Tag Archives: random acts of kindness

Long Ago: Community Entry #5

The only buttons I’m pushing are on the keyboard. Ahhhh…haven.

Accepting entries through Feb. 1st.  Winner announced mid-February…

As you may know, I am spending the month of January in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.

The “Long Ago: Community” series is also a contest. The winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana. So breathe deeply into a cherished memory of yesterday and today and share with us here. We all seek community somehow. Let us know how community finds its way back to you. Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject. Please enjoy this lovely piece by Jody Casella who blogs here. yrs. Laura

Someone’s Golden Boy, by Jody Casella

When I was seven years old my mother dragged me along on an errand to the bank downtown. In the lobby there was a display of what seemed like hundreds of dolls, each dressed in a different, lovely (to my seven-year-old eyes) outfit. A lacy ball gown. A hula skirt. Flowery nightshirt and bathrobe. It took a long inspection for me to realize it was the same doll wearing different clothes. I stared at the display longingly while my mother went about her banking business and when we left I pestered her for one of the dolls.

“Sorry,” she told me. “Those are for needy kids.”

I’m not sure I understood what that meant except that I couldn’t have a doll. And I didn’t understand it later when that Christmas, I DID get one of the dolls, the one dressed like Little Red Riding Hood. That was the year my father died and my mother was instantly a young single mother with three kids under the age of seven.

I really liked my Red Riding Hood doll. It was clear to me when I opened it that Christmas that it was the best doll from the bank lobby display. I don’t know who donated it, who sewed the darling jumper and cape and hood. It was a small thing but it meant something to me, a needy kid who didn’t know she was needy.

I’ve been thinking about that anonymous sewer lately, now that I am a million miles away from the little girl I was. Today I’m not wealthy, but certainly comfortable, living a privileged and blessed life by most people’s standards, in a small, privileged, blessed community in Ohio. I’ve got a wonderful husband and two beautiful and brilliant children. I take this life for granted, going about my day to day activities, rarely coming into contact with “needy” people and, truthfully, rarely thinking about them, unless you count writing a few donation checks to worthy charities and my yearly volunteer gig at a Christmas party for under-privileged children.

Last spring my husband and I drove our son up to the college of his dreams for a pre-orientation. We attended a few of the parent activities, mentally patted ourselves on the back for our son’s accomplishments, then left him to do his thing and took a train into New York City for a couple of days to do OUR thing. We had a blast, walking around, seeing the sites, and reconnecting with each other–parents of a soon-to-be-off-to-college boy.

One of the sites on our list was the new Ground Zero Memorial. We walked there on the last day of our trip, taking our time, hitting the neighborhoods along the way, eating a nice lunch, stopping at Starbucks, and finally arriving at the church at the edge of the site, the church that somehow was left standing after the towers fell. My husband went off to find tickets, but I lingered around the church. There was a person on the curb, leaned up against the iron gate, obviously a vagrant. He held a sign and something made me step closer.

“Please help me get home to Ohio,” said the sign.

The person holding it was a teenaged boy. He was half-asleep. Or maybe he was on drugs or drunk. That was what the cynical part of me was thinking. The mother part of me, who had just dropped off a Golden Boy son at college, teared up. Oh my God. What had happened to this boy? How had he come to be on a street corner in New York City with swarms of tourists literally stepping over him? Who was waiting for him back in Ohio? Could I help him? Should I?

Here’s the thing about my husband and me. We NEVER have any cash on us. It’s almost a joke. We are the people who have to write a check at a toll booth. That moment in front of the clearly in need boy, I had eleven dollars in my pocket. My husband had nothing. We knew we needed ten dollars for the train ride back. I looked over my shoulder at the Starbucks. Could I buy the kid a cup of coffee and a Cranberry Bliss Bar? But it was hot outside and we had just walked like, fifty blocks to get there. We were tired. We had our tickets to go into the memorial site. We needed to move on. No one else was even paying attention to this kid, this vagrant.

I am ashamed to say that I bent down and put one crumpled dollar bill in the boy’s hand. We looked at each other, and I said, “I’m sorry I can’t give you more.”

