The Thing About Doors

Is a door the way in or the way out?  It depends…are you coming or going?

We find many interesting doors in life.

Sometimes we know just what we need…

Other times the choice is not so clear…

Some doors are lovely…

Others scary…

Some are daunting…

It would be nice if we could sneak a peek…

Some doors are difficult to get to…

Still others can be hard to find…

Or best avoided…

But you never can tell which door…

…will open up onto a new friendship…

 

…or even lead to a loving family.

Which is why we must not be afraid to step out into the sunshine, or forget to invite someone in out of the cold.

Reach for the doorknob….

…..and see what you can find.

All words and images Copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of Thursday Doors.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Doorways.

Remembering Uncle Lewis

One of my earliest memories is of dinner at Grandma Rose’s house.  Her towels, furniture, and closets smelled of mothballs; she even stored her silverware in mothballs.  Mostly, though, I recall standing on Grandma’s couch to study the framed collage of black and white photographs on her wall.  I recognized my father, but knew the other boy in the pictures only by name, and by heart.

Uncle Lewis was my father’s only sibling, younger than my dad by ten years.  We never met, and Daddy never spoke of him.  But they were best friends.  In one picture Lewis was laughing, having been surprised on the toilet by my father with his camera.  The brothers teased Grandma too.  Lewis would yell, “Harry, stop hitting me!”  Grandma would rush in, and scold my father for picking on his little brother.  Undaunted, they’d laugh and repeat, until Grandma caught on.

Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Lewis was drafted into the infantry, a shy studious eighteen year old who had never kissed a girl.  My father joined up as an officer.  He pulled a few strings to get Lewis transferred into the 30th ‘Old Hickory’ Division, so the brothers could cross the Atlantic on the same ship.  Lewis wrote letters and post cards home, often addressed to their dog ‘Peanuts.’

“Hey, Peanuts, tell Pa to eat his spinach!”   From the ship he wrote, “Harry and his buddies sneaked me into their cabin.  They gave me chocolate and let me play with their puppy.  Don’t tell anyone, or we’ll all catch it.  They smuggled the pup on board, and officers shouldn’t fraternize with enlisted men…”

While serving in Africa, Italy, England, France, and Germany, Harry was safely behind the front lines.  But Lewis was sent to Normandy two days after the D-Day invasion.  He fought in the hedgerows of France, and in Holland.  “The Dutch ran into the streets and passed out everything from soup to nuts.  As we marched out of there in the middle of the night, you could hear the clink of cognac, whiskey, and wine bottles in the guys’ jackets, amidst all the cursing and the roar of the Jerrys’ planes overhead.”  

To his parents Lewis wrote, “Dear Ma and Pa, today I saw General Eisenhower drive by.”  Or, “Kronk said the war can’t last.  It just can’t.  And he said it with such an angelic look on his face, I believe him!”

But to my father he wrote, “You should see the bruise from where a bullet passed through my shirt, Brub.  It was a close call.”  Or, “They took Julian away.  It’s so lonely here, Brub.  He’s the reason I wouldn’t take that promotion to sergeant.  We dug in together, took care of each other when things got rough.  I don’t know how bad he’s hurt; I just hope he makes it, and escapes this Hell.  Pray for me, Brub. Pray for me.”

On September 20, 1944, the day before his company attacked the Siegfried Line, Staff Sergeant Lewis Baltuck was killed by the blast of a shell.  Twenty years old, he had hardly begun to live.  He was survived by his parents, his dog Peanuts, and his brother Harry.  He never had the time or the opportunity to fall in love and marry.  He left no children to mourn for him—only the Bronze Star and the bronzed baby booties Grandma kept on her bookshelf until the day she died, more than forty years after her son’s death.

Harry married, had seven children, and built his own little house in Detroit.  But for the rest of his life he suffered acutely from the unspeakable burden of depression and Survivor’s Guilt.  When Grandpa Max died, my father became the sole caretaker of his widowed mother.  There was no one to share that burden with, to joke with or jolly her along.  Worst of all, crazed with grief, Grandma Rose blamed Harry for Lewis’s death.

