Cindy’s Test Kitchen – Excerpts – Part 1

Test KitchenHi everyone,

I’ve been quietly working on the expansion of my 2014 chapbook, What’s in a Butch’s Purse. My vision is to have a longer book that maintains the humorous nature of the original publication but that allows for serious moments.  I’m hoping to add some gravitas with the expanded edition to avoid a work that is all punchline humor. Real humor needs character, situation, and story.

I’m still working on a title. Right now I have Butch’s Purse Redux but I would love any suggestions, especially from those who have read the original. But anyone, please join in.

Although the original chapbook is out of print, I still have twenty copies or so if anyone is interested in obtaining one.

Below are a few excerpts from the expanded work, which I hope to publish in 2019. I would like to every so often test out some passages to see if they spark your interest; thus my test kitchen.  Feel free to tell me what else you might like to read about in terms of dating or family humor.

The Hottie in the White Shirt with the Big Red Drink 

This one was blonde and buxom and needed to drink Cape Codders to get through a date with me. I do not remember this woman’s name. Let’s call her Jezebel. Jezebel lived in the next town over from me, so I had really closed the geography gap this time. Not only had I flown all the way from Boston to California for a blind date with Claudia years back and traveled throughout New England for myriad dating opportunities, I even flew a couple of blind dates up to Boston so we could meet: Ms. Arizona, Ms. Tennessee, and Ms. Georgia. They couldn’t afford the flights so I paid. All disastrous attempts to find love.

The Over-Prozac-ed Girl 

She lurched forward as she walked across the parking lot, as if she would expend too much energy should she stand completely upright. I don’t remember her name, but let’s call her Stacy. Her hair was prematurely gray, messy, shapeless, and brittle. Stacy was a woman in her early thirties, yet skinny wire-frame glasses balanced below the bridge of her nose like she was somebody’s grandmother. Her face was pock-marked and drawn. Behind her spectacles, her eyes were glassy. I was oddly mesmerized by how unattractive I found her.

I can’t recall what led to this date after communicating with her via internet, but I assume it was my desperation to meet someone who could be the next love of my life. Apparently, in my mid-thirties, I would meet anyone “just in case” she was “the one.”

I was not pretty and I smoked in those days, so I knew I was no prize, but Stacy was unabashedly unattractive. As I watched her jerky movements toward the restaurant door where I waited, I hoped she might be a sparkling conversationalist.

Haulin ‘ The Fridge

Jan lives in a crumbling little Lowell apartment that occupies the top floor of a very old house. She lives near a factory, and the smell of the sewage it spews into the nearby river reeks into her upstairs hallway. She doesn’t seem to notice. She owns the house and rents out the first floor. Jan is a small-time mogul of dilapidated real estate: the collapsing cottage in Maine, the stinking house in Lowell, and the freaky and ghoulish two-family rental she owns a few towns over in Beverly, with the kind of attic where you hide your crazy old auntie.

She says, “If I end up alone, I plan to live in the attic.”

Jan has no plans to sell any of these houses; they make her feel secure. She’s on a mission to fix them up, find a wife, and live happily ever after. She spends an inordinate amount of time buying hardware at the Home Depot, starting projects she rarely finishes. Last week, she tore the back porch off the house in Lowell. A few weeks back we hauled a top of the line toilet up to the broken cottage in Maine. Last weekend, she peeled the old wallpaper from the attic apartment in Beverly, by hand, a little at a time, talking about our future.

Good lord.

Thank you for reading.

Posted in Book publishing, Creative Nonfiction, Creative writing, lesbianism, LGBTQ Movement, The Writer's Life, Uncategorized, Women, Writing Humor | 2 Comments

Now I’m 56. Wait. What?

It seems like yesterday when I posted about turning 55 in Happy Birthday Blog: All the Great Things About Turning 55

Alas (doesn’t anyone actually use that word nowadays?), I have turned 56. I closed my eyes and a year sped by; I woke up and I was no longer 55. I am now officially closer to age 60 than age 50.

Left: The good ‘ole days when I was 55.

