Liebe, Liebchen.  Freizeit.

Liebe, Liebchen. Freizeit.

 

1.27.2019

January 27, 2019

The winter romances a person.  “Just for a bit, just a little,” begs January with the same light, from the same sun as summer.   Now that light teases as no warm kiss of air matches its brilliant, blinding light. The days lengthen to tease even more, but the wind persists with greater chill through February thaws, right up until those first ides of March.  I run outside for a moment, unable to control my longing for sunlight no matter how chilling.  I smile as I return to huddle indoors, hiding in sweaters among heaters and fireplaces.  And soup.  And hot cups of coffee.

Living in Wisconsin, I could care less at the duplicity of mother nature in winter  “Tickle me with chills.  Tease me with sunlight!” Minus thirty degrees Fahrenheit wind chills are nothing to fool with other than with my words.  “Oh, romance me winter.”

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day.  I think of my relatives.  I think of my father.  I think of the nostalgia of the 1940’s and the pain.  My eye catches the sunlight lighting my favorite chair, my spot for reading, writing and praying.  I think of my years of writing through my own distresses and my own pain.  I have so much more to write…

But today is Holocaust Remembrance Day.  It is the day which marks the Liberation of the concentration camp at Auschwitz.  I know of pain and I know of distresses but I know nothing of such suffering.  And because I do not know such suffering, I wish to write today, of meaning and beauty.

I was a naive twenty-two year old when I married for the first time.  In that marriage I had formed a dangerous, volatile union.  I had been determined to prove something, I guess.  There had been moments of innocent love.  There had been moments of struggling as a couple to survive financially.  There had also been moments of danger and of anger.

As we were separating, my grandmother’s health began to decline.  My mother would travel to take care of her, then call so that my father and I could talk with both of them.  The last time I spoke to my grandmother, we spoke over the phone.

“You are a Jew,”  she stated simply.  “We are Jewish.  We are Polish Jews.”

“Are you safe, Stephie?” my grandmother asked.

“Yes, I am safe, Grandma.”

My mother returned to the other end of the phone.  “Are you okay?” she asked me.  “Did you hear?”

“Yes, mom.  We are Jewish?”

“Yes.”

Within a month, at the age of twenty-six, I was a divorcee.  I felt tainted, but I was safe.  And not too long after that conversation, my grandmother, Ida Agnes, passed away.

My grandmother’s father was not an upstanding Jewish man.  He was more of the gypsy-type, those that scrounged, picked, dealt and resold.  Commandeering a horse and buggy, he picked through others cast-offs.  If you needed rags, he would get you rags.  He dealt in rags.

Jews such as my great-grandfather were called ‘Sheenies”.  He might have also been a bit of a drunk.  There is no glory or glamour to what or who he was.

I never press my mother too much upon when she knew of our ancestry.  When she was growing up, she could not even reveal she was Polish.  She tells of the story when she was a high school student in the fifties, when her class studied ancestry.  When it came to her turn in class, she said that her family was Bohemian, Belgian, German and Polish.  When her father learned of her listing of nationalities, he demanded that when she return to school the next day, she must retract her statement.  If she did not, he would.  She was to say that she had been mistaken.  She was not Polish.  She was Bohemian.  She was Belgian.  She was German.

She was not Polish.  My mother did as she was told to do.

If a person put a positive spin on her father’s – my grandfather’s – actions, I could conclude that to reveal a Polish ancestry would also reveal that she was a Polish Jew.  Perhaps it was for her own protection.

Um. No.  She was also banned from learning Spanish.

During World War II my grandfather, along with many workers in eastern Wisconsin, worked in aluminum and metal work factories.  Building everything from ship propellers to weaponry casings to submarines, that part of the state immersed  themselves in the efforts of wartime supplies.  My grandfather – the same one who denied my Polish ancestry – was also a neighborhood watchman, patrolling streets during practice blackouts and alerts.  With government contracts, these factory cities readied themselves for air attacks.

I look out again, at my writing window.  I have written before of the humor my mother and I find, thinking of my grandfather’s fondness for my grandmother’s cooking of potato pancakes.  At Christmas time, along with candies and trees, we would be treated to specialty plates of dried fruits and fruit filled doughnuts, colorfully arranged on Depression glass trays.  Perhaps he knew he was eating Jewish food, perhaps not.  I will never know.

The romance of that winter sunshine.

But my grandmother was cagey enough, I would believe, to have never told anyone.  I would never have a chance to ask her questions.  I would never know more except her words, “You are a Jew.”

