Welcome to My Crazy Quilt! Enjoy the Story Scroll. . . .

To my readers, longtime and new, welcome!

110 West 80 St-4R, NY, NY 10024Blogging is a shared experience. On a personal level, my blog delves into self-discovery and stitches together a story in time. It is my verbal crazy quilt. With you, it is my joy of connecting.

No crazy quilt is the same. Textile artists toss aside perfection for small, unpredictably shaped patterns. My grandmother, in the tradition of mountain mothers before, created free-flowing art that warmed her family on winter nights.

She patched together scraps of twill, denim, corduroy, children’s outgrown clothes, men’s shirttails, worn-out dresses, and cotton sacking into the “memory gems” of life. There is a story for every patch.

cropped ptg Hen Party 10-31-04_peKeep scrolling or check out the category buttons: Characters, Creatives, Musings, Places, and The Good Stuff on the sidebar. Or for a quick read, visit my portfolio.

MOB’s: Do You Remember That Heap of Thank-You Notes?

Written in loving exaggeration . . . and dedicated to southern Mothers of the Brides (MOB’s)

What’s the tracking system for wedding gifts and thank-you notes?

I suppose the brainiacs have installed Excel sheets or Gantt charts. I still have flashbacks of the recipe filing box. . . .

352px-Ambrosius_Bosschaert_(I)_-_Bouquet_in_an_Arched_Window_-_WGA02654The presents rolled in, first at a trickle and then a swift flow on the day of the 30-day countdown. I feared overlooking one gift and offending the giver. All my life, I heard all sorts of whispers about brides who didn’t acknowledge the generosity of others.

“These working girls [unaware that this is the preferred term for sex workers] turn up their noses at proper etiquette. One year to write a thank-you note?” The conniption fit was on.

“She wrote her mother-in-law six months later—without a how-do-you-do before that.”

“She mixed up all her cards and thanked everybody for the wrong thing. Casserole dish, my eye! I bought that child a silver gallery tray. I would be on the phone pronto if I didn’t adore her mother so.”

“Time’s up for this bride. Buffy, would you subtly ask Teeny to ask her daughter whether she received my Steuben candlesticks? That’s the only gift I haven’t checked off my wedding-present log.”

“A two-sentence scrawl! A two-sentence scrawl! That’s what she wrote—a two-sentence scrawl! And she didn’t even name the gift. ‘Thank you for the present. We enjoyed our honeymoon. Love Betsy.'”

297px-Demi-tasse_Cup_and_Saucer_with_Sea-urchin_Foam_LACMA_AC1998.265.19.1-.2“Tardy, tardy. She got pregnant on her honeymoon and had the audacity to thank me for the antique demi-tasse set 11 months later—after she already had thanked me for a pierced-handle baby porringer. I have half a mind to steal it back.” Fool me once, fool me twice . . .

“Our educational system is going to rack-and-ruin because a young lady can’t string together five complete sentences. No salutation. No date. ‘Great cocktail thingies.  Fabulous shower! Fun to see you at the reception. Much love!’ Thingies? They were sterling silver shrimp forks. Ye gods above!” (People in my mother’s generation always appealed to Mount Olympus in dire situations.)

My mother attempted early thank-you note training. The policy: write the thank-you note within 48 hours or face permanent room detention with bread and water.

My mother attempted early thank-you note training. The policy: write the thank-you note within 48 hours or face permanent room detention with bread and water.

I mapped out a grand strategy to knock off this project in weeks. That meant writing five to seven notes per day with different emotional themes and pitches.

Theme 1: family. “Mr. Z and I certainly appreciate the lovely towel sets! It means so much that members of our family are sharing this special occasion with our families. . . .” Minimum: 6 sentences (3 declaratives, 2 compounds, 1 compound-complex). Underlining looked giddy, and Meemaws thrilled to exclamation points. I reserved ultimate fervor for relatives.

