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The Thanks of a Grateful Nation

the veterans flag
The Veterans Flag

The Veterans Flag

My personal tribute to veterans everywhere, beginning with my father, veteran of WWII.

This is a small portion of the flag I fly on appropriate holidays, and sometimes when I just feel like it. It’s the flag that was presented to my mother at my father’s funeral, he a veteran of the U.S. Army and deserving of the honors at the death of a veteran. He’d been cremated so there was no coffin to drape, no taps or honor guard, just a few of his Army buddies were there but in the end it was the funeral director who handed the folded flag to my mother, not quite protocol, but the recognition was appreciated.

My mother gave the flag to me; she had a nylon flag that had flown over the White House that our congressperson had given her and she found it much easier to raise on the flag pole. I could see why—this flag is about 5′ x 8′ and sewn from heavy cotton bunting, and once when it was caught in a heavy downpour it was so heavy it nearly knocked me down as I pulled it from the pole and tried to pile it in my arms; I don’t think anyone would find it an act of disrespect to have tossed it in the dryer, and it did not shrink one inch.

Extremely well-made, and in the USA no less, the individual strips of fabric that make the stripes are stitched together with flat felled seams that fold in all the edges and stitch two seams across the bulk to ensure strength, and this stitched in the same way to the blue field for the stars. Each star is thickly embroidered onto the blue field, raised above the surface on both sides with the thickness of the threads. The hems, binding and grommets are likewise quality materials and stitching. Of all the other fabric items I handle every day, this flag always feels very different to me as I carefully unfold it and attach it to the special pole I have to ensure it doesn’t touch the ground when hanging. Instead of flapping in the breeze or wind, it waves gracefully as if under its own strength. It has a dignity all its own. I am glad I have this flag and will always take care of it in honor of my father who served in World War II.

My father in his uniform.

My father in his uniform.

Alfons J Kazmarski, Army of the United States Technician Fourth Grade, 115th Quartermaster Bakery Company, Asiatic Pacific Theater, India, enlisted 11 May 1942, discharged 21 Mar 1946.

Like so many others in this huge group of baby boomers, my father served in WWII, and like so many who served returned with untold stories and unhealed wounds; it’s actually presumed that the Parkinson’s Disease that shortened his life took hold of him as he fought the fevers of some tropical illness when serving in India.

But because of his service and my mother’s memories, I always felt like WWII was my war too, for better and for worse. But the war was not done when they came home. It changed their lives, and so it changed ours too. At their return, by their industry, the United States was transformed from an impoverished nation of immigrants to a wealthy and productive nation of members who would all win their place at the table, though for some the struggle continues.

And possibly because of the service of my parents’ generation I am a grateful daughter, and I fly my father’s flag with pride, especially on Veteran’s Day.

. . . . . . .

All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in using one in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of this image or a product including this image, check my Etsy shop or Fine Art America profile to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit “purchasing” for availability and terms.

Friendship Friday on Create With Joy

Friendship-Friday-Button-150


A Day In the Woods: 2011

Looking Forward
Looking Forward

Looking Forward

One of my favorite photos from a visit by my great niece and nephews a few years ago, “Looking Forward” was included in my exhibit, “Sun Shadow Ice & Snow: Seasons Along the Panhandle Trail 2015“.

I enjoyed this day so much, and this photo has become one of my favorites of all time for so many reasons: the literal and metaphorical meanings behind my great-niece standing in shallow water, looking upstream, the ripples rolling out from her, she is growing up; the colors and spatters of sun on the water, and how much she reminded me of myself at that age, going barefoot and carrying my shoes, which I still do as I was standing barefoot in the water behind her with my camera, and the practicality of a bathing suit she can grow into, tied in a knot in the back because it was a little too big for her right then. I have a large print of this in my home to enjoy and wonder how I caught such a moment.

I spent a Sunday afternoon in the woods along the Panhandle Trail with my great-niece and and great-nephew, 9 and 11, just to run around, explore, be outdoors and make up our own activities with whatever was there—paths up and down hills, wildflowers, trees, a stream (Robinson Run), a trail made from an ex-train track (rail-to-trail), and an absolutely perfect day.

And we did. We did everything. I was so happy to have someone to play with, a few sun-warmed black raspberries and muck on our feet. Above is one of my favorite photos for the light, the color, the composition and the memories; that might have been me forty-odd years ago wading in a stream barefoot, carrying my shoes. It’s my great-niece Cassidy, just as fearless as I was then, and we were joined by her brother Kyler. We enjoyed exploring the woods, but we liked being in the water best. They live in Savannah, GA now, 88 degrees “is kind of like what it’s like in the spring,” but their streams happen to have alligators so they can’t go swimming like you can here.

And the rope swing…there is nothing like swinging on a rope swing, even if you don’t go too high it’s just that feeling of freedom, letting go, waving your feet around—the things that usually carry you around are off the ground!

