Friday, June 22, 2018

When It All Changes

When you do genealogical research so often it becomes like collecting sets of inanimate objects, like salt and pepper shakers.  You always want "the complete set," you need the person, their date of birth and death, who they married, their dates, if they had children, etc.  You want to look at a generation in your tree and see it full and complete.  It feels like an accomplishment, and it is.

Then there are those moments when you look at all those names and dates, lines and boxes and you start to hear whispering from  them.  Soft voices call out to be recognized, to be seen, to be known.  Some are more insistent than others and you begin to pursue the person behind the data.  You might look for pictures of the houses they lived in, pictures of them, newspaper articles that may reveal moments of their lives, mentions in books, anything to give you the chance to put flesh on the frame.

The most haunting pursuits are when you find an ancestor living through a life changing moment, probably one that led to your existence and you can't stop thinking about the emotions and the color behind that paperwork you have. What did that 13 year old girl feel when he feet touched the deck of the ship that would bring her to the New World in 1638? How did he feel as he walked through the gates of Point Lookout Prison Camp, sick and knowing the South was losing?  When the curtains caught fire in the Iroquois Theater, what thoughts ran through her mind in the last moments before mass panic?

Frequently even the mundane catches my fancy- Did they curse?  What was their favorite food?  Were they happy? Did they ever play in the rain? That whole crazy, messy, wonderful thing that encompasses a human life draws me in.  I want to know MORE than "this is my 4x great grandfather and he fought in the Civil War."

Lately I have been spending lots of time thinking about my great-grandparents, Jacob and Alvina. I had the good luck to have known Alvina, Granny to me.  She died when I was 9 and I have a handful of memories related to her in the last years of her life.  All my life their story drew me in.  They were born in Latvia, one of the Baltic countries that was under the control of the Soviet Union when I was a child.  They came here to the US in the early part of the 1900s in the great way of immigration that came through Ellis Island at that time.  They were in that tide of "tired, poor, tempest-tost" immigrants the Statue of Liberty stood as a beacon to.

That story in itself was amazing to me.  I was the granddaughter of an immigrant, my grandma Senta was 2 1/2 when they left Latvia.  In my growing up, it was a country which had gained and lost its independence but remained resolute in its identity.  We were LATVIANS, not "soviets"or "Russian."  It seemed a magical and haunted place that still resided in the hearts of my immigrant family.

As I got older I got more details around the departure of our family, more of the whys.  In 1905 workers across the Russian Empire rose up to revolt against Russian rule.  In Latvia they marched in the streets of Riga, demanding freedom and reform. There were riots, people were killed, Russia fought back to crush the revolt.  In the end, Russia prevailed and Latvia was once more under the control of Russia. For my great grandparents, this made life perilous because according to family lore, my great grandfather, Jacob, was among those fighting for Lativan freedom.

In May 1906, My great grandfather boarded the ship Northwestern and left his homeland for the very first and very last time.  He arrived in Philadelphia in early June of 1906 and stepped off the ship to create a new life from the wreckage of his old one.  The following year, my great grandmother, her mother Dora, and my 2 year old grandmother and her 4 year old brother, Roman, landed on Ellis Island and were met by my great grandfather, who by now had settled in Wilmington, Delaware and was working as a finish carpenter for the Rail Car Shops of Harlan and Hollingsworth.

Those years, 1905-1907 have been populating my thoughts quite a bit lately.  To be truthful, 1897-1907.  That would cover the time between when my great grandparent met, married, started a family, fled their home, and started a new life.  Not much, really?

I have a studio portrait of my granny taken in Riga in 1897.  She is in the center of the picture, flanked by two other young women.  It is labeled in my grandmother's distinctive hand, "Mom (center) and two friends." Just a wealth of information, not.  So there she is, my granny. Not the 90 something woman with braids wrapped around her head, a bowl of sour balls on the table beside her, and time to amuse small children that I knew, but a 20 year old girl with her friends. They are lovely, their waists fashionably pinched in corsets, leg o'mutton sleeves floating above their shoulders. Her hand delicately holds a card as it rests in a shell held up by a cupid statue, her other arm rests on the back of the chair one of her friends is sitting in.  Each of her friends look lik
e they have rings on indicating they may be married, but granny is 3 years from her marriage date.  All three girls are looking in different directions. One girl looks directly into the camera, granny to the left and above, the last girl looking directly off to the left, like someone has caught her attention.  I can see details- an errant wisp of hair, a peep of shoe toe, a faint herringbone pattern in the fabric of granny's dress. It's a moment in time and I almost feel like I am there.

She's so young, so beautiful and so on the cusp of an incredible decade.  She's going to meet and marry the love of her life, have two children, watch her life in Riga explode into uncertainty and leave her home to start a new life.  What was she like?  What did she think?  How did she feel?  So many questions.  I need to walk away for now, but I'll be back to write a few more posts related to this one.  In the meantime, here she is, on the cusp of when it all changes..... 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Mother's Day

This weekend is Mother's Day.  It is a day to honor, celebrate and spoil the mothers in our lives.  Those mothers may be birth, adoptive, heart, or ourselves.  Whatever the source, I say CELEBRATE the mothers in your life.