Slowly I disintegrate. The final years of middle age are upon me; old age is on-deck. I imagine a batter in a Yankees uniform (why Yankees?), wearing a saggy pinstripe uniform. Popping out of the top of the uniform is an old gray haired head. It takes ten minutes to make it to the plate, but “old” arrived in an instant.

I have cataracts in both eyes. The cataract in the right eye is becoming a serious issue. When I hold the palm of my hand over my left eye, my right eye sees a slight yellow haze and a world with fuzzy edges. I will probably have the cataract(s) removed in 2019, because it hinders my ability to read, especially printed books, and eventually, the cataracts will make it dangerous for me to drive a car. In 2010, I earned an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the Solstice MFA program at Pine Manor College, which required an abundance of reading – books, handouts, student drafts for workshop. To put the cataract issue in perspective: I would not be able to get through that program today because of the issues with my eyesight.  Usually, the condition is reserved for those over 70, but my mother had cataracts in her fifties.

Yay Mom! Yay 56!

My gums are receding.  Ice cold water or ice cream can set off nerve-ending pain that sears and shrills through my gums and face as if someone were beating me in the mouth with an ice pick. I have to stop what I’m doing and yell, “Owwwwww!” even if silently to myself.  The gums near the lower left molars are in the worst shape, although I have milder issues in other areas.  I have no doubt a root canal or gum graft (I don’t know the difference ) is in my future.  Right now, my dentist will fill the gaps between the exposed stem of the teeth with a tooth-tinted composite. This is what I’m doing Tuesday evening. Don’t be jealous. My mother had horrible gum disease in the last years of her life, and while I don’t (yet), I can see the potential.

woman in grey notched lapel suit jacket holding smartphone sitting beside wooden table

Do you think SHE has receding gums?

I weigh more than I ever have. This is due to eating more than I ever have. This is also due to aging, as one’s metabolism slows. I read in AARP’s newsletter (yes, AARP) that I can expect to weigh the most I ever have in my fifties.  So I guess I’m doing something right, right? I weight 40 pounds more than I did in my twenties, and 20 pounds more than I did in my forties. Most people don’t see too much of a difference, because I hide the extra bulges with blousey tops and less than skin-tight jeans. My stomach hangs out over tight pants where it used to be flat and muscular.  My body is starting to resemble my mothers: relatively slim legs and arms and a beachball stomach.

Yay Mom! Yay 56!

The membrane in my left nostril has deteriorated. Last summer, I found myself in the throes of a bloodbath, with severe nosebleeds bursting at will. Literally, I had blood vessels bursting through the worn nasal membrane.  Let me spare you the details except to say I wondered if I would drown in my own blood rushing down my throat or if I would be found dead from blood loss. (I guess I didn’t spare you.) Thirty minutes, sometimes longer, to stop these hemmoraging incidents. I finally went to a specialist who cauterized the the weak areas. For the most part, the worst of it is over. Now I imagine turning into an old lady who can’t stop the bleeding. Imagining the worse, staying loyal to my Zelman roots. (Nod to Dad!) Ah, well, no use worrying about something that “might” happen. I’ll just keep my nose to the grindstone (yeah, I know.)

Long ago and far a way, I used to be so skinny my ribs showed through. My eyesight was so strong that I could sit for hours in a poorly lit room and read, read, read. I had no cavities and perfect gums. The nosebleeds? I have struggled with them throughout my life, but they were so minor, nothing but a nuisance, not a (perceived) near-death experience.

But still, I count my blessings. I have seen so much in 56 years that I realize I am so far, one of the lucky ones.

Posted in Aging, Humor, Middle Age, Solstice MFA Pine Manor College, Uncategorized, Writing Humor | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy Birthday Blog: All the Great Things About Turning 55!

happy-birthday-grandmaAlthough I wrote this post months ago and am now closer to age 56 than 55, I stumbled upon the hand written draft in a little blue notebook I scribble in occasionally to remind myself to write. I hope you enjoy this post.