Yes, their great-aunt was right there in the woods and the water and the rope swing with them, who do you think showed the way and was the first in the water and the first on the swing? But I had the camera so there were no photos of me.

The white signature you see will not appear on any prints purchased. I sign each print by hand.

SHIPPING

Shipping within the US is included in all the prices listed. All shipping is via Priority Mail. Prints are shipped flat in a rigid envelope. Canvases are shipped in a box to fit with padding. Since this original is small it is also shipped in a box with extra padding.

FRAMED PRINTS

The photo is matted with Arctic White acid-free mat and a solid wood white frame. Frames may vary in style and finish, but are always about 1″ wide. Framed prints are signed on the photo and on the mat.

Other custom framing options are also available for a special quote. Please ask if you’d like another option.

PHOTO PRINTS

Prints are made on acid-free gloss photo paper using archival digital inks. I usually leave an inch or two of white around the print for easier frame fitting. All prints are countersigned by me.

Larger sizes are available than what I have listed, so please ask if you want a special size.

CANVAS PRINTS

I usually have at least one of the smaller sizes of canvases on hand, but order larger ones as they are ordered here because customers often want a custom size. Smaller canvases are a 3/4″ in depth, Canvases 12 x 16 and larger are 1-1/2” in depth. I set them up so the image runs from edge to edge, then the sides are black or white or sometimes I slip in a color that coordinates with the painting. This canvas is wraps around the sides.

Shipping cost is included.  You can find the photo in my Etsy shop.

……….

Included in Inspire Me Monday on Create With Joy.

Inspire-Me-Monday-Button-1502

0/If you’d like to be informed about new artwork plus sales and specials before everyone else, please sign up for my Art & Merchandise e-newsletter. In September I’m planning an autumn-themed artwork sale as well as a review of an exhibit from 2008 entitled “My Home Town”, with a few originals as well as many prints still available, and a special set of notecards. “Art & Merchandise” is a separate list from my Creative Cat e-newsletter if you’re already signed up for that one.

All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in using one in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of this image or a product including this image, check my Etsy shop or Fine Art America profile to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit Ordering Custom Artwork for more information on a custom greeting card, print or other item.


Cloaking, Clothing and Fireworks

    Cloaking, Clothing and Fireworks

Cloaking, Clothing and Fireworks

My mother’s birthday was July 7; born in 1925 she would have been 90 years old this year. Through the years we usually celebrated it along with our July 4 festivities, and this holiday and something about summer clothing reminds me of her. I originally wrote this essay in 2013.

. . . . . . .

I was in K-Mart the other day, just a quick run for a fan they had on sale, one item, intentionally going near closing time so I’d be in and out. I walked in the store and stopped to get my bearings, trying to remember the department the fans would be in and the quickest way to get there.

I walked right into the thick of sleeveless summer tops in gingham with white collars, striped tank tops, colorful crinkle cotton capri pants with an elastic waistband in the women’s clothing department right by the front door. Without taking a step toward them I assessed the style, the quality and the size, and my eye wandered over it all, putting outfits together for my mother.

Though she died in 2011, I still catch myself subconsciously shopping for her as I did for most of the decade she lived at home or in personal care after her lung cancer surgery, often too ill or unwilling to go out. I would take her shopping seasonally when she felt well enough, or we would stop at one store or another after a doctor appointment. Most of the time, though I am not a frequent shopper, I would pick up things for her as I saw them in my own shopping trips, like this one to K-Mart, drawn to a rack of clothes tailored a particular way. “Wow,” I still think to myself, “Mom would love that,” even if I walked nowhere near the clothes.

I knew my mother’s taste, very different from my own flowered skirts and bright colors and my inability to wear white or even solid colors for they’d quickly have some art materials or house paint or grass stains. My mother could wear all white without a spot, and preferred pants and more fitted and somewhat tailored clothes, kind of a business casual, sometimes with a bright accent color thrown in for effect. Even with fewer choices while living in personal care, her outfit would be just so, the hem on her capris rolled into a tiny cuff, the white collar on her orange and white gingham top standing up just a bit, and a white cardigan sweater draped just casually her shoulders, arms swinging free.

But when I visited she would not be wearing the outfit I had purchased, often in more than one size in case the first choice didn’t fit. There was always something wrong with the clothes I chose and took to her with such excitement. “Mom, look what I found!” just as I had done all through childhood with rocks and bugs and feathers and flowers and, of course, kittens.

Instead, I returned the things I’d bought, capris, tops, cardigans, socks, underwear, there was always something just not right about them. Or she would accept an item, then later tell me it wasn’t right, after I’d taken off all the tags and written her name inside the collar or waistband so that it would be identified if it ended up in the laundry, and couldn’t be returned. Yet I would often find her in a similar outfit that someone else had kindly purchased for her, one of the care workers who especially liked her.

