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Posts Tagged ‘grief’

Author Janet Mason read from her latest book, Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters, (Bella Books) at the Golden Slippery Author Series held at Adath Israel in Merion Station, PA.

“I’ve taught people of all ages throughout the years,” said Janet Mason, “and I’ve always recognized that the older students have the most interesting stories.  The people who attended the author event have lived long and interesting lives and they have important stories to tell.  It was an honor hearing their stories during the lively discussion we had.

Janet Mason (third from right) with members of the Golden Slipper Book Group.

Janet Mason (third from right) with members of the Golden Slipper Book Group.

Tea Leaves spans the lives of three generations of women. It is about my experience taking care of my mother when she was terminally ill. It is also includes my mother’s stories about my grandmother, a spinner in a Kensington Philadelphia textile mill, and a fair amount about my own life.

The following is an excerpt from Tea Leaves that I read at the Golden Slipper Author Series.

It was 1927, the latter years of the Roaring Twenties. My grandmother would have seen the cartoon images of the flapper, a woman with bobbed hair and a short skirt daringly showing her legs from the knees down. This was the image of the loose woman—heralded in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby—that came to represent the decade. But this lifestyle existed for only a few—those who belonged to the class of the decadent rich, their excesses based on the skyrocketing stock market that would soon come tumbling down. For the majority of women, especially working-class women like my grandmother, it was still scandalous to be divorced.
With her children in tow, she moved back to the city where they stayed with an old church friend in the Germantown section, the neighborhood I later moved to—which at that point had become a haven for artists, political activists and lesbians—when I moved away from my parents’ home in the suburbs. It was evident from the disappointed look on my mother’s face, even now, more than a half century later, that regardless of the large house they stayed in she would have much rather been back in the country.
“Even the yard wasn’t anything compared to the country. It was just a patch of grass with a wrought iron fence around it. There was a birdbath with a wrought iron bench next it that was painted white. Who sat on a bench?” I looked at my mother—her scrunched-up face framed by her short hair—and I could see the ten-year-old staring out of her seventy-four-year-old face. “My favorite thing about that yard was the elm tree. It had low branches, as low as my favorite climbing tree in the country. It was the closest thing to home that I could find.”
She shifted painfully in her chair. “Eventually Mama found a job at the mill, and we rented a row home nearby in North Philadelphia. Our backyard was tiny, a small square yard with a cement walkway between two patches overgrown with grass and weeds. There wasn’t a tree anywhere in sight. We moved around a lot. Once or twice we only moved two blocks from where we had lived before. I always thought my mother was hiding us from our father. If he couldn’t find us then he couldn’t come and take my sister and me away.”
My mother held her shoulder and her eyes narrowed as she spoke. “I was a latchkey child. This was before the Lighthouse started a program for the older kids as well as the younger ones. The Episcopal women started the Lighthouse as a daycare and after-school program for the children of single mothers. Do you remember when I took you to the old neighborhood when you were ten?”
I nodded, remembering it well. A new hospital stood on the site of the old Lighthouse, off Lehigh Avenue, in the heart of North Philadelphia. When my mother was growing up, the neighborhood was full of European immigrants. Now it was a mostly Spanish-speaking section known as the Barrio. My mother’s stories of the Lighthouse captured my young imagination. I pictured an island jutting from the ocean, a tall cylindrical building with a pulsing light, an actual lighthouse. My memories of visiting her old neighborhood were full of exotic tastes and smells—arroz con pollo, plantains, the greasy sizzle of fried tortillas at the Spanish restaurant where we ate.
My mother sat gazing out the front window, looking far away into her own past, full of a different set of tastes and smells. “Before I started going to the Lighthouse with my sister, I came home from school earlier than my mother and had to let myself in with the key I kept on a string around my neck.
“One day I lost the key. That was the time I was homeless. I was out in the freezing cold for hours. It seemed like days before my mother came home from the mill. There was a storefront next to our house, and there was a light in the window so I went and stood in front of it. The store was closed but there was a woman inside. I could see her folding the linens, her outstretched arms looked like a cross draped with a purple sash at Lent.”
“Why didn’t the woman in the store let you in?” I asked. We had moved from the dining room into the living room, and my mother sat in her gold velour chair. The ottoman, covered with the textile my grandmother brought home from the mill, sat in front of her.
My mother gave me a look of pure astonishment. “In those days children were to be seen and not heard. All my life I’ve been in the wrong place at the wrong time. First children weren’t listened to. Then when I was grown, Benjamin Spock came around and said parents should shut up and listen to their children.” My mother’s words were deliberate, not angry; precise, rather than resentful. As she spoke, I saw a skinny seven-year-old in a frayed cloth coat, shivering as she waited the long hours for her mother, her teeth chattering as she stood in the doorway.
“Usually, I would take Mama’s dinner to the mill. We had ice boxes in those days—every morning the ice man would come with a block of ice and by the end of the day the ice melted down into the tray. I still remember the drops of water beading up inside the wax paper that covered the pound cake. In those days we didn’t think about what a healthy dinner was. So we had cake, not for dessert but for the main course. No wonder my mother became a diabetic. I passed by all the factories and red brick warehouses along the way. You’d never know it was the same neighborhood today with all those vacant run-down warehouses and factories everywhere. I still know the names of the lace they displayed in a store window on the corner: Italian Milanese, French Chantilly, English Honiton, Bedfordshire, Antwerp, Point de Lille.”
My mother’s story entered my imagination and I saw her as an observant child, turning the corner to where the textile mill loomed in front of her, four stories of red brick. She would have passed the night watchman who greeted her by name, to enter the back door into the clanking, whirring factory, which like a large hungry animal blew its hot breath on her neck. As she scurried down the familiar hallway toward the cafeteria, the familiar gray walls weighed down on her as heavy as the flabby arm of an old woman.

