Surprising (Re)Incarnations

I just saw a World Wildlife Foundation ad about saving the elephants, and I am positive that the voice is that of the actor who used to be on the tv series NCIS and now has his own series.  M and I used to compete at identifying well known people behind voiceovers.  M was the champ. He’d say, “Hey, that’s George Clooney,” doing a Budweiser ad or “That’s the guy from Mad Men” selling cars. I’m not as attentive as I used to be, but the minute I heard the voice, I knew it was the guy who plays Bull.

Which reminds me, I’m sure I spotted the current star of Bridgerton, Season 2, in a Jamaica vacation commercial.  It was just a flicker, but it was her.  I imagine that as a working actor she thought it was a fabulous gig, before she got Bridgerton, but now she is probably telling her mom not to mention it to the neighbors.

Recognizing actors in commercials is fun and a sort of gotcha to the idea that we have exposed them as they were slumming for cash, hiding behind their elephants or autos.

Of course, people don’t have to be famous or even alive to show up unexpectedly in my world.  

I saw my sister-in-law yesterday, although she’s been dead for ten years. She was on a commercial for the Hospital for Special Surgery, stage right in an exercise class, high stepping to the side and out of camera view before I could get a second look.  

No, I don’t believe in reincarnation in the Shirley MacLaine sense.  But I do believe that the occasional return of a set of facial features, a familiar body movement, a flash of an eyebrow or hairdo can bring the dead alive for a moment. My sister-in-law appeared as I remembered her middle-aged self, plumper than she was as a tiny old person, doing something she would never have done while she was alive: exercising.  It felt good to see her doing it. Finally.  Despite being dead.

When my life was more out there, in the world, I admit, my sightings were more often in person and definitely more personal. I saw my father, or at least the back of his bald head, the tilt of his shoulders one side higher than the other due to an old boxing injury, walking away from me on a Queens street more than once.  I used to see my mother all the time when I was volunteering in nursing homes, her small, slightly hunched, still-peppy self, walking down a long hallway holding the pocketbook she carried long after it was empty of cash and keys. 

And unlike the recognizing of voiceovers or actors in ads, which is an exercise in awareness, the unexpected appearance of people we know and love moving from one context to another is the way our sense memory enables us to touch the untouchable. Seeing the dead we knew and loved is more than just surprising. It is also profound and enriching, because it is a confirmation that our dear ones will live on as long as we want them to.

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My Four Moms

Thinking about motherhood on Mother’s Day, I realize that over the years I’ve had more than one mother.

If the definition of motherhood includes not only giving birth, but also nurturing, rearing and protecting, I’ve had four moms in my life.  First, of course, there was the woman who gave birth to me, a fearsome woman who went back to work soon after I was born, leaving me in the care of our live-in maid (as she was called then, before such euphemisms as “caregiver” and “nanny” entered the lexicon). Third was a therapist whom I was lucky to meet fairly early in my own parenting life.  And finally, my neighbor, friend, surrogate grandmother to my kids, and teacher of all things domestic.

My first mother was a career woman and probably unsuited to motherhood. She had my sister and me because in those days that’s what a married lady did.  She was uncomfortable with shows of affection, definitely not motherly (though secretly sentimental, as I learned many years after I had already escaped her influence). She was strict when it came to appearance and comportment. Nice girls didn’t speak too loudly (or act too smart) if they wanted to “get” nice boys.  They wore well pressed and modest clothing of either gray or navy blue, and their hair was neatly combed and did not droop into their eyes.  (I owe her my sense of style, which leans toward purple and swags of hair that challenge my ability to see.) But she also had a great sense of humor, was a brilliant and beloved teacher, sharp minded and proud, with a strong work ethic and a determination that no matter what the situation, she would prevail.  And she lived to 99.  From her I also inherited my intelligence, love of being productive, sense of humor, competitive spirit, and good genes.

