Fiddler on the Roof Redux

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Tevye:  “Do you love me?”

Golde:  “Do I WHAT?”

My husband with dementia–asked me that last night.

“What is this, Fiddler on the Roof?” I replied (continuing the Jewish technique of answering a question with a question).

Tevye: “Do you love me?”

But my husband, not a musical theater buff, sat there waiting.  So I channeled Golde and sang,

Golde: “Do I love you? For twenty-five years, I’ve washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house.  Given you children, milked the cow.  After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?”

He still sat there, with his stupid knitted nightcap on, waiting for an answer.

“Would I be doing this if I didn’t?” I finally said.

But, oh, what a torrent of troubled thoughts and emotions his question brought.

Do I love him?

This man with whom I share a bed, a home, lockdown, days of sameness and dullness–this man who has lost much of his–of our–past, who mainly converses about the present moment–this man is not the man I married.

Where did that lively, alert, busy guy go?  It was the connection of our spiritual path that reeled me in.  For years, we did seva–“selfless service”–together at the ashram.  We went to programs there, signed up for longer retreats.  That connection was our anchor and our hub.

Alas, our seva at the ashram was “concluded” two years ago, when the food service supervisors decided that my husband’s dementia was too much of a liability.  After that, I couldn’t imagine leaving him at home to volunteer by myself. How would I explain it to him?

Love changes.  That’s for sure.  These days, I don’t know what I’m feeling about love or about him.

In the beginning, when we were getting to know each other, I borrowed from John Gray’s Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus to explain myself.  Gray says that men are like rubber bands, and women are like waves.  “But I’m a rubber band,” I told him.  “I need to get away, to be alone in order to come back,” I said.   Maybe most introverts are like that.

So much for those needs being met.  I haven’t really been away from him for weeks.  Months.  Years.

So do I love him?  I’m still here.  He needs a caregiver. I’m it.   There is no one else.

Golde: Maybe it’s indigestion.

Tevye: Golde, I’m asking you a question.  Do you love me?

Golde: Do I love him?  For twenty-five years, I’ve lived with him, fought with him, starved with him.  For twenty-five years, my bed is his.  If that’s not love, what is?

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Pete Seeger: Then, Oh, Then

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When I was about five years old—that would be 1956, when the U.S. was crawling out from the McCarthy era–my parents took me to a children’s concert. I sat close to the stage, looking way, way up at this beanpole of a man. He stretched his neck like a plucked chicken, and picked tinny notes from a long-necked banjo. He told a story about a scary giant with slobbery teeth. To my utter amazement, he sang and danced like a demented cricket all around the stage. I’d never seen a grown-up act so silly. It was wonderful.

It seemed like all the adults in my life knew Pete’s songs. At home, my parents played Weavers’ albums.

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At summer camp, one of the counselors played the banjo just like Pete. The whole camp gathered in one big room. Counselor Tom led our afternoon Sing Time. “Go tell Aunt Rhody,” we sang, and I wondered why the goose died in a “milk pond.”

In the 1960s, the songs of the Civil Rights Movement flowed through my days. I listened to the record album We Shall Overcome over and over.

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Then I was a camp counselor myself, teaching the kids to sing Pete Seeger songs: “Ragapati ragava raja Ram.” And later I was a teacher, and a mother, passing on these songs that were woven into the fabric of my life.

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Wonder of wonders, we moved to the Hudson Valley and joined the Beacon Sloop Club. At the 1983 Clearwater Revival, when my baby girl was just three months old, I sat with her on my lap listening to Pete and the Sloop Singers sing about the Broad Ol’ River while cottonwood fluff drifted overhead.

Had you told me when I was an eighteen-year-old camp counselor that one day I’d be sharing the stage with Pete Seeger, I would not have believed it. Those days as a Sloop Singer were some of the richest, most exciting experiences of my life. To sing in the company of Pete and all the other accomplished musicians (far more able than I) was utter joy.

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So were the seasonal festivals. My kids and I sold tickets at the Clearwater Revival, cooked chili at the Pumpkin Festival (where Toshi scolded me for composting celery ends), and got happily soaked at the Weed Wallow.

A song by Greg Brown that I brought from Iowa particularly took Pete’s interest. “Early Iowa” stuck to me and became “my” song when Sloop Singers gathered. It was an ironic match, as my sojourn in Iowa had been a tough, lonely couple of years in my married life. But there I was, singing about Iowa with a full backup chorus.

On Friday nights at the Beacon Sloop Club meetings, the members traded songs with Pete who grinned and sang and told stories. My son stayed close by, but my baby girl passed from lap to lap. That small cabin filled with joyful noise, a whirlwind of harmony swirling around the man who was a musical lodestone for much of my life.

I owe most of the songs I know to Pete Seeger. He is lodged in my cellular memory. He taught us all the power of song. In the same way that I hold my parents in my heart, Pete Seeger is a continuous living presence.

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Deer Watching

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Our balcony gives us the perfect vantage point for critter-watching.  The mallard ducks come almost daily to feed in the little stream at the edge of the woods.  Deer visits hadn’t been so frequent until a couple of weeks ago.

At the beginning of March, in an attempt to draw the deer more often, I bought a salt lick.  The label said it was apple-scented and good for enticing bucks.  We tromped through the gush of muddy March and set the brick of salt on a stump.

