The Gift

If you wanted to do something truly special for someone you care a lot about, where would you start?  Would you go to a gift consultant at Macy’s?  A nice jewelry store?  A resort or spa?  They could give you good practical ideas and suggestions.  But suppose you said to yourself, I actually want to give something unique to this person – something that will last, not just an “everyone loves to get a ______” kind of gift.

This story is about the unique gift I received on the occasion of my big ‘8-0’ birthday. It is an example of the thoughtfulness I have felt from all my children.  All six of my children have enriched, thrilled, and filled my life in ways far beyond any calculable measure from those kindergarten hand prints in plaster to their thoughtful gifts purchased with their own hard-earned money throughout my life.  Without the tiniest bit of exaggeration, my children are the greatest treasure in my life.

On my birthday, they took me to dinner at one of my favorite restaurants where my oldest daughter, Teresa, appeared having just flown in from Georgia to surprise me.  My youngest son, Paul, called me from work in Oakland to say “Happy Birthday.”  The other children, Steve, Mary Anne, Cathy, and Jen, live nearby so they were all there.  It was such a lovely celebration.  Other friends had taken me to lunch, etc., during the week.  Two days later, Steve, my oldest son, took me to a wonderful LA Philharmonic concert at Disney Hall.  I did kind of wonder why none of the other children came along, but my prevailing thought was what a lovely birthday week this had been!

On the way home from the concert Steve surprised me by saying, “Is it okay with you, Mom, if we stop off at St. Bernardine’s for a short while?  Several of my elementary school classmates have planned a sort of reunion while they are in town this weekend.”

“That’s really nice!” I said.  “You can just drop me off first and then you can stay as late as you want and catch up on all that is going on in their lives.  That should be great fun and I don’t mind at all.  I am quite tired anyway and the house is close by.”

“But they said they want to see you, too, Mom,” he insisted.

“Why on earth would they be interested in seeing me?  I’m flattered to hear that but they are not going to want an ‘old bird’ like me hanging around.  They had enough of someone’s mom ‘hanging out in the wings’ when you were young,” I said rather firmly.

“No, Mom, they said they always liked you and some have even read your books and would really like to see you.  They have a lot of good memories of coming to our house.”

“I really don’t think that is such a good idea, besides I will feel out of place after five minutes and I certainly do not want to make any of them feel like they have to ‘watch what they say.’  You can just tell them for me that ‘old Mom was really tired – she just turned 80 years old, you know.’”

“But they asked if you would come.”

“Are any other parents coming?”

“I don’t know.  They just asked about you.”

“I really think it would be best if you just dropped me off at home and you went by yourself.”

“Oh, come on, Mom.  We will just go in, say ‘Hi,’ and then I will take you home, please?  They will be disappointed if you don’t at least say ‘Hi.’”

I could tell he was not going to give up and I had run out of excuses, so I reluctantly said, “Oh, all right.  But just for a short while, right?”  I sort of lagged behind him a bit walking down the hallway in case there might be a chance for a reprieve.  I love young people, but I didn’t relish being that ‘onion in the petunia patch.’   However, as usual, I could not bring myself to say an absolute – “No.”

As we entered the room I first saw someone who looked like my friend and former boss before I retired.  It is Dana!  And there is her husband, Frankie!  Then the first pastor of our parish, Msgr. Murray walked up – then, Fr. McNamara, the current pastor – then I saw our piano teacher and her husband – and, Paul, my son who lives in Oakland, came to give me a big hug – on and on and on!  There was a large crowd shouting “Happy Birthday, Rita!”  Grandkids came running up, friends I hadn’t seen in a long time.  I was stunned.  I couldn’t think of anything to say except, “Good Lord!  This is why you wouldn’t let me off the hook.  I can’t believe this.  I am totally in shock.  All my children – so many special friends, and I had no clue.”  I truly did not.

A beautiful lay-out of all kinds of food and drinks was waiting so all were urged to eat right away before the food got cold.  (The other children, Teresa, Cathy, Mary Anne, Jen, and Paul had been getting everything set up for the party while Steve kept me out of their way at the concert.)  After eating everyone gathered around and each person was introduced to the group. Then Steve introduced Danae Vlasse, our piano teacher (we both study piano with her) and told about commissioning her to compose a work based on my life.  Danae explained how she had written Sonate Pour Quatre Mains, a Sonata for Four Hands to be played on one piano.   (Yes, she is French.)  It has three movements.  The first is entitled “L’Enfance” (Childhood), the second “Lamentations”, and the third, “La Joie De Vivre” (The Joy of Life).  She explained that “Each movement is taken as a moment in the life of Rita…in three distinct stages.”

They presented the score to me along with a CD of her performing the other version for two hands which she also wrote.  The score begins with a wonderful description of how she structured the work and an analysis of its development.  In reading it I was struck by the similarity to the structuring of poetry. The CD was then played for all to hear and I followed it reading the score.  It was one of the most beautiful listening experiences I have ever had.  She captured the playfulness of childhood, the minor keys spoke deeply of the travails of midlife, then the resolution and peace in later life.

To add to the overwhelming effect of such a precious gift, the cover of the work featured a drawing I had done of the open hands of a child held between the open hands of an adult.  I titled this drawing “Guiding Hands.”   

Since the presentation and my listening to the CD over and over, Danae now has Steve and I learning to play the Sonata.  We performed the first movement in one of her recitals and are now working on the other two movements.  This beautiful composition resonates as deeply in my soul as anything in my life ever has.

I have said before that it took twenty years for me to truly accept the fact that I had turned fifty.  I did not want to get old!  I expected the big 8-0 would rattle my cage a bit too.  My memories of this birthday are so deep and so pleasant that I can only say, “Hey, I’m ready for 81, 82, even 90 and on!  I love my life.”

Danae frequently refers to a quote by Victor Hugo which says what I am unable to – “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.”

This CD and score are available from Music Vision as well as the opportunity to listen to this work performed by the composer.


Writing After Retirement

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Unlike previous volumes which focus on how to earn a living while writing in very specific areas, this anthology accurately
describes a wide range of different avenues an aspiring author can pursue, either for profit or for personal fulfillment. Speaking directly to retirees, this book opens doors to many other areas worth pursuing; its chapters vary from the inspirational (the importance of linking to a community with similar interests, reconnecting to one’s dreams, seeking inspirational sources) to the quotidian (everyday writing tips, and how to use one’s experience to find subjects to write about).

Writing after Retirement provides a variety of vantage points from published authors and paints a realistic portrayal of what it takes to get started in the industry. This book also includes preparation for the challenges that aspiring writers face, and practical guides for overcoming them.

A range of issues are addressed:

  • Linking one’s writing to current activities
  • The nuts and bolts of writing
  • Planning one’s estate
  • New career paths
  • Writing opportunities
  • Practical advice on how to take that first stepWhether writing for pleasure or for profit, the reader will find plenty to choose from in this collection.Carol Smallwood co-edited Women on Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing and Teaching on the list of Best Books for Writers by Poets & Writers Magazine; Women Writing on Family: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing (2012); Lily’s Odyssey (2010). Her library experience includes school, public, academic, special libraries, teaching, administration, and consultingChristine Redman-Waldeyer launched Adanna, a print journal for women and about women, in January 2011. Redman-Waldeyer is a poet and assistant professor in the Department of English at Passaic County Community College in New Jersey. She has published three poetry