However it happened, at least she had new clothes, and I would do my best to reimburse the person who’d bought them because often they refused. I had ideas but never figured out why the things I brought just weren’t right, and I don’t think my mother did either, though I think we both knew it didn’t have much to do with the clothes themselves. I tried to give my mother more than clothes, and she didn’t readily accept that either, yet I was the one she had turned to, even when I was a child. Through the years, the only gift I found that suited her was to purchase a flat of flowers and plant them for her for Mother’s Day each year.

Where the clothes were concerned, even though I knew she would likely decide the clothes didn’t suit her, I still bought them, and we would go through the same little drama each time. I simply could not go without making the effort; at the time I whined whenever I got the chance, but now, for the most part, I’ve forgotten the drama and only remember the excitement of finding something I thought she would like.

And here I am today, still putting outfits together for her. Still trying to please my mother? I think it had just become a habit, and somehow, even though she rarely accepted any of these findings from me, I knew underneath her difficult exterior she liked what I’d bought but found things hard to accept. As time went on and her eyesight gave in to macular degeneration and she could not see the stains and wear on her favorite clothes, she still dressed the same, or thought she did. The aides at the places she lived made sure to cajole her to wear something else when they knew we were going out.

My mother’s birthday is July 7, born in 1925 she would have been 90 years old this year. We often celebrated her birthday when we celebrated July 4, with a big cookout on her beloved in-ground gas grill and later watch the fireworks. We lived at the top of a hill and could see not only our own municipal fireworks from the park below but also other displays from many other communities around us. People would often come to our street to watch the fireworks, and cars would stop on the interstate on the other side of the valley to watch the display as well, and each year we would remark on how many cars we could see pulled over onto the berm to watch and how unfair it was as cars with flashing red and blue lights would move in and make them disperse.

On my way home from K-Mart, I drove that stretch of interstate and saw the fireworks display in progress, and I was one of those cars who pulled over. I’m not so interested in fireworks, but they added a grand finale to a day of memories.

. . . . . . . .

I posted on July 4 a photo from my garden of a female Tiger Swallowtail butterfly in her black form. This dark cloaking mimics the poisonous Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, and predators have adapted to avoid them, so the black form female Tiger Swallowtail keeps herself safe though she is not at all dangerous.

The day was quiet and for some reason full of memories and contemplation as I worked in my garden and yard, and seeing a butterfly, which I’ve always associated with the spirits of loved ones, was not a surprise in those circumstances. Continuing the day to the clothing and the fireworks, I realized the butterfly, at least to me, represented my mother, who wore a cloak of personality to protect herself from perceived dangers, including me. I have my ideas why, but I am glad she is finally where she doesn’t need to protect herself anymore.

I’ve written other essays about my mother, read them here.

. . . . . . .

When I began this blog I had intended to use it for the occasional essay; well, more than occasional, I had also wanted to encourage myself to write more essays and short stories more frequently, especially as I was in the thick of caring for my mother in her declining years. It was that very caregiving that kept me from taking the time to write. I’ve been drafting articles, and have much to explore where my parents are concerned.

. . . . . . .

All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in using one in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of this image or a product including this image, check my Etsy shop or Fine Art America profile to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit “purchasing” for availability and terms.

 


Father’s Day

My father and me, spring 1964.
man laughing

My father smiling and laughing, summer 1960

I find it sweet to see all the tributes on Father’s Day, even the simple one-line thank yous, pictures of dads who look like anyone’s dad, just everyday ordinary people who were heroes to at least one person. I see comments that are not so positive as well, and am glad for the honesty of those of us who have had parents who were not heroes. Growing up in the rigid sameness of the early 60s it wasn’t easy to hear friends talk about not only what their parents had done for them, but for what they did together, and to be left out of that group as well as others that required a parent’s assistance and participation. Even if it’s never existed, it’s part of the human condition that you want that bond with each of your parents. Seeing it in action even as an adult is bittersweet.

As I’d mentioned, my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, or Parkinson Syndrome, in the early 80s, but we traced the symptoms back decades before that once the doctors explained the disease to us.

man holding child

My father and me, spring 1964.

The man you see at the top was smiling, wearing shades with slicked-back hair in the summer of 1960, the summer before I was born. I found it in my brother’s baby book, surprised, because I’d never seen my father look so animated. The baby in this photo here is me, and the man holding me was my father in spring 1964, just a few years later, in the only photo of my father and me. It might seem that he’s in a serious moment here, showing me something, but that was the only face I ever knew, older, expressionless, a slow-moving, quiet, unspeaking person.

I never saw the laughing man above, never heard him laugh or even smile that broadly. Whatever had happened between 1960 and 1964 had masked over the person underneath, and it wasn’t until 1985, when his medication had been settled, that I even held a conversation with him, though he really didn’t know who I was.