Our maid was soft and loving, easy to laugh, affectionate and kind, willing to help when help was needed.  She raised me for the first ten years of my life, and I owe her whatever impulse to those qualities I have.

My therapist, who is about my age, gave me the courage to dig in, learn myself, have insight, and write.

And my friend and neighbor taught me strategies of wifedom and motherhood, how to be a neighbor and friend over a period of more than thirty years.  I learned from her the secrets of throwing a good party. They include inviting only people you really want there, letting everyone bring something to the table, and once the preparations are made, relaxing. (And stock plenty of booze.) Widowed early, she taught me that it was possible to say yes to life even when you lose your mate. 

Thinking about it, I realize how high expectations are for the title of mother, as if mothers are, or even could be, all things to all people: epitomes of wisdom, paragons of goodness, symbols of sacrifice and perfection.  

I owe all four of these women something  but none of them everything.  Put together, they make up one big mother of a mother.

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An Out of Body Experience

Of course, it’s all about bodies, yours and mine.  (Especially mine.)  And for the last two years, because of the pandemic, how we chose to care for them. Were we cautious or just careful? Extra cautious? Brave? Negligent or paranoid at the polar ends of it?    

          All of a sudden what had been nobody’s business but our own became everybody’s business and everyone put in their two cents about how we treated our own bodies.  Television commentators devoted segments to masks and vaccinations ad nauseum, and there were public service announcements by camera-ready medical commissioners more frequent than Raymour and Flanagan commercials.  And of course eventually, as we all know, the issue  became politicized and hyper-politicized. You were not only affecting your own body, but somehow mine by what you did, and maybe it reflected your political views, as well. The typical conversation between two friends always seemed to begin with a variation of the following: 

“I have a meeting.” 

“Is it zoom or in person?” “Are you going anyway?” “Will you mask?” 

“I went to the funeral.” “Were they masked?” “Tested?” “Vaccinated?”  

We estimated percentages in the supermarket (half-masked in ShopRite, unmasked in Price Chopper) and shopped accordingly.

Indoor dining? Some people were not-yets and others were only-in-well-spaced venues.

And we judged all of it, privately or not so privately among ourselves.

I came in at the cautious end, satisfying myself that I was careful but not crazy.  Most of the people I know hovered around the same mark, with some a bit more one way or the other.

        And then, all of a sudden, one day, I got out of my car and went into a store forgetting to put on a mask.  I didn’t plan it. I just did it. Of course, the minute I walked through the door and realized it, I clutched my naked face.  It actually felt naked.  I immediately asked a store employee for a mask and he handed me one.  

         That was a few months ago, and with the public conversation circulating around new variants and a rise in Covid statistics, it seemed to be a one-time thing and did not happen again.  In fact, the most popular conversation recently has often started or ended with the observation that “this isn’t over yet, by a long shot.”

         Yet the sense of fatigue with the status quo, coupled with the confidence in having been vaccinated and boosted is real, and has made me braver than I have been.  So when friends invited me out for dinner, I surprised them (and myself) by saying yes.  And even more suprising, I did not think before, during or after dinner (all of which happened with a complete lack of masks on diners or servers) about catching Covid.  And the very next day, I went to a family celebration (the naming of my first great grandchild) where there were at least sixty or seventy people of unknown vaccination status.  And I kept my mask in my pocket.  Didn’t even think about it.

         Friends, it was a wonderful weekend.  I saw smiles on faces rather than reading eyes.  I hugged. I didn’t feel particularly brave or fatalistic.  I just sank comfortably into a past behavior I never thought I would feel again.  And then, when I got home a friend called to ask about my party and tell me about hers. “Great,” I said.  “Yours?”     

         “A wonderful superspreader,” she said.

And it all came back. But I think what I gained this weekend was not only the sense of my old carefree habit of being, but some insight into those people on a caution spectrum different from mine.  And though I agree that this is not over by a long shot, I have a sense that we will get through it, by force of will, gained experience… and luck.

