a journal of...

A journal among friends...
art, words, home, people and places

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Intimations of Spring




And just in time.  Winter has been a wild ride, three days of nearly freezing temperatures, and then 60 or 70 degrees with clouds, rain, or sun for a few more, the pattern repeated month by month.  Today is one of those reaching for high warmth, so it's a pleasure to shed one's coat by mid-morning.  It's also a pleasure to tread carefully over the ground looking for shoots of daffodils and the first returning herbs.






This morning before lunch, my uncle and I took a short walk around the neighborhood, eyeing enviously the blooms in the sunnier yards.





On such a warm day, it made each turn we took a discovery, good for the morale as well as the winter-stiff legs.   Although in a few days it threatens to be chillier again (we hope not enough to freeze these beauties' futures), we have this week to imagine what the promise of spring means in so many more ways.

For instance, behind my yard, they're renovating extensively the house and studio that faces the main street, these days tearing out everything from cabinets to insulation; I suspect soon the roof and floors will go, too.  That building frenzy also seems a sign of the season, the urge to fix up, revamp, make new, and grow.


In this house where we've been just keeping ourselves afloat for so long, the fixit bug infected me last week, taking me sort of by surprise.  All year has been a renovation of sorts, but just now I'm looking more critically at the latent repairs that I have lived with too familiarly and too obliviously...the enamel wearing on the kitchen sink, the royal mess on my workroom floor, and the cardboard panel the heating and air installers left over a hole they had to cut out in the bedroom wall.   I am beginning to square my shoulders toward recovering some dignity in those and other neglected areas.



I am delighted to say that I've had some windfalls in a few of those tasks.  My nice neighbor Steve left me a plywood panel, perfectly cut, and some insulation I can use to replace the cardboard covering the furnace.  (He also left me a wheelbarrow full of the rich mulch he makes from his leaves, so I could entice my young dogwood and other skittishly growing plants to some vitality.)

 And after looking at every plumbing supply place and site for a new kitchen sink, I came home one day and realized that I already had a perfectly useful one sitting behind the house, one I had harvested from the children's own kitchen renovation two years ago.  I've been using it as a potting and painting bin all this time, but the other day I shined my critical eye on it and decided that with a little elbow grease it would do just fine for the kitchen.  These intimations of spring have given me the energy to get it done.


Those of you shuddering at the idea of using a potting sink in the kitchen will just have to trust me that it's a sturdy and well-fitting appliance which will serve the purpose more than adequately.  Like most found things, its repurpose takes a little imagination to overcome its shortcomings, but its advantages shine.

It also takes some changes of mind and vision.  When I thought about a new sink, my preferences were quite different...a deeper, wider, single-bowled ceramic tub with four holes for the faucet I already have and liked.  On the contrary, my backyard sink is double-bowled, heavy black, and single-fauceted.  It has the same depth as the one I am replacing.  In fact, it has the same shape, practically.  It erases all my preferences for a new one, but they pale in the face of the fact that one, it's free and two, installation is a cinch...pull out the old one, drop in the new. No need to replumb the drains or reroute the lines.  Expediency can be a rush.

Just now you are no doubt wondering, as I am: what is this shaggy story all about, a sink I didn't want turning into the one I'm eager to install?

Well, I'd have to begin by letting out that I am a gleaner at heart. Nothing makes me happier than to find an old, toss-off item that winks at me from a thrift store, curbside, or someone else's discard pile...take me home, it says, you'll see what I can still do!   In fact, knowing about my sink replacement efforts, a friend texted me excitedly that she'd found a perfectly good double ceramic Kohler sink for $50 in Habitat's ReStore.  Did I want it?  At the time, I was still holding out for the single bowl.  You can always dream.  So I turned it down.  Silly me.  You can also always make do.

You can understand now that perfection hasn't been working overtime in my vocabulary.  More often than not, my intentions, and my dreams, take a back seat to spontaneous improvisation. But often enough, both I and those findings are the richer for it.

