GNL number 79

a report of doings at meeting # 79, Sunday, December 15, 2013
including liturgical items, major themes, and other odds and ends

INVOCATION

There are only two lasting bequests we can give our children —

one is ROOTS, and the other is WINGS.

~~~Hodding S. Carter, journalist and author


THEME

Ann opened today’s discussion of  What I Brought With Me From  My Family of Origin, with some warm memories, first of a Christmas tradition with her mother—making lollypops together, ‘just so’, as Mom directed.  And then of helping her dad stack the wood he would cut with his little unsharp chainsaw. She said hers was not a very communicative home, without much tradition for family stories; and she knew her dad was unhappy in his Madmen-like job at an ad agency, and became alcoholic. When she wondered how many of us had alcoholism in our family, we found it was most of us.

Nancy thought first of her love of music, which may have sprung from her mother’s stories of going to big-band dances in her youth, her mom’s swing LPs, and a favorite Santa gift at about 11: The Nutcracker Suite LPs, but with Freddy Martin’s big band. From her mom also a tie with the South (her family in West Virginia), and dad, with the North (his family from Canada), and the sense of both sides as Scots/Irish, which has inspired recent research fun. Another part of her heritage, like Ann’s, featured a not very expressive home life, and alcoholism, which probably fed alone feelings, but as well, a sense of being on her own to investigate things for herself, including the library and ways of life besides Christianity, and ultimately to begin to see we’re not alone.

Anna remembered her dad, whose job at the Brooklyn Eagle paid little, taking her to one of his union strikes when she was 5 or 6, and his strong union membership (Never cross a picket line).  And then of her mom’s starting her own little gift shop (that earned about $5 a week) to supplement their income.  We saw how his progressive social values and her creative, independent spirit influenced Anna.  She also spoke of her travels in the West and South as a young woman, and her journal about it, which original Cynthia said she had indeed copied. Which in turn brought our idea to share transcribing to typed version as a plan for our next meeting!

Gail said both her parents by their example as well as words, showed their children perseverance and adaptability. Her mother and dad divorced, married others, and later remarried each other; and in the time between, her mom went back to school at age 50 and became a nurse, while at the same time raising Gail’s niece.  So they gave their children a picture of life as a process where you keep open, solve problems, adapt.  She also referred to the alcoholism on both sides of the family, and how with the years, she’s come to understand it all better.

Our hostess Vijaya was reminded first of her father, whom she described as literally a visionary; when he was a young man he had had a dream-vision of the way a metal-melting furnace could work, and from this started his own pot manufacturing company. She remembered his running it like a family, though it grew to be the third-largest of its kind in India, and his staying open to others’ needs, inviting guests, feeding them before family.  And her mother, she recalled as a fine cook, generous, who would never send a vessel back to its owner without her own food-gift. We understood why V has always honored them both at an annual luncheon.

Sue brought several items inherited or saved: books she and her mother loved, a little tzitzit bag for a child’s Hanukkah dollar gifts, her mom’s tiny watch, and locks of family members’ hair. She spoke about her mother, all her life a reader who later went back to school, earned advanced degrees, then was happily a school principal.  She also spoke of the difficult heritage of mental illness on one side, reflected now in her brother. And about the elders on both sides, several to whom the Holocaust years were formative, but whose message, not dark, was full of life and survival. These, the stories and traditions they passed on have connected her to roots and identity.  She also told a lovely tale of her greataunt in late years leaving a bus with her pants fallen but not her dignity. (See N/Q in AW.)

Cynthia brought wonderful old photos of both sides of her family—her mother and sailor-father on their wedding day, her father’s parents, who had a farm in the Afton area, mom’s parents and many relatives who lived in Massachusetts, but had come from Italy. She recalled her dad as a handsome redhead, who left while she was still a child, and said she spent a lot of time with her paternal grandparents; she remembered well the bookcases they had in almost every room, and how she would feast on the books.  She recalled too, frequent visits to her mother’s family in the Newton, MA area, and how her grandpa there, would at the drop of a hat exclaim in a loud voice God Bless America! and always tell the kids to speak English, not Italian.

At the end, Vijaya’s sister Indira, visiting from India, joined us and added to Vijaya’s comments, especially on cooking.  She told us the way she and her sisters and most Indian women still grow up learning to cook was by observing and helping the mother or family, rather than from recipes and books. (And we could testify:  these sisters are great cooks.)

We agreed it was time for us to send our offering to one of our favorite places and programs in the world, the House of Flowers Orphanage in Kabul, Afghanistan, which is facing winter needs.


BENEDICTION

I saw behind me those who had gone, and before me, those who are to come. I looked back and saw my father, and his father, and all our fathers, and in front to see my son, and his son, and the sons upon sons beyond. And their eyes were my eyes.

~~~Richard Llewellyn, author of novel How Green Was My Valley


NEXT TIME

Sunday, January 12, 2014 (1030) at Sue’s (or Plan B at Nancy’s), and the topic is Anna’s Journal (which we’ll take parts of to convert to type) and WritingWhat Do We Write About/When/Why/How?


AFTERWORDS

from Nancy:

(a poem of great power that I meant to read at the meeting—)

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear,

I rise,

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear,

I rise,

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise,

I rise,

I rise.

~~~Maya Angelou

from Sue:

Quotations:

  • “I like the idea that there is something each of us takes from our household of origin when we set off on our own to create our own homes and families. What from my parents’ household has come to me…? What did I bring with me, knowingly and unknowingly? How do the talismans and the stories of my childhood continue to shape me and my house, and what will they mean to my son as he grows?” ~~~Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
  • “How objects are handed on is all about story-telling. I am giving you this because I love you. Or because it was given to me. Because I bought it somewhere special. Because you will care for it. Because it will complicate your life. Because it will make someone else envious. There is no easy story in legacy. What is remembered and what is forgotten? There can be a chain of forgetting, the rubbing away of previous ownership as much as the slow accretion of stories.” ~~~Edmund De Waal, The Hare With Amber Eyes, FS&G, 2010, p.17
  • “Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.” ~~~Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
  • “Time is an enormous, long river, and I’m standing in it, just as you’re standing in it. My elders are the tributaries, and everything they thought and every struggle they went through and everything they gave their lives to, and every song they created, and every poem that they laid down flows down to me – and if I take the time to ask, and if I take the time to see, and if I take the time to reach out, I can build that bridge between my world and theirs. I can reach down into that river and take out what I need to get through this world” ~~~Utah Phillips The Long Memory, with Ani DiFranco

Assorted info I said I’d research:

  • for an explanation of Tzitzit — Wikipedia is pretty good with entymology and how they’re made, and what they mean.
  • elastic has been in use (as in the waistbands of underwear) since the mid-19th century — for the whole article read here.
  • all about pi day.
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