Exploring the poetry of everyday life

Journey to Israel 1974: Capernaum, Tel Aviv and Shalom

Our journey was almost over. After our night at the kibbutz we drove on to Capernaum where Peter the Disciple’s mother-in-law had lived. The place was remembered as the site where Jesus healed her of a fever. There wasn’t much to see. Our group wandered around the cool, tree-shaded area and talked among ourselves. Several women standing near me started discussing their concern that Christians had taken over the Star of David, sacred to Jewish faith, to use as a Christmas ornament to trim the top of Christmas trees. One of the women turned to me and asked if I had a Star of David on my Christmas tree. I replied that on top of my tree I placed a brown wooden angel wearing a red felt dress trimmed in green and gold rick-rack. We all had a good laugh together.

We arrived in Tel Aviv to spend a little time before we flew back home. The name Tel Aviv
translates “Hill of Springtime”. Sixty-five years before my journey the first houses were built there in the spring. The city is mostly modern. We stayed in the Shalom Tower Hotel, a skyscraper built on top of a gymnasium. The hotel had a swimming pool on the roof which we loved. I discovered my favorite Israeli street food, falafel – like hotdogs in America. From the roof of our hotel we could catch a glimpse of the Mediterranean. We couldn’t resist going to the beach for a swim. Once we got there we found out why nobody talks about taking a Mediterranean vacation in Israel. There were globs of tar on the sand and in the water that were a result of the cargo ships in the area.



Journey to Israel 1974: Circle of Time

We left Bethlehem behind and drove toward Mt. Hermon and the Golan Heights. Occasionally a Phantom Jet flew overhead. And we saw flatbed trucks hauling rusted tanks away from the battle site of the Yom Kippur War. The road took us near the Sea Of Galilee, now called Lake Tiberius, where warm mineral springs offer relief to people with arthritis near places where Jesus healed the sick.

Our destination was the Banias Spring, the origin of a tributary of the Jordan River. There is a shrine at the spring inscribed to the Greek God Pan. I thought again of the long reach of history in this land. The spring flows from underground and begins its journey to join the Jordan river. Snow from Mt. Hermon melts into the stream. We sat beside the spring, took off our shoes and felt the pure cold water.

That night our lodging would be at Ayelet HaShahar, a Kibbutz in the Hula Valley. We met with the people and heard their story of the origin of the kibbutz. It was built around 1900 in the days of the Turks. It was the first real commune in Israel. Originally no one had personal possessions. There was a common laundry where they took their clothes to be washed with no expectation of getting the same garments in return. The children lived all together in a separate house, cared for by the community. Work to support the kibbutz was shared by everyone, even by the children. It was not a religious community. At the time we visited things were more individualized. People were allowed to work outside of the kibbutz and there was a vacation bonus for families. The meals continued to be communal. We shared their evening meal with them. We ate blintz which were long a favorite of mine. I discovered for the first time how much I like borsch and gefilte fish.


Journey to Israel 1974: Bethlehem and an Olive Wood Factory

The land where Bethlehem sits has been occupied continually for five-thousand years. It was already old when Jesus was born there. The Church of the Nativity was one of the more unusual churches we saw. The Grotto believed to be the site of Jesus’ birth is found deep inside a Basilica whose entrance was a low, narrow door called the Gate of Humility, which was “originally created to keep out the Infidel horsemen”.( I’m not sure I remember this last part correctly.) Layers of history are encompassed in one small space. In Israel history is everywhere. And rocks. If only the rocks could tell their stories.

We traveled on to our next stop at a “factory” where souvenirs for tourists were carved by jigsaw. The raw material used was the wood of the olive trees that grew in abundance in Israel. There was another tour group visiting the factory so our bus parked outside for us to wait. The building was situated on a grassy spot in a farming area near Afula in the Jezreel Valley. And near our bus grew a grapefruit tree. My husband knew I loved grapefruit. He left the bus to pick one for me. The grapefruit was warm from the sun and easy to peel like an orange. The taste, sweet and tangy, was unlike grapefruit I bought in U.S. grocery stores. The juice was sublime. Nothing else I ate in Israel could compare with my sun-warmed, fresh-picked grapefruit.

