What If We Were Neatniks?, My Mother’s Treasure Chest, & the Hillary Caucus Kit

My mother's treasure chest!

My mother’s “treasure chest,” faded from the sun and detassled by cats!

This week I am “decluttering.”  After I disposed of several bags of recyclables and just plain trash, my husband began to worry about our future.

“Wouldn’t if be awful if one of us was a neatnik?” he wondered, as I cleared out cupboards to make room for his penny jars, notebooks, paperclips, reference books, and ski paraphernalia.

He needn’t worry.  I am doing this because I miss my neatnik mother.  While I put away our CDs, hung up sweatshirts, and tossed away ” cat fishing poles” from which toy mice and feathers hd been chewed off, I suddenly remembered I had her fabric-covered “treasure chest” on the sun porch.  I brought it inside, realizing it would be perfect for storing some  miscellanea.

But first I had to sort the papers inside.  There were many funeral programs and obituaries.   She also saved newspaper articles about St. Pat’s Church, destroyed in a tornado in 2006 and rebuilt on the edge of town in 2009  (too far for her to drive in her cautious eighties, alas).   She kept records of her generous donations to the church:  $20 a week.  And there was a very well-written letter from a retired priest, who had gone to Fordham.  My goodness!  If all priests were that well-educated!

There were wedding invitations and announcements of graduations.  I was very envious of a wedding invitation in the form of a booklet, with long quotes from the bride, groom, and their friends about where and how they met.

But most touching was the fact that Mom kept her “Iowans for Hillary Caucus Kit” from 2008.  And now the caucuses are coming up again!


                 2008 “Iowans for Hillary Caucus Kit”

My mother loved Hillary!  She was mad about two political families:  the Clintons and the Kennedys.  Although the Clintons were less glamorous (and not Catholic!), she followed Hillary’s career with the sharp eyes trained by a bachelor’s degree in political science. She was impressed by Hillary’s record on health care, the economy, and her criticism of the War in Iraq.   For one of my birthdays Mom gave  me Hillary’s memoir, because she thought “it was important.” I will never dare to weed it!

I feel, eerily, that this Hillary kit is from my mom.  Coincidence?  Well…  At the caucuses, there  is milling and thronging,  sitting idly on bleachers or folding chairs, people arguing and switching sides (if their candidate is not viable, i.e., has too few supporters), and finally, many hours later, a  head count. County by county they are added up. The results determine the “win, show, place” positions of candidates and  the number of delegates for each candidate.

Anyway, I shall TRY to go.  Though my mother didn’t like the caucuses, either. But one vote can make a difference.  We saw that with the whole Howard Dean thing in 2004.

Here is an excerpt from a letter from Hillary in the 2008 kit.   It does make me want to caucus!

Everyone agrees the race in Iowa is close and could be determined by a handful of supporters.  If just one in three on my supporters stays at home, I will not be successful here in Iowa.  But if you and all the  other Iowa Democrats who support my candidacy participate on caucus night, we can take a giant step toward securing the Democratic nomination and winning this election….

And below is another side of the brochure in the 2008 Hillary caucus kit:


See, I don’t need a current Hillary Caucus Kit!

The End of the Conversation

Lily Dale

Nobody likes my astrological chart.

I am slightly psychic.

I should live in Lily Dale, New York, a town of psychics, spiritualists, and mediums.  It is where the Fox sisters lived.

“Get me out of here,” I said when we drove through there

A very literary classics professor once gave us a handout of excerpts from English literature.  We had to identify styles, i.e., the running style, the periodic style, and the pointed style.  I also scribbled the names of the authors in the margins:  Virginia Woolf, Henry James, F. Scott Fitzgerald,  etc.

“How did you know that?”  None of his students had ever identified the authors.

“I read.”

It was like identifying a favorite song (except I am tone-deaf, so I can only do this with language.)

My fellow classics students did not read novels.  They read about archaeology and history.

In my free time, I read novels like mad.

I have always had an affinity for language.

Knowing Latin, a language of ghosts, can be eerie.

It makes you intuitive.  Words are arranged differently.  Nobody knows how it sounded.

And so it has happened that I have conversed with my mother’s ghost to exhaustion for two years.

There was an odd event at the funeral.  The priest shook the censer as he walked around her coffin.  The rope broke and the incense burner and bells flew off and crashed.

Nobody talked about it at the burial service.

It was her poltergeist.  It only appeared once, thank God.

I kept trying to imagine what had happened to her. Why was she here every day?  What did she want me to remember?  Why, why had she said the sixties were the best time of her life?  Was she so unhappy?  Was she too alone?  After the sixties: husband gone, her mother died, working at a job that gave her a heart condition (housewife was the ideal job for her), collecting things, watching  too much TV, years of playing Bridge, aging, getting sick, then clapped in an assisted living facility which couldn’t take care of her,  landing in the hospital three times, an eventual intercession to get her into a safe place.

