Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Thursday, June 04, 2009
Today I was alone in my house, like every day. It’s a big house to inhabit alone. No matter how old we are, solitude in a big house brings the unknown to the forefront. Especially doors – they loom, mysterious. What’ s behind them. When you’re alone, you can’t ask anyone, “hey, what do you think is behind that door?”
And then when there’s wind – they open, and shut. Or is it the wind?
My mom always made me believe in ghosts. “They’re not scary,” she would say, “if my dad came to see me as a ghost I’d be thrilled!” This always scared the shit out of me. Frankly, while I wished that I had known my grandfather, I didn’t want to see him back from the dead. It didn’t help that, so casually, without the slightest care of scaring out of my mind, my mother asserted that her dad inhabited the house my grandmother currently lived in, and probably watched me sleep at night because he loved me.
Seriously mom?! Why did you tell that to a little kid?
So when we visited grandma, on top of it all, my bedroom was in the basement. A large, musty, damp room with no natural light, I slept in the corner, the opposite corner of which was a dark, concrete laundry room. There were noises. And creepy little porcelain figures above my head (that had apparently belonged to my grandfather), random trinkets, black and white photographs of seemingly unhappy ancestors, all staring at me while I slept. Not to mention the gigantic moose antlers that jutted out from the wall across from me.
Every time I heard a noise, my heart rate skyrocketed. It’s him. He’s finally here. Oh my god. What do I do? What do I say? Go away!! Go away!! I’m not ready to meet a ghost, I don’t care who you are!! And then the noises would stop; I would lay alert for a time, and then gradually drift off into childhood oblivion.
Now, I await a different ghost.
And now I finally understood what my mother meant – why she wasn’t afraid of her dad.
In this big house, my mom lives. Coming home from college was jarring, unexpectedly harsh; for how could I be here, and she isn’t? But living in this space for a week now has, you could say, acquainted me with this supernatural of which my mom was always so cheerfully aware.
I’m not afraid; I’m excited.
Today, as I sat at my computer in the dining room, lazing in the sun, I heard doors open and shut in my mom and dad’s bedroom. That’s where she died. Yes, it’s windy here on the water, and yes, the pressure does do strange things to the door. But at the specific time of day when I’m used to hearing my mother primping in the bathroom, the doors always speak.
I don’t know what’s behind them. But I open them to see, after the noises. And every time, I hope with every part of me that I’ll see her.
But I suppose feeling her is enough. Now I know why she was never scared.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
I have a very specific memory of sitting outside next to a 10th century castle, that 2003 summer in France which incinerated the entire country, bicyclists and all. There was an umbrella over our heads, thank God; and red checked tablecloth, a (several) basket full of bread, a (few) bottles of wine, and sun-and-sweat (and wine) induced delirium. The ground was dusty. The waitress was the cook. She was ancient and overweight, and not particularly nice. Which was why it was such a splendid lunching experience.
So much of my childhood is epitomized by memories like this – blissful, sweaty outdoor meals and a language barrier. I am the luckiest person on earth. Or maybe the most burdened, because now that is the standard to which I hold my happiness – and its astoundingly difficult to meet.
There are two things that stand out about these memories: now, my mother; and always, cheese. Yes. I have reason to believe that my mother’s main reason for her absolutely illogical, unprecedented Francophilia was cheese. That particular afternoon may stick in my memory because it was a christening of sorts: this was the first time that I had ordered precisely what my mother ordered, to see what all the fuss was about – for she could (and did) talk for hours upon hours in syrupy, descriptive language about the beauty that was a salade au chevre chaude. So I got one, and so did she.
Maybe it was the sun, maybe it was the bacon, but that day I started one of my most delectable addictions that I have yet to shake. This salad. I swear my mom ordered it everywhere, every lunch, every time we went to France. And she always closed her eyes and made a particular “mmm” noise when she took the first bite, then she would lean back in her chair, fondle the stem of her wine glass, and smile. My brother and father’s distaste for any cheese with an aroma would always meet this look with a sneer, and my mothers reply, “You don’t know what you're missing.”