Watching the jigsaw cut multiples of olive wood objects was fascinating. They were still making wooden covers for Bibles like the one my cousin brought me when she was in Israel years before. I have kept it in the drawer of a table that sat by my reading chair in the three places I’ve lived the past fifty years. At the factory I bought three camel figures carrying baskets across their hump to take home as souvenirs for my three sons. While I was writing this post I thought of the camels. I remembered that after my sons left home the camels had remained with me. I hunted around and found them in a red shoe box with a black lid labeled “Family Treasures”. Now they are on the window ledge of my writing room, another reminder of my journey to Israel.


Not Your Grandmother’s Thanksgiving

Out to the airport, hop on a plane
To grandmother’s timeshare we go.
No turkey or stuffing or cranberry sauce.
Not even one tiny inch of white snow.
Well now that would have been odd
Since we flew down south to Mexico.

Ours was a Thanksgiving Hollywood movie style.
Family of three sons, three daughters-in-law
Six grandchildren – four boys and two girls –
And me, mom and grandma. Thirteen in all.
Gathered again after four years intervened
Carrying some baggage not checked on the plane.

Family stew so they say is one hearty broth
Magical too if chewed well and digested.
I had hardly unpacked when the melee began.
(Snow storm at the airport messed up my flights
And I finally arrived a day late.
No worry I was brought up to date.)

Old memories were stirred by present events.
Childish shenanigans of my four grandsons
Replayed awful feelings to my youngest son
Of a six-year-old boy teased round the table
By father and big brothers with no one to the rescue.
He finally exploded venting years of old stuff.

This occurred while we grown folks dined at a fine restaurant
Toasting 20th anniversary of youngest son and his wife.
His brother,the eldest, asked what was the matter
And took time to listen though not understanding.
My mother’s ear heard distress, asked a question
“How old is the small boy who is hurting inside?”

Next day was Thanksgiving. We had time to be thankful.
Opening old wounds can bring new beginnings.
Four years ago at our family Thanksgiving, I chose a new life.
I moved “back home”, lest I regret it, to spend time remaining
Near sons,  wives and grandchildren.
I wonder what new thing will unfold in our future?


An Unpicturesque American Childhood

When I think of my childhood I remember words and objects in the house that was home to me for my first ten years. I remember the word “Taylor Tot” though I no longer know what it refers to. I Googled the word and sure enough my stroller was a Taylor Tot. I think it is amazing that the word has remained lodged in my mind all these years. My mother wrote in the Baby Book she kept to chart my growth that one of my first spoken words was “book”. My attachment to words began at an early age. I remember the bookcase at the end of the hall that contained my comic book collection (called funny books in those days). I had three years worth of “Loony Tunes and Merry Melodies” which I eventually sold to a boy across the street for $3, a small fortune to me. I remember my copy of Kipling’s Just So Stories my dad gave me when I was three. I remember the old radio that sat on a low shelf by a window in the living room. I listened to “The Lone Ranger” around supper time every night and to “Let’s Pretend” on Saturday mornings.

I remember the ironing board in the kitchen. It was stored in a closet of its own and was pulled down like a folding bed when my mother wanted to iron. I remember the round washing machine, a tub on wheels, that connected by hose to the hot and cold water faucets of the kitchen sink. I think the brand was ABC but didn’t Google that. There was another round tub with a wringer to squeeze the clothes as dry as possible before they were hung on the clothesline in the backyard. I remember the box of Milk Bone Dog Biscuits in the kitchen pantry closet on a shelf I could reach if I stood on a little step stool. I often sneaked one for a snack. I Googled “Milk Bone” and the brand is still in existence. When my siblings and I gathered six decades later to find our old house it was still there. The funny ironing board was just the same, as were other things we collectively remembered. Coming home to 1933 Lexington Avenue was a magical moment.

The scent I remember most from my childhood was the strong, head-clearing smell of Vicks Vaporub. I had serious asthma attacks years before there were inhalers. My mother rubbed my chest with Vicks and hung a flannel square from a ribbon around my neck that covered my chest to prolong the effects of the Vicks. She melted Vicks in a metal measuring cup for me to sniff the fumes. Both were intended to break up congestion. I reeked of Vicks Vaporub but remember the smell with thanksgiving because of the relief it brought me.

