Tag Archives: Family

July 12 – Ties To The Past

by Sara Etgen-Baker

The author wears her own apron, created in 1965.

My fascination with aprons began when I cooked alongside Mother. “Put on your apron!” she insisted. I tied one of her aprons around my waist and immediately felt a connection, a type of kinship with her and other women, for there was a time, not so long ago when wearing an apron was commonplace and synonymous with femininity and domesticity. My mother and my grandmothers put on their aprons the moment they entered their kitchens and wore them throughout the day while preparing meals and tending to household chores.

Grammy’s Tulip Apron

All three women were also seamstresses often making their own aprons and expressing their personalities and individuality with them. Grandma Stainbrook made colorful, loose-fitting bib-style aprons with deep pockets. Grammy, on the other hand, created dainty, pastel-colored half aprons that complemented her outfits and accentuated her tiny waist. Mother was practical and preferred making a bib-style apron, wearing it to protect the dress underneath. She reserved her fancy half aprons accented with ribbon, lace, and appliques for holidays and entertaining.

Mother used her bib-style apron for almost everything; dusting furniture, drying my tears, picking up hot pans, and wiping the sweat from her brow. Her bottomless apron pockets were always full and housed clothespins, handkerchiefs, bandages, loose change, my jacks, and my brother’s marbles.

At 14, I enrolled in home economics class where I sewed my first garment; a half apron of my own. I bought the apron pattern for 65 cents but didn’t have enough money to purchase fabric. So, I used the remnants of mother’s kitchen curtain material; a white fabric covered in delicate yellow roses. During that first semester, I learned sewing basics; cutting out a pattern; pinning it to the fabric; cutting the fabric, and basting the garment. I learned to thread the sewing machine, maneuver the foot pedal, and guide the material under the advancing presser foot. By semester’s end, I’d sewn my apron to the waistband; attached small, rick-rack covered pockets to it; and hemmed it.

Mother’s Holiday Apron

There was something satisfying about taking a piece of fabric and turning it into a beautiful apron. I felt special, for sewing my own apron was a sort of rite of passage into womanhood; and proudly wore my apron every chance I had. In 1965 aprons were a part of being a woman and a homemaker; however, when the women’s movement took hold, aprons seemingly disappeared from favor and the feminine landscape.

But aprons remain important, for they are historical garments reflecting how women functioned in society; how culture viewed them; and how they saw themselves. I recall the apron-wearing women in my life; the stories behind their aprons gave life and meaning to the fabric itself. Their aprons are statements of what they represented to their families and serve as reminders of recipes, values, events, and traditions from gentler, less complicated times. I remain fascinated with aprons, for each one has a unique story to tell with its own ties to the past.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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July 3 – Full Circle

By Linda HoyeLandscape

We stand atop a small hill in the middle of a field on the Saskatchewan prairie: me, my husband, my cousin, and her husband. I met this cousin for the first time today; she and her husband have graciously taken us on a drive to see the land where our grandparents farmed. The warm wind that blows across this land uncovers truth today.

I was adopted as an infant–chosen was the word used by well-meaning folks back then. What they didn’t understand was that in order to be chosen, an infant first had to be unchosen; rejected. That’s a burden I’ve carried for almost sixty years and one that still gets in the way from time to time.

The parents who conceived me are long gone from this earth, and my Mennonite grandparents who farmed this land probably never knew I existed. Nevertheless, I feel as if I have come home here.

All around, in every direction for as far as I can see, there is green. It is the most beautiful place I can imagine. Lentils grow here now; a modern-day crop on land that once provided a living for my family.

This is the place where my birth mom was born and grew up. It was passed down to their oldest son, and he raised my recently-connected-with cousins here. A slight indentation in the earth is the only indication that a house stood here at one time, and a grove of trees left standing nearby is the melancholy beacon of all that once was.

To the untrained eye it’s just endless green prairie, to me it’s a mending of a mother-daughter connection that was severed when I was relinquished to adoption. A number of years ago I stood at the gravesite where my birth mother was buried, now I’m here on the land where she was born.

I stand firm in this place; I feel roots take hold. I read once that we carry place in our DNA; if that’s true there is certainly something of this place in me. I have no trouble believing it.

We wander back across the field to the car and, Mennonite style, (men in front and women in back) get in. Conversation with my cousin flows easily and gently. I continue to get to know her and come to understand something more about this family; my family. Stories I’ve heard snippets of, and things I’ve imagined, become real.

