The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Gone One Year December 27, 2014

My dad died one year ago tonight. As I sit here, I try to remember the feeling of the day, the order in which things happened. I’ve lost track of some details – some things are fuzzy, and that bothers me. But I’m lucky to recall this distinctly: I remember most how normal the day had felt. For the first time in years, it was just we four Conants together in the house. All of us at our posts, a low level of activity and busyness going one which had created a feeling of normalcy and well, comfort. My mom was in the kitchen puttering about, my brother at the dining room table on his computer, my father was sleeping in his hospice bed in the side room, and I sat in between them, on the couch in the living room, taking it all in. Feeling how homey it was. I knew we were waiting for dad to die, we all did, but still, it felt good to be there. All of us together, one last time. I can’t know how mom and Andrew were truly feeling, but I remember that I was quietly petrified, but somehow doing ok. In spite of what we where there for, it was a good afternoon. One year ago today.

We were all touching dad when he went; mom and Andrew holding his hands, I was holding both his feet. After sleeping quietly for hours and hours, it was a little after eleven at night when dad uttered two loud vocalizations. I alerted my brother and mom, and then it began. The final half hour. And at the very end, he faked us out three times – we’d thought he’d taken his final breath when he’d take another breath in… By the third one we were actually laughing – and crying of course too – because here was dad, in his last moments on earth, taking a curtain call. When he finally passed, our cat Mina, who stays on dad’s desk in his office (and had gotten up on his bed earlier that day – a move very uncharacteristic of her) meowed twice, as if to confirm that dad had finally left us. Finally, we could cry. Mom, who I’ve seldom seen cry in my entire life, allowed herself tears. Andrew too. And after years of being at the receiving end of my brother’s hate and venom (it’s not his fault, he is not well), I hugged him, told him I loved him and that he was the best brother ever. So thanks, dad, for helping each of us find a little closure in your passing.

When you finally lose a parent, it feels like an initiation. Having two parents – especially two who are still under the same roof – feels a bit like a bonus these days. I’m sorry I didn’t take more pictures and videos of us all while we were together, and I’m tempted to indulge in regret. It just kinda felt as if it would always be thus. I’ve said it before, and I’ll likely say it again more than a few times: this is a hard planet to live on. Even when you have it good, it’s still not easy.

My agnostic friends will think I’m making stuff up in order to feel better about the whole thing – but me, I know that we move on to another plane of existence after this. I know it aint over, and that I’ll see my dad again. I even know he’s aware of me here and now, and that when I think of him, I send him my love and energy through the ether, and he receives it where he is. I know this. For my friends who don’t believe there’s anything beyond our simple, earth-bound lives, all I can say is, I can’t wait to see the look on your face when we meet again…

Here are some photos I’ve been digging up all morning. I’m missing a chunk of time in between when Elihu was little and now – but for some reason, life must have taken over and I just neglected to take pictures for a while. I guess I just kinda forgot that it’s the everyday things that are more worth remembering than the exceptional. But I’m lucky to have these. And so lucky that I got to be the daughter of Robert Conant.

Some pics from dad’s professional life…

IMG_4697An early promo shot.

Early Promo Shot 001Dig this one. !

Fort Dix, 1951Entertaining the troops at Fort Dix, 1951. (I have this Challis harpsichord now here at the Hillhouse.)

the first Baroque Fest with mom and dadThe Conants start the Festival of Baroque Music at the Seagle Colony in Schroon Lake, New York, 1959.

robert shaw choraleWorking with Robert Shaw.

dad and Paul DoktorThis may have been a bit beneath his dignity, but hey, a gig’s a gig. With Paul Doktor on viola.

IMG_4682Love this shot. Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College.

IMG_4685Henryk Schering and dad at Orchestra Hall in Chicago.

IMG_4667The Viola da Gamba Trio of Basel, Switzerland was an important part of dad’s professional life for many years. (With August Wenzinger and Hannelore Mueller.)

IMG_4704Always loved this one.

IMG_4692Dad as conductor.

IMG_4668Taken from the balcony of the Studio.

IMG_4678Studs Terkel’s interview with dad on WFMT in Chicago.

IMG_4672Kenneth Slowik was a huge part of our lives growing up as well as a very important part of dad’s professional life, and we still count the Slowiks as family.

FBM's 50thThe Festival of Baroque Music celebrated its 50th season in 2009. At that time it was the longest running early music festival in the country.

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Now some pics from dad’s personal life…

Dad as a young boy 001Dad as a young lad in Severance, New York on Paradox Lake, early 1930s.

mom and dad wedding

Before my time! Nancy and Robert are married in NYC, 1955.

dad and me at harpsichord in Hamden

1963, Hamden, Connecticut. Guess who’s on dad’s lap?

me dad afc at orch hallAndrew and me backstage with dad at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall, early seventies.

Conants by the StudioWe four Conants in front of the Studio, Greenfield Center, New York, early eighties.

dad and me in the StudioDad and me at the Studio, early nineties.

IMG_5756A snapshot of the many talented young men who helped dad to run the Festival of Baroque Music through the years; they’re all really like family to us, and the Slowiks, Ken (far left) and Peter (3rd from the left) have been part of our family for over three decades.

IMG_6547_0001Dad and Mom in their spots. This is one of those things I kinda never thought would change.

IMG_6527Dad and Elihu, Christmastime of 2005.

IMG_0553This is how dinners looked for years and years. Many happy meals around this table thanks to mom’s amazing talent as cook and hostess.

Dad's 80th Birthday 103Since Elihu could talk, he and his grandpa enjoyed speaking to each other in this made-up, Eastern-European-sounding language, complete with hand gestures and lots of crazy nuances. It was incredibly funny, and amazing to behold. Dad himself was extremely gifted at doing impressions and speaking in accents, and was known for his ever-present sense of humor. There was a lot of profound hilarity through the years in this household!

Dad's 80th Birthday 112Grandpa and Elihu are having a good time.

elihu, grandpa and duckA few years later, Elihu shows grandpa a duck he caught at Congress Park.

IMG_4660I like this one of these three.

