Writing 101-Something Lost, Part 1

I only have a few minutes to write this, since I’m on my way out the door for a poetry reading at the Ugly Mug, my Wednesday evening go-to place.

So I’m only making a start on this. I’ll return to it tomorrow and complete it.

In my life, I’ve lost a lot of things, particularly places I’ve lived in. Yet I never have felt sentimental about them. Usually, I was glad to go, for one reason or another.

Take the house I grew up in, in Philadelphia. It was not a pleasant place to be when I was a child, for many reasons, and the house itself, at the end, became a nightmare I thought I would never wake up from.

My mother was a hoarder in her late years. That, in combination with her life-long obsession with shopping, created a pretty terrible situation, a house full of rats, roaches, lice, and just plain disgusting dirt, such as two fridges full of rotten food.

And you-know-who was responsible for cleaning all this up (me, since there was no one else). Luckily, some wonderful cousins rallied round and helped me.

But it was bound to cause problems, even after the house was cleaned outĀ  and sold. I had to pay someone over a thousand dollars to take out all the furniture and everything, piles of old dried up pen refills, shoes and clothes that had never been worn,appliances, and my father’s beloved tools, which were old and much too heavy to transport across the country, particularly since he would never be able to use them again.

Despite the fact that the price we got for the house would pay for their care for the rest of their lives, they never quite forgave me for doing this, but I didn’t have much of a choice.

I had called charities and tried to donate these things, and no one was interested.

I had been telling my father for years that he needed to allow me to hire someone to help him sort his things, sell what he could, and move into an assisted living home, but he refused, believing steadfastly that he would never be able to afford such things.

But when he had a stroke in 2005, it was left to me to figure out how to achieve all this in less than a week, since I had to return to work after my break was over.

At the same time, Katrina was raging in New Orleans, and I felt as though a similarly devastating psychic storm was dismantling my life as well. This was the thing I had feared most for years, and here it was, confronting me.

With the help of friends and family and a strength I didn’t know I had, I lived through it, just as I had lived through my childhood.

Now when I look back in memory (since I don’t have any photos left from those times), when I look at the house on Google Earth, I feel just a little amazement that this happened, and that it turned out relatively okay, in spite of everything.

Sometimes, losing something turns out to be the best possible outcome for everyone, even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time.


Music to My Ears

Today I’ve been asked to write about the three songs that have meant the most to me.

Though I belong to a choir at synagogue and love to sing (despite a weak and erratic ability to support my voice with my breath), I am not really one to become attached to music.

As a teenager, like most people of my generation, I had a transistor radio constantly affixed to my ear, and knew every song on the pop lineup, singing along with the rest.

But later on, I grew away from that attachment to music, certainly away from music of the pop variety. And though I’ve attended my share of concerts, appreciate stellar film music, and even find myself caught up in some elevator music because of its connection to my personal past, I don’t have the sort of emotional attachment to most music that I used to.

That said, there are a few songs that retain that power over me, most admittedly connected to my past. Like Proust’s madeleine cookie, which had the power to bring the past flooding back with one bite, these songs pack a wallop for me.

One of them is “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.” This song, fixture of the early 1950s, features in a memory I have from infancy. In this memory,I am lying in my crib, looking through its bars, echoed in the long shadows of the venetian blinds on the floor, and this song is playing and playing on and on.

I have a poem about this experience, but I hesitate to put it here (even if I couldĀ  remember what I called it) because I don’t think it has been published yet.

I didn’t know the name of the song at first, but researched the songs popular during the first couple years of my life, playing them online, until I recognized this as the one I heard that day.

The next song is the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations,” which brings back memories of me walking the hot summer streets of Philadelphia as a teenager.

Do I have a third song? Maybe not. A lot of tunes vie for this position. No one song wins the prize. Perhaps “My Girl,” by the Temptations, or “Reach Out.” Or perhaps some jazz pieces I’ve admired by Coltraine (his version of “Favorite Things,” for instance) or something by Gershwin.

This is the soundtrack of my life.