The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Family of Friends July 13, 2013

Here are some of our dear friends. We really just think of them as our extended family. It’s these folks who motivate us to visit Chicago when we can…

July 2013 trip B 439We met Marja first. Been years since I’ve seen her, but it’s like no time has passed.

July 2013 trip B 446And next, Judy joins us. She’s had a rough year, losing her husband to pancreatic cancer. The following day she and her two daughters are going to Costa Rica for a well-deserved break.

July 2013 trip B 448The three of us together again after many years. Marja toasted to all of us finding our bright, new lives as re-created women. We three are embarking on husband-less lives for the first time. We’re in different places regarding those losses and life changes, but things will definitely continue to get better for all of us.

July 2013 trip B 532The core of Evanston women we almost always see when we’re here. Doree next to me, Della across from her, and our host Priscilla, in back on right (in whose home we always stay. It’s just across the street from our old house.)

July 2013 trip B 494We love Mr. Lee! He’s been feeding us for years…

July 2013 trip B 553And I love these three men too. Great musicians, but more important, men of warm hearts, each with a wonderful sense of humor as well. Gus, on the left, leads the Prohibition Orchestra of Chicago from the banjo chair; I thoroughly enjoyed singing with them for many years. Marshall in the middle is a multi-instrumentalist who, knowing me to be a guitar widow, once rode his bike to my house, guitar on his back, on my birthday, and serenaded me and Eli with an acoustic version of the Kiss ballad “Beth”. Tommy, why he pre-dates my ex husband, as he asked me out just a few hours before Fareed did, some 27 years ago. Don’t let his straight face and cool demeanor fool you. He’s a sweetie – as well as a deft, surfer-style guitarist.

July 2013 trip B 604And here’s Ann… Originally from Montana, she’s a long-time resident of the Chicago area now. She was Elihu’s first babysitter. Once a week she came to take over for a couple of hours. Fareed wasn’t around much to spell me, so this gal stepped in. She’s known Eli since he was just a few months old. I am still grateful to her for the respite she provided me.

July 2013 trip B 593Yay! Three-fourths of the Sniderman family! Dan plays trombone in The Prohibition Orchestra. I’d bring tiny Elihu to our gigs while his wife Lisa was pregnant with their first. Lil Elijah came after. (Joella’s sitting next to Elihu on my side of the booth.)

July 2013 trip B 611Rob, the fellow on the left was, was first known to me decades ago as ‘the guy who worked at Second Hand Tunes’. He’s a highly knowledgeable man of music, as is Bill, on the right, expert on all things R&B as well as a – gasp – published author on the subject!

July 2013 trip B 630And Richard is a greatly talented professional artist, specializing in vehicles of transportation. Trains, cars, planes. Elihu was deeply thrilled to see him draw. It was Richard who gave Elihu his first set of gray-scale markers. (Elihu sees no color.)

July 2013 trip B 796But at the end of the day, THIS is why we came. It was our old friend Carl Wilson’s 100th birthday on June 30th, 2013. He expressed a desire to see me at his birthday party – but was told it was impossible. He had no idea I would not only be there – but that I’d be singing, too! He wanted to hear ‘Stardust’ but got one better; he and I danced while singing it together as the music played. Everyone’s heart was bursting. A moment for the ages.

July 2013 trip B 786Carl, holding his great grand niece, who is just six weeks old. Wow.

July 2013 trip B 768Here he is, dancing with the always lovely Blair…

July 2013 trip B 771And check this out! Would ya ever have thought? He’s a hundred years old!  Hope we’re all getting that! Inspirational indeed.

July 2013 trip B 814Folks danced…

July 2013 trip B 811…and danced

July 2013 trip B 762Folks also sat it out in the sun while a nice breeze kept things from getting too warm.

July 2013 trip B 797Christie, the gal in blue, grew up in our old house across the street. Her father, Eugene Stoyke, was the architect of that gorgeous mid-century gem, built in 1955. Charlie, her husband, now enjoys beekeeping and silently panicking his uptight, new-moneyed neighbors. That’s Priscilla behind me. It’s her house we’re in, and I’m wearing the requisite fighting badger red and white in honor of her late husband and UW alumnus, broadcaster Les Brownlee (who is known to have coined the phrase “eyewitness news”).

