A Stolen Moment

I found this 1968 snapshot, burnt around the edges and smoke damaged by fire, in a box of my late mother’s photographs and memorabilia. I was there, not in the shot, but there in the kitchen when this photo was taken by my dad. We were young, they were young, even the world was still innocent, well at least for children. Another sister held up a towel as a backdrop behind our precious gift, the golden boy, our little baby brother who was mothered by six adoring sisters. He turned out to be a well-liked man, so as far as we can tell no damage was done. You’d have to ask him, though.

From the shadows, my mother ponders while my younger siblings help give the baby a bath. From a December 1968 snapshot.

But what I found remarkable and intriguing in this picture of my brother, was my mother…there in the background resting her cheek on her hand. I had seen her tired and exhausted many times, but rarely did I see her contemplative. She really had no time for that! It looks to me, that while my younger siblings were playing along with the baby, my mom was lost in thought; deep thoughts.

Now, I grew to know my mother very well and listened to her story often over the span of her 80-some years. In retrospect, I know what my mother’s life was like at that moment in time. Even on the surface, raising eight children ages toddler to teenager, making ends meet on a teacher’s salary in a house bursting with life and laundry, dishes and meals to cook; even the least sympathetic of people would concur that life must have been pretty crazy for my mom. Add any relationship issues, broken promises, lists of dreams and plans shoved back into her housecoat pocket for another day, the loss of loved ones, and her hometown of Detroit on fire with racial tension; one wonders how she didn’t lose her mind.

Well, she did from time to time, though she always managed to find it again with remarkable grace.

I know people, a few too many, who align themselves with the Native American notion that a photograph ‘steals a person’s soul.’ Of course, you can see and understand that thinking in the broken souls and weathered faces of ancient Native Americans. The people I’m talking about are simply uncomfortable in front of the camera, for whatever reason, and most of them aren’t Native Americans.

In THIS photo, and in my mother‘s case, the camera did indeed ‘capture’ my mother’s spirit and personal pondering; her face rather sweet and vulnerable and yet disenchanted or is it dreamy? She had already experience more than her share of joy and grief for a woman in her late 30s. What was taking her away?

Raised in Detroit’s heyday, my mother came from a well-kept stately home and was one of only two children of a Detroit City Police Officer and an orderly, warm mother who happened to be the first female agent in the Royal Neighbors of America Life Insurance Company. Though they lived through the Depression and WWII, they were resourceful hard-workers; my grandparents created a good life for their two children. Mom had lots of pretty clothes, a cute and vivacious personality, tons of friends, and she, too, was very traditional and a devout Catholic.

Her life changed drastically over the course of the first 15 years of her young marriage.

For any of us, husband or wife, that have seen our lives evolve in ways we didn’t expect during marriage, we could deduce that what she might have been thinking could involve regret, sadness, even hopelessness. She had wanted to be a nurse. She wanted to go to college. She wanted to drive her own car. She wanted more, perhaps, of what she wanted before dutifully bearing eight children.

My mother, even to her last days, proclaimed that she found her greatest joy and satisfaction with her babies and raising her children, and there is no doubt in my mind that that is true. It was her main occupation for most of her adult life. BUT, the two thoughts, happiness and joy with a warm baby in one’s arms, and regret and sadness over unrealized dreams and ignored plans can be simultaneous thoughts. Women, at least, can hold complicated conflicting thoughts in their minds at the same time, and THAT might explain that ‘far away’ look.

It’s not an empty look but one that is heavy with private dilemma.

I’m sure my more witty siblings would insert a smart joke here or just laugh-off the tough realities of our mother’s life. It’s over; let her rest in peace.  But I’m one of the ‘sensitives,’ and can’t help but empathize with my mother’s situation, even years later. We all perceive things from our own experiences and perspectives, and maybe I see too much of myself in my mother.