On the long drive home to Ohio my son chattered about all the cool things going on at the college, the awesome people he met, the interesting classes he would take. My husband and I were thrilled for him. Our son’s dreams were coming true! But I couldn’t stop thinking about somebody else’s son back at the church. I should’ve given him the eleven dollars at least. My husband and I could’ve hit an ATM on the way to the train station. I should’ve gone over to Starbucks. The Cranberry Bliss Bar would’ve been better than nothing. Forget that. I should’ve gone to an ATM and taken out enough money to buy him a plane ticket back to Ohio. We could’ve freaking DRIVEN him back to Ohio.

Why didn’t we help him when we had the chance? What was wrong with us?

I asked my husband this question. We lamented our actions but then started to rationalize. Maybe the boy wasn’t a needy Ohio kid. He was probably a scammer, a thief, plunked out on the sidewalk purposely manipulating out-of-town tourists.

But we can’t know that. And does it even matter?

I know we live in a country that likes to divide people into groups, label others as takers. It’s true there are takers. But I think that labeling helps us, the blessed ones, the lucky ones, feel better about ignoring those who are genuinely in need. Not only that, we mock them, show disdain for them, assume the worst. Or maybe it’s just that there is so much need that we don’t even know where to start, whom to help. We’re paralyzed. Easier to look away, to step over the kid on the street corner. There are so many of those needy people, and he’s not even the worst off.

A few hours from Ohio, some guy stopped us at a rest area and said he needed just a few dollars for gas to make it to his destination. Obvious scam, my husband and I thought, but we dug around for change and gave it to him. A few weeks later we found out that someone we went to school with died, leaving a daughter in college and in need of money for books. We wrote a check immediately and sent it to her. This Christmas we spent more time buying presents for kids we picked for our volunteer gig than we did buying for our own kids. When I heard that an acquaintance’s home was damaged by the recent hurricane, I mailed her a Home Depot gift card.

It’s not enough. It will never be enough. But once upon a time I was a needy girl who received a donated doll for Christmas, a little thing that meant a lot, and I will never step over someone else’s Golden Boy again.

—————————————————–
Jody Casella

YA Writer on the Verge

http://www.jodycasella.com/

THIN SPACE– Sept. 10, 2013
Beyond Words/Simon & Schuster

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Filed under Blog series-- Long Ago: Community, My Posts

Long Ago: Community Entry #4

The wildnerness of writing. The wilderness of January in rural Montana. Haven.

As you may know, I am spending the month of January in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.

The “Long Ago: Community” series is also a contest. The winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana. So breathe deeply into a cherished memory of yesterday and today and share with us here. We all seek community somehow. Let us know how community finds its way back to you. Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject. Please enjoy this lovely piece by Peggy Welsh. yrs. Laura

Summer Camp, by Peggy Welsh

My dad died a few months before I started first grade, leaving my mom with four young kids under the age of 10.   The first couple of years I didn’t realize how poor we were because I was young, we lived in a decent house and we had food to eat but as the years went by I realized there wasn’t much cash around our house.

When I was in the fifth grade I joined 4-H because it was something I could walk to and it didn’t cost much money.  I always learned new things and it was a fun way to spend time with my friends.  The one thing that did cost money was the summer camp in Jamestown, Virginia.  We all talked about it but I knew it was something I couldn’t ask for.  It seemed like the best adventure ever, getting on a bus with friends and being away from home for a whole week.   As summer drew close my friends kept asking if I could go and I kept telling them I wasn’t sure, I was embarrassed to tell them I didn’t have the money.  While they were making plans to go I became more and more envious.

And then it happened.  Someone sponsored my week at camp and the day before everyone was to leave, our housekeeper told me I was going.  I couldn’t believe it, I had been crying and moping around the house for days and maybe she just couldn’t stand it any longer and called someone at the  4-H office but however this particular miracle happened – I was stunned and grateful and I believe Mrs. Poe was happy to have me out of her hair for a week.  I quickly packed a bag and pulled myself together, I don’t remember how I got to the bus but I do remember how fun it was to be on a bus for 6 hours with a group of laughing, joking, silly girls.  I had one dollar to last me for the whole week of camp and I was a little nervous about that, but I figured I would just be very careful.

