Author Archives: sammozart

CXXXV. Memories, As They Lay Their Long Shadows Before Me

I remember driving on blustery, gray November days with my mother, Emma, the hour and a half across New Jersey from Delaware to see Aunt Mary. Aunt Mary was Emma’s mother’s sister, my great aunt. She had a little farm in Absecon Heights, just across Absecon Bay from Atlantic City. Walking a half mile down the dirt roads through the reedy marshes, to stand on the little wooden dock at water’s edge, a mixed aroma of clams, salt and sulfur permeating our senses, and looking due east across the water, we could see the skyline and lights of Brigantine, on the barrier island above Absecon Inlet, north of Atlantic City. As a child, Emma spent all her summers with Aunt Mary, coming down from West Philadelphia.

Aunt Mary kept cats. She needed good mousers. Emma used to dress them up in doll clothes. I pictured those sweet cats in their colorful dresses, and wondered at their docility. I’m allergic to cats, although we did raise some when my daughter, Kellie, was growing up. Unlike cats, I seem not a good mouser. True, I lay in wait, ready to pounce on nouns, verbs, images, phrases to combine and devour in whole stories, but rarely can I devote the time these days. Instead, I must fill my hours at my day job where I pursue merchandise in a retail store. Ah, but today I have off. Happily, I’ve carved a slice from time to tell you some stories I remember.

Driving across New Jersey those gray November days, we were on our way to Thanksgiving dinner. Aunt Mary made the best stuffing, moist and sagey. Even though Emma, my brother and I have the recipe, we have never been able to duplicate Aunt Mary’s; and, no matter where we go or whose we eat, never have we tasted any as good. Aunt Mary always got a live turkey for Thanksgiving. We’d visit her earlier in the season, see the turkey in the pen, and then eat it on Thanksgiving. Aunt Mary raised chickens, too. In the spring, she’d have a new little pen of fuzzy, yellow baby chicks. When they grew up, they laid brown eggs. The rooster’s crowing woke us at dawn. My brother stuck his finger through the chicken wire surrounding the chicken yard. When the chicken pecked his finger, it hurt, and everybody said, “We told you.” He never did that again. Occasionally, Aunt Mary would go out into the yard, grab a chicken, break off its neck and we’d eat the chicken for dinner. I remember her standing at the sink in the back kitchen of her bungalow boiling the chicken and plucking the feathers. Once, Emma got chased by a chicken with its head cut off. She ran up the steps to the back door and the chicken came right up after her.

Aunt Mary had a framed poem hanging on her bedroom wall opposite her brass bed–Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar”:

Sunset and evening star,
  And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
  When I put out to sea

I would lie in her bed and read it, wheezing, nearly unable to breathe from asthma from the cats, when I stayed with Aunt Mary for an occasional week during the summers.

In November 1974, Kellie, my dog, Kolia, a friend and I drove from Wilmington, Delaware, to a suburb of Towson, Maryland, near Baltimore, in search of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is my favorite author and kindred spirit. We set out on a typical November day–chilly; gray; misting rain; a counterpane of wet, golden leaves spread over the damp ground. I was on my way to find the house at La Paix, the estate of architect Bayard Turnbull, where Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and their daughter Scottie had stayed briefly, a quiet place where Scott could write and Zelda receive treatment at nearby prominent psychiatric institutions. I had embarked on a journey to touch Scott’s spirit. We did find a big, empty pillared pale-yellow, stucco house there, but it wasn’t the La Paix house where Scott had stayed. That house had been torn down, I learned later. Maybe I did encounter Scott’s spirit; the place certainly evoked the sense of something. The serenity there, the aroma of the fallen leaves underfoot, the mist in our faces, everything listening as the wind whispered stories through the trees: soft, tranquil, compelling me to write.

There’s a song, it’s called “Give,” by a group called Dishwalla. “I want to remain a child with you forever,” the words go, “and hear, as you lay before me, you tease me and tell me to stay. What would you give? What would you give?”

Memories, as they lay their long shadows before me, tease me and tell me to stay.

As a writer, I must capture thoughts and feelings, fleeting as twigs fallen into layers of wet golden leaves on old brick sidewalks before the wind stirs them into unsettled interludes.

Fitzgerald rendered much guidance on writing and I gobbled up every bit, filling reams with lines copied from his notebooks and memorizing them. He fed me well.