  • I am now eligible to buy a standalone dwelling in an over 55 community, and if I were to do so, I would be one of the “kids” of the neighborhood.
  • I now feel worthy of all those AARP benefits I’ve been getting since I was a young sprite of 50.
  • I can look at the pic of me in the bikini at age 42, cut and slim with ab lines (vertical only), and say, “I’m too old to ever look like that again” as I stuff my mouth with chocolate THEN
  • Although I am 55, I still have the body of a 54-year old.10281217-Chubby-Woman-In-A-Red-Bikini-Stock-Photo NOW
  • When I say I have “old” friends I am not using figurative language any longer.
  • When I forget someone’s name five minutes after being introduced to them, I can blame it on my age so long as I don’t admit this has been a lifelong issue for me.
  • I no longer require tampons or pads. It’s been quite a number of years since I’ve had a period, but no longer needing menstrual paraphernalia is still one of the main benefits of surviving menopause, and quite the money saver. As well, no more hot flashes or hormone cream.
  • I’ve saved enough money to have my emerging double-chin removed.
  • The cataracts the doctor diagnosed are still relatively small, “normal for my age,” and I can still see a little.
  • There is a small chance I can save my teeth if I wear a $625 (not covered by dental insurance) night guard, which is basically a very expensive piece of plastic. I saw night guards in CVS for $21. Hmm.
  • I know longer have career ambitions. I just want to keep my head down at work until I am ready for retirement. (I wrote this before being laid off in June. I now have a better job and more ambition and realize job ambition is about motivation and being in the right place at the right time.)
  • I don’t have a sex drive anymore so that should help to limit my disastrous relationships (read any of my published work.)
  • After the many, many women I had in my 40s, I’ve only had one in my 50s, meaning I no longer need to think of myself as a slut. And no, I am not with my singular woman from my 50s. I live with two cats. See point above.
  • I’ve lost all the hubris I once possessed and realize what a jerk I was, so ytgggg5’m a much nicer and more compassionate person than I was 10 years ago.
  • In four and a half years, I can access my retirement savings with no penalty. And while I was unemployed, I learned that if you are over 50 and have no job, you can access the money with no penalty in that situation as well. That might be important to some of you.
  • I can appreciate more and see with a better perspective. I know you want a concrete example. I will try to think of one. Okay, here’s an example, albeit a general one: I know that I can find solutions to most problems or work on them to be less problem some. I can manage the bad shit.
  • I’m better at sticking up for myself. Earlier in the year, I was at a concert with a friend at the Wilbur Theatre in Boston.  To men sat down across the table from us and one of them said, “Which do you want? The blond or the brunette.” Eventually, after more suggestive comments, including “Well, girls, it looks like we’re on a date tonight,” I said (imagine snide anger in my voice), “We are not on a date and we are not girls!” Well, it’s an example.
  • As Kathy Bates said in the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes, “I’m older than you, and I have better insurance, as she slammed into a car with two young women into it that had just stolen her parking space. I could do that, too. Well, I have, although not on purpose.
  • Being 55 is better than being 56, at least in theory. I truly hope I’m wrong about this.
Posted in Aging, Humor | Tagged | 2 Comments

From adding machines to cubicles

I wonder what I look like. Each day I sit in a 6 X 6 cubicle at work. I sit near the end of the floor so people walk up from behind me, see the back of my head, read my name plate, and turn to say hi if they know me.  Work. The office. Part of my daily routine, a much-needed structure in my life. I drift without structure, a lone survivor on a life-raft, no land, no people, no measure of myself, nowhere to plant my feet. The 6 X 6 beige panels keep me grounded and sane. I’m a Taurus (look it up), which makes me the perfect person to work in a cubicle-ed environment.

Today is my 17th anniversary at my company. Seventeen years is a long time to work in one company. I have a long history of cubicle-dwelling.

My head pivots back and forth between my two 21-inch monitors, as my fingers click-clack on the keyboard.  I bring up a gigantic Excel spreadsheet on the left monitor, and the company’s intranet Web page on the right. As the years go by, we increasingly employ shared Web space for dialogue, data, files, and other equally scintillating work objects. If I stop typing for a moment, I can hear several of my co-workers also click-clacking on their keyboards, in their 6 X 6s, some drumming quickly and some tapping slowly, perhaps composing a difficult email to the senior management.

