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Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Easter Bunny Meets Santa Claus

                                Vineyard Blizzard ’13                    dee

         It was the Easter of second grade that I did the calculations.  My family lived in a quirky house on River Road in Piscataway, New Jersey.  After all the festivities of Easter – the baskets (with gifts of every nature, but limited candy. My mother didn’t approve of sugar.) our new dresses with white patent leather shoes and bobby socks, the church service during which I inevitably fell asleep on my mother’s lap (embarrassing my father with my indelicate snoring) and the enormous ham dinner with all the trimmings that I gave voice to my growing suspicion.  My mother and I were tidying up the living room at the end of that long Easter day when I finally summoned my courage to broach the subject. With pounding heart (after all, I knew what was at stake if I was right), I spoke with trepidation,
 “Mom, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. I just can’t see how the Easter bunny gets into the house to fill our baskets.”
“That’s why we leave the front door unlocked,” was her breezy response. I clearly remember my gaze passing over my sister, already in sixth grade, who, while remaining silent, had a bit of a smirk on her face. I read her like a book and knew immediately that there was more to the story than my mother was telling me.
I persisted, “I saw Dad lock up the house last night, though.”
At that point, my mother called for my father,
“Ken, can you come in here for a moment, please?”  When he arrived, my mother instructed me to restate my suspicions.  I sat on the edge of a small cream and gold love seat with my hands pressed together between my knees. Haltingly, I asked the question that was at the heart of it. “There is no Easter Bunny, is there? It’s just you and Mom, right?”
“Well, dear, it’s Mom’s and my job to help keep the spirit of the Easter Bunny alive. Even your sister helps.”  My sister’s face was serious and even appeared a bit concerned now.  From her reaction, I knew I was getting the news straight.
With lightning recognition, it struck me,
“That means there is no Santa Claus either, right? I mean, we don’t even have a fireplace in this house and how could he be at so many places at once? If there is no Easter Bunny, there can’t be a Santa Claus.”
My mother said, “This is about keeping the spirit of these characters alive.  That’s our job. It’s not that they aren’t real; they just are not real in the way you thought they were.  And they are still real for other children who still believe.                                                                                                                                                                                                                             
“Does that mean God is not real, either?”
”The Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and God are all ideas we carry in our hearts.  We believe in them because they are about renewal and giving and love.”
My father said, “I have something I would like to share with you, I’ll be right back.” I heard him go into my parents’ room, open a small door that was in his bureau. He kept special papers and mementoes there; I knew because I peeked when I was putting away his laundry on occasion. I had certainly missed this little piece. My questions triggered an impromptu family gathering in the living room on the evening of Easter Sunday in 1965. I sat leaning close to my mother. My sister sat on the other side of her. My father, thespian that he was, stood, holding a paper in his hand, and began to speak in a deep and sonorous voice. 

 “My father read this to me when I was about your age, Dawn.  Back in 1897, a little girl named Virginia was trying to figure out if Santa Claus was real. In September, 1897, her father told her to write to the newspaper to find out.  The response to Virginia’s question appeared on Sept. 21, 1897 in an editorial called Is There a Santa Claus?
My father read,
'Dear Editor -- I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says ''If you see it in The Sun it's so.'' Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
--Virginia O'Hanlon, 115 West 95th Street
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.’    Authored by Francis Pharcellus Church, New York Sun.

          That Sunday, when I was seven-years old, was the first time I can remember crying tears of joy and sorrow simultaneously. One thing was abundantly clear. I had a job to do for the rest of my life. I had to ensure that I kept alive the spirit of Santa.

So, when my five year old daughter came home from Kindergarten upset because one of the children had used her sharing time to tell the other children Santa was not real, I was prepared. I started with a little girl named Virginia.
For that, I thank Mr. Church, my parents, the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and God.

source of quote was Wikipedia.com 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Humor 101

Darkness and Light d. 12.14

           Recently, a close friend of mine told me that I had to stop writing such somber
and grim posts.  What that did, in fact, was lead me to wonder if I had actually been converted to a somber and grim person. Can you change affiliations that easily? I certainly would not have said so a couple of years ago. Now, I wonder.