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SPRING CLEANING:An Almost-poem

Here is the dust of thoughts I’ve had before, musings that occasionally keep me awake, inklings of ideas that spark other ideas that turn into poems…or fizzle out like wet firecrackers.  Here are clippings from yesterday’s thought-buds, or last month’s, the ones I never throw away at the end of the season, but keep alive so I can re-think them, as I did just now, with a twist, or another gist, those persistent and resistant thoughts concerning the natural and unnatural worlds I live in.

Hogweed is like a giant kind of Queen Anne’s Lace, except one is poison and the other is pretty. They are easy to confuse with one another, but if you touch Hogweed you will burn.  There is a metaphor in there somewhere I am sure.  About beauty and danger?  Carelessness and temptation?  

Do you blow a whistle when you see a bear?  Or do you sing?  I keep forgetting to buy a whistle but I have “When The Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbin’ Along” ready, with all the words intact in my mind (in case this is the kind of bear who will know if I go off-lyric).  Are some bears tone deaf?  Does the fact that I think it would be cruel to blast a horn in a bear’s face mean that I am finally becoming a country girl? At one with my environment?

Is that a baby deer I just saw, or a big dog? Wouldn’t a country girl know?

When I walked with my iPod, I used to have preprogrammed songs from Chicago, Smoky Joe’s Café, Three Penny Opera.  I used to belt them out as I walked the deserted roads.  Me Merman.  Me Patti Lupone.  Now it’s me and my dog Pete.  No, not a comedown.  It’s still emotionally rich, just different.  (“Nice poop, Pete.”) And good for the soil.

Are all the optical delusions — grasshopper looking like twig (till it hops off); stick that looks like a snake but is just a stick after all; flat gray stone is a roadkilled mouse –- because I am in the wrong cultural context?  Still not at one with my environment? Would my country friends “get it” the way I get the smell of summer pavement or the rhythm of a subway train?

Even though I love it, I am not yet of it.   

Wallace Stevens’ poem about perspective, “13 Ways of Looking At A Blackbird” comes to mind the morning I see a family of deer and a flock of wild turkeys together on my front lawn.  1. Who would win in a face-off?  The deer have weight and strength, but turkeys have beaks and wings.  Could there be a detente? 2. The scene was camera ready but I was not. 3. Was this the Universe confirming the fabulous diversity of the natural world? Wishing me a beautiful day? 4. Would I ever get used to saying, “Quick, come look at this!” to an empty bedroom?

The Cost of Living for serenity is loneliness, for ease, loss; for no worries, no hope?  And why does unbroken sleep bring morning sorrow? 

Worry seemed worse than Happening. But 8/10ths of the worries of life turned out to be less awful than in their contemplation. 

Worry is bumpy, pitted with declinations and sharp spikes, while at first grief seems smooth.  Well, no, grief is not smooth, it ebbs and flows, and if it doesn’t drown you it may pitch you into the mud or onto the shore. Given the choice, I would prefer worry to grief,  and broken sleep for dawning sorrow, but this revelation comes late, and anyway, you don’t get to choose. 

As in all spring cleanings, this leaves me feeling refreshed, and ready to toss out some things, and brush off others and tuck them away for further thought, another day.

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Repurposing, People and Things

 

I guess what comes to mind first when I think about repurposing is the hilarious Carol Burnett parody of Gone With The Wind, when, as Scarlett O’Hara, she wears the bedroom curtains for want of a new dress.  

Closer to home, though, it’s a silver metal box about seven inches tall and a little more than that long which sits on a bakelite base and has two bakelite handles. There are two slots the width of the box, on top.  A vestigial stub of cut-off plug is a clue, if you need one, that I am describing an old-fashioned two-slice toaster.  In fact, this one was from the Bronx kitchen of my childhood.  It now sits on a shelf over my desk, and the slots hold my unpaid bills.  It is the perfect receptacle, stylish and noticeable enough so that my bills are never in danger of being ignored.   Some days I even forget that it once made toast. Repurposing it was an impulse and an inspiration, and now I can’t even imagine how I thought of it then.  Repurposing is like that: a burst of imagination and voila, out of something old comes something else.

