Before I left Liverpool in July of 1965, a barmaid at the pub I frequented in Liverpool, who knew what a fan I was of the Beatles, said she had a present for me.
Her name was Margaret and she had grown up as a neighbor of Paul McCartney’s in Heswall. When she had her “21st,” which is a big blowout of a party when the newly 21-year-old’s parents clear out, the furniture is pushed back, and the friends pour in for music and drinks and an all-nighter, Paul and his mates turned up at the party.
They inscribed the post card below to Margaret on her 21st. You’ll see that Ringo was not yet part of the group. Pete Best was the drummer, and someone at the time of the birthday signing defaced the card by giving him a beard. Also note that he signed the card twice. Brian Epstein, their manager, was also there that night and signed, along with Paul, George and John.
In April 1965 I took leave of my job as a newspaper reporter in Worcester, MA, and traveled alone aboard the R.M.S. Sylvania to Liverpool, England. I returned on the same liner in July 1965.
The Osher Map Library in Portland, ME, held an exhibition on the age of ocean liners and added my donated ephemera with commentary on the trip excerpted from the diary I kept of the ocean voyages to their on-line materials on the exhibition.
Have a look here.
RUTH AND HER MOTHER, ALICE
I got a phone call from my father. We didn’t know it was cancer. She had had diabetes for three years. She would sit down and eat a chocolate pie by herself. She lived frivolously with her diet, but she was grasping at what that doctor said, that diabetes skips a generation. One night she had to be rushed to the hospital with what they thought was a heart attack. She was 49 years old, weighed 250 pounds, was diagnosed as a diabetic and refused insulin. She said she’d do it with her diet.
From what I understand, she’d get so angry at having to measure things she’d go down cellar and smash measuring spoons and cups with a hammer. Then she’d come upstairs and start with new measuring cups and spoons. She lost the weight rapidly. She’d gone from a 200+ frame to 110 pounds in six months which, from what I understand, is a symptom of diabetes.
I remember her giving to the dog her portion of the healthy meal that she insisted we eat. She’d buy bags of candy bars — her favorite was Clark Bars — and hide them from us. One time she couldn’t find her stash. She burst into our room and accused me of taking them and sent me to find them when I said I hadn’t taken them. I couldn’t find them so she beat me. I heard later that she found them, and I found out later that my sister said, “Don’t you think you should apologize to Ruth?” “No!” She was a junkie! She was a junkie! It seemed she smoked twice as much and drank twice as much coffee — it was her lifeblood — when she lost the weight.
“…the Being of Light gently explained to me that I was barking up all the wrong trees [trying to reproduce a spiritual experience she had had]. I would not find my way back by fasting … by meditating, following endless lists of rules, or even dying. All those things might help, given the right conditions, but not unless I was willing to do something much more difficult. … the way back to my real environment, the place my soul was meant to exist, doesn’t lie through any set of codes I will ever find outside of myself. I have to look inward. I have to jettison every sorrow, every terror, every misconception, every lie that stands between my conscious mind and what I know in my heart to be true. Instead of clutching around me all the trappings of a ‘good’ person, a ‘successful’ person, or even a ‘righteous’ person, I have to be exactly what I am, and take the horrible chance that I might be rejected for it. I can’t get home by cloaking myself in the armor of any system, social, political, or religious. I have to strip off all that armor and go on naked.” From Expecting Adam, by Martha Beck
“…Quakers did not retreat to the self-righteousness or otherworldliness of a persecuted sect. Under all circumstances they maintained a spirit of ‘friendliness,’ and eagerness for dialogue, an openness to the promptings of the spirit and a respect for ‘that of God’ in each person.” From All Saints, by Robert Ellsberg, on George Fox, seventeenth-century dissenter and founder of the Religious Society of Friends, more commonly known as Quakers
JANET AND HER MOTHER, ROSINA
She had a heart attack. A few days before she died she complained of having pain in her arms and across her chest. She didn’t do anything about it for a few days and then went to the doctor who determined she’d had a small heart attack and wanted to put her into intensive care for a few days and watch her. My mother was a very upbeat person to her own detriment because she denied what she was feeling all her life. She thought the hospital was a lark. When I went to see her, she was very accelerated. I think it was part of the heart condition.
