June 19, 2021

The Gentle, Sweet Man

 Like on the day before Mother's Day, I took a Zoom writing workshop with Laura Lentz.  This one encouraged us to write About Your Father.  This is what came from this workshop today.

I lived in the shadow of my mother and that long shadow obscured my father and I really never saw him or knew him. So now I write a love letter to him.

Dearest Willy Walt, Poppy,

Sweet artist never realized,


Athletic (you tried to teach this uncoordinated girl tennis)




I cherish the few stories you told me about your life:

About leaving your art to become a bill collector during the depression and learning the hard way to never ask a debtor “where is your dog?”

Singing war songs around the barbeque as if you had been there, but Washington was far from the front.

The change in you that you told me about when you, the staunch Republican, was assigned to the most hated Democratic of men only to learn respect for the man in the wheelchair who expressed concern for you.

That’s all I knew of your past.


But even in my ignorance about you, you kept from me all your troubles

Your disappointment

Your disagreements with Ruth

The loss of your two older sisters to a diphtheria outbreak only two months before you were born and the sadness of the house for years in your childhood

The loss of your beloved kid brother to TB only months after he was best man at your wedding

I never knew until I began just now to research your life.


I’m sorry I only saw you as someone to fix, to cure of your alcoholism


I’m sorry a nurse had to show me how you longed for your art studied so passionately in your youth in the haunts of Cooper Union and the Art Student’s league (another thing I did not know) and help me bring you back to it.


I’m sorry I never acknowledged your true nature:


So sweet

So gentle

So kind

So lost

An artist never realized


That brain tumor that took you from me, that was what made me truly see you.

I wish I could tell you how much I loved you. I hope you will forgive me my sins of omission    




May 20, 2021

For Anna Belle

On the day before Mother's Day this year I took a (Zoom) writing workshop with Laura Lentz. The best $39 I have ever spent on a writing course. (Note: I started a free six session course with another writer also this Spring but the less said the better about that one. I only made it through three sessions.)

In this Laura Lentz course we were encouraged to write for 13 minutes "About Your Mother" but I found myself very stuck and, while I produced a stilted story, I was dissatisfied and the next day I sat down to write for 13 minutes about the woman who was not my mother but who (as one of the commenters later said) "mothered" me.

For Anna Belle on Mother's Day

I can still smell the odor of your Yardley’s Lavender powder and the Nivea cream you used on your age-crippled hands.
When we slept in the same room, in the blackness of night and the naivety of my age, I thought you sang in your sleep. Now I know that that high pitched sound was the animal cry of keening for your two daughters, dead very young from diphtheria, deaths you blamed yourself for because you had nursed other children in the neighbor in the throes of the same deadly disease. You believed you had brought it home.
So, late in your life, past the age when you had finished mothering your surviving boys, you found a difficult young girl to love and you threw yourself into the job as much as your Edwardian upbringing would allow.
You knew I needed the calm, quiet and understanding that was unfound by me in my stern and unavailable mother, wrapped up as she was in her own blaming life.
You never scolded but you painted my world with a soft glow of evening lamplight, of peace and love and permission to be me, not the Spock-perfect child that my mother wanted.
Even now the sight of house dresses and black brogues or starched white nurses uniforms and thick stockings bring me comfort. And my own hands becoming crippled with arthritis make me remember how much you were able to do with yours.
You died only two years after my mother in a far away town.
Your patient work was over.
I hope that in me you found a place to love that you were denied by the deaths of Anna and Elizabeth.
Know, that even if I can’t tell you, I loved you so much.
(Pictured: Anna Belle in 1960 at the age I am now.)

September 18, 2020

On the River in the time of COVID

 I try to get to the River at least once a day.  Usually it is when I venture out to buy my lunch.  I'm not much of a cook nor do I care to be.  Low on the "to learn, do or moan over not doing" list.

Now, in the fall, is the time I come alive.  I am largely Scandinavian and find the hot weather totally intolerable. Ask my favorite horse trainer about the ice water bucket when she would unglue me from my horse at a show in the heat of the summer.  So the cool weather, cloudy, breezy day and brilliant fall colors attract me like a 1000 pound magnet to the Water Street parking lot where I can sit in the parking lot just a few yards from the South Branch where it joins the mill pond and think.

