Tuesday, September 28, 2010


She Grew Up In Them, and loved them.

My mother was never a collector, she was the 'Keeper of The Stuff,' as I am now.  My father was the shopper, my mother ended up with all the memorabilia from her family that had been passed on, and she dragged with her.  She kept gifts, but there is very little my mother actually bought for herself to indicate her personality.

A Birthday Gift From Her Nursing Friends.

And things that belonged to her parents.

She kept books, but very few,

and the family bibles.

But every once in a while I come across something that is nothing but,  purely my mother.  During the course of my unpacking, and my quest to leave no box unopened, I came across this.

And this...

I'm not sure how long I have been dragging this box around, more than likely since 1995, because I never examined these, though I am familiar with the stories that accompany them. 

Ski Pass used as a bookmark for this page.

My mother always had a thing for being 'out-country.' She loved Europe. Most notably Germany and Switzerland.   - If you were unfortunate enough to be in a European Airport in the fifties, and was unintentionally assaulted by a tiny little woman attempting a 360 degree turn with a set of skis held horizontally at her waist, I apologize for her now... She said you were Russian, she thinks you swore at her, but she didn't have time to put the skis and poles down to rummage through her bag for her Russian translation book to tell you how sorry she was. Oh, and that she was a nurse and you appeared to have a blood pressure problem you turned so red so fast, and you really should have that checked.  Its just that you limped off in such a hurry after your tirade... -  One of the books in her  pile  collection is Learning German. 
She loved Germany and Switzerland.

Between the war ending and having kids ( a whole lot afterward too ), my mother traveled.  One couldn't really call them vacations, she was never home.  She worked so that she could afford to do what she wanted while my father was off serving his country.

Oh, and if you should happen to be the nice German Gentleman, with the gorgeous Nordic sweater, who rode allllllll the way up the mountain in the gondola with this person...

who was trying to have a conversation with you, gleaned from her little German phrase book she had her nose in,  your heavy sigh when you finally reached the top of the mountain was not lost on that woman.  She and her family had many hours of uncontrolled hysterics later in her life, when she would do a re-enactment of your slowly sinking posture, your continually gazing up the mountain, to see if you could see the top yet. And your remark at the top, when she offered to keep you company and ski the trip down with you,  "I don't think I would be able to  keep up with you."   Priceless.   And Thank You as well for the impression your sweater made, we all received Norwegian sweaters that year for Christmas.

Monday, September 27, 2010


This is our back yard...

There is barely room for the four cars that park here. There are three apts, we are on the second floor, which is cool, cause I have a birds eye view of everything.    The post office is a distribution center as well, and the bigger white building on the right, a few feet away from the post office, is the police station.  Which is not a bad thing.

The old Main Street is in the front, and just above, hiding behind the trees, are not only the railroad tracks, but the hosptial.  Lifestar (med helio) lands on the roof and is really cool to watch at night, though a bit disconcerting considering the amount of crash victims they transport.

I sit on the back porch in the morning. It's an eastern exposure and warm during the chilly mornings of September.  The postal workers all come in, get their trucks, and go to the big doors to load up.  They are always in great moods, laughing and cutting jokes, great job, even greater pay, the best benefits. What more could they want?

It's during late afternoon, when they are all returning, that things become disturbing.  They park the trucks, get out grumbling, start swearing ( "This #@*&#  PLACE." --  " I had a @#!*  certified letter , huh."  etc.), slamming doors, arguing with each other.  Actually, um, going POSTAL.  

I'm not understanding what goes on in between.  Most of them never have to get out of their trucks. The others get their daily exercise walking, put mail in boxes or slots, and talk to everyone they run into. 

Something really weird is going on though, as it is the normal routine.

Which is why the close proximity of the police station is probably a good thing....

These are the two old converted brick buildings across the street...

Our landlord owns the one in the distance.

This house is next to the brick buildings.   I've found another one just like it around the corner a ways. It is one room wide, and two rooms long, like a short brownstone. No one lives in either one.

This is our side of the street.

We live in this one.

Best of all, this is the view at the end of the street, at night.

I walked through the private school's parking lot to see the annual parade.

It was four hours long, I lasted two and a half.

Though somehow, even though it's a nice neighborhood, I still miss this view...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Dear Mr. Hitchcock...

Were it not for you, I would not appreciate the view from my rear front window quite so much.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


                                                                     This is Murray.

He is one of the most polite and personable cats I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.  He is a Farm Cat Kitten. He is gorgeous and it should not be a problem finding the perfect home for him.  But it is.  The problem is that he and his brother have been together since day one, are extremely attached to one another, and need to go as litter-mates. 

