“My sainted mother” (as Gene Kelly used to say of his) is turning 80 on New Year’s Eve. She is a couple of thousand miles away in California; I am living in Milwaukee missing the sunshine of her warm personality. How shall I celebrate her life from this distance? I came upon an idea: post a blog entry every day from Christmas Eve through New Year’s Eve containing 10 things I appreciate about her. By her birthday, she will have read 80 reasons that I am so grateful for her long life.
I have decided to start out with “10 Background Bits”, pieces of factual information to set the stage for her “close up”. First, there is a family history for this kind of project. When my father turned 60, I presented him with a little typed booklet entitled “60 Memories of My Father”. The cover was made out of construction paper. It looked a bit like a school assignment for a 3rd grader, I admit. But it was made with love. My father ended up writing his own memoirs 8 years later in response to interview questions I sent him. 2 years after that, he began his mysterious journey into dementia and Alzheimer’s. For my mother’s 70th birthday, I wrote “!70 Foods 70!”, an anthology of food memories with pictures. (She is a fabulous gourmet cook.) My mother keeps that in a binder, each page engulfed in a separate plastic sheath. It looks a lot more professional than my first attempt. (She is also a museum archivist.) So this birthday project is one of a much-beloved series that has enriched me in the recollection and writing of it and, hopefully, enriched my parents in the receiving.
2) Time: Anne Louise was born December 31, 1934 – a blessed little tax deduction for her folks that year and their first child. My kids now know her as “Granne Louise”.
3) Place: Fair Lawn, New Jersey.
4) Mother: Marion Keeffe McFarland. A tiny spitfire of a personality, ambitious and shrewd, a capable survivor with a twinkle in her step. My mother and I both wore her long bridal veil when we were married. The secret she carried to her grave: she never got beyond the 8th grade in school.
5) Father: David Elmer McFarland, Jr. He was an electrical engineer with Public Service of New Jersey. His stateside responsibilities kept him home during WWII, keeping the power running, managing 5 Victory Gardens, and being husband and father. My mother adored her father: he was the calming antidote to her mother’s small furies and mini dramas, a grounding presence with a refreshing sense of humor. I think I heard once that he played the piano at a nickelodeon… I believe it, anyway.
6) Her younger sister, Sandy. Actually, her name is Marion like her mother, but her nickname distinguishes her. Her blonde hair, petite frame and bubbly personality came back to my mother’s mind often when I was in her view, since I was the only blonde and the youngest of her 4 daughters. Sandy was much like her mother: tiny and very social. My mother was more like her father: lanky and cerebral.
7) My mother’s natural strengths: precocious and enduring intelligence, musical talent, organization.
8) Her natural weakness: her eyes. She was finally diagnosed with myopia and ambliopia at age 5, and wore an eye patch and glasses. Her walleye makes for poor depth perception, but it gives her the peripheral vision that kept me from sneaking anything past her…ever.
9) Growing up: my mother’s stories of growing up sound to me like echoes from an early TV sitcom — pin-setting at the bowling alley for a penny a pin to earn spending money, which was then spent at the movies, often for a double feature; learning to drive on a dirt road around the town’s water tower with her boyfriend, Duff; keeping statistics for the school baseball team and flirting with the players; trips to New York City every year, where her Aunt would buy her a new coat. Happy days, it would seem.
10) Becoming an adult: because she skipped a year of school and her birthday’s so late in the year, my mother headed off to college at the tender age of 16. And not just any college — Radcliffe College. Her mother had two goals for her: either meet a rich man and marry, or get a first rate education so that you can support yourself. My mother got both the man and the education. She graduated in May of 1955, earning a B. A. in English with her thesis on Jane Austen. She married George William Heigho (Harvard ’55) in September that same year.
