Category Archives: Holidays

This One’s for You, Ken

 

The photograph above is my all-time favorite, the back story of which I will share more about later, so stick with me.

On November 13, I ranted about something Trumpian on Facebook, which prompted my dear and old college friend Ken to post this response: “I like it better when you are happy.”

Happy Teri seems like an oxymoron to me, although not quite at the jumbo shrimp level.

But Ken’s one-liner called me to happy action. Sort of.

Now, the last blog post I wrote back on October 17, was about My Elephant, which was not even close to happy.

So, in honor of Ken’s request, on November 14, I set to writing a happy Teri blog post.

November 14 turned into November 21, and then Thanksgiving arrived.

For those of you who are not in the know, holidays don’t make Teri happy.

So, I figured I would wait until early December to find my happy, but then, you know…those damn Christmas songs on FM 106.7 that I hate to listen to, but can’t stop myself from listening to, make anything remotely close to happy Teri, impossible.

Teri with her hands tightly glued to the steering wheel bawling her eyes out, while weepily singing ♪Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire ♪ would not make Ken proud.

I promised myself—for Ken—that I would not write another post unless it contained some morsel of happy Teri.

(FYI: I have never gone this long without blogging, so thanks for nothing, Ken.)

Fast forward to Christmas Eve, and here I am still searching for any flicker of happy for my next blog post.

Flicker?  Just writing the word has me teetering toward the dark side.

It’s Christmas Eve. You know what that means—the dreaded flickering yule log. Just thinking about those wretched logs perfectly burning in that perfect fireplace makes me well up with unhappiness.

So here I am sitting at my desk at 4:38 pm on Christmas Eve, and I’m struggling Ken.

Almost ready to throw in the happy towel, I look around my desk and think that maybe something might give.

And there it is. Sitting right in front of me on my desk, in all its glory.

The fave photo of me with my grandmother, Mammy (pronounced May-Me), given to me in 2001 by my aunt—the first time I met my father’s family.

I had never seen the photo before, and I was obsessed with it for so many reasons, and on so many levels.

But mostly because I saw a happy Teri.  Okay, I wasn’t full on smiling, but oh my, look at that grin.

Now mind you, I’m sure at whatever age I was in the photo, I didn’t know anything about happy.  It seems to me that being happy is an adult obsession.

My aunt presented the black and white photo to me at a lunch she hosted at her home with my other aunt and three of my half-siblings for what I assumed was our first ever meeting.

It was an out of body experience for sure.

But even weirder than meeting my aunts and siblings at forty-eight years old was that photograph of Mammy and me in front of a Christmas tree.

My eldest aunt explained in meticulous detail that the photo was taken at my grandmother’s apartment on Huron Street. (Now for any of you that know me or have read my posts, Huron Street does not make Teri happy.)

She went on to tell me a lovely Christmas Eve story about my two aunts being there, as well as my Uncle Lou (who I hadn’t yet met), and my mom.

I fingered the photo gently. I traced my grandmother’s heart-shaped face juxtaposed to my chubby round one.

I spoke out loud, explaining to my newly found family, where, in the Huron Street living room, it looked like the tree stood—most likely in the far-left corner. I told them that I was certain we were seated in the old musty club chair that sat in that room for years.

Mammy’s arm was protectively wrapped around me, and she looked glowing. My tiny hand was lightly touching hers.

Behind us, I could see a stocking hung on the tree, most likely home-made by Mammy, and a card perched on a branch that may or may not have been Mother Mary. I wondered if my dress was also home-made.

“Were we both dressed in white?” I asked my aunt. She couldn’t remember.

When I came back to my grinning face, I noticed my eyes. They were gazing up at someone.  And I could tell—that someone was special. Very special. Happy special.

There was a happy twinkle in those eyes; I could see it. Can you?

The studying eyes were intently fixed—staring steadily, watchfully, and with complete adoration.  The person on the receiving end was making baby Teri immensely happy.

“Who am I looking at?” I asked my aunt.

She couldn’t remember.

Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving

We all know the Thanksgiving drill: The turkey feast, dysfunctional family drama, and getting through the mundane recitations around the table about why we’re thankful. A day full of imperfections, complications, and fat pants.