I am also not a morning person.  NOT NOT NOT.  But today I was up early, so early that I thought Shop Rite might not have my salad bar open.  It was.  I pulled in to a perfect spot in time to eat brunch and watch a heron freezing stock still out near the edge, looking for her morning repast.

If I come here on weekends it is a never ending parade of masked parents and children getting in and out of cars, walking in the park by the river, and coping with the various life shattering disasters that befall children (dumped ice cream cones, "I wanna go home" and "Why can't I hold the dog's leash").

This morning was different.  

A car pulled up beside mine with the obligatory kayak tied down on top.  I expected the usual guy, flexing his muscles and, well, being guy.

Instead a late middle aged woman pulled the kayak off, checked her paddles, put on her hat and mask, and slipped into her flotation device.  Without words and in a semblance of an orchestrated ballet, cars pulled in one by one and disgorged late middle aged and older women who silently equipped themselves and slid their brightly colored water vehicles into the river.

It was such a refreshing sight.

I might even get up early to see it again sometime.  Maybe not.

April 21, 2020

Being a Christian in the time of labeling

I recently responded in this way to a post on a friends page that implied that all of these people protesting the lock down were sociopaths: “Granted it could be just sociopaths but I think it goes deeper than that. Are we raising generations of people who do not believe in caring for each other? Are we emphasizing to our children individual liberty without tempering that with social responsibility? There just can’t be that many sociopaths. They must be “carefully taught.”” (Okay so now I’ve taken to quoting myself.)

I have thought about this a lot lately and want to expand on what I said.

As a Christian it behooveth me to look at all people as God’s children.  Now granted, many of God’s children suffer from mental illness but are we becoming to quick to label people as having mental problems?  Is that becoming the easy way out for us? 

It is my belief that we, as a nation, have, for far too long been deficient in two areas of our process of educating our youth. 

First we tell them that this is a country of individual liberty without telling them that that liberty requires certain things of them.  We frequently ignore what it takes to implement the phrase in the Constitution when it states that it was ordained to “promote the general Welfare”. Promoting the general welfare often requires at times that we surrender part of our liberties so that others may have equal liberties to those that we enjoy.  In the past this happened, for instance, when men were drafted to fight in WWII. In this time of pandemic it is happening when first responders daily put their lives on the line for their fellow human beings.

Secondly we fail to educate them in the love of their fellow human beings.  We might call some of these lock down protesters “sociopaths” but can we honestly say that we, in this country, have done all that we could to help them to understand, no matter what their religion or even if they have none at all, that we are in this for the love of each other?  We are one body as a country.  Countries that live under democratic socialism of some kind recognize that their citizens are not rugged individuals living only for themselves but that everything they do is for the good of the body of people that make up their country. Perhaps we need to take a long hard look at ourselves and our country’s ethos before we take the easy way out and label people as being mentally ill.  As a Christian I am required to do this.

April 13, 2020

What they did for love...

Writing about these incidents to a friend today I thought I might share them here too. They are examples from the past of the self sacrificing mindset of those who care for us now, during this pandemic.
In 1910 there was a minor diphtheria epidemic in Jersey City. Despite the fact that she had a newborn boy (my father), two girls 2 and 6 and a 7 year old boy at home, my grandmother, a community nurse, went out to care for others who were coming down with the disease. One night she got home to find a quarantine sign on her door. Her two year old and six year old girls were down with the disease. The other children were closeted in her bedroom. Despite her care both of the girls died. I believe that, even though she had two children after that (one named for the six year old who had died) it haunted her the rest of her life, yet she continued on.
When I was planning on going to nursing school my grandmother sent me to visit a younger nurse friend of hers. Her friend had been in her nursing school's class of 1919. She had two pictures on her mantel. One was of 20 girls in their striped dresses with leg of mutton sleeves and aprons on the day they entered nursing school. The second was her graduation picture two years later in her white graduate nurse's uniform holding a single rose. When I asked her if she had a picture of her graduating class she said "that's it". She was the only one left, the rest having died nursing in the 1918 flu pandemic.
This is by way of saying, I think, that these things happen. We can't control them however much in this day and age we think science is able to, and we simply must live through them as best we can and pray that things might get better someday the way it did for my grandmother and her friend.