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Venice

venice sunset

An early, hushed Sunday morning in New York City. Cool air wafts through the open window. I sit at my kitchen table with a cup of tea from the set I bought in a little town outside of Portland over twenty years ago. My “cottage set” I’ve always called it – a round tea pot and heavy mugs, deep blue with garlands of flowers on them, the handles like twisted branches. They always bring to mind the Cotswolds and thatched cottages with gardens – though I’m far from any kind of cottage existence.

A dense fog last night leaves the flowers in my window boxes dewy and fresh. In the distance I hear a lone train whistle from the Sunnyside train yard, the early chirping of birds, the muted peal of faraway church bells, the low passing rumble of a car or two a few blocks over.

My mind is focused on the writing at hand – when in the morning quiet, I hear the click click of a woman’s heels on the sidewalk below – and immediately I’m back in Venice.

Venice beautiful bridge

Exhausted upon our arrival, we rested in the early evening, almost asleep. And through the open window, we heard for the first time the sound that would forever remind us of Venice: the clicking of women’s heels in otherwise silence, ever so slightly echoing in the narrow calli below – mysterious, intriguing, beguiling. Who is she? Why is she alone? Where is she going?

I take a sip of tea, glance out the window, and decide that I must go back there – to the city of soft summer evenings, canals and bridges, and breathtaking beauty.

venice end of day

 

 

 

The Dreams of Youth

Longfellow sunset

The line above from Longfellow’s poem, My Lost Youth, in large part, inspired the writing of The Dreams of Youth. It’s a collection of six very short pieces that together tell the story of Maggie. Spanning over eighty-five years, the stories follow her from her youth in Depression-era Illinois to the time when she ventures forth to 1940’s Hollywood and coastal California, and her return to the rural Midwest

I used lines from the poem to head the sections, amazed each time that the words so closely conveyed the main idea of the piece.

The first section is called “A Girl’s Will.” Though Longfellow’s poem is about a boy, the line worked beautifully to capture Maggie’s spirit.

“A [girl’s] will is the wind’s will.” – Longfellow

(excerpts)

When her brothers and sisters staged a circus in the back yard for the entertainment of the neighborhood, it was eight-year-old Maggie who flew through the air on the handmade trapeze, her sense of adventure overriding any fear she might have had.

“One penny to see the Flying Wonder – Maggie!” they cried, drawing a sizable crowd.

Maggie loved the feeling of flying through the air and landing on the old mattress – the freedom, the thrill! It was the same feeling she had when she jumped from the hayloft onto the hay below, the same feeling she had when she rode her brother’s bike and coasted with her arms outstretched.

Maggie was four when her mother Eileen died after giving birth to twins, the last of ten children.rural cemetary

Summers at home were magical. The rest of the year was spent in the orphanage, along with the twins and her sisters. Maggie came to love the nuns. They taught her how to sew and read, and told wondrous stories about the lives of the saints.

All the same, she was happy when she finally reached high school and moved back home.

Madonna Alton orphanage

(Madonna of the orphanage)

Maggie has always loved the idea of airplanes and flying, and she decides to become an airline stewardess in order to finally see the ocean and far away places.

She took her savings and journeyed by bus to Kansas City for an interview with TWA. Her dreams were finally going to come true; she could feel them tingling at her fingertips.

From the bus window, she imagined the miles and miles of corn as the wideness of the ocean, curving into the horizon. The golden wheat became the golden sand where she would soon stand and let the waves lap over her bare feet. When she closed her eyes, she could almost feel the salt spray on her face!

As she waited in a long line with other hopefuls, eager for the interview, she heard the whispers.

“They don’t hire girls with glasses. You must have perfect vision.”  Maggie took off her glasses and slipped them into her pocket.

Back home, Maggie found a job working in the veteran’s hospital.

*

Maggie had not given up on her dreams of seeing the world. While she was working at the VA hospital, she learned that her vision was good enough to enlist in the Air Force Nurse Corps. She would become a military flight nurse.

nurse poster

When Maggie’s best friend from nursing school offered her the chance to go to California, the land of dreams, Maggie knew that the door to her future had opened at last.

ocean sunset

dreamsofyouth_kindle_hihttp://amzn.to/2rDiqfB

Memorial Day — Thank You

My WWII Christmastime series takes place on the home front, mostly in New York City, with a secondary plot occurring on a farm in Illinois, and a bit of action on an orchard in upstate New York. Though the focus is on family and love and Lillian’s journey as an artist, the impact of the war is felt on every page. The veterans who make an appearance are either recovering in hospital, or are home on leave. Some are getting ready to ship out for the first time.

