Whisked Away

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is whisk.jpgMy mother was a minimalist who disliked clutter of any sort.  Our home was beautiful, warm, open and airy but devoid of any type of knickknack, or paraphernalia she deemed unattractive or cumbersome. A snapshot of our living room: simple sheer white linen curtains, a silky cherry baby grand piano adorned with one family photo and a small Belleek Scotty dog atop its finely polished finish.  Two or three tasteful paintings and a crystal Waterford bowl which sat center on the coffee table.  If there was a word to describe the opposite of hoarder it would characterize my mother.

We all learned quite early on not to leave anything within her reach or it would simply disappear, forever.  We had a theory, my sisters and I, that all those belongings, mostly certain items of clothing, were shipped off to her beloved homeland Ireland.  We imagined our relatives or their friends or friends of their friends were the delighted recipients of the new American fashions which arrived in a package stamped “overseas.”

I don’t know how this idea was formulated among us.  Had we heard my father in anger accusing her of this rather underhanded deed when he could not find his adored sweater? Had we seen a large UPS box tucked away in a hall closet? Had we heard my mother speaking to a distant relative in hushed tones, promising a shipment would soon arrive? No I do not believe we ever had absolute evidence, it was just a truth we knew existed, though one we could never quite prove.

My best friend once left her prized jean jacket at my house. I swallowed hard three days later when she came to my door ready to reclaim it.  Ransacking the house together I finally shook my head in defeat and told her she must have left it elsewhere. But deep down I knew, it was no doubt en route that very moment, via Aer Lingus, to greener pastures.

Another time, my college roommate came home with me for the weekend and left her favorite sweatshirt in my room. She too would never see it again. I imagined another teenage girl, but this one Irish by birth, clad contentedly in the Manhattan College sweatshirt, perhaps strolling the banks of the Liffey on one of those chilled and damp Irish morns or sipping a Guiness in a local pub hugging the sweatshirt close.

My sisters and I were swimmers and divers and over the years accumulated many trophies as a result of our efforts.  Years later as young adults, we noticed their absence and asked my mother where the trophies had gone. Silence.  Our school yearbooks too had a short shelf life as did report cards, photographs and artwork.  And at Christmas, our annual tree trimming, generally a happy and festive time, on more than one occasion ended in angry words and confrontations as ornaments usually of the bulky or unattractive variety, evaporated into thin air.  “Check another box,” my mother would suggest.

I think it was my father who bore the brunt most deeply.  He would sit in his recliner on Sunday mornings, peacefully reading the papers. Leaving for a short time to drive me to a friend’s house, he returned to find the papers he had left at the foot of his chair, not fifteen minutes before, gone.  He would later find them stacked neatly in the garage, whisked away before he even had the chance to get through the sports page.

Was there a method to her madness? I think she simply disliked excess and when she felt we had too many items of clothing we had not worn in a while, decided it was time for them to be on their way.

You might think that this habit of my mother’s caused anger, frustration and hurt within our family. Sometimes true, but it only lasted a day or two being that we could never really prove it was her doing. Though while looking at a Christmas card one year of my four beaming Irish cousins, I could swear the youngest was clad in my old rolling Stones tee-shirt.

As an adult, I too dislike over accumulation and clutter. I am of the school that less is more.  I understand my mother’s obsession with less more clearly now. I don’t agree with donating others belongings without permission though have been tempted on more than one occasion, to “whisk away” a number of my husband’s KU sweatshirts.  I refrain.

And on those days I long to look at an old high school yearbook, I return to my old friend’s house. The one whose jean jacket went missing.

Gregory’s Goodbye

Featured Image -- 293 He left us yesterday.  My twelve-year-old son’s best friend.  It was not unexpected, yet we were not really ready to say goodbye as we stood in his driveway that balmy September afternoon.

He was to attend a therapeutic boarding school in the rocky mountains of Colorado, for the next two years.  A school that specialized in the emotional as well as the intellectual needs of boys who were struggling.  He had battled anxiety and ADHD for as long as we knew him but lately a more sinister villain called depression was taking over.  Public school was not working for him and his daily trips to the counselor left him dejected and angry.  He hated school, he told us again and again.