I was crocheting an afghan, one of many I have made(and even more I have only half-made), and somewhere between too- much-done-to-rip-out and not-enough-done-to-contemplate- finishing, I decided I had enough afghans in my life and didn’t want another.  Still, I couldn’t just throw it away. Yet it’s presence in my crochet bag was a burden until one cold day, on impulse, I wrapped the undone afghan around my shoulders.  Instant shawl.  Perfection. Repurposed.

And then, of course, you have your typical pitchers that become vases, bean pots that become planters, socks that become dustcloths. An antique jello mold holds my pens. A plywood box that once held an original Sacher torte is now filled with sundries, from business cards to pen refills.

Lately I have been thinking about the ways we humans repurpose ourselves, our roles and even our identities, if the need and inspiration arise.  I am thinking about last week, when the crazy man went into the subway in Sunset Park, Brooklyn and shot multiple people,  how ordinary citizens turned into first responders, rendering aid, taking crucial pictures, doing what they ordinarily wouldn’t dream of doing, repurposing their their essential selves to fit the moment.  

Aging itself has us repurposing our relationships, sometimes out of need, sometimes as we are inspired to do.  My cousin has become my sister.  Friends have become family; neighbors have become friends.

My latest project in repurposing combines the human element with the re-use of goods:  M was one of those conservative dressers who only showed his true colors through his ties. So I have decided to repurpose them as a wall hanging, a wheel of beautiful colors, stripes and florals, brocades, paisleys, polka dots, chevrons, herringbones and houndstooth, which will change their use but not their meaning.  That seems like a pretty perfect kind of repurposement, doesn’t it?

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On The Death of My Friend Whom I Did Not Know

We knew each other in high school, but we weren’t close. When I moved to Woodstock, we ran into one another from time to time. In Hurley Ridge Market. At the Library Fair. Another local, also a schoolmate, proposed that since we were all the same age we celebrate our birthdays together. So until the pandemic we did, sometimes on my natal date, sometimes on hers, sometimes on S’s.  

S’s husband and I had a little routine going.  Every time I called her house if he answered I would say, “Hi B, it’s Bette,” and he would say, “Hi, Bette, it’s B.” When he died, I remember S saying that if you were in a close marriage, “Your husband was your community.”  I have thought about that bit of wisdom many times, especially since M died.

When I became the assistant coordinator of the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program in Ulster County, to my surprise, S volunteered for the training.  Lots of people sign up, but not a lot of people stick with the short but intensive course.  She did.  She was a former social worker (but you really couldn’t say former, because she was still counselling, always interested in helping others)and a quick learner and  after “graduation” I assigned her to the toughest nursing home in the county. Although it was designated a nursing home, it had so many traumatic brain injury residents that it presented a challenge in how to advocate for residents who were often confused or  upset or embattled. S was fantastic at it, negotiating problems with imagination and humor and a huge  heart.  There was one resident whom I thought of as an “S Specialty” because there was literally no one else, including staff and the resident’s own children, who could help or handle her.  Eventually, S met the other ombudsman I had assigned there, and they became friends, and later neighbors, when she moved to the condo development where he and his wife live. 

S and I used to meet for lunch at Panera in Kingston. We talked about our lives, about everything past, present and future at those lunches; sometimes we were there for hours. 

Like a lot of people I know (myself included) S was determined to be independent, and resisted the idea that she might need help.  In later years, when she was having eye problems, she turned down my offer to drive her to the painful treatments, having either secured help on her own or sometimes driving herself.  It bothered me, and it also taught me to think about how people in my life might feel when I turned down their offers of help.  