I think of her life, surrounded by her husband’s family – my Great Aunt Libby, my Great Uncle Stephen – who were possibly the most prejudiced people who, even as a child, confused me with their odd sounding pronunciations, mixtures of Bohemian and German, and stern harsh voices who both scared me and loved me, and surrounded with the characters found in her own family (my Great Uncle Johnny, my Great Uncle Emmet and of course, my favorite, my Great Aunt Mae).  Both families were full of secrets and scandals (someday I will tell you tales of her sister, my Great Aunt Mae, whose story could best be prefaced with a wink. Or two. And a giggle.)

facetune_27-01-2019-20-43-35
The gift she gave me.

How strange it all is, the legacies of hatred, fear and secrecy.  More so, how curiously strange was the notion of the acceptability of the necessity of it all.  Even now, the child within me reminds me that there are desk drawers you just do not open.  Or if you do, you never mention what your eyes have seen.

But within her story, within that drawer, within those deadliest of secrets, lies the beauty of character, of strength, of survival.  There is, within those papers, a spirit passed from her hand to my eyes; from her lips to my ears.  My grandmother, knowing we were safe, knew she was safe enough to tell me, “You are a Jew.  We are Polish Jews.”

Many years ago, my father decided to honor my mother with a gift of a bracelet upon which one charm was her Star of David.  I never knew what my father thought about my mother’s heritage.  He had been raised Roman Catholic with a prideful Polish Irish French ancestry which he seemed to both revere and begrudge.  His stance, I believe, was no stance.  But the charm and his reverence was an intimacy with which he shared and honored my mother.  After he passed away, my mother duplicated the gift to me.

Hmmm.  The International Holocaust Remembrance Day, or The Liberation of Auschwitz.  Or,

May we remember those feet.  May we remember the feet of all who walked under the infamous sign.

May we remember those hands.  May we remember those hands who worked.

May we remember those eyes.  May we remember those eyes who looked up to the sky.  May we remember those eyes who looked to the sky, who looked upward to pray, past the black iron words, “Arbeit mach Frei.”

“You are a Jew.”

Freizeit.

Liebe, Liebchen.

~ Stephanie.

 

 

 

Abundantly Perfect, Like Bird Berries…

Abundantly Perfect, Like Bird Berries…

August 25, 2018

Handsome. Oh, that G~d had granted me a son.

Solid. He stood before me with a silent smile, curious and strong.  Ready.  He was ready.

The graduate and grandma

His father, my son and I arrived with plenty of time for pre-ceremony photos and for him to weave his way into the line up with gown, cap, tassels and robe.  My brother delivered my son’s grandmother.  She, our family’s matriarch of eighty-plus years who reigns with a wit only further sharpened by time, strode into the high school fieldhouse, each hand encircled by my brother on one side and my ex-husband on the other.  My mother had planned on her own failure rather than success at being able to physically walk the distance from curb to seat.  But she was doing it.  There she was – a matriarch of family and most importantly, a wizard of her own creation.  There she was, a young man’s first source of magic:  his grandmother.

We waited for the processional.  His smile widened. His face was maturing into a landscape of one man’s promise upon the slate of G-d’s blessings. His is an etching only beginning to be drawn.  A masterpiece slumbering within.

I took my place among mothers with over eager camera lens, fingers snapping upon shutters, clutching at moments to capture.  I snapped those same photos.  He was a man, dressed for his future.  He was a young man in whose eyes I still could see my boy.  And I realized then how ‘it’ happens.  I knew in a moment I will always see those eyes of depth as the eyes of my boy, my son, forever.  I knew in that moment I will watch him grow but I will see a boy in those deep eyes.  And for the first time in a long time, I was silenced.

I watched as he stood in line, his full name called.  He walked across the stage, shook hands with principal, school board and the evening’s dignitaries. I watched in silence with the hope that I had not failed him.  Where were my cheers, screams or tears?  It had been a selfish moment of terror wondering at the imperfection of parenting skills.  My mouth fell open as my memory played alongside the reality of unfolding events.  My memory replayed the moments of his birth.  I remembered the pain and the silence. I could not speak then either.  Not a word.  During labor I had stood in the hospital shower.  I hadn’t wished for drugs until it had been too late to use them.  With water rushing down my body, labor gripped at muscles one would had never thought to have been gripped.

All the while, I could not say a word.  My mind could not form words.  And the water ran over me until the moment of his arrival.  There he was, that miracle of biology and blessing of universal dust and hope.  He, in his own brain, with his own mind, waking into the world.

I watched the memory in the silence of my mind, a baby born and now a man walking –  striding – on his own terms.

Sigh.  Oh, that G-d had granted me a son.

…………………….

I have begun again.  It seems that the spirit of change, along with trees, tomatoes, and the bird berries, has been fertile this summer.  “Bird berries” have outlined my home in the woods rather cleverly.  For years, they have outlasted the mower’s blades to the joy of birds which feast upon them.  They are those berries whose proper identification I have never been compelled to discover even though as a child, I was always warned never to eat them.