Theme 2: Mom’s nearest and dearest. “I was thrilled when you and the sewing club gave that unforgettable kitchen shower. It is such an honor to be part of the neighborhood tradition. I think fondly of all the brides who have had lovely parties and brunches in your homes, and I. . . .” Minimum: 6 sentences citing time, place, tradition, and memories (no skimpy declaratives permitted). These ladies were very sentimental, sharing one another’s joys and sorrows—especially the state of their “old maid” daughters. Who needs underlining? I wrote straight from the heart, knowing I was dead meat if I delayed or forgot one note.

cropped 435px-Nutcrackers_peTheme 3: my parents’ friends from days of yore, not mine. “How kind of you to remember Mr. Z and me! We certainly appreciate such an original gift. I cannot wait to perch the nutcracker on my mantel at Christmas. How I love that ballet. Mom and Dad speak of you often—it’s as if you are next-door neighbors. . . .” Minimum: 5 sentences. A purple candy dish received 4 declaratives plus 1 fragment. Actually, Theme 3 was rather easy-breezy—a sort of fiction I made up on the spot and easily exceeded the word count. Nonfiction is tough; one must be precise and true.  Fiction? I could let loose all day long with 7 sentences. I didn’t know who these people were, and they didn’t know we were living dirt-poor in a 1930s hippie-fringe duplex sans mantel or other decorative flourishes. I couldn’t wait to trot that kooky nutcracker back to Russia.

Theme 4: my in-laws’ friends. “Thank you for the exquisite crystal dish. Mr. Z. and I will enjoy using it for many years to come. I cannot wait to visit your town again. Mr. Z has told me so much about it. I look forward to exploring Mr. Z’s childhood haunts. . . .” Minimum: Facing alien territory, I wrote 7 sentences and mentioned Mr. Z’s name frequently. In addition, I took the time to make each note original because somebody once told me that residents of small towns in LA (lower Alabama) compared notes. Footnote: I caused an uproar because I retained my “maiden” name (10-year professional byline)—apparently shaming in-law ancestors vying to strike me with thunderbolts from on high. Mr. Z and I amicably parted ways years ago. I kept the Waterford, china, and sterling silver—and bequeathed him silverplate.

Theme 5: burnout—draft 3 sentences . . . and finish 3 more sentences plus 1 fragment and sign-off tomorrow. “Mr. Z and I deeply appreciate the relish tray. You are so thoughtful to remember us. We look forward to seeing you soon. . . .”

Westerncalligraphy

I once contemplated a career as a freelance thank-you note writer. Alas, my calling cards disappeared after 10 moves. I am too cheap to renew embossed stationery. My cursive writing is worse than an old-school doc’s script.

To all our moms and their friends—who made us feel pretty, smart, fun, and loved—thank you for being a friend.

Bouquet in an Arched Window by Ambrosius Bosscharet

Demi-tasse, Coalport Porcelain Works (England, Shropshire, circa 1796-1926)

Woman Writing a Letter by Gerard Terborch

Traditional western calligraphy with a gothic flavor by Denis Brown, http://www.quillskill.com

Nutcracker courtesy of Raul654

 

 

 

bleeding camellias

320px-Spiraea_japonica_Alba1UME_pe_pemarch flurries storm—

spiraea cluster

in tight-white fistfuls;

Lonicera_fragrantissima0_pelemon wafts

from sweet breath-of-spring,

cool drips of honeysuckle.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

iris reticula!—

purple-tread carpet,

my low-lying lent;

narcissus_pejonquils and daffodils trumpet

white-peach-orange tones;

but I yield to conical shade

where a deep-blush camellia

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAclings to morning

and a companion

downturns bell-like,

ruffled by golden rot;

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAa season-sink,

winter’s bleeding bed—

weed-fringed and

pine-straw punctured.

Credits

Spiraea courtesy of Epibas

Sweet-breath-of spring courtesy of Kurt Stuber, http://caliban.mpiz-koeln.mpg.de/mavica/index.html

Jonquil courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/spacepleb/399821516/

Iris and camellias by Catherine Hamrick

#EncourageEveryoneIn4Words: “Do the Right Thing”

Published continuously from 1732 to 1758, Poor Richard's Almanack hit record press runs of up to 10,000 copies per year.

Published continuously from 1732 to 1758, Poor Richard’s Almanack hit record press runs of up to 10,000 copies per year.

Success. I could watch LinkedIn’s Pulse stream all day and witness a zillion interpretations of how to be “healthy, wealthy, and wise.” (I chopped off “early to bed, early to rise” because we live a 24/7 day and “multitask” in fast-paced environments.) For the record, Benjamin Franklin lifted that line from somebody else who had borrowed it from somebody else. A persona created by Franklin uttered the words in Poor Richard’s Almanack.

