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Saturday, March 27, 2010


The black arms raised

to the sky

have collected

during the slow nightfall of snow

a finger's depth of white

which they offer in silence

to the sun,

who responds with his usual warmth.

His golden illumination

edges the unbroken

piles of white

tendered by the black branches

of every winter tree.


And if you lie in the snow,

as angels do,

you will see above you

black spiraling limbs

and between, around, and through them

the blessed light

creating soundless hymns.


Profound sound is obliterated

by the sacred silence

of sun and snow

but particularly the latter

whose white material muffles all

except the breathy pigeon-purr

of boots walking on heavy






Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor   

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Universal Gesture

Since I became conscious of it recently, I've seen it everywhere and even experienced it myself.


The mother walks down the subway platform, her four-year-old daughter beside her. Without conscious thought, just as a pure reflex, the mother extends her hand and the daughter, equally without thinking, takes it. They continue down the platform, together. Linked. Safe.


One of the young mothers on our street (I'll call her Mary) leaves the house with the youngest of her three daughters (and I'll call her Polly). Polly is not quite two. Mary carries a tricycle in one hand; her other hand is free. As they reach the set of four steps to the sidewalk, Mary stretches her free hand out behind her without even looking, and Polly reaches up to take it. Hand in hand they descend the steps and then cross the street. Safely on the other sidewalk, Mary sets down the tricycle and releases Polly's hand so she can begin her independent, wheeled progress—-free (for a while) from her mother's protection.


The gesture is universal and automatic and fluid and gentle and loving. What expresses motherhood better than this urge to hold a little hand? But it's not just motherhood. Fathers do it. Aunts and uncles do it. And certainly grandparents do it.


Children show great trust: a hand reaches down to them and they allow their own tiny, sometimes sticky, warm fingers to be enclosed by the larger, protective hand of an adult.


I picked up my favourite five-year-old from senior kindergarten, and I held out my hand as we left the playground. He took it, and then said, "Hey! Nana! Your hand is cold!"


"You're right," I said, "and that's why I need to hold your warm hand—to make mine warm." He thought for a moment.


"But if we hold hands, you'll take all the warm part and then my hands will be cold!"


"Maybe," I said, "but mine will be warmer."


He pondered (as we continued to hold hands) the fairness (or not) of this situation, but he continued to hold hands with me. We walked toward his house on the busy street with its heavy and noisy traffic. So he was happy to continue holding hands, even if I was sucking all the warmth from his fingers.


Nothing makes me as happy as holding the hand of a child. And when I see others doing it, my heart is warmed by their joy.


The automatic yet tender nature of reaching out for a child's hand has an echo in the passenger-seat barrier that I automatically erect when I come to a sudden stop. This is a holdover from the pre-seatbelt days when my children were small. When I, as the driver, braked, my right arm would fling out, unbidden, to keep the passenger from slamming into the dashboard or the windshield. Seatbelts are a much safer solution, but this arm-flinging is a hard reflex to get rid of. My husband does not drive, so when we do rent a car, I'm the driver and he's in the passenger seat. He gets very annoyed when I whomp him with my right arm if I have to make a sudden stop. I explain that it isn't personal—I know he's a big boy (and I know he's wearing his seatbelt). But I just can't stop myself from that restraining gesture.


Oh, and I do want to point out how sad it is—how very painful it is—when the six- or seven-year-old decides he is too grown up to hold hands. I'm already crafting in my mind little joined-hand games that might allow me to hang on for just a few months more.


Copyright 2010 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What We Choose

Just express a desire and someone is bound to say, "Be careful what you wish for!"


For two years, little Livvy (now eight) begs to have her ears pierced. "Mommy, mommy, please!" You know what a six-year-old's begging is like. And then a seven-year-old's.


Mommy says, "When you are eight, you can get your ears pierced." Oh hurrah, of course, but it doesn't stop the nagging. "Do I have to wait until I'm eight? Can I do it early? I'm almost eight!"


Mommy holds firm. Livvy turns eight. The ear piercing date is set. Livvy, her friend Mary (whose ears are already pierced), and Livvy's mommy accompany her to the carefully chosen store.


