Category Archives: Dementia Caregiving Journals

CXXVIII. Once Upon a Time

 

June 14, 2014

Once upon a time in the far off land of my childhood …

Granddaddy took me everywhere with him. Then he got sick and died when I was seven. He was 63. I asked if he got sick because he didn’t eat his lunch. Uncle Bob, sitting at the head of the table at family Sunday dinners and holding our plates, large spoon piled high with mashed potatoes poised to serve us, said to my brother and me in turn, “Do you want them easy or hard?” He was 61 when he died unexpectedly of colon cancer in 1973. Whenever I asked Daddy the meaning of a word, he said, “Look it up.” He took us on Sunday rides through the country, to the old Southwest Airport (now Philadelphia International) to watch the airplanes, and wrote a novel before he was married; he sent it to one publisher, who rejected it. He played the piano and organ and composed music. Daddy lived a long life. He died in 2004 at age 90, suddenly, when his aorta split. As teenagers, Daddy played the clarinet, Uncle Bob the sax. Daddy and Uncle Bob loved big bands and had extensive record collections. Uncle Bob loved photography and reading. He’d often vanish into a spare bedroom for a couple of hours and read a whole novel.

(There is a soundtrack to this story: click on number 40 in my “The Dream” playlist.)

 

Granddaddy, Uncle Bob, Daddy and their dog Tippy relaxing on the porch at our family home in Sea Isle City, N.J., 1930s.

Granddaddy, Uncle Bob, Daddy and their dog Tippy relaxing on the porch at our family home in Sea Isle City, N.J., 1930s.

Here they are relaxing in rocking chairs on the porch of the family summer home in Sea Isle City, N.J., with their dog, Tippy. Tippy died in 1939, two years before I was born, but the family talked about him long after. This photo was taken in the late 1930s.

Granddaddy & Me 1941

Granddaddy & Me 1941

Granddaddy didn’t drive. He had a chauffeur until Uncle Bob, two years older than Daddy, learned to drive. They said the chauffeur only polished the side of the car facing the house, as the car sat in the driveway. Uncle Bob was a good driver; he was a volunteer fireman and later chased fire trucks; he taught Daddy and Aunt Marguerite how to drive. He taught Grandmother, too, but she had a lead foot, so that didn’t work out so well.

Granddaddy Outstanding in His Driveway

Granddaddy Outstanding in His Driveway

There was an owl. It hooted outside Uncle Bob and Aunt Marguerite’s bedroom window where they lived in my grandparents’ home in the western Philadelphia suburbs until 1950 when their own home was built.   When I was two, Granddaddy, Uncle Bob and Daddy took me to get a puppy, a collie/shepherd mix. They named him Butch. Uncle Bob drove the Packard. Daddy rode shotgun. I rode in the back seat with Granddaddy and Butch, who had his paw in Granddaddy’s pocket.

Me, Aunt Marguerite & Butch, about 1944

Aunt Marguerite, Butch and I, about 1944

Carol, 9, Butch, 7, & Bobby, 5 - 1950

Me, Butch, and my brother, Bobby, 1950

Uncle Bob and Daddy went away in the Army during World War II. Daddy was stationed at Fort Dix, N.J.; Uncle Bob went overseas – to North Africa, with the Allies onto Sicily, up through Italy and to Belgium. I remember when the war ended and they came home. Uncle Bob brought me a doll from Brussels. This was a special doll; I have always cherished it and still have it.

Uncle Bob Army Uniform, Sept. 1941

Uncle Bob 1941

Uncle Bob "Avec Amour"

Uncle Bob “Avec Amour” to Aunt Marguerite

Granddaddy loved being surrounded by people. He and Grandmother hosted large dinner parties inviting all sides of the family. One of Granddaddy’s four sisters, Edna, married a man who came from England, Edgar. Uncle Edgar talked funny. Uncle Bob and Daddy used to call them Edner and Edgah.

Granddaddy, Grandmother & Boys Oval

Granddaddy, Grandmother & Boys, 1916-17

We often vacationed at the South Jersey shore in the summertime. In the early days, the three men would travel to work in the city during the week, returning home to the shore by train each evening. Years later, when I was a teenager, my brother and I stayed with Uncle Bob and Aunt Marguerite in Ocean City, N.J. That’s where my brother fell running on the boardwalk. It took a long time to get all the splinters out of his shins. Uncle Bob and I spent our beach days riding the waves on rafts (air mattresses). On the upper deck of this house is where Uncle Bob proclaimed daily at 5 p.m., “The Ocean Bar and Sea View Grill is now open.”

Bud & Bob on the Beach

Bud & Bob on the Beach

Uncle Bob & Me OCNJ

Uncle Bob & Me, Ocean City, N.J., 1957-58

Granddaddy, Uncle Bob and Daddy, all three of them were my fathers in many ways. They gave me a secure and happy childhood. I could not have asked for more. This is my humble tribute to them. I will miss them always.

Uncle Bob 1930, age 18

Uncle Bob, age 18

Daddy Portrait - 1930s

Daddy, 25, Sept. 1939

Daddy, Marvine Ave. backyard, 1930s

Daddy, backyard of his parents’ home, 1930s

On this page I have placed just a few images. I have uploaded more from our family albums. If you are interested, you can see more of the family “rogues gallery” here. It is curious how the mind telescopes time. Seeing these old photos and nostalgizing on relevant events evokes their presence as if they are right here with me again, as if all that went in between never existed. Happy Father’s Day.

Daddy & I -- 1999

Daddy & I — 1999

—Samantha Mozart

CXXVII. Snake in the Grass

June 8, 2014 — I didn’t see the snake until I tripped over it. It was a long, silver-gray snake lying in the grass in the back of my backyard, under the shade of the trees, where Wallie and I were moseying. I am Wallie-sitting again this weekend for my friend’s Bichon-Poo. Wallie didn’t notice the snake. He was riveted on the scent of rabbit. I suspect so was the snake. We stayed out of the back of the yard for the remainder of the day.

Wallie lookalikes:

images-1 images-2 images

 

A few days ago, I encountered my neighbors who live behind me inspecting their vast, cyclone-fenced yard. They were afraid to mow their lawn on their rider mower for fear of mowing down baby rabbits. Two mothers had made rabbit holes in their yard and were out monitoring their offspring. The baby bunnies, two to three inches long, were hopping around in the grass.

Two nights later, near midnight, the barred owl hooted, and hooted, loudly and exuberantly, from a tree near the neighbors’ yard. Then the owl actually cackled. It sounded like the Wicked Witch of the West making a flyby. The barred owl call is sometimes defined as sounding like “who-cooks-for-you?” But, why take the time to cook it when you can eat it fresh and raw. A tiny creature squealed and squealed. And, then all went silent. Midnight fare.

DownloadedFile

The hoot of a barred owl:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5zc-NHIipw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fppKGJD3Y6c

This morning Wallie and I ventured to the back of the yard. I wanted to see in broad daylight if the snake was still there. It was. It hadn’t moved. I stepped closer. Still life: a hollow skin, no head, no tail.

Snake resemblance

Snake resemblance

The snake had apparently shed its skin right there in my backyard and slithered away. Wallie sniffed it and said, “Whatever.” No bunnies in the yard, either. Wallie checked around the rabbit hole under my shed. He found nothing enticing. Maybe the rabbits were napping in their warren. They come out mostly at night and eat the clover. I have seen no baby bunnies in my yard, although I don’t go out there to inspect daily. Maybe the babies met unseemly ends. Or maybe they were nestled safely away from the snake.

*************

I was sitting on my front porch one afternoon last week when a car pulled up in front of my house. A black man with a Deep South drawl leaned across his woman companion in the passenger seat and called, “Hey! How y’all doin’?”

“Fine, thanks,” I said.

“Do you mind if I park here?”

“Not at all,” I replied.

He got out and called across the top of the car, “I just wanted to make sure it’s all right if I park in front of your house.”

His woman kept her head down, as if studying something in her lap.

“No problem,” I said. “It’s a public street.”

“I have to stop at your neighbor’s house; so I wanted to ask. I’m from Alabama.”

He seemed like a real nice guy.

It’s been 100 years since World War I, 70 years since World War II and 150 years since the American Civil War. Yet, down home in the Deep South, some have not shed that antebellum skin; still lying like a snake in the grass, ready to pounce on a person of a different skin who needs to park a car in front of a house on a public street. To live in constant trepidation….

—Samantha Mozart

CXXVI. Duck Creek Historical Society Burger Night Fundraising Dinner

Saturday, May 24, 2014 — A truly magical evening Wednesday. The café bulged with diners; extra tables were brought in. I was a guest at our town’s Duck Creek Historical Society Burger Night Fundraiser at The Odd Fellows Café on Main Street: all natural, farm-fresh half-pound burgers, homemade French fries or kettle chips; for dessert, The Odd Fellows Café superb bread pudding.