For a writing class 3 years ago, I was prompted to write my parents’ wedding announcement. Mom, always a sharp editor, made sure I got it right:
Anne Louise McFarland and George William Heigho II were married September 3, 1955 at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Glen Rock, New Jersey. The bride is a graduate of Radcliffe College, and the groom is a Harvard graduate. The couple met at the Canterbury Club on campus during their sophomore year. Mrs. Heigho is the daughter of Marion Keeffe and David Elmer McFarland, Jr. of Fair Lawn, New Jersey. Her father is an electrical engineer with Public Service of New Jersey. The groom is the son of Dorothy Lauver and William Stephens Heigho of Detroit, Michigan. His grandfather, George William Heigho I, was the president and CEO of Calvert Lithographing company. The couple will be sailing to England on the Nieuw Amsterdam for their honeymoon, returning in a month to their new home in Boston. Mr. Heigho will then begin work with IBM.”
This portion of the birthday project also serves as a traditional Christmas Eve ghost story. The spirits of my Grandpa, Grandma, and father are affectionately internalized in my mother now. I’m sure she holds many more as well – notably (to me) my sister and my husband. The lives of friends, family, entertainers, neighbors, writers, thinkers and even fictional characters seem to animate her with exuberant ideas of connection. Conversation with her is peppered with the anecdotes of a host of souls.
Tomorrow is Christmas Day, and that chapter of 80 Years in 8 Days is dedicated to “10 Family Foods”. My mother’s table is the holiday feast I dream of every year. While visions of it dance in my head, I wish you, Mom, and dear readers, a Good Night.
Toes. Eyes. Live humans twinkle. Is that from light cast upon them or from light within?
Carl Sagan says that “we are made of star stuff”. My mother-in-law used to say that Jim was “shiny and pink” as a baby. He glowed with the vibrancy of good circulation and white-blond hair, I guess. I remember almost putting his eye out once when that twinkle made me just so curious that I wanted to touch it.
That spark of life. The cosmic, irreproducible result that drives scientists mad. “It’s ALIIIIIVE!” No wonder we want to add that vibrant energy to our winter days, when we’re thrown into the farthest arc and missing the summer sun.
How do you remind yourself of the shimmer that is our existence on this beautiful sphere in this living Universe? Do you surround yourself with round, sparkly things?
The lights are already hung. The magic is all around us, even now. Go outside and take a look!
in response to WordPress’ weekly photo challenge.
Letters and symbols, icons and shorthand. We use them to convey meaning, experience, fact and story to create a reference. Weave several together, and you have history. We’ve created these continually throughout time, and have become so prolific at it that most of us have begun to filter out these symbols habitually. We don’t bother to slow down to read signs. We delete pop-up messages and junk mail. We are inundated and overwhelmed with letters all day long and hardly think about them. What if we focused in on one letter, one symbol, and let it represent an entire text, like the medieval scribes did with illuminated manuscripts? This illuminated letter represents my daughter Rebecca’s first Christmas in 1989. What kind of a history does this describe? That there once was a mother who commemorated her child’s first Christmas by making a special ornament. She decorated a tree with it every year for 20 years. The child grew up, her father died, and she moved away from home. The mother stopped celebrating Christmas, but she gave her daughter the special ornament to keep. Soon the daughter had her own house and her own Christmas tree. She decorated the tree and invited her mother to come celebrate with her. Her mother was pleased to see the ornament hanging in just the right place, so she took a picture of it. The End.
“Joy to the world! All the boys and girls! Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea! Joy to you and me!”
I had to wait until after my holiday celebration with my kids to post this contribution. I knew that there would be plenty of joy to photograph when we got together. My kids have great, big, laughing faces, exuberance, enthusiasm, and loads of energy…and they always have. But now that they’re in their 20s, they also have the ability to focus on a serious philosophical conversation and communicate deeply personal insights…for a while, anyway. The spontaneous laughter, the spontaneous song with harmony, the spontaneous dance around the room – these are part of every Galasso get-together. Costumes and hats frequently make an appearance as well. It is really a privilege to be related to these young people because we all genuinely like each other. We are good, kind, positive, broad-minded folk, to be honest, and I am grateful for all the circumstances that helped that to happen.
And food! I have to mention food. It is such a joy to gather to prepare and eat from the marvelous bounty that sustains and delights. Wine (in a long-stemmed sippy cup, no less! Sometimes preschool isn’t so remote, even after you’ve grown up), cheese (truffle gouda & goat cheese, espresso hard cheese), roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and pickled watermelon rind, potato salad with fresh tarragon, broccoli & kale salad with bacon vinaigrette, Mediterranean spaghetti squash with feta and olives, mince pie, and Fireball whiskey bread pudding. Next morning: creme brulee French toast. So much tasty! Very goodness! Wow!