I envied those kids who grew up with cousins to play with, and uncles who cared about them.  Uncle Lewis would’ve been that kind of uncle, and my father would have been a different man, without that black cloud to live under.  When Daddy died in 1965, we lost our connection to my father’s extended family, and our ties to our paternal cultural heritage were nearly lost as well.  But it does no good to dwell on the past or to speculate on what might have been.

Uncle Lewis was right about one thing.  War is Hell.  The price it exacts is impossible to tally, and can never be repaid.  When a soldier is killed, one heart stops beating, but many more are broken.  The wounds inflicted upon whole families are so deep that the scars can still be felt after generations.

I swear my uncle’s little bronze baby booties will never end up on the bargain shelf at the Salvation Army Thrift Store, like so many others I have seen there.  How sad to think that such precious keepsakes might be tossed into the giveaway because no one remembers or cares about the one whose little feet filled them.

I attended the 60th reunion of the Old Hickory Division in Nashville in search of someone who knew my uncle.  I met only one man who remembered him…“a quiet man who didn’t say much, but when he did speak, he was always worth listening to.”

I tell my children that story, and many other stories about their Great Uncle Lewis.  I am confident he will be cherished and remembered, not just for his tragic death, but for his joyful life.

copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

Pandora’s Box

“You already have a pet,” I told eight-year-old Bea. “You have nineteen of them.”

“Fish don’t count, Mom. I need something with fur.”

“Cats and dogs make me wheeze and Daddy itch.”

“How about a rabbit?” asked her brother Eli.

“Too big to flush.”

I knew something of rodents in captivity.  My sister’s kids had a hamster named Little May.  She’d lived hard and fast, and died young.   A life of costume parties, wild shirt-pocket rides, playing the “show and tell” circuit, and a brief-but-thrilling flight career had proved too much for Little May.  She died at the tender age of six months.  I suspect it was suicide.

“How about a guinea pig?”

“They stink, you have to clean their cages, and for what?  Unresponsive vermin.”

“A hamster?”

“Well…”  Investing that degree of commitment into a pet project was something I might consider.  “If you can accept that a hamster lifespan is less than that of a guppy’s.”

Thus I found myself ankle deep in the world of hamster husbandry.  Why they call it that, I’ll never know; my husband had nothing to do with it.  ‘It’ was a black and white Teddy Bear Hamster.  The cost of the cage, igloo, water bottle, vitamins, cedar bedding and, yes, the hamster potty, for our six-dollar rodent far exceeded the dollar-a-month investment I anticipated.

We still needed a name, but at least that was free.  I voted for Wildfire or Hamlet, but the kids settled on Pandora.  Her purple cage became the infamous “Pandora’s Box,” and we opened it again and again.  Like that divine creation, our Pandora inspired story, song, poetry, even a new family crest, a black and white hamster sporting a golden crown.  Clearly, Pandora was destined to rule.

Rodent Fun Fact #1.   Feral gerbils feed on bed sheets and store the leftovers under the refrigerator.  This I learned in third grade when Napoleon, the classroom gerbil, stayed at our house for spring break.  In sixth grade, Linda Witkowsky put Winky, her hamster, into my hands.  It struggled furiously, went winky on my blouse, its eyes bulged, and so did mine.  I hadn’t touched a rodent since.

Rodent Fun Fact #2.   Hamster is from the German word for  “hamper,” as in laundry hamper, container, storage bin.  I reckon a hamster can hold about ten times its weight in cheek pouches stretching the length of its body.  No wonder they don’t carry purses!  This talent was graphically illustrated the first day, when the kids loaded Pandora with peanuts, seeds, carrots, Cheerios, and turned her loose in the bathroom.  She left an impressive hoard behind the toilet.  We left it there for three days, as a sort of monument.

Pandora was a good-natured little creature, tolerant of handling and mishandling.  She gripped a cracker like a kid with a peanut butter sandwich.  She used the same technique nibbling buttons off a shirt.  She was cute like other peoples’ grandchildren are cute–in a wallet.  I was convinced I could ride this out with no Close Encounters of the Third Kind, until the first time the kids changed her cage.  Holding out the Beast, Bea cooed, “Go to Grandma.”

I was soon babysitting on a regular basis.  Not content to sit in your lap and purr, Pandora was a perpetual motion machine.  In her exercise ball she rumbled like thunder as she raced down our long hall.  The kids made her Lego mazes and seltzer bottle airplanes  She could be a hula girl, Greek Goddess, fairy tale princess, or bikini-clad bathing beauty, depending upon which hole in the Kleenex box she peeked out.

They warn you against looking into a snake’s eyes, but no one ever said a thing about hamsters.

I’d drop laundry in Eli’s room and see Panny staring at me.  I knew what she wanted.  I half expected her to run a little tin cup along the bars of her cage.  The first time I caved, it wasn’t good breeding that brought Panny scurrying to the door to greet me.  I didn’t kid myself; mine were often the hands that fed her.  Dogs love their humans, but what drives a hamster?  Are they too stupid to know fear?  Are we too big to be regarded as anything but a landscape?   Still, it was oddly moving when she stepped into my hands, and I could feel her tiny heart beating against my palm.

One night the cage wasn’t latched.  Pandora climbed from the dresser top to the floor for a walk on the Wild Side.  Tears were shed.  Then we placed a peanut in each room, shut the door, and blocked the crack with towels.  If a peanut went missing, we’d know where to look.  In central rooms we placed treats in deep buckets with ramps leading up to them.

“I bet she forgot to pack her cheeks,” I told the kids.  “Sooner or later she’ll come out to forage; it’s the Hamster Way.”  I didn’t mention Cousin Jean’s gerbil that set out to seek its fortune.  Months later she found it trapped in a dresser in the basement, keeping the company of maggots.

While emptying the hall closet, I heard a loud grinding coming from the basement.

“Eli,” I hollered down the stairs, “try searching more quietly, so you can hear her.”

“What, Mom?” asked Eli, appearing beside me.

It had to be Panny down there, in the bowels of the basement.  We went downstairs and waited, listening.  The furnace clicked on, and we jumped.  Tick, tick, tick went the clock.  Finally we heard that noise again, like a chainsaw, coming from inside the staircase. That could mean only one thing…

Pandora had entered the Black Hole, where no hamster had gone before.  Our storage room sucks in all manner of objects and morphs them into high density matter.  Not just cardboard boxes and camping equipment.  Baby things for my unborn grandchildren, stacks of Rubbermaid containing every object d’art my kids ever made, a slide projector, medieval tankards, sci-fi dinnerware, my dead uncle’s stamp collection, the hardened dregs of house paint to match the color before the last.  Blacker than a Black Hole.

We peeled away the layers, from folding chairs that come out for parties to stained glass scraps from a class taken twenty years before.  Then I saw her, snug in a nest of sawdust gnawed from the underbelly of the stairs.  Just out of reach.  If I made a grab, I might scare her deeper into hiding.  My heart was pounding as I held out my hand.  “Here, Panny…”

Hamsters are loners, pairing up only to mate, and even that isn’t pretty.  They are so territorial that the most tender hamster mothers drive away their offspring the instant they mature.  What could we offer to match a brand new house in the sub-suburbs?  Why should she respond to the whispered promise of a yogurt treat when there was enough macaroni art down there to last a hamster lifetime?

“Come on, Panny.  Come to Grandma…”

Panny looked at me with her big brown eyes.  And crept out of her nest into my hand.

One evening soon after, Bea demonstrated Panny’s newest trick.  “Up, Panny, up!” Pandora climbed the bars to the ceiling of her cage.  I beamed at my grandbaby’s cleverness, and ran for the camera.  But the next morning she was trembling, listless, and had clearly been sick.  I cleaned her while the kids cleaned the cage.

“Maybe she just needs rest,” I said, but to my husband Thom I whispered, “It’s bad.”

