Thursday, March 17, 2016

Papa .... (Parent's spit made me run?)

Mom wrote this post in 2012. It was titled Papa ... I think "Parent's spit made me run" would be just as fitting! This post is in her draft bucket but I can only assume that it was posted at some time because there are comments. Here is what she wrote ... 

Today one of the German newspapers reported about the 
unwritten rule in soccer 'trip, push, kick opponent all you can but never spit'.

'spit' opened one of my memory drawers.

Sub burbs of Athens. Our patio was a concrete one, narrow and very long on the side of the house. Papa used it as his exercise room. I don't know how often he walked it back and forth. It seemed like the entire day when he was not busy having a nap or sitting in coffee shops downtown Athens. Some areas under foot would become so hot that you could fry an egg. I was 6 years old when Papa said "You see the man standing across the street, go and get me a newspaper, look I'm spitting into the corner here, make sure to be back before it dries up".

And here is our story ... well mostly mine but Ellena was involved. 

I'm not terribly fond of spit. We lived in a predominantly Greek and Italian neighbourhood where you'd often catch men, sometimes women, spitting on the sidewalks. Mom and I would be totally grossed out and found it unacceptable! We happened to be talking about this during one of my visits in late 2015 and that's when I reminded Mom of an incident that happened with her. 

I must have been somewhere around 8 years old, old enough to walk to the store on my own ... this was the 60's after all. It was a hot muggy summer day and all of a sudden Mom was in the mood for some Melomakarona and Kourabiedes (Greek cookies soaked with honey and Greek butter cookies dusted with icing sugar). She asked me to go to the bakery and pick up a dozen of each. I couldn't just go to any Greek bakery - She wanted me to go to this specific bakery that was 10 blocks away from our home! 

It was a stinking hot summer day, around noon when the sun is at it's hottest, the bakery was far, and all I wanted to do was stay inside and play instead of running a cookie errand. I whined and lamented hoping that she'd leave me alone but no - Mom had a craving and it had to be satisfied. I'm sure I annoyed her and her request eventually became an order. Firmly, she gave me money, instructed me again as to which bakery I should go to and then, to make sure I was prompt, spit on the inside window ledge and said "You better be back before this spit dries up"! 

Oh my!  The pressure was on and I just wanted to stomp my feet, cry and refuse ... but I didn't.  I knew better and hustled my butt to the bakery! I'm sure I mumbled to myself all the way there and back, didn't let the usual candy store or park distract me along the way and came back as quickly as I could. I ran up the stairs (we lived on the 2nd floor of a 2 story duplex), gave her the box, and ran to the window to check the spit. Phew, I made it back in time! 

Looking back, I'm not sure what the consequence would have been - a threat was all I needed. Come to think of it, was Mom just annoyed and wanted to make sure I didn't dilly dally? Did she feel a touch sorry for me and made sure that her spit was a big blob? Who knows .... I was young, generally obedient and worried about getting in trouble all the way to the bakery and back. The spit? well size didn't seem to matter and there is no way I could have figured out how long it would take to evaporate!

Mom had a good chuckled when I told her the story. I laughed too but said that it was an awfully mean thing to do to a child that was mostly obedient and never dared to contradict a parent. I repeated the story when Mom was in the hospital. My sister, uncle and aunt were there and we all laughed about it. That's when Mom told us about how her Dad had done the same thing to her when she was young. Ah ha!  Now I knew who had given her the idea!

This is the only incidence I remember where Mom was firm and threatened me. I'm sure she was in no mood to go out herself and Dad was most likely dozing off and wasting the sunday away. Mom and I ate the cookies together, me with a big glass of milk and mom with some coffee. I'm still not fond of people spitting on sidewalks and I never used this tactic with my children. I was too traumatized by it (ha ha ha) ... but not enough to never eat Greek cookies! In fact I love Greek cookies, Baklava, and Loukoumades -  drench something in honey syrup and I'm there! 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Remembering Birthdays

Today is Ellena's birthday.

She would have been 81 years young.