My love of cheese, especially hot goat cheese melted on toast, served over a bed of frisee with the occasional flourish of lardons, is something I developed later in life, completely thanks to my mom. I am thrilled that my brother has found a French girl who can rejoice in a stinky refrigerator harboring something old and moldy and altogether orgasmic. So I find it appropriate to write a post on this blog dedicated to cheese – I’m sure if you rifled through the archives, you’d be able to find a similar one written by my mother herself.
This salade au chevre chaud – pregnant with memories from all walks of life; I believe it started when I was seven and we were living outside of Lyon, France, in the small suburb St. Didier-au-mont-d’or. While my memories are fuzzy, I do have some amorphous recollections of a dimly lit dining room late at night, and a suspicious pile of greens with something overtly fragrant wafting over to my place. And the same expression approval from my mom, night after night, and me, associating the smell and the look with the same string of muffled French.
And then, the year 2000; we spent a week in Paris this time. Here, unfortunately, the salades au chevre chaud are of varying quality, of course, as big city bistros are not to be trusted as pastoral auberges in their quality. But in our many forays to Paris, my mother was never fully dissatisfied, only surprised at the variations she received. Sometimes, rather than toasted, the gooey, tangy deliciousness was breaded and fried; other times simply served warm and crumbled. The dressings varied, some more mustardy than others; the greens were just as frantic, from raddichio to arugula to frisee (but never romaine). Always constant was my mother’s obvious pleasure of warm goat cheese and crisp greens, with starch, whether (ideally) in the form of an adorable, crispy slice of baguette or in a delicate breadcrumb crust.
When we would return to the United States, her jet-lag was always accompanied by a rueful sorrow in the absence of said salad. Because while it is ubiquitous in France – I mean, cobb salad ubiquitous – it has not made it to Seattle, or even New York, in my experience. There are versions of it, warped plates of greens with a vain blob of semi-warmed cheese served – GASP – to the side of the salad, which, in my opinion, is blasphemous. The toasts should be an integral part of the salad, floating atop, making intimate contact with the greens so the warmth of the toast radiates, and the dressing softens its crisp edges. Because of its seeming nonexistence in the restaurant circuit, my mother spent years perfecting her own homemade version, which I’ve since learned as my go-to recipe.
But the 2003 trip – this was my introduction to this obsession, and at this auberge in Fougeres, next to that looming and haunting castle, ironic in its quaint surroundings, I had my first taste of the pleasure my mother knew we had all been missing. My satisfaction was obvious. From then on, whenever my dad was gone, and my mother and I were left to ourselves to prepare dinner, we made this salad. And to this day, a salade au chevre chaud is my ultimate comfort food. I probably prepare one at least 4 times a week, now more, just to evoke those poignant memories of my mother.
Even in making the salad at home, however, you can’t find cheese like you can find it in France. Very rarely is a cheese so unfortunately stinky that you know it will melt on toast like white gold; and if it is, it’s way out of a college students price range. Last weekend, however, I did find a Crottin at the Walla Walla farmers market that had the perfect rind, run, and cellar-y smell that I was willing to part with my pitiful salary for a week just to indulge. And, just like a certain cheese smelled up our entire cottage that 2003 summer in France (all the more troubling when its 110 degrees outside), this too smelled up my 5th floor apartment. I apologized to my roommate, but I begged for her forgiveness – for the love of goat cheese, and for the love of my mom.
Here’s a recipe – enjoy it, and with each bite, remember my mommy!
SALADE AU CHEVRE CHAUD
1 shallot, minced
2 teaspoons (or to taste) Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
Mixed greens, preferably frisee, arugula, and baby field greens
6 oz, or however much you want, high-quality goat cheese (the quality of the salad depends on this)
4 slices French baguette
Whisk together the shallot, mustard, and red wine vinegar. Slowly whisk in the olive oil in a small stream to emulsify.