           I love to laugh. I love the laugh-until-your-eyes-run and you stand in a pretzel twist to avoid having an accident.  (Almost any woman over fifty with several children can attest to this form of laughter – as can any observant male, for that matter).  I like to laugh at things that may not always be funny to everyone else. Thank heavens my children get my humor or what a befuddled mess our lives might have been.  My dearest friends, those new to the fold, and those who helped build the fold, have seen my laughter roll out of me at the least provocation. And, what’s more, we can get ourselves worked up to rollicking hilarity by reliving whatever the precipitating factor had been, simply by remembering it years later.  We also seem to forget what started us on our laughing fit in the first place. That, alone, can leave us gasping for air.
         Thanksgiving offered a discussion that could never be transcribed in such a way that it could deliver the same comic effect as it did when my three children were batting around an idea casually, as if playing catch. We did laugh.  It became raucous laughter when my son, in a style I can only describe as Billy Crystalesque, wrote a clever little jingle to further advance the topic into our Thanksgiving hilarity. Their father was puzzled, then frustrated, and finally (I surmised) angry because, admittedly, the theme under scrutiny — which was death -- was probably not common fare for conversation during Thanksgiving dinner.  But after all, even the Baird had quite a lot to say about death, and comically at that. Laughter prevailed at our Thanksgiving table.  While some may have found it maudlin or ghoulish to shine a light of comedy on death, why not? The more we fear something, the more power it holds over us.  There are times my daughters and son seem fearless as they navigate through their lives. I admire that. I also respect that they seem to understand that death is the other side of the coin of life and to find humor     in unexpected places is not necessarily bizarre, but liberating.
          The last couple of years have been unusually trying.  My plans and dreams seemed to have taken a detour I least expected.  However, I feel like I have been bringing my humor with me as I recalibrate my life.  An example comes to mind immediately. A few years ago, when I was in Spaulding Rehab (after two hip replacements), I felt a keen kinship with one of my nurses in particular.  Her, name, Amanda Darling, seemed remarkably fitting for a young woman who was as kind as she was smart. Amanda had the ability to take a moment that may have seemed distressing and even agonizing to make a small joke or offer a quick smile.  She was the nurse that found me upon admittance with a pair of ice-water soaked underpants on my head.   (An aside: the ambulance crew pretty much dropped me off on the transport from Newton-Wellesley Hospital to Spaulding. I am not sure if they actually stopped the ambulance. I was beyond miserable.  I could do nothing about my hip or my back, but my head! It was my MacGyver-like solution at the time to slide my hand into the bedside table drawer so I wouldn’t have to move any part of me.  I pulled out whatever I felt first, dropped whatever it was into the ice water on my tray, squeezed it out, then placed it on my head.  I realized that by adjusting the cloth just so, the damnable light was dimmed).
 It was under these conditions that I heard a sweet empathetic voice, “So, I hear you have a little headache,” she said.  The ambulance drive and drug schedule had resulted in one of the worst migraines of my life. It hurt too much to vomit. I was sure I had entered some kind of hell. But Amanda, with her gentle gibe, almost made me laugh. She handed me a little white cup filled with pills and down they went. They even stayed down. She came back in about twenty minutes and I let her take my underpants away to dry. I still laugh at the image. The ability to find humor in the unexpected is, perhaps the key to survival.  My parents advice to me about longevity in a marriage had always been patience, forgiveness, and, of most importance, humor.

          Quite frankly, I do not think I could have weathered some of life’s recent trials
without mystery books, hot baths, large cups of peppermint tea, vistas of ocean against canvases of sky, unwavering friends holding my hand, my children, chocolate, and, of course, humor as a tool in my toolkit .

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Another Election Day


     Robert Frost wrote, “TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood. And sorry I could not travel both.”  His words came to mind this week on Election Day.  

     Every Election Day leaves me with a particularly sharp sense of awareness that I have the privilege of making choices.  I can participate in the giant mechanism of democracy that makes our country unique.  I feel honored to be held within the grip of a political model that instills patriotism. I feel blessed that at the broad level, overlooking the stutters and missteps we take as individuals and, sometimes, as a nation, one legacy reigns; one person, one vote.   Our forefathers created a country that supports freedom for individuals while balancing that gift with maintaining a vision that encourages the greater good for us all.  Often, I disagree with the mind of the electorate. It is not unusual for my choices to be found sitting on the losing side of the aisle. However, I understand what a privilege it is that there is room enough for my voice whether it is a winning or losing choice.  I continue to keep cynicism at bay, distrust at a distance.  America, our great nation, continues to be an experiment in democracy, and I am honored to be part of that experiment. Locke, Rousseau and Jefferson would take great pride in seeing their model unfurl as it has. 
     As I walked out of the Town Library on the first Tuesday of November at 1:05pm, I was proud to be the 684th person to cast a ballot in my small town.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Woman’s Notes

                                                Little Scribbles          A Woman’s Notes       Running Press  Philadelphia, London

