Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Find a Creative Outlet

Throughout her adult life, my mother dabbled in a variety of art forms—drawing, painting, sketching, jewelry-making. As a young child, I remember her trying her hand at oils. She proudly framed her picture of Marcel Marceau, the famous French mime. It still hangs on her living room wall.

She began her silver jewelry-making phase when I left for college. She had always designed her jewelry—bringing her sketches to Tudor Jewelers on Linden Boulevard in Elmont. There are countless Garie originals, from necklaces and earrings, to pins and rings. On one of my trips to Israel, I asked what she would like from the Promised Land. “Eilat stones,” was her reply. I made my way to a souk and they found their way into pins and bracelets.

She continued her art at Hofstra University, where she audited oil and acrylic classes for many years enjoying the “senior” rate. She proudly brought home her work, eagerly showing them to us, much as a young child asking for our praise. Instead of hanging the latest on the refrigerator with a magnet, she would notice the ones we particularly liked and during the next visit, it was presented to us framed…with a flourish. I have several of her pieces on my kitchen and living room walls. When Russell favored animals, a framed pastel of a penguin appeared. When she and Perri entered their orange gift exchange, Perri became the proud owner of …what else? A still life of oranges. It sits in our entryway. For Doug, it was a bird, framed and now hanging over the piano in the living room. And me…what was I thinking when I said I liked her attempts to imitate Georgia O’Keefe. Her gifted picture hangs outside the bathroom, though perhaps it should be inside. Well, take a look for yourself. It’s supposed to be a close-up of a flower and its petals. But every time I look at it, I see…a vulva. Oy, Mom!

Really, what do you see? An eagle? or a Flower?

When she and my dad became snowbirds, travelling to Florida every winter for 30+ years, she insisted he needed to get out of the apartment and find an outlet. You guessed it. Pottery classes. The entire family has been the recipient of free-form plates, bowls, pencil holders and even toilet scrub brush holders, as well as molded and poured lidded birds, soap dishes, and pitchers—blues and reds for Bruce and Lorrie; purples, pinks, and greens for Doug and me. We even have a painted rabbi (thanks, Dad), which we bring out on selected Jewish holidays. Where I once thought of these attempts at “art” as an amusement, I now view all these creative gifts as acts of love. They both wanted to share their expressive selves with only those who were nearest and dearest to them.

Over the years, I, too, have had that need to express myself creatively and have also dabbled—pottery, stamping, beading, crocheting, photography, collages, and my latest—art journaling. It allows me to combine it all with my love of writing. I’m embarrassed to admit I have a closet full of paper, paints, stamps, torn sheets of magazines and newspaper, ribbons and beads, broken jewelry, glue, watercolors, and colored pencils, not to mention boxes of broken knickknacks. On vacations, I have been known to travel with one small black rolling suitcase filled with such stuff. You never know when that creative urge will strike!

And like my parents, I have bestowed my creative gifts on the ones I love. I hope that those recipients also will be wowed by my immense talent (not!) and view them as expressions of love that I want to share, and not as “Oh, oh. Mom’s at it again!”

As recently as two years after her surgery, Mom was still trying her hand at sketching. Pictures of her aides, self-portraits, and her grandchildren are in a pad I found in her kitchen. Her desire to express still there. Now, bedbound and barely able to speak or move, I’m sure she’d love to be able to have one last chance to let us know what she's thinking and feeling.

So, note to my older self: Don’t stop expressing yourself. Whether that creative outlet is through art or dance or music or even a beautifully set table, let your voice be heard…because you never know when you will lose it.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Thinking About the Future Today

Sometimes I'm so busy worrying about how I want to age, what I want to remember, what I want to jot down on my scraps of paper, that I loose track of the here-and-now.

The other night, I learned that joy is being taken away from a friend, who recently learned he has early onset Alzheimer's.

According to the Alzheimer's Association (www.alz.org), nearly four percent (about 200,000 people) of the 5.4 million Americans with Alzheimer's have early onset. Here are 10 warning signs offered by the association:

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life.
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems.
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work, or at leisure.
  4. Confusion with time or place.
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spacial relationships.
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing.
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.
  8. Decreased or poor judgment.
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities.
  10. Changes in mood and personality.

My friend and his wife (also a dear friend!) have filled their lives with good times. They are worldwide travelers and have collected memories and memorabilia from wherever they have gone. They go to plays and museums. They open their home to friends and strangers at holidays and throughout the year. Just passing through? They have a spare bed and are eager to offer you a place to stay; and while you're here, they are happy to show you the local sites. Their calendar and their hearts are full.

Lack of funds has never deterred them from taking in the world. Doug and I are always concerned about saving for that proverbial rainy day that we often forgo doing things in order to save just a little bit more (this habit long drilled into me by my Depression Era father). I once asked her about this.

"My mother always had a to-do list," she explained. "Places she wanted to go, things she wanted to accomplish, and then she died unexpectedly at age 59." My friend vowed that, since she never knew when her own time would be up, she would pack as much into life as she could. She didn't want to have regrets about not doing, not seeing, not using the good china so many of us keep in the closet waiting for a special occasion. And now, even facing tough times ahead, my friends continue to pack living into their lives.