Toast the baguette slices under a broiler on one side until golden brown. Remove from the oven Slice the goat cheese into 8 ½-inch to ¾-inch rounds, depending on how much cheese you want, and place one round on the untoasted side of each slice. Place back underneath the broiler and toast until bread is dark brown and cheese is melted through and browned and bubbling on top.
Toss the greens with the dressing. Put a generous helping of mixed greens on each of four plates, and top each salad with two goat cheese rounds.
Bon appétit, Maman – manger le bon fromage, ça sera toujours pour toi!!
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Because really, I’ll say it with the utmost pompousness – I had the best mom in the universe. We all think this to some degree, I’m sure, but I can say objectively that she did everything right (aside from not letting me snack between meals when I was little – she paid for it, because my hypoglycemia often erupted in tantrums).
But once that’s out, what to say about Mother’s Day? I’m sitting in front of two paragraphs that I’m not particularly proud of, that don’t really approach the volume of what I’m feeling right now, thinking - “I need to write about this. Everything will ferment in my mind and turn my life sour if I don’t get it out.” Because today is one of the “firsts”; we are taught to believe lasts are the most painful, but I’ve learned that lasts often go undetected, which is the sweetest blessing. If I had known last Mother’s day was the last, it would not have been Mother’s day, but a premature commemoration. If we had known December was her last Christmas, the beauty of it may have faltered . In my mom’s words, “Christmas is more than undelivered or unreceived presents. The most important Gift of all to us will never let us down.”
I think my mother, not just in her illness, had moments of clarity, during which she imparted to me the exact words I would need once her absence came. And so now I realize that Mother’s Day, like Christmas, is more than what you give your mother. It’s what your mother gives to you.
So I will be celebrating. The most genuine mother’s day I’ve had yet, probably.
How to celebrate, I’m not sure. The only thing I can think to do is remember.
Monday, May 04, 2009
It’s my mom telling me to lighten up. Not everything has to be dark and enigmatic – some things really are as simple as a tulip.
And so here I am, being sentimental, because goddamnit, remembering my mom is sentimental. It’s springtime. How delightfully ironic. The little book that I have that talks about loss suggests that I “do not resent springtime”. To be honest, the thought never even crossed my mind – the sun, the flowers, all feel like delicious hot water on a mosquito bite, gradually easing the pain without covering it up. A clichéd but indispensable reminder that life goes on, a warm, sunny world to make my bed. This is how I’ve been living – using the loss of my mother as a context, making every flower that much more meaningful, the blue of the sky like her eyes, the sun like one of her warm hugs.
There are very, very bitter times, too, and my body informs me of these physiologically – sleep has been an unreliable friend in recent times, present and warm and enveloping for a week and then fleeting and acrid the next. It takes enormous strength to allow the roller coaster to happen, because when any kind of control is attempted, the balance of grief (complex as it is) will crash and destroy the beauty I do see in the budding flowers. To step away from my own emotional life and let it run, independent, is the only way of living truthfully now.
I can only hope that I let this hole left in me become something beautiful. Right now, I am simply puzzled by it. I am still a child, lost in a field without her mother, using my base navigational skills to find my way; and now I have to let those skills become something. Let the hole become a shrine, a place of rest for her memory.
On a lighter note, I know that one of the best things about seeing so many of you at my mom’s service was connecting and telling stories, and taking on my new responsibility of being the “news –bearer” of our family. So I’ll start a little on this blog, and then I would appreciate e-mail addresses for there are many of you (her high school friends!) that I would love to keep up with in a more personal way.
I just had one major success in my life, which was passing the biggest audition of my college career! I had to audition to gain Performance status to my major, a very big honor that is reserved only for those who the music faculty think can appropriately pursue graduate school and eventually a professional career in performance. I made it, and now I can relax into my voice and know that I have the support to pursue my passion. I’m almost finished with my 3rd year at Whitman, and can’t wait to graduate and get out into that big scary world. This summer, I’ll be mostly in Seattle, where I’ll attend the Seattle Academy of Baroque Opera Accademia d’Amore program, a workshop exploring operatic literature from the 17th and 18th centuries. Several other opera programs have expressed interest and so I may spend part of the summer in Vancouver, or perhaps Hawaii, if all goes well!