He found it difficult, as I do, to discipline himself to sit in a room and focus on writing; we believe the world is going by without us.

My favorite living writer, Orhan Pamuk, says he becomes irritable when he is deprived of his daily writing time in his room. I do, too. As I age I find it easier to focus on my writing; indeed I crave my time to write. Like an actor who stays in character while making a movie, when I’m away from my writing room, thoughts of what I would write eddy in the corners of my mind, leaves of many colors. It becomes difficult for me to focus fully on anything else until I can sweep those leaves onto the page before they blow away.

On a windy Sunday, I stood outside with Jetta, our 11-year-old teacup poodle, when she and Emma were still alive. Jetta could no longer stand much of the time nor walk straight. Her equilibrium was off and she was weak. She’d fall over and lie on her side. If she could get up again without my lifting her, I’d praise her: “Oh! See? You rolled over!” This I do because when she was healthy and I would command her to roll over, she’d stand there and look at me as if to say, “Why? That’s a silly trick; pointless, don’t you think? I mean, really, think about it. It’s like when you tell me I have to wait for the turkey until you cook it and then when it’s cooked you say I have to wait until it cools. Why bother to cook it? Just eat it. That’s far more efficient.” But, now, when she fell over and just had to lie there, she accepted it. She’d just lie there and I’d reach down and pick her up and try to stand her on her rubbery legs.

Life involves allowing oneself to release control, to accept and to enter the void. “What would you give? I want to remain a child with you forever.” There is not nothing; there is something: see what happens when you come out the other side. “Tell me to stay.”

When Jetta and I stood outside that windy Sunday, our wind chimes and the neighbors’ all up and down the block, all different sizes, from the tiniest to the longest tubes, were ringing wildly, an unharmonious tone poem. The sound was mystical, evoking the quality of a hundred Russian church bells.

It is impossible not to be uplifted into the vibrational frequency of those Russian bells. Bells, you know, have a huge void in the center. The tone of the ringing of the wind chimes lifted me into a kind of acceptance: What ancient mystical stories and truths is the wind telling us through those bells? Recalled for me the sounds of Russian church bells, I have to say that they are the sounds of my soul. I therefore feel compelled to quote from Jane Fonda’s book, Prime Time, “Sooner or later we will come to the edge of all that we cannot control and find life, waiting there for us,” at the door. Fonda continues, “The psychologist Marion Woodman says that with ‘vulnerability lives the humility that allows flesh to soften into the sounds of the soul.’”

“The Wind Whispered Stories Through the Trees,”
Samantha Mozart, November 22, 2011
Revisited and Revised November 4, 2018

 

LXXIV. The Blue Deer

Listen to The Blue Deer soundtrack in my playlist, “The Dream” in the right sidebar. Scroll down the list to “Glass – Symphony No. 7 (A Toltec Symphony).”

June 1, 2012  — I climbed the narrow winding wooden staircase into the cupola of my blog, gripping the graying white painted walls as I went. In the small box of a place at the top I walked over to one of the rows of windows lining each side. A cobweb from a yellowing gauze curtain stuck on my forearm. I pulled a tissue from my pocket and brushed it away with other webs lacing the corners of the sill. A tiny black spider suddenly homeless scampered across the sill, over a little ramp, like a mini motorcycle jump, where the paint had chipped and down into a seam in the faded white beadboard wall. I cracked open a window. The curtain lifted on the breeze like a bird of prey from its nest. The sweet smell of meadow grass wafted to my senses, and from somewhere in the coming night a faint music played.

I stood and looked out. In the almost twilight, I surveyed the vast realm of my experiences, and thought of the path I would pursue now.

The refracted light of the setting sun colored the sky orange and before it, across the tall-grass meadow, I saw the mist rising off the broad stream. Down near the stream a bed of irises grew wild – pale purple, deep purple with white centers – they were the most striking –, pink, white, yellow, many colors. Nearby, a lone man with long, dark, reedy hair sat on the bank playing his flute.

Contemplating near and far, my gaze trailed off to the far side of the stream into the distant woods, and as the light faded I began to dream, to drift on a reverie. And then out of nowhere it winged to nest in my senses, music I had never heard: with purity and grace it came – an aria – Chi il bel sogno di Doretta, the beautiful dream of Doretta, Puccini: La Rondine (The Swallow). The aria lifted me into a spiritual space, the heart of where I stay for now.