The sixties were such a short time.

And so I’ve gone over it again and again.

So many scenes, good and bad.  Picking up apples in the yard, sitting on the stoop in the shade of the willow tree, laughing, going to movies, shattered by divorce, then becoming brisk, our attempts to converse as we got older.  We went to movies because we both liked movies.  (She fell asleep at Pollock; laughed at Bridesmaids.)

There were some sad times at the nursing home.

She was happy, though.  But she would rather have had the married life.

She said (says) it was all good.

I  recently put plastic flowers on her grave.   She preferred plastic. Once, when she was very old, she tugged her cheeks up like a facelift and said, “See how good I’d look?”

I  am not making fun of her at all.

The women in our family suffer.

It is a plastic culture.  She knew that.

Her ghost left me.  She knows I know who she is.

What a long, strange trip it’s been.

Like all things, this leads to Jerry Garcia and The Aeneid.

The Aeneid, Lines 893-899, translated by Dryden

Two gates the silent house of Sleep adorn;
Of polish’d ivory this, that of transparent horn:
True visions thro’ transparent horn arise;
Thro’ polish’d ivory pass deluding lies.
Of various things discoursing as he pass’d,
Anchises hither bends his steps at last.
Then, thro’ the gate of iv’ry, he dismiss’d
His valiant offspring and divining guest.

The First 90-Degree Day, My Mother, & Chocolate Chip Bars

IMG_2653 my bike on trail

Wrong season, but this is the trail.

It is the first summer day.  It won’t stay like this, of course, but it’s 90 degrees.

It doesn’t feel that hot at first.

I’m on my bike.  I just had it fixed.  I glide down the long, curving hill, then pedal on the more or less flat bike trail, and, though I do have to ride up another long hill, it’s so lovely to be outdoors that I enjoy that, too.

Embrace the hills.

Then the chain clicks and snaps.  The chain falls off the sprocket.  I stop in front of a Dairy Queen to put the chain back on.  I have to fix my bike in front of a crowd of people eating ice cream.

The good news?  I got the chain back on.

The bad news? A truck blocked the driveway so I had to ride through the DQ parking lot around it to continue my path.  This is not rural America.  This is a city.  What’s with the stupid f—–g big truck blocking the sidewalk?  The driver is so high up he can see over the tallest building in the suburb, and he definitely can see me.  He doesn’t back up.   I guarantee he doesn’t need that truck in the city and there is nothing in the truck bed.

I rode on and the gears would barely change but I made it up the hills.

Why does my bike always break down when my husband’s out of town?  Women should be able to fix their bikes, right?   But the truth is I’ve never been good at fixing things.  My manual dexterity is nil.   The one time I changed a tire, it took me 12 hours.  After that I took it to the shop.

“Everything’s fine,”  I lied to my husband on the phone.  If he knew there was something wrong with my bike, he would probably drive home 1,000 miles to fix it.  Bikes are important at our house.

The bike is my main means of transportation.

Now he’s home and the bike will be fixed.

 Mom and I reading Baby Farm Animals.

Mom and I reading Baby Farm Animals.

MY MOTHER.  I’ve been thinking a lot about my mother lately.  The last time I saw her, I was clutching my bike helmet.  There I was at the nursing home, white hair flying wildly from my bike ride, unprepared for the sight of my tiny, dehydrated, dying mother.

“You look good,” she said, admiringly.  Those were the last clear words she spoke.  Her overfed children were always beautiful to her.   It was as if she wanted to give us strength for what lies ahead.  Strength, for a woman, lies in confidence about physical appearance, or so one would think by the number of times it is mentioned in our family, society, and at this blog.

I have been missing her wildly.

CHOCOLATE CHIP BARS.  As a treat for my husband, I made chocolate chip bars from the Original NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® site.  They call it the Original NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Chocolate Chip Pan Cookie.

Prep:10 minsCooking:20 minsCooling:0 minYields:48 bars (4 dozen)
This Original NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Chocolate Chip Pan Cookie is more like a brownie..

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
1 cup chopped nuts

PREHEAT oven to 375° F. Grease 15 x 10-inch jelly-roll pan.*

COMBINE flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Spread into prepared pan.

BAKE for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars.

These are good but super-rich!

*Note:  I don’t have a jelly-roll pan, so I used a slightly smaller rectangular cake pan.  It worked fine.

Bookish Posts vs. Diaries

Mom, Dad, and me.

Mom, Dad, and me (last century!)

I have written 328 posts in a year and two months.

Why put everything on the internet?

It is the fashion.  We write at Facebook or blogs.

Maybe in 10 years there will be silence.  Fashions change.

I wonder why I don’t write in a journal, but I do not.