My thoughts turn to my mother whom I lost in February to cancer. What would she think if she saw me sitting in my cube like an air-traffic controller with the two big screens in front of my face? What would she think about the complicated-looking spreadsheet to my left, or about the never-ending online activity to my right?  I work in a world that would make little sense to her.

I did try to teach her how to use a computer. She was bored with Wheel of Fortune and the usual crap that was on TV.  I was a terrible teacher. My mother frustrated me. Her hands were nervous and twitchy on the keyboard, and she kept trying to guess what I was going to say next rather than listening. I wasn’t very nice. I wrote down what I could so she could learn on her own when I wasn’t home, but it didn’t work out. Once day she called me at work to tell me the mouse was broken. I told her she needed to hold it in her right hand move the cursor across the screen.

“I am,” she cried, “but nothing is happening!” She was truly stressed. She was in her late 70s and this was a different world to her.

“You’re trying to move the cursor across the screen?”

“I’m moving the mouse across the screen, but nothing is happening.”

After another five minutes of this conversation, I burst out laughing.

“You are literally picking up the mouse and sliding it across the monitor, aren’t you?”

And yes, she was.

My mother, born in 1930, worked for much of her adult life. Her last and longest held position was as a bookkeeper for the now defunct Route 138 Motel in Easton, Massachusetts. The motel went out of business in the late 1990s, and now there is a Roche Brothers Supermarket Plaza, a CVS drug store, and medical buildings on the property that once held a grimy old two-story motel.  My mother had a filthy office; the motel owner was a filthy man who smoked cigars until the walls of his motel turned yellow and brown, and who heaped junk into my mother’s office since she only needed so much space. But she had real walls. And a big metal office desk.


On the outside, the motel looked okay.

My mother was the bookkeeper at the motel for 30 years. She got the job when I was four and she was 36, just after she and my father separated. When I was older, she told me she applied for the job one night while sitting at the bar in the motel, drinking martinis.  The owner came up to her for a chat. No resume was provided. She told him about working on the Fish Pier in Boston for Swanson frozen dinners, about doing the books for Tabby Cat Food.  Her hiring at the motel was spontaneous and informal. The year was circa 1966.


On the inside was another story, but I was young enough not to notice. Note the TV. This was the 1960s.

When I was a young kid, my mother would take me to work with her during the day, or when I was in school, on days I was out sick. She would wrap me in blankets, and I’d rest my head against the big Great Dane, Max, who lay on the floor between her desk and the owner’s junk. As I got older I paid more attention, and I watched my mother be a bookkeeper. I was mesmerized by her ability to use a 10-key adding machine, with a roll of white paper to keep track of the numbers, the only piece of “tech” on her desk. Her fingers flew across those 10 keys at lightening pace. She didn’t look at the adding machine until she hit the subtotal button, at which point she would enter the number into a paper book of accounts, a “daily” ledger. She had all kinds of paper ledgers and journals to keep, to maintain the motel’s books. I asked her, “Mom, how can you use that adding machine without looking at it?” She said, “I’ve used it so much that it’s a part of me. I don’t need to think about it.”


The adding machine, very much like the one my mom had

In 2016, as I sit at my desk, I know what she means. I type so much, and have for all my adult life, that I type fast and accurately, if I just let my fingers do it and don’t think about the letters on the keyboard. If I think about typing, I will make mistakes.

My mother took great pride in her abilities as a bookkeeper, and she was a good one. My father used to say she was a great bookkeeper. He owned his own children’s clothing business in Boston during the 1950s and 1960s, and my mother must have helped him with the books. My father mainly criticized my mother, so for him to be so complimentary about her bookkeeping abilities made me truly believe she was a shining star in her field. I do know she loved to work. She was a role model to me in that way, a mother who worked each day and on her own, after she and my father separated.


I think this is called a “tanker desk.” I remember my mom’s as much larger.

Gone are the days of adding machines, big metal office desks, smoke-filled offices and paper ledgers. Gone is my mother. But here I am, using an updated version of her tools: two big monitors and an Excel spreadsheet, and the newest version of an office – the cubicle.  I’ve been with this company for 17 years, just 13 more before I have achieved what my mother achieved. If I can ever achieve it.