Her condition worsened.  The next morning, the kids were distressed to see her lying listless.  My sometimes-too-practical husband picked up Panny and gently stroked her.  She looked so tiny in his big hands.  “We have an emotional investment to protect,” he said.  “It might be worth a trip to the vet.”

At that moment I knew I would love that man forever.  In for a Panny, in for a pound.  The vet gave our six dollar hamster a hundred dollars worth of antibiotics.

“Do other people bring in sick hamsters?” I asked, feeling a little foolish.

“Oh, yes,” the vet assured me.

“And do they get better?”

She hesitated.  “Sometimes.”  Then she shrugged.  “Hamsters get infections, just like people, but they’re fragile.  In the wild, most get eaten before they get sick.  Pandora should be at home, where she’ll be more comfortable, and the children can be involved.”   So it had come to hamster hospice.

We gave her a few CCs of water, and tucked her into her nest.  The next morning, Eli found Pandora’s lifeless body.  There was no comforting Bea.  She looked at the rain pouring down outside and sobbed, “Even Mother Nature is crying.”

She was in no condition to go to school.  Between bouts of tears Bea stitched a tiny quilt and pillow, fashioned a tiny golden crown, and a little gold coffin adorned with plastic jewels.  Bea tucked in Panny with a tuft of nesting material and a peanut.  On the inside lid she wrote a lullaby, “So it will be like I’m singing to her forever.”

It was an open casket funeral.  Eli constructed a Popsicle stick headstone, and Bea planned the service.  I made copies of Bea’s hymn, “Hamsters We Have Heard on High,” so the mourners could join in.  Eli played flute and Bea sang, “Sleep, Baby, Sleep.”

Bea’s tearful elegy was simple, but eloquent.  “Her Grandma said she never knew she could love a rodent, and her Grandpa never said he loved her, but he did.  She’s an angel now.  A furry little angel.”

I was surprised to see Thom wipe away a tear.

“Does Daddy love her?” Bea had asked, when Panny first fell ill.

“Yes, in his way,” I told her.  Did the kids love her?  Absolutely.  Did Panny love us?  I’m sure she did, in her Hamster Way.  She taught us much about love, and the sorrow that is the price we gladly pay for it.  And even the passing of a hamster is a reminder to appreciate every moment of this precious fleeting gift of life.  Bea will tell you Pandora Athena Baltuck Garrard lived a very full life and packed a lot of love into her 18 short months.  And I will tell you that my first grandchild will always be the one with fur on her face.

copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

In Your Hands

Bea and I were having a little fun with shadows on the grounds of Dover Castle.  It made me think about writing–and life.  Life puts the raw material into our hands, and it is up to us to mold it into whatever work of art we envision.  Look for the right light and context, and you can do so much with so little, and to great effect.

Where Were You When Mt. St. Helens Erupted? I Covered My Ash…

In 1980, my sister Constance and I took a birdwatching class. At least I tried watching them.  Before I could focus my binoculars, the birds were usually natural history.  Our last trip, to Eastern Washington, was to depart on Friday, May 16th.

“Let’s skip it,” said Con. “Stay home and I’ll buy you dinner.”

I watched our classmates loading gear into four cars, and felt suddenly shy.  But surely I could survive a quiet weekend of birdwatching with a pleasant group of strangers, even if my sister wasn’t there to hold my hand.  I jumped into the first car with room, and waved to Con as we drove off.  I was riding with Bob.  His other passenger, Betsy, was quick to smile and kept up a lively conversation.

But I missed Con that night, and lay awake in my sleeping bag listening to a lone coyote howling in the distance.  The next day I stayed only slightly more focused than my binoculars…until we found a Forest Service birdhouse, and peeked inside at a nest of cheeping baby birds.  Featherless birds aren’t easy to identify, but Peter said they were bluebirds, and I believed him.  Some people think they know everything; Peter really did.  But you’d never know it unless you had observed him carefully, as I had.

Saturday afternoon we hiked into a canyon and made camp.  After the others retired, Betsy and I sat by the fire singing and talking.  We rolled out our bags on the same patch of ground.  As I drifted off, I thought, “Good.  I made a friend.  I learned my lesson.  Now…I want to go home.”

