Friday, March 5, 2010

I remember

Memory is such a strange thing. The things we remember and the things we don't for whatever reason. The older I get the more I remember fondly certain parts of my earliest childhood and the more I tend to forget what I ate for lunch yesterday. My early memories are triggered by certain smells or the lighting of a particular time of day or season. I remember as a very young child wandering around the house looking for a patch of sunlight on the floor. I would curl up in it's warmth and wake up later shivering after the sun had shifted on and left me in the shade. I look at my girls and wonder what will they remember most and why. I know the big old heating vent in the corner of the living room will be in the fore-front of both of their recollections. They sit on that warm air vent reading, coloring, doing homework. They have huge squabbles over who got to it first and they put off hunger or even the need to to the bathroom so the other will not steal their 'spot' on the vent. Of course they will not remember everything but certain times will become embedded in their psyche and come back to them with sentimentality when they are 40 and I am a bit older than that - triggered by lighting or sounds or seasons or a tone of voice...who knows.

When I was in kindergarten my dad took me to that beauty parlor on Main Street and had my very long hair cut short as a "gift" to my mom who struggled with me every morning when she put ponytails or braids in my very long - very tangly - very thick hair. That beauty parlor had a glass door with sand blown glass shutters and a bell that tingled whenever someone opened it. The place smelled like perm chemicals even from outside. I remember passing by the shop on the sidewalk and smelling the smell of the hair salon which was next door to the florist shop so it was an interesting mix for the olfactory sense that one does not easily forget. Inside the chemical fumes were even more intense and I had suffered through them at some point before this as I waited for my mother or my Auntie Maryellen or someone to get a haircut. I can't even remember if dad asked me if I wanted to get my hair cut and I know he didn't ask mom by the way she cried and cried when she saw me. I felt like dad and I had just gotten into big trouble and it was rather confusing for me as a five year old because you never get in trouble when you are doing something with your dad - right?

We always set the table for breakfast at night before we went to bed with place mats, cereal bowls, napkins, spoons, juice glasses - the works. We all had breakfast together before we went off tho the various other parts of our day. The night before it was my turn to set the table. It was all ready for breakfast when I went to bed that night but in the morning it was a mess. The place mats and dishes were moved aside and in their place were used glasses and a dirty ashtray with old cigars in it. This memory is vivid for me because it is the first time I recall reasoning to a logical conclusion - of what had happened to my perfectly set breakfast table. But it was also the overwhelming emotion of inadequacy I felt at that moment for the first time. Let me explain...I remember waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of someone yelling "It's a boy! It's a boy!" as loud as can be. Seeing the glasses and cigars that morning n the table I clearly figured out that our neighbor Mr. Gizzarelli and his wife had had a baby boy and Bob came to our house to announce the great news and celebrate with my dad and cigars & scotch. Bingo! I had put the pieces of the messed up table setting together by myself - a celebration for a newborn baby boy! The very next thing I remember was feeling bad - really bad that I was not a boy. The emotional rush I felt that my dad would celebrate so much because the neighbor had "a boy!" "a boy!". I wondered if dad wished that I had been a boy - not a girl? Weird the thoughts that kids think.

I learned how to swim in part when my dad threw me into a pool at some hotel we were at and said "swim!". Of course I remember this...hello...traumatic. Child services would have you for that these days. The memory is most vivid for me now as I sit next to the pool at Matt Dishman Community Center smelling the intense chlorine smell and watching Mary and her instructor practicing her side breathing, kicks, and backstroke. The hours I have spent watching swimming lessons...I could teach them was my summer job through high school and into college. Mary loves the water and is quite determined to swim "all the way down" by next fall so she too can be on the CYO swim team like her big sister. Good for her - somethings are best taught by someone other than a parent - lesson learned dad, thanks. And just FYI mom, I am not going to teach them to drive either!

Getting lost on the subway on the way back to Queens after a Yankee game..I think we were at a game but I remember clearly being on the subway and being lost. We went to a lot of Yankee games in the great late 1970s and they really were...great! Dad was successful in creating a least one or two fans of the four of us! Dad must have been unfamiliar with the train routes and Suzanne and I were exhausted and I think we nodded off on the subway while he talked to conductors trying to figure out what line we needed to be on to get where we were going - Queens I think it was after Grandma Anne moved to Rockaway. What I remember most though about being lost on the subway with dad was that I was not in the least bit - not one fiber of my being - afraid. Even though I knew we were lost I felt totally safe with my dad and I just wanted to fall asleep. An incredible sense of security that I rarely feel now that I am a parent with responsibilities of various kinds. A few weeks ago Mary and I headed over the river to Vancouver to a birthday party. I went armed with an address and a vague idea of where to go. Of course we got lost and as we approached a full hour in the car driving around I looked back at Mary who sat in the sun in her car seat nodding off and thought of the panic and fear I had of missing the party...oh to be such a trusting fearless child again...of course I was going to get her to the party she assumed...or maybe in the way 5-year olds think she figured the party wouldn't start without her.