     While in the process of setting up a brand, new office space in my Vineyard condo,
various surprises surfaced   - missing bills materialized, a favorite pen –one I believed lost in my numerous shufflings this past year suddenly manifested.  The best among the treasures was a 2” by 3” notebook that my daughter, Kay, gave me in 1999.  When I unwrapped it on Christmas morning, she instructed me to keep it in my purse so that I could write down ideas for my book.  Kay, never a shrinking violet, included a picture of herself on the cover as a source of inspiration.  She assured me that, if I were to have a “stuck” moment, I could dig into my purse and jot down a few words generated by her smile alone! It was a thoughtful gift. It fit readily in all of my purses.  Happily for me, years later, Kay’s present keeps on giving; it serves as an inadvertent, but excellent, time machine.

      At the time I received the Little Scribbles notebook, my family lived in a newly renovated house in Sunderland, MA.   The children were all at the Bement School in neighboring Deerfield, MA – Hannah was nine, Kay was eight, and Charles was five. We had celebrated the completion of a house that we had designed and built with close friends on Martha’s Vineyard . Life had a shimmery quality of happiness, fullness and joy.  I was writing for the Hampshire Gazette regularly. It was against this backdrop that I regularly jotted down thoughts, partial sentences and nearly indecipherable phrases. I managed to string these thoughts together like imperfect seed pearls. I devoted myself to polishing them, and then selling my observations to various magazines that featured essays about family life and spirituality.  Sometimes, I would pull out my little notebook, dig up a pen from the bottom of my pocketbook, and had them over to my restless children in restaurants and in church.  It is only now that I discovered occasionally, my children made a few entries of their own.

Dated 12.24.99   Dawn wrote a phrase:    “a benefactor assigned duly and without duress”
Ensuing pages : phone numbers and Scrabble scores
Dawn wrote:  In Vino Veritas
Dawn wrote: Snow and sorrow defined my life.

April 30, 2000
Dawn wrote:  Innocence lost, knowledge gained
                         Ours was no Eden, but just the same…

Dawn wrote: God gave us the ribbon, but didn’t tie the bow.
Dawn wrote: Music by Anne Cochran
Dawn wrote: Snackwell’s Coconut Cremes
Dawn wrote: 3 Chimneys Inn in Durham, N.H. Dale?
Charles drew a dog bone.
Hannah wrote: Hi Mom, Bye Mom, Hannah  ps Hi Mom
                              pps. An Actual Artpiece (Triple A)
Charles drew a compass rose.
Dawn wrote: “ So many stories begin with a crossing. Crossing a city,
               a bridge, or an ocean. For me, it began as simply as crossing a room.”

Charles wondered the difference between the Civil War and the Silver War.
Dawn notes: Satin Basecoat with semigloss topcoat with appleseed sponge.
Book: Soul’s Code by James Hillman
            Healing Grief: Reclaiming Life After Any Loss  James Van Praagh

Sigiornella Wine ‘87
Dawn wrote: Isolated, the most common views become spectacular – this one tree,
                         separated from its brethren, shows its outstretched branches and
                         its shining glory.
Carly Simon: Death is just the limit of our sight line  adapted from,
                          “Life is eternal, and love is immortal, and death only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.”  Rossiter Worthington Raymond

              Dates, dollar amounts, To Do lists, scribbles and doodles.  A crypt of sorts; warehousing the Dawn I was then, a paler reflection of whom I am bowMy little scribbles added up to something, someone.  I have used my writing to lend transparency to who I am.  The opposite might be said of my mother. She was a woman of notes.  Layered below the instructional notes she left on most all appliances and on doors, drawers and tools
were notes she wrote for her eyes only.
         Among my mother’s effects when I was emptying her office, I found several stenographer’s pads filled with her sketches and poems and unfinished essays.
She has been gone nearly four years, but there are times that her loss cuts as keenly as the day she died.  On those occasions, I glance at  the pads she left behind. I have taken a shiny ribbon (some may suggest it was provided by God, and he left me to tie the bow) to bind her notes.  I am waiting for the time that I am brave enough, open enough, loving enough, forgiving enough to see an entirely new dimension of my mother; one she kept scrupulously hidden from my father, my sister and me.  As I wend my way through uncharted territory of my own life, my curiosity about her path has grown.  I wouldn’t be surprised if, one day in the very near future, I pull the ribbon, allowing it to flutter to the floor. I can imagine flipping the first page of the first steno pad and finding myself introduced to a woman I never really knew at all.