Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Old Place

The little white house on the rivers edge.  A rumbling roar 24/7.  Shiny rocks, glisten from the wetness.  Ebbs spiral endlessly, swirling designs around each protruding rock.  The water gives way, weaving a path onward down the river.
(48 years old, and I think it’s safe to say that ‘The Old Place’ still tops my ‘favorite place list.’)

Driving by The Old Place’ stirred a mixture of emotions.  It is hard to believe that it has been 31 years since my parents sold it for the new place... aka‘The Barn.’  To my surprise, 'The Old Place' had been modernized into the present day... and was up for sale.   I turned around and decided to sit for a while.... 
The bedroom window, just behind the chimney, is gone.
A porch... a fitting new addition. 
The water is much lower than years ago... evident by the hovering tree trunk.
I so remember running around on those grounds as a child.  The river drowned out any insulting noises - though there really were none.  I sat there for an hour and only 5 cars drove by.  Can you imagine?!  I could see my childhood flash before me.  My sisters and I spent so many hours in that creek... creating dams to have deeper water to swim in, to corral and catch fish, to build our own river forts.  Lisa must have been about 7 or 8 years old when she reached into the ripples and came up with a whopper of a trout!  Dad had been working by the waters edge and heard her call out, “Hey, Dad, look at this!”  I don’t think she really realized the improbability of her catch.  He laughed and asked her to hold it higher so he could get a better look, in sheer disbelief that his little girl had just caught the massive trout he had so many times tried to nab via fishing pole.  The fish twisted and arched in her hands as she held it overhead.  Her bleached blond hair sticking together in drenched bunches, framing her proud smiling face... all while proud PaPa looked on and laughed out loud.  She could hold it no more, bending to the rivers bed she let the fish go.  
Lisa (5 yrs old) and Barbara (7 yrs old) - 1972
Lisa & our friends Randy & Lori ~ 1977
The pine tree is gone... and the 'coffee bush is oh so tiny...
Then there was the ‘Coffee Bush.’  Every morning Mom would take the used grounds out and dump them under the bush.  I’m not sure why this routine started, but the bush apparently loved, loved, loved this and responded by growing into a beautiful 'full-bodied' bush!  The ‘Coffee Bush’ still exists, but not with the vigor of my childhood days.  No doubt the new owners are unaware of the coffee grind rules.

The edge of the 'coffee bush'(rt) & our infamous fire pit.
The fire pit is no more.  Not to say I don’t know where it was.... We sat for hours upon hours listening to the crackling blaze, amidst the steadfast, surround sound lull of the rippling river.  No sooner were the logs lit, and Mom would walk out of that rickety old kitchen with two cups of coffee in hand... and maybe even some hot chocolate.  Using big old logs for our seats, we nestled as close as we safely could to the flames.  From time to time a bat would swoop over head, and we would squeal in horror and delight.  Sparks from the embers floated up on the heat waves, setting our sights to the starlit sky... More than our hands were warmed by those fire pit nights.
The apple tree in the corner is gone, as is the old dog house.  It is safe to say the woodchuck has probably also gone.  He graced our mornings everyday.  Many of his cousins were target practice, and met speedy ends.  But this guy was Officially off limits per my Mom.  She loved to watch him out the kitchen window, him and his brother up the street... the one that sat on the crest of the hill in front of the waterfall entry...  any other family members were fair game.  But not them.  
The outhouse was gone too.  Only a sink hole in the area it used to be.  The field above, the one with the grazing cows, was now overgrown.  So overgrown you could no longer see a field.  No way cows were anywhere in the area.

Looking back to the river, at this moment in time, I wondered how many of the rocks were still there from my childhood. The big ones of course.  The ones that nature was hard pressed to move.  But what about the little ones?  The ones we used to build the dams.  Did those still sit where we left them?
Did it really matter?  Right now.... right this second... The best thing of all, was the tranquility was as I remembered.  True.  Unwavering.   Unblemished.  
Mom and Heidi
Heidi sitting watch

June 1972... me in my 'cool' red shorts... 8 years old.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

For Naomi...