To me, my mother’s face expresses a disconnect from the lovely though exhausting family scene before her on the kitchen table. She is ‘somewhere else.’ Perhaps she was thinking about her future, maybe another effort to get herself into college. Or maybe she was thinking about her children, or just one child, and how she can help them with something. Maybe she was planning a party, God knows we had basement parties every time another of the Currie Clan was baptized or confirmed in Christ, or celebrating another birthday! Maybe she was angry with my dad and just tolerating his enthusiasm for family life, or the opposite, enjoying the break his involvement offered.  Maybe, she just wanted the ‘kid day’ to end so she could enjoy her FIRST hot cup of coffee and read the stack of magazine by her bedside, which was her custom by night fall. Maybe she was missing the crinolines and gardenias of her youth. For all we know, she could have been in prayer.

I have my own thoughts about ‘where my mother was’ in this picture, but since a camera can’t REALLY capture or steal a person’s soul or spirit, we simply don’t know for certain what she was experiencing.

And THAT, perhaps, is the beauty of the stolen moment in photography. The mystery behind the smirk, the intrigue of a glance, the sadness in smiling eyes; it’s the story that lies hidden behind the subject that makes a picture worth a thousand words.

All I know for sure is I didn’t see that expression when I was sitting next to her. I was a young child, naturally consumed with my own immediate needs. I doubt the teenage sibs saw her, for we all know teenagers think nothing of the woes and dramas of others, especially their parents. Maybe my dad saw her lost in thought and was uncertain about crossing the line into conversation; regardless, now that I’ve been ‘far away in thought’ myself, I can ‘see’ my mother and understand the daily grind and personal challenges she faced.

For that, I’m glad the camera was the thief that captured my mother’s spirit during that stolen moment, and the print gave it back to me this many years later. For that is all we need in this harsh and unromantic world, a little understanding, to not be so easily dismissed or judged, and to not feel invisible or so alone when facing the tasks that life has sprawled out in front of us on our kitchen tables.

Escape to ‘The Third Coast’

“The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.” ~Kate Chopin, “The Awakening.”

I could live there, on ‘the third coast,’ if I had a million bucks!

The property prices are pumped and primed for real estate investors and the chosen few, from what I understand. That ain’t us. Then again, there’s always ‘the beach bum’ option. Hey, I was raised by Depression Era parents. I know how to make my underpants into rags and a turkey leg into soup for 10!

But instead, I’m another escapee rolling down the well-worn Interstate to Port Aransas, Texas, on Mustang Island, affectionately called Port ‘A,’ for a dip in a dreamy rest-bit from the maddening realities of our busy urban lives.

Five grand can get you a guarantee of family time, fun in the sun, wading and diving through the white-capped waves, and the novelty of island life, if just for a week. It was worth every penny.

IMG_5434With a rented resort house for 12, decorated in monochromatic hues of sea green, ocean blue, sand, white, and weathered with a bit of salty wind; we were in Heaven. Fresh white linens, coral and shell table accents, fragrant lotions at every basin, and an inviting living space…spacious and filled with natural light…graced our lazy day-to-day.

A private pool? Of course. Peaceful swim time and playful grandkids floating on noodles and diving for colorful rings; we had the luxury of both. Cha-ching!

A golf-cart ride through town…on to the beach with the other beach buggies, Coppertone wafting through the gulf breeze, pelican and seagulls riding the air stream above, bold-colored kites whippin’ in the wind, the smell of grilling southern spices and beach fires by night encircled by warmed summer smiles laced our laziness with adventure.IMG_0005

Rows of Creamsicle-colored cottages calmed our screen-stressed eyes, picket fences with crooked gates led up sandy paths of wild roses and sea grass to sleepy porches, a wicker chair, and an easy read in the soft afternoon.

Salty air and sandy flip flops; a sun-kissed glow and flowing clothes reminded me that I’m not just an aging work horse, but a woman…soft, free, sensuous and wise…beneath my wide-brimmed hat.

Beachy boutiques, artist’s pottery, sea glass, mermaid watercolors, and sizzling bar & grill restaurants…shrimp, flounder, fried-fish sandwiches…invited the tourist in all of us.

The trusty Coast Guard station flashed me back to my northern coastal life. It was familiar, the fishing boats and massive freighters passing through Aransas Pass into Corpus Christi Ship Channel. Their lights, horns, bells, in natural agreement with the coastal geography whispered of the 18-mile barrier Mustang Island and Port A’s rich history, of Harbor Island’s seaport industry exporting cotton, the fishing industry, the cottage life, and the smart move to tourism that saved their economy. I could see it’s ghosts, the nomadic Karankawa tribe gathering oysters and spear fishing, the Civil War soldiers entrenched in violent battles, the hardy, daring people who fought, struggled, and settled the island now buried there along with pirate treasures and fish bones.

