Sylvia woke this morning to a teeming rain with little hope of seeing the sun today; and for a while, she couldn’t get the “Annie” tune out of her head. She hummed silently and repeatedly, “The sun will come out tomorrow…”
She busied herself. Saturday morning chores ))nally raised her head from her routine a few hours later and realized that Annie was no longer belting out “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow,” she noticed the sun accepting the open door the clouds had left ajar. “No need to ever wait for tomorrow,” she thought. “There is joy right here in this second. I better blow it a kiss while I can,” she told herself.
And as the sun grew stronger and its beams broke through the dark sky closing the door on the clouds behind it, she knew that the sun never really leaves us. Joy, even fleeting moments – especially fleeting moments – are right here and there waiting to be kissed. ******************
Sylvia: I’m thinking about life right now in terms of jelly donuts.
Erma: Of course you are. Everyone should think of life that way. Sweet and full. **************** One year ago today, while I held my father’s hand as he left this earth with the same strength, dignity, and humility that I imagine he entered with, I thought, “Why? Why now?” And after reflection with my son and conversations with God and those in my circle, I realize that the point is not how he died or even that he died. The key is how he lived. With integrity. With conviction. With zest and appreciation. With gratitude and intention. With love. With LOVE. Jelly donuts, folks.
And now I know. My father’s purpose and legacy is one that is so simple, so timely, and so easily missed if you haven’t been paying attention. Jelly donuts.
My father was raised by a man who emigrated from Russia in 1916. A slight, sweet man who raised a family and worked hard to provide. A man, a zayde, who trekked to Cousin’s bakery (New Britain, CT) to pick up jelly donuts and bulkies for his grandchildren. My father, Sam, learned from his father, Jack, the importance of jelly donuts. Jelly donuts every Sunday morning, rain or shine. Jelly donuts equalled love.
So, Dad, like his father, brought his four children jelly donuts every Sunday along with hard rolls and Breakstone butter. (Truth be told, a dozen mixed including jellies for him, two plain for Mom, and glazed, chocolate frosted, and sprinkles for the kids.) Every Sunday. When his children began to have children, Sam became Pop-Pop and would make the rounds to his grandchildren. Jelly donuts. Love.
When my father was declining, I never thought about my actions. I just did. I went into auto pilot. Comfort and consistency. Dad loved his jelly donuts. From Cousins bakery in New Britain to Village Bake House in Niantic to O’Henry’s in Morgan Hill to Dunkin on Cape, we devoured, savored, and indulged in jelly donuts. And I vowed when my father left my home that he would never go without a jelly donut! I’d like to think he never did.
Jelly donuts. Love. Giving and receiving of both. THAT is my father’s lesson and legacy.
Dad, the first man who had my heart❤ Missing you terribly, but I’d like to think that you and Mom are enjoying your favorites today and fighting over the crossword. **************** “To love and have been loved. That is the essence of a life well-lived.” ~ (K. Morgan)
It’s strangely refreshing that life is cyclical — the seasons, some moments, and indeed so many raw emotions often repeat. Sylvia hit play today, and what was in the machine could have taken her breath away, but instead it revived her and gave her the buoy she needed to stay afloat long enough to catch her breath and keep going.
The universe is at work; and curiously when an old friend calls unexpectedly or Sylvia comes across a photograph of herself smiling and thriving, she reminds herself that she has successfully weathered a storm or two. She may not have a lifeline immediately at hand all of the time, but thankfully she is learning to save herself most days. And when Sylvia is at a loss or not quite sure which line to grab, she has learned that it is perfectly acceptable to float a bit. Oh, and worst case scenario which is far from frightening and is always reassuring is knowing that Erma and others in her “tribe” will throw a line should she need one.
I don’t know what time she was born. I guess I could dig out her birth certificate and find out easily enough. To me, my mother was born the day I came into the world. Obviously, she had a life “B.K.”(before K.Morgan), but I didn’t know her then. All I know of that woman who became my mother, both the little girl who wore braids and gingham and the young, blond-haired teen who played the drums before it was cool for a girl to play a full kit, has been conveyed to me through others’ recollections; her own accounts as she would share an anecdote from her past with the slightly or even poorly veiled purpose of teaching a lesson (Mom was not subtle in getting her points across especially as she neared death); and the photos that I have and covet, still kept in the rubbermaid container that she bequeathed to me before her passing and after my childhood home was cleaned out and sold more than a decade ago. And what connects all of the snapshots, real and those that I have taken in my mind’s eye which remain guarded like priceless treasure, are her eyes. It is said that the eyes are the windows to the soul; thus, it follows and must be that my mother, B.K. and always, was and remains one of the most beautiful, trusting, and trusted souls God could have offered this world.