Just there in the half-light, I felt a draft. I smelled nutmeg. Something brushed against me. I shivered.

“Ah, the music of the night,” a subtle, deep, monotone spoke. A low talker. The Phantom of My Blog. He stood beside me. He laid a deep purple iris on the sill. He smelled of nutmeg. He always smelled of nutmeg. “You shiver. Maybe you need a sweater.”

The aria ended. We stood in silence. The man continued to play his flute. We floated on the evening.

My mind drifted back to last summer. I thought of my little family that I took care of: Every morning getting Emma up and dressed; helping her step down the sixteen stairs with their narrow treads and her iron grip on the balusters; getting her to the table to eat the breakfast she once prepared for herself – orange juice, oatmeal or Cheerios with bananas, strawberries and/or blueberries in skim milk. I thought of the times I’d prepare lunch for myself and run it up the back stairs to my studio, racing Jetta who would run up the front stairs because the back stairs were too steep for her, and we’d see who got to my studio first so she could have her treat. Then Jetta got sick and I had her put to sleep. Two months later, Keats, my Valentine’s cat, showed up, coming tender on the night that cold, snowy, blustery midnight, February 9. He was a sweet, smart cat, as Jetta was a sweet, smart dog. I fed Keats a sumptuous meal Thursday evening, April 26, then let him out, saying, “Now, you be back by ten thirty.” I never saw him again. Clearly he had people somewhere – he came wearing a sage green collar and with impeccable manners. Maybe they came and found him and took him home. Then Emma got tired, so very tired. “I don’t know how I got here,” she said in her agitated state in January. “How do I get out of here?” I could see it coming. So did our Hospice team. Their attention shifted away from her and to me.

Just then an osprey circled the field and flew straight at the phantom and me, like we were in the control tower and it was coming in for a landing. The black mask across its eyes looked like the painted bands that wrap around the windshield and windows of a commercial jetliner.

“The Lone Raptor,” said the phantom, “on his wings of tarnished silver.”

The osprey came close to the window, nodded, veered off to its left and was gone.

I remembered Emma as she was, before dementia tarnished her mind. Now, five, six, seven weeks after Emma’s passing I have found myself thinking, “Hmm, here I am all by myself, no little dog, no Keats cat, no mother to care for, a house that suddenly got really big: Besides my writing, what do I do now? What is my spiritual path? My spiritual advisors tell me to continue my caregiving. How do I do that? What do I do?”

All the old thoughts stacked up on the roof of my mind like factory chimneys.

Emma loved flowers. She would have loved the flowers in our garden this year. They were exceptionally lush – yellow daffodils, deep pink tulips and pure white, fragrant yellow roses, and pale purple irises that grew as dense as trees in a forest. I looked down at the windowsill. “So, you were out picking flowers?” I said to the phantom. “That’s a beautiful iris.”

“I picked it for you,” he said. “Iris is the goddess of the rainbow, thus implying that her presence is a sign of hope, and the wind-footed messenger of the gods to humankind, according to Greek mythology. She flies upon the wind and moves like a blast of bright air.”

“Like an orb,” I mused.

I was surprised that he had thought to pick me an iris. More likely, as had been his wont I suspected he would nudge me over the sill and out the open window. I was touched by his kindness.

“Thank you,” I said.

Then, “Blue, dear,” said the phantom.

“What?”

“A blue deer. Look.” He pointed.

In the meadow, over near the woods, in a shaft of soft light, stood a blue deer, nosing the ground, foraging for food at twilight.

The wind picked up, then. The stream flowed fast on the wind with little white caps like water in a channel. The man had gone from the bank. The music continued to play, slow, meditative, but lush: now strings joined the flute – violins and deep cellos, and satiny brass, and reeds – clarinets and saxophones –, and double reeds – English horns and bassoons –, then an accompanying chorus of voices. Haunting. Where was the man with the dark reedy hair?

“He’s gone,” said the phantom, although I had not asked aloud. “The music of the spheres,” he said. “It emanates from the deer.

“The Blue Deer reminds us that we must be stewards of our environment. The Blue Deer is a dream vision, it is a dream of finding one’s spiritual path and of healing not only oneself but also the world and environment from pollution.”

“I am deeply honored by his visit,” said I.