I sat among a party at a long table. I was pleased to find myself sitting opposite Rick and Tish Schuman, whom I have known for a decade but never have had the opportunity to converse with beyond saying hi. Rick did much of our historic Smyrna Opera House restoration, including the sprung hardwood floor. Rick and Tish are folk musicians, performing at the café and elsewhere. They are former members of Delaware Friends of Folk, where they were married at a performance some years ago, and are friends with my group of good friends centered around the historic Maggie S. Myers oyster schooner, oystering, horseshoe crab preservation, and Emmy-winning Michael Oates’s 302 Stories, “telling the stories of Delaware people and places.” I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Rick and Tish better, such down to earth people. Too, I have been looking for a piano, a good one someone wants to give away, and Rick, playing in two bands, knows of a piano restoration/moving guy. He will put me in touch.

The Duck Creek Historical Society is a nonprofit local organization. The Society, all volunteers, operates The Smyrna Museum. The Museum is open every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Admission is free.

The building housing the Smyrna Museum has a fascinating history itself and served as the site where in 1863 men between the ages of 18 and 45, who had their front teeth, were conscripted, by lottery, into the Union Army during the American Civil War. If you were rich, you could buy your way out, by paying someone, such as an Irish immigrant, to fight in your place.

Presently, the Museum offers an extensive Civil War exhibit including a collection of letters from one soldier, Alexander White, to his uncle. In one letter, he writes to send his greetings to his various family members and that he hopes to see them again: his company has been ordered to a battlefield near a small Pennsylvania town called Gettysburg. His letters detail the Gettysburg battles and his intimate combat experiences and difficulties receiving packages from home. He survives the battles and the war and comes home. I plan to return to the Museum to sit and read these letters. We are fortunate to have this treasure at our Museum.

The Civil War exhibit occupies one room. There is much to see at the two-story Museum building, a feast for the eyes and sensibilities, such as the wreath made from human hair; and new this spring has been an exhibit featuring ladies fashions. The exhibits in two rooms change every two months. Presently, globally-esteemed, local sculptor Richard Bailey is on hand exhibiting his Italian marble, granite, and semi-precious stone sculptures, including beautiful translucent butterflies. Coming this fall – and I mustn’t miss this one – are the Haunted Ghost Tours. A group called Delmarva Historic Haunts (DHH) has detected paranormal entities in the Museum and, I’ve been told, has captured at least one on video.

Some of the videos are posted on the Duck Creek Historical Society Facebook page.

Also on the Historical Society Facebook page are videos of the Delmarva Historic Haunts investigations at the historic Odd Fellows Hall. Spellbinding.

I am intrigued with the energies DHH found in the Café kitchen where two employees, separately, felt a shadow brush behind them late at night – I have felt such in my own historic home – and the energies and grumbling in the Café basement: I have been in that Odd Fellows Hall basement, and I sensed something down there. The walls are brick, the floor is dirt and the ceiling is low. Despite my girlfriend and I, at age 20 (just last year, mind you), referring to the I.O.O.F. as the Idiotic Order of Odd Fellows, the Odd Fellows have always engaged in humanitarian activities. I feel uplifted whenever I enter the building, now The Odd Fellows Café, and a few years ago, when it housed my friend Jackie Vinyard’s The Gathering Place store. Jackie restored the building, almost single-handedly, with help from her dad and a friend.

Smyrna is a town of ghosts, and lore, and rich history. Most of the spirits are friendly, some of them are child pranksters. I had lived in this town not more than two months when I went out into my backyard one blustery day and I knew: This Town Has Ghosts. Yes, there are many and many of us in human form have witnessed them.

Behind the Smyrna Museum stands The Plank House. The Plank House has been moved twice from its original location, the second time in 1998-1999, when after diligently working to gain possession of this building, the Historical Society disassembled the planks, carefully numbering them, like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, and moved the building to the rear yard of the Smyrna Museum, where the building was reassembled. Now completely restored, the Plank House is considered one of the finest examples of a local structure from the early 1700s, said to be one of three plank houses in Delaware. The Swedes were the early colonists who knew how to build plank houses and log cabins, dating back to medieval Scandinavia, at least. Other European colonists (the Germans knew, but arrived later) didn’t know how and followed the Swedish example – except for the French, who knew how to build log cabins, but set the logs vertically, rather than horizontally, as in a stockade fence. But, of course. They were French, after all. How small in stature those early American settlers were; even I, at five-two, would stand stooped in the Smyrna Museum Plank House, had not they added another plank to the wall upon reassembling, thus elevating the ceiling a foot.

I find visiting the Smyrna Museum, enjoying conversations with Duck Creek Historical Society members and visitors, fellow history lovers, a pleasant and edifying way to spend a Saturday morning. I was there this morning again. I enjoyed a wonderful discussion about sculpture and art with Richard Bailey and revisited the Civil War exhibit. If you are interested, you can find pictures and learn more of our Smyrna, Delaware, history when you visit the Smyrna Museum website and the Duck Creek Historical Society Facebook page. You can find The Odd Fellows Cafe on Facebook and Café photos at The Trip Advisor.

Back at the Café for Burger Night, as the evening mellowed, a well-liked couple arrived, and everyone cheered, “The Neighbors [as I shall call them for this story] are here! The Neighbors are here!” and applauded. That’s the magical charm of this small town, augmented when my friend and I stepped out into a light rain on Main Street, brightly lit by period lamps, to walk home.

—Samantha Mozart

CXXV. Pouring Milk on the Ceiling

Mother’s Day, May 11, 2014— She grasped her cereal bowl by the handle and tilted it filled with Cheerios, blueberries and sliced banana: “What are you doing?” I asked. “I want to pour milk on the ceiling.” Well, don’t we all.

That was Emma, my mother, in November 2009, in the middle stages of dementia. That was when she had trouble getting the right words out, when she said to me, “Get out of my whale!” and to our friend R, when she thanked him for coming over and making a special dinner for us, “Spizzle jitney.”

She wasn’t always that way, of course. She made sure I was properly educated – a public school so I could get to know all types of people – in culture and social graces: I must be refined.

She sang me nursery songs, recited nursery rhymes with me, gave me books, read to me, taught me piano and gave me ballet and tap dancing lessons and swimming lessons; she sent me to modeling and charm school, she took me to afternoon teas, to dinner at fine restaurants; she made sure my hair was cut and permed (so you could see my face), despite my wanting long braids and bangs. I remember my poodle cut. Years later, she and I took long trips together, and she sat patiently on a bench for an hour with her apricot toy poodle BeeGee at her side in Harpers Ferry, W. Va., while I shot photos of the historic site. She loved to travel and was always studying roadmaps.

In the early 1940s, when Daddy was away in the Army, together we’d walk down the hill to the American Store to deliver the can of fat she had saved for the war effort. She planted flowers in a color coordinated garden, while I sat outside with her and made “coffee” – mud and water mixed in a can. She’d hand me a saltshaker and send me outside to catch robins by sprinkling salt on their tails. I chased many a robin that flew away. A week ago a robin built a nest at the transom window above my front door. I regard this as a good omen.

Emma loved her children and family. She took us for walks in the coach and the stroller. She took us in town, Philadelphia, on the trolley and the el and subway shopping with her. She said that if my brother were born first, she never would have had me. He consistently wandered off among the clothing racks in the department store and it took a long time to find him. He walked a mile alone, when he was three, to my elementary school to meet me at the hour school let out. He waited on the front steps, we were let out the back, so I missed him. Emma was frantic. She had to call the police to find him.

Emma was always drawing house floor plans. She painted a mural on our bathroom wall in the early 1950s; later when she retired from her executive secretarial job, she painted watercolors. While she was working, she raised toy poodles and showed them. One, little black Itzy, became a champion. At the same time, she took in her beloved Aunt Mary and cared for her in her last days. One day Emma and I had a terrible argument. Aunt Mary said to me, gently, “Don’t argue with your mother. Be kind to her.” I’ve never forgotten Aunt Mary’s wise words.

Emma sang in a community chorus and modeled. She appeared on local television in the early 1950s in a fashion show, with her friend who ran the modeling agency, in a red taffeta dress, with crinolines buoying up the full skirt; of course, on the black and white TV of those days the dress looked medium gray.

When Kellie, my daughter, was born, we stayed with Emma the first two weeks while I recuperated and she showed me what to do. I had no clue how to handle a baby. “Why is she fussing so much in her bath?” I asked Emma. “Because she’s saying, ‘Don’t take so long, Mommy.’”

Entertaining was a priority for Emma. She often hosted luncheons and dinners for “The Group,” her friends. Her home was beautifully and artfully decorated, as were her table settings, the meals delicious. She and her friends, from modeling days, went out to lunch at the DuPont Hotel or Country Club or a restaurant on the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal or the Chesapeake Bay, monthly, dressed in heels (even in their 80s), hats and gloves.

Best of all, for all of us friends and family, was her beachfront home in Avalon, N.J. Friends came for the weekend and Emma laundered fresh linens, prepared all the meals, and supplied beach towels and umbrellas. In late afternoons we’d lounge in the chaises on the deck overlooking the boardwalk, low dunes and surf. Grandchildren came and stayed for a week or two, but they didn’t get away with anything with their grandmom. One weekend I brought both my friends Mike and George down to the shore. Years later she remarked that she never could figure out how I’d succeeded in bringing two men friends with me at the same time.