IMG_6519_0001Grandpa, winding the Grandfather’s clock. ! (This clock is the same one behind dad and me in that first shot of me as a baby on his lap at the harpsichord.)

the Studio new signThe ‘new’ sign. Can’t believe it was four years ago now. Deep down I think that I just couldn’t bear to do anything with the place until he was gone. It still feels like his place; just putting up the new sign (replacing his Baroque Foundation sign) was kind of a big step.

the studioThe Studio that dad built in 1974 – architect, Michael Curtis. The place has looked a bit cheerier in years past, but it will once again. All in time.

Dad's 80th Birthday 050Dad and ‘the two Jims’ at dad’s 80th birthday. These guys have been around the Festival for over twenty-five years. The stories they retold at dad’s ‘living wake’ last year had us all but peeing in our pants. It was a perfect send-off for dad. (That’s Martha, seated at left.)

Dad's 80th Birthday 016And here is the only known photo of the four men in my life: Dad, brother, ex-husband and son. Goofburgers.

1231102110This is how dad spent much of his last few years, resting on the couch. The lamp in the background hung in his childhood home in Passaic, New Jersey.

Elihu with hand over heartAlmost as if a sign of things to come, young Elihu reverently puts his hand over his heart in the same room in which his grandfather would leave this world.

Dad's HeadshotThere is just never a good time for goodbye.

As Elihu said to you in his final parting: see you shortly…

Robert Scott Conant, January 6th, 1928 – December 27th, 2013.

Post Script: Here’s a recording of dad playing – granted, his is the 3rd of 4 harpsichord parts (I know, four harpsichords? Wow) and it’s impossible to know what exactly he’s playing, but nonetheless, he’s in there somewhere… 

 

Dream Gift December 25, 2014

For the most part, my dreams aren’t that mysterious. While they take place in some fabulously surreal landscapes, the subjects are easy to recognize. My dreams are a Dadaesque montage of various and sundry events from my current life, taking place in the settings of my earlier life. Usually things happen alongside modified versions of a vast lake (Michigan), in a place under a canopy of trees (Evanston) or beside a modern city on that same lake (Chicago). My inherent nostalgic bent thrives as I sleep, and upon waking I feel a hazy sort of satisfaction to have returned ‘home’ for a visit. My dreams look backward, not forward. I see no sense in keeping a dream journal to glean hints of powerful hidden foreshadowing, because from stem to stern, I’m just not the kind of gal who thinks a whole lot about the future.

Until last night. I slept in fits and starts, due to a stubborn cold which made my breathing difficult and irregular, and as a result I was able to awaken in the midst of several dream sequences, all of which I can easily recall. And the thing that struck me, as I reviewed the scenes in my head before rising, was that they took place here. And now. And – more intriguing to me – was the fact that they were all somehow centered on the Studio. There was construction, industry, there were people working together, sharing the vision… Hammering, drilling, the smell of lumber, the sight of studs awaiting drywall… At one point I awoke in a start, yelling out loud “We must have two bathrooms!”, and found my heart pounding as I sat up in bed, still panicked that the contractors had overlooked this very important feature…. When I came to, and realized that we did have two bathrooms, I was greatly relieved. I pulled the scene back into my mind’s eye and studied it more closely. Now this was interesting; there were some design ideas there I hadn’t considered before that just might work… Merry Christmas indeed. This felt like a gift.

People may tire of my manic swings, hell, I myself can’t believe how low and high I can go in such short order, and how endlessly I can do so… But I’ve long been mulling over the idea of what’s missing in my life these days, and how I need to redefine myself and live into the future ahead. A lack of planning skills is in some way why I’m here, now, in this present funk. So I need to start envisioning how it all might look one day… Elihu will be gone into the world in too little time, and if I think I’m having an existential crisis now, just imagine how it’ll hit me then!

I know, as well as everyone does, that the main objective of life is to express love in the world, and that expression takes its form in service to others. I’m not a big fan of hard work, or methodical process, so I’ve chosen to do my part in the service sector in the guise of smiles to strangers, small talk to disenfranchised-looking folks and such. Not meaning to sound too full of my self, I do admit a certain ease when it comes to expressing compassion and connecting with people. Elihu once remarked about me that I seemed to make friends wherever I go. Yeah, kinda. But that’s easy. I kinda feel I need to step it up a bit more.

I love teaching, I love coaching kids, and it’s the best feeling in the world when they get something. Hell, I love it when my adult students get something. I have never been a particularly hard worker, so I’m keen on sharing my slacker shortcuts with anyone. If I can save anyone else from all the time spent not understanding what the hell was going on – in music, in life, in any endeavor – then I feel I’ve done something of service to my fellow humans. That’s all well and good, but somehow, I gotta cast a bigger net. But I’m so afraid. I try to identify what imaginary, invisible thing it is that holds me back. After spending the last two days reading the memoirs of three successful women writers, I can identify one thing right off the bat: I don’t have an insatiable drive for success. Seriously. I am fucking lazy. I’m not being all needlessly self-effacing here; I’ll admit that when I’m in it, I’m in it. And I can work my ass off. I can produce tangible results like crazy. I’m good at organizing, assessing and restoring visual order (when given the wide-open space and freedom from parenting duties). So yeah, I can work. But it’s private. There’s no one to judge, to witness. And like I said, I don’t experience this kind of work ethic until the place is clear of kid duty. And see, that’s one big problem. These other women did it fine with kids in the mix. Me, I just don’t get that. Plus they had spouses, boyfriends, even goddam deadlines. I do remember the adage “If you want something done, give it to a busy person”, and I can vaguely remember a time in my life when that might have been said of me, but right now, the way I feel here and now – forget it. I get panicky just trying to envision coaching a small ensemble, never mind running a series of educational programs and making sure that our 501(c)3 papers are in order. Shit. How will this work? I can’t do this. Can I?

I gotta. The key to ridding myself of panic, of that paralyzing horror, the key to wanting to wake up in the morning and not distracting myself all day long by keeping a super-tidy house and making a killer tasty supper – the key to all of this is to be of service in the world. I thrive on being a good mother, and I thrive on buoying the spirits of those who seem to have withered under the weight of it all – cuz I so get it – but I think it’s time to be brave and take on more. This cold I’m currently experiencing has done a nice job of presenting me with a swath of guilt-free down time. Time in which to read, to learn what it feels like in someone else’s head, to get a new perspective, to digest… It’s been a good couple of days. My nose is sore as hell, I can hardly hear a thing in my right ear and my eyes are still disgustingly red and watery, but it’s all good. In a way, this miserable cold has kinda been a gift.

