Remember This

I used to have a pretty good memory.

In fact, I learned the multiplication tables by rote, thanks to the efforts of my father.  I usually think about him around Father’s Day, and that time in my life when he made it his mission to teach me the multiplication tables.

His approach (like everything else I encountered) was a little unorthodox.  Although he started with the traditional method of using flashcards, the multiplication problem written boldly on one side and the answer on the other, he needed to add his own spin to it.

One night while sitting at the head of the dining room table, his put his plan into action.  Mouth filled with buttery mashed potatoes, he looked at me and yelled out “6 x7!”   A little bit stunned at first, I looked to my mother for an answer, but she just nodded her head as if to say “go ahead and answer him, he’s not going to stop until you do.”

I gathered up as much gustso as he had presented and answered “42!”  He grinned and shoveled another forkful of potatoes into his mouth.

It had begun.

Questions would fly out of nowhere, seemingly finding me from another room as he passed by.  I could be on the phone with my friend discussing the merits of ironing our hair (it was the ‘60s after all) when suddenly I would hear his roar  of “8 x4!” and have to interrupt and answer “24!”

Even heated debates with my sisters as to who was cuter, Davy Jones or Paul McCartney, had no bearing when a question fired out by my father’s bellowing command, demanding it be answered.

I have to admit, it worked.

It wasn’t until I started having teenagers of my own that I realized I wasn’t remembering as much detail about things as I wanted.  Perhaps it was the onslaught of information I needed to keep in a specific amount of time.  I was working, raising a family (at that time two girls and three boys) and running a business.  I think my poor brain was on overload, so I made it a point to stop and tell myself “remember this” whenever something important or poignant was happening.

My teens, ever aware of my predicament, wasted no time in taking advantage of the situation.

“What do you mean you can’t take me to the mall?” my daughter would moan. “You promised, don’t you remember?”

“Why can’t we go to the concert with the guys” the boys would groan. “You said it was ok.  Or don’t you remember?”

I began to notice they were telling me these things, but always on the backend of another conversation, or sandwiched in between information about school or some other occasion.

I finally told them “Listen – if you need me to know something, stop me and look me right in the face and tell me.  I will remember that.”

That’s when I began my self-taught method of making sure I didn’t forget something.  I would stop myself and say “You will remember this.”

It could be something simple as sunset or a piece of music.

Using the method during an outdoor event set the tone and quickly became a habit of recording a lifetime of experiences.

I had traveled to California to attend a special training for work with a non-profit organization, and one of the rewards was an outdoor dinner at a nice restaurant.

After the meal, my other associates and I were led outside to a beautiful garden.  Sitting on wrought iron chairs, we listened with our full attention, hands wrapped around full glasses of wine,  as we were serenaded by beautiful young men who played Spanish guitars.  Surrounded by the smells of orange blossoms and lemons, the laughter of my friends and the realization I was enjoying being in the moment was surreal.  It was the first time I had traveled anywhere other than New York, and I wanted to remember it always.  “Remember this” I whispered to myself.  Remember this.

It has been whispered many times since then.  Whether it during  the marriage of one of my children, or the sound of a grandchild splashing in the bathtub, I make sure that my psyche absorbs the moment.

A moment in time is not to be overlooked, whether it be deemed mundane or pointless, for it is not without value.  The memory can become the basis for a chain of events or mere acts of kindness tied together in seemingly unrelated occurrences. 

Gift wrapping is part of my job now, as I stand at the counter and listen to those customers around me who need assistance.  I listen intently as they ask for guidance as to the perfect gift for Aunt Millie, but my mind wanders as I hear the sounds of the cash registers and the ringing phone, the ripping paper and swish of ribbon, the laughter of my co-workers who are, just like me, enjoying the moment of being with each other and just being alive, loving the fact we have made someone happy.

Remember this I smile to myself, as I hand the neatly wrapped gift to the young boy whose present for his mother is met with awe and gratefulness.   We touch each other’s lives in so many ways, with the smallest of gestures, touches and memories.

I want to remember it all.

 

 

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See You On The Other Side

Today is the second anniversary of my mother’s death; I thought it was so much longer, but my sisters assured me it is not.

The last time I saw my mother she was fast asleep in her hospital bed.  Her face was calm and her breathing was slow.  She had spent a better part of the day sitting up in a chair, talking to me and trying to act like she knew who I was.  Even then, the effects of the stroke were taking their toll on her mind, and every day we lost a little more of her.

My memory of her sitting in that chair, holding the first copy of my newest book “The Book of the Stories From the Lake” will never leave me.

Thumbing through it, she smiled politely at me.  She had no idea who I was.

“Ma, that’s my new book” I said proudly.

“Really?” she said.  “My daughter Eileen is a writer.”

