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Thanksgiving is a leftover holiday. Lots of food that doesn’t get eaten gets packed up and tossed back into the refrigerator or freezer to be pulled out for new meals for the next several days. I went to someone else’s house for Thanksgiving this year so I didn’t have a lot of leftovers. Ate the last of it tonight.

Funny thing is that I’m not even sure what all of it was. When I was a kid my mom always made turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and green beans. And then there was the cranberry sauce. And deserts. Pumpkin, apple and pecan pie. With ice cream. Same delicious thing every year.

Now what I get is turkey, green beans and a bunch of stuff I barely recognize. The cooks call them casseroles. Squash, spinach, sweet potato, oyster and chees, and macaroni and cheese. They all kinda look the same. Yellow and gooey. Same kind of texture. Same smell. And sometimes even the same taste. Now that may be reflective of my taste buds, or the skill of the cooks I know.

There was no turkey in the leftovers I got to take home. And no deserts. Just casseroles! Heat em all up and take a dab of each. Forgetting which is which.

Thanksgiving isn’t what it used to be. Crammed in between Halloween and Christmas, it’s almost overlooked. And often its meaning is forgotten in the rush to get to the Ho HO Ho of Christmas. Used to be that Christmas decorations and toys didn’t appear in the stores until after Thanksgiving. Not so anymore. A local radio station began playing all Christmas music several days before Thanksgiving.

It’s a leftover holiday. Leftover food. Leftover memories from an age gone by. Maybe one day it will disappear completely. I’ll be thankful if I’m not here to see that.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?


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The Picture

Sometimes it takes a while for the reality of something to sink into our brains. It may be a matter of coming to a place where you can accept the reality when it’s much easier to deny it, or it may just be that something hits you that says something like “remember that event? It’s real.”

After thirteen months, it’s finally beginning to sink in that my mother has died. Not that I was in denial or anything. I knew she had died. I saw her in the coffin. And the coffin in the ground. But I didn’t really accept that the person I had seen was my mother. Looked like her, but it wasn’t the woman I knew as my mother.

She died at age 90 of complications from dementia. Complications is a nice way of putting it. Basically, even though she had some memory issues, she knew she was alive, and what her quality of life was like, and would be like. And she said the hell with it, I’m done. After twenty six days of a self imposed starvation diet, she died. My father was with her. But I was nine hundred miles away.

She had been struggling for several years. It started gradually with, with small difficulties in finding a word when she was speaking. In the end most of her words were just a string of gibberish. It made sense to her, but no one understood what she was saying. And you could see her frustration.

For several years I was afraid that every time I visited her would be the last time I would see her alive. Finally I was right. It was one thing when she and my father lived in their own home. The place they lived for thirty eight years. But when they moved to the assisted living facility, which is really very nice, she went downhill fast. There was no more running on autopilot because she no longer knew where anything was. She stopped cooking, cleaning, making coffee, washing dishes. And her speech capabilities faded.

The last time I saw her I walked out of the room and knew I’d never see her alive again. She was sitting in a chair, babbling about something, looking very, very fragile. She had lost a lot of weight in the assisted living facility. She was my mother. At least she resembled her in appearance, and sounded similar. But the life I saw sitting in that chair was not the woman I knew as my mother.

My mother was vibrant and intelligent. She graduated from college the year before I did after having sacrificed for many, many years to raise her family. Her degree was in Far Eastern Art, and she got a job in an art museum working with Japanese wood block prints. Spoke Mandarin. She loved art and history and was widely travelled. Politically active with an eye toward power to the people. She was really something.

So, when she died I wasn’t surprised, and it wasn’t devastating. I lived nine hundred miles away so I hadn’t seen her as often as I would have liked. And after all, it was this new person, not my mother who had died. I went home, helped my dad and sister with the arrangements, went to the funeral and that was that. Sounds cold, but I loved my mother tremendously. She inspired me in my thirst for knowledge and deep thinking. But the woman who died was not my mother. Not in my mine.

As the anniversary of her death approached I thought about the facts. But they were just cold facts. She was dead. But in my mind, my mother, the person I knew as my mother, had been gone a long time, replaced by an imposter.

Then it came time for my own birthday. Just a few days later. And my wife was putting together a big party for me. Milestone birthday and all. She put out a lot of pictures of me as a kid and teen and young man and then as husband and father and whatever. At some point I looked glancing at one of these pictures and it captured my attention. A closer look revealed that my mother, my real mother, was in the picture. She was old, but vibrant, smiling, aware and active.

I had just completed the Philadelphia Marathon and she and my father had come to see me cross the finish line. My father took a picture of her hugging me as I wore my finisher’s medal and warming blanket. I was happy. She was happy. My father was disappointed I hadn’t won the race. He was convinced that being an overweight forty five year old white male was no excuse for not winning.

When I saw the look on her face in that picture, I recognized my mother. And then realized that my mother is gone. I can accept that. In a way it’s sad now, But I will always remember her as she was in her prime.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?


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She lived in a world filled with symbolism. Immersed in the ancient civilizations of China, Japan and the Native Americans, she was familiar with the importance of symbols in life. The Chinese and Japanese each have written languages made up of characters, each representing more than just a letter or even a word. They often describe a phrase, or a story, or have situational meaning. Native Americans have a limited written language in their native tongue, but do have symbols and sign language. This form of language results in hundreds, and even thousands of characters, or symbols, used in written communication.

