My grandmother who is pictured above, Jean Castrovinci, asked me to memorize this poem by William Ernest Henley. It was one of her favorites, and she said to me. “You will need these words, one day.” Oh, how right she was. This poem has served me well in many instances.
The photo of my grandmother was taken in the 1920s.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole.
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced, nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody but unbowed.
In this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gait,
How charged with punishment the scroll.
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
Even as a little kid, I hated walking uphill. My grandmother would herd me and my contingent of sisters and cousins, down the hill to the Little Beach. I knew I would have to retrace our path on the uphill if I ever wanted to see my teddy bear, again. And so, I climbed.
I still hate the upward stroll, even while I invoke it on my treadmill (though not by an inordinate incline). I can cover the flat lands on foot for hours, I can pedal a bicycle for miles on a flat surface, but climbing stairs, or walking uphill kills me. I climbed to the tourist spot overlooking Paris in Notre Dame cathedral when I was 25 and thought I was going to die half-way up.
Two years ago, Greg decided he wanted to re-visit Crabtree Falls in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was autumn, and it sounded very enticing. We rented a cabin and set out with high expectations. Or, at least Greg had high whatever. I just looked straight up the mountain path and thought, “Oh, Lord, this doesn’t look good.”
One foot, two foot, red foot, blue foot; hours later after what I can only recall as vertical climbing (you can see from the photo how bitterly exaggerate…) we were no closer to the Falls than when we’d started. Suddenly, a car with four college students rounded the bend and asked us if we’d like a lift to the parking lot at the foot of the mountain. And, just as hopefully as it began, the climb was over as I fell asleep in the back seat of that Suburu.
All my life, I’ve been waiting to burst through the door during the darkest winter night to the smell of someone baking cookies FOR ME. As the fall gathers the darkness into folds and Christmas approaches, part of me feels so hopeful and happy. I picture myself smelling the sweet air, dropping wet mittens behind me, peeling off boots and coats, and scarves, and hats, with no one instructing me on where to leave these snow-crusted garments. Just a joyful presence, who has never had a face, holding up a cookie pan saying, “These are for you!”
It’s a lovely dream, and as those days retreat into the backdated calendar, here comes slim and tidy February. Not too long, not too short, saying:
GO TO THE CORNER,
Twilight can stay
A few moments longer.”
The deciding day of February comes when I leave my office with the light in the western sky reaching up over its head into the endless darkness, telling me spring is coming. I know in an alternate Universe, whoever got stuck being me, is probably polishing off the last cookie.
Every summer, my grandparents took all of us to most of the kiddie attractions in North Jersey. We made the rounds from the Gingerbread Castle in Hamburg, to the Land of Make Believe in Hope, to Space Farms Zoo in Beemerville. (Let’s not forget Wild West City in Netcong, and Bertrand’s Island in Lake Hopatcong–they were on our route, too.) Those trips were a welcome respite from the ennui of hot, humid summer days–when there was no Internet, or 70 zillion movies to watch on demand.
I was thinking recently of a short tale my grandmother told me when I was about 16. I was nursing a broken heart over some teen-aged Lothario and she related a story she said came from her mother.
A girl is walking through the forest on a cold winter day. Suddenly, she hears a hiss and a voice calls to her pleading, “Won’t you pick me up and put me in your pocket? It’s so cold, I could die.” The girl looked down at a beautiful diamondback rattlesnake, and shaking her head, replied, “No, I can’t do that. You’ll bite me and I will die.” The snake begged and pleaded and wore on the girl’s conscience until she finally agreed. As she picked up the snake, it struck, hard and fast. “Why did you do that? You promised you wouldn’t,” she cried as she sank to the ground. As the snake slithered away, it said, “You knew I was a snake when you picked me up.”
I’ve thought of that story over the years, and the other night when I found the photo above, and I started to laugh. It pictures, me, my grandmother, and my two sisters at Space Farms. Where are we standing? In front of the Snake Pit, of course.
Luckily, the days of being charmed by snakes have safely passed for me–and I’ve given up wandering alone in the forest on a cold winter days.
Whenever I check into a hotel, the first thing I do is take a picture out of the window. Sometimes, I photograph the drab landscape of the air conditioner handlers, and sometimes it’s just a blah nothing. But… sometimes, I have an interesting view, and this is one. I used my phone and then an app called Paper Artist, which came with the phone. The poem, posted a few days ago, called Street Scene — Boston 2015, was hatched from this window. Let me know what you think!!
Looking down 10 stories
from my hotel room
to a street canyon-ed by snow,
I watch tiny figures
hurrying against the wind,
gripping collars, heads down.
Only a homeless man,
a grey blanket wrapped
around him, moves slowly.
I decide I need a smoke,
so I make my way down
to the street and the doorman
tells me it’s too cold to go out,
but he smiles as he says it.
I huddle against the building
as the grey-blanked man
approaches and I hold out
a cigarette – an offering.
He stops, and says,
“I quit smoking in 1992.”
I pull a five dollar bill
out of my pocket and slip
it into his hand–a hand
that’s brutally cold.
We stand together and suddenly
I take one of his gloveless hands
between mine and begin warming
it up–and then the other hand.
I ask him his name, and he replies:
Later that night
In a lovely restaurant,
as the snow fell silently,
Skirting the streetlights
in lacy gowns,
I thought of my father,
and the grey-blanked man.
My father’s name was
Eugene, and I don’t think
he was ever warm
whatever he was missing
Stalked him and pushed him
into the ever-colder nights
with no more than a grey blanket
for his wandering soul.
Colonial Williamsburg, located in Williamsburg, Virginia, is a fascinating place. Living so close by, my husband and I are frequent visitors.
Today, in the Charlton Coffee House, I snapped this photo of a young interpreter. He was very informative, and played his role well. And then, I manipulated the photo with the app, Paper Artist, on my Android phone…
Most of CW was funded by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., but the Charlton Coffee House was funded by the Mars family (yes, of candy fame). It’s a wonderful reproduction of the original coffee house that stood on the exact spot in 1766 near the Governor’s Palace and I’m grateful for the Mars’ generosity.
At the end of the presentation, guests have coffee, tea, or the colonial version of hot chocolate in the dining room, served in china cups with little teaspoons, cream and sugar. It really is sweet.