July 2013 trip B 779My old friend, Mike. One of the greatest jazz guitarists around. It was an absolute joy to sing with him that afternoon for Carl’s landmark birthday. Mike is also the parent of a ten year old child; daughter Gabriella is a talented singer.

July 2013 trip B 823The party continued long after we stopped playing.

July 2013 trip B 834These two each got to sing a couple of tunes on the mic.

July 2013 trip B 871Here’s Priscilla and Elihu in the living room of her home. Which also feels very much like our home when we’re there.

July 2013 trip B 890Now it’s on to friends Chloe and Brad. They’ve got the good stuff.

July 2013 trip B 896Now this is something lil man will never forget.

July 2013 trip B 912Man, Chloe. You and your house are too cute.

July 2013 trip B 924Wait – we’re kinda cute together too, aren’t we? She was in my wedding. Another lifetime.

3Chloe and Brad lead a favorite Chicago-based band, The Handcuffs. Bye guys, thanks for such a great visit!

July 2013 trip B 978A too-short, but very enjoyable visit with our friends Stacy and Jeff. Once a rock guitarist who currently owns a recording studio, Jeff has just completed his training as a registered nurse. His wife, a performer, comedian, singer and writer, is a woman full of great warmth and spirit. In spite of some personal health challenges thrown at her over the past few years, she continues to demonstrate that it’s possible to live in love and kindness in spite of a profoundly crappy situation. This is their new baby Lulu. She is the gentlest, sweetest and most loving dog you’ll ever meet. She’s convinced me that Pitbulls are a very misunderstood breed.

July 2013 trip B 968And it’s on to the Stacey’s house. I played in a band with Julian and Jordan’s mom and dad – and I ‘knew’ Julian (younger, at left) when his mom was still pregnant with him. She was playing bass with a rather loud band in hopes of bringing on labor. Then, when the two were toddlers, I’d pick them up and ‘put them away’ when I was done playing with em. I’d pretend to squeeze the small boys into a bookshelf or bin, the refrigerator, sometimes even the stove. ! Made for loads of laughter. Now just look at em. Jordan (right) got married this past week. Julian’s the drummer in the family, and in fact he first learned to play on my old set.

July 2013 trip B 975Here we are with the addition of little sister Alaina. She has got the most beautiful voice, and her songwriting talents far exceed her age. Seems she’s moving to Nashville soon. Alaina Stacey. Remember that name.

July 2013 trip B 981And here’s mom Cindy! She’s trying on her dress for Jordan’s wedding. Not her usual attire, I feel I must add. !

July 2013 trip B 990Papa Chris Stacey.

July 2013 trip B 1008The two pretend to fall asleep at the end of our visit. Cuties.

summer trip 2013 A 138We stopped by to visit neighbors Rafael and Dennis on the 4th… Miss living next door to them.

summer trip 2013 A 209And neighbor on the other side, Jan. She once gave me the best piece of advice ever regarding moving into a new home: don’t make any big changes – especially with the lawn and garden – until you’ve lived there for one full year. That advice helped me in my two subsequent homes to make the best choices possible.

summer trip 2013 A 230We have a short visit with Fareed’s parents.

summer trip 2013 A 245The whole gang (at Reza’s).

summer trip 2013 A 274My ex mother-in-law, Nelly, and me.

summer trip 2013 A 284Guess only Elihu can get her to soften up a bit. If he can’t, nobody can!

summer trip 2013 A 282We did have a fun time hanging with Elihu’s dad. But there’s so much behind my ex’s eyes that I’ll never know – and that I probably never did know to begin with. Still, he’s great at just having a party (as a jam band guitarist, much of his time spent playing music is about creating that kind of energy). In spite of all the past hurt, I’m able to enjoy the occasional visit with this rather eccentric family, dad and grandparents too. But it’s probably just as well I don’t live near them anymore. Even after nearly three decades of living as a family, his folks have never seemed entirely thrilled with me. (But as Fareed always said, no one was ever good enough for him in their eyes. So I don’t take it personally). But we’ve been through a lot together, and I do love my former parents-in-law in spite of the craziness we’ve experienced through the years, so I made sure to tell them that when they dropped me off at the train. Never know when – or even if –  there’ll be a next time. Life, after all – friends and family included – is full of surprises, both good and bad.