I'm not a particularly thrifty person; you don't want to know what I spend on sturdy shoes or indulgences when I am traveling.  I do like the idea of recycling, so you can give me an environmental star for that.  But mostly, I love the adventure in the search and rescue of tossed-away subjects that still might find life in their own or a new career.  A leather clutch purse becomes a handmade book cover; a Turkish platter a birdbath; a broken piece of crockery sits happily in the garden disguised as the eye of a fish.  And don't get me started on kitchen gear, like my backyard-become-kitchen sink.



As many times as I am looking for things, things I'm not looking for find me.  Friends who know my proclivity for the worn and tired bring boxes of stuff to my door.  The two photos above beg the question, Is it art yet??  They sit on my worktable in the studio daring me to find them a place in a piece that has little to do with their origins.  Such creations evolve most of the time without plan, though with plenty of intention.  I begin with the materials at hand, look around for what might incorporate them, and then set to work, letting the piece show me what it can become. Along the way, I pick up other foundlings that seem deliberately put in my path, meant to be incorporated.  Here's one that came straight out of that box of street-things.


If I think about it, it seems that the way I live has also been mostly whatever comes my way and whatever works.  It doesn't always result in a perfect scenario (but then...).  Still, seeing potential in whatever shows up has its own rewards.

There is a lot to be learned in the humbled, the damaged, the thrown-aside, that can be worth quite a lot, both in their material makeup and in the state of our minds...open to other ways of thinking, to acceptance, to understanding of the way things work, especially beneath the surface. Or so I persuade myself to believe.

 Anyway, here is Spring, come along to show us the potential that's been hiding underground all winter.


Have you felt your growth spurt yet?

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Gifts for winter doldrums


The other day Joseph came for breakfast and brought these flowers, just what we needed to remedy a patch of the winter blues.

We've had the flu, and being inside has not improved our mood, even on nice days like today, chilly in the morning but sunny and warmer by afternoon...so warm that the sun coming around the porch windows is nearly hot.  Even though I'm finally past the infection, my uncle is still dealing with its nether effects, his age making it more difficult to summon the energy to recover, and opening him up to all sorts of weird complications.  It's tiresome to be sick and to be slow shaking it off.  We think we are sturdier than such illnesses, that it's impossible for anything that ugly to happen to us that we can't beat.  It leaves us feeling vulnerable, and seeming as if the world outside our windows is a different life than our inside cooped-up world, with no bridge between.

Except these flowers, in wonderful shades of purple, violet, scarlet and orange, which come in the door to remind us that after winter is spring, and with it the early blossoms we so look forward to in February...winter jasmine, quince, early bulbs, forsythia.  Across the street, Cathy and Steve have planted a tree with bright orange tips; though small, its potential for cheering up the winter landscape is obvious.

A gift of flowers, whether the hothouse kind or the braver inhabitants of our yards, is the most welcome just now.  They are as important to making our days healthier as were the many neighborly gifts of soups, fresh juice, and citrus (and just today a plush neck and body warmer, from my sister Ann, to ease end-of-the-day aches).  Not only the gifts themselves, but also the many kind acts of giving warm us.  Like Joseph's flowers, they are the symbol of regeneration we so crave.






Friday, January 19, 2018

PORCH, or who I am

Last December I offered to take the place of a vacationing friend who collects and helps sort food donations from our neighborhood for PORCH, an entirely volunteer-run local organization begun seven years ago by three local women to help relieve hunger.  I liked it so much, I promised myself that come the new year, I would continue volunteering there...not just intending to, but actually putting it on the calendar, and showing up.  

I’d been thinking about doing more for PORCH for some time, anyway. Aside from leaving grocery bags of cans, boxes, jars and sacs outside my kitchen door for the monthly pick-up, I hadn’t really put my hand to anything helpful in a community way since I’d moved house four years ago.  It was, in fact, the first time in…let’s see…forty-some years that I wasn’t active somewhere as a volunteer, beginning with my children’s preschool. 



From the first, I’ve been impressed by the way PORCH could do all it does without any levels of bureaucracy…indeed without any paid staff or lease.  Founders Susan Romaine, Debbie Horwitz, and Christine Cotton were neighbors who worried over the hunger they saw in their separate volunteer work, especially among school children.

