Mother’s Day

wisteriaI don’t know about you, but I find Mother’s Day a little on the loaded side. My mom lives in New York and will be 94 in June.  She can no longer hear on the phone so I send presents and write, but don’t call. My family of origin feels like a foreign country; one I have a passport to visit but would rather not.

My daughter and I have this communication thing that drives me crazy. If I say Good Morning in the wrong way, she feels criticized and launches an attack that would level a small country. We decided to do separate things that day.

My son called from California. That was nice. I know he hates talking on the phone, but he calls, bless his heart. To ease the pain of duty, he’ll multi-task, usually working on the computer as we speak, so there will be long moments when I wonder if he’s still there. But not this year, this year he was shooting crows with a new BB Gun to keep them from pooping all over his yard.

Hang on a minute, Mom. I gotta take this shot. Oh crap! Missed him!

I opened a magazine on Mother’s Day and read an article about this mother and daughter that looked so enchanted in each other’s company, you’d think they’d just gotten married. One of the things they do together is cook.  There was a recipe at the end of the article that shared a batch of carrot coconut muffins glowing in shades of golden brown. 

I made them this morning, thinking that if they turned out, I might be transported into their picture perfect kitchen – and their picture perfect relationship – and their picture perfect world. But mine did not turn out, of course! I forgot to soak the dried coconut first, so there were little hard things where yummy soft things ought to be. 

I don’t know. There is something about holidays, families, expectations and lack of perfection that turns my smile to a scowl and propels me to the garden, where I pull weeds with a little too much passion.

Yellow Bowl

 I am open, waiting and wanting like the large yellow bowl on the table.  I feel no power to create today. I have no statement to make or wise words to express. Instead I feel empty, my insides raw and my mind full of thoughts I struggle to bring together. Exile, dysfunction, discontent, home, conflict, away, understanding, strength and self-respect. Those words were stirred from my visit home. They swim through my veins looking for lodging but find nothing more than fragments, feelings and migration toward an unknown conclusion.

I am solid like the bowl. It’s color is bright like the sun, the color of the intellect. Perhaps I can think of my mental bowl as a crown, receiving and well-earned. I learned some family history when I went home. I learned that my fathers, fathers, father had been expelled from England for trespassing. He was hunting the kings deer. Criminals, hunters, survivors, travelers, adventurers, people pushed to live on foreign soil. More words to mull about in my yellow crowned bowl.

written 10-1-08


She had to do it. It’s part of her faith and belief. She would be remiss in her mission to love me if she did not step forward. And so we had ‘the talk’ last night.  The talk about accepting Christ. Oh my, that was such a sad moment for me, because what she was really saying was, I can’t accept you the way you are. There is something wrong with you. You need to be like me, think like me and believe as I believe. There is only one true God, who resides in the safe deposit box in the Baptist church. There is no other.

There is no acceptance here for diversity. The idea of there being many paths up the mountain is completely foreign.

I can move into my sisters world and enjoy the bonds of family we work so hard to maintain, but there is this slap that follows, full of self-righteous accusing. Even the “it doesn’t matter because I will always love you anyway,” part she puts at the end, feels condescending and full of attitude that makes me wrong.

As a child I learned to hide. I danced the dance and talked the talk to survive, but I have always been as different as a purple plum in an orange crate. It hurts my heart to have family I can not relate to, and to belong to a land I can not claim. I have moved often, searching for my place, but my place has always been my home place in upstate New York. I love the vineyards, finger lakes and untouched architecture; I love the look and feel of the land that held and embraced my growing up years. I love my family. But the love I have received here has been dark and laced with poison, of a sort that blinded my eyes and sent me into perpetual hiding.

The deeper truth is that I am working to accept myself. I am a gifted woman who lives in the shadows of her own life, because I fear the abuse that comes from revealing.

There is a lot I like about my sister’s faith. She is sincerely striving toward kindness, service, gentle speaking and love. What could be wrong with that? The downside is that you are either on the boat or you are off the boat, and if you are off the boat, I guess it’s God’s will that you drown. The demand to conform pushes me farther and farther away. My older sister has no religion at all, but is worse. This family wants to make people small. They want to put them under their shoe, to keep them down and compliant. They want to eat my individuality, chewing it until it becomes bland and unrecognizable.

 I don’t return often, but each time I do, it is with the hope of real connection and deliverance from exile. What I receive instead is a new clarity about my own path and the need to accept people as they are without expectation.

written September 25, 2008


There is one traffic light in Dundee, New York, population 2,000. Buildings shoulder the street with unchanged faces from the 1800’s. There are cars and even motorcycles that hurry toward one defining intersection, but what anchors the flow of movement are the horse drawn wagons of the Mennonites. Their buggies are square, black and tall, the interiors hidden from view.  The father reins in his horse wearing a dark brimmed hat, and suspenders. The mother sits by his side in sunbonnet and simple dress, while the kids stand next to them, fingers wrapped around the edge of the buggy. Theirs is a devout life that pulls a centuries old thread into the present.

My younger sister has lived in this area most of her life. Her roots are deep, and her comfort strong. She is not Amish or Mennonite, but might as well be. She is Baptist. My sisters God is the only God, his rules are black and white with no room for grey, while my God is unnamed, vast and personal. To me the essence of the sacred is more complete in a handful of dirt than in a church. We are respectful, she and I, dancing around our similarities and differences in the hope of continued connection.

I used to pull her in the wagon as a child, eager to explore our surroundings. She insisted on staying within boundaries defined by our parents and following their rules to the letter. Our differences were already apparent. Nothing in my sister longs to be elsewhere or to have anything other. What a wonderful thing that must be. Her children were born there and prospered under her loving care, while I spent my life wandering and searching, believing I would stagnate and die in such an environment.

How torn I felt today, like a woman split in half as I studied the real estate posters in the window on main street. They said, You could afford to live here, if you wanted. This architectural treasure could be yours. Wanna fix it up? You could be near your sister, play on the lakes, and come back to the land you love so much. It wouldn’t really be like starting over, more like coming home.

Oh, but I must not be seduced by this crisp autumn day and the open arms of a willing sister. It is not my place. There is nothing to push against here, nothing to define myself by. The area is depressed, the people good hearted but with a consciousness I cannot share. The snow is significant. Winter comes without disguise, boldly asserting its season without apology.

Still there is something pulling on me, something deep, old and almost tangible that calls to my spirit, it moves through my veins softly and tenderly like the old hymn, Come home, come home, all who are weary come home.

written September 19, 2008