The birds, however, sing a much different tune.  Literally.

……………………….

Coincidence.  Perhaps there are coincidences.  I tend to think not, but perhaps the true coincidence of the summer is the occurrence of summer’s spirit of change alongside an incredible circling of life events which I am only now starting to fully recognize.    I had thought the coincidence was the parallel of my son’s graduation with my own search for a new job.  There was no relationship between the two events.  Yet I had been amazed at the times in my life that there seemed to be an intervention, above my own abilities and above any theory of lady luck, in which the circles of life overlap perfectly.

Awareness? Genius?  Oh, please, no.  I had recognized that in order to survive I would need to change.  I had desired it.

I had wanted to change.

A job offer came.  After a month that felt like a year, an offer had come.  As I write now, I think of the panic, the anxiety, and the doubt.  Those were much easier states of mind as I rewrote resumes.  But the offer had come.  (Truthfully I was not even sure at the time it was an offer.  In such a short time I was more used to thinking negatively.  After some scrambling between phone messages and emails, I finally realized the offer was serious.)

I was hired by the largest retailer in the United States.  How fast did life change?  The company sent me to management training in city which always had scared and intrigued me.  For five weeks, I studied at one of their academy stores.  I wandered the city in my off-time and traveled home when I had any total days off.

I was fifty-three years old.  I have traveled and navigated New York City, Chicago, Milwaukee, San Francisco and Boston.  But Madison?  I will never understand why the city scared me.  And here I was.

At a beginning.  Again.  I had returned to a piece of me that I had long put away.  I had loved my MBA program but I had never thought I would be indulging my mind and my life with business studies and career again. Again, again.

I looked briefly in the mirror, at this woman I now am.  In one Wisconsin summer (in the condensed heat of two and one-half months) life burst with swirling cycles of change so unpredictably predictable, it was perfect.

Abundantly perfect.  Like bird berries…

Somehow.  For some reason. In some way, my life has become a bumper crop just like those berries.  Yep.  It is the summer in a year of plenty.  And in some comical twist of metaphor, thank goodness those berries are not meant for pie baking.

It’s not pie. Beginnings.  Circles. Commencements.

Happiness. Love.  “Choose the berries”

Love you lots, blessings to you and yours…

And a kiss for your journey.

~ Stephanie

ps. New writing goal.  Every two weeks.  One week to write;  another, to edit. (I dislike strongly, yet politely recognize and embrace the process of editing.)  Grrr…

“…vinegar, including the Mother.”

“…vinegar, including the Mother.”

May 12, 2018

You may laugh about it, but my first health tip is the daily inclusion of cider vinegar.  I personally manage to gulp a morning tonic of two tablespoons of the stuff mixed with grapefruit juice and diluted somewhat with tap water.  I think a person should also add honey, but I do not.  I first read about the benefits of cider vinegar years ago, but the real testimony came from a dear elderly lady friend.

She, nearing ninety, exemplifies good health, good mind and excellent spirits (and elegant fashion sense, I may add).   As women, we do not often share our little secret routines, but she did.  Imagine my surprise, when, at a lady’s gathering of coffee, she proudly proclaimed her daily dose of cider vinegar.  I chimed in, but my testimony is secondary to the one of age and beauty.  I just smiled.

Major disclaimer needed.

With my unveiling of my daily habit of cider vinegar and with my writing today, I felt as though I needed to publish a disclaimer.  I am not at all a professional in the areas of counseling, psychiatry, spirituality or health care.  I never intend to present myself to you falsely as though I am a professional in any of those areas.

I apologize in advance, but I wish to cover this matter as completely as I possibly can.  Please, if you or any one in your daily life seems to be in need of the services of health care professionals, seek them out.  Really seek them out.  I would recommend starting with the websites of solid organizations such as these resources online:

http://www.mentalhealth.gov and http://www.psychiatry.org

You can also google a search by typing “mental health” or “counseling” or “health care” which will produce results geared to your particular geography.  Please, never hesitate to reach out.  At points in my life, I had done the same, from seeking the help of marriage counselors, developmental counselors / social workers, psychologists, priests, nuns and a kindly wise vicar.  Some were men;  some were women.  Each brought to our sessions unique perspectives which helped me heal, aided my growth and continued my development.

 

The Chaos of Spring

I have been rejoicing the budding leaves of those two towering maples which guard my front door.  Like the shells of peanuts on the floor of a hoedown, the walkways and steps are now littered with shed leaf coverings.  Spring has its own chaotic party with each dawn, every warmth of sunlight and every drop of cool rain.  Kisses of life, really.  Inspiring and happily infectious but also messy.