The lights of the harbor, sail boats in the bay, bent-legged, rutty-old fishermen on the seawall throwing out their nets; the town lives on.

IMG_5526Alone…buoyant, light, held freely in the amniotic fluid of the crystal clear pool where I floated on my back in the late afternoon into the water-muffled evening; my view: the clean lines of our yellow house, stark blue sky, bright white trim and picket fences subtly strung with starfish. An occasional seagull flapping by and palm tree leaves that swayed in and out of my view accepted all my physical and mental stress and carried it away on the cool, nightly sea breeze. Beautiful, nurturing emptiness was its returning gift.

IMG_2854As one of my granddaughters said as she 81650splashed and glided, “This is the most beautiful yellow house I’ve ever seen! I’m having the best vacation ever.”

Tarpon’s Bar & Grill, Victoria’s On the Bay, Fin’s Restaurant & Grill, The Phoenix Restaurant and bar, and Coffee Waves; the flavors of the island served by easy-going, laid back islanders. Can’t go wrong.

Ghost crabs clicking across the path, dolphins almost within reach, and blue heron like city officials standing around the marshes, seagulls hovering, and sea shells in our hands added to our discoveries.

Tanned, weathered beach people, artsy-fartsy folks, young and old, bikini babes, neon-suited toddlers, glistening-muscled boys, your classic ‘Jimmy Buffet’ old men, tourists and locals…mingled into one big happy family.

IMG_2791Plunging into the foaming waves and running out getting toasty in the warmth of the sun; a cold beer, skin sizzling and heads shaded under canopies, a packed cooler, beach chair dozing and the long walk up from the beach left footprints on our days.

Even the merchants seem to be having fun ‘Flamingo Flocking’ each other! For $25 paid to the local 8th grade class for a school trip; the students would plant dozen of pink plastic flamingoes outside a business. Potters on Cotter had been ‘flocked’ the morning we were visiting and the artist said the business owners in town were having a ball flocking each other. In the meantime, the 8th graders were filling their fund-raising coffer.  Seriously, what a great idea!

I could live like this forever…float, tool around in a golf cart, get my island coffee, and wear nothing by a bathing suit, big hat, and loose-fitting shawls….and never miss my house, all my dusty ‘stuff,’ the chaos of pets, cars, traffic, and, well, just the caged, motionless chaos.

Calmed tempers, lazy days, coloring, board games, naps; our coastal vacation was reminiscent of those ‘up north’ days in my northern youth of cabins, lakes and rivers, and quieted paths. Some days I never even turned on my phone, and my laptop was never opened; we all just ‘talked’ and rediscovered each other.

It shouldn’t take five grand to do that.

Even the long lines of traffic leaving the island and boarding the ferry didn’t dampen my island spirit. I was amazed to see so many cars, for most of our days were quiet and unfettered by crowds with limited wait time for tables; people were there, but busy with their own alone time and family gatherings, under their own canopies and porch lights.

IMG_2786Locals and tourists alike were easy-going, music kept in their own ear-shot, exchanging neighborly pleasantries; civil and polite. I think there’s magic in the water.

The coastal sun, salt and sea, and ‘change’ from the monotony of our daily pressures seemed to bring out the best in folks. I’m sure more than a few of us think about chucking it all just to live the island life, as a tired but jovial waitress at an open-air bar and grill shared. She moved from Austin and was living in little fixer-upper, working double shifts just to make it there. She said she couldn’t even afford to buy the coconut cream pie she was serving us, but she wouldn’t change a thing for she loved her life on Port ‘A’ so much. Imagine. We bought her a piece of pie. She cried with gratitude.

It was just that kind of place, you know, like towns one sees in Hallmark movies but one thinks doesn’t really exist.