My favorite food memory was eating watermelon. My mother put me, along with my sisters, in the bathtub wearing only my underpants so the juices could dribble off my chin without getting on my pinafore. I also remember my mother’s sewing machine and watching her make wonderful dresses for my sisters and me. When she died my sisters said I should have the sewing machine since they both had one. I liked the idea of sewing but gave my mother’s old Singer sewing machine to my son who enjoyed sewing billowy pants like those worn by men in Middle Eastern countries.


Writing 101 – Sibling Snapshots

Among my huge accumulation of family photos there are some snapshots that are so vivid in my mind I don’t need to look at the actual picture to remember them. Some of my favorites are of my two sisters, my brother and me.

There is a black and white photo of the time my parents took me and my sisters to Galveston, Texas to the beach. All three of us sisters were born in the span of three and a half years. Our little brother arrived five years after my youngest sister. I am the oldest. The black and white photo shows us sitting on the sand just above the water line. We have constructed a sand castle by dribbling fistfuls of sand like cake icing until it is shaped like an up-side-down cone. The slowly incoming tide has filled the moat we dug around the bottom of our castle with water. Our mother sits and watches while we crawl around adding finishing touches to our creation. I remember our wool bathing suits that were scratchy when they were dry. We were wet so that was no problem. Our little brother is not in the picture because he was not born yet.

Taken on my fifth birthday there is a black and white snapshot of my sisters and me wearing identical dresses. I am holding a Story Book Doll, my favorite present. Our mother made the dresses for us from remnants from our grandfather’s shirt tailoring business. The dresses were a dusty blue with a square neckline framed by an eyelet ruffle embroidered with tiny rosebuds. Of course the photo doesn’t show the colors. Our little brother is not in the picture because he is not born yet.

Skip ahead to my college days. I have come home for spring break my Freshman year. The weather is warm and the azaleas are in bloom in the flower bed in front of our house. There is a picture taken with color film of the four of us siblings standing like stair steps in front of the azaleas. I remember my bright red sweater. We three sisters are wearing Bermuda shorts which have just come into fashion. We stand tall and smile for the camera. Our little brother looks like he wishes he were somewhere else.

Our mother died one Christmas morning when we sisters were in our thirties and our brother still in his twenties. The funeral was held in the small town where my mother was born and many family members and friends still lived. After the service we went to the cemetery where my grandparents were buried. My mother would join them. There is a picture of us four siblings standing by the gate of the wrought iron fence that enclosed the family plot. My coat is sky blue and one of my sisters has on a camel and black plaid coat. We look so young though we sisters are married with children. My brother’s first child is on the way. It was sad to think this child would not know our parents.

In the summer of 2014 the sister next to me in age invited me to visit her and her husband. She said we had better start getting together since we sisters were in our seventies. Our youngest sister who lives nearby drove over to spend one night. We never did stop talking. My brother-in-law decided he would start the grill and fix supper if he expected to have anything to eat. He’s a great cook. He took a picture of us sisters sitting on a low brick wall on the front porch. We look happy wrinkles and all. Our brother is not in the picture because we hadn’t thought to invite him.

In the summer of 2015 we sisters decided it was time our little brother, now seventy, should bring his wife and join the rest of us for a few days at my youngest sister’s house. He’s never been very inclined to go to the big family reunions of my mother’s family held every five years. He surprised us and agreed to have our first-ever siblings gathering – no children or grandchildren, just the four of us. It was amazing! Words cannot describe the joy of telling the same old stories and seeing them from our different perspectives. We shared good belly laughs. We cried as we remembered what it was like to lose our mother. My brother-in-law cried when he told us about when his first wife died of cancer. Tears have a way of creating family ties. After our mini-reunion was over my brother asked when the next one would be. He felt we should start sharing what aging is like for each of us and what we are learning from the experience. After we returned to our homes we realized that no one had thought to take a picture.


