Good Food and Warm Hearts

As my brother pointed out on Saturday, our mother loved a good party. So did our father. Here they are celebrating in Delhi in 1971.

Last Saturday about 60 people gathered to remember my mother at the Play House here at Singing Brook Farm in Hawley, Massachusetts.

Up until the last minute we weren’t entirely sure how many people were coming. I did ask people to let me know … but I wasn’t worried when I didn’t hear from a lot of them. I knew there would be plenty of food–there always is at pot lucks–and plenty of good company. Of course, I was right. (I usually am.)

In the end we were missing a few people we expected (a couple of them called a day or two later and asked me to remind them when the party was!) but gained a few we hadn’t expected but were thrilled to see.

The day was pleasant enough to enable some guests to sit outside to eat lunch. We all came inside when it was time to remember Jan/Taffy officially.

Many of the speakers and guests were relatives. My mother’s siblings Lura and Bruce were in attendance, full of memories and good cheer. Aunt Lura was particularly thrilled that all six of her children had come, along with several grandchildren and even a couple of great-grandchildren.

Bruce and Lura (Courtesy of Cousin Toby David)

We also had honorary relatives—several of my childhood cohorts from Singing Brook Farm; my sort-of cousin Eric, nephew of one of my mother’s closest and most colorful college friends (We’ll always have Paris, Eric!); dear Anna, whose father went to graduate school with mine and whose children were like grandchildren to my mother; and Amy and Lyzz, childhood friends whose mother was my mother’s business partner and who looked pretty much the same as they did when they were kids. Lots of neighbors showed up—and my mother’s  beloved caregiver, Pam, brought not only herself but enough tea sandwiches to feed the whole crowd.

People spoke of my mother’s literal and figurative equilibrium, her … forthrightness (a much more diplomatic word than rudeness, don’t you think?), her brains, her humor, and her giant smile. My sister-in-law Leigh noted that Taffy viewed her as adding to the family rather than taking my brother away, a good attitude in a mother-in-law!

I didn’t speak officially, but Alice Parker Pyle and I led the group in a couple of Taffy-appropriate songs … and I concluded the festivities by reciting one of her favorite poems, “The Owl and the Pussycat.” She always performed this verse with great gusto and drama; I like to think I replicated a little of her style.

Here my cousin Pat imitates my mother’s style of oratory.

As I looked around at the group in the Play House my heart warmed. There I was, surrounded by people I loved … my own playmates and my mother’s playmates, plus people of a variety of ages down to the very young Michael, Elijah, Audrey, and Malia. It felt as though we were all joyfully eating, drinking, and talking inside a kaleidoscope of the past, present, and future.

At the center of that kaleidoscope was our mother, who as my brother pointed out early on always enjoyed a good party.

And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
          The moon,
          The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

If you’d like to hear my recitation, click on the play button below. I apologize if the poem is a little hard to hear; I’m still working on recording technique!

Visit my food blog for a recipe from the day’s feast. And if you have any memories of my mother to share, please leave them in a comment!

School’s Out!

From the family albums:
Jan and Abe bring my older brother David home from the hospital.

I went to my last writing workshop last week. As I wrote a few weeks back, this writing group was sponsored by the local hospice organization and was designed to help the bereaved deal with their grief. I decided to attend because I had always wanted to see what a writing group would be like.

In general the experience was fascinating. I enjoyed listening to the other participants’ essays about their lost loved ones and their loss. In the end, however, I am glad the thing is over. As the weeks went by, I continued to feel out of synch with my fellow grievers, who seemed, in their writing, to be stuck in the past.

When I write about the past–and those of you who read my blogs regularly will know that I certainly do–I do so to analyze things that happened, people whom I knew, in the hope that those things and people can inform me in my path forward through life.

I write to construct my life, not to deconstruct it. And I felt that the group was mainly deconstructing, that it was pulling me into the past when I wanted to move into the future.

I knew that my fellow writers found the workshop more useful than I did so I didn’t mention my feelings to them. Everyone grieves differently, and I’m sure that the workshop helped the others a lot.

And I couldn’t ever forget that I was in a fortunate position relative to my fellow writers. They came to the workshop in order to write, to give voice to their feelings. I write and give voice to my feelings every day.

Nevertheless, I did write a few rather sweet essays. I’m sharing a brief one below as a farewell to the group. It’s apropos since right now my brother, my sister-in-law, and I are going through my parents’ old albums and diaries. The writing cue was a poem called “What the Living Do.”

What the Living Do (Tinky’s version)

The living hurry. We get annoyed. The dead don’t seem to be in much of a hurry—and if they’re annoyed they certainly haven’t told ME about it.

The dead don’t make lists.

And I don’t think they worry about the weather, although we were careful to send my parents’ bodies off in warm, cozy clothes just in case.

Their only work now is to rest … and to inspire us with biographies and memories.

We, the living,

… feed the pets and cook supper,
… do housework (not a lot of it in my case, but more than the dead in any case),
… take casseroles to the sick and the newly bereaved,
… try to make a living,
… exercise when we can,
… talk on the phone and read the paper and watch TV and send emails.

We also feed the only hunger left in the dead: to have their lives, now seen in full narrative arc, remembered and examined.

We laugh or at least smile at the jokes we thought we had heard too many times when they still lived.

We turn the decaying pages of old albums and review—relive—moments of their lives: the first words they uttered, their fresh faces at graduations, the huge grins that greeted babies and grandchildren.

All the moments of their lives merge in memory … so that we, and they, can finally say that we love each other as whole people.