Sunday, August 31, 2014

3 Weddings - None of Them in June - Number 3

My grandfather, Sherman Alden Allen, left copious diaries and some amazing photos of life in turn of the century Northeast. In the early 60's, as an octogenarian, he transcribed his journals to carefully numbered report folders on a manual typewriter.

His was not an illustrious life, but one of hard work, adventure and occasionally, romance.

Graduating from Brown University in 1903, he sailed off to teach at a University in Syria and Lebanon, where he took expeditions to famous ruins, fending off marauding Bedouins and skinny-dipping in remote desert pools. Returning to New York he took classes in German and French at NYU,  got a master's at Princeton,  and later shipped himself off to France to really learn their language.

He wrote in short sentences of his job as professor, his daily recreation, boating, skating, concert going, with very little emotional or philosophical entries.

My favorite story was of his courtship and marriage, though it took some piecing together of trip records and photos.

On a voyage to France he met a young stenographer named Herta Schenk, a Dutch born girl, with an accent to prove it. Her father was a successful baker. They seemed to hit it off well and he appears very star-struck on his trip home aboard the freighter.

If I were Herta, I definitely would have been taken
by his stout and healthy handlebar mustache!

Just the other day, I saw a young hipster at Sub-Culture coffee shop in West Palm, sporting the same upper lip adornment.

Funny how styles recycle themselves a century later!

Sherman here at age 28 would have looked a lot like the West Palm hipster, without the skinny pants, long hair and tattoos.

No. My grandfather had no tattoos.

Given his inscription on the photo back, he was certainly taken by his new Dutch love.

But, reading his 1909 entries, I almost miss the proposal to Herta.

He says he wrote "the" letter to Herta and shortly after he is booking European passage again.

This time to Holland and England.

The trip included meeting her family in Rotterdam, and buying her a ring. He, not the betrothed bride, books the wedding chapel and lodging for Herta, in London.

And on August 15th, 1910 the couple wedded and made an appearance on a London balcony with wedding party attending.

I never saw him much, separated by the space between Massachusetts and California, but felt a connection because we both shared a February 8th birthday.

He passed in the 70's and when his trunks came, it was like treasure had arrived. They were the same trunks that Herta used, bearing travel labels saying "Rotterdam."

His was not a life of fame, but certainly adventure and


The newlyweds settled in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and later moved to Worcester, Massachusetts.

1915 - Walter, my dad, brother Ralph and Grandma Bertha (English for Herta).

First came love, then came marriage, then came a baby (my father)  in a baby carriage.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sometimes words pour like poinciana blossoms

In early summer the blossoms fill the air with red flurries that pile up in ankle-deep scarlet snowdrifts. Vainly I try to hold them in my arms, catch them, but they spill over onto the driveway.  I bend to gather them and the wind snatches them in rosy gusts. Down the street I run to save them, so they are not lost forever.

Sometimes words pour like poinciana blossoms. I can't write them down fast enough. They slip through my fingers, swirling away like mutinous feathers on my writing ship. I chase them feverishly.

Nothing, not even imminent danger deters me from my syllabic quest.

Danger, such as driving and (gasp) texting sudden inspiration on the Florida turnpike. It's the fomo (fear of missing out) on a thought, phrase, lyric or idea that might escape like a canary from its cage. I type these words in my iphone notes section while driving to work behind an 18 wheeler.

Mid-sentence, a mindless person parked on the right shoulder opens his door into traffic. The truck breaks suddenly in front of me. Out of nowhere a wasp randomly lands on my bare left knee. I shriek, spring off the driver's seat, frantically brushing the venomous insect away, still catching words like fireflies. I break behind the truck in time.

Where's that wasp! Crawling the floor ready to fly up and stab his stinger firmly in my flesh? I have no choice but to keep driving.  Resigning myself to the fact that the worst the bug can do is cause a moment's pain.

I'm going to freaking kill myself and someone else, trying to capture these fleeting words!