I smiled.  “Yes, I heard.  I also heard she’s pretty good” I added conspiratorially.

 

“Oh yes, she’s wonderful!” my mother said with all the earnest excitement she could muster.

Then she looked back at my book, thumbing through the pages and read a few lines.

“Not like this crap.”

 

My mother was always one to speak her mind, especially when it came to her children.  She was my biggest defender, up until the day she died.

As I watched her gently sleeping, I kissed her softly on the cheek.  I knew this would be the last time I would see her.   I could not bear to say goodbye to her face.

 

“Goodbye, Mommy” I whispered, the tears starting for real now.

“See you on the other side.”

Tonight, as the sun sets over the lake, I will raise a glass of wine in her honor.  She hated the water and she didn’t like to drink wine.

But I know she will be smiling, just the same.

The Room at the Top of the Stairs to the Left

Living in a house filled with men is a lot different than living in a dorm or a house off campus.

Of course, I’d never done either of those things until now.

 

I’ve been married to three men at different times in my life – not a fact I’m particularly proud of, but it is what it is.  I like to think the positive spin on it is that I was placed in their life for a reason, and that in fact, we helped each other get to the next level of understanding of who we are and for what we were created.  Plus, I was gifted with wonderful children.  I figured I’m the one who made out best in the deal.

This is different, and not like anything I’ve ever encountered.

Starting over yet again and my permanent home on the lake not available to me for several months, I did the next best thing.  I called my friend who happened to rent rooms to college students.    A boarding house of sorts, it’s a comfortable, safe and clean abode to which I could call my own for just a while.

The conversation went something like this:

“Hey.  I need to come home. Do you have an extra room for me?”

“Always.”

That’s the beauty of having good friends, male or female.  You don’t have to say much; don’t have to dissect the content or the meaning of the words behind the conversation.  There is a sort of telepathy occurring that is akin to being twins: you just know.

The room at the top of the stairs to the left would become my new home, and house all that I could stuff into a suitcase.

When I got there, I didn’t come out for a month.

 

It was during that time of self-reflection and self-pity that I realized I wasn’t living there alone.  Two young men studying finance at the local university were also sharing the kitchen, the bathroom and the refrigerator with me (along with my friend who also lived there.)  One was from Japan, another from Sweden and the owner a dyed in the wool New Englander.  I will let you figure out which one’s English was the hardest to understand.

Obviously having been briefed, they all gave me a wide berth, kept their distance and only spoke to me when spoken to, which was usually a grunt in the morning, a head nod in the afternoon and a hey there in the evening.  We shared the coffee pot, the dishes and the shower.  I was not used to having getting dressed to go down to the kitchen to fry bacon, nor did I realize that they felt completely comfortable standing at the sink in their tighty whities.

It was all so surreal, but I was grateful.  I was alone, but not lonely.

Eventually, the fog began to clear and I was able to push myself out of my funk.  I had gotten a job, and then another, so was forced to interact and make sure I ate something.   I also realized this was comedy gold, that some of the situations were genuinely funny and poignant, all at the same time.  Misunderstandings due to language barrier and dialect nothwithstanding, there were gentle nudges from all of them to make me move, to get back to the living, to carry on.

Demonstrations of kindness and caring took the form of little notes scribbled from someone I never met, placed next to dishes of rice and beans on the counter top with a short message. “Here miss, please eat something” or a glass of white wine (remembering I couldn’t tolerate red) consistently sat on the dining room table after dinner just waiting for me, with no note needed.

There were also times where I went to the basement to wash my clothes, only to find someone else’s load in the washer, not yet been transferred to the dryer.  What does one do in this situation?  I figured I would wait until the evening and do it then.

After waiting three days, I finally transferred them to the dryer.

My friend, the landlord, stood at the top of the stairs and laughed while he watched me carry armfuls of bluejeans and boxer shorts.

“Ah, yaeh” he said.  “I’ve been waiting to see what you’d do.”

“These are yours?” I asked incredulous.  “Why did you leave them there so long?  They stink!”

“No matter” he said gently.  “I wanted to make sure you were out of the mother mode.”

I knew exactly what he meant.  Normally, in the old days, I would have just done them for whomever they belonged.  I’ve spent my whole life taking care of others, and he wanted to make sure that now, all I would worry about was me.

I have neglected a lot these last few months; my writing, my comedy and myself.

The room at the top of the stairs and to the left has become my beacon of hope, a symbol of survival and the starting point of a new adventure.

Writing has always been my salvation, no matter how syrupy or sickeningly sweet some of my stories have been.  At the time they were written, they were my reality.

I know now to take off the rose colored glasses and really look at the world around me – without bitterness and without cynicism, but life as it really is.

As a grown-up.  I’m ready.