I wish you all joy and peace in the coming year, and an increasing ability to take joy in every moment of being alive. Celebration is an attitude that can be part of every single day, no matter what. I like to remember that.
Thank you, blog followers, for counting the days with me and considering the many gifts that we receive in life.
May we be filled with gratitude;
may our gratitude transform our spirits;
may all beings be happy.
From icy Milwaukee, I wish you peace!
And to close, I simply must share my favorite Flash Mob scene of all time, from the 1970 movie musical “Scrooge”. I cry happy tears every time I see it and find myself dancing and singing along. Please click on this link and Enjoy! I was 8 years old when my father took me to see it in a theater. When we emerged, a beautiful light snow was falling on the Chicago streets. Years later, my youngest daughter was cast in a production of this delightful (and musically superb!) show, and Jim and I helped prepare the chorus in rehearsal. I also got to conduct the band from the orchestra pit for every show, and it was one of the most thrilling experiences I’ve had. Imagine me waving my arms enthusiastically, caught up in the joy of “Thank You Very Much”. Thank you all for supporting my blogging efforts over the years. Your company is a great privilege!
This is the last entry from my series of posts two years ago. Not much has changed in my love for my family, except that those “significant otters” have become more formally (and legally) incorporated into the clan and that the arena of family celebration has moved from my duplex to my daughter’s house (and will take place on Saturday). The snow is deep and sparkly here in Milwaukee. Steve was out the door before 6 a.m. to deliver mail and packages for the US Postal Service. Last night, he didn’t come home until 8:30 p.m. The temperature is -2 degrees Fahrenheit (without the wind chill factor) this morning. If you get a mail delivery today, give your carrier a warm smile and your gratitude and appreciation. Remember the free gifts that come to you each day, regardless of season, with no carbon footprint. Live life in gratitude and happiness and peace. The world will benefit.
How About Love?
My December countdown was completed yesterday. I did not have a chance to post about the gift of love because I was living it. My four children plus two “significant otters” came over for feasting and gifting and sleeping over. All six of them ended up on the living room floor under mountains of sleeping bags and pillows and blankets, just like they used to when they were kids in a cousins pile. Except now, they’re all adults — beautiful, interesting, caring, amazing adults who actually like each other. And me. How did I get to be so blessed? This morning, I repaid them all for years of running in and jumping on my king-sized bed full of eager energy at an early hour on Christmas. I dived onto their sleeping bags one at a time and gave them a great big hug and kiss.
We have lived through a lot together. And we have lived through a lot separately. Their lives matter to me in a way that I can barely describe. Steve keeps challenging me to come up with ways to articulate what this is. He has no children, and philosophically wonders why family is esteemed so highly. “Oxytocin,” my daughter replied one day. That explains one level of it, I suppose. My biology has loaded me with hormones that make me love my kids. My religion loaded me with beliefs that urged me to love my kids. My experience of life has loaded me with the joys of loving my kids. And my kids are just plain lovable. I can agree with the reasoning behind his argument that all people are equally valuable, but I just can’t help feeling that my kids are more valuable…to me. Yes, I’m playing favorites shamelessly without really understanding why. Is it possible that evolution favors fiercely loving families? Do they tend to be larger and survive better? This might have negative effects on the planet in terms of population. Would it be better for the world if we were less filial and more agape in our love? Less sentimental and more altruistic?
I don’t think that I am going to do justice to the topic of love in a scholarly way when I am full of mince pie, chocolate, and happy memories of the hours I just spent. I am starting to sink into that melancholy that bubbles up when all of the guests have gone home and you ask yourself if you can be truly happy without that rush of energy and affection. Of course, I am happy and even more peaceful living without all my children still under my roof. I am in love with the world, in love with my partner, and in love with my children every day. And it is marvelous.