Some days there is not a letter to be found and blogging death looms surely.

Like the first year we planted the sapling poinciana tree and Hurricane Wilma came through and shredded the young branches and tender leaves, pulverizing every plant in its path.

We thought it was dead. Killed by 120 mile an hour winds.

You think the stories will never come back to life and the brown, bare branches of thoughts will never spring green again.

(That's why a studied gardener plants the tree behind the house, not in front. It's deathly barren during our warm winters next to the proud palms, evergreen. But my husband insisted the poinciana be in the front yard so he could view it from his office window, and remember his brother Jimmy. Friends had given us the tree in honor of his brother's untimely death at age 50).

The tree was not dead, only dormant, regaining life, hidden to viewers on the outside, but alive and well on the inside, resting, recharging to soon revive itself.

And after winter's barren cycle, the tiny leaves bud and the blossoms pop out green and firetruck red soon after.

June comes and  poinciana petals fill the driveway again. Thoughts resurrect from the grave of the blank page. And once again, wading through ruby blossoms, I gather up words in a basket.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Oh! A mother's heart when her sons are in the House!

Mothering is a strange thing. From the moment the babies are born, you fall headlong in love and are inextricably bonded as in no other earthly relationship.

All five senses are one hundred percent intertwined with theirs. Your ears are listening for their smallest peep at night or nap time. Your eyes are watching every move on the video monitor or in the the pack 'n play. Every pore is feeling for their body heat, cleanliness, catering to their physical comfort. Any change of odor is detected faster than you can reach for the Pampers and bath supplies. Your voice sings, teaches, scolds, yells, whispers, counsels.

And your heart, I guess that's not one of the 5 senses, but perhaps we have 6 as mothers. The heart is the seat of intuition, the well of deep abiding love that initiates actions only a mother would do. Your heart is wrapping itself around theirs 24 hours a day. Are they happy, sad, disappointed, embarrassed, insecure, frightened, exuberant, rowdy, conniving, hurtful, compassionate? We monitor their emotional echo cardiogram as if it were our very own. Not sure which is greater for mothers: the physical or the visceral out pour.

But then, in keeping with the strangeness of being a mother,

there are days when you want to escape like crazy: Like a life-er locked up in Alcatraz eye-ing San Francisco with a shovel and snorkel in hand.

The news of baby number 4 and number 5 hit like the loud, reverberating slam of a jail door. Would I ever have a life of my own? Ever see my dreams fulfilled?  Ever make my mark in this world? I felt trapped in the day to day battle of beating back the toys and the messes. All just for an ounce of order, a semblance of organization in my schedule and household.

I dreamt about escaping to a bed an breakfast by myself to Santa Barbara, without kids and husband. Just to stare out window with no one wanting me. Just to play a song on the piano all the way through. Three uninterrupted minutes was all I asked for. The routine of mothering felt like a cave I would never be rescued from, the light of day I'd never see. Solitary confinement.

With the last few positive pregnancy tests, my husband would assure me raising 4 boys and a girl was the best thing I could ever do with my life. (Easy for him to say, I thought). Active parenting lasts a long time - 25 years for us.

It was the ultimate emotional tug-of-war. Clutching at my individuality and letting go of theirs as they matured. The listening, counseling, watching, never stopped, the physical care gradually released as they left the nest one by one.

Our heart never leaves.  But theirs will eventually be divided by another - as it should be. And guess what?  My husband was right. It was the best thing I could have done with my life.

They are all grown now. I can attest that any sacrifice is far outweighed by the lifelong delight, the

            fuller than full, 
                                happier than happy 
                                                          feelings I have every time 
                                                                                              we are all together 
                                                                                                                       in the house. 

My chest fairly explodes when they are gathered around the table.

When their friends and girlfriends join us, the table lights up even more.

Instead of singing "Happy Birthday" at my son's 24th birthday dinner, everyone broke out singing the National Anthem instead!