Two weeks before Turkey Day the young, insecure “Terry” comes out, as I pour over recipes.

What can I cook up to make everybody happy? I design elaborate tablescapes, grocery shop, pre-plan, plan and re-plan the big shebang.

On the day of, I’m a one woman band, and I’m okay with that. I spend most of my holiday in the kitchen, which is fine with me. My way of saying I love you.

Dicing, slicing, mincing chopping, grinding, smashing, peeling, shredding.

All the while dancing, singing and sometimes crying to the songs on my iPod.

Sautéing, basting, and baking.  Always with precision, duty, perfection. And always result oriented—the need to please.

The need to love. The need to be loved.

As I prepare the turkey I fondly remember the time when I was about nine that my French grandmother Mammy whipped our turkey out of the sink and started singing and dancing with it in our shabby Huron Street kitchen. I bolted out of my chair and joined in, our hands entwined with the turkey legs, water dripping on both of us.

Alouette, gentille alouette. Alouette, je te plumerai. 

I didn’t know it then, I couldn’t know it then, that I was in the middle of a diamond moment—a moment in time that I would remember every Thanksgiving for the rest of my life.

This Thanksgiving, most of our family is unavailable, so my daughter Ariel suggested we do Sushgiving on Friday— a little sushi and a lot of thanks.

I agreed, but I was also determined to prepare a Thanksgiving feast—even if it was just for my husband and me.

More than any other recent Thanksgiving, I desperately needed a day of gratitude, with some turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes thrown in for good measure.

It’s been 31 years since my grandmother died and I have lived more than half my life without her. Mammy’s long gone, but her love of Thanksgiving will never die.

So I was determined to shop and cook for days, and then get up at the crack of dawn on Thanksgiving and prepare a humongous feast—even if it was just for two of us.

Because I am Mammy’s granddaughter.

Last night, with the television blaring to keep me company, I prepared Mammy’s fruit and Jell-O mold and sadly recalled my lost family.

And then I thought about all the families that would sit down to Thanksgiving dinner this year having survived hurricanes, wildfires and mass shootings.

How many families would sit around a table, with their loved ones missing?

Empty chairs.

As I measured and stirred, I silently asked God how someone could find the inner strength and courage to give thanks after losing everything.

God answered me. Sort of.

At the exact moment I asked God how, a mother and sister of a woman killed in the Las Vegas shooting tearfully said this on television:  “Be together. Just stay close with your family. You have to find the light. You have to find the beauty. It’s out there. Darkness is so strong, but light is stronger.”

Last Thanksgiving one of my beautiful granddaughters dropped a ginormous blob of Mammy’s cherry Jell-O mold on my white linen dining chair.

I gazed down and cringed at the probable permanent stain it would leave.

My granddaughter attempted to scoop up the jiggly mess with her tiny fingers while unknowingly sealed it into the delicate linen fabric even more.

That chair was toast.

She looked up at me and with a beaming smile squished the goop into my hand.

I gazed into her bright eyes and caught a glimpse of her future: preparing her own Thanksgiving dinner—cooking, singing, dancing.

I saw in her angelic face, all the Thanksgivings coming her way.

Chairs full of family.

With my hand full of red goo, missing my grandmother on the inside, but smiling on the outside, I gave my granddaughter a crushing bear hug and a whole-hearted thanks.

Not a Creature Was Stirring, Not Even a Mouse

What’s your very first memory?

I often ask this question to family, friends, and colleagues.

The answer to my question never fails to enlighten me and speaks volumes about the person remembering.

Here’s mine:

My First Memory—December 25, 1957

It was late Christmas night and Mammy, (pronounced May-me), and I were sitting on the couch admiring what I thought was a truly magnificent Christmas tree.

Mammy was my grandmother—my surrogate mother. My mom was divorced, and very young when she had me, so Mammy was raising us both. I never knew my father.

Mammy used to explain to me that when I was a baby I was confused and couldn’t figure out who was the Mom.  Mammy used to call herself Grammy around me, but when I was old enough to speak, I bestowed upon her the weird name of Mammy.

According to Mammy, at ten or so months old I had brilliantly managed to come up with a name that was a cross between Grammy and Mommy.