All who knew Emma loved her; she was sweet and talented, they said; she kept a beautiful home. And she was beautiful, even until her dying day, at 97. Most of Emma’s friends died before she did. “I always thought I’d go first,” she said. But she marked her calendar, and waited till the next luncheon date in heaven, and then she went. We all miss her and those good times.

She was always there for me when I needed understanding and comfort. We were good friends. Emma’s been gone two years now.

She’d love our flower bed this Mother’s Day if she could see it blooming with pure white and deep pink tulips, red azaleas and pale purple irises; the yellow roses beginning to bud. Maybe she is watching over us. And so I raise a glass (probably not of milk) to the ceiling to our mother and friend, Emma, for all the many kindnesses, love and fun she gave us.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Samantha Mozart

CXXIV. The Quest for Human Equality and Dignity

Five years ago I wrote a story about the Network to Freedom, the runaway slaves and the abolitionists who risked life and property along the Underground Railroad. Recently, I watched the film 12 Years a Slave. The film is based on the 1853 memoir, available on Amazon, Twelve Years a Slave, of Solomon Northrup, a free black man abducted and sold into slavery. This is the story of one man’s quest for equality and dignity. There are many such stories, and they haven’t ended with antebellum America. Yet today, humans suffer in bondage. Never is it untimely to recount the human quest for equality and dignity. I published my story under my byline in Middletown Life Magazine, Middletown, Del., in December 2008. Here is the link to that story: The Quest for Human Equality and Dignity.

Underground Railroad Terminology, Workers and Statistics

Pilots ventured south to encourage slaves to run away and gave directions along the way. “Stockholders” donated money. Agents directed fugitives between stations. When the “cargo” reached a “station” or “depot,” the stationmaster gave not only shelter, but food, clothing and care for broken bones, cuts, and sometimes bullet wounds. The conductor’s job was the most dangerous of all, overseeing a fugitive’s safe journey from station to station to final destination. That final destination was most often Canada, out of reach of the long arm of the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act ruling runaway slaves stolen property and therefore liable to be returned from the North to their masters in the South.

The enactment of this law coincided in 1793 with the invention of the cotton gin making cotton and the slaves more valuable. By 1840, cotton was the most valuable commodity in America, and rewards for captured slaves were high. Moreover, Northerners benefited from slavery by finishing raw goods from the South and returning them to the South. This economic climate notwithstanding, from about 1810 to 1860, the agrarian economy in lower Delaware shifted from labor-intensive cotton and tobacco crops to the capital-intensive crops of grains and fruit such as peaches, making owning slaves a liability; so, slave ownership dropped from about 95 percent to around 24 percent.

Workers along the Underground Railroad came from all walks of life – shopkeepers; farmers; Quaker Indiana businessman Levi Coffin, often called the president of the Underground Railroad, and with his brother and sister-in-law, said to have started the Underground Railroad in North Carolina; millionaire Gerrit Smith, who twice ran for United States president; and former runaway slaves like Harriet Tubman, who returned at least eight times to her native Maryland to free others. Only about five percent of fugitives made it to freedom in the North, according to the video documentary Whispers of Angels.

Samantha Mozart

 

CXXIII. Tea at the Opera House

April 18, 2014 — On Saturday, April 12, I attended afternoon tea and a fashion show at our historic Smyrna Opera House. “Trends, Tulips, and Tea” was the theme of this lovely affair. I was honored to be a guest of our Smyrna Downtown Renaissance Association. I love teas, so this occasioned for me a remembrance of teas past.

When I was little, my aunt took me each year to a tea held on the grounds of an estate in Villanova, Pa., out on the Philadelphia Main Line, west of the city. The Women’s Auxiliary of the Presbyterian Orphanage, the home then located in Southwest Philadelphia until 1960, held this annual tea and fashion show to raise funds. My aunt served on the Auxiliary. She loved children, though she and my uncle had none. Attending the tea was one way I benefited from my aunt’s love.

Each year on a muggy, usually sunny May or June afternoon, I dressed in hat and white gloves and we drove out to the estate of the two elderly Dunlap sisters, heiresses to the American Stores grocery fortune. There, rows of folding, white wooden chairs were set up on the deep lawn, divided by a center aisle for the models to walk among the guests, and fronted by my favorite – the table of tea sandwiches, tasty dainty sandwiches without crusts, prettily decorated cookies, and the tea.

While my aunt and the other Auxiliary women set up, I roamed the lush green, terraced lawns, among the spruces, pines and cedars, beneath the shade of the maples, oaks and other great trees. I’d wander down the terraces, past beds of colorful flowers down to the swimming pool, no longer in use, leaves the sole entities floating in the dark green water. There I’d stand, in rivulets of nostalgia, imagining the old days where poolside loungers holding tall, cool drinks got splashed with the laughter of gleeful swimmers.

After the tea and fashion show, while the women were putting away the silver tea service and leftover sandwiches and cookies inside the house, I’d wander through the parlors and dining room of that gray granite Tudor mansion, admiring the Oriental rugs and trying out the chairs and sofas of the formal, antique furniture.

 

Robinson Hall, designed by architect George Bishop Page, built 1907.

Robinson Hall, designed by architect George Bishop Page, built 1907.

The Presbyterian Orphanage evolved into the Presbyterian Children’s Village, with many programs to help children and families. They moved to a Rosemont estate, west of Philadelphia, donated by Samuel Robinson, co-founder and a CEO of Acme Markets, then part of the American Stores Company. In 2003 the Presbyterian Children’s Village purchased an additional facility, a convent in Southwest Philadelphia where they opened the Preheim Center that serves as a hub for community based services.

Wanamaker's Grand Crystal Tea Room

Wanamaker’s Grand Crystal Tea Room

In the months intervening until the next year’s tea and fashion show, I sipped afternoon tea and ate cucumber and cream cheese, ham salad and egg salad tea sandwiches at the Philadelphia Wanamaker’s department store ninth floor Grand Crystal Tea Room. These were the happy occasions when my aunt, my mother, or one of my grandmothers would stop for refreshment while we were out shopping. Macy’s owns this venerable department store now, and the Crystal Tea Room serves only as a private catering hall. Those days of the grand department store where all the saleswomen wore black dresses and really wanted to help you are gone. Still, today, whenever I’m watching a movie scene or in a place where I hear the clatter of dishes, I’m teleported to Wanamaker’s tearoom.

Roberta at the Ritz Fountain

Mother at the Ritz Fountain

Tea at the Ritz highlighted my daughter’s and my 1990s visit to my mother in Naples, Fla. I took photos of that cherished occasion, one of my mother in her beautiful ice-aqua dress with the big aqua flower, seated on the fountain rim below the flagstone terrace before the high Palladian windows.

“Trends, Tulips, and Tea” for women, a Palladian event in the sense of high, graceful and grand, raises funds to support Smyrna Opera House programs and helps support local artists. In the early days, Opera House entertainment included “General” Tom Thumb, Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, and lectures by Frederick Douglass, politician William Jennings Bryan, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., and suffragettes Lucy Stone and Olive Logan. In later years, one might imagine women swooning in the aisles at the sight of Rudolf Valentino slipping across the silver screen into a tent as “The Sheik” in 1921.

On Christmas night, 1948, holiday lights strung along the mansard roof sparked a fire. Strong winds showered sparks onto nearby buildings while firefighters from nine companies chased the escaping flames long into the night. As firefighters dowsed surrounding structures the water froze on the buildings, sheathing them in protective ice. When it was over, a stalwart fireman had to be chipped from his ladder, where he had remained frozen to the rungs for two hours, as spray from his hose encased him in ice. He could have used a good cup of tea. In the end, the clock tower and third floor were destroyed.

Built in 1870 as the Town Hall to bring together communities breached by the Civil War, the Smyrna Opera House was restored in 2003, through the fundraising efforts of the Smyrna-Clayton Heritage Association formed in 1994 and headed by President John W. Dickinson until his death in May 2001. The Association, a nonprofit organized to offer arts and cultural opportunities to the community, raised $3.6 million to restore the Opera House, half a million donated by Smyrna-Clayton citizens and businesses.

Local craftsmen performed all the work on the Opera House and the new Annex. Meticulously and beautifully restored, the Opera House itself is a treat to behold. A high, serene feeling embraces me when I enter.

Restored 19th century opera house. Frederick Douglass spoke here.

Restored 19th century opera house. Frederick Douglass spoke here.

The Opera House hall features a hand-painted coffered ceiling, a balcony, refurbished original stage and sprung hardwood floors. The 18-inch thick walls have been hand-painted and gilded by members of The Smyrna-Clayton Heritage Association, The acoustics are terrific.

Last Saturday, the first annual afternoon of high fashion, traditional tea and spring bazaar was held in the auditorium hall to a sold-out house, 139 women, some wearing hats and gloves, seated at round tables, according to our place cards. Each table was laid with the fine china of one of the committee volunteers. In the tall stemmed glasses were folded linen napkins, like tulip buds, in the colors of lilac and moss green. The teas offered were among my favorites; the chilled strawberry soup was divine as were the luxuriously large scones complemented by the orange marmalade, lemon and crème fraiche toppings. I especially liked the chicken salad tea sandwiches. While we enjoyed all the delicate and tasty savories and sweets, finishing with chocolate-dipped strawberries, we were treated to a show of fashions modeled by volunteers, and Susan Wolfe told us a fascinating story of the history of tea.