What had happened in that time? He’d had surgeries in previous years for an ulcer and for a badly broken leg that never truly healed, yet he worked on his feet in the bakery six nights a week. Treatments and surgeries for each condition were repeatedly necessary, each time leaving him with, we know now, his brain less capable of producing enough dopamine to fuel mental and physical activity. My mother’s major depression after my birth no doubt took its toll on him as well, and his deteriorating condition may have even been partly responsible for her depression. Low-wage jobs, never enough money, increasing debilitation, did that contribute to it?

Possibly other things contributed. I know that my father did not finish school, in fact I hear he didn’t finish the sixth grade; it was 1931 and the Depression, his family was losing their bakery business. It wasn’t unusual at that time for children to quit school to contribute what they could. He did get a general equivalency diploma, or GED, when he joined the Army in WWII, and after the war he tried to start a bakery business and to learn other skills in baking through correspondence courses, but was unsuccessful. Was this a part of it as well?

So my father was there, but he was absent. He wasn’t cruel or angry or abusive, he just…wasn’t. How do you give that a one-word description? “He was __________.” Or perhaps, “He wasn’t __________.” To describe as others do on Father’s Day what he was to me, a person who wore a mask of illness, who was there beneath the covering, but whose actual presence I missed by months, I’m just not sure. It doesn’t matter, really.

I do know, though, where I got my dimples when I smile.

. . . . . .

All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in using one in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of this image or a product including this image, check my Etsy shop or Fine Art America profile to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit “purchasing” for availability and terms.


Thanksgiving 1983

Thanksgiving 1983
Thanksgiving 1983

Thanksgiving 1983

My father and mother sitting at the table after we were done eating Thanksgiving dinner, 1983. My father is 68, my mother is 62. My sister is in the chair to the left holding her youngest daughter, and her older daughter is just visible on the right. I remember every cup and plate on the table, handling them and eating off of them, setting the table, my mother’s favorite blue coffee mug, the frosted highball glasses we used for drinks, the set of wooden posts behind them that divided the two rooms, the draperies and sheers and pendant lamp and more, all those things that weren’t things then, but a part of the everyday life I’d known.

I had just graduated from college in May that year, and bought my camera in October and I remember taking photos that day, happy I could start recording memories. The following year my father was diagnosed with lung cancer and Parkinson Syndrome and or course, everything began to change, as things would have changed even without that. But there is a Thanksgiving.

. . . . . . .

All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission.


Ten Years Later: After the Flood

flooded carnegie
flooded carnegie

Second and Main Streets in Carnegie on September 17, 2004.

On September 17, 2004, Hurricane Ivan stayed a little too long in our valley, dumping torrents of rain on our hillsides, already sodden from the visits of three other hurricane remnants in the month prior.

I’d watched Chartiers Creek flood from the time I was a child, and not only did I go to the Catholic school just blocks from the creek but my father’s family lived in the flood plain and nearly every spring there was water in the basement and in the streets, and we would drive to the bridge over the creek at Carothers Avenue and watch the thundering brown water writhe just below our feet on the walkway of the bridge.

When I was young, I was near enough to a bend in this creek to leave our house on the hill and run down through the old pasture to the valley below, along the road and the railroad tracks and to the creek, walking alongside its rippling path or even in the creek bed in the dryness of midsummer. In the late 70s an engineered solution to control the floods dredged and widened the channel, and for 35 years, there were no floods at all, the pollution in the creek from all the industries along its banks cleared up, and we watched the native flora and fauna return as we canoed the channel. Those ramblings with my friend, the creek, have been the inspiration for much of my creative efforts in landscape painting and photography, my poetry and stories, and became the theme for my series of poetry readings and the title of the very first, as well as the folio of my poetry, Paths I Have Walked.

So this flood was a huge shock. We heard later the flood control plan had protected us up to a “100-year flood”, and many of these had passed with no flooding, but the flood we’d experienced was a “500-year flood”, and indeed in all the memories and records of floods in Carnegie, the water had never been this high, rising in a matter of hours in the afternoon and into the night to fill the first floor of some homes on low ground, and as high as eight feet in some areas of Main Street, wiping out nearly every business along Main Street for up to three months.

The flood changed us all. Many people and businesses truly took years to recover, and some of them never truly recovered at all. My godparents lived in the family’s fine house that had weathered so many floods but floodwater had never entered the first floor, and at their age they were trapped on the second floor with no power, their portable oxygen running low. Though they were rescued and lived with a daughter for a month while we cleaned up the house for them to move back, it was temporary as they realized the house was difficult for them, and they moved to an apartment a few months later.

. . . . . . .