And then we watched.

Nothing.

No animal was interested, not even the squirrels.

The brick of salt slowly started to disintegrate.  After every rain, there would be a crust of white on its top.

Sometime a deer or two would graze close to the stump, but never actually noticed the salt lick.

And then, one day, a yearling found it!

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Now we have frequent visitors.  They come for the salt and for the carrots our neighbor tosses across the stream.

I’m not sure about the ethics of encouraging deer.  They do carry Lyme ticks, chew up peoples’ gardens, and have no natural predators here in the village.  However, deer are such graceful, pretty animals.  We do delight in watching them.  One doe is obviously pregnant.  Maybe we’ll have a fawn or two to enjoy in a couple of months.

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Hidden in Plain Site: Mill Brook Preserve

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Recently, an avid hiker friend mentioned the existence of a spot she liked.  I stored the information away until a few days ago, when I sought out the Mill Brook Preserve.  It was not, as one would expect, at the end of Millrock Avenue.  On a whim, I drove one street further and there it was, right at the north end of my very own street!

We parked the car and set off on the Blue Trail Loop.  On that path, I figured, we’d eventually get back to the car.

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Not far from the parking area we came to the Mill Brook.  ctOnLHYORJOP6v4aioiLow

And a fairy forest of whispering white leaves.

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A beaver dam with beaver-felled trees.

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A lovely heron eyed us.

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There are three marked trails at the Preserve.  We’re planning on trying a new one, if it ever stops raining.

 

Ripples of Magic: Coming Soon!

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Born half-selkie, half Traveler, twelve-year-old Demara wants to live in the sea with her selkie father. Yearning and restless, she sets out with her relatives to try out the Traveler life. Her quest to be a full faerie selkie takes her to the faerie queen. On the journey, she learns more about family, friendship, and her own calling. Will Demara find the magic she seeks? Will she choose life in the sea or on the land?

Graphic designer Nicki Hansen of Handersen Publishing did a superb job with the layout of Book IV of the Karakesh Chronicles.  We’re in the final stages of editing.

Look for Ripples of Magic on Amazon.com sometime in May.

And if you haven’t read Books I – IV, you’d better catch up!

Tangled in Magic      Guided by Magic       Awakening Magic — all at

www.amazon.com    or www.handersenpublishing.com

 

A Memory of Mesa, Arizona

There I was (before COVID-19), working at my computer in Barnes and Noble, when five people from a facility for the disabled arrived at the cafe.  One woman with Down syndrome, three men, and the supervisor made up the group.  Two men and the supervisor were engaged in an animated discussion about an error in their schedule.  The supervisor conversed loudly on her cell phone.  The woman with Down Syndrome hugged the man with gray hair, draping herself over him.  They kissed softly, and I remembered Ralph and Darla from Marc Center.

Ralph and Darla had Down Syndrome.  They were lovers, sweet and fun, and prone to sneaking away to neck in the back yard.  They lived in separate men’s and women’s apartments in a group home operated by Marc Center, in Mesa, Arizona.

Known as Marc Center (Mesa Association for Retarded Citizens, founded in 1957), this organization provided a job for me and housing for our family until my son was a year old.

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While my husband worked long days at the Veteran’s Administration, my job was to be the supervisor for the four men and four women who lived in two of the three apartments in our building.

I was on duty from 8:00 pm to 8:00 am.  The eight residents went to work in the morning, and returned at about 3:30 pm in the afternoon, when the life skills instructors arrived to guide everyone through daily chores and meal preparation.  Every other weekend, my husband and I were expected to provide some activities and outings.

Watching the supervisor and her charges here in Barnes and Noble, I was reminded of myself when I juggled new motherhood and the same job.  Memories returned, making me smile, and shake my head in wonder, amusement, and tenderness:

-the time Lenny set fire to the string in the bottom drawer of his dresser

-the many times Sylvia begged to hold my precious, new baby boy, and drooled with joy all over his head

-the time Duke put his fist through the plate glass window and I found him holding his bleeding wrist over the bathroom sink

-the thrilling success of arranging a trip home for Sylvia, who missed her family

-the time Lenny (again) stole Sylvia’s big tricycle and rode off into Mesa

-how the four men idolized The Fonz, and religiously watched Happy Days

-how hot and dry and brown it was in Arizona, and how much I missed green trees and the sea

I reflected on all that I learned from the residents and the life skills instructors.

Searching online, I found that Marc Center is alive and thriving.

Marc Community Resources, Inc. is a private nonprofit corporation providing educational, therapeutic, rehabilitation and social services to children and adults with developmental and, physical disabilities and behavioral health challenges.

 

 

 

The Slowest Spring

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In all the years before COVID-19, especially when I was working, spring flew by.  I did remark on the crocuses and daffodils, and the return of the birds.  But mostly it seemed that winter flowed directly into summer.

Now that we walk the same three routes, I SEE things: the ribbon of a garter snake just warmed up,

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the deer losing its winter coat.

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I stop and marvel at the lavish displays of the trees in bloom. I speculate on what that strange maroon sprout will become.  Peony?  The day-to-day changes are small, but now I notice them.

This has been the longest spring I can remember, because I’ve been immersed in it every day.  It has offered up a rich repast of beauty and curiosities.  And promises.

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