My father was a WWII vet. He enlisted when he was barely eighteen, joining the Army Air Force as a tail gunner. My siblings and I grew up with war stories that took place decades earlier. Mostly humorous stories about the other young men (boys, really) in his crew. He flew twenty-five missions in 1945 and said he was given the last rites before every mission, and a shot of whiskey on his return. He said when he came home at war’s end, his mother broke into tears — of happiness to be sure, but also because of the wear and tear on his face. He said that ice always clung to his face at the high altitudes, and pulled on the skin below his eyes, giving him the look of a much older man.

But he came back, whole, happy to be alive, eager to begin his life.

Yank

I continue to do research for the last two books in the series, Christmastime 1944 and Christmastime 1945. And though I have my dad’s Yank magazines, a few letters, and his medals, I wish he were still here. There are so many questions I haven’t found answers to in my research, so many questions I still want to ask him. I wish I could get out a pen and paper to take notes as I listen to his stories — and to tell him: Thank you.

Nimitz quote

 

 

Our veterans are our gold, full of courage, sacrifice, and experience. To all who have given so much — thank you.

vets stars blue

 

 

A Sense of Sky

I’ve lived in New York City for almost thirty years and love it as much now as I did when I first moved here. But one of the things I miss, something from my girlhood, is the sense of sky — the wide-open vistas of the Midwest.

Image (483)

It’s a feeling of proportion you become aware of, driving along the Illinois fields, where the sky seems to take up a good two-thirds of the world. Here in New York I catch glimpses of sunsets or storm clouds between tall buildings, or over the rooftops. Beautiful, but without the sense that the sky dominates.

farmhouse Canva

I grew up with the drama of stormy skies over far-reaching fields, and the endless blue skies of summer with high, puffy white clouds, subtly changing, holding form just long enough for you to find an image before shape shifting again. To stand under such skies is humbling, and at the same time, makes you feel a part of something grand.

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That sense of sky has found its way into some of my stories. In Christmastime 1943: A Love Story (Book Four of Six), a secondary plot takes place on a farm in Illinois. At different times throughout the story, Ed, the old farmhand, Kate, the owner of the farm, Ursula, her beautiful daughter, and Friedrich, the German POW, all look to the winter sky and find solace and beauty, or a reflection of their internal state.

“[Ed] gazed out over the fields of corn stubble at the magnificent sunset. Bold streaks of orange and purple spanned the sky….Beautiful and strong – just like the women inside the farmhouse, he thought with a shake of his head.”sunset fields 1943.png

“[Ursula] stood at her window and gazed out over the late afternoon fields. The stubble of the corn fields shone a rosy gold in the setting sun. The sky filled with sweeping bands of deep blue and gray – at the horizon a shimmer of pink pulled at her heart. The sad beauty of the day filled her with longing.”

So I find that though I’ve moved away from Midwestern skies, they are still with me here, in New York City.

1943

 

 

 

Irises of May

irises railing Canva

I love the irises I come across growing along old fences, or inside a garden, in different stages of unfurling: some still in tightly bound spears with tips of saturated color, others gracefully opened in full display. Like peonies and other spring flowers, their relatively brief  appearance creates a sort of urgency to appreciate them before they disappear with the season.

pix (554)

Irises always remind me of a visit to my hometown many years ago. On a walk through the side streets, I came upon a small house with a startling burst of color alongside a fence. From a thick row of slender green blades bloomed bunches and bunches of irises — tall and elegant, in colors of ethereal blue, dusky mauve, yellow, and combinations of royal purple and apricot, white and watercolor rose, lavender and deep gold. I had to step closer to marvel at the rich array, so casually crowded along the fence.

The owner of the house, an elderly woman with a warm smile, caught me admiring her flowers and offered to show me her garden in the back of the house. It was even more breath-taking — tucked away from view, full of winding brick paths and interesting details set among gorgeous flowers. It must have taken her years to create such a work of art. When I told her how much my mother would love the garden, she graciously welcomed us to stroll through it whenever we wanted, even if she wasn’t at home. I had the feeling that the woman’s generosity and kindness came from the same internal place as her desire to create the beautiful garden — a place that takes pleasure in life and wants to add to the world’s beauty. I brought my mom back later that day, and the delight she took in the garden remains etched in my mind long years since.