The sun is rising in the east, lighting the low clouds with a brilliant pink-orange glow and silhouetting a raven in the large oak next door. We awake this Sunday morning in a gloriously celebratory mood. This is the only day in the week that Steve doesn’t wake at O dark 30 to get out the door to work. He goes to his 7-foot stacks of CDs (did I tell you he collects and sells CDs as well as books?) and selects a favorite. The timpani boom out the announcement of Christmas. Boom-bo-bo-bo-bo-boom Boom! Bach’s Christmas Cantata is a great, rousing morning piece. Now we are at the Grand Canyon, listening to the bird flutes and the donkey hee-haws of Grofe (accent on the ‘e’). Music is a truly wonderful gift that we enjoy every day.
I’ve Got Music
How to unwrap this truly spectacular gift? It pulsates and glows and pulls you in, as your heart resonates and your soul throbs. Music received and believed regenerates like faith. I cannot think that it is merely a human construct, yet I cannot prove the music of the heavenly spheres. Is it invented? Is it natural? Is it free? Perhaps it is everything.
All deep things are song. It seems somehow the very central essence of us, song; as if all the rest were but wrappages and hulls! ~Thomas Carlyle
Without music life would be a mistake. ~Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life. ~Ludwig van Beethoven
My idea is that there is music in the air, music all around us; the world is full of it, and you simply take as much as you require. ~Edward Elgar
Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent. ~Victor Hugo
Is there a culture on earth without music? Rhythm: sound and silence are as basic as biology. Heartbeat, breath. Melody is anything with a voice. Do animals make music? Do plants? Does the earth itself sing? Sound waves flood space. Is that music?
Does music have an important part in your life, in your living?
Steve has a mental invention: “the sound pack”. He imagines carrying around a device that would provide a soundtrack to your life as you live it, matching music to your moods and experiences. It differs from an iPod in that it is all original music. Of course, he hasn’t actually built a prototype. I have never gotten into the habit of wearing ear buds and listening to music constantly. My arachnoid cyst would probably explode if I did. It’s more comfortable for me to take my music in without other distractions, especially as the white noise in my head increases. Imagine that you lived 200 years ago, before recorded sound. What place would music have in your life then?
I sing to myself when I drive, making up lines and verses as I go along, like the Spirituals of the south, especially if I’m anxious. Driving up to Steve’s house from Illinois, I’d get off the Interstate at Swan Blvd and hum, “Here I am on a street like a long-necked bird…”, the murmur of a bluesy minor key calming my nerves. I would sing to my little brother on the drive home from the beach when he was a boy. He’d be asleep by the time we reached the driveway, damp head on my shoulder. I loved singing to him. When he was an infant, I would reach into his crib and lift his sleeping body so that I could take him to the rocking chair and sing him back to sleep again.
Of course, I sang to my own children. And they sang back. Harmony is an amazing satisfaction. I am looking forward to my kids visiting me on Christmas Eve. I’m hoping we can take a stroll around the neighborhood and trot out some of our favorite carols….and maybe some Beetles. Have you ever heard people singing in the streets? Do you look up in delight? Wonder why they seem so happy? I do.
One morning, I awoke to the sound of my sweetheart singing beneath my window. “Michelle, ma belle, Sont des mots qui vont tres bien ensemble….” Instead of the melody, though, it was the baritone part of a barbershop arrangement. Didn’t matter. It was in French and warmed by a May breeze. I opened my window and drank it in.
I have not experienced oneness with an instrument except my own voice. I am truly impoverished by that fact, I think. I did buy a harmonica this year with high hopes, but I am just too impatient. My mother-in-law was a concert pianist. My mother is an accomplished accompanist as well. I wish that I had been more disciplined and practiced the piano more. I wish that I had spent more time with the guitar, too. I suppose having a good voice tempts you to be lazy in that way. If Jascha Heifetz could sing, would he have been the violinist that he was?
What if we required our politicians to be experienced ensemble musicians? Would they come to office with a better understanding of unity, of teamwork, of collaborative leadership? Imagine a string quartet of President, Vice-President, Speaker of the House, and Senate Majority Leader practicing long hours together on an Adagio by Schubert. Perhaps the entire country would be in better shape.