Most of us, not all – and I say that without one iota of judgment – love our mothers and have been loved by our mothers. I have been accused of worshipping mine. In fact, my mother often reminded me, especially as she closed in on fate, that she was indeed human, flawed like the rest of us, so she too should be allowed to make mistakes. She would often say that the one bad rap that mothers had to endure was that they were held to a higher standard than everyone else on the planet! Now that I’m a mother, I admittedly understand this so much better. I digress though.
I did worship my mother, something she never demanded or expected, but it happened nonetheless. How did it happen? Ah, that’s the question. The trusting and trusted eyes! My mother had xray vision, vision that led her to know exactly what another human needed. To many and certainly to her family, this special sense (some call it a sixth sense while others deem it intuition) was who she was and how she lived her life at the very core. And while she may have regretted not doing all of the things she had hoped to do before she died, I do believe she lived a purposeful life and her legacy is an honorable one. Her legacy? Her gift? She left it to everyone who had the honor and pleasure of looking into her eyes. My mother made those who crossed her path feel important, no matter their lot in life. She gave others hope. She found and saw something redeeming in everyone. She wasn’t oblivious to the harshness or evils of the world. She was far from naïve. She was perhaps not even optimistic. Mom was hopeful though; and I do believe there is a big difference between optimism and hope. I think, actually I know, that her trusting and trusted eyes became reflective of that difference.
I’m babbling a bit because as we all know the totality of a life cannot be put adequately into words. Indeed, my mother’s life cannot. Her legacy can though. Hope. She believed in me. She believed in my son, the only grandchild she actually witnessed enter the world. (That connection proved stronger for them than I could have every imagined.) And if you had the good fortune of meeting her, befriending her, working for or with her, she believed in you. That belief, the depth of it in those trusting and trusted eyes, keeps me hopeful to this day and through each day. I don’t believe that life is perfect and I’m far from thinking everything will turn out well in the end. However, I am hopeful.
On her birthday, I am going to trust her and her legacy. I’ll celebrate her life buying her favorite purple blooms, reminiscing about how she and my father captivated wedding crowds with their dance moves, and thinking of my son’s smile, the one he wears when he recounts either a memory he made with his champion, Nana. Her legacy of love and hope endures.
Thanks, Mom. And finally you will be happy to hear that I’ve come to realize that you never wanted to be worshipped; you wanted to be loved. You were. You are. You always will be.
Hey, you! Yes, you! Call your mother today. And when and if you have the chance to see her in person, squeeze her tightly—from me and my mom with love.
2021. All rights reserved. “The Adventures of Sylvia and Erma” overfiftyandfine.com
“A gray mood, Syl, but when I think of you, I never picture you in gray,” Erma reveals candidly.
“Gray doesn’t suit me, not today anyway,” Sylvia admits.
Sylvia, taking an afternoon coffee break, ponders the seemingly innocuous comment made by her best friend earlier this morning when they chatted via Facetime, itself a rare occurrence for them as they rather look forward to conversations sans the impediment of visual aids. She sits on the bench in the great room, stares searchingly for clouds in her coffee, and finds none. Not a cloud or daydream to be had. For a change, she decides not to fret about the lack of creativity today. She is feeling melancholy which Erma obviously noticed, but she takes a bit of pride in her decision to go black and bold today. Taking the last remaining sip of liquid energy, she commends herself, “I’m not holing up or fleeing from anything or anyone. Let there be no ambiguity in my choices today. No gray. Only black.”