 

Happy Boy May 29, 2013

Elihu: I just have a question.

Keith: Yeah?

Elihu: Are you happy?

Keith: Yeah, I am. Are you? Or are you bored?

Elihu: I’m not bored. I’m the opposite. Whatever that is.

Sitting on the computer, enjoying a moment of down time in between household chores, I listen in on Elihu and his buddy Keithie. They’re both playing with a remote controlled car on the kitchen floor. They’re sharing it, and there’s not much to their play. Yet they are having an absolute ball. When I heard that little tidbit just now, I had to open a new post and get it down before it was lost to a busy life. Too many moments are forgotten in spite of our best intentions, and I really wanted to remember this one. These two boys have less and less in common each passing year, yet they continue to enjoy themselves whenever they’re together. They enjoy a relationship that started in their kindergarten class – and for that alone I’m fairly certain that decades hence they will still be fast friends no matter what happens between now and then.

They’re taking their game all through the house, giggling and carrying on so much that I have to check and see if it’s really just a simple rc car that’s inspiring all this play. Yes, it is. That, and the imagination of two ten year old boys. Still in that place of illusion, of true play. I know it won’t be thus much longer. Last night, after we’d finished reading and had turned out the light, just as I was dozing off Elihu startled me awake. He hadn’t been getting sleepy, instead he’d been thinking. “Do you realize I’ll be in fifth grade next year?” I swear he almost sounded panicked. It seems he’s always been far too aware of himself to be a true peer of his classmates. We’ve spent hours discussing the way in which one’s thinking and priorities change as one ages. He’s keenly aware of how precious this time in his life is. Maybe because I’m his mother, and it’s on my mind too. But regardless of that, he has an innate sense of the deeper meanings behind things – all on his own. There’s some nurture for sure, but it’s more nature than anything else. Shortly after he turned five, he once turned to me and said in all seriousness “You do know that I’m more forty-five than five, don’t you?” His tone was firm, and his eye contact direct. “Yes, sweetie” I said, imparting all the sincerity I could, “I do know that.” And I did. I was taken aback at his statement, and yet on some level, I might have expected as much. There’s just always been something different about my child. And I admit that I’ve always been just the teensiest bit sad for him precisely because he is so aware, so thoughtful…

The giggling continues, and it lightens my heart. He might think of himself as ‘more fifty than ten’ on some days, but today there’s no question. He is still a little boy. And thankfully, a very happy one too.

end of may 2013 012

Keithie and Elihu share time on the coveted DS.  This was one lovely afternoon. Not an argument between the two all day; a good time was truly had by all. Me included. !

 

Ho Ho, Huh? December 5, 2012

In our four years here we haven’t kept a lot of holiday traditions; each year has been slightly different – and in fact this year is the very first Christmas for which Elihu will actually be here with me. Each year we try to make that important visit with Santa, and to watch him light the town tree, and each year we grow narcissus bulbs. That’s about it. Yeah, we get a tree, but never even do that the same way twice. Last year we cut one from a field and ended up modifying it a bit; I drilled holes in the trunk and stuck in branches to fill it out… (you can see pics of that tree under December 2011 in the archives to the right). Some things remain simple and routine, yet each year we’re met with a nice surprise or two that continues to make a believer of me.