When I awoke, the sun was shining, the bees were humming, and the birds–I know not which–were singing.  It was eight-ish, and camp was deserted.  “They left at six-thirty,” said Betsy, yawning. “I couldn’t make myself get up.”

It could’ve been a sense of foreboding that made us yearn for home, but I suspect it was caffeine withdrawal.  “Pray for rain,” I suggested.

As if on cue, we heard the loud crack of distant thunder.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  More likely a sonic boom, we thought.  We went on to weigh the virtues of cinnamon rolls at the Phinney Ridge Cafe against all-you-can-eat hash browns at Beth’s Greasy Spoon.  But the sky was darkening.  The hum of insects and the twittering of birds had trailed off, and the woods were eerily silent.

“You know, I think it really is going to rain,” I said.

The others, having reached the same conclusion, bustled back into camp.  Within ten minutes we had packed up, donned rain gear, and were following Peter single file out of the canyon. The sky to the west had turned an ominous yellow-green, reminiscent of tornado weather back home.  But this storm wasn’t following the rules.  I could hear rain falling on my poncho, yet I wasn’t getting wet.  The sky rapidly changed to an ugly green-gray.  My eyes were stinging.  I looked more closely at the surface of my poncho.

“It’s dirt!  Peter, there’s dirt falling from the sky!   Oh, my God!  They’ve bombed Seattle!”

Peter whirled about and gripped my shoulders. “No!” he cried. “She did it!  She blew!  Mt. St. Helens blew!”


Nothing could have been further from my mind than volcanic eruptions.  We joked about our class going out with a bang, while Peter studied his map and estimated we were between fifty-five and sixty-five miles from Mt. St. Helens, as the crow flies. The acrid darkness thickened.  We were no longer amused.  Ash was in our eyes and hair, and it was difficult not to breathe it into our lungs.  In Seattle, we’d chuckled at the “In Case of Volcanic Eruption” brochures; now we desperately tried to recall their advice.  This was my first volcano; I wanted to live to tell the tale.

“Use your canteen water to soak your bandanas, and cover your faces to filter the ash,” said Peter.  “Less than a mile to go, but we’ve got to keep moving.  Hold hands or hang onto a belt.  We don’t want to lose anyone.”

I gave Betsy my brimmed hat, because her eyes burned, with gritty ash particles grating between her eyeballs and her contacts.  We stumbled after Peter, unable to see our hands before our faces, but somehow he got us over the last barbed-wire fence to the trailhead.  There we encountered Bob’s personal tragedy–six inches of ash piled on the cars, including his brand-new Toyota.  He was frantic about what the ash would do to his engine and the paint job.  Peter reminded him that our first concern was to get out alive.

We followed Peter’s Volvo into Yakima, although we couldn’t see past the hood, even with headlights on.  Peter’s taillights were barely visible at a standstill; when we started moving, ash flew like talcum powder and the windshield wipers just stirred up the mess.  The interior of Bob’s car was soon covered with a fine layer of pungent ash that over-powered the smell of new car, and defied closed windows, doors, and air vents.  There were close brushes with the ditch at the side of the road, and once with Peter’s bumper.  At last we came to the outskirts of Yakima.

The ash-laden streets were deserted, but The Buckboard Tavern had opened its doors to stranded motorists. Refugees gathered under a television mounted over the pool table.  Mt. St. Helens rated minute-by-minute coverage on the ever-rising statistics, flood damage, missing campers and scientists.  Stuck in our own little ash cloud, we hadn’t realized how lucky we were.  News flash!  All roads in and out of Yakima were closed.

Glumly we stared out the windows.  It was nearly noon, but by the light of the streetlamps, it could almost have been a midnight snow scene. Another wave hit, and the air grew thicker.  Instead of coffee, they started serving beer.  Now and then the swinging doors would bang; all eyes would turn to the newcomer.  Once a cowboy entered, brushing the ash off his coat and stomping it off his boots. “I got a hundred head of cattle out there,” he told anyone who would listen, “and half a dozen newborn calves…”

I thought of the baby bluebirds.  Had they smothered in ash or survived the blast only to die of starvation?   What would they eat?  Who would feed them?