Summer at Aunt Mamie’s

The summer I was seven I was sent to stay with Aunt Mamie in a small town in Alabama. She lived in the house where she and my mother, along with five siblings, were born. I had severe asthma and the doctor thought it would build up my resistance to gain about ten pounds. My mother thought her sister’s fried chicken and beaten biscuits spread with butter churned from the milk of the cow across the street would accomplish that.

To me, a city child, that summer was magical. My education was profound. I learned important things like if the sun shone while it was raining it would rain at the same time the next day. A rainbow would have the same effect. With other uncles and aunts gathered on the wide screen porch of my aunt’s house I listened to a Joe Louis prize-fight on the radio. I didn’t learn until much later that most of America was glued to their radios that night, too. I learned how to make tiny scissors from two crossed straight-pins laid on the train track before the train whistled its way through town. I was initiated into the rhythm of Southern small-town life. I had almost forgotten how to live that way.

The cycle began with dinner in the middle of the day. We had chicken and biscuits along with vegetables from the garden and pie and ice cream for dessert, all accompanied by glasses of ice tea with mint, lemon and sugar. It’s no wonder that I did gain my ten pounds. After dinner it was nap time. I thought sleeping in the middle of the day was for babies and I resisted. Aunt Mamie read to me from the Raggedy Ann stories, identifying herself as the “Tired Old Horse” and me as the “Camel With the Wrinkly Knees”. When naps were over it was time for a bath and putting on freshly ironed clothes – a pinafore for me. Finally we got in the old maroon car and drove around the mile-square town to sit on other people’s front porches in rocking chairs and tell stories of what was going on at the moment or fifty years ago. I listened and received my most important lesson – to love and to tell stories of my own.

Mornings were a child’s dream. I got up early before anyone else was awake, put on yesterday’s pinafore and went outside to play in the sand box filled with cool sand from a nearby riverbank. The birds were up and sun beams were casting shadows of tree leaves barely moving in the morning breeze. I had the world to myself. Those mornings gave breath to my present life.

I was not thinking of the summer at Aunt Mamie’s when I was hunting for an apartment three summers ago. I had moved to be near family and wanted a small place of my own. As I looked out the window of this fourth-floor apartment I knew it was a space I could inhabit. The tall trees, the birds, the flowers on the garden patio below spoke to a well-remembered yet almost forgotten part of me. The arc of time had come full circle.

Written in response to Seeker Dungeon’s Prompt: What did you forget after growing up?


Space Odyssey

An August visit with my two sisters and brother was another step on my path homeward. We are all in our seventies and decided it was time we got together by ourselves – no children or grandchildren. It was a revelation hearing old family stories told from new perspectives as we shared memories. It was a loving and fun occasion. We began laying a foundation for sharing our remaining years as we had shared our early ones. And then I returned home. I turned the key in the door of my apartment and was instantly enveloped by my dearest, splendidly solitary space. I finally get it!

For some time now my life has been unfolding in its pattern of rich family moments followed by returning home to  the priceless gift of solitude. I’ve sought warmth in two marriages that ended in divorce. I’ve found warmth in the shared love of three generations of my family.  I would be bereft without them. I am surrounded by good neighbors. I am blessed that my small apartment contains just enough of worldly things for me and the promise of time to write. My computer transports me to blogland. From there I roam the universe of words. My imagination takes wing. I fly with a new name on my passport. I journey deep inside myself and locate my soul in my writing. I am fed by others reading my words and understanding the feelings  embedded there. My “now I get it moment” is a long time coming. It has been a good journey home.

Written response to Dungeon Prompts: That “Now I get it moment”


Quiet Ferocity Part One: Flames and Embers

It was all so long ago. In my senior year of high school it was the tradition in my small southern town to give parties – lots of them – to honor the graduates. The hostesses paired us girls up with a boy by asking us to choose an escort. I had had my eye on the class president for a while and jumped at the chance to go to parties with him. One thing led to another and eventually he warmed up to me. After graduation his family moved to another town and we both went off to college. The end of my dream – or so it seemed to me.

