The Arbor Vitae 2013

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Jean's Blog (Check out links to Guest Blogs in lefthand Column)

Reflections

February 27, 2015

Tags: Alps, Arctic, mother, birthday, March, Manhattan, spring

JOYCE MOSSERI, 1986.
Alpine landscape , 20 x 16 , rectangular, acrylic on canvas, $359.

I have never looked forward to March as fervently as I do this year. We have family birthdays cropping up early in the month. My mother's birthday was on March 13th. She would have been 101. In celebration of her life and in thanks for the life she gave me, I have posted another of her paintings on this month's blog. A wide variety of her paintings can be found on this website,

http://grannyart.free.fr/grannyart/

April will bring two BatMitzvahs of close family, as well as the yearly ordeal that is Passover. Surely by then, we will have segued into warmer weather and the use of our terrace once again? I think often of Stony Creek House, its sturdy stone walls warding off the cold, the roof sagging under snowfalls and ice, the view drere and somber as the house freezes in solitude and we pray that no pipes burst and no trees fall victim to the ice and the cold.
I am so tired of snow and ice, white and grey, multiple layers of clothing, and hefty boots to dare even a few steps outside. The one Manhattan blessing is the way the skies are often blue even when the thermometer plunges to Arctic depths.
Still, the gentle warmth of spring sunlight and the slow wash of color as flowers and leaves break into bud and bloom, the first happy trills of courting birds, these are the moments my heart desires. Enough of winter hibernation for this year! We need spring!
I am getting used to living in two universes, the one we all live in, and the one in my head that clicks into place more and more as my novel grows. Every small detail that parallels my story or my characters leaps out at me when people are conversing, or when I read the paper or listen to the news. I am living there as much as living here, and sometimes it is hard to make the bridge from one to the other. This is a new and absorbing experience. I am grateful for the opportunity to savor it to the full.



Always a Mother

May 14, 2014

Tags: handwriting, mother, knot

When you come to the end of your rope, make a knot and hang on
Some months ago, I was engaged in clearing out my mother's apartment. Sitting gloomily in a semi-empty apartment on the best chair I could find, my back to the bookcases, where the sight of the empty shelves was like a knife to the soul, I had a thick pile of papers on my lap and a large garbage bag open at my feet. I had been working for a few hours and was feeling exhausted.
My brother and sister-in-law came by, and began sifting through some piles of their own. I rubbed my temples to clear out the incipient headache that was taking up residence there, and I muttered with a huge sigh, "I'm so exhausted. I'm at the end of my rope." My brother and sister-in-law made sympathetic noises and continued their work, and I glanced down again at the papers on my lap. Another for the garbage. I slid the sheet of paper expertly into the bag yawning at my feet and went to lift the next one, a small sheet of yellowing paper, torn at the top, with my mother's handwriting on it and what looked like a squiggle below. I read it, gasped, jumped to my feet, waving it in the air, unable to speak. When I got their attention, I showed it to my brother and sister-in-law, who both exclaimed in disbelief. In my mother's distinctive hand the paper read:
When you come to the end of your rope, make a knot and hang on!"
The squiggle below was a quick sketch of a piece of knotted rope.
My sister-in-law whispered in awe, "She answered you. She's here with us."
My mother had died a month earlier.
In my mind, I heard her voice clearly, as I stared at the piece of paper shaking in my shaking hand, and I knew these were the words she would have said. She had little patience for the faint of heart. I stretched, straightened my back, and went on with the sorting, glad that I had witnesses to such an unfathomable moment.
The piece of paper with her message sits on my desk and urges me forward with my life.
She is gone, but I know she will always manage somehow to tell me what I need to hear.


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AFTERMATH

November 2, 2013

Tags: mother, memorabilia, Egyptian exodus, generations, Cataract Hotel, Aswan

Monogram of Esther and Nessim Mosseri

One month since my mother left us.
It has been an intense month of accelerating pressure to examine and accommodate the minutiae of almost one hundred years of multi-faceted living on three continents. We must vacate the rental where she lived for the past 30 years by the end of November.
Sharing out the memorabilia saved from the Egyptian exodus is the least of it. Anything bearing the distinctive monogram of Nessim and Esther Mosseri, my great-grandparents, is tumbling down the generations to our children. How did so much survive unchipped, intact, through so many years, so many departures, so many displacements, following my mother and father on three continents, smoothing my mother's way with their familiar elegance through each new chapter of her life? Certainly, Nessim and Esther could not have dreamed that the beautiful dishes, crystal stemware and silverware that graced their palatial residence in Cairo would be divided up and scattered to small apartments in Paris, Budapest, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle, where their great-great-grandchildren will wonder where they could possibly find the room to store them.
Many arms open to welcome these treasured remnants of family history, but the hands that pick and pack are scattered, and the hands on the spot - my hands - ache from the task, just as my heart aches as I sift through bundle after bundle of my mother's papers written in her distinctive, pretty hand. I can hear her voice in the quick notes and information she has been careful to include in as many places as possible. I have her neatly kept notebook of household hints. Who knew she cared about such things? She kept the bill addressed to my father from their honeymoon at the Cataract Hotel in Aswan. They were married in February, and I was born in early December of the same year. I caught my breath as I skimmed mysteries of my own beginnings. She kept all our letters, all the past of her three children who are now in their sixties and seventies. We all three lingered in awe over a small sweet bundle of love letters written to my father when they were engaged; our futures concealed in the happy reflections of a twenty-one-year-old in love, in 1937.
So much that she treasured has had to be cast aside, and I realize that each of us keeps signposts of our lives written in a code that no-one else understands. We each have claimed objects that remind us of her, but the true gifts she left us are gifts of laughter, of love, of memories, of good and bad times shared.
I miss her smile, her energy, the sound of her voice, the penetrating gaze of warm brown eyes that instantly caught any unsaid unease in me and coaxed it into the light. As the days pass and the piles of books and furniture, paintings and photos, letters and papers dwindle, I miss her more. This aftermath of death is a cresting wave, an ordeal beyond imagining. Soon, it will be past, and only debris will remain, faintly shadowing the living image of my mother in my heart.



Love you, Mum

October 16, 2013

Tags: mother, role model, lost world, beauty, Chopin

Joyce Smouha

My vibrant lovely mother, Joyce Smouha Mosseri, has been the light at the center of my life for almost 76 years. She was my role model, my loving critic, and my truest friend, and I have no words to say how deeply I already miss her presence in my life. Her 99+ years almost spanned a century. She died last week.
The last two years of her life were characterized by a slow, relentless slide into a lost world where she wandered without a guide, without her children, without so much of her self, and where her fiesty independent spirit was trapped in increasing dependance on others. I would not have wished to see her suffer longer, but as the days go by, I miss everything she was and everything I shall never see or hear again. I am orphaned in my old age. With each passing day since she left us, I feel I am slowly re-entering my life, returning bereft, returning from a long sojourn in strange and distant lands, lands where I was helpless to help, to understand, to find emotional sustenance, where only love kept me from drowning. Re-entry brings sharper pain. I know she is gone, and although I accepted her absence for so long, I know the difference now. I hope she is at peace at last. I know I will find her again in the grandeur of a sunset, the beauty of a flower she would have wanted to paint, the gnarled trunk of a tree, her great-granddaughter playing Chopin, the eyes and smiles of my children and grandchildren, the sparkle, the laughter, the elegance, beauty, and grace in the world. Fly free, my beautiful mother. I love you.


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