The first thing I did this morning was to honour her by lighting a bees wax candle in the candle holder she kept on her living room table. A time dedicated to Mom where I can talk to her in my head, gather my thoughts, sip on my tea and begin to write this post.

I've basically replicated her 'look' by putting her decorative plate, Greek worry beads. and candle holder on my family room table. This way she's always close to me and a constant memory trigger of the times we've sat around her table. Mom in her blue chair and me on the sofa, talking, laughing, watching tv and knitting together.

Many of us think of the Ides of March when March 15th is mentioned. It does carry a negative betrayal vibe since it's the day Julius Ceasar was betrayed and assassinated but there is someone else who also shares this birth date - St Nicholaus!! He's known for his role in bringing about miracles and for bestowing gifts which eventually inspired the modern day Santa Claus. Wouldn't you know it! Mom's favourite time of the year was Christmas. December was filled with tradition beginning with the Adventskranz (Advent Wreath) in early December; followed by the purchase of a real tree that was later decorated with candles instead of electrical lights; snack plates filled with nuts, candies, german cookies and marzipan were spread out throughout the house; and her angels came out to be proudly displayed. It culminated with the massive Christmas eve sauerkraut and spaetzle meal followed by goose on Christmas day. We knew what to expect and looked forward to it every single year. I won't elaborate any more because Christmas deserves a post of its own!

My sister and I have been dreading this day because it's such an important date. It's difficult enough to loose a loved one and 'special' dates make it that much harder. Just thinking about it fills me with sadness. Saying happy birthday doesn't feel appropriate so I'll stick to holding her in my thoughts the whole day.

We always looked forward to celebrating Mom's birthday and this time there was nothing to plan for. No thoughtful birthday present to enjoy giving, no special cake to eat or candles to blow out, no phone or skype call, and no visit to the Laurentians. Nothing to physically celebrate with her. All I can do is hold onto memories and acknowledge her through my own actions/activities.

I've decided to celebrate with my family. We're having  diner together tonight (Their dad and I are separated and my son now has his own place) followed by the launch of a few flying lanterns over Lake Ontario. We'll be eating the last piglet roast my mom had in her freezer and then we'll bundle our love and best wishes into these lanterns and release them to the skies. Maybe she will sense or feel our energy and maybe not. I'm not sure where I stand on this subject but a big part of me wants to believe that her soul will spot us and smile down at us - perhaps giggling and  telling us to not be so sad. It would have been nice to do this together with my sister's family and my brother but unfortunately I live 6 hours away from them.

My sister will have a tougher day because her youngest son was born on the same date as Mom. Her day will be filled with joy when celebrating Hayden's special day and sadness when thinking about Mom. Tanya and I will most likely spend some time on skype talking about Mom, sharing nice memories and shedding a few tears. It's all good though ... I really don't mind the tears since they release the sadness and acknowledge my love for her.

Now to the subject of this post ... birthdays and another story about Ellena ...

Ellena was THE BEST when it came to birthdays. Family and friends always received a birthday card on or prior to their birthdays.

Mom kept track of birthdays with her little red 'birthday' book which she kept on her hutch (right side of the hutch pictured here). Each set of facing pages covered a week and the book was always open on the page of the next upcoming birthday(s). She used this smooth egg shaped stone, which sat on a silver ring, as her paper weight to keep the book's pages open. Ellena diligently logged family's and friends' birthdays and also made sure to update her entries when someone passed away. Not a single birthday was forgotten and the cards always arrived on time.

Mom would either buy cards or make them herself. She was always prepared and had one desk drawer dedicated to cards and envelopes! She also collected quotes throughout the years and would always write something thoughtful inside the card. It was a delight to receive a card from Mom and I always looked forward to seeing what special words she'd left for me.

Mom had a special birthday tradition with one of her friends - they had been sending each other the same card since 1988! (card pictured here). Tanya and I came across it while Mom was in the hospital and didn't understand the meaning of it until I called Carol to let her know that Mom had passed away.