Chaotic.

So, the disclaimer is done and winter is over.  Now I claim, again, the rights to write.  I have decided that my recovery is over.  Done. Over. I am healed and ready to go on.

Finite.

Now that may or may not be true.  I am quite positive that I am deficient in a multitude of ways that I have not even fathomed.  Still, I realized I did not want to be in the stage of healing from the past.  I did not wish to keep internally comparing today with yesterday.  I did not wish to place the measuring tape of my life in the past.  Am I two steps away from what hurt me?  Am I now ten steps away?

How about I pick up that tape to place it beneath where my feet stand today?  Or maybe I should dare to keep that measuring tape in my backpack of tools or better yet, maybe I should hang it up on my workbench.  I will know where it is, in case I need a measuring tape.

As my son enters his final stages of high school, my ex-husband and I have been preparing him for college by monitoring sign-ups and registrations and applications.  There are final tests, placement exams, transfer credits and all the coordination of an ending and a beginning.  For him.

Coincidentally my life too turned.  I started looking ahead.  The three of us – my son, my ex-husband and I – had all been recovering and building, building and recovering.  The steadiness of the past three years in our family, now structured with two households, has allowed a path to be laid, like a brick walkway in spring, littered with the coverings of leaves which could no longer contain their joy of simply just being green and becoming.

 

The Growth of Dandelion.

Oh, I am frightened.  I am saddened at the thought of my son leaving for college.  He is ready for the world.  Well, he is ready for this step into the world.  He is, his own man.  I am mostly excited for him and his dreams.  I am excited for his soul.  And I pray for him and those of his age, that they have tremendous luck.  That somehow this generation is blessed with a peace of intellect, faith, grace, effort and love.  Not ease.  I do not wish them ease nor do I wish them toil.  But I do wish them the joys of the work of discovery.

I have been blessed with the days of being a mother for eighteen years.  Just one son.  I remember wanting another.  My son was four when….well, I miscarried.  I had been ‘glowing’ and everything seemed correct.  I remember starting my log so that I could plan the timing of a coming birth of another child.

I was married at the time.  We lived a different sort of life than the one I lead now and the life I led before I was married.  He was an executive at an insurance company and I was a stay at home mother.  I was blessed beyond measure.  Economics were, of course, always a concern.  I took care of the finances and the home budget.  But in reality, our household was blessed with income.

My husband had not wanted another child.  I could understand.  He, older than I by two decades, was practical.  I did.  As we attended summer gatherings, family members had commented that I looked like a mother to be.  “Were we expecting?”  I had just smiled.  And although he was scared, he had assured me we would figure it all out.

But another child was not to be.  I had prayed for a second child partially because I believed it to be a healthier balance for my son and I thought that was a part of marriage.  Yes, yes.  Another child would be the stable family size as though fulfilling some cosmic prescription of domestic bliss.

But I miscarried.  And (graphic alert – much like the spoiler alerts in movie critiques) I bled for the next year.  I had never shared with anyone the extend nor did I go to the doctor.  Seemed befitting, in some bizarre reasoning, I figured that I had deserved it.  I always felt as though I had taken my ex-husband from his prior life.  I had felt damaged from childhood memories.  And, I had felt as though I did not appreciate the one child I had by wanting another.

So I bled.  I never thought about having another child.  I finally did see a doctor.  By that time, my doctors – and by that time I needed multiple physicians – needed to test me for any abnormalities which could be causing the bleeding.  Anyone, and I was, would have been anemic.

I have a good ending to this episode.  I have a son.  And, I did not have cancer.  Every woman goes through a round of tests, of ‘those’ tests. I had been no exception.  Through months of rotations of intrauterine ultrasound testing, I had been scared to numbness.  It was a quiet sort of scare.  I went to the testing alone.

I remembered the darkened room in which a person becomes accustomed to watching monitors and accepting the cold glide of the wand.  I waited for a telltale monster glob or the reaction of the technician.

No, Steph. “It” does not work that way.

Looking back, I do not know when exactly that the bleeding stopped.  But it did.  After several rounds of careful diagnostics, there was nothing to be studied.  I did not have cancer.  And the bleeding stopped.

What a strange memory for Mother’s Day, except that a mother, any mother, and a woman, any woman, holds within her, the blood of her own healing and the trail of her own recovery.

To you, all you inhabitants of Mother Earth…

Love, lots and loads of love.

And a Kiss.

Yours,

Stephanie, the brick dandelion

PS. I will have to research, what exactly that means on the cider vinegar bottle “Includes the Mother.”  What I do know, is that is the vinegar you want.  And it is nasty, vile smelling.  I believe it to be incredibly healthful.