Posted in Mothers, The 1960s, Uncategorized, Work | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The purge


My last post: More than I have spent, is about buying this plaque for my mother’s grave. The plaque was installed recently. I was very pleased with it, and equally pleased that the cemetery kept the kitties I had set on her grave before the plaque was available. 

I have been purging my house of clothing, books, junk, and rubbish. The purge commenced after my mother’s death in February 2016. I felt the need to bag up her belongings and donate them to charity. I could not be one of those people who keeps the deceased’s bedroom intact, clothes hung in closet, mystery books on the shelf, and so on, as if she had never died. Some people find preserving the room of a loved one comforting; I find that a purge reassures me. I touch my mother’s belongings once more and say goodbye.


Tomorrow the junk men come to haul away her dresser, night table, and the ancient sofa from her bedroom. I have wanted to get rid of that sofa for years – 1970s “fun fur” nearly bald – but my mom had insisted we keep it. “The cats like to sleep on it,” she said. But Monday it goes.

I will only keep the bed and the television. The bed is nearly new and completely clean. I think it’s a great bed but she hated it. It’s hard to buy a bed for someone who can’t come with you to the store. She was very sick in the last year of her life, when the old bed she’d been sleeping on finally broke, after slowly collapsing over a period of months into the bedframe. My mother could not cast off much with ease, not beds or clothes or cars, until they were unusable. One of her cars fell into itself much like the bed did, although the car, shifting on its frame, was decades ago. Her shoes and slippers were always holed with the souls worn thin. My mother was a fashionista out in the world, when she could still get out into the world, wearing fancy, fun, shiny, and sometimes crazy clothes.  But in the house, she clung to the old and known. She hated the unfamiliar bed. It’s a Laura Ashley with a pillow top, firm but soft, too.

“It’s too high,” she’d said after pretending for a few weeks she liked it so as not to hurt my feelings. “I feel as though I’ll fall out of it.” And as she got sicker she did fall out of it, or rather, she slid off of it as she tried to get up to hobble to the bathroom. I discouraged use of the potty that Hospice had left beside her bed, as I couldn’t bear to empty and clean it.  I found her next to the potty in complete darkness on the night I made her leave home. Her back against the bed and the floor lamp, the back of her head stiff and low against the wall, impossibly angled down, as if someone had glued her head to her shoulder. It’s hard to believe someone could spend an entire day in that position. She didn’t have the strength to move at all, never mind get back on the bed. She’d spent the day peeing on the floor. Once again, she had refused to press the alert button that would have summoned me home.

“I’m calling an ambulance,” I said.

She cried, “No!!!, I’m not going anywhere tonight!”

I screamed, “Yes, you are!” 

She screamed, “Just give me my shoes and I can get up!”

This was not true; it was one of her delirious thoughts. The week before she had insisted the landline phone could not make callouts correctly, as she had tried to dial her credit card account number rather than the phone number. I demonstrated several times that the phone worked perfectly but she couldn’t believe that, had in fact, forgotten how to dial a phone. There she was in that strange, twisted pose, all day on the floor. She had to go. But she was my mother, and I didn’t want her to leave me, so I tried to pick her up to get her back on the bed, get her to her feet, to keep her home, but every time I touched her to try to lift her, she screamed in fear and pain. And I screamed back in the same way.

“I’m calling an ambulance!”

“No, Cindy, Cindy!!!!!”

And then I went outside so I wouldn’t have to hear her. When I went back in, she was still screaming my name. It was the most desperate sound, “CINDY, CINDY, CINDY,” as if I’d shoved her off a life raft. I went back outside after screaming again, “The firemen will be here soon!”

In addition to the bed and the television, I also saved her black and gold sequined dress outfit that she wore to my brother’s wedding in 1986. She wore it for other occasions, too, like her 50th high school reunion. The last movie we watched together before she died was Rentacop with Burt Reynolds and Liza Minelli because she wanted to show me that Liza had worn her outfit in the movie. I kept my mother’s ratty, ripped red sweater she’d worn for the last two years to keep her bony body warm.


This was the ancient dresser in her room, worn and broken, that I had hauled away. The books (and my more of them) were donated.