Mammy was also divorced, so I never knew my grandfather. And Grammy Nadeau, my great grandmother, was a widow and lived with us too.  And like my father and grandfather, I never knew my great grandfather either. Grammy Nadeau was sleeping that Christmas night and my mom was on a date.

Mammy was busily crocheting an afghan. Almost sixty years later I still have that afghan. I curl up with it nearly every night and wrap myself in Mammy’s memory.

Back to my first memory: Christmas night 1957.

I was four years old, and my head rested on Mammy’s shoulder. I was trying to be especially quiet because Mammy was preoccupied with her crocheting, and I was hoping that if she forgot that I was there, I could stay up a little later. I closed my eyes and was drifting off until Mammy began to softly poke my arm.

When I looked up at Mammy, she had a mischievous look on her face, as she put her finger up to her mouth to shush me. She then took her finger off her lips and pointed toward the tree.

So I took Mammy’s cue and gazed at our sparsely decorated tree, adorned with a single strand of blinking lights, a teensy bit of tinsel and a few ornaments, most of them home-made.

Underneath the tree sat my treasured present from Santa Claus.  She was the most beautiful doll I had ever seen. I named her China because she had the silkiest long, shiny black hair, and a flawless porcelain face.  It must have been an expensive doll—much more than Mammy or Mommy could afford.

Anyway, China was sitting under the tree, wearing a red organza pinafore that Mammy sewed for her which to my delight perfectly matched the red Christmas dress she had designed for me.

As I sat looking curiously at the doll under the tree, wondering why Mammy was pointing and shushing, I noticed a tiny mouse sniffing around China. I looked up at Mammy terrified, but she was smiling ever so softly, still shushing me with her pursed lips.

So I looked back at the mouse with a different eye—from Mammy’s tender perspective.

As a child, I was entirely molded by those three women in my life. What they saw I saw. What they felt, I felt.

Mammy had no problem with the little mouse—it was just a baby after all, and so I was all right with it too.

The mouse sniffed around my doll and then snuggled in its lap.

I looked at Mammy’s bright and smiling face, as she lightly kissed her index finger and then playfully touched the tip of my nose with it.

Taking my cue from Mammy, I lay my head back on her shoulder, watched the baby mouse sleeping and then closed my eyes, and drifted into my own peaceful sleep.

 

The Little Drummer Girl from Bridgeport Connecticut

The Little Drummer Girl A

I spent a couple of hours yesterday reading through a creative writing fellowship application, and came to the following question:

What was the first piece of creative writing you ever produced?

Since I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, I really had to dig deep for the answer.

And since my response is required as part of the fellowship application (should I decide to even apply), I figured I could practice up with this blog entry. You know, write it down and then see if it has any legs.

It was December, and I was in the third grade at Saint Ambrose Catholic School. I will never forget that it was right before Christmas, because our teacher, Sister Regina Mary, placed a small figurine of the baby Jesus in his manger on a table in our classroom and gave us an assignment.

Each one of us was to bring a gift for the baby Jesus on or prior to the last day before the holiday break. It could be a monetary donation for the St. Ambrose School or church, a wrapped gift that would be passed out at a local orphanage on Christmas day, or some canned or jarred goods that would be donated to a food kitchen.

My classmates were beyond excited. Me? Not so much. What kind of gift could I possibly round up for the baby Jesus?

Because we wore school uniforms, there was hardly anything to tip off my fellow classmates to the fact that I was dirt poor.

I say hardly because my shoes were always the giveaway.

While others were shopping at the local department stores, I was supplied with clothes from the Salvation Army. And since my feet were huge, the only footwear appropriate for my age and fit me, were boy’s shoes.

The old adage “You can judge a person by their shoes,” didn’t work so well for me back then.

Anyway, after school that day, I walked home defeated and depressed. Heck, we couldn’t even afford shoes so my thoughts came back to the same dilemma.

How was I supposed to muster up an impressive gift for the baby Jesus?

My grandmother, always the optimist, sat me down at the kitchen table to “put our heads together.” But try as we could, the bottom line? I had no gift to give.

And then it hit me. I had no gift to give!

Neither did the little drummer boy, I told my grandmother. And then we went to work.