4-H camp was the best thing that had ever happened to me. We did crafts, went hiking, sat at camp fires and even sang Kumbaya.   At night, in the bunk house we were in no hurry to go to sleep.   I kept the girls in stitches with funny stories until the camp counselor would threaten to duct tape my mouth if I didn’t go to sleep.   One night we had a candlelight service where we put small candles on paper plates, waded out into the James river, lit our candles and sent our floating points of light out into the water – it was beautiful and magic.   We went to Jamestown on a day trip and saw the replicas of the three ships that first sailed into the new world.  Everyone was excited about going to a play called the Common Glory.   I started to worry about the cost and if I  would I be the only one left in camp if I didn’t have enough money, and I wondered what I would do.   I decided to take my one dollar and put it in the little bank at the camp store so it wouldn’t get lost and see how much it would cost to go to the play.  Now this might not seem like a big deal to anyone else but I was a worrier and even though it was a miracle that I even got to go to camp I was worried about that play.

The next day, when all the girls were going to the store to buy candy and treats I went to the little bank window and told the lady I wanted to put my dollar bill in the bank where it would be safe, to my surprise when she pulled up my name she said I already had five dollars in the account. Again, I was stunned, relieved and excited that whoever paid for my trip to camp had gone the extra mile and provided spending money, something they knew would be in short supply.   I almost burst into tears with relief as I said a silent prayer of thanks.   I knew that someone was looking out for me upstairs and thus began a lifelong practice of recognizing the hand of the Lord in my life.    I know that God answers prayers and he usually uses his angels or saints here on earth to help us along our journey.   That one special week at a little camp on the James River in southern Virginia helped build a foundation of faith that would see me though the many tough times ahead and it helped motivate me to look for opportunities to perform random acts of kindness for others – little miracles where the giver was never known.

That summer adventure that some stranger or neighbor paid for was one of the best memories of my brief childhood.

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Filed under Blog series-- Long Ago: Community, My Posts

Haven Writing Series 2013

This is the season of writing for me.  Dormancy.

Being in the “mind of winter,” as Wallace Stevens says.

That means that this is the time for my Haven Blog Writing Series.  I love that I have this platform and I want to share it with you.

Last year the theme was Breaking Points.  It was an honor to watch as many people found haven with one another through story sharing– from their most scary and painful, raw and real places.  Heart in hand, good, bad, and ugly.  Thank you to those brave participants.

This year, the subject is:  LONG AGO:  Community.

I’ve shared my essay called “Filling Station” in the blog post below and on Huffington Post 50.  I would love for you to share a fond memory:  of community connection just where you least expected it.  A time when you felt profoundly part of the collective We.  A time when a random act of kindness stopped you in your tracks and reminded you what it is to feel true gratitude.

For the next weeks, I will choose a story to feature for a few days on These Here Hills, depending on how many submissions I receive and their content.  You will have a chance to respond to the comments that may come in, and I will be monitoring from the background, as I focus on book-writing in this most sacred time of my writing year.  In other words, These Here Hills are yours for the month of January.  And I will link your pieces to my cyber presence to help share your work, so please include your links to blog/website etc.

To that end, within this series, I will be running a contest.  The winner of the Long Ago:  Community series will receive a scholarship to a future Haven Writing Retreat in Montana of your choice.

Please keep submissions under 1500 words and send them to Laura@Lauramunsonauthor.com.  I will run this series through January and possibly through mid-February.

Look back, find photos, wax nostalgic, know that you are safe, and share share share.

As with my retreats…I’ll have your back at These Here Hills.

Happy 2013!

Yrs.

