Thursday, March 19, 2015

World without end. Amen. Amen.

A consecrated priest cannot be unmade. This is my profoundly untutored understanding of Roman Catholic canon law. It may be wrong. But when I was a cantor at the Cathedral of St. Augustine, I would sometimes lead congregations in song in this response: "You are a priest forever/In the line of Melchizedech". There are so many objections one can make: How can this be, given revelations of abuse and horror these past few years? How can this be, given women are excluded? How can this be, how can this be? But as spring rises amongst us with tender fig leaves and wild violets blooming and the Lenten season provides time for reflection and contemplation, it is resonant with me. And it has nothing to do with priests. It has everything to do with consecration.

My Dear Old Person and I were talking about our treasured beach walks not long ago. He said something along the lines of, I need to start to focus on photography on the beach; I won't always be able to swing a metal detector. And it's true. As much as he loves looking for lost or forgotten treasures he knows he'll have to use a different toolkit in the next few years. He is not the invincible man I married so long ago. We often talk about how things have changed in the course of his chronic illness, how frustrating it is for him to be unable to do things he took for granted just a few years ago.

Did you know him then? Do you remember when there was nothing he could not fix? Whether it was a motor vehicle of any kind or a light fixture or an irrigation system or a computer, he could fix it. Friends used to joke-but-not-joke that he could lay hands on anything mechanical and from its state of refusal or injury or wounded-ness he could call it back amongst the living. Did you know him then? Because it was true. It wasn't smoke and mirrors. At his core was a diagnostic ability sometimes found and revered in medicine, an almost mystical ability to dial in on underlying causes and invisible connections between systems that cause stutters or even abject failure. His mind made synaptic leaps and so-true connections that other minds - really smart ones - weren't able to make. Even for a mechanical and mathematical underachiever like me it was easy to see. And it's still there, of course. It's hidden behind some medical and chemical dysfunction which are normal parts of his prognosis. It's just harder to see, harder to trust. Unless maybe...did you know him then? He was the one who, back in the mid-90s, thought it would be a good idea to spend nearly $2500 on a PC with a hard drive barely sufficient to host today's operating systems. He was the one who took it apart. He added hard drive space, added RAM, added video cards...belief in the future that ultimately positioned me for a career of surprise and delight. Did you know him then? If not you might have to stretch to see all that today. And sometimes he will say, This isn't fair to you. You should find a person who...But I can still see him. I knew him them. I know him now. And he is consecrated to me, as I am to him.

Consecration cannot be unmade. The promise cannot be unmade. In some cases the consecration cannot be made "officially" - I think about gay friends who are not free to consecrate their commitments publicly. Still, people bravely make these promises and they are as sacred as any promise consecrated in any church or mosque or synagogue. Consecration, by my definition, doesn't mean some specific imprimatur of this or that religion. It is a sacrament, which we must each define by our own lights.

I'm not suggesting that there aren't very good reasons for humans to end relationships, to move forward as is right for each of us. I do not presume to judge what's right for anyone, for we must all make our own lives and our own joy. We must all make things right for ourselves, our hearts, our beloved ones - none can judge. But consecration is for always. You can pull up the plants but you cannot unplant the seeds. They will give rise to plants you may or may not choose to harvest and this is as it should be for each of us. For me and my Dear Old Person, I am thankful to the notion of consecration: as constant as a garden. It turns with the rhythm of the planets, and brings forth its own rewards.

May the blessings of wisdom, kindness, forgiveness and love be upon us all.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Go in Peace

When they are grown, when all those moments you meant to remember and cherish for all time are in the past and their edges are softening, you and I can see our children: enormous and tiny. They are at once too big and too small, as though we've turned the telescope of time backward. And sometimes they are perfectly captured, frozen snapshots of memories, as lustrous and perfect as the tiniest insects preserved in amber. We see them sleeping in bed alongside us, in their white cribs, in those superhero toddler beds we put together when the crib was outgrown. We walk with them, carrying them like precious gems, balancing them on jutted-out hips, small fingers caught in our own, arms draped around their narrow shoulders, and when they tower over us, with our arms snaked around their waists. We see an endless series of discrete moments in like progressions marking the unique growth and shaping of each child, unique and unrepeatable. A shadow of grief may touch us when we put to bed in the evening one small, busy person only to be greeted in the morning by a wholly new small person, subtly but surely changed; such is the nature of growth. Such is the lot of parents, whose universal reality is that we must always, always let go. When they sleep in their own beds, we let them go. When they stop nursing in favor of food, we let them go. When we drop our fingers to rejoice in their first tottery steps, we let them go. When we take them to the door of their first school and watch them go inside, we let them go. In a million ways and with an equally endless combination of emotions, we let them go.

