me on the bottom as she pushed me back toward home. Another time she and her husband were preparing for their imminent trip to Europe. Not wanting to pay high prices for stuff they could easily bring with them, they one day had me help them make martinis and pour them into seal-a-meal packaging to put in their suitcases. I didn’t realize exactly what I was doing, but it was a merry time helping them get ready.

Several years ago Mrs D’s husband died after a devastating Alzheimer’s decline. She missed him terribly but stayed vibrant and modern, though she was nearing her 90s. She hung out on Facebook, kept composing and publishing music for children, and wrote her autobiography. Turned out she was a codebreaker in WWII but had been under a 50-year veil of secrecy.

Eventually she grew frail and could no longer live in home with her two grand pianos. She was moved to a nursing home where she charmed the staff and entertained the other residents with her piano-playing and storytelling. My sisters and I visited her Thanksgiving of 2010 and sang her this song in harmony. She held each of our hands and made lengthy eye contact, loving us through and through. “Please come back soon, my sweethearts,” she said.

My mom and I visited her last Spring, about this time. We filled her in on our lives, listened to her reminisce, and told her we’d visit again.

Mrs D died last June. She was 92.

I attended the estate sale at her home this weekend. All of Mrs D’s  belongings were on the lawn being picked over by passers-by (the pianos were gone, in the possession of her son). Remnants of a life — junk really. Travel books from the 1970s that no one will ever read. Wall hangings and artwork that look hopelessly dated. Ten thousand travel photos that have meaning only to the two people who took the trip.

I browsed. I time-traveled. I was back in junior high. I was sitting through recitals in that living room. I was either eating black olives or packing green olives in liquid. I was visiting Mrs D while home from college. I was introducing her to the man who would become my husband. I was chasing my toddler around in that living room, trying to keep the knick-knacks safe from her grasp as I showed her off to Mrs D. While my life was ascending, I didn’t even notice Mrs D’s corresponding counter-arc.

This is what’s left of a life. Tchotchkes that outlive their owner, untethered and unowned. Doomed for a landfill. A wave of grief swept over me for the loss and love of Mrs D, the inevitable loss we face, the complete disconnection that waits for everyone. What would my estate sale look like?

I decided to salvage only one item, as impractical as it is symbolic.

A different type of keyboard, to be sure. But a touchstone to a woman who touched my life in a profound way.

Cautionary tale: Why you shouldn’t let social media sites into your address book

Remember when the new wife of an old boyfriend emailed me to say that, No, He Would Not Be Having Coffee with Me when I was traveling to his town?

That was more than three years ago. Two weeks ago? She invited me to LinkedIn.

I deleted the invitation, like I always do. I’m not on LinkedIn.

But the invitation came a second time. And I responded thusly:

Hello, [Old Boyfriend’s New Wife].

I’m quite surprised you sent me this invitation, considering that our one and only conversation led to this.


Of course, she has not responded. But I did see someone from their city peek in and read the post I’ve been longing for him to read for a very. long. time.

Thank you, LinkedIn.

Fort Luz

Summer vacation just started for my children.

Which makes me think of my own summer vacations several decades ago. My sisters and I would sleep in til 7:30 (only 10 minutes later than we grudgingly awoke on school days), eager to suck the marrow out of all the daylight. We’d get dressed and chomp down some Count Chocula, sailing out the screen door with our pigtails flying behind us.

We’d start playing with these, making as much merriment noise as we could to get the other neighborhood kids to come out and join us. Soon Gaylee and Pam, Tyler and Greg and assorted other grade-schoolers poured out of their houses and into the street. We’d play kickball and kick the can and explore the woods on the edges of our neighborhood. More days than not we’d do our absolute favorite activity, building forts.

We’d head into someone’s backyard, usually ours because it was the flattest, and put all the webbed lawn furniture on its side. We’d grab towels and blankets from our moms and begin constructing our “homes.” Always the youngest girl would have to be the Clothespin Lady — often my sister Sheri until our sister Tami was old enough to take her place.

The Clothespin Lady’s job was to deliver one clothespin into the hands of whichever builder had called for her, and with the same precision that a surgeon expects of his instrument assistant. She was not permitted to arrange chairs or place blankets or even make suggestions. Her sole purpose was to serve up wooden clips to the master builders. When a new family with a younger child moved into the neighborhood, the Clothespin Lady was especially excited to be able to relinquish her position to the new kid.

Our forts were patchwork-y on the outside and cozy on the inside. We’d play house, the older kids as the moms and dads and the younger kids as the sons and daughters.

We built and played Forts for hours on end. Late afternoon we’d take a break and go inside to watch Zoom and have supper. We’d snarf it down and beg to be excused to re-congregate in the street for one last kickball game and to tear down the fort before the streetlights came on.

The other day I made a pit stop at WalM*rt. Now that I was grown up and understood concepts like weight and density and had more experience with drape-age, I knew that I’d be able to build a spectacular fort if I used lightweight sheets instead of the heavy blankets and towels of my childhood. And I’d thereby impress Tessa and Reed with my master building skills. They’d not yet discovered fort building and I would be the Awesome Mom who taught them how to build the best. fort. ever.

So I picked up a bag of clothespins and a king sized flat sheet. With those purchases, the children somehow guessed what we would be doing, even though they’ve never seen a clothespin in their lives (do you have any in your house?). When we got home we found a flat and shady place and configured our plastic chairs in something of  a circle. We floated the sheet over as a roof and covered the sides as necessary with old towels and blankets.