Tea Leaves, published by Bella Books, is available in bookstores and online in book and eBook formats.

You can learn more about Tea Leaves here.  (  https://tealeavesamemoir.wordpress.com/tea-leaves-in-the-news/  )

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The Obama administration has declared May as Older Americans Month.

At the same time the Obama administration is proposing cuts in Social Security and Medicare. There seems to be a disconnect.

Recently, I have been visiting my old friend and literary colleague, Anita Cornwell, 89, who has dementia and is in a nursing home.

She has been several stages of care at the same nursing home and is now in hospice. Anita is one of the lucky ones. She is in an institution that describes itself as a non-profit, faith-based continuing care retirement community with dementia and Alzheimer’s Care. And she is fortunate to have a younger friend (in her late fifties) who sold her house in a gentrifying neighborhood for her and handled her finances.

Anita Cornwell is the author of the book Black Lesbian in White America published in 1983 by Naiad Press.

Anita is a pioneer. She came of age as a lesbian in the 1950s, and in her early writings — published in The Ladder and The Negro Digest — she was among the first to identify as a Black Lesbian in print. As she writes in Black Lesbian in White America, she was born in the Deep South at a time “when integration was a term seen only in the dictionary.” Anita writes of herself as a young woman hanging out in the Village, where “She was looking for some of them, but they were home in the closet growing shoe trees.” She writes of her involvement in the women’s movement when she was often one of the oldest women in the room as well as being one of the few Black women: “We of the fifties (and the forties and on back to when) not only had to operate from the closet but, worse yet, most of us seemed to exist in a vacuum.”

Anita entered the nursing home five years ago and remembers very little, if anything, about her former life. Her writings are on my website, so I hear from people who are interested in her work, but only very occasionally. But for the most part, Anita has been forgotten. She has had few visitors in the nursing home and the three Valentine’s Day cards on the bulletin board at the wall at the foot of her bed were not signed. Someone on the nursing home staff had hung blank cards for her.

When I talked to some old friends who knew her, I got a standard response. One woman told me that she is busy with her own mother who has Alzheimer’s and is in a home. Another woman told me that “I’m sure she doesn’t remember me,” to which I responded, “she doesn’t remember anyone.”

Denial is a strong defense mechanism (in this case, the subtext is that “I won’t get old and sick”) and I am not standing in judgment of anyone. As I was standing next to Anita’s bed in the nursing home with my partner, I was reminded of how excruciating it is to be with someone who is near death. I was reminded of being with my mother, who I took care of and wrote about in Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters and also of being with my aunt near the end of her life. Anita has been bedridden for some months, since she lost her memory of how to walk. More recently, she has lost her memory of how to swallow.

I had seen Anita two weeks earlier and she was declining fast. She had lost a substantial amount of weight and looked like a different person that the last time I had seen her. She was sleeping and her roommate told my partner and I that if we woke her up, she would talk to us for a little while. She did wake up, and when my partner was sitting closer to her bed, asked her if she could get her anything, she responded, “A couple of million.” When asked what she would buy, Anita responded that, “For starters, I would buy a car.” When we told her that we had known her for thirty years, Anita replied “that’s a long time” and then she went back to sleep.

Read the entire piece on The Huffington Post

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Author Janet Mason

Author Janet Mason

from The Times Herald of Norristown, PA
Posted: Saturday, 04/20/13 08:29

West Laurel Hill Cemetery, 225 Belmont Ave., Bala Cynwyd, and the Boneyard Bookworms Book Club welcome award-winning author Janet Mason, author of “Tea Leaves,” for a presentation, reception and book signing 1 p.m. Sunday, April 28.

