Daughters of Diminished Capacity Weekend

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I’m recently back from a getaway Cape weekend with the Daughters of Diminished Capacity, long-time friends who (hopefully) will grow old together. Think ‘elder commune’. We have known each other for much of our lives – as far back as 3rd grade, as recently as yesterday and yesterday.

This was not our first weekend away together, not our first time standing arm in arm on a sandy beach – feeling blessed, feeling grateful. And like the timeless tides that draw us, there is an ebb and flow to our relationship – a knowing we will be there.

In the past, a Daughter’s weekend might include bonfires on the beach, sun burns and skinny dipping, scarf dancing and piggy backs up the dunes because … well, because. We’ve fit 6 in a bubbly hot tub meant for 2 and watched Mars lay a red path upon the ocean, seemingly leading us beyond the stars.

This past weekend was a bit different. We came together to mark the final cancer treatment for one, the upcoming surgery for another, the healing of significant others, as well as the passing of one of our own.  We marked the ending of a long-term marriage and commiserated about the intricacies of eldercare, then reveled in the love and renewal of grandchildren. As one said, “I’m so glad I came this weekend. I feel part of something larger again.”

We cooked for each other, made jigsaw puzzles, cooked some more, took naps, colored the pages in a book called “Fuck you, you fuckety fuck fuck” (my favorite pages being AssHat and TwinkleTits), whispered well into the night hours, researched properties for our future commune, then went on a road trip to find dark chocolate, consignment shops and silver bangles. And yes, drank lots of wine.

And on our last night, we drove to the beach to launch wish lanterns into the setting sun – Good-bye cancer, Good-bye tumor, Good-bye pain and tears and bullshit…

We may not be quite the wrinkle-free crazies we used to be, but in each other’s hearts, those girls will always exist. How many Daughters does it take to light a wish lantern? All of them! As it should be…xo

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Today, I choose joy…

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A couple weeks ago, I taught a week-long mosaic art class on a lovely beach in southern Maine. Each day, I walked a couple miles along the ocean’s edge which was fairly quiet and free of vacationing crowds.

One particular morning, tailor-made for summer sunrises and giving thanks, I saw a young couple and their dog up ahead. Even from a distance, it was obvious the dog wanted to be rid of its leash, pulling it to its length, over and over – running first into the water, then becoming a rolling riot of sand and sea shell, then back into the water – twisting the leash around its human, who (from a distance) appeared to be dancing a jig, attempting not to trip over the rope and wind up head-long into the sand beside the dog. I’ve done this so many times with my own dog, I know the steps.

Then, as we drew a bit closer, the dog slipped out of its collar and I’ve never seen such utter joy! The dog’s body seemed to stretch beyond possibility as it bounded immediately into the water, front paws scampering toward that brilliant orange horizon. The owners continued walking, not too concerned as the dog then body surfed back to shore and yes, rolled wildly in the sand.

What a gift! To know this unreserved delight, this abandon of anything besides water and earth and water again – no restraint – no taut leash tugging back to reality.

Then the dog bounded toward me. When I was young, like most kids, I loved the over-the-top-ness of cartoon mayhem. The excessively dramatic show of emotion. No look of joy on Magilla Gorilla or Bugs Bunny would come close to the look on that dog’s face as he raced my way, around me and back again. It appeared as if the dog’s mouth was stretched beyond the limits of its face! If I’d had my camera and the skill to take that particular picture, I would look at it each time I needed a kick in the ass!

As the dog charged back to its humans, a woman came huffing up quickly from behind, a water bottle clipped to her hip, ear buds snug, arms swinging widely and said, “Dogs should be on a leash!” Her teeth biting through each word.

As I watched her rack up her required steps for the day, I smiled to see the dog back out in the water. This time though, he was floating on his back – a mimosa in one hand, twirling a tiny umbrella in the other.

smoke in water

Play Ball

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Play Ball

We should have been tagging second base, but instead Andy was crying so hard I had to wheel him out of the ball game and take a break behind first.  This was not the Andy I had come to know as the team’s star batter and my friend.

In between sniffles and hiccups, he told me he’d been to the doctor’s that day and might have to have surgery on one of his legs.  He was sad and frightened and needed a hug.

A twelve-year-old with Cerebral Palsy, Andy possessed an amazing capacity to see the best in everyone he knew and help others recognize how much we all have to offer.  The other young players, each with their own disabilities, had come to rely on him to boost their spirits when down.  This was not a typical day at Buddy Baseball*!

And when we finally looked up from our hug, there sat Dougie.  He was a beautiful child with a radiant smile and remarkable sensitivity to the pain of others.  He was born without arms or legs and through determination and some magic of technology, he was able to maneuver a wheelchair using a lever in the middle of his seat.  He could also hit a home-run and caught high pops in a baseball cap held by his teeth!

Today he looked at Andy and asked what was wrong.  Andy hiccuped again and finally stuttered, “The doctor says he may have to operate on my leg.”  And with his composure completely gone, he went back to sobbing.

