The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Goodbye Nel September 15, 2016

To read all of Nelly’s poetry, you can visit poemsbynel.com.

nel

My former mother-in-law probably never really liked me. But I suppose, after being family for over two decades, she had likely come to love me in some way. I know that I can say the same of her. She was never terribly kind to me, but it didn’t hurt me as much as it might have, because I realized she had come from a different world. Hers was a culture in which women served their men, a culture in which her power lay in her role as daughter, sister, mother and wife. Catholic by birth, spiritual by nature and married to a Muslim man for over fifty years, she was, to say the very least, a mixed bag. She was never entirely comfortable with the fact that I had my own life, that I had my own pursuits, and most of all, that I didn’t give it all up in service to my husband.

Nelly was born in Chile in the early ’30s, raised in Peru (where her father oversaw the crews that cut into the dense jungle to build roads – something akin to a culture of the Wild, Wild West in America) and lived her adult life in the Midwest, starting her American adventure in Ohio, then moving to Chicago. My ex-husband was her only son. The trio was close, and despite my being married into the family, I never made it into the inner sanctum. The group was rife with personal dysfunction, yet in spite of this, they each enjoyed a good deal of financial and professional success. I marveled at Nelly over the years; how she could be so savvy with some things, so progressive in her spiritual beliefs, and at the end of the day she didn’t really have any close or lasting relationships, nor did she really seem to engage deeply with anyone outside her small family. She’d have short, intense friendships that would burn out when she, clueless to the needs and expectations of her companions, would demand too much of them or leave them worn out. Nelly lived in her own world, and she created it the way she wanted it. She, a woman who dyed her hair fire-engine red using her husband’s Congo red laboratory stain, was indisputably one-of-a-kind. She drove me nuts, but I do owe her a debt of gratitude for helping to create a major shift in my life and my understanding of the world.

Nelly had been a designer and a very skilled dressmaker in her early years, and she always had an artistic and musical sense. She wrote poems, she sang, she painted. As she lay in her bed this past year, Fareed played guitar for her, Riaz played recordings and delighted as she hummed along, and Elihu recalls reading her poems aloud. Shortly after she died yesterday in the early morning, peacefully in her sleep, Fareed picked up her book of poems and it fell open to this page…

The Harbor

Swiftly the winter days

Rinse their glum

At the harbor

Spring will be here soon

In bloom

______________

Drunk in love

With loving

Stringing metaphors

Staggering

I am

________________

Silvery water

Turns into mirror

Shining holds the image

Of the sky

________________

Anticipating sweetness

I see the seagulls

Twirling and dancing

Above

_______________

The lone boat glides

With the lone rower

Across the silky waters

Good bye…

 

 

Mother’s May May 11, 2014

Mother’s Day never qualified as a ‘real’ holiday growing up in my family. My mother, whether being stoic, passive-aggressive, just plain honest or some mixture of the three always insisted that there was no need for such a day. “Every day is mother’s day” she’d say enigmatically, absolutely throwing me for a loop each time she did. But I never took her to task on it. I’m pretty sure we made her cards nonetheless. Even today I ended up making a bouquet for her and giving a small gift of a scarf – just because. We stopped in for a quick hello, because at this point in the game, how can we not? Now me, myself, I admit I don’t mind folks giving me some props and thanks for doing what I do – because I really do feel that my role is very important, and I feel that I do a pretty good job at it too. I don’t mean to sound self-righteous about it – but this is the most important job of my life, so a little respect from the world at large not such a bad idea. Nuff on that.

How about a couple of scrapbook entries to mark our day? I apologize if my photographic accounts are getting a bit too much or a bit tedious, but if it doesn’t get documented here, it doesn’t get documented anywhere. This is what my kid has to look back on someday. (Hope he feels more gratitude than regret when that time comes!) So thanks for bearing witness, and feel free to overlook this post entirely if you’ve had enough. Here’s hoping you mothers didn’t have to cook, clean or put things away today – unless you felt absolutely compelled to do so (I did).

IMG_2981These things are downright sexy, are they not? Good lookin yolks… And just think, this is how we all begin; as our mother’s eggs…

IMG_2989What’s better than yolks fresh from the farm? Bernaise sauce made from those fresh yolks! Here’s my made-to-order ‘deconstructed’ Eggs Benedict. This particular batch of Bernaise kicked ass. And it’s topped with fresh-cut chives from the garden. !!

IMG_2956Like clockwork – they first arrive here on Mother’s Day each year.

IMG_2991Next up, the chicks need to meet the great outdoors.

IMG_3005Still cute and fuzzy – but more than twice as big as they were two weeks ago.

IMG_3020Seriously guys? Ten open acres and you’re all hanging out in the porch? Sheesh.

IMG_3027The last glimpse of Saratoga Lake we’ll get ’til the leaves fall off the trees again.

IMG_3045Now we’re deep in the swampy area of my folks’ woods. Not easy getting around here. We were in search of a huge boulder Andrew and I would play on as kids – only difference is we came out here all those years ago in the wintertime when this was all one big sheet of ice. The ice made it much easier to get back here. After some searching, we didn’t find the rock, but we did find other sweet little diversions along the way…

IMG_3067Like the Marsh Marigold

IMG_3084And very few standing trees against an amazing, cloudless sky…

IMG_3093On the walk home we found what was left of a raccoon that had been at the side of the road for nearly a year.

IMG_3099Reminded us of a Dr. Seuss poem about ‘shin bone pinning’…

IMG_3102Having broken my neck once, I’m partial to this spinal remnant

IMG_3110Elihu gathers fiddleheads for our supper

IMG_3113Fuzzy wuzzy

IMG_3122This is the house where we Conants spent our summers (winter vacations too). Uncle Andrew now lives there.

IMG_3129With the shadow of the Old House to the right, Mom’s place is at the top of the driveway, and the Studio is on the left.

IMG_3132Elihu shows mom our bone treasures

IMG_3139Good old Annie, named so as she was found by my parents on their wedding anniversary, now many years ago.

IMG_3154Nothing like that salmon-pink of the flowering Quince

IMG_3160Just perfect.

IMG_3161Two kinds of ferns to avoid, and one kind to eat.

IMG_3167After some labor-intensive de-fuzzing, they’re ready to be boiled. Next they’re sauteed in butter, and served with a squeeze of lemon. If not cooked well enough they can cause some tummy problems (that’s the nicer way of saying they can be ‘slightly toxic’.)

IMG_3171Nothing toxic here, yet. (The possible threat – however miniscule – did inspire a couple of very entertaining death scenes at the dinner table.)

IMG_3176We’re done with our lovely day. After a call to the other grandma in Illinois, we settle in for a few more chapters of our favorite Springtime tradition of all – The Burgess Bird Book for Children. Good-night all!