PORCH works on the simplest principle possible:  one is the basic number.  One family puts one sac of food (even one can is acceptable) on its porch and one neighborhood driver, in her/his own car, volunteers to pick it and others up to bring to one common site.  At the site, (also generously donated by a local church) volunteers, one by one, gather to unpack and rebag the donations, then one by one, drivers, each in their own cars, redistribute the bags to people and agencies who need it.  The power of one means that all those many ones make one morning a month's work into a substantial impact on hunger.  Besides the many generous households who leave bags of food or checks on their porches for their neighborhood coordinator, an increasing number of businesses—especially, but not only food-related companies—give goods, money, time and advertising, often on word-of-mouth recommendations.  Thanks to all of them, PORCH has provided our community with nearly $2 million of hunger relief; add in the other PORCH sites which have sprung up on this model, and it sounds more like $3.5 million.

Lately, the PORCH  emails had been asking for not only more hot cereals, hearty soups, and snacks for the winter, but more help as well.  So this month, I returned to join the other deliverers, gatherers, unpackers, sorters, repackers and re-deliverers, and over the next few hours floated from task to task in the large space, learning the routines more firmly.  It’s a well-run group with people who don’t mind doing what they’re asked, and who pick up pretty quickly on the next thing needed or the next thing to be figured out.  Everyone is there to help.  As many volunteer organizations as I’ve belonged to over the decades, from grass-roots to multi-national, I admired this group’s energy...dedicated, efficient, cheerful...and amazingly ego-less.


Naturally, as I worked, I learned more than simply how to get food from my kitchen to someone else’s in need.  Watching people moving around me, and moving me around, I began to listen for where the volunteers had come from and why.  From “We started this because…” to “It’s such a wonderful  group of people” to “My wife brought me along” to “I’m doing a month of community service for a traffic violation” to “I work for a food pantry in a shelter…”  They included two of the local police who lent a hand sorting, carrying, pushing tables and chairs around, staying til the very end—it’s part of the task to clean up and return the space to its original use when the party’s over. 


As I did last month, after the sorting I offered to drive a few dozen bags to one of the places that distribute goods, last time a mission, this time the county social services.  PORCH isn’t the only organization donating food to schools and food pantries. But it provides a hefty amount of basic nutrition where it’s needed, including fresh foods bought with cash donations or given by grocers.  Most impressively, they offer help to  nearly 400 hundred individual families through school counselors and other community need-watchers.    My deliveries afforded me the chance to look into those spaces, too, watching how they worked, who they worked for, how much they needed.  It's never just a job for a few hours; it's education into increasingly wide circles of society.




While I packed and delivered, I thought about what appealed to me, personally, about such work.  The first appeal came immediately:  philosophically, and for better or worse, I’m one of those people who, as an old friend used to say about herself, feed people.  Hunger is one of the things I’ve, thankfully, rarely suffered, but I imagine it well.  I’m a kitchen person…even while I'm pulling things off the shelf to donate, I’m organizing a bag in terms of protein, fruit, starch, vegetables, milk…

And then there is the appeal of all that sorting and packing.  Like my favorite work with the Friends of the Library, I can’t help bringing order to a pile of thrown-together donations so they make sense for somebody.  You laugh…but it’s true.  (My sister is the same way, so she better not be laughing.)  Categories, sequences, and patterns are me/I.  How I loved diagramming sentences in grade school!  How quickly and avidly I could organize anything from library shelves to syllabi to a committee  agenda!

Too, it’s the accessibility of the volunteer work.  The tasks are simple enough, and yet there is so much need for them, and it is so easy to step in and lend a hand.  Often, they lead to other “jobs” equally as appealing and just as needful.  Busy people, it seems, are often found in the same multiple places, a network of community knowing and doing.




But mostly, and this most selfishly, it’s one of the best ways I know to get myself further out into the world, connecting with what’s going on…really going on…outside the walls of my house and my neighborhood. You learn so much, for one thing, and you can never go back to thinking that you’ve seen or done enough to make things better.