Since February, I have bagged up approximately 75 green garbage bags of her stuff and a few things of mine. By green garbage bags I mean those enormous ones for lawn and leaves. Yesterday, I threw a good 300 pounds of books from 10 garbage bags into the book donation box at the Ahavath Torah synagogue parking lot. I have donated nearly $2,000 worth of clothes, from items ranging from $2 to $10, so hundreds of shirts, blouses, shoes, skirts, dresses, and so on. I buried her in a smart black and purple dress that I remembered her wearing in her younger days. So that item of clothing was not donated.


Some of her things still lurk in the nooks and crannies of my house, more clothing stuffed into the third bedroom closet, including some winter coats. More sweatshirts and slacks folded long ago into plastic storage drawers when it seemed to matter to hold onto these things. Her room is empty, but it seems there are always more spaces to purge.

Post script: the next day.

The junk guys came, and I leaned against the arm of the living room chair as I watched them haul heavy furniture downstairs: that fun fur sofa from when I was nine years old and living on Bay Road, my mother’s dresser and night table, purchased when I was thirteen when we moved to the condo in Knollsbrook, and the desk and bookcase she bought for me the same year, knowing I was a kid who loved books and writing. I nearly cried as they moved all this ancient, junky furniture out of the house. I hated the furniture, but the decades marching out the front door reminded me of the lifetime that had passed.



Posted in Caring for parents, Death, memories, Mothers, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

More than what I have spent

Yesterday I bought a cemetery plaque for my mother’s grave.  The inscription will read, “Loving mother, kind soul, and free spirit.”  My brother came up with “free spirit” because my mother lived life on her terms. She was separated and divorced in the 1960s when splitting from your husband wasn’t so acceptable. She did as she pleased as a single mom, again, before this ever became okay with society.  I came up with “kind soul,” because of her gentleness and thoughtfulness toward others, her compassion, much stronger than my own. I watched my mother cry over dying peers while she, herself, was dying. She felt bad for people on vacation in summer, people she did not know, if it rained all week. She was no saint, but she was our mother, so “loving mother” was easy to come up with. She died six months ago today on February 6, 2016.

The plaque costs $2,600 with installation at Sharon Memorial Park. It took me a long time to adjust to the thought of plunking down so much cash for an item that is essentially unnecessary. My mother’s body lies in that grave at Sharon Memorial, but that body no longer houses her essence, and that body will soon be nothing but bones.

I have shopped online a few times since she passed to try to find “a deal,” something that might knock $500-$600 dollars off the price. The Zelman side of the family, my father’s side, has a tradition of always seeking a deal, even in the circumstance of death, apparently.  You can buy anything online now. I wouldn’t be surprised if offered cemetery plaques, but I didn’t actually check their website.

The cemetery won’t allow anything but bronze plaques to pay tribute to the dead buried there. My research showed that at most, the online dealers could save me only a couple of hundred dollarsor. So, each time I researched, I delayed the purchase, hoping that prices would improve. I was not ready to commit to the plaque. Mourning takes many forms, including the inability to spend a few thousand dollars to honor your mother.

In the end, I didn’t trust the quality of product or the customer service of any online monument store. Who is behind such websites? What if I needed to return the plaque? What if I found a defect after it had been installed? Would I have to dig it up and ship out a 100-pound rock? In the end, I chose a local monument dealer, and the price included a marbled granite frame to anchor the plaque. Very pretty.

Today is Saturday and my mother died on a Saturday.  She had been such a pretty, vibrant woman for most of her life, but Saturday, February 6th was the last day of her life. When I arrived at the nursing home, her breathing was so shallow that every breath sounded potentially like her last. She had been in a coma for eight days. She had surprised the hospice nurses by lasting so long, the time in the coma and not eating or drinking for the last week she was conscious. Yet her body endured for fifteen days without nourishment. She had a strong heart. She had a good heart.

“It will be this weekend,” said Karen, the morning nurse. “Your mom will pass this weekend. I don’t think it will happen on my shift, but soon.”  I watched my mother and listened to her shallow breath for a few hours. I said, “I love you, Mom,” but I don’t think she could hear. I was told that all the senses go as one dies, with the hearing going last. I knew she was already blind, having seen her focus-less, clouded right eye, when the lid had been opened inadvertently while the hospice aide washed her near the end. I had squandered many a chance to tell her I loved her or to apologize for my bad behavior while she was still conscious. Perhaps she knew of my feelings anyway. My poor mother is dying. I shifted, got up from my seat, and left the nursing home for a break and some lunch.

