Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Roese blooming under the window.
I have come home to my cottage after a very busy ten days. Thursday last, after three days of babysitting, I left my daughter's house and drove the highway through summer traffic to my son's home north of Boston. I left there on Saturday with my eldest granddaughter in tow. We came to the cottage for two overnights, then left again on Monday for Easthampton. S was collected and I stayed on to watch the younger grands until this morning. Now I've been sitting in the rocker (it's quite warm and muggy outside. All the windows are open, though, and a breeze, augmented by fans, is wafting the scent of roses in through the open windows).

I found myself constantly putting my book down just to look around and sigh contentedly. The cottage is clean and neat, the white walls reflecting the sunlight. At the kitchen window a small vase of roses provides a sprightly bit of color. Sunbeams glance through the colored glass bottles that sit on the sill. The vase of wild flowers and grasses S and I picked on Monday looks lovely in the center of the table.

Outside, the male house wren chitters at the cats who are lounging on the patio stones. Behind the patio fence the cucumbers are growing, and on the other side the phlox and lilies are standing tall, though not in blossom just yet. Great white clouds with blue undersides are piling up over the horizon. Thunderstorms are promised for late tonight. I will water the gardens regardless, in case the storms miss us as they occasionally do.

Neighbor's cat lounging near the wren house.
The garden, for all my spring effort, is doing poorly. First it was too cold, then too wet, and now too dry. The potatoes and peas are happy but only two of the four hills of squash have produced plants. The radishes are all leaf and no bulb, the beans had to be replanted en masse, and not a single carrot poked through the earth. I can count the number of beet plants on one hand and the chard is up but looking anemic. There's still plenty of rhubarb to pick and the blueberry bushes are alive with berries.   As well, there are great sweeps of black raspberries growing wild along the borders of the garden. I must count my blessings.

Black raspberries ripening.
Blueberries galore.
Peas in flower.
Flourishing potato plants.
Tonight after supper I will take a walk. I will watch the sun set over the pond. When it's dark, I will climb into my bed, rest myself on sun-dried sheets and drift off to sleep, knowing that tomorrow and tomorrow after that, the days will be my own.

Monday, June 23, 2014


S at 3 with her Memere
My eldest granddaughter S is visiting for a few days. She first came to stay with me when she was just past two years of age. She sat happily strapped in her car seat, remarking on everything she saw out the window and holding the little blue stuffed dog that normally sits on my dashboard and helps with navigation. When we got to the cottage she went straight to the black and white toy barn sitting on the lawn and there she stayed, building twig fences and having conversations with the rubber cows. When her parents called that evening to say goodnight, she took the phone, shouted, "Memere's got a barn!" and handed the phone back to me.

Now 13, she's happily ensconced on the daybed, deep in the pages of a book. She likes to cook, bless her, and made chicken parmesan for dinner last night.  This morning we debated having pancakes or an omelette. She chose pancakes with syrup and fruit so I ambled over to the fridge, took out eggs and milk, popped out the door for fresh herbs and stood mixing the omelette before it registered that I should be making pancake batter! In the space of five steps I'd forgotten what she'd asked for. She is making pancakes for lunch.

In our two days together we've pulled the stubborn grass from between the path's paving stones, weeded the flower beds, and picked wildflowers. We've taken evening strolls past the pond, sat companionably on the lawn swing and read books, hung laundry on the line and watched movies after dark. We're going for a swim soon. She is a champion swimmer, long of arm and leg, sleek with muscle.

Later this afternoon we're off to my daughter's to play with the younger granddaughters. S's mom will come tomorrow to fetch her. I will miss having her beautiful self with me but she's promised to come back before summer's end. I can't wait!

Ten years later.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Ian, Part II

I met Ian's dad, Peter, when I was still a reporter/columnist for a local newspaper. Sent to cover the story of two Berkshire photographers, one from Pittsfield, MA and one from the UK who'd teamed up to have a show of their photographs, I shook hands with both of them, but looking at Peter was a bit of a shock. I was sure I knew him from somewhere. Subsequent conversation and questioning uncovered not a single connection so we half-jokingly settled on the assumption that we'd known each other on a different plane of existence.

A year or so later, when I traveled to England with a friend for an extended stay with Peter and his partner, Jane (with whom I experienced that same shock of recognition), I met Ian and his sister Jeni. They were delightful teenagers, funny, engaging, intent on learning to speak with an American accent and laughing hysterically at my attempts to speak like a Brit.

We all kept in touch after that visit. Ian and Jeni and I exchanged emails or talked on Skype and a year or so after my visit to them, they all came to spend some time with me. We laughed and ate and traveled about seeing the sights and talked and talked and talked. After they flew back across the pond we renewed our long-distance conversations. Some months before Ian's death, we - he, Jeni, and I - had a delightful Skype session in which they both promised to come back to the States to visit with me.

Then a few weeks ago, came the devastating news. I've spoken at length to Peter and Jane and Jeni. Because I could not attend the funeral they graciously agreed to share their parts in the service with me. Herewith are Peter and Jeni's tributes to their darling son and brother.

Peter Bryenton

A shooting star burns briefly bright. Although the arc of Ian’s life was cut short, it traced a path full of successes. There were academic achievements in abundance. Plenty of professional accomplishments. Loads of really good fun with friends and family. Thoughtfulness, caring, loving and loyalty in spades. Satisfying, rewarding performances in musical and theatrical companies. Ian constantly entertained all those who knew him with his quick and ready wit. He radiated a ridiculously comical sense of humour. Therefore how very surprising it is that Ian always saw himself as a failure, while we applauded his success.