I’ve often thought of that May garden, and wondered how many other secret gardens there are in my town, and in the cities I have lived in, and the places I have visited. How many people create works of beauty for the sheer joy and pleasure they bring? How many so freely and graciously offer their efforts to passers-by in patches of flowers, or window boxes trailing with color, or in potted blooms in front of a house? Like the best parts of ourselves, flowers require tending to be coaxed into being, to be nourished with love and sunlight and weeding and watering. The result is a sort of two-way gift that is offered back to the world in a communication beyond words.

pale blue iris

Over the weekend, I took out my terracotta pots and planted them with rose and purple stock, pink geraniums, and scarlet carnations, and set them on my steps just outside the door.

The End of April

2 blossoming trees

Do schoolchildren still sing the song “April Showers”? I think every year since I was a girl, some line, if not the whole song, runs through my mind in April. In an involuntary response, part of the melody just pops into my head when someone laments the rain, or when I come across a patch daffodils or violets.

daffodils for blog

A quick online search shows that the song was written in 1921 (in a period of post-war, pre-Depression optimism), and was introduced by Al Jolson in a Broadway musical. As can only be expected, the song’s  relentless optimism inspired parodies: “When April showers, she never closes the curtain…,” and a skit where a bucket of water is thrown on the far too cheerful performer. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/April_Showers] (Some versions of the song, as with Judy Garland’s, begin with “When” rather than “Though.”)

April showers lyrics

Such sentimentality lingered on in the optimism of the 1960’s schoolroom, at least in small-town Illinois. On an old upright piano, our music teacher played from a repertoire that ranged from war songs to the flowers of spring, and the over-sized class of baby-boomers belted out tunes about violets, caissons rolling along, and flowers that bloom when the fairies sing.

I love the rain of April and the color it brings. On such days the air itself seems tinged with green, so lush are the leaves and grass.

2 bridge

Green, rainy places have always held the most allure for me. On a trip years ago, I fell in love with Ireland and the Lake District in England — and very much want to go back. And a trip to Bangladesh had me gasping at such luxuriant green everywhere.

I actually moved to Seattle when I was young because I had heard that it was beautiful and hilly and green — and rainy. A soft rain was common enough, but dramatic storms with thunder and lightning, like Midwestern storms, were rare. Still, the soft rains kept Seattle blooming in flowers nearly all year long, and it lived up to its reputation as a beautiful, hilly, green city. (They call it the Emerald City and the last time I was there, they even had a yellow brick road to prove it.)

New York, like the Midwest, has seasons of intense green — April through June, for the most part. So when April showers come my way, I take my umbrella and indulge in the wealth of green.

2 post iris

 

2 tulips Columbus Circle

The Comfort of Books

Evangeline book

The Comfort of Books

We all know people who insist that there is nothing like holding a good, old-fashioned book in their hands. They swear that nothing compares to the heft, the feel, the companionability, the smell of a real book. I tend to agree with them.

Milton

 

But I also see the advantages of digital books. My e-books have come to the rescue on numerous occasions: stalled subway trains, long delays at the dentist or doctor’s office, travelling by plane.

And yet – there is something special about a physical book, as there is about crowded bookshelves, and browsing through a bookstore. Books offer a kind of comfort in their sheer presence.

Like many people, I have a particular love of old books. I have a very small collection that my mother, over forty years ago, had the foresight to buy from an old drug store in town that was closing. She also bought several glass pharmaceutical bottles – Lycopodium, Acacia, Digitalis – and other treasures from a bygone era that used to fill the tall wooden cupboards and glass cabinets there. But the books – those were the real gems. The covers alone gave them value as objects of beauty, as with Longfellow’s Evangeline, Poe’s Murder in the Rue Morgue, and Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake.

Poe book

 

 

 

lady of the Lake - crop

I’ve googled some of those books and found that they’re not worth much, and several of them are literally falling apart. And yet they continue to give pleasure.

Rip Van Winkle

And whether I’m at the Strand bookstore in Manhattan, or at a garage sale in my home town, I’m always on the lookout for one of these books from another time.