Our lives overlapped in a lot of ways.  We were high school mates, both music students.  We were widows of long, close marriages.  We liked helping.  We didn’t like needing help.  In all our talks, we never anticipated an end to it all.  But I barely knew her.  I didn’t know her through all the years she was working as a teacher or social worker.  I missed the years when she was part of a famous folk singing group which performed with Pete Seeger and others. I knew her husband slightly, and didn’t know her children at all.  Yet when her daughter called to tell me that she was in hospice and likely to die, I was heartbroken.  There was too much still to say.  I wanted to finish the conversation about that difficult resident she had worked to make life better for.  I wanted to hear again the romantic origin story with the man she married. I wanted to tell her I was mad at her for not calling me back when I called her, and for not letting me help her when I offered.  I wanted to ask her to tell me again about that time that Pete Seeger told her he was thinking of doing something about the pollution in the Hudson River. I wanted to know why she had decided not to sing anymore, and talk her into changing her mind. 

 She was my friend, and I barely knew her. I am glad she is at peace and out of pain, but sorry we will never talk again. There was still so much to say.

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Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

      

Here we go again.  A few weeks ago, when  I tried to break up with you, dear readers, I came to realize that I was not ready, and I still wanted and needed to write you an essay a week.  

But, as an aggregator (of tasks as well as things), I remain devoted to the idea of making life (finally!) simpler, by scaling down and sometimes opting out.

Things are relatively easy.  I cruise the aisles of my local market, and though I am always seeing something (coconut flour or frozen tostadas or giant aloe branches) which I am tempted to buy, I can resist.  As I browse my favorite clothing discount store, the mantra Do you really need another…?  usually works. When I see that gorgeous stack of fluffy blue towels in Home Goods, I just have to picture my overstuffed linen closet with its plenty of not-that-fluffy-but-perfectly-fine towels and I can easily walk on by.

It’s the other stuff that gives me trouble.  Jobs I’m not quite finished doing. Committee assignments I mean to resign but haven’t. A teaching gig next fall I really meant to say “no” to.

And Media. In my campaign to scale down and simplify, I’ve cancelled Sirius (because I never listen), discontinued Disney (after I saw Hamilton), and as soon as I’m done bingeing Heartland and Bridgerton, Netflix will be on probation.  But maybe not.   It’s not so easy to say goodbye. 

And sometimes I think some wise guy in the zeitgeist is messing with me.  

Take this past week:  after one more missed newspaper, I made the final decision to discontinue my New York Times weekend newspaper delivery.  The 800-number-lady asked me why. Was it the price, which was going up since my special discount was expiring this month?  She could most definitely re-new it for a 3 month period.  This reminded me that last year at about this time, I must have called and threatened to discontinue my subscription.  But then, I told myself, it was just about the price.  This time, I told the 800-number-lady, too many papers piled up on the chair I pile my papers on, and there were too many missed deliveries, and…frankly, too much news I don’t want to read. There were sections I didn’t even look at.  Sounding bored, she offered renewing the discount again, as if she knew I’d say no this time; and I said “no” and that was that.  Except it wasn’t.  Because the next day I got my last delivery of the Times, and like a starving woman, I gobbled up that paper like it was my last meal. Business Section, Real Estate, Sunday Review, all of it. Even the news.  And the puzzle was great this week.  Just hard enough to last the afternoon, but not so hard it would drag me through the week. 

I began to strategize: I could ask a neighbor who got the weekend Times, if she didn’t do the puzzle, to pass it on to me.   Or, I could get the Times online, so I wouldn’t collect all those papers. I tried to concentrate on how I would be “freeing up my time” to read more books.  I reminded myself that I had gotten accustomed to being without The New Yorker and Gourmet Magazine just fine after a while. Then, this morning, as I walked Pete down the driveway, I saw the familiar electric blue plastic that keeps the Times dry when it is delivered, and my heart beat a little faster.  On a Monday? Why was it here on a Monday? Maybe the paper deliverer was being enterprising? Or maybe she made a mistake? Or just maybe the fates were saying I’m not quite ready to say goodbye.