After the Flood

Dedicated to the people and places of the Chartiers Valley after the flood of September 17, 2004

After a day of rain
the creek has been rising
and by night it thunders down its channel
writhing around its curves like a medieval dragon,
pulling at its banks and anything overhanging,
carrying whatever it can grasp along the way,
and I have seen this creature before
in the creek’s rise and fall,
now tamed by engineering,
filling its channel to the brim, then receding
each spring and summer
and not felt threatened but fascinated
by its power, power not of humans,
power to change absolutely to a form
unrecognizable from its usual character,
yet always returning to the quiet,
sleepy nature which I had explored from childhood.

But I am remembering another night
when the creek refused to stop at its brim
but spilled over and over and over,
thundering down all the hillsides came its sustenance
tributaries filling their valleys as never before,
rushing to join with the writhing creature,
mixing and turning and thrashing and smashing anything in its path
so drunk with its own power
that it forgot all those who loved it,
who lived on its banks and in its valleys,
listened to its soft murmuring voice in the darkness of a summer night,
but even as I pleaded with the creature to stop, it had gone too far,
my friend, my refuge, how could you betray me,
I knew that the creek would not listen,
it was no creature gone on a rampage
it was simply following its nature, and this one time
it defeated our intelligence with its simple power
and all our homes, possessions, lives
were nothing in its path.

The next day the beast no longer raged,
the sun shone and the air was mild,
and the autumn continued like any autumn before,
but we were changed, all of us,
the long journey ahead, longer than we knew
and our place here will never be the same.

poem © 2008 Bernadette E. Kazmarski

Read more poetry here on Today or visit my poetry page to see more about my poetry and other writing, and to purchase Paths I Have Walked.


poetry book

Paths I Have Walked, collected poems.

I’m proud to offer a folio of my poetry

Paths I Have Walked: the poetry and art of Bernadette E. Kazmarski

FROM FOUR ANNUAL POETRY READINGS AT ANDREW CARNEGIE FREE LIBRARY & MUSIC HALL IN CARNEGIE, PA

People who attended one or more of my poetry readings encouraged me to publish some of my poetry in a book from the beginning.

Once I completed my 2010 poetry reading, my fourth featuring the final piece of artwork in the “Art of the Watershed” series, I decided it was time to publish something and it should be those four poetry readings.

Poetry books are not best-sellers; it’s difficult to convince a publisher to risk effort on a beginning poet, and while self-publishing is the best option it’s not inexpensive and once you’ve got the book, someone’s got to market it. Plus, I’m a graphic designer and I designed books for years, and I want things my way.

All of this is a recipe for a little bit of trouble, but I decided the book was well worth the effort so I designed the book myself and had a set printed—no ISBN or anything formal, but it’s a start! I’m really excited to offer it.

Books are 4.25″ x 11″, 40 pages of information and poetry, with glossy covers featuring “Dusk in the Woods” and little thumbnails of all four pieces in “Art of the Watershed”.

$8.00 each plus $2.50 shipping (they are oversized for mailing first class).

You can order one on my poetry page, or in my Marketplace.

About the books and the poetry readings

My biggest inspiration for poetry, prose and artwork is the world right around me, and I enjoy the opportunity to share it from the perspective of one who walks and hikes and bikes and carries a camera, art materials and journal everywhere—even around the house—so the inspirations are fresh.

In December, 2006, two of my poems were chosen to be published on a section of the Prairie Home Companion website entitled “Stories From Home/First Person” for submissions of writing about the place we feel most familiar. I’m a long-time listener to PHC and reader of Garrison Keillor’s books as well as a daily listener to The Writer’s Almanac featuring news about writers and writing and of interest to writers as well as a poem, all compiled and read by Keillor himself. I  was astonished to find my poems were among the first chosen from apparently thousands, and so happy to be able to share them with a potential audience of so many similarly inclined writers and readers.

My poetry readings and art exhibits were the vision of Maggie Forbes, executive director of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, after learning of my publishing of those two poems. I owe her many thanks for encouraging me to present this combination of my visual and literary art, a first for me. Each year I am invited back to read my poetry and exhibit my artwork. I love that building, every inch of it, and the opportunity to bring people in to visit is an honor.


Cloaking, Clothing and Fireworks

memories of mother, butterfly on phlox

Cloaking, Clothing and Fireworks

When I began this blog I had intended to use it for the occasional essay; well, more than occasional, I had also wanted to encourage myself to write more essays and short stories more frequently, especially as I was in the thick of caring for my mother in her declining years. It was that very caregiving that kept me from taking the time to write. I’ve been drafting articles, and rather than go back the beginning to catch up with issues in the order in which they arose, I am beginning now.

. . . . . . .

I was in K-Mart the other day, just a quick run for a fan they had on sale, one item, intentionally going near closing time so I’d be in and out. I walked in the store and stopped to get my bearings, trying to remember the department the fans would be in and the quickest way to get there.

I walked right into the thick of sleeveless summer tops in gingham with white collars, striped tank tops, colorful crinkle cotton capri pants with an elastic waistband in the women’s clothing department right by the front door. Without taking a step toward them I assessed the style, the quality and the size, and my eye wandered over it all, putting outfits together for my mother.