All the laws of nature, as we understood them, were suspended.  But the Real World intruded into our Twilight Zone.  Steve had to give a talk at the U, Russ had a job interview, Betsy said she’d used up all her volcano leave.  And, of course, we had to get Bob’s car to a doctor.  Bob threatened to make a dash for it, and the other drivers were inclined to join him.  Peter advised against it, but agreed to lead the way, if they promised to let him choose the moment.  It was several more hours before the ashfall let up a bit.  We ran for the cars to go home to whatever reality awaited us in Seattle on Monday morning.  As our caravan traveled west, the sky gradually changed from pitch black to gray to an unnatural white.  It was a weird moonscape, devoid of life and color.  When we got to the roadblock, the police waved us on through.  Having gotten through the worst of it, we stopped at Snoqualmie Pass to pose for a photo with buckets and bags of ash collected from pockets, pants cuffs, and car hoods.

It was the weekend of the University Street Fair.  On the way home, we thought of the fortune to be made, if we could bottle and sell the ash we’d brought home, fresh out of the oven.  I even designed a tee shirt for a rather small target audience–birdwatchers caught in the ashfall.

 


Those  entrepreneurial thoughts were forgotten when we topped the pass and saw the first rays of sunlight filtering through ash-dark clouds.  It was nearing sunset, but to me it was the second sunrise on a long and very strange day, such a beautiful sight, I wanted to cry.

Bob dropped me at Con’s, amidst heavy foot and car traffic in the U District. The smell of food and the sound of music filled the air.  Fairgoers in sundresses, cheeks burnt rosy by the sun, still meandered from booth to booth.  “Go home!” I wanted to shout.  “Go turn on your radio. The real world is black and acrid and people are huddled in the dark and dying on the mountainside.”

My sister hadn’t heard the news, but there was still a hot shower, a borrowed bathrobe, and a candlelight dinner for two waiting for me.

I’m so glad I didn’t let insecurity prevent me from having this life-changing experience.  The fortunes made on T-shirts and bumpers stickers were made by others. If you could take everything I learned about birds and put it into the brain of a blue jay, it would have flown backwards. Regrets?  Only one.  Bob broke my heart when he refused to pull over, so I could take our picture next to the “Use Your Ash Tray” road sign.

But here is what I carried away from it.  A tiny bottle of ash collected from my pants cuffs, that I still hang on my Christmas tree each year.

The realization that Mother Nature doesn’t always play by the rules, at least not our rules.  An appreciation fine leadership–thank you, Peter, wherever you are.   Not a day goes by that I don’t thank the sun for rising and the birds for singing.  I am grateful for the good fortune that kept me from becoming a statistic that day.  But I’m still haunted by that nest of baby bluebirds, more non-statistics, and it makes me wonder about the countless stories in this world that will never be told.


All words copyright Naomi Baltuck

Reflections

Once, when we were running late, I was waiting impatiently to lift my little boy Eli into his car seat, while he studied a bug on the driveway.  “Hurry up!” I said.  “We’re going to be late.”

Puzzled, my little boy looked up at me and said, “Mommy, why are you using that tone of voice?”

Such a grownup expression from the mouth of the babe!  And it took my breath away.

“You’re right, honey,” I told him. “It’s not the end of the world if we’re late to pre-school, and it wouldn’t be your fault, if we were.”

Eli and I had a good look at the bug, while I quietly reflected upon what kind of parent I wanted to be.  Which memory of me would I want my kids to look back on and remember me by?  My mother once told me, “The best friends you’ll ever have are the ones you raise yourself.”  Bless her!  Bless them!  Bless us all!

I love that tee shirt that says, “Please let me be the person my dog thinks I am.”   But I aspire always to be the person my kids think I am.

Images and words copyright Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Mirror.