Structure was crucial to Ian’s happiness. He flourished wherever and whenever he could employ his great attention to detail. He set tough targets for himself, then met them. His built-in perfectionism drove him to become a high achiever, but it was also to become a self-generated source of acute stress.

For all his extrovert appearance, Ian was very secretive. He was a really complicated person. He was often troubled. Somehow, sadly, he never seemed to be able to love himself, in spite of being so very much loved by so very many others. Sometimes his lightning-sharp sarcasm could be devastating. Which was, of course, merely a cover for his deep insecurity.

There is an Ian-shaped hole in my heart as I write this tribute. In his final letter to everyone, which he had, thankfully, most carefully and thoughtfully constructed, Ian explained with crystal clarity that he did not want to die, but that he found living with his fears, depression and OCD too painful. In the end he felt that he had no option left but to give himself a permanent peace.

The challenge which Ian’s death has set us all is deceptively simple. It is that we must all now find our own ways to go on living without him. It is my sincere hope that our wonderful memories of him when he was at the very top of his game will remain sharply focussed, while those memories of his behaviour when he was so chronically mentally ill will eventually become an irrelevant blur.

My darling brother,

No words can even come close to expressing how heavy my heart is as I stand and do this speech.

Being your little sister has been one huge honour, and a consistent joy in my life, which I will always treasure deep inside my heart. I really hit jackpot having you as my brother. I couldn't have asked for a more amazing brother to look up to. You were always so funny, witty, amazingly intelligent, warm and caring. 

You have always been there for me, in my good times, and in times of need, constantly looking over my shoulder from afar, in your own thoughtful, non-aggressive way. You have always supported me in everything I do, and for that I want to thank you.

You have always been present at my birthdays, leaving do's, finding time to visit me when I returned home on holidays from South Africa, and coming early in the morning last year to Heathrow to collect me from the airport for my new life back in England. You even made the effort to venture out on a holiday to Spain whilst I was living out there all those years ago. These are just a few snippets of a long, lasting list of endless memories I have of you.

Ian, I have one last promise I want to tell you. my promise is that a day will not go by that I won't think of you, or speak fondly about you to family and friends. I will miss you endlessly, until the day we meet again.

I hope that being your little sister has made you proud. As my big brother, I am tremendously proud of you, and always will be. You have touched so many peoples lives, even when you have been terribly ill and tormented by those vicious demons, you still found the time, love and strength to help others in their time of need. You were such a lovely, kind, gentle soul, and we are all thankful to have had you in our lives.

Thank you for loving me, and teaching me the ways of the world, but mostly, thank you for being you.

Sleep tight in your new, happy place of rest. I hope that the sun's rays shine onto your beautiful face and soul, each and everyday for an entire eternity.

i love you always and forever,

Your baby sister, Jen

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Out On a Song

"Know that death in life is here,
with every breaking day..."

Forrest Carter, The Education of Little Tree.

Ian with me on the top of the mountain when he came to visit in 2002.
Some dear friends had to lay the body of their son/stepson/brother to rest today. He changed form two weeks ago when he stepped in front of a fast-moving lorry. To lose a child is impossible to imagine. To even think of it makes my breath stop. My heart aches for all of us left behind, for missing Ian will be never-ending. We'll recall him with joy, of course. We will laugh again and take pleasure in remembering his antics, his great and wicked sense of humor, his very being in our lives. From experience, I know the pain of his absence will ease, will morph into something bearable. But it will never disappear entirely. 

Today, though, the grief is still fresh, raw, hard to bear. Driving home from my daughter's house this morning, I unaccountably burst into tears. Glancing at the clock reminded me - this was the day of Ian's funeral, now, because this morning was this afternoon in England where Ian lived and where services were being held by his family. I had to pull the car over to the side of the road so I could weep. There was a click, a change of cds in the player and suddenly Eric Clapton and JJ Cale were singing, as though on cue, a song of godspeed, of joy and release and the end of having to wait for something longed for.

These are things I wish for Ian. So, here you go my lovely adopted English son. Here's a song to see you on your way. 

Ride The River

Monday, June 02, 2014


I used to read my own poetry on a monthly basis at a local open mic platform. Held on the first Tuesday of every month, the event features readings, dance, songsters and instrument players, and occasionally a dramatic bit. When I started taking care of my grand-girls I kept writing poetry, but on Tuesday evenings I was reading bedtime stories and tucking toddlers into bed. This week I'm on a mini-vacation and the first Tuesday of June happens to be tomorrow. Since I've been away, the hostess has instituted monthly themes which performers may follow, or not. Portraits is this month's theme and this is what I will read.

No Daughter of Mine

they laughed,
Mama and Daddy,
and clapped when my six year old self
clomped into the kitchen
all decked out in Mama’s twirly skirt,
her black stiletto heels
her peasant shirt that drooped
off one shoulder like I’d been in
some tussle that would also explain the
smeared red lipstick and my
flowsy-blowsy hair.

Now, taking in my tooled leather boots
my sequined jeans
the silver ring she hates that adorns
our natal connection, she swears
(in her own Mama’s voice)
“No daughter of mine will go 
anywhere looking

like that.”

Her own smeared mouth
sneers at the Smoky Rose on 
my lips, the Purple Dusk on my eyelids.
I’ve become more a threat than
a daughter, a memory of
her own forsaken innocence.
Daddy’s empty space circles her shoulders

like smoke from her cigarette.

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