Today, black is decisive and almost vain. And isn’t that what we all need on occasion? Tomorrow, you get to choose all over again. ******************
“She also considered very seriously what she would look like in a little cottage in the middle of the forest, dressed in melancholy gray and holding communion only with the birds and trees; a life of retirement away from the vain world; a life into which no man came. It had its attractions, but she decided that gray did not suit her.” ~A.A. Milne **************** #overfiftyandfine #womensupportingwomen
Say these three words aloud: apple, table, penny. Now, remember them. Simple task. Meaningful? Meaningless? Well regardless, we take for granted that we will always be able to perform the seemingly easy; but when all is said and done, those uncomplicated words and ordinary, mundane acts are nowhere near as impactful as watching him react to music of yesteryear or to the retelling of one of the countless stories he shared with me, stories that I am now charged with and honored to share with my loved ones and others on similar journeys. For me and for him, remembering that he was a member of the state championship relay team at Teachers College and being able to play back and recount that race and those feelings of glory were so much more important than the three plain and undecorated words that he could not remember ten seconds after they were uttered. That story of the past brought laughter and smiles to a room full of medical professionals who entered it both seriously and mission-oriented yet who left perkier and even more committed than they ever imagined they could be.
So, when we are feeling sorry for ourselves— admittedly, I do this more than anyone should or has the right to— let’s stop and get a grip. Hold on to the big, bubbly moments and memories from which we draw the strength to start all over again. That is our mission really, isn’t it?
“…We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.” (~Benjamin Button, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
The glare was annoying. Sylvia was seated and reading a book that she brought along for company just until her friend arrived, when the sun joined her. Although uninvited and unexpected, its appearance created the distraction and discomfort Sylvia needed. Blinded and warmed momentarily by the intense shine, Sylvia looks up from the not-so-captivating text and gives thought to how she might get out of the rut and routine in which she is mired.
Squinting her eyes and wiping a bead of sweat from her brow, Sylvia finds an unusual solace in the sun’s briefly overbearing presence. Instantly, an unfulfilled moment becomes a treasure. The truth of the day.
****************** The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers. ~M. Scott Peck *********************
Sylvia has been unusually preoccupied these first few days of March. The end of winter always has her dreaming and reflecting—even more than she ordinarily does! She dreams of places not yet visited, renewed purpose, and endless possibility. She reflects on the many stories Erma shared with her about how women wear different hats during different stages of life. Student. Sister. Wife. Mother. Executive. Housekeeper. And the list goes on. Erma always said that the most amazing friendships between women happen when we take off our “hats” and allow ourselves to be in the moment for and with each other.
When Sylvia happens upon a lovely duo who appears to be mother and daughter, she smiles and approaches them to gush about their obvious fun-loving nature and friendship. “M&M“—as Sylvia lists them now in her cell contacts—laugh; and then M, the beautiful, young brunette who looks ravishing in every single hat, offers, “She isn’t my mom. M is Mom’s best friend. We have become friends, too.”
The other M, the more experienced, mature, and equally lovely lady, adds that they have enjoyed a glorious and heartfelt day of love, laughter, and overlapping life experiences. Both of them said final goodbyes to very special people this past year. A powerful connection, indeed.
Sylvia, after sharing her personal story of loss from this past year as well and engaging in a bit of fun with her new friends, wonders, “What if Erma were here to share this experience? Sylvia is certain her best friend would be rolling her eyes and then nearly wetting her pants from laughter as each woman tried on hat after hat. Sylvia and the younger M would then have reminded their more seasoned friends of this new trend, “They are not hats. They are fascinators.”
Yes, fascinators! An absolutely fascinating connection between women that is sure to become a favorite memory. **************** “When women hear each other’s stories, told from the heart, it gives us inspiration to keep on going.” – Elizabeth Lesser ****************
Sylvia, feeling restless and a bit cantankerous this afternoon, closes the laptop and begins thinking out loud: Strength is a strange concept. “Be strong.” “You are stronger than you think.” “Keep fighting the good fight.” Tell me again how strong I am and how strong you think I have been and I might just punch you in the face. I know I am strong, damn it. And I know deep in my soul that I can survive anything—ANYTHING. Well, anything other than my own death, of course. This though, navigating these last ten months of life after loss during a pandemic no less, has tried, tested, and depleted me in ways I never could have imagined. I have tapped into reserves I never knew I had. Most days my belief in myself and my determination to thrive and find the ever-elusive (and illusive) happiness wins. It beckons an inner strength which comes disguised as stubbornness and fear of failure. Strength, or maybe it is willpower, comes cloaked in a thousand thoughts of vulnerability and self-assessment — oh yes, and a smile.
“Just because a person smiles all the time doesn’t mean their life is perfect. The smile is a sign of hope.” ~Anonymous ****************