Laura

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Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, My Posts

Filling Station

As seen on Huffington Post 50

When I was little, one of the things I most loved to do with my father was go to the gas station.  A child of the early 1900s, he called it the “filling station” and he always made sure that he had at least a half a tank of gas.  He took the filling station very seriously.  Shopped around for the best prices.  Knew the attendants and shot the breeze with them—Chicago Lake Effect weather, price of beans and corn down in central Illinois, the youth these days.  I kept my mouth shut and listened to the
soothing sound of his part scorn/part idolatry of it all.

And when we were back on the road, I memorized the lyrics and Big Band tunes on his a.m. radio station, “The Music of Your Life.”  This was safety to me.  The thought of women in white gloves, hats and heels, and smart cocktail dresses, and men in suits with slicked hair and doffed fedoras and overcoats…dancing in sync on a parquet dance floor with an orchestra and a cocktail waiting for them back at the small round table in a lowball glass.  I agreed:  what was wrong with the youth these days….sitting in ponchos and bell bottoms, smoking pot, talking about free love and war mongering?  I wanted his youth.  And I found it at the filling station.

I used to go there just to smell the gasoline, to see the rainbows of fuel in the wet pavement after a good old fashioned Midwestern thunderstorm, to see if the guy behind the counter might chat me up if I bought a Hershey’s bar or a bottle of Coke.  Over the years, I became friends with that guy.  His name was Bud.  He used to give me little plastic animals.  One time he gave me a whole tube full of Noah’s Arc plastic animals, who gladly joined my china figurines collection that I played with religiously (and now more religiously), in wooden structures I made in shop class.  I’m not sure what happened to Bud, but I do remember the look he gave me when I tried to buy beer in sixth grade.  Part scorn/part iconic.  The youth these days.

***

Now I live in a small mountain town in Montana.  I drive a big gas-guzzling truck because here…it’s justified, given the roads we travel and the creatures who travel it with us.  Thusly, I spend a lot of time at the gas station.  I go there for gas.  I go there for a carton of
milk.  I go there for elk meat.  I go there for box wine.  I go there for conversation.  Now my Bud is a guy called Murray.  For months he called me Laurie.  NOBODY calls me Laurie.  One day I got up the courage to tell this kind man with the Peace tattoo and the Jerry Garcia hair and the kind smile:  “I’m Laura.  Not Laurie.”  He looked at me in what I would come to know was mock-befuddlement, and belted out, “Hey, Munson!”

Now most every time I come into my gas station, there’s Murray saying, “Hey, Munson!”  I love this man.  Over the years, I’ve told him
jokes, we’ve shaken our heads over national tragedies playing out on the corner television.  He’s bought me a box of wine here and there.  He even gave me a glass horse figurine that he picked up at a consignment shop.  It’s clear with cobalt blue inside.  It sits next to another glass horse figurine that is almost identical, only I bought it for a lot of money at a glass-blowing factory in Venice.  The one I bought is on its knees, struggling to get up, neck craning and stretching.  The one Murray gave me…is just a little bit more on its feet.  I repeat:  I love this man.

A friend once told me, when I was new to Montana, that there are saints everywhere.  “Pay attention,” he said.  “They will stun you with their loving hearts.  Just when you least expect it.”

Well the other day, amidst all the holiday scrambling—sitting on the living room rug in a fit of wrapping paper, scissors, ribbons, and tape, my son entered the room and requested a ride to the ski resort in the town where we live.  Maybe you’ve noticed something about the kids these days:  they don’t make plans.  They text.  They walk in and demand things last minute, like your whole world revolves around their social life and their techno needs, even if it’s good clean fun like skiing.  I’ve got pretty amazing kids.  Kids who listen to NPR and write in journals and ring the Salvation Army bell.  Still…it’s different than it used to be and I’ve learned that being a mother requires some level of going with their flow, lest we be in constant conflict.  So I ditched the wrapping paper, and stuffed my night-shirt tails into my yoga pants, donned my Sorels, and with neither underwear nor bra, I grabbed my big parka and hit the road with my son.