Though she died in 2011, I still catch myself subconsciously shopping for her as I did for most of the decade she lived at home or in personal care after her lung cancer surgery, often too ill or unwilling to go out. I would take her shopping seasonally when she felt well enough, or we would stop at one store or another after a doctor appointment. Most of the time, though I am not a frequent shopper, I would pick up things for her as I saw them in my own shopping trips, like this one to K-Mart, drawn to a rack of clothes tailored a particular way. “Wow,” I’d think to myself, “Mom would love this.”

I knew my mother’s taste, very different from my own flowered skirts and bright colors and my inability to wear white or even solid colors for they’d quickly have some art materials or house paint or grass stains. My mother could wear all white without a spot, and preferred pants and more fitted and somewhat tailored clothes, kind of a business casual, sometimes with a bright accent color thrown in for effect. Even with fewer choices while living in personal care, her outfit would be just so, the hem on her capris rolled into a tiny cuff, the white collar on her orange and white gingham top standing up just a bit, and a white cardigan sweater draped just casually her shoulders, arms swinging free.

But when I visited she would not be wearing the outfit I had purchased, often in more than one size in case the first choice didn’t fit. There was always something wrong with the clothes I chose and took to her with such excitement. “Mom, look what I found!”

Instead, I returned the things I’d bought, capris, tops, cardigans, socks, underwear, there was always something just not right about them. Or she would accept an item, then later tell me it wasn’t right, after I’d taken off all the tags and written her name inside the collar or waistband so that it would be identified in the laundry, and couldn’t be returned. Yet I would often find her in a similar outfit that someone else had kindly purchased for her, one of the care workers who especially liked her.

Whatever, at least she had new clothes, and I would do my best to reimburse the person who’d bought them. I had ideas but never figured this out, and I don’t think my mother did either, though I think we both knew it didn’t have much to do with the clothes themselves. I tried to give my mother more than clothes, and she didn’t readily accept that either, yet I was the one she had turned to, even when I was a child. Through the years, the only gift I found that suited her was to purchase a flat of flowers and plant them for her for Mother’s Day each year.

Where the clothes were concerned, even though I knew she would likely decide the clothes didn’t suit her, I still bought them, and we would go through the same little drama each time. I simply could not go without making the effort; at the time I whined whenever I got the chance, but now, for the most part, I’ve forgotten the drama and only remember the excitement of finding something I thought she would like.

And here I am today, still putting outfits together for her. Still trying to please my mother? I think it had just become a habit, and somehow, even though she rarely accepted any of these findings from me, I knew underneath her difficult exterior she liked what I’d bought but found things hard to accept. As time went on and her eyesight gave in to macular degeneration and she could not see the stains and wear on her favorite clothes, she still dressed the same, or thought she did. The aides at the places she lived made sure to cajole her to wear something else when they knew we were going out.

My mother would have been 89 years old today, July 7, 2014. We often celebrated her birthday when we celebrated July 4, with a big cookout on her beloved in-ground gas grill and later watch the fireworks. We lived at the top of a hill and could see not only our own municipal fireworks from the park below but also other displays from many other communities around us. People would often come to our street to watch the fireworks, and cars would stop on the interstate on the other side of the valley to watch the display as well, and each year we would remark on how many cars we could see pulled over onto the berm to watch and how unfair it was as cars with flashing red and blue lights would move in and make them disperse.

On my way home from K-Mart, I drove that stretch of interstate and saw the fireworks display in progress, and I was one of those cars who pulled over. I’m not so interested in fireworks, but they added a grand finale to a day of memories.

. . . . . . . .

I posted on July 4 a photo from my garden of a female Tiger Swallowtail butterfly in her black form. This dark cloaking mimics the poisonous Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, and predators have adapted to avoid them, so the black form female Tiger Swallowtail keeps herself safe though she is not at all dangerous.

The day was quiet and for some reason full of memories and contemplation as I worked in my garden and yard, and seeing a butterfly, which I’ve always associated with the spirits of loved ones, was not a surprise in those circumstances. Continuing the day to the clothing and the fireworks, I realized the butterfly, at least to me, represented my mother, who wore a cloak of personality to protect herself from perceived dangers, including me. I have my ideas why, but I am glad she is finally where she doesn’t need to protect herself anymore.


Father’s Day

My father and me, spring 1964.
man laughing

My father smiling and laughing, summer 1960

I find it sweet to see all the tributes on Father’s Day, even the simple one-line thank yous, pictures of dads who look like anyone’s dad, just everyday ordinary people who were heroes to at least one person. I see comments that are not so positive as well, and am glad for the honesty of those of us who have had parents who were not heroes. Growing up in the rigid sameness of the early 60s it wasn’t easy to hear friends talk about not only what their parents had done for them, but for what they did together, and to be left out of that group as well as others that required a parent’s assistance and participation. Even if it’s never existed, it’s part of the human condition that you want that bond with each of your parents. Seeing it in action even as an adult is bittersweet.