It’s hard to imagine that my position at Waldorf is over, at my choice, and that I have no tether. With an audience to witness this internal struggle, I haven’t left myself an opportunity for escape. (Believe me, I wrestle with whether or not to even include the whole Studio story here. I am so tempted to pretend these thoughts never happened, so tempted to continue teaching, being a mother, collecting eggs, all as if nothing else mattered. Who knows, I still might do that. Just sayin.) If nothing else stands to motivate me, I must remember my father. I cannot allow this amazing gift of such a beautiful venue go to waste. If nothing else, I must continue his legacy. It’s taken a year (and even so, I’m still not completely there) to realize that I can never, ever hope to come close to doing what he did. His gift was early music, and it’s not mine. To try and continue as before is impossible. Hard as it is to come to terms with, it’s true. I can only do what I do. My gift is connecting people, uplifting people, sharing insights, being a host. So I need to follow the spirit of my gift, in whatever form it needs to manifest.

It was last year on the 27th that dad died, and a year ago January that the Studio flooded and ruined the gorgeous oak floor on which so many performances had taken place. A year since my heart was doubly broken. While I haven’t done as much as maybe I’d originally thought I would in the year since, I have to understand that this has been an important year, a necessary year. Like my cold, this stopping-in-my-tracks business of the flood, the demo and the slow start to rebuilding, this seemingly fucked up situation has actually turned to reveal itself as a gift. The gift of time for inner adjustment, the time to let go of what things were, to begin to nurture an idea of what things might yet be…

Recently, the forester called me to say they were ready to put the landing in for the logging equipment. Two years behind schedule, the logging of my family’s woods was finally scheduled to happen – which would not only put some money in the coffers to continue rebuilding, but it would, in the process, provide the Studio with its own parking lot. I can’t remember feeling as happy, joyful and hopeful in years as when he told me the news. We’re waiting on a good deep freeze to get the heavy equipment in, and because it’s been so warm and rainy lately, I almost feel as if it’ll never happen. As if the call from the forester might just have been a dream. When I get super down, I try to conjure that feeling of excitement, of progress. Not sure I’ll believe it til I see it. The drive is marked, I’ve circled the keeper trees with nylon tape, and the crew will call me when they’re on the way. I’ve been told that when it starts, it’ll happen fast. Which is good, cuz I could use some forward movement just about now.

In such unsuspecting ways do these life gifts reveal themselves. And in so many ways, this waking life itself is kinda like a dream. It meanders around new corners and pushes you into strange, unanticipated situations. And sometimes, I think, it might just be better to be surprised. Isn’t it more fun sometimes not to know what happens next? After all, it’s the element of surprise that makes it so exciting to unwrap a gift…

 

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Post Script:  Speaking of service, today I remembered Reverend William Sloane Coffin, Jr. as I searched my shelves for some new inspirational reading. My father and he were friends at Yale, where Rev. Sloane was chaplain – the two of them also sang in the Yale Glee Club – and I had Bill’s last book “Credo” autographed one year as a Christmas gift for my father. I was fortunate to enjoy a few conversations with Reverend Sloane; at the time I didn’t fully appreciate how lucky I was to have spoken with him. In revisiting some YouTube videos of him recently, I have a new appreciation for the fellow. In person he was just as warm and supportive as you’d imagine him to be. Here’s a short clip of Bill receiving an honor for his service, and some of this thoughts on the state of our world…

 

Wrapped Up December 24, 2014

I’m alone in my house on Christmas Eve. That in of itself isn’t so bad, not really, but I’ve come down with quite a cold, a furious case of pink eye, and there’s nothing much of interest on hand to eat. There’s the nagging feeling that my mom’s alone in her house too, and so is my brother. And we’re approaching the year anniversary of dad’s death. It adds to the strange, unresolved ache of the day. And there’s just too much time to think about it. Elihu called from Illinois a little while ago. He too feels that something’s missing. “There’s no magic” he told me. “It just feels like another regular day”. I know the absence of snow there doesn’t help, but there’s more to it than just that. “Does Santa still bring you anything?” he asked in a quiet voice. I could tell he was continuing to test the waters. I told him no. “When did Santa stop bringing you presents?” I deliver my answer as tenderly as I possibly can…”High school, college… I suppose around the time I kinda became a grownup.” There was a long pause. As I sat on the couch, looking past the Christmas tree to the field of melting snow and misty woods beyond, I could feel something shifting in my son. He was resisting this coming of age thing. I knew it, he knew it, but neither of us dared to say it aloud. I’d thought this year would be it, and it might be, but his poor heart can’t let go of the last shreds of hope… Neither can mine.

Myself, I can’t remember a defining moment. When I knew for sure. Plenty of folks have had them – Elihu’s own father knew the jig was up when crawling through the attic he came upon his presents wrapped and ready to go – but I can’t recall one moment when it all became clear. I, like my son, resisted the bleak, harsh truth; the end of youth, magic and suspense. Who knows when I knew Santa didn’t exist? Was I nine? Nineteen? No one in my family ever discussed it, and so for me it kinda faded out gradually. I’m conflicted about this whole thing, do I just tell him? Write him a letter? Wait for him to ask me point-blank? He’s asked me about as directly as he was able, and I, not wanting to cave, had begun to laugh. Then he began to laugh. And once again, we had evaded the question… and the answer. There’s just so much loneliness and heartbreak in the world, and I’m feeling it now so keenly – that I can’t bear to bring more of the world’s reality down upon my little man. So I keep letting it go.

I had told Elihu earlier that I missed him, but that he didn’t have to feel like he missed me too. “Oh, I don’t. I’m too busy here to miss you. But I do sometimes miss the feeling of the Hillhouse. You know, the feeling. Because it’s always go, go go when I’m here. Sometimes I get tired.” We sat in silence for a moment, sharing the space between us, feeling each other’s presence. A moment later his little brother banged open the door to his room and announced it was lunchtime. The household of two small boys and a hyperactive, non-allergenic dog had come to reclaim my son. I heard voices in the room calling for him to join them. “Merry Christmas” he said, and then hung up.