My brother and Magali have been living, working, and playing hard in Seattle, and are now currently weighing their options for the future. The world is definitely their playground!
My wonderful father, aside from being constantly on the other line of the telephone for me, is doing his best to stop and smell the roses, as he’s gone back to work and been spending time with all of his wonderful friends who support him no matter what. We’ve all been planning a trip to Europe this summer which will be a much needed exploration and diversion from our hardships, and a great opportunity to spend time together.
Thanks for checking the blog, and make sure you do so from time to time! I have several ideas for future posts, so it won’t be going away completely!
Thursday, March 19, 2009
mem·o·ry \ˈmem-rē, ˈme-mə-\ noun
Middle English memorie, from Anglo-French memoire, memorie, from Latin memoria, from memor mindful; akin to Old English gemimor well-known, Greek mermēra care, Sanskrit smarati he remembers
A person’s power to remember things;
The power of the mind to remember things;
The mind regarded as a store of things remembered;
The capacity of a substance to return to a previous state or condition after having been altered or deformed;
something remembered from the past; a recollection
the length of time over which people continue to remember a person or an event
I spent a great deal of time – more than one would ever spend doing such a thing – attempting to find the right definition of this word. And I spent a great deal of time debating whether or not I wanted to explore memory’s verb, remember, as the correct context of honoring my mother. It was then that I discovered that “memory” is very different from “remembering”; the former is eternal, unmoving, and the latter is a choice, something that can be stopped and started. Memory cannot be stopped; and it starts every second of our waking lives, beginning again and again until all moments overlap to create the latticework of memory we call life, a woven artifact that knows no destruction. Death sets it free: memory becomes the present, no longer obscured, a finished product that deserves celebration and admiration.
These definitions suited my goal. I liked the use of the word power, as our ability to look back with our minds eye, to feel with our minds fingers and taste with our minds tongues is like a superpower. I didn’t really appreciate this until the loss of my mother became imminent, and I began embracing every little moment that made me think of her. When I put on my costume for the opera last Thursday, I smiled, hearing my mother say “You look so wispy on stage! Eat some cake!” and , as I put on my maid’s headscarf, “You have such a beautifully shaped head!”. And while those are things she had said in the past, I knew she was saying them now. The past had become the present. The shift is a thing of power – one under which all of us who knew my mom can live our lives in peace, making our own active memories and letting them touch and harmonize with the memories generated by my mom.
What I also liked about this definition was the evocation of return, as to a previous state after being altered. None of us want to be remembered in our weakness, which is why my mom’s passing is also a gift to her memory. While she was beautiful, courageous, strong, and full of humor throughout her short battle with cancer, the real essence of her being thrived for 55 years and 5 months prior, which is the image in which she deserves to live forever.
Which brings me to the exploration of her life. As her only daughter, I feel a compulsion to become her, to understand every fiber of her life as intimately as my own. This is not a mammoth task – I am already halfway there, as I am made of her flesh and blood, every cell in my body being born of hers. Physically, I’ve inherited much for which I can thank her, notably her darling figure and wavy hair (not so much a blessing on humid days); and some for which I do not want to thank her, such as my rough, disgusting, calloused feet. But to become her, internally – this is what awaits me, and this process begins with memory. I am sorry that I can only honor her from my own perspective; but perhaps the eyes of a child are the most honest, the most intimate, for there is no place for façade or misinterpretation in parenting.
The etymology of memory is key : from Latin memoria, mindful. Mindful. Conscious or aware, as my friend the dictionary asserts. To always be conscious and aware of my mother scares me, as the fear of her image becoming amorphous in the library of my mind is forefront. But this is where her beauty as a woman and a parent begins: she trusted me, she trusted every person that she loved, with complete assurance. And now I know that she’s trusting that I will be mindful forever. Really, it’s a scenario not much different than numerous occasions throughout my childhood:
“Mom, I’m leaving.”