IMG_5514Many Texans know about ‘Port A’ and have traditionally rented beach houses, RV’ed their way down, camped on the beach, and have histories in that endearing get-away resort town. Even my own kids have vacationed there, gotten engaged amid the sand castles at sunset, have their favorite hang-outs, and can hobnob with the locals.

Where have we been?

I think the days of living by our mantra ‘pay now, play later’ have finally shifted. It’s time to play now as much as we can, even if we don’t have bronzed beach bodies and a cooler full of Lone Star beer! As they say, it’s never too late to live the life you were meant to live. Senior living on ‘the third coast’ might just be our paradise.

Port Aransas filled my senses and won my weary heart. She’s good for my skin, my spirit and my soul. The piggy bank for our next ‘week at the beach’ is starting to fill again. After needing to pull on a sweatshirt in the middle of a Texas summer night because the breeze coming off the coast was as cool as a Michigan morning, my 20-some years of southern summers suddenly looked promising!

We may be past the energy and dedication of a fixer-upper, and nowhere near financing a beach house of our own, but…I’ll be there again on her beaches as the calendar pages are torn away, embraced by her waves, and lost in the ‘the voice of the sea that speaks to the soul’ on some little porch with a sandy path to her salty shore.

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Summer Again

picmonkey on the dock“And talk of poems and prayers and promises and things that we believe in. How sweet it is to love someone, how right it is to care.~JD

When you are empty and so set-apart, open your eyes, and soften your heart.

Think of us sitting at the end of a dock, feet dangling in the water, not alone on a rock.

We are young and excited; no sense of alarm, my swishing hips and your muscular arms.

Our senses are heightened and acutely aware of the quaking aspen and pine in the air.

The billowy clouds fluff the blue northern sky; the smell of the earth is ripe and alive.

The lap of the lake swallows up our strong knees, no aches or moans; we’re as wild as we please.

Sweet fragrance of sweat glistens on our summer skin, in the wild of the forest, the water, and the wind.

Something is stirring, sensation and ache. It’s easy to be silly and sleepy and wide awake.

Not yet armored by disappointments and hurt, our hearts gladly open, we tease and we flirt.

The sun on the water mirrors the light in our eyes, and laughter comes easy, we giggle and sigh.

Soft kisses, near misses, come close and then run; we splash and we dunk in the afternoon sun.

We dive and we swim, float at near flank. There’s a chill in the air as we race towards the bank.

We scurry to gather our blankets and loot; flannel shirts, suspenders, blue jeans and boots.

A campfire is built as you wield your fine axe; wild violets, forest lilies grace our table of snacks.

Our poles find perch at the end of our lines. It’s late, but on time, as crickets sing and rhyme.

In the breath of the forest, no one’s right, nothing’s wrong, as evening settles in and the shadows grow long.

Quiet talk at our camp fire of constellations and bears; your fingers entangled in my gossamer hair.

We lie on our backs, hear the cry of a loon, we stare up at the stars and the wax of the moon.

Not a penny to spare, we can’t leave home, get married, buy a house, or backpack and roam.

Weightless and free, no child or great plans; aging ills or more bills, no regrets or political stands.

Nothing binds us, except the love of life, and our fire-lit gaze, sun-kissed hands held tight.

We are both each other’s listener and new best friend. There’s magic in the moment, feeling love with no end.

If I were to ask for a couple of things, in the drab of daily details, routines, and worn rings.

It would be for you to see me as sweetly as then, in need of your smile and a prince among men.

We could take an adventure; make a few stops; walk hand-in-hand as we dally through shops.

Forget that we’re older, return to the woods, no caution or worry, no ‘we can’t’ or ‘we should.’

But regardless of everything, more than anything, my old friend, I’d ask you to bring back the summer again.

Memories Stuffed in Little Purses

“As the purse is emptied, the heart is filled.” ~Victor Hugo

My mother had a quiet passion for little coin purses. We called them ‘change purses.’ She had them, lots of them, tucked away in her dresser drawers, in the night stand and her stored-away handbags. She sent them as gifts, especially to her granddaughters, handed random ones off to people who admired them, secretly slid a special change purse into the tightly packed suitcases of loved-ones leaving her home, and chronically gave in to the urge to ‘spend a little’ on a new one, or an old one at a yard sale, or a creative one at an art fair.