The phantom spoke: “I vacuumed your blog for you, organized it, hung a new header and cleaned up the clutter while you were outside ruminating on the precise color of tulips, learning that the term tulip evolves from the Persian word for turban, and contemplating the greater meaning of all that.

“You tend towards understanding the realms of wisdom and healing through nature,” he continued.

“The seeds of a summer garden,” I said, “the tender green stalks upon which the caterpillar crawls before it metamorphoses into a butterfly. I’m trying to plant these seeds now.”

“Maybe you’re harvesting them,” said the phantom.

“I seek guidance,” I said, “and thus arrive the flute player, the iris, the osprey and The Blue Deer – stewards. Caregivers are stewards; stewards are caregivers.”

“You forget me,” he said. “Am I not your steward?”

“I don’t know,” I answered. “I can but imagine.”

Dusk embraced us now. The Blue Deer lifted its head, sniffed the air, and then walked off into the woods. I pulled the window shut, picked up my purple and white iris and we headed down the winding staircase, I behind the phantom. In case I stumbled I hoped he would catch me. If I went first I feared he would push me. I didn’t want to flatten my iris.

When we reached the foot of the stairs, I thanked him again. We parted there. I lifted the iris to my nose. The stem had a nutmeggy smell, like his hand.

“What is your name?” I called after him.

“Moriarty,” he called back.

—Samantha Mozart

Acknowledgements: I must thank my spiritual teachers and spirit guides, and the following creative souls for inspiring the vision of this piece: My extraordinary new group of women writer caregiver friends; T.J. Banks, award-winning author, “Sketch People: Stories Along the Way” and more (find her on Amazon or click on the links on either sidebar here); Philip Glass, composer – Symphony No. 7, “A Toltec Symphony”: 3. “The Blue Deer”; and “Passages”; Coyote Oldman, their album titled “Floating on Evening”, Charmayne McGee, author, “So Sings the Blue Deer”; http://mythagora.com/ for the story of the Goddess Iris; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; and, of course, Gaston Leroux for his “Le Fantôme de l’Opéra. And, oh, Puccini; how could any woman forget Giacomo Puccini?

 

 

 

 

Sprinkling Strawberries

Here in SoFlo we were still in the post Civil War Reconstruction era, embodied in the young woman who strolled into the store one day as if she had just stepped out of a scene from Gone with the Wind. She came up to me and said, with her syrupy Southern drawl, “Can you tell me, d’y’all sprinkle your strawberries with something…?”

Before leaping to say “Try dry mustard,” I realized, largely due to my long association with Brad, a third generation Floridian, that she was speaking Southern for pesticide.

“Wash ’em well,” I said.

Even though we offered a choice of selecting berries individually by the pound from the berry bar in the center of the store or already packaged, priced by the pint or quart, customers would sort through the berries in the baskets, rearranging them within a basket and among the baskets, women especially, looking like they were at a rummage sale for socks. Then they’d bring this quart towering with berries to the register. It reminded me of when I was a little girl and read this fairy tale about “The Village of Cream Puffs,” the place where Wing Tip, the Spick lived, a little girl with eyes “so blue, such a clear light shining blue, they are the same as cornflowers with blue raindrops shining and dancing on the silver leaves after a sun shower.” (From Rootabaga Stories, by Carl Sandburg.)

The story was illustrated with a picture of a little girl wearing two pronounced beauty marks, freckles, on her creamy white face with the strawberry red lips, and holding onto a tether of floating mountains of cream puffs capped with strawberries and whipped cream, stretching from here to the horizon. The Village of Cream Puffs is so light it must be tethered to a spool so when the wind is done blowing the people of the village come together and wind up the spool to bring the village back where it was before. Wing Tip, the Spick’s freckles that her mother has placed on her chin look like two little burnt cream puffs kept in the oven too long, so that when she peers into the looking glass to brush her hair, she will be reminded of where she came from and won’t stay away too long.

Sometimes if the customer’s berry mountain was too tall for a plastic bag to scale and he or she had gotten the berries from the basket display on my checkout counter when I’d stepped away for a moment, I’d say, “Oh, look at this. Somebody sure filled these baskets unequally. Let me just take a few of these and put them in this half-full basket here,” and I’d grab a small handful out of the customer’s basket and replace them in the other basket. The customer never said anything.