I was watching television as I ate my sandwich, trying to find the will to travel back to the nursing home to spend the afternoon with my mother. I procrastinated for nearly two hours after I finished eating, with dread spreading through my heart and soul, as well as crawling up and down my limbs. I had been visiting her for two and a half months at the nursing home, and each day, she was sicker than the last. I almost couldn’t bear another minute. Eventually, I did make it to the car, but it was well after 4:00 in the afternoon. My mother was spending her last weekend on earth breathing shallowly, and I had waited so long to drive back, instead had decided to spend time watching reruns of The Mary Tyler Moore show.

Karen’s shift had ended well over an ago, and as I was driving, the afternoon shift nurse, Kelly, called.

“Mom passed” she said when I answered. I was five minutes from the nursing home.

“Okay, I will be there in a few minutes.” My mother was dead. I arrived at the nursing, and spent a couple of more hours with her  corpse until the funeral home picked up her body.

The words “Mom passed,” still ring in my ears every so often, when the late afternoon sunlight hits my dashboard as I drive through my home town. Down Pleasant Street, soon to take the turn onto Prospect. “Mom passed.” A bright, sunny day in February, the words and the scene play like a touching and sad film in my head.

My mother would not have wanted me to spend money  on a plaque for her grave. She especially would have balked at my spending such an exorbitant sum.

“Save your money,” I can hear her say. “I don’t want you to spend it on me.” She hadn’t even wanted a funeral, because she was afraid my brother and I would have to pay for it. In the end, she had saved enough to pay for her own funeral, although I was the one who made purchase on a cold winter evening, picking out a coffin and answering questions about prayers and limosines.

I have spent the last six months trying to come to terms with her no longer existing on this earth and no longer living in my house. Sometimes the mere sight of some house detail – like the blue and light gray stone floor in the kitchen where she stood as she cooked meals and did the laundry for more than a dozen years – can render me speechless. Or the sight of the staircase, with its worn beige carpet, where I witnessed her climbing to her bedroom each and every night. On so many of those evenings I joined her to watch TV. Thousands of evenings.

A plaque is a way to memorialize and honor my mother, but someday, the rest of the family will be gone, the human race may be gone, and perhaps we will have blown the earth to bits. What a waste of $2,600 should the plaque explode with the entire earth someday.

Most of the time lately, I do not want to move out my house although I periodically bandy about the idea of buying a condo, of moving out of this town. I have lived in the house for fourteen and a half years, most of those years with my mother, until I had to push her into a nursing home nine months ago. She kept falling, she was incontinent, dehydrated, often she didn’t make sense, she forgot how to use a telephone, she wouldn’t press that goddamned “I have fallen down and can’t get up button.” She was entering end-stage cancer. I could no longer care for her.

When I am not considering moving, I decide I will make the house new again – refinish the hardwood floors, possibly have hardwood added to the stair case and bedrooms upstairs, new paint, new furniture, same house, but reborn. These kinds of upgrades cost money. I have been feeling paralyzed and unable to proceed with any house upgrades. My mother’s grave needs a plaque.

I dreamed about my mother last week. One night, before I fell asleep, I said out loud, “I miss you mom. I’d like to dream about you.” And she came to me that night. Nothing significant happened in the dream. She was back in the house, although my house appeared different. I’m not even sure she spoke a word, yet I felt our connection. I thought I was awake during the dream, as her presence lingered. In the darkly comic tradition of my family, I said to her, “You know you’re dead, right? You know you can’t stay here.”

The day my mother died, I was aware of my heart; it felt enlarged and warm, very present in my chest as if her soul were passing through mine on her way to her new existence, a place I could not comprehend as an earthbound body.