Just about an hour ago I got a message from a friend that her father was not doing well. He’d just turned 88 yesterday, and now it seems his body was beginning to shut down. I’d seen him year before last and even then had noticed that he seemed slower, more mellowed. Older. I’d called his music shop only the day before to say hello, and he’d been very much on my mind of late. I hadn’t heard back and had planned on calling him again soon. My heart raced when I saw the message, and rather than plan a simple phone call, I began to plan for a trip to Chicago. But the reality is that I’m sick and broke, and I have chickens. It’s not very likely I’ll go. Even if I could afford train fare, rental car and someone to watch over my flock, I couldn’t go til I was well. I couldn’t visit him sick as I was. It hit me, and I sat with the weight of the truth in my gut. It wasn’t very likely that I’d ever see him again. Crap.

What keeps running through my mind is the last time I saw him and how I had left my camera at home. I wasn’t able to take any photos of us together. And it bothers me. And I think of all the times I’d wanted to call him just to thank him for mentoring me all those years ago – and all the times I just put it off til later – to find that there may not be a later. I remember my own father’s last days, likely a year ago today even that I had thanked him for giving me the gift of music. Through a cascade of tears I kissed him and held his hand and tried to make up for all the years I’d never expressed myself to him. This time, with this man, I likely won’t have the chance. It eats at me, and I try to find resolution. I’ll have his daughter tell him that I love him, that I thank him. It’ll have to do. One more sorrow I don’t know what to do with on this rainy Christmas Eve.

It was twenty-eight years ago tonight that I first met my future parents-in-law. My ex and I had had our first date the night before, and the next thing I knew I was having Christmas Eve dinner at his parent’s home. It was essentially the start of our relationship. And it was also this time of year that my ex had asked for a divorce. So this whole holiday time is kinda loaded for me. And being here all alone, I begin to wonder how it must be for so many out there in the world for whom things must be so much more dire. I don’t have things bad by any means, but the isolation is giving me too much time for reflection, and it’s getting to me. I think of all the other people out there across the land who themselves are locked in their own private despair, and my heart aches. It aches for the world.

Knowing I’d be facing a few days at home recuperating, yesterday I stocked up on books at the library. These days I have no need for fiction – I’m ravenous for memoirs. I cannot get enough of people’s stories. I want to know how they do it. How everyone manages… Just how stoic are people being? How fed up are they, really? How scared? I gravitate to the self-effacing, phobic types. I think to myself, yes, I get it, they get it, I’m not so bad off… But then I realize they were together enough to format their writing, to pitch it, to submit it, to actually get it published. And I feel bad again, I guess I am so bad off. The very thing I’d sought is what ends up deflating me. So I turn to Nora Ephron. She’s been through shit and come out on the other side, glorious. But of course, she’s gone now, and that gets to me. I can hardly read. Last night I discovered her movie Heartburn, and through the miracle (it’s still new to me) of Netflix, was able to watch the whole thing…

I watched, riveted. I couldn’t believe her story, I felt it so keenly. I knew how she felt; I have lived it myself. After the movie finished, I followed thread upon thread on Wikipedia, following the stories beyond the versions trimmed for print. So-and-so slept with so-and-so, children were born out-of-wedlock, families broken… I see people married several times in their lives, and I can’t wrap my brain around it, although no one else seems to have trouble with it. How can you make one family, leave them behind and go on to make another?  Clearly lots of folks start over. But I can’t see it. My childbearing years are over, I can’t have another family. So sadly for me, that’s not an option. I keep searching… I need something, but what? I know what’s missing: I’m looking for resolution. I want a happy ending that I can envision for myself. None is to be found. Something is nagging at me, beyond the dysfunction of my own family, beyond the emptiness of the moment and the lack of a complete family. It’s that ‘why are we here’ thing again. And with all this goddam spirit of Christmas talk, you’d think I’d get it. But I fucking don’t. Why isn’t this stupid, goddam life easier? Why can’t we all just find our mates, our families, and stay put? When a pregnant Rachel cries to her father about her cad of a husband in Heartburn, her dad responds “If monogamy is what you want, you should marry a swan.” Sigh.

It’s not just the split family thing that eats at me, although that sucks. I can’t watch television – a couple of commercials and I start to get angry – because it doesn’t represent the truth. We’re sold this false notion of happiness and belonging, of precious beginnings and tidy endings. Maybe I’m mad at myself for wanting to buy it. Like the Santa thing. So mixed on all of this. I want my son to enjoy a full and bustling home for Christmas – but goddam it, why can’t it be me with my family, my children, my husband, even my goddam dog? But then again, I wouldn’t know this life. It’s just not all a tidy affair, this life business.

I suppose the only way to wrap things up nice and tidy is with paper and ribbon.

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Here’s a video of me singing Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (complete with the seldom-heard verse!) on Christmas Eve, six years ago tonight. I was completely doped up on antidepressants, as that was what made it possible for me to spend the night in my own house with Elihu, my husband, his girlfriend and their new baby down the hall… I can’t believe I was there… it still seems like a bizarre dream… I had gone back to Illinois to show my son some sort of brave front, to show that nothing was amiss… Some may wonder how in hell I could have subjected myself to such a thing, but the situation was still fresh, and I still didn’t quite believe it was happening. My friend Karen (at the piano) saved me that night as she did many times in those difficult, early years. We really had fun doing a couple of these impromptu songs with her and her brother and it helped keep my spirits up… It’s a cute video, give it a watch. Maybe it’ll make up for some of my grinchiness. !

 

Mas Tuba December 20, 2014

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Mommy Mind,Pics,Vids — wingmother @ 9:14 pm

More cowbell?  Meh… How about more tuba?!