–Samantha Mozart
for Carolina Gringo

Highpockets

Let me tell you about Highpockets. One unbearably hot and humid summer, when my regular farm market was closed, I still needed a job, so I worked at a farm stand up the way. This one was surrounded by marshy fields of high weeds. I was in the outdoor stand with the chikee roof, that sat down in a hollow off the road, alone. It was off-season and all the snowbirds had flown north.

This man used to come in all the time. And every time, he’d complain about the prices. Then, a day later, he’d come back and want to return what he’d bought, usually a melon, uncut, saying it was rotten. Then he started coming into the other farm market, the one where I worked every winter. He’d buy vegetables, fruit, and, yes, the usual melon. Consistently, he’d come back the next day or the day after and want to return the melon saying it was rotten.

My boss, Brad, got tired of it and, after the way this man, of medium build, wore his pants, the waistband hiked up to his ears, started calling him Highpockets. I knew our produce was high quality and had been picked fresh, right there, off the farm. I remembered nearly every item that went out of that store, when it went out, what it looked like when it went out and who took it out. Yet, often people would come back with a carton of strawberries declaring, “Just look at these! They’re all mushy and rotten.” I know how long fresh strawberries hold up, and how to keep them fresh. These invariably looked like they’d been riding around in a car trunk since the night before, in baking sun and humidity, secured in a sweaty plastic bag, with a bag of supermarket canned goods stashed on top.

Brad, always the Southern gentleman, inclined to the thought that the customer is always right, finally had had enough of Highpockets. One day Highpockets brought back one too many melons. Brad said, “Get out! Get out! Get out now and stay out!” Incredulous, Highpockets decreed he would tell some lawyer or something. I feared that one day he’d show up, but he never came back.

–Carolina Gringo
as told to Samantha Mozart

Gringo Stories: Introduction

A customer in the farm stand where I worked held a pineapple, bottom up, to his ear and told me, “If it beeps, it’s ripe.”

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote in Cross Creek Cookery, “Food imaginatively and lovingly prepared, and eaten in good company, warms the being with something more than the mere intake of calories.”

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings packed up her sophisticated northern city life in 1928 and moved down to Florida to write. She drew stories from the people she met there in Cross Creek, a community out in “Big Scrub.” That’s where she wrote The Yearling, published in 1938.

In 1994 I needed a break from living in the urban sprawl of Los Angeles, and I wanted to write, so I closed my catering business and drove to Southwest Florida for a winter’s working vacation. My daughter, 27, stood on the curb, waving goodbye. I drove off into the sunrise. “I’ll be back in a few months,” I said.

“You’re not gonna like that humidity,” my L.A. friends told me. I didn’t. Living on the Gulf coast in July felt like locking myself in a bathroom submerged in a tub full of steaming hot water. I stayed with my mother, who had a villa there. I got a job cashiering at a farm stand on 30 acres of strawberries, corn, tomatoes, lettuces, herbs, peppers, eggplant, squashes and melons. I loved the job, so I stayed much longer than I had foreseen – seven years, in fact.

My job had barely sprouted when the older, 60-something, string bean of a woman I cashiered with, a graying former model who’d grown up on a Michigan farm, declared to my boss, a tall, witty 40-something guy with strawberry blond hair who could imitate the geezers and snowbirds with perfect ripeness, “Hey, Brad, we’ve got ourselves a real city slicker here.”

I am called Carolina Gringo in Florida. I am a city slicker, right down to my shiny, black boots. So when I left the city and went to work on the farm, for a boss a good decade younger than I, I knew little about pulling fresh vegetables right out of the field, why the skin of Florida oranges is completely stuck to the pulp while that of California oranges peels right off (the former are juicier, therefore nearly impossible to peel), and I had yet to have a close encounter with a living, breathing watermelon of the Hindenburg variety.

Tree frogs on my toothbrush, snakes slithering among the potato display, hissing lizard fights, large, black mosquitoes that spring back when you slap them, Southerners who never do anything yet get everything done, all of these were new to my variety of cultivation in the cultures of Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

Nevertheless, I adapted quickly to the porta john, brushed up on my Spanish so I could converse with my Mexican co-workers—did he really say he ate his horse for lunch?—and learned all about citrus and that if you whack an unshucked ear of corn against a table all the worms fly off.

–Samantha Mozart for Carolina Gringo