The latest news about "Happy Birthday" is that the owner of the song, Summy-Birchard is clamping down on copyright infringement.

So lucky for us, one of the goofy boys (probably the very funny Vine-celebrity, Marcus Johns) lead out and we all went with it, singing the Star Spangled Banner instead. Whew!





My joy is no greater than when we sit on the same bench in the House of God.

Oh, a mother's heart when her sons are in the House!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Shazbot, Robin! Why'd You Have to Die?

We were all fans of yours, from Mork and Mindy to Hook to  Happy Feet. Our feet will never be as happy as when yours walked the earth with us. You made us laugh. You made us think.

In Dead Poet's Society, we were captured by your believable work as professor, connecting with the hearts of students and with us. We chanted along with Whitman's

O Captain, my Captain! the fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought was won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring.
But o heart! heart! heart!
     O the bleeding drops of red,
             Where on the deck my captain lies,
                                         fallen cold and dead.

We. Just. Didn't. Think. You'd. Leave. This. Soon.

How could someone so funny be so sad? Someone with such knowledge be at a loss to live? Someone with so much - in so much pain?

If you needed your audience with you everywhere, we would have come, if it meant you knowing you were appreciated.  We needed you to make us laugh.

Didn't anyone ever tell you there was One who never leaves? One who adores you more than any of us could. He was your biggest Fan.

But you/we get trapped by addiction and shame of past mistakes. Of being alone. Being forgotten. Of a bleak and pointless future.  If that was your illness, than we all suffer from it just the same. And we all are craving to feel better. To feel 'warm and wonderful,' as you describe addiction's good side.

God help us run to the right Shelter, the right kind of 'feel good.' 

 Mork from planet Ork!  We met you first then. And we lost you yesterday. With your own Orkan swear-word, we say, Shazbot! Robin, why?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The President and Katy Perry

I keep trying to find ways to boost my respect for this administration, but our head of state is making it very difficult for me. I mean between his discarding of Israel, ignoring the violence on the borders, lying  about us being able to keep our doctors and health plans, releasing terrorist leaders, and sending millions to terrorist organizations, I'm finding it nearly impossible.

Every night another outrageous account jolts and short circuits my oval office expectations.

Just when my esteem could get no lower, a new report comes out.

According to the Huffington Post and Washington Post, the President has stated that one of his favorite people is... oh, you take a guess.

Teddy Roosevelt?

Winston Churchill?

Jesse Jackson?


Mahatma Gandhi?

Ella Fitzgerald?

Nelson Mandela?

Mother Theresa?

Bill Gates?

Martin Luther King?

Alisha Keys?

No, none of those.

The president said she was 'a wonderful person.'

'She' was none other than the bra firework shooting, albeit, very good singer,

Katy Perry 

After I picked my jaw up off the floor and searched for my disintegrated respect in the street grate, I had to think again. Even though his choice was just so un-presidential, he wasn't the first Chief of State to do such a thing.

JFK invited Marilyn Monroe to sing at his birthday party. That really wasn't much different than President O's admiration for the pop-y Perry.

But still, please, couldn't he idolize an artist that might have just a smidgen of substance or character?

The next morning I heard this simple ditty milling around in my head, mixed with dream remnants, as I woke up.

Oh no! The President says he likes Katy Perry
Not Diana Krall or Norah Jones, but Katy Perry
Oh no! The president says he likes Katy Perry
Hold on everyone, the country's goin down the drain

Oh no! The President's idol is Katy Perry
I-kissed-a-girl-and-I-think-I like-it -Katy Perry
Oh no! The President's idol is Katy Perry
Hold on, everyone, the country's goin down the drain

Oh no! The President looks up to Katy Perry
Not Teddy Roosevelt or even JFK, but Katy Perry
Oh no! The President looks up to Katy Perry
Hold on everyone, the country's goin down
Hold on everyone, the country's goin down the drain.

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