Sunday, December 26, 2010

Surgical Pencil

I have one valuable piece of china. The signature Haviland Christmas plate from 1973 was a gift from my son's late Grandmother. Until this evening it was a collector's item with a measurable market value. I had forgotten about it.

Feeling lonely on Christmas Day, I retrieved it from the shelf where it had been living, value intact, for the past 15 Christmases or so. Adorned with a few goodies it cheered me up. Snowbound tonight, and again feeling a wave of post holiday isolation,I filled the plate with snacks and sat down in front of my virtual connection with the outside world. Caution! Never wash a Haviland Collectors Edition Plate. I did and now the blackmarker signature on the back is smudged for all eternity, rendering it valuable to me alone. The soft blue background supporting images of brightly brushed wild birds and"Noel 1973" instantly summons a barage of visual memories of that Christmas spent in Sidney with my parents in their aging Victorian house.
Eric was 17months old and we had journeyed through the snow, ferrying our first born, my Mother-in-Law, and 2 beloved cats in our green Plymouth Duster.

Upon arrival, we discovered that the aging septic system in my parent's house had given over to a root too deep for my Dad's ingenious plunging system. Thus, Eric's Grandmother, an inveterate New Yorker, was faced with the daunting task of using a chamber pot instead of the plumbing we all take for granted.  I sent my tea-totaling Dad downtown to buy gin. He returned with 2 quarts.
Although they sometimes cause us pain, we rely upon these memories of Christmas past to unite us in a sense of the community of family.  A few tears shed for the times we cannot recreate are part and parcel of the emotional cement of the holiday season.

My own Mother's cement has cracked. The hand of God, or some deamon equal in power, has hit her delete button. All the memories that create our personhood are wiped clean for her.  I called her in Florida yesterday hoping that she might reconnect somewhere in cyberspace with memories of our Christmases past.
For her, I do not exist anymore. I am a name she does not recognize, a life she lived and forgot. Using an arsenal from my music therapy tool kit, I tried singing to her shattered braincells. Silence and more silence was the answer. And so she has become one of a myriad of my memories.

Next week my brother will put my parents' home on the market. It was gifted to him by my mother before her downfall. But, before any sale can commence, he will hire a professional estate cleaning service to erase the tangible vestiges of my parent's lives together. I am grateful the my memory holds intact, the images of where they lived and loved each other for so many years.

I opted to tell my aged Aunt, who lives a few blocks from where my parents lived, about the sale before she drove by and was shocked by the empty house.  Her last ties of family live in that house. It was a mistake to tell her. Although I was just the messenger, I broke her heart.

In a perfect world where families are not separated by distances so great that air travel is the thread uniting them, my aunt and I would grieve together. Social networking and telephones are the unification tools of today. A real hug and the wiping of tears is reality.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


My 5'7" Yamaha Grand has been fingerprinted.  The smudges left behind by hands belonging to my 9 year old Grandson, Ezra, have birthed her a new identity. A third generation of souls entranced by the power of musical expression has been born and my fondest dream has been realized.

We all nourish these fantasies of unity in the darkness of night. Sometimes romantic love is the vehicle. A vivid memory of one moment when the skin of timespace melts allowing a true sharing, union with another. Playing the piano is a solitary, intimate act, not unlike a ubiquituous act of lovemaking. The performer so wedded to her body that each stroke of a finger, each armful embrace evokes an expression from the heart made manifold in the sounds of strings, wood and felt. It is a private sanctification, rarely shared. When this holy liason is witnessed in another the sense of  separateness shattered is overwhelmingly powerful.  Such is the union that has been forged between Ezra and me.

The saga began in late August when I was babysitting in Minneapolis.  Ezra, who had been participating in a group piano instruction situation at school, asked me if I knew" Fur Elise", that piece of program music by Beethoven which is so routinely butchered by piano students. Ezra then played with only his right hand.  I showed him a few bars and, like Gaugain with a brush, he transformed it into a masterpiece.  Since that fateful day, a mere two and a half months ago, he has called me almost nightly. Through the ethereal goo of cyberspace, an ancient cellphone and a ramshackled keyboard he has created a repertoire which includes ALL of the Beethoven piece, Mozart's "Rondo alla Turk", complete with opposing octaves and grace notes and Pachebel's Canon in D.  At his Uncle's wedding he watched me like a hawk as I played Bach's "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring "as a wedding postlude on the Baroque organ in the church in Mt. Sinai. The next day he begged me to show him how to play it. A mere 24 hours later he owned it, it was both Bach's and his.
My heart swells to the breaking point with this visceral recognition that surpasses the bounds of student-teacher, Grandmother-Grandson.  Our souls have met I know him and he knows me.

Ezra has returned to Minneapolis where a scholarship at the MacPhail Conservatory awaits him.  I would be lying to say that I am not jealous of the teacher who will inherit his musical future.  Every night I pass by my Yamaha and bless, with abundant gratitude, those 4th grade fingerprints.  I will not polish them into memory. They are mine!