So sorry my kid had to miss this newly discovered event in our world: TubaChristmas. Started in 1974 by Harvey Phillips to honor his teacher, William Bell, (festive name), who was born on Christmas Day (festive birthday!) in 1902, this thing has really grown over the years – from its first performance in Rockefeller Plaza (with arrangements written by Alec Wilder, a songwriter of whom I am a great fan, and who himself died on Christmas day in 1980) this event has spread all across the US. (My cursory research indicates TC happens in a whole lotta states, although I can’t say exactly how many.) There were over 400 tuba players present for this year’s event in Chicago just this afternoon, and I can only guess NYC was not to be outdone by the Second City.

I was lucky to find a shopping mall within a half hour’s drive which hosted a respectable turnout. My kid has been on track for playing the tuba since he was a mere toddler (I’d bring him to my shows with the Prohibition Orchestra of Chicago and it was likely there that the seed was planted as he did his primitive up-and-down baby dance to the catchy two-beat tuba patterns), and he’s asked for a tuba for Christmas this year too – so had he still been here, this mighta been the main event of the year. Instead, this was the day he flew out to be with his father for the break.

But that’s ok. I considered today to have been a reconnaissance mission. Now I know what this thing is all about. Elihu is still such a tiny guy, I’m not quite sure if he’ll be able to join them by next year anyhow. But he does seem pretty motivated. My kid, it seems, really is all about the bass…

IMG_4234To prove I was there… let’s start with a TubaChristmas selfie…

IMG_4177There are all shapes and sizes… this is a Sousaphone; the bell aims the sound out in front. It’s used for marching bands.

IMG_4180This cat’s playing a Serpentine, the tuba’s valve-less predecessor, first created in 1580, and made of wood and leather.

IMG_4207There were some purists there who didn’t quite feel his instrument was appropriate, but the press did. !

IMG_4214Collecting some info for the paper.

IMG_4220Not a great shot, but I love the feel.

IMG_4203A view from the front.

IMG_4193And a view of the interior. A sea of tubas…

IMG_4240They were a hit as folks sang along, took videos and even danced.

IMG_4247Turns out a Waldorf family was present; grandpa was playing tuba in the second to last row.

IMG_4252And here’s a tuba mom. My future. !

IMG_4257There was such a huge mix of ages in the group, and just about as many women as men.

IMG_4287Here’s Sadie and her grandpa!

IMG_4289And here’s Carle and his Serpentine.

IMG_4293Packing up.

IMG_4298I saw leftie tubas and rightie tubas, concert C, Bb and Eb tubas, baritone horns, euphoniums and sousaphones, but this was my first gander at a ‘double Bb’ horn. Whatever that means. Sounds low.

IMG_4292And these things weigh around 40 pounds by themselves! Add a hard case and we have trouble…

A little bit of O Little Town of Bethlehem

Hard to imagine I was ever a film major, huh? At least this’ll give you a feel for the event.

IMG_4306

I was surprised that this year Elihu created a list for Santa. He’s so earnest, I don’t think it was created for my audience, but still… ya never know. Note the part (by my fingers) where he writes “baritone horn ?”, then right after “scrap that, Tuba!”   !!

Hungry for more? Here’s a piece on the event from the local paper… story and pics (taken with a ‘real’ camera) by Megan Farmer, the press gal seen in the post above.

Post Script: I’m just beginning to learn about this subculture of tubas, and would like to share this writing of Jim Self, a premier concert tuba player from Los Angeles. He talks about playing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and mentions in it his visit to the city’s TubaChristmas (yes, all one word). This is the tip of the tuba iceberg… As with everything in life, there’s so much more to it than one realizes at first…

 

Breaking and Changing December 19, 2014

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Divorce Diary,Elihu's Room,Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 9:15 pm

It’s funny how one’s body just seems to know when it’s had enough. When it’s safe to break down. To finally get sick. Cuz I’ve been pretty close the past few weeks – had that ‘pre’ cold feeling a couple of times, I’ve gotten sniffly, have had a mild sore throat and even had a day of vague all-over aches, but alone they’ve been manageable inconveniences. Just a couple mildly uncomfortable nights with a slight remission come morning, and most importantly – little-to-no symptoms for our blowout holiday party last Saturday. But today, as I sat down to play piano for my final official run as the Waldorf school’s accompanist, I felt things begin to shift: I was beset with a very bad earache. The kind which my mother will tell you plagued, and to some degree even defined my childhood. Haven’t had one in a good two decades, but this doozy came on mean and fast. But in spite of the pain I was still able to enjoy my last hurrah, laying fully into tempo and dynamic changes with a sort of drama I seldom indulge… maybe deciding in this final hour that camping it up couldn’t hurt now, and who knows, might even leave folks with a more lasting impression at my departure…

When my task was completed though, I was relieved. I was in a good deal of discomfort as the earache began to settle in on each side now, but still had a few remaining items on the day’s agenda: I had to pick up Elihu early from school, then get him to an appointment at the orthodontist to check the fit on his replacement retainer (a cool $175 I sure don’t have to part with at this time of year), as well as a couple more piano students to teach before the day was officially over. By the time my second student was wrapping up, I found my voice literally disappearing as I said my goodbyes. Finally, I was done. My commitments were over for now. My body was free to let go and give in.

Tonight I’m full-blown sick. In a few hours I’ll be driving Elihu to the airport for his Christmastime visit with his father. Spent the day wrapping and packing, and even though things are ready to go, I’m still feeling a bit uneasy. Last night Elihu asked to sleep in my bed, as he was beginning to make the emotional shift; he was getting his last fix of being close to me. I had set my alarm to 11:28 to catch Stephen Colbert’s final show, and God bless that lil man, when the alarm went off he sat straight up in bed and begged me to get up lest I miss it… That kid is on my side til the end. Or almost til the end.

Tonite is our last night together, and somehow, I’m not really sure how, things have blown up. He’s chosen some small slight to give him reason to retreat to his room and slam the door. But I think I know what’s really going on. Just a couple of hours ago his dad told him he’d be there for ‘seventeen days’ and not the original nine days as planned. For a good hour Elihu kept looking off into space, distracted, saying how he wanted some free time here, too, and that he felt, once again, that he had no say in how things happened. He resolved to call his father, until, that is, his recent blowup. At the moment, the door to his room is locked from the inside, and he’s fuming mad. I can’t reach him. Poor kid. He’s feeling torn in two directions. This is never an easy time for him. And this time, it’s a bit harder for me too.