Reed later had the bright idea to poke a long stick in the ground in the center to tent the sheet and give us some more head room (he wanted me to tell you that). Tessa laid down a comforter to blanket the floor, along with some pillows. We brought in a few books and read together for a bit.

Then a spider ruined it all, having the nerve to crawl on top of the blanket rather than stay under the radar, heading straight toward the girl-child. Shrieks and a startled jump from one unnamed child tore down the fort in an instant, chairs splayed in a wide radius. The quippy child said to the freaked out one: “That spider’s the only thing that’s been attracted to you all year!”

We have not reconstructed the fort since that first day. Chair-henge remains on the lawn as evidence of our one-time project. To my dismay the kids have not, so far, proven as enchanted as my sisters and I were with fort building. It’s much less alluring than Wii and the rec center swimming pool and playdates with kids outside the neighborhood and watching DVDs while mom tries to work.

My sisters and I had access to none of those things — we solved our boredom only by being imaginative.

I didn’t start writing this post thinking it would be wistful, but as I compare my memories of childhood with their experiences today, I am sad for my children. Fort building, such a simple thing, brought us so much joy and fulfillment. Swimming and Wii and on-demand cinema seem to suck the spontaneity out of a summer.

To be fair, as I write both children are out with neighbor kids playing swords and house, so their imaginations are engaged in their own ways. And also to be fair, my recollections of my childhood summers could be drastically different from my mother’s accounts. It’s quite possible that to her, summers were full of us whining and bickering and her giving orders to “go outside and play already!”

Whatever the reality, in my memory building forts was one of the sweetest parts of summer.

What are your summer memories? What do you want summers to look like for your child(ren)?


One of you sneaks nominated this blog in Circle of Mom’s Top 25 Adoption Blogs contest –thank you!.

The nice thing about this site is that it asks nothing of you to vote except one click. Another nice thing is that you can vote for however many nominees you’d like to — you aren’t limited to selecting only one.

So please vote for this blog and for whichever other ones strike your fancy. You can vote daily, and I’d be very thankful for your votes and any others you can round up from your friends and contacts (there are Twitter and Facebook buttons available). WriteMindOpenHeart is currently in 8th place and about 80 votes behind the one in the #1 spot. The contest ends June 21.

Thanks for your help and support.

All of me

I wait in the clearing for them to join me. It is my celebration, after all.

The sun is shining, bathing the lea in a warm glow. There is an entire meadow of soft greenery for us to dig our toes into. Nothing sharp, nothing dangerous, nothing to mar our time together. There is just the slightest breeze. The sky is the most pleasant timeless blue imaginable.

The first to arrive is a girl about 8 years old. Her skin has a sage tint, the downshot of difficulties in breathing. She brings me worms, leftover from when she gathered a bunch for her sister’s birthday. For some reason she thought worms would make a good gift. She is a bundle of fears, although she is well-fed and well-loved. I just want to hold her while she breathes. I want to breathe for her.

Soon, the 17-year old comes upon us, all arms and legs and attitude. She is skittish, like a colt, just waiting to be hurt. It’s because Doug, her boyfriend, has just dumped her for the 4th time. Well, they’ve broken up 4 times, but she was the dumper at least once. I think about telling her there will be many more heartbreaks, and that she’ll have ample opportunity to be on both ends of them. Each one hurts, but when it’s all said and done, she’ll be thankful that she and Doug (and the many that follow him) parted. I’d tell her, but she wouldn’t believe me. She hands me her diary, the one she just started and intends to keep for the rest of her life.

The next young woman arrives in a black gown and mortarboard and with a gold cord dangling from collar to waist. You can feel the promise that fills her. She looks both ready to tackle and tame the world and also petrified of taking her next step. She will face rejection after rejection before she comes on a job with a meager paycheck that will fulfill her emotional, if not monetary, needs. She is planning a wedding, but is having thoughts of calling the whole thing off. The burden of this thought weighs down her shoulders. I whisper to her, “listen to your gut.” She looks at me hopefully and shows me the keys to her first apartment. Where she will live alone.

A very sad woman enters our circle. She’s in her 30s and she’s been crying, crying, crying. The losses she has endured have sucked the very life out of her. She has beautiful, glorious child-bearing hips, which are going to waste. Her dreams have evaporated. She feels alone (although, still well-loved) and without hope. We instinctively move toward her, trying to sense if she will allow us to comfort her. I barely recognize this woman — the toll has been so drastic. Can’t she see that this chapter, like all the others before, will end? Her hands hold only tissues full of tears.

The next woman to grace the clearing has graying hair, still long like I knew she would. She is weary — after all, she is raising teenagers. The one knows how to trip all her wires and the other is just growing up and away too quickly. She has a peace about her…the peace that comes from repeatedly being shown that this, too, shall pass. Her eyes pierce through me, chiding me for my petty complaints about the drains of childrearing. She has brought me a watch — one that ticks twice as fast as normal.

We turn to receive our final guest. She walks toward the west and is a few inches shorter than the rest of us grown women –still a head taller than the child. She is white-gray in hair, fissured of skin, and her eyes and lips have lost several shades of their original vibrancy. For all her physical feebleness, the corners of her mouth are upturned. Her eyes are kind, and she exudes patience. Like the sky above us, there is something timeless about her. She extends only her trembling hand, representative of the enduring body that houses her immortal spirit.

These are my Selves. They have come to honor the fact that I have been on the planet for another turn around the sun. They bring me their tokens and dreams and insights. I envelope them and am enveloped by them. One by one, I welcome each into my heart, accepting the gifts they have brought. I acknowledge the gift she is, she is, she is, she is, she is, she is.

I am.

Image: Vic-Art

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