I used to be strictly bookish, but I sometimes write diary entries. Some prefer the bookish posts, others prefer the diary.

“Best female writers?” Everybody’s there.  “Horse Races in Literature”?  Fantastic.

The most popular posts recently?    “Viragos Are Sometimes Inconsequential…” and “Library Books.”

I don’t even consider writing “real” articles or reviews.  Whatever I write is easier in a blog.

When critics find fault with blogs, they are thinking about a world of rough drafts.   It can take days, weeks, months to write a good article. Blogs are often more a collection of notes.  Often very good notes.  (I have read some excellent blogs lately.)  Journalists don’t understand bloggers’ socializing in comments and “challenges.”  Comments?  Well, why bother?  The Guardian now posts comments as articles, without, I presume, paying the commenters.

Before I move on to bookish things, I am going to write a post about my mother again.

She died last August.  I loved knowing that she was in the world, playing bridge, watching the soaps, not cooperating at the nursing home. I didn’t visited every day.  When I couldn’t bicycle, I took the bus and then called my husband for a ride home. (The neighborhood wasn’t safe after 5, or more like 3.)  I would plan to visit for one hour, and then stay till 7 p.m.  Since she wouldn’t eat the prepared food at the nursing home, I rushed out and bought hamburgers from McDonald’s; another time she resisted taking a shower for a week, and I had to convince her to go with the aide; and another time she had fallen and been left in the bathroom all night.

And this was one of the better nursing homes.

There is a lot of grief in families as one gets older.  My father wanted to visit her.  She was fascinated by him, but would have been mortified to receive him in old age.  She thought a great deal about how she looked,. She wore a wig.  She worried about the spots on her face.  You know the creams advertised on TV?  They don’t work.   If she and my father had stayed together, she would not have been in a nursing home.  That was the most exasperating thing.

My mother never remarried; my father had his pick.  I tried to straighten things out from time to time.  Utterly ridiculous.

And so another day of wondering about the past.  I really miss her.

The Mother-Daughter Connection


My mother, age 30.

My mother scrunched up her face when anyone said she was beautiful.

“Oh, no, I’ve always been plain.”

She spent a lot of time curling her hair.  She didn’t like straight hair.

Isn’t she lovely in this picture?

Her looks were variable.  When she was happy, she was pretty; when not, plain.  She conducted many arcane staring rituals in the mirror. She did her hair at the mirror on the chest of drawers.  In the living room she glanced at herself in the mirror above the fireplace.  She took the hand mirror to the picture window so she could see what her face looked like in natural light.

Me biking:  the blond years.

Me biking: the blond years.

Some of these rituals are now familiar to me. I comb my hair in front of the mirror on the medicine cabinet and then dash into the living room with a compact to “do” my makeup, which takes 5 seconds.  Yes, I’m an out-of-the-shower-into-the-streets person.

If only I looked like my mother!

There is no resemblance.

She was a housewife, much more fastidious about her house than I. She cleaned every bit of the house every day.  She loved shopping, loved TV, saw her mother every day, never took walks or exercised, took me to every movie that came to town (except “Darling,” much to my disappointment), read women’s magazines, made sure I read Little Women, and spent hours on the phone (which was a problem when I was an adolescent and we competed for the phone).

Mom, graduatingHere she is, a young graduate in political science. She rarely referred to her university experience. Rarely talked about politics.  Rarely read a book.

She disliked talking about the past.

“I like the present,” she told me over and over.

After I left my hometown, I seldom saw her.

I was busy. I taught, I wrote, I worked for abortion rights, I bicycled, I gave parties, I chatted, and I cooked vegetables.

In my 20s, after a run.

In my 20s, after a run.

I began to know her better in the last 10 years.

She was a little odd, an old woman from Dickens. So many knickknacks in her house.  Everywhere you looked.  She said she liked to eat food kids liked: hamburgers, fried shrimp, chicken patties…and she still lived to be a thousand or something.

Time together often seemed very long.  We would go to the mall and she would buy me a bewildering number of garments on sale:  a black-and-white-checkered sweater, a polyester Liz Claiborne vest, a Peruvian sweater at Ben Franklin…I haven’t worn most of these, I confess.

I would gamely put on lipstick in front of the mirror with her and pretend to be girls-all-together, but I wasn’t really like that.

My life has been about reading; hers about shopping and being a housewife.

She never remarried after her divorce.  What I hope most for her–but I don’t really believe in the afterlife–is that she finds a good husband in “Heaven.”

Quite seriously.

I know it’s not supposed to happen in the afterlife, but…

Think of all the Meg Ryan movies and Sandra Bullock movies she used to love.

Isn’t it time for her to have what she would most have liked?

I hope no theologists are reading this!

But it was very sad that she had to be alone.

I miss you, Mom!  And I hope you’re not scandalized by this.