This weekend was one of particularly stunning spring weather in northeastern Florida, those last few days of mid-70s temps with warm Atlantic water, streaks of high bright clouds and almost no humidity; the days we welcome with open windows and billowing curtains. We walked a long way on a falling-tide beach, kept company by more people than usual for the time of year, likely sharing a recovery from the lingering winter, their faces upturned like sunflowers. Kids slid along the surf on skim boards and rolled in on boogie boards. I could see porpoises beyond the sandbar, and I thought of whales moving through the warm water to cooler environs and sea turtles, readying themselves to follow their inborn compasses to lay eggs on these beaches.

One of my sons sent a message. Had I heard about the tragic death of one of the kids he'd spent years with in Little League? I had not. Memories. Snapshots. The face of this kid - and the face of his dad, who coached and umpired - called those captured moments to mind. All the years our boys played baseball, before they went off to high school and all its attractions and distractions, we spent countless hours with other families with whom we had varying degrees of connection. There were hours of practices, games, tournaments, matter how poetic or prosaic it might have been, no matter how personally connected we felt or didn't feel, we spent a LOT of time together. And now this athletic, smart-alecky, funny, competitive, challenging and interesting kid was gone, the victim of a tragic accident.

As I walked, I heard a kid shout behind me, "Dad! Hey! Dad! Can you help with this?" Behind me were two kids, presumably brother and sister, working on some kind of sand sculpture or game. The parents were comfortably perched in chairs under an expansive umbrella. They glanced at each other, smiling, and waved the kids off: You're fine; go ahead; we're comfortable. I very nearly turned back to look at the dad, to say, Go. Go and go and go every time one of them calls for you. You will never know - none of us will ever know - what time is allotted to us, to them, to this existence on this Earth, in this life. Go! Their childhood may be all you're thinking of, but the letting go may be SO MUCH more permanent than you expect...Go! These are not the same boys, but they are the faces of children who remind me that there is no time but now. We see them backward; we imagine them forward. But there is no real time but now.

I did not turn back. I walked forward, thinking about Brandon Young Bush, thinking about how he touched my life. Thinking about how his dad touched my life, thinking how they both challenged me to be better, stronger and maybe even a little smarter. Thinking: All we do is let them go. Thinking, Go in peace, Brandon Young Bush. Go in peace, and may peace find and comfort the hearts of those who loved you so much that you will be with them always. Shifting, ephemeral, timeless as the ocean; present and yet gone, for they have Let You Go, sorely though it has broken their hearts. So go in peace, young friend, to love and serve the Lord as an angel in the firmament of the Heavens.

Brandon Young Bush


Requiescat in pace

Note: This post is written without the editorial skills of Dylan Christensen; any and all errors are my own. Photo credit (c)Rodney Christensen

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The people we know, the people we don't know, and how we cross that divide today

Today someone asked me, "So do you think you'll post to your blog again?" in the nicest possible way, and I thought about how not writing it kills some teensy part of me, and how writing it takes time and care and the willingness to look at a screen for more hours than I do on a regular work day, and here I am. Having weighed those two considerations against one another, factored in another Rather Important Something I wanted to do today, I find I have Done Math. And as frightening as that news is to serious mathematicians everywhere, the resulting equation has led me to this result. I am writing a post this evening. It's also only fair to mention, for a couple of reasons, that I'm reading P. G. Wodehouse. Reasons: he's funny in all the best ways; he reflects all the ways in which it has been possible to cross the social divide expressed in my title, and - most importantly - he was so good at his business that no one ever minded if he told the same story more than once.

The long-form blog you're now enjoying was abandoned by me a couple of years ago, in favor of one or two of its snappier cousins of the micro-blog form, including the ubiquitous Facebook, the more elusive but fascinating Instagram and the lurid, not-for-the-fainthearted Twitter. There's more reliance on images to convey ideas and less room for blather. Twitter being the Land of the Free Celebrity and the Home of the Brave Troll and Heckler, Instagram offered a certain promise. Not so much of your mother's high school NHS pals; not so many inappropriately public celebrity battles between family members. I liked Instagram. There was a developing community of common interests, some banding of citizen photographers with similar subject matter, and some figuring out of how to make, or more often, supplement, a living by leveraging those micro-connections. Doubtless there are trolls, but it's been quiet on that front for me so far. I connected with people who liked books, with people who took gorgeous shots of their gardens, or their backdrops while on their morning runs in Sydney or on the Isle of Man, or of moths or old houses. I found people who were Boxer fosters. I was found by people who live near an altogether different Ponte Vedra than the one in northern Florida. There are old friends, and local folks I've never met but with whom I share an acquaintance or two. There are people whose interests skim close to my own, and include the preservation of a nearly-lost Florida. Which is where it got interesting today.

On a yearlong challenge to visit all the state parks in Florida and having driven from Tampa (roughly) through the terrifying roadways of Orlando, stood atop the northernmost beach access walkover at the GTM Research Reserve with my dear old person and me this afternoon. They had thoughtful questions. They took notes. They cared about things like North Atlantic right whales and sea turtle nesting and kayaking and water levels and salinity. They had quite a lovely dog, who is not a Boxer, but is a rescue with a great deal of dignity, and a new appreciation for stairs. They plan to spend another day or so, exploring the #gtmreserve and visiting some of the state parks in northeastern Florida. Just yesterday we thought they were People We Didn't Know. Today, they're People We Know, and people we want to know even better. And just as I was thanking my lucky micro-blogging stars for the connection, I happened to read the blog roll of @ThatFloridaLifePress. It features @BlessOurHearts. I can only hope that my taletelling is sufficient unto the day, and that my generous readers, like those of the sainted P.G. Wodehouse, will hardly mind at all the telling of the same fine story, many times more than once.

Note: This post appears without the editorial oversight of Dylan Christensen, whose presence is sorely missed by this blog.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The stuff we're born with, and (maybe) the stuff we're not

Lately I've been thinking about What We Come With: What qualities, what personality traits, are pre-loaded for us before we're aware? Before we're born? Before, even, the joining of our parents' genetic codes begin to describe us? What defines me as a lodestone for some people? What makes other people into celestial bodies around which I am compelled to orbit? Fair warning: it's a very me-me-me blog post; this is your chance to get out quickly.

People are coming and going so quickly in my own life right now. My father, from whom I've been quietly distant for long years, is facing the very serious illness of his wife. My Dear Old Person just suffered the loss of a nephew who, through an odd happenstance of timing, was more a brother than a dweller in the next generation. Other losses have already been touched upon in this forum. My mother's sister, whose kindness to me was profound, died just months ago; again, because of gentle estrangement, I didn't know about it. And some amazing re-connections have offered themselves to me in recent months, wrapped in grief and happy memory in almost equal measure, as though there were some great balancing scale by which the taking and the giving were>
Thoughts of my father are stepping stones to memories of my mother. Those overlaid recollections take me to music, straight as angels. My mother had known my father for some time before she married him, apparently on the rebound from a teenage romance. If she fell in love with him, according to her sister, it was during the singing of music in the church choir; it was in the blending of her unaffected alto with his sweet light baritone. It may not have been romantic love that saw them married, the sister of my mother said to me. It might have been the romance of music, the power of blended voices, that connected them and brief time, produced me. If I did not know the power of the romance of music as well as I do, I might not believe it. But I do. I do, because I can't remember a time at which I couldn't hear harmony in my head. I don't remember not knowing how to hear a third or a fourth above or below a melody line, though I had no words for any of those things. Since before I can remember, I've sung in configurations of voices in which I was always an alto. Was I born, thanks to my mother's warm alto or my father's sweet baritone, to have this voice? Was I born to wrap a melody in harmonies in my heart, whether or not anyone else could hear it? Did it come from them? Did it come from some ancestral power or benediction? It seems a silly cliche to ask whether the power of music might have some from my Scotch-Irish ancestors. And yet...consider my cousin Susan, whose mother is my father's sister. Susan is a Dade on her mother's side of the family, as I am on my father's side. And as I am an Irish McCaffrey on my mother' side, so is Susan an Irish McConnell. I was eleven years old when my mother died. Before then, my mother exposed me to classical music, to bluegrass, to country, but most of all, to the American folk music of her time, with its blood relationship to the broadside ballads of England and Ireland laid bare. I took in the interpretations of Joan Baez before I could read. What did Susan hear? And what does it mean?

I asked my older son whether he could recall a time when, as a child, he could not hear harmony in his head.He said, more or less, "It's funny you ask that. Someone asked me about it recently, and I was surprised to realize that it's not possible for everyone else to filter out other parts. I can hear the melody, or the melody and one part, or all the parts...I can filter them out as I want. And I'd never realized that not everyone can do that."

Yeah, me neither.

But as our venerated teacher of music and musical director used to tell all of us who came through her choir always reminded us, there was learning, too. There was practice. There was the plain fact that when we were paid to spend an hour or so singing at a wedding or a funeral, we weren't being paid for that hour. We were paid for every practice, every lesson, every rehearsal, every moment spent singing the difficult sections in our heads; in fact, we were paid for every time we dreamt about the intricacies of a triplet or the defiant near-impossibilty of the 16-notes so beloved of Handel. So what did we bring to her, as students? And what did we take away from her? It's a tiny example, I know, but what do we bring into this world that is wholly our own, undiluted or enhanced by experience?

Since I like to share some food before sleeping I'll leave you with a reference to the image I posted last night to Istagram and Facebook, unless you can see this one. As a July Fourth finish, I made the James Beard cream biscuits of which we've often spoken here, recounted affectionately in the Fannie Farmer Cookbook by Marion Cunningham. This time they had fresh blueberries tucked inside. These were topped with a mixture of mashed sweetened strawberries and plain strawberries and blueberries, finished with gently sweetened fresh whipped cream. The cream biscuit recipe is simple and beautiful, and nothing's better in all the summer than fresh berries. So. If you need to know how to make the biscuits let me know. Or just ease back into your chair, think interesting thoughts, read something wonderful and bask in the opportunity summer offers us all to macerate our ideas together before we dream about the stuff we might be born with, once and always our own, and the stuff we might re-imagine, making richer with experience: the stuff that must inevitably define us?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Rescued, in ladybug miles

If your heart is in a garden - any garden, anywhere, including that one in your imagination that you're going to create one of these days - you almost certainly welcome the sight of a ladybug. Unless you're an aphid. If you're an aphid, you may be less likely to feel that same lift of the heart. If you're anyone else, though, you look closely at those tiny black spots on their field of bright orange-red and marvel at how different they always seem to be. You put your finger in the path of the ladybug, and are delighted when the ladybug treats it like a stalk of grass and marches aboard. And if you're walking on the beach and see a ladybug clinging to a piece of debris, you may be inclined to rescue: would not a ladybug stand more chance of finding food and shelter within the waving dune grasses and wildflowers and prickly pear than down by the breaing surf? Inspired by this little hero of all gardens, and by a tale of rescue recently heard I scooped ladybug, sand and all, and walked westward from the breaking surf to the dune line, placing it carefully within reach of waving sawgrass and sea oats. I crossed the distance in perhaps 25 or 30 steps. To what do those amount, I wondered, in ladybug miles? Had I saved the ladybug an exhausting trek across vast terrain? Would her wings have let her cross the distance easily, even in a strong eastern wind? Was it a momentary and certainly transigent rescue? It was no more than the projection of my own thoughts about rescue, a theme peculiarly resonant in my own life just now, illustrated simply in an exchange of stories in a parking lot not an hour earlier.

The tale of rescue, shared by a couple of perfect - and perfectly delightful - strangers just before our walk, ran along these lines, more or less. Two dogs were surrendered to the shelter together, their owners given a painful choice by their landlord to get rid of them or move out. After they took the dogs to the local shelter, they continued to visit. The older dog was a tranquil, sweet-natured red pit bull, bearing no small resemblance to Cesar Millan's avuncular canine assistant, Daddy. The younger was a small dog, a mix of excitable breeds: part Jack Russell, perhaps, maybe some Pomeranian? The pit bull's calm demeanor acted as tonic on his more excitable sidekick so the staff boarded the two together and nicknamed them Rocky and Bullwinkle. When the prospective adopters arrived to take the pair to their new home, they found the surrendering family had come for a visit. They spent a few awkward moments in conversation - here they were, after all, to take away the obviously well-loved dogs, and here were people who clearly didn't want to say good-bye forever. Everyone did their best. Rocky, the original dog-mom said, was a great dog. What about Bullwinkle?, the new dog-parents wanted to know; what could they learn about him that would help? "Bullwinkle?" First Mom asked, eyebrows raised. "This dog's name is NOT Bullwinkle," she said emphatically. "This dog is named Kevin." She eyed New Mom thoughtfully. "Or Devil Dog. But mostly Kevin."

Rescued: one Zen-like red pit bull, with a white mark above his shoulders that looks just like the Loch Ness monster, rising from cold Caledonian waters. Name? Loch.

Rescued: one slightly hyperactive terrier mix, with a plume of a tail and a quick bark. Name? Kevin. Or Devil Dog. But mostly Kevin.

Rescued: three ladybugs, carried from surf to vegetation.

Equivalent in ladybug miles: unknown but worthy of consideration. Do we ever know the truth of our rescues?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Irene Alice Prentice Allemano: Good-bye, and Hello

Mrs. Allemano died, and was bid farewell by friends and family this week in a memorial service. She touched the lives of each of The MadriGals over the course of several decades of her extraordinary life, and I find I cannot put this week away without catching some few of the bits of magic here, for remembrance.

Death separates us in the most profound and absolute way. The person who has died may be continuing life of another kind, in another plane, may be experiencing an existence so unlike what we know as to defy description. Indeed, many of us are so confident in an afterlife of some kind that it is an article of faith, holy to us and unquestionable. And yet, truly, the person whose death we are mourning is gone from us in this life, not to return. What we truly mourn is cloth woven of many threads, but  some of those are undeniably selfish, because we dread the lack of the presence of the person who has died. Certainly Irene believed in continued existence, a belief Reverend Elizabeth Clare likened to the caterpillar whose cocoon or chrysalis seems to be the end, and whose continued existence we celebrate as the birth of a butterfly. This was a particularly apt illustration, as Irene was graceful, elegant, and stunningly beautiful, and seemed to move from flower to fascinating flower, somehow making each one seem more beautiful by her very presence, throughout the course of her life. Still, we are separated forever, and this grieves us sorely.

But when we choose to join each other in celebration of a life, two things happen that seem positively magical when viewed in hindsight: our picture of the person who has died becomes more textured, more whole, in our minds; and we are brought, across miles and years and the strongest of feelings, together.
Diverse images of the person, each seen from one individual perspective, begin to overlay one another. As Irene's son Eric spoke of his parents, a picture of their marriage emerged. He and his brothers, he said, never heard a cross word pass between their parents, both of them only children accustomed to quiet and perhaps unprepared for the chaos that usually attends the growing of siblings. One evening, he recalled, he and his brother Ralph heard, alarmed, their parents shouting at one another. Alarmed, the boys ran into their parents' room, crying, "Stop it! Stop yelling at each other!" Their parents, their mission accomplished, replied, "See? This is what it's like for us when the two of you shout," and the lesson was learned. Eric shared much more about his mother, talking of her exploration of the spiritual, her resumption of the pursuit of art after her children were nearly grown, of her life traveling with his father, living in many Latin American countries, absorbing and reflecting back the cultures of each. He mentioned her volunteer work, including time spent in maternity wards helping deliver babies, welcoming each to this new world. Another piece fell into place for me, another friendship illuminated. When Irene's contributions to the cultural life of St. Augustine (she was a founder, with Frieda Bringmann and others, of E.M.M.A, a group responsible for bringing classical and other performers to our small city and enriching us enormously), I saw her as the practical philanthropist she was: donations Irene made weren't just monetary. They were made precious by her own investment of time and talent, and lasting by her determination and commitment. When her granddaughters spoke, I saw the bright shimmer of Irene all around them. Quite strongly individual, they are nearly identical in their intelligence, their abilit to articulate, their powerful presence and self-awareness and the promise of their future. When their own mother spoke, I could see Irene as a mother and mother-in-law, making welcome to her family this lovely Englishwoman his son had married. In the early days, she said, her mother-in-law had three signatures to each note or letter: one for Ralph and one for the children, and finally, for her, "Irene". Over time, the signature become one for the whole family, "Mama" as it is pronounced in Spanish-speaking families, with the accent on the second syllable. There was Irene to life, making a beautiful whole of precious but separate parts. Some things were not told aloud; had we all told our stories we'd have stayed the night and into the day. Later, Judy emailed me that she had known Irene in the mid-70s, when Irene's husband and Mrs. Bringmann's were both patients of the doctor for whom Judy worked. They were both kind and generous enough to a young nurse that she recalled them both clearly and with fondness. The beloved Booksmiths, Bob and Diana, sat just in front of us, and their stories didn't have to be told to me, for I knew some of them myself: Irene was an eclectic and inveterate reader and lover of literature. Her son Ralph's family came to St. Augustine every summer, and the Booksmith may have been a highlight for them, but it was no less a bright spot for us as she gracefully ushered the British branch of her family among us and we were charmed by the delightful little girls who have clearly grown into women their grandmother helped shape into spirits of intelligence and grace.
And there were so many other voices, quiet in that room, but audible in my ears. Friends present, and friends not able to join us: you can see some of them in this picture, but there are so many, each with a story of Irene or a hundred stories of her. Her son Ralph gave us a memorable glimpse of her impish humor, so vividly present in him, even to the creases of laughter around his eyes. And so, in a brief hour or so, Irene emerged, far more detailed and finely drawn than I've told in these few words for I have left out much. But she was so visible, so, as Reverend Elizabeth said, so positively present with us in that room. And she had brought us all together. The MadriGals sang Simple Gifts, a Shaker hymn dear to me for the memory of JoAnn Kirby Nance giving it beautiful voice at my own wedding. We sang, "...if love is lord of Heaven and Earth, how can I keep from singing?", a hymn beloved of Judy and me, and a true expression of the occasion. As Irene was a devoted and loving gardener, we sang "For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies..." And less to honor Irene than to give voice to those she loved, we finished with Amazing Grace. Lis played guitar until we came round to finish, repeating the familiar first verse sotto voce, when she stopped playing and we finihsed a capella. The voices of Irene's family and friends called back to me, so that tears came into my eyes and voice. It was simply beautiful, like Irene herself. Good-bye, dear Mrs. Allemano, and hello, dear Irene. You will be with us always.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Peace Be upon You, Irene Allemano

This is likely to be repetitive, even dull, for those of you who stop by here for a read now and then, so I apologize in advance. Some things, especially when they rest upon the floor joists of our lives, are worth saying over and over again. With a bit of writers' luck, the less dull ones will make their way here.

Often and often - and indeed, quite recently - have I written of the power and grace of girls and women in my life. It is no surprise, as Miss Katie says. The need was in me, a deep chasm opened by my mother's death when I was eleven. The need was common, of course; many of us search for guidance, insight, approval, affirmation. Some of us find these at the hands and hearts of women we love. I might be no different than anyone else. Or I might been brushed by some psychic magnet, the echo of which continues to draw me into the orbit of astonishing women and girls who gift me with glimpses of their unique magic and then go or stay. Who knows the right of it?