This time of year feels different now. My son will be gone, and my father’s gone now too. Christmas isn’t the time of happiness and good cheer it once was. To be honest, I’m not really looking forward to the next couple of weeks. Last year at this time my father was dying, and that filled every single moment. But this year, there’s only empty space. Time without the distraction of sitting vigil. Andrew is essentially gone from the world too. And mom, while she keeps busy, she’s got to be dreading all those empty hours ahead. And I will have an empty house too. Lots of empty going around. The obvious solution might be to spend more time with mom – and I suppose I will, but we just don’t always groove so easily with each other as one might think. Our time together will only be spent watching tv, or eating supper, maybe sharing a drink. Small talk fills the awkward time in between. It will be talk of others and their affairs, or what I like to call ‘non news’ which will fill the space. Mom’s non-news topics will be what seem to me to be inconsequential, trivial things – things that get her all emotionally worked up – but for me conjure no more investment than another kitten video on Facebook.

Sometimes it’s hard to realize that this is the same woman from whom I get my potty mouth. These days she’s a woman who uses cottage-cute wooden cat figures with gingham bows and sparkly snowmen holding signs encouraging the weather to ‘Let it Snow!’ to decorate her home. She is a woman who can turn the latest run-of-the-mill weather report into a heated, ten minute monologue, the woman who talks of yesterday’s pop culture news with an urgency that suggests I too need to get worked up over it, because somehow, it’s important and relative stuff… And yet this is the same woman who once went back to college while parenting two small children, who once made fifty-two years of music festivals flow like they had a hired staff, who once drove a tractor and helped throw hay bales onto the wagon, who once created a fashion-forward home, who insisted on building a green (and stunning) home before it was hip…. It’s hard to reconcile that old profile of my mother, that progressive, modern-thinking woman (whom, to be fair, I didn’t know that well as I was busy dwelling in my own, all-important, misunderstood childhood and young adulthood) with the woman I know now. I suppose life changes, and we along with it. (Please come check on me should you find me decorating my own home with such sparkly snowmen figurines; it may be a sign of a larger issue beneath – a breakdown in earnest.)

Situations change, and we react accordingly, I suppose. My life’s work has come to a pause, and my own body sees a window of opportunity. Tonight I’m going to bed sick. And tonight my son’s going to bed distraught. An endless supply of cable channels seems to keep my mother distracted through the long, evening hours. My brother? Who knows what keeps him going. It’s a good thing Elihu’s going to join a house full of activity. Little brothers, a crazy little dog, and a pair of parents. His other grandparents will be around, too I suppose. It’s good that he’ll have all of that. But still… I wish there was something I could do for my son. I wish I could give him the gift of time. I wish I could give him a week here at home with nothing to do but coo to his chickens and play his bass. I wish I could assure him that somehow he’ll have the time he needs in between households to switch gears and make the energetic transition. But he lives in a world of two households, two parents apart, and so it is what it is. Poor kid’s been crying. I tried to call his father, but he hung up on me. Says he sent me an email with this new plan. I come up with nothing when I search for the email with the amended travel plans. All I know for sure is that I suggested, in an effort to show kindness, that he take Elihu for a ‘few extra days’. Suppose I should have defined ‘a few’ first. It’s not a done deal though; I know they’re coming back on the train, and that’s pretty flexible. So there’s still hope that Elihu’s voice will be heard, that his father will come down off his rage, and that things won’t end up as bad as they’re feeling right now. There’s still hope that Elihu will come home a couple of days earlier. I tell him not to breakdown yet. It’s ok, it’s ok….

One day my son will be old enough to lobby completely for himself. Right now, poor kid’s just mixed up. Wants to see his dad, but wants his own time at home, too. Scared of his dad’s wrath. He’s afraid to speak his mind to him. Yeah, I get that. His dad is good at sounding scary. I know. Elihu fears for the ‘just suck it up’ routine that might follow should he express his mind, and so gives up before he even starts. And I feel bad for Fareed too, I do. It can’t be fun living so far away from his children, and seeing some of them so infrequently. I can understand how out of control he feels – and I feel badly about it. He wouldn’t believe me though. There doesn’t seem to be much I can do now anyway, except sit back and watch how things play out. I’ve got plenty on my plate, I may as well surrender that which I can’t control.

What’s on my plate exactly? Folks ask me with a great light of interest in their eyes, what on earth I’ll do with all my time (I know, there’s just soooo much to fill, right?) while my son’s away? I never do a good job of answering. You’d think I’d have it down by now. But the unending list just spills out to the confusion of my audience: I’ve got a lot of filing in my office, got organizing to do around the homestead, fixes in the coop to make, gotta learn how to use Finale, get future lesson plans in order, got a neglected harpsichord that could use a little tlc, then there’s the attic that needs insulating, and I need to keep watch over a new parking lot that’s going in at the Studio any day now…. It’s usually too much of an answer, not focused enough to make sense to people.  I really should work on a more engaging, concise pitch. (Note to self: add to list.) Bottom line is I’ve always got a lot to do, even if I don’t have an impressive title for it all.

Right now I gotta make sure my son’s sleeping, and that he’s packed and ready to go in a few hours. Elihu and I made up as I sat here writing, and at that point tried calling his father. Sent his dad about the least-provocative email I could, while still lobbying for a tad shorter visit. Ich. Hate this. But relieved to learn that now my son’s asleep at last and free from this earthly world of obligations and conflict for the time being… It helps to know that things won’t always be thus. The day is coming when my son will be old enough to choose for himself how he spends his breaks, and this will be a welcome change indeed.

 

Chapter Vision December 15, 2014

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Farm Life,Flight,Growing Older,Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 3:31 am

When my eyes open, I see the silhouette of my reclining form on the wall – shoulder, neck and head, like the topography of a distant mountain ridge – outlined from the faint light cast by the alarm clock on the bedside table. Oh. I’m back. I’m not asleep as I was a moment ago. Not in my bed, either. I’m in my son’s bed. I recall why. He’d hadn’t wanted to be alone and had asked me to stay. A superimposed image of my dream somehow hangs in between the wall and me, and when I turn my attention to it for a final remembrance, it disappears from existence like a soap bubble. I’m really back now. The dream has plopped me down in a bed of mild nostalgia and longing. In my dream I’d been, as so often I am in my dreams, back in my hometown, back in an era in which I was young and beautiful, an era in which I was surrounded by my young and beautiful friends, an era in which life was all yet before us, as if nothing else was yet to come outside and beyond our perfect, constant now….

