We Laughed Till We Cried: Haibun

My sisters and I help my mother try on new clothes on Mother’s Day. She has trouble getting up and sitting down, and she can no longer see very well. All of us, including my mom, laugh so hard at the maneuvering and manipulation of her body parts in and out of sleeves that we cry. Our tears fall lightly like the spring rain dampening this day. Our giggles create a euphonious sound, a rainbow of multi-colored tones that arc across the small room. I tuck this moment into the folder in my mind labeled “Mom Memories.”


fledglings cry for food

spring to summer, then they fly–

stormy skies soon clear

Carroll Sargent Tyson, Jr.
From the portfolio Twenty Birds of Mt. Desert Island
Philadelphia Museum of Art













Xenia Tran who is the guest host for Haibun Monday at dVerse asks us to write about compassion or self-sacrifice without using the words.

I’m also linking to Frank’s Haikai challenge, Spring Rain









The Journey: Microfiction





Ailise hugged and kissed her children goodnight, knowing she might never perform this bedtime ritual again. She sat watching them through the night and thinking of their dire situation. Her husband had vanished, one of the many who had disappeared. She had no idea if he was still alive. Since The Leader had taken control of their country, life had become ever more difficult for them and other Jantos. They were disparaged as tree worshipers. The Leader had made them scapegoats, arguing that they were the cause of all the nation’s problems, real and imagined. His pronouncements made those who were disenchanted with their current way of life feel better. The Tree Worshippers were taking their jobs, the Leader said, and polluting their pure Mountain Worshipping country with foreign ideas and dissolute practices.

Now, all Jantos were being forced to register. There were rumors of work camps where they would be sent. When news came—carried secretly, told in hushed whispers—that the famous flutist, Raoul Sendler, was saving Janot children, Ailise felt both fear and joy. Could her babies be saved? Could she let them go?

Raoul Sendler, known for multi-colored costumes, as well as his musical ability, was so popular that his concerts were usually sold-out months in advance. His skill was legendary; his playing mesmerizing. It was said that people would follow the sound of his flute anywhere. Even The Leader had attended his performances.

Through a network, Sendler had obtained fake papers for Janot children showing they were citizens of his country, Bragnaw. Some children, he would claim, were his students or performers in his show. Other children would appear to be the offspring of those who worked with him. After he performed his final concert at the Grand Academy, Sendler would take the children to Bragnaw, where they would be away from danger. They’d be placed in foster homes until they could return home safely.

In the morning, Ailes gathered the papers that had been given to her. She hugged and kissed her daughter and son one last time—and then she let them go.


This story is for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge. The prompt was the painting above. I’ve copied it from Jane’s post, so I’m not sure where it came from.  When I saw it, I thought, the Pied Piper and the Kindertransport.  Yeah, that’s the way my mind works.  My pied piper is named for Raoul Wallenberg And Irene Sendler , but I think of all the heroes who have fought against injustice.

I may have to write a second tale that does justice to this lovely illustration.


A Day at the Beach, with a Side of Guilt

Monday Morning Musings:


“Like as waves make towards the pebbled shore,

so do our minutes, hasten to their end.”

William Shakespeare, “Sonnet 60”


“The idea was fantastically, wildly improbable. But like most fantastically, wildly improbable ideas it was at least as worthy of consideration as a more mundane one to which the facts had been strenuously bent to fit.”

–Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul


Fantastically, wildly improbable,

but worthy of consideration,

a plan to get my mom to the beach for the day.

A notion hatched by H.

on Saturday afternoon, for the next day.

Younger daughter and I already had plans

because we like things set in advance,

definite, not tentative,


we decide to go along with this wildly improbable,

but worthy of consideration idea,

despite the weather forecast.

Isn’t it supposed to thunderstorm?

(My first question to H.)

Texts and phone calls back and forth.

 “Jewish guilt will always force a change in plans.”

(Daughter says to me.)

So plans evolve.

We’ll travel in the morning,

have lunch there

and return home early to avoid the traffic.

Husband and I will still get together

with daughter and her husband later for dinner.

A horrible, wonderful, wildly improbable idea,

a beach day for my mom.


Three cars from three destinations travel to Ocean City, NJ.

It’s a Seinfeld episode,

or any sitcom,

the human comedy,

the comedy of errors

What could possibly go wrong?



My husband and I are the first to arrive in Ocean City.

We drive around, looking for a place to park the car.

We park.

The downpour begins.

I text the others

We’re here.

We’re sitting in the car

Waiting for the rain to stop.

Trying to be optimistic.

Oh, I hear thunder now.

Daughter replies

There’s a flood watch in effect.

All day.

But the skies clear,

the sun comes out

and my husband and I walk to the beach.

The sun is shining.

The beach looks washed and clean.

It is beautiful.

Daughter and her husband arrive.

They have met

H., her family, and my mom,

who have decided to walk on the boardwalk.

They will have lunch there.

We have packed our lunch,

but I expect we’ll see them soon.

Daughter and I walk on the beach,

walk and talk,

gazing at the ocean

looking at the gulls,


watching people,

the little boy who wanders in circles,

shovel in hand,

smile on face,

I keep expecting H. to text me

so we can help them

get my mom onto the beach.