Photographs of PORCH activities thanks to Christine Cotton, Debbie Horwitz, and Mary Sonis; OCIM.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Snow


All day it has been falling.  At seven this morning, it was light rain; by eight, white...drifting down like a Hollywood scene, covering us fast and lovely.  For a while, the children across the street were out, trying to rescue their dad's car, which had slipped sideways at the end of the drive, and some neighbors walking dogs or walking to town, booted and scarved and enjoying the kind of snowfall that feels good...crisp air, wet refreshing flakes, still manageable underfoot.


It kept up long past what we were led to believe...an inch or two, over by early afternoon, said the weather people, like last week's fall more a gesture than a storm.  The plows came and went, but all the tracks were soon covered, as if no one, no car, no sand, had ever passed this way.  All day we'd heard from the north, the west, the south and southwest...chilling cold, bright sun, the precipitation stopped after a few inches, promising better tomorrow.  But it's late afternoon now, and here the snow still falls, lighter, thinner but equally persistent.  Now and then a branch, overloaded, snaps and crashes.  At first we heard them, but now, we see only after the fact the deep impression it has made on the heightening cloud over the ground. 


At noon, I gathered some hazelnuts from the basket we keep for Alexander on the dining table, and threw them outside the front door under the sheltering eaves.  If the chipmunks and squirrels dare to come out of their hiding places, they'll have dinner, of a sort.  The birds haven't shown themselves yet either, but I know, as they do, where their repast will come from:  behind the ivy growth on the bark up the tall trees in the back yard, they'll peck out bugs enough for days.



Tonight, since it's my birthday, and no one else can brave the foot or more accumulated by now, not to mention our town's infamous steep, iced driveways, to help celebrate, my next-door neighbors are wading through from their kitchen door to mine for a winter dinner...a sort of curried rice and shrimp thing, a salad, some apple crisp.  They'll bring wine.  (I wish I had a fire to welcome them, but alas, it's the one thing this house is lacking...a fireplace...and I'm at cross-purposes trying to figure out where to put one, without losing a bank of windows.)

Meanwhile, the snow rises into a silence unmatched, cushioning us from all outdoors.  As I watched a movie to spend the quiet, it seemed as if there were no other world except the rooms of this house, its windows showing only snow broken now and then by the criss-cross of hyphenated tree limbs and high wires.  Snow falling in the air, snow lodged in the elbows of branches, snow piled high on what might be, underneath, rocks or cars or hibernating creatures.  Not eerie at all, just the long black and white emptiness of winter.

It's a sort of gift, I suppose, that bears waiting a while to unwrap.




Thursday, January 4, 2018

Ordinary



All I wanted out of this new year were a few ordinary days to begin again.  But opening the drapes this morning, I found out my window the snow the weather people said was coming.  Scorning them, I had disdained all those shoppers I found late yesterday afternoon at the grocery, who were practically looting the milk, egg and cereal shelves.  I was just there because really and truly I had run out of milk, eggs and orange juice, and, happening to be driving right by, thought I'd save myself a trip on the morrow.  Darting through the melee, I managed to snag the last gallon of milk and a carton of jumbo eggs that weren't broken, and the cashier and I made a joke of the panic people get into when the weather threatens to leave them at home too long.

Those of you in northern climes will no doubt roll your eyes at an inch of snow (that's how much we had) causing such hoarding, but here in the land of relatively rare snowfall, one could be holed up inside for a few days until the sand-and-brine trucks get around to one's street.  Even I, who live right off the main road through town, a road already cleared and well-traveled, am not about to risk life and limb dodging the (let's say politely) less experienced drivers who rev an engine jauntily over a patch of ice and don't expect the spin or the slide downhill. I hate driving (or walking, for that matter) on ice anyway, no matter how many of my youthful years were spent spinning on it.

But no one will argue that the sight this morning wasn't beautiful, the landscape shining jewel-like in the brilliant sunlight.  There were already tracks of birds, deer and something else I couldn't recognize across the driveway, and pretty soon I added my own, making up errands to enjoy the air and sun, even the crunch of snow under my feet.  Ordinarily all this white stuff would melt before noon, except that this week the peak temperature will just barely break the freezing point and nights will dip into the teens...not ordinary.  As I mentioned, we might be stuck inside a few days.