When we arrived home this afternoon we found a Christmas tree leaning against our kitchen door. Huh? I just love that first moment after such a discovery… our jaws drop, we look at each other, then our mouths close and turn to smiles… And while it may be offensive to some, yes, some hearty expletives are uttered too (Elihu is skilled at this, he knows exactly when and when not to, and when he does, gotta say, he’s right on). So holy crap and hot damn, we have ourselves a tree. Although we don’t keep too many rigid traditions, I will admit to being a late starter at Christmastime, and I really like it that way. (Remember please that the three wise men didn’t even get to the manger – and give their gifts – until January 6th – Epiphany, ya know? And much of the Christian world correctly recognizes this day as the big one.) Plus, I’m kind of a control freak. I like to choose a tree. It’s kind of a big deal. I take pride in having my home reflect my own aesthetic choices, and the size and shape of a Christmas tree is a pretty big one – plus it’s one which comes only once a year. So ironically, in this holy moment of true giving, my less-than holy self is having a tiny tantrum.

How can I be like this for long? Elihu and I both know that somewhere out there is a person who is so excited for us, who couldn’t wait to bring us this gift, whose whole day was uplifted at the thought, who is right now happily wondering what we are saying and thinking at the surprise. And this makes us laugh. How can we not honor that and be just as joyful? After some preparations, we get the tree inside, and my able nine year old adjusts the bottom as I hold it straight (just love that my kid can finally help out like this – he does too.) We stand back. Hmm. It’s short and stout. It’s not quite the shape or size we would have chosen, but we note that it’s a good tree for a country cottage. We also remind ourselves that a tree hadn’t even been in our budget this year. It smells so nice. We thank the tree for giving her life to us, and we promise to love her and dress her up beautifully. We take a moment and just admire the real, living tree before us. Wow. Christmastime indeed.

We put the clues together and we assess who might have done this. I have an idea, and yes, it’s becoming more evident. After a trip next door to tell Grandma and Grandpa our news (this is too good for the telephone) we pick up the phone and call our suspect. We have her on speaker, and she’s good…  She brightly exclaims that we’ve been ‘elved’! – and tells us that she too had been elved last year when she came home from work to find the pole at her driveway wrapped in Christmas lights… I listen carefully to her voice. Yes, she’s good. And I like that she is, cuz way down deep she’s got me believing. Course the kid’s here too, so she’s gonna do her best, but damn, I really do believe her. It makes such sense, ya know?

Ho Ho Ho! We’ve been elved!

 

Heartsick November 3, 2012

The girls had hardly slowed their pace to say a final goodbye, so Elihu had run after them as they walked down the sidewalk from school. He put his arms around Cora til she finally hugged him back. Then he’d hugged Sophia before returning to me. There was nothing else to be done. This was their last day at school and now they were going home. Next week they wouldn’t be coming back to school at all because they were moving. I looked down in time to see the corners of Elihu’s mouth turn down in the most acute expression of distress… and I realized he was crying. Sobbing, in fact. An instant, electric sort of sensation shot through me at the sight of it – my son’s heart was breaking for the first time. Tears came to my eyes too; my heart was breaking to know it.

I put my arm around him as we walked. Most times he might have pulled away; he was getting to an age where he found my overt affection embarrassing. But now he leaned into me heavily, weeping quietly. How my own heart hurt at this parting; his grief was equally mine. There was nothing to say. There was simply no point in trying to console him with words, so I just held him tight. After we were in the car I drove a block farther down the street so that we might pass the twins, and he rolled down the window. Usually he’d shout out something in their own private language, but all he could say this time in between sobs was an earnest and final goodbye. Cora stopped walking for a moment and looked up; her smile fell away when she saw him. She raised an arm to wave once more, then turned to catch up with her sister. We let them cross in front of our car, and they were gone.

I didn’t say anything as we drove. Instead I waited for the moments in which I could offer him the most relief. I let him cry, watching his face in the rear view mirror (something which can feel a bit like spying when you’re with a low-vision child as they cannot see you back). This was real, and it was intense. And it wasn’t merely a case of a first heartbreak; the girls had been the first – and only – kids at the new school to get him, or to at least take a real interest in being with him. The three spent nearly all their free time together. “What will it be like without them?” he asked through more tears. “There’s nobody – nobody like them. There’s nobody to replace them”. There was a long space of quiet and sniffling before he spoke again. He was beginning to test out some survival thinking; “Who will be with me now?” he asked, “Who will I have to do things with? Will I be alone again?” As I watched him in the mirror I could see his crying lessen, and I could see him beginning to consider his new future without the twins. His mourning was by no means over, but my spirit brightened to think he might be working to put some hidden, positive spin on the situation.

