Uncategorized

Here it comes.

 

Twenty-nine years ago and nine months after my mother had died from ovarian cancer I closed my eyes, gave a final push and became a mother. An hour later, her Dad out making phone calls, the little pink bundle tucked into the crook of my arm, I listened to the joyful racket outside my hospital door — new grandparents, nurses, flower deliveries, baby deliveries, laughter. My room was silent and my heart broke into a million pieces.

I cried hard that day, dropping tears all over this newborn; messy, snotty salty tears of loss and love and blessing and disbelief. My mother was not going to walk though that door, swooping up my baby, crying tears of happiness. She never would. But there I was, given a new life in my arms to cherish. I was so overwhelmed by the roiling emotions inside me, by the incredible magic of lost and found.

And so, one of the loneliest days of my life was the day I was never lonely again.

Here it comes, another Mother’s Day. On Sunday I will brace myself for the rapid-fire emotions — remembering who is not here, feeling that familiar little break in my chest, but smiling, thinking how amazing that my eldest carries her name, how my son has her blue eyes, and how my youngest laughs just like her. These days, with all of us far flung, I will lie back, drink tea, and think about the phone calls and the updates I will get over the phone. I might spend the day in my gardens, filled with decades of Mother’s Day peonies and roses, trimming and fertilizing and staking them up for the impending growing season. I will embrace the sadness and dig deep for the future as I do every year. And this year, I will be thinking about that little pink bundle and her wedding. I will probably cry a little bit and take a beach walk. I will say a prayer.

There is no question I am a little moody, a little tender on the second Sunday in May every year, spending time alone to contemplate.  But I am so full of grateful, too: mothering brought me life and love and peace. And so, with every bitter comes sweet. That is just what life is all about.

We never lose our mothers, they swim in our veins and camp in our hearts and are always there to talk to. Trust me. Mine can visit in the linen closet. We are full of them, every single day, every single minute. Missing them, loving them, wanting them and seeing them run by in little footed pajamas. They never really leave us, they just leave the room.

Look what I got, Mom. Aren’t they just beautiful?

2

Alexandra Dane and Alexandra Hammer 1960. Milford, Connecticut

 

Standard
Uncategorized

Tasting Memory: A Night of Paella.

 

Paella night

By the grill, Bainbridge Island, Washington, April 2016

Last weekend I poured a blood colored Spanish into my glass and watched the seals slip through the borage blue water. Behind me, the cast iron pans slid onto the grill suspended over smoldering hardwood coals as a pair of eagles flew screaming into the evergreens above. The familiar hiss and cackle of arborio rice and garlic stirred hard into the hot oil drew our crowd of family and friends, dressed in a kaleidoscope of Seattle April attire — white linen, puffy vests, scarves, caps — away from the sunset on Mt. Rainier to watch the chef. I can map my fifty-seven years by paella: so many paellas in Connecticut, all the paellas in Boston, one amazing paella in Madrid and tonight, a Pacific Northwest paella on Bainbridge Island, overlooking Puget Sound. A dish of summer. A dish of layers. Tonight, a simmering pan of memories.

My mother’s best friend always made my childhood paellas, gathering her ingredients from the Boston fish market on the edge of the Quincy market. She would arrive at our door in Connecticut arms laden with paper-taped bundles of shellfish, flat fish, fish with eyes, peppers with stems, chicken with pin feathers not quite plucked. We would dance around the grill ducking flakes of ash while she layered the ingredients into the expanding rice, fragrant steam rising, the pan nestled into a homemade grill of rock and coals outside the kitchen door. As the eyes of the small smelt laid last on top began to bulge and bubble, we would shriek and run, fast on bare feet, into the darkening light.

1973 in Madrid: Visiting family that hosted my mother decades before, garlic and saffron and smoked paprika as intense as the language flying around me, the fish chopped apart next to the grill, the heads tossed to the cats milling under the tables. Course chorizo flecked with fat sizzled and jumped. I leaned over the pan, trying to be the sophisticated teenager and inhaled smoke straight up my nose. Feigning a deep drink of the unfamiliar sangria, I flicked the tears away with my sleeve, the night soon a blur for too much fruity wine. That week, I hand-carried a cast iron paella pan home to the States, a gift from this family that loved my mother, wrapped in brown paper and tied with butcher twine.

Then in Boston, married, small children, little fingers tossing the chicken, the peas, holding the youngest over the pan so she could place the red peppers in her pattern of choice. Small dresses danced on the lawn and gin and tonic rattled in glasses. Over the next thirty years we adopted some of the old ways, added some of our own. We used more saffron.The oysters and clams were farmed by a cousin from Vineyard sound. There were allergies, and vegetarians, and paellas in the rain.

And last summer: My son bent over the grill, the flat wide spoon that stirred a hundred paella before in his hand. I watched him measure and stir the rice, the garlic, the saffron,  carefully laying the fish, the chicken, the blue mussels, the redolent chorizo, each ingredient nestled into the deeply oiled pan, this pan older than he is, the hardest grains first, the tenderest flesh last. His father standing nearby, passing on each step learned from this deep history of paella, places and hands; the steps learned from the one who has died, who had learned from a Spanish beauty, who had cooked for the one who now sits on our patio, our guest of honor, my mother’s friend who stirred the rice on the rocks while fireflies danced so long ago. She pulls a sweater close, drinks a small sherry and smiles. Memories laid down one by one into the pan, hands reaching back in time.

And here, on Bainbridge Island: New friends and old family. Fresh Halibut and mussels from the Sound. A child who waves a whisk and runs to watch for Orcas. A mountain as old and as stately as the first peasant paella, thrown together from leftovers. We carry the traditions, we change the traditions, we taste our past and adjust the flavors for our future.

Such is cooking. Such is life.

I dig the spoon deep into the chicken fattened rice and remember.

Standard

I have an unusual relationship with chairs.

Forty years ago, after falling off a horse and bodily taking down a post + rail jump, I was x-rayed (pre-MRI days) and was diagnosed with a cracked vertebrae. Twenty years later, countless MRI’s, three herniated discs and three children later, I had the cutting-edge surgery that stabilized my L-3, 4 and 5. But for four decades, I have had to adjust to a very different center of gravity.

Which leads me to chairs. And life.

I sit on the edge. Otherwise, my left leg goes to sleep or my sciatica barks. The trick is to sit at a certain angle, with butt bones hard against the edge, feet planted flat, straight upright. No slouching for me. In restaurants I make a beeline to the seat against the wall so I don’t trip the wait staff. At home, a very odd assortment of hard backed chairs, usually designated to the kitchen table or hallway are my choice for movies. In the kitchen I mostly stand. On airplanes I suffer and fight tooth and nail to book an aisle seat for stretching breaks.

Sometimes at dinner parties I switch the placecards.

I have to make demands for the best arrangement and be fearless about getting my way. So I don’t suffer. So those around me enjoy my company. Apply a little fearlessness so I can accommodate this alternative center of gravity and find peace.

Today, I worry for a friend and feel a sense of vertigo. I find myself on the edge of a high-backed red stained wooden chair, perched, searching for fearlessness, to find my center of gravity and core of faith. I watch my bird feeder teeming with birds and cast a prayer out to my friend, her family and the doctors that make her care team who are making difficult decisions.

I wish them fearlessness: Because even if no one agrees or you change the seating arrangements, you must sometimes be fearless to make things right.

IMG_8814

Olive prefers the couch.

 

 

Uncategorized

How To Be Fearless

Image