Beautiful winter scenes outside put me in the mood to do something warm inside.  Making breakfast, I pulled a package of English muffins from the freezer and discovered too many bags of bread-ends accumulating near the back of the shelf.  Ordinarily, I save them to dry and grind into breadcrumbs, but this morning that seemed too mundane a fate.  Bread pudding...a treat on a cold day, both the aroma as it bakes and the taste thereafter...sounded much more palatable. My copy of Craig Claiborne's classic tome, The New York Times Cookbook, is, after forty-five years, approaching the look and feel of an antique, but its Orange version is still the best recipe for that homey dessert.

As it came to fruition in the oven, I headed to the workroom to made a card for a friend's birthday, and when it was finished I began to play around, pulling stuff together to make a new one, collaged like the first, this time with leftover bits of a page from an arty style magazine, a rag of cotton and a few handmade paper ends.


Somehow, though, shapes of a deeper significance began to appear as I tore and glued, inked and painted and overlay.  The pile of folded rugs seemed now like a temple; the beginning of an ancient invocation occurred to me, and after I'd inscribed it once, twice, ten and more times, I reached under a pile of scraps and out fell a tiny square with the message, This life is a gift.  I suppose the same words had been nesting in my mind unrealized behind every move of my hands.


What I was building with those scraps was a talisman against worry.  My poor grandson has had a fever that has enervated him for several days now.  Those of us who know from experience about fever in children know that with some medicine, some cool cloths, a lot of liquids and rest it's likely to run its course and shake off lethargy soon enough, but we still can't help remembering all the things that could go wrong.  We also can't help feeling sorry for their parents, remembering what it was like when we were first faced with a little one, usually so full of energy, waterfalls of words tumbling minute by minute..."Dad, Mama, Nana!  See this?  I can do...", now way too quiet and droopy and hurting, his favorite blanket comforting him as he curls into a corner of the couch.   We'd do anything to make him himself again. It's only the flu, we think, but it brings with it a vulnerability we don't want to be reminded of.

So here before me is this collage unfolding from distress but insisting on turning into the bigger picture.  I'm thinking it will probably now be the cover of a book instead of simply a card.  Though I'm still pondering the right frame for it, I think I know what it's about, this piece.   It's the way the making of art turns those deep-hidden emotions we are too old or stolid or iron-willed to admit, into images that overcome vulnerability, even though they are born of them.

We busy our hands with work to reinvent anxiety and uncertainty, creating the outward expression rather than eroding the sense within. 

The bread pudding, by the way, my uncle enjoyed for lunch with a little cream, while the sun flooded the dining room and the snow glittered outside.  Comfort made against the cold, usually by hand. 



Sunday, December 31, 2017

Celebrations



Today is the day before the new year, a Sunday this time.  I walked into Whole Foods this morning, and was politely arrested by the cashier for trying to buy a bottle of Prosecco before 10 am.  (If you're not from this state, don't ask.)  This morning, feeling the new year's chill, I wanted to pull the holiday season tighter around me like a warm coat, keeping happy anticipation for one more day.  Partly it's the fault of the calendar...a holiday like these winter favorites coming on a Monday throws us all off...Monday, we feel, is the start of the workday, not the holiday itself.  Surely, we think, there should be a weekend to follow, at least to allow us time to recover from the carnival atmosphere of more than a month.

All December, we've had quite a time around here, counting candles, presents and heads, wrapping lights on wreaths, gathering at one holiday table after another, at each one celebrating the day and each other.  Thereat, we all have our favorite ceremonies, songs, dishes, and we value the chance to share them as well as indulge in them, learning new ones as much as resurrecting the old.

A friend wrote me a few weeks ago, "What are you celebrating this year?"  "Everything!" I told her, and we laughed over the web.  Families being what they are, wide-reaching and multi-cultured, variably believing and remembering and keeping, there is always something to celebrate for and with everyone.  I, for one, am even more in the mood to do so, considering the wet blanket this past year's grinches have thrown over inclusiveness, not to mention over common decency and basic respect for the humanity in all of us.

So though tonight, New Year's Eve, I will be staying home out of the fray as usual, I'm ready enough to celebrate in situ the potential for good that a new year brings, the hope that in 2018 we will awaken to remember who we are at our best, both individually and socially and globally. 