We dive a short way along gravel prairie roads, turning left, then right, passing the site of the old school where only a tall wooden swing set remains, and arrive at the Mennonite Brethren church. A little farther down the road, we stop at a little cemetery and there we find the graves of our grandparents. I take photographs of the worn stones and then we head back toward town.

It is about as close to a perfect day as I can imagine.

Linda Hoye is on the other side of a twenty-five-year corporate career. A writer, photographer, gardener, and somewhat-fanatical grandma, she lives in Kamloops, British Columbia with her husband and their doted-upon Yorkshire Terrier. Find her online, where she posts a few words and a photograph early every morning, at http://www.lindahoye.com.

June 12 – Talking Through the Night

By Debra Dolan

A soft beautiful breeze washed over me for eleven hours this week as I was visited by a beloved niece I had not seen in eight years. It was a last-minute sojourn as she made a stopover on the west coast en route to summer employment in Japan. Instantaneous, unconditional big-big love for this precious sweet human being so full of joy, contradiction, and sorrow. Tears and extended arms of happiness as we greeted one another. Such a special night sharing life’s present-day events; first, in the local neighbourhood pub as she nourished her body and, later, in the quiet intimacy of my home as we fed our souls, surrounded by flowers, books, and candles, sleepy by the late hour.

Our journeys since 2010 have had parallels and divergence; not surprising given the nearly 40 years apart in age. Lina was conceived while I traveled in my brother’s new homeland attending the Nagano Olympics and I last saw her when the Nishibori-Dolans were in town for the Vancouver Olympics. Now she attends university in eastern Canada with the same confidence and vitality I have always observed while I, after decades of employment and intense social interaction, feel displaced and exhausted coping with a prolonged head injury.

Spending time together was an enormous gift. Sharing our personal bliss and challenges was the best restorative antidote for the myriad of topics exposing raw emotions with a thunderous force. It was unbelievably refreshing and energizing to be in the company of someone bursting into adulthood so full of exuberance for the future while struggling to shed childhood angst, uncertainty, and unhappiness. A great honour was bestowed on this dear-old-aunt when she revealed the truth of her recent experiences with openness, insight and a longing to understand.  She exhibited a strength of character, complete with integrity and forthrightness, which is rare at any age. I am immensely proud of the woman she is becoming and I am enormously grateful I was in a position to offer her refuge, comfort, and a listening presence.

It was one of those treasured spontaneous opportunities to ‘pay forward’ the kindness, solace and care that so many have gifted yours truly. I eagerly await her return visit in August.

Debra Dolan lives on the west coast of Canada, is a long time (45+ years) private journal writer, and an avid reader of women’s memoir. She has been a member of Story Circle Network since 2009.

May 31 – Fiction vs. Memoir: Finally I Made The Choice

by Len Leatherwood

canstockphoto16227556-danr13 (c) Can Stock Photo / danr13

 

After a huge cry this morning, I feel better.

I have spent the past five days immersed in one of the toughest/saddest times of my life – moving to LA in 1994 to be near my brother who was about to go into active AIDS just at the point when the life-saving protease inhibitors were first introduced. (My oldest brother had died of AIDS just 3 years before.) My husband, three kids and I came after my brother offered me a job in his laser surgery center so that I could run his business when he and his partner got sick and we could be near him as he died. If that weren’t bad enough, he also had a “loving” boyfriend who had targeted him for his money. I wish I could say it all went smoothly. It didn’t. The result was an emotion-ridden roller coaster ride that forced me to grow up and understand that tough love is sometimes the only love that makes sense.

Robert had the opportunity to choose life over death with the help of those coveted protease inhibitors. In truth, Robert chose death. In the book, I had him do one thing differently, which helped him to see why and how he could choose life. In both real life and fiction, my brother and I made peace with each other and were deeply bonded as a result of this experience.

I went with fiction for lots of reasons, primary among them being that the predatory boyfriend is still alive and would sue me in a second. However, I also wanted the freedom of fiction and to have the chance to “re-imagine” what life could have been if my brother had made a different choice. Plus, John Rechy, my writing mentor, with whom I workshopped this book for five years in a Masterclass, is well-known for calling all of his books fiction even when some mirror his life fairly closely, and he strongly encouraged me to go this route.