If you missed this stellar performance of the “Trends, Tulips, and Tea” committee led by chair Robin Bruner, get your hat and gloves. There is an encore. The tea has become a trend: do mark your calendar for next year, Saturday, March 28, 2015, from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.

—Samantha Mozart

CXXII. The Caterpillar and the Butterfly and the Caterpillar

April 6, 2014 — In his 80s, my father turned to me and said, “I wonder what it’s like when we die.” “Let me know,” I said. He died at 90. The family and I were by his side encircling him, holding his hands, in his bed in the hospital emergency room as he passed. Since then, nearly 10 years ago, he hasn’t come and told me directly; but maybe he has indirectly. I stood by my mother, Emma’s side and held her hand as she passed, two years ago, April 11. Maybe these two events were Daddy’s way of showing me, a little; Mother’s, as well. Days after my mother died, my Buddhist rinpoche friend sat with me and told me that at first when you die you go into what is like a dream: You may not know where you are and you may be afraid, confused. You don’t know where to go. But that most of us choose the familiar. This is why I am mindful of my present thoughts, choices and activities. If there is a next life, and I have experienced remembrances that there is, then I want to be prepared.

My friend, author Susan Scott, and her friend, psychologist Susan Schwartz, are writing a series of daily blog posts this month, http://www.gardenofedenblog.com/, on the subject “Aging and Becoming.” Their enlightened posts are deeply thought, consequently have awakened my own thoughts on the subject. I commented on their posts, “Complex” and “Death”:

All life is a preparation, I believe. I am in the tying up loose ends stage, wrapping things up, making completions, and planning for the future, both in this life and the next, and whatever is in between. I try to stay in the now; but I find this difficult. I am happy for my experiences, the things I have had the courage to do in my life. I have lived many lifetimes in this lifetime. Sometimes I think I should have stayed with one thing, one focus, but I would rather be happy that I did try something than sad that I didn’t.

Susan Schwartz replied, “It does help to journal ones thoughts, as you seem to know. maybe especially the more intricate ones so they get teased out and then…not sure it is for preparation or for experiencing.”

“Death needs preparation – in this life,” Susan Scott said.

Journaling for preparation or experiencing? Both, I believe. They inform each other.

A mistake is simply an opportunity for a take two.

Yes, death needs preparation. I reflect on that moment of my parents’ passing and how and if they prepared. You live your whole life, engage in work and interests, are vital, and then you’re gone from your body. A curious phenomenon. I witnessed the death of a tree yesterday morning, an ancient tree, base of the trunk five feet in diameter. That is sad. I will miss its cool shade and the purified air it gave us. I unwittingly walked by as the workmen were cutting down the tree, came around the corner and there they were, trunk and thick branches already cut into neat logs, one pile just right for next winter’s firewood. Maybe the tree was diseased; maybe its squirrel inhabitants became a nuisance for the Victorian apartment house dwellers its long, leafy arms shaded. It’s gone now, just its stump remains. Yet, there is hope. Maybe its seeds will create a new tree nearby.

My mother painted a butterfly watercolor and displayed butterflies in various art forms all around her house. When I was very young, she read to me and bought me books which I devoured: I, the caterpillar provisioning for metamorphosis.

Caterpillar & Butterfly

The best advice I have received comes from my long-time friend and spiritual teacher, Rocco: “Have fun.”

Samantha Mozart

CXXI. Pensées

March 24, 2014 — I found a dead dog on my front lawn this morning. It was a prematurely born puppy, gray on top, white underneath, about the size of my index finger. Some neighbor’s dog dropped it. I wonder if they know. I wonder how it got onto my lawn. The corpse was stiff. Maybe the wind blew it there. I blessed its little soul, reverently picked it up, shrouded in a paper towel, and gently laid it in a trash bag.

Another unfulfilled beginning. A life not to be. I want a dog. But, this wasn’t going to be the one. I would get a rescue dog. I cannot afford to maintain a dog, though, presently. So, I content myself enjoying others’ dogs and Wallie-sitting for my friend’s white Bichon Poo. He has a personality worth five dogs. He was with me recently for a week. I told him to jump up on the couch so I could brush him. He stood on the floor opposite me, all four feet firmly planted, and looked at me:

“No.”

“Come on, jump up!” I encouraged him.

“Nope.”

“Come on, jump up! Right here,” I said, cheerily, patting the couch.

“Preferably not.”

His eyes got squinty. The more I encouraged him, the squintier his eyes got, until they were slits. And then the corners of his mouth turned down. He looked like a little old man standing there, squinty eyed, mouth turned down, peering at me. Maybe he was rehearsing for his YouTube video debut.

Finally, he jumped up and I hugged him. He got brushed, and then we went for a walk. He chased two dachshunds, pulling the leash free from my unsuspecting hand, one chihuahua; and when we got home to my backyard – well, we almost weren’t going to have an Easter Bunny this year. Fortunately, I spotted the bunny first, under the hedge, so I got a good grip on the leash; Wallie dashed after the bunny, with me on the trailing end. The bunny escaped into my neighbor’s yard.

Another unfulfilled beginning. No rabbit for dinner. A life to be continued.

I am a note taker. I take notes of all business phone calls, just as I do a telephone conversation with someone about whom I plan to write a magazine or newspaper profile. I keep a writer’s notebook – observations, metaphors, poetic phrases, conversations overheard, thoughts to develop into essay, blog post or the great American novel…. I keep a file of expositions, undeveloped pieces, my Unfinished Symphonies. I write things down. Beyond his notebooks, F. Scott Fitzgerald kept lists. I used to. I don’t so much anymore; too much screen time – I leave much unread on my computer – emails, friends’ blogs, and yet still cannot get away within my self-set time limit.

Joan Dideon wrote, “The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one. … Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.” (“On Keeping a Notebook.” –From Slouching Towards Bethlehem)

A friend defined writing as a constant arrangement and rearrangement of words, unworthy of meaningful truth from a spiritual perspective, and told me I should stop writing. Hmm…. What would I do with my life, I wondered, visualizing myself ending my days staring vacuously into the distance. This friend soon reversed that dictate on my writing, but held that while I write well for the public, my emails to this person carry a passive-aggressive tone. Well, then, I am not writing well enough, for that is not true. Why take that tone, or play that mind game? That would be a waste of time. I haven’t got the energy. It’s enough chasing a dog chasing a rabbit; I cannot chase a train of passive-aggressive thought. I prefer to ride the straightforward approach. What a tangled web we weave, go ’round with circumstance; someone show me how to tell the dancer from the dance. –The Eagles, “Saturday Night.”

Some individuals’ sense of self is so big they cannot see the truth. They get caught in themselves. I am not immune to this. I do try to take a prismatic view, though. When I have difficulty with the perspective, I review it with my Cabinet of Superthinkers – friends with whom I surround myself who are smarter than I. (And, look, I would appreciate your refraining from pointing out here that this is not a far reach.)

The friend on the passive-aggressive train was looking at me squinty-eyed, mouth downturned. This is not the only friend who has misapprehended me in the past 18 months. Why had this not occurred earlier in my life? These friends obstinately hold that I am not telling the truth; I cannot convince them otherwise. It’s become a trend. I think it’s become a societal trend. There’s the young woman who got a new boss who told her that at 7 a.m. she had to be at the store where she works to unlock the doors. “But I have children to get off to school,” said the young woman. The new boss replied with finality, “I have trouble getting up early, too.” Which of us is the controller? I prefer egalitarianism. Some may not believe me.

I suppose this element of superficiality, self-centeredness has been a part of the human condition since way before the Etruscans were the new kids on the block; this element of disbelieving the truth – this is why we have Easter. And, no doubt throughout the disquieting tolling of the corporeal end, had smart devices existed, people in the crowd would be taking selfies rather than observing the actual bearing of events.

Why can’t we reach each other? It’s trendy to give no thought to fulfillment, completion. Dash off a text, misspelled. Your recipient can read it tonight, face aglow in the dark, as is light reflected off the face of the moon. Who cares about reaching the green light across the bay?

F. Scott Fitzgerald, in The Great Gatsby, used the green light at the end of Daisy and Tom Buchanan’s dock to symbolize that desire always beyond reach: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

“The truth is that I really do love you, yet it is the curse of my nature that I can desire but not possess beauty. It must always be just out of reach.” I don’t know that Oscar Wilde actually said this, but he did to British actress Lillie Langtry in the TV miniseries, Lillie.

There are times I wonder if I should write, if I have anything worthwhile to say, if anyone is interested, if anyone will read my words.

The act of writing completely precludes me from all else. So, like F. Scott Fitzgerald, I fear the world is going by without me. Recently, my thoughts have been as dense and as scattered as the mist blown off the tops of whitecaps on a blustery day. It’s been tricky trying to navigate the course of one thought in words. So I keep a log.

I flee superficialities, narrow-mindedness, and dogma – the only constant is change, it’s never the same twice – like Leo Tolstoy ran from churches and fled his family and followers; he boarded a train. He didn’t reach the end of the line. He died at a remote station en route.