As I’d mentioned, my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, or Parkinson Syndrome, in the early 80s, but we traced the symptoms back decades before that once the doctors explained the disease to us.

man holding child

My father and me, spring 1964.

The man you see at the top was smiling, wearing shades with slicked-back hair in the summer of 1960, the summer before I was born. I found it in my brother’s baby book, surprised, because I’d never seen my father look so animated. The baby in this photo here is me, and the man holding me was my father in spring 1964, just a few years later, in the only photo of my father and me. It might seem that he’s in a serious moment here, showing me something, but that was the only face I ever knew, older, expressionless, a slow-moving, quiet, unspeaking person.

I never saw the laughing man above, never heard him laugh or even smile that broadly. Whatever had happened between 1960 and 1964 had masked over the person underneath, and it wasn’t until 1985, when his medication had been settled, that I even held a conversation with him, though he really didn’t know who I was.

What had happened in that time? He’d had surgeries in previous years for an ulcer and for a badly broken leg that never truly healed, yet he worked on his feet in the bakery six nights a week. Treatments and surgeries for each condition were repeatedly necessary, each time leaving him with, we know now, his brain less capable of producing enough dopamine to fuel mental and physical activity. My mother’s major depression after my birth no doubt took its toll on him as well, and his deteriorating condition may have even been partly responsible for her depression. Low-wage jobs, never enough money, increasing debilitation, did that contribute to it?

Possibly other things contributed. I know that my father did not finish school, in fact I hear he didn’t finish the sixth grade; it was 1931 and the Depression, his family was losing their bakery business. It wasn’t unusual at that time for children to quit school to contribute what they could. He did get a general equivalency diploma, or GED, when he joined the Army in WWII, and after the war he tried to start a bakery business and to learn other skills in baking through correspondence courses, but was unsuccessful. Was this a part of it as well?

So my father was there, but he was absent. He wasn’t cruel or angry or abusive, he just…wasn’t. How do you give that a one-word description? “He was __________.” Or perhaps, “He wasn’t __________.” To describe as others do on Father’s Day what he was to me, a person who wore a mask of illness, who was there beneath the covering, but whose actual presence I missed by months, I’m just not sure. It doesn’t matter, really.

I do know, though, where I got my dimples when I smile.

. . . . . .

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Memorial Day

Memorial Day

Memorial Day

Even though Memorial Day was founded to memorialize the losses of the Civil War, it came to be an important day of remembrance for our losses in successive wars as conflicts came nearly every other decade in the century following. I always focus on WWII, since that was my parents’ experience, all the male relatives in my parents’ generation served in that conflict, and the experience marked my own life as the generation following. My father suffered no emotional trauma in combat or in service, but another trauma to his body that we didn’t learn about until near his death that marked his life after service as well as that of my immediate family.

The collage above includes a photo of the veteran’s flag from my father’s funeral, a treasured artifact of mine, as well as the WWII section of the military wall in the Historical Society of Carnegie which bears hundreds of familiar names—names of businesses and owners of businesses, the fathers and uncles of kids I grew up with, and even husbands and brothers of others I’ve come to know as an adult. My father’s name, Alfons, and his brother’s names, Richard and Henry (his parents dispensed with the European names after the first three children), his cousin’s names, and the names of those who would intermarry with sisters and cousins are there as well.

The other image is a rare and interesting artifact from my godparents’ house, which had been the house where my father grew up, a hand-tinted photo of my father in uniform, and it’s so fragile I didn’t want to take it apart to scan it. His younger brother, who signed up at the same time, is to the right, but they weren’t photographed together and aren’t in proportion to each other. Their images were combined and hand-tinted like an early Photoshop collage, probably done quickly and by an amateur by the looks of it, and unfortunately my uncle Richard’s image was damaged by water and some odd abrasion. The frame is a wonderful round-cornered wood frame with a piece of convex glass obviously custom made for the it. At some point I want to work on a little restoration for this, but for now I want to leave it as is since it’s pretty stable, and I’ve just included my father in this photo.

My father was an Army cook and baker, stationed in India during WWII. I have no stories of valiant combat service, but the troops needed to eat, and nothing was a more comforting reminder of home than familiar food in unfamiliar places. Bakers also made specialty items for officers and for troops, and as a baker, my father baked and decorated plenty of birthday cakes for the troops in his area. He’d been working in his parents’ bakery since his pre-teen years, and he was a little older than some other troops, entering service at age 23 and had plenty of baking experience for special projects.