“Tea Leaves” tells the story of mothers and daughters, embarking when the narrator’s mother is diagnosed with fourth-stage cancer.

A dutiful daughter, the narrator proceeds to take care of her mother, 74-year-old Jane, and enters a deeper understanding of her own life through her mother’s stories.

“Tea Leaves” is a story of gender and class, identity and sexuality but, most of all, it is about love, notes press information.

The afternoon will include a reading and Q&A session with Janet Mason as well as book signing and a dessert reception. The event will take place in the conservatory on the grounds of the cemetery.

There is no charge to attend but reservations are requested.

For more information or to make a reservation, visit http://www.boneyardbookworms.com/.

According to press information, Janet Mason is an award winning writer of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry whose literary commentary is regularly featured on “This Way Out,” an international LGBT radio news syndicate based in Los Angeles and aired on more than 400 radio stations in the U.S. and abroad. She is also a blogger for The Huffington Post.

Her book,“Tea Leaves,” a memoir of mothers and daughters was published by Bella Books in 2012. Moe information ins available in the “In The News” section of Janet’s author blog—https://tealeavesamemoir.wordpress.com/tea-leaves-in-the-news/.

Incorporated in 1869, Historic West Laurel Hill Cemetery is a privately-owned, non-profit, non-denominational cemetery, a 187 acre arboretum and an outdoor sculpture garden with cultural and social history.

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International Women’s Day at the Mt. Airy Art Garage — and the celebration goes on — join us Saturday nite and Sunday afternoon

Victoria Peurifoy -- remembers Shirley Chisolm and herself!

Victoria Peurifoy — remembers Shirley Chisolm and herself!

Two of a kind!

Two of a kind!

Yolanda Wisher reads ALOUD!

Yolanda Wisher reads ALOUD!

Sister Cities Girlschoir!

Sister Cities Girlschoir!

Sister Cities Girlchoir!

Sister Cities Girlchoir!

old friends!

old friends!

TS Hawkins shares her powerful poetry!

TS Hawkins shares her powerful poetry!

International-Womens-Day-One
Comments overheard:

“That was just like the old days!”
“Let’s get together and strategize about how to take over the world!”
“Unemployment is a great thing!”

Remember, Anynomous was a woman.

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Like many LGBT Americans, I was profoundly moved by President Obama’s recognition of gays and lesbians in his inaugural speech. Even my straight-talking retired postal worker partner who usually has something to say about everything (when it comes to gay rights, her usual comment is “it’s about time”) sat quietly in front of the television taking it all in. It is about time and it is still amazing.

There were quite a few historic firsts at the inaugural ceremony, but the highlight for me was the inaugural poem by Richard Blanco, the first Hispanic and the first openly gay poet to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration. For me a poem is a slowing down of time, an opening, and a good poem always presents a teaching moment, that is once in a while life-altering, and leaves you experiencing the world differently.

There were two such moments within Blanco’s poem, “One Today,” and with the help of thecamera panning the immediate crowd, we can see the immediacy of those moments on the listeners. The first was when, Blanco recited the words “…. on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives– to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did for twenty years, so I could write this poem.”

The camera panned to Michelle Obama who looked up from her poetic reverie and opened her eyes when Blanco mentioned his mother. The look in her eyes was solemn, one that appeared to be based in compassion and identification.

The second teaching moment occurred closer to the end of the poem when Blanco was reading the words, “Hear: the doors we open for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom, buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días in the language my mother taught me…” And then the camera panned to Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor. Shortly after the phrase “buenos dias,” he twitched. In all fairness, Cantor may have been twitching all day — it was cold and he couldn’t simply sit in his warm home and turn off the television like so many other Republicans undoubtedly did. And it could have been worse. If Blanco had read a poem with explicitly gay content, Rep. Cantor might have done more than twitch.

I had been wondering, how Cantor and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) could stand there and listen to Blanco’s poem and not be moved by it. I was profoundly moved. I was the first in my family to go to college and I was close to my mother. When I began to write my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books 2012), I was primarily a poet. And even though I haven’t written poetry in years, I still have poetic sensibilities.

I wrote Tea Leaves to make some sense of losing my mother to cancer and being, along with my father, one of her primary caretakers. I also explore my working class background in this book, in particular writing about grandmother’s life who was a spinner in a textile mill in Philadelphia.

It is because of my class consciousness that Blanco’s poem resonated so strongly with me. Many immigrants have taken jobs that others would not do and whether it was picking fruit, packing meat, bagging groceries, or taking care of other people’s children they provide the services that this country could not do without. Then if they are “illegal,” they are deported or at least must always live in fear of deportation. Don’t we owe it to them to provide them with citizenship?