Something else popped into my mind after I saw this hashtag trending earlier this month: #EncourageEveryoneIn4Words. Funny thing—the hashtag is five words. Twenty-five years ago, Spike Lee transformed a simple phrase into the seminal movie Do the Right Thing.

Sarah Larson (Culture Desk/The New Yorker) wrote a piece about its 25th anniversary screening last summer. She grabbed some memorable remarks, including those of actor Luis Ramos:

“. . . You’re forced to grow up with each other in New York City. And learn. . . You got your Puerto Ricans, your Koreans, and blacks, and Italians, and we’re all in this together—until we’re not. And that’s the legacy of ‘Do the Right Thing.’”

The world went wildly global years after the release of the movie. I will qualify Mr. Ramos’s remarks:  Today there seems little room to escape one another. (I acknowledge that some people with good sense turn off technology while on vacation.)

This past January, Simon Kemp of the global social media agency We Are Social summarized their Digital, Social, and Mobile in 2015  report.  The content is bold. It packs staggering statistics from more than 240 countries and profiles of the world’s top 30 economies.

The core milestones for 2014 state: 1) worldwide social media users exceeded 2 billion; 2) worldwide penetration of mobile phones passed 50%; 3) the number of global internet users rose to 3 billion; and 4) the number of active mobile connections surpassed the total world population.

The report suggests that this growth shows no signs of slowing.

A global economy and technology have opened the door to entrepreneurship, cultural exchange, sharing of information (it’s wise to vet it), and access to family, friends, and colleagues in far-flung lands. However, it also has spawned a non-objective 24-hour obsession—on the part of many “media” outlets and their followers—to promote brutality; greed; polarized communities; political imbalance; prejudice; unreasoned debate; world leaders who do not lead but squabble (preferring to pander to their base); uncivil remarks (“snarky”); “switchtasking”; red carpet moments; and Kim Kardashian’s next Instagram exposure. On both counts, one can add more to the lists.

First edition of Brave New World (fair use)

First edition of the ongoing best seller Brave New World (fair use)

Do individual acts of kindness based on a moral code go unnoticed? Are they random?

I ponder the meaning of it all, stuck in my oscillation between the title of a famous novel and a quotation that has not died.

1) Aldous Huxley underpinned the dark Brave New World with this ironic twist on one of Shakespeare’s characters, naïve Miranda in The Tempest, who cries:

O wonder!

How many goodly creatures are there here!

How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,

That has such people in’t!

(Shakespeare seemed to be onto his own ironic twist.)

2) “It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. I simply can’t build my hopes on a foundation of confusion, misery, and death. I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too. I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that this cruelty too shall end and that peace & tranquility will return once again.”—Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (Since 1947, the book has sold over 30 million copies translated into 67 languages.)

320px-Anne_Frank_signature.svg

In addition, I ponder a fascinating question once posed in an interview: “How will your epitaph read?”

Since I prefer cremation, my epitaph will go up in smoke. Will it show up for a moment on a Twitter feed? It certainly will not be “the best #entrepreneur ever.” I applaud many successful entrepreneurs who run exciting businesses while following a moral code. I happen to be a worker bee. There is room for everyone.

Will  my epitaph matter in a nano-flash?

Will my epitaph matter in a nano-flash?

Just for fun, let’s give it a go:

“She tried to ‘do the right thing’ for faith, family, friends, communities despite her imperfect humanity. #EncourageEveryoneIn4Words”

Credit:

Monument  in the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery at the University of North Carolina (Catherine Hamrick)

The Garden of Perfect Moments

“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.”

That was Leonard Nimoy’s last message. It resonated. Just in time.

Until then, I lamented my slow arrival as a writer. Why had I not produced anything seminal? Where was my worth? What would I leave behind?

Now I ask . . . does it matter?

Three decades ago, I would have spurned Mr. Nimoy’s comment about “perfect moments.” I was in thrall to the existential belief that perfect moments do not exist.

The_Sun_in_extreme_autobrightenAs humans, we constantly rewrite history. Our lens changes as we witness birth, life, death. My father’s death last September brought me to a garden of perfect moments. And so began my family stories, not the artful fiction I desired. I am but a small speck.

Perhaps I now see the world as I once did as a child. Memory calls up a moment in time.