Maybe it was a throwback to her childhood days during The Great Depression, when people only carried change …‘Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?’ ….and when paper money was rarely seen. The purse was as important as the coins it held, and my mother seemed to still value and delight in the styling of those little pouches. One of the charms of living far from home, was the arrival of brown-paper packages filled with a menagerie of trinkets, newspaper clippings, and little things my mother was giving away, which, even in my children’s words, was ‘such a grandma thing,’ and is now missed. Always, there would be a change purse buried in the box.

My daughter quickly picked up on the love of the little purse. We’d find change purses hidden away in her room and closet, carrying an orphaned Barbie shoe, a sparkly sticker, sometimes an unstrung bead or a dropped bird’s feather, and a penny or two. Sometimes we would find tiny pieces of ripped up paper, a small colorful collection of seed beads, and strands of doll hair cut from the head of some unsuspecting doll; a collage of tidbits that seemed to have no rhyme or reason, except perhaps in her beautiful mind. Good Lord, we were always so curious, and a little nervous, when we opened them.

The tiny plastic change purse I bought for a dime in the 1960s.

The tiny plastic change purse I bought for a dime in the 1960s.

When I was little and we would spend our summers in our family cabin in Mid-Michigan, the summer wasn’t complete without a ‘trip to town’ and a stop at the old ‘Dime Store’ in Gladwin, Michigan. One time, my mother had given each of us little kids ten-cents for spending. That was big deal in my seven-year-old world, and we couldn’t wait to browse the wooden-floored, old-fashioned store with its aisle bursting of penny candy and childhood play things like pop-guns, paper dolls, coloring books, marbles, polished rocks, miniature puzzles, tiny games where we were challenged to line-up little steely balls into strategically placed holes, rubber snakes, whoopee cushions, wiffle balls and plastic bats, and six-shooters in kid-sized gun belts. My sister Clara and I eventually eyed our prized purchase, two little plastic change purses. Our eyes met, our hearts stopped; we knew right away that is why we had come to town. Those two little purses might as well have had our names printed on them. We were in a state of consumer bliss when we slid our skinny, silver dimes over the counter to the cashier. Fifty years later, we both still have them, and the sweet memory of that day.

My mother now gone, my daughter since moved away from home, I am here still holding on to a multitude of tiny money cases that once were treasures to those two beloved women in my life, plus a couple of my own. I even have one of my father’s. Worn leather with tiny travel decals now faded out; it was designed to look like a traveler’s suitcase of those romantic train travel days. I remember looking at it in wonder and seeing it in my father’s handsome hands that I loved so well.

Like so much of what we gather, hold on to, save, and cherish, I’m at that point in life when I’m incline to start letting these things go. Done filling rooms, no longer in hopes of finding a ‘big’ house for all my bits of antiquity; there simply isn’t a drawer or closet left for one more little change purse.

And yet, I look at them, this collection of my mother and daughters, and I put them back into a bigger bag and wait for another day; a day, when I am feeling courageous or maybe too feeble to care.

Sometimes I bravely muse at the possibility of selling those little change purses at a garage sale. I imagine some little girl, whose mother has given her a small amount of money to spend on some choice item during their day of exploring garage sales, eyeing my collection of change purses. I see her fingers plying the tartan, the beaded kitty, or tiny embroidery embellishments, her eyes wide open at the beauty of such a small purse that fits so nicely in her little hand.

I’m charmed by the thought of ‘giving them away’ for some other child to bring back to life just by hearing some coins jingle in its pouch once again.

I could do that; give them away, let them go. Except maybe not the little soft-haired cowhide one that my daughter loved to rub up against her rosy cheeks, or the one that my father carried for years with the tiny travel labels faded off, and certainly not the last change purse my mother carried before she died, her perfume still lingering on the green leather and tiny golden shamrocks, reminding me of her love of change purses, now almost as obsolete and devalued as the pennies people once cherished.

Memories, all stuffed in little purses, like little bits of torn colored paper, a tarnish locket, or an ancient Avon lipstick sample; holding, holding, holding…for someone like my mother, with a story, a child’s heart and a reminiscent smile, and a few coins to spare, to come along and carry away in a new pair of loving hands.