It’s not that I live in the past, or that I despise my current life. No, not so. As middle life goes, this is a fine chapter. I have all I need (until the heating oil runs out, but that’s just a temporary discomfort) and there’s much to do these days, much to look forward to. Yeah, and there’a a lot yet to do. A lot. Just earlier in the day Elihu and I had been thinking more closely about time, and how life changes. It became known at our party the night before, that Zac and Stephanie are expecting their fourth child, and that set in motion a new examination of things…. Of how things, right now, seeming as if they might always be thus, will truly not be; of how the landscape of our lives will change in ways we, in this current moment, can’t possibly anticipate. My son’s used to hearing the nonstop yapping that grownups are always doing about how children grow like weeds, and how they’re gone before you know it… But to stop and really internalize that, for child or adult, it really catches ones attention. So there we sat, chins resting in our hands on the kitchen island, just thinking. Imagining all nine children on the field as teenagers, twenty-somethings. Imagining the first serious relationship that Elihu would one day have. Imagining me as an old woman, Elihu, his wife and three children coming to grandma’s house for a visit… My own mother having been long gone herself…

In the silence of the kitchen we sink deeper into our visions. One of us suggests another detail, the other accepts it with a nod, or a far off answer of ‘yeah, yeah….’ and then silence follows. We two are in deep, forward-looking dreams. The Studio buzzes along somewhere in the backdrop of the scene, kids coming and going, instruments on backs, scooting down the driveway on atvs to lessons and rehearsals… Cars come and go down the long driveway, cuz there’s always something going on, someone’s always stopping by the Hillhouse to say hello… Elihu’s flying his Calypso in Crow Field, and now his own little ones are running next door to see if Ryan is home and can he come play? By then Ryan will be a young man. He won’t be little any more. It takes some committed daydreaming to make this all real, if even for a minute. And when the vision does come, it’s a bit shocking. Better that things don’t do all that changing overnight in real life.

For years Elihu has insisted to me that he will have three kids. And that he – unlike me, as he emphasized – will be ‘settled’ and ‘ready’ with all three kids on board by the ‘time he’s thirty-two’. And I tend to think he might be right. We’re very similar in many ways, my son and I, but with regard to this visualizing of the future possibilities of one’s life – he’s light years ahead of me. Hell, by my Junior year in high school I still had no idea where – or if – I’d be going to college. Yeah, I don’t tend to see much past next year. But Elihu? Apparently he spends a lot of time visualizing how it’ll all look. (Vietnam is part of that discussion too. He is adamant. He wants to live in Vietnam. I’ve heard this many, many times. !) So with the time spent visualizing our futures, we’ve also had a little experience thinking about the possible scene around my death one day. My tall, quite possibly bald and grown son will have my hand in his, and his three beautiful children – just when did these tiny ones become so big? – will all be around, some crying, one smiling gently down at me… my son’s wife will come and take my other hand, and so there we six will be, witnessing together a huge moment of personal change…. But it’s not the death thing I’m concerned with here in this visualization. Naw – I’m far more intrigued that there are four new family members I’ve yet to meet here in this intimate scene. I’ve yet to meet them, I’ve yet to get to know them, to love them, to argue or agree with them – it’s all yet before me here in December of two thousand and fourteen, and still I haven’t got a clue who they’ve yet to be! And Elihu’s future mate is out there somewhere, on this very day that we sit here dreaming… But where? Does Elihu’s future wife live somewhere nearby in upstate New York? Is she growing up right now somewhere in Europe? ….Or, just perhaps, does she live somewhere in Vietnam? It’s possible. So many scenarios are possible. Really, considering it all can make one dizzy.

You know, it sounds kinda crazy right now, but one day all the neighborhood kids will be teenagers, I tell my son. And that’s a whole different thing. And me as a grandma – me? Uh, yeah, that’s a different thing too. But it’ll all come to pass. Crazy, right? Still sitting at the kitchen table, Elihu’s face remained blank with thought before he began to smile. “Yeah, it’s amazing.” In a second my thoughts flashed to the daughter of musician friends of mine with whom I’d been in a band for years – their adorable, tiny daughter had taken my glamorous head shot and pinned it up outside in her fort in the garage. For a window in time, I was her Cinderella, I was her Queen….Now she herself is a grown and gorgeous woman with her own musical career, and it almost hurts to recall such a tender expression of that tiny girl, because that wee one is long gone now. Which is as it should be. But still….

Elihu and I are ready for this ninth new child to join the gang; we’re excited to meet him or her, come Spring. We’re dug in deep into this current chapter of our life, and we’re both enjoying every moment of it. I will remember and enjoy every chapter too, no matter how long ago in my life, because each one was a joyful, unique time which brought me its own little treasures. And I happily bring my past along with me as I march into each new chapter. Cuz as much as I’m happy to be here, I was once just as happy to be there, and it feels good to recall those memories and the feelings unique to their particular time. Most of the folks I miss from my old life can be summoned easily enough through a quick greeting by Facebook or email. And that quells the nostalgic longing. Sure, some old friends are gone now, and that sting remains – it softens to a dull ache in time – but nonetheless, the absences are part of it all too.

Ebb and flow, come and go. To everything its season. All is as it should be. There are many adventures behind us, and there are many adventures yet before us too. Mundane surprises, like the new location for next year’s garden, as well as the unexpected big ones – they’re all ahead. No doubt there’ll be those few and fearful events that catch us off guard along the way, but we just gotta be there for each other as best we can to keep the fallout to a minimum. We’re just going to have to love each other as best we can, even when we feel cranky and under-rested. We’ll need to be good neighbors and friends to each other as we all move forward into the memories that we’ve yet to make. Chapters are good for re-reading, but skipping ahead isn’t ever as satisfying. You end up missing all the details…

What will the following chapters bring? I’ve got my ideas, but hey, I’ve been wrong before. Never hurts to hold a vision for the best possible outcome, but it’s also a good idea to just make the best of whatever it is that the next chapter presents… Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and a lot of time it’s more interesting, too. I’m eager to keep reading….