I remember going to my dad's office with him on a weekend and getting to play with the type writer. Now that I am an adult I can just imagine how this must have played out...Mom likely had had it - as she put it - "up to here with us"... but dad needed to get some stuff done at work on a Saturday. So we got to go along, maybe a Yankee game after too. Kara may have been a baby and the demands of her care were draining and exhausting on my parents as they took turns staying up at night to be sure she was still breathing in that time before monitors for SIDS. The old style type writers kept Suzanne and I busy for a seemed like a while to us any way. Dad situated us in the room next to his with paper and some click clack typewriters. There was a window - he could see us through it. The sound of the buttons and watching the silver metallic arms with the black inky letters embedded at the end flying up and striking the paper. It was fun to press several keys at a time and watch the arms get tangled or to press one key and then grab the arm when it came up before it hit page...until one of us got our hand stuck in it (tears, screaming) and had to be rescued. Kids are so tough.

Chap stick. I think my dad always has a tube of chap stick in his pocket. His kisses always smelled like chap stick. I remember as a child going into my dad's sock drawer at the very top of the dresser. He had a box in which he kept some religious medals, a scapula, spare change if we were lucky, at times his wedding band, and usually some old worn out chap stick tubes. I would uncap them and breath in his "smell". He used the tubes down to where you could see the little white stick in the middle. It is the smell I most attribute to my childhood memories of Dad. Moments before I walked down the aisle on his arm to get married he pulled a tube of chap stick out of his pocket and put some on - he let me put some on too.

LONG Lectures about the bible, specifically the old testament. Dad really liked the old testament. If we had a dinner full of fidgeting or chaos or refusing to eat liver you could count on him pulling out the bible and reading the old testament to us and talking about Moses and Abraham and sacrifice etc. All the while he would twist his napkin into little itty bits and we would have to sit there for hours and hours and hours - or so it seemed to me at the time. I stared at that napkin being twisted and untwisted and twisted again waiting for the words "you may be excused" so we could jump up and run far away to our rooms. Not sure if I can even tell you what it was he said about the old testament except that it was a bit frightening contemplating that a parent would take his own child up to the mountain to kill him because God told him to...especially hearing it from your own dad - made me want to behave...always.

I have watched dad's faith journey over the years from the Old Testament preaching days to family retreats and experiencing the love of Jesus with "Renew" and "Encounter" to a solid internal peaceful spirit he seemed to have of late. Dad passed away on March 7th and he had been very ill for a very long time. We have spent two and a half years praying, fighting and wondering when/if the illnesses would get the better of him. This time has not been easy - least of all for him and mom. As adult children these past couple of years we have witnessed how our parents have tried to handle illness with grace - sometimes without grace, with strength - sometimes with no strength, and with God - and I am sure - with doubt in God.

This will be our generation someday too and we will have these examples to draw from. It is human nature to falter and it is with Grace and faith that we rise above. I credit Mom and Dad for the visible presence of faith in my life...they always made it a priority to go to church, Catholic school, and to sit around the dinner table listening to stories about Abraham and Moses. In the end they let go and let us kids follow our own faith paths but thanks to them we all have richer fuller lives now. When the time comes for us to feel the power of illness and death I hope I can find God's Grace in my life as mom and dad have done.

Today I remembered my dad in the form of a pretty grey wool hat that he bought for me. We were Christmas shopping this past October for my mom and we walked all over the mall - not a small feet for my dad at the time. He wandered into J.Crew and pointed out a hat he insisted I would look great in and he insisted on purchasing for me. Later in the library today I was brought to tears reading a recipe for banana pancakes. My dad loved to make banana pancakes. It seems like when I was younger my mom dominated the kitchen scene learning to cook like Julia Child she was forever reading recipe books and making fancy date night entrees - maybe that is why when dad had the chance to shine in the kitchen he did so at breakfast....

Banana Sour Cream Pancakes:

1.5 Cups flour

3 TBLS. sugar

2 tsp bkg pwder

1.5 tsp kosher salt

.5 cup sour cream

.75 cup milk plus 1 TBLS

2 ex lg eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 ripe bananas, sliced

In a med. bowl sift together flour sugar baking powder and salt. Whisk together the sour cream milk eggs, and vanilla. add the wet ingred. to the dry ones. Mixing only until combined. Melt one TBLS butter in a LG. sillet over med. heat until it bubbles. Ladel the pancake batter into the pan. distribute a rounded TBLS of bananas onto each pancake, cook for 2-3 minutes, until bubbles appear on the top and the underside of the pancakes is nicely browned. Flip the pancakes, and then cook for another minute, until brown. Wipe out the pan with a paper towel, and add more butter to the pan, and continue cooking until all the batter is used. Serve with sliced, bananas, butter, and 100% real maple syrup.