I don’t want them to miss this beautiful day.

But no text.

We return to our beach chairs.

Daughter sits down with half a PB&J sandwich,

she takes one bite,

I hear a scream,

a gull has snatched the sandwich from her hand.

Scary, but kind of amazing.

We wait for H.,

and watch dark clouds moving in.

We wonder where they are,

she hasn’t answered the texts.

It’s getting close to when we planned to leave.

A beach checker comes by.

Do you have beach tags?

We don’t.

We decide to pack up,

and wait for H and family on the boardwalk.

Daughter sees them then–of course.

H. has paid for a special wheelchair contraption to get my mom onto the beach.

My mom can’t get into it.

So my mom holds H’s arm on one side

mine on the other, and

we begin a slow walk over sand,

a few feet that seem like miles.

H’s husband sets up their umbrella and chairs,

and it begins to rain.

My husband and daughter have packed up our things.

We leave my mom with H’s family on the beach,

feeling guilty,

but it stops raining.

at least for a time.


In the evening, after showers and rest

my husband and I eat pizza and drink wine

with our daughter and her husband,

dog and cat sitting with us companionably.

We watch an old Star Trek movie,

it also involves fantastically, wildly impossible ideas,

but we know Captain Picard and his crew will triumph over

the creepy Borg Queen,

love, friendship, kindness, and creativity

trump evil,

humanity will be saved

once again,

a comforting thought.

I haven’t heard yet what happened

with H., her family, and my mom.

I hope they had a great time on the beach.

It’s a fantastically, improbable idea

but one worthy of consideration.







Monday Morning Musings:


I called my mother

just to say, “hi,”

a seemingly inconsequential chat

that opened a door to an unknown world.

We talked about the house my younger daughter will soon have

the number of bedrooms, the bathroom–

and suddenly my mother remembers

as though hurtling back in time.


When my mother was little

she tells me,

she sometimes visited her grandmother

and stayed overnight,

the house had a summer kitchen

where they kept pickles,

her unmarried aunts lived on the third floor

they placed a bucket there at night

because there was only one bathroom in that house,

on the second floor

where the artist, her cousin, Abraham Hankins, lived for a time.

Sometimes there were other boarders, too.

Was it convenience or concern for propriety

and the virtue of unmarried women

that caused the bucket,

the literal pot to piss in

to be a fixture of that third floor room?

Who emptied it? That is what I wonder.

A question that will never be answered.


When my mother was little,

she tells me,

around four years old,

she had diphtheria.

It’s an ancient disease,

described by Hippocrates,

it can cause the throat and other membranes to swell,

It can be fatal.

There may have been an epidemic that year in Philadelphia,

there were several diphtheria epidemics in the 1920s,

thousands of people, mostly children, used to die from the disease*

before there was an effective vaccine.

(Were those the good old days?)

An ambulance took my mother to the hospital,

her father didn’t have a car,

they had no way to get her there,

they also didn’t have a telephone.

I wonder who called the ambulance?

She remembers–

she says this a few times–

She remembers

her mother standing there

watching and crying

watching her daughter, my mother, being taken away.

My mother dropped her doll,

and they—whoever they were—

would not give it back to her.

She doesn’t say she was sad or scared

but she remembers this,

losing her doll.

The memory has been with her

for almost ninety years now.

They must have thought it contaminated and germ-ridden,

though they didn’t give her a reason,

or she doesn’t remember.

It doesn’t matter now, but–

I hope they were kind to my four-year-old mother.

When she was finally well,

well enough to come home,

her mother made her oatmeal,

comfort food.

The image of her mother crying seems to haunt my mother.

I suppose she seldom saw my grandmother cry.

My grandparents were immigrants,

no nonsense people.

But I have a different image of my grandmother now,

a young woman fearful that her little girl,

her only child, was dying.

This wasn’t supposed to happen in America.


When my mother was little,

she tells me,

her mother spent time curling her, my mother’s hair,

wrapping it around a finger to form a ringlet,

a tender gesture, as I imagine it.

But my grandmother was constantly interrupted by customers,

customers arriving in their candy store.

My grandmother took care of store and household

because my grandfather also worked another job.

Home and shop were separated by two stairs,

a boundary of sorts,

a division between two worlds.

My grandmother muttered about those two steps,

up and down all day long.

I imagine my grandmother,

a small woman, like her sisters,

complaining in a mixture of Yiddish and English,

cursing those two stairs.


And now my mother is little again

little in height,

not that she was ever tall,

but now she has shrunk several inches,

though her formerly slender body is now large,

These are my earliest memories

she tells me,

as we talk on the phone that morning,

her voice emerging from her little-large body.

These early memories

of people and places long gone

of a way of life that no longer exists.

Someday my mother won’t be here

but her memories

a legacy

like her curls,

I carry both.

Her memories will

float around the Internet

perhaps forever,


until something replaces them,

and perhaps my own daughters will write

of my memories on some device that I can’t imagine.

But for now,

my memories and hers blend together here,

in her telling them to me,

her memories become mine,

they now belong to me as well,

colored by my perceptions and imagination.