He came back to town to visit friends a couple of times after that. We had fun going to Christmas dances, another of the town’s cultural delights. Nothing much was said about “feelings”. That was the 50’s. Then out of the blue I received a gorgeous bunch of yellow roses from him the spring of my senior year of college. That summer he wrote a letter saying that if I weren’t wearing the fraternity pin or engagement ring of another boy, he wanted to visit me. I was getting used to his non-verbal style and found it quite romantic. Also I could read into it whatever I wanted.

Life went on. He went off to fulfill his R.O.T.C. obligation. Those were the days of the Draft when all young men were required to spend two years in military service. I went off to find a job and became a bank teller. That Thanksgiving when he was home on leave from the Army we got together for a college football game close to his home and the city where I worked. After the game we had supper in a small cafe on the town square. He asked me to marry him. Well, I did have to think about that! Next day I said “Yes”. We bought a bottle of Champagne to celebrate and with it a can opener that had a corkscrew and beer opener attached so we could open it. The can opener has out-lasted my two marriages. It is in my kitchen drawer as I write.

We were married for thirty years in the then-traditional division of labor model. We became parents of three boys we both loved dearly. I was the full-time mother and he was the full-time bread-winner. In time we began to live separate lives and divorced.

Five years after the divorce we attended our 40th high school reunion, separately. This was only the second reunion our class had celebrated and we had missed the first, our 20th. He had a companion with him. I was by myself. A classmate I had not known well began a conversation with me saying he had been in love with me in the sixth grade. He showed me snapshots he had taken of other classmates and me with his Brownie box camera, an early forerunner of the cellphone camera. I laughed and replied that I had no idea. This was the beginning of another story and my second marriage.

Our marriage lasted almost twenty years. Good years. We traveled to most of the places I had long wanted to see. In time the same old division of labor thing intervened. I should have known that my hard-won sense of being my own woman clashed with his idea of my role in his life.

In the last few years of our marriage we began spending Christmas at my son’s house. My daughter-in-law had decided she would invite us and my former husband along with his companion to dinner. Things grew comfortable between all of us. The day after Christmas one year my daughter-in-law took some of the out-of-town guests to see a local attraction. My husband, my former husband, two of my sons and one grandchild stayed behind. My daughter-in-law, who loved to cook and decorate the dining room table for guests, was late getting back. We got hungry and decided to feed ourselves leftovers. My former husband, two of our sons and I rummaged around in the refrigerator and came up with a fine meal. We stood at the kitchen counter and ate from containers – a stark contrast to my daughter-in-law’s elegant entertaining. We looked at each other and suddenly recognized that we were acting like the “family” we once were. We were bonded by our old habits. My husband and the one grandchild sat at the breakfast table and looked on in amazement as the circle of family kept spinning.


Quiet Ferocity Part Two: Lighting a New Candle

Four years ago I traveled to spend Christmas with my three sons and their families, including my six grandchildren. My (second) husband remained in our home to celebrate the holiday with his two daughters and grandchildren who lived in town. This Christmas separation had been occurring annually for a while. I loved my step-grandchildren but even more I longed to live close to my grandchildren on a year-round basis. I wanted to be present for their growing years. I felt trapped in a dilemma between being a wife and being Grandma. I felt that if I got to the end of my life and hadn’t taken the leap of faith to move near my grandchildren and truly get to know them I would turn into a bitter old woman. That was unacceptable to me. Still I remained stuck. Until that Christmas four years ago.

After opening the gifts and eating way too much food we decided to watch old family slides. My first husband, our sons’ father, had joined us for dinner. (He and I had been divorced for twenty-five years and had recently become friends again.) As the family photographer he had brought along nine carousels of slides. They included pictures of the early months of our marriage and the usual much beloved and sometimes pretty awful collection of photos of family events over the years. As I watched, the present fell away and I drifted back to long forgotten memories and feelings. I found myself engulfed by the intangible and unmistakable feeling of FAMILY. Even though I could remember the discord of a not-so-perfect marriage my feelings said we are nevertheless a family. I felt a powerful surge of love and determination. I felt unstoppable. I wasn’t sure how I would proceed but that was not an issue. I would simply make my move happen. I was seventy-four that December when I decided to create a new life for myself. I planned to do it by the time I hit seventy-five. The following August I moved into my own apartment a few blocks from family.