This week, I woke up knowing I would buy the plaque. Not only did I realize this, but I looked forward to making the purchase. My heart felt the same warmth and connection as the day she died. After I left Quincy Memorials and left a down payment on this useless, impractical, expensive piece of granite and bronze, I felt my heart swell. The next day, I also found myself calling a handyman and junk haulers, something I had been unable to do since her passing. I  spent $229 for two tickets to see Rent in Boston when it tours in 2017 for its 20th anniversary. I felt free to spend money on my house and on myself only after I spent $2,600 on that useless plaque.

Sometimes, events need to arrive in a certain order that may contradict, if not actually defy, logic. Honoring my mother had to come before hiring someone to haul away her dresser. Her death had to come before my regrets. Her no longer existing on this planet made me realize how important she had been in my life. My compassion came after her death.

“Loving mother, kind soul, and free spirit.”

You are worth so much more than what I have spent.



Posted in Caring for parents, Mothers, Parents, The 1960s, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Edith Zelman Eulogy – Doris Cahill, author

My mother passed away on February 6, 2016. On February 19th, we held a memorial service. My sister-in-law, Doris Cahill, was one of three to give a eulogy. Here are her words in honor of my mother.

Thank you Andrew my husband of 30 years for having me speak on your behalf. A very satisfied person, never raised her voice, never complained, nor criticized me for how I raised her grandchildren. Always welcoming. I often wish she was more noisy and disruptive like other members of my family. It was not her way. She was not bitter for things she did not have, nor did she compare herself to others. It was not her way to disparage others character. Its hard to recall a time she wanted anything material. Edith married in 1952 and very much wanted to have children. She experience no less than 3 or as many as 6 miscarriages, when after a medical procedure had Andrew in 1959. Edith gave me my husband and my two beautiful daughters; Sharon and Natalie, thank you… There is some debate on how many miscarriages with my Sister in Law Cindy, so I will agree to 3. Andrew’s memories are often about their first house on Bay Road, we brought a nice black and white picture for all to see. More often than not Andy insists we make the drive by his first house in Stoughton MA as if it were the first time and then get our ice cream and Crescent Ridge Dairy, just down the street. We still do that drive by and suspect we always will. Statuesque and beautiful, Edith kept herself meticulously.. Even in her final days barely a wrinkle or gray hair. It was only in the last years due to her battle with cancer she no longer came out to visit. She enjoyed a party, bright outfits and never missed her weekly hair appointment. At our wedding she wore a black beaded dress edged in gold beaded trim weighing 10 pounds. I did question who wears black to a wedding?….Edith smile emoticon. A lover of cats, my girls and I were often given cat motif gifts. Cat sweaters, cat music boxes, cat clocks, cat pins,,,,everything cat. Not a single visit to her home or our home was empty handed, she always came with our favorite dishes; Noodle Kugel and Sweet and Sour Meatballs. Edith celebrated the holidays and our children’s major life events. My youngest Natalie would try to get the recipe for sweet and sour meatballs and Edith would only say “a jar of jelly, a jar of chili sauce and its as much as it needs” Edith was most proud of her poetry. It was a great personal achievement when a few of her poems were published. She called our house with great pleasure, that her work was in print, she was so very excited. Never wanting of material things and soft spoken, I want to be like Edith, yes I want to be Edith. Allow me a moment and read the two poems written by Edith. (placing the cat music box on the podium)

“Pet Eulogy to Kitty,” by Edith Zelman

We once had a cat named Kitty

She was black and white, very pretty

Kitty was our reigning queen for over seventeen years

When her time came to leave us, we cried “crocodile tears”

She was smart as a whip

Wouldn’t take any lip

Although known notoriously to stage a sudden attack

We’d do anything in the world to have her back

Some may have found her offensive

She was merely being extremely defensive

Kitty may have caused a bit of havoc and harm

But in her own way she possessed elegant grace and magical charm

The Fears Gone By

by Edith Zelman

At twenty I was immature

By thirty I didn’t know much more

Forty was quite a shock!

It left me with a mental block

Fifty came and I felt blue

Now I was a real old shoe

Then came sixty and I was frightened

Would I ever be enlightened?

At seventy I’m still alive

I worry as to how much longer will I survive

With all my complaints and fear

I am thankful to the world that I am still here.


Posted in Cats, Death, memories, Parents, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment