Friday, January 27, 2012
What She Left When She Left for College
Yesterday I was sorting out my books (as part of my New Year’s resolution to de-hoard my life) when I came across a very special book that I had completely forgotten about. It was a fabric-covered journal filled with about 50 hand-written pages composed by daughter Eleni when she was 17 years old—right before she went off to college. The entries on each page were brief, and often broken up into lines like free verse. The first page read:
This book belongs to Joan,
The most influential woman in my life.
So that when I’m in college,
You can look at a page a day.
And it will be as if I’m still here
In my peach jumper.
Naturally I sat down and read it through, laughing and crying as I went. I have a notoriously bad memory, and Eleni has a scarily good one. She’ll say things like, “Remember three years ago when we were walking on Fifth Avenue and you were wearing your navy pants suit and I was wearing….”
So I read through this little volume of memories, most of which had floated out of my skull, and I thought what a beautiful thing it was for a teenager to write something like this as a farewell to her mother before setting off into life.
And now, two decades later, Eleni is a married lady with a five-month-old daughter. I hope when Amalía grows up and goes off to college that she’ll take the time to write a journal like this one to her mother, to say, “I love you” and “Thanks for the memories.”
Eleni wrote that journal 20 years ago, and even then her writing talent, eye for detail and sense of humor were evident on every page. Now she’s about to publish her second book and first novel “Other Waters” on Valentine’s Day. In the journal she gave me, Eleni was recalling golden moments when we travelled, often just the two of us, the ultimate tourists, on annual trips. We had wonderful adventures, many of which would be forgotten if she didn’t write them down. Below are some of my favorites.
Page 1. Remember before I was born how you wanted a girl? And you only drank out of the girl mug, and Grandma transferred your coffee from the horse mug to the girl mug. And didn’t laugh…So you went to the hospital Monday night, because your appointment for a Caesarian was on Tuesday, even though Constantinople fell on a Tuesday.
At 8:15 a.m. on Tuesday, October 8th they wheeled you in and knocked you out. Ten minutes later you had a baby girl, perfectly unsquished. And you asked Daddy what she looked like and he said, “Me”, meaning him. And that was the beginning of as beautiful friendship.
Page 2. Remember that day in the early eighties when we went to Child’s World and a strange man stopped you and said, “My God – you’ve got the best-looking pair of legs I’ve ever seen on a woman” Remember that? I thought so.
Page 3. Remember our long drives to Old Sturbridge Village when we’d listen to Les Misérables, Fun Rock and Janis Joplin, and stop and get gas and I’d have my bonnet on. Just like Thelma and Louise.
Page 7. Remember the man who pulled me out of the audience to folk dance with him in Greece. All the Japanese folks took pictures and he told me I was beautiful.
Remember the man on Spetses who hoped you’d be his Shirley Valentine?
Page 8. In fourth grade I did a report on Massasoit and you colored in all the feathers on his headdress for me. Thanks.
Page 9. Remember that night in the apartment in Kolonaki when you and Marina talked to me at 3 a.m. because the state of the world upset me so much. I got over it. I always do!
Page 12. The first time I went to Greece alone with Daddy you were sure the plane would crash and it didn’t. So relax. I repeat. We are NOT having a crisis!
Page 16. Remember New Orleans:
The Jazz Funeral
Beignets – Le Café du Monde
The Fortune Teller
The Farmer’s market
The Beauregard – Keyes house
Cajun cooking with Justin Wilson
Page 17. Remember Charleston
You driving a rental car as a stranger in a strange land.
Poogan’s porch—one of the several times in our lives I’ve cried at dinner, although I was happy that night.
Tin Pan Alley
The boy in a military school uniform with his suspenders hanging down, feeding doves on the battery with his girlfriend.
Page 23. Remember my sixteenth birthday party? You made it a highlight of my life. Thanks.
Page 24. You introduced me to
Gone with the Wind
Page 29. Remember my graduation from kindergarten? I cried at the rehearsal. [Because she didn’t want to leave.]
Page 31.Together we’ve climbed to Prophet Elias, braved the Dreaded Palomidi, scaled Monemvassia, waterskied and ridden Space Mountain. We’re unstoppable.
Page 32. Everyone you come in contact with, from the lady at the bank to Al, loves seeing you because you make them feel important and brighten their day. You think you don’t have friends, but you have them all over.
Page 33. How many fifty-one year old women can say they refused Dan Quayle’s invitation to dinner? You can.
Page 35. You gave me my first memory book, fine lingerie and perfume. What an honour.
Page 37. Things I got from you:
A small mouth (no X-rays)
An appreciation of 5 p.m. Sunday afternoon drives, photographs and doors.
A twinkle in my eye.
Page 39. Remember when I was in 8th grade, we had a snow day on your birthday and we made a cake and took pictures and God smiled.
Page 41. You are one of the few people who have met the Beatles. Therefore you will always have a place in Mohan’s heart. John and Yoko were in their white stage at the time.
Page 42. Remember our trip to the Dakota with Betsy? The doorman was from Limerick and feared John was forgotten. But the next day in Strawberry Fields, a young blonde mother was telling her son: “There was a man called John Lennon and he was part of a group called the Beatles. He was killed nine years ago today. That’s why all these people are here.” So the legend continues.