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Communication 101

      Two things about communication recently claimed my attention: the Netflix film CODA (acronym for Child of Deaf Adult) about a hearing child in a deaf family, and the memoir, SMILE: Story of a Face, by Sarah Ruhl, about the author’s long-haul bout of Bell’s palsy, which distorted her face and literally wiped the smile off her face.  Both of these got me thinking about non-verbal communication: how much of it we experience or use without even noticing it, and therefore how easy it is to overlook its importance.  

     I’ll put aside ASL for the moment, because even though it is expressed in signs, ASL is a full language. 

How easily does non-verbal communication happen? Do we even notice? Wink wink.  I’m kidding. Nod. I’ll do it.  Smile.  Hi sweetheart.  Frown.  No way. Squint. Really?

You’re on the phone and someone comes into the room talking.  You hold your finger up: Wait. Hold that thought. You put your finger over your lips.  Shush.

You’re introduced to someone in a group situation, expected to acknowledge but not hold up the line by speaking? you smile.

You are in a foreign country and you don’t speak the language. Your hand makes the points: To your chest, Me. To someone else, You. To the top of your head, Hat. Hair. Brain. To your wrist: Time. 

        You walk into a room fraught with tension of some sort: a classroom on the first day of class. A doctor’s office.  The police station.  The ok corral.  Try to imagine not having a smile to use then.

Think of how often you read someone else’s meanings not through their words, but through their non-verbal acts: I know he saw me, but he looked the other way.  Or, I know she’s lying, because she couldn’t look me in the eye.  

So, I was telling all this to Pete, my dog.  It’s part of how human’s communicate, I told him.  He licked his paw and said, “ chhhhhhuchhhh,”  and stretched out beside me, as if to say, it’s bedtime, let’s not talk about it right now.  But later that night, as if he had been thinking it over, he woke, and sat straight up at the edge of my pillow.  He growled a time or two, to let me know it was 3 a.m. and time to wake up.  He does this sometimes, and is usually content to pace the four corners of the queen mattress before lying back down.  But this night he had another agenda.  When I didn’t respond to him, turning my head away from him, he jumped off the bed, and immediately came around to the way I was facing.   He reached up and tapped me.  I turned my head back the other way, away from him.  He jumped back on the bed.  I turned away again.  He jumped off and came around and tapped me again.  After a couple more times, I got the point that there was a real urgency. Like, he had to pee.  And the pad I have for such emergencies was not going to cut it.  He wanted to go out, to the back porch.  “Uh Uh,” I said, slipping into verbal communication.  “I’m not getting you into the habit of pulling me out of bed at 3 a.m.”  

We looked at each other.  (Good advice not to make eye contact with a dog.  You’re lost, if you do he’ll never let it go.) Then, he picked up my sneaker in his teeth, looking back at me as if to say, follow me, stupid and carried it to the back door where he dropped it and waited for me to let him out.  And I did, thinking dog or human, I couldn’t have expressed it better myself.

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 SPRINGING FORWARD

     In case you haven’t noticed, I took a short vacation from writing my Monday morning blog.  It hasn’t worked out.  I have returned.

       Writing 500 words once a week is a little like bouncing on a trampoline. Every Up is followed by a Down, and the predictability can be tiring, even in the reverse, reaching for Up from a position of Down. 

         I was curious to see what would change if  I chose to free myself from the habit of producing an essay a week. When I no longer required that of myself, would something else fill in the blank?  Would I feel it as a blank, or as a new vista?

         My first week definitely felt like freedom.  I took up knitting. I baked a Sunday afternoon loaf instead of germinating the essay (since Sundays had been the yeastiest of my essay writing times). But then, the shape of my week changed.  The edges got wobbly.  My weekend emptied out a bit more than was comfortable.  What was there to replace it with?  Was there something I would rather do than write part of every weekend?  What would be as interesting and challenging as thinking  about what is happening in the world and commenting on it for one and all?