You know that thing they say about always making sure to wear clean underwear?  Well…here’s what happened:

In the car on our way up the mountain, my son realized he had no money for his standard grilled cheese lunch at the Summit House.  I looked around for my purse, and there was no purse.  Which meant there was no money.  I always leave my purse in the car.  I was perplexed.  I said something to the tune of “Blame it on the holidaze.”  But then I realized that I had no license, and that just the other day I realized my registration had expired.  Blame it on the holidaze?  And my insurance card was expired.  And…then I looked at my gas gauge…and it was low.  Really low.  I always keep at least a half a tank of gas, just like my father.  And no cell phone to boot. This was so entirely not like me.  Holidaze?

I scanned the car for an errant twenty, or at least a five.  And there under the teacher gifts yet to be delivered on the dash, were two fives.  “Here, I’ll take one and you take the other,” my son said.

“I don’t know if I have enough gas to drive the ten miles home.  And my purse must be at home, so I have to go home in order to get money in order to get gas.”  I didn’t tell him about the part where I was driving totally illegally.  Not in unclean underwear, mind you…but in NO underwear.  Etc.  “Can’t you borrow some cash?” I said.

But there I was, teaching my child to be a mooch.  I humbly took the remaining five.  “Don’t worry, Mom.  That’s a gallon of gas.  And a gallon of gas goes fifteen miles.  We live ten miles from here and you probably have at least enough to get home and back to the gas station.”  He smiled, all faith.

For some reason, I bid him fondly adieu, feeling like a combo of Debbie Reynolds the later years, and Carrie Fisher, ditto.  What happened to me? I thought.  Two seconds ago I was in a twin set and khakis, fresh from the gym, with exfoliated skin and lunch plans. Now I am one beat-up Suburban away from bag lady with no buttons to push, and only an accelerator from which to hope for power. And then I remembered what my friend said about saints being everywhere.  And I thought of Murray.

So I pulled into my gas station on fumes, rehearsing what I could possibly say that wouldn’t be a total breach in customer privileges.  After all…what have I ever given him, except for a kiss on the cheek once when he told me that I was one of his favorite customers.  This after I’d spilled my guts about a particular glich in a particular relationship with a particular persona non-grata—also a customer of this said gas station.

Needless to say…I felt like the worst mooch ever.  Because I was about to ask him to spot me some cash.

I threw my shoulders back like my father used to do in facing an awkward situation.  Walked in.

“Hey, Munson,” he belted out.  “How’s it going?”

“Well…” I confessed, “Not so great, Murray.  I need gas.  And I don’t have any dough on me.  And I’m wondering…if I could borrow a few bucks to get home, so I can grab my purse, so I can come back and fill my tank and reimburse you.”  I looked past his Peace tattoo and into his kind eyes.  “I feel horrible, Murray.”

It’s a great experience going from the false power of button-pushing and bitching about little things like the holiday rush and the price of gas…to actually knowing that you are one step away from standing on a street corner holding a cardboard sign, just to get home.  Where is our power, really?  Not in buttons.  I can tell you that.  It’s in making those connections with real live people over the course of time. It’s about looking in their eyes and past their tattoos and into their hearts.  And sometimes, it’s about asking for help.

Of course Murray spotted me that cash.  Saints are like that.

Look around.  Pay attention.  Chat with the people at your local filling station.  And be filled.

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Filed under Little Hymns to Montana, My Posts

Apology. Grace.

A person from my past, with whom I’m have not kept in touch, sent me an email today, apologizing for being mean to me when we were in our teens.  It was an act of generosity and integrity.  I urge us all to do the same.  This is the sort of pass-it-on behavior that can change the world.  Think back to someone you were mean to.  In the sandbox.  At camp.  In the classroom.  At a birthday party.  At a fraternity party.  At a PTA meeting.  At work…  Get to the bottom of it in your heart.  Did they scare you?  Did you feel wronged by them?  Threatened?  Did you see something in them that you loathed about yourself?  Did they hold up a mirror for you in a way that was too hard to bear?  What kind of pain were you in at the time?  How did it feel to be mean?  Not so good.