Flash back.  February 2009.
I am on one of my missions to de-stress and get some exercise.  My mind is wrapped up in thought.  If only I could be successful in fixing all my woes on this, my walking meditation... why won’t all the answers come right when you want them...?
My conversation is interrupted, “Nancy?!”  Okay I say ‘conversation,’ though it’s just me talking to myself.
I looked up to see a beaming smile radiating from the car window.  A woman’s voice spoke again, “Nancy?  Is that you?!”  I slowed my pace and tried to squint beyond the suns glare to see more clearly... as if squinting would help my failing memory issues...
“It’s Naomi!  Do you remember me?  I used to live here...”  She pointed to the home she used to live in.
“Do I remember you?!”  I laughed at her question... and was thankful that the pieces came together so succinctly.  Of course I remembered her, and her sisters, and growing up with our backyards butting up to each other.
What a flashback!  We spent an hour chit-chatting away.  We covered all the do-you-remember-when’s we could think of.  We giggled, and shared, and re-lived, and caught up... life had happened between the time the Mastrogiacomo’s moved and today... sadly death had happened in that span as well.  (Her sister Gina died in 2001, and my Dad died in 2002.  Both too soon!)
It is unthinkable that we - and by ‘we’ I mean those of us that are left behind to deal with these unintended departures - go on.  
But we do... and here we were... together again.
Neighborhoods from yesteryear seem so removed from today’s day and age.  Back then, kids left the house in the morning and were not seen, nor heard from, till dinner time.  My mother - who was ‘blessed’ with amazing vocal capabilities, that somehow cut through airwaves - would call out our side door to beckon her little ones home.  Should we not have heard, the neighbors surely did.  A virtual game of telephone would ensue, and we soon got the message.  Mom was calling, time to go home.
My sisters, Barbara and Lisa, and the Mastrogiacomo girls, Kim, Naomi, Gina and Amy ~ along with the rest of the neighborhood brood ~ played for hours.  We were 'The Neighborhood Family.'  Removed was a blood line, but no denying, we lived our lives and grew up together.  
My first memory of our new neighbors stills stands out.  It was Christmas time...  Lisa and I found ourselves in their living room staring at our first live Christmas Tree.  Go figure... we never had a live tree.  Every December a box would come out of the attic, and Dad would give the orders to separate and categorize the ‘branches.’  He would hold out his arm as we placed the next requested piece in his hand.  An hour or so later... Waa Laa... we had our tree.  There was no aroma, other than the dust from the box... There was no pine needles to clean up, just a few shattered Christmas balls and some malfunctioning Christmas lights.  Seeing a real tree bewildered us.  Don’t ask me why... it just did.  We stood there in amazement, taking it all in.  Lisa pondered her mental images, “It doesn’t look like a real tree?”  As though her young mind had comparisons to go on.  I tried to shush her, and reassure her that it was real.  She reached out and touched a limb.   “Wow.”  Indeed it was real, we thought our new neighbors were loaded.  How could they get a new live tree every year?  The moment passed, and we ran up the stairs to continue playing.
Now every year at Christmas time, as I open ‘the box’ (Frank is allergic to pine...) and instruct my own children to separate and categorize the ‘branches,’ I think of that moment.  It’s one of my many portholes connecting me to my memories.  
Actually, I must admit, it began before the boxed tree.  When I grew up and had a family - and my own home - my choice of tree was real... a la Mastrogiacomo.   It was then, that I experienced the full plethora of this ritual... the crisp snowy air, the fire burning in a nearby 55 gallon drum, the large round white light bulbs strung from post to post glowing over our heads, the variety of aromatic trees to choose from... Frank and I with our kids in tow, would walk between the pyramids, on dirt path isles, searching for our perfect tree...  and I thought of my neighbors... 
It wasn’t until Frank insisted I was trying to purposely torture him... this as he sniffled, scratched and was near blinded from rubbing his itchy eyes raw.  (Seriously, people... this allergy stuff is for the birds.  On top of pine, he is allergic to chocolate, nuts, and coconut.  Should he ever really piss me off, it’s been suggested that I could stuff an Almond Joy in his mouth and beat him with a pine branch... but no worries.  Frank is safe....... for now... ;)  The shedding pine needles and family cat  ~ who was thrilled to have her very own tree to climb,  and knock down ~ helped the decision along.  Artificial tree it is.  
I am always amazed by what I call, ‘memory portholes.’  We all have them... you know, the little things that remind us  and send us back in time to a day, a moment, a person... Naomi and I spoke about Butterflies... this the 'porthole,' or believed to be medium, in which Gina visits her loved ones.  I could relate, as I believe my father visits us through birds... (I admit, I am crazy.  Certifiable.)  
When Naomi and I reconnected, I sent her a few stories I had written about the kids.  To my delight, she requested more... I sent her a link to a web-site where I have a gallery of photos and stories.   (  As well, I sent her the web-site I set up for my Dad, where she actually posted to the Guestbook.  (  I chuckled as she chided the ‘ugly chain link fence’ that separated our yards...  I didn’t have the heart to tell her, I still have that rickety old fence.  (said in a sheepish tone...;)  The forsythias and honey suckle grow rampant on it every year.  It proves to be my makeshift trellis.  Aside from that, removing it would prove to be a nightmare... following in the footsteps of that old domino effect adage... That old fence is intertwined through the big tree (the one that was a mere twig when we were kids...) it’s holding up the back wall of my rock garden, and on top of it all - replacing it would be a small fortune... one I would have to take on for the sake of my lovely dog, Toots.
Naomi emailed me again at about 3 am... and then called the next day.  She went on about my stories and that she had not been able to stop reading.  This was music to my ears, as I’m a want-to-be writer.  Having someone read, and actually enjoy, my ‘stuff’ completes the process.  Having no time to catch-up on everything... this was also an awesome way to fill in the gaps.
Today it seems only fitting that I sit here and write something for Naomi.  I wish she was here to read it.  I think she might like to know that it is she that inspired me to hit the keyboard once again...................  Sadly, she died March 6th. 
Two of my childhood, neighborhood family members are gone.  So too, is my Dad.  I don’t want to believe any of it.  How can this be?!  
Life passes us by... and then it just passes?!  I am bewildered.  
Many years ago, before my husband and I were even an item, he pointed out that -
“The greatest gift any of us have to offer is that of time.”  
How true!!  
Time to spend, time to share, time to create memories that live on... Every passing moment is a turned page...  and if I can have anything to do with it, there will be a lot of literal pages to live on beyond my own existence.  
I pay tribute to Naomi, and to all the loved ones lost to the great heavenly abyss.  I feel your presence.  I know you are there.  I will continue, until I can no longer.  Thank You for your precious time, that you share so beautifully... for the memories you helped create.  
You will not be forgotten!
Naomi Mastrogiacomo Barone ~ 10/18/1960 - 03/06/2012