Quiet visits


garage3Some visits are quiet ones. The day is routine. Walking in any weather. Walking along the streets of a small town or the wide alleyways behind historic homes where even the garage curtains speak of a gentility. Big plates of pasta balanced on the laps of the three sisters, sitting on chairs and sofas. We are tucked in snugly on this chilly night. Mystery hour. It is about relationships. It is a slow story. One that takes time and nuance. So too, with my sisters and me. It is about relationship. Slowly moving through decades, through years of upheaval and years of the steady, almost imperceptible changes in each of us. It is a quiet visit. It is a visit that is full.

I return home, here, with sunny skies and warm breezes. Shy windflowers at my garden gate wave their greetings, faces filled with light. I am filled with thoughts of family as my key unlocks all that is before me.windflowers3.jpg



recipe-001The Christmas season. On our table standing proudly are these basic ingredients: Pillsbury flour, Land O’Lakes butter, Philadelphia brand cream cheese and Rumford’s baking powder – the one in the small, red can. Next to this are her utensils: a large stoneware bowl to mix the pastry, glass measuring cups and inexpensive aluminum measuring spoons, a knife from our everyday set, and a well-worn, wooden rolling-pin. My Aunt Agnes Check’s recipe – a blending of Slovak family heritage with Italian sensibilities. A new heritage.

Pounds of Diamond’s unshelled walnuts wait for my mother and me on this winter evening – a school night. We sit at the white porcelain kitchen table-top that my parents purchased when they were newlyweds. Metal nutcrackers in hand, we sit together in a comfortable silence and begin to squeeze and crack. It is tough work for a ten-year old. Repetitive. Detailed. Inexperienced, I laboriously pick out the bits and pieces of meat left behind in the inner shells – spaces dark and convoluted in nature. My mother’s pile is substantive while mine – quite a pitiful showing for the attention I am dedicating to this task – fill only a cup.  Our conversations alleviate the tediousness; our banter brightens the evening hours. We talk of the nuns, my teachers; the friends and the cliques to which I belong and those where I am shunned, already at a tender age. Back to family, she carefully guides the talk, of Christmas gifts, wrappings, of course, eating. Ham or turkey? Both kinds of potatoes? My hands begin to hurt, but I am loathe to leave. Feeling as if I am caught in some dark fairy-tale with the impossible task, I persevere not for my survival, but for my mother’s love.




My son, plugged in, and baking kiffles for the holidays. Same recipe; different generation.

a brick house


Today, I realized while I was teaching my sixth grade students a lesson in short essay writing that I needed to give them a personal example.  The one I had chosen from a very good book was just too long.  Below is what we will be looking at in class.  For them it is about structure and form; for me, a sweet memory.

My Life Before Cats

brick houseOur house always seemed  too quiet for my taste, as a child.  We lived in, what was called back then, a row house. This is where one house is slammed against the other, as if they are trying to hold each other upright.  What this also meant was that you and your next-door neighbor shared a wall.  You shared the sounds each house made if those noises were against the shared wall.  So, it was important to BE quiet. Fortunately for our neighbors, my two sisters and I were fairly well-behaved. Oh, this was not because we were born that way; rather, because my dad meant serious business if he told us to “quiet down” and we ignored him!  We rarely had pets of any sort. Once, when my older sister was doing a science project in high-school, we kept the guinea pigs afterwards.Unfortunately, my mom got asthma, and they had to go, even though they were quiet. Next, my middle sister brought home a stray dog.  We kept him too… for awhile.  He was not quiet. My father found a home for him. A guy he worked with at the steel mill had daughter who was “simple-minded.”  Other kids were afraid of her, even though she was really nice. She did not have a lot of friends, and she was lonely.  So, our dog went to her. I cried, but it was better for her, our dog, and especially our neighbors.

When I grew up and had my own family we bought a house – standing all by itself and surrounded by a big yard. Space between our neighbors and us. It was living here when I finally got my first cat.  She was a tortoise-shell stray who just showed up. She stayed.  She was not terribly friendly or cuddly, but I liked the way she strutted around, talking incessantly. She was noisy. Next, my sons found an orange cat – a stray with only three legs.  He was very friendly, very quick, and very talkative. We had to keep him.  Then, the animal shelter called us, “Did we want another cat – a three-legged one – a little black one.  Of course we did! For many years in our house we lived with these three, no-longer-stray cats. Until on an autumn night, a fourth, feral kitten came to our kitchen door.  The following week we brought her in.  It was never quiet after that!  There was constant meowing, howling, growling. There were my two boys fighting over who won this and that.  Oh! did I mention the dogs?  Two. My life was no longer quiet at home…except at meal times.

%d bloggers like this: