Today is the last full day of the Boiler House Poets Collective reunion residency for 2021. It’s always amazing to be back here at MASS MoCA together but the experience is heightened after having to cancel because of COVID last year.
I am in the same studio as I was in the Tupelo Press workshop/residency that first brought us together in 2015. As I was looking back at my blog to get the exact dates of that residency, I decided to re-visit all the posts from back then. I was surprised that I processed as much as I did at the time, while realizing how much I had downplayed the amount of confusion and fear I was feeling.
If anyone is so moved to join me in this walk down memory lane, the posts start here.
My friend, fellow Boiler House Poet, and Pushcart Prize nominee for 2019, Kyle Laws, has a new poem up on Amethyst Review. For some reason, I couldn’t get the reblog to work, but you can find the poem here: https://amethystmagazine.org/2019/12/21/moonrise-a-poem-by-kyle-laws/
This is the photograph by Barbara Jabaily on which the poem is based.
Growing up most of our photographs were of holidays, birthdays, gatherings or special occasions. If I were to have taken a ‘selfie’ as a teenager, people would have questioned my sanity. Nowadays, I rarely pose or share photos of myself and often forget to take my camera out during special occasions, but that doesn’t mean, I don’t like photos. I do, and rarely a day goes by without my taking at least one. You might be surprised to know, I don’t use a camera to take these photos nor in fact do I tell anyone I am taking them. I do it with the blink of an eye, capturing the moment and filing it away in one of my many albums in the far recess of my mind.
I began to take these photos twenty years ago, when a lovely friend of mine was facing the sad reality that her…
The Binghamton NY area lost one of its stars. Literally. Patricia Donohue, an actor and activist, who has a star on the Binghamton Walk of Fame, died in September. Pat had a long career on the stage, as a young woman with Tri-Cities Opera and then many decades as an actor in our local area and beyond.
The first time I saw Pat perform was as Emily Dickinson in The Belle of Amherst, but I will remember her most fondly playing Jeannette Picard in Solo Flight, a one-woman play about the balloonist and wife/mother who was ordained an Episcopal priest before it was officially approved.
I knew Pat because we were both members of Sarah’s Circle, a small group of (mostly) women grounded in the Catholic faith tradition who supported women’s ordination and full participation in the life of the church. A number of members felt called to ordination themselves. We met for prayer, discussion, and mutual support but sometimes did public events, such as prayer services.
For the twentieth anniversary of the ordination of Jeannette Picard and the rest of the Philadelphia Eleven, Sarah’s Circle sponsored Pat performing Solo Flight in Columbus Circle in Syracuse, in front of the Catholic cathedral. We were met by a raucous group of counter-protesters. Pat, the consummate professional, performed spectacularly, despite protesters marching within arm’s length, at times. Toward the end of the performance, we were finally able to get the police to clear the public area in the Circle for which we had a permit and the protesters did not. Instead, they shouted the Rosary from the Cathedral steps, which is a misuse of a lovely, contemplative prayer. It was a shame that they never bothered to listen to Pat recreating the remarkable life of Jeannette Picard.
Although I marveled at Pat’s abilities as an actor, it was her passion for people that shone most brightly. She was often seen, sporting one of her favorite hats and leopard print scarves, at rallies with Citizen Action for a variety of progressive causes, such as civil rights, access to affordable health care, and environmental protection. She performed with and wrote songs for the Citizen Action “Raging Grannies” – although she preferred the moniker “Swinging Seniors.” She also performed with the Mental Health Players, bringing attention and support to those with mental health issues.
She was always ready to share her time and support with others. Because both my daughters were interested in theater, Pat would attend their performances. She even let T borrow from her beloved hat collection for her role in Damn Yankees. Many of Pat’s hats were lost when the storage room of her senior apartment building flooded, but T was happy to see that the hats she had borrowed had survived and were part of a display at Pat’s memorial.
I was also touched that, draped over the end of Pat’s casket, were an Irish-themed quilt – Pat was proud of her Irish ancestry – and the stole she had worn when performing Solo Flight, which featured hot-air balloons, because Rev. Jeanette Picard had, in her younger years, been a stratospheric balloonist.
I’m sure that Pat would have approved of the memorial. The friends and family members who spoke all had wonderful stories to tell recalling her flair, passions, and wit. Our Sarah’s Circle friend Pat Raube sang a hymn that she had sung as a prelude to Pat’s performances of Solo Flight; I admit it was hard not to cry at that point. Another friend, Father Tim, was the presider for the service.
While we will all miss Pat, I am grateful that she was granted so many years among us and that she was active into all but her final days. We will each need to give a bit more of our energies to causes she cared about, although no one can truly replace her in our personal and community lives.
In my region, it is strawberry season. While strawberries from far away are available in supermarkets year-round, we almost never buy them, preferring to wait for the short but sweet local strawberry season.
When the wild strawberries in our lawn begin to ripen, it is time to head to the farmstands for quarts of flavorful, ripe berries. (It used to be time to head to the pick-your-own farms in the area but lack of time and an aging body have put an end to spending some early morning hours picking berries and avoiding slugs.)
In the early part of the season, I always make a fresh strawberry pie, using a recipe that my mom, known as Nana here at TJCM, made. It originated in a leaflet from the farm that we used to visit with her during childhood to pick strawberries. My copy was written out in Nana’s elegant cursive on a recipe card among those that she gifted to me when B and I married. We shared this year’s fresh strawberry pie topped with whipped cream with her and the family over at Mercy House, the hospice residence where Nana is now living.
As the season progresses and the berries need to be used more quickly, I move on to recipes that involve cooked berries. Last week, I made one of my favorites, strawberry rhubarb pie. I tried something different this time, using pastry cut-outs instead of a full top crust, hoping that the filling in the extra-deep pie plate would cook through without soaking the crust.
It worked! Again, the family gathered at Mercy House to enjoy pie with Nana and Paco.
Strawberry season is always a blessing, but this year even more so. Making more sweet memories is a precious gift.
On Sunday morning, I went to breakfast early and was able to say good-bye to some of my classmates who were heading out before the official end of reunion to beat the Sunday afternoon traffic. Everyone was very appreciative of the events and very happy to have had time together. It is amazing how easily we relate to one another, even if we only see each other in person every five years, or even if we had not known each other well during our student days.
At nine o’clock, several dozen alumnae gathered at Helen Hills Hills chapel for a service of remembrance. I arrived early and had a few moments to talk to the college organist about changes over the years. His role and the life at chapel are very different than in my years at Smith. When I was a student, there were Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish chaplains and weekly services at chapel for each tradition, along with a network of faculty and community advisors for other traditions. There were three choirs who periodically provided choral music for services, plus a student led gospel choir which sang for some of the ecumenical Christian services and other student volunteers who most often led music at Catholic Mass. (As a Catholic and an organist, I played often at Mass over my four years at Smith, as well as serving for two years as accompanist for one of the choirs and playing almost every organ piece I learned as a prelude or postlude for the Protestant services.)
Now, there are no chaplains and no regularly scheduled religious services on campus. There are advisors available in different spiritual traditions. The chapel still has space for prayer and meditation, but the main body of the chapel is now a multi-use space for concerts, lectures, classes, and the occasional service, such as the one we were gathering for that morning. The chapel was built in the New England Congregational style, but the pews on the main floor have been removed and the floor was changed to wood. It is jarring to me to walk into chapel. I do understand the need to make the space more versatile, but I think it could have been done in a way that was more in keeping with the architecture had the floor been New England hardwood and the chairs less clunky and modern in design. Even more, I lament the loss of service and leadership opportunities in their faith traditions for current students on campus. It was powerful to have services that were planned and attended almost exclusively by women; this basis has been a rock on which I have relied often in the storms that have followed in subsequent decades.
Sorry. End of rant. Back to our service of remembrance…
The prelude and postlude were Bach and we sang three hymns drawn from various traditions and a fellow ’82er sang a solo. There were readings from the Bible, the Qur’an, and from Rumi. Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Matilda Rose Cantwell prepared and led the service very gently and thoughtfully. The most moving part of the service was when Rev. Cantwell invited alumnae to come forward and give a remembrance of someone close to them. People from many different reunion classes spoke about classmates, professors, and family members. Two of my classmates who were from Northampton spoke movingly about their parents’ relationship with the town and the College. My college roommate, who served as one of the deacons of the Ecumencial Christian Church, spoke about two of her fellow deacons who died, Beth, during our senior year, and Amy, who died just weeks before reunion.
Then, we continued on to our final official reunion activity, Sunday brunch. Our table did express our disappointment that our favorite sour cream coffee cake was not on the buffet.
We went back to our rooms to pack up and make sure that our headquarters was squared away before we left.
Several of us decided to stay in Northampton another night in order to process and decompress, particularly to support our two housemates who had chaired the reunion for our class. We decided to visit the Art Museum, which had a special exhibit on the villas of Oplontis near Pompeii. We then dispersed for hotel check-in and reconvened at Fitzwilly’s in downtown Northampton for dinner, joined by a housemate from the class of ’81 who lives locally. We then went back to one of the hotel rooms and proceeded to talk and talk and talk, with quite a bit of laughter mixed in!
We spent Monday morning doing what we needed to do, in my case, catching up on a bit of shopping, including buying some Massachusetts maple syrup to bring home for us and for Nana and Paco. We met for a final lunch together at Paul and Elizabeth’s, a restaurant at Thorne’s Market that was new when we were students. More eating, talking, and laughing and then a round of good-byes.
Before I left Northampton, I had one more visit to make. Another business that opened in Northampton when we were students is Steve Herrell’s Ice Cream. I always visit when I am in town. They have redecorated since my last visit, giving more area for seating. I splurged and ordered a sampler so I could have four flavors: black raspberry, malted vanilla, peppermint, and apple cider. Yum! I was happy to have the company of my in-town friend. We lingered for a long while, catching up on our lives and marveling at how Smith friends, even when they don’t see each other often, can immediately re-connect on a deep level.
Eventually, though, I had to head for home, although I could not help but feel that reunions are too short and too far apart.
Saturdays are always the busiest days at Smith reunions. While our 35th is part of the second reunion weekend this time around so that we aren’t here to celebrate Ivy Day with the graduates, we still hold an Alumnae Parade.
The alums all dress in white, with ribbon sashes and other accents in their class colors. The class of ’82’s color is red. After the the marching band, the parade continues with the eldest reunion class first. This year, I believe for the first time ever, we had a woman with us celebrating her 80th reunion! She is 100 years old! Incredibly, although there was both a wheelchair and a golf cart at the ready for her use, she chose to walk arm-in-arm with a companion! As she walked between the lines of alumnae waiting to follow her, she drew much applause and whooping. We should all be so blessed to be granted such robust health to be able to join in our own 80th reunions someday.
The parade led us to seats on Chapin Lawn for our annual meeting of the Alumnae Association. We voted on new officers, listened to addresses from a just-graduated alumna and the college president, and found out our fundraising totals for the previous five years. I’m pleased to say that ’82 did very well.
Next, we assembled box lunches and met at Stoddard Hall for lunch and a presentation by College Archivist, Nanci Young. Our reunion theme this year is ” Creativity, Connection, Community” and Nanci presented an overview of changing communications at Smith, using materials from the Archives. We had a lively discussion about the current state of communication and how people preferred to interact when face-to-face communication isn’t possible.
My next event was a session with current President Kathy McCartney, giving an overview of the present state of the college and future plans, followed by a Q&A session. I had written a question on the provided cards about fossil fuel divestment, but somehow that question got lost in the shuffle…
Next, I chose to attend vigil Mass at the church up the street from the Quad. This highlighted the loss of the regularly scheduled services at Helen Hills Hills chapel, which had been such an important part of my personal and musical life when I was a student. I participated in many services of several religious traditions, as an organist, choral singer, and accompanist. I miss being able to attend Mass on campus when I return.
Our final class dinner was held at Tyler House. A slideshow of photos from our student and alum days ran on a constant loop. We had final thank yous and the election by acclamation of new class officers. As we ate dinner, one of the storied a cappella groups on campus, the Smithereens, came to sing for us. Conversation and laughter were abundant.