I so admire them, and my scrap of paper is a note to myself on how to live my life from this day forward. I vow to live my life in the moment, to pack as much joy and experience into the now, to make time for those hobbies, people, travel I have been saving for, and to tackle the wish list now.

I, too, don't want to have regrets. I vow to open my home and heart to friends and strangers—just like my dear friends.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

An Interview with Grandma Garie

No postings since July...life has a way of getting in the way! But lots to think about during these many months that will surface in future posts. Today's entry is brought to you by Perri, who conducted an interview with my mother for one of her classes this past fall. When I'm old, I hope I remember as many details!

Oh, and happy Valentines Day to all my loves.

My Grandma Garie, 92 years old

Where were you born?
I was born in New York City, in the Harlem hospital on December 19, 1919.

What responsibilities did you have as a teenager to help with the family?
I had quite a few. My sisters and I had to be upstairs by 3:30 to 4:00 pm. We lived on the top floor of a five-story building because my mom did not like the idea of people walking on our heads.  My sisters and I peeled the potatoes and washed our hands.  We rotated each week who would set the table, take off from the table, and swept the floor. If my parents were not home yet, I would start my homework. Every week we all changed our linens. We cleaned the closets every season, and for holidays we polished the silverware.

Describe your family.
My father was a tailor, and my mother was a finisher in the garment industry. I was the oldest child and had two sisters. Helen is l to 2 years younger than me, and Miriam is 4 to 5 years younger than me. My grandma had 12 children when she was young. My uncles were married. I had an Aunt Lily who worked for the Hershey factory, where I helped package.

What kind of educational experiences did you and your siblings have?
I went to high school, college and graduate school. My sisters and I were in advanced classes. My sisters trained in schools for commercial subjects. When I went to Hunter College, I did not have to pay for anything except for the books. I was a science major who then taught science.  My sister Miriam went to college when she was older and had night classes.

How did you get to school?
I went to high school by trolley car. If I spent my trolley money, I had to walk. I commuted to college by train.

Any favorite teacher or subjects in school?
Oh yes. My gym teacher Ms. Pearl Satlien. She encouraged me to participate in as many activities as possible. On weekends, she took some of us to concerts, Broadway shows and dance groups and she paid. I got a very rounded background in Physical Education. I then majored in science because there was no Phys. Ed. major. I was also a gym teacher.

Science and music were my favorite subjects. My favorite science was biology. I loved singing and choir.

Did an historical event/situation change the structure within the family?
After my grandparents and father died, we celebrated holidays by my grandmas. But when my grandparents passed away, our family broke off into little groups to celebrate in different ways.

What was dating/courtship like?
Some levels were very difficult for me. The boys that I liked didn’t like me back. On the block I lived on, I liked Marty, but Marty didn’t like me, but his younger brother Julie liked me, so I liked him back. Seymour Weisberg worked for the New York Aquarium. It was my favorite date because he took me behind the scenes to show me what working at the aquarium was like.

Do you remember your first date? Where did you go? How did you get there?
Not really. I was a tomboy, so I wasn’t asked out on dates a lot. Instead the boys asked me to play sports and the girls asked me to play jump rope. The date with Seymour Weisberg was one of my first dates. We took the train to the aquarium.

What language was spoken in your home?
English. My mother and father spoke Yiddish when they didn’t want us to know what they were talking about. But we started to understand some of it.

What type of clothes did you wear when you were little?
My father was a tailor so he made us coats or something special to wear. In the Bronx Junior High School in the 1930s, we wore white middie blouse, a black tie, black skirt, and black stockings. No other junior high school wore this in New York City. We didn’t wear shorts to school, so we wore black bloomers under our skirts. We would also wear the bloomers for gym.

What were some of your favorite toys or activities?
I played jump rope, double Dutch rope, and the high lo rope game held by two people. The game was played by elevating the rope. We played ball games such as handball. The rhyme one two three O’Leary game was played with a ball. Clapsy was part of the one two three O’Leary game, where you clapped hands, or stomped your feet for stampsy clapsy. I played hide and go seek and box ball. We played potsy games with chalk. There were two variations: piece of folded can top or piece of class or a rock that was yours to use for the whole game. Potsy was the thing you threw.

How strict were your parents?
Very strict because they were both working. After school, we put our books upstairs and had a glass of milk and cookies and then we could go downstairs and play the previous games. We had to be back up in the house by 4:30 and wash our hands and set the table for supper. When I was older, I had to peel so many potatoes and put them in the water. I had to practice for one hour on the violin. There were no strict rules because we were doing things all the time and there was always homework.

Did your family go on any trips every year?
My father’s older sister and her family owned a farm in Fitchville, Connecticut. We would go there for two weeks and stay in Tanta Sadie’s facilities and work on her farm. We swam in the Connecticut River, hiked, picked wild strawberries, and watched the cows get milked. My mother and father had a house in Coney Island for about three years, and we went to school there. I went on the boardwalk and swam in the ocean. Also we went to Manhattan to visit Bubba on 98th street and Park Avenue.

How religious was your family?
My grandparents were very religious, and my father and mother were religious. We went to temple for the holidays. Momma lit the candles for shabbas. I didn’t really have any non-Jewish friends.