Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Shortening Days

Nature is never still, but a new season brings about more noticeable changes. Yellowing, falling leaves and a more northerly sun, blooming chrysanthemums, cooler nights and shortening days have accompanied us through our first month of fall. We take along a sweater, just in case, and add a blanket to the bed. Next weekend the country will turn the clock back an hour.
I’m not happy with the idea of “shorter days”, though it’s really just fewer hours of daylight. At this age, I've become extremely conscious of my shortening days, intent on making the most of them. There is so much left to do, to learn, to see, to explore, and, as a friend said to me, lamenting her arthritis, the body isn't always up to all the things we desire to do. So perhaps my mantra now is Carpe diem, seasoned with a good portion of mindfulness. My challenge is to reconcile “seizing the day” with “being in the moment”. After my teacher years of harking to school bells, I refuse to rush, giving careful thought and priority to what I now consider to be worthwhile activities: reading, writing, gardening, exercise, and coffee with a friend, Internet chatting with my New Yorker son, taking granddaughters to the theater, a tea-time break with hubby.

My next project is to read Cien Años de Soledad in Spanish. In Latin-American literature class at the university, I cheated, reading it in English. I hope it will enable me to revisit in a flight of fantasy my barrio days in Barranquilla, Colombia, just across the river from Gabo’s (I doubt he'd mind if I use his nickname) mythical Macondo.


Monday, April 14, 2014


            “Tan linda tu historia,” he said.
I leaned in closer to hear him over the strident, pounding racket. On the dance floor, dozens of young people jumped and shouted, flinging their arms into the air.
“What story?” I asked.
“How you gave up everything – family and country – for love. To come here and
 live at the other end of the world. How were you able to make such a decision?” His words wafted on waves of wine-scented breath.
I doubted he’d remember our conversation tomorrow. How much effort did I want to invest to answer these heady questions? Besides, I was tired after sitting at this wedding banquet for over nine hours, carrying on small talk in Spanish with the other guests at our table. Once the loud dance music started, I caught only words and phrases in the din, smiling and nodding as if in agreement with whatever was being said. Hours of that became torture.
We started off at noon from the city on a bright warm fall day. The wedding ceremony, held in a colonial, adobe chapel in the countryside, began late, Chilean-style. Then we drove to a country house where the several hundred guests spread out across the broad lawns or sought shade under enormous old trees. Black-aproned waiters served champagne, pineapple and basil juice, and canapés until we were summoned to a ballroom-sized white tent where we sat at our assigned table. Lunch was served about 4 o’clock along with copious amounts of fine wine, followed by a buffet dessert table where I made a weak attempt at exercising willpower, faced with the variety of temptations.
It was still light outside when the bride and groom danced the traditional waltz. Then the volume increased to indescribable, deafening decibels and, from then on, things went downhill for me. While my husband and his jogging pals gathered like football players in a huddle, wine glasses in hand, I wandered to another table to chat with two women with whom I knew I could carry on a conversation beyond small talk.
It was hours later, when Mr. S’s friend perched on the chair next to me and wanted to hear ‘my story.’
“When you voted, which country’s elections excited you most?”
I thought for a minute. “The States”
“Do your boys feel more Chilean or American?”
"Chilean. After all, they were born and raised here.”
“Do you regret your decision?”
Oh, boy, he was treading on dangerous territory. I mentioned how hard it had been for my parents, my being their only child, and that, when I married, I thought we’d return to California. “But I have no close family left in the States. My family is here now.”
He went on to sing lengthy praises of my hubby, such a fine person, an example for all, etc., etc. I nodded in agreement, while looking over to the man in question for signs that we might leave soon.
“In fact”, he said, “if I’d been born a woman, I would have married him myself.” And bending over, he planted a warm kiss on my cheek.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ on

I felt it first- a slight movement. And was that a barely perceptible rumble? Or was I imagining things? I mean earthquakes have been in the news for several days. But, I assured all my friends who emailed their concern: It was way far north. We didn't feel a thing.

I've been here long enough to have developed very sensitive radar and sure enough…. “Temblor!” I called to my husband who was brushing his teeth noisily in the bathroom. The overhead lamp swung, the room jolted and something crashed upstairs. Then it stopped. A 5-point-something the news said. No sweat. We'd lived through THE BIG ONE. “Better go check your office upstairs”, I told him. “Something fell with a bang.” Nothing broken.

That rumble from deep in the earth and house-shaking jolts are strong reminders that we live our lives ON A PLANET.

The morning after the earthquake in northern Chile our fourth grandchild, and first grandson, was born. We were at the Clinica Alemana early. Mr. S. and I entered the spacious labor room, where around our daughter-in-law’s bed stood her parents, our son, the midwife, the doctor and the anesthesiologist. Soon they wheeled her off. An hour later she was back with the infant in her arms. It was almost too much to take in….looking at that tiny boy just minutes old. A brand new person.

The event brought back shreds of memories of my sons’ births in the same hospital almost forty years ago. I feel deep regret now, looking back, that my husband wasn't with me (unheard of then in Chile) and that my infants weren't immediately passed to me to hold. Cleaned and dressed, they were placed in hospital cribs and wheeled to my room. That important first contact was denied me. I didn't know enough to request it.

I don't want to be a pest, but I'd love to see that child every day, hold him, feel his warmth, his weight in my arms, hear his little mouse-like squeaks, and soak in every detail of what I no longer remember about my own newborn boys.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Shape of a Life

Sitting in my garden in a pleasant fall sun, my thoughts wandered….thinking of my husband who’d gone off to a track meet that afternoon. It came to me what great wealth I possess.

The annual track meet was honoring Mr. S’s former coach who died long ago of a heart attack. I considered going along but it was difficult to get interested when I no longer knew the competitors, unlike years ago when, as South American champion of 400 meter hurdles, he kept me up-to-date with names and records of all the better-known athletes. I continued involved in the world of track and field when my sons began competing. Having never attended a single track meet as a young woman, I never imagined that one day I’d be rubbing shoulders with brawny tri-athletes and marathoners.

Before my introduction to track, there was opera. I once dated an opera buff who helped train my ear to recognize the voices of Renata Tebaldi and Maria Callas. We were present at the San Francisco Opera House when James McCracken lost his voice singing Othello, yet continued on in a falsetto voice. Later, sharing this interest with Mr. S., we enjoyed years of the Santiago Opera performances together. But maybe that operatic seed just needed encouragement to germinate, for as a child I followed Rudolph Bing’s presentation of the New York Met Saturday performances on my old radio. My mother must have exerted an influence there though I have no recollection of it.

The place of enormous natural beauty where I grew up deeply marked me as a person– along with camping vacations along Glen Alpine Creek in the Sierra Nevada, fishing with my father at Lily Lake and identifying the birds visiting our backyard feeder. Now my hubby and I have infected several of our friends with the bird watching bug, friends who previously couldn't distinguish a hawk from a dove.

I could go on listing my riches – my love of reading and gardening – but the important realization is that these were freely given to me by others, who, I suspect, were often unaware of their impact on my life. And I, too, work to identify opportunities for paying it forward. I can smile and nod to the old broom vendor passing by, acknowledging his existence. 

Grandparents are in a special position to kindle awakenings. I haven't yet shared our family’s three generations of stamp collections with my grand girls. I’m waiting for the right moment. I suspect they've never sent or received a letter through the postal service. When they come to visit, they take out my gardening tools, gloves and watering can to “work” in the yard. Surely richer than any gift I could buy them at the mall.