Days before the holiday break, the kids were bringing in envelopes of all sizes and colors, beautifully wrapped Christmas gifts, canned soups, hams, jars of jellies and jams, other non-perishable goodies, and decorative tins of that God awful fruit cake.

For several nights before the “deadline” I would sit at the kitchen table with my grandmother. While I vigorously wrote away, she created a masterful drum for me. She meticulously adorned a Quaker Oats container in gold foil wrapping paper saved from the year before. Then she rummaged around in her sewing kit and found some red piping to further enhance the look of the drum.

As she glued, I wrote.

On the last day before the holiday break, I was a nervous wreck and started to regret my whole simpleminded drummer girl story line.

My grandmother lent me two of her wooden crochet hooks for drumsticks, shoved them, the drum, and my hand-written story into a brown paper grocery bag and sent me on my way.

As I dragged myself to school, I rehearsed aloud and prayed that I wouldn’t let my nerves get the best of me and screw up my baby Jesus gift.

As the school bell rang, I squirmed nervously at my desk, with the paper bag carefully resting on my tapping ugly boy shoes.

When Sister Regina Mary asked if anyone had any last minute gifts for the baby Jesus, I warily and shyly raised my hand. She looked at me with disdain.

Another back story I should mention.

Because I was raised in a home with all women (my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother) and no father, the nuns didn’t take too kindly to me. I was from a “broken home,” and as such, a second-hand sinner.

The Sister indifferently asked me to come up to the front of the class.

I took a deep breath, grabbed the paper bag, and walked over to the baby Jesus.

I pulled out my story, silently told myself I could do this, and recited it to the class.

The story was about a poor girl from Bridgeport Connecticut, who was supposed to give a gift to the baby Jesus. But she had no money, and so she had no gift. And then she came up with an idea with her grandmother. A simple gift that she prayed the baby Jesus would like.

The whole class was whispering and asking each other what this stupid girl wearing boy’s shoes was talking about.

Sister Regina Mary stood by the blackboard with her arms crossed waiting for the baby Jesus gift.

I reached into the paper bag, pulled out the contents, and began to sing — Little Drummer Boy style…

Little baby Pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor girl too Pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring Pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give our King Pa rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum
Shall I play for you? Pa rum pum pum pum
On my drum

Mary nodded Pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time Pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him Pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him Pa rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum
Then He smiled at me Pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum

Tears filled Sister Regina Mary’s eyes but to be honest, I could care less. Sister Regina Mary was of no importance to me.

What was of import, was that I was proud of myself and mostly relieved the whole stressful ordeal was over.

The bottom line? I had given my all for the baby Jesus.

But most importantly, and what I will never forget for as long as I live…

As I turned around to go back to my seat, I caught a fleeting glimpse of my grandmother slipping quietly away from the classroom door.

The Holiday Blues

The-Holiday-Blues
Joy to the world? Not for everyone.

For many, the holiday season, starting with Thanksgiving and ending on New Year’s Day serves as a reminder of lost loved ones and a happier, simpler time.

Me? I need to find me a river and skate away…

Joy to the world, the holidays are here
no joy for me, just sadness and fear.
I try to remember the things that meant so much
like my grandmother’s smile, my mother’s touch.
But year after year I can’t seem to let go
of the saddest moments, I will ever know.
During this season, I wish the pain would go away
so I can enjoy just one lousy peaceful day.
For once I want to feel alive and whole
and not let a few weeks take such a personal toll.
I somehow need to figure out a way
to find the light and keep the darkness at bay.

 

Memorial Day: Something to Think About Between the Barbeque and the Beer

First Memorial Day honoring 257 Union soldier-martyrs 10000 freed men march led by 3000 children

On May 1, 1865, Memorial Day was started by former slaves in Charleston, S.C., to honor 257 dead Union soldiers who had been hastily buried in a mass grave in an upscale race track converted into a Confederate prison camp. After the Confederate evacuation of Charleston, black workmen went to the site, dug up the bodies and worked for two weeks to give them a proper burial as gratitude for fighting for their freedom.