I’m simply trying to reach the green light at the end of the dock before sunset.

—Samantha Mozart

CXX. Battering and Abuse

I write humanitarian documentaries – profiles of artists and scientists, of individuals who are environmental stewards and humanitarians, of those who sacrifice themselves to help others. I write truth for a living. I say this because there is the other side, too, that needs examining, the sole of the shoe that stepped in the wrong place in the cow pasture – the abuser.

It starts subtly, often in an email, a few words, a line or two – “I don’t like your shoelaces, I don’t like your tone, your avocation, your career choice.” You heed it little, go on with your life. And then it escalates. This is battering; it is abuse. It escalates into verbal bullying and/or physical abuse. The abuse can be perpetrated by man against woman, woman against man, woman against woman, the prevalent teen-against-teen, or a group bullying a single individual, as in cyber bullying, lobbed by petty terrorists brandishing sharp-edged words from behind the shields of their computer screens.

Verbal battering comes up behind you. It knocks the pins out from under you, because it is unfounded – and often sprung on you by someone you trust implicitly. It doesn’t stop: it is a battering diarrhea. It is cruel. It can cut deeply. Verbal abuse will kill your spirit if you let it in.

Whether by physical force or verbal, abusers follow a classic pattern: the abuser batters, then apologizes – yet delivering an apology riddled with accusatory words; for example, “I am so sorry; let it fall on me that you are not realistic.” And then batters again. It is an effort to control.

It is important that individuals learn to immediately recognize subtle signs of abuse before they escalate, and they will.

Recognizing and identifying the early signs of battering and abuse cannot be stated often enough. Therefore I believe it is time I resurrect the two magazine stories I have published on this issue, under my journalism byline. These stories never fray around the edges; indeed, they elucidate the classic pattern of abuse, what you can do about it and where you can get help. Of course, since these stories were published in the past, you will need to research help organizations presently operating in your neighborhood.

Here are the links to these stories:

Linda Lovelace: The Deeper Implications. I published this essay under my byline Carol Child in South Bay Magazine, Redondo Beach, Calif., 1980.

Witney’s Lights. Bringing the issue of domestic violence from darkness into light. I published this story under my byline Carol Child in Middletown Life Magazine, Middletown, Del., Spring/Summer 2009. Quincy Lucas, now Quincy A. Rose, Ed.D., is currently Department Chair, Master of Arts in Teaching at Tusculum College, Johnson City, Tennessee.

—Samantha Mozart

CXIX. A Ticket to Sochi

February 13, 2014 — I would rather watch a great Russian ballet than the Winter Olympics, now being performed in Sochi, though ancient be that competition’s history. I’m not a sports fan, except for baseball, and I’d rather play that than watch it. I would like to go to Sochi, though. I’ve long wanted to visit Russia, the Caucasus, and the Black Sea region. I’ve traveled to that region and the Russian countryside, seen through the windows of Russian and Turkish literature and movies. I’ve traveled to Moscow and St. Petersburg on the wings of music and ballet. My daughter and I studied ballet together for many years. Our teaching lineage descends directly from the Mariinsky/Kirov schools through the high art of Diaghilev and his Ballet Russes and Balanchine to us. Two of our teachers danced in the New York City Ballet under George Balanchine; another has served as a master teacher for the American Ballet Theatre. I love dancing ballet; it feels like flying.

I’d love to fly to Sochi. So would many others. I see that in fact many people have raised personal funds on the Internet for a ticket to Sochi. Their gaining a ticket demonstrates the focus of our current culture’s mindset: it is easier to raise funds for a ticket to Sochi than it is to raise funds for advocating the humanities. After all, who needs to develop more than a third grade level of reading comprehension when society places such low value on literature and history and you can earn an eight-figure income as a muscle-bound sports jock. Who needs to learn to think?

Here today in Delaware we’ve got weather conditions similar to those in Sochi – heavy, wet, slushy snow. We’re under a nor’easter, with strong winds, that gathered moisture out of the Gulf of Mexico before traveling up the Appalachians, the Piedmont Plateau and the Eastern Seaboard, bringing ice and coastal flooding.

The cupola of my blog is drafty and damp, so I’m sitting at my round table burning a lamp with scented oil. I’m running low on nutmeg and other items, so I’m preparing a grocery list.

I smell a nutmeggy aroma.

“I can’t find the snow shovel.”

Low-talking Moriarty, the Phantom of My Blog, comes up behind me.

“Oh, well, you’re in luck,” I tell him. “I’ve gotten another one. I put it right there in that closet.”

I think I hear him groan under his breath. “We’re almost finished building the folly,” he says. “But we’ve had to stop due to the inclement weather the past six weeks. I hired immigrant workers. They’re very good; no empty-calorie chattering, no loud radios; they just work hard.”

“You’re avoiding,” I tell him. I get up and go to the closet.

He sits down and sprawls in one of the captain’s chairs at the round table. “They’re Russian,” he says.

I hand him the shovel.

Twenty minutes later he comes back in. Dickens is with him.

“Hey-y-y, Dickens,” I say to Moriarty’s black, fluffy dog. He’s all serpentine wiggly when he sees me.

“Bfff,” he says.

I pet his head and scratch him behind the ears. Moriarty brings a big towel and dries Dickens’s coat. Nothing like the smell of a wet dog.

“I heated up some borscht while you were out,” I tell Moriarty. I set it on the table with sour cream and a baguette. Moriarty sits and rips a chunk off the end of the baguette and dips it into the borscht. I get a bag of dog treats out of the cupboard. I hand one to Dickens and sit at the table. We eat.

“So you haven’t been watching the Olympics?” says Moriarty.

“No. But I did watch a documentary on Sochi. That long history of the Black Sea region and down through the Bosphorus and the seas and straits to the Mediterranean fascinates me. Byzantine culture intrigues me. I find Byzantine art enthralling. I must have lived in Byzantium in a past life. Maybe this is why Istanbul compels me. I’d love to visit there.”

“I am reading a book on the history of Italy and the Black Sea to Mediterranean region,” Moriarty says. “Everybody paraded through Italy and ruled the various kingdoms there, from the Piedmont in the north down to the foot of the boot – Greeks, Turks, Etruscans, Romans, Goths, Lombards, Byzantines, Saracens, Franks, Normans, Germans, Spanish Bourbons, Austrians, Napoleon Bonaparte (until his dash of bad luck after the Russians first tried to burn him out and then froze him out, and then his subsequent European demise, abdication and exile to Elba), the French, Austrians again, until the formation of the Kingdom of Italy with the crowning of Victor Emmanuel II, under the leadership of Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1871. Abraham Lincoln, impressed with General Garibaldi and his Redshirts’ victories towards unification, in 1862 asked Garibaldi, who had spent time in South America and the United States, to command the Union Army forces in the American Civil War. Garibaldi declined on the condition that Lincoln was not ready to declare that the war’s objective be the abolition of slavery. Later, Italy defeated the Ottoman Empire and in 1911, gained Libya as a colony for 40 years. Italy didn’t abolish its monarchy and become a republic until 1946.

“Next time we’re here I’ll make us some Etruscan peasant soup,” he says.

“Anyway,” Moriarty continues, laying his napkin aside, “Over the millennia, a host of invaders also caused cracks in the Byzantine Empire.” He pulls a piece of paper out of his pants pocket, unfolds it and I can see it has dates and notes on it. “In 572,” he goes on, “the Lombards, a small group originating in Scandinavia, invaded and took over Northern Italy from the Byzantines. In the tenth century, Prince Igor of Kiev attacked Constantinople and the Byzantines destroyed the Russian fleet. The Byzantines lost Southern Italy in 1055 when the Normans invaded. Ultimately, the Byzantine Empire, cracked as successive invaders bit off pieces of it, as if it were an anise supercookie, weakened and crumbled to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. What a mess.”

“You splotched borscht on your shirt,” I point out.

He reaches for a napkin to mop it up and knocks a chunk of baguette onto the floor. Dickens lunges for it, snaps it up and swallows it whole. I doubt he remembers he ate it.

“And,” Moriarty continues, engrossed in the video documentary running in his mind, “one thread throughout the long history of humanity is that great leaders were toppled by being undermined from within their own group; you know – Julius Caesar, Jesus Christ, even Giuseppe Garibaldi. Be careful whom you trust.”

“Undermined by individuals with small self worth,” I say. “They have to be in control. They dump their baggage on you and all their unwashed laundry falls out, fouling your intentions and purpose. They make you out to be who they are. It stinks. Rather then seek enlightenment, they close their minds, preferring to wallow in their ignorance. They get caught in the murky box of themselves. For them, it’s simply less labor to shoot someone. For me, it’s easy to see through them and the stories they concoct. Seeing them strut across the realms of life in their arrogance, I pity them. I know how scared they are.”

“They have no mercy for themselves,” says Moriarty, scooping up the last liquid in his bowl.

We pick up our bowls and carry them to the kitchen. I toss Dickens one more treat.

As we wash our utensils and put them away, I recall scenes from my childhood: “My father’s birthday was the other day,” I tell Moriarty. “He would have been 100 were he still living. On Sundays he would drive us – my mother, brother and me – through the countryside. Sometimes, when I was very young, I would fall asleep. When I awoke, my father would tell me:

“‘You missed the purple cow.’”

