Friday, April 07, 2006

I'm in The Times (too bad not in the money)!

In the swirl of the last month --during which I was accepted to four of the six graduate writing programs to which I applied (MFA in creative nonfiction -- I know, I can't believe it either), I nearly forgot that I also accomplished another writing goal -- a letter in the Letters to the Editor section of The New York Times. Last time that happened, I was 16 and a rabid New York Rangers fan and wrote in to protest Eddie Giacomin being traded to the Islanders. But I digress. For those of you who may not know, the Times receives thousands of letters every week, so if I may say so, it's a pretty nifty thing!

So, here it is -- written in response to an article that declared that letter-writing is a dead art for young people today, growing up in the age of text messages, instant messages, cell phones, and email.

The Touch, the Feel, of That Written Letter

Published: March 20, 2006
To the Editor:
Re "Write Grandma a What?" (Thursday Styles, March 16):
How sad that those of my children's generation — perhaps my own children — may never have the cache of old, personal letters and cards I have in my keepsake box.
I have only to sift through these stacks of letters, still neatly folded in their envelopes (some with obscenely low postage), and I am immediately transported back — to high school, camp, college, my first apartment and other significant times in my life.
There's a letter from Mom, in her neat penmanship, with triple exclamation points and underlines, congratulating me on making the dean's list. There's a card from a long-gone aunt, in her flourishing script, wishing me well on the birth of my first child.
Letters, notes and cards from friends and relatives all tell a tale and evoke the sender, even decades later, across continents, time, even death. What will the e-mail generation have instead? Who prints out e-mail or text messages?
I still insist that my kids (ages 8 and 12) write thank-you notes, in their own hand, mentioning the gift and something good about it. But then, I guess I'm a dinosaur.
-- March 16, 2006

Of Knives and Listening

It’s interesting the things we retain and remember long after. I took an adult class at the high school of a town I lived in 18 years ago, a one-night, three-hour blitz on kitchen knife skills. Before it began, I was afraid to even grasp the neck of the 7-inch chef’s knife, and by the 2-hour mark, I was wielding it like a ballpoint pen; something familiar, something I was sure I could handle with ease. And today, hundreds of dinners and potato salads and thousands of chopped onions later, I can still mince, dice, chop, slice and chiffonade so well that many newer friends are sure I must have grown up in a kitchen where Mom really knew her way around a bouillabaisse instead of one in which most vegetables came from a can and bread was usually the only thing sliced.

I no longer think it’s intriguing that I can sliver basil with precision, though I used to be amazed at my own cutlery prowess, honed not by a job in a restaurant kitchen but just by having learned something once and then with practice, everyday use and trial and error (though only a few that required band-aids and none that called for stitches), the new and untried grew into the routine. Beyond routine -- me with my knife in the kitchen has become a backdrop, and even a trusty companion, when hand and eyes must stay busy while heart and head need attend to something else entirely.

I’ve diced onions while listening to my husband tell me about his father’s stroke and I know he is glad I did not look up and across the small kitchen to where he is leaning against the wall and pinching the top of his nose, willing himself not to cry, although I am--crying; and he will think it's the onions and that is just fine.

My sons pour out the tales of playground indignities and bully taunts while I mince garlic and cleave open, core and slice red and greed peppers and cut chicken into strips. I think they feel safe continuing for as long as it takes me to get the fajitas going. For my part, I hew a bit more intensely to the story in their voice; I know about the emotion in their eyes but at first I want to listen, not look.

Thank God for my knives and the ability to use them without cutting into flesh. Not too deep, anyway.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

What a Mom Never Outgrows

The other night when lying with my 8 year old son before kissing him goodnight, I placed my palmed hand along the side of his face, as I always do, enjoying the feel of his lusciously soft skin, moving my hand slowly along the curve of his cheek to at the base of his chin, skimming over the slgitly upturned corners of his mouth as he smiles at my touch.

He’s still my baby and even at 8, he likes being stroked. He is a cuddler, can’t get enough caressing, will let me rub his back any time, any place. In the dimness of the bedroom, lit by his 15 watt NY Giants lamp, the warm light now caresses his features, and for a moment I am thrown back years. What mother has not watched, with disbelief and aching joy, the smooth roundness of her baby’s cheek, and lingered on the fleeting beatury of the spot where the light catches the child’s eye, outlining lids, eyelashes, rounded eyelids, and the space between the inner corner of the eye and the bottom of the eyebrow? For a moment, his 8-year-old features seemed so soft and new and had the nearly-alien look of cherubic loveliness that all babies exude.

“I don’t ever want you to leave me, Mom,” he says, clutching my hand, nuzzling into the space between my jaw and my collarbone.

“I’m always here with you,” I say, touching his chest. “in your heart, even when I’m not with you. You know that, right?”

“I know.” He nods. “Even when you’re passed away, right?”

“Even then.”

At that moment, I’m not sure if I’ve done an excellent job teaching my precious child about the circle of life (or at least exposed him to The Lion King enough times), or if maybe I was too matter-of-fact in my discussions when our Aunt Mary died recently.

Either way, it makes me ache to have had my children in my early 20s instead of late 30s.