I read through every volume that I have produced over these past 18 years of trying to wrestle with this subject – five major drafts most of which were memoirs – and finally concluded that my decision to factionalize this book was indeed the right choice for me.

Alas, I worked 18 hours a day on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday and then stayed up almost 24 hours on Tuesday so I could finish the editing.

Is it perfect? No. I woke up in the middle of the night and realized I’d forgotten a scene that must be included. I also have a few scribbled notes regarding details I need to make sure are right. In addition, the pacing might have a bump or two and the ending might need one more run through. However, am I finally going to be able to put this baby to bed so I can move on? I believe so.

I am tired, but also happy and relieved. Hooray.

Len Leatherwood: Program Coordinator for SCN’s Online Classes, has been teaching writing privately to students in Beverly Hills for the past 17 years. She has received numerous state and national teaching awards from the Scholastic Artists and Writers Contest. She is a daily blogger at 20 Minutes a Day, as well as a published writer of ‘flash’ fiction/memoir.

March 14 – Cooking for Passover

by Ariela Zucker

CookbookIt is my mother’s cookbook that I kept after she passed away many years ago, so most of the recipes are hers. Every year I open it a few days before Passover and minutes later I am treading knee-deep in thoughts and images and even the smells of my childhood. I know from prior years that these entangled sensations, a neurological condition called synesthesia, is temporary and will pass after the holiday but for a brief period I let myself back into the land of memories.

The book’s hardcover is dull brown that is peeling in all four corners. When I open it, a stream of papers of all sizes and colors fall out and spread unevenly on the floor. Another thing I tend to forget is my habit to write recipes on random pieces of paper and tuck them inside the book, for a keepsake. The pages themselves stained from the years and the many times they were touched with oily or flower covered hands.

As I flip through the book, gently, so not to tear the pages that tend to stick to each other, I make it to the part marked Passover. I look at my mother’s angular handwriting and remember how the Hebrew letters, she adopted late in her life, never gained an easy flaw. I remember how she complained about it yet insisted on writing the recipes in Hebrew so I will be able to read them. In between, my handwriting, round and flawless, unlike her I drew a lot of satisfaction from the act of writing.

Passover flowerless cake, a family recipe my mother learned from her mother. Matzo dipped in chocolate, my favorite. Chicken soup with matzo balls, gefilte fish, brisket, compote, the list seems endless and with each recipe an image of the Seder table and the voices of people who are no longer alive mix with the loved flavors.

I look at the recipes and sigh. Like my daughters when they ask for a favorite recipe, I remember how I tried to follow the detailed instructions of the dishes just to fall short, time and time again. All my efforts did not produce the exact texture, or smell, or taste. I know that it will not happen this time around either, but that I will give it my best try.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. She blogs at https://paperdragonme.wordpress.com/

March 31 – Remembering Angie

by Marilea Rabasa

When Angie came out of that first rehab, she made me the most beautiful gift.

rabasa 3

“Mom, I’m not quite finished with it. I just have a few more flowers to cut. You’ll need to find a 17-by-22-inch frame to mount it on. Sorry it’s such an odd size. Guess I wasn’t thinking. I copied it from one of my Chinese art books. I hope you like it!”

Right now it’s hanging in my room for me to see. Over the years I’ve taken it on and off the wall, hidden it in a closet, too painful for me to look at. Maybe it’s a sign of my recovery. Now I can leave it on the wall, look at it, and appreciate all the work she put into it. This was her way, I believe, of telling me she loved me and she was sorry, not for getting sick, but for what that sickness drove her to do to me. She never, ever, was able to express her feelings easily with words. So she showed me, in countless ways, as she did once in December 1993.

“Where the hell is that $300 I put away for safekeeping? If you kids want any Christmas presents, you’d better help me find it now,” I shouted, panicking at the thought of losing my hard-earned cash. I was so scattered sometimes. I was perfectly capable of misplacing it.

“Found it, Mom! Don’t you remember when you hid it in this book? Well, here it is. Aren’t you glad I’m as honest as I am?”

“Yes, Angie, my darlin girl, I am. And thank you!”

