Monday, August 21, 2017

Holding The World In Our Hands

This photo makes me think we are holding the world in our hands. It tells a long story of love and family.
Here we are. My second cousin Gabi and me here in Arcata skyping with  his mother Pili in Israel. I hadn't met Gabi before but he, his wife Tsilla and their son Sol drove up from southern California for Sol's sophomore year here at the university. We met on Sunday and had brunch together. This is who we are and how we are related. Gabi and I share the same great-grandmother, Grossmutter (in german) Minna. His grandfather and my grandmother were brother and sister. His father Micha and my mother were first cousins. In 1921 my grandmother left Germany and came to America. Her mother and brothers stayed. She never saw them again. The family perished in the Holocaust.

Many, many years later we were stunned to discover that Micha, one son of my grandmother's brother, had survived. On the day his family was being rounded up and taken away, Micha was not home. When he got home he was told by neighbors to run for his life, and so he did. He ended up in Israel, where he got married and started a family. No one in the family who had already come to America knew there was a survivor. In the late 1970s or early 80s, a distant family member (living in California) with the same last name as Micha made an announcement of his 80th birthday in an Israeli newspaper. The name launched the search for reaching out and reconnecting with family.  I wrote this poem about it more than 25 years ago.

when the letters stopped coming
they assumed he had perished
along with the rest of his family
their innocent flesh and bone
transformed to ash and smoke
that billowed out of the stacks
and settled on the earth, a devil-made dust

and, for fifty years it was so
until he, alone was found
alive in Israel
my mother's first cousin
only survivor of the ones
who stayed behind
who believed it could not happen

his American family
rejoiced in the discovery
rummaged through old boxes
laying hands on letters
not touched for a half century
and searched for the photograph to send
of him and his mother
taken in time
when their posing and smiling made sense

when he held the photo and gazed at her face
his tears alone were enough to keep Israel green
when he touched her writing on the back
the place where she rested her hands
wrote her hopeful, lilting lettering
this was a coveted and precious thing
one he would bring to his lips and kiss many times
and then, recite the words, her written words
as holy as any prayer 

And now, all these years later, Micha's son Gabi and I are standing in our backyard in Arcata, holding a smart-phone and Skyping with his mother Pili in Israel. We are all connected, aren't we? Not just technologically, but all the way down to our bones and cells. We humans, we are holding the world in our hands. I have wished all of my life that we would hold it like we are one family.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Almost Wordless Wednesday

I could rant about the tragedy unfolding in our country right now. To say we are blown away and heartbroken would be an understatement. What we have become in a few short months is far more devastating and shocking than anything we could have imagined. But instead of going on with all of that, I'd rather post this. A simple photo of my mother enjoying a cookie, because this is what actually brings me some joy (photo taken by my sister on August 13th!).

Monday, August 14, 2017

When Lousy Weather Is A Good Thing

We've had overcast foggy skies for more than  a week. It hung over us with relentless dimness, a shadowless gray that stretched as far as the eyes could see. Day unfolded to night with just a lowering of the gray scales until fully dark. I haven't photographed much of anything for so long, and yet I am not disappointed. What could I possibly post here that could balance the madness that grips our country? I am sitting on a Sunday afternoon typing these words, feeling slightly post-traumatic stressed. I can't think of a single beauty that would balance the unleashed hatred that spilled blood in the streets of Charlottesville. My older brother had talked of going to the rally to protest. We marched together in the streets of Newark, NJ in the late 1960s protesting the war in Vietnam. I called him Saturday morning to check in with him and make sure he wouldn't go. He lives only a half hour drive away. He said he had re-thought it and wouldn't go. He knew it would be dangerous, and it was.

Who are we? Why do we still have these same battles year after year, century after century? I'm tired of seeing arms raised in the Nazi salute, swastikas, torches burning, and the signs of the Klan, alt-right symbols and all the newly adopted signs of hatred of our modern world. Who are we?

On Saturday we went to a garage sale. When we walked up the driveway the woman sitting there gave me one of those looks. What look was that? The one that said "Oh you brown-skinned person, why are you here on my driveway?" We looked around and then left. When we walked away I said to Roger, "I really don't like that woman." He said, "Why?" I said because of the way she looked at me. He said, "Oh yeah, that, she didn't look at you in a friendly way at all." 

 Who are we?

Okay, so here's one photo. I'm pretending that the birds are shouting. "Who are you? Who are you? Please stop with the violence and hatred. Please."

PS:  We had to turn on comment moderation for the first time because some unknown comment-bot was leaving ridiculous comments.

Friday, August 11, 2017

What The Caregiver Said

On Wednesday my mom moved into the next level of memory care at the assisted living facility. It was a hard day. Her furniture did not fit quite as well as it did in the previous apartment. She was a bit frantic. She told my brother that she was anxious and upset. My siblings and I were full of despair over it. We understood that she needed to be there, that her desire to wander required a locked and secured wing. She even said to my brother, "Everything is locked here." We emailed back and forth. We lamented the turn of events. We wondered if there could've been another way.

On Thursday I took a chance and called the facility and asked to talk to my mother. I braced myself for sadness. When she answered the phone she said, "Hello Robin.." in that voice, that calm slightly out of it voice. She was okay. She told me she slept well. She was fine. "Was the move yesterday? I don't remember." Wow, a sigh of relief.

My brother spoke to the caregiver on Thursday and this is how he wrote of their conversation:

The caregiver just returned my call and spoke to me about her contact with mom yesterday. She said she's already developing a relationship with mom. At one point mom saw her in the hallway and mom said, "A familiar face." And the caregiver replied, "I have been waiting for you for a long time." 

Later mom went to her office and "B" invited her to sit down so mom sat with her while she worked.
Our hearts felt calmer knowing that the caregiver was there taking care of our mom. She is in good hands and hearts right now. We can't ask for anything more. Well, we could, but magic and wishes don't make Alzheimer's go away. Sigh.

We thank you all for your kind words and support. Sometimes it takes a virtual village.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Time and Distance: The Physics of Love

In 1970, when my twin brother and I graduated from high school in New Jersey, my parents sold our home and moved the family to southern California. They wanted us to go to college in California, and they liked the idea of not having to put up with New Jersey winters anymore. So, my twin brother, younger sister, and a friend of our older brother's drove one of the family cars across country to start our new life. We had never been further west than Pennsylvania! We had never even gone camping before. It was quite a journey, with well-planned campsites in Ohio, Illinois, and Kansas and a lovely stop over in Longmont, Co at a beautiful hippie commune. We made it to southern California and our eyes began to tear from the smog. Seriously. We had never experienced anything like it. That was in July. I applied for a job at some hippie art shop that was in Topanga Canyon half way between the San Fernando Valley and the Pacific Ocean. I hitchhiked to work. I trusted the world. And you readers of this blog know how that turned out for me. My experience of southern California was not a pleasant one. By May of 1971, I decided to head back to New Jersey and spent the summer trying to figure out what to do with the upheaval of my life. Then, I drove back to California, spent the winter of 1971-2 with my parents and left again moving north to Portland, Oregon. I never lived in southern California again. Why is any of this relevant? Because my parents stayed. And now, I have not lived near my mother for more than 45 years.
My dad helping build the cabin in southern Oregon
My parents and I visited each other every year, sometimes more than once depending on how close we were. They came to see the 10 acres of land I bought in southern Oregon in 1974 and even helped a bit with our little home-made cabin. They visited me in Boulder, Colorado many times, when my then-husband was the videographer for the CBS affiliate, and I was a student. On one road trip, they went on to Mount Rushmore and then across country to see the east-coast family.  A few years later they came to see me in Rhode Island when that same then-husband had a job at the university and I was in graduate school. I like to think that my restlessness helped them see our beautiful country.
Roger's mom, my parents, and us in Capitola 1991
In 1988, I moved back to California and conveniently moved in with my twin brother and his wife in Santa Cruz while I nursed my broken heart after that crazy marriage ended. I met Roger on New Years eve that year, and we stayed in Santa Cruz until 2004. That was the longest I had stayed in one place since I graduated from high school. Sixteen years. An amazing thing for me. This blog has chronicled our moves since then. Santa Cruz to Port Townsend (2004-2008). Port Townsend to Arcata (2008). Arcata to Santa Cruz (2008-2009). Santa Cruz to Grass Valley (2009-2014). Grass Valley to Arcata. Here. Now. Happy. Not moving.

Still, even with all the distance and moving, there is something about love that seems to have bridged all of it. I often think of my grandmother when I am lamenting how far I live from my mother in this waning time of her life. My grandparents came from Germany to this country in 1921. My grandmother left her mother and two brothers and their families in Leipzeig. The only communication they had after that was letters written that crossed the Atlantic. They never saw each other again. There really are things that we can do with pen and paper that carries the heart as far as you can send it. When I think of my mother, I think of all the cards I have sent her in the past three months. Once a week, a love letter and a photo of something beautiful. They were all in her room when we visited last month. She looks at them and re-reads them. Letters are tangible love. Love, love, love in the land of time and distance.