All who serve bring back with them the traumas of their service, whether it’s their own experience or the injury or loss of a friend. My father, as an Army cook, wasn’t on the front lines risking his life but he had his share of losses of friends, and a loss of his own that we didn’t realize until later. My father had Parkinson’s Disease, and though it wasn’t diagnosed until 1984, once we learned the symptoms we realized he’d had the disease for years. By the time I have any memory of him in the early 1960s he already had the characteristic shuffling step and stone face, silent except for one-word answers, but he never had a tremor and everyone thought he was “just like that”. He worked at night as a baker, often seven days a week, he was in his 40s, and he was always tired. That was understandable, but it wasn’t accurate.

Parkinson’s Disease was first identified in 1817 by Dr. James Parkinson, studied in the 1870s by Dr. Jean Martin Charcot and by this century the developing tremors were easily identified in many older people as a “palsy”. But because my father never had those tremors no one ever identified the other symptoms with him. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the chemical basis for Parkinson’s Disease was found, measuring the levels of dopamine in the brain which, as it decreased, caused degeneration of specific brain cells leading to the classic symptoms. Further studies in succeeding decades led to ever more information on other forms of Parkinson’s that did not evidence all the symptoms and could be caused by physical trauma or other damages to the brain, including viral illnesses and high fevers.

During my father’s service in India he was recorded to have had some type of malarial fever—not malaria itself, but there were many other tropical and sub-tropical illnesses that caused extended fevers and even death for troops who’d never encountered them, and in the days before vaccines were common. One of my father’s friends who came to visit now and then told my mother after my father was diagnosed that he remembered the change after the fever, no more jokes or pranks, my father was just very quiet and very tired. That apparently continued all the rest of his life and as he aged and suffered other injuries and surgeries and the stress of working all night all the time, the decrease of dopamine killed off more brain cells.

What? Jokes and pranks? My father? No way! In hindsight it’s good to know what was the reason for the silence and lack of emotion, which in turn infuriated my mother and confused us kids. It would have been nice to grow up with that person who married my mother, and who created me. It is at least good to know the answer to something I’d always wondered, and on Memorial Day know that I am not alone in what we remember of those we loved, or tried to love.

I’ve written a few other things about my family’s experience of WWII and my father’s service in “The Thanks of a Grateful Nation”, and also others about Memorial Day, “Soldier” and “Memorial Day Parade”


Mother’s Day

petunias
petunias

Petunias

I always had a difficult time finding an adequate Mother’s Day Gift for my mother, but at one point settled on purchasing a couple flats of flowers and planting them in her yard. I did this for nearly 20 years, also starting seeds for flowers she liked that I couldn’t find, like hollyhocks. Though my style goes for the wildlife habitat and naturally shaped areas of wildflowers and trees, my mother’s yard was carefully sculpted with edged flower beds and shaped shrubs—I know because I was the one who did all the trimming—and she never failed to sneer and ask if I wasn’t going to clean up around here when she visited, we could agree on the riot of color of impatiens, petunias, geraniums and marigolds along with the occasional verbena, alyssum and other annual bedding plants.

The flower solution was more than an answer to a predicament; it reached much deeper than that. To say my mother and I didn’t get along well is a simplification, in fact an affront, to a much deeper issue. My mother lived behind a wall of serious clinical depression, and when I was born she developed most likely a deep post-natal depression that went on for more than a year and had a negative physical effect on her too, changing her body as well as her mind for that period of time. Though she recovered from this, lost the weight and regained her self esteem she had lasting medical and physical issues for the rest of her life. A part of her always seemed to hold me to blame for that awful time in her life and the changes in her body, I could see it in her eyes every time she looked at me. She kept her distance from me, treated me differently, denied things to me and even into her days of dementia she still berated me for imagined things I’d done, never thanking me for the things I actually had done, except for one brief time in all her illnesses she really was weak enough to let the wall down.

I learned some of the explanations for this through paperwork I’d found in her house when I sold it and which I still have, finding at least partial answers to many questions regarding both my mother and my father and their actions. At some point years ago I realized depression was the issue and instead of arguing and rebelling I just decided I’d get the heck out of there when I could. I sent myself to college, and it was the break I needed.

As the youngest I was always on hand until college, and in feeling I was responsible for my mother’s happiness I became her caretaker and in one capacity or another I maintained that role for all the rest of my mother’s life, through my father’s lung cancer and Parkinson’s disease, her many surgeries and medical treatments and nursing her to health afterward, actually teaching her to drive and buying her a car when I was totally unwilling to be a taxi service, pursuing the diagnosis of her lung cancer, and shepherding her through surgery, near death, recovery, home care, personal care and skilled nursing.

But I always knew, trapped behind that wall, was a person just like me. Years ago I had begun slipping behind that wall myself and understood the perspective from that place, but I was lucky to have escaped and managed it through my adult life. Though patience and understanding wore thin and there were times I avoided my mother altogether, I would do anything to see she had what she needed.

And she needed flowers. I could do that.

I’ve written other essays about my mother, read them here.

. . . . . . .

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