                                                    This is Precious, his brother.

  Would you just look at that face, those big, baby-doll eyes all sweetness and light.  Precious is the problem.  For no reason he is always under the belief that he will starve within the next two minutes and must be on the alert for anything edible.  He can hear a coffee cup being placed on an end table from three rooms away. Turn one's head for a moment, and the next thing one hears is slurping. This would be because Precious has his head totally in the coffee cup and is the process of trying to gulp it all down before he gets caught.    He is also capable of hearing something being dropped in the kitchen trash while in a deep sleep.

He has Dumpster-diving down to a fine art.  He hooks those hind legs on either side of the opening anchoring his body.  He is then free to peruse what is in the can at his leisure.  If he were a person he would grow up like me and hoard food while on vacations.

I really need to find a more secure kitchen trash container. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


My daughter called this evening.  It was a momentous occasion.  The first words out of her mouth were, "Would you like to know what your grandson did?"    It all came flooding back to me, THE CURSE (Just wait until you have kids of your own.), and all the times I had called my mother.  The beginnings of those butterflies in my stomach that signal an onslaught of hysterics was creeping up on me. Oh gaud this was great, she's calling to tell on him. While well on my way already to uncontrollable giggles my reverie was interrupted by, "Are you even listening to me?"     

"Of course," I managed to wheeze, "What did he do?"

"Well," she huffed, "He figured out that when the factories print out and box up all those collectors cards they just ship them out in order or something, and that's why some of the cards are so rare and sought after.  But only in a given area.  Another area will have plenty of the one that is scarce here."

"And this is a problem why?"


At this point I was trying really hard, truly I was, to not laugh out loud, but the indignation in her voice was simply too familiar. I had used it on my mother.  With the same result. I could almost hear my mother saying, "Oh, hold on for a moment, would you?" then she'd blow her nose for five minutes, wipe the tears from her eyes, and try to get through tales of her grand children's adventures without rolling in the aisles before I hung up.

"Um, yuh, why?"

"Well, I'll tell you why.  He found a card on E-Bay some kid on the West Coast was selling that he needed, so he bid on it and won.  There was a bunch of auctions for the same card out there.  So he bought a bunch. Meanwhile he put a bunch of the cards that are common here, on my account."

"Oh gosh," I was barely breathing now, waiting for the punch line.  "Did ya sell any?"

"Very funny. I had no idea this was going on until this afternoon when he got home from school."

"What happened?"

"The kid hands me eighteen dollars, says he owes it to me for using my account and to pay the charge card with it.
Then he hands me nine dollars and says half should be enough to cover letting him use my account."

"I can't stand the suspense, what'd he end up with?"

"Forty-eight dollars after postage and handling."

The "Kid" is ten......

I was howling.   I had those abdominal cramps from laughing so hard they hurt.  I was flat out on the couch. By the time I was able to squeak out between insane giggling, "Could you hold on, I need to blow my nose?" there was no one there.   Its still bubbling up inside me.  Evidently the kid takes after his uncle who must have been born with an Hermes' briefcase in his hand the way he can squeeze  a dime out of a nickle.

I"m not quite figuring out why my daughter was in such a snit over this.  I'm thinkin' hey, put the stock pages in front of the kid at breakfast for six months, start talkin' futures and pork bellies with him and I'll give him my E-TRADE password..............

Saturday, September 18, 2010


For this literal mass of boxes I have yet to unpack, as well as forty or fifty others full of art supplies that need to be organized in the basement storage area so that I can use them again. 

Though rightfully the blame should fall on my mother, and if my sister were here she would whole heartedly agree.   For you see, by the time my sister had flown the coop and was safely nested in her college dorm, I was still at home in junior high, which meant my sister - and only my sister at this stage -  met the required distance from home to begin being an honored recipient of our mother's 'unloading.'

My mother had, in her youth, been a pack rat.  Current television programs picture 'hoarders' in all their glory.   I have had to re -access terms after watching a 'Hoaders Marathon.'  Pack Rats merely pack - the operative word here - sentimental things away when they have no space for said things to be displayed.

After graduating from nursing school and marrying my father, my mother dutifully returned home, packed her things in boxes and began to drag them around with her from state to state, packing and repacking each time my father was transferred. 