This card was packed, I mean packed with notes and pages that had been sent back and forth at each birthday!  Logistically placed scotch tape held everything together. Carol and Mom seldom saw each other but their friendship was deep, caring and loving. They kept this friendship alive through their birthdays. The fact that it's been travelling back and forth for so long gives it a life of its own. I kept the card for a few weeks because I wanted to leaf through it but I never read all the notes since I felt it was something between Carol and Mom. Touching the pages and unfolding/refolding them was soothing, as if I were touching something sacred where I could feel the friendship and absorb the thoughtfulness and love that had been exchanged for the last 28 years.  The card was sent back to Carol and I have to admit that it saddened me to let it go of it but I knew that it was not mine to keep.

Mom's thoughtfulness and discipline (cards always arrived on time) made family and friends feel special. It wasn't just a birthday wish written on a facebook wall or a quick call. It was a good old fashioned birthday greeting that required effort and thoughtfulness. It was manually purchased or made, inscribed with personalized thoughtful words, hand delivered to the post office, and delivered to its destination by our postal carriers. It's an ancient tradition considering how everything is quick and/or electronic these days.

As with everything that Mom did, there was attention to detail and that little extra mile that made all the difference. Her thoughtfulness was reciprocated and Mom always received cards on her birthday. She appreciated thoughtfulness and hand made cards just as much as she enjoyed being the 'giver'. She kept some of the cards we made as children or sent her as adults and put them in separate small binders for each of her children. Mementos she treasures were respectfully saved and cherished. I'm so happy that she kept all these treasures because it has given me a lot of delight as I have been slowly going through her possessions. She made me feel special when she was alive and that feeling remains as I see how she treasured some of the items I gave her.

"Love begins at home. It is not how much we do but how much love we put in that action". Until we meet again ... thinking of you Mom on your special day.


Friday, March 11, 2016

Going through stuff

Mom, like most people, knew that anything, good or bad, can happen to any of us at any time however she always imagined that the 'bad' things laid somewhere in the distant future. She unfortunately found out otherwise after Mabel made her presence known.

Knowing that her time on earth was limited, Mom began to go through her 'stuff' and rid herself of anything she deemed irrelevant or useless. Always efficient and thinking of others, she wanted to lighten our load once she was gone. The side effect from sifting through her belongings was that it stirred up memories and brewed new stories. A gift from Mabel? Perhaps since Mom always stressed when I'd ask her questions about the past.

Mom asked me to take a picture of this dishcloth when I visited her in January. It turns out that it belonged to my grandmother. Mom saved it after Oma died and loved using it. She seemed especially proud of the little holes - a sign that the dish cloth had served us well.

I can just hear Mom pondering about the dish cloth's life. How many dishes, glasses, pots, pans and cutlery has this cloth come in contact with? How many times was it used to polish the stove top, the fridge door, or the kitchen table until they sparkled? What conversations did it witness as Oma, my mother, my brother or my sister cleaned up after a meal? It certainly isn't the cloth of Turin but it definitely has a meaningful life of its own.

Mom was impeccable when it came to housekeeping. Dishes had to be washed in the hottest water possible but they didn't have to be immediately dried and put away unless there was company present or expected. She always used dish gloves and only a certain brand name was allowed to protect her hands. Mom also had a favourite sponge brand which came in a large block and she'd cut it up into appropriate dish washing size. I loved how that sponge retained the dish wash liquid and had told her so. Of course, when I visited last, she had bought me the exact same sponge!

Who would have thought that a simple ordinary sponge would delight me so much but then ... it was just like Mom to remember the small things and thoughtfully do something unexpected.  Mom specialized in delighting people with small thoughtful acts that showed how she cared about us.


Note #1: Mom began this post with the title and the photo but never had a chance to write it.

Note #2: Oh oh ... I see that the post shows as being written by Ellena. I've set myself up as an admin so I don't understand why the post is not showing as me having written it. Does anyone know how I can correct this?

Note #3: Ah ha!  I think I know why it's showing under Mom's name!   It's because the post had been started by her!  I'll know better for the next time!