pull up a chair

where wisdom gathers, poetry unfolds and divine light is sparked…

Month: October, 2011

old friend, home

looking back, it seems i always fall hard.

once it was the glimpse of the gingerbread moulding, peeking out from over the sidewalk. another time, the hardwood floors that stretched down the long narrow hallway. years later, it was an upstairs window, and the glow from inside on a moonlit night, and the outline of a woman bent over, painting the sill, a woman who called out to me and practically sealed the deal before i’d walked up the stoop. after that came the victorian, with the sunlight pouring in from wall-to-wall windows and skylights, with flying staircases, and leafy full branches that brushed by the glass, making it feel like you lived in the trees.

those are the places i’ve loved, the apartments and houses, the homes. places that held me for particular passages of the story that is my sweet life.

this old house, it called to me from the front walk, the way the bluestone meandered up to the stoop, did not take the straight route, the direct route. then, there’s the pause, the two steps up, the tucked-in cove where the sunbeams pour down, where sparrows, for years now, have made their fine home. seems i loved this old place before i even got to the door.

we’ve been here nearly nine years, and it’s come to be one of my dearest soulmates, an ally, a friend. a house needn’t speak words to speak to your heart. sometimes, it whispers. it beckons with light. it pulses with ticking and tocks, and creaks in the floorboards.

i’ve come to know and love all of its quirks. the way the back middle burner stubbornly takes its sweet time, when i try to crank up the flame. the way the upstairs hall light flickers and dims, as if there’s a hand at the switch that no one can see.

this is the place, no matter the hour, that nourishes, that sustains, that refuels me.

it is my quiet place, a cove for prayer and meditations. it is the launchpad for dreams, whether those dreams are spun staring out the window, finding myself charmed by a finch or a cardinal. or, tiptoeing down in the dark, somehow stumbling into the courage it takes to bravely and boldly hatch some new plan.

this old house holds the chairs and the nooks that call to me, come curl up here. too often, i ignore all those pleas. i run and i scurry most of the time.

but i like that the offering is there; i promise those places that some day the hour will come when i will find time for pausing, for sitting and thinking. instead of dashing and thinking.

but even mid-stride, as i bound up the stairs, my old house catches my attention, soothes on the run. i notice the way the morning light makes rainbows on the wall. i watch the leaf shadows dance on the pillow, there on the comfy old armchair.

i know it’s just walls and wood, slapped with layers of paint, but a house has a soul, i’m convinced. a house is a friend, an old friend, a knowing friend. one that welcomes your cold bare feet slapping against its planks. one that drenches you in sunlight, even on a bitter cold day. one whose windows let in the wind. let in the cool night’s breeze.

what other friend offers a bath, a good long soak in the tub, complete with bubbles?

what other friend begs you to fill up its rooms, with your friends and your dreams and your candlelit dinners?

where else can you plop on the bed for a good solid cry, and the walls won’t ever let on? won’t share your secret, your sorrow?

and that same old house, the very next morning, it’s the very place where the dawn’s pink glow pours back in, gives you the air, and the spark, that you need to try all over again.

this old house, among the great good souls who populate my most blessed life, it is among the most deeply essential.

tell me how your dwelling place has seeped into your soul…..
and before we go, time to whisper deep blessings for our very own beloved slj who birthed her sweet baby girl, night before last. she has been a brilliant light here at this table through the years, and longed to taste and to relish the calling of motherhood. she is now among us, the blessed who mother…….a lifetime of blessings, sweet friend.

cooking for company

i’ll be humming today. most of the day. for i have one main mission: i’m cooking for company.

oh, no one’s ringing the bell till tomorrow night. and when the bell rings it will be old, dear friends. friends we grew up with, all of us with jewish-catholic kids, all of us finding our way. among the crowd will be the woman who took my breath away long, long ago, when we sat down to a table at the very first meeting of our little interfaith school, and she looked up and down both sides of that table and announced: “we’re here, because one or both of you (among the pairs learning their way in the raising of jewish and catholic children) is passionate about your religion.” a finer reason to be at a table, i’d not encountered, not lately.

that particular woman, and her particular husband, rose to hero status in my mind, when one rosh hashanah we sat down at their table, a whole ring of good souls seated there, and the doorbell rang. and a disheveled but beautiful woman stepped into the room. her name was “lovie,” and she was homeless. but she knew, because she’d been ushered in so many times, that if she climbed the steps of the front stoop on berwyn avenue, she would always find a place at the table, and endless plates of food. but more than that, she would find the richest, most curious company.

no wonder i call this crowd my lights along the way.

our children are grown now, the ones who together reached for the crayons and drew pictures of God, the ones who traced the histories of judaism and catholicism. who read the stories of clashes and wars and injustice, sometimes, heartbreakingly sadly, under the banner of God.

each one of the couples who will come to my table tomorrow, we’ve all just deposited a child — or in one case, three children — far away at a college — or colleges, in the case of the triplets. where the growing goes on, far far away from all of us.