Dougie paused, then simply said, “I wish I had a leg.”

Andy and I looked at each other.  Then, still sniffling, Andy tilted his head to one side, took a deep breath and turned to Dougie.  “You’re right,” he said.  He sniffed one final time and smiled, “Come on, let’s go get a piece of pizza while it’s hot.”

I took a deep breath myself, as each young boy thinking only of food, headed toward the pizza truck.

About a year later, when I finished telling my elderly mother this story, she looked at me and shook her head.  I said, “What, Mom?  You don’t like the ending?”

“No,” she said.  “It’s not that.  I’m just thinking what everyone else you tell this story must think.”

“What’s that?” I asked, completely baffled.

“How’s that boy going to eat a piece of pizza?”

* Challenger Baseball (or Buddy Baseball as we all called it) was a program sponsored by the town I lived in years ago, for children with physical disabilities.  Each player needed a ‘buddy’ to assist them.

Once the storms have passed

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This morning, after what seemed to be an endless winter, I follow the dog out to the back deck. Coffee in hand, I bend to pick up twigs and leaves tossed there from yesterday’s stormy weather, gently lift the toppled tomato plant, given to me by my daughter for Mother’s Day, search for the trio of tiny green tomatoes, feel thankful they are still secure.

The dog sits sentry at the top of the stairs while I resist beginning the day. Instead, I’m invited to sit in a damp deck chair. Like I sometimes do in small cafes, I still my thoughts and allow myself to hear the various conversations happening around me. The birds are lively this morning!

Meditation has taught me to quiet my mind or at least let my thoughts ride the waves of consciousness in … and then out again. To not hold too close, to not grip with fear or question. This is a difficult concept and as hard as I try (maybe that’s the problem), nattering worry is a well-known companion.

Last night, I thought about my children (who all have children of their own) being out in the storm. My oldest granddaughter will have her license soon. Another worry in bad weather. I try to let it go, remember to breathe.

The birds respond to each other’s call and it makes me think how my mother ended almost every conversation with, “Be careful!” And I’d say, “Don’t worry.” And she’d say, “Don’t tell me not to worry.” This gene passed down from her mother to her and then, to me. And now at 60, my own children worry about how I am doing. And what do I say??

The three pots of lavender I have yet to plant look like they needed last night’s rain. They have grown inches since yesterday and the leaves on the trees around me, have turned a darker green. I haven’t looked out front yet, but imagine the columbine in bloom, all purples and pinks. Later, when the dog and I go look, yellows and grays and reds will descend on the feeder that hangs from the railing. The yellows will share the various perches, the reds will boast and preen, the woodpecker will toss them all aside and the squirrels (who cannot read the bold sticker that states – SQUIRREL-PROOF) will show off their acrobatic skills for a mouthful of black-oiled sunflower seeds to enjoy on their morning travels.

The sky is still gray, but blue cannot be far behind. The birds tell me this. And I say, “Thank you!” And they say, “You’re welcome.”

Week before Easter

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For the past month, I’ve been visiting an elementary school to write poetry with 5th graders. Last week on my way there, I got stuck behind a long line of cars trailing a school bus. Every other house or so, the bus would pull up, flutter its flashing red wings, then settle in as if roosting on eggs while someone hugs their child goodbye.

Most days when this happens, I settle in myself, but I was running late and couldn’t help but think back to the old’n days when you had to live at least a mile away from school to get a bus ride. And rather than stopping every few minutes, buses picked up gaggles of kids at assigned street corners. I know, enough of that…

Nearing the school on this day, I see a young boy walking. Or should I say, I see a boy seemingly being pushed forward from the weight of his backpack, which is almost as big as he is. His back is curved like an old man, his eyes on the road in front of his feet.

He is dressed completely in black, including the backpack. No cartoon characters or superheroes, no welcoming rainbows. The only burst of color comes from his screaming red high-tops which are savagely kicking a rock down the middle of the road. I slow way down and steer around him. If not for the sneakers, he would blend into this dreary morning.

As I pass, he doesn’t pay attention, doesn’t look up, doesn’t move out of the way, just continues kicking. I try to catch his eye, to give him a smile, some acknowledgment that I see him. Instead of looking at me, he lifts his gaze and punches toward a cloudy sky, then stops … right there in the middle of the road, then punches again and again, mouth forming words I cannot hear. It is the week before Easter and though God is probably busy, I hope he’s listening.

Much later, while waiting for a class to come back from recess, I think I see him on the playground. Those red sneakers and I can’t get him out of my head. I wish to hug him, tell him not all days are as cloudy as this one. Let him know that at this moment, I’m conjuring him whole on the page. It isn’t much, but it’s heartfelt and as holy as I get.

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Easter, maybe 1962
Deb, John, Me

Heavenly

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(Seem to be on a food roll these past few weeks. It’s just that time of year.)