Now go find their email address and tell them you’re sorry.  I have passed on this gift today, and while at first I couldn’t think of a specific incident– of really being mean to somebody, after I got real with myself, I thought of a few people I’m sure I hurt along the way.  And I reached out to them.  It felt like coming out of a cool lake. For both of us.  Thank you, then, to this old friend and her morning email. For her generosity of spirit. She didn’t have to do it. But she did.  That’s what really makes the world go ’round.

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Filed under Motherhood, My Posts

Mother Bear at the Plaza

Plaza silver
Mother Bear at the Plaza
by Laura A. Munson

I was reared for walking in and out of places like New York’s Plaza Hotel. But I live in Montana now and sometimes I forget how to be that girl. That girl having her first tea at the Palm Court in low riding white tights and a scratchy wool coat, standing three feet and agape below the Eloise portrait, thinking, “Now that’s the life. Living in a fancy hotel, pouring water down the mail chute, dragging chalk along the corridor walls, no mommy telling you what to do. Eloise is my hero.” And later, in Chinaman pajamas, I do both and feel huge.
Much later, I am waiting in the lobby for my first boyfriend, a meeting place between airport and brownstone, with my dead grandmother’s Hartman luggage all around me, considering losing my virginity while the ladies in minks and high stiff hairdos go by. And I still feel huge.
eloise
But today, in jeans and steel-toed boots, a suede thrift shop jacket, a sloppy scrunchy bun flopping at the nape of my neck, a baby in a front pack like a kangaroo, I am the only one who recognizes my footprints in this red rug. The doorman, the concierge, the maitre d’ at the Palm Court, even Eloise, even the little girl in white tights standing agape—they all step aside as if I might be dangerous. I wink at Eloise and stroll by, holding my neck as tall as it has ever stretched and find the Powder Room, for I am here today not to pay homage to my first hero, nor for tea, nor to meet my old beaux. I am here to breastfeed. I am in the safest place I know in New York City, crummy old boots or no crummy old boots. I look down and see what is very possibly dried manure on the sides of the Vibrum soles and think, It’s good for this rug to know a little of God’s country. And I open the white door with the gold gilt. And I still feel huge.
Inside, there is a woman in a black dress and white apron staring at me with an expression that sighs, Oh dear, you must be lost.
“I need a place to breastfeed my baby,” I say, looking for a place to sit. Realizing there is none. Realizing women don’t breast-feed in public, not even in the bathroom, at the Plaza Hotel. I start to lose confidence. Maybe I am a stranger here now. Maybe the little girl who ran in here, tinkled on toilet-paper-lined seats, dilly-dallied at the vanity, transferred pettifores from napkin to coat pocket chatting with the nice maid lady like in a Frances Hodgson Burnett book, remembering to tip a little something, never was. And I am a rancher’s daughter, and I am scared of places like this, and rich people are strangers to me.
eloise

The woman speaks in broken English, which feels like my language now– something like, “I know good place. Come with me. I have daughter.” In silence, I follow her down the hall, into an elevator, up a few floors, through a grand lobby with twenty foot French doors all in a row, and the girl who knew debut parties and benefit fashion shows knows there is a ballroom through those doors.
The Powder Room attendant looks down the hallway toward a row of small well-lit rooms full of mumbled voices and whispers, “No let them see you. Here. In here.” With case-the-joint eyes, she ushers me through tall gold doors.
We are in some sort of V.I.P. Ladies’ Lounge. The kind of place where Madonna hides from paparazzi and society younglings sneak lines of cocaine. We are surrounded by mirrors and high gold and white ceilings, garish escutcheons holding up huge Baroque-looking chandeliers, red damask fainting couches.
“When you finish with baby, come back same way. Don’t talk to nobody.” She leaves.
I sit.
My knees poof up to my nose and I see myself in the mirrors. I see what they
have all seen: This me does not belong. Whatever possessed me to dress like some sort of cross between Salvation Army and Rodeo Queen? The thrift-shop-look hasn’t been in since the early Eighties. Have I lost all sense of taste? All sense of now? I could have at least put on a pair of Nikes and sweats and posed as a stay-at-home mom going to the gym.
eloise