No matter what, The Booksmith was surely a vector: a point of intersection science cannot explain, where the power of women to change our little lives and our tiny world was visible and undeniable. Through this brass-clad door came Mrs. Detmold, whose ordering of the Oxford English Dictionary, Unabridged, surely changed St. Augustine and left no Booksmith denizen unmoved. Here, too, dwelt Diana (ah! what I owe to Diana for my present self!) and Su, Maggie and Katie: diverse readers untethered by syllabi, whose minds left no word, no phrase, unturned or unconsidered. Here was Eileen Ronan, whose gift and dedication of Southern Sideboards changed my cooking - and writing - life permanently. Here: Marilyn Bailey. Books and reading bled over into personal lives, which you can't have missed if you've looked at a single dish photographed for this blog on a Desert Rose Franciscanware plate. Writers crossed into this dimension: those who were gone, like Zora Neale Hurston, those whose contemporary connections kept them alive and present to us, like Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and the irrepressibly live Tasha Tudor, and those whose vibrant voices and insistent heartbeats could simply not be ignored, like Connie May Fowler.

They are too many to describe; they are legion. Some of them have found themselves painted into the pages of this blog. And of course there's a natural tendency to seek the wisdom of those walking life's path just a few steps ahead; one imagines this to be not much different for men. For women, it seems the simplest path to insight to ask someone whose baby is a year old what you, pregnant, might expect during childbirth. We pass through windows within a few years of which our sisters are pairing off, becoming couples, marrying, considering or having babies, finding methods and managing tradeoffs of raising children while maintaining work, creativity, education. These years sometimes create a tendency to telescope down, to focus on those of our sisters whose progress on the path mirrors our own.

But there are our younger sisters, awaiting the wisdom we're acquiring. And there, ahead of us, are our older sisters, our mothers and grandmothers, awaiting the moments when we will ask for the wisdom they themselves have amassed like so much treasure. (Is that *your* mother? Is she standing on the path so she can annoy you with opinions about the age at which you ought to have a baby (if YOU EVER ARE going to) or the relative merits of nursing, or....dammit, is that your mother? Look down, look down; don't make eye contact....) Children aside, your own mother's place along your path notwithstanding, our older sisters stand ahead of us, waiting with patience and ineffeable kindness to make small offerings from their hearts to ease our ways.

Mrs. Allemano was enough older than I was. In my ignorance, this prevented me from immediately recognizing her as one of my older sisters, as one of the many sisters or mothers whose generosity would help light my way. She seemed  far too elegant and her view far too loftily focused to take any notice of me, or even to remember my name.

Irene Allemano was tall and gracefully built, along lines that might have suited her for haute couture modeling, perhaps 30 years ago, perhaps the day before yesterday.

She walked into The Booksmith one day with her head held as high as though she were accustomed to carry on it every day a library from Plato to Pliny the Elder to Petrarch and beyond. Her dress was a brightly colored, beautifully draped thing that seemed at once distinctly modern and vaguely African. I would not have been shocked to find it required the attention necessary to properly drape a Roman senator's toga. At her wrists and around her neck, she wore a necklace of unambigous avante garde design, in chunky semiprecious stones exactly matched to her beautiful dress. She was introduced to me as "Mrs. Allemano". I believe we discussed the Times bestseller list and some other reviews of things we wanted to be sure not to miss, but I do not remember one single word of that conversation. I only remember the certainty that I'd been in the presence of some sort of royalty. Despite her easy conversation and complete lack of self-consciousness, her understated erudition and the pleasure she clearly took in books and the realm of the mind, she was someone apart. It would be years before I would understand her as an older sister, an emotional signpost pointing me toward my future. Today, it's hard to imagine that Mrs. Allemano would not have invested her considerable powers of philosophical consideration and influence on her younger sisters. I just didn't know it at the time. Ah, the wisdom from which we are screened by youth.

Years went by, with their inevitable changes.Holiday voices were reconfigured into the MadriGalz and on one unforgettable occasion, The Cafe Alzacar and the MadriGalz were graced by Mrs. Allemano, her two breathtaking sons, their wives, and best of all, the children of that fascinating family. We sang to them, we were awed by them, they were gracious to us, and from that day to this, carols echo faintly in my mind's ear when I think of Mrs. Allemano. I would not see her again in this life, and yet for so many reasons I'm grateful to say that I hope to hear her voice, guiding me through the voices of those we both loved, and in the still small voice I sometimes forget to heed.

Peace be unto you, Mrs. Allemano. I believe your children and your children's children will rise up and call you blessed. And upon reflection: So say we all.

Photo (c) 2012 Christina diEno