This week, both parties plan to introduce overhauled immigration legislation and they have the opportunity to do the right thing. Cantor, predictably, is solidly against immigration reform. His record speaks for itself. In 2007, he voted to declare English as the official language of the United States. In 2006, he voted yes on building a fence along the Mexican border.

More recently, Cantor was consistent in his conservative views in voting against enforcing anti-gay hate crimes in 2009, and in 2012 stated that taxpayer money should never be used to “kill innocent life” and in 2011 he voted in favor of banning federal health coverage that includes abortion.

There has been much talk about how Republicans lost the Hispanic and female vote in the Presidential election — and how they have to appeal to these groups of voters if they want to have a future as a viable party. While I have found these discussions interesting, I am not personally invested in the Republicans improving their lot.

But I do think that Republicans should do the right thing on immigration reform.

And if they do, then maybe some credit can be given Richard Blanco’s poetic moment.

In short, we are more alike than different. And if you doubt that, remember Blanco’s one word sentence,

Breathe.

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When I heard the news that President Obama had selected yet another preacher with an anti-gay past to preside at the swearing-in ceremony, I wasn’t angry; I was perplexed. When I read about Pastor Louie Giglio withdrawing from the inaugural ceremony, I also had mixed emotions.

In his letter of withdrawal Giglio states that he does not agree with the president on every issue and that “[d]ue to a message of mine that has surfaced from 15-20 years ago, it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration.”

“Their agenda”? Hmm. He mentions that he is being criticized for a sermon that he gave more than a decade ago, but he does not retract his anti-gay statements — or, to use his words, his “agenda.”

The thing that I find most disturbing, though, is that he had decided to decline the invitation and that he was not disinvited by the Presidential Inaugural Committee, which announced that it was “not aware of Pastor Giglio’s past comments at the time of his selection,” adding that “they don’t reflect our desire to celebrate the strength and diversity of our country at this Inaugural.”

Nowadays, with the Internet, it is easy to vet a person’s background. And four years ago the Presidential Inaugural Committee selected another white, fundamentalist preacher who had made anti-gay statements, Rick Warren, to offer the invocation.

When I mentioned all this to my straight-talking partner, a retired postal worker, she remarked (referring to President Obama), “What’s wrong with him?” and then, when I gave her the update on Giglio’s withdrawl, she responded, “Why don’t they just have a woman do it, for God’s sake?”

Obama campaigned on his support for gay marriage and raised quite a bit of money from the gay community. It was also speculated that his support for LGBT rights brought out young voters of all sexual orientations in support of him. I believed President Obama when he said he was doing the right thing. And I do think he was sincere.

There is something wrong with this picture.

When it seemed that selecting a fundamentalist preacher for the inauguration was a conscious decision, I thought that the Obama administration may have decided to throw a bone to the white Christian fundamentalists who did not vote for him and probably will never like him. (It wasn’t that long ago that many white Christian fundamentalists were opposing interracial marriage based on their “religious” beliefs.)

In full disclosure, I was raised atheist, which I write about in Tea Leaves: A Memoir of Mothers and Daughters (Bella Books) “That my parents became atheists when I was a child had worked in my favor — I learned to think for myself,” I wrote. “I didn’t have to unlearn the small-mindedness that too often comes with religion. At the same time, my parents’ atheism sometimes left me searching.”

read the entire article in The Huffington Post

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Last night when I was watching the news, there was a short segment about a 84-year old retired postal worker who is helping the government solve its debt problems by sending $50 of his postal pension to the government each month along with the revenue he gets from collecting aluminum cans.

Mr. Garcia, the retired postal worker, is also a veteran and is acting on his sense of public duty. I tend to agree with his wife of 59 years in thinking that he is a little crazy, but the story also made me sad. My partner, who I have been with for almost 30 years, is a recent retiree of the U.S. Postal Service, so I know how small the postal pension can be. The post office wasn’t unionized until 1970. So it is likely that Mr. Garcia spent at least half of his working life in a nonunionized environment — a fact that is most likely reflected in his pension and social security benefits.

But retired postal workers are never short on ingenuity. My partner, Barbara, suggested that the government should charge people five dollars to take a whack with a sledge hammer on an old car with dollar signs painted on it and call it “Make a Dent in the Deficit.” She told me that she could solve all the government’s problems, but no one ever listens to her. I write about Barbara in Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters.

It’s time to listen to our retired postal workers. And Mr. Garcia, by sending his donation to the Treasury Department every month, is telling us something. He says it is about service, but he is putting the one percent of the country to shame. Millionaires and billionaires are the ones who should be helping the country pay down its debt.

Speaking of public servants, let’s start with our representatives. Your basic senator (who does not have an extra leadership position such as Speaker of the House, etc.), earns $174,000 per year. And this is salary alone, not accounting for benefits, allowances, or retirement.

Let’s do the math.

read the rest of the article in The Huffington Post

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