My baby starts to fuss. She is unimpressed with the spectrum of me’s unless they include my lactating breasts. I take her out of the front pack and unbutton my shirt. In the mirrors, I see through maitre d’ eyes: I have too much of my breast showing. Not enough make-up. Ridiculous hair. And then I notice the bruisy-colored haystack– the Monet above me. And I start to sweat. I’m all alone in a room with a Monet. Our next door neighbor growing up had Monets. I’ve been in a room alone with Monets before. But this me, this Montana me, she’s got to touch that thing. Maybe it’ll make her real in this old world of hers. Gotta touch that thing. What if there’re cameras? What if there’re alarms? I reach up, eyeing my aim from the mirror across the room as if I am watching a movie of me. Baby gasping for more suction. A few more inches. Yep. Oil paint. Thick fat brush strokes. Either that’s a damn good reproduction or the real Mackoy. And why not? This is a room for people who own Monets. Who don’t have to touch a Monet to prove they belong. My finger returns to my baby. I guess I don’t know either me.
I consider the thing that brought me back to New York for this visit: to plug into my old scene. Museums. Art galleries. Take in a few shows. Drink ten-dollar-a-pop martinis and not bat an eyelash. Maybe buy a pair of absolutely fabulous leather pants from a gaunt Madison Ave. saleswoman who will greet me with a low-toned: welcome. To see how my old gaggle of friends are handling this next stage of motherhood. To compare gear notes where we used to compare hair stylists. To see if million dollar apartments with doormen and live-in nannies can make one exempt from stretch marks and saddle bags. To just for one night, sit in a trendy new restaurant with city friends and over foie gras hear the one in the self-important glasses say, That’s some of Venturi’s worst work. It’s exhausting looking at mountains all the time…dishing out that kind of awe all the time. I want a bit of what people have done. I want the Chrysler Building. I want—just for a few days– to not be on the food chain!
eloise
I look at myself in the mirror and see that I am instead in some sort of social purgatory. How do I plug into this scene when I’ve lived so long in a place where there is no scene? How can I care about leather pants for the sake of leather pants and not think: Do they repel water? Do they breathe? Do they come in poly-propalene? Good God! Where is my sense of humor? My sense of power? I am giving the light fixtures in this place more importance than myself. Than perhaps even my baby.
And then it occurs to me. It’s the city—it’s stealing my soul. I am feeding my child, for crying out loud. This is a pure moment where nothing should matter but nutrition– the arc between mother and child– let no man put asunder. I stare at my baby and try to keep from thinking about the dress I’ve packed for dinner tonight. The one that looked so chic on the mannequin in Whitefish, MT, that now strikes me as something a Phys Ed teacher would wear to the end-of the-season sports banquet. Whistle and all. Maybe I’ll dress down. I’ll wear jeans. What about all those movie stars that have homes in Montana? I bet they wear jeans when they’re in New York. I’ll pretend I’m one of them. Like I’m above all this…all this…ephemera.
eloise