Anyway, in honor of my Scotch uncle's residence here, I decided to make tonight a sort of Hogmanay fest, beginning at dinner time here, and continuing for as long as any of us can stay awake.  Fortunately, Scotland is five hours ahead of us in time, so 7 pm will find us beginning our Auld Lang Syne verses, and calling his Glasgow family across the pond to wish them well.  Then, here, while others are watching the ball drop and the fireworks flicker and spark over the trees outside the front window, our household (and apparently most of the neighbors', too) will be comfortably tucked away in sleep.


For those of you who are unfamiliar with Scottish customs, let me explain that Hogmanay in its own country is not the retiring feast we are set to practice here.  The Scots begin early and last days eating, drinking, singing, and, just at midnight, going out for First Footing, a walk from house to house offering New Year greetings and begging another dram of whiskey from each.  It's apparently a merry time for all, and reminds me a little of the New Year's Eves of my childhood, at my grandmother's (all festivities happened there), when we ate at least seven courses of seafood for hours (I truly, even hungrily, miss that part) until the moment, counted down in two languages, when even children were cheerfully gathered to the front door to wave noisemakers and sweep the old year out...oh, yes, with a new broom, quite literally.

Food still being the center of any festivity, for our Scottish New Year, I've been looking up Hogmanay dishes.  Hence the early trip to the market to get some ingredients I don't usually have on hand.

Here is a full Hogmanay menu from The Spruce site:

Haggis
Smoked Salmon
Cock-a-Leekie Soup
Venison Pie
Cullen Skink


Trifle or Cranachan

Shortbread
Tablet

Not finding sheep's intestines at WF was, I admit, a relief, though a decade ago, I had tried and quite enjoyed the haggis in the Edinburgh pubs.  Smoked Salmon?  No brainer.  Cock-a-Leekie sounded not only doable but delicious, as did the Skink...I'm always up for a good hearty soup.  Venison Pie made me yearn for the freezer full of tenderloin and shoulder meat I could once upon a time reach into for such a delicacy.  (Alas, I'm no longer a meat-, even a game-, eater.) 



But 'tis the season:  out with the old and in with the new.  The Cullen Skink won out for our main dish this evening.  Orange curried carrots for a side, smoked salmon made into a paste with hard-boiled egg and green onion, some nuts and grapes.

And dessert.  Each year, my aunt used to make a wonderful Trifle for our holidays, and that would be easy to replicate now, especially after the major gift-giving of this month and last...the liquor cabinet is replete with the stuff that gives that elegant dessert its best flavor.  But, as, interestingly enough, my uncle had never heard of Cranachan...raspberries (Scottish raspberries) and cream...I thought I'd try that instead.  And Shortbread?  I certainly didn't have to go to the store for that...I'd made another batch only last night.




As for liquid refreshment, see previous paragraph; we'll hardly miss the Prosecco.  Along with the holidays' gifts of single malts and various wines, we'd also been presented with home made cream liquor from the friend of a friend, and so we're good, as they say.

Well, as it's past midday, I'd better get to it.

I'll let you know how our Scottish New Year goes.  Meanwhile, a very good new year to all of you.  In whatever tradition you celebrate, may the good in you be the good for all of us.  We're all counting on it.

Yours aye...

Friday, December 15, 2017

What she carried


 Tonight, looking for a photograph I knew I had only recently put away somewhere, I opened the drawer of my aunt's dresser and found her pocketbook, which I'd forgotten in the more immediate business of closing her life.  The photo search instantly abandoned, I brought the purse out and began to go through it, thinking at first only to keep important documents (if any) and sort the rest.  But as I pulled out its effects, the discoveries within drew a picture of Aunt Vi that made me smile, and then wonder.


One's purse, after all, is the catch-all of our personalities and practices, so individually, so personally it characterizes us.  We might choose the outward appearance of one carrier over another, on one day or another, to match an outfit or suit an occasion, but the inside contents will always remain pretty much the same.  We carry what we need; we carry what we are.