       Without finishing and posting my essay on Monday mornings, I did not feel like I was entering the workweek anymore. I missed that sinking feeling every Sunday night that kept me in touch with my school days and work life; I felt less connected to the present lives of my younger friends and family. 

       My dog walking time and my pre-sleep ruminations suffered. They weren’t as much fun. 

       Thinking a new thought and then shaping it into a written piece, either funny or reflective for an audience does a whole lot of things I took for granted. Mainly, it takes up the space I secretly keep for unwanted thoughts of disasters-to-come. (Is that wind in the night going to be the tornado that blows me and my little dog Toto away? Is forgetting the title of my favorite-of-all-time movie, Casablanca, a sign of the inevitable decline? Am I losing my hair, or is that the hair of the dog?). I suddenly realized that when I am busy trying to understand or interpret the world for all of us, I have no time for petty worries like those.  

        Writing publicly is a choice that is especially useful for people like me: inveterate talkers, communicators, helpers, show-offs. But for those of us who are newly widowed or otherwise alone, before long we discover that being a talker without someone around to talk to can be hard.  So, having this place to talk my thoughts through with you is a boon and a pleasure, and I’m glad to be back. 

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VINEGAR MOTHER

Recently, someone asked me what, exactly, the phrase “vinegar mother” means and why I use it as the title of my blog.  Since it is among the most frequent questions about this blog, here’s the full scoop (or slither).  

I first encountered a “vinegar mother” in the bottom of a bottle of red wine that I had left open on the counter for I-am-not-going-to-tell-you-how- long.  That slimy, gelatinous disc that looks like raw liver is prized by vinegar conoisseurs – like a sourdough starter is to bread bakers– and is actually a bacterial growth that occurs in old vinegar mixed with wine and water.  How my vinegar mother occurred spontaneously out of my negligent handling of a cabernet might be a flawed memory or a mystery.

After my discovery, I spent a few weeks studying how to make fine vinegar, but soon lost interest in it, and turned my attention to a metaphoric meaning of the phrase. “Vinegar mother” became the title  and description of the main character of a novel I was writing at the time, about a chef and cookbook author who gave up a child for adoption so she could devote herself to her career, only to be found by that child years later.  She was a sharp character: biting, bitter, full of tart remarks and bright ideas. 

         There was something about the dichotomy between the acid of “vinegar” and the implied nurturing in the word “mother”  that intrigued me. My character had something of both of those qualities, and I loved her for it. Though my novel never saw the light, I remained devoted to it, tinkering with it (and its main character) whenever I wasn’t writing something else, for years.   M had a baseball cap with “Vinegar Mother” across the front where the team logo usually goes, made for me.

         Then, in 2012, when the idea of writing essays (“blogs,” I learned to say, when they were online) occurred, Vinegar Mother popped into my mind as a title.  This is what I said in part in that February 2012 blog: “I imagine a vinegar mother is someone who has never sat and blabbed about herself to a therapist, or been on a diet, but honestly, that leaves most of us out of the category, doesn’t it?  So then, let’s imagine a vinegar mother is someone who imagines her true self to be someone who has never felt the need to diet, or sit on a therapist’s couch.  That will work.  That woman does not have any questions about her self-worth…or her weight.  She never tries to stretch her neck to see what she looks like from behind.  She eats dessert first. At least that’s what I imagine she imagines.”

         I still admire that woman, but as the years of blogs have gone by, week by week, I realize that my world view ( though it sometimes does include the nippy, zippy voice I imagine a vinegar mother speaks in), is more about the world, not just me in it.  But that character is fun to come back to.  She is resilient. She lives on. 

February of 2012 was ten years ago, and though I didn’t settle into my dogged once-a-week routine until 2018, I look upon that almost-first blog as a beginning  and I am commemorating it today.

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