And just when I am hit with the whiplash of my total-unenlightenment, the door opens. It’s a tall woman in a pink Chanel suit. Her hair is Ivana Trump high and I think, I’d rather talk to Ivana herself– she’s a foreigner. She might understand.
“What are you doing in here?”
This is my payback for all those years of ‘belonging,’ I think. I deserve this. I try to sit up straight in the poof of the couch but only manage a few inches of height. I thrust my chin in the air so I am at least staring at her kneecaps. I put every amount of Mayflower descent, Anglophile, Junior-Year-Abroad, boarding-school-procured nasal and lock jaw into these words: “I am breastfeeding my child.”
She raises a singular, well-plucked eyebrow. “Well, you will have to leave immediately.”
I imagine the guards. I imagine the I told you so on the doorman’s face. “Look, I was led up here–” and then I stop. I don’t want to get that sweet sample of humanity in trouble.
“Who? Who brought you here?”
Do you always talk in Soap Opera-eze? “I don’t feel at liberty to say.” Did I just say ‘at liberty?’ I tuck my boots under the sofa and eye the Monet. And then it happens. I feel this mother bear claw-sharpened edge raise its hackles down my spine and I look up even higher, to her pink Channel un-lactating breasts and say, “I will leave when my child is finished eating.”
“You will leave now.”
And whether I end up being hauled out of here by the scruff of my hickish laurels, I suddenly cannot hold back: “What do you think? Just because I’ve got a little shit on my shoes, I’m going to run outta here with the goddamn Monet?”
She lets out a giant Huffffffffff, blows through the door, and leaves a blinding trail of hairspray and Joy de Patou in her wake.
eloise
Bring on the guards– I’ll call the mayor. I’ll get on the front page of the ‘New York Times’– ‘Plaza Hotel– No Safe Place for Mother and Child.’ Ivana herself will give me a golden key to the front door. I’ll have an open tab at the Palm Court. I’ll be given a check for a million dollars and I’ll put that bathroom attendant’s children through college. I’ll buy a new pair of shoes. Maybe some leather pants?
The door opens. It’s the woman from the Powder Room. For some reason I can look her straight in the eye and it’s not because she’s no inch shy of five feet. “I thought you get lost.”
“No. We’re just finishing up. There was a lady who came in here and got mad at us and I didn’t tell her you brought us up here, but she might–”
“Lady? Lady with…” she holds one hand a foot over her hair and the other a foot in front of her chest.
“Yeah.”
“Uh-oh. You come with me, please.”
Baby back in kangaroo position, boots ready for any terrain, we go from hallway to hallway, looking around the corner before we go like James Bond babes. We skeeter down servant’s stairways thick with grey paint and the smell of rotting room service. One more door and we are back by the Powder Room and I am Eloise. No…better: I am at the intersection of all me’s. I am my own society.
I want to give this saint of a woman a hug. She has put her job on the line for me and my little girl, but maybe for more. The girl reared for tea at the Palm Court says, you owe her a fat tip. But that is an insult, the Montana me says. There is no financial compensation for human kindness. I give her a hug and she holds me hard and then sneaks back to her post taking quarters for hand towels.
eloise

And I walk tall back past Eloise, little girls in white tights, blue-haired dowagers sipping Earl Grey, suburban virgins in transit considering sex but for now a Marlborough Light, a doorman who doubles as a bouncer, but not to me, not today; I am looking at my sleeping baby, safe in my perfectly acceptable chest.
***
Back in Montana. Full of sushi and museums, sky-scrapers– the great stuff of Men. It is nighttime and my baby and I are driving back from a party. She has been fussy and I’m hoping she will fall asleep. I am watching the stars and keeping an eye out for deer, humming lightly to the country music station which I don’t normally like, but tonight it’s like what subway shoosh must be for a New Yorker– a hymn of Home Sweet Home. I look in the rear view mirror and see she is finally asleep and I feel tucked-in by the mountains around me; not awe necessarily. And then I see flashing red lights.
Immediately I get adrenaline in my chest cavity and a ringing in my ears and pull over, reaching for the glove compartment where I know the stuff cops want is kept. I unroll the window and wait, shaking. His boots on the gravel get louder and louder and by the time he is at my window I am no longer scared; I am mother bear. I am all hackles and sharpened nails and to his bellowing “Do you know how fast you were–” I raise my finger to my lips and hiss, “SHHH! I’ve got a sleeping baby in the back seat!”
“Oh!” His shoulders shirk and slump. “I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I know how that is.”
“Can we make this quick? I want to get her home.”
“Uh– sure, Ma’m. I’m sorry. You were going seventy-five and that’s too fast at night so uh–”
I look back at my baby. She’s stirring and she begins to cry. “Oh that’s okay darlin’. Go back to sleep.” I scowl at the police officer.
He looks in the back seat and whispers, “Tell you what. Let this be a warning. Now go get that baby to bed.” I see his teeth make a smile in the headlight.
“Thank you,” I barely say. I have no need to butter him up. There is a child who is teetering on the edge of sleep and I am her mother. Nothing can get in my way.

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