She spoke Chinese, and read Japanese, and understood some of the words of the Native Americans of the eastern forests. Art was her forte though and as in all art, the creations of these peoples were filled with symbolism and hidden meaning.

When she died, she took with her a great deal of knowledge and expertise. I wish I had picked her brain so much more when I had the chance. But I knew some of the symbolism and I wanted to pay my final respects with as much of it as I could.

In choosing a flower arrangement, I opted for white chrysanthemums and blue iris.White is the color of death in the East, and chrysanthemums represent longevity. She was 90 years old when she died. The blue iris is recognized in China as the dancing spirit of Summer, its petals reminiscent of a butterfly’s wings. She certainly had a wonderful spirit. And both of these flowers were her favorites, and I remember her growing them in her garden for many years.

To her funeral I wore a wristwatch to recognize the Native American people of the Southwest. It had a sterling silver band, etched with leaf symbols, and encrusted with turquoise stones. This is my favorite watch, a taste I picked up from her. And I only wear it on very special occasions.

As I stood over her open casket, taking a final look, I placed a gift for her into what was once a warm and soft loving hand. Now cold and pale. It was a small Chinese cloisonné box. She loved the Chinese and Japanese enamelware, and ceramics. Inside the box I had placed a note to her for her journey. The note was written with a fountain pen made by the Esterbrook Pen Company, a place where she worked when she met my father. In the note I told her that my own children and I said to each other, every morning on their way to school, “and most of all, we love each other.” I knew she wasn’t really holding the box, but I hoped she was able to understand the massage. And to get the symbolism. She was my mother…

That’s part of my story. What’s yours? www.personalhistorywriter.com

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The Two Thousand Yard Stare

Mom was standing by the backdoor looking out over the patio and the yard. Her back was to me, but I could see the look on her face plain as day. It was just something I could feel in the air. And I know it well because I had inherited that look form her myself. It was a two thousand yard stare.

In 1944 artist Tom Lea was working for Life magazine as a war correspondent. One of his most famous portraits came out after his experience with the Peleliu campaign in the Pacific Theater. This battle seemed to have a dramatic impact on Lea as his style was significantly different afterwards. No doubt because of what he saw during the fierce fighting, hand to hand, cave by cave, to vanquish an enemy battling to the death.


The image is a combat hardened Marine whose appearance belies his young age. With eyes staring, wide open, you can tell he is in another place in his mind. Bill Mauldin, a war correspondent who showed America the war through the eyes of his famous “dogfaces” Willie and Joe, put it like this: “Look at an infantryman’s eyes and you can tell how much war he has seen.”

Mom isn’t a combat hardened Marine, but it was the same look. She was staring out that door, deep in thought. This was the house that was, until recently, her home. It had been her home for thirty-eight years. Now it was for sale, and she had moved to a much smaller place. An apartment in a retirement community.

I’m not sure what she was seeing out that door. Can only guess. The vegetable and flower garden she tended for many years. The apple orchard, now almost vanished as the trees aged and succumbed to rot and the burden of snowfall and high winds. My sister’s wedding reception was in that backyard with its tent and horse carriage and festivity. Grandchildren played there. Workers, including her husband and sons, renovating various parts of the house. Many memories.

Lost in time and place. She was reminiscing. And with a sudden turn, her eyes once again filled with impishness, she walked back into the kitchen and was ready to face her new world. To make new memories. To build a life in her new home.

Sometimes we need to go to our own places. Physically or mentally. And there regroup, rejuvenate, and prepare for the next step in our journey. That’s part of my story. What’s yours? www.personalhistorywriter.com

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Horseneck Beach

Creativity came from my mother’s side of the family. Or so I always thought. After all it was she who is the artist. She draws and paints. And is always good with an artistic project. You should have seen some of the Halloween costumes I wore! And she worked in an art museum as a curator. Not to mention that she was a collector as well.

But when I look back on it, my dad wasn’t just a rocket scientist; he’s pretty creative too. He’s a technician. By that I mean he can look at a sculpture by Louise Nevelson or a Mark Rothko painting and understand what they are really doing. And then create his own version of it. He didn’t “invent” the idea or the form or the style, but he understands it and makes it his own. In that way he’s a creative artist.

I was reminded of all if this when I brought home three of his wood sculptures. All are assemblages of pieces of wood. Two are a la Nevelson in that one is painted white and the other black. Nice, but copies.

It is the third one that is so wonderful. He called it Horseneck Beach. We would go to Horseback Beach every summer when we went to visit my father’s family in Massachusetts. One year, 1968 I think, my dad collected a lot of bits and pieces of driftwood off of the beach. Right, Horseneck Beach. He made a rectangular frame out of some weathered wood and filled the inside with the driftwood. In the center is a big flat piece that is covered with barnacles. It looks like the beach.

This one hung in a museum at a juried show. Sometime later a guy came to the front door at our house with some kind of package and he saw the sculpture hanging on the wall in the hallway. He said he’d seen it at the museum show and seemed to be really excited to see it again. Now I have a true museum piece hanging in my breakfast room!

Maybe the creativity comes from his side. Doesn’t matter where it comes from. Glad to have it! That’s part of my history. What’s yours? www.personalhistorywriter.comImage

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