For me, 364 days a year are about my family, my home, my community.  You might find me covered in garden dirt, glue and glitter, tie dye, flour, or cooking grease on any given day of the year.  My hands are strong, my heart is true, my spirit is given in service to others.  Truly, it is difficult for me to think about myself before those I love, the causes I find worthy, or the help I can give to those with needs greater than my own.

Mother's day is one day every year when I can "force" myself to allow myself to be spoiled and cared for.  Instead of spending my day in the service of others, I can relax and allow myself to be served.  This year, I remind myself, and all mothers, that there is no selfishness in allowing yourself to be cared for, spoiled, gifted and loved.

Happy Mother's Day to all the fabulous and giving mothers I have had the pleasure of knowing.  Whether you came into my life as a mother figure, or an inspiration, thank you.  Moms of the world, let the world love you with all the love you show it on a daily basis.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Frazzled and Scattered

It's early January.  The holidays are over and all the rushing and flurrying is over. We only have to put away the tree and decorations and settle in for the Winter slog.  I'll admit it, January to March are about my least favorite months.  I don't like the cold, the stress of worrying about the oil in the furnace tank the icy roads, the bitter cold punctuated by the Spring-like teases.  If I could hibernate like a bear I would gather my little family around me and hunker down for a long Winter's nap.  Sadly, that is not possible.  So I am left frazzled and scattered.

I will spend January tackling large cleaning and organizing jobs I have put off for months because it was too hot or too busy to manage.  February will find me looking for more to do.  By March I will cheat Mother Nature and build a mini greenhouse for my front porch in the hopes of fresh greens for St. Patrick's Day.

The cold and isolation of January, February, and March leave me feeling restless and unsettled, frazzled and scattered.  Maybe this is why my grandmother spent so many hours with garden catalogs, notebooks, and seedling trays during this time.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Kitchen Art

I like to cook.  Seriously like to cook.  I love the smell of onions when they hit hot butter, garlic in anything, the soft scent of vanilla can calm me like few others.  I need to remember this everyday when I drag my feet over dinner.

I get it, the day is long, I am tired, I feel uninspired when I think of the meal.  I have been known to wail, "Do we need to eat dinner EVERY DAY?"  However, I need to remind myself that no matter how stressed out I am, how pressed for time, how tired and sore I am, the moment the cutting board is on the kitchen counter and my knife is in my hands poised to chop an onion I can feel my heart rate settle and my mind quiet.

The quiet and interesting thoughts that wander through my mind as I chop, peel, slice, and arrange are nearly meditative.  It is a way to clear all the clobber out that has built up through the day, or puzzle at a particularly sticky situation I am facing.  That moment when I hit a rhythm and my movements become more like a dance is pure magic for me.  Of particular joy is that spot in time when a little voice in my head will begin to whisper ingredients I hadn't thought of that are the perfect addition to what I am working on.

I don't draw, paint, write poetry or compose music.  I cook.  It is my art, my expression of love, the way I show my care and they way I find peace in a noisy world.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Music of Midlife

I can't remember a time when I wasn't enthralled by music.  I gravitated toward it, savored it, desired to make it.  I was the kid that agonized through elementary art and beamed through music class.  I couldn't wait to get the little plastic recorder and learn "Go Tell Aunt Rhodie."  As soon as I could make a choice in my extracurricular activity at school, I dropped art and joined the choir.

So I think I have made it clear I love music.  What should also be clear is that I play no instrument other than my own voice.  I have always wanted to play an instrument.  I begged for a guitar for Christmas, which I got, and then was given no lessons and the strings were cut to render it silent.  I tagged along on my friends piano lessons, constantly hoping to get my own.  My mother bought an organ and told me I could figure it out on my own, but yelled when I got near it.  That plastic recorder I got each year would last only until a part went missing, or it was "accidentally" broken.  In the fifth grade we had the chance to get free lessons on a musical instrument and I settled on the flute.  My grandmother arranged to rent me one and for the next 9 weeks I lived in a state of torture.  If I practiced with the flute my mother berated me, if I didn't practice she screamed at my lack of effort.  When time came to renew the rental she yelled about the cost, never mind that it was my grandmother paying for it.  No, when the time came to renew I silently let it go.  Silently.

That is when I learned that the one instrument I had, that cost nothing, that went everywhere with me, that never needed tuning, never broke a  string was my voice.  It was mine, all mine and nobody could take it from me.  That is when I settled on singing.  It made me happy.  It made me free.  It healed my insides.

From 6th grade, until I was well into my twenties I sang in one choir or another.  I sang in the car.  I sang in the shower, I played records on my stereo and sang into my hairbrush.  I sang with my friends and we recorded it on our tape recorders. I sang on stage, I sang in the hallways, and I sang in the woods at home.  I sang Christmas carols, classic choral music (thanks to Mrs Smith), rock and roll, country, mountain music, operettas, rock operas, folk music, bird song.