My sister Mary and I sat in a window seat in Mama Hattie’s rambling house. Was there really a window seat? It does not matter. What matters is the morning light making a big square on the floor, inches from our bare feet. We slid our toes into the warmth. The floor creaked. Tiny particles seemed to swarm in the sunlight, like thin layers of stirring gold dust. Our fingers chased each other in and out of the rays, whirling them into scattered sparkles.

I squinted into that light. The chairs and table receded and became shadowy as I focused on a photograph of Mama Hattie. She stood strong, slender, and young behind the smudged glass, her hair long and black. The baby boy on her hip held the dark tresses while she smiled gently.

I closed my eyes and shook my head. To my way of thinking, Mama Hattie always had gray hair. Only her eyes were black.

But some time she was not old. There were the stories she told after we had bathed, put on our airy nightgowns, climbed on her heavy oak bed, and bounced on the mattress.

We sat on either side of Mama Hattie while she told of school days, cotton picking, and corn shucking. Her stories wandered around and never really ended; they just ran into each other. She paused frequently, and her voice was whispery, like the velveteen dresses that Mom sewed every Christmas.

After a while, I would lay my head against her shoulder and feel her jaw moving as her voice rolled and slurred and drifted into the past.

320px-CottonPlant_pe_pe

“Well, we’d go to this country school part of the year, but they’d turn out for the students to help their parents on the farm, if they needed hit. When we was in school, teacher called roll, and we had to answer with a little memory gem. I still recollect those memory gems.

“Let me see. . . .

“Be kind and gentle to those who are old; kindness is better and dearer than gold. . . .

“And, um, hit’s a-comin’ to me. . . . If you’ve work to do, do hit with a will. Those who stands at the bottom never climbs the hill. . . .

“Them cotton pickin’s?  Now those was a sight. Long about the end of pickin’ time, the bolls wouldn’t open real wide. Hit’d be so cold and bad weather that we’d just run and pick the bolls and then pick the cotton inside the house. . . .

“Then we’d have a candy pullin’! Boys and girls would gather ’round, and we’d pull that candy made from syrup. Hit would turn plum white we’d pull it so. . . .

“They’d have big corn shuckin’s, too! And the gal and boy that was a-settin’ next to each other, if they come to a red ear, he got to kiss her. . . .

“Nope, I never did have to kiss a single fellah. . . .”320px-Vegetable.garden_pe

Her shoulders shook, and we drowsily joined in her laughter. . . .

That world already had disappeared. But she spun those memories into perfect moments.

Will anyone know or care in a generation or two? It does not matter. That golden time is enough for the present.

On language: when “whales” become “wells”

Fb789It’s a moment when you reach back. Far back. You can’t reason why you do it. You’re jolted though, in the same way that you jump when thunder cuts the quiet of a mountain lake, until then almost still, except for fish running slight currents and heat lightning flirting with low clouds.

“Whale.” Soft as that word is, it firecrackered in my brain this morning. Random.

Mama Hattie sternly warned us never to touch the graying, splintered “whale-house” just steps outside her kitchen. Not even 6 years old, my sister Mary and I stood many hours before its boarded-up door.  We speculated on how often Pawie changed the whale’s water and marveled that its tail did not lash the walls of rotting wood. It never slapped water through the cracks.

Sometime that mysterious creature sank below memory glimmer. Maybe in the summer I noticed that Mama Hattie’s voice crawled through words—”hit’s” for “it’s” and “yeller” for “yellow” and “aigs” for “eggs.”  And “whale” for “well.”

That summer I wrapped an egg, fresh from the chicken house, in a red bandana.  I crouched near the whale-house and clasped the egg in warming desperation. Then I knew. My chick was gone. It had never been. It had never slept, tucked inside the shell, waiting to pick that brittle wall and pop out wet.

The whale had never been.

ContourBottleConceptSketch_peNothing else changed. Pawie rocked on the gray-painted porch of the white gabled, green shuttered house, never talking but always watching for trucks headed to Atlanta. They rumbled on Highway 53, honking until he shot up his long right arm—in salute to a world bypassing his. A small braided rug hung on a side balcony, waiting for a beating.

The day dimmed. We chased fireflies on the front lawn, more like a strip of pasture, and trapped them in Coca-Cola bottles. They glowed until smothered under greenish glass.  Our faint torches of summer.

Credit:

Wood shed courtesy of Fb789, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Fb78, http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benutzer:Fb78