—Samantha Mozart

CXVIII. In the Christmas Tree

December 22, 2013 — Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed parts of The Nutcracker Ballet music while riding on a train across Europe.

I composed myself to buy Christmas stamps while walking a few blocks across town to the United States Post Office. I dreaded meeting our town version of The Mouse King, The Post Office Witch. She works as a clerk behind the counter, not to be pried loose. I have been told she has risen to celestial status in the civil servants union ranks. So, she remains my nemesis. I don’t know why she picks on me. I went there with nothing but a $20 bill one time to buy a few forever stamps. She dressed me down, commanding me never to come in there again without a credit card or exact change. The next time, I arrived with small bills and a pocketful of coins. She made me lay the currency on the counter rather than counting it out for her as I handed it to her. So I set it in a heap. Her reaction upon gathering it and tediously counting it was a mild {{{   }}}, for I needed only a penny change. She laid that on her scale so that I had to reach across the counter to scrape it up.

This time I waited until two in the afternoon to embark on my expedition. Fewer shoppers are out at that hour, typically, and I didn’t want to wait in a long line. I steeled myself and entered. There was a long line. In that situation, when two clerks are working, for me it’s like drawing the lottery – I always get The Post Office Witch and not the clerk with the soft snowflake personality. Today The Witch was absent. She was probably at home pulling needles out of the branches of her tree. Two other clerks stood behind the counter. Two women stood before the counter with a platoon of 20 to 30 meter-length tubes, the kind in which you would insert rolled blueprints. Each tube had to be weighed independently and affixed with a sticker. The postmistress was helping one clerk who wasn’t much taller than the tubes. We waited in line, observing the slow-motion tableau.

“What’s in those?” the young woman behind me asked me.

“Those are maps for Santa and his reindeer so they’ll be able to find their way and not miss anybody,” I said.

Finally, the women mailing the tubes revealed that their business organization was mailing 36-inch calendars to their clients. I was tempted to ask for one, since I have yet to find a good wall calendar for 2014. But, I remained silent. I bought my handful of stamps, affixed them to my Christmas cards, dropped the cards into the box and walked home.

Out the upstairs window, I spotted a turkey in my backyard. A wild turkey confronted my brother at the edge of the woods behind his house a few years ago. “They’re pretty big,” he said. This wasn’t that big, I decided. It was a turkey vulture. What had it just eaten? A flock circled our area that day. For several days thereafter, I saw no squirrels. I saw a squirrel today, so at least one survives. Maybe the vulture ate the carrion of a big mouse that had gotten shot.

Speaking of big things, as I told in a previous post (“The House of Seven Staircases”), I carried the four heavy, unwieldy sections of my artificial, eight-foot Christmas tree laden with cones down out of the attic and assembled it in the living room. Then I strung the lights and lit them. I climbed the ladder to place my angel on top. Naturally, at this stage, the ladder was in the corner, behind the tree, and, until I was done, I wasn’t about to move it and topple the grandfather clock. As I reached across the tree to find a suitable branch for my angel, I held onto the ceiling while the shadows cast by the lights of the wobbling tree made the ceiling appear to be spinning. My hasty placement of the angel makes her look tipsy. I probably should have drunk a glass of wine first….

My minimal decorations this year extend to a garland of little clear lights I strung up the staircase railing. I like the soft light, especially on these dark December days.

After my enjoying a pleasant week illuminated by this corps of soft lights, all of a sudden they flared brightly and then burned out, like a supernova. It was spectacular.

I stood my Nutcracker soldier beneath my tree in hopes that the Sugar Plum Fairy will alight in my dreams, In the Christmas Tree, the enchanting part of The Nutcracker Ballet tableau where the Christmas tree grows. She will zap my Nutcracker with her magic wand and transform him into a real prince, remarkably resembling Mikhail Baryshnikov. In Christmases past, this hasn’t happened. And now, he’s just standing there beside the bottle of Red Zinfandel a friend gave me. He’s waiting for me to crack it open, probably.

My friend who gave me the bottle of Red Zin cooked dinner for me at her 1870s home last evening. She is Wallie, the Bichon Poo’s human; he is the dog I sometimes Wallie-sit for. My friend and I met at a store downtown where she was purchasing a Christmas present. Then, we walked to her home together. Wallie barked happily as we stepped onto her front porch, arriving at her door. My friend unlocked the door and let me go first.

We opened the door and Wallie, seeing me, was like:

{{{   }}}. “You’re not her.”

And then he saw his human. His expression of relief was palpable. “I am glad to see you,” he seemed to say, “but she comes first.”

Later, he came up to me in the kitchen while my friend was cooking dinner and I explained to him in some detail why I couldn’t give him other than the barest perceptible piece of cheese, because if he ate too much of it, it wouldn’t be good for him. He looked me in the eye, listened intently and then, continuing his gaze, seemed to be ruminating on how best to word his reply.

My friend and I, Wallie, and her two cats – Wallie and Gilmore, the big orange tabby, have issues with one another – enjoyed an enchanting evening in her historic walnut paneled front parlor in flickering sconce light and candlelight in front of the live, fat Christmas tree, as tall as mine. She and her daughter had cut it down. She had decorated it with colored LED lights. The New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was good and we poured more. I asked her if the tree came with lights on it. The hour grew late. The evening was balmy and I walked home along the Victorian red brick sidewalk. What magical gifts.

I wish you a Merry Christmas and may you find in your stocking an enchanted 2014.

—Samantha Mozart

CXVII. Snow Comes Softly

Sunday, December 8, 2013 —Yesterday came cold and blustery while we presented our wares at our town holiday outdoor market. Flurries of visitors arrived and it was good to be out among the people and to greet them. Choruses of children sang and Santa Claus came to town. The Newshound from the Delaware State News came and, holding up one of my books, To What Green Altar, posed beside me while his photographer took our picture. Like most hounds, the Newshound newspaper mascot doesn’t talk, but the photographer alerted me to look online at Delaware Newszap, http://delaware.newszap.com/delawarestatenews/, and the photo noting this author should be posted by Wednesday.

Today it is snowing. The purity of the white is centering. Snow falling is quiet, peaceful. I have decorated my Christmas tree in small clear lights this year with only a few balls in silver hues. It is a quiet tree, a tree decorated not for anyone else, but for me, a tree to give off a soft, warm light.

It is Sunday. The bell in the little Episcopal church across the street rang this morning, as it does every Sunday. It is a real bell, in the steeple, that somebody rings. This little historic church recalls all the chapels in all the English villages, meadows and dales that I see in all the British dramas I watch. They don’t ring the bell long in this Episcopal church – eight times for the eight o’clock service and ten for the ten o’clock service.

One Sunday morning, I was walking in front of the Methodist church down the street when suddenly the bell tolled. I know convention says you’re not supposed to be startled when you’re in front of a church: I rose several feet off the sidewalk and I suspect not lifted on angel wings. In fact, I exclaimed, “Holy [expletive].” This is a real bell, too, and apparently a good sized one; it is loud, and it goes on ringing for eons. It’s a big church and the congregation continues arriving for ages.

Snowflakes alight briefly in flurries or waltz in endless patterns bending, swirling, reaching and touching everything all the dull gray day and into the deep blue night, well beyond three o’clock in the morning.

Prose arabesques ornament the characteristics and romance of snowflakes. Each snowflake is uniquely shaped. The flakes fall softly, individually, in pairs and in gatherings. Yet they all come from the same source and have the same composition. Snowflakes have a mission: they fall out of the clouds and they land on black slick streets, red-brick sidewalks, brown winter grass, mounds of dried leaves blown into corners of flower beds and on the bare dogwood branches outside my window. Sometimes the snowflakes melt on contact, sometimes they pile up. And then everything turns white. Watching them fall, we become quiet, meditative, nostalgic, always a little awestruck. We watch snow fall with anticipation: snow disperses our routines, makes us turn to something new. Sometimes each snowflake makes a light ticking sound as it touches down. The birds get quiet when it snows. I watch the squirrels and the birds and I can predict the weather. The squirrels bustle gathering nuts in advance of the coming cold. Birds flock and chatter and then get quiet. Birds have different songs for different types of weather and different times of day. They have their cheery morning song, their spring song for temperatures mounting on soft southern breezes; they have their evensong.

Mothers brought their young children outside this morning to witness the first snowfall of the season. I observed one child hold out her pink mittened hand to watch the snow accumulate in her palm.

I like driving in a car when it is snowing. I love being in the magic of the snow flying at me, the cypress and cedars and oaks lining the road, their branches laden with snow, the padding of the car tires on the snow, the few other cars on the road all traveling slowly as in a dream, and the tire tracks of an unseen car gone before me.

Snow fulfills its own purpose. Snow comes softly; it piles on tree limbs, bushes, holly berries and cars. Snow comes softly, like a gentle soul, filling in the footprints on our paths. It stays for a while, and then it is gone.