I too thought about it all – I myself felt there was very little chance he’d find the same magical chemistry elsewhere as he did with the girls – and that it was probably best that we made peace with that. No use over-lamenting the obvious loss. Elihu needed to move gently forward to new relationships that were yet ahead. I was careful not to broach the territory of our family philosophy that “all things happen as they should” too soon in his grieving – because offered at the wrong time it would seem nothing but a stupid, posturing platitude. It might even make him angry. So I held off for a bit, but it wasn’t long before a window appeared where I could successfully present the idea. “And you know,” I added to the reasoning” – this might be the beginning of a whole new chapter between all of us – we might end up learning about a whole new thing through them. They’re just an hour and a half drive away, we can visit them easily! We can camp near them, go mountain climbing…” Now Elihu and I are not particularly outdoorsy types. We love being outside, and with our chickens, we also enjoy an occasional walk through the woods, but we own neither a tent nor a sleeping bag and have never found ourselves inspired to acquire either one. But this might be the universal energy pulling us toward a path we’d otherwise never have considered, right? Perhaps we’ll go up to visit the girls, and in so doing we’ll meet a whole bunch of interesting folks doing interesting things and maybe we’ll end up doing things we’ve never done before… Who knows? I go on for a bit, if not quite believing it, then wanting very much to believe it; I need to sell a happy ending to Elihu. There could be an unexpected and wonderful outcome here, there could be…Yet there is a very small voice within me (in the old days my husband and I would call it my “reality meter”) that tells me this is rubbish, and that if we ever really do go and visit the girls, we’re getting a motel room and making a weekend of it and there’s an end to it. No romance, no destiny, no universe “opening up surprising new opportunities”, certainly no ridiculous camping adventures.

We ride silent for a while. Lots to digest. Not much action to be taken for now, so all we can do is sit quietly as we drive out into the hills on our way back home. I’ve put off getting the mail for a few days (Halloween week the household chores pile up as we rally to get the costume perfect and then stop everything to go on several holiday-related outings) and so I come back from the mail box with a big load. When we pull in the long, leafy driveway we’re greeted by our honking goose Maximus, his head raised as he ascertains whether we are family or visitor. The chickens peck through the fallen leaves, enthusiastically kicking up wet debris behind them, ever searching for tasty bites beneath the litter. They have broken off into several smaller groups, and to watch them walk alongside the car gives us both a lift. There’s no way you can watch chickens doing their thing and not be cheered in some way. It’s one of the joys of having them around. And so our hearts are softened, if not simply distracted, and we hurt a little less. We haven’t arrived at any new strategy, nor fully convinced ourselves that this time there is a cosmic silver lining. But we’re home, it feels good to be here.

As I sit in the car, going through the pile of mail in my lap, I notice a shape in front of me several feet off the ground. I look closer; there is something in the apple tree. I leave the mail on my seat and go to investigate. Elihu, who had never climbed this tree in the four years he’d lived here was now halfway up it, and had ended up on a branch Sophia’d been on just last week. I smiled with pride, he laughed in joy. “So the girls taught ya some tricks after all, huh?” I asked. I could hear his confidence waning just a bit as he asked me how to get down, and I told him that Sophia had jumped from just where he was standing. “Ah – but that’s what the girls would do. Maybe you should -” but before I could suggest he take the careful route back down, he’d jumped from the branch and was standing in the wet grass laughing with satisfaction. Before he’d known the girls he’d never been on a scooter or climbed up a tree. They didn’t coddle him, but they also didn’t leave him in their dust as they easily could have done. They stayed around, just long enough for him to lose his fear. They supported him just by being there. Did they even realize this? I’m not sure they did. Secretly, my mother’s heart sends them a deep message of gratitude across the ether. Thank you so very much, Cora and Sophia, for being such good friends to my son. I will always appreciate it.

They’re off on their own new adventures, and thanks to them, I think my son may be a bit more emboldened to strike off on some new ones of his own. And that seems like a good start to help heal a sick heart.