Thursday, August 19, 2010


Peaches and our Mothers

Peeling fresh peaches. They’ve been exceptional this summer. I say this as one who lived thirty years in Georgia and never had a good peach there, except one basketful I bought in the mountains. But here, in New York, the peaches come from Pennsylvania, ripe from the tree, not picked green. They arrive in stores in August or late July, glorious in their fuzzy skins, colored from deep dried blood red to pale yellow. In the past I have made jam, but, unlike strawberry jam, peach doesn’t hold its flavor. I think I should freeze some, though, for winter. My mother would have canned them.
At least until reliable canned peaches appeared on the market, women canned their own.<> And even after. Early cans were made of tin and people worried about the food. We had jars of canned peaches and green beans lined up in the fruit cellar(later a catch-all place) when I was small. My mother didn’t do tomatoes. Butulism, she said Obviously she was confused in some way. When I was older commercially canned peaches were what we got in winter. Freestone peaches in thick, gooey syrup. They were sweet. Not peachy. Sweet. Okay, sugar is a good preservative. The peaches it preserved were only passable and the syrup didn’t help. Drained and set on a lettuce leaf with a blob of cottage cheese, they passed for salad. I think I liked it, actually, being one of two children in the history of the world who liked cottage cheese. But more often it was a pear half on the lettuce. A canned pear half. And by mid-winter in upstate New York, almost anything that looks or tastes like summer is good enough. Still the wonder and convenience of commercially canned food was more than my mother’s generation could resist. They didn’t entirely trust it, but they did consume it, grateful to be freed from the work. I think of that at the end of the summer, when I never want to see another tomato, but the freezer is stocked with little cubes of paste and sauce full of summer. And I swear not to plant tomatoes ever again. Of course I do, because by the end of winter the sauces is gone and the seed catalogs have filled the mailbox.
But this morning, peeling ripe peaches, their fragrance all over the kitchen, juice running down my hands, I thought about commercially canned peaches. We never have them. We try to eat seasonally. We aren’t real foodies, more like chow hounds--a little less fussy perhaps, but we eat fast food. But seriously, canned peaches? Nope I’d rather go all winter with out them, pig out in summer when they are fresh and ripe, eat them until I can’t face another one and move on to apples, next fruit to ripen here. I might freeze some, for peach upside down cake (Moosewood Desserts has a killer recipe), but I am content to anticipate, to think in winter of the peach as a color or a fragrance, to dream of fuzzy, warm deliciousness. Virtue. Eating locally. All that is good, but hedonism drives my virtue here. No peach from a can or a freezer EVER tastes like those of late summer.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Missing Henry

So it is morning and everyone is at last in their new homes and spaces. Even Gidget, the new dog on the block. Sad to think of Henry 3,000 miles away. I miss him or miss the idea of the dailiness of him. We want him next door to watch him grow. Pictures and updates are good, but lack immediacy: every new word, every edge toward walking, each turn of the growing mind. We won’t see it. We will be strangers to him and he will be a beloved child, far away to us.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Old photos

My parents owned a Kodak brownie camera. They took terrible pictures by today's standards, my parents that is, not the cameras. The camera shot black and white. I have some of those photos because my mother saved every one, unless she was in it. When my Aunt Mattie died and I moved into her house, I found boxes of old photos, some going back to the daguerreotype. The boxes were full of old faces and people in fancy clothes, fat babies in bonnets and hard shoes and a few mysteries. There was a photo clearly set in the Pacific, but the people were unknown. There was one of an elegant man in a white wicker porch chair, signed "Thanks Winnie. It was wonderful.'
Winnie? My uncle's sister was named Winnie. Had she had a secret life? A lover? What was wonderful? I'll never know and if I had some ambition, I'd write a novel about it and solve the mystery my own way. I keep those pictures. I've lugged them to Florida, to Georgia, and now I've brought them back to Syracuse where they started out. Some day soon I will scan the ones I want and keep the photos. The rest I'll give to the historical society. I want to keep the physical photos because they are things Mattie owned and touched, a connection. Most of my photos now exist as pixels.
I like digital. I like being able to shoot lots of pictures and only keep the best one. Part of me enjoys discarding bad pictures. But I worry that some thing is lost here. Don't the bad pictures tell stories too? The shooter couldn't focus, was an amateur. The baby moved. The grandmother in her best black dress couldn't even smile, pictures were too serious. All those get thrown away or if the photographer can't do that, they are stored but never printed. Printing is expensive. My parents often shot one roll of film over a year or more. The printed pictures made an odd album--Christmas and summer all in one go.
I take lots of pictures. I use my phone sometimes--imagining my old rotary phone stuck in the broom closet, trying to explain to my dad who died in 1960 that I can now take pictures with a telephone. Mostly I shoot with a Canon SLR. I got tired of trying to hold up one of those little cameras and guess what I was seeing. My pictures with the Canon probably aren't any better than those with the other digitals. I am not what I would call a photographer, and I am too lazy to learn.
Every once and awhile I get a good shot. That pleases me, though I honestly don't know what I did to accomplish "good shot." It doesn't matter though. When I die the kids will clean off my hard drive and discard the pictures. They may save a few, not many. The good ones I will have all ready given them. No one keeps pictures. I have realized that.They get thrown away with the dead person's clothes. And I think now that we have them digitally the discarding will be easier.
So many pictures. Everyone takes them. Cameras are on the table at weddings. Kids have them. What for?
Why do we take pictures? To remember? To compete in some unspoken art show--my photos are better than yours?
Photos are like miracles: they mean for the person who took them or who owns them, for the duration of that life. Ephemeral, they live for a lifetime. I'm not talking Matthew Brady here or art photos. I am talking about the ones we compulsively take to hold onto the passage of our lives, hoping, not that they will take our souls as some tribal peoples believed, but that they will save our lives.

Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories, they're all that's left you
Bookends, Simon and Garfunckle

Photos. I can no longer imagine what I will do with them.I give some away hoping friends like them. What happens to them after that matters not. Gifts no longer belong to the giver. But I wonder, now that everyone has a camera, what pictures mean. They meant a lot to my parents and grandparents. They were a kind of magic, valued for their rarity and their cost. Now? Do they matter or are they as impermanent as the newspaper? Worse really, since looking at photos on line lacks the tactile reality of looking at albums, pasted and labelled by hand. Touching creates reality. Looking at pixels adds a layer to the experience, forces us back a step, undoes the experience. The photos on Picassa could be anyone's. In some way they are anyone's to look at, losing the magic of intimacy and meaning.

This ends nowhere, really. I think I need to print pictures and make albums and not think of them as anything beyond a moment of history, going wherever it is going to go.

Monday, December 14, 2009


Darkness comes at 4:30 in this latitude at this time of the year. Everything slows down. It is hard to want to go out in the evening and do anything. Hibernation beckons. Carbs whisper in the kitchen. There is only about a month of this. By mid-January the days will be noticeably longer. But for the next month we closed around with darkness. The sun retreats, leaving us a little uneasy. It is too dark for too long. In summer, euphoria rules, afterglow lasts until around 10 pm. And the opposite happens. We all want to be outside. We work into the deepening twilight, just a bit more weeding, watering, mowing. We'll go in in a minute. Mosquitoes usually drive me in at last, but the twilight lingers and beckons. I no longer have screened porch, but when I grew up here, we sat out at night until midnight or later. The neighbors came over. The grownups drank beer. We talked or watched the lightening bugs comfortable in the warm evening. Sometimes when it was really hot, we stayed out there to avoid the heat inside the house. Once and awhile, I slept out on the porch.
In winter, the porch was glassed in, but it is always too cold to sit out there. I think the glass acted as a big heat absorber. And we could keep food out there, or the Christmas tree until the house was ready for it. Wasted space in winter, essential in summer. So we ritually lugged the heavy storm windows up from the basement and installed them. In spring, in April maybe, we took them down, and put the screens up. I miss having a porch, a place to wait out the long summer evenings, to drink iced tea and chat with the neighbors, a place to read in the shade without bugs biting, a place to nap on hot days. A cliche, I know, but neighborhoods diminished when new houses with air conditioning came into fashion. The richness of life lessened and we all became poorer. I still want a porch, though I don't think it will reverse anything or change much. But it would be nice to sit there of an evening, even a dark evening in deep midwinter. A space heater, a blanket, a good book, and the old dog.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


The turkey broth got left out and now there will be no soup.
And it was golden and glorious broth from the best turkey we
have ever had.

Friday, November 27, 2009


Here is what the medical people say:

Here is what the mother-in-law witness has to say.
First of all, and rather calmly, let me say that convulsions are terrifying to witness.
The person convulsing has no memory of the 'incident,' which is merciful. No one would want to remember the utter helplessness of that. Elana started to convulsive and was instantly 'outside' herself in the sense that whatever makes her herself was overcome by the electrical storm in her brain and the resultant physical spasms.
She had gotten up with a headache and blurred vision. She had had an odd headache a couple of weeks before and not been herself for the past week. I knew immediately (see my earlier post)
what was happening, so I did what we all do these days; I went to the computer. Seth started yelling "Mom." When I ran up the stairs, Seth was holding her up, barely, trying to lower her onto the floor of the shoebox-sized bathroom they were in. This was hampered by the fact that both of them are tall and there is a giant stuffed bear in the corner because that room is usually only used by his younger sister.
Ron drove up, at that moment. I yelled out the kitchen window for him to come. He was walking, tired from a night shift, but instinct and training will override most anything. In an instant, he broke into a run, dashed up stairs in time to help Seth get her to the floor.
By this time, I was on the line with 911, a maddening experience for the caller. The operator asks all these questions without telling you she had all ready hit a panic button somewhere on her end and the EMTs are rolling out of their station, while she wants to know the color of the patients toenails or some such other stupid thing. I was yelling that we needed an ambulance, Ron is yelling from up stairs, Seth was silent. After she said the EMTs were on their way, I calmed down a bit and was able to give them information in a polite, businesslike way, which I had NOT been doing up to that point.
The EMTs rolled in, looked at Elana and said we don't have the drugs for this. They called another ambulance service and opened their cheat sheet for what to do with mothers in full blown eclampsia. By this time Ron and I were in their bedroom, trying to stay out of the way.
J was in her room, where I had also stuffed the dog. I think J just cowered under the covers. Elana breathing was so loud, J said later, that she could hear it through the closed door. It was awful: load, laboured, grating, as if it came past the coarsest sandpaper you can imagine. They started an IV and gave her Mg to control the seizures and start to reduce her blood pressure which was somewhere over 280(top number, I kid you not).
The EMTs are pros, but clearly they were freaked out too, consulting a guide book of some kind for dosages. The other service arrived fairly soon. By that time, time was, to use a bad metaphor, dilating and contracting. The EMTs stabliized Elana as best they could and then tried to move her down the stairs. Elana is tall and the bathroom is quite small. They couldn't turn her. They couldn't get the stretcher in the bathroom. They dragged her out, almost literally, turned her in the hall, while I waited for one of them and her to fall down the stairs. Finally they got her on the stretcher, and then couldn't get it down the stairs. They couldn't grip it or they were afraid she would fall. So they back up into the bathroom. A stair chair seemed to be what was wanted next. They get one and bring it upstairs and manoeuvre it into the very small bathroom behind her. This then requires them to lift her again, this time into a sitting postion, and this time they can carry her down the stairs. Outside they transfer her to the stretcher again. She lolls, her head and arm off the side for a moment. She looks dead.
At that point, I think we've lost her.
The ambulance takes off, Seth follows in another. While all this has gone on, I have called work to tell them I won't be in, called a neighbor to take J to work and to watch the dog. Ron and I dress and get in the car. I've talked to Amy, pediatrician daughter, who says they will deliver the baby and everything will be all right. Not so sure, we head for the hospital.
What I can't reproduce here is the terrible gurgling, rasping breathing, the seizing, and then the deathly stillness after. She was totally unresponsive, limp, just like a body, not a person. My response to terror is to go cold. I don't cry and I don't go hysterical. I drove. Ron and I talked, but we didn't know much to talk about. I had heard of eclampsia, Aunt Mattie had nearly died from it and her baby had. Among older women it was whispered about. Now it is so rare that pregnant women hear about it, out there in the distance. "Oh yeah, eclampsia" seeps in from the remote reaches of the pregnancy universe. But I know nothing. And Ron, though he has been an ICU nurse for 35 years, knows nothing.

Post Thanksgiving

More about Thanksgiving later. Right now there is snow on the ground and my neighbor's 140 pound mastiff is sequestered in J's room. She loves us, is less certain about my son. She is here because J locked herself out the dog's house. She was dog sitting, opened the door to take the dog out this morning. And the door closed behind her. The key, of course, was inside. We suspect the cats actually shut the door all the way. We don't know when the neighbors will be back, sometime today. In the meantime, there is this large dog in my house who is hostile to one of the house members.
On the up side, there is turkey left over. Lots of turkey for sandwiches and pot pie or some such.
And much cranberry salad. So much to be thankful for.