I think of a grandmother I didn’t know,

who cried when she feared her daughter would die,

who lovingly curled that same daughter’s hair

And I share that image with you.


* “During the 1920s in the United States, 100,000–200,000 cases of diphtheria (140–150 cases per 100,000 population) and 13,000–15,000 deaths were reported each year. In 1921, a total of 206,000 cases and 15,520 deaths were reported.” CDC


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To Sylvia Let Us Sing



Who is Silvia? what is she,


        That all our swains commend her?


Holy, fair, and wise is she;


        The heaven such grace did lend her,


That she might admirèd be.



Is she kind as she is fair?


        For beauty lives with kindness.


Love doth to her eyes repair,


        To help him of his blindness,



And, being helped, inhabits there.



Then to Silvia let us sing,


  That Silvia is excelling;


She excels each mortal thing


        Upon the dull earth dwelling:


To her let us garlands bring.



   –William Shakespeare, Two Gentlemen of Verona





Today my mother, Sylvia, turns 91. She was born to immigrant Russian-Jewish parents after the War to End All Wars–which didn’t–grew up during the Great Depression, and married during World War II. She and my father married and divorced twice; they had four children together. When he died, she was at his bedside to say goodbye. She adores her grandchildren and great grandchildren, and they can do no wrong in her eyes, which is how it should be.



These are some facts about her life, but they do not describe her. They do not get to the essential Sylvianess of her–the laugh lines around her eyes and the way she talks and laughs at the same time when she tells a story; her sneezes at the end of family dinners followed by her statement, “I ate too much.” The basic facts about her life do not describe her impatience when she has to wait anywhere; nor her ability to laugh at herself when someone calls her out about it. The everyday statistics of her life do not explain her passion for art. They do not describe how she continues to paint, although her eyes have become traitorous. They do not describe the mother I love.



I did not know my mother when she was a child, of course, or even a young woman. There are few people now alive who did. I only know she has been a constant in my life, and I cannot imagine a day when she will not here.



Today in the Philadelphia/ South Jersey area it’s a gloriously beautiful day, the type of day we don’t often have here in August. The humidity has lifted, and the sun is shining. So today “to Silvia let us sing,That Silvia is excelling.” And I will hope that my mom continues to excel and we continue to celebrate her birth for many more years. I love you, Mom.








For My Mom: As Time Goes By

“You must remember this
A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh.
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by.”

“As Time Goes By,” Herman Hupfeld


The song “As Time Goes By” was written in 1931, but most people know it from the movie Casablanca (1942). The song is heard and played throughout the movie by the character, Sam (Dooley Wilson). It is a sort of theme song for the lovers, Ilsa and Rick (Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman) who are parted by war and circumstances, and by the decisions they make. As Rick says, “it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”

The song “As Time Goes By” is about lovers. It seemed particularly apt for wartime lovers. (The British television series by the same name with Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer is about a couple who were separated during the Korean War and meet thirty-eight years later.) My mom was a young woman when the movie Casablanca came out; she and my father married during World War II. It was an era when many people lived as though each moment could be their last, and yet, for many people it was it filled with every day routines and rituals. People still married, had children; they went to school or work (even though it might have been war work). Time went on, and so did people’s lives.

I thought of the song when I was thinking about my mom this morning. We see our parents differently—our children, too—as time goes by. When I was a child, I thought my mom was the most beautiful woman in the world. She was wise and all knowing. She knew when I was sick or upset about something, even if I didn’t talk about it (which was generally the case). I remember when I was in seventh grade in a new school. We had moved to Havertown, PA from Dallas, TX in March. For some reason, after a few weeks, the teachers in the cafeteria where my class ate lunch decided that I could not add an extra chair to the table because it was too crowded. They told me I had to eat in the other cafeteria. When I got to the other cafeteria and asked where I should sit, a mean or thoughtless teacher told me to sit with a table of boys. I think the were “the bad kids.” It was done to humiliate me. I was a shy and quiet child, and I sat there. Even though I don’t remember telling my mom how upset I was, I must have mentioned something to her. After a couple of days, some girls told me I was sitting at their table now. The girls were not in my regular classes, but they were in my “specials,” gym and home ec. My mom had called the guidance counselor and told her what had happened. It was all arranged quietly and efficiently.

Recently my mom moved into an assisted living apartment house. My sisters, brother, and I helped with packing and arrangements. We were the ones sending emails and making calls–without her knowledge sometimes–to make certain that everything was done smoothly and efficiently—so she wouldn’t be left humiliated. Or homeless.

With the years, my tireless mother has become tired, but she still has a great sense of humor—and she can still put my siblings and me in our place. She has seen births and deaths, and amazing technological inventions. When she was child, her family did not have a telephone for several years. She could not have envisioned cell phones and computers, but she has used them. She has lived to see my daughters, her granddaughters grow up to become beautiful and accomplished young women.

Time goes by, and it brings changes, but my mom is still beautiful to me, and I love her.

Oh—and if you’ve never seen Casablanca, round up the usual suspects and watch it. Maybe with your mother.