and because i love each and every one of these someones, i am cooking my heart out.

for a minute or two, i considered ordering in. calling up the middle eastern place with the fabulous kifta and shawarma and baba ganoush, reeling off my plea for oversized aluminum pans filled to the brim with deliciousness.

but i changed my mind.

these are great good souls i want to cook for. i want to chop and stir and saute. i want to hear the red wine glugging into the pot. want to hear the chicken sizzle when it hits the olive oil, the garlic.

i want the house to fill with the savory song of coq au vin cooking.

i want to put a bit of my heart in that pot. i want to have labored.

because, call me crazy, i think you can taste it.

i think when you cook for company, when you cook for people you love, it always comes out in the broth, in the essence. could that be the reason we sometimes lick plates?

it’s the same with setting a table. it’s as if you wedge open a space in your heart. you lay down forks and butter knives and old chipped china with a mix of charm and occasion. you lay down layers of story: those plates found in the cupboard when you moved into the house you bought from the two guys who took the time to find out you loved blue, and figured you were a wiser option than the resale store, where those old willow plates would have been headed had you not fallen in love, with the house, yes, but, too, with the guys who were selling it.

it’s why i’ll be out in the chilly cold garden today, clippers in hand, bringing in heads of hydrangea and rosehips to tuck in a vase, to make it all beautiful. layers of beauty, i’ve found, gild conversation. make words sparkle. stories tumble and spill, like jewels from a bag.

it’s all part of the alchemy, the gift and the joy of inviting in company. of taking the time to clear out a date, to anticipate, to imagine the words and the faces crowded there in the kitchen.

there is nothing i love quite so much as a crowd in my kitchen. i love the snippets of words, of one someone’s story mixed with another’s. sometimes, i step off to the side. i soak it all in. i memorize the moment.

and then, when everyone’s deeply absorbed, i might lift the lid on my old red dutch oven. the hint of the wine and the garlic will rise.

deep down, someone might notice, might realize, might get it: she cooked for the whole of us. she didn’t take short cuts.

in a world of instant and virtual, she did the real thing. she cooked from her heart. she pulled out a table of beautiful somethings.

she set the stage. and company came.

xoxo from my house to yours. what’s your go-to company recipe? and what fuss do you make in setting the stage? i am utterly taken by the fine art of hospitality, of those good-hearted, generous souls who understand the magic of gathering company and making it last long after the last of the sparkling cleaned dishes is tucked back on the shelf. spill your dinner party secrets and stories, if you please….

last gasp

for days, all of us who tiptoe in my chunk of the american puzzle piece were wrapped in the molasses-tinged, Egyptian-cotton bath towel that is a 10-day string of cloud-free, sun-drenched october weather.

and did i mention it was regularly hovering in the gets-no-better 70s?

it seemed, if you were practiced in the high art of denial, as if it might go on forever.

but then the weatherpeople cleared their throats, uttered their pronouncements, and we all saw up around the bend: cold and rain and gray upon gray.

the days were numbered. the sun’s last bone-warming sunbeams, they were numbered too. 3-2-….

and when it got to one, the last few hours between indian summer and lots of socks and sweaters, i made sure i licked up every last drop.

i hauled my barefoot self right out the screen door, one last time. i carried my humble plate of clementines and toast out to where my garden path gives way to meditation.

i sat upon the bench. i watched the sun spots dance along my knees. i listened to the rustle of the nodding heads all around me, the alliums and ferns. i startled when a squirrel with crabapple bulging from his cheek scampered just above my shoulder, along the fence-top highway that carried him from limb to larder.

i sat there as long as conscience would allow. it was a workday, after all, and there were calls to make, sentences to cobble.

it is a not-so-common thing, a lung-filling exception to the rules of life, to know, in the moment, that you are savoring the last droplets of one delicious drink, whatever drink might have been poured into your goblet.

we spend much of our lives looking back, wishing we had known that something sweet would be no more.

that we wouldn’t always have a papa there to call. that that one last saturday, when we sat beside his bed in the hospital, that that would have been the last. that no more words would have come between our lips.

that our babies wouldn’t always be. that one day they’d up and run, and that old papoose would get dusty in the corner. that the storybooks on the shelf wouldn’t flop open to the most-loved page, the double spread of mike mulligan’s steam shovel, the one we once memorized, every line and scratch of pencil.

more often than not, we have no warning from the weatherman — nor, from the voice that narrates our life story: soak it up, it’s ending at the sunset.

but this week i had that peek around the bend. and with my coffee and my clementine, i soaked up every drop. to get me through till march or april, when the sunshine calls me back. and lets me out without my shoes.

what was your last gasp this week? are you, like the chipmunks and the squirrels, storing up for winter?

no empty chairs

this is what it looks like at my house at the breakfast table, on the mornings when the chairs are filled. and the bench, too, lined up with little bottoms, squeezed in, squirming in the ways that little boys do.