Singing continued to be something I did with gusto for many, many years.  Long after the last practice with a church choir I still sang in the car or while I cleaned the house.  Then, in my mid-thirties I had my first son, lost my first son, and lost my voice.  Suddenly singing, any singing caused me such pain my throat would close.  For the first time in my life I had no music.  I had no song.

It took years for the song to return.  I had Connor, and singing to him was a joy that closed my throat and brought tears to my eyes.  Slowly, oh so slowly, the song returned to me.  I began singing again.  Only for Connor or myself, but singing all the same.

The music has expanded for me with Connor's arrival.  He and I whistle with each other.  We whistle all the time.  We whistle together, we whistle between, and we whistle at each other.  He loves music too, though he professes to not like to sing.  I see myself in his young desire to fiddle with music.

Now, at the age of 46 I find myself wanting an instrument to accompany myself with.  For years a secret desire has lived in my heart.  For 42 long years I have wanted to own and learn to play an autoharp.  Crazy, silly, and will not let me go desire to learn the autoharp.  So, this week, on Friday, November 8th I will drive to New Jersey and buy a used autoharp to see if I can learn.  Will this become another instrument, all my own, that cannot be taken from me?  Only time, and my determination can tell.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Capable Hands, Lazy Nails

For the last couple of months I have been taking the time to paint my nails and take better care of them than I am usually likely to.  The regular manicures, with filing and cuticle treatments and polish have been nice moments of relaxation in which I focus on myself, and enjoy the results of the rest of the week.  I have an ever expanding selection of nail polish, and am forever on the hunt for new and different.  I'll pain my nails anything from the candycorn-style I attempted for Halloween, to traditional pink, red, purple, green, blue, silver, lavender.  I like them all!

However, as this habit has reasserted itself after a few years of neglect, I find myself remembering something my mother used to yell at me when I was in high school and in my early 20s.  See, back in those days I spent a lot of time on myself, what girl that age doesn't??  I styled my hair, put on make up, painted my nails.  My mother ridiculed the make up as trashy, the hair as overdone and the wrong color, and the nails as lazy.

Yes, that's right.  I had lazy nails.  According to my mother, if you had the time to care for your nails, paint them, and not have them torn to shreds as you worked, you must not be working hard enough.  When I first got a job as a secretary, she swore the days of "lazy nails" had to be done.  No employer would take me seriously if I didn't take myself seriously and ditch the "lazy nails" for "capable hands."

That really hurt. I thought my hands were perfectly capable.  I wasn't one for the ultra long nails, just nicely painted and cared for. I worked as hard as the next person.  Still, the site of my nails, freshly painted was enough to set her off on a tirade.

My mother died when I was 25, so she never got to experience the years in which I indulged in artificial nails and regular pedicures.  Nor was she there to comment on  the months during my pregnancies when I went for twice a month mani pedis.  She also wasn't there to nod smugly when my nails spent years brutally trimmed and unadorned while Connor was a young child.

So now, as I have periodically over the last 5 years or so, I am on a kick of painting my nails.  Each time I do it, I hear my mother shrieking at the laziness of it all.  Yet, when I see my neatly painted nails encrusted with dirt from the garden, gloppy with the meatloaf I am forming for dinner, dripping with soapy water from the floor washing, I silently tell her to stuff it.

These days, I see that my "lazy nails" rest on the most capable of hands.  Those hands deserve to be cared for as they care for others.  Why shouldn't my strong and capable hands be pampered and decorated?  I paint my nails because my hands work so hard.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Mean Girls

If you are a female of the human race you have been a mean girl or been a victim of one.  They are inevitable and unavoidable miseries that dot the landscape waiting to wound and main the unsuspecting.  You can tell yourself any number of little white lies to make them seem like the walking wounded, or something to be pitied, but that allows them to behave in hurtful ways with no responsibility for the damage they do.

I had hoped I had left mean girls long behind me when I left school.  For a few years it truly seemed that way.  It wasn't that I didn't have conflicts with women, of course I did. But a mean girl, that is a particular creature capable of so much damage.  How sad to find that some girls never outgrow being mean.

Grown women who are mean girls fall into a couple of categories.  There are those who were mean as children and never outgrew it.  Then there are those women who were victims of mean girl in their younger years and now they have found themselves an opportunity to claim perceived power and be mean girls themselves.

These days I am dealing with the later breed of mean girl.  A woman I have come in contact seems to so clearly have been one of those girls in school victimized by mean girls. I can picture her being teased, picked on, embarrassed, humiliated.  I can see it when I look at her because I was her once. I can see it in her eyes the same that I can see it in mine sometimes.  Unlike me, she wants to make others hurt the way she hurt.

This woman is toxic, to herself and all those around her.  I watch her belittle others, frighten others into being her "friends" and generally making any situation she is in all about her.  I have no patience for this crap, none at all.  I spent so much of my youth victimized and crying because of girls like her that I have no intention of fannying about with it now.

So, mean girl, you are on notice.  You aren't frightening me and I won't stand silently by as you tear others down.  The day will come when you will find that those you think are your friends are really just frightened of you.  When they realize that others feel like they do, they will join together and you will be powerless to stop them.  You will be alone in your meanness and we will be happier to be free of your nastiness.

Mean girls suck.