And a pause, while she drank her coffee, read her Coastal Living magazine, watched Keith Olberman on the perpetual light fixture in our house, MSNBC.
“Don’t you want to know when I’ll be back?”
“I know when you’ll be back.” She said, putting down her accessories, coming over to grab me and kiss my forehead. “I trust you!” And then she would kiss me again and go about her business of enjoying life, and I would leave, calm knowing that she trusted me to do whatever was best. And I always did.
And she’s doing the same thing, right now. I can hear her: “You’ll be fine, sweetie. Everything happens for a reason,” her eternal mantra that I believe with every cell of my brain, that has brought me the most serene comfort in this hardest of times. “And besides, I’m much more comfortable now, I have a great view, and I can see the orcas WHENEVER I want!”
With the trust entrusted to me by this woman, I know that I’ll be fine, just like I was every time in my childhood, and I know that she is fine, better. It is my duty to share this peace with my family should they ever lose sight of it; for as I become her, I never will.
And, my favorite thing about my mother: she truly, TRULY did not care about what anyone thought. Perhaps this is why she left us early, knowing that something better awaited her, and she wasn’t about to stick around just because people thought she should. Especially since she gave us so much as a mother, wife, and friend, she knew deep down that her gifts would allow us to live on happily with her memory.
Her extreme confidence was no clearer than when she wore (upon numerous occasions) her heinous, yellower than the sun garden clogs to pick me up from school. Or when she walked into my French class, freshman year of high school, to bring me a cake for our class party, the day after her Lasex surgery, wearing – can I even say it without cringing? – a gargantuan EYE PATCH and acting as if nothing were at all unusual. Things to which I would always look at her, an incredulous expression on my face, and say – “SERIOUSLY.” And she would do nothing but laugh. “ I don’t care,” she would say, and I knew that she meant it – not an ounce of vanity. Just the truth. I am now realizing how extraordinarily fortunate I am to have been raised by a woman of this caliber, of this outstanding confidence, as all too often a mother’s insecurities detract from the full flowering of her children’s strength.
Not only did she parent with confidence but she gave us a model of her independent self to follow. Only a woman who dared to practice law in the 70s and 80s in a swamp of testosterone, only a woman who worked as the one of the first white teachers in an inner city elementary school in the south, only a woman who gave it all up with the most graceful pride to sit on the floor and play with her babies could harbor this self-assurance. As my career as a performer takes off, and I face critiques and demands daily, I am ever more blessed. From her I will continue to learn that my self-image can be whatever it wants to be – I answer to no one.
It is in this confidence that I am able to deal with the loss of my mother – because she gave me myself, she blessed me with the ability to deal with hardship. This, with my father’s incomparable optimism and his glorious sense of humor, both of which I can proudly claim inheritance, equip me for whatever the world will throw at me next. In my mother, I saw first hand what a human being is like when they have embraced loss; my childhood was peppered with stories and thoughts of her own father, whom she lost at an age not much older than my current age. But never did she speak of him without a smile, and a truly joyful grin at that. When I looked in the mirror this morning, smiling at the thought of my mom, I saw that exact same grin come on my face when I pictured her finally reunited with her beloved father. Her and I, mirror images of each other; now both spending our futures with our daddies.
And memory – the length of time over which people continue to remember – is poignantly ironic. If a length of time is continued , it loses length and becomes forever. Forever is the length of time I prefer to allot to my mother’s memory. Forever is quite a long time to try and fit into a single written tribute, which is why I could only start with a mere definition of the task ahead of me. So consider my entire life a tribute to this woman, as every step I take will be one she’s taking in heaven, and every song, every opera that I sing from now on is sung because I know she can hear music up there just a little bit better than talking.
When you look at me, see Janet Lane.
When you talk to me, hear her.
When you hug me, feel her; when you taste the food I cook, taste hers.
And when you hear me sing, please see her smiling. I won’t do it for any other reason.
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