Years are passing by, and sometimes it’s hard to remember her as she was. But when I look at the tapestry she made, I remember:

Angie had a fascination for all things Asian–Chinese, Japanese, it didn’t matter. She loved the grace and flow of much of the artwork. She copied a simple series of flowers. But she did it not with paint or pencil or pen; she cut out every pistil, not completely detailed, a few sepals in place, the rest scattered, all the ovaries in different colors for contrast, every leaf, in varying sizes and colors, every stem, and glued it all together on a piece of gold cloth. It looked just like the picture in her book.

I treasure this gift she made. The tapestry is twelve years old, and sometimes a petal comes unglued and I have to put it back on. I should put it under glass to preserve it. I wish we could put our children under glass–to keep them safe.

I would soon discover, though, that no matter what I did for Angie it would never be enough to protect her from the illness that was consuming her.”

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Marilea Rabasa grew up in New England. How she got to the Southwest is an interesting tale. For several years she was an ESL teacher in Virginia. Before that, she lived overseas in the Foreign Service. She may draw from my travels to write my sequel memoir. She lives with her partner in New Mexico now summers on Puget Sound.

Find her online at http://www.recoveryofthespirit.com/.

March 31 – Ghost Story

by Linda Hoye

Benson and beyond-1 (600x429)

The ghost lets me know she needs to stop again; I’ve momentarily forgotten her. I pull over and get out of the car to listen to the silence again, but I’m surprised to find that it really isn’t silent at all. I hear the click click click of grasshoppers flying and birds singing. In the distance, where the sky is now dark and angry, a fork of lightning reaches down to touch the prairie. Like me, it can’t resist just a touch of the land. The boom of thunder follows.

“The giants are bowling!” the ghost calls back to me as she runs across the field.

I smile at her exuberance.

Saskatchewan’s warm wind wraps around me. You are home, she whispers. I’ve heard that one can’t go home again, but I don’t want to believe it. I want to be home; I need to be home. The sky opens up and the rain starts; I look out in the direction where I saw the ghost running. Her face is turned toward the sky and her arms are waving above her head; she’s dancing in the rain. I can hear her laughter faintly in the distance.

The same rain the ghost is dancing in falls on me as I watch her carefree movements. I lift my own face toward the sky, and the cool rain mingles with the tears I am powerless to hold back. I close my eyes and let the rain wash the tears from my face as I breathe deeply, the scent of the summer rain like aromatherapy for my bruised and broken heart.

I should call the ghost back; I should get going; Aunt Edie is expecting me.

But I don’t move; I stand still and let the raindrops mingle with my tears and allow myself to let go, to weep deeply, to feel the anguish I’ve held in so tightly for too long, the grief to which I’ve been afraid to surrender. I grieve for the deaths of Mom and Dad, for the pain of not having them in my life, the sorrow I feel at having had them so briefly. I grieve for the death of my dreams, the breakdown of my marriage, the emptiness I feel inside, the mantle of responsibility so heavy on my shoulders. I grieve for my children and the mistakes I’ve made and the mistakes I see them making. I grieve for the loss of my birth mother. And I grieve for myself.

When I am spent, I open my eyes. The rain is just a drizzle now, and in the distance there is a break in the clouds. I turn my head, prepared to call the ghost back, but I’m surprised to see her standing next to me. She is simply standing there, looking up at me with eyes as big as plates,  her hair like long wet strings. I squat down and gently take her face in my hands.

Thank you for coming with me today, I tell her.

She smiles, and we get back in the car; this time I invite the ghost to sit in the front, beside me. I pull out onto the prairie road and turn the car around in the opposite direction from the way we were traveling before.

“What are you doing?” the ghost asks. “Stoughton is that way.”

I know. It’s not much farther, and we’ve got plenty of time.

“But where are we going?” she asks.

We’re going back to get your tadpoles.

Her face lights up with a big smile and I reach over and take her hand in mine.

 

(Hoye, Linda, Two Hearts: An Adoptee’s Journey Through Grief to Gratitude, Benson Books, 2012)

Linda Hoye is a writer, editor, adoptee, and a somewhat-fanatical grandma whose work has appeared in an assortment of publications in Canada and the U.S. Her memoir, Two Hearts: An Adoptee’s Journey Through Grief to Gratitude, is the story of her journey through the abyss of grief and coming out the other side whole, healed, and thankful.

 

Retime-1 (179x269) (2)red from a twenty-five-year corporate career , she lives in British Columbia, Canada with her husband and their doted-upon Yorkshire Terrier where she finds contentment in her kitchen, at her writing desk, behind her camera, and in her garden.