I spent this past Christmas Eve with my son and his family. He said he had a surprise for me and brought out a new pasta machine, flour, eggs and cheese. He then proceeded to make ravioli from scratch, just like his Nonie used to do for Christmas. I enjoy cooking, but never mastered the art of ravioli. Talk about making memories…

It reminded me of another time with my brother and niece who came to my house to collaborate on the making of the traditional Thanksgiving ravioli, something not attempted since Mom died. We brought out flour and eggs, ricotta and parmesan cheese from the old Italian market, Mom’s ancient rolling pin and pizza cutter, the newer macaroni machine. In the end, we made 20 of the homeliest ravioli I’ve ever seen. Mom always said the trick was in the dough, “You’ll know the dough is ready, when it is.”

I am ten, sitting on the counter in the kitchen of the old house kicking red PF Flyers, keeping beat to a song my mother hums while she cooks. She pauses to use the back of a floured hand to wipe hair from her eyes before rolling out sheets of pasta dough made from scratch.

With a practiced move, she dips her hand into a sack of flour and anoints the table. From a cracked pink bowl, she separates a handful of dough, drops it onto the floured surface and rolls a wooden pin back and forth. She shifts the thinning mound clockwise and continues to roll over its growing spread. This is fascinating to a ten-year-old child who cannot imagine how she does it, except through magic.

What happens next is something I could sell tickets to. In a manner so smooth and precise I have never been able to match it, my mother smartly scoops just the right amount of ricotta into a perfect row across the bottom edge of the dough, flips this edge up and over, then swiftly applies karate chops in between each bundle and across the top to create a seal.     

Next, with a pizza cutter (I now own), she drives the wheel up and over, down and around each perfect pocket like a race car driver on a slalom track, screeching to a halt with a huff and sigh.

I stay far back as arms and elbows fly, but as soon as the flour settles, I hop off the counter like a loyal pit crew to gently pick up each ravioli and place it at the other end of the table, counting as I go. 136, 137, 138…

        My brother, niece and I laughed a lot, reminisced even more and spoke to Mom/Nonie out-loud-at-the-ceiling, as much as to each other. Once when my brother was doing something particularly discourteous to the dough I said, “I’m going to kick your little ass!” and at the same time, we both said, “I/You sound just like Mom.”

The evening left me with thoughts of how certain foods, particularly their smell, become rooted in our lives and are able to conjure people and moments. Many of us have a relationship with food like that.

Ravioli does it for me. Growing up, for every holiday and birthday celebration, Mom would make those saucy pockets of cheese that we could barely wait to eat. Thanksgiving turkey? What’s that? Easter ham? What planet are you from?

It took us 3 ½ hours for three of us to make 20 ravioli, while Mom would make at least 150 all by herself in way less time. Heck, we needed one person to crank the macaroni machine, one person to feed the dough through and one to catch it coming out the other end. Some came out looking like lumpy faces and butts, but one ravioli looked just like hers. And it called for a toast!

That Thanksgiving, when we sat down at dinner to eat our 2 ravioli each, there was a lot of smiling and nodding and yes, a few deep sighs. Many thanks were also spoken, since I’d thought ahead and made a back-up lasagna as well.

This past Christmas Eve, there was also much talking and laughter and love. And we didn’t even wait for the next day’s dinner. We ate all 10 ravioli while standing at the counter. Mom though was probably groaning loudly since the sauce came from a jar. The ravvies though, were from Heaven!

On Pie

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It’s the Monday before Christmas. I’m so cold, my fingers aren’t working well on the keyboard. The house smells good though … like apples and cinnamon, a pie baking in the oven. As a girl, so many days I’d come home from school to a home that smelled like apple pie and unspoken love. My mom planned it that way.

I’ve never been good with pie, unless someone else baked it. My mother’s crust was simply too tasty to try and match. She attempted to show me once how she did it, but the knack didn’t stick. I remember the afternoon though …

Mom, like most good bakers – “You put a little of this, a little of that.” Then, “Ooops, well, don’t worry about it.” And then she put the forming mound of dough into an empty Wonder Bread bag.

With her left foot (not sure why, but she swore it had to be the left foot) up on a chair and a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, she began working the bag of dough on the kitchen table. “Don’t work it TOO hard,” she warned. “Eventually, you’ll get the hang of it,” she said quite seriously, all those years ago. I was laughing so much, it was hard to pay attention.

Now, I wish I had. My crust is sub-par. It’s kind of tough to mess up sliced apples with sugar and cinnamon, but for many of us, the crust makes the pie. Even though I used her old wooden roller to flatten out the dough, I didn’t have a Wonder Bread bag. Had to use a Chabaso Bakery ( http://chabaso.com/ ) bread bag and it just wasn’t the same. Maybe I should blame Chabaso.

And yes, my left foot was up on a chair. And yes, I laughed out loud while reminiscing with Mom and she was right there with me, laughing also. And the house smells heavenly. Even if the pie doesn’t taste good, I will still have the pleasure of her company while it cools.

Mom and E

In the kitchen with Mom.