Mom Always Said…

Hope for the best, expect the worst, and try not to be disappointed.   My mother’s life philosophy was actually pretty upbeat for a kid whose family lost everything during The Great Depression, including her father, who died of Brain Fever when she was only eight.  Grandma Rhea supported her children by sewing and taking in wash.  My mom shared a bed with Grandma, so they could rent out her room to make ends meet.  But they didn’t always quite make it.  In the freezing Detroit winters, they nailed blankets over the windows because they couldn’t afford coal to heat the house.

Their only book was the family bible.  But Mom found a copy of Alice in Wonderland in a box of textbooks left by a renter.  She read it cover to cover.  As soon as she finished, she turned back to the first page and started over.  She had discovered her passion and her escape–in books.

Mom was the first in her family to attend college, working her way through by reading to blind students.  A person of quiet, if impractical passions, Mom passed on normal school and secretarial school to study Classical Greek and Latin, French, German, and Russian.  Italian, too, but she said that hardly counted.  “After Latin,” Mom said, “Italian is a snap.”

I remember going home from college to visit one weekend.  There were index cards by Mom’s reading chair, on the kitchen windowsill, on the nightstand by her bed.  They had strange writing on them.

“It’s Greek,” she explained.  “Passages from The Iliad, by Homer.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I’m memorizing it,” she said.

“But why?”

“For fun, dear.  After I’ve memorized The Iliad, I’m going to memorize The Odyssey.”

As a young college grad, she had never shown any interest in men, and was still living at home while working for the War Department.  Grandma planned on having a spinster daughter to keep her company in her old age, unaware that Mom had already promised herself she would move out and find a place of her own by her 25th birthday, if she hadn’t gotten married by then.   Mom just hadn’t met her intellectual equal.  Then Harry Baltuck came along.

He was handsome, funny, brilliant; every woman in the office had her eye on him.  But he had eyes only for Mom.  She was so nervous on their first date that she threw up in his car.  Actually, she threw up every time they went out.  “But he kept coming back,” she said, laughing.

He was intrigued, and not just because she was determined to remain a virgin until her wedding night.  It was a very quick courtship.

His proposal wasn’t exactly story book.  “Well, what if we made it legal?” he asked.

“Would you wear a ring?” she countered.  And the rest is family history.

They traveled many peaks and valleys in their time.  They had seven children and eighteen years together.  She was still young when widowed, and Mom received several proposals from Daddy’s friends and army buddies; some decent and well-intended, others not so much.  But Mom didn’t take anyone up on his offer.  She never remarried, or even dated.  Books, once again, became her passion and her escape.

In 1989, I sat at her bedside as she lay dying of cancer.  It had been a long hard battle.  Mom looked up and caught her breath.  “Harry,” she whispered.

“What did you say, Mom?” I asked.

“Harry!”  She pointed toward the door, but I saw nothing there.

“Mom, do you see someone?”

“It’s Harry,” she said, nodding.  “He’s standing right there.”

Was it the delusion of a dying woman?  Or the love of her life, who had been patiently waiting for twenty-five years to take her home?

Let’s hope for the best.  Just like Mom always said, you have to hope for the best.

All images and words c2012 Naomi Baltuck

Weekly Photo Challenge–Unfocused (and focused were crossing a bridge…)

My daughter Bea thought her choice was made–a very good New England liberal arts college for women.  Cozy and friendly, safe and secure.  Then Stanford, a huge University with 16,000 students and a daunting reputation, offered her a place and very generous financial aid packet.

One day her path seemed settled, the next day she was on an airplane bound for San Francisco.  This blurry image, taken on the airplane, is the face of a high school senior trying to concentrate on socialistic realism for her history assignment.  But she is having difficulty focusing on her homework.  Was she afraid that she wouldn’t like Stanford?  Or that she would?

She tried to keep an open mind as she looked around.

It was pretty to look at.

Much to reflect on…

Athena, goddess of wisdom, which shall it be?  Door Number One, Door Number Two, or Door Number Three?

Bea had a good look.

And a good think.

https://i0.wp.com/i1176.photobucket.com/albums/x334/nbaltuck/IMG_9007-1.jpg

And went home.

P.S.

She chose Stanford.