By the time my parents decided to start a family and leave my mother in her home town close to relatives, rather than raise 'service brats,' my mother had had it.  She moved into the little house they rented, and decided to leave her precious cargo stacked in boxes in the basement.  One move later these boxes ended up in the house my sister and I would ultimately grow up in.   My mother had not only grown weary of the whole packing thing, but cleaning and dusting as well. Those ole' knick- knacks collect a lot of dust.  But they meant too much for her to simply get rid of them, and my father was still bringing odd things into the house.  Odd as in brass mortar casings he picked up in Pearl Harbor after the attack, that my mother had made into lamps. Or stuff that was stamped 'MADE IN OCCUPIED JAPAN."

 In the meantime their three story barn was filling up with priceless antiques each time an elderly relative passed away.  My mother had no interest in the old mahogany, carved claw- footed, marble topped tables (the mahogany reminded her of coffins), nor the gorgeous dressing tables with three mirrors at angles that enabled Victorian women to see every angle of their appearance before their grand entrance to a party (she didn't wear make-up).  It was simply more stuff to take care of when two kids and a job were enough, and still smoosh in time for reading or movies, tennis, skiing, well, you get the picture.

My sister and I grew up in an environment close to sterile (in our mother's defense, she had cared for polio victims and didn't want us to end up in iron lungs), with two original African feather paintings on the wall in the living room, a calender in the kitchen, and the printed cardboard chart for the fire horn signals in the basement doorway.   Oh, and all those boxes lurking in the basement.

One weekend when my Dad decided to grab me and take a spin to Boston to visit my sister, my mother suddenly said, "Oh, wait just a minute,"  and she slid out of sight.  About an hour later my Dad was tapping his foot in irritation when she finally scrambled up the basement steps with a box.  "I meant to send these to Judi."   So began the tradition of 'Unloading."

Over the course of the next four years she sent so much stuff to my sister that my sister was screaming "UNCLE." So she started on me, and I was still in the same house.  It was no use explaining I had already filled up the shelves my future brother-in-law had built for me with my own stuff, and that my mother's stuff wasn't even leaving the premise at this point. 

 Eventually I would move far away, my sister was even further away, and my parents (for at some crucial pivot point my father became involved in the conspiracy as well) would resort to subjecting the United Postal Service to an onslaught of heavy boxes three or four times a year. My father once taped an ancient sewing machine's wooden case together with duct tape, and trudged down to the P.O. with it, just like that. No box, just the sewing machine that weighed a ton.  Mailed it like that.  The poor mailman who brought it to my house must have lost his mind. He left it in the hallway the day before, it just so happened, that I was taking my much newer, and in working order, sewing machine to the basement.  I went downstairs to get the mail the next day.  I remembered I had left the sewing machine in the hallway, when I saw the mailman carrying it out the door.  I asked him where he was going with my sewing machine.  When he turned he had the weary look of someone who has seen everything - and nothing surprises them anymore -on his face.   "I brought one in yesturday, figured this one was going out today."   Poor guy.

Years later while discussing our decorating and furniture obsessions, my sister would state, "It's Mother's fault we're like this you know.  We grew up in such sparse surroundings we are over compensating."

 I never did seem to tire of packing and unpacking precious stuff, nor finding gorgeous shelving to place said stuff on, until that darn bear...

I keep all my hiking stuff in the car.  More often than not I will see a place by the road where I just want to go tromp through, and I do just that.

And soooo, about five years ago I was out for a Sunday drive. Yes! I still do that.  While passing by a lake directly on my left, just past the guard rails, with fishermen in canoes sitting peacefully out there waiting for a bite, I spied a path on my right, directly up a steep embankment.  I found a patch of dirt a half mile away to leave the car, put on my boots and pack and doubled back to find the path.  It looked steep enough to be a short hike to the top where I'd have a perfect view of the lake. It was, in fact, so steep, while walking up it I felt at more than one point, if I tripped I would have about 18 inches of play before my nose hit the dirt in front of me.

I was a quarter of a mile in when the woods opened up.  To my right was a deep ravine, at the bottom of it's ninety or so foot drop were huge glacial erratics. To my left was a granite wall, with an eleven inch ledge, and no way around.   Off I went onto the ledge. Cracks in the wall I was inching along had all sorts of plants and vines growing out of them.  Mother Nature hates a vacuum.   I was being careful not to get anything in my eyes, so I was staring down at the boulders while hoping I didn't lose my footing and end up in a bloody heap on them.   I was nearing the end of the approximately fifty foot ledge and beginning to heave a sigh of relief when I looked up at the woods beyond and saw what appeared to be the biggest wild turkey in the history of the world straight ahead.  Figured after I got off the ledge I'd root through my pack for my camera...