—Samantha Mozart

CXVI. The House of Seven Staircases

November 25, 2013 — I have been winterizing my home the past few weeks. This home was built in 1894, and although some repairs and improvements have been made since then, it needs more, like new plumbing, electrical wiring and workable storm windows. The house has 34 windows, not counting the windows in three of the four doors, the fourth being the basement Bilco doors. All but five have triple-track aluminum storm windows and screens installed over them, so I have been going around the house pulling down storm windows.

I have included a soundtrack with this plodding piece:  three compositions on my playlist in the right sidebar, by Chopin: numbers 36, 37 & 38: “Marche Funèbre” from the second piano sonata; “Largo in E” from “24 Preludes,” Op. 28; and “Nocturne No. 10, Op. 32 No. 2, respectively.

Since, oddly, the windows and the screens do not seat properly in their sashes, frequently sticking rather than sliding, this task involves fingernail breaking and colorful language speaking. These features notwithstanding, generally I pick the windiest autumn day for this project. The front and back aluminum storm/screen doors have large plate-glass windows that slide up and down in grooves. I raised the window on the back door sash easily, thus covering the screen and converting it to a storm door. The window on the front storm/screen door won’t budge, and it’s heavy. Last spring, I couldn’t slide it down to where it sits in the bottom half of the door. It came out of the sash, and I set it against the wall until I could get the guy painting the exterior of my neighbor’s house next-door to come fix it. Now it won’t slide up. All I need is to force it, have it come out of its tracks, drop it and break it. So I’ve left it until I can nab a likely candidate to help.

This house is of balloon-frame construction; that is, with no platform framing or drywall, so the joists run all the way from the foundation up to the attic. This allows air to circulate excellently: on the hottest breezy summer days with the doors and the 34 windows open, the house is comfortable. I’d leave the attic door open to enhance the circulation, but then the bats come down and circulate in my bedroom in the middle of the night. When I climb the attic steps, where Lancelot Dampwick, a former owner, removed the horsehair plaster from the lath lining the staircase walls, I can reach into the open space between the joists and feel an intense draft. This draft, as you might imagine, is chill in winter; and in any case, on windy winter days, even with the storm windows in place I wonder if I’ve left all the windows open: the wind blows right through not only the glass double layer but also the vinyl siding layering the clapboard walls, circulating magnificently. I can place my hand in front of any wall outlet and feel the draft. Drafting so splendidly, in the event of fire the house instantly would convert to one big chimney, spectacularly.

Jack the Handyman comes every spring and fall and carries my three window air conditioners from the first and second floor windows to the attic. The first floor window air conditioner is substantial and Jack accommodatingly transports it on a dolly up the main staircase to the second floor and, lifting it off the dolly, from there carries it up the winding attic staircase, setting it neatly against the wall dividing the large front room with the finished floor from the back, windowless storage area.

Out in the yard, to make it easier for Jack to simply pick it up and carry it down the outside cellar steps, thoughtfully I coiled my hundred-foot garden hose having the precise diameter and black and yellow markings as the garden snake we found coiled in the corner at the tortoiseshell cat’s feet in my friend’s house.

So Jack could get into the cellar, I descended the staircase out of the kitchen to the cellar, ascended the steps to the Bilco doors, opened them, and on the way back down, nearly trampled a herd of stampeding crickets who had settled their winter ghetto there.

Seldom have I lived alone, and here I have housemates – Marjorie the Mouse in the kitchen cupboard, and Jupiter and Jiminy Cricket around the kitchen. I rarely see the bats, only attic evidence of bugs they have eaten, so I can’t name them. The other day, I transported Jupiter, the big cricket, who was standing in the sink near a water puddle, into my backyard in a clean empty refried beans can. Jiminy’s still around, or maybe it’s Jennifer. It’s hard to tell. I do know their bodies sport nifty brown and black horizontal stripes, like little pullover sweaters, or jumpers, as the Brits aptly call them.

A few months after my mother and I moved into this house in August 2002, standing in the big attic room one winter morning, I noticed a tall thin thing in the center of the back of the attic. I walked over and peered through the climb-through opening in the wall separating the front and back sections. The sun, lower in the sky this time of year, shone through the front window into the back illuminating – a red brick chimney that had been truncated, probably when they re-roofed the house in the 1990s, so it no longer extends through the roof thus eliminating leaks around the flashing. I wondered why the wood shelves beside the kitchen stove, their surrounding paneling extending in equal depth from the wall and flush with the front of the stove, were so shallow. Somebody paneled around that same chimney there that formerly drafted the smoke from a woodstove, and put shallow shelves in the front. A woman near my age, who grew up in this house, told me that she and her three sisters would sit around the stove and watch their mom bake cookies. I don’t know if that was before or after that day while their mom was at the store they painted the two-story barn behind the house two shades of purple. Since the property sits on the top of a knoll, “It could be seen from all over town,” the woman said. That barn is long gone. In its stead is my shed under which the Peter and Bunny Cottontail clan lives. These girls’ dad cemented the hitherto dirt cellar floor, built the back steps (their initials and ‘51 are incised in the cement) and blocked off the back staircase to the attic, to create a closet on the lower landing. This is the closet where my clothes shrink on their hangers, in the room above the kitchen that I now use as my studio, with the winding staircase out of the kitchen, directly below the walled-off back staircase to the attic.

Their dad used the smallest upstairs room, my den, as his office. This is my reading room, where I sit in the chaise between the two perpendicular windows, beneath my bridge lamp. I am gradually converting my den to a library. I want to line one wall with floor to ceiling shelves. This is the perfect wall, since the front chimney juts out from the wall at the end next to the window, creating the perfect indentation for bookshelves. I could spend endless hours there among my books. Books are people’s souls.

Balancing the scales, though, is my love for music, and recently I was invited to and attended a free piano master class in the Steinway Hall in a store where they want to sell me a piano. They could move the piano into my house facilely, since only four steps lead up to the front porch and then one more from the porch into the entrance hall opening to a wide doorway into the living room. This doorway once accommodated pocket doors handily removed by a former owner who had undergone a lobotomy thus rendering him senseless to matters historical. Here, the problem is that at the price of the piano I want, I’d have to live in it. No more climbing stairs. I could fit inside a nine-foot grand, but I don’t know how I’d roast a turkey, mash potatoes and cook bacon Brussels sprouts or any other meal in it. Master classes are a great way to gain appreciation of an art. In piano master classes you learn about composition, the composer’s intention and how to enhance performance. Alas, few but I can enjoy such an event. I invited friends who replied that they vaguely recalled a definitely possible engagement they were somewhat certain they had probably committed to; that is, if they weren’t too busy winterizing their homes.

This week I carried my eight-foot artificial Christmas tree from the attic down to the living room. The tree is a beautiful, lush Norway spruce laden with cones. It comes in four heavy, unwieldy sections. I laid the sections out on the living room floor and then assembled them in the stand. This is tricky, because inevitably I place the second part in the stand first rather than the base part, and then wonder why it’s all wobbly. I have to take it apart and do it again. This year I bought those tiny clear lights to string on the tree until after Thanksgiving when I will add my fabulous bubble lights and other colored lights and ornaments. All of this was easier ten years past when I bought the tree. I saw a television commercial a few years ago where the guy stood in front of his tree with those little clear lights all in a tangle around his neck. Ultimately, giving up trying to sort them, he flung them at the tree. They looked artfully placed. Did I try this? Yep. They looked like someone flung them at the tree.

This house has seven staircases. This makes the house sound like a proper setting for filming “Downton Abbey,” thus requiring a below stairs staff. No, not trolls; rather, actual servants. The house isn’t that big, though; in fact, it’s rather small; simply, it’s tall and long and thin and has a lot of steep and winding staircases. At the least, I’d like to have a dumbwaiter; and no, not some inebriated footman who trips over your chair and spills the tomato bisque necessitating your ladling it out of your black satin pumps, the ones with the silk grosgrain bows; but since I usually carry my meals upstairs to eat while I am at the computer or watching a movie or TV, it would be handy to have that food lift. I’m glad the kitchen isn’t in the cellar, as many were in the old days. Two staircases lead from the cellar, one to the outside, through the Bilco doors and one up into the kitchen. From the kitchen, through the laundry room, are the back steps down into the yard, and, over by the sink, the winding back staircase up into my studio and, above them, the stairs from my studio to the back of the attic where the truncated back chimney exists. From the front entrance hall the main staircase leads to the second floor and at the far end of the upstairs hall, the winding staircase to the front of the attic.

From the attic windows, beneath the front of the three gables, unobserved, I can watch my neighbors cartwheeling in the middle of the street after eating their Thanksgiving turkey. No one looks up.

This year on Thanksgiving I will contact family, who live at a distance, and imbibe in a gathering at the home of a special friend.

My idea to use Chopin’s “Marche Funèbre” for a soundtrack was inspired by my tedium with this post and by a blog I follow, “Excelsior” [http://xlsior.blogspot.com/2013/11/and-so-this-morning-as-we-begin-our.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+blogspot%2FQtQM+%28Excelsior%29], where I was delighted to find that blogger not only enjoying my nerdy musical taste, but intelligently discussing it and providing a video with the performance.

May your home abound with warmth, love and laughter this Thanksgiving.