Women's purses are sort of like men's pockets, only different.  They are more private, for one thing.  They contain the necessities of both genders, of course...wallet, keys, handkerchief (if we are of that age), change, perhaps the latest credit receipt, and probably a cell phone.  But women carry so much more; their necessities go beyond the businesslike chambers above to include not only the ways to get in, out, and hold of, but also the ways to be what we are...and often what other people need and are, too.

As I thought about this, I imagined the story that my aunt's purse would tell about who she was.  Pushing away (for now) its adjacent thought...what would my purse tell about me?...I began to put the pieces of her possessions together as if it were a puzzle I could construct.

First, the outside open pocket:  her clip-on sunglasses, essential for facing the brightness of a day as her eyes grew more dim; her plastic raincap, to pull out in such emergencies as a sudden drizzle. An address book, a bit ragged from thumbing.  In the zippered pocket, a comb, of course, a pack of throat lozenges, and a small key it took me a minute to recognize...the key to the jewelry box she kept on her dresser, though I doubt it had ever been locked.


There was a wallet, certainly, with a few dollars and coins for the weekly hairdresser and manicurist appointment.  There were the usual ID's, the first of which was the non-drivers identification card we'd applied for when they first moved here three months ago.  It made me think of its predecessor, the full drivers license from her previous home state; a clerk of which  state had obliviously renewed it, although my aunt, at the counter in front of her, had to ask for help from the man behind her to find the line to sign her name and besides, she had wisely given up driving years before.  How we laughed about that!  "Well," she rejoined, "at least people will know who I am."

Behind it were two copies of a social security card, the topmost one issued with her married name, and the undermost issued her originally on today's date, actually, in 1936.  Being an accountant by trade, she kept her paper copies carefully...indeed, there is not a crease on the original, though the paper has understandably grayed some.

Her health insurance cards (unlike my own) likewise showed no distress, though she must have pulled them out for twenty or more appointments a year over the last thirty.   A credit card, a privilege card from the Hallmark store, her also-newly-minted voter registration card, and her vision-surgery cards took up the remaining slots.


Except...stuck in a side slot was a yellowed plastic wallet folder with photographs:  showing from one side my grandparents (her parents) in their 1956 passport picture, taken for their first trip abroad, and from the other side, my cousin Nancy, her godchild, in a school picture I'm pretty sure, shining her characteristic smile across the decades.

It was a curious, almost portentous, time to find Nancy there, as she had passed away two years ago on Christmas day. This portrait reminded me of the happier, younger, healthier years of her life among us.  How hard her parents worked to bring her those years, how essential she had become to the liveliness and determination of all of us, in some inexplicable but assuredly felt way or another.

Between those photos, there was a third, a small snapshot of another niece, my cousin Donna, in her habit, probably taken when she entered her order, also smiling broadly.  Certain and composed, it was clearly a souvenir of how much Aunt Vi had enjoyed attending the ceremony of her initiation in St. Louis, and the time they'd had in that city.  As in fact she had enjoyed every one of our ceremonies, wherever they were, whatever they were, over the years.

Under the photos, two charms...the encrypted penny her brother had passed to her, "so she wouldn't ever run out of money", and a coin minted by the Cathedral of St. John the Divine; she must have visited that shrine long ago in New York.  And by them you would recognize her two priorities for security...comfort and faith.

Under the wallet, a small Swiss army knife, for who knows what emergency (well, it did have a nail file), and a small flashlight for dark restaurants.  At the bottom, a piece of white coral, shaped like an angel and encased in clear acrylic, seemed an obvious keeper.

But her wallet wasn't really the first thing I had removed from the purse..excuse me, pocketbook  (as in, where is my pocketbook?  make sure I have my pocketbook...George, hold my pocketbook!) as I delved into the main compartment.

It was the small clear box that went everywhere with her. On any trip, to the grocery down the block or to Florida down the coastal road, you could be sure she'd ask, "Do you want a TicTac?" Yes, she did often find her mouth in need of refreshment, and so assumed that surely someone else in the car did, too.  I learned after a while, to my relief, that the offer wasn't, in fact, insinuating anything about one's breath.  She just wanted to make sure that the others were comfortably driven, too.