The freedmen cleaned up and landscaped the burial ground, building an enclosure and an arch labeled, “Martyrs of the Race Course.” Then, nearly ten thousand people, mostly freedmen in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged an unforgettable parade of 10,000 people on the slaveholders’ race course. At 9am, the procession began and was led by about 3,000 black school children carrying armloads of roses and singing “John Brown’s Body.”

Several hundred black women then followed with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses. Then came the black men, marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantry and other black and white citizens. As many as possible gathered in the cemetery enclosure; the children sang “We’ll Rally around the Flag,” the “Star-Spangled Banner,” and several other spiritual songs before several black ministers read from scripture. Years later, the celebration would come to be called the “First Decoration Day” in the North.

The old racetrack is gone, but an oval roadway survives on the site in Hampton Park, named for Wade Hampton, former Confederate general and the governor of South Carolina after the end of Reconstruction. The old gravesite of the Martyrs of the Race Course is gone too; they were reinterred in the 1880’s at a national cemetery in Beaufort, S.C.

Another touching and unforgettable early Memorial Day celebration happened on April 25, 1866, at Friendship Cemetery in Columbus, Mississippi, where four women met to decorate the graves of fallen Confederate soldiers. Forty Union soldiers were also buried in that same ground, and the women, in a spirit of generosity, decorated those graves as well.

The Columbus event made national headlines. A lawyer in Ithaca, New York, Francis Miles Finch, on reading of the incident, wrote the following poem about it, which was published on September 1867 in The Atlantic Monthly.

The Blue and the Gray
By the flow of the inland river,
Where the fleet of iron has fled,
Where the blades of the grave grass quiver,
Asleep are the ranks of the dead.
Under the sod and the dew
Waiting the Judgement Day,
Under the one the Blue,
Under the other the Gray.

Those in the robings of glory,
Those in the gloom of defeat;
All with the battle blood gory,
In the dusk of Eternity meet.
Under the sod and the dew
Waiting the Judgement Day,
Under the laurel the Blue,
Under the willow the Gray.

From the silence of sorrowful hours,
The desolate mourners go,
Lovingly laden with flowers,
Alike for the friends and the foe.
Under the sod and the dew
Waiting the Judgement Day,
Under the roses the Blue,
Under the lilies, the Gray.

So, with an equal splendor,
The morning sunrays fall,
With a touch impartially tender,
On the blossoms blooming for all.
Under the sod and the dew
Waiting the Judgement Day,
Broidered with gold, the Blue,
Mellowed with gold, the Gray.

So, when the summer calleth,
On forest and field of grain,
With an equal murmur falleth,
The cooling drip of the rain.
Under the sod and the dew
Waiting the Judgement Day,
Wet with the rain, the Blue.
Wet with the rain, the Gray.

Sadly but not with upbraiding,
The generous deed was done,
In the storm of the years that are fading,
No braver battle was won.
Under the sod and the dew
Waiting the Judgement Day,
Under the blossoms, the Blue,
Under the garlands, the Gray.

No more shall the war cry sever,
Or the winding rivers be red;
They banish our anger forever,
When they laurel the graves of our dead.
Under the sod and the dew
Waiting the Judgement Day,
Love and tears for the Blue.
Tears and love for the Gray.

****

When you throw back that beer today, don’t forget to make a toast to all the military men, women and their families for their incredible sacrifice.  And never forget that we’re free because so many heroes fought and died to protect our country.  And so many are dying and protecting our country at this very moment. Now I’ll drink to that.

Memorial Day two children A mourner, believed to be Air Force Reserve Captain Teresa Dutcher lays at the grave of Corporal Michael Avery Pursel at Arlington National Cemetary in Arlington, Virginia. She visits the cematery at the conclusion of the "Flags In" on May 24, 2012. Each year for the past 40 years, the 3rd U.S. Infantry or "Old Guard" honors America's war dead by placing American flags at the gravestones of service members buried at Arlington National Cemetery prior to Memorial Day weekend. The tradition, known as "flags in," is conducted annually by the 3rd U.S. Infantry, the Army's official ceremonial unit. Every available soldier in the 3rd U.S. Infantry participates, placing a small American flag one foot in front and centered before each grave marker over a three-hour period. During this time, the soldiers place flags in front of more than 260,000 gravestones. Memorial Day Mother & Child Memorial Day Little Girl