this is what it looks like when the early-morning whispers wake me, when a bedroom’s filled with little boys, sleepy-eyed boys, boys who can’t help but look little in their waking-up moments, boys who by day are practicing being big. one of them even sports a cell phone. they all use it, communal cell.

they are little boys and they have come to inhabit not only my house, but my heart.

ever since the big one moved on to college, the little one seems to have decided that this is a sharing house, a house where more is better, more is most.

and so, come friday nights, or saturdays, little boys with sleeping bags and pillows (and the occasional cell phone) come stumbling in the door, tumble up the stairs. they play and run and giggle. much giggling.

they are shy, some of them. and polite, all of them. heart-piercingly so. they’ve not read the journals mourning the demise of innocence. they still blush, some of them, when i call them, “sweetie.”

but it’s okay. i’ve not been scolded, not yet anyway, for calling those little boys all sorts of oozy names.

those boys, in ones or twos or threes — and once, so help me God, a four — they animate this house, they lull me off to sleep with their whispers past the midnight hour, and they stir me in the morn when i hear the pillows rumble way before i expect to hear a sound.

a bedroom filled with little boys is a beautiful thing. is a thing i thought i’d never see.

when you’re the mother of two boys who span as many years as mine, you’ve not grown accustomed to the rolling, sprawling, tumbling of double-decker boys. you mostly watch them spin in passing orbits.

so this little one, this little one who springs to life when with his buddies, he seems to have ordered up the very prescription for all our hollowed-out hearts.

he skipped no beats in dialing up that first slumber fest, the first week beyond the college drop-off. nearly every weekend since, this house has doubled or tripled its population of boys.

and i could not purr more contentedly. i could not cluck more cluckily.

best of all is when the morning comes. and i get to mother henning, all right. i crack eggs. pour milk. add dashes of vanilla and cinnamon. i slide bacon in the oven (for we learned that roasted turkey bacon, sprinkled with a dash of brown sugar, maybe rosemary, vulcan salt when the college kid comes back, is not only splatter-free but perfect to the tooth).

i set that table with a vengeance. just like in the old days, before the college boy was gone. i slap down forks, knives, spoons. in multiples. i line up glasses. set out jugs of juice.

and then the footsteps come. less a pitter-patter than a galump down the stairs. and there they are, the sleepy-eyed, pink-cheeked little boys, lined up by the cookstove. taking what i offer. always saying thank you.

sweet boys, these boys.

that’s when the old maple table springs to life. it is crowded, along each edge. arms are grabbing, passing, oops, sometimes spilling. but no worries here.

i know, through and through, that a house where food is good, is plentiful, is a house to which the gaggle will return.
and i want those boys to grow up here. i want to be a seamless part of their unfolding before my very eyes.

i want them to think of me as that nice lady who looks them in the eye, who can’t help but love them. who knows their favorite cookie. who knows who drinks milk and who does not.

i believe with all my heart that mothering extends far beyond the womb, far beyond any particular connection to any particular womb.

mothering is just another name for a certain brand of love. in my book, the most resilient love. the deepest, purest, most unbreakable love there ever was.

mothers don’t give up on their young. they wring their hands, they wrack their brains. but they get up the next morning and they ply it all again.

over the years i’ve heard tales of grown-up folk who found the mothering they needed at someone else’s house. of the certain pair of ears who listened in a way that no one did at home. who loved without sting. who set another place at the table, no matter how late the hour, how empty the fridge.

i know, because i’ve watched one crew grow up, head off to college, that once in a while even the greatest, finest, smartest kids can stumble into tight places and not quite know the way out.

i’ve been the mama who at 2 a.m. drove a car full of kids where they needed to be, to get there safely, no questions asked. no scolding, thank you.

i’ve lived to hear that that middle-of-the-night ride was the single thing that made one kid realize you can grow up without the need to hide the truth, tell lies. and ever since, he’s been a new kind of kid. a kid who still pulls up a stool at my kitchen counter, who still tells me stories he might not tell at home.

and now, with this little gaggle underfoot, still not big enough to cross a busy street without a grownup worrying, still not savvy enough to call a girl and not spit out laughing, i’ve got another chance, another round of kids to love as if my own.

i might not have birthed the 13 or six or even three i longed to mother, but my little one has fixed all that.

he fills my kitchen table most weekend mornings. and i have every intention of being mama to them all. i start now with french toast, and loads of maple syrup.

soon enough, i hope, i pray, i’ll be the house they run to, when there’s no one else to listen.

in my book, there oughta be a nobel prize for mothering. and we’d all win. all of us, and i know throngs, who have discovered deep inside that the one pure hope for civilization, for humankind, is to raise our young–the ones we birth, the ones we don’t–with every reason to believe there will be kindness, and honesty, and undying love just around the corner. the one where some big-hearted mama is just waiting to make it all all right.

who was the big mama in your life? the one who loved you unconditionally, who loved you through and through. (and always threw an extra cookie on your cookie plate…)