Only while I was still on the ledge that turkey started making strange snorting noises.  Then to make matters worse, it raised its head, a big black bear head, and started sniffing at the wind.  I should mention at this stage this was only the second time in my entire life I have ever genuinely panicked.  Well, actually, PANICKED. 

Although to me time started to stand still, the whole incident probably took no more than thirty seconds.  I started to switch my feet into a good position to turn on the ledge and quickly head back the other way, and when I began the maneuver, my pack got caught on the ledge, I started to lose my balance and frantically grab for teeny little vines sticking out of the granite wall when suddenly I felt a searing pain in my back that seemed to set both my legs on fire.  Ow. I managed to finish the turn, take one look back in time to see Mr. Large Bear ambling towards the other end of the ledge, while I was shimmying towards the beginning.  When I made it to solid ground again I turned to see the bear at the other end of the ledge. Just staring. At me. Lunch. But was it worth it?   

Getting back to the car was easy. Practically slid the whole way, so steep was the grade. By this time I was concentrating more on my probable massive heart attack than I was the pain in my back.  I called my friend to tell her about my latest adventure while I caught my breath and my heart put itself back where it belonged.
She said, "Oh, did you get a picture?"  

Two days later, after the CAT scan on my back, while staring at the films my orthopedic doctor murmured, "Yah know, you really shouldn't walk alone."   Then he told me I had ruptured a disc, and the only way to fix it without surgery was a long bout of special exercises and a lot of suffering.    I chose the suffering. It's been a tough road since than.  Its hard to get enough extra blood into the spine to enable a disc to heal itself.  One figures out fast in the beginning that walking on tiled cement floors and sitting in hard chairs are the worst things to do.  So most of the time I am OK, until I have a setback.

Moving twice in eighteen months is now on the list of setbacks.  So I'm blaming the bear for the slow-going-unpacking. But I hear my sister whispering in my ear,  "We wouldn't have ended up with so much stuff if it hadn't been for Mother, you know. Over compensate, that's what we did, you know."

I have reinforcement's coming this afternoon to tackle the basement with me.  I really need to find the charger for the camera....  And start another box of stuff to unload mail to my daughter...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


The animals and I  (cats plus one bird), slept at the farm for the last time on the twenty-second of August.

My son and his two friends had moved all the belongings in a leaky U-Haul truck, during what could only be considered a monsoon (officially over 2 inches of rain that day), to our new apartment in the city where he remained to set up beds. I stayed behind to clean up and leave with the animals the next day.  

After mopping up the moving-mess, and dragging the old cast iron chaise lounge in from the porch to sleep on downstairs in the Great Hall, I remembered I had managed to stash a quilt and a pillow in the car for that night, but not clean clothes.   My mother was probably rolling over in her grave - "...and don't forget clean underwear, what if you're in a car accident..."   I assumed my sister would take care of me on the 'roughing it' front and late that evening I took off my totally drenched sneakers, peeled off my sport socks, put the sneakers between the ancient, turned banisters, hung my socks on the railing, and got as comfortable as possible in damp clothes on the chaise.

It wasn't easy with cats sitting on most available stairs, glaring at me with what I originally thought were those "OK, what exactly is going on here, and where is all our stuff?" faces.  I would learn in short order that the confusion of moving was not the source of their expressions.  

I rolled up in the quilt in my damp clothes, said a little prayer to keep the beetles and bugs away - which didn't work, it was hideous and I refuse to revisit that aspect of this night - turned out the hallway light, and exhausted from the days work, hoped to fall into a deep slumber.  

As soon as the light was out, Bunny had an anxiety attack.  She sat on her chosen step meowing as if her life depended on it, until I turned on the light, fetched her off the step and brought her under the quilt with me. She would not settle.  The next one to lose it was Edgar, who hopped up on my pillow and nosed his way under the quilt,  Spot went to the window and started to whine, while Gatsby laid on the foot of the chaise with his eyes so wide open it looked like, well, it has to be said, like he had seen a ghost.

Fifteen minutes or so would pass, and then IT began.  I heard distinct, muffled arguing. Definitely between two grown men.  I listened to it for quite a while, until the tone became such it sounded as if the argument would become physical.  I dislodged the cats, grabbed my flashlight and went outside to see what was going on by the road, for it was there this must be.  The rain had ceased, leaving behind a foggy, humid, distorted stillness outside, the sort of air one can cut with a knife.  The flashlight was doing me no good what-so-ever in the soup, so I listened for another minute, heard nothing, traipsed to the road, still hearing nothing I made my way back to the house.