At 8:30, I met a friend from the class of ’81 who lives locally. It was a blessing to get to spend time with her, meet her companion, and catch up on our lives. We also enjoyed the illumination of campus, when hundreds of Japanese lanterns are lit along the paths of the botanic garden and central campus. We finally perched near the Student Center, where a jazz combo was playing on the terrace.
Some of my faithful readers may have noticed that I have been scarce around here the last few weeks, even given that I have had to cut back significantly on blogging this year due to family commitments. While I have been spending time on family obligations, even more of the time in the last few weeks has been dedicated to re-organizing our house (for reasons that will be elucidated at a later date).
I am the first to admit that I don’t like housecleaning, but this re-organization went way beyond that. There was a lot of going through things, both our own things and things that we had brought to our home after Grandma died this spring. Some things got donated, some got packed and stored in the attic or basement, and some found their way to new places in our home.
Bonus: We freed up the garage so the minivan can stay out of the snow.
The most difficult thing for me, though, was sorting through papers.
Some things were painful or poignant by their very nature. Obituaries. A note from a friend who has since passed away. The fiftieth jubilee mass for a long-time pastor who died this year. Copies of my junior organ recital at Smith, a reminder that I haven’t been able to play the organ for years now, due to orthopedic problems.
Other things caused a more wistful reaction. My daughters’ artwork, starting in preschool and going up through middle school. Some of their report cards and concert programs. Programs and liturgies from our years at Blessed Sacrament, before everything fell apart.
There were some things that had been gathering dust, perched on a high display shelf in our bedroom, that I packed away. My summa cum laude diploma. My Phi Beta Kappa certificate. A certificate naming me a Presser Scholar. All things that I earned thirty-five years ago, when I was quite a good student.
This sounds like I am bragging, but remember these were in our bedroom, not out on the mantel in the living room.
Some may also infer that I am very competitive person, but I am the opposite. My parents raised us to do our own best, without regard to what others were doing. I was fortunate that my best translated into good grades, but my motivation was not gaining honors but learning as much as I could.
Having these mementos was a good reminder for me over the years when I was feeling overwhelmed that I did have a brain in my head that could go to work and research and weigh options and arrive at a useful course of action.
Now, they are in a box in the attic.
I hope that, after thirty-five years of learning, living, and growing, I no longer need a visual reminder.
The time has passed in a blizzard of paperwork, phone calls, sorting, packing, and hauling. As if to add to the surreal sense of time, we had a springtime siege of cold weather and snow, following a winter that was much milder than usual. Had Grandma been alive, she would have heartily disapproved of the turn in the weather. She liked things to proceed in an orderly fashion and was inclined to take inclement weather as personal affront.
One of the hidden blessings in all the sorting and cleaning out has been that we came upon so many reminders of her life. Photos from the decades of her life, including a newspaper clipping of her modeling a fur coat back in the fifties. Playing board games with our children. Writing the weekly menus in calligraphy so that she could stay in practice. Her favorite authors and movies. Her love of decorating for every possible season and holiday, including three drawers of candles in a range of colors to match the decor.
We reached a milestone yesterday. We turned her cottage back over to Good Shepherd Village so that they can ready it for the next resident. Grandma has been the only person to live there, as she moved in shortly after the community opened in fall of 2009. It was bittersweet for B and me to walk in for the last time, having stripped it back to the bare walls and floors, looking much the same as it did when we first saw it.
The window treatments and the dents her furniture had left in the carpets were the only visible reminders that Grandma had made her home here near us for her last six years.
Once something has been seen, it can’t be unseen, however much we might wish to erase it.
Part of the reason I don’t watch many scary movies is that the images haunt my dreams. I can still remember some of the shock I felt seeing the original theatrical release of “Jaws” as a young teen and the way it haunted my dreams.
Some of the most haunting things I have seen have been family medical things. A look of terror in the eyes during an intensive care disorientation episode. A bad reaction to a medication that caused uncontrollable jaw clenching with resultant biting of cheeks. A child suffering tremors. Seeing bones through skin when most of the flesh and muscle have wasted away.
Even years later, these memories make me shudder. Even so, I can’t wish that I had not seen them, only that they had not existed to be seen.