He took refuge in nature. Whenever upset, he would flee to the solace of the woods, headlamp in place along with a survival kit he had purchased on the internet. Gregory loved the forest which seemed to hold for him, its own therapeutic powers.  As a going away gift we gave him a lithograph night-light with a forest of trees etched within, the golden hue soothing and calm.

He is a beautiful boy with deep red hair, fine features and porcelain skin.  His face reflects an impishness that is infectious. He is highly intelligent and intuitive.  My son and he became fast friends three years ago and enjoy a special bond as best friends do. We both knew this path was the best thing for Gregory but it did not make his leaving any easier as he had become a fixture in both our lives and home.

All contact at his new school was to be via letter, no social media of any sort, so I made it a point that we would write to him, at least once a month.  I have a book of postcards, each one a different flower fairy illustrated by the brilliant Cicely Mary Barker, an English artist known for her life-like depictions of fairies in nature.  I chose for Gregory a red-headed mischievous faced boy fairy and penned in the margin “this reminded us of you!” I then enclosed a second self-addressed card already stamped for him to return to us.

The next card we sent to him contained a dried wishbone from our previous night’s roast chicken. Growing up my father would always save the wishbone for me and my sisters. I thought it was just the type of ritual Gregory would enjoy.  “Find someone you like at your new school and break the wishbone!” I scrawled.  “We miss you.”  But then, a week later thinking again about the wishbone, I was filled with dread.  What if gets the long end and his wish is to come home? What had I done? In trying to comfort him I could possibly have made him feel worse.

One afternoon several weeks later, I paused at my son’s bedroom door after hearing him talking on the phone to what sounded like Gregory.  He was clearly upset, distraught and his words a hurried jumble of emotion.  “I want to come home.  I hate it here. I miss you so much!”  He had sneaked his mother’s phone while she was visiting to make the call. After several moments, my son replied in a calm voice “You have to push through…”  I had never before heard the expression nor my son use it. When I asked him what he meant by “push through,” he explained that his middle school track coach always told the boys to push through the pain no matter how hard and they may just find they were stronger than they thought.

I worried about how he felt losing his best friend “Do you miss Gregory?”  His response was always the same. “It’s fine mom.”  And then I realized, perhaps the strain of seeing his friend in so much pain was harder than letting him go.

The last thing we sent him was a care package right before Halloween. It contained fake fangs, a calendar book with different photos of forest scenes, two packages of his favorite gummy bears and a small stuffed owl that had strangely beckoned to me from high on a store shelf. I imagined the little owl sitting on his night table. I also included a pre-stamped fairy card he could send back to us with ease.  When I called his mother to review what I was sending, she paused when I had mentioned the stuffed owl.  “He asked me if he could have a real one last week for a pet!”

Several weeks later, we received the fairy card by return mail.  Gregory’s familiar hurried scrawl contained the following sentiments:   “I loved the red-headed fairy card — I am learning to play the banjo! — Thank you for the owl, I keep him in my backpack.”  But it was the last line that remains with me.  “I still don’t like it here” he confided, “but I am going to push through…”  And those simple words were all I needed.

The Simple Pleasure of A Haunted Hayride

Rocky Parenting

hayEvery Autumn since I moved to Connecticut twelve years ago, I enjoy a Halloween ritual that is yet to grow old.  The haunted hayride at Stew Leonard’s. Participants young and old, board a tractor amid bales of hay and are transported through an underground cavernous world of eerie ghoulish figures, though this year a tribute to Derek Jeter was added to the mix (no doubt by a Yankee fan who assisted in the design).   In past years, I have always enjoyed this activity with my two sons, often bringing along one or two neighborhood friends as well.  However, for two boys now thirteen and fifteen, sitting on a tractor with their mother at their side among mostly elementary school children and toddlers no longer evokes the thrill of yesteryear.  In fact, I am sad to say that I had to bribe them each with the promise of an ice cream cone to partake in this morning’s ride.  “If I see anyone from my class I will die!”  said my oldest…

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