The cats were all on the chaise, staring at me, the bird, normally in her tent, was flapping around her cage. I checked and there were no beetles in her cage. I raised her from the time she was an inch long. She does not like creepy crawlies in her cage, bird food is her nutrition of choice.  But there were no beetles, nor carpenter ants in her cage. I talked to her in hopes she would settle and avoid an injury, so disturbed was she.  It worked to a point, she got into her tent (which she needs, she cannot perch with only one foot), but she would not stop her agitated chirping.

I squished in between cats on the chaise and tried, once more, to sleep (perchance to dream....!). The arguing began again. This time I could almost make out words, but not quite. I raced out the front door sure I would find the source this time, so loud were the voices.  Nothing. I had slammed the front door on my  way out so I thought I'd just wait. It would start again and I would figure out just where on earth these two guys were that sounded ready , at this point, to kill each other.    More of Nothing.  Then a flash to my right, near the old pine trees next to the vegetable field that had not been planted this spring.  Great, here stands a human lightening rod in the middle of the lawn, and why -  for gauds sake -  can she not remember what the characteristics of 'heat lightening' are?  Crucial at this stage for someone with a family history like mine. 

Then a muffled crack of pressure on a twig, leaves shuffle, and as the hair on my body began to stand on end (it really does this ya know, such sudden, severe constriction of muscle tissue, as in FEAR), Grandma came sauntering around the corner of the house, with her daughter in tow.  Phew. Well, as long as I had escorts I'd  do a little walkabout and see what I could hear.   They walked with me, joined in the rear of the house by the Teenager and the gray.  Naturally I heard nothing more.  I sat for a while on the front porch talking to the farm cats I was forced to leave behind, then went back inside. 

Where my cats were all nuts, the arguing was nearly deafening, and through my exhaustion I finally saw the situation for what it was.  Yep. Spirits of some sort, and unhappy to say the least.  I kept picking out a word here and there and wished I had a notebook. And a pen.  I got down and put my ear to the floor, while my cats remained on the chaise, and listened for so long I knew I would recognize the voices if I ever heard them again.  They did not stop. So I sat with the cats and wondered. 

Was it the slaves that had originally inhabited the basement of the house back in the late 1700's.  A creek runs through it and it was there they cooked, washed, and slept during their forced servitude. It was in that basement they lived out the small part of their lives not spent working for the 'master.' 

I looked to the past for an explanation, if not an answer.

The farm was built in the mid 1700's, the original portion maintained by its great stone block foundation, original post and beam construction, as well as a good percentage of original wooden clapboards under the asbestos siding.  Surely enough original construction to hold a bounty of unhappy souls. 

In 1783 slavery was made illegal in Massachusetts.  Were the men arguing over trying to make a break for it? The border is less than thirty miles away as the crow flies.  In ancient diaries there are stories of slaves that were devoted to masters that treated them well. Did one man want ultimate freedom, while the other security for his family?   The great-great-granddaughter (in her late sixties) of one of the original owners of the farm I chanced to meet was an incredibly pleasant woman, with still such a love for that farm she had not driven by it in fifteen years. Watching it's steady decline broke her heart. I have to believe her ancestors were of the same good heart as well.

Was it an argument over Abraham Lincoln's latest gaffe?   In a widely published letter to Horace Greeley, dated August 22, 1862, Lincoln wrote [hold on to your hats please, this is a shocker], that if he "could save [the Union] without freeing a slave", he would.  It wasn't until a month to the day later, September 22, 1862, Lincoln passed the Emancipation Proclamation which became effective January 1, 1863.

Or was this a product of something more recent, more sinister.  Just last week the house in town that had been host to the town's first murder burnt to the ground. It had occurred more than fifty years ago. Not much else was said in the local newspaper regarding details of the murder.  Such as, hey, did they ever catch the guy?

Needless to say, I did not sleep for the rest of the night. Those guys kept the cats, the bird, and me up with all night with their arguing.

I returned to the, now totally vacant, farm yesterday to refill the auto feeders for the cats. The only one around was the teenager. So I have not seen poor Grandma, nor her daughter or the gray,  since my last night there, when she chose to disregard her safety and brave a coyote attack, to walk around the house with me, leave me at the front door, and sneak back to the hideout in the shed to the rear of the house where they stay at night.

I sat for a while on the front porch, shaded by trees old enough to have witnessed whatever may have taken place in the past.  I listened, but heard nothing. The chaise is still in the Great Hall where I left it at 6 AM the morning of Aug 23rd.

And one day soon I will return to spend one last night in that Great Hall.  I really need to know what those guys were trying to get across.