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Post Script: After some 514 posts I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before; last night, a good dozen edits before I was finished with this piece, I hit the ‘publish’ button instead of the ‘save’ button. I had the presence of mind to change the status of the post to private, but the damage had already been done. To my extreme horror and embarrassment, many people ended up reading a piece I deemed to be unfit and unfinished. Ich. So I have to just let it go and move on… Regardless of its polish or lack thereof, I see it’s been approved by a couple of friends with their WP icons… So thank you for that, I appreciate it. But still…

 

Big Snow Days December 13, 2014

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Birding,Farm Life,Low Vision Life,Mommy Mind,Pics — wingmother @ 3:25 pm

While the recent deluge of snow here in upstate New York hasn’t yet warranted a day off of school (in Elihu’s district, that is) we haven’t been disappointed with its arrival. There’s usually a fair bit of grumbling to be heard in checkout line conversations at this time of year, perfect strangers bonding over the plight they now all share; slippery roads, snow-bound cars and inaccessible driveways – yet this time it’s been different. Everywhere people are marveling aloud to each other, “It’s just like an old-fashioned Christmas, It’s like being inside a snow globe… It’s just beautiful…” And honestly, all of it’s true.

Thankfully the snow hasn’t caused us any major inconveniences yet. But hey, there’s still time! We’re having our annual holiday party tonight and I’m concerned how a dozen or more cars will find space to park without incident – never mind getting in and out of the long driveway successfully. Somehow things always work out. I can’t really do much about it now. Most likely there’ll be a good story or two after the thing’s over. And by tomorrow there’ll be more memories too… So many have already been made this past, busy week.

Here’s a digest of our snowy December so far…

IMG_2945Our driveway starts out like a cathedral of white…

IMG_2721Every branch is covered… the poor chickens don’t relish this kind of snow.

IMG_2714But it’s beautiful.

IMG_2751Our house feels cozy at wintertime.

IMG_2739A breeze makes the snow fall in sparkly waves across the forest.

IMG_2811Heavy snows bring lots of avian action to the platform feeder at our kitchen window.

IMG_3091One of our hens has been acting strangely the past few days, so we bought her inside.

IMG_3078A warm sitz bath and a little massaging of the far end to see if she might be egg-bound.

IMG_3074Vet-in-training checks too. He’s actually better at this than I am; he’s not as squeamish and is very thorough.

IMG_3194After a home remedy of calcium drops and a night inside, she seems fine. More than fine. Instantly she returned to her clutch and set down on it. When we tried to collect the eggs, she pecked us quite violently. Sick bird? No! A good mama is all! She had gone broody and was doing what she was made to do. In this modern era when we’ve bred all those natural mothering instincts out of our domestic chickens, it can be a surprise to see such ‘old-fashioned’ behavior. The next day I found nine toasty warm eggs underneath her. What a good girl! I apologized to her as I guiltily removed her cache. Just look at her in this pic. If ever a bird could show contempt…. !!!

IMG_3054Enjoying a night in. A little bass concert for mom.

IMG_3000And now… a night out. Remember that $100 bill Elihu won for his Halloween costume? We agreed. It was time…

IMG_3006…to go out for dinner. We’re at Instanblue in Saratoga – the only Middle Eastern place for miles around. And dig this (ok, I don’t get out much – this is probably old news for many), illuminated menus! Usually nighttime is Elihu’s sweet spot, but even with his glasses he found reading this uncomfortable. As for me – it’s right up my middle-aged alley.

IMG_3011Stella brings us the best grilled octopus either one of us had ever tasted. Ever.

IMG_3012Saratoga folks, ask for the grilled octopus and not the octopus salad as listed in the menu. And for meat and bread lovers, Iskander is a savory treat (that particularly kicks ass the next day as leftovers) and is my recommendation for an entree. Next time we’re going to try the braised rabbit. My rule about eating out: get what you wouldn’t ordinarily make at home. Octopus and rabbit are safely on that list. !

IMG_3040After dinner, a concert. We heard the sixth grade band and orchestra at Maple Ave. middle school and Elihu got to visit with kids he’d known since Kindergarten and hadn’t seen in ages! It was a perfect night out.

IMG_3063Even after a magical night out, there are still chores to be done. Gotta top off the water and food and close the chickens safely in their coop. One little red heating lamp glows through the window.

IMG_3068Our little cabin in the wintry night.

IMG_3275The next night we’re off to have dinner with some friends who live at the end of a very long road through the woods… I’m relieved we made it without incident.

IMG_3283The kid’s table…

IMG_3306The grownups table.

IMG_3317Christmas carols at the old piano.

IMG_3323Love the ancient doors and reclaimed pieces throughout.

IMG_3346Now it’s time for a post-meal jam in the basement. Bryce, singing, was a piano student of mine years ago. I’m glad those lessons on triads and simple chord progressions became useful!

IMG_3354Elihu plays (a full size) electric bass for the first time with other musicians. Yay!

IMG_3358Proud of my lil man.

IMG_3361Drums too? Why not. That’s Ethan on the left, patiently waiting for his drums back.

IMG_3365Now it’s time to collect up the gingerbread house that Elihu made earlier with the kids and get on the snowy road home.

IMG_3367This is what our road looks like… deep, snowy forest with lots of hills and creeks to cross.

IMG_3383Ah. Home at last.

IMG_3404This morning was bright and blue.

IMG_3439Madeline Two is every bit the leader that Madeline One was. She leads the gals to the house every morning. Sussy brings up the rear.

IMG_3424Today was beautiful and serene. Let’s hope things stay this way a little longer…

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Post Script: Today was my paternal grandmother’s birthday. Bessie Trimble Scott, keeper of the musician’s gene, was born in Passaic, New Jersey, on December 13th in 1883. She lived to be 101. I think of both Nana and dad today, and thank them for their gift of music. I hope they’re together again after a long time apart….

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Bessie Scott Conant