Apparently some ear-piercing services now offer a double piercing. That is, two attendants do the job, one at each ear, so the pain is all over at once. Livvy asks if they'll be doing both her ears at the same time. Susie the piercer says no. Livvy gulps. Susie shoots the gold stud into ear number one. It hurts. It actually hurts more than Livvy anticipated, and there is still the other ear to go. Pierced ears look a little less attractive. But everyone perseveres and Mary encourages and Livvy ends up with two pierced ears, two tiny gold studs invading the previously intact sanctity of her child's body.


Okay. Pierced ears. End of nagging. Livvy finally has what she'd been longing for.


It hurts. For the first six weeks she has to keep those studs in the ear, clean the wounds with alcohol, and turn the studs every day. She can do that, although it doesn't make her happy.


But Livvy looks in the mirror and sees there some other girl. Someone on the verge of growing up, perhaps. "Mommy! I don't look like me! I don't like the way I look! I don't want to have pierced ears! I don't look like ME!"


Well, mommy says, "Those pierced ears cost me $42. You're going to have to live with them for at least a week before we even consider aborting this experience."


"Mommy! Mommy! I can't sleep with my head on my pillow! My earrings hurt! I CAN FEEL THE EARRINGS AND I DON'T LIKE IT! Mommy! Mommy!"


Ah, Livvy, what price fashion, eh?


After the first disappointing weeks of pain and a changed image, Livvy will then have to go through another six months of always wearing earrings, so the holes won't close up. Presumably by then she won't have to clean her ears with alcohol every day. Presumably by then she'll be accustomed to sleeping while wearing earrings. Presumably by then she will have learned to accept the face in the mirror as her own, new, older look.


Be careful what you wish for.

Copyright 2010 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Holding Secrets

Some secrets need to be shared. Exposing them to the light releases some of their darkness and mystery (I almost wrote "misery"). My mother's whole life was secret, and she took those secrets to the grave. She told us nothing intimate about herself, revealed almost nothing of her true self. She gave us the occasional anecdote, and we have had to fashion those few anecdotes into the story of her life.


We learned that when she was little, her father routinely washed her hair. Afterwards they would sit on two wooden chairs in the back yard, and he would comb her hair dry in the summer sunlight.


She used to try to reconstruct this happy experience with her three daughters, but it was never as pleasurable for her as her memories. Perhaps we didn't relish being with her as she had loved being with her father. Perhaps as he combed her hair he had filled her with stories of his life. She certainly didn't do that.


What other secrets of our mother did we learn over the years? Very few. She didn't like stewed tomatoes. She had no self-confidence and no love for herself. We were able to infer that her view of herself came directly from her mother, who called her "a galumphing galoot" because of her height and her big feet.


From the time I began to be aware of my mother as a human being, I knew that her own mother had not been good to her. Grandma Annie died before I was born, and in all my growing up I never heard a good word about her. Not that I heard bad things; my mother kept her secrets. But even a not-very-alert teenager eventually notices that Grandma Annie doesn't figure largely in the family lore. We heard more stories about her husband, my grandfather Vincent, called "Bin."


Having said that, what do I actually know? The story about Bin combing my mother's hair in the sun. That's one. Here's another: Bin once gave us two little dogs. I was five, so my mother at that time had children of 7, 5, 3, 2, and 1. "Oh goody!" she must have said. "Just what I need: two dogs!" Their names were Synchro and Ossie (Bin was an engineer and the dogs' names were actually synchronization and oscillation). They were yappy little black and white short-haired dogs, both from the same litter.

But perhaps I'm remembering it wrong. Maybe these weren't gifts from Bin at all but from my mother's sister Lil, whose visible jealousy of my mother's fecundity led her to give my mother, over the years, a Doberman and two huskies. The huskies came together, as a matched pair. I don't believe my mother considered any of these to be "just what I wanted" gifts.


Confusion and the vagaries of memory twist many of the details of my mother's life. Her secrets have become our garbled stories.


The moral, if there is one, is this: if you feel you must, then hold your secrets tightly to yourself, shielding your children from the pain of your life. But they will eventually fill in the blanks themselves to create the stories they need. Is that what you want?


Copyright 2010 Ann Tudor