Strand Plaza

And as I take out my wallet to make a purchase, I catch sight of my iphone and find comfort in the digital library that’s always at hand.

April Rain – Thursday morning

entrance 3

An early morning rain intensifies the colors in Central Park. The green becomes a vivid emerald. The azalea, a dazzling pink.

azalea

The stones and tree trunks turn rich gray and black, and the lamplight lingers, dotting the park with touches of gold.

Bride lamp rain

The soft patter muffles the din of the city, and the rain on the lake makes the most tranquil of sounds.

lake white tree rain

White blossoms lay scattered on the rain-dark pathways, and fall softly on the textured water of the lake. A quiet beauty suffuses the morning; the air is cool and fragrant.

Only a few feet away the city swirls in traffic, pedestrians rushing to work, horns blaring, stop lights and tail lights reflecting on the wet surfaces.

An old stone wall separates 59th Street from Central Park. On one side, the hustle and bustle of New York City. On the other, the serenity of the park, the beauty of nature.

bush tree rain

And spring is just beginning.

 

 

 

April Rituals

Bridge April

How are personal rituals formed, and what purpose do they serve? I have morning and evening rituals, ways of opening and closing the day. I have seasonal rituals, ways of marking time, of making it specific and memorable – as if putting a frame around a moment, a season, a month, so that it can be more closely looked at.

I think, for the most part, my rituals have been haphazardly formed. Some combination of actions clicked together agreeably at one time, and so I tried to recreate it again and again.

My spring rituals are largely determined by flowers. I search out the first blooms in Central Park – crocuses, daffodils, Forsythia. I plant my window boxes and choose the colorful annuals for the garden. Though I try to start the season in March, the cold of New York usually forces me to wait until April.

Though April is changeable, it can be counted on for a show of color – purple, yellow, pink, white. There’s a quince bush a few houses down that is among the first to flower in the neighborhood. I keep an eye on it, noting the first bits of green, then the dots of color as the buds begin to open. Then after a few sunny, mild days, the melon-colored flowers start to open, and there’s no suppressing the surge of pleasure they bring.

 

At about the same time, the pear trees along the street begin to bloom. My view at this time of year, as I write at the kitchen table, is that of white blossoms against the changing sky. In full bloom the trees are truly magnificent.

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I can’t remember exactly how a particular April ritual got started, but several years ago I sought out the music of Thomas Morley’s “April is in My Mistress’ Face.” The time of year must have reminded me of the lyrics, and of the college music class where I first became enamored with the music of Palestrina, Bach, and Morley.green lute

An online search brought up several renditions of Morley’s Renaissance madrigal, many of them with a montage of spring flowers in the background. But the one I liked best showed a young woman looking very demure, and yet sensual and lovely. Instead of the usual four-part polyphonic voices, the melody was carried by a simple lute. http://bit.ly/2oTC1Eq

April is in my Mistress’ face,
And in her eye July hath place;
Within her bosom is September,
But in her heart a cold December.

I tend to ignore the last line. I like to think of his mistress as sweet and lovely in face and heart.

One of my April rituals then, is to fix a cup of tea, gaze out at the blossoming pear trees, and write – or perhaps it’s more honest to say I stare out the window and remember and dream, casting back into the past and forward into the future – trying to link the beauty outside the window and in the music with a sweetness that once was, or that, perhaps, could still be.

Is April, and spring itself, a larger metaphor for life, for youth, for a beautiful past (real or imagined)? Very likely. And so I do my best to hold it, to love it, to be a part of it – even as the white blossoms are being blown from the trees.

Canva blossom 1

The Wake

swan heading crop

The Wake

A little death entered us when you went ahead.

So great was the love that tethered us to you,

we would have gladly followed;

Like little cygnets straining to keep up,

their eyes fixed on the beautiful white swan ahead.

The rippling wake, the path to you.

*

But you, nurturing mother,

Said no – the wake is the path you created for us;

The wondrous wake is life itself.

Your wish – for us to embrace it, as you did,

 with love and laughter and joy.

*

You, beautiful swan,

turned your head to us, as if gently saying,

this was not our time, but yours;

For us, now, to delight in the beauty around us,

to splash in the waters of life!

Time enough for the later journey.

*

Your gift to us, your legacy:

To live first fully in the wake.

 

swan sunset 2