—Samantha Mozart

 

CXV. The White Grape

November 8, 2013 — The white grape on my hors d’oeuvre plate rolled onto the floor in the corner in front of the closet, so I picked it up, wiped it off and ate it so it wouldn’t roll off in the center of the gathering and create a scene.

I was attending the annual artists reception at our local historic opera house. I walked along the walls of the two rooms, viewed all the pictures and incidental artwork. I finished eating my hors d’oeuvres, ate no cake for dessert, drank the small glass of opaque purple wine, exhibited in my hand like a royal crimson smudge on the chronicles of the peoples. I tossed my clear plastic plate and glass into the trash.

Moriarty came up behind me, then, tapped me on the shoulder and told me it was time to go. I remarked how amazed I always am at the wealth of local talent, and then I quietly exited down the stairs.

I removed my stick-on nametag as I descended the three flights. Against the outside brick wall of the opera house, well lit and encased in glass, I was keenly aware that I was exhibited in my descent.

I walked home alone in the dark.

Once home I ate a bowl of rich pumpkin soup from our nearby farm market and finished it off with bread pudding from our Odd Fellows Café. The works of artisans.

I sat out on my front porch after eating, sipping a glass of red Zinfandel, beneath the golden leaves of the walnut tree thriving in my flower bed, mourned its loss before it was gone, melancholic – the huzun, the Turks call it – soon to happen, for if it stayed in its place growing there under my porch, it would eat my house. I stared at the hundred year old Norway spruce etched against the night sky across the street.

Artists, I ruminated, know art comes from nowhere. The music of the spheres. What artists see and they create comes spontaneously. It’s not there and then it is. It is not something expected and then comes and you can arrogantly spout platitudes about or look down you nose about as you try to explain to lesser beings the work you have done. Works of art are not entities you can lord over awestruck others. Only the impresarios, the ones who present the art in a forum of camaraderie, food and wine or on a theater stage can do that. Artists simply visualize or hear the work and record it. Artists don’t know whence it comes, and they are humbled in that knowing, in its genesis and its presence.

It is with life the same. It’s temporal. We come, we exist, we exhibit what we create and then we quietly go.

There’s nothing to hold superior to that of others; all come and go, create and exhibit in their own ways, in their own time. There is parity in this.

There is no hierarchy; there are no mind games. Mind games are played by those caught in themselves, those mesmerized by their own images in the mirror – the adored but illusionary phantom.

Does art imitate nature or does nature imitate art? The proverbial and paradisal question, the eternal paradox. Does art merely mirror the spectator? Does art express anything but itself? Does it simply exist?

The white grape rolled off my plate and onto the floor in the corner in front of the closet. I bent and picked it up, wiped it off and ate it.

—Samantha Mozart

CXIV. A Treat for the Senses

October 24, 2013 — The cook toasted a purple chicken atop the flagpole until it became crinkled like the brown cellophane you crushed in your hand yesterday.

I am preparing a recipe for my Blue Deer Writers Workshops I intend offering in my home after the first of the year. Writing gets easier and improves when you don’t try to control it. Hell, you can even write upside down, Stephen King said. You can’t hold all the reins. If you do, you become so busy trying to control your team of words the reins entangle and you get writer’s block. So many potential writers tell me they want to write but they just can’t seem to get the story out. Everyone has a story to tell. My answer is, just write: write anything; just put the words on paper; write for 10 minutes without stopping; go back and edit and rearrange the words and phrases afterwards. If you don’t know what to say, begin with “I don’t know what to say,” and write that over and over if you must. Or talk about purple chickens. Combine seemingly unrelated words and see how they taste together. You may be pleasantly surprised. Unless you’re in a dark closet, be aware of your surroundings. Is your neighbor really cooking dog or does it just smell like that? Outside my window the vermillion dogwood leaves burnished by golden October sun, against a slate-gray wind cloud backdrop, quiver in the breeze surfeiting a corner of my mind with abundant beauty as I type filling the white page with black words in Times typeface.

Take a walk. Leave your cell phone home. With your face aglow in the light of the smart phone in which you’ve buried your nose, you miss your natural surroundings – the golds and reds and browns of the fallen maple leaves and the dry, smoky aroma rising from them as you shuffle through them; the venerable bald cypress incensing your hair and ears and shoulders with exotic fragrance as you walk in the cathedral of its graceful arms and hear the chittering and chirping of the many, busy little lives sheltered deep within.

In the Eastern High Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, the dry air smells of pinesap and granite dust. Hiking up the mountainside, at 9, 000 feet altitude and higher, I round a bend, unexpectedly to come upon a waterfall. I stand in awe, mesmerized, watching it shift and lift and change, sonorous, a white lacey veil played by the fingers of the wind. I move on, tripping the light fantastic along the banks of a glacier lake, taking care not to stumble over the plumbing, the pipes running from that lake down to the next and the next, ultimately to supply water for the town of Mammoth Lakes and other California places. The long arm of mankind reaches into the backcountry.

Sometimes I hiked with companions; sometimes I hiked alone. Always I listened, felt, watched, sensed, sniffed the air. High above, the sun glinted off an airplane, a silver sliver aloft in the blue, the singular sound of its jet engines in the high dry atmosphere, a sound that carries me back to the Sierra on the rare occasions the humidity is low here on the East Coast and I hear that sound again. Hiking in the Sierra, I didn’t take a cell phone, though always a camera, a bottle of water and a snack. The wildlife was different there from at home in Southern California; there were blue stellar jays, marmots and mule deer. The marmots resemble miniature bears; I steered clear of real bears, which at close encounter appear way bigger than portrayed in photographs.

Today a friend in the Seattle area mentioned buying delicious vegetable lasagna at Trader Joe’s. In Southern California I shopped regularly at Trader Joe’s. I bemoan the absence of Trader Joe’s in our local area. The nearest one is an hour away, and here in Delaware the law prohibits selling wine in a grocery store; TJ’s sells excellent wines at excellent prices. I really miss that store; and Whole Paycheck (oops, Whole Foods), too. A writer friend called it Whole Paycheck on her blog (http://lameadventures.com). I find the term accurate. Our family-owned Willey Farms, though, just up the road, is a combination of the two, everything locally grown or in winter trucked from their Florida farms, connected to the farm stand where I used to work. I smile when I walk in the door — it smells so good, of the season — in summer like melons and beans and tomatoes; in fall like squashes and cauliflower and broccoli; in winter, citrus; and onions in spring; a feast for the eyes in red, yellow, green, orange and purple. Of course, there are the homemade soups and the mac & cheese seemingly made from the recipe Thomas Jefferson brought back from Paris. Then there’s the candle department, perpetually illuminating my temptations.

This is my favorite time of the year. It is also the time of the year my sinuses get stuffed up and I develop a sinus infection. This has happened to me every fall, from October, before Halloween, through Christmas since I was a kid (on the East Coast, though not in Southern California). As a kid I suffered from terrible sinus pain and infections, having to be in bed and take this horrible green liquid medicine. I would have a mild fever and hallucinate. Big cinderblocks closed in on me in my bed as I dozed. Mother fed me orange Jell-O which I didn’t like, but found interesting to poke with my fingers and play in. Now every time I see that particular color green, I can taste that medicine and feel that sickening sinus pain. Every year Mother and I rode the trolley out towards West Chester, Pa., to the office of Dr. Tunnell, who washed out my ear. Interesting name for an ear, nose and throat specialist. The accent is on the second syllable.

I had a set of wooden design blocks that amused me while I was bed bound. Each side of the block had a different geometric design – adjoining triangles in complementary colors – or was a solid color, in red, blue, yellow or white. I could make several different designs with those blocks. I liked the red/blue combination because they are the colors of the University of Pennsylvania. The design examples were pictured on the inside of the lid. I wonder what happened to those blocks. I often wish I still had them. I read a lot, too – Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verse, classic short stories and novels – The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew – and biographies.

Last year my left ear was closed for a month. This year when I felt it coming on, I began taking colloidal silver. That normally stops the infection in its tracks and clears it up in three days. Colloidal silver kills the bacteria. It’s a liquid I administer by dropper — mouth, nose, ear.

I intend to begin the new year with a series I call “The Scheherazade Chronicles Afternoons of Authors Tea Readings.” I want to do these Sunday afternoons monthly until summer, in my home, each month featuring a different revered author, at $15 per person per session, beginning with a Jane Austen Tea Reading. At that time I will, of course, promote my books, Begins the Night Music, To What Green Altar, and hopefully by then I will have published my new one, The Phantom of My Blog. Moriarty’s been nudging me on that one.

I will also launch my writers workshops then. I’m planning to offer these workshops as 10 weeks of weekly hour and a half sessions for $300. If you are interested you can make a reservation via email at samanthamozart@gmail.com; and you can pay through PayPal at the “Donate” button here on my site. I will keep writers groups small, no more than nine, and I want to invite local authors to come read their work and discuss writing. The only tools you will need for the writers workshops are a couple of good, easy writing pens and a spiral bound notebook. We will handwrite our work, we will take short walks, listen to music and otherwise immerse ourselves in sensory stimulation. We will read our work aloud.

My Blue Deer Writers Workshops: The blue deer rends the cloth of the common brown herd.

—Samantha Mozart