It was a Sunday morning. It was raining. My father had been called out of town for his brother’s funeral. I was on my way to pick up some plants at the greenhouse and decided to stop to see her first and was so glad I did because it was the last time I saw her fully conscious. She was saying goodbye to me. I can remember I was sitting on the bed with her. She had crooked thumbs. She was holding my hand and stroking it with her thumb. This was very out of character for her. I mean she was a gregarious Italian. She’d give you a big hug and a swat but she wouldn’t dilly dally over anything that might appear too sentimental. We just sat that way for a few minutes. We didn’t say anything. We just sort of sat there and held hands. I said, “Well, I’m going to go. I’m going to stop and get the plants and I’ll be back later. Maybe Daddy will stop in.” He was on his way back by that time.
When I stopped to see her on the way back they wouldn’t let me in. “Mrs. B. is under oxygen and is not feeling well.” They wouldn’t elaborate. I said I was her daughter but that didn’t matter. I talked to my father and asked how he had found her. He had seen her and left before I got there. About an hour later, he called me and said, “Your mother has had a major heart attack.” I just screamed and threw the phone and said, “I’m on my way to the hospital,” to my father.
Nearly 25 years ago I interviewed a number of women whose mothers had died. In the course of the interviews over a year’s time, the women confided the most intimate of stories to me––those around the death of this central family member––and I have always felt an obligation to the women, to their mothers, and to their stories, to make them available to others, ideally in print, for the sake of healing that might come out of shared experience. I shopped the manuscript around for a time but did not find a publisher, and so it has languished in a desk drawer––until now. This blog presents an opportunity to share these stories, which I will begin in this post with the original INTRODUCTION below. It has been so long since I wrote the book that I don’t know where some of the women are now and I can’t reach them for biographical updates. I have renamed those women, using just a first name. Other women, with whom I am still in contact, have asked that I use their real names, which I have done.
It was September of 1989 and the [late] Joan Rivers was in the first week of her new daytime talk show. I was making my bed when I had a strong impulse to turn on her show. Although I was a Rivers fan, I was not a daytime television viewer, and I needed a second nudge before I thought the nudge might be for a reason. Because of my hesitation, I regrettably missed the first few minutes of an interview with actress Sally Kirkland. When I tuned in, she was finishing an account of a life-changing, out-of-the-body experience which followed a suicide attempt many years before. It sounded delicious in a macabre sort of way, and I was annoyed with myself for having hesitated, wondering what I had missed.
Joan then asked whether there was anything Sally Kirkland regretted in her life, and even in a few minutes of listening, I was able to tell that this was a full life, including her stint as a protégé of Andy Warhol. She didn’t hesitate for a moment in her answer: “I wish I had called my mother more just to tell her I loved her.” She choked up when she told Joan that her mother had died the previous May. It wasn’t that she hadn’t called her at all and that they didn’t have a good relationship, she explained, it was just that their dealings usually focused on business. She had never called her mother just to tell her that she loved her.
“I know what you mean,” Joan responded. “My mother and I weren’t talking when she died. You never get over that.” The two women embraced in a shared moment of unresolved grief.
A poem written “under the influence” of Grace Paley potentially for many of us.
What would you have me do differently
at this point in time?
How can your seven years inform my seventy?
[Direct address to my seven-year-old self
after reading Grace Paley’s poem, “In the Bus”]
Begin again. Let go of judgments on your self
by acting in the face of them. See through them
for the phantoms that they are: Warts, growths
on your Catholic imagination. There’s so much
more to see than you have imagined.
Then, pen in hand, create your world
rejecting what is not true, what does not
resonate with you. Examine your conscience––
a good thing––with emphasis on direction
and not on sin.
The sin in life is giving away your self
illegitimately, as you did for so many years
thinking it Christian. The freely chosen act
of mercy done without pressure from any source
is what will bless another and last for good.
I know at seven you think me young to be
donning the advisor’s cap. Nevertheless
I am Easter to you. It is I who can move the stone
that blocks the entrance to the tomb where you sit
alive inside in the dark awaiting the dawn, where
I already am. In the light I